A/N: It's been forever and a half, I know. And boy, do I have the best and most devoted readers that ever existed. You guys are amazing for sticking with me on this story. I can't promise that I'll be getting chapters on any given schedule, but I can promise that I am working on finishing this story. Now that The Debt of Time is FINALLY done with all of it's editing, I am now focusing entirely on my WIPs. Thank you so much for your patience.
April 27th, 1997
The Room of Requirement was filled with a chilling silence as the large group gathered together.
After the dementor attack on the Hogwart's Express, dinner had been a short affair. Dumbledore had been missing from the High Table, and both Professors McGonagall and Snape left early, forcing the rest of the staff to handle the students who were brimming with questions. The younger children were all sent to bed with chocolate while the prefects—and both Head Boy and Girl—looked the other way to allow a grouping of the other students to slip out of bed, making their way toward the Room of Requirement.
Once inside the room, the teenagers separated into small clusters, some clinging to one another physically while the others clearly took comfort in the close proximity of trusted friends. Hermione wasn't sure, but she could not remember when she had last let go of Remus's hand. Harry was alert and on edge, defensively adjusting his stance if anyone stepped too close to his friends, especially Luna. Across the room, Draco and Pansy stood side-by-side, postures stiff, arms hanging down at their sides so that the tips of their fingers brushed against one another.
"They were after Draco," Theo finally said, breaking the silence. "Though, I imagine taking Potter down would have been a close secondary objective."
"How do you know?" Harry asked.
The Slytherins all snorted in amusement, sending the Gryffindors looks of incredulity. It was Pansy, however, that spoke. "Other than that fact that it's obvious? Crabbe and Goyle are ridiculous gossips. They were bragging the very moment we all stepped on the train. Their fathers," she said and then cleared her throat, "and . . . well, most of our parents were invited to secret meetings over the break." She looked at Theo, who turned his eyes to the floor. "Bellatrix Lestrange wants Draco dead."
"More accurately, she wants me to suffer so that my mother suffers for betraying her bloody Dark Lord," Draco spat angrily. "We knew they would attack, but we didn't see this coming. Nothing this public. I was prepared to be assaulted on a visit to Hogsmeade, honestly." When Harry stared at him speculatively, Draco narrowed his eyes. "We would have told you otherwise, had we known that they would have been foolish enough to attack the Hogwarts Express."
"It wouldn't have been foolish in their eyes," Remus chimed in. "I imagine Voldemort did not think a group of students capable of casting a Patronus Charm. Everyone knows that Harry can do it, but he wouldn't have been able to handle the number that they sent."
"But now he knows," Theo said. "It'll be in the bloody Prophet tomorrow knowing our luck. We're all fucked."
Hermione sighed and squeezed Remus's hand once before finally releasing it. "We need to keep Draco safe." Ignoring the scoffing noise that the blond made at her suggestion, she added, "As well as the other Slytherins with Death Eater connections. Even if your parents were to discover your switched allegiances and were amenable to it, I imagine very few are accomplished Occlumens."
Pansy actually grinned. "For once, Granger, I think we're on the same page."
"Professor Snape has agreed to Obliviate some of us," Theo said to the complete shock of most of the others. "Pansy and I met with him privately over the break. He says that we need to be prepared. Hogwarts won't be the same next year, and that a plan needs to be put in place for the Muggle-borns, and those of us who are being targeted, Draco, and you lot high on that list." He gestured to Harry, Hermione, and Ron. "The rest of us will be selectively Obliviated, removing all memories of how to gain access to this room, as well as any details of who we saw when we were here. If someone tries to use Legilimency against us, it will look as though we discovered your little defence group meeting privately, and someone else poorly tried to erase our memories to hide the evidence."
When Theo's gaze rested on Hermione, her back stiffened. "I wouldn't—" she began to say, her heart rate accelerating at the memory of doing exactly that to her own parents. Then, forcing the guilt and hurt away for a time when she could properly address it, she scowled. "And what do you mean poorly?"
Draco rolled his eyes. "Because you're a teenager, Granger. Besides, the majority of the Death Eaters will buy the fact that a Muggle-born tried something too advanced for them and made a mess of it. Truth or not."
"Not," Hermione muttered defensively under her breath.
"Can he be trusted?" Harry asked, looking across the room at Draco specifically. "I . . . I don't know if I can put all of my faith in Snape. No matter what Dumbledore says."
"But you trust Dumbledore?" Pansy asked, rolling her eyes and laughing in a scathing tone. "Both of them are keeping secrets, that's for certain. Unfortunately, Snape is the only Occlumens we all know that's accomplished enough to keep our secrets. And whether or not he'll ever even stand the likes of you, he's the Head of our House and has been for years. We trust him. If you can't, then that's your problem. Find your own way through this."
Ron narrowed his eyes at her. "So you'll join up with us when it's convenient for you, but at the first sign of trouble, you all just scamper off?"
"She meant," Theo began, casting an impatient look in Pansy's direction, "is that you actually need to find safety and not tell any of us. Or Snape. Or Dumbledore, if you'd like my opinion." He smirked when he saw the varied expressions on the rest of their faces, telling him exactly which ones cared one way or the other about his opinion.
"We're all to meet with Professor Snape tonight," Pansy added.
Hermione's mouth fell open. "But that's . . . What if something happens?"
"Kind of what we're hoping to avoid, Granger."
Frowning, Hermione nodded. "I only meant . . . We haven't finished going through all the Defence Charms."
Pansy laughed. "Worried about us?"
Saying nothing, because she actually was worried about the Slytherins—being so close to Death Eaters—Hermione rejoined Remus and Ron, smiling a little when she felt Lavender reach out and take her hand, squeezing it slightly.
Harry made his way across the room to stand in front of Theo. "Be safe," he said, extending a hand to the Slytherin. "Take care of one another. We know where you stand, and after tonight . . . we won't take whatever you say to us personally."
Theo took the hand. "I can't promise we'll be friendly. We're hoping that Snape can keep a level of trust somewhere in the back of our minds, but—"
"You're not Death Eaters. None of you are . . . bad people. If you hadn't wanted to throw a Crucio at any of us before this, then I'll assume that a few memory alterations won't change anything."
Draco sighed and pushed his way between Theo and Harry, heading for the door. "Don't kid yourself, Potter. Everything's changed."
June 4th, 1997
"We should have done it last month when Ron suggested it," Hermione said stiffly, her arms folded across her chest as she stared at Remus from the opposite end of the sofa. Ron sat beside her in a large armchair, nodding his head enthusiastically.
It had been a month full of tension. While the rest of Hogwarts did not know one way or another, presumably the Slytherins had all been memory-charmed by Snape. Either the snakes really had lost all recollection of time spent together in the Room of Requirement or they were incredibly good actors. Remus had a thought that it could be both. The snakes went back to sneering, scowling, and shunning anyone outside of their own House, and Draco was rumoured to take his meals in his dorm room because the Slytherins were shunning him as well. Bellatrix Lestrange and Voldemort wanted his head, which made the blond persona non grata.
The dementor attack was reported and acknowledged by the Ministry, though the blame was turned in every direction. There were suspicions that Voldemort had gained control over the creatures, but the Ministry assured the citizens of Wizarding Britain that they were in control. In fact, to prove that they were doing something about it, Rufus Scrimgeour used the event as a way to finally oust Fudge as Minister in an overwhelming Wizengamot vote. Minister Scrimgeour then directed blame toward Hogwarts and Dumbledore, accusing the Board of Governors for their lack of attention to security detail aboard the Hogwarts Express.
Dumbledore's appearances in the school became a rare thing. Gossip suggested that he was too busy dealing with the aftermath of the attack, and that Minister Scrimgeour was trying to remove him from Hogwarts, possibly replace the Board of Governors as well. Remus and his friends, however, knew the truth. Dumbledore's curse was killing him.
No longer meeting up for secret defence lessons—since they could not risk being caught by a Slytherin prefect—the students focused on revising for their final exams, Quidditch practice, and—at least for Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Remus—plotted on getting the memory from Slughorn.
The exams passed by rather swiftly, Apparation included, and everyone celebrated when Gryffindor won the Inter-House Quidditch Cup. Remus had been incredibly happy. It was the first time that they had all enjoyed being typical teenagers rather than focusing on war and Death Eaters and Voldemort. It felt, for the first real time in a long while, like he was back in his own time and world, laughing and having fun with James, Sirius, and Peter. Except he much preferred this time and world since he had Hermione on his arm. Which made it sting just a little extra that they'd been arguing in circles around one another about Slughorn's memory.
"How did he look?" Remus asked Harry, ignoring both Hermione and Ron, which he knew only added fuel to the fire, but he was too agitated to care that he was digging himself a bigger hole when it came to his stubborn girlfriend.
Harry was the awkward person in the middle. "Dumbledore?" he asked, sighing and running his hand through his hair. "Worse. He kept his hand all bundled up, especially since I couldn't stop staring at the thing. But he looks—and I know this sounds silly considering it's Dumbledore, but he looks old. Like, really old. And he won't let up about the memory. I think I know why. Dumbledore wants confirmation on how many Horcruxes Voldemort made."
The idea that someone had made one, let alone many, was horrifying to Remus. But there had to be a limit. There just had to be. "Seven."
Ron made a squawking noise of distress, and his face paled. "Seven? Bloody hell."
"You can't be certain," Hermione argued. "If Harry uses the Felix Felicis, as Ron suggested, then we could confirm that."
"And as I've said a thousand times," Remus said with a biting tone, "using Felix Felicis on that would be a waste. We're at war, Hermione, and Harry could use that potion for a lot more important things than a memory."
"Not if what we need to know is in that memory, Remus!" She stood up, putting her hands on her hips, and glared down at him.
His inner wolf growled at her attempt at dominance; he could smell her Animagus spirit stirring inside of her, and Moony wanted to pin her to the ground. "There has to be another way."
"Seven, though?" Ron asked again, still looking as though he could be sick at any moment.
"It's a possibility," Hermione said irritably. "Seven is a powerfully magical number. But so are others."
"It's the most powerful number," Remus said to her, and he had to hold back the smug grin he wanted to show when her eyes flashed in anger over being corrected. "And Harry agrees with me."
"Harry agrees with you because you're Remus Lupin," Ron shot at him. "Never mind that you're just like the rest of us."
"Hey!" Harry said defensively. "I can tell the difference between my friend and my former professor, thanks. Remus is right. What happens if Voldemort attacks again like what happened in the Ministry? We could have beaten him right then, Ron. Maybe if I'd have had the Felix Felicis on me then—"
"It wouldn't have mattered because he still had Horcruxes!" Hermione snapped. "Horcruxes that we need to know the exact number of—Harry, where are you going?"
The boy shook his head as he walked toward the door. "I'm going to take a walk. I'm tired of all of this fighting."
The door was swiftly, and loudly, shut behind him, leaving the other three in the common room at a loss for words. Eventually, Ron cleared his throat and glanced toward the staircase. "I'd better . . . Yeah," he said before making his way up to bed.
Hating the silence that followed, Remus groaned, letting his head lull to the side to stare at the place where Hermione had unceremoniously sat, arms back to being crossed over her chest defiantly. "It's not fair for you to be mad at me since I'm trying to protect him just as much as you are."
"If Dumbledore says—"
"Dumbledore has been cursed, Hermione," Remus said, interrupting her. "How can we know for certain that he's even in his right mind at the moment? You're thinking of what needs to happen right this second, but I'm trying to plan for long term. I know I wasn't there when the first war happened, but I've spoken with Lupin and Sirius about it at length. This isn't just about defeating Voldemort. It's about defeating Voldemort and staying alive in the process. I can't lose . . ."
Glancing up, Hermione settled her gaze on Remus, who had promptly looked away from her when his emotions got the better of him. Stubborn, she refused to admit that he was right, but that did not mean they needed to argue about it. "I have an idea," she said softly. "There's one Hogsmeade weekend left, right? How about we put our money together and buy some of that crystallised pineapple that Slughorn fancies so much?"
Remus let the corner of his mouth tip up. "You want to bribe him into giving Harry the memory?"
Hermione shrugged. "We could even give him some of that good firewhisky that I confiscated from those two Ravenclaws during rounds last week. I hadn't had a chance to turn it over to Professor McGonagall."
He leant forward, grabbing her by the robes and tugging on the fabric until she moved up against him. "If we can't get him to hand over the memory by the morning we're all set to go back to London, then I'll tell Harry to use the Felix. Is that agreeable?"
She kissed him chastely as an answer.
Sighing in relief, Remus pressed his forehead against hers.
"Want to set up a Privacy Charm?" she quietly asked.
Shaking his head, Remus kissed her once more. "No. I hate fighting with you. It's exhausting. I'd rather just sit with you here for a while, if that's all right?"
Relaxing against him and letting the heat of his skin warm her, Hermione realised he was right: fighting was exhausting. "I'm sorry."
"Me too," he whispered, resting his cheek against the top of her head. He let the smell of rose oil and oranges drift over him, willing his eyes shut, and blissful sleep claimed them both.
Remus's body jerked beneath her, startling Hermione awake. Sitting up quickly to find the reason, she spotted Harry hurrying through the portrait hole. He looked equal parts excited and anxious. "What's happened?"
"I'm fine," he said shortly before dashing past them and up to the boys' dormitory. Just as quickly, he dashed back down the stairs, his Invisibility Cloak draped over his shoulder leaving him looking as though he were missing a third of his body. On the right side, only a portion of his neck was visible all the way down to his elbow. His forearm, wrist, and hand appeared to be floating midair beside him as he moved. In that hand, he clenched a rolled up sock. Ron followed him down the stairs looking just as perplexed as Remus and Hermione.
Remus stood first, a concerned expression on his face as he echoed Hermione's earlier question, "What's happened?"
"I've got to be quick," Harry said, panting. "Dumbledore thinks I'm getting my Invisibility Cloak. Listen, Dumbledore thinks he's found a Horcrux. He's taking me with him to get it so we can destroy it together."
Ron's eyebrows lifted higher in shock, and Remus and Hermione shared a concerned glance. "Harry," Hermione began, her eyes growing larger as she contemplated the many things that could go wrong with her best friend venturing out alongside a cursed headmaster in search of a Dark artefact. "Do you really think that Dumbledore should—"
"I haven't got time to argue," Harry insisted, thrusting the rolled up sock into her hands. "I ran into Trelawney while I was out, and I learned some things about Snape. He's the one who did it. He's the one who told Voldemort about the prophecy. He got my mum and dad killed." He removed the Marauder's Map from his back pocket and handed it over to Ron. "You've got to keep an eye on him while we're gone. Snape knows that Dumbledore's cursed, and if he finds out that we've left the school, there's no telling what could happen."
Remus looked down at Hermione's hands, doing his best to focus on the issue at hand and ignore the growing anger in his gut over the knowledge that Snape had something to do with the death of his friends. When Hermione unrolled the sock, revealing the bottle of Felix Felicis, Remus turned a sharp gaze on Harry. "You need to take this with you!"
Harry shook his head. "No. You lot keep it. Split it between the three of you." The portrait opened and, as Neville stepped through, Harry amended, "Four of you. I'll be fine. I'll be with Dumbledore."
"Where are you going with Dumbledore?" Neville asked, but the others focused on Harry instead.
Hermione opened her mouth to protest, but Harry cut her off. "Don't look at me like that, Hermione. I need to know that you lot are safe."
"And we're supposed to sit here and worry about—Harry Potter!" She chased him to the door before he swiftly made his way through its opening, shutting it behind him. Jaw hanging open in shock, she turned back and looked at the three stunned boys staring back at her, none appearing to know what to do next. "Well, what are we standing around for? Expecto Patronum!" When the silver spectral wolf appeared from the end of her wand, Hermione concentrated all of her magic, relaxing her shoulders as she made eye contact with her Patronus.
"Did you figure out how to send messages yet?" Neville asked her, drawing his wand. He conjured his Patronus, a perfect replica of his Animagus form, and waited for Hermione to make the next move.
"Not yet," she said. "But I do know how to send it to specific locations. I figure that just the appearance will get an alert out to the rest of the Order. Who knows if Dumbledore is in his right mind to have told them his plans."
"Unlikely," Remus said with a frown. He briefly struggled in conjuring his Patronus, his mind filled with concern for Harry and a fresh sting over the revelation of how James and Lily came to be hunted by Voldemort.
"Go to Sirius Black," Hermione said, concentrating. Her Patronus gave her a brief look before nodding. It turned on its paws and darted through the nearest window in a flash.
"Where's McGonagall?" Neville asked Ron, who was scanning the Marauder's Map with narrowed eyes in search of Snape.
"In her office," he replied.
"Alone?" When Ron nodded, Neville looked at his bear. "We can try and go to her, but this might be faster. Go to Minerva McGonagall. Move through the walls if you can." The others gave him a look as the bear vanished, and he smiled awkwardly. "It's odd enough to see a Patronus moving through the halls. My bear stands as tall as any doorway."
Remus turned to his own wolf, who was waiting for instructions. "Right. Go to Remus Lupin," he said. The wolf tilted his head to the side, staring up at him. Neville and Ron both snorted in amusement, covering their laughter with by clearing their throats. Remus sighed. "The other Remus Lupin."
"What do we do about the Felix?" Ron asked, looking at the bottle in Hermione's hand.
She breathed sharply through her nose, her lips pursed. "Nothing. I refuse to believe that we're in more danger than Harry is."
Ron opened his mouth to speak, only to be cut off when a voice shouted from the nearby fireplace. The teenagers spun to see Sirius's head in the embers, quickly looking around. "Hermione? Harry?"
Hermione fell to her knees in front of the glowing remnants of the earlier fire. "Dumbledore and Harry have left the school. They've gone after a . . . you-know-what," she said, trying to be subtle. After everything that had happened the year before with Umbridge, there was no way of telling if someone could be listening in on their conversation.
Sirius's eyes widened and they could see how jaw clench; he looked even more menacing since his face was shaped out of still-hot embers. "We're on our way," he said quickly. "Dumbledore said he had to leave the school for something. We all assumed it was a health issue since he's been . . . He asked the Order to look in on Hogwarts, but he did not inform any of us that he had plans for Harry."
Before any of the teens could say another word, Sirius vanished from the fireplace.
Hermione pocketed the Felix Felicis as she stood up. Remus took her hand and made his way toward the door, followed by the others. The four rushed down the grand staircase, which thankfully moved just so that they could reach the ground floor without any diversions. By the time they exited the castle, several members of the Order—led by a furious Sirius Black—were making their way across the ground from the front gate.
By the time the clock in the corner of Professor McGonagall's office edged close to midnight, Sirius had needed to be restrained and administered a small dose of a Calming Draught. Without knowing where Dumbledore had absconded with Harry, there was little any of them could actually do. A few Order members were sent down to Hogsmeade to subtly ask after the headmaster. Causing a scene outside of the castle could alert anyone, Death Eaters especially, that not only was Dumbledore missing from Hogwarts, but Harry Potter was no longer behind the protective wards of the school.
So they waited.
Lupin and a very pregnant Tonks took a walk to the hospital wing to get a mild Pain Relief Potion for her back, and Remus watched them carefully as they left the room, a strange flutter in his chest at the sight of his older self taking special care of his wife. Automatically, he moved closer to Hermione on the sofa they shared. Neville stood in the corner of the room looking as though he were trying to stay out of the way, just in case something bad were about to happen and he did not want to be an issue for the adults. Ron sat on the floor at Hermione's feet, his eyes focused on the Marauder's Map. While the teenagers had not offered much in the way of explanation, their genuinely panicked reactions at the suggestion of informing Snape had actually stopped Minerva in her tracks. Instead, she quietly shut down travelling access to every Floo Network in the castle, just in case.
"He'll be all right, Sirius," Remus said, looking at his friend. It was sometimes easy to see the carefree youthful man Remus had known from his own timeline, but when Sirius shut down, it became more difficult. The worry and anger in his eyes were strikingly familiar, though not from a younger Sirius that he could recall. This was instead what Remus believed to be Lily's influence on the man during the years that he had not been there to witness. The years where Sirius grew up and became a godfather. Lily would never have allowed James to give Sirius such a position if she had not trusted him, which meant that Sirius would have needed to prove some maturity. It was easy now to see why James and Lily had chosen him.
"If there's a single scratch on him," Sirius muttered in a threatening voice that was only slightly dulled due to the Calming Draught, "I'll transfer him to Beauxbatons." Ron and Hermione both looked up at him in a panic. Sirius caught their expressions and he added, "You can come too."
Lupin and Tonks walked back into the office. "Look who we found," Tonks said with a soft smile as Luna followed them inside. Minerva pursed her lips, clearly unnerved over the amount of children that were out past curfew, taking over her office.
Hermione cringed, a guilty expression coming over her.
"It's all right, Hermione," Luna said sweetly. "I'm not worried about Harry."
"We thought to contact the adults but . . . Luna, I'm so sorry we didn't tell you." Hermione scolded herself for forgetting Harry's girlfriend. Had Remus been in trouble and someone forgot to tell her, she would have been inconsolable. Luna, however, looked just as serene as ever.
"Snape's moving!" Ron yelled. "Snape's left his office! Look!"
Sirius snatched the Marauder's Map out of Ron's hands, furrowing his brow as he glared down at the moving name on the parchment. "He's walking awfully fast toward the Entrance Hall."
Before Minerva could say a word, Lupin and Sirius shot out of the door, followed by Tonks and the children. Halfway down the corridor, a tabby cat sped past every one of them, weaving in between their legs until she had overtaken the lead. Minerva transformed back into her human form just before turning a corner toward the Entrance Hall. "Severus?"
Snape spun on his heel, halfway out the large doors of the castle. His black eyes were wide until they narrowed at the sight of the rest of the group. "Care to indulge me as to why the Floo connections to the castle have all been closed down?"
"Perhaps, if you would tell me why you're leaving the castle this late, and with such haste?" Minerva demanded, crossing her arms over her chest.
"Because while I was prevented from leaving my quarters through the Floo Network, I am still able to be contacted, which I was by Madam Rosmerta not two minutes ago. Apparently, Potter and the headmaster Apparated in front of her establishment requesting my assistance."
Sirius did not wait for more information. He threw himself forward, landing on the ground with four legs, and darted past Snape as Padfoot, roughly knocking the man against the door. Lupin was just behind him, but he turned to stop Tonks from following. "Stay with Minerva and the children."
Tonks looked annoyed, but when Ron and Remus began to move toward the door, she turned and drew her wand. "Nope," she said, shaking her head. "You heard the man."
"Thank you, Nymphadora," Minerva said, casting a daring look at the students before she followed Sirius's example, transforming into a cat and speedily leaving the castle after Snape.
"What if Harry's in trouble?" Ron demanded. "We should be down there!"
"I know you're all scared for him," Tonks said, "but if something were truly wrong, don't you think Rosmerta would have Floo'd St. Mungo's instead? I'm not saying that you're too young to help, I'm saying that if something is wrong, it would make it worse to have a massive group of teenagers running in and out of Rosmerta's, all while people who know what they're doing are trying to help. Think of it this way," she suggested when most of the teens still looked bent out of shape—Neville and Hermione, in particular, kept glancing at the door as though they were contemplating shifting into their Animagi forms and making a run for it, "The headmaster and the deputy headmistress have left the castle. If something were to happen, who would be left to protect the rest of the students?"
Hermione and Remus knew it was a stretch, but both Ron and Neville bowed a bit to their Gryffindor sense of duty. Luna was sitting on the bottom step of the grand staircase, the end of a thin plait of blonde hair in her mouth. Hermione lifted a brow at the girl and watched as she tugged the plait out of her mouth to show a lolly that's stick had been woven into the braid. "I'm not worried about Harry," Luna repeated her earlier sentiments. "It's the headmaster we should all be thinking about."
The group nervously waited at the foot of the staircase, the large entrance doors wide open so that they could glance out, looking for the return of their friends and professors. Remus was the first to spot movement near the gates, and not even Tonks could stop the four teenagers from running past her. They darted across the grounds, grinning with relief when they spotted Harry, Sirius, and Lupin. The boy was nearly tackled by his friends, relief in their eyes.
"Harry, we were so worried," Hermione cried. "Why are your robes wet?"
"Had to swim a bit," Harry muttered darkly, his eyes drawn to the ground.
Remus froze. "Where's Dumbledore?"
"Minerva opened the Floo through Rosmerta's. She and Snape took him to the hospital wing," Lupin said. "It's not good." Spotting Tonks making her way down the path, he patted Remus on the shoulder. "I have to go let her know what's happened. The rest of the Order need to be told as well."
"What happened, Harry?" Ron asked, stepping back to allow Luna room to wrap her arms around Harry's waist.
At the intimate contact, Harry let his head fall to the side, leaning against Luna's and drawing from her endless supply of positive energy and tranquillity. "We got it," he said, his voice hoarse. "I think we got it." Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a long chain, at the end of which hung a locket.
"You think?" Remus asked carefully as he reached out, taking the locket from Harry. Something was wrong. It smelled different than the diadem had. There was a sense of Dark Magic, certainly, but instead of feeling as though the object permeated darkness like Horcruxes did, this one felt like it had absorbed it like a sponge.
Harry frowned at the look on Remus's face. "Damn," he muttered. "I thought . . . It looks different than the one I saw in Dumbledore's Pensieve."
Sirius furrowed his brow at the necklace. "That looks familiar," he muttered, holding out his hand for Remus to give it over. Running the pad of his thumb over the large gem in the centre, he pursed his lips in thought. "My mother had one just like—" He stopped speaking when he clicked the small latch on the side, popping the locket open. The teenagers watched with great interest as Sirius removed a folded piece of parchment.
"Lumos," Hermione whispered, lighting her wand so that Sirius could read.
"To the Dark Lord," Sirius said aloud as Harry and Remus read along from either side of him, "I know I will be dead long before you read this but I want you to know that it was I who discovered your secret. I have stolen the real Horcrux and intend to destroy it as soon as I can. I face death in the hope that when you meet your match you will be mortal once more."
"Merlin," Remus whispered, his eyes wide as he settled his gaze on Sirius, who suddenly looked as though he had been stabbed in the chest.
"Who's R.A.B.?" Harry asked.
"Umm . . ." Neville cleared his throat. "What's a Horcrux?"