HP vs Love (Pt 3)

I tripped on my way outside of the pensieve, landing in a crumpled heap on the floor. I was viciously pleased when Dumbledore did the same, even if it was on me.

“Quite alright, my boy?” Dumbledore asked, standing and holding out a withered hand.

I grabbed the edge of his desk to haul myself up. “Fine. I was simply examining the floor for defects and found it woefully inadequate.”

Dumbledore’s eyes twinkled as I slumped into a chair, checking my robes for dirt. I found myself dizzy in ways unexplained by magical travel. We’d gone back to a particular class during my first time at Hogwarts, but that wasn’t how I remembered that conversation at all.

Which led to the question: Was my memory faulty? Had someone obliviated me? Or oblivated Slughorn? I’m pretty sure I would recall if I had done that…Would I?

Also, what was that white fog? Potions fumes? I said, “Sir, I know the dungeons have always had ventilation problems, but was it really that bad back then?”

Dumbledore said, “That wasn’t normal smoke, I’m afraid. It’s proof of memory tampering.”

“Who did it?” I asked. “Voldemort? A Death Eater? You? Professor –”

“He did it to himself, out of shame,” Dumbledore said. “Whatever happened in that conversation has laid very heavily on Horace’s conscience, very heavily indeed. It may be the very information we require to destroy Lord Voldemort.”

I nodded.

“I need you to get that memory for me, Harry,” Dumbledore said gravely.

It’s important to remember that Dumbledore only calls people to his office when he wants to manipulate them into doing something for him. Or to manipulate them into learning some sort of moral lesson. Sometimes both.

It had been nearly a day since we first attempted to floo into Hogwarts.

Lucius had successfully made it through, but the green fire merely fizzled when Sirius tried to follow him. My right-hand man’s robes still occasionally released puffs of smoke as we anxiously waited by the fireplace.

“Whaddaya bet he got captured and gave us all up?” Sirius said.

“Shut up, Black,” Rodolphus Lestrange growled at him.

“Oh, come on. This is _Lucy _we’re talking about. I bet he told them everything the moment they pointed a wand at him.”

It seemed that, once again, Sirius Black had said what we were all thinking. I sighed heavily. “Well, Rookwood and Hagrid are watching the front door, so we’re prepared if Dumbledore tries to break in. I presume the wards haven’t alerted you of anything?”

Sirius grinned, no doubt thrilled to present me with good news. “Nope.”

“I just don’t understand how this happened. The plan was foolproof!” I said.

“I bet Bellatrix warned them,” Sirius said.

Rodolphus sneered at him. “She’s been dead longer than we’ve been planning this.”

“Hey, she knew Trelawney,” Sirius said. “Unless you’re doubting our prophetess?”

“No, of course not,” he muttered.

Earlier, I had ventured to the third floor, where the air is thick with exotic perfumes and ancient magic. There, I had found Trelawney hunched over a table. Her nose was half-flattened against her crystal ball, her eyes squeezed shut to better see with her third eye. While she had no clear visions of Lucius’s whereabouts, or his likely betrayal, she insisted that we remain at Grimmauld Place. It was, she told me, our only hope.

I was torn from my musings as the fireplace roared to life. A robed figure stepped calmly from the green flames.

“Good evening, my lord, my fellow Death Eaters, Mutt,” Severus said, nodding to each of us in turn but reserving a sneer for Sirius.

“What in Merlin’s name happened?” I snapped.

“Apparently, an uninvited guest flooing into the Slytherin common room sends the entire castle into lockdown,” Severus said. “We were stuck there for hours.”

I frowned. “Has Lucius been captured, then?”

“No, my lord. When Dumbledore arrived to interrogate him, Lucius claimed that he was doing a surprise inspection for the Board of Governors. There was some suspicion when it turned out that the Board had not been aware of this, but he reminded us all that he did say it was a surprise,” Severus drawled.

“That’s Lucius. He’s always been good at slithering out of trouble,” Sirius said.

“Indeed. Now, why is Lucius not reporting his failure to me personally?” I stroked my wand, causing the entire group to shudder, save Sirius. There is a reason he’s my right-hand man, after all.

Severus said, “He was invited to dinner, and Dumbledore expects him to perform a slightly less surprising inspection of the school before he leaves.”

“How unfortunate,” I muttered.

“In happier news,” Severus said, “Potter nearly got himself killed doing some sort of Dark ritual.”

It had been fifty-seven years since I’d visited the Hospital Wing, but it hadn’t changed much. The sickly smell of potions filled the air, mingling with the citrus scent left by years of heavy cleaning charms. The bed was slightly too hard, to subtly discourage students from lingering, and, even through the bandages, I could still see its painfully white walls.

I heard Hermione lean towards me from her perch in the visitor’s chair. “What have you learned today?”

“There’s a reason wizards wear glasses. Eyes are complicated,” I said.

She snorted. “True. What else?”

“Don’t just read the summary of a ritual in the book. There might be warnings or better instructions later on,” I said.

“What else?”

I frowned. “I can’t think of anything else. I’m pretty sure those are the only things I learned from this experience.”

“How about: Don’t perform an untested ritual in the middle of a school-wide lockdown? Honestly, Harry, what were you thinking?!”

I shrugged. “I didn’t want to be disturbed. It’s not like I was invisible this time.”

“Madame Pomfrey couldn’t get to you for hours,” Hermione said. “You could have died.”

“Probably not died,” I said. “Lost my eyes, maybe, but then I could just get better ones. Like Moody’s.”

“You are not getting fake, magical eyes.”

I chuckled. “Well, obviously not now. The ritual didn’t go that badly.”

Hermione was silent for a time, probably reading. She does that a lot. “Harry, what was wrong with your old eyes?”

“Well, I did need glasses, and I wanted night vision.”

“Why do you need night vision? You don’t even do anything at night.”

“Of course not. Without night vision, that would be stupid,” I said.

I heard a soft smacking sound, likely Hermione’s palm striking her forehead.

I added, “Also, I thought the whole slitted-pupil thing would look cool.”

“You thought…” – Hermione took a long, deep breath – “It doesn’t, Harry. It’s creepy.”

“Really? I thought you liked cats,” I said.

A soft thump told me that she had leaned backwards into her chair, away from my bed. “This is ridiculous. It’s not like your normal eyes aren’t weird enough!”

“I’ve told you! Red is a perfectly normal color for wizards.”

“Do you really expect me to believe that? No one else has red irises, Harry.”

“You don’t know everyone. There’s a Fourth-Year Slytherin girl. Ask Ginevra. She knows.”

She said, “Even Luna thinks they’re odd. She doesn’t think that about anything!”

“It’s a very rare trait, like Parseltongue,” I said. “It only appears in particularly pure lines –”

“Your mother was a Muggleborn,” Hermione said. I could sense her eyes rolling.

“You take that back!” I cried, lurching forward to point my wand in her general direction.

Hermione said, “Oh, come on. You’ve been complaining about your Muggle Aunt for years.”

“Squibs happen. Sometimes they squibble back. For instance, the Evans family are descendants of Merlin’s third daughter, who was disowned for marrying a halfblood.”

Hermione groaned.

“If I’m not a descendant of Merlin,” I continued, proudly tapping my chest with my wand, “then how did I kill Voldemort as a baby?”

After a long pause, Hermione asked, “Harry, are you in a lot of pain or something?”

“There is some stinging while the optic nerve tries to reconnect,” I said.

“Good,” she said. “Usually your lies are better than this. No one is gullible enough to believe this tripe.”

I smirked. “You don’t talk to Slytherins much, do you?”

“I hardly think the house of the cunning would –”

I shook my head. “You’re looking at this like a Muggleborn. The Slytherins think that blood matters and know that I’m amazing at magic. So, I’ve given them two choices: They can either believe my ridiculous story, or they can accept that a half-blood is just innately better at them in terms of everything, fundamentally changing their worldview. Which choice do you think they pick every time?”

“That actually makes a scary amount of sense. But, seriously, what is wrong with your eyes?”

She was never letting this go. I exclaimed, “Fine! Dumbledore thinks that it’s because my mother loved me a lot. I’m pretty sure that’s his way of saying that she dabbled in blood magic.”

The stack of cards and candies left by my hospital bed didn’t surprise me. I was the most powerful student at Hogwarts, a genius, and the Boy-Who-Lived. Further, I would likely achieve professorship soon enough to teach the younger years. Attempts to curry favor were to be expected.

But one of the gifts lay unsigned: A box of chocolates wrapped in a bow.

Lounging on my bed in the Gryffindor dormitory, I plucked a chocolate from the box and examined it. It was homemade, certainly, and it’s easy enough to pour some potion in the mixing bowl. A quick sniff revealed a cloying scent, though that could be the result of too much sugar, and another round of detection spells revealed the same result as before: It had been tampered with.

I should have thrown it out days ago, but curiosity stayed my hand. Was it a love potion, a prank item from the Weasley twins, or another assassination attempt?

The poison-detecting spells only told me that something was there. But that gave no insight into who was attacking me. Until I knew that, I couldn’t retaliate.

I was tempted to take a bite of the chocolate just to find out. Thankfully, I have people for that.

“Ron, taste these for poison.”

The redhead jumped a bit in surprise, whipping his head towards me with a startled, “What?”

“Just kidding,” I assured him.

He frowned. “Uh, mate, you’re doing that thing where you say you’re kidding, but then you get this smug look on your face that makes me pretty sure you aren’t.”

I glared at him. “Excuse me for trying to be nice. All I wanted to do was offer you chocolate, but then you doubted me.”

Ron’s eyes glazed over at the mention of chocolate. His mind is incapable of keeping track of two things at once, and food will always be his priority.

With a triumphant smirk, I continued, “Fortunately for you, I am a kind and generous master. Would you like some chocolate?”

In retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have let him eat the entire box.

“Well, Ron’s managed to overdose on love potion,” I declared, descending the Boys’ staircase.

Hermione’s eyes widened, and she scrambled towards her bag in search of her Potions’ textbook. “Will he be alright?”

I slumped into the nearest chair. “He’ll be fine. We’ll be miserable.”

Hermione flipped open her book, asking, “Do you know what kind of potion?”

“Hard to tell. It was fairly fast-acting. Definitely not Amortentia. Wrong scent,” I said. “We lucked out, really. At least he can’t embarrass himself, this way.”

Hermione glanced up from her book. “What do you mean?”

“Between the ridiculous amount of potions in his system and all the chocolate he ate, he can’t stand. Of course, I tied him down to be sure. We should probably induce vomiting, soon, if he hasn’t already.”

“W-what?” Hermione’s voice squeaked. Huh. I’d never taken her for the squeamish type. “Harry, we should probably take him to the Hospital Wing –”

I shook my head. “Ron can’t run to the Hospital Wing every time something happens. He’s there enough because of his lycanthropy.”

“Ron is not a werewolf,” Hermione said, studying a page on bezoars.

“He’ll never accept himself if you keep making excuses for him.”

“We can ask Slughorn –”

I shook my head. “He’ll demand payment. Trust me, you don’t want to owe him.”

She scowled at me. “We can buy an antidote, then!”

I stared at her in horror. “Ron can’t afford that!”

“We’re the ones who’ll be paying,” she said.

I felt the familiar sting of betrayal. “I finally discover my family fortune, and the Weasleys are already trying to steal it. I always knew this would happen, but I didn’t expect it so soon.”

“Harry, we can’t just let him sit up there in love with some love potion- brewing witch!”

“Yes we can.”

Hermione gaped at me in a very Weasley fashion.

I sighed. “Hermione, look. We can’t just bail Ron out every time he eats something he shouldn’t. This is the only way he’ll build up an immunity.”

“I’m fairly certain there’s no such thing as an immunity to love potions,” Hermione said.

“Of course there is,” I said. “You just tie yourself up and throw up every time it happens. Eventually, you become nauseous the second you feel the effects of a love potion.”

Hermione’s lips pursed, and her eyes grew distant as if solving a complex Arithmancy equation. “So…anytime you feel love, then?”

I shrugged. “I guess. Isn’t it different when a potion causes it?”

“I’m not sure,” Hermione said, appearing deeply concerned at her lack of knowledge.

Meanwhile, Ron’s wailing had apparently overpowered my Silencing Charm.

“Romilda Vane!” he cried. It could have been worse, I suppose. At least he wasn’t in love with his sister.

“We’ll have to watch him in shifts to make sure he doesn’t accidentally kill himself. There’s also a key period about six hours in when he’s both obsessed enough to attempt escape and lucid enough to succeed. We should probably double up on that shift.”

Hermione was silent for a few moments, no doubt memorizing my instructions, before sighing and heading towards the Boys’ Dormitory.

Over her shoulder, she said, “Right. I’m taking him to the Hospital Wing.”

I stood upon my bed, smiling at the three students gathered below me.

“Welcome to this emergency meeting of the Junior Order of the Phoenix. Not many of you could make it, so let’s keep this short. Bellatrix is definitely dead, right?”

“Yup!” Ginevra chirped. “Our spies were really upset about it.”

“No surprise, there,” Neville said. “After all, Rodolphus and Bellatrix were so in love. So very in love.”

“At least their child lives on as a symbol of what’s been lost,” Luna said happily.

I blinked. “Wait, they had a kid? Why was I not informed of this?”

“It’s a secret. The people in on it probably wanted to spare your feelings,” she said. “You have Bellatrix’s eyes, you know.”

“Luna, I am not the lovechild of Bellatrix and Rodolphus Lestrange,” I said slowly. “I’m pretty sure we would have noticed that before. Wouldn’t we have?”

“Definitely!” Ginevra said.

Neville said, “Don’t you have something to say. About this situation. And how odd it is.”

I suddenly remembered the purpose of today’s meeting and returned to our script. “Oh. Yes, it’s very strange that Voldemort hasn’t caught our other spies yet.”

Ginevra said, “Especially since they’re our old spy’s husband and brother-in- law. Does he really think they hadn’t notice that she’d switched sides?”

“Well, Dumbledore always said that Voldemort doesn’t understand basic human relationships,” I mused. “Also, he’s an idiot.”

At that moment, I slammed my head against the bedpost as hard as I could.

Well, it wasn’t me, exactly. It was Voldemort. I could feel the faint echoes of his fury as he retreated from my head.

“You have done well,” I said, rubbing at my forehead. “I am mildly grateful to you all for gathering on such short notice.”

“Anytime,” Neville said, grinning. I feared that his bloodthirstiness would soon rival Hermione’s.

Luna giggled. “I was just following the Wrackspurts.”

“I’ll do anything for you,” Ginevra said. Bellatrix was dead, but it seemed that her legacy lived on.

“We probably shouldn’t tell Hermione about this,” I said. “She’ll only get upset, and she’s already busy planning vengeance for Ron.”

Dumbledore stood as I entered his office, his sleeve swooshing down to cover his blackened hand. Shrugging the invisibility cloak off of my shoulders, I held up a silvery vial.

Dumbledore said, “I didn’t expect you so soon, my boy. Surely Horace didn’t part with his memories easily.”

Dumbledore was right. The manipulation required to convince Slughorn would take far too much time and effort to be worth the trouble. So I’d decided to use my memory of the conversation.

“I am his favorite student,” I said. “Although you probably shouldn’t mention this to him. I had to obliviate him of the incident.”

Dumbledore sighed, clearly disappointed that I was operating independently of his orders. “Was that truly necessary?”

“It was for his own protection,” I said airily, wandering over to the pensieve and uncorking the vial.

We leaned forward, tumbling deep into the basin before thudding onto the floor of the Potions’ classroom. Slughorn was busy telling me that I would make a great Minister of Magic (still true). The man paused thoughtfully when I mentioned the word, Horcrux. “That’s very Dark stuff, Tom. Very Dark.”

“That’s why I asked you about it,” my younger self said.

I meant to imply that he was a knowledgeable and influential pureblood. Depending on the definition he was using, however, he might have translated it to mean something along the lines of: I think you enjoy torturing small animals in your spare time.

Of course, that made no sense in context, so I presume he understood. If he didn’t, he probably would have refuted the statement.

“…A Horcrux is the word used for an object in which a person has concealed part of their soul,” Slughorn prattled on.

My younger self frowned. “I don’t quite understand how that works, though, sir.”

“Well, you split your soul, you see –”

“No, I understand the mechanics. I meant to say: What is a soul?”

Dumbledore appeared deeply troubled, and Slughorn laughed weakly. “Surely you know what a soul is, Tom.”

Irritation colored Tom Riddle’s tone. “I understand the concept, sir. But this isn’t some vague idea of your mind or emotions or anything like that. It’s a physical object. You can cut it.”

“It’s more of a tear,” Slughorn said.

He nodded. “Tear it, then. So, does it go perfectly in half every time? Or does just a sliver come off? How big is the soul? Let’s say you make, I don’t know, ten Horcruxes.”

“Ten!” Slughorn exclaimed.

Tom continued, “At what point would you run out of soul? What if more of your soul is in the objects than in you? Can you walk around with nearly no soul? Does that have negative consequences?”

I’d actually learned the answer to that last one. The Horcrux-making process isn’t harmful at all. In fact, it hurt less every time, so it probably makes you better.

Slughorn chortled. “The only people who make Horcruxes are insane Dark Lords. No one’s researched this, Tom.”

My younger self softly said, “What a pity.”

Dumbledore and I fell upwards, through the ceiling and back into his office. He turned to me, asking, “Do you understand what you must do?”

“I need to make Horcruxes of my own,” I said firmly.

Dumbledore frowned, reaching over to stroke Fawkes. “Ah, no, I’m afraid not.”

I said, “Are you sure? Slughorn really sold me on it.”

“Quite sure, my boy. You see, Voldemort’s Horcruxes are what’s kept him alive all these years” – Dumbledore scowled – “He may have as many as ten.”

“No he doesn’t,” I said. After a moment, I rephrased. “I mean: NO! I don’t believe it.”

“As much as I wish to think the same, Voldemort has always been a twisted man,” Dumbledore said. “If you’ll excuse me, I have much to think on, and, if you hurry, you might be on time for Defense Against the Dark Arts.”

I strolled towards the door, looking forward to a peaceful hour in the Gryffindor common room.

Lucius bowed to me before entering the sitting room. He nodded coolly to Severus and Sirius, as well, then said, “I have a new plan, my lord.”

Sirius grinned. “Does this one suck, too?”

“My plans do not suck,” Lucius hissed, shaking his silver fist at the man.

“To be fair, that flooing idea was atrocious,” I said.

Lucius looked as if he had just sucked on a lemon. He never was any good with constructive criticism. “I assure you, this one is better.”

“Didja check it with Trelawney?” Sirius asked.

“Not yet,” Lucius said.

“Well, what are you waiting for? Unless you want to waste our lord’s time with a plan that’s doomed to failure.”

Lucius stormed away, glaring at anyone who dared to look at him. Severus turned to Sirius, drawling, “You haven’t changed in the slightest, Black. Still the same impudent, attention-seeking, bullying…”

Severus trailed off as Sirius bowed repeatedly to an imaginary audience. A few minutes later, he straightened, grinning. “Yup! That’s me. Sirius Black, at your service.”

“I hate you,” Severus said. Sirius threw an arm around his shoulder, ruffling the other man’s hair. Severus’s wand snapped into his hand.

“Now, may I explain my plan?” Lucius asked from the doorway.

Sirius let go of Snape, playfully shoving him forward. “I dunno. That seemed awfully fast. I bet you didn’t talk to Trelawney, at all. What do you think, Snape?”

“One of these days, I will kill you in your sleep,” Severus said.

“So, you agree with me, then,” Sirius said.

Lucius said, “I moved quickly because I didn’t have to explain anything to her. She already knew and approved. Unless you’re doubting our seer, Black?”

Sirius put up his hands in a gesture of surrender. “No, never. That woman’s a genius.”

“My lord?” Lucius implored, turning towards me.

I really did want the man to redeem himself after his earlier failures. He was such a good minion. With a thin, lipless smile, I said, “Go ahead, Lucius.”

“I was speaking with the Board of Governors. It seems there’s been a sudden drop in academic performance. Several parents have expressed concern. Therefore, I suggested that we choose a day to allow parents into the school. That way, they can see their children and discuss their issues with his or her head of house.”

“I fail to see how this is relevant to our plans to kidnap Harry Potter,” Severus said.

“I find it completely obvious,” I announced. “Continue, Lucius, for Severus’s sake.”

Lucius smiled weakly. “Of course, my lord. Many of your Death Eaters have children in Hogwarts. It would be perfectly reasonable for them to visit.”

“That’s brilliant!” I declared. “We can even send in Sirius Black.”

“Uh, how’s that work?” Sirius asked.

“You are Harry Potter’s godfather. Or was I misinformed of this?” I asked, sending a warning glare in Lucius’s direction.

“Well, yeah, but I’m pretty sure somebody else is taking care of him, now.”

“You would think that, but you would be wrong,” Severus drawled.

Sirius said, “Oh, come on. They must have given him to Remus.”

Severus said, “He’s a werewolf.”

“Alice Longbottom was his godmother –”

“Tortured into insanity by Bellatrix Lestrange.”

“Right. She always did like that sort of thing,” Sirius muttered. “What about the rest of the Potters?”

“They disappeared,” Severus said. “It was very mysterious.”

“Probably my fault,” I admitted.

Sirius set his mouth in a firm line. “Dumbledore.”

“Pawned the boy off on Muggles.”

Sirius wrinkled his nose. “Oh, he’s one of those wizards. Who were the Muggles?”

“Lily’s sister and her family,” Severus said.

“That bint?” Sirius barked. “He’d have been better off with you.”

Severus raised an eyebrow. “I am a Death Eater.”

“And a werewolf,” Lucius added. “I think we’ve all heard the rumors.”

“Clearly, Sirius has the best claim to Potter,” I said. “Therefore, it wouldn’t be strange at all for him to go in with the other parents.”

“Totally normal,” Sirius agreed.

Lucius’s eye twitched. “My lord –”

“Leave me, Lucius,” I said, waving the blond away. “I’m scheming.”

I’d successfully avoided the Hospital Wing for decades, yet there I was mere days after my last visit. I sighed, making my way over to the bed where Ron was clutching a small mountain of letters to his chest. He stopped glaring at Hermione when he caught sight of me.

“Harry!” Ron cried. “Harry, Harry, Harry! You…you gotta help me, mate. You have to take these letters to Romilda Vane.”

I sneered at him. “I’m not your servant. Have Hermione do it.”

“I don’t trust her. She burned the last ones. I think she’s jealous,” he said.

I nodded. “She’s probably still upset about Draco, though I can’t say I understand the attraction. The boy’s a terrible coward. He hasn’t attempted _any _of my trials.”

“I am not attracted to him. I never was.” Hermione believes that, if she says something enough times, it will suddenly be true.

“So, so, you’ll help me?” Ron asked. Before I could respond, he gushed, “You are the best. My best mate. These are all for my Romillie, ‘cept this one. It’s for Remus.”

Hermione frowned, snatching the letter over Ron’s protests. “Professor Lupin?”

“His life is so haaaaard,” Ron whined. “You should let him join your army. I think he’d like that.”

Hermione groaned. “I don’t have an army.”

I smirked. “Do you spend all of your time in denial, or just most of it?”

“Come on,” she said with a roll of her eyes. “We have letters to deliver.”

As we left the Hospital Wing’s doorway, Hermione set my pile of letters ablaze. I yelped, dropping them to the floor as she said, “I hope he’s better by the time his parents visit.”

“His parents?” I asked.

“For the parent-teacher conferences, of course,” Hermione said primly.

“Right, I think I heard about that,” I said.

“Not many Gryffindor parents are coming. It’s mostly Slytherins.”

“I’m not surprised,” I said. “I hear they still don’t have any furniture.”

“Apparently, some idiot put Sirius Black’s name up as a joke,” she said, lips pursed in disapproval.

“Speaking of idiots, I didn’t expect Ron to still be so out of it. I thought Pomfrey was going to give him the antidote.”

Hermione’s voice was flat. “She did.”

I winced. “Oh.”

Carrying Ron’s letter to Lupin towards the Owlery, she said. “Honestly, how much love potion did Vane give him?”

The boat slid soundlessly across the lake, not even a ripple left in its path. I peered down at its Inferi inhabitants, looking for anyone I recognized, and exclaimed happily upon spotting Dorcas Meadows. Sitting across from me, Dumbledore seemed to be directing an imaginary symphony with his blackened hand.

“Headmaster?” I said. “I’m glad you took me on this journey and hope that you will continue to do so for all subsequent Horcrux-gathering missions, but…Don’t you have parent-teacher conferences today?”

Dumbledore chuckled. “No, no, parents would only come to me if they had a problem with one of the professors. I have the greatest confidence that such a thing won’t be necessary.”

I raised an eyebrow. “So, you’re avoiding all the complaints about Snape, then?”

“Dear boy, I’m hunting Horcruxes. I dare say this is the more pressing concern,” Dumbledore said. I sometimes wonder why I am the only person who notices his selfish manipulations.

“You could have done this tomorrow,” I pointed out.

“Perhaps, but then you would have missed class.”

“Or yesterday.”

“And rob you of a well-earned weekend?” he asked, shaking his head dramatically.

We disembarked and approached a potion-filled basin at the island’s center.

Dumbledore looked at me gravely. “I’m afraid that this potion cannot be banished or physically removed. The only way to get to the locket inside is to drink it.”

“I am not doing that!” I shouted, scrambling towards the safety of the Inferi-infested lake.

“Of course not,” Dumbledore assured me with a cold smile. “I am the one who shall drink it. I suspect it will be terribly painful, possibly deadly. You may even have to force-feed me, in the end –”

“Woah, woah, woah,” I said, waving my wand around to get his attention. “That seems pretty extreme.”

I was not going be the sole witness to Albus Dumbledore’s mysterious death. That would raise all sorts of suspicions, and then no one would let me work with children.

“It’s a ritual,” Dumbledore said. “To take a part of Voldemort’s being, I must give a part of mine.”

“Voldemort’s paranoid, though. He probably wouldn’t want to poison someone to death every time he checked on his Horcrux, right?”

Dumbledore nodded slowly. “I suppose.”

“So, he probably put in a back door. A password or something. In Parseltongue.”

I stepped forward, hissing, “Slytherin. Slither out.”

It may seem cheesy, but that’s actually the most complicated pun you can make in Parseltongue.

Dumbledore seemed surprised (almost certainly a ruse) as the emerald potion drained from the basin. “Harry, how did you know the password?”

“There are only three syllables in Parseltongue. It’s mostly a matter of context and intonation.”

“You’re a Parselmouth, then?” he said.

“Yeees,” I said slowly.

Dumbledore leaned forward, peering into my eyes atop his half-moon glasses. “Harry, were you the Heir of Slytherin?”

“No!” I snapped. “I don’t know why everyone thinks that.”

“It’s alright if you were. No one was hurt, and you’ve been a paragon of the Light ever since,” he said.

“I’m not the Heir,” I grumbled, snatching the locket from the now-empty basin.

I looped it around my neck as we rode silently back across the lake. Something bothered me, however. The balance was off, too light and slightly lopsided, possibly a result of its prolonged exposure to the poisonous potion, but still…

I opened the locket, and a taunting note fell out.

Elsewhere, Lord Voldemort felt a sudden and inexplicable flash of rage.

“You must look at the bright side, my boy.”

I glared at him.

Dumbledore cheerfully continued, “At least Voldemort does not possess the locket.”

That was half of the problem. Voldemort should have the locket, and, by Voldemort, I mean its rightful owner: Me.

“And I didn’t drink a mysterious yet certainly dangerous potion to retrieve a mere decoy.”

I threw the locket at him, and the wizard happily pocketed it.

We came upon the gates of Hogwarts, which were badly dented and hung half- open. The grounds were torn up, and several trees had been slashed with a sword. Families were still hanging around, trading tearful goodbyes or nursing minor wounds. Among them were Ron (telling his family all about the love of his life), Ginevra (whose hair was several inches shorter than earlier that day), and Neville (with a bloody sword slung across his shoulders).

Luna was trying to balance on one foot, but, when she spotted me, her enthusiastic wave sent her tumbling to the grass. “Hello, Harry.”

“Honestly, I leave the grounds for one day and everything ends up destroyed. What in Merlin’s name happened?”

“WHAT IN MERLIN’S NAME HAPPENED?” I roared, glaring at my bedraggled group of Death Eaters.

Sirius Black shoved Lucius forward, natural since it was his foolish plan that had led to this mess. “My lord, I’m afraid that someone recognized Sirius Black and mobilized an attack.”

“Can’t imagine why. He’s been on the conference list for some time,” Severus drawled.

“It turns out that several members of the Order of the Phoenix have children at the school and were battle-ready,” Lucius said.

“Some kid showed up with the Sword of Gryffindor, which was bloody awesome,” Sirius added.

“I, for one, was shocked,” Severus said. “Longbottom is failing Defense Against the Dark Arts.”

Fenrir Greyback said, “Then there was some Weasley babbling about Werewolf Rights.”

“Mr. Weasley is well known for his idiocy,” Severus said.

“He had some pretty good points, actually. I tried to turn him, but he got me with a stunner,” Fenrir said, rubbing his still-frozen arm.

“That was crazy,” Goyle said. “That Romilda Vane girl sure is lucky.”

“I dunno what that blonde chick was doing, but we still haven’t found Rookwood,” Sirius said.

“…and, then, it turned out that Potter had left on some sort of field trip, so we retreated,” Lucius finished.

“I see,” I murmured, stroking Slytherin’s locket. Earlier, I’d had a sudden urge to check on the Horcrux, only to nearly trip over its pedestal on the way out the door.

I asked, “Sirius, is there any particular reason this locket was sitting in your parlor?”

My right-hand man shrugged. “Maybe you gave it to me for safekeeping?”

The locket jostled slightly at my nod, then settled warmly against my chest. “Right. That does seem like something I would do.”

“…fifty points to Luna Lovegood. For the most exquisite haircut I’ve seen since my childhood, fifty points to Ginevra Weasley. For identifying Sirius Black and dueling him to a standstill, fifty points to Hermione Granger…”

Apparently, the latest battle had created quite a few heroes. Dumbledore had been going on for twenty minutes. His skin was grey, his eyes dull, yet still he spoke. The students were whispering among themselves, and even the castle was beginning to grow anxious, if the dancing silverware was any indication.

“…For Gryffindor bravery, quick feet, and sharp wit, fifty points to Neville Longbottom…”

The students laughed, clapping Neville on the back. I’m not sure why. Dumbledore was clearly insulting him.

“…For a stunning performance, fifty points to Ronald Weasley. Finally –”

A loud cheer greeted this statement, and Dumbledore paused until it quieted. “For demonstrating foreign language proficiency in a poisonous situation, fifty points to Harry Potter. It appears that Gryffindor has won the Cup. Congratulations to Gryffindor and to everyone who fought in this battle. Now, I can hear your stomachs rumbling from here. So, without further ado –”

“May I speak, Headmaster?” I said, standing up to survey the disappointed crowd.

Dumbledore sighed. “Mr. Potter, you no longer have the authority to add or remove points.”

“That’s fine,” I said with a negligent wave of my wand. I turned to the crowd. “Many of you fought bravely, yesterday. Many more of you hid like firsties, most especially the firsties. Clearly, the Dark Lord is a dangerous foe, willing to hurt children on a whim and ready to take Wizarding Britain under his reign. Keeping that in mind, I would like to announce that I am no longer neutral on the Voldemort Issue.”

I sat down, and the Leaving Feast appeared with a joyous pop.

A/N: Merry Christmas, everyone…and a joyous Thursday to everyone else!

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