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“I didn’t kill you,” he said, once it had unrolled, then held his breath as the dusty jinx-figure exploded. He waited until he was halfway down the stairs to the kitchen, out of earshot of Mrs. Black and clear of the dust cloud, before calling, “I’ve got news, and you won’t like it.” The kitchen was almost unrecognizable. Every surface now shone; Copper pots and pans had been burnished to a rosy glow; the wooden tabletop gleamed; the goblets and plates already laid for dinner glinted in the light from a merrily blazing fire, on which a cauldron was simmering. Nothing in the room, however, was more dramatically different than the house-elf who now came hurrying toward Harry, dressed in a snowy-white towel, his ear hair as clean and fluffy as cotton wool, Regulus’s locket bouncing on his thin chest. “Shoes off, if you please, Master Harry, and hands washed before dinner,” croaked Kreacher, seizing the Invisibility Cloak and slouching off to hang it on a hook on the wall, beside a number of old-fashioned robes that had been freshly laundered. “What’s happened?” Ron asked apprehensively. He are Hermione had been pouring over a sheaf of scribbled notes and hand drawn maps that littered the end of the long kitchen table, but now they watched Harry as he strode toward them and threw down the newspaper on top of their scattered parchment. A large picture of a familiar, hook-nosed, black-haired man stared up at them all, beneath a headline that read: SEVERUS SNAPE CONFIRMEDAS HOGWARTS HEADMASTER“No!“ said Ron and Hermione loudly. Hermione was quickest; she snatched up the newspaper and began to read the accompanying story out loud. “Severus Snape, long-standing Potions master at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and wizardry, was today appointed headmaster in the most important of several staffing changes at the ancient school. Following the resignation of the previous Muggle Studies teacher, Alecto Carrow will take over the post while her brother, Amycus, fills the position of Defense Against the Dark Arts professor.“ “ ‘I welcome the opportunity to uphold our finest Wizarding traditions and values –’ Like committing murder and cutting off people’s ears, I suppose! Snape, headmaster! Snape in links london uk Dumbledore’s study – Merlin’s pants!“ she shrieked, making both Harry and Ron jump. She leapt up from the table and hurtled from the room, shouting as she went, ”I’ll be back in a minute!“ “‘Merlin’s pants’?” repeated Ron, looking amused. “She must be upset.” He pulled the newspaper toward him and perused the article about Snape. “The other teachers won’t stand for this, McGonagall and Flitwick and Sprout all know the truth, they know how Dumbledore died. They won’t accept Snape as headmaster. And who are these Carrows?“ “Death Eaters,” said Harry. “There are pictures of them inside. They were at the top of the tower when Snape killed Dumbledore, so discounted tiffany jewelry it’s all friends together. And,” Harry went on bitterly, drawing up a chair, “I can’t see that the other teachers have got any choice but to stay. If the Ministry and Voldemort are behind Snape, it’ll be a choice between staying and teaching, or a nice few years in Azkaban – and that’s if they’re lucky. I reckon they’ll stay to try and protect the students.” Kreacher came bustling to the table with a large curcen in his hands, and ladled out soup into pristine bowls, whistling between his teeth as he did so. “Thanks, Kreacher,“ tiffany silver jewelry said Harry, flipping over the Prophet so as not to have to look at Snape’s face. ”Well, at least we know exactly where Snape is now.“He began to spoon soup into his mouth. The quality of Kreacher’s cooking had improved dramatically ever since he had been given Regulus’s locket: Today’s French onion was as good as Harry had ever tasted. “There are still a load of Death Eaters watching this house,” he told Ron as he ate, “more than usual. It’s like they’re hoping we’ll march out carrying our school trunks and head off for the Hogwarts Express.” Ron glanced at his watch. “I’ve been thinking about that all day. It left nearly six hours ago. Weird, not being on it, isn’t it?” In his mind’s eye Harry seemed to see the scarlet steam engine as he and Ron had once followed it by air, shimmering between fields and hills, a rippling scarlet caterpillar. He was sure Ginny, Neville, and Luna were sitting together at this moment, perhaps wondering where he, Ron, and Hermione were, or debating how best to undermine Snape’s new regime. “They nearly saw me coming back in just now,” Harry said, “I landed badly on the top step, and the Cloak slipped.” “I do that every time. Oh, here she is,” Ron added, craning around in his seat to watch Hermione reenter jewelry shop ing the kitchen. “And what in the name of Merlin’s most baggy Y Fronts was that about?” “I remembered this,” Hermione panted. She was carrying a large, framed picture, which she now lowered to the floor before seizing her small, beaded bag from the kitchen sideboard. Opening it, she proceeded to force the painting inside and despite the fact that it was patently too large to fit inside the tiny bag, within a few seconds it had vanished, like so much ease, into the bag’s capacious depths. “Phineas Nigellus,” Hermione explained as she threw the bag onto the kitchen table with the usual sonorous, clanking crash. “Sorry?“ said Ron, but Harry understood. The painted image of Phineas Nigellus Black was able to travel between his portrait in Grimmauld Place and the one that hung in the headmaster’s office at Hogwarts: the circular cower-top room where Snape was no doubt sitting right now, in triumphant possession of Dumbledore’s collection of delicate, silver magical instruments, the stone Pensieve, the Sorting Hat and, unless it ad been moved elsewhere, the sword of Gryffindor. “Snape could send Phineas Nigellus to look inside this house for him,” Hermione explained to Ron as she resumed her seat. “But let him try it now, all Phineas Nigellus will be able to see is the inside of my handbag.” “Good thinking!” said Ron, looking impressed. “Thank you,” smiled Hermione, pulling her soup toward her. “So, Harry, what else happened today?” “Nothing,” said Harry. “Watched the Ministry entrance for seven hours. No sign of her. Saw your dad though, Ron. He looks fine.” Ron nodded his appreciation of this news. The had agreed that it was far too dangerous to try and communicate with Mr. Weasley while he walked in and out of the Ministry, because he was always surrounded by other Ministry workers. It was, however, reassuring to catch these glimpses of him, even if he did look very strained and anxious. “Dad always told us most Ministry people use the Floo Network to get to work,” Ron said. “That’s why we haven’t seen Umbridge, she’d never walk, she’d think she’s too important.” “And what about that funny old witch and that little wizard in the navy robes?” Hermione asked. “Oh yeah, the bloke from Magical Maintenance,” said Ron. “How do you know he works for Magical Maintenance?” Hermione asked, her soupspoon suspended in midair. “Dad said everyone from Magical Maintenance wears navy blue robes.” “But you never told us that!” Hermione dropped her spoon and pulled toward her the sheaf of notes and maps that she and Ron had been examining when Harry had entered the kitchen. “There’s noth affordable jewelry ing in here about navy blue robes, nothing!” she said, flipping feverishly through the pages. “Well, does it really matter?” “Ron, it all matters! If we’re going to g Tiffany jewelry uk et into the Ministry and not give ourselves away when they’re bound to be on the lookout for intruders, every little detail matters! We’ve been over and over this, I mean, what’s the point of all these reconnaissance trips if you aren’t even bothering to tell us – “ “Blimey, Hermione, I forget one little thing – ” “You do realize, don’t you, that there’s probably no more dangerous place in the whole world for us to be right now than the Ministry of – “ “I think we should do it tomorrow,” said Harry. Hermione stopped dead, her jaw hanging; Ron choked a little over his soup. “Tomorrow?” repeated Hermione. “You aren’t serious, Harry?” “I am,“ said Harry. ”I don’t think we’re going to be much better prepared than we are now even if we skulk around the Ministry entrance for another month. The longer we put it off, the farther away that locket could be. There’s already a good chance Umbridge has chucked it away; the thing doesn’t open.“ “Unless,” said Ron, “she’s found a way of opening it and she’s now possessed.” “Wouldn’t make any difference to her, she was so evil in the first place,” Harry shrugged. Hermione w claddagh ring as biting her lip, deep in thought. “We know everything important,“ Harry went on, addressing Hermione. ”We know they’ve stopped Apparition in and out of the Ministry; We know only the most senior Ministry members are allowed to connect their homes to the Floo Network now, because Ron heard those two Unspeakables complaining about it. And we know roughly where Umbridge’s office is, because of what you heard the bearded bloke saying to his mate – “ “‘I’ll be up on level one, Dolores wants to see me,’“ Hermione recited immediately. “Exactly,” said Harry. “And we know you get in using those funny coins, or tokens, or whatever they are, because I saw that witch borrowing one from her friend – ” “But we haven’t got any!” “If the plan works, we will have,” Harry continued calmly. “I don’t know, Harry, I don’t know … There are an awful lot of things that could go wrong, so much relies on chance …” “That’ll be true even if we spend another three months preparing,“ said Harry. ”It’s time to act.“ He could tell from Ron’s and Hermione’s faces that they were scared; he was not particularly confident himself, and yet he was sure the time had come to put their plan into operation. They had spent the previous four weeks taking it in turns to don the Invisibility Cloak and spy on the official entrance to the Ministry, which Ron, thanks to Mr. Weasley, had known since childhood. They had tailed Ministry workers on their way in, eavesdropped on their conversations, and learned by careful observation which of them could be relied upon to appear, alone, at the same time every day. Occasionally there had been a chance to sneak a Daily Prophet out of somebody’s briefcase. Slowly they had built up the sketchy maps and notes now stacked in front of Hermione. “All right,” said Ron slowly, “let’s say we go for it t jewellery store omorrow … I think it should just be me and Harry.” “Oh, don’t start that again!” sighed Hermione. “I thought we’d settled this.” “ man jewelry It’s one thing hanging around the entrances under the Cloak, but this is different. Hermione,“ Ron jabbed a finger at a copy of the Daily Prophet dated ten days previously. ”You’re on the list of Muggle-borns who didn’t present themselves for interrogation!“ “And you’re supposed to be dying of spattergroit at the Burrow! If anyone shouldn’t go, it’s Harry, he’s got a ten-thousand-Galleon price on his head – ” “Fine, I’ll stay here,“ said Harry. ”Let me know if you ever defeat Voldemort, won’t you?“ As Ron and Hermione laughed, pain shot through the scar on Harry’s forehead. His hand jumped to it. He saw Hermione’s eyes narrow, and he tried to pass off the movement by brushing his hair out of his eyes. “Well, if all three of us go we’ll have to Disapparate separately,” Ron was saying. “We can’t all fit under the Cloak anymore.” Harry’s scar was becoming more and more painful. He stood up. At once, Kreacher hurried forward. “Master has not finished his soup, would master prefer the savory stew, or else the treacle tart to which Master is so partial?” “Thanks, Kreacher, but I’ll be back in a minute – er – bathroom.” Aware that Hermione was watching him suspiciously, Harry hurried up the stairs to the hall and then to the first landing, where wholesale tiffany jewelry he dashed into the bathroom and bolted the door again. Grunting with pain, he slumped over the black basin with its taps in the form of open-mouthed serpents and closed his eyes …. He was gliding along a twilit street. The buildings on either side of him had high, timbered gables; they looked like gingerbread houses. He approached one of them, then saw the whiteness of his own long-fingered hand against the door. He knocked. He felt a mounting excitement … The door opened: A laughing woman stood there. Her face fell as she looked into Harry’s face: humor gone, terror replacing it …. “Gregorovitch?” said a high, cold voice. She shook her head: She was trying to close the door. A white hand held it steady, prevented her shutting him out … “I want Gregorovitch.” “Er wohnt hier nicht mehr!“ she cried, shaking her head. ”He no live here! He no live here! I know him not!“ Abandoning the attempt to close the door, she began to back away down the dark hall, and Harry followed, gliding toward her, and his long-fingered hand had drawn his wand. “Where is he?” “Das wei? ich nicht! He move! I know not, I know not!“ He raised his hand. She screamed. Two young children came running into the hall. She tried to shield them with her arms. There was a flash of green light – “Harry! HARRY!” He opened his eyes; he had sunk to the floor. Hermione was pounding on the door again. “Harry, open up!” He had shouted out, he knew it. He got up and unbolted the door; Hermione toppled inside at once, regained her balance, and looked around suspiciously. Ron was right behind her, looking unnerved as h Tiffany and co e pointed his wand into the corners of the chilly bathroom. “What were you doing?” asked Hermione sternly. “What d’you think I was doing?“ asked Harry with feeble bravado. “You were yelling your head off!” said Ron. “Oh yeah … I must’ve dozed off or – ” “Harry, please don’t insult our intelligence,“ said Hermione, taking deep breaths. ”We know your scar hurt downstairs, and you’re white as a sheet.“ Harry sat down on the edge of the bath. “Fine. I’ve just seen Voldemort murdering a woman. By now he’s probably killed her whole family. And he didn’t need to. It was Cedric all over again, they were just there …“ “Harry, you aren’t supposed to let this happen anymore!“ Hermione cried, her voice echoing through the bathroom. ”Dumbledore wanted you to use Occlumency! HE thought the connection was dangerous – Voldemort can use it, Harry! What good is it to watch him kill and torture, how can it help?“ “Because it means I know what he’s doing,” said Harry. “So you’re not even going to try to shut him out?“ “Hermione, I can’t. You know I’m lousy at Occlumency. I never got the hang of it.” “You never really jewellery store tried!“ she said hotly. ”I don’t get it, Harry – do you like having this special connection or relationship or what – whatever – “ She faltered under the look he gave her as he stood up. “Like it?“ he said quietly. ”Would you like it?“ “I – no – I’m sorry, Harry. I just didn’t mean – ” “I hate it, I hate the fact that he can get inside me, that I have to watch him when he’s most dangerous. But I’m going to use it.” “Dumbledore – ” “Forget Dumbledo fashion rings re. This is my choice, nobody else’s. I want to know why he’s after Gregorovitch.” “Who?”

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