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2012 Writer's Duel: A Fresh Spin by HPFF United
Chapter 3 : The Best Laid Plans by CE_25
 
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It was Hallowe’en of 1981, and Albus Dumbledore had been summoned away from the Hogwarts feast to deal with a crisis. Voldemort had attacked the Potters, and found them perhaps more vigilant than they might have been. There had been a fight of some kind. James Potter was now dead, Lily Potter was in a coma in St. Mungo’s, and Harry Potter had acquired an unusual scar on his forehead. Oh, and the house they’d been staying in was a near write-off and both Peter Pettigrew and Sirius Black had gone missing. And apparently the Dark Lord was dead, too, though Dumbledore had doubts on the latter count, given the prophecy. Voldemort had believed in the prophecy, ergo it would happen. And Voldemort getting blown up in a spell-battle gone bad didn’t sound like it came even close to fulfilling the prophecy, therefore Voldemort must still exist in some form.

Right: well at least, with the scar and everything, Albus now knew which child was the one destined to defeat the Dark Lord. At this point in the interests of security (and with the added benefit of ensuring the child did not acquire any unfortunate preconceived notions which might make fitting him into his prophesised role later awkward), Albus’ instincts were to pack the child off as far away from the magical world as possible, preferably to be raised by someone who knew nothing of magic. Had either one or both the child’s parents been active, he would have considered making them swear unbreakables to act entirely as muggles, to blend in with the background population. If they had both been dead, that would have been very tragic but no obstacle at all to Albus’ plans.

Unfortunately, Lily being in a coma in St. Mungo’s neither compos mentis nor dead complicated everything horribly. In such circumstances there were legal niceties to be observed. Albus was unable to make Harry Potter simply vanish with the speed he would have liked.

Albus inwardly groused, and sent off a series of owls to contacts at the ministry, then went back to what remained of the feast. He had to act as if nothing of importance had happened, listening to the latest Defence teacher whining on about disrespect from the pupils. This was not turning out to be a good Hallowe’en for the Hogwarts headmaster.




The next morning, Albus’ disposition was to become even more sorely tried. Horace Slughorn, the recently retired Hogwarts potions master, had arrived.

“Ah, Albus.” Horace Slughorn boomed. “Good to see you. I thought I’d best let you know, I’ve been in contact with the goblins, and cleared everything with them. I’ll drop by St. Mungo’s after here, check how Lily is, and collect Harry.”

Albus had to wonder for a moment if the bowl of boiled sweets on his desk had been spiked with a hallucinatory potion. Horace Slughorn was a pretty unlikely subject for a hallucination with his genial face, walrus moustache, and today’s emerald green waistcoat and matching cravat, but Albus still waved his wand and checked just in case.

“‘Collect Harry’, Horace?” Albus said, since it appeared that this was in fact Horace Slughorn in the flesh with whom he was being confronted.

“Well I tried to check with Sirius, but couldn’t find him, so I figure that since I’m next down on Lily’s list of guardians for the dear boy, that what with her being incapacitated” Slughorn’s face became suitably solemn, “I’d assume responsibility as fast as possible. I called in some favours and got the necessary paperwork through the ministry already, and I can always pass him on to Sirius when he turns up if he wants the lad.”

“Neither Lily nor James ever mentioned this to me, Horace.” Albus said.

“I’ve got a letter she wrote to me several weeks ago.” Horace flourished a letter. “She wanted to check before she and James updated their wills, and I sent back at once – via ‘mutual friends’ – ” here Horace gave a little wink “saying yes. Don’t worry about the immediate expense to me. I live well enough these days and can afford to take care of Lily’s charming little rascal for a few months without noticing it too much, and as a retired man I have plenty of time spare these days. You and your Phoenix lot can always fix me up with a stipend, if necessary, if Lily doesn’t wake up any time soon.”

The phrases ‘I called in some favours’ and ‘necessary paperwork through the ministry already’ belatedly registered with Albus. Horace Slughorn was one of the best connected wizards in wizarding Britain right now. He wasn’t exactly wealthy, and he didn’t have any immediately obvious political power, but after years of teaching at Hogwarts and carefully cultivating students, he knew pretty much everyone of any significance, and quite a few very important people owed him favours. Horace Slughorn was probably one of the few people who could have legally latched onto Harry James Potter faster than Albus himself, and the others were actually ministry officials or suspected Death Eaters – the latter category no doubt currently trying to invent stories to protect themselves from becoming guests of the dementors in Azkaban.

The inconvenient hitch of last night in Albus’ being unable to make Harry immediately disappear with all due speed due to Lily’s not-dead-but-not-functioning state had just become incrementally worse. Horace Slughorn was not the sort of person who would want to take Harry Potter into hiding, but nor was he the sort of wizard who would relinquish Harry Potter against Lily’s explicit written wishes. Lily had always been one of his favourite students.

At this point Albus’ best bet was looking a lot like Sirius Black turning up alive and well. Slughorn would surrender Harry to Sirius, Harry’s godfather, and Albus was confident he could persuade Sirius to completely disappear for at least the next decade, taking Harry with him. Unfortunately, Albus recalled, Sirius Black had been supposed to be the Potters’ secret keeper for the fidelius charm which was being emplaced to hide them, and the fact that they had been discovered by none less than the Dark Lord himself (and so quickly at that) rather suggested that their secret keeper had sold them out.

Given Albus’ current run of luck, Sirius was probably just about now going to be taken by aurors after blowing up a street full of muggles just for the laughs, and gleefully confess his guilt.

“That’s very generous of you, Horace.” Albus smiled, all that going through his mind in an instant and scarcely missing a beat in his reply. “The ministry may want to assign an auror to you, and send someone round to check your wards, given the current turmoil. And let us hope that Lily recovers speedily…”

*

The aurors of course snapped up Severus Snape in the sweep of Death Eaters and duly sent him for trial before the Wizengamot. At that trial, the prosecutor made a great play on Severus Snape being a Death Eater known to have associated with the tragic heroine now lying in the long term ward in St. Mungo’s, piling on the guilt. Severus had unfortunately been to see Lily in St. Mungo’s and he snapped, practically begging to be sent to Azkaban. It was obvious to the Wizengamot that he felt tremendous remorse for his actions, and under the circumstances they only sentenced him to seven years. Albus watched his last hope of getting Lily to wake up in any hurry, one of the best potions masters of his generation, disappear from the court, heading for a cell in Azkaban. At least, unlike Sirius Black, Severus Snape had had a trial. Black had been sent, given the circumstances of his capture, by the head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement straight to Azkaban without going anywhere near the Wizengamot.

Oh well, Hogwarts was now down a potions master and head of Slytherin and Harry Potter was going to be brought up by Horace Slughorn for the immediately foreseeable future. When Albus had envisioned the futures which might have come to pass when he had first heard of that wretched prophecy, this was probably somewhere close to the bottom of futures he would have liked which featured an even temporarily crippled Voldemort.

The Hogwarts headmaster later heard that – in one of those delicious twists of irony – repentant Death Eater Severus Snape had ended up in a cell in Azkaban adjacent to unrepentant mass-murderer Sirius Black, although Severus did get the cell with the better view out the window of the North Sea and slightly further away from the dementors. For perhaps the first time in his life, Severus Snape had actually got a better long-term deal from fate than Black.

*

It was his eighth birthday when Harry Potter, dressed in an emerald green waistcoat and bowtie to match his Uncle Sluggy’s took his first official visit to Diagon Alley. Harry had been to premises around the Alley before, but usually Uncle Sluggy just apparated or flooed them to wherever they were going. Today Uncle Sluggy was taking Harry out in public, and bringing Harry’s sister, Violet, along too.

Violet was a miracle child. It had turned out that Harry’s mother had been only a few days pregnant with her when Lily arrived in the long term ward of St. Mungo’s, although her carers had fairly soon noticed the changes happening to Lily as the pregnancy progressed. Violet had red hair like her mother and weird purple eyes which didn’t seem to come from either Lily or James. Uncle Sluggy, since he was already looking after Harry, had volunteered himself to look after this latest addition to the Potter family too. With Lily never having stirred from her coma, a squib who had become a surgeon in the muggle world had had to be called in to deliver Violet once it was obvious the pregnancy had come to full-term. A couple of simple bloodline spells, just to keep the ministry (and the headmaster of Hogwarts who was for some reason very interested in Violet) happy, had confirmed that Violet was indeed the daughter of Lily and James Potter, and Harry’s full sibling.

Violet was in consequence almost as famous as Harry. She was dressed in a green silk dress today.

Horace took them along the Alley, pausing to say hello to occasional shopkeepers, to Gringotts, where he took them on a mine-cart ride down through the depths to investigate the contents of the Potter vault. James had had lands and properties which provided some income, gradually adding to the wealth, and after a lengthy discussion between Harry and his Uncle Sluggy, Horace had recently permitted Harry to make a deal with a broomstick manufacturing company which was starting to earn gold for the Potter vault. The two children spent a good half hour running around amidst the piles of coins, laughing and squealing, before Horace solemnly filled a small pouch for them ‘for Christmas and birthday present spending for friends for the next six months’ before seeing them out. Back at the surface, the Potter children surprised their goblin escort by formally thanking him in the gobbledegook – the goblin language – for his time. Uncle Sluggy had made them spend a lot of time over the past few days learning about goblins and a few simple phrases in their tongue.

‘Always pays to make a good first impression, especially with goblins.’ Uncle Sluggy had explained.

Given how many vicious goblin wars the children had heard about, they had definitely agreed with that sentiment.

After Gringotts they browsed some shops, dropped into the ice-cream parlour for an ice-cream, then headed off to Longbottom Manor for Harry and Neville’s party.

Horace considered it a good idea, since Harry and Neville Longbottom had been born only a day apart, for the boys to share a party. They alternated venues and this year Neville (and his gran) were hosting.

*

Albus Dumbledore studied the latest reports in the newspapers and from his agents. For more than six years now, Harry Potter had been with Horace Slughorn, and the outcome was pretty much what Albus had feared. Albus, knowing the prophecy, had believed that a heroic, introspective, non-too-confident, self-sacrificing Harry Potter, would be just what the wizarding world needed, whenever it was that the Dark Lord happened to return. Such a hero would require a fierce upbringing, with tests and trials, and only the occasional glimpse of joy. Horace Slughorn, however, was only interested in making sure the boy in his charge grew up happy, and in showing him how Slytherins could get things done, not Gryffindors.

Then there was the complication of Violet, too. Albus had been highly suspicious of the girl, born to a woman in a coma, but the blood tests showed that Violet was the daughter of Lily and James Potter, and not some creature fathered on Lily by magic and the Dark Lord in the moment of his (however temporary) defeat. For now, Albus had no serious suspicions of her, but it was annoying that having a little sister was yet another thing taking Harry Potter away from a glorious heroic destiny. Mighty heroes did not grow up in happy families with little sisters – well not unless aforementioned sisters had problems of some sort, such as to make them at least partially a burden. Albus himself had once had such a sister, after all…

He sighed at the memory of Arianna and of some of his own mistakes, then returned his attention to the present, and the newspaper picture of the Longbottom/Potter joint birthday party. Potter and Slughorn were even getting to the other possible child of Prophecy, Neville Longbottom, who would have been Albus’ backup plan. At least Longbottom should have had a proper heroic upbringing, raised in isolation by a loving but strict elderly lady, but nooo: the Longbottoms were an old respected family, and Neville was practically a boy of Harry’s age, so of course Slughorn wanted Harry to associate with him as much as possible. The bumbling, well-meaning, Slughorn was innocently wrecking Albus’ plans at practically every turn.

About the only consolation Dumbledore could think of, looking dejectedly at the photo of happy children (well mostly happy – Daphne Greengrass kept on emptying her bowl of jelly over Draco Malfoy’s head whilst Ronald Weasley and Lavender Brown seemed to be trying to strangle one another in the background as Neville and Harry blew out the candles on their cake) was that this wasn’t a scene he could imagine out of the childhood of any recent dark lords. In fact thinking of dark lords…

Albus looked at the photo again and knitted his brows. There was that whole ‘power the Dark Lord knows not’ part of the prophecy. Alright, Horace Slughorn was an incorrigible networker, and bringing Harry (and his sister) up to network, but some of these children sitting around the table at Longbottom Manor were firm friends, he was pretty sure. And whilst Albus had wanted to imagine that a capacity to heroic self-sacrifice (nominally ‘love’) was supposed to be that ‘power the dark lord knows not’, he wondered if it might possibly turn out to be ‘friends’ instead? He was pretty certain that Voldemort didn’t have any friends by Hallowe’en of 1981 – just servants, minions, and slaves.

Albus knew he was clutching at straws, but if the boy had many more years of Horace Slughorn it was going to about all that Albus had to work with. Severus Snape was going to be in prison at least another six months – for some reason he seemed to think that he deserved to be in Azkaban suffering for his deeds, and had refused chances to have his sentence reduced and to be let out early. Severus would have done as well in Gryffindor as Slytherin, Albus was pretty certain with this obsessive need to punish himself, although continuous (limited) exposure to dementors might have contributed more than a touch of insanity by now. And in the absence of such a skilled potions master as Severus Snape, six years of care in St. Mungo’s had failed to find a means by the healers there of waking Lily, or for that matter Neville Longbottom’s parents who had been attacked by Bellatrix. 


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