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Harry Potter and the Search for the Soul by minniemcmouse

Format: Novel
Chapters: 28
Word Count: 93,772
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: 12+
Warnings: Mild Language, Mild Violence,

Genres: Drama, Action/Adventure, Angst
Characters: Harry, Ron, Hermione, Dumbledore, Lupin, McGonagall, Snape, Tonks, Voldemort, OC
Pairings:

First Published: 07/27/2005
Last Chapter: 03/22/2007
Last Updated: 06/02/2007

Summary:

Banner by Iced_Cherriez. Harry's sixth year has finally come to an end and he finds that the Order isn't going to let him get away on his own without a fight. So, with much assistance, Harry embarks on his toughest challenge yet - find and destroy Voldemort and the Horcruxes before Voldemort can destroy the Wizarding world. [POST HBP]


Chapter 1: Accepting Assistance
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Chapter One


The smile which had been present on Voldemort’s face when Severus Snape had finally shown him his memory of killing Dumbledore had been almost frightening but he knew it was a good thing. It had to be a good thing, right? He had just killed the leader of Voldemort’s opposition… his own mentor.

He sank back onto the bed wondering for the millionth time that night whether death would have been better for him. Dumbledore would have been alive and Potter wouldn’t be attempting to beat Voldemort on his own. A smirk touched Severus’s face. He knew that Potter would be trying to go it alone, almost certainly believing that because Dumbledore had entrusted the secrets of the Horcruxes to him then he must be the one to destroy them.

Wormtail was still downstairs, still wandering about almost silently, eavesdropping on anything and everything he could. Mostly fire calls from other Death Eaters and one instance of a meeting with Voldemort. That one had almost cost the rat his life.

Severus hit his head hard on the wall as he stared through the dirty windows into the Muggle street beyond. Dumbledore, the old fool! How were they expected to win with only Potter?! It was ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous!

The boy had three Horcruxes to destroy and, knowing him, he won’t tell anyone else about their existence. He pitied the Order round about now; he knew that one of them, most likely Lupin or Minerva, would be trying to get the information from the youth with little to no success.

A shout greeted him from the room below and he knew that it was Narcissa. Since he had assisted Draco on his mission to kill Dumbledore the woman had been calling frequently, either to thank him repeatedly in a hysterical voice or offer him her services. Usually he sent her away to her son of whose safety she was so thankful and more than once he wished that he could send Wormtail with her. The rat was more of a hindrance than a help most of the time.

Dumbledore, why?! his mind yelled as Narcissa shouted up to him. Severus sighed, knowing that she wouldn’t leave until she had found him. He was always in and she was fully aware of it. Of course in the back of his mind he knew that if he hadn’t killed Dumbledore then he would have died for breaking the Unbreakable Vow and then one of the other Death Eaters would have done the deed.

“Severus?!”

“I’m here,” Severus said as he descended down the stairs to see the tall blond woman waiting for him. He almost envied Lucius for having the only woman with a heart in the Death Eater ranks, although her heart clearly only beat for her family.

“The Dark Lord requires your presence,” she said softly and he nodded. There was nothing else this time but he would almost have rather had the mindless thanks of the woman than the cold glare of Voldemort. He was trusted now, without question, but that did not mean he was liked, closer to treasured.

He threw the Floo powder into the grate after Narcissa had left and stepped into the flames without muttering a word. The Order may think that they had lost him for good but he would be there for them when he was needed; he was their spy still, loyal only to them and they would acknowledge that in the end.


*


“Harry, please!” Remus begged for the last time. He felt moments away from hitting his head on the wall and perhaps it showed because Harry sighed and ran his fingers though his hair. “Look, you cannot do this alone! Dumbledore had help from the Order and you have it too! You cannot do this all by yourself.”

Harry looked at him as if to ask ‘why ever not?’ but didn’t respond. The younger of the two was sitting on the edge of his bed at number four, Privet Drive and was still quite annoyed that Lupin had followed him. Nonetheless he felt quite impelled to accept the help of the Order; surely thirty heads were better than three.

“If you’re so adamant in refusing our assistance then just tell me why,” Remus said as he stopped pacing the small room and stared down at Harry, holding his gaze. His green eyes were cool and shielded, hiding all traces of emotion for once. With a wry smile, Remus knew that Severus would be proud.

“No one has the time for it!” Harry exclaimed and watched as Lupin looked startled, confused and amused all in quick succession. He knew already what he was going to say to him in response and waited for him to put the obvious into words.

“‘No one has the time for it’?!” Remus repeated and stared at Harry in pure amazement and yet there was something in the way that he held the expression on his face without a waver. The strange bored mask which told Remus that he was certain he was in the right. “Of course they have the time for it! What else is more important than defeating Voldemort?!” He resumed his pacing, strongly resisting the urge to start rambling incoherently about Harry’s current stupidity.

“Exactly. The Horcruxes—” Remus stared at him and Harry winced, damning himself for so foolishly giving away crucial information. He was almost certain that only he and Dumbledore were aware that Voldemort had created six Horcruxes – the sixth originally having been failed upon Harry’s reversal of the Killing Curse all those years ago but now completed in the snake, Nagini. Now it appeared that he had said the one word which would almost have thrust the Order upon him.

“Horcruxes?!” Lupin repeated hoarsely and Harry nodded, inwardly smiling at the man’s almost concealed panic. He had been a teacher of Defence Against the Dark Arts for one year and would have knowledge on the subject, even if it was a banned topic at Hogwarts.

Remus wanted to shout and hex Dumbledore’s memory to shreds. He knew that if he didn’t keep his mind on the matter at hand he would soon find himself going to Minerva’s office and yelling and cursing Dumbledore’s portrait there for his inconceivable foolishness. How could he have thought that not telling anyone about such a thing would ever turn out okay?!

He took a deep breath, forcing himself to calm down. It would not do to begin ranting in front of Harry when he was there to convince him to accept the help of similarly logically minded, collected individuals such as himself. But surely Dumbledore should have said something to someone! Fair enough, the man always seemed so indestructible but surely he knew that at some stage he would be killed… then what?

“As I was saying…” Harry began again and watched Lupin’s back as he gripped the windowsill tightly, his knuckles were whitening and his eyes were fixed upon the street beyond.

“How can he not have told anyone?!” Remus said suddenly, spinning round to face him. He knew that he didn’t look well; indeed, he wasn't in a state of particularly good health and so he was fully aware of the weak image he must be giving to Harry but he had stopped caring.

“He did tell someone: me,” Harry retorted simply. He watched Lupin stare at him in disbelief for a moment before a smile crossed his face. Harry was readying himself for the amusement that his voice would hold when he responded and was surprised when it held none at all.

“As little as I want to offend you, Harry: you do not have the strength it takes to defeat Voldemort alone. If you are to find and destroy the Horcrux he made then you will need assistance.” He stared at Harry, hoping that at some point soon he would see the error of his ways and accept the help being offered to him. Remus raised an eyebrow when Harry smiled and looked close to laughter but it was pained; there was no mistaking that. “What’s so funny?”

“Horcrux…” Harry smiled. “You say it as if he only made one.” He watched as Lupin’s mouth fell open slightly and his eyes widened. He hadn’t wanted to have to do it this way; he didn’t want to shock and possibly horrify the man but Lupin had given him little choice in the matter.

“How many did he make?” Remus asked him, his voice much more quiet than before. Even in a strictly Muggle area he did not enjoy speaking about the tabooed subject, especially when they were speaking of the multiple ones that Voldemort made.

“Well he tried to make six so that he would have had seven,” Harry told him and noted with a slight feeling of satisfaction that Lupin looked quite horrified, or very nearing the state that he had been in when Harry told him Dumbledore had died.

“He tried to make six?” Lupin asked him and Harry smiled slightly when he did; the man didn’t miss a thing. He was pacing again now and Harry wondered briefly whether he would begin to wear down the carpet by the time they left.

Remus knew why six – it would make a total of seven. The most powerful magical number and he would have been almost indestructible had he managed to do so. He could only hope that Harry had stopped him before he had reached anywhere near his targeted number.

“He only managed five,” Harry said, “before I reversed the Killing Curse on him all those years ago.” The fact that five Horcruxes still existed and had to be hunted down was still a heavy blow to Remus and he winced at the number. The effect of Harry informing him that only one had failed to have been made was as minimal to him as it was to Harry when Dumbledore informed him during the previous year.

“So we have to find and destroy five Horcruxes as well as Voldemort himself,” Remus stated and sighed as he rested his head against the window pane, the cool glass felt good against his warm skin and he closed his eyes in disbelief.

“No, he made the sixth and final Horcrux after his ‘rebirth’ in the form of the giant snake, Nagini. Or so Dumbledore believed,” Harry informed him and Remus thought he could feel the colour draining out of his face.

“That would explain how you could see through the snake’s eyes when you saw Arthur Weasley…” Remus broke off, wondering whether the shock he felt had somehow removed any tact he had ever possessed at the grimace on Harry’s face. “So we have six Horcruxes to get rid of now.”

“There aren’t six Horcruxes to get rid of, don’t worry. Dumbledore destroyed one – hence his hand, I destroyed another inadvertently in my second year and what do you mean ‘we’?!” Harry demanded and Lupin turned around to him with a smile on his face which only annoyed Harry further. “With all due respect, Professor, there is no ‘we’. There are four Horcruxes and a madman which I must destroy, not you!” He watched as Lupin smiled and shook his head. He looked as if he was about to laugh but Harry felt far from the feeling himself.

“For starters you can stop calling me ‘Professor’ right now, I’ve not taught you in years, Harry!” he said with a smile, amusement bubbling within him. “I wouldn’t let you deal with one Horcrux and Voldemort, let alone four!”

“Look, Professor—” Harry began.

“Remus…”he corrected and Harry rolled his eyes.

“Fine, Remus, you’re failing to understand that I’m not giving you a choice here. You are not having anything to do with the Horcruxes or Voldemort!” Harry almost shouted. Remus stopped smiling and held Harry’s infuriated gaze with his own, wondering why he would be so stubborn about the matter.

“You cannot stop me; you aren’t the only one who opposes Voldemort and, prophecy or not, you are not going to be alone in this,” Remus said to him calmly, although Harry could see that he was quickly losing his patience, which he had previously thought of as infinite, with him. “Anyway, what was that you were saying about people being too busy?” He quickly changed the conversation away from a potential argument with Harry towards earlier topics.

“Of course they are… McGonagall and Hagrid teach, you’ve been infiltrating Greyback’s society thing and now you’ll be all busy with Tonks—” he shot Remus a sly look at this point “—and everyone else have jobs, marriages, family… that kind of thing!”

“I see, so you think that you can do this alone because everyone else has family and jobs keeping them back?” Remus asked although he didn’t expect a reply. “Interesting theory although no one works for twenty four hours a day, jobs can be given up and do not even get me started on Tonks!”

“What do you mean?” Harry asked, suddenly wondering whether he and Tonks had been so short lived that they were no longer together after a grand total of one month.

Harry was now nearing the age of seventeen, which he would reach in the next week. He had spent the last month or so since Dumbledore’s funeral at the Dursleys’, mostly lost in thought and with nowhere else to go. He would most likely have been thrown out long since were they actually able to get into his room. Harry had been making sure that they didn’t come near him and, with the threat of magic hovering over their heads, they did little to stop him. Of course it was only Harry's word they had that he could use magic, but none of them particularly wanted to try it on especially since Petunia recalled her sister's use of magic after her sixth year in the school.

Although he could not legally use magic out of school until the age of seventeen, the Dursleys were not aware of this. This was very fortunate for Harry who merely had to wave his wand in their direction to send his family members scurrying.

Harry looked to Remus who grimaced slightly at his reference to Tonks which instantly incited Harry’s curiosity. Wanting to find out as much as he could without seeming to pry into business which was not his own had never been a strong point for Harry but he tried nonetheless and resolved to get Hermione to do it later, once he’d messed up.

“You and Tonks aren’t together then?” he asked lightly and Remus resumed his pacing.

“Idiot girl … all her fault,” Harry distinctly heard Remus muttering darkly to himself amongst other indistinguishable words. “No, we’re not.” His tone was irritable and Harry knew that he probably shouldn’t ask but he carried on probing the matter.

“But you seemed … well, close really,” Harry said and Remus looked grim, “and you were holding hands at the funeral.” The elder of the two shook his head.

“Okay, she was holding my hand and you and Hermione seem close; it doesn’t mean that you’re together though,” Remus said coolly. It was clearly a subject that he didn’t particularly enjoy talking about and Harry decided he’d pushed it far enough. Besides, Hermione would be able to get more information from him or Tonks; she seemed good at that sort of thing. “Why the curiosity?”

“I dunno, I just wondered really,” Harry shrugged, letting the topic slide.

“Anyway, back to the Horcruxes thing… so how are we—” he put particular stress on the word “—going to locate the other four Horcruxes?”

Harry gave him a cool stare but didn’t say anything in response. After a few moments, during which Remus wanted to hex Harry for a while for being so idiotic, he spoke again.

“Look, you do not have the resources to locate four Horcruxes on your own whilst Voldemort is slowly taking over. The longer it takes to find and destroy them the more people are going to be killed. The sooner you do it, the sooner Voldemort is destroyed and you can speed up the process by using more people, trusted people. Such as the Order,” he said and Harry grinned and shook his head in disbelief.

“That’s emotional blackmail!” he laughed, although there was a slightly odd note to it which made Remus wonder about his current health. He seemed fine however… “Essentially, I accept your help and less people die.”

“Sounds about right,” Remus said to him. He could almost see the cogs working quickly in Harry’s brain; on the one side he didn’t want to let any more people die than necessary but on the other he clearly didn’t want to entrust the job to anyone else, especially not since Dumbledore had been so secretive with it whilst he was alive.

“All right, fine.” Remus flashed him a triumphant smile and Harry sank back down onto his bed.

“Excellent, so when are you coming back to Grimmauld Place?” Remus asked, sitting down next to him and finishing his pacing, for now at least.

“Grimmauld Place?”

“Of course, where else are you going to stay? You need some kind of headquarters and seeing as Grimmauld Place is already yours…” Remus replied, a smile playing at the corners of his lips. He had finally persuaded Harry to accept the help of those who wanted to offer it, even if he had received information he would rather have ignored… for a very long time.

“I’ll come tonight,” Harry sighed in defeat, knowing that Remus was going to win all along. He shook his head, smiling slightly as he began to pack his trunk with all his worldly possessions.


Chapter 2: Enlightening The Elders
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Chapter Two


It was with an air of curiosity that Ron and Hermione listened to Harry explain his decision to involve the Order of the Phoenix in his quest to find the four remaining Horcruxes and defeat Voldemort once and for all. Ron seemed dubious of his friend’s sudden change of heart but Hermione, knowing that surely more trusted people could only aid them on their search and being fully aware of Remus’s visit to Harry that afternoon, was more positive about the additional help.

“It can only be a good thing, Harry,” she said to him calmly as she perched on the edge of his bed in Privet Drive. Her eyes roved around the room, taking in her surroundings and feeling quite ill at the idea of anyone having to spend their earliest years in such a place. Had she known that Harry had only been in possession of a room of his own for little more than six years then she would probably have been infinitely more upset on his behalf. “After all, the Order has many members, all of whom were trusted by Dumbledore, so it stands to reason that they would be acceptable aid to us.”

“Hermione,” Ron sighed and Harry knew that an argument was about to break loose, “Dumbledore trusted Snape. He was in the Order and he killed him!”

“But—” Hermione began but was cut off by Ron, only causing her quick temper to ignite.

“As well as that, Dumbledore only told Harry about the Horcruxes and said that he could tell us. He didn’t tell McGonagall or Lupin or anyone else! Just Harry,” Ron said rationally. Harry hated to admit it but Ron was sounding quite convincing. There was only one problem – he had already told Remus everything that he might have wanted or needed to know about the Horcruxes and the situation they were in. “He clearly didn’t want anyone else but us doing this!”

He wants the glory,’ Hermione thought as she watched her boyfriend through narrowed eyes. ‘He wants to be able to stand alongside Harry and I and be able to say that he was part of the small team that killed him. Not part of a group of around thirty people!

“That’s all fine and good except for one small problem,” Harry said grimly and Ron knew from his tone that whatever it was that was coming next was not good in the slightest. “Dumbledore may have wanted me to do this alone but I’ve already told Remus everything this morning before you arrived.”

“What?!” Ron demanded, leaping to his feet. “How could you just go and tell someone about this?! This was entrusted to you; to us! You can’t just go doing things like that now, we have to work together in this and tell each other what we’re doing.”

“Too late now,” Hermione said and Ron wondered whether he was imagining the triumphant glint in her eye.

“Go Obliviate him or something…” Ron suggested and Hermione rolled her eyes.

“Yes, that’s right Ron, you just go wiping away Professor Lupin’s memory and when he can’t remember who he is anymore then you can be the one to take him to St. Mungo’s!” she shouted at him. Harry felt glad for the Silencing Charm that Remus had placed around the room earlier on to prevent the Dursleys from overhearing their conversation. “The fact is that we can’t do this alone! There are only three of us! Three of us to get rid of four Horcruxes and Voldemort! We can’t do it! We need more help and the Order will be very helpful.”

Ron didn’t bother to reply – no words came to mind and he felt so furious that he could only pace and clench his fists. Hermione on the other hand seemed quite calm and relaxed at the idea of more than them tackling their problem. Not many more, but certainly more.

“Who are we going to ask to help us then? Surely we’re not going to ask the entire Order, or tell all of them about the Horcruxes?” Hermione said, glancing at Harry and ignoring Ron entirely.

“I think we should talk to McGonagall,” Harry sighed, knowing that after he had refused to talk to her only the year before it would probably not go down too well with her that he had changed his mind in favour of her assistance. Still, it would be required and he had no doubt that she could be of great help to them.

Hermione’s smile was enough to tell him that he had probably made the right decision. All he had to do now would be to leave the Dursleys’ that night and move into Grimmauld Place on a more permanent basis. He wanted to get McGonagall informed on their situation as soon as possible, if only so that there would be more people working at an earlier date preventing Voldemort from taking more lives than would otherwise have been taken. He would be visiting Godric’s Hollow at some point also, taking Ron and Hermione with him when he went. That wasn’t the current matter – first of all came the short move from one home to another.

“Let’s go then,” Harry said, rising to his feet. Ron was still stood at the window and Hermione glanced up at him in slight surprise. She had not been there long and neither had Ron but already Harry was ready to move on.

“Already?”

“What have I got to keep me here? I had to make one last visit here to ensure that the blood protection would hold. I’ve been here for the last month now so I’m sure that’s long enough, Hermione,” Harry assured her and glanced to his trunk at the bottom of the bed.

“Here let us do it; we don’t want you to get dragged into the Ministry again for underage magic a week before you turn seventeen,” Hermione smiled as she levitated his trunk from the floor. Ron glanced around for anything he could do with magic but upon seeing nothing his shoulders slumped and he walked out after the others.

Downstairs the Dursleys were all in the kitchen eating lunch. For Dudley it seemed closer to a snack however. Petunia was flittering round like a bizarre, overgrown moth ensuring that everyone had as much as they wanted whilst the males of the family consumed as much as humanly possible. Upon Harry’s entrance to the room they all froze however, the tension increasing due to Ron and Hermione’s appearance in the hallway.

“Are you leaving now?” Vernon demanded of Harry, trying to keep his voice level. One wizard was more than he wanted to deal with; three magical persons in his home were enough to make him begin to stutter, teenagers or not.

Harry nodded. “Yeah, I’m leaving now. I’d thank you for the hospitality, had you shown me any.” Vernon scowled darkly at him but remained silent.

“What are you waiting for then? Be gone with you!” Harry needed no more prompting than that from his uncle and turned away from them, leaving the room. “A bit of peace and quiet without any weirdness is exactly what we deserve.”

Harry walked quickly down the hallway, Ron and Hermione were already walking down the garden path, presumably to hail the Knight Bus or whatever form of transport they were taking to Grimmauld Place. A slight tap on his shoulder caused him to spin round in the hallway and he found himself face to face with Petunia.

“Harry,” she began, sounding almost strained from having to remember his name; it had been a long time indeed that he had not been referred to as ‘boy’, “this was left to me by your mother. I don’t know what it is but…”

She brought out a small key from the pocket on her apron. It was attached to a small silver chain and it seemed very similar to those of Gringotts, except that Harry’s key was gold. Upon inspection Harry saw the small seal of the Wizarding bank shimmering at the end of it although there was no clue as to the vault to which it belonged.

“It looks like a key to a vault in Gringotts,” Harry told her and Petunia nodded, seemingly understanding the reference to the Wizarding bank. “Don’t you want it?”

“And enter that Alley with all your kind? No, not a chance,” she snapped, suddenly the same magic-fearing woman Harry had always known. “Take it, there won’t be any money in there anyway.”

“Thanks,” Harry said quietly, pocketing the key and glancing back up towards his aunt. She seemed somehow less imposing today than she had ever done before. Then again it was probably the last time he would see his only remaining family member by blood, whether there was no love between them or not. “Take care,” he added, without really knowing why he said it; they would be careful of everything except overindulging their son it seemed.

“Good luck,” Petunia replied as Harry turned away without really knowing why she said so. The last link to her sister was leaving her, the last of her family and she almost felt something at seeing him disappear. The door shut behind him and she stood frozen in the hallway.

“Mum, where are the biscuits?!” Dudley yelled sounding absolutely outraged from the kitchen.

“They’re on the third cupboard to the left of the cooker, sweetums,” she replied. Already the thoughts of family and her only nephew had disappeared, replaced with an insatiable desire to fill her son fit to bursting. Magic was something for other people, not something which invaded her life any longer. It was something for the freaks and the weirdoes out there but she, along with her family, was perfectly normal, thank you very much.

*


“Did Harry speak to you?” Minerva asked Remus as the young man took a seat in her office. Well, he was hardly young any longer but, in comparison to herself, she considered him so. She considered all her students, past and present, as ‘young’.

“Yes.” She raised an eyebrow as she observed him across the desk. He seemed calm but there was something in the way he carried himself that made her sense he was otherwise. She could not pinpoint it exactly but perhaps it was the way he slumped slightly in his chair, the way he didn’t even bother to try and conceal the fatigue in his face or his nervous tapping of fingers on the arm of his chair.

“What did he say to you? Did he accept our assistance?” she asked him, almost praying for a positive answer whilst the portraits on the wall around them listened with closed eyes.

“He did,” Remus replied. Minerva did not respond; there was more to be told and she would not interrupt whilst the information was relayed to her, “but there was a lot more said between us. I think it better that you hear it from Harry himself – I don’t think I can field all the questions you’ll have on my own.”

Now that was intriguing if nothing else. Something questionable, most likely Dumbledore related as she was not already aware of it. Perhaps it concerned where he and Dumbledore had gone before Dumbledore’s untimely demise or what they had been doing. Minerva had a strong feeling that Weasley and Granger were aware of the events that had taken place and that did more to unsettle her than anything else. That Harry would have confided his and Dumbledore’s goings on to them but not to herself was not a good sign.

“Very well,” she said after some thought. “What happens now?”

“I’ve persuaded Harry to take up residence at Grimmauld Place once again; I feel it would be safest for him,” Remus told her. Minerva nodded, although she was aware that things would make much more sense when she had spoken to Harry. At the moment it felt as if she was listening to someone speak after removing half the nouns from their speech; the words she was hearing made sense but the overall information meant very little to her.

“I would like to speak to him as soon as possible,” Minerva announced as she rose from her chair, casting a cool glance towards Phineas’s portrait as she crossed the room to the large window on the other side. “Would you be able to persuade him to visit here?”

“I don’t think any persuasion will be necessary; you’re the new Secret Keeper of headquarters so he’ll need to speak to you before he can enter. I got the impression that a prolonged stay at the Dursleys’ was not what he had in mind…” Remus said. He didn’t follow her to the window but instead cast his gaze around the room, soaking in all that Dumbledore had left and the little ways in which the room was already changing towards that of Minerva’s previous office. They would need a new Transfiguration teacher that year as well as someone to take the Dark Arts post – neither of which would be particularly easy to fill but then again there were bigger problems brewing without the worry of a lack of staff.

A thud caused both of them to look towards the fireplace through which Harry had just fallen, pushed by Ron who was close behind him. Hermione stepped calmly over the hearth and the two boys who lay in a heap on the floor.

Before either Ron or Harry could speak, Hermione apologised for their intrusion and explained their errand there was to give Harry the address for the Order headquarters.

“I know where headquarters are,” Harry muttered darkly as he got to his feet, brushing soot from his clothes.

“I’d like to see you trying to get in without having spoken to the new Secret Keeper,” Remus said mildly, knowing that it could be highly amusing to watch.

“The headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix are located at number twelve, Grimmauld Place,” Minerva stated matter-of-factly to Harry who nodded and moved towards the fireplace again. “Not so fast, Harry. I’d like to talk to you if you please.”

Harry knew that this could only mean Remus had let slip at least some of the information he had received from himself earlier on that evening. Harry supposed that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing; it prevented any possible procrastination on his part when it came to initiating this particular conversation but a part of him rebelled against being pulled into it against his will.

He sat down in one of the chairs next to Remus whilst McGonagall seated herself opposite him, across her desk. She looked quite out of place in the room, as if she herself was merely there to see Dumbledore.

“Well, Harry, just what do you have to say?” she asked.

Harry spoke, explaining the lesson’s he’d been having with Dumbledore the year before and the way in which they had delved into Voldemort’s past in order to understand him better. Minerva presumed that the memories could well be still in the office somewhere should they be needed for any extra scanning and listened on. He spoke, uninterrupted by anyone as Remus listened to the information he had omitted from their conversation earlier and Ron and Hermione stood behind him, listening. However, when one word was mentioned Minerva had no choice but to speak out.

“I’m sorry, Horcruxes?!”

“I’m afraid so,” Harry said. “Voldemort wanted six of them so that his soul would have been in seven pieces.”

“Of course,” she murmured, more to herself than to anyone else in the room. “The most powerful magical number but the sacrifices involved…”

“I was to be one of the sacrifices,” Harry said quietly, “or at least that was what Dumbledore believed. That one clearly didn’t work but six were still created.”

“Do you know their locations?” Inside she was hoping against hope that Dumbledore had shared such information with him but had he known before his death then surely they would have been destroyed long since…

“Two of them have already been destroyed – one which was the cause of Dumbledore’s blackened hand last year and the other in Riddle’s diary,” Harry regretfully informed her, knowing that the information he provided was not as much as she would have wished for. At least two of six had already been destroyed and that was something to be thankful for at the very least.

“And the other four?” This time it was Remus who had spoken. Their earlier conversation had been more to the point of persuading Harry to accept help; it had not been more specifically on the topic of the Horcruxes themselves.

Harry quickly explained about the Horcrux he and Dumbledore had gone to retrieve at the end of the year before pulling out the small note he still had with him signed by the enigmatic R.A.B. along with the fake Horcrux.

“Clearly it must be very similar to this then,” Minerva said, examining the locket and running her fingers over it. She had the feeling that she had seen such a locket before although she could not place where and Remus had a similar feeling of familiarity with the locket.

“Do you have any idea who R.A.B. could be?” Hermione asked the adults once it was clear that a discussion was about to arise between them. Sadly, neither Remus nor Minerva appeared to have any idea as to for whom the letters stood.

“It says that the writer believed they would already be dead when they wrote it,” Ron said, “so it won’t be anyone we know.”

“If they were alive then surely they would have come forwards to Dumbledore and we’d know of them,” Hermione said rationally. Remus hated to admit it but it seemed as if she was right and there was no telling how long ago the Horcrux had been taken or else they could have been able to guess after what time the thief (and that was surely what they had been) had died.

“Dumbledore said that the other two would have most likely been property of the other founders since he liked to collect trophies,” Harry told them. They all looked slightly puzzled by this, although Minerva briefly remembered the memory Harry had described of Riddle as a young boy and the things he had stolen from other children. “And the last and most recently created Horcrux will probably be Nagini – Voldemort’s snake.”

“I’m very glad that two of the Horcruxes have already been disposed of,” Remus sighed as he ran a hand through his hair.

“It’s a pity there isn’t just the one really,” Ron said but Minerva shook her head.

“One Horcrux would have been very carefully guarded indeed and it would have been doubtful that even Dumbledore could have reached it,” she told him. “Perhaps the fact that there are four of them remaining is a good thing.”

Silence stretched out between the five of them, seeming strange and foreign after their long discussion which had Minerva and Remus wanting to hit their heads hard on the wall and at points, burst into tears and resign themselves to the inevitable doom that would befall them. Still, they were the Order of the Phoenix- if they didn’t stick up for the Wizarding world and discover and destroy the Horcruxes then no one else would.

“Silence is golden after such mindless ramblings,” Phineas yawned from the wall and the other portraits glared at him, clearly not caring for his attitude towards the headmistress and her guests. “Still, I suppose it takes a lot of talking to get the most simple of concepts across to some of the more simple students.”

“That’s enough, Phineas!” Dilys snapped at him whilst the other portraits continued to stare disapprovingly.

With their silence came the end of their meeting and Harry, Ron and Hermione moved back towards the fireplace, meaning to travel to Grimmauld Place. Minerva stopped them with three envelopes.

“What are these?” Ron asked, glancing them over. Hermione’s eyes widened as she realised what they’d failed to explain to their new headmistress.

“I’d have thought after receiving one of them before every new school year you would recognise them by now, Ron,” Remus said lightly.

“School letters?” Ron asked and Minerva nodded, raising an eyebrow at his odd reaction to something which was hardly out of the ordinary. “Professor… uh, well we aren’t coming back to school next year.”

As the expressions on Remus’s and Minerva’s faces hardened, Harry began to wish that he’d been halfway into the fire when such information had been disclosed. Sadly that was not the case. He readied himself for what was likely to be quite a fierce argument from two educators.


Chapter 3: Closing The Door
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Chapter Three


“Say that again, Mr Weasley.” Minerva did not appear to be pleased by the sudden news that none of the three teenagers stood in her office would be returning to school the next year. Harry would have gone as far as to say that she was furious. He knew that she was likely to try and appeal to the intellectual in Hermione at the very least – after all, her OWL scores had been the highest in the year, even beating all the Ravenclaws!

“Uh… we’re not going back to school in September,” Ron muttered quickly and kept his gaze away from Remus and Minerva. It was probably as well that he did; their expressions were distinctly grim and they were not going to back down on this issue without a fight.

“I think you’ll find that you will be going back to school,” Minerva told them sternly. “You will take your NEWTs.”

“During which time countless people could be killed and Voldemort could take over entirely,” Harry said coolly. He was certainly not in the mood to be dissuaded from two of his decisions by various Order members that day, especially since he had already let the secret about the Horcruxes out and told two extra people. “We’re not going back to school.”

“That’s ridiculous!” Remus cried and Harry turned to look at him. He found it very strange that the man should care; after all, they were only NEWTs. “You aren’t just dropping out of school for this, do you see anyone else doing the same? We’re highly capable of taking care of things whilst you continue your education.” He knew instinctively that he’d said the wrong thing.

Ron glanced at Harry who caught his gaze and didn’t need Ron to speak in order to know that he was feeling smug about his earlier decision to involve Remus. Clearly the man thought that the Order would be taking care of things and Harry already regretted involving him, especially when Dumbledore had been so secretive before.

“That’s just it though, isn’t it?” Hermione said quietly and Harry was very glad that she’d chosen to say something before he had the chance to fly off the handle. “Dumbledore entrusted this to Harry who in turn told the four of us. We are involved and we will be leaving school to do so. The worst that can happen concerning our education is that we have to take our NEWTs at a later date but to be honest I rather think removing Voldemort from power sooner rather than later is top priority here.”

“It is but have you ever considered what would happen once Voldemort’s gone?” Minerva demanded of her. “You’ll defeat him finally and then that’ll be it. You’ll have to go on and lead your lives, get careers except that it will be rather difficult to get a job without any NEWTs…” Hermione was silenced by this and everyone else in the room could see that she was in danger of being swayed by this argument.

“Can’t we take the NEWTs at a later date?” Harry asked her, trying to find some way around the problem. He was hardly leaping to take the exams but he knew that if he somehow managed to survive he would have to get a job and a life at some point.

“You can take the exams at any time you wish at the Ministry, however without extensive studying conducted most effectively in this environment then I believe you will not do nearly as well as you ought,” Minerva said calmly. As much as she could see the reason for them wanting to leave school she was hardly going to let them walk out of the door with her blessings. They would be walking into a dangerous world, one in which they would have no protection as they fought against Voldemort, searching to destroy pieces of his soul. That they should do so without even advanced magical knowledge and without any other members of the Order as they had originally intended was a frightening notion. Then again they were clearly not backing down.

“Then we can do that, can’t we?” Ron said defiantly. Minerva and Remus shot him cool looks which instantly had him squirming under their gaze and he averted his eyes around the room, looking anywhere but at them.

“The idea that you’ll be facing Voldemort and his most skilled followers as you try to destroy him without even the knowledge you would have obtained next year isn’t a comforting thought,” Remus said, putting Minerva’s thoughts into words. He glanced sideways at his old professor thoughtfully.

“You have a plan,” Minerva stated. It was clear that Remus was thinking something through thoroughly which could only mean one thing – that he was beginning to take their side on the matter.

“They won’t be out all the time; they won’t be in constant hunt of the Horcruxes and Voldemort and will be returning to headquarters when they’re not,” Remus said thoughtfully, “so they could easily be tutored at headquarters by various members of the Order. Between everyone we could give them a very rounded education, I’m sure, and of course Ron and Harry will have to obtain their Apparition licences.” Ron’s ears reddened at the allusion to his previously failed test.

“I only lost half an eyebrow!” he snapped and Remus and Minerva smiled slightly.

“So, what do you think?” Remus asked the group in general, although he looked to Minerva.

She sighed in resignation. It was clear that she was doomed from the start, she supposed. “Very well. I shall see which members of the Order will be available to teach who, what and when. The matter of hunting down the Horcruxes will be difficult however, and I will certainly make sure that it takes first priority over your education.”

“Thanks, Professor,” Harry said and she nodded.

“Who else will you be telling about the Horcruxes?” Hermione asked Minerva suddenly, her thoughts wandering towards Snape.

“You won’t be telling the whole Order, will you?” Harry asked her. “I think that the less people know about it, the better, although more than just the three of us knowing was probably a good idea.”

She nodded and thought for a moment. Who else could she safely entrust this information to in the Order.

“I think that informing Alastor would be a good idea,” Minerva said, thinking through the various members of the Order. “Kingsley working in the Ministry would be in an excellent position to attempt to discover records of previous Horcruxes and their destruction…”

“Previous Horcruxes?”

“Yes Mr Weasley because, believe it or not, Voldemort has not been the first to have done this. Though he may have been the first to create so many of them,” Minerva told him coolly. She glanced at Remus for a moment and then added, “I’m sure Tonks would be willing to be involved in some of the more practical aspects of hunting for the Horcruxes, although I’m sure that she’d be very useful in the Ministry also…”

Remus visibly cringed at the idea of being trapped with a woman he had let down greatly very recently. The action was not missed by any of the group and Minerva raised an eyebrow.

“I really don’t want to talk about it yet,” Remus muttered before anyone said anything.

“So you would prefer Miss Tonks not to be involved in the situation at present, Remus?” she asked him calmly, wondering what on earth had gone on between them in the month since she, and many others, had observed them together at Dumbledore’s funeral.

“Well if she would be of some assistance then clearly I would rather she were involved, no matter what my personal issues with her might be,” Remus grudgingly told her.

“Your feelings for her at the moment may make any cooperation between the two of you difficult. If this is the case then Tonks will be excluded from this knowledge, at least for the present. Lastly I believe Bill Weasley may also be of use to us in this matter,” Minerva finished thoughtfully to strange stares from Ron.

“What does Bill have to do with anything?” he asked her quite disrespectfully. She scowled at him, as did Hermione but he kept his gaze fixed on his professor, avoiding that of anyone else.

“Bill is high up in Gringotts now, although I do not know how aware of your brothers’ status you are. He is, as humans go, doing very well for himself there and can easily monitor the types of things going into the vaults in there.” Minerva had evidently thought the matter through very quickly and very effectively.

“How? The things that go into the vaults are private, surely?” Hermione asked her.

“Naturally but magical frequency is always checked of anything which enters the cells and remains in there after the owner has left. If Voldemort was to have one of the Horcruxes already in one of the cells or relocated there then Bill would soon learn of it as a Horcrux, and especially one of Voldemort would have an extremely high magical frequency,” Minerva said as the rest of the group stared at her in amazement.

“How do you know all that?” Remus asked her in surprise.

“I have not always been a teacher,” she smiled slightly and glanced at Harry who appeared quite confused.

“Magical frequency?” he asked her and the rest of the group stared at him for a moment, wondering how he didn’t know of such a thing.

“Sorry mate, sometimes I forget how little you really know…” Ron said to him.

“Thanks Ron,” Harry deadpanned. “Is anyone going to explain this to me then?”

“I’ll tell you later,” Remus said. “It may take quite some explaining.”

“Well if that is all then you are all free to go now,” Minerva addressed the group. “I will arrange for some tutoring lessons to take place shortly in all subjects I deem necessary from various teachers. I would like to hold a meeting here with yourselves, Alastor, Kingsley and Bill tomorrow evening at eight o’clock. Do attempt to be punctual.”

Four bursts of green flames in the fireplace later and Minerva was left on her own once more. She leant her head into her hands and wondered how on earth they were ever going to manage to accomplish the task at hand without Dumbledore.

“There, there dear,” said Dilys comfortingly from the side of her as she shoved into Phineas’s portrait in order to get closer to the current headmistress. “I’m sure everything will be fine. You don’t need Albus here to destroy Voldemort.”

“I really think we do,” Minerva sighed as she glanced up at Albus and the other headmasters and mistresses. “How did you ever find the location of the fake Horcrux?”

“It is as you said, Minerva. Magical frequency,” Albus said simply. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, there is a party going on at my other portrait near the Wizengamot.” He slipped out of sight leaving Minerva’s mind working on overdrive and not even the snide comments from Phineas Nigellus were going to pull her out of her thoughts.

Back at Grimmauld Place, the four who had just left the office of the headmistress were in a similar state of thought, although not all on the same subject.

“Do you want to go and unpack in our room then, Harry?” Ron asked as he started towards the stairs but Remus stopped Harry from walking after him.

“Actually Harry, Molly was thinking that this summer since you now own the house and will be living here then perhaps you ought to take the master bedroom,” Remus said to him. “It would afford you more space and some privacy from the rest of the house and you really don’t need to be sharing when the house is this large.”

“Okay then… thanks,” Harry replied quietly, knowing that sleeping in Sirius’s room was going to be very difficult for him. He still couldn’t do magic until his birthday which wasn’t for another six days yet and he didn’t want to leave the room as it was for so long. He was beginning to wonder if Remus was using Legilimency on him after his next response.

“You can do magic in the house, Harry,” he smiled slightly at the startled look on Harry’s face and realised he must have been thinking something along those lines himself. “As magical activity is monitored by the Ministry that puts you in no danger whilst you’re in this house – it’s under so many charms they can’t even pick up a magical signal from it, no matter how many spells you use.”

“Oh, that’s good then,” Harry said, more to himself than to anyone else in actuality and set off upstairs to unpack.

It didn’t matter that he felt like he was over the initial pain of Sirius’s death and that it had been over a year ago since he had fallen in the Department of Mysteries; the moment he set foot into his godfather’s old room he felt instantly overwhelmed. Staring around him he took in the deep blue room, most things in shades of sapphire and silver. It was nice, Harry had to admit but the fact that it was Sirius’s changed that and he felt that he had to change things. He had to change everything to personalise the room entirely to him. He had to practically erase Sirius from the room so he could enter his space without wanting to murder Bellatrix or hit things.

There was a slight knock at the door and it was only at this point he realised the door was shut behind him and Ron and Hermione had not followed him in. He wondered who would have followed him up to his room and who was actually in the house, come to think of it. Harry walked over to the door and pulled it open, only to find Remus standing on the other side. Harry took a step back and opened the door for Remus to come in but he shook his head.

“I can’t go in there…” Remus said quietly staring over Harry’s shoulder into the room on the other side. “I really can’t. Anyway, I just came to see if you were okay with the room and everything, or if you’d rather choose anywhere else to stay in the house. Seeing as it’s yours you can go removing and relocating people as you want really…”

Harry smiled at the idea of moving everyone who stayed in the house round and round until they had no idea where they were sleeping anymore but decided against it; Mad Eye was staying in the house on the next floor up and although the idea of him being moved round and round against his will was highly amusing, he would kill Harry if such a thing happened.

“No, this room’s fine,” Harry told him, “although I think I’ll be moving a lot round and changing things entirely really…” He trailed off and glanced into the room on the other side. Somehow the whole thing reminded him of Sirius, he didn’t know whether it was because he consciously knew Sirius had been staying in there before he died or if he had somehow left an imprint of himself in the room somehow but it was all tugging at Harry’s emotions.

“Are you sure?” Remus asked and Harry wondered again whether he was having his mind read.

“For the last time, yes!” Harry said, his voice raising a little but he had to smile at Remus’s concern. “There’s no point in the room not being used just because Sirius used to stay there. I noticed a lot of his things are still lying about though…”

“Oh yes, no one’s really been in there since he died,” Remus said realising that it didn’t feel half as strange as he would have thought to be talking about his old friend. Still, he hadn’t been talking about him much over the past year anyway. The Order had been very busy and no one had anything to say except that they were sorry. “Everything he had will still be in there. I suppose we could clean it all out and put all his things in the attic, if you want.”

“We? As in…?” Harry began and trailed off.

“As in I’ll help you?” Remus asked with a slight smile. “Of course.”

And so that was how Harry and Remus found themselves spending the afternoon, uninterrupted by Ron or Hermione, both of whom returned downstairs into the lounge where they played Exploding Snap with Ginny and various other Wizarding games for much of the time. Harry found himself very glad that Remus had come by and offered his help though and he wondered whether Remus had known what he would want to; that he would wish to change the room so entirely from the way Sirius had him and practically purge him from his own room. He didn’t ask though.

“What is it?” Remus asked as he saw Harry lingering by Sirius’s bedside. He held something in his hands and, as Remus moved closer to him and away from the pile of boxes on the floor, he saw what it was: a photograph. He didn’t know what was on it but then he had never spent any time in Sirius’s room himself except once. Remus had been sitting on the small sofa by the window, watching as Sirius paced to and fro. Sirius had been excessively worried about Harry after hearing the prophecy and, truth be told, so had Remus. That was how he had come to be sitting and trying to calmly assert some sense into his friend before he did something stupid – like tell Harry what it said himself.

It hadn’t mattered anyway… it had been Sirius who had ended up killed, not Harry who had found out the prophecy in the end from Dumbledore. Remus briefly wondered whether Harry was aware that the entire Order knew the contents of the prophecy and considered asking him as he stared over Harry’s shoulder at the picture in his hand.

“I trust you’re keeping that one,” Remus said quietly and Harry nodded. The photo showed Harry, Sirius, Ron, Hermione, Remus and Tonks all sat at the table on Christmas day during Harry’s fifth year. Molly had taken quite a lot of pictures that year and most of the Order believed that it was ‘just in case’. Just in case Voldemort massacred them all and there would still be a small part of them trapped on a moving picture for Molly to sob over.

Harry set the picture back down on the bedside table and glanced around the room. They had removed most of the things that had belonged to Sirius and had filled two small cardboard boxes, which Remus had conjured, with his robes and other clothes. Three boxes had been filled with books and Remus explained that Sirius had been very bored during the year. He had clearly taken a shine to reading during that one year and had come into possession of many books. Harry had contemplated leaving them down there so that perhaps he might read them, although he knew he never would and it had been Remus who persuaded him just to put them in the attic.

“That’s probably about it, really,” Remus said, thinking aloud. “He didn’t have much but then he didn’t have the chance to go out and buy much. There’s just the matter of his desk and then we’ll be done and you can do what you want with the room.”

After such a statement both Remus and Harry thought they would find themselves walking towards Sirius’s desk which sat in the corner of the room, just behind the door in an out-of-the-way location. They didn’t and for about ten seconds they both stood there staring at it, each waiting for the other to make the first move. When nothing happened, Harry laughed slightly and Remus couldn’t help but smile sadly. Neither of them needed to state what they feared finding in that desk, and it was worse than any dark creature they could have discovered.

It was letters.

The fear of finding a small store of the letters they’d sent to him was great. It was overwhelming just thinking about it and they both knew it was improbable that he would have destroyed or thrown away all that they had sent to him. It would be even more overwhelming and heartbreaking to actually see them and remove them, perhaps just destroy them if they were there that is.

Harry took a deep breath and walked over to the desk boldly, Remus following him feeling glad that Harry had been the first to move. The desk was only small but it was adequate for writing on and that was clearly what it had been used for. On the desk itself lay two small piles – one of envelopes and the other of parchment. The Black family seal lay unused on his desk with three quills and two pots of ink which had been gradually drying out throughout the year they had lain in disuse. There was only one drawer and Remus reached out to it.

It was as they had suspected and dreaded. Filled with letters, each of them recognising the writing of themself and the other that stood with them. There were also letters from Dumbledore and one or two that looked like they were from Tonks. The abundance of them had been from Harry and Remus though. They both put their hands into the drawer and took them out, a small pile of them on the table once they had done and it was clear that the drawer had an expansion charm or two upon it.

“What do we do with them?” Harry asked Remus quietly, not knowing whether it was worth saving them because Sirius had done or destroying them because they had been sent from themselves and they had no use for them. Remus considered the possibilities as he stared down at them, his eyes wandering over sections of letters from himself and from Harry that Sirius had carefully saved. Part of him thought the action of saving such mundane letters odd, but then he had done the same and he was sure Harry would have done also…

“We’ll box them up and put them in the attic,” Remus decided. “That way in a few years, should we still be here to read them again, I can laugh at the drivel we wrote to each other during that year and you can as well, I’m sure.”

Harry nodded and some time later the letters had all been carefully placed in another box which was set atop the others. Remus banished them up to the attic with a wave of his wand but, a moment after the door flew open and the boxes went through it, there was a loud thud on the landing. Remus and Harry stared at each other for a moment before running to the door. Mad Eye lay knocked out on the floor, apparently hit by one of the boxes containing books which had carried on up to the attic.

“Well that was emotionally draining,” Remus smiled sadly as he walked out of the room and glanced back inside it from the doorway. Harry shut the door and swallowed; it felt like he was shutting the door on Sirius’s life. It was final closure that the man was finally dead and gone and, after never having a funeral for him, it felt sort of appropriate that the two people who had shut the door on his life had been the two he had been closest to.

“I agree,” Harry sighed as he watched Mad Eye’s limp form lying on the floor a few metres away. “What do we do about him?”

“Well I don’t fancy our chances of survival if we’re the ones who wake him so we’ll go downstairs, have some dinner and hope he doesn’t connect us to his sudden removal of consciousness,” Remus smiled, a little wider this time. Harry grinned in return and the two of them set off quickly down towards the stairs, not wanting to be caught at the scene of the crime.

A/N: I wasn't pleased with the way that JKR wrote Harry as just entirely over Sirius as if he was just like a little pet that died. I know they didn't know each other well but I think a little more emotion there would have been nicer. So, Sirius can have a goodbye one year later... why not? :o)

Chapter 4: An Unexpected Attack
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Chapter Four


Harry walked quickly down Diagon Alley with Ron and Hermione at his side. Ginny was trailing behind them, chatting animatedly with Fred and George about their shop, before they wandered away to the shop in question, and further back still were Remus and Molly. They were not by any means the only members of the Order present that afternoon as people hurried from shop to shop, not stopping to chat in the street as once they had, but they were the only visible ones.

“I’m not taking any chances,” Moody muttered to Kingsley for what felt like the hundredth time since that morning but was, in reality, only the fifth. “If something happens then we have to be here as soon as possible, which means being here before it happens.”

“But nothing is going to happen!” Kingsley almost yelled out into the street and that would almost certainly have given the family which hurried past into The Leaky Cauldron an excuse to panic. “There’s no one here for starters!”

“Have you been in any of the shops lately?” Moody asked him, swivelling both eyes onto him for a moment. Kingsley froze, knowing that he hadn’t and that his acknowledgement of that fact wasn’t likely to do him much good. He decided not to answer but Moody either didn’t expect one or didn’t feel one was necessary as they reached the front steps of Gringotts and followed the others inside.

Kingsley muttered something darkly under his breath at the sight that met him. People. Lots and lots of them. The bank appeared full and was dealing with more customers than Kingsley had ever seen in there before. He had not glanced into any of the other shops on the way there; he had been ordered to keep his eyes on their charges, but he felt that it was safe to assume that the other shops were in a similar state. After all, the students had to do their shopping for September and the street was clearly not deemed safe. There was a flash of green behind him, and another, and another. Kingsley span round in an instant, his wand drawn. To his surprise, the usually hex-happy Moody merely laughed.

“Relax, Shacklebolt. It’s only the Floo.” Kingsley felt some colour rise into his cheeks as he saw witches and wizards of all ages queuing to travel through several fireplaces along the wall. A slight touch on his shoulder caused him to turn back towards Moody, who steered him towards the edge of the room where they could observe the comings and goings as they pleased. They were in a perfect position to be seen but unobserved themselves. Across the room they watched as Harry, Ron and Hermione easily reached one of the goblins at the counters and showed them a key.

“It has been a very long time since this key has been used, Mr Potter,” said one of the goblins as he stared firstly at the key, and then at Harry over his spectacles. “However, there is no doubt of ownership.”

“Isn’t there an account number I need for this…?” Harry asked and Ron kicked him in the back of the leg. They were not aware of any number for the vault that they wished to enter and it appeared that they were going to be let in without one. Had Harry just ruined that chance?

“No… this is one of the oldest vaults in the bank and, as such, means that it was before the numbers even existed. There is only the key. Do not lose it, Mr Potter,” the goblin said to him as he glanced over to the wall where another goblin stood, his hands behind his back and his eyes on them. “Follow Coldlang to your vault.” The goblin sanding against the wall, whom they presumed to be Coldlang, nodded and turned towards the large doors at the end of the room which they knew from experience to lead into the vaults. Without question they followed him in.

Harry moved as if to slip the key back into his pocket but Coldlang reached out and took it before he had the chance. They stepped into one of the carts and Coldlang pressed the key into a small slot on the cart. Instantly it took off, throwing Harry, Ron and Hermione back in their seats causing Ron to hit his head quite painfully on the metal bar behind him.

The darkness seemed to increase the further they went along the tracks and they couldn’t help but notice that they were going right down into the bank, further than any of them had ever been before. It became much cooler as they descended and Harry noticed Hermione determinedly looking at her feet, presumably not looking at the way they were going. Not that Harry could blame her; they appeared to be descending straight into darkness with no sign of where the tracks would end and no promise of stopping any time soon.

Beside him, Ron was also looking a little green and was breathing deeply and slowly. A glance up to the goblin who accompanied them informed Harry that he was greatly amused by their behaviour and was wearing the closest Harry had ever seen to a smile on his face.

“Oh dear god, tell me we’re there,” Hermione muttered as the cart finally began to slow. Her answer was from the eventual stopping of the cart outside a large door and she was the first one out and onto solid land again. Ron scrambled after her, pushing past Harry in order to get out of there as fast as possible.

“Your key again, Mr Potter,” Coldlang requested as he stood by the large door. Harry noticed the way he kept quite a large amount of distance between himself and the door, as if he didn’t wish to get any closer than he absolutely had to. The goblin must have noticed Harry’s observation from his next words. “Keep away from the door. If anyone touches it before the key is inserted then it will destroy their soul…”

Harry looked at him dubiously for a moment before registering the fearful looks on Ron and Hermione’s faces and decided that clearly his threat was perfectly viable and, most likely, perfectly true.

The key was pressed against a small panel by the side of the door and it flashed brightly before a loud creak filled their ears. Harry winced at the sound as the large door opened up, allowing them entrance into the vault. The goblin pressed the key back into Harry’s hand as he passed but remained stationary by the door.

Harry didn’t know what he’d been expecting as the large door swung shut behind them but the large room he was in certainly wasn’t his idea of a vault. It looked more like a living room of some kind. The walls were covered in wallpaper, the floor had been covered with a thick cream carpet and there were two sofas in the middle of the room.

“Is anyone else wondering whether we’ve walked into a house?” Ron asked as he took in the room, spinning round to get a better look at it, noticing that from this side the door was small and just like one you would expect to find in a house.

Harry stared around him before walking over to one of the sofas and sinking into it, letting the rest of the room sink into his mind. It was so strange and yet so oddly comforting to be in a room surrounded by things which he knew to have belonged to his parents. Ron and Hermione were wandering round, looking at everything they found but not actually touching anything. He wondered briefly whether they felt that nothing in the room was to be touched without his permission as he followed them with his eyes.

The next three hours were spent going over most of the things in the room. There was a lot which Harry would have liked to remove and take back to Grimmauld Place with him but, knowing that he would have nowhere to put most of the objects in the room and that they were safer in the vault, he let them lie.

His father’s Snitch, quite possibly the one Harry had seen him playing with in Snape’s worst memory, still fluttered around the room. It was clearly as full of magic and as adept at evading the clutches of whoever came near it as ever and Harry spent ten minutes trying to catch it before he found his father’s broom.

He had to wonder whether his mother had purposefully hidden it behind one of the sofas to prevent James chasing the Snitch around the room. It was still in quite good condition and flew tolerably well, although it was clear how much brooms had advanced in the last fifteen years or so.

After a crash landing, which Harry blamed on the broom, he glanced around to see that Hermione and Ron were sat talking on the other side of the room. Ron’s fingers were closed around the Snitch and Hermione looked quite agitated. Harry wondered whether one of their arguments was bubbling up and he decided that it would probably be best just to leave them to it, in the hopes that it would either calm down or that even if they did argue he wouldn’t become involved. A glance back showed him that they were holding hands and he felt a slight pang of jealousy before he walked into the corner of a desk.

“Stupid desk…” he muttered under his breath, pressing a hand to his thigh as he stared down at it. It was only then that he realised he’d overlooked it for some of the more interesting objects in the room and saw that it was covered in parchment. ‘Letters,’ he realised as he glanced around and took in a few pieces of mislaid jewellery also.

He had no idea how many of them there were but they were mostly signed by his mother and father to each other, some to Remus and Sirius which had clearly never been sent and some from them to his parents. Harry soon found himself sitting on the chair which accompanied the desk, glancing through the letters and occasionally stumbling upon a photograph of his parents or their friends. Ron and Hermione were forgotten entirely.

Dear Rhianne,

Everything’s fine, don’t worry about us! We’re looking after Harry quite capably, thank you very much! We just leave him to play by the fire and feed him when he cries, right? Just kidding! Really! We’re doing a great job! Well, I say ‘we’ but it’s mostly just Patrick following him about the house whilst your most marvellous husband watches in amusement. I told you I should have been his godfather… I wouldn’t have chased him around!

Enjoy your holiday without us and don’t forget to bring us something back. (Chocolate would be appreciated!)
Thomas L'Ordinaire


“Thomas L’Ordinaire?” Harry wondered aloud as he stared down at the letter. There was no way that name was real, surely. It was far too like Lestrange for his liking… in a mocking sort of way. He searched through the letters and found that the later the date on them became, the more frequently he found ones using several names.

My darling Bromadius,

Missing you terribly and I’m sure Harry feels the same, although I can’t say the same for Patrick. The less I see of him the more cheerful I am (bear that in mind upon your return), godfather or not.

Nothing much is happening at the moment, not since the Longbottoms last week anyway. Dumbledore wishes to see us when we return, although I’m not sure about what. Just that our presence is required.

Take care, for our sakes.

Love,
Rhianne
(and Harry)


The names on the letters puzzled Harry, although he was sure they were being sent from his parents and Sirius, Remus and Peter to one another, the names they used weren’t their own. Perhaps it was in case of interception, but it still seemed a little odd that they would use code names. He briefly wondered whether Remus was Thomas L’Ordinaire before he put the letters back and walked over to Ron and Hermione.

They had finally stopped arguing and were sat in a comfortable silence. Harry had the feeling that they had been watching him reading through the letters but he didn’t ask; it didn’t matter whether they had or not.

“Ready to go?” Hermione asked him. They stood up as Harry walked over to them and nodded. There was a loud knocking at the door, interrupting whatever Hermione had been about to say next.

“What the hell is that? I’ve never heard of anyone being interrupted in Gringotts before,” Ron said. Harry noted with some unease that he sounded quite worried and he walked to the door before the other two. He pulled the door open easily and stepped out to see Coldlang looking quite tense.

“What’s going on?” Harry asked him and Coldlang immediately walked back over to the cart, indicating for them to get inside.

“There’s an attack on Diagon Alley,” he said calmly and the other three stared firstly at him and then at each other in horror.

“An attack?!” Ron almost yelled, suddenly very much aware that Ginny and his mother were in the bank somewhere. “By who?!”

“You already know who,” Coldlang said calmly as he ushered them into the cart. “It is in the interests of your own safety that we return you to the surface. There are quite a number of people demanding your return in order to remove you from Diagon Alley for the present.”

Before he had even finished speaking, Coldlang had pushed a button on the front of the cart and they set off at an alarming pace back up towards the surface of the bank. The speed was one which had both Ron and Hermione clinging onto the rails at the side of them with white knuckles and even Harry was beginning to feel nauseated by the ride. Harry could put good money on the people he would find once they resurfaced and a hysterical Molly Weasley was one of them.

Sure enough the three of them were instantly swept into a tight embrace by Ron’s mother whilst Ginny, Kingsley, Remus and Mad Eye stood in the background. All three of them seemed particularly eager to leave the wizarding area as soon as possible.

“Are you all right?” Molly asked them even as Mad Eye stepped forwards and seized Harry’s arm, marching off with him towards the door and naturally causing everyone else to follow.

“We’re fine, Mum,” Ron said, sounding quite exasperated by her concern. “Besides, what was likely to get us so far down there anyway?”

Molly didn’t answer and merely quickened her pace to match that of Mad Eye’s as they neared the Floo. There was no other logical way out of the situation; they couldn’t Apparate inside Gringotts and Mad Eye said he’d sooner face the Death Eaters single-handedly than risk an illegal Portkey.

“The Floo’s been blocked!” someone screamed nearby as everyone who had just stepped through the fireplace had been spat unceremoniously back out onto the cold marble floor. Panic seemed to engulf all those that were present except for those surrounding Harry, and it did not fail to reach his attention that the adults had encircled him.

“Right,” Mad Eye began. Clearly he was not in the mood for being held up in the bank and Harry had a sudden mental image of a hold up with Mad Eye adamantly standing in the middle of it. He began barking out orders to those around him, “Remus, Kingsley; you’re coming outside with me. Molly, stay here with the children and keep the doors closed if you can.”

“…can’t we come with you?”

“…seventeen so I can do what I want!”

“We’re never allowed to…”

“QUIET!” Molly ordered and Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny were instantly silenced. Remus gave Harry a fleeting smile before he disappeared through the crowd with the two others and left through the large front doors.

There was a roar of noise as the double doors to the bank were flung open and then it stopped as suddenly as it had entered the bank as they clanged shut. Molly ran forwards to lock them with her wand but there was no need; two goblins that Harry had never seen before were quickly casting spells to keep it securely locked for the duration of the battle, although Harry never saw one of them lift a wand.

For Remus, Kingsley and Mad Eye the noise did not instantly die down with the slamming of the doors behind them. If anything it seemed to intensify as Madam Malkin’s was torn down and Madam Malkin herself went running from the shop and into Flourish and Blott’s next door. Remus caught a glimpse of dozens of terrified people in the book shop through the window, all pushing further back into the shop with expressions of horror as the sign above the doorway came crashing down into the street. It was clear that they were the only ones apart from Death Eaters present and there was no way for them to call anyone else at present.

Nothing like being out numbered by twenty Death Eaters to three members of the Order of the Phoenix was going to stop Alastor ‘Mad Eye’ Moody from defending the most popular wizarding shopping area in Britain, especially whilst it was filled with terrified shoppers. He stunned three Death Eaters close by before they even saw him and at a speed which would put Remus’s own skills to shame.

Kingsley and Remus quickly followed his example and very soon every Death Eater near them had been stunned and a few more at the other end of the street, even as two more Death Eaters stalked into Flourish and Blott’s, which was by far the busiest of all the shops. Mad Eye was already after them as fast as his legs could carry him, not wasting his time and stunning another two Death Eaters as he raced towards the shop.

Remus found himself wondering whether the man had been in Gryffindor as he managed to run in front of one Killing curse and two stunning hexes as he went. It was only by sheer good luck that none of the three hit but he and Kingsley made sure to remove the remaining seven Death Eaters from their consciousness before following their eccentric ex-Auror’s lead. This proved easier said than done however.

The only reason they had been able to stun so many of the Death Eaters in the first place was the fact that they had been casting the spells silently and at such a speed. Now they were one less and seven Death Eaters remained on the outside, with Mad Eye on the tail of two more.

Stupefy, Stupefy, STUPEFY!’ Kingsley thought and three jets of red shot out of the end of his wand at three of the Death Eaters advancing upon them. He supposed that if there was one good thing coming from the fact that he and Remus were now having to dodge numerous curses from the remaining four of Voldemort’s followers it was that they had left those in the shops alone. Two of those who remained seemed to be along their train of thought and, after sending another stunner or two in their way, they turned and marched off towards Gringotts, from where the three defiant individuals had originally emerged.

Now that it was only two on two, Remus and Kingsley fancied their chances were much better. They would probably have ended up stunned or maybe even killed had the other two remained but, as they hadn’t…

Remus took his chance and sent a burning spell, a freezing spell and a stunner straight at one of the Death Eaters. He dodged the first two but didn’t see the last. He crumpled to the floor, unconscious and Remus ran past him towards Gringotts even as Kingsley knocked out the one remaining Death Eater.

They were too late however. The large doors had already been swung open and shouts and screams could be heard from inside. There were three flashes of green light close together and neither Remus nor Kingsley had any hesitation as they raced inside.

Remus realised the moment they ran inside that their brashness had been their first mistake. However, as Harry launched himself quickly at Remus and pulled him to the ground, just as the Killing Curse shot over their heads, he was very glad he had remained inside the building. Harry rolled off him and already had his wand out as he remained on the floor. A glance over his shoulder showed Remus that the two Death Eaters had hidden behind the doors, keeping their wands firmly trained on the fearful civilians as they did so.

Kingsley leapt back to his feet and sent a barrage of hexes towards one of them, encompassing what Remus thought to be every spell he had ever learnt. Remus quickly took care of the other, taking advantage of his shock at Kingsley’s bombardment of the other.

As the last Death Eater fell to the floor, twitching uncontrollably from an unidentified spell from Kingsley, Mad Eye burst through the door and ducked the spell which Kingsley shot at his head. Remus tried not to laugh at the expression on Mad Eye’s face as he eyed a rather sheepish looking Kingsley coolly.

“Come on, kids,” Molly said briskly. She didn’t need to tell them twice and, just as the Ministry Aurors arrived on the scene, Mad Eye, Kingsley, Remus, Molly, Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny all exited the building through the fireplace.

“I really wish she’s stop calling us ‘kids’,” Ron muttered as he stepped through the flames to Grimmauld Place. Ginny didn’t appear to be annoyed by the term as such, just quite irritated that she hadn’t managed to get all her shopping done before they were attacked.

“So I think it’s safe to say Mrs Weasley won’t be letting us leave the house ever again now,” Harry said as he brushed himself down in the kitchen of Grimmauld Place.

“Certainly not,” Molly said and then her tone softened slightly. “Well, I suppose you can go to school.”

She smiled and Harry, Ron and Hermione tried to do the same, although Remus raised an eyebrow when he caught Harry’s eye.

“You’ve not told her yet?” he muttered to Harry once Molly had left the room to hang her cloak up. Harry looked everywhere but at Remus, suitably answering his question. “You do know that you’ll have to tell her some time, right?”

“She’s not my mother,” Harry retorted but Remus merely smiled.

“You and I both know that that doesn’t make any difference whatsoever, Harry,” Remus told him. He moved towards the door before turning back and muttering so low that Harry could barely hear him. “Thanks for… saving my life,” he mumbled and quickly left the room, but not before he caught the answering smile on Harry’s lips.

Remus had intended to go up to his room but, upon seeing Minerva talking to Molly about something stopped him in his tracks. Molly’s face went from the relieved, pale colour it had been before to an infuriated red as she marched back towards the kitchen.

“It would appear that Molly was not aware her son and surrogate children aren’t returning to Hogwarts in September,” Minerva said mildly as Molly barged into the kitchen. Ron froze in place and Harry was less than amused to see Remus and Minerva appear in the doorway.

“What’s this about you not returning to school?!” Molly demanded and Ron visibly flinched.

Not again…” Harry thought as he braced himself for a world of shouting.


Chapter 5: Magical Frequency
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Chapter Five


…the violent attack culminated in Ministry Aurors fighting off the twenty Death Eaters inside Diagon Alley whilst the Dark Mark hovered in the sky. The work is believed to have been uncoordinated destruction for the sake of destruction with no real purpose behind it. Although the Ministry were unable to question any of the Death Eaters connected with the attack, the Prophet… Harry stopped reading and set the paper down on the table. He was not the only one to have been reading it, however.

“Ministry Aurors fighting off the Death Eaters?!” Mad Eye demanded at the other end of the table as he shook his paper at Minerva who merely shot him a cool glare. “I cannot believe we don’t even get credit for stopping them…”

“Why couldn’t they question the Death Eaters?” Harry asked them and several people glanced back towards their copy of the paper to check whether or not it was true.

“Ministry’s probably been infiltrated…” Mad Eye muttered darkly. “So either they’ve had their memories wiped or they were Portkey-ed out of there by someone in the Aurors division.”

“Or perhaps they had other Death Eaters around just in case such a thing happened,” Minerva suggested. She was not going along with Mad Eye’s suggestion that every large business and building in the country had been infiltrated by Voldemort yet.

“So is it true that you three aren’t going back to school?” Tonks asked offhandedly as she glanced towards Harry who nodded. The day before Molly had discovered this and it had been the cause of a terrific argument, which she went on to lose when Minerva explained the situation to her.

“The fact is that all three of them are in danger at Hogwarts. They’ve made themselves targets in the past and Voldemort will do anything to get to them.” Minerva repeated to Tonks what she had said to Molly the day before. “They’re safer in Grimmauld Place under the Fidelius Charm being tutored by members of the Order in their spare time.” She glanced around her at the gathered members of the Order, hoping that some of them would volunteer their services as tutors.

“I’ll teach Defence Against the Dark Arts!” Tonks said before Mad Eye could open his mouth.

“I believe Remus has already taken that position,” Minerva smiled at her for her enthusiasm.

“Well we can teach it together, can’t we?” Tonks grinned at him and Remus felt like sinking under the table in despair.

“I really don’t think it’s necessary for two teachers on one subject, Tonks,” Minerva said calmly and Remus looked immensely relieved. Harry was trying not to laugh as he stared down determinedly into his cereal. Remus glared at him across the table but Harry didn’t see it. “Remus managed to teach classes of thirty for one year, I’m sure he can manage three students for another.”

“Then I’ll teach… Charms!” Tonks suggested and no one contradicted her.

“Didn’t you fail Charms?” asked Kingsley lightly as he took another slice of toast. Tonks narrowed her eyes at him and elbowed him as she reached over for some more toast, although she did not intend to eat it. She was more likely to throw it at Kingsley’s stupid bald head if he started to undermine her skill in front of various members of the Order again.

“No, I failed Care of Magical Creatures and Astronomy,” Tonks snapped at him, holding her toast like she would a throwing knife. Kingsley must have noticed the way her eyes were fixed on his head and the way her hand was clenched around the edge of a piece of toast because he let the subject drop and volunteered himself for Potions tuition.

“I shall teach Transfiguration in my spare time, of course,” Minerva smiled ever so slightly and they nodded. Harry supposed it was a good thing that they were getting an old Transfiguration teacher for that particular subject but he would rather have had someone a little less… strict. He supposed it was for the best however since Fleur looked slightly put out by this and it was clear she had been wishing to teach them that subject.

“I can teach you some pretty advanced Herbology… enough to get you through your NEWT at Outstanding at any rate,” Charlie offered, “and some basic duelling as well, if you want.”

“Oh no you don’t. If anyone’s teaching duelling here, it’s me.” Mad Eye glared at him and Harry wondered just how cursed he was likely to get in a duelling session with Mad Eye. He glanced at McGonagall to see that she was trying not to smile. Very cursed, he decided.

And so Harry, Ron and Hermione had their teachers for the next year. Sadly they were not given until September before they had to resume lessons and that afternoon Harry and Ron were at the bottom of the garden honing their Apparition skills with Mad Eye.

“If you can’t Apparate then you’re already dead. You’ll not have a single lesson until you can Apparate into that house with all your limbs and back,” Mad Eye barked at them. They knew that Hermione would be watching smugly from the window and Harry made a point of aiming to land on her if he could.

The afternoon was a long one for Harry and Ron. Hermione spent her time indoors with Ginny, mostly laughing at the failed attempts of Harry and Ron at Apparition. It wasn’t that they couldn’t Apparate, it was the fact that Mad Eye was so very intimidating and that he kept telling them to Apparate to the most ridiculous places.

Harry eventually Apparated home from somewhere in the Alps to prove to Mad Eye that he had in fact been into the Artic Circle, the snow on his shoes as the supposed evidence of this. There was no way in hell he was going to Apparate to the North Pole and then freeze to death there. He would much rather get lost in a skiing resort than one of the most desolate places in the world. Besides, he had still gone a long way and he had still covered himself in snow when he fell over upon impact.

Mad Eye stared at him with a mixture of amusement and irritation on his face as he ran both eyes over Harry’s snowy form.

“So, where did you go to?” he asked Harry nonchalantly. Harry instantly felt uneasy since he had been directed to the Artic Circle. His teacher surely wouldn’t have asked unless he was aware that he was about to catch Harry out on a lie, would he?

“The North Pole,” Harry lied, doing his utmost to keep all expression from touching his face. He wasn’t doing very well.

“Liar. Either you’re terrible at Apparition or you went somewhere else,” Mad Eye said calmly. “Everyone knows you can’t Apparate into the Artic Circle at all after those Death Eaters made a hole in the ozone layer.”

Damn,’ Harry thought. He had known that; it was one of many things he remembered copying from Hermione’s History of Magic notebook before their OWL exam at the end of their fifth year. “I went to the Alps,” he eventually told Mad Eye who, to his surprise, smiled slightly.

“Mildly impressive work,” he told Harry who tensed his jaw to prevent it dropping at the unexpected and unlikely to be repeated praise. “Now you Apparate back to the house and I’ll go find Weasley.”

It was only then that Harry realised Ron was nowhere to be seen. The snow was beginning to thaw out and he felt increasingly cold and wet as time wore on. Gladly, he Apparated back up to the house.

“Harry!” Hermione yelled as Harry landed on top of her.

“Oops, sorry Hermione,” he grinned. “I guess I’ve not got the hang of the whole Apparition thing yet.”

“Git,” she muttered. “Why the hell are you so wet and… is that snow?!

“It might be,” Harry replied lightly as he moved as if to leave the room.

“Where the hell did you go?” Hermione demanded of him. She had never been able to Apparate further than Hogsmeade to Diagon Alley, which was quite far to be fair, and yet there was Harry, covered in snow. There was no snow anywhere in Britain at that time of year, except maybe some of the mountains in Scotland but still…

“The Alps… now if you’ll excuse me…” Harry tried to get past her again but she stared at him and remained in between him and the door. “Oh yes and your darling boyfriend is lost somewhere after trying to Apparate into the North Pole.”

“WHAT?!” Molly barked as she entered the room. Hermione looked shocked but at the same time she wasn’t that surprised Ron had got lost. Probably splinched himself somewhere, she reasoned.

“Oh dear god, he’ll never find his way back,” Hermione groaned and then looked up at Harry sharply. “Ron isn’t my boyfriend.”

“He’s not…? You seem like you’re dating to me,” Harry said as he continued to drip on the kitchen floor.

“All right, maybe we are but still… how did you know?” Hermione asked. “I mean, no offence Harry but you’re one of the most oblivious people I’ve ever met unless Voldemort’s involved somewhere.”

“Thanks Hermione, really,” Harry deadpanned as he moved towards the door again and this time he wasn’t stopped. He noticed Molly staring out of the window, looking for Ron and Mad Eye, and decided it was probably best if he got out of there. Just in case Ron Apparated back onto him or something.

“Mr Potter.” Harry stared up to see that he had very nearly walked into Minerva McGonagall. It was probably as well that he hadn’t. “If you could be in my office with Weasley and Granger at eight tonight, please.”

She didn’t ask him to do so; she just presumed that they would be there. Rightly so as well; there was no way that they just weren’t going to turn up for the meeting, especially when he was aware that it was probably on the subject of Voldemort and the Horcruxes.

Sure enough, at eight that evening Harry, Ron and Hermione stepped through the fireplace in the kitchen of Grimmauld Place and fell over each other as they emerged in Minerva’s office. She was already sat there and quickly conjured a small table for them all to sit around when Remus, Mad Eye, Bill and Kingsley stepped through the fireplace in quick succession.

Minerva motioned for everyone to take a seat before she sat at the head of the table. Harry glanced at Remus and smiled slightly before Minerva began to speak. “Now that you are all aware of the circumstances we are in involving Voldemort and the Horcruxes,” she said and Harry presumed she had told the others that afternoon, “then I believe it is time that we did something about it.”

“I presume that all the Horcruxes will have a very high magical frequency?” Bill asked and Minerva nodded.

“No one’s told me what that means yet,” Harry said suddenly, realising that since he had spoken with Minerva in her office a few days ago, no one had brought the matter back up again.

“You don’t know what magical frequency is?” Kingsley asked curiously but at the cool look which Harry gave him he decided to explain. “All things have a certain amount of magic in them, even the air you breathe. Although some things have more magic, such as a broom or a magical creature. You can measure the amount of magic something has in it using a counter. It’s just called a Frequency Counter.”

“So it’s like a Muggle Geiger counter but with magic instead of radiation?” Harry asked and most of the room looked nonplussed.

“Yes, it’s exactly like that,” Hermione nodded. If she had known he was aware of such things she could have told him much quicker.

“So wouldn’t wands and wizards have a higher magical frequency than a small piece of Voldemort’s soul?” Harry asked them and for a moment he wondered if the idea was going to lead to a dead end but Remus shook his head.

“Not at all,” he said. “Wands and wizards have a very low magical frequency. Wands are just used to channel magic; there’s very little magic in them and wizards take in magic from their surroundings and then expel it later so there’s no magic inside you usually.”

“So if there was no magic in the air then I wouldn’t be able to cast any spells?” Harry asked and noticed that as he did so Mad Eye looked rather exasperated by his ignorance of the world in which he lived.

“Theoretically, yes,” Remus said, “but all air has magic in it and the only place without magic would be a vacuum or space.”

“Wasn’t there talk about sending a wizard into space a while ago?” Kingsley asked and Minerva nodded.

“It’ll never happen though,” she countered. “The Ministry don’t want to waste their money just to find out simple facts like whether magic works in space.”

“All right then, but if there’s magic everywhere then why do Muggle things break at Hogwarts?” Harry asked and that appeared to be the final straw for Mad Eye.

“Oh for Merlin’s sake, Potter!” he snapped. “We’re not here to talk about such mindless things. We’re here to discuss how to get to Voldemort and the Horcruxes whilst maintaining our lives!”

“That’s very true, Alastor,” Minerva said calmly, “but unless everyone understands what we’re talking about then there’s no point in discussing anything, is there?”

Silence greeted her words and Mad Eye appeared to be in a very bad mood, something which made Kingsley grin at Harry. “To answer your question,” Remus said, picking up the previous conversation, “Muggle things break at Hogwarts because there’s so much magic concentrated in one building so your magic is likely to be stronger here than anywhere else. It’s the same at the Ministry and in Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley; they’re the most magical places in Britain.”

“Any more questions, Potter?” Mad Eye snarled and he found that he was trying not to smile despite the fact that Mad Eye could be so very intimidating at times. A look around the table confirmed that most other people were in a similar condition.

“Just one more,” Harry said quickly and at that Kingsley burst out laughing, which quickly became a hacking cough. Mad Eye did not appear impressed. “Why do Horcruxes have a high magical frequency if they’re only small pieces of a soul, when they’re not particularly magical anyway?”

“Because of the sheer magic taken to create it,” Kingsley answered simply, trying to redeem himself in Mad Eye’s alarming eyes. “You need to break the soul, kill the magical sacrifice and then there are the spells to do it. It even harnesses some of the energy from Avada Kedavra used on the sacrifice, I believe, so over all I can’t think of many things with a higher magical frequency than them.”

“Is it difficult to get hold of a Frequency Counter?” Hermione asked the group. There was a moment of silence until Bill spoke up and it was clear he had been waiting for someone else to answer the question but apparently no one could.

“There are only two I know of,” Bill said to them and Minerva already felt that they were going to have trouble obtaining one, especially for their desired use. “There’s one in Gringotts but that’s heavily guarded and there’s no way we could steal or borrow it.”

“And the other?”

“Durmstrang.”

“What? You mean to say that one of our partner schools has one of these Frequency Counters and I was not aware of it?” Minerva demanded of no one in particular.

“You never asked,” Dumbledore said from the wall, his eyes twinkling rather more manically than they had done in life and Harry thought it was an amusing caricature. He wondered whether Phineas had really been as mean as his portrait or Dilys as motherly as hers.

“So how are we going to get it? Who’s the new headmaster there?” Minerva asked the group, hoping that at least one of them would know.

“I don’t know about the headmaster but I know that Viktor Krum is the deputy head,” Mad Eye said. Harry shot a covert glance at Hermione who blushed slightly and kept her eyes away from the amused look on Harry’s face and the scowl on Ron’s. Remus looked between the three of them, wondering exactly what wasn’t being said but knew better than to ask.

“Krum’s only about twenty, isn’t he?” Kingsley asked and Ron nodded.

“Twenty one later this year – there’s supposed to be a big party for him in the Bulgarian Quidditch team,” Ron said feeling glad to be of some assistance.

“Clearly he’s using his fame to get him higher up in life,” Mad Eye said coolly, in a tone which said that he didn’t approve in the slightest. For a moment Minerva thought he was going to start lecturing Harry on a similar topic but thankfully he kept quiet.

“Well, since we don’t know who the current headmaster is then we can’t ask for it,” Minerva said and turned to Harry and Hermione. “Perhaps one of you two could contact Mr Krum and enquire as to the name of their current headmaster and perhaps a little information on him, or her.”

Hermione nodded. “Of course, Professor.”

“Once we’ve found out whether or not we can borrow it then we’ll have to fly over and get it, I presume,” Minerva said.

“Fly?” Ron asked in disbelief. “The school’s in Bulgaria!”

“No it isn’t,” Hermione said suddenly and Ron stared at her.

“But Krum played for the Bulgarian team and went to Durmstrang! Of course it’s in Bulgaria!” Ron argued further.

“Bulgaria’s warm,” Harry pointed out, “and the Durmstrang students all wore furs.”

“To settle this debate once and for all, Durmstrang is on the Finland-Sweden border,” Remus told them calmly. “I have no idea why Mr Krum played for Bulgaria but I’m sure you can ask him at some point.”

“That’s still miles away and you’re flying!”

“I am fully aware of that fact, Mr Weasley,” Minerva said dryly, “but the school is impossible to enter except from the air. It makes things very inconvenient for visitors.”

“The entire way is lit up, isn’t it?” Remus asked, having never been to the school himself that had not stopped him acquiring a certain amount of information on it.

“Like a Christmas tree,” Mad Eye growled. “If it wasn’t for all the charms surrounding the place the Muggles would have been in there in an instant.”

“So that’s this meeting over then,” Minerva said and everyone stared at her.

“That’s it? We’ve spent the last half an hour or so enlightening Potter and contemplating getting a Frequency Counter and that’s it?!” Mad Eye said, sounding rather aghast.

“Of course. What else is there to be said?” Minerva asked him calmly. “We can do very little without a Frequency Counter and either Mr Potter or Miss Granger’s contacting Krum would be the fastest way to gain one. There is nothing more we can discuss for the present.”

Mad Eye didn’t look too pleased by this but everyone else seemed happy to be out of there. Besides, Minerva always conjured uncomfortable chairs.

“We’ll get on that letter tonight, Professor,” Hermione said as she rose to her feet. The rest of the room soon followed and various ‘good night’s were said before everyone left via the Floo system.

“Where on earth have you been?!” Molly demanded of Ron as he stepped into the kitchen. She didn’t look pleased with any of those in the kitchen right then but she was most angry towards Harry, Ron and Hermione. “Why didn’t you tell me you were going out?”

Harry heard a stifled laugh from one of the adults behind him as Mad Eye, Minerva, Remus, Bill and Kingsley moved to escape but Molly cut them off.

“Oh no you don’t!” she snapped at them and they backed away. “You’re as bad as they are! Disappearing with the three of them with no explanation! What do you think you’re doing?!”

Everyone sank down into chairs around the table, realising that they could be there for quite some time until one of them came up with a reasonable alibi for their disappearance.



A/N: After an email request, I'm offering an email to anyone who wants one when I update this story. Just email me or leave me your email in a review and I'll make sure you're added to the list :o)

Oh, and I know this chapter was a bit top-heavy with the information on magic but I felt a little explanation now might help. According to the Lexicon Durmstrang is located in the North of Europe somewhere, which is why I've now changed it so that it's not in Bulgaria.

Chapter 6: Flight Of The Phoenix
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Chapter Six


Dear Hermione,

The new headmaster is Professor Cermak Norov. He was the best student in his year and the Head Boy was. I think he a very good person. Much better than Karkaroff who we heard is dead now. He is very supportive to the teachers and is also very friendly. Why ask you? We heard of the decease of Professor Dumbledore and I am sorry for it. He was a good man.

I hope to hear from you soon,

Viktor


Hermione showed Harry and Ron the letter in her hand briefly before going to find McGonagall, who was seated in the lounge downstairs. She read over the letter and quickly called a meeting in that room. It was lucky that the day was one of few in which all members of the New Order, as Minerva had begun to think of them, were in the house. They were quickly assembled and all but three wondered what they had been called for at such short notice.

“Miss Granger has received a reply from Krum in Durmstrang,” she told them calmly as she glanced down at the letter in her hands.

“About time,” Mad Eye growled. It had been just over a week since they had last met and the month of August was already upon them. To be fair Viktor was over in Finland but they had used Hedwig and she was by far the most efficient owl in the Order.

“He simply says that the headmaster is Professor Cermak Norov and that he’s preferred over Karkaroff,” Minerva summarised. “Not that it would take a great deal to do that.”

“So now what?” Bill asked her. “Do we go and get the Frequency Counter?”

“I don’t see how we can just fly over to their school and expect us to hand something like that over,” Kingsley said calmly and Remus nodded his head in agreement.

“We could force them to,” Mad Eye growled but Minerva gave him a piercing look.

“Yes, nothing like thievery to promote unity, is there?” she said coldly. “No, we shall send another letter. This time to Mr Norov and request the Frequency Counter on loan for a few months.”

“And if they say no?” Mad Eye asked.

She sighed before answering. “Then you may burgle Durmstrang.”

“Excellent,” Mad Eye said, a flicker of life in his one good eye. “I’ll get working on that plan now.”

“I’m sure there will be no need, Alastor,” Minerva said hastily, hoping against hope that he would at least wait for a reply before barging into the school. “I shall compose the letter this evening and we will wait for a reply before taking any further action.” Mad Eye nodded sullenly.

As it turned out, all Alastor’s wildly thought out plans involving no less than five murders were unnecessary. Minerva received a letter from the headmaster of Durmstrang six days after she had initially sent her own letter and read it out to the New Order in her office that evening.

Dear Headmistress McGonagall,

I am glad to finally enter correspondence with your school. I admit that the first term in the office of headmaster is quite tough and I will be happy to lend assistance to you where possible. As it happens the Frequency Counter is almost gathering dust in one of the storage rooms; it has been left for quite some time. The amount of magic in the school was far too much to be of any use here. However, should you wish to borrow it then I have no objections.

I cannot spare any of my staff to deliver the Frequency Counter to you however, so you will unfortunately have to come and collect it yourselves. Our school is always open to you and, in the unlikely event that directions are needed, I will be only happy to direct you here.

Awaiting your arrival,

Professor Cermak Norov
Headmaster of Durmstrang School


“Sounds rather conceited to me,” Kingsley observed. “Offering you advice and all.”

“I’m sure he was just trying to be friendly,” Remus said, hoping that they weren’t going to go to Durmstrang with a poor view of the lender of the magical object they needed.

“Still, he practically said that their school was better and more magical than ours!” Kingsley argued further. “As if a Frequency Counter would work in Hogwarts!”

“I think it might,” Minerva observed. “At least for specific things within the school.”

Mad Eye, who had been quiet throughout the conversation so far, spoke up. “So when do we go then?”

“As soon as we can,” Bill replied. “We want to get working as soon as possible. There’s nothing to be done without it.”

“I agree,” Minerva said quietly. “I think that we ought to send as many people as we can. Safety in numbers.”

“Yes, but we can’t all go,” Remus pointed out. “If something happens…”

Then there won’t be anyone left alive who knows about the Horcruxes…’ Harry thought. He hated to say it but they couldn’t all go gallivanting into Durmstrang. He already knew which three of them were the most likely to be left behind. It seemed as if Remus could sense his thoughts.

“I think that either Harry or Hermione ought to come,” Remus said and, upon seeing Ron’s indignant expression, quickly added, “since they both know Viktor.”

Minerva nodded. “I quite agree, and it would be most prudent if I, as headmistress, also attended. Remus, Kingsley and Alastor; I suggest you join us.”

“Uh… Professor, I’d rather not go. I mean I’m not a very good flier…” Hermione said quickly, aware that there was a blush creeping up her cheeks. Since she was now with Ron she didn’t particularly wish to meet Viktor again, although she had no objections to continuing her correspondence with him via owl.

“Very well,” she assented. She didn’t ask Harry whether or not he would be joining them; she knew that he would not object to being such a part of the team. Besides, considering his fame in the Wizarding world it might be a good idea for him to accompany them.

Ron was still looking extremely put out that he had not been asked to go with them. Bill was looking almost relieved at the prospect of not having to fly all the way to Finland where as Kingsley was looking quite irritated at the idea.

“We shall go tomorrow before dusk. I suggest that you all get a good night’s sleep,” Minerva said to Harry, Remus, Mad Eye and Kingsley.

*


“It’s Order business, Molly,” Remus explained when he stood outside Grimmauld Place with the others who would be going to Durmstrang. She didn’t look very pleased that Harry was one of those going away on the ‘Order business’ but she clearly had no say in the matter now that Minerva had chosen to take Harry with them, wherever it was that they were going. “We should be back tomorrow or the day after.”

“Tomorrow? You’ll be out all night?” Molly demanded and Remus nodded.

“Don’t worry… we’ll be fine.”

With that the five of them took off into the air, all mounted upon Firebolts, Nimbuses and various other top-make brooms. Harry wondered what Remus had meant when he said that the entire way to Durmstrang was lit up. He presumed that however he had meant it that was the reason for their setting off just before darkness set in. Minerva had said that they wanted to be nearing the coastline before the sun set entirely and from there they would follow the trail.

“It’s a good evening for flying,” Mad Eye observed as they rose into the air. They all stayed closely grouped together for protection’s sake and Harry noticed that he was the one in the middle.

“No clouds, not much wind,” Kingsley said, glancing around. “We ought to be at the coast half an hour, over to Norway in another three hours or so and from there I’d say about four hours following the lights to Durmstrang.”

“It’s nine now so we ought to be there by five in the morning,” Mad Eye said. The prospects of flying in the dark over a large ocean did not particularly appeal to Harry or to any of the members of the Order for that matter, but they had all agreed and the journey had to be undertaken at night.

“Let’s get going then,” Minerva said and took the lead as they flew towards the coast, gaining height as they did so. Harry was suddenly very glad of the warm cloak he had wrapped around his robes and for the warming charm Remus had put on him before they had left the house. Down on the ground it had seemed ridiculously warm but now they were in the air things suddenly seemed a lot colder.

It seemed odd to be wearing robes during the summer but Minerva had insisted on his looking presentable to the Durmstrang institute, especially as they did not accept Muggle-born students. Muggle clothing would clearly not go down very well.

There was little conversation between them as they flew to the coast, watching the last of the land disappear beneath them, replaced by the sea and no sign of land on the other side. The flight over the water was a worrying one and a cold one as the sunlight faded beneath the horizon and the moon shone above them. Throughout it all, Minerva and Mad Eye led the way, never wavering in their knowledge of when to turn slightly and the way to land. Harry wondered how they did it. He felt that if he had been the one directing them they could well have ended up in America or somewhere similarly in the opposite direction to that which they went.

“Land ahoy!” Kingsley yelled over the wind after what felt like an age, and had really been about three hours of seemingly endless water beneath them. Remus moved his broom over so that he was touching Harry and pointed down to the land beneath them. There was a bright light down there and they began to descent towards it.

“That’s the first point which leads towards Durmstrang,” Remus said to him over the wind. He raised his finger along a line of bright lights and, sure enough, there appeared to be a perfect line leading into the distance.

“So we just follow those until we get there?” Harry asked him. Remus nodded and they flew on. It felt somewhat comforting to be flying over land again, even if it was still pitch black. As they got closer to Durmstrang it began to get lighter again and they flew faster.

“We’ve only got one hour to see the way,” Mad Eye yelled to them all and sped up, pushing their brooms as fast as they could so that they didn’t lose the trail. Eventually there was only one light left and Harry knew that it must be Durmstrang.

They spiralled gently down towards the light and it was only when they were almost inside the school grounds that Harry saw that the beam of light was not from the school but from a tower very close by which projected the beam of light up into the sky.

They landed smoothly inside the school grounds, just outside the main building. Harry’s first impressions were of dislike and unease as he stared up at the large gothic castle in front of him. It was not made of the same warm stone as Hogwarts, but rather of a colder, darker stone with giant gothic windows set into the stonework and gargoyles on top of the building which Harry was certain he saw moving.

“What do we do now?” Kingsley asked Minerva over the rush of the wind and he stamped his feet in the snow beneath him to warm himself up a little. Harry shoved his hands into his pockets in an attempt to bring some life back into them and Remus wrapped his arms tightly around himself as the chill wind blew harshly around them.

“We wait,” Minerva said and cast a spell for warmth around the group. Suddenly the wind didn’t bother them in the slightest and the numbness in their fingers and toes became a tingling heat which was not unwelcome.

After a few minutes the large front doors were thrown open and a man stepped out to greet them. He was very tall and appeared a rather imposing figure. He was wrapped up warmly in furs which hid all of him except his hands and his pale face which reminded Harry of Professor Snape, although his eyes had never had the steely glint of the man in front of him.

“Good morning,” he said as he shook Minerva’s hand warmly before bringing them out of the cold and shutting the doors behind them. “I am Cermak Norov and welcome to Durmstrang Institute.”

“Thank you for your hospitality, especially at such hours,” Minerva said formally.

“Of course,” Norov replied smoothly, “but then the school is not the easiest to find in daylight so we must he hospitable at all hours if only because of our school can only be found in darkness.” He turned to those who stood behind her and glanced over them. His gaze stopped on Harry and his eyes flickered up to his forehead where the lightning bolt scar was just visible under his hair. He raised an eyebrow slightly and turned back to Minerva. “Quite the troop you’ve brought here.”

“The skies are treacherous. I would rather not risk getting lost or assaulted in such dark times,” Minerva replied, glancing back at those who stood behind her. “My companions –” she introduced them one by one and Norov shook the hand of each of them in turn. His eyes lingered last and longest on Harry who returned his cool, searching gaze with just as little emotion.

“After such a journey I am sure you must be very tired,” Norov said to them and Minerva nodded with a slight smile. The headmaster clapped his hands together and a house elf appeared. It was paler than the ones that worked in Hogwarts and Harry noticed that it had an odd, haunted look about it which reminded him painfully of Sirius. “Please show our guests to their chambers for the night.”

“Thank you again, Professor Norov,” Minerva said quietly as they were lead out of the entrance hall. Harry was glad to be moving away from that man and the entrance – it had a dark, almost sinister interior which seemed very fitting to the outside. Black metal chandeliers hung from the ceiling, their candles acting as the only light within the walls as the sun had not properly risen yet. The portraits which surrounded them spoke in whispers as they passed and watched them warily, just as the passers by did to them and all the while Harry had a strong feeling of unease about him.

He disliked being in a place when he could not understand what most of those around them were saying. Three ghosts floated past, chatting animatedly in a language they did not understand. Remus thought it highly ironic that the most life they had encountered in the castle so far had been from beings already dead.

If there were any secret passageways in the labyrinthine school then they were not taken through them. The house elf they walked with led them along all the main corridors and up three flights of stairs until they came to a single wooden door. It was intricately carved with some rather unpleasant things but, from what they had seen of the rest of the castle, that was nothing unusual in itself.

The elf motioned for Minerva to enter and then spoke with a heavy accent. “All the rooms within are unoccupied. My master says you are to take them for as long as you need.” With that he was gone, leaving the small group of five feeling very isolated and rather uncomfortable. Minerva pushed open the door and found themselves in a small common room. Along one of the walls of the room were eight doors, presumably containing their sleeping quarters. She opened the first door and stepped inside.

It was a small room, lightly furnished with a bathroom to the side. She bid them all a good morning and retired to her room. Harry waited for everyone else to take a room before choosing one on the end next to Mad Eye.

When he opened the door and stared inside he saw that it was exactly the same as the one he had seen Minerva take. The large, four posted bed was in the centre of the wall just opposite the door. A wardrobe large enough for several men to hide in stood nearby along with a desk, a chest of drawers and a small sofa.

Walking over to the bed, Harry discovered a pair of pyjamas laid out neatly for him and, upon removing his socks and shoes to change into them, he was pleasantly surprised to find that the carpet was heated. It made sense in such a cold climate and he savoured the warmth in his feet as he crossed the room to his window and pulled the heavy curtains to one side.

The view was breathtaking. It was a world covered in a blanket of white and Harry found his tired eyes widening at the sight. It was only when he yawned and realised how heavy his eyelids were beginning to feel that he decided bed would be the best option right then. He returned to the bed and fell asleep the moment his head touched the pillow.


A/N: According to the Lexicon, Durmstrang isn't in Bulgaria but it's in the North of Europe somewhere. I stuck a new paragraph into the previous chapter somewhere to reflect this. Nothing major if you read it last time but the school is now on the Finland-Sweden border, or at least that's where I've put it! :o)

Thanks again to all you who've been reviewing so far. I love reading your comments and have been responding to them all as they've come in. My offer to email you when I update still stands and will remain so until I finish the story so just drop me a line with your email if you want. Later Gators...

Chapter 7: Finding The First
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Chapter Seven


The next morning Minerva McGonagall opened her eyes and instantly felt disorientated and unaware of her location until the events of the night before came flooding back to her. She was in the Durmstrang Institute, which was one of many places she would rather not have been in at such a time. Especially not whilst Voldemort was supposedly on the rise and the school itself was rumoured to teach even the youngest students to wield the Dark Arts.

She glanced at her watch to find it was already mid-afternoon. It wasn’t particularly surprising since they had been airborne since almost five that morning. Minerva dragged herself out of bed and quickly showered in the small ensuite. Their quarters had been very comfortable, which was only natural from a school wishing to impress highly influential people, as Minerva now realised she was. It would also have been highly useful for Norov to hold them hostage or to hand them over to Voldemort… She banished those thoughts and resolved to trust the headmaster of Durmstrang; they were not in their own territory now and they had been given no reason to do otherwise than to trust in him and his school.

Her robes were hanging where she had left them the day before and she quickly dressed herself with a flick of her wand before exiting the room. Minerva left the room in exactly the same state as when she had entered it and walked into the common room. Remus and Harry were already seated by the fireplace, talking in hushed voices so as to not disturb anyone else who may still be sleeping. Alastor stood in the middle of the room, his magical eye spinning in its socket. Minerva presumed that he was searching the entire castle for anything of the slightest threat.

“Good afternoon,” Mad Eye greeted upon his roving eye finding her. His normal eye was closed so that he only got one vision and could concentrate on the rest of the school. Harry and Remus glanced over to her and smiled slightly before each turned back to the other and resumed their conversation.

“Kingsley still sleeping?” Minerva asked as she walked past Alastor and over to Harry and Remus.

“We presume so,” Remus said calmly. “Go hammer on his door and wake him if it bothers you.”

There was no need for her to do so as, a few moments later, the third door of the eight opened and a rather dishevelled-looking Kingsley stepped out into the common room. Clearly he had not had nearly the amount of sleep he usually required.

“Sleeping Beauty awakes,” scoffed Mad Eye and Kingsley gave him a cold look before collapsing next to Remus. He looked as if he was ready to go back to sleep again.

“Oh shut up, I didn’t get a wink of sleep last night,” Kingsley scowled at him. Were it anyone else, the scowl would probably have been accompanied with a few hexes but no one in their right mind starts hexing Mad Eye Moody.

There was a knock at the common room door and a moment later the same elf which had attended to them the day before appeared in the doorway, looking very much like Kreacher. Or so Harry thought.

“Breakfast is served in the hall,” it said monotonously. Its voice sounded very different to the exuberant tones of Dobby. “Follow me.”

The five of them left the room, following behind the unnamed elf all the way through the three floors, still unaware as to their location within the school or how to get anywhere on their own. The entire building appeared to be deserted although that was to be expected considering that it was not yet term time.

They eventually reached the hall after around ten minutes of walking through dozens of identical corridors to find it of an intimidating size. Harry was not aware how many students studied at Durmstrang but from the size of the main hall he would have thought there to be around double the amount at Hogwarts. It wasn’t entirely impossible owing to the fact that Britain was only a small country but still… That many witches and wizards allegedly learning the Dark Arts was not good. Harry noticed that the others looked similarly uncomfortable as they entered and he wondered whether similar thoughts crossed their minds.

Harry tried to stay composed and at least look unmoved by their large hall but he couldn’t help his eyes straying upwards to the ceiling. Except that there didn’t appear to be any ceiling. The walls sloped upwards and it appeared that they would meet at an eventual point… but they never did. The walls became darker the higher you looked and eventually there was only darkness pressing down from above. It did not make the guests feel any better about their location.

“Good afternoon,” Cermak Norov greeted them as he rose from his seat at the end of the long table. Next to him another man was seated, one who looked very familiar to Harry. “I trust you all slept well?”

“Yeah right…” Kingsley muttered and upon being looked at by Norov he added in a louder tone, “Like the dead, Sir.”

“Let us hope that the dead continue to rest,” Norov said seriously. “I have heard some unsettling rumours concerning Inferi recently.”

“Really? And might I ask for your source on the matter?” Minerva asked in a tone which betrayed some underlying interest.

“A colleague of mine sent me an article from your Prophet by a woman named Rita Skeeter,” Norov answered and noticed the grim looks on the faces of his guests.

“Skeeter is not a woman whose word I would hold particular faith in,” Remus answered for them mildly. Norov raised an eyebrow slightly at such an open display of dislike towards the woman from the group but did not question it. He noticed Harry’s eyes on his deputy head and instantly apologised for himself.

“Excuse my rudeness,” Norov said smoothly, “and my I introduce to you my deputy head, Viktor Krum.”

Viktor got to his feet and shook hands with them all, pausing at Harry.

“It has been too long, Harry,” Viktor said and Harry instantly realised how much his spoken English had changed for the better, even if he had borne witness to his poor writing. Harry smiled slightly and returned the sentiment. Kingsley seemed slightly bemused by the fact that Harry had met the world famous Quidditch player before and only gibbered slightly before making a comprehensible response to Viktor’s greeting to himself.

They breakfasted together and Harry sat next to Viktor, talking to him throughout the meal about things such as Quidditch, Hermione and their respective schools.

“I vas rather particular to Hogvarts,” Viktor said towards the end of the meal. “Durmstrang can be quite gloomy at times, especially since no students in school are.”

So his English isn’t that good yet,’ Harry thought as he finished off his meal. He silently agreed that Durmstrang seemed rather gloomy and also rather imposing.

After they had all eaten, Norov lead them through the school and down into the dungeons. They seemed to make the ones at Hogwarts seem almost homely and all the guests felt uncomfortable. Even Viktor did not appear particularly pleased by their travelling into and under the school. They passed several cells on their way to the storage place for the Frequency Counter. Mad Eye couldn’t help but peer through the walls and find yet more cells, some with iron shackles on the wall, others with what appeared to be medieval torture devices. The knowledge of the presence of such things did little to increase his comfort within the building. The sooner they were out of there, the better for all of them.

Eventually they came to a stop outside a large wooden door. Norov opened it with a large silver key and stepped inside. The moment he did so dozens of torches along the walls burst into life, illuminating the vast chamber which was filled with dozens of objects, magical and Muggle.

Norov and Krum lead the way through the maze of things, passing everything from Foe Glasses to old black and white TV sets. Old brooms lay scattered around, surrounded by parchment, sofas and Sneakoscopes. A lone Rememberall rolled into Mad Eye’s path and he picked it up. The smoke turned red and he spent the rest of the journey through the room trying to remember what he’d apparently forgotten.

“Here we are,” Norov stated as he bent down and picked up a small object. He handed it to Minerva who stared down at it for a few moments and then slipped it into her robes. “Just cast an awakening spell on it for it to work and finite for it to shut up.”

Minerva nodded and thanked him before they were all led back up to the surface of the school. It seemed almost odd for them all to have trekked down there for such a small object and then taken back.

“So that we can all see the torture chambers they have here,” Kingsley muttered to Harry on the way back as they trailed behind the group.

“You’ve not seen the half of it,” Mad Eye growled as he dropped back. “You wouldn’t believe some of the things I’ve seen on the other side of these walls.”

Harry decided that he probably didn’t want to see them either. From the grim look on Mad Eye’s face they were probably extremely unpleasant and would not make his short stay in the castle any more comfortable than it already was. He had yet to see the Frequency Counter which Minerva had in her robe pocket and he wanted to, just to satisfy his curiosity.

“I can’t believe that five of us have come for such a small thing,” Kingsley said, preferring not to press his mentor as to what might be on the other side of the walls. Like Harry, he too knew that it would not make him feel any easier about being surrounded by Dark wizards. He did not believe for a moment that there were only two wizards and one house elf in the school.

“I didn’t see it,” Harry replied, hoping a description would be the next thing Kingsley would say.

“I haven’t either but if it’s small enough for Minerva to put in her robe pocket and hold in one hand then clearly it’s not something that five people need to journey all night for,” Kingsley muttered. Clearly he was still not pleased by his lack of sleep from the night before.

“Its size doesn’t matter,” Mad Eye reprimanded, “it’s the fact that it’s a highly valuable magical object. We only know of two in existence at the moment and we need one if we’re ever going to find the –” his voice had been steadily getting louder the more irritated with Kingsley he got. It was only by Remus stopping sharply so that Mad Eye walked into him that he had been prevented from saying ‘Horcruxes’ rather loudly.

“I do apologise, Alastor,” Remus said in his usual mild manner but with a hint of warning in his voice. After that all conversation was halted upon their reaching the entrance hall and all those from Hogwarts just wanted to run out of the castle as fast as they could and never look back. Sadly, a sprinted escape was not an option open to them.

“I grant you the rest of the castle for the day and Viktor as your guide,” Norov said to them. “I trust you will be leaving this evening, or would you prefer another night?”

“No, we won’t trespass upon you another night,” Minerva replied, perhaps a little too quickly. “We’ll set off at dusk.”

The rest of the day was spent mostly in the small guests’ common room, although Viktor had taken Harry, Remus and Kingsley on a tour around the school at one point. The offer had originally extended only to Harry but the others had clearly looked uneasy at the idea of the youngest of their group wandering the school without them, even if Harry himself had not felt uneasy in the slightest.

As the sun sank lower and lower towards the horizon Harry stared down at the small Frequency Counter in his hands. Minerva was watching him as if she thought he was about to throw it as far as he could. She clearly didn’t trust him with anything of much value. Remus hovered over Harry’s shoulder, staring at the small flattened cylinder with interest and Kingsley only shot it a contemptuous glare.

It was a small cylinder, big enough to fit in the palm of Harry’s hand with a rim of about two centimetres in thickness. The top of it was slightly domed and as Harry stared down into it he saw a map of the surrounding area.

“How much does it show?” Harry asked no one in particular.

“Around a mile radius from this point,” Minerva replied.

Harry nodded as he watched it. The map was no ordinary one; it was entirely golden. There was a very bright rectangle in the middle of the screen and Harry assumed that it was Durmstrang. Around the area of the school, it gradually became darker and darker until it became almost black in places.

“That’s where there’s very little magic,” Remus explained. “There won’t be more than there is in any normal Muggle town there.”

“So the more magical something is the paler it is on here?” Harry asked and Remus nodded. Behind them Kingsley cast a levitation charm on the coffee table and on the Frequency Counter Harry and Remus watched as at the centre of the building it became slightly lighter before returning to the same pale gold it had been before.

“So why’s this thing called a Frequency Counter if it doesn’t actually count anything?” Kingsley asked Minerva as he set the table back down onto the floor.

“It does,” Minerva countered and reached out to the Counter in Harry’s hands. She flipped it over to the other side where there was a counter rapidly increasing in tens. She touched her wand to it and muttered, “Finite Silencio.” Instantly whistling filled their ears along with the whirring of the counter as it shot up at her magic.

“TURN IT OFF!” Mad Eye yelled over the whistling and Harry was sure that he saw Minerva smile. He glanced back at Remus and saw that he had his hands over his ears. Remembering how sensitive the hearing of werewolves was, Minerva quickly silenced it.

There was a knock at the door and Viktor appeared to accompany them back down to the entrance hall where the headmaster was waiting with their brooms.

“It has been good to see you again,” Viktor said to Harry as they walked.

“Likewise,” Harry replied and had to stop himself from walking down the entirely wrong way.

“I do not ask for vat you need the Frequency Counter but I vish you the best of luck,” Viktor told him, keeping his glance partly on Harry and partly on the way they were walking. “I know that times are not easy.”

“Thank you,” Harry replied, not knowing what else to say. They reached the entrance hall shortly afterwards and saw Cermak Norov standing there facing them, his back to the door.

“I hope you have enjoyed your brief stay with us,” Cermak said, his voice lacking any warmth; it was something they had become quickly used to. “Our doors are always open to you should you require us.”

“And ours to you,” Minerva replied. “Should you need it then our hospitality will be available to you whenever it is required.”

“I wish you a safe journey and light in these dark times,” Norov said as he flung open the doors. It was snowing heavily and the last of the sun’s rays were disappearing below the horizon. Harry felt someone cast a charm for warmth over him and then he was walking outside, his broom in his hand and four people standing around him.

As they got higher and higher into the air they began to follow the trail of lights back towards the coast. The journey back was just as cold and this time slightly wet since they had to stay beneath the clouds in order to see the way home. Once they were far from the school, Minerva put the Frequency Counter back on, allowing it to whistle whenever they passed over something particularly magical, although that didn’t happen often once they were away from Durmstrang. It was of most use as a map of the area they were above.

They flew in silence once more for hours and hours on end until finally they could see the twinkling of cities below them. They were back over land and hopefully it was England over which they flew.

“We’ve gone off course!” Mad Eye yelled at Minerva. “We’re over Sunderland!”

“In case you’ve forgotten, Minerva,” Kingsley shouted, “we live in London!”

“Oh yes, the location of our house slipped my mind entirely!” Minerva shouted back. “If you’d rather fly over the sea in the dark then go ahead! I’d rather have land under me personally. At least this way we can pick up any substantial amounts of magic in the country!”

“In a one mile radius!” Mad Eye barked at her. “What’s that going to pick up except a very small straight line over the country!”

No sooner had he shouted this over the wind than the whistling got louder. Much louder as they flew over the county of Yorkshire. Minerva pulled up her broom so that it was hovering over the most magical area and tilted the Frequency Counter so that she could see it more clearly from the light of the moon.

“Oh for Merlin’s sake!” Mad Eye yelled as he flew over. “Are you a witch or not? Lumos!

He pointed his wand at the Frequency Counter and stared down at it. The small disk was carefully passed between them so that all of them could see it. When at last it came to Harry, his eyes widened as Kingsley hovered over his shoulder, openly gaping at the Counter. There was a single bright white dot in the centre of a lot of pale gold. There could be no mistaking what it was.

“One of the Horcruxes…” Kingsley breathed in amazement.

*


It was almost six in the morning when the five members of the New Order landed their brooms in the garden of Number 12 Grimmauld Place. The sun was already over the horizon and the new day had already begun. They had only just reached the front door when it was flung open and Dobby was giddily jumping about, happy to be of service to them.

“So what do we do with it?” Remus muttered as they walked inside.

“I’ll take it,” Minerva told him as they stepped inside the hall. “Now all that remains to be done is to find out just where it went haywire last night.”

“This morning, don’t you mean?” Harry yawned. The five of them trouped into the kitchen and quickly Flooed to Hogwarts.

“Why didn’t we just fly to Hogwarts and Floo back here?” Kingsley demanded of Minerva. They would have had a considerably shorter flight if they had done so.

“Do you think you could locate Hogwarts without any guidance?” Minerva asked him sharply. “Scotland is a big place.”

“Does it matter now?” Remus asked. “We’re back now and it’s too late to change anything, even if we wanted to.”

Minerva pulled out a roll of paper from her desk and placed it onto the table where it immediately uncurled itself and became flat. Harry noticed that it was a map of Britain.

“Right, so we’d just passed Sunderland,” Minerva said and tapped the city on the map. It magnified instantly and zoomed in on that particular city. “So where around here would Voldemort hide a Horcrux and why?”

“We weren’t that close… we were further away from the sea,” Remus pointed out and Minerva rolled her eyes.

“Fine,” she waved her wand and the map zoomed out a little, giving them a wider area to work with. “So what places do we have around there?”

“Newcastle … Durham … Sunderland…” Kingsley read to her and she paused with her quill over a piece of parchment.

“No, think smaller,” she told him. “He’s not going to hide a Horcrux in a large Muggle city, is he?”

“I bet there’s one in London,” Mad Eye disagreed.

“Fine,” Kingsley muttered and then continued with his reciting of locations within the area they believed themselves to have been. “Gateshead … Darlington … Greater Hangleton … Little Hangleton … Hartlepool…”

“Hartlepool’s nowhere near Sunderland!” Mad Eye argued. “It’s bloody miles away. There’s no way it’s that far south.”

“We said it wasn’t that close to the coast,” Remus pointed out.

“Little Hangleton…” Harry murmured and glanced over at Minerva who was staring at the map and then at Harry with a strange expression on her face. All of a sudden he felt very sick indeed.

“We’ve no idea whether or not it was that close to the coast!” Kingsley argued.

“I really think that it’s more likely to be near Durham,” Remus asserted.

“Wasn’t that where Voldemort…?” Minerva started and then trailed off. It had the effect she needed and at the sound of Voldemort’s name the other three were quiet.

“Wasn’t what were Voldemort what?” Kingsley demanded.

“Little Hangleton’s where the Riddle House is,” Harry explained. “It’s also where he resurrected himself and we were flying over it last night when the Frequency Counter went off.”

The room was silent.

“Let’s go get it then!” Mad Eye said suddenly and moved towards the Floo. Minerva stared at him as if he was insane, and so did the rest of the room for that matter.

“Are you entirely out of your mind, Alastor?” Minerva almost shouted. “You cannot just walk into that house and take a Horcrux. Do you really think it will be that easy?!”

“Before we get it we ought to know how to destroy it,” Remus said calmly. “Otherwise we’ll be hiding a Horcrux in Grimmauld Place or Hogwarts, neither of which is a good idea.”

“We also need to know just what kind of protection the Horcrux is under,” Minerva said, hoping that Mad Eye wasn’t going to listen to everything she had to say and go storming off to Little Hangleton regardless. “If it’s very well guarded then we might be as well trying to find the other Horcruxes before we attempt that one. I’ll station some members of the Order around there. They won’t know what they’re doing it for, just that they’re keeping an eye out for anything suspicious.”

Just then the fireplace glowed green and the flames leapt up. Bill almost fell through into the room and only Kingsley’s quick reactions saved him from smashing his face in on the floor. Not that after Greyback’s attack he could look much worse.

“I thought I heard someone passing through the house so I came to see if you had come here,” Bill said quickly. He sounded breathless and Harry realised he had probably run through the house to try and catch them. “Did you get it?”

Moments later Ron and Hermione also fell out of the fireplace before Minerva had had chance to answer, each of them with a barrage of questions about the flight and the castle. The three of them went silent when Minerva held up her hand to show the Frequency Counter and Bill grinned. It had been quite some time since he had seen one but if he could get himself transferred into the Magical Protection and Safety Regulations section of Gringotts then he would be working with one much more often.

“We think we found one in Little Hangleton,” Minerva explained and Bill’s eyes widened.

“It’s near Sunderland!” Kingsley said quickly and Mad Eye scowled at him.

“How did you find it so fast? Were you scouring the country?” Hermione asked, her eyebrow raised as she took in the exhausted looking group in front of her.

“It was just by chance; we flew over it on the way home,” Remus clarified.

Bill opened his mouth to say something but at that moment the flames in the fireplace turned green again. Clearly Bill, Hermione and Ron had not been the only ones to hear them pass through the house, or they had not been particularly quiet themselves.

“What on earth is going on here?” Molly demanded as she stepped through the flames. “You go out last night and return at home at five in the morning only to Floo straight to Hogwarts?!”

“It’s Order business, Molly,” Mad Eye said, as if that made everything perfectly acceptable.

“It might well be but Harry has just turned seventeen and to my knowledge he is not a member of the Order yet!” Molly was almost shouting now. “I am a member of the Order so, tell me, what is it that you feel you must keep secret from the rest of the organisation?”

“I’m sorry Molly, really,” Remus said quietly, “but this is on a strictly need-to-know basis at the moment. We can’t risk any leaks, not now that Voldemort knows so much from Snape.”

“Fine,” she snapped at them, “but would you at least come home and get some breakfast?”

They all nodded eagerly and Molly’s head disappeared from the fireplace.

“It appears we’ve run out of time,” Minerva said. “We will have to postpone this meeting.”

“We can’t leave it long,” Bill objected. “I’ve got to go back to work again soon – my holiday leave ends on Friday.”

“I’m working nights for the next two weeks,” Kingsley said. “Starting the day after tomorrow.”

“Full moon tomorrow,” Remus admitted glumly and Minerva gave him a sharp look.

“You should have said – you need not have come with us,” she scolded him and Remus smiled slightly.

“I know you wouldn’t have let me come if I reminded you,” Remus said. “That’s precisely why I didn’t.”

“So tomorrow and the next two weeks are out. We can’t meet during the day because Bill will be working and school starts again in about two weeks…” Minerva sighed. “I’ll never have any free time now so who knows when we’ll be able to meet again.”

“I’m sure we’ll find a time before you have to go back to school, Minerva,” Remus said reassuringly as they left through the fireplace and returned to Grimmauld Place.


Chapter 9: Robbing The Bank
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Chapter Nine


“So there is a lot of magic coming from the Riddle House, so what?” Kingsley scowled. “We can’t do anything about it and we can’t constantly measure the Magical Frequency over Little Hangleton and search the rest of the country for more Horcruxes as well.”

“Then at the moment we’ll have to focus on finding a way to destroy it,” Bill said as he stood in Minerva’s office once more.

“What the hell do you think we’ve been trying to do for the last two months?!” Ron snapped at him.

“Ron!” Hermione hissed and kicked him. It was no secret that they were only present at the request of Minerva now. Harry would be there the whole way if only because he was the one that the prophecy specified as having the power to defeat Voldemort but that did not mean that he had to be accompanied by his friends at all times.

“Despite his inappropriate outburst,” Minerva said, “Mr Weasley has a point. We have been researching almost constantly since the beginning of September. It’s now November and we’ve had no success.”

“So we can’t search for more Horcruxes and we can’t remove the one we’ve found until we know how to destroy it,” Remus summarised as he ran through any possible courses of action they had in his head. “At the same time we haven’t yet found a means of destroying the first Horcrux and all the time we run the risk of Voldemort discovering what we’re doing and removing the only Horcrux we know of.” He sighed and looked around the group. There did not seem much chance of their finding a new and previously unconsidered course of action.

“Research seems to be our only course of action for the present,” Minerva admitted. Besides her Mad Eye looked almost enraged.

“So we’re going to continue to do nothing?!” he demanded.

“Yes, you understood my meaning correctly, Alastor,” she said coolly.

“What we really need is another Frequency Counter,” Harry said thoughtfully, not really listening to the conversation which was quickly turning into an argument around him. Kingsley raised an eyebrow at him but Remus looked almost thoughtful.

“Remus, you’re out of your mind!” Kingsley said to him in disbelief. “We only know of two and apart from the one currently under our possession the other is in Gringotts.”

“What would you have us do? Burgle the bank?” Bill asked with a slight smile.

“That’s exactly what I’m proposing unless you can borrow it somehow,” Remus said mildly. Kingsley and Bill stared at the sensible, mild-mannered man in a mixture of shock and horror.

“I think it’s an excellent idea,” Mad Eye growled as he stared around at them all.

“You’d like any idea as long as it didn’t involve more research,” Minerva said grimly. “Burgling anywhere else then I would have been inclined to agree but Gringotts…?!” She sat in silence for a moment, putting in some serious thought to the originally not-so-serious suggestion.

“You’d be caught and sent to Azkaban!” Hermione said suddenly, forgetting the fact that they were only barely tolerated at the meetings now. “You’re not going to be able to find the Horcruxes and defeat Voldemort from a gaol cell, are you?!”

Silencio,” Mad Eye said calmly as he pointed his wand at her and Hermione instantly became silent. She continued to wave her arms about in an amusing but mute fashion until Mad Eye threatened to add a full-body bind to the spell that she was already under. She became more still after that.

“You forget that no one has ever managed to steal anything from Gringotts before,” Minerva said rationally. Everyone knew that if you wanted to keep something safe then, apart from Hogwarts, Gringotts was the place to put it.

“That’s not true – Quirrel managed to get inside it to steal the Philosopher’s Stone years ago,” Harry told them.

“But he didn’t manage, did he?” Bill reminded him.

“Only because it had already been taken out of the vault that day,” Harry explained. “He managed to get in and out without being caught though.”

“That single break-in caused Gringotts to treble their security measures which were considered ridiculously high even before that,” said Bill. “Trying to break in now would be very near impossible.”

“Exactly,” Mad Eye growled as he circled the table as if he were readying himself to accuse someone of murder.

“It was Kingsley in the library with the candlestick,” Remus smiled and Mad Eye gave him a very cold look. Minerva laughed and Hermione looked like she would have been if she wasn’t silenced. The Muggle game reference was lost on Harry who had never played the game.

How do you know about Cluedo? Read the large letters that Hermione conjured from the end of her wand and Ron glared at her use of speechless spell-casting.

“You find some interesting things in the Muggle Studies office upon occasion,” Minerva explained with a slight smile.

“Yes, yes, now back to the matter at hand,” Mad Eye snapped and opened his mouth to continue whatever it was he had been saying before.

“Yes, like when we had a television in the staffroom for a week or so when I taught,” Remus smiled slightly at the memory.

“Really? What was it like?” Bill asked.

“If we could please get back to the subject!” Mad Eye snapped.

“It wasn’t very good – it was only small and black and white but it gave us all a laugh,” Minerva smiled at the memory.

“Yes there was a man on it who reminded me of Severus, what was his name now…?” Remus mused whilst Mad Eye continued to fume in the background and Kingsley let him; it always amused him greatly to wind the man up but it appeared that he didn’t even have to put the effort in now.

“I’ll be wondering about this for the rest of the night now,” Minerva said with her brows creased.

“These meetings are a farce!” Mad Eye shouted at the top of his voice and Kingsley and Bill collapsed into fits of laughter.

“I do apologise,” Minerva said as she turned back to the matter at hand. “So what is it that you were trying to say, Alastor?”

“That because Gringotts has increased its security so publicly then the chances of someone attempting to burgle it would be incredibly unlikely and no one in their right mind would attempt it,” he said and his magical eye roved the room and beyond.

“As well as that we have someone who works in the building in question,” Remus pointed out.

“The security will only be high around the vaults,” Kingsley added. “They’re not going to keep a Frequency Counter in the vaults themselves, are they?”

“I seriously doubt it,” Bill said, “but I don’t know its exact location within the building.”

“But you can find out?”

“Probably,” Bill said as thoughts about burglary began to speed up. “It shouldn’t be too difficult if it’s not in an actual vault.”

“So that’s our plan of action then,” said Minerva thoughtfully. “Bill finds out where the Frequency Counter is within Gringotts and once that’s done then we can formulate a plan to steal it.”

“You’re looking very quiet, Harry,” Remus noted as he glanced at the boy stood next to him.

“Was it Marilyn Manson?” he asked and Remus’s and Minerva’s eyes lit up.

“YES! That’s who reminded us of Severus!” Remus said suddenly and Minerva, Hermione and Harry started to laugh hysterically.

“Who on earth is Marilyn Manson?” Kingsley asked in confusion.

“I’ll find you a picture of him later on,” Harry told him once they had all calmed down. Ron stared at them all since he too had absolute no idea who Marilyn Manson was.

“That’s it,” Mad Eye growled and stalked towards the fireplace. “I’m leaving!”

“Don’t do it, Moody,” Kingsley said as he got to his feet and crossed the room in three quick strides, effectively blocking Mad Eye’s route out of the room.

“Let him go, Kingsley,” Minerva said calmly as she too rose to her feet and walked towards the fireplace. “There is no more to be said at this meeting.”

*


Bill walked confidently down the many winding corridors of Gringotts hoping that he looked like he was meant to be there. He had absolutely no idea how to go about finding the Frequency Counter in the large building or where one might be kept. They had talked it over many a time in the last week after each day at work when he had made another expedition around the large building.

The unfortunate thing was that the more he seemed to search the more he realised just how giant Gringotts really was. The building was large enough even if one wasn’t aware that it extended deep into the ground. Not only the vaults were located beneath ground level; some of the workers offices were down there along with most of the more magical and technical aspects of the banking system. If there was anywhere that a Frequency Counter was kept then it would be there, underground. The only question was, where underground?

Slowly but surely he was beginning to draw up a map of each floor, filling in the blank spots as he found them. It didn’t help that it was as bad as Hogwarts when it came to hidden rooms and passageways. Although that Bill could deal with. What he struggled with the most was the fact that he had no idea how well hidden the Frequency Counter would be. It could well have been on prominent display somewhere; it wasn’t something which most people would think of stealing as it wasn’t a widely known magical artefact, although it was certainly valuable.

Minerva had suggested that he could only keep searching and scouring the building until he came across it and that he ought to make a map as he went along. Mad Eye said that the Frequency Counter was most likely to be held in the deepest, darkest vault guarded by dragons and goblins alike. It was Remus who suggested that it would be on the level closest to the vaults since it would be used to measure any unusual magical activity within them. It was that level which he searched the most diligently whenever he could. It was that level he was on right then.

The corridors were silent during the night and busy during the day. Bill used both times of day to conduct his searches knowing that he would not be caught during the night by people or goblins who were not there and during the day there were too many people about for his presence to be suspicious. It was the middle of the day when Bill caught his first glance of that which he was to steal.

“Thank you, sir,” Bill said with a grateful smile as he faced his supervisor. He had been called to his office for reasons of which he was unaware only to find that his recent hard work had earned him a pay rise. Bill knew that it was really because the most prominent French wizarding bank was looking for workers and that Bill had been known to travel. Not that Bill would complain – money was money whether he got it in London or Paris.

“You’re quite welcome, Bill,” smiled his supervisor as he rose to his feet and motioned for Bill to do the same. The men shook hands as they stood by the door and it was only the chance glint of charmed sunlight from the window which made Bill turn and see the Frequency Counter lying on the desk he had just been sat at. His supervisor saw him looking and smiled at his interest. “That’s the Frequency Counter.”

“As in the one and only owned by Gringotts?” Bill asked.

“The very same.”

“How came it to be in your office? I thought it constantly surveyed the surrounding area and recorded the magical frequency of everything in the vaults below,” Bill said and must have realised that he came off as a bit too knowledgeable about the subject because his face became pink and he fell silent.

His employer merely laughed at his supposed enthusiasm. “That’s exactly what it does. It transmits from my office into the room upstairs,” he explained to Bill. “The results are printed out and analysed at the end of every week but thankfully my job hasn’t got that dull yet.”

Bill nodded and smiled. “Very good, sir, although I’m still slightly surprised that such a valuable item is left in your office instead of locked away elsewhere.”

“It’s only valuable to those who know what it is,” the supervisor said wisely. “Very few people are aware of its use or it’s rarity.” He glanced over at the clock which hovered over his desk. “I’m late for a meeting with the head goblin! Wonderful talking to you Bill, I’ll see you later on!” With that he hurriedly ran back to his desk and started gathering papers inside a small briefcase and Bill took it as his cue to leave.

Who’d have thought that he could find a new Frequency Counter and get a rise in the same day? It was quite a shame really because surely he couldn’t continue to work for Gringotts once he had stolen from them. It would be known who had taken it after his conversation with his boss that afternoon and there was no way that he was likely to get away with setting someone else up. Besides, that was hardly fair.

He went back to work with a calm and collected air although really he was desperate just to fire call Grimmauld Place and talk to Minerva or Remus or whoever else could give him some good advice on the matter. Should he just run in there and take it and Floo out of the building? He could go somewhere in Diagon Alley and then after that he could walk back, or catch the Knight Bus to somewhere not too far from Grimmauld Place and walk through there.

Then again he could just leave it entirely and plot what could be a more suitable plan to steal the Frequency Counter. What if it was moved though? What if it was taken somewhere else now that he knew about it and the meeting that his supervisor had attended earlier was only to discover where else it could be kept without risk?

All these thoughts whirred through Bill’s mind as he walked out of his office and past that of his supervisor later that day. The door was shut but he knew it wouldn’t be locked, and if he was caught? Then he’d say that he was sorry but couldn’t resist going back for another look at a magical item so rare and fascinating. He could only hope that it wouldn’t come to that though as he silently slipped into the office.

Sure enough, the Frequency Counter lay on the desk just as it had done before. Bill cautiously looked around the room before confidently crossing the room and picking it up, praying that no alarms would go off whether audible or otherwise. It was slightly larger than the one they currently had back at Grimmauld Place but apart from that small fact it was identical to it in every way.

Bill took a deep breath and slipped the Frequency Counter into the inside pocket of his robes. Quickly he walked back towards the door. The only problem was that the door opened just as he reached it and he froze in horror. His alarm only increased when his supervisor stepped inside the room and eyed him with confusion.

“Bill, what are you doing here?” he asked and Bill froze for a moment.

“I just wanted to thank you again for the rise, sir,” he said, hating himself as he said it but it was the first thing he could think of saying which would warrant his presence in an office that was not his own. “I really don’t deserve it.”

“Nonsense Bill, and I’ll hear no more of this self-depreciation!” his supervisor smiled. “How about we go to the Leaky Cauldron for a celebratory drink?”

“I’d love to, sir, but I’m afraid I’m having dinner at home tonight with my family,” Bill lied and excused himself quickly from the office. He knew that he had very little time to get out of the building. The Counter was clearly a matter of pride to his supervisor and he would realise its absence very quickly. Behind him he heard a shout just after he turned the corner. He knew where it had come from and he had no desire to go back and hand over what he had just stolen.

Bill was very tempted to break into a run and race back to his office to get out of there but his Floo system could be disabled in an instant and he would be sent to the main office. He would have no escape then and no more chances of regaining the Frequency Counter. His heart began to pound as he realised that he was trying to steal from one of the safest places in the country and from goblins.

He walked swiftly so that he would not attract attention to himself and walked into the office next to his own. He knew the woman who worked in there well, well enough to know that at this time she would be stocking up on caffeine as she did every day at half past five before she worked until nine. Bill quickly let himself in and, finding the room deserted, crossed over to the fireplace.

He picked up the Floo powder and threw it into the grate. As the flames turned green and he muttered his destination he could hear the vague alarms which were already beginning to ring upstairs. He could only hope that the Floo system would let him out now. Behind him the door opened and he threw himself through the flames, knowing that he would not have been followed to the other side.

The streets of London met him as he staggered out of the Leaky Cauldron, so close to the bank he had just robbed. Bill let out a laugh at that thought – he had just robbed the most strongly protected bank in wizarding Britain. The fact that it was the only bank didn’t cross his mind as he ran out onto the road and hailed the Knight Bus.

“Grimmauld Avenue,” Bill gasped as he clambered onto the bus and paid his fare without responding to the driver or the temporary conductor. Stan Shunpike was still being held in Azkaban clearly.

The alarms must have been from the disconnection of the Frequency Counter from the analysis contraptions on the floor above, Bill thought as he sat down. For the first time he wondered whether any tracking charms had been put on the Counter and whether at that moment in time the Ministry and the bank were following his every move. Suddenly Bill realised how stupid he’d been; it was impossible to trace Apparition and he was calmly sat on the bus racing very close to the place he wanted to be.

When the bus stopped, he leapt off it and Apparated inside number twelve Grimmauld Place. He was behind the Fidelius charm and there was no way that anyone he didn’t want to meet could find him then.

“Where’s Minerva?” Bill gasped at the first person he saw, who, luckily for him, happened to be Mad Eye.

“School. She does actually teach, you know,” Kingsley said calmly as he appeared behind his mentor.

“New Order meeting now!” Bill said and walked past them, intending to go towards the fireplace and thought better of it. There was nothing easier to trace than someone through the Floo system. If he took the new Frequency Counter to Hogwarts he may as well have taken it back to the bank and told them just where he was going with it in person. “Tell them to come here – we’ll meet in the attic.”

Kingsley and Mad Eye stared at Bill as if he was out of his mind when he marched out of the room and up the stairs. They merely shrugged and set off to find the other four members of the New Order. Evidently something had happened and they were about to find out what.


Chapter 10: Crystal
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Chapter Ten


“Let me get this straight,” Minerva said as she rubbed her temples. “You robbed Gringotts?!”

“Yes.”

“And they know you did it for certain?”

“Yes.”

“Oh dear Merlin,” Minerva sighed. She wanted to hex him for doing something so careless but at the same time the Frequency Counter sat on her desk. He would be hunted down by the Ministry and everyone who knew him would be questioned.

“But we have the Frequency Counter and that’s what counts,” Mad Eye growled approvingly from the window. “We need that if only so that we can keep an eye on the one Horcrux we know of whilst we search for others.”

“Madness, absolute madness,” Minerva sighed as she glanced around at the group assembled. “For now we’ll carry on the research into the destruction of the Horcruxes and I suppose we’ll have to talk about what to do with you, Bill.”

“So we can go do what we want now?” Ron asked hopefully, praying that he wasn’t about to be told to research instantly.

“Yes, Mr Weasley,” Minerva told him. “In fact I suggest that you take the opportunity to visit your sister in Diagon Alley this afternoon.”

“What’s Ginny doing there?” Ron asked in confusion and Bill rolled his eyes.

“You’ve no idea what’s going on in anyone else’s life, have you?” Bill asked with a slight grin.

Ron opened his mouth to argue but Minerva was rapidly getting a migraine and answered for him. “The sixth and seventh years have been becoming increasingly bored of their visits to Hogsmeade and have now been allowed to Diagon Alley if they wish.”

“What?! That’s not fair!” Ron exclaimed and Hermione kicked him. Hard. They were still trying to remain as quiet during the meetings as they could. “We never got to go there and we were bored too!”

“True, but this is the first time the staff have complained about boredom,” Minerva explained. “It’s not just the students who take time out of school.”

Harry nodded and shoved Ron towards the fireplace before he could begin to argue. Hermione quickly followed, along with everyone else.

“I reckon a shopping spree is in order,” Kingsley said rubbing his hands together. “Of course, not for Bill who’s now a bank robber.”

Bill shot him a glare but didn’t speak. The statement was unfortunately true and he wouldn’t be able to venture into public again for quite some time… not unless he formed some kind of magical disguise.

Remus ran his fingers over the new Frequency Counter and started noticing differences about it. Most notably the fact that it wasn’t whistling at an irritating pitch and yet it was turned on. “Can I take this to have a look at it?”

Minerva gave Remus a worried look before acquiescing. It was Remus after all. “Be very careful.”

“I will,” Remus sighed and rolled his eyes. He was not a child playing with a delicate toy. He flipped the Frequency Counter over in his hands and it slipped, almost falling to the floor. He glanced up and caught Minerva’s stern and now worried look on him. With a sheepish smile he said, “I really will be careful.”

“See to it that you are.”

“Come on, I’ve got things to be buying!” Kingsley said as he walked to the fireplace and stepped through it a moment later. He was followed quickly by Harry, Ron, Hermione, Remus and Mad Eye. Bill remained behind looking distinctly unhappy at the prospect of being wanted by the Ministry.

“So, where to?” Ron asked as they stepped out into Diagon Alley. Contrary to their past visits to the street, it wasn’t busy in the slightest. Harry presumed it wasn’t the holidays and the immediate horror of Voldemort’s return had worn off, meaning that people ventured out into public more. Evidently, they did not venture out all that much more however.

Harry wasn’t listening as Ron ran through the list of the places they should go before they left and discussing their first shop with Hermione; instead he watched the Frequency Counter in Remus’s hands and tried to puzzle out why it was different to the other one. There was a similar map of the surrounding area on it but instead of it focusing on a mile in every direction, it was much closer than that and showed things in a far greater level of detail.

“I presume Gringotts only needs a small one since it’s only measuring the amount of magic in a small area,” Remus mused when he noticed Harry watching.

“It doesn’t make any sound either,” Harry observed as they stepped into the main street and Remus quickly slipped the Frequency Counter into his robes.

“Probably not a good idea for me to flash around a highly valuable belonging of Gringotts’ as we walk past the bank,” Remus explained with a slight smile as they walked slowly after Ron and Hermione. “The lack of sound puzzles me however.”

Harry and Remus, not wanting to buy anything, did not venture into Gringotts; it was mostly because they had no need for any money but also because on one of them was a wanted artefact. Ron and Hermione hurried inside, not wishing to linger on the streets although their discomfort in the open space was not something that they could have explained. Perhaps they still felt lingering apprehension after the attack on the Alley back in the summer.

They meandered slowly down the street and once they were quite far from Gringotts and away from anyone else Remus took out the Frequency Counter again for a closer inspection. They were further away from the bank now and both stared down at it in confusion.

It was exactly the same as they had seen it up the street.

“I don’t understand…” Harry said as he stared down at it. “Why didn’t it follow us?”

Remus stared at the building that the Counter covered and suddenly everything was very clear. Bill was going to be furious.

“It’s focused on Gringotts,” Remus told Harry quietly and he instantly understood the ramifications.

“So we can’t use it then,” Harry sighed and wondered what would happen to Bill. Perhaps it could be returned and Bill might escape becoming a fugitive.

“We’d have to reprogram it entirely and none of us know enough in the field to manage it. It’s extremely advanced Charms and would take years to make one,” Remus sighed as he ran his hand through his hair.

They continued to walk down the street until they reached Weasleys’ Wizarding Wheezes and then turned back up the street. No one else knew about the Frequency Counter in Diagon Alley at that time except themselves, Ron, Hermione, Tonks and Kingsley. All the students milled around that particular area along with Fred and George; they would no longer be able to puzzle over the mysterious object if they remained near that end of the Alley.

“It changed then…” Harry said as a flicker caught his eye in Remus’s palm. Sure enough, the picture of the building on the screen was much wider and showed many small rooms. In the corner of the picture it said ‘B3’ in small, gold lettering.

“So it must show every floor, and each of the vaults,” Remus noted as a small vault number glimmered as it caught the light and faded again. The amount of magic in that building was so strong that the pale golden lettering was barely visible against its background. “The only problem now is making it change floors.”

Harry smiled and Remus pulled a face. “That’s my luck, you know,” Remus sighed as the floors changed and it showed ‘B4’ which was another floor of vaults. Suddenly an awful idea occurred to Harry.

“You don’t think that they can track this, do you?”

Remus looked momentarily uncertain before he shook his head. “I doubt it, after all they’d already have caught us by now if they could track it,” Remus waved his hand at the large quite building they were coming back up towards, “seeing as we’re still so close.”

‘B14’. That was all Remus read on the Frequency Counter before he slipped it back into his pocket some minutes later as they walked back towards the group leaving the bank. He didn’t notice the sudden brightness on the small screen which would surely have shown an extremely powerful magical force and neither did Harry as they turned to walk with Tonks and Kingsley towards Weasleys’ Wizarding Wheezes.

*


“Bill, I am truly sorry but until your name has been cleared you must go into hiding,” Minerva sighed. “I do not want to see you taken to Azkaban.”

Bill sighed as he ran his fingers through his hair. He had returned to Hogwarts with Minerva after the others had left and was almost regretting his decision to steal the Frequency Counter. However, the knowledge that it would be useful to the New Order and thus in the removal of Voldemort was enough to keep him calm and resigned to his fate. It was only just enough though.

“I know… I’ll stay inside Grimmauld Place from now on,” he replied sullenly.

Minerva smiled at him slightly. “I am glad to hear it, although you may come to school for the New Order meetings – that should be safe enough.”

Bill suddenly realised something and his mouth opened in horror. “What’s Mum going to say when she finds out?!”

Minerva had been expecting this question and had thought he would have asked sooner rather than later. Molly Weasley was a frightful force at the best of times but to her oldest son who had just robbed a bank and whose face would be plastered over the paper the next day she must have been petrifying.

“I will speak with Molly,” Minerva said confidently although she had no idea what she was going to say to the woman as of yet. “I suggest that you return to Grimmauld Place now.” Bill nodded and Flooed back to the house.

It all depended upon what the Prophet would print the next day. Gringotts goblins were widely known as unfriendly with humans and reporters especially. Rita Skeeter being able to find information as to what had been stolen was unlikely but if it should happen then Molly would know what they had taken. She would be unable to figure out the entirety of what was going on but that something within the Order was occurring without her knowledge would not be a pleasing thought.

Minerva sighed as she ran her eyes over the other Frequency Counter. That one could easily be fixed upon any specific place at any time just as long as it was set whilst the Counter was in that location. Mad Eye had said there would be a Horcrux in London and, if there was, she would bet her wand arm that it was somehow hidden in Diagon Alley, or perhaps even Knockturn Alley. Somewhere very public and right under Dumbledore’s nose would have amused Voldemort to no end, Minerva knew that much.

Would it hurt to wander around the streets for an hour or so and see what the Counter thought of it? Of course if she didn’t tell anyone and had little success then she would be able to let Mad Eye walk through London on his own and have no success also. That ought to keep him quiet for at least a while. And if she did find something…? Well, then they’d be one step closer to defeating Voldemort once and for all.

Her mind made up, Minerva reset the Counter and pocketed it as she walked towards the fireplace. She didn’t pay attention to Phineas as he shouted his disapproval across the room but listened instead to Dumbledore as he told her to visit Knockturn Alley. Just before she stepped into the flickering green flames, a single tap to her head was administered and she became disillusioned. The fire engulfed her and spat her out again moments later in the Leaky Cauldron. No one even looked her way.

The Frequency Counter was silent as she stepped into the street; it had been silenced before she dared go near another human being. The magic there would surely overwhelm it and she could not look at the Counter anywhere near Gringotts for fear of it being seen. Minerva instead remembered Dumbledore’s parting shout as he struggled to be heard over Phineas’s stubborn painted self. Well, she didn’t remember it precisely but it had involved Knockturn Alley and it was there she was headed.

Three of her own sixth years were hovering near the entrance to the Alley and she shooed them back into Diagon Alley before quickly crossing into the unseemly street, hopefully unnoticed by any of her current students enjoying the day out.

It was the same street she had come running into as a young girl, just to see what it was like and why her mother had never let her enter it. Some things never changed and it appeared that Knockturn Alley was one of them. The old woman selling whole human fingernails had surely been there since she had been young… for a brief moment Minerva wondered whether the woman took on an apprentice to take over seamlessly after she died. That way no one would ever know.

She shook her head of the strange thoughts that Knockturn always seemed to bring about and wandered slowly down the streets, pulling the brim of her hat further down over her face in the hopes of concealing her identity that bit further.

Slipping down a small ginnel, Minerva took the chance to pull out the Frequency Counter. It showed the entire street and many little passageways from it which she had not even been aware existed until that moment. There was something extremely powerful radiating from Borgin and Burkes, of that she was certain. She wanted to get in there but as a professor at Hogwarts it would look extremely suspicious… Besides, she could hardly walk in and buy a Horcrux; someone else would need to do that.

She walked slowly towards the shop in question and Minerva watched as the Counter shot up, counting thousands of magical particles every second and the speed was still escalating. She took a step back and flipped the Frequency Counter over. From this point she could see an extremely concentrated point of white light in the shop next to her. There was more magical energy from higher up the street; probably from Gringotts, Minerva reasoned and put the Counter away again.

Turning on her heel, she strode confidently out of her hiding place and out of the street entirely. She had located what she believed to be another Horcrux, or at least an extremely dangerous and powerful Dark object. She didn’t know which she would rather it have been.

*


“I’m serious – Ginny has no idea what she’s getting herself into,” Hermione said as she glanced worriedly over Ron’s shoulder to see the girl of whom she spoke reading a long letter.

It was now almost commonplace to see Ginny reading something or other and if she wasn’t reading a long letter then usually she was writing one in response. Ron didn’t seem to be phased by this behaviour in his sister although Hermione wondered if he really knew what was going on, after all he seemed to be under the vague impression that something was still going on between Ginny and Harry.

“Hermione, she’s just writing to someone…” Ron sighed as he turned away and glanced longingly down the street towards the shop owned by his twin brothers.

“You haven’t read any of the letters, have you?” Hermione suddenly realised. Had Ron seen any of the content his younger sister was being sent then she was sure he, and his other siblings, would try and hunt the culprit down.

“Does that really make any difference?” Ron said, sounding thoroughly exasperated. “Let her write to whoever she wants!”

“You are aware that she’s practically dating this mysterious penpal, right?” Hermione asked, knowing that he had absolutely no idea. “Although you haven’t actually read anything they’re saying to each other so maybe you didn’t know that…”

“B-but Ginny’s going out with Harry…” Ron said, suddenly feeling very confused. Hermione could have laughed outright then at the obliviousness of her boyfriend but decided against it; she had laughed at him a lot recently.

“They haven’t been together since Dumbledore’s funeral!” Hermione said shaking her head at Ron. “So now she’s going out with this guy called John who she only knows through letters.”

“Not for long she isn’t,” Ron said, suddenly sounding very determined. Of course he wouldn’t have any power over Ginny on his own so he would need to call on the twins and maybe Bill and Charlie to help as well. This was a family matter and the more family involved the more likely Ginny was to stop writing to John, or whoever he was. “I mean, he could be a Death Eater or anything!”

“Precisely,” Hermione muttered as she watched Ginny’s face light up at something within the letter she read.

“Should we say anything to Harry?” Ron asked tentatively. He knew how things had been between Harry and Ginny since they had broken up and although Harry didn’t seem all that bothered about her absence in his life, Ginny had been very bitter about the entire thing.

“No, I don’t think we really need to, do you?” Hermione asked quietly and glanced around her as if afraid that Harry was about to appear at any moment. “Come on, let’s go get Fred and George then.”

“How did you—?”

“What do you think I am? An idiot…?” Hermione asked, rolling her eyes. Quickly she left Ron’s side and marched down the street towards Weasleys’ Wizarding Wheezes whilst Ron ran after her, still wondering how she knew what he had been going to do. Maybe she could read minds or something…

“Well wasn’t that interesting,” Harry muttered as he wound up his Extendable Ears and shrunk them before returning them to his pocket. He couldn’t believe that Ginny was not only going out with someone else but that she only knew him through parchment. For once Ron was right; ‘John’ could have been anyone.

Remus handed back his Extendable Ear, his own having been left in Grimmauld Place, and watched Harry warily. He didn’t exactly condone spying on Harry’s friends or particularly feel the need to participate in the act himself but that hadn’t stopped him from absorbing all the information he was given. Ginny was indeed putting herself in danger but it was clear that her brothers would do something about that. It was just a matter of how soon and their method.

He bit his lip slightly in a nervous manner as he and Harry set off slowly after them. All in all it had been a very interesting afternoon for both of them, even if all they had done was wander around Diagon Alley. Still, neither of them knew how they could ever tell Bill and the rest of the New Order that the Frequency Counter they had taken from Gringotts only worked on that particular building.

“Minerva,” Remus greeted warmly as the woman happened across their path as they travelled the street. “I wasn’t aware you were planning on following.”

“I wasn’t but I’m glad I did,” she muttered so that she was just within Remus and Harry’s hearing. Remus raised a questioning eyebrow and motioned for her to continue whilst Minerva glanced around nervously, afraid of being overheard. “Well, I decided to come here myself with the other Counter…”

She paused slightly, wondering how best to phrase herself in a manner which would not allow anyone listening to their conversation to know what was going on and at the same time to give Remus and Harry a clear idea of what had transpired.

“I found another one,” she decided upon eventually. Their reactions were as calm and as subdued as she had expected from Remus and Harry, although the moment they were free to talk she would be assaulted by a barrage of questions from the latter.

“Where?” Remus asked calmly although he could feel his heart fluttering madly. That was two they had found now but as of yet they still had no way to destroy them. It was all well and good knowing where they were but without a means of destruction Voldemort would still run amok and people would still be living in fear. Their research was now more important than ever, but that didn’t mean that they had to like it.

“In Knockturn Alley,” Minerva replied steadily although she didn’t feel it. “Borgin and Burkes.”

“It might be bought,” Harry realised suddenly.

“It seems unlikely,” Remus replied. “Surely Borgin would know that it held some value and wouldn’t sell it even if he was aware of what it was.”

“Perhaps,” Minerva mused. “Or maybe he’s just holding it for one of his more regular customers.”

“Malfoy?” Remus asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Voldemort used to work there when he left school,” Harry told them as they neared the shop and Minerva stopped and stared.

“One of the most gifted students to pass through Hogwarts…?” she asked in disbelief.

“And he left school and went to work in a shop in Knockturn Alley, I know,” Harry said as they began walking again. It seemed that their discovery of a new Horcrux had opened more possibilities than it had closed.

Minerva glanced at Harry. She knew now that whilst research continued to be of little success that they ought to concentrate on locating Voldemort’s current location also. If anyone had known where he was then it would have been Snape, and his chambers still lay untouched after his departure so many months ago. Perhaps he had left some trace of his whereabouts in his living quarters. It was unlikely but worth a try, surely?

She was going to regret delegating the task to Remus and Harry, she knew that already. Minerva sighed and quickly explained the situation to them both whilst they were alone.

Harry raised an eyebrow. “You want me to go snooping through Snape’s living quarters?”

“That is correct.”

“You could have asked me to do this sooner,” Harry said, wondering how many hexes he could have put on the room whilst Snape was still living in them. Remus laughed quietly.

“You do know that when Snape was living in the school Dumbledore was still alive and you had no reason to go into his quarters at all, right?” Remus asked him.

Harry shrugged, still wishing that he had been given this kind of freedom before but fully aware that he would never have gained it.

“Won’t he have protected his rooms?” Harry asked suddenly.

“In case you found them?” Minerva asked mildly with a slight smile. “Yes, he probably has done. That is why you’re not going in there alone.”

“That and because she doesn’t want you burning it or anything along those lines,” Remus muttered to him.

“Yes, I want Snape’s rooms to remain the same as when you enter them, do I make myself clear?”

“Crystal,” Harry said and smiled at the confused looks that his companions both wore. “Muggle expression,” he explained. Minerva nodded, still trying to understand the expression as she caught sight of three tall, red-headed males crowding round one angry looking girl.

“—don’t you dare tell me who the hell I can talk to!” Ginny yelled at the top of her voice. Everyone in the street turned to look at her and most people skirted away from her, aware that she was getting all the attention in the street. They believed that if there was to be an attack then she would be noticed first. The furthest away from the most obvious target the better for them.

“You don’t even know who he is!” Fred shouted. “He could be anyone!”

At this point in time Ginny turned to Hermione looking absolutely furious. “How could you have told them everything?! I trusted you!”

“Right, and you’re running about reading letters constantly and telling everyone about this man isn’t the slightest bit obvious…” Hermione scowled, folding her arms in a disapproving manner.

“You just wait until Mum hears about this!” Ron snapped at her.

“I think this is the perfect chance,” Minerva said, turning to Remus and Harry. She gave quick directions to Remus as to the location of Snape’s chambers and the best way to get inside them without being attacked. Minerva smiled slightly as they both Apparated back to the house while in Diagon Alley the arguing escalated with the sudden presence of Molly Weasley. All in all, Remus and Harry were glad that they’d left when they were given the chance.


Chapter 11: Gone
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Chapter Eleven


The room was silent as Harry slipped inside, followed by Remus. It had taken them a full ten minutes to break through all the charms and wards on the chambers of Severus Snape which had been so very well hidden under the dungeons. Harry felt that, as he had followed the trail to them, that they must be somewhere under the lake. Remus had agreed with him on that front which only set Harry off thinking about the Chamber of Secrets.

They both felt uncomfortable in Snape’s rooms, though they didn’t know why. Remus wondered whether it was because the room knew that they should not be in there; perhaps it could recognise that they were neither Severus nor part of his house. Either way it reminded him eerily of the way the books in the Restricted Section moaned when an intruder ventured into their midst.

“So what exactly are we looking for?” Harry asked as they looked around the room. It was not the way Harry had imagined it. In his mind’s eye he had seen green and silver, perhaps accompanied by a sprinkling of Dark objects over the room. He had supposed that it would be like another version of the Slytherin common room, but it was not. It wasn’t even entirely black in colour, as was his secondary assumption.

“His rooms weren’t going to be green and silver, Harry,” Remus said with a slight smile as he noticed Harry taking in his surroundings. Secretly, Remus was almost disappointed that the room wasn’t very Slytherin; it would have been excellent proof that the man had been extremely biased until the day he left. Not that it mattered any longer though. He went on to answer Harry’s question, “We’re looking for anything that might give us the slightest clue of Voldemort’s current location.”

“Would Snape really have been as stupid as to leave something like that lying about his personal quarters?” Harry asked, raising an eyebrow.

“No, but it’s an excuse to go through Snape’s things,” Remus answered truthfully and wished he hadn’t at Harry’s slight smile. “That and, if we later found that the information concerning Voldemort’s whereabouts had been here all along then it would be extremely infuriating, and therefore foolish not to look whilst we can.”

Harry shrugged and turned away, glancing around the room again before he wandered over to Snape’s desk in the corner of the room. He could easily see why Slughorn had rejected the rooms as his own quarters, even if he had the magical ability to manipulate their decoration to his will. It was just the fact that both Remus and Harry felt the odd crawling on their skin and the prickling of unease as the hair on the back of their necks stood up.

Remus, on the other hand, didn’t follow Harry to the desk though it was the most likely place for any information to be found. He was more interested in surveying the room of the man who had gone on to betray the Order and the very person he believed in more than any other.

The room they were in appeared to be some kind of main living room. It was a combination of kitchen, dining room and living room all in one. A kitchenette took up the corner to his left, leaving the rest of the room as something which vaguely reminded him of Grimmauld Place. The large fireplace was made with black marble, intricate carvings covering its surface, though the fire which it once would have framed had long since gone out of its own accord.

The fireplace was the darkest part of the room; the walls themselves were a deep blue in colour, a paler, greener border running around the wall. Remus had felt it odd that Snape had requested a room so far from the dungeons but not when he saw the view through the large window of the land beyond. It was surely one of the nicest views of the Hogwarts grounds and Remus had wondered momentarily whether or not it had been charmed by Filius Flitwick earlier on. He found it had not upon his opening the window and yet the scenery remained as the cold autumn wind raced in.

Remus glanced over to Harry who was running his eyes over a small leather-bound book in his hands. It had the appearance of being some kind of diary though he would not imagine that Severus would have been so careless as to leave it lying about, even if it had been within his own near impenetrable quarters. It didn’t particularly matter; it was just a chance for them to look a little deeper into the life that had been Snape’s before he had given up on them all. Perhaps he had always been with Voldemort and had never truly been under the command of Dumbledore.

At the same time that seemed so very difficult to believe. It had only taken a few careful glances at Snape when he had been either talking to Dumbledore or taking orders from him to see that he genuinely cared for the older man. There had to be something there, or was Remus’s memory playing tricks on him, trying to make him see what had never been there?

He read over Harry’s shoulder and was intrigued to find that it did appear to be the diary of one Severus Snape, though the dates were old. They appeared to be from around eight years ago, the year before Harry had joined the school. It was just another teaching year for him, another set of first years to terrorise and seventh years whose failure he predicted incessantly. He had never been close to the teachers, though he mentioned them more often than specific students and there was no reference made to any of the Marauders or Harry. Then again, he’d had no reason to think of them for so many years, had he? Not until the son of one of the deceased came wandering into the school.

“When does it end?” Remus asked and Harry flicked to the back page and then turned back twice until he found the final date.

…but then why continue to write a journal filled with such inane entries when nothing of any interest ever occurs within these walls? Each and every single day is the same as the last one; there is no one of any intrigue in the school, nothing to make the day more varied than the last. The detentions continue, and my intense boredom resurfaces frequently.

So this is where it all ends, I suppose. Unless something worth writing down arises (and I seriously doubt that will ever happen in this wretched place) then this will be the last diary kept by myself, Severus Snape.


It had been dated the middle of April in 1990. There was nothing more on that page. The pages which followed were blank though Remus tested them for any kind of concealment that he knew of.

“I wonder if school became any more interesting for him once I joined,” Harry mused aloud and Remus smiled slightly.

“I’m certain that it did from the accounts I’ve heard from various people,” Remus told him. “I’m sure that he was so busy plotting against you that he had no time to write a diary.”

“We’re really not going to have any luck with this, are we?” Harry asked as he twisted round and looked at Remus who shook his head.

“It doesn’t look like it,” Remus sighed. “We might be better off just giving up now. I seriously doubt that there’ll be anything left in his bedroom. Minerva told me that the entire thing was burnt before he left. I would be willing to bet that anything incriminating would have been in there at the time, though it’s worth looking, I suppose.”

“I don’t understand though,” Harry said as they rose to their feet and moved back towards the door. “Why would he go to all the trouble of charming the rooms shut so excessively after he left if there was nothing inside them of any value?”

“I don’t know,” Remus replied, wishing he could know that himself, “but some of the charms he had put on them were detection charms which should have alerted him if someone entered the room.”

Harry glanced at Remus oddly for a moment as they left the room. The prickling unease he had felt suddenly vanished and Remus instantly began to wonder whether or not Snape could sense their presence in the room from wherever he was. Harry asked him but Remus forced himself to reason before he responded.

“It doesn’t really matter if he did know we were in there,” Remus told him calmly as they trod the long and winding trail back to the main part of the school. “There’s nothing he can do about it and I’m sure he wouldn’t care anyway, why would he?”

But Severus did care. As he sat in his home at Spinner’s End he narrowed his eyes upon the entrance of Lupin and Potter into his previous sanctuary. He felt every single one of the spells he had put upon the door taken down though Lupin had not the sense to remove the ones placed inside the room itself. Perhaps he had not known or bothered to check. There would be very little that he could have done to them from that distance, granted.

Still, he was not pleased. Potter of all people should have been kept out at all costs. How he had gained entrance could only be through Minerva which meant he had been given permission to enter his former home. Merlin only knew what the boy wanted from his home, though…

Severus’s mind began to whir. It had been too long since he had actually been required to think. Too many months had he been kept in isolation away from everyone else. He had done it of his own accord however, and did not have any desire to associate with the Death Eaters. Voldemort thought he understood; Snape felt them beneath him, just as the Dark Lord himself did. Severus didn’t argue and Voldemort didn’t question. Not openly at least.

He had finally managed to rid himself of Wormtail however and for that he was very grateful. He had no idea what the overgrown rat would be doing now but it certainly would not be anything pleasant or enjoyable. Not that Severus had made life with him anything to celebrate.

He began to reason slowly as thought returned to him. If Potter and Lupin were in his rooms then they must have been there with Minerva’s permission. She was the only one with the knowledge of his refuge in that school; no one else but Dumbledore had been given the information at any time and Minerva would not just let them in for fun, to burn what was left of his last life that he had not burnt himself. If Minerva had let them in then she had something that she wanted them to do – they would be hunting for information, presumably the location of Voldemort, but if they were searching for that…

Then they must know the location of one of the Horcruxes.

Severus felt a chill down his spine and wondered whether it was a good or a bad thing that they were now searching for Voldemort. Knowing the location of a Horcrux was an improvement. Severus had absolutely no idea how on earth they had managed to find any of them; he knew only that they were so well hidden that Dumbledore himself had trouble finding them whilst he was still living. At the same time, they would have a very difficult time discovering just how they were destroyed unless Dumbledore had recorded just how it was to be done.

He strongly doubted that was the case. Dumbledore was much like himself in the way that he kept his enemies close but his allies at arm’s length. He would not have kept a record of the method he had used to destroy the ring that had almost removed his hand. If he had then Voldemort probably had it; Minerva would not. Nor would his portrait be of any use to them. It did not contain the information that Dumbledore himself had. The portrait would have only the vaguest memory of life, it would be able to recognise people also but it would be unable to tell them the precise location of a Horcrux or the best way to kill Voldemort. He would be unable to tell them how the Horcruxes ought to be destroyed, though the 2D Dumbledore would probably have remembered his favourite flavour of jam.

It was with an irritated but resigned sigh that Severus Snape got to his feet as the presence of Lupin and Potter in his mind faded away to nothing, telling him that they had left his quarters; empty handed, no doubt. He had to do something. He needed to speak to Potter and he knew of only one way that he could get so close to him that he might temporarily kidnap the boy.

“Master, I propose an attack upon Hogsmeade at the next Hogsmeade weekend,” Severus said calmly to Voldemort. The Dark Lord looked intrigued and almost faintly amused by the idea.

“Go on…”

“It would be the best way to get the boy – whilst he is out with his friends in the “safety” of the Wizarding village which is so very close to the school,” Severus went on quickly.

Voldemort smiled and rose to his feet. “When is the next Hogsmeade weekend?”

“Not until February, my Lord.” This displeased the Dark Lord but the idea had been a good one, and interesting also. He would think hard on Severus’s proposition, though both of them knew that he would accept and most likely go through with the plan. It had been a long time since Voldemort himself had been out killing. Too long.

“It will be done.”

*


Kingsley leapt over the dustbin as it was knocked into his path and easily continued racing down the street after the blond-haired man who was making his escape down Knockturn Alley. Lucius Malfoy had made an impressive escape from Azkaban – lights, killings and the appearance of Voldemort himself. A temporary prison was in place very close to the Ministry and now Kingsley, Tonks and two other Aurors had been charged with the duty of capturing Malfoy upon his appearance in Diagon Alley that afternoon.

The two other Aurors, negligent of their duty, had left the chase ten minutes previously as their pursuit through the twisting and dangerous Alley became tiresome. They had thought that they had very little chance of catching the man and privately Tonks and Kingsley had agreed. It was not for the Ministry that they chased Lucius though, it was for the Order. It would be very valuable for them to be able to question one of the head Death Eaters under Veritaserum. Surely he would know where Voldemort was at that moment in time.

AVADA KEDAVRA!” The words were screamed and a jet of green light shot back towards Tonks who ducked and went into a roll just in time to avoid taking the curse to her chest. She carried on in the same sprint she had been in before, determined not to let the man escape as he had done so many times before. Just behind her, Kingsley was beginning to tire and his pace began to slow. Tonks pushed herself on, hoping beyond hope that she would be the one to catch him. She would prove herself to the condescending Aurors of the Ministry and the exasperated sighs that her clumsiness always brought from the Order when she broke something else.

Oh yes, she would prove herself… Her foot caught on a loose paving slab and she flew forwards towards Lucius. For a single moment she was pleading that she would land on Malfoy himself but it quickly became apparent that would not happen. She landed with a thud on the hard ground and Kingsley fell over her as she attempted to scramble back to her feet.

Kingsley glanced up just in time to see Malfoy dash around the corner and he sighed as he leant his head back onto the pavement, not caring that he was lying down in the middle of Knockturn Alley, only thinking that he had failed the Order and if he hadn’t been so careless then Malfoy would have been theirs.

“So what else has been happening?” Minerva asked, hurriedly changing the subject away from the failure of Tonks and Kingsley to catch Malfoy upon seeing the defeat on their faces.

“No one has been into the Riddle House,” Bill said assuredly. “Not in the last month anyway.”

It had been an entire month since they had last met and everyone had been busy; most of them still were. It was the middle of December and Christmas was quickly approaching. It had been arranged by all of them to return to Grimmauld Place that holiday and everyone was looking forward to being with each other again. The months had been hard, especially on the New Order and the Weasleys.

The latter had been dealing mostly with the fact that Bill was wanted by the Ministry for the theft of a highly valuable magical item. They still hadn’t caught him and hadn’t even so much as seen him since he had been to Gringotts one last time. Since then he and Ron had been spending a lot of their time keeping watch over the Riddle House for any unusual activity. There had been none and, towards the end of the month, Ron had taken to bringing books from which to conduct more research with him.

Mad Eye, along with Hermione and often with the help of Kingsley had been making plans to get into Gringotts and keeping an eye on Borgin and Burkes at the same time for any known Death Eaters entering the store. Originally they had been only trying to get into Gringotts to return the Frequency Counter that had been of such little use to them but when Hermione happened to catch it on floor ‘B14’ she saw the almost blinding white light that shone out at them. There was no mistaking what it had been.

The locations of three Horcruxes had been found, two had already been destroyed, and Voldemort and Nagini walked free. That was a total of seven. All the Horcruxes had been discovered, but there was no way for them to destroy those they had, or even to gain their possession. Not yet anyway.

“What about in Borgin and Burkes?” Bill asked Minerva suddenly. As she had found that Horcrux it had almost fallen as her responsibility to keep an eye on it and ensure that nothing happened to it. They should probably have considered a candidate with more time for the position but it hadn’t occurred to them at the time that a busy woman with so many other responsibilities in a school wasn’t particularly suited to the challenge.

“She hasn’t checked it in a while,” Phineas said loudly as the other portraits shushed him excessively. Minerva glared at him and the others in the room looked between her and the portrait. They could understand that she hadn’t looked at the Frequency Counter in a while and they were sure nothing would have happened to the Horcrux in so short a time. After all, Borgin would never sell it, would he?

“Be quiet, Phineas,” Minerva scolded as she pulled out the Frequency Counter.

“Oh, what a surprise! During the long time it’s been since you last looked at it the Horcrux has gone,” Phineas smirked and the horrified look on Minerva’s face was reflected amongst the group. It really had gone.

Chapter 12: R.A.B.
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Chapter Twelve


“Minerva, we can find it again,” Remus said soothingly to her as he moved to her side of the desk. She was still staring down at the Frequency Counter in a state of shock and fury at herself.

“Not now that Voldemort knows we’re looking for them,” Minerva said quietly.

“There’s no guarantee that he does,” Remus told her rationally, “because the Horcrux wasn’t taken from us. It could have been bought for all we know.”

“Back to scouring Britain we go,” Mad Eye growled, sounding distinctly annoyed with the situation. It also didn’t help that Phineas was staring down at them smugly from the wall, unhearing of the cold comments from his fellow portraits.

“It doesn’t matter,” Bill said. “We only found one of the Horcruxes by chance anyway. So now we’ll have to actually search intentionally. There’s not much difference there.”

Mad Eye didn’t respond to him but didn’t look any happier about their predicament. “So, I hear Potter was given permission to destroy Snape’s quarters,” he said after a slight pause.

“What? And I wasn’t allowed to go with him?” Ron said, sounding utterly aghast at the idea that such an event occurred and he was not present for the occasion.

“He was not destroying Severus’s personal quarters,” Minerva snapped. “He and Remus were looking for any indication of Voldemort’s current whereabouts in his office. It’s unlikely that anything would be found but surely worth looking regardless.”

“And did you find anything?” Mad Eye demanded, turning on Harry who felt the sudden desire to retreat. His gaze was focused entirely on Harry whilst Remus stood on the other side of the room.

“No, there wasn’t much there anyway,” Harry said, staring straight into the two odd eyes fixed upon him.

“See? Why should a mere child be involved in matters clearly out of their league?” Mad Eye said vehemently. “He can’t even find some information in an office!”

Harry opened his mouth to shout something along the lines of “I’d like to see you do better!” but a slight movement caught the corner of his eye and he turned to see Remus shaking his head at him slightly. Harry bit back his retort and saw the slight flicker of a smile touch Remus’s features before it was erased.

“That is enough, Alastor!” Minerva cried as she got to her feet. Harry had been unaware that Mad Eye had still been ranting about him and he wondered briefly whether that had been Remus’s aim, to distract him. “I am certain that, had there been any information to be found in Severus’s office, then Harry and Remus would have been able to find it.”

“Of course he could,” Mad Eye said with a slight mocking tone to his voice, neglecting the addition of Remus to her sentence. “And this boy is the one upon whom the wizarding world rests? The world is in a sorry state of affairs when that is the case.”

The door slammed shut and Harry had gone, disappearing into the school. Remus shook his head at Mad Eye in disbelief before running off through the school, quickly trying to catch up to Harry before he got to the Room of Requirement; he would not be able to get in once Harry shut the door and wanted no one else to follow.

He saw Harry slip round a corner at the far end of the corridor and realised the route that he would take to the room. Remus turned and entered a passageway behind a mirror to his left, and took a faster route, fully intending to beat Harry there. He could only hope that he’d correctly anticipated Harry’s location.

“What are you doing here?” Harry snapped when he reached the Room of Requirement just after Remus, scowling when he found the man already inside. Harry entered and stared around the room; it was the vault he had come into possession of from Petunia’s key. Remus was watching him calmly from one of the sofas, his eyes occasionally wandering back to a letter which he held in his hands.

“Just making sure that you don’t do anything stupid,” Remus said lightly. “Have you seen these?” He showed Harry the letter in his hand; it was one of the ones signed by Bromadius and Rhianne. It was a transparent plan to get Harry to forget the fact that Remus had not only followed Harry to the Room of Requirement when he wanted to be alone but was sitting in a vault last touched by his parents, reading letters between the two of them.

“Yes,” Harry answered at sat down next to him. “I don’t understand though…” He pointed to the names at the bottom of the page and repeated them in confusion.

“During the war there was always the chance that our letters would be intercepted,” Remus explained, happy that Harry had not chosen to pursue the subject that was his rudeness in following him to a personal sanctuary, “so most people used pseudonyms for most letter writing.”

“Surely there are magical ways to find out who sent a letter,” Harry said, frowning slightly and Remus nodded.

“Of course,” he agreed, “and you could just write a reply and follow the owl back to see where it came from, but code names were mildly amusing and back then we took all the amusement we could get.”

Harry noticed the way that Remus’s look seemed to darken at the remembrance of his past and decided to push the topic away from the darkness of the past if he could. He partially hoped that Remus would change the conversation slightly himself as he was no manipulator of words.

“So Mum was Rhianne,” Harry said, glancing down at the letter in his hands.

Remus nodded. “And your father was Bromadius.” He laughed then and Harry smiled slightly at the sound. “I think he found the name on the Black tapestry at some point and laughed himself into hysterics over it.”

“So Sirius was Patrick,” Harry said, feeling a pang of sadness as he said so.

“Patrick McDougal,” Remus said, smiling as he looked down at the letter in his hands. It had been left on top of a small, obvious pile by the side of the sofa. It was one of the first things that he had seen when he entered the room and he wondered momentarily whether Lily and James had intended them to find it first. “And I was Thomas L’Ordinaire.”

Harry smiled and glanced at the top of the letter on the next pile. “I thought you would have been.” He paused slightly before asking, “What was Peter called?”

“We usually didn’t call him anything,” Remus said. He didn’t like speaking of Peter but he had invited this conversation upon himself. Peter had been his friend once upon a time yet they had neglected him at times and pushed him away. Sirius and James had even thought him a good Secret Keeper because they didn’t appear to be particularly good friends. Was it really any wonder that he had betrayed them all…? “When we did write to him, and that wasn’t particularly often, then we would usually just use his first name. Peter was a common name and didn’t require a pseudonym.”

“James is a common name,” Harry pointed out, “and he still used one.”

Remus nodded but didn’t respond. Harry was right, James was surely as common a name as Peter yet they hadn’t given both of them code names, just the one. The unofficial leader of their small group.

Harry realised Remus was not going to say anything else and reached out for another letter, the next one on the pile. He didn’t know just what thought process he had triggered within Remus but it had made him more morose than he had previously been.

I mean it, Patrick! If I return and my son is harmed in any way then you’ll be wishing you were dead very, very quickly. For Merlin’s sake, just ask Thomas for help!

Thanks for looking after Harry again,

Rhianne
And Bromadius


“I think it was when the idea of going into hiding first came up that Lily decided she wanted a holiday,” Remus said to Harry as he read over the youth’s shoulders. “She always said that she wanted to live a little first if she was going to be imprisoned in her own home.”

“So they went on holiday and left me with Sirius,” Harry finished for him. Remus nodded with a smile.

“It took Sirius a good couple of days to let me help out,” Remus went on, “but by that time he had somehow proven that he was actually capable of looking after an infant. I was quite disappointed, I must say.”

I’m just glad that Patrick’s finally let you help out with things, Thomas! Read the next letter Remus picked up. I’m quite annoyed that he’s proving himself as a tolerable parent though I suppose I ought to be grateful since it’s my son he’s taking care of. Has there been any news of Peter recently? He hasn’t been replying to my letters…

Anyway, I’m enjoying the change of scenery and we’ll be back a week before Halloween.

Love,
Rhi and Brom


The names were shortened in that one and Remus frowned slightly. He remembered that as time had gone on their names had become shorter and shorter out of convenience for speedy letters. Only Sirius had insisted that his name never be shortened past Patrick McDougal, though it always was. Lily always had called him Pat in their correspondence, Remus remembered fondly.

The letters were all from the Potters to either himself or Sirius during their brief stay from home before they went into hiding. They were a set of engaging letters but something niggled at the back of his subconscious the more he read.

…the most amazing dinner last night. I can’t remember Bromadius ever being so romantic in all my days! I still miss all three of you though, and I hope to see you soon, especially my darling son.

Give my love to Harry,

R & B


Then onto the next one which read, We’ll be home tomorrow. We got what we needed here and I hope to see you all safe and well. If we return to a burnt down house then Merlin help you, Thomas!

One day you’ll thank me for these letters, you know,

All our love,

R.a.B.


Remus and Harry stared at it for a moment. The initials were plain to see and Remus felt shivers pass down his spine. He reached out blindly for the next letter, this one was in an envelope.

Remus’s mind was whirling now. Lily had left letters, perfectly laid out in the first place that anyone would look in the vault. They were all from her and James. Remus could not remember her having asked for the letters to himself and Sirius had never mentioned it. She had taken them to tell a tale, to show the shortening of their names… He felt sick, his mind raced with possibilities and beside him sat her son, the last part of her left on Earth. He opened the envelope and took out the parchment from inside.

Forgive the shortness of this letter, I have little time to write and the Fidelius Charm is cast this afternoon. I fear it will be the final nail. You know how our story ends and I can only guess at who the other readers of this letter may be. I knew that leaving the key to Petunia would have been a good idea and only those who truly knew me would have been able to acquire the key. She knew precisely when to give it away, and to whom.

You hold in your hands the last letter by the hand of Lily Potter and in the envelope lies the locket you were surely hunting for. Use it well, my son. Your road is tough and, should this letter still be here, then you are probably alone in the world. I can only hope that somehow Remus and Sirius are looking after you and that they live on to help you.

It does not do to dwell in darkness and forget to live, remember that if nothing else. You can and you will live before he dies and the prophecy will only remain true if both believe it. Walk away if you must.

I write forever with love, pride and confidence in you, Harry.

Lily


Harry stared at the letter, unblinking, unbelieving. His mother could not have left this for him. She could not be RAB with his father… the concept was so unbelievable. During the rush to find the Horcruxes RAB had been entirely overlooked but it seemed that he was meant to find this. He had been meant to read it. Lily had known the prophecy before she had died, as had James. She had suspected for her son to be Voldemort’s downfall that they would have to die first. Her last message left to him, written in the afternoon before the Fidelius Charm was cast over their house and left in a vault. He felt a surge of gratitude to Petunia for carrying out her one task for his mother.

He looked to Remus who stared down at his own palms. He followed Remus’s gaze to the locket he held in his hands.

*


“You will keep your mouth shut, Alastor!” Minerva shouted at him and all the people and portraits in the room flinched. More portraits with access to the room quickly filed in and filled the frames around them, all wondering what the commotion was about.

There was silence as Mad Eye glared at her for a moment and then sighed in defeat. He may possibly have been slightly out of line but there was no denying that Potter was surely too young to be involved in such matters.

The silence stretched on uncomfortably until a frenzied ticking met their ears, easy to miss in the noise they had been making before.

“What the bloody hell—?”

“Shush, Ron!”

Ticking filled the room, faster and more furious than ever. The New Order and the portraits stared around them, desperately seeking the cause of the unsolicited noise.

“I believe it may be a Frequency Counter making the noise,” Dumbledore said mildly after a couple of minutes with no luck.

Mad Eye snatched at one of the two on the table and turned it over to see the floor plan of Gringotts. Minerva took the other one immediately after and saw numbers rapidly ascending. She turned it over and looked at the seventh floor. Two darker dots were sitting in the Room of Requirement next to what was undoubtedly one of the Horcruxes.

“I don’t believe it…” Hermione muttered as she caught sight of the one in Mad Eye’s hands. Sure enough, it showed two dots on the floor ‘B14’ in a vault next to the Horcrux. She turned and ran from the room, the rest of the Order hot on her trail.

Phineas’s voice filled their ears as they raced out. “It seems you’ve finally all got what you needed for Christmas: a bloody miracle!” he yelled after them.

*


It was stored in the Room of Requirement, none of them wanting to leave it within Gringotts. The Horcrux would remain there until more were found and could eventually be stored there also, though that eventuality didn’t seem particularly near. It was odd but, after so much excitement, the Order returned to their daily business and most forgot the Horcrux shortly afterwards. Their worry was more closely linked with just what they were going to get various members of the Order for Christmas, rather than how to defeat Voldemort.

“Tell you what, Hermione,” Ron said as he sat with his girlfriend and best friend in the lounge of Grimmauld Place, “you can look for ways to destroy the Horcruxes and me and Harry will play chess.”

“Harry and I,” Hermione muttered but from an enquiring look sent her way she added, “Nothing.”

“So who’s up for some last minute Apparition tests?” Kingsley asked as he walked into the room.

“Kingsley, we aren’t taking our tests until after the New Year,” Ron said coolly, “I hardly think anything now could be counted as ‘last minute’.”

“Actually, you’re taking your tests in ten minutes,” Kingsley beamed at them. Harry looked quite a bit paler than he had done moments before and Ron gaped at him.

“Ten minutes?!” Ron managed finally. “But you said…”

“I know what I said before but I pulled some strings at the Ministry and you’re taking your tests today so that you won’t have to wait another two weeks,” Kingsley explained. “You’re both more than ready.”

And so, it was with great trepidation that Harry and Ron left Grimmauld Place amidst calls of ‘good luck’ with Kingsley who insisted that they didn’t need it. Harry wasn’t particularly keen on re-entering the Ministry after the last time he was there but clearly he had very little choice in the matter.

It took twenty minutes of waiting before Harry disappeared to take his test and returned with a smile on his face and a licence in his hand. Ron only managed to look sicker at the idea of Harry passing his first test and he failing two of them.

“Weasley, Ronald.”

Ron got shakily to his feet and followed the short examiner through the doorway into a large chamber beyond. He had been expecting someone older in truth; this examiner couldn’t have been older than forty though he reminded Ron strongly of one of the examiners that he’d had during his OWLs.

“Good afternoon, Mr Weasley,” the examiner greeted him cheerfully. “Now the test is simple. I’ll need you to Apparate to all the points here and bring back the coloured hoop you find in each location.”

“That’s it…?” Ron asked hopefully.

“That’s it,” the examiner clarified and handed him a sheet of parchment with five different locations written on it, the last of which being the Apparition centre they were in. “You have ten minutes.”

The first was surprisingly easy to find, Ron realised as he Apparated into Diagon Alley and picked up a hoop left near Weasleys’ Wizarding Wheezes. He had seen it before, he realised, and when he picked it up another one took its place on the road. The next one was hidden in the Yorkshire Dales and he only had a description to go by. He disappeared with a crack and fell to the floor before he could be suffocated entirely. It took him almost five minutes to find the hoop and he almost splinched himself in his desperation to find the next two.

Eventually, Ron fell to the floor in front of the examiner clutching four hoops as if his life depended upon it.

“Nine minutes and thirty seven seconds,” the examiner told him with a slight smile as Ron got to his feet. “With only twenty three seconds to spare. Congratulations.”

Ron almost fell back to his knees with relief as he moved to hand over the hoops but they disappeared from his hands before they touched the examiner.

“Your licence,” the examiner said as he handed over a small card with a relieved-looking Ron smiling back out at him. “Don’t splinch yourself on the way home!”

He pushed the large door open and Ron walked out to Harry and Kingsley looking more relieved than he had done in a very long time. Kingsley smiled, knowing that he’d pass before he even went in and Harry grinned at him.

“Well done, kids,” Kingsley said cheerfully, though he was only twenty seven, the same age as Bill.

“You’re only ten years older than us,” Ron scowled as they walked out of the Ministry.

“And ten years can make a big difference in life, especially as you grow old, like me,” Kingsley said sombrely. Harry wondered briefly how he managed to keep such a straight face before Kingsley’s smile broke free. “So, shall we take advantage of the panic in the Wizarding world and go to Diagon Alley for a bit?”

“Sounds good to me!” Harry said cheerfully, pocketing his new Apparition licence carefully so as not to lose it.

“Yeah,” Ron said and then added, “and I need to buy Ginny’s Christmas present whilst I’m down there.” Kingsley gave him a disbelieving look. “Yes, I know Christmas Eve is tomorrow, so what?”

“I ought to tell her you left it this late…” Harry said and Ron opened his mouth to retort. Harry and Kingsley Apparated, leaving Ron talking angrily to thin air before, with a resonating crack, he followed after them.



Chapter 13: Her Worst Mistake
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Chapter Thirteen

“… then take the second left at Park Avenue and that’s Godric’s Hollow,” Remus said to Harry, a mental map forming in his mind. Harry nodded and repeated the instructions, checking them over with Remus whilst he still could to make sure that he was going in the right direction.

It was the letters the day before, the one specifically from his mother, which had made him want to visit the home he had once had, or the location which had once been his home. He had been told before that the house was destroyed and he didn’t know what he’d find there. Remus confided that he wasn’t sure what would be there either; he hadn’t been back since the day after the Potters’ deaths. He did have to admit to a slight inkling of wonder at how things had changed but it would be far too painful for he, Remus, to return. For Harry it would be less so; after all, he had never known the people whose graves he would visit that day.

“Are you ready then?” Hermione asked and Harry nodded as he pulled on his coat and gloves. Ron wrapped a scarf around his neck, a little too tightly because he then had to unwrap it and do it again. Hermione was the only one actually ready when she marched out of the house, followed by the other two. She reached out to them and the three disapparated as one.

They appeared in the countryside, though if asked none of them could have said where. The wind whipped around them, chilling them instantly despite the layers of clothes that covered them. It was a cold day but the skies were clear and it did not look like they would be having a white Christmas that year. Harry trailed behind slightly when Ron and Hermione took the lead. Hermione kept repeating the instructions Remus had given them again and again, not wanting to get lost, though Harry strongly suspected that some members of the Order would be following them to ensure that didn’t happen. Ron, on the other hand, was complaining about his frozen feet though they’d only been out a couple of minutes.

Harry felt a mixture of feelings within him as they walked along the winding streets, taking the quickest but most complex route to Godric’s Hollow. He did not know the area well; he had never been let out long enough to come to know it and he tried to memorise the way back for the return journey. The crisp feel of parchment in his pocket was a small comfort as he walked, knowing that the last thing his mother had written remained in his pocket. One small link to her that he carried with him to her place of life and of death.

Godric’s Hollow really was a beautiful place, Harry thought as he walked along the road towards the edge of the large village. The houses that he wanted to find were through the woods and across the lake, he had been told. There would be another smaller village nearby that was classed as Godric’s Hollow also, and that was the location he wanted.

“Remus could have just Portkeyed us straight there, surely,” Ron complained whilst he stamped his feet from the cold. Hermione scowled slightly as she turned to her right and walked in the general direction of the trees. She knew they had to cross the forest to get there and that was the only one in sight.

“Perhaps he wanted us to enjoy the view,” Hermione said, “or couldn’t remember the precise location.”

Harry shook his head as the two began to argue. The reason that they hadn’t been Portkeyed directly to Godric’s Hollow was that there were magical boundaries around it. It was entirely secluded from the Muggle world after Voldemort had killed the Potters there and had almost been destroyed himself. It had been almost a sacred spot before and the anti-Apparition and anti-Portkey wards still hadn’t been removed. That meant that they had to walk there, and view the beautiful scenery at the same time. Harry had no problem with that, though Ron evidently did.

Tired of the bickering between his friends, Harry took the lead and walked quickly through the silent forest. He felt his chest contract momentarily halfway through the woods that surrounded him and wondered whether that was the wards letting him through when he returned to normal a moment later. He walked on, not turning back when Ron gasped in shock behind him or when Hermione stumbled slightly on a tree root.

Eventually the forest ended and Harry smiled slightly at the sight that met him. There was a small lake which thinned down to a river flowing away from him and little bridge crossed over to some houses on the other side. He stepped cautiously over the bridge, ready to levitate himself if it broke from years of misuse but it didn’t. His pace quickened and soon he found himself at the end of one of the few streets which made the village. Only one of those roads led out towards the actual Godric’s Hollow and Harry followed it with his eyes before turning back.

He didn’t need Remus’s instructions to find the house once he was there; it was perfectly plain to see as he walked to the centre of the village and glanced to his left. Godric’s Avenue stared back at him but seven of its closest houses were missing. Suddenly, Harry was reminded of the words that Sirius had said… ‘he blew up the street with his wand behind his back’. That was the street; that was the one which had been destroyed which meant that his home would be down there somewhere.

He didn’t realise that he’d thought of the house as his home as he walked down the street slowly and for the first time he felt the first stirrings of unease at being present in the ghost town. He would have been one of the first people there in years and, though his friends walked behind him, he felt very much alone.

A single tree stood at the end of the street on a small patch of grass. Flowers lined the edges of it, leaving a square of land which was almost unsettlingly neat. It was surely done by magic and Harry felt his stomach squirm when he saw the plaque laid into the pavement at his feet.

In loving memory of
James and Lily Potter
who died to save not only their son but the wizarding world.
We will never forget you, or the good you did in this world


That was it. That was his home. A tree. The house had been so entirely destroyed that nothing remained there now except magical flowers that grew and swayed in the slight breeze. It was still an icy cold wind that made Ron mutter darkly some ten paces behind him but Harry no longer felt the cold. He didn’t feel anything.

He couldn’t remember that place; he knew nothing of his life before the Dursleys but somehow sadness began to grow within him, overpowering as he stared at the lone tree, devoid of leaves, though on the ground around them a few lone leaves wandered still.

Minerva had said the tree had been grown over their wands. The bodies had been cremated and scattered over the ground whilst their wands lay buried beneath the tree. She had been one of the ones chiefly in charge of keeping an eye on the place once Remus had refused so adamantly. She had done what she could and knew that Lily would have been pleased.

Harry sighed into the cold, his breath coming out as mist in front of him as he stared around the place he had never known. It was almost fitting, he thought sadly, he had never known his parents. Perhaps he should be unable to remember his home with them.

*


“I cannot believe that!” Tonks almost shouted into the house as she threw herself down in the lounge. Remus made sure to sit by himself on singular chairs to prevent her from joining him. She still seemed to be entertaining some kind of infatuation for him and he was determined to be rid of it as soon as possible.

“What happened?” Bill asked, glancing up at them whilst pointedly ignoring Molly requesting his help with the removal of the Christmas tree. It was New Years Day and the festive season had finally passed with out a hitch or problem for the Order.

“Shut up, Tonks,” Kingsley said and seated himself next to her. “She’s exaggerating,” he added before anyone could say anything else.

“I am not exaggerating, Shacklebolt!” she snapped. “I’m going to be fired.”

“Really?” Bill asked in confusion and next to him Fleur busied herself with some knitting. Molly had been teaching her for a large portion of the Christmas holidays how to make various things and so most of the house was being given woollen socks at intervals.

“No, not really,” Kingsley said, cutting off Tonks who had opened her mouth to dramatise her situation. “There was a raid on Malfoy Manor today and she thinks that because she didn’t take part then she isn’t going to have a job for any longer.”

“Well you were there!” Tonks cried. “It’s because I messed everything up when we were chasing him in Knockturn Alley, isn’t it?”

“That was weeks ago,” Remus said tiredly. “I’m sure that if you were going to be fired then you’d have found out before now.”

“So what happened in the raid, anyway?” Bill asked, choosing to ignore Tonks’s melodramatic sighs and complaints.

“Very little,” Kingsley said truthfully. “Thirty dark artefacts found and seized by the Ministry and several illegal Potions ingredients.”

“How illegal?” Remus asked interestedly.

“Think human eyeballs,” Bill replied grimly.

“I wonder whose,” Remus mused quietly before returning to the book in his hands. It wasn’t particularly interesting but it was something to be doing until his afternoon Defence lesson with Harry. Their lessons had been steadily progressing and Harry had made admirable progress, moving well ahead of Ron and Hermione the more interest he took in the subject. He had eventually asked for more advanced lessons when he had to teach Hermione a series of spells and Remus readily agreed.

Defence was one of the few lessons which were going well for Harry though. Potions still wasn’t a good subject for him; too many years of Snape’s teaching had ingrained a strong dislike towards the subject in him and he wasn’t going to give that up soon. He would probably get an E in his NEWT, Kingsley thought, and increased the number of lessons in an attempt to push his predicted grade up.

Tonks, while enthusiastic, was not a particularly good teacher of Charms, though she was not unskilled in the subject. Harry, Ron and Hermione had put in quite a lot of extra effort outside their lessons to make sure that they improved within the subject and applied knowledge from Transfiguration where necessary to ensure that they stayed on top of their work.

There was a crash from the kitchen which had everyone in the lounge on their feet in an instant. It was probably just Ron knocking something over, they knew, but in such dark times it didn’t take much to get them on their guard.

“I’ll go see what happened,” Remus volunteered and left the room before Tonks could follow him, closing the door finally behind him.

“… You can’t, Ginny!” Ron shouted from within and Remus paused outside the door for a moment, wondering what was going on. The remembrance of a shouting match between Ginny and her brothers months ago in Diagon Alley floated into his mind briefly before he pushed it away. He was certain that her siblings would have ensured that her correspondence with ‘John’ would have come to an abrupt end.

“I’ll do whatever the hell I want!” Ginny shouted back. “I can go where I want and see whoever I want! You are not stopping me, not now that I’ve finally found someone who understands me and loves me for me!”

“Ginny…” Harry began but stopped at the look on Ginny’s face. She was not in the mood to be trifled with and Harry could only hope that she would not be fool enough to do anything she knew to be unwise.

“This is seriously dangerous!” Hermione said vehemently.

“I trusted you!” Ginny yelled at Hermione. “I trusted you to keep this quiet and not to tell anyone!”

“I had to,” Hermione said in defence. “This is ridiculous. You want to go and meet someone you only know through parchment, are you mad?!”

“As much as I’d like to continue with this conversation, I really can’t,” Ginny said firmly, “because right now I’m going to meet John.”

Remus’s eyes widened as he stood behind the door. Quickly he entered but he was too late; he saw Ginny pass through the fireplace in a flicker of green. Harry, Ron and Hermione leapt after her but the fire had returned to normal and Ginny had taken all the Floo powder with her.

The three turned to face Remus upon his entry, their faces all clearly worried. “Where did she go?”

“Diagon Alley,” Harry replied and Remus nodded before walking towards the door. He stopped before leaving and turned back to them.

“Don’t follow,” he said simply and then he was gone, marching straight back into the lounge where Bill, Tonks, Kingsley and Fleur were still sitting. “Ginny’s gone.”

Those two words were all it had taken to raise a panic in the house. Less than two minutes later, Charlie, Minerva, Kingsley, Tonks, Remus and Mad Eye were standing in the kitchen ready to go after Ginny. Bill was charged with staying with Harry, Ron and Hermione, though with the Frequency Counter still in his possession from Gringotts, he remained a wanted criminal and was still unable to leave the house.

“Oh, do be careful!” Molly said, tears shining in her eyes. Arthur nodded to the assembled group as he put an arm around his wife and tried to give her some small amount of comfort.

“Be safe, and bring her back if you can,” Arthur sighed as his eyes flickered down to the small pile of letters that Hermione had brought from Ginny’s room. They were all from ‘John’ and Harry felt distinctly ill just from looking at them.

“Let’s go then,” Mad Eye said and with a collective crack, six members of the Order apparated to Diagon Alley.

The street was deserted when they got there. The light rain that fell coupled with the atmosphere of fear was enough to keep away any magical shoppers from the area. Ginny was walking towards a figure at the end of the street towards Weasleys’ Wizarding Wheezes and smiled when she saw his face.

“You’re John…?” Ginny asked when the face of Draco Malfoy was revealed from under his hood. He was the one who understood her so well, cared for her so much and vowed to love her all his life? Ginny couldn’t think of anyone richer or from a more Pure-blooded family than he.

“Of course,” Draco smirked. She really believed everything he’d said in his letters. It had been too easy to manipulate her to his whims. Far too easy and he wished that he’d picked a greater challenge for himself but he had shamed himself by failing to kill Dumbledore. This was his act of redemption – killing the girlfriend of Harry Potter. Or at least, who he thought was Potter’s girlfriend.

“Ginny!” someone yelled down the street and Ginny saw six figures walking quickly towards them, wands drawn and spells already shooting towards them both.

“You just made the biggest mistake of your life, Weasel,” Malfoy smirked. She was such a typical teenage girl. She had been so easily led on once the idea of vengeance against those who had hurt her had been planted in her mind.

Ginny’s mouth opened in horror. Two screamed words, a flash of green, the thud of a body and the crack of Apparition. Then all was silent and still. The Order froze in disbelief and Charlie fell to his knees. His little sister, his only sister, had been killed by a Malfoy.

“Charlie?” A gentle hand touched his shoulder as he knelt staring down the street. Kingsley bent down to his level to speak to him and told him calmly to go back to the house. Molly and Arthur needed to know.

“Of course,” Charlie answered numbly and, not even bothering to get to his feet, he Apparated out of the street.

“Remus, you go with him,” Minerva said. “Listen to them and comfort them as much as you can.” Remus nodded and disappeared. “Tonks, go to the Ministry. Tell them what happened.” Another crack resonated around the silent street. “Any witnesses other than us, Alastor?”

“Not a single one,” he sighed. “You might want to go to the twins, Kingsley.”

Kingsley nodded and walked briskly towards Weasleys’ Wizarding Wheezes which was no longer doing the booming business that once it had. Minerva and Mad Eye were left standing alone in the street by Ginny Weasley, her eyes still wide with shock, though no life lay within them.

“I can’t believe it,” Minerva murmured as she stared down at the young girl, one of her own house. She held back her grief as, moments later, Tonks arrived with half a dozen members of the Ministry, and Kingsley returned though without the twins as they had expected. They were in for a very long afternoon.


Chapter 14: Thicker Than Water
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Chapter Fourteen


He closed his eyes, taking in a deep breath as he did so. His head was reeling and it was as if he could feel the colour draining out of his face. He was swaying slightly, he knew so, and voices around him were certainly speaking his name; checking if he was okay and that the news he had been dealt hadn’t destroyed his world. He wasn’t listening… it was all so far away. The blackness was all-consuming. He welcomed it gratefully and consciousness deserted him.

“Ron, wake up,” a soft voice said to him from his bedside. Ron blearily opened his eyes to see Tonks sat next to him, looking particularly unhappy. She had even changed the colour of her hair to be a deep black that shimmered in the light. “You were out for three hours, we were getting worried.”

Ron was unable to speak and merely nodded to show her that he’d heard. Apparently she’d been warned that he would not be the most responsive of people that day by someone or other, and she didn’t press him for words. Behind her hovered a meal on a tray; it was some kind of stew though it didn’t look like it had been made by his mother. He wondered suddenly where she and the rest of his family were.

“I brought you dinner,” Tonks told him upon seeing his eyes on the tray. He gave her a slightly dubious look, and she sighed and added, “Dobby made it.”

She left him then, though with the promise that she would be back not long afterwards. Ron didn’t doubt that she would and for a few short moments, he contemplated locking the door shut somehow. It would only have made him look foolish once she easily removed the locking spells however, and he decided not to bother.

The stew seemed fine; a tolerable, not unappetising meal, yet Ron couldn’t eat it. His stomach was not going to cooperate with him in the slightest and he felt a terrible lurch each time he attempted to get his fork anywhere near his mouth. Unbidden, a memory of Ginny eating a similar meal at their home so many years ago entered his mind. She had been young then, she hadn’t been to Hogwarts. None of them had at that stage, apart from Bill and Charlie. In his memory he had been helping to feed her, though he could barely feed himself in reality.

His eyes were burning horribly and a painful lump had risen in his throat. Keeping calm and in control of himself and his magic, Ron levitated his meal onto the floor with his wand, which had been lying on his bedside table. He couldn’t eat it and he didn’t want to try any longer. He just wanted to sleep… sleep and then perhaps he could wake up in a world with Ginny. One where his only sister, his only sibling younger than himself, hadn’t died. He pulled the duvet over his head and hid in the darkness from the world, and from the reality he had to face.

Half an hour later, Tonks walked silently into the room and took the tray from the floor and left the room. She didn’t disturb Ron; there was no need to and he would need all the sleep he could get. The next few weeks and months would be hard on all the family, and they would all need to be there to support each other through it. She had been told as much by a fatigued and distressed Remus upon her questioning him on the best way to deal with Ron.

Downstairs there was a distinctly subdued atmosphere. Moody and Minerva were talking quietly in the hallway, though they stopped as she passed with a slight smile on her face and a nod of respect to them. She didn’t care what they were saying between them any longer; there had been many conversations around the house such as these with various members of the Order, and some of the children who were still too young to even join.

She found Kingsley in the lounge who informed her quietly that the rest of the family had retired to the Burrow, and that once Ron had recovered enough to Floo then he too would be travelling over to his home. Harry and Hermione were sat in the corner of the room, the latter absorbed in a book whilst her companion stared at the fireplace.

“Things would have been better had the Ministry not demanded to do an autopsy on her to see how she died,” Kingsley grumbled under his breath, keeping his voice well out of hearing from Harry and Hermione. “I don’t care that it only took a few minutes, her body should have been returned to her family immediately.”

“I know, Kingsley,” Tonks soothed, “but there’s nothing to be done about it now. We’ll just have to prepare for the funeral now, I suppose… Has a date been named for it yet?”

“Minerva says she thinks two weeks today. She’d have it sooner but the family wouldn’t be able to take it so soon after Ginny’s death,” he sighed. She had only been a young girl… She’d had her whole life ahead of her and it had been snatched from her in an instant. What a waste. A waste of a life which was so needlessly and ruthlessly taken for no real reason except an old family feud that had gone back generations. It had been passed down from Weasley to Weasley, Malfoy to Malfoy and it had come a long way; from competitive exams through theft, blackmail and Merlin only knew what else to killing. It had been the final act, one which had shown the sides of the two families in the war. It was truly personal for them all now, it was no longer about good against evil. It was Gryffindor against Slytherin. It was Weasley against Malfoy, and only one of the families would come out of this victorious.

Rain drummed on the windows loudly, distracting Harry, though he looked up when he caught Kingsley leaving in the corner of his eye. His mind was numb and he felt sick to his stomach. The news had come through of her death and it had been he, Hermione and Ron who had received it first. Then Remus had arrived and the chaos had been calmed somewhat. Harry and Hermione had been directed from the room by him as Ron fainted to the floor but they weren’t allowed back in. Not until the whole family had left the overbearing building at any rate.

“It wasn’t your fault, Harry.” It had been the first thing that Hermione had said to him once they had sat down in the quiet of the lounge, disbelief overpowering them.

It had been his fault though, hadn’t it? If he hadn’t broken up with her then Ginny would still be alive admonishing him for being so stupid about the whole thing. He had tried though, hadn’t he? He’d told her to come back, and they’d all warned her about the letters between herself and ‘John’ many a time… Who would ever have thought that it would have been Malfoy of all people? The young Death Eater who had been unable to kill Dumbledore, but who could toy with Ginny Weasley’s heart and then murder her cold-bloodedly in the middle of a large Wizarding area. He had no doubt that it was simply to get back at him and he voiced this to Hermione.

“It isn’t always about you,” Hermione replied quietly as Tonks left after Kingsley. “Blood is thicker than water, and Malfoy followed in his family footsteps. The fight between the Weasleys and the Malfoys has gone on for almost two centuries. I heard Arthur telling Moody last week.”

Harry nodded and stared down at his hands. Ginny was dead now and he felt like his heart was going to be torn through his chest. He had deeply cared about her, and he had split up with her to try to ensure that she didn’t get hurt, though ultimately, in the end that had been her end. If he felt so awful, he couldn’t imagine what Ron and the rest of the family must feel like… He closed his eyes and buried his face in his hands, thankful for the coolness of them against his face.

*


It was a nice day, and it contrasted cruelly against the reason for their presence in the silent graveyard. The sun was shining brightly, flowers were beginning to spring up here and there, and a group of darkly clad people walked solemnly past, ignoring the scenery around them.

They didn’t want her buried at Hogwarts. They wanted a private, quiet funeral, the Weasleys had decided. The graveyard was a small one, not too far from their home at the Burrow, and the entire family had turned up along with much of the Order.

It would not be anything like the one they had attended, all too recently, for Dumbledore. This was silent and filled with family and close friends only. No centaurs would be present, nor students, at this funeral. They almost wished that it would rain, so that they could hide themselves under black umbrellas, and disguise their tears with the raindrops. It was not to be; the sunlight stayed as strong as ever and made the party feel even more melancholy than they had already felt.

Ron had recovered enough to stand with his family two weeks later, though it was with difficulty that he held back his tears. Molly didn’t even try – her cheeks were damp before they reached the site of her daughter’s grave and upon seeing the small coffin lowered into the ground she sobbed so hysterically that Arthur was silently afraid that she might have had some sort of fit.

All the remaining Weasleys looked tired and drawn, their faces never wore smiles anymore and their conversations were rare and stilted. It was Remus who had been the only one in the Order who had had any kind of interaction with any of them, though even that had not been for long periods of time. Perhaps it was only because of the losses he had experienced in his life that they allowed him this intimacy, or perhaps it was the gentle way he conducted himself around them without seeming pitying or particularly overbearing. Everyone else kept their distance and learned of their relative conditions through Remus.

A Muggle vicar was speaking though the words barely passed through the mind of anyone present, and the lingering feeling of horror that the incident had caused kept coming back to them all. Nothing had been seen of any of the Malfoys since the incident though no one would forget that it was they who had caused them so much pain. It was they that would pay and each one of the Weasleys had made a silent vow right then. There would be no mercy, not after this.

*


Six long weeks passed since Ginny had been killed in Diagon Alley. There had been a shocked outcry from the Wizarding world, letters of condolence had been sent to the Weasleys from everyone who knew them and even the Prophet had said good things of the talented Gryffindor girl. It did nothing for the Weasley family who were so terribly struck by the death of their youngest member and Molly was so inconsolable that she cooked constantly. There was never an empty stomach in Grimmauld Place for the six weeks, nor was there a happy face either.

“I regret to inform you that, after the tragic death of Ginny Weasley, there will be no more trips into Diagon Alley,” Minerva said to the assembled sixth and seventh year Gryffindors in the common room on Saturday 12th February. It was almost Valentine’s Day. “You may travel into Hogsmeade today with the rest of the third years and above but you may not go further than that. Most of the staff will be present for security.”

She left the room and talking broke out immediately.

“I still can’t believe what happened to Ginny,” Neville said sadly to the other Gryffindor seventh years.

“I know, who would bother to do something like that?” Lavender said. “They said that the Death Eaters had been writing her love letters and she wrote back. Mum was always warning me about things like that on the internet but I never thought it would happen in the Wizarding world.”

“What’s the internet?” Seamus asked interestedly.

Dean shook his head. “Never mind. At least we’re going to Hogsmeade today, they’ve not banned that yet!”

“Yeah, maybe Harry’ll be there!” Lavender said. Dean shrugged but Neville looked like the idea appealed to him, so did the fifth year girls hanging about them as well. Perhaps he wouldn’t be there. “Or Parvati maybe.”

She missed her friend who had been pulled out of the school by their parents when Ginny had been killed. Not that she could blame them; people were dying, but Hogwarts seemed like the safest place to be… even if Dumbledore had been killed there.

“Come on,” Seamus said and got to his feet. Dean was already pulling on his cloak and Neville was wrapping a scarf around his neck. Parvati summoned her own cloak from the girls’ dormitory and the four of them set off towards the entrance hall.

“Mr Filch, that is enough!” Professor McGonagall hissed at him after he almost reduced a third year Hufflepuff to tears whilst jabbing her with the sensor in the doorway.

Their head of house gave them a slight nod as the remaining Gryffindor seventh years passed past Filch without any problems and then, at a distance, she followed the four of them into the town herself. There would be no lapse in protection of the students that day; she had half the Order present along with a large portion of the staff.

“Harry!” Lavender squealed when she caught sight of him wandering along the main street with Ron and Hermione on either side of him. “How are you?”

“I’m… uh, okay thanks,” Harry answered, feeling slightly disconcerted by the way her gaze was concentrated entirely on him and didn’t so much as flicker to either Ron or Hermione. Dean winked at him before the seven of them made their way down the street.

Whilst they walked, Harry noticed people around him, choosing instead to observe them rather than partake in the conversation with his friends. Remus gave him a fleeting smile as he walked out of Zonko’s and was greeted with a cheer of “Professor Lupin!” from several sixth year Ravenclaws. Mad Eye walked confidently down the street, scoffing at the Valentine’s Day decorations and complaining loudly about manufactured holidays whenever anyone was close enough to hear him.

“Mother, would you care to take a drink in the Three Broomsticks?” Harry saw Kingsley say to an old woman carrying a bag from Zonko’s. She could only have been Tonks, and Harry heard a thud from behind him after they’d passed the couple. A glance behind him found Kingsley doubled over in pain and the old woman looking rather victorious.

“‘Arry!” called Fleur through the crowded town and soon Harry found himself pulled to the side by Bill and Fleur whilst his friend wandered on, Ron not wanting to pause to see Phlegm again. Even the remembrance of the name that Ginny had given her caused him pain.

A short conversation followed, during which Bill kept glancing around him for other members of the Order and students straying away from Hogsmeade in any direction. He was paranoid not only for their safety but for his own recognition. Though Kingsley had spent some time creating his disguise, he still feared it being seen through by anyone who might alert the Ministry. He could not stand too close to Fleur nor look like he was particularly attached to her. It had taken all his power to prevent Kingsley from making him into a woman for a while; he would not be caught just so that he could look suitably smug on the other side of the Azkaban bars.

“Hestia’s keeping an eye on the road back to the school and Minerva says that you can Floo from there, since there are anti-Apparition wards around the town,” Bill said to Harry who nodded and bid him good-bye before walking off after his friends.

They had not trailed too far ahead and were walking past the Shrieking Shack. Several third years were running away from the old house screaming and laughing, and Harry smiled at them as he passed the house.

It was a good day weather-wise, cold but clear and sunny. It was the nicest weather for the best part of a fortnight and the charms of the day had blinded the Order slightly to their task, it had blinded the younger people in the town also. Harry was jerked backwards and something cold and sharp was pressed against his neck; an Invisibility Cloak was thrown over him and he was no longer visible to the world around him. No one noticed as he was pulled away from them and forced to walk up to the Shrieking Shack. He could fight but he would almost certainly end up with his life’s blood streaming through a gash on his throat. He had no choice but to do what the man behind him wanted.

The house loomed over him and a muttered word from the man behind him opened a hidden door. It was not an entrance that Harry had been aware of previously and Remus had told him that the one way out of the building was through the trapdoor to Hogwarts. Evidently this was a new entrance, and the knowledge of that only made Harry less at ease than he already was.

He was pushed forcefully up the stairs and into the small bedroom on the first floor of the Shrieking Shack, the screams of the third years meeting his ears once more. He was thrown roughly to the floor, the knife pulled back from his neck and he turned to see his attacker emerge from underneath the Invisibility Cloak.

“You!” Harry yelled in disbelief. The man in front of him smirked slightly and Harry saw what it was that had been pressed against his neck. “You held me at spoonpoint?”

“Far more humiliating to be taken hostage with a spoon than a knife, surely?” Severus asked with a definite sneer in his voice. Harry’s expression darkened and he dragged himself back to his feet, fingers reaching for his wand. Severus merely watched him cautiously, knowing what an aptitude the boy had for escaping impossible situations in the past.

Severus pulled another wand from his pocket and twirled it between his fingers. “Why would I allow you to keep something which could ensure your escape, Potter?”

Harry opened his mouth in fury and turned to attack him physically but Snape was not going to be taken down so easily. He waved his wand and Harry was instantly bound in ropes on the floor, his body writhing and struggling but the vines only tightened more painfully.

Severus managed to catch incomprehensible sentences muttered as Potter fought the bonds that held him. “…murdering bleeder… kill him… where the Order are…”

“The Order are incompetent fools, no doubt wondering where the hell their young saviour has got to by this time,” Severus said mildly as he watched Harry fighting still. “I would suggest that you stay still. The vines will only tighten the more you fight.”

Harry gave up, collapsing and allowing his body to relax, the cords around him doing the same. “What the hell do you want with me?”

Severus sighed as he walked past him and peered through a window in the house. Though there was no semblance of one on the outside of the house, the sunlight streamed in through the window and gave Severus a very good view of the street. As of yet, the Order did not appear to have noticed the loss of their golden boy.

“Probably not what you think I want with you,” Severus said to him, turning back from the window. Harry was grinding his teeth and staring out at him with fury burning in his gaze. Still, he did nothing. Perhaps he had learnt some semblance of control from being around Lupin so much, Severus reasoned. It had come to the attention of Voldemort that Harry had not been within Hogwarts for some time and was untraceable to him. Evidently he had dropped out of school and was living in Grimmauld Place. “You and I are going to work together.”

“No we bloody well are not!” Harry yelled at him, his control gone. “You murderer, traitor, coward, Death Eater basta—”

“That is quite enough,” Severus snarled. “Murderer perhaps, but I am no traitor, nor am I coward and you would do very well to hold your tongue when being held by someone with the ability to kill you with a flick of a wand!”

“Go on then! What’s stopping you?!” Harry yelled and began to fight with the cords which held him once again until he could barely breathe.

“Like I said before,” Severus said, levitating Harry off the floor so that they were at the same level. “You and I are going to work together.”

“I’d rather die!” Harry spat and Severus dropped him unceremoniously to the floor again, shaking his head in disbelief. It was going to be a very long time and, despite the charms which were around the old house, if a search began for Potter then Mad Eye would find them, and fast.

“Oh yes, follow in the footsteps of your parents, Black and Dumbledore,” Severus sneered. “Such a commendable act of loyalty, I’m sure. You are no good to the Wizarding world dead, Potter, so get that through your thick skull. I am not out to hurt you, I am trying to help you. Merlin knows you can’t do this alone!”

“What have I been doing so far then?!” Harry demanded. “And there is nothing you can do which will make me trust you, nothing!”

“Not even questioning from your own Veritaserum?” Severus asked, an eyebrow raised. Harry froze momentarily, eyeing him suspiciously. Snape smiled slightly and continued, “I am no idiot, I know how to spy on people. It is my job after all. You are not difficult to follow about, and the wards you put over your questioning session with Slughorn last night were hardly worthy of you.”

Harry stared at him then, his mouth lolling open slightly. He had been questioning Slughorn the night before with Hermione, Kingsley and Mad Eye. They were desperate for any knowledge the man may have had to destroy the Horcruxes but he had none; he only knew how to make them and that was of little use to them. It was also true that he had been the one to put the wards on the doors and windows which would have supposedly ensured that no one would overhear them. Apparently his charms had been extremely poor. It was also true that his Veritaserum lay in his inside jacket pocket still. He hadn’t moved it and Snape clearly knew of it. However, Snape could also have removed it and swapped it with something of his own.

“You are a failure of an Occlumens,” Severus sighed. “An entire year of mind magic, and what do you have to show for it? An impressive inaptitude at closing your mind. Even if you had managed to close your mind, you may as well have had the thoughts written on your face!”

“Give me a reason to trust you,” Harry scowled at him.

“I have no need to supply you with reasons,” Severus said in a mild tone which was becoming increasingly more annoying to Harry. “I am trying to assist you but if you don’t want it then I’ll leave you here. You aren’t dead, I haven’t harmed you and I haven’t transported you directly to Voldemort which, as a loyal Death Eater, I really ought to be doing.”

He flicked his wand and the small vial appeared in his hand from Harry’s jacket pocket. Snape marched over to Harry and knelt beside him. Harry instantly started to struggle again once he realised what Snape was about to do but there didn’t appear to be any way he could escape the situation he had managed to get into.

“How else am I meant to test this Veritaserum?” Severus demanded as he gripped Potter’s face with one hand and with the other, forced three drops of the clear potion into his struggling mouth. Harry instantly fell limp against him and Snape shoved him back. “Name?”

“Harry James Potter,” Harry answered automatically.

“How do you destroy the Horcruxes?”

“I do not know.”

“What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?”

“Got Sirius killed,” Harry replied emotionlessly, and Severus knew that the potion must have worked.

“The Weasley girl brought about her own death, wouldn’t you agree?” Severus asked finally, the last test he would give the potion.

“Yes,” Harry answered, though it was clear he was trying to fight what he was saying and failed miserably; no one could fight off the truth serum once correctly administered. “She died from her own foolishness in blindly trusting the letters.”

“Proof enough for you?” Severus asked as he dug his hand into his robe pocket and pulled out the antidote. Harry answered automatically with a “yes” though he had not expected a response.

Severus untied Harry with a quick wave of his wand, and handed over the bottle of antidote and the boy’s own wand. There really was no point in taking the potion without someone to administer the antidote, or else Mad Eye would have been up there fast with half the Order behind him.

“I’m going to take the truth serum,” Severus told Harry firmly. “You are going to question me about the Horcruxes and I am going to tell you what you want to know. Be brief.”

Severus had nothing to lose from this. If the Order caught him then he would be questioned anyway, though he would lose his status by Voldemort and therefore the only real weapon they had against him.

“Fine,” Harry muttered and watched Snape carefully as he took the potion, wary for any sleight of hand that he may have missed, though he didn’t believe that there was anything committed.

“Full name?”

“Severus Thomadius Snape-Prince,” he said dully, feeling Harry pressing against his mind gently with his own, looking for any sign of deceit. He found little resistance and for once Snape let someone else into his mind, if only because it seemed to be the only way that Potter would ever trust him. Waves of urgency met Harry’s mind once he entered and a fleeting image of Mad Eye bursting through the door kept coming back to him so he pulled back and concentrated on the questions to be asked.

“Blood status?”

“Half-blood.” Harry imagined that Snape would have been grinding his teeth together from annoyance at his questions were he able to, so he pressed on.

“How do you destroy the Horcruxes?”

“There is a potion which will enable them to be destroyed,” Severus told him. “I do not know it by heart.”

“Can you give it to me?”

“I will find it and owl it to you when I am able,” Severus replied numbly and again his thoughts raced back to Mad Eye and his damned eye after which he was nicknamed. The Order would have noticed that Harry had gone by now, surely.

“Is Nagini a Horcrux?”

“I believe so.”

“Will you feed her the potion for me?” Harry asked, hoping the man would do that one small thing for him.

“Yes,” Severus said after a momentary pause. “It will be later on this year. I will be discovered and killed afterwards.”

Harry paused, his fingers on the antidote before he looked back to Snape and asked one more question, “Why did you kill Dumbledore?”

“I had no choice,” Severus answered. “Had I not then I would have been killed by Voldemort.”

“Then you should have died!” Harry yelled. “Did Dumbledore know what you were doing?!”

“Yes, he knew exactly what I was doing,” Severus said simply, his face remaining in its passive state though his heart began to quicken. He didn’t know how long the two of them had been there but it was too long. Every moment that the boy remained missing would tighten the security around the small village, which would mean he would be unable to return to Voldemort. “It was he that ordered me to kill him.”

“You’re lying,” Harry said disbelievingly, shaking his head slowly but never taking his eyes from Snape who stared back.

“I am not. I am under Veritaserum.”

“Why would Dumbledore tell you to kill him?!” Harry demanded. He was close to losing his tether yet he didn’t want anything to happen to Snape. If he really was still working for the Order, as contrary as his actions seemed, then Harry wanted him to be alive and helpful.

“I made the Unbreakable Vow,” Severus explained. “I vowed to complete Draco Malfoy’s task to kill Dumbledore if he was unable to. Malfoy did not kill Dumbledore so I had to, or the Vow would kill me.”

“You should have died,” Harry said bitterly for what seemed like the twentieth time that day. “Why would Dumbledore want you to live and him to die?”

“He said I was more use in the Death Eaters than he was in the school,” Severus answered.

Harry opened his mouth to ask another question but shouting from outside caught his attention. He poured more than the necessary amount of antidote down Snape’s throat and ran to the window. Severus shook his head to rid himself of the sluggish feeling that excess antidote had given him and followed him. Outside, the third years were still running to and from the house, which the Weasley twins had charmed half-heartedly to wail every now and again. There was a small congregation of Order members down the street however and Mad Eye was clearly searching the area around them.

“I believe we have lingered for long enough,” Snape muttered as he turned and left the room, Harry walking quickly behind him down to the hallway. “I will send you instructions for a potion I want you to brew for me. I do not have the necessary ingredients to do it myself and it would be easier for you to send me the finished product. A shrunken, subtle container will be necessary and your letter will be sent by an inconspicuous owl, not that obvious thing that you have.”

“And why will I be doing this?”

“Because this potion will be necessary to supplement the one which will destroy that blasted snake,” Severus said grimly. “Without it then it will not work. I will begin that potion tonight; I have the ingredients for that. You can expect the instructions to destroy the Horcruxes at a later date.”

“Why don’t you just go and tell the rest of the Order what you told me?” Harry asked him dubiously.

“Because I am well aware that the entire Order does not know all that you do,” Severus said grimly. “Besides, Mad Eye would kill me on sight, you know that, and how would I go about getting the entire Order in here? Shall I drag them all under that Invisibility Cloak?”

“All right, all right,” Harry said, rolling his eyes. “You’ve made your point.”

“Good, now get out there and tell only those you trust what happened here today,” Severus told him. “And for the record, your Occlumency is appalling and your trust is gained far too easily. What if I was going to kidnap you and take you to Voldemort?! Keep your mind shut and your guard up!”

With that he left the Shrieking Shack through the same small door that he had entered through. Harry followed him quickly but the man had already disappeared. Knowing that the Order was looking for him, he quickly ran out towards the street, but not before summoning the cloak to him so that he would not be charged down by them all.

“Property of James Potter,” Harry read from inside it and not for the first time he wondered just how good a spy Snape really was. Screams met his ears from further down the street, green and red flashes could be seen and Harry raced out to see Hogsmeade under attack.

A/N: A long chapter to compensate for my lack of writing in a while. Things are moving quickly but, though Ginny has died, her death shouldn't be dwelt on for too long at this point. Next chapter coming on Sunday. (It's pre-written, don't worry!)

Chapter 15: The Most Difficult Potion
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Chapter Fifteen


“It’s just a set of instructions for a potion that he wants making,” Harry said as he glanced down at the note in his hand, and the New Order watched him suspiciously. The raven which had delivered it leapt off the windowsill after seeing that its message had been read and left for its owner.

“Do we really want to trust Snape in this way again?” Kingsley asked cautiously. Minerva was their leader and it was she who would have the last say in what they did and didn’t do.

“Yes,” Minerva said confidently. “We will make the potion and we’ll see what happens. I want some research done into what that potion will do, preferably before we send it to him.”

“What?!” Mad Eye demanded. “This is preposterous! The man murdered Dumbledore and you’re doing him favours?!”

“You saw him in the pensieve, Alastor,” Minerva said calmly, addressing not only him but the rest of the group. “I do not believe that he would have gone through all that to acquire a potion and the potential trust of Harry if he was not serious about it. Had Voldemort discovered what he was doing then he would be in great peril.”

“Voldemort was attacking Hogsmeade,” Bill pointed out. “Two people died and seventeen were badly injured. It’s hardly coincidence that the perfect time for seizing Harry without any real notice being taken was then, is it?”

“You mean that Voldemort knew what Snape was doing?” Hermione asked, though she didn’t believe it. Bill nodded.

“No, I really don’t think that he knew,” Remus said, making a rare contribution to the conversation. “Had he known then he would have made sure that the fight had already begun to make sure that we were all occupied with fighting the Death Eaters. We would not have noticed that Harry had gone but Snape wouldn’t want to risk Harry returning to Grimmauld Place before he could speak to him. Snape had planned this but Voldemort was unaware.”

The rest of the Order watched him for a moment before most of them nodded in agreement; it seemed like the most likely scenario, but they still couldn’t be sure. They had to make a decision one way or another to either brew and send Snape the potion for which he had given Harry instructions or not. There was no telling what the potion could do if brewed correctly; it may be an existing potion with some modifications which would ensure it blew up in the caster’s face… they just didn’t know.

“We’ll get straight onto researching that,” Kingsley said. “We’ll get two people to brew it slowly whilst we research. It’ll take until the middle of next month to brew correctly anyway.”

“Yes, it should be brewed by the fifteenth of March if we begin tomorrow,” Harry said, glancing back down the list of instructions and let Remus peer at them over his shoulder.

“I can’t think what that potion could be,” Remus said mildly as the others began to get ready to leave. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen it before in my life.”

“I have,” said Kingsley suddenly as he snatched the parchment from Remus and Harry. He stared at it for many long moments and clenched his other fist. “I can’t remember what it’s for though!”

“It’ll come back to you,” Minerva said confidently. “Alastor, you will be collecting the ingredients necessary for the potion; Hermione and Bill, since neither of you will be leaving Grimmauld Place for any foreseeable reason then you can both brew the potion; and the rest of you—” she glanced around at Harry, Ron, Remus and Kingsley “—will conduct research into the potion they’re brewing.”

“For Merlin’s sake!” Ron said, sounding very frustrated. “Why is it always us that have to do the research?”

“Because, apart from your NEWT studies, you don’t actually do anything,” Remus reminded him and silenced him quickly, preventing any argument to come forth from the now wildly gesticulating boy.

“I’ll make a start on the ingredients then,” Mad Eye said and made a duplicate copy of the parchment which had been returned to Harry.

Ingredients

3g of powdered unicorn horn
1 newt tale, sliced finely
fresh Acromantula venom
Ashwinder eggs
Thestral hairs
Four bezoars
Two Snidget wings


“Oh Merlin,” Mad Eye growled and everyone turned to look at him. “How am I meant to get Snidget wings…?”

“I presume you’ll have to catch one,” Minerva said mildly and pulled out the beginnings of an infuriated letter to the current Minister.

“Catch one?!” Alastor repeated, sounding rather horrified, and with good reason. The Snidget, the original Golden Snitch, was a small, golden bird which was now a rare and protected species. The game of Quidditch had not helped its survival since it almost always died when it was caught. “I’ll go to Azkaban for three years if I get caught!”

“Don’t get caught then,” Kingsley said with a grin.

“They only exist in reserves for endangered magical creatures,” Alastor explained patiently. “I would have to first find one, then fly in there, then catch a tiny golden bird despite my uselessness at Quidditch and get back without being seen, caught or arrested.”

“Exactly,” Minerva said. “Enjoy your day.”

Alastor wondered whether Minerva had seriously gone off him since he had shouted at Harry months ago in her office for being useless in Snape’s office. If she was still upset about that then she was about to get rather more irritated with him.

“Potter,” Alastor said to him suddenly. “You’re coming with me.”

“What?” Remus asked dubiously and then his eyes widened slightly in realisation. “Oh no, most certainly not. He could be imprisoned for this!”

So could I!” Alastor shouted. “The boy has an international standard broom and he’s the best Seeker out of all of us.”

Minerva watched him with some consternation. She did not want the young man going out and catching a Snidget. Alastor had not been kidding when he said that the penalties attached to harm of that particular bird were high. For capturing one he would get three years in Azkaban but for killing one…? She wasn’t sure how high they were but it would indubitably land Harry in Azkaban for a very long time. She could not take that risk for the Wizarding world; he could not do much in prison to stop Voldemort, but there was more than that – he was only a young boy with his whole life ahead of him after all this. He couldn’t become like Sirius, and spend his young life in a cell.

“He’s too young, too inexperienced,” Remus said, breaking through her thoughts. “If he gets caught he can’t even disguise himself and fight his way out. His magic is excellent for his age but that’s all.”

“Yet if Mad Eye goes alone he’ll never be able to catch it,” Kingsley said. “So send them both and Harry can do the catching and Mad Eye can do the paranoid protecting.”

Minerva nodded slowly. “I suppose that’s the only thing we can do. We need the Snidget wings for the potion and there’s clearly no other substitute we can put in its place. Go during the first week of March before the Snidget wings are needed.”

Harry and Mad Eye nodded before everyone vacated the office, Ron complaining once again that he never got any of the action in the Order.

*


“I wish I was going,” Ron scowled as Harry walked out of the house with his Firebolt over one arm. “You always seem to get all the action.”

“Yeah, well sometimes I’d rather I didn’t,” Harry said grimly. Mad Eye nodded at him and he mounted his broom. The rest of the Order watched them from within the house, many of them wondering just what Mad Eye and Harry were doing leaving the house on brooms. It was evidently Order business but just what that was, most of them didn’t know.

Ron watched as Harry and Mad Eye rose into the air and flew off quickly towards the North West, towards the Lake District. They both rode Firebolts for that night, Mad Eye having borrowed his from Kingsley, though the younger Auror was not happy about lending his prized broom to a man likely to hex it.

On the fastest brooms available to them, it took the two only two hours to fly there, though it could hardly be considered a short distance by any means. Mad Eye began to slow and lower his broom as they flew over the beginnings of the Lake District and Harry followed him down.

They hovered over a small forested area and Mad Eye manoeuvred his broom with some difficulty next to Harry’s. “We’re right over the reserve now,” he told Harry. “We’ll go down and the first Snidget you find then catch it and we’ll get out of here.”

Harry nodded and felt the strange but familiar sensation as Mad Eye cracked him on the head with his wand and Disillusioned him. He had been made well aware of the penalties that this could incur for him by Remus and Hermione in one last desperate attempt to make him back out of the plan. It hadn’t worked but he was feeling slightly nervous at the idea of being caught and prosecuted by the Ministry.

He lowered his broom slowly and steadily, so as not to attract any attention if possible and descended into the trees. For a moment there was nothing; not a movement caught his eyes nor a sound his ears. Then something gold raced past Harry’s vision and he streaked after it.

The bird was tiny, it was about as big as a Snitch and its wings were small but carried it extremely quickly. It changed direction in an instant and Harry had to react quickly to ensure that he didn’t go ploughing into one of the trees ahead of him. He quickly saw his disadvantage – the bird was very small and in such a location he could be some time in catching it. It would easily be able to hide in the trees and squeeze into places that he could not.

He shot through a group of branches and from behind him he heard squawking as several Snidgets’ nest was upset. Moments later, there were more than twenty of them racing around him, blinding him and almost making him lose control of his broom. It was only when he waved his left arm in front of his face to enable him to see that he managed to catch hold of one of them in his hand.

He stopped in surprise and waved his wand quickly around the Snidget in his hand. “Carcer Claustrum.

A cage appeared over it and Harry quickly slipped his hand out, ensuring that the Snidget had been caught inside it. It had and Harry wasted no time in shrinking first the Snidget and then the cage around it down to pocket size. Once it was inside his robes, he shot upwards, towards Mad Eye.

“You got one?” Alastor asked, scanning the area with his magical eye and glancing at Harry with his real one. Harry nodded and the two of them flew off quickly. Alarms sounded behind them when they flew out of the magical compound but neither of them turned back as they accelerated towards the south, in an attempt to get as far away from there as they possibly could. Shouts could be heard from behind them and Mad Eye glanced around for a moment to see seven Wizards racing after them.

Harry moved quickly over to Mad Eye and grabbed hold of his arm. Alastor understood what Harry meant to do and Apparated the two of them quickly up into the north of Scotland before taking them back down to London and to Grimmauld Place.

“What the hell did you do that for?!” Harry demanded, his head reeling and he would have collapsed onto the kitchen floor had Minerva not caught hold of him.

“Come on, to my office,” she said to him once his head had stopped spinning. The Weasley twins were in the room and watched them suspiciously, and she knew that Tonks was outside, listening with a pair of Extendable Ears for anything that might give her a clue as to what was going on within the Order.

“Tell me you didn’t lose it,” Mad Eye muttered as the two of them returned to Minerva’s office. Harry checked his pockets and then assumed a panicked expression. He waited for Mad Eye to look fuming before he pulled the miniature cage from within his robes and set it on the table.

“You weren’t caught then?” Minerva asked and Harry was very tempted to reply with a sour, sarcastic retort but he held his tongue and returned the Snidget and the cage to a normal size. “Excellent work, and I believe you’ll be needing fresh Acromantula venom also.”

“That’s right,” Mad Eye muttered. He was sure that Snape had only given them that particular potion because of the difficulties it would present him gaining the ingredients, let alone making the potion itself.

“That won’t be too hard to acquire then, since there are a good few dozen of them living in the Forest here at Hogwarts,” Minerva said. “You can get some this afternoon if you like. Or you can wait until evening. It doesn’t matter which.” Harry was sure that Mad Eye didn’t notice the slight smile with curled her lip slightly; he probably didn’t as he stormed out of the room towards the Forbidden Forest, brandishing his wand and shouting at nothing in particular.

“I’ll take this to Hermione then,” Harry said and reached out for the cage. “They’re using the last dungeon, aren’t they?” Minerva nodded to him and opened the door with a flick of her wand.

“If you see him, tell Alastor that there was some fresh Acromantula venom stored in the school from yesterday,” Minerva said with a smirk. “Tell him it slipped my mind and make sure you’ve got an exit close by when you do.”

“I will,” Harry grinned and left the room.

*


“I reckon Snape only chose this because the ingredients are so hard to get hold of,” Hermione said as she stirred the cauldron three times counter-clockwise as the clock charmed midnight behind her. She put the Ashwinder eggs in one by one and waited for them to finish bubbling before stirring again.

“It’ll have been a loyalty test,” Kingsley said knowledgably and Harry nodded from behind them. He was there on the advice of Kingsley to try and keep up with the brewing of more complicated potions and the usage of rarer ingredients. “He wants to know whether we’ll go to the trouble of making this potion for him despite everything that he’s done and the circumstances he left us during.”

“Still no luck finding out what it does then?” Hermione asked Harry though she knew he would have said so if there had been any headway.

“Nope, no one has any idea,” Harry admitted. “The closest we have to finding out is you, Kingsley, but since you can’t remember what it does we’re still as lost as ever.”

“I wish I knew,” Hermione sighed. “The potion will be ready in about two hours and I don’t like the idea of giving a potion to Dumbledore’s murderer when we don’t even know what it does!”

“Me neither,” Kingsley muttered as he read over the instructions again and again, determined not to miss anything out. “All we have to do now is to add the Snidget wings and it should turn bright yellow. If it doesn’t then we’ve really messed up. Once that’s done then we’ll bottle it and get Ron to send it off, just so that he’s doing something.”

Hermione nodded and added in the two wings. Harry watched with mild interest as the mixture turned bright yellow and Kingsley sighed with relief. He left the two sitting in front of the cauldron and went to find Ron upon Kingsley’s instruction. Ron was easy to find in Grimmauld Place; he was sitting with Tonks, playing chess and being questioned about the goings on in the Order. He didn’t think he knew much that she didn’t however and gave little away.

Upon the muttered request to be the one to send the potion to Snape, Ron was overjoyed and almost fell over his own feet trying to get to the fireplace before Kingsley would change his mind. Harry privately wondered whether it was a good idea entrusting the potion to someone who couldn’t even walk to a fireplace before he banished the idea and took over Ron’s game. His loss was spectacular but he managed to lead Tonks’s ideas of the New Order in entirely the wrong direction which was exactly what he’d planned, well not so much the losing as the misdirecting.

“I sent it with a school owl since they blend in,” Ron said to Minerva after having sent the potion. She nodded approvingly and he smiled nervously.

“Good, do inform me of any replies as soon as they’re received,” she said to him and effectively closed the conversation.

Ron nodded and left the room, whilst many miles away one particularly speedy owl raced towards the living quarters of Severus Snape, a small potion bottle tied to its leg with a small letter. The man would glance at it in a mildly surprised manner before opening it warily. He hadn’t thought that the Order would send him it so readily since they would have a hard time discovering just what the potion did. Still, he welcomed it readily; it would make his job very much easier.



Chapter 16: On The Sidelines
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Chapter Sixteen


Arthur stepped through the fireplace one wet and windy March evening and was instantly greeted by a large dinner spread out on the table. Many members of the Order would be there for dinner that night and he collapsed into a chair at the currently unoccupied table. A quick peck on the cheek from his wife made him smile slightly as waved her wand and plates scattered around the table, eventually ending up in the correct places.

Dinner’s ready!” Molly called through the house. Ron and the twins Apparated to the table instantly, followed by Bill and Fleur a few moments later. Remus, Minerva and Mad Eye stepped out of the fireplace and took their places just before Charlie, Kingsley and Tonks staggered out after them, laughing hysterically. Hermione walked in, holding a book in her arms and quoting sections of it to Harry who looked thoroughly bored.

“Hermione, would you give it a rest,” Harry said to her, bringing about a cool look towards him. “I mean, it’s dinner time and it’s rude to read at the table.” Her look softened slightly after that but Harry decided not to sit next to her, just in case he managed to incur her wrath during the meal.

“—so I’ve spent my entire day listening to the Minister trying to rally us all into some kind of frenzy concerning the loss of Helga Hufflepuff’s cup. Apparently it was a very valuable magical artefact, which, belonging to one of the founders, I can well understand,” Arthur said to Molly, running his hand wearily over his face. “What I can’t understand is why he thinks that everyone ought to drop their immediate jobs to go hunting for it!”

Kingsley glanced over at him with clear interest in the topic, which he did his utmost to conceal. “So where was it taken from?”

“That’s the strange part,” Arthur said, lowering his voice slightly, as if the Minister of Magic was in the very room and he didn’t want him to hear. “He told us that it had been in some kind of safe-house in London, though specifics weren’t given. The rumour is that it was in one of the larger shops in Knockturn Alley and that it was sold for a very high price.”

“That can’t be true,” Minerva said dubiously. “Surely the Minister would not trust anyone from such a shady area, let alone give them something so valuable and expect them not to sell it!”

“It doesn’t sound like the most credible of stories,” Remus said lightly, “but you never know – there may be some truth in it.” He glanced at Minerva and held her gaze for a moment, before politely asking Ron to pass the pumpkin juice.

“Remus, surely you aren’t suggesting that there might be some truth in this story?” Minerva asked him after the meal had ended and the two of them remained in the kitchen, alone.

“I’m not sure, but it seems strange that such a valuable artefact, one which Voldemort was strongly suspected of taking, would vanish from a place rumoured to be exactly the same location as our missing Horcrux,” Remus insisted. “But then why would the Minister be so desperate for it?”

“That’s what I mean,” Minerva said, leaping in. “Don’t you think that it seems very coincidental that Arthur comes home and tells us all about it, when we’re so desperately trying to find the Horcrux? It’s too perfect.”

“It’s not as if he’s telling us where to go for it, only that one has been taken,” Remus pressed. “If we can just think where else the Horcrux could have gone then I’m sure that we can find it again!”

“It could have been sold to anyone, and it could be on the other side of the world by now,” Minerva told him as she began to pace the room. Remus had never seen her in such an agitated state. The fact that the Horcrux was being hunted by the Ministry only reminded her that, had she been more vigilant of the object, then it may still have been in their hands.

“It might not have been stolen at all,” Remus said as he stared down at the kitchen table at the front page of the Prophet. Lucius Malfoy was being dragged bodily into the temporary prison in place whilst Azkaban was under Voldemort’s control, and was fighting back admirably against the half dozen Ministry Aurors. “You remember the day that Tonks and Kingsley almost caught Malfoy in Knockturn Alley…?”

Minerva stared at him for a few good long moments, her frown deepening with thought and her mouth drawn tightly into a line. For a moment, Remus felt like he was back at school again with the formidable Transfiguration teacher until the slightest of smile touched her face.

“Get Kingsley and Tonks over Malfoy Manor with one of the Counters,” she said to him as she walked towards the door. “They might have a chance to redeem themselves.”

*


Kingsley watched the various reactions across the faces of the New Order as he and Tonks revealed that there was in fact a Horcrux, or a magical object with more magical output than he had ever found before, hidden within Malfoy Manor.

Minerva tried to conceal the smile that crept across her face, but it was no good; she more than anyone else had reason to celebrate the find of the Horcrux she thought she had lost, and she could not hide the glee that rose within her. Anyone else would have been literally jumping for joy, Kingsley thought with an inward smile. At the other side of the room, Remus was looking thoughtful and almost dubious with the ease that they had found the Horcrux again.

“It seems too simple,” Remus said quietly, after the initial joy of finding it had subdued somewhat. “I mean, what are the chances of us finding it so simply?”

Minerva sighed and rubbed her temples. “But Remus, it was you who initially forced this idea upon us. Now it is you that doesn’t believe the authenticity of our find?”

“I don’t know,” Remus sighed. “The more I think about it, the more it makes me wonder about just how easy it was. It seems almost like things were done just to lure us into Malfoy Manor to get the Horcrux back to us. If we go in there to try and get it then what happens if we find fifty Death Eaters?”

The silence hung in the air for a moment but Bill shook his head eventually. “The only reason you suspected Malfoy Manor in the first place is because you saw the picture of Malfoy on the front cover. It’s no surprise that the Ministry are hunting for it so diligently – it’s a rare artefact.”

“Then why would Malfoy be on the front cover being taken away?” Hermione spoke up. “Surely the loss of Hufflepuff’s cup would be more newsworthy than Malfoy being taken to a temporary prison?”

“Perhaps the Ministry didn’t want it to get out to the press, and we all know what a tight hold the Ministry has over the single most well-read media outlet in Wizarding Britain,” Kingsley suggested.

“Whether this is a trick or not, we can’t risk not raiding Malfoy Manor,” Mad Eye said grimly. “We have no evidence that there might be a trick involved, except for the way things have so smoothly fallen into place. We have to look into this before it can be moved again, and next time it might not be so easy to find.”

The room fell silent once more, broken finally by Minerva. “Let’s get planning this raid then. We want to get in there early before the Ministry has chance to search the building,” she said and everyone gathered in closer to assist with the planning stages.

It was another two weeks after the meeting that the New Order were able to get together again for their raid upon the Manor. There had been much disagreement over the topic as to whether or not Harry, Ron and Hermione should be able to join them on the raid. Remus argued quite strongly that they weren’t old enough, or had the experience necessary to join the raid, whilst on the other hand, more people would have enabled them to enter from more directions and cover a greater area during the short time they would have; Narcissa and Draco would presumably still occupy the house, and there was no way of telling whether either of them would be in, or whether the cup would be anywhere near them.

It came down to Minerva, who was their unofficial leader, and attempted more often than not to think objectively. The thing was that it was quite hard to think without emotion where Harry was concerned, at least for her. However, she knew as well as most of them did, just what the trio were capable of, and Harry was almost as skilled as Bill in some aspects.

“The three of you will be going with the adults tonight,” Minerva said to the three of them, after cornering them in the house some time before the raid was to be carried out. “I suggest you wrap up warmly and protectively, and speak to your allocated supervisor.”

The three of them would each become part of the three teams that would be storming the manor. There would be one leader for each team who would make every decision on the raid for their small group, and their decisions were not to be disputed. Harry had been placed with Kingsley and Bill for the evening, and it was Kingsley with whom he would need to speak to determine what he was to do whilst with them. Their entry had already been determined as through the skylight towards the centre of the manor, which was going to make it more difficult than those who were simply entering through the back door…

By eleven at night, the group was ready to leave. Minerva stood to the side, watching them prepare themselves and each other for the long task that would lay ahead of them. She would not be going with them that night; they would need someone to stay behind, and as the leader of both the Order and the New Order, it would be her role to play the one holding the fort, so to speak.

“Now, make sure you keep a tight hold of the Counter,” Kingsley said to Bill. “If it’s lost then we’re all doomed.”

He nodded and then Kingsley turned to speak to Harry. Just as he opened his mouth, Harry grasped his forehead and stifled a yelp. He felt his knees weakening and Kingsley moved rapidly to catch him before he collapsed to the floor. His hands still pressed tightly over his scar, and his eyes were squeezed shut.

Soon, everyone had crowded around Harry, who lay on the floor, his head still feeling the receding twinges of pain. Mutterings of surprise and concern surrounded him and it was only when Minerva pushed Ron aside that silence covered them.

“Your scar?” she asked needlessly. Harry nodded and she continued, “Did you see anything?”

“No, it just… hurt,” Harry told her.

“Something’s happening, but I’m not sure what it is,” she said thoughtfully. “We have to carry on with the raid tonight. Voldemort will know that Harry felt his scar hurting. Even if he does have any idea what we’re planning then he would presume we would call it off. We won’t have another chance at this for a long time, so I suggest you get going.” She turned to Harry who frowned slightly.

“My head only hurt a bit—” he began but Minerva cut him off.

“No, if that happens again whilst you’re in the Manor then you’ll be caught. You are going to take a trip to the Hospital Wing instead,” she told him and Harry grit his teeth to prevent from hurling abuse. “Good luck to you all.”

They nodded in acknowledgement and turned to leave, Remus giving Harry’s shoulder a light squeeze as he left with Ron.

“Trust me, Harry,” Minerva said as she helped him to his feet, “you do not want to be caught by the Malfoys, especially not because of something so trivial as a headache.”

Harry sighed and nodded. He wandered the silent corridors, once finding himself under the stern gaze of Mrs Norris as he made his way to the hospital wing.

Not for the first time, Harry wondered whether Madam Pomfrey actually slept, or whether she had a timeturner to allow her some semblance of sleep during her excessively long shifts; she was still walking the quiet wards even as he entered at quarter past eleven.

It was with a raised eyebrow that she admitted him into the ward and examined him thoroughly, leaving Harry questioning just why she did so; he only had a headache, after all. She glanced over him critically once she had done and told him that there didn’t appear to be anything wrong with him, though he looked slightly malnourished.

“I’ve always looked that way!” Harry complained as she ushered him towards one of the empty beds. “I really don’t need to stay here for the night either, it’s just Minerva being ridiculously over protective of me, again…”

“Those were my orders,” Poppy said calmly. “Minerva said that, if ever you were to come here with one of these headaches, I was to keep you here overnight.”

“She tricked me… she—” He was cut off promptly as Poppy stunned him lightly and levitated him into the nearby bed. It wasn’t the best of practices to stun patients, but it certainly got the job done, she mused on her way back to her desk.

It was almost three hours later, as a clock chimed two from somewhere in the depths of the school, that Minerva stuck her head around the corner of the Hospital Wing and, finding it deserted, she crossed quickly to Harry’s bed. The night was far too quiet, even though it was the middle of the spring term. Though the students were there, the castle seemed to lack some of its previous life, though upon reflection she would have put it down to her own preoccupation over the New Order mission, and whether they would get out of Malfoy Manor alive.

“You know, most people consider it quite creepy when people watch them sleep,” Harry said quietly, jolting Minerva out of her reverie. She blinked, realising that she had been staring into space for a good few minutes and rose to leave him. “So you really were only here to watch me sleep…?”

“No, I just wanted somewhere to think where I’m not entirely alone,” she sighed. “The office is a little lonely without Fawkes.”

Harry nodded. “I wonder where he’s gone.”

“He’ll turn up again, probably when we need him the most, or, in a truly Dumbledore-esque manner, he’ll turn up just afterwards,” Minerva said with a slight smile.

“I wish I could have gone with them tonight,” Harry said, changing the subject away from one which was still quite painful to him. “I hate not being part of it, and knowing that anything could happen to them today but I’ll live and I’ll be fine.”

Minerva looked at him steadily for a moment. “That’s the nature of the Order,” she told him, “in that you can’t always be involved. You can’t always be in the front line, otherwise you wouldn’t last. The worst is staying behind, but someone has to do it, and today it was you and I.”

Harry nodded. It was true – for all the times that he had been in an action-filled year, everyone else hadn’t. No one had as much action as him, and he was always throwing himself into dangerous situations. He had just never considered what it must be like for those not involved, worrying about what he was doing. What it must have done to Ron and Hermione when it was he alone that went that extra mile, and they were on the sidelines.

He blinked and then began to wonder why Minerva was tapping so incessantly with her foot. She glanced at him, frowning slightly, trying to figure out what he was tapping so irritatingly.

“Why are you letting that owl make such a racket?!” Poppy hissed at them as she stormed towards them, and flung open the large window to the side of them. Both Minerva and Harry felt slightly embarrassed that they hadn’t noticed it before. “Here!” She thrust the owl towards Minerva and walked back to her quarters. It was only then that Harry noticed that she was wearing a nightrobe.

The letter was actually addressed to Harry, and he opened it with a sense of dread at the spiky, black lettering on the thick envelope.

Moste Potente Potions. Page 93.” He stared at the back of the page and then looked to Minerva.

“That’s it…?” she asked quietly and Harry nodded. “I’m going to the library.”

“Wait, can’t I come?” Harry asked quickly as she left.

“You’re ill, remember?” was all that she said before the doors swung shut behind her and Harry slumped back against the headboard.

“There’s nothing wrong with me!” he shouted.

“Mr Potter!” barked Madam Pomfrey as she stormed out of her office and into the ward. “There are students sleeping here, if you don’t mind!”

He fell silent as she stormed back towards her living space, leaving a number of students angrily muttering in dazed voices behind her, and Harry sinking under his duvet, in the hopes that he would not be identified as the noise-making culprit.

Up in the library, Minerva pulled out the dusty old book and opened it to the specified page. Her eyebrows rose in disbelief and then creased in confusion. If that was indeed the potion that Severus wanted her to make then not only would it severely diminish the amount of time they would have to hunt for the Horcruxes, but if it worked then they might just have a method with which to destroy them all once and for all. Then the only problem that would leave was Voldemort.


Chapter 17: Malfoy Manor
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Chapter Seventeen

Harry tapped his fingers idly on the side of his bed and stared about him through the darkness shrouding the hospital wing. All around him, students were sleeping soundly, without a care in the world. They didn’t realise that many people were putting their lives at risk that night for their continued safety in a growingly dangerous world. They had no idea that his own guardian and his best friends were out there, breaking into Malfoy Manor for something which might not even be there. It was the Malfoys; it could have been any dark artefact, though he supposed that Minerva would not send so many of her valued members of the Order, and her friends into such a situation, without good reason.

He sighed into the darkness, hearing no reply except for the slow breathing of those around him. It was a miracle that he wasn’t more paranoid, considering all that he had been through. He remembered that, when he had been younger, Dudley had always checked inside his wardrobe before he went to sleep, just to make sure that there was no one in it who was out to harm him. He never did quite understand that no one would want to bother harming Dudley, he wasn’t worth it. Though, Harry supposed with a slight smile, it would look rather odd to see the LeStranges hiding inside one of Hogwarts large wardrobes, or hiding under the bed, waiting for their chance to get him.

The feeling of being so helpless in the face of danger wasn’t one that Harry had experienced since Dumbledore had died. It wasn’t his danger, but other people were risking their lives and there was nothing he could do about it. It was the same way he had felt when he believed Sirius to be tortured at the hands of Voldemort, but this time he couldn’t go running after his friends in an attempt to get them out of their imminent danger. They knew what they were walking into, and they were the ones who would have to get themselves back out if things went wrong.

The floor felt cold against the soles of his bare feet, as he began to pace up and down the aisles of beds in the hospital wing. Truth be told, he couldn’t stand to be sitting, or lying, still at such a time, when the lives of his friends were potentially hanging in the balance. Who knew what could be happening to them at that very moment? He certainly didn’t.

Well, he might not be on the front line that day, but he wasn’t going to sit about and do nothing whilst his friends were in peril. If nothing else, he would assist Minerva with whatever it was Severus had sent her instructions to make. He waved his wand quickly over himself and instantly he was dressed in his own robes again. Madam Pomfrey would not be pleased when she found him gone in the morning, but there would be little she could do about it then, except fume at him upon their next meeting.

“Well?” Minerva visibly jumped and Harry grinned as she turned her icy gaze upon him, her wand returning to her robe pocket. She held a copy of Moste Potente Potions in her hands, and even upside down, Harry knew that she was on the page they had been sent.

“What on earth do you think you are doing, sneaking up behind people in such a manner? I could have hexed you in an instant you thoughtless, foolish—” she carried on.

Harry prised the book from her hands, keeping eye contact with her even as he did so, and her whispered shouting continued at him at a rapid pace.

“Wow, how haven’t we found this book before?” Harry asked, more to himself than to Minerva. Considering that it was the same one which he, Hermione and Ron had used in their second year to brew the Polyjuice potion, it would be a natural assumption that they would investigate it first. And yet they hadn’t.

“It has spent the last few months under the bed of one particularly mindless Gryffindor seventh year student, the name of whom I needn’t mention,” Minerva sighed as she glanced over the potion.

It was simply named ‘Avada Kedavra’.

Harry rapidly scanned over the information in front of him, absorbing as much as he could in such a short period of time. It was almost synonymous with the Avada Kedavra curse, but worse, if that could be so. It would be like submersing someone in acid and waiting for it to slowly dissolve them away entirely, but with a potion. Once it reached the soul, it would destroy it rapidly, and consume whatever else happened into its path. Where the Avada Kedavra spell could only take the life of someone who was living, the Killing Potion could take a soul from within any object, and destroy it. There would be no way to regain the soul in tact from the objects in which they were hidden, but that wasn’t necessary. They weren’t looking to study the pieces of soul, they were looking to destroy them, and Severus had provided them with exactly what they needed.

“And look at this,” Minerva said, taking the book from Harry and flicking quickly through the pages, coming to rest on one of the more simple spells in the book.

Harry felt his mouth falling open as he stared down at the page. It wasn’t so much the picture, or the title that struck him, but the ingredients. Just the ones that Severus had asked for previously.

“Concealment Potion,” Harry read. “There are simpler ones, surely?”

“Oh yes, but they’re easy to get through. This one would be impossible to trace, impossible to test. Mix this potion with any other and the effects are hidden and the potion itself becomes almost like water. It cannot be traced until digested,” Minerva said quietly. Harry noted the amount of knowledge she seemed to possess not only on this particular potion, but on potions in general and, for the first time, he began to wonder just what the rest of her life had been like. “It’s mostly used for hiding poison. When it is used. Few people need to use something this strong, evidently. I didn’t know this even existed.”

“What? But you know so much about it!”

“Of course, but then it’s a mythical potion. Little research has gone into its discovery, or rediscovery, since most people believed that such a feat could not be accomplished, even by magic,” Minerva informed him. “It’s said that, upon digestion, the concealment potion will break down and whatever it was hiding is returned to itself.”

“But it takes three months to brew,” Harry said, as he ran his eyes down the page and noted the amount of time needed. “Exactly three months, which, coincidentally, is the amount of time it’s been since we sent Snape the potion.”

Minerva began to walk back towards the doorway to the Library, not wanting to linger there any longer than was necessary. They did not want to have to answer questions such as what they two were doing in there at such an hour, with such a book, on such a page. It was not a trial they particularly wanted to undergo.

“You felt part of Voldemort’s soul being destroyed tonight then. Nagini,” Minerva said. It was not a question. “Severus is loyal, after all.”

Harry remained silent, not wanting to agree or disagree verbally with her. He disliked Snape, certainly, though he could not have hoped more that he was on their side. He just didn’t like admitting that perhaps he’d been a good guy all along, just doing some particularly devious deeds along the way.

“You know what this means, don’t you?” Minerva sighed as she sat down in her office once more, some few minutes later. Harry hovered by the window, staring out across the darkness and into the Forbidden Forest.

“That we’ve finally got a way of destroying Voldemort?” Harry suggested hopefully.

“Well, yes, but that we’ve also got only three months to gain possession of the remaining Horcruxes,” she sighed. “The sooner we can make this potion, the better. We don’t want something like this hanging about the school, especially not since it has to be brewed under very strict conditions. It might explode otherwise, and I really don’t want some of my first years being murdered by a rampant potion.”

“And now that Snape’s given us that information, that means Voldemort can find that information in his head,” Harry said quietly. “If he finds out that we’ve got a way to destroy Horcruxes, not only is Snape going to be murdered, but then he’s going to know that we’re out to find them. They aren’t going to stay in the same places long after that, are they?”

“No, I suppose they’re not.” Minerva sank lower into her chair and began furiously massaging her temples. Then there was the matter that the rest of the New Order might be walking into a large trap right that second. Things weren’t all that great just at that moment.

*


The house was huge. Ron didn’t think he had ever seen somewhere of such a size in his entire life, and he had seen some very large buildings in his time. Remus reminded him, through his state of awe, that it might look quite a lot bigger since they were lying flat on their stomachs at the very foot of it.

They’d decided before they went, the ways in which they would all enter the building. He was sure that, had they been drawing straws, then he would certainly have had the short one. He and Ron were about to walk through the front door of the manically protected Malfoy Manor. Sometimes he wondered whether he’d gone mad, and the entire world was a rather distorted piece of fiction. Perhaps he was a Muggle called Phillip who lived somewhere on the Isle of Man.

There was something on the other side of the building that sounded like the tinkling of broken glass. That was the signal. Remus leapt to his feet and sprinted towards the house, with Ron in hot pursuit. Now, if there was one thing that most Wizarding families didn’t expect, it was that burglars were going to come in through the front door. It was assumed that all burglars were going to me of the evil genius variety, and with the Malfoys running quite the monopoly on that front, they probably wouldn’t even lock their door. Try a window, however, and you were likely to find yourself electrocuted, at best.

Remus almost collapsed with relief when the door handle turned easily and he and Ron walked straight into the manor. There were Wizards sprinting up and down the corridors busily, most of them towards the commotion that a broken window had temporarily wrought upon them.

There was a single flaw in their plan and that was the Frequency Counter. That night, one of them was in the palm of Remus’s hand, and the other was being clutched tightly by Bill outside somewhere. The Horcrux was there, in the house. That was definite. What wasn’t definite was its location.

Every old Wizarding house had a magical core. Perhaps it had been there when the house had been built and magic had been infused into part of the building, or perhaps it had accumulated from centuries of magical use within the house. Either way, all houses had a room in the house, which would be devoted to this magic. The whole house ran from it.

The first law of thermodynamics states that energy cannot be used or destroyed, but that it can only be changed from one form to another. Magic is just another form of energy. When lights were needed, they would be turned on by the wave of a wand, the magic would be used from the magical core, meaning any magic conducted within the magical building came more easily and with less effort. Once the lights had been used, the energy would convert back to magic, and gravitate back to the large magical field in the house. Inside the magic room.

The magic could not just be taken from the room, however, but it needed to be guided through the house, so as not to cause any complications or magical fluctuations within the home. To do this, a magical safety centre resides within the house. It could be anywhere. Consider it the magical equivalent of a fuse box. Too much magic passing anywhere in the house will cause the room containing the main magical source to isolate itself for a set amount of time, until any danger has passed.

That was all well and good, but what exactly had this to do with the current plight of the New Order? Fair question. The Frequency Counter picks up high magical concentration in a particular area. A magic room would contain a lot of magic. About as much as a Horcrux.

So there are two spots on the Frequency Counter of very high magical concentration. Then there’s a smaller one, where the safety centre is located. Only one of the two spots is a Horcrux, and with two Malfoys in the house, and any number of Death Eaters and servants, no one had any particular desire to linger longer than necessary.

It had been a while since Remus had needed to put this kind of skill to use. With him, it had always been tact. The tact needed to teach children but attempt to make it interesting at the same time; the tact needed to attempt to join Greyback’s clan, even for a short while; the tact needed when dealing with Harry in his distraught state, just after Dumbledore had died. This was something else. This was being nimble, being quick, reading the Frequency Counter, and getting to the safety centre before they were caught and killed.

Perhaps it was a good thing that he was to get in and get out the quickest. It would mean that Remus was not still inside once the alarm was raised that something untoward was happening within the manor. He could not remember the last documented case of a magical power cut. He was aware that Muggles experienced them quite frequently, but for magic to run out, or to stop was rare, unless extremely powerful spell-casting was occurring within the home.

He stared down at the Frequency Counter and quickly located the spot in which the safety centre was located. It was on the top floor, which was certainly going to cause him more difficulty than anything, and was in what appeared to be an isolated location within the home, far away from the other, more magically concentrated areas.

They ran, ran with the rest of the witches and wizards in the building. Their attire had been dressed up so that a passing glance would not give them away as not belonging there. Even Ron’s hair had been altered in colour, so that the trademark Weasley red would not give him away. Remus wanted to stop and stare out through one of the windows, just to see if he could see the others outside, waiting for their moment. He didn’t stop, though; not whilst he had a job to do, and not whilst Ron was in his care. No, he would not stop yet.

*


Her heart was thumping so quickly and so loudly that she honestly wondered whether anyone else could hear it, but Hermione stayed quiet and kept her eyes upon the house. They only ever strayed ever so slightly to the others beside her when a movement caught her eye. That was rare; they were almost all as still as her, but Hermione didn’t reflect frequently on this. She was spending her time watching the house, hoping to catch a glimpse of Remus and Ron rushing by with the other members of the house, who had all been thrown into a panic by the smashing of a single window.

It was amazing that they had done it, since all of them had been waiting for some kind of magical barrier to evade such a mindless physical attack, but perhaps the Malfoys had not thought anyone would bother wish such an inane attack upon them, in a similar manner, not bothering to lock the front door.

A movement caught her eye to her left, and her gaze wavered briefly to one side only to observe Kingsley muttering something to Bill. They had been discussing things as frequently as they felt that they reasonably could in such a situation, and she strongly believed that it was due to Harry’s absence that evening. He had been a strong person to lose in such a raid, she knew that at least. Everyone knew that Harry was a formidable enemy, and a very resourceful one at that. All his past experiences said that quite plainly. Now their strategy was being altered to fit his presence elsewhere.

She looked to Mad Eye, who was contemplating the house. He saw her looking with his magical eye and stared back. “We don’t need a strategy,” he muttered, almost reading her mind. “Just because they think they need to know precisely what they’re doing when, where and how, doesn’t mean I do. We run in there, run to the place we’ve been assigned and hope to Merlin we find the Horcrux, and not a Malfoy.”

“What if it goes wrong?” Hermione whispered.

He raised an eyebrow. “I didn’t expect you to think of such things. Personally, I think you’d be better suited to keeping your mind on task at present, but why did you think I gave you that to wear around your neck? It might well operate very efficiently as a whistle, but in Malfoy Manor, I don’t think you want them to be running your way. Just say ‘success’ and you’ll be off.”

“Succe—?” she began but he pressed his hand quickly over her mouth.

“Sometimes I wonder just how bright you are, girl,” he growled, and she blushed in the darkness. She did want to remain there, at least for a while longer. Hermione wasn’t all that sure she’d feel the same way once she was inside the house itself. Then she might feel entirely different on the matter.

*


Ron was running. It had been quite some time since he could remember feeling the thrill and the additional horror which came with life-threatening situations. He also felt very much like he was about to be sick. He wondered how Harry could willingly get himself into such positions all the time, surely he must spend have of his life feeling nauseated, or at the very least, quite nervous.

They were almost there now, Remus breathed to him, as they ran on. He didn’t know how much further his legs would support him. All he knew was that, as soon as they hit the switch, the magic within the house would suddenly be shut off and they’d have to Portkey out of there as fast as they could. He could feel his heart racing furiously as he and Remus began to slow. Ron wondered, and began to worry, that it was because Remus had run out of steam. Perhaps he had tried to go too far, and he was too old, and he couldn’t go any further and he was going to collapse in Malfoy Manor, and…

Remus stopped suddenly, and Ron ran into the back of him, almost falling over from the impact. “We’re here, Ron.”

Ron stared around him, but he didn’t see anything different to that on the rest of the house. “Are you sure?” he asked Remus dubiously. “It doesn’t look like we are.”

“That’s because you don’t know what you’re looking for,” Remus muttered and indicated a small panel on the wall. That was it. That was all that they had been chasing. A small panel. Ron wasn’t all that pleased, though the idea of getting out of there and never, ever doing any kind of Order mission again appealed quite strongly to him.

“What do we do?” Ron asked nervously and watched Remus examine the panel.

“It’s quite simple,” said Remus, after some thought. “Reducto!

There was a crash, and a large hole appeared in the wall. The entire house was plunged into darkness, and screams could be heard echoing around the house. There could be no doubt about what had happened, and Ron found Remus pushing something into his hand. The Portkey.

His nausea increased momentarily before his feet touched back on firm ground. Ron’s part, and Remus’s, was done.

For the others, it was just beginning.

Outside, everywhere was dark. There was little that they could do to avoid giving themselves away. They could not use magic in the area, since the magical field within the room had been shut off for twelve hours. The only magic which would be used were Portkeys. They had their own store of magic within them, so that they could be used virtually anywhere, unless a magical suppressant had been used.

The three wizards, and one witch, had been intending to run into Malfoy Manor the moment that the lights went off. What they hadn’t thought out entirely was that when the lights went off inside the house, then there wouldn’t be anything lighting their way to the front door. It was for this reason that, had any light been available at the time, anyone watching would plainly have seen the four of them in what looked suspiciously like a conga line, lead by the formidable Alastor ‘Mad Eye’ Moody. He was the only one able to see where he was going, thanks to his magical eye.

“I suppose this is where we part,” Kingsley said with a slight grimace. “Good luck.”

The sentiment was repeated by all, and they parted into two groups. Mad Eye and Hermione took off at a quick pace towards the third floor of the house, where one of the magical areas was located, whilst Kingsley and Bill had no confidence to waste. Their Horcrux would be the one most easily found, if indeed it was one, on the ground floor, where everyone else was currently panicking. In the dark.

A voice cut across the hubbub easily. It was one that each of the four recognised all too easily.

“Silence. There is an intruder in my home, and I want them found.” Mad Eye’s one good eye narrowed dangerously at the sound of Lucius Malfoy’s voice. It appeared that he had managed to evade the clutches of Azkaban rather well.

Chapter 18: Procuring the Penultimate
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Chapter Eighteen

“Brilliant, just brilliant,” Kingsley muttered to Bill as the two of them blindly groped their way along the side of the building, neither of them willing to move any closer to Lucius Malfoy than they needed to. The fact that there were now three of the Malfoys in the house didn’t do much for their nerves, however, nor did it do anything to their resolution to complete their task. This might be their one and only chance to get hold of the Horcrux which lay within Malfoy Manor.

Everyone around them had fallen still, not that they could see much of them. Just indistinct shadows in the darkness. All that they knew was the vague location of the Horcrux and the magical core of the house; they didn’t know which, and neither Bill nor Kingsley knew how they would know when they’d come the magical core, if that was where they were headed.

They found a door at the end of the room, and carefully they entered, hoping not to find anyone on the other side. They knew that they were getting closer to their desired location, if only because they were moving towards the back of the house. There was no one in the room that they entered, not that either of them knew of anyway. From his pocket, Kingsley took the Frequency Counter. Instantly, the room was bathed in an eerie golden glow, casting shadows and silhouettes up against the walls. They were in what appeared to be a short hallway, with doors on each side, and statues on alternate sides along the way.

A glance down at the Frequency Counter gave them a small map of the floor that they were on, the image created because of the magic which had been stored within the walls themselves. They weren’t far from their energy source, whichever it might be. It was just along the corridor, and in the last room on their right.

Kingsley put the Frequency counter away and began to walk, more quickly and carelessly than before, even in the pitch darkness. At least now he knew where he was going; he would know he had reached his destination when his outstretched fingers touched the wall at the end of the corridor. Bill followed him, but with a little more caution than the other. Though they might know where they were going, there was no telling what was further along the corridor, nor in the next room. All that they knew was the location of an energy source. The Frequency Counter did not pick up people.

“I never knew you and I had quite the acquaintance to greet each other so warmly, Mr Shacklebolt,” said a woman’s voice quietly. Bill froze upon hearing her voice. For Kingsley, who had inadvertently walked straight into Narcissa with his arms outstretched, it was a little too late for that. Evidently, the hall had not been lined entirely with statues.

*


“How are we meant to know where we’re going?” Hermione murmured to Mad Eye who was a little ahead of her in the darkened building. She was beginning to regret having come with the eccentric man, though she felt better protected because of him.

“I can see in the darkness, just not far enough,” Mad Eye told her as he strode further on. There was no one in that part of the building. They were on the third floor of the building, where as the rest of the house would be gathered down on the ground floor. That meant that they should be left relatively alone, though the same would not be said for Kingsley and Bill.

“Freeze,” Mad Eye muttered suddenly and pulled her backwards against the wall next to him. They could hear movement somewhere further down the hallway they were on. It was the only one that would lead them to the energy source they were pursuing, and they could not go back now. At the same time, to attack would surely give them away. Which might draw attention away from Kingsley and Bill lower down…

His vision was next to none, and Mad Eye could feel his vision beginning to dim, at least his magical vision. He supposed that it was an effect of having so little magic in the air, now that it was all being sucked out of them and towards the house’s magical core. Walking slowly and deliberately forward to whoever stood ahead of him, Mad Eye readied himself for what could only be a physical fight.

His fists were held in front of him, ready to strike whatever he found first. Behind him, he could hear Hermione groping about in the darkness for something to cling onto, or at least give her an idea as to her current location. Something moved ahead of him. Mad Eye swung forwards, and something else did the same.

There was a thud. In the darkness, someone whispered, “Success.”

A single brilliant flash in the darkness, and Hermione was gone; Portkeyed back to the New Order in Minerva’s office.

Downstairs, Bill and Kingsley had no idea of that which transpired three floors higher, and were putting all their desperate thoughts into methods of escape. Preferably, escaping forwards.

“You thought that you could just walk into our house undetected and escape with a valuable artefact?” Narcissa demanded of them. Silence was her only response, and she continued, “Perhaps you have taken a liking to stealing as your only way of survival in poverty, Mr Weasley, but Malfoy Manor is not as poorly protected as Gringotts, I assure you that.”

Even as she finished speaking, something whooshed through the air towards them. Instinctively, both of them ducked, only to have their feet taken out from beneath them. There was a clattering along the floor, and Bill realised too late that the Frequency Counter had skittered out of his grasp and across the wooden floor. The room was instantly lit by an eerie golden glow, and they saw their attacker for the first time.

Narcissa loomed over them, and behind her stood her son. They really didn’t want to have to physically fight their way past them, but it appeared that they were shortly to have no choice in the matter. Bill and Kingsley scrambled to their feet, Bill diving for the Frequency Counter, even as Draco Malfoy leapt for it.

Bill felt himself falling over for the second time in the space of ten seconds. Malfoy was quicker than he, and the room flickered in and out of the darkness as they both landed on top of the Counter. At that moment, Narcissa leapt at Kingsley, her fingers clawing down his face. Shouts and yelps filled the room, footsteps thundering towards them.

Something smashed into the side of his face, and Bill was knocked backwards, even as his hands closed tightly around the Frequency Counter. They were shrouded in darkness again, and close by, he could hear Malfoy swinging at thin air. He took his chance and leapt forwards, stumbling over Narcissa and Kingsley who fought tooth and nail to overcome the other.

A thud and a crack filled the air behind them, shortly followed by a shriek from the younger Malfoy. It would appear that he had broken his fingers punching a statue in the confusion. Narcissa was startled momentarily into being knocked down by Kingsley. He scrambled to his feet and Bill grabbed his arm, dragging him down the corridor towards the room at the end. They didn’t have much time.

The door was locked with magic, but it would be easy to kick down. They both grasped their Portkeys as Kingsley threw himself into the door.

*


Mad Eye cursed under his breath as he dragged himself to his feet. Beside him was the unmistakable form of Bellatrix LeStrange, lying unconscious on the floor. He had managed to do something worthwhile this evening at least. Even if he had managed to send Hermione back to Hogwarts. He really needed to start thinking his activation words through, Mad Eye decided as he strode on.

The end was visible now at least. Below him he head shouts, muffled by the walls between them. It hurried him along; something was happening lower down and he had an odd feeling that it had to do with Bill and Kingsley. He walked quickly towards the end of the corridor, hoping that he would not encounter anything else to slow him. There was hardly time enough without any more obstructions.

It was in the next room, whatever it was. If it was the Horcrux, then he would Portkey out instantly. If it was the energy core of the house…? Then he ran the risk of destroying everything. So much magical energy contained in one place was not going to be good when instantly released across the house.

A gnarled hand reached out and rested on the doorknob. He couldn’t feel a particular strong field of energy brushing against him, but it was an energy source nonetheless. He didn’t know how well the energy inside was being restrained. Mad Eye took a deep breath and flung open the door. His closed his good eye, and shrank back, only to find himself in what appeared to be a perfectly ordinary room.

It was spacious and decorated entirely in white. Wise decorating, Mad Eye thought grimly as he stepped inside. The magical field was far stronger here, and he could feel it whirling around him, trying to find a way to take any magic held within him. Luckily, there was none held inside the individual. He did not want to think what it would do to him in order to get the magic from within.

He stayed close to the walls, knowing not only that white reflected heat, but also that it reflected magic. He changed his robes to ones of a white colour, similar in the way that he had as a younger wizard, when the summer heat became too much for his then perfect features. Cautiously, he stepped forwards towards the middle of the room. Towards the cup of Helga Hufflepuff.

There were many other artefacts on display here; it appeared to be a room designated for displaying and showing off their most treasured and magical possessions. The Malfoys had evidently done well for themselves, in the past if not the present. Some of the relics held in that room had been thought either lost or mythical by the general Wizarding populace.

His hand reached out to the cup and he grasped it firmly, tearing it from the magical field which bound him. The floor began to shake, and in his sudden panic, he spun round to see what had caused it. He did not believe it had been caused by the cup.

And then it hit him. If he had been the one with the Horcrux, then Bill and Kingsley had just opened the magical source of the house.

The floor was falling out from beneath him as the magic joined that in the room and spiralled upwards and outwards. The walls were being blown down, the contents of the house either blown apart or blasted outwards with everything else.

Mad Eye grasped hold of his Portkey at his waist and shouted a single word into the deafening roar.

“Tablecloth!”

He was spinning faster and faster, his body twisting and turning in the air as he and the Horcrux flew with the Portkey back towards Hogwarts. Back to Minerva’s office and the safety offered by the New Order.

He landed on the floor with a thud.

“Welcome back, old man!” Kingsley greeted him cheerfully, though not with a little pain inherent in his voice. Mad Eye opened his eyes to see Kingsley lying beside him, and Bill on the other side of Kingsley. All around them, the other members of the New Order had gathered, all talking at once.

“It’s just a good job that magic passes through people, otherwise you’d have been blown apart,” Mad Eye growled at him before resting his head back on the floor. “It’s here!”

He waved the Horcrux in the face of Hermione as she nagged at him as to whether or not he had managed to reach it in time. She recoiled slightly at the sight of it, though she could not explain her irrational fear of such an object. A Horcrux could not hurt her.

“I see this had been both an interesting and productive evening for all of us,” Minerva said quietly. Remus looked at her with a raised eyebrow, and then to Harry who was holding an old book in his hands. It appeared to mention Potions on the cover, though he was not certain as to whether or not his sight was failing him in that respect; Harry was not known for his love of Potions. The chances of him reading around the subject during his free time, and in the middle of the night, was highly unlikely.

“We’ll discuss this tomorrow, once everyone has had sufficient rest, and has been properly healed,” she said, pointedly looking down at the three on the floor. Before she had finished her sentence, Madam Pomfrey bustled into the room and hovered around the three prospective patients before beginning her work.

The rest of those present began to leave the room, either through the door or the fireplace. Hermione and Ron already arguing about which of them had it the worst during the mission, whilst Harry tried to get as much information out of Remus as he could.

“And then what?” Harry asked, following Remus through the fireplace, before they both stumbled out at the other end, almost falling over each other.

“You know, you could have waited a moment before following me through the Floo,” Remus replied amiably. “So once we got in there, Ron and I basically shut down the magic within the house and Portkeyed out. We had the boring bit, I suppose.”

“So what? Everyone else just scrambled about in the dark for a bit?” Harry asked dubiously.

“Pretty much, since no one could conjure magic since there was none, and most wizards don’t have candles close to hand for just such an emergency,” Remus told him.

“But how can you shut off the magic in a house?” Harry pressed. Remus sighed and rolled his eyes as he sat down at the kitchen table.

“If I’m going to spend the next hour or so explaining magical theory to you, you would do well to start brewing some tea.” It was going to be a long hour for Remus.

Back at Hogwarts, Minerva left the Hospital Wing some time later, after ensuring that Bill, Kingsley and Mad Eye were fine. In fact, they were more than fine, and she had left them shouting at Poppy, who in turn was shouting at them to keep their voices down or wake all the students. The students were all awake anyway; the entrance of three mysteriously injured visitors had the tendency to keep them more awake and interested than usual.

The Horcrux dangled from her hand by her side as she strode along the deserted corridors up to the seventh floor. The Room of Requirement was unused, for which she was thankful; she didn’t wish for the room to be discovered by any Weasley twin-wannabes. She walked back and forth three times, and entered.

The room which greeted her was almost unsettlingly similar to that which had been inside Malfoy Manor, though she would never know it, at least not now that the house had very recently collapsed. The walls were the same bright white, reflecting all the magic within back upon itself. It magnified its strength, but it prevented any from leaking out into the Hogwarts building, which could only be a good thing for the school.

In the centre of the room, upon a stone table, lay the locket Horcrux. Minerva carefully placed the cup next to it and, not wanting to hang around such dark objects, vacated the room quickly.

She took a deep breath and sat down outside the room. That was two they had in their possession; two had already been destroyed in that which burnt Dumbledore’s hand so badly, and Riddle’s diary; Snape had seen to Nagini, and Harry had felt that, though it appeared that Voldemort had not yet. That left Riddle house.

And then Voldemort himself.

She breathed in deeply once more and got to her feet. They had not much time now. Not now that two Horcruxes were in their possession. Voldemort would grow suspicious and check on them, and soon enough he would realise that they were missing. And he would know where to come looking for them.

They would begin brewing the potion tomorrow, she decided. That done, she knew that there would be little else they could do, until it had been made, that was. Perhaps sending Snape a thank you note and some flowers. The idea of Snape’s face upon the receipt of such a gift made her smile slightly in spite of herself and the situation they were in.


Chapter 19: A Burst Of Light And Hope
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Chapter Nineteen


“This is the second most complex potion I’ve ever encountered,” Mad Eye said as he walked menacingly around the room. Kingsley rolled his eyes and glanced quickly around the room, ready to silence any of them who dared to ask what the first was. Thankfully, it appeared that their lessons had been learnt; everyone knew that to get Mad Eye talking on his past was almost akin to suicide. Death by boredom was not attractive.

“A lot can happen in three months,” Bill said thoughtfully, as he watched Mad Eye slink past him, and scowl slightly when he was not asked about his previous potions experience.

“At the same time, I don’t think I can think of a way to brew this any faster,” Minerva said. “At least not safely.”

“Then we have no other choice, and there is little point in discussing the matter further,” Remus said. “We’ll start brewing the potion today. Then we can focus on keeping an eye on Voldemort, and his actions.”

“And you three,” Mad Eye said, turning to Harry, Ron and Hermione, “can get a head start on your NEWT revision.” He grinned evilly at the collective groan that filled the room, along with several dark mutterings.

It was for that reason that anyone who wanted to find Harry, Ron or Hermione had to look no further than the library in Grimmauld Place. There they could find Harry idly charming books around the room, Ron hexing anything he could and Hermione glancing through some of the darker texts her eyes had found lurking in the corners.

“This is ridiculous,” Ron scowled as he blew a small hole in the wall, “no one else has to sit about revising for exams which aren’t for another three months, or learning magic which doesn’t apply to real life, or…”

“What would you rather be doing, Ronald?” Hermione scowled as she brushed fragments of the ceiling out of her hair; Ron’s last shot had been a little higher than he had intended.

“Anything!” Ron scowled and flung his wand across the room. “How about brewing that potion, for starters!”

Hermione opened her mouth to argue and Harry sighed inwardly as he got to his feet. He had been present at all too many of their arguments in the past to want anything to do with another of them. Silently, he slunk out of the room, unnoticed.

The door shut behind him, and a point was pressed against his neck. Harry turned sharply. A figure dressed all in white faced him, though what was most alarming, even with the wand tip jabbing into his neck, was the total lack of a real face. A white mask, moulded over the vaguest of features faced him, and nonexistent eyes watched his every move.

“Constant vigilance, Potter!” barked Mad Eye from behind him, striding down the landing to Harry. “If that had been a Death Eater, you’d have hit the floor five seconds ago.”

“But it wasn’t a Death Eater, and if it was then I don’t think I’d have spent a good couple of seconds looking for eyes,” Harry replied dryly. “What on earth is this thing?”

He moved as if to walk towards Mad Eye and a beam of red light shot out of the wand at his neck. Harry flung himself to the side just in time to avoid the shot, and had his wand out in an instant to defend himself against his mysterious assailant.

“Effective, wouldn’t you agree?” Mad Eye grinned. “Deactivate.” Instantly the white figure slumped against the wall to the side of it, sliding slowly down the walls. Harry wondered whether Molly had seen it; she generally didn’t approve of things that trailed along walls, or had any kind of destructive influence upon the house. This figure not only had the potential of blowing sizable holes in walls and people, but slid down walls when turned off.

“Seriously, what is it?” Harry asked, watching the lifeless figure warily. “That thing could have killed me.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Do you honestly think I’d program any kind of magical being to cast the Unforgivables?” Mad Eye demanded. Harry raised an eyebrow slightly but Mad Eye either didn’t notice, or he pretended not to and continued, “It’s a fighting figure.”

“A fighting figure?” Harry repeated. “So you just program the thing to fight, and that’s all it’ll do?”

“Pretty much, though Remus said he managed to make one help him move house once,” Mad Eye said, “though the time it would have taken to charm that, it’d have been quicker to move the stuff himself.”

Harry glanced back at the figure on the floor. It was only now that he could have a closer look at it without fearing attack that he noticed it was of exactly the same build as himself. It even seemed to have a similar facial structure, though it lacked the more distinct features of himself. It had clearly been made to suit an opponent for himself, which made him wonder when Mad Eye had the chance to create magic which seemed so complex.

“Today’s lesson, I suppose?” Harry asked. Mad Eye nodded and shortly the two of them were in the attic. The room had clearly been expanded internally using a plethora of spells to ensure that they had the safe magical atmosphere that Mad Eye wanted. And so that the rest of the house was suitably protected from their magic, should it go awry as it often did.

“There are two spells used to create the fighting figure, as you’ve seen it. The first is a transfiguration spell, which is simple enough in itself, once you’ve a figure to take the model from,” Mad Eye said grimly. “The second part is a little trickier. Bringing something like that to life, with only the desire to maim. It’s verging on dark magic. Of course, you choose the spells which it can cast, and the skill of its fighting. But just imagine… hundreds of fighters like that. All trained in the dark arts. All advancing towards you. What do you do then?”

The silence that filled the room was heavy, and Harry felt a strange feeling of dread twisting in his stomach. He had the urge to run to the window and stare out, hoping against hope that he wouldn’t see such an army advancing on their already well-protected house.

“How else do you think that the Inferi are brought to life? It’s not true life, no one can give the gift of true life,” Mad Eye said, with a hint of wistfulness that touched his gruff voice for an instant, but then it was gone. “The animation which is given to the Inferi, or in this case, the fighter, is chosen by the wizard who charms it. It’s a strong spell, and it must only be used under the most intense concentration. You need to mould, in your mind, the entire personality of that single fighter. The entire reason for their fighting, how they fight, with what weapons they fight, the level of their skill. Everything. It takes time to mould the perfect fighter, and it is for this reason that mastering such a skill is difficult beyond measure.”

“But if I can manage this…?”

“Then you can control anything, and almost anyone, in the world,” Mad Eye said quietly. “This is one of the fundamentals of an effective use of the Imperious curse. If you can give someone reason enough to act a certain way, and implant it into their mind, they won’t want to fight the spell they’re under. Or worse still, they won’t realise that they act the way they do because of a spell.”

Harry glanced back at the figure on the floor. Suddenly he felt less compelled to create such a creature. Even if he could train it to fight himself, to keep him duelling well and duelling fiercely also. He’d need those skills if he ever made it to Voldemort, though it probably wouldn’t help if his own fighter killed him first.

“All right then,” Mad Eye said, pulling out his wand. “Let’s get started.”

*


The centre of the town was silent. Unsettlingly so. The fog had rolled in once more, which was a clear sign to the magical populace to stay indoors, wands at the ready. They had all been aware of the last time such a fog had rolled in, it had been a very short space of time before their own fears followed. The Dementors were never far away, and as the magical population remained indoors, the Muggle ones did too, not desiring to enter the deserted streets.

Shadows crept silently around the edges of vision, fleeting silhouettes across a silent street but there were few at the windows to see them. Most windows had been blocked by magic, the community being one widely of magical heritage, and not wont to letting others see into their home. They huddled in their houses, near routes of escape, wands clutched tightly, and fear twisting around their hearts. There was no happiness here to attract the Dementors, but it didn’t matter; they hadn’t come of their own free will to satisfy themselves, they were there of someone else’s orders. They were there simply to search and destroy.

The Dementors were entering the town.

Behind them, far behind them, several figures slunk around the outskirts, watching and waiting to pick up the pieces. The Dementors were incapable of killing, after all, but humans were not. Once driven mad by their fears, and their souls stolen from within them, the whole town would be disposed of. Every man, woman and child.

Eerie fingers brushed over spellbound wood. There was a soft screeching resistance from the wood itself as the Dementor broke in. Not by force, nor by magic containing such, but by magic in its purest and darkest form. It was said that Dementors could not kill, and indeed they could not, but the power to do so was within them, and it would be only too easy to unleash. The darkness upon which they fed manifested itself within each of them, and as their fingers brushed over any resistance they found, so the magic devoured it and made it into more darkness than before.

The door crumbled, turning first to dust, and then twisting into the darkness which had released it. From within the house, screams were heard and people fled the house into the streets. Two young women raced out into the road, screaming for help, for anyone to go to them. The houses along each wall remained silent, unlit and apparently unoccupied. No one went to them. No assistance was given to them as the Dementors closed in, and the Death Eaters watched from not too far away.

In the houses close by, the screams pierced their hearts, and the younger children fought to get to the windows, to see the commotion outside. Each moment that passed was one of driving agony as the soft scratching, crumbling sound filled the air – door after door being broken down, and the hungry Dementors filing inside. The community was filled with families, ones who would not and could not leave the others behind. Each of them petrified with fear and none of them prepared.

Only in each of their deepest nightmares had they dreamt such a thing would occur. Never had they seen such a swarm of Dementors as they saw that day, before their own terrors swept over their vision. Few felt their own end, their own fright and the images which accompanied them filling their sight, tearing at their minds.

Few, but not none. A single man ran from his home, abandoning the silent halls as the front door crumbled. He sprinted out into the streets, finding no one and nothing. All the Dementors were hidden inside the homes of others, screams now filled the air, sending shivers down the spine of the only one sane enough to hear them. The only one with a soul in his body. The doorways which had been broken away into the darkness were dim, even in the dinginess which had been brought about to begin with. The Dementors turned all they touched to darkness, killing the light slowly as they gained more power and, one by one, the houses became dark and silent inside.

The silence filled the streets and the lone man clutched his wand tightly, aware of the prickling on his neck, and the way his fingers shook. There were others there, men who had accompanied the Dementors, but there was nothing he would do to them, nor them to him. To announce themselves would be to announce themselves to the Dementors. To risk their own lives. No, they presented no threat until he tried to escape. But escape was not an option; surrounded by Death Eaters and Dementors. There was no hope for him.

Even as the total silence descended upon him, covering the small town like a blanket, the lone man felt them coming, saw his own end. One by one, the utter darkness surrounding each doorway was broken by a figure leaving the house. A Dementor. They closed in on him steadily, and yet he did not run. He showed no sign of fear, and it was only when the closest of them was an arm’s length away that he raised his wand.

His last words echoed through the air. “Expecto Patronum!” A burst of light and hope flared up, lighting the deserted town for a moment, before total blackness descended, and the bounding figure faded away into both darkness and distance, racing to its destination, even as its castor faded from life.

*


The lone Patronus was almost faded from existence when it came to a halt in its location. At the feet of one Minerva McGonagall. Her fingers reached out, gently into the very fabric of it, listening to the message it delivered, and seeing the images it gave. Her fingers shook slightly as they dropped to her side, and the Patronus, having done its duty, faded as entirely as its castor.

Minerva stared out at more than three dozen solemn faces. They had gathered in the Great Hall of the school, during the middle of the night, just to speak. Just to gather together those who were known to fight, who would fight until the last and give all that they had to ensure that light would prevail. And to ensure that the memory of those who had done as such would never be forgotten.

They had been originally the minions of Albus Dumbledore, and they had passed on from him to her. They were just as loyal but not quite as young as once they had been. Others had joined their ranks where some had not been so lucky. Though they had been replaced, no one forgot those who had been lost, and none ever would be. They themselves and the work which they did were a standing tribute for those who could not make it, due to weakness, to unluckiness, or to pure sacrifice for others. They were the nameless faces, forgotten as the limelight passed onto the truly heroic, each of them committing feats of bravery in their own way, each of them fighting for causes just as noble as the highest and the most famous. They were not Harry Potter, nor were they Albus Dumbledore, but they were brave and noble, intelligent and loyal, and they would fight for each and every person who could not fight for himself.

“It has begun,” said Minerva softly into the silence which smothered the group. It was not the eerie silence which had been present at the town hundreds of miles from Hogwarts, but a silence of anticipation, of mingled fear and resolve. “This night, a town was attacked. Dementors took every single person who hid within the walls of their home, and of one who tried to escape. Voldemort is no longer in hiding.”

The fear and resolve strengthened in each of them at this. They looked to each other, they held hands, clutched at each other, clutched at straws in the semi darkness, in the total silence. Not everyone could be their best in times of fright and stress, not everyone could hide their home and their family under the Fidelius charm, though they tried for the sake of those they loved. They could only fight in every way they could to ensure that they got though this, or as far through as possible.

“He will break out soon, there will not be much time before he roams the streets with those he commands, destroying all he passes. One town has fallen into the darkness this night, in more than one sense,” she continued. Things were becoming too real, too fast, once again. They weren’t prepared for the onslaught that was inevitable, and those who fought in secrecy, brewing potions of ultimate destruction and plotting one final theft were not either.

“Every magical being will be involved in this war, everyone who can fight will do so, in whatever way they can. You are the people who give the most in such a war, and the people who receive the least recognition. You give your lives, your souls, you families, you fought last time with everything you had to give, and you were rewarded with light.

“Now that darkness is looming once more, I ask of you, nay, I beg of you to give what you once did for the continuity of the light. Voldemort and his minions are closing in, and you are the only ones who can keep it at bay. It will spread all too fast, but as darkness, suspicion and fear spread, hope, faith and the light you can bring will do the same. Protect the Wizarding world, as once you did, and have faith that the world you love will remain together forever more.”

She fell silent, her own emotions too strong to fully hide. Her audience remained grave and quiet. Moments passed, and the hush was broken: Arthur Weasley got to his feet and began to clap. Several more followed suit, and Minerva couldn’t hide her smile as Weasleys, Bones, McKinnons and Browns joined in. Tonks, Dedalus, Elphias Doge, Aberforth, Arabella Figg, Hagrid, Mundungus and Hestia did the same. Few of the Order were missing, excepting those involved with the Horcruxes, and all who were present felt renewed, rejuvenated, and ready for their next battle.


Chapter 20: To Trust A Malfoy
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He could feel the eyes burning into the back of his neck. They were staring at him, fixated on him, and he didn’t like it, not one bit. He was rarely under so much scrutiny, indeed, no one had been under that much of an intense examination since Nagini had mysteriously disappeared. Not died, not had her soul removed, but disappeared entirely. No one had seen her since, and some of the younger Death Eaters had suffered for it greatly, one had even lost his life. Of course, none of them had anything to do with it…

Severus left the room quickly, though he was careful not to appear hasty or as if he had any particular desire to leave the presence of the Dark Lord. He wasn’t sure why he acted such; if people wished to stay about Voldemort, then Voldemort himself would have been rather displeased, and would have put more effort into becoming a more terrifying being. It was easier for everyone just to keep away from him as much as possible. That way, fewer people died.

Perhaps Voldemort was beginning to question the mysterious disappearance of his snake yet more vigilantly. There was no way that such a thing could just leave him, and Severus was aware that his master had tried every single spell he could to find her, and he had resulted with nothing. She had disappeared entirely. Or been destroyed entirely. Only one of those closest to him could have committed such an act, and Severus was aware that he was simultaneously both one of the closest and one of the least trusted.

He reached the door before he realised that something was wrong. He was turned by a magical force stronger than he, and he found himself facing Voldemort, looming over him as always. Several Death Eaters were stood to the sides, and he realised that he had found himself unwittingly in the midst of an investigation. This was not going to be pleasant.

It was almost an hour later that Draco Malfoy left the large chamber in which the Dark Lord was sitting. The unconscious form of Severus Snape lay sprawled on the cold stone, living, but just. The investigation had been of no use to anyone, except to vent Voldemort’s frustrations out on yet another innocent bystander, or as innocent as any of the Death Eaters got in any case.

Malfoy stalked confidently out of the room, his heart thudding unpleasantly as he reached the door, afraid that he would turn and find himself in his own inquisition, but he did not. He was not close enough to have been under suspicion of something so bizarre as to entirely destroy all evidence that Voldemort’s snake existed. How or why someone would do such a thing, he could only guess, though some of them were closer to the mark than he would ever have dreamt.

He left the fortress and Apparated back into Muggle London, wandering the streets as easily and as inconspicuously as if he was one of them. Not even a Wizard, let alone a Malfoy. He was careful, knowing that his moves were being monitored routinely by some of the more senior Death Eaters. Still, he was one in the inner circle. He was a Malfoy, and a more trustworthy one, so he had little to fear.

The four who had been following him were easily lost in Knockturn Alley, and he Apparated into Hogsmeade the moment he had the chance. He had taken to drinking a lot lately, something which was common knowledge amongst his Death Eater peers, and so it was not considered abnormal for him to walk into the Hog’s Head during the afternoon.

He nodded shortly at the bearded man behind the bar and walked quickly up the stairs and into the back room. She was already there, waiting for him, as usual.

“Good afternoon,” Minerva said briskly as he sat on the opposite side of the small table. “I trust all is well?”

“Reasonably so,” Draco replied, “though he seems to be investigating the loss of Nagini more closely at the moment. Snape just spent an hour being scrutinised.”

Minerva couldn’t help but wince before she went on to question her spy more closely. She wished that someone else could do this for her, but Malfoy had refused to meet anyone but her, which naturally had brought about some initial mistrust on the part of everyone else. Still, despite that, he gave the Order some very helpful advice and knowledge, without which many of them could have died.

“I don’t care if he is currently being particularly useful to us,” Mad Eye growled over lunch later that day, “I know he’s going to do something. He’s just building our trust in him and then when we least expect it…” He slammed a fist into his ham and cheese sandwich, causing frowns from Molly, two seats down.

“He honestly has done nothing to help us so far, Alastor, therefore we can do nothing but trust him until he breaches that trust,” Minerva sighed. Her meeting with Draco had not borne much fruit that day, only to serve as a reminder that Voldemort had not forgotten what had happened to Nagini, even if he wasn’t sure precisely what. “I am not going to welcome him with open arms into the Order. He will not be brought to Head Quarters, and nor should he expect to be.”

The room fell silent except for the clatter of knives and forks, or the moving of glasses. The stress of the impending war was getting to them all. Each day the Prophet brought word of more people being killed or simply disappearing and the Dark Mark left hovering over their homes. Each day the Prophet asked, where was the Order of the Phoenix, which had protected them so valiantly in times gone by? Had it disappeared with its leader, Albus Dumbledore?

“There was one more thing which Draco told me of today,” Minerva said quietly, lowering her voice. Upstairs thuds and the occasional crash could be heard; Harry was tutoring Ron and Hermione further in duelling, a subject which he had proven particularly apt at. “There is going to be a raid on the Ministry. One week today. The date has been set, and Voldemort knows that the veil contains some considerable amount of power. He wants to acquire it and somehow wield it.”

The room fell into the same eerie silence as before and a chill ran through them. How many Death Eaters would be there, and could they outnumber them all, or at least hold them off enough to get close enough to Voldemort to prevent him taking the power he craved?

“Draco informs me that the highest of the high in Voldemort’s ranks are likely to be present. They do not want the operation to go wrong, not this time,” Minerva said, as if reading their thoughts.

“Who do you want there?” Kingsley asked, his lunch long since forgotten on his plate.

“We need a few people to hold down the fort here. And at Hogwarts. I will need everyone involved. If such a large scale operation is to take place on their part, the same goes for us. We need to be prepared. We need to be able to hold of Voldemort using whatever means available to us,” she sighed. Her years were catching up on her, and she felt older now than she could ever remember feeling.

“Obviously not everyone is suited to the raging battles at the Ministry which we can expect,” Minerva continued. “Molly, I ask that you hold down the fort here. You and Poppy will be dealing with the injured. I expect that Miss Granger will only be too happy to assist.

“Bill, as public appearance is likely to result in your arrest, and as you, Remus, are still too ill to fight to your full standard, I ask that the two of you remain at Hogwarts together and keep an eye on things there with Hagrid. I know you’re being left out a lot, Bill, but there’s nothing I can do about that. You do not want to be arrested and sent to Azkaban. That is the last thing we need from you right now.

“Everyone else able to fight, I want at the Ministry. Some people will be there during the day, and we’ll be sneaking them in as the day progresses, if possible. As soon as the main strike occurs then I want to have about half our number already inside, and the other half ready to go in. When the Dark Mark flies, I want the Phoenix next to it. Do I make myself clear?”

“Crystal,” Mad Eye said, almost cheerfully. It had been quite a while until he had taken part in a good solid fight, surrounded by the enemy and with the thrill of fighting for one’s life. There was still a month left for the potion to be fully brewed and therefore fully able to destroy a Horcrux safely. There had been little to do in the past two months but watch the death count steadily climbing and training the younger ones…

“Actually,” said Tonks, having had the same idea as Mad Eye, “what about the kids? What about Harry and Ron, if Hermione's helping with ‘holding down the fort here’?”

“Ron can go to Hogwarts with Bill and Remus,” Minerva said slowly and glanced around at the table. That wasn’t what they were concerned about, what was she going to do about Harry?

“Harry is staying here, of course,” Molly said. “You don’t expect him to go to the Ministry again, after what happened the last time he was there.”

“I expect Harry to do as I ask,” Minerva said softly. “Voldemort must be kept away from the veil. If that means drawing him into other parts of the building using whatever means necessary then that’s what’s going to happen.

“Harry will be by his own prophecy once again. He will remain there in order that Voldemort might go to him instead of to his power source. He will be in the Department of Mysteries next week.”

Stunned silence filled the room before an outbreak of cries devoured it.

“Not a chance, Minerva, that boy is not going to the Department,” Mad Eye growled.

“He’s not ready!”

“He can’t face Voldemort yet!”

“He’ll be killed by the Death Eaters.”

“Silence!” Minerva shouted over the commotion. She got what she asked for. In the hush, it dawned on them suddenly that the thuds from above had stopped. The door had not been locked; it was only lunch, and no silencing wards had been placed around the room. Mad Eye glanced up to see Ron and Hermione staring at the floor. Harry was sitting calmly against the wall near Ron and Hermione. He looked resigned to his fate.

“Harry will do as I ask, and so will you all,” Minerva repeated and left the room through the fireplace. No one heard her destination.

Discussion broke out amongst those in the kitchen, mostly stunned and disbelieving of Minerva. She cared about Harry as much as everyone else, and yet she could put him in such evident danger. It was beyond comprehension. Mad Eye watched as Harry left the room upstairs and went to his own simplistic bedroom. He glanced at Remus, who was watching him, or more precisely, his magical eye, and mouthed ‘his room’.

Remus nodded his thanks to Mad Eye as he left the room unnoticed in the hubbub, which had yet to subside. Upstairs, Remus could hear shouting from one of the rooms being used as a temporary Defence Against the Dark Arts room, and by the sounds of it, Ron and Hermione were in there. That meant that Harry would hopefully be alone when he entered.

He knocked once and entered the room to find Harry lying on his bed, staring up at the ceiling. His wand was moving slowly and Remus realised that he was charming it to do something, but in such an early stage, it was difficult to see quite what it was that he was doing.

“Harry?” Remus asked, sitting down on the edge of his bed. It felt odd to be inside the room that had once belonged to Sirius. Now it was barely recognisable, Harry had taken to changing so much around. Still, there was something of Sirius in the room, though Remus couldn’t quite put his finger on just what it was.

“I thought Minerva was quite strict on security and having everything on a need to know basis?” Harry asked with a slight hint of amusement in his voice. Remus didn’t quite know what to say to that so he contented himself with glancing around the room that he had helped to clear out at the beginning of the year. So many months ago, and so much had happened since then. Even from Harry’s room on the other side of the house they could hear the shouting caused by the other members of the house hold. Hermione was shouting further down the corridor and downstairs Mad Eye had taken to bawling at everyone within earshot.

“You’re not bothered that you’ll be going into the Department with everyone?” Remus asked quietly. That was what he was there to ask; if it turned out that Harry was very much opposed to going in with the Aurors and those deemed physically able to fight then he would argue with Minerva. It was not something he wanted to do particularly, but at the same time, he had no desire to wait about the castle whilst Harry was killed.

Harry glanced up at the man with whom he sat and noticed how tired he seemed. The full moon had only been the night before and Harry was sure that it must be a chore simply to move about the house, yet he did. He managed somehow to stay awake, to stay alert despite his evident exhaustion. For the first time he had spent alone with Remus that year, Harry began to wonder just how much time he had left in him, and how much life he could still continue to live with his condition. Suddenly he wished more than anything that someone could find a cure, find some way to ensure that Remus could live a normal life, but it was not to be… he knew it was not. Just as Remus was surely resigned to his condition and his early fate, Harry would be resigned to doing whatever he could to help the Order and those whom the Order were sworn to protect.

“I don’t mind going,” Harry answered, eventually. “I suppose that if they need a diversion to keep Voldemort away from whatever power he thinks that he can gain from the veil then I’m the most suitable choice.”

“You don’t have to do this,” Remus said quietly. “There are many of us who can persuade Minerva to do otherwise. I can be particularly persuasive when I need to be.”

“I know,” Harry said, with a slight smile. He remembered just how persuasive Remus had been in making him accept the assistance of the Order in finding the Horcruxes. Though not everyone was involved, he was very glad of their assistance. He didn’t know what he would have done without them. “I remember how persuasive you can be.”

Remus smiled in spite of himself. In spite of the fact that Harry was going to walk into the Department of Mysteries in one week’s time, and might not walk back out again.

“I just hope that you’ll be careful, Harry,” Remus sighed and rose slowly, with the intention of leaving. He looked as if each movement he made caused him an unbelievable amount of pain.

“Going already?” Harry asked. “I was hoping for whatever Charms expertise you may have to help me do some interesting magical damage to this ceiling.”

And it was for that reason that Remus spent a good portion of his afternoon sitting about with Harry, seeing what interesting spells he could cast, or teach Harry to cast, on the ceiling, changing it in a few interesting ways, and a few that were frankly dangerous to anyone on either side of it. Neither of them knew how much time was left in the other, so they remained together at least for a while longer. Harry occasionally asking for stories about his parents and Sirius in between spells. All in all, it was an enjoyable afternoon, probably one of their last. At least together.


Chapter 21: Beyond Suspicion
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He awoke in a scene so familiar to him it was almost as if he had wandered back into his past. He was expecting to hear the babbling concerns of the students nearby, inquiring as to the state of their friends, who had managed to badly burn an arm in a Potions mêlée.

First one eye, and then the other, they opened to allow the light to stream in. He shut them again instantly. He was certainly in the Hospital Wing; he could hear Madam Pomfrey wandering about, ordering children out, telling more stubborn ones to get back in bed. He wondered where he was, to be with them, yet not quite amongst them.

Severus opened his eyes again and stared round him. He dimly recognised his surroundings as part of the Hospital Wing which was usually reserved for the staff who may have fallen ill. Madam Pomfrey wandered in, took his temperature, told him to lie down and go back to sleep.

It was so much like being back at the school that he really didn’t want to fight her, but something was dreadfully wrong. He was in Hogwarts once again, but the last he remembered was being within Azkaban, and the pain. So much pain. How could he have come to be inside Hogwarts, and inside the Hospital Wing. Only Potter and a select few members of the Order would know that he was not the murderous traitor he had pretended to be so why would he be in Hogwarts hospital…?

Sad sickening thoughts filled him and he sighed miserably as he realised where he was and what was going on. This was all an elaborate trick. It had to be; there was no other way that he could enter the Hospital Wing. There was no way that Minerva would have allowed it, even if she did trust him, somewhat. There was only Harry who would, only Harry who would trust him not to murder them all.

Minerva walked into the room. It was exactly as he had expected. The questioning begun. The woman asked him questions about what was going on with Voldemort, asking about the prophecy, and in short, trying to gain as much information from him as she could. He held back, withholding anything and everything that he could. Admitting nothing, and denying everything.

By degrees, the Hospital image began to fade, and he heard the cold laughter he had come to resent from somewhere close by. He didn’t know whether he had passed or failed his latest test, but as magically inflicted sleep closed in, he found that he really didn’t care.

When he woke up some hours later inside his own quarters within the prison he began to realise that he must have passed whatever test it was that had been thrown so unexpectedly upon him. It had been the most elaborate so far, though one put upon Draco Malfoy had been interestingly intricate, but had failed to reveal much; he appeared as loyal as Severus did.

However, just because he had passed the latest test did not mean that he was beyond suspicion. On the contrary, it might mean that he was still under scrutiny. All he knew was that he wanted to get out of there as soon as possible. Ideally he wanted to get close enough to Potter again to exchange a few words but that wasn’t likely. Not if he was still inside Grimmauld Place and Hogwarts, though the latter might be possible to enter if a particularly effective distraction were to take place.

It was almost as if his iron-clad thoughts had been forced into. Moments later, an owl brought him a letter. It informed him in no uncertain words that there was to be an attack on the Ministry that night. For the first time it occurred to Severus that he might have been unconscious for days; it was not like the Dark Lord to decide upon attacks in an instant. He was one to think things over, and clearly this was not a spur of the moment decision. He supposed that he would just have to wait until the night and see what role he was to play that evening.

As it turned out, it wasn’t just the Order who had been sneaking people inside the Ministry for the evening, but Voldemort had been also. That meant by the evening came and darkness began to descend upon the country, there were almost fifty people wandering about the Ministry who were not meant to be there. The majority of whom were members of the Order, but almost ten of them were Death Eaters who had been placed inside to keep an eye on the goings on. Thankfully they couldn’t recognise a single member of the Order, despite mingling with them for hours at a time.

Bill and Ron left via the fireplace to Hogwarts, Remus taking a moment to wish Harry luck before he followed them through. The rest of them who would be going to the Ministry would be leaving in stages. Harry would be entering the building with Mad Eye, who would remain with him for the rest of the evening. Thankfully, this time Minerva had chosen the activation words for the Portkeys that the two of them would be using. They wouldn’t be disappearing during the night because Mad Eye had picked the most unlikely words at the time.

Harry watched as most of the people gathered in the room steadily disappeared until those that remained were only he and Moody. Finally, as the clock struck ten, it was time for the two of them to leave.

He wasn’t quite sure what he was expecting when he arrived there, perhaps a massacre, but he wasn’t expecting a silent building. There was barely any movement anywhere. At all. The halls and corridors were all silent, except for the occasional scuffling of feet.

“The battle isn’t down here,” Mad Eye told him, as they entered the Department of Mysteries and navigated easily to the rows and rows of prophecies that lined the walls and shelves of one vast room. “We’re here to attract Voldemort, if possible, and everyone else is fighting up in the rest of the building. More people are pouring in as we speak.”

“So it’ll just be the two of us and Voldemort?” Harry asked uncertainly. “What then?”

“There are about a dozen Aurors surrounding the room,” Mad Eye muttered, his voice barely audible even in the silent room. “Should Voldemort come wandering down this way, he’ll come alone. So it’ll be us, Aurors and Voldemort, and once he appears the two of us are out of here. We’re not risking you if we can help it…”

“Right,” Harry murmured. He could feel his heart beat beginning to quicken at the idea of facing Voldemort again. It had happened too many times in the past for him to feel anything other than fear now. The two of them walked around the room, occasionally speaking of neutral topics, but the silence began to stretch out as time went on. It was only when there was a particularly loud crash above that the two of them were on their guard.

The doors to the sides flung open and Voldemort strode confidently through the door. Wands were drawn and then, unexpectedly, Death Eaters flooded the room. Everyone had thought, from Voldemort’s past shows of pride, that he would want to face Harry alone. Unless he had known about the Aurors lining the room, which was entirely possible, he would not have arrived there with so many Death Eaters that night.

Then the fighting broke out. Voldemort seemed to have no desire to fight anyone himself just yet. He seemed content to watch Harry struggling against various Death Eaters with whom he was forced to duel. He had no chance to reach for the Portkey which hung inside his robes, and Mad Eye couldn’t stay close enough to him to protect him. The Aurors were all busy fighting desperately and more people ran into the room by the minute. Many of them were Order members who Harry had met, some he didn’t know, and some were close friends.

It was only when he had been hit by several curses and had lost part of his left arm to a redactor curse which had flown astray that Harry finally had chance to reach for his Portkey. He watched across the room as Mad Eye reached for his own Portkey at the same time and disappeared. Suddenly, from behind him, Harry felt someone grip onto him tightly and thrust something into his hand. Even as his own Portkey took effect, the other one did also. There was a strong battle of magic, and his own lost. He had no idea where he was going. All he knew was that someone was going with him.

It appeared that only Harry had been aware of his own disappearance however. When Mad Eye landed on solid ground in the kitchen of Grimmauld Place, his first instinct was to stare around for Harry. He wasn’t there. Minerva had set the Portkeys at the same time to go to the same location. Harry had reached for his and he had touched it, and then Mad Eye had seen no more. Unless more magic interfered with Harry’s Portkey then he should be there… Which meant something had happened.

Mad Eye growled and set his Portkey again, before he stepped through the fireplace and returned to the Ministry. This time the scene which met him was not the silent one which he and Harry had first found. There were people littering the floor, most of whom wearing Death Eater masks. Flashes of light, screams, and curses filled the air. He held his wand at the ready and ran back into the madness which gathered anywhere Voldemort walked.

The room was filled with people now. Most of them lying on the floor on top of one another as they tried to fight their way back up. The Order was clearly winning. The Death Eaters were falling back but Voldemort didn’t seem to care. At this point he had begun to wander aimlessly around the room, occasionally hexing or cursing one or two people. It was clear that the reason he had been there that night was to get hold of Harry, and no one was entirely sure whether he had managed to do so or not.

And suddenly Voldemort was leaving. Stalking quickly out of the room and the remaining Aurors scrambled to their feet and ran after him, spells shooting in all directions. The only ones that remained in the room were Mad Eye and the Death Eaters that had been a little too careless, lying on the floor, injured or worse.

There was no sign of Harry anywhere, and for the first time since Mad Eye had been out in a battle scene, he began to worry. Worry about what had happened to the boy he had been sworn to protect. It wasn’t so much that the order would tear him apart when he got home, but the knowledge that he was their only real hope. Part of him also felt an odd sort of emotion, as if he was somehow attached to Harry, as if he cared about the welfare of another human being. He pushed it away; Mad Eye didn’t care about anyone. He worked alone when possible. It was only the Order that kept him after Harry, and the last thing that he wanted to do would be to return to the house without him.

Two hours later, everything was over. Voldemort had been too strongly overpowered near the veil by thirty Aurors and members of the Order, and his own forces had dwindled to the point where he could not even think of overcoming them. No Death Eaters remained in the building to be identified; all had been removed somehow by Voldemort. Those who had been injured were being taken to St. Mungo’s, or to Grimmauld Place, if they were a member of the Order.

Mad Eye was the last to leave the building, after scouring every room for a sign of Harry. But he found none. It seemed that after he had reached for his Portkey, Harry had disappeared, and no one knew to where. The only option left was that someone else had interfered with his Portkey as he took off, meaning that he could have been anywhere.

He sighed and touched his own Portkey. “Table cloth,” he mumbled into the darkness as he disappeared.

“I’m so glad that you’re all right,” Molly cried as he landed in the kitchen. She had embraced someone tightly, and it appeared that whoever it was couldn’t breathe.

“So tell us all about it,” said Ron to whomever was being suffocated by Molly. Hermione stood behind him. Molly pulled away.

Harry stood in the kitchen, bloodied, tired, but nonetheless there, and alive. That begged the question, just how had he come to get there?

*


Back at Azkaban prison, Voldemort was pacing up and down the main chamber. Several of his inner circle had gathered to watch him do so, at the peril of their own lives. However, their forces had been so depleted that night that it seemed almost pointless for Voldemort to start killing his own men. That had never stopped him before, however.

Another one dropped to the floor. This one was standing right next to Draco before he’d fallen. Draco pressed his bandaged hands together, his eyes never leaving Voldemort in front of him. It had not been a particularly productive night, though the Dark Lord was keen to know just whom it had been to give them away.

“Someone in here informed the Order of my plans this evening,” Voldemort roared into the room. The Death Eaters gathered hid a collective compulsive shudder rather well. Still Draco did not move, still he stood as one amongst his equals. He was beyond suspicion. No one would ever know that he had been to Minerva a week ago to tell her of the news.

There was someone missing though. A slight gap where someone should have stood nearby, but closer to the Dark Lord. He wasn’t there; either he had chosen not to turn up, or he had been injured earlier on in the Department. But that could not have been right, Snape had not been sent to the most dangerous part of the Department that night. He had been a watchman, sent to ensure the Order would think nothing wrong when they arrived, and to alert the Death Eaters and Voldemort to any new arrivals.

It appeared that Voldemort had not yet realised that one of his nearest and dearest had not yet arrived, or had been too injured to turn up. But then Voldemort always knew which of them had been injured and would not be there that night. He usually announced it with a sense of disdain. He had not that night, which meant that he hadn’t yet realised that Snape wasn’t there. Draco hoped with a sudden zest that he had deserted; Voldemort would have a fit. And the man was quite clearly working for the Order, he still disappeared at intervals, rarely, but still did. Though at the same time, he had killed Dumbledore.

The idea of such a man deserting to the Order was an unlikely one, and yet, there could be no other reason for his not being there… But would he really go back to those who would hate him for the murder of their mentor?

Voldemort continued to pace, and then stopped abruptly. His alarming eyes scanned the crowd gathered around him. He spoke softly into the darkness but each and every single one of them gathered heard his words.

“Where is Severus Snape?”


Chapter 22: Meeting The Death Eaters
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Chapter Twenty-Two

Harry felt the man throw himself into him. He realised too late that the man was a Death Eater, and he pressed a Portkey of his own into his hand. His own Portkey pulled him home, towards Grimmauld Place, but the other was stronger and was taking him somewhere else entirely. He felt his own Portkey wrenched from his hand and himself thrown through space.

There was a distinct crack as he landed on the ground and a shot of pain up his left arm informed him that he’d broken it. Harry forced himself into a sitting position and examined his arm. It was clearly broken and incredibly painful to move. Next to him, lay a Death Eater, unconscious.

This was an odd situation, Harry found himself thinking. He had no idea what to do. He was sitting next to an unconscious Death Eater, with a broken arm, who had brought him to the gates of Hogwarts, during the midst of a battle at the Department of Mysteries. There was no way that wasn’t suspicious.

Using his one good arm, Harry ripped off the Death Eater’s hood and turned his face so that he could see the man who had brought him here.

Snape.

The one man he had no idea whether or not he could trust. Should he awaken him and demand to know what on earth he had been doing, or should he leave him there and enter Hogwarts alone? He knew that Remus, Bill and Ron were inside there. At the same time, if Snape wanted to enter with him… Hogwarts was a particularly picky castle. Harry had heard tales of dark witches and wizards unable to enter the grounds simply because Hogwarts would not allow it.

Harry sighed. “Ennervate.” He saw nothing else that he could have done.

Shuffling back slightly, Harry watched as the dishevelled Snape awoke and glared at him.

“Very smooth landing there, Potter,” Snape growled and sat up. He pulled out his wand and pointed it at Harry, who was beginning to think that waking Snape had been the wrong decision. Harry already had his wand pointed at Snape and several rather nasty curses on the tip of his tongue.

Snape smirked. “Don’t be a fool. I needn’t have brought you hundreds of miles just to kill you. Give me your arm, cretin.”

He waved his wand quickly over Harry’s arm, and it mended in an instant, leaving an odd tingly feeling running down it.

“Thanks,” Harry muttered.

“Now get me inside that castle,” Snape demanded.

Harry raised an eyebrow. “You really think I’m just going to happily walk in there with you? You don’t think that Hogwarts might prevent the person who killed its last headmaster from entering?”

“Potter, the castle knows damned well that I was acting upon Dumbledore’s orders that night. Even if you refuse to believe it, there is no denying the truth,” Snape snarled and hauled himself to his feet. “Hogwarts will not let anyone who is not a current student or member of staff within its boundaries without one of the aforementioned, however, so get up and get walking.”

“What do you intend to do once you’re in there? Why would you want to get back into Hogwarts?” Harry pushed.

Snape rolled his eyes. “Why do you think I want to get in there, Potter? The Dark Lord has taken a recent liking to torturing people he believes to have had anything to do with the not too recent disappearance of his beloved snake. He can’t get to me whilst I’m in there, so shut up and prevent more pain on my part!”

“So you managed to get rid of it then?” Harry asked as he got to his feet.

“Of course. Do you presume me entirely incompetent? Though the potion you sent me left much to be desired, I must say.” Snape walked towards the castle gates, ahead of Harry who trailed behind somewhat.

“What are you going to do once you’re inside?” Harry asked cautiously. “It is still term time, so the school’s still crawling with students.”

“I’m going to hide,” Snape announced. “You are going to provide shelter for me inside that school somewhere, I neither care where nor how, and I am not going to be found until I wish to do so. I will have access to the entire school, should I need it, and the ability to find Minerva McGonagall, should the need arise. In short, you’re going to protect me from Voldemort, which I know you love doing for people so much.”

Harry frowned slightly but did not object. He reached out and opened Hogwarts gates easily and passed through. Snape followed him, strongly expecting to be thrown back through the gates at any moment, but he wasn’t. The school trusted him.

It wasn’t every day that Harry was sneaking around his old school, followed by his most hated of professors from the past, whilst hiding from Remus Lupin and two of the Weasleys. Then there was the matter of avoiding Minerva herself, Filch, Mrs Norris, the prefects, any students who might be up and about, and of course, any other member of staff.

Somehow, the two of them managed to get up to the seventh floor without having been seen or chased by Mrs Norris. Though it had not been the easiest of tasks; more than once, Snape had almost got the two of the discovered by telling Harry just what he should have gone and where he should be going when someone was passing them.

“I hope you’re not planning on hiding me in Gryffindor Tower,” Snape sneered. “I fear I might stick out rather badly in there…”

“I know where I’m taking you,” Harry told him and walked on towards the Room of Requirement.

He managed to get a room for the past Potions master which would alter to what he needed it to be when he wanted it. It had no access to the Horcruxes stored in there, but the Horcruxes could be accessed by Minerva when she needed them. All in all, Harry thought he’d done some good requesting from the room.

“I don’t quite know how you’ve managed this, Potter, but it will suit my needs,” Snape said as he stepped inside the room which had been created, and the door disappeared into the wall behind them as they entered.

“What do you plan on doing now then?” Harry asked as he sat down on the edge of a chair.

“I plan on remaining well hidden, whilst avoiding morons such as yourself and developing some kind of strategy to keep you from being murdered the next time you meet the Dark Lord,” Snape said icily. “Your chances of staying alive are quite low at the moment. Alas, there are so many people we can throw between you and the Killing Curse, so I’d get thinking on how to stay alive, if I were you.”

“But the Horcruxes—” Harry began.

“—are not enough to kill him alone. Even if you destroy all but him, then you still have to kill Voldemort himself. Short of getting the entire Order to gather around him yelling ‘Avada Kedavra’ then you’re not going to get anywhere fast,” Severus said. “Now I suggest that you leave before I kill you first. You’re starting to get on my nerves…”

Harry rolled his eyes and walked out of the room without so much as a backwards glance. It wasn’t as if he’d expected reams of thanks from the man, in fact, if he’d actually thanked him Harry might have laughed hysterically for some time, but still… some kind of recognition or cease of hostilities might have been nice.

He walked quickly down the corridor until he heard a spell cast softly behind him and felt his feet fly out from under him. Harry couldn’t help but wonder why Snape was magically hauling him back down the corridor to his room, moments after he had told him to leave it.

“Get over here, Potter,” Snape hissed at him as the door slammed shut behind him. Harry sprawled on the floor in a daze, not quite understanding what was going on yet. “Now!”

He managed to stagger over to where Snape was standing. They were by an open window, one which Harry was sure had only materialised there because Snape wanted to see outside into the grounds. The waning moon lit the area well, and Harry could easily see the figure which stalked towards the castle with an arrogant gait a little too familiar to him.

“How did Malfoy get in here?” Harry muttered and glanced up at Snape.

“He’s a student, or should be. The fact that he left last year isn’t stopping him getting back in now, however,” Snape explained. “What is infinitely more pressing at the present is just what he wants at Hogwarts.”

“Well he’s clearly using what’s going on at the Department of Mysteries as some kind of decoy to get in here,” Harry said, “but there’s nothing in here that he could want, is there?”

Or was there? Malfoy had been inside his own home when it had been destroyed by several New Order members earlier in the year. He may well have known what had been stolen from them, even if he wasn’t aware quite what its significance was. The Hufflepuff cup was a Horcrux, though Harry was reasonably sure that the Malfoys would not have displayed it so prominently in their home had they known. Which meant that he was simply trying to regain what was previously his. Which was not going to happen.

“Your Occlumency well reflects the failure you are,” Snape said idly, as he watched Malfoy get closer to the castle. “Though that does seem like a good reason for Malfoy coming to the school. There’s just one fine point, if Voldemort realises that Malfoy was not inside the Department of Mysteries, which he will, then he will want to know why Malfoy was not there. When Malfoy cheerfully informs the Dark Lord that he was going after Hufflepuff’s cup, then Voldemort will realise that your Order are taking Horcruxes. He’ll realise that several of them have already gone, and that only one, aside from himself, will remain.

“Clearly, he’s going to protect that one all the more strongly, which means you’re going to have to get hold of it, and very, very quickly.”

“But the potion…” Harry reminded him.

“Has three weeks left of brewing, I know, but you can hold the Horcruxes safely in the castle until then. If you don’t then you’ll lose that one to Voldemort forever,” Snape told him. “Now what on earth are you waiting for? Get out there and tell Minerva that her school is about to be invaded by an irate Malfoy.”

As he spoke, a fireplace sidled over and stopped just by Harry. Floo powder sat on top of the mantelpiece. It was all as convenient as Harry could have wished it to be, and without a moment’s hesitation, he staggered through the flames into Minerva’s office, where he found Remus, Bill and the owner of the office.

“Harry!” Bill cried and leapt to his feet the moment he fell through the fireplace. The other two occupants of the room were fast to get to their own feet and cross the room to their new addition once they saw him.

“What are you doing here?” Remus asked, and cast an eye along Harry’s torn robes and the blood soaked arm, where he had lost part of it to a redactor curse. It was only then that Harry realised that Snape had healed that and any other wounds he had acquired also.

“Malfoy’s trying to get into the school,” Harry said, not bothering to answer Remus as he moved to the window. Sure enough, the four of them could see from there that Draco Malfoy had almost reached the main doors to the school and was intent on just walking straight in and finding what it was that had been taken from him.

“What do you think he wants?” Bill asked cautiously.

“The Horcrux,” Minerva answered instantly. “I want him prevented from entering the school, by Aurors preferably. Bill, get Tonks and Kingsley over here, or one of them at least if they’ve not all yet returned from the Ministry. Remus, make sure that Harry’s not been injured. I’m going down to meet Mr Malfoy with whichever other staff I can gather with me.”

And with that, she was gone. She left the room through the door, as Bill almost ran through the fireplace in his haste to get to Grimmauld Place.

“Really, Remus, I’m fine,” Harry sighed as Remus cast spells over him, checking for wounds, magically inflicted or otherwise. “I healed them myself.”

“Not particularly well though,” Remus said, turning over Harry’s previously broken arm. There were marks where the bone had jolted through the skin, which was likely to form an ugly scar. Just another one to add to the collection.

“I’m hardly a Healer,” Harry said with a slight smile. “Where’s Ron?” He had realised for the first time that Ron had been told to stay with Bill and Remus in the school. Yet there was no sign of him and Harry had not seen him since he arrived there.

“He was particularly displeased about not having been able to go to the Department of Mysteries with you,” Remus said slowly, choosing his words carefully. “There was some arguing and he was sent back to Grimmauld Place, which right now sounds like a good idea for the two of us.”

“Don’t you want to see what happens here?” Harry asked, peering through the window into the darkness. The front doors were closed, and there was no sign of Malfoy or any of the teaching staff.

“I’m not entirely sure, but if Minerva wants Aurors then I don’t want you here,” Remus said determinedly and pushed Harry towards the fireplace before he could say another word.

There was some arguing, on both their parts after that. Remus trying to get Harry to leave through the fire and Harry trying to persuade Remus to stay there and see how things unfolded. Eventually, Harry won and the two sat around nervously, the conditions being that Harry would not leave the office, unless Minerva desperately needed their help.

Downstairs, Minerva was wishing that she’d taken Harry and Remus with her. Having sent a message to every member of staff in the school whom she could think of in a moment’s panic, she entered the Main Entrance Hall to find Draco Malfoy stood waiting for her.

“There is no welcome for you within these walls, Draco,” she said quietly. “You are a valued spy for us, and for that we cannot give enough thanks, but despite this I, and the school, ask that you leave.”

“I will not leave, there is something in the school which is mine, and my family’s, and I will not leave until I have taken it back,” he told her, defiantly. “You must return Hufflepuff’s cup to me.”

Footsteps echoed down the corridor; people were running towards them, though neither of them knew how many. Malfoy knew that he had to act fast if he was to obtain the cup from Hogwarts. He had expected Minerva to stand against him, but he hadn’t anticipated that she could gather a small force against him in so short a space of time. She had had virtually no warning of his coming at all.

He had not gone directly against Voldemort’s orders for nothing, he couldn’t have. If he didn’t return with the cup then he would have failed for nothing. Voldemort had strictly told him that he was to remain at the Department of Mysteries until everyone else had gone, but if he didn’t arrive there until later because he was running his own errand that night then he was sure that the Dark Lord would forgive him that at least.

The small problem was that he had absolutely no idea where it would be kept. The most likely location was within McGonagall’s own office. That was to where he would set off; he was confident that he could guess the password and from there he could Floo back to any place he could, just to get out of the building.

He opened his mouth as if to say something to the headmistress and took off at a sprint past her, amid her yells and curses to stop him. The Felix Felicis was working like a charm, her spells skimmed over his shoulders, easily missing him. He ran up the stairs to her office, after shouting an array of likely words at the gargoyles at the foot of the tower. A little too predictable really, ‘phoenix’ being the password in.

They were gaining upon him though, he could hear their yells of confusion and determination from behind him. He was sure that he recognised one of them as the voice of Flitwick. He flung himself through the doorway and found himself faced with Lupin and Potter. Malfoy’s eyes scanned the room in an instant, but there was no sign of the cup. Even as he ran for the window, his summoning spell failed to bring him the artefact he had come there that night in search of.

He had failed. Even with all the luck that a potion could bring him, he couldn’t escape the castle, not alive. Not when faced by two more people in the same room as him, already casting curses at him, and the staff running behind him.

In one last defiant move, Malfoy threw himself through the window. Shattered glass flew backwards at his attackers, magically propelled towards Remus and Harry. The former of the two threw up a shield faster than anyone else could have reacted, but they didn’t move in time to prevent Malfoy from escaping.

He had taken a school broomstick, and was flying away from the school on it, fully aware that the gates would not have opened for him a second time. They could easily have caught him on more superior brooms, but there was no need; Malfoy was of no further concern to them, and was no threat. He had failed in taking what he had come to the school for, after realising in an instant that the cup wasn’t in the headmistress’s office, it could have been anywhere else in the entire school and he did not have the means to locate it.

It had taken all the luck in the world to ensure that he had not been captured or killed that night, but Malfoy was on his way to the Department of Mysteries, at least in the knowledge that Potter was not where they had been told he would be.

“Well that was nicely done, all of you,” said Phineas coolly from the wall. “Good work, letting him escape like that. You’re really on your toes.”

“Shut up, Phineas,” Minerva muttered. “At least no one was hurt and he took nothing from the school.” She turned to the assembled staff to thank them for their time and their effort, though in the end it had not really been needed.

“I’m surprised he didn’t throw a good curse or two at us, to be honest,” Remus said once the staff had returned, grumbling, to bed. Harry nodded slightly, his mind in thought about why Malfoy would have taken such a risk, even though most of the Order was at the Department of Mysteries still. It was clear that Tonks and Kingsley were both still there, as Bill had never returned with them. Minerva wearily sent him a message not to bother and that the crisis had been averted.

“I don’t think he cared about us being here,” Minerva said. “He wanted to get the cup and get out. He didn’t think it would be anywhere but prominently displayed in my office, so he clearly isn’t aware of its true value. It’s a matter of Malfoy pride.”

“Then he wasn’t sent here tonight by Voldemort,” Harry said. “So who does he work for?”

“Not for us, that’s certain,” Minerva said. “I think he’s doing what the Malfoy’s have always done, when not too cowardly – he’s going his own way and doing what he thinks will benefit him the most. He wanted that cup back, and letting us know about the Department of Mysteries tonight got us mostly out of the way for him to go get it, but he wouldn’t take it to Voldemort. I don’t think he poses any danger to us.”

“I think it really is time we returned to Grimmauld place now, Harry,” Remus said, clearing away the glass on the floor with a wave of his wand.

Harry silently nodded, wondering whether he should have told either of them that Snape was living inside their castle. But if Hogwarts itself didn’t mind Snape being thee and he wasn’t about to cause any trouble or problems then he could stay there for the time being. He would just have to ask Dobby to keep an eye on him the next time he was there. It was with much weighing on his mind that Harry returned to the house in which he lived.

“Go on then, tell us what happened,” said Ron, once he appeared through the fireplace and managed to pull away from a very worried Molly Weasley. It was only when Mad Eye appeared opposite him holding a Portkey that Harry realised that he’d meant to be with him at all times. He wondered whether Mad Eye had realised where he’d gone, or whether he was going to start asking questions about the Death Eater that tackled him with a Portkey.

Still, it didn’t look like he was going to have the chance to answer any of Moody’s questions, at least not that night; Ron and Hermione seemed to have enough questions to keep him talking for a good few hours longer as it was.


Chapter 23: Planning and Preparations
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Chapter Twenty-Three

Harry paced his room restlessly as he realised that he needed to convince Minerva that going for the Horcrux before the potion was ready was the best thing to do. Snape’s words explaining that Malfoy would be found out by Voldemort, who would put a greater protection on his remaining Horcrux, echoed around his head. He had to get to the last one before it was too late, and if that involved going on his own then so be it.

He tried talking to Bill and Kingsley first, they being the two most likely to listen to plans which involved them throwing themselves into life risking situations. They seemed to think that his point was one well made, but that Minerva was unlikely to take risks until they knew that the potion worked.

“I don’t particularly like going against Minerva’s word on anything,” Kingsley said as he twirled his wand between his fingers, and then dropped it on the coffee table with a clatter, “but I’ll go to Riddle House to try and get it out with you, if that’s what you need. The later we leave it, the more chance Voldemort’s got to hide it somewhere else, or sit there with it when we get there.”

“Definitely,” Bill said solemnly, “you’ve made a particularly good point there, not like you. But I’m sure we can rally up more people to help, the twins, Tonks… they all enjoy a good bit of defiance.”

“They don’t know about the Horcrux though,” Harry said. “We can’t tell them we’re just going there for the sake of a hidden artefact, they’d figure it out.”

“Harry, most people don’t even know that Horcruxes exist. Most people won’t even talk about them, or hear them mentioned so no one’s first thought is that we’re hunting them down,” Bill argued. “If we say that it’s just something that we need to help us locate Voldemort then I’m sure they’d go for that.”

“Mad Eye won’t,” Kingsley told him. “If he thinks there’s a chance that anyone can guess what we’re doing, he’ll spin them a tale so bizarre and elaborate, it’d be easier to leave them here.”

“Or we can leave Mad Eye here,” Harry suggested.

Kingsley grinned. “Leave Mad Eye out of a potentially life threatening situation? He’ll have a fit! Brilliant, when do we go?”

“As soon as possible, who do we take?” Harry asked.

“The two of us, Tonks, the twins, Charlie… Ron and Hermione?” suggested Bill.

“Too young, Ron will want to be right in there with the action but be scared at the same time so he’ll be all panicky and I don’t think Hermione likes being left behind, but I don’t think she wants to get too deeply involved either,” Kingsley said. “Besides, neither of them could keep a secret if their lives depended upon it.”

“Diggle?”

“Too excitable.”

“Elphias Doge?”

“Too old.”

“Dung?”

“Are you mad?”

“Hestia, Lupin, Aberforth?” Bill suggested in quick succession. “They might be okay, and I’m pretty sure they’d all happily go against Minerva…”

“Hestia’s still out in the middle of nowhere, following those hags,” Kingsley reminded him. This was news to Harry, who didn’t bother to say anything; he was more concerned about getting hold of the last Horcrux whilst he could. “Aberforth would be brilliant, get hold of him. And Lupin, I don’t know…”

“The twins reckon he’s a bit of a rule breaker when he needs to be,” Bill said and Kingsley nodded thoughtfully, “and the full moon’s already been and gone.”

“I’ll ask him, but if he says no then I don’t want him to know that we’re still thinking of going ahead with it anyway, even though he’ll know that we don’t have Minerva’s permission,” Kingsley said, “and I can’t imagine him being overly thrilled that Harry’s behind this whole thing.”

“So we’re just not going to ask for Minerva’s approval at all?” Bill asked. “Not even ask and then pretend it was a very specific hypothetical situation?”

“Better not to,” Kingsley said. “Like I’ve already said, I’d rather that we had more support on this, but if she says no then we won’t have a chance of getting in there until the potion’s been brewed. I think we should be going as soon as possible.

“I’ll talk to Lupin, you can talk to the twins and Charlie, get hold of Aberforth once you’ve done,” Kingsley said to Bill, “and you, Harry, can go after Tonks.” He took a deep breath and got to his feet, moving towards the door. “Either of you, start planning how we’re going to get in and out, try and find out what we’ll be facing over there, and get a plan of the house if you can. Harry, before you go after Tonks, get into Hogwarts and check the Frequency Counter – if it’s gone then we’re already in trouble.”

Moments later, Harry was swirling through the Floo network and into Hogwarts. He was admitted with no troubles at all, and fell through into Minerva’s office. It was a stroke of luck that she was not there at the time; had she been then he would have had a hard time explaining just what he was doing there, or why he wanted to look at the Frequency Counter which followed Riddle House.

It was still there.

He could have cried with relief. After the last time they’d looked at the counter and found that the Horcrux which they had been diligently following had vanished entirely, none of them had any desire to have the past repeated on them.

Behind him, the fire glowed green suddenly and Harry leapt for the door. He slammed it shut just as he heard someone step through the fireplace and into the room. He wasn’t sure who it was, but he wasn’t particularly keen on meeting up with anyone at that moment in time. He walked quickly through the school, ignoring the wondering looks of the few students he met on his path, as he took as many disused passageways as he could remember in order to get up to the seventh floor.

It was easy to get into Snape’s temporary chambers, once it was known where they were. Harry stepped through the door to find Snape hovering over a set of plans, which Harry then realised was a map of somewhere, in very good detail, rather close up.

“Potter, I wasn’t aware I’d invited you.”

“I thought I’d see how you were and what you’re doing,” Harry said, an edge of suspicion touching his voice. Snape rolled his eyes and went back to his studying.

“Being suspicious, of course. And as for how I am, I’m being waited on by a house-elf who seems to think that you are a god, more’s the pity. Not sure what it calls itself, but it appears to enjoy wearing an odd pair of socks,” Snape sneered slightly.

Harry moved to peer over his shoulder, glancing at the plans, which were for a reasonably sized building.

“Riddle House, naturally,” Snape replied to the question which never quite made it to Harry’s lips. “I assumed, perhaps wrongly, that you would want to get in there and get the Horcrux quite soon, and since I am in no place to do it then you and your minions will be doing it for the benefit of all.”

“I don’t suppose you know where the Horcrux is, in the house?” Harry asked as he sat down in one of the comfier looking chairs near the table.

“Oh yes, the Dark Lord loves to give out the locations of his prized objects to anyone who asks, and for Horcruxes he’s been handing out leaflets with precise maps on, where did you think I got this one?” Snape sneered.

“Where did you get the map?” Harry pressed.

“Old historical records,” Snape replied and threw a heavy book across at Harry.

‘Historical Magical Buildings,’ the title simply said. Harry flicked through the thick, dusty pages until he found Riddle House. There was lots of information about it, dating back hundreds of years and examining the owners of the house in detail, along with the extensive grounds allotted to it, and of course the building itself. Having belonged to many magical persons in the past, it was considered as a strongly magical area, and the walls of the house itself were known to move and shift, in a labyrinthine manner.

“If the house changes shape, like a labyrinth, then how can there be a map?” Harry asked.

“The house cannot change the way it was built,” Snape replied wearily, “and these maps show the floors of the house at their most basic. Walls which will not change shape or move, but doors are created within them at will, and other walls and obstacles have been known to appear inside the house when faced with magical intruders. Muggles who enter have never yet had any problems within, but that may be because they are too ignorant to note the fact that it took them an extra half hour to leave the building than it did to enter and go to a specific room…”

“Obstacles?” Harry repeated, dubiously.

“You heard me correctly,” Snape clarified. “The house has a very strong awareness of magical power within a particular witch or wizard. It prefers pure blooded individuals – so don’t be taking Granger along, she won’t get out again – as well as those who have a particularly strong will. The more strongly willed you are, the more the house will test you, and if it believes you to have passed its rigorous trials, then you can probably move at least reasonably freely through the house.”

“I don’t believe you,” Harry told him flatly. “There is no way that a house would do all that just to prevent people from moving about. It’s just a house, it’s not a living thing or anything.”

Snape sighed and got up from the floor, where he had been kneeling over the maps, spread across the coffee table by the fire. He poured himself a small glass of something which looked like it might have been Fire Whiskey and sat down on one of the sofas near to Harry’s chosen chair.

“It is quite clear that you have learnt nothing from your experiences of magic and its behaviour. Even when you are fully aware that Hogwarts moves its staircases and some passageways to help or to hinder those who walk within her walls. Dumbledore greatly overestimated you,” Snape said coolly and took another drink. “As it is, if you enter the building unprepared then you will be in for a great shock. Pick your accompanying comrades carefully, as many of them may not be returning otherwise.”

“How much control will Voldemort have over the house?” Harry asked suddenly. “I mean, can he make it so that the house won’t let me in at all?”

“No, wizards themselves have no control over houses unless the house wishes them to. Dumbledore had a lot of influence over Hogwarts, and I daresay some of Hogwarts more favoured students may also have done,” Snape said, looking pointedly at Harry, who raised a slightly sceptical eyebrow. “Oh don’t be ridiculous, boy, think of all the things you’ve mysteriously found in this castle. You happen to walk into the mirror of Erised, the corridor which was forbidden in your first year just happens to be one of the first you walk into, and you can find your way around the school faster than any other pupil around… This school likes you, for some odd reason, and even gets you out of the dungeons when you wander around there.”

Harry thought for a moment and was forced to grudgingly admit, as least to himself, that most of what Snape was saying was right; he did seem to have a particular knack for finding things that he probably wasn’t meant to, whilst inside the school.

“Anyway, returning to your previous question,” Snape said pointedly, “Wizards can’t have any control over the houses unless the house wants to occasionally do what certain magicians wish. Voldemort, though fearsome, earned the displeasure of the house, by bringing it into disrepute and murdering his family. Therefore, the house won’t stand for him.”

“How do you know all this?” Harry asked, again suspicious of the man he was talking to.

“I know about magical control of homes and places because my own previous home was in there and I was brought up manipulating my house,” Snape said, again sounding bored of the endless questions, “and as for Voldemort’s inability to manipulate his home? Guesswork. He doesn’t use the house, and the last time he went there, he was gone for three days. That was years ago, and presumably when he hid the Horcrux. I would presume from that, that the house locked him in somehow and tried to cause damage to him for all that he’d done against the house, which now has fallen into disrepair. Getting out alive might also involve some magical DIY,” Snape said the word with some distaste, as if the word itself was bitter to him, “in order to please the home you’ll be in.”

“Great, so it sounds like we’ll have a right job just getting out of the house itself, and that’s if we’re not assaulted by Death Eaters or something along those lines,” Harry sighed and ate some of the Every Flavour Beans that materialised in his lap.

“Depends who you’re taking,” Snape reiterated.

“Weasleys, Tonks, Remus, Aberforth, Kingsley and me,” Harry replied.

“Weasleys and Aberforth are purebloods, they’ll be fine, especially Aberforth, as he’s also old and the house respects age just as you ought,” Snape said, running through those Harry had listed, “Shacklebolt, I don’t know about, but if he’s strong enough to be an Auror, I’m sure he can beat the house, Tonks the same, you’ll struggle unless you take previous advice and pander to what the house wants, and as for Lupin… Well, I don’t know what the house will think of a dark creature entering its midst. You might be better leaving your dog outside.”

“Thanks, you’ve been a lot of help,” Harry said and got to his feet to leave.

“So you’ve finished your questioning then,” Snape said and then stopped suddenly. He turned to Harry and said, “You’ve not asked Minerva about doing this, have you?”

Harry didn’t reply and Snape’s smile, which was unusual in itself grew somewhat larger.

“You’re in for it, Potter. If this goes wrong, as I suspect that it might, then no one will know what happened to you and Minerva will be left knowing that the last thing you did killed the lot of you without her permission,” Snape grinned. “She’ll love that. And if she’s not involved then you’re doing all the planning yourself. This just gets better and better…”

By this time Harry had already moved to the door and turned the handle to leave, pocketing the sweets which the room had given him for later, and taking the book which Snape had thrown with him, carrying it under his arm.

“Bye, Professor,” Harry said as he left the room.

“You’re all going to die, Potter!” Snape yelled before the door slammed shut. A third year Hufflepuff who had wandered out of her way, stared at Harry as he left the room, and the door disappeared into the wall.

It didn’t take Harry long to leave the school and get to Grimmauld Place, where he found Tonks talking with Bill, Kingsley, Charlie, the twins, Remus and the man he recognised as Aberforth, from the Hog’s Head pub.

“Harry, just who we were waiting for,” Kingsley said as Harry fell through the fireplace and was caught mid-fall by Charlie, who sat him down at the table.

“So, since Harry is finally here then we can start the more detailed planning,” Bill said as he and Charlie cast some charms around the room, preventing them from being overheard.

Everyone leant forward eagerly and they discussed, just above whispering, just what they were going to do. Harry reiterated everything which Snape had said to him earlier, but did not disclose the fact that Snape had been the one to tell him all this, and put most of his knowledge down to the book he had been ‘given’ by Snape.

Maps were drawn out of the main house and plans of entry and exits were decided upon. They discussed who would stay with whom, but Remus ventured himself that the house would not like him, and he would be better staying outside. This was disputed but eventually agreed upon; Remus would keep watch outside, and if anything happened out of the usual then each of them would feel their Phoenix grow warm.

It was at this point that Aberforth smiled and turned to Harry. He had not said much throughout the proceedings, allowing everyone else to take the floor as and when they wished, but it was then that Aberforth wished to speak. He was not a particularly well spoken man, he was nothing like Dumbledore, but he was a powerful wizard in his own right, even if the knowledge he had was not acquired through conventional schooling. He did not even possess a wand…

“We let the rest of the Order know when we’re in trouble,” Aberforth said briskly. “One of the easiest ways, though it doesn’t always give a particularly vivid location, is the Phoenix. It’s a small brass phoenix which will remain on your person at all times from now on, so that we’ll be able to tell if you’re in trouble. When anything happens, the other Order members will see a flickering image of who is in trouble, and their location. That will be all, and then we run to you to help.” That was all he said for the rest of the evening. It was known that he rarely spoke, but when he did, it was to Harry more so than anyone else.

He opened his hand to show a small phoenix, intricately made, with something of Hagrid’s work in it. Aberforth handed it over to Harry, who took it with a slight smile and pocketed it.

“However,” Remus said, taking over from Dumbledore, “if one of us is in trouble, we only expect you to assist when you’re out with us, on such rare occasions as these. We don’t want you disappearing out of the house, should anything happen then. If you’re not specifically out, then we don’t want you reacting to any trouble going on.”

“But you’ll keep the phoenix on you, because you’re the one most likely to find trouble in the safest of places,” Charlie grinned slightly. “So from now on you can consider yourself an honorary member of the Order of the Phoenix, since you’re still not quite old enough to be a part of us yet… even if you are more involved than half the Order anyway.”

“So, we’ll head over there tomorrow morning, first thing, just to see what we’re going to face,” Bill said, signalling that it would be he and the twins who went.

“And then in the evening,” said Fred.

“Under cover of darkness,” George added.

“We can go steal stuff,” Fred grinned and then whispered to George, rather audibly, “I’ve already got our swag bags out.”


Chapter 24: Riddle House
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Chapter Twenty-Four

“Help me, please,” Harry murmured as he entered the large house. Each of them had been given a map, which had been duplicated quickly by Remus, and made to flicker through several floors of the building when it was needed.

It had been thought that the house would contain no Death Eaters, nor would it trigger any Death Eaters running their way when they did enter the house. Still, Remus remained outside. He had felt the displeasure of the house, just stepping foot on the doorstep. After that, he had pulled away and gone to sit down at the edge of the garden, in a place with a good view of the entrance, but concealed in itself.

The rest of them had all gone in. They had begun as one large group but eventually split up and gone their separate ways. Harry found, unsettlingly, that he could remember parts of the house from his past. Perhaps in a dream, but there were definitely bits that were familiar to him. It was only when he entered a room towards the top of the house that he realised that it was the room in which he had seen Voldemort, when he had been with Wormtail years ago, just before his fourth year. It had taken him some time to reach the conclusion, but he had managed it, nonetheless.

In other parts of the house, Harry could hear the shrieks and calls from one Order member to another. With only two frequency counters, most of them had wandered off to go search parts of the house in which they suspected a Horcrux may be, though many of those present were not really sure for what they were searching. They just knew that they were, and that once they found the magical artefact, for they had been informed it was that, then they would depart, and quickly.

Bill was running one way round the house, trying to get as high as he could with the Frequency Counter, not finding the Horcrux on any of the levels he had touched upon so far. At the other side of the house, Kingsley was struggling against the force that the large house was putting in to prevent him moving about. He constantly found himself running up staircases he had already travelled upon, or entering floors which lead nowhere and had no choice but to go back the way he came. It was not uncommon for some kind of magical beast to attack him in the hallways; sometimes real and sometimes illusory, Kingsley had to try and fight them all, just in case he was caught out. It would not have been unfair to say that he was very unhappy in the house and disquieted by its attempts to fight him more so than anyone else.

They had been scouring for two hours, and by that time a lot of those who had been called in to help had already left the house to sit outside with Remus in the cool evening breeze. Only Harry, Bill and Kingsley remained inside, which was well for them, as they were the only three present who could freely talk about the Horcrux and search for it more carefully. Even Aberforth had returned outside, not liking the eerie quiet of some of the halls in the house. From the outside of the house, he could more easily pick out the more powerful places within the house; where they wanted to go in order to retrieve their artefact. If that was indeed all they had gone there to take that night, Aberforth thought sceptically.

Behind them, there was a slight rustling of the hedging, followed by a slight gust of wind. No one was paying enough attention to wonder why the rustling had come before the breeze, and so it was ignored entirely, their conversations continuing.

Back inside the house, Bill gave a shout, and Kingsley and Harry came running in his direction, the house allowing Kingsley to pass after finally deeming him worthy of entrance.

“I think I’ve found it,” Bill gasped as the two of them ran over. Harry stared about him wildly, looking for any sign of the Horcrux for which they had hunted for hours. He saw nothing except the blank walls and flooring of the room he had entered. This room in particular had deteriorated more rapidly than the others they had entered, and the house seemed more willing to allow them into it, almost driving them to it towards the end of their search.

“Under the floorboards?” Kingsley asked and Bill nodded. It seemed an odd thing to do, to hide the Horcrux in a house so unwilling to allow people to walk into it and around it freely and then hide it further still under the floorboards, but this was Voldemort; a man not known to take chances.

“Better get looking them,” Bill said. “Reducto!

There was a flash of red light and the floor shook slightly beneath their feet. Suddenly, Harry had a sense that the house was closing in on them somewhat. From years of neglect, it wasn’t likely to be happy with wizards storming in and then destroying it further. Quickly, he waved his wand around the room, altering parts of it for the better and doing some magical DIY.

“It’s here,” Kingsley announced, after some fumbling about in the flooring. He picked something up and held it in his hand for a moment. The three of them stood closely together, peering at the object which he held in his hands. It was almost a mockery of everything that they stood for. That part of Voldemort’s soul should be hidden in such a way was almost beyond belief. That he would hide part of himself inside a carved golden phoenix. The same as the ones that each of them carried with them.

“Come on, we have no more business here,” Bill said and moved towards the door. Kingsley pocketed the last of the Horcruxes and they left the room. No sooner had they done so than all three of them froze just outside the doorway. Inside their pockets, each of them could feel a warm sensation, and Harry grabbed at the phoenix inside his own robes. It was unmistakably warm, getting warmer.

It was as it had been described to him; he suddenly had an image of Remus thrown across his vision, blinding him to the room in which they were in for a moment, and Harry realised that next he would see the location. It was strange, an aerial view of the house, and around the house were more than a dozen Death Eaters. And they had just spotted Remus.

No one said anything, they just ran. The three of them scrambled down the stairs, praying that the house would let them out to help their friends. Already they could hear the screams and shouts of battle, though most of the spells that they cast would be silent. They were shouting to each other as they went, not paying attention to the others.

Harry remembered briefly what Snape had said to him before he had left and cast one large cleaning spell over the house, and suddenly the doorway was before them. They fell through it and out into the thick of battle. Remus was fighting nearest to them and nearby, Tonks was flinging curses every which way. Aberforth was perhaps the most formidable of the Order members present in battle, duelling in a style that seemed almost reckless in its way, but every shot hit its mark. Every man around him fell, and his organised chaos paid off.

It wasn’t long that there was only the Order left standing and no one remembered much of what had happened, except that they were then very leaved that they had their lives in tact, and that no one had been injured apart from a few cuts and bruises.

“We have to move,” Aberforth said sternly once it was clear that everyone was fine. “If a few were there just because you managed to collect whatever it was that you wanted from the house, then more will be quick to follow, and you never know who might be accompanying them.”

He left it at that, but the message was quite clear: move now or stay and wait for Voldemort. Now that they had taken the last Horcrux, it would not be long until he came running. He would be at Hogwarts at some point soon, and he would want what was his.

There was a collective crack in the area, as each Order member Apparated back to Grimmauld Place. From there, some talking ensued but most people went their own way, either into the house or elsewhere, via the fireplace.

It wasn’t long until there was a meeting in Minerva’s Office. During the earlier planning of their raid, or in the brief meeting Harry, Kingsley and Bill had before they decided upon impulse to run off to get the last Horcrux, they had anticipated that Minerva would be displeased with them. They had conveniently forgotten his, during the danger of their entrance to Riddle Manor but now they were back and in relative safety, facing the woman was not a particularly pleasing prospect.

“So let me get this straight,” Minerva said coolly. She was not looking particularly pleased with any of them at that moment. Even if the last Horcrux did lie on her desk. Behind her, Mad Eye, Ron and Hermione were standing, none of whom looking much happier than their spokeswoman. “You thought it would be acceptable to run off, with various members of the Order, whom you picked upon no discernable merit, without proper planning or organisation into a dangerous magical area, with the threat of Voldemort and his followers hanging over your heads, to get the last Horcrux, before the potion is even finished…?”

Lined up by the window, Harry, Kingsley, Remus and Bill looked rather anxious. They weren’t quite sure what was going to happen to them, but when Minerva had been particularly angry, Mad Eye was occasionally given free rein, as to punishments… They could only hope that would not be the case that day, especially as Mad Eye was looking furious. Or more so than normal, at any rate.

“But now that we have it, then we don’t have to run the risk of Voldemort getting hold of it,” Kingsley said quickly. “It was only a matter of time, once Malfoy had come to the castle, before Voldemort would realise that we had the cup. Malfoy wanted it and would have to explain to Voldemort where he had been, who would then up the protection on the final Horcrux, before it was too late. We had no choice.”

“Why didn’t you tell me before you went?” Minerva asked. “Anything could have happened. You were almost killed, Remus!”

Harry remembered then, suddenly, that not only those who had been out at Riddle house would have felt the phoenix grow warm, but the rest of the Order as well. Everyone would suddenly have become aware that Remus was in danger and Minerva and those who were at head quarters would have had absolutely no idea as to what had happened to him or where. Even with the image which each of them saw, if no one knew what Riddle House looked like then none would be able to get there in time to help him and a blind panic must have taken up, as more people were inevitably seen as in danger that night. More of them had flickered before the eyes of the Order but Harry had barely registered it as he fought. The others at Grimmauld Place certainly would have, however.

“We thought you’d say no,” Harry answered for them. She gave him an incredulous stare and flicked her wand upwards and the portrait of Phineas, which was already opening its mouth to talk, and make snide remarks.

“I’m sure that I could easily have understood where you were coming from in respect to such a situation,” Minerva said coolly and glared down their line. “As it is, regardless of our gain, you risked your own lives and our chance at gaining the Horcrux. Should you have failed—”

“Then Harry would have been dead so it wouldn’t matter really, would it?” said Kingsley. She spun round to face him and merely shook her head in disbelief, the angry words disappearing and replaced with a feeling of fatigue and weariness of the war.

“So that’s it then,” Bill said. “We’ve got the Horcruxes, and we’ve got the potion brewing… Once they’re destroyed then that’s it.”

“Just the little matter of Voldemort himself then,” Mad Eye said, with a definite sneer in his voice. “I’m sure that we’ll have it easy, defeating him when he’s hiding behind his Death Eaters, so that we can’t destroy the last of him.”

“No, once he knows that the last of his Horcruxes have gone then he’ll start making more, won’t he?” Harry said. “So the sooner we go after him then the better a chance we have of getting rid of him once and for all.”

“That’s not true,” Hermione said, stepping forwards. Already Harry knew that she would have conducted hours of research into the Horcruxes, how they could be made, and how many could be made, ready to ascertain whether or not Voldemort would make more. “Voldemort can only halve his soul so many times. The more he halves it, the weaker he becomes in himself. He’s more likely to become indecisive and confused if he continues. It would affect him too deeply for him to be able to continue normally. It could also give others power over him,” she finished, and glanced at Harry at this point.

“Whether or not Voldemort plans to make more Horcruxes,” Minerva said, “we still have to prepare for a major offensive. Now that we have everything and the potion is still brewing, we have only that to prepare for. The sooner we act then the more likely we are to succeed, if only because Voldemort will not be expecting an attack so soon, if indeed at all.”

“There’s one more thing,” Kingsley spoke up, “Voldemort is very interested in getting his hands on Aberforth. He knows now that he stays in the Hog’s Head and we know that he’s going to plan an all out assault upon Hogsmeade in order to get hold of him.”

“Then he must go into hiding,” Minerva responded and sat down behind her desk, allowing those who had been pinned against the wall by her steely gaze to move freely once more.

“He refuses to leave what has become his home,” Kingsley replied. “He’s being as stubborn as you can expect from a Dumbledore.”

“In which case, get in touch with as many members of the Order as you can, far and wide.” Minerva stood up and moved to the doorway. “Everyone who is available is going to be there that night. It seems reasonable that Voldemort will be there, and it might be our best chance to get what little soul remains inside his body.”


Chapter 25: Ulterior Motives
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Chapter Twenty-Five

It was a strange sense of nervousness which shrouded the Order that day. What would perhaps be one of the largest fights in the history of the magical world was to take place that evening. All were well aware of it; everyone available was to be there that evening. None would remain in the school, bar those few left with the Potion to ensure the final completion of its brewing at eleven that night.

Grimmauld Place afforded no privacy that day. It was full of people, constantly chattering, eating and fighting. Harry compared it to a house party, though one with sinister undertones. As it was, the only way that he could find any escape from the house that day was to lock himself in his room and refuse to leave.

He was also refusing to let anyone enter. This meant that much of the house thought he was worried and nervous about the coming night. The truth was far from it; Harry Potter spent much of his day charming parts of his room out of boredom and reading the occasional book. Nervousness was not something he felt whilst whiling away his day. He had been waiting too long to face Voldemort for him to feel any anxiety over their coming meeting. It may be true that he would die, he may be tortured, he may fail in his attempt to save the Wizarding world. But it would not be long. He would not take long to die, and any intense feelings he may experience in regards to failing his task would not last long, not once he neared his end.

He felt only determination.

Harry had decided in the past that he would do everything he could, not just to keep himself alive, though that could be said to be a large part of the reason he was so determined, but to make sure that people had not died in vain. His parents, Sirius, Dumbledore and countless, nameless others had died to ensure that the fight went on against Voldemort and the Death Eaters. Many of them would have no recognition, but that surely would not have mattered to them upon their death. It was a difficult thing to face, one’s own mortality, but Harry was sure he would not allow those who had to have done so in vain.

There was a knock at his door and the handle turned, but to no avail for the person on the other side.

“Harry, open the door please,” came Remus’s quiet request from the other side. For a moment, Harry internally debated opening the door for him but the decision didn’t remain his own for long. There was some muttering from the other side of the door and the lock clicked open. Harry stared at the lock with a mixture of confusion and uncertainty; he was certain that no one would have been able to unlock the door, and so far, no one else had managed to either.

“Come on, we’re going out for a bit,” Remus said and turned around again.

“Wait, where are we going…?” Harry asked and scrambled off the bed after him. Remus waved his wand over him and changed Harry into what could be considered acceptable robes.

“Out,” Remus replied and left the house through the front door.

“Out where?” Harry demanded for the last time as his own broom was pushed into his hands.

“Out for a fly, to get out of this house before someone drives me mad.”

The weather was perfect for flying. A slight breeze, a slightly cloudy sky and warm, but not too warm. All in all, it was an acceptable summer’s day. It could have been worse; it could have been raining again.

It felt good to be up in the air again, Harry decided, as he flew in circles, looping through the air. Remus followed behind him, a slight smile on his face as he gladly took to the skies himself.

There were, of course, ulterior motives in getting Harry out of the house for the afternoon. Arguments were breaking out in the kitchen for the third time that morning concerning Harry’s role in the current war. Molly was at the forefront with a few other members of the Order backing her up, as to Harry’s suitability to take part in such an offensive that evening.

After all, Ron and Hermione wouldn’t be involved either. Why should Harry? Ron’s lack of action in the fight was also a talking point within the house, mainly because Ron kept bringing it back up. Hermione had been put with Bill (who still had issues with leaving the house, pending his imminent arrest) to brew the last of the potion and maintain it once it had been completed. If they were successful with Voldemort’s capture or murder that night, then the potion would be a vital tool with which they would destroy the remaining parts of his soul.

Ron had been left with Madam Pomfrey to aid the nurse in her nursing of the injured. And it was inevitable that many of the Order would be injured in such a large scale fight with the opposition; it was crucial in such a case for those who had been wounded in any way to be transported back to the castle as fast as possible, where they could then be healed. Ron was not overly thrilled at the idea of being around a stressed Madam Pomfrey for an evening, especially when Hermione would be there when the Horcruxes were destroyed and Harry would be out in the thick of the action, possibly killing Voldemort with his own wand. No, it most certainly was not fair, and that was why he had spent the morning arguing. It was also consequently why he had been locked in the cellar by Charlie; he just wouldn’t shut up.

Harry had no idea as to the arguing which had gone on all around him for the day, and many days prior to that day. He wouldn’t have cared particularly, had anyone bothered to tell him – he was having far too much fun flying. It had been a long time since anyone had given him permission to fly, and for him to be racing Remus through the skies gave him more enjoyment than he had in ages. Especially compared to being locked up in Grimmauld Place.

“So where are we going?” Harry asked finally, when he slowed down and flew next to Remus.

“I was thinking Diagon Alley,” Remus informed him and went into a steep dive before Harry could say anything about it.

The wind raced past Harry as he swept down after Remus until they were flying parallel once more. The roof of a building was becoming closer and closer but Remus did not appear ready to pull up. Harry glanced at him, slightly nervously.

“Ah, Remus?”

Too late, Harry realised as they flew into the ceiling. And straight out the other side, through what appeared from the other side, to be very elaborate charm-work. Two grinning identical faces greeted them.

“Great to see you again, Harry!” said one that Harry thought was Fred.

“Hope our trick ceiling didn’t fool you too badly,” George grinned. “Loads of people have been hovering over the top of it until one day the charm broke and they all came flying in. It’s a family only entrance, you see.”

“Meaning that we’ve only told the family that it’s not a real entrance.”

“And Remus, of course,” George continued.

“Not that good when it rains though,” Remus said, noting the wet ground around them.

“Well, if we wanted it to stay dry out here then we’d build a real ceiling, wouldn’t we?” Fred argued. “Anyway, come and see the new stock, Harry. You’ll have loads of fun with some of the stuff we’ve made.”

For the next few hours, all that transpired in that particular shop were several more transactions and the personal tour of Harry Potter round the most successful shop on Diagon Alley. It was just as well that their attention was focused entirely inside the shop; it would not have done well for them to have peered outside into the street.

It was deserted. No one walked the paths there any longer, and a slight mist was beginning to descend upon the area. Only those who had witnessed a Dementor attack first hand knew what was soon to transpire, but it was not long until their word spread round. Soon there was no one in sight.

The last attack had not been long ago, when so many souls had been taken and so many admitted to St. Mungo’s. People did not forget what had happened that day so easily, and even the shops remained empty; no one tried to hide inside the buildings this time round. Their lesson had been learnt, and learnt well.

The street was in this way silent and emptied when the Dementors arrived on the scene. The only lights in the street were those coming from Weasleys’ Wizarding Wheezes at the end of the long rows of shops. Slowly they began to glide in their eerie fashion towards the only living in the street.

“Getting a bit cold in here, don’t you think, Fred?” George shouted across at his brother. Fred, who was showing Harry the mechanics of a particularly convincing fire breathing dragon did not agree quite so readily.

“Don’t be so pathetic,” Fred said, running over to his twin and then stopped at the foot of the stairs. Down in the main part of the shop, in which most of the customers normally swarmed, there was no one at all. “Where is everyone?”

Harry and Remus both joined the twins soon after, sensing that something was wrong. None of those present knew as to what had lead their customers away, every last one of them.

“It is quite cold though,” Harry said, causing Fred to roll his eyes.

“You’re pathetic, every one of you,” he cried. “Why, it’s a perfectly nice summers day and the three of you are all freezing cold!”

He reached out to the window, flinging open the curtains to demonstrate his point. A wave of icy cold hit the four of them, sending Fred, the closest staggering backwards.

More than a dozen Dementors were pressed against the window, causing it to frost slightly at the edges. Harry slipped backwards, trying to get as far away from them as possible, even as his past horrors were beginning to flood before his eyes.

Expecto Patronum!

Harry didn’t see what it was that had flown out of Remus’ wand, but he didn’t care, as he scrambled up onto the higher floors with Fred and George; Remus running behind them.

It was only when they reached the third floor that the icy cold caught up with them once more. “They’ve got inside the building,” Fred said quietly. They didn’t stop, and they didn’t slow. They kept on running until they reached the top of the fourth floor.

“There isn’t anywhere else to go,” George said quietly and glanced sideways at his brother.

Fred closed his eyes momentarily and a decidedly odd expression appeared on his face, shortly followed by a flash of pain.

“Apparition wards,” Remus told him calmly, or as calmly as one could after realising that magical teleportation was out of the question, now that they were in a building in which their primary exit had been blocked by many soul-sucking monsters.

Harry moved to the window and stared out into the street, and his body began to shake at the mere sight. The street was filled entirely. Dementors had the run of the place now, and no one could possibly get past them, not without dozens of Patronuses.

“What are you doing George?” Fred demanded as he grabbed a nearby candlestick.

“If there are Apparition wards on the street then there are ones which will stop you taking a Portkey,” Remus said as he paced the room, his mind whirring with every possible escape.

It was getting colder and Harry was beginning to lose his vision to more horrifying sights.

“There truly is only one way out,” Fred said, looking meaningfully at George.

“But it’s not been tested yet. It could kill all of us!” George argued, trying to push Fred back, away from whatever it was that lay hidden in the room beyond them.

“Whatever it is that you’re not telling me then I suggest you get it out in the open now,” Remus said quietly. “The Dementors are a floor away, and doors won’t hold them for particularly long, as most people know. If you have a way out of here which doesn’t involve plunging dozens of feet into a mass of waiting Dementors, or waiting here for the Dementors to come to us then I suggest you use it and use it fast.”

There was a momentary silence and then a slight scratching at the door which made their blood run cold.

“You grab Harry,” said Fred. “There isn’t much time.”

Remus turned suddenly to see Harry slumped on the floor, his head pressed into his hands. Utilising the strength he had inside him, which was something the werewolf rarely did, Remus lifted Harry easily off the ground and carried him through the doorway and into the next room, just as the wood behind them began to splinter.

“What the hell is this thing?” Remus demanded as he stared at a huge contraption in front of him. It appeared to be a large stone doorway, with a curtain fluttering within it. It looked slightly like the archway in the Department of Mysteries, but very different at the same time.

“It’s a portal we’ve been working on. We’ve been using as much teleportation magic as we could get our hands on but we’re not sure if it works yet. We’ve not got round to the live testing stage,” Fred explained quickly.

“The live testing stage…?” Remus asked dubiously, casting a glance behind them. Another door in the way of the Dementors, and a little more time for them.

“The stage at which we test it on live animals. Objects get through okay,” George said, as if to reassure Remus, “but we don’t know whether they go through some kind of killing process to get to that point…”

There was a vague look of horror and disbelief on Remus’ face. “So where exactly does this come out?”

“The Hog’s Head,” George told him. “Or at least the objects have come out there, we don’t really know what’ll happen to us.”

The curtain was beginning to flutter more madly as Fred cast spells of awakening upon it.

“And what happens when we run into the Hog’s Head, followed by hundreds of Dementors?” Remus demanded as Fred stopped his spellwork.

“That’s the beauty of it,” Fred grinned briefly. “Souls only.”

With a push from behind him, Remus suddenly found himself pushed through the curtain, still holding onto Harry, and darkness wrapped around him, smothering him. Smothering all of them.


*


It was a blank mind that Severus Snape entered with suspicious ease. Voldemort had not bothered to protect his mind more so than necessary to keep the most basic Legilimency from entering. It was unsettling, but Severus suspected that it had been made that way to let him enter. To let him see what was about to happen.

“My friends,” Voldemort began, “tonight we will have some fun. I shall be on a venture of self discovery—” Severus went suddenly cold with realisation “—and you shall be on a mission to kill all you can and wish. I’d preferably like any of the Order alive so that they can be interrogated, but if they should end up dead then that is no particular loss.”

Snape pulled back out of Voldemort’s mind and relaxed in his room inside Hogwarts. He was safe there, at least for now, until he realised what it was that he had to do. Voldemort was on a mission of self discovery, which meant he was going to try and get his soul back, his Horcruxes. Which were all being held inside Hogwarts.

Which would be entirely unguarded that night.

Severus had had the misfortune of another evening of Potter’s company the previous evening, during which he had been told of their plans to save Aberforth from imminent death and torture on the very night that the potion would be destroyed. It was all so convenient. All a little too convenient, and now things were becoming rather too clear as well.

Unfortunately, he was also the only one who knew of the Dark Lord’s plans. Was it too late to get Potter out of Hogsmeade and back into Hogwarts, before Voldemort reached the castle? Or was he somewhere else entirely, being kept safe against his will by those who ‘cared’ for him?

He had to find out, one way or another, and he had to make sure that Potter was there to fight Voldemort when he reached the castle. He could not allow for them to come to close to victory, and then to fall. He had given up too much for Potter for him to mess up now. Harry would be there, with Severus, and the two would work together, just for once, to make sure that the world was rid of Voldemort once more. The sun would shine upon Hogwarts again before they were done.

It was so that he turned and ran out of the room. He raced down the halls of Hogwarts. He ignored the startled gasps that came from those out of bed who saw him and ordered them straight back without a backwards glance. Most of the students who had spied him were too much in shock to register the fact that a man who no longer worked there had ordered them to their dorms. They would not realise until the next morning, and many would not realise at all.

Severus felt the school changing shape and altering slightly to get him where he needed to be as fast as possible. He smiled slightly and thanked Hogwarts for the slight assistance she gave as he almost fell down the stairs towards the main entrance to the school. He had been entirely unhindered, and not even Filch or his cat had made an appearance. Hogwarts was certainly getting good at this.

The evening was cold but clear, and the last of the sun was disappearing over the horizon. In the distance, through the Hogwarts gates he could see faint lights in the village of Hogsmeade. For now, all seemed relatively quiet, but there was something wrong there. Something was not right, and it was only when he peered more closely through the darkness that he realised the lights were not that of the village at all. The lights were torches held by figures. Hundreds of figures lining the streets. Whatever was happening there was already occurring, and it was too late for him to stop it.


Chapter 26: No Warning
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Chapter Twenty-Six

They huddled inside the buildings. It was an unnaturally dark and cold evening that wrapped around the small magical village of Hogsmeade. The silence was eerie, but not inflicted by any unnatural presence; it was the product of a large amount of frightened people in spaces too small for them.

Inside the Hog’s Head, many of the locals had gathered to discuss the goings on, but instead, only quiet mutterings from groups of people passed between them. Assembled was more than the usual crowd. Those whose primary location was within the walls of Diagon Alley had appeared suddenly and swiftly to seek refuge and stories pertaining to why quickly spread. The fear of the Dementors was stricken into each and every one of them. Tales of those caught in the attacks began to circulate and became wilder by the minute, whilst many began desperately thinking where to go if Dementors should return again. They could no longer escape to Diagon Alley, and there was no other purely magical village anywhere in the country. Their best bet may have been to hide within Muggle London, but that was the only thing that they had. They had nowhere else to go.

As well as nowhere else to go, they were also given no warning.

Ears had been kept alert for the sudden cracks that would announce the arrival of anyone unexpected or unwanted in the village, but none were heard. Eyes stared into the darkness and lights were lit around the edges of the town to light up the shades at the edges. Only a few people ran from house to house, seeking shelter or family members who had been lost.

Suddenly they came. There was screaming in the streets as a young woman spotted them, emerging slowly from the darkness. A flash of green and a weighty thud heralded their arrival. The Death Eaters had arrived. With them, great numbers of the dark creatures controlled by Voldemort.

Greyback was the first into a building, and the first out. The Death Eaters followed, killing anyone and anything they found, torturing where defiance was found. The vampires turned anyone left unscathed and mocked the magic of those who tried to fight against them. And then the giants came. Thudding in the distance and trampling through the woods that surrounded the town, with a group of luminescent silver ghosts behind them. Though realisation set in when the ghosts cast ice into the hearts of those who spied them, and those who didn’t. The Dementors had returned to join Voldemort’s attack.

Expecto Patronum!” The yell resounded through the chaos and four bright animals leapt past the frightened and the evil, towards the Dementors.

There was a moment of shock and the fighting began again in an instant. Beneath it all, one small voice could be heard to remark, in shock, “Look! It’s Harry Potter!”

*


“—and down in Diagon Alley this evening, the streets are said to be deserted after a Dementor attack. We advise people to stay well away from the area and stay inside.” The Wizarding radio spoke into the silent kitchen in Grimmauld Place. It may have been silent, but it was not empty; the room was filled with everyone who was meant to be going to Hogsmeade that evening to rescue Aberforth from the onslaught of the Death Eaters. Everyone except Harry, Remus and the twins.

“Remus and Harry left the house this afternoon,” Tonks said. “Remus wanted to get out for the afternoon and thought it would be good for Harry to get out and get some fresh air.”

“They could have gone to Diagon Alley to see the twins quite easily,” Arthur said logically. “Anything could have happened.”

Molly looked horror-stricken. “Anything could have happened to them.” She looked close to the verge of tears and Arthur put his arm around her shoulders.

“Remus is no fool, Molly,” Minerva said confidently. “He knows what he’s doing and he’d do anything in his power to keep Harry and the twins alive, you know that. I’m sure that nothing has happened.”

Silence descended once again, except for the radio which continued to talk, “Here in Hogsmeade, hundreds from Diagon Alley have gathered for safety from the Dementors and…” Cracks and shouts could be heard in the background. “They’re here. The Death Eaters are here.”

Shouts of horror could be heard in the background of the radio and Mad Eye instinctively turned it up to hear what was going on in the radio station. Laughter filled the kitchen, echoing around the walls from the radio, chilling the Order. One final yell from the radio presenter reached them before the radio was cut off, “Save us, please! Where is the Order of the Phoenix?! Help us!”

Mad Eye crossed the crowded kitchen in three strides and grabbed at any object around them, throwing them at those gathered around. “Portkeys. We’re going.”

“But we don’t even know where the others are!” Charlie argued.

“That’s of no importance now. Everything is ready. Hermione and Bill are at Hogwarts brewing the last of the potion. Ron and Madam Pomfrey are readying the medical reserves at Hogwarts. People are dying and they need our help before it’s too late. With any luck, we’ll find Harry and Remus at Hogsmeade.” Minerva finished and charmed a Portkey charm over the wallet thrust into her hands.

“And if we don’t find them there?”

“They’ll find us there. Harry has a remarkable affinity for finding life and death situations,” Minerva finished just before vanishing into thin air. The rest of the Order followed instinctively. They spun rapidly through the air, and suddenly, their feet touched the ground again. The sight that met them was not one that any would forget any time soon. All around them fire blazed and the screams of people met their ears. In the centre of it all, four figures were desperately fighting for their lives and the lives of all those around them.

“Remus!” Tonks shouted over the noise and ran towards him through the chaos that surrounded her.

*


“I do not believe this,” Severus Snape muttered to himself as the last of the radio broadcast faded from his ears. It had only been a portable radio, and the quality had been poor at best, but he had heard what mattered from the brief minutes he’d been listening. People were dying, and no one was there to save them. Where were Potter and the Order?

He ran towards the small town, having hidden in Hogwarts grounds for long enough now to watch the beginnings of fire blazing through the small village. This was far too much for he alone to handle. Severus had tackled some severe and almost impossible problems in the past without any assistance but this seemed like something else entirely.

He was alone in his knowledge of the Dark Lord’s plans. He was going to Hogwarts that night to reclaim his soul. Meanwhile, the Order’s attention would be taken up trying to reclaim Diagon Alley from the Dementor attacks and hopefully getting to Hogsmeade quickly enough to save it’s inhabitants from certain death. Throughout all that, he was somehow to find Potter, get him to Hogwarts, destroy the Horcruxes before Voldemort reclaimed them, kill Voldemort and keep Harry alive. It was a mammoth of a task and not for the first time, he wanted to know why he kept getting dragged into the messes created by others.

Severus Snape ran. He ran like he’d never run before. Magical transport never crossed one’s mind when in panicked thought, and he was no different to anyone else in that respect. Magical transport would no longer do anyone any good; wards were up, preventing anyone getting back out of the town once they entered it. There was no escape for those trapped within it.

It was only once he reached the very edges of the town that he stopped and realised that he had no idea what he was going to do. He had to keep well away from the feet of giants, keep his soul in tact, avoid the murderous Death Eaters whilst keeping hidden from the civilians, all of whom believed him to be a murderer. After all, the Ministry had had a field day explaining Dumbledore’s murder to the masses.

And then he saw him, in the thick of it all. Harry Potter was flinging spell after spell at Bellatrix LeStrange and somehow staying alive. Harry Potter was also beginning to wonder where Voldemort was. It had been mentioned many a time by the Order that it was to be the night that ended it all. The night in which Voldemort would finally make his appearance, and presumably the night that the two of them would duel to the death, or whatever else may happen. Yet there was no sign. That was the first inkling Harry got that made him wonder whether this was going exactly the way that the Order had expected it would.

If Voldemort was not at the greatest killing and soul-sucking event of the magical world that half-century then where was he…? He ducked swiftly under a hex, and it shot over his head, slamming into a Death Eater behind him. On the edge of the clearing, he could see a figure standing casually. Watching the scene without any trace of emotion and Harry knew without a doubt to whom the figure belonged. What he did not know was just why he had arrived there.

He was either there because he had organised this evil himself and was watching them all struggling for their lives, in which case he would probably kill or torture Harry once he got the chance, or he was there either to help or to try and see which side was the one winning at present. If he was there to help he wasn’t doing much of a job though, thought Harry.

He flung a series of curses at Bellatrix and sprinted past her, whilst she collapsed to the floor in a daze. It was no easy matter, getting past the masses that stood between him and Snape, but he managed to avoid being trampled by giants, turned into a vampire or werewolf, and fought off a good few Death Eaters along the way.

“Oh good, you saw me,” Snape muttered by way of greeting and dragged Harry behind the closest house he could find.

“What the hell is going on and what are you doing here?” Harry demanded.

“Shut up and listen to me for once,” Snape snarled. “This is all a decoy. Voldemort is going for his soul tonight in Hogwarts. He doesn’t care about the masses. Once he has his power back then nothing you can do will ever overcome him. Now get back to that castle before it’s too late!”

Harry stared at him for a moment. He had no idea whether he should even be believing this or not. Snape had not been a man to trust in the past, though he had done well for the Order. He could quite easily have been setting them up for something huge, such as this, or for some trap from which Harry would never be able to escape. Without Remus or Minerva here to help guide him, he had no idea what to do any longer.

He stared back into the thick of battle, watching all those he cared about fighting desperately and then his gaze wandered up to the castle. His chest tightened considerably when he saw the figures moving across the grounds. They were barely visible, but they were certainly there, and they had purpose. They were not the usual students wandering round the school in the night time.

“But how did they get in…?” Harry asked, his voice sounding hollow even to himself.

“I neither know nor care,” Snape said, tersely. “What matters now is getting back up there as fast as possible before it’s too late. Now get moving!”

Harry needed no more encouragement than that. Suddenly he was sprinting back up towards the school, aware of Severus Snape running behind him as fast as he could, trying to keep up but slowly beginning to fall behind. With all forms of magical transport out of use, there was no other way for them to reach the castle before it was too late. All Harry could hope for was that Hogwarts herself would be strong enough to resist the dark magic and to prevent Voldemort and whomever he had brought with him from reaching the room of requirement before he had chance to get there first.

Behind them, Remus strained against the spells that were binding him from all angles, whilst Kingsley cut through them, dragging him back to his feet and keeping him from further harm, at least for the moment. “Harry’s running back up to the castle,” Remus gasped at Kingsley turned to see the truth in his words. “It looks like that’s Snape with him.”

Kingsley stared at him long and hard. “Voldemort isn’t here yet and Harry’s sprinting up towards the school with Snape in tow? Then this must be a distraction, or that’s a distraction. I don’t know which.”

“Then I’ll go after them to the school,” Remus gasped, pushing Death Eaters back as he moved towards the edge of the town.

“No, I’m not risking you and Harry there tonight. You stay here and get as many people out as you can. Take them into Muggle London, take them anywhere, just not here and not Diagon. I’ll take Minerva and Mad Eye up to the castle,” Kingsley said quickly before Remus could object. “I’m counting on you tonight, Remus. Come to the castle as soon as you can.”

Remus caught a glimpse of the three of them racing after Harry and Snape up to the castle before his attention turned back to more important matters. “Here, take my hand,” he said quickly to a young mother with her child in her arms. He pressed a Portkey into her hand and a moment later she and several others disappeared from the scene.

Patronus after Patronus shot out of his wand and people were constantly disappearing from the scene, to be sent anywhere else in the country just as long as they weren’t in Hogsmeade any longer. Lives were being saves just as quickly as they were being lost, and the Order milled around, destroying dark creatures and trying to fight off the giants, but all Remus could think about throughout it all was just what was happening up at the castle. Voldemort had made no appearance at Hogsmeade, so he must be at the castle. He had to be at the castle. With Harry.

“Tonks!” Remus shouted over the noise and the chaos that surrounded them. “Tonks, keep an eye on things here. I can’t keep up any longer.” Remus gasped for breath and pulled up his robe high enough to show a huge gash down the side of his leg. “I can barely walk.”

She nodded automatically and ushered him out of the battle scene. Once Remus was certain that she wasn’t watching any longer, he waved his wand quickly over his leg and set off at a sprint towards the castle. All the lights were blazing within the castle, and figures could be seen moving within all the windows. The school was awake, but was it awake to what was going on within it. Something had woken them all, and hopefully it wasn’t the knowledge that the Dark Lord walked within its walls that night. Remus could only hope that Hogwarts had managed to keep students separate from the evil there that night; no one else had the power to keep him away.

*


Voldemort stalked through the corridors of the school. It was silent, though all around him he sensed there was panic. There were people running round the corridors and passageways of the school, frantically looking for teachers and friends alike, but none crossed his path. This was the school working against him once again, preventing him from getting where he needed to go and keeping the students well away from him. Hogwarts could not manipulate Voldemort with great skill, but the students were very easy to direct, and most of them found themselves back in their dorms with no real hassle to anyone made. The teachers found themselves gathered within the staffroom, whilst the Order that were already within the walls moved in their own way, unhindered by the school. Hogwarts had learnt by now to let them do their own thing.

He could feel his soul pulling towards him, from the higher ground in the school and fought against the building that tried to misdirect him and persuade him to go in other directions. He did not know the school that well, other than the dungeons, but his soul would guide him towards it. He would be there soon enough.

And his being there soon enough was exactly what the New Order feared. Bill and Hermione were sitting nervously in the Room of Requirement. They were perhaps the most worried of all those in the school at that moment, for they knew where Voldemort was heading, and they were sitting right there, intending to destroy what it was he came to retrieve. The potion wasn’t finished. The final stages of the brewing had yet to be completed and all they would need was fifteen more minutes. Neither of them thought that was time they had, and both were worrying about the consequences

Meanwhile, Minerva, Mad Eye and Kingsley were scouring the school for any sign of the Death Eaters and Voldemort. They were out to find him and to stall him as long as possible. They knew as well as Bill and Hermione the amount of time they needed to brew the potion and even if it cost them their lives, it would be worth it if they could only keep him at bay for long enough to destroy the remnants of his soul. Then it would be up to Harry to finish the job, sixteen years after he had first become involved.

Harry, at that moment was racing through the school with Snape, up towards the Room of Requirement. They remained outside, in ambush, knowing that to go in was to provide no assistance, nor was it to run into Voldemort’s arms. It would waste more time, allowing him to travel the lengthy route through the school that Hogwarts would provide.

A figure crossed the hallway and Snape’s eyes widened. The figure froze for a split second and Snape leapt out from their hiding place and onto him. There was a mad struggle, and suddenly Harry cast light upon them.

“Snape, get off him!” Harry snarled and helped Remus to his feet. Remus brushed him down and there was a hissed argument between the two former teachers, before Harry shoved them back into the passageway behind a large tapestry.

“Werewolves should not prowl the school on such dangerous evenings,” Snape sneered.

“You knew that was him,” Harry hissed and elbowed Snape hard in the ribs, earning him a crack around the head in return.

“Keep your mouth shut, Potter, someone’s coming.” Snape was right. The lights along the walls lit up, giving those who traversed the school some light in the darkness. It appeared that Voldemort had arrived rather more quickly than previously expected. Harry could feel his heart hammering in his chest and he pressed further back into the passageway, his back against Snape and Remus, suddenly all too aware that the passageway would not go back far enough if they needed to run.

It was then that Harry realised it didn’t matter. They would not be running away that night. They had nowhere to go and they could not leave the school. Everything he had was right here, and everything he had to destroy was in the next room. All he had to do was stop Voldemort from getting in before it was too late, preferably ending the Dark Lord’s life in the process. His resolution built, and Voldemort turned the corner. There was a ghastly smile upon his face, and he raised his wand. It was aimed right at the tapestry behind which the three of them were hiding.

“Good evening, Harry. It’s been quite some time since last we met.”


Chapter 27: The Unexpected Archway
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Chapter Twenty-Seven

It didn’t do much for Harry’s resolve in facing Voldemort once and for all to find himself being dragged with great haste down a dark passageway to the other side of the school by both Remus and Snape, with two Death Eaters on their trail.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Harry argued as he tried to free himself and shortly found himself being magically levitated at speed down the passageway whilst Snape shot spells over his shoulders at the Death Eaters. “What happened to facing Voldemort and not running away anymore?”

“I think we can put you in a better duelling position than behind a tapestry, Potter,” Snape snarled and knocked down the Death Eaters with a swift series of hexes. Only then did they stop running and Harry was lowered back to the ground. “Now come on, we don’t have much time.”

“Much time? We don’t have any time at all! All he has to do is walk into the Room of Requirement—” Harry began and was cut off by Remus.

“Yes, which is easier said than done, even with Voldemort’s powers, now come on, and we might still be able to get there before he gets inside.”

The door had broken open when they arrived back at the room, and by this point, Hermione and Bill were desperately trying to patch up the inside of the room with as many spells as they knew. The potion was being brewed further and further away from the door, with several shields around it and the Horcruxes were nowhere to be seen.

Outside the Room of Requirement, Minerva, Mad Eye and Kingsley were duelling another dozen Death Eaters, all of whom had appeared as back up once the other two had been magically disabled by Snape. Voldemort remained undisturbed as he blasted his way into the room and towards the pieces of his soul.

There was a mixed series of shouts from Harry, Remus and Snape as they appeared on the scene. Suddenly spells were ricocheting around the corridor and members of the Order and the Death Eaters were dodging them desperately. Voldemort remained unharmed by the spells that had been sent straight at him and derived some amusement from watching Minerva McGonagall leaping into a wall to avoid a redactor curse from taking her arm.

There was a final creaking and splintering of wood, followed by a brilliant flash of white light as the Room gave in. Voldemort marched straight into the room, leaving behind him the mêlée of struggling people. Kingsley was being driven back towards Remus, who quickly knocked him or her out with a series of fast hexes, leaving the four of them free to run after Voldemort.

“Stop him! The potion’s not complete!” Bill shouted as Voldemort advanced upon him and made a swipe at the bubbling cauldron with his hand. Hermione reacted quickly enough to magically move out of his way, but not fast enough to prevent Voldemort from seizing Bill around his throat and slamming him against the wall with unseen strength.

“Tell me where my Horcruxes are,” Voldemort growled as he stared straight at Bill who stared straight back, a vague expression of horror stuck on his face.

“Hermione, finish the potion!” Bill gasped before Voldemort tightened his grip. He turned his head to see Hermione fumbling with potions ingredients and shakily adding them to the cauldron.

Avada Ke—”

“Hermione!” Harry yelled, seeing Voldemort twist round. In one hand, Bill was pinned to the wall and gasping for breath, and in the other, his wand was pointed directly at Hermione. She stopped and stared up at him in shock, like a deer caught in the headlights.

Harry ran across the room and leapt at Hermione, just as the room flashed green, and everyone was momentarily blinded. When the lights had faded from their eyes, Remus breathed a sigh of relief to see Harry helping Hermione to her feet, both still alive and the potion still standing.

Suddenly shots fired rapidly at Voldemort, whose shield had been dropped to allow the casting of an Unforgivable. The Aurors had known this and were the ones from whom the spells flew. Bill was dropped in haste and collapsed on the floor, his hands over his head and his lungs dragging in air as all around him, the room erupted in light and noise.

Harry cast spells around Hermione constantly as Bill shouted instructions to her across the room and Voldemort was kept in check by the constant slew of attacks from Minerva, Mad Eye, Kingsley and Remus. Snape was watching over Hermione, with one eye on Voldemort, and Harry suspected that he was trying to get into his mind and inflict an attack in that manner.

In actual fact, he was entirely wrong. Snape wasn’t trying to attack Voldemort, but he was defending his mind against the shockwaves of pain that kept sweeping through his mind and sending him reeling. Voldemort was attacking mind after mind in the room, trying to find out where the Horcruxes were hidden. It was only when Hermione was suddenly knocked back off her chair and Harry felt something pressing within his mind that he realised what was happening.

And by that point it was too late.

Hermione was clutching her forehead in both hands and gasping for breath. There was nothing Harry could do; he didn’t know whether or not he could safely interfere with the spell and he didn’t want to send spells flying at Voldemort for fear that unsafe separation of his and Hermione’s minds could damage either.

And suddenly Snape was moving quickly over the cauldron, not bothering to look at the instructions on the table next to it. His fingers moved nimbly, chopping ingredients, and taking full advantage of the time he had to complete the potion as quickly as possible. Harry could only watch from behind, as his mind whirred for a way to help Hermione.

It did not appear that she would need any more help. Voldemort let her go and she dropped instantly to the floor. Harry turned round several times to find himself standing in the midst of complete chaos. He didn’t know how he was avoiding being hit by curses or attacked by Death Eaters, but somehow that was the case. Bill was still on the floor, moving towards Hermione’s limp form to help her. Death Eaters scrambled about, firing spells in all directions, none of which hit Minerva, Remus, Mad Eye or Kingsley. It was almost as if he and Snape were behind some kind of shield, preventing anything from striking them…

Harry turned to stare at Snape, who snapped at him without turning round, “You don’t think that if you could be seen, you’d be dead by now?”

Harry opened his mouth to reply, and then he did wonder why no one was aiming at him, and why Remus kept glancing around him and trying to fight away out of the increasingly crowded room.

“Where are we?”

“Where we’ve always been, in the Room of Requirement,” Snape replied and added more toads’ legs to the potion. It turned a bright red. “Though you really ought to know the power of Hogwarts when she’s needed by now. We’re hidden away in part of it so that none can find us, unless we need to be found.”

Harry stretched out his fingers, only to have them brush against some kind of thin, stretchy surface. It felt like they were inside a balloon of some kind.

“What’s a balloon?” Snape asked curiously. Harry whirled round to face him, wondering why and how Snape was in his thoughts, but too late. Voldemort was advancing upon them, and for a moment Harry forgot that none could see them and staggered backwards. Snape leapt away from the cauldron and dragged Harry towards the centre, just before he fell through the back of their magical balloon.

Voldemort stared straight through them and marched past, towards the back of the room. And even as he did so, a doorway began to materialise on the back wall. Harry stared at him, but the rest of the room continued to fight and to struggle. Hermione, despite Bill’s best efforts, was still unconscious on the floor. Snape glanced up at Bill and Hermione, waved his wand, and they both disappeared.

“To the Hospital Wing,” Snape said, replying to the question before Harry could ask it.

“And where does that door lead?” Harry asked. Severus stood up properly to see where Harry was pointing. It was the door through which Voldemort had just stepped.

“I have no idea, perhaps it’s where Hogwarts has hidden the Horcruxes,” Snape said, “I can’t think of any other reason that Voldemort would leave such a scene…”

And then they both froze. They stared at each other for a long moment. Then Harry was gone. Snape was too slow to grab the back of his robes and pull him back this time. Harry had leapt out of the bubble, to the astonishment of Minerva, who had been glancing around for him constantly. Snape turned quickly between following Harry and completing the potion, but he turned back to the latter. He was the only one who could finish it. None of the others stood a chance, and the Order would protect Harry. They had to.

It was with a sense of foreboding and mute terror that Minerva left the battling and sprinted through the room, like she hadn’t done in twenty years. She flew through the back door and found herself in one of the last places she had expected.

In the Forbidden Forest. This was one turn of events that Hogwarts had certainly planned well. It was silent when she arrived. She was in a small clearing of some kind, and she turned round to see through what she had travelled, it was a small archway, made by the branching of the trees. That was not particularly odd, but what was, was the source of light in that clearing. The rest of the forest was lit up by the dim light of the moon, but that particular area was lit artificially. By a single lamppost.

Minerva frowned slightly, trying to remember upon where she had heard of a lamppost in the middle of nowhere, lighting up an entrance. A book from her long since vanished youth, perhaps?

And then she saw it, a flicker of light within the darkness beyond. She quickly walked into the denser area of trees and vanished into the darkness. A light flick of her wand gave her a very soft light with which to light her way, and she slowly but carefully followed the light into the midst of the forest.

Harry was aware that he was surely still in some vast part of the Room of Requirement, so he was not in any real harm, surely? Would Hogwarts not protect him here, as best as she could? He didn’t know, but he wasn’t about to take any chances. Not when he was suddenly alone in the middle of the Forbidden Forest, or somewhere that looked very much like it. People were entering. He couldn’t explain how he knew, but he did. It was like an odd sense of hearing. He felt like he could hear people walking slowly into the Forest, yet, when he listened carefully, all he could hear was the sound of the wind rustling through the leaves around him and his own footfalls.

He was right however, people were walking into the forest. Though it might more accurately be said that people were sprinting through the Room of Requirement and through the door. Then they were stopping abruptly in the Forest and staring around them with a grim sense of horror. Remus was the next in after Minerva, and Kingsley and Mad Eye quickly followed.

Snape remained with the cauldron of the potion required to kill Voldemort once and for all. There wasn’t much else he could do. He was certain he’d be far more suited to whatever task Hogwarts had set on the other side of the room than the others, but no one else was able to make the potion. He had no choice but to stay there and help in any way he could.

Helping in any way he could really entailed knocking out any Death Eaters who came running through the door. In the beginning, there had been many, but now there were none. No more had appeared in the last ten minutes since the last of the Order had vanished through the doorway.

As if reading his mind, the Room of Requirement changed to suit his needs, at least the part of the room he occupied did. The door slammed shut and locked itself from the inside, and the cauldron expanded, with a larger, more powerful fire underneath it. The potion was bubbling nicely, and Snape realised that in the next few minutes it would be complete. Now all he had to do was to hope that Harry wasn’t being murdered a few feet away, and that Voldemort wasn’t happily plucking his Horcruxes from the hands of the Order.

The reality was far from that. The Horcruxes were placed in several places within the Forest and only the pure of heart would be able to find them and pick them up. Were Dumbledore alive to see it, he would have smiled; it was a similar adaptation to the magic he had weaved six years ago within the Mirror of Erised. The only problem lay in the fact that once the Horcruxes were picked up by a member of the Order, Voldemort could then simply take them away. And inflict death, naturally, upon the holder.

They were not particularly hard to find. Remus walked straight into Slytherins locket, hanging from a tree branch, and pocketed it quickly. That was the first one to be found. The next was the small phoenix, the same as those which each member of the Order carried around to alert the others to when one was in trouble. That was found by Minerva, who was running through the trees, away from an advancing light. Finally, the cup of Helga Hufflepuff was located by Mad Eye. All three had been found, and three others had been destroyed, so excepting the walking Horcrux, Voldemort, all that remained to be done was to destroy them.

Within this lay one problem. No one could find the way back out.

The lamppost marked the way back into Hogwarts, or at least the Room of Requirement. It had begun as the only light in the Forest, but as more people had arrived, more light had appeared. Now there was no way of finding out where to go and none had remembered to trace their way back inside.

Only one person had the confidence to stroll through the forest unlit. Voldemort had no fears of the school, but perhaps he ought to have had. The forest was not a dangerous place unless it was provoked into being so. Voldemort strode quickly through the darkness, unhindered by the wild trees and undergrowth and marched towards the nearest light. It was unfortunate for Mad Eye that he was the current owner of that light, and was brightening his path through the forest with his wand.

Stupefy!” The spell shot over Mad Eye’s shoulder, missing him by a fraction of an inch. He spun round instantly, and leapt behind the nearest tree to avoid the barrage of spells that shot his way.

Mad Eye raised his wand, readying himself to turn and fight Voldemort to the death. He leapt around the side of the tree. And then there was nothing. He spun round wildly, eyes darting around, and it was only when his vision settled back where Voldemort had been standing that he realised. Vines were slowly creeping back into the depths of the forest, and only a small tangled shred of a cloak could be seen between them. The Forest had Voldemort.

Lumus Solarus!” Mad Eye cried into the night. Dazzling light shot out of the end of his wand and across the forest. All within could not but mistake the light and the voice that had created it. Cautiously, footsteps grew louder as the Order surrounded Mad Eye and peered through the trees. It appeared to be him… but there was no telling where Voldemort had gone.

Mad Eye held the cup of Helga Hufflepuff over his head and the Order moved forwards. “Lights out. How else are we to see the way out?”

Remus anxiously turned the locket that once belonged to Salazar Slytherin over and over in his hands as all the lights went out around him. There was only one light left in the distance. That of the lamppost, and their way back to the Room of Requirement.

They scrambled back through the dark archway and into the Room of Requirement. They stopped suddenly as wands were pointed at their throat. They were surely defeated.

Before the Order, stood Voldemort and a row of formidable-looking Death Eaters. There was no sight of the potion, the Horcruxes or Snape. There was also no sign of Harry.


Chapter 28: No Bringing Him Back
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Chapter Twenty-Eight

Snape finished the potion. The last of the ingredients were added and it was stirred clockwise thrice for completion. It bubbled momentarily and turned a glowing white in colour. He stepped back from it, looking satisfied with himself. Now, all that remained to do was to add the Horcruxes, and all would be well.

Except Severus didn’t know where the Horcruxes were being held. Potter did. Potter had just run through a strange doorway into some presumably obscure part of the school, followed by a potential murderer and anyone else who was likely to know where the Horcruxes were being kept.

As if the Room of Requirement was able to give Severus just what he wanted, Harry staggered back out through the doorway, looking quite dazed and confused. He spun round momentarily, looking for anyone, but to his eyes, there was no one.

Snape realised that he was still within the bubble that kept he and the cauldron out of sight and harm’s way. He raised his wand to remove the bubble, until he saw the figure emerging from behind him. Voldemort. He sprang forward, grabbing hold of Harry’s arm.

For a moment, all Harry saw was a dark, robed arm reaching out of nowhere and pulling him forwards. He was too astonished and taken aback to offer any resistance and felt himself flying forwards into what could be anywhere. So he was quite surprised when he found himself inside the same bubble-like structure he had been within earlier on, with Snape and a now finished potion.

“Where are you, Harry?” Voldemort asked of no one, as he strode into the room. He had arrived just a fraction too late to see Harry pulled into nowhere, and all he could assume was that Hogwarts had hidden him, or that he had run through the open door.

Voldemort decided to wait. The Order had to come back soon, and when they did, he would be waiting for them. Harry would not run far, when he, Voldemort, had everyone he cared about trapped in one room, with wands at their throats.

Harry watched helplessly as Voldemort called in more Death Eaters, and soon the Order was surrounded, clutching the Horcruxes in their arms. Voldemort saw them and smiled a terrible smile. He began to walk forward, and a bony arm outstretched to Remus, offering to take the Locket of Slytherin away from him.

Remus clutched onto it as tightly as he could, but before Voldemort even got to him, he could feel something pulling it from his fingers. A strange power surrounded him and eased it from him, not away from him, just from him. Suddenly, the locket was gone, and Remus was none the wiser as to its current location. A warm feeling surrounded him, and he only hoped that it had gone somewhere good, and that he had not just been tricked.

He felt himself thrown to the floor, and the warm fuzzy feeling disappeared. Wands were pointed exclusively at him, and the rest of the Order stood back, terrified as to what was going to happen. None of them had any doubt as to what would happen if any of them moved or tried to escape. Those who had been clutching Horcruxes also, felt them disappear into nowhere and a similar fuzzy feeling enveloped them. There was no telling where they could have gone.

“I suggest that you tell me where you just sent that, wolf.” Voldemort’s tone was enough to make the Order cower with fear and shrink together. Harry stared out through the bubble, his mouth open. He made the decision in a moment.

He was going to run out there and save Remus.

Severus stared at the scene with displeasure but no compassion. The wolf was going to be tortured, so evidently Hogwarts had hidden the locket somewhere good. Somewhere that Voldemort couldn’t touch. He glanced around the room for some kind of clue, and he saw it. To the side of the whole scene, there was a small doorway. On the other side, there appeared to be nothing other than brick, and from the position of those standing where Voldemort was, it would look as if there was no doorway at all. That had to be where it had gone. This had to be Hogwarts trying to help them and to get them to complete the potion.

He glanced at Potter. He didn’t know what he was going to do but the moment the Cruciatus curse was uttered, and it would be, as surely as his name was Severus Snape, nothing good would happen. The boy was tensed and twirling his wand through his fingers. The realisation hit Severus suddenly.

He was going to run out there and try and save the wolf.

Cruci—” Harry leapt out of the bubble, just as Voldemort opened his mouth. Severus leapt out after him, grabbing Harry, just as Voldemort span round to cast the curse upon them. Snape’s force pushed Harry through the small side door, which immediately closed up behind them. The last thing that Severus saw as he fell through the doorway was Mad Eye leaping forwards to attack the nearest of the Death Eaters and Minerva knocking Voldemort back with a well timed hex. The potion was still hidden within the bubble he had left on it, and they were disappearing. With a thud, they landed on a cold stone floor.

In the Room of Requirement, the Order was fighting hard against the Death Eaters and Voldemort. He didn’t care for killing them, that much was certain. This was to bide time until he could think where he might find Harry, or how he might lead him back towards him, that much was apparent. Minerva stared past where Harry and Severus had fallen. There was nothing there. There had been a moment in which she was certain she’d seen an archway, but… nothing. Just wall now. She hoped that wherever they were, they would find the Horcruxes and destroy them.

“This cannot be,” Severus muttered as he stared around him.

“Where are we?” Harry asked, taking in the small room in which they were stood. Shelves lined the walls and upon them were all sorts of odd things: joke products which looked to differ in age from ancient to just a few days old, reams and reams of parchment that nobody ever wanted anybody else to see. A few prized relics, hidden from the world. Students and teachers often wished that their things would disappear, whether it was a stink bomb from under Snape’s chair that had been intended for somebody else, or a love letter that should never have been sent. When somebody wished something to be moved or hidden desperately enough, it was that room in Hogwarts into which they would go. Sometimes things would fly from the shelves and return suddenly to their owners, who had been desirous of their return, but often they lay in the dusty old room, forgotten and never to be seen again.

It was a rare occasion indeed that Hogwarts herself would allow anyone to enter this most secret of rooms, but it was a dire situation that Harry was in right then. He was to find the Horcruxes and destroy them, as quickly as possible. And then he had to destroy Voldemort.

“Here,” Severus said, spotting the Horcruxes on a shelf some way to their left. They were there, the three that were left. Harry pocketed the locket, and Severus took the phoenix and the cup into his arms. They spun around and turned back towards the room from which they had come. On the outside, they could see the desperate fighting that was happening, but there was no way that they could get back to the centre of the room to reach the hidden cauldron. No way at all.

Minerva thought that she saw a glimmer of something on the wall through which Severus and Harry had travelled. She felt a sharp pain in her head and the sudden desire to leave the room and run away. Severus was meddling with her mind again, as he had often done in the past but somehow she doubted that it was his usual method of irritation at such a moment. He wanted her to get out of the room. They were still in the chamber next to them, and for Harry’s protection, he could not cross the room whilst the Death Eaters and Voldemort were still present.

It was to everyone’s sudden surprise that she suddenly darted out of the room. The Death Eaters, thinking that she was up to some kind of devious escape, instantly ran after her, followed by the Order, and the door slammed shut.

Severus ran out into the room followed by Harry. A quick wave of his wand and the cauldron reappeared in his view. And then, between them stepped a tall, cloaked figure. Voldemort had not left the room. He would not fall for such obvious decoys as an Order member running from the scene. Even if his men had.

“Harry, how good to see you again,” Voldemort sneered, sending Severus flying against the wall with a quick wave of his wand and the Horcruxes went scattering across the room. Harry held one in his pocket still, and it felt cold and heavy. More so than it already had.

Harry was left standing in the background as Voldemort rooted him to the spot without his wand, before turning to Severus. “You have not been the most loyal of men, Severus. It has been many years until you have proven yourself as such, but you have finally shown how duplicitous you truly are.”

Harry stared in horror as Severus writhed under the Cruciatus curse. His feet were rooted to the spot, and his wand had been removed. He had never wanted something so much in his entire life, as to have the Horcruxes and the potion to hand. There was a sudden tingling within his fingers and toes, and then a flash of white. The cauldron had flown across the room to him and the Horcruxes were all in his arms. He had no idea what had just happened, but he threw them into the cauldron, along with the locket that had been in his pocket.

There was a startled shout from Severus and suddenly, Harry found himself bowled off his feet as Snape threw himself on top of him and the two flew into the wall. The cauldron exploded with such force as to send shards of lead flying across the room in all directions. There was no potion and no Horcruxes left within. There wasn’t the slightest evidence whatsoever of any Horcruxes.

Snape and Harry disentangled themselves on the floor. They were expecting to have found the Death Eaters flooding back in and Voldemort’s wand at Harry’s throat. Instead, the room was empty except for the three of them and Voldemort was on the floor. His mouth was open in a silent scream and his hands were clutching his head. he rocked back and forth in agony as he felt part of his soul destroyed in such close proximity.

Harry rose to his feet, and found a wand in his hand. He walked towards Voldemort. He felt no pity for the shell of a man who crouched beneath him. Voldemort barely realised that he was there, and if he did, he did not perceive him as a threat. Harry was not in the mood for talking. He did not have to justify his actions, he did not have to give reason for the murder he was about to commit and he certainly had no reason to think that anyone would be the sorrier for losing the man who lay down on the floor in front of him.

He raised the wand. A flash of green lit the room, and he barely heard himself cry the words he had dreamt of shouting into the light for so long.

Severus watched on emotionlessly. He had expected Potter to fail at the last. He didn’t think that he could have cast the curse as he had. Considering all that Voldemort had done to Harry in his lifetime, Severus shouldn’t have been surprised.

Once the light had faded, Severus surveyed the scene. It was so strange to see Voldemort lying there, no longer a threat. He could not do anything to anyone any longer. Of course the Ministry would have to be informed instantly, but once the Prophet got hold of the news, the world would rejoice and once again, Potter would be the hero, Potter had saved the world. Well, if he hadn’t saved Potter, then Voldemort would probably have been very much alive, so perhaps it was he, Severus, who had saved the Wizarding world. He would have liked to think so.

He glanced at Potter only to see him staring intently at Voldemort. There was an odd look upon his face, one which he could not quite place. It was a mixture of uncertainty and what-have-I-done? He had just killed a man, that was sure, but the ends surely justified the means. By becoming a killer himself, Harry had saved the world from that particular megalomaniac.

Snape gently took hold of Harry’s arm and pulled him away from Voldemort and out of the room. The Order was sprinting up the corridor towards them. It only took a moment for them to establish exactly what had happened. Harry didn’t really remember much of what had happened after that. He didn’t need to; all he needed to know was that Voldemort was dead, once and for all. There could be no bringing him back, not this time.


Chapter 29: Wizarding Hero
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Chapter Twenty-Nine

There was darkness all around him. And then suddenly, light. Everywhere. Burning what felt like his very soul, but he didn’t have a soul anymore, did he? He had sold something so worthless a long time ago, cutting it up into smaller and smaller pieces, until none remained. Into seven, the most powerful number.

At last the worst had happened – he had lost his life. The one thing he had tried so valiantly to protect above everything. His one weakness exposed for all the Order to see. He had lost his life and he didn’t know what to do any longer.

And yet, if he had lost his life, what was this? This strange stream of consciousness that flowed through his mind. How could thought exist when there was no soul to issue it? It was cruel to think that after so long, he had finally been defeated. If he had only ignored the prophecy, then things would not have come to pass. If he had let Potter go, then Potter would have no cause to go after him as an adult. He would not have profound Wizarding status. He would not have been Albus Dumbledore’s protégé. He, Lord Voldemort, might still be alive. Or was he Lord Voldemort? There was another being he had once been. Another, before he was a Lord. His mind strained to think back through time, but he failed. No, there was no one before he was Lord Voldemort.

The light was beginning to fade into something else now. A room began to materialise around him. Beds. A few blurred figures at the end of the room. He recognised this place, but he could not place it. His memory was barely in fact, but there was some memory there.

The people came closer. He recognised them and shrank back slightly. With a strange twist, he knew where he was.

“Harry?”


***


“Harry, are you okay?” Remus Lupin was bending over him, Ron, Hermione, Tonks and McGonagall were doing the same. There was a moment in which he could barely recognise them for who they were, but he felt relief sweep over him and suddenly he was being tightly embraced by Hermione.

“Miss Granger, if you are going to squeeze the life out of my patient, I must ask that you leave!” Madam Pomfrey came storming down the aisle between the beds. She did not look overly pleased and Hermione pulled back immediately.

Harry stared around at them but still said nothing. “You collapsed after casting the curse,” Remus explained, not waiting to be asked. “Most people do, the first time they cast it.”

He could feel something pressing against the back of his mind. An all too familiar sensation and then suddenly a sharp pain in his forehead. Remus was still talking but he couldn’t quite distinguish the words he was saying. Parseltongue was talking quietly in the back of his mind, but he couldn’t quite distinguish those words either.

It was a moment before he realised that Voldemort was in his mind, but that couldn’t be, surely. Voldemort was dead. He had killed him with his own wand. He had watched him fall. Voldemort was dead.

His eyes were closing and Remus was still talking. Parseltongue was still talking; Voldemort was still talking. The darkness felt like his only escape. And Harry closed his eyes.

It was dark when Harry opened his eyes again. The Hospital Wing was empty now; no one had stayed by his bedside this time, though a book lay on his bedside table, and an empty cup of tea – most likely Remus had been there as long as he could stay awake.

“Hello, Harry.”

Harry shivered. “What do you want?” he whispered into the darkness.

“I want to know what you have done. What have you done to me?” It was Voldemort. Quiet and angry in his way. Pain coursed through Harry’s head, it felt like his head was splitting apart down the middle. He gasped and pressed his hands to the sides of his head, as if holding himself together. “What have you done to us?!”

“I haven’t done anything! I killed you!” Harry cried. “You’re dead now. I killed you.”

Voldemort was silent for a moment. “No. No you didn’t. You have saved me, Harry Potter. You have saved me from yourself.”

A memory began to form in Harry’s head.

It was Godric’s Hollow. Harry recognised it easily. Through Voldemort’s eyes. He walked confidently down the street, and stopped when he reached the house of the Potters.

A wand was out in front of him. Harry finally saw the imagery to go with all the screams and the shouts, the cried conversations he had heard whenever Dementors got too close. His mother running towards his room, and his father standing up to fight. It had not been a long fight – though fear makes people strong, it did not make him strong enough to win.

Footsteps along the landing, and a baby’s cry. Lily stood proudly in front of her son and then in a flash of green light, she crumpled to the ground. The baby screamed and cried again.

Slytherin’s wand was in Voldemort’s other hand. His own, brother, wand in his right hand. It was to be the most unlikely recipient of the final piece of his own soul. The piece that would make seven.

Sounds could be heard outside the house. People were shouting in the street. He didn’t have much time. He closed his eyes. The room went dark. A cry punctuated the air and his concentration was lost. With the casting of the killing curse, half of the small amount of soul left within Voldemort would be transported into Slytherin’s wand. And then he would be the most powerful wizard alive.

He had not predicted the love that protected Harry. He had not thought that the love would cause Harry’s life to be saved the only way possible, by taking in the piece of Voldemort’s soul. A man cannot destroy his own soul, and so with that inside Harry, Harry would always be indestructible to Voldemort. Something that neither of them had realised until now.


The image faded out, the last thing that they saw was baby Harry screaming as the house fell down around him. Slytherin’s wand fell to the floor. Neither of them knew that it would be restored to Harry some ten years later.

“And so you see, Harry, that you are me. We are the same person. You hold a piece of my soul within you, and so we can never die. I cannot kill you, and you cannot kill me.” Voldemort said in his mind.

“Why do you think that I could get into your mind so easily…? I was already there.

“Why do you think that you saw through Nagini’s eyes when she attacked Athur Weasley? Because you have my soul.

“Why do you think I have never killed you despite numerous attempts?

“Why do you think your scar hurts when I am near you?

“Why do you think I am still alive within you?

“No! We can’t be the same person. We just can’t!” Harry cried into the silent school. In a moment he was out of his bed and running. He didn’t know where he was going but he soon found himself in the foyer of the school, before the grand main doors.

“You cannot escape me, Harry, you cannot escape your own mind.”

“Harry Potter!” The voice was familiar. He whirled around. Severus Snape.

Severus arrived on the scene to find a frenzied Harry Potter grasping his head frantically and talking to no one. “We can’t be the same person,” he heard Potter say. His mind was calculating things fast. It was possible, but improbable, for things to have happened so perfectly, and yet it all made sense.

They stared at each other for a moment. Something flickered behind Harry’s eyes, and in that moment, they both knew it. Harry turned and ran. The great doors flung open in front of him. Snape didn’t waste a moment in sprinting after him.

Harry ran through the darkness towards the nearest light. Hogsmeade.

***

“He’s gone!” Remus gasped. He returned after a brief visit to the school kitchens and had returned after a minor feast, forced upon him by the House Elves. Harry’s bed was still warm, and the bedding had been flung off the bed. He had left in a hurry, presumably shocked to find it suddenly dark and himself alone in the night.

He ran out of the room, his feet echoing on the floor. Remus had intended to run up to the headmistress’s office and wake Minerva. She would be able to find Harry anywhere in the large school, or beyond it, with considerable ease. He got as far as the foyer and found the main doors open, and blowing slightly in the strong winds.

Remus didn’t waste a moment in thought before he ran out through the double doors and into the night. Ahead of him, he could see two figures racing towards Hogsmeade. He was quickly on their tail.

***

The town was still deserted. Hogsmeade was still in the possession of the Dark Lord’s creatures. Creatures that sane witches and wizards do not venture near. Harry didn’t care that he was running directly into danger, all that he cared about was trying to run and get away from the voice within his head. His own voice told him that there was little point in trying to escape. He cannot escape himself. And he could not kill himself. He could not kill Voldemort either. There was nothing that he could do. Nothing.

Years of running away from Dudley and his gang as a child had meant Harry had once been a very swift runner. He had not lost that side of him, and he easily out-ran Snape to the village. He was also aware that someone else was running behind Snape. He didn’t want to think who that could be, but Harry strongly suspected Remus.

He ran to a dead end. The middle of the village was deserted. There was nowhere to run forwards, and running back would be running towards Snape. All around him, Harry could feel the creatures of the night milling around, waiting to get a clean attack upon him. In one of the houses, he could sense Dementors. They could feel his double soul within him and were hungry for it.

“Harry, are you out of your mind!?” Snape yelled once he caught up to him. “We are in the middle of one of the most densely populated areas of Dark Creatures in the world, and you run here. You cannot control these creatures, not when you are half Harry Potter, Voldemort.”

“I am not Voldemort,” Harry said plainly. “I am Harry Potter and I know full well what I am doing.”

“Do you?” Remus asked, running towards him. “These are not the actions of the Harry I knew. Why are you running towards your certain death?”

“Why have you followed me to yours?” Harry asked. “And how can I possibly carry on living when I’m not even myself anymore? When the last of Voldemort is living in my head and in my body. You tell me, how can I live like this?”

“Neither can live whilst the other survives,” Snape said quietly.

“No, and I cannot kill this soul without killing myself,” Harry said quietly. “It is the only thing that I can do.”

“Harry, you’ve lost your mind!” Remus cried. “You killed Voldemort, you watched him die. You threw the Horcruxes into the potion. All seven are gone. You are the only one left now.”

“He’s inside my mind. The only way for me to live after Voldemort cast the killing curse on me all those years ago was for me to become a Horcrux. And I made it my mission to destroy every piece of soul that belonged to Voldemort. I will do so,” Harry said quietly. “The search for the piece of his soul is over. The last is here, and I will destroy it.”

Before either Snape or Remus could do a thing to stop him, Harry turned around and threw himself into the wall of waiting Dementors behind him. They had slowly been gathering around him as he spoke, and Harry knew that it was time to end it once and for all. Before it was too late.

Remus ran towards Harry, and Snape threw himself at the werewolf, dragging him to the ground. The two of them fell onto the cobbles before Harry.

“Harry, No!” Remus yelled. It was too late. One of the Dementors had it’s hands around Harry’s throat. The young boy was lifted up off the ground and the Dementor lowered its hood. Remus and Snape stared in horror. No one living had ever seen what a Dementor looked like when it lowered its hood, without losing their soul shortly afterwards.

Two bright lights left Harry, and Remus stopped struggling. Both souls had left him, and it was too late for him now.

“Time to go, Lupin,” Snape said quietly. He grabbed Remus’s arm, and the two of them disapparated.

Harry’s body sat down on the ground. His soul had left him, and without that, there was no point in being alive. The Dementors walked away, knowing that there was no soul left to be taken. That was how the Order found him the next morning, once they had ridden the town off all evil influence. He was still sitting there, even as Tonks cried on his shoulder and Ron shook him violently, trying to make him wake up and be himself again.

He was sent away to St. Mungo’s. They have a ward for those suffering so, and sometimes, Neville would sit and talk to Harry when he went to see his parents. Remus would wander along sometimes, just to talk to someone he knew would understand. It wasn’t the same, once you knew they were gone, and all of them knew it. Ron had wanted to have a funeral in his honour, but Minerva refused; “He’s not dead yet!”

It felt like a poor ending for him. The Wizarding world was safe again, but it’s hero had no idea what he had done. He had never managed to celebrate, and those who had known and loved Harry hadn’t managed to celebrate either.

It was Mad Eye Moody who had been given the task of going around to the Dursley’s house to tell them that the boy they had been charged with care for, had suffered a terrible fate.

“Mr Dursley,” Alastor greeted, gruffly.

“What do you want? You freaks aren’t welcome here, I thought we made that perfectly clear!” Vernon barked at him.

Alastor walked straight past him and into the house. In moments, the household had gathered around the kitchen table. “I’m afraid to inform you that Harry has suffered a terrible fate.” He glanced around the table. Dudley and Vernon were grinning widely. “He has lost his soul to the Dementors. He killed Voldemort, and in doing so, lost his own soul. He is in St. Mungo’s at this minute, if you ever feel inclined to visit him. He won’t know who you are, of course, and he seems barely alive, but he is. And he’s there.”

“Well, for once, you’re the bringer of good news,” Vernon grinned. “Now if you would be so kind as to get off my property.”

Alastor pulled himself up to his full height and raised his wand threateningly, and then, he put it back to his side. He didn’t have it in him to threaten the Muggles any more. There didn’t seem a lot of point, unless he could return to Grimmauld Place and tell Harry and the Weasley children all about it, and they could all laugh at them. There had not been any laughter in Grimmauld Place for some time now.

“I’ll see myself out,” he said, gruffly, and left without another word.

“A happy ending!” Vernon laughed loudly, as the door slammed shut. “Petunia? Where are you going?”

“I’m just popping out for a while, I won’t be long,” she said, and the front door opened and shut again. And then she was gone.

“Celebratory brunch, I think, Dad!” Dudley grinned and opened the fridge, his father stood behind him, staring over his shoulders at the contents.

In St. Mungo’s hospital, there is a wing for those who have suffered horrendous accidents, often the prey of Dementors, or the Cruciatus curse. They don’t get many visitors, but the visitors that they do get, often stay for long hours at a time, talking and talking, knowing full well that those who sit there before them are merely shadows of the people they were before. But they are still the same people.

A thin woman with a serious face and a perfectly acceptable Muggle dress walked into the room. No one batted an eyelid. On a bed at the end of the ward, there was a young boy sitting on his own. He didn’t move, and if he wasn’t breathing and intermittently blinking, you’d think he was dead. Petunia knew better though. She had heard all about the Dementors and what they did to those they caught. She knew the state that Harry was in. She went to the end of the room and sat down on the edge of his bed next to him. It was unfortunate that this was probably the nicest bed Harry had ever slept upon – he had never known better whilst conscious of his surroundings.

Petunia took a deep breath. “Hello, Harry,” she said quietly. “I know we’ve never spoken much, and I’ve left it too late, but there’s a lot I’ve always wanted to tell you…”

A paper lay by the side of his bed, and Petunia glanced at it before she began to speak. It showed a smiling Harry Potter in his school days with Ron and Hermione. The title simply read ‘Wizarding Hero’.


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