thirty-eight

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THERE WERE TWO PEOPLE MISSING FROM the table, and one new centrepiece. The meeting was due to begin in less than a minute, and Corban Yaxley and Snape were late.

Though, Celestia's attention was not on the wrath that Voldemort might unleash if the two men are behind schedule. No, instead the focus of her attention was on the brand new decoration to the dining room.

Revolving slowly, as if suspended by an invisible rope, above them was an unconscious woman. She hung upside down, her body reflecting in the bare, polished surface of the table below.

Besides the fact there was a comatose body hanging over her head, it was that she knew who the human figure belonged to. Professor Burbage was the teacher of Muggle Studies at Hogwarts, beloved by all her students.

Celestia had her only once during her third year, and even though she would never admit it aloud, she had found it fascinating to learn how Muggles lived without magic. How they adapted; things they discovered; wars they waged.

It was almost like reading a book, getting to learn an entirely new world, except it was real. Be that as it may, if she ever said the muggle world interested her the tiniest bit, Voldemort would kill her without a second thought.

With twenty seconds left until the meeting begins, the door is pulled open and two men entered the room. Their gazes observed the room, from their golden silhouetted leader, to the unconscious figure, and the obedient followers.

"Yaxley. Snape," said a high, clear voice from the head of the table. "You are very nearly late."

It was difficult, at first, for the new arrivals to make out more than his silhouette with him sitting before the fireplace. As they drew nearer, however, his face shone through the gloom, hairless, snakelike, with slits for nostrils and gleaming red eyes whose pupils were vertical.

"Severus, here," said Voldemort, indicating the seat on his immediate right."Yaxley, beside Dolohov."

The two men took their assigned places. Most of the eyes around the table followed Snape, and it was to him that Voldemort spoke first.

"So?"

"My Lord, the Order of the Phoenix intends to move Harry Potter from his current place of safety on Saturday next, at nightfall."

The interest around the table sharpened at once: Some stiffened, others fidgeted, all gazing at Snape and Voldemort. Celestia had brightened up. There hadn't been news on Harry since they'd left Hogwarts.

"Saturday... at nightfall," repeated Voldemort. "Good. Very good. And this information comes—"

"—from the source we discussed," said Snape.

"My Lord." Corban Yaxley had leaned forward to look down the long table at Voldemort and Snape. All faces turned to him. "My Lord, I have heard differently."

Corban waited, but Voldemort did not speak, so he went on, "Dawlish, the Auror, let slip that Potter will not be moved until the thirtieth, the night before the boy turns seventeen."

"My source told me that there are plans to lay a false trail; this must be it. No doubt a Confundus Charm has been placed upon Dawlish. It would not be the first time; he is known to be susceptible."

"I assure you, My Lord, Dawlish seemed quite certain," said Corban.

"If he has been Confunded, naturally he is certain," said Snape. "I assure you, Yaxley, the Auror Office will play no further part in the protection of Harry Potter. The Order believes that we have infiltrated the Ministry."

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