On Archive of Our Own
On Twisting the Hellmouth
"What do we really know about her?" asked Ron, helping himself to some potatoes. "She's been helpful so far, but for all we know she's setting us up for something."
"I don't think so," said Harry. "She's given us the run of her house, and there's nothing stopping us from walking away if we want to. She's really trusting us a lot."
"You don't know the half of it," said Hermione. "My mother's interested in art, I've picked up a few things. The paintings in the TV room include a Picasso and an early Georgia O'Keeffe, and that little bronze in the hall is a numbered first-series Degas casting. Most of the more modern books are first editions, and a lot of them are signed. Also her clothes... I'm no expert, but she's wearing expensive styles, and I'm pretty sure they're not copies. I know that most of that won't mean much to you, Ron, but believe me, she's loaded. And she's trusted us not to help ourselves or damage anything."
"That's all good, I suppose, but remember her first question? She was expecting bloody Draco."
Harry sprinkled some Tabasco sauce on his steak. "I think that was more of an obligation than anything else. She's got a debt to Snape, she expected him to use it protecting Draco. She didn't even know what Draco loooks like."
"That's true. Okay, maybe I'm just being paranoid."
"Ron, we need to be paranoid. Half of my problems over the years have come from being not paranoid enough. I'm undesirable number one, Hermione is number two, and you'd be on the list too if they knew you were with us. But I really don't think Diana was lying to us. You felt that lasso, if she's getting even a tiny part of that every time she uses it I can't see her betraying us."
Hermione took some peas and mushrooms. "Let's just go with it for now. We've spent weeks stressing out, we really need this break. It gives us a chance to make some plans."
"Talking of which, we need to decide if we're going to try our luck with Phineas Black again, and a lot of that boils down to what side Snape is really on."
"He's an evil git, what else is there to say?"
"It's a lot more complicated than that, Ron. I'm pretty sure Dumbledore wanted Snape to kill him, and there are a lot of things that make more sense if he's working against Vo... sorry, really need to stop saying that... Riddle."
"You're right, of course, but working against Riddle doesn't necessarily mean that he's on our side. He could be planning to help us finish him off then stab you in the back and take over as leader of the Death Eaters."
"Why Snape? Wouldn't it be Malfoy?"
"That's probably Malfoy's plan if he spots a weakness and thinks he can get away with it," said Hermione, "but I'm willing to bet that Riddle has contingency plans for dealing with him if he ever summons up the nerve to make a move. Malfoy has delusions of competence; Snape actually is competent, and most Slytherins respect the sod. That's more than you can say for Malfoy, all they like about him is his money. Snape doesn't prance around going 'look at me, I'm rich, and powerful' but I think he's probably a lot more dangerous if he wants to be."
"Any thoughts, Ron?"
"We can't trust him. We can't even talk to him directly, the bloody picture could be changing what we say, or what he says, and we'd never know."
"Agreed. Things we don't mention then... okay, that Ron's with us, anything about Diana, that we're in Paris, and that we're hunting horcruxes. Keep it vague, just say we can't figure out what Dumbledore wanted us to do, and ask for his advice. Then we ignore anything that sounds like it might be a trap."
"In other words, we tell him we're clueless," said Hermione, "which we are. Why the hell didn't Dumbledore leave us an instruction manual? What were we supposed to do, stumble around blindly until we got it right?"
"We destroy all of the horcruxes, then I kill Voldemort."
"How? By having happy thoughts?"
"We already know Dumbledore's plan is buggered," said Ron. "He left us a jigsaw puzzle and we've thrown away some of the pieces. It was probably a crappy puzzle anyway."
"Agreed. Okay, it's quarter past eight in Scotland, let's think about what we need to change in the tent before we talk. Any thoughts?"
"It'll already be getting dark, so we'd better switch off all the lights outside and use a couple of lanterns to light the interior of the tent. No birds this time, maybe make it sound like it's raining? And get your clothes a bit wet too?"
"Good idea, Ron. Can you fake the rain?"
"Should be easy enough."
"If Snape is betraying us maybe it'll get the Death Eaters scrambling to find places where it's raining."
"It's Britain in September, it's bound to be raining somewhere."
"Okay. Let's clear up, and aim to start talking about nine their time, ten here."
As they headed for the stairs Hermione noticed a flashing light on the phone. "There's a phone message. No, two messages."
"Someone must have called while we were out," said Harry. "It might be Diana."
"I'd better play them. I hope it isn't something private." Hermione pressed the play button. BEEP! "This is Diana. I've questioned Severus, I believe that he will not voluntarily betray you to his master, but I'm certain that he is trying to hide something, probably some detail of Dumbledore's plan, and that even he doesn't know all of it. Be very careful if you are still planning to communicate with him. I'll be back tomorrow afternoon.". BEEP! "Princess? This is John, you forgot to give me your hotel number. I asked around, the bloke you want is Anton Pouchard, best in Paris and stays bought once you pay him. I don't have an address, but Joey Three-Fingers should know where to find him. Hope it helps. Still working on the other thing, I'll get back to you if I learn anything."
"Okay, the first one wasn't unexpected, I suppose," said Harry. "No idea what the other one was about, except he sounded like he was from Liverpool."
"I expect we'll find out when Diana gets back."
"Do we still contact Snape?" asked Ron.
"Don't see why not. We weren't planning to trust him anyway, now we can be sure that we need to be on our guard."
Diana skirted Malfoy Intrinsica, spotting nothing in the village that suggested a significant magical presence, then ran cross-country to a ridge that overlooked the village and Malfoy Manor. It was a quiet evening, already getting dark, the only noises birds, water flowing along some streams, occasional cars, and sounds from the village as patrons went in and out of the pub.
The manor wasn't hidden or unplottable; it was too big, and too close to populated areas, for that to be practical. It was on the Ordnance Survey map and aerial photographs of the area and she guessed that muggle-repelling charms and other spells ensured that nobody went there or noticed anything unusual going on, without actually concealing the manor completely. At the moment there were few signs of occupation; lights in a few windows, but nothing to suggest a gathering of Death Eaters. She gauged the distance to the manor and estimated it at about a kilometer, with greenhouses visible beyond the house. Then she noticed movement behind the house.
There was a large paved terrace behind the building, at least twice the size of a tennis court, with two parallel lines of statues of (she assumed) Malfoy ancestors ruling the space into thirds. Steps at the far end led down to the lawn. There were three wizards there, one of them Lucius Malfoy, along with a device on a tripod that looked like an over-sized surveyor's theodolite. They talked for a while, then Malfoy made a "let's get on with it" sort of gesture and raised his wand, casting a spell at the statues.
The figures slowly climbed down from their plinths, picked them up, and carried them off to the sides of the terrace, then climbed back on to them and froze into immobility. The wizard nearest the tripod adjusted something, and a glowing circle of blue light appeared on the ground, about fifteen metres in diameter. The third man walked to the edge of the circle, consulting an instrument that looked like a compass combined with a crystal ball, and tapped the ground with his wand. A green light appeared. He walked round the circumference of the circle, touching the ground with his wand at intervals, until there were five evenly spaced lights, then made an intricate wand gesture. Lines of green light spread from one dot to the next, forming a pentagram... no, the lines were extending out too, it was a pentacle. When it was complete the circle disappeared, while the green light turned white, and slowly faded leaving neat white lines painted on the paving stones.
Malfoy shouted something, and a procession of house-elves came up from the lawn, each somehow balancing a huge bundle of firewood on its head, and built neat stacks in each of the outer triangles of the pentacle. Malfoy shouted again, and the elves scuttled clear. Diana noticed that they seemed to be taking care to avoid touching the lines on the ground. All three wizards began to cast spells around the pentacle, and glowing writing appeared, settling to the ground as more white paint. It took a moment for Diana to recognize it as Enochian.
By now it was getting hard to see, but Malfoy did something - it was impossible to see what - and each of the statues raised a wand to cast light down onto the terrace. Diana guessed that the spell was built into the statues, used to light the terrace at need. It made reading the lettering a lot easier, and she carefully copied the text into her address book. She didn't know the language well, but she knew a man who did.
As she wrote Malfoy and the other wizards talked, and made a few corrections to the lettering. Whatever they were doing, it didn't seem to be accomplishing much. Then the wizards started walking back around the pentacle, the lettering seemingly sucked back into their wands. The house elves returned and took the wood back to a pile in a corner of the grounds. Finally, the wizards erased the lines of the pentacle. Malfoy checked his watch, and they went back into the house as the statues began to return their plinths, and themselves, to their original positions.
Diana wasn't sure what to make of it. A dress rehearsal for preparing for some sort of magical ritual seemed the most likely explanation. Given the size of the pentacle, and what she knew about Malfoy, she suspected that she wasn't going to like whatever they were planning.
She waited another hour, then set out to test how well the site was protected, her original reason for being there. A witch could probably cast a few spells to check for magical defences; Diana had other methods.
She found a stone roughly the size of a tennis ball and pitched it on a flat trajectory within a few feet of the manor's roof. It wasn't deflected, and went on to hit the ground well outside the manor's grounds. She lobbed a second stone high over the manor. It fell exactly where she had aimed it, smashing a pane of glass on the roof of the most distant greenhouse. After a minute or so someone she didn't recognize, a man in rough-looking robes, came out of the main building and started to look around outside, using his wand and a lumos spell for lighting, eventually finding the damaged greenouse. He didn't seem to have any way to tell where the stone came from, and went off towards the wall furthest away from her, looking for intruders.
It wasn't a conclusive test, of course, since the greenhouse might be outside any magical protection, but it looked like the manor either lacked wards against physical attacks, or didn't have them active at present. It wasn't a huge surprise; she knew that spells that gave passive protection, such as anti-apparation and muggle-repelling charms, used relatively little magical energy. Wards against physical attacks needed a huge power supply, proportionate to their strength and the size of the area they protected. The manor building probably had some protection, but it would take time to activate and wouldn't be done casually.
She watched until nine, didn't see any sign of a guard patrol, thought about visiting the village pub and asking about the manor, but decided that there was too much risk of someone reporting it to the Malfoys. Eventually she ran back to Salisbury, and on a hunch took a train instead of the floo back to London, getting back to her hotel a little after midnight.
"Now what do you want?" asked Phineas Nigellus Black.
"Do you know if Professor Snape has talked to Dumbledore's painting yet?"
"He has. Dumbledore asks if there is any progress? Professor Snape is also here, if you wish me to pass on any message to him."
"What about the other paintings?"
"You may be assured of their discretion. They answer only to the Headmaster or Headmistress."
"You didn't when I contacted you today, neither did Dumbledore's portrait."
"Professor Dumbledore anticipated that you might try to contact him this way, and prevailed upon Professor Snape to make an exception for you."
"Okay. Umm... Are you sure there's no way we can talk to them directly?"
"Damn. Okay, first thing, I need to check that Dumbledore is really there. Ask him what he told me he saw in the Mirror of Erised."
Black repeated the question, seemed to listen for a moment, then said "socks."
"Okay. Now a question for Professor Snape. What did you say is Dumbledore's greatest weakness?"
There was the same infuriating pause. "He always wants to believe the best of people. Ah... Dumbledore didn't like that answer."
"Okay. Tell him... tell them both that I think we're making progress, but I'm confused about how we're supposed to finish it."
There was a long pause. "Okay," said Harry. "If Dumbledore doesn't want to tell us, ask Snape how he thinks Dumbledore planned to end this."
There was a pause, then Black said "Mutual destruction... be quiet, Dumbledore! Professor Snape believes that if Riddle kills you after all of the horcruxes are destroyed, it will kill him too."
"Why?" asked Harry.
"Your scar is also a horcrux. Oh, that's interesting, Dumbledore didn't know that Snape had guessed that. They're arguing about it."
"If you can get a word in," said Hermione, "ask them what happens if Harry is killed earlier? Will destroying all of the other horcruxes kill Voldemort?"
A minute or so passed, then Black said "You would have to kill Voldemort too. He and Potter are linked by their wands, by the Horcrux, and by the resurrection ritual, none of that would apply if another horcrux was the last."
"And none of you thought about telling me this?" asked Harry.
"Dumbledore didn't want to burden you with it."
"Just a second," said Hermione, sliding the painting back into her bag and checking the silencing spell was still active. "Harry, we need to tell them that plan won't work."
"Why? Dumbledore did his usual trick, he kept me in the dark, and if we're right about the Elder Wand he was insane when he died. Snape's not much better. How am I supposed to trust them?"
"We can't, not entirely. But they know a lot more about magic than we do, and I think our goal is the same. Like it or not, I think they're our best chance for finding an answer."
"Sod it... Ron, did you hear all that?"
Ron popped his head through the flap. "Yeah, the extendable ear is working well. What the hell were they thinking?"
"It's Dumbledore, I'm sure of it," said Harry. "I think Snape might have told me if he thought it would help, Dumbledore was trying to be kind."
"Dumbledore was off his head."
"So what do we tell them?"
"The lot," said Ron, "If we tell them the horcrux is gone, the first thing they'll ask is how we can be sure. The only way to answer that is to tell them Death took it. And the only way to explain that is to tell them about the stone."
"Hell... Okay, but we don't tell them that Diana's involved or where we are."
"Snape'll probably guess. How are we supposed to have summoned Death?"
"We tell them she turned up on her own and offered to take the Horcrux if we gave her the stone," said Hermione. "We don't confirm any other suggestions. This house is well shielded, it isn't behind a fidelius but there's enough protection that I'm reasonably sure they can't trace us."
"For all we know Snape did the shielding," said Ron. "And he probably knows the address anyway."
"I checked the wards, it looks like French rune work. Diana said she has contacts in their Ministry. There isn't much we can do about the address, I suppose."
"Okay. We tell them as little as we can, stay alert and keep our wands handy, just in case we're wrong to trust them."
"Okay. Ron, better get back outside, maybe slacken off the rain noises gradually. Harry and I will get this finished as quickly as possible, then I think we'd better get some sleep."
They waited a moment, then Hermione took a deep breath and opened the bag.
"Sorry for the delay," said Harry. "Tell them that there's a bit of a problem with their plan..."
Note: Hermione was probably wrong about the weather - September 1997 was unusually warm and dry, with very little rain in most parts of the UK.
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