Chapter 25: Breaking In

"Lower your wand. Get away from him. The Dark Lord wants him alive when it is time. Blood cannot be forcibly taken from a lifeless body—"

"He's concealing something, Severus!" The man's wand hand jerked in time with the accusation. "The little bastard is sitting on it!"

A haze of granite dust still floated among the men, traveling around the columns and dissolving into the darkness of the cellar. Rowle's curse had missed the boy's—Black's—ear by a few centimeters, exploding a portion of the ceiling instead. The next attempt, the final attempt, had been blocked.

Exchanged for Severus' own.

Black sat slumped against the wall, clutching at his leg, where the stinging jinx had, by now, inflamed the flesh into an angry mass of welts, as though several hornets had attacked the skin at the same time.

His glasses had fallen off of his face; lay between his knees like a dog with its feet in the air, waiting for a good scratch.

Pettigrew set the hissing bundle of rags back into the wooden box, resting the empty bottle against the corner, the glass streaked with pearly beads. His fingers crept toward the wand sticking out of his front pocket.

Rowle shifted his stance, rubbing the fingers and thumb together that hung limply by his hip. "Move him."

"I will move him."

"Bloody move him!" The shout echoed through the dungeon. "Or I will…"

New shadows flickered against the stone walls as two more bodies descended the staircase.

"While you have your wand poised, you might consider repairing my cellar." Lucius Malfoy eyed the toothed edges of the bite-like chunk taken out of the ceiling.

Peeling his palms off of the walls on either side of the staircase, Draco stepped into the room, smirking. His hair had been slicked back to rights, his shirt tucked in once again. He studied the ceiling with the same bored expression as his father.

Severus spared him the barest of glances, their eyes meeting for an instant. Draco's lids fluttered. He lowered his chin.

"Shift yourself," Severus ordered as he turned back towards the rumpled heap of childlike form sprawled on the floor. Although Harry was now a teenager, his body betrayed him. But this wasn't Harry. Harry didn't sit with his knee tucked up like this, defying pain with arrogance. He didn't constantly flick hair out of his face that wasn't hanging there. And he certainly didn't glower at Severus with such emptiness in his eyes. Such vacancy. Like frozen lake water.

Severus lifted his chin. Narrowed his gaze. "Now."

"Fuck you."

A flash of light.

A high-pitched cry erupted from Sirius' throat as he clawed at his arm this time. He blinked owlishly, surprised at his own reaction to the white-hot stinging.

Draco sneered.

Having repaired the crumbling granite, Rowle tucked his wand out of sight.

Severus' lips twitched; he swallowed around a tongue dry as tree bark. Leaning down, he tightened his fingers around the uninjured arm and easily lifted the smaller body off of the hidden object, letting him dangle. Having snatched the shrunken, Sickle-sized mirror off of the ground, Severus juggled it in his palm, tilting it. The glass remained dark. He shoved it into a pocket of his trousers before Rowle could sneak a look at it.

Black had lied to him earlier, of course. Severus had expected it.

"What is it, then?"

"Nothing." Severus lowered Black to the ground. "A toy."

"It's not a toy!" The voice was weak, choked from the pain. The eyes watery.

Severus gritted his teeth, slashing his wand to cast a silencing charm. Then, after some consideration, a sticking charm.

Black had flinched as the wand had been thrust toward his face. Only slightly. But Severus had caught sight of it. He twisted his wand in his fingers, watching as Black picked up the glasses still lying beside his knees and pushed them onto his nose, sitting on his hands to hide their shaking.

"How much longer?" Severus said quietly, still peering down at the messy head of hair.

"We will wait until nightfall," Lucius spoke up from behind. "The village surrounding the Little Hangleton graveyard is still populated and the remains must be excavated, not summoned. It is better to be safe. Everything shall be ready then. Before midnight, perhaps." Then, in almost the same breath: "Run along, Draco. I am growing rather tired of your gawking."

A pair of blonde eyebrows stretched skyward. Pale skin pinked. "But, Father—"

"I said you could alert me when Professor Snape arrived." The man ran his thumb over the silver snakehead of his walking stick. He drew in a deep breath through his nose. "And you have done that."

"But, Father—"

Almost gently: "Go on."

Draco bit his lips together. He dragged his eyes over to the corner, pulling a sour, pinched face at its inhabitant, who, having just discovered his legs were stuck to the floor and his voice box was useless, was leaning the back of his head against the jagged wall. Occasionally letting it bang softly against the sharp stone.

The green eyes were no longer streaming; instead, they stared ahead blankly, blinking behind smudged spectacles at the white-haired boy who was more of a stranger than a cousin.

Draco's forehead slowly crumpled. Frown replaced pout.

"Draco."

A twitch of shoulders. A sigh. "Yes, Father." He loped toward the stairs.


The scent of wet grass and crushed ladybugs invaded Harry's nostrils before he noticed the blades poking between his fingers. The moist earth soaking into the knees of his jeans.

"You all right, Harry?"

He tried to answer Hermione but ended up coughing on a bit of saliva that had gotten sucked down the wrong way.

"I know," Hermione said, as if she could sense what he was thinking. "I'm still rather dizzy. I thought it might not even work."

Harry felt the warmth from her palm against the small of his back. He coughed once more as he pushed against the grass to stand. "'m a'right."

"Here, Harry…your glasses."

"Thanks." Harry blinked the forest trees into focus. He stuffed his soiled, damp hands into his pockets, waiting for his eyeballs to stop wobbling. "Where are we?"

Hermione bent down to tie her shoe. "As close to the castle as we can get." She straightened, brushing her hair back to rest on her shoulders. "Part of the Forbidden Forest lies outside of the grounds, so we were able to Apparate here."

"The Forbidden Forest," Harry muttered regretfully, trying to ignore the heat in his face. "Here we go again."

Hermione frowned at him. "What?"

"Ah," he shrugged. He scratched the top of his head. "Nothing. Which way?"

Hermione sighed as she pulled her wand from the waistband of her jeans. She balanced it on her palm, holding it chest-level. "Point me: Hogwarts." Her cheeks puffed out again in distress as she watched the wand pivot this way and that, eventually pointing towards her thumb.

"Wicked." A smile creased Harry's face.

"I can't believe I'm doing this."

"Doing what?"

"This." Hermione jabbed her wand into her waistband as if the stick had offended her. "Underage magic…"

"Oh." Harry jogged a few steps to catch up with her. "I can't believe it either, actually." They walked in silence for a moment. "Thanks, Hermione."

She gave him a side-glance. A slightly bucktoothed smile. She zipped up her jacket closer to her chin. "Should be just through these trees."

Their shoes crunched the forest floor.

"Look." Hermione pointed ahead. "There's the Whomping Willow. Can you see it?"

"Yeah. And the greenhouses."

"Yes, and…" Hermione came to a halt, holding on to Harry's sleeve as they stood in the orangey dinnertime sunlight that still remained. "Harry, who is that?"

Harry squinted at the thin man stalking towards the Whomping Willow, one hand keeping his cloak together at the throat as if it were October instead of August. "That's Professor Lupin. He's the new Defense Against the Dark Arts Teacher. He's really nice."

"He looks a bit unwell…"

"Yeah?" Harry shielded his eyes from the sun, squinting harder. "He…where'd he go? I don't see him."

"There. Behind the tree." Hermione fiddled with the zipper of her jacket, chewing on her bottom lip as she watched Professor Lupin's head peek out from one side of the trunk. And then the other. As though he were searching for something.

"Maybe he can help us. I'll bet he knows where Snape went." Harry began walking towards the Willow. "Or at least Professor Dumbledore." He cupped his hands around his lips preparing for a good shout.

"Oh, Harry, no!"

Harry dropped his hands, turning. "What? He really is nice, Hermione."

"But it's still summer. We're not supposed to be here." Hermione's teeth worried her lip some more.

"I basically live here."

"I know, but no one is supposed to Apparate without a license, even if you're of age—"

"No one even saw us…"

"—Adults are charged a fine, but we could be expelled, at the very least!"

"He won't care that we've Apparated," Harry argued lightly. "He probably won't even ask. He…"

A pause.

"He what?"

Harry smoothed the spiked hair at the back of his head, watching as the Willow's branches shivered once. And stilled. "He's gone."

"What do you mean he's gone?"

Harry's scalp tingled. He scratched at it some more. "Dunno."

Quick, grassy footsteps.

"Oy." Harry followed her. "Hold up."

Hermione's hair bobbed in impressive bounces against her shoulders until they reached the castle entrance. She steadied herself with a deep breath. "What's the password, Harry?"

"Password?"

"Yes," she clipped. "Don't you know it? I thought that's why you mentioned coming here."

"I…well…" Harry rubbed his knuckles against his forehead. "I'm not for certain."

"What do you mean? Didn't Snape give it to you? Don't you ever leave the castle alone?"

Her voice climbed a pitch with each question.

"Sure I do." Harry felt that slow, creeping heat returning to his cheeks. "It's just that Dumbledore has been changing the password every few days to heighten security, and Hagrid's been walking me back to the castle after I've come round his place, and…and the professors all use a spell to get in. Or something. Maybe."

Maybe.

Harry pressed his lips together.

"You mean this incantation?" Hermione drew her wand again. "For heaven's sake, Harry…" She gathered her hair to one side, cleared her throat. "Alohomora."

A tepid breeze blew through Harry's fringe.

Other than that, no clicks. No creaks. Silence.

It was Hermione's turn to blush. She tried the spell once more.

"Hm." Hermione took a step back from her failure, staring hard at the door as if she were trying to read its mind. "Well. Perhaps not."

Harry ducked his chin to hide the tiny grin trying to make itself known. "Dumbledore height—"

"—heightened security," she finished for him. "Yes. You've said that."

Hermione's shoulders were becoming so tense that it appeared as if she had left the coat hanger in her jacket.

She sat on the top step, looking off into the distance. Harry sat next to her.

"Look," he attempted to console her, "we can try another entrance. Maybe a window."

"Dumbledore's very thorough with protective spells. He isn't daft…"

"Well, you could always Apparate us to a place where we could use the Floo network."

"Absolutely not. No more Apparition."

"Why not?"

"It might be disastrous the second time," Hermione explained. "The first time, I didn't think, I just…did it. I didn't plan to, really, it's just that you were so…" She trailed off, resting her mouth against her palm as if the words spilling out might turn into vomit.

"Besides, Harry, we can't risk being seen." The words were muffled against her hand.

"How were you planning on getting back, then?"

Hermione let her hand drop. "I was going to use the Floo once we were inside. My parents had our flat connected last year in case of emergency."

"You're not worried about Filch seeing us?"

"Oh, you could make up something."

"I'm pants at telling lies."

Hermione didn't deny it.

After a small stretch of silence, Harry tried once more: "There's a possibility that we might not be seen if we Apparate…"

"No!"

"All right, all right," Harry said quickly, wanting to preserve the last bit of bravery leaking out of Hermione. "I know. You're right." He knuckle-rubbed his brows again, thinking.

"What about Hagrid?" Hermione suggested.

Harry strained his eyes toward Hagrid's hut. "There's no smoke coming from the chimney. I don't think he's home. He might've already left for Romania. He helps Ron's brother Charlie sometimes. Besides, if he were here, we'd have to tell him how we got here. And he's been nagging me more about curfew than he ever did before…probably so that Snape lays off a bit. It was a good thought, though."

Hermione straightened her back, frowned a bit. Tilted her head. Opened her mouth to launch forth the next suggestion.

And then, just like that, Harry had it.

"Dobby."

"Sorry?"

"Dobby," Harry said again. "He came to me last summer when I was still living with my aunt and uncle. He came to warn me about the Chamber of Secrets. Remember?"

"Yes, I suppose so, but—"

"He promised to look out for me…help me if I needed it, but he stopped coming round after Snape stepped in," Harry explained.

Hermione tucked her arms underneath her legs, hunching up her shoulders as she eyed Harry thoughtfully. "But how can he help? He's a house-elf. He can't just travel as he pleases, can he?"

"He did last summer."

"But how will you summon him?" Hermione asked. "He belongs to the Malfoys."

"Dunno," Harry said truthfully. "Worth a try, though."

He stood, brushing bits of grass and dirt from his seat. Feeling a bit stupid, he stole a quick glance down at Hermione. But she only pressed the heels of her hands into the concrete on either side of her as she blinked up at Harry, waiting.

"Right." Harry cleared his throat. "Dobby?" he spoke into the air. "It's Harry Potter. Will you come to me?"

Almost immediately, a bang.

A greenish gray blur flew towards Harry, throwing both arms his waist. "Harry Potter is safe!"

"Oof!" Harry stumbled backwards, caught himself against the door. "Hi, Dobby."

Hermione eased herself off of the step. Her mouth hung slack.

"Oh, Dobby is so very happy, sir," the elf squeaked, his ears flopping. "Dobby thought Harry Potter to be gravely injured in the dungeon, but you has escaped!"

"Injured?"

"Dobby must not enter the dungeon until he is summoned, you see." Dobby loosened his hold on Harry, looking up at him with his damp saucer eyes.

"How is it you came to be here, then, Dobby?" Hermione asked. "How did you hear Harry's voice?"

"Dobby's master will punish Dobby terribly if he discovers Dobby is disobeying his orders, Miss." Here, the elf shivered, whined, and ran forehead-first into the building, collapsing onto the steps with a fleshy smack.

"Dobby, no!" Hermione screeched, two seconds too late. "Please, don't do that! Are you all right?"

Harry picked the elf off of the ground, holding his arms until he stopped wavering.

"Harry Potter is being protected by Professor Snape now," Dobby continued, ignoring the goose egg growing on his forehead. "But Dobby made a promise to always come to Harry Potter when you need him, sir, for Harry Potter is Dobby's true Master…"

A low groan. Dobby slapped his hands over his eyes before pulling his ears so hard that Harry thought he might rip them off.

At Hermione's cry, Harry knelt down and attempted to pry Dobby's fingers away from his ears.

"Oh, Harry, make him stop!"

Harry held the elf's hands between his own. "Dobby, stop that!"

Dobby obeyed, his shoulders drooping.

"Listen, don't get yourself in trouble for my sake, Dobby." Harry loosened his grip on Dobby's hands. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have called you."

"Dobby will not hurt himself anymore, Harry Potter." He shuffled toward the steps, plopping down when he reached the top. Hermione sat next to him, placing her hand on his knobby back. She peered up at Harry in distress.

He joined the two of them on the steps. "Where did you think I escaped from? Was I with Professor Snape?"

"You was, sir."

"Which dungeon?"

"The dungeon of Dobby's master."

"The Malfoys?" Harry piped up. His eyes locked with Hermione's over Dobby's head. "I'm—I mean…Sirius… Well, the person you thought was me is still in the Malfoys' dungeon? Dobby?"

"He must be, sir, for Apparition is impossible in the dungeon, unless Dobby is summoned. And Young Master Draco ordered Dobby to 'get lost' from the gardens." The elf's voice squeaked every so slyly. "So Dobby came to be with Harry Potter instead, you see."

"You can Apparate most anywhere, then?"

"Harry…"

Harry flicked his eyes toward Hermione, held up a forefinger.

"Dobby can, sir."

"Can you take me with you?" Harry continued, his spine straight as an arrow now. "Anywhere?"

The elf's voice trembled as he stood. "If Harry Potter wishes Dobby to transport him, Dobby will oblige."

"Harry." Hermione's voice cut into the fog wrapping around Harry's brain.

He blinked. "Yeah?"

She raised both eyebrows.

Harry read her mind.

But he was on to something.

Licking his lips, Harry squirmed on the step, cracking both sets of knuckles against his kneecaps. "Can you do something for me, Dobby?"

"Anything, sir."

"Brilliant." Harry returned Dobby's eager grin as he pushed himself off of the step. "I need to get into Hogwarts—Professor Snape's chambers. My invisibility cloak is in his wardrobe." He turned to Hermione. "We can both use the Floo. Snape keeps loads of Floo Powder on the mantel."

Dobby reached over, slipping his hand into Harry's.

Hermione's forehead wrinkled with worry.

Harry tossed her a pleading look.

Sighing, she stood, taking hold of Dobby's other hand.

Their second landing was somehow less jarring than the first, but it still took a few ticks for Harry's eyeballs to stop rolling in his head. Hermione opened the door to help their vision adjust. Blinking hard in the blue-gray gloom, Harry picked his focus point: the hall tree, where his autumn jacket still hung next to Snape's winter cloak. The dungeon chambers remained dim and chilly, even with the torchlight leaking in from the corridor. The fireplace was cold, littered with bits of small black logs and soot. But the jar on the mantel was nearly full to the brim with Floo Powder.

Snape's bedroom door was locked, as usual.

Wordlessly, Hermione used her wand to light a small fire in the hearth.

Harry slipped his wand from his jeans pocket. "I'll try the spell this time. Hermione, do you think—" He paused. "What is it, Dobby?"

The elf's eyes widened solemnly, reflecting the tiny flames jumping about in the hearth. "Dobby must leave, Sir."

"Wait!"

A crack split the air. Dobby was gone.

Hermione stood petrified in front of the growing fire. She stared at Harry, holding her breath. Neither of them said a word.

Swallowing hard, Harry moved toward the bedroom door.

"Alohomora." He lowered his wand. Tried the knob. "Damn."

Slowly, as if she were floating, Hermione walked backwards towards Snape's favorite leather chair. The cushion crinkled beneath her as she sat down on the edge. "Oh, God, Harry." She put her head in her hands. "What have I done…"

"It's not your fault."

"Yes, it is my fault," Hermione argued. "You couldn't have Apparated on your own."

Harry made a face. "I probably could have. I was learning, wasn't I? Maybe not as quickly as you—"

"Of course an unlocking charm would be useless," she barreled on, ignoring him. Her hands had found her forehead again. "We're talking about Snape, here…"

"Hermione, stop."

Her hands plummeted to droop between her knees as she turned to gape up at him. "What if Dobby's in trouble with the Malfoys?"

Harry's chin sank to his chest. His stomach burned with shame. "I know," he muttered. "I'm going after him."

"Don't be ridiculous; you don't have your invisibility cloak."

He stared at the locked bedroom door.

"We're not breaking the door down!"

Harry turned his head so that she wouldn't see him rolling his eyes. "How would I do that, exactly, without dislocating my shoulder?"

"Well," Hermione pressed on, "you're certainly not using the Floo without your cloak."

He crossed his arms over his chest.

"Harry, look at me."

As much as he didn't want to, he did.

"You're not," the girl enunciated carefully, "going anywhere without your invisibility cloak."

Harry hugged his elbows tighter.

"Oh, give me a break!" The leather chair groaned again as Hermione launched herself to her feet. "Someone will see you, Harry, and that's the last thing Professor Snape would want. He would be so disappointed."

"Can't be disappointed if he's dead, can he?"

"And how will your being there prevent that?" Hermione's breath quickened; her hair frizzed around cheeks that were looking ruddier by the second. "He's a highly-trained wizard. It's not your job to save him. He was trying to keep you safe by taking you to your aunt and uncle's."

Harry peeked up. "Then why did you take me here?"

It was Hermione's turn to hug her elbows.

"If you didn't think I could do anything to help him, then why take me here at all?"

She lifted a shoulder, fingers returning to her jacket zipper. "It's just…it seemed really important to you. You looked so upset. I've never seen you look like that, I suppose."

"I looked upset?"

The hint of a nod. "And not the way you always look after you and Snape argue or after you get in trouble. Really upset."

"Listen," Harry muttered, shifting his feet to ease the knot growing in his stomach, "I know it doesn't make any sense, but I have to make sure he's all right. I can't wait around anymore. And Sirius can't pretend to be me. He just…can't." Harry shook his head, swallowing around the tightness that had gripped his throat all of a sudden. "I shouldn't have dragged you into it."

"I suppose I could say I dragged you."

They shared a twitch of a smile.

"If the Ministry detected magic at Privet Drive from the Apparition, I'll tell them Snape gave me permission," Harry said. "I mean, he did actually give me permission."

"Did he?"

"Well, he told me to use magic on my uncle if I had reason to."

Hermione's nose scrunched up. "This is different. If you go through with this, Snape's going to be so cross with you, Harry, and you know it."

Harry rubbed the back of his neck. "If he sees me…"

"How could he not?"

Harry nudged his trainer against the rug.

A swift intake of breath. "Oy! I know!" He darted to his dormitory. Throwing the door open, he ran to his four-poster bed, hopping onto his pillows to reach the bookshelf overhead. His entire collection spilled onto his mattress as he pulled out the only one he needed: Defensive Spells: Volume Two.

Harry darted back through the common room, away from his rumpled sheets and the tiny mountain of books acting as a second pillow. By the time he reached Hermione, he had nearly flipped to the right page.

"Here," Harry sputtered. The pages flapped against one another as he held the open book under her nose. "That one. Can you do that spell?"

Hermione's fingertip slid down the paragraph. A tight shake of her head. "Harry, that's not the same thing as invisibility. You'll only be camouflaged. A person can still detect movement if they look closely."

"Snape used it on me when we were in Ireland. No one saw me!"

"Did you have to move at all?"

"I…no. I was sitting against a wall. But—"

"I'm not Professor Snape, Harry."

The book slapped against Harry's thigh as his shoulders drooped in frustration. He kept his thumb pressed against the page. "So, what?"

"So…" Hermione huffed. "He's loads better than I am at spells. He probably utilized an advanced version of—"

"Hermione."

She tossed her hair back. "—What?"

Harry waited until she stopped scowling at him.

Hermione closed her eyes, forced herself into a state of calm. "What, Harry?"

He wetted his lips. "Please, don't be mad at me, but I'm going with or without the Disillusionment Charm. I have to."

Holding her hair away from her face again, Hermione looked at him; her shoulders deflated with a long, noiseless sigh. "I know you are. Give me the book."

TBC…


A/N: Forgive me for the cliffhanger. I'm halfway through the next chapter, so hopefully that's a bit of consolation :) I never feel like I convey my appreciation as much as I should for all of the reviews and the encouraging messages, so please know that I read and appreciate every one. They keep me fueled. Thank you! Next chapter will be up within the week.