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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.

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