A/N: Well… here we are! The final chapter in Child of Hogwarts: Part One. I will probably go back over the summer and read through for any grammatical errors or anything, so won't mark this story 'complete' just yet… but the first chapter of the sequel (which is rather short, more a prologue than anything) I will post simultaneously with this… just to give a flavour to readers of the next book. I do hope you enjoy the conclusion – it has been a wonderful journey to write!
Another proverb-based title… this translates literally to 'Between a Sword and a Wall,' but it is the Spanish version of what we usually phrase in English as 'Between a Rock and a Hard Place' – an impossible choice.
Lastly, there are review responses below, and the second is somewhat of a novel and contains some potential spoilers… so skip over and into the story if you are sensitive to that!
AECM: First off, thank you for your review! I do apologise, as I'm sure you will be a little unhappy with me after this chapter… I promise I do have storyline reasons for deciding to go this direction with Harry/Albus/Minerva, however, and I think we will gain a lot from the way the story unfolds following Albus's decision here. I'm not a big personal fan of blood adoption storylines – they work really well in other people's fanfiction, don't get me wrong, and I read and like a lot of stories that go that route … but it just isn't the sort of writing that suits my envisioning of this particular story, mainly because there isn't a lot of canon support for that type of magic. That said, I think that Albus and Minerva both view Harry very much as a surrogate child, and I think that plays heavily into their characterisation. I think it also highlights Albus's personal struggle with this: sometimes, to protect your child, you make very difficult choices – ones you hate yourself for making. There's an interesting biblical story on that point that's rather well-known, that deals with a child claimed by two mothers. King Solomon tells the women that if they cannot resolve their dispute over the child, he will simply slice the baby in half and give each mother their share. In the end, one mother tearfully allows the other to have custody, proving to Solomon that she is the child's true mother – because she is the one willing to give up her world to ensure his survival. It is somewhat of my inspiration for Albus's difficult decision here. But, do not worry – your concerns on the matter will certainly be shared by some of our characters.
babascoop: Thank you again for your great review! Grindelwald… he is fun, isn't he? Such an interesting character to explore, because we glimpse him so little in canon, and then most of that only through others' POV. I had originally intended to wait on his introduction a bit longer and do it in a flashback – but in the end contemporaneous revelation of my take on him seemed more prudent; Book 2 is where the horcrux theory first comes to Albus's attention, after all (aside, perhaps, from suspicions over Harry), and it seemed to me most likely that Albus's quest to uncover information on Tom Riddle's background would have begun around this time – once Harry presents him with the diary. And I'd always found it rather suspect that Dumbledore would not have had more of an inkling about the nature of the Chamber of Secrets' opening… so the Grindelwald storyline is my way of closing that loop. I like your assessment of their relationship – it is quite true. He's older than Dumbledore, and arguably just as clever… maybe more so, depending on who's side you believe.
So here's my take on that. In my view, Grindelwald is a 'Shade of Darkness' (hence the title to his introductory chapter); like all wizards, in a way, but perhaps more infamously so given his past. He is not entirely bad – nor, by any stretch of the imagination, is he 'good.' I think Albus feels very wrong-footed in Grindelwald's presence, for sure. Gellert is slightly older than he – and had rather the upper hand in their brief friendship in their youth. Dumbledore was his contemporary and his friend, but Gellert was the leader, in that particular time. I think Albus can recognise that more fully now, in retrospect, than he could at the time, when he was swept up in the ideas Gellert was postulating, and the idea of Grindelwald himself. Obviously, that friendship collapsed with Ariana's tragic death, bringing Albus very abruptly back to his shattered reality, and leaving him with a lifelong fear that Grindelwald has the information on who it was who actually cast the fatal blow. Every time he sees him, that fear preys on his mind, which puts him immediately on the defensive in Gellert's presence. Grindelwald certainly knows this… but he also hasn't offered the information. Not yet, at least.
Meanwhile, Gellert Grindelwald was defeated by Albus. And Albus took his wand, and then locked him away for fifty years of solitude in the prison he had built, with their shared motto on its gates. Grindelwald speaks of poetic justice in Chapter 29… this, in a way, is Albus's. Gellert Grindelwald took 'For the Greater Good' – which really, even now, often describes Dumbledore's actions… and certainly manifests in self-sacrifice and goodness more generally – and he twisted it; morphed it into something terrible and unutterable. And then Albus brought him down, and 'righted' the purpose of the motto again by forcing him to Nurmengard. The taking of his wand is rather a two-fold gesture. For one (most obviously) it is, as we know, the Elder Wand. And Albus took it to master it – in canon, he explains this eventually as a desire to save others from its power. But I think there is also a simpler effect of this taking, though one less unique to Grindelwald alone. Wands are a symbol of the magic of a wizard – his most jealously guarded possession and the source of most (if not all, depending on his wandless abilities) of his power. To deprive a wizard or witch of their wand is the ultimate symbol of disgrace and distrust – true removal from wizarding society; the lowliest of humiliations. Personally, I equate the moment a wizard's wand is taken or snapped to how submitting to a cavity search might feel for a muggle prisoner entering incarceration – there is nothing more degrading or horrifying.
But I've digressed, somewhat. Grindelwald… he does seem to know an awful lot, doesn't he? There are a few aspects to that knowledge – some of which I'll comment on, and some of which I'll let unfold in these books. On his ability to one-up Albus, I'll say this. I do not think Grindelwald hates Albus Dumbledore. In fact, I think in many ways he still considers Albus somewhat of a friend, if only because Grindelwald is highly intelligent and fascinated by magical theory and unsolved mysteries. I envision him as an absolute Ravenclaw (had he attended Hogwarts). He has always respected Albus as a mage with whom he can match wits, which in Grindelwald's worldview is the most important of qualities in a wizard's 'worth.' It's interesting to see his commentary on Tom Riddle – because it mirrors this outlook, I think. He shows his fascination, even perhaps respect, where Riddle's actions transcend more quests for power for power's sake – like the realisation that he murdered his father and grandparents to create his first horcrux. He is less impressed when Riddle shows his limitations – like when he berates Voldemort's desire to obtain the elixir of life, because he does not feel that Voldemort understands what immortality truly is for a wizard. Grindelwald never sought to create horcruxes… which I always found intriguing. It wasn't his style. He wanted the Deathly Hallows… oh, absolutely. But he wanted them to enhance his power, his domination, and his mystique. He was, in some ways, more intriguing and complex a Dark Lord than Voldemort himself, because he did not seek power from a place of pure evil, but because of his own warped sense about what the Greater Good was – what would move wizarding kind forward into a new, more (in his view) enlightened age. I think his comments on conscience to Albus are enlightening in this regard… Voldemort lacks conscience, and lacks the ability to understand love; Grindelwald is not without conscience, but has a very different moral compass than Albus… and I suspect he understands love and human relations just as adeptly as the headmaster. He would never have underestimated Lily's sacrifice, in the fatal way Lord Voldemort did.
But I should redirect now… before I ruin potential fodder for a Dumbledore-Harry conversation down the road. This is growing a little too contemplative.
In any case, Grindelwald is, as we have seen, certainly bitter about his own defeat. And surprised, a little. He has spent fifty years brooding on that day he lost everything… trying to decipher the reasoning behind it – because he truly does believe he and Albus were evenly matched, or even that he himself was the more skilful of the two. And he had the Elder Wand. His self-assessment has led him to the conclusion that Albus's triumph can be attributed to the old mantra, 'know your enemy' – that Albus understood him, and understood the way he practised magic… whereas Grindelwald put his faith in the wand and his own power. I don't think he truly harbours hope that he will ever be free to retry the duel, but he has become obsessed, over his years in solitude, with rectifying his mistake. I think he sees it as an intellectual failure; something he cannot abide by. So he has made a study of Albus – Albus's relationships, his school, and now his connection with Harry. How exactly Grindelwald gains access to some of his information – apart from the news he is sanctioned to have and the books he has been locked away with – remains a mystery right now (though we will learn more, in due course). But certainly a great deal of his insight and his ability to outmatch Albus in a battle of wits can be attributed to his years of obsession with the headmaster, and his intimate knowledge of how Albus's mind works. Whereas Dumbledore, in contrast, is constantly distracted in his meetings with Grindelwald by his fear that his sister's death might resurface… and he has tried valiantly to shut down his thoughts on the man ever since he locked him away in Nurmengard all those years ago. It's an interesting paradigm, because Albus is quite firm with Harry that supressing and ignoring one's fears is wholly incompatible with learning to overcome them. Yet he himself seems unable to follow this wisdom.
Dobby… I actually really like your idea! Unfortunately, I have already mapped out the conclusion to the Harry-Dursley dilemma, but I will promise not to keep Dobby in absentia until Year Four. In fact, I've had an idea for the house-elf that I think you might enjoy… though we likely won't get to see it unfold until a few chapters into Part Two of this series.
And… I'll stop there. That was much longer a response than even I had anticipated… I apologise for the run-on thoughts! But I get a little caught up sometimes in the theory behind these characters.
Enjoy the final chapter!
DISCLAIMER: Any and all familiar characters and story lines are the property of the wonderful Joanne Rowling, in whose world I am honoured and privileged to have an opportunity to play for a while.
Chapter 30: Entre La Espada y La Pared
'Albus, you cannot be serious!' Minerva snapped over tea on the morning before the end of term. The sky was a beautiful blue, the grounds outside bursting with summer bloom and warmth. It was an incongruous fit for Minerva's current mood.
'A week only, Minerva,' Albus reasoned in a placating tone. 'And I will not send him on his own. But we must renew the blood protections. If we have learned anything from this term, it is how important it is to keep Harry safe, in every way we know how. And the best defence he currently has is his mother's sacrifice… if we allow that to fade, he will lose it.'
Minerva scoffed. She could not believe that she was hearing this – from the man who had torn Harry from that horrible place himself.
'You told me nearly twelve years ago,' she said, through clenched teeth, 'That the protection would only last as long as Harry called his aunt's house home. It is quite clear that "home" for Harry is Hogwarts, not Privet Drive. So the magic is likely nullified already,' she reasoned.
Albus shook his head. 'It is not nearly so clear cut as that,' he admitted. 'That was an over-simplification on my fault, I fear. The protection will remain intact until Harry comes of age, as long as he can claim some measure of shelter with Petunia or Dudley Dursley, who share his mother's blood. He need only return once a year or so, and only for a brief period… but he must return in order to ensure the protection continues.'
Minerva felt fury as she had never experienced before. Right now, in this moment, she hated this man.
'How can you even consider such a thing, Albus?' she railed. 'Surely no manner of protection is worth the sacrifice of Harry's wellbeing, of his happiness? You witnessed his state when you brought him back to Hogwarts last summer. The man broke his cheekbone, for goodness sake! I cannot believe you would even entertain the idea of returning Harry to his arms!'
'It is necessary, Minnie,' said Albus wearily. 'It is for the –'
'For what, Albus?' she cut across him, her voice growing waspish in her indignation. 'For the Greater Good?' she guessed, watching his face arrest. She smiled in bitter satisfaction, guessing the truth from his expression. 'Haven't enough lives been lost already in pursuit of that undertaking, Albus?' she asked him pointedly.
Albus recoiled immediately, as though Minerva had struck him a fatal blow. Even in her tirade, she slightly regretted the words already. They never spoke of Ariana. Not ever. And she knew that the girl's death was Albus's greatest regret.
'Albus,' she started, in a slightly calmer tone.
'Do you think this is easy for me, Minerva?' Albus asked her, very softly. 'Do you think I rejoice in this decision… that I want to send him back to that terrible place? Do you think I want to tell Harry that he has to return? I do not.'
He sank wearily into the chair behind his desk, his head in his hands. Minerva watched him in silence, feeling only slightly less angry. She could not bring herself to go to him or offer comfort.
'I will not leave him there alone,' Albus repeated. 'And I will not leave him there long. A week, at most. That should be sufficient to ensure the protection continues for another year.'
'A week is seven days too long in that house, Albus,' said Minerva tensely. 'He will not forgive you for it. I will never forgive you for it. Even Severus will not approve.'
'I know,' said Albus, the weariness even more pronounced in his tone. 'I do not forgive myself, Minerva. But I have to think of Harry's future… and the future for all of us. Two years Harry has been back in the wizarding world, and both years he has had to face Lord Voldemort. Voldemort will not remain in shadow much longer, Minerva. And I will not deny Harry a modicum of potential protection when that day comes… not even if it comes at the cost of his trust in me.'
'And if it comes at the cost of his childhood, Albus?' Minerva countered. 'What then? You are making the same mistake you made nearly twelve years ago – when you left him on those vicious peoples' doorstep like the milk delivery!'
Albus sighed, running a hand over his eyes. He looked utterly exhausted, and suddenly very old.
'This is not easy for me, Minerva,' he repeated. 'And I understand your position. But I am not leaving Harry there forever, and he will be watched constantly. I myself will visit with the family before I allow him to return there. And I will retrieve him the moment we can ensure the protection endures… and bring him straight back home. I promise.'
Minerva wiped angry tears from her eyes, still glaring at the man she adored. She couldn't stand another minute here, not now.
She turned for the door.
'When will you tell him?' she asked roughly, reaching for the handle.
'I will meet him after luncheon,' said Albus heavily. 'I've already sent a note. Will you join us?'
'I'll be here,' she agreed. 'But for his sake, Albus, not for yours. And I think you will sleep better alone until he has returned.'
She slammed the office door behind her, not waiting for a reply.
Severus was roused by an insistent pounding on his door, much earlier than his normal waking hour. Grumbling in annoyance, he shuffled into his dressing gown and out of the bedchamber, cursing whatever idiotic brat felt the need to interrupt his morning at such an ungodly time.
'What?' he growled, throwing open the door. To his astonishment, he found Minerva on the threshold, her face tearful and panicked.
'He's sending him back,' she spat at him by way of greeting, already pushing her way into the room. Severus stepped out of her way, shutting the door to his quarters again. Minerva began pacing in agitation in front of the fireplace, pulling at her usually impeccable hair. Severus noted that she too was still dressed in her nightclothes.
'What are you on about, Minerva?' he asked her wearily. It was far too early for guessing games.
'Albus is sending him back, Severus!' she repeated, quite hysterical.
Severus rolled his eyes again, conjuring a steaming mug of coffee for himself and tea for Minerva. He pressed the cup into her hands, practically forcing her into a chair. The incessant pacing was giving him a migraine.
'If you would, Minerva,' he said, trying to keep the irritation from his voice. 'I think you may need to take a step backward in your explanation.'
'Harry, Severus,' said Minerva, as though this were obvious. 'Albus is sending Harry Potter back – to his aunt and uncle's house.'
Severus froze, lowering his coffee down to the table slowly. He was certain he had misheard. 'That… that is not possible, Minerva,' he said softly. 'Albus would never do such a thing. He knows what went on in that house.'
She growled in frustration, sounding much more like Severus than herself. Severus rather thought her hair was in imminent danger of being torn from her scalp, the way she continued to pull at it.
'I know that!' she shouted at him. 'And if you'd told me, before this morning, that he would ever even consider doing so, I'd have said you had lost your senses! But he is, Severus – at least, he is for a week. He is quite intent upon it – I could not talk him down.'
'But why?' breathed Severus. 'Why would he do such a thing? I was under the impression that he rather enjoyed having the brat under his thumb all summer.'
It was a sign of Minerva's supreme distress that she did not take issue with his characterisation – neither of Harry Potter nor the headmaster's intentions. Instead, she threw up her hands in defeat. 'He is insistent that the blood wards Lily cast with her sacrifice must remain intact, for Harry's own sake. He is convinced that without the protection, we risk Harry's safety if Voldemort should rise to power again. So he intends to send Harry back for a week, to renew the protection for another year.'
Severus felt some of his discomfort ease. 'It's only a week, Minerva,' he reasoned.
She glared darkly at him. 'Would you say that so lightly, Severus,' she asked in a quiet voice, 'If I told you that you must spend an extra week in the company of your father, at Harry's age?'
Severus snarled, returning her glare in kind. Minerva knew better than to speak of Tobias Snape.
'That is neither here nor there, Minerva,' he snapped back.
'I'll take that as a "no" then, Severus,' she said primly. She rose from her seat again, pushing the tea aside. 'Albus is in his office for the next,' she glanced at the clock on the mantle, 'Half-hour or so, I would guess. Should you wish to speak with him.'
And she left.
Severus waited five minutes. Long enough to finish his coffee, and change into something more presentable. He would not have Albus think that he'd been worried enough about the Golden Brat to rush up to the headmaster's office in his dressing gown at Minerva's pronouncement. There'd be plenty of time before breakfast to deter the headmaster from this incredibly foolish scheme.
But he also took the floo… Just in case.
Albus was not entirely surprised to see Severus appear unannounced, stepping out of the hearth with twenty minutes or so to go before they were due in the Great Hall. He had suspected Minerva would relay her displeasure at the first opportunity.
'Severus,' he greeted the Potions master. 'Would you care for a cup of tea before we head down?'
'No, thank you, Albus,' Severus said stiffly, crossing his arms across his chest. He made no move to sit.
'Was there something you wished to see me about?' Albus asked politely, though he was sure he already knew the answer. Predictably, Severus's eyes flashed his annoyance as effectively as an uttered oath.
'Minerva has just been to see me,' Severus said smoothly. 'She was rather upset with you.'
Albus sighed. 'Yes,' he acknowledged. 'I suspected as much. Won't you have a seat, Severus?'
'I would prefer to stand,' Severus replied coldly. Albus frowned – point one for Minerva, then.
'Severus,' he said in a serious voice. 'You know why I need to do this.'
'No, frankly Albus, I have no idea,' Severus disagreed. 'You berate me for my treatment of the boy; you flout your favouritism for him like he's your personal Quidditch club; you restructure your life, your school rules, your teaching staff… all to cater to the needs of Harry Potter. And yet, you can send him to that cow of a woman and her abusive prat of a husband like you are packing him off for a sleepaway camp!'
Severus began to wear a path in the carpet as he ranted, and Albus let him. He knew there would be no point in argument until Severus had said his piece.
'He cannot return there!' Severus bellowed. 'I went to their house, Albus, after you brought the child here last summer, don't you remember?'
'I do…' said Albus, frowning again. 'And you promised me that you did not leave them permanently damaged.'
'I did,' Severus agreed. 'Would you like to know what I did to them, Albus?' he asked, leaning over the headmaster now. He did not wait for Albus's reply.
'I legilimised them. Illegally. Petunia and that wretched husband both. I watched their memories – nearly eleven years of moments from Harry Potter's childhood. And then I cursed them, so that they would be forced to re-watch the memories themselves, over and over each night in their sleep… until the day came when they recognised what they had done to him, and felt true remorse for his suffering. I set a monitoring charm upon them, so I would know – if that happened. It has never gone off.'
Albus sighed, in physical and emotional exhaustion. He ran his hand over his eyes again, feeling every one of his years. 'I know they are despicable people, Severus,' he acknowledged quietly. 'I will never pretend otherwise. But even that does not negate that mere existence in their home can give Harry more innate protection than I could ever –'
'You do not know, Albus!' Severus roared, angrier than Albus had seen him in a decade. The man was nearly beside himself – apoplectic with rage. 'Clearly, you do not, or you would not do this. For Merlin's sake, I hate the child – and even I would never subject him to such a fate.'
'You do not hate him, Severus,' Albus disagreed. 'You may not love him… but you do not hate him. Not now, at least, if you ever did.'
Severus scowled. 'He is arrogant, reckless, and foolish to a fault,' he said, repeating an old mantra. Albus rather thought it was more habitual response than anything else, at this point. 'And he has a terrifying habit of jumping headlong in to rescue everything that moves; his need to save the world will get him killed one day.'
'You ought to rejoice in Harry's need to save the world, Severus,' Albus said softly. 'For it will likely save us all, one day.'
'Not if he does not live to see that day, Albus. And he will not if his recklessness gets him killed. Nor if your recklessness ruins him.'
'I am trying to save Harry's life, Severus,' Albus said emphatically.
'You will lose him, if you do this,' Severus insisted. 'It is a miracle he has not succumbed to darkness already… you can have no idea. Has he told you what it was like in that house, Albus? Was he honest about it?'
Severus seemed to read the truth in Albus's face.
'I thought not,' he said. 'Well, I have seen it, headmaster. They did not exactly starve the child, but they withheld food as punishment, usually for things they were well aware were not his fault. They allowed his cousin and his cousin's equally bullying friends to demean him and beat on him. They rejoiced in showering their own child with love, attention, and gifts, but refused anything to Potter but his cousin's cast-offs. They forced him to do the cooking, the cleaning, the gardening… like their personal house-elf. They demanded that he curtail his studies so he would not outperform their own son. They kept him in a tiny cupboard under the stairs until the day his first Hogwarts letter arrived. At times, he was locked in there for weeks on end. And,' he swallowed thickly, as though preparing himself to admit the worst of the atrocities. 'They actively sought to stifle his magic – keep him so browbeaten and downcast that it would be snuffed out of him… as if such a thing were possible. His worst punishments were the result of his earliest signs of accidental magic.'
Albus felt physically ill at Severus' recounting. It was sickening to hear these atrocities laid out so – bare and blunt, for his consideration. He knew that Severus was testing the strength of his resolve, and that he had good reason to doubt – Albus himself lived in fear of this decision.
He sighed deeply again, forcing himself to remain calm. If he was honest with himself, the revelations did not entirely surprise him. He could tell from the moment he'd set foot in the Dursleys' home last July that the place was heavy with dark and oppressive history. That Harry had survived, as pure and innocent as he remained, was nothing short of a miracle. And Albus knew, in Severus's wrathful exclamation, that Severus was comparing Harry's to his own reaction to a dark and miserable childhood. He might wear his loathing for Harry Potter like a cloak, but underneath it… Albus could see his concern stretched beyond his vow to Harry's long-dead mother.
'I am not unaware of the dangers in this, Severus,' he said at last, looking very seriously into the man's dark eyes. 'And I appreciate you confiding all this to me. I will address it with Harry in due course, I promise you.'
'But you will not change your mind,' said Severus, pure venom in his expression.
'I will not,' Albus confirmed, his own eyes growing tearful. 'This latest incident… it has only reaffirmed my worst fears about the lengths to which Lord Voldemort has gone to ensure his own immortality – and redoubled my concern for Harry. His mother's protection makes him, for the moment, near to untouchable to Voldemort. He cannot vanquish Harry, while the protection stands. And it will fall the moment a year passes without his seeking shelter with his relations. I can be many things for Harry, but I cannot fulfil that role. My blood does not carry Lily's.'
Severus was still looking mutinous. But Albus could see that the practical side of the man's mind recognised the logic in his words.
'I am going down to the Great Hall,' Severus said, turning for the door. 'And, Albus, I hope you are right in this gamble… for his sake, and for all of ours.'
'As do I, Severus,' said Albus quietly, as the door closed softly behind the professor. 'As do I.'
Harry had a very enjoyable last fortnight of term, with the Chamber of Secrets firmly closed and some semblance of normalcy returned to Hogwarts. Without exams to worry about, he, Ron and Hermione were welcome to spend their free periods lounging about in the grounds. They took look walks together in the blazing sunshine. They visited with Hagrid – who was so effusive in his gratitude to the three of them for clearing his name that Harry feared he'd break a rib or collarbone in Hagrid's fierce embrace. Ron did not even have the heart to take Hagrid to task for his very foolish naïveté with Aragog and his descendants. Well, not for too long, at least.
Ginny Weasley was even more embarrassed in Harry's presence than she had been the previous summer… but she did admit to the three of them, and Fred and George, that she had walked in on Percy and Penelope Clearwater having an enthusiastic snogging session in an empty classroom just after New Year. The twins, who had been insatiable in their unique support of Percy's relationship since the entire school had witnessed their reunion at the feast, were absolutely dumbfounded at the news – amazed that they could have missed such an incredible opportunity for so many months. They vowed fervently to make up for the precious lost weeks over the summer holidays, in kind. Harry also received the profuse and tearful thanks of Molly and Arthur Weasley, who stayed at the castle for a few days to see for themselves that Ginny and Ron were fully recovered from the experience.
Hermione was, of course, very keen to hear the details of what had happened down in the Chamber. Harry and Ron discussed the events so often with her, Harry was growing wholeheartedly sick of repeating the story. Most of the other students were also enthralled with the tale, though they did not know as many of the details. Nobody, for instance, seemed to know that Ginny Weasley had been the culprit behind the attacks – if only by means of possession. Most were under the impression that the Heir had been a Hogwarts outsider, whom Harry had defeated to save Ginny from the monster.
The mysterious Grey Lady, to whom Harry had never spoken before, came to him at the start of the final week of term to thank him for his heroics. She seemed haughty and aloof, but perfectly civilised in her manner. Justin Finch-Fletchley and Penelope Clearwater had formally offered their gratitude to Harry as well, and he was pretty certain that Colin Creevey would be nearly impossible to shake next term. Already, he was thinking he would have to use his invisibility cloak if he ever wanted to keep some privacy in his schedule the following September.
Which is why he could be found, just after breakfast on the day before term officially closed, using his free period that had once held Defence Against the Dark Arts to brave the walk down to Professor Snape's dungeon office.
He knocked hesitantly on the potion master's door, feeling oddly as though he were engaged in a paltry echo of his panicked arrival here a few weeks ago.
Snape pulled open the door quite quickly, a sour expression on his face. He seemed momentarily startled to find Harry in the corridor, but recovered himself immediately.
'What is it, Potter?' he asked irritably.
'Er – good morning, sir,' said Harry, somewhat lamely. 'I was hoping… do you still have my invisibility cloak?'
Snape raised a supercilious eyebrow. Harry swallowed, summoning his courage.
'I was wondering, sir, if I could maybe… have it back?'
Snape was silent for one long moment, staring intently down at Harry. Then he stepped slightly aside.
'Come in, Potter,' he said curtly. Harry entered, feeling unaccountably nervous. Snape closed the office door smartly behind him, and swept over to his desk, taking a seat in his high-backed chair and resting his elbows on the wood. Harry waited awkwardly on the spot for Snape's instruction.
'Sit,' the professor said.
Snape did not speak immediately, but continued to bore into Harry's eyes with his own, apparently deep in contemplation. Harry squirmed a bit under the intensity of his scrutiny, but did not dare to speak out of turn. At long last, Snape broke the eye contact. He bent down below the surface of his desk – so low that the top of his greasy head was the only part of Snape that Harry could see – and opened one of its many drawers. When he straightened, he had Harry's father's cloak clutched in his hand, perfectly folded and mercifully intact. Harry felt a tiny bit of his tension release at the sight of it.
'I will return this to you,' Snape said in a silky tone. 'If you can make me a promise, Potter.'
Harry frowned. 'What promise, professor?'
Snape looked very seriously at him. 'I want you to promise me that you will use it wisely,' he said.
Use it wisely…
Harry remembered the words. They were the same that Dumbledore had written, when he had given Harry the cloak anonymously the Christmas before last.
'Of course, sir,' said Harry at once, reaching out for the silvery fabric. He rather felt, personally, that he always used the cloak wisely. But Snape pulled it back slightly, still looking unsatisfied.
'You must understand me clearly in this, Potter,' he continued. 'I do not endorse a student owning such a potentially dangerous and mischievous tool. It is against my better judgment to return it to you at all. However, I am… sensitive… to your personal attachment, in this case.'
Harry stared, a little shocked that Snape could show such humanity. He wondered if maybe Dumbledore had just forced him to return the cloak.
'I – thank you, sir,' said Harry, for lack of anything else to say in response.
Snape nodded once. 'When I say "wisely," Potter,' he continued, now sounding much more in his usual lecture mode, 'I am not endorsing that you utilise this cloak in a way that might add to your already appalling streak of dubious behaviour. I do not wish to have continued Gryffindor madness on my conscience. You will use this cloak with sagacity and forethought, and only in times of great need, or when you are instructed to do so by a professor. Do you understand?'
'Yes,' Harry agreed, still with his hand outstretched. Snape gave him one last significant look, but passed over the cloak without further comment. Harry grinned as he took the treasured item back, his heart soaring at its return.
'Thank you, sir,' he said again, moving to rise from his chair. But Snape held out a hand to forestall him.
'Wait a moment, Potter,' he said sharply.
Harry sank back into his seat, his happiness fading a little… he was rather worried that Snape was about to embark on a long tirade against his actions in the Chamber of Secrets. But Snape merely cocked his head as he scrutinised him again, leaning back into his chair, crossing a leg over one knee and rubbing a contemplative finger over his mouth.
'You showed an unusual and intriguing ability, down in the Chamber of Secrets,' he commented.
Harry stared. 'Er – what do you mean, professor?'
Snape smirked slightly, as though Harry were being extraordinarily obtuse. 'Wandless magic, Potter,' he said dryly. 'It is not a common talent. At least, not intentional wandless magic, and it is even more rare for one so young. Surely you heard the headmaster and I remark upon it in his office that evening?'
Harry grimaced a little. 'To be honest, sir,' he said, 'I was a bit out of it that night… I don't remember all of the details after we left the Chamber.'
Snape, to Harry's surprise once again, did not berate him for his lack of attention. He merely nodded again, his gaze calculating.
'That is not surprising,' he said. 'Performing wandless magic can be exceptionally draining, especially on an underage wizard. Like healing magic, it taxes the magical core; and without regular exercise and proper technique in such magics, the core often struggles to cope with the effort.'
'Right,' said Harry, a bit confused. 'Well, I think it was probably a chance thing, professor. But I'll be more careful in future, I suppose.'
'It was not chance,' Snape disagreed. 'It was not even the first of such demonstrations you showed that evening – although I do not believe you were consciously aware of smashing your chair in this office before our departure.'
Harry coloured a bit. He hadn't known he had done that. 'Er… no, professor,' he admitted in embarrassment. 'Sorry – I didn't realise.'
Snape smirked once more in satisfaction. 'I thought not,' he said. 'In any case, Potter, there are few wizards who show a talent for wandless magic. Most can master some level of competence with elementary magic, or parlour tricks, even. But to transcend the mundane and practise in the true art of wandless magic is an uncommon gift, and requires a lifetime of dedication and honing.'
'Can you do it, sir?' Harry asked in wonderment.
Snape raised an eyebrow. 'I can,' he affirmed. 'To some degree, at least. I am not so accomplished as Professor Dumbledore… but then, he has many more years of experience and practise, and wandless magic is a gift which matures and grows with age.'
Harry nodded. He knew Dumbledore could do a lot of magic without a wand – but he had always chalked that up to Dumbledore's almost unearthly power. The headmaster was like Merlin himself, or so Harry had always thought. He just knew things, and could do things… things that Harry never felt he would achieve even if he lived ten lifetimes. He'd never really considered that Dumbledore would have studied and learned his skills as well, at some point. It was as if he'd popped into the world as old and venerable as he had always been to Harry's eyes. Snape… well, he'd been at school with Harry's father, he knew. Even if it was very difficult to imagine Snape sitting in History of Magic at Harry's age, it was not so impossible to remember that Snape would have gone through Hogwarts and mastered his own craft, not so many years ago.
'So you think… do you think, sir, that one day I might be able to do it too? Properly, I mean, not on accident or just once in a while?'
Snape seemed to be thinking hard about his answer. Harry waited.
'You might,' Snape said at last. 'If you work hard and if you are given proper instruction. You are still a little young, as yet, to push yourself too far… your magical core would not be able to cope with it; not until you are closer to your magical maturity. But you could start to learn the basics, if you were so inclined. It would mean a far less layabout summer holiday than you enjoyed last year, mind you.' Snape added, with a stern look.
Harry was excited now. This was something he definitely wanted to learn properly. 'That's brilliant!' he said, enthusiastic.
'I am glad you think so,' said Snape, with a sardonic smile. 'Because I have decided that I shall instruct you in this for the next few months.'
Harry felt a tinge of fear flavour his excitement. 'You – you're going to teach me, sir?' he asked uncertainly, trying not to sound too ungrateful.
It didn't appear that Snape was fooled, as his gaze turned a bit more predatory.
'You think I would not be capable of teaching you, Potter?' he asked in a dangerous tone.
'Oh, no, of course not, professor!' said Harry hurriedly. 'I'm, er, I'm sure you would be very good. I just thought… Professor Dumbledore –'
'The headmaster has many demands on his time this summer,' said Snape with a dismissive wave of his hand. 'And I am sure he will already be quite busy, if he is to continue your instruction in Occlumency and Defence. And Merlin knows you will need ample time with that particular field… given the colossal incompetence of your instructor this term.'
Harry grimaced, thinking of the many months wasted in Lockhart's classroom. He could not deny that Snape had a point.
'We will commence your tutoring in wandless magic, then,' Snape continued, 'At the start of the second week of the holiday. After you sit a Potions examination on this year's material, of course, so that I can ensure you are adequately prepared for next autumn. Let us hope that you show slightly more natural inclination for wandless magic than you have shown in Potions, as yet.'
'You're giving me an exam?!' repeated Harry, horrified. 'But that's not fair! Dumbledore cancelled the exams this term!'
'Professor Dumbledore,' said Snape, with a much more characteristic sneer, 'cancelled the schoolwide end of year tests, that is true. But you are a special case, aren't you, Potter? So yes, I will be checking to see how much you have retained from this year's syllabus. If you pass the examination to my satisfaction, we shall devote the remainder of your summer instruction to wandless magic. That is my offer.'
Harry felt outraged. He wanted to learn wandless magic… but first he would have to revise for a whole week for a Potions exam, written just for him? And if he knew Snape – which he was sure he did – the professor was bound to make the test exceedingly difficult… if he was formulating it specially for Harry alone. It seemed he had little choice in the matter, however.
'Alright sir,' he agreed reluctantly. 'I'll do it.'
'A wise decision, Mr Potter.' Snape said.
And he bowed him from the dungeon office.
Harry was still sullen over Snape's pronouncement as he climbed onto the moving staircase several hours later to keep his appointment with the headmaster, although the thought that he would be learning wandless casting was some consolation.
He stepped off at the top and knocked on the office door, wondering why, exactly, Dumbledore had sent for him.
'Ah, come in, Harry,' the headmaster called in welcome. Harry stepped into the office, somewhat surprised to see that Professor McGonagall was in attendance as well, and looking rather red around the eyes.
'Good afternoon, professors,' he said politely, closing the office door behind him.
'Have a seat, Harry, have a seat,' Dumbledore said warmly, gesturing Harry toward his usual sofa. Harry could not help but notice, as he passed the headmaster for the proffered sofa, that Dumbledore's usual easy smile looked rather strained and did not quite reach his eyes. He looked again to Professor McGonagall, who was determinedly staring into the hearth and biting hard on her lower lip.
'Er – is everything alright, sir?' Harry asked, feeling apprehensive at the tension. McGonagall gave an odd sound that might have been a stifled sob, pressing a hand at once to her mouth. Dumbledore gave her a sharp look, but continued to smile at Harry. It looked, Harry thought, rather more like a grimace.
'Everything is fine, Harry,' Dumbledore reassured him. 'Or it will be, at least.'
Harry shifted nervously on the sofa, still looking between the professors. 'What is it you wanted to see me about, professor?' he asked Dumbledore.
'I wished to discuss your plans for the summer,' said the headmaster, looking quite seriously at him. Harry felt his stomach sink a little.
'Oh,' he said, suddenly dreading the conversation. Snape had made it sound like he would be at Hogwarts again for the summer holidays. Harry could not remember specifically discussing the matter with Dumbledore, but he had certainly expected that he would be remaining at the school. Perhaps that was a foolish dream? Perhaps Dumbledore did not want him to stay… he had caused an awful lot of trouble this year, after all.
'It is my wish that you spend the majority of your summer holidays here, Harry,' said Dumbledore, 'Hogwarts is your home, and I meant what I told you last July – you are always welcome and wanted here. At the school, and with Minerva and myself.'
Harry felt the weight on his chest ease a fraction. He smiled. 'Thank you, sir!' he said. 'This – this is what I have always wanted. And I promise I won't cause you any trouble at all… I'll be good, and I'll do my studies and everything.'
'I am sure you will,' said Dumbledore with a smile. 'However, there is one thing I must ask you to do first, for the first week of the summer holiday only.'
Harry felt his enthusiasm wilt a little, thinking of the mountain of Potions revision he already had to tackle thanks to Snape's unpleasant revelation. 'Er – what's that, sir?' he asked hesitantly.
Dumbledore sighed. 'You are aware that your mother placed a protection charm upon you with her own death, so that you cannot be harmed by Voldemort?' he asked. Harry nodded. 'That protection is very complex, Harry, and quite unique. It survives because of the part of Lily that lives within you – a mother's bond with her child. When your mother gave her life for yours, she invoked a magic which tied your blood to her own, so that it would act as a shield between you and your enemy. I performed the second step of the ritual the night after your parents were killed, when I brought you to the Dursleys for protection and shelter. It was why that move had to be enacted so quickly, because the power of that particular brand of sacrificial magic will normally fade, if it is not reinforced by the continuation of a blood-bond between the one who gave the sacrifice and the one she intended to save. Your mother, of course, could not serve to re-strengthen the bond, as she had given her life to form it. Her parents had predeceased her. My only option, therefore, was in her sister Petunia, and Petunia's child. They were the only individuals alive who shared her blood, and so they were the only choice for your continued protection.'
'She never loved me!' Harry insisted. He thought he saw, vaguely, where Dumbledore was going with this explanation of sacrifice and protection… he could read it, in the defeated set of the headmaster's shoulders, and in McGonagall's devastation. He could not let it happen.
'My Aunt Petunia, Uncle Vernon, even Dudley,' Harry continued in panic, 'They hate me, professor! They couldn't care less what happens to me.'
Dumbledore looked ancient to Harry's eyes, and heartbreakingly sad. 'It was not necessary for her to love you, Harry,' he said, very softly. 'Not to seal the enchantment. Your mother's love was enough. The sharing of blood is merely the magical conduit for the creation of the protection bond – the blood ward, for lack of a more adequate descriptor. For her to take you – that was enough. As long as you can claim some measure of shelter under Petunia Dursley's roof; as long as you can return there with some regularity, you will not lose that protection.'
'No!' cried Harry.
He could see it now – could see the awful finality of Dumbledore's decision in those piercing blue eyes. They were watering slightly, and Harry felt his own tear up in response. He did not care that he could tell that the headmaster was agonising over this too… he could not, would not, be sent back.
'Please sir,' he begged, 'Please don't. Please don't send me back there! I can't do it… I can't live like that again. Not now that I know what it feels like to have real family,' he finished softly, already too far gone to continue speech.
McGonagall rushed to the sofa and threw her arms around him, pulling him tight to her chest as he despaired. She did not speak to contradict the headmaster, but Harry could feel her disapproval in the strength of her embrace.
'I do not wish to do it, my dear child,' said Dumbledore, very quietly. 'You cannot know how much the idea disgusts me, pains me. But your mother's protection remains the most powerful I can give you, Harry. She died for you – gave you everything. And Lord Voldemort grows stronger every day. He will return again. You will have to face him again; I have little doubt. But as long as your mother's protection endures, you are safe from him in a way I can never replicate with any degree of certainty.'
Dumbledore left his own seat, coming to kneel at Harry's side. Through McGonagall's pinning arms, the headmaster managed to reach Harry's cheek, cupping it in his much larger hand. He ran his thumb tenderly down Harry's face, forcing Harry's gaze unwillingly to his own tear-filled eyes.
'I love you more than anything, my dear boy,' said Dumbledore seriously. 'I would give my own life for you, if it came to it. With no hesitation. But right now, in this moment, the best thing I can give you is the continuation of your mother's incredible last gift – the pinnacle of all that is good and wondrous in our magical world. I realise that I am asking a great deal from you, my child. And I know it will not be easy or remotely enjoyable. But I must ask you to be brave once more, as you have shown you undoubtedly are, time and again. You will only have to stay a week, I promise you, and I will be sending someone with you to watch over you and keep you from harm. When the week is finished and the protection renewed for another year, I will come for you myself at once, and bring you home again.'
Harry searched Dumbledore's eyes as he spoke, his mind a tumult of emotion and pain. But, for once, he did not feel that Dumbledore's blue gaze was x-raying himself. Rather, he saw a sudden change in Dumbledore's eyes… and felt, for the first time, that their positions were reversed: that Dumbledore was allowing Harry a glimpse into his own soul.
He wormed out a hand from under McGonagall's arm, grasping Dumbledore's forearm with more urgency than he had intended.
'You'll come for me sir, after a week?' he repeated.
'I will,' Dumbledore promised him solemnly.
And Harry gave a tremulous nod of assent, allowing Dumbledore to join the embrace.
They sat together for several long minutes – all three caught up in their personal demons, and their shared understanding. And then there was a knock on the office door, and the trio were brought back to the present with unceremonious abruptness.
'Just a moment, please,' Dumbledore called to the visitor, straightening from the floor and wiping the remnants of the emotional interlude from his face.
Harry disentangled himself from McGonagall, accepting a handkerchief from her to clean his own tear tracks. He stared in curiosity at the closed office door, still hiding the visitor from view. In all the time he had grown to know Albus Dumbledore, he had never known the man to keep a caller waiting on the threshold. He looked in confusion at the headmaster, who gave him a small smile.
'The visitor is for you, Harry,' he told him.
'For me?' asked Harry in surprise. 'Who would be calling for me, sir?'
Dumbledore's eyes were twinkling a bit again. Harry found he had missed the familiar sparkle. 'This is the escort I spoke of for you, Harry. He will be your companion during your week away, and keeping an eye on you for me. I assure you, you will find him most agreeable, and he has a keen interest in your wellbeing.'
Harry stared back in confusion, a little nervous again.
'Enter,' the headmaster called. The door swung inward immediately.
A man stepped through into the room, tall and with quite a young face, Harry thought, though his sandy hair was beginning to grey, and he looked as though he could use a few nights' decent sleep. His robes were neatly pressed but rather shabby and worn-looking, and he carried a battered leather case in his left hand. He smiled a greeting at Dumbledore, and then his gaze found Harry, and he stared.
Harry could read kindness and gentleness in the light eyes, and something like long-satisfied yearning.
'Harry, this is Remus Lupin,' said Dumbledore, stepping forward to make the introductions. 'You have heard me speak of him before, I think. He is an old and dear friend of mine. Remus,' he said to the stranger, 'This is Harry Potter.'
The man smiled, coming closer to Harry and offering his hand. Harry took it, feeling callouses on the weathered skin as they shook.
'Hello Harry,' said Remus Lupin, in a slightly hoarse voice. 'It is a pleasure to meet you.'
'You too, sir,' said Harry, offering a shy smile in return. Remus searched his face hungrily, as if he would only have this one chance to take Harry in. Harry cocked his head a little, giving Dumbledore a confused glance.
'I'm sorry,' Remus apologised, releasing his hand and stepping back to give Harry space. 'I don't mean to stare. It's just, you have precisely your mother's eyes, just like I remember. But you look…' he trailed off, still staring in wonder at Harry's face.
'What is it, sir?' asked Harry, beginning to feel a little unnerved.
'You look exactly like James.' Remus breathed quietly.
Harry smiled. 'Did you know my father?' he asked shyly.
Remus nodded, giving Harry a small, sad smile. 'Very well,' he said. 'James Potter was my best friend.'
Harry gave a true grin, excitement burning within him for the first time since Dumbledore's horrific announcement. He considered Remus Lupin closely… his father's best friend… perhaps, this week would not be as insurmountable as he first anticipated.
'Can you tell me about him, sir?' he asked. 'Over the summer, I mean?'
Remus put a hand on his shoulder, a true smile breaking over his face. It made him look much younger. 'I promise, Harry,' he said simply.
And, as with Dumbledore, Harry believed him.