Dumbledore leaned back in his chair, sighing. Phinneas Nigellus been checking on Harry periodically, much to his displeasure and annoyance. The boy was still sleeping, however fitfully. The headmaster closed his eyes lightly and tried to ease his headache, but he could not. Frowning, he stared down at his desktop. He did not know how long he remained there, but presently his door opened and he mildly looked up. Minerva McGonagall walked in, her cane clacking quietly against the stone floor. "Hello, Albus," she said briskly, moving to stand in front of him. "Good evening, Minerva," the headmaster replied. "What seems to be the problem?" "Would you mind speaking with Sirius?" she asked, and the old man could see the exasperation in her eyes. "Not at all," Dumbledore said in surprise. "But why?" "He's all depressed because Harry isn't here," McGonagall said. "And with Remus still unconscious. . ." "Yes, yes, of course," Dumbledore said vaguely. McGonagall gave him a piercing look. "What is it, Albus?" she asked. Dumbledore sighed. "Minerva, did I make the right choice in sending Harry to Grimmauld Place?" "Yes," she said, looking shocked that he had even asked. "Harry would have died if he stayed here." Dumbledore was about to answer when there was a knock on the door. The professors looked up to see Lavender Brown standing in the doorway, accompanied by Professor Sprout. Lavender appeared to be in tears and her hands were covering her face as she sobbed. "What is it?" McGonagall asked, bemused. "Lavender is in a right state," Sprout replied, implying the obvious. "She said she wanted to talk to the Headmaster. Said she wants to go home. I'll leave you to it, shall I?" As Sprout headed back out into the main part of the school, Dumbledore and McGonagall stared at Lavender, who had tears spilling down her face. "What is it, Lavender?" Dumbledore asked gently, moving from behind his desk. "What is the matter?" "I-- I--" she choked out, her face hidden in her hands. McGonagall furrowed her eyebrows, glancing at the headmaster. Dumbledore arched an eyebrow as Lavender suddenly dropped her hands and stared at the two of them. The headmaster raised his eyebrows by the steely glint in the girl's eyes. "I can't fight it," she whispered, and then her hand plunged into her robes for her wand. Dumbledore, however, was by far faster, and after a bright flash of light Lavender was lying on the stone floor. McGonagall was standing up straight, her eyes wide. "What is this, Albus?" she asked in a hushed tone. The headmaster's eyes were blazing. "Minerva, we must gather all of the students who were infected with the Plague." "But why?" McGonagall asked, confused. "I cannot believe I overlooked this. . . I was so concerned with protecting Harry I did not even entertain the option that Voldemort could use his Plague for other things. . ." "He could use them to spy on us," McGonagall hissed. "Or even to attack!" "Which was what he had been planning," Dumbledore said heavily. He shook his head as he looked at the unconscious Lavender. "Though I cannot understand how he would possibly have assumed he could attack me this way. Surely it must have been one of his Death Eaters, one who is not aware of something like that…" he paused. "Minerva, I am afraid that I must leave the school for the time being." "What do you plan to do?" McGonagall asked at once. "I need to sort this out," the headmaster said firmly. "I trust that you can isolate the infected students? They cannot be left alone. Voldemort could use them all." "It will be taken care of," she said, drawing herself up. "You just make sure that you deal with everything that needs to be dealt with." "Undoubtedly, it will," Dumbledore said. "I shall leave now, I think. . . goodbye, Minerva." "Good luck," she said, and Dumbledore swept out of the office. He moved swiftly down the stairs and headed towards the teachers' quarters. As he walked up, he could see Cassie quietly closing a door. She looked torn between anger and concern. "Good evening, Cassie," Dumbledore said. "Is Sirius around?" Cassie arched an eyebrow. "Funny you should mention that. He's being such a little kid, honestly--" "I need to speak with him," the headmaster said, interrupting her. "Good luck," Cassie said sarcastically. "He won't talk to anybody, barely even me. Just moping about Harry and Remus." Dumbledore nodded to her and pushed open the door. It was rather dark, and the old man heard a voice distinctly snap, "Go away!" "I'm afraid I cannot," Dumbledore said, and he immediately heard some scuffling to light a lamp. As light flooded the room, he saw Sirius. Apparently, he had been sitting next to the window. "Hello, Albus," he said, his eyes wide. "What can I do for you?" "You can come with me to Grimmauld Place," the headmaster said, and Sirius furrowed his eyebrows in confusion. "We need to pick up Harry," Dumbledore explained. "This whole episode has gone on for long enough." "Oh!" Sirius exclaimed. "Right, right-- um, when do we leave?" "We leave now," Dumbledore said, taking Sirius's shoulder and steering him out of the room. Harry opened his eyes as he heard a loud thump from the downstairs. Sitting up slowly, he put his glasses on and picked up his wand. He had slept more or less soundly, save for the demented figures gliding in and out of his dream. Getting out of bed, he quietly tiptoed out of his room and stood on the landing, straining hard to hear voices below. And indeed he did hear them. He crept down the stairs and held his wand high, ready to attack the intruders. He tensed as he saw a shadowy figure coming around the corner. "EXPELL--" "HARRY! Calm down, it's me!" "--Iarm-- oh, hi, Sirius." Harry let his wand hang by his side. "Nice of you to drop by, but next time give me a bit of warning, I don't want to hex you if I can help it…" "I didn't get any warning either," Sirius said. He turned around and let Dumbledore stand next to him. Harry raised his eyebrows. "Hello, Professor," he said. "Bit late, isn't it?" "Hello, Harry," Dumbledore said. "Listen to me-- we are going to be leaving." "What?" Harry stared at him. "When?" "Momentarily," the headmaster said. "Where are we going?" Harry asked, already hastening to gather his things. The headmaster sighed. "We must find Ron." "But how are we going to do that?" Harry asked, his eyes wide. "He could be anywhere!" Dumbledore folded his arms across his chest, looking thoughtful. "Theoretically," he said, "I suppose we could just let him come to us. Voldemort will want to know where we are." "So what are we going to do?" Sirius asked, leaning against the banister. "We can't just waltz around out in the open!" Dumbledore smiled for the first time that evening. "Yes, Sirius, I believe that is exactly what we're going to do." "Albus," Sirius said slowly, "I cannot… believe… we are doing this." The three of them were on the Knight Bus, which was rattling through the outskirts of London. Harry was sitting by the window, noticing how green Sirius looked. The bus was certainly not for anyone with a weak stomach. Sirius, however, said nothing about it, and neither did Harry. "It is necessary, Sirius," Dumbledore said firmly as the bus took a wide, arcing left turn and, with a bang, ended up in Ireland. "I do not wish to be around innocent people when we have this confrontation. And it is my suspicion that he is, indeed, still in Scotland." "Not the same house?" Sirius asked. "Exactly the same house," the old man said grimly. "After all, nobody would expect him to linger, so it seems logical he would stay." "But what are we going to do?" Harry asked, falling off his bed as the bus lurched forward into Hong Kong. "We must try to help Ron, first and foremost," Dumbledore said. "And then. . . well, then we deal with what should have been dealt with already." Harry did not want to ask how they would go about that, and instead fell silent and stared out the window. He could feel Sirius's eyes on him but he did not turn; he did not want to speak of what would happen if they lost Ron. He did not even want to think of it. Forty five minutes later, the bus halted. Stan Shunpike, the conductor, turned around in his seat. "'Ey, you'll want t' get off here," he said, helping the three of them out. The Scottish landscape was dark and wild. Harry had never been there, and so was staring around and taking it all in. Dumbledore, however, strode purposefully off the bus and was moving so quickly that Harry and Sirius almost had to jog to keep up with him. Harry saw that they were outside of a small town, and looked up curiously at Dumbledore. "We are not going to advance tonight," Dumbledore said. "I want him aware of our presence. He knows we are here. He will be operating on my terms, not his own." "Are you sure about that?" Sirius asked, striding along beside Dumbledore. "After all, he could attack us in our sleep--" "Wouldn't put it past him," Harry muttered. "He will not," Dumbledore said. "He will wait until we come to him. He is simply like that. He has always needed to show bravado." The old man narrowed his eyes. "And that will always be his downfall." Harry had to admit that it was quite funny to see the hotel clerk stare at Dumbledore's robes as they walked into the dingy little hotel to stay the night. At least he and Sirius were dressed in somewhat normal clothes; Dumbledore, on the other hand, was wearing midnight blue robes with stars embroidered onto them. Nevertheless, they got two rooms: one for the headmaster, and one for Harry and Sirius. Bidding Dumbledore goodnight, the two opened the door and saw the two twin beds. "I don't think I could ever live as a Muggle," Sirius said, flopping onto his bed. He stared at the television. "What is that?" "It's a tv," Harry replied. "It has moving pictures on it." "What, like a photograph?" Sirius asked, already looking exhausted. Harry grinned. "Almost," Harry said, sitting down on his own bed. He kicked off his shoes and fell backwards with a sigh. Cracking open an eyelid, he saw Sirius smacking the electric lamp. "Sirius," Harry asked, "What on earth are you doing?" "It won't go out," Sirius said angrily. Taking pity on him, Harry switched off the lamp and they were enveloped in darkness. "Thanks," Harry heard Sirius say. "No problem," Harry mumbled, curling up to sleep again. His dreams were horrible as usual, with towering figures laughing, their black robes smothering him, even in his sleep. The next morning, after a hasty breakfast of runny eggs and stale toast, the three headed to the outskirts of the village. Dumbledore seemed to know exactly where he was going, and Sirius and Harry just followed behind. They walked for the better part of half an hour, winding through the rugged landscape, leaving the town farther and farther behind. Then, all of a sudden, the house Harry had only seen from the inside loomed before them. He uncomfortably remembered what had happened last time he had been there, and he looked away. The headmaster tilted his head up, looking powerful and angry. "He knows that we are here," he said quietly, staring at the ancient house. "And he is most pleased."
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