Dolores Umbridge had been careful to keep the capture of the Malfoy boy secret from Ministry employees, with the exception of course of the people initially involved. Hence, she had decided to keep the prisoner in what she considered the most secure place in the whole of Headquarters: the Locked Room in the Department of Mysteries. One thing she was certain about was that he wouldn’t be escaping from there anytime soon. That chamber was sealed in such a way that it would be impossible for anyone without the right authority to gain access, even in the unlikely event that his whereabouts were discovered. Just like at Hogwarts, Apparition wasn’t possible either. This should give her and Weasley ample time to ascertain what clues the items found in Malfoy’s clothing held, also to figure out what to do with him from then on.
They had taken the extra precaution of sedating Draco, although the Minister herself had ensured - by her methods of interrogation - that he would be out for the count for quite some time. She had dismissed his custodians earlier that night, as she was pretty confident that their presence wasn’t necessary given the circumstances.
Percy had offered to take the supposed Invisibility Cloak with him to privately carry out some checks. The communication Muggle device, although slightly bewildering at first, was in fact less complex that he had anticipated. It was a simple matter of flicking it open and pressing various keys. The one thing he could not fathom was why the diabolical-looking artefact played a tune whenever it came to life. Was that some form of coded message? He didn’t let that small detail rattle him and proceeded to press buttons and to take notes of any other options the object gave. Some of these options, ‘phonebook’ for instance, were rather obvious. He selected this and, to his delight, he came across not just numbers but the names to which they seemed to correspond. He silently cheered.
Could that be Hermione Granger? Harry Potter’s and his brother Ron’s friend? Percy sighed. That would have been too good to be true, there must had been lots of Hermiones about, although this was a pretty uncommon name as far as he was aware.
Dolores looked at him with avid eyes, expecting Percy to come up with some huge revelation. It was by then very late into the night, close to dawn in fact. He explained that there was no point in calling any of these numbers when people were supposed to be fast asleep.
In the end, both Umbridge and his assistant went back to their respective homes, as it was established that there was nothing much they could do until the morning. Before they did so, Percy asked for her permission to borrow some books from the Muggle Liaison Department but didn’t elaborate. He was, at that stage, unwilling to reveal to his boss what he considered far-fetched theories. Yet, before he left the building, he took a detour to look into Harry’s file. Yes, his legal guardians had been some relatives whose surname was Dursley. Eureka! That could not just be a coincidence, not when reinforced by the entry: ‘Hermione.’ That information alone was sure to grant him yet another promotion!
Neither Harry nor Percy managed much sleep. They both had things on their minds.
Hermione hadn’t slept particularly soundly either and heard footsteps. She pretended to go to the bathroom in an attempt to ascertain who was up so early in the day. She saw light coming from the direction of the drawing room. She made her way towards it and stood outside, keeping very still. Cautiously, she opened the door just enough for her to figure out who the wanderer was. Harry! He looked deep in concentration. She cast the Muffiato charm and manually made the door swing open, closing it very swiftly in her wake.
“Harry,” she whispered. “You ought to be in bed. You’re burning the candle at both ends.”
“And you’re beginning to sound like Molly,” he replied with a grin. “Come here, I’ll show you something.” He beckoned Hermione to sit next to him and passed over to her the infamous Potions book. It was opened on the page where the new inscription had shown up. “But first, have you worked out the spell to authenticate the writing?” he asked in a low voice.
Hermione paused. “Give me a second, Harry, it’s at the tip of my tongue. That’s it!” she exclaimed placing her hand against the relevant piece of handwriting. “Exhibeo Scriptorem!”
The words Severus Snape appeared. They had been correct in guessing that the additional text wasn’t a fake.
“And you’re absolutely certain that this wasn’t here before?” Hermione double-checked.
“Completely. I combed this book from top to bottom last year, as you very well know.”
“Harry, this has to be a clue about the Horcruxes. It can’t be anything else.”
“Looks that way, doesn’t it? So, Snape has left a message for me, you think?” Harry wondered aloud.
“Well, I’ve been meaning to talk to you for a while, about Snape…” she uttered timidly.
“I know your theories, Hermione, but he killed Dumbledore. Let’s weight this out. What exactly do we have to back up your idea that he’s still on our side?” he asked sceptically.
“Alright, you said that Dumbledore was pleading...” Hermione glanced at Harry watching out for his reaction.
He curled up his lips. “Umm… well, yes.”
“I also told you my impression of him when we went to rescue your aunt.” She paused; the memory of that night was indeed a very painful one. Nonetheless she composed herself and continued. “She thought the same as I did. When I met up with her she actually said that, at the time, he had told her ‘not to worry’. It seems obvious that he was putting on an act for the Death Eaters and also that he expected you to go back for the book sooner or later.”
“What if someone else found it instead?”
“Only you knew where you have put it, Harry.”
“But he didn’t know where that was,” he protested.
“Look, you’re not that hard to read. Where else would you hide something in desperation? Everyone knows about that room, Hagrid, Trelawney... It’s hardly a well-kept secret, plus he could have easily used Legilimency on you. In fact, he could have forced you to tell him the truth, to retrieve it, if he had wanted to. Maybe he allowed you to dispose of it on purpose to use it as a means of communication later on.”
“Could be,” Harry reluctantly conceded, “but why would he expect me to go back to get it after the school closed?”
“Because you had relied on that book all year long and he knew it. He expects you to hate him but probably also to trust his skill,” Hermione reasoned.
“He ought to have known me better than to expect me to have anything to do with the work of a murderer.”
“But he was right since you did go to fetch it.”
Harry let go off this for the time being, silently admitting defeat. He had for some time wanted to find out more about Hermione’s meeting with his aunt, to learn the true meaning behind Petunia’s words when she had told him that ‘she went out with Spape once or twice’ but had been scared of what he might discover. Lupin had admitted that Snape had been friends with his mother at Hogwarts and Draco had blurted out that he had been in love with her. Had there been more? Petunia could have dated him to get back at his mum. Petty, yet possible.
“Hey, wake up,” Hermione prompted.
“Sorry, you know, when you met up with my aunt, did you talk about Snape and her? About him and my mum?” He took his gaze down and rested his chin on his left palm.
“Harry, just a little. He lived near your grandparents.”
Harry widened his eyes. “Really?”
She nodded. “That’s what she told me after quite a bit of questioning. She said that they were both ‘odd’, your mum and him, well you know what she’s like, and that they were quite close.”
“What do you mean by ‘quiet close’?” he questioned. His body tensed.
“I’m pretty sure she meant just friends, they were kids, Harry.”
It was very hard for him to fathom how this could have been. Yet, even Remus had confirmed that. The image he once saw in the Pensive came back to haunt him. She had come to his defence when his dad was pranking him and all she got as a reward was being called a ‘Mudblood’. His own half-blood was now beginning to boil.
Then, suddenly, he thought he saw something. He instinctively placed his wand on top of the handwritten message.
“Hermione, look!” he exclaimed excitedly. “I’m sure there is another message underneath this one. I can sort of sense it.”
“Let me think.” She motioned for him to stop talking for a moment and picked up the book. She sounded unsure but nonetheless determined. “Revelo” she simply commanded.
Two locks of hair materialised; one blond, one red. Then, suddenly, the voice of Severus Snape filled the room. It emanated from the fireplace.
“This message is for Potter alone.”
“I’ll be in the main living-room,” Hermione said taking her leave.
“You?” Harry addressed him in an accusatory tone.
“Of course it is I. You summoned me, not the other way round. You came back for my book.” Snape pronounced the word ‘my’ slowly, in a calculated way. “I am not your enemy,” he added dispassionately.
“You murdered Dumbledore,” Harry spat back.
Severus’ image then, through the hearth, cast the Muffiato charm once more; whether to reinforce Hermione’s or to prevent her from becoming privy to this, Harry couldn’t tell.
“That it’s between the Headmaster and myself alone. I will answer to the Supreme Being when my time comes, not to you, Potter.”
“Why did you do it?” Harry was now frantic.
“Are you deaf?”
Harry realised that he couldn’t make Snape disclose anything he didn’t wish to, so he moved onto the next question: “These locks of hair. What do they mean?” he demanded.
Severus chuckled. “Well, I’ll give you two guesses.”
“One of them is my mother’s, isn’t it? ISN’T IT?” He couldn’t help but caress the red one, even as he spoke. That was the closest he had ever been to something physically belonging to his mother in his living memory.
“Control that temper of yours. I will not tolerate your unruly behaviour,” the Potions Master told him condescendingly.
“Shut up! You’re a fugitive!” Harry bellowed.
“And so are you, Potter. I do read the ‘Prophet’ from time to time. You are wanted for fraud if nothing else.”
“This charade has gone on long enough. I won’t pretend to like you. I do not, but I am going to try to help you.”
Snape smirked. “My reasons are my own,” he stated succinctly.
“Professor Mystery!” Harry mocked rolling his eyes. “Does the other one belong to Narcissa Malfoy, by any chance?”
“Ten out of ten for deductive skills, Potter,” he replied with the same kind of cadence he had used when Harry had answered that ghosts were transparent back in his sixth year.
Harry then felt as if his chest was being compressed. So, it was true. He had loved them both.
“Were you and my mum lovers, ever?” He was now almost hyperventilating.
“No.” Severus answer was rotund, deep and sour.
Harry tried to compose himself but was finding it difficult. Somehow, he almost felt as if Snape was enjoying this; making him suffer and for what? For being the product of the union between his school enemy and the woman he had loved? If this was the case, why didn’t he hate Draco? After all, Narcissa had also married someone else, or had his infatuation with her come later?
“You’re right. This has gone on too long,” Harry now said urgently, “We believe that Malfoy has been captured. I mean, Draco Malfoy,” he clarified. Harry had now taken the unprecedented leap of trusting him. Something akin to intuition had led to that somewhat rushed decision.
Severus grinned. “Let’s stop playing cat and dog, shall we, Potter? You know I can read your mind. Cutting to the chase, I hate for a kid, and furthermore, for you to have been entrusted which such a mission, but a mission you have.”
"Any clues on the mission, as off the record?” Harry asked with a tinge of sarcasm.
“Clues, I have given you plenty. Also, the fact that you and Draco are now co-operating has given me more headaches than otherwise. My job was far simpler when you hated each other.”
Harry couldn’t help but smirk. It was all so absurd. “Well, if you’re serious and truthful about helping us, how about spelling it out in plain English? As a matter of sheer curiosity, do you care about Draco Malfoy at all?”
“I’m trying to keep you both alive. Likes and dislikes do not even come into it.”
“Glad to hear,” he replied scornfully. “Now, how do I rescue Draco?”
“You? The Saviour of Humankind!” Snape snorted. “I gave you the locks for a reason. Keep your mother’s, I know you are sentimental. Use Narcissa’s.”
“How?” Harry almost howled.
“If you’re as receptive as they claim, she’ll come to you.”
“She was your sweetheart, not mine. I don’t understand. Why doesn’t she go to you instead, if she can help?” Harry looked subdued as he said that.
“Because you’re in a better position with the Order perhaps?”
That silenced Harry momentarily.
“I have a favour to ask of you. For what Draco tells me, we have a common Muggle acquaintance…”
“Potter, it’s time. I must leave it now to this amazing brain of yours.”
“Harry Potter imploring,” Severus mocked.
“Whatever,” Harry brushed off dismissively. “The priest. Talk to him. Tell him we’re sorting it all out.”
“He doesn’t trust me anymore. I’m a murderer, as you very eloquently put it.”
“He has time for people who repent, I’m sure.” Harry said tentatively. “He’s a nice guy.”
“And you have only met him once.”
“Right, my instincts, Snape, have got me out of as much trouble as they have got you; more so, in fact.”
“Potter, by the way, there is an enchantment on our ‘private’ conversation. If you reveal any of it, I will know.”
“Is that a threat?”
“It is a fact. Of course since you’re absolutely unable to keep anything from Weasley, Granger and your girlfriend and, given that I came to you voluntarily being fully aware of that, I’ll make an exception, as Dumbledore did.”
Harry didn’t like the fact that Snape was now calling the shots, setting the terms. He liked even less the fact that he had mentioned Dumbledore’s name.
“How dare you mention!” he retorted scathingly.
“One day, you’ll find out the truth, no doubt, but not today.”
And with that he left and the fireplace became once again dusty and uninteresting.
Percy was at work even earlier than usual. He had done a little homework and had checked the bank’s number against the Muggle telephone directory he had borrowed from the Muggle Liaison Department. It turned out to be an off-shore investment one, given the advertisement placed on ‘yellow pages’; the kind of institution that targeted wealthy Muggles.
Also, Harry’s phone had been found on Malfoy. That could only mean one thing: they had joined forces. He was well aware of Narcissa’s death at the hands of the Dark Lord, albeit not of the exact circumstances. That explained matters to a certain extent. Had Draco joined the Order? That was something unconceivable yet not impossible. Everyone had to try to keep themselves alive, but for Potter to have lent it to him? Were they now that close? Was Potter foolish enough to trust just like that? Had Draco stolen it from him? Too many questions. At that moment in time, he chose to concentrate on his achievements instead.
Once he explained his theory, Umbridge’s mood improved. She was definitely impressed with Percy’s findings.
“Do you mean Potter, ‘the Harry Potter’?
“I do indeed, Minister. That number belongs to his relatives. As you know, he has stayed at my family’s place in the past. Also, I have found details of where he’s keeping the money he fraudulently took from Gringotts.”
“Well, Percival, that’s certainly progress.” She could hardly conceal her exhilaration.
“We’ll have to question Malfoy further, of course,” Percy contributed, but I would advise to let him recover just a little, or else he’ll be dead and useless to us, as I already pointed out last night.”
“Very well, now, could you please pass me that Muggle concoction?” she demanded rather impatiently.
“It won’t work inside this building,” Percy advised. “You could go outside into the Muggle streets, I guess.”
She went on her heel and impatiently dialled the number Percy had pointed to her.
A metallic sounding voice answered.
“Your call is important to us, you are holding a queue, we will be with you as soon as an operator becomes available.”
What the hell was that!
The Minister’s assistant explained that their best bet was to wait until at least 9.00 am when the bank should open. Still, the same thing followed. If Dolores had had very little time for Muggles to begin with, she had even less now. Finally, after half an hour or so, which could have been better invested in Ministry affairs, she got through.
“Hello, my name is Marilyn, how can I help you?”
Umbridge had researched her back-story relatively well with Weasley’s help.
She started off in an imperious way. “I’m enquiring after the account of a Harry James Potter,” she began.
“I’m sorry, madam, we’re not at liberty to discuss accounts with anyone other than the customer.”
That was that then. Still not deterred, being so close to getting back what she believed were her dues, she commanded that Percy tried next pretending to be Harry.
He did as he was told but he was asked for a password. He improvised; couldn’t remember it. “Surely, he wasn’t going to loose its assets because of it,” he rebuked.
“No, of course not Mr Potter,” the lady on the other end comfortingly stated, “just come in person with identification, that should be fine, a passport, driving licence you know.”
It was obvious that they were hitting a brick wall on that one. Something was mentioned about the ‘Data Protection Act.'
After the twenty minutes or so that it took for a human being to answer, she stated in no unclear terms that she was the Ministry of Magic herself and that she demanded…
The line went dead.
She tried to gather her thoughts but came to the conclusion that Potter had stolen a very large fortune. She couldn’t let that go. In a huff, she phoned the office of the Muggle Prime Minister himself. When she finally got through to him, after being placed on hold several times, he appeared rather troubled about internal problems and was not co-operative in the least.
“Ms Umbridge. If it had been a question of mass murders, huge disasters etc, at your service as always, but what you are troubling me with seems to be a very trivial internal financial matter; an inheritance situation in fact. We deal with these issues ourselves without the aid of the wizarding community, I suggest you do likewise,” he told her curtly.
She was not amused.
Meanwhile, Hermione received an alarming phonecall from Harry’s bank. Harry remembered having put her down as next of kin. The caller explained that they had had two enquiries coming from the phone number Harry had given as his own. They were concerned that it had been stolen and that someone was trying to access his account details. She passed them over to him.
“Yes, it’s me, yes I’m Mr Potter.” He gave them the telephone-banking password.
“A man and a woman tried, you said?”
“The woman tried first. We have blocked your accounts until such time as you present yourself here with identification.”
That was not ‘per se’ a problem. He had never been abroad with the Dursleys and had not owned a passport until recently. However, he did have a Muggle birth certificate, which Dumbledore had arranged for him when he placed him at Privet Drive. He had subsequently obtained a passport once he realised it may come in handy sooner or later. He was now very happy to have done so.
“Hermione, get your father. This is important! Get him to speed up the purchase of the apartment. By the way, Umbridge has Draco, I’m sure of it!” He had spoken very quickly, to the point that he had been almost unintelligible. He would deal with Snape and the stuff about his mother and Narcissa later. Brainstorming would have to wait but he ensured that he caught up with Mr Wesley before he left for work. Harry told him what he knew minus the conversation with Snape, as per the condition enforced upon him.
He was going to have to go into the City anyway, to ensure that his funds remained available. Malfoy’s capture was still very much the priority though. After explaining to his friends his encounter with their former teacher, they all decided that the communication was meant to come through a dream or something tantamount, from Narcissa… He would now have to wait and trust that his instincts would lead him in the right direction.
“You try it, Gin, you’re the psychic!” he said feeling overwhelmed.
Draco’s eyelids felt heavy as he opened them slowly. He found it hard to focus and had never felt that weak. Everything appeared enveloped in a very thick whitish fog. He had no idea how long it would be before someone came to check on him. When someone did, he though, perhaps his best bet would be to pretend to be unconscious, yet he could not live on thin air forever. However, at that moment in time, even in the event that some form of nourishment had been forthcoming, he was far too exhausted to eat or even to think about it.
Meanwhile, Harry had gone into the City to sort out with the bank the issue of his account’s security. Immediately afterwards, he telephoned Mr Granger indicating that it was now imperative that the purchase of his apartment proceeded forthwith. Will Granger agreed to meet him in a public house located within the precinct of Liverpool Street station. The place was heaving with commuters and travellers alike. It was far too noisy and busy for anyone to pay attention to their conversation. They both ordered a coffee. Mr Granger made a call to his lawyer to explain the situation. After all, the property was sold with vacant possession. There was no real reason why completion couldn’t take place there and then, other than the fact that some routine checks on the property such as local authority searches were still being carried out. Harry decided that he would bear any risks for the sake of swiftness. His account had almost been compromised and waiting any longer didn’t seem the right way forward. Before the day was over all contracts were signed and Harry had been given the keys. This would have been a most exciting development, had it not been for the fact that he couldn’t get Malfoy’s capture off his mind. Likewise, his friends felt very much that way also; even Ron, who had never made a secret of how much he still disliked the Slytherin boy.
Once in bed, Harry had trouble falling asleep. Snape’s message have been nothing but cryptic. What part exactly was he to play with regard to Narcissa? His mind kept going round in circles like a hamster on a wheel. He was absolutely certain that Umbridge had Draco but where? The first idea to come to him was the Department of Mysteries; that was it! That brought him back to the recurrent dreams he experienced prior to the death of his godfather, to the ever-moving doors that emerged from the rotating chamber… There had been one in particular that wouldn’t budge with anything, including the penknife that Sirius had given him. His attempt on that door had in fact melted away its blade. It made sense to Harry that Dolores could be keeping his prisoner there. Had Dumbledore not mentioned that that place contained love? He picked up Narcissa’s lock of hair in a conscious effort to invoke her. Nothing happened. He tried time and time again. After all, Mafoy was in trouble because for once in his life he had come to his aid. It was all his fault once again!
‘Narcissa Malfoy, for crying out loud, if you’re somewhere around, your son needs you!’ he muttered practically out loud.
He was so drained with it all that within a few minutes, he entered into a deep dream.
He woke up in the middle of the night covered in sweat. He couldn’t recall the details but he knew that something had happened. The lock of blond hair he had been clutching in his hand when he fell asleep was gone. He just had to pray that whatever exchange he might have had with Narcissa’s spirit hadn’t led her on a wild-goose chase. He had some vague incline that Father Sean had also featured in his oneiric travels, in which capacity he wasn’t sure.
The Minister of Magic had intended to interrogate Malfoy first thing in the morning. She wasn’t pleased to find, to her complete astonishment, that he had escaped.