The End of the Beginning
Dumbledore had built a verandah-like structure around his little hut at the center of the island. Judging from the elaborate pictures he had conjured onto its beams, Harry guessed it was something Chinese. His attention was momentarily distracted by a small disturbed cry. He looked down to a patch of earth just beyond the verandah only to find that a small garden snake had all but swallowed an even smaller frog. Harry winced and felt the remains of his breakfast shift uncomfortably in his abdomen. He was about to turn his head away from the snake who now sat lazily coiled under a patch of sun when he saw another frog, identical in size and type to the first, emerge out of thin air just beside the snake. It eyed its larger predator cautiously for a moment and then hopped quickly away into the undergrowth.
"Remarkable, isn't it?" said a voice at his side. "You see why I must make sure no one finds me here."
Harry looked up to see that Dumbledore had returned with a small tea set that seemed to match the Chinese motif of the verandah. He laid it gently down on the table in front of them and then sat down. Harry couldn't help but notice the older man's hands trembling as he tried to hold the teapot and pour some of its contents into Harry's cup.
"Here, let me hold it, sir," he said.
"Not sir, Harry."
"Sorry, I forgot."
Dumbledore smiled. "And I think I can manage. It isn't often I get visitors after all. Now, tell me then, Harry," he added as he finished pouring both cups. "What brings you all this way to sit down and chat with a very old man? You said it was something personal?"
Harry immediately felt a little embarrassed.
"I - I'm sorry, sir. I know you said I wasn't to bother you unless it was very important. It's just - well, it's about my daughter."
"Your daughter," repeated Dumbledore. "Yes, I remember now. No, I don't," he decided. "What was her name?"
"Ah, yes," said Dumbledore, holding a finger in the air. "Siosia. That was it. Very unusual name. Elfish, if memory serves me correctly. It means 'The New Becoming.' You named her after Ginny's young friend as I recall?"
"Yes, that's right," said Harry.
"Good." Dumbledore smiled. "It seems I haven't lost quite as many of my faculties as I'd feared. And how is her namesake these days?"
"I think she's an elder now, sir - sorry, Professor. The elves age much faster than we do. But Ginny still goes out to the village to see her from time to time."
"And they won't let you into the village?"
"No, I don't think they'll let anyone in anymore. No other wizards, that is. Only Ginny. And Siosia; our Siosia, I mean."
Dumbledore nodded. His features darkened for a moment but then he turned to Harry and smiled again.
"I'm sorry, Harry," he said. "I interrupted you. Please continue; about your daughter. Let's see." He frowned. "She should be - my, it won't be long now before she's old enough to start at Hogwarts, I expect."
"She's just started this year actually. I was sitting at the staff table when she was sorted. That was last weekend."
"Goodness me, how time flies. Sorry and so, what seems to be the problem?"
"Well, that's just it, Professor. She - she - well, she was sorted into - into Slytherin."
Harry glanced cautiously up at Dumbledore. He expected his former Headmaster to frown, perhaps even go very pale, especially when he considered the dire implications of this news, but Dumbledore continue to smile at him benignly.
"Go on," he said.
"I - I don't think you could have heard me correctly, sir."
"Merlin, I daresay probably not. I never hear anything very well these days, but I thought I heard you say that your daughter had been sorted last week into Slytherin house. Pray forgive me if I was mistaken."
"That's right, yes."
"Well, I mean - I don't know how she could ever have gotten in there. I'm worried - well, Ginny and I are both worried - I mean, do you remember when Voldemort - well, we thought maybe something of his essence might still be living inside me and maybe somehow I passed it on to Siosia. I mean - "
But Dumbledore was already shaking his head.
"I don't think so, Harry," he said. "Voldemort is gone and everything that was a part of him went with him. It's true that he passed along some of his essence to you. That is why you can speak Parseltongue. You may have other abilities besides that but as I often used to tell you, Harry, it is the choices we make that define who we are, not some inborn essence. Nor is sorting based on genes."
"But all of the Weasleys were in Gryffindor; and the Malfoys, for generations they were in Slytherin."
Dumbledore nodded. "It's true, Harry. Children sometimes follow their parents but that is because of the way they were raised."
"We never raised Siosia like that!" said Harry, a little angrily. "We always told her - "
"That Slytherin was an evil house full of dark wizards. For her sake, I hope you didn't, Harry."
"Well - "
"Tell me: what are the qualities you admire the most in your daughter."
"Well." Harry thought for a moment. "There are lots of things I - she's honest, not like a Slytherin; she works very hard; she's good to her friends a - and brave; she never backs away from anything, even if it gets her."
"It seems to me that you've managed to describe the positive qualities of all four of the houses."
"Well, yes, but - "
"Tell me, Harry. Is she perhaps a little ambitious?"
Harry thought for a moment. "No," he decided. "Not like a Slytherin anyway."
"I see. Then let me put it another way: does she have a desire to prove herself?"
Harry hesitated. "Yes, she does," he said slowly. "I mean, it's not easy being her."
Dumbledore nodded. "The only daughter of the Boy and Girl Who Lived has a large set of shoes to fill, don't you think?"
"Maybe, but we never - I mean, we never pushed her or anything."
"Yet she knows who you are. And believe me, Harry," Dumbledore added with a twinkle in his eye. "If she's anything like her parents then it wouldn't take very much."
Harry let Dumbledore's words sink in for a moment.
"So you think she was sorted into Slytherin because of us, but not because - I mean - that's an awful thing to think of really."
"Is it, Harry?"
"Well, yes. I mean, if what you're saying is true, then even without meaning to, we pushed her along a path that could lead her to become a dark wizard."
"And why is that?"
"Well, she's in - she's in Slytherin, isn't she? Look, could we - I mean isn't there some way we could undo this? There's been a mistake. She doesn't belong there!"
Dumbledore shook his head. "I'm afraid not, Harry. Not even I could do that and I wouldn't want to, either. But something you say surprises me. Are there many dark wizards still in Slytherin?"
"Well, I don't know, I - "
"Really, aren't you the Defense Against the Dark Arts Master?"
"Y - yes, but, I don't - I mean I only see them as students. I don't know if they - "
"Ah." Dumbledore raised a finger to the air again. "And who is the head of Slytherin house at the moment? Counselo Harmon isn't still there, is he?"
"Counselo retired four years ago. The head of Slytherin house now is Peter Hall. He was the Keeper for the Slytherin Quidditch team when I was a student; he was a year below me."
"Oh, yes, how well I remember. And is he a dark wizard, Harry?"
"If I remember correctly, wasn't he part of the group led by Professor McGonagall to lead the ill-fated raid on this lake?"
"Yes," said Harry slowly.
Dumbledore paused. "If you don't mind my saying, Harry, it doesn't seem there are many dark wizards still about."
Harry looked back at Dumbledore. It seemed his old headmaster could still manipulate a conversation to his own ends. But Harry wasn't going to let this die so easily.
"But we can't let our guard down, can we? I mean, evil can come from anywhere. That's what Ron's always saying, anyway."
"Precisely, Harry. And it seems you are still looking to find it from just one place. I wonder if you know much of the history of the Dark Lord Grindelwald."
"No," said Harry, a bit sheepishly, knowing full well it was Dumbledore who'd defeated him. "I'm afraid History of Magic was never my strong point."
"You do not know, for instance, which house he belonged to?"
"I - I assumed he was in Slytherin. Didn't Voldemort always admire him?"
"Indeed he did, Harry. But Grindelwald was in Ravenclaw and for a time, even well after his demise, I'm afraid the house had a very bad reputation. Ravenclaws were seen as being too clever, arrogant even, like a race of super-wizards believing themselves to be smarter than everyone else. Oh, yes, Harry," he added, as he read the look of surprise on the younger wizard's face. "The same themes often emerge in different disguises. Only when we understand that evil can germinate anywhere, even in our own hearts, can it truly fail to take us by surprise. No, Harry, there is nothing wrong with your daughter and I wish her and you the best of success."
Harry didn't reply right away. This wasn't really the answer he'd been hoping for. He was still skeptical and he was sure that Ginny would be even more skeptical than he was, but he had to admit it that talking to Dumbledore had made him feel a little bit more comfortable about the whole thing. He'd just never thought of his own daughter - the daughter that he and Ginny had raised with all of the love and care they shared with each other - would turn out to end up in Slytherin. He looked up at Dumbledore again and found the old wizard smiling back at him.
"Listen to me, Harry," he said. "Mistakes are just as easily made from the intransigence of age as the recklessness of youth. I believe you and your friends may have taught me that once upon a time. It wouldn't do you well to forget the lesson now, would it?"
Harry sighed. "No," he said. "I suppose not."
"Good," said Dumbledore brightly. "That settles that then. Tell me, Harry, how is Ginny?"
Harry felt a feeling of warmth mount in his heart as he heard her name spoken, even now, even after they'd been married all these years.
"She's - she's wonderful," he said. "She's stubborn, strong-willed but gentle and kind and understanding all at the same time. I - I - I'm a very lucky wizard, I suppose."
"I rather think you may have had some luck coming to you, Harry."
"Yes, yes, I suppose so."
"Actually, I wondered how Ginny was doing, though," said Dumbledore, with a twinkle in his eye.
"Oh, oh, right, sorry. She's fine. She's - she's still working at the Ministry. Magical Beasts Relations Office. Hermione and her group lobby them all of the time."
"And I take it she has a sympathetic ear?"
"Yeah, I think S.L.E.D. get most of whatever they want, at least if Ginny has anything to say about it."
Harry frowned for a moment.
"I still wonder though, sir - whether Ginny - well, I mean - "
"You worry she might go up in a puff of smoke one day?"
"Yeah, well, something like that."
Dumbledore shook his head again. "If she would have, it would have been a long time ago. She'll be in this world as long as you, Harry; perhaps even longer. You should have faith in your father as I told you long ago."
Harry nodded but frowned again.
"I still think about them. I mean my Dad and Mum and Sirius. Ginny came back but - well, sometimes I still feel a bit responsible and I still miss them."
"You'd be a very callous person not to, Harry," said Dumbledore gently, "but try to remember that many more lives would have been lost if it weren't for you and Ginny, as would their very souls have been also."
Harry nodded again.
"Tell me, how is Ron doing? Is he still an Auror?"
"Yeah, he just got transferred to a desk job at the Ministry, a little bit like the one Professor Nevins used to have. Hermione's relieved; I suppose I am, too."
"Please congratulate him for me, will you? I know it hasn't always been easy for him."
Harry nodded. "He was two years late starting. I remember how happy he was when he finally made it into Auror training on the third try. Then he took a lot of slack for how much older he was, but he didn't give up."
Dumbledore sighed lightly. "You know why Minerva wouldn't write him that letter, I hope. It wasn't because she didn't think he would be a fine Auror. She would have had to tell the truth about what happened on that mission so many years ago."
"I know," said Harry. "I think Ron knows, too, deep down."
"And you still keep in touch with your old friends?"
Harry smiled a little reflectively.
"We have our Sunday afternoon drink at the Three Broomsticks. And sometimes I go up to London for things; if I'm not busy, I always stop in the Ministry and sometimes we go to lunch. Ron's come to talk to my class before, too."
"Every Sunday?" asked Dumbledore.
"Every Sunday," said Harry, with a slight bit of conviction.
Harry looked at his cup of tea and then drank the rest of the contents. Dumbledore moved to pour more into his cup but Harry waved him away with his hand.
"I'm sorry, Professor," he said, "but I think I'd better be getting back to Ginny now. She's waiting with Siosia on the other side of the forest. I expect I've kept you long enough anyway."
But Dumbledore looked a little old and sad.
"I understand, Harry," he said. "But do come back to see me sometime. And bring Ginny and your wonderful daughter with you. I fear in my self-importance I may have isolated myself a little too much."
"I will," Harry promised.
Dumbledore got to his feet. "Come with me; I'll see you off."
"Are you sure, Professor?"
"Yes, Harry, I'm afraid so. I'm the only way off this island. Another little defense."
Harry nodded. He walked behind Dumbledore slowly, trying not to appear impatient, as the old headmaster made his way over to the edge of the island and the small makeshift raft. It wasn't all that long before he had pushed away from the shore and Harry found himself heading back toward the forest at the south end of the lake where he'd first arrived and where long ago he and the others had made their escape. He could just about make out where the newer trees had grown from the day when the improbable tidal wave had raged up from the shore to crush them, but that was the only untoward sign that anything violent had ever taken place on this seemingly tranquil lake. He looked back at Dumbledore and gave a small start when he realized he'd returned to his myocorp disguise.
"Precautions, Harry," said the myocorp in Dumbledore's voice.
They continued their passage to the far end of the lake. Harry got to his feet; fearing the old man's frailty, he resisted Dumbledore's attempts to hold onto his arm and steer him safely away from the raft to the shore, but once he had planted his feet steadily enough on the muddy bank, Harry looked back at the headmaster one more time.
"I must be off," said the myocorp. "It's not good for me to remain away from the island for long. Every now and then I have to rescue a myocorp or a goblin - even the odd Muggle child - who's lost himself staring into the lake, but I usually try to return as quickly as possible."
Harry nodded. "Thank you," he said. "I think this has helped."
Dumbledore nodded. "I'm glad to hear that a tea-drinking old man can still occasionally be of use." He looked at Harry curiously. "I wonder, though, Harry, if you wouldn't mind satisfying my curiosity on one last simple matter."
The myocorp peered at him thoughtfully for a moment. "Are you happy, Harry?"
Harry stared at Dumbledore for a moment. This was not the question he'd been expecting. He thought for a moment: was he happy? He'd come to visit the headmaster in an anxious frame of mind: the demons and nightmares of his past had been given new life by his present worries, but did that make him unhappy? Wasn't he only anxious because he was afraid that Voldemort would return, in one form or another, and destroy the life he had come to love? Ginny's face suddenly appeared before his eyes, then Siosia's, then his parents standing in front of him somewhere up there beyond the gateway. He thought of his students, of his work, of his Sunday afternoons with Hermione and Ron. Even the horrible pain and loss he had known in his life, while no less painful, had led him to everything for which he was now so grateful. Harry slowly looked up and nodded.
"Good," said Dumbledore. "That is all I really needed to know. I hope we'll see each other again, soon, Harry. Until then, you have my sincerest wishes for continued happiness."
Dumbledore turned the small raft around and slowly began to punt it out into deeper waters. He did not turn around again.
Harry knew that he had to be going but he found himself watching as Dumbledore maneuvered the raft further out into the lake, finally fading almost but not completely from sight. He felt a sudden tug on his hand and looked down at the wizard ring which was tied next to his wedding band. They hadn't been connected when he'd been on Dumbledore's island. Now, Harry could sense Ginny's anxiousness. He tried to feel his own calm into the ring, soothing her feelings just as they had both comforted each other so many times in the thirteen years since they'd first been joined, chasing the phantom shadows that still sometimes haunted them both long before they were ever allowed to loom too high in their lives. Harry wanted to return to tell Ginny what Dumbledore had said, to try to calm her more, to persuade her to give Siosia a chance in Slytherin just as Dumbledore had suggested. He turned his eyes away from Dumbledore and started to walk up the hill away into the forest.
But something made him stop and turn around. Something that Dumbledore had said to him. He walked slowly back to the water and looked at his reflection one last time.
Could it really be? Could the small boy who had once peered into the Mirror of Erised to look at the reflection of himself standing next to his parents really have achieved the happiness that Dumbledore had told him about all those many years ago? When he first came to the edge of the lake, he'd assumed the magic had been faulty or that Dumbledore had altered the charm somehow, but now it seemed that was not the case.
He looked down into the water more closely, but nothing had changed. There he was - just him, just as he was - Harry Potter - with all the joy and pain that had ever been visited upon him: the black-rimmed glasses; the once untidy now receding hairline; and even the familiar jagged lines of his lightning bolt scar.