“Grimmauld Place,” said Harry.
The other two gaped.
“Don’t be silly, Harry, Snape can get in there!”
“Ron’s dad said they’ve put up jinxes against him – and even if they haven’t worked,” he pressed on as Hermione began to argue “so what? I swear, I’d like nothing better than to meet Snape!”
“But – ”
“Hermione, where else is there? It’s the best chance we’ve got. Snape’s only one Death Eater. If I’ve still got the Trace on me, we’ll have whole crowds of them on us wherever else we go.”
She could not argue, though she looked as if she would have liked to. While she unlocked the café door, Ron clicked the Deluminator to release the café’s light. Then, on Harry’s count of three, they reversed the spells upon their three victims, and before the waitress or either of the Death Eaters could do more than stir sleepily, Harry, Ron and Hermione had turned on the spot and vanished into the compressing darkness once more.
Seconds later Harry’s lungs expanded gratefully and he opened his eyes: They were now standing in the middle of a familiar small and shabby square. Tall, dilapidated houses looked down on them from every side. Number twelve was visible to them, for they had been told of its existence by Dumbledore, its Secret-Keeper, and they rushed toward it, checking every few yards that they were not being followed or observed. They raced up the stone steps, and Harry tapped the front door once with his wand.
They heard a series of metallic clicks and the clatter of a chain, then the door swung open with a creak and they hurried over the threshold.
As Harry closed the door behind them, the old-fashioned gas lamps sprang into life, casting flickering light along the length of the hallway. It looked just as Harry remembered it: eerie, cobwebbed, the outlines of the house-elf heads on the wall throwing odd shadows up the staircase. Long dark curtains concealed the portrait of Sirius’s mother. The only thing that was out of place was the troll’s leg umbrella stand, which was lying on its side as if Tonks had just knocked it over again.
“I think somebody’s been in here,” Hermione whispered, pointing toward it.
“That could’ve happened as the Order left,” Ron murmured back.
“So where are these jinxes they put up against Snape?” Harry asked.
“Maybe they’re only activated if he shows up?” suggested Ron.
Yet they remained close together on the doormat, backs against the door, scared to move farther into the house.
“Well, we can’t stay here forever,” said Harry, and he took a step forward.
Mad-Eye Moody’s voice whispered out of the darkness, making all three of them jump back in fright. “We’re not Snape!” croaked Harry, before something whooshed over him like cold air and his tongue curled backward on itself, making it impossible to speak. Before he had time to feel inside his mouth, however, his tongue had unraveled again.
The other two seemed to have experienced the same unpleasant sensation. Ron was making retching noises; Hermione stammered, “That m-must have b-been the T-Tongue-Tying Curse Mad-Eye set up for Snape!”
Gingerly Harry took another step forward. Something shifted in the shadows at the end of the hall, and before any of them could say another word, a figure had risen up out of the carpet, tall, dust-colored, and terrible; Hermione screamed and so did Mrs. Black, her curtains flying open; the gray figure was gliding toward them, faster and faster, its waist-length hair and beard streaming behind it, its face sunken, fleshless, with empty eye sockets: Horribly familiar, dreadfully altered, it raised a wasted arm, pointing at Harry.
“No!” Harry shouted, and though he had raised his wand no spell occurred to him. “No! It wasn’t us! We didn’t kill you – ”
On the word kill, the figure exploded in a great cloud of dust: Coughing, his eyes watering, Harry looked around to see Hermione crouched on the floor by the door with her arms over her head, and Ron, who was shaking from head to foot, patting her clumsily on the shoulder and saying, “It’s all r-right…. It’s g-gone….”
Dust swirled around Harry like mist, catching the blue gaslight, as Mrs. Black continued to scream.
“Mudbloods, filth, stains of dishonor, taint of shame on the house of my fathers – ”
“SHUT UP!” Harry bellowed, directing his wand at her, and with a bang and a burst of red sparks, the curtains swung shut again, silencing her.
“That… that was…” Hermione whimpered, as Ron helped her to her feet.
“Yeah,” said Harry, “but it wasn’t really him, was it? Just something to scare Snape.”
Had it worked, Harry wondered, or had Snape already blasted the horror-figure aside as casually as he had killed the real Dumbledore? Nerves still tingling, he led the other two up the hall, half-expecting some new terror to reveal itself, but nothing moved except for a mouse skittering along the skirting board.
“Before we go any farther, I think we’d better check,” whispered Hermione, and she raised her wand and said, “Homenum revelio.”
“Well, you’ve just had a big shock,” said Ron kindly. “What was that supposed to do?”
“It did what I meant it to do!” said Hermione rather crossly. “That was a spell to reveal human presence, and there’s nobody here except us!”