The Weasleys' Mysterious Customer

By: Kiana

Disclaimer: HP isn't mine.

Note: My friend Rachel says she really liked this one, but I have my doubts about it. That might (likely) be because it took so long, but I need reassurance either way, so please review, even if you don't read the whole thing! I'd really appreciate any advice you can give about my writing, since I put a lot of effort into the writing on this, and want to improve, as always. Thanks!

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Tap. Tap. Tap.

Swimming.

Where am I?

Someone, somewhere, opened his eyes.

Who am I?

A cloud of dust had settled over him as he had lain unconscious and everything around him as well. There were bodies on the floor. Dead? He didn't know. But things were coming back, it seemed. Memories floated just out of his reach, like butterflies teasing him with their brilliant colors and soft looking wings, but always darting aside just when he reached for them.

Butterflies?

He shook his head, and a cloud of dust billowed up, stirred in the air. The boy gave a hoarse cough, his throat thick with mucus from the inhaled dust. What was this stuff around him? It was a sort of fine grey powder, almost like ash, but not as fluffy. No, it certainly wasn't ash. Ash didn't glitter. Some kind of magic accident then, he guessed. Yes, that was it. He was starting to remember.

The boy felt something small inside of him stir.

Fred.

Another memory! He'd had Fred ever since he was born, and before that even. Fred was his twin. Fred was one of those bodies on the floor but he was alive, and now he stirred back, regaining consciousness just as his brother had done before.

The twin groaned, and tenderly raised his hand to his forehead. Pain. He opened his eyes.

He gave a start, and attempted to say something which came out only as a hacking exclamation. "George!" he cried again.

My name! Suddenly memories came flooding back, triggered by the information. An accident. It had been an experiment, but it had gone wrong, very wrong. This was no joke, though that's what it started out as. Fred and George Weasley had accidentally discovered something deadly, something dangerous. …Wait. That wasn't a memory. Just a feeling. George looked at the grey powder again and shuddered. It was evil, that's what it was. He had no idea how he knew, but the more he thought about it, the more certain he felt. It was his heart. Evil. Beware. A fair enough warning. Now it was their responsibility to see that no one else ever found out. But how? We must tell Dumbledore!

Fred wiped the dust from his mouth and eyes with the inside of his shirt. "Dumbledore's gone, George, and I don't think anyone could tell us where he is now. Even McGonagall doesn't know."

The Weasley twins could not read each other's thoughts, contrary to how it sometimes seemed. But being both wizards, and sharing the natural bond their twinship had created in them inside the womb, they could sometimes feel thoughts and feelings from each other. Emotions were always hard to fake or hide.

Fred and George turned simultaneously to look at the third body which lay motionless on the floor. George gave it a nudge with his foot.

"Reviveo," Fred said, pointing his wand, which he'd found flung across the room.

Lee Jordan hacked up a lung.

"Good to see you're alright, man," George said, patting him on the back.

"What happened?"

"It might take a while to come back to you," George said. "But do you remember our joke shop?"

"Yes."

"Remember our experiment with floo powder, baking soda, and Exploding Sage?"

"Oh yeah, and putting it in plastic shells. Of course I do."

"Well, as I'm just beginning to remember, right before this all happened, you added a new ingredient."

There was a pause. Suddenly a look of horror came over Lee's face. "You don't mean that…" He said, clutching George's sleeves. "NO!"

George nodded. "It was the thing that knocked us all unconscious. This place was our lab, and now look what's become of it."

Lee and Fred looked at the huge warehouse that had been loaned out to them to use as a lab. It had been given to them by Minerva McGonagall of all people, and they had quickly filled it with their supplies and unfinished inventions. Now all of that was gone, and it was filled with a thick layer of silver dust.

"Where is everything?" Fred asked, calm as only a person sufficiently shocked can be.

"Your guess is as good as mine." George shook his head. "It's gone now."

"All our work…" Lee groaned, putting his head in his hands and giving a soft cry of exasperation.

"I'm more worried about what happened to the stuff that was in here," George said. "Why did it disappear, or be destroyed, but we're here and we're ok? It doesn't make sense."

"Maybe it doesn't affect organic things," suggested Fred.

"The mice." Lee said, without looking up. "The mice we used to carry around spy packs are gone."

"Well then, maybe…" Fred grasped with his mind for another excuse. There had to be a reason!

"Maybe we were unharmed because we're the ones who created it," Lee suggested. "Maybe it has a mind-- it is magic, after all-- and it doesn't want to hurt its maker!"

"Possible, but unlikely." George said. "I don't think its something we can tell by guess-work alone. I feel afraid for this, and I have no idea why. But it feels like the time during the Chamber of Secrets when Tom Riddle possessed my sister. It feels evil: evil in disguise. So well concealed that if I hadn't seen the effect it has here, I'd write it off any other time. This has called it to our attention, though, and this time we can't ignore it."

For a moment, the three boys sat in silence, amazed and a little fearful. Lee shivered.

"Guys, let's get out of here," he said to the Weasley twins. "I don't like the feeling in this place."

"Yeah, let's go. We need to do something about this," Fred agreed. "And we can't tell mom."

"How about Tonks or Moody?" asked George.

"Moody's too paranoid," replied Fred. "And Tonks wouldn't know what to do with it."

"Who else in the order is there? Just Snape and Lupin, and Lupin hasn't come out of his room except a few times which I can count on one hand. I haven't heard him speak at all since Sirius…"

"Shut up, George," Fred muttered.

The room became very quiet again, and the silence seemed to echo in the cavernous warehouse, now that it was bare of its wares.

Lee stirred. "Hey, guys? I better go, my dad's expecting me home, and I've no idea how long we were out. You'd better get going, too."

"You're right. See you tomorrow, Lee."

"Yeah, bye."

"Go in through a window or something, so your mom doesn't catch sight of your clothes, ok?"

"Ok. Thanks, Lee," Fred said.

Lee left quickly, and the twins hurried home as well. They were no longer thinking about the silver dust, or the missing objects. They had something much worse to worry about now: The wrath of Molly Weasley.

The Weasley twins shivered, as the walked together down Grimuald street, headed for the Order of the Phoenix HQ.

"Mum's going to have a row if she sees us like this," muttered Fred.

"I wish we could apparate," sighed George. "Then there'd be no problem."

The boys agreed that if they crawled through the bathroom window, they might be able to make it to the stairs before Molly or Sirius's mum saw them.

"Anyone in there?" whispered George, as he struggled to hold his brother up to see through the window.

"No, nobody," Fred said. "Give me another boost, the window's open and everything."

There was a grunt and a thump as Fred managed to slide through the window (launched by George), and landed on his face.

"Uhff."

"You okay?"

"Yeah, hang on, I'll go grab us some clothes," Fred said, leaning out the window.

"'Kay." George sat down in the bushes to wait. He prayed that mum was in the kitchen, and wouldn't catch Fred as he crossed the door to get to the stairs. Hopefully no one else was around. Lupin stayed in his room, and the rest were usually at Hogwarts, or chasing down the Azkaban escapees. If Snape were around, that would almost be worse—

George felt something lightly touch on his temple. "I wouldn't be sneakin around out here in the brush if I was you," a rough voice said softly in his ear.

George gave a start of surprise and found his eyes locked on the eyes of Mad-eye Moody, sitting not three feet from him, his wand still trained on his head.

"You scared me," George said.

"I know." Moody replied. "What're you doin out here, creeping in like a criminal all covered in ashes? Been to some sort of grand sabbat, have ye?"

"Stop pointing that at me, Moody," George said, eyeing the ready wand with uncertainty. "And don't accuse me of Satan worship. You know that's ridiculous."

"I aint usin it in that context boy—we've a new devil people're worshiping. You know him. Tall, red-eyed, snakey chap. Voldemort?"

"That's even more absurd."

"Is it? One can never be too vigilant."

"Yeah, well, you know me better than that, though."

"Oh, do I? Need I remind you of the many wizards done in because they trusted their friends? James Potter and Pettigrew? Or little Harry, in the Triwizard tournament with my imposter? Sirius Black and Kretcher? Use your head boy, or you'll end up without one." Moody lowered his wand.

"Now. Mind tellin me why you're creepin around back here all covered in soot, or do I have t' torture it outta yeh?"

George wasn't sure if that was meant to be a joke or not. He never could tell with Moody, because even when he was trying to be funny, the man was creepy. "There was an accident at the Lab," he explained. "Fred, Lee and I were trying to make a powder or something that would make you hypnotized for a few seconds."

"Sounds like the impetuous curse," Moody scowled.

"No, it's not like that!" George exclaimed. "It just draws your attention… sorry, I should have used a different word. So you could put it on a bouncy ball and then have it bounce off all the walls while your friend tries to follow with his eyes and keep up with it."

"Oh," Moody said.

"And they'd fall down. It's funny," added George weakly.

"I see," Moody lied.

"George!" hissed Fred from above. "I got your clothes!"

"Thanks," George said, putting his arms out to catch them.

"Can you please not let my mum know about this?" asked George. "She already doesn't approve of the shop, and it was really just a little bit of an explosion, not worth the fuss she'll make about it. I don't want to get in trouble."

"'Coarse yeh don't. I won't tell Molly. But I will mention it to yer dad… just in case."

The next morning, George awoke to the sound of Fred's voice in his ear as his brother shook him awake.

"Get up, George. We have to go to Hogwart's."

"Fred, we're not going to school anymore, remember? We quit." George moaned, trying to roll over.

Fred caught him by the arm. "We're going to school today. We have to tell someone about this discovery. You know how dangerous it is."

"Ok, ok. Is Lee coming?"

"We're going alone. Lee doesn't know everything, and it's better that way."

George hung his head, looking away. "Oh right. The extra ingredient."

"We're going to find McGonagall."

"A little sunshine, a little muck.

Add some water, wish me luck.

Now plant the seed, and grow, plants, GROW!

Stretch your roots to the classrooms below!

Fertilized with poo, weeded with care,

Now look what we've got under there!

Add some worms, just for touch,

And a compost heap? It's not too much!

Water, water, water and dirt---"

"Peeves!"

"What?" groaned the ghost, rolling his eyes. "This school could use a little beauty. It has to make up for your ugly face."

Fred and George strode down the hallway to where Peeves was making his garden.

"Oh, you two are back? Welcome, welcome. You just couldn't leave a poor ghost in peace for a while, could you?"
"Oh come now, Peeves!" Fred exclaimed. "You know you hate peace, and the only reason you don't like us is because we always had better pranks than you."

"That's not true!" cried Peeves, throwing the rest of the water in his bucket at them but only soaking George in the knees.

"Now look what you've made me do," Peeves said, looking mournfully at the empty bucket. "How will my garden bloom without water?"

"That's not a garden, it's a pile of slop," said George.

"You can't put a garden in the middle of the hall anyways," Fred added. "People need to walk here."

"So? You put a swamp in the hall when that toad was here."

"We have to see McGonagall, Peeves. Is she teaching right now? The Bloody Baron told us we should check in her classroom first, and if she wasn't there, he'd take us to the teacher's lounge," said Fred.

Peeves grumbled, suspecting Fred was lying, but not willing to risk angering the Bloody Baron. "Everyone takes advantage of me with the bloody Bloody Baron," he muttered, moving aside for the twins.

"She's teaching fourth year!" hollered Peeves when they were nearly down the hallway. "You can't go in anyway until class is over!"

No sooner had the words flown out his mouth than the school bell chimed, and students began to pour out of the classes.

Peeves hovered dejectedly over his lonely garden, watching them go. "Aw, Bugger."

"Professor!" George called, as they fought the flow of fourth years trying to get out of the room. "We need to talk to you!"

"George?" McGonagall said, showing only mild surprise.

"Can we have a private word with you?" Fred asked. "It's important."

"Couldn't you have come at a better time? Like before school?" she asked.
"We tried," Fred told her, "but Hagrid was going to come to take us over the border, but he was late."

"I wonder why," McGonagall said sarcastically. "What kind of creature is it this time? A Poison Buckjawed Egriie's Serpant? Good Lord."

"We need to talk to Dumbledore," explained Fred urgently as the students for McGonagall's next class began to pour through the door. "We've discovered something in our joke shop lab."

"Something dangerous," George added.

"Please, do you have any idea where he might have gone?"

McGonagall looked down sadly at the boys, and just for a moment, the boys thought she looked old and full of grief. "No one knows where Dumbledore's gone off too." She said softly. "Even I don't know. I don't know if he's going to come back."

"Well of course he'll come back," George assured her. "I mean, he's Dumbledore!" His voice faltered as he saw her look away, raising a hand to her lips. "…Won't he?"

"I've told you, I don't know," McGonagall whispered. "Come into my office."

McGonagall shut the door with a click. "What do you want to tell Dumbledore?"

"We need to tell him we've discovered a new… well, it's kind of powder-like, and we think that it could destroy the world in the wrong hands." George said.

"Be reasonable. What makes you think so?"

"The original recipie we had used floo powder, baking soda, and Exploding Sage," explained Fred. "It seemed to work alright for what we wanted it to do, but it didn't activate for a few hours. So we added another ingredient to the recipe. That's what Lee thinks caused the explosion, but he's wrong. George added something else to the floo powder before we even began. The nature of the ingredient is the reason we suspect it to be the cause."

McGonagall looked skeptic. "You truly believe this thing you discovered could destroy the world? Did you test it? How come you aren't destroyed?"

"We haven't tested it the way you're thinking," Fred said. McGonagall frowned. "We only had a little powder when it happened, because we'd already divided it into pill-sized dosages. There was probably less than half a thimble, and it caused a reaction that obliterated our lab."

"Not obliterated. You're exaggerating, Fred." George said. He turned to McGonagall again. "What he means is, everything was gone and we were unconscious. The only things left after we woke up were us and a lot of grey dust."

"It was then that you received a feeling of evil?" McGonagall asked carefully.

"Yes."

McGonagall was silent. Finally, she sat down at her desk and began to take out parchment and a quill. "Many times the warnings of children go unheeded by adults simply because they are young," she explained. "I believe it is foolish to ignore something that could save a life. It happens all too often that unlikely people may discover dangerous things, and I will not have it happen again in this school." She dipped the quill in ink and began to write.

"What is that, Professor?" George asked.

"A report." She said. "I agree with you on one thing at least—Dumbledore must know."

Fred and George exchanged hesitant looks.

"You don't plan to mail that, do you?" asked Fred. "If that's intercepted…"

"It will not be," she assured them. "Fawkes will deliver it." McGonagall signed her name and sealed the letter with wax from a candle on her desk. "I will see that he gets it right away," she said, standing. "And then, I have a class to teach. You should go home. Hogwarts has begun a no visitors rule on campus. If you don't have visitor passes, you can be fined."

The teacher gave a small laugh when she saw the frightened looks on the boys' faces. "Don't worry," she assured them. "I won't tell."

"Thanks," sighed George.

"Just be careful you're not discovered by certain other teachers at this school. As well as certain staff members and their cats."

"I think we can find our way out and avoid them at the same time," Fred assured her.

"Yes, you certainly have managed it before," McGonagall agreed. "Now, I really must be mailing this. You're dismissed."

McGonagall headed out the door, Fred and George not far behind.

"Stay at your shop," she said, suddenly turning around. "I want you to act like everything is normal, because if we don't speak of it or make a big deal of this, it might be okay. Just stick to your daily routine and whatever you do, don't touch this stuff again."

"Believe us, we won't," Fred assured her, following his brother out.

Business was slow as usual at the Joke Shop. With kids at school and their lab reduced to four walls and several inches of ash, there wasn't much for any of them to do to pass the time. They didn't move or speak, because whenever they started to talk, the conversation would invariably move to the mysterious powder which they had been warned not to talk about anymore. With nothing to distract them, they waited eagerly, watching the door like starving cats waiting beside a mouse hole.

"It needs a name," Lee said, finally breaking the silence.

The twins looked up, amazed at how plainly he brought it up, after all three of them had been avoiding the subject all day.

"I know I'm not supposed to talk about it, but really, what are we going to call it?" asked Lee. " 'The Stuff' doesn't seem to fit. Can't we think of something cooler?"

"Söme." George said, looking back at the door.

"What?" Fred asked.

"I think we should call it Söme." George repeated. "It's just a made-up word."

Fred and Lee exchanged looks.

"I like it," Lee said.

"So do I." Fred agreed.

"You made that up just now, George?" asked Lee. "It's a good name."

"It seemed to fit," George shrugged. "Anyway, all names have to be made up at some point. And it's easier to just come up with something new than to try to find the right words for it out of the ones that already exist."

"Let's stop talking about it, guys," Fred reminded them.

The store fell silent again, and they were back to their steady vigil as they waited for customers.

Suddenly, unannounced by the chiming bell which announced the arrival of customers (which was actually the sound of a scream like someone being murdered), someone appeared in the store.

"Hey, no apparating," Fred said, pointing angrily to the sign.

"I don't take orders from children," the newly arrived wizard said, turning his greasy head to stare at them.

"Professor Snape!" Exclaimed Lee. "What's he doing here?"

"I doubt your friends can answer that, Mr. Jordan. I suggest in the future asking a person who can." Snape said. "Professor McGonagall sent me here."

"What!" Fred exclaimed. "What were you talking to her about?"

"Please, keep your robe on." Snape rolled his eyes. "What do you expect? She was telling me about your little invention of course."

"How could she?" George asked, slamming both hands on the counter, standing up.

"Calm down, Mr. Weasley." Snape sighed. "I'm in the Order as well. She sent me to get some of your magic dust. She thought it would be a good idea if I studied it to find out just what it is that this stuff does, so we know just what it is we should beware of about it. That is alright with you?"

"I suppose," muttered Fred, through clenched teeth. "Come with me. I'll take you to the lab."

Snape looked at the remains of the lab, his expression emotionless as he scooped some of the silvery dust into a bag.

"I'll take this back to Hogwarts and McGonagall shall send an owl when the results are ready," Snape said. He looked over at Fred, who was eyeing the dust in the bag suspiciously.

"Too attached to your little invention to give it over to my care?" he asked with a self-satisfied smirk. "Don't worry, I'll keep it perfectly safe. If you're worried about Death Eaters finding it, I assure you you have nothing to worry about."

Fred shot a glare at his former teacher. "Harry told us about you and your "past allegiance," as the grown-ups so politely call it. Don't think that's still secret. If anything happens, we'll know who to suspect, so you better make sure the stuff stays safe."

"Since when do you talk so boldly to me?" Snape snarled. "I may not be able to expel you anymore, but I'm still your senior, and I'm doing you a favor. So you and your brother had better find a little more respect in your hearts or you'll learn respect at the end of Molly's wand."

With one last contemptuous look, Snape disapparated with a clap of noise.

Fred rolled his eyes, walking away. "Git."

Days went by, and the boys began to grow concerned about their mysterious powder -- Söme. Three days passed and they started to wonder. Six days passed and they started to doubt. Eleven days passed and soon they began to get angry, uttering cruel words about Snape and fierce accusations when no one was around.

"I knew it," Fred groaned one day at their store. "I shouldn't have let him take it. I knew he was going to do something like this."

"It's all right, Fred, no one blames you," Lee said.

"Maybe we should go back to Hogwarts, or send a owl," mumbled Fred.

"I don't think Snape did it," protested George. "I mean, sure he was a death eater before, but now he's part of the Order of the Phoenix. If he does anything wrong, he'll have Dumbledore to answer to. You know what they say about You-Know-Who and Dumbledore."

"He was the only one You-Know-Who feared, yeah. So what?" Fred asked.

"So if Snape were to risk angering Dumbledore, I don't think You-Know-Who would be so quick to take him in. Snape already betrayed him once, and with the anger of Dumbledore on top of that, I doubt he'd be welcomed, much less protected."

Lee leaned back in his chair and propped his feet up on the counter. "You've sure thought about this a lot, George. What happens if they decide that Söme is a worthy enough bribe to get their protection? We agreed it is dangerous enough to be a threat."

"Still, he wouldn't know whether it was good enough or not until he gave it to them," George said. "And by then, the gamble has been made."

Just then, with perfect timing, an owl flew into the window glass.

"Crazy bird," Fred said.

"I told you we should put up eagle silhouettes," George said. "Someone go see what he has."

Lee hopped up and picked the owl off the ground where it lay stunned. "He's got a letter for us, guys!" He called.

Lee dumped the disoriented owl on the desk and hastily tore open the letter.

Dear Fred, George, and Lee,

The results are in. You were right when you told me you had a bad feeling. It's a good thing you came—please return to Hogwarts this evening or ASAP. Your visitor passes are enclosed.

Prof. McGonagall

Lee looked up from the letter. "Guess we were wrong," he shrugged.

"Finally!" exclaimed Fred, giving a relieved smile. "Looks like our little disaster is for real, mates," he said.

"If this goes bad we'll get in the history books," George murmured with awe. Lee reached across the table and smacked his head.

"Don't think things like that, George!" He hissed. "If this goes bad, we'll be shunned forever. Sure, you can dress it up with fancy phrases like 'our names will be remembered in infamy' and rubbish like that, and it makes it sound desirable. But when it comes down to it, we'll be despised the same way Sirius is by the rest of the world—the same way we despise Pettigrew. Is that what you want?"

"Sorry, Jeeze," George muttered. "I wasn't serious."

"Still." Lee looked around, lowering his voice. "I'm scared."

A stillness came over the three of them, as Fred and George stared a little uncertainly at him. What were they supposed to say?

"I'm sure no one will find it," George said hastily. Fred quickly agreed with him.

"No. You felt the evil, didn't you?" Lee said, shivering. "That day, when I woke up, I felt like I was covered in… in dead things. I don't know how to describe it, but when I woke up it was with a kind of subliminal horror that was all over and inside me. You must know what I mean. How can you describe evil? You just feel it, and that's what I felt. You said it yourself Fred—or was it George…? Evil in disguise, you called it. That sort of thing can not be so easily dismissed."

Before either twin could answer, they were interrupted by the sound of a scream.

"Good morning!" Fred called as he leapt to the desk, a big artificial smile on his face as he tried to push back Lee's words in his mind. All the talk of evil was creeping him out.

"Hello," said the customer. He stood in the middle of the store for a moment, glancing at the merchandise, but moving only his eyes. He cleared his throat. "You wouldn't by any chance happen to have some Powder, would you?" he asked.

Fred, George, and Lee froze. The room seemed to have dropped several degrees, and the silence was ominous.

"What sort of powder," Fred asked icily.

"Oh, you know. The froggy stuff," the customer said.

At once the tension disappeared.

"Amphibian dust!" cried Lee, laughing. "Of course. I mean yes. Yes, on the shelf behind you."

"Oh, thank you."

The customer paid for his purchase, and left the store followed by a chorus of "come again!" from the owners. The door shut with a click, and the scream bell became silent again.

"We are so paranoid," chuckled George, as the other two boys burst into laughter.

"How crazy of us to think he really meant that," Lee said. "Can you imagine."

Another round of laugher. "You worry too much, guys," George said. "Söme's a secret, and there's no cause even to worry, so long as Harry doesn't get involved. The kid's a You-Know-Who magnet, but he's at school now. The secret is safe."

"And at any rate, we'll know soon." Fred held up the letter. "This evening we'll get our answers. And when we do…"

"There'll be trouble." George finished.

When the boys got to Hogwarts, they were ushered quickly and silently in by Professor McGonagall, who brought them through the back door and up several winding sets of stairs. It wasn't long before they found themselves in a strange tower—strange, because they'd never seen it before. Strange, there wasn't a portrait in sight. Strange, not even the sound of bats could be heard in the cold cavernous place. As the boys followed the silent McGonagall, they were sharply aware of the harsh echo their footsteps made in the empty tower. Lee even began to wonder if the tower existed at all as part of Hogwarts, but before he could think too much about it, the professor stopped abruptly, and they saw before them a door, guarded by none other than Severus Snape.

The only light in the room came from a solitary candle, set in the middle of a small square table. It cast its flickering illuminations on McGonagall's stern face as she stood at the far side, and nodded for them to sit. Lee, Fred, and George nervously took their places at the remaining three chairs.

It's like a really bad detention, Lee thought.

The sound of the door sliding shut and locks clicking into place came from behind their backs. A soft flare came from Snape's wand as he muttered a spell, and the professor took his place against the wall, standing behind McGonagall, his arms crossed over his chest.

"I'm sorry if I've frightened you with all these precautions," McGonagall said, sitting and folding her hands on the table. "But Söme is worthy of all measures we could take. We've used this room as a top secret meeting place for years, and in the days of the Voldemort's reign of terror—yes, you need not worry about speaking that name in here—in those days, it proved its impenetrability even when he was at the pinnacle of his power. So no matter what happens, this room, I assure you has been made safe. And this new thing, Söme…well…" she glanced to Snape. "Severus?"

Snape stepped forward, into the light. "This powder will be the downfall of humanity if it escapes. Even a word of it could mean the end of our race," he said simply, his usual sneering manner gone, though his voice still bore the underlying tones of hatred, sharpened by the new danger the boys had put him in.

The boys sat unmoving, waiting for him to go on. They should have reacted somehow, they knew, but the news, though suspected, was too shocking to be accepted at once.

"I suspect you all know exactly how to make it now," Snape continued, "and there is nothing we can do to protect you from the danger of knowing. If the existence of Söme is discovered, you will be hunted, and Minerva decided it would be best if your memories were not charmed. She said that if you knew the thing you were trying to hide, you would be better able to resist any probing. She said it would give you the strength you need to fight it, and to withstand the torture—yes, torture. And I agree with her."

"Thank you, Severus," McGonagall said, when it was clear he was done.

"Of course it'd dangerous," she continued. "Much more than it seems. Everything in your lab that did not have a soul was completely obliterated, and that is something you cannot overlook. That is the key, though," she said. "Souls. Matter is easy to destroy, it seems, but it appears to have difficulty penetrating auras. That's why you still had your clothes when you woke up. They were protected by your aura, which extends a few inches beyond your physical body. It was an important factor we considered in drawing this conclusion. The fact that the mice—living things—and your clothes—nonliving things—were gone or stayed was the key. We are now quite certain this theory is correct."

"But why is that so bad?" George broke in. "If it doesn't affect human souls, than it's no use to him."

"Not quite."

"What?"

"Look at what a thimbleful did to you three boys. Just a thimble was enough to knock you unconscious for who knows how long? And when you woke up, your memories had been affected to the point that you didn't even know your own identities. If such a small amount has that sort of power, think of what a larger quantity could do. Twice that amount would have probably killed you. Triple it and there would certainly not be the smallest atom of yourselves left for anyone to identify or know what had become of you. You three have no idea how luck you are."

"We do now," said Fred in amazement. Lee put his head in his hands, breathing a tense sigh.

"The true danger in this," Snape said, leaning in again, "is that it takes incredibly little to cause a lot of damage, so it's very efficient. Just a truckfull would be enough to wipe out all of Hogwarts. Tell me, how easy would it be to produce one truckfull?" he asked.

"Simple." Fred said in awe. "Anyone could do it, if anyone knew how."

Snape hung his head, and McGonagall clenched her fist on the table.

"This must never get out," she whispered.

"We know."

Not so far away, a few miles outside Hogsmede, a traveler cloaked in black made his way steadily Southward. One more step, he told himself. Keep walking. One step at a time.

His feet were freezing, and his thick cloak could barely keep out the cold wind that came down from the mountains. He clutched at the edges with numb fingers, breathing on them now and then, praying they wouldn't frostbite. No sane wizard would ever endure such torture, he thought bitterly, as he pressed on with the wind. No sane witch or wizard would ever be fool enough to go through it without magic. But he wasn't a sane wizard. In fact, he wasn't a wizard at all.