In the Forbidden Forest, it is generally imprudent to follow sounds one has heard in the underbrush. While most things that live there have carved their own territories, know to keep away from humans, and fall short of truly lethal, there is no end of discomfort one can suffer at the hands of the offspring of a half-transfigured beast released in the shame of night and a potion gone terribly wrong thrown out a window. Which is why Severus Snape does not follow the sound he hears until he finds it following him.
He stops in the middle of a clearing. It is at a sufficient distance that he is able to put down his basket of clippings, tucks the shears beneath them so it wouldn't crush the delicate petals and leaves, extracts his wand from his sleeve and assumes a dueling posture, and still is forced to wait fifteen seconds before the sound resolves into a woman, who, as it transpires, is cursing to herself.
"One thing the history books don't talk about," she pants as she emerges. "You're a leggy fucker and you're fast. God dammit. Didn't realize cross country training was required this time. What year is it?"
He hasn't been expecting anything at all, and yet somehow this still falls into the category of not what he expected. "Who are you?"
"Delphini," she says easily, flicking her blue-silver hair out of her face. Her trainers make a wet squelching sound as she comes closer; she must have trodden through several puddles. "Oh, put that away, you're a murderer but you're not stupid. You're not going to hurt me. What year is it?"
His wand doesn't move. "Nineteen ninety five. How did you get past the wards?"
She holds up an hourglass on a long, thin gold chain. "Time turner. What date?"
The exchange is useful enough to continue. "August. The first. Why are you here? What has happened?"
"You want to know what has happened?" she crows, bursting into peals of laughter, so long and so delighted that she has to wipe tears from her eyes. "Oh, you're great. I forgot. Excellent. I'm not from a few hours from now, you moron, I'm from two thousand and--let's just say I know a lot of things that you don't."
His suspicion is almost as strong as his curiosity, but his lip curls in a sneer. "Prove it."
"I know what your Patronus is," she says, her mouth spreading in a wolfish grin. "And I know why . Take me to Albus Dumbledore and I'll tell you both everything."
The Headmaster's office is, as always, a damnable nightmare, full of whirring and clicking and almost musical sounds just barely out of hearing.
Albus is there, of course, having elected to summer in his sanctum in preparation for a difficult year of covert war. The castle is mostly empty as most professors take the summer to travel, and the new Defense professor has elected to come only a week in advance of the term. A deplorable oversight, to be sure, but Albus won't even release the name so there is no one to castigate by owl even if Snape wished to. So no one sees the silver-blue haired wretch as Snape leds her up to the office, past the gargoyle, and deposits her wordlessly before Albus who is, even now, reading through the gossip column in the Prophet.
Albus lowers his paper. "And who is this, Severus?"
"She claims her name to be Delphini."
"Delphi," she interjects helpfully, falling into a chair. "For short." She's been playing on some flat screen, like a miniaturized television in the palm of her hand, and she doesn't look up; instead, merely props one foot against the edge of the headmaster's desk.
If this were Snape's classroom, he would take a hundred points for such disrespect. If he were truly at liberty he might take the whole leg. As it stands, he can merely scowl while Albus gazes, smilingly, on the girl while her device adds to the trills in the room.
She makes him wait several full minutes. Albus does not waver.
At last, she pumps her fist in the air silently, presses a button, and tucks the screen away in the pocket of her ripped jeans. "Had to finish that level," she says, unapologetic. "So. How many horcruxes have you found yet?"
Albus does a very good job of it, Snape will think later, when he inspects this moment with the wisdom of distance. Albus merely blinks, but the smile does not waver.
"I'm sorry, dear child, but I am quite unsure of what you're talking about."
"Hor-crux-es," she enunciates, letting her foot fall to the floor with an unladylike thump and and leaning over her knees. "You know, the thing that has ol' snakeface immortal. You've surely figured that one out by now. Six of 'em. Well, seven, if you count that one oopsie-doodle in the middle there that even he doesn't know about. But you've guessed by now, probably. Am I right?"
Albus steeples his fingers and looks to Snape who has, unpleasantly, a feeling of being evaluated.
The girl sees it. "Oh, I know you didn't want him to know, but that’s stupid. I've come to fix your plans because your plans are stupid too. He's on your side, we both know that. "
"And how do you know?" Albus asks, voice descending into a guarded but musical serenity. One hand goes inside one sleeve where, Snape knows, his wand lies.
"Read a history book. From the future." She pulls a glittering gold chain from inside her shirt again, the same show as the forest. "Improved time turner. You want to Legillimize me or something, make sure I'm telling the truth?" Delphi pries open one eye with her fingers and stares at Albus. "I know you can do that. You're an absolute hypocritical ass, by the way, you'll find that in my brain so I figured I should say it out loud. Just so as we're all prepared."
"Indeed," Albus says, for lack of anything else to say. "My dear girl--"
"Okay, different proof." She points to Snape, lunging up onto the arm of her chair so her fingertip is inches from his skull. "Let's play a game where we point out the asshole who got Lily Potter killed with something as stupid as a prophecy." One finger prods his skull. "I win."
Snape knocks her hand away. "You've made your point."
"Really? I don't know if I have. Let's play a game where we point out the moron who signed his soul over to the devil when he was seventeen." Another poke. "You're both awful at this."
"Enough," Albus says, all humor gone.
"Is it? Let's play a game where we point out the asshole who's been so in love with a dead woman that he's now spying for you on the most dangerous dark wizard to raise his flag in the past fifty years."
Snape wants to break the finger. He doesn't. Albus tends to frown on bone-breaking as a method of controlling others.
"How did you come by this information?" says Albus, all business.
"Like I said. History books." She kicks both feet up this time, heels touching down on the desktop, stealing more territory. "Long version? Harry 'boy who lived and also blabbed a lot' Potter gave up the whole sordid thing in his final confrontation with the Dark Lord." Delphi spares a glance for Snape. "There were a lot of people at that battle, but you were dead at the time, so it's only a little humiliating."
"Dead," Snape says blankly.
"Nagini," Delphi adds. "Very nasty. He had his reasons. Managed to give your long-lost love's son a whole heap of memories in the bargain though." She gestures to the ceiling, theatrically. "Said you died looking into those pretty green eyes of his, for reasons that became immediately fucking obvious."
It is strange, the bottomless sensation that can happen in the gut when one is told the exact circumstances and fallout of one's own death. Snape is sure his face is quite bloodless.
"You say this is in a history book, Harry’s final confrontation with Voldemort," Albus asks, looking shrewd. “Was Voldemort defeated?”
"Yes, but you wouldn't know, you were dead too. Because of your ham-handed horcrux handling and your double-agent over here, actually." She juts one thumb at Snape. "The Dark Lord was suspicious. No better way to cement this idiot as his right-hand motherfucker than to let him off you in place of Draco."
"Draco," Snape says, face still numb. "Why would Draco--"
"To punish Lucius for a fuckup that he isn't going to get a chance to have." Delphi shoots a single, condescending look at Snape. "Again. Why I'm here. Keep up. Lucius is going to try to get at the prophecy on the Dark Lord’s orders. You know, he who will defeat the Dark Lord approaches blah blah blah born as the seventh month dies blah blah blah? The thing that started this mess? The Dark Lord wants it, right now. Badly." She snorts. "Idiot plan, if you ask me. Why go after a prophecy when you could just take over in secret?"
"I assure you that he is," says Albus coldly, in a voice typically reserved for intimidating recalcitrant Ministry officials.
"Yeah, sure, but not, like, as fast as he could have. He could have done it so much faster, taken the Ministry from beneath you, taken Hogwarts--he could have swept you off your feet!" Her hand makes a zooming motion, like a plane or a bird, skimming her legs. "But instead he chased after some bullshit prophecy. Thus: Idiot." She sighs, fluttering her hands. "Anyway, horcruxes. I know what they were-- are --where they are, how to destroy them. If you'd like to join me I'd be much obliged. Even let you take the glory."
Albus considers. "Why?"
Delphi levels her gaze at him, face gone serious for the first time. "Because Tom Riddle is my father. And he was shit at it. I'm a squib, so I'm worthless, and he threw me away in a muggle orphanage even though I'm his daughter, his only goddamn daughter." She grits her teeth. "And I'm angry. And I want him fucking dead."
There’s a moment of ticking and whirring--what passes for silence in the Headmaster’s office.
"Paradoxes," Albus says evenly, as if she hasn't said any of it. "The past cannot be changed."
Delphi blows a raspberry, all gravitas and fury gone. "Not an issue.”
"Time turner. Very complicated. I don't understand it myself, never got to go to Hogwarts, never worked for the Department of Mysteries."
"Then how can you know?"
"Fucking tried it, didn't I?" She tilts her head one way, then the other. "Even though I executed that gross baby thing that tore out of the back of Quirrel's head, he kept coming back. Every time I went back to my own time it was worse, under the rule of Death Eaters." She swings her head around to peer at Snape again, affirming that they’re keeping up. “Do you know how time turners work?"
"Enlighten us both," Albus says generously.
She rolls her eyes. "Okay, so, the way a time-turner works is it's imbued with time, right, from one person--they don't call it dark magic because that stuff is very naughty but it's fucking dark as shit and that would be obvious to a child --and they shave some hours off their life and bottle them up in this precious little hourglass. Then they can go back a few hours, re-use them over and over again. And then we have these handy tools so we can hop back a little and, you know, let overachiever third-years take every single fucking class or whatever. Great use of a few hours off the life of an Unspeakable." She snorts to express her opinion of that particular policy, and then rummages in her shirt to remove the gold chain. For an instant, a neon lace bra flashes; she doesn't seem to care. "This thing was made with a whole life. "
"Whose?" Albus asks.
The makes a sour face. "Why do you care?"
"We should all care who sacrifices themselves for our benefit."
"Oh well done, another quotable for the books." She rolls her eyes. "Not one you give a damn about, Dumbledore, though whether or not you ever cared about anyone is hotly debated in my day."
But Albus can sense an important hidden truth as well as the Dark Lord himself. "I still would like to know."
Snape starts. "How is that possible?"
"Because this is before my birth, before my conception--" she pulls a hyperbolic, revolted expression, fingers wiggling in the air-- "and it works which is basically all I understand about it."
"But that should not be possible," Snape insists.
She shrugs. "It works. Don’t ask me how. A friend made it, since I couldn't, she’s the one who explained it to me. And I'm here. Been back a bunch of times, actually, but it doesn't always stick."
“Why now,” Snape says, voice as even as he can make it. “Why not go back to 1980 and prevent all of this from starting.”
“You do remember what he was like back then, don’t you? Both of you do.” She looks almost grave as she ticks off his traits on her fingers. “Smart. Capable. Charming. Sneaky. Persuasive. You haven’t spent that much time with him after he died, though, so let me be clear: it is much, much more possible to kill him when he’s completely insane from having spent ten years in the fucking woods as a spirit strung up between life and death.”
Albus glances at Snape; Snape can only nod in assent. He has only had a few interactions with the Dark Lord since his return, and it is clear to every Death Eater that the Lord who died is …. Distinct from the one who has returned.
"You said you have tried more than once,” Albus asks. “Which attempt is this?"
"Twenty-three," she says, like it's nothing.
Albus makes a sharp movement and something, somewhere in the office, chimes in sympathy. "If you have attempted so many times, what has been your impediment?"
Delphi heaves a sigh. Lifting one hand she says, "Go too far back and it all goes off the rails and everything I know turns to shit. Gets too muddy. I lose the advantage of knowing everything.” She lifts her other hand, as if to indicate a timeline. “Go too far forward and he's got too much control to stop him, and sometimes a Death Eater will rise to take his place.” She looks sideways to Snape. “Once it was you, actually, other two times it was fucking Lucius because of course it was fucking Lucius, but Bellatrix and Harry fucked everything up all three times.” She shrugs, dropping her hands. “Act too soon or too late and he notices, starts making new horcruxes right, left, and center, and then I'm no better off than you sad fucks are." She gestures up, out the window, to Gryffindor tower. "Harry Potter is a wild card, too, he's a sneaky little shit who needs to be brought up to speed before you can account for him. He ruins everything half the time because we’re trying to do the same thing at cross methods, and he didn't know enough.” She points a finger at Albus. “He doesn’t know enough because you're planning on shutting him out like an idiot , which leaves him playing at your game instead of the real one."
But Albus is already shaking his head. "I'm sorry, but if you intend to interfere with my plans--"
Delphi interrupts, standing, "Yeah yeah yeah, I've heard all this before and it's a cool story, bro, but there's a horcrux in the castle. Wannna go destroy it?" She gestures between the three of them. "Like, as a team? We're a team now, this go round. I decided. Delphi and the Two Assholes. Like a shitty band out of Cardiff. A shitty, shitty Welsh post-punk band."
Albus comes to his feet slowly. "Delphi," he begins, his tone lecturing. "There is more going on here than you could possibly--"
"Look," she cuts across him, a bit of frustration clear in the set of her squared shoulders. "I could do this alone. I've come close. I'm trying to do you a fucking favor, save some lives. Maybe even yours."
A quick calculus is performed on Albus' face. "In the castle, you say. Most peculiar. You'd think I would have known." He nods, making his decision: there is little risk in it and much to be gained. "Show the way, then."
Delphi's face splits into a wide grin that shows dimples in her cheeks. "Bring the Sword of Gryffindor. It'll do the job."
Which leads to Albus and Snape inspecting the tapestry of the dancing trolls while her squeaky trainers--still wet from the Forbidden Forest--take their loud paces up and down the hall, providing a bass for the profanities Delphi spouts.
"There. Come on." And there's a door she flies through, and they follow, past the heaps of castoffs of centuries.
She leads them unerring down and past and through, and then screeches to a halt to lift something in her hands--Snape’s wand is already in his hand and Albus' is too, an unspoken instinct between them--but she puts it on the floor. Albus inspects it, nods. The Sword slices the air, and there's a deeply nauseating sound somewhere between a hiss and a scream, but then it's over.
"Is that all," Snape muses.
"Don’t expect the others to be so fucking simple." She looks around, hands on her hips, as if she’s settled something. "Now what you have to do is get the kid here--"
"I do not think we will," Albus says mildly.
She groans. "Oh, come on! You need more proof?"
"It is not proof I require," Albus says delicately. "Merely--"
"You are this insufferable every time and every time it surprises me. Fine. Let's go to--" her mouth seems to seize up, like her tongue has lost it's will. "Fidelius. Right. Order headquarters. There's another there. Those are the two easiest and if you don't give me what I need after that you two are on your fucking own and have fun in the complete lack of the afterlife."
Which leads, of course, to Grimmauld place, wherein the elder Black brother greets them.
"What's this, then," he says gruffly.
"Something interesting has come up," says Albus, sweeping regally past them. “If you don’t mind, Sirius.”
Delphi sticks out her tongue at Black before swanning in Albus' wake, but Black’s lingering glare is for Snape, trailing in last. Black follows the trio up and up and up until--
"Don't go in there," Black says, startled at the door they've chosen.
"No worries, we're just raiding your little brother's room for spy buggery," Delphi says. Her still-sodden trainers kick in the door--for absolutely no reason, it was unlocked, Snape knows this for a fact--and the doorjamb breaks.
"Hey!" Black cries, trying to block her access. "What do you think you're doing?"
"Are you stupid or just boring?" she retorts, and shoves past him.
Snape decides, in that moment, that she may be inordinately irritating, but Delphi cannot be all bad.
Snape follows her into the room. He knows Albus well enough to know he would have Snape watch her. Albus himself has stopped to argue with Black--a good sign for Delphi, Snape thinks--and watches her rummage for a moment before coming up with a heavy golden locket.
"He does this every time," Delphi says conversationally to Snape, holding the locket to the light. "He's always very suspicious of anyone who wants to get into his brother's shit. Sentimental. But we're going to let him kill this thing all the same." She strides past Snape and leans back out the door, interrupting the nascent argument. "Hey Sirius, you adorable precious dumbass, did you know that you and your brother were on the same side? He was trying to kill the Dark Lord too, yknow?"
"What?" Black says, completely sidelined.
"The guy who killed your best friend and his wife and tried to kill your godson? That guy? Your brother was trying to take him down in the end. That's how he died. For this.” She gestures to the locket with a flourish. “It's part of what keeps him immortal, why he didn't die when he tried to kill Harry." She lifts the locket towards Black and it jingles merrily on the end of its chain. "Want to fucking kill it?"
Black looks paralyzed for half a second, and then says, "Goddamn right I want to kill it."
"Good man. Dumbledore, if you would?"
And the sword is handed over with an air of exasperation, the locket is placed on the floor, the sword comes down--that noise again, it makes Snape's teeth ache--and it's over.
"Sirius," Albus says after a moment, while Black is still panting and holding the sword. "If you wouldn't mind, I'd like to have a word with our young friend here."
"I don't even know your name," Black says, seeming dazed. "And I want to know more about Reg. How he died."
Delphi smiles that dimpled smile again. "I'll tell you whatever you want in exchange for sending Harry Potter to Hogwarts for the summer to take additional training."
She must have been a Slytherin, Snape thinks. Or should have been.
"You're his legal guardian, after all," she goes on, even as Albus tilts his head in an expression Snape recognizes as a managed, muted kind of horror. It has been a trap and, for once, it closes around Albus. "You can give permission. Demand it, even."
"Sirius--" Albus begins.
She shrugs, cavalier. "You know he's going to have to fight. He doesn't have a choice. Even I can't prevent that, and I know everything."
"Everything?" Black says, appraising.
"Delphini--" Albus attempts, but he can't break through her loud, shrill voice.
"Give your consent and find out," she challenges, tossing her head towards Albus. "Tell him that's what you want for Harry." She looks at Snape. "You, get out. Dumbles here is going to want to have a go at me, now I’ve proved myself useful but less tractible than either of you sots, and he won’t want to do it in front of either of you."
Dumbledore bears an expression of forbearance overtop a deep wariness. “Quite right, Delphini.”
“Let’s get cracking on the inside of my skull, then. Oh, and Snape, I'll expect you back tomorrow evening, round about five or so. There's going to be an attempt on Harry Potter's life so don't be late."
Snape, for lack of anything better to do and any contradictory orders, trades places with Albus. The door shuts. One more kick, then another--a squelching sound of the wet trainer being wedged into the doorjamb--and the door is well and truly shut.