This story is set in the Memories of War universe. It takes place several years before the Battle of Hogwarts.
Many thanks to Annie Talbot for her input and encouragement. And to MMADfan who knows exactly what it's like.
Albus Dumbledore watched as the door formed in the wall of the hallway outside of the Room of Requirement.
Officially, he was there because he was badly in need of a restroom. With the problems he was having with his prostate, it took time to address the matter properly. The Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry could not use the student restrooms conveniently located throughout the castle. Not only did it lack dignity, but the students might comment on how long it took him at the trough.
Even with Severus and Poppy working on adapting the potion, he wasn't going to get relief from this problem any time soon. It was terribly inconvenient having an allergy to the primary ingredient commonly used in potions that shrink a prostate gland.
The door opened and Albus walked inside, his maroon robes swishing as he moved. The Room was ready for him. There was a door to the right that led to the Necessary Room, while the center of the Room held a fully appointed laboratory station.
The ingredients and tools he required were there on the laboratory table, arranged just as he liked them. Given that this was the sixth time he had prepared this brew, it was no surprise that the Room of Requirement had anticipated his needs and preferences.
First things first. He turned and went through the door and took care of his protesting bladder.
Having thoroughly washed his hands, Albus tied the string around his beard as he left the restroom. The gold satin cap he wore would keep his hair where it needed to be and out of the potion.
As Headmaster of Hogwarts and member of the Wizengamot, he had little precious little time to spend on personal interests. Occasionally, he got in a game of ten pin bowling with a few friends from the old crowd. When they were in England, Nicholas and Perenelle would accompany him to the chamber music concerts he so dearly loved. Knitting patterns could be worked out ten minutes here and fifteen minutes there.
There was nothing quite like brewing. As an alchemist, Albus Dumbledore was fully qualified to brew any potion he could think of. Working with and learning from Nicholas Flamel was one of the most satisfying times of his life. It was a source of pride to know that he could have created a Philosopher's Stone of his own, had he wanted one.
Albus did not seek immortality. He simply wanted his life to be long and healthy.
Damn prostate gland.
He did not want his life to last forever. At some point, his health would fail and life would become a burden. Then, he would be ready to lay it down. A part of him hoped that his end would be glorious and that he would be forever remembered as a hero who gave his life to save others. Another part of him wanted a quiet departure from this life in his own bed, perhaps in his sleep. The wizarding world could then mourn for the Headmaster who had given so much of himself to others.
A humanitarian of the first water. The most powerful wizard of his generation, who chose to educate children, when he could have been the Minister for Magic. Albus was confident that he would be remembered, no matter how it ended.
There was that unfulfilled yearning for the day when he could be reunited with his family and dear Gellert. Perhaps there could be forgiveness all around.
Taking up the knife, he began to chop the petals of the St. John's Wort flowers.
Brewing was such a quiet and steady occupation. His hands moved in well-practiced ways. He had learned to chop vegetables in his mother's kitchen, and this was not so terribly different from that. His motions were more refined, more precise, and certainly more efficient than they had been then. The skill was so deeply ingrained that his hands could do the work while his mind traveled down different roads.
There was a letter in his pocket from Arabella Figg. Such a dear lady, to take on the responsibility of watching the Dursleys and report back to Albus on how Harry Potter was doing.
The latest report was not a good one. The Dursleys' own son was eight years old and regularly bullied the much smaller Harry. The boy was showing up to his school with bruises from his cousin's hammy fists. Vernon Dursley had turned out to be a great stupid ox of a man who continually flaunted his ignorance and shouted his bias against the wizarding world. Petunia had fulfilled the potential of her youth and become a first class shrew. If circumstances were different, Albus might have turned her into an actual one.
He wondered for a moment what Lily would have thought about the way her sister and beastly husband were raising her orphaned child.
There was no doubt in Albus' mind that James would have taken the whole Dursley family into the Forbidden Forrest and fed them to the Acromantulas, one limb at a time.
Albus swept up the chopped petals in his hand and placed them into the measuring cup. Raising his wand, he uttered the charm.
Next, he took the Maypop fruits and began to extract the juice.
Regardless of what James and Lily might think about the Dursleys' manner of raising their son, they had the benefit of casting their judgments from the more perfect vantage point of the afterlife. They were past the burdens of the living and did not have to deal with the day-to-day concerns of the wizarding world as it enjoyed a respite from the machinations of Tom Riddle.
They did not have to deal with a prophecy that said he would be back.
If Sybil Trelawney had not uttered those fateful words during her interview for the position of Divination teacher, young Harry Potter's life could have been allowed to be different.
Instead, the daffy bint had slipped into a deep voice that was not her own and spoke of a child born as the seventh month dies. With those words, she changed everything. Prophecy must be played out. In his many years, Albus had learned to give prophecy due respect.
Even though he was born at the end of July, the Longbottoms' child could not be the one. As Aurors, they had defied the self-styled Lord Voldemort dozens of times. The Potters had only defied him a few times. The prophecy spoke of the Potter boy, not Neville Longbottom.
The prophecy said that the child would be marked by Riddle as his equal.
How in the world was the child to be marked by Lord Voldemort unless Riddle had access to him?
A sad necessity. A tragedy, even.
Albus knew that there was a spy who had inside information about what the Order was doing and was passing it on to Riddle. When the Potters went into hiding, Albus had offered to be the Secret Keeper. It was their own fault that they had not trusted Albus Dumbledore sufficiently to accept that offer. They chose to trust their dear friend and Harry's godfather to be Secret Keeper.
Sirius Black betrayed his friends to their doom.
It was not entirely his fault. There was prophecy in play, and that changed everything.
Albus held up the measuring cup and looked to see if he had enough Maypop juice. A little magic and a flame formed below the cauldron. Pouring in a measure of water, he set it to heating. He took a handful of skullcap leaves and placed them on the chopping board. These needed to be sorted carefully to make sure the leaves were of the quality he needed.
Ah, yes. The prophecy. It meant that there was a way to do away with Tom Riddle.
Looking back, there were clues that Tom had done something radical to himself. When the rumors began to circulate that he had found a way to become immortal, Albus feared the worst. He knew that Tom probably did not have the skills in alchemy to create a Philosopher's Stone. The other possibility was a Horcrux.
Albus had studied many things over the years. He had read about the concept of splitting one's soul and storing a bit of it away. Somehow, this made it possible for a wizard to defy death.
It was a terrible day when Horace disclosed that Riddle had asked him about Horcruxes while he was still a student. He wanted to know if a wizard could create more than one. What Horace and Albus left unsaid between them was a fear that Riddle had already made one by that time. Removing all of the books that made any mention of Horcruxes from the Restricted Section had the same effect as closing the barn door after the horses had already escaped.
Lord Voldemort called his followers Death Eaters.
Then, there was the dramatic change in Riddle's physical appearance from his days at Hogwarts. As the years passed, Riddle's skin had turned pasty white. His fingers elongated, his nose flattened, and his eyes turned red. His actions became more erratic and increasingly violent. He seemed utterly inhuman.
If Riddle were splitting his soul into pieces, it was little wonder that his appearance was becoming increasingly inhuman. What fraction of the original human soul inhabited that grotesque body?
At first, Albus was certain Riddle would have stopped at three Horcruxes. Three was a powerful number. Two of his Horcruxes could have been destroyed and still leave the third as a guarantee of immortality. Now, Albus was not so sure. It was very like Tom to test all the limits. If there were a limit to how many times one could fracture his own soul and still survive, Tom may have decided to find it. At some point, Albus would have to determine exactly how many Horcruxes there were.
It was a shame that the boy was probably one of them.
Twenty-four hours passed between the time that the Potters were killed and when infant Harry was left on the Dursleys' stoop, Albus had taken the time to examine the toddler before turning him over to Hagrid's gentle care and turning to the myriad tasks that awaited him.
There was no way to know exactly what had happened in the few minutes that Riddle was in the house with the Potters. Clearly, something went awry from whatever Tom had planned. The Potter infant should not have come out of the situation alive. If Horcruxes were involved, the implications were ominous.
When Albus' examination of the child revealed the new lightning bolt curse mark, the determination was made for him.
It was a good thing that Albus had not returned the invisibility cloak to the Potters. Lily might have been able to use it to escape with Harry. If such a thing had happened, Harry might never have been marked as the Dark Lord's equal. Sadly, James and Lily's deaths were necessary to fulfill the prophecy. Casualties of war, as it were. At least with their son alive, there was hope of being able to kill Tom Riddle. However, all of the Horcruxes Tom had created would have to be found and destroyed first.
Why in the world did the Fates have to saddle tasks like this on an old man? Perhaps they understood that Albus would do what was necessary when others might balk.
The water was boiling in the cauldron. Albus adjusted the flames below so it would maintain a steady simmer. The Maypop juice and St. John's Wort petals went in first.
Having sorted through the dried skullcap leaves, Albus put a few into the mortar and began pulverizing them with the pestle.
Fortunately for the wizarding world, Albus Dumbledore would be headmaster when Harry Potter came to Hogwarts. He would be the best judge of how to deal with the possibility that the child had become a Horcrux. He was already sketching out the plans in his mind.
Albus looked into the cauldron and set a stirring charm to work.
I am so very good at stirring cauldrons, thought Albus, amused with himself.
He thought about the letter in his pocket. Seven-year-old Harry was small in stature. Much more so than would be expected, given how tall his parents had been. Albus suspected that the boy was not being fed as well as he should be. That was unfortunate. Mrs. Figg reported that the boy seemed to wear his cousin's oversized hand-me-down clothes, which emphasized his skinny frame even more. He also had more chores than seven-year-olds are usually given.
The son of wealthy pure-blood James Potter was being used as a house-elf by the Dursleys. He may have been ill-fed and neglected in other ways. Verbally abused by his aunt and uncle and physically abused by his cousin. The boy had no friends at school. Mrs. Figg said that Dudley Dursley and his bully friends would pick on any other children who befriended Harry.
The pulverized skullcap went into the brew. Albus added more charms.
A selection of curcuma roots were set to the side of the table. Albus chose two healthy looking candidates and began to slice.
It was a regrettable thing to do to a child, but Harry Potter needed to understand what it meant to be victimized in the Muggle world. Albus needed that advantage so that Harry might fall in love with the wizarding world.
In a sense, that is what happened with Tom Riddle. The wizarding world rescued him from the orphanage for ten months of the year. The two months that he spent each summer at the orphanage showed him how much more desirable the wizarding world was.
Albus sighed. That part had also backfired with Tom. He so hated the Muggle world that he wanted revenge for being forced to go back there. But, how was Albus supposed to know that there was so much hate and resentment inside the boy? That he appeared to have no conscience at all?
It would be different with Harry. He'd had a family that had loved him for his first year. That would give him a bit of a foundation that Tom had lacked.
When the day came that Harry arrived at Hogwarts, Albus would ensure that he made attachments in the wizarding world. He had already been talking to the Sorting Hat about young Harry. Albus needed the boy to go into Gryffindor. He had connections with the right families and could make subtle arrangements so that Harry would make those same connections.
Harry needed friends, but friends who had been outsiders too. These would be friends he could identify with and truly care about him in return.
It occurred to Albus that he should look among the Muggle-borns and see if there was another misfit who could be pushed in Harry's direction.
Harry would be famous when he arrived at Hogwarts. Famous and wealthy, but accustomed to being bullied, verbally abused, and emotionally neglected. Albus would have to watch carefully and make certain that Harry found good friends among good people. He would cultivate a need in Harry to identify with and stand up for people he cared about.
Someday, that might need to be translated into a willingness to sacrifice himself for the greater good.
The magical world needed to be truly magical for Harry. Infinitely superior and preferable to the Muggle world. His refuge and hope for the future. A place he loved so much that he could not bear to see it destroyed, even if it cost him everything.
The sliced curcuma root joined the brew.
A bit of conch shell went into the mortar, to be broken down to a fine powder.
The world will never know the lengths to which I have gone to make certain that all is in place so the prophecy will be allowed to work when the time comes.
His hands continued to work while his mind was elsewhere. Albus looked down at the wand, resting on the table until he needed it for the charm work. The appearance of the wand was deceptive. Made of elder and well worn from centuries of use, it was fate in the form of a length of wood. The temptation and potential for misuse was too great for most wizards. It was bound to Albus, for now. He must ensure that it went with him when the time came, unless there was a way he could pass it on to one who was worthy of it.
No. As he considered the possibilities, Albus decided that it would be better that it end with him. He truly understood the temptations of power and the cost. Another might not manage it so well.
The rest of the brewing went as expected. He prepared and added the ingredients. He applied the magic. It was a familiar routine. At the end, he had a cauldron of a fine brew used to treat obsessive thoughts. However, that is not how it would be used.
Next to the stirring rod were three eyedroppers. Albus selected the first and used it to draw a miniscule amount of the potion from the cauldron. Carefully, he deposited a single drop of the potion into a jug of water. The second eyedropper took some of the newly stirred contents of the jug and single drop of that went into a carafe of water. The third eyedropper took some of the contents of the carafe. Albus placed a droplet into a flask of water. He capped the flask and put it in the pocket of his robes.
This particular bit of magic used the principles of homeopathy. A minute amount of a potion is diluted, diluted, and diluted again. The amount of the original potion in the flask in Albus' pocket was negligible.
Except that those negligible bits carried a sort of memory of what they were intended to do. The water surrounding the original molecules of the potion learned what it was supposed to do. The magic that Albus had used changed the overall mission of the many times diluted potion.
Instead of eliminating obsessive thinking, the draught would cause obsessive thinking. It took about one dose per year to keep the obsession strong. The guilt must never be healed, because Albus needed it to make his plans work. It was for the protection of the wizarding world. It was for the greater good.
Tomorrow, Albus and Severus would have tea.