Book Four and Three Quarters
by Maeve "Mab" Roberts

~

< >"What the - " began Ron, but found no time to finish his sentence as Harry and Hermione grabbed a handful each of his robes and pulled him along the floor. Footsteps could be heard behind them, and all of a sudden, as he saw the metal bolts of the locked door glistening in front of them, Harry knew they had no chance of escape.

< >He stopped and turned, like a stag at bay, and beside him felt Ron and Hermione follow suit. The footsteps were coming nearer: Harry wondered why his pursuers weren't talking. But soon he had no time to ponder the question: as soon as he sensed there was someone near, he lashed out as hard as he could with his foot and, to his satisfaction, was rewarded with crushing contact with whatever it was chasing them, and a bruised toe. Encouraged by his success, he followed it up with a hard punch. He didn't dare use his wand in the dark, even if he had thought it worked, in case he hit Hermione or Ron by accident.

< >The fight went on. Their opponents' lack of voice was proving to be oddly disturbing: to the left and right of him, Harry could hear the noises made by the scuffle, and the exclamations of triumph and pain from his two friends. But not a squeak was uttered by their attackers.

< >Harry elbowed something, hard, and jumped as he heard Ron's voice howl in his ear.

< >"Argh - hey!" There was a sound like something had been kicked, and a satisfied grunt from Ron.

< >"That showed you, didn't it, you - oof!" It seemed that, once again, Ron had fallen victim to some form of violence - and, as Hermione muttered an embarrassed-sounding apology, Harry suddenly realised that it was only them doing the actual fighting. He had received no returning blows, and -

< >At that moment something very large and very heavy cannoned into him, sending him crashing to the ground, winded. A stop must be put to this, he decided, feeling his ribs delicately. Now.

< >"H-Hermione?" he croaked on a sudden impulse, pushing in vain at the enormous lump sprawled on top of him. It didn't budge.

< >"What?" said Hermione.

< >"Can you - can you remember that other version of Lumos that was in that book we looked at? In Professor Trelawny's study? I think we should look…"

< >"Harry!" Hermione's voice sounded scandalised. "You know as well as I do that we aren't allowed to use magic in the holidays. I've already tried Lumos. Besides - the spells in that book are forbidden unless you're given permission. I might get expelled! I might - "

< >"You might think about rearranging your priorities," suggested Ron, panting. "This is no time to worry about getting expelled! Can we sort out the little business of not getting killed first?"

< >"Well… OK…" said Hermione, sounding like the words were coming out against her better judgement. She gave a long-suffering sigh.

< >"Illuminatus," she muttered, very quickly, and there was a blinding flash of light that hurt Harry's eyes. "But if I get into trouble, I'm blaming - "

< >"Hagrid!" exclaimed Harry in amazement, finally rolling out from underneath the dazed-looking giant. "What are you doing here? Why…?"

< >Harry suddenly felt very confused. As his blinking eyes grew accustomed to the harsh light, he saw the forms of Sirius Black, Remus Lupin and Severus Snape stand up and walk towards him. Not one of them spoke a word.

< >"Wh - what's the matter?" he asked, a horrid, sick feeling settling in the pit of his stomach. What was happening? Ron and Hermione came to stand next to him, facing the approach of the three men with wide eyes.

< >"Say something!" hissed Ron, suddenly totally unnerved. "What's wrong with you all?"

< >All men looked equally disheveled, and equally impatient. Sirius pointed to his lips, and mouthed something at them.

< >"Did - did he just say 'newt farm'?" asked Ron, worried. "'Cos if he did, I mean, Harry, I'd be - "

< >"No, silly!" interrupted Hermione, jumping up and down excitedly. "Mute charm! Somebody's put a mute charm on them!"

< >"Oh," said Ron, relieved. "Well, hurry up and get it off, then."

< >"I can't," said Hermione. "I don't know how."

< >Ron gaped in disbelief. "You - you don't know… you…"

< >"Ssh!" said Harry. Snape, Sirius and Lupin were all trying to speak to them, with various expressions of urgency on their faces and in various states of health - Harry wondered which one of them had bequeathed Snape the bloody nose, and hoped it had been him. But they were all mouthing the same word.

< >"What are they saying?" asked Ron, staring intently at Snape's mouth for a minute before shuddering and looking at Sirius's instead. He picked up his wand.

< >"Espresso?" he said uncertainly, waving it at them. The four men looked startled to find themselves suddenly holding a bone china cup each filled with strong black coffee, and Ron looked at his wand with a new interest.

< >"Cool," he said. Lupin drained his cup - and looked like he needed it: Snape glared, and threw his on the floor. Hagrid looked bewildered.

< >Harry could see the glimmer of understanding begin to dawn on Hermione's face, and put a hand on her arm before she could try her luck at breaking the spell. He stared at each of the men in turn.

< >"How do we know you're real?" he demanded. "How do we know you're not just some trick of Voldemort's?"

< >Sirius shrugged, clearly exasperated; Hagrid started trying to speak before he realised he couldn't; Snape, looking almost rabid now with fury lunged forwards with his hands outstretched towards Harry's neck and Remus Lupin was having a hard job of restraining him. That at least was in keeping with their characters, thought Harry wryly.

< >Lupin shoved Snape into Sirius, and pointed at Harry's pocket. Harry stared at him blankly before he remembered the Marauder's Map: examining it closely for a minute, he finally gave a whistle of relief as he located the seven of them in one of the lower dungeons.

< >"It's OK," he said to Hermione, "It's them - go ahead."

< >"Expresso," said Hermione, with a sideways look at Ron, who shrugged and looked embarrassed. "I'm going to get in so much trouble," she added.

< >A sudden babble of noise erupted around Harry's head: hurried, urgent babble. He heard his godfather's voice, and Snape's silky tones: and Ron, and Hermione, and Hagrid, and Lupin. But all that somehow seemed distant; detached - because he was still looking at the Marauder's Map clutched tightly in his left hand.

< >And a dot labelled 'Voldemort' was moving slowly towards them.

~

< >Harry had a lot of trouble trying to alert his companions to this fact. Everybody was shouting at the same time: Ron and Hermione were talking loudly at Hagrid; Sirius and Snape's voices were rising steadily as they argued over something, and Harry could see Lupin making placatory gestures, apparently to no avail.

< >"Er," he said. He was ignored.

< >"I think we ought to go now…" he tried again - and again no one paid the blindest bit of notice to him.

< >"Voldemort," he shrieked at last, hoping that he would finally get someone's attention. He was right. The room went silent, and everyone turned to stare at him.

< >"We know," said Lupin, eventually. "He's been behind - or in front of us - the whole time we were looking for you. We have to get out of here quickly, if we can."

< >Sirius seemed to notice Harry for the first time since he'd been able to talk. Striding forwards, Harry's godfather grabbed him by his arms, gave him a swift hug and then, to Harry's confusion, an abrupt shake.

< >"What are you doing?" shouted Sirius. "You could have got yourselves killed! What were you thinking of, coming down here - tonight of all times?"

< >Harry gaped at him. "But - " he said, well aware that Sirius was angry because he was worried, but at the same time too indignant to get the words out properly. Ron stepped in to rescue him.

< >"Dumbledore told us to!" he exclaimed, also evidently trying to understand the source of Sirius's fury. "He sent us down here! He said You-Know-Who was after us, and it was the only way, and that he'd come and join us as soon as he could!"

< >He, Harry and Hermione waited for Sirius to shout again, but to their surprise he gaped back at Ron.

< >"What?" he demanded.

< >"Dumbledore - told us to come here," repeated Ron cautiously. Sirius seemed to realise that his mouth was hanging open, and shut it with a snap.

< >"No he didn't," he said flatly.

< >"Yes he - " began Ron.

< >"Dumbledore couldn't have said anything of the sort," explained Sirius, interrupting him and suddenly looking extremely tired. "Because he's been with us, all day - a hundred miles away, gathering stray members of the Order of the Phoenix together. We didn't return until an hour ago. I'm not saying I don't believe you," he said, holding up a hand as three mouths were opened to argue with him, "I'm just saying: whoever it was you heard - it wasn't Dumbledore."

< >Harry looked at the others in shock. He hadn't expected this; and yet, he thought ruefully to himself - and yet it made sense. They hadn't seen Dumbledore; they'd only heard him through the door to his study.

< >"How did you know to come looking for us?" he asked, as the feeling of relief they'd all had on meeting each other dissolved and the need to escape became more concentrated. They started walking again, Hagrid and Lupin in front, then Snape, and then the rest of them scuttling along behind them. Hermione's illuminatus spell was being propelled along in front of them by her wand, but this was the only source of light they had; Harry stumbled over his robes in an effort to keep up with Sirius's long strides and hear what he had to say.

< >"Well - we got back an hour ago, as I said, and only realised you were gone when Hagrid went to fetch you from the dormitory and found you weren't there. Dumbledore seemed to realise that something had happened: he sent us after you - a hard job, I'll admit, without the Marauder's Map - and he should be following us now. He had something he had to do first. But I don't think any of us had quite anticipated this happening. Tell me - what are you doing down here, Harry?"

< >Harry quickly filled him in on the night's events.

< >"But what happened with your wands?" he asked, when he had finished. "Who put the mute charms on you?" He stepped through a heavy black door and into a slightly wider tunnel, where he could walk two abreast with his godfather.

< >Sirius sighed. "That was Voldemort," he said. "Yes," he added, as Harry started at the name, "I know. We were remarkably foolish… none of us had guessed that he was actually in the building; Lupin and I reached the secret tunnel, and suddenly were confronted by Voldemort: he took our wands, then disappeared. I'm not sure why - maybe he heard Snape and Hagrid behind us. Anyway… next time we tried to talk we all found that we couldn't, and I'm pleased that one of you, at least - " Harry could have sworn that Ron and Hermione both blushed in the dark - "Could read lips. I honestly don't know what Voldemort had hoped to achieve by silencing us rather than killing us: maybe he wants us alive for something. I don't know."

< >Harry shivered. Nothing was making sense at the moment. They continued for a while in silence, and he tried to sort through his tangled thoughts.

< >Who was it they'd heard pretending to be Dumbledore? Why hadn't his scar hurt if had been Voldemort? Who else was there in the castle? Filch? Dobby? Professor McGonagall? Madam Pomfrey? Harry laughed silently to himself. All these seemed impossible candidates for Dumbledore impersonators. Had somebody been drinking Polyjuice potion? Maybe - and fear struck straight at Harry's heart as he thought it - maybe the Dumbledore they'd been seeing and speaking to since they'd arrived hadn't really been Dumbledore at all. He rubbed his aching head. He couldn't puzzle it out.

< >He had been thinking so intently that he walked into Ron's back before he realised that they'd stopped. Again, he put a hand to his head: it had begun to sting. Fingering his scar gingerly, he wondered vacantly why Ron wasn't moving.

< >"What's happened?" hissed Snape's voice. "Lupin, why have we stopped?"

< >There was no reply from Lupin, and Harry looked over his shoulder with a cold dread beginning to form in his stomach. He had no doubt any more as to why they'd stopped. His scar was now throbbing with an intensity that nearly knocked him off his feet.

< >Suddenly, he turned and started towards the door they'd just come through, but it shut with a clang; thick vines began to grow quickly around it, groping the wood with their long tendrils and suffocating the lock. In despair, Harry spun round again to evaluate their chances of escape from the room they were in at the moment: but it seemed to be a dead end. He could see no other door in the place except one right at the top of a long set of stone steps similar to the ones at the beginning of the secret passage he, Ron and Hermione had fallen down earlier.

< >The only difference in this case was that whereas the first flight had been empty, this one had someone standing at the top looking down at them.

< >It was Voldemort. They were trapped.

~

< >Something in Harry's mind, some vague half-memory he had of one of Dudley's children's programmes told him that Voldemort reminded him oddly of a pirate. He wondered why. There was no eye patch, no wooden leg, no bottle of whiskey and Harry was certain that not many pirates had ever worn wizarding robes, but still… And then it clicked. There was a parrot sitting perched on his shoulder.

< >"Argh!" shrieked Hermione, as she saw this. "Her-Herbert? Herbert?"

< >Harry felt an unpleasant shock as he saw that Hermione was indeed right. The colourful bird was sat preening itself arrogantly on Voldemort's arm, not even looking at them, clacking his beak into his master's ear and swaying gently from one foot to another. Harry had never seen anything so innocent-looking - or so treacherous.

< >"Herbert?" repeated Voldemort, a mocking note of incredulity in his voice. He stroked Herbert's beak. "What a pathetic name for such a generous creature."

< >"Suits it," muttered Ron darkly.

< >"Suits it," mimicked Herbert at once, in exactly the same tone of voice.

< >Harry was thinking. "We should have known," he said, dully. "Remember, Hermione? In your owl you sent me… you said Crookshanks and Herbert didn't get on… That cat's got a better judgement of character than I'll ever have. It's twice now he's tried to warn us about stuff like that."

< >"I'll bet - " said Ron suddenly, "I'll bet that's how the Selkie and whatever that howling thing was knew where to find us - did you say anything about Sirius in your letter to Harry, Hermione?"

< >"Well, I - " Hermione looked acutely sheepish, and Harry knew that Ron was right.

< >"Never mind," he said, feeling sorry for Hermione, who had turned a peculiar shade of pink and wasn't looking at either of them. "It doesn't matter now. I think we should…" He trailed off, not being able to think of anything they could really do, and instead stared with a loathing so fierce it hurt at the wizard standing before him.

~

< >Voldemort looked much the same as he had done the last time Harry had seen him, after Peter Pettigrew, the man who had betrayed his parents to him, had used his own and Harry's blood to transform his master from a hideous mockery of a baby into the full-grown man he saw now. Harry dug his nails into his palms so hard they drew blood, and he forced himself to be calm. It was the first time he had not faced his enemy alone - he was in the company of five other people he cared for (and Snape) and he had no wish to do anything that might cause them harm.

< >So he waited, as everyone else was waiting, for Voldemort to speak first.

< >"Much as I enjoy your company," he said, to Harry's surprise, "I can't stay with you for long… at the moment. I fear I will have to leave you - but believe me, I will return. I have some… business I must attend to." His level gaze took them all in, lingering a little longer on Harry and Snape.

< >"But first," he continued, obviously enjoying the six identically resigned expressions, "I must congratulate you, Harry, on rising to my bait of the Dark Mark and leading your friends down here for me. Very nice of you."

< >"And what about Dumbledore?" asked Sirius. "Did you pretend to be him, too? To make Harry come down here?"

< >"I had no need," replied Voldemort, smiling. "My friend here - Herbert, as you call him - has an excellent talent for imitating voices, as I'm sure you're aware… He has been a most useful addition to my entourage."

< >Hermione clutched Harry's arm, tightly. He patted her hand, feeling slightly awkward.

< >"Not your fault," he whispered. "Remember Scabbers."

< >Ron had overheard. "Had me fooled for years," he said kindly. "Easy mistake to make, isn't it?" Hermione smiled at him gratefully, and transferred her hand from Harry's arm to Ron's.

< >"How touching," said Voldemort, who had observed the small scene. "Your little friend is right, Harry… It is an easy mistake to make, placing your trust in someone who doesn't deserve it… A pity your father never realized it."

< >Only Hagrid's pincer-like grip on both Harry and Sirius prevented the pair of them from springing forwards to attack Voldemort, and the wizard laughed at the sight.

< >"Then again," he said, "It is always useful to have people about you that you know will remain loyal… those who are too scared of what the consequences of betrayal might be. I myself have made your father's mistake, Harry: I placed my trust in some people who it appears did not merit it - isn't that right, Severus? You know what I'm talking about, don't you?"

< >Snape didn't reply.

< >Voldemort continued. "Yes," he said, "Loyalty can often be misplaced. All of you, now - " he waved an expansive arm around the room that encompassed all its occupants - "Have you never considered that you might be serving the wrong side? I can assure you, when I return to power I will reward those who recognise my might, just as I will punish those who went against me." Again, he directed another nasty look at Snape. "What about you?" he added, looking at Hagrid, who still had Harry in one hand and Sirius in the other. "Giants have traditionally sided with my kind… will you not join with me?"

< >Hagrid looked as though he'd just bitten into the wrong end of a Blast-Ended Skrewt.

< > "I would rather," he said with dignity, "eat a Hungarian Horntail." Coming from Hagrid and all his notorious views of such animals, this was saying quite a lot.

< >Voldemort's expression blackened. "Fool!" he cried. "Fool. One day, you will be made to see the error of your decision… and it will not be pleasant. I won't bother asking the werewolf," he added, looking now at Lupin with a sneer. "The self-righteous werewolf… doing all he can as a human to right all the wrongs he could commit as a wolf… but it cannot change the fact, can it? It cannot change the fact that, once a month, you become a Dark Creature yourself… Be very careful, werewolf. Be careful that your true instinct does not take over your façade of harmlessness; can you deny that you take pleasure in the thrill of the chase? In the blood of innocent creatures?"

< >"No," said Lupin, surprisingly cheerfully.

< >Voldemort looked just a little bit as though the wind had been taken out of his sails at this unexpected agreement. Harry, though, detected a certain look of despair as he peered closer at Lupin: some of Voldemort's words had obviously hit home.

< >"Well," said Voldemort. "I shall leave you… for now. As I say, I have a little business to attend to first…"

< >Odd though it seemed, Harry had stopped listening to Voldemort. He was fingering his scar with astonishment: for the pain from it was muted now: it seemed to have settled into a dull throb rather than the piercing agony Voldemort's presence had caused to begin with. Harry wondered why. Maybe Voldemort was not as powerful as he had been at their last encounter? Harry didn't know. But the thought gave him hope.

< >"… When I return, Potter," Voldemort was saying, as he refocused on the wizard's words. Harry stared back at him blankly. And then he was gone: no flash of light, no explosion - simply a nothingness that filled the space where he'd been standing.

< >As if suddenly released by a string, the small company collapsed down onto the stone floor and merely looked at each other: words were unnecessary and there was not much, Harry reflected, that could be said. Sirius, Snape, and Lupin looked grim: Ron and Hermione part scared and part furious, and Hagrid seemed to be wilting in relief. Harry felt the same way.

< >Suddenly, he noticed that Ron and Hermione's expressions had changed, and they were staring at him in dismay. Or rather, they were staring at something: as neither made eye contact, Harry couldn't possibly imagine what.

< >"Is anything wrong?" he asked, worried at his friends' stricken faces.

< >"Er - nothing," said Ron, with the look of one who didn't want to break bad news.

< >"What?" insisted Harry, impatiently. He followed Ron's gaze to his robe pocket just as his friend tore his gaze away from it. And Harry groaned aloud.

< >"The Invisibility Cloak! If only I'd remembered it…" He sank down, dejected, into the floor, welcoming its hardness. Of all the stupid things… they could all be safe now, if it hadn't been for his stupidity in forgetting about it… He groaned again, and then was silent. He felt horribly guilty about the whole thing: he also had no idea why Voldemort hadn't killed the 'spares' - Ron, Hermione, Sirius, Snape and Lupin - as he had done Cedric Diggory.

< >Sighing at the injustice and confusion of it all, Harry rocked backwards and forwards on his heels, hugging his knees. What could happen? Surely their only hope now lay in a rescue from Dumbledore - when he'd finished doing whatever he had been doing, and if he knew where to look for them. Judging from the twists and turns they'd taken on their way down to the dungeons, Harry thought this possibility very unlikely.

< >How long he sat like this Harry could not tell: but, when he finally readjusted his thoughts onto the present situation, he realised to his surprise that some time had passed. Frustrations were evidently running high. Sirius and Snape were bristling whenever they looked at each other; it seemed all they could do to ignore the other man instead of attack him.

< >

< >"I wonder to what extent the blocking curse is effective," said Snape finally. The words were ground out: he seemed to be attempting to help almost in spite of himself. Sirius didn't say anything.

< >

< >"We might try something," continued Snape, the words coming out even more reluctantly than before. Harry could tell he was annoyed at Sirius's lack of response.

< >"Voldemort's got my wand," replied Harry's godfather tonelessly, as though he hadn't really heard, or didn't think the comment worthy of a longer answer.

< >"Voldemort didn't take my wand," Snape reminded him. "Only yours and Lupin's."

< >"Oh - I wonder why?" There was a distinctly nasty glint to Sirius's eye as he spoke - but, to Harry's intense surprise, Snape did not pick up on the remark straight away. He looked as though he was about to speak, when Ron jumped in excitedly.

< >"You could apparate!" he said. "And go and get Dumbledore."

< >"You can't apparate in Hogwarts," reminded Snape disdainfully. "What I was about to suggest was that - "

< >"He would if he could, Ron," said Sirius grimly, completely ignoring the Professor. "A very sensible suggestion."

< >Ron looked nervously at Snape, as the Potions master flashed both him and Sirius an equally vindictive glare.

< >"And you wouldn't, I suppose?" he retorted spitefully. "If only you had a little patience, Black, you might be able to hear what I am attempting to tell you, and you might find it to your advantage. But then; patience was never one of your stronger points, was it? Maybe if you'd had a little more patience at keeping Potter's secrets then - "

< >"ENOUGH!" roared Sirius. He was shaking. "How dare you? How - "

< >"What were yeh goin' to say, Professor?" asked Hagrid, his deep rumbling voice easily drowning out Sirius's furious shouts and surreptitiously flapping his hand at Lupin to get him to try and calm Sirius down.

< >"Yes," added Hermione. "It sounded very - er - interesting."

< >"Do tell," said Lupin, but through clenched teeth: he sounded as annoyed as Harry had ever heard him at Snape's insinuations. Sirius only growled.

< >"I was merely going to suggest," said Snape coolly, "That I tried a summoning spell. We know that some spells work and others do not: it would appear that obscure forms of the more common charms have some effect. I don't see why we shouldn't try it."

< >"And what would you summon?" asked Sirius, apparently calm again.

< >"I am open to suggestions," said Snape.

< >The only thing Harry could think of that he really wanted was, at that precise moment in time, a bed - but Snape had a point. It was worth a go.

< >"Try something simple first," suggested Lupin. "And see if it works."

< >Snape nodded, and waved his wand. Nothing happened. He tried again, concentrating so hard that his face went almost white - but to no avail. Snape stormed away into a corner. The summoning charm would not work, and Harry could not think of another way they could possibly get out of this one… Utterly dejected, he looked at Ron and Hermione where they sat by Hagrid. Both seemed as miserable as he did: Hermione's face had gone blank, a sure sign that her mind was elsewhere - probably trying to think of more spells, thought Harry - and Ron's forehead was furrowed into deep lines of worry.

< >Harry sighed, and turned his scrutiny towards Lupin. He was looking ill again. In fact…

< >"Oh, no," moaned Hermione, suddenly looking up as though reading his mind. "You know what tonight is…"

< >Lupin's tired, shadowed eyes turned to look at them. "Yes," he said. "I had hoped that we would be back in safety by now, but finding you proved to be slightly more difficult than we'd envisaged… And I haven't taken the potion, either. Sirius, you'll have to do something… A pity there's not an extra room here."

< >Sirius nodded. "I know," he agreed. "And there's no way you can apparate?"

< >Lupin shook his head, miserably. "Voldemort has my wand," he reminded him. "And besides, quite apart from no one being able to apparate or disapparate at Hogwarts - he's obviously done something to stop us from using any kind of strong magic: Severus couldn't summon anything just now, could he? I'm sorry," he added to Harry, who was listening, "That you'll have to see me transform. It isn't a pleasant sight."

< >Snape suddenly reappeared from out of nowhere, looking smugly at Lupin.

< >"Having problems?" he asked silkily, grinning a predatory grin. Harry looked at him with distaste.

< >"No, thank you, Severus," said Lupin mildly.

< >"Are you sure?"

< >"Quite sure," growled Sirius.


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