"ORDER! ORDER! I demand order in this court!"
The Speaker, a tall gold-skinned man with electric blue hair from a pantheon Miracle didn't recognise, boomed into the amphitheatre. The only problem, of course, was that nobody was listening to him.
The High Inquisitor for today's proceedings, a Noldorin Elf from Tol Eressëa, sat smugly in his wooden chair, carved with vines. Miracle had to admit that his case was a good one. Clara had gone against her mandate from the Multiversity to repair the destruction reaped by the Great Destroyer in his most recent attempt to escape his prison in the Dark Multiverse in giving Harry Potter the Firebrand and the Gemini Curse, and she'd broken the Multiversity Accords to do it – irreparably changing the timeline of that world.
Miracle still wasn't sure what she thought about all of that. On the one hand, Gemini Curse was her story. She'd put painstaking hours into writing and editing it. What right did Clara Hunter have to go in and change everything? But, by the same token, if Clara hadn't done it, would Gemini Curse ever have existed in the first place? It was all terribly confusing.
Riker Celestial sat beside Clara – who was manacled with Soul Steel to a rigid aluminium (the anti-divine metal) chair – on a floating circular platform on the other side of the chamber. Riker – former Asmerian God of Fire and Technology and Clara's boyfriend – was acting as her defence. The Asmerians… well, there was a lot to be said about the Asmerians. A pantheon from a dead universe, who rarely, if ever, talked about their pasts. Rumour had it they were related to the Angels at one point, or at least to one of the Angelic Orders, but no one could confirm it.
He was a charismatic man, and that certainly worked in his favour here. He had worked rings around the Noldorin Inquisitor, but he hadn't had much to work with. His argument had been on moral grounds, not legal ones. Clara's actions had been illegal. What the delegations and the judges were arguing over now, was the punishment.
Ghost slipped back into his seat beside her in the gallery.
"How's it looking?"
"Not as bad as we feared it would be," Ghost said, numerous other Travellers turning to listen.
"The Olympians are being their stubborn selves, so no help's coming from there. The Dwarves are on side, but whether that's just because the Elvish coalition has decided to vote against is up for debate."
"The Asgardians are divided, and will probably abstain. The Vanir will vote with the Elves like always. The Angels will be neutral, but you all could have guessed that."
"The Seelie and Unseelie Courts are both siding with Clara on this, as her intervention brought that world closer to the Source. The Demons will, ironically, vote against just to see Clara removed from the board for the foreseeable future. The Ancients will vote against her as well, they hold to the Accords more vigorously than most, and the Ori will vote against for the sole reason that Clara is an Ancient in the first place."
"The Asmerians will vote for – be kind of hypocritical to do anything else. The Inhumans… it's up to Medusa to decide, and from what I heard she's sitting on the fence. The New Gods are against her, and the Valar will probably abstain."
"So; 4 for formal censure and release, 4 abstentions, and the rest want her forcibly descended. Fabulous. Looks like Miss Hunter can kiss her position amongst the high and mighty goodbye," Oracle noted. The leaders of the Travellers were conferring around Tyrion a few rows away.
"I wonder what they'll do?" Brawn asked.
"I hope it's something clever," Miracle said. Tyrion and Gandalf stood up and hurried out of the gallery.
Act V, Chapter 6: The Last Secret
"So, you wish to go to Antarctica to search for Atlantis," T'Chaka asked, leaning forward on the throne and staring at Harry and Ginny. It was early morning, and the rest of the king's council hadn't arrived yet. It was just T'Chaka, looking at Harry, Ginny, T'Challa and Shuri as they stood awkwardly in front of him.
"Um. Yeah. We'd appreciate it if you could give us a ride in one of your fancy jets, but it's fine if you can't. We can make our way down there on our own," Harry said.
"I wish to accompany them, father. If Voldemort is as powerful as they say, Wakanda is at risk as well. It is the duty of the Black Panther to protect Wakanda. I feel that the best way to do that is to go with Harry and Ginny Potter to see the acquisition of this weapon," T'Challa said, and Harry gave him a sidelong glance. They hadn't discussed that. He was about to voice that when Shuri spoke up first.
"If T'Challa is going then so am I!" She said, stamping her foot on the ground and standing up as tall as a ten-year-old can without falling over.
"Shuri, it will be dangerous…" T'Challa said, turning to his sister. Clearly, they hadn't discussed it either.
"I'm not stupid. I know it'll be dangerous. But if you think you're going to be able to operate that city without me to help understand the technology you're dead wrong. Besides, I'll have you to protect me. I'll be fine," she reasoned. Harry couldn't really fault her logic, and he supposed it would be nice to have T'Challa and Shuri on the trip with them. It would certainly be more humorous.
T'Chaka sat back on the throne, narrowing his eyes at his children.
"Well, I suppose having such dutiful children is to be commended," he said before sighing, "Bast forgive me when your mother finds out about this, but if this is your choice, I will support it." The king turned to the general of the bald-headed warrior women, the same woman who escorted them the previous day. T'Challa said they were called the Dora Milaje, Wakanda's elite fighting force.
"Okoye. Prepare a craft to take the Prince, the Princess, the Potters and yourself to the coordinates Shuri discovered. Best ready for a lengthy trip." Okoye performed the Wakandan salute, before leaving the throne room.
"You best get packing. You leave in three days."
Kings Cross Station was packed with Aurors, which resulted not in the increased security the newly elected Minister for Magic Rufus Scrimgeour intended, but instead created more frantic rushing, pushing and shoving than one might find at the Quidditch World Cup. And that was saying something.
Which was why Jessica got to the train station early. That and she was waiting for Malfoy to rear his ugly head. She hadn't been back to Jones Manor once, and that would have raised major flags regardless of her mother being dead. No doubt her father had been waiting for her. So, she fully expected Malfoy to come hunting for her. Not that she was particularly concerned about this notion, more amused really.
So here she sat, in the final carriage of the Hogwarts Express in her Defenders Robes, with her cowl pulled back. Her identity clear for everyone walking by the open window to gawk at. Let them see her. She had no intention of sleeping in the Slytherin Dorms anyway. A knife sticking out of her gut was something she'd rather avoid.
Sure enough, Malfoy found her fifteen minutes before the train was scheduled to leave, his gang of ass-wipes behind him.
"Jones. What in Merlin's name do you think you're playing at?!" he snapped. Clearly, he hadn't wanted to search for her either.
Jessica turned to the boy with bleach-blonde hair. There was something different about him this year. A projection of real arrogance compared with the simple smug look he used to wear. Fascinating.
"What game are you playing at Draco? Fetch? Did Daddy Death Eater tell you to come and find me? Or was it my Dad? If it was, I can't really blame you. If he told you to suck his dick, you'd ask him how deep, that's just how it works with him. No fear or intimidation needed, just a suggestion. I wonder if it works on old snake face? Worth a thought."
"Is a Death Eater, just like my parents. Well, parent. I killed my Mother. And ever since I've found myself quite enjoying life actually. Did you know the muggles have this thing called a cinema? I don't suppose you do. They're lovely places to visit. A quick confundus on the security guard, and you can sit in these very comfortable chairs and watch movies for free! I watched Independence Day a few days ago. I have to say; the Americans do love their alien invasions. Will Smith is so dreamy, don't you think?" Jessica laughed in Malfoy's face as it contorted into several different expressions. Shock, horror, disgust, confusion and even a little bit of rage thrown into the mix.
"You… you killed…"
"My mother? Yes, I did. You should try it sometime; it comes with a euphoria of freedom and peace of mind that I haven't been able to replicate since. I tried cocaine, but it honestly didn't come close." Jessica had actually tried cocaine, as part of her mission to be less brooding. She didn't see what the fuss was about honestly. A good old-fashioned cheering charm worked just as well, and with none of the side-effects.
"You dare suggest…" Draco stuttered. Jessica rolled her eyes. She was getting bored.
"Yes, I dare suggest. Merlin, you're thick Malfoy. Here I sit, with pink hair, wearing a Defenders Robe in broad daylight, and you still haven't put it together, have you? Perhaps this will help you?" She withdrew her wand from her pocket and waved it over her head in the practised flick of her wrist that established her old glamour charm. Her hair shifted from pink to red, and she curtsied.
"Lily Potter, Harry Potter's 'cousin', at your service."
"Come on, spit it out. It won't kill you." Then Jessica got a gleam in her eye. "Or maybe it will. Makes my job easier."
Malfoy stepped back into the beachball that was Gregory Goyle, bouncing back to where he was standing a second before. Jessica stepped forward, wand in hand and a sinister smile crossing her face. Her hair returned to its normal shade.
"You're one of Potter's brats!" Pansy Parkinson exclaimed.
"Oh, bravo Pansy. Seems there might just be a brain in there after all. I've been spying on you all for three years now."
"Traitor!" Blaze exclaimed, drawing his own wand. Jessica had him disarmed in less than a second. She took another step forward, and Malfoy's gang continued to back away. She had another snarky reply prepared, but another voice stepped in.
"Alias, still cracking head I see."
Danny was leaning against the wall less than a metre away from Pansy, who was the left most of Malfoy's group of idiots. Only he didn't look like the Danny that left. He had a three-day growth covering his chin, his hair had grown out slightly, becoming even more curly than it had been before, and he'd shot up at least ten inches. His muscles were so well defined they were actually visible under his shirt. And it wasn't a tight shirt either. His eyes had changed colour from blue to vivid emerald green. All in all, he looked like he should be a seventh year, not a fifth year.
"Iron Fist. I see you took the term 'Living Weapon' quite seriously," she said casually, winking slyly at him.
"Rand?" Malfoy breathed.
"Hi, Malfoy. Miss me?"
The tension in the corridor was broken by Professor Slughorn of all people.
"Ah! Miss Jones! I was just looking for you!" The professor exclaimed gleefully, completely missing the antagonistic air. "I must say, your hair looks truly fabulous in the daylight."
"Good Morning to you as well Professor Slughorn," Jessica said, plastering her best smile across her face and resisting the urge to gag. Jessica returned her wand to the holster within the cloak and stepped past a seething Malfoy to stand next to Danny.
"Professor, let me introduce you to Daniel Rand, son of Wendell Rand – the CEO of Rand Enterprises – the Immortal Iron Fist, Living Weapon of Kun-Lun and member of the Defenders." Danny looked at her like she'd grown a second head, just outing him like that. Slughorn, on the other hand, almost fell over himself.
"An Immortal Weapon?! Incredible. I've met an Immortal Weapon before you know, during World War II…" Then he stopped, taking in Jessica's robes. "And these must be the Defenders Robes. I'd heard stories."
Jessica twisted her knife. "They were designed by Lily Evans before she died," she explained, using Lily Potter's maiden name as a calculated gambit. Slughorn hadn't used Lily's married name once during their conversation that night at the house, so using Evans instead of Potter was more likely to appeal to him.
That's when she noticed Matt and Luna standing directly behind Slughorn, both of them staring at fixedly at Malfoy. Luna whispered something to Matt, and the pair bolted back down the corridor, not caring about the people they knocked over in their retreat. What?
Slughorn grabbed Jessica's arm and observed the fabric.
"Truly fantastic," he said, before straightening up and smiling at them, "On to why I am actually here. I've come to invite you to have lunch in my compartment at the front of the train, Miss Jones. You're of course welcome to come as well, Mr Rand. An Immortal Weapon is always a good person to know." With that he spun on his heel and led the way back up the corridor, Jessica and Danny abandoning Malfoy and his gang behind them.
Danny whispered into her ear as they walked, "Who's this guy? And why does he now know my life story?"
"He's a mark. He's got information on Voldemort. We're buttering him up so we can extract it. I'll probably just Glock him over the head at some point. Dumbledore's scheming gives me headaches, but in this instance, keeping him close is a good idea. Keeps him away from Voldemort."
"Copy that. Nice dress down, but the way."
They followed Slughorn down the train corridor as it began to roll forward, and Jessica pulled the thread within her cuff, transforming her Defenders Robes back into the standard Hogwarts ones. The rumour mill would do the rest for her.
When they arrived at Slughorn's lavish apartment, they discovered there were already people inside. Marcus Belby, an an obese seventh year from Ravenclaw. Cormac McLaggen, a seventh year from Gryffindor, who was staring rather rudely at Hermione, her nose in a book. Rounding out the group were Blaise Zabini, Neville Longbottom, Hannah Abbot – who was very anxiously watching Blaise out of the corner of her eye – and Leopold Fitz.
"Sit, sit everyone!" Slughorn exclaimed.
"Danny!" Hermione gasped, rising to her feet and enveloping Danny in a hug.
"Hi Brains," Danny said, patting her on the back. Hermione pulled away, blushing slightly.
"Congratulations! You passed your test?" She asked, eagerly. Danny raised his hands and clenched them into fists. Golden energy began to ripple beneath his skin, making his hands radiate heat.
"Wow! Well done!"
"I hear congratulations are in order for you as well. I met Luke earlier, and he said you won a Joan of Arc Scholarship. Nicely done!" Hermione's cheeks coloured even further.
"Oh, it was nothing really. I didn't have to fight a dragon like you," she exclaimed.
"Shou-Lao is just a big teddy really. It was nothing compared to earning eleven OWL's, and after Umbridge, that's even more impressive." Danny had shown Jessica a sketch of Shou-Lao the Undying, keeper of the eternal spirit of the Iron Fist. Calling him a teddy bear was like comparing Voldemort to a barbie doll.
Hermione declined to comment, sitting back down to hide her flushed face. Jessica had to refrain from laughing at her.
Slughorn began interrogating everyone after that. Belby, whose uncle invented the Wolfsbane Potion, didn't impress the old wizard, and he quickly moved onto a rousing discussion with Cormac concerning his Uncle Tiberius over his recent hunting trip with Rufus Scrimgeour.
Jessica had tried to like Scrimgeour, but she felt he was too flat. Too inflexible in his ways. Regardless of what she ever did, for example, she'd be sent through the Veil of Death between Voldemort and Lucius Malfoy without a second thought just because of who her parents were. But Scrimgeour had also put a stop to Malfoy's attempts to purchase the Weasley's mortgage on the Burrow, and rescinded the wanted edict on Harry, so she tried to like him.
It wasn't hard to determine why they were all there. Each of them had a connection to a famous or rich person in the magical community - except Hermione, but her scholarship instantly earned her a seat at the table. It didn't hurt that Slughorn had already met her either. Even Fitz, whose father was an arithmancer in Glasgow. Slughorn clearly hadn't known that Alistair had walked out on Fitz and his mother when he was ten, so that was an awkward ten minutes.
Hannah's father Gifford – who had died five years ago – was a historian and famous archaeologist who'd worked on the restoration of Minas Tirith. Zabini's mother was rich as fuck after marrying and then murdering her seven husbands. Neville's parents needed no explaining.
Finally, when Jessica thought she'd escape unquestioned, Slughorn turned his eyes on her.
"And finally, we have Jessica Jones. Daughter of Allisandra and Zebediah. I heard about your mother, I'm so sorry my dear."
"I'm not. She was a Death Eater and a murderous hag. I killed her myself. With any luck, I'll be able to take out my brainwashing father before he rapes any more little girls." Slughorn swallowed hard.
"Have you heard from Harry or Ginny?" Hannah asked, directing the question to the Defenders in the room. Jessica refrained from biting her lip. She really didn't want to answer that question. Slughorn suddenly looked very interested.
"Yes. Harry Potter! The Chosen One they're calling him now. Of course, there have been rumours for years. Then there was the Triwizard Tournament, and now, the Battle in the Ministry. Tell me, if you can, does the Prophet tell the truth? Were you in thick of it all? Does this prophecy really exist?" Hermione gulped.
"Yes. We were all there, Neville and Hannah too. I was leading the group that broke into the Department of Mysteries to retrieve the prophecy about Harry before Voldemort could get it. We escaped with it while Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny held Voldemort back." Hannah, Neville, Belby, McLaggen, Slughorn and Fitz flinched. Hermione cast her gaze into her lap at the mention of Ron, and Jessica instantly felt terrible.
"Does it truly say that Harry is the Chosen One?"
Jessica shrugged, "I haven't heard it. We gave it straight to Harry after the battle. Only he and Ginny know what it says," she lied. In fact, Harry and Ginny were the only Defenders who didn't know what the Prophecy said. "After, he said it confirmed what we feared, that he was the Chosen One, and didn't say anything more. The leak that the Prophet cited was Sir Cardogan, a portrait in Hogwarts that overheard us." Also a lie. Sirius had told Rita Skeeter precisely what to print in the Daily Prophet.
"And where is Harry?" Slughorn queried. Blaise sat up a little straighter in his chair. She couldn't help noticing that Slughorn hadn't mentioned Ginny. Clearly, he had researched her background as a Weasley and found her wanting. A somewhat poor choice Jessica imagined he'd discover.
Jessica sighed dramatically, "I wish I knew Professor. He and Ginny escaped Britain after Fudge called for their arrest, seeking the wisdom and guidance of the Sorcerer Supreme. They said they'd be back before term resumed, but we haven't heard anything."
"But if I know Harry, and trust me, I know him better than anyone, save Ginny," Hermione said with a grin, "There's only two reasons Harry isn't back yet. One, he's gathering the cavalry, or two, he and Ginny just peaced out and are chilling in the Seychelles banging each other on the beach." The Defenders all broke into hysteria, while Slughorn just looked very confused. Poor bloke.
"I know which one I'd choose," Jessica stated between laughs.
"With Harry or Ginny, though?" Danny asked, his hands on his knees as he tried to regain his composure.
"Either or both. I'm not picky." And everyone cracked up laughing again. Even Slughorn couldn't hide his snigger.
Jessica walked up to the castle with the rest of the Gryffindor Defenders, Danny having disappeared to Hufflepuff and Matt and Luna in Ravenclaw. It felt supremely awkward to be riding in a carriage with Luke and Hermione, but no Harry or Ginny. Instead Lavender and Neville were with them, but no Dean.
"Where's Dean?" Hermione asked, clearly thinking along the same lines.
"His parents wouldn't let him come back this year. He's Muggleborn, so they're heading to America. He told me in his last letter. He doesn't know if he'll be coming back or if he'll be able to contact us at all," Lavender said solemnly.
"Are you… are you going to be sitting with Slytherin this year Jessica?" Neville asked. Jessica just sighed.
"I wish I could. I'm still a Slytherin at heart, but I can't risk it. Not after last year. All the Death Eater kids will have orders to kidnap me and take me to the big boss, or even worse, to my Dad."
"How can he be worse than You…" Lavender hesitated before steeling herself, "Is he really worse than Voldemort?" She asked softly. Jessica was so shocked she said the name she didn't answer straight away, but eventually, she regained her voice.
"Voldemort will torture me a bit then kill me. My Dad will brainwash me, then rape me, then send me out to murder a bunch of people most likely, then, if I were to come back alive, he'd do it all again and again and again until I didn't come back. Then he'd turn my body into an inferus, and rape my corpse, just for kicks."
Everyone was silent for the rest of the trip.
Jessica sat down at the Gryffindor table between Luke and Hermione. The rest of the Defenders Army members closed in around her, providing a human shield against the glares coming her way from the Slytherins. She caught Daphne's eye, and the blonde mouthed an apology. Jessica nodded her head slightly to indicate she understood, and Daphne went back to her discussion with Lance, Tracey and Emilie. Astoria was sitting further down the table with a number of her friends. One of them had a bruise on her cheek. No. Slytherin wasn't a lost cause. She was only here to save herself from a knife to the throat. She wouldn't give up on her mission to show everyone that Slytherin wasn't evil. She'd already come so far. She wouldn't stop now.
"Greetings old students and new students alike. Welcome back to another year at Hogwarts. Firstly, Mr Filch, our caretaker, has asked me to inform you all that he has placed a total ban on any and all products from Weasley Wizard Wheezes." Jessica laughed along with the rest of the school. She hadn't had the chance to visit the Weasley's shop herself, but she'd heard reports, and apparently, it was doing gangbusters.
"Not that I imagine many of you will actually follow this rule." More laughter. "Now, we have three changes in staffing this year. I'm pleased to welcome back to Hogwarts Professor Slughorn, who will be resuming his old post as potions master." Jessica's brain slammed on the breaks for a few precious moments "Defence Against the Dark Arts, on the other hand, will be taken up by Professor Snape." Okay. That was not what she expected. She'd known Remus wasn't coming back, owing to the fact he had joined Moody on his hunt for Voldemort's hideout with Bill Weasley and Betsy Braddock – which still hadn't turned up anything useful – but Snape?
"Meanwhile, with Professor McGonagall still in her coma, the first through fourth-year classes will be taken by substitute teacher Professor Gwendolyn Stacy. Professor Stacy will be working with me to instruct the fifth through seventh-year classes." Gasps rang out through the hall, and Jessica's gaze snapped up to the table, scanning for Gwen. But the American girl was absent.
"Professor Stacy will be arriving tomorrow, so anyone with Transfiguration tomorrow can consider it a free period."
Jessica leaned over to Hermione, "Did you…"
"No! She didn't tell me a thing," Hermione huffed, clearly distraught between celebrating for her friend and wanting to slap her across the face.
"Professor Babbling will be temporarily taking up Professor McGonagall's duties as head of Gryffindor House."
Then Dumbledore's face turned grave, and Jessica tuned him out as he started going on about Voldemort. She knew full well what the dangers of Tom Marvolo Riddle were. She'd seen Matt's face after he got back from the attack on Greyback's lair. Matt, whose face was always hard to read because of his blindness, had looked like someone had stepped on his grave.
A few minutes later, Jessica and Hermione bade farewell to the others and made their way to the griffin statue guarding the entrance to Professor Dumbledore's office. Matt was already there.
"Hey guys," he said, not bothering to look in their direction. The guardian moved aside, and they ascended the escalator like staircase. At the top, they opened the door and let themselves into Dumbledore's office.
It was undoubtedly an impressive sight. Separated into three staggered levels, each looking out over the floor below it, the walls lined with bookcases. A large telescope occupied the third level, and an elegant mahogany desk covered in small silver objects dominated the main floor. They took seats on the couch sitting opposite Dumbledore's desk and waited.
Dumbledore arrived a few minutes later.
"Miss Jones, Miss Granger, Mr Murdock. I appreciate your punctuality. It has been a long day," Dumbledore said, sitting down gingerly in the chair behind his desk. Fawkes the Phoenix flew down, landing on the counter and trilling softly.
"Thank you, my friend," Dumbledore whispered in reply. He cleaned his half-moon glasses with his robe and sighed.
"I believe I promised you three answers."
"Before we start. I need to say something," Matt said, and Dumbledore gestured for him to continue, "Draco Malfoy has a Dark Mark on his arm. Both Luna and I could sense it on the train here."
"That's not good. Not good at all," Jessica hummed.
"We'll have to put a watch on him," Hermione said, shaking her head.
"Danny will do it. He'll have good fun with it I imagine," Jessica said, and Matt nodded.
"I will keep an eye out as well. If Mr Malfoy has been given the Dark Mark, he must have a mission from Voldemort concerning the school," Dumbledore said.
"But can't you just kick him out?" Hermione asked.
"No. It would let Voldemort know we have a means of detecting his agents. If that happens, he'll simply stop marking them, and we'll have no warning," Dumbledore said.
"Okay. Just thought I should bring it up before we get into the heavy stuff," Matt said.
"Very well. I suppose the easiest place to start is the beginning," Dumbledore said, before turning serious, "You know what the Prophecy says, based on your leaking part of it to Rita Skeeter." Everyone nodded.
"Then I must assume you have deduced it's meaning?"
"It means that a child born at the end of July, a child who was marked by the Dark Lord, will have a power he knows not…" Jessica began.
"And it means that either Harry or Voldemort is going to have to kill the other, in the end," Hermione finished shakily.
"That was my reading of it as well. I was there when it was first spoken, by Professor Trelawney if you can believe it – hence the reason I keep her here at the castle. But I was not the only one who was there. A Death Eater overheard the first few lines and escaped to tell Voldemort. That is why he went hunting for the Potters. He didn't know that marking Harry as an equal through his scar would lead to his eventual downfall."
"You think Harry can win then?" Matt asked.
"I do," Dumbledore confirmed, "But I doubt I will be there to see it." He sat back in his chair.
"I have made many mistakes; it is true. But I am trying to learn from them now, which is why I will tell you everything I know. That, and because someone will need to continue on once I am gone."
Jessica didn't like where this was going. "You sound pretty certain you're going to die," She said. He merely raised his blackened hand.
"Unfortunately, my time upon this world is coming to an end. Severus and Poppy both give me a year if left untreated. Severus has devised a potion that shields from the pain and should extend my life for at least three years before I finally succumb, but he cannot be sure that it will work."
"What happened?" Hermione asked softly.
"That is part of my story. A part I shall get to in time. But I have promised to tell you the whole truth, and so I will. But to do so, we will need to take a trip down memory lane." Dumbledore snapped his fingers, and a stone basin filled with water drifted out of a glass cupboard against the wall. It floated over to the table, before coming to a rest on top of it.
"This is a Pensieve. It allows one to revisit memories of their past, or to view the memories of other people." Dumbledore withdrew a glass potion bottle with white liquid trapped within it from his robes. "This bottle contains the memory of the first time I ever met Tom Riddle, or as he is known today, Lord Voldemort. I would like you to see it." He poured the vile into the water, white and black smoke began to ripple beneath the surface. Dumbledore placed a finger in the water, and Jessica, Matt and Hermione followed suit. Jessica felt as though she was being jerked forward, then she was falling. Falling down through the aether, before she landed without even a stumble, on a washed-out London road. The others all appeared beside her, and a figure who could only be a younger version of Dumbledore, walked past them, heading down the street towards a large building on the corner.
"Whoah. This is weird," Hermione whispered.
"Fuck!" Matt exclaimed. He removed his glasses and his eyes, usually unresponsive and empty, flitted around in shock.
"You can see?!" Jessica exclaimed.
"I can see…" Matt breathed. Old Dumbledore appeared beside them.
"Yes, I had a feeling that might happen. Now, if you would follow me." The trio did so, following the two Dumbledores down the road. The cars looked very old, and there were propaganda posters on the walls of the surrounding buildings encouraging people to sign up for the British Army. Matt was taking everything in like a kid in a candy store. Hermione looked far more thoughtful.
"When exactly are we?" She asked.
"1938, just before the onset of the Second World War, and the Global Wizarding War. Perhaps, if I had not been so focussed on Grindelwald, I would have seen the signs in Tom Riddle sooner." Dumbledore trailed off into silence as they approached the building. Square shaped, with numerous evenly spaced tiny windows and high railed, spiked gates, it looked more like a prison than a house. Young Dumbledore stepped up to the door and knocked. A young woman in an old-fashioned maid uniformed creaked it open.
"Hello. I have an appointment with Mrs Cole, whom I believe is the matron here."
"I know this place," Matt whispered, "It's the old orphanage in the backwaters of Stratford. We used to drive past it to go to Primary School. It's been in ruins longer than I've been alive."
"Wait a second," Jessica said as they followed young Dumbledore inside, "Voldemort was an orphan?"
"Indeed. His muggle father, Thomas Riddle Sr, abandoned young Merope Gaunt – Voldemort's mother – and she died in childbirth. The child, named Tom after his father, was sent here, where I found him," Dumbledore said. The foyer of the orphanage was nothing special. Old brick walls, an old wooden desk in one corner, a staircase in another, and chairs like those you'd see in a doctor's surgery running the length of the wall adjacent to the desk.
"Gaunt. That's an ancient name. An ancient Slytherin name. So, he isn't actually bull-shiting when he says he's the Heir of Slytherin?" Jessica asked.
"Language Miss Jones. But yes. He is technically the last true Heir of Slytherin, despite only being a half-blood."
"Being a half-blood tends to be a pretty good discriminator for powerful wizards," Hermione noted as they watched Young Dumbledore begin conversing with a frail elderly woman with a very long nose.
"In some cases, yes," Dumbledore agreed, "But many Purebloods and Muggleborns have been just as strong. Take Stephen, for example. He is Muggleborn. And Merlin was a Pureblood."
They followed young Dumbledore and the woman as they mounted the stairs.
"No Tom, nor Marvolo, nor any kind of Riddle ever showed up looking for him, so he's stayed here at the Orphanage." The long-nosed woman stopped for a second.
"There have been… incidents… with the other children. Nasty things. They're afraid of him, and rightly so."
Young Dumbledore frowned, "How so?"
"Well, one time. Tom was arguing with little Billy Stubbs. Then the next day, we find his rabbit hanging dead from the rafters. Tom said he didn't do it, and I don't know how he could have, but there is no one else who would have wanted to. Then, on a trip to the sea-side, Tom went into a cave with Amy Benson and Daniel Bishop. Neither of them were ever the same when they came back out. Never spoke to anyone other than themselves. Left the country and all if I recall."
"I think I understand why they're afraid then," Dumbledore said quietly, biting his lip.
"You'll still be taking him, though?" the woman, Mrs Cole, asked hopefully.
"Yes, of course. A scholarship is a scholarship. Nothing I can say will change that."
"I dare say the children will be glad to see the back of him."
Jessica, Hermione, Matt and Dumbledore followed the long-nosed woman and Dumbledore's past self-up the stairs and down a corridor. They stopped outside a door, and Mrs Cole knocked two times before letting herself in.
"Tom, you have a visitor. This is Professor Dumbledore." She vanished, shutting the door on young Dumbledore and the eleven-year-old form of Lord Voldemort.
"So, he was always pasty. Good to know," Jessica said, trying to keep her voice steady. He was pasty, very much so, and it wasn't just the washed-out lighting. His skin was pale against pitch-black hair. He was tall for his age and lanky in the arms and legs. He had deep brown eyes that held no true trace of the evil that would manifest, though they were oddly cold for a boy of mere eleven.
"How do you do, Tom?"
Riddle flinched and looked up to stare at Dumbledore.
"Who are you?" Riddle asked, not getting up from his cross-legged position on his wireframe bed.
"I am Professor Dumbledore. I teach at a prestigious school called Hogwarts."
"Are you a doctor? Are those just nice words for an asylum?" Riddle looked to the door, "She wants me looked at. I've heard her speaking to the other staff about it. She says I'm different."
"Well perhaps she's right," Young Dumbledore said softly, taking a seat on the bed beside Riddle, "But maybe being different doesn't have to be a bad thing." Riddle stared at Dumbledore as if trying to see into his soul.
"Who are you?"
"I'm like you Tom. I'm different."
Riddle's wardrobe burst into flame, and Young Dumbledore told riddle to take a box of stolen possessions out. But Jessica had stopped listening to the conversation. She was staring around the room, taking in something very bizarre. Everything Riddle had was arranged in patterns of seven. Seven rocks on the windowsill, seven items stolen, seven notches on his wardrobe door…
"I can speak to snakes too," Riddle said as Dumbledore made to depart, "is that, normal for people like us?"
Dumbledore stared at Riddle for a moment, "It's not common, but not unusual, either."
The environment of the memory shifted, creating a blank emptiness of swirling white smoke.
"That was eye-opening," Hermione shuddered.
"Yeah. Once a creep-always a creep," Matt said, staring around in fascination at the swirling mists.
"No, seriously. You can already see the habits he picked up later," Hermione explained "Using magic against people he thought lesser than himself, on those that annoyed him, even if he didn't truly understand what he was doing. His independence too. Notice how he was on his own. He didn't have any friends. In fact, it looks like he deliberately scared them all way."
"Trophies," Jessica added, "He collected trophies as if to prove to himself, or to someone else maybe, of his accomplishments. And the sevens? Why always seven?"
"Excellent deductions," Dumbledore stated, "but there is one that I have found in my numerous returns to this memory, that you haven't mentioned. Tom reacts rather poorly to the sound of his own name. Even back then, I don't think he liked having such a mundane and common name. He wished to stand out, and with a name like Tom, that was something he could not do. Thus, Lord Voldemort was born."
The group fell into silence, and Dumbledore snapped his fingers. The swirling smoke morphed into a room with stone walls, and a window running along the point where the wall met the roof. Jessica instantly recognised it. It was Snape's office in the dungeons. Only it looked much nicer than the few times she'd been in there. The walls had been covered in most places by fancy tapestries and silks, and expensive furniture and handsewn carpets covered the floor. Standing at a bar table, was a much younger version of Professor Slughorn. For starters, he still had hair on his head, and it was blond rather than grey. He was still overweight, though.
Dumbledore drew breath and continued to speak.
"Tom Riddle, when he arrived at Hogwarts, was sorted into Slytherin House the second the Sorting Hat touched his head. How quickly he learned that Salazar Slytherin was also a Parseltongue I do not know, nor do I know whether or not he used his ability to frighten others, but it doesn't seem much of a stretch to assume that the discovery fuelled his own sense of self-importance. However, he showed no hint of aggression or violence towards any of the staff. In fact, his thirst for knowledge and charisma quite endeared himself to them. I had resolved to keep an eye on him, but because of the War, I was often absent from Hogwarts trying to deal with bigger concerns. I regret to say that I mostly forgot about the odd boy that I met. When I did check up on him, he seemed to have made a complete turnaround. It was only in his sixth year, when he opened the Chamber of Secrets and blamed Hagrid for it, that I became suspicious of him once more. It was during Riddle's sixth year that the scene you're about to see takes place."
The room solidified, and Jessica could now see a group of boys surrounding a table as Slughorn walked over and sat back down, now with a shot of Firewhiskey in his hand.
"Sir is it true Professor Merrythought is retiring?" Riddle asked. Slughorn looked shocked for a second before breaking into a grin.
"You know I can't say anything about that, Tom." He ruined the effect by winking slightly. "But if she is, I shall certainly be asking to move into her office. Far nicer than this one, don't you think?"
"I think this place has flare, sir," Riddle said, "Though I'll admit it must be terribly cold to sleep in."
A clock chimed, and Slughorn gasped, "Oh would you look at that! Quickly boys you better be getting to bed, or Headmaster Dibbet will have us all in detention!" The boys laughed and filled out of the room. All except Tom Riddle, who hesitated in leaving. Jessica realised he had timed this perfectly, for Slughorn was quite intoxicated, but not enough so as to be unable to answer questions.
"Professor, I was wondering if I might ask you something that's been on my mind?" Slughorn frowned, looking up from his seat to Riddle.
"Ask away, my boy. Ask away!"
Riddle smiled, "I came across something while I was in the Restricted Section of the Library a few days ago, but I haven't had much luck in finding any clarification, so I thought you, as the most knowledgeable teacher at Hogwarts might know about it."
"Fascinating. And what is this mysterious concept that has stumped you?"
"It's called, and I hope I'm pronouncing it right, a Horcrux."
"Fuck," Jessica whispered, then instantly realised her mistake, as Dumbledore's gaze snapped onto her. She pretended she hadn't noticed, which was easy, as the next second the memory clouded over, and only Slughorn's voice could be heard through the gloom.
"I don't know anything about such things, now get out of here at once, and don't let me ever catch you mentioning it again!" The transition was so jarring that Jessica's head actually went swimming for a moment. Her stomach flipped, and she felt the beginnings of a migraine begin to course through her brain.
"You've encountered Horcruxes before?" He asked. Jessica began frantically pulling together a believable defence, but her mind was moving too fast.
"Horcrux." "Diary, Ring, Locket, Cup, Diadem, Snake." "It's okay Jessica. Don't worry. Everything will be alright. This is all for a good cause…"
She wasn't sure whether the voices were in her head or out loud. It was all she could think about. All-encompassing. The fog began to churn, forming into a dark room, with a low hanging ceiling.
"Mummy. I don't want to…" "Horcrux." "A man named Ghost, he called himself a Traveller, he brought me a message from my future self." "Pieces of his Soul." "Horcruxes."
There was no furniture in the room. No tables. No chairs. No blankets. But there were candles. Five candles sat on the cold, grey stone floor, placed on the five corners of a drawing on the ground. Only this drawing looked like it had been carved into the stone, not drawn. It was a five-pointed star within a circle, painted blood red. Long heavy breaths started wheezing out of Jessica's mouth as she tried to suck in air, tried to will herself to think about anything else.
"What…" Dumbledore's voice whispered.
"You don't know what you want, Jessica. Now, be a good girl and step into the circle." "Objects of incredible power." "Aries and Taurus for the first sequence." "Horcruxes."
Standing in the centre of the room, at the point of the star, was Allisandra Jones. In one hand she held a heavy book, in the other a golden cup with a badger engraved on the front. Jessica's body began to shake uncontrollably as she tried to pull some air into her constricting throat, but she couldn't take her eyes away from the scene.
"That's why he didn't die when the Killing Curse rebounded on him." "DO IT! It must be NOW!" "Please Harry Potter. If you can help, I need you now."
Allisandra's face took on a demonic appearance in the firelight, and she held out the cup, which had a foul-smelling red and black substance within it.
Dumbledore, Matt and Hermione all gasped in horror as a dark smoke-like form with red eyes swooped down from the rafters.
"DRINK! NOW, GIRL!" The spirit said in Voldemort's unforgettable voice. And then, one more figure materialised, from within the mist. Standing in the middle of the pentagram, was a little girl of no more than five years old, in no clothing but a thin white cotton night-dress. Her head had been shaved bare. Glowing on the back of her neck were two black tattoos, surrounded by third-degree burns stretching up her head and down her back. The Runic Symbols for Aries – the Ram – and Taurus – the Bull.
"We have to destroy them." "Diary, Ring, Locket, Cup, Diadem, Snake." "Two down. Four to go." "We have to destroy them."
"ENOUGH!" Jessica screamed. The scene shattered, and everyone was blasted backwards, out of the mist and back into Dumbledore's office. Jessica fell to her knees, heaving air down her throat, and expelling it just as hoarsely.
"Jess!" She wasn't sure if it was Hermione of Matt, as she recognised both voices but only the one word. Then someone's hands were rubbing along her back, someone else stroking her hair. A glass of water appeared in front of her, and she snatched it. Guzzling down the clear, cold liquid. She took a deep raspy breath and pulled herself together.
'What would she even say?'
"Miss Jones… Jessica, are you alright?" Dumbledore asked softly. She looked up, and her eyes met the Headmaster's. He was kneeling beside her, his beard just scraping the floor. Jessica swallowed.
"I…" She took another deep breath, "I'm sorry." Hermione was the one rubbing her back. Matt's hands were in her hair. At any other time, she might have enjoyed it, but right now, she just wasn't in the state of mind to appreciate the comfort.
"I've never seen anything like that happen in a Pensieve before. It should only have played the memories I placed within…"
"It's my fault, Professor. It was my memory you all saw, though I imagine you all figured that out." An awkward silence descended over the room as Jessica pulled herself back onto the couch, and her friends stopped their ministrations.
"Are you sure you're alright?" Matt asked, rubbing a hand over hers.
"Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine, Matt," she replied, before looking back to Dumbledore, who was now sitting on the edge of his desk, staring at everyone curiously. Jessica gulped.
"So, were the voices in my head or…"
"We all heard them," Hermione confirmed, "That was the night you got your powers, wasn't it?"
Jessica nodded softly, her hand subconsciously rising to scratch the burn marks on her neck. They were far better than they used to be, thanks to the St Mungo's doctors who'd looked her over after she was hurt in the Ministry, but she'd carry the scars, and the runes embedded within them, forever.
"What… forgive me, I shouldn't ask." Dumbledore fastened his jaw closed and didn't ask any more questions, to his credit. But she could see in his eyes that his mind was working as fast as Hermione's enhanced brain did, if not faster. He was connecting everything he had heard in her nightmare, everything he had seen in the memory together with what he knew and trying to make sense of it all.
"Ask. It's out there now anyway," Jessica told him shakily, waving her hand as her headache slowly faded away.
Dumbledore pursed his lips. Hermione shook her head.
"Cats out of the bag, Brains. No sense in denying it." Jessica stared Dumbledore in the eyes.
"After the First Task, Harry was visited by a time traveller who called himself Ghost," she began, "This Ghost person, whoever he was, brought Lily Potter from the past, and Harry was able to speak with her for a few minutes."
"He never told us what she said him, but after the conversation ended, Ghost gave him a letter from Harry's future self," Matt continued. "Contained in the letter were the notes and lyrics to a song…"
"Enchanted…" Dumbledore breathed, "I had wondered how he came up with it."
"And six words, scribbled as an afternote, at the end."
And the trio recited the line that had burned itself into each of their brains, "Diary, Ring, Locket, Cup, Diadem, Snake."
"Merlin…" Dumbledore exclaimed.
"We didn't know what they meant at first," Hermione admitted, "But Harry worked out Tom Riddle's Diary was the first object, so based on that, we guessed they were items of similar dangerous intent."
"We were put onto Horcruxes by you actually," Jessica said, and Dumbledore's face twisted into confusion, before relaxing in recognition.
"I mentioned Horcruxes the day Harry and Ginny spoke to me about their Soul Bond," He realised.
"So, between Harry asking me to research the word, and the Dragons, we realised that the items on the list must be Horcruxes. Then we found item number two," Hermione said.
"The Locket was hidden in Grimmauld Place. Sirius and Andromeda Tonks found it while they were inventorying the place before you set it up as your headquarters and Mrs Weasley began her purge," Matt continued. Dumbledore blanched, his mouth falling open slightly.
Then Jessica took up the story once more. "Will and Clarissa destroyed the Locket. The Cup, as you saw in my… memory… is most likely the object my loving mother used to almost turn me into Voldemort's new host body. Thankfully for all of us, Avery was shit at Ancient Runes and fucked up while drawing them on me. The ritual failed, and Voldemort's spirit vanished back to god knows where. Therefore, it's probably still hidden in Jones Manor, but I couldn't find it when I searched last summer, so Mum must have moved it before she died. Hopefully, that means my father, and by extension, He-Who-Must-Be-Hyphenated, don't know where it is either."
"We also know where the Snake is. With Voldemort himself. Matt and I saw it in Malfoy Manor, and Harry saw it in the Graveyard. That leaves the Ring and the Diadem still in the wind. Two down, four to go."
Dumbledore sat in silence for a moment before he stood up and circled the desk. He reached into a drawer and withdrew two objects from within. A green-covered muggle diary with a gaping hole in the centre, and a gold ring inset with a cracked black stone.
"Three down, three to go."
"Holy no way," Hermione exclaimed, stepping up to the desk and staring at the remains of both the Diary and the Ring.
"This ring belonged to Voldemort's mother. He claimed it from his last living relative, Morfin Gaunt, before he murdered his father and grandparents. Very difficult to find, even more difficult to destroy." He held up his blackened hand again.
"Is there anything that can be done?" Hermione asked.
Dumbledore smiled softly. "You're already doing it. The news you bring today has greatly lightened my mind. Not only do I now know for sure how many Horcruxes there are, but you've also destroyed another on your own and obtained the location of two others."
Then Dumbledore looked back to the Pensieve, "But the mystery of what Professor Slughorn chose to obscure in the memory we witnessed remains. We need to learn what he told Tom Riddle, and we need to learn where the final Horcrux, this Diadem, is. I have two possible locations, but I need more time for research before I have anything concrete."
Dumbledore glanced to a clock on the wall. It was well past midnight.
"We can continue this another time. For now, let us all get some well-deserved sleep."