Chapter 5 : The Post Mortem
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THE POST MORTEM
Remus Lupin stepped out into his garden and raised his hands to the moonlight. Madam Pomfrey's paste had unstiffened his fingers somewhat, but they were still too feeble and shaky to hold a wand properly. Being a werewolf, however, had one advantage to it: any injury not inflicted by a silver weapon would, under the right conditions, magically heal itself.
This healing occurred almost instantaneously when the werewolf was transformed. In human form, it required the same triggers as the transformation itself: exposure to direct moonlight after dark, or failing that, the moon's reaching its highest point in the sky. Fortunately, as it was a clear evening, Lupin didn't have to wait for the next moon transit.
Feeling the strength return to his hands as the moonlight soaked in, Lupin flexed his fingers -- a bit achy yet, but it would do to be going on with. He turned and went back into the house through the still fogged-over kitchen door. Sirius was at the table, wand in hand, mouth set in a grim line, eyes fixed on the doorway. His watchful air relaxed slightly when he saw Lupin emerging from the mist.
'There, good as new,' said Lupin, holding out his hands. It was a small lie, but a necessary one.
Sirius came over to have a look. 'You can use a wand again?' he said. 'Show me.'
Lupin obligingly took the wand and summoned the pot of now rather cold hot chocolate from the sideboard.
'You really ought to be starting off for Mundungus's,' he told Sirius. 'It's not safe for you here, now that the Magical Law Enforcement Patrol have their eye on me. You should have gone when Dumbledore did -- I would've been all right by myself until sunset.'
Sirius stared off into the fog, a haunted look in his shadowed eyes.
'He asked me not to leave him ...' he said quietly. '... that night in the hospital wing, after he'd got away from Voldemort. And I told him -- I told him --'
Sirius' voice broke. Lupin reached out and gripped his shoulder tightly.
'Severus doesn't think he's dead, you heard what he said.'
'And you heard what else Snape said!' Sirius replied harshly.
Unfortunately, Lupin had.
After Snape had explained the cause of the Dementor's extraordinary death by misadventure (and Dumbledore had wiped the last tears of mirth from his eyes), they'd all sat down to discuss the troubling new developments in the Ministry's investigations. It was a highly peculiar experience to see Snape's speech and mannerisms combined with McGonagall's voice and body. Lupin wasn't at all sorry when, halfway through the conversation, the Polyjuice Potion wore off and Snape changed back into himself.
Snape, it turned out, had been given an even more cursory interview than Lupin (luckily, Argus Filch could confirm that he'd been in the Hogwarts library at the time of the attack). The Dementor Snape killed had been one of Fudge's from the interrogation room. The remaining Dementor had left him strictly alone, and Fudge had seemed quite as nervous of Snape as the Dementor. Ormesby -- perhaps having learnt his lesson with Lupin -- didn't try asking Snape about Sirius, nor, surprisingly enough, did he raise the subject of Snape's past association with Voldemort.
'Although I'm not certain Ormesby knows about that,' said Dumbledore, 'and considering how determined Fudge is to believe Voldemort had nothing to do with the incident, I doubt he would have mentioned it to him.'
'I suspect the only reason Ormesby took us in for questioning was because Fudge made him,' said Lupin. 'Ormesby was obviously convinced Sirius Black was responsible, but Fudge wasn't even ready to accept that possibility.'
Dumbledore looked thoughtful.
'I believe the Minister's wish that all this be kept quiet can be made to work in our favour,' he said. 'I will speak to him about Hagrid ... warn him that if any of my staff -- or former staff -- are charged on insufficient evidence, I shall see to it that the entire affair is made public ...'
'Sirius, you can't stop here,' said Lupin suddenly. 'Fudge could be having the place watched ... and Ormesby will probably have Severus and me brought back to headquarters at some point, to interrogate us without Fudge interfering.'
'Yes,' said Dumbledore, 'it would be best if Sirius went and stayed with Mundungus Fletcher for a while.'
'Have you found out anything about Harry?' Sirius asked him urgently.
Dumbledore's face grew sombre.
'I have not,' he said. 'Hedwig and I have searched the length and breadth of Britain and seen no sign of him. It would take strong magic indeed to conceal a wizard from his own owl ...'
Left unspoken were the words, '... if he was still alive.'
Dumbledore gave a heavy sigh and turned to Snape. 'Have you anything to report, Severus?'
'Nothing of any real importance,' said Snape. 'Since our last conversation, all the Death Eaters have been instructed to lie low and forbidden to conjure the Dark Mark without permission. The only fresh orders the Dark Lord has given me specifically are to keep you under observation and notify him of any unusual behaviour. When I told him you were not replying to owls and nobody knew where you were, he appeared satisfied. Apart from that, he still has me fetching and carrying. The Dark Lord seems to have lost all interest in the Potter family since cursing Potter's house. It was not merely my research into their background that was halted, but everyone's, at least as far as I have been able to learn. He has offered no explanation for this. In fact, he has not so much as mentioned the incident in passing whilst talking to me.'
Snape stared down at the threadbare tablecloth. Lupin could almost see the wheels going round inside his head.
'It may be,' Snape said slowly, 'that the most significant thing I have discovered is not what the Dark Lord has been doing, but what he has not been doing. The Dark Lord was -- most upset -- when Potter once more escaped death at his hands on the night of his rebirth. Had Potter somehow managed to slip through his fingers yet again, I cannot imagine he would have simply decided to let the matter drop. Nor would he have murdered Potter and kept the deed secret. He'd have boasted of it to his Death Eaters, if no one else.'
Snape fixed each of them in turn with his unfathomable black eyes.
'If the Dark Lord is not searching for Potter, it is because he already has him. If the Dark Lord has not killed Potter, it is because, for some reason, he needs him alive.'
A nasty silence fell over the room as they all considered just what that reason might be. Then Sirius stood abruptly and began to pace the kitchen.
'Right, so Voldemort's holding him prisoner somewhere. What about Crouch's house? There'd be nobody living there ... and that graveyard -- have you searched the surrounding area?
'I have checked all the places Voldemort has previously used as hideouts,' said Dumbledore. 'All those we're aware of, at any rate. None are currently occupied. I didn't really expect he'd be foolish enough to return to one of them ...'
'So where is he now?' muttered Sirius. He looked sharply at Snape. 'You say he's had you fetching and carrying. Where's he had you fetching and carrying to?'
'I -- don't -- know,' said Snape through gritted teeth. 'I Apparate where he summons me. Some kind of stone building -- he has a study and a room outside for us to wait in. There are other doors, but I've not been through them --'
'Why haven't you, then?' demanded Sirius. 'Harry's been missing for over a fortnight, why haven't you searched the place top to bottom?'
'Because I'd be caught before I'd gone five paces,' snapped Snape. 'I can't Apparate there unless I'm summoned and I can't Disapparate until the Dark Lord dismisses me. He has a serpent in a tank to keep an eye on us in the waiting room; the wretched creature watched me like a hawk the last time I was there --'
'Well, if you're not willing to risk your neck looking for Harry, I am,' said Sirius flatly. 'You can take me with you the next time you go -- Dumbledore can Transfigure me into a mouse or something --'
'You think no one has ever thought of that?' said Snape angrily. 'We can't carry living creatures with us when we Apparate in the Dark Lord's presence. Not even down to the size of a flea -- I've tried it.'
Sirius surveyed Snape intently. 'Polyjuice Potion,' he said.
'Brilliant deduction, Black,' sneered Snape. 'I could hardly afford to have it get back to the Dark Lord that Severus Snape had been spotted in Dumbledore's pet werewolf's kitchen --'
'No, I'll take Polyjuice Potion,' said Sirius impatiently. 'Turn into you, Apparate in your place. I can bring James' Invisibility Cloak with me --'
'Polyjuice Potion won't give you the Dark Mark,' said Snape, sticking out his left forearm.
'Nor will an Invisibility Cloak hide you from Voldemort,' said Dumbledore.
'And may I remind you,' Snape continued, 'there is more at stake here than one boy's life. Our prime concern is stopping Voldemort, not safeguarding Harry Potter. I will do what I can for him, of course, but only insofar as it does not compromise my effectiveness as a spy.'
It was a good thing for Snape that Sirius' pacing had taken him to the opposite end of the kitchen. Even so, Lupin was barely able to intercept Sirius in time. He had to literally fling his arms around Sirius to hold him back, as his fingers weren't sufficiently mended to keep a grip on Sirius' robes. Sirius, moreover, was evidently quite prepared battle his way across the room with Lupin clinging on to him like a limpet, if that was what he had to do to get at Snape.
'Sirius, sit down,' said Dumbledore.
For a moment or two, Lupin was afraid that Sirius wasn't going to heed Dumbledore. Then all the fight seemed to go out of him. He ceased his attempts to drag Lupin bodily across the floor and stumbled to the nearest chair.
'Dumbledore, you can't let him -- you can't just abandon Harry to die!'
But there was a note of desolation behind the raw pleading in Sirius' voice. He must have understood as well as Lupin did that Snape was right: preventing Voldemort's return to power was more important than the fate of any one wizard. Lupin waited miserably for Dumbledore to tell Sirius exactly that.
Dumbledore was silent for nearly a full minute. He appeared to be carefully weighing his words.
'There is indeed more at stake here than one boy's life, Severus,' he said at last. 'Nonetheless, we must have Harry back. You are not to risk yourself pointlessly -- I agree that a search of the building you spoke of is out of the question under the present circumstances -- but if you see any chance of getting Harry safely away, any chance at all, do not hesitate to take it ... even if it means sacrificing your cover as a Death Eater.'
Ignoring the flabbergasted expressions on the faces of his companions, Dumbledore stood briskly.
'Now I must be off. I will notify you if I learn anything new; you all know how to contact me should you do likewise.'
He gave them a small smile, and Disapparated.
Disclaimer: All characters and concepts from the Harry Potter series copyright J K Rowling.
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