“Bellatrix?” Sirius said doubtfully. “What, did she just walk up to you and say, ‘Hey, I have one of Voldemort’s Horcruxes, do you want it?’”
Severus frowned. “Well, no, but—”
“Then how do you know she has one?” Lily asked impatiently, tapping her fingernails on the table. Why couldn’t he have just brought back a Horcrux instead of what was sure to be a false lead?
“Just let him explain,” Remus said, holding up a hand to Sirius, who then leaned back in his seat, narrowing his eyes.
Severus looked taken aback for a moment. “Uh, thanks… Remus.”
Remus nodded for him to continue.
“Well, she was bragging about how much the Dark Lord trusts—”
“Voldemort!” Sirius snapped, slamming a fist down on the table. “Call him Voldemort!”
The silence in the pub was thick as Sirius and Severus engaged in a stare-down. Remus, not yet accustomed to the high levels of tension, fidgeted in his seat and coughed awkwardly.
Lily sighed impatiently. “Just relax, Sirius.” She glanced to Severus briefly. “Well, go on.”
He let out his breath and restarted. “She only said that—that Voldemort has trusted something important to her.”
“Well, that doesn’t mean anything,” Sirius scoffed. “She never said it was a Horcrux?”
“No, but I doubt that the—” Severus gulped, “—that Voldemort would tell anyone about his Horcruxes. You saw what Regulus said in the letter—he called it his ‘secret.’ I don’t think Bellatrix knows what it really is.”
“That’s helpful,” Sirius snorted. “If she doesn’t know what it is, how come you know?”
“Do you have any better ideas?” Severus challenged. “Because if you do, I know we’d all love to hear them. It’d be really helpful at a time like this, you know?”
And again with the stare-down. Lily shot an apologetic look at Remus who seemed very uncomfortable. Sirius was reclining in his seat, smirking for some reason, even though it was clear he had no comeback. But he obviously didn’t think he needed one.
Lily groaned quietly. “Alright. So, Bellatrix Lestrange may have a Horcrux. What next? What’s the plan?”
“I haven’t had the time to come up with a plan,” Severus said, an edge of annoyance to his tone. “I only just found this out—a few hours ago at most. I can’t do everything…”
Lily saw the panic in his eyes as what he has said registered with him. But if had also registered with Lily—and, apparently, Sirius. Both had leapt to their feet, wands drawn.
“If you’re trying to suggest that we aren’t pulling our fair share in this…” Lily began, her knuckles turning white as she gripped her wand.
“Might I remind you who discovered how to destroy the Horcruxes?” Sirius added, his own wand advancing menacingly closer to Severus’s heart.
He held up his hands defensively and leaned away from the two of them.
“Expelliarmus!” Remus called out suddenly. Both the wands clattered to the ground and their owners turned to their disarmer in surprise.
“I didn’t think you three had been getting along perfectly,” he said, “but honestly—drawing your wands on each other like that? It’s absurd. We’re all on the same side here.”
Lily felt warmth creeping into her cheeks—the telltale sign of her shame. “I’ve been trying to tell them that—they’ve been worse than me, really—can’t get past their old problems from school…”
Sirius raised a questioning eyebrow at her. “Way to throw me under the bus,” he muttered. “But you know what—you’re the one who bludgeoned me with a map!”
Lily was about to retort, saying that he’d provoked her and had had it coming, when Remus started laughing.
“Bludgeoned you with a map, eh?” he chuckled. “Do I even want to know?”
Sirius bit his lip as if trying to hold back a smile. “I had paper-cuts all over my face.”
The two former Marauders broke into such wholesome, natural laughter that it wasn’t long until Lily found herself giggling. And it wasn’t long after that that she felt warm tears sliding down her cheeks. The other two had stopped laughing and were now looking at her in alarm.
“Are you crying?” Sirius asked timidly.
“Yes,” she said, her laughter sounded shrill and slightly crazed through her tears.
She took in a quavering breath and smiled shakily. “I don’t know…” She laughed again, as fresh tears rolled down her face. “I’m such a mess.”
Remus offered a sympathetic smile and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. It took all her willpower to now break down completely then and there. But she was able to calm herself to the point where her voice wouldn’t crack every time she spoke. Remus gave her one last comforting squeeze before his arm fell away from her.
Aberforth cleared his throat awkwardly and the four turned to look at him. Lily felt more than a little embarrassed. She’d forgotten entirely that he was still there.
“Well, I usually close up about two hours ago,” he said gruffly. “Do you want a room?”
* * *
It took about a week to devise a plan. They met each day down in the Hog’s Head and practically drank the place dry in the process. Lily didn’t get much sleep at night, in a room all by herself. Severus also had a room of his own, but Sirius and Remus shared the last vacancy. It seemed they didn’t get much sleep either. She could hear them, late at night, talking in low voices. Sometimes she could pick out snippets of their conversations through the thin walls. Though they never named her, she knew that the ‘she’ they were so worried about was her.
Other times, Sirius would complain about Severus and Remus would come to his defense. These were the loudest conversations; Lily didn’t have to hold her breath in order to make out every word. The final discussion topic seemed to be wistful reminiscences about the good old days at Hogwarts. James’s name came up a lot. There were the quietest and Lily sometimes pressed her ear against the wall to better hear their whispers.
It was reassuring to hear their voices and their soft laughter as they recalled the highlights of their ten-year friendship. It reminded Lily that James had been real. She’d been so focused on the Hunt that she’d nearly forgotten its purpose.
That morning was the day they were going to put the plan into action. It was far from fool-proof, but it was the best they were going to get. Lily draped the Invisibility Cloak over her shoulders, nerves setting in for the first time.
“What if she sees you?” Sirius asked, for the tenth time since Lily had volunteered for this role.
She sighed. He wasn’t going to accept her answer of, ‘She won’t,’ anymore. So, she said, “I don’t know. Game over, I guess.”
He frowned. “Don’t be so nonchalant about it. This is Bellatrix Lestrange we’re talking about.”
“I know.” She gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek. “Just don’t worry about it. That goes for you, too, Remus.”
Remus smiled as she hugged him. “I don’t like this; it’s like we’re saying goodbye.”
He was right; it did feel that way to Lily, but she hadn’t voiced it. “We’ll be back soon,” she promised and nodded at Severus, before she dropped the hood over her head. She held onto his arm and the two of them Disapparated from the Hog’s Head to the grounds just outside the Lestrange Manor.
Lily let go of Severus’s arm and followed him on the short walk to the mansion. She practiced treading silently on the path. When they reached the door, she took out her wand just in case. Severus lifted the heavy knocker and pounded it against the huge door three times. Then he stepped back, nearly running into Lily, but she dodged him. Her heart was already pounding. It was several minutes before the door opened, but when it did there was a man standing there, looking out at them. This caught her off guard—she had expected to see Bellatrix… But maybe it would be best if they could avoid her altogether.
“Rodolphus,” Severus said pleasantly. “Can I come in?”
The man seemed surprised, but obliged. Lily slipped in just behind Severus, touching his wrist slightly to alert him that she was inside. The door closed and her eyes adjusted to the dim lighting. The house was huge. That became immediately apparent. She hadn’t realized just how big it was from the outside. The Horcrux could be anywhere inside… it would take her hours to search all the rooms. She’d probably get lost and never find her way out—and that was preferable to Bellatrix catching onto the presence of an intruder.
Then the women herself came sweeping around the corner and into the entrance hall. She stopped in her tracks, her dark eyes narrowing at Severus. Lily thought that she should slip away now, while she had the chance. She took a couple steps toward the staircase, but feared that she would be heard. So she stayed put.
“Snape?” Bellatrix said sourly. “What do you want?”
“Only the pleasure of your company,” he replied, almost sardonically. Lily, smiling under the Cloak, thought that she’d stay to see the show in the very least and start exploring the house a little later.
“I’m not in the mood to entertain guests,” Bellatrix said, scowling at him.
“Well, I won’t stay long,” Severus said. “I just wish to inquire about Lucius Malfoy.”
“What about him?”
“Last time I saw him, he wasn’t faring too well. Is he doing better?”
“What leads you to believe I would know?”
“He’s your brother-in-law, after all,” he said. “Have you heard anything from Narcissa at least?”
“You’d have to ask them,” she said. “I don’t know why you didn’t go to the Malfoys in the first place.”
“I only thought that if Lucius was still enduring punishments… I don’t want to interrupt.”
She appraised him with her heavy eyes. “I see… Well, I don’t know anything more than you do. Thanks for dropping by unannounced, it’s always appreciated… It’s not as if we have owls…”
Severus smiled, in contrast to her irritated expression. “My apologies…” He looked around the entrance hall, as if looking for something. Lily slipped a hand out of her Cloak and gave him a quick thumbs-up. He nodded faintly. “I’ll be on my way, then. Have a nice day.”
Bellatrix ushered him out the door and closed it firmly behind him. Lily began creeping up the staircase, one by one, painstakingly slowly.
“Why’d you let him in?” Bellatrix hissed to her husband.
“I couldn’t have just told him to go away!”
“You could have.” Silence. Lily risked a peek behind her—they were glowering at each other. Finally, Rodolphus looked away. Bellatrix had won. “You know I don’t trust Snape. He’s up to something.”
“He’s not up to something, that’s ridiculous…”
“He is, I know he is… That was really suspicious, showing up on our doorstep for no apparent reason.”
“You ever think maybe he just…” Rodolphus trailed off.
“What?” she prompted impatiently.
“Maybe he just wants to be friends.”
Another few seconds of silence. Lily froze. She’d have to wait until they started talking again to take any more steps. She held her breath.
“Friends?” Bellatrix repeated. She cackled horribly, allowing Lily to ascend a few more stairs. “What do you mean by that?”
“Well, he doesn’t exactly get on with anyone else, so…”
“But why latch onto us? I take every opportunity I can to say nasty things to him… or about him to others. I’d always assumed the hatred was mutual.” She laughed again, slightly more pleasantly this time. “Interesting theory… but I still think we should keep an eye on him.”
The two left the entrance hall, but in opposite directions. Lily let her breath out slowly, her heart still pounding in her chest. She could do this. She climbed the rest of the stairs in several long strides.
Then came the real problem: Where to start.
This place was impossibly huge. There could’ve been any of the three remaining Horcruxes there. So it might be Hufflepuff’s cup, but it might be one of the other two just as easily. In which case, she had no idea what to look for. It seemed that being discovered was the least of her concerns.
Lily started in one room, looking around, opening drawers, but being careful not to displace too many things. Some of the doors were locked, so she quietly cast the Unlocking Charm. Her hopes peaked every time she came across such a room—there might be something inside, that’s why the door is locked—but many of them were completely empty and none contained anything that could reasonably be a Horcrux. She’d systematically worked her way through the upstairs corridors and rooms. It had taken her at least two hours and she had nothing to show for it. And if she didn’t return soon, Sirius, Remus and Severus had vowed to go in after her.
So she made her way to the staircase again and began creeping down, step by step, when Bellatrix walked across the entrance hall beneath her. Lily froze, holding her breath.
“Rodolphus,” she called, disappearing down another hallway. Lily didn’t move, though, for she could still hear the woman’s footsteps. “When was the last time you went to Gringotts?”
She took a few more steps. Hopefully she would be able to get out while they were distracted with a conversation.
“Probably a month ago, why do you ask?” he answered, sounding rather bored.
“Don’t you think we should check regularly? Make sure it’s safe?”
Lily stopped again, about halfway down the stairs. She leaned against the banister, listening closely.
“I suppose,” Rodolphus said. “Is that what you think Snape is up to?” He sounded a little amused, as if he wasn’t taking her concerns seriously.
“Don’t look at me like that!” she practically shrieked at him. “He seemed really interested when I mentioned it last week.”
“Why would he want to rob our vault? Think about what you’re saying…”
“I have thought about it,” she huffed. “And I’m going to Gringotts on Thursday to upgrade the security.”
Lily jumped when Bellatrix came around the corner again and started up the stairs. She froze and held her breath, willing her heart to slow down. But Bellatrix breezed right past her without the slightest hesitation. It wasn’t even that close of a call. Once Lily heard a door open and close down the hall behind her, she made a break for it, running down the stairs as quickly and quietly as she could.
The door opening would surely make some undesirable noise, but she couldn’t avoid it. She eased it open slowly, just wide enough to slip outside, and then closed it behind her. Then she ran, not caring about how much sound she made. She sprinted off the grounds and Disapparated as soon as she’d cleared the gate.
* * *
Sirius, Severus and Remus breathed a collective sigh of relief when Lily burst into the Hog’s Head, flushed and panting. But it didn’t take long for Sirius to remember the objective of her mission.
“Did you find anything?” he asked.
Lily shook her head and breathlessly replied, “No, but… I know… where we can… find it.”
Sirius exchanged a glance with Remus. He would try to not let his hopes get too high. “Where?”
And the hopes were crushed. “The Lestranges’ vault? At Gringotts?”
She nodded and collapsed onto the booth.
“What did you do, run a mile?” Remus asked her curiously.
“No, just a little wiped out,” she answered.
“Well, get used to it,” Sirius said. “Now we’ve got to figure out how to break into Gringotts. I don’t know if anyone’s done that and lived to tell the tale.”
“We better start planning,” Lily said darkly.
“Yeah, first thing in the morning,” Sirius agreed.
“No,” she said, “I mean right now. We’ve only got until Thursday.”
A/N: Yep, we’ve got a Gringotts infiltration in the works :) You always need one of those in Horcrux-Hunt fics. But—it will be different than the one DH! (Obviously.) Any predictions? Or other comments on the story so far?
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