Harry Potter and the Chained Souls

Chapter 18: Deceptions and Designs

Harry was still preoccupied with the events in Wales when he arrived at Dumbledore's office Monday night, but he did his best to push those thoughts aside as Dumbledore greeted him and they settled down by the fire to begin his lesson. Calming his mind, Harry faced the old wizard, reached out mentally and immediately met a wall of resistance that he would have once found impenetrable. But Harry had learnt this particular lesson well. He knew that it would not be easy to penetrate Voldemort's mind even given the unique connection they shared and had worked especially hard to overcome every new obstacle Dumbledore erected in his mind.

As usual Harry had to use all of his skill and force of will to breach the man's latest defenses, but at last he reached the deepest part of Dumbledore's mind and the garden appeared around him. Harry stood panting from the exertion, but he knew that the challenge had just begun. He automatically drew his wand and looked around warily then struck off down one of the side paths in search of whatever test Dumbledore had set him.

The path he had chosen led almost immediately into an area of densely packed, towering flora: six foot high stands of bamboo, fennel and sunflowers along with rhododendrons nearly as tall as Harry. The path was sheltered from any breeze and the air was warm and heavy with the scent of jasmine and honeysuckle. Harry barely noticed the ancient potting shed, overgrown with ivy, but as he drew up beside it, the ivy snaked out a long tendril which twisted itself around Harry's ankle and yanked him off of his feet. He hit the ground with a thud as the rest of the plant sprang into action, seizing Harry as he fought to pull free. It was no longer ivy, but had become Devil's Snare and it wound around Harry so aggressively that it ripped his wand from his hand and hoisted him off the ground. Then one of the plant's vines wrapped itself around his throat.

Harry couldn't breathe or move and he could feel himself starting to panic, but he knew that struggling would be useless. He closed his eyes and forced himself to focus. Concentrate! At once the Devil's Snare turned back into ivy, dumping Harry unceremoniously onto the ground. Harry sat in the dirt gasping for a moment, then stood up and dusted himself off, all the while watching the plant to ensure that it didn't attack him again.

He continued down the path, but hadn't gone far when he heard a sound that chilled his blood. It was a voice – inhuman and horribly familiar. "Kill. Rip. Tear." It was a basilisk; Harry was certain. But here in the cloying profusion of plants he couldn't tell what direction the voice was coming from and he didn't dare look around.

Harry clutched his wand tightly, listening for the voice or any sound of movement. "Rend," the voice hissed, much closer than it had been and Harry could hear something big rustling through the dense bushes to his left. "Devour… You!"

A huge snake as big around as an oak tree reared up twenty feet in the air behind the bushes. It looked down at Harry, but before its gaze could meet his, a blindfold appeared covering the creature's eyes. The basilisk hesitated, swaying back and forth in confusion then it struck. Harry had darted out of the way, however and it missed by a wide margin, sinking its fangs into a rhododendron. It reared back.

Harry pocketed his wand and held out his hand, in which the sword of Godric Gryffindor appeared. "Over here!" he called.

The basilisk struck once more and this time its aim was true. But Harry sidestepped the gaping mouth and drove his sword through the side of the creature's neck and up into its skull. He plunged the sword to its hilt then tore it free. Blood gushed from the wound as the snake shuddered and collapsed. A moment later the basilisk, sword and blood were gone and the garden path was as it had been before the attack.

"Very well done, Harry!" Dumbledore was standing beside Harry, having appeared silently out of thin air. "The blindfold, in particular, was quite inspired – an excellent example of an effective defense that also requires very little effort to execute."

"Thanks," Harry said, as Dumbledore led the way down the path. "But do you really think Voldemort would send a basilisk after me? I already killed one of those when I was twelve."

"Voldemort is not particularly creative," Dumbledore said over his shoulder. "He also has quite an affinity for snakes, so I would not be at all surprised and the basilisk remains one of the most fearsome creatures known to wizards."

Dumbledore pushed some hanging vines out of the way and he and Harry emerged into a wilder, much more sparsely vegetated area. Flower beds had given way to stands of willowy trees and patches of clover that reached for acres in every direction. As Harry surveyed this new landscape, however, he realized that the light was fading and looked up. The sky overhead was darkening, streaked with gold and red from an unseen setting sun. Harry frowned in surprise. Of the numerous times he'd been in Dumbledore's mind, it had always appeared to be mid-morning in the garden and regardless of how long he stayed, time never seemed to pass.

Harry turned to ask Dumbledore why this had changed, but the old man was no longer beside him. In fact, he was nowhere in sight, Harry realized as he looked around with a growing sense of foreboding. He also realized that the darkness was advancing far more rapidly than was natural. The magnificent sunset that had colored the sky only moments before was all but gone and as Harry stared up in amazement, the sky turned black and a myriad of stars appeared.

Unfortunately, these did nothing to illuminate Harry's now pitch black surroundings. He couldn't see two feet in any direction and he wished that there were a moon out to help light his way. No sooner had he thought it than the moon crested on the horizon. An enormous full moon rose majestically into the sky, bathing the land in its silvery glow. It was followed almost immediately by the long, mournful howl of a wolf.

The sound made the hairs stand up on the back of Harry's neck and he turned to go back the way he had come, but he was met with a tall, impassable hedge. The path was gone. The howl sounded again, much closer this time. Harry began to walk along the hedge, looking for a way through as the wolf's howls continued to ring out in the still night air, growing ever closer. Harry walked determinedly at first, then more and more briskly until he was running along the hedge which appeared to have no end.

A snarl stopped Harry. He turned towards the sound and raised his wand just as a patch of darkness detached itself from the shadow of a nearby tree and stepped into the moonlight. It was the wolf, a big one, and it stalked towards Harry, growling deep in its throat.

"Stupefy!" Harry called.

The wolf paused, but instead of collapsing it simply shook its head as if to dispel the effects of Harry's spell, then continued towards its quarry.

"Reducto!" Harry yelled.

The wolf winced but the spell seemed to do no more than annoy it. It bared its teeth and snarled. Harry was annoyed too as he backed slowly away from the animal. Either of his spells should have dropped the wolf in its tracks.

The wolf was closer now and Harry could see it more clearly. He drew a sharp breath as he realized why the animal had resisted his hexes. Though the differences were subtle, Harry knew that this was no ordinary wolf, but a werewolf. Harry hesitated unable to think of any spell that might be effective against the creature and the wolf took advantage of the moment. It sprang at Harry, but Harry dodged out of the way. The animal turned and lunged again. This time it knocked Harry to the ground and Harry felt its fangs sink into his shoulder and grate on bone.

Harry brought his wand up. "Expelliarmus!"

The spell sent the wolf tumbling away from Harry. Harry rolled onto his knees, but his left arm hung uselessly at his side. With a snarl, the wolf recovered and charged at Harry again, its fangs bared. Harry braced himself, but as the animal leapt, something odd happened – it transformed in midair.

The animal that landed in front of Harry was no longer a werewolf, but a small puppy that looked to be no more than two months old. The little dog barked and attacked the hem of Harry's robe with gusto, its tale wagging furiously all the while as Harry gaped in astonishment.

"I had hoped that a werewolf would present a rather obvious solution," Dumbledore said waving his hand at Harry's shoulder which healed instantly. "Clearly, I was wrong."

"I'm sorry, I don't know why I didn't think of that," Harry said sheepishly.

Dumbledore knelt down next to Harry, picked up the puppy and stroked its fur gently. The puppy wriggled in pleasure then settled down to chew on the old wizard's beard. The sun had risen again and the tall hedge had vanished leaving the familiar garden around them.

"It is of no consequence, Harry. I dare say you won't forget in the future and despite this particular lapse, you have become much more adept at defeating the creatures I have sent against you." Dumbledore gave the little dog one last pat before letting it scamper away into the flowers. "Come. It's time to go."

Harry nodded, closed his eyes then opened them to find himself once more seated across from Dumbledore before the crackling fire in the headmaster's office. Dumbledore tapped the teakettle on the table between them and steam immediately began to rise from it.

"Professor?" Harry said as Dumbledore poured the tea. "I've spent weeks learning to defend myself against all sorts of creatures, but shouldn't I also be learning how to defend against spells? You said yourself that Voldemort has no experience fighting in the mind, so he probably wouldn't think to send a basilisk or werewolf after me. Isn't it more likely that he'd just pull out his wand and try to curse me?"

"Not just more likely," Dumbledore replied, "I would say it is a certainty." He picked up his tea and sipped it calmly as Harry stared at him in confusion.

"Then why am I wasting time learning to fight monsters?" Harry demanded.

"Because it must not come to a duel of wands between yourself and Lord Voldemort. If it does, you will lose. You needn't look so dejected, Harry. You have admitted as much yourself. Voldemort is the most accomplished Dark wizard of the age. I cannot possibly teach you to defend yourself against him using conventional means. It would take years. But while Voldemort is far more experienced than you are, you have the greater capacity for imagination, spontaneity and thinking on your feet. That is what will give you the advantage and allow you to hold your own against him."

"But how am I going to – to kill him? There's no way that he can't defend himself against any creature I could conjure."

Dumbledore smiled affectionately at Harry. "You have forgotten what you told me when first we met this term. Why did you originally think to attack Lord Voldemort in his mind?"

Harry considered. He'd spent so much time learning to manipulate the landscape in Dumbledore's garden that he'd lost sight of his original plan. "Because it caused him so much pain when he tried to possess me at the Ministry and I thought that if I could force my emotions on him it might do him in."

"Precisely! Everything that I am teaching you serves but one purpose, Harry – to give you time. Your presence in Voldemort's mind will destroy him if you can maintain the connection long enough. To do so, you will need to fight him by proxy, not face to face and you must define the battle on your own terms from the beginning. Voldemort has never fought a battle of the mind which means that he will be learning from you. You must lead him to waste time on ineffectual strategies. Distract and delay – that will be your goal. Send a dragon against him and force him to destroy it. Transform a garden gnome into a Mountain Troll and it will encourage him to transform a common garter snake into a basilisk. Manipulate him into fighting on your terms, in other words."

"But won't he catch on?"

"Of course. But ideally, by the time he does, he will already be suffering the effects of your presence and will not be able to effectively defend himself."

"How does his being immortal figure into this?"

"Voldemort's protections were designed to safeguard against all normal means of attack, but they will not hold against a sustained mental assault of the sort you will be attempting. Trust me, Harry. If you are successful, you will destroy him."

"How can you be sure of that if you don't know how he managed it?"

"Harry, think. Can you tell me how the Bat Bogey Hex was invented or how it works? Do you know the steps that were taken to create the Imperius Curse or what magic underlies it? Of course you don't and yet you know what these spells do and how to counteract them. The same is true for the enchantment Voldemort invented. I cannot tell you exactly how he did what he has done, but I know how to defeat the spell."

"How can you be sure?"

"I am sure. At the moment I cannot tell you more than that, Harry."

"Why not?" he asked, unable to mask his impatience.

"Because it would do you no good to understand the spell which gave Voldemort immortality if you are incapable of countering it. Learning to do so must be your first priority and nothing can distract you from that."

"But, sir –"

"Also bear in mind what I have already told you. We mustn't do anything to give away our plans to Voldemort. That is of paramount importance. Remember your promise to me, Harry and have patience. I will tell you all that I know in due time."

Harry didn't reply. He felt an unmistakable twinge of guilt and took a swallow of tea to hide his unease.

"Go and try to put this out of your mind for the time being," Dumbledore said.

"Yes, sir." Harry gave Dumbledore a wan smile and left, but putting Voldemort's immortality out of his mind was out of the question. It was all he'd thought about in the last two days since his encounter with Mordecai Lawrence and as much as it pained him to disobey Dumbledore, Harry couldn't stop trying to discover the truth. Despite Dumbledore's attempts to convince him otherwise, he was certain that uncovering the mystery behind Voldemort's immortality was crucial to his victory over the evil wizard.

Although Dumbledore tried to sound encouraging, Harry wasn't stupid. He knew perfectly well that fighting Voldemort wasn't going to be easy. No matter how many fantastic beasts and other distractions he managed to come up with, at some point Voldemort would figure out his game and stop playing. Harry needed every advantage, every bit of information he could muster to prepare for that battle and the more Dumbledore tried to deflect his questions, the more resolute he became in his desire to uncover the answers.

What frustrated Harry most was that while Dumbledore might not know exactly how Voldemort had achieved immortality, he clearly knew more than he was letting on. Why was he being so guarded? Harry understood the importance of not revealing their plans to Voldemort, but couldn't Dumbledore trust him with the information?

Harry arrived at Gryffindor tower, but irritated and preoccupied as he was, he didn't linger in the common room to talk with his friends. Instead he went up to his dormitory where he undressed and climbed into bed even though it was still fairly early and he wasn't really tired. He needed time alone to think, but as he glanced out the window all thoughts of Voldemort vanished. Striding across the lawn was a familiar figure dressed in black.

Snape slipped out of the castle and hurried across the grounds as he had done on countless occasions before, but tonight he didn't need to Apparate to some far off corner of Britain. Instead he was headed for a meeting in Hogsmeade; one he hoped would yield some useful information for a change.

Spying on the Death Eaters had produced frustratingly few results of late which, ironically, was Snape's own fault. He'd been quite successful in making his old colleagues doubt one another. But while this had severely hamstrung their activities it also meant they were very hesitant to discuss anything of importance with each other. There had been little for Snape to overhear in the last two months. Now, however, he had an unexpected opportunity to gather information from an inside source.

The Three Broomsticks was moderately crowded when Snape entered, but he had no trouble spotting the Auror sitting alone in a corner. The man looked to be in his early fifties, with long graying hair and a stern, aloof bearing. He had spotted Snape as well and his mouth was set in a thin irritable line. Snape ignored the man and proceeded to the bar to order a glass of elf wine – "properly aged. The last I had was entirely too sweet."

The barkeep frowned, but produced a glass of wine that Snape tasted and declared acceptable. Snape then headed towards the man in the corner who was drumming his fingers impatiently on the table.

"It's about time," he said coldly as Snape sat down next to him.

"Patience," Snape counseled in a voice that wouldn't carry beyond their table. "We don't want to draw undue attention."

"That wouldn't be an issue if you'd picked a less public place to meet!" the man retorted.

Snape smiled slightly in amusement. "You have a great deal to learn about being a spy. Loitering in alleys or similar places that respectable wizards shun is both amateurish and obvious. Believe me; no one will look twice at an Auror and one of Dumbledore's staff meeting to exchange the latest news on Death Eater activity."

"You'd better be right. This was never part of our deal." The man took a swallow out of the flagon in front of him and grimaced. "I despise Polyjuice."

"You're the one who wanted to meet. At least you don't have to masquerade as Vincent Crabbe."

Lucius Malfoy started and threw Snape a disbelieving look. "Nothing gets past you, does it, Severus?" he said in an imperious tone far closer to his own than that of the man he was impersonating.

"If you're going to disguise yourself as a student, you would do well to choose one who is smart enough not to get caught raiding the kitchens while he's supposedly in Hogsmeade with Draco. Now, what did you want to discuss?"


Snape calmly held Malfoy's eyes. "Go on."

"Go on? Is that all you have to say?"

"What more would you like me to say?"

"I thought you were trying to protect your little puppet. Letting him wander off to that old manor was an absurd risk."

Snape took a sip of his wine and glanced around the pub as if to ensure that no one was listening to them. "We're at war. Some risks have to be taken in order to advance our cause."

"Bella very nearly caught him," Malfoy said pointedly. "Rather than advancing your cause, I should think that would have set it back considerably."

"It certainly would have done. However, she obviously didn't catch him."

"You can't pretend that you aren't concerned, Severus," Malfoy hissed, leaning across the table to glare at Snape. "It was no accident that Bella found Potter. She knew he was there and the next time he strays from Dumbledore's protection, he may not be as lucky."

Snape sipped more wine. "I don't suppose you know how she came by that particular bit of information?"

Malfoy sat back and smirked. "Obviously, there's an informant on your side."

"Obviously," Snape drawled, nonchalantly. "The question is whom that might be." Snape shrugged. "But I don't suppose Bella has let you in on her little secret, has she?"

Malfoy's smile turned sour. "She has told no one but the Dark Lord. Even Rodolphus has no idea how she's getting her information."

Snape sneered. "I thought not. Bella has upstaged the rest of you several times since her dramatic escape from Azkaban. By the way, I assume she hasn't deigned to tell you how she managed that either?"

"Clearly, she had help," Malfoy said testily. "Undoubtedly from the same person who is helping her track Potter."

Snape waved a hand dismissively. "That much I've known for months."

Malfoy frowned in consternation. "You can't tell me you already knew there was a spy on your side. You'd never have risked Potter if you expected Bella to find him."

"You would be wise not to make assumptions about what Dumbledore will and will not risk. Nevertheless, I agree he would not have risked Potter's welfare in this particular instance – not when it could easily be avoided."

"What do you mean, 'avoided'? Potter was there. Bella and Rodolphus both saw him."

Snape smiled in amusement. "I'm certain they saw someone who looked like Potter."

Malfoy's eyes widened in surprise then narrowed shrewdly. "Another of your games, Severus? Why?"

"Bella." Snape's smile vanished and he leaned forward to fix Malfoy with an intent look. "Do you think for a moment that Dumbledore would be content to let an informant betray us without consequence? I have every intention of discovering the traitor and dealing with him. Naturally, that requires setting different lures and waiting to see which bait is taken."

Malfoy eyed Snape appraisingly. "Then you have some idea of whom your spy is?"

Snape ran a finger around the rim of his glass and demurred. "It's still too early to be certain… although with your help, we could surely uncover the traitor much sooner."

Malfoy's expression became guarded. "I've already told you I won't spy for you, Severus."

"Then do it for yourself. Bella's informant has earned her a place of honor in the Dark Lord's circle. She is his favorite, at the moment, I believe."

"At the moment," Malfoy replied coldly. "I can't see how that matters to you."

"It doesn't. But if her informant were discredited, I imagine it wouldn't go well for her."

"Discredited?" Malfoy failed to keep the note of hopefulness out of his voice.

"It would be easy to arrange – if I knew whom to target. I can uncover the traitor and see him arrested or killed, of course, but it would be far sweeter to convince the Dark Lord that Bella's spy has betrayed them. I confess I would find particular satisfaction in the Dark Lord taking vengeance on one of his own. Plus, it is always satisfying to use an enemy's own resources against him – or her."

Malfoy sat still, obviously weighing Snape's words carefully. "Go on."

"Unfortunately, it's unlikely I could achieve that end without assistance. But if you could discover our spy's identity – discreetly – I could set a trap for him which he would never suspect until it was sprung. You would remain untainted by any suspicion and could even arrange to be in a position to save the day, once the spy was ruined. Meanwhile, Bella would be disgraced and would no doubt be punished. You wouldn't be devastated to see your dear sister-in-law suffer the Dark Lord's displeasure, would you?"

"My dear sister-in-law is not my responsibility to worry about."

"In that case, if you're willing to do your part, we could turn the present situation to our mutual benefit. I'm not asking you to betray the Dark Lord, merely Bella."

Snape sat back and sipped his wine as Malfoy weighed his options. At last the man shook his head.

"I can't. Do not misunderstand me, Severus; I would be willing. I would like nothing more than to see Bella brought low. But I haven't the means. Bella guards this secret jealously. She has told no one. I cannot learn what she will not speak of."

"I understand, of course," Snape said smoothly. He took another sip of his wine just as Malfoy spoke again.

"You could discover her secret. She is not a master Occlumens."

Snape's eyebrows rose in mild surprise. "She also hardly ever leaves headquarters, and never alone. How do you propose to lure her away?"

"I don't. But I can get you inside. With Polyjuice and the proper password, you could enter headquarters and chat with Bella at your leisure."

"As long as it doesn't take more than an hour, of course," Snape allowed with a mocking smile. But Malfoy was not deterred. He leaned forward and challenged Snape.

"You're fond of taking risks, Severus. Do you wish to learn the identity of your spy or not? If so then I can provide you the means to do it."

Snape held the other man's eyes in silence for a long moment then he drained the last of his wine and set down his glass. He reached into the pocket of his robes and produced a vial of purple liquid which he handed to Malfoy. "There is enough here to obscure your memories of the last hour as long as the Dark Lord doesn't specifically go looking for them. Be certain to give him no reason to do so."

"Trust me, I won't."

Snape stood up and turned to go.


Snape looked back at Malfoy with an unfathomable expression. "I'll let you know." He turned away once more and left the pub.

Snape stalked up the road towards Hogwarts with one thought foremost in his mind: he was going to kill Potter.

Snape didn't doubt Malfoy's testimony for a moment, though he was at a loss as to what Potter might have been after in Dorset or even how the boy had known about the old estate. Snape had only heard it mentioned in passing as a potential safe house and he was sure no one had set foot in the place in at least twenty years.

But Potter never tired of looking for new and innovative ways to get himself killed. He had taken irresponsible risks in the past. This time, however, he had crossed the line with his sheer recklessness. Stupid, arrogant fool! Didn't he realize what was at stake? Was the boy so keen on playing the hero that he failed to appreciate what others had risked for him – continued to risk?

Snape cursed Potter under his breath, but he was not a man to let his emotions get the better of him for long and before he reached the main gate, he had calmed down enough to reluctantly admit that flaying the boy within an inch of his life likely wouldn't help matters. It also, unfortunately, wasn't his place to mete out punishment for this particular infraction.

Snape arrived at the castle and swept up the main staircase without pausing, striding purposefully through the halls until he arrived at the familiar gargoyle.

"Skiving snack boxes," he said with an unmistakable note of exasperation in his voice. The gargoyle leapt aside and Snape climbed the spiral staircase to Dumbledore's office.

Dumbledore was gazing pensively into the fire, but roused himself as Snape knocked softly at the open door. "Come in, Severus. What did Lucius have to say? No good news, judging by the look on your face."

"Hardly," Snape said, entering the room and closing the door behind him. "It would seem that Mr. Potter has an incurable case of wanderlust."

Dumbledore listened calmly as Snape recounted his conversation with Malfoy. When Snape had finished, he folded his arms and regarded the old wizard expectantly.

Dumbledore sat pondering for a long moment then sighed tiredly. "I see."

The old man's disappointment was evident and Snape felt a fresh stab of anger. "Potter has always been reckless and irresponsible, Albus. I have been telling you this for years."

"Harry has always been resourceful and determined. He is not to be swayed from pursuing a goal once he has set his heart upon it."

"He has gone too far. He must be punished."

Dumbledore held up a hand to forestall Snape launching into a tirade. "I will deal with Harry. Until I do, you are to say nothing of this to him. He mustn't know that we are aware of his trip to Dorset."

"But if the boy is unaware that he's been found out, he may attempt another of these excursions."

"You're right. Unfortunately, confronting him is unlikely to prevent that."

"You can't let him get away with this! There must be some consequence –"

"Severus, think! Until we know how Bellatrix is getting her information it would be foolhardy to reveal what we know. It could very well get back to Bella and that would only make matters worse. At present, no damage has been done." Dumbledore smiled slightly and the familiar mischievous twinkle was back in his eyes. "Telling Lucius that Harry's trip to Dorset was simply a feint to test Bellatrix was quite inspired, by the way. You're confident, I presume, that Voldemort will hear as much?"

"You may count on it. Lucius will be only too happy to spread the word that Bellatrix was duped. There is certainly no love lost between those two."

"That should mitigate the current situation. Which brings us to the question of how Bella found Harry."

Dumbledore fixed Snape with a serious, penetrating look and let the question hang in the air between them. Snape held the old man's gaze, but said nothing. At last, Dumbledore spoke again.

"This is not a new concern, Severus."

"No, Headmaster; it's not."

"It has been three months since Bellatrix escaped Azkaban and we are no closer to knowing how she managed it, nor how she learnt of the Weasleys's Sniffer Charm."

"Albus, I can't discover what the Death Eaters themselves don't know," Snape snapped in frustration. "Bella has not been forthcoming with the information, naturally."

"Have you discovered nothing?"

"Only that what we know makes no sense." Snape sneered. He turned away and began to prowl about the office. "Bella must have had help in escaping from prison, which almost certainly means an Auror. That she learnt of the Sniffer Charm would imply an Auror who is also a member of the Order of the Phoenix."

Snape stopped and turned back to face Dumbledore. "Except that there is absolutely no other evidence to implicate any of the Order members. You and I have already planted false information among the Order and none has found its way back to the Death Eaters. Neither have any of our operations been compromised. I would stake my life that there is no traitor there!"

"And Dorset?" Dumbledore asked.

"Only confuses matters. I can't imagine any of the Order members knew about that little escapade. All I know for certain is that, whatever her secret, Bella is guarding it very, very closely."

Dumbledore was quiet for a few moments. When he spoke again his voice was grave. "While Bella's escape from Azkaban and her discovery of the Sniffer Charm were inconvenient, they were not of serious concern. Her apparent ability to track Harry is."

"If Potter would stay put and do as he is told for once, that wouldn't be an issue," Snape complained bitterly.

"Not at the moment, perhaps, but it will become a problem eventually and it is not one we can afford to ignore any longer. Lucius has offered to help you get to Bellatrix?"

Snape hesitated slightly. "Yes."

"And do you believe that offer to be sincere?"

"So it would seem. He relishes the prospect of seeing her discredited."

"Indeed," Dumbledore fixed Snape with a concerned gaze. "I, however, do not relish the prospect of relying upon Lucius Malfoy."

Snape gave Dumbledore a wry smile. "Nor do I."

The two men stared at one another in silence. Finally Dumbledore sighed. "An hour is very little time. Will it be sufficient to learn her spy's identity?"

"It's possible. I can give you no guarantee, but I can try."

Dumbledore sighed once more and Snape waited, dreading what he knew was coming.

"It is imperative that we discover how Bella is getting her information," Dumbledore said slowly. "You are the only one who can do this, Severus."

"You wish me to make arrangements with Lucius then?"

"I wish for all the world that you did not have to do so, but we have no choice at this point. Bella will not come to you; therefore you must go to her."

"Yes, Headmaster." Snape nodded curtly and turned to leave, but Dumbledore stopped him.

"Severus, do not imagine for a moment that I would ask this of you were it not absolutely necessary. The last thing I want to do is to send you to Voldemort."

Snape looked back at the frank worry in the old man's eyes. "I know, Albus." Then he slipped out the door and was gone.

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