Bill Weasley knocked briskly on the front door to the Burrow before he walked in, calling a cheery hello as he did. His father was already at the head of the breakfast table, the twins on one side of the table whispering furiously; Percy was on the other, a sleepy looking Ginny beside him, and beside her…Charlie grinned and stood up to hug Bill in a brotherly manly fashion as their mother bustled in from the kitchen.

"Bill!" His mother's face lit up with surprise. "I wasn't expecting you until lunch! Here, sit and have some breakfast."

"Don't mind if I do." Bill said, sliding into the chair beside Fred opposite Charlie. He snagged a plate and loaded it with the full Monty; sausages, bacon, eggs, baked beans, fried tomatoes and mushrooms…and two pieces of toast loaded with butter.

"Ginny," Molly nudged her as she set down another platter, "go wake your brother!"

Ginny cast a 'why me' look at Bill who winked at her. She sighed, got to her feet and made her way up the stairs.

"Hungry?" Charlie asked Bill, amused at the amount of food on his plate.

"Starving," Bill said, waving a fork at his brother, "sorry I wasn't here last night; I met up with some of the old Hogwarts' crowd to catch-up. How was your portkey?"

"I hate the international ones." Charlie admitted, helping himself to a second helping of bacon. "Too much spinning."

"I know," Bill said with feeling, "you'd think they'd have worked the kinks out by now."

"Apparently there's European legislation stopping all improvements." Percy chimed in. "The restrictions they're putting on British law are ridiculous."

"Well, if you don't like the travel perhaps you should consider staying here, Charlie." Molly slid into her chair and gestured for the teapot to pour her a mug as the serving spoons began to fill her plate. "I'm sure if you spoke with Amos he would be able to find you a position in his department."

"I'm happy working at the reserve, Mum." Charlie said calmly. He met Bill's amused gaze and rolled his eyes.

"Nonsense, just look at you! You've been injured!" She pointed a knife at the shiny skin on his forearm.

"Burns are part of the job." Charlie said good-naturedly. "I knew that when I signed on."

"'Sides," Fred waggled his eyebrows, "everyone knows…"

"…scars are sexy!" George grinned.

Bill tried not to choke as a chuckle bubbled up at his mother's disapproving expression.

"How much longer before you get your Mastery?" Arthur asked, placing the Prophet down beside him.

Charlie shrugged. "Probably next year. I have the practical credits but I need to sit the theory exams."

Molly cleared her throat. "Well, I still say you should consider a job at the Ministry."

Bill kept his gaze on his plate. He had to hand it to his mother; she never gave up.

"Just look at how well Percy's done!" Molly beamed at him. "And your father!"

"I meant to say congrats on the new positions last night, Dad." Charlie admitted with a little chagrin. "It's good to see they're finally recognising you!"

"I think Sirius might have had something to do with it." Arthur said humbly.

Molly harrumphed. "It was the Minister who appointed you to the Wizengamot seat and the Committee, Arthur."

"Well, even if Lord Black recommended you, Dad, it's still a credit to you." Charlie commented diplomatically.

His father dropped the subject rather than argue about it but Bill knew and he knew his father knew that Fudge had been influenced by Sirius.

Bill couldn't understand his mother's antipathy toward Sirius – well, he could but he could see it was all going to end in tears if she wasn't careful. She had a valid complaint that he'd hurt Ron but there were extenuating circumstances and that incident alone shouldn't have led her to the conclusion that Sirius couldn't be trusted to raise Harry, which was clearly what she did believe if anyone paid attention to her comments. But she was becoming increasingly obvious and Bill had seen a small frown on Harry's face the last time she'd made a dig about something Sirius had decided over the regular weekly dinner. If she ended up making Harry choose, Bill didn't think she'd like the result because it was very obvious the kid adored his adoptive father.

And who could blame him, mused Bill as he chewed enthusiastically on a spicy pork sausage. From what he'd gleaned from the twins and Ron, Harry had been neglected and unloved by his previous guardians. Sirius had broken out of jail to protect him, and then had gone to some trouble to secure guardianship of Harry to give him a better life. There was no doubt in Bill's mind that Harry considered Sirius his hero. Maybe his mother had done a few things to fuss over Harry since he became Ron's friend but Bill figured knitting him a Christmas jumper just couldn't compete with Sirius giving him a proper home and a loving parent.

Ginny returned to the table and a moment later a half-bedraggled Ron slumped into the remaining chair beside George; he nodded absently at his brothers.

"It's so nice to have the whole family under one roof again." Molly proclaimed, smiling warmly at them all. "We're going to have such a wonderful day and…"

Bill winced and raised his toast to interrupt his mother. "Sorry, Mum, but the reason I'm here now is because I've been called in."

"Called in where?" She asked, confused.

"Work." Bill said succinctly. "Croaker sent me an owl last night."

"But our day…" Molly protested. "Surely you can floo call Harry and ask him to give you the day off?"

"My immediate boss is Croaker," Bill pointed out patiently, "and I'm not going to run to Harry or Sirius and ask for special favours."

"Hmnpf." Molly said, setting her mug down with a thump. "It's probably Sirius's fault that you have to work today." She sighed. "What work could you possibly be doing on a Saturday?"

"My work's confidential, Mum." Bill reminded her. "And it's not exactly a nine-to-five job." He could feel the sharp edge of his encroaching irritation in his words and took a deep breath. Since Sirius had arranged his leave of absence and he'd taken the oath of service, his mother hadn't stopped pestering him about his work. He deliberately turned to Percy so he could change the subject. "How was the play? You were going last night, right?"

"Penelope enjoyed it," Percy said, "although some people remarked it was quite blasphemous having Merlin talk to the dragons. The illusions were very good though."

"Who wants to go and see a silly old play?" asked Ron grumpily.

"I wouldn't mind." Ginny remarked. "I wish I could have gone with Harry and the others when he went."

"You're not old enough to go to the theatre." Molly stated firmly.

Bill glanced over at Charlie and sent him a sympathetic look; he was going to have to put up with the family shenanigans while Bill was escaping.

"You know if you want to arrange a night with your mates in London, you can always crash at my place." Bill said, offering his brother a respite.

He loved the flat on London Street; two bedrooms, a good sized living room, decent bathroom, and a kitchenette. It was a great little pad. Sirius had confided that he'd bought it with Harry's father when they'd left school. James's portion had been left to Sirius but Sirius had turned the deed of the property over to Harry as an adoption present. Bill was honoured they'd entrusted it to him and he was loving having his own place. In Egypt they'd had to share tents or apartments, it was always close quarters, and the less said about the Burrow the better as much as he loved his childhood home. He had a sneaking suspicion that providing him with the ability to move out of the Burrow was another black mark against Sirius in his mother's eyes.

Charlie's eyes brightened with relief at having an escape route. "Thanks! I'll take you up on that!"

"You will not!" Molly remonstrated. "Bill, Harry didn't give you that apartment for you to take advantage of him and have a succession of unpaying guests!"

"No, he gave me it to look after as part of our service arrangement and it was made very clear that the second bedroom was a guest room for use by my guests. If Charlie wants to stay the night or a week or the entire time he's in England, he's welcome." Bill said brusquely, fed up.

"Well, I might spend the occasional night, but Mum's cooking is better than yours." Charlie winked at him as he tried to ease the tension again.

Their mother softened immediately with the compliment. "Oh, Charlie!"

"If he's not going to take you up on it, I might." Percy said. He cast a look at the twins. "It's very hard to get peace and quiet here to focus on my work."

"Do you think…" Fred began.

"…he might be blaming us, brother?" George completed.

Bill bit his lip and tried not to laugh at Percy's put upon pout. "Percy, you're more than welcome to come and stay a couple of nights if you need to get some work done. But if you want to move in full time though, Mum's right; I probably will have to arrange for you to pay some kind of rent to Harry."

"A couple of nights when I have reports to do would be perfect especially now Mister Crouch is off sick." Percy said immediately.

"Barty's sick?" Arthur looked up, concerned.

Percy nodded. "Since Tuesday with wizard's flu. He sent me work assignments by owl."

Arthur grimaced. "I'm not surprised he caught something with all the stress he's been under from the press and the World Cup and the…" he caught himself and blushed. "He's probably just a bit run down. He was looking peaky when I saw him last."

"Maybe I should pop over with a casserole." Molly suggested, compassionately.

"I would leave it, Molly," Arthur said firmly, "that elf of Barty's is very protective and probably won't let you anywhere near him."

"OK then, Percy," Bill said, dragging the conversation back on track, "you know the floo address so make yourself at home when you need to use the flat." He figured Percy was saving up for his own place.

"Does that apply to us too?" asked Fred mischievously.

"No, it does not." Molly said before Bill could reply. "Anyone underage will be staying here at all times."

He supposed that was fair enough and tried not to resent the implication that his mother didn't trust him to look after his siblings.

"If you're working will you make it to the Longbottoms' party?" His father asked, changing the subject.

"I don't know." Bill said. "It depends on how it goes."

Ron snorted. "I wish I didn't have to go."

"What's the problem?" asked Charlie. "Good food, a bit of dancing, cute girls…" He winked at Bill as he said the last.

"Charlie!" exclaimed their mother on cue.

Bill dropped his gaze from his brother so he wouldn't laugh out loud.

"Your brother's far too young to be thinking of girls and dating." Molly said firmly.

The older brothers all exchanged a wry look. Bill had been caught in a broom closet in his fourth year; Charlie had started dating in his third – as had Percy although he'd kept it quiet. Fred and George simply shared a grin and said nothing but Bill assumed they'd also discovered girls by Ron's age.

"We have to dress up!" Ron said hotly around a mouthful of food.

Bill could understand that complaint. He hated dress robes.

"There is nothing wrong with dressing up occasionally." Molly remonstrated. "It will be lovely."

"Have you seen my dress robes?" asked Ron pointedly. "I'm not wearing them!"

"What's wrong with Ron's dress robes?" Bill asked Fred in a side whisper as their mother informed Ron he would go naked if he didn't put them on.

"Imagine we played a prank on them already and you'll have a good idea of what Ron's robes look like right now." Fred whispered back.


"I don't understand why you had to get me second hand robes!" complained Ron furiously. "Sirius gave me some money!"

Charlie's eyes widened at that and Bill grimaced; his mother was not going to appreciate Sirius's name being thrown in her face.

"That money is for your education, young man!" Molly shot back at Ron. "It's not for frivolities."

"Your mother's right, Ron." Arthur chimed in. "We can't use the educational fund for dress robes."

"I'm going to look stupid." Ron mumbled miserably.

Bill exchanged a look with Charlie who gave a small nod. Charlie would have to go out and buy some dress robes so he could get some for Ron at the same time. Both of them were earning; they could cover the cost as a combined early birthday-Christmas present.

He mopped up the last of his egg and drank down his juice. He should get going, Bill thought, glancing at his watch. "Dad, can I have a quick word? House business." He saw Charlie's eyebrows go up at that and realised he was going to have to bring his brother up to date with events.

Arthur motioned to the back of the house. "Why don't we take this to my shed?"

Bill got up and dropped a kiss on the top of his mother's head. He did love her despite her overprotectiveness. "Thanks for breakfast, Mum."

He followed his father out and Bill waited until he'd closed the door of the shed before putting up a privacy bubble.

"You need to speak with Mum." Bill said bluntly.

His father sighed and took his glasses off to pinch the brow of his nose. "It's not that easy with your Mum, Bill, you know that."

"What I know is that she's risking our alliance of friendship with the House of Potter because she dislikes Harry's adoptive father." Bill replied briskly. "Harry loves Sirius. He's starting to notice Mum's attitude and he won't stand for it if he thinks she's insulting Sirius. There'll be a huge row, Harry will choose Sirius, and you'll be forced to discipline Mum for being in breach of oath and bringing discord between the two Houses. While I doubt either Harry or Sirius would embarrass us publically or politically with an alliance dissolution, we can't allow it to happen."

"I know." Arthur admitted quietly. "It's just…I think she's just feeling displaced with Harry. We both decided to treat him as one of our own because it was obvious he wasn't cared for, and in your Mum's eyes, Sirius has taken her child away from her."

Bill sighed heavily. "Dad, he was never hers, and if you two had truly wanted to treat him as one of your own, why didn't you make more of an effort to get him away from his previous situation?"

"We tried," Arthur retorted, a flash of anger creeping into his voice, "after the Chamber, I tried when I spoke with Professor Dumbledore about the life debt but he was insistent that the muggle place was safest for Harry and I let his judgement overrule my own. Your Mum talked with him too with the same result." He slumped against the workbench and folded his arms. "To be truthful, I think part of your Mum's problem with Sirius is that he managed to do what we couldn't."

That was unfortunate and there was a thick layer of guilt in his father's voice. Bill repressed the urge to sigh again. "At least you tried and Harry obviously appreciates what you and Mum did do. But speaking as your Heir who is also in the service of the House of Potter, Mum needs to back off Sirius and you need to tell her that before this party tonight and definitely before tomorrow and Harry's birthday bash."

Arthur nodded wearily. "What about your service, Bill? Are you enjoying it?"

"I am," Bill said, "I mean, it's mainly been research so far, but we put a theory to Croaker yesterday and hopefully getting called in means we got permission to go ahead and check it out."

"Be careful." Arthur said.

Bill embraced his father tightly. "Good luck with Mum." Somehow Bill thought his father had the more dangerous job of the two of them. He hurried out of the shed and beyond the wards before apparating straight to the Ministry.

He just made it to the conference room in the DOM on time, sneaking in and taking a seat by Caro only a moment before Croaker, Bones and Scrimgeour arrived.

Caro shot him a look and Bill gave her a wink in response. They'd bonded over their shared love of curse-breaking and while Caro hadn't been able to say much about her MI7 experience, she and Bill had managed to trade a few stories. She was fascinated by his tales of Egypt and he had found her stories of adventures in undisclosed places equally as interesting.

A briefing folder appeared before Bill and he opened it to check that most of it was the information he and Lawrence had put together. He glanced around the rest of the room and realised that the five sat on the other side of the conference table were probably the Rat Squad.

Bones cleared her throat. "OK, so brief introductions and then we'll start." She pointed at the nearest person which was Bill.

Bill gave a small wave. "Bill Weasley but I'm pretty sure the hair gave it away."

Everyone chuckled and the introductions went quickly. Croaker stepped into give the briefing, sketching out for the purpose of the Treasure Team in vague terms for the Rat Squad, the background to Little Hangleton and why they thought one might be there. Bill felt his adrenaline start to flow as the anticipation built; they'd gotten the permission – he could taste it.

Bones took centre stage, a formidable presence in her no-nonsense blue robes, her hair tied back in a serviceable bun and her posture parade ground perfect. "OK, listen up. These plans were proposed by Lord Black and agreed by the War Council last night."

"In one hour, Wood, Chambers and Ambrey are to go scout the Manor; Brooks and Cambridge the Gaunt cottage." Bones said. "If Riddle and Pettigrew are there, set up passive monitoring and retreat."

"If they're not there, then Caro and Bill will go in to look for the object we think Riddle has secreted there." Croaker added. "Lawrence, you'll remain here at base for any information they need on the fly."

Lawrence nodded, his long grey hair covering his face.

"While the Treasure Team work to find their target, the Rat Squad will keep look-out." Bones said. "If Riddle and Pettigrew turn up, set up the monitoring and retreat."

"Ma'am, why are we retreating?" Ambrey asked bluntly, her Mediterranean looks of dark hair and eyes with olive complexion looked exotic in the sterile conference room. "Shouldn't we capture them both?"

"We need the treasure before we can tackle Riddle. If they make their way to Little Hangleton, we'll know where they are and can move on them at a moment's notice." Bones explained briskly. "If the Treasure Team find the target, they'll retrieve it and put in a duplicate, re-establish the traps and depart. Rat Squad will set up monitoring in case Riddle finds his way there. Any other questions?"

There was silence.

"Well, one final thing from me then," Croaker said with a smile, "it's come to the attention of Lord Black that incentives have been offered outside of these teams for finding the rat. Lord Black sent me a note this morning saying he wants to make the playing field fair so…if you find the rat, the Rat Squad gets a thousand galleons each. Treasure Team – you'll be getting a thousand galleons each for every item you bring in."

"Let's get to it." Bones ordered.

They separated outside the room with Caro taking Bill down to the Unspeakables' locker room. He changed into a more generic muggle outfit of denim jeans, checked shirt and a windbreaker anorak. He exchanged his dragon-hide boots for hiking boots. He settled for tying his long hair back with a strip of leather and replacing his fang ear-ring with a silver stud that couldn't get caught on anything. His curse-breaking tools went into a small back-pack.

Caro had changed into a similar outfit; jeans, shirt and jacket with sensible boots and a back-pack. Her blonde hair was tied back into a plait. They looked like a couple on a hiking trip and that was going to be their cover if they ran into muggles.

They met up with Lawrence in the research room they had been using.

Lawrence smiled at them. "Communication mirrors; one is tuned to me, the other to Brooks, the other to Wood. If you run into problems, call." He picked up two silver rings. "Your emergency portkeys; you'll end up in the DOM employee reception. You'd best be going. Good hunting."

Bill nodded. He and Caro headed across to the DMLE and met up with the Rat Squad. They'd all changed into non-distinct muggle clothing too although he could see badges on the waistband of their jeans that designated them law enforcement and probably acted as their portkeys.

"Ready?" asked Bones crisply. "Then, good luck."

Brooks held up a walking stick and they all grasped it. "Tally-ho." He said with a grin, his dark eyes flashing.

The world spun away from them and Bill focused on the whirlwind of portkey travel so he could bend his legs at the right moment and land on his feet. When the world righted, they were in a deserted piece of forestry, and Cambridge was on the ground.

Chambers, a cheerful dark-haired Hufflepuff if Bill remembered rightly, reached down and helped him to his feet. "Up you come, Darren."

"Bugger." Cambridge grimaced and brushed off his clothes. "I hate portkeys." He adjusted his glasses and peered out with pale blue eyes at the countryside. "We're just outside the Manor?"

"Yep," Wood said, the faint hint of a Scots accent tinging the word, "according to our co-ordinates, Manor is about a mile up ahead to the left at the top of the hill and the Gaunt cottage is a good mile away to the right."

"How do you Treasure guys want to do this?" Brooks asked bluntly. "One of you comes with each Rat team or are you sticking together?"

Caro and Bill exchanged a look.

"Sticking together." Caro said crisply.

"We'll do the cottage first." Bill said. "It'll be quickest to search and if it's not there then we'll tackle the Manor."

"Fair enough." Brooks said. "Ambrey, Chambers; with me. Malcolm…stay in touch."

"Likewise, Keith." Wood replied.

Each group went their separate way. The walk provided them with an opportunity to get to know each other better. Wood was mostly very proud of his cousin Oliver who had ended up in the Puddlemere team and admitted he'd thought of Quidditch himself as a career before he'd applied for the Aurors. Cambridge reminded Bill of Charlie; easy-going – he'd told everyone to call him Darren within minutes –but very sharp. He hadn't gone to Hogwarts but the school in Birmingham which led them into an interesting discussion of the differences between the Ministry sponsored schools and Hogwarts.

Wood's communication mirror buzzed and they stopped to take the call. Bill cast a notice-me-not charm around them while Caro took care of the muggle repellent.

"Brooks, here." The Auror's pale face filled the screen. "We're at the Manor and have performed a passive perimeter charm. We've got one muggle on the premises. Any ideas?"

"It's probably the gardener-caretaker, Frances Archibald Bryce." Caro informed them. "His name was mentioned in the muggle records we managed to get hold of."

"He was employed by the Riddles originally, accused of their murder by the muggle authorities but let go for lack of evidence. The new owner kept him on." Bill added.

"We'll keep watch here for the rat and the snake." Brooks said. "Brooks, out."

They set off again and through the trees a small ramshackle building finally appeared.

"Merlin, it's a hovel." Darren said disgusted.

Bill was already casting and placed a hand on Darren's arm when he went to move forward. "Easy. There's a ward here."

Wood also had his wand out and he frowned as he performed the perimeter scan. "There's a nest of snakes near to the house; common adders. But, no rat and no Riddle." He nodded at Bill and Caro. "Darren and I will keep watch. You do your thing." He took out his communication mirror and briefly updated Brooks.

"The ward is a standard proximity trigger." Bill said crisply. "We walk through it, we'll trigger something – probably none lethal but scary enough to keep the muggles out."

"Makes sense," Caro said, "anyone stupid enough to want to look at the place gets scared away." She frowned. "Probably the snakes will attack."

Bill nodded. Snakes were a good choice; muggles tended to fear the hell out of them and they had bad connotations in the wizarding world.

"Options?" Bill asked, already sorting through his back-pack for a tool that would neutralize the ward.

"Well, we don't want to dismantle it or Riddle will know we've been. Under or through with the temporary neutralizer?" Caro muttered. "Through would be quicker."

"I agree." He tossed the cone-shaped device toward the house; there was a flash of green as the ward was momentarily neutralized and both Bill and Caro took an immediate step forward.

They waited.

"Snakes are remaining where they are." Bill confirmed with a quick spell.

"I'll take point," Caro said briskly, "you watch my back."

"And a lovely rear it is too, Caro." Bill said with a grin as he picked up the neutralizer. It had another two charges left.

"Oy! Watch it, Weasley!" Caro said with a smirk. "I can do things with this wand that you wouldn't believe."

"Promises, promises." Bill responded absently, even as he ran a series of spells that would warn him if anything magical triggered, if any dark creatures came into the vicinity, and if the outer ward was triggered.

They made it up to the house.

An adder slithered from where it had been sleeping in the shade by the steps and into the nearby undergrowth.

They stared at the tarnished silver knocker in the shape of a snake on the front door.

"Delightful," remarked Caro dryly, casting a series of scanning spells, "we've got another proximity ward all around this house; it's…well-hidden but there. There's a specific one in full view on the front door, but as you can see the magic gives a wonky reading." She smiled though. "All these wards…someone might think he was hiding something."

Bill nodded with a satisfied smile of his own; they'd definitely found something Riddle wanted hidden. "You know anyone who has managed to get by the snakes would leap for the steps. People usually attempt the front door first to gain entry."

"I'm thinking that's a bad idea." Caro pointed at the snake knocker. "Want to bet it comes alive?"

"Nope." Bill said. "I was trained by Gringotts; I value my gold." He waved his wand at the house walls. "So, anyone sensible would go through a window."

"And get another nasty surprise probably inside the house by whatever's triggered by the wall ward." Caro murmured. "We could throw a neutralizer through a window, it'd shatter the glass but we can repair it afterwards; dive inside."

"This would be simpler if we didn't have to leave everything in place." Bill sighed. Without the restriction they could have overpowered the house ward and gone in.

"Where's your sense of fun, Weasley?" Caro teased.

Bill hefted the neutralizer and pointed at the window on the left. "Ready?" He threw it with good aim and it smashed through the dirty glass, a green ripple flowing over the walls. He banished the rest of the glass as he and Caro ran full tilt and threw themselves through the open hole.

The landing was hard.

The breath got knocked out of him as he landed on the hard wooden floor. He sat up and rotated his shoulder gingerly. He was pretty sure it was going to bruise.

"Bloody hell!" Caro swore roundly. She scrambled into a sitting position and cradled her right wrist.

Bill ignored her in favour of checking out their situation, casting a spell to alert him to any dark magic in the area. "You OK?"

"Wrist is broken. I should have used my animagus form and flown in." Caro said succinctly.

A low hiss came from the shadows.

Bill sent out a perimeter charm. "OK, so we have another snake, a big one, and it's enchanted against spells. We'd need a bloody powerful vanishing spell to get rid of it." He took hold of Caro's arm and pulled her to her feet. "It's on the move; we need to get out of here. Accio neutralizer!"

He tossed it back through the window but there was no ripple as he pushed Caro towards the open window. Caro hastily and awkwardly clambered back out and Bill followed her not a moment too soon as not one but three snakes appeared in the shaft of sunlight, their bodies moving with speed over the wooden floor, their upper bodies rising, mouths open and hissing.

Bill fell out onto the grass with another huff of breath. He could see movement coming out of the bushes and heard Caro repairing the window as he scrambled to his feet.

"Run, you idiot!" Caro snapped as she made for the outer ward.

"Accio neutralizer!" Bill yelled and grabbed it mid-air as he swerved to avoid the snapping jaws of one snake and jumped over another. Bill tossed the neutralizer to Darren who fumbled and dropped it and Bill had a second to realise there was no green ripple. As he cleared the ward, he heard Wood shout to keep running.

Five minutes of breathless stampeding through the forest later and Wood shouted again.

"OK! OK!" Wood brought them to a stumbling halt. "We lost them."

"Bloody snakes!" Darren gasped, bending over and trying to catch his breath.

"What did the pair of you do?" Wood demanded.

"Nothing!" snapped Caro furiously, her cheeks pink with temper along with the flush of exertion. "We followed the protocols! The snakes shouldn't have attacked."

Bill caught his breath. "Something is definitely hidden there." He motioned back towards the Gaunt place. "I got a reading on a box under the floorboards just before the snakes came out of the woodwork."

"The proximity trigger wasn't linked with the snakes inside the house." Caro said, wincing in pain. "Something else set them off."

"We need to review in a pensieve and come back for a second go." Bill said. "You need treatment."

Wood pointed at them. "You two portkey back to base. I'll update Brooks and let Lawrence know you're on way back."

Bill nodded briskly. There was no reason for the Treasure Team to stay. Wood and Cambridge would have to go back and set up the passive monitoring if they hadn't already done it. He looked over at Caro and on her signal tapped his ring and gave the activation code.

They reappeared in the DOM's reception area for its employees.

"I'm going to head to the infirmary." Caro said crisply. "You go ahead and debrief Croaker."

He made for the research room and found Croaker, Bones and Lawrence waiting for him with a pensieve. Bill immediately withdrew his memory and they all dived in.

It didn't take long to watch and when they emerged, Caro was in the room waiting for them.

"Nasty." Bones said shuddering.

Croaker nodded. "What are your thoughts, Bill, having rewatched it?"

"The neutralizer was useless when we exited which means it took another hit after going through the outer ward on the house walls." Bill replied, leaning against the central workbench and folding his arms.

"The inner wall and the floor must also have been warded." Caro agreed.

Bill rubbed his forehead thoughtfully. "The floor one probably triggered the snake - there was definitely only one but reviewing it, there was some kind of increased fear sensation and there must have been an illusion to multiple it."

"What do you think, Bertie?" Bones asked.

"Ingenious and deadly." Croaker agreed. "What I would expect from Riddle. Outside is obviously aimed to keep the muggles away primarily. We didn't have neutralizers in the days when Riddle set the wards up and I would guess the wall wards trigger anti-apparition and anti-portkey travel inside, making the window the only exit. The snake inside along with a fear compulsion and an illusion spell probably triggered by a ward on the floor…wizards go back through the window triggering the snakes outside…"

"They were definitely triggered by our exit." Caro agreed tersely.

"The door…I would bet anything that door has a parseltongue ward on it. He would want to go through it after all." Lawrence said.

"So there's probably a parseltongue password that lets you in and deactivates the house triggers." Bill mused out loud.

"You need to be as powerful as Albus Dumbledore to bring all wards down and deal with the snakes to get to the ring without that password." Croaker said.

"Albus is out of the country until Thursday." Bones said.

Bill gestured. "With our plan, we can deal with the outer ward and the house wall wards with neutralizers but we have no way of dealing with the snake. Even if we levitated someone over the floor, they have to touch the floorboard to get to the ring."

"And, isn't it kind of moot to leave everything in place?" Caro argued. "All Riddle has to do is walk on over and have a chat with the snakes about any recent activity."

"We can obliviate the snakes; they're not the problem." Bill concluded. "We just need someone who can talk to snakes and hopefully get us through the front door."

They all looked at each other.

"He's never going to allow it." Bones said crisply.

Croaker frowned and motioned at Bill. "We'll go talk with him."

Bill grimaced. He really wasn't looking forward to telling Sirius that they needed Harry to get the ring.