Author's Note: Sorry about the wait guys. My blog has details. Needless to say, this chapter gave me fits, and I'm still not sure I like it. Some of you may hate this chapter, and others will love it. All I can say is that I tried to write this every which way and even backwards, and the events remained the same. I think it's safe to say that the story is writing itself at this point. Enjoy.
Harry studied the Headmaster while the man smiled down at him. Harry thought it was a sad smile, as though the man was a little confused, or a little lost. It was the smile he saw in the mirror sometimes, when thinking about what he would say to everyone when it was over…except he wouldn't be there. His brow knit in confusion for a few seconds before he looked back up at the headmaster. When had he looked down?
"You look as though you have the weight of the world on your shoulders," Dumbledore said softly, his voice breaking into Harry's thoughts.
"I-" Harry swallowed hard and shook his head. Hogwarts,you promised!Why am I here?
You need to be here.This is safe.
The castle faded away from his mind and he looked at the headmaster again. The headmaster's smile had faded and he tilted his head to one side. "Harry, are you well?"
Harry moved away from the man to give himself some space away from Dumbledore's presence. Hogwarts said he needed to be here, and he trusted Hogwarts…he trusted Hogwarts more than any other entity at the moment, including Bleys. "I'm fine." He answered him, coming to a stop in front of a window and staring out into the night.
"I think it is safe to say that we both know that to be false," Dumbledore said softly as he moved back to his chair. Harry watched Dumbledore's reflection in the glass as the man lowered himself to the seat and titled his head back. Dumbledore tensed as he looked at Harry. "You do realize you have a rather impressive bump on the back of your head?"
"I hit my head when the Portkey activated," Harry said dismissively, his fingers reached out to trace the leading on the window panes. "When I landed, I mean. I hate Portkeys." He said absently, the cool texture beneath his fingers distracting him. "The Minister's safe."
"I know. I heard Madame Pomfrey shrill some intimidating swear words about twenty minutes before you walked through the wall over there. The secrets of Hogwarts will never cease to amaze me. I think that's why I've stayed here so long. To keep a little taste of that wonder of magic." Dumbledore fell silent again and he studied Harry from his chair. Harry studied him in the window.
"The former Minister is safe, tucked away in a safe house set up for him some time ago. The new Minister, a Rufus Scrimgour will take emergency office tomorrow until everything official may be done." Dumbledore explained.
Harry stared out on the Hogwarts ground, a strange feeling in his chest. Dumbledore seemed content to sit in his chair and wait for Harry. "I would offer you some tea, but I'm afraid my access to the kitchens has been restricted by those fearing I would do some grievous harm to myself."
"They think you'd kill yourself?" Harry asked in spite of himself, turning around to stare at the headmaster.
Dumbledore's face crumpled the slightest bit before he mastered himself. "I'm afraid I wasn't quite myself after you left, Harry. I…never wanted to hurt you. I wasn't…I couldn't." Dumbledore gave up the struggle for words and reached inside his robes to produce an envelope. "I wrote you a letter, but I couldn't send it. I wish I had some explanation for you, Harry. Some words that would take away the hurts I've caused you. All of the mistakes I've made are inexcusable."
"You're right," Harry told him. "They are inexcusable." Harry tried to muster up some of the anger he held for the headmaster and was surprised to find it gone. Dumbledore's face dropped into his heads and Harry stood there, watching the still form in front of him. This man had caused him pain, fear, and a loss of what could have been…but there was someone far more deserving of his anger.
Harry walked over to the huddled form in the chair and lowered a hand to the man's shoulder. Dumbledore looked up, his face a little surprised. "I seem to have forgiven you, Headmaster. Almost against my will."
"I didn't want to forgive you," Harry told him honestly. "I wanted to hate you for what you did to me, what you've done to my family, your schemes, your manipulations, even the memory charms to make me think a certain way, to make things easier by making me forget my uncle abused me. Those memories I could have done without, but I know had I started here at Hogwarts with them, I would have crumbled. Instead, I was strong and a Gryffindor."
"I wanted to hate you for making me forget that Petunia told me to die more than once when I was very little. That Dudley tried to kill me more than once. For making her forget her animosity towards me this past summer."
Harry crouched in front of the headmaster. "I forgive you for trying to make things a little easier for me at home, Professor. Petunia likes me now that she's gotten to know me, so I have to thank you for that. I forgive you for everything she can't remember, forgive you for giving me a family I should have had all along. I forgive you for putting me through a trial by fire year after year. I know you were there all along. I know."
Harry reached out his hands and rested them on Dumbledore's shoulders. "I forgive you. I forgive everything you've done. I understand. God help me, but I understand."
He choked on the lump in his throat and started to draw away when Dumbledore pulled him closer, his arms wrapping around him and a hand reaching up to hold him at the back of his neck. He fought for a mere second before relaxing in the embrace.
"Oh, my boy. My boy." Dumbledore repeated the phrase a few times, his hands strong against Harry's back, sometimes patting the back as though to soothe the teen in his arms. "I only wanted your happiness..." He said softly. Harry felt the vibrations against his hands. "I wanted your happiness, and found you miserable instead. I wanted to take it away…all away." Dumbledore sighed, a pathetic noise in his throat. "I would have had to erase your entire memory…I couldn't do that…I wish I tried. I wanted to try so badly, so very badly."
"You don't have to explain," Harry told him, his voice muffled. "I understand. I figured it out."
"When did you figure it out?" Dumbledore asked, his tone of voice a surprised…and slightly pleased. He sounded proud.
"Tonight. Before the raid on the Minister's home. I was thinking about things…and everything sort of clicked." Harry drew away from the headmaster and stood in front of his chair. "You wanted tea?"
"As I said, I would offer you tea, but my access to the kitchen is limited." Dumbledore explained.
Harry grinned, feeling much like a youngster about to say his ABCs to his grandfather. "Watch this," He told the headmaster. He stretched out a hand towards the side table and a tea set appeared, complete with cakes, biscuits, and tiny sandwiches. The tea was steaming hot and a slice of lemon floated in each cup. Dumbledore's face lit up, delighted with Harry's accomplishment.
"How did you?" Dumbledore's words failed him as he studied the tea service.
"A lot of things have happened over the summer, Professor." Harry said evenly. "I wish I could tell you everything, but I'm a little pressed for time. All I can say is that I think I've discovered the 'power' the prophecy mentioned."
"Have you now?" Dumbledore asked, handing Harry a cup of tea. Harry nodded as he dropped sugar into his tea.
"Wandless magic…I think," Harry admitted as he picked up a biscuit and ate half in one bite. These were some of his favorites; Petunia wouldn't let him have them too often. "I'm not sure, but I think it's wandless magic." Harry settled into the chair across from Dumbledore.
"Harry?" Harry looked up from getting another biscuit. "Would you be willing to call me something other than Professor?"
Harry smiled, the perfect name coming to his mind. He had a feeling the headmaster would accept it as well.
Snape eased open Draco's door and found the teen sprawled across the bed in the early morning dawn. He chuckled a bit before rearranging the teen's limbs back into bed. The fact that the teen could sleep through the process told Snape all he needed to know: the boy was still sneaking out and thinking he could get away with it. He made a mental note to catch the boy in a few days so that they could discuss this behavior before it became a problem.
He left his rooms through Slytherin's passageways and went to the hospital wing. The chaos of last night from the Minister's visit faded away early this morning, and caused most of Hogwarts inhabitants to sleep in far past their normal time…except Snape.
He found the breakfast tray waiting for him when he entered the room. The teachers took it in turn to have breakfast with the headmaster. Partly, it was to keep an eye on the aging man, and partly to monitor him for any alarming signs of either decline or mischief. He paused as he looked at the tray. Everything was in order.
He took the tray in his hands and walked over to Dumbledore's door, pausing to balance the tray in one hand and give a sharp rap against the wood with the other. Dumbledore couldn't open the door, of course, but Snape always felt it best to be polite and announce his entrance with a knock.
The door swung open and he started into the sitting room. "Good morning, Headmaster," Severus said as he opened the door, tray balanced on one hand.
"Severus…good morning." The headmaster turned from the desk, leaving quills and parchment scattered on the surface. None fo the staff were sure exactly what th headmaster was working on, considering the fact that all paperwork concerning the school was now handled by Minerva. Still, the scribbles seemed to keep the elderly headmaster occupied in his forced retirement.
Severus paused to look at the man. Something was not the same, and he couldn't tell what it was…he set the breakfast tray down on the table and arranged their places. "How did you pass the night, Headmaster?"
"Well enough, Severus, well enough." Dumbledore gathered some of the parchment together and tucked it into a drawer. "How was your night?"
"Tolerable, considering my ward does not realize I know he is sneaking about. I suspect he is seeing a girl. He's been mooncalfing about the place, writing little notes he thinks I've not seen." Snape said as Dumbledore took his place across from him.
"Really, now? Young Draco seeing a girl? How fast they grow, eh?"
"Indeed. I've already tried to give him the usual speech on propriety, rules of courtship, and anything else I could think of to keep away from such ideas. I believe I only succeeded in embarrassing him."
Dumbledore rewarded Severus with a tired smile and a shaky hand as he picked up his teacup.
"Headmaster, are you well?" Severus asked, concerned at the man's obvious fatigue.
"Just a little tired, I suppose," Dumbledore admitted. "I had a visitor this morning. Just before you came in."
Severus prided himself that his reaction to the statement was nothing more than a clink of a spoon. "Really?"
"Oh, yes. I hadn't seen him in quite some time. I almost didn't recognize him, but he's grown so well these past few years." Dumbledore leaned forward as though confiding matters of great importance. "He calls me 'Grandad.'"
"Grandad." Minerva said flatly, almost as though she didn't want to believe what Severus said. "Don't be silly, Severus. Albus never had children. He never even married."
"Minerva, I promise you. The man spent our entire breakfast hour extolling the virtues of this grandson. I was privileged to hear about everything from the boy's magical abilities to how treacle tart and mint chocolate chip ice cream are favorite puddings." Severus really wanted to break something – particularly glass- to convey his frustrations. "Is he possibly senile?"
"Poppy screens him regularly for senility; his brain is as sharp as ever, she says. Mostly overwork and stress has caused his current condition."
"I understand, but I –" Severus broke off as a rolled parchment on Minerva's desk chimed and started flashing. "What in the world?"
Minerva picked up the scroll. "The young Dark Lord sent this parchment, remember? He uses it to inform me of attacks."
"A clever piece of spellwork. What does it say?"
Minerva unrolled it and stared down at it. "Well?"
Severus moved around the desk to read the scroll.
Is Headmaster Dumbledore able to receive owl post?
"That's it?" Snape asked in disbelief. "Why would he care?"
"Let's find out, shall we?" Minerva picked up her quill and scratched out a reply.
All of his mail is screened for harmful spells so no harm comes to him. So long as the mail is benign, it will reach him. I'm curious – why do you ask?
A few moments passed before the reply came.
Curiosity killed the cat, Minerva. I wanted to send him a thank you note for the visit we had this morning.
Minerva choked a little before setting quill to parchment again, ignoring Severus's demands for the writing utensil.
Headmaster Dumbledore is not able to go visiting; he has been confined to the Hospital Wing for some time now.
Minerva tapped her finger as she waited for her answer to appear.
I know. I am able to make visits. The rooms he has in the Hospital Wing are very nice. I'll send him a note soon. It was nice talking with you.
"Ask him how he got in," Severus said. Minerva scribbled it out.
Through the front doors, of course. You lot need better security by the way.
No further responses appeared. Minerva and severus looked at each other.
"I suppose we found the mysterious grandson." Minerva finally said in a tired voice.
"Yes," Severus stared at the parchment. "The question remains – is this a good thing, or a bad thing?"
Harry couldn't resist the final parting shot about Hogwarts security as he ended the conversation with Minerva. It was too much fun to force adults who should know better into awkward situations. Particularly his own teachers. He set down his pen and pushed away from his desk. His aunt had checked on him a while ago, and had told him to stay in bed. He tottered back into his bed and relaxed into the pillows.
Your aunt is downstairs, making something for you to eat. She is curious as to whether or not she needs to institute something called a "bedtime".
Harry rolled his eyes. "Oh, I hope not. That's the last thing I need."
Remus says she is on something called a "war path." This sounds potentially violent. Should we be concerned?
"Great." Harry muttered to himself. "Wonderful." First Voldemort this morning, and now his aunt was turning protective. "Brilliant." Voldemort's actions had been enough to make Harry want to hide under his bed. It hadn't been scary and he didn't feel threatened; it was just plain wrong.
Harry had left the headmaster's company still smiling, a little bag of lemon drops in his pocket. A quick hug and a whispered goodbye saw him on his way as Hogwarts opened the Magus passageway for him. The opening of the passageway caused a delighted smile to appear on Dumbledore's face, as did the "Bye, Grandad!" Harry said as the passageway closed behind him.
Once outside the gates of Hogwarts, Harry hissed his password for the portkey back to Voldemort's hideaway. He appeared in the graveyard, the dawn making the tombstones seem welcoming and peaceful. He entered the house and felt a layer of tension in the air as he checked his glamours and refitted his mask to cover his features. A quick search with his magic told Harry Voldemort was in the throne room, and the Death Eaters were with him.
Harry entered the throne room, cautious about what he would find. Nothing was happening. Voldemort simply stood at the window, staring out, his back turned towards the room. When Harry entered, a few of the Death Eaters visibly shifted, relaxing. Some of the tension left the room. "Sir?" Harry said softly.
Voldemort's shoulders smoothed out and he turned towards Harry. "You may go," He said to the Death Eaters. They shuffled from the room, pulling the door shut behind them. Voldemort stood for a moment, just studying Harry. His face was calm, smooth. He seemed to be thinking about something.
"Are you hurt?" he finally asked.
"Bump on the head," Harry admitted, afraid to lie and turning Voldemort's mood to violence. "Even with all the practice I've had with portkeys lately, if I'm not ready for it, I usually end up sprawled on the ground."
Voldemort's hand twitched and a chair slid forward from the corner. "Sit down." He ordered. "Remove your mask."
Harry lowered himself to the chair. A weary hand reached up to remove his mask. He tensed as Voldemort stood next to him. Harry tried to relax again before Voldemort noticed. "Hurts?" Voldemort asked as Harry pulled away from his touch. Usually, bumps meant something was hurt, thank you very much. Why did he have to touch it?
"Yeah," Harry said softly. Voldemort nodded. "I hit a rock, I think."
"I imagine that would hurt." Voldemot moved in front of Harry. "Look at me, please." Harry looked up and Voldemort studied him. The end of his wand lit up and Voldemort flashed it in and out of Harry's eyes. Harry realized that the man was checking him for concussion. "I think you may pull through, my child." He finally said. "All the same, you should probably rest today."
"I had planned on it." Harry admitted.
"Very good." Voldemort stepped back. "Let's get a room ready for you."
Harry had to sit down from his attempt to stand. "I think it may be best if I returned home, sir. My aunt doesn't know I'm gone, and she's been rather protective these last few weeks."
"I'd prefer to keep an eye on you." Voldemort told him. Harry shook his head, a strange feeling crawling in his chest. If this was Voldemort sane, he think he preferred the insane individual. Voldemort being…caring…was slightly intimidating.
"I need to return home." Harry said firmly, afraid he was pushing his luck. Voldemort looked skeptical. "I am going straight home, and I am going to bed. There will be no stops in between, and I will stay in bed until my head stops throbbing."
Voldemort shook his head. "I don't trust that aunt of yours. She has never taken care of you, and that uncle!" Voldemort made a disgusted noise.
"My uncle's gone, and my aunt's been doing a pretty decent job. I have a feeling it may not last, but for now, I'll take what I can get." Harry said firmly.
"If I had known before what you went through at the hands of those Muggles…starvation, neglect, it's just not right. You would have been mine, child. You would have left them with anyone who offered to take you. You would have left with me." Voldemort descended into discontented grumbling while Harry stared at him.
When he was small, Harry would have happily left the Dursleys with anyone who had offered him a room of his own, a good three meals a day, and a small chore list. Voldemort was right about that.
"You are mine. You don't belong with Muggles!" Harry backed away as Voldemort's voice raised into a near shout. "You are a wizard! You should have been raised a wizard!" Voldemort advanced on Harry and grabbed his upper arms. "Dumbledore must answer for his crimes against you..against us!" There was a wild look as Voldemort lowered himself to his knees in front of Harry. "He will answer to me, I promise you, Harry. He will answer for all of his past meddling in our lives, leaving us where we were unhappy and hated. I promise you, Harry. He will pay." Voldemort's hand reached up to stroke Harry's hair. "He will pay, my child. He will pay dearly."
Harry tried to pull away, but Voldemort only put his arms around Harry and drew him close. Harry's eyes widened as he realized that Voldemort was hugging him. He was being hugged by Voldemort. The Dark Lord, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, was hugging Harry Potter, the Boy-Who-Lived. What a messed up universe this has turned out to be. Harry thought, squirming to get away from the man.
"Hush, child." Voldemort said, giving a slight tap to the back of shoulder. Harry quit moving and heard Voldemort whispering he was sorry. The man was apologizing!
"Why?" Harry couldn't help but ask. "Why are you sorry?"
"I wanted nothing more than to protect wizards from Muggles. I've been working towards that goal. Muggles aren't worth the ground we walk upon, especially those relatives of yours."
"I'm fine for now. My aunt's trying to treat me the same as my cousin, but habits of a lifetime are hard to break." Harry told him. "I'll be fine. If I'm not, I'll come straight back here." Voldemort pulled back and stood staring down at Harry. His face said that he didn't believe Harry at all. Come on. Trust me on this. Let me go home.
Voldemort shook his head before sighing. "Very well, child. I want your word that you'll return if she doesn't do what she should."
"I will. Thanks." Harry stood up and gave a quick glance at the window where dawn was well over. "I should get going before she gets up."
"Go." Voldemort waved him away and Harry took the chance to leave with a hurried goodbye. He dashed outside and hissed his password for his Portkey. He appeared in his bedroom to a very upset Alden.
Your aunt got up five minutes ago and she is coming up to wake you up. I hope you have a great story planned.
Alden dropped down in front of the doorway and blocked the door. If Harry's aunt were to try to open the door, she would run into Alden. Harry pulled off his robes and balled them up to banish them to the closet. His mask followed the robes into the closet.
You know you have magic, right? Alden said from the floor. Harry blinked and shook his head. "I'm losing my mind." Harry said, exasperated with himself. A quick wave of his hand changed his clothing to pajamas and he dropped into bed. "I think my double life is becoming a little difficult to manage." Harry said to himself.
Alden's sarcastic response of Whatever gave you that idea? was ignored as Aunt Petunia opened the door, sliding Alden aside.
"Good morning, Harry. Breakfast is started." She stopped and gave Harry a look that was becoming familiar to him. It was Petunia's "You're-not-feeling-well" look. "Have you been up all night, Harry? You look like you haven't slept."
"I didn't sleep a lot." Harry admitted. "My mind wouldn't shut up."
How can someone without a mind hear their mind talking? Alden asked as he jumped onto Harry's bed and curled in a circle. Do you really think she's going to accept that?
"Harry, are you alright? You've not been yourself lately. I'm becoming concerned."
"I'm fine. Promise." Harry said. "I've had a few things on my mind lately that I'm trying to work out. That's all."
"Alright, Harry. Just remember that you can come to me." Petunia approached his bed and pulled the covers over him. "Try to sleep for a little while longer, Harry. You look pretty tired. I'll wake you at noon." She dropped a kiss on his forehead and then looked at Alden. "Alden, please keep him in bed." Alden wagged his tail and moved his head to rest on Harry's leg. "Good dog. You know, he comes in handy." She commented.
Harry smiled at his aunt's observation and closed his eyes. His aunt was finally getting used to magic.