"Messy lot, these brats," he grumbled to himself as he wiped a ragged cloth over a particularly stubborn spot on a wooden classroom door. Suddenly, Mrs. Norris started meowing softly, and Filch turned his attention away to see a slight figure walking down the hall.
A student? Out of bed? At this late hour? Filch thought as he peered down the dark hall, trying to make out the figure as it came closer to him. Gearing up for a long and feisty lecture, Flich stomped down the corridor toward the figure muttering under his breath about how they ought to be stricter toward students as they had in the old days, and that would stop this monkey business. However, a closer look told him it wasn't a student wandering the halls after all. The golden ringlets. The familiar white night robe and gray cloak.
It was Professor Deveroux. Again.
Filch shook his head sadly as he watched Deveroux draw nearer. For six nights straight, he had seen her wandering the halls like this. She had become pale, too pale, since Snape's disappearance a week ago, and dark circles were forming under the Defense teacher's eyes. She seemed only to exist through the day now, choking down meals without much interest, dragging herself through her classes. Everything she had once enjoyed with gusto, she now just seemed to pass through bleakly. And at night she meandered through the corridors of Hogwarts like a mournful ghost.
Speaking of ghosts ... Filch saw Sir Nick, the Grey Lady and the Fat Friar floating down the hall, just behind Deveroux. They paused when they saw the Defense teacher gliding slowly down the dim corridor. They exchanged looks, and Sir Nick clucked his tongue sadly. The three ghosts shook their heads in pity at the sight of the professor and floated away.
Mrs. Norris trotted up to Deveroux and meowed again. Deveroux seemed to momentarily wake from her trance, and she stooped down to pet the dust-colored cat with lamp-orange eyes, who purred softly in response.
"Evening, Mrs. Norris," she murmured as the cat fixed its gaze onto the face of the elf. She looked up and saw Filch standing there watching her. Was that pity she saw on the crusty old man's face?
"Good evening, Mr. Filch," Deveroux greeted politely. She was never sure what to make of the cantankerous caretaker who struck fear into the hearts of many of the first-year students at Hogwarts with his surly temper. Even at a school filled with eccentrics and many strange things, Filch was unusual ... a Squib amongst magic users. She had figured out a while ago that Filch was a Squib. He always cleaned by hand when a spell would have taken a fraction of the time, and she never, ever saw him use a wand.
"Evenin', perfesser," Filch replied. "Yer out late. You've become quite the night owl I've noticed."
Deveroux gave a slight smile. Not much got past Filch! "I'm having problems sleeping," she said flatly.
"So I've gathered. Yeh could ask...er...never mind..." Filch said, then stopped and shifted uncomfortably. He had been about to say that she could ask Snape for a sleeping draught. It was still so hard sometimes to get used to the antipathetic Potions master's absence! The caretaker cleared his throat, and tried to think of something kind to say, but what?
He had a sudden inspiration.
"Here perfessor," Filch said kindly, offering the elf his whiskey flask. "Do yeh want a nip? It usually makes me feel better, and enough o’ this stuff will make yeh sleep like a baby fer a whole day."
Deveroux tried not to make a face. She didn't take the flask.
"Thank you, but no," she replied, trying to keep her composure. "Hard liquor never agreed with me."
Filch caught her expression and grinned sheepishly. "Sorry, I shoulda thought a lady like yerself wouldn't cotton too much teh whiskey. That's fer old geezers like me, with no upbringin'. How 'bout some hot cocoa in the kitchens, then? I'm sure some of the house elves are still up. Even if they ain't, I can make some, iffin ya like."
Deveroux's eyebrows shot up in surprise. Filch was offering to make her hot cocoa?
"That's very sweet of you," Deveroux replied, her eyes twinkling, just a little, for the first time in many days. "I'll take you up on that, and thank you."
"Ehh, no trouble, miss," Filch said. "Just keep it quiet from the students. I have me reputation to uphold, yeh know."
They both walked slowly through the Great Hall to the kitchen.
"Fact is, ma'am, I've been havin' trouble sleepin' meself," Filch said. "An' I jest bet it’s for the same reason you are. You miss Snape, don't ya?"
Deveroux's jaw tightened and she looked away from the caretaker as they approached a hallway with several pictures of food. Filch noted her reaction.
"But yer mad at 'im," Filch continued. His suspicion was confirmed by the dark scowl he saw on the elf's face. "Somthin' happened, didn't it? You two fer a while there, were the strangest pair of lovebirds I'd ever clapped eyes on."
"What?!" the elf exclaimed. "Now you wait just a minute, Mr. Filch!" Aurellia snapped angrily, stopping in the middle of the hallway and pinning the caretaker with an outraged glare. "I was hired by Professor Dumbledore to be his Watcher. I failed. That's it. End of story."
Filch stopped, winced at the elf's tone, and then looked apologetic. "Sorry, miss, my mistake. I thought that...er, never mind," he said with a shrug. "I guess I jest think to meself too much fer me own good sometimes. But yeh gotta admit, yeh've been actin' funny ever since 'e left. One minute ya go around looking as if yer gonna bust crying, then the next moment, yer lookin' ready ta hurt someone."
Deveroux's frown deepened. "Just when you think you've gotten to know someone, then something unexpected happens, and you find out you didn't know him at all. To tell you the truth, Mr. Filch, I wish I had never come to Hogwarts."
Filch looked thoughtful for a moment before going to an enormous painting of a bowl of fruit. Filch reached over and tickled the pear in the painting, which wiggled and started chuckling. A green doorknob appeared from the pear, which Filch grasped and twisted.
They entered the kitchen and found it empty. Filch shrugged as he heated some water over the fireplace for the hot cocoa. The house-elves were indeed asleep, so he busied himself with making the beverages.
"Sounds rather strange, comin' from you," Filch said as he regarded the elf. He went to a cupboard on the other side of the fireplace and pulled down two goblets. "I reckoned you knew 'im better than anyone else here ... maybe even better then Dumbledore. Even better than me, and we was good friends ever since he started teaching here." Deveroux seemed lost in thought as Filch took the two goblets and placed them on a table next to her.
"He was a secretive man, that Snape," Filch continued. "Never talked much about his past, but I knowed he seen some pretty bad things in his time. Never talked about them, kept everything bottled up tighter than them potions bottles of his."
Deveroux laughed bitterly. "That," she said, "is an understatement, the size of which you can't begin to imagine."
Filch, meanwhile, was searching the cupboards for the cocoa powder. "Drat! These house-elves have things organized so no one else can find anythin'," he muttered. Then he paused, with one of the cupboards halfway opened, as he thought of what he had just said. House-elves. Elves. Deveroux, he knew from the aftermath of the duel, was a High elf. And he knew something about Snape's past with the destruction of the elf villages, because Filch had been there the night Snape came running back to Hogwarts to talk to Dumbledore about what he had witnessed.
He stared at the back of Deveroux's head for a few moments, thinking.
"Yeh found out somethin' about Snape, didn't yeh?" Filch finally asked, quietly. "Was it about the destruction of the elf villages?"
Deveroux whirled around and faced Filch, shocked, and a bit angry. "How did you know ...?"
Filch held up a hand in defense. "I don't know a lot about it, ma'am, but I was there that night he came to Hogwarts wit' the news. I was in Dumbledore's office when Snape told us what he saw. He never told his personal involvement ... I think Dumbledore was tryin' to spare 'im that agony, and I don't blame the 'eadmaster, the poor kid. Snape was 'bout clean out of his wits that night. I only seen him that upset two other times.
"Once was around the time I heard the news about the hit on the Potters. While everyone else was celebratin' and rejoicin' that You-Know-Who had finally been beaten, he holed hisself up in that dungeon o' his and didn't come out for a week, and when he did, he was real quiet and distant, and 'is eyes wasn't ever quite the same after that.
"The second time ya might be a little more familiar with, yerself. It was right after that duel, when he thought he'd killed yeh."
"I don't care, Filch. He killed my baby brother," Deveroux whispered, tears forming in her eyes. "He helped burn down my village, killed my people."
"Your brother?" Filch asked, and he clucked his tongue in sympathy. "Blimey! What awful luck ... fer yeh both! He never said nothin' about what he did that night, but I could tell, it busted him up somethin' awful. When he started spying for Dumbledore, against You-Know-Who, Snape did some pretty reckless, fool-headed things. Almost as if he were tired a livin'. It's amazin' he lived to his 21rst birthday, some of the stunts he pulled. But the information he was able to get was pretty important. Dumbledore wasn't exaggeratin' when he said Snape was responsible for saving a lot of lives. Did you know he was the one who told Dumbledore that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named was after the Potters? If it weren't for that rat Pettigrew, Snape would have saved two more lives."
Deveroux listened to Filch wordlessly, her mind reluctantly turning over what he had just said.
"Aha!" Filch cried out from towards the back of the kitchen. "Found it!" And he held up the can of Mrs. Winset's Creamy, Dreamy Cocoa powder.
Deveroux couldn't help a small chuckle at Filch's almost boyish glee over his find. "Great. I think the water's about done."
Filch walked back over to the table and started measuring the cocoa into the two goblets.
"You know, I'll never fergit that night, as long as I live," Filch said, reminiscing. "That night Snape came back to Hogwarts, I mean. He was jest a kid, 'bout 18 at the time, jest graduated the summer before. Snape was runnin' with a rough crowd, includin' that Malfoy and his filthy rich family and that gang of Death Eaters what graduated a couple years 'fore 'im. And of course, there was Him. But even then, we had no idea how dangerous the Death Eaters were, how dangerous You-Know-Who was, 'til Snape made that trip on foot in the dead of night through the dark forests and told Dumbledore everything. Snape hadn't got his license for Apparatin' and Disapparatin’ yet, and he weren't fond of flyin' ...an' he must 've journeyed at least five hours to get to the school, in the middle of November, with a dusting of snow on the ground and the temperature below freezing. I reckon it woulda taken longer than that, 'cept Snape always had an uncanny sense o' direction. Somethin' to do with the sun he tells...er...told me..."
"What happened that night, Mr. Filch?" Aurellia interrupted softly.
Filch scowled and scratched his stubbly chin as he thought back. "I was between patrols at the time, catchin' up on a couple discipline reports for a couple of Gryffindors that liked teh think they was gonna be the next batch 'o 'Marauders'. Well, I heard this pounding on my office door, loud enough to wake the dead, at about two in the mornin'. I opened the door to see Hagrid standin' there with Snape, who was lookin' paler than usual, like 'e just lived through 'is worst nightmare. Hagrid tol' me Snape needed teh see Dumbledore immediately. The kid never said a word, just stood there shakin', and not entirely 'cause of the cold, I reckon. So I took 'im inside and brought him to the headmaster's office, then went off teh find Dumbledore. It took a few minutes ... he was asleep o' course, at that time. But I woke 'im, and we both went up to 'is office. Snape set there like a statue, his arms wrapped around hisself, like he was trying to keep somethin' at bay. Memories, per'aps. Dumbledore conjured a goblet of hot butterbeer for 'im, and Snape drank it in one gulp. Heh, a bit surprising that were, considerin' 'is usual appetite. Yeh know all 'bout that by now, I reckon...?"
"Yes, Mr. Filch," Aurellia replied with a touch of irritation, "I know about that. Please continue."
"Well anyway, Snape said he jest seen the Death Eaters destroy an elf village. Dumbledore seemed shaken by that ... I found out later he jest talked to one o' their leaders about an alliance, not long 'fore that. They were supposed to 'ave a meetin' ... but that meetin' never happened. You-Know-Who beat 'im to it.
"Dumbledore and Snape decided that the boy would return to the Death Eaters ... as a spy. Snape jumped at the chance ... 'e seemed to take the destruction of the elves pretty personal. Yeah, they were destroyed, all of 'em, 'cept yourself of course. It was 'orrible, but I got to think that whether or not Snape was involved, it probably woulda happened no matter what. You-Know-Who had a way of gettin' whatever he wanted, and he wanted the elves out of his way pretty bad from what Dumbledore said.
"S'why the elves were wantin' to meet wit’ Dumbledore in the first place. They were scared. Centaurs told 'em the planets were forecastin' the end o' the world. 'Course the Centaurs say that about as often as Trelawney says a student's gonna die 'orribly and tragically, an' it ain't 'appened yet. Well, there was that Diggory lad, but Trelawney never said nothin' about him till after it happened, then let on like she'd known it all along.
"But ya know, Snape turned against You-Know-Who that night, and saved hundreds of others by helpin' us. Maybe even changed the course o' the stars and planets if ya buy a single word of Centaur rubbish, heh heh … Miss Deveroux? Say, are you all right, miss?"
Deveroux gazed at Filch, her eyes glistening with tears. "I had no idea ..." she whispered. "I never considered how young he was. I had no idea how much he risked, never stopped to consider what he went through. I was seeing only my loss, my pain, and I was too blinded by anger to even give him a chance to explain..." She curled her arms on the wooden table and begin to sob uncontrollably into the fabric of her night robe.
Filch nearly burned himself with the hot water as he watched Deveroux's sudden flow of emotion. Crikey! Now what do I do? he thought. He quickly finished pouring the hot water and went over to the crying elf.
"'Ere's ... your cocoa, miss," Filch declared, not sure what to say next. He slowly reached out and put a gnarled hand on Deveroux's arm. The elf's sobs quieted, and she looked up at Filch.
"Why is it, Mr. Filch," she asked bitterly, "that when he needed me the most ... I abandoned him? He even told told me once that he was afraid I would turn him away if I found out about his past, and I did. Coldly, and without a second thought for what would happen to him."
"I think ... I think yer bein' too hard on yerself, perfesser," Filch said. "'Ere, drink your cocoa ... it won't take the pain away, but it'll help quiet yeh a bit. Help yeh sleep tonight. It ain't called 'Creamy, Dreamy Cocoa Powder' fer nothin'. It's the next best thing to this," and he held up his flask.
Deveroux smiled slightly took the goblet and sipped. The sweet, hot liquid did seem to ease her pain a bit. She drained the glass in a matter of minutes.
"Thank you, Mr. Filch," she said, wiping the last of her tears away with her sleeve. "I appreciate the cocoa ... and the ear."
"It's nothin', miss," Filch said, blushing a bit. "And I think I did all the talkin'."
"And I'm glad. I never knew ...." her voice trailed off. "Anyway, I promise not to tell the students that you've got a soft spot for damsels in distress if you promise not to worry Dumbledore or Madam Pomfrey by telling them about my insomnia. Deal?"
"Deal," Filch said, grinning bashfully. "Do yeh ... want me to walk back with yeh?"
Deveroux looked at him thoughtfully for a moment, then nodded. "I would appreciate the company. Thank you."
They both left the kitchen silently and didn't say another word as they walked to the teacher's wing. Each was lost in their own thoughts and memories, and comforted by the fact that the other commiserated with the loss of their mutual friend. Deveroux murmured a "good night," before going into her room. Filch stood at the door a moment, then turned and left.
When Filch got back to the main hallway, he was startled by Sir Nick, who floated out from the walls right in front of him.
"Don't surprise me like that," Filch groused.
"Sorry, old boy. Is ... is she going to be okay, do you think?" Sir Nick asked.
Filch shrugged, his expression sad. "I guess she will be. As okay as possible, considerin' the circumstances." After a moment he added, "And by the way thanks for askin' about me!"
Nick put on a defensive and insulted look and said, "I was just getting to that."
"Sure yeh were, Nick," Filch grumped as he stomped off down the hallway looking for Mrs. Norris. "Sure yeh were."
Dumbledore walked slowly, tiredly back into his office. He had had a very long day in trying to talk to Aurellia, who sadly seemed to be turning increasingly withdrawn every day, and in defending Igor from sharp criticism by certain skeptical members of his staff who wanted him chained up and sent off on the next ship to Azkaban. He sighed wearily, thinking back to a time not so very long ago, when the worst his day had to offer was a scathing owl from Fudge or Mr. Malfoy, or a disagreement with Snape over 'that infernal Potter brat', or Sirius Black, or Aurellia Deveroux, or the management of Hogwarts, or... well, whatever the latest complaint was. Alas, he had a feeling that things were only going to get more difficult from now on. He hoped there were no messages or owls waiting for him.
His wish was in vain. The second he walked past his fireplace, a fire parchment note popped out of the flames. The purple sparks meant the note had been been sent some time ago and was waiting for his return. Sighing, he extended a hand to catch the note and scanned the surface of the paper. The headmaster's eyes widened in alarm as he read each sentence.
"A- we know where the Phoenix is. The Boar told us. We will open the cage tonight. If we fail, my family will have to leave the country immediately. We are watched too closely as it is."
The letter was signed only with the symbol of crossed swords. Jerald Krum's sign.
"By Merlin and Cliodne and all those before us," Dumbledore whispered in horror.
The fatigue vanished instantly from Dumbledore. He grabbed a handful of Floo powder, tossed it into the flame and shouted "Crossed swords!"
"Jerald! Are you still there?" the headmaster called out sharply.
Silence. Dumbledore muttered "Ignis Loqui," stepped into his fireplace, and knelt down.
"Jerald?" Dumbledore repeated. He looked around the room that Jerald used to communicate with Dumbledore, which may or may not have been a room in the Bulgarian's house.
But whether this was the Krum house or not, Dumbledore did not like what he saw. The room was silent, empty, apparently abandoned. No pictures, no candles, no rugs, no tapestries adorned the room now. It had apparently been looted. What large furniture remained was overturned, magic-scarred, broken... and all of the cupboards and drawers were broken, scattered, or left hanging wide open. The family was gone.
Dumbledore hoped that the family had vacated the house before the attack...but in his heart he doubted it highly. Jerald Krum did not strike him as the sort of man who would abandon his home to invaders without a fight.
First Severus, then Adlar, then Moody, now this. Dumbledore retreated from the fireplace and buried his head in his hands. The elderly wizard was already growing weary of losing people...and the war had only just begun.
“Headmaster, I … Albus, what is it?” McGonagall asked through the entry of the open door as she looked at the headmaster’s defeated posture. She walked into the room, concern written in every line of her face.
Dumbledore looked up and silently handed the note to McGonagall, who read it.
“Oh dear god…” she breathed. “When…?”
“Just now,” Dumbledore whispered. “They are gone. I tried to contact Jerald. But they were already gone. But I saw the sparks when I sent the warning about Adlar, so I know he or someone he trusted…” Dumbledore paled. “Unless he was betrayed by one of his own.” He drew in a shuddering breath.
“How many were authorized to pick up his correspondence?” McGonagall asked sharply.
“Too many,” Dumbledore said. “At least eight. I did tell him early on to limit it to one or two of his closest allies, but Jerald insisted everyone he confided in was trustworthy. I fear now that trust was misplaced in one of them.” He put his hand to his forehead and sighed.
“Don’t blame yourself,” McGonagall said sternly. “Jerald is smart, he probably suspected a trap. There’s a chance….” Dumbledore looked at the deputy headmistress, and she looked away.
“Perhaps we should send someone, Hyran or Cobb and a few others,” McGonagall said. “If there’s the faintest hope of rescue….”
“No,” Dumbledore said quietly.
McGonagall looked at him in shock.
“We can’t risk it,” he said sadly. “As much as I … but we don’t know enough. We don’t even know where they are, other than somewhere in Bulgaria. We aren’t strong enough either, not if it’s a trap, and I’m certain it is. Voldemort will be expecting a rescue attempt, he’s counting on it. The risk is too great, and the chance of success near zero. We … we can’t do it.”
McGonagall stared at the headmaster, who was trembling.
“You are right Albus,” McGonagall said. “You are right, it would be a suicide mission for whomever went.” The headmaster put his head back in his hands. “It’s the right decision, Albus!”
Dumbledore looked up and stared straight ahead. “No, Minerva, you are wrong. I’ve made the necessary decision. Because I’ve missed so many opportunities to make the right choice.”
Harry sat before the fireplace in the Gryffindor common room, the tersely-written note from his godfather clenched in his hand: "Prongs II - 1 a.m., Gryffindor common room. Be there. We need to talk!" It was signed with a pawprint.
He had received it earlier that day, in an envelope, from McGonagall. From McGonagall's expression and the tone of the letter, Harry had an inkling about why Sirius had wanted to talk to him, and that the conversation was not going to be a pleasant chat.
"Harry?" the teen heard from the fireplace. "Is it clear?"
"Yeah," Harry replied. "There's only me."
Harry saw Sirius' head and shoulders emerge within the flames, and he couldn't help a small shudder. One look at his godfather's face told Harry everything he needed to know: Sirius was furious with him.
"Harry, I know what happened with Snape," Sirius began abruptly, his voice an angry growl. "Dumbledore told me everything...after a little prodding. By Merlin, Harry, what were you thinking?"
Harry closed his eyes. "I ... we all... thought that he was a traitor. I overheard him talking to Filch on the stairs one night. I thought that he was talking about working for Voldemort! And then there was the duel with Deveroux. We thought he deliberately tried to kill her. And then we saw him meeting with Lucius Malfoy in the Dark Forest. We were so sure that he'd gone back to Voldemort. Even Hermione was convinced! But we made a mistake. We didn't know he was only spying. I guess we screwed up royally."
"You have no idea how badly you've screwed up," Sirius said darkly. "Why didn't you talk to me about your suspicions? I would have leveled with you! I've been working with Snape since the summer, following him to Voldemort's meetings -- as close as I dared -- and keeping an eye open and a wand ready in case things went badly. I can see how you might have gotten the wrong impression, and I wish Dumbledore had allowed me tell you sooner about the work we were doing this summer. But I assure you, he was working for us, and at incredible personal risk, as I'm sure you now realize. I don't like Snape, never have and never will. But he was loyal to Dumbledore's cause and his ambition was to bring down the Dark Lord before he died. Now that Voldemort has him, though, I doubt he'll live to see his ambition fulfilled..."
"Voldemort did capture him? That's for certain? He didn't die in that fight?" Harry said.
"We have received a note from Jerald Krum confirming that the Death Eaters had captured him, and that he was still alive, as of last week," Sirius said.
"Jerald Krum? Is he related to ...?"
"Yes, Viktor Krum's father," Sirius said with an impatient wave of his hand. "But that's not the important thing. Voldemort has Snape, and knows he's a traitor, and we can't rescue him because we have no idea where he is right now...."
"And Voldemort will kill him," Harry said bleakly.
"If Snape is lucky, Voldemort will kill him," Sirius said harshly. "And if we are lucky... but I doubt it."
Harry stared at his godfather in surprise. "You doubt we will get ... but I thought...?"
"I don't like him, but that's not why I wish him dead," Sirius said. "Snape knows a lot about the Order, about the school. He was also one of our main liaisons for our international network."
"International network? Snape? A liason?" Harry said in disbelief.
"Well it wasn't because of his diplomatic skills," Sirius admitted, and he gave a barklike laugh that made the flames around him flicker. "But he was smart, cagey; he knew how to avoid trouble, when to call off a meeting, how to lie his way out of a tight spot. He knew a lot of people abroad and overseas, some of whom used to work for Voldemort... and Grindelwald before him. And he had at least a working knowledge of just about every major language you can think of. He knew people; he knew plans; he knew territories. If Voldemort finds out even half of what Snape knows, the Alliance of Light and the Order of the Phoenix will be sorely compromised."
"But Snape won't talk, if he's as loyal as ..." Harry started to say. Then his eyes grew round with sudden realization. "Veritaserum," he croaked out.
Sirius snorted and laughed bitterly. "Huh! Veritaserum for sure...if not worse. Depends on whether the Dark Lord needs Snape mentally intact."
"There's worse than Veritaserum?" Harry wondered in horror.
"Much worse. Falling back into Voldemort's hands was the worst thing that could have happened to him ... and to us. Harry, I cannot even begin to tell you how badly your actions may have compromised us.
"But that's not all. On a personal level, I am hurt and disappointed that you didn't share your suspicions with me before you acted, because I could have told you the truth, and saved us all a lot of grief. And because I thought that you would trust me enough to tell me about something like this instead of trying to handle it by yourself. Apparently, I have misjudged you."
Harry looked away, unable to meet his godfather's accusing gaze.
Sirius sighed. "Perhaps I would have told you more than it would have been good for you to know, but as opposed to this alternative... Well, it is no use dwelling on what might have happened. What's done is done."
"He didn't have to flee the school," Harry muttered bitterly. "Why did he leave?"
"Don't even think about blaming this on Snape!" Sirius chastised sharply. "Yes, what he did was irrational and foolish, and it would have been easier for us all if he had stayed put. But put yourself in his robes for a moment. If you had been drugged, then forced to confess your darkest secret, then someone you cared for found out you killed their brother and turned against you, how would you have reacted? You and your friends planned your scheme over a period of time. Snape reacted on impulse.
"And don't forget the effect your little mutiny has had on both the headmaster and Professor Deveroux."
Harry ran both hands through his already rumpled hair. He was glad it was dark so Sirius couldn't see how red his face was.
"I .. I don't know what to do," Harry whispered. "This wasn't supposed to happen."
"Well, there's nothing that can be done now," Sirius said. "The damage is done, and I suspect we haven't even begun to see the full ramifications. I ... I wish I could undo it for you ... I tried, but I didn't get to the Riddle mansion in time."
Harry stared at his godfather. "You ... you tried to save him?"
"But I thought you hated him?"
"Harry, when are you going to grow up and start understanding that there are more important things in life than grudge matches and getting even? Yes he's a greasy-haired git, and I dislike him, but he is important to the Order. That's why Alastor Moody and I went to the Riddle Mansion to see if we could rescue him. But we were too late. They set a trap for us, and I barely escaped. Moody wasn't so fortunate. They knocked him out and took him away."
"They got Moody too?" Harry queried in a low voice.
Sirius nodded. "And probably Jerald Krum...the same way. Dumbledore told me that the Bulgarian resistance attempted a rescue at one of the Death Eater camps in the Rila Mountains, based on information from a questionable source. We now think that this information was deliberately leaked to the resistance as a set-up, a trap, and we haven't heard anything from the Krums since."
"You mean...Voldemort used Snape as bait?" Harry started to feel nauseous.
"Almost certainly. Dumbledore tried to warn them, but we fear the warning came too late. Now listen, Harry, don't say anything about this. Not until we know for sure what happened to the Krums. Communication has been unreliable at best of late, and it would not be wise to worry anyone unnecessarily."
Harry was still trying to digest the news of Alastor Moody's capture and his godfather's narrow escape. He nodded mutely. "I understand," he said quietly.
"Harry, I have to go. By the way, don't try to contact me at the Deveroux house because I'm staying somewhere else now. I've been working a lot abroad as well, which is why I haven't been able to talk to you about this sooner."
"Where are you now?" Harry asked.
"Mundungus Fletcher's," Sirius replied. "But the Floos are being monitored more closely, and while Mundy hasn't attracted suspicion yet, well, you must understand ... we want to keep it that way."
"Sirius ... I'm sorry," Harry said suddenly.
Sirius gave a sad half-smile. "Harry, you can apologize to me all you want, but it isn't going to change things. And I'm not the one you should really be apologizing to. The only ones who can forgive you are Professors Deveroux and Snape. I have to go now ... I ...." his voice softened a little. "I'll be in touch as soon as I am able." With that, Sirius popped out of view.
Harry continued to stare into the fireplace, the full weight of Sirius' words sinking in.
How much worse can this get? he thought bleakly.
"I sent the messages as you ordered, my lord. I have since received word that they are all dead."
"Yesssss, I know. Excellent, my servant. You have done well."
Lord Voldemort and Adolpho Adlar were in what used to be the latter’s school office, and now was occupied by the former. The room consisted of two levels. The main part was dominated by an enormous mahogany desk piled with foolscap, books, papers, inkwells, quill holders and other items. Along two walls stood tall bookshelves filled with leather-bound tomes. The third wall had shelves filled with unusual – and some unpleasant-looking – items. The second level had three bookshelves along the walls, and an enormous, constantly-revolving globe in the center of the room. The globe hung suspended above a greenish light. There were two windows behind the large desk which went from floor to ceiling, and offered a clear view of the Balkan Mountains. In the second room on the far wall, there were two rooms that overlooked the student’s Great Room, where they took their meals and gathered to hear important announcements.
"The Bulgarian resistance is broken, my lord. And Durmstrang is, as always, yours to do with as you wish. The vampire hunters and the Silver Circle answer only to you. Only the French Conceil and Lady Ilantha's Conciliu Noapte stand between you and total domination of Europe."
"I will deal with them in time. They will not stand against me for long. It is Albus Dumbledore and his Order of the Phoenix which mosssssst concern me."
"I think that Hogwarts will fall before the French Academy and the vampire strongholds, even with Dumbledore's presence, my lord."
"Are you so sure of this Adolpho? No, I think you underestimate the resourcefulnesssss of my great enemy…."
"I have received letters, my lord. He is concerned about the integrity of the Ministry of Magic. He fears that Hogwarts may have to break from the Ministy, and that they will not be able to hold their own if that happens."
"He told you thissss?"
Adlar laughed malevolently. "No, my lord, I do not think he trusts me. But his most recent correspondence with Jerald Krum has left me with that distinct impression."
"Ah, yesssss, the fruits of breaking the Order's latest encryption enchantment... But did they not sussssspect your interference when their owls continually and mysteriously losssssst several weeks in transit between Scotland and the Balkans?"
"If so, my lord, there was no indication in the letters."
"And why would there be, you idiot?" Voldemort sneered. "Do you think that they would be so foolish as to tell you if they susssssspected anything?"
Thoroughly cowed, Adlar's shoulders sank, his chin lowered, and his smug expression vanished. The Dark Lord raised a spidery hand to his own chin, and his crimson eyes lost focus as he pondered the matter for several silent moments. At length he said, "Albussss is no fool. I would not trust anything you have read in those letters since the fall of the Black Phoenix. Perhapssss not even before then... I believe that Albus wishes to appear weak in order to draw Luciussssss Malfoy and myself out of the shadows and expose our true intentions. Igor will be able to confirm this in a few days, of coursssssse, but I do not believe that his confirmation will be necessary.”
“Igor, my lord? With all due respect, I don’t trust him, Master.”
“Then you are learning, Adolpho, for neither do I,” Voldemort responded with a cryptic smile. “But the White Ssssserpent will be there to remind him of my wishes.”
“White Serpent, my lord?”
“I know how Dumbledore and his people think,” Voldemort continued as if Adlar hadn’t spoken. “They are more prepared than they pretend. I will tell Luciusssss to accelerate his activities in England, and to order his spies to prepare to make their move ssssoon."
"Very soon I will give Albus Dumbledore exactly what he wantsssss. I will announce my presence to the world. Soon I will show him just how hopelesssss his position is as I continue to eliminate his allies and supporters, one by one."
"I will, of course, assist in any way possible, my lord. Your wish is my command."
"Hahaha...your attitude is commendable, Adolpho. Ssssee that it remains that way, and I shall reward you as I have promissssed. Now then, I have urgent matters in Romania to attend to, and I shall not return here for a week. You will tell Louissss and Carlotta that they are to give the Phoenix a tasssste of my terror in the meantime, but they are not to do him any permanent physical harm. I have plans for him."
"Very good, Lord Voldemort. I shall do as you command."
"And tell Mulciber that I want the Auror to be ready for the Kisssss when I return."
"Yes my lord."
"And one other thing..."
"Yes, your lordship?"
"Albussss does not send his people into danger without backup. The Phoenix may have allies among usssss. I want him kept under constant watch by those who have proven themselves loyal. I want him guarded by those who went to Azkaban for me. And Adolpho, I want you to keep your eyes and ears open for any news of a Ssssecond."
"A Second Phoenix, my lord? Do you really think there's another one among us?"
In a blur of motion, Voldemort reached out a spidery hand and clamped it around Adlar's jaw before the Durmstrang headmaster even thought to flinch. "Are you questioning my judgment, my sssservant?"
Adlar swallowed nervously. "No, my lord, of course not. I will carry out your orders as you wish. If there is another Black Phoenix I will find him...or her."
"Very good Adolpho, you are dismisssssed." With that, Voldemort released his prey and studied his reaction. He was pleased to note that Adlar did not reach up a hand to soothe his bruised jaw like so many others had.
"Yes my lord. Zielah Fi'ar!" Adlar departed confidently with his chin in the air.
With a sinister, serpentine smile, Voldemort watched the Durmstrang headmaster leave. No hint of simpering cowardice, or simmering malcontent, or thinly veiled ambition about this one, he noted.
Excellent...his full power had returned to him, as it had been in the old days. Indeed, the Dark Lord felt stronger than ever.
Adlar was only one of thousands.
Three nights after her conversation with Filch, Aurellia Deveroux found herself in the planetarium again, compliments of yet another night of guilt-ridden dreams and restlessness. Again the stars were slightly out of place, as they had been on the night when her sleepwalking first began. Weary to the bone from nearly two nightmarish weeks of grief and lack of sleep, Aurellia irritably waved her wand and shoved all of the chairs to one side of the room so that she could lie flat on her back and stare up at the artificial cosmos.
I can't sleep a wink in my room anymore, she thought blearily, it's too cold to go outside, and tomorrow there are no classes. Might as well stay here and "stargaze" until my brain implodes from lack of sleep.
She slipped off her cloak and lay down on it, her face toward the stars and her thoughts drifting back to the past. To the first day she had come into the planetarium.
I wonder who put all of those enchantments on this room on Valentine's Day, she thought idly. That secret admirer reminds me of a couple of the "Romeos" I dated at Akron U. All cards and flowers and romance... until they found out they weren't going to get what they were after. Then it was always, "So long, sister."
But the mysterious admirer was different, she realized. Shy? No... not exactly. Hiding something. Or afraid of something. Or maybe both.
She thought back to an afternoon that was only a little over a month in the past, yet it seemed like a lifetime ago.
"Slytherin! I might have known."
This was a mistake. I should have known...
"Who are you? What should you have known?"
That you would only see the serpent.
Slytherin, she thought, or else he had lied about his house. But she had not sensed dishonesty when the serpent had appeared in the sky.
Slytherin. The Quidditch game. Suddenly Aurellia sat up, raised a hand to her lips, chewed on her index finger. She was on to something... what was it?
"Have you forgotten that I am Head of Slytherin House, you bauble-headed twit?"
"Why else would the Slytherin Head of House come to a Quidditch game that his house team isn't involved in?"
"From where I was sitting I could see quite plainly that he meant to touch you ... but I think that he was afraid of your reaction...You haven't exactly given him reason not to think that you would react by breaking his wand over his head."
"Oh my god," Aurellia whispered, stuffing the side of her hand into her mouth to stifle a sob. I was convinced that it was a student. I was so busy studying the house tables that it never even occurred to me to look beside me.
"She said that I would die for love."
"I am a fool."
"It was you," she whispered, running her hand through her hair as her eyes filled with tears. You tested me the same way you tested everyone, and I failed, just like everyone else in your life.
You waited for me to figure it out, and I never did. Until it was too late.
"Best of all I used to like the starlight..."
You tried so hard to impress me. The mystery, the stars, the Sonoroball with the strange music, the rose petals, the lilac. It was all so weird, so awkward, so you. I should have known. Who else would have the audacity to play at directing the very stars in the sky... and all to write my name across it?
It was you.
How could I have been so blind?
"He's afraid of what you'll do if he ever tells you about how he really feels about you."
You tried to show me what you could never tell me. You were afraid of my reaction, and rightly so. I sure didn't give you any reason to think that I would ever have returned your love. I must have disappointed you bitterly when I refused to appreciate your gift, when I failed to guess that it was from you.
If only you had come out of the shadows that day. If only you had told me.
"I hate you!"
But you did, didn't you? You did tell me. I just didn't understand your language.
Maybe I wasn't trying.
Maybe I was afraid, too.
A hand touched Aurellia on her shoulder, jolting her awake from the fog of an unsettling, half-remembered dream. The elf blinked sleepily and surveyed the planetarium, a bit disoriented. What on earth was she doing in here?
Then she remembered and closed her eyes again against the pain of the memory....
Enjoy the flowers, the stars, the night, the mystery. They are my gift to you. Take what I can give you, and do not demand what I cannot.
"Professor?" a low, feminine voice called.
Aurellia looked up again to see a tall, slim witch with raven black hair, bronzed skin and deep hazel eyes gazing down on her.
"Professor? Are you all right?"
The elf smiled wearily. "Oh! Professor Sinistra, I'm sorry, I was...I was stargazing last night. I didn't intend to fall asleep in your planetarium. I'll leave now...."
It was then Aurellia noticed the first feeble light of the fast-approaching dawn filtering through the opened door from a window across the hall, which faced east.
Sinistra took in the elf's puffy eyes, her downcast demeanor, and wondered if the Defense teacher had been doing more crying than stargazing last night. The astronomy teacher had not been close to the missing Potions professor, although they had often chatted amicably about politics and their respective fields of expertise. Snape's sudden disappearance saddened and worried her as it had everyone, but she had heard that Professor Deveroux was taking it especially hard. "It's six in the morning," she said softly. "Have you been here all night?"
Aurellia nodded mutely. Not knowing what to say next, Sinistra turned away and studied the constellations in the planetarium's simulated early morning sky.
"That's strange..." Sinistra murmured with a puzzled frown on her face. "Miss Deveroux, have you moved the Starlux globe?"
Aurellia shook her head. "No. The stars were like this when I came in last night," she said. "And it wasn't Peeves, because I would certainly have heard him if he had been in here."
The astronomy teacher nodded. Wherever Peeves spread his mayhem and destruction, he also liked to leave no doubt as to who the perpetrator was. Realigning the Starlux was too subtle to be the poltergeist's work. Peeves would simply have smashed it. "This is odd," Sinistra said. "My next class, second-year Ravenclaws, have been studying the March night sky over northern Great Britain and Scotland. I was planning to give them a quiz on locating the major stars and constellations Monday, and I was debating whether or not to put Mars and Venus on the quiz this year as well. But the stars are off by about fifteen degrees. This sky suggests a more southerly lattitude..."
"I thought the stars looked a little off last night," Aurellia murmured, and she laughed bitterly. Sinistra gave the elf a puzzled look but declined to comment. She did not know that Snape had borrowed the planetarium only a month ago in order to write messages to Deveroux in the stars.
"So, if I remember my astrology correctly...."
"Astronomy," Sinistra corrected mildly. "Astrology, the art of intuition and guesses, is Professor Trelawney's field." And here the usually straight-faced professor noticeably pursed her lips with disdain. "My field is astronomy, based on calculated fact and science."
"I apologize," Aurellia said. "Not quite awake yet." Even as depressed and cloudy-headed as she felt, Aurellia did find some amusement in a witch talking about something as ... Muggle ... as science. "As I was saying, if I remember my astronomy, you can tell exactly where on earth you are standing by studying and calculating the position of the stars."
"Astronavigation," said Sinistra with a slight smile. "It has been known to wizards almost as long as the stars themselves."
"We would be able to see a sky like this from... southern Spain perhaps?" wondered Deveroux.
"Possibly Spain," Sinistra replied. "But without knowing the precise time of day, it's impossible to tell. This sky could be over Spain, or anywhere else in the world located about forty degrees north of the equator."
"Oh? Why is that?"
"You can calculate your present latitude from the position of the stars at practically any time of night, as long as you know the date," Sinistra said. "But as for longitude, you would need to know the time of day down to the hour and minute."
The wheels in Aurellia's mind started turning. "Where on earth would we be standing right now, seeing these stars if we assume that their position is current down to the hour, minute and second?"
"Well, first of all, it would be advisable to dim the sunlight," Sinistra remarked dryly, for the light of the rising sun had begun to overpower all but the brightest objects in the sky. Mars and Venus still shone brilliantly, while the gibbous moon discreetly kept its distance.
Sinistra walked briskly toward the Starlux globe, set upon its slender silver pillar in the center of the planetarium. Her wine and gold robes made soft swishing sounds on the cold stone floor as Aurellia yawned loudly and stretched, her shoulders popping.
"Brrr...." the Defense teacher murmured softly. "It's drafty and cold in here. I can't believe I fell asleep on the floor like that. Pity there isn't a fireplace in here."
"You must have been exhausted," the astronomy teacher remarked distractedly, shifting the golden outermost ring around the sparkling globe. The light in the planetarium immediately dimmed to full night as the simulated sun dipped back below the horizon and disappeared. The astronomy teacher then turned a knob below the globe on the side of the pillar and the Starlux globe hissed softly in response, its inner light changing momentarily from gold to scarlet. A red-hued grid spread across the sky from horizon to horizon while Sinistra studied several dials.
"I would say that we are either in the northeastern part of Greece or the Southern Balkans," Sinistra finally said. "Most likely the Balkans." Another touch and the grid shifted slightly. "Hmm...assuming that this sky is current, we are 23 degrees east of Greenwich, 42 degrees north of the equator. Definitely the Balkans, but I'm not sure whether we are in Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Serbia, or Bosnia. I need a map to be sure…."
"The Balkans?" Aurellia queried, no longer sleepy. A memory stirred ... a painting.... "You mean the Balkan mountains?"
"Possibly," Sinistra said with a thoughtful nod as she readjusted other dials. "That would be my assessment … yes, here we are. The southern part of the Balkans. Bulgaria, or perhaps southern Romania. What is this all about, Professor Deveroux?"
"Professor Sinistra," Aurellia said eagerly. "There is a painting in one of the hallways with a picture of the Balkan Mountains just before dawn with the stars aligned just like these. It's in a small alcove next to the Ancient Runes classroom."
Sinistra nodded. "Yes, I'm familiar with that painting, View of Rila Monastery At Dawn From the South. It is a very famous Reebikah Parrowen masterpiece, one of 12 of her paintings permanently on display in the school. Hogwarts boasts the largest collection of Parrowen's work in the entire world. The Ministry of Magic has the second largest collection of her landscapes, at 10. But Rila is probably her best-known work. You can see the Musala Peak featured prominently against the early morning sky; it's the tallest mountain in the Balkan Peninsula. But if you look closely, and there isn't a fog coming off the mountains, you can see the Rila Monastery. The monastery is a national treasure." Sinistra waved her wand around the perimeter of the room. “Activo. Show me Rila Monastery,” and suddenly Aurellia felt as if she had stepped right into the middle of the painting itself. It was 6 a.m. again, and the sky was beginning to pale with the pre-dawn light. Aurellia found herself surrounded by the Rila Mountains, and she could see in distance a cluster of three domes surrounded by a large, fort-like wall with several small windows and red peaked roofs around it. A well-maintained courtyard lay within the four walls, surrounding the inner building. This structure was nestled in a thick bed of tall fir trees. The Rila Monastery, she deduced. So Sinistra's planetarium was apparently used for geography lessons too. Interesting, Aurellia thought. She had been here nearly eight months, and she had never known about this.
"Isn't Durmstrang supposed to be somewhere in Bulgaria?" Aurellia asked. "Could we take a look at that next?"
"Unfortunately, no," Sinistra said as the illusion disappeared. "The Durmstrang Institute and its surroundings have been rendered unplottable, and are heavily shrouded in secrecy. We have no photos, paintings, or even sketches of it. All we have is a brief verbal description from the Bulgarian resistance, along with an approximate location, and unfortunately that is not enough. We cannot see it from here by any means."
But maybe I could send a fly, thought Aurellia. If only I had a clear idea of where to Apparate the fly to... or perhaps, instead of a fly….
"But Durmstrang is in Bulgaria, right?"
"That's what I've heard, but Bulgaria is a sizable country, and the Balkans are a wide and rugged range. Looking for Durmstrang's location by the description the visiting students gave me last year is very much like saying that you are seeking a brown-haired man with a medium build who goes by the last name of Smith who lives in Great Britain." The astronomy teacher turned a knob below the globe on the side of the pillar and the Starlux globe changed back from scarlet to gold. The grid in the sky disappeared.
"You could easily find the location of the Rila Monastery and Musala Peak on a map if you are curious, Professor, but I'm afraid that Durmstrang Institute is quite out of the question,” Sinistra said. “I do very much admire that lovely Parrowen painting, though. It so beautifully captures the rugged terrain of that area, and the stars and moon are positioned so accurately that you can tell the year, month, day and time, within half an hour, of when the sky in the painting was done. I'm no expert on it, however, Miss Deveroux. If you want to know more about the painting, you might want to question Professor Mundanus. He is a great admirer of the visual arts, both magical and Muggle."
"Thank you. I think I'll do that. But before I go, there's one other thing," Aurellia prompted thoughtfully. "What can you tell me about the lonely, black-caped traveler I saw taking a nap in the foreground of that painting the other night? Was Parrowen in the habit of putting herself onto her own canvasses, or was that a pilgrim making his way to the monastery?"
Sinistra shrugged. "Traveler? I've been by that painting hundreds of times, Professor Deveroux, but I've never seen any people in it, save visitors from other paintings who like to go hiking through the mountains once in a while. I suppose that is what you saw."
Deep in thought, Aurellia said nothing as Sinistra turned to readjust the Starlux to its former settings. The sun rose again into the artificial sky, bringing the light of day with it. The traveler had most certainly not come from another painting nearby, Aurellia decided. He did not seem to fit in with any of the other scenes, and he had disappeared so suddenly during the poltergeist's rampage. Not only that, but the small clearing around him had disappeared as well! Aurellia had never heard of a thing like that happening before, not even in magical paintings. Could it be that she had caught a glimpse of Snape being held in captivity somewhere in Bulgaria?
"Well, I hope you find out about whatever it is you are looking for, Professor," Sinistra said encouragingly. "But in the meantime, if you don't mind, I must prepare for Monday's quiz," Sinistra explained as she placed a stack of papers on the corner of her desk which stood next to the wall across from the door. "I think I'll put Mars, Venus, and Jupiter on the quiz. They're a sufficiently advanced class that I think it is time to begin teaching them the motions of the planets. But I don't think I'll start the Ravenclaws on foreign skies and astronavigation until next year. The Slytherins, perhaps, we'll see... Miss Deveroux?"
But the Defense teacher had already left.
End of Chapter 43