Tonight, the Seventh Year students became fully accredited witches and wizards. Their futures began now. Tomorrow morning, they would leave these walls to take up jobs and apprenticeships or to rest up over the summer for university programs across the continent. The younger students could feel their excitement and eagerness, their readiness to tackle the world. For the first time in months the future looked bright for everyone.
It helped, of course, that they could all look up towards the High Table and see the most powerful wizards and witches in the land all arrayed beside the Boy-Who-Defeated-the-Dark-Lord. Harry Potter, too, was leaving Hogwarts. Headmaster Dumbledore had announced that Harry Potter would be entering the special accelerated Auror program so that he could continue his valiant fight to wipe out the remaining followers of the Dark Lord. Many eyes rested on Harry Potter as he sat silently beside his bonded partner, Professor Severus Snape. Most gazes slid away again quickly, not really wanting to contemplate the relationship between the two.
After all, everyone knew Harry and Snape didn't even like each other, but they had done what they had needed to do on behalf of the Wizarding World. They had obeyed the prophecy that Dumbledore had unearthed and the results were exactly what he had promised. The blood and sex magic had raised such a tide of power that the former Dark Lord had been obliterated when he next met Harry Potter. Only Harry Potter's closest friends noticed that he never smiled any more.
Headmaster Dumbledore rose to his feet and commanded silence and rapt attention immediately. It was no longer a secret that the Headmaster was the head of the Order of the Phoenix and that without his covert actions the Ministry would never have acted until it was too late. His wisdom, foresight and courage were fast becoming the stuff of legend. After all, had he not been the one to hide the Boy-Who-Lived until he could be safely brought to Hogwarts? Had he not directed every aspect of Harry Potter's training and preparation? Everyone knew the debt they owed Albus Dumbledore - once again, he had protected them from the ravages of a Dark Lord.
His words were wise and measured. He forbore his usual twinkling nonsense in favor of words of comfort and an exhortation to be strong and resolute in the face of the difficulties of rebuilding their society and casting out the last destructive elements. With an affectionate look, he bade Harry Potter take the podium and speak with his year-mates about the work to come.
Even though they knew what he was about to say, the 7th year students held their collective breath. They knew he had been urged by the Minister of Magic to persuade his year-mates to join the Ministry Auror program along with him. Even those who had no aptitude nor desire for the work found themselves considering it just so they could fight alongside the great Harry Potter. Scores of them had already signed the contract before the Feast. If anyone noticed that neither Hermione Granger nor Ronald Weasley had yet enrolled, they kept the knowledge to themselves.
Harry stood and made his way to the great eagle podium. He stood silently for a moment, seeming to take a deep breath and collect his thoughts. Every eye in the room was turned toward him save that of Severus Snape, who gazed stonily at the tabletop in front of him. Harry began to speak, his voice picking up strength and speed as the words came more readily to his lips.
"The Headmaster and the Minister have asked me to speak to you this evening about the future. Tonight marks the beginning of the rest of our lives and begins a time of choices for us all. I am supposed to tell you to join my cause and follow the leadership of the Order of the Phoenix as we build a new world out of the ashes of the war. Well, sod that," Harry Potter hissed.
There was a ripple of surprise among the students and a number of shocked grins began to form. This was their Harry, all right! They were ready to follow him anywhere.
The expressions on those at the High Table were less amused. Dumbledore's brow was knit and the Minister looked to be gritting his teeth. Snape's gaze slid sideways and he watched his former student carefully.
"Go live your own lives. Get out of here and never look back. Screw the Ministry, the Order of the Phoenix and Albus Dumbledore. There will never be a new world if you follow any of them. And you're not going to follow me because…"
There was a brief surge of magic and Harry's voice disappeared. Few saw the tiny twitch of Headmaster Dumbledore's wand as he cast the Silencing Charm. Harry's fingers whitened as he gripped the podium and struggled to speak. The Headmaster had only begun to rise to his feet when his charm was snapped like a thread. "Sit down, old man. I'm not done speaking."
There were murmurs of shocked protest that died as the Headmaster was forced back into his seat with a negligent wave of Harry Potter's hand. "I gave you your chance, Dumbledore. You could have let me leave. But no, you couldn't give up your puppet. So now you'll just have to live with the consequences of your actions. ALL your actions."
"Harry, my dear boy," the Headmaster began.
"No," Harry Potter said in a quiet voice that carried throughout the huge room. "You do not have the right to call me by that name. There is nothing you can say anymore that I want to hear."
He turned back to his fellow students. "Now - as I was saying: You won't follow me because I am leaving." He waited out the sudden rumble of reaction for a few seconds before continuing. "I have killed Voldemort. The rest is up to you." There was an unpleasant smirk on his face that was more than reminiscent of the Potions Master.
Cries rose on every side. 'You can't go!' 'You have to stay!' 'We can't fight them on our own!' 'It's your duty!'
Harry's face darkened steadily as he listened to the tumult. The last comment came from the Minister. He turned slowly to face the man, smirk widening as the older man paled and seemed to shrink back in his seat. "My duty? Haven't I done my duty yet, Minister? I killed Voldemort," he paused to enjoy the uneasy whimpers the name evoked. "Don't you think the rest of you could take a turn?"
"Thousands of people have died in this War, young man! You can't refuse to do your part, Potter!" he shrieked, spittle flying from his mouth.
"I didn't refuse to do MY part, Minister. I am merely refusing to do everyone else's, too. Voldemort killed my parents; I killed him. I've done my part."
"Harry," the smooth voice of Dumbledore broke the shocked silence. "To whom great power is given, great responsibility is also given."
"And who gave that responsibility, Dumbledore?" Green eyes blazed at the Headmaster. "Did any of you," he waved a hand at the collected ranks of Aurors, parents and students, "ever ask yourself why the ONLY person who could go up against the Dark Lord was a teenaged boy?"
No one could meet his furious gaze. A hesitant voice said, "But the prophecy said…"
"Whose prophecy?" Harry asked flatly. "A prophecy is nothing but words. Words fed to you by Dumbledore. Words that made it my duty," he spat the word, "to become a murderer before my 18th birthday. My responsibility."
Snape's stare was a palpable thing now but Harry Potter didn't look at him.
"You all used that prophecy to absolve yourselves. You didn't have to act because the prophecy said someone else would do the dirty work for you. And if he didn't -- perfect! Someone to blame."
"That's not fair, Harry," Arthur Weasley said. "Many of us have fought hard against the Dark Lord; many of us have friends and family who have died in this struggle."
"Yes, Mr. Weasley, I know. " Harry's voice was tired now. "Nearly everyone in this room has lost someone - to either side. So why aren't they all duty-bound as I was?"
"But -- we're all ready to follow you, Harry," Dean said loudly. "You can't say we're not ready to do our part. I'll sign up right now." A murmur of assent followed his words.
"I don't want you to follow me, Dean. I'm sick of it. If you join the Auror program or the Order of the Phoenix, you'll be following them," he hooked his thumb back over his shoulder to where the Headmaster and Minister sat transfixed. "None of you have ever asked what kind of men they are."
"I know what kind of man Albus Dumbledore is, Mr. Potter," the crisp voice of Professor McGonagall had every eye turning toward her, save for Snape who continued to stare at Harry Potter with a frown.
She continued. "He is honorable, generous and deeply committed to the cause of the Light. He has done everything he could to make you ready to face your destiny. He has sacrificed more than you will ever know to destroy our foes. You cannot know how much he has given up …" her voice faltered and Harry Potter spoke into the breach. The Hall was silent, listening avidly.
"Professor, it's YOU who don't know what he has sacrificed to this fight. WHO he has sacrificed. The lies he's told and the things he's done to twist events to prove his idiotic prophecy."
"How dare you say such things? To him!"
"Harry," Dumbledore said placatingly, ignoring the curl that came to the young man's lip at the sound of his name. "I understand that you are upset. You are exhausted and overwrought by recent events. Perhaps I should have explained myself better to you. I have made mistakes, my boy, and I am prepared to beg your pardon for them."
"Are you really?" Snape's voice cracked like a branch under ice. His eyes met Harry's for a moment, then he stood abruptly. He looked gaunt and pale and more like the specter of Death than ever. Dark rings circled his glittering eyes and he stalked toward his employer with a steady gait that belied the wounds he had suffered.
"Severus, Harry, we can discuss this in my office."
"No. Here. Now." Harry Potter moved to stare down at the Headmaster from the other side.
"This has gone on long enough," Shacklebolt's voice rang out with authority. "Aurors, collect Mr. Snape and Mr. Potter and bring them back to the Ministry for question…" his voice broke as a whisper of magic teased through the room and every single wand disappeared from its sleeve or holster, save those of Hermione Granger, Ronald Weasley and the two men who stood on either side of the seriously discomfited Headmaster.
"I think that isn't really a good idea," Hermione Granger said calmly, her wand held lightly in her hand.
The witch smiled briefly at Harry as he inclined his head in thanks toward her. She really was an incredibly talented witch. Ron was too busy staring at the enormous stack of wands that had appeared on the table before him. After a moment's consideration, he whispered an incantation and swirled his wand twice through the air. The pile of wands was suddenly encased in a huge, bluish block of ice. The table groaned beneath the sudden weight but held under its burden. He plucked a half-squashed chicken leg from under one edge of the ice block, then waved it in Harry's direction. "OK, mate. It's your show." He bit into his chicken and sat back with every appearance of being a fan at a Quidditch match.
"I see that I shall have to revise my opinion of your friends, Mr. Potter," Snape said over the rising babble of outrage.
"Better late than never, Professor Snape," Harry Potter said with a vicious grin.
"What do you want?" Dumbledore asked quietly.
"I want you to take responsibility for everything you've done to me," Harry snarled. "And to Snape," he added after a moment.
"I know what I've done to you both, Harry. And I'm sorry." Tears swam in the Headmaster's eyes. "But you must understand, it was necessary."
"The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few?"
"Exactly," he said with a faintly relieved smile. "I will live with the burden the rest of my life…" Harry cut him off with sharp gesture.
"No. Next you'll say that the means justify the end."
"Sometimes they do," Dumbledore said sadly.
"Unforgivable Curses, kidnapping, enslavement, rape and murder, Professor? Those are the weapons Voldemort used. Those were his means to his end, weren't they?"
Dumbledore paled, but nodded.
"And they were also your means to your end. So how are you any different than he was?"
Cries of denial and horror rang out around them. The Order members who sat at the High Table were looking distinctly nauseated. None of them would meet his furious gaze. "How are any of you any different?"
Harry Potter looked back and met Severus Snape's grim stare. After a moment of wordless question and reply, Snape nodded once and tipped his head towards the podium.
Harry turned away and walked back to the podium. "In front of this hall of witnesses, I accuse Albus Dumbledore of using the Imperius Curse on October 29th of this past year to impel Severus Snape to rape me in order to meet the terms of the bonding magic he determined would be necessary for me to defeat Voldemort."
There was a roar of outrage and shock. Lower year students sat bewildered and frightened by the uproar. Adults and upper year students were alternately crying, denying or hiding their faces.
He turned to Dumbledore and his eyes were icy green as he said, "We told you no, old man. But you couldn't leave it alone, could you? You just had to be right!" His gaze slid left and right and met the eyes of each of the Order members at the table. "And you all let him do it. You knew what he was doing and you helped him."
"We were fighting for our lives," the Minister protested. "We did what we had to do."
"No," Snape said. "You had Potter fighting for your lives."
Tears began to spill over Albus Dumbledore's wrinkled cheeks. "I am so sorry, my boys. But it had to be done. You must understand… I couldn't let Voldemort win. The price you paid was terrible, I know."
"You know?" Harry Potter asked mildly. "Oh, I don't think so. Would you like to know the price we paid, Headmaster?
"Tell me, do you know what it feels like to be blinded, rendered deaf and dumb by a cursed quill handed to you by a trusted mentor? Then I can presume you know what it's like to be raped again and again until you can smell your own blood being used to paint runes on your body? You've had your sight and hearing come back only to find yourself covered in shit and blood and semen and be forced to comfort your own rapist because he's even more shattered by what he's done than you are? Then you announced it as if it were a fucking celebration! All of that to turn me into a better soldier, someone who would murder on command."
Harry stopped and took a deep breath. The hall was silent, a sea of tear-streaked, pale, frenzied and sorrowful faces. He said quietly, "You don't know what it was like, Headmaster. But you will. You will."
"What are you going to do?"
"Minister, what would be the punishment for the crimes of which Dumbledore stands accused?"
"If he were found guilty, he'd be locked in Azkaban for life, no hope of parole. If there were any Dementors still there, he would receive the Kiss," the man replied woodenly. "But the Wizengamot wouldn't convict him. He's Albus Dumbledore."
Harry Potter smiled. "I don't need the Wizengamot, Minister."
"You can't mean to take the law into your own hands!"
"Of course not. I'd be a hypocrite if I did that," Harry said with heavy irony. "But he has admitted to his guilt in front of this hall of fully adept wizards and witches. Now, who shall pronounce sentence?"
Hermione Granger's voice rang out with quiet authority. "In cases where a defendant admits his own guilt in front of 10 or more fully qualified magical witnesses, he is compelled to accept the punishment required by the injured parties. I looked it up."
"He's an old man, Potter! You can't send him to Azkaban," his former Head of House pleaded. Dumbledore said nothing.
"Professor Snape?" Harry asked softly, tilting his head toward the old man they had once trusted.
After a moment, the Potions Master spoke directly to his mentor. "I hate my memories. I think you should have them now."
Harry nodded and locked gazes with his bonded partner. The expressions on both their faces became terrible to see as they brought those specific memories to the fore. Then their wands moved as one toward their own temples, drawing out strings of memory to hang like tarnished silver chains. Dumbledore shrank back from them, but each man grabbed a bony shoulder and held him steady in his seat. The silver strings dripped down onto his face and became snakes that slithered into every orifice, eyes, mouth, nose and ears. Those watching saw the Headmaster's body stiffen, then begin to shake. Both Snape and Potter whispered a binding spell, then Harry drew a spiraled circle in the air over the stricken man's head. When the old man began to scream and thrash, Snape silenced and bound him with two quick charms.
They stepped back and let the crowd see what they had wrought. Sobs and angry whispers filtered through the crowd. Drool collected on Dumbledore's chin and ran down into his beard.
"What did you do?" the Minister whispered.
Potter looked at him tiredly. "He sees and feels exactly what we saw and felt. That's all."
"You've broken his mind!" McGonagall knelt beside the Headmaster's chair.
"Hardly. Besides, what was it he said earlier? Oh yes - it had to be done."
Snape said, "If he ever truly accepts that what he did was wrong, the cycle will stop. But I don't think that will ever happen. He is too enamored of his own point of view, no matter how ruinous it is."
"What about the Order?" Harry asked his partner quietly.
"Sod them," Snape said briefly. "I'm done with all of it. It's time for me to leave, Potter. You, too."
"You're probably right."
"I'm always right." His thin smile was met by a snort from his former student.
Harry turned back to the dazed wizards and witches. "Don't try to find me. Don't call me when the next Dark Lord threatens - do something about it yourselves."
He turned to Hermione and Ron. "You can let them have their wands back in about an hour or so. Thanks, guys. I'll be in touch."
They nodded, although the evil twist to Ron's lips suggested that the wands might not defrost for quite some time. "Take care, Harry."
Potter and Snape looked at one another. Snape finally held out his hand with a bitter frown. "Goodbye, Potter."
After a moment, Harry took it. "Goodbye, Professor."
Then there was a pause, a sort of quiet time that could only be measured in heart beats.
"You could come with me," Harry Potter said softly.
"Why?" Snape didn't sound shocked, only very tired. Neither man had released his grip on the other's hand.
"Because you know. Because I know. Because they'll try to find us anyway and the two of us together can't be found… or beaten."
"There is some data to support that assumption, yes."
The two men apparated directly from the dais and were never seen again by anyone in that Hall save Ron and Hermione Weasley.