~The Final Hiding Place~
Author's Note: My deepest apologies for my very long absence! I hope to be able to update more regularly from now on.
At the end of the last chapter, I left off with a promise of some "colorful Scottish phrases" on McGonagall's part... So here we go! For the curious, there is a translation of McGonagall's colorful Scottish on my newly started tumblr (remove the spaces from: paimpont . tumblr . com). My tumblr will also feature previews of my upcoming stories and chapters.
"Severus Snape!" Minerva McGonagall spun around as the former potions master entered the head's office. "You dare set foot here, in his office, your murderous piece of keech!" She fumbled for her wand, and her voice rose to a hysterical pitch. "Why, you dreich coward, you minger craw-bogle, you baucle walloper!"
"Er... what?" Snape blinked at her on confusion, but McGonagall screamed: "You minky bawbag! You mockit piece of bahooky-"
"What does that even mean?" breathed Harry in Tom's ear under the invisibility cloak.
"I don't think we want to find out," whispered Tom back, a hint of laughter in his voice. "Let's focus on why we are here, Harry: to find out why Dumbledore is showing up on the Marauders' Map. He should be right here..."
Harry and Tom both stared at the empty spot right behind the desk by the irate headmistress. They inched silently closer, still hidden under the cloak. Harry groped frantically in the empty spot where Dumbledore should be, but his fingers found nothing but air.
McGonagall didn't even pause for breath: "You greetin-faced bamstick, Severus, you-"
"Minerva, please!" The portrait of Professor Dippet sounded shocked. "My dear, you are naturally very upset, but there is no need for this sort of language!"
"Ssshhh, I can't hear what she's saying." The portrait of Phineas Nigellus Black leaned eagerly forward in its frame. "Greetin-faced what?"
Most of the other portraits were covering their ears by now, except for that of Dumbledore himself, which appeared to be chuckling at the stream of curses flowing from McGonegall. Harry glanced up at the familiar face and the twinkling blue eyes of the erstwhile head of Hogwarts, and he felt a lump forming in his throat. Dumbledore, the man he had once trusted more than anyone in the world...
McGonagall was pressing her wand to Snape's throat in a distinctly menacing fashion now, but Snape didn't seem to notice. He was suddenly staring at the portrait of Dumbledore like a man bewitched.
"Dumbledore's portrait..." Snape said hoarsely. "His portrait is on the wall!"
McGonagall snorted. "Consumed by guilt, are you, when you sense the glance of your poor innocent victim looking down at you? Just imagine how the memory of his face will haunt you once you are in Azkaban! I hear the dementors are quite good at reminding the guilty of their sins."
But Snape merely brushed McGonagall aside. "Why in Merlin's name is Dumbledore's portrait in the headmaster's office?"
McGonagall's eyes narrowed. "And why wouldn't it be, you damn loupin tattyboggle?" She poked Snape hard with her wand, and a few sparks shot out. "Did you really think that Dumbledore would ever be forgotten at Hogwarts?" There was a slight tremor in her voice.
Snape ignored her, crossed the floor in a few rapid strides and reached up for Dumbledore's portrait. "Because only dead headmasters' portraits appear on the walls of this office. And Dumbledore is not dead. His portrait shouldn't be here. This is not a portrait!" Snape tried to grab at the man in the painting, but his hands merely slapped against canvas.
"Not a portrait?" Harry whispered in Tom's ear, his hand tightening around his wand. "But then... What is it?"
"Allow me!" Tom untangled himself from the invisibility cloak and ran over to Snape. "Stand back, Severus. Pulling Dumbledore out from his enchanted hiding place requires more than ordinary magic, it seems. He always was good at all sorts of sorcery, that old bastard. But my pent-up magic may be a match for his skills yet." Tom drew a deep breath and plunged his hands into the canvas. Harry could feel the waves of magical energy pulsing from him. An odd strangled sound came from the portrait now, and a moment after, an old white-haired man was hauled out of the portrait and flung onto the floor.
Dumbledore! Harry stared down at the crumpled shape of his former mentor, and something shivered at his spine.
"What in Merlin's name-?" Professor McGonagall stared at the sputtering and gasping man on the floor, her face deathly pale now. "Pro...Professor Dumbledore? You are alive? What... what sort of dark magic is this?" She turned to Tom, bewildered. "And who are you, and how did you appear so suddenly? Wait, you seem familiar... Haven't I seen you somewhere before?" All at once, McGonagall froze. "Oh. Oh. Oh! But you are... I recognize you, from my own schooldays. You are...Tom Riddle? And you have somehow brought poor Dumbledore back from the dead? No, this is impossible!" McGonagall's wand trembled in her hand. "I don't know what dark magic this is, but I will not allow you to work your vile sorcery within the walls of this school, Lord Voldemort!"
"Oh. Him." The portrait of Phineas Nigellus Black studied Tom with interest. "I've heard quite a bit about him over the years. Hmmm... I must say that he looks rather better than the rumors have suggested. Half snake, with red slits for eyes, Dumbledore said." Phineas Nigellus shook his head a little. "Should have known better than to take that old lunatic's word for anything."
"T..Tom?" Dumbledore scrambled up from the floor and stood staring at the tall man in front of him. "Oh, Merlin. It is, isn't it? Yes, I would recognize your eyes anywhere, that curious silvery color... It is good to see you again, Tom."
"Good to see him?" sputtered McGonagall. "Have you turned into a radge bampot, Dumbledore?"
"Be careful, Tom!" Harry flung aside his invisibility cloak. "Don't underestimate Dumbledore!" He put a warning hand on Tom's arm.
"Harry Potter? What-?" McGonagall stared blankly at Harry. "Here, with the Dark Lord? I don't understand... What is this, Harry?"
"Harry?" Dumbledore whipped around and stared at Harry. For a moment, he stood quite still, but then he smiled every so slightly. "Harry Potter and Tom Riddle! So wrong, and yet so curiously right... Have you come here help Tom kill Voldemort, my dear boy?" There was a strange gleam in Dumbledore's eyes that Harry could not decipher.
"What?" McGonagall waved her wand frantically at Tom, Snape, and Dumbledore in turn, as if uncertain which one of them she ought to hex first. "Professor Dumbledore? It is really you, then, and not just some strange magical emanation pulled out of your portrait? But you were dead! I do not understand any of this... What is going on? How can Tom Riddle be here, in this time, looking like... well, like Tom Riddle? And what do you mean, Professor Dumbledore - Harry is here to help Riddle kill Lord Voldemort? That doesn't make any sense!"
"It appears, Minerva," said Snape, pointing his wand at Dumbledore's chest, "that we have been misinformed. Dumbledore is not dead, as he wanted you to believe; he is very much alive. I am ashamed to say that I was the one helping him fake his death, since I believed that this deception was a part of his plan to defeat the Dark Lord. But as it turns out, there was something else Dumbledore "forgot" to mention: It seems that Mr. Riddle is not, after all, the Dark Lord Voldemort."
"Ah, but are you so certain of that?" Dumbledore was still gazing at Tom, his bright blue eyes searching for something in the other man's face. "No, Severus, I can assure you - Lord Voldemort is Tom Riddle."
"I am not! How can you say that?" Tom's wand was unsteady in his hand as he pointed it at Dumbledore. "I am here! I am myself. I have lived my life quietly among Muggles since I left school, and I know nothing of the one you call Voldemort, except what Harry has told me."
Dumbledore looked at him for a long time. "How very strange," he said finally, his voice a mere whisper, "to see you again, Tom. Ah, you have aged a little, but your maturity becomes you. A handsome man, still, as charming as you were as a boy. And now you have come to help Harry, my Chosen One, in the quest I gave him, the quest to kill... you. How perfect. How very, very perfect... I couldn't have planned it better myself." An odd little laughter escaped him.
"Professor Dumbledore? What is the meaning of this?" McGonagall grabbed at the front of Dumbledore's robes. "What do you... Dumbledore? Where did the basturt go?"
But the spot where the old silver-haired man had been a second before was empty. Dumbledore had vanished.
"Apparated!" Tom let out a curse of his own. "How is that possible? I thought you couldn't apparate inside Hogwarts?"
Snape looked grim. "Not unless the headmaster sees fit to lift those wards... I suppose Dumbledore still retained the power to do that. I should have thought of that! Oh, what an idiot I am! I can't believe I let him get away."
"Where could he have gone?" whispered Harry, still staring at the spot where Dumbledore had stood, moments before. "And what did he mean when he said that Voldemort is...well, you, Tom? That can't be true, can it?"
Tom shook his head slowly. He looked ill at ease. "I...I really don't know what he meant by that, Harry. But we have to find out. Where is Voldemort now?"
"The Dark Lord is at Malfoy Manor, I believe," said Snape after a brief pause, "surrounded by his death eaters."
Harry reached for Tom's hand. "Well, then, let's go and find him, shall we?"
But Tom hesitated. "I don't know if that would be wise, Harry. Trust me, I can't wait to face Voldemort, but there is something about all this that makes me uneasy. Didn't you hear what Dumbledore said? He wants us to go after Voldemort. He wants the two of us to kill him. This is all part of a larger plan that I do not understand. And I worry about playing into that old madman's hands." He hesitated for a moment. "As you know, Harry, I have some skills as a legilimens. I wasn't able to penetrate Dumbledore's thoughts entirely - his magical defenses were too strong, even for me - but I could sense his basic mood:The moment he saw the two of us together, he felt... thrilled. No, more than thrilled: Triumphant." Tom swallowed. "As if everything was finally falling into place... If only we knew more about what Dumbledore is planning, why he has spun this intricate web of lies..."
Snape shook his head. "I doubt that Dumbledore ever took anyone into his confidence. I thought I knew him; I believed that we were working together against the Dark Lord, but as it turned out, Dumbledore deceived me as well. I thought I helped him fake his death for some noble cause, but in reality I was a mere pawn in his game."
McGonagall stood still for a moment. Then she said quietly: "He faked his own death and left us all to mourn for him! That mockit basturt! Well, I know one way to get to the bottom of this. Dumbledore must have spent a great deal of time in this office planning and plotting and scheming. But someone was watching him all along. Someone may be able to tell us what he was up to." She turned and faced the portraits on the walls: "Erstwhile heads of Hogwarts! I am the lawful head of the school at this time, and I beg for your help in this moment of need: Tell us anything you may have gathered, over your years as silent witnesses upon the walls of this office, about what Dumbledore is planning and about any secrets he may be hiding."
Phineas Nigellus Black's portrait broke into a wide grin. "I thought you would never ask!"
An hour later, Harry, Tom, Snape, and McGonagall gazed at each other in bewilderment.
"Well, that was a lot of new information about Dumbledore," said McGonagall weakly.
Phineas Nigellus beamed. "So glad we could help, my dear! We portraits may not leave this room, but house elves mutter a lot while they clean, and some of us have rather long memories..."
McGonagell closed her eyes and sighed. "So, let's see... Albus Dumbledore, the beloved headmaster of Hogwarts, hexed the Sorting Hat as an eleven year old to get himself put into Gryffindor, helped himself liberally to volumes from the restricted section in order to enhance his own personal library, cast an Imperius curse on old Armando Dippet to get himself appointed head boy, stole the Sorcerer's Stone from Nicolas Flamel, sold bottled Elixir of Life to Merlin knows how many wizards on the black market, bribed the impoverished magical historian Adalbert Waffling to do all his homework for him, and discovered that one of the uses of dragon's blood is to make goblins do your bidding. Merlin, he just walked into Godric Gryffindor's own ancient vault at Gringotts and made off with his sword, his Pensieve, and most of his gold!"
"But we still don't know anything about his relationship to Voldemort." Tom sounded tense. "If Dumbledore ever spoke to Voldemort, he certainly never did so in this room, or the portraits would have known. Instead, Dumbledore spent months and months staring into his Pensieve, reliving the past, and reading the diary he once stole from me, over and over. Why? For Merlin's sake, why? And why does he still insist that I... that I am Voldmort?"
"You are not, Tom. I know that you are not." Harry put his hand on Tom's shoulder. "I carried a small piece of him inside me for years, remember? I know him quite well by now, and he is not you."
Tom shrank back from Harry's touch. "You have known me for two days, Harry. How can you be so sure what I am? How can you know my true character?" He buried his head in his hands.
Harry was about to protest when something stirred in his mind. "Your true character? Wait, I just thought of something. There is someone in this room who knows a person's true character better than anyone." His glance fell on the shelf behind McGonagall's desk, where a frayed piece of what looked like grey-black fabric lay draped over a leather-bound book. "The Sorting Hat!"
Harry reached up and pulled the Hat gently down from the shelf. The hat blinked sleepily and emitted a little cloud of dust. "September already? It can't be!"
"I just have a few questions for you, if you don't mind," said Harry quickly.
The Sorting Hat sighed. "Questions. Yes, of course you have questions. They always do, the Difficult Ones. The ones it takes ages to sort. They sneak back in here months and years after they have been well and truly sorted, second-guessing my decision, asking me if I'm quite sure I didn't make a mistake. So terribly tiresome!" The Hat glances moodily around the room. "Oh, great. Four Difficult Ones, all gathered together! Still wondering if I made the right decision, no doubt! What is the point of having a Sorting if no one ever believes what the Sorting Hat tells them?"
"Wait... what?" Harry looked at Tom, Snape, and McGonagall in surprise. "They were difficult to sort as well?"
"Oh, by Godric's own unkempt beard, were they difficult! That one was a Gryffindor, if I ever saw one -" The Hat nodded briefly at Snape, "but he begged me to put him in Slytherin, because he was convinced that only Dark magic could help him free his mother from his abusive father. Minerva McGonagall was of course as brilliant as any Ravenclaw, but I still say her courage is even greater than her intellect, even if she didn't know it yet when she was a girl. And Mr. Riddle..." The Hat chuckled. "Argued with me for a full half hour, he did. Yes, there was Gryffindor courage in him, I could see that. But the Slytherin part was still stronger, I think... And as for you, Mr. Potter..."
"What about me?" whispered Harry. "You sensed some Slytherin in me, and you told me that Slytherin would help me on the way to greatness. Do you still think that?" He placed the Hat carefully on his head.
For a moment, the Sorting Hat was still. Then it breathed: "What happened to you? Where did the Slytherin part of you go? I can sense nothing but Gryffindor in you now."
Harry recalled the little grey bead Tom had extracted from his scar, and he shivered slightly. "Tell me," he said quietly, "about that Slytherin part of me that you sensed when you Sorted me. Did it remind you of anyone?"
The Hat squirmed a little on Harry's head, as if in discomfort. "Remind me of someone? Well, I suppose so... The Slytherin part of you seemed rather familiar to me at the time, and I recall thinking: Oho, here comes another one! Just as ambitious as the other one, just as charming, just as drawn to power... Oh, yes, I recognized a Tom Riddle in you, young Harry."
Tom let out a low moan. "What are you saying? That part of Harry that is no longer there - the Slytherin part - that was me?" He had turned a deathly pale now.
"Yes," said the Hat softly. "Now that you mention it, I am quite certain of it: It was you."
"Oh, Merlin." Tom sank down in a chair. "No, Harry - don't touch me! Oh, for Merlin's sake, stay away from me! I don't understand any of this, but somehow... somehow it seems that I am Voldemort, even if I don't know it myself..."
"What? No, you can't be..." Harry could hear the trembling in his own voice. He put his wand down and threw his arms around Tom.
"Of course he isn't!" said McGonagall impatiently. "Do you think you'd still be alive if that was the Dark Lord, you foolish child? Oh, enough of this pish - grab your wands, everyone, and let's head to Malfoy Manor and see if we can't wrestle the truth out of Lord Voldemort himself."