Lily fought her way to the front of the crowd led by a brisk-walking Sirius. Flanking him was Remus, who seemed just as confused as Lily was.
“Sirius, where are we going?” she asked.
“It’s hard to explain, I just have to show you… if it’s still there…”
“When did you find it? And how?” Remus prompted, obviously not willing to let it go.
“Remember in third year when James’s new broomstick mysteriously disappeared?”
“Yeah, but what does—?”
“Well, see, I borrowed it and then… long story short, I snapped it in half. On accident. So I was running all over trying to find a place to stash it—since James had previously made death threats to anyone who breathed on it, so I wasn’t just going to fess up—and, anyway, I was running around and this door showed up that I had never seen before. I went inside and…”
Sirius stopped in his tracks suddenly, nearly causing a domino effect. He was perfectly still for a while, staring at the wall. Then he began to mutter under his breath.
“It’s got to be here still… It can’t’ve just disappeared… Come on, I need that room…”
As soon as he spoke the words, the blank wall began to transform into a door. Sirius let out a breath of mixed surprise and relief as the onlookers gasped. Once the door was fully formed, he opened it and urged everyone inside.
“This is the place!” he cried. “I can’t believe it…”
Lily felt her breath hitch as she took in the mountainous piles of… junk. Cast-offs, garbage, hidden evidence of petty rule-breaking… Meanwhile, Sirius was still explaining how he’d come across this strange room for the first and only time back in his third year.
“I tried to find it again, but I never could. The door was just gone. And I didn’t tell anyone, ‘cause, well, I didn’t want James to know I broke his broom, and if I told you all that I’d been to a magical room that had suddenly faded from existence, well…” He laughed uneasily. “You can understand why I kept it to myself.”
Lily was hardly listening to him. The room was enormous and she didn’t even want to think about how long it would take to find one item; one item that was probably well hidden. “Alright, everyone,” she began in a strained voice. “We’re looking for the diadem—a tiara. This seems like the right place, so… divide and conquer.”
Once their number had split up, the sheer size of the room seemed less disheartening. Regardless, it took the better part of the day to work their way through the vast accumulation of clutter. Finally, after so long, Lily spotted a glimmer of something golden through the rubbish. She grabbed at it eagerly, extricating it from the mess. Upon seeing the object more clearly, she almost dropped it.
This was it. The diadem. Ravenclaw’s Lost Diadem, found once more. And it was a Horcrux. The second to last.
“I found it!” Lily said, but the words came out in a strangled whisper. She cleared her throat and repeated, “I found the diadem!”
Sirius, standing several paces away from her, carelessly dropped a crystal goblet and didn’t even flinch as it shattered. He was by her side in moments.
“I’m glad you found it. I kept getting distracted,” he said, scrutinizing the diadem. “So, this is it. We better not risk the Fiendfyre in here—let’s go out.”
He and Lily led the Order through the heaps of debris in the strange room where everything was hidden and out the door. Lily glanced over her shoulder in time to see the door face back into a bare wall, with not so much as a crack to indicate what lay behind it.
In a wide, empty corridor, the Order formed a large circle and Lily placed the diadem on the stone floor, in the middle. They would destroy it together.
“One,” Lily said, taking her place in the circle and drawing her wand.
“Two,” Dumbledore continued, aiming his own wand.
“Three!” Sirius finished.
Orange flames burst from a dozen wands and converged in the center, completely obstructing the Horcrux from view. Lily counted three more seconds under her breath before withdrawing her Fiendfyre. The others followed her lead. The diadem lay, charred and cracked, in the center of their circle.
“Five down, one to go,” Lily breathed, allowing herself a small smile.
“Good work everyone,” Sirius added, clapping his hands together slowly. The hollow sound reverberated in the hall. “Back to the library, then.”
“Lead the way,” Dumbledore invited amicably.
Suddenly, the celebratory mood was dead as they marched back to the library, like a funeral procession.
“Hopefully the last one will be in Hogwarts, too,” Lily grumbled.
Sirius let out a bark of laughter and—just as he was about to respond—he froze. Lily followed his gaze out the window and across the lawn. Standing atop the hill in the distance was a legion of dark-clothed wizards, unmistakable even at such length.
“Uh, oh,” Sirius muttered. “Looks like trouble.”
* * *
The next few minutes were a blur as they raced into the Great Hall, shouting protective charms along the way. Once they were satisfied with their temporary safety, they were able to calmly and rationally discuss the situation at hand. Or, at least, attempt to.
“We’re outnumbered at least three to one,” Alice said fretfully. Of course, she had a child at home. She couldn’t afford to risk her life. Lily was overwhelmed with guilt for bringing a mother into this mess.
“But they don’t know that we’re outnumbered,” Remus said, in his well-rehearsed calm façade. Lily recognized it in an instant. His tell was either wringing his hands or pacing. And he was currently doing both.
“They might not even know we’re in here,” Sirius said slowly, “which would give us a decided advantage. They might only be here to check up on the diadem and try to move it.”
“Too late,” Lily said with a smirk.
Her two words lightened the atmosphere immeasurably. Remus stopped pacing, but he was still wringing his hands.
“So, what do we do? They’re going to try to get in the castle,” Sirius said. “Do we wait for them? Do we launch a surprise attack?”
The idea of a surprise attack was fervently debated for a minute, until Severus silenced the Great Hall with a few words.
“They want me,” he said softly. “I don’t think they’re planning to come in; they were just waiting there. We all saw them. And they don’t know that any of you are in on the Hunt. They only know about me.”
Sirius, as always, was the first to break the silence. “Ah, so this is your fault. Figures.”
“Wait, wait,” Lily said, shaking her head. “Severus, what are you saying? Are you suggesting that—that you should sacrifice yourself?”
“Not in so many words,” he said, a corner of his mouth twitching up. “I’ve already tried that and it proved to be rather counterproductive. I’m saying: Why don’t we take a shot at Voldemort now? There’s only one Horcrux left and it’ll be easier to get it once he’s, er, temporarily immobilized.”
Lily considered this for a moment, before turning to Dumbledore. “How much time would it give us?”
“Enough,” he answered simply.
“And we may not get another chance for a long time,” Severus continued. “See, I’ll distract them all for a while—he’ll want to know how I found out, of course, and who else knows his little secret—and one of you can come in the Cloak and strike when he’s least expecting it.” He glanced around the room once before his faze settled on Sirius, who was the one who wouldn’t hesitate to point out any fatal flaws in the plan.
But Sirius didn’t seem to have anything to say, except, “I’ll do it. I’ll come with. Lily, the Cloak, please?”
She scoffed and rolled her eyes. “Are you serious? Wait, don’t answer that. Do you honestly think I’d let anyone else do this?”
“Well, I was hoping…”
“Let’s go, Sev.” She draped the Cloak over her shoulders and waved. “I’ll be back. Start thinking about that last Horcrux.” She was careful to no say goodbye or let her eyes linger on one of her friends too long. If anyone wouldn’t be returning, it’d be Severus. Not that that was an at all comforting thought. In fact, it made her feel substantially worse.
Severus appeared to be attempting meditative breaths as they walked through the castle, side by side. He had very good reason to be nervous, of course. Lily was grateful that she would be invisible. For now, she wanted to make Severus feel better, but she was equally worried.
“Wait if… what if he tried to kill you before I can…?” She trailed off, watching as he grimaced at the thought.
“He won’t,” he said in a tone of well-feigned confidence. “He’s one for… dragging things out.”
Lily gulped involuntarily. She reached over and squeezed his hand comfortingly. “You’re very brave, Severus. But don’t do this just so I’ll think so, or so I’ll forgive you.”
He smiled faintly. “You caught me; I actually couldn’t care less about killing Voldemort, I just want you to think I’m brave.”
No matter how thick he laid on the sarcasm, Lily had the unsettling feeling that he was being sincere. As they approached the entrance hall, she slipped the hood over her head, concealing herself entirely.
“Don’t worry,” she whispered as they left the castle. “I’ll stay close to you.”
The Death Eaters assembled on the hill were clearly impatient as Severus quietly and slowly walked to meet them, followed by the invisible Lily. But Voldemort, standing in front of the rest, waiting with a smile growing on his pale face. As she drew nearer, Lily was caught off guard to see a monstrously large snake, coiled at the wizard’s feet, twisting in and around itself, its slick scales gleaming. There was something vaguely disturbing about the nature of the snake, although it might have stemmed only from its sheer size. She didn’t doubt that it was capable of swallowing a grown man whole. Trying to shake the thought from her head, she edged her way around Severus and closer to Voldemort.
“Severus Snape,” Voldemort said, so quietly that she could scarcely hear him.
Severus nodded once, standing straight and tall and staring the man in the eye. He wasn’t going to cower—he wasn’t going to back down. Meanwhile, Lily was almost within striking distance. She wasn’t going to take any chances; she couldn’t miss her first shot. She took a few more careful, creeping steps forward when, suddenly, the snake reared its head, its tongue flicking and its beady eyes fixed on her.
But they couldn’t be, she argued with herself. The snake can’t see me, I’m invisible. So she continued tip-toeing closer, but froze when the snake uncoiled itself and started toward her, so slowly, but with deadly determination.
Luckily, Voldemort didn’t notice his snake’s odd behavior. He thrust his wand toward Severus, who winced and was forced to his knees. He didn’t seem able to stand back up again. Then Voldemort took a few steps forward, and asked, in the same soft voice, “How did you find out?”
“What, about your Horcruxes?” Severus said defiantly, loudly enough for the assembled Death Eaters to hear.
Voldemort’s nostrils flared and his eyes flashed for a moment, before he reassumed a calm mask. “Did Dumbledore tell you? Did he send you as a double agent? Too afraid to do the job himself, I’m sure.”
Severus didn’t answer either of the questions, but said, “We got all of them, you know. All six.”
Lily was startled by his bluff, but Voldemort didn’t even appear taken aback. He chortled and threw a barely perceptible glance in Lily’s direction, then focused his eyes back on Severus. “You’re lying. You haven’t got all of them. And you don’t even know what one of them is.”
Lily was stricken with dread because of Voldemort’s fleeting glance at her. She couldn’t think of another reason for it, other than that he knew. He knew she was there, somehow, and he was just biding his time until he killed both of them.
But something deep in her mind, underneath the panic, told her in a small voice that that wasn’t the reason. He couldn’t see through Invisibility Cloaks, and she had done nothing to give herself away. Besides, the glance, now that she thought about it, hadn’t been directly at her—his eyes had been angled downward, at her feet.
She felt the pressure in her chest building as she raced toward a conclusion, as she pieced it all together. He had been so certain that they didn’t get all of them—and that they didn’t know what one of them was. Lily slowly lowered her eyes, settling them on the massive snake a couple feet away, looking up at her hungrily.
She didn’t stop to wonder if an animal, a living, breathing animal, could be a Horcrux. She raised her wand, which she’d been gripping at her side. Only a few seconds had passed, and Voldemort was circling Severus, looking as hungry as his snake, and ready to strike. Lily didn’t have the time to think—she had to act.
“Avada Kedavra!” she hissed, uttering the two words that had started it all, only months ago. The snake lunged at her, but was hit mid-strike. It collapsed, stiff, into the grass.
Voldemort snarled in the purest rage, and abandoned Severus who sprang to his feet the moment his captor turned away. The Death Eaters were in a panic, drawing their wands and eyes darting every which way, trying to find the culprit. Voldemort had run to his dead snake and, finding the situation beyond repair, began hurling curses haphazardly across the lawn. Lily ran to Severus, who looked just as confused as the Death Eaters, and threw the Cloak over him.
He eyes were wide, but his shock was soon replaced by a smile. “It was the snake?”
She nodded and pulled on his arm. They ran from the mob and didn’t slow down until they were at a safe distance.
“Should we go for him now?” he asked, out of breath.
“No, they’re too on edge. We wouldn’t be able to get close enough,” she said. “But we can’t give them enough time to get away.”
They continued sprinting into the castle and to the Great Hall. In a torrent of words, panting between each one, the two explained that the last Horcrux was out of the picture.
“Wait, what was the Horcrux?” Sirius asked, leaping to his feet.
“No time to explain—now or never,” Lily said. “We’ve got to keep them here.”
Sirius nodded and grabbed his wand from the table. “So, what do you think, we can take care of the Death Eaters and then take Voldemort together?”
Lily smiled at his enthusiasm, but shook her head. “I don’t think so. I have to face him alone.”
A/N: Oh, Lily and your “weird thing about not valuing your own life”… I do have to say, this chapter turned out better than I thought it would, considering I had no idea how they would find out that Nagini was a Horcrux, and it was supposed to be way back in chapter 15, but it wasn’t happening, and I don’t like to force things, but at this point, I kind of had to. So, what did you think? Believable or a bit too convenient? And Sirius knowing about the RoR? Believable/too convenient? The next chapter is the biggie, and I have to confess to loving it—so stay tuned!
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