A/N: This one shot has been sitting on my hard drive for some time. I thought I'd post it to let those of you still with me know that I'm alive. This takes place during an AU seventh year for our heroes and heroines.
I Don't Care
"Should we tell Harry?" McGonagall asked, tiredly.
Dumbledore shrugged, which was an uncharacteristic gesture for the aged Headmaster. He stared across his desk at the Deputy Headmistress, thinking that she looked just as tired as he felt. The war was taking its toll on everyone these days.
"He should at least be informed," Dumbledore eventually responded. "He has a right to know these things—he is, after all, our most potent warrior."
He knew she did not agree with him on that last point, and by the way her lips flattened he knew she was actively thinking along those lines. She had never given up the belief that he was the only one Riddle had ever feared; that logic ignored, of course, the fact that Harry had encountered the dark wizard almost as many times as Dumbledore and had emerged, alive, each time.
Dumbledore knew in his heart that Riddle feared Harry, most likely because Riddle did not understand Harry. Both had grown up hindered by similar neglect and even abuse, but they had turned into completely opposite men. Dumbledore also believed in his heart that Harry would be the one to finally end this war and get rid of Riddle, and although some of that belief could be attributed to that damned prophecy, not all of it was so easily explained away. Harry was a natural born leader and an instinctual fighter, even more so than Dumbledore.
Though Dumbledore had seen very little of Harry in action since the end of the previous year, nine months before, he knew that Harry's abilities had grown tremendously in the intervening time. The young man had applied himself in more ways than one, and the result was a much more mature—intellectually, magically, and physically—person than Riddle had last seen.
"Shall I, then?" McGonagall asked, returning his thoughts to the task at hand.
Dumbledore took a deep breath, shaking his head. He lifted his spectacles from his desk and put them on once again, standing from his chair.
"I think this is something we should both do," he told her. She nodded, standing as well, and they left his office side by side.
March was waning, and so was another year at Hogwarts, but the war raging all around them had strained the school in both expected and unexpected ways. Harry's de facto army—what had once been known as the Defense Association, better known as Dumbledore's Army—had been basically given free reign to come and go as it pleased. There had been some strong resistance to that policy at first, especially from parents and the more conservative faculty, but those voices had quieted down when news of Harry's successful exploits had spread around magical Britain.
Though some of the students under his leadership had suffered injuries, thankfully there had been no fatalities. Granted, the only students who had come into direct contact with Death Eaters were Harry, Hermione, Ron, Luna, Neville, Ginny, Susan Bones, and Terry Boot, but the other students had contributed to the resistance in their various ways. Dumbledore had been lukewarm about students actively fighting at first, but when Harry had unequivocally refused merging the DA with the Order of the Phoenix, the Headmaster had realized that the young wizard had advanced past youthful heroics toward more measured tactical and strategic responses.
The tenor of the entire school year had been odd, to say the least, because a large number of the older students were more focused on the resistance than their schoolwork. They all still attended classes as much as they could, and most did all of the required work, but academics had been shuffled aside in favor of direct involvement in the war.
Not that Dumbledore blamed any of them. The Order of the Phoenix was also fighting the war in its own way, though Riddle had been laying low for some time now. Regardless, they were all fighting for the future of their world, and who was he to stop those with the most stake in the future from protecting it?
"You are very quiet tonight, Albus," McGonagall said, after they had been walking for almost a minute. They were headed for the Head quarters, where Harry and Hermione had lived all year. Both the Headmaster and the Deputy Headmistress could not have conceived of a better Head Boy and Girl.
"Just thinking, Minerva," he said. He could sense her tight smile as she no doubt rolled her eyes at him.
"Care to share your thoughts?"
"The usual," he told her. "The war, Riddle, Harry…"
"Those do seem to occupy many of our thoughts these days," she said.
"Indeed," was all he said, preferring reticence for some reason. They were about to deliver some unfortunate—bad?—news to Harry, and that was weighing heavily on him. Dumbledore wondered how much more negative news Harry could handle, even if he had handled everything so well so far. Each person had his or her breaking point, and that was often suddenly revealed.
McGonagall sighed. "How long do you think this will continue?" she questioned.
"How long will what continue?"
"The war," she clarified. She sounded tired again.
"As long as it has to," Dumbledore said, coming to a stop outside the Head quarters. "As long as it takes for right to prevail over wrong, for good to win over evil, and for tolerance to crush intolerance."
"While your sentiments are admirable, Albus," she said, dryly, "we have not made any real progress in quite some time now."
"Nor has Riddle," he responded.
"Yes, and this stalemate has affected us all."
He turned toward her. "Minerva, history is filled with evil people trying to ruin the world. But in the end, good always triumphs over evil. I have no reason to believe this time will be any different, especially because we have Harry Potter on our side."
She just looked at him for a moment. "You really do believe Harry is the difference in this war?"
"You do not?"
"I think you are the real difference in this war," she said, looking pointedly at him. He waved it off.
"My place in this world is fading, Minerva," he said, noticing her look of confusion. "And I do not mean that I am fading—not yet, at least. I mean that the time is coming when Albus Dumbledore will no longer be the witch or wizard everyone looks to for guidance and support. I have filled that void for the last eighty years, with no regrets, but someone else will have to take my place sooner rather than later."
"And you think it will be Harry?"
"Who else could it be?" he answered, responding to her question with a question of his own. She still looked dubious, but she said nothing further.
"Holly," he said, providing the password, and the portrait in front of them slid to the side. A narrow staircase led up to the common room of the Head quarters. He could hear voices wafting down the stairs.
"Harry? Hermione?" he called, beginning to ascend the stairs. McGonagall was right behind him. The voices stopped for a moment; a shadow then fell over the stairs as someone came into view at the top, silhouetted against the light of the room beyond.
"What is it?" a male voice asked, one which Dumbledore immediately knew to be Harry's. A female form joined Harry, and he could tell it was Hermione. Both backed into the common room as Dumbledore and McGonagall neared the top of the stairs. He saw Harry glance at the clock on the wall. It told the sad tale of 11:45 pm.
"What's happened?" Hermione asked, glancing between Dumbledore and McGonagall. She and Harry looked at each other, growing more worried by the second.
"Perhaps you should sit down…" McGonagall said, trailing off and motioning toward the couches in the center of the circular room.
Harry rubbed his face. "Just tell us," he said, sighing. He sounded as tired as McGonagall had.
"We received word from the DMLE about an attack on Muggles about thirty minutes ago," Dumbledore started, knowing that he would have preferred to be told quickly and succinctly, as well. "When I inquired about where and on whom, it came back that it was in Surrey and on your relatives."
Harry did not react for at least three seconds, and when he did, it was only to raise his eyebrows. Hermione was now staring at him with worry etched on her face.
"Any survivors?" Harry queried, after a moment.
Dumbledore glanced at McGonagall. He shook his head. He watched as Hermione's shoulders drooped. Harry's eyes went to the ceiling, high over their heads.
"The situation is contained and safe for you to visit," Dumbledore added.
"So we would understand if you wanted to take some time, Harry," McGonagall said.
Hermione moved closer to Harry, wrapping an arm around his waist and leaning her head against his shoulder. His eyes eventually came down from the ceiling and stared into Dumbledore's.
"Thank you for telling me, Albus," he said. "And thank you, Minerva," he added, making eye contact with her as well.
"You are most welcome…" McGonagall's voice trailed off.
"We will leave you to it," Dumbledore said, turning and leaving the common area with McGonagall.
Harry and Hermione stood there for several moments, saying nothing and just taking comfort in each other's presence. He wound his arm around her back and leaned his head against hers.
"Did you want to go tonight?" she asked. He shrugged against her. When he didn't say anything for awhile longer, she raised her head and looked at him.
"Are you alright, Harry?"
"I think so."
"I'm sorry…" she said.
He shrugged again and led them to one of the couches. They sat down and settled into each other. He loved the feel of her warm body against his. It would never get old.
"Don't be," he told her. "Don't be sorry. You have no reason to be sorry. And I'm not."
"You're not sorry?" she wondered, some surprise evident in her voice.
"How can I be? My relatives were…awful."
"But they were still your relatives."
"Fat lot of good they did me, though," he spat out, some emotion finally coming into his voice. He had been unusually subdued since hearing the news. "Personally, I could care less about what happened to them."
"You don't care?"
"That's right, Hermione. I don't care."
She thought she might have heard some annoyance creeping into his voice, and she hoped that it wasn't directed toward her. She was just trying to understand his point of view. She did not really care about his relatives, because from everything she'd heard about them—and from what she'd seen the one time she met them—they were much better off out of Harry's life, permanently. But better off dead? Who was she to say?
"Do you want to at least go to Surrey at some point?"
"Not really," he responded, and whatever venom that had been in his voice was gone. "When I came to live with you and your parents last summer," he said, looking at her, "I knew without a doubt that I never wanted to see my bloody relatives ever again. I was coming to live with you, and that's how I wanted it to stay." He leaned down and pressed a soft kiss to her lips. It was rather chaste, but she felt goose bumps break out along her arms anyway.
"I've tried…" he started, but halted, turning his eyes toward the ceiling again. "I've tried to live my life in my way. I've tried to make it through my life in a way that would make my parents proud. Since I was eleven years old, I have never done anything for the Dursleys. It's always been for you or the Weasleys or my parents or Dumbledore… And that's not going to change now. I honestly don't care if they're dead or alive, because I knew when I left my house with you last July, I was leaving all that behind.
"Permanently. Forever. Nothing could have ever brought me back to Privet Drive, except of course if you wanted to go back for some reason. My friends and family are here with you, at Hogwarts and wherever you want to go. The Dursley's…they were never my family. They were Dumbledore's pawns. If anyone should feel responsibility or guilt over their deaths, it's him. Not me. I have you now and that's all that matters to me."
His arms tightened around her. She considered his words, which were the most he had spoken about the Dursleys in quite some time, and realized that, on one level, she completely understood what he had said. Harry was her world; she could not imagine life without him, and she knew that he felt the same way about her. Their relationship was built upon seven years of friendship, trust, love, and some other fundamental emotions she could not name. Whatever they were, his strong arms holding her were enough support for their existence.
She relaxed into his body and let him hold her. He pressed a kiss into her hair and left his lips lingering in her locks.
"I'm glad you're with me."
"Me too, Hermione. Me too." He kissed the top of her head again. "So glad."