A.N.: Hello! This is my first published story and I am really nervous. I read a prompt in Tumblr and it wouldn't leave me alone so I wrote this instead of sleeping. Hope you enjoy it!
1st of November, 1981
Albus Dumbledore was a wise man who understood the acute pain of betrayal and the harrowing weight of regret, but above all, he understood the abominable price of peace. With this mindset, he planned the demise of Voldemort, sacrificing families with a heavy heart. With this mindset, he ordered Hagrid to pick up an innocent toddler from a destroyed cottage in Godric's Hollow in order to place him under his callous relatives' care, knowing the child would be ignored in the best of the cases. However, even when he intellectually understood this was necessary, the knowledge was unable to grant him respite from the pain that constricted his chest.
It was necessary to betray the Potter family in the name of peace. It was necessary to sacrifice their beloved offspring in order to end the lethal Dark Lord. It was necessary to leave one of the most powerful children that ever existed out of their world in order to avoid the possibility of turning him into another monster. It was necessary for the child to be raised humble, or at least he wanted to believe it was.
He never understood how terrible this mistake was or how much it would cost him in the future.
24th of June 1991, Headmaster's Office, Hogwarts
Albus Dumbledore was exhausted, sleep eluded him for yet another night. Soon, Harry Potter would arrive at Hogwarts and he was debating on which would be the best way of introducing the child to the magical world. After many long hours, he gave up, knowing the most appropriate way would be delivering the letter in person, especially if you considered Petunia's volatile character and hostile disposition. With a sigh, he decided to write the missive instead of allowing the magical quill to do its job, that way he gave himself time to calm his nerves and appease his guilt.
25th of June 1991, Number 4 Privet Drive, Surrey
A strange sound resonated in a park near Privet Drive. An old man dressed in an eccentric suit sauntered around the neighbourhood as if he had all the time in the world, wearing a genial smile that made him look even stranger in the eyes of the observers.
It took Dumbledore more time than expected to find the house numbered four, considering how similar the houses were to one another, he felt quite proud of himself. He paid no mind to the stares his presence caused, ignoring the animosity that emanated from the many curious neighbours that went out of their way to observe him. He knocked at the door, smile still in place, trying with great effort to ignore the dread that oppressed his chest to the point every breath caused him sharp pain. A tall, somewhat horse-faced woman opened the door with a polite smile that vanished once she saw him, replaced by a horrified expression.
"It has been a long time, Petunia," Albus greeted the pale woman.
"Get out of here!" she hissed, trying to close the door in his face but being stopped by a hand.
"We need to talk. I was hoping we could chat inside, to avoid curious eyes..." he commented, making the woman pale further and allow him entrance. While following the reluctant woman, he examined the house, especially the pictures, noticing with a heavy heart a black-haired boy was in none.
"What do you want?" Petunia hissed, looking at him with apprehension.
"I'm here to give Harry his Hogwarts letter and, if possible, have a nice chat with him," he answered, trying to convince himself that the horror, fear and undiluted hatred in the woman's expression were tricks of the light.
"We don't have the freak," she whispered, her chest heaving as fear gave room to hysteria. "Why should we raise that abomination?! We dropped him in the streets years ago! He was a monster!" the woman yelled and started sobbing, ignoring the horrified man in front of her.
"Look at me," Albus Dumbledore ordered, dropping his grandfather persona.
Petunia looked at him with weariness and he invaded her mind. Bile rose in his throat at the sight of the treatment a young child had received, the pain in his chest intensifying to a worrying degree. He saw a young child being ignored, being treated as a stranger. He felt the vile woman's satisfaction when Vernon locked the child in the cupboard after a sound punishment for doing freaky stuff. Then, he felt her horror when her own child began screaming in his room. He saw how utterly horrified Petunia was when she ran to her child's room and found the exact same marks that Vernon gave the freak on his body. He felt her hatred increasing and saw how they had decided to get rid of the innocent child. Albus retreated from the woman's putrid mind feeling disgusted.
The guilt he was trying to suppress overtook him, filling him with shame. Taking a deep breath, he did his best to control his emotions.
"You disgust me Petunia, but don't worry. I will make sure you and your husband pay for all your crimes," he promised the crying woman, apparating out of the house directly to his office.
Dumbledore picked up a silver artefact that lay on his desk and activated it. While he waited for the coordinates, he asked a house-elf to bring Severus Snape as soon as possible. That done, he buried his face in his hands and allowed himself to wallow in agony before composing himself. Albus tended to be benevolent to the extreme, but he once was cruel. With a hard expression, he channelled the man he was in his youth, ready to punish the beasts that harmed Harry Potter, ignoring he was the one who left the child with said beasts. He walked towards his pensieve and deposited his memories with Petunia, while he waited for his most trusted ally to arrive.
29th of June 1991, St. Thomas Orphanage
Albus' heart stopped beating for a few moments and his skin acquired a chalky tone when he noticed the place he apparated to. An orphanage. A plain and antique, yet well-maintained building that looked welcoming enough. If only he could convince his frozen mind to agree with him and stop reminiscing the dreary building that still brought nightmares from time to time...
Taking a deep breath, he looked at the man that landed beside him. Tired would be a mild word for his companion, bleary was a more appropriate adjective. Though, he guessed he looked no better, considering he slept for a few hours at most during the past few days. Handing the evidence to the muggle Aurors was simple, casting a few spells on them to make sure he got the wanted results barely needed a thought... Involving Severus to create the muggle evidence was the hardest part of his plan. Even though he trusted the man with his life, he was no fool. Albus knew Severus was still bitter and held many grudges against the innocent Potter. Yet, he hoped his blind friend could see the light. At the moment, Severus was in denial. However, he still hoped that those memories would open his eyes once he was able to process the situation. With weary steps, he walked toward the entrance, passing by the stylish and somewhat bizarre front lawn.
"Good morning, we were hoping to speak with the Matron." Albus greeted the woman behind the desk with a cordial smile.
"Is there any reason in particular?" the woman inquired with a bored expression, not even sparing them a glance.
"Indeed. We are representing a prestigious school and were hoping to offer a scholarship to a child that managed to catch our attention."
"I will call the Matron. You can sit over there," the woman said in her monotonous tone, leaving without a second look. Albus sighed, dropping onto the closest couch, allowing his fatigue to show for a brief moment. After a couple of minutes, the woman arrived along with an older woman who walked towards them.
"Good morning, my name is Anna Frigg, the Matron of this orphanage. I was told you were looking for me," the woman introduced herself, taking a seat on the opposite couch.
"Indeed, Miss Frigg. I'm Albus Dumbledore, headmaster of Hogwarts, and my companion is Severus Snape, a teacher at the school. We are here to offer a scholarship to one of your charges," Albus introduced himself but was cut by a soft laugh coming from the woman. To say he was bewildered at her odd reaction was an understatement.
"I apologize, but I know exactly who you are referring to. As a matter of fact, this is the time of the year when different institutions come over in order to offer our young Harry Potter a place. That's who you want in your school, right?" she asked with a knowing smile, taking the men's lack of response and surprised expressions as confirmation. "You see, young Harry is truly an angel. He is so studious and intelligent; he is the jewel of this orphanage," the woman confided with a bright smile, unknowingly giving Albus a semblance of peace and a sliver of hope.
He was terrified at the outcome of having the last Potter raised the same way as Tom. It seems old age was making him paranoid.
"I'm glad to hear that. Would we be able to talk with him?"
"Of course. I will bring Harry here. You are lucky you caught him on his free weekend."
"I was hoping for a private place... We could go with you to his room," Albus suggested, wincing on the inside when she scowled at them, knowing any progress he made towards the woman's trust was lost.
"Of course you can't! His quarters are private - it would be irresponsible of me to allow strangers in. Sandra! Take these gentlemen to the room next to my office," the Matron barked at a middle-aged woman who was walking by and left with a huff.
"Excuse me, ma'am, I was hoping you could tell me about Harry Potter," Albus asked the woman approaching them. However, the trepidation he felt before came crashing back when he saw the woman pale and look around in panic. "No matter what you tell us, we will take Mister Potter," Albus assured the woman, but failed to reassure himself.
"I know you will," the woman whispered, "but that doesn't mean you'll believe me." Her eyes were fixated on the floor.
"We will hear what you have to tell us."
Albus tried to appease the woman with a gentle smile, placing a hand on Severus' shoulder in order to prevent any biting comment he might make. Yet, the woman still looked reluctant to speak so he was forced to employ a method he personally disapproved of but was necessary for this situation. With a wave of his wand, the woman's face relaxed and her eyes acquired a glossy look.
"Follow me then," she whispered - anxiety and fear emanating from her body in waves despite of the spell. "The child was brought here when he was six. I was in charge of talking to his previous minders at the last orphanage and school to find out about the boy. The school's headmaster told me he was easily the brightest child he ever met. All his teachers noticed he wasn't treated well in the orphanage so they requested his transfer. At the time, I was impressed by how well liked the child was in his school, so I ignored all the signs and the advice his previous caretakers gave me. I believed they were being ridiculous, trying to blame a child for all the problems the place had... I'll never forget the terror in the Matron's eyes when she told me the child was evil," the woman narrated with quick breaths.
The woman's eyes focused again and she immediately covered her mouth. Dumbledore tried not to frown, it shouldn't be possible for a muggle to break his spell so easily.
"Do you have any idea how long he was in the previous orphanage?" Albus asked the frightened woman, trying to ignore his emotions.
"If I'm not wrong, he arrived there when he was four," was the clipped answer.
Noticing her reluctance to continue talking, Albus decided to encourage the woman. "The information you gave us is very enlightening. Perhaps you have any other details on what happened while Mister Potter was there. I promise to keep it for myself."
The woman's eyes shifted towards the door. With a sigh, Albus decided to reapply the spell, pointedly ignoring Severus judging eyes.
"Everyone avoided him, which is the first thing I noticed. From the children to the adults, everyone shared the same fear of him. I didn't understand why until I experienced it myself. The Matron told me how the older children bullied him when he arrived. 'They're jealous and it's natural,' she said. She told me how the older children picked on him, but they stopped when one of them broke his leg - shattered might be a better word. He was unable to walk without a limp ever again. She implied that young Harry did it, but why should I believe her? He was barely four and the others were well over ten. How blind I was..." She muttered the last words with haunted eyes, stopping her tale in order to open a plain door that led to a small room with a long table and chairs.
Taking a seat, she continued, looking even paler than before. "He's an adorable child, you know? I was unable to believe that bitter crone when she told me of the horrors of the orphanage. She said the children were terrified of the boy but no one knew why. It was only natural for me to dismiss her. She had no evidence, why should I believe her?" she asked herself, there was a hysteric edge to her voice that disturbed Albus more than he would ever admit.
"She told me how he bewitched people, how he possessed minds, how evil he was..." the woman muttered, looking at nothing in particular with a sombre expression, "I didn't believe it, so I never said a word. Once I realized what he was, it was too late to warn them. They were already ensnared by him.
"It began once he arrived. He shared a room with other boys. They were jealous of the attention he received, naturally. He skipped a couple of years, you see. That was the trigger. He stayed in school until dinner each day. Many of his teachers volunteered to give him extracurricular lessons and the librarian drove him here. His roommates tore his clothes and books. At that time, he did nothing and the Matron was furious. She punished the other children for trying to harm her jewel, but that was barely the beginning. He was given his own room, but his old roommates began having accidents. Eric fell down the stairs, Steve tripped and hit his head, and Aaron slipped and broke his wrist... One by one, each suffered accidents and, one by one they stopped harassing him," she continued in a barely audible voice.
"So you are saying that he is a bully," Severus sneered, breaking the trance the woman was in and earning a glare from the old man beside him.
"No, he never bothered anyone. By any means he's the perfect child: brilliant, polite, soft-spoken, excelling in everything he does..." she muttered, her breathing becoming fast once more. "Many schools came to recruit him after a couple of months and this caused jealousy in the older boys. They began bullying him, but suddenly it stopped. I have no idea why, but they never approached him again. He's attending Eton, you know? He is indeed a brilliant child," she whispered to herself.
He pretended his stomach was not trying to revolt.
"Anything you can tell us about his friends?" Albus asked, trying to keep the image of a young Tom Riddle off his mind.
"Friends," she huffed, looking amused. "No, he has no friends. He has a loyal follower though," the woman commented, allowing a hysteric chuckle to leave her chest. "She arrived here four years ago. She's only one year younger than he is. For some reason he took her under his wing. All the children know you don't mess with Harry Potter. Therefore, you don't mess with anyone related to him. She looks like a little angel, with curly blonde hair and all the paraphernalia. She adores him and, dare I say, he seems to care about her. He takes his weekends away from his boarding school just to see her, though I have no idea how he managed that... Once they tried to bully the girl when he was at school. The next week no one would get close. I still wonder what he did," she chuckled with tremulous hands, eyes lost in the past.
"May I know the name of this young lady?" Albus asked, barely able to subdue his curiosity.
"Even her name sounds innocent-"
The woman was interrupted by the door opening. She looked at the newcomers and lost all her colour, she excused herself and left after she directed a pleading look towards the professors.
The Matron was smiling at the child behind her without hiding her disdain towards the men. She whispered something to him and left without acknowledging their presence, leaving the door wide open. The men's eyes widened at the sight of the child. They were expecting a replica of James Potter with Lily's eyes, not the person in front of them.
His hair was carbon black with an almost undetectable red hue to it and, unlike his father's untameable mess, his was perfectly combed with a few strands left out for aesthetic purposes. His Black and Evans genes predominated over the ones of the Potters. His hair framed his refined visage, on which his mother's beauteous features dominated.
Lily Evans was once considered the most beautiful woman in Hogwarts. James Potter was not far behind, being quite handsome himself - one of the reasons Severus resented him. It shouldn't be a surprise for their offspring to inherit their looks, and yet it was. Especially because he looked like a younger male version of Lily. However, the features that took away Albus' breath and made goosebumps appear on his skin were the boy's eyes.
They were green, but unlike his mother's warm emerald eyes, his were non-expressive, eerily similar to a porcelain doll. Yet, they blazed with hidden power that turned the cold emerald into a disturbing shade of green. One far too familiar for Albus Dumbledore to be comfortable.
"Good morning. I was told that you want to speak with me," the boy introduced himself with a gentle smile that eased the fears the woman ignited.
"Good morning, Harry. I'm Headmaster Albus Dumbledore and my companion is Professor Severus Snape."
"Pleasure to meet you. I was told you come from a school," the last Potter replied in an even tone.
"Indeed. Professor Snape and I came here to invite you to a school for special children," Albus explained with an amused smile when Harry tilted his head.
"What kind of school?" he asked with obvious curiosity, yet his speech patterns didn't relax. "I already attend one of the most prestigious schools in the country, where they understand my needs and comply where possible," the child explained, not noticing Severus scowling at him.
"I understand that, Harry, but I think you will like my offer. I'm the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry." Albus was ready to explain their world to the child sitting in front of him but was deterred by his deadpan expression. With a weary sigh, he began explaining the existence of magic. "I know it is hard to believe-"
"I know I'm able to do special things. I always could so it is not hard to believe magic exists. It is merely another characteristic that differentiates me from others. The question is, why I would want to learn how to make magic when I already can?" Harry asked with no expression.
"That is certainly a surprise," Albus stated before Severus talked and drove the child away. He licked his lips trying to decide where to start explaining. He needed to know what the child was able to do, but at the same time, weariness kept him from asking. "You see, Harry, a trained wizard is able to perform the most astounding feats, from controlling the weather to transporting themselves over great distances in a matter of seconds."
"And how will this be useful to me? I already decided my profession, what can you offer me that I don't have already?"
Yes, this was definitely not going the way he wanted.
"There are many professions in the magical world that I believe are more interesting," Albus answered without addressing his questions. He already felt the boy raising his defences.
"What would I learn in your school?"
"Many things, my boy. Let's see... Your subjects will be transfiguration, charms, and potions among others. Later on, you will be able to choose different electives," he explained without really answering. And that was apparently the last straw, Harry's expression morphed into a polite one, there was no longer curiosity on his eyes.
"I understand that, sir, but you have yet to tell me why I should attend your school. I'm graduating in a few years and have many doors open. There is no reason for me to leave all my work behind," the child stated with a calmness that unsettled Albus.
What child didn't want to go to Hogwarts? Apparently, Harry Potter. Of course, it had to be Lily's son.
"You see, Harry, both of your parents attended Hogwarts." For a brief moment, Albus considered hiding the boy's heritage but discarded the idea, knowing a simple question would get him all the information and destroy any semblance of trust he was able to build. Deciding to use the connection to his parents to lure the child into the school, he continued. "Your paternal family, the Potters, attended the school for generations."
Although he decided to tell him a little about his parents, Albus refused to tell him about the House of Potter and his title as the scion of said family. Harry was too young and there was always the possibility of turning him into an arrogant bigot. That was without even mentioning his fame.
"I see... While I admit being curious about the school and my parents, I must inform you I have no means of paying." Albus almost sagged in relief. "You knew them? My parents."
"Ah, you don't need to worry about your tuition, your parents paid in advance the moment you were born and left enough money for you to buy the necessary materials. And I indeed knew them. Lily was really smart and James was quite clever. The stories I could tell you..." Albus trailed off, deeming Harry too young to understand.
"Is that so? Would you mind telling me how did they die? I only remember Aunt Petunia saying they were drunks who died in a car crash."
The old man needed a second to control his desire to strangle that woman. It was definitely a mistake to leave Harry Potter with the Dursley's.
"That was certainly a lie," Albus blurted, unsure whether or not to tell the child. With a defeated sigh, he spoke. "Your parents were murdered by an evil wizard. I regret to be the one to tell you that you are the only survivor of the killing curse, the same that killed your parents. The fact that you survived is the reason you are famous in our world," Albus told the child, withholding as much information as possible, knowing it was not the right moment to reveal the delicate details.
"That is not what I was expecting. I must ask why my parents were murdered." Harry asked and Albus pretended not to notice Severus ashen visage.
"There was a war going on. Your parents opposed the evil wizard and fought for the light. That's the reason he murdered them. The details are complex, something a child your age shouldn't worry about."
Albus finished talking, knowing it was the wrong thing to say, yet there was no other option. Young Harry would be unable to understand the price of peace. Earning his trust would be harder than expected, especially considering the frail rapport that was established already broke.
"I understand," murmured the child with a tone that conveyed his disappointment. "Would you be so kind as to tell me how to access the money my parents left me? Mmm, also what I need from school and where to buy it."
"Of course! Here is the letter with the equipment list, the train ticket, and all the necessary information," Albus answered in a cheery tone, ignoring the tense atmosphere. "Professor Snape will accompany you to buy all the things you need."
"I will have to decline," Harry stated, taking the letter but not even glancing at it. "I have to arrange my affairs and have no idea when I will be able to go. Besides, I'm used to doing things by myself, so I would feel uncomfortable with the unwanted company." His tone left no room for discussion and the only thing Albus could do was sigh, resigned at the idea of leaving the boy by his own means. This meeting only earned him Harry's disfavour and he wouldn't push the boy any further.
He could try to press Harry until he agreed, but that was far too risky. Harry Potter was not enchanted with the idea of a magical world or even with knowing more about his parents. The boy could easily refuse to attend school and, as powerful he was, he was unable to force someone to attend Hogwarts. Besides, if the magical world caught a whiff of how their saviour was raised he was doomed. The boy was definitely Lily's son and Albus learnt the hard way of what an Evans was really capable when spited.
"If you insist," he answered. Doing his best to contain a sigh, he took out a bronze key and told the boy all the instructions on how to arrive at Diagon Alley.
"If that is all, I must take my leave. Have a good day," Harry said without inflexion and left, not even glancing back.
Both men left the building feeling exhausted for different reasons. Severus felt his heart pumping and his hands trembling in a way they had not done for over a decade. Any flicker of doubt he had about the woman's tale disappeared at seeing those eyes and, for the first time, Severus wished this Potter was just like the previous one. He was unable to forget the woman's fear, he was unable to forget those dead eyes, but above all, he was unable to forget the strange aura of the child that inherited far too much of his dear Lily.
Albus Dumbledore was worried about Harry knowing too much. Knowledge in the boy's hands was dangerous. He made many mistakes with Tom, he knew one of the reasons he became Lord Voldemort was because of all the information he obtained while he was young. Not this time, he vowed to himself. He would make sure Harry didn't fall into the same dark path.
Albus conveniently forgot he was the one who pushed Tom Riddle into that path, meddling in his life and making decisions for him. A mistake he was making once again...