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The stack of books on the edge of Salazar’s desk teetered and thumped to the floor.
‘Be careful with those!’ Salazar scowled. ‘They’re old books! You have to treat old things with care.’
‘You’re old.’ Harry restacked the books. ‘And none of these have anything on what actually happens to prophecies after they’re given.’
Salazar nodded. ‘In my day, they were just told to whoever was nearby. They spread mostly by rumour, unless someone managed to stamp it out.’
‘Great.’ Harry sighed. ‘I imagine Voldemort is exactly the sort who’d do some stamping.’
Salazar’s green eyes softened. ‘Yes. He may well have. I would certainly keep something like that to myself if I could.’
‘So how am I meant to find out what it says?’ Harry demanded. ‘Ask Voldemort?’
‘It is a dilemma.’ Salazar stroked his goatee. ‘But I would imagine, if the Ministry is able to interfere in the practice and use of magic as much as it seems, then it must have its claws in prophecy recording. People in power generally like to know about prophecies.’
‘The Ministry probably isn’t going to be keen to help either.’ Harry scowled. ‘In fact, Voldemort will probably be more likely to help me.’
‘A problem for another time.’ Salazar leant a little further forward, dislodging the serpent from around his neck. A slender, silver chain hung beneath its scales. ‘How’s the plan to get Dumbledore off your back going?’
‘And getting rid of Umbridge. I can’t leave her to run riot in his absence.’
‘That too. Now stop playing coy and tell me how it’s going?’
‘I’m one spell away from getting rid of Dumbledore for as long as the Ministry remains against him and I can’t see a way it will fail.’ Harry smiled. ‘Even Voldemort’s horcrux couldn’t come so close.’
‘Just because you cannot see a way, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist,’ Salazar said.
‘I know.’ Harry leant back in Salazar’s chair. ‘I don’t see how he could stay, though. Not without outright turning on the Ministry and I don’t think he’d do that when he wants to eventually unite everyone against Voldemort.’
‘Would you care to share this work of genius with me?’
‘Dumbledore’s been keeping too close an eye on me. Between his control of the wards and Snape’s lessons, I can’t get out to do anything he might suspect me of. And the moment he realises I might be trouble, he’ll dispose of his sacrifice.’
‘You think you’ve found a way to outmanoeuvre Albus Dumbledore? Tom was always wary of him for a reason.’
‘He thinks I am on his side, still.’ Harry shrugged. ‘And why wouldn’t he? The other sides are Voldemort, who murdered my parents and keeps trying to kill me, or the Ministry, who continue to slander me.’
Salazar nodded. ‘So you intend to take him by surprise? Smart. Against stronger prey, a serpent strikes from hiding.’
‘I will take him by surprise. Nev has started illicitly teaching students and I managed to get them to name themselves Dumbledore’s Army.’ Harry grinned. ‘Once the group’s discovered, there’ll be nothing Dumbledore can do. Umbridge will leap at the chance to oust him and control the school. Either he tries to fight the Ministry, which helps Voldemort, or he lets the Ministry expel thirty of the students including his martyr and those closest to him. He definitely can’t allow that.’
‘It’s no more than he deserves for trying to sacrifice a member of my family.’ Salazar’s eyes darkened. ‘Were I more than a shadow of magic and canvas, I would rip him limb from limb.’ His wand fountained green and silver sparks and the snake cowered behind his neck. ‘What about the woman?’
‘On the back of the list is a map, one that I drew and concealed with an enchantment requiring an activation phrase—’
‘Where did you learn to do that? I never taught you any enchanting.’
‘Fleur’s very good at it.’ A smile crept onto Harry’s face. ‘She’s taught me a few little pieces when I’ve asked.’
‘All that time in France was worthwhile after all.’
‘I will burn you to ash, you half-sentient corridor graffiti.’ Harry narrowed his eyes at Salazar until the painting raised his palms. ‘The map appears to lead into the forest to something important, I intend to entice Umbridge into investigating it. She seems like she’ll be easily baited.’
A small smile crooked Salazar’s lips. ‘I assume she won’t be coming back from her investigation.’
Harry’s smile turned cold. ‘No. She won’t. There’re an awful lot of acromantula in that part of the forest, with a little help she’ll wander right into the middle of their nest unaware. Good riddance. She’s exactly the sort who’d put on robes and a mask for Voldemort if she thought she could get away with it.’
‘And how then will you use this moment of freedom?’ Salazar drummed his fingers on the head of his snake. ‘It’s worth more than a few extra days in France, Harry.’
Nothing’s worth more than my time with Fleur. Harry stifled a sharp pang. That’s why I’m doing all of this.
‘I think my godfather will tell me a lot of useful things about the Department of Mysteries once it looks a bit more like Dumbledore’s not in total control.’ Harry tapped the time turner. ‘If the worst comes to the worst, I can use this to go back and change my conversations with Sirius until it works.’
Maybe he knows about the prophecy. Harry recalled all the things he’d heard about his parents. They were hiding under the Fidelius, they must’ve been hiding for a reason. Maybe the Order knows about this prophecy as well. Dumbledore probably does. He always knows.
‘You’re willing to experiment with it now?’ Salazar’s face lit up.
‘No.’ Harry rolled his eyes. ‘I don’t know why you’re so eager to lose the only descendant you have that isn’t a mass-murdering megalomaniac in the currents of time.’
‘You wouldn’t be lost,’ Salazar said.
Harry snorted. ‘How would you know?’
‘I’m Salazar Slytherin?’
‘Fine,’ Salazar muttered. ‘We’ll save the experimental magic for later. Voldemort will make himself known soon. If he’s allowed to launch a surprise attack on the Ministry, you’ll find yourself hard-pressed to defeat him. He has many followers and all your allies are loyal to a man who intends to see you dead.’
‘What can I do? The Ministry won’t listen and Dumbledore already knows.’
‘The Ministry’s not just the handful of people you’ve seen, many others may be aware or more open to reason than the official stance might imply.’ Salazar folded his arms. ‘If more proof than just words is seen… Enough to be beyond reasonable doubt…’
Harry considered it. ‘The papers always talk about how there’s no proof of his return except the word of Dumbledore and myself.’
‘Voldemort was reported dead thirteen years ago, though no body was found. They usually cite the lack of the Dark Mark to prove it’s not Death Eaters.’
Salazar spread his arms. ‘There you have it.’
‘What do I have?’ Harry asked.
‘That Dark Mark. If that appears somewhere noticeable in a manner that can’t be ignored, then people may think twice about the Ministry’s propaganda. Fear like Voldemort must’ve inspired isn’t easily forgotten.’
‘The Ministry will cover it up,’ Harry said.
‘So find someone willing to publish or spread the story, or make it so spectacular that it cannot be ignored,’ Salazar said. ‘Even if it’s not a complete success, it will still help.’
‘There is the issue of finding out how to cast it.’
‘Find one of his followers.’ Salazar’s green eyes hardened. ‘You’ve grown adept with the Mind Arts, tear the spell from their mind. Kill them afterward if you must. These aren’t innocent lives to be saved, Harry. They’re not errant children. They will kill you if you give them the chance to.’
‘I suspect most of them are with Voldemort, but I’ll ask around. Sirius might know of some.’ Harry reached for the mirror and dragged the chair into the darkest corner. ‘Don’t say anything, he has sharp hearing.’ He raised the mirror. ‘Sirius.’
The white glow of the mirror shone in the gloom of the study as Harry extinguished the lights one at a time.
‘Harry.’ Sirius’ face appeared, a deep frown on his brows. ‘This isn’t the best time. Podmore got himself caught and sentenced to time in Azkaban for being somewhere he shouldn’t’ve been.’
‘He’s an order member?’ Harry asked.
What was he doing?
‘Yes, we’re trying to re-organise everything so it works without him, but it’s proving difficult.’
‘I’ve a question, just a quick one.’ Harry offered Sirius a grin. ‘Are there any former Death Eaters I should be looking out for, ones that aren’t obvious?’
Sirius snorted. ‘I can think of one or two straight off the top of my head. There’re a handful of those who were acquitted under suspicious circumstances like Malfoy and that axe-wielding maniac, Macnair, but the only one close enough to be a risk to you is Snape, though Dumbledore assures us he’s trustworthy.’
‘Snape?’ Harry’s eyebrows shot up.
Surely it can’t be that easy. My luck’s never that good. He’s already connecting our minds in detention, all I’d have to do is exploit it somehow.
‘Oh yes.’ Sirius glowered. ‘Don’t turn your back on Snivellus, he’s not to be blindly trusted, no matter what Dumbledore says.’
‘He does hate you and my father.’ Harry recalled Snape’s half-compliments and neutral expression. ‘Did he know my mother?’
Sirius nodded. ‘They were friends. Good friends. Knew each other before Hogwarts. Apparently, he was a decent boy before he went into Slytherin and fell in with the wrong crowd, but he always seemed a greasy, spiteful, sour bastard to me.’
Perfect. I’ve my distraction, then. I just have to turn up to my detention in a short while.
He weighed up one last toss of the dice. ‘Well, I’ll be taking Dumbledore’s advice with a pinch of salt from now on, too. A former Death Eater shouldn’t be teaching at a school.’
Sirius wrestled with that. ‘He doesn’t always make the best decisions.’ He sighed. ‘Sorry, Harry, I have to go, this is quite serious. All hands on deck.’
‘Bye, Sirius.’ Harry set the mirror down.
‘Did I understand that correctly?’ Salazar’s speech wavered between English and Parseltongue. ‘Your teacher, the wizard Dumbledore forced you into learning occlumency from without knowing you could even defend your mind, was, and likely still is, a Death Eater.’
‘I believe so,’ Harry said.
‘If I were still alive.’ Green and silver sparks showered down at Salazar’s feet. The serpent bared its fangs and hissed.
‘But it means he knows how to conjure the Dark Mark.’
‘What will you do?’
‘Like you said, I’ll take it from his mind.’ He stood up. ‘I promised I’d practice with Nev for the first time before my detention, so I have to go, but I’ll be ready.’
‘It won’t be easy. He seems an accomplished occlumens.’ Salazar frowned. ‘You’ll need to manipulate him into showing you of his own free will.’
‘Nothing necessary is easy.’ Harry shot Salazar a bitter smile. ‘I was going to shock him. I have the memory of my mother’s death. They were close friends, once. It ought to give me a few moments and I can memory charm my intrusion afterward. The memory of my mother’s death ought to be strong enough to cover for any chance of him remembering.’
Salazar nodded. ‘As good a plan as any.’ His expression darkened. ‘If it goes wrong, Harry. Kill him. He’s too dangerous to be left between you, Dumbledore and Voldemort if he knows too much. Even if you have to flee the country because Dumbledore discovers you, it’s better than being led to slaughter later.’
I could go to Fleur. Maybe. Her parents probably wouldn’t like that, though. Harry strode up to the bathroom, turning things over in his head. I need the incantation and the intent, that’s all. If he was a Death Eater, there’ll be a connection. It’ll only take a second.
Harry stepped out into Myrtle’s bathroom, splashing across the floor toward the exit.
‘Harry?’ The ghost drifted through the side of her cubicle.
‘It’s me, Myrtle.’ He smiled at her. ‘How’ve you been? Seen anyone in the Prefect’s Bathroom lately?’
‘Not that I was interested in.’ She sighed. ‘But I did once watch Cedric Diggory and his girlfriend take a very long bath together.’
‘I did not need to know that,’ Harry said.
‘There aren’t many attractive male prefects at the moment,’ she moaned. ‘You’d be surprised how many couples I’ve seen in there, though.’ She gave him a rather wicked glance. ‘I remember a certain dark-haired head boy and red-haired head girl going there together once.’
My parents. Urgh.
‘Thanks for that image, Myrtle. I’m afraid I need to go, Nev’s waiting for me. Take care.’
She laughed and flushed dark silver. ‘I’m dead, Harry. The only thing that can reach me is regret.’
He hurried through the corridors to Gryffindor Tower, whispers dogging his steps.
‘Where’s his glasses?’ one girl asked.
‘Who cares?’ another whispered. ‘He looks better without them.’
Nev leant against the wall next to the Fat Lady, watching, with some apprehension, as she lectured about singing. ‘Perfect timing. Are we going up to the seventh floor?’
Harry considered it. ‘There’s not much point. It won’t look like we’re doing much. We’ll just go in there.’ He led Nev into a nearby empty classroom and closed the door, throwing up a silencing charm for good measure.
‘I’ve got the hang of clearing my thoughts.’ Nev said. ‘Even when I was angry in Umbridge’s lesson.’
‘Well we’ll find out how well in a moment.’
‘What’re we doing?’
Harry adopted a sombre expression. ‘I’ll connect our minds and attempt to see your thoughts, feelings, and memories. You’ll do your utmost to stop me from seeing anything.’ He sighed. ‘It won’t be fun, Nev. It will help you a lot, though.’
‘Will it hurt?’ Nev asked.
‘Yes, but you’ll be a better wizard for it.’
That’s how it works. Fleur’s voice drifted up from the back of his mind. The more it hurts to have, the more satisfying it’ll be to get it.
‘Then let’s go.’ Nev sat on the desk and braced himself, gripping it with both hands.
Harry slipped his wand from his sleeve. ‘Legilimens.’
He spared no effort from the spell. Nev’s thoughts swam before his eyes. Admiration hovered in his thoughts, loyalty, devotion, glimpses and flashes of their time together flitted through their joined minds.
Harry broke the connection. ‘Try again, Nev. It’s not at all easy. Legilimens.’
Nev struggled to smother the stream, but his thoughts smoothed, the feelings grew less strong, and the glimpses grew faint and few.
Harry released the spell. ‘That was better. Well done.’
‘What’re you doing when you cast that spell?’ Nev asked. ‘You saw all my memories of when you were helping me.’ He squirmed. ‘You went through every moment in which I was grateful to you.’
‘I form a connection between our minds with it,’ Harry said. ‘It enables me to see what you’re thinking, if I can then get you to think about what I want to know, I win.’
‘You aren’t going easy on me, are you?’ Nev asked. ‘I’ve never done well with anything the second time I tried.’
‘I’m not trying any of the more insidious, cruel methods of seeing what I want,’ Harry said. ‘I’m teaching you to clear your mind enough to resist, not protect a single thought from me.’
‘Try,’ Neville demanded. ‘Do your worst.’
‘Do you realise what you’re asking, Neville?’ Harry murmured. ‘I can drag every one of your worst memories up and suspend you in them, twisting them about one another in a grotesque parody of a nightmare until your sanity leaves you.’
Nev swallowed hard. ‘Do it. Those Death Eaters will try, won’t they?’
‘Legilimens,’ Harry hissed.
The moment the connection formed, he fed a scatter of images to his friend. The circle of masked Death Eaters in the graveyard, the fear of the basilisk, his heartbeat pounding in his head, the cold adrenaline racing in his veins, then pain of the Cruciatus Curse, the endless torment of an instant. A torrent of emotion flooded Nev’s mind: fear of the Death Eaters, burning rage and the face of Bellatrix Lestrange, the hollow, empty eyes of his broken parents in the ever so white ward of St Mungo’s.
Harry ended the spell and Nev slumped over on the desk holding his temples, tears running down his cheeks.
‘I’m sorry, Nev.’ Harry put a hand on his shoulder. ‘You weren’t ready to face something like that so early. I shouldn’t have let you convince me.’
Nev wiped his tears away. ‘I’ll get better.’
‘You should bear in mind that I’m quite talented in the Mind Arts,’ Harry said. ‘They’re an obscure field I intend to master.’
‘Did I do well?’ Nev asked. ‘I know you saw everything, but I didn’t do too badly, did I?’
‘You did exceptionally well to be honest, Nev. You successfully managed to clear your thoughts when in pain. Keep practising it, whenever you’re angry, or sad, or at all emotional try to empty your mind and you’ll quickly improve.’
‘Are we done?’ Nev asked.
‘I think you’ve suffered enough for one day.’ Harry smiled. ‘I have to go and endure detention with Snape, now.’
‘You showed me things,’ Nev whispered. ‘You showed what it felt like to be under the Cruciatus Curse.’
‘I’m sorry,’ Harry said. ‘You asked for my worst, but I shouldn’t have given it to you.’
‘Don’t apologise,’ Nev snapped. ‘I asked for it and I’m glad I did, it helped me understand.’
‘When I was younger I used to resent my parents for not being stronger,’ Nev muttered. ‘It was a horrible thing to do and I know how wrong it is, but I couldn’t help it, until now I still hated them a little bit for not managing to resist, to stay sane, so I would’ve had parents like everyone else. I understand now. I can’t explain how much it means to only be proud.’
A little pang twisted in Harry’s chest. ‘You don’t need to, Nev. Until I knew what happened to my parents, I hated them with every fibre of my being for leaving me. Feelings like that, they don’t fade easily.’ He let his hand slip off Neville’s shoulder and pulled him up onto his feet. ‘You should head back to the common room. We’ve got an astronomy essay to do for the end of the next lesson.’
‘Don’t remind me,’ Neville groaned. ‘Every single planet seems to be in some phase that indicates danger or imminent death. It’s like how you used to describe Divination to us.’
‘It might be a valid prediction.’ Harry grinned. ‘Because if I hear Professor Sinistra reverently whisper the phrase Uranus is illuminated, I might not be able to stop laughing before I suffocate.’
Neville chuckled. ‘I guess I’d best get started. You already did some yesterday, so I have to catch up.’
‘We’re both still ahead of Ron,’ Harry said. ‘I overheard Hermione telling him twice yesterday that if he’d paid any attention he’d know that there hadn’t been a full eclipse in over two years so he couldn’t possibly have written about it for his whole essay.’
‘I doubt he cares.’ Nev opened the door. ‘At all.’
‘You’re probably right,’ Harry said. ‘If you’re still up when I get back from Snape’s detention, do you want to help me enchant all of Ron’s chess pieces to switch sides mid-game?’
‘Can you do that?’
‘Oh yes.’ Harry grinned. ‘He always swears when he plays, so if I use the word bloody as the activation phrase, I can make them all change sides at least twenty times a game.’
‘Can’t they just ignore it?’ Nev asked.
‘Not if I do different swear words for different pieces.’ Harry smirked and started down the stairs to the dungeons. ‘Then they’ll all change at different points.’
‘I think I can see where Katie learnt it all from.’ Nev laughed and disappeared up the stairs toward the common room.
Harry continued on down towards Snape’s office and its collection of interesting jars. Time to get my hands on that spell.
‘Potter.’ Snape loomed out of the shadows across from the door to his office. ‘You’re early.’
‘Better early than late, sir,’ Harry said.
‘Come in.’ Snape swept from the shadows of the alcove into his office.
Harry peered into the dark and found nothing but a small dust-blanketed corner. There’s no secret passage. Why was he even out here?
‘We will start where we left off.’ Snape pulled his wand out. ‘Legilimens.’
Harry pushed the memory to the surface, forcing it into Snape’s view. Not Harry, please no, take me instead— A flash of green tore through their thoughts.
Heart-wrenching agony and guilt flooded their thoughts, dragging him down into an endless deep, dark. He hurled the images of the robes and masks and men he’d met in the graveyard into the torrent. Among the myriad of memories of murder and worse, he thrust his wand into the sky, felt the desire to spread terror and chaos, felt his magic surge. Morsmordre!
Harry ripped their minds apart and levelled his wand tip at Snape. ‘Obliviate.’ He wiped away everything but his mother’s screams and the flash of green light.
‘Professor?’ Harry feigned slight concern.
‘What was that, Harry?’ Snape’s tone came as hollow as anything Harry’d ever heard; empty enough to conjure the cold, hungry claws of the void.
Not so smooth and spiteful now. Harry hid a small, cold smile. No more jibes about the parents a lonely child so desperately wished would come and save him. Fair’s fair, Snape.
‘My earliest memory, sir,’ he whispered. ‘I used to be able to remember the words for the curse. I’ve always known them. I murmured them to myself as a child, wondering what they meant. The dementors in my third year, they let me remember the rest. It’s the only memory of my mother I have.’
‘I’m sorry.’ All the soft strength fled Snape’s voice. ‘Please – please leave.’
Harry turned on his heel and strode out. A scream echoed from within the office. Glass shattered and purple light flickered down the corridor.
He deserves worse for all he did as a Death Eater. Harry all but ran back to the chamber under his disillusionment charm.
‘I have the incantation. The memory of my mother’s death caused him enough distress to give me the chance.’
Salazar’s eyes filled with shadows. ‘Good. Now use it. You didn’t take that spell easily or lightly, don’t waste it.’
Where to cast it? Harry ran over the few locations he could apparate to in his mind. London. Risky. Hogsmeade makes no sense, neither does here. Godric’s Hollow…
‘I’ll cast it somewhere it can’t be ignored.’ A small, bitter smile curved Harry’s lips. ‘I’m going home for the first time in fourteen years.’
‘You can apparate there?’
‘I know what it looks like, I’ve seen enough pictures.’ He pictured the streets of the village and twisted the world back past him.
Harry sprawled across wet grass. Tomb stones loomed over him.
He snatched his wand up from the floor, his heart hammering in his ears. The view of the street he’d seen lay at the base of the hill past the church and he released a long sigh, the adrenaline fading. Harry strode through the graveyard, glancing left and right until he found familiar names in stark, black letters on white marble.
The last enemy to be destroyed is death. Voldemort might well agree. He traced a finger over their names. How different things might’ve been. He sighed and let the emptiness claw the longing away. There’s no point hoping. I managed one perfect wish, I mustn’t risk it for anything.
He followed the row of graves toward the gate past a dozen ancient graves whose names were worn away. A sigil marked the top of the tombstone, an odd triangular shape, with some unrecognisable design inside.
Ignotus Peverell. Harry peered at the worn letters on the others. Too old to read.
A small, broken house waited in the middle of the street. Graffiti plastered the walls.
Well wishes and thanks for a boy who just lost everything. Harry paused at one daubed in red. And threats that the Dark Lord will return. They were right, I suppose.
Flowers strewed the ground before the cold marble likenesses of his parents. Their distant, pale figures called to mind his eleven-year old self’s vision in the Mirror of Erised and a terrible melancholy washed over him, seeping up from some dark, old place in his head. Sorrow hung over the stone like fog, stark grey and suffocating, so thick he could almost taste it.
Harry slipped his wand from his sleeve and pointed it up into the sky. ‘Morsmordre,’ he whispered.
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