Chapter 37 — Fateful Escape, Part I- 888 -
The entire household had crammed into the entry hall of the house, arguing and whispering. "I think they've gone," Ron said, squinting through the wavy glass set high in the door.
Unusually forceful, Neville demanded, "That many . . . just disappear?"
"I heard them go, I think," Susan said. "Sounded like a whole load of them."
"Why would they just go?" Harry asked.
"Who knows?" Hermione said, exacerbated, "Why did they come in the first place?"
Ron took the door handle in hand. "Maybe I'll go check."
Disguised Harry, standing several steps up on the stairs, cast his voice over the lot of them. "The Death Eaters have departed."
After a pause, someone asked, "They have?" Ron dropped his hand off the door handle, shoulders falling in relief.
Before they could demand more information, Harry picked Hermione out with his eyes. "You said there were some books?"
Another pause, and then Hermione pushed her way free to lead the way into the dining room. Whispering closed in behind them and a few gathered in the doorway to watch what they did.
Hermione had an array of books open on the large table. "I found a few that might interest you. They're on that side." Hermione's voice modulated as she turned from her friends to her books and back again, gesturing that they should leave them be.
Harry and Snape followed along the row, stopping at one diagram that struck Harry as eerily familiar. Snape lifted the heavy vellum to read the next few pages of the book from where it had been left open. There was no publication date in the front of the book, but the cloud of fine dust, and deep groan of the leather spoke of great age. Quietly, Snape said, "I did not think our mysterious author could have invented everything he wrote."
"This is a much clearer version."
"Than your notes, certainly," Snape teased as he angled his nose down to better peruse the broad pages.
Hermione closed the door to the dining room after a quick argument with Ron. She stood with her back to it a second before pushing away and joining them. "Anything useful?"
Snape moved on to the next book in a mode of browsing, apparently not wanting to give too much away. "They are interesting enough. We'll take them upstairs if we may."
Harry quickly marked the open pages on each and stacked them together for easy hovering. Hermione stepped over to glance into the quiet kitchen before intercepting Harry on his way out. "My friends insist that I ask if you did something to the DE outside." She bit her lip momentarily. "I mean, if you wanted to say, you would and if not, I didn't think I should bother you by asking, but they insist."
Harry was reminded again of how very intimidating he must seem. No wonder Dumbledore put on such kindly airs at every opportunity. He said, "I tricked them. I don't know how long it will last."
"How did you do that?"
Harry turned back to the stack of lead-backed books, far too heavy to carry without a charm. "I'd rather not say. It's not something even you'd be able to replicate."
"Oh," she said, shoulders falling. She appeared drained by his response.
Harry frowned faintly and glanced at his guardian, who moved to join him in leaving. Hermione stopped them both by saying, "Can I ask you about something, Profes- Mr. Snape?"
When they did not reply, she hurried down to a book on the end and rapidly turned the pages. Snape slid down beside her, but she put her hand down on the text, covering it. "Can I assume you will not tell anyone this?" she asked, eyes jumping between the two of them. She frowned wryly. "Mr. Totten, can I speak to Mr. Snape alone?"
Harry shrugged and went to the door, startling the group crowded around the other side of it. Harry used several anti snooping spells on the outside of the door, gave each of those lingering near challenging glances and walked away, nearly running headlong into his counterpart at the base of the stairs. Native Harry stood with his arms crossed, defiant. Disguised Harry explained, "Ms. Granger wished to speak to Severus alone."
Native Harry stepped aside to let him pass, saying nothing.
Hermione kept her hand over the book, visibly struggling with what she wanted to say. "This may seem a big mad, but I'm trying to piece something together and I hope you can help. What do you know about Professor Dumbledore's wand?"
"Just that the Malfoys are not above grave robbing, which upon deeper reflection is no great surprise."
"No, I mean where he got it." She pursed her lips. "Unless you knew that and you're being difficult." She huffed and turned to the book. Scanning back and forth, she found what she wanted. "Read starting from here."
Snape followed her finger and obliged. "Hm," was his only reaction. "And?"
Hermione brushed her hair back and leaned over the book. "Gregorovitch is a famous Bulgarian wand maker. Have you heard of him?" At Snape's nod, she went on, "Earlier in the century, he claimed to possess an undefeatable wand and that he would sell a copy of it to the highest bidder. This is according to an advert in an old magazine I found in the attic here. But according to this wand historian, Gregorovitch never produced the wand for the auction and later claimed the original was stolen before he could work out how to copy it. This author assumes Gregorovitch was lying about having such a wand in the first place." She slid down to the next book and flipped it open, raising a cloud of dust. "But this author, Antecedent Tummifus, claims that stories of such a wand—she calls it the Wand of Destiny—are too consistent to be entirely myth. And she says she's collected the tales together and in fact there is a plausible lineage for the wand's legacy, one wizard winning it off the previous one.."
Snape stared at her. "How does one win away an undefeatable wand?"
Hermione shrugged. "Through carelessness, as far as I can suss out." She put one book away and pawed quickly through another, stopping only to glance at the clock. "This is the thing . . . it's possible that Gregorovitch really had the Wand of Destiny and that it was stolen by someone who put it to rather infamous use." She had pulled a book closer, but did not open it, just rubbed the pattern hammered into the leather and fingered the cracked half gem decorating the corner. "So, my question for you . . . Professor . . . is quite simple. Do you know if Albus Dumbledore was using Gellert Grindelwald's wand?"
Snape considered the question, both in this world and his own, pawing back through his memories for clues. She looked away and he caught a glimpse that she did not entirely trust him, and disliked being trapped into asking the very man who had ended Dumbledore's life. Annoyed with his position, Snape said, "It's a bit insulting of the old wizard's memory, isn't it, to imply he needed that much help?"
"I didn't intend that implication," Hermione snapped lightly. "You know I didn't." She fingered the book before her. "Maybe I'm trying too hard," she said, sounding strung out once the excitement of solving a puzzle left her voice. "If it is the wand. Then you got it from Draco, and Harry took it from you, so he now has it and should be its master. He hasn't been using it . . . I think it bothers him a little to think of Dumbledore that much. I mean, sometimes I think Harry feels a little abandoned . . ." She moved quickly to put the books away, triggered by some internal clock. "I just thought if you knew for certain, then I could convince Harry to try using it more. We could use any help. Although I sort of don't want Harry to know; he acts recklessly enough as it is."
Snape stacked two of the books before putting his hands in his pockets and letting her shelve with her wand. "Are you suggesting that I had this Wand of Destiny in my possession and did not know it?"
"I, uh, yeah, I suppose I'm saying that." She stopped what she was doing and turned to face him. "Sorry," she said with a shrug. "I know how you feel. I'd hate to know I had that much power and lost it given how things are." She finished up and moved to open the door, saying, "I'm holding up breakfast."
Snape caught her arm as she went by, still lost in memories. He said, "Dumbledore's original wand had a Phoenix Feather in it. If that wand does not, then it may very well be Grindelwald's old one."
Hermione's bright gaze bored into his. "How did Dumbledore defeat him? No one has ever said."
Snape released her arm. "He never explained that to me. He never explained much of anything."
She ducked her head. "And now we get to sort it all out without him."
Hermione moved to exit and bumped her nose on the door when she tried, but she smoothly backed up and cancelled all the spells and charged through it. Snape followed her out, and the breakfast cooking crew glared at them before hurrying inside. Snape continued following Hermione, drawn to this mystery by clinging tendrils of the unresolved past. Hermione went up to the door of Harry and Ginny's room. It stood ajar and Harry glared at Snape behind Hermione as she said, "Harry, can I see that wand we got from Draco?"
Harry kept his wary gaze on Snape as he fetched the wand out of a hollowed out book and handed it over. "You're not getting it back," Harry said.
"Oh, I realize that," Snape stated dryly.
Hermione examined the wand for a long time before turning the handle to slip out the delicate mount for the core. "What is that?"
She turned to Snape, who leaned over it for a closer look. All four of them did, bumping heads. "Notice the scales at the root. Thestral hair," Snape proclaimed.
"Odd core," Ginny said. "Ollivander never sold any with that core, did he?"
Hermione gingerly turned the handle in and handed it back to Harry for a test. The curtains obediently opened fully. When he tried to put it away again, Hermione said, "I think you should use that one instead of your other."
Harry stood with the book open, ready to drop the wand in. "Why?"
"Well . . ." Hermione struggled.
Snape said, "Your usual wand locks spells with Voldemort's, does it not? If you wish to defeat him you will need one with a non-matching core. That one appears to work at least as well for you . . ."
Ginny dismissively said, "Just carry both. That way if you lose one, you have the other. No one expects that anymore because wands are getting so rare."
Harry shrugged and put the new wand away in his back pocket with his other.
Disguised Harry came up behind Snape with a look of question. Snape gestured with his head that they should return to their room. Once there, Snape said, "We are discovering some things Dumbledore did not explain."
"His wand appears to have a rather storied history, including formerly belonging to Grindelwald."
"Huh," Harry said, finding that a bit disturbing but not important. "And?"
"Potter now has it. Malfoy took it from Albus' grave, it seems, and it made its way to Potter, of course," he added, sounding annoyed. "The implications of this are not yet clear. And on top of it, Granger does not want Potter to understand the power he may now possess."
Harry replayed in his mind Snape's comments to Hermione about understanding too well. He pursed his lips and said, "And do you think he can handle knowing?"
Snape raised his chin and replied, "Yes. If he remains careful . . . ongoing."
- 888 -
Tonks coughed and brushed the soot from her clothes. "You tightened the Apparition block," she said to Snape, who sat at the table, a cup of tea under his nose.
Candide said, "Arthur suggested it."
"Ah," Tonks said. "I've been looking for Harry rather than reading my memos." She dropped into a chair. "You really don't know where he's gone?" She gave each of them a pleading look. "I'm starting to think he's headed off to one of those other parallel places."
Snape started faintly. "He told you about that?"
Tonks nodded. "I figure that's really the only way for him to get away from everything to think."
Snape tapped his teacup with his long index finger. "Perhaps."
A knock came on the door and moments later Winky led Aaron and Ginny in. "Any news? Well, besides this news . . . " Aaron said, indicating the newspaper out flat on the table beside the tea service.
Ginny gave Snape a meaningful glance, which he ignored, so she took on a more casual attitude. Candide reached for the paper and said, "You mean Skeeter's article, I assume."
Aaron accepted the chair Candide gestured at and settled in, hands clasped in his lap. "Where'd she get this stuff? Lord Freelander says it's entirely made up. He's had his solicitor subpoena for her notes and evidence . . . these letters she refers to."
Ginny sat straighter, swallowed hard and tried for a proper tone. "And he sent them an . . . injunction . . . right?"
"That too, of course," Aaron said. He tossed the paper into the fire. "Better to be a pauper with a life kept private."
Placatingly, Ginny said, "You aren't even mentioned."
"I expect I will be. Even though her dates are all wrong. How could she be so right and so wrong at the same time?" he demanded of the room.
Snape and Ginny shared a passing glance.
"Your father should just buy the paper and fire her," Ginny suggested.
"Excellent idea," Candide agreed, toasting Ginny with her teacup.
Aaron shook himself. "But this is all silly stuff. What is going on with Harry?" He turned from his former Head of House to stare at Tonks, who helplessly shook her head.
Candide asked Snape as if just thinking of it, "Did you owl Finland? That shaman he stayed with?"
Snape shook his head. "Would it help? If he is there he will return in his own time."
Aaron leaned toward his former teacher and asked, "Do you think he's coming back to the program? I don't know what we'll do without him." He sounded unexpectedly sad.
Snape, biting with his words, said, "Perhaps they should have been nicer to him if they wanted him to stay."
- 888 -
- 888 -
Speaking quietly, despite believing they were no longer overheard here in their borrowed room, Snape said, "You will have to bridge some hazy sections of the spell instructions with your implicit knowledge." He rolled their edited diagrams up and pocketed them.
"The Device is still there, Severus. I don't think we'll have a problem."
"The physical diagram is. A Device exists in magical dimensions as well. The chalk lines are a reference to focus the magic. And this particular Device bridges dimensions of possibility as well." He did not sound terribly optimistic of their success. "We will have most of the day tomorrow to work out the execution."
"Poor choice of words," Harry said. He tapped his fingers on the book open on the brewing counter, impatient with sitting still. "I could have gone home and returned before morning," Harry complained for the second time.
"I expect this task will require you to be better rested than that. And on that note, you would do best to remain in tonight."
Harry pushed back the stool and stood to pace. "Grounding me?" he taunted lightly. A quick check of his inner mind indicated there was only one Death Eater outside on the square. Harry leaned toward the frosted window and used his fingertips to melt away a spot to look through. A surprising number of figures sat on the four benches on the square. Non Death Eaters, perhaps. Harry expected he could ignore the lone true servant assigned if that's all there would be through the night. He wondered idly and with amusement what Voldemort thought of his army being summoned by someone other than himself.
Harry pondered the thousand servants Voldemort had and said, "How is this place going to fare?" His question fogged over the round clear spot, quickly turning back to crystal ice.
"It isn't our problem," Snape said.
Harry watched him put the inkwells away and wipe the pen nibs clean with a heavily stained rag. "You really feel that way?" Harry asked.
"I'm trying to," came the reply. Snape gently lined up the quills in a writing box and latching it. It had the Black family crest on the lid.
"I could just kill him like last time," Harry said, tracing five-pointed diagrams in the window frost. One particular one felt active, so he huffed on it quickly to wipe it out.
"Be careful there. You've created Devices in glass before when you were out of sorts."
Harry sat straight, tucking his hands safely away. "I forgot about that."
"If any of the Horcruces are intact Voldemort's departure will only be temporary."
"But they can keep looking for them with him gone. Wouldn't that be easier?"
Snape nodded. "If they don't lose interest in the task."
Harry said, "You think they could lose interest . . . after all that's happened here?"
Snape shrugged and went to the potions shelves. "I do not know what will happen. Destiny is a difficult thing to interfere with."
Harry spun on the stool to track him. "You don't want me to kill him."
Snape straightened a few bottles before replying, "I think you will pay a price for your actions and I intend to protect you from that if I can. You are my responsibility."
"What about the Harry downstairs?"
"You are my responsibility. My counterpart can fulfill his own promises."
Harry half wished he could feel as straightforward as that. This house was full of the same friends he had at home. They would hurt just as badly when things went wrong.
"Maybe you should leave him a note," Harry said, half joking.
Snape's brow rose and after a pause he retrieved the writing box and systematically removed things from it. He took up the Potion notebook and flipped it upside down and over, before starting in with the quill on this reverse page one. He scratched out words, pausing frequently with his long fingered hand poised over the next blank spot. Harry leaned over Snape's shoulder to read and said, "Those are brewing instructions."
"I am writing a code of sorts. I used this method to take all kinds of notes through the years. So far it has not been broken, although it has earned me mockery for the mud it will brew if followed."
With the sound of the scratching quill to lull him, Harry lay down for a nap. He was woken some time later by a soft knock on the door. Snape opened it to reveal Hermione, who glanced behind her once before slipping inside.
"Can I show you something?"
Snape used the excuse of clearing a space for the book she carried to close up the notes he had been working on. She glanced with concern at Harry sitting there in his old wizard disguise. Snape said, "It is safe to speak in his presence."
Hermione opened the book to her mark. The page margins were crowded with drawings and the parchment exceptionally brown and crinkly.
"The Wand of Destiny had some companions," she said, then pointed where Snape should start reading.
Harry remained where he was, assuming Snape would fill him in later. He used the opportunity to study Hermione in detail and imagine letting go of the people in this place. It did not work out well, but the exercise did push the shadows into the distance.
Snape raised his head. "You will have to find the ring."
Hermione's voice was pitched higher as she whispered, "So you think the cloak . . . ?"
Snape nodded. "There are more than few odd things about that particular cloak that could be explained by this. You need to find the ring and you will know for certain."
Hermione closed the book and clutched it to her chest. Soberly, swallowing hard, she said, "You think we should?"
"I don't think you have a choice."
"But . . . you don't worry that . . . you know . . . Harry? You don't think he might-"
"That is always a concern," Snape said, cutting her off.
Hermione's gaze was bright. "You know what I mean, right?"
Voice low, Snape replied, "Better than you can know."
"I wish we could ask someone who would know for certain about the ring."
Snape's gaze had the glint of Legilimency, even though he probably did not need it. "You refer to the former headmaster, I assume."
Hermione nodded, clutching the book to her front. Snape fell silent and held up his hand when Hermione turned to go. "What became of Dumbledore's painting, do you know?"
Harry sat straighter. Hermione searched Snape's face and said, "Lucius Malfoy is reported to have tried to be rid of it."
"He cannot have removed it from the school. Not with any ease," Snape said.
Hermione nodded again. "Right. We heard he had another painting done, and tried to trick Dumbledore's image into getting trapped in it so it could be removed instead. But it didn't work." Hermione ducked her head. "We tried to steal it once, but we lost both we sent and several students who helped us were punished severely as an example before they too disappeared."
Snape turned to Harry. There was an edge to his gaze that Harry read as determination, and Harry was glad to see it. Despite his insistence otherwise, Snape could not leave here without trying to help as much as possible. "Care to fetch it for them?"
Hermione stepped in Harry's direction just as he pushed off the bed, too energetically for his persona. "I don't want anyone to get hurt-"
Snape held up his hand. "Not to worry." Then to Harry, "Do not be long."
Harry Disapparated, glad to have something to do to make the day go by faster. Since he could slip away from anywhere else, untraced, he simply Apparated into a London alleyway and away again.
It was the Sunday before school resumed, and the sweeping castle grounds sat with a fresh blush of untrampled snow. Harry had slipped in under the Whomping Willow and stood staring up at the sheer stone wall. He felt better, more himself. The fresh air and concern for his friends' counterparts pushed the shadows away, and he wanted to stay that way for a while so he did not reach inward, but remained acutely aware of his physical senses, and they hummed with the brisk fresh air. His breath fogged the air in front of him and his fingers grew cold so he buried them in his pockets. The tower windows above him showed dark, so he decided that he might as well start his search in the headmaster's office.
As Harry silently arrived on the thick overlapping rugs, a painting snorted. Most of the headmasters hung in their expected places, but some had been rearranged. A clock ticked and chimed the quarter hour. The room smelled of rare wood and the overly sweet aftershave of the current occupant. Dumbledore was not among those on the wall, even the covered ones near the floor, which Harry had to peek under one at a time, not wanting to waken them. Harry moved about, looking over the documents on the desk. A few eyes watched him do this, curious. Harry moved to open a drawer, but pulled back out of a sense of curse—a reminder that he had to remember what he came for and not dally.
To the paintings, he said, "Anyone know where Dumbledore was taken?"
The awake paintings shook their heads or scratched something, a chin or their scalp. A voice from the second level of the office said, "Who in Merlin's cursed realm wishes to know?"
Harry turned to face Lucius Malfoy, who had his wand aimed down at him.
Casting his voice rougher, Harry said, "No one you would know."
Malfoy's eyes narrowed and he held out his other hand for the railing to slowly approach down the metal stairs. Harry watched him do this, wand at his side.
"How did you get in here?"
Harry took on an attitude of amusement, propped his hand on the desk and leaned on it. "You believe you know every secret of this place? You always were obnoxiously conceited."
Malfoy's wand twitched and his lips moved but he held back on the curse. His eyes took in the room and the paintings. "Why do you want Dumbledore's painting?"
"Who wouldn't want it?" Harry tossed out with a silly flair. "I haven't had a good conversation with anyone since the old buzzard kicked off."
As expected this knocked Malfoy back a bit. Finally recovering, he asked, "Who are you?" trying to overcome confusion with menace.
Harry remembered being alarmed by this man. Now Harry felt deliciously ecstatic at how foolish Malfoy was. "Harry Potter . . . who do I look like?"
The wand homed in on Harry's nose, too far away to grab, but close enough that a normal counter would be difficult to cast, even if Harry had his wand up. "I can make you tell me," Malfoy threatened, sounding utterly confident.
Harry crossed his arms, and grinned. "Oh, I'd be amused to see you try."
The curse came, a Crucio. Malfoy fell. His wand tumbled to the base of the desk. Gasping, he thrashed his cloak-tangled legs and finally managed to claw himself up on one elbow to stare at Harry in surprise.
"You lack all subtlety," Harry said. "You couldn't work your way up from, say, a Spasm Hex?"
Panic seeped into Malfoy's gaze. Harry stepped over and picked up his wand and pocketed it. Malfoy pulled another out of his pocket and aimed it up at Harry, but not steadily.
"How many graves did you rob?" Harry blurted, indicating the second wand.
"Too many!" came a particularly exasperated and elderly former headmaster.
Harry finally took out his own wand and before he could aim it, Malfoy tried again. This time the blowback from the blocked Blasting Curse tossed Malfoy flat on his back and his wand sailed away to clatter off the bookshelves. Harry Accioed it to himself and took the three others from Malfoy's pocket. He used a Mummy Hex on him and stood over him, thinking.
"Getting in my way was a mistake," Harry tiredly said, which ratcheted up the alarm in Malfoy's eyes. "I want to know where Dumbledore's painting went."
Malfoy sneered but Harry got the strangest image of the Mirror of Erised from his icy eyes, so he smiled faintly back and said, "There are far too many of you—so many that eliminating even half of you would do little good. I think we'd be better off letting you drag things down for a while. Yes," Harry said, thinking upon it more. "I think your pride will keep you from revealing what's happened to you."
Harry struck out with the well-practiced Memory Charm they used on duty, then once that settled in and Malfoy's face relaxed, he used a Charm he had only read of before, in one of the books Snape disposed of to clear out the upstairs rooms. The book had labeled it a Serpent Memory Charm and promised that it would do random selective damage to what someone knew, leaving them functional but inept.
The air seethed and coiled around Harry's wand as he worked the motion. The spell lacked an incantation, which was what attracted Harry to studying the diagrams. As the air flowed around his hand and arm, tendrils reached up from the Dark Plane, seeking his wand. The spell was nearly finished, the coils solidifying and falling off the point of this wand to sniff out their victim. But the Dark Plane refused to close beneath him, despite Harry's best efforts. It was like trying to close a door while standing in the way of it. It grew apparent that as the spell reached completion, the tendrils would reach him, connecting like an electric circuit, to who knew what result.
With a shout of dismay, Harry tossed his hand to the side, cutting the spell off. The tendrils sank away. Harry growled to himself. He should be able to do this spell. It was the perfect spell for what he wanted to accomplish. Perhaps the trouble was less the idea than the execution. The spell clearly unleashed something to do the damage and that was what made it dark. Harry knew how to adjust a standard Memory Charm for depth rather than breadth of interference. He would simply have to use twenty or so narrow, deep spells to get the same result.
After a dozen spells at the helpless, dazed man lying before him, Harry stopped and breathed in and out, feeling badly, but then he remembered everything that had happened here and he added on another ten, even narrower ones. He wanted Malfoy to make mistakes, major ones. Killing him would simply lead to him being replaced. This was better, even as mechanically cold as he felt hitting him with one spell after another, making his head rock from side to side with the impact.
Satisfied that he had struck the right balance between mercy and crippling, Harry released the Mummy Hex, gave the paintings a shushing gesture, in response to which several winked, and slipped away to the school attic.
Harry wandered the entire L-shaped length of one attic and had moved to the other when he stopped, hearing something. The noise faded, and Harry stood, breath held, listening, while he raised his wand and tried a Sentient Locator Spell. The spell fizzled, something Harry had never before had happen.
"Who's there?" Harry asked, certain someone was, but if they were hiding, perhaps they were not foes, so he did not want to try anything more violent than that.
A long ear peaked out, and then a large-eyed head. "Dobby?" Harry whispered.
The elf fully emerged. "Please, Master, Dobby is not harming anything. Dobby is being careful is all Dobby is being. Not knowing your wizardness, Dobby isn't."
More elves peeked out before ducking into hiding again behind Dobby.
"What are you doing up here?" Harry asked.
Dobby rolled his hands over one another. "Dobby is helping his friends. Dobby is not bound to Hogwarts but his friends are. Dobby can just manage to convince them to stay up here, rather than be hurt by their cruel masters, Master."
"Ah," Harry said. "Do you want help freeing them? Do you want me to bring them clothes?" When the other elves squeaked and backed into the furniture-walled hiding place, Harry gave up on that idea. "Do you know where Dumbledore's portrait is?"
Dobby took a little leap forward, making his ears swing. "Dobby can be helping with this, Master." He led Harry by the hand a few paces and pointed at a small window at the end.
Harry gestured him away and thanked him, which made Dobby tug on his ears, embarrassed. At the end of the gabled space, bathed in the dust-riding light leaching in the window, sat the Mirror of Erised and facing it, on a chair missing a leg, sat the painting Harry sought, it's figure snoring lightly.
"Professor?" Harry prodded to wake it.
The painting started, and blinked tired eyes. "What? Oh?" The painting's gaze was taken in by the mirror and grew misty-eyed.
Harry stepped around behind the chair and looked in the mirror, half expecting to see what Dumbledore saw. Instead he saw himself, bright-eyed and smiling. "What do you see?" Harry asked.
"Ah . . . nothing I wish to share, I'm afraid."
"But it works for you?" Harry went on.
"Apparently," Dumbledore said with a sigh. "I can no longer visit the other paintings in the school. I had the elves move me here, so that I might have someone to look at." Only because you asked it of me, will I do the same. "What do you see?"
Harry considered his reflection. "I see someone freed of someone else's instinct for evil deeds. Someone able, finally, to move on without being dragged back into the past."
Dumbledore pondered that and said, "I changed my mind. That is my answer as well, and there is no reason not to tell you that since it was yours."
"We have to go," Harry said, aware of fleeting time.
"I cannot leave," Dumbledore said. "The school holds me in. But I am quite astoundingly bored and very much desire to know where it is you would like to go, just so I can imagine it."
"To where you can do some good."
The spells for the castle's paintings were in Ravenclaw's book, near the front, so Harry had read them too many times over. He cast the spell to link Dumbledore's painting to the rest in the school, thinking that would be useful later. Dumbledore skipped back from the frame as the curling sparkles from the magic sank into the gilded wood. "Ah, thank you. It took Mr. Malfoy months to remove that spell. He thought to lure me into a single other picture where the paint had been tainted with Widow's Ink and then destroy the original. A transparent ploy. Really, he believes himself to be far more clever than he actually is," Dumbledore added, right eye glittering even in the low light.
"Well, it's good he didn't succeed," Harry said picking up the painting to examine the frame with its cloth portrait nailed up against the back of it. In Ravenclaw's book the portrait canvas and frame were a enchanted as a unit so he did not want to simply pull out the painting and leave the frame. Despite wanting to hurry, Harry took his time to think a bit. Ravenclaw had included how to bind a headmaster's portraits to the castle, with a kind of widespread Boomerang Charm that returned the painting to the headmaster's tower by whatever means necessary as soon as it exited a door, window, or tunnel. The book did not contain a cancellation for the spell, so Harry hoped that his means of egress would not engage the spell. If that failed, he would think of something else.
Harry took up a drop cloth from a nearby chair and wrapped the painting in it. "We're going to give it a try. But I don't want you to see how we travel," he explained. Holding tight, Harry inverted himself into the netherworld. The painting gave a shudder and resisted, yanking his arms hard at his shoulder sockets, but as his feet settled to the grey earth, the frame fell still in his hands. Fearing he might have left the painting's subject behind, Harry peaked under the cloth and found Dumbledore smoothing his comically frazzled beard. "That was rather strange. Where are we?"
"You don't want to know." Harry said, unceremoniously tightening the wrap again before slipping back into the normal world, right to the doorstep of Grimmauld Place so as to leave no Apparition trace. He again almost lost his grip on the painting, making him think the resistance was merely the drag of any large object being pulled through the interstice, rather than a vestige of the binding spell.
Upstairs, he found Hermione, Ginny and this world's Harry waiting with Snape. Snape said, "I did not think that would require so much time."
Harry checked his beard with one hand and propped the painting up on the brewing shelf, still wrapped tight. "It had been removed to storage. I had to find it."
Snape stepped in a half circle around the shrouded painting. "They must have broken some of the spells on it, in that case." He turned to this world's Harry. "If I may have a word with the portrait alone?"
"No," this place's Harry said. "I don't trust you." He stepped up and with determined movements, quickly unwrapped the painting, slowing to reverent as Dumbledore's visage appeared to blink in the light. "Professor Dumbledore," he said, carefully propping the painting back up. With visible effort, he stepped back and invited Snape to step forward with a gesture. "Whatever you want to say, say it." Harry, believing himself a fair judge of his counterpart imagined the other was stalling to gather his emotions. Snape sighed faintly and stepped before the painting.
"Ah, Severus," the painting said, showing real joy. "I had overheard that you were found out and worried what had become of you."
Snape waved this topic off and turned the painting a bit when it started to say hello to everyone else. "You must listen to me, Albus. Things are rather dire and you cannot hold anything back any longer." Dumbledore gave Snape a dissuading expression. "No," Snape said. "There is no longer anything to lose."
"I am aware of what is happening, Severus," the painting stated, sounding unusually patient.
Snape turned the painting back to the room and Dumbledore addressed the native Harry. "You've grown a bit, young man."
"Professor," Harry said, half looking at the floor.
"I suppose I deserve such a greeting."
Harry shrugged. "We need help."
Dumbledore nodded, stroking his beard. "And Ms. Granger, good to see you. Ah, and my rescuer. I don't think we've had the pleasure."
Hermione's head snapped over, her whole body going on alert. "You . . . said you were an old friend of Professor Dumbledore," she said to Harry.
Beside him, Snape half uncrossed his arms and held them hovered around each other, ready to move. Harry said, "A headmaster's portrait does not include every memory, or even a fraction of them. Just what he leaves behind in the pensieve." This world's Harry had pulled his wand, but held it hidden in his sleeve and watched him with acute suspicion.
Harry let the rough mask on his voice fade. "I've known Albus from when I was very young. I think he just doesn't remember."
Hermione stuttered and asked the painting, "You . . . you don't know Aaron Totten?"
Harry directly faced the painting, moving with more confidence than he felt. He adjusted his hat just briefly when the eyes in the room turned to wait for Dumbledore's reaction to this question, revealing his scar.
Dumbledore's reaction was swift and sharp. He actually leaned forward in the frame as if to escape it. "Wait a moment. I . . . do remember you. But, I . . . am quite surprised to see you . . . here. I never would have expected you . . . to take such an enormous risk. What has brought you . . . back?"
Harry realized Dumbledore misunderstood, believing him to be his future self. "I take less of a risk than you realize," Harry said. "Much less. But even so, the situation here calls for drastic action. As Severus insists, you cannot afford to hold anything back."
Dumbledore's eyes remained wide with shock as he stared at Harry. "I need to speak with . . . Aaron alone, if you all would leave us."
"And Severus," Harry added. "We're here together . . . at the moment."
Dumbledore's face went wanky at this revelation. "You are? I don't believe I understand."
"I know you don't," Harry replied.
The room's legitimate Harry stepped into their circle. "I'm tired of secrets. Hermione has questions for you, Professor. Anything else can wait."
Hermione shuffled over and said, "We need to know where the ring is."
"Do you?" Dumbledore returned, clearly a challenge.
"Yes, sir," Hermione humbly replied, dropping her gaze.
"You do know what you are asking for?" Dumbledore queried, like an examination question.
Hermione nodded, shaking her hair which had fallen before her face. "We have the other two things."
Dumbledore straightened at this news. "Interesting." He looked her over before turning to disguised Harry. "And you agree with this?" When Harry replied in the affirmative, Dumbledore asked the same of Snape, who nodded.
"I see that I have failed utterly." Dumbledore took off his hat to brush his hair back, before replacing it again. "Harry," he said, "step a little closer so I can see you properly. You know what Ms. Granger is referring to, correct?"
Harry shook his head. "She keeps me as much in the dark as you used to."
Dumbledore's head pulled back from the frame and he had to straighten his hat. "Well, good to know someone is looking out for you."
"I don't particularly see it that way," Harry mumbled.
Dumbledore sighed loudly. "If even half of what I've overheard is true, things are quite dire indeed." After pausing for a sniffle, he contemplated Harry, eyes oozing affection to the point where the paint composing him appeared fresh again. "I'm sorry for this, Harry. Everything I've ever done, I did to protect you because I loved you. But this one will not be that way. If I tell Ms. Granger what she wants to know, and yes, I know where the ring is . . ." Hermione stood straight, eager to hear.
Dumbledore sniffled again. "If I tell her, I fear I will be sacrificing you to this cause more thoroughly than I ever thought possible."
Harry's scarred brow wrinkled. "Haven't I already been?" he asked.
"Not like this," Dumbledore said quietly. "Not at all like this." He sighed the loudest yet, making the picture frame vibrate on the shelf. He tapped his finger on his crossed arms and said, "In a way I would rather see you . . . well, I suppose that is not fair to the rest of the wizarding world."
"Rather see me what?" Harry asked.
"Dead," Snape bluntly provided from his perch on the shelf a few feet beyond the painting.
Harry glanced between Snape and the painting. "You can't really mean that," he snapped.
Dumbledore said, "I do indeed. Harry, you have to promise me something. When this is war is over. When you have won-"
"What makes you think that's going to happen?" Harry came back.
"Oh, you will. Your friends are asking me to help you become invincible."
Harry gave Hermione a doubtful glance.
Dumbledore went on, "Remember Binn's lessons of how Grindelwald roared across Europe, unstoppable? He only had one of the Hallows and you will have all three. Ah!" he said, cutting off Harry's leap into a question. "Before I say another word, I must have your promise that you will heed me when this war has ended."
Harry stared at the painting. "Invincible?"
"Yes." The painting's voice reverberated now, growing in strength. "Restrained only by your conscience, your love for your friends, and absolutely nothing else. Imagine it well, and then promise me you will do whatever I say, no matter how much you wish to do otherwise."
"You're saying I can just destroy Voldemort and his followers and free us all from the war?"
"Not necessarily in that order. And it will require care, Harry. And some patience to avoid extending the carnage. I would like to guide you in that as well, but that is less a requirement than your final loyalty."
Hermione stepped in, grasping Harry by the arm. "Harry, I don't like the sound of this. He wishes you dead rather than this; you don't know what he's going to ask of you."
Snape too, had stood away from the shelf as if to approach and offer a warning.
Harry pushed her hand away. "It's all right. We don't have any choice. I promise I'll do whatever you say," he pledged to Dumbledore.
"I am going to have you make that promise to your mother as well, if you don't mind."
Harry blinked at him. "How's that?"
Disguised Harry shared an alarmed and curious glance with Snape.
Dumbledore's painting settled back in its seat. "You will see."
The Order spent the day holed up in the dining room, plotting, leaving displaced Harry and Snape in their room to complete their own planning. Harry kept his thoughts away from Death Eaters, even the two assigned out on the square that flickered constantly at the edge of his senses. He would be leaving here soon, and they did not matter.
A knock finally interrupted their scheming. Hermione informed them that lunch was almost ready and that Dumbledore's painting demanded to speak with Aaron, alone. "He's up in the attic," Hermione informed him. "He said he preferred it there."
Harry climbed up to the attic, brushing cobwebs out of his hair and sneezing.
"Bless you," the painting said.
Harry closed the door and cast as many spells as he could to assure they were alone before sitting on a trunk facing the painting, which had been propped in the opened drawer of a battered dresser. "You wanted to see me," Harry said.
"I want to make certain you are leaving immediately, before you destroy everything."
"I am. As soon as I can arrange it."
"And you stated that Severus was with you . . .? He is badly needed here."
"He is. I'm taking him with me, but he'll be here," Harry said, delighting in confusing even the portrait of his old mentor.
The painting hesitated. "I am not certain I understand."
"Just as well," Harry said. "About time I got the chance to leave you with only opaque hints to work with." Harry stood. "I am not risking anything in this place. Not really." He started to leave and said, "Severus will need help, since he will not know what has happened here for the last few weeks. Do give him your assistance if you will . . ."
The painting pondered this, finally settling on: "I will assist Severus with whatever he needs."
"We left him notes in the back of the Potions notebook. Tell him that, in case he doesn't find them."
The painting spent even more time considering this. "Certainly." Then: "You are leaving when?"
"Tomorrow. But tell this to no one."
Dumbledore's visage nodded. "Interesting making your acquaintance; it lets me know far too much about what you may survive, I'll confess."
Harry leaned close all of a sudden. "It tells you nothing of the sort. I'm nineteen." Harry stood, ignoring the painting's confounded expression. "Good day, Professor."
- 888 -
That night, Harry lay fitfully, afraid to sink completely into sleep. The two shadows hovering close on the square needled him. He could not remain neutral about them and their more distant, but plentiful peers—both servants and enemies—could not be denied. Each time he closed his eyes to relax, they vacillated between these two roles, taunting him to defeat them or take control.
Despite this inner battle Harry tried hard to seem outwardly at peace. He lay half curled as much as possible in the small space on the shared bed, head buried against his bent arm, as if he could block out the psychic impressions.
Harry remained cautiously still, despite the turmoil within. Perhaps he lay too still because Snape raised his head and put a hand on Harry's shoulder. His resonating voice came out of the grey murk, saying, "You are rather agitated. And I am uncertain why." When Harry did not respond after many seconds he went on, "Do stay, Harry. There is nothing for you to do here."
"I'm not going anywhere," Harry said through his robe sleeve. But it was almost a lie. His entire being hummed, keyed up to take some kind of action, be it offensive or defensive. He longed to be alone, home away from the shadows, as badly as he feared losing them.
Snape's hand brushed the hair over Harry's ear before re-gripping his shoulder. "If you were any more tense, you could serve as a tuning fork. What is wrong?"
Harry shook his head.
Snape sighed faintly and dropped back on his own pillow. "When we get home, we will discuss it.
Some purer core of Harry flinched at what it feared would be a long and tedious lecture. "If we must," Harry said, feeling suddenly better despite his grim response. He held onto that old, familiar loathing of detention. It felt nostalgic and wholly alien to the corrupting power teasing just within reach. With it he found a balance, and shallow rest.
The early grey-blue light had barely given form to the objects in the room when Snape shook Harry awake. Stiffly, Harry roused with a yawn and lit the hearth, intending to warm himself before sliding out into the cold air.
"We should go," Snape said, prompting Harry to groan and brave the chill.
As he tugged himself into his robes, Harry quietly said, "Do you feel all right about going?"
Snape halted in pouring out the dregs from a cold teapot left from the night before. He set the pot down, stared into the cup and said, "Dumbledore has things well in hand. And he seemed most eager for you to depart."
"That's because he doesn't understand . . ." Harry dropped his voice lower still. " . . . that I'm not from the future."
"He's a painting. There are limits to what it can grasp."
Harry dropped his arms and made ready to Disapparate. They had used the house travel map the night before and had already plotted out a misdirection route. "That's just it. How much help can he be?"
"All he has to do is help them complete this triumvirate of objects and I believe the odds will be about even."
"Lots for them to do, even if they win," Harry said, feeling reluctant to leave, and worried about the source.
"That is always true. It is true for us as well."
"Not like this."
Shrewsthorpe stood with the same willful stillness as Grimmauld Place. The fat, sagging candles and chalk lines of the Device had collected a light coating of dust but otherwise remained as before. Harry rubbed his neck and stood before it, sensing its dormant connections to the netherworld and beyond, chilled and heartened by it at the same time. Snape came beside him and unrolled the notes where they could both see them.
Harry had been optimistic about the spell, but faced with so many complicated execution diagrams, one after another, he felt daunted by what they needed to do. "Good thing we're getting started early."
Snape's eyes slid over to him before he shook his head and paced around the pentagram's broad borders. "I am hopeful that because it was used before it will reopen more easily than an original construction."
"We have to make certain it's closed utterly this time," Harry said. "If what you say is true, it will reopen even easier after this." Harry sighed and rubbed his itching scar. Snape observed his, but continued without comment. Harry, realizing he was being watched too closely, said, "What's the first step?"
"Clean up the lines, straighten the candles—the Black family was gracious enough to loan us a few-"
"They aren't in a position to notice," Harry pointed out.
"Or more accurately: too dead to notice. Then we create the power arcs between the nodes-"
"You're getting punchy," Harry criticized.
Snape stood with his arms hanging loose. "I admit, I am less than hopeful. Perhaps I have been in this place too long."
"I'm going to get you home, Severus. Let's get to work." Harry bent and used the corner of his robe to clean up the smudges around the nearest vertex.
When it came time to work the first spell, the pair stared at each other until Harry said, "You should do this part."
Snape held the notes out to Harry. "I was wondering if you should. Then the magic all through would be yours when it comes time to work through the gaps in what we have."
Harry pushed the notes back. "But the spell is already yours. Or essentially," he added quietly.
Snape pulled the notes back and held them out, angled to the sparse light. "True, I'll admit. And the has the hallmarks of dark magic. At this point, perhaps I have more leeway . . ."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Harry asked.
Snape shook his head, lowered the paper and began to point at each vertex while reciting the complicated spell from memory, then repeating, like a mantra, until Harry had it memorized too.
Harry's bored and over-keyed mind was certain an hour had passed. The sky impinged earnestly now through the cracks in the boards over the windows. Finally, glowing arcs connected each of the vertices to each of the others. At the end of one round, Snape simply stopped and rubbed his arm. The arcs continued to hum, flowing and oscillating as if attracted and repelled by each other.
"Now it must be inverted into the netherworld," Snape said. Squinting at the notes, he tried a spell several times, but the arcs merely deformed before bouncing back.
Harry said, "I can open the gateway wider."
Snape stepped back. "Be careful not to impose your will upon the Device. My counterpart formed a gate without your skills and I am loath to venture too far from his methodology." He sighed. "That stated . . . go ahead. I'll give you a count."
Snape counted to five and Harry cracked open the Plane. The arcs contorted and sizzled against the floor before disappearing. Harry released the opening and reasserted the barrier. "I think I may have been holding it closed on you. It's just a habit."
"A good one to possess." Without further comment he began the same spell again, recreating the arcs on their side.
It required just as long again. Harry paced, feeling uneasy and keeping his wand in hand. He felt watched despite their alarm spells remaining silent. He roamed farther this time, around the room's edge, to find Tidgy's ghost hovering in the dining room doorway. The elf's oversized eyes watched him pass, blinking without disturbing the air.
The second set of arcs finished, Snape paged ahead, studying his amended notes before moving on to building a dome on the arcs. Harry came aside and read along, needing to do something.
Snape, lecturing, said, "During this step, the arcs are stretched upward until they connect back to themselves, linking the Planes." He pointed at the instruction list, which ended in an infinity symbol. "Done correctly, the arcs will straighten perfectly upward and thin infinitely."
"What? You mean they will stretch the entire length of the universe? Seems doubtful."
Snape raised his wand. "As long as they stretch far enough for the spell, I'll put aside the astronomical implications."
It took several attempts. Fortunately the arcs proved resilient upon failure and always jumped back, bright as ever. But Snape finally mastered the motion to wave them ever upward, until they stretched so thin they disappeared and the device fell dark again, but to Harry, it hummed strangely, making the hair on his arms tingle.
"What now?" Harry asked.
"That was going to be my question," an unexpected voice said.
Harry spun on his heel, bringing his wand up to aim at Draco Malfoy, standing just inside the back door.
Malfoy shifted his shoulders and keeping his wand trained back on disguised Harry, circled closer to study the device. "Took me a while to get through all the alarms on this place." He stopped near the front corner of the hall. "What are you doing? What is this spell?"
Harry cast his voice into old and wavering and said. "Nothing of interest to you. You would best be served by getting out of the way." Harry felt for the young man's Mark, intending to bring him down with that rather than cast a spell that may disturb the Device.
"I want my wand back."
"I don't have your wand."
Pointing with his chin at Snape, Draco snarled as if to an idiot, "HE took it."
Snape said, "It wasn't yours to begin with. Are wands so difficult to obtain that you resorted to taking Dumbledore's from his dead hands?"
Draco cringed, as if at a memory. "My father took it."
"Why?" Snape demanded, full force Head of House.
Draco withered under the assault. "Because the Dark Lord wanted it. My father took it and forced Ollivander to make a duplicate of it to trick him with."
"But why give it to you?" Snape demanded again.
Draco raised his chin. "Father wanted to keep me safe, that's why. He figured if the Dark Lord wanted the wand so badly that it must be special."
"How did you find us?" Harry asked.
"I followed Potter," Draco said. "I have access to Transportation's records if I need them. He was easy to follow, he jumped around so much in a short span of time."
"Too bad for you," came another new voice from the other corner of the hall. An invisibility cloak slipped aside and this world's Harry stepped into the fray, wand out.
"That's my wand," Draco snapped. "I want it back."
"It's mine now," Harry proclaimed and spells rang out, tangled, and Draco turned a limb-splayed somersault before landing in a heap.
"I like this wand," Harry quipped happily, stepping over to lightly kick Draco's inert form with his toe. Draco's hand shot out and tried to trip him. Harry jumped lightly back and used a Jelly Limbs Curse to get his ankle freed up.
Disguised Harry stepped closer to the Device, trying to sense if it had been damaged. It felt untouched, and he slouched in relief, more than even his persona required.
Draco pushed himself up with his hands, only to fall on his face again. "I want my wand!" he whined plaintively.
"You'll be lucky if I don't take this one too," Harry said, picking Draco's wand up off the floor where his limp hand had dropped it. "Disgusting of you taking Dumbledore's wand. Now, what to do with you." He aimed his wand between Draco's eyes and cast a Memory Charm, and a sense of Cursedness made disguised Harry shout a warning, but too late.
A golden pendant dangling around Draco's neck flashed yellow-hot and bounced the Charm back. A counter flashed out of Harry's wand at the same instant, swallowing the curse. He stepped back, staring at the wand in surprise.
Draco pushed to his feet and Disapparated while Harry mused, distracted. Harry pocketed Draco's other wand and said, "Good riddance to that," and turned to the others.
"You should not be here either," Snape stated.
"I wanted to know what you were concocting. You left traces on the route planning map, which records every touch, compliments of Hermione," Harry said, glancing at the now quiet Device while his counterpart considered their options. "What are you working on?"
- 888 -
Draco landed outside Malfoy Manor in the cold gravel, tossed there by the spells protecting the porch, which already that morning must have been reinforced for the day. Hands stinging, he crunched to his feet and strode inside. The Carrows stood in the hall with heads bent toward each other, whispering, as Draco plowed by, intent upon his destination. His father had gradually pulled away from wholeheartedly supporting their master, satisfied with running his fiefdom at Hogwarts, putting Draco in an increasingly untenuous position. Draco did not know what he would be satisfied with in the long run, but in the short run, a little revenge and bolstering of his own position would be fulfilling enough.
With Bellatrix in hospital, MacNair and Mulciber were given the task of keeping guard over Voldemort's appropriated suite. Draco attempted to simply walk between them, to knock on the door, but he was bodily lifted and set aside rather than allowed to reach his goal.
Draco, bit his lip and brushed himself off. The nasty look that would have withered his classmates, drew smirks here.
"I have to speak with the Dark Lord," Draco pronounced. "I have news."
"Yeah? What for? You have somethin' to tell 'im . . . we'll pass it on for you," Mulciber drawled. His mask had been slid up onto his head, under his hood, which made him appear to be wearing a funny cap. It did not make him look any more friendly.
Draco had no intention of losing the influence his news would lend him. "As if I would tell you something only our Lord should hear," Draco snarled as derisive as possible.
The pair shifted from their spots beside the door and approached. Draco backed up. He had lost his wand, both his wands, and could not physically best them. A full retreat to rethink seemed the best option until the door sucked open with a smoky whoosh and revealed Voldemort standing in the center of the room.
"Let the boy in. I wish to speak with him as well."
The guards stood aside and bowed him forward. Draco swallowed hard, now faced with what he had wanted: access to the murky room that formerly served as his mother's brightly lit dressing room. Draco found the ego to stride inside, but he jumped faintly when the door rushed closed behind him.
Voldemort paced to the fire, the light from which failed to make it into the room except to further confuse the eye about what was real and what was shadow. The Dark Lord held something in his bony fingers, the wand, the fake wand, so carefully aged by a terrified Ollivander that it and the original could barely be distinguished. Draco took the opportunity to collect his rampant thoughts, to have a chance of hiding them.
Voldemort's terrible voice sounded even worse when it took on an air of casual calm. But he did not look up as he asked, "Tell me again what happened on the tower, young Malfoy."
In that instant, Draco was painfully grateful he no longer had the wand. To be revealed to have it here and now would mean an incomprehensibly miserable end. He stuttered through the beginnings of his carefully modified tale, and Voldemort raised his hand, which shoved him back into an armchair that slid over to meet his back. "I have no patience for your nerves, Malfoy. What did Severus Snape do, exactly?" Now his eyes bored into Draco's and the scene in the tower, of Dumbledore begging and Snape finally giving him release, played out.
Draco closed his eyes, cutting it all off. He covered his loss of control by saying petulantly, "He used a killing curse which threw the headmaster off the tower. What else is there to tell?" Ollivander had pulled Draco aside and strongly suggested, with the disingenuous air of a truly caring uncle, that Draco not tell anyone he had disarmed Dumbledore. Draco never understood why not, but sitting there now, pinned to a chair by magic far beyond him even with a wand, he pledged to bring the old wizard a feast and a stack of blankets to improve his poor prison in gratitude.
Draco risked opening his eyes. Voldemort stared down at the wand in his fingers, studying its intricate carving in the firelight. He did this for over a minute before saying, "You insisted to my guards that you must see me. What for?" in a voice that could not be denied, perhaps even in death.