Don't own Harry Potter.
This story's been on my hard drive for a while now, and it's by no means perfect, but if I don't post it I'll just keep playing around with it and it will never see the light of day. So here it is!
Albus Dumbledore, presiding benignly over the sorting feast at the beginning of another year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, tensed slightly as his deputy, Minerva McGonagall, read out the latest name on her list of first years to be sorted.
As a small, bespectacled, dark-haired boy made his way towards to the sorting hat the Headmaster couldn't help but wince. He could see that Potter was extremely small for his age, and looked positively gaunt. Hagrid's concerns were clearly valid.
"Gryffindor, do you think Severus?" Albus asked the scowling figure on his right in an attempt to take his mind away from the boy's physical condition.
"Where else," replied the Potions master dismissively as McGonagall placed the hat on Potter's head.
At that point a bolt of lightning flashed across the Great Hall's enchanted ceiling and three screams rang out, two from somewhere on the Hufflepuff table and one from Harry Potter.
Pomona Sprout rushed to her house's table in response to the screams as McGonagall crouched by the side of the fallen Potter, sorting hat still in place. As everyone craned their necks to see what was happening to the Boy Who Lived, Albus noticed that the Head of Hufflepuff had been pushed aside by two figures that were now marching determinedly towards the staff table, figures that he recognised as seventh year Nymphadora Tonks and third year Cedric Diggory. To his consternation, both had drawn their wands.
"Miss Tonks, Mr Diggory," said Albus questioningly. "Is there a problem?"
"When you have a possessed teacher in your school, yes there is," replied Tonks firmly.
"Fifty points from Hufflepuff for disrupting the sorting ceremony, Miss Tonks," drawled Snape. "Return to your seat immediately."
Before Tonks could reply, or Albus could question her further about her allegation, he heard the unmistakable voice of the sorting hat and, looking down, saw that Harry Potter was also approaching the staff table, still wearing the hat.
"You can take me off now, Mr Potter," the hat was repeating. "I've sorted you. Hufflepuff."
"Hufflepuff?" spluttered Snape, his attention focussing on Potter. "Hufflepuff?"
"Yes, Hufflepuff," repeated the hat testily. "I've never seen such loyalty and sacrifice, not just to his friends but to the entire wizarding world."
Potter whipped the hat off and glared at it, before turning his attention to Albus. "Professor Dumbledore," he said with a marked lack of respect. "First, you're an idiot. Second, you're nowhere near as omniscient as you think. And third, you have a possessed teacher in your school."
Albus stared speechlessly at Potter, who was behaving absolutely nothing like an eleven-year-old on his introduction to Hogwarts.
"Another fifty points from Hufflepuff, Potter," grated Snape. "I suggest that you sit down before you achieve the distinction of being expelled before the sorting feast has even finished."
"Fuck you, Snape," snapped Potter, the hatred in his voice almost tangible. "One more word out of you and I'll kill you where you sit." He turned back to Albus.
"Professor Quirrell over there is possessed by the spirit of Voldemort. Are you going to kill him, or shall I?"
Ignoring the shrieks as Potter said 'Voldemort', Albus looked at him in sheer disbelief. "My boy, I think you are overwrought by the sorting ceremony, perhaps . . ."
"Me, then," interrupted Potter. "I don't have time for you to talk him to death." He turned to face the Defence Against the Dark Arts professor. "Care to remove your turban, Professor," he asked snidely.
"I d-d-don't know w-w-what you're t-t-t-talking about," protested Quirrell, looking beseechingly at Albus. "Headmaster, the b-b-b-boy is c-c-clearly d-d-disturbed."
Quirrell hadn't noticed Diggory sidling around the staff table, though, and was taken by surprise by a sudden "Accio turban" from the Hufflepuff. Screams rang out as those on Quirrell's right saw the outline of a second face on the back of his shaven head.
"Master, forgive me, I didn't . . ." began Quirrell, only to be silenced by a second voice, one that Albus hadn't heard in almost a decade.
"Turn around, Quirinius," the voice said harshly and, as Quirrell obeyed, there were more screams as everyone in the Hall could now see the distorted face on the back of Quirrell's head.
Potter glared at the face. "Hello, Tom," he said coldly. "Fancy meeting you here."
Albus was stunned. Not only was one of his professors possessed by Voldemort but Harry Potter, a boy with supposedly no knowledge of the wizarding world, clearly knew not only who he was, but also his real name.
"Do not use that name, Potter," screamed the face. "I am Lord Voldemort! You thought that you had destroyed me when I tried to kill you back in 1981, but I am immortal! I will regain a body and you will suffer for an eternity for what you have done to me!"
Before Albus could regain his wits, Potter lunged forward and pressed his hands over the face of Voldemort. Twin screams rent the air, one from Quirrell and one from Voldemort, as Quirrell's skin began to burn. The aroma of charred meat came to Albus's nostrils even as Quirrell slumped to his knees, his skin and flesh now sloughing from his dissolving body. With a final scream a plume of black smoke rose from the floor where Quirrell's body, now nothing more than ash which was itself dissolving into nothingness, had lain. The smoke swirled and then slowly formed into a representation of Voldemort's face, to yet more screams from the Hall.
"You may have killed my servant, but you will never defeat me," raged Voldemort, in a much more ethereal voice to that used when possessing Quirrell.
"We'll see about that," responded Potter and, incanting a spell that Albus didn't recognise, aimed his wand at the wraith, directing a jet of a silvery liquid over the spectre.
"That might work," yelled Tonks, startling Albus who had momentarily forgotten about the young witch. She incanted the same spell, and a plume of blue liquid joined Potter's silver stream, both of them twining in the air around the wraith.
Albus could see Voldemort's disembodied figure moving within the coloured sphere that was forming, but it seemed unable to break free of it. As Potter and Tonks withdrew their wands Albus could see that the sphere was solidifying as it spun, Voldemort's face frozen in a screaming rictus within. Finally the sphere, now approximately three feet in diameter, dropped to the floor of the Great Hall, bounced a couple of times, and was still.
Potter and Tonks approached the sphere gingerly. Tonks touched her boot to it, and when there was no response prodded it gently with a finger. Potter did the same, before turning to her with a grin.
"I always said that Hermione was a genius."
"So what do we do with this?" asked Tonks.
"Chucking it through the Veil would have my vote," replied Potter. "But I reckon it would be best if we chucked a few other things through at the same time." He glanced warily at Albus. "We need to talk about that."
"Count me in, too," added Diggory.
Picking the sphere up, Tonks led the trio back to the Hufflepuff table, ignoring the stunned looks they were getting from everyone in the Hall, staff and students alike. They picked seats right at the end of the table, closest to the entrance to the Hall, and sat down, the closest Hufflepuffs scrambling to get away from the Voldemort Sphere which Tonks casually placed on her plate, Voldemort's frozen visage facing straight towards Albus.
Finally regaining his wits, Albus spoke. "Mr Potter, Miss Tonks, Mr Diggory, please come to my office directly after the feast, and bring that, item, with you."
Albus received three glares in reply, and turned back to his deputy. "Professor McGonagall, please continue with the sorting."
As the rather intimidated-looking first years continued to be sorted, Albus mused on what had just happened. He would be meeting with those three unusual Hufflepuffs after the feast and needed to work out who, or what, they were; his reputation depended on him seeming to know all there was to know about everyone and everything and, in truth, the events of the past half hour had taken him completely by surprise.
He had expected Voldemort, or one of his followers, to make an attempt on the Philosophers Stone, but had not expected possession, nor had he suspected Quirrell. That three students, one of them a first year, should have identified him and apparently defeated him was incomprehensible. Yet it had happened and must, therefore, be explainable. He sank into distracted contemplation and so did not immediately notice when the doors to the Great Hall were flung open.
At the same time that three screams were echoing in the Great Hall at Hogwarts, two other people were also screaming. In Azkaban this wasn't a rare occurrence, and so no-one paid attention to the scream emanating from Sirius Black's cell. A shame, as it also meant that no-one noticed as the prisoner assumed his animagus form, slipped out of the cell window and dived into the sea, heading towards England.
Remus Lupin's scream was more noticeable, as he was sitting reading outside a café in Prague. Brushing off the waiter's solicitous enquiries he quickly rose and headed off down a secluded alley by the side of the café. Unlike his scream, no-one heard the quiet crack as he apparated away on the first leg of his journey to Hogwarts.
It took Remus almost an hour, with increasingly long rests in between jumps, to apparate across Europe, and he was extremely relieved to reach Hogsmeade, having feared that he would run out of strength before reaching the wizarding village. He strode along the path to the school. The newspaper he'd been reading back in Prague had told him the date, so he knew that the sorting ceremony would be taking place. That gave him the perfect opportunity to catch a certain rat.
The sound of a large animal running up the path behind him came to Remus's ears and he quickly dodged behind a tree. This close to the Forbidden Forest one couldn't be too careful. As the creature drew closer, Remus abruptly stepped back onto the path, wand in hand, to be confronted by the rapidly approaching animagus form of Sirius Black who, head down and apparently intent on speed, had not seen him.
"Padfoot!" cried Remus. The grim looked up, a comical look of surprise blossoming on its face, before it ploughed into Remus, sending them both rolling into the undergrowth at the side of the path.
Remus finally managed to roll the enormous hound off his legs, and rather shakily rose to his feet, staring at the grim in amazement. He knew that Sirius should not have escaped for another two years, and could only assume that he, too, had been somehow sent back in time, prompting the early escape.
"Come on, Padfoot," he said sternly. "Transform back."
The grim stood, and its form shifted seamlessly into that of Sirius.
"Remus, it's not what you think," said Sirius immediately, his voice hoarse from the years in Azkaban.
"Yes, yes, Peter was the secret keeper, he's currently hiding as Ron Weasley's pet rat, and is up at Hogwarts," agreed Remus impatiently. "Come on, lets get up there."
Sirius stared at him. "What, you believe me just like that?" he said incredulously, before a suspicious expression crossed his face. "Wait a minute, how do you know about Peter?"
"As far as you're concerned, did you fall through the Veil in the Department of Mysteries then find yourself, about an hour ago, in Azkaban?" asked Remus.
"Yes," gasped Sirius. "But how . . ?"
"I remember duelling Bellatrix Lestrange in the Great Hall at Hogwarts in June 1998, two years after you died," explained Remus. "I saw the killing curse coming at me, then found myself outside a café in Prague an hour ago." A sudden hope bloomed in his chest. "Tonks!"
"What?" asked Sirius, still bewildered by the turn of events.
"I'd just killed Fenrir Greyback, after he'd killed Tonks," said Remus quickly, "the same thing might have happened to her! She might have come back too! Come on!" He started back up the path.
Sirius matched him for pace. "What were you doing fighting Greyback and my dear cousin Bella at Hogwarts?" he asked.
"Hmm?" muttered Remus vacantly, his mind still on the possibility that Tonks might have come back in time too. "Oh, we got word that Harry had broken out of Gringotts on a stolen dragon and was heading towards Hogwarts, so the remnants of the Order headed up there to meet him. Turned into an all-out battle between You-Know-Who and his Death Eaters and us."
"What?" said Sirius again. "What was Harry doing stealing a dragon from Gringotts?"
"I'm not really sure," admitted Remus. "He, Ron and Hermione were up to something, and wouldn't tell us what. But I think they'd finished it, which was why You-Know-Who rushed to attack."
Sirius shook his head as they jogged through the Hogwarts grounds and stepped into the castle's entrance hall. From the Great Hall they could hear the sound of hundreds of voices.
"Sounds like the feast's still going on," said Remus. "Ron will be in there, and so will Peter, since they would have come here straight from the train. How do we go about this?"
A manic grin appeared on Sirius's face, and Remus paled as Sirius grabbed him by the arm and dragged him towards the Great Hall.
"Got to go some to beat stealing a dragon," he whispered before snatching Remus's wand. He used it to slam open the Hall's doors and strode forward, dragging Remus behind him. As they entered the Hall Sirius waved the wand and sent a cannon-blast charm into the enchanted ceiling.
As the deafening roar faded, all eyes in the Great Hall turned to the entrance. Sirius immediately pressed his borrowed wand to Remus's temple and yelled "Everybody freeze! I've got a werewolf and I'm not afraid to use him!"
Remus, staring down the Hall directly at the staff table, found it difficult to keep from smiling at the looks on the faces of the teachers, Dumbledore in particular, who looked dumbstruck, an expression Remus couldn't remember ever having seen on his face before. Into the silence a young voice piped up from the Hufflepuff table in a worried tone.
"How are you going to use him, mister?" Remus focused on the end of the table and realised that the speaker was an eleven year old Harry Potter, and he was sitting at the side of Tonks and Cedric Diggory. Had all three of them come back in time, he wondered. Any doubts that Harry was a time traveller were dispelled as he continued.
"Does it involve perverted activities and hot man-on-man love action? Only you look like one of the dirty old men that my uncle warned me about."
Comically, Sirius sprang away from Remus as if he was diseased.
"No it does not," he protested. "Remus and I are just friends. I look like this because of ten years in prison. I only escaped an hour ago. Strangely, there's a distinct lack of male grooming products available in Azkaban." He glanced towards the staff table. "What's your excuse, Snape?"
Snape rose to his feet, wand out and features suffused with rage. "Black. You're an escaped convict and I'll take great delight in putting you down like the dog you are."
"Oh, Severus, you say the nicest things," replied Sirius lightly, before his right hand shot out and grabbed the collar of Ron Weasley, his leap away from Remus having taken him conveniently behind the first year.
Dumbledore finally rose, wand also out. "Put down the boy, Sirius," he commanded. "He's done nothing to harm you."
"I quite agree," replied Sirius equably, his hand rummaging inside Ron's robes before emerging clutching a rat.
"First it's men with moustaches, then small boys," commented Harry from the Hufflepuff table. "Are you sure you're not a dirty old man?"
"I have no interest in small boys," commented Sirius disdainfully. A gleam came into his eye. "Rats, however . . ."
"Oh dear God no," Tonks broke in in apparent horror. "I read about something like that. Two men were, well, gratifying themselves with a hamster and it got stuck. One of them tried to tempt it out with a lit match and accidentally ignited intestinal gases. The hamster shot out like a rocket and broke the chap's nose. What are the two of you going to do with that rat?"
There were looks of equal disgust and puzzlement around the Hall, as older students began to explain Tonks's comment to the younger ones.
"Minerva McGonagall was now on her feet. "Mr Black," she said firmly. "There will be no violating of rats in this school whilst I am Deputy Headmistress. You and Mr Lupin, who I thought better of," she said as she cast a disapproving look at Remus, "should take your quite frankly disturbing activities elsewhere."
"Minerva, it's not like that," protested Remus desperately. "Harry and Tonks are the only people who have suggested that Sirius and I are deviants. I'm a happily married man!"
"Blaming children, now," said McGonagall severely as she walked towards Remus. "Although I hadn't heard that you had married. Who is the, ah, fortunate woman?"
Remus looked at Tonks, who was collapsed against Harry and laughing helplessly, and decided that it wouldn't be wise to claim to be married to one of McGonagall's seventh year students.
"I , er, don't think you know her," he said evasively, before switching his attention back to Sirius. "But more importantly, that rat is a criminal."
McGonagall had now reached the two Marauders, who were both eyeing her nervously. She, though, was studying the rat, and a sudden indrawn breath suggested that she'd recognised something in it that she didn't like. She took out her wand and gestured to the floor.
"Put the rat down, Mr Black, and let's put your story to the test."
"This is preposterous," came an angry shout from the teachers' table, as Snape again attempted to play a part in the proceedings, aiming his wand at Sirius and beginning an incantation.
Remus noted that Harry and Tonks were immediately on their feet and had clearly been watching the Potions professor. The necessity of a response was obviated by the Headmaster, though, who wordlessly bound and silenced Snape, dropping him gently back into his chair.
"I hope that this will be worth it, my boys," said Dumbledore, although there was an air of both desperation and confusion in his twinkling eyes.
"Oh, I think it will be," said Sirius with determination as he lowered the rat to the floor. It made a break for it, but was immediately caught in the beam of a spell from McGonagall. Almost in slow motion, as if the rat was desperately fighting it, it was forced to transform into the dishevelled figure of Peter Pettigrew.
"M-M-M-Minerva," stammered Pettigrew, "thank Merlin! I've been trapped in that form for almost ten years, and I'm finally free!" He spun to face Sirius. "You murdering swine, Black, first you betray James and Lily and then you force me to spend ten years as a rat!"
Sirius laughed harshly. "I'm willing to swear a magical oath about the events of Hallowe'en 1981. I'll also provide pensieve memories and am prepared to take veritaserum. How about you?"
Pettigrew looked around desperately, then began to transform back into his rat form, only to be hit by stunning spells from Sirius and Minerva. Harry and Tonks, noted Remus, were attempting to wrestle Cedric's wand away from him, Tonks eventually succeeding.
"I'll kill him with my bare hands!" yelled Cedric, fighting to get to Pettigrew, who had resumed human form on being stunned.
"Mr Diggory," said McGonagall firmly. "Your outrage on the Potters' behalf is commendable, but I can assure you that he will receive justice."
McGonagall's words caused Cedric to pause in confusion. "What?" he asked bemusedly.
Tonks was whispering urgently in his ear, and his expression abruptly cleared.
"Oh, yes, of course, outrage on the Potters' behalf, yes, that's why I was angry," he told McGonagall, who narrowed her eyes thoughtfully.
"So," piped up Harry, sounding confused. "Does that mean that these two old men aren't going to violate each other, and weren't going to violate the rat? Only I was looking forward to seeing it erupt from one of their . . ."
"That will be quite enough Mr Potter!" McGonagall almost yelled in her bid to prevent him finishing his sentence. "And don't think you've fooled me with that innocent act. Not after what happened earlier. In addition, I taught your father for seven years and he used that "innocent child" look that you're wearing far too many times for me to be taken in by it."
Harry smiled at that, clearly delighted at being compared to his father.
McGonagall cast another spell at Pettigrew, which Remus recognised as one which would prevent the animagus transformation for twenty four hours, before turning to face the four house tables, the occupants of which were hanging on every word spoken.
"This man," she announced, "is Peter Pettigrew. He was believed to have been murdered ten years ago by this man," she indicated Sirius, "Sirius Black. Clearly he wasn't." Shocked gasps came from students around the hall.
Sirius stepped forward in turn. "I was believed to have betrayed the Potters to You-Know-Who," he said. "I didn't; it was Pettigrew. But everyone thought it was me and so I was thrown into Azkaban after Peter faked his own death, making it look as though I'd murdered him. I never even got a trial." There were further gasps at this claim.
"Albus," said Minerva commandingly. "You are the Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot. You need to take Pettigrew and hand him over to Amelia Bones personally."
"I'll go immediately," agreed Albus, his twinkle undimmed but still rather bewildered. "Would you join me, Sirius, and we'll try and get all of this cleared up by bedtime."
"Lead on, Albus," said Sirius, and the two men, plus the unconscious Pettigrew, exited the Hall.
Remus turned back to the Hufflepuff table and caught Tonks's eye hopefully. He was rewarded with an enormous smile.
"There's no getting away from me, Wolfie," she proclaimed, before throwing herself at him and embracing him passionately. Whistles and catcalls were aimed at the two, until they were eventually forced to come up for air. McGonagall looked furious.
"Mr Lupin, Miss Tonks, what on earth are you doing?"
"Technically, that's Mr Lupin and Mrs Lupin," said Tonks cheekily. "We're married."
"You're seventeen, Miss Tonks," protested McGonagall. "What were you thinking? He's old enough to be your," she paused. "Older cousin. What do your parents think about this?"
"Shit!" exclaimed Remus. "How are we going to explain this?"
"You mean they don't even know?" McGonagall almost screamed at the pair.
"Just tell them that you knocked up their seventeen year old daughter and so were forced to marry her," suggested Harry helpfully. "You could say that you just lost control at the sight of the school uniform."
"You're not helping, Harry," said Remus as Minerva glared at him. "And she's not pregnant," he reassured the Deputy Headmistress.
"Not for want of trying," grumbled Tonks under her breath, before smiling cheekily as McGonagall aimed a glare in her direction.
"You three," McGonagall gestured to the Hufflepuffs, "my office now. You too," she told Remus, and marched out of the Hall. The four time travellers exchanged glances before following her out as the Hall erupted with noise as its occupants discussed the most exciting sorting feast in years
Harry fidgeted as he and the other time travellers were subjected to McGonagall's stern gaze.
"Are the four of you under the effects of polyjuice?" asked Minerva finally. "And if so, where are the 'real' Potter, Tonks, Diggory and Lupin?"
"No polyjuice," said Harry, drawing his wand. "I swear on my life and magic that I am Harry James Potter." A quick lumos charm, and the fact that he hadn't dropped dead on the spot, verified his oath.
"So you are all yourselves, but you know things that you shouldn't know," pondered McGonagall.
"How about," suggested Tonks helpfully, "this summer we all received letters from Professor Trelawney giving us detailed predictions about future events, and we decided to test the accuracy of those predictions out at the sorting feast."
McGonagall fixed a gimlet eye on Tonks. "I am prepared to believe many things, Miss Tonks," said the Transfiguration Mistress, "but I draw the line at accepting that Sybill Trelawney is able to predict anything more complex than the location of her sherry decanter."
"The three of you all screamed simultaneously during the sorting, and only then confronted Professor Quirrell. That suggests a sudden influx of knowledge rather than that your actions were predetermined."
She turned to Harry. "In addition you, Mr Potter, display a confidence and skill level far above that of an eleven year old who only recently found out about the existence of magic."
Turning again, she continued. "While you, Miss Tonks, claim to be married to Mr Lupin, a marriage that I am certain has not actually happened."
"Finally, Mr Diggory, you were clearly enraged at the sight of Pettigrew, a man that you should never have met and should have regarded as a victim of the notorious Sirius Black, a man who none of you, in fact, displayed any fear of, despite his reputation."
"The only conclusion I can draw from this is that at the instant you screamed, you received knowledge of future events, even, perhaps, the personalities and knowledge of your future selves."
"There goes Hermione's theory that wizards don't possess the capacity for logical thought," said Tonks cheerily. "Not bad at all, Minerva." She turned to Cedric. "Let's go in order, you first."
Cedric shrugged. "I was competing in the Triwizard Tournament as the Hogwarts champion during my sixth year. At the culmination of the final task, Harry and I were transported somewhere by portkey and I was killed by that rat animagus. Next thing I know I'm back at the Hufflepuff table at the start of my third year watching Harry get sorted. I wasn't sure what to do so decided to speak to the Headmaster. Then Tonks and Harry said that Professor Quirrell was possessed, and since the rumours all say that Harry killed him for some reason at the end of his first year I assumed that they knew what they were talking about. So I summoned his turban. You saw the rest."
Taking in McGonagall's mixed look of triumph at being right, and disbelief at the actual story, Remus decided to speak up.
"Sirius should be next," he told McGonagall. "The last thing he remembers is a fight between Death Eaters and the Order of the Phoenix in the Death Chamber in the Department of Mysteries in June 1996. Bellatrix Lestrange knocked him through the veil, and he woke up in Azkaban. He promptly escaped and headed towards Hogwarts."
"I was fighting at Hogwarts in May 1998," said Tonks, taking over. "A large battle between the remnants of the Order and You-Know-Who and his supporters. I saw something large and furry coming at me, so assume I was killed by Fenrir Greyback. Next thing I know I'm back in school uniform watching Harry get sorted."
"I killed Greyback after he killed Tonks," Remus continued, "but was killed by Bellatrix Lestrange. Then I was in Prague. I headed straight back to the UK and met up with Sirius on the way up to the castle."
Everyone was now looking at Harry expectantly.
"After you were killed, I headed into the Forbidden Forest to meet Voldemort," said Harry. "I realised that I needed to let him kill me, in order to get him in the position that he could be killed himself. So I let him hit me with a killing curse. Then I found myself under the sorting hat."
"What!" exclaimed Remus. "You let him kill you? What on earth possessed you to do that?"
Harry's eyes narrowed. "What do you know about Horcruxes?"
Remus, Tonks and Cedric looked blank, but McGonagall gasped. "Horcruxes? Are you saying that You-Know-Who created a horcrux?"
"Proof positive that Dumbledore's an idiot," grumbled Harry. "And Professor, this 'You-Know-Who' thing is really annoying. If you can't call him Voldemort at least call him Tom, or Riddle."
McGonagall now went pale. "Tom Riddle? Are you saying that You-Know-Who is Tom Riddle?"
In reply Harry repeated the flaming anagram demonstration that the sixteen year old Riddle had shown him in the Chamber of Secrets.
"Did you know him, Minerva?" asked Remus, surprised at her reaction.
McGonagall sunk back in her chair. "He was Head Boy when I was Head Girl," she said in disbelief. "We spent a lot of time together that year."
"Oh ho!" said Tonks gleefully. "Steamy nights of passion in the Head Girl's room, eh?"
To her, and the others', shock, McGonagall blushed a fiery red. "He was a handsome boy," she explained. "And he could do things with his tongue that . . ."
"Too much information!" yelled Harry in horror, covering his ears, while Tonks, Remus and Cedric stared at McGonagall in disbelief.
"You had an affair with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named?'" said Cedric incredulously.
McGonagall was slowly recovering her composure. "I spent a lot of time with Tom Riddle when he was seventeen," she said. "I haven't seen him since we left Hogwarts, and had no idea he had become You-Know-Who."
I bet Dumbledore knew about it," said Harry thoughtfully. "That could explain why he never discussed Voldemort and horcruxes with you. He was worried you might still have feelings for him and join him, perhaps."
"The Dark Lady Minerva," breathed Tonks. "Together you could have been unstoppable. No-one who was taught by you at Hogwarts would dare go up against you!"
"That's quite enough of that, Miss Tonks," said McGonagall severely. "I'm more interested in this horcrux of Tom's." She looked at Harry expectantly.
Harry quickly explained about the horcruxes, and that his scar was one of them, leading to his confrontation with Voldemort. McGonagall shook her head in despair.
"I'm afraid I'm coming to agree with your assessment of the Headmaster," she said tiredly. "I am aware of several ways in which the horcrux could have been removed from your scar without killing you."
Harry perked up. "Really?" he asked hopefully. "I mean, I was hoping that we could track all the others down quickly and chuck them through the veil along with Voldeball here, but I thought I'd end up taking them through personally, to ensure that we got them all."
"That certainly won't be necessary, Mr Potter," McGonagall told him. "I need to talk to Madame Pomfrey, but I believe we can relieve you of that soul fragment by the end of the week." She stood up. "Now, let's get back to the Great Hall before the rumour mill goes into overdrive. We'll talk about this again tomorrow."
McGonagall and the time travellers arrived back at the Great Hall only minutes before Professor Dumbledore and a newly exonerated Sirius Black.
"Amelia was most receptive," Albus told McGonagall as he sipped at his coffee. "One veritaserum questioning of Peter, and a failure to find a record of a trial, and that was it. She called a press conference, told everyone what happened, and I've no doubt it will be on the front page of the Prophet tomorrow."
"Excellent," said McGonagall, watching as Sirius joined the other travellers at the Hufflepuff table. "You'll be pleased to hear that I'll be dealing with the rest of tonight's events personally, and have already spoken to Mr Potter and the others."
"Are you sure that's wise, Minerva?" asked Albus, worried that he might be losing control over a situation that he still knew very little about.
"Are you sure that it was wise not to tell me about Tom Riddle and his horcruxes?" whispered McGonagall, to Albus's shock. She knew about the horcruxes!
"Don't even think about it," McGonagall told Albus, seeing his hand inching towards his wand. "Especially since I know a method to remove a horcrux from a living individual."
Before he could respond, a crackling sound began to permeate the Great Hall, and the atmosphere started to become oppressive and heavy.
"Now what?" asked McGonagall in rhetorical exasperation.
All of a sudden, four bursts of light appeared on the dais at the head of the Hall behind the staff table, two at floor level, four feet apart, and two directly above the first two at a height of around eight feet. Albus rose and swiftly moved the table and its occupants to one side and stood, wand raised, watching the lights warily.
Lines erupted from the stationary lights, joining them together in the shape of an upright rectangle which immediately filled with a shimmering, silvery material. In the silence that now blanketed the Great Hall, voices could be heard from beyond what Albus could only conclude was a portal of some description.
". . . bloody thing won't actualise."
"Have you corrected the co-ordinates to account for the influence of nargles?"
"If I ever find a nargle, I'm going to take it and ram it right up your . . ."
"It's working! The portal's opened!"
Glancing over to the Hufflepuff table and the people who were the source of all of the rest of the day's strange events, Albus saw expressions of delight crossing their faces. Harry Potter jumped to his feet and ran towards the portal.
"Hermione, it's Harry! Can you hear me?" he called out.
"Harry?" said a male voice dubiously. "He sounds very young."
"That could be down to the hammerating yackles," responded an ethereal female voice.
"I do not accept that there is any such creature as a hammerating yackle!" yelled another female voice. "I have never heard of it! Is there any empirical evidence for its existence? Have you ever seen a yackle? Do you know anyone who's ever seen a yackle?"
Albus coughed. "I'm not sure it's strictly relevant," he told the portal, "but there are, in fact, three types of yackle. The Oriental, or hammerating, yackle is native to the bamboo forests of southern China. I was fortunate enough to witness one attack and disembowel a giant panda when travelling through Guangdong in the early 1890s."
There was silence from the portal. "Even if that wasn't just a lucky guess," rallied the first voice, "why would there be a yackle at Hogwarts and how would it make Harry sound younger?"
"Whoever you are, you clearly never studied NEWT-level potions," interrupted Snape with a sneer. "Yackle fur is one of the principal ingredients in the vocal-cord tightening potion, which gives the potion's drinker a noticeably altered voice."
There was another silence.
"OK, so you've got lucky this time," accepted the voice, "but what about the blibbering humdingers? The heliopaths? I spent three weeks scouring the restricted section for references to snorkacks and there was nothing! Nothing, I tell you!" it concluded rather manically.
"This is all very interesting," called Harry, before the voice could continue, "but what exactly are you trying to do? And I sound young because I am young. Again."
"See, see?" came the manic voice again. "I told you there was a temporal component to that trace! Faulty arithmancy my arse! Vector wouldn't recognise a diffused temporal equation if it ran up her robes and bit her . . ."
"Harry, where and when are you?" interrupted the male voice desperately, drowning out the conclusion to the manic voice's diatribe.
Harry smiled at the rather affronted look that had appeared on the face of the Hogwarts Arithmancy professor. "I'm in the Great Hall at Hogwarts, September the first 1991," he shouted through the portal. "I've been sorted into Hufflepuff!"
"Right, we're coming through," yelled the male voice. "Stand back from the portal."
The shimmering coating of the portal rippled, as a tall figure hurtled through, off the dais and came to rest on its back between the Slytherin and Ravenclaw tables. Snape was on his feet in an instant and cast an incarcerous hex at the figure, which Albus could see was that of a rather familiar-looking young man.
The man was on his feet in a flash, and Albus realised he was carrying a sword, since he used it to deflect Snape's spell. He leaped onto the dais and was behind the staff table with his sword at Snape's throat before the Potions professor had chance to cast another spell.
"Drop the wand, Snape, or Hogwarts will have a new ghost. I'm sure that Nearly Headless Nick would love to be joined by Nearly Headless Severus." Snape's wand clattered to the table.
"Good to see you, Neville," said Harry in welcome. "Do I recognise that sword?"
"Yeah, it's the Sword of Gryffindor," confirmed Neville. "I was rather surprised to pull it out of the sorting hat. Although to be fair, not as surprised as Voldemort was, especially when I managed to decapitate Nagini and him with the same stroke."
"You killed him?" asked Harry eagerly.
"Yep," said Neville. "And he's really gone this time. All the dark marks spontaneously combusted when he died and took the Death Eaters with him, too."
"Brilliant," cheered Harry. "So what are you doing here?"
The portal rippled again, and Albus watched as two female figures carrying a long bundle stepped gracefully through the portal, which then abruptly vanished with a sizzling pop. The smaller, blond figure was the first to speak.
"Hermione decided that she couldn't live without you, so insisted on building a temporal field generator and tracking device so that she could hunt you down and have her wicked way with you. Repeatedly."
"Luna!" exclaimed the other figure angrily, although she was also blushing, suggesting that Luna's explanation had an element of truth to it."
"What?" asked Luna innocently. "Are you saying that your body doesn't burn with desire for Harry? That the flames of your passion aren't ready to ignite at his merest touch? That you don't want him to ravish you, again and again, until your entwined, sweat-slicked bodies collapse in exhaustion from the energy of your love-making?"
Hermione was now bright red and seemed incapable of speech, or of meeting Harry's eyes. Harry was also bright red, but also exultant that his best friend, for whom his feelings had been building for years, apparently reciprocated those feelings. Although he foresaw a problem.
"Hermione, I'm eleven," he told her regretfully. "Physically, at least. But if you're prepared to wait until I grow up again . . ."
She smiled at him, blush fading. "Not a problem, Harry."
She and Luna lowered their bundle to the floor, and Hermione drew back the cover, revealing Harry's seventeen-year-old body.
Madam Pomfrey leaped to her feet from the staff table and was quickly crouched by the body, casting diagnostic charms.
"He's alive," she said tersely, "but there's no sign of mental activity. I need to get him to the hospital wing."
McGonagall also rose to her feet. "I'll see to this Albus," she told the Headmaster before turning to the time travellers.
"All of you follow me," she continued, as Madam Pomfrey levitated the elder Harry's body and led the way out of the Great Hall. "That includes you, Mr Longbottom," she told Neville. "Please release Professor Snape. We've lost one professor this evening, I really don't want to have to begin a search for two new professors tomorrow."
As soon as the travellers were all safely within the hospital wing, McGonagall cast several locking charms on the door and raised a silencing ward over the whole room. Madam Pomfrey, meanwhile, had settled the older Harry onto a bed and was casting further charms over him.
"Who is this?" she eventually asked the room. "And do you know what happened to him?"
"This, Poppy, is Harry Potter," replied McGonagall. "A Harry Potter from the future. He has been hit by the killing curse and his consciousness returned to his younger self."
Madam Pomfrey turned to the younger Harry, and began casting charms at him, gasping at the results.
"Minerva, this boy has three consciousnesses residing within him!" she exclaimed, before spinning to the other travellers and casting the same charms at them, and at herself and McGonagall for good measure. "But everyone else only has one."
Hermione pumped her fist in the air. "Ha!" she exclaimed. "She shoots, she scores!"
"Humility isn't necessarily a bad thing," Neville told her with a grin.
"Sod that," replied Hermione, much to Harry's surprise; her behaviour since coming through the portal was rather more assertive than he remembered.
Neville saw Harry's surprise, and explained. "After I'd killed Voldemort, we recovered your body. Everyone wanted to give you a hero's funeral, but Hermione wouldn't let them."
"Because he wasn't dead," Hermione interjected.
"So she was arguing with the Ministry about the funeral, with the Unspeakables about time travel and the viability of her tracking device, with Professor Vector about arithmancy stuff, and with Ron about everything," continued Neville.
Hermione shrugged. "We'd won, and I finally decided that I wasn't going to take any more from anyone. I'd do what I wanted to do, and everyone else. They all left us to win their war for them, and having done that there was no way I was going to let them tell me what I could or couldn't do. If they wanted to be in positions of power, they should have fought against Voldemort rather than cowering in their homes with hands over their ears."
"Good for you," Harry told her, delighted when she beamed her gratitude back at him.
"Thank you," she told him. "Anyway, my theory, once I found the temporal signature in my trace results, was that your consciousness had been sent back in time. I reasoned that it would have gone back to an earlier version of yourself, but wouldn't be able to integrate with the younger consciousness because of the protection from your mother. So there was likely to be a younger you with two consciousnesses, one of which, probably the younger, would be suppressed by the older. So I brought back your body so that we could extract the older consciousness and put it back where it belongs."
"What about the third consciousness?" asked Madam Pomfrey.
"Ah, well," hesitated Hermione, looking at Harry.
"Everyone knows," Harry told her, "well, except Madam Pomfrey. The third consciousness is Voldemort's," he told her. "My scar is a horcrux."
Madam Pomfrey's eyes widened. "My word!" she exclaimed, turning to McGonagall. "We'll need the services of a necromancer to get that out."
McGonagall nodded. "I know several people who would be able to carry out the removal and will try to contact them as soon as we are finished here."
"Hang on a minute!" exclaimed Harry. "You mean you know what a horcrux is, and how to remove it?"
"Of course I do," said Madam Pomfrey, affronted. "Possession, the forms that possession can take, and methods of dispossession, are a required part of healer training."
"Then why didn't you spot this before?" he asked. "Well, the other you. I was in the hospital wing for ages at the end of my first year, and loads of times over the years. How come you never found this before?"
Madam Pomfrey looked puzzled. "I can't explain that, Mr Potter," she told him. "Possession shows up on all standard diagnostic scans. There's no way I could have missed it."
"Dumbledore," growled Sirius.
"No, it can't have been," protested Hermione. "He didn't even know about the horcruxes until he saw the diary at the end of our second year."
Harry looked thoughtful. "He probably suspected," he said, "or at least thought that horcruxes were a possibility. I can't think why he'd have done something like screening my scar from scanning, but if it wasn't him, who else could it have been? The only other person here in first year that might have had reason to do it was Voldemort, but he never knew that my scar was a horcrux."
Hermione nodded reluctantly. "I can't see why he'd do it either but you're right, it must have been him."
McGonagall was also nodding her agreement. "The Headmaster is clearly working to a plan that we know nothing about."
"And which is probably based on faulty assumptions," commented Luna. "He either isn't aware that horcruxes can be removed from living hosts, or doesn't care that Harry dies as long as the horcrux in his scar is destroyed."
Harry rubbed his hands. "Right then, Madam Pomfrey, how soon can we get a necromancer into Hogwarts?"
Early the next morning, on the other side of the castle in Gryffindor Tower, Hermione Granger (the younger) made her way quietly down the stairs from the dorms and into the common room. Her new dorm-mates, Lavender and Parvati, had finally fallen asleep in the early hours of the morning, bringing to an end several hours of feverish speculation and allowing Hermione to get some sleep herself. It seemed clear that the people who had come through the portal in the Great Hall were time travellers and one of them was her!
Hermione had major self-esteem issues stemming from the fact that, throughout her life, she had never succeeded in making a friend. She had therefore pushed herself into study, alienating her even more from her peers. It had also caused her to become overly-deferential to her elders, who were the only ones who treated her with any kindness.
To see, then, this assertive, self-confident person, who looked to have friends, appear in a burst of magic that all around her admitted was extraordinarily impressive, had given her plenty to think about. Unfortunately all that her dorm-mates were interested in was the relationship of her future self with Harry Potter. And even after they were asleep, their snoring had prevented Hermione from concentrating. She needed to work out how she could become future-Hermione and decided that, this early, the common room would be empty and quiet enough for her purposes.
Reaching the bottom of the stairs, though, she was disappointed to see that the common room wasn't as empty as she'd hoped. A small figure was sitting on a rug in front of the still-glowing fire. Hermione stopped and was about to turn around when she recognised the figure as Neville Longbottom, one of her new housemates and also, apparently, one of the other time travellers. It had seemed to her that future-Hermione and future-Neville were friends, so maybe this was the ideal opportunity to make her first friend. She frowned. How, though, did one go about making a friend?
Taking a deep breath, Hermione stepped into the common room and approached the fire, slowing as Neville looked over his shoulder at the sound of her approach.
"Hello," said Hermione nervously. "I'm Hermione Granger."
"Neville Longbottom," came the reply, along with an automatic-sounding "pleased to meet you."
Hermione smiled nervously and quickly sat down at Neville's side before her courage deserted her. "I just thought I'd come down here to think about what happened last night in the Great Hall."
Neville started to rise. "That's all right," he said quietly. "I'll go and leave you in peace."
"No, you don't have to go," said Hermione almost desperately. "I mean, if you don't want to. I don't mind."
Neville sank back to the floor and stared at the fire. "That wasn't me, in the Great Hall," he suddenly said. "It can't have been. My family thought for ages that I was a squib, and I can hardly get my wand to work for me at all. I've never had a sword. There's no way I'm going to grow up to be a great wizard, with friends like Harry Potter and someone who can build a time machine. I haven't got any friends, full stop."
"I was thinking the same," admitted Hermione, not daring to look at Neville. "I've never had any friends, and I don't think I could ever behave like that person did in the Great Hall. She insulted a teacher! And she's really nice looking," she trailed off.
"Where are they now, do you think?" asked Neville, after several minutes of companiable silence.
"Lavender said that the lady who levitated the older Harry Potter out was the school healer, Madam Pomfrey," replied Hermione. "There's a hospital wing in the castle, and she thought that they'd all be up there."
Neville stood up, and Hermione's heart dropped, thinking that he was going to go back to his dormitory. It didn't look as though she was going to make a friend after all, she thought sadly.
"Do you know where the hospital wing is?" came Neville's voice, though, startling her. She looked up to see him looking at her expectantly.
"On the first floor, straight up the stairs from the entrance hall," said Hermione, still not moving, and wondering why he wanted to know this.
"Well, are you coming, then?" asked Neville.
"What?" asked Hermione. "Where? To the hospital wing? Are we allowed to? They won't let us in, will they?"
Neville smiled tentatively. "Those two didn't look like they'd worry about whether something is allowed or not. If they are us, future us's, I mean, maybe we shouldn't worry either?"
Hermione's first instinct was to say 'no', and stay in the common room. But as she was about to speak she noticed Neville's smile begin to fade and his shoulders slump, and forced herself to reconsider. Neville was right; the older her had been prepared to travel through time to find a friend; that was the sort of person she wanted to be, not someone who'd sit alone in an empty common room with no friends. She jumped to her feet.
"Let's go," she said, desperately hoping she was making the right decision, and was almost immediately bolstered by the huge smile that blossomed on Neville's face. The two of them left the common room without a backward glance.
Ten minutes later neither Hermione nor Neville were feeling quite so confident as they crept down a first-floor corridor towards where Hermione thought the hospital wing should be. Eventually reaching a pair of large doors both children pressed their ears up against them. No sound was discernible to Hermione, though, and Neville's expression suggested that he, too, was unable to hear anything.
"Do you think this is the right place?" asked Hermione, only to give a muffled scream as the doors were suddenly pulled open from the inside. Both she and Neville lost their balance and tumbled into the room, either side of the imposing figure of their new Head of House, the person who'd pulled them open.
The time travellers had spent the night in the hospital wing. Professor McGonagall had quickly ascertained that a South African contact of hers would be able to travel to Scotland and, having been given brief details of the problem, had begun his journey immediately. The travellers had therefore risen and breakfasted early and were discussing how to deal with Voldemort's remaining horcruxes when a quiet alarm charm sounded.
"That'll be Elder Msumbwe," said McGonagall, heading for the doors. "I'll go and escort him up here."
She released the locking charms on the doors and pulled them open, only to be surprised by two screams as two small figures fell into the room either side of her.
"Don't shoot!" squeaked the female figure, eyes wide at the half-dozen wands that were immediately pointed at her.
"Miss Granger, Mr Longbottom, what are you doing here?" asked McGonagall sternly.
The two first years exchanged panicked glances.
Neville stuttered "Er, Hermione wasn't feeling very well, so I . . ." at the same time as Hermione began "Neville wasn't feeling very well so I . . ."
McGonagall's lips twitched. "A word of advice Miss Granger, Mr Longbottom. Always prepare your excuses in advance; they may not be believed, but they will at least be internally consistent."
Harry had moved towards the group at the door and was examining the first years in delight.
"I can't believe how small you are!" he exclaimed, switching his gaze rapidly between the younger and older versions of his friends. "Hermione, Neville, come and stand by yourselves."
The older versions sighed in resignation and moved to stand next to their younger counterparts, who were themselves subjecting their older selves to intense scrutiny.
"Yes, I am you," said Hermione kindly to her younger counterpart.
"How did you make friends?" blurted out younger-Hermione, before blushing furiously as everyone turned to her.
Older-Hermione smiled. "I lied to Professor McGonagall after getting into a fight with a troll," she commented cryptically.
Younger-Hermione's jaw dropped. "I lied to a teacher?" she squeaked. "And why was I fighting a troll?"
Harry walked over to the two Hermiones. "You were a very bad influence on me," he told them. "Lying to teachers, rigging quidditch try-outs, setting up subversive groups to discredit Ministry officials, planning the first ever successful Gringotts robbery." He shook his head. "I'm amazed I turned out so well after spending so much time with you."
Older-Neville joined the conversation. "She's violent, too," he told younger-Hermione. "She once left me petrified in a cupboard all night when I caught her about to break curfew. And although I didn't see it, Ron told me that she once punched out Draco Malfoy."
"I'd forgotten about that," said Harry delightedly. "One punch and he ran off screaming, because he could see from your face you were going to beat the crap out of him!"
"Don't forget what she did to Rita Skeeter," commented Luna.
"Who's Rita Skeeter?" asked younger-Hermione with trepidation.
"She's a journalist with the Daily Prophet," answered McGonagall. "She specialises in rather nasty character assassination. What did you do to her Miss Granger?"
Before older-Hermione, who had been looking rather embarrassed at Harry and Neville's extolling of her rule-breaking side, could answer, Luna did so.
"She trapped her in her animagus form of a large beetle and kept her that way, in a glass jar, for several weeks, until she gave a magical vow that she'd never write anything bad about Hermione or Harry ever again."
Younger-Hermione was now looking at older-Hermione with hero-worship in her eyes.
"So in summary," Harry told her, "stand up for yourself and your friends, don't believe everything that you read, don't give anyone, teachers included, respect unless they earn it, and just generally think critically about everything and everyone."
Younger-Hermione nodded enthusiastically. "I can do that," she affirmed, before a more uncertain look crept back onto her face. "But will all that really help me get friends in the first place?"
Older-Hermione smiled. "It looks like you've already made one friend," she commented, motioning towards younger-Neville.
"And once I'm back in my own body," chipped in Harry, "the younger me will definitely be your friend."
Hermione looked at him, puzzled. "Your own body?" she asked.
Harry gestured to his older self on the bed behind them. "That's my body," he explained. "This body is currently being shared by me and my younger self. I can feel him in here, and he definitely wants to be your friend." He frowned. "Although that might be because he's terrified of you and wants to get on your good side before you launch your campaign to conquer the wizarding world, crushing all who stand against you. It's not easy to tell."
Younger-Hermione giggled, and moved to stand next to Neville after exchanging shy smiles with him. "So when will you be back in your own body?" she asked Harry.
An alarm charm sounded again.
"Very shortly, I hope" said McGonagall, heading towards the door. "A specialist has just arrived who we hope will be able to assist us. Come, Mr Longbottom, Miss Granger, I will escort you to the Great Hall for breakfast. You may return here later to see Mr Potter once we have transferred his older counterpart to his own body."
McGonagall was back in the hospital wing within ten minutes, accompanied by a tall black man in colourful robes.
"This is Elder Msumbwe," she introduced.
"Greetings," said Msumbwe, bowing. "I represent the Ndebele on the Council of African Tribes, and also act as the Council's Necromancer-in-Chief."
The Hogwarts contingent introduced themselves and, after extracting a vow of secrecy, the situation with regard to the horcrux currently sharing younger-Harry's body was explained.
Msumbwe cast a number of detection of detection charms on Harry, surrounding him with a riot of coloured auras, and spent several minutes studying these from all angles. He finally dispelled the charms with a wave of his hand, and nodded sharply.
"Yes, the interloper soul fragments are there," he agreed.
"Can you remove them?" asked Hermione anxiously.
"Oh yes," responded Msumbwe. "Putting Mr Potter's older soul back into his older body is a fairly straight-forward task. Removing the partial soul of Lord Voldemort will be more difficult, as it has had longer to acclimate itself to its host and will, I assume, be far less willing to leave its host than Mr Potter's older soul."
"Well, how about we get me back to my body first, then perhaps I can help with the Voldemort removal," suggested Harry.
Msumbwe agreed, and in short order Harry found himself laid out on the floor, a complex ritual circle sketched around him. Older-Harry's body was laid out in a similar, adjacent circle. Motioning everyone else to stand back, Msumbwe began a slow circuit of the circles in a figure-of-eight pattern, chanting in a language unknown to those present. He stopped as he reached each circle's cardinal points and sprinkled a grey dust, taken from a leather pouch strung around his neck, on the Harry within.
After three full circuits the volume of Msumbwe's chanting increased until, with a final shout, he drew a small knife, sliced open his left palm and sprinkled blood from the knife's blade over the younger Harry. A pulsing light rose from the small form, hovered briefly, before crossing the circles and diving into older-Harry.
Older-Harry immediately jerked into a sitting position, taking in a whooshing gasp of air, before descending into a violent coughing fit.
"What the hell is in that dust," Harry spluttered, as he slowly managed to bring his coughing under control.
Before Msumbwe could answer, Harry found himself flat on his back again, as Hermione threw herself onto him.
"I knew I could find you, I knew I could get you back," she repeated, hugging him tightly.
Sirius and Remus helped the two teens back to their feet, Hermione still clinging to Harry, who was smiling broadly and showing no discomfort at Hermione's close attention.
Harry turned to Msumbwe, who was smiling faintly, and bowed to the necromancer.
"Thank you, Elder," he said with sincerity. "If there is ever anything I can do for you, please let me know."
"You are welcome, Mr Potter," replied Msumbwe. "I have merely put right that which went wrong. Now, though, we must correct a greater wrong."
Harry nodded and, disentangling himself from Hermione, moved to stand by the circle which still contained his younger self. Madam Pomfrey had, as soon as older-Harry's soul was removed, cast a sedation charm on younger-Harry, ensuring that he remained within the circle. "What do we need to do now?"
"A similar ceremony to the one which separated your soul from your younger self," explained Msumbwe. "But I suspect that it will need considerably more power behind it. We will also need a receptacle for the soul fragment that will be removed."
"Will either of those be a problem?" asked McGonagall anxiously.
"The receptacle, no," answered Msumbwe. "I have never, though, attempted to remove a soul fragment that has been embedded in a human host for so long. If the fragment, which will have retained the sentience of Voldemort, fears for its existence we will need significant power to detach it from its host."
"Would a power feed help?" asked Hermione. "We could set up a subsidiary conduit ritual so that Harry could feed you the power you need to remove the fragment."
Msumbwe looked doubtful. "I have never heard of such a ritual," he admitted. "And the power needed will be immense. I had thought to perform the ritual in seven stages, keeping the host body in stasis between rituals, allowing me time to recover between each stage."
"How long would that take?" asked McGonagall.
"Seven weeks," replied Msumbwe.
Hermione snorted. "Is that because you really a need a week to recover between stages, or because of the favourable arithmantic properties of the number seven?"
"A bit of both," admitted Msumbwe. "It would certainly take me two or three days to recover, and if the ritual does have to be carried out in separate stages then it makes sense to use both seven stages and seven weeks."
Hermione nodded. "Noted. But if Harry supplies you with all the power you need, the separate staging will be unnecessary." She moved over to her bed and pulled several sticks of chalk out of her bag before moving to an open area of the ward.
"I'll set up the conduit circles. Let's get this finished."
Msumbwe smiled at Hermione's abrupt manner. "I am in your hands, Miss Granger," he said, bowing in her direction.
In short order, Harry and Msumbwe were ensconced within their own circles; Msumbwe's was simply a larger circle around the existing one in which younger-Harry lay, whereas older-Harry was in a subsidiary circle off to the side. A piece of rock, the intended receptacle for Voldemort's soul, sat in its own small circle, but still within Msumbwe's larger circle.
"I will begin the ritual," Msumbwe told Harry. "If I require more power I will indicate for you to invoke your circle." Harry nodded in understanding.
Taking a deep breath, Msumbwe began his ritual chant, walking slowly around the inner circle in which younger-Harry lay. Unlike the earlier ritual, where a light had quickly risen from the body, there was no initial indication that the ritual was working. A sheen of sweat had broken out on Msumbwe's face, though, and his chanting had assumed a greater sense of urgency. Grimacing, he gestured towards older-Harry.
Harry immediately drew a similar knife to the one used earlier by Msumbwe and slashed it across his palm, dropping the resultant blood onto a rune at the north point of his circle. The circle flared into silver luminescence as, a few moments later, did Msumbwe's. Msumbwe straightened and, after casting an incredulous glance in Harry's direction, resumed his chanting.
Now, there was a reaction. A dark mass began to emerge from the scar on younger-Harry's forehead. It seemed reluctant, but in the face of Msumbwe's insistent chant the mass was finally clear of younger-Harry's body. With a triumphant cry Msumbwe slashed his own hand and flung the blood onto younger-Harry's body. The inner circle pulsed with light, as did the circle surrounding the rock, and the dark mass was drawn inexorably from one to the other before, with a scream audible to all present, it vanished into the rock's surface. All of the circles became inert.
McGonagall was the one who eventually broke the silence. "Did it work? She asked Msumbwe.
The necromancer was smiling broadly. "I should say so!" he exclaimed.
Madam Pomfrey had moved to the edge of the larger circle and, at a nod from the Elder, crossed the threshold and moved to the side of younger-Harry. After casting several detection charms, she too smiled broadly. "There is now only one consciousness inhabiting this body," she reported, before levitating younger-Harry onto a bed and casting an enervate at him.
After a couple of seconds, younger-Harry's eyes flickered open and, after Madam Pomfrey handed him his glasses, he looked round at all the people surrounding his bed.
"Er . . . Hello?" he said tentatively.
"Good Morning, Mr Potter," replied McGonagall, smiling at the first year. "How do you feel?"
"OK," admitted Harry. "Is this real, now? Am I really at Hogwarts?"
"You are indeed, Mr Potter," confirmed Madam Pomfrey. "I am Madam Pomfrey, the school healer. You've been through a bit of an ordeal, but you are now perfectly healthy."
"I was in the Great Hall," remembered Harry, "and then suddenly there was someone else in my head." He turned to look at older-Harry. "You!" he exclaimed. "And we killed a professor, and there were time travellers!" He screwed up his face for a moment, thinking, before asking "Are you really me from the future?"
"I am," said older-Harry. "And I'm sorry for possessing you like that. It wasn't intentional, it just happened when Voldemort tried to kill me in the future."
"Will it happen again?" asked younger-Harry anxiously. "I felt like I was trapped in my own head."
"No, it won't happen again," promised older-Harry. "I'm back in my own body now."
"Do you remember us?" broke in Sirius eagerly.
Harry looked at him thoughtfully. "Sort of," he admitted, screwing up his face again in thought. "You and a man with a moustache were going to do something perverted with a rat, I think."
"No, no," corrected Sirius hastily, "that's not . . ." He broke off as he saw the small smile on younger-Harry's face, and laughed. "You'll do," he told Harry, and quickly introduced everyone around the bed, before a knocking sound at the door distracted him.
The younger versions of Neville and Hermione were standing nervously by the door. "We came to see if Harry was awake yet," Hermione eventually said.
Sirius pulled Remus and Tonks to the side, clearing a space between the bed and the newcomers. "He is," he said, gesturing the first years forward.
They tentatively approached the bed. "Hello," said Hermione after taking a deep breath, "I'm Hermione Granger and this is Neville Longbottom." She exchanged a nervous look with Neville before blurting out "Do you want to be friends with us?"
Younger Harry nodded happily at Hermione. "Yes please," he said, before looking apprehensively at the surrounding adults. Turning back to Hermione he continued in a lower tone "But I've never really had any friends before. My cousin used to beat up anyone who tried to be my friend. So I don't really know much about being friends with someone."
Hermione and Neville exchanged another look. "Neither do we," Hermione admitted, and turned to her older counterpart. "What do we do?" she asked worriedly.
Older-Hermione smiled at her younger self. "Exactly what you are doing," she said. "Talk to each other." Glancing out of the window, she continued "It's a nice day out there, why don't the three of you go and explore the castle grounds and get to know each other."
Three smiles were her answer, and younger-Harry scrambled off the bed to stand by Hermione and Neville.
"Just a minute," said Sirius as the three were about to leave, and turned to older-Hermione. "Can we get back to our own time?"
Hermione looked round at her friends, and her shoulders slumped. "I don't know," she admitted. "But I don't think so. We've already changed the future. I suspect that we're now in a parallel universe that will proceed on its own course, and I'm not sure that I'll be able to find our 'original' universe. And even if I can, you can't travel into the future. We'd still be in the past there, too. And we're not all from the same time anyway."
"Fair enough," said Sirius with shrug, before turning to younger-Harry. "I don't know if you remember," he told him, "but I'm your godfather. Your mum and dad asked me to look after you if anything happened to them. Unfortunately I've been in prison since the day after they died. But I've now been cleared of doing anything wrong and I'm a free man. Would you like to come and live with me?"
A massive smile was spreading over younger-Harry's face. "Really?" he asked urgently. "I could leave the Dursleys and live with you?"
"Yes and yes," laughed Sirius. "Although the house will need cleaning up a bit."
Harry rushed to Sirius and hugged him tightly, whispering "Thank you, thank you, thank you," repeatedly into his stomach.
As he stepped back, older-Harry stepped forward and ruffled his hair. "And since we have the same parents, that makes us brothers," he told younger-Harry. "So if ever Sirius gets too much for you, there'll always be a place for you with me, as well."
Younger-Hermione, hearing this, turned a hopeful glance towards older-Hermione, who smiled back at her.
"I always wanted a little sister," she commented, her smile broadening at the enormous beam that appeared on younger-Hermione's face.
Older-Neville moved towards his counterpart, too, and held out his hand.
"Brothers?" he asked the first year.
"Brothers," repeated younger-Neville happily as he shook hands with his future self.
Having finally shooed the three first years out of the hospital wing, McGonagall reapplied the privacy charms over the room and turned to Harry.
"How many more horcruxes do we need to find, and where are they? she asked.
"There are five more," Harry replied. "One of them is here at Hogwarts, one is at 12 Grimmauld Place, one is in Little Hangleton, one is either at Malfoy Manor or in Lucius Malfoy's Gringotts vault and one is in Bellatrix Lestrange's Gringotts vault."
"We should try and get them all as quickly as possible," said Hermione. "Everyone in the Great Hall saw Voldemort when you killed Quirrell. Some of them will have already written to their parents. We need to destroy the horcruxes, and Voldemort's wraith form, before the likes of Lucius Malfoy decide to take action of their own."
"Agreed," said Harry. "Since Malfoy is the most likely to take action against us, we need to deal with him first."
"He, or Narcissa, is likely to be holding Bellatrix's vault key," said Hermione. "If we take out the Malfoys we can get Bellatrix's key and if the diary's not at Malfoy Manor we can get Lucius's key too. Then to Gringott's, and we've got two horcruxes."
"When you say "take out"," began Minerva tentatively, "I suspect you're not using the word in the sense of "entertain"".
"No, I'm not," acknowledged Hermione. "I doubt that Narcissa will give us any cause to do anything other than incapacitate her, but with Lucius that won't be the case."
"It's inevitable, Minerva," added Neville quietly. "He has a dark mark. Once we kill Voldemort he'll die anyway. He did in the future we came from. Everyone with a dark mark will die."
"What's a dark mark?" asked Minerva.
Harry shook his head in disbelief. "Did Dumbledore actually share any information with anyone, about anything, ever?" he asked rhetorically.
"A dark mark is a modified protean charm in the form of a tattoo, Minerva," explained Hermione. "The marks are all linked together, and what is done to one mark causes all the others to resonate, with the restriction that only Voldemort's magic could open the link. He used it to send messages to the death eaters, such as times and places to assemble."
"Just a minute," broke in Harry. "Voldemort didn't have a mark himself, he activated the marks by using one of his death eaters. If he didn't have a, well, 'master' mark that was linked to the others, why would his death cause them all to die as well?"
Hermione smiled at Harry proudly. "Well reasoned, Harry," she complimented. "We had the same discussions in the future, once Neville killed him. As far as we can tell, he did originally have a master mark. But that was destroyed with his original body, and was why he had to use one of his death eaters after he was resurrected. If that was all the mark was, though, destroying it wouldn't destroy the linked marks – our DA galleons wouldn't have been destroyed if my master galleon had been, for example.
Harry nodded his understanding. "So he did something else to the marks?"
"We think he set up some kind of power drain," she agreed. "The unspeakables couldn't agree on whether it was a way for him to increase his general power levels by way of a constant drip-feed of magical energy to him, or some kind of suicide mark; an "if I'm going to die I'm taking you with me" sort of thing."
"I wouldn't have thought it was a suicide mark, at least not intentionally," mused Harry. "He thought he was immortal."
"We'll probably never know for sure," said Hermione, "but most of us think that it was a modified power ritual, either generally or perhaps for quicker recoveries after fights. We don't know whether it worked – if Snape told Dumbledore about it, he never told anyone else to our knowledge – but we think that the suicide element was probably unintentional. Nothing happened when you first disembodied him back in '81 because the marks recognised that the magic behind the master mark still existed, even if the mark itself didn't. Once Neville killed him again, though, and there were no horcruxes to tie him to life, they recognised that their connections to the magic behind the master mark had gone and immediately drained the life force from the wizards they were attached to."
"Does Severus have one of these marks?" asked Minerva quietly.
"He does," confirmed Harry.
"Is there any way we can prevent him dying when we destroy You-Know-Who?"
Harry paused, conflicted. Snape was responsible for giving Voldemort the prophecy and was therefore indirectly responsible for his parents' deaths. And after six years at Hogwarts he detested the man. He also, though, remembered the memories that Snape had given him. He'd been his mum's friend, and had spied for Dumbledore. And even though he knew that Snape hated him, he'd been genuinely appalled at Dumbledore's plan to use him as a sacrifice.
The others in the room were watching Harry quietly. He turned to Hermione. "Could we save him?"
Hermione grimaced. "Possibly," she hedged. "When we were deconstructing the Death Eaters' deaths I discussed this with Professor Flitwick and Callandine December, the Unspeakables' charms expert. Professor Flitwick thought it would be possible to set up a kind of feedback loop, and isolate an individual mark from the master, and Callandine and I couldn't see any problems with that. But it would need Professor Snape's co-operation. And I think we'd need to get Professor Flitwick to do it. I understand the theory, but if we don't get it right first time there's a risk that Snape's mark will think that the master mark is gone and trigger the suicide drain anyway."
Harry sighed. "We'll give him the chance to do it. If he refuses, we stun him while we get rid of the horcruxes. That way he can't interfere and he'll die peacefully."
"I'll talk to Professor Flitwick," said Hermione, "and the two of us can explain it to Professor Snape."
"OK," agreed Harry. "So who's coming with me to Malfoy Manor?"
In the end, the raiding party consisted of Harry, Sirius and Remus. Neville and Luna had headed off to the Room of Requirement to retrieve Ravenclaw's diadem, with Luna then planning on joining Tonks and Cedric for a meeting with McGonagall. They were the only three travellers to have been returned to school-age bodies, and Cedric and Luna at least needed to complete their education. Although Harry suspected that he, Hermione and Neville might well be joining the current seventh years as well.
Wands out, the three of them appeared at the bottom of the drive leading up to the Manor and warily approached. There was no sign that the Manor's occupants expected trouble. Arriving at the front door Harry gripped his wand tightly and pulled the enormous bellchain.
Almost immediately the door swung open and they were confronted by a small elf.
"You is being welcomed to Malfoy Manor," the elf told them. "Minky will be taking you to the reception room and Mistress Malfoy will be recepting you."
"I've never been recepted," commented Sirius with a grin as they followed the elf to a white-panelled room at the end of the entrance hall, where they found Narcissa Malfoy slumped on a chaise-longue in front of an ornate fireplace. The elf snapped her fingers, creating a sound like a clap of thunder. Narcissa's head jerked up, she lost her balance, and slid gracelessly onto the floor. A groan came from the face-down figure.
"Minky will be fetching Mistress's medicine," announced the elf, popping away and returning almost immediately with a large green bottle which she placed on a table by the still-supine Narcissa.
"Absinthe?" said Remus incredulously. "It's half-past nine in the morning!"
"Mistress drinks to forget," commented Minky wisely, before popping away.
"Is it working, Cissy?" asked Sirius, as he walked over to his cousin and crouched in front of her.
"Sirius?" croaked Narcissa, raising her head and peering blearily up at him. "You mean the story in this morning's Prophet was true?"
Remus joined Sirius and the two of them grabbed an arm each and hoisted Narcissa into an armchair. Harry was stunned at her appearance; her eyes were bloodshot, her hair was a mess and she was wearing only a sheer nightdress. Given that she'd obviously been drinking as well she was clearly in no state to receive visitors.
"What are you trying to forget?" asked Harry curiously.
"The complete failure that is my life," replied Narcissa bitterly. "Pass me the absinthe, whoever you are."
"It's half past nine in the morning", repeated Sirius. "No absinthe until after lunch, Cissy. What would our mothers say if they could see you now?"
"Pair of meddling old hags," muttered Narcissa. "If they knew what I knew, they'd be joining me."
Harry was looking round the opulently decorated room, and turned back to Narcissa questioningly. "You live in a huge mansion, you're filthy rich, you're waited on hand and foot," he pointed out. "Aren't you living the pureblood dream?"
"A gilded cage is still a cage," snapped Narcissa, making another unsuccessful grab for the absinthe bottle.
"A cage?" asked Harry, puzzled.
Narcissa ignored him, but Sirius nodded sadly. "A pureblood marriage contract can be, well, quite restrictive," he told Harry.
Remus, seeing that Harry looked none the wiser, explained. "Some purebloods back-up their wedding vows with a second set of unbreakable vows tied to their magic. The vows are, as you might expect, unbreakable unless a person wants to lose their magic. And for a pureblood, that would be unthinkable."
Harry's eyes widened in understanding and he looked at Narcissa with more sympathy. "So you haven't stayed with Lucius out of love," he commented.
"I have stayed with Lucius because if I try to leave him I will lose my magic," agreed Narcissa, slumping back in her armchair. "As I will if I disobey him in any way, leave the Manor without permission or engage in any actions contrary to my wedding vows."
"Does he make, er, unreasonable requests?" asked Sirius delicately.
Narcissa glared at him.
"Hey, you're the one complaining," protested Sirius, "it was a perfectly reasonable question."
Narcissa sighed. "He doesn't make any requests," she said sadly. "He just leaves me alone, in this Manor, with no-one but house elves for company. I won't even have Draco for company now he's started Hogwarts. And even there, Lucius is starting to turn him into a carbon copy of himself."
Harry nodded sympathetically. Having put up with Draco for six years at Hogwarts he could see how, over time, he had become ever more similar to Lucius. A thought struck him.
"If Lucius was no longer around, would you be free from the vows?" he asked.
"The only way to get free is for Lucius to either voluntarily release me or die," said Narcissa glumly. "He will never release me, for the shame that would cause him. And there's a very specific vow to stop me from doing anything that might cause or procure his death."
Harry, Remus and Sirius exchanged glances.
"Would you providing us with access to a couple of dark artifacts break that vow?" asked Sirius.
Narcissa eyed him sharply and straightened in her chair. "What would be the effect of me giving you access?" she asked. "Precisely."
"Lets say, hypothetically, that Lucius had tied his life and magic to another individual. Lets call that person, I don't know, the Dark Lord V," said Sirius. "This Lord V carried out some rather nasty rituals that mean he's still hanging around. Destroying certain artifacts would negate these rituals and mean that we could shuffle him off this mortal coil. Unfortunately, anyone who had tied his life and magic to Lord V would have both drained at the point of shuffle, and would in fact shuffle off after him."
Narcissa was clearly thinking furiously, but eventually sighed and shook her head. "My vow is to not, by commission or omission, do or say anything which I know or suspect will lead, in any manner, to the death of my husband. If I give you access to an artifact knowing that you will destroy it and, as a result, Lucius will die, then I am in breach of that vow and will lose my magic."
"Is there any way to break an unbreakable vow?" asked Harry curiously.
"If you could break them, they wouldn't be unbreakable," commented Sirius dryly.
Harry snorted. "Like I believe any description given to something by a wizard," he said dismissively. "But if you don't want to take the risk," he told Narcissa, "where is Lucius?"
Narcissa hesitated. "I can't tell you," she said finally. "If you find him on my instructions, the vow might take that as me doing something that I suspect will lead to his death."
Sirius nodded understandingly. "Minky!" he called.
The elf appeared and looked questioningly at him.
"We need to speak to your master", Sirius told her. "Where might we find him?"
"Master be in the games room," said Minky obligingly, heading towards to door at the other end of the room. "You will be following Minky."
"I never had Lucius down as a billiards man," commented Sirius as they followed the elf.
Narcissa walked with them, albeit somewhat unsteadily. "The word "games" covers a multitude of pastimes," she commented cryptically as the party passed back through the entrance hall, along a corridor and to a door covered with maroon baize.
"Minky be leaving you here," said the elf, looking nervously at the door. "Minky not be liking to watch Master's games."
Harry shrugged and, wand in hand, slowly and quietly opened the door. His jaw dropped at the sight in front of him. Glancing at his companions he could see that Sirius and Remus were similarly flabbergasted. Narcissa simply looked sad, and whispered "Oh, Lucius".
The room, as Sirius had suggested, contained a full-size snooker table. It wasn't this that had drawn the watchers' attention, though. Their eyes were focussed on a wooden frame fastened to the far wall of the room. Lucius Malfoy was shackled to it, legs akimbo, arms above his head, face to the wall. He was stark naked.
Standing behind him on a small footstool was another house elf. The elf was also naked, except for a large strap-on dildo, which it was pumping energetically into its master.
Lucius was evidently enjoying the elf's attentions, if his enthusiastic encouragement was any guide.
"Harder, Dobby!" he exhorted the elf. "I've been a bad boy and need to be punished!"
"Bad master," agreed Dobby, thrusting vigorously. "Master is Dobby's bitch now. Dobby is filling master with his elfish weapon!"
Harry covered his eyes with one hand. "This explains so much about both of them," he said in resignation."
At the sound of his voice Dobby sprang backwards off the footstool and turned to face the interlopers, his "elfish weapon" bouncing hypnotically. "Who is you?" he demanded. "You is disturbing master's games."
Lucius was also trying to turn his head to see who had entered the room, but was shackled too tightly to the frame. After several seconds of silence, the bound wizard coughed, and said "Where am I? Why am I tied up? Help!"
"You're not fooling anyone, Lucius," said Sirius, recovering his wits.
"Who's that?" asked Lucius. "And I can assure you, the last thing I remember was taking a stroll in the gardens, then suddenly waking up shackled and bound to this frame. It's a fine state of affairs when a wizard can be attacked and assaulted in his own home."
"It's cousin Sirius and some friends, Lucius," explained Narcissa. "Apparently the story in this morning's Prophet was true."
"Narcissa," said Lucius nervously. "Is there any sign of my attackers? Could you help free me?"
"Attackers?" she replied archly. "Would that be Dobby and his "elfish weapon"?"
Lucius slumped in his shackles. "Release me, Dobby, and hand me my robe," he said in resignation.
"Master has not yet been fully punished," protested the elf. "Dobby has not yet taken the lash to Master. And Master has not yet suffered the torment of the large purple vibrating thing."
After another uncomfortable silence, Lucius coughed again. "Is there anything I can say or do that will not result in multiple pensieve memories of this morning circulating around the wizarding community?" he asked.
Harry and Sirius exchanged glances.
"Release Narcissa from her wedding vows, give us the diary that Voldemort left with you before he disappeared and give us access to Bellatrix's Gringotts vault," said Sirius, waving his wand and releasing Lucius from his shackles.
"And if I don't?" asked Lucius diffidently as he grabbed a robe from the floor and shrugged it on.
"We kill you, rip this manor apart until we find the diary and force Narcissa to give us Bellatrix's vault key," said Harry bluntly.
"If I was to comply," said Lucius, "what, hypothetically speaking, would prevent me from then spending the rest of my life working to destroy you, your families, and anyone you'd ever loved?"
Harry smiled coldly. "The life debt you'll owe us for saving your life."
"I do not believe that you agreeing not to kill me would bring a life debt into existence," said Lucius slowly, regarding Harry consideringly.
"Probably not," agreed Harry. "But you have a dark mark on your arm. Voldemort is still, technically, alive, although not for long. When we finally destroy him, sometime in the next couple of days, that mark will combust and kill you."
"Are you saying that you can remove the mark?" asked Lucius intently. "Not just physically, but can unbind it from my magic?"
"We believe so," confirmed Harry.
"Believe?" queried Lucius.
"The theory is sound, but we have not had the opportunity to actually put it to the test," Harry admitted.
"Let me see your plans," Lucius told him. "I have been seeking a way to remove the mark since the day after I received it and realised what it did, and my researches have borne no fruit. If I consider it sound I will accept your conditions."
"Give us Bellatrix's key," replied Harry. Sirius and Narcissa will go to Gringotts to recover an item from her vault, and Remus and I will take you to Hogwarts to explain how the removal will work. If you are satisfied, we'll accompany you back here to retrieve the diary."
Lucius nodded his acceptance. "And the events you witnessed earlier?"
Will go no further than the three of us," declared Harry.
"Very well," said Lucius. "Let us away to Hogwarts."
Back at Hogwarts Harry, Remus and Lucius quickly sought out Hermione, and found her in Professor Flitwick's classroom along with the professor and a thoroughly shaken Professor Snape.
"Did he agree?" asked Harry, nodding towards the Potions professor.
"He did," replied Hermione. "Why have you brought Lucius Malfoy back with you?"
"Long story," said Harry, "which I have agreed not to tell. Suffice to say that Lucy here is co-operating and will give us what we need if we get rid of his mark, too."
"Once I am satisfied that your method will actually work," interrupted Lucius.
Hermione snorted, and she and Professor Flitwick launched into a joint explanation of their plan. Ten minutes later, Lucius was convinced and Harry and Remus escorted him back to Malfoy Manor to retrieve the diary.
By the time they returned to Hogwarts, Sirius and Narcissa had also completed their errand and Hufflepuff's cup joined the diary, the rock, Ravenclaw's diadem (retrieved by Neville and Luna) and the Voldemort sphere in a safe in McGonagall's office.
"Right, let's get rid of those marks," said Hermione, transfiguring a couple of desks into couches. "Lay down and uncover your marks," she told Snape and Malfoy.
They did so, and Professor Flitwick immediately began chanting a complex liturgy, his wand moving gracefully above the two men. Minutes passed with no obvious effect, until both Snape and Malfoy let out pained gasps. The observers could see what appeared to be grey smoke rising from their forearms.
Hermione now stepped forward and, with a complex gesture of her own wand, the smoke was drawn towards her. Twirling her wand as if she was pulling candyfloss the smoke began to coalesce until with a flick she threw it at the wall where it shattered and dissipated.
Professor Flitwick stopped chanting and everyone held their breath as Hermione waved her wand in a diagnostic charm.
"They're clear," she announced with a grin.
Both Snape and Malfoy were staring at their arms in wonder.
"It's really gone," breathed Malfoy.
Harry coughed and, still staring at his arm, Lucius pulled out his wand and said "I, Lucius Trajan Malfoy hereby release Narcissa Cassiopaea Malfoy from all oaths and vows in place between us. Finite."
There was a sound like an elastic band snapping and Narcissa stumbled against Sirius, before straightening.
"Thank you, Lucius," she told her husband. "I would ask that you allow me to return to the Manor to collect my personal belongings."
Lucius raised his head and smiled at her. "Narcissa," he said, "this was a marriage that neither of us wanted. You are welcome to stay at the Manor for as long as you want."
Narcissa blinked in surprise. "Thank you, Lucius," she said. "I will begin looking for alternative accommodations, but your gesture is appreciated."
Sirius coughed. "Narcissa," he said. "I don't know if it's somewhere you'd like, but I would be willing to sell 12 Grimmauld Place to you for one knut, if you want it."
Narcissa stared at him. "That's the primary Black residence!" she said in surprise.
"And it's a house I've hated since my childhood," replied Sirius. "I could never live there, so if you want it, it's yours."
"I'll take it," said Narcissa, smiling at her cousin. "Thank you so much."
Sirius shrugged. "Just promise me you'll get rid of the house elf heads on the wall."
Narcissa shuddered. "You have my word."
Harry looked at Sirius. "Locket!" he hissed.
Sirius grinned, and pulled the locket out of his pocket. "Narcissa and I made a slight detour on our way back from Gringotts," he told Harry, tossing it to him.
"That just leaves the ring," said Harry happily. "Are you up for a spot of robbery and arson?"
"Might one ask the significance of these items?" asked Lucius casually.
"One might," replied Harry. "But one shouldn't expect an answer."
Lucius shrugged. "I assumed that the diary, as a dark artifact, would attract unwelcome attention to its owner," he admitted. "But I am unaware of the specific enchantments upon it; my analysis charms would never give specific answers."
Harry stared at him. "You were prepared to give this diary to a first year student, but you don't know what it is?" he asked incredulously.
Lucius stared back. "I was told to give the diary to a Hogwarts student if the Dark Lord had been absent for 10 years," he told Harry. "I understood that there was something at Hogwarts that would react with the diary to ensure his return. I assumed that the diary was a ward trigger that would trigger a recovery process powered by the ward sink under the castle, which is the largest source of magical power in Europe."
Harry shook his head. "Who were you going to give it to?" he asked.
Lucius looked puzzled. "I would have given it to Draco to carry through the wards," he replied.
Harry stared at him in disbelief. "Have you ever heard the term 'horcrux'?" he asked Lucius.
Lucius went white. "The Dark Lord created a horcrux?" he said incredulously. "And it's that diary?"
Harry shrugged. "One of six," he replied.
Lucius was staring at Harry open-mouthed. "That's madness!" he exclaimed. "You can't split your soul and stay sane. With six splits . . ." he trailed off. "Hmm, well, that explains much about the Dark Lord."
Harry shrugged again and turned to Sirius. "Fancy a trip to Little Hangleton?"
Two hours later and all of the time travellers had reassembled in Minerva McGonagall's office. The Voldemort sphere and all six horcruxes lay on her desk.
"So," said Minerva. "What do we do with them?"
"My plan was to chuck them through the Veil in the Department of Mysteries," said Harry, "although I'm open to other suggestions."
"Basilisk venom destroyed the diary in our old future," Sirius pointed out. "Could we just douse them all in venom?"
"There hasn't been any basilisk venom available on the open market for over a hundred years," said Minerva. "Where did you get the venom to destroy the diary last time?"
Harry and Hermione exchanged glances.
"You don't want to know," said Harry. "Unless it's a last resort I really don't want to go through that again."
Minerva looked at Harry suspiciously. The travellers had shared several stories with her since their arrival, and her mind was racing furiously. "Please tell me that Hagrid isn't running an illegal basilisk farm somewhere in the Forbidden Forest," she begged.
Harry grinned. "That's not actually a bad guess, Professor," he said. "But no, he's not. Dragons, giants, blast-ended skrewts, yes, but not basilisks."
"Blast-ended skrewts?" said a puzzled Minerva.
"Probably an illegal cross between a fire crab and a manticore," Hermione explained. "Hagrid had several dozen of them, although they had a tendency to eat each other and spontaneously combust, so they didn't really last long."
Minerva shook her head in resignation. "As long as there's no danger to the school from illegally-bred basilisks, then, I don't want to know."
Harry exchanged another look with Hermione, and sighed. "It's not urgent," he said reluctantly, "but there's a 60-foot basilisk currently hibernating in the Chamber of Secrets underneath the school. Once we've dealt with the horcruxes we probably need to do something about it."
Minerva took several deep breaths. "Yes, Mr Potter, I think we probably do," she eventually said. "I assume that's where you obtained the venom from in your future?"
"It is," he admitted. "But I had to kill it first, and it nearly killed me in the process. I just think the veil is easier. I'm not sure venom would work on the rock, or the metal horcruxes."
Minerva nodded. "In this case, experimentation is probably unwise," she agreed. "The last thing we want to do is accidentally free a soul fragment from its horcrux."
After a brief silence it became clear that no-one had any other suggestions for horcrux destruction.
"Right," said Minerva, and walked over to floo. Tossing a handful of floo powder into the fireplace she called "The Ossuary".
Before long, the head of Amelia Bones appeared in the fireplace.
"Minerva," she acknowledged. "What can I do for you this evening?"
Amelia Bones was still shaking her head in disbelief as she stood in the empty atrium of the Ministry of Magic, waiting for her visitors. It was approaching midnight, a time when the Ministry building would be deserted, allowing her and her guests to clandestinely access part of the Department of Mysteries. The story told to her by Minerva and, when she'd travelled to Hogwarts personally, the group of time travellers, was incredible. But if true (and she had come to believe that it was indeed true) tonight would see the ending of a major threat to wizarding Britain and one that she hadn't even been aware existed.
One of the fireplaces on the wall of the atrium flared into life and Minerva McGonagall stepped out of it, quickly followed by the eight travellers. Harry Potter was carrying a small sack, which she assumed contained the horcruxes.
In silence, then ten of them took lifts down to the Department of Mysteries and Amelia led them swiftly to the death chamber. As they entered, the curtain hanging from the veil began to gently flutter in a non-existent breeze.
"OK," said Harry, hefting the sack. "One at a time, or all at once?"
"All at once," said Minerva decisively. "Let's get it over with."
Nodding, Harry walked up to the curtain, swung the sack back and forwards a couple of times, then let go and watched as it arced into the veil.
Everyone tensed, and waited, but nothing happened. The only movement in the chamber was the continuing fluttering of the curtain.
"Well, that was a bit of an anticlimax," said Sirius.
Harry snorted. "That's just the way I like it," he said, a broad smile appearing on his face. "That's it! Voldemort's gone, we're all alive, and we can get on with our lives!"
"I still don't really know what to think about this," said Amelia. "But if you're right, you've saved a lot of lives tonight, and no-one will ever know about it."
Harry shrugged. "I never wanted fame," he said. "I'm still the Boy Who Lived, and so's young Harry, and I'm a time traveller, but that will fade pretty quickly I reckon, without all the crap that I went through in our old future."
Minerva clapped her hands. "Come on," she commanded. "Back to Hogwarts. It's been a long day."
The group headed back to the atrium, but as they exited the lift a fireplace flared.
"Behind the fountain," hissed Harry. At the same time, Amelia cast an area disillusionment charm around them, and the group quickly took cover.
"That wasn't a standard disillusionment charm," stated Hermione.
"It's a one-way charm," said Amelia tersely. Those covered by the charm can see each other, but no-one else can."
A portly figure stepped out of the fireplace, carrying a large sack. He turned, and Harry instantly recognised the Minister for Magic, Cornelius Fudge.
"What's he doing here at this time of night?" hissed Amelia.
Harry was more interested in the sack. Whatever was inside appeared to be alive, as it was squirming furiously and a number of muffled grunts could be heard.
The fireplace flashed again, and a squat figure dressed in pink stepped through, carrying her own squirming sack. Harry stiffened as he also recognised this witch.
"Are you sure that this is a good idea, Cornelius?" asked Dolores Umbridge nervously. "The repercussions if . . ."
"Stop worrying, Dolores," replied Fudge as he headed out of the atrium, not via the lifts but down a corridor away from the reception desk.
"What's down there?" asked Harry, as Umbridge trailed after the Minister.
"Only the staff canteen and the kitchens," replied Amelia.
"Do we follow them?" asked Tonks. "Because that looked very suspicious."
"We need to find out what's in the sacks," said Harry. "You never know, it might be heliopaths."
He winced as Hermione punched his arm.
"A heliopath would have burned through the sack by now," said Luna, "but they could be . . ."
"No!" whispered Hermione forcefully. "You are not going to name a creature that we've never heard of and claim that Fudge has captured one."
"Yackles!" coughed Neville away to Harry's right.
"That was luck!" said Hermione, her voice rising.
"Less arguing, more following," said Sirius, and put his words into action by heading down the corridor that Fudge and Umbridge had taken, quickly followed by Tonks and Remus.
Harry grabbed Hermione's hand and pulled her along behind them, ignoring her angry muttering about non-existent creatures.
The canteen was empty as they entered, but the sound of machinery starting up from behind the service counter suggested that there were people in the kitchens.
"I'm the only auror here," said Amelia. "You stay here while I go and find out what's going on."
"I'm an auror too," protested Tonks.
"Not in this timeline," Amelia responded. "At least, not yet."
"There are nine of us and one of you," said Sirius. "We'll be right behind you."
Huffing in frustration Amelia recast the disillusionment charm and crept through an open door to the kitchens, and felt the others crowding behind her. Sidling round a corner she found herself at the edge of a huge kitchen. Its walls were lined with ovens, sinks, work surfaces and various items of machinery that she couldn't immediately identify. She watched as Fudge and Umbridge hauled one of the machines away from the wall.
"What is this, Cornelius?" whined Umbridge.
Fudge tapped the top of the machine with his wand and the front of the machine swung open on large hinges, providing a door to the interior. That interior was lined with a series of large knives, spikes and other sharp-looking implements.
"Behold, the Mincematic 3000," proclaimed Fudge. "The finest mincing and grinding machine that wizarding ingenuity can offer."
Umbridge spun on her heel and looked at the still-writhing sacks, which had been dropped in the middle of the kitchen, before turning back to the Minister.
"You're going to mince them?" she breathed reverently.
"Not only mince, but slice, dice and season," declared Fudge. Tapping the machine's lid again another panel popped open. "The condimentiser has space for eleven different seasonings".
"Seasonings?" asked an obviously puzzled Umbridge. "Why would you want to season them?"
"To improve the flavour, of course," Fudge told her.
He flicked his wand at one of the ovens on the far wall, and its door popped open to reveal four large dishes. Another wand flick, a fridge flew open, and four pastry lids flew towards the oven and floated next to the dishes.
Fudge was now rummaging in a cupboard, tossing bottles out onto a worktop.
"Salt, pepper, allspice, chili," he muttered. "Any requests, Dolores?"
Umbridge was staring at Fudge. "You're going to eat them?" she finally stuttered.
"Of course," said Fudge. "Waste not, want not."
Amelia heard whispering behind her, and quickly cast a silencing bubble around the group.
"I would never have thought Fudge knew how to cook," said Neville wonderingly. "But why's he doing it at midnight in the Ministry's kitchens? Surely he must have house elves at home? And what do you think are in the sacks?"
"I'll go for rabbits," said Cedric.
"I reckon it's pigs," chipped in Sirius.
"Chickens?" suggested Remus.
"It was a joke," whispered Luna. She turned to Hermione. "Honestly, Hermione, it was a joke."
Harry, casting his mind back to some of Luna's more bizarre comments over the years, felt a chill run down his spine. Hermione's hand, which he was still holding, clenched and he knew that she'd had the same thought.
"It might really be rabbits," he said, although not very convincingly.
"What do you suspect are in the sacks, Miss Lovegood? Mr Potter?" asked Minerva.
"Well, I could be wrong," began Luna, rather uncertainly, "but I suspect it might be goblins."
"Goblins?" shrieked Amelia, inwardly thankful for the silencing charm she'd cast. "You seriously think that the Minister for Magic is about to murder two goblins? In the heart of the Ministry building? And then mince them, season them, and what?"
"Bake goblin pies," agreed Luna quietly.
"I don't believe it," said Hermione, shaking her head. "It's a bad dream. Fudge can't be about to bake goblin pies."
Harry had been keeping one eye on Hermione and one on Fudge, and saw that the Minister was now moving towards the sacks.
"He's going to undo the sacks!" he warned the others, and everyone's attention turned back to the kitchen.
With a gesture of his wand, Fudge removed the rope from the top of one of the sacks. The sack stilled briefly before, with a furious grunt a gagged goblin burst from it and rolled across the kitchen floor.
Fudge began casting stunning spells at the goblin but, despite being bound and gagged, it managed to evade the blasts of red light and struggled to its feet, a murderous look in its eye.
"This has gone far enough," said Amelia, and dropped the disillusionment charm.
"Minister Fudge," she said quietly. "What is the meaning of this?"
"Amelia!" gasped Fudge, glancing between her, Umbridge and the goblin. "What are you doing here?"
"I would like to ask you the same question," said Amelia. "Because from where I'm standing it appears that you were about to do something very unsavoury."
"Or very savoury, depending on your point of view," quipped Sirius, who had walked over to the worktop and was casting his eye over the condiments. "I can't argue with Worcestershire Sauce," he told Fudge, but asafoetida? In combination with ground amchoor? What in Merlin's name is wrong with your taste buds?"
"Sirius!" snapped Hermione. "This isn't 'Masterchef'."
Sirius gave her a puzzled look, but kept quiet as the group as a whole waited for Fudge to say something. Umbridge, though, got there first.
"Amelia," she simpered, to the collective shuddering of the group, "this is all a simple misunderstanding."
Amelia made a show of turning to look at the bound goblin before turning back to Umbridge, without saying a word,
"Yes, well," began Umbridge haltingly, "Mr Throatripper here expressed an interest in seeing the Ministry, so the Minister and I offered to give him a tour."
Amelia paled, turned back to the goblin and with a wave of her wand removed his gag and bindings.
"Assistant Director," she addressed him, with a small bow, "there is very little I feel I can say at this point, other than to offer the apologies of the Ministry. I can assure you that I will leave no stone unturned in investigating the crimes of the Minister and the Senior Undersecretary."
The goblin growled menacingly and gestured at the other sack. With another wave of her wand Amelia vanished it and, as a second goblin was revealed, also vanished that goblin's gag and bindings.
The goblin faced her fully and, with a sigh, Amelia bowed her head again. "Ambassador Skullcrusher," she said in resignation.
"Madam Bones," responded the goblin, in a tone of barely repressed fury. "Are you intending to kill us now? I always considered Fudge to be a venal idiot, and his undersecretary no more than a bigoted halfwit, but you always seemed at least halfway competent".
"No!" Amelia almost shouted. "I happened to be in the Ministry tonight on DMLE business when I and my associates here spotted the Minister arriving. His behaviour was suspicious in the extreme so we followed him and as soon as we realised what he seemed to be planning, stepped in. As I said to Assistant Director Throatripper, I will ensure that the Minister's and Senior Undersecretary's actions will be fully investigated."
"You will forgive my complete lack of faith in your Ministry," said Skullcrusher. "In accordance with Paragraph 62 of the Treaty of Sheffield the Goblin Nation demands the extradition of Minister Fudge and Senior Undersecretary Umbridge to face trail for their crimes."
"You have no right to demand anything, you filthy creature," snarled Umbridge.
Skullcrusher pulled a small glass sphere from his robe and smashed it on the floor of the kitchen.
"A troop of goblin warriors will be here within ten minutes to take these two into custody," he told Amelia. "I suggest you have someone waiting at your main entrance to let them in. Otherwise they will take action to storm the building. If you are unwilling to surrender your Minister to us I suggest you begin to call in your forces to defend an all-out assault from the full might of the goblin army. Needless to say, Gringotts will also close its doors and will begin confiscation proceedings on the contents of all vaults as a result of your breach of the Treaty of Sheffield."
"We will not breach the Treaty," said Amelia hurriedly. "But I must ensure that both sides act in accordance with it." She thought furiously. "May I suggest that the Minister and Senior Undersecretary are held in cells here in the Ministry, but with a goblin guard until the Wizengamot can be assembled to agree to their extradition?"
"When will that be?" asked Skullcrusher.
"Tomorrow morning," Amelia assured him. She turned to Tonks, pulling something from inside her robe and tossing it to her. "Probationary Auror Tonks," she said, "watch over the Minister and Senior Undersecretary whilst the Ambassador and I go and meet the Ambassador's guards, if that meets with your approval," she finished with a glance to the Ambassador.
"It does," said the slightly mollified goblin. "Throatripper, remain here and observe."
The Assistant Director bowed, and Skullcrusher and Amelia hurried away.
Fudge and Umbridge, it was clear, now realised the seriousness of their situation and stood, pale and silent under the wand of Tonks. When, only a few minutes later, Amelia and Skullcrusher returned at the head of a troop of twenty heavily armed goblin warriors, both fainted.
Amelia shook her head and with a swish of her wand levitated the two into the air and directed them back towards the atrium.
Seeing that Hermione was engaged in a whispered debate with Luna, in which the words 'snorkack' and 'humdinger' seemed to playing a part, Harry grinned and under cover of a quick muffliato made a suggestion to Amelia, who rolled her eyes but nodded her acceptance.
"Are we OK to head back to Hogwarts, now, if you have everything under control here?" Harry asked her, focussing everyone's attention back on him and Amelia.
"Indeed you are, Mr Potter," confirmed Amelia. "I've summoned the auror night shift and they should be here shortly, so you're free to go."
Back in the atrium, the travellers headed for the fireplaces whilst Amelia and the goblins moved towards the lifts.
"Please stay at Hogwarts until I've had a chance to speak to you all tomorrow," called Amelia as Sirius began to hand out floo powder. "I'll need witness statements from you all. Honestly, we were already stretched before this mess came up."
"I thought everything was quiet right now?" said Harry innocently, as Amelia stepped into a lift.
Amelia tapped her nose. "Keep it under your hats, but we've got a major operation coming up," she told the travellers as the lift doors closed. "It's cost my aurors half of their teeth, but we've finally got a lead on the Rotfang conspiracy."
Hermione's scream echoed around the atrium.
Back at Hogwarts the travellers were shepherded to the Teachers' Lounge by Minerva and Poppy Pomfrey for a debriefing. Delight over the final demise of Voldemort was tempered by the possibility of a goblin rebellion, although Amelia's quick actions seemed to have averted this. Hermione was the subject of a fair amount of teasing for her reaction to Harry and Amelia's joke, which she didn't seem to mind too much judging by how closely she was snuggled up to Harry on one of the lounge's sofas.
"So what now for you all?" asked McGonagall.
Harry and Hermione exchanged glances.
"I wouldn't mind staying here for a year and finishing off my schooling," Harry told McGonagall, to an approving smile from Hermione. "I've always loved Hogwarts, and this might actually turn out to be a nice quiet year."
There were several murmurs of agreement and after some discussion it became clear that Harry, Hermione, Neville, Luna, Cedric and Tonks all wanted to be placed in seventh year.
"But you've already passed your NEWTS," said Sirius to Tonks. "Why go through all that again?"
"I'm physically only seventeen," replied Tonks. "I can't join the aurors again for at least a year, no matter what my mental age is, and what else would I do? At least this way I get to stay with my friends and have a bit of fun."
"And the fact that Remus will be here, too, has nothing to do with it?" asked Luna innocently.
"Absolutely nothing," agreed Tonks. "And if I should happen to pick up detentions on a regular basis with my Defence Against the Dark Arts professor, and need to be thoroughly punished for my misdeeds, well, that's what happens in a school, isn't it?"
"Perhaps not quite in the way you're implying," said Minerva archly, to general laughter. "Just remember that you are teacher and student and I expect you to conduct yourselves appropriately."
"Ah, but who decides what's appropriate?" asked Sirius.
"Good question," replied Minerva. "And one that will no doubt be answered at 10-o-clock tomorrow morning."
At the group's puzzled looks, Minerva turned to Remus and Tonks and said: "That's the time of the meeting I've arranged with Ted and Andromeda Tonks. I expect you both there."
There was more laughter, this time at the rapid paling of Remus and Tonks.
"Your parents will be here at 2pm," Minerva told Cedric, who nodded his acceptance.
"Did you manage to get in touch with Daddy?" asked Luna, interestedly.
"Sadly not," Minerva replied. "According to one of his staff at the Quibbler, he and your younger self are currently somewhere in Switzerland looking for . . " she consulted a piece of parchment ". . . tatzelwurms."
"Oh, I'd forgotten about that," said Luna delightedly. "I hope we find them this time."
Hermione shook her head, but refrained from comment.
"I left a message asking your father to contact me when he gets back," Minerva said.
"Ask him to bring Luna with him, when he comes to see you," Harry told her. "We can introduce her to our younger selves, get a head start on them becoming friends. I'm sure that young Hermione will love to hear about a tatzelwurm hunt."
Hermione rolled her eyes, but nodded her agreement.
"So what about me?" asked Sirius. "What am I going to do?"
"You've got three months to find a house and get it into shape," Harry told him. "Then you can give young Harry the best Christmas he's ever had."
Sirius sat up straighter. "Of course," he agreed. "The rest of you are invited for Christmas as well, naturally."
Sirius stood up. "Right," he said, "I'll leave all of you studying types to it. I'm heading back to London." He turned to Harry. "I'll meet you in the Three Broomsticks Saturday lunchtime?"
Minerva coughed. "This weekend isn't a Hogsmeade weekend," she pointed out.
"Of course, Professor," replied Harry seriously. "So as my friends and I are all good, law-abiding students, and certainly aren't aware of any secret passages out of the school, we won't be able to make it. Sorry Sirius," he told his godfather.
"Of course, Harry," agreed Sirius as he moved to the door and gave Harry a very obvious slow wink. "Let's say 12-o-clock".
Minerva shook her head at the renewed laughter, before rising and chivvying everyone out. "Guest quarters tonight," she said. "We'll see about where we put you all permanently in the morning."
Harry smiled as he and his friends followed Minerva through the silent school. Voldemort was gone, he had good friends, a new brother and a quiet year to look forward to, not to mention Hermione. It had taken some doing but, at last, all was well. At least for the moment!