Dumbledore's eyes locked onto Sligh's. With ease Dumbledore pushed his mind forward and entered Sligh's thoughts and memories. At once he experienced the sensations he had been through many times before, those of instantaneous compression and expansion. While Snape was able to skim the surface of a person's mind, sometimes penetrating quite deeply into someone's past, as a master of Legimancy Dumbledore was able to use another's mind the same way he used a pensive. He could quite literally step into the hallways of a mind and walk their lengths. It was with a slight suctioning noise and a pop that Dumbledore arrived and looked around himself.
He stood in a cavernous entrance hall of a great house that was in a state of disrepair. The marble floor was bisected by a great crack which descended into a bottomless nowhere; to the left and right lay corridors, which seemed to stretch to infinity; before him was a stairway which was missing numerous rungs and did not seem to have a top. It was a dirty, uncared-for place in which everything was moving, bending. With each oscillation the crack in the floor widened.
Instinctively Dumbledore turned to the right and walked down the corridor. This corridor was better lit that then one in Azkaban, but was equally unsettling. Its walls warped forwards and backwards as if someone were manipulating a large piece of stiff cardboard. Worse were the noises. From behind each of the doors he walked past emerged disturbing sounds: sometimes screams, sometimes whimpers, sometimes not the sound of anything human. No doubt each room contained a record of Sligh's past.
Eventually Dumbledore found himself drawn to a door. In between the louder more disturbing emissions from the other rooms he could just discern the low murmur of chattering voices. Knowing he would not be seen by the rooms occupants Dumbledore grasped the handle and entered.
The dining room, in which Dumbledore now stood, had once been exquisitely decorated with thick-set flock wallpaper, an olive wood dining suite and a bespoke silver service. Now, the wallpaper peeled off the walls, the dining suite was incomplete and chipped, while the silver service was tarnished to a dull black. The edges of the room bulged forward and backwards as they had in the corridor causing the furniture and inhabitants of the room to bend and move. The room's three occupants two human and one house elf were distorted as if they were reflections from a house of mirrors. As the house elf cleared the remains of a meal for three from the blackened silver service its arms grew and shrank, while its head ballooned and deflated.
All the while the men continued their conversation, oblivious.
"So, Graves, it will happen on the 9th?" queried Sligh.
"Yes, the 9th" the red face man replied, his cheeks became brighter and darker as the room shifted.
"And the plan…"
Dumbledore frowned. The men's voices were slow and distorted. On occasion they were out of sync with their mouths.
"The plan remains the same as"
What the plan remained the same as was interrupted by the sudden collapse of the house elf. While carrying the stack of blackened plates and cutlery, he had lurched forward, as if he had been kicked. He had sent himself and his load flying across the room. In a blurred yet slow motion the elf fled.
No… something is not right here, thought Dumbledore.
"On the 9th we shall leave this place and assume our positions at Hogsmede and Kings Cross. Once he is through the barrier we shall." Noise ceased to come out of Sligh's mouth, though his lips continued to move.
Dumbledore frowned and withdrew from Sligh's mind. No. Those were not true memories. The 9th was after the start of term. Harry would be safely in school by then. Why would Sligh and Graves be going to Kings Cross and Hogsmede? He looked down at Sligh who was smiling.
"Can't blame a man for trying?" said Sligh weakly.
"No I suppose one can't," said Dumbledore as he drew his wand. With an easy motion he charmed Sligh and made a second entry to his mind.
This time the entrance hall of Sligh's mind remained stationary. There was not crack in the floor and the staircases and corridors remained finite. Once more Dumbledore went to the corridor on the right. The torturous noises continued to emit from the rooms. Once more he arrived at the door to the room he had previously entered.
The door opened onto an opulently decorated dining room. An olive wood dining-table carried the remnants of a recently eaten meal served on an antique and highly polished silver service. Three place settings were being cleared by a downtrodden, round-eyed house elf. The elf was steering clear of the two men in the room: one was Sligh; the other Dumbledore now knew to be Graves. The elf balanced the last of the table setting onto of the pile in his hands and made his way out of the room. Nothing lay between the house elf and the door but suddenly, and for no apparent reason, it lurched forward as if kicked, landing on its face and sending the silver plates and cutlery over the floor. Picking itself up, it uttered self-reproaching apologies and hurried away as quickly as he could gather what he'd dropped.
"On the 29th then."
Dumbledore smiled. He had been blocking information then: a relatively simple subterfuge.
"Yes, the 29th."
"And the plan…"
"The plan remains the same as always. You and I shall assume our positions between Hogsmede and Kings Cross and wait. The train shall be coming through a few days after that. Once Potter is on board, and the train has left the station, we will get on the train. We will do this in the middle of the journey."
"Why is that?"
"Why do you think, you idiot? So we are as far from Kings Cross and Hogwarts, and any fully qualified witches and wizards as possible….Anyway, the supplies will have been hidden beforehand by"
Suddenly Sligh stopped speaking, almost as if he were cut off.
"Yes well, we needn't go on any further… When the train leaves the station we will be ready for Potter.
"And the other children?
"What about them."
Dumbledore pulled back from Sligh's mind, stood up and turned from the room. He had all he needed. Sligh's physical form slumped backwards onto the floor. It was only the Kiss which awaited him now.
Dumbledore cast Sligh a final glance before leaving. A visit to Snape was in order.
A warm mid-day breeze wafted around the garden, puffing the odd cloud across the sky, stirring the trees gently before drifting into Snape's kitchen. The man himself was at the sink, washing the dishes from lunch, and enjoying the cooling effect of the light wind. Aside from the protection they offered, Snape's wards dampened almost all of the ambient noise from the rough area in which he lived and ensured his garden remained idyllically calm: the neighbours were silent, their pit-bull terriers asleep, and their God-awful children stupefied by the heat and a day's mischief. Errol's arrival was therefore a great surprise and disturbance, as he came cannoning through one of Snape's bushes and crashing onto the kitchen table, having narrowly missed the window-sash. The owl certainly made a grand entrance.
The "feather duster" shuddered violently before, with massive effort, righting itself and puffing itself out to its greatest extent: a shower of leaves fell out from his down and collected beneath him. Snape scowled at the owl but quickly left his washing up and fetched it some water and owl food. The poor bird looked worse-for-wear to say the least. Snape removed the owl's letter it was for Harry and from Ron; he recognised the youngest Weasley boy's scrawl. He placed the letter on top of the notes Harry had made from his morning's study of the Grand Wiggenweld Potion. Not bad, but with scope for improvement. Hopefully the boy would retain enough of it so that, when he came to actually produce the potion in a classroom setting, it wouldn't be a total disaster.
"Harry," Snape called, once he'd finished the washing up.
"Yes, sir," Harry's head appeared from around the corner. He'd been set the task of moving all the furniture in the living room to its edges. They would need all the space they could get for their lesson that afternoon.
"You have a letter. From Mr Weasley I believe."
"Great" said Harry, grabbing the letter from where Snape had indicated it was and ripped it open. Harry's eyes zipped from left to right, clearly not struggling with Ron's chicken scratch-like handwriting the way Snape did when he had to grade the boy's homework. Looking at Harry, Snape smiled. While he had not had the pleasure of friends when he had been Potter's age, with the exception of his troubled relationship with Lily, he did take enjoyment in Harry's excitement. It was good that the boy had those around him which he cared about, and who cared for him.
"Sir, you'll never believe what happened!"
"And what, pray tell, has?" said Snape, a deadpan expression across his face.
"Ron's dad got in a massive fight with Draco Malfoy's father in Flourish and Blott's in Diagon Alley! AND it got into the paper. There was this book signing and it all kicked off. Ron's dead chuffed."
Snape frowned, "Lucius Malfoy is a powerful man in the ministry.
"It is not good to be seen to stand against him. He has many … powerful friends."
"Ron says that Malfoy's family was in with Voldem-."
"Do NOT say the Dark Lord's name!" snapped Snape thunderously.
Snape's previous feelings of pleasure towards the boy were instantly dispelled. "You are an ignorant little boy who does not comprehend the reach of the Dark Lord's power. So long as you are under this roof, so long as you are at Hogwarts, you will not say his name.
"Saying Vol Harry was cut off mid-sentence as bubbles foamed from his mouth.
Snape lowered the wand he had raised in less than a heart-beat. "I warned you, Potter, not to say that name."
Harry looked at Snape, his eyes wide and watery. He had been stunned into silence, the man's actions had been so sudden. Snape suddenly seemed as big and scary as ever.
Shaking a little, Harry turned and obeyed. Facing the corner he sniffed wetly, swallowed and grimaced in disgust. He raised his hand and wiped the worst of the suds from his mouth, drying his hand on his jumper. How could something that was so fragrant and pleasant have the ability to chemically burn his tongue?
Harry sniffed again. Why couldn't he listen to what Snape said, and apply it? Surely he could avoid getting himself into trouble? He knew that on this matter the man's feelings were the same as the majority of the wizarding world's: you do not say Voldemort's name. Though he agreed far more with Hermione and Dumbledore that fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself clearly Snape did not.
Snape glowered at the back of Harry's head and reflected on what the boy had told him about Mr Malfoy. Lucius was not the kind of man to resort to physical violence far too much or a Slytherin for that. Even in his most active days as a Death Eater the man had rarely dirtied his hands. He had men such as Sligh for things like that. No, the man was certainly plotting something, though what was not yet clear. What was apparent was that it involved Mr Weasely, though the man was most likely unaware of this.
Fifteen minutes went by before Snape called Harry back from the corner.
"Dumbledore says said Harry before Snape could open his mouth. A look from Snape made him instantly regret it.
"The headmaster is a far more powerful wizard than you. How he decides to conduct himself should not always be a measure of whether it is appropriate for you to do the same." Snape paused. Harry looked like he was going to say something, but didn't. "Now… Shall you use His name again?"
Harry sucked on his lower lip and cast his eyes around the room before settling on the kitchen table. He would use the name again. He had a closer relationship with Voldemort than Snape ever had. He was entitled to use his name if anyone was. But how to answer in a way that was at once honest, but also not going to get him killed? Ahh…
"I shall not use His name, while I am in your house, sir."
Snape almost laughed, but managed to maintain his frosty exterior. The boy was learning, a response that genuinely walked the line between honesty, self-preservation and cheek. He truly would have done well in Slytherin, though Snape doubted that a year ago he would have been able to brook the boy's presence in his school House. It was therefore with a wry smile that Snape raised an eyebrow and said,
"Very good, Mr Potter."
Harry let out a sigh of relief. He'd dodged the hex. Now to really push his luck:
"Umm… sir, what are we going to learn this afternoon? I've finished rearranging the living room."
Snape looked to the heavens. "Get into the front room. I'll be there in a minute."