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Chapter Twenty-Three: Getting Lost and Being Free

It was Professor McGonagall's Transfiguration class, and Harry had been officially missing for about four hours now. The class had all filed in, sat down, got out their books and wands and Professor McGonagall was just going through the schedule for the lesson.

"I expect you all to have recreated most if not all of the pattern by twelve o' clock," she said, crisply. "Then work on extra details for the remainder of the lesson. Remember that bonus credit will be given for the decoration and effort gone into your vase. Yes, Longbottom?"

"Um... my vase still has fur, Professor, is that going to count against me?"

"Yes, it is," she said. "It is up to you to remove the fur, Longbottom, any way you see fit within reason. Do not forget what happened when you tried to trim the leaves of the rose which was once a pumpkin."

The class all glanced at a huge sticky stain that was still splattered over the ceiling, and then their attention was caught by something else as the door banged open and Ron came in, looking flustered.

"Sorry I'm late, Professor," he said, vaguely. "I was with the headmaster."

He headed off towards his seat, and McGonagall said promptly, "No, Weasley, stay where you are. Why were you with the headmaster?"

"About Harry, Professor," said Ron, and he moved again.

"Weasley, I believe I said to stay where you are. Wouldn't it have been wiser to come and see me to alert me to the fact you would be late for my class?"

"Well... I didn't think it would take that long."

"And it did?"

Ron paused for a moment, and then nodded. "Yes."

"Very well Weasley, sit down, do not be late again. We are continuing work with our vases and once the class is settled I shall come and see you about how to remove the ears from yours."

Ron slumped into his seat, throwing his things out of his bag haphazardly. Hermione smiled pleasantly for a moment and then said, "And what did the headmaster say?"

He scowled. "He said I was being a bit farfetched."

"Imagine that," said Hermione, sweetly. "Honestly, Ron, there's no need to worry about him, he'll turn up. He might have gone to the bathroom and been swallowed by a staircase or something."

"Yeah, like that would happen."

"Or, of course, he might have been... now, what was it that you said? Used by Draco Malfoy as a sacrifical offering to the Dark Lord." She studied the perfect blue ivy pattern winding its way around her vase, adding a few leaves here and there absent-mindedly.

Ron frowned. "It might have happened. So there's other stuff that could have happened to him. What if Peeves has tied him up and stuffed him in a cupboard somewhere?"

"And what about Malfoy?"

"Maybe Peeves has stuffed them both in a cupboard. And they just fell asleep or something."

Hermione snorted. "I don't think there's any chance of that happening."

Neither Harry nor Draco turned up for the rest of the day. Blaise Zabini was heard to be making loud, hopeful comments to his friends about both of them getting what was coming to them. Ron was eventually so worried about Harry that when Blaise mentioned something about fatherly protection whilst leaving the hall, Ron leapt at Blaise. He didn't manage to even touch a single hair on Blaise's head when Snape grasped him by the arm and hauled him away to the dungeons. Ron came back looking very white and said nothing more on the subject.

The Gryffindors were rather subdued all that evening. A trading club for Quidditch cards had been set up, and a ceremony was held to wish Harry's safe return. They all gathered around the fireplace, with Harry's Quidditch card proudly floating above the flames, and Ron said a few words. Hermione sat on the other side of the common room, and phrases such as, "Oh, honestly" and "drama queens" were heard in a steady steam throughout the evening.

The first class of Tuesday morning was Potions. Ron normally gloated every Potions lesson about not having to do the subject, but for once, he went off to Magical Creatures with his head bowed. Hermione usually waited for Harry to go to Potions, and they met Draco in the entrance hall, but today, neither of them were there, so she walked down on her own.

Snape was already chalking the ingredients of today's potion on the blackboard as the group walked in in silence, sat down, got out their things and waited patiently for their professor to finish. Snape was looking rather stressed today. Unknown to the students, he had been scouring the castle all night with Lupin, searching everywhere for Harry and Draco. Being Harry's magical guardian, it was his duty to look for him, and he wouldn't have been able to sleep anyway because of the constant cold flushes. Malfoy was also his favourite student, and for both of them to go missing on the same day, at most probably the same time, struck Snape as being something highly suspicious.

"Be quiet," Snape said, lazily, as one person dared to mutter something to their bench partner. "The potion we shall be attempting to brew today is a highly complex and dangerous one. If I have reason to doubt the reliability of any person in the class - "

Hermione's hand was in the air.

"What is it, Granger?" he said, turning his cold black glare onto her.

"You... you've put that we need sleeping draft for the potion, Professor," she said.

Snape glared at her. "Thankyou for pointing that out to everybody, Miss Granger. I would ask you to have some faith in your fellow students though, give them the benefit of the doubt and presume that they can read."

"No, Professor... but... where do we get the sleeping draft from?"

Snape's eyes flashed menacingly. "Seeing as you seem so eager to start, I shall skip the rest of the instructions for this potion and just leave you all to struggle on alone, most likely burn yourselves and end up in the hospital wing, thanks to Miss Granger. Begin. And, Miss Granger, you shall be fetching the sleeping draft pot-by-pot from the potions store cupboard on the third floor. You have an hour to bring every single jar and still brew today's potion to my standard. I suggest you hurry up."

Hermione got out of her seat calmly and headed to the door, her shoes clicking neatly on the floor. Hermione was perhaps the only person who no longer allowed Snape to intimidate her, and treated his vicious sarcasm and degrading comments with a very matter-of-fact way that everybody was rather proud of her for.

She walked the way to the potions store cupboard in silence. She fully intended on getting enough sleeping draft for the whole class on one trip using levitation, and if Snape complained, then he was impractical and putting personal issues before the education of his students. She twisted the handle of the cupboard neatly, pushing at it, though to her surprise, it wouldn't move. She frowned, pushing once more, and she managed to ease it open perhaps half an inch before it snapped shut.

"How odd..."

There was no point in persuing the matter further, when something was so clearly blocking the door. She made her way back down to the dungeons, opened the door of the Potions classroom and stepped inside.

Snape glared up at her from his desk. "Ah, Miss Granger, forgotten why you left the room? Dear me, I clearly over-estimated you. One moment, I'll write you a note so that if you forget again, you can read it and remember."

Hermione held her head high, brushing the sarcasm aside. "There's something blocking the door of the potions store, Professor," she said, prompt and polite as always.

Snape sighed, as though she was doing this on purpose. "Then push on the door, and move it aside, Miss Granger."

"It's too heavy. I think something big must have fallen over in there." She put her hands neatly behind her back. "Sir."

Snape got up from his desk with an exasperated sigh. "All of you stay here and concentrate on your potions. When I return, if there is a single hint that you have not been working properly, you shall all be in detention with me after school." With that, he left the room swiftly, Hermione hurrying at his heels.

When they reached the potions store cupboard, Snape, like Hermione, tested the handle and pushed. "For once, you may have been right, Granger," he said, his voice layered with icy sarcasm. He pressed his shoulder against the door, fingers curling the handle, pushing with all his weight. Hermione helped, pushing the door as hard as he could, feeling something inside being shunted along the floor, bottles clinking, something sliding down the door and then -

It gave way, and somebody came flying out of the cupboard, colliding with Snape and knocking him to the ground. Snape hastily turned his rather girly scream into a shout of, "Eee!!- eeexactly what do you think you're doing, Mr Malfoy?!"

Malfoy didn't say anything, still lying face down with his arms wrapped around Snape's neck. Snape pushed him off, getting up and dusting off his robes, scowling. He leant into the cupboard to take a tentative sniff, then recoiled backwards.

"Sleeping draft leak. Malfoy should be fine with bed rest and the antid-AARGH!"

Something else had just come flopping out of the cupboard like a skeleton jumping out on a cheesy ghost train, falling onto Snape with a loud snore. Snape jumped backwards, and Harry Potter sunk to the floor with a vague murmur of, "But Cho, I thought you wanted to dance...", landing face down and starting to snore again.

"You had us all quite worried, Harry," Dumbledore said, a few hours later, when Harry had been revived, checked by Madam Pomfrey and sent to see the headmaster. Dumbledore was pouring out tea for both of them as he spoke. "Mr Weasley and Miss Granger in particular were rather alarmed you had disappeared quite suddenly."

"Sorry, Professor," Harry said, quietly.

Dumbledore chuckled. "That's quite alright. Mistakes do happen, and it was noble of you to stay with Draco Malfoy in his time of need. I have of course already spoken to him. He says that you have offered him a room in Grimmauld Place for the summer?"

Harry blushed a little, gratefully taking the cup that Dumbledore handed him. "Just until he can find somewhere else he's welcome."

"I must admit, Harry, I never quite imagined yourself and Mr Malfoy as friends. And I am very glad to say that I was wrong." Dumbledore smiled, sitting down in the new bright purple chair behind his desk, sipping his tea for a moment, surveying Harry over the rim of his cup. "Overall, I am pleased you have been found alive and well... however... there are a few things we need to discuss. Shortcake biscuit?" He offered Harry the plate.

Harry took a biscuit and nibbled at it with a murmur of, "Thankyou", as Dumbledore continued again.

"Harry... I need not tell you just how worried we all were. These are dark times Harry. Lord Voldemort could possibly strike at any given time, and when any student of my school goes missing... let alone you." He sighed, setting down his cup. "Ronald Weasley came hurrying to my office very early yesterday morning, convinced that Draco Malfoy had handed you over as a sacrifice to Lord Voldemort."

Harry stared at him.

"Do not look so shocked," Dumbledore mused. "Professor Snape was thinking more or less the same things, though he didn't word it that way."

Harry's eyes widened even more. "Snape was worried? Are you serious?"

Dumbledore chuckled. "Professor Snape, Harry. And yes, he was, though I doubt he would admit it. And quite a funny story he had to tell, when he summoned me from my office down to the hospital wing. He says that both you and Mr Malfoy jumped out of a cupboard, hugged him, and then you said in a rather disappointed way that you thought he wanted to dance."

Harry blushed scarlet. Hermione had, of course, told him the whole story when she had stopped laughing long enough to get the words out. "I was dreaming. I didn't actually want to dance with him." He grinned as Dumbledore chuckled even more.

The headmaster sighed, wiping his eyes. "Yes, yes... now... I believe we have to get the serious issues out of the way first before the frivalties may begin. Professor Snape was worried about you, Harry, as was Professor Lupin, Ronald Weasley, Hermione Granger, myself... I must stress this to you, and I beg you to heed my warning. You must exercise far greater caution. Lord Voldemort can never be at the height of his full power as long as you are alive in this world. The one thing stopping the destruction of life as we know it is your safety."

Harry looked at his hands around his tea cup, quietly, unsure what to say.

Dumbledore patted him on the arm, just once, and then said, "Harry... there is... something else. Something I have only found out today from one of my spies."

Harry looked up at him in silence. Dumbledore looked back, and his light blue eyes twinkled sadly.

"Lord Voldemort has been... busy, for the last few years. Of course, he has had time to make various attempts on your life, but his main concentration has been his current... rather gruesome hobbies. We believe he is getting nearer and nearer to a decision to take action and stop prolonging the conquer of the wizarding world. Though he needs you dead before he can be truly successful... and he is attending to this matter."

Harry's eyes widened. "How? What's he doing?"

"Lord Voldemort has been in contact with the Heliopaths, Harry," said Dumbledore, quietly. "If my information is correct, there is a Heliopath somewhere in the wizarding world with the sole purpose and mission of finding and killing you."

Harry's blood ran cold. He felt as though every nerve in his body had suddenly frozen over, then melted in the same moment, sending cool and warm flushes up and down his spine. "He's... he's got a hired killer after me."

Dumbledore nodded solemnly. Harry just didn't know what to say. Everybody was so scared of the Heliopaths and there was one out there on the mission of killing him. After a moment, Dumbledore handed him another biscuit. "You are safe as long as you are aware that you need to be, Harry. Every professor in this school is on the side of the Order of the Phoenix, and all of them will look out for you."

"What about Professor Alri-" Harry fell silent again, and after a moment said, "He wasn't on the side of the Order... but he's not here anymore..." He looked down at his empty cup.

"I believe I owe you an explanation, Harry," said Dumbledore, quietly. "And I must apologise for accidentally forgetting something I should have given you. Alrister told me to give you these when he left, and in the light of some other things, they slipped my mind."

Harry looked up as Dumbledore reached down under his desk, pulling out a black, suede leather suitcase. He placed it in front of Harry, flicked open the catches and the case opened.

Alrister's hawking gloves. They were in pristine condition as always, a gentle sandy colour of gold, like the hair of a lion. Harry reached down tentatively, as if he touched them, they would vanish like their owner. He picked them up and studied them.

"He... he told me to look after Cupid," said Harry, quietly. "His little hawk."

Dumbledore nodded. "Alrister was always fond of his birds of prey. I believe he has an eagle being looked after at his manor."

Harry looked up, surprised. "His manor?"

"Alrister is a rich man, Harry. After the death of his wife, he moved back to his family manor and lived alone for quite some years. The rest of his family live elsewhere and the manor belongs wholly to him now."

Harry frowned, thinking of something, and then saying, "Professor? Why do you call him Alrister? You talk to all the other professors with their first names..."

Dumbledore smiled slightly. "Alrister despises his first name, ever after the death of his wife. He says it brings back memories he would rather not have." Seeing the next question coming, Dumbledore replied, "Romeo. Romeo David Alrister."

"I've heard that name before..." said Harry. He frowned, rubbing his forehead, trying to remember. "Romeo..." And then it hit him. His mouth fell open. "But then - " He turned the hawking gloves over to the family crest on the back of the palm, the one he'd only seen a fleeting glimpse of at the welcoming feast.

Two ravens stood before a curling wall of ivy, their beaks tilting downwards to the ground, embroidered in the finest gold thread, and the word neatly written at the bottom was - Rookwood.

"He's Rookwood's cousin," said Harry, softly. "That's why he's run, isn't it?"

Dumbledore nodded. "Alrister is loyally close to his cousin, even though he is far from a Death Eater, Harry. He believes that families are the strongest bond of all, more than anything, and he has always stood by his cousin. Now that Rookwood has been openly declared a Death Eater, he is wanted by the ministry for questioning. Unfortunately, Cornelius Fudge and Alrister are not on good terms, due to events in Alrister's past. He decided that it would be wiser to flee. I must apologise for the night when I came into Alrister's office to speak to him and had to modify your memory, but at the time, I did not think it wise for you to know these things."

"But... Ron saw me walk into Gryffindor Tower," said Harry, confused.

"Yes," said Dumbledore, heavily. "I admit, I also modified the memory of Mr Ronald Weasley. I thought that if you just thought you had been through a memory lapse it would be wise... I now see how cruel that was of me, Harry. You have my apologies."

"It's okay," said Harry. He took a bite of his shortcake biscuit, thinking. "Professor?"

"Yes, Harry?"

"When will Professor Alrister come back?"

"I'm afraid I don't know," said Dumbledore. "Alrister assured me that he will return once the major fuss about his cousin has died down, but I can't promise you how long that will be."

"But he will come back someday?"

Dumbledore nodded. "Yes, Harry. He will."

Harry put down his cup gratefully, and stood up to go, holding the precious gloves in his hands. "Thanks, Professor... tk-tk-tk-tk-tk, Cupid. Come on." Cupid looked up from Dumbledore's phoenix's perch, gave Fawkes a fond nudge goodbye and fluttered over, resting on his shoulder, jingling gently. As Harry descended out of sight on the moving staircase, he saw Dumbledore wave to him. He waved back, smiled, and then the doors swished into place and left Harry alone with his thoughts and his hawk.

"Oh, Cupid! Stop it!"

For some reason, Cupid had been agitated all through dinner. He'd spilt a goblet of pumpkin juice in Neville's lap, eaten half of a bread roll, dropped the other half in the water jug, knocked several plates to the floor, and was now nipping at Harry's knife while he tried to eat.

"What is WRONG with that bloody bird today?" said Ron, moving his dinner quickly out of the way as Cupid started looking around for a new target.

"He's probably bored," Hermione said, knowledgably, from behind a thick book on Advanced Transfiguration Theory. "You should take him for a walk, Harry."

"I can't," said Harry. "Not allowed to leave the castle."

"Ask somebody to go with you," she said, shrugging. "Me and Ron would."

Harry shook his head as Cupid set about Neville's dessert spoon with a loud squawk. "No, Dumbledore doesn't want me to leave this castle alone. I already managed to get everybody worried by sleeping in a cupboard with Draco."

"It was kinda funny though," Ron remarked, smirking, his mouth full of potato and chicken.

"Yeah, for you maybe," said Harry, but he couldn't help smiling back.

"I still can't believe you hugged Professor Snape," said Ginny, shaking her head.

Harry grinned. "I didn't mean to." The whole story was now pretty much all around the school, how Snape had barged open the door, and Draco Malfoy and Harry Potter had leapt out, hugged him and made him squeal like a six-year-old.

As everybody chuckled, Harry glanced momentarily up at the staff table. Snape had been given mashed potato, a few carrots, and his chicken had been already cut up for him so he wouldn't have to touch any knives. Clearly Dumbledore was taking extra precautions after the tapestry incident. Harry couldn't help but notice that Snape was eating with a spoon and looked incredibly sour. He didn't think Snape would appreciate being asked to come hawking, even if he was the best person for it - Snape was his magical guardian. What harm could come to him while Snape was around?

Of course, there was the second. Harry hadn't really thought about the other person somewhere in Hogwarts who was looking out for him, feeling the same cold flushes that Snape did whenever he was in danger. He had his suspicions. Occasionally, in boring lessons, he found himself watching the teacher and wondering whether it was them.

His current main suspect was Professor Lupin. It just made sense. Why else would Dumbledore bring Lupin back when Voldemort was becoming active again? And Lupin had been appointed when Sirius was at large and still considered a dangerous murderer. It made sort of sense. Besides, Harry's father and Lupin had been great friends. And when he thought about it, during the summer, when Harry had been out for a day, it was Lupin and Snape who organised for him to speak to Sirius. It was all Lupin and Snape. Professor Lupin and Professor Snape had been out looking for him at night when he was holidaying in the Land of Nod in a cupboard with Malfoy. It was obvious really.

Once dinner was done, Harry had made his mind up, and the moment that Dumbledore announced they could go to their common rooms, he jumped up and hurried up to the staff table.

"Professor Lupin?"

Lupin turned to him. "Yes, Harry?"

"You know I'm not allowed out of school on my own... it's just that... my hawk's kind of getting sick of being inside." He glanced at the Gryffindor Table. Cupid had stolen Neville's scarf and everybody was trying to get it back from the hawk. "And I wanted to take him out for a walk, so he can fly and spread his wings, but I'm not allowed out alone... I was wondering if you'd come with me."

Lupin smiled graciously. "Of course I will, Harry... oh... wait..." His smile vanished. "It's the full moon tonight. I can't."

"But... you take that potion, don't you? The one that keeps your mind normal? Couldn't... couldn't you come out? For a run?"

Lupin chuckled softly, and thought for a while. After a moment or so, he said, "Yes, Harry. I will come out for a walk with you. Come to my office tonight... perhaps at about nine o' clock, to make sure I'm properly transformed. I could do with a good run to stretch my legs."

Harry felt himself being shunted away through the crowd, and he had a few seconds to call, "Bye!" to Lupin, before he was pushed away down the river of people heading out in the entrance hall.

It was a rather odd feeling, Harry thought, quite some hours later as he walked across the grounds of the school. It was half past nine. Sitting on one shoulder was a highly excitable hawk, on the other was his snowy owl, and trotting faithfully at his heels was Lupin. When he had arrived at Lupin's office at nine o' clock, there was a note written by the professor on the desk, explaining that Hagrid, Kibbles and Fang would be coming along too for extra safety, so now they were heading down to Hagrid's hut to pick them up.

Cupid shifted on his shoulder with an impatient "trut" sort of a noise, and a jingle of the bell tied around his ankle. Harry raised one of his fists, enrobed proudly in Alrister's hawking gloves, and he knocked three times on the door of Hagrid's cabin.

From inside came several loud, booming barks from Fang, and the sound of Kibbles's high-pitched keening. A few seconds later, the door came open, and Hagrid beamed down at him. "Harry! How are yeh?"

"Fine, thanks," he said. Kibbles poked his great scaly green head out of the door, sniffing curiously at Lupin. "Are you ready?"

"Yeah, gimme a minute," said Hagrid. He had a thick leash in his hand. "Jus' purrin Kibbles's leash on 'him... don't want 'im roamin' off across the moors..." He knelt down, putting the collar carefully around the dragon's neck and fixing on his lead. "Good boy, Kibbles... now, where's Fang?" Fang wormed out from under Kibbles's legs, hurrying over to Lupin, his tail wagging, circling him and sniffing eagerly at him. Lupin gave a disgruntled snort and sat down, tail tucked neatly between his legs. "Fang! No! Don't sniff Professor Lupin!"

Harry smiled. "It's odd that we're going out for a walk, and the leash isn't on Fang but the dragon that was once the size of a kitten."

Hagrid chuckled richly, stepping out into the night air and shutting the door of his cabin. "Yeah, s'pose it is. Come on then - Fang! Gerroff Professor Lupin, I'll told yeh! Kibbles? Where's Kibbles? There yeh are... good boy..." He patted the dragon's emerald green head. Fang looked disgusted at this.

The whole crowd set off across the grounds, heading for the main entrance and the moors beyond. Harry had never been this way before, and he was quite looking forward to it. His long walk with Alrister had given him a taste for roaming freely across the countryside with his entourage of odd creatures. He looked around, and realised that not one of the people accompanying was completely human. Obviously, Fang, Kibbles, Cupid and Hedwig were all animals. Lupin was a werewolf, and Hagrid, half-giant. Thinking more about that, he realised why Voldemort had wanted to recruit the giants. Not many people could control dragons like Hagrid could.

They walked for hours and hours, right the way across all the moors and the hills. Cupid and Hedwig spread there wings and flew for miles into the sky, shrieking their joy to the heavens, Lupin and Fang both went chasing sticks that Harry threw for them, and Hagrid nearly collapsed in trances of delight when Kibbles set fire to a tree when he sneezed. By the time they got back, it was nearly midnight. Hagrid, Kibbles and Fang said goodnight at the castle steps, and when Harry had let Lupin into his office and left him to sleep under his desk, he made his way back to Gryffindor Tower. Ron and Hermione were lying on the sofas under blankets, already asleep. Not wanting to wake them, he got changed in the bathroom, stole one of Ron's sheets and curled up in an armchair, his dreams full of soaring free across the sky with no worries or troubles at all in the world.


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