The Sugar Quill
Author: Aragog (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Harry Potter and the Staff of Serpents  Chapter: Chapter 2: A Long Night
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The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

 
A/N: Standard disclaimer: this is J.K. Rowling's house, I'm just here borrowing towels and socks.

Non-standard praises: to Yolanda, who agreed to beta this. She points out leaks here and there but on the whole tells me the ship is seaworthy.

Standard apology: The first chapter of this story went up on 12/08/03. As I write this it is 01/11/04. For those of you readers who have been waiting impatiently for the rest of the story, I decided I'd rather have the whole thing beta-ed and corrected before I started posting chapters. Then I could feed them into SQ on a regular schedule. In retrospect, the only problem with that notion was the holidays. And flu season. For some reason, those two things ate into the time Yolanda could devote to reading and myself to correcting. Thankfully, all such issues have been resolved.









Chapter Two
A Long Night


Dear Ron

How are 'ya mate? My O.W.L.s came in just as I started writing this. Want to know how I did? Too bad, because I'm going to tell you anyway!

Charms: "E" on the written, "E" on the practical, combined score "E" (Merlin was merciful)
Transfiguration: "E" on both, combined score "E" (I know, I can't believe it either!)
Defense Against the Dark Arts: "O" on both (piece of cake!)
Potions: "E" on both (barely), Combined score "E" (This is scary. Did someone fill in the right answers for me when I wasn't looking?)
Divination: "P" on the written, "D" on the practical, combined score "D" (Guess that about does it for Trewlaney.)
Herbology: "E" on both, combined score "E" (All that yard work the Dursleys made me do must have been worth something after all.)
Care of Magical Creatures: "E" on both, combined score "E" (I reckon maybe Hagrid CAN teach)
Astronomy: "A" on the written, "P" on the practical, combined score "A" (Barely. I was distracted by our favourite ex-High Inquisitor trying to sack Hagrid.)
History of Magic: "D" (Fare thee well, Professor Binns!)

So 7 O.W.L.s. Not too bad, but I'll bet Hermione got an even dozen. Honestly, some of these are loads better than I expected. The only thing that bothers me is I guess I'll have to give up on becoming an Auror. Professor McGonagall told me I'd need five N.E.W.T.s with at least "E" grades, and I'd have to take more Charms, Transfiguration, Defense, and Potions. That's the problem. Snape said he wouldn't take anyone past fifth year who didn't get "O"s on their O.W.L.s. Poor Hermione. She's going to have to go into his slimy dungeon every week without us. Or without me anyway.

So how did you do? Are we still going to have all our classes together?

The Dursleys have been awful, but not as much as they usually are. I'll still be REALLY glad to get out of here. That won't be for another week at the earliest though. Dumbledore finally explained to me why I have to come back here every summer. I'll tell you when we get back together. (I'm not worried about a crucial secret falling into enemy hands if this letter is intercepted. There isn't a secret. It's just that it's a long story and I wanted to write to Hermione too this evening).

Your friend,

Harry

PS: How is Ginny? I hope you're both getting in some Quidditch practice. I wish I could. You're going to have to take up the slack for those two lunks who are replacing Fred and George.


Even though he knew O.W.L.s weren't something Ron would want to go on and on about, Harry was relieved to have a ready-made subject for a letter. Hermione on the other hand had probably embalmed and dissected her scores.

Dear Hermione

Glad to know you aren't feeling any lingering effects from that spell Dolohov threw at you. You'll never believe it, but a Ministry owl flew in the window with my O.W.L.s when I sat down to write this. So you must have yours too, right? I didn't do half bad. Seven. An "O" in Defense, "E"s in Charms, Transfiguration, Potions, Herbology, and Care of Magical Creatures, an "A" in Astronomy, and... let's just say I won't be going any further with Divination and History of Magic.

How did you... no wait, don't tell me. This is my chance to redeem myself for the Divination O.W.L. I didn't get. By using tea leaves, smoke puffs from a candle, and Dudley's snores I will Divine what your results were. First, I turn the tea leaves over into the saucer, and the shape they assume looks like, um, a pile of soggy leaves. Then I light the candle. The smoke drifts a bit to the left and is kind of wispy, then it drifts a bit to the right and is still wispy. Then I wait for Dudley. He hasn't started snoring yet, he might not even be aslee... oh, there we go. His snores are coming at regular intervals and are much quieter than usual. Now I dump the tea leaves onto the candle, which makes it produce more smoke, and wave it under Dudley's nose. He immediately starts to sound like a creature we'd never want to meet, but which Hagrid would probably insist on showing us (Come to think of it, he sounds like a Crumple-Horned Snorkack. Tell Luna she doesn't have to go to Sweden to see one). Having created enough smoke and thunder to atune my inner eye to the rhythms of the cosmos, I place the empty cup and saucer on my head and spin around as fast as possible on one foot until they fly away and shatter. There are 12 pieces. From this I deduce you got 12 O.W.L.s. Congratulations!

Seriously, I think they should just award you your N.E.W.T.s right now.

I expect to be here another week, but I hope to see you and Ron and Ginny soon.

Your Friend,

Harry


By the time he finished it was well after midnight. He fretted for a bit whether he should have sent the more factual piece to Hermione and the Divination jokes to Ron, then decided he was too tired to care. Besides, there was nothing wrong with playing against type. With a longing look at his bed, Harry addressed each letter, called in his owl Hedwig, and attached them to her legs with instructions to deliver to The Order and the twins first. All that taken care of, he finally lay down still fully clothed for what he hoped would be an uneventfully extended sleep.

~~*~~

Harry knew better than to expect as much though. Not when the same dream --or the same kind of dream-- kept bothering him every night. In it, Sirius would be standing in front of an arch, smiling and waving at him. Harry would be trying to run to his Godfather, shouting a warning neither of them could hear. Just when Harry was almost close enough to pull him to safety a jet of light would blast Sirius off his feet, and he would fall through the arch, which turned into a tunnel with no apparent end. Some unyielding force would instantly root Harry to his spot, and all he could do was watch as Sirius reached imploringly for him, shrinking by painfully slow degrees to a point in the distance.

Or the same thing would happen with Sirius standing on the edge of a precipice, and the jet of light would knock him into the abyss.

Or they would both be flying without broomsticks, and Sirius would start rising higher and higher and higher until Harry could no longer keep up.

The disconcerting thing about these nightmares was that, like with hearing the voices of his parents when dementors were close by, Harry wasn't sure he wanted them to stop. It was the only way he could expect to see Sirius alive again.

As it happened this was the night he got a bonus. Sirius chose to speak to him.

"Harry Potter..."

His dream self thought it wasn't much, but he was more than willing to take whatever he could get.

"Harry Potter!"

Strangely enough, Sirius' voice sounded nothing at all like it was supposed to the second time.

"HARRY POTTER!"

Now that really wasn't necessary. Sirius was being much too loud. And he still didn't sound like himself.

Harry Potter! I request your attention."

Harry groaned, thinking "request denied" even as he came unwillingly to awareness in... he wasn't sure where it was. Certain features suggested his bedroom at the Dursleys, while others were from a chamber he did not recognize. Under the window was his desk, in a corner opposite the door was his bureau, and he was lying on his bed, but there were also strange charts covering one wall and a set of wooden boxes stacked to his left. They appeared normal until he looked inside them, whereupon they gave an impression of infinite depth. The room also seemed to be undulating like very slow waves, as though it was all made of water. Seated vaguely in front of him was a wizard with bluish sad puppy eyes, a weak chin, and a hairline in full retreat except for a very impressive widow's peak. Sitting next to the wizard was a slightly jowly middle-aged witch with nondescript straight brown hair and guarded brown eyes holding a quill and an endless roll of parchment.

Harry found that looking directly at the pair was like trying to pin a big drop of mercury under his thumb. Every time he sought eye contact they floated up, down, back, or sideways and sometimes went slightly out of focus. He settled for letting his gaze drift around them in a circle.

"Good morning," said the wizard in a deceptively gentle voice. The witch's quill had begun writing of its own accord. "Allow me to introduce myself. I am Reynell Fortuna, Investigator General for the Ministry of Magic, and this is my executive assistant, Octavia Fortescue. I wish to question you about your recent incursion into the Department of Mysteries."

Harry was perplexed. The Ministry was asking about that now, more than a month after the fact? "Albus Dumbledore explained everything relevant to Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge," he groaned. "And why are you doing this while I'm trying to sleep?"

Fortuna shifted uncomfortably. "I will be asking the questions during this session Mr. Potter," he said with just a trace of irritation. "But ah, yes, there were certain gaps in Albus Dumbledore's account. And as for the forum of our inquiry, you are not trying to sleep, you are asleep. Otherwise we would not be able to conduct this interview."

If this explanation was meant to clarify things it fell a little short of the mark for Harry's liking. In any case, he had no reason to trust anyone from the Ministry that he didn't know for a fact was on Dumbledore's side. Fighting through a desire to let his mind float with his surroundings, he concentrated on Fortescue's quill. In its own way it was stable; it didn't try to evade his sight.

"I won't be able to tell you anything Professor Dumbledore hasn't already, and if I am asleep how are you able to talk to me?"

"Mr. Potter let me repeat, I will be asking the questions," Fortuna responded somewhat more forcefully. "It remains to be seen if your account differs from that of the honorable Mr. Dumbledore. Now--"

"If you're invading my dreams I think I deserve to know how and why you're doing it." Harry interrupted. "You could question me in person when I'm awake, after all. In fact, I'd prefer that. Then I could have an advocate present."

Fortuna looked nonplused as only a man used to drowsy docility in his interrogation subjects could be. Fortescue's mask of impassivity gave just the barest of twitches. She motioned to the Investigator General, and the two began holding a conversation Harry couldn't hear because his ears were suddenly filled with what sounded like soft radio static. Presently they turned back to him.

"Very well Mr. Potter," Fortuna began again. "Perhaps I can answer your concerns. The Department of Mysteries prefers to keep its internal investigations private. Somnapathy is the most private of all communication methods available. Analysis of your thought signatures has shown you are receptive to Somnapathic emanation if the transmitting source is strong enough. This is not a criminal inquiry, you are not, nor will you in the future, be charged with a crime for the June incident. Therefore you have no need for an advocate."

Harry still wasn't satisfied. For one thing, he had never heard of "Somnapathy" and wanted to know more about it. For another, he didn't think the investigator should be the one who said whether or not he needed an advocate. But he decided it wouldn't hurt him to find out what else Fortuna wanted. The man wasn't threatening to expel him from school at least.

"OK then," he said.

The two Ministry officials settled back into their seats.

"Right. First, I would like to clear up some lesser matters. Inspection of the doors in the room of rotation showed that some had been tampered with. What exactly did you do while you were in there?"

Great. Right from the start he'd have to tell on Hermione for using a Flagrate Charm if he was going to answer this man honestly.

"Well, we opened and closed them."

"Indeed, Mr. Potter. And what else besides that?" Fortuna asked dryly.

Harry considered his position. It seemed harmless enough that they'd made a non-permanent mark on a couple doors. No reason he couldn't tell Fortuna that. He'd just take a few liberties revealing who cast what.

"I used a Flagrate Charm to put a glowing "X" on the doors we'd already tried, so we'd know to look in a different one."

"Interesting. It's always the most obvious things that escape our attention," said Fortuna slowly, more to himself than Harry. "I shall have to ask the artificers to apply a counter-charm that repels all such spells of this kind." He made some notes on his paper. Fortescue's quill was scratching away at what Harry hoped was an unembellished version of their exchange.

Fortuna went on to his next question. "A glass cabinet full of time turners was destroyed. Was a member of your group responsible for that?"

Harry knew he didn't want to answer that one; an errant shot from Neville had done the job.

"I remember seeing that cabinet shatter again and again, but I don't remember how because things got really mixed up there for a while. I was trying to avoid getting hit by Death Eater curses."

Frowning, the Investigator silently made a few notes before continuing.

"The pool of brains lost much of its preserving fluid. What were the exact circumstances of its removal?"

"That was Bellatrix Lestrange. She was trying to get out of the Ministry building because she found out Dumbledore was there. I was chasing after her, so she tipped the pool in my direction to make the brains attack me. But I performed a levitation charm on them and kept going."

"You pursued Bellatrix Lestrange alone!?" Fortuna sounded like he didn't know whether to be impressed or disapproving.

"Yes. And I caught her too... well, I caught up with her in the Ministry lobby. We dueled for a bit before Voldemort showed up."

Both Ministry officials shuddered at the mention of the Dark Lord's name.

"Erm, right," went on Fortuna, a little flustered. "A planet in the Department's scale model of the Solar System was destroyed. How did that happen?"

Harry dimly recalled the event. It had been Luna's fault, but of course he wasn't going to tell Fortuna that. "I didn't witness it. The members of my group had gotten separated. Hermione Granger and Neville Longbottom were with me. Ron Weasley, Ginny Weasley, and Luna Lovegood were in that room. Luna told me she threw a Reductor Curse when one of the Death Eaters tried to grab Ginny. Finished him off I think, but it also broke Ginny's ankle. You'll have to ask them for the details."

"Indeed we will be, though your answers so far have been at least partially helpful. However, about your group. Its presence in the Ministry points to something of primary interest to us. We are of course aware its members must have cast the Reductor Curses that destroyed so much Ministry property in the room where we stored our prophesy eggs. Arrangements will have to be made with each of you to try and recover from your memories what we can of the prophesies lost as a result. But setting that aside, according to Mr. Dumbledore you entered the Department to retrieve a specific prophesy pertaining to you. It is not clear why you chose such an... unconventional mode of transportation to reach the Ministry, or why you thought it necessary to bring five of your classmates with you."

This was arguably the crux of the matter. If Harry told the full truth, he would have to reveal he was trying to rescue Sirius, who was officially a criminal fugitive, and if he revealed that he would have to reveal how he knew (or thought he knew) Sirius was in trouble, and that would mean revealing his link to Voldemort. The Ministry was NOT to have that information, not while Fudge was Minister. He suddenly felt very tired, his hold on his mental acuity slipping, when a convincing half truth came to him.

"Professor Dumbledore did leave something out. I didn't understand it at the time, but I had a dream in which I saw Voldemort (more shudders) torturing my Godfather Sirius Black--"

"Sirius Black!?" Fortuna broke in. "The mass murderer and Dark Lord's most devoted servant!?"

"Sirius Black, the INNOCENT, unjustly accused mass murder and enemy of Lord Voldemort!" Harry rejoined sharply. The room abruptly stopped undulating and the two Investigators became firmly fixed in space under his glare as he was saying it.

Fortuna coughed. When he spoke again there was an edge to his voice. "What Sirius Black did is so well known it is beyond question. Twenty people as well as your own parents died because of his actions."

"What is 'well known' about Sirius Black has nothing whatever to do with what is really true about Sirius Black." retorted Harry, not giving an inch. "Those twenty people were killed by Peter Pettigrew, and as for my parents, Black didn't betray them. He made a mistake that allowed Pettigrew to betray them."

"The official Ministry position--"

"Is buggered up!" Harry yelled angrily to cut him off. "My Godfather didn't even get a trial, didn't even get a chance to defend himself. And now he's dead."

Fortuna and Fortescue went into another private conference, during which the undulations resumed and Harry wished more than ever for unconsciousness.

"We will take your assertions under advisement. It is out of our jurisdiction however. We had thought he entered the Department as one of the Death Eaters, but your story would seem to suggest another explanation. Please continue."

"I had a dream in which I saw the Dark Lord torturing my Godfather Sirius Black," Harry began again, "to make him remove my prophesy from its storage space. Now that you've told me I'm receptive to Sona... that Soma thing I know what happened. It wasn't real. Sirius couldn't have removed the prophesy even if he wanted to, and Voldemort wasn't torturing anyone. He sent a false image to lure me to the Ministry. Once I got here he was hoping I'd see the prophesy with my name on it and take it off the shelf. Then he could have his Death Eaters take it from me and kill me. But I came thinking I had to rescue Sirius. That's why I brought so many people with me, and why we were riding thestrals. They can fly very fast you know. Faster than a broom."

Fortuna thoughtfully pondered this information, and after a time raised his eyebrows.

"And yet it isn't clear why you took it upon yourself to lead this rescue mission, or why the Dark Lord would attempt to manipulate you via Somnapathy."

It was getting harder and harder for Harry to think straight. His eyelids felt heavy and his eyes were rolling in their sockets. "The dream came after the Ministry... forced Professor Dumbledore from Hogwarts... Professor McGonagall was in the hospital... Professor Snape was unavailable... I didn't know how to contact anyone else... in...."

Harry managed, just barely, to stop himself from saying "The Order Of The Phoenix." That was another piece of information The Ministry was not supposed to have.

"...the allies... Dumbledore asked them... to help him fight Voldemort... those professors are members... So was Sirius," said Harry with mounting exhaustion.

"So The Order of the Phoenix really does exist" breathed Fortuna quietly. He didn't appear to notice when Harry's drooping eyelids snapped open with a start, or the despair in them afterwards. It was all for naught as far as Harry could see. The Ministry of Magic knew and was probably going to use that knowledge to justify continued harassment of the school.

"The Minister has been obsessed with turning up proof Dumbledore was preparing to move against him," Fortuna continued.

"That's not what it's for," Harry protested weakly.

"Yesss. Minister Fudge suffers from many misconceptions...." The strain in Fortuna's tone betrayed a measure of discontent with Fudge's administration. He quickly came to himself. "Continue please."

"What was... the question?" Harry asked. He was fading fast again.

"Why did you lead this mission, and why would the Dark Lord attempt to manipulate you Somnapathically?"

"I didn't think... I had much time left... I took whoever I could... with me... that didn't think Sirius... was a criminal" said Harry, his voice falling away to inaudibility.

"Again, why Somnapathy?"

"Ask... Voldemort" was Harry's last coherent statement before everything went black.

~~*~~

Basic fairness would have dictated that Harry's sleep not be disturbed any further that night. Basic fairness had never been Harry's faithful companion. Something about the long interview with the investigators had left him more vulnerable, or more receptive, or more sensitive than usual to Voldemort. And so it was that after what seemed only minutes of blissful oblivion he again found himself in a strange room.

There was no mistaking it for anything on Privet Drive. The walls were of roughly hewn stone, lacked decoration, and were broken up only by two indifferently placed vertical windows that revealed nothing of what was outside. The floorboards were warped and full of knots. What little light there was came from a few guttering candles and a fire crackling somewhere behind him, probably in a drafty fireplace.

None of these features were disturbing by themselves. What stood his hair on end was the presence of Lucius Malfoy, bowing in front of him with a servile expression that only just managed to be convincing.

Harry heard himself begin speaking in a high, cold voice he knew too well, and knew was not his own. He was inside Voldemort again. For the first time in quite awhile everything was relatively sharp and clear, as though the Dark Lord had either neglected to Occlumen himself or couldn't get the spell to work. The latter would not have been surprising given how little emotional control Voldemort possessed.

"I am pleased Lucius. It is well that you have finally done something to redeem yourself after so many recent failures."

"My Lord, I only wish that I could have done more," said Malfoy. "Had there been more time, even as little as half a day, I would have done more. But the Malfoy name no longer has the status it once did, and the Ministry moved with a decisiveness it has never shown during Fudge's tenure."

"The loss of so many powerful Dark artifacts is, of course, regrettable," said Voldemort. "But, you had the presence of mind to save those few that are essential to my new plan. The Book in particular is important. I have finished reading it, and after reflecting on its content I now know how to acquire the Staff of Serpents. With the Staff in hand our enemies will not be able to stand against us. It may even allow me to breach the defensive wards protecting Hogwarts, especially if we can find its companion. In pursuit of that end, you and the rest of my inner circle will be accompanying me on an excursion."

"An excursion, My Lord?"

"Call in the others. The time has come to reveal our next objective."

Harry could scarcely believe he was hearing this exchange. Powerful Dark artifacts in the care of Lucius Malfoy had been lost, apparently because of some action by the Ministry (why wasn't there anything in The Prophet about that?), and Voldemort not only wasn't angry with Malfoy but was even praising him? What could force the Dark Lord to save his wrath for another day? Maybe he thought his side of the war was going really well. But then why was he hiding in such a shabby little cottage?

"My Lord, are you not concerned...."

"I am not. We are far away from the boy, and he can not sense me when I am Occlumened. I believe I gave you an order Lucius."

Lucius Malfoy bowed and left the room. Soon he returned with other Death Eaters in tow. Harry knew most of them by now. They were the recent escapees from Azkaban, the same ones he fought at the Department of Mysteries. Bellatrix and Rodolphus Lestrange. Rabaston Lestrange (his face disfigured by burns). Dolohov. Nott. Rookwood. Jugson. MacNair (sporting a glass eye). Crabbe. Goyle. Avery. Wormtail (hot rage that wasn't Voldemort's flared up in him. The rat had a lot to answer for). Snape! So it was true! Snape was working for Voldemort... But Dumbledore would know if he was wouldn't he?... Yet Dumbledore wasn't infallible....

Harry, or rather the Dark Lord with Harry seeing through his eyes, began addressing the group.

"All of you except Severus will be journeying with me far away from England and Europe to search for an object I need if we are to achieve victory. Severus, you will return to Hogwarts immediately and resume your duties as my spy."

If Snape was disappointed at being given so little information he didn't show it. "I understand and obey, my Lord." He bowed again and left the room.

When Snape had gone, Voldemort continued. "The object we seek was lost centuries ago, but my sources inform me that by some accident it has ended up somewhere in the Sayan Mountains north of western Mongolia. There is a wizarding village in the vicinity named Kyzyl. That is our destination. When we arrive I will tell you the rest. Prepare yourselves for travel. Lucius, Bella, I would have a word with you privately."

When the others were gone he turned to Malfoy.

"Where have you hidden the Book of Serpents?"

"It is here with us My Lord."

Harry felt his eyes flashing. "I would have preferred somewhere less conspicuous," seethed Voldemort. "The Book has a powerful signature and could draw unwanted attention to us! It would have been better if you could hide it until I was ready to use it!.... However, perhaps we do not have that luxury. Malfoy Manor is no longer available," he continued, struggling to control his fury. "But care of the Book will remain your responsibility during the course of our journey Lucius. If it comes to harm or is lost, I will be most disappointed." His voice left no doubt what consequences would follow if he were disappointed.

"I understand and accept," replied Malfoy. "Does My Lord have a plan to deter the Ministry from sending pursuers after us into the mountains?"

The Dark Lord again struggled to control his emotions, this time because of his loathing for Albus Dumbledore. "I anticipate there will be pursuit. Eventually. Dumbledore will see to it. But we have several advantages. He doesn't know where we are going, and by the time he does we will have made alliances in the region capable of defeating whomever he sends after us."

"We will also have our undiscovered allies and sympathizers within the Ministry profess their loyalty to Fudge, and work to make sure he is not replaced as Minister until we are ready to take over. His incompetence is an asset even if he has acknowledged my return. The Ministry will be no more than an inconvenience so long as he is in power."

"And what of Hogwarts?"

"We can not strike at it directly. Nor will we be able to for some time, but there are other avenues. Bella!"

"Yes Master?" The adoring look on her face made Harry's teeth hurt. Come to that, seeing her alive and free burned him everywhere.

"Your associate, the wizard who is to guide our invisible weapon. You are certain of his loyalties?"

Bellatrix Lestrange shivered ever so slightly. It was perverse how every minuscule show of fear seemed to accentuate her devotion. And she had reason to be afraid; an extremely delicate scheme was going to be entrusted to a wizard who was not a Death Eater, and the Dark Lord was not reconciled to that at all.

"My Lord, I am certain he supports our cause, and that he will do as I have instructed. But he does not bear your Dark Mark."

"I am aware of that Bella! I wish to know what... incentives you have given him to cooperate."

"He is involved in a number of questionable business activities, and has dealings with some of your lesser....

But Harry lost consciousness again and didn't hear the rest, nor anything else until he woke up well after breakfast, his stomach rumbling painfully and his mind reeling.





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