Chapter 61: TSPE, Secrecy and Openness, Pt 11

Through green flame they whirled, through the Floo net­work they spun, Min­erva’s heart rac­ing with a pound­ing hor­ror that she hadn’t felt in ten years and three months, the cor­ri­dors be­tween space coughed and spit them out into the lobby of Gringotts (the safest Floo re­ceiver in Di­agon Alley, the con­nec­tion most difficult to in­ter­cept, the fastest way out of Hog­warts with­out a phoenix). A gob­lin at­ten­dant turned to­ward them, his eyes widened, he be­gan a slightly re­spect­ful bow -

Deter­mi­na­tion, Desti­na­tion, De­liber­a­tion!

And the two of them were in the alley just in back of Mary’s Place, wands already out and raised, spin­ning around back-to-back and the words of an Anti-Disillu­sion­ment Charm already ris­ing to Severus’s lips.

The alley was empty.

When she turned back to look at Severus, his wand was already crack­ing down on his own head with a sound like smash­ing an egg, as his lips chanted words of in­visi­bil­ity; he took on the col­ors of his sur­round­ings, be­came a blur of his sur­round­ings, the blur moved and matched what was be­hind him and then there was noth­ing there.

She low­ered her wand and stepped for­ward to re­ceive her own Disillu­sion­ment -

From be­hind her, the un­mis­tak­able sound of a burst of flame.

She spun and saw Albus there, his long wand already drawn and raised in his right hand. His eyes were grim be­neath the half-cir­cles of his glasses, and Fawkes upon his shoulder had spread his fire-col­ored wings in readi­ness for flight and fight.

“Albus!” she said. “I thought—” She’d just seen him de­part for Azk­a­ban, and she’d thought not even phoenixes could re­turn from there so eas­ily.

Then she re­al­ized.

“She es­caped,” said Albus. “Did your Pa­tronus reach him?”

The pound­ing in her heart grew stronger, the hor­ror in her veins solid­ified. “He said he was here, in the wash­room—”

“Let us hope he spoke true,” said Albus, the wand tapped her head with a sen­sa­tion like wa­ter trick­ling over her, and a mo­ment later the four of them (even Fawkes had been ren­dered in­visi­ble, though some­times you saw a flicker of some­thing like fire in his air) were rac­ing to the front of the restau­rant. They paused be­fore the door while Albus whispered some­thing, and a mo­ment later one of the cus­tomers visi­ble through the win­dows stood up with a vague look on his face and opened the door as though tak­ing a quick look out­side for some friend; and the three of them were through, rac­ing past the un­wit­ting cus­tomers (Severus was mark­ing their faces, Min­erva knew, and Albus would see any Disillu­sioned) to­ward the sign that pointed to the wash­room -

An old wooden door marked with the sign of a toi­let burst open with a slam, and four in­visi­ble res­cuers stormed through it.

The small but clean wooden room was empty, fresh droplets of wa­ter showed in the sink but there was no sign of Harry, only a sheet of pa­per left on the closed lid of the toi­let.

She couldn’t breathe.

The sheet of pa­per rose up into the air as Albus took it, and a mo­ment later was thrust in her own di­rec­tion.

M: What did the hat tell me to tell you?

- H

“Ah,” Min­erva said aloud in sur­prise, her mind tak­ing a mo­ment to place the ques­tion, it wasn’t the sort of thing you’d for­get but she hadn’t been think­ing in that mode, re­ally—“I’m an im­pu­dent young­ster and I should get off its lawn.”

Eh?” said the air in Albus’s voice, as if even he could be shocked.

And then Harry Pot­ter’s head ap­peared, sus­pended next to the air beside the toi­let, his face was cold and alert, the too-adult Harry she’d seen some­times, eyes dart­ing back and forth and around.

“What’s go­ing on—” the boy be­gan.

Albus, now visi­ble once more along with her and Fawkes, was mov­ing for­ward in an in­stant, his left hand reached for­ward and plucked a hair from Harry’s head (pro­duc­ing a star­tled yelp from the boy), Min­erva ac­cepted the hair in her own hand, and a mo­ment later Albus swept up the mostly-in­visi­ble boy in his arms and there was a flash of red-golden fire.

And Harry Pot­ter was safe.

Min­erva took a few steps for­ward, leaned against the wall where Albus and Harry had been, try­ing to re­cover her poise.

She’d… lost some habits, in the ten years since the Order of the Phoenix had dis­banded.

Beside her, Severus shim­mered into visi­bil­ity. His right hand was already draw­ing forth the flask from his robes, his left hand already stretch­ing forth in de­mand. She gave him Harry’s hair, and a mo­ment later, it dropped into the flask of un­finished Polyjuice, which at once be­gan fizzing and bub­bling as it set­tled into the po­tency that would en­able Severus to act his part as bait.

“That was un­ex­pected,” the Po­tions Master said slowly. “Why did our Head­mas­ter not re­trieve Mr. Pot­ter ear­lier, I won­der, if he was go­ing so far as to twist Time? There should have been noth­ing pre­vent­ing him from do­ing so… in­deed, your Pa­tronus should have found Mr. Pot­ter already safe...”

She hadn’t thought of that, a differ­ent re­al­iza­tion hav­ing jumped to the fore­front of her mind. It wasn’t nearly as hor­rify­ing as Bel­la­trix Black hav­ing es­caped from Azk­a­ban, but still -

“Harry has an in­visi­bil­ity cloak?” she said.

The Po­tions Master did not an­swer; he was shrink­ing.

Tick-snick, drip-blip, ding-ring-ting-

It still an­noyed her, though it faded past at­ten­tion af­ter a while; and when and if she be­came Head­mistress, she in­tended to Silence the whole lot. Which Head of Hog­warts, she won­dered, had first been so in­con­sid­er­ate as to cre­ate a de­vice that made noise, to pass on to their suc­ces­sors?

She was sit­ting in the Head­mas­ter’s office with a quickly Trans­figured desk of her own, do­ing some of the hun­dred lit­tle pieces of nec­es­sary pa­per­work that kept Hog­warts from grind­ing to a halt; she could lose her­self in it eas­ily, and it pre­vented her from think­ing about other things. Albus had once re­marked, sound­ing rather wry, that Hog­warts seemed to run even more smoothly when there was an out­side crisis for her to avoid think­ing about...

...ten years ago, that was the last time Albus had said that.

There was the chime that in­di­cated an ap­proach­ing vis­i­tor.

Min­erva kept read­ing her cur­rent parch­ment.

The door slammed open, re­veal­ing Severus Snape, who took three steps in­ward and de­manded with­out the slight­est pause, “Any word from Mad-Eye?”

Albus was already ris­ing from his chair, even as she tucked away her parch­ments and dis­pel­led the desk. “Moody’s Pa­tronus is re­port­ing to the me in Azk­a­ban,” Albus said. “His Eye saw noth­ing; and if the Eye of Vance does not see a thing, then that thing does not ex­ist. Your­self?”

“No one has tried to forcibly take my blood,” Severus said. He gave a quick gri­mace of a smile. “Ex­cept the Defense Pro­fes­sor.”

What?” said Min­erva.

“He saw me for an im­pos­tor be­fore I could even open my lips, and quite rea­son­ably at­tacked me on the spot, de­mand­ing to know the where­abouts of Mr. Pot­ter.” Another gri­mace of a smile. “Shout­ing that I was Severus Snape did not seem to re­as­sure him, for some rea­son. I do be­lieve that man would kill me for a Sickle and give back five Knuts change. I had to stun our good Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell, which was not easy, and then he re­acted poorly to the hex. ‘Harry Pot­ter’, nat­u­rally alarmed, ran out and told the owner, and the Defense Pro­fes­sor was taken to St. Mun­gos—”

St. Mun­gos?

“—which said he had prob­a­bly been over­work­ing him­self for weeks be­fore he col­lapsed, such was his state of ex­haus­tion. Your pre­cious Defense Pro­fes­sor is fine, Min­erva, the stun­ner may have helped him by forc­ing him to take a few days off. After­ward I de­clined the offer of a Floo to Hog­warts, and went back to Di­agon Alley and wan­dered; but no one seems to have wanted Mr. Pot­ter’s blood to­day.”

“Our Defense Pro­fes­sor is in the best of hands, I am sure,” said Albus. “Greater mat­ters com­mand our at­ten­tion, Min­erva.”

It took con­sid­er­able effort for her to wrench her at­ten­tion back, but she sat back down, and Severus ges­tured up a chair for him­self as well, and the three of them drew to­gether to be­gin their coun­cil.

She felt like a Polyjuiced im­pos­tor, sit­ting with those two. War was not her art, nor plot­ting. She had to strain to keep one step ahead of the Weasley twins, and some­times she failed at that. She was sit­ting here, ul­ti­mately, only be­cause she had heard the prophecy...

“We are faced,” the Head­mas­ter spoke first, “with a rather alarm­ing mys­tery. I can think of only two wiz­ards who might have en­g­ineered this es­cape.”

Min­erva drew in her breath sharply. “There is a chance it is not You-Know-Who?”

“I’m afraid so,” said the Head­mas­ter.

She glanced to her side and saw that Severus looked as puz­zled as her­self. Afraid the Dark Lord was not ris­ing again? She would have given al­most any­thing for that to be true.

“So,” Albus said heav­ily. “Our first sus­pect is Volde­mort, risen again and seek­ing to re­s­ur­rect him­self. I have stud­ied many books I wish I had not read, seek­ing his ev­ery pos­si­ble av­enue of re­turn, and I have found only three. His strongest road to life is the Philoso­pher’s Stone, which Flamel as­sures me that not even Volde­mort could cre­ate on his own; by that road he would rise greater and more ter­rible than ever be­fore. I would not have thought Volde­mort able to re­sist the temp­ta­tion of the Stone, still less be­cause such an ob­vi­ous trap is a challenge to his wit. But his sec­ond av­enue is nearly as strong: The flesh of his ser­vant, will­ingly given; the blood of his foe, forcibly taken; and the bone of his an­ces­tor, un­know­ingly be­queathed. Volde­mort is a perfec­tion­ist—” Albus glanced at Severus, who nod­ded agree­ment, “—and he would cer­tainly seek the most pow­er­ful com­bi­na­tion: the flesh of Bel­la­trix Black, the blood of Harry Pot­ter, and the bone of his father. Volde­mort’s fi­nal av­enue is to se­duce a vic­tim and drain the life from them over a long pe­riod; in which case Volde­mort would be weak com­pared to his former power. His mo­tive to spirit away Bel­la­trix is clear. And if he is keep­ing her in re­serve, to use only in case he can­not at­tain the Stone, that would ex­plain why no kid­nap at­tempt was made on Harry this day.”

Min­erva glanced again at Severus, saw him listen­ing at­ten­tively but with­out sur­prise.

“What is not clear,” the Head­mas­ter con­tinued, “is how Volde­mort could have en­g­ineered this es­cape. A death doll was left in Bel­la­trix’s place, her es­cape was meant to be un­de­tected; and even though that went wrong, the De­men­tors could not find her af­ter their first warn­ing. Azk­a­ban has stood im­pen­e­tra­ble for cen­turies, and I can­not imag­ine any means by which Volde­mort could have ac­com­plished this.”

“That may mean lit­tle,” Severus said, ex­pres­sion­less. “For the Dark Lord to do what we can­not imag­ine re­quires only that he has a bet­ter imag­i­na­tion.”

Albus nod­ded grimly. “Un­for­tu­nately there is now an­other wiz­ard who laughs at im­pos­si­bil­ities. A wiz­ard who, not long ago, de­vel­oped a new and pow­er­ful Charm which could have blinded the De­men­tors to Bel­la­trix Black’s es­cape. And he is im­pli­cated for other rea­sons, as well.”

Min­erva’s heart was skip­ping beats, she didn’t know how, or why, but a ter­rible ap­pre­hen­sion was dawn­ing on her as to who -

“Who would that be?” said Severus, sound­ing puz­zled.

Albus leaned back and said the fatal words, even as she had feared them: “Harry James Pot­ter-Evans-Ver­res.”

Pot­ter?” de­manded the Po­tions Master, as much shock in that usu­ally-silken voice as she had ever heard from him. “Head­mas­ter, is this one of your jokes? He is in his first year at Hog­warts! A tem­per tantrum and a few childish pranks with an in­visi­bil­ity cloak does not make him—”

“It is no joke,” said Min­erva, her voice barely above a whisper. “Harry is already mak­ing origi­nal dis­cov­er­ies in Trans­figu­ra­tion, Severus. Though I did not know he was re­search­ing Charms as well.”

“Harry is no or­di­nary first-year,” the Head­mas­ter said solemnly. “He is marked as the Dark Lord’s equal, and he has power the Dark Lord knows not.”

Severus was look­ing at her, and you would have needed to know him well to rec­og­nize that his glance was plead­ing. “Am I to take this se­ri­ously?”

Min­erva sim­ply nod­ded.

“Does any­one else know of this… new and pow­er­ful Charm?” Severus de­manded.

The Head­mas­ter glanced at her apolo­get­i­cally -

Some­how she knew, she knew be­fore he even said it, and she wanted to scream at the top of her lungs.

- and said, “Quirinus Quir­rell.”

Why,” she said, in a voice that should have melted half the de­vices in the office, “did Mr. Pot­ter even TELL our Defense Pro­fes­sor about his brilli­ant new Charm for break­ing out of pris­ons—

The Head­mas­ter passed a weary wrin­kled hand across his equally wrin­kled fore­head. “Quirinus just hap­pened to be there, Min­erva. Even I saw no harm in it at the time.” The Head­mas­ter hes­i­tated. “And Harry said his Charm was too dan­ger­ous to be ex­plained to ei­ther of us; and when I asked him again, this day, he in­sisted he had still not ex­plained it to Quirinus, nor had he ever dropped his Oc­clu­mency bar­ri­ers in the Defense Pro­fes­sor’s pres­ence—”

“Mr. Pot­ter is an Oc­clu­mens? You gave him an in­visi­bil­ity cloak and he is im­mune to Ver­i­taserum and he is friends with the Weasley twins? Albus, do you have any idea what you have un­leashed upon this school?” Her voice was nearly shriek­ing, now. “By his sev­enth year there won’t be any­thing left of Hog­warts but a smok­ing hole in the ground!”

Albus leaned back in his great cush­ioned chair, and said, smil­ing, “Don’t for­get the Time-Turner.”

She did scream then, but quietly.

Severus drawled, “Should I teach him to brew Polyjuice, Head­mas­ter? I ask only for the sake of com­plete­ness, in case you are not satis­fied with the mag­ni­tude of your pet dis­aster.”

“Per­haps next year,” said Albus. “My dear­est friends, the ques­tion be­fore us is whether Harry Pot­ter has spir­ited Bel­la­trix Black out of Azk­a­ban, which is more than youth­ful high spirits even by my tol­er­ant stan­dards.”

“Ex­cuse me, Head­mas­ter,” Severus said with one of the dryer smiles she had ever seen him de­liver to Albus, “but I will reg­ister my opinion that the an­swer is no. This is the Dark Lord’s work, pure and sim­ple.”

“Then why,” Albus said, and now there was no hu­mor at all in his voice, “when I planned to re­trieve Harry im­me­di­ately af­ter his ar­rival in Di­agon Alley, did I find that this would re­sult in para­dox?”

Min­erva sank fur­ther back into her chair, dropped her left elbow onto the hard un­cush­ioned arm­rest, leaned her head into her hand, and shut her eyes in de­spair.

There was a nar­rowly cir­cu­lated proverb to the effect that only one Auror in thirty was qual­ified to in­ves­ti­gate cases in­volv­ing Time-Turn­ers; and that of those few, the half who weren’t already in­sane, soon would be.

“So you sus­pect,” Severus’s voice was say­ing, “that Pot­ter went from Di­agon Alley to Azk­a­ban, then looped back to Di­agon Alley af­ter­ward to be picked up by us—”

“Pre­cisely,” said Albus’s voice. “Though it is also pos­si­ble that Volde­mort or his ser­vants watched to make sure Harry did ar­rive in Di­agon Alley, be­fore they be­gan their at­tempt on Azk­a­ban. And that they had some­one with a Time-Turner who would send back the mes­sage of their suc­cess, to trig­ger the ab­duc­tion. In­deed, it was my sus­pi­cion of this pos­si­bil­ity that caused me to dis­patch you and Min­erva on your own mis­sion, be­fore I my­self went to Azk­a­ban. I thought then that their break­out would fail, but if re­triev­ing Harry Pot­ter meant ob­serv­ing the fact of their even­tual failure, then I my­self could not have gone to Azk­a­ban af­ter I had in­ter­acted with him, for Azk­a­ban’s fu­ture can­not touch its past. When, in Azk­a­ban, I re­ceived no re­port from you or Min­erva, nor from Flitwick whom I told to try con­tact­ing you, I knew that your in­ter­ac­tion with Harry Pot­ter had been an in­ter­ac­tion with Azk­a­ban’s fu­ture, mean­ing that some­one was send­ing mes­sages through Time—”

Then Albus’s voice stopped.

“But Head­mas­ter,” said Severus, “you came back from Azk­a­ban’s fu­ture and in­ter­acted with us...”

The Po­tions Master’s voice trailed off.

“But Severus, if I had re­ceived re­ports from you and Min­erva of Harry’s safety, I would not, in the first place, have gone back­ward in time to—”

“Head­mas­ter, I think we must draw di­a­grams for this.”

“I agree, Severus.”

There was the sound of parch­ment be­ing spread on a table, and then quills scratch­ing, and more ar­gu­ing.

Min­erva sat in her chair, head rest­ing in her hand, eyes shut.

There was a story she’d once heard about a crim­i­nal who had pos­sessed a Time-Turner which the Depart­ment of Mys­ter­ies had sealed to him, in a case of ex­tremely bad judg­ment as to who needed one; and there had been an Auror as­signed to track down this un­known time-crim­i­nal, who had also been given a Time-Turner; and the story ended with both of them in St. Mungo’s ward for To­tal Un­re­cov­er­able Nut­cases.

Min­erva sat there with her eyes shut, try­ing not to listen, try­ing not to think about it, and try­ing not to go in­sane.

After awhile, when the ar­gu­ment seemed to have wound down, she said aloud, “Mr. Pot­ter’s Time-Turner is re­stricted to the hours of nine PM through mid­night. Was the shell tam­pered with, Albus?”

“Not to my most dis­cern­ing Charms,” said Albus. “But the shells are new things; and to defeat the Un­speak­ables’ pre­cau­tions and leave no trace of the defeat… might not be im­pos­si­ble.”

She opened her eyes, and saw Severus and the Head­mas­ter star­ing in­tently at a parch­ment cov­ered with tan­gled squig­gles that would have no doubt driven her mad to com­pre­hend.

“Have you come to any con­clu­sions?” Min­erva said. “And please don’t tell me how you ar­rived at them.”

Severus and the Head­mas­ter looked at each other, then turned to look at her.

“We have con­cluded,” the Head­mas­ter said gravely, “that ei­ther Harry was in­volved or he was not; that ei­ther Volde­mort has ac­cess to a Time-Turner or he does not; and that re­gard­less of what could have hap­pened within Azk­a­ban, no­body would have vis­ited the Lit­tle Han­gle­ton grave­yard dur­ing the pe­riod Moody has already watched over it within my own past.”

“In short,” Severus drawled, “we know noth­ing, dear Min­erva; though it seems at least likely that an­other Time-Turner was in­volved, some­how. My own sus­pi­cion is that Pot­ter has been bribed, tricked, or threat­ened into con­vey­ing mes­sages back­ward in time, per­haps even re­gard­ing this very prison break. I shall not make the ob­vi­ous sug­ges­tion as to who is pul­ling his strings. But I sug­gest that at nine o’ clock tonight, we test whether Pot­ter is able to travel the full six hours back­ward to three o’ clock, to see if he has yet used his Time-Turner.”

“That seems wise to do in any case,” said Dum­ble­dore. “See that done, Min­erva, and tell Harry to stop in my office at his con­ve­nience, af­ter­ward.”

“But you still sus­pect Harry of di­rect in­volve­ment in the prison break it­self?” Min­erva said.

“Pos­si­ble but un­likely,” said Severus, at the same time Albus said, “Yes.”

Min­erva pinched the bridge of her nose, took a deep breath, let it out. “Albus, Severus, what pos­si­ble rea­son has Mr. Pot­ter to do such a thing!”

“None that I can think of,” said Albus, “but it re­mains that Harry’s mag­ics alone, of all the means known to me, might have—”

“Hold,” said Severus. All ex­pres­sion van­ished from his face. “A thought oc­curs to me, I must check—” The Po­tions Master seized a pinch of Floo pow­der, strode across the room to­ward the fire­place—Albus hastily waved his wand to light it—and then in a flare of green flame, and the words “Slytherin Head of House office”, Severus was gone.

She and Albus looked at each other and both shrugged; and then Albus turned back to study­ing the parch­ment.

It was only a few min­utes later that Severus spun back out of the Floo, brush­ing traces of ash from him­self.

“Well,” said the Po­tions Master. Again the ex­pres­sion­less face. “I am afraid that Mr. Pot­ter does have a mo­tive.”

“Speak!” said Albus.

“I found Le­sath Les­trange in the Slytherin com­mon room, study­ing,” Severus said. “He was not re­luc­tant to meet my eyes. And it seems that Mr. Les­trange did not like to think of his par­ents in Azk­a­ban, in the cold and the dark­ness, with the De­men­tors suck­ing away their life, hurt­ing ev­ery sec­ond of ev­ery day, and he told Mr. Pot­ter so in as many words, and begged him to get them out. Since, you see, Mr. Les­trange had heard that the Boy-Who-Lived could do any­thing.”

She and Albus ex­changed glances.

“Severus,” Min­erva said, “surely… even Harry… has more com­mon sense than that...

Her voice trailed off.

“Mr. Pot­ter thinks he is God,” Severus said with­out ex­pres­sion, “and Le­sath Les­trange fell to his knees be­fore him in a heart­felt cry of prayer.”

Min­erva stared at Severus, feel­ing sick to her stom­ach. She had stud­ied Mug­gle re­li­gion—it was the most com­mon rea­son for need­ing to Me­mory-Charm the par­ents of Mug­gle­borns—and she knew enough to un­der­stand what Severus had just said.

“In any case,” said the Po­tions Master. “I looked within Mr. Les­trange to see if he knew any­thing of his mother’s es­cape. He has heard noth­ing. But the in­stant he learns, he will con­clude that the per­son re­spon­si­ble was Harry Pot­ter.”

“I see...” Albus said slowly. “Thank you, Severus. That is good news.”

Good news?” Min­erva burst out.

Albus looked at her, his face as ex­pres­sion­less as Severus’s, now; and she re­mem­bered, with a shock, that Albus’s own—“It is the best rea­son I can pos­si­bly imag­ine for re­mov­ing Bel­la­trix from Azk­a­ban,” Albus said quietly. “And if it is not Harry, let us re­call, then it is cer­tainly Volde­mort him­self mak­ing his first moves. But let us not be hasty in judg­ment while there is much we do not yet know, but soon will.”

Albus once more stood up from be­hind his desk, strode to the fire­place still al­ight, cast in an­other pinch of green pow­der, and stuck his head into the flames. “Depart­ment of Mag­i­cal Law En­force­ment,” he said, “Direc­tor’s office.”

After a mo­ment, the voice of Madam Bones came through clear and sharp, “What is it, Albus? I am some­what busy.”

“Amelia,” said Albus, “I beg of you to share any dis­cov­er­ies you have made con­cern­ing this mat­ter.”

There was a pause. “Oh,” said the cold voice of Madam Bones from the blaz­ing fire, “and is that a two-way road then, Albus?”

“It may be,” the old wiz­ard said calmly.

“If any Auror dies of your ret­i­cence, old med­dler, I will hold you re­spon­si­ble in full mea­sure.”

“I un­der­stand, Amelia,” Albus said, “but I have no wish to spark need­less alarm and in­cre­dulity—”

Bel­la­trix Black has es­caped from Azk­a­ban! What alarm or in­cre­dulity do you think I will call need­less, in the face of that?”

“I may call on you to re­mem­ber those words,” said the old wiz­ard into the green flames. “For if I learn that my fears are not need­less, I will tell you. Now, Amelia, I beg you, if you have learned any­thing what­so­ever upon this mat­ter, please share it.”

There was an­other pause, and then Madam Bones’s voice said, “I have in­for­ma­tion which I learned four hours into the fu­ture, Albus. Do you still want it?”

Albus paused -

(weigh­ing, Min­erva knew, the pos­si­bil­ity that he might want to go back more than two hours from this in­stant; for you couldn’t send in­for­ma­tion fur­ther back in time than six hours, not through any chain of Time-Turn­ers)

- and fi­nally said, “Yes, please.”

“We had a lucky break,” said Madam Bones’s voice, “one of the Aurors who wit­nessed the es­cape was a Mug­gle­born, and she told us that the Fly­ing-Fire spell, as we were call­ing it, might be no spell at all, but a Mug­gle ar­ti­fact.”

Like a punch in the stom­ach, that was how it felt, and the sick­ness in Min­erva’s belly re­dou­bled. Any­one who’d watched a Chaos Le­gion bat­tle knew whose hand that showed...

Madam Bones’s voice con­tinued. “We brought in Arthur Weasley from Mi­suse of Mug­gle Ar­ti­facts—he knows more about Mug­gle ar­ti­facts than any wiz­ard al­ive—and gave him the de­scrip­tions from the Aurors on the scene, and he cracked it. It was a Mug­gle ar­ti­fact called a rocker, and they call it that be­cause you’d have to be off your rocker to ride one. Just six years ago one of their rock­ers blew up, kil­led hun­dreds of Mug­gles in a flash and al­most set fire to the Moon. Weasley says that rock­ers use a spe­cial kind of sci­ence called op­po­site re­ac­tion, so the plan is to de­velop a jinx which will pre­vent that sci­ence from work­ing around Azk­a­ban.”

“Thank you, Amelia,” Albus said gravely. “Is that ev­ery­thing?”

“I’ll check if we have any­thing from six hours for­ward,” said the voice of Madam Bones, “if so they wouldn’t have told me, but I’ll have them tell you. Do you have any­thing you want to tell me, Albus? Which of those two pos­si­bil­ities is it look­ing like?”

“Not yet, Amelia,” Albus said, “but I may have word for you soon.”

He straight­ened up from the fire, then, which faded back to or­di­nary yel­low flames. Every minute of the old wiz­ard’s years, ev­ery nat­u­ral sec­ond since his birth and ev­ery sec­ond which Time-Turn­ing had added, all of that plus a few ex­tra decades for stress, was visi­ble on his lined face.

“Severus?” the old wiz­ard said. “What was it ac­tu­ally?”

“A rocket,” said the half-blood Po­tions Master, who had grown up in the Mug­gle town of Spin­ner’s End. “One of the most im­pres­sive Mug­gle tech­nolo­gies.”

“How likely is Harry to know such arts?” said Min­erva.

Severus drawled, “Oh, a boy like Mr. Pot­ter knows all about rock­ets; that, dear Min­erva, is a cer­tainty. You must re­mem­ber that things are done differ­ently in the Mug­gle world.” Severus frowned. “But rock­ets are dan­ger­ous, and ex­pen­sive...”

“Harry has stolen and hid­den an un­known amount of money from his Gringotts vault, per­haps thou­sands of Galleons,” said the Head­mas­ter, and then, to their twin stares, “That was not in my plan, but I made the mis­take of send­ing the Defense Pro­fes­sor to su­per­vise Harry’s with­drawal of five Galleons for Christ­mas pre­sents...” The Head­mas­ter shrugged. “Yes, I agree, sheer folly in ret­ro­spect, let us con­tinue.”

Min­erva quietly thud­ded her head a few times against the head­rest of her chair.

“Nonethe­less, Head­mas­ter,” Severus said. “Just be­cause the Death Eaters never used Mug­gle ar­ti­facts in the first war, that does not mean he is ig­no­rant. Rock­ets fell on Bri­tain as weapons, in the Mug­gle side of Grindelwald’s war. If he spent the sum­mers of those years in a Mug­gle or­phan­age, as you told us, Head­mas­ter… then he, too, has heard of rock­ets. And if he has been listen­ing to re­ports of Mr. Pot­ter and his mock bat­tles us­ing Mug­gle ar­ti­facts, he would cer­tainly learn his en­emy’s strengths and try to re­dou­ble them him­self. That is just how he thinks; any power he sees he will try to take for his own.”

The old wiz­ard was stand­ing stock still, ut­terly mo­tion­less, even the hairs of his beard frozen in place like solid wires; and the thought came to Min­erva, as fright­en­ing as any thought she’d ever had, that Albus Dum­ble­dore was rooted to the spot in hor­ror.

“Severus,” Albus Dum­ble­dore said, and his voice al­most cracked, “do you re­al­ize what you are say­ing? If Harry Pot­ter and Volde­mort fight their war with Mug­gle weapons there will be noth­ing left of the world but fire!”

What?” said Min­erva. She had heard of guns, of course, but they weren’t that dan­ger­ous to an ex­pe­rienced witch -

Severus spoke as though she weren’t in the room. “Then per­haps, Head­mas­ter, he is send­ing a de­liber­ate warn­ing to Harry Pot­ter of ex­actly that; say­ing that any at­tack with Mug­gle weapons will be met with re­tal­i­a­tion in kind. Com­mand Mr. Pot­ter to cease his use of Mug­gle tech­nol­ogy in his bat­tles; that will show him the mes­sage is re­ceived… and not give him any more ideas.” Severus frowned. “Though, come to think of it, Mr. Malfoy—and of course Miss Granger—well, on sec­ond thought a blan­ket pro­hi­bi­tion on tech­nol­ogy seems wiser—”

The old wiz­ard pressed both his hands to his fore­head, and from his lips came an un­steady voice, “I be­gin to hope that it is Harry be­hind this es­cape… oh, Mer­lin defend us all, what have I done, what have I done, what will be­come of the world?”

Severus shrugged. “From the ru­mors I have heard, Head­mas­ter, Mug­gle weapons are only slightly worse than the more… re­con­dite as­pects of wiz­ardry—”

Worse?” gasped Min­erva, and then shut her mouth as though by force.

“Worse than any peril left in these fad­ing years,” said Albus. “Not worse than that which erased At­lantis from Time.”

Min­erva stared at him, feel­ing the sweat break out all along her spine.

Severus con­tinued, still ad­dress­ing Albus. “All the Death Eaters save Bel­la­trix would have be­trayed him, all his sup­port­ers turned against him, all the pow­ers of the world con­verged to de­stroy him, if he had been reck­less with any truly dan­ger­ous po­tency. Is this so differ­ent, then?”

Some mo­tion, some color, had re­turned to the old wiz­ard’s face. “Per­haps not...”

“And in any case,” Severus said with a slightly con­de­scend­ing smile, “Mug­gle weapons are not so easy to ob­tain, not for a thou­sand Galleons or a thou­sand thou­sand.”

Doesn’t Harry just Trans­figure the de­vices he uses in his bat­tles? thought Min­erva, but be­fore she could open her mouth to ask -

The fire­place erupted in green flames, then, and the face of Pius Thick­nesse, Madam Bones’s as­sis­tant, ap­peared therein. “Chief War­lock?” said Thick­nesse. “I have a re­port for you, trans­mit­ted from—” Thick­nesse’s eyes flick­ered over Min­erva and Severus, “six min­utes ago.”

“Six hours ahead, you mean,” said Albus. “Th­ese two are meant to hear it; de­liver your re­port.”

“We know how it was done,” said Thick­nesse. “In Bel­la­trix Black’s cell, hid­den in one cor­ner, was a po­tions vial; and test­ing the traces of re­main­ing fluid shows that it was an An­i­ma­gus po­tion.”

There was a long pause.

“I see...” Albus said heav­ily.

“Par­don me?” said Min­erva. She didn’t.

Thick­nesse’s head turned to­ward her. “An­i­magi, Madam McGon­a­gall, in their An­i­ma­gus forms, are of less in­ter­est to De­men­tors. All pris­on­ers are tested be­fore their ar­rival at Azk­a­ban; and if they are An­i­magi, their An­i­ma­gus form is de­stroyed. But we had not con­sid­ered that some­one pro­tected by a Pa­tronus Charm while tak­ing the po­tion and perform­ing the med­i­ta­tion, might be able to be­come an An­i­ma­gus af­ter they went to Azk­a­ban—”

“I un­der­stood,” Severus said, hav­ing by now put on his cus­tom­ary sneer, “that the An­i­ma­gus med­i­ta­tion re­quired con­sid­er­able time.”

“Well, Mr. Snape,” Thick­nesse barked, “records show that Bel­la­trix Black was an An­i­ma­gus be­fore she was sen­tenced to Azk­a­ban and her form de­stroyed; so maybe her sec­ond med­i­ta­tion didn’t take as much time as her first!”

“I would not have thought it pos­si­ble for any pris­oner of Azk­a­ban to do such a thing...” Albus said. “But Bel­la­trix Black was a most pow­er­ful sor­cer­ess be­fore her in­car­cer­a­tion, and she might have done it if any witch could. Can Azk­a­ban be se­cured against this method?”

“Yes,” said the con­fi­dent head of Pius Thick­nesse. “Our ex­pert says that it is nigh-uni­mag­in­able that an An­i­ma­gus med­i­ta­tion could be performed in less than three hours, re­gard­less of ex­pe­rience. All vis­its to pris­on­ers al­lowed to re­ceive them will be limited to two hours hence­forth, and the De­men­tors will in­form us if any Pa­tronus Charm is main­tained in the prison ar­eas for longer than that.”

Albus looked un­happy at that, but nod­ded. “I see. There will be no fur­ther at­tempts of that sort, of course, but do not re­lax your vigilance. And when Amelia has been told all this, tell her that I have in­for­ma­tion for her.”

The head of Pius Thick­nesse van­ished with­out an­other word.

“No fur­ther at­tempts...?” said Min­erva.

“Be­cause, dear Min­erva,” Severus drawled, hav­ing not quite taken off his ha­bit­ual sneer, “if the Dark Lord had planned to free any of his other ser­vants from Azk­a­ban, he would not have left be­hind the vial of po­tion to tell us how it was done.” Severus frowned. “I con­fess… even so I do not see why that vial was left there.”

“It is some kind of mes­sage...” Albus said slowly. “And I can­not see what it means, not at all...” He drummed his fingers on his desk.

For a long minute or three, the old wiz­ard stared off into noth­ing­ness, frown­ing; while Severus also sat in silence.

Then Albus shook his head in dis­may, and said, “Severus, do you com­pre­hend this?”

“No,” said the Po­tions Master, and with a sar­donic smile, “which is prob­a­bly all the bet­ter for us; what­ever we are in­tended to con­clude from it, that part of his plan has mis­fired.”

“You are cer­tain, now, that it is You-Know… that it is Volde­mort?” said Min­erva. “It could not be that some other Death Eater con­ceived this clever no­tion?”

“And they knew about rock­ets, too?” Severus said dryly. “I don’t be­lieve the other Death Eaters were so fond of Mug­gle Stud­ies. It is he.”

“Aye, it is he,” Albus said. “Azk­a­ban has en­dured im­pen­e­tra­ble for ages, only to fall to an or­di­nary An­i­ma­gus po­tion. It is too clever and too im­pos­si­ble, which was ever Volde­mort’s sig­na­ture since the days he was known as Tom Rid­dle. Any­one who wished to forge that sig­na­ture must needs be as cun­ning as Volde­mort him­self to do so. And there is no one else in the world who would ac­ci­den­tally over­es­ti­mate my wit, and leave me a mes­sage I can­not un­der­stand at all.”

“Un­less he has gauged you ex­actly,” Severus said tone­lessly, “in which case all that is just what he in­tended you to think.”

Albus sighed. “In­deed. But even if he has tricked me perfectly, we may at least rely on the con­clu­sion that it was not Harry Pot­ter.”

It should have come as a re­lief, and yet Min­erva felt the chill spread­ing through her spine and her veins, her lungs and her bones.

She re­mem­bered con­ver­sa­tions like this.

She re­mem­bered con­ver­sa­tions like this from ten years ago, from a time when blood had run through Bri­tain in wide rivers, when wiz­ards and witches she had once taught in class had been slaugh­tered by the hun­dreds, she re­mem­bered burn­ing homes and scream­ing chil­dren and flashes of green light -

“What will you tell Madam Bones?” she whispered.

Albus stood from his desk and paced to the cen­ter of the room, his hand lightly touch­ing the de­vices, here an in­stru­ment of light, there an in­stru­ment of sound; he ad­justed his glasses with one hand, used the other to cen­ter the long silver beard against his robes, and then fi­nally that an­cient wiz­ard turned back and faced them.

“I will tell her what lit­tle I know of the Dark Art called hor­crux, by which a soul is de­prived of death,” said Albus Dum­ble­dore, in a soft voice that seemed to fill the whole room, “and I will tell her what may be done with the flesh of the ser­vant.”

“I will tell her that I am re­con­sti­tut­ing the Order of the Phoenix.”

“I will tell her that Volde­mort has re­turned.”

“And that the Se­cond Wizard­ing War is be­gun.”

Some hours later...

The an­tique old clock upon the wall of the Deputy Head­mistress’s office had golden hands, and silver nu­mer­als to make the clock-face; it ticked and jerked sound­lessly through its mo­tions, for there was a Quiet­ing en­chant­ment on it.

The golden hour hand ap­proached the silver nu­meral of nine, the golden minute hand did the same, the two linked com­po­nents of Time near­ing each other, soon to be in the same place and never to col­lide.

It was 8:43 PM, and the time ap­proached when Harry’s Time-Turner would open, to be tested in the one way that no imag­in­able spell could fool, un­less that spell could by­pass the laws of Time it­self. No body or soul, no knowl­edge or sub­stance, could stretch an ex­tra seven hours in a sin­gle day. She would make up a mes­sage on the spot, and tell Harry to take that mes­sage back six hours to Pro­fes­sor Flitwick at 3PM, and she would ask Pro­fes­sor Flitwick if he had re­ceived it in that hour.

And Pro­fes­sor Flitwick would tell her that he had in­deed re­ceived it at 3PM.

And she would tell Severus and Albus to have a lit­tle more faith in Harry next time.

Pro­fes­sor McGon­a­gall cast the Pa­tronus Charm, and told her shin­ing cat, “Go to Mr. Pot­ter, and tell him this: Mr. Pot­ter, please come to my office as soon as you hear this, with­out do­ing any­thing else along the way.”