A/N: This has been sitting in my documents folder forever. I did plan to add more at some point but life just got in the way so I'm posting it as it stands, in the hope that some reviews might give me the boost I need to reconnect to this story As always, much love and appreciation to those special people who have been troopers and stuck with it, and to those who have reviewed. I love you all!
"But if I'm to play a part in this..." he started, only to be cut off as the Headmaster stood fluidly and turned to look down at him.
"And as soon as we know what part that may be you shall be included Harry. Until then my boy I'd rather, as I have said, you remained here."
"Harry..."Dumbledore shook his head gently, signalling an end to the conversation. Harry settled for pressing his lips together in agitation.
A slightly strained silence fell. The soft strains of music from the other room filtered through the doorway.
Dumbledore's sigh was loud in the resulting quiet.
"I told you all of this so that if indeed you find yourself in such a position you will be as informed and prepared as is possible in such circumstances Harry. I do not however wish to thrust upon you the responsibility offindingsuch a solution. Which is exactly what I would be doing if I invited you to attend the upcoming meeting. Do you understand?"
Harry nodded. He hadn't thought about it like that. His guardian was trying to look after him and here he was, acting like a sulky child.
"Sorry," he said as he too stood, trying to reign in some of his conspicuously absent maturity. A soft smile acknowledged the apology.
"It is late. You should try to get some sleep, my boy. Tomorrow will be here before we know it."
Harry would have argued that he had not long awoken but decided to bite his tongue. He was trying to be mature after all.
"Yes sir. I'll just go say goodnight," he said instead, turning for the doorway. A hand at his arm halted his progress and he turned back to the Headmaster in question. Dumbledore fished a small familiar bottle from one of his voluminous pockets and held it out for Harry to take.
"I think perhaps you may have need of this tonight. I imagine one nightmare in a day is one too many, hmm?"
Harry accepted the small bottle of Dreamless Sleep Potion with a grateful smile. Well he was no longer worried about lying awake for hours, staring at the unfamiliar ceiling trying to figure things out.
"Thanks, sir," He responded gratefully, before turning and, with much on his mind, walked towards the quiet voices ahead
Harry awoke to the droning masculine rumble of voices in the distance. For a moment he lay, eyes closed, listening. He was warm and drowsy, a side effect of a decent night's sleep and for a moment or two he was content to enjoy the comfortable embrace of the mattress and heavy quilt as he followed the indistinct buzz of conversation.
He couldn't make out what was being said but found he could, in his semi awareness, distinguish to whom the voices belonged. Professor Dumbledore's tones were rasping and gravelly with age but still held a deep enough resonance to carry across a room full of students, as Harry himself had witnessed several times in the Great Hall. A softer, clearer tone was easily identified as Moony, Harry smiled sleepily, but again there were no words to pick up on, just a hum of vibration in varying tones like a favourite song being played in the distance.
Harry's arms stuck out in awkward angles as he stretched mightily, his toes curling beneath the covers as he forced his sleepy muscles to awaken. Reaching for his glasses, he slipped them on, sat blinking groggily at the bright day beyond the windows for a full minute before he stood and scrubbed the last vestiges of sleep from his face.
After a brief trip to the loo to brush his teeth and to take care of other essentials, he slipped his feet into a pair of warm socks from the wardrobe and made his way to the source of continuing conversation.
As he descended the wide, worn stone steps soundlessly he could see Remus and Dumbledore seated at a round table he hadn't noticed the day before. It stood before one the tall wide windows which made up the majority of the furthest wall and was covered, from what Harry could see, with various books, parchments and discarded quills. As he reached the bottom step his guardian looked up and smiled widely, his gaze alerting Lupin to Harry's presence.
"Good Morning, Harry!" Dumbledore beamed happily, his full attention on the still sleepy boy shuffling towards them.
Harry smiled and raised a hand quickly in acknowledgment as he closed the distance. Remus, he noted, had turned, one arm across the back of his chair to observe Harry's approach.
"Mornin'" Harry returned quietly, wishing he had taken the time to shower and change before he left his room. It became clear to him as he neared that both wizards had obviously been up and about for quite some time.
Dumbledore flicked his wand and another chair materialised between the two currently occupied. Harry plopped down on it, feeling rather self-conscious.
"How did you sleep, Harry?" Remus asked, his head tilted to better see his young friend's eyes.
"M'ok, I guess. The potion pretty much knocks me out," Harry replied around a huge yawn that he covered just in time with his hand. He used the same hand to support his head as he cast his slightly watering eyes over the documents littering the table. It appeared the aforementioned research had started in earnest.
"I do believe that said potion has yet to run its full course. You still appear tired," the Headmaster commented quietly, and Harry could feel his guardian's gaze and familiar magic as the wizard studied him.
"It has been too long since you oversaw the dormitories Albus, you seem to have forgotten the near Neanderthal-type awakening of teenagers across all four houses. Trust me when I say that Mr Potter is no different than his peers."
Harry both blushed and glowered (as much as he dared) at his Transfigurations Professor who had appeared, as silently as Harry's entrance, directly behind him. His mortification was made worse by both Dumbledore and Remus' amused chuckles and knowing looks.
"Perhaps some breakfast will seek to enliven you further Mr Potter. Come along," McGonagall directed, and with a last, almost pleading look to the men, both of whom wore identical expressions of restrained mirth, Harry stood and again followed behind his strict teacher to the parlour.
In the end it transpired, not surprisingly, that his Professor was correct. After polishing off a steaming plate of cooked sausages, potato cakes, bacon and eggs, Harry was indeed feeling more energetic and awake than he had just a half hour before. He drained his glass of what remained of his orange juice with enjoyment. Professor McGonagall had breezed around the room as he ate but at the sound of his empty glass hitting the table, she stopped again at his side.
"Better?" she asked knowingly, her eyes behind her glasses softened with kindness. Harry smiled a little ruefully back.
"Yes, thanks. Can I go shower and change?" he asked, now acutely aware of his grubbiness and dishevelled mismatched pyjamas. Professor McGonagall's lips thinned for a moment, as though she had heard something particularly unpleasant, but eventually they relaxed and she smiled a little stiffly at him.
"You need not ask Harry. Please feel free to treat the castle as your home for however long you are here," she replied instead. Harry couldn't help but notice that she addressed him by his first name whenever her eyes took on that distinctive shine.
"Thanks," he said gratefully, before standing and heading back into the main room. He had just rounded the stairs and was crouching to employ a burst of speed up them when a voice called his name from behind. He sprung from his slightly bent stoop and used the energy to spin around, his previous grogginess completely gone.
Professor Dumbledore's eyes wrinkled around the edges as he approached; the scalloped creases above his nose smoothing as he glided closer. Harry could see Remus over the Headmaster's shoulder, exactly where he had left him, the wizard's head bent over a thick tomb.
"It appears Minerva's solution proved most successful Harry. You certainly seem reenergised," the old wizard commented serenely, coming to stand before the bright eyed teenager. As Harry was standing on the first step he was, for the first time, almost on eye level with the Headmaster. He absently wondered if he would ever grow to be so tall.
"I was just going up to get dressed, sir," Harry explained, his mind already moving onto what activities he would likely be involved in that day. The question of what his involvement would be in the efforts to release Snape from Voldemort's hold still burned brightly at the forefront and he was determined to get answers, one way or another.
Harry noted the twitch in Dumbledore's bottom lip and surmised his guardian had probably gleamed some of Harry's thoughts. It surprised him to realise he had begun to recognise such subtle signs in the Headmaster.
"Yes, I thought as much, which is why I wanted to warn you now of my probable absence when you finish, my boy."
Harry felt the same sense of unease he had experienced when the Headmaster left Hogwarts to go to the Ministry some days before.
"You're going to the meeting?" Harry clarified, in case anything else had cropped up whilst he was still in bed. He tried for a nonchalant tone and stance, deliberately moving to lean against the thick curving banister beside him.
Dumbledore paused before answering, his ever observant eyes missing nothing. Harry looked down to where his hands were tying his pyjama trouser's drawstring into knots and stopped, looking back up with a self conscious half smile. So much for playing it cool, he thought.
"Yes. I'm not sure how long it will last but I doubt more than a few hours Harry. And having ascertained that number 12, Grimmauld Place remains secure, I feel you have very little to worry about." Albus reassured his young ward, noting the slight flinch at the mention of Headquarters' address.
The last thing Harry wanted was to be seen as being clingy. The very thought of it made him shudder with embarrassment and shame but he was very aware that concern for his guardian's welfare – not to mention Remus and the other members of the Order – could easily be misconstrued as such.
"I'm not worried...," he started to say but the raised bushy white eyebrows on Dumbledore's face stopped him short. He squirmed slightly against the banister, the sole of one socked foot rubbing against the lip of the last step. He sighed resignedly.
"Ok, maybe I am but I can't help it," he finally admitted, some of his frustration colouring his tone.
"No more than I can help worrying over you I am sure Harry," Dumbledore readily admitted, "we cannot however allow our concerns to affect us to such a degree that we become unable to carry out our day-to-day lives. The war is already over if such a mentality takes hold."
"Hear hear," Remus softly injected, coming to stand beside Dumbledore. His warm brown eyes crinkled in kindness as he smiled softly at Harry.
"We'll be back before you know it. With hopefully more answers than questions," he reminded Harry, whose expression quickly changed to thoughtful curiosity.
"Which reminds me," Dumbledore muttered, his hands digging in his pockets for a moment before re-emerging with a fistful of tightly rolled scrolls. Harry secretly wondered just how deep Dumbledore's pockets were.
"These arrived for you this morning Harry. I'm sure your friends are eager to hear from you considering their rather abrupt and premature departure from school," the Headmaster advised, passing the correspondence into Harry's outstretched hand.
"There's been so much going on..." Harry guiltily explained, feeling horrible for not writing sooner.
"I'm sure they will understand. Molly, as far as I have been informed, has reassured your friends as to your good health. They remain ignorant, however, of your current whereabouts and I would rather it stayed that way for the time being, my boy," Dumbledore insisted.
Remus had just opened his mouth to add something when a commotion from behind stole his attention. A bright flash of orange flames preceded the arrival of Dumbledore's familiar, Fawkes. But unlike his usual appearance, which was spectacular in itself, the phoenix appeared amidst the glow and roar of fire with his tail held firmly by the petite hand of Nymphadora Tonks.
Harry's mouth dropped open at the sight.
Tonks seemed to stagger slightly when her hand slipped from the feathers above her and immediately Remus and Dumbledore were at her side, Remus' hand clasped around her upper arm. Tonks, whose eyes had so far been almost comically squeezed together, opened them to stare in astonishment at the faces around her.
"Wow. Head rush," she smiled, shaking her head slightly as though to clear it.
"I admit it does take some getting used to my dear. Are you quite alright?" Dumbledore enquired solicitously, his hand mirroring Remus' as he closed it over the curve of her shoulder.
Fawkes soared overhead, his huge wingspan carrying him effortlessly around the circumference of the room before he swooped down to land gracefully on the banister beside Harry. Harry looked from a clearly dazed Tonks to Fawkes, his hand automatically smoothing the scarlet feathers across his back.
"Ah Nymphadora, you're here..." Professor McGonagall stated rather redundantly as she came into sight, though Harry couldn't help but notice from the statement that the young Auror had obviously been expected.
"Fawkes seen to that Professor," Tonks acknowledged, nodding to both wizards hovering protectively over her to signal she was fine.
"Wotcher Harry!" Tonks grinned as her gaze travelled to the staircase. Harry couldn't help but grin back as he stepped down, his eyes drawn to the scarlet shock of hair, the exact colour of Fawkes' plumage, sticking out in all directions.
"Hallo Tonks. That was some entrance," Harry joked, coming to stand before her.
"Wasn't it? Sure beats falling out the floo," she winked, giggling a little when Harry blushed. Apparently his inaptitude at flooing was known far and wide, he thought a little mulishly.
"We'll be off then," Dumbledore announced, turning to stare quite seriously at Tonks. Harry noticed she stood a little straighter under the gaze.
"You know what to do in case of emergency?" the Headmaster questioned, his voice easily carrying the seriousness of the subject.
"Yes, sir," Tonks replied respectfully.
Dumbledore held her gaze a moment longer before he nodded and bestowed a fond smile, his hand resting again for a moment on her arm.
"I am sure all will be quiet Nymphadora," Harry saw her grimace slightly at the use of her full name, "but I feel better knowing you are here if I am proven wrong," he finished, turning towards Harry at the young Auror's pleased blush.
"As you have probably deduced for yourself, my boy, clever as you are, young Miss Tonks will be here in our absence to watch ove.."Dumbledore paused at Harry's developing frown. He smiled indulgently as he continued, "That is to say, to keep you company Harry."
Harry noticed Remus and McGonagall shrugging on their outer cloaks from the corner of his eye. He nodded once, the same prickly feeling of dread swirling in his stomach. Dumbledore hesitated for a moment as he watched the play of emotions cross the young boy's face. For a moment Harry thought he might say something else but instead the elderly wizard briefly placed his warm hand atop Harry's head before he too turned towards the entrance hall.
Remus paused at Harry, letting his two former colleagues pass him by.
"We'll be back soon. Be good," Remus jested, his hands briefly squeezing Harry's upper arms before he too swept from the room.
After a few beats the loud cracks of apparition echoed across the countryside and Harry stopped himself from sighing out loud.
"Nice P.J's by the way," Tonks commented into the quiet, making a show of looking him up and down. Harry blushed furiously, the heat of rushing blood crawling over his neck and cheeks enough to distract him from his anxiety. He met Tonk's golden eyes briefly before looking down at himself, mortified at his appearance.
"Uh, yeah, I was just going to get ready when you appeared," he explained, his hands smoothing down his rather wrinkled muggle t-shirt. Tonks smiled wider, her usual buzzing energy as present as ever.
"Well don't let me stop you Harry. I'm gonna be busy for the next half hour anyway. Professor Dumbledore asked me to add a few wards to the castle while I'm here," she confided, seemingly pleased with the opportunity to do so.
Harry promised not to take too long as he promptly backed away before turning and, as was his intention previously, dashed up the worn steps in the direction of his room.
Twenty three minutes later found Harry sitting on his bed, his concentration on the unfurled scrolls in his hands. Showered and dressed in faded jeans, a plain white t-shirt and his customary zippered hoodie, he ignored the occasional drops of cold water that ran from his water flattened hair to the collar of his t-shirt as his eyes slowly progressed down the length of parchment.
Hermione's neatly penned letter read much the same as Ron's, Harry discovered, the only difference being his bushy haired friend used twice as many words and a biro pen in order to cram them tightly together.
Both were concerned, curious and frustrated with the lack of information. Well Harry certainly knew that feeling. Now, at least, they had an idea of how he had felt last summer, he thought a little uncharitably. He re-rolled the scroll and placed it, like the others, in the little bedside cabinet drawer. He'd ask Professor McGonagall for some spare parchment when she returned so he could write back and reassure his friends. He really didn't want their summers ruined sitting worrying over him, he thought more kindly.
Reaching down he wrestled his feet into his trainers and grabbing his wand, he headed back downstairs. He found the living room empty as he reached the bottom step and looked curiously around, his legs carrying him to the parlour. Again he found it empty, and after pausing a moment to appreciate the calmer seas beyond the window, he hesitantly made his way to the doorway at the other side.
The door opened into a warm, sweet smelling kitchen whose wide expanse of butcher block worktops gleamed in the brightening light filtering in through the far window.
"Harry Potter! Is you be's needing something?" Wicky asked politely, having appeared from around the island cabinets in the centre of the room. Harry smiled down at the elf and stepped further into the sparkling kitchen.
"I was just looking for Tonks," Harry explained, a note of question in his voice.
"Miss Dora is being outside Harry Potter. You be's better to wait inside me thinks." She advised solemnly, her hands dusting flour from the apron tied around her tiny waist.
Harry looked around the kitchen again as the allusive sunlight broke through the shifting cloud and spilled in through the high window, its rays causing the stainless steel scattered throughout to twinkle and shine. He tried very hard not to think of rolling green fields, fresh sea breezes and Quiddich.
"Yeah.." he sighed dejectedly, almost missing the Dursley's small but well tended garden.
A flash of fire at the far of the kitchen startled Harry from his thoughts. It was Fawkes and not, as Harry had first imagined an unfortunate cooking accident.
"Fawksey be scaring young Harry!" Wicky angrily accused, her long finger pointed as she tottered towards the rather regal looking phoenix. Fawkes warbled a clear note in apology, its effects instantly lightening the mood of both elf and boy. Harry watched as the phoenix bent it neck towards the elf, preening a little as Wicky scratched the scarlet and gold feathers around his neck.
"Silly Fawksey." Wicky accused good naturedly, her previous anger seemingly forgotten.
Another doorway, facing the one Harry had entered through, swung open to reveal Tonks, her hands rubbing against each other as though to heat them up. She smiled brightly when she noticed Harry, her cheeks still red from being outside.
"Still a bit nippy out there," she reported, "It's a wonder the Scots don't pack up and head south for the summer."
Harry grinned, caught up in his friend's contagiously good mood.
"Did you finish the wards?" he asked, regretful he hadn't been able to watch as the Auror worked.
"Sure did. I also added a few of my own Harry. Auror tricks of the trade you know?" she winked, coming to stand before Harry. Harry noticed, quite happily, that they were roughly the same height.
"You'll never guess what I found.." Tonks teased, obviously delighted with her secret knowledge and dying for an opportunity to share it.
Harry shrugged as he spoke, leaning forward slightly to hear the answer. "Voldemort's hairdresser?" he jokingly guessed, smiling broadly as Tonks laughed out loud.
"Even better than that! Follow me."
Harry trailed in Tonk's wake as she led him out the other door, along a side corridor and into what appeared to be McGonagall's study. Harry hesitated at the doorway.
The room appeared smaller due the floor to ceiling bookshelves covering every available wall space, their slightly bevelled shelves packed tightly with the multicoloured spines of books of various heights. A large, neatly organised desk stood to one side, short stacks of slightly curling parchment arranged in piles to one side. The chair behind the desk was similar to the one Dumbledore had in his office, or at least Harry thought so; it was hard to tell with a green tartan shawl draped over the cushioned back. A small, cabriole legged table stood under the one narrow archers window, its gleaming surface filled with very muggle looking photo frames filled with still, non magical photos.
Harry looked over at Tonks, who was bouncing on her toes a little in the middle of the room.
"Should we even be in here?" he asked uncomfortably, feeling as though he were trespassing.
"Course we should! McGonagall said to make myself at home when she asked me to come. Anyway you haven't seen what I wanted to show you yet!" she encouraged, nodding her head towards the corner Harry couldn't see from his position at the threshold. He slowly entered the room, as though scared his Professor was about to jump out from a dusty corner and shout at him.
He blinked in shock. An old fashioned television sat on a Chippendale table, its slightly curved glass reflecting the room around them. Harry scoffed in amazement, feeling a little like Mowgli as he stumbled across civilisation.
"Does it even work?" he asked incredulously, thinking of the various muggle devices that his fellow students had tried, and failed, to make work at Hogwarts.
"Only one way to find out!" Tonks grinned, tripping slightly as she crouched in front of it.
"That's just daft. He already knows she's not going to cop to it," Tonks commented, her hand digging in the wide bowl of popcorn nestled between them.
After finding out the TV did, in fact, work, Tonks had conjured an overstuffed sofa in front of it and both she and Harry had sat, munching on the popcorn happily provided by Wicky, for the last two hours, their attention now on an afternoon movie. The old black and white film seemed almost fitting in their current surroundings.
"She's trying to lure him in. I bet you the rest of the popcorn she tries something," Harry responded, feeling less on edge than he did earlier. He couldn't, however, stop his eyes from occasionally resting on the carriage clock ensconced between books on the shelves facing them.
"Using her feminine wiles eh Harry?" Tonks winked, chucking at Harry's predictable blush.
"I meant the gun in the umbrella stand," he clarified, giving Tonks a mock glare.
Both turned their attention back to the screen. Harry had, after watching Tonks confidently use the remote, discovered that the metamorphmagus had a wide screen TV at her London flat, as well as pretty much every other gadget known to muggle-kind. He couldn't help but think that Mr Weasley would be a hard guest to get rid of if he ever stopped by for afternoon tea.
The ominous musical tones of impending drama brought his attention back to the screen just as the aforementioned woman aimed her pearl handled pistol at the leading detective.
"Ha! Told you," he laughed, pulling the bowl more firmly to his side in the process.
"Ah. Humphrey Bogart. I met him once, years ago. Nice chap."
Harry whipped his head around so quickly at the sound of another voice he very nearly upset the whole bowl. Professor Dumbledore leaned casually against the inside of the doorway, arms crossed, his twinkling eyes taking in the scene before him. Harry jumped up from his seat, relief and awkwardness vying for dominance. He settled for relief as he met his guardian's eyes.
"Professor! I didn't hear you come back, sir," Harry said, hearing the orchestral music again swell around them as the final scene played out.
"No reason you would, my boy. The others have remained behind to hash out some final Order related business. I was no longer strictly needed." Dumbledore turned his attention to Tonks.
"And let me compliment the additional wards Nymphadora. The tripping and tickling hexes you incorporated made for an unexpected but exciting trip across the gardens," he winked, smiling further as the young Auror blushed with embarrassment.
"I'll be heading off then Professor. I've got to get back to London before Kinsley returns from Headquarters. He'll have my neck if I don't finish my reports today," she admitted with a guilty smile, turning to gaze fondly at Harry.
"And you," she started, before suddenly swinging an arm around his shoulders and pulling his head beneath it, her other hand scrubbing the squirming teens wild hair with her knuckles.
"Geroff!" Harry panted, his face flushed but grinning. He leaned away, panting, when the deceptively strong arm loosened and fell away.
"Look after yourself Harry. And get cracking with the books, we won't have any slackers in the Auror department," she warned, though her eyes gleamed with a fondness Harry had seen before.
"Thank-you Nymphadora," Dumbledore acknowledged as the Auror passed him, nodding in farewell as she went.
Harry reached up and tried to flatten his hair though he knew it was probably a lost cause. Dumbledore stood from the doorway and wand in hand, vanished the sofa taking up most of the floor space. The half empty bowl of popcorn floated serenely through the air to land on McGonagall's desk. Harry flicked the switch at the side of the TV and the picture, as though caught in a whirlpool, shrank into the centre of the screen before disappearing with a small whine of farewell. The silence was loud in the resulting quiet.
"I'm afraid I ruined the ending for you Harry." Dumbledore apologised as again he swept his wand and two, equally stuffed but more elaborately decorated chairs spun into existence. He indicated Harry should take one as he sank into the other.
"That's ok. I pretty much figured out what was going to happen anyway," Harry dismissed, dropping into the comfortable chair.
"Which is more than we can say regarding our current dilemma; I'm sure you are curious to know what transpired at the meeting?" Dumbledore asked, though it was obvious to both what the answer would be. Wicky appeared at that moment with a steaming cup of tea held in both her small hands. She traversed the carpeted room carefully.
"Ah thank-you Wicky. You read an old man's mind," Albus said kindly, taking the offered cup and saucer from the elf. Wicky scampered off as soon as she was free of her burden.
"Did it not go well then, sir?" Harry enquired, feeling the copious amounts of popcorn he had eaten swill slowly in his stomach.
"It went as well as I had imagined, Harry, which is to say that after much discussion, and, in some cases, arguing, my original idea continues to be the easiest way forward for all involved." Dumbledore sipped calmly at his tea, his great head of hair catching the afternoon's sunlight as it streamed in a wedge across the room.
"Is that not a good thing?"
Dumbledore seemed to consider the question for a moment, his lips pursed in thought.
"It is certainly preferable to having no options," he finally responded. While Harry agreed with the sentiment, he was beginning to believe that Dumbledore would never enlighten him as to what exactly this idea was. As though reading his thoughts, something Harry alternatively found disconcerting and reassuring, the Headmaster rested his saucer and cup on his knee and looked enquiringly at Harry over the tops of his glasses.
"Tell me Harry. How much do you know about the Dark Mark?"
The question surprised Harry and for a moment or two he said nothing. He eventually managed to kick his mind into action and thought back to what he had witnessed in the past few years.
"Not that much Professor," he admitted. "I know that Voldemort uses it to call his Death Eaters to him, and that he can inflict torture through it, obviously. Umm. That's about it, sir," Harry finished, feeling as though he should have known more.
"There is very little known beyond those facts," Albus reassured Harry, "except of course by those who have chosen to have the mark branded on their arm."
"Snape," Harry realised aloud, though he immediately recognised a glimmer of disapproval in the Headmaster's eyes.
"Professor Snape, is indeed a rare source of knowledge on the marks inception, use and powers, yes. It is for that reason he was present at today's meeting."
Well at least Harry now knew why there had been arguments.
"As I have said before, the dark mark is a powerful form of magic, used to tether a witch or wizard permanently to the castor much like, it pains me to admit, our magical ancestors – who took it upon themselves to bind those of lesser power to their households to perform as slaves and objects of torment. I think you will agree, my boy, that the current dark mark holds true to its original purpose."
Harry nodded, rather sickened at the revealing insight into his own kind.
"My guess is that a young Tom Riddle, who at the time was travelling the globe in search of the deepest and darkest magic's, stumbled across a version of the mark and immediately set to work in making it his own. Tom always was one for planning ahead," Dumbledore added, his deep voice sad despite his dark sarcasm. He seemed to shake off the gloomy thoughts a moment later however and sighed, his eyes alive with knowledge as they again focussed on Harry.
"The young, emerging Lord Voldemort needed a way of ensuring, distrustful as he is, that his followers would have no way of either turning on him or abandoning the cause he so fiercely advocated. Can you guess what his considerations might have been when deciding on how best to achieve this? Bearing in mind what I have told you regarding his discoveries?"
Harry sighed, his forehead creasing as he tried, a little reluctantly, to put himself in Voldemort's shoes.
"Well I suppose he would have wanted something only he could control, I mean it wouldn't work if any other wizard, or those who had the mark could easily change it or control its power, right?" he looked to Dumbledore for confirmation, who smiled widely and nodded for him to continue.
"And I guess it would have to be something that couldn't be removed. It wouldn't be much worth much, to him I mean, if his followers could easily cast it off." Harry reasoned, warming to the subject.
"Indeed Harry," the Headmaster encouraged, his mouth lifted at one side. Harry paused, his eyes drifting to the archer's window as he continued to think.
"And, well, I suppose it would need to be a secret. If everyone knew what he was casting, they could probably find a counter spell or some other way of getting rid of it." He finished, looking back at Dumbledore for his opinion.
"Very well reasoned, dear boy! Had we been at Hogwarts I would have proudly awarded points for such fine deduction," Dumbledore gushed, causing Harry to squirm a little in his seat despite his obviously pleased smile.
"So we have a unique and dark spell created for Tom's own nefarious purposes, unchangeable, irremovable and unknown to the wizardling world at large." Dumbledore summarised, and Harry nodded his agreement, bringing his legs up to sit Indian style as he leaned forward.
"But then, Harry, what is to stop Tom's followers, who have witnessed and indeed felt the agony of accepting the magical binding, from telling their experience to others? Including, most importantly, the precise incantation used? We already know after all, from our own Professor Snape, that there are no such restrictions in place."
Harry deflated slightly, his brow again furrowed. The silence lasted only a few seconds before Dumbledore continued, much to Harry's relief.
"I'll give you a clue. What if the incantation used to apply the mark was in a language not known or understood amongst the masses? One that could not be repeated?"
Harry held Dumbledore's gaze for a charged moment, realisation creeping in.
"You mean another foreign language, sir? Like German or, or French?" he stuttered, stalling for time.
"No, no my boy. A language much less common than those – a language only a privileged few have the ability to speak and understand. I think you realise where this is going," the Headmaster gently pointed out, his hand placing his half full cup and saucer on the small, photo filled table.
Harry rubbed his hands across the rough surface of his jeans, his gaze searching Dumbledore's face. The Headmaster seemed to realise that the teen was having difficulty voicing what he had already realised.
"Parseltongue Harry. The language of serpents. I doubt Voldemort foresaw his passing the rare talent to you much later in life when he first created the incantation." Albus explained gently, watching the teenager carefully.
Harry looked down at the carpet between them, watching the dust drift lazily in the shaft of light coming through the window. His ability to speak Parseltongue had always been a bone of contention for Harry. From the moment it had emerged its use had very nearly always caused a headache for him. The snake at the zoo, the rumours around the Chamber of Secrets, the basilisk and his connection with Voldemort – all had been stressful and emotional times in Harry's life and as a result he had come to see his 'talent' as more of a curse. As he allowed the thought to sink in however, he realised that this was clearly a chance for him to utilise his ability for the greater good and, hopefully, a chance to change his opinion of his rare and adopted talent.
"I imagine Voldemort won't be pleased if he discovers I'm using his own magic against him," Harry finally said, raising his eyes again.
Dumbledore's cheeks twitched, as though a smirk was fighting to be released.
"No I imagine he won't," he agreed, appearing to be content again.
Harry sat back in his chair, his toes digging into the upholstered cushion.
"But I don't know how to incant in Parseltongue, sir. Or what I should say," Harry pointed out; worried it wasn't as simple as the Headmaster first thought. Perhaps his teachers presumed he could? If that was the case they were sure to be disappointed.
"I'm not too worried about that Harry," Albus dismissed, "The language is very rarely the key to successfully casting a spell, as I am sure you have discussed in Charms. Indeed, the spells, curses and charms we teach today are derived from an assortment of ancient languages; Aramaic, Latin, Greek and English being the most common. It is the intention and force of will that ultimately count, and in this case of course, the ability to counter said spell in the same tongue. As for the incantation – I doubt it will be too difficult to figure out. Tom's supreme confidence in his own abilities, in particular his singular ability to converse with snakes, very likely made him complacent when designing the Dark Mark. I imagine he would have used the most direct instruction simply because he could."
Harry looked slightly doubtful.
"But there is only one way of proving all of this, my boy. On your feet, wand out," he instructed suddenly, his own wand slipping in to his hand as he unfolded his tall body from the chair. Harry unfolded his legs and stood, looking nervous as he fumbled in his pocket for his wand. He blushed as the long length of wood snagged for a moment on the material of his hoodie, before finally breaking free.
Dumbledore's forehead creased, his silver, opulent robes shimmering slightly as he took a step forward.
"You need not be nervous Harry," he soothed, vanishing the chairs behind them with a careless sweep of his hand.
Harry scratched his wand arm absently as he noted the ease with which the Headmaster utilised wandless magic. It didn't exactly help with his sudden rush of self doubt.
"What if I can't do it?" he asked finally, "what will happen to Sn, Professor Snape then?"
Dumbledore shrugged lightly, his eyes remaining bright and focussed as he answered.
"Then we will look at other options Harry. As I said at the beginning, this may prove the easiest option – but it is far from the only one. You are not being saddled with the sole responsibility of solving this. You are merely assisting in proving or disproving one theoretical solution. There are many others to consider," Albus reassured, turning his back to pace a few feet away, like a dueller preparing for a fight.
Harry widened his stance a little, watching as the Headmaster turned back to him and held his wand out. For a horrible, adrenaline inducing moment he thought Dumbledore was going to fire off a spell but the man, seeing Harry's face, lowered it again to point at the carpet. His frown was slightly quizzical as he spoke.
"Relax, my boy. I have no intention of testing your defensive skills; indeed, this is in no way a test at all. Think of it as an experiment, one in which I myself, I confess, am interested as to the outcome, for no other reason than intellectual curiosity."
Harry heard the reassurance there. He wasn't going to disappoint the man if he failed.
"Ok. What should I do?" he asked, relaxing his stance and shaking the tension from his shoulders.
Dumbledore nodded slightly in encouragement, "I suggest we start at the beginning. First year charms. How's your Lumos Harry?" he asked, in the tone one would enquire as to the health of their neighbour's summer begonias.
Harry grinned a little, lifting his wand just as the tip began to glow. By the time he held it in front of him it was shining proudly like a beacon, its white blue light reflecting off the shiny spines of books around the room.
A flick of Dumbledore's wand set the light flickering and Harry watched, surprised, as the small ball of brightness appeared to disconnect slightly from the tip of his wand before shooting across to the Headmaster, whose own carved wand absorbed it like a vacuum cleaner would dust.
"Perhaps we should start with those charms you have not yet learned to cast non-verbally?" Albus smiled a little sardonically.
Harry thought about that, still slightly distracted by the Headmaster's light stealing wandwork.
"Well I've learned to do most first year charms and jinxes non-verbally, sir," he concluded, rolling his wand between his fingers.
"Then perhaps we should focus instead on offensive magic Harry. I believe your Expelliarmus is most effective?"
Offensive spells? Harry thought will alarm.
"You want me to disarm you, sir?" he clarified, extremely uneasy at the notion - his wand hand hanging loosely at his side.
"I want you to try, yes. Ah, of course, you'll be needing..." the Headmaster muttered, seemingly relaxed about the whole idea. He drew a small circle in the air and deftly caught the small, bright green grass snake that materialised – its narrow, pink tongue immediately flicking out to taste the air around it.
Dumbledore used both hands to cradle the curious, writhing snake against his chest as he calmly closed the distance between his position and Harry's, his gaze on the small serpent now sampling his beard.
"I'm afraid I must leave the introductions to you, my boy," he quietly announced as he stopped a foot away. A small, barely perceptible hiss issued from the tiny snake. At least it sounded so to Albus' ears. He watched Harry interestedly as the boy's face obviously registered something different.
Harry could indeed understand the snake's question, and was not surprised by it.
"You're in a castle. I'm sorry if we scared you." Harry answered, watching the small, flattened head swing curiously towards him. Dumbledore smiled faintly, offering his small bundle to the softly hissing young man before him.
Harry accepted the snake with one hand, listening again as the juvenile serpent asked, quite sensibly, what he was doing there.
"I need to see you to speak," Harry frowned, his intended words losing something in the translation. "You'll be safe here. And warm. We'll send you back when I finish," Harry reassured, though he was unsure as to where the strikingly green snake had been conjured from.
"Ok Harry?" Albus enquired, having listened, fascinated, for the past few seconds.
"Yes, sir. He's just curious." Harry explained, listening as his small friend asked to be put down. Looking up and around he spotted a shelf beside them that was enjoying the heat and light from the facing window and, after asking politely that the inquisitive young snake not move from his new position, carefully deposited him on the sun warmed wood where he proceeded to coil into a small, tight ball.
"Ready Harry?" the Headmaster enquired, having created some distance between them again.
Harry moved back to his original position and turned, able to see both snake and wizard from his vantage point. He swallowed nervously.
"What if I hurt you?" he finally asked, admitting his fear. It was not his only fear of course, but the memory of Snape flying through the air and being knocked unconscious after slamming into the wall in the Shrieking Shack chose that moment to resurface, making this fear his most pressing.
"You won't hurt me. I will make it very easy for you," Dumbledore reassured, and Harry wondered if his confidence came from his belief in Harry's level of control or in the wizard's own defensive abilities.
Expelliarmus, Harry knew, was a command to 'thrust away' an opponent's wand or weapon. As he raised his slightly unsteady wand and widened his stance once more, he concentrated furiously on those sentiments as he looked from the relaxed, unmoving Headmaster to the snake, his hand tingling with pooling magic.
"Weapon be gone!" he shouted, feeling the familiar zing of the successful spell as it shot through his wand. He heard, rather than saw the Headmaster's own wand clatter against the doorframe and blinked, breathing slightly elevated with the release of tension.
"Well done Harry. Very well done indeed," Dumbledore congratulated, his wand flying back to his hand with a gesture.
Harry straightened, immensely pleased. It had worked! He felt excited at this new discovery.
"The incantation was odd..." he confessed. It seemed that Parseltongue and English were not wholly translatable.
"Unsurprising, my boy. The wording of any spell changes depending on the language."
Harry gently stroked the flattened head of the snake when he reached him, smiling when it hissed in pleasure and pressed further into the touch. He continued the gentle petting as he turned his head back to Dumbledore.
"So do you think it will work then? For Professor Snape?" he asked, feeling a new confidence it would.
Albus titled his head, his gaze on the young snake enjoying Harry's attentions.
"I believe it may be worth a try, yes."
Harry looked up from his new friend, his emerald green eyes narrowing slightly. "But?" he asked, perhaps a little accusingly, having recognised something off with the Headmaster's statement. Was the old wizard holding something back again? He looked back down at the unfurling snake when he saw a similar narrowing of his guardian's eyes. He gently lifted the small serpent and allowed it to slither through his fingers and around his wrist, the smooth feeling of it's scales a comfort.
"I was going to add that I did not want you to be disappointed if your assistance fails to effect any change. This is untried, untested magic and not without its own risks.."
The sibilant hiss from the young snake wove its way around the wizards, cutting through Dumbledore's words and causing him to fall silent. Harry lifted his arm to eye level, noticing the intricate overlapping pattern of his friend's tiny scales as he brought him closer.
"He's my teacher. And a great stickwaver too..." Harry answered, chuckling a little at the Parseltongue word for wizard. A movement to his left brought his attention back and he looked up at his Headmaster, an apology playing around his face. Dumbledore seem unfazed by the interruption and reached out a long fingered hand to gently stroke the shining scales, allowing the small darting tongue to whisper across his wrist.
"We must proceed carefully Harry. Voldemort's possession of you at the Ministry quite obviously affected him and as such he has since refrained from utilising the connection you share. We do not know if said connection will affect your attempts to aide Severus."
Mention of the Ministry dulled the light in Harry's eyes almost as effectively as Dumbledore's earlier light stealing wandwork. He swallowed tightly, his glittering gaze focussed on the Headmaster's hand where it continued to hold the serpent's attention. The breath he released shuddered quietly – the only outward sign of his upset. He blinked away the sting in his eyes and wrestled his pain back down to his stomach, where it had resided, hot and writhing, since the Department of Mysteries.
"Do you think..." he stopped, cleared his throat and hoped his voice didn't betray his turmoil when he tried to speak again. "Do you think Voldemort will know I'm helping? That it's me who is trying to undo his binding?" he managed, proud of his steady tone.
There was a moment of quiet, and Harry busied himself by unravelling the scaly body of the snake before laying it once again on the sun bleached shelf. He slid his empty hands into his jean pockets and finally turned to the Headmaster, whose bright blue eyes shone, as always, with understanding and knowledge.
"There is of course the possibility Harry. The research I have done thus far has been...inconclusive. The connection is quite unique. Safeguards will be put in place, by me and others to ensure your safety should events spiral out of control. Your safety is paramount, my boy."
Dumbledore stepped forward and closed a hand over his young charge's shoulder, offering the comfort Harry would never ask for. He watched another shaky sigh escape, the boys eyes averted again as he studied the toes of his shoes.
"I miss him," Harry quietly admitted, swallowing with some difficulty. The weight of Dumbledore's hand lifted, leaving him feeling slightly bereft, but only for a second. Long arms folded around his shoulders and his vision became obscured by the robes and beard of the Headmaster as he was pressed against the man's chest.
"I know," Dumbledore rumbled, his arms pressing tighter for a moment.
Harry, hands still in his pockets, rubbed his forehead slightly against the softness of the hair beneath his face and sucked in a long breath, the smell of parchment and lemon soothing his sore throat.