Dumbledore's grave split with a crack. The pristine white stone fell to either side of the white tomb to reveal the corpse of one of Britain's greatest wizards, now little more than meat in sheets. Voldemort's clammy fingers reach out, unwinding the sheets that covered the old man's form, until he saw it. The Elder Wand. After all this time, it was his.
As Voldemort reached down to take the wand, he noticed a black film around the handle. He paused, but sensed no curse, no magic, no errant eyes upon him. He retrieved the film with a flick of his wand and it unfurled before him.
It was a card, cast in red, with the symbol of a top hat above a burning domino mask sitting at the top. The words "Take Your Heart" were emblazoned beneath it, and beneath them was a message.
"Sir Tom Riddle, the outright pillock of arrogance. You are an ignorant wizard who uses cruelty and deception to to commit vile deeds on innocent people for the sake of your ego and immortality. We have decided to make you confess all your crimes with your own mouth. We will take your distorted desires without fail. From, The Phantom Thieves."
Voldemort's lip twitched. Deep within the confines of his soul, something manifested.
"Are you sure about this, Joker? This guy's the real deal!" Mona said, as the Phantom Thieves emerged from the doorway that had taken them into Voldemort's Palace. It loomed above and around them, a castle made of tall pale towers and blue rooftops, grand but for how twisted it was.
"Relax." Joker smirked as she adjusted her crimson glove. "I know what I'm doing."
"F'real!" Skull smacked his hand on Joker's back as he sidled up to her side. "We took down a whole castle on our first try. This is going to be a piece of cake."
"It will be a shame to destroy something so beautiful," Fox stood with a finger on his lip as he admired the castle grounds around him. "But beauty bought by blood is no beauty at all."
"Well...okay. What's the reading, Oracle?" Mona peered up at the sky where the prismatic sphere that housed there navigator hovered, bright against the dismal sky of the Metaverse.
"Looks like it's the same as it was last time. We've got secure routes through the Diary Archway, The Great Gaunt Ring, and the Locketyard. Wait… Uh oh."
"Oracle?" Noir stopped stretching to peer at the sky. "Are you okay?"
"Wh- Yeah, I'm fine! But something's happening at the Bridge of Cups!" Oracle said. "You've gotta get there, quick"
"Let's go." Joker said, then started sprinting off on her lanky legs.
"We're running? Already?" Panther groaned as the rest of the group sprinted off after their leader, then did so herself. "This outfit isn't made for this kind of thing! Queen!"
"Yes?" Queen glanced over at the tightly-clad blonde, her own pace measured and easy.
"Why'd your Persona have to go and change into a person? A motorcycle would be really handy right now..." Panther gasped.
"That wasn't really my fault." Queen shrugged. "Blame Joker."
"Joker!" Panther yelled. "You took our motorcycle!"
"We have Mona, don't we?" Joker asked, as they came upon the first of their obstacles. Or, it would have been, had it not already been destroyed when they arrived. It was a great archway set against the walls surrounding Voldemort's palace, shaped like a book with its black cover forming the frame and pages that might, once, have hung between it, but they'd been eaten away by something acrid and left only scraps.
"I can't change shape in the castle!" Mona whined as he hopped onto Joker's shoulders. "We'll crash."
"What a shame," Joker said. "Consider this a chance to work off that Big Bang Burger, Panther. Your calves have been getting a little chubby lately."
"You get here right now!" Panther suddenly took on the speed of her namesake and rocketed past Queen, Fox, and Skull, to try to catch up with Joker. They were just coming up on a pair of doors that led into one part of the castle, and Panther was within a hair's breadth of touching Joker. "Slow her down, Mona!"
"On i-" Mona was interrupted by his own cry of surprise, as Joker had retrieved a grappling hook from her coat and shot it for the chandelier at the center of the hall beyond. It was shaped ling a golden ring, with a great black stone that had once formed the far end of it. That had been split in twain, forming a crack through which the group could advance.
"Noooo!" Panther cried out, as she and the rest of the Phantom Thieves had to clamber over the long tables and chairs that made up The Great Gaunt Ring. Joker soared through the air on a cable, then landed right in the center of the split that lead to the floor beyond. By the time the rest of them caught up, she was leaning against it and yawning.
"What took you so long?" Joker asked.
Skull's chuckle was interrupted by Panther launching herself at Joker and toppling both of them to the ground. She was panting and had to catch her breath as she poked her finger at Joker's cheek.
"I'm not getting chubby! You take it back!"
Joker made a kissy face at Panther.
"Can you stop winding her up?" Queen asked, as she stepped over the pair of them. "We have got somewhere to be."
"Alright, I'm sorry," Joker said.
"… Thanks." Panther smiled as she clambered off of joker and offered a hand to help her up.
"I think you look good, Panther." Noir offered the other girl a smile. "And that outfit doesn't cover anything, so I'd know if you didn't."
"… Thanks," Panther said, with a little less enthusiasm.
"It's basically skintight." Noir peered at Panther through her mask, at where the catsuit clung to all of her curves. "I bet we could even te-"
"We can discuss Panther's beauty later. For now, a heist awaits!" Fox said, as he pointed at the courtyard beyond. Panther and Noir both nodded, then took off after their teammates.
There was a roof to the courtyard beyond, with walls and a ceiling of gold, while the grass below was cast in the form of a snake. There were large seams going all around it, suggesting that it might once have been unclaspable, but this, too, had been split open. They could see the sky of the Metaverse through the crack in the ceiling, as well as a tunnel to the bridge beyond.
And there it was waiting for them. A view of a grassy field below, a doorway on the other side, and a whole lot of air between them. The thing that had made Oracle dub it a bridge was the fact that there was one. It was simply inappropriately placed when it came to gravity.
"Why don't you try the grappling hook again?" Skull suggested, as his eyes looked up t the great golden goblet that hung above them, connected to either building by its handles.
Joker shot her grappling hook three times – once at the handles, once at the depths of the goblet, and once at the other side. It simply found no grasp in any of them, then pulled back to her.
"Damnit." Skull shook his head. "What's going on here, Oracle? You said something was happening!"
"Something is happening, doofus!" Oracle said. "All of this Riddle's guy's energy is focused on this point, so that means Shadows! Get ready!"
"Ready." Queen raised her fists.
"Bring it on!" Skull brought up his baseball bat.
"Let's go!" Panther unfurled her whip and cracked it at the air.
"It's killing time!" Noir hefted her mighty axe and Mona gave her a wary glance.
"Y-Yeah, I can do it!" Mona drew her blade.
"My body is ready!" Fox declared, his katana already in hand.
"They'll never see it com-" Joker was interrupted by a great creak from above them, and all of their eyes turned to see a hole suddenly form in the goblet. It grew and grew, eating away through the pristine gold until it started to crumple in on itself, getting smaller and smaller, closer and closer, until there was little more than a bridge of crumpled metal for them to cross. "Huh." She tucked her dagger away. "That was..."
"Anti-climactic?" Queen suggested.
"Yeah. Guess our boy's putting some work in." Joker jabbed her finger at the other side of the bridge and started to cross it. There was some wariness in everyone's steps, but they got to the other side without incident.
"What is this place, anyway?" Skull asked, as they walked into a long hallway. There were dozens of open doors on either side, leading into classrooms. "I know this guy's got the castle and those hor...magic things and stuff, so what does that mean?"
"We just need to consider how everything here reflects his state of mind. It's clear that this is a school, so might he see himself as the defacto headmaster? Or else deserves the role?" Queen suggested.
"He sees himself on top of the school?" Noir asked.
"Hey, this might be Joker's palace." Skull said. "No, hang on..." He smirked. "Joker's on top of the school teacher, not the school." There were various snickers about the group and joker shook her head with a smile. "Come on, you're not even gonna react?"
"Joker and Sadayo, sitting in a tree," Mona sang.
"K-I-S-S-I-N-G," Panther joined in with a grin.
"First comes love," Noir joined in.
"Then comes marriage," Oracle's voice rang out.
"Then comes baby in a baby's carriage." Queen finished.
Joker waked on, completely oblivious.
"Come on! Not even a blush?" Skull asked.
"I've got it!" Fox declared and all eyes turned to him. "It's a metaphysical representation of how he perceives himself, both how his body is the result of his own mastery of magic and how this school has allowed him to build himself to get to that point."
"Good point," Joker said. "And has anyone else noticed how this hall just keeps going?"
"Now that you mention it..." Oracle could be heard humming, then gasped. "It's a circle! You're caught in a loop! Let me just show you..."
The Phantom Thieves glanced around themselves, as the boards that bordered the ceiling and the floor suddenly lit up like silver, piercing the illusion to reveal that the floor was both beneath their feet and above their heads, and made of silver wrought into an elegant shape.
"I dub it...The Diadem Doorways!" Oracle announced.
"Now we just need to figure out how to find a way through," Panther mused. "Let's try...this door!"
No sooner had Panther finished than the floor beneath their feet suddenly turned hot. All of them hopped up, clinging to the walls as the silver glowed, then got brighter, then turned near enough amber before finally cooling into little more than charred black metal. They glanced down either side of the corridor, able to see both where they'd entered and a door that led away.
"Well...that's that thing destroyed." Oracle said. "I didn't even know it was in danger! I guess Voldemort didn't even know the real-life counterpart was in danger before it was destroyed.
"Um, has anyone else noticed that there haven't been any Shadows?" Noir asked, as they walked to the door on the opposite end of the corridor. "There are normally so many Shadows that we can't even fight them all, but there are none here. Not one!"
"Guess this guy's so into himself even his soul doesn't think he needs anyone," Skull said.
"Sure, let's go with that." Joker said. They walked through the doorway to find themselves standing before a circular tower, curled into the shape of a snake. It was thick, scaled, and green, but unmoving, as though frozen in time. Its massive jaw was parted, with a door in its throat blocked off by its vicious fangs.
"What next?" Fox asked, as he crossed his arms over his chest and admired the snake.
"We wait," Queen said. "Every obstacle so far has been destroyed by Harry Potter and his friends. There's no reason we shouldn't think the same will happen with this one. So we wait."
"She has a point." Joker nodded. "Five minute break."
They barely had time to do that, however, as the head of the snake suddenly fell off as though struck by an invisible sword. It rolled to the side to reveal the room beyond, and a little smile came to Queen's lips at the sight.
The room beyond was as simple as it could get, compared to the rooms they'd been through. It was circular, with a large desk in the center and shelves filled with various artifacts and curio all around them. It was a little larger than they might have expected, but so was everything in the Metaverse.
"So," came a high voice from behind the desk, "Here you are." The young man behind it has pale skin, dark hair, and stood in dark, regal robes. He would have been handsome, were it not for an uncanny something to his face. Like it wasn't quite human. "Come to chall-" He was cut-off by the sound of a gunshot, as a bullet pierced his forehead to leave a searing black hole.
"They all want to monologue," Joker said, as she blew the barrel of her gun. "Let's get on with this."
Tom Riddle shuddered under his robes, which warped and twisted along with the rest of his body. His hair fell out as the rest of him grew, his handsome nose shrunk until it was nothing. His soft skin turned clammy and pale, smooth as bone, while his eyes grew darker with every passing second. From his dark robes emerged a pale tail, as snakelike as the rest of him, while the robes clung to his torso like living shadows, and in his narrow fingers formed a massive wand of bone.
Voldemort brought his wand across the Phantom Thieves in an arc, but Noir was first on the scene. She darted forward while Astarta formed behind her, a great billowing dress that rippled with magic and captured the blast of Voldemort's wand. The Persona's hand swept down, scooping up Noir to toss her into the air, where she brought her axe down on Voldemort's thumb with a sickening crunch as it fell away, bleeding shadows.
Voldemort swept his mighty tail around to sweep the Phantom Thieves off of their feet, but Mona leaped into the air and summoned Mercurius, a blue winged figure whose wings flapped and sent Voldemort's tail reeling away in the gust of wind. Mona was carried along the current and brought his blade across Voldemort's pale tail. Shadows poured from the wound.
Fox drew his blade and, as he did, Kamu Susano-o appeared with it. They darted forward together, leaped into the air, and swung their katanas a hundred times across Voldemort's face. As they fell, Voldemort swiped, but only Fox remained, running along his arm and up to his shoulder. Voldemort's face was a mess of black wounds.
Voldemort slithered and hissed from the blows, then narrowed his eyes on Queen. With a flick of his skull, black smoke billowed out his mouth in the form of a skull crawling with snakes. It shot straight for the leather-clad Phantom Thief, but she waited. And waited. Then she swung her fist, just as it would have hit her. Her knuckles met the crown of the skull, and so did the crystalline Anat. The shadows made way for piercing blue light, until all of the darkness had been banished. Voldemort screeched as the nuclear skull crashed into his own.
Panther took advantage of the opportunity by lashing her whip out at Voldemort's wand. It was all too big to control, but she planted her feet and summoned Hecate to match her. The dark, slim figure appeared behind her and lashed out with both morningstars. They whirled around the wand in Voldeort's hand again and again, until the pair of them had yanked it down to meet the ground with a little crack.
Skull leaped at the opportunity, his powerful legs slamming into the ground while Seiten Taesai billowed into existence behind him. While Skull sprinted, Seiten flew higher. When Skull pulled back his baseball bat, Seiten brought out his quarterstaff. They both charged towards the trapped wand, gaining speed and power until finally their weapons collided with it, on opposite sides, just a little offset. The wand snapped in two with a crack, but that could barely be heard through the screech that escaped Voldemort's marred lips.
Joker smirked as she was carried up into the air on Arsene's wings, her dagger alight with unholy fire, and she was tossed at the screaming Voldemort's skull. She soared through the air and landed with both feet on Voldemort's crown, while her dagger sunk deep into his forehead and scorched the flesh around it. She brought it straight down, then across, then down again, in the shape of a lightning bolt. The fire flared through Voldemort's newly-acquired scar, then the rest of his wounds, until he crumpled to the floor in the shape of a beaten man.
"I'd say something pithy," Joker said, as she grabbed the two halves of the Elder Wand, which had shrunken back to its normal size. "But, I don't think you speak Japanese."
"It's your once last chance," said Harry, "It's all you've got left… I've seen what you'll be otherwise… Be a man… Try… Try for some remorse..."
In the depths of Voldemort's soul, something changed. Everything he'd ever done took on a new light, all of the suffering he'd caused was revealed, every one of his actions revealed to him from a perspective without distortion. He released the wand in his hand and collapsed to his knees, before the students of Hogwarts, before his Death Eaters, and began to weep.
"I confess… I have been cruel, I have been arrogant. I have done so much evil in the name of my own fear, my own cowardice..." Tom Riddle babbled. Whispers broke out among the defenders of Hogwarts and Death Eaters both. The nerves of the latter cracked as Tom babbled, then shattered entirely with each fresh apology, admittance, came from Tom's trembling lips.
But Harry looked up at Hogwarts Castle. At one of the windows where there stood eight teenagers and a black cat. He met the eyes of the girl with wild black hair and nodded at her. Joker nodded back.