- Chapter Fourteen -
Only a small number of people could make Severus Snape lose his composure. In fact, he could count them on one hand: Albus Dumbledore, the Dark Lord and Sirius Black (the latter regrettably in prison no more).
Given that he had just come from seeing one of the three, and was on his way to meet another, Severus felt that it was perfectly acceptable to walk the sloped pathway from Hogwarts' gates up to the castle at a more leisurely pace. He needed time to sort his thoughts. Alas, as was often the case in situations like this, time was a fickle bitch and didn't hesitate to betray him. It was like he blinked and he was up at the castle, striding through the oaken entrance door, up the stairs and down the torch-lit corridor until he reached the ugly stone gargoyle guarding the Headmaster's office.
"Liquorice wand", Severus said. The gargoyle leapt aside, and Severus marched up the moving staircase. The door to Albus' office was ajar. The thin beam of light that flickered across Severus' face was all the invitation he needed.
Albus stood with his back to Severus, giving instructions to the portrait of an old headmistress. The conversation took no more than two minutes, but Severus' felt himself grow restless. Finally, the witch in the portrait murmured, "As you wish, Headmaster," and disappeared from her frame.
Albus turned, and it took only a moment for him to interpret Severus' expression.
His face darkened. "Voldemort regained a body, then."
Severus flinched at the name.
It wasn't a question, but he answered anyway. "He has."
The room fell silent but for the whirring and spinning of the instruments scattered around the vast office. Even the portraits had ceased their fake snoring and were now openly paying attention.
Severus closed his eyes briefly. "I followed his call and arrived at a graveyard. I did not recognise the place, but I can find it again."
"I was late, as you know, and the Dark Lord was none too pleased." Severus could still feel the uneven ground beneath his knees, the Dark Lord's wand digging into his cheek. "He had already dismissed most of the others, I could only see one Death Eater. Barty Crouch Junior."
Albus' reaction did not disappoint. He stood a little straighter, his eyes narrowed.
"His death in Azkaban…"
"…a ruse, it seems. Though I don't know how he did it. Not yet."
"Why would he remain behind?" Albus wondered aloud. "Was he significant to Tom in any way that you could discern?"
"No. They hardly interacted while I was there," said Severus, replaying the scene in his mind. Although… They didn't interact, but- "He had a silver hand," Severus blurted, in a manner he usually found repulsive in his students. "He certainly did not have it before Azkaban. And his robes were bloodied at the sleeve, as if…" He didn't need to finish the sentence.
Albus was pacing his office, and Severus could almost see the cogs turning in the headmaster's impressive mind. "A missing hand, cut off that evening" Albus repeated under his breath. "Barty Crouch Junior, Death Eater, follower, servant. Missing a hand, missing bones… missing flesh."
He stopped so abruptly, Severus almost started. "Was there anybody else ?" he said, an urgency in his voice that hadn't been there before. "Dead or alive."
"Not that I could see," said Severus. "But there was one time when I thought I heard someone whisper, and Crouch started coughing at the same time - as if to cover it up."
Relief flashed across Albus' face; it was gone as quickly as it had come.
"He doesn't trust you yet," Albus said. "If he hid his guest from you."
"No, he doesn't. But he didn't kill me either."
They stood in silence. "I am asking a lot of you, I know."
That he did.
When Severus didn't answer, Albus continued. "I'm afraid our night has not yet come to an end. The news you brought… They are troubling. Even more so than you understand."
Then explain it to me - the words were already at the tip of Severus' tongue but he swallowed them down. It would be no use.
"Take a seat, Severus," Albus continued, as he walked over to his desk, where he scribbled a few short words on a piece of parchment. He rolled it up tightly and held it out to the phoenix perched on the back of his chair. "Fawkes, if you would?" The bird trilled shortly took the letter in his beak and disappeared in a ball of flame.
Irritated that he was being kept out of the loop - after everything he had endured tonight -, Severus watched as Albus then turned towards the portrait of an old Headmaster. "Go to your portrait at the Ministry, keep your eye out for Voldemort's known associates, especially Lucius Malfoy, and any mention of Harry Potter."
"What-?" he began, but Albus interrupted him - "One moment." – and strode across the office to a large cabinet, touched his wand against the bottom drawer and moved it over the smoothly polished surface in no discernible pattern. A lock clicked open, and Albus pulled out some kind of large, silvery fabric. He held it in his hands, eyes closed but a concentrated expression on his face, then nodded as if this act had just confirmed something, before putting it back.
"Harry Potter, Albus?" Severus said, unable to hold his tongue any longer. "You think the Dark Lord will search for him right away?"
"No. I think he already has Harry."
Severus felt cold. "You mean the invisible person-?"
"Yes, I strongly suspect that it was Harry."
"Harry Potter? But why would he go- how- The Dark Lord wants to kill him, for Merlin's sake!"
"I did not say he was there by choice."
"You think the Dark Lord, not even possessing a body, succeeded where the Ministry, where we – you yourself – could not?"
"Not Voldemort, no, but Lucius Malfoy."
"Lucius." It all made sense now. How Albus had asked him to reacquaint himself with his old friend, to keep an eye out for unusual behaviour on the other wizard's part…
"Yes. Sirius approached me only a week ago with news about Harry, or rather the person he is with. In trying to verify the information, I stumbled upon quite the convoluted tale… Nevertheless, I think it more and more likely that Sirius' information is accurate," he said, putting on his travelling cloak. "There are only a few pieces still missing from the puzzle. Pieces we are going to collect tonight."
Albus stood by the door, holding it open. "Are you coming, Severus?"
Of course, he was coming. Severus wordlessly swept past the Headmaster.
"What exactly did Black discover?" Severus asked, turning up his collar against the brisk wind as they walked towards Hogwarts' gates. He had a hard time believing Sirius Black of all people could ever discover any lead worth their while.
Albus moved his wand in a small circle, before letting it disappear up his wide sleeve. "Some conversations better remain private," he said by way of explanation. "You've heard of Mr Prye, I assume?"
"Prye? The newsmonger?"
"Precisely." Albus nodded satisfied. "Several days ago, Sirius had a conversation with him about Harry."
Severus was tempted to ask how the hell Black had managed to pull that off – that wizard's existence was more rumour than fact – but that would mean giving Black credit, out loud. He'd sooner chew off his tongue. Black had probably blackmailed someone else into doing the hard work for him anyway.
"And?" Severus said, ignoring Albus's knowing smile.
"And he discovered that Harry is connected to someone named Alphard Black."
"I thought Sirius Black was the last of that name." And good riddance too.
"Officially, that is the case, yes."
Dear Lord. Severus could feel a massive headache coming on. "Officially," he repeated. "So another dead man alive. What happened to the common decency of the dead staying dead?"
Albus hummed in agreement, his hands clasped behind his back. In the distance, they could see clouds of smoke wafting out of an open window of the Groundkeeper's Hut; the wind carried with it the smell of burnt sugar.
The silence lasted too long for Severus' liking. "Alphard Black," he prodded.
"Ah, yes. He is the brother of one Walburga Black. Sirius' mother," Albus said. "Alphard attended Hogwarts, back in the 1940s, as a member of your own house."
"The 1940s…" Severus repeated.
"Yes. About the same time as Tom Riddle."
"If he was a Death Eater, then how the hell does Potter fit into this?"
"I did not say that he was."
"A Death Eater."
Albus was giving him a headache – on purpose, Severus suspected. He wanted to demand an explanation, but as they were nearing the gates he realised that he still did not know where they were headed.
"Where are we going?" he asked, as the heavy iron-wrought gate fell shut behind them.
Albus offered Severus his arm for Side-Along-Apparition. "Why, naturally to talk to the last officially remaining Black."
As he was whisked away in a whirlwind of colours, Severus regretted having accepted the proffered arm so readily. Three out of three did not a good night make.
Sirius Black was asleep at his kitchen table, his head resting on the page of an open book. Numerous sheets of parchment surrounded him; some were yellowed and old with frayed edges, on others the ink still glistened wetly in the light of the ceiling lamp.
Not a sound could be heard from outside; only the steady ticking of a cuckoo clock and Sirius' occasional snoring disturbed the silence.
It was quiet, until, just before the clock stroke midnight, a bird appeared in a ball of fire, trilling loudly.
Sirius woke with a start, knocking over an inkwell in his haste to spot the intruder. When his eyes fell on the fiery bird, he relaxed. He stood, cracking his neck.
"Hey Fawkes," he said. "That for me?"
The phoenix looked at him sideways, but let go of the scroll of parchment clasped in his talons when Sirius reached for it.
"Thank's," Sirius said. He'd never before seen Fawkes deliver a letter.
A queasy feeling in his stomach, Sirius unrolled the parchment. It was a short, rather uninformative note, written in apparent haste.
I'm afraid recent events leave me in urgent need of your assistance.
I shall call upon you at your home in a quarter of an hour.
Please forgive the lack of timely notice.
Yours sincerely, Albus Dumbledore
He sank back into his chair, absentmindedly vanishing the ink that had spread across the parchment and book.
There was only one reason he could think of that would have Albus rush to him in such a hurry.
He'd told Albus about his meeting with old man Prye, half expecting the Headmaster to dismiss the information out of hand. It was crazy, after all. His dead uncle Alphard, not only
alive and in hiding for over two decades, but also connected to Harry Potter, another missing person. Ridiculous. Where could they have possibly run into each other? At a meeting of
Missing Persons Anonymous?
Only, Albus had not dismissed Prye's claims. He'd looked thoughtful for a moment, nodded his head in that maddening way of his, as if he understood something the rest of them couldn't even begin to see (which wasn't unlikely) and then encouraged, almost instructed Sirius to further look into the matter.
Could it be that Albus had found him?
More to keep busy than out of any desire to be a good host, Sirius wandered over to the kitchen and put the water boiler on the stove. With a flick of his wand, he ignited the flame.
The water boiler sighed lewdly.
Only a couple more minutes until Albus' arrival. Maybe he should make room at the kitchen table. Wouldn't hurt to have a place to sit down, after all.
Scowling, he turned to the messy assortment of books, documents and handwritten notes. Of the latter, there were scarcely few, even though he'd spent every day since his talk with Prye digging up old documents, pouring over books and hunting down people who might have once known his uncle.
He'd only taken one significant step forward, but at the same time about a dozen steps back. It was jinxed, literally.
The tiny door of the cuckoo's clock opened. The cuckoo peeked out tiredly, as it was wont to do when visitors came by this late. It trilled once.
He shouldn't have got up his ho-
A second trill sounded through the room.
Two visitors. Not one, two.
Sirius told himself to think rationally. Who could accompany Albus on a late-night visit? (Harry, a treacherous voice whispered.)
He was at the front door in a flash, pulled it open and-
There really was no god.
Striding up the path next to Albus, his black robes billowing about him, was Severus Snape.
"Come on in," Sirius said, opening the door fully. Light from the hallway fell on their faces, revealing Albus' unusually severe expression and Snape's customary scowl.
"Thank you," Albus said, stepping into the house. Snape, on his heels, only nodded in acknowledgement.
"Good evening, Sirius. Please forgive our untimely intrusion," Albus said, as they followed Sirius into the kitchen. "Alas, the latest developments do call for swift action."
"The latest developments?" Sirius asked.
"Will you not invite us to take a seat, Black?" Snape interrupted, from where he hovered by the door like a dark, especially ugly thundercloud. "Or do your manners not even extend that far?"
"Your manners as a guest aren't up to par either, Snape," Sirius retorted. "But then again, not many people invite you around their house, do they?"
"Gentlemen." Albus' voice sounded strained. "Not tonight. Please."
Sirius desire to find out what was going on trumped his urge to argue with Snape. He gestured towards the table. "Have a seat."
"Why, thank you," Snape said, his tone grating on Sirius' nerves. "Now if-"
He was interrupted by a shrill, slightly breathy voice:
"Look here, my love, I'm boiling," it sang,
"I have the hots for you!
Take me, baby, add your spice,
I know you want it too!"
"What. Is. That?" Snape said in disgust, looking for the source of the voice.
"A housewarming gift," Sirius answered, rushing over to the stove before the water boiler could break into the second verse of its song. "Anybody want some tea?"
"Yes, please," said Albus, smiling slightly for the first time. Snape nodded sharply.
Sirius floated three cups of tea to the table and took a seat. Albus' cup landed gently before him; Snape's – accidentally – came to a skidding halt at the edge of the table, hot liquid spilling over its rim. Snape vanished it instantly, glowering at Sirius.
Albus took a sip of his tea, put the cup down, and sighed deeply. When he looked at Sirius all humour had vanished from his face. "Tonight, only a few hours ago, Lord Voldemort succeeded in his quest to regain a body."
It felt like a wave of ice-cold water was crashing down on him. He wasn't sure if Albus continued to talk, all he could hear were voices screaming, all he could see were images of the Dark Mark hovering in the night sky, of dead bodies and broken eyes. Memories he had been forced to relive again and again during his time in Azkaban were dredged to the front of his mind.
"How?" he asked hoarsely. "How can-?"
"I have my suspicions," Albus said. "But the details of his resurrection remain unclear. Severus was only called to his side after the fact."
"You saw him?" Sirius asked.
"I felt the tip of his wand against my throat."
Sirius' leg jerked. He wanted to get up, go out, and find Harry, now. If Voldemort was back, he'd be looking for Harry soon. No… He was already looking for Harry. That's why Malfoy-
"We have to find Harry."
Albus sighed wearily. "It is likely that Voldemort has Harry already."
"No…" Sirius said hoarsely. "No, that can't be. If Voldemort's got him, then he's dead. Harry is not dead," he said with conviction.
"I do not believe that he is," Albus agreed. "It seems Voldemort, for reasons unknown, has allowed him to live, for the time being."
The feeling of relief was crushing. "Why, though?" Sirius asked. "Why do you think he's not dead? And why wouldn't Voldemort kill him when he got the chance?"
"It could be that Potter is helping him willingly," Severus said, eyes glittering malevolently.
"No child of James would ever… could ever…! Voldemort murdered his parents!"
"Maybe he doesn't care-"
"At the moment, we can but guess for Voldemort's reasons to spare Harry's live," Albus said quietly. "We will discover more in due time, I assure you. Severus' will integrate himself into Voldemort's inner circle once again, and I too will explore every avenue available to me. Tonight, I called upon you to share with us your insights on Alphard Black."
"What use is it to try and find my uncle, if Harry is in Voldemort's hands!" Sirius stood. How could Albus be so calm? He itched to fly his motorcycle to Malfoy Manor and curse Lucius within an inch of his life.
"Because," Albus said calmly, "for now all we have are assumptions. We assume that Harry is already in Voldemort's grasp. We assume that he is still alive. We assume that Alphard Black is also alive, and we assume that Harry stayed with him. We are wading through quicksand, and we need to explore every direction until we find solid ground."
Sirius slumped back down into his seat.
Albus cleared his throat. "While I have never personally made use of Mr Prye's services, I have heard of him as a reliable source for this sort of information. After Sirius came to me, I investigated the matter myself."
Snape perked up; apparently, this caught his interest also.
"Did you find anything?" Sirius asked.
"Nothing I suspect you don't already know, " Albus said. "Alphard was in Slytherin, back in the 1940s, not much of a troublemaker, from what I remember. He graduated in 1944."
"One year before the Dark Lord," Snape added.
"Yes," Albus said. "But I kept an eye on Tom Riddle and his circle of… friends. Alphard was not among them. Tom was already besotted with the idea of blood purity, while Alphard seems to have followed a different school of thought popular at the time."
The early 1940s… "Grindelwald," Sirius said.
"Quite right," Albus said. "Alphard's grandfather, your great-grandfather, publicly supported Grindelwald; he was rumoured even to be a close acquaintance of the man himself."
Ah yes. His dear old mother had been quite proud of that.
"Information on Alphard's time after Hogwarts is hard to come by, but everything I did find suggests that he followed in his grandfather's footsteps."
"Grindelwald was defeated only a year later," Snape said. "Did Black fake his death to avoid prosecution?"
"He didn't die, or fake his death or whatever, for another thirty years," said Sirius. "And he was never charged with any crime, I don't think."
"No, but he was questioned once about the whereabouts of his grandfather. According to Ministry records, he did not know anything," Albus said. "This record is also the last official record of his existence."
"He must have fallen ill around that time," Sirius said. "I remember my dear mother going on and on about her good-for-nothing brother and all the money they wasted trying to find a cure for him. I don't think anything ever came of it. The way she talked, he didn't leave Grimmauld Place for years."
After a moment, Sirius added, "I never met him though, so he must have moved out at some point."
"An impressive deduction", Snape said mockingly. "Is that the extent of your findings?"
"If it were, it would still be more than you contributed," Sirius said and continued before Snape could get a word in, "But no. I also found something very interesting while going through old account information." Sirius waved a hand towards the stacks of parchment and books. "For all we know, he was still ill when he moved out, so I figured my grandparents must have bought a place for him."
Sirius stood, his chair scraping against the floor, and rounded the table.
"I didn't find anything useful except for this." He picked up a dog-eared piece of parchment and laid it on the table in front of Albus.
Snape bent over the table to get a closer look, his greasy black hair falling into this face. "A land register entry," he said.
"Yep. There's only one problem: Whoever hid this property did a brilliant job of it," Sirius said darkly.
Snape looked up from the document to give him a condescending look. "What are you talking about, Black. It's all right-" he broke off in mid-sentence and looked back down, his eyes narrowed.
"It can be read, but not remembered," Sirius said, massaging his temple. The damn thing was giving him a headache.
"Interesting," Albus murmured. His eyes still on the document, Albus opened his mouth but didn't say anything. "Interesting," he repeated. "I tried reading it aloud," he said. "Sometimes the most obvious solutions are also the right ones, though not in this case, it would seem.
"We cannot see it, not in a sense that would mean something, cannot speak it, and just a guess but-" Albus touched his wand against the parchment "-yes, we cannot spell it to be read aloud."
Sirius knew of only one spell that could hide a secret so completely. "Is it the Fidelius Charm?" he asked.
"No," said Albus, apparently deep in thought. "No, it isn't. If it were, we would either not be able to see this information at all, or, had it been written by the Secret Keeper, we would be able to see and retain the words. No, this is something else."
"I need a quill and parchment," Snape said.
"Help yourself." Sirius pointed to the other half of the table.
Visibly displeased, Snape summoned what he needed. The quill whizzed out from under a stack of scrolls, sending them in disarray. The empty sheet landed softly on the table next to the document, and, with his eyes firmly on the document, Snape started to write.
Or tried to. His hand never moved.
It didn't surprise Sirius. He had tried all of this and more. Nothing worked.
"It was worth a try," Albus said.
"Do you have any idea what kind of magic this is?" Sirius asked.
Albus nodded thoughtfully. "I think I do. I've come across something like this almost two decades ago while researching ways to hide high profile targets in the last war. In its effect, it is not unlike the Fidelius, but in its nature… The Fidelius Charm hides a secret in a foreign soul, but the Secret-Keeper can always choose to divulge the secret. It requires trust. For this spell, you not so much hide the secret in a soul, but you lock it into a person."
Snape's face went even paler than before. "Lock it into…?"
"The Secret Keeper gives his eyes so that the secret can no longer be shown, his tongue so that the secret can no longer be spoken, his hands so that the secret can no longer be written down and his legs, so that nobody might lead an unknowing person to the secret."
Sirius felt sick to his stomach. "My great-grandfather…" He had heard the stories, growing up. Kreature, their house-elf, had often bemoaned the fate that had befallen his Master, the injuries, that had ultimately led him to an early grave. "I knew he'd supported Grindelwald in the war- I thought it had happened then. Some kind of curse-"
Even Snape looked horrified. "Black did that to his own grandfather?"
"It is possible," said Albus.
Sirius could sit no longer. He got up and started pacing the room. "That doesn't make any sense… I mean, they could have just used the Fidelius Charm and avoided all… that." He shuddered.
"Ah, but you see, even though both spells hide a secret, the protections they offer are not the same," Albus said. "With this spell, the person the secret is kept for, not the Secret Keeper, can only ever share the secret, and the Secret Keeper's death doesn't change that. It doesn't hide the secret from view. If the location of a property is hidden by this spell, the people who knew of it before can still find it, though they are no longer able to share what they know. It has never been a particularly popular spell, as it can only be cast between two people with a close familial and emotional bond."
"How wonderful," Severus said. "The Boy-Who-Lived has been raised by a psychopath."
Sirius bristled, but there was nothing he could say. What a fucking mess. He really did not want to think about his favourite Uncle (he had left Sirius a sizeable sum of money, after all) hacking off his great-grandfather's limbs.
"So…" Sirius said slowly, determined to get the conversation back on track, "if the secret is not hidden from view, and someone looking to discover it knows roughly where to look, in which village, for example, they'd just have to knock on all the doors until they stumble upon it by accident?"
"That is, I believe, how it works." Albus nodded.
"A pity you don't know the neighbourhood it's in," said Snape.
"I doubt they told anybody before hiding it." Sirius slumped into his seat. "We have no way of finding it, unless we, I don't know, knock on every door in Britain."
"And even if we find it, given tonight's events… It is unlikely that Potter is still there…"
Without another word, Sirius summoned a bottle of Firewhisky and topped up their cups. It was going to be a long night.
Thank's for reading, and please leave a review! I'd love to hear what you think about the story.
And if you find any grammar or spelling mistakes, I'd be glad if you pointed those out too.