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Unable to stand the bickering, Harry slipped out of the room unnoticed by either of them. He headed downstairs toward the kitchen, which he kept visiting because he was sure that was where Kreacher was most likely to reappear. Halfway down the flight of stairs into the hall, however, he heard a tap on the front door, then metallic clicks and the grinding of the chain.
Every nerve in his body seemed to tauten: He pulled out his wand, moved into the shadows beside the decapitated elf heads, and waited. The door opened: He saw a glimpse of the lamplit square outside, and a cloaked figure edged into the hall and closed the door behind it. The intruder took a step forward, and Moodyâ€™s voice asked, â€œSeverus Snape?â€ Then the dust figure rose from the end of the hall and rushed him, raising its dead hand.
â€œIt was not I who killed you, Albus,â€ said a quiet voice.
The jinx broke: The dust-figure exploded again, and it was impossible to make out the newcomer through the dense gray cloud it left behind.
Harry pointed the wand into the middle of it.
He had forgotten the portrait of Mrs. Black: At the sound of his yell, the curtains hiding her flew open and she began to scream, â€œMudbloods and filth dishonoring my house â€“ â€
Ron and Hermione came crashing down the stairs behind Harry, wands pointing, like his, at the unknown man now standing with his arms raised in the hall below.
â€œHold your fire, itâ€™s me, Remus!â€
â€œOh, thank goodness,â€ said Hermione weakly, pointing her wand at Mrs. Black instead; with a bang, the curtains swished shut again and silence fell. Ron too lowered his wand, but Harry did not.
â€œShow yourself!â€ he called back.
Lupin moved forward into the lamplight, hands still held high in a gesture of surrender.
â€œI am Remus John Lupin, werewolf, sometimes known as Moony, one of the four creators of the Marauderâ€™s Map, married to Nymphadora, usually known as Tonks, and I taught you how to produce a Patronus, Harry, which takes the form of a stag.â€
â€œOh, all right,â€ said Harry, lowering his wand, â€œbut I had to check, didnâ€™t I?â€
â€œSpeaking as your ex-Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, I quite agree that you had to check. Ron, Hermione, you shouldnâ€™t be so quick to lower your defenses.â€
They ran down the stairs towards him. Wrapped in a thick black traveling cloak, he looked exhausted, but pleased to see them.
â€œNo sign of Severus, then?â€ he asked.
â€œNo,â€ said Harry. â€œWhatâ€™s going on? Is everyone okay?â€
â€œYes,â€ said Lupin, â€œbut weâ€™re all being watched. There are a couple of Death Eaters in the square outside â€“ â€
â€œWe know â€“ â€
â€œI had to Apparate very precisely onto the top step outside the front door to be sure that they would not see me. They canâ€™t know youâ€™re in here or Iâ€™m sure theyâ€™d have more people out there; theyâ€™re staking out everywhere thatâ€™s got any connection with you, Harry. Letâ€™s go downstairs, thereâ€™s a lot to tell you, and I want to know what happened after you left the Burrow.â€
They descended into the kitchen, where Hermione pointed her wand at the grate. A fire sprang up instantly: It gave the illusion of coziness to the stark stone walls and glistened off the long wooden table. Lupin pulled a few butterbeers from beneath his traveling cloak and they sat down.
â€œIâ€™d have been here three days ago but I needed to shake off the Death Eater tailing me,â€ said Lupin. â€œSo, you came straight here after the wedding?â€
â€œNo,â€ said Harry, â€œonly after we ran into a couple of Death Eaters in a cafÃ© on Tottenham Court Road.â€
Lupin slopped most of his butterbeer down his front.
They explained what had happened; when they had finished, Lupin looked aghast.
â€œBut how did they find you so quickly? Itâ€™s impossible to track anyone who Apparates, unless you grab hold of them as they disappear.â€
â€œAnd it doesnâ€™t seem likely they were just strolling down Tottenham Court Road at the time, does it?â€ said Harry.
â€œWe wondered,â€ said Hermione tentatively, â€œwhether Harry could still have the Trace on him?â€
â€œImpossible,â€ said Lupin. Ron looked smug, and Harry felt hugely relieved. â€œApart from anything else, theyâ€™d know for sure Harry was here if he still had the Trace on him, wouldnâ€™t they? But I canâ€™t see how they could have tracked you to Tottenham Court Road, thatâ€™s worrying, really worrying.â€
He looked disturbed, but as far as Harry was concerned, that question could wait.
â€œTell us what happened after we left, we havenâ€™t heard a thing since Ronâ€™s dad told us the family was safe.â€
â€œWell, Kingsley saved us,â€ said Lupin. â€œThanks to his warning most of the wedding guests were able to Disapparate before they arrived.â€
â€œWere they Death Eaters or Ministry people?â€ interjected Hermione.
â€œA mixture; but to all intents and purposes theyâ€™re the same thing now,â€ said Lupin. â€œThere were about a dozen of them, but they didnâ€™t know you were there, Harry. Arthur heard a rumor that they tried to torture your whereabouts out of Scrimgeour before they killed him; if itâ€™s true, he didnâ€™t give you away.â€
Harry looked at Ron and Hermione; their expressions reflected the mingled shock and gratitude he felt. He had never liked Scrimgeour much, but if what Lupin said was true, the manâ€™s final act had been to try to protect Harry.
â€œThe Death Eaters searched the Burrow from top to bottom,â€ Lupin went on. â€œThey found the ghoul, but didnâ€™t want to get too close â€“ and then they interrogated those of us who remained for hours. They were trying to get information on you, Harry, but of course nobody apart from the Order knew that you had been there.â€
â€œAt the same time that they were smashing up the wedding, more Death Eaters were forcing their way into every Order-connected house in the country. No deaths,â€ he added quickly, forestalling the question, â€œbut they were rough. They burned down Dedalus Diggleâ€™s house, but as you know he wasnâ€™t there, and they used the Cruciarus Curse on Tonksâ€™s family. Again, trying to find out where you went after you visited them. Theyâ€™re all right â€“ shaken, obviously, but otherwise okay.â€
â€œThe Death Eaters got through all those protective charms?â€
Harry asked, remembering how effective these had been on the night he had crashed in Tonksâ€™s parentsâ€™ garden.
â€œWhat youâ€™ve got to realize, Harry, is that the Death Eaters have got the full might of the Ministry on their side now,â€ said Lupin. â€œTheyâ€™ve got the power to perform brutal spells without fear of identification or arrest. They managed to penetrate every defensive spell weâ€™d cast against them, and once inside, they were completely open about why theyâ€™d come.â€
â€œAnd are they bothering to give an excuse for torturing Harryâ€™s whereabouts out of people?â€ asked Hermione, an edge to her voice.
â€œWell,â€ Lupin said. He hesitated, then pulled out a folded copy of the Daily Prophet.
â€œHere,â€ he said, pushing it across the table to Harry, â€œyouâ€™ll know sooner or later anyway. Thatâ€™s their pretext for going after you.â€
Harry smoothed out the paper. A huge photograph of his own face filled the front page. He read the headline over it:
WANTED FOR QUESTIONING ABOUT THE DEATH OF ALBUS DUMBLEDORE
Ron and Hermione gave roars of outrage, but Harry said nothing. He pushed the newspaper away; he did not want to read anymore: He knew what it would say. Nobody but those who had been on top of the tower when Dumbledore died knew who had really killed him and, as Rita Skeeter had already told the Wizarding world, Harry had been seen running from the place moments after Dumbledore had fallen.
â€œIâ€™m sorry, Harry,â€ Lupin said.
â€œSo Death Eaters have taken over the Daily Prophet too?â€ asked Hermione furiously.
â€œBut surely people realize whatâ€™s going on?â€
â€œThe coup has been smooth and virtually silent,â€ said Lupin.
â€œThe official version of Scrimgeourâ€™s murder is that he resigned; he has been replaced by Pius Thicknesse, who is under the Imperius Curse.â€
â€œWhy didnâ€™t Voldemort declare himself Minister of Magic?â€ asked Ron.
â€œHe doesnâ€™t need to, Ron. Effectively, he is the Minister, but why should he sit behind a desk at the Ministry? His puppet, Thicknesse, is taking care of everyday business, leaving Voldemort free to extend his power beyond the Ministry.â€
â€œNaturally many people have deduced what has happened: There has been such a dramatic change in Ministry policy in the last few days, and many are whispering that Voldemort must be behind it. However, that is the point: They whisper. They darenâ€™t confide in each other, not knowing whom to trust; they are scared to speak out, in case their suspicions are true and their families are targeted. Yes, Voldemort is playing a very clever game. Declaring himself might have provoked open rebellion: Remaining masked has created confusion, uncertainty, and fear.â€
â€œAnd this dramatic change in Ministry policy,â€ said Harry, â€œinvolves warning the Wizarding world against me instead of Voldemort?â€
â€œThatâ€™s certainly a part of it,â€ said Lupin, â€œand it is a masterstroke. Now that Dumbledore is dead, you â€“ the Boy Who Lived â€“ were sure to be the symbol and rallying point for any resistance to Voldemort. But by suggesting that you had a hand in the old hatâ€™s death, Voldemort has not only set a price upon your head, but sown doubt and fear amongst many who would have defended you.â€
â€œMeanwhile, the Ministry has started moving against Muggle-borns.â€
Lupin pointed at the Daily Prophet.
â€œLook at page two.â€
Hermione turned the pages with much the same expression of distaste she had when handling Secrets of the Darkest Art.
â€œMuggle-born Register!â€ she read aloud. â€œâ€˜The Ministry of Magic is undertaking a survey of so-called â€Muggle-bornsâ€œ the better to understand how they came to possess magical secrets.
â€œâ€˜Recent research undertaken by the Department of Mysteries reveals that magic can only be passed from person to person when Wizards reproduce. Where no proven Wizarding ancestry exists, therefore, the so-called Muggle-born is likely to have obtained magical power by theft or force.
â€œâ€˜The Ministry is determined to root out such usurpers of magical power, and to this end has issued an invitation to every so-called Muggle-born to present themselves for interview by the newly appointed Muggle-born Registration Commission.â€™â€
â€œPeople wonâ€™t let this happen,â€ said Ron.
â€œIt is happening, Ron,â€ said Lupin. â€œMuggle-borns are being rounded up as we speak.â€
â€œBut how are they supposed to have â€˜stolenâ€™ magic?â€ said Ron. â€œItâ€™s mental, if you could steal magic there wouldnâ€™t be any Squibs, would there?â€
â€œI know,â€ said Lupin. â€œNevertheless, unless you can prove that you have at least one close Wizarding relative, you are now deemed to have obtained your magical power illegally and must suffer the punishment.â€
Ron glanced at Hermione, then said, â€œWhat if purebloods and halfbloods swear a Muggle-bornâ€™s part of their family? Iâ€™ll tell everyone Hermioneâ€™s my cousin â€“ â€
Hermione covered Ronâ€™s hand with hers and squeezed it.
â€œThank you, Ron, but I couldnâ€™t let you â€“ â€
â€œYou wonâ€™t have a choice,â€ said Ron fiercely, gripping her hand back. â€œIâ€™ll teach you my family tree so you can answer questions on it.â€
Hermione gave a shaky laugh.
â€œRon, as weâ€™re on the run with Harry Potter, the most wanted person in the country, I donâ€™t think it matters. If I was going back to school it would be different. Whatâ€™s Voldemort planning for Hogwarts?â€ she asked Lupin.
â€œAttendance is now compulsory for every young witch and wizard,â€ he replied. â€œThat was announced yesterday. Itâ€™s a change, because it was never obligatory before. Of course, nearly every witch and wizard in Britain has been educated at Hogwarts, but their parents had the right to teach them at home or send them abroad if they preferred. This way, Voldemort will have the whole Wizarding population under his eye from a young age. And itâ€™s also another way of weeding out Muggle-borns, because students must be given Blood Status â€“ meaning that they have proven to the Ministry that they are of Wizard descent â€“ before they are allowed to attend.â€
Harry felt sickened and angry: At this moment, excited eleven-year-olds would be poring over stacks of newly purchased spell-books, unaware that they would never see Hogwarts, perhaps never see their families again either.
â€œItâ€™sâ€¦ itâ€™sâ€¦â€ he muttered, struggling to find words that did justice to the horror of his thoughts, but Lupin said quietly, â€œI know.â€
â€œIâ€™ll understand if you canâ€™t confirm this, Harry, but the Order is under the impression that Dumbledore left you a mission.â€
â€œHe did,â€ Harry replied, â€œand Ron and Hermione are in on it and theyâ€™re coming with me.â€
â€œCan you confide in me what the mission is?â€
Harry looked into the prematurely lined face, framed in thick but graying hair, and wished that he could return a different answer.
â€œI canâ€™t, Remus, Iâ€™m sorry. If Dumbledore didnâ€™t tell you I donâ€™t think I can.â€
â€œI thought youâ€™d say that,â€ said Lupin, looking disappointed. â€œBut I might still be of some use to you. You know what I am and what I can do. I could come with you to provide protection. There would be no need to tell me exactly what you were up to.â€
Harry hesitated. It was a very tempting offer, though how they would be able to keep their mission secret from Lupin if he were with them all the time he could not imagine.
Hermione, however, looked puzzled.
â€œBut what about Tonks?â€ she asked.
â€œWhat about her?â€ said Lupin.
â€œWell,â€ said Hermione, frowning, â€œyouâ€™re married! How does she feel about you going away with us?â€
â€œTonks will be perfectly safe,â€ said Lupin, â€œSheâ€™ll be at her parentsâ€™ house.â€
There was something strange in Lupinâ€™s tone, it was almost cold. There was also something odd in the idea of Tonks remaining hidden at her parentsâ€™ house; she was, after all, a member of the Order and, as far as Harry knew, was likely to want to be in the thick of the action.
â€œRemus,â€ said Hermione tentatively, â€œis everything all rightâ€¦ you knowâ€¦ between you and â€“ â€
â€œEverything is fine, thank you,â€ said Lupin pointedly.
Hermione turned pink. There was another pause, an awkward and embarrassed one, and then Lupin said, with an air of forcing himself to admit something unpleasant, â€œTonks is going to have a baby.â€
â€œOh, how wonderful!â€ squealed Hermione.
â€œExcellent!â€ said Ron enthusiastically.
â€œCongratulations,â€ said Harry.
Lupin gave an artificial smile that was more like a grimace, then said, â€œSoâ€¦ do you accept my offer? Will three become four? I cannot believe that Dumbledore would have disapproved, he appointed me your Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, after all. And I must tell you that I believe we are facing magic many of us have never encountered or imagined.â€
Ron and Hermione both looked at Harry.
â€œJust â€“ just to be clear,â€ he said. â€œYou want to leave Tonks at her parentsâ€™ house and come away with us?â€
â€œSheâ€™ll be perfectly safe there, theyâ€™ll look after her,â€ said Lupin. He spoke with a finality bordering on indifference: â€œHarry, Iâ€™m sure James would have wanted me to stick with you.â€
â€œWell,â€ said Harry slowly, â€œIâ€™m not. Iâ€™m pretty sure my father would have wanted to know why you arenâ€™t sticking with your own kid, actually.â€
Lupinâ€™s face drained of color. The temperature in the kitchen might have dropped ten degrees. Ron stared around the room as though he had been bidden to memorize it, while Hermioneâ€™s eyes swiveled backward and forward from Harry to Lupin.
â€œYou donâ€™t understand,â€ said Lupin at last.
â€œExplain, then,â€ said Harry.
â€œI â€“ I made a grave mistake in marrying Tonks. I did it against my better judgment and have regretted it very much every since.â€
â€œI see,â€ said Harry, â€œso youâ€™re just going to dump her and the kid and run off with us?â€
Lupin sprang to his feet: His chair toppled over backward, and he glared at them so fiercely that Harry saw, for the first time ever, she shadow of the wolf upon his human face.
â€œDonâ€™t you understand what Iâ€™ve done to my wife and my unborn child? I should never have married her, Iâ€™ve made her an outcast!â€
Lupin kicked aside the chair he had overturned.
â€œYou have only ever seen me amongst the Order, or under Dumbledoreâ€™s protection at Hogwarts! You donâ€™t know how most of the Wizarding world sees creatures like me! When they know of my affliction, they can barely talk to me! Donâ€™t you see what Iâ€™ve done?
Even her own family is disgusted by our marriage, what parents want their only daughter to marry a werewolf? And the child â€“ the child â€“ â€œ
Lupin actually seized handfuls of his own hair; he looked quite deranged.
â€œMy kind donâ€™t usually breed! It will be like me, I am convinced of it â€“ how can I forgive myself, when I knowingly risked passing on my own condition to an innocent child? And if, by some miracle, it is not like me, then it will be better off, a hundred times so, without a father of whom it must always be ashamed!â€
â€œRemus!â€ whispered Hermione, tears in her eyes. â€œDonâ€™t say that â€“ how could any child be ashamed of you?â€
â€œOh, I donâ€™t know, Hermione,â€ said Harry. â€œIâ€™d be pretty ashamed of him.â€
Harry did not know where his rage was coming from, but it had propelled him to his feet too. Lupin looked as though Harry had hit him.
â€œIf the new regime thinks Muggle-borns are bad,â€ Harry said, â€œwhat will they do to a half-werewolf whose fatherâ€™s in the Order? My father died trying to protect my mother and me, and you reckon heâ€™d tell you to abandon your kid to go on an adventure with us?â€
â€œHow â€“ how dare you?â€ said Lupin. â€œThis is not about a desire for â€“ for danger or personal glory â€“ how dare you suggest such a â€“ â€
â€œI think youâ€™re feeling a bit of a daredevil,â€ Harry said, â€œYou fancy stepping into Siriusâ€™s shoes â€“ â€
â€œHarry, no!â€ Hermione begged him, but he continued to glare into Lupinâ€™s livid face.
â€œIâ€™d never have believed this,â€ Harry said. â€œThe man who taught me to fight dementors â€“ a coward.â€
Lupin drew his wand so fast that Harry had barely reached for his own; there was a loud bang and he felt himself flying backward as if punched; as he slammed into the kitchen wall and slid to the floor, he glimpsed the tail of Lupinâ€™s cloak disappearing around the door.
â€œRemus, Remus, come back!â€ Hermione cried, but Lupin did not respond. A moment later they heard the front door slam.
â€œHarry!â€ wailed Hermione. â€œHow could you?â€
â€œIt was easy,â€ said Harry. He stood up, he could feel a lump swelling where his head had hit the wall. He was still so full of anger he was shaking.
â€œDonâ€™t look at me like that!â€ he snapped at Hermione.
â€œDonâ€™t you start on her!â€ snarled Ron.
â€œNo â€“ no â€“ we mustnâ€™t fight!â€ said Hermione, launching herself between them.
â€œYou shouldnâ€™t have said that stuff to Lupin,â€ Ron told Harry.
â€œHe had it coming to him,â€ said Harry. Broken images were racing each other through his mind: Sirius falling through the veil; Dumbledore suspended, broken, in midair; a flash of green light and his motherâ€™s voice, begging for mercyâ€¦
â€œParents,â€ said Harry, â€œshouldnâ€™t leave their kids unless â€“ unless theyâ€™ve got to.â€
â€œHarry â€“ â€ said Hermione, stretching out a consoling hand, but he shrugged it off and walked away, his eyes on the fire Hermione had conjured. He had once spoken to Lupin out of that fireplace, seeking reassurance about James, and Lupin had consoled him. Now Lupinâ€™s tortured white face seemed to swim in the air before him. He felt a sickening surge of remorse. Neither Ron nor Hermione spoke, but Harry felt sure that they were looking at each other behind his back, communicating silently.
He turned around and caught them turning hurriedly away form each other.
â€œI know I shouldnâ€™t have called him a coward.â€
â€œNo, you shouldnâ€™t,â€ said Ron at once.
â€œBut heâ€™s acting like one.â€
â€œAll the sameâ€¦â€ said Hermione.
â€œI know,â€ said Harry. â€œBut if it makes him go back to Tonks, itâ€™ll be worth it, wonâ€™t it?â€
He could not keep the plea out of his voice. Hermione looked sympathetic, Ron uncertain. Harry looked down at his feet, thinking of his father. Would James have backed Harry in what he had said to Lupin, or would he have been angry at how his son had treated his old friend?
The silent kitchen seemed to hum with the shock of the recent scene and with Ron and Hermioneâ€™s unspoken reproaches. The Daily Prophet Lupin had brought was still lying on the table, Harryâ€™s own face staring up at the ceiling from the front page. He walked over to it and sat down, opened the paper at random, and pretended to read. He could not take in the words; his mind was still too full of the encounter with Lupin. He was sure that Ron and Hermione had resumed their silent communications on the other side of the Prophet. He turned a page loudly, and Dumbledoreâ€™s name leapt out at him. It was a moment or two before he took in the meaning of the photograph, which showed a family group. Beneath the photograph were the words: The Dumbledore family, left to right: Albus; Percival, holding newborn Ariana; Kendra, and Aberforth.
His attention caught, Harry examined the picture more carefully. Dumbledoreâ€™s father, Percival, was a good-looking man with eyes that seemed to twinkle even in this faded old photograph. The baby, Ariana, was a little longer than a loaf of bread and no more distinctive-looking. The mother, Kendra, had jet black hair pulled into a high bun. Her face had a carved quality about it. Harry thought of photos of Native Americans heâ€™d seen as he studied her dark eyes, high cheekbones, and straight nose, formally composed above a high-necked silk gown. Albus and Aberforth wore matching lacy collared jackets and had identical, shoulder-length hairstyles. Albus looked several years older, but otherwise the two boys looked very alike, for this was before Albusâ€™s nose had been broken and before he started wearing glasses.
The family looked quite happy and normal, smiling serenely up out of the newspaper. Baby Arianaâ€™s arm waved vaguely out of her shawl. Harry looked above the picture and saw the headline:
EXCLUSIVE EXTRACT FROM UPCOMING
BIOGRAPHY OF ALBUS DUMBLEDORE
by Rita Skeeter
Thinking it could hardly make him feel any worse than he already did, Harry began to read:
Proud and haughty, Kendra Dumbledore could not bear to remain in Mould-on-the-Wold after her husband Percivalâ€™s well-publicized arrest and imprisonment in Azkaban. She therefore decided to uproot the family and relocate to Godricâ€™s Hollow, the village that was later to gain fame as the scene of Harry Potterâ€™s strange escape from You-Know-Who.
Like Mould-on-the-Wold, Godricâ€™s Hollow was home to a number of Wizarding families, but as Kendra knew none of them, she would be spared the curiosity about her husbandâ€™s crime she had faced in her former village. By repeatedly rebuffing the friendly advances of her new Wizarding neighbors, she soon ensured that her family was left well alone.
â€œSlammed the door in my face when I went around to welcome her with a batch of homemade Cauldron Cakes,â€ says Bathilda Bagshot. â€œThe first year they were there I only ever saw the two boys. Wouldnâ€™t have known there was a daughter if I hadnâ€™t been picking Plangentines by moonlight the winter after they moved in, and saw Kendra leading Ariana out into the back garden. Walked her round the lawn once, keeping a firm grip on her, then took her back inside. Didnâ€™t know what to make of it.â€
It seems that Kendra thought the move to Godricâ€™s Hollow was the perfect opportunity to hide Ariana once and for all, something she had probably been planning for years. The timing was significant. Ariana was barely seven years old when she vanished from sight, and seven is the age by which most experts agree that magic will have revealed itself, if present. Nobody now alive remembers Ariana ever demonstrating even the slightest sign of magical ability. It seems clear, therefore, that Kendra made a decision to hide her daughterâ€™s existence rather than suffer the shame of admitting that she had produced a Squib. Moving away from the friends and neighbors who knew Ariana would, of course, make imprisoning her all the easier. The tiny number of people who henceforth knew of Arianaâ€™s existence could be counted upon to keep the secret, including her two brothers, who had deflected awkward questions with the answer their mother had taught them. â€œMy sister is too frail for school.â€
Next week: Albus Dumbledore at Hogwarts â€“ the Prizes and the Pretense.
Harry had been wrong: What he had read had indeed made him feel worse. He looked back at the photograph of the apparently happy family. Was it true? How could he find out? He wanted to go to Godricâ€™s Hollow, even if Bathilda was in no fit state to talk to him: he wanted to visit the place where he and Dumbledore had both lost loved ones. He was in the process of lowering the newspaper, to ask Ronâ€™s and Hermioneâ€™s opinions, when a deafening crack echoed around the kitchen.
For the first time in three days Harry had forgotten all about Kreacher. His immediate thought was that Lupin had burst back into the room, and for a split second, he did not take in the mass of struggling limbs that had appeared out of thin air right beside his chair. He hurried to his feet as Kreacher disentangled himself and, bowing low to Harry, croaked, â€œKreacher has returned with the thief Mundungus Fletcher, Master.â€
Mundungus scrambled up and pulled out his wand; Hermione, however, was too quick for him.
Mundungusâ€™s wand soared into the air, and Hermione caught it. Wild-eyed, Mundungus dived for the stairs. Ron rugby-tackled him and Mundungus hit the stone floor with a muffled crunch.
â€œWhat?â€ he bellowed, writhing in his attempts to free himself from Ronâ€™s grip. â€œWhaâ€™ve I done? Setting a bleedinâ€™ â€˜house-elf on me, what are you playing at, whaâ€™ve I done, lemme go, lemme go, of â€“ â€
â€œYouâ€™re not in much of a position to make threats,â€ said Harry. He threw aside the newspaper, crossed the kitchen in a few strides, and dropped to his knees beside Mundungus, who stopped struggling and looked terrified. Ron got up, panting, and watched as Harry pointed his wand deliberately at Mundungusâ€™s nose. Mundungus stank of stale sweat and tobacco smoke. His hair was matted and his robes stained.
â€œKreacher apologizes for the delay in bringing the thief, Master,â€ croaked the elf. â€œFletcher knows how to avoid capture, has many hidey-holes and accomplices. Nevertheless, Kreacher cornered the thief in the end.â€
â€œYouâ€™ve done really well, Kreacher,â€ said Harry, and the elf bowed low.
â€œRight, weâ€™ve got a few questions for you,â€ Harry told Mundungus, who shouted at once.
â€œI panicked, okay? I never wanted to come along, no offense, mate, but I never volunteered to die for you, anâ€™ that was bleedinâ€™ You-Know-Who come flying at me, anyone woulda got outta there. I said all along I didnâ€™t wanna do it â€“ â€
â€œFor your information, none of the rest of us Disapparated,â€ said Hermione.
â€œWell, youâ€™re a bunch of bleedinâ€™ â€˜eroes then, arenâ€™t you, but I never pretended I was up for killing meself â€“ â€
â€œWeâ€™re not interested in why you ran out on Mad-Eye,â€ said Harry, moving his wand a little closer to Mundungusâ€™s baggy, bloodshot eyes. â€œWe already knew you were an unreliable bit of scum.â€
â€œWell then, why the â€˜ell am I being â€˜unted down by â€˜ouse-elves? Or is this about them goblets again? I ainâ€™t got none of â€˜em left, or you could â€˜ave â€˜em â€“ â€
â€œItâ€™s not about the goblets either, although youâ€™re getting warmer,â€ said Harry. â€œShut up and listen.â€
It felt wonderful to have something to do, someone of whom he could demand some small portion of truth. Harryâ€™s wand was now so close to the bridge of Mundungusâ€™s nose that Mundungus had gone cross-eyed trying to keep it in view.
â€œWhen you cleaned out this house of anything valuable,â€ Harry began, but Mundungus interrupted him again.
â€œSirius never cared about any of the junk â€“ â€
There was the sound of pattering fee, a blaze of shining copper, an echoing clang, and a shriek of agony; Kreacher had taken a run at Mundungus and hit him over the head with a saucepan.
â€œCall â€˜im off, call â€˜im off, â€˜e should be locked up!â€ screamed Mundungus, cowering as Kreacher raised the heavy-bottomed pan again.
â€œKreacher, no!â€ shouted Harry.
Kreacherâ€™s thin arms trembled with the weight of the pan, still held aloft.
â€œPerhaps just one more, Master Harry, for luck?â€
â€œWe need him conscious, Kreacher, but if he needs persuading, you can do the honors,â€ said Harry.
â€œThank you very much, Master,â€ said Kreacher with a bow, and he retreated a short distance, his great pale eyes still fixed upon Mundungus with loathing.
â€œWhen you stripped this house of all the valuables you could find,â€ Harry began again, â€œyou took a bunch of stuff from the kitchen cupboard. There was a locket there.â€ Harryâ€™s mouth was suddenly dry: He could sense Ron and Hermioneâ€™s tension and excitement too. â€œWhat did you do with it?â€
â€œWhy?â€ asked Mundungus. â€œIs it valuable?â€
â€œYouâ€™ve still got it!â€ cried Hermione.
â€œNo, he hasnâ€™t,â€ said Ron shrewdly. â€œHeâ€™s wondering whether he should have asked more money for it.â€
â€œMore?â€ said Mundungus. â€œThat wouldnâ€™t have been effing difficultâ€¦bleedinâ€™ gave it away, diâ€™nâ€™ I? No choice.â€
â€œWhat do you mean?â€
â€œI was selling in Diagon Alley and she come up to me and asks if Iâ€™ve got a license for trading in magical artifacts. Bleedinâ€™ snoop. She was gonna fine me, but she took a fancy to the locket anâ€™ told me sheâ€™d take it and let me off that time, and to fink meself lucky.â€
â€œWho was this woman?â€ asked Harry.
â€œI dunno, some Ministry hag.â€
Mundungus considered for a moment, brow wrinkled.
â€œLittle woman. Bow on top of â€˜er head.â€
He frowned and then added, â€œLooked like a toad.â€
Harry dropped his wand: It hit Mundungus on the nose and shot red sparks into his eyebrows, which ignited.
â€œAquamenti!â€ screamed Hermione, and a jet of water streamed from her wand, engulfing a spluttering and choking Mundungus.
Harry looked up and saw his own shock reflected in Ronâ€™s and Hermioneâ€™s faces. The scars on the back of his right hand seemed to be tingling again.
The Deathly Hallows
. . . . . . . . . . .