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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.”

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