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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.

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