Chapter 6: A Portrait in Black
Dumbledore cleared his throat by way of starting the meeting. "First, let me commend all of you who were involved in this afternoon's unpleasant events. The bravery and quick thinking each of you displayed averted what could have been a tragedy. Harry, you acquitted yourself remarkably well and I owe you my deepest apologies. I believed that we had taken all necessary precautions against an attack. Today's trip into London should have been perfectly uneventful. The question, then, is what went wrong? Alastor, I believe you have the answer to that."
"We examined the wands of the Death Eaters we captured as well as the one killed." Harry flinched at this, but no one else seemed to notice and Moody continued. "They had all cast tracking spells."
"That's not possible!" Tonks interrupted. "Remus and I fully occluded everyone before we left and you yourself double-checked that none of us were traceable."
"We weren't when we left headquarters. But we picked up something that was."
Moody tossed a card on the table which Harry immediately recognized as his Apparation license. Next, Moody pulled a wand from his robes and held it out on his open palm. "Sniff." The tip of the wand glowed and swiveled to point towards the card.
Fred and George were on their feet at once.
"That's impossible!" Fred insisted. "There's no way anyone could have found out about that spell."
"We haven't breathed a word of it to anyone outside the Order!" George agreed.
"You told Potter and his friends," Moody pointed out accusingly.
Fred scowled. "We told Harry, Hermione, Ron and Ginny. They aren't exactly a security risk."
"Have you lot told anyone about the Sniffer Charm?" Fred asked, addressing Harry, Hermione and the younger Weasleys.
"Of course not!" Ron replied indignantly. "We aren't thick. And anyway, who would we tell besides each other?"
"I do not for a moment believe that Harry, Hermione, Ron or Ginny have compromised our security," Dumbledore interjected before the discussion could become any more heated. "Nevertheless, Fred, George, the fact remains that this appears to be the same spell you demonstrated for us last week."
"Wait a minute," Harry said. "How could the Death Eaters have used a Sniffer Charm to find me? I just got that Apparation License today and there must be thousands just like it." Harry looked at Fred and George. "You said there was no way to track something that common."
"Yours is unique, Potter," Moody answered. "It's had an extract of Asphodel and Wormword applied to it. The extract is invisible, very rare and easy enough for this spell to detect."
Harry frowned. "But how could –" He stopped and looked at Ron and Hermione who were both staring back at him with expressions of dawning realization. "The girl."
"We're way ahead of you, Potter. We've already been round to the Examination office. Miss Finkel vanished right after you left. We've got Aurors out looking for her now. Regardless, it's pretty clear that she was working for You-Know-Who. Whether willingly or under the Imperius Curse remains to be seen, but that doesn't matter much at the moment. The important question right now is how the Death Eaters learnt about this spell."
"That's what we're telling you," Fred said. "They couldn't have done."
George nodded emphatically. "No one outside this room knows about it."
"Clearly someone outside this room does," Moody said. "And if you're right, then someone in it has to have passed the information along. I'd say we have a traitor among us."
A stunned silence followed this pronouncement.
"If I might offer another, less dramatic, suggestion?" Snape murmured from the corner. "Novel as the Weasleys's tracking method is, it is hardly difficult. The concept is entirely straightforward and it is quite possible that the Death Eaters came up with the idea coincidentally."
Moody glared at Snape. "You want us to believe that this is a coincidence?"
"What I want is to avoid jumping to paranoid conclusions."
"And what I want is to know why we had no warning of this."
"I opposed this excursion from the beginning –"
"That doesn't answer my question. If you're spending as much time as you claim spying on the Death Eaters, it seems to me that you should have had some inkling that they had this spell and were planning to use it to find Potter."
"Death Eaters are not prone to discuss their most closely guarded secrets in casual conversation," Snape said testily. "Teasing the information out takes time and finesse – admittedly something you know nothing about."
"That's a lovely excuse, Snape, but it doesn't change the fact that you failed in your mission. If you can't do your job –"
"If you believe that you can do better, be my guest!"
"That will be enough," Dumbledore said sternly and both Snape and Moody subsided. "We will gain nothing by hurling recriminations at one another, or by making unfounded accusations."
Dumbledore's hard gaze fell on Moody. "Alastor, I will not assume that there is a traitor among us until all other likely explanations have been disproved and I do not want to hear of you asserting such a thing until that time."
Moody nodded. "Understood."
Dumbledore turned to Snape and his blue eyes didn't soften in the least. "Severus, we need to know how the Death Eaters came by this spell. Nothing is more urgent at the moment."
Snape pressed his lips together in a thin line and nodded curtly.
"Then I believe that we have covered all that we need to." Dumbledore stood up and all of the Order members followed suit. Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny rose as well.
"Harry, I need to speak with you for a moment," Dumbledore said quietly.
Harry nodded at his friends who filed out of the room along with everyone else. When they were alone, Dumbledore regarded Harry over his half-moon glasses and smiled for the first time.
"I hesitate to say 'happy birthday', but you have my best wishes for the day and the coming year, regardless."
Harry returned the old man's smile. "Thank you, sir."
Dumbledore came and laid a hand on Harry's shoulder and his eyes searched Harry's. "Are you all right, Harry?"
"I've been through worse things."
"Indeed you have, and from what I've heard you consider being cooped up here all summer to be among them."
Harry felt his cheeks grow hot. "No sir, of course not. Not exactly."
"It's all right, Harry. I know that this is not how you hoped to spend your summer. But after today's events, I hope that you understand why it is necessary."
"I also want you to know that I have not been ignoring you this summer due to lack of concern for your welfare. Rather the opposite, in fact. I have been considering the suggestion you made to Professor Snape of waging mental war against Voldemort. It is a clever idea with, I think, tremendous potential."
"You think it'll work then?" Harry asked excitedly.
"I think it could, but there are still a few questions I have not yet found satisfactory answers to. I hope to have done so by the time you return to Hogwarts and to have information worth sharing with you then." Dumbledore's clear blue eyes fixed gravely on Harry's. "Until that time, I must ask you to be patient and to stay at headquarters."
Harry bit his lip, but knew there was no alternative. "Yes, sir."
"Good." Dumbledore smiled once more then led Harry out of the dining room. Snape was standing just outside the door, obviously waiting and Dumbledore immediately drew him aside. Harry fought the urge to eavesdrop on them, turning to survey the entrance hall instead.
Most of the Order members were still mingling there. Fred and George were leaning against the wall by the library, looking angry and dejected. Ron, Ginny and Hermione were huddled around them clearly trying to cheer them up. Tonks was talking to Kingsley Shacklebolt. Remus appeared to be arguing with Moody in another corner. Dobby was also in the hall, standing close to Mrs. Black's portrait, apparently trying to keep her in line. Mrs. Black seemed more unhinged than usual by all of the people in the hall and was keening mournfully to herself, her voice occasionally rising above the buzz of conversation.
"Usurpers… Ruin… Disgrace…"
Harry glanced back at Dumbledore and Snape. Dumbledore was speaking earnestly to the Potions Master who still looked affronted. As Harry watched, Dumbledore laid a hand on the younger man's arm. Snape sighed and nodded which seemed to satisfy the old man. Dumbledore smiled then turned and strode away. He made his way quickly across the hall, offering a nod or smile of encouragement to everyone he passed. Then he was gone. Harry started across the hall to join the Weasleys and Hermione, but Moody, having extricated himself from his argument with Remus, intercepted him.
"You did well today, Potter."
"Thanks." Harry managed not to flinch, but he still felt uncomfortable being congratulated for killing someone.
"What happened wasn't your fault," Moody continued. "It was lack of proper intelligence."
"I'm sure Professor Snape's doing his best," Harry said firmly, thinking of all the nights Snape slipped out of the house to spy on the Death Eaters.
"It's decent of you to think so, especially since you're the one who nearly died because of him."
Harry gaped at Moody, speechless, but an instant later he realized that Moody's provocative words hadn't really been meant for him.
"Perhaps if you were more successful at rounding up the Dark Lord's minions, Mr. Potter's life wouldn't depend solely upon my efforts," Snape hissed practically in Harry's ear. Harry glanced over his shoulder to see his irate teacher standing behind him.
"Maybe." Moody seemed unperturbed by Snape's remark, but his eyes narrowed shrewdly as he looked between Harry and Snape. "That reminds me. Two more Death Eaters turned up dead last night."
"Tragic." Snape sneered, sounding thoroughly uninterested.
"I don't suppose you might know anything about it?" Moody continued.
"Humph, there seems to be quite a lot you don't know anything about, doesn't there?"
"Unless you expect me to interrogate the dead, I hardly see how those deaths concern me," Snape spat. "I should think the living would be our priority."
Moody shrugged. "I just thought you might be interested, seeing as they were your colleagues."
"Former colleagues," Snape corrected. "And I couldn't care less." Snape turned away, but the old Auror raised his voice.
"That's right. I don't suppose you have much affection for them after the cowardly way they all stood by and watched Voldemort torture you to within an inch of your life."
Snape froze, then slowly turned back to face Moody, his eyes glittering. When he spoke his voice was dangerously soft. "Moody, surely you have more pressing matters to worry about than a handful of dead men, such as checking under your bed to ensure that no murderers are lurking there?"
"It's funny that you should mention murderers, Snape, because murder is something that always concerns me. Unlike some, I take my job seriously."
The two men glared at one another a moment longer as Harry looked between them, trying to fathom the significance of this argument. Then to Harry's surprise Moody turned towards him and laid a hand on his shoulder.
"You've been through a lot today, Potter. If you need anything remember that Lupin and Tonks are here to help." The old Auror gave Harry's shoulder a comradely squeeze to emphasize the point.
Out of the corner of his eye, Harry saw Snape's face darken murderously and knew at once that the implied snub hadn't been lost on him. Moody gave Harry a final pat on the back and walked away, seemingly oblivious to Snape's anger. Snape turned away as well and stalked towards the stairs.
"Traitor!" Mrs. Black snarled at Snape's back as he passed her. No sooner had she uttered the word, however, than she let out a bloodcurdling scream that silenced all conversation in the hall and caused every head to turn.
Snape stood with his wand leveled at Mrs. Black who was cowering in fear. One look at her portrait revealed why. The painting now bore an ugly gash, a foot long, across its lower half.
"Let me make something very clear," Snape said in an icy whisper that cut through the silence in the hall. "As long as I am in this house, you will hold your tongue or I will slash this portrait to ribbons. Do you understand me?"
Mrs. Black said nothing, just stared at Snape in terrified silence.
"Good." Snape pocketed his wand and swept up the stairs as the others present looked askance at one another. Only Moody, Harry noted, seemed unsurprised by Snape's behavior. Standing near the front door, he watched Snape retreat. Then he smiled grimly to himself and left.
"What the bloody hell was that all about?" Ron asked, coming up to Harry with Ginny and Hermione.
Harry shook his head. "I don't know, but Moody seems to be going out of his way to goad Snape."
"I don't understand why he blames Snape for what happened this afternoon," Ginny said as the four headed upstairs.
Harry just managed to stop himself from blurting out the secret of Snape's nighttime spying activities. Fortunately, Hermione was ready with an answer. "Professor Snape must be gathering information on the Death Eaters somehow."
"Well, then Moody's right. If they came up with the charm and were planning to use it to ambush Harry, Snape should have known," Ron said.
"Ron, the chances of the Death Eaters developing the very same charm as Fred and George at the same time are ridiculously low," Hermione said impatiently as they entered the common room and sat down by the fire.
Ron reached for a tin of biscuits on a nearby table. "Snape thought it was possible."
"Since when do you agree with anything Snape says?" Ginny asked.
"Since Fred and George swear they never told anyone about that spell until they showed it to the Order last week." Ron bit into his biscuit. "They do a lot of dodgy things, but they wouldn't lie to Dumbledore. Besides, why would Snape have suggested it, if it weren't possible?"
Hermione lowered her voice. "To make whoever passed the information believe that the Order isn't on to them."
"You don't know that for a fact," Harry said sharply. "It's at least possible that the Death Eaters came up with the spell themselves. And there's no way that a week would have been enough time to set up that ambush."
"But they wouldn't have had to set the whole thing up in a week," Hermione said, thinking aloud and frowning to herself. "They probably already had Miss Finkle planted at the Examination office. They obviously knew you'd likely be coming to take your exam and were watching for you. All they had to do was give her something to sprinkle on your card. The Sniffer Charm itself would have taken no time to learn –"
"Hermione –" Ginny interrupted, casting a worried glance at Harry.
Harry stood up and went to stare into the fire. The very last thing he wanted to believe was that there was a spy in the Order. On top of everything else, he wasn't sure he could stand wondering which of the people he'd come to think of as his allies might betray them. But Hermione was right; it fit perfectly and the alternative seemed improbable at best.
"Harry?" Hermione said hesitantly. "Harry, I didn't mean –"
"No, it's all right." Harry said turning back to look at his friends. "I'd rather have your honest opinions than have you lie to me to spare my feelings. I can't afford that. None of us can."
"You know, Fred and George wouldn't lie to Dumbledore, but they could be wrong," Ginny said thoughtfully. "They do all of their development in their shop and it's a fair bet that the Death Eaters know that they're working for the Order. With all of the people who pass through the shop every day, it'd probably be easy for someone to set up some kind of surveillance without Fred or George knowing. They've developed enough of their own spy gadgets, like Extendable Ears. I'm sure the Death Eaters have something similar and they've probably been watching Fred and George for months."
"That makes sense," Hermione agreed, sounding relieved.
Harry felt relieved as well. While this wasn't a pleasant idea, it was much less worrisome than the possibility of a spy in the Order. Best of all, it seemed by far the most likely explanation. Harry was sure that whatever wards the twins had at Weasleys Wizard Wheezes, they wouldn't stop Voldemort.
"Well, I'm sure Dumbledore will sort it out," Ron said.
"Come on, then," Harry said. "Let's have a game of Exploding Snap. It's still my birthday and I refuse to spend it sitting around being morbid."
The rest of the day passed more pleasantly than Harry could have hoped. His friends were clearly determined to put the Death Eater attack and worries about a possible spy out of their minds in order to salvage what was left of the day. Dobby did his part by preparing a magnificent dinner and an enormous birthday cake, neither of which the members of the household managed to make much of a dent in. Snape failed to appear at dinner, just as he had failed to come to breakfast but that was no surprise and Harry was actually grateful that his dour teacher wasn't present to dampen the mood.
It wasn't until Harry crawled into bed that night that the morning's events began to prey upon his mind once more. In particular, his fight with the Death Eater was foremost in his thoughts. He tried using various meditation techniques, but he couldn't keep the memory at bay. If only he'd acted sooner when Remus told him to leave... If only they'd gone into London first and taken their Apparation exams just before returning to headquarters… Again and again Harry went over the day, noting every instance in which he could have done something differently that might have let him avoid ending up in that alley with McFarlane.
Minutes dragged into hours as Harry tossed and turned, unable to relax. Every time he closed his eyes, the grisly image of the dead man filled his mind. At last, he rolled over and squinted at the clock. It was already after two o'clock in the morning and he hadn't slept at all. Harry looked at the small bottle of Dreamless Sleep potion, still untouched on his bedside table where he'd left it. He was tempted to take it, but hesitated, although he wasn't quite sure why. He was long past needing to prove a point to Snape. All the same, he made no move to reach for the potion. Deep down, something told him it wouldn't really help him.
Unfortunately, lying here in bed staring into the darkness wasn't doing much for him either. Harry heaved a sigh then got up, put on his dressing gown and slipped out of the room. He made his way to the kitchen, poured himself a glass of pumpkin juice and sat down at the table trying to make sense of his scattered thoughts and emotions.
"Having trouble sleeping, Potter?"
Harry looked up and scowled. Snape stood smirking at him in the doorway, having obviously just returned from another of his midnight excursions.
"I was thirsty and came down to get something to drink, that's all," Harry said coldly. The last thing he needed was more of Snape's criticism.
"Really?" Snape came over to Harry and looked him in the eyes. "Have you slept at all?"
Harry knew there was no point in lying. "Not really, no."
Snape shook his head in disgust. "Potter, your stubbornness is becoming tedious. I gave you a full dose of Dreamless Sleep potion. Why won't you take it?"
"Because I don't want to," Harry said irritably. "I do have a choice in the matter, don't I?"
"Do you suppose that sleep deprivation will assuage your guilt?"
"You tell me. You're the expert on guilt, aren't you?"
Harry regretted the words the moment he'd said them. He had crossed the line into that forbidden territory that he and Snape avoided by unspoken agreement, and he could practically feel Snape tense. Harry held his breath, waiting for Snape to explode, but the man said nothing. Instead, he stood perfectly still, staring at Harry with a thin-lipped, inscrutable expression.
Finally Snape spoke in a hoarse whisper. "It won't." He turned on his heel to go.
"Professor, wait." Harry stood up as Snape turned back to face him.
"Why? You obviously have no intention of heeding my advice, so why should I waste my breath giving it?"
"I didn't – I'm not being stubborn and I'm not ignoring your advice," Harry said as calmly as his raw nerves would permit. "I just don't think I'm going to find the answer to my problems in a potion bottle. Today wasn't the last time I'm ever going to have to kill someone, so I reckon I need to come to terms with this and postponing it isn't going to help."
For a long moment Snape and Harry stared at one another in a silent test of each other's determination. At last Snape seemed to concede the point. He glanced down at Harry's glass.
"I doubt that pumpkin juice will do you much good either."
Snape removed his cloak, tossed it on a chair then turned away from Harry once more. He moved purposefully across the kitchen, pulled a sauce pan from a nearby cupboard and poured milk into it. He set it to simmer on the stove then riffled through more cupboards, selecting various jars. He began adding these ingredients to the milk on the stove.
Harry watched until he could no longer contain his curiosity. "What are you doing?"
"Since you refuse to take the potion I prescribed for you, I'm preparing another, more traditional balm."
Harry frowned and went to peer into the saucepan. "Cocoa?" he said incredulously as Snape added another pinch of cinnamon to the smoothly bubbling liquid.
"You're aware, are you not, of the healing properties of chocolate?"
"Yes, I suppose so, but –"
"Do you think cocoa is beyond my abilities as a potion-maker?"
"No, of course not. I, just…" The truth was that Harry couldn't imagine Snape making cocoa. That was the sort of thing Mrs. Weasley would have done for him. Harry shifted uncomfortably. "Professor, you don't need to do this."
"What shall I do then, Potter, leave you here to brood all night?"
"I'm fine," Harry insisted, wishing now that he had let Snape walk away when he had the chance.
"Lying also won't help – whether it's to others or to yourself."
Snape poured the steaming cocoa into a cup then drew his wand. "One more ingredient, I think." Snape waved his wand over the counter and a dusty bottle of brandy appeared. Snape poured some of the amber liquid into Harry's cup, then tapped the bottle again and it vanished, presumably back to wherever it had come from. He handed the cup to Harry.
"Drink up, Potter. It's a simple preparation, but effective. Believe me. I am, after all, an expert."
Harry winced. "I didn't mean that."
Harry could think of nothing to say to that so he took a sip of his cocoa and felt the hot liquid warm him. The aroma of the cocoa, brandy and subtle spices was soothing and it occurred to Harry that no one had ever made him cocoa before, not as something to comfort him, anyway. Harry frowned slightly at that thought, irritated with himself. He wasn't a child who needed to be comforted. He was an adult now.
Harry looked back at Snape. The man was regarding him with an alert expression very like the one he typically wore when watching a particularly delicate potion brew. Harry found it slightly disconcerting and quickly glanced away again. He took another drink of his cocoa and shifted uneasily, still acutely aware of the dark, silent figure watching him intently.
It might not have been so bad if they hadn't been standing in a dark, basement kitchen in the dead of night, or if Snape hadn't been dressed as a Death Eater. Harry had had too many horrific visions of men dressed in those robes and the sight of them only made the memory of McFarlane more vivid.
Snape, on the other hand, didn't appear at all uneasy dressed in these robes. In fact, he seemed as comfortable and self-assured dressed as a Death Eater as he had dressed as a Muggle that morning. The incongruity of these two roles struck Harry forcefully and he looked at Snape once more, abruptly realizing how little he really knew the man. He wondered if anyone really did.
"Professor, could you say something instead of just staring at me?" Harry said, unable to bear Snape's silent scrutiny any longer.
Snape raised his eyebrows questioningly. "What would you like me to say?"
Harry shrugged. "I'm not sure. I was sort of hoping you'd think of something."
Snape's mouth twitched but he tilted his head slightly and considered Harry thoughtfully for a moment. "Potter, you want to be an Auror, don't you?" Snape said impatiently. "Surely you must realize that there are few dark wizard hunters who haven't had to kill at one time or another. Particularly now when we're at war, killing in self defense or in service to one's cause can hardly be avoided."
Harry nodded. "I know that."
"Then understand that that isn't murder. Murder is a selfish, wanton act prompted by the murderer's own darkest desires. You aren't a murderer, Potter, and no matter how many times you may be forced to kill, you never will be. I know your mind well enough to know that."
Snape's black eyes bored into Harry's, but Harry no longer felt any unease. This was the old intimacy and Harry knew it well. Instinctively, he reached out mentally to meet Snape's mind, but before he could do more than brush against the consciousness hovering at the edge of his own, Snape turned away and picked up his cloak. "Get some sleep, Potter, or you'll be useless in your lesson tomorrow." He swept from the room without looking at Harry or waiting for a reply.
Harry gazed after Snape then sighed. For a moment they had almost connected, but obviously Snape still wasn't ready to rebuild any trust between them. Still, it hadn't been a complete loss, Harry thought, as he drained the last of his cocoa and headed back to bed. His memory of McFarlane's lifeless eyes had been supplanted by the vision of Snape's black, glittering ones and he knew that he would have no further trouble sleeping that night.