A/N – Please be patient with this chapter, the vast majority of it is taken directly from Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince from page 510 onwards. I've tried to weave the first threads of my tale into the last chapters of that one. Anything in italics is the work of JK Rowling; I make no claim to ownership and do not make any money from this. Also, just so you know, this story is already complete and a new chapter will be posted 3 every days. I would like to thank the people who have Beta'd this, Fabian, Newyn & Marcelle.
Time is a brisk wind, for each hour it brings something new... but who can understand and measure its sharp breath, its mystery and its design? ~Paracelsus
Chapter 1 – Going Back
Our Story begins when Harry enters the Headmasters office towards the end of his sixth year at Hogwarts. On his way to the Headmasters office he met with Professor Trelawney and learnt that it was Snape who told Voldemort about the Prophecy. He believes he is going to the Headmasters office so that they can go and find a Horcrux together but there has been a change of plans...
"Dumbledore was standing at the window looking out at the grounds when Harry entered, a long, black travelling cloak in his arms." A cauldron stood in the centre of the room, blue flames flickering underneath, a bright blue potion bubbled within and steam rose from it in fluffy white clouds
'Well, Harry, I promised that you could come with me but there has been a slight change of plans and I now believe it best if you do not. I still need your help however, if you will oblige me?'
For a moment or two, Harry did not understand; the conversation with Trelawney had driven everything else out of his head and his brain seemed to be moving very slowly.
'If you will oblige me, yes.'
And then Harry remembered why he had been eager to come to Dumbledore's office in the first place.
'What's changed? Aren't we going to look for the Horcruxes then?'
'I believe I have located a Horcrux and I intend to dispose of it, but I am an old man Harry, and as old men are wont to do from time to time, I have been reminiscing,' he gestured to the cauldron, 'No doubt you have noticed the potion there, it is called "The Balm of Time" and is the most complex potion ever created. It is the life's work of Professor Snape.'
Harry's anger toward Snape boiled to the surface and he must have made some sign of it without realising because Dumbledore moved away from the window, and looked closely at Harry, a slight crease between his silver eyebrows.
'What has happened to you?'
'Nothing,' lied Harry promptly.
'What has upset you?'
'I'm not upset.'
'Harry you were never a good Occlumens-'
The word was the spark that ignited Harry's fury.
'Snape!' he said, very loudly, and Fawkes gave a soft squark behind them. 'Snape's what's happened! He told Voldemort about the prophecy, it was him, he listened outside the door, Trelawney told me!'
Dumbledore's expression did not change, but Harry thought his face whitened under the bluish tint from the light being emitted by the still bubbling cauldron. For a long moment, Dumbledore said nothing.
'When did you find out about this?' he asked at last.
'Just now!' said Harry, who was refraining from yelling with enormous difficulty. And then suddenly he could not stop himself. 'AND YOU LET HIM TEACH HERE AND HE TOLD VOLDEMORT TO GO AFTER MY MUM AND DAD!'
Breathing hard as though he were fighting, Harry turned away from Dumbledore, who still had not moved a muscle, and paced up and down the study, rubbing his knuckles in his hand and exercising every last bit of restraint to prevent himself from knocking things over. He wanted to rage and storm at Dumbledore, but he also wanted to help him with the time potion; he wanted to tell him that he was a foolish old man for trusting Snape, but he was terrified that Dumbledore would not let him in on the rest of the plan unless he mastered his anger....
'Harry,' said Dumbledore quietly, 'Please listen to me.'
It was difficult to stop his relentless pacing as to refrain from shouting, Harry paused, biting his lip, and looked into Dumbledore's lined face.
'Professor Snape made a terrible –'
'Don't tell me it was a mistake, sir, he was listening at the door!'
'Please let me finish.' Dumbledore waited until Harry had nodded curtly, then went on. 'Professor Snape made a terrible mistake. He was still in Lord Voldemort's employ on the night he heard the first half of Professor Trelawney's prophecy. Naturally, he hastened to tell his master what he had heard, for it concerned his master most deeply. But he did not know – he had no possible way of knowing- which boy Voldemort would hunt from then onwards, or that the parents he would destroy in his murderous quest were people that Professor Snape knew, that they were your mother and father –'
Harry let out a yell of mirthless laughter.
'He hated my dad like he hated Sirius! Haven't you noticed Professor, how the people Snape hates tend to end up dead?'
'You have no idea of the remorse Professor Snape felt when he realised how Lord Voldemort had interpreted the prophecy, Harry. I believe it to be the greatest regret of his life and the reason he – '
'But he's a very good Occlumens, isn't he sir?' said Harry, whose voice was shaking with the effort of keeping it steady. 'And isn't Voldemort convinced that Snape's on his side, even now? Professor... how can you be sure Snape's on our side?'
Professor Dumbledore smiled, though Harry felt there was very little about the present situation that warranted a smile, and turned towards the cauldron. He gestured towards it grandly, 'In this case Harry the proof is in the cauldron, rather than any pudding,' he turned back to Harry, his smile gone and his face serious, 'I meant what I said to you before Harry, you have no idea of the remorse Professor Snape felt but it did have an excellent outlet. He has created a way for us, or rather me, to change the past to make the sacrifices that were made worthwhile, to minimise the unnecessary losses that have occurred. I trust Severus Snape completely.'
'Well I don't!' he said, as loudly as before, 'He's up to something with Draco Malfoy right now, right under your nose, and you still –'
'We have discussed this, Harry,' said Dumbledore, and now he sounded stern again. 'I have told you my views.'
'You're just going to take that potion he's made for you without testing it first or anything it could be a trap, Snape and Malfoy might have decided to – '
'To what?' asked Dumbledore, his eyebrows raised. 'What is it that you suspect them of doing precisely?'
'I... I think they are going to try and kill you, sir.'
'Enough,' said Dumbledore. He said it quite calmly, and yet Harry fell silent at once; he knew he had finally crossed some invisible line. 'Do you think I would be preparing to take this potion if I was not absolutely certain of its success? Please do not suggest you think me so foolhardy as to place my life in jeopardy at this critical juncture.'
'I didn't –' mumbled Harry, a little abashed, but Dumbledore cut across him.
'I do not wish to discuss the matter any further.'
Harry bit back his retort, scared that he had gone too far, that he had ruined his chance of helping Dumbledore, but then Dumbledore went on, ' Do you wish to help me tonight?'
'Yes,' said Harry at once.
'Very well, then: listen.'
Dumbledore drew himself up to his full height.
'The plan is very simple, this potion, brilliant in its simplicity, changes the nature of apparition to allow the apparator to move through time as well as space. One merely has to have been alive in the time they wish to return to,' Dumbledore smiled at the thought, 'One could return to the very moment of their conception, if they wished to know of such a thing.'
He looked at Harry, directly in the eye, his expression more serious than any Harry had ever seen on the old headmasters face.
'I intend to return to the time before your parents died and destroy all of the Lord Voldemort's Horcruxes. I intend to take your father from his home on the night Lord Voldemort met his downfall and when I return to the present Lord Voldemort will either have died many years ago or he will be a mortal and your father will have raised you.'
Harry's mouth opened and closed several times, too many questions raced to leave his mouth at once and they all seemed to get stuck in his throat.
'You can't save my mum?' was the one that finally came loose and slipped out of his mouth with a squeak.
'No Harry I cannot, your mother gave her life to save yours and in doing so her sacrifice would have defeated Lord Voldemort, I feel certain, had he not had the Horcrux's to preserve him. In any event should I be wrong about any of this, should anything happen to me...' Dumbledore's eyes pierced into Harry's soul, 'That sacrifice must be our insurance that you survive with all of your current abilities in tact.'
Harry wanted to argue with Dumbledore, he wanted to rail and storm about the unfairness of it all, about how dangerous it was but he didn't, couldn't.
'Do you understand Harry?'
'Very good, Then I wish you to go and fetch your Cloak and meet me back here in five minutes time.'
Dumbledore turned back to look out the ... window; the light from the cauldron cast an eerie light against his back. Harry walked quickly from the office and down the spiral staircase. His mind oddly clear all of a sudden. He knew what to do.
Ron and Hermione were sitting together in the common room when he came back. 'What does Dumbledore want?' Hermione said at once. 'Harry, are you OK?' she added anxiously.
'I'm fine,' said Harry shortly, racing past them. He dashed up the stairs and into his dormitory, where he flung open his trunk and pulled out the Marauder's Map and a pair of balled up socks. Then he sped back down the stairs and into the common room, skidding to a halt where Ron and Hermione sat, looking stunned.
'I haven't got much time,' Harry panted, 'Dumbledore thinks I'm getting my Invisibility Cloak. Listen....'
Quickly he told them what was happening. He did not pause either for Hermione's gasps of horror or for Ron's hasty questions; they could work out the finer details for themselves later.
'...so you see what this means?' Harry finished at a gallop. 'Dumbledore will be un-contactable tonight, so Malfoy's going to have another clear shot at whatever he's up to. No listen to me!' he hissed angrily, as both Ron and Hermione showed every sign of interrupting. 'I know it was Malfoy celebrating in the Room of Requirement. Here –' He shoved the Marauder's Map into Hermione's hand. 'You've got to watch him and you've got to watch Snape too. Use anyone else you can rustle up from the DA. Hermione, those contact Galleons will still work right? Dumbledore says he's put extra protection in the school, but if Snape's involved, he'll know what Dumbledore's protection is and how to avoid it – but he won't be expecting you lot to be on the watch will he?'
'Harry -' began Hermione, her eyes huge with fear.
'I haven't got time to argue,' said Harry curtly. 'Take this as well-' He thrust the socks into Ron's hands.
'Thanks,' said Ron. 'Err- why do I need socks?'
'You need what's wrapped in them, it's the Felix Felicis. Share it between yourselves and Ginny too. Say goodbye to her from me. I'd better go, Dumbledore's waiting –'
'No!' said Hermione, as Ron unwrapped the tiny little bottle of golden potion, looking awestruck. 'We don't want it, you take it, give it to Dumbledore he's the one who'll kneed it most.'
'He'll be fine, he's Dumbledore,' said Harry. 'I want to know you lot are OK... don't look like that, Hermione, I'll see you later...'
And he was off, hurrying back through the portrait hole towards Dumbledore's office.
Dumbledore was waiting beside the cauldron, he was seated and the blue light cast eerie shadows on his face. He looked up at Harry's entrance and bade him to sit down across from him.
'There are things I need to explain to you Harry, things you must understand before we proceed.'
Harry nodded, his heart was still racing and back and his lungs were burning from exertion from his sprint to Gryffindor tower.
'We are at a critical juncture. At this moment we have here all of the Deathly Hallows, have you heard of the Deathly Hallows Harry?' At the shake of Harry's head Dumbledore continued, 'It is an ancient tale about three brothers who beat death in a challenge of wits and were each awarded a prize from him. One of the brothers chose a wand that could never be bested in duel; the other chose a stone that could allow the wearer to circumvent death itself and the last chose a cloak that would make the wearer invisible to deaths stare. '
With those words he lay, his wand down on the desk, 'This is that wand,' then he took off the ring that belonged to Salazar Slytherin and laid it too on the desk, 'this is that stone.' Then he pointed to the invisibility cloak clutched in Harry's hands, 'That is the cloak.'
He took a deep breath and started to pace about the room, 'In my youth I was guilty of wishing to posses them all, but I now see that it is not my lot to which that falls.' He turned to face Harry then an odd look on his face, 'stand up and raise your wand Harry.'
'Now I'm going to count to three and I want you to disarm me,' he smiled then, a gesture which seemed out of place in the circumstances, 'But try not to be too vigorous about it, I am an old man and there is much I still need to do.'
Harry faced his mentor in the odd half light and spoke as gently as possible, 'Expelliarmus' the wand flicked out of Dumbledore's hand without any resistance but without affecting the headmaster himself at all. 'Well done, Harry' said Dumbledore, retrieving the wand from its position across the room. 'Now, have I your permission to use this wand?'
Harry nodded, not understanding at all what had just happened.
'I need you to understand what this means and why I have done this Harry,' said Dumbledore as though instinctively understanding Harry's confusion, 'The elder wand Harry is undefeatable in a duel but it will only respond to it's masters commands. A person becomes the master of the elder wand by defeating its current owner. You are now its master so it will only ever work entirely properly for you.'
Dumbledore paused here and looked at Harry whose confusion was written clearly on his face.
As the master of the wand you have commanded it to obey me and it will obey me but it is still not my wand.'
Harry wondered in bewilderment what possible relevance this could all have to the search for the Horcruxes, but Dumbledore's next words explained that.
'If someone defeats me now, they will not become the master of it because in order for that to happen they would need to defeat you, not me. Do you understand?'
Harry shook his head, wishing that Hermione were here to untwist Dumbledore's words and make them intelligible to him.
Dumbledore tried again, 'If this was still my wand, and I was defeated in a duel the person who defeated me would become the rightful owner of the wand able to command it at will, now however if I am defeated in a duel that will not happen because you are the master of the wand and whoever defeats me would then need to also defeat you to become the master of the wand.'
Harry was still confused, 'But, I disarmed people heaps of times in the DA and I never became the master of their wands.'
Dumbledore smiled, 'Other wands are not as this wand is. The wands of your friends chose them and choose them still; their wands will never be your wand no matter how many times you disarm them. But this wand does not choose its master; it is won by its master. In this case you won it by first winning my trust.'
Dumbledore smiled kindly, 'there is no-one I trust more, Harry, than yourself. If I fall, though I hope that I shall not, I want my successor to be someone I have chosen, not whoever manages to defeat me. Once more I am using you as my insurance; I hope that one day you may forgive me.'
Harry wanted to say that no forgiveness was needed, that it was an honour he had never expected, that he hoped it would never be necessary or a thousand other word of thanks or praise for his mentor, but he could not. His throat had closed and no words were getting out. Harry's eyes stung and he looked at his hands.
'I shall take all three of the Deathly Hallows with me on this quest, I don't know whether they will serve a purpose or not but I do not believe it is a coincidence that all three of them are here tonight.' Then he clapped his hands, as though to dispel the gloom that had settled around them both like a shroud.
'Now,' said Dumbledore turning once more back to the Cauldron, 'your part in this shall be quite simple. You are to be my guardian; you will watch over this Cauldron and allow no-one to touch its contents. Should anyone be able to steal any of this then my entire mission would be in jeopardy and who knows what kind of world I would return to.'
Harry nodded stoically, if there was one thing he could be trusted to do it was to guard Dumbledore's safety with his own life, but he still harboured some doubts as to the safety and effectiveness of the potion. He did not voice these however but simply stood up, crossed his arms, and took a guarding position over the cauldron. Dumbledore must have sensed his hesitancy; his next words betrayed that he had at least considered the possibility of Harry's warning.
'I believe I have thought of everything, in that case there,' said Dumbledore. He seemed to be talking to himself but he indicated to a case that was half hidden behind the cauldron, which Harry had not previously noticed.
'I have sufficient galleons,' he continued, 'to purchase the property next door to your parents home and to allow me to live there for at least 12 months. I believe that should be sufficient time, I have numerous reference books, and, most importantly, I have this.'
He held out a small black journal for Harry to see, 'this contains all of my theories, some of which we have discussed at length some of which we have not, around what the Horcrux's are and where they might be found. Most importantly this book contains the recipe for creating "The Balm of Time" potion. I will of course be taking some with me but, should anything happen to it I would need the recipe so I could make more and would be able to return.'
Dumbledore gazed into the depths of the cauldron, the light made his eyes seem pure white and the blue tint on his skin gave him the appearance of a ghoul.
'I will conduct a test first.' He said, his voice sounding dry and far away. He conjured two old fob watches and handed one of them to Harry, 'you see that these show the same time, I will take a sip of the potion and disapperate one hour into the future. During that time you must not move from the cauldron.' He looked at Harry, his eyes piercing as never before, 'Have I your word Harry that you will not move from this spot for any reason?'
Harry nodded but this time it was not sufficient for Dumbledore, 'You must give me your word Harry.'
'I give you my word, Professor Dumbledore, I will not move from the side of this cauldron until you return.'
Seeming satisfied Dumbledore nodded, raised a ladle of the potion to his lips, and took a small sip, 'In one hour then,' he said, then dropped the ladle back into the cauldron and disappeared from sight.
Harry sighed and sat down; it was going to be a long wait.
With nothing better to do Harry picked up the journal that Dumbledore had left with him and flipped through it. There were six sections, each devoted to a Horcrux and each section titled with Dumbledore's supposition as to what that Horcrux was. There was The Diary, The Locket, The Chalice, The Diadem, The Ring, and The Unknown. The section for the unknown was at least twice as thick as any of the others and had far more theories but came to no conclusions. Harry did notice however that the theories were split some indicated Nagini was the final Horcrux where others tended towards, but stopped just short of, naming himself as the final Horcrux.
Harry ran his fingers over his scar and thought about that idea for a moment. When Voldemort had turned his wand on Harry as a baby he had just committed murder. Also, from what Harry knew of shields, a curse that was successfully deflected should leave its intended victim completely unscathed.
That it hadn't was very strange.
That it left him with a scar that had never fully healed, that reacted to the moods of its creator, and that provided a psychic connection to him was unheard of. As Harry's mind whirled over these facts the distant memory of an awful article once written by Rita Skeeter came back to him. She'd written that experts at St Mungo's had said it wasn't possible. At the time he'd thought she was fabricating the quotes but now he wondered at the possibility of there being some truth in what she had written.
No-one else he'd ever heard of had ever received a scar or any special 'transferred' abilities from a curse that didn't work.
Harry had always attributed this to his own lack of knowledge in the area, but if anyone had ever heard of it before wouldn't they have said so? Harry did not doubt for a moment that the topic had been thoroughly researched by Hermione, yet she had never reassured him of it's being normal. Instead she'd always just looked worried whenever he spoke of it.
No matter which direction he turned it over he could not escape the inevitable conclusion that he was indeed a Horcrux and that he had been one ever since the night when Voldemort had attempted to kill him. The words of the prophecy came back to haunt him and suddenly the convoluted wording made sense.
Voldemort could not die, unless Harry died too.
With these unsettling realisations weighing upon him the hour seemed to fly by very quickly.
So deep in thought was he that when Dumbledore popped back into existence it was only when he collapsed in the chair opposite Harry, his face white as a sheet, that Harry realised he was back. On seeing Dumbledore Harry jumped from his seat and rushed over to the old Headmaster.
'Professor! Are you ok?'
Dumbledore smiled at him weakly and showed him the fob watch; it was exactly one hour behind Harry's. The potion had worked... but why did Dumbledore seem so weak? The question was unasked but Dumbledore answered anyway, 'I am old, Harry, and weaker than I care to admit. My hand,' he lifted the blackened remains, 'is weak, and I am dying. It is why I volunteered myself for this quest. I fear that it is a suicide mission and... Since I am dying anyway ...' his voice trailed off and he tried to sit straighter in his chair, 'but I fear now it will be too much for me, even this short jump has weakened me greatly.'
'Are you sure – 'began Harry, but Dumbledore cut him off.
'Am I sure that it is not the potion that has done it? Not entirely. Would you be willing, Harry, to ease the mind of an old man? Will you attempt to jump an hour into the future? Then we will know.'
Harry nodded and in one quick step he was beside the cauldron and lifting the ladle, he still did not trust Snape, but they had to know. If there was a chance that he could bring his parents back then it was one he had to take. He lifted the ladle to his lips, took a sip and then apparated, focusing on one hour into the future. For a moment Harry thought it had not worked, everything was still exactly as it had been a moment ago.
'Harry!' cried Dumbledore, though he did not move from his chair, 'how do you feel?'
Harry frowned, 'I feel fine, sir,' replied Harry, a little confused, 'did it work then?'
Dumbledore nodded and smiled weakly thrusting forward the fob watch as he did so. Harry compared the two watches and noted, with some astonishment, that they both now read the same time, casting a time spell on a nearby wall confirmed that now both watches were in fact one hour slow. 'Wow! I didn't feel a thing, for a second I thought it hadn't worked.'
'It is as I suspected then,' said Dumbledore a little sadly, 'my last great adventure is behind me, and the adventure that lies ahead is for you.'
Harry was astonished, when he'd made the decision that it should be he, and not Professor Dumbledore, that went into the past he had not counted on Dumbledore agreeing with him. It was then he noticed, like a banner, the dark mark that hung in the night sky.
'Sir!' gasped Harry pointing to the mark.
'Yes, Harry, it has been there for some minutes now. I expect the one who cast it will be here any moment. I must ask you to put on your invisibility cloak.'
'But, sir...' began Harry, only to be cut off by Dumbledore once more.
'Do not argue with me Harry, it is my final wish from you. I can ask from you nothing more than you have already so selflessly given.'
Harry wanted to argue, he wanted to say that Dumbledore was not going to die that he would be able to ask many more things in his lifetime, but then he saw Dumbledore stagger to his feet and he knew that it was true. With great reluctance he pulled on his invisibility cloak. No sooner had he done so than the door burst open and somebody erupted through it and shouted: 'Expelliarmus!'
Harry's body became instantly rigid and immobile, and he felt himself fall back against the office wall, propped like an unsteady statue, unable to move or speak. He could not understand how it had happened – Expelliarmus was not a freezing charm –
Then, by the light of the potion and the Mark, he saw Dumbledore's wand flying in an arc over the desk and understood... Dumbledore had wordlessly immobilised Harry, and the second he had taken to perform the spell had cost him the chance of defending himself.
Standing against the desk, very white in the face, Dumbledore ...showed no signs of panic or distress. He merely looked ... at his disarmer and said, 'Good Evening Draco.'
Malfoy stepped forwards glancing around quickly to check that he and Dumbledore were alone. His eyes fell upon the second chair beside the cauldron.
'Who else is here?'
'A question I might ask you. Or are you acting alone?'
Harry saw Malfoy's pale eyes shift back to Dumbledore in the greenish blue glare of the Mark and the cauldron.
'No,' he said. 'I've got back-up. There are Death Eaters here in your school tonight.'
'Well, well,' said Dumbledore, as though Malfoy was showing him an ambitious homework project. 'Very good indeed. You found a way to let them in, did you?'
'Yeah,' said Malfoy, who was panting. 'Right under your nose and you never realised!'
'Ingenious,' said Dumbledore. 'Yet...forgive me... where are they now? You seem unsupported.'
'They met some of your guard. They're having a fight down below. They won't be long... I came on ahead. I – I've got a job to do.'
Well, then, you must get on and do it, my dear boy,' said Dumbledore softly.
There was silence. Harry stood imprisoned within his own invisible, paralysed body, staring at the two of them, his ears straining to hear sounds of the Death Eaters' distant fight, and in front of him, Draco Malfoy did nothing but stare at Albus Dumbledore who, incredibly, smiled.
'Draco, Draco, you are not a killer.'
'How do you know?' said Malfoy at once.
He seemed to realise how childish the words had sounded; Harry saw him flush in the odd light.
'You don't know what I'm capable of,' said Malfoy more forcefully, 'you don't know what I've done!'
'Oh, yes I do,' said Dumbledore mildly. 'You almost killed Katie Bell and Ronald Weasley. You have been trying, with increasing desperation, to kill me all year. Forgive me, Draco, but they have been feeble attempts ... so feeble, to be honest, that I wonder whether your heart has been really in it...'
'It has been in it!' said Malfoy vehemently. 'I've been working hard on it all year and tonight –'
Somewhere in the depths of the castle below Harry heard a muffled yell. Malfoy stiffened and glanced over his shoulder.
'Somebody is putting up a good fight,' said Dumbledore conversationally. 'But you were saying... yes, you have managed to introduce Death Eaters into my school which, I admit, I thought impossible... how did you do it?'
But Malfoy said nothing: he was still listening to whatever was happening below and seemed almost as paralysed as Harry was.
'Perhaps you ought to get on with the job alone,' suggested Dumbledore. 'What if your back-up has been thwarted by my guard? As you have perhaps realised, there are members of the Order of the Phoenix here tonight, too. And after all, you don't really need any help...I have no wand at the moment... I cannot defend myself.'
Malfoy merely stared at him.
'I see,' said Dumbledore kindly, when Malfoy neither moved nor spoke. 'You are afraid to act until they join you.'
'I'm not afraid!' snarled Malfoy, though he still made no move to hurt Dumbledore. 'It's you who should be scared!'
'But why? I don't think you will kill me, Draco. Killing is not nearly as easy as the innocent believe... so tell me, while we wait for your friends...how did you smuggle them in here? It seems to have taken you a long time to work out how to do it.'
Malfoy looked as though he was fighting down the urge to shout, or to vomit. He gulped and took several deep breaths, glaring at Dumbledore, his wand pointing directly at the latter's heart. Then, as though he could not help himself, he said, 'I had to mend that broken Vanishing Cabinet that no one's used for years. The one Montague got lost in last year.'
Dumbledore's sigh was half a groan. He closed his eyes for a moment.
'That was clever... there is a pair, I take it?'
'The other's in Borgin and Burkes,' said Malfoy, 'and they make a kind of passage between them. Montague told me that he was stuck in the Hogwarts one, he was trapped in limbo but sometimes he could hear what was going on at the school, and sometimes he could hear what was going on in the shop, as if the Cabinet was travelling between them, but he couldn't make anyone hear him... in the end he managed to Apparate out, even though he'd never passed his test. He nearly died doing it. Everyone thought it was a really good story, but I was the only one who realised what it meant – even Borgin didn't know – I was the one who realised there could be a way into Hogwarts through the Cabinets if I fixed the Broken one.'
'Very good,' murmured Dumbledore. 'So the Death Eaters were able to pass from Borgin and Burkes into the school to help you ... a clever plan, a very clever plan... and, as you say, right under my nose...'
'Yeah,' said Malfoy who, bizarrely, seemed to draw courage and comfort from Dumbledore's praise. 'Yeah, it was!'
'But there were times,' Dumbledore went on, 'weren't there, when you were not sure you would succeed in mending the Cabinet? And you resorted to crude and badly judged measures such as sending me a cursed necklace that was bound to reach the wrong hands... poisoning mead there was only the slightest chance I might drink...'
'Yeah, well, you didn't realise who was behind that stuff, did you?' sneered Malfoy as Dumbledore slid a little down the desk, the strength in his legs apparently fading, and Harry struggled fruitlessly, mutely, against the enchantment binding him.
'As a matter of fact I did,' said Dumbledore. 'I was sure it was you.'
'Why didn't you stop me, then?' Malfoy demanded.
'I tried, Draco. Professor Snape has been keeping watch over you on my orders – '
'He hasn't been doing your orders, he promised my mother –'
'Of course that is what he would tell you Draco, but –'
'He's a double-agent, you stupid old man, he isn't working for you, you just think he is!'
'We must agree to differ on that, Draco. It so happens that I trust Professor Snape –'
'Well, you're losing your grip, then!' sneered Malfoy. 'He's been offering me plenty of help – wanting all the glory for himself – wanting a bit of the action – "What are you doing? Did you do the necklace, that was stupid, it could have blown everything-" But I haven't told him what I've been doing in the Room of Requirement, he's going to wake up tomorrow and it'll all be over and he won't be the Dark Lord's favourite any more, he'll be nothing compared to me, nothing!'
'Very gratifying,' said Dumbledore mildly. 'We all like appreciation for our own hard work, of course... but you must have had an accomplice, all the same... someone in Hogsmeade, someone who was able to slip Katie the – the- Aaah...'
Dumbledore closed his eyes again and nodded, as though he was about to fall asleep.
'...of course... Rosmerta. How long has she been under the Imperius Curse?'
'Got there at last, have you?' Malfoy taunted.
There was another half yell from below, rather louder than the last. Malfoy looked nervously over his shoulder again, then back at Dumbledore, who went on, 'So poor Rosmerta was forced to lurk in her own bathroom and pass that necklace to any Hogwarts student who entered the room unaccompanied? And the poisoned mead... well, naturally, Rosmerta was able to poison it for you before she sent the bottle to Slughorn, believing that it was to be my Christmas present ... yes, very neat... very neat... poor Mr Filch would not, of course, think to check a bottle of Rosmerta's... tell me, how have you been communicating with Rosmerta? I thought we had all methods of communication in and out of the school monitored.'
'Enchanted coins,' said Malfoy, as though he was compelled to keep talking, though his wand hand was shaking badly. 'I had one and she had the other and I could send her messages –'
'Isn't that the secret method of communication the group that called themselves Dumbledore's Army used last year?' asked Dumbledore. His voice was light and conversational, but Harry saw him slip an inch lower down the desk as he said it.
'Yeah, I got the idea from them,' said Malfoy, with a twisted smile. 'I got the idea of poisoning the mead from the Mudblood Granger, as well, I heard her talking in the library about Filch not recognising potions...'
'Please do not use that offensive word in front of me,' said Dumbledore.
Malfoy gave a harsh laugh.
'You care about me saying "Mudblood" when I'm about to kill you?'
'Yes, I do,' said Dumbledore, and Harry saw his feet slide a little on the floor as he struggled to remain upright. 'But as for being about to kill me, Draco, you have had several long minutes now. We are quite alone. I am more defenceless than you can have dreamed of finding me, and still you have not acted...'
Malfoy's mouth contorted involuntarily, as though he had tasted something very bitter.
'Now about tonight,' Dumbledore went on... There was a bang and shouts from below, louder than ever; it sounded as though people were fighting on the actual staircase that led to Dumbledore's office.
'There is little time, one way or another,' said Dumbledore. 'So let us discuss your options, Draco.'
'My options!' said Malfoy loudly. 'I'm standing here with a wand – I'm about to kill you –'
'My dear boy, let us have no more pretence about that. If you were going to kill me, you would have done it when you first Disarmed me, you would not have stopped for this pleasant chat about ways and means.'
... Malfoy did not speak His mouth was open, his wand hand still trembling. Harry thought he saw it drop by a fraction –
But suddenly footsteps were on the stairs and a second later Malfoy was buffeted out of the way as four people in black robes burst through the door into the office. Still paralysed, his eyes staring unblinkingly, Harry gazed in terror upon four strangers: it seemed the Death Eaters had won the fight below.
A lumpy-looking man with an odd lopsided leer gave a wheezy giggle.
'Dumbledore cornered!' he said, and he turned to a stocky little woman who was ginning eagerly. 'Dumbledore wandless, Dumbledore alone! Well done, Draco, well done!'
... Malfoy was showing less resolution than ever. He looked terrified as he stared into Dumbledore's face, which was even paler, and rather lower than usual, as he had slid so far down the desk on which he was leaning.
'He's not long for this world anyway, if you ask me!' said the lopsided man, to the accompaniment of the woman's wheezing giggles. 'Look at him- what's happened to you, then, Dumby?'
'Oh, weaker resistance, slower reflexes, Amycus,' said Dumbledore. 'Old age, in short... one day, perhaps, it will happen to you... if you are lucky...'
... Harry's heart was hammering so hard it seemed impossible that nobody could hear him standing there, imprisoned by Dumbledore's spell – if only he could move, he could aim a curse from under the cloak –
'Draco, do it, or stand aside so one of us –' screeched the woman, but at that precise moment the door to the office burst open once more and there stood Snape, his wand clutched in his hand as his black eyes swept the scene, from Dumbledore slumped against the desk, to the four Death Eaters, including the... werewolf, and Malfoy.
'We've got a problem, Snape,' said the lumpy Amycus, whose eyes and wand were fixed alike upon Dumbledore, 'the boy doesn't seem able –'
But somebody else had spoken Snape's name, quite softly.
The sound frightened Harry beyond anything he had experienced all evening. For the first time, Dumbledore was pleading.
Snape said nothing, he walked forwards and pushed Malfoy roughly out of the way. The three Death Eaters fell back without a word. Even the werewolf seemed cowed.
Snape gazed for a moment at Dumbledore, and there was revulsion and hatred etched in the harsh lines of his face.
Snape raised his wand and pointed it directly at Dumbledore.
A jet of green light shot from the end of Snape's wand and hit Dumbledore squarely in the chest. Harry's scream of horror never left him; silent and unmoving, he was forced to watch as Dumbledore was blasted into the air; for a split second he seemed to hang suspended beneath the shining skull, and then he fell slowly backwards, like a great rag doll, out of the window and out of sight.
Harry felt as though he, too, were hurtling through space; it had not happened... it could not have happened...
'Out of here, quickly,' Snape said.
He seized Malfoy by the scruff of the neck and forced him through the door ahead of the rest; Greyback and the other death eaters followed, but Snape remained behind. ...Harry suddenly realised he could move again; what was now holding him paralysed against the wall was not magic, but horror and shock. He threw aside the invisibility cloak as Snape, last to leave the Office, was turning to face him.
Snape whispered the spell and Harry froze once more 'listen to me carefully because I don't have much time. He was dying anyway and it was his wish that Draco not become a murderer. But you must remember that this is just one of many things that need never have happened. I know that you are thick and emotional but just think for one moment. You have time to change this!' He hissed the words and indicated to the cauldron which had been ignored by all of the previous occupants of the room.
'When I leave here, I will return to the Dark Lord. He is once again using the house of his father as his head quarters. You know what must be done, so do not waste time chasing me. Do what you must and when you have done it, come to the Riddle House and we can finish this tonight.'
Snape looked deep into Harry's eyes, Harry still consumed by horror and shock stared mutely back, paralysed by the spell. Somewhere deep in his heart, he acknowledged the truth of Snape's words, he had witnessed enough tonight to admit that, however grudgingly.
'Good,' with a whirl of his cape Snape fled down the stairs after the other Death Eaters and as the door slammed shut behind him Harry felt the spell release him from it's grasp. Unable to support himself he collapsed onto the floor allowing himself a moment to grieve for his fallen mentor, then remembering Snape's words, he hauled himself to his feet and searched the office until he found the Elder wand. He was grateful now that Dumbledore had taken the time and effort to make him understand why he needed to disarm him. He was the wands master now, not Draco.
He then collected the resurrection stone from the desk where it had lain ignored by the Death Eaters and lastly collected his invisibility cloak from the floor by the door. He picked up the case and the book prepared by Dumbledore and then picked the ladle out of the cauldron, he almost took a sip of the liquid and left without further thought when Dumbledore's words came back to him.
He still thought that this was more than likely a suicide mission but he needed someone to stand guard over the cauldron, just in case. Now that the thought occurred to him others popped to the surface as well, his shock was beginning to wear off and he was thinking clearly again. He would need to take a flask of the potion with him; in the eventuality that he did not die he would want to be able to return. If something happened to the flask of potion, would he be able to brew it once more? There was only one person he knew who he could trust implicitly and who also might have the skill to brew the potion, but that would mean he had to take her with him, then Ron would have to be their guard.
The next question to occur to him was how to get Ron and Hermione without leaving the potion unattended?
Harry paced the office, his mind now whirring again over possibilities, when he caught sight of Fawkes still resting calmly on his perch and suddenly he remembered from his fifth year when Dumbledore had used Fawkes to take him from Hogwarts to Grimmauld place. Harry had no idea if Fawkes would help him or not, but, at that moment it seemed his only option.
'Fawkes,' said Harry, striding over to the bird, 'I need your help, will you do me a favour?' The birds beautiful head bobbed once and he trilled, seemingly in agreement. 'Can you go and get Ron and Hermione for me?'
Fawkes head bobbed once more before he disappeared in a flash of golden Phoenix fire. Harry returned to pacing and hoped that Fawkes was able to return quickly with his friends.
He needn't have worried though, because a moment later the office light up with golden Phoenix fire once more and suddenly Ron and Hermione were both there, both dishevelled and looking frantic.
'Harry what's happened?'
Their words bubbled over each other like water in a brook but Harry shushed them into silence with a wave of his hand.
'Listen carefully, I'll explain it all but we don't have much time so I need you to just... listen,' they both nodded and fell silent. 'Good,' said Harry, his voice gruff and commanding. Then he told them everything that had happened in the past two and a half hours, 'so,' he finished winding up the tale, 'Hermione I need you to come with me, and Ron I need you to stay here and guard the cauldron. It's as important a job as any other, nobody can be allowed to touch or otherwise meddle with that potion.'
Hermione opened her mouth, her face mutinous, but Harry spoke over the top of her, 'I don't have time for arguments Hermione, this has to be done tonight. We know where Voldemort will be and we know he won't be expecting an attack, if we do this properly we might be able to save the lives of not just Dumbledore but also my parents and countless others as well.'
Harry shoved a hand roughly through his hair, 'Just once, I need you to just go with me on this, both of you.'
The look of mutiny fell from Hermione's face and she opened her mouth again, 'Ok Harry, should I take a sip of the potion as well or can you side along apparate me?'
'I think you should take a sip too, but I'll hold on to you so we go together. Dumbledore said we could go back to any time, as long as the apparator was alive at the time. He said the furthest we could go back was to the moment of conception, but I don't think I want to be there for that, so we'll go back to the following day.'
Hermione nodded and moved to Harry's side, 'Will you be alright here Ron?' Harry asked now looking at the gangly red head, who had gone pale during the telling of Harry's tale.
'Yeah mate, don't worry about me,' he gulped visibly and Harry could tell he was terrified, 'I've got your back.' He reached out and the two boys, almost men, shook hands.
Hermione scooped the potion into a flask and then took a sip and passed the flask to Harry. Harry took a sip too and then turned to Ron, 'See you in a bit then.' Then he grasped Hermione's hand, did a final check to make sure they had everything, and disapperated to Godric's Hallow, 1979.