Chapter Four: Not Going Anywhere
In a way, life in 1856 still felt like a dream. From time to time Harry found himself wondering if it was, and if one day he would wake up, back at home where his friends were, where he was bad at Potions, where his scar prickled all the time, where Albus was old and wise and the one who looked out for him.
The boy did not ask Harry for anything, but Harry had seen enough of the way the other students, particularly the older pure-bloods, treated him that he needed to do something about it.
It turned out, Albus knew more defensive spells than half the teachers. This, though, did not get him very far due to the no-magic rule, so Harry started telling Albus stories of how he avoided trouble with Dudley's gang back in primary school.
The younger year bullies backed off quickly whenever Harry was around. Word had spread quickly that he wasn't one to mess with. The older years, however, weren't so easily intimidated. Harry had received a number of punches from getting between them and Albus.
Despite Harry's best efforts, Albus was still reluctant to try and stand up for himself. Harry knew he couldn't protect him forever.
To avoid the other students, they often met up in the Room of Requirement; which usually took the form of the Gryffindor common room, only empty of people. It also supplied them with drinks of hot chocolate. The room's magic did not stretch as far as to supply them with the drinks ready and waiting, but there was always a table laid out with mugs and ingredients for them.
Harry had never been to a job interview before. Nor had he ever been given much guidance on what to expect, having only had one—very memorable—careers consultation in his life. He had sneaked into Hogsmeade and bought some smart robes with the money Albus had lent him, made his hair as tidy as possible, and made sure to turn up on time. Beyond that, he wasn't sure what to do.
The post office hadn't changed—or rather, wouldn't change—in nearly a century and a half. Harry took a seat in the waiting area as instructed and tried not to fidget, watching all the owls and reading the price list so many times he memorised it.
Harry jumped to his feet, startling several owls and the Post Office worker who had appeared from a back room.
"Sorry to have kept you waiting," he said in an apologetic tone. "I was interviewing another applicant and lost track of the time?"
"A-another applicant?" Harry said, his heart sinking.
"Yes, indeed." The worker paused, looking Harry up and down. Harry could see the cogs in his mind. "You are … very young."
"I'm a hard worker," Harry put in.
"Hmm … No, I'm sorry; the job has just been taken."
Of course it had. The lucky applicant probably didn't even know yet. It was obvious he had just made the decision upon seeing that Harry was still school age.
Great. Now what did he do?
By the time the Easter holidays arrived, Harry had caught up in all his classes, even getting Outstandings in his Potions. Ealing told Harry he had a talent that until now had gone unnoticed. Once Harry had gained some more confidence in his previously worst subject area, he found he was coming top of the class. He had been the first student to succeed at brewing a perfect Blood-Replenishing Potion, and while the rest of the class caught up, brewed all the potions he had missed doing from the beginning of the year.
Healing and Time Studies had both been a challenge to catch up in, but Harry felt he had finally grasped the fundamentals of the subjects. He was confident that after the holiday he would be completely up to speed. After all, he would have no distractions from studying.
All the other students were going home for the holidays; but Harry, having nowhere to go, was planning on hiding out in the Room of Requirement.
The fortnight was fairly lonely. Harry finished his homework and made a few potions for practise, but without Albus around he felt the painful isolation of the time period even stronger. He wondered about his friends, a century in the future, not knowing what had happened to him. He should ask Albus to tell them, when he was the older Professor Dumbledore. So they would know.
Eventually the holidays ended and Harry slipped out of the Room of Requirement when he heard the other students making their way back to their dormitories. Back in the Gryffindor common room, he found Albus sitting still on one of the chairs, staring into the fire.
"Hi," Harry said, sitting down next to him. "How was your holiday?"
The look Albus gave Harry shocked him. The boy had got used to Harry's accidental futurisms, it wasn't the word "hi" that was the reason behind it. Albus had not just confusion, but anxiety and sorrow written all over his face.
"Albus, what's wrong?" Harry asked, finding his voice after a moment of stunned silence.
The boy forced a smile. "Nothing. My holiday was good. How was yours?"
"Don't change the subject." Harry frowned. It had taken him a while to notice because of Albus' fringe, but there was a large, fresh bruise sprouting on one side of his forehead. "What's that?"
"What's what?" Albus' voice went up a notch in pitch as Harry pointed to the bruise. "N-nothing – ouch." He winced as he put a hand up to cover it.
Harry looked Albus up and down, and spotted several things. One, there were bruises on his arm as well; this combined with the "ouch" signified a sprain or worse. Two, Albus was sitting straight up and trying not to move, which signified a broken rib or two, And three, as Albus saw Harry noticing these things a panicked look appeared in his eyes. Add these together with the fact that Albus had just returned from home and Harry knew exactly what he was looking at.
"Okay, Albus," Harry said quietly. "Come to the Room of Requirement, we'll get you fixed up, okay?"
Perhaps it was the fact that Harry had suggested the Room of Requirement and not the Hospital Wing that made Albus let Harry lead him out of Gryffindor Tower. When they arrived in the room, Harry saw it had become a smaller version of the Hospital Wing with just one bed, which Albus sat down on.
There was a Healer's Rod that Harry had seen demonstrated but not actually used before, and a number of Healing textbooks which he looked at. Albus watched him anxiously.
"Harry, are you sure you know what you're doing?"
"Yes," Harry lied, not wanting to make Albus any more uncomfortable than he already was. "I've done this loads of times. Just refreshing my memory."
He wasn't sure Albus believed him, and was pretty sure that he would not believe himself if the roles were reversed, but the boy did not protest and waited quietly. Harry ran the Healer's Rod gently over Albus' bruise, and the colour of the tip changed to confirm it wasn't major enough to need treatment. Albus' wrist, however, was fractured and he had two broken ribs.
Madam Pomfrey could mend bones in about a minute. With Harry, inexperienced and following instructions, it took a lot longer. Albus kept quiet, barely a whimper escaping, while Harry slowly knit his bones back together with the rod and his wand together, bit by bit. Harry had a feeling Albus, like he himself had been as a child, was well-practised at keeping quiet.
When it was finally done, Albus gave Harry a weak smile and thanked him in a soft voice.
"According to this, it'll still be sore for a while," Harry told him. "The longer it was broken for the more so." He replaced the books on the shelf, which vanished as he no longer had need for them.
"I can live with that," Albus said.
He was avoiding meeting Harry's eye, and Harry was certain he knew why. "Albus," he said gently, "Who did this to you?"
Albus squared his shoulders. "It was an accident."
"Come on, Albus," Harry said, "I know you're smart enough to realise that I won't believe that." Silence. Harry sighed. "Your father, maybe?"
The look on Albus' face read clearly that Harry had guessed right. He sat down beside Albus and laid an arm lightly around his shoulders.
"Look at me, Albus." The boy reluctantly did so. "I've been there, all right? My uncle and cousin were bullies. I went through ten-odd years of this. I know how you feel."
"You feel rejected by those that are supposed to love you. You feel useless and helpless. And you somehow feel that it must be your fault that they treat you this way. Am I right?"
Albus gave a wobbly smile. "You really went through it, then?"
Harry nodded. "Oh yes. Believe me, I've felt it all. But you know what I found, when I came to Hogwarts?" Albus shook his head. "It wasn't me with the problem. It was them. They hated magic and they took it out on me. I did nothing except exist."
A tear escaped one of Albus' eyes and Harry wiped it away gently.
"My mother," Albus whispered. "She died the day I was born. She died because I was born. Father always said I should never have existed, then she would still be alive."
"Well, sorry for being blunt, Albus, but your dad is talking out of his backside. I'm sure if your mum had the choice, she would choose for you to live. Because that's what mums do. They put their kids first. Mine died for me." Harry smiled sadly. "I've wrestled with that quite a bit. It's not something I really talk about normally. But it's natural to feel guilty about it, even if there was nothing we could do to stop it. Your dad, on the other hand – if he can't accept that you are a precious human being and deserve life as much as anyone, then he is the one with the problem, not you."
Harry couldn't remember the last time he had made a speech that long. By the end of it, Albus was leaning into his arms, silent tears leaking into Harry's robes.
"I wish I'd had someone come along and say this kind of stuff to me when I was your age," Harry murmured. "But I can give you the benefit of my own experience. I reckon that's got to be worth coming back a hundred and forty years for."
"No-one's ever told me I'm worth anything," Albus said with a slight hiccup. "You're not like everyone else."
"Albus, you're a great kid. And when you grow up, you'll be a truly amazing person, believe me. I know right now you feel like the world's against you, but I promise that won't always be the case. And I'm not going anywhere, am I?" Harry chuckled. "You've always got me."
Harry kept an extra vigilant eye on Albus after the revelation, but he seemed to be slightly happier now that the burden was shared. There was still something Harry could sense troubling the boy, though, and Harry didn't find out what until two weeks later.
"Harry, could you help me with something?"
"Of course," Harry said, looking up from his homework. "What?"
"My book got confiscated," Albus said, sitting down.
"I took Advanced Alchemy Theory to Transfiguration instead of the standard text by accident."
"How on earth did you do that?" Harry said with a grin.
"They have the same colour binding. Anyway, Hopkirk accused me of trying to flaunt my intellect and took it away. He doesn't let students have confiscated items back until the end of the year, and I really do want the book back."
"And you'd like me to help you nick it."
"Er … if by 'nick' you mean 'retrieve', then yes," Albus said slowly. "I can get into his office but I'll need someone to keep a lookout?"
"'Course I'll help." Harry laid down his quill. "Let's try now; I heard Ealing say there was a staff meeting."
They headed to the Transfiguration office, and knocked. There was no reply. Albus got to work on the locking charms and had the door open in about five seconds. Once they were inside, he replaced the locking spells so that they would come into effect again if the door was closed. Harry pushed the door to and watched from through the crack, where he had a good view of the corridor.
Albus began ransacking the office. Harry listened. After several minutes, Harry heard a murmur of voices, and around the corner came Hopkirk, followed by Atrocia Umbridge.
"He's coming!" Harry hissed.
There was no way to exit the office without being seen, so they dived into a cupboard. Harry watched the unfolding scene through the keyhole.
"Headmistress," Hopkirk said once he had closed the door again and cast a silencing charm on it. "We have a message from Mr Bourdon."
Harry felt Albus stiffen beside him, and remembered with a jolt that that was Albus' surname—at least in this time.
"Is the next piece ready?" Umbridge asked in her sweetly poisonous voice.
"Yes, but there's some bad news." There was a pause. "The boy knows."
"Boy?" Umbridge asked. "His boy, you mean? The first-year? How on earth does he—"
"He saw the plans, Headmistress. That child is a genius, he will work it out easily enough, and he could go to the Ministry any day."
"Can't Bourdon keep the boy under control?" Umbridge sounded distinctly angry now.
"Not while he's here, Headmistress; he says that is up to us."
There was a long silence. Harry realised Albus was shaking, and squeezed his shoulder in an attempt to comfort him.
"He is too dangerous with that knowledge," Umbridge spoke at last. "We will have to dispose of him."
Albus gave a small gasp beside him and Harry clamped a hand over the boy's mouth.
Professor Hopkirk looked shocked. "How?"
"Next time he receives a detention, send him to me. I shall deal with him."
"But Headmistress … If the boy dies on school premises … There will be questions asked; investigations—"
"I know," Umbridge snapped. "We just need to make it look like an accident for long enough until we're ready to move to the final operation. Just make sure you get the boy for something, Hopkirk. We cannot afford anyone getting in our way, and he knows too much."