Hermione and Draco stood in front of the portrait of St Filliwell. As if aware of what they were attempting the figure in the portrait was standing forward, as though daring them to breach the chamber. A look of contempt coloured his old, wrinkled face, the thin lips curled up. 'Try it Malfoy,' he whispered, 'if you have it in you.'
Draco looked uncertain. Hermione had questioned why, if he knew how to get in the chamber, he had never attempted it before. The truth was he had been banned by his father upon pain of death from ever using his knowledge of the chamber. He wasn't sure if it was an idle threat or not. It was difficult to ever really know what Lucius was thinking. Still he had already betrayed his father once that term, and he reasoned that he might as well be hung for a dragon as for a toad. More resolutely he paced the corridor three times, Hermione at his side, repeating the words in his mind.
For a moment nothing happened, but then, as though it had simply been an apparition, the wall melted away and a door appeared in front of them, opening widely to reveal a dark chamber. Hermione gave a little gasp before promptly following Draco through the door into the gloom.
They both started as the chamber was suddenly illuminated with the light of a dozen or more torches, flickering wildly as the door behind them crashed shut. Hermione spun round half expecting it to have disappeared, trapping them there forever. She was relieved to find it still there.
'You did it,' she said. 'We're in.'
Draco's mouth automatically curled into a sneer. 'You don't say, Granger. I thought we were still outside.' Nevertheless was a certain tone to his voice that betrayed pride.
The chamber was as cold and dank as the corridor outside had been, but after a few moments they could feel the warmth of the torches on their faces. They blinked a few times, accustoming themselves to the firelight as they looked around.
Hermione wasn't sure what she had been expecting, but in truth it wasn't the practically deserted room that they had now appeared in. She had expected something rather more grand – perhaps something with gilt candlesticks, ornate walls and plush velvet curtains - fitting of a visit from the aristocratic death eater that had been there only weeks earlier. Not that there were any windows. It looked to all intents and purposes like a secret passage only larger, being both wide and long. The ceiling was low, and the stone walls were covered in a slimy moss. The room had a cloying musty smell, a mixture of damp and gunpowder – which she supposed came from the explosion of torches lighting the room as they entered it. There was a deathly silence, so that the only noise she could hear was the beating of her own heart.
'Look,' Draco said pointing.
Hermione blinked again as she focused on what Draco was pointing to in a far corner of the room. They automatically walked towards it. There on the floor, surrounded by a fleet of dead dragon-midgies - like those that had burned Harry a few days previously - was a vast brass frame that used to encase a mirror. At their feet were a thousand shattered pieces of glass that winked at them in the flickering light and created a sea of warped faces staring back at them – which on second glance were their own.
'This is what father came to destroy?' Draco said puzzled. 'Some old mirror?'
Recognition dawned in Hermione. She thought back to their first term as Hogwarts, and what Harry had told her that Dumbledore had said: The mirror will be moved to a new home tomorrow Harry. 'The mirror of Erised!' she exclaimed. Though whatever blast had destroyed the mirror has erased the lettering she knew framed the mirror, she was certain of it. Immediately she bent down and picked up a larger shard of glass peering into it. She saw only her own reflection – her own puzzled expression, her own flushed cheeks and long bushy hair, rather than her heart's desire. 'Your father has destroyed the mirror of Erised.'
'But why?' Draco said.
Hermione frowned. 'I don't know, but we must go to Dumbledore immediately.'
'So Severus,' Dumbledore smiled. 'Now we know the purpose of the curse. You have done very well.' He sat back in his chair, stroking his beard thoughtfully.
Both men were seated in Dumbledore's sitting room sipping a cup of tea, with a plate of fondant fancies in front of them. Snape had been impatient to communicate everything he had found out at once, but Dumbledore had insisted that such news always went down better with a nice cup of tea and a bit of cake. Harry, meanwhile was sitting quietly at Snape's feet, slurping on his fingers quite contentedly. Snape had thought the news too urgent to waste time taking Harry back to his bedchambers and finding a babysitter and so he had brought him. Uncharacteristically, Snape had to admit that he was being very well behaved – perhaps sensing the seriousness of the situation.
'But why would the Dark Lord wish this?' Snape said carefully. He wondered if Dumbledore also suspected that the Dark Lord had at some time or other made a horcrux.
Dumbledore looked graver and paused before speaking. 'As I think you have guessed, Tom has parted his soul. It is my belief that he intends to return the living part of himself to a whole, whilst keeping the existing horcruxes intact, perhaps before beginning the process again and thus making himself even more invincible. More importantly, it is also my belief that he is under the, perhaps false, impression that it is because his current soul is in pieces that he could not defeat Harry following the Triwizard tournament. Tom must be aware that this type of splicing of one's soul has not been carried out in multiples by any wizard before and so in many ways it is new ground to explore.
'So you suggest that the Dark Lord has created multiple Horcruxes,' Severus said calmly, 'and that he intends to make still more?'
'Oh yes, Severus. There were seven I believe before Harry destroyed Tom Riddle's diary – a fact that Tom is now fully aware of and probably the reason that he has given Lucius the task of creating this curse as he blames him for it.
'The spell carried out on Thomas rid him of the birthmark,' Severus said. 'But it can't be anywhere near completion. Tommy is a baby body and mind – he shows no sign of recovery.
Dumbledore sighed. 'Severus I have to admit that we may have been somewhat been taken in by Lucius.'
More pieces of the puzzle locked together as Snape's mind worked furiously. He nodded slowly. 'The children were a ruse.'
'Yes, I believe so,' Dumbledore said. 'That was the one thing that was puzzling to me. Why test the spell on muggle children? They are hardly made up in the same way as Tom – they do not have wizarding blood for a start.'
Snape nodded again, he had been thinking the same thing. 'I let myself be distracted by it – I didn't see what was really happening' he said. 'He used the children at first but then moved on to the other subjects.'
'Don't be hard on yourself,' Dumbledore said. 'You were not to know. It is perhaps unfortunate that you had come across the muggle children's mother by chance that day at the park and came to care about their fate.'
Severus was listening to Dumbledore's words without taking comfort from them. He had become distracted by rescuing the Pickles children, while all the time it now seemed to be part of Lucius' plan to distract the Order. He must have suspected from the moment that Potter had apparated in front of him the day of the Quidditch match that they were onto him – that Draco had used the curse and someone if not Potter.
Suddenly Snape realised something else: 'He allowed Draco to see the memory of the children being tortured deliberately, knowing that he would tell me about it. In the meantime he was testing the spell on the new recruits.' It all seemed to obvious now. Lucius had admitted that he was now responsible for 'initiating' the new death eaters. Snape had just not made the connection. Severus hadn't believed that there was not any urgency about solving the riddle because the spell cast on Tommy still seemed in its infancy. But all the time Lucius had been testing it on the new recruits – that was why he had not been concerned about the death of Eric Stiffbroom he would know the Dark Lord would accept it as part of his 'experiments'. And now the spell may even now be close to completion. He had fooled them. His plan to distract them had worked. Lucius had banked on Draco feeling sorry for the muggle children and betraying him and he had been right.
He paused before voicing an even worse thought. 'Lucius said the spell was complete. That night we rescued the children. I thought he was just trying to regain his dignity at the time.'
'That is perhaps true,' Dumbledore said. 'However, remember that that was only part of the riddle – the cure may not have been developed yet. In fact I believe that even if it has it will not be used yet. The fact that Harry has disappeared may have also delayed this. I surmise that Tom will want Harry close by when the spell is administered so that he can be certain that he can now conquer him.'
Snape had another thought. 'He may also wish to use it on Potter – to make certain that the connection is broken.'
Dumbledore put the tip of his fingers together. 'Yes, yes, I think that's a fair assumption. In which case this buys us some time.'
Harry had stood up on hearing his name. He regarded the batman thoughtfully. He looked almost sad – like Harry felt when he thought he had liked Tommy better.
'Harry love Napey,' he said impulsively, reaching up to put his arms around his Napey.
Snape looked at the boy for a moment, at the green eyes sparkling up at him like emeralds. From the corner of his eye he caught a strange look on Dumbledore's face. Sighing and resigning himself to the fact that this little boy, not matter how strange it may seem, needed him he bent to pick him up and put him on his knee. Harry sighed with content, snuggling close and quietly.
'Fondant fancy?' Dumbledore said brightly.
A few moments later the relative peace of the sitting room was disturbed by the frantic knocking of Hermione and Draco.
I know its been ages since I updated! Years! Thanks to everyone who has reviewed this story I really appreciate the comments. I am intending to upload another chapter quickly with more little Harry.