Chapter 57. Lurking Invisible

Harry had went from staring dumbly at the wall outside Snape's office to bolting up the stairs towards Dumbledore's office and then to a slow walk as his mind raced.

Malfoy must be after potions ingredients.

Malfoy had been overheard talking about difficulty finding some before Christmas holiday and now, with the missing locks of hair, a potion of nefarious use was what Dumbledore, Moody and even Snape had all seemed to dread most.

Harry paused just a corridor away from Dumbledore's office.

What's Dumbledore going to do? Should I have followed them? No. Definitely not. Harry ran a hand through his hair and paced over to a tall corridor window. Dumbledore would want to gain as much information from this as possible and prevent Malfoy or whomever from getting on with their plan. But wait—he'd want to know what the plan was before stopping it. Or, and Harry found this next thought most frustrating, he'd want to wait for the plan to be set into motion before stopping it—just in case Malfoy or whomever wasn't really intent on carrying it out.

It was classic Dumbledore: assume the best of intentions and only after malicious intent was obviously in action would counteraction be taken. It was Harry's first instinct to keep this information from Dumbledore and handle it himself. But how could he spy on Malfoy or the other Slytherins? Snape supposedly had set up various Eyes and Ears for his use but if Snape had uncovered anything unsavoury over the year, he'd not shared it and had likely taken care of it himself. Harry wracked his brain for what he should do.

Think, Potter! You're supposed to be the eventual leader of the Order and if you can't figure out how to handle this situation then….

Harry took a deep breath and wished Hermione were here for advice.

Malfoy is down in Snape's office all alone…well, with Nott. They have no rush since they somehow knew Snape had been called away. They're likely gathering every and anything they need for their little scheme right now… Harry snapped his fingers. …gathering ingredients, which, after investigating the remaining ingredients and deducing which were take, could then help point out whatever it is their planning to brew!

Harry spun on his heel and set off for Gryffindor Tower causing several portraits to mumble and turn their heads towards the sound of Harry's briskly retreating footsteps.

"You didn't go after them?!"

Ron's incredulous look and fist pounding down upon the Common Room table was enough to make Harry vacillate yet again with doubt about not having pursued Malfoy and Nott last night. But it only took him a moment to recall the eerie sight of the two Slytherins being sucked into the wall beside the door to Snape's office.

Harry shook his head. "No, Ron, what was I supposed to do? Chance being sucked into a room alone with two people who, just minutes before, were plotting against me? In a room, I might add, that just happened to also be Snape's office? What if I got trapped in there with those two? What if it led somewhere other than his office?" Harry shook his head. "No, I don't think so."

After returning to the Tower the previous night, Harry had thought up several more reasons and justifications for his actions, or, lack of actions. Harry had seen no appeal whatsoever in being possibly trapped in a room where his enemies outnumbered him two-to-one and he'd found the whole wall-sucking thing quite unappealing.

"Besides," Harry added with a raised-brow look towards Hermione who was worrying her lower lip in contemplation, "I was thinking they might be sneaking into the office to steal potions ingredients."

The look on Ron's face went from indignant outrage to alarm at this last statement. "Harry! What if he's planning to make some potion and use your hair!? What—what—" Ron sputtered to a stop as Harry lunged across the Common Room table and covered Ron's mouth with a hand. Ron's eyes flashed wildly over then towards Hermione in a look of disbelief.

Hermione further shushed Ron with a disproving look and said, "I think Harry did the right thing."

Ron looked as if he'd like to loudly argue this belief but Harry kept his hand over his mouth as Hermione continued. "There's no way Harry could have known what would have happened if he'd have touched that wall. Plus, this way, we can assume that Malfoy did manage to get whatever he'd been after."

Hermione was giving Harry a knowing look as she spoke and he could feel their minds working and thinking along the same paths. He smiled as he leaned back across the table and said, "So all we need to do is let Snape know what I saw and have him check his storeroom again to see what was missing."

"Which means," Hermione continued, "that we'll be able to then get some hints as to what Malfoy might be up to if he is brewing some potion just by examining whatever was stolen from Snape's office."

Harry nodded, feeling pleased with last night's decision at Hermione's obvious approval. Ron, however, just scowled causing Hermione to demand, "What?"

Ron couldn't meet her eyes and looked away with exasperation before saying, "And you both trust Snape? Really trust him, I mean?"

"Oh, of course we do—and you should too!" Hermione snapped irritably.

"You've said that before but—"

"Oh, honestly—what do you think—that Dumbledore's just being led along all this time and is secretly being hoodwinked by him?" Hermione hissed in a heated whisper as she slammed down her quill. "You may not like him but we can be sure of what side he's on!"

"Krum doesn't trust him," Ron countered with a dark look at Hermione.

The rapidly rising color in Hermione's cheeks alerted Harry that he really ought to step in before this escalated into an all out argument.

"Ron—I can assure you that Snape knows enough to betray the Order several times over by now if he wanted to," Harry said in a controlled effort to ease Ron's suspicions.

This was surely true, Harry felt that just knowing Snape could have betrayed them all by now but hadn't was, in a roundabout way, evidence of his loyalty. Snape had known the full contents of the prophecy for over a half-year now. Snape had suffered through at least one of Voldemort's 'lessons' and kept this secret which, had he wanted, could have been used to exalt his standing with Voldemort.

But Ron didn't look convinced. "How do you know he hasn't? How do you know he didn't do just that last night when he was called to his master?"

Harry exchanged a quick glance with Hermione; he knew she wasn't Snape's biggest fan after her seven nights of hellish detentions but he also knew that she, like Harry more or less, believed that Snape was on their side. More or less.

"Look, Ron, it's like this—of course he could change, of course he could be snowing us all. But, I just…I guess I just don't think he is." Harry found that as he said these words, he really did believe them true. Ron's eyes showed doubt and Harry said, "You've not heard him—he had to tell me a bit about how Death Eaters get their Marks. He wasn't recalling fond memories, Ron; he was bitter—and resentful about it."

Hermione then said in a low voice, "The way I see it, Snape clearly has a lot to gain by supporting our side and helping to defeat Voldemort."

Ron shuddered and grimaced then as Harry added, "You know, I hate to say this, but there've even been times where…well, it's not been obvious or anything but, it's almost like he's occasionally given me a break or done things that just happened to aid my training."

Ron guffawed and Harry went on. "No, like he didn't have to assign me the one assignment on poisons in potions. He had the four projects and the other three weren't nearly as applicable to something that I could come up against. Well, except for the healing stuff."

Ron didn't look convinced while Hermione appeared contemplative.

"Plus," Harry went on, "there's been the last two nights in detention where, if he had nothing else for me to do, he let me just do homework. Now it is possible Dumbledore perhaps asked him to do this but, still, he could have had me writing lines or scrubbing floors with a toothbrush--something."

Ron looked shocked and asked, "How could Snape not have some disgusting task for you? You!?"

"Well what more could have possibly needed doing?" Hermione said crossly. "He already had me for seven nights down there. I'd already catalogued, relabelled, refilled, dusted, scrubbed, scoured, reorganised, quantified and alphabetized every jar, flask and stock in that horrid and rotting dungeon of his!"

Ron looked taken aback at Hermione's outburst.

"Plus," Harry said quietly as if Hermione hadn't just ranted at all. "He said something to me last night. It was really odd." Hermione and Ron were looking now at Harry; each had their mouths slightly agape. "I'm not sure what he meant but, when he saw the potion research I'd been doing for Dumbledore and found out what Dumbledore was teaching me, he…he looked smug."

Both Hermione and Ron looked equally disbelieving at this.

Harry leaned forward across the table and in a low voice added, "He even said, 'it's about time'."

"I don't like this," Ron said at once, shaking his head.

"Harry," Hermione said carefully, "have you figured why Dumbledore's been hesitant to teach you Alchemy?"

Harry looked away, glancing quickly at Ron who was scowling darkly into space. "Er, he was just concerned that I understand the risks involved." Harry thought of Dumbledore's admission that he was concerned about Harry's 'saving people thing'. "He was just being cautious." Harry didn't much fancy the idea of Hermione joining Dumbledore in his concern.

Hermione almost looked disappointed. "Oh."

"Well, I think you're mad, Harry," Ron said. "Mad if you don't keep your eye on Snape. If it were me—I'd drop anything that seemed to make Snape happy."

Harry didn't answer Ron as Hermione rolled her eyes and announced she had things to do in the Library and prefect duties to attend. The truth was, somewhere in Harry's mind, he found himself really wanting to believe that Snape's comment had somehow been an actual compliment. Harry wouldn't allow his conscious mind to actively acknowledge it or even consider it but, nevertheless, he couldn't stifle the sneaking suspicion.

His confidence in his action (or lack thereof) from the previous night had been boosted enough by Hermione's agreement that Harry had written up a quick note. The note described his encounter with Malfoy and Nott, laid out his reasoning on the event and then proceeded to recommend that the stocks from the office been inventoried as soon as possible. As the note was to be replicated and sent off to all of the Inner Council, Harry could see clearly that, as he himself was set to serve detention with Snape for a few remaining nights, he might as well volunteer to do it himself.

He felt quite pleased with the note that he'd sent off via the Order's cauldron post. He'd managed to observe something potentially useful without being detected at all, he had what he felt to be sound reasoning for his actions, and, best of all, he had a plan to further investigate and divine more information from the entire incident. All in all, Harry felt like he'd handled it quite well.

"Did you get my cauldron post this morning, Professor?" Harry asked immediately upon entering Dumbledore's office for their Sunday afternoon session.

Dumbledore had barely nodded once before Harry noticed Moody was also present.

Moody nodded in greeting as he barked, "Yeh see why constant vigilance is needed? Eh? Aye, I'd give my other leg to have been there with you last night." He jabbed a gnarled thump up towards he electric blue magical eye then. "I'd have been able to keep my eye on 'em—wall or none."

Harry also thought he heard Moody mutter something about, "…Malfoys being caught red-handed...thing to cherish…" But he couldn't be sure.

"Morning, Harry," Dumbledore greeted. "Alastor comes bearing some rather unfortunate news, I'm afraid," Dumbledore then announced as he peered over his glasses at Harry.

Harry felt his stomach knot up at these words. Ominous was an understatement. "Who?" Harry asked in response to his immediate need to know.

Dumbledore, seeing this need, quickly explained, "There were a number of disappearances last night—" he paused here and exchanged a glance with Moody.

"Nine of them were on the watch list because of familial connections to known Death Eaters," Moody supplied.

Dumbledore nodded as he continued on, "Yes, and there are three more missing person reports that have come into the Ministry today. They're still under investigation."

Moody then waved his wand to unfurl a large parchment map upon a side table. "No Dark Marks lingering about and no one's turned up dead—yet. Just a load of missing persons—each disappeared overnight without any explanation. It's been the same for all the others who've gone missing and been somehow related to a Death Eater. Makes a mind of sense though to not advertise these doings—bad publicity for the public to go thinking supporting the Dark side is just as dangerous as opposing them."

"How do you know they've just gone missing now?" Harry asked as he moved closer to look at Moody's map.

Moody's mouth split into a jagged grin and Harry knew he was pleased. "Since we guessed it was the blood relatives of Death Eaters that were disappearing, I decided to try and keep an eye on the rest of 'em. Bought a load of Minder Clocks—you know the sort—the ones like the Weasleys have that can be customized to show where each person is? I bought several of those with the locations already enchanted on—made sure each clock had a setting for 'missing'—and then I sent them off to all the homes of remaining relatives."

Harry's face contorted with confusion. "But—"

"Had Tonks write up a note to go along with each clock that congratulated them on winning a random drawing. Oh, and of course there's the little matter of my having already bewitched each clock to alert me if any hand ever stuck itself on 'missing'." Moody tapped the map in front of him with his wand. "I get a violet dot on this here map to indicate any clock with a hand fixed on 'missing' for more than three hours."

Dumbledore, standing beside Harry as they each looked down at Monody's map at each of the twelve twinkling violet dots, mused, "Well, it certainly is reassuring to see the older minds still coming up with a few new tricks. Quite clever, Alastor, clever indeed."

Moody growled at the compliment however, and scowled at Dumbledore as he asked, "Who you calling old, old man?" Dumbledore merely twinkled.

Looking back to the map, Harry asked, "Locator Charm?" as he guessed how it was the clocks had been bewitched.

"Aye, but they only activate when a hand's been stuck—"

"A jinx then?" said Harry. "Basically a Locating Jinx?" Moody nodded. Harry looked more closely at the map and saw the dots also had a name by them; presumably that of the missing person.

A small pop sounded then and a deep voice called out, "Dumbledore?"

Harry and Dumbledore both turned around to see Kingsley Shacklebolt's head floating in the fireplace flames. Dumbledore strode over to the fire at once and asked, "What news, Kingsley?"

Kingsley's eyes flickered over to both Harry and Moody in greeting. "We've connected the Widdershins. Willy's been playing host to two Danish wizards who were listed on a watch list provided by the Danish Ministry."

Dumbledore looked over at Moody who already had bewitched a quill to take notes and nodded. "And the last one?"

Kingsley shook his head in the negative. "No word yet from Tutbury and Brigg." Harry vaguely recognized the name 'Tutbury' as an Auror who'd been recruited to the Order by Tonks. "I'm hoping they've found a lead and that's what's been keeping them from returning. If they have found a lead, the timing could not have been better, what with whatever's bound to go down tonight."

Harry scrunched up his nose as he tried to decipher what Kingsley meant about tonight. Did they know about something that was planned and not tell him? He felt quite suddenly out of the loop and found himself glancing about for a calendar or notes upon Dumbledore's gilded desk for any clues.

Kingsley popped away then and, before Harry could ask, Dumbledore was walking back to his desk and explaining, "This evening begins the Eve of Imbolc—yet another ancient day of feast and ritual. Following Lord Voldemort's pattern for the past three months, he's had gatherings and initiations on each sabbat since Halloween."

"With any luck," Moody chimed in as he rolled up his map, "Tutbury and Brigg might suss out where they're all meeting. With a load of luck, they might get a fair few names of those new initiates."

Moody then threw on his heavy winter cloak and donned his black bowler hat. "I've left you with a replicate of that map, Albus," he said with a nod towards the side table. "And you," Moody said with his one beady eye fixed upon Harry, "you just remember one thing—"

"Constant vigilance," Harry chorused along with Moody.

Moody didn't seem exactly amused but still left with one last stern look at Harry.

Alone then with Dumbledore, Harry turned to see the headmaster clicking open the glass door of a tall dusty cabinet on the wall behind his desk. He turned and looked over his shoulder at Harry, beckoning with a long crooked finger for Harry to approach.

"Do you see this?" he asked as he delicately cradled a large glass sphere that was at least as big as a Quaffle in his hands.

Harry nodded. "It's a perfect moving model of the solar system." He'd seen one just like it (though not nearly as grand) when he'd stayed in Diagon Alley before his third year.

Dumbledore nodded, pleased. "Yes, and do you recall from your Astronomy lessons how one defines both an equinox and a solstice?"

Nodding, Harry began, "An equinox is one of two days where—"

But Dumbledore nodded, not needing a full recitation of the definitions and cut in, "Yes—you see, between these four days, which are perfectly spaced out within the year, are four other days also of ancient traditional holiday. Collectively, they are called sabbats—one might have heard about them if one happened to have paid any attention in History of Magic lessons." Harry fought the flush in his cheeks. "But that's neither here nor there," Dumbledore said with a wink.

"Recall, Harry, how I told you just last week that it was a very ancient custom—even predating the age of Hogwarts' founders—for many wizards and witches to plan their deaths for the sake of dedicating themselves as earthbound entities?"

Harry nodded again, thinking of how Rowena Ravenclaw had supposedly done this to provide some enchantments for Hogwarts.

"Well, the process and act of becoming one of these entities falls most assuredly under Blood Alchemy. The process and act of invoking and calling upon these entities is called Ritualised Magic. Ritual invocations were often designed to require a host of wizards or witches to perform the act and so, it evolved such that those seeking to perform the consecration of their magical selves to earthbound entities would almost always choose dates of established gatherings and celebrations—namely—sabbats. It took only a matter of time to compare those who'd committed their consecrations on these dates of solar alignment and harmony to those who'd chosen dates at random to see that, the dates of solar alignment granted far superior results.

"The precise science of it is not entirely known, however, this discovery was a major advancement in the study of the influences of planetary, solar, celestial bodies upon beings here on earth; most specifically in regards to performing magic."

"Like Divination?" Harry said sceptically.

Dumbledore nodded once. "Yes—and no. Divination, Harry, is but one advanced application of this. More broadly, it's just called Ritualised Magic. You would have learned a bit about this if you'd have studied Ancient Runes or Arithmancy. Each of these courses deal with a specific precision relating to the construct and execution of common Rituals—now, mostly known as mere condensed spellwork. Ah," Dumbledore said, pausing and squinting up at the ceiling; "where was I going with this?

"Ah yes! These days, Harry, to which many magical entities—sometimes called deities—have dedicated themselves, are the days that a wise student of Ritualised Magic will choose to solicit the aid of these magical essences. By doing so, a wizard may channel all the magical power of the deity into their magic—a great increase indeed."

"You think Voldemort is doing this?" Harry asked, alarmed at the idea of Voldemort performing rituals to greatly increase his power.

"I know he's been doing this for some time, Harry. Additionally, there's also another, more general, benefit to performing rituals or particularly important magic on the sabbats; the sheer volume of deities who used these dates as their consecration dates means there is a vast amount of magical essences that, if the proper affinity persists, might bequeath their powers of their own volition. It's simply a very favourable time to perform magic of many sorts."

Dumbledore watched the tiny gold balls within the glass dome spin and float about. "The celestial alignments can be used to calculate which entities are available at certain times. However, I tend not to overly concern myself with believing Voldemort's use of these dates gives him a great advantage for, you see, as many deities might possess an affinity for his magic and his intents, many also exist which possess an equal disdain for the Dark Arts he practices and therefore an affinity for anyone opposing such a wizard."

Through further segues, Harry found himself listening to Dumbledore illuminate the connections between several other known earthbound entities and particular types of magic. This was followed by a lecture on the capricious nature of many of these entities and a warning that many entities were created not truly for altruistic purposes but of self-serving and egotistical desires.

It was an hour and half into this lecture that Harry actually realised that Dumbledore was actually explaining about one subset or offshoot of Blood Alchemy. This seemingly trivial explanation of Voldemort's timing had turned into a full out lecture session. And truthfully, Harry was actually rather pleased to be able to see a greater use for this knowledge and most especially to see some tie-ins to Voldemort and his motives—even if they were merely about timing. Harry also found it somewhat of a relief to hear that largely, the knowledge required to perform these rituals was long lost or misconstrued through the time and language translations.

Near the end of their session together, Kingsley's head popped into the fire once more.

"No word yet on the last lead, Albus," Kingsley said at once. "We're about to change over shifts here and send out the doubled force for ready patrol. Have you any leads yet as to what tonight's plans might be? Have you heard back from—" He paused here with a pleading look. "Anyone at all?"

Harry had a feeling Kingsley meant Snape.

"Alas, none at all," Dumbledore said gravely. "I will send you word at once if I do get any news. You can be sure of it."

With that, Kingsley's head disappeared once again from the fireplace flames and Harry asked, "Do you not expect Snape to return tonight, Professor?"

Harry was of two minds about whether or not he wished Snape to return soon. On one hand, Harry was looking forward to seeing Snape's reaction on Harry witnessing Malfoy's break-in and also, Harry was of course hopeful there might be a tip-off from Snape on whatever it was that Voldemort had planned for this evening. On the other hand, Harry would still be happy for an excuse to not have to serve a detention this evening with the greasy git.

Dumbledore, as he peered at Harry, seemed to know exactly what Harry was thinking. "It's my guess that Professor Snape will not be able to return in time for your detention this evening but I'm positive he'll be willing to reschedule it with you. I'm sure you have more than enough homework to keep you busy tonight. I'd also imagine Professor Snape will be quite grateful for your information about Mister Malfoy and Mister Nott." Harry severely doubted the 'grateful' part.

"Now, as for me," Dumbledore said as he rose from his high-backed chair, "I think I'm in need of a bit of supper. And then, perhaps, I'll take a leisurely stroll about the castle's lowermost floors. Oh, and Harry? I do think you have a very excellent suggestion in your using your detention time to aid in investigating Professor Snape's storeroom. It's always helpful when someone can bring not just a problem to light but a solution as well."

Harry left then with a mixed sense of satisfaction and trepidation. He was pleased that his report from last night and proposal to deal with it had been met with approval (by Dumbledore and Moody, at least). There was enough to be getting on with for everyone and he was relieved that he'd managed not to add to that burden and that, with any luck, his news and plan might lead to more information or even a solution to the problem of his missing locks of hair. On the other hand, Harry was also now dreading what might come to pass this evening.

The past two sabbats had been nights where Voldemort had increased his numbers and also sent out his initiates to prove themselves as Death Eaters. It was surely a night where people would die and Harry was already feeling weighed down by the prospect of it all.

Everything he was doing, his efforts to learn and to become a better wizard, his involvement in the Order, all he did—none of it actually helped or made any difference on a night like tonight. The Death Eaters would swell in number, unsuspecting people would still be murdered, and the news that Voldemort and his followers were only gaining more power would surely spread. With tomorrow's certain headlines, Harry knew he'd feel just a few more eyes upon him; each stare would linger just a little longer and all of them would grow just a little more impatient for him, 'one with the power', to wield his mysterious 'power' and to vanquish the threat to them all.

It was difficult to blame them as Harry felt the same impatience but, as he didn't know how to vanquish Voldemort, there was very little he could do.

It was a very long evening that Harry spent in the Gryffindor Common Room. Hermione sat with him and Ron, too for most of the evening. He'd told them both about his meeting with Dumbledore and now all three of them found it difficult to focus on homework and to not look at the clock constantly in wonder of what was going on outside of Hogwarts.

Hermione's way of dealing with the stress seemed to be to make a list of all the homework each of them had assigned and then to inquire about their exact progress made on each of these assignments. It was all Harry could do to keep from sniping at her to ask whether she had 'vanquishing the Dark Lord' on the list. But he knew she was just nervous and so, with a suggestion that she go use her mirror to speak with her parents and ensure they were staying in for the night, Harry retired to his dormitory.

When he first entered the dormitory, he'd thought he was alone. He'd seen Dean and Seamus both downstairs practising their human transfiguration (last he'd seen, Dean's hair was a long, flowing blonde). Ron had been left downstairs as well; only he was doodling nonsensically as he not so slyly kept an eye on Katie Bell. Harry found himself wishing that his greatest worries were over asking out a girl. Had it really not been so long ago when it had been his greatest worry?

A ruffle of parchment drew Harry's thoughts back into the room. The noise had come from Neville's draped-off bed.

"Neville?" Harry inquired. "You in here?"

More rustling and then Harry saw the draperies of the bed part to reveal Neville. "Yeah? Oh, Harry—I didn't hear you come in." He was just stuffing parchment scrolls tied up with a string into a letterbox. "Did—did you need me for something?" he asked warily.

"Oh, er, no," Harry answered lamely.

He hadn't spoken much to Neville since Neville had been mentioned in the Prophet as having been a former prophecy candidate. It wasn't that Harry didn't want to talk to Neville, it just seemed like Neville hadn't been around much and, well, Harry just wasn't talking to much of anyone outside of Hermione, Ron and the Quidditch team.

"I just thought I was alone, that's all," Harry said as he kicked off his shoes and then scooted back onto his bed.

Neville hastily shoved the letterbox into his trunk and then locked it. "Oh, well, I'll leave then."

Harry had the distinct feeling Neville did not want to be alone with him. It was very unsettling. "Do you blame me?" Harry blurted out. It wasn't meant to sound accusatory but Harry was quite remorse to admit it did come out that way. Apparently his brooding over the weight of everyone's expectations had made him a bit tetchy on the topic.

"No!" Neville answered at once, sounding surprised and standing up straight from where he'd been fiddling the lock on this trunk, making sure it was secure. "No—" he laughed uncertainly. "Why, why would I blame you, Harry?"

"Sorry," Harry mumbled. "It's just—well, everyone seems to kind of blame me in a way for everything going on and I…I just thought, you know, that you'd have more than most to blame me for. If you were going to blame me, that is."

Neville looked even more shocked at this relative outpouring of information from Harry. He shook his head and said, "No, Harry—I don't blame you. I think it's got to be awful to be you. No—no offense or anything," he added quickly.

Harry's mouth twisted grimly. "Yeah, well." Running a hand through his hair, he breathed out and felt a knot of stress loosen from his stomach. "I didn't mean to sound accusing, Neville. I—it's just we got word there's some sort of plans for tonight and I've got no idea what's in store. I just know people will read about whatever happens in the paper and then wonder about why I'm not out there stopping it all from happening when—" Harry snorted. "What am I supposed to do? Do they expect me to go hunt him down now? I want him dead more than anyone but—" Harry's fist smacked into his pillow as his frustration went beyond words.

Neville, looking more confident at seeing Harry's loss of composure, walked right up to Harry's bed and said, "You're not the only one who can do anything." He raised a hand to silence Harry's protest. "No—listen—it's not just V-Voldemort that's out there; it's his followers too. And anyone and everyone can and should stand up against his followers. Without his followers, he's no one. We can all do something, Harry."

Harry looked up and saw Neville's eyes spark with determination; he felt better than he had all night. "I just wish others would think of that," he said hoarsely as he looked away and rubbed his temple.

"Well, I've got to go to the Owlry," Neville said, stepping back and looking about uncertainly. "I'll, er, see you later?"

Harry nodded as Neville left his alone. He felt stupid now for even bringing up the whole conversation now.

With irritation and contempt for himself, Harry changed into his pyjamas and climbed into bed. Working on a Charms essay, far from the eyes of his classmates, he finally began to relax. He was surprised to note how much time had passed when he finally heard his fellow dorm mates return for bed.

As he heard the others fall quiet and saw the lights of the dormitory dim, Harry closed his books and slid them off the bed. By wandlight, he wrote in his journal a summary of his day and then, after blowing on the ink to dry, he closed that book, replaced the Concealing Charm and tucked it away for the night alongside his glasses and wand. The possibilities of the night still weighed distressingly upon Harry's mind, but then Harry found something else to focus upon; far off from the recesses of his mind came a distant yet increasing chorus of voices.

He was still awake enough to recognise them and to think, I should listen to them; see if I can finally hear them and figure out who they are. It was difficult though as just when he felt like he was near enough to them to finally discern their words, he'd feel as if he was leaving his body behind and about to be swept away in sleep. He'd jerked himself awake three times now.

Thus far he'd discerned two sets of voices among the many. They were divided and often seemed to quarrel with one another. Both seemed to beckon to him as soon as they'd sense his presence but, while one set was most decidedly caring and warm, the other seemed cold and menacing as he neared their calls. It was disturbing this realisation that they weren't all as soothing and comforting as he'd once thought them to be. The last thought he remembered before he succumbed to sleep was wondering if he'd just never realised the divided nature of the voices or if it was just a recent development.

"Breakfast?" Hermione asked as she rose at once and fell in step beside Harry as he strode across the Common Room to the portrait hole.

"No," he said with a shake of his head. "I wanted to go to Professor Dumbledore's office—" He paused in speaking when he saw Hermione smile and pull out a stack of napkin wrapped around two pieces of toast and several rashers of bacon.

"I know," she said. "Me, too. I already went down to the kitchens and picked this up for you."

Harry took the food gratefully and noticed Hermione seemed just as anxious to receive news of last night as he. He ate hurriedly as they made their way from the tower to the Headmaster's office. When they arrived, the stone gargoyle leapt out of the way without a password, as if it had been just waiting for them.

When they entered, Dumbledore was alone and seated in a high-backed wing chair beside the fireplace with a large parchment in his lap. He glanced over at both Harry and Hermione and Harry knew at once the headmaster had been awake all night.

"Sir?" Harry inquired as they neared. He now saw the parchment was the replicate of Moody's map.

"Good morning," Dumbledore greeted them even though it looked very much like it was anything but. He reached into his robe then and pulled out a gold pocket watch, clicking it open and smiling ruefully as he noted the time. "I presume the both of you are here hoping for news, hmm?" he wagered looking at Harry and then Hermione who each nodded.

Dumbledore then summoned chairs and conjured a table between them. He unfurled the map upon the table and slid it across the table towards Harry.

Harry, with Hermione kneeling on her chair and looking over his shoulder, saw that there were several more dots upon the map but, while the previous ones had been violet and accompanied by a name, these additional ones were black and often had just a number beside them. He looked up across at Dumbledore and asked, "What are the black dots for?"

Dumbledore reached down and lifted a small black cauldron from the floor. It was the cauldron that was bewitched for the transfer of Order post and, in it was several parchment notes, each already opened and read. "I've been updating the map throughout the night," he explained.

"These are all people who've gone missing?" Harry asked.

"I'm afraid not," Dumbledore said. "They're muggles who've been found dead."

Hermione gasped audibly and looked up, wide-eyed, at this, saying, "What? But there're so many!"

Indeed there were, Harry saw. Several dozen black dots were scattered across the country and a fair few dotted along the northern and eastern coasts of Ireland. He guessed nearly fifty in all.

Harry looked up and saw Dumbledore nod. "It's kept the Ministry's law enforcement quite busy to have to respond to all these incidents and, well, with the number of muggles dead, there's also the additional burden of our Ministry's Obliviators working double-time to ensure that news is contained and that it does not spread before proper action can be taken."

Harry imagined that was an awful lot of wizards and witches working around the clock then.

"There're special Obliviators," Hermione recited as she returned to looking at the map. "They work undercover as muggle journalists and help stop the spread of news concerning the Wizarding world and they also work with the Ministry's Department of Misinformation. They're mainly just stationed with the larger news outfits." She saw Harry looking at her; marvelling at how she always seemed to know something completely obscure about everything. Sheepishly, she admitted, "I researched it after reading the muggle news reports trying to explain the Dementor attacks."

Harry looked up just as Dumbledore said, "There's been no word of any Dementor attacks and in fact, the last sighting was Friday. There's not a word on where they might be."

That actually made Harry feel a bit better; he was desperate enough to take good news from even a mixed blessing such as this. Looking back down at the map, his eye caught upon a violet dot that appeared to be flickering. The name beside it, Thalia Wilmurk, was also flickering and Harry could swear both dot and name were beginning to fade.

"Professor Dumbledore," he said placing a finger to mark the spot of the flickering dot near Bedford, "I think someone might not be missing anymore. Their name and dot it flickering and—" As he spoke, the name and dot vanished from the parchment. He looked up. "It's gone now! Do you think they returned home or, if they were taken, that they escaped or—"

Dumbledore was slowly shaking his head no and rose from his seat. "Alastor said he created the maps to hold the name and location of the clock until he wiped it clear, that is, unless, the person named died. I've seen three others disappear since about midnight," Dumbledore said as he swung an iron crane out from the fire and plucked a whistling teakettle from it with his wand.

Any hope Harry had had at one of the missing people returning to explain what had happened to them died as quickly as it formed.

Levitating the steaming teakettle, Dumbledore summoned a tea tray from a cabinet and sighed saying, "In other news, I found nothing suspicious in my inspection last night of the door or wall outside of Professor Snape's office." Harry looked up with surprise. "Indeed, I shall be quite interested to hear what Professor Snape thinks of it all and what ideas he might have as to how someone might have gained entrance."

"You've not heard from him, then?" Hermione asked as she spooned tea into the teapot and held the lid off as the teakettle tilted and poured boiling water into the pot.

"Nothing," Dumbledore said. He glanced askance at Harry and then said, "I'm even wondering if he'll make it back in time for his classes this morning."

A tapping at the window then announced the arrival of a delivery owl, bearing the morning's Daily Prophet in its beak. Dumbledore rose and opened the window, holding his arm out for the owl to perch upon as he paid it five knuts. A second owl flew in and over to Hermione then with her copy of the paper.

As Dumbledore held out his arm for his owl to fly off, he said, "Well, it's likely true there will be little of note in this morning's paper on any of last night's activities."

Harry heard Hermione sniff disapprovingly at this. "Let's see it," he said as he spread her paper open upon the table.

Sure enough, the front page's top headline was merely, "Bartleby Nickledirk Sacked as Coach of Wimbourne: Rumours allege he condoned and even supported the use of illegal charms by players despite warnings from league office that charms testing was imminent."

Harry couldn't help but feel some relief at knowing he might not have to go through the day with more whispers than usual about him and how he ought to be 'doing something to get rid of Voldemort'.

"Are they not even reporting on the missing people?" Hermione asked, turning to the second page. "They're wizards and witches—that at least should make it newsworthy," she said scornfully.

"That news wouldn't have been known by the paper to print," Harry reminded her.

"It might not make any difference though," said Dumbledore. "Amelia's been sensing some tension from the Daily Prophet. The Ministry, just last week, had submitted a public service article to explain how wizards and witches can help defend muggle areas from Dementors and aid in attacks upon muggles by Dementors. It included detailed training on the performance of the Patronus Charm," he nodded to Harry, "guidelines for Obliviation and suggestions for aid including the proffering of chocolate and appropriate explanations for the experience."

"I didn't hear anything about that," Hermione said frowning as she turned another page.

"No, well, indeed you would not have, Hermione. It wasn't published. After an staffer inquiry, a Prophet spokeswizard said an article of that nature 'wasn't in the interest of the paper's most cherished readers'."

Hermione's jaw dropped with indignation.

"Purebloods," Harry mumbled, almost to himself but loud enough for Dumbledore to nod once before pouring their tea.

Hermione continued to sputter over this as Harry sat back and blew across his tea and mused over the position the Prophet was in. Most average wizards were likely afraid of appearing to be concerned with the welfare of any muggles when that would only draw attention from Death Eaters. Maybe the Prophet itself was afraid of seeming to support anything other than scorn and amused disdain for muggles. Or, maybe, the Prophet had a few Death Eaters influencing the editors. None of these thoughts were appealing to Harry.

In no time, Hermione was breaking into his thoughts, saying, "Harry, we need to be off for Transfiguration."

They made it to class just as the bell rang and had to sprint to their seats in the front of the class. The first place Harry looked as he sat down was back and across towards Draco Malfoy.

Malfoy, sneer firmly in place, was looking back and, upon seeing Harry, flashed a supercilious smile followed by a challenging glare. Harry would have given anything to have just a minute to peer into Malfoy's mind.

"Mister Malfoy," Professor McGonagall called out as she tapped the front of her lectern, "if I might tear your attention away from Mister Potter? I'd like to begin my lecture." Several titters followed this comment and Harry sunk low into his seat. McGonagall was looking at him now and he quickly picked up his quill in an effort to appear poised to take notes. Thankfully, she chose to begin class but, throughout her lecture, Harry could still feel Malfoy's glare.

At the end of class, Harry hung back and had Hermione do the same. He wanted to make sure they were the ones trailing Malfoy and not the other way around as they all trekked from Transfiguration to Potions.

"So?" Ron said as he came up to them. "Where were you guys this morning? Did you hear anything on last—"

"Shh!" Hermione said as Ernie and Hannah both looked over with curiosity on their way out. Waiting until they were gone, Hermione furiously whispered, "Nothing much happened—unless you count a few score of muggles getting slaughtered!"

Ron gaped at her outburst and Harry further explained, "It's not in the Prophet. There's nothing there. But Dumbledore was getting reports from the Ministry so we found out."

"What about Snape?" Ron asked. "Did you tell him yet how Malfoy broke in to his office?" Ron had already expressed his great desire to see Snape throw a wobbly in Malfoy's direction.

Harry just shook his head. "He's not been back."

"Yet," Hermione said. "We've got Potions next and if he is back, he'll likely be in a towering temper. We should go, Harry."

Ron looked as if he almost wished he were still in Potions, just so he might witness Snape in a rage at someone other than Harry. (Well, Ron had already seen that; however, the fact that it'd been he who'd been the target of the rage had made the experience not at all enjoyable.) "See you guys at lunch," Ron said as they parted ways.

"Do you think he's back?" Hermione asked as they descended the steps into the dungeons.

"No idea."

They entered the potions lab and broke off to go to their separate worktables. They had just started the previous week with working their way through a list of potions they'd need to master and so, it was without delay that most students were already at work, not bothering to wait around for Snape to arrive.

"Hey," Harry greeted Padma as he slung his bag down. "Seen Snape yet?"

She shook her head and immediately shoved over a mortar filled with mermaid scales. "Grind those, please, Harry, would you?"

Harry set to work but kept looking up, waiting for Snape to appear amongst them, lurking and looming like he always did. He caught Hermione's eye more than once as she obviously did the same. As he began to accept that Snape was just not likely to be in today's class, he realised it was almost pleasant being in the lab without having to worry about Snape prowling about and looking to dock points. Malfoy, too, seemed especially pleased with a Snape-free class as he leaned back in his chair and propped his feet upon an unused work bench while Ernie and Neville worked together, happy to be rid of both Snape and Malfoy for the most part.

Harry wasn't even thinking of Snape anymore when he suddenly felt a very peculiar shudder wash over him that, for some odd reason, distinctly reminded him of Snape. (It was almost as if the shudder had sneered at him, that is, if shudders could sneer.)

A moment later, Harry recognised it as his Perimeter Charm being breached and he looked up at once. Padma was working across the table, decanting some foul-smelling liquid. Harry turned right then left and, upon not seeing anyone, he began to feel uneasy as he mentally calculated how close someone had to be to set off the charm. And then he felt a very real poke in the middle of his back.

An invisible Snape had to be right beside Harry. He knew it and this was extremely unsettling. What did Snape want Harry to do? Better yet, why was Snape lurking about his own classroom invisible? He must have wanted something from Harry but not want to be seen. Or, something, Harry knew Snape was indeed prone to fits of nonsensical behaviour.

Harry looked about the room. No one was paying him any attention; Hermione was hard at work on something and Malfoy appeared to be carving something into a desktop with his wand.

"Er, I think I need to get some new phials, Padma," he said while scratching behind his ear. "I think I might have contaminated these," he said while waving towards the dozen or so perfectly sterile phials. Padma looked like she thought Harry might be crazy but, as Harry was used to this, he didn't even bother to further explain before he turned slowly (he'd hate to run into an invisible Snape) and then walked deliberately to the student storeroom.

The student storeroom had two doors to it; one to the NEWT Potions laboratory and one which Harry now saw ajar and that appeared to lead into Snape's office. He slipped in through the door, which then closed behind him at once.

"Very good, Potter," said Snape's disembodied voice.

"Er…" This is so creepy, Harry thought as he stood stiffly just inside the room. He felt wary about moving lest he run smack into Snape.

Much to Harry's relief, the air in front of him then shimmered as Snape pulled off an Invisibility Cloak from his head and looked piercingly at Harry. "Have you seen anything else since you sent the cauldron post?" he demanded.

Harry shook his head. "Dumbledore said he'd poked around by the wall last night and saw nothing out of the ordinary."

Snape's look was unfathomable. "I need you to let me into your mind."

Harry blinked.

"Now," Snape added impatiently as he lifted his wand.

"Wait—wait a minute! Why?" Harry protested.

"Because I don't have time for more chitchat, Potter! Your class is nearly up, I need to know exactly what you saw and I need to pull Mister Malfoy in here then and impress upon him that he did not get away with anything." Snape looked frighteningly serious about all this. "According to the headmaster, you are an adequate Occlumens," he said with much disdain. "Therefore I shall need your acquiescence. Unless of course, you wish me to test that claim—it might take a bit longer but I'm sure I could indeed break you down and penetrate your mind with time and—"

"Yes, yes, fine," Harry relented. Fine, Snape just wanted to see for himself what it had been that Harry had witnessed. Harry could see the value in this too. Nevertheless, he still wasn't happy about it.

He took a deep breath and braced himself against the wall. He hadn't done controlled projection like this for a few months and even then, that had been with Dumbledore. Now, being here with Snape in his office, reminded Harry far too much of the awful Occlumency lessons he'd endured the previous year.

"Excellent," Snape whispered as his eyes darkened to an inky black. He then reached out his wand towards Harry's head and incanted, "Legilimens."

Harry felt a sudden jab into his mind that, upon instinct, he initially repelled. The jabbing presence persisted though and he reminded himself that it was Snape and that he wanted to allow Snape to see what had happened that evening after he'd left detention. With focus, Harry allowed the memory of that night to project forth and, when he was finished, he sealed off his mind and blinked rapidly to break the connection.

Snape looked contemplatively at Harry. Harry wasn't sure Snape was contemplating him or Malfoy. Seeing an obscenely sinister smile play upon Snape's mouth, Harry dearly hoped Snape was thinking of Malfoy.

"Are you going to confront him?" Harry asked.

Snape merely narrowed his eyes.

"I'd like to be there if you do," Harry said. Where was this coming from? He panicked as soon as the words had left his mouth.

"Excuse me?" Snape said as if he didn't quite believe what Harry had just asked.

"Er, well, I'm the one who saw him, after all…"

With a snort, Snape narrowed his eyes into slits and hissed, "You're really something, Potter, aren't you? You've got no right to stick your nose--"

"Do too!" Harry protested. "I do have a right--you heard what he said--their planning something to do with me and--"

"And that's news?"

"It's confirmation of what we suspected!"

"Hush!" Snape shushed as Harry's voice had risen. "No."


"No!" Snape gave Harry a deathly glare and, through clenched teeth, said, "You'll get a damn report from me when I've finished."


"And you're having witnessed this even will remain a secret unless I tell you otherwise--whom have you already told?"

Harry glared back defiantly at Snape.

"Granger," he said, assuming and not even asking. "You copied McGonagall and Moody, the headmaster and the werewolf, too…"

"Don't you call him--"

"Weasely, too? Hmm?"

"So what if I have?" Harry ground out.

Snape straightened himself importantly and then sniffed, saying, "Well, that significantly limits my options. I'll just have to make do and hope for the best."

"Wh--why--what--" Harry sputtered, unable to even phrase the question to understand what the hell Snape was talking about.

"Stop blathering, Potter," Snape spat. "Get out now and attempt to stay out of trouble for the last remaining minutes of class. I need to detain Mister Malfoy before the period ends if you want me to attempt to get to the bottom of this. Out!"


"Now," Snape growled as he flung open the door and prodded Harry in the shoulder with his wand tip.

Harry sullenly marched back into the classroom, drawing a curious look from Padma. "Er, weren't there any more phials? Are you sure you contaminated these? I didn't see you do anything--"

"Yeah, yeah, they're fine. My mistake," Harry said dourly. Harry was sure Padma rolled her eyes at this as she'd known this all along but he couldn't bother to care. Instead, he looked over to see Malfoy bent over the workbench where he appeared diligently focused upon whatever it was he was carving.

The rest of the class was working rapidly to finish up their project for the day and Harry seemed to be the only one who saw a swish of black pass through the storeroom and enter the classroom. Snape moved soundlessly around the outside of the room and Harry only took his eyes off the stalking Snape to see Malfoy, still oblivious just now reaching over to pack away his things before the bell rang.

Harry felt like he was watching some animal of prey stalk an unwitting and doomed victim (at least he hoped Malfoy was doomed) and it was with much anticipation that he watched Snape close in behind the unsuspecting Malfoy. It was only because the class was so silent by habit that Snape's voice was audible across the classroom as he leaned in behind Malfoy and intoned, "Find what you're looking for, Mister Malfoy?"

Malfoy, along with more than half the class who'd also been oblivious to Snape's presence jumped in surprise. Harry was then quite pleased to see Malfoy had been so surprised he'd actually dropped his book bag with a thunk. That, and what with the way Malfoy was stammering, looking up at Snape, made it appear that Malfoy was doing a most excellent imitation of Neville on one of his worst days.

"I believe, Mister Malfoy, that you may remain here--" the bell rang just then, "--after class."

As was usual for any class of Snape's, most students made for the door as quickly as possible but Harry, having other plans brewing in his mind, lingered as he watched Snape jerk his head at Malfoy and then towards the pass-through into his office before striding off to said office. As Snape neared, Harry quickly busied himself with wiping down the workbench, hoping to not draw any attention from Snape.

It didn't work.

"And, you, Potter," Snape hissed as he stopped and leaned in menacingly towards Harry. "I don't want to see you anywhere near here until your detention--are we clear?"

There was an imperious tone to Snape's words that Harry found a bit more than the usual cruelly demanding tone Snape often used. Lying through his teeth, Harry said, "Crystal, Professor."

Snape, seeming satisfied, then swept out of the classroom, barking, "Malfoy! Now!"

Harry watched a red faced Malfoy make his way across the classroom and then heard Hermione nudge him, asking, "What's going on, Harry? When did Snape get back? I didn't even see him come in--is he confronting Malfoy now?"

Harry just shook his head, not wanting to explain just yet…not when there was still a chance--oh, if only he could just hear-- "That's it."

"What's it?"

"That's it," Harry said again, looking at Hermione and grinning broadly.

"Harry?" Hermione said, clearly wondering if Harry had gone around the bend.

Quickly, Harry dug into his book bag and found his Invisibility Cloak, which he'd got back from Ron the day before. He quickly moved to hide the cloak from the few lingering students as he tugged it out.

"Harry," Hermione said with a note of warning in her voice.

"No--he said I couldn't be seen. But I only need to hear." Harry then dug into his trouser pocket and pulled out a grey and slimy Extendable Ear. "Perfect!" he muttered to himself.

"Harry what in the world--" Hermione began but then Harry cut her off, telling her, "Make sure no one's looking, stand right here and block the view."

He then quickly crouched down, swirled the cloak over his head and whispered to a furious looking Hermione, "M'kay, wish me luck," before heading for the storeroom.