Thanks so much to Hedwig1175 for the great chapter image
"This is not the time for falling out. Don't you think?" Ron spat at Harry and Ginny. The two of them glanced at one another with a rather guilty and sombre look.
Ginny had poured a couple of drops of a calming potion into Mr. Granger's cup of tea, who was now sitting at the kitchen table completely lost in thought. Bill, who seemed physically unscathed, was clutching Fleur's inanimate body with an expression capable of frightening Greyback. Molly Weasley just couldn't stop crying. Tonks had several injuries, but none of them looked too serious. Hagrid's right leg was bleeding heavily. Moody appeared to be uninjured. McGonagall however, had been badly hit and, although she might survive, there were serious fears as to her full recovery. They had succeeded at rescuing Petunia, but at a terrible cost and hadn't managed to catch Bellatrix Lestrange, or Snape for that matter.
Both Petunia and Hermione thought that Severus had acted strangely, almost as if it had all been a play. All they seemed to have wanted was Potter and when he didn't arrive, they let the bait go. Or had it been just Snape who was willing to let the hostage and Hermione get away? Harry couldn't make any sense out of that. "Remus, can I talk to you, privately?" Harry requested.
"Excuse us," Lupin apologised to the others, frowning with concern. They went upstairs to one of the unoccupied rooms.
As soon as they entered it and the door was shut, Harry rounded on his former professor, firing questions at him in an impatient manner. "What do you know about my mum and Snape? And my Aunt Petunia? Did you know her? I mean, when you were young?"
Remus couldn't figure out why this was so important all of a sudden. "No, I didn't. Snape and your mother were friends. She was very kind and I think she took pity on him, what with all the banter he got from us, well, from Sirius and your dad mainly," Lupin said reminiscing.
"My aunt said that she, Petunia Dursley, went out with him! Were they an item?"
Lupin was startled by this revelation. "I honestly don't know, Harry, but it seems very far fetched. They don't look to me particularly suited, don't you think?"
"Certainly not, but why would she've said that to me otherwise? Also, she is defending him, even after he and his cronies kidnapped her!"
"I truly don't know. Snape has always been difficult to read. But he killed Dumbledore, there is no doubt about that. He cannot be on our side. Why he may have let them escape, supposing that is what he did, I really, really don't know," muttered Remus almost to himself. "You said Dumbledore pled to him, when, when..."
"Yes, desperately. I would never have expected that. He never gave me the impression that he was afraid of death!''
"Maybe it wasn't just death he was frightened of. You said he had been weakened but you won't tell us in which way or by what. There may be the clue there, Harry," Remus tried to persuade him.
"It was something he'd drunk... I think I can tell you that," Harry felt safe to disclose.
Remus felt a small sense of elation at finally learning something about what had gone on between Dumbledore and Harry, so he pressed on for answers. "What was it? And, how had he come to drink it?"
The images from that night were always at the forefront of Harry's mind these days. He sighed. "It was a very bright green substance that could not be penetrated unless it was drunk. But I can't tell you anymore."
"Green?" asked Lupin surprised. "I will look into that. You mean like a barrier?"
"I suppose. But, look, I can't ... I have explained..."
Remus let this new information stew in his mind as he was reminded of something else. "You also said that he had trusted Snape until virtually the moment of his death, that he sent out for him and for no one else?"
"Yes. But, I don't see where you are heading," said Harry looking confused.
"Could he have been pleading to be killed? But no," Lupin reflected. "He would not have allowed for anyone to become a killer on his account, he would have never..."
Harry snapped his fingers thinking about something he had almost forgotten. "Also, Snape had made the Unbreakable Vow with Narcissa. I overheard them talking, him and Malfoy."
"Harry!" Remus looked at him with a severe expression, but then, stopped dead on his tracks. He thought that Harry ought to have told someone about this straight away, but to tell him so now, would only make him feel responsible for the Headmaster's death. He couldn't do that to the boy just for the sake of hindsight. "What was the Vow about? Did you hear it?"
"Yes. It was about protecting Malfoy, which of course, he did in the end. He murdered Dumbledore out of cowardice, can't you see? He was not prepared to sacrifice his own life. He also told Voldemort about the prophecy. Also, as I told you once before he indirectly killed my parents!" Harry was now getting rather overexcited, his heart was beating fast.
"Umm, it would seem that way. Let me sleep on this, Harry. I think we are missing part of the picture."
But Harry wasn't satisfied yet, he still had questions that he wanted answered. "And what about my aunt? How can I ever return there? Did I tell you about how just a few days ago, she got me in the kitchen all on her own and tried to be my friend, after all these years? The fact that she was kidnapped would indicate that they knew that she now mattered to me, they knew that I would want to go to her rescue."
"It doesn't necessarily mean that they knew about the improvement in your relationship. They know you, Harry. They know you wouldn't want her in danger anyway, but, yes I see your point," conceded Remus.
"Couldn't she have been the one who told Snape? If they were close once, they could have been in touch all along. Perhaps, they planned the trap together. She could have been the traitor! I can't go back to them after this! Not for the protection, not for anything!"
"Now, calm down, Harry. It seems rather unlikely. What was she to gain by that? She may not love you but I doubt she wants to see you dead. Give it proper thought, don't do anything hasty."
"Yeah ..." Harry replied in auto-pilot, feeling again that he was being treated like a naughty child.
After that conversation, Harry decided he needed some rest and went to lay in the bed next to Ron's trying to clear his thoughts, to empty his mind. There was a knock on the window. He was alone in the room. He saw an owl outside and let it in. It was a small, dark bird that he didn't recognise. The small piece of parchment he had carried seemed to be blank. Hermione might have been able to shed some light on it but he didn't think it was wise to ask her now, given the circumstances. By the time Harry tried to look at the owl again, the bird had flown away.
Harry opened the bedroom door and stood at the landing and called :"Ron, Ron!"
"Yes, Harry," answered Ron looking completely worn out.
"Come here, please," Harry cried. Hermione followed them. "You go and get some rest, Hermione, you have gone through enough..."
Hermione gave her friend a small smile in appreciation. "Don't worry about me, Harry. Nothing is going to bring them back and the sooner we get the work done, the sooner it can all be stopped!" she said with great determination. Then her eyes landed on the blank parchment still clutched in Harry's grip. "What is it?"
"Invisible ink!" replied Ron "I think the twins sell that! They will know how to read it!"
"Careful, Ron, we don't know what the message contains. We cannot just let anyone see it, not even your brothers. I seem to vaguely remember something like this but I can't recall the spell," muttered Harry forcing himself to think.
"I can't either," admitted Ron defeated.
Hermione's eyebrows drew together in deep thought for a moment as she tried to rack her brain for the spell. "I think I know, although I am not too sure. Aparecio!"
Letters started forming but this wasn't anyone's handwriting, it was more as it had been typed, like in a Muggle machine or something. The message simply read:
Snape knows about the Horcruxes and, if he is indeed working for the Dark Lord, well, be very, very careful!"
It was unsigned.
They all opened their eyes widely in complete disbelief. Another mystery and another threat. As if deciphering RAB's message and his identity wasn't enough!
"Well, someone seems to want to help you, Harry," volunteered Ron with a puzzled expression.
Harry wasn't optimistic though when he responded, "Or to warn me not to go looking for them."
"Let's think this through," said Hermione trying to think methodically. "Who do we know for a fact that knows about the Horcruxes?"
"Obviously Slughorn," contributed Ron.
"Obviously," admitted Harry. "But he is not supposed to remember that night..."
"What about Hagrid? He was there when Slughorn told you, wasn't he?" enquired Hermione, going through every possibility in a systematic manner.
Harry shook his head. "He didn't tell me, if you remember. He just gave me the memory. And, anyway, this message is not in Hagrid's style. Dumbledore, who is dead... The portraits…" Harry started reciting. Ron frowned at Harry slightly disapprovingly, thinking that Harry was either having a laugh or was beginning to lose his grip. "Don't look at me like that! All the former Headmasters looked shocked when they heard about the things!" he continued.
"Harry, the portraits cannot send messages," said Hermione categorically.
"But they can talk to people. McGonagall? Is this her little way of telling me that I may as well confide in her, that she knows anyway?" Harry wondered aloud.
"Could have been but, again, Harry, I think she would have been more direct. Don't you?" commented Ron. "And, she is not currently at her best, is she?"
Hermione expanded on Ron's thought as she said, "Also, she would have been more careful, she would not have mentioned the actual word."
"I think you're right," conceded Harry
"Anyway," continued Hermione "If Slughorn and Dumbledore knew about their existence, most of the teachers probably do as well and now that one of them has defected, well, it could be any one of the other professors. Just reminding you to be careful."
"Lupin?" thought Harry. But, again, he could have been more direct. "I've just had a private talk with him but, maybe he thought I would take more notice of a secret message."
"Slughorn? After all, he gave you the memory then, but maybe he didn't know who else knew and now he does," theorised Ron.
"It is a possibility," admitted Harry "but I think he is too much of a coward to get involved."
Hermione sighed as she sat down on the bed. "That could be why the message is not signed, so that it cannot be attributed to anyone if intercepted."
"Malfoy? Maybe he's regretting what he did," said Ron uncharacteristically.
"Snape himself? If he is still somewhat only pretending to work for the Dark Lord, as a warning, saying that You-Know-Who may use Legilimency on him or something. Maybe he is remorseful," she offered.
"Hermione, sorry to have to say this but, well since... the wedding... both you and my aunt have gone soft on the bastard. You both seem to believe that he may still be good!"
"Well, he didn't seem to want to harm us, he acted rather oddly. I was there!" argued Hermione once again.
"But your mum is dead because of him, can you not see that? If he wasn't on the Death Eater's side, what was he doing there? I bet he was in command!" Harry said vehemently.
"I don't know, something somehow just doesn't click," continued Hermione.
"Well," said Ron, "even if it is him, it doesn't mean he is not a Death Eater. He could have sent this just to frighten Harry."
The possibilities seemed endless. Whoever had sent the note obviously knew not only of the existence of the damned things but was also aware of the fact that Harry was seeking them. If Snape knew that too, then Voldemort would just have to carry on creating replacements, thought Harry miserably.
"What if it was Dumbledore himself who told Snape?" Harry thought aloud.
"Maybe he just worked it out when he saw his blackened hand," commented Ron, just as gloomily.
"I'm afraid, Harry, this seems fairly likely," added Hermione. "Our only hope now is that Snape isn't really a Death Eater."
"You may as well wish for the moon to turn into a cheese, Hermione!" retorted Harry, void of all hope.
After another half an hour or so of mumbling and debating, the trio decided to go downstairs and see if they could give comfort to anyone. Harry, however, felt again that he needed to be alone for a while. Too much was happening too fast and none of it was good.
Half an hour or so later, Ginny, full of guilt about having fallen out with Harry yet again, decided to go and fetch him to see if they could make up. She found Ron's room empty. However, she stumbled upon the blank piece of parchment which her friends, overwhelmed by low spirits, had forgotten to hide.
"What on Earth!" she wondered aloud. She realised straight away that it must be written with invisible ink and proceeded to cast the spell that, unlike her friends, she remembered by heart. Having been brought up with Fred and George did have some advantages. After reading the words, Ginny became very worried for her friends and brother and set out to find them. She raced down the stairs and searched the bottom floor. When she didn't see any of them, she went outside and caught sight of Harry sitting by himself, looking as if he was dreaming. "Harry!"
"Ginny? He seemed surprised to see her. "I'm sorry about earlier on," he said to her softly, thinking they all could do with a hug.
"Me too, Harry. Now, what on Merlin's name are Horcruxes?" she enquired without even lowering her voice.
Harry gave her a most startled look and signalled for her to be quiet, his bright green eyes piercing her alert hazel ones. "How the hell?"
"You forgot to take this with you," she responded a little superiorly, handing the blank parchment back to Harry.
How could he have been so stupid! And Ron and Hermione! He could hardly believe they had made such a mistake!
"Has this anything to do with whatever it is that only the three of you know about?"
"I better tell you everything, Ginny" said Harry admitting defeat, "but please, promise on your life that you will not tell anyone, anyone at all. I think Dumbledore died because of this," he said rather tensely.
"I promise, Harry," and she laid her hands on top of his.
"Bring Ron and Hermione too. We will go upstairs and find somewhere quiet. This, Ginny, is so extremely important that it affects the whole future of our world. I think it's best if we tell you together. And we better use the Muffliatto charm."
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