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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.

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