Chapter 16: Into the Night
It was later that same night that Harry arrived at Dumbledore's office at his usual time.
"Hello, Harry," Dumbledore said as he held out a morsel of food to Fawkes.
The phoenix plucked the treat out of Dumbledore's hand and the old wizard stroked his pet's soft feathers gently. Dumbledore fed the bird a final bit of food then turned away.
"Do sit down, Harry, we have a great deal to do this evening," Dumbledore said as he took his accustomed seat by the fireplace and Harry did the same. "Now that you have become comfortable navigating the depths of my mind and manipulating its landscape somewhat, it is time to teach you how to duel."
Harry leaned forward in his chair, listening attentively. Learning to duel in the mind was what Harry had been looking forward to since summer and he was keen to finally begin.
"First of all," Dumbledore continued, "you need to understand that dueling in the mind is vastly different from doing so in the physical world, though that may not be readily obvious at first. The only limitation to what you may do in the mind is the mind itself – your own imagination and strength of will. That should become evident to you as we progress.
"There is, however, one crucial piece of information you need to know. Any injuries you inflict upon an opponent in the mind will not have actual physical consequences. For instance, if you were to cut a deep gash in my arm during a duel, I would not in fact suffer that cut in the physical world. There is only one notable exception to this: if you kill your opponent, he will die."
Harry gravely nodded his understanding.
"Then let us begin," Dumbledore said.
Harry took a deep breath, calmed his mind and reached out mentally. Though this had become second nature to him, it was no longer as easy as it had been when he first began his lessons. As Harry had become more confident, Dumbledore had increasingly resisted the intrusion into his mind, forcing Harry to work harder to penetrate it.
Harry forced his way past Dumbledore's memories and deep into the man's mind. With a final push, he broke through the last of the barriers and the familiar garden appeared around him. Harry glanced around for his teacher, but Dumbledore was nowhere in sight. In fact, there appeared to be no one else about at all. However, as Harry surveyed the garden, a shadow swooped by overhead. Harry looked up and stared in astonishment.
A huge Hungarian Horntail dragon was soaring in the clear blue sky above him, its scales glistening in the sun. It glided effortlessly, gracefully through the air and Harry was reminded of the photographs in his book on the Romanian dragon preserve. As breathtaking as those had been, however, they were nothing compared to actually seeing this animal in flight.
Harry had never appreciated that, for all their reptilian qualities, dragons were truly creatures of the air. The Horntail was beautiful in flight. Its powerful wings swept the sky as it wheeled nimbly above him. It came to a halt, hovering on its outstretched wings and let out a roar that must have carried for miles. Then it folded its wings and dived with astonishing speed straight at Harry.
Harry's heart leapt into his throat as the dragon streaked towards him. For a moment he stood frozen in shock then he ran. He raced down the main path and ducked into another, much narrower, path that was covered by an overgrown grape arbor. As he hurried down it, silent as possible, he could hear the beating of the dragon's wings overhead. The beast seemed to be circling, hunting for its prey. Harry stopped as he reached the end of the path and peered cautiously at the garden beyond it.
Neat beds of flowers stretched in every direction for fifty yards: lovely, but useless as cover. The closest shelter was a citrus grove straight ahead, but it was awfully far away. Harry knew that the dragon was waiting for him and would attack as soon as he stepped out into the open. He had no intention of making himself an easy target and bit his lip, trying to sort out his options as he listened to the dragon make another low, slow circle above him.
Then suddenly, Harry felt a great rush of air and a blast of heat behind him. He looked over his shoulder, horrified to see that the vines shielding the way he'd come had burst into flames. Obviously, the dragon was trying to flush him out of his hiding place. Desperately, Harry looked back at the garden, but it afforded no protection whatsoever. The only thing nearby that was over two feet tall was a massive old oak tree, twenty feet away, but that wouldn't shield him from the dragon.
The fire was rapidly consuming the arbor's dense vegetation as it moved towards Harry and he knew he was running out of time. He pulled out his wand and took aim at the oak tree. He could hear the dragon still circling his hiding place even above the roar of the fire. The heat and smoke were becoming unbearable, but Harry waited until he thought the beast was as close to the tree as it might come then mustered all his concentration and force of will. "Reducto!"
The tree was blasted apart. Harry heard the dragon roar in surprise and veer sharply away then he was running as fast as he could amongst a shower of splinters raining down. He raced through the flower beds, jumped a hedge and dashed towards the citrus grove as the startled dragon recovered and gave chase.
Harry reached the cover of the trees and kept running as the dragon roared in frustration. Harry could hear it just overhead, skimming the tree tops, dodging back and forth and ripping at the foliage trying to get to its elusive prey. Harry zigzagged desperately through the orchard, trying to escape the enraged animal. If only he could shake off the pursuit for even a few minutes, he could summon his broom and take to the air himself where he wouldn't be at such a disadvantage. But the dragon gave him no respite. No matter which way he turned, the beast was there above him, tearing at the tree tops with its razor-sharp talons or shooting bursts of fire through the branches.
At last, Harry was forced to stop as the grove ended abruptly at a large, sunny meadow. Harry stared at the open area in dismay then a burst of flames engulfed the tree behind him and he bolted into the meadow. The dragon roared in triumph and Harry turned to face it.
"Reducto!" he cried, pointing his wand at the beast hovering only ten feet away about the trees." There was no effect.
"Relashio! Spicula!" Fiery sparks shot from Harry's wand followed by silvery arrows, but both spells bounced harmlessly off the dragon's hide and it paid no attention to them.
The beast lunged at Harry, who dived out of the way just as the dragon landed where he'd been standing. The animal reared up and slashed at Harry with its front claws. Harry rolled away, but not quite fast enough. He felt a burning pain as the claws grazed his left side.
The dragon reared up again, but dragons, being creatures of the air, are awkward on the ground and Harry managed to avoid the second attack and roll to his feet. He brandished his wand once more, taking aim at the creature's head. "Relashio!"
This time the fiery sparks from Harry's wand hit the dragon in the eyes. It let out a roar of pain as its tail thrashed back and forth. Harry jumped out of the way and pointed his wand at the creature again, but the dragon had already spread its great wings and with a powerful sweep of them, it was airborne. It soared almost straight up into the sky then executed a deft, midair somersault with amazing agility and dived at Harry once more.
Harry looked around frantically and saw a low stone wall nearby that he hadn't noticed before. He sprinted towards it and threw himself over it, startling a small herd of sheep that were grazing in what seemed to be a large pen that the wall encircled. A moment later, a burst of fire singed the back of Harry's neck as the dragon swooped by, startling the animals considerably more. They began to bleat and shy nervously, but Harry ignored them as he got to his feet and raised his wand.
The dragon had learnt its lesson, however. It climbed high into the air where it was supreme and circled the meadow where no attack from Harry could touch it. Harry was trapped out in the open. He was too tired to run any farther and there was nowhere left to hide. His side was bleeding where the dragon had clawed him and he knew that he was no match for the beast. Still, he stood his ground with his wand poised before him. He'd rather die fighting than being hunted like an animal.
The dragon hovered almost directly above Harry, then suddenly tucked in its wings and dropped from the sky like a bird of prey. Harry called out several spells, though he knew they were useless. The sheep were panicking now, bleating in fear and running around the pen. The dragon was almost on top of him and Harry could see its claws poised to strike.
Harry couldn't help it; he closed his eyes. A moment later he heard a chorus of terrified bleating and felt the dragon swoop past him almost brushing him with its wings. He opened his eyes. The dragon was climbing back into the sky, a sheep clutched firmly in its claws. Numbly, Harry watched it fly away with its struggling meal then he sank down onto the ground, exhausted.
"Oftentimes," Dumbledore's voice said behind Harry, "it is better to outwit an opponent than to fight it."
Harry looked around at the old wizard who was sitting on the wall regarding him with a calm and annoyingly amused expression. Harry didn't find the situation funny at all.
"I thought we were supposed to be dueling," Harry said angrily.
"We were," Dumbledore replied, his eyes twinkling. "I told you that dueling in the mind was vastly different from doing so in the physical world."
"You set a dragon on me?"
"Of course. I am preparing you to face Voldemort and he will use every means at his disposal to destroy you. It is worth noting, however, that dragons, for all their fearsome reputations, are not vicious killers by nature. They will only attack humans when they feel threatened or when they are very hungry and there is no other source of food to be had. But given a choice, a dragon will take mutton over human every time."
"Great. So if Voldemort sends a dragon after me, I'm supposed to find the nearest herd of sheep before it kills me, is that it?"
"That could certainly work, though creating your own herd of sheep as I just did would probably be more advisable. Or a small fortress in which to take refuge, or even another dragon to challenge it. The males are quite territorial.
"Any of those things would at least give you some time to devise a more useful strategy than headlong flight or hurling curses you know will have no effect. Such actions are seldom useful in battle.
"Then too, you might simply transform the dragon into a rather large goose and be done with it. But of course, the choice is yours."
Harry ran a hand wearily across his eyes. How could he have been so stupid? "None of those things even occurred to me," he said bitterly.
"Of course they didn't. A lifetime of experience has taught you that it takes inordinate power and skill to transform a dragon into a goose or to conjure an entire herd of sheep out of thin air, let alone a fortress or dragon. In the physical world you could not hope to manage any of these things and it will take considerable practice for you to remember otherwise while fighting under extreme duress in the mind. But rest assured, Harry, you will learn.
"What is more important is that Voldemort does not have the benefit of such practice and he will make the same mistake that you just did when the time comes for you to face him. That will give you an invaluable advantage over him."
Dumbledore's eyes shone with such conviction that Harry couldn't help but believe the old man's assurances and he felt his spirits lift. Learning to duel in the mind was apparently going to be far different from what he had imagined. But with Dumbledore to teach him, Harry knew he could learn and for the first time he felt genuine hope that he could beat Voldemort.
Harry hurried back to Gryffindor Tower, anxious to tell Ron, Ginny and Hermione about his lesson; but when he arrived he found his friends huddled in a corner of the common room looking rather down. Hermione, in particular, seemed positively dejected.
"What's wrong?" Harry asked.
"I've searched everywhere I can think of," Hermione replied indignantly. "The school archives, the historic Daily Prophet indices, along with the public records of births, deaths, marriages, arrests and property sales for the last fifty years. There's no information on Lawrence or Thane anywhere. They might as well have vanished off the face of the earth!"
Harry smiled sympathetically. Hermione had great faith in the power of research and was clearly affronted that her beloved books had let her down.
"It's all right, Hermione. I know you've done your best. We'll just have to find some other way to track down Riddle's friends."
"What about the Keene estate?" Ginny asked. "Do you suppose there could be anything useful there?"
"Well, I did manage to find out more about that," Hermione said. "It's an old manor house in a little town called Quixby about twenty miles from Dorset. In Albert's day, the house was out in the country, but the town's grown a bit in the last fifty years and most of the estate has been sold off for development. All that's left is a couple of acres of land that contain the house, gardens and the family cemetery."
"Does Riddle's trading company still own it?" Harry asked.
Hermione shook her head. "The trading company that Riddle and his friends set up didn't last long. A year after Albert Keene's death it was dissolved and the estate sold to a foreign interest which still owns it. Aside from a long list of perfunctory notes indicating that the taxes have always been paid on time, there's no other reference to the property in any public record."
"So what do you think?" Ron asked Harry.
"I think that if I were Voldemort and didn't want anyone to know that I owned a house in Dorset that I'd transfer the title to a foreign owner. In any case, it's the only lead we've got, so we might as well have a look."
"What? You mean actually go there?"
"Why not? It's a place to start, at least."
Ron looked at Harry dubiously. "It's in Dorset."
"So? You can Apparate, can't you?"
"I can Apparate with Harry," Ginny said.
"We can't Apparate from Hogwarts," Hermione said.
"No, but we can from outside the grounds," Harry said, his voice growing more determined at the prospect of taking up the hunt for Tom Riddle's lost research once more.
"You know," Ron said thoughtfully, "if we take the tunnel under the Whomping Willow to the Shrieking Shack, we could Disapparate from there."
"That's right," Ginny said enthusiastically. "And it'd be better than going into the Forest where someone might spot us."
"That's brilliant!" Harry said. "We can go tomorrow night and be back before anyone misses us."
"But Harry, we have no idea what we might find there," Hermione protested. "What if it's Voldemort's main hideout?"
"Then it'll be a really short trip," Ron said.
"I'm serious, Ron!"
"We're not going to Apparate into the living room," Harry said. "We'll scout out the house first and if it looks all right, we'll go in. If not, we'll come back."
Hermione didn't look entirely convinced, but she nodded agreement.
"That's settled then. We'll go tomorrow after dinner."
No one accosted Harry and Ginny as they slipped out of the castle after dinner the next evening to go for a walk. They found a secluded spot close to the Whomping Willow and before long Ron and Hermione arrived.
"Did you bring your mirrors?" Harry asked.
Ron and Hermione both pulled their pieces of Sirius's mirror from their pockets in answer.
"Good. We'll wait here until it's completely dark."
The plan was straightforward. Under cover of darkness, they would make their way to the Shrieking Shack and Apparate to the Keene cemetery at Quixby, which they reasoned would give them the best chance of not being seen by anyone. If the house appeared to be unoccupied, they'd split up in order to search the place more quickly, using their mirrors to stay in contact with one another. When they were done, they'd Apparate from the house back to the Shrieking Shack and return to Hogwarts.
It was actually one of the simpler covert missions Harry had ever engaged in – far simpler than searching for the Philosopher's Stone or getting a dragon out of Hogwarts, for instance – and Harry felt no anxiety whatsoever as he waited for the sky to darken from deep blue to black overhead.
As soon as it was dark enough, they moved warily towards the willow. Harry prodded the spot on the trunk that would render the tree harmless and one by one they slipped down into the tunnel. The journey to the Shrieking Shack was uneventful and they were delighted to discover that there were no wards on the ramshackle place to prevent them from Disapparating. Moments later, all four of them were standing in a graveyard.
Harry felt a momentary lurch of fear at the sight of the tombstones looming around him which reminded him forcefully of the last time he'd been in a graveyard at night. Vivid memories swam in his mind of Cedric lying dead and of Death Eaters jeering at him as Voldemort tortured him.
"Are you all right?" Ginny asked.
Harry gave her a small smile and nodded then struck off towards the house. Ginny, Ron and Hermione followed him cautiously in silence.
The Keene Manor was a huge old house that must have once been grand, but it had fallen on very hard times. The grounds – both the cemetery and what was left of the gardens – were choked with tall weeds and surrounded by a rusting wrought-iron fence.
The house itself was built of brick which was crumbling in places. Most of the windows were broken and the doors and windowsills were splintered, their paint having long since worn away. The house stood silent and dark, an unmistakable air of abandonment clinging to it. Harry was sure that no one had set foot in the place for a very long time and he doubted that anyone had plans to do so in the near future. Nevertheless, he knew they needed to be wary.
They circled the grounds, taking care to stay out of sight of anyone who might be watching from the house. Hermione had her wand out and was muttering spells under her breath which were intended to detect wards or curses. They made a complete circuit of the property without finding anything suspicious, so they approached the rear of the house and came to a halt by an old wooden door.
Hermione raised her wand once more. "Manifesto."
They waited tensely, but nothing happened. "There are no wards on it," Hermione said, referring to the door.
Harry nodded and pointed his wand at the rusted lock. "Alohomora."
The door squeaked loudly as it swung open. Harry and his friends froze, listening intently, but there was no sound to indicate that there was anyone within the house to hear them. Relaxing, Harry stepped inside and lit his wand. The others followed and they all looked around at the room they had entered which appeared to be a small, informal breakfast room. It contained nothing of interest, so Harry led the way out into the hallway which he followed until they arrived at the entrance hall. He stopped in front of the main staircase.
"All right, let's check our mirrors," he said, pulling his own from his pocket. "Can you see me?"
At once, three images of Harry's face appeared in the other mirrors. Ron, Hermione and Ginny all spoke to their mirrors as well and soon all of their likenesses were taking turns appearing in the glasses
"Good. Ginny, Hermione, why don't you two start upstairs and work your way down. Ron and I will start in the basement and work our way up. Don't forget to watch out for anything that might be cursed."
Nodding agreement they split up and as the girls disappeared up the stairs, Harry and Ron went to look for the door to the basement. It didn't take long to find and soon they were roaming through the kitchen, storerooms and servants' quarters. A thick layer of dust lay everywhere and set Ron sneezing more than once as they carefully searched each room. Most were nearly bare though some of the store rooms were full of odds and ends of old furniture, boxes of dishes and the inevitable whatnots that creep into every such storage place. Unfortunately, they found nothing that might have belonged to Salazar Slytherin or Tom Riddle.
Having searched the entire basement, Harry and Ron went back up to the ground floor where Harry pulled his mirror from his pocket. "Ginny, Hermione, are you there?"
"Yes." Hermione's reply came at once. "We're just finishing up the second floor, but we haven't found anything, yet."
"The basement's clear, too," he said into his mirror.
Ginny's face appeared. "How long do you suppose this place has been standing empty?"
"I don't know, but it looks as if no one's been here since Albert Keene died," Harry said.
"Probably not quite that long." Hermione's face was back in the mirror once more. "Voldemort must have abandoned it when the Muggle development started encroaching."
Ron's face appeared in the mirror. "Can we get on with this? We still have half a house to search, you know."
"We'll let you know when we're finished down here," Harry told the girls then he pocketed his mirror and headed upstairs with Ron.
The ground floor took little time to search. They made quick work of the living room, dining room, music room, game room and several other large rooms whose purpose wasn't immediately obvious. They were just finishing when Ginny's voice called out from Harry's pocket.
Harry pulled out his mirror. "Have you found something?"
"Not yet," the tiny image of Ginny's face said. "But the library is up here on the first floor, so you probably want to come and have a look."
Harry nodded. "We're on our way."
The Keene library was twice the size of the one at number twelve Grimmauld Place. Ginny and Hermione were already perusing the shelves when Harry and Ron arrived.
"We've searched the rest of the floor," Ginny said. "This is the only place left where Riddle's research might be."
"The Keenes certainly had an impressive collection," Hermione said, admiring the assembled works. "There are books here on practically every subject you can imagine: literature, poetry, history, art, music –"
"How about really old books on magic?" Ron asked.
"Everything on magic is over here." Hermione indicated a section that took up an entire long wall.
Ron shined his wand light on the nearest bookshelf and began examining the books. Ginny had already started at the opposite end. Mindful of Slytherin's desk in the Chamber of Secrets, Harry approached the large walnut desk in the center of the room and began to search it for any useful clues or information. Hermione did the same with the credenza standing under the windows.
They were thorough in their work, but after half an hour of searching every nook and cranny in the room, it became apparent that their efforts were in vain. There was no sign of Slytherin's books, Riddle's research, or even a scrap of paper that might lead them to the current or former owners of the property.
"I'm sorry, Harry," Hermione said with genuine regret. "I really thought we'd find Riddle's research here or at least some sort of clue."
Harry stood still, thinking, then shook his head. "It has to all be somewhere. Even if Voldemort threw away his own research – and I really can't believe he would have done – there's no way that he would have tossed Salazar Slytherin's books into a rubbish bin. He revered Slytherin."
"Maybe he gave it all to Lucius Malfoy," Hermione suggested. "After all, Malfoy had his diary."
Ron snapped his fingers. "Of course! I bet they're in that secret room at Malfoy Manor."
"But the Aurors have turned that place upside down," Ginny protested. "After Malfoy was arrested at the ministry, the Aurors searched the whole house and Dad said that the DPS went over it again with a fine tooth comb when Day took over."
"They might have missed –"
"Ssh!" Hermione interrupted Ron, frowning intently. "Listen."
They fell silent and Harry strained to hear whatever might have caught Hermione's attention. Then he heard it: the faint sound of movement coming from the ground floor.
Ron and Ginny had heard it too and looked at Harry in alarm.
"I think we ought to be going," Hermione whispered.
Harry nodded. "Yeah, I think you're right. You and Ron go first."
Hermione stepped back to give herself room to Apparate then she spun in place. Nothing happened. Frowning, she raised her wand, took a deep breath and repeated the motion. This time she swayed slightly as she completed her spin, but she was still there.
"Let me try." Ron spun in place as well, but again nothing happened.
Hermione bit her lip anxiously. "Do you suppose there's an anti-Apparation spell on the house?"
Ron gave her an exasperated look. "As a wild guess, I'd say yes!"
"Come on," Harry whispered urgently, beckoning his friends to follow him as he hurried out of the library. He led the way down the hallway, moving as quietly as possible. But at the head of the main staircase they heard a sound that made them stop dead in their tracks: the unmistakable tread of footsteps below. And they were coming closer.
"Hide," Harry mouthed and they all crept silently back along the hallway. They could hear the footsteps on the stairs and Harry pointed urgently to a door. Ron pushed it open and he and Hermione slipped into the dark room beyond as Ginny pulled Harry into another. Harry shut the door. Then he and Ginny doused their wand lights and stood listening intently for any sound from the hallway.
"Bella, there's nothing of value in this place," a gruff male voice Harry didn't recognize said from the vicinity of the stairs.
"Be quiet, Rodolphus," came Bellatrix Lestrange's harsh, whispered reply. "Potter's here somewhere. I know he is."
Harry could feel Ginny tense at his side and his own stomach clenched at the sound of his name. How could they have been found out?
"We should have informed the Dark Lord!" Rodolphus Lestrange's voice was closer and so was his wife's as she snapped at him.
"Be quiet! Just search the place. They can't Apparate out of the house."
Harry glanced around the room desperately. In the darkness, he could barely make out that it was a sparsely furnished bedroom. The only place to hide was the large wardrobe in the corner. Harry grasped Ginny's hand and pulled her over to it. Quietly as they could they opened the door and stepped inside. Harry shut the door just as he heard the sound of the bedroom door being opened. Through the crack in the door of the wardrobe, Harry could see the glow of wand light. Footsteps were approaching. Harry clutched his wand tightly, preparing to curse whoever opened the door.
At that moment a loud crash sounded from the floor above. Harry and Ginny both jumped and whoever was in the room dashed back out to the hallway.
"Pucey! Bole! Up here," Bellatrix Lestrange called, no longer bothering with stealth. Harry heard footsteps pounding up the stairs from the ground floor. They paused only a moment then continued up to the second floor. Harry cautiously opened the wardrobe door and peered out.
"Harry!" Hermione stood in the doorway with Ron behind her. Abandoning the wardrobe, Harry and Ginny quickly joined them. They could hear doors being thrown open upstairs, but there was no sound coming from the ground floor as they stole quietly downstairs to the entrance hall.
"Which way?" Ron asked quietly.
"Out the back, the way we came," Harry replied.
They hurried down the hallway to the breakfast room. Harry pulled open the backdoor then winced at the loud squeal from the rusted hinges. A shout went up from somewhere behind them but they were already through the door and sprinting away from the house. Harry heard more shouts behind them and knew that the Death Eaters were giving chase. Sure enough, a moment later a curse blasted the ground behind them. It was far off the mark, but managed to shower them all with dirt.
"Split up!" Harry cried, hoping that if they separated they could lose the Death Eaters in the dark. Ginny, who was out in front, dodged to the left back towards the graveyard and Harry followed her, breaking away from Ron and Hermione who veered right towards the overgrown garden.
It was treacherous going running through the pitch black grounds. Harry couldn't see the path before him and could only barely make out Ginny who was twenty yards ahead of him. Just then a bolt of red light sizzled past followed by a brace of silvery arrows which helped to light the way. Harry saw gravestones looming ahead and realized that they were nearly at the graveyard. As he did, panic seized him. They needed to Disapparate before they reached the wrought iron fence beyond it or they'd be trapped. Harry could duck behind any of the approaching gravestones and return to Hogsmeade, but Ginny couldn't. He had to reach her before the Death Eaters caught up to them and he could hear running footsteps behind him growing closer
"Ginny, wait!" Harry called, zigzagging to avoid another better-aimed curse from their pursuers.
Ginny slowed and glanced behind her. "Harry, look out!" she yelled as she skidded to a halt.
Without thinking, Harry dove for the ground and felt the force of the curse as it passed overhead. He rolled to his feet and kept running. He put on an extra burst of speed and reached out for Ginny. He caught her waist and spun around her just as he heard Bellatrix Lestrange call, "Stupefy!"
The suffocating sensation of Apparation had never been so welcome. With a 'pop' Harry stumbled and he and Ginny went sprawling on the floor of the Shrieking Shack. Ron and Hermione were already there and helped pull them to their feet.
"Are you all right?" Ron asked in concern.
Harry and Ginny both nodded breathlessly. Ron sighed in relief then shook his head in disgust. "I thought that bloody house was deserted!"
"It was!" Hermione said. "We looked all over it and I'm sure that no one had been there in ages."
"So they just happened to pick tonight to pop round for old times sake?"
"They knew we were there," Harry said quietly. "They were looking for me."
Harry quickly related the conversation he'd heard between the Lestranges.
"But that's not possible!" Hermione protested. "They couldn't have known we were there."
"They must have left some sort of ward to warn them if anyone entered the house," Ginny said. "That's the only thing that makes sense."
"But I checked! There was no sign of any wards. I'm sure of it."
"Hermione, we're dealing with the most powerful Dark wizard of the century," Ron said, reasonably. "I reckon he could come up with a ward that even you couldn't detect. It's not your fault. Besides, you're the one who came up with that brilliant plan for getting past the Death Eaters."
"What plan?" Harry asked as Hermione blushed with pleasure at Ron's compliment.
"It just occurred to me that whatever was preventing us from Apparating out of the house was probably the same sort of thing that we have at headquarters. No one can Apparate in or out, but we can Apparate anywhere within the house that we want."
"We popped up to the second floor and pushed a wardrobe over into a full length mirror," Ron explained.
"That was clever," Ginny said approvingly.
"I only wish that we'd found something useful for our trouble," Harry said bitterly.
"Don't worry, Harry," Ginny said. "If Voldemort's research still exists, we'll find it."
Harry was quiet during the trip back to Hogwarts. He brooded over having led his friends into danger once more. In particular, he felt guilty about having brought Ginny along. Ron and Hermione were at least of age and could take care of themselves. But it had been irresponsible to Apparate with Ginny. They all could easily have been separated and Harry didn't want to think about what would have happened then. Why couldn't he have spotted the danger before? Why was it only ever obvious in hindsight?
They were nearly at the castle when Harry's gloomy reverie was interrupted by Hermione's urgent whisper. "Look out!"
She stopped abruptly and shoved them all into the shadow of a nearby tree.
"What is it now?" Ron asked.
Hermione pointed. "Look!"
Harry followed Hermione's gaze and saw what she was pointing at. Hurrying across the grounds towards the Forbidden Forest was a dark figure whose purposeful stride was unmistakable.
"It's Snape," Harry said, watching as the man continued across the grounds and then disappeared into the forest.
"Where do you reckon he's going?" Ron asked.
"He must be doing something for Dumbledore or the Order," Hermione replied. "I can't think of any other reason he'd be leaving the castle at this hour."
Unfortunately, Harry could and he felt cold dread as he and his friends continued on up to the castle. Furtively as possible, they snuck through the halls and up to Gryffindor Tower. Neville, Dean and Seamus were all sound asleep when Harry and Ron got to their dormitory and Ron began to snore almost as soon as he crawled into bed. Harry, however, couldn't sleep.
It was as though he was back at Grimmauld Place again, lying awake waiting for the sound of the front door to open and the tread of footsteps on the stairs. He longed to go after Snape, but he reminded himself that he was supposed to leave the surveillance to Knight. He wondered, though, if Knight even knew that Snape had gone. Surely he at least had a responsibility to make certain that the Auror had the information she needed to do her job.
Harry quickly lit his wand, pulled the Marauder's Map from under his pillow and scanned it. Knight was not in her quarters, nor in any of the public areas of the castle, nor out on the grounds. Harry looked over the whole map a second time, but there was still no sign of her. Harry felt slightly disappointed that the Defense teacher was already gone, but obviously she had to have her own means of tracking Snape. Having exhausted his only excuse for caring about Snape's whereabouts, Harry stuffed the map back under his pillow and lay down.
Sleep still didn't come, however, as a new worry pushed to the forefront of Harry's mind. How had Bellatrix Lestrange found them in Dorset? It was possible that Ron was right – that they'd simply missed a ward on the house. But Bellatrix hadn't just known that there was an intruder; she had known that he was there. Harry couldn't help but remember the last time he'd been pursued by Death Eaters. Maybe Hermione hadn't missed any wards. Maybe he was the one the Death Eaters were tracking.
Harry felt a prickle of fear on the back of his neck as he stared into the darkness. The Death Eaters had found a way to use the Sniffer Charm on him once. Could they have done it again? Harry couldn't rule out that possibility. For that matter, a simple tracer spell could have found him. He hadn't even thought to use any anti-tracking charms when they left Hogwarts because they weren't supposed to be away from school. Unlike the attack in London, no one should have been looking for him tonight.
So how had Bellatrix Lestrange known to do so? According to her husband, even Voldemort hadn't known that Harry was in Dorset. In fact, Rodolphus Lestrange had sounded skeptical himself. It was Bellatrix alone who had been certain that Harry was at the Keene estate.
Harry felt the prickling on the back of his neck increase. This was the third unsolved mystery that Harry knew of regarding the Death Eaters – and at least the second involving Bellatrix Lestrange. The first puzzle had been her amazing escape from Azkaban. As far as Harry knew, that still had the Aurors stumped. Then there was the Sniffer Charm that the Death Eaters had managed to learn of only days later. No one knew how they'd come by that. And now Bellatrix had inexplicably turned up in Dorset. Harry had a gut feeling that all three of these events were somehow related and wished that he could tell someone in the Order of his suspicions. But that was impossible because it would mean revealing his trip to Dorset and he couldn't do that.
Harry felt a twinge of anxiety in the pit of his stomach. If Bellatrix really was behind all of these events then she posed a danger that the Order needed to be aware of and Harry had a duty to warn them. But surely the Order already knew, Harry reasoned. They were constantly working against Voldemort and his Death Eaters. If nothing else, Snape's spying certainly must have uncovered some clue by now. It was silly to think that he might have discovered something that everyone else had missed.
Harry's stomach twisted again, not at all convinced by this reasoning, but Harry ignored it. He couldn't admit to Dumbledore that he'd disobeyed him by going to Dorset to continue the search for Riddle's research. Besides, if he hadn't gone to Dorset, he'd never have come to suspect Bellatrix, so by not telling Dumbledore, he was simply doing what he would have done had he obeyed the man in the first place.
Harry's stomach twitched and then was still, apparently persuaded – or at least confused enough – by this tortured logic to accept his decision to remain quiet. Harry sighed in relief, rolled over and pulled his covers up around him. And really, he thought as he drifted towards sleep, he already had so many secrets he was keeping from so many people, one more could hardly hurt.