LeadVonE

Dodging Prison & Stealing Witches

Chapter thirty-three: The Philosopher’s Prophecy

"Mister Potter!" Deputy Headmistress Minerva McGonagall glared down at Harry in front of the main Hogwarts gates. Her lips were one thin line. "Where have you been? Do you have any idea the worry you caused when you just disappeared after the trial like that?"

Harry's face took on the look of the mildly curious. "No, I do not. Perhaps you could enlighten me?"

McGonagall's nostrils flared. "Your parents were greatly concerned when no one could say where you'd gone."

Harry snorted.

"So?" McGonagall asked, looming over Harry as only a middle school teacher can. "Where have you been?"

"I was in Diagon Alley."

"What for?"

"Shopping."

"Shopping for what?"

"A new set of robes so I can appear in your classroom like the tidy and responsible young wizard I am. It seems the ministry won't be returning the ones the DoM took as evidence until it passes through three sets of departments and gets stamped in triplicate ."

Professor McGonagall's eyes narrowed. "Are you trying to be cheeky, Mister Potter?"

Harry's voice became so dry it could soak up an ocean. "No, Professor. I'm sure I'd do a better job of it if I actually tried."

"Detention, Mister Potter."

"Yes, Professor."

"Get along to your common room."

"Yes, Professor."

— DP & SW: TFoP —

"—And then Bole tried to bully me into siding with him against Keendle, but Keendle had already told Richardson that I'd told him about the business with Parkinson, and then Gibbons and Carthile started threatening to blow the whole thing open if I didn't side with them against Keendle, but they still refused to have anything to do with Bole because of that time before Christmas!" Tracey was slouched in one of the armchairs near the Slytherin throne in the Slytherin common room, half on and half off, glass of pumpkin juice in one hand, hand over tired eyes with the other.

Daphne and Hermione listened attentively, sitting opposite their friend in the unofficial student throne of the Gray and a small sofa respectively. The general hubbub of the common room washed around the small Gray grouping.

Tracey swigged back her drink in a most un-lady like fashion before reaching for the ceiling with both hands. "I mean, come on!"

Daphne smiled to herself. Oh, the joys of leadership. One thing she hadn't missed much during their seven week evacuation. She leaned forward. "But you did solve it."

"Oh, I solved it, sure, but it took so much stupid stuff."

"Welcome to the world of politics."

Tracey eyed her like a drowning man eyes another, more buoyant looking, drowning man. "Well, you can keep it, Daph — it's all yours again."

"As you wish, Miss future Lady Davis."

Tracey groaned. "Please don't remind me. I don't know how you and Hermione find the energy to do all the stuff you do on top of all the political stuff we have to worry about." She straightened on her chair. "Now, are you going to tell me what the hell happened at the trial? And why isn't Potter back yet if he got off?"

Daphne gave a small wry smile. "We'd have told you earlier, if you hadn't immediately decided to unload on us."

"Well, I'm sorry!"

Suddenly, the door creaked open and all attention seemed to draw, inexplicably, towards it.

Harry stepped through the common room door, as though he'd just got back from lunch. He looked around, walked past their court, giving her a small nod as he passed, and sat down several chairs away where the Dark had their little court going.

"Why," Tracey whispered, "is Potter sitting with the Dark? If he's Gray, I mean."

Hermione leaned forward and whispered, "Recruitment."

"Recruit— Hermione, you can't seriously believe that he'll be able to bring any of them over to our side, do you?"

Hermione smiled.

Daphne smirked.

"Possibly." Hermione looked over to where Harry sat.

Daphne followed her eyes. Harry sat among the Dark as though he belonged there. Moments later, he stood up and made his way over to them. He sat himself down with a grin. "Just saying hi to our friends over the way."

Tracey looked incredulously at him.

"What?" said Harry, a small twinkle in his eye. "No welcome back? — no, 'I'm glad you were exonerated?' — not even a, 'Why the hell didn't you tell me you were Gray before so I might not have looked so silly for several months?'"

Tracey snorted. "I'm insulted you think I might not have worked that last one out on my own."

Daphne reached into her pocket and handed over the tiny trunk Harry had entrusted Hermione with from before.

Harry took it with a smile. "So, what's been going on while I was away?"

Daphne and Hermione winced.

Tracey took a sharp intake of breath. "Oh! let me tell you…"

— DP & SW: TFoP —

Harry sat down in one of the three chairs in his trunk. "Wow, that girl knows how to weave a story. It's a pity we don't still have bards as a tradition. I'm sure she'd make a fine one."

Daphne smiled apologetically as she and Hermione mirrored him and the three made themselves comfortable. "Tracey's always been like that — ever since we first met — must have been when we were three or something like that."

"I'm not knocking it," Harry said. "It's a useful skill. But now let's talk about other things."

Hermione perked up. "The stone."

Harry nodded. "The stone, indeed."

"What are we going to do about it?" Daphne asked.

Harry tapped his fingers idly on the low table between them. "We've only got a few weeks until the end of the year and exams—"

Hermione nodded fiercely.

"—And it's important that both of you score top in them."

Hermione started. "What about you?"

"I mean top apart from me."

Hermione relaxed and nodded.

Harry continued. "You will, however, have to beat out John."

Hermione scoffed.

Harry grinned. "Which I know you'll be able to do, but do remember that he does have four years on both of you, and the last time I checked, you, Hermione, were only just starting fourth year spells, and you, Daphne, were only just starting year three."

Daphne glanced to her side and caught Hermione's eye. They'd both solidified into twin burning embers. She turned back. "And the stone?"

Harry sat in silence for a moment before speaking. "Dumbledore will be getting more and more suspicious. I think, we'll need to wait until he can do little to no harm and then use an already proven method."

Daphne frowned. "What proven method?"

Harry reached into his pocket, drew out a small bottle containing a single white hair and set it down on the table. "The boy who lived, of course."

— DP & SW: TFoP —

Lord Smith sat in the large armchair that was the seat of the Noble House of Smith. The seat of the Noble House of Smith sat in a corner of a sitting room, which was itself situated on the second floor of a three story monstrosity of pure granite, carved into the side of Ben Nevis, and hidden from muggles by an ancient set of wards mostly untouched since they'd been set up over seven hundred years ago.

The seat now creaked as Lord Smith shifted his considerable weight, most of it muscle, despite his age, and made only heavier by the steel armour he wore. He wasn't nervous. No, he damn well was not nervous! He'd survived everything that life had thrown at him. Even He-whom-it-was-unwise-to-name. Not something many of his peers could say — certainly not where they were now. So what reason did he have to be nervous of some little upstart lord who wore a mask? None at all!

The chair creaked again.

He rose irritably from the ancient oak seat like a building taking flight and started pacing.

A ping shot through the wards.

He stopped pacing.

A house elf popped into being by the sitting room's front door. "Master, Lord Slytherings has arrived."

Lord Smith's moustache twitched. "Good. Show him up please."

A minute later, the door opened and Lord Smith found himself gazing into the now famous green and black mask. "Ah, Lord Slytherin, come in, come in, please sit down, why don'cha?"

The masked lord swept into the room behind him. "Thank you, Lord Smith."

The two sat themselves down.

Smith smacked a goblet filled with red wine down in front of Slytherin. "I dare say you know why I requested this meeting?"

Lord Slytherin inclined his head. "I dare say you know why I accepted."

Smith barked a laugh. "I've got some questions to ask before I'll sign my family into your alliance."

"Fire away."

"Who are you?"

"I am Lord Slytherin."

"You trust Lord Greengrass with your identity."

"Jacob is family."

Smith smirked. "I'm not signing Sally over to you just to see your face."

"I wouldn't ask you to. I have quite enough on my plate to be getting on with."

"Smith snorted. "Rather you than me. I love Margaret, but I wouldn't be able to handle two of her — not a chance."

Slytherin said nothing.

Smith turned serious. "Okay, you don't want others to see your face, I get that. But there is one thing I insist on knowing before joining."

"Go on."

"What is all this for?"

"All this?"

"The secrecy. The Wizengamot blockade. What's it all in aid of? Several years ago the Gray didn't even exist, it was just a bunch of families who didn't want to get too involved doing what little they could do to stop the more extreme policies of the Dark and Light becoming law. Now it's this rising third power. But rising for what?"

Slytherin swirled his goblet idly before taking a sip.

Smith watched the way the mask's lips moulded themselves around the goblet, forming a small mouth as it went. It was an impressive piece of magic.

Eventually, Slytherin spoke. "I don't agree with the way the Light does things. I don't agree with the way the Dark does things either. They are both on the path to bring our world to ruin. And both are led by overly powerful wizards capable of speeding up that ruin if they are not neutered first."

"Dumbledore? I wouldn't have believed it a month ago, but now…. He seems to be trying to keep as low a profile as possible after the debacle at your boy's trial — couldn't even arrange a meeting of my own with him, and I know plenty of the other heads of houses have tried and failed too — never a good sign, that."

Slytherin nodded. "Dumbledore is one of them."

"And the other is?"

"A wizard believed by many to be dead, but who, unfortunately, has a bad habit of not quite making it all the way across the river Styx."

Smith frowned. "Who?"

"The Dark Lord."

Smith's heart clenched in his chest. His breathing felt shallower. "He's alive?"

"Unfortunately."

Smith's hand gripped the goblet hard enough to leave marks in his palm. So that's why Slytherin didn't want his identity known. The room suddenly felt a lot colder than before. Suddenly everything made a lot more sense. The man was preparing for a war against someone who would quickly have him killed if his identity was known. "How is the he not dead?"

"Dark magic."

Figures. "Why not go public with this? The Light would surely fight against the Dark."

"You forget I'm not only fighting against the Dark. There are forces within the Light who would also be happy to see my personal destruction if they could wrangle it."

Okay, now that was interesting.

The two sat in silence for a moment.

Smith took a gulp of wine. "Fine." He put down the goblet with a thump. "Got any other explosion curses to land on me?"

Slytherin reached into his pocket. "Take a look at this." The young lord chucked him something round and metallic.

Smith snatched it out of the air on instinct. His eyes widened as his mind caught up with what his eyes were seeing. It was a small sphere of aluminium, perfectly round and engraved with hundreds of what looked like tiny geometrically perfect runes. He looked up at Slytherin with incredulity. "There's no way these are accurate to the necessary precision."

"I assure you, they are."

Lord Smith felt a slight sweat form on the back of his neck. The implications of something like this… "How? Who?"

"A family secret. Friends of mine." The metal ball flew back into Slytherin's gloved hand with a small smack sound.

Smith stared. His mind whirled. Weapons. Shields. Armour. Oh, the possibilities. "Okay, now you've got my attention." He gave Slytherin a small wry smile. "Still sure you wouldn't consider taking another consort?"

Slytherin chuckled. "No, Lord Smith. I'm quite happy, thank you very much. But I'm sure our houses can work together in the future."

— DP & SW: TFoP —

Inside the mirror room at the end of the third floor corridor, Harry pointed his wand at yet another broken mirror. "Diffindo." The mirror started to separate until the top half of it's tall bronze frame was completely separated from its bottom half. He took another angle and once more started another cut. The metal cleaved itself under his wand and soon the broken mirror was in four — much smaller pieces than before, but still not small enough. He looked around.

Across the room, Daphne levitated the remains of her forth or fifth mirror into his trunk before collapsing on the ground, panting heavily.

Hermione, it seemed, had given the magic a break for the moment. She carried her latest piece of bronze mirror frame to the trunk, chucking it in with a loud crashing noise. She turned around and wiped her brow before suddenly frowning, as though struck by a confusing thought. "Harry?"

"Yeah?"

"Why do we even have to do this? Why can't we just bring the Mirror of Erised to your brother, rather than bringing your brother here?"

Harry smiled and ambled over towards the girls, happy for the chance to let his magic rest a bit. His own pile of scrap bronze already dwarfed Hermione and Daphne's. "An excellent question. You tell me."

Hermione bit her lip and descended into deep thought.

Daphne looked between him and Hermione before getting up off the floor and brushing herself down. She paused. "Is it something to do with the fidelius?"

Harry nodded. "Well done."

Hermione looked at Daphne, mildly annoyed.

Daphne continued. "It's the secret, right? I remember when I came through here when we first took down the original fidelius and put up the new one. The secret said that the Mirror of Erised was hidden in this room."

Hermione's face lit up in understanding. "Oh! I see! So, if we took the mirror out of the room, the fidelius would fail?"

"Yes," Harry said, "and only I could do that anyway — as it would constitute as, 'telling the secret,' to the whole world — although breaking the mirror would have the same effect."

Hermione nodded before looking around and then into the trunk. "So, what are we going to do with all this bronze?"

Daphne smiled wryly. "How about a life-sized statue of Lord Slytherin on the front lawn of Slytherin Manor?"

Harry made a disgusted face. "I'd go through the veil before letting that happen."

Hermione giggled. "So, that's a 'yes' then?"

"It's just an expression."

"What about one of Harry Potter?"

"No."

"Perhaps in an overly heroic position, like holding a sword straight up in the air?"

"No."

"While Daphne lays at your feet, clutching one of your legs?"

"N—"

"—Or" Daphne cut in, eyes narrowed. "The girl could be you, kneeling before your lord swearing life long fealty."

"Um," said Harry.

"I wouldn't mind that," Hermione said, slightly smug.

"What about before your Lord and Lady?"

"Oh, that is—!"

Harry let out a brief flare of magic, cutting both of the slightly startled girls off in mid flow. He smirked. "How about a statue of you two and the others in mid-fight against that troll at Halloween?"

Hermione and Daphne looked at each other before turning back and nodding. "Okay." / "I'm good with that." Then they both giggled.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

Hermione stood next to the pensieve in her trunk, watching as the members of The Founders Club emerged from the courtroom memory one after the other.

Justin Finch-Fletchley looked at her with a worried expression. "And he's our magical guardian?"

Hermione nodded.

Sophie Roper dusted herself down after almost falling over. "It was almost like he wanted Harry to go to prison."

"No almost about it," Justin said.

Kevin Entwhistle stood in the middle of the room, the only one seemingly unaffected by the spinning pensieve trip. "You'd have to be blind not to see Harry was all right. What's his game?"

The three looked questioningly towards Hermione, just as Dean finally emerged from the memory bowl. "Okay, what the hell was all that about?"

Hermione took a deep breath. "Dumbledore has built up a picture in the wizarding world as being this great good wizard who fights for justice and equality." She looked into each of her fellow muggleborn's eyes, each pair fixed unmovingly on her, before continuing. "The reality, however, is quite different…"

— DP & SW: TFoP —

And before long, the exams were on them. Harry took great pleasure in watching the memories of Hermione and Daphne utterly obliterate every practical exam they took. He'd spent several years working with them by now and it was amazing to see just what several years of prep work with Tom Riddle developed occlumency could accomplish. He found it deliciously ironic that he, Harry, had built his power base in part with the techniques that Voldemort had been the most unwilling to share with anyone else.

Professor McGonagall had them all turn a mouse into a snuffbox. Harry decorated his snuffbox with gold filigree and tiny opals, depicting a scene of a Nemean lion and a runespore teaming up to battle a chimaera — a chimaera with the head of a goat and the body of a wolf. She'd given him a level gaze, a congratulations on an excellent transfiguration, and a mild warning to respect all his professors.

Professor Flitwick had almost fainted with excitement when Harry had made his pineapple not only tap-dance, but then also perform as far as Odette's first revelation in Swan Lake before needing to stop for the next examinee. "Most well done, Mister Potter. Not even your brother managed something quite as wonderful."

Potions had been a surprise. Instead of the Headmaster, they'd walked into the potions lab on the day of the exams to find an un-petrified and extremely short tempered Professor Snape. He swooped around the classroom glaring at Harry's yearmates and occasionally shooting him a calculating look. No doubt someone had shown him memories from the tournament or similar.

History had been boring and easy. So had astronomy.

For defence against the dark arts, Harry had hid under the Potter invisibility cloak and followed Hermione and Daphne into the classroom when they had their practicals. He wouldn't put it behind Tom to try to pull something this close to the end of the year, but he needn't have worried. Quirrellmort seemed to be on his best behaviour for some reason. The man did look extremely sick though. Far worse than this time in the last timeline. Even his skin seemed to be sluffing off.

Then came Harry's own turn at defence.

"Why don't you try and impress me, Potter?"

"What would you like me to do, Professor?"

"Why don't we start out with spell swatting?" Quirrell fired a rapid chain of spells at him, which he swatted out of the way — every single one.

"Good." Quirrell made a motion for him to go.

Harry eyed him warily. "That's all, Professor?"

"Yes, Potter. You are an advanced spell swatter. There are likely no more than two dozen people in the country that are at your level and a good number of them are aurors who've been working on it for years with access to restricted books from the department of mysteries. Only the top professional duellists can pull it off perfectly, and that's not for lack of wide-eyed hopefuls who'd like to be able to. Giving you anything less than an O with full marks would be an insult. Now go. I'm sure you've got more productive things you could be doing."

Harry nodded, thanked the rapidly deteriorating dark lord, and left.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

"I have learned that Dumbledore is scheduled to address the ICW conference on international magical crime in two days."

Across the table from Harry, Hermione and Daphne exchanged glances.

Hermione raised a hand. "I thought we didn't want to use that strategy because Dumbledore would link it to Lord Slytherin?"

Harry nodded. "We haven't, but less than twelve hours after he leaves, the board will meet to discuss his contract renewal. Once that meeting is concluded, and we're all back on the train less than forty-eight hours after that, the headmaster will no longer be headmaster."

Daphne pursed her lips. "So, in other words, we don't care."

"Exactly."

— DP & SW: TFoP —

Harry sneaked through the corridors of Hogwarts as quiet as a ghost — or at least, as quiet as the ghosts who weren't talking, shouting at each other, or rattling chains up the astronomy tower.

He made his way to the gargoyle guarding the headmaster's office and carefully let himself in, checking all the while for hidden runes and concealed trip-lines. He found none — at least until he got to the very top of the stairs and opened the door. His magical sensing drew his attention to a minute amount of magic swirling through the doormat, sat innocently on the floor in front of him, emblazoned with the words, 'Home Sweetie Home'.

He knelt down and felt for intent. There was none. He frowned. That was odd. There was certainly magic there, but no spell. He lay down on the floor, withdrew a folded piece of parchment from his pocket, folded it twice more, and carefully slid his make-shift spatula under the mat.

Nothing.

He started to lift it.

Suddenly, a spell started to form.

He quickly dropped the mat.

The spell died.

Interesting. He glanced around the office. What would happen if he turned it? He tried. The mat refused to turn. Mmmm. He stepped over the mat, constantly checking for other possible traps, and crouched down facing the mat again. He then slowly started to transfigure the floor around the mat to a transparent glass and what he saw increased his grudging respect for the old man another notch.

The mat was attached to two thin, flat, and rectangular metal plates, each one covered in runes, and slid into two slots in the floor. The very floor below the mat was likewise covered in runes, and as the plates lowered or rose as someone either stood on it, or tried to pull it away, the runes would align in different patterns forming different spells and using the minute amounts of magic pulled from the wizard who stood atop it. Ingenious.

Harry let out a silent sigh. As much as he'd like to spend hours examining the mat, he did need to sweep the rest of the room, and Dumbledore was asleep not fifteen metres away. It certainly wouldn't do to be caught in here.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

The morning of the truth dawned. Harry woke up, climbed out of bed, put on his muggle exercise clothes, disillusioned himself, and went for a jog around the lake, making sure to stand out of the way as he passed his brother going the other way. He arrived back at his dorm room to catch his year mates in various states of readiness for the day.

Nott looked up as he walked back in. "Merlin, Potter, you do know we're finished for the year, right? You should be relaxing!"

Harry smiled. The reactions of the Dark children since he'd returned had been one of cautious friendliness with attempted hidden undertones of awe. "You can relax if you like, I've got stuff to do."

Draco also looked around from where he sat in front of his mirror, wanding down his hair. "Let him be, Theo. Potter can do whatever he wants."

"Indeed," Harry said.

On his bed on the other side of the room, Goyle was reading a comic book titled, 'The Adventures of Martin Miggs, the Mad Muggle.'

Crabbe still hadn't woken up.

Just then, Blaise Zabini walked in from the dorm bathroom, naked from the waist up and wrapped in towel. "Oh, hey, Harry. Tag you're in."

"Thanks." Harry walked into the bathroom.

"Hey!" Goyle called from behind him. "I was next!"

Twenty minutes later, Harry and Blaise had dressed and made their way down to breakfast. Harry sat himself down in the medley of Gray students at the near-end of the Slytherin table and helped himself to a slice of toast. Everyone happily made space for him. "Morning all. Where's Tracey?"

A few people said morning in reply and Hermione shrugged. "Don't know. We think she went off to do something."

"Well, could you let her know that I've got something to discuss with her if you do see her will you?"

Hermione nodded.

On the other side of the table, Daphne was deep in conversation with Flint about quidditch. Slytherin had squashed Ravenclaw in the final match, but Gryffindor had still been ahead on points and so had taken the cup, much to Harry's annoyance. Flint also wasn't happy.

Romulus Volf, on the other hand, sitting all the way at the other end of the table with the Dark students, was happy. After Harry had been led away in handcuffs by Regent Bones, the Slytherin duelling team had gone on to dominate their Gryffindor opponents, with many of their seeds taking their upper year opponents and the Slytherin sixth year successfully defeating the Gryffindor seventh year.

The entire castle had that end of year feel. Everyone was relaxing and enjoying themselves — even the fifth and seventh years, who'd finished their OWLS and NEWTS just days earlier.

All around the table, plans for summer were being drawn up. Trips to people's houses were being negotiated and even the occasional group holiday came up in the flow.

"You should really drop by some time," Blaise said to him. "I'm sure my mother would love to meet you."

"I'm sure she would." Harry said, making sure to leave even the tinniest hint of drollness out of his voice. Mrs Zabini had what could only be described as a 'reputation' — five dead husbands, all of them rich. Lord Slytherin would no doubt be considered the ultimate prize for the black widow. "I'll see what I can do — no promises though — there's a good chance I might be tied up this summer with other projects."

Blaise nodded and returned to his breakfast.

Harry didn't say what those projects were, but he certainly knew what he hoped they would be.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

Deep in a trunk, hidden in the fidelius charmed spot in the Hogwarts Library, three children gathered around a small vial of muddy looking liquid.

"You ready?" Hermione asked.

Harry nodded.

"Good luck." Daphne added.

Harry took a small white hair out of another glass jar and let it settle into the vial of polyjuice. The potion bubbled. He drank.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

John sat by the side of the lake, lounging in the middle of his fellow Gryffindors, enjoying the warm summer sun and cooling lake breeze. Since his brother's supposed murder attempt, Lily Moon, Fay Dunbar, Lavender Brown and Sally-Anne Perks seemed to have formed a pact of some description to keep a protective eye on him, which was kind of cute if not really needed. Ron, Neville, and Seamus on the other hand, were in awe of him. Only Dean seemed to not be fully onboard team Gryffindor. He frowned.

Just then, a paper bird fluttered over and alighted on the ground in front of him. He stared at it. Then, suddenly, the bird chirped once and a voice that he instantly recognised as the headmaster's started to speak from it. "John, could you please meet me in my office? It's urgent. I am rather fond of cockroach clusters."

The others all looked up. "The headmaster wants to see you?" asked Fay with wide eyes. "Are you in trouble?"

"Oh, no it's fine." He waved the concern away while getting up. "We often talk about stuff. Comes with the territory."

"I'll come with you." Lily Moon started to stand up too.

"No, it's okay."

"You're sure?"

"Yeah." And with that, he left the rather anxious group of girls behind him and walked back up to the school.

"Cockroach Clusters," he said to the gargoyle at the bottom of the rotating staircase. The stone statue leaped aside and he made his way up the stairs. The door opened.

"Good Morning, John. Please mind the floor."

John looked down. The floor had been covered by rough floorboards floating a few inches above it.

"I had a bit of an accident with a little project of mine and the floor now turns anyone who stands on it into a rabbit." He smiled twinkly eyed at him.

John laughed. "You wanted to see me?"

Dumbledore turned serious. "Yes. I have a meeting with the ICW that I have no choice but to attend, but I have discovered something grave in the meantime. You remember the third floor corridor that I told students to leave alone at the start of the year?"

John's heart lurched. This was about the stone. He'd completely forgotten about that! How had he completely forgotten about that? "Yes?" he said.

"I've been using it as a kind of safe to house an extremely valuable magical artefact. Last night, I learned of a threat to the artefact and decided the best course of action would be to remove it from the safe. Unfortunately, when I went down to claim it, I found that my final defence was just a bit too clever for my own good. It is a test that only the pure of intent can bypass and, it seems that I, much to my shame, am not pure enough." Dumbledore suddenly looked extremely tired. "I would never ask you to do this under normal circumstances, but time, unfortunately does not allow me any alternative. I must leave now, but I need you, John, to succeed where I have failed."

John's mind raced. Dumbledore needed him to retrieve the stone. Had quirrell attempted to go after it again and failed? Had Flamel decided to take it back? One thing was clear to him, he could not fail.

"You are looking for a red stone, about the size of your fist." He handed over a piece of paper. "Please read this."

John read the paper. It read, 'The Mirror of Erised is located at the end of the third floor corridor.' Suddenly, memories flooded back into his mind.

"Now you should be able to navigate your way to the room the stone is hidden in. Please make haste. I fear that if the artefact should fall into the wrong hands, the consequences will be dire."

Quirrell. No, Voldemort! John handed the paper back to the headmaster. "Yes, Sir. I won't let you down." He turned and dashed down the way he came.

"Please by careful, John!" called the Headmaster from behind him. "The defences are not to be taken lightly!"

John thought furiously. This was his time to prove himself. Yes. He'd find the stone and prove to the world he was the true chosen of Fate, not Harry.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

Harry tugged Dumbledore's beard and watched John go. All around the room, the portraits snoozed, all charmed asleep. He reached into his pocket, took out the Dan and Emma Granger rune enabled magical earpiece, and slipped it into his ear. "He bought it."

— DP & SW: TFoP —

Hermione watched on the marauder's map as John Potter hurried away from the headmaster's office and away from the little dot marked 'Harry Potter'. Dumbledore's voice spoke into her ear. "He bought it."

"Excellent, now we don't have to kidnap him."

On the other side of the small table, Daphne raised her eyebrow. "Harry said that if we tried to force him the mirror might not have given him the stone."

Hermione covered the ear mic with her hand and mouthed, 'I know,' to her friend.

But Daphne wasn't watching her. She was watching the map with narrowed eyes. "It would appear that our cat's paw is not going to the third floor."

Hermione snapped her head down and spoke into the ear piece. "Cat's Paw has veered away from the corridor that leads to the third floor and is heading towards…"

— DP & SW: TFoP —

John descended the stone steps that led to the dungeons, paused outside of a stack of barrels, and waited. He didn't have long to wait. A message given to an older Hufflepuff later and Susan emerged from the Hufflepuff common room. "John? What's going on?"

He motioned her to follow him. "Dumbledore gave me something important to do and I need your help."

"Really?" Susan started to walk behind him. "Do I need anything?"

John shook his head. Last time, it had been Hermione who had solved Snape's riddle and he wasn't taking any chances. "Just your mind."

They marched up past the third floor and headed towards Ravenclaw tower. Eventually, the tower door opened in response to another student carried message and Padma, Turpin, and Roper exited. "Hi Padma, we need your help for something."

Padma looked curious. "What?"

"It's err…" he glanced towards Turpin. "It's Light related."

"Ah. Do I need anything?"

He smiled "Just your amazing singing voice."

Padma blushed.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

Harry, still polyjuiced as Dumbledore, stood at the pathway just outside the third-floor corridor under a disillusionment charm. "Where is he now?"

Hermione's voice spoke into his ear. "Now he's heading towards Gryffindor tower."

Harry made a cluck sound with his tongue and continued to wait.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

"Ron! The Light needs your chess skills!"

Ron Weasley looked up and grinned. "Sure thing, John. Be with you in a moment."

"Now!"

"Oh okay, okay"

Five minutes later, they stood outside the door to the third-floor corridor.

"Okay, John," Susan said, hands on her hips, "are you going to explain what Dumbledore asked you to do now?"

"We need to get something that he's been protecting because he can't do it himself."

"What?"

John opened his mouth to say, but choked instead. "C-can't say." He grimaced. "Protected. By magic."

Susan, Padma, and Ron all made oh faces.

Padma pointed to the walls and ceiling. "Whatever it is, it's protected quite well — look at those."

John and the others looked up.

Rune stones lined the walls and ceiling.

John nodded. "Yeah, okay, but that's not the only defence. The first defence that we need to get past is a large animal that can be put to sleep with music, so you, Padma, will need to sing it to sleep."

Padma bit her lip. "Sing what?"

"I don't know — anything should work. You ready?"

They all nodded.

"Okay, let's do this." He reached for the door.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

Professor McGonagall walked down the Hogwarts main stair case with a stack of parchments under her arm. She reached the third floor and idly glanced along the corridor. Something about that corridor felt wrong, but whenever she tried to think about it, the thoughts just wouldn't stick. Something inside her brain slid away. She gave her head a little shake. Err…What had she just been thinking? Wait! She suddenly caught sight of a group of first years led by a very familiar figure milling around outside the third-floor corridor with their backs to her. Up to no good by the looks of it. She turned and took a step towards them.

"Confundus."

Something unseen hit the transfiguration professor. She blinked. Err…what was she doing? Oh yes, she needed to get these exams to the ministry for filling in the records — and after that maybe she'd go down to the three broomsticks for a dram. She turned back and started walking down the stairs again, paying no attention to the four first years who'd just slipped through the third-floor corridor door.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

Harry lowered his wand as he watched McGonagall leave and nodded to himself. Close one, that.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

Hermione whispered into her ear peace. "Cat's Paw and friends have passed through the gender ward and are now in the first room." She and Daphne had abandoned their trunk and now sat under the invisibility cloak in the muggle-studies defence room. Now they just needed to wait for their unwitting helpers to pass through.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

John looked in puzzlement around the room. There was nothing here.

"John?" Padma asked, sounding nervous, "Where's the huge beast?"

John frowned. "It's not here. That's odd. It's supposed to be here." He shrugged. "Oh, well. On to the next room." He walked over to the door on the far side and opened it. They stepped into a room filled with plants. It was like a miniature rainforest inside the school.

"Should have brought Neville," Ron commented as they made their way through the brush, he would have loved—AGHHHH!"

Something had grabbed onto Ron's leg and hauled him into the air. The girl's squealed and John watched as a tentacle started to wrap itself around Ron's waist.

"Hold on, Ron!" John brandished his wand and shouted, "elementa ignis! (elemental fire)" A column of fire burst from his wand and engulfed the aggressive devil's snare. The magical plant let out a pained cry and dropped Ron, withdrawing its many tentacles that had been sneaking around him and the girls, and retreated into a corner of the room.

Slightly shaken, Ron and the two girls followed him to the door. "What's in the next room, John?" Susan asked.

"Well, this room was the devil's snare, so the next room should be the flying keys."

He opened the door. It wasn't flying keys. Instead, a flat open room greeted them, and at the end of the room, stood a lone stone warrior, holding a massive halberd.

Padma bit her lip. "This doesn't look like flying keys."

John frowned. "No, it doesn't." What was going on here? Had all this changed too?

"What do you suppose the statue does?" Padma asked. "Will it attack us if we get too close?"

John shrugged. "Only one way to find out." He stepped forward.

Suddenly, the statue leapt into life and rushed him, halberd raised, it's intent clear.

John only just managed to get a shield up before the heavy weapon smashed into it.

Padma and Ron screamed.

Susan pointed her wand at the statue and shouted, "Ictus!" (Stinging Hex), which had about as much effect as a tickling charm.

The statue turned towards her and raised its weapon.

"Bombarda!" John's blasting curse smashed into the statue and flung a pile of rubble away from them and across the room.

Silence.

Eventually, Ron said, "Merlin that freaked me out."

Padma nodded voice shaking. "It's a good thing John is so powerful. That thing would have killed us otherwise."

John smiled. "Don't worry, guys. Dumbledore would never have sent me against something I couldn't handle. You're safe with me."

Susan smiled back at him.

"We ready to continue?" he asked.

They all nodded.

The next room seemed to be nothing but a stone passageway. John frowned. "This was supposed to be a massive chess set."

Ron grinned. "For me?"

"Yeah."

"Why do you suppose it isn't what you thought it was supposed to be?" Susan asked. "Did Dumbledore tell you what the defences were?"

"No…" he said slowly, "Not exactly."

"Then how—"

There was a click noise, and the door at the far end of the corridor swung open.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

Hermione whispered into her earpiece. "Cat's Paw and friends have passed through our tunnel in the transfiguration room. They're now in the astronomy room."

— DP & SW: TFoP —

"Its dark in here," Ron's voice said.

Stars shone over head.

"Try and find a light?" John asked.

Susan's voice spoke in an exasperated tone. "Try and find a— John! You are a wizard!"

Padma giggled.

"Oh, right. Lumos!" A bright light—far brighter than any other first year, saving Harry who didn't count, could produce—filled the room.

"Ooooo," said the girls.

Ron rolled his eyes. "Tch. Show off."

John smirked. "Let's try and find what we're supposed to do here. This room was supposed to be a troll."

Padma made a little squeak. "T-troll?"

John turned to her. "Yeah, you shouldn't have any problem with that? You did take one down after all."

"Yeah!" she half shrieked, "And I still have nightmares about that!"

Susan stepped beside Padma and put a calming hand on her shoulder. "Well there's obviously no troll here so let's find out what there is, okay?"

A few minute later they found the star controller, along with written instructions.

Susan read the parchment aloud. "Using the books provided, move the stars to the position they should be in on June 30, 1881." Next to the parchment on the table, stood a row of books.

"Oooo!" Padma said, clapping her hands together, "I can do this one! I'm really good at astronomy."

John nodded, "I'm glad one of us is then."

Ten minutes later, they were through.

The next room held little more than what looked like a muggle television and a plastic box of some kind below it.

John read the instructions. "To pass through to the next room, set the muggle VCR to record a television show between the time of 7:00pm and 7:45pm on Sunday on Channel One. Please use the instruction manual provided." He looked up at his friends. "Ron, your dad is big into muggle stuff, right? So this should be a piece of cake for you."

"Umm…" Ron picked up the controller looking extremely uncertain. "I don't know about that, but I'll give it a go."

— DP & SW: TFoP —

"This is painful," groaned Hermione to Daphne under her breath, watching from the far side of the room under the invisibility cloak.

The three Light purebloods and single Light halfblood had now spent the better part of thirty minutes trying and failing to set the VCR.

"I thought that book your parents sent you told you how to do it?" whispered Daphne.

"It does! …sort of."

Harry's voice—still disguised as Dumbledore's—growled into Hermione's ear. "We don't have time for this. I'm going to intervene. Get ready to give me instructions."

By the open door to the astronomy defence, a patch of background crept across the room towards the arguing Light students, moving about as quickly as a sloth on dreamless sleep.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

"Look! Just give it to meee!" Padma made to snatch the controller out of Ron's hand.

Ron held it out of the shorter girl's reach. "I can do it! I just—" He stumbled as though hit by something.

"Just what?"

"Wait! I've got it!" Ron hit a button on the controller and then looked around as though confused.

"Well?" John asked.

Susan stood off to the side tapping her foot.

Ron looked down at the controller and then tapped another button. Something on the muggle television changed. Then he tapped another button, and then another, before too long, there was a click sound and the door to the next room swung open.

John thumped him on the back. "Well done, mate! Knew you had it in you."

Ron smiled uncertainly. Yeah, he'd done it, hadn't he.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

John stood in the empty next room and shrugged. So much for Snape's potion riddle. The open door beckoned him. "I'm going to head on ahead now."

Susan, Padma, and Ron looked at him in confusion. "Go where?"

"Ahead."

Ron tilted his head. "You're not making any sense, mate."

John rolled his eyes. Of course, they hadn't been given the secret had they? He opened his mouth to explain, but choked again. "Ah, sorry, Susan, Padma, Ron, it seems like the magic will let only me finish the rest of the task Dumbledore gave me."

They looked at him with worried eyes.

"Just, stay here until I get back, okay?"

"Back from where?!" shouted Susan as he walked away.

And then he was gone.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

Hermione heard Harry's disguised voice speak into her ear. "Girls, head back to the trunk, you've done all you can here. Ring only communication from here on."

Hermione nodded though she knew Harry couldn't see her. "Understood." She turned to where she could feel Daphne standing beside her. "We've been ordered back to the trunk."

"Then let's move," Daphne's voice said.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

And John Potter stood in front of the Mirror of Erised.

In the reflection, a slightly older John stood on top of a slain dragon's head at the end of the first tri-wizard tournament task. In his hand he held a sword, which he pointed up to the sky in a pose of triumphant heroism. All around him, witches and wizards from all over the world applauded his latest heroic deed.

Ginny hung off one of his arms, looking up at him with adoration while Hermione hung off the other. Susan, Padma, Hannah, Fey, Lavender, and many others all crowded around him, all congratulating him for saving the day yet again. Even the other two Hogwarts champions—Alexandra Black and Cedric Diggory—looked mildly impressed, standing off to the side, holding swords of their own, and clapping, if only grudgingly in Alex's case.

Then, the sword wielding John looked at him, withdrew a red stone from his pocket, winked, and put it back in — and John felt the stone's weight drop into his real pocket. He reached into his pocket, withdrew the philosopher's stone, and smiled.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

Hidden by the door, Harry pointed his wand at John from near the entrance to the mirror room and cast a summoning spell at the stone now held in his brother's hand. Nothing. It didn't budge. The stone was non-summonable — probably non levitatable too — and he certainly didn't intend to find out how breakable it was. Rats. He frowned. Oh, well. Plan B it was, then.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

John heard clapping from behind him. He whirled around, heart hammering and let out the breath of relief when he saw it was Dumbledore. "Merlin, Headmaster, you nearly gave me a heart attack."

Dumbledore smiled. "I do apologise, John, but it does my old heart good to see youth triumph where the aged have failed."

John looked at the stone in his hands. "Yeah." He frowned. "I thought you had a ICW meeting?"

Dumbledore frowned. "So did I — and I rushed off in a bit of a hurry, didn't I? But when I arrived it suddenly occurred to me that the place I should really be was the place I had just left."

John turned back to the mirror.

Mirror John enthusiastically waved his sword.

"Headmaster, what are we gong to do about my brother?"

There was a pause from behind him before Dumbledore replied, "We continue as we have been."

John frowned and tore his gaze away from the mirror.

Dumbledore had moved to stand almost right in front of him, holding out his hand for the stone.

"We cannot continue on like this!" John shouted.

Dumbledore dropped his hand. He sighed. "I understand, John. You are frustrated, but our position demands patience." He offered his hand out again. "Together we will ensure your brother is no longer a threat."

John hesitated, stone still clutched in his hand. Something about this didn't feel right. Something about this felt very, very wrong. "H-headmaster?"

"Yes?"

"Do you remember that explosion last summer at the Burrow?"

Dumbledore tugged his beard in thought. "I do."

"I think that… I think that Harry might have caused it."

"…What makes you think that?"

John's heart skipped a beat.

What happened next seemed to slow down time itself. John's eyes finished widening. He stumbled backwards and hastily brought his wand hand up, casting a shield at the exact moment that the imposter Dumbledore narrowed his eyes, rose his empty hand and shot a wandless bright red stunner at him.

John's shield held and the stunner bounced off. He stumbled back another step and hit the mirror, which rocked threateningly.

Imposter Dumbledore cast a shield of his own with his other empty hand and stepped forward.

John strengthened his shield and got his balance, just in time to absorb another two stunners. He dodged around the mirror, clutching the side of the heavy bronze to counterbalance his weight, stone still clutched in a white knuckled grip, and successfully put the massive artefact between him and the unknown imposter.

"Accio John Potter!"

And a huge magical pull tugged him straight towards the mirror, toppling it over, shattering it on the ground with an earsplitting crash, and skidding him across a painful plane of broken glass and bronze.

Imposter Dumbledore swept down on him and gabbed the stone with one hand.

John desperately shoved his wand at Imposter Dumbledore and shouted, 'Stupefy!' only to watch in horror as the spell was intercepted as though by divine intervention by the imposter's free hand—all five fingers glowing red—bouncing off and harmlessly flying away.

The imposter pressed his free hand firmly to John's chest.

There was a flash of red.

And John's world went dark.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

"This kind of aggressive action cannot be tolerated!" The Prussian delegate to the International Confederation of Wizards banged his fist on the table. "Prussia will not stand by and allow ourselves to be bullied by these kinds of…"

Albus Dumbledore relaxed in his high back chair and let the words of the conference on international magical crime wash over him. At least here, no one was sniping or sniggering or asking awkward questions — Especially about the damn mirror room on the third… floor… corridor…

His eyes widened. He could remember! The fidelius was down! He stood up and made towards the exit, muttering an excuse as he went. International crime could wait — inner school crime was a much more pressing issue.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

Back in the chest in the library, Hermione gazed down at the Marauder's Map.

Daphne watched from the other side of the table. "I do wish he'd hurry up."

Hermione couldn't help agreeing. Having Harry off-map was driving her mental.

Suddenly a point of interest started moving. She jabbed her finger at it "Look!" Quirrell was exiting his office at a dead run.

"Forget that, look at this!" Daphne jabbed her own finger down at the third floor corridor. Harry and John's dot had reappeared on the map. The mirror room was visible again. She glanced back towards where Quirrell's dot was running.

The dot stopped by a nameless stretch of wall, and vanished.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

"Headmaster?"

Harry turned and saw Susan Bone's head poking uncertainly around the door.

"What's going on? Where's John?" She suddenly caught view of John, lying unconscious on the floor badly cut by the glass spread all around. She gasped.

Harry spoke quickly. The polyjuice didn't have much longer to run. "Miss Bones, Mister Potter needs to be taken the hospital wing, immediately."

She nodded and moments later was joined by Padma Patil of Ravenclaw and Ronald Weasley of Gryffindor.

"What happened?" Susan asked.

Suddenly, Harry felt his lightning bolt ring start to vibrate.

'LV.'

"John was helping me to extract an important artefact, which I was keeping here for safety,"

'INC.'

Harry's mind raced. Voldemort was coming. Getting his classmates out of the way was now even more important. "Unfortunately, John failed to listen to one of my more explicit instructions and was injured."

"What!" Susan shouted.

Padma leaned over John and started cleaning him up.

"He needs medical attention, Miss Bones. Use your levitation charm to take him to the medical wing, now."

Susan hesitated. "Wouldn't you be able to do it better?"

"I have another matter to attend to — one which is extremely urgent. For Mister Potter's sake, go now!"

Susan flinched back, but between them, the three first years did manage to get John moving out of the room. Harry followed with them until they left the muggle studies defence room. He then turned to the secret parseltongue passageway, hissed, $open$, and scrambled inside.

He'd only got a few metres when the blood red stone, still clutched firmly in his free hand, started talking to him.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

Hermione watched Harry disappear off the map. "He's out of there."

"Yes," said Daphne, a mild note of panic in her voice, "but we don't know where the Dark Lord is."

Then, another dot appeared in the Headmaster's office. Dumbledore had just re-entered the castle.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

Harry stilled.

"Hello there," said a congenial voice, speaking from the stone as though through a brick wall. "This is Nicholas Flamel. You have just removed my stone from the vicinity of my mirror. How clever of you."

Harry's heart lurched. He stopped and stared at the stone as though suddenly holding a bomb.

"This is just a recording, of course, but I thought it might be a good idea for you to know a few things. If this is you, Albus, then I am extremely disappointed in you. You asked for my stone for a project of yours on the condition that you would not need to touch it, inspect it, or in any way interact with it. That you have gone to the effort to try to bypass my mirror and have succeeded in doing so, shows that I have misplaced my trust in you."

Harry bit his lip.

"If this is you, Tom Riddle, then I give you nothing but my highest scorn and disdain. I have lived over six hundred years and you are nothing but a worm to be squashed. That I have not done so is merely because I see it as the job of younger men than me to fight for the Wizarding World."

Harry gazed at the stone, nonplussed, but the stone wasn't done yet.

"There is, of course, a third person that might have removed the stone, but I currently consider that to be a remote possibility. Nevertheless, if this is you, Lord Slytherin, then congratulations — I shall keep my eye on you far closer in future."

Harry cursed.

"Whichever of you succeeded though, matters not. Albus may believe in priming a trap with live bait, but I do not, and I did not live six hundred years by being stupid. The stone is fake. Sorry about that."

Harry let the stone fall to his side and stared at the pipe wall.

"Toodles!"

The voice cut off.

Harry groaned. Damn. Damn, damn, damn. He took a deep breath, counter plans quickly forming and reforming in his head. He still had enough money to last him until next Winter Festival. And he had all of summer to track down a new source of income.

As Harry planned, he started to feel the polyjuice run out. His beard receded, his body shortened, his hair turned back to black.

He also still had one half of his drugs business and that would hopefully keep him solvent for another few months, but he would have to hold off on buying that second house elf, which would suck, but it would free up twelve thousand galleons (£600,000), and he could hire out house elves for the Slytherin Manor finishing party next Winter Festival and persuade Jacob to lend him a few more for the kitchens…. He let out another breath. Yes, it wouldn't be easy, but he could probably keep Slytherin House afloat. He just needed to hustle like he'd never hustled before.

He took a step up the pipe, turned the corner, and stopped dead.

"Hello, Mister Potter," said Quirrell, eyes glowing red, skin flaking off his body, wand held casually off to his side.

Harry mentally shrugged, shielded, and turned to escape.

"Or should I say, Lord Slytherin?"

— DP & SW: TFoP —

Dumbledore marched swiftly down a hallway towards the third floor corridor, wand out and ready. He turned a corner and almost walked straight into a panting Susan Bones and Padma Patil, both of whom were levitating a prone John Potter, physically assisted by the youngest male Weasley.

"Headmaster?!" Miss Bones looked over her shoulder before looking back at him. "But, we just left you!"

"You left me, Miss Bones?" Dumbledore's eyes narrowed. "You mean you just met another me?"

"Yes."

"Where!"

"Down in the third floor corridor."

"Was I holding a red stone?" He asked urgently.

Susan hesitated, wand still pointing at a floating John. "Y-yes, I think so."

Dumbledore cursed and hurried past them. If he was lucky, he'd be able to cut whoever it was off, Tom or Slytherin, or someone else, or both.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

Back in the trunk, Hermione paced frantically, occasionally shooting worried glances at the map, which showed Dumbledore advancing towards the third floor corridor, but still no sign of Harry or Voldemort. "Should we ask him what's going on?"

Daphne shook her head. "No. We shouldn't distract him. If he needs our help, he'll ask."

"What about your Eye of Kilrogg?" Hermione asked. "If we got close enough to the pipework near the third floor corridor—"

"—No." Daphne cut her off. "We shouldn't put ourselves at any more risk than we need to. It won't help Harry. Remember the unicorn. Remember what Harry said."

Hermione slowed down and took a deep breath. "Yes, you're right. The overall mission. Weigh risks and rewards. Don't take unnecessary risks. I remember."

— DP & SW: TFoP —

"Or should I say, Lord Slytherin?" Voldemort sneered.

Harry froze. He hadn't just heard that had he? He flexed his wand hand, ready to swat away any hostile magic the moment he felt the build-up behind him. "Professor?"

"Don't play me for a fool, Potter — you will regret it. You know well who I truly am."

Harry turned around slowly, wand now pointed at the fake stone, his threat very obvious. "Okay, so give me one good reason why I shouldn't destroy your obviously weakened possessed corpse."

Voldemort smirked. "Because I currently hold the life of one of your witches in my hand and can snuff it out faster than you could raise your wand."

Harry heart lurched. What! He looked around, seeing nothing. How?

Voldemort smirked. "Oh yes, very protective, aren't you?"

Hermione and Daphne were in his trunk in the library. Ginny and Luna weren't even at Hogwarts, and although he'd still hesitate to think of Alexandra and one of 'his witches,' she was also nowhere near the castle. "You're bluffing."

"I assure you, 'Lord Slytherin,' I am not."

Harry's eyes narrowed, body coiled, wand still pointing at the stone. And how did Voldemort even know that?

Voldemort still had his wand pointed off to his side, although for some reason, Harry had difficulty understanding exactly what the Dark Lord was pointing at.

"You, Potter, are going to hand me that stone." Voldemort said, tone calm and level.

"Go on."

"Or, else, this pretty young thing dies."

Harry's eyes darted around the pipe. What was he talking about?

Voldemort laughed. A high pitched laugh that echoed around the metalwork. "Oh, I do beg your pardon. My manners, 'My Lord,'" he said, mockingly. "Lord Voldemort's secret pipe section is located fifty metres North-West of the mirror room at the end of the third-floor corridor."

Suddenly half of the pipe seemed to invert itself from out of the metal work and a girl appeared, wrapped tightly in ropes, propped up against the wall and gagged, terrified eyes flittering back and forth between him and the decaying body of the defence professor, Voldemort's wand pointing straight at her. To the girl's side sat a currently expanded and open shrinkable multi-compartment trunk. It was Tracey.

Shit.

Voldemort chuckled. "Oh, dear. Not who you were expecting, mm? Who did you think I would target? Miss Granger? Miss Greengrass? Perhaps your Miss Lovegood? Because, 'Lord Voldemort always targets only those closest to his targets? Correct?"

Harry's head snapped away from Tracey and back to Voldemort. What?

"Yes, I know, Potter. I've known for most of the year. Did you honestly think that I, a genius, wouldn't figure it out?"

Harry kept his wand trained on the stone. "Figure what out?"

Voldemort looked at him, almost disappointed. "I invented that form of occlumency, Potter. I created it to catch up to my peers after I leaned just how they were doing so damn well in classes — after I learned how they'd spent years practising it, years that I didn't have. You know that. You know, everything. You took that accidental horcrux lodged in your forehead, somehow, and wringed it for everything it had."

Voldemort thought Harry'd got his knowledge from the horcrux in his forehead.

Harry scowled. "The occlumency doesn't leave that kind of trace. It doesn't leave any trace at all. You know that."

Tracey was still looking between the two of them, wide eyed and fearful.

"Indeed and had it not been for all the other little things, I wouldn't have suspected anything."

Other little things? Harry's mind raced. He had to keep Riddle talking. Keep him not killing. He couldn't let Tracey die. She was worth a lot more than a stupid fake stone. The lone heiress of one his houses dying on his watch would be a disaster — not to mention she'd proven herself capable in her own right. He needed her. So, what other little things?

"You can't think?" Voldemort moved over to where Tracey leaned against the wall and gripped her arm in his free hand. "Such a pity, I do hope you aren't just my memories. That would be such a shame. In any case, you'll have plenty of time to think, because you are going to give me the stone, yes, but there's something else you're going to give me too."

Harry said nothing.

Voldemort's eyes narrowed in anger and Harry felt Voldemort's fury brush through the link they shared for the first time in almost four years. The man's eyes glowed darker as he spat, "You are going to go to wherever you've hidden them, and give me back my diadem, my ring, and my locket!"

Fuck.

"Yes, I found the diadem missing. Yes, I went and checked the others too. You are the only person who could have done this, and if you don't start moving, this little lady is going to start losing bits!"

Tracey closed her eyes and whimpered.

Harry gritted his teeth. "They're not in the castle."

"Then have your servants go get them!"

"They don't have the secret," he bluffed, trying to buy time.

"Then summon them here and tell them it! I know you can, I've felt the magic come from you and to them more than once before."

Harry cursed in his head. This had suddenly got a lot worse. Of course if Riddle figured out he was Lord Slytherin he'd link it to the diadem Harry had swiped at the start of the year. Tracey's value in this equation had just dipped way off the other side. He needed to stall for more time. Needed to figure out a way to get the girl out of this without losing the soul jars to Voldemort. Could he have Daphne call for backup? No. Could he have them lay a trap? No. Could he lead Voldemort into a trap? No obvious opportunities came to mind.

"Any time you're ready, Potter," Riddle said impatiently.

Harry glanced at Tracey once more and, thinking furiously, started pulsing magic into his lightning bolt ring.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

Hermione straightened. Vibrations were coming through her ring. Harry was alright! She could tell by the way Daphne started at her without seeming to see that she too, was receiving Harry's message, and was concentrating on decoding it.

Gradually, the feeling of elation faded, giving way to worry and dread.

"Tracey," Daphne whispered.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

"I've sent them the message," Harry said. "They should be leaving the school soon."

"Good." Voldemort now had his wand under Tracey's neck. His voice had lost its schizophrenic anger, returning back to the normal calm drawl. "Had any more thoughts, Potter?"

Harry scowled.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

Dumbledore burst into the mirror room to find it empty, minus one destroyed mirror. "Homenum revelio!"

Nothing.

He cursed, turned, and ran back the way he came. Charging halfway across Hogwarts, he reached his office and lunged, for the second time in as many months, at the lockdown trinket. The windows slammed shut. Magic pulsed out around him. There.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

Daphne and Hermione, carrying two broomsticks, awkwardly crept along the sun baked grounds of Hogwarts, past any number of students lounging by the lake, and down the path to the closed Hogwarts gates. They ducked behind the first tree they found, whipped the cloak off, mounted the broomsticks, and flew up and over the gate, careful not to be seen by anyone, and out across the Scottish highlands.

The moment they crossed the ward line, they felt a huge surge of magic pulse just behind them.

"What was that?" Hermione called out.

Daphne cursed. "I hope it wasn't lockdown. We're locked out, otherwise."

The two witches looked at each other, but there wasn't anything else to do. They had their orders.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

Harry desperately continued to try and think of a way out of this situation — preferably one that didn't involve Tracey dying. He was sure he could take the weakened Dark Lord in a fair fight — which was obviously why he'd taken a hostage — but he was also certain that if he attacked Voldemort, the first thing that would happen was Tracey taking a killing curse to the chest.

A wave of magic washed over them.

Voldemort glanced around. "It would seem that Dumbledore has cottoned on to your fidelius failure, Potter."

Harry glanced around the pipe. Suddenly, a possible answer came to him. "Dust."

Voldemort raised an eyebrow. "Do go on, student."

"I've been using the parseltongue only passageways. You can use them too. I must have left a trail of some description behind me, despite being very careful not to."

Voldemort smiled nastily. "That was the first thing, yes. But It wasn't so much what you did leave behind as what you didn't."

Harry paused, then sniffed in realisation, disgusted at himself. "Cleaning charms."

"Indeed. Your trail was your lack of trail. And get moving. With the castle on lockdown we need to go to where we can still leave."

Harry nodded. Of course, the chamber of secrets

Voldemort pushed Tracey and she stumbled forward.

Harry started backing away slowly, keeping the two of them at the same distance while keeping his wand trained on the fake stone.

"And that was it?" Harry asked. Keep him talking. Keep him distracted. "You knew there was a parselmouth in the school, therefore you knew it was me? Seems pretty far fetched."

Voldemort snarled. "Of course there was more than that, fool. Dumbledore practically told me you were special — stupid old codger that he is."

"Dumbledore doesn't know that I'm Lord Slytherin."

"No." Voldemort conceded. "Most amusing it was too, watching him floundering about. I actually had to straight out tell him that Lord Slytherin was after the stone, can you believe that?"

"Strangely enough, I can."

— DP & SW: TFoP —

Daphne flew over yet another Scottish mountaintop at top speed, warming charms doing their best against the nippy windchill from this high up. They'd been flying for what felt like ages.

"I can't tell you how glad I am for flying lessons now," Hermione shouted from a few metres away.

Daphne nodded back and focused forward. Harry's island vault shouldn't be far now.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

Harry paused at the end of the pipe tunnel. A huge hole sunk into the floor behind him.

"The first time I came here," Voldemort said, back to his casual tone of voice, "I didn't know how to fly. But then, that's the point isn't it? Only those of Slytherin magic are allowed to enter, so only those who can fly should be granted easy passage."

Harry rose up into the air.

Voldemort mirrored him, clutching a terrified Tracey firmly to his chest around the waist. Together, they descended down into the pipe, down and down, until they exited the pipe and into a space containing the exits of over half a dozen such pipes.

"You should feel honoured, Miss Davis," Voldemort said. "Very few ever get the chance to see this place. Do you know where we are?"

Tracey frantically shook her head.

"This is the chamber of secrets."

Tracey let out another small whimper.

The three of them floated over the sea of bones until they arrived at the portal to the chamber proper.

Voldemort gestured with his wand hand. "Well, as the resident Lord Slytherin, perhaps you should have the honours, Potter?"

Harry turned slightly to the portal, making sure to keep Riddle in view, and hissed, "$Open$,".

The stone snakes slithered over and over each other to unlock the door and the portal creaked open.

"Have you had any more thoughts, Potter?"

Harry frowned. He had. "You knew? Or rather, you suspected? You suspected, so you investigated and only then did you know."

Voldemort's lip tugged upwards. "Getting close, Potter — figuratively and literally."

Literally… Harry looked around. All around him, carvings of snakes filled the hall. "Snakes."

"Go on."

"Parselmagic? Parseltongue? Magic that affects snakes, or things that are snake like — makes a snake intelligent so it can better serve the master."

Voldemort raised an approving eyebrow.

Harry continued to think out loud. "You know that I know about you, or rather, you suspect that I know. Because of… Because of how I act in class?"

"Sitting in front of the same two girls, one of whom is betrothed to Lord Slytherin and the other whom is Slytherin's vassal, pointing your wand constantly at me under the desk, aren't the most subtle set of actions you can take, Potter."

"Snakes are only intelligent after they've been affected by parselmagic."

"Yes."

"So, before they've been affected by parselmagic, they can…" The realisation hit him. "They can be in range of a non secret keeper speaking a secret and not trip the fidelius charm."

"Well done, Potter. If I didn't have my wand at your little friend's throat, I'd clap."

Harry frowned. "That wasn't a weakness you knew."

Riddle gave him a look of deep disdain. "Obviously, as soon as I suspected there was someone out there who had all my knowledge, I started developing new methods. What kind of fool would try to use only tricks the enemy already knows?" He gestured to Tracey. "What kind of fool would behave as he knows the enemy believes he will behave in? You believed I would only attack Granger or Greengrass."

"So that's how you found me out?"

Riddle scoffed. "No. Oh, I did hear a conversation between you and Miss Granger where she called you, 'my lord,' but that was the extent of it, and by then, it was just another confirmation of what I already knew. Keeping random snakes invisible and under confundus around the school in the hope that they might happen to hear something is actually a pretty stupid technique. It was a wonder I heard even that."

"So, how?"

Riddle made an exasperated noise. "Potter! Do you not understand? Have you not yet heard enough? There was no smoking wand! There was no aha moment. There was no one thing that made me draw the conclusion that you are Lord Slytherin and the baby I attempted and failed to murder. You were suspiciously placed away from your parents, with muggles, yet you come to Hogwarts with large amounts of knowledge of the wizarding world. You display all the signs of being a trained occlumens, yet your occlumency shields would have me believe that they don't even exist, something only my occlumency can accomplish. Your mind pretends to be innocent while your actions belie a cunning and ruthlessness that is the hallmark of Slytherin house. You display fierce protectiveness of those connected with Lord Slytherin while around me and only me. All three of my horcruxes that are readily accessible to an outsider are gone. The parseltongue passages in the school are under use. Someone else besides me and Dumbledore is making active use of the fidelius charm. Both you and your brother are vastly over powered for your age, yet you go beyond even that. John Potter is mostly just power — extremely talented power for a first year, yes, but nothing compared to your ability. The moment you leave the school, both Miss Greengrass and Miss Granger are pulled by their heads of houses and Lord Slytherin isn't seen from again, rare though his appearances are, granted, until you are released from custody. Do I need to go on?

Harry shook his head.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

Daphne opened the lead box lined with acromantula silk at the back of the cave and, occlumency at full strength, and noble house ring confidently on finger, carefully withdrew the three items held within.

"So pretty," Hermione sighed, reaching out for the diadem.

One stinging hex and an embarrassed pout later and the two girls were off and over the sea, black dragon roaring in territorial rage behind them, heading back to Hogwarts, and praying Harry had some way to come out of this without giving the Dark Lord back his soul anchors.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

Deep inside the chamber of secrets, standing in front of the massive statue of Salazar Slytherin, Harry continued to rack his brain for someway out of this without giving Voldemort back his soul anchors. He still couldn't think of anything — anything apart from the painful obvious way, of course. He glanced at Tracey, still held shaking in Voldemort's grip.

"You know, Harry," Voldemort said, conversationally, "despite having a leg up from my soul fragment, you are still a remarkable young boy. You have managed to forge a completely new political faction out of what used to be little but a bunch of pathetic fence sitters — and you started when you were just eight. Truly an achievement to be proud of. One I myself can certainly appreciate."

Harry gave Voldemort a tired but knowing look.

Voldemort laughed. "Yes, Harry Potter, you certainly do know me well, don't you? This is the bit where I offer you a place in my most trusted inner circle. And why would you not accept it? You and I are very alike."

Harry clucked his tongue. "You know that's not true."

Voldemort glanced down at Tracey. He tilted his head. "I suppose not, at a certain level. After all, I would have not hesitated to kill my opponent and let the girl die."

Tracey's eyes met Harry's, desperate and imploring.

"But in other ways," Riddle continued, "we are similar. It's obvious what your end game is… domination of Magical Britain."

"You want to exterminate all muggleborns."

"And yet, you, Harry, might have shown me a better way. You know that I have vowed to eradicate all muggle influences from the wizarding world."

"Yes."

"Now look at your Miss Granger. Born to muggles yet completely understanding of her place in our world. You did that. Truly fascinating. Join me, and together we will easily sweep aside all those who stand in our way and make a world we know to be better."

"I brought Hermione to my side by mixing in generosity and friendship with my blatant manipulations — generosity and friendship, rather than cruelty and fear."

Voldemort scoffed. "So you believe that the ends don't justify the means, is that it?"

"The ends are the means, especially for you. You seek immortality. For someone with no end, there are only means." He shrugged. "Besides, my way works better — and it's not like I don't understand the value of making my enemies fear me."

Voldemort smiled. "We shall see. I may be weakened today, but if you cannot attack me just because I have one witch's life in my hands, then what chance do you have of 'vanquishing' me when I hold the entire country to ransom?"

Harry frowned. "You misunderstand me."

Voldemort waited.

Harry didn't elaborate.

Eventually Voldemort scowled. "Well? How do I misunderstand you?"

"I do not plan to tell you — that would be foolish."

Voldemort sniffed.

Suddenly, Harry's ring vibrated. Dammit.

Voldemort gave him an expectant look.

Harry nodded. "They have them." Dammit, he needed more time. "They are outside the castle. They can't get back in because of the lockdown."

Voldemort made a gesture to a nearby snake portal, carved into the very stone of the chamber. "Then let's go out and meet them. Then you can have your reasonably precious Miss Davis back and I can have what is mine."

"I should tell you right now, that one of them is fake."

"What!" Riddle hissed.

"The locket. It was fake when I found it. It had a note from an RB in it — I assume that was Regulus Black."

Voldemort eyed him through narrow calculating eyes. "If you are lying…"

"I am not."

— DP & SW: TFoP —

"Here it is." Daphne touched down in a clearing on the outskirts of the forbidden forest.

"Right." Hermione alighted beside her. "Now, let's put the bag in the middle of the clearing and hide. Maybe we'll get a good opportunity to take him down from the side or something."

"Just don't do anything stupid. Don't forget Voldemort can sense magic like Harry can."

They placed the bag on the dirt ground, whipped the cloak around themselves, retreated to the edge of the clearing, and lay in wait.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

Harry kept his eye on Voldemort as the man kept his eye on him, all the way up through the pipe, out of the overgrown secret entrance, and through to the forest clearing.

He still couldn't think of anything! If this kept up, he might have no choice but to let Tracey die. Even if he still didn't know where the locket was, Voldemort not having the opportunity to hide another two Horcruxes was better than the alternative — even if Voldemort could just make another one if he wanted. Even if it wouldn't make any difference if they couldn't find the locket.

They soon found the clearing with the bag in the centre and before Harry knew what was happening, Voldemort darted forward in the air, Tracey's muffled screams trailing after him. The Dark Lord snatched up the bag and shot twenty metres into the sky.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

Hermione gripped her wand, huddled next to Daphne under the cloak and watched Voldemort floating far above her, Tracey hanging precariously off his arm. Dammit! That had happened so quickly, she hadn't even had a chance to consider attacking.

Beside her, Daphne whispered a bad word.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

Harry scowled up at Voldemort who floated in the bright blue sky, cloak fluttering, eyes triumphant, reaching into the bag and withdrawing a couple of priceless artefacts—imbued with dark lord soul—and a worthless trinket, which held naught but a mocking note from a dead death eater.

"Do come up and join me, Mister Potter!"

Harry readied his wand and rose up to meet him. He needed to attack now. Tracey's life was not worth it. He needed to be ruthless. He needed to—

"When we get high enough, I'll toss you the witch. You toss me the stone."

They continued to rise up, higher and higher, until the trees below weren't even recognisable as trees.

Harry shivered from the cold, holding the stone tightly in his hand. His breathing sped up. His pupils dilated.

Voldemort smiled. "Catch!" He dropped Tracey.

Harry screamed a curse of rage and frustration, chucked the fake stone, and dove — dove straight for the ground and the muffled screaming of the rapidly descending Tracey. Choice irrevocably made, he snatched her up with easily enough room to decelerate before landing on the ground and looked up, Tracey now crying and clinging desperately to the front of his robes.

He felt a short wave of triumph and exhilaration wash against his occlumency barriers before being quickly snuffed out in the manner of the master occlumens.

Voldemort had gone.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

"Nicholas." Dumbledore gazed out of the floo into the dinning room of the ancient alchemist.

"Wulfric?" A man who looked to be in his late forties looked up from the dinning table. "What is it? Perenelle and I have business this afternoon."

"Ah, yes." Dumbledore shifted uncomfortably in the floo. His knees were really hurting on the stone of his office floor. "It's about your stone."

"Stolen — yes, I know."

Dumbledore started. "You know?"

"Yes, I know. I received an alert the moment it was removed from my mirror."

Dumbledore's heart raced. "Then, do you know where it is? Can you track it? Can we save it?"

"Relax Wulfric. That will not be necessary."

"But, if Voldemort or Lord Slytherin—"

"—Wulfric!"

Dumbledore hesitated.

"Sometimes, you can be really stupid. Now, please tell me how you're being really stupid in this particular instance."

Dumbledore swallowed. His old master had slipped into teaching mode. There was nothing to be done when he was in teaching mode except be silent and play along. "Well…"

— DP & SW: TFoP —

Tracey clung to Daphne weakly as the four made their way back up the secret passageway to the Chamber of Secrets. Her skin was soaked with sweat, her underclothes were wet and clingy. She felt like she'd taken a bath fully clothed in a lake of nectar. She was cold, sticky, shivering, and coming down from an adrenaline overdose the like of which she'd never felt before.

Potter was Lord Slytherin. Potter was the boy who lived. H-H-He who must not be named was alive. The Dark Lord had taken her hostage. She wasn't dead. Potter had saved her. Potter had traded something very valuable, from the sounds of it, for her life. The revelations and implications came hard and fast. And still she couldn't stop herself from shaking.

Suddenly, every thing about the boy seemed larger than life. How had she not seen it before, he practically radiated power.

Potter—or was that Lord Slytherin?—walked up ahead, muttering to himself, but still loudly enough for Daphne and Hermione to hear and occasionally add a comment to the rapid, mostly monologue. "We'll have to start on tracking down all his old haunts as quickly as possible, but that won't work, because he'll know that I know about them. No, we'll have to find some way to track them directly, possibly using one them as a catalysts for a ritual or something. Our libraries will hopefully provide, but only the ones that he doesn't already know about, or at least ones he hasn't already read through."

Then, suddenly, the impossible child lord staggered, fell against the stone wall, clamped his hand to his scar, suddenly glowing red, and scrunched up his eyes in pain.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

"FAAKKKKKEEEE!"

One long cry pounded against Harry's mile thick occlumency shields, not standing a chance of getting through after five years of strengthening, but making a damn good effort.

"ALL! FAKE!"

Visions of Quirrellmort screaming in rage and frustration floated in front of Harry's mind, eyes red, skin peeling, muscle and bone starting to show and even rip away. He didn't try to stop them, painful though they were. He let them come. The Dark Lord was furious. Anger led to weakness — led to an opening in the mind — led to a loss of critical information — information that Harry needed.

Voldemort threw the red stone against a tree where it shattered into a hundred spiky shards. He ripped the locket apart and slammed it on the ground. And then, to Harry's utter shock, the Dark Lord pointed his wand at the ring and the diadem, snarled, "Malus ignis totalus diabolus!" and watched, panting and raging, as black flames of three headed serpents tore into the supposedly priceless artefacts and melted them down into nothing.

What the fuck?

Then, seemingly unable to stand the sudden magical surge and ensuing emotional tirade, Quirrell's body finally gave up the ghost, ripping itself apart and collapsing into dust, leaving only the fractured soul of Dark Lord Voldemort, who whirled around the random wooded clearing and faded away on a sudden gust of wind.

Harry carefully pushed Voldemort's visions away from his mind and found the feeling in his body again.

"Harry! Harry!" A voice pierced through the fog. "Are you alright?"

Harry opened his eyes. Hermione's face hovered a few inches in front of his. Off to the side, Daphne and Tracey watched him with wide eyes.

"Hermione?" He frowned and grasped at the only logical explanation he could think of. "You managed to create a fake diadem and ring good enough to fool me and Voldemort in just a few hours?"

Hermione looked around to Daphne with a confused look.

Daphne shook her head.

Hermione turned back. "No, we didn't. We did just as you said. We went to the place and got the things and came back and put them in the clearing. That was right, wasn't it?"

Harry was speechless.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

The aftermath of the second lockdown was nothing like as drastic as the first. People were used to it now. The foursome made their way through the empty school to the Slytherin common room, and, without knowing the password that was supposed to let them in, Harry opened it himself, causing one or two raised eyebrows from those within but otherwise no comment.

Plenty of rumours circulated, but none came close to the truth.

Daphne took up her position again in the court of the Gray, flanked by Hermione and Tracey, the later, trying her hardest to give the impression that she hadn't just had her world shaken to its very core, and soon enough, it was time for bed. Harry separated from the girls, made his way to his dorm room, climbed into bed, closed his curtains, and fell asleep almost at once.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

In the first year girl's dormitory, three girls sat on one bed, crosslegged or sitting back on their knees, with the curtains closed and every anti-eavesdropping charm they knew carefully cast.

"So," Tracey gave a weak smile. "Your hero is in fact, Harry."

Daphne nodded.

"Suddenly, so many things make a lot more sense."

Daphne and Hermione both nodded.

"Although certain other things make even less sense than before. Do you parents know?"

Daphne nodded. "Mine do."

Hermione shook her head. "Mine don't."

"Still." Tracey laughed quietly. "The great, mysterious Lord Slytherin is none other than the equally mysterious, Harry Potter. No wonder no one's figured out who he is."

Hermione leaned forward, voice deadly serious. "Tracey, you can not tell anyone."

Tracey frowned. "You know that if my lord asks, I'll have to tell him."

"But only if he asks."

"True."

"And you know that Harry is going to want to make sure that what happened today can never happen again."

"How?"

"I don't know, but Harry will think of something. He always does." Hermione smiled. "Sometimes, we help too."

— DP & SW: TFoP —

The next morning, Harry woke early and snuck out of the school, paying absolutely no heed to the lockdown still in place and making sure to put a dummy ward presence like always before he left. He apparated all the way to his cave vault in the Hebrides, walked inside, strode straight over to the lead box lined with silk in the corner, opened he box… and found the diadem and the ring, still there and all intact, as if Daphne and Hermione had never been.

He lifted the diadem out of the box and studied it carefully. Yes. This was definitely the real thing. What in Merlin's name had happened?

Last night, after he'd heard Hermione and Daphne's story, he'd asked to see their memories. It had certainly looked like they'd lifted the genuine articles from the box. Only the three of them knew the secret.

What the hell? Had someone found yet another weakness with the fidelius charm? Like the one Harry and the girls had discovered with the Eye of Kilrogg? This so called 'absolute protection' was starting to accumulate more holes than Dumbledore's character. But even if someone had found it, why give him back Voldemort's Horcruxes? It made no sense. Whatever the case, he certainly couldn't keep them here any more, not when he knew the defence had somehow been penetrated. But where to keep them now?

Harry frowned and caught the sound of a dragon roaring off in the distance.

It seemed he had yet another project for the summer.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

And then Lord Slytherin was walking into the board of directors meeting to discuss the renewal of Dumbledore's contract. Dumbledore wasn't present. Apparently he was dealing with the fallout from his latest lock-down of the school.

Harry walked out of the meeting an hour later with a stack of signed parchments under his arm and a slight smile playing around his mouth, hidden, as always, under his ever-present green and black mask.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

And then they were on the train, heading back to London after a year at Hogwarts that, all things considered, had gone far better than Harry's first. The Gray all sat around them in the compartment, laughing and joking and swapping plans for the holidays. Tracey kept shooting him appraising glances, which he happily returned with interest.

And then, the train arrived at the station, everyone got out, said their final farewells, and Harry started making his way over to the Muggle side of the platform, pausing to give Hermione and Daphne one final hug.

"Stay safe, Harry," Hermione said.

Daphne nodded too. "We'll miss you."

Harry smiled back. "I know. I'll make sure to keep in contact when I can, but I am going to be really busy." He looked around quickly before continuing. "Because — let's face it — I've got some serious pocket money to make this summer."

— DP & SW: TFoP —

John Potter stared.

The hall was dimly lit. Shelves reached up the sides to touch the very ceiling, which seemed high enough, and vast enough, to play quidditch under. On every shelf, glass orbs sat by the thousand, each one containing swirly mist.

"Don't touch anything, John," his mum said, marching him along the shelves. At his side, his father looked similarly grim.

He licked his lips nervously. This certainly hadn't happened in the last timeline. "Mum? Where are we?"

"Never you mind."

John continued to follow his parents. The moment he'd gotten off the Hogwarts Express, both of them had fretted over him as normal after one of his brushes with trouble, and then immediately brought him here. He had no idea where here was or what they were doing. All he knew was that they were somewhere in the ministry.

They stopped by a shelf that looked just like any other.

His mum peered at the labels under the glass orbs. "This is the one, but… Oh, for pity's sake!"

His dad leaned over and read it too. "Oh."

John just had time to glance at the sign and read:

S.P.T to A.P.W.B.D

Dark Lord

Jonathan Sirius Potter

Harry James Potter

Lady Lily Potter

Lord James Potter

And before he could ask again what this was all about, his father's hand clutched the sphere and plucked it clean off the shelf. "Right," he said, "let's get out of here — sorry, Son — looks like we didn't need your help, after all."

As they left, John looked over his shoulder at the massive room with the glass orbs. Well, that had been odd.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

"Ready?" Lord James Potter held the prophecy orb with slightly clammy hands.

Opposite him, on the other side of his private office's small table, his wife sat with a determined look on her face. "Do it."

James Potter took his wand and prodded a tiny amount of magic into the prophecy orb. Suddenly, a voice that wouldn't sound out of place in the St Mungo's long term mind healing ward echoed all around the office.

The one with the power to vanquish the dark lord approaches,

Born to those who have thrice defied him,

Born as the seventh month dies,

Born as one half of a greater whole,

Born as the brother to the one who was not chosen,

And the one who was not chosen will know not those who thrice defied him…

— Will grow up separate and singled out by all —

— Barring the weight of his fate alone —

Or the one who was not chosen will fall to darkness and know not the joy of life,

But if those who thrice defied him learn these of words spoken,

Then the one who was not chosen shall vanquish the vanquisher of the dark lord,

And the world be stripped of magic,

Only those who thrice defied him can control the one who was not chosen,

And save the world of magic from a fate most grim.

James Potter felt numb as the last words finished.

Opposite him, his normally warm faced Lily was shock white. "But if those who thrice defied him learn of these words spoken…"

James Potter felt sick. He put his head in his hands and let the orb roll across the table to his wife. "I think we just massively fucked up."

— DP & SW: TFoP —

In his Hogwarts office, Dumbledore smiled a grim smile, staring hard at a misty glass orb in his hand. His contact at the department of prophecies had just told him that the Potter's had been and left with a prophecy orb. There was only one possible orb they could have picked up — the more convenient orb he'd left there in place of the real prophecy — the real prophecy, which he currently held.

The floo flared green and he quickly pocketed the true prophecy.

"Headmaster?" James Potter's worried face pocked out of the floo.

He adopted his best grandfatherly expression. "Yes, James?"

"I, er… I think we owe you a bit of an apology for our behaviour. I think we might have just made a huge mistake."

— DP & SW: TFoP —

Lily Potter knocked on the front door of Privet Drive.

Behind her stood James and Dumbledore.

The door opened and Petunia stuck her head out. "You!" She made to slam the door, but Lily stuck her foot in it.

"Tuney, please. We just need to talk to Harry."

"He's not here."

She frowned. "Where is he?"

"I don't know. Out for the day."

Behind her, Dumbledore coughed. "Lily, I'm afraid she's lying."

James made a small intake of breath.

Lily narrowed her eyes, still with her foot in the door. "Where — is — he?"

"I told you, I don't know."

Dumbledore stepped up to her side. "Lily? If I may?"

She hesitated, but then nodded.

The door easily swung open and Dumbledore marched in and stared deeply into Petunia's startled eyes.

Lily watched the old man's face whiten. "Dear, Merlin."

— DP & SW: TFoP —

Images flew through Dumbledore's mind.

Harry smiled up at him/Petunia. "Should be okay now, Auntie. I'll be back at the end of Summer."

The scene shifted.

He/Petunia looked down at a one year younger Harry Potter. 'Business…? What does a little freak like you have that could interest us?'

"Maybe I should come in and we can talk about it, rather than right here on your doorstep where I'm sure all the neighbours will be very interested."

The scene shifted.

"Fifteen-thousand, Uncle." Harry reached into a bag and slapped down a pile of muggle money. "And another fifteen-thousand over the next seven years, or until I reach my majority as recognised by my fellow freaks, whichever comes first."

Vernon's face twisted into a greedy smile.

Harry summoned the pile back from his uncle's hand.

He/Petunia gasped.

"But," Harry continued, "only if I've lived here for the last ten years."

The scene shifted again.

Vernon leaned away from him/Petunia. "Okay, okay." He turned back to Harry. "So, this money comes from your freakish parents?"

"Good god, no. It's them I don't want knowing where I've been. They'd probably throw a fit and do a whole bunch of freakish things to you and your house."

Vernon's eyes bulged.

Harry continued. "Let's just say the money comes from a wealthy patron who has been taking care of me, and who doesn't wish his name floated around all over the place."

The scene shifted again.

"Please, Uncle Vernon!" A much younger Harry cried while getting whipped with a belt.

"We will not tolerate your freakishness!" Vernon bellowed.

The scene shifted again.

He/Petunia shoved the young Harry into a cupboard and locked the door. "And don't think you're coming out of there till Monday!"

Scene after scene after scene. Dumbledore stumbled backwards. Oh no. Shock reeled through him. It was like Tom Riddle all over again — it was Tom Riddle, but even worse. Harry hadn't even lived here for four years!

"Headmaster?"

He vaguely heard someone calling to him, but he couldn't think of anything else right now. Revelation after revelation piled up in his head. Harry had a 'wealthy patron' who didn't want his name to be known. Given everything that had happened there was only one contender for that position. Lord Slytherin. Harry had known Lord Slytherin for almost four years.

Another realisation hit him like a hundred banishing charms. Lord Slytherin had heard the real prophecy. But if he'd known Harry for three years before he came to Hogwarts… had he realised that Harry was the true subject of the prophecy? Dumbledore started to sweat. Everything had been a setup. This entire year. Nothing had been real. Harry's isolation, his gradual winning of friends and respect, his argument with Lord Slytherin over Miss Greengrass, the trial, it was ALL fake!

"Dumbledore!"

He started, looking around at Lily and James who were now both in the house, wands out and alert. Off to the side, Petunia had sat down in a chair, shaking with fear, anger, and impotence.

"Dumbledore, what is it?"

"James, Lily," his voice shook. "I would seem that Harry has been abducted—"

"WHAT!"

"—possibly of his own free will, and probably by Lord Slytherin."

James and Lily's faces had both gone white.

"Amelia!" James declared, turning to the door. "And Sirius!"

"James, wait!" Dumbledore reached out his hands imploringly. "Just think for a moment first. We have no evidence. Yes, we will find him, but it does us no good to rush off without thinking first."

"So, what do we do? Now that we know about the P word, we have to get him back!"

"Well, Harry will need to come back to Hogwarts, so if the worst happens we'll know where he is then. There will be ample opportunities for you to 'get control' of him. And until then we have eight weeks to try and uncover—"

Dumbledore was suddenly interrupted when an owl swooped into the room and dropped an envelope on his head. Sighing with the accumulated events of the week, he opened the letter, and read.

Dear Mister Albus Dumbledore,

We regret to inform you that we have considered your position as Headmaster at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and have decided not to renew your contract. We're sure that your many years of service…

The words rambled on and on, but Dumbledore didn't see them.

Slytherin had somehow gotten a majority vote from the board to oust him — on a board he thought he had rock-solid control of — and just when he most needed not to be away from the school. Attack piling on attack, deception piling on deception. Was there nothing that man wasn't capable of?

He collapsed into the chintzy arm chair of the muggle sitting room and put his face in his hands, feeling the weight of total defeat settle on his shoulders, heavier than the chains he'd tried and failed to leash Harry Potter with. What was he going to do now?

—End of Chapter Thirty-three —

— End of Book Two —