'What d'you mean?' Harry asked.
Ron, Hermione, Fred and Georges heads swivelled from Sirius to Mrs Weasley as though they were following a tennis rally. Ginny was kneeling amid a pile of abandoned Butterbeer corks, watching the conversation with her mouth slightly open. Lupin's eyes were fixed on Sirius.
'But if none of you are putting the news out that Voldemort's back - ' Harry began.
'He's got the Cruciatus Curse for causing pain,' said Harry, 'he doesn't need anything more efficient than that.'
Hermione's face was half concealed by a tea towel but Harry distinctly saw her throw a reproachful look at Mrs Weasley.
'Mundungus is talking to Sirius and Kingsley,' Fred muttered, frowning with concentration. 'Can't hear properly . . . d'you reckon we can risk the Extendable Ears?'
Sirius walked across the room to where the tapestry Kreacher had been trying to protect hung the length of the wall. Harry and the others followed.
Kreacher bowed again as he spoke.
'Bellatrix and her husband Rodolphus came in with Barty Crouch junior,' said Sirius, in the same brusque voice. 'Rodolphuss brother Rabastan was with them, too.'
The de-Doxying of the curtains took most of the morning. It was past midday when Mrs Weasley finally removed her protective scarf, sank into a sagging armchair and sprang up again with a cry of disgust, having sat on the bag of dead rats. The curtains were no longer buzzing; they hung limp and damp from the intensive spraying. At the foot of them unconscious Doxys lay crammed in the bucket beside a bowl of their black eggs, at which Crook-shanks was now sniffing and Fred and George were shooting covetous looks.
'All thanks to you, mate,' said George. 'But don't worry . . . Mum hasn't got a clue. She won't read the Daily Prophet any more, 'cause of it telling lies about you and Dumbledore.'
'So what does Dumbledore reckon he's planning?'
'Well, as everyone thinks I'm a mad mass-murderer and the Ministry's put a ten thousand Galleon price on my head, I can hardly stroll up the street and start handing out leaflets, can I?' said Sirius restlessly.
'No one's denying what he's done!' said Mrs Weasley, her voice rising, her fists trembling on the arms of her chair. 'But he's still - '
'How can he think that?' said Harry angrily. 'How can he think Dumbledore would just make it all up - that I'd make it all up?'
At the sight of Sirius, Kreacher flung himself into a ridiculously low bow that flattened his snoutlike nose on the floor.
'What's he after apart from followers?' Harry asked swiftly. He thought he saw Sirius and Lupin exchange the most fleeting of looks before Sirius answered.
That's because there haven't been any funny deaths yet,' said Sirius, 'not as far as we know, anyway . . . and we know quite a let.'
Harry took a deep breath and asked the question that had obsessed him for the last month.