Pairings: HPLV, others
Warnings: Dumbledore bashing
Summary: Dumbledore knew before Harry Potter came to Hogwarts what he needed the boy to do, and he knew exactly how to make him do it. A twist on the normal manipulative!Dumbledore story.
Disclaim Her: So, this only took three years and, like, a week. I deserve a medal or something.
A/N: All of my apologies have washed away before the image of Tom Hiddleston twirling his non-existent moustache and going on about how he's the bad guy.
(That's a lie. Sort of. A little bit. Because I'm sorry. Sort of. A little bit.)
So, yeah, there I am, watching the films because I needed inspiration for an unposted Harry/Salazar fic, and Broken's fucking bunny finally crawled out of hiding. He's dusty and tired and only had enough in him for one last chapter, but at least this fic can get crossed off the list of WiPs. At last.
Chapter Ten - A Lifetime Mended
"You'll do fine," Rabastan insisted as Harry tugged on his robes again. He'd been tempted to wear muggle clothing, but since the NEWTs were going to be held at Hogwarts, that wouldn't go over well. Anyway, he'd sort of become used to wearing robes around the manor, even if it wasn't school robes.
"Hey, if Wormy could pass the tests, you know you'll manage."
"Thank you, Rodolphus," Peter muttered, rolling his eyes even as he swatted Harry's hand away from the non-existent wrinkle in his robe.
"I'm not worried about the bloody tests," Harry muttered, picking at a loose thread on the other side of his body from Peter. "There's no way I won't pass those. I'm more worried about the reception I'll receive from the students and staff." He grimaced at the admitted fear, but it was how it was. In the months since Christmas, all attacks on muggleborns had stopped, per Voldemort's orders, and it was actually safe for muggleborns in their world again. (Though muggles were still fair game.)
In spite of that favourable change in the Death Eater's policy, the attacks from the French Rebels kept Voldemort's rule from becoming at all popular. Harry's friends in the school – Neville, Ginny, and Luna, mostly – had been keeping him apprised of the tempers of Hogwarts. Most of the Gryffindors were all for getting rid of Voldemort, as were many of the Hufflepuffs and a few Ravenclaws. Practically the entire Slytherin House as well as most of the Ravenclaws and a few Hufflepuffs, were backing the Dark Lord against the Rebels, insisting that Voldemort had the right of the world. The few students who avoided the whole argument were in the younger years or came from historically neutral families.
The teachers, on the other hand, had a different division in their ranks. None of them liked the Rebels, but those from the Order couldn't seem to bring themselves to throw their lot in with Voldemort, no matter how much had changed in his policies. Instead, they were sort of sitting around, twiddling their thumbs. What little news Harry got about the Order suggested that the small band was occasionally jumping in to catch the Rebels and kick them back, but it was only when a muggleborn family was in danger. (Harry couldn't help but wonder if the Rebel problem wouldn't have been handled already if the Order was being more helpful.)
At any rate, he wasn't particularly excited about facing the divided school. The only thing he could possibly say he was excited about, was getting to see his friends again. Even Ron and Hermione, who he hadn't exchanged many letters with, simply because he didn't feel like tormenting himself with their expectations.
"Potter," Snape drawled from behind them, putting an end to any further discussion or fussing, "are you ready, or must we delay further?"
Harry bit his tongue against the need to point out that it had been Snape holding them up; the man had come for an in-person report to Voldemort, and suggested Harry return with him by Floo, since the fireplace in his office would already be connected to the Floo network. "I'm ready, sir," he replied.
Snape gave a brisk nod and led to way to the open fireplace. Harry followed after one last uncertain smile at the Death Eaters he was leaving behind.
On the other end, Snape's office was empty save them. The Headmaster took the time Harry used to orient himself to retire to his desk. Once he'd sat, he announced, "The Dark Lord has ordered that I give you a choice in quarters for the duration of the NEWTs. You may return to Gryffindor Tower, where Professor McGonagall assures me there remains a bed for you, or you may pick one of the guest quarters on the sixth floor. The east wing," he added, correctly interpreting Harry's confused frown. "I do require you to decide now, as I have far more important things to be wasting my time with."
It wasn't really much of a choice, in the end; Harry had been half considering requesting alternate quarters for the week as it was, given the welcome he expected. "I'd prefer the guest quarters, sir."
Snape nodded and snapped his fingers. A house-elf appeared – not one Harry was familiar with, though he honestly never got to know any, beyond Dobby and Winky – and Snape ordered, "Show Potter to one of the guest rooms."
"Yes, Headmaster," the house-elf replied with a bow, then motioned for Harry to precede him out, which Harry did.
It was a short trip, made in silence. Harry was given the pick of two different rooms, and picked the one with the less shabby bedclothes. (It was clear neither of them had been used in quite some time.)
Harry quickly put away the week's worth of clothing and set the books he'd brought with to read next to the bed, then left the room and went in search of his friends. Neville, Ginny, and Luna knew he was coming, and he'd told them to let Ron and Hermione know, but he hadn't known exactly when he'd be arriving. Originally, the plan was for him to portkey to the castle for the exams, then leave again once he was done every day. But when he'd decided he wanted to spend some time with his friends, if he was going to be there anyway, they'd had to change their plans a bit. Voldemort also had to be convinced; of everyone Harry spent time with, he was the most aware of what awaited Harry at Hogwarts, since he was screening the post. (Although, in all honestly, Harry wasn't completely certain that was the only cause for the Dark Lord's disapproval in his long visit.)
Ron and Hermione, at least, were in the library. There was a moment's awkward silence when they all caught sight of each other, which Harry broke by offering a strained smile. "Hi."
Hermione let out a breath so explosively, it seemed as though she'd been holding it since Harry had refused to come for Christmas. Then she jumped to her feet and dashed forward to envelope Harry in a hug. "Thank you," she whispered.
Harry was momentarily confused about why she was thanking him, but, to be fair, he'd been a bit thrown off guard by the hug; he'd rather got out of the habit of receiving them, seeing as he lived with Death Eaters. He carefully extracted himself from the hug, commenting, "You're welcome, though I'm not really accepting thanks for that." He shrugged at her frown. "It's complicated."
"How can it be complicated?" Ron replied quietly as he joined them, casting a quick glance over his shoulder towards the empty front desk. "You showed You-Know-Who that he was wrong." He grinned then, wide and bright.
Something sat heavy in Harry's stomach. "Hasn't done much, though, has it?" he wondered. "You would still rather Voldemort was dead."
"Well, yeah," Ron agreed, shrugging off the cautionary hand Hermione put on his shoulder. "I mean, he is a monster."
The heavy thing zoomed up into Harry's throat, choking him. He turned away, swallowing hard so he could whisper, "Excuse me," before he hurried from the library.
Behind him, he heard something that sounded suspiciously like Hermione smacking Ron and hissing, "Now look what you've done!"
Harry found Neville and Luna by the lake, the latter quizzing the former. They both smiled when they spotted him, warm and unhindered. He smiled back and gladly sat next to Neville when he patted the ground next to him. "Hey," he offered, and the word was wonderfully free.
"Hey," Neville replied while Luna handed over one of the buttercups she'd been using to mark pages in Neville's book.
"What are you working on?" Harry asked, nudging shoulders with his yearmate while twirling the gifted flower between two fingers.
Luna held up the book to show the cover, even as Neville muttered, "Transfiguration. I feel okay with the wandwork, but the theory is tripping me up."
"Mind if I join in?" Harry asked, even though he really didn't need the refresher.
"Absolutely," Neville agreed and Luna flipped back to the first buttercup to ask them a couple of things on that page.
Word had got around by dinner that Harry was in the castle, so there was only a brief pause in quiet chatter when he stepped into the Great Hall with Neville and Luna. Luna immediately skipped off to her own table, leaving Harry and Neville to wander along the Gryffindor table to where Ginny had saved them some seats.
"Heard you were back," Seamus commented as clean plates appeared before Harry and Neville. "Wasn't sure if I believed it, though, with no things on your bed."
Harry shrugged, focussing his eyes on the platter of ham he was serving himself from. "I was given to option to stay in one of the guest rooms, so I took it."
"But," Ron said, frowning, "it's more fun in Gryffindor Tower."
"Harry's not here for fun, Ron!" Hermione snapped. "None of us are; the NEWTs start tomorrow!"
"I know that!" Ron shouted. "How could I not, with the way you keep reminding–"
"Is there a problem, Mr Weasley?" Snape asked, coming up behind Ron with an unimpressed look.
Ron flinched and joined his Housemates in shrinking in his seat. "No, sir," he whispered.
Snape turned his stare on Harry, the only person who hadn't reacted to his arrival. "Potter, if your attendance continues to cause a disruption, you will be forced to eat at the Head Table."
Harry grimaced. "I'll keep that in mind, Headmaster."
Snape gave a brisk nod, then stalked back up to the Head Table.
"I'm not staying after the NEWTs," he commented quietly, guessing where Ron had been going with his talk of fun in the dorms. "I only came back because it seemed rude to ask the examiners to come out to the manor when I'm more than capable of coming over to Hogwarts for a week."
Ron made a face. "Why not? No one's going to stop you from staying here. I mean, yeah, there are some Death Eaters around, but–"
"Ron!" Hermione hissed, trying to shut him up.
"–at least there's no butt-ugly snake-faced dark lords around, right?" He started to grin, only to realise Harry wasn't smiling back. His smile vanished, replaced by a sort of confused frown.
"The nice thing about staying at the manor, which isn't true of staying at Hogwarts," Harry said quietly, "is that no one there expects me to share their opinion. In fact, pretty much everyone starts a conversation assuming we're going to disagree at least once. And then, when we do disagree, no one starts calling anyone else names or draws their wand."
There was a heavy silence, everyone either staring at Harry or looking away, ashamed.
Neville cleared his throat. "Even Bellatrix?" he asked.
Harry snorted. "Bellatrix and I make a point to avoid each other, even when we have to be in the same room." He tapped his plate with his fork and hummed thoughtfully. "You know, it turns out that, if you use the Cruciatus on a crazy person enough times, they do eventually learn not to do the thing they're being cursed for."
"That's...good to know," Ginny offered uncertainly.
Harry nodded. "It was very informative," he agreed.
Ron turned bodily away from him and struck up a conversation with a fifth year sitting a couple of seats down. Clearly, he wouldn't be talking to Harry again for a while.
Hermione sighed, looking tired. "Was that necessary, Harry?"
Harry stared down at his plate, thumb rubbing against the edge of his fork. "No," he admitted quietly, then shrugged and glanced back up at her. "I'm not here to mend broken bridges, Hermione. I'm okay where I am right now, and if someone can't accept that, then that's for them. I've had enough of changing who I am to please someone else."
She smiled at him, an edge of resignation to it. "Good," she told him, before asking about a Charms spell that often showed up on the NEWTs.
Which was how Harry got Hermione back, and lost Ron for good.
The NEWTs were about as draining as Harry had expected. He came away feeling good about them, but he was still glad they were over.
He was also ready to return to the manor. While it was true no one had bothered him, after Ron's outburst at dinner the first night, they did watch him silently, eyes crawling up and down his back at meals or when he was walking in the halls. It was actually probably more stressful than dealing with their words; at least those he could respond to, but the eyes left him hyper vigilant and nervous.
"You're sure you can't stay through dinner?" Ginny pleaded while Harry packed his few things. She and Luna had found him, Neville, and Hermione in his guest room, which they'd retired to once their last NEWT was done.
Harry shook his head. "I have to go eventually, and the sooner I get back to the manor, the sooner I can collapse into my own bed again." He patted the mattress of his borrowed bed. "Not that this one was horrible, only that it wasn't–" He stopped, voice vanishing as he realised he was about to call the manor home.
Which, well, it was. Had been since before Christmas. All of his things were there, and he'd made friends, no matter their history. No matter how often, in the beginning, he'd half expected to get cursed, it was still a far sight better than the stares here.
"Can we come visit, this summer?" Luna asked, head tilted curiously to one side. "I've never been in a dark lord's base before."
"Would it be safe?" Hermione asked around the fingers pressed against her bottom lip, which she'd been chewing on the nails of.
"I can ask," Harry offered. "I mean, if you can come. Of course it'll be safe. Remember, they can't attack you unless you start it."
Hermione smiled uncertainly. "I wasn't sure how well that would hold up in their base."
Harry spread his arms. "I'm still alive, aren't I?"
"True," Ginny agreed before shaking her head. "I probably won't be able to come, even if it's okay."
"Your mum?" Hermione guessed.
Ginny nodded. "You can probably come to the Burrow, though, if you want."
"Assuming Ron doesn't go telling tales," Harry agreed without venom.
"I'll tell my own tales right back," Ginny insisted.
"If nothing else, I can come by Fred and George's shop while you're visiting," Harry promised. "We'll work something out, one way or another."
Ginny smiled. "As long as you don't leave me alone all summer. Like you did at Christmas."
Harry rolled his eyes; she'd already chewed him out for that via post. He shrank his bag and shoved it in his pocket, satisfied he had everything. "I'm going to walk down to the gate and apparate, if anyone wanted to walk with me."
"One last look at the castle?" Luna guessed.
Harry smiled. "Yeah. Not likely to come back here any time soon."
"I'm not sure I have the energy," Neville said by way of apology.
Harry laughed and drew him into a quick hug, easier with the action after a week with friends his own age. "I know the feeling. I wouldn't consider making the trip out there if I knew I'd just have to walk back up to the castle." He offered a hand to Hermione, who took it with a smile and used it to pull him into a hug. "Enjoy your break, Hermione," he murmured into her bushy hair.
"I'll try," she allowed with a laugh as they drew apart.
"I'll walk you down," Luna offered as she slipped her hand into the crook of Harry's elbow.
"Well, I can't let Luna walk back on her own, she might get distracted by something in the forest," Ginny decided and they all shared a fond chuckle.
Amycus Carrow was in the entrance hall when Harry, Ginny, and Luna reached it. He narrowed his eyes at the three as they approached the front door and demanded, "And where do you think you're going?"
Harry offered the Death Eater a smile. "Ginny and Luna are just walking me to the gate, Professor. Apparating back to the manor tonight."
Carrow cleared his throat and took a step back. "Right. So long as they're back before dinner."
"I'll do my best to make sure they are," Harry agreed before ushering his two friends out of the castle.
Ginny let out a snort once they were beyond the doors. "I have never seen one of the Carrows so cowed. Are you sure you can't stay until the end of term?"
Harry rolled his eyes. I don't know that I'd be that useful, in the end. It's not me that's cowing them, anyway. Just the promise of who I'm off to go see."
"No, I'm pretty sure it's at least a little bit you," Ginny insisted.
"At least a little bit," Luna agreed before Harry could insist it wasn't. "After all, there aren't many people who can change the Dark Lord's mind. Especially about something like blood purity."
The rest of the walk consisted of talking about Ginny and Luna's end-of-term plans and meeting up at the twins' shop that summer. They solidified everything just as the school gate came into view.
"Well," Harry said as they stopped next to the gate, Harry with one hand on the wrought iron, "it's been fun, ladies. Good luck with exams and playing around the lake without me." He put on a pathetic face.
Ginny laughed and shoved him. "Oh, go on! You don't want to stay and we all know it."
Harry grimaced. "Yeah. Sorry."
Ginny shrugged, resigned to his decision. "I'll just make you buy me new robes to make up for it," she threatened.
Harry snorted and tugged on her arm to make her move close enough for a hug. "I buy you a bloody broom, if you want."
"I will hold you to that," Ginny promised, eyes sparkling in a way that was distinctly worrying. She pulled back to let Luna have a hug.
Luna pressed a kiss to Harry's cheek before pulling back. As Harry turned to go through the gate, she announced, "Trust in how much you mean to him."
Harry jerked his head around to stare at her, Ginny doing the same. "What?" Harry asked, almost too quiet for the girls to hear.
Luna just smiled a bit absently and tugged on Ginny's arm to get her to start back towards the castle.
Harry sighed and resigned himself – as one always had to do – to Luna's oddities. He pushed through the gate and turned to watch as he let it go, making sure it latched; the last thing any of them needed was the Rebels getting into Hogwarts.
Ginny turned to look back, and the smile freezing on her face was the only warning Harry got before everything went black.
Voldemort rubbed tiredly at his eyes for a moment before firmly returning them to the message in front of him from the only wizard he'd, so far, managed to get anywhere near the Rebels. Given, careful infiltration was never his preferred method of dealing with a threat, but between their habit of regularly moving their base and the fact that they were based in France, he was having one hell of a time pinning them down. They were organised and familiar with his tactics, which made them very much a challenge. Sending spies had been his only real choice, really, and finding a spy that would pass muster had been so difficult, it was shameful.
He'd read the letter from his spy four times already, and he still wasn't certain what it said. He managed to get that things weren't going well, but he was too distracted by avoiding thinking about the time to actually internalise anything.
He did not care that the NEWTs had been over for almost two hours and Harry wasn't back yet. It was perfectly natural for the boy to want to spend one last night with his friends. Or a couple nights.
He shook his head. 'I don't care if the boy decides not to return!'
There was a commotion in the hall and Voldemort glanced up, grateful for the distraction. "Come!" he ordered when someone knocked rapidly on the door.
Amycus burst in, clearly attempting to not look panicked. Two young witches in student robes followed him, one with red hair in Gryffindor colours, the other blonde and in Ravenclaw colours; Voldemort recognised them as two of the children under Harry's protection. The red-head looked as though she'd been crying recently, while the blonde's eyes were unnaturally wide and her hands were clasped together against her chest, as though to keep them from shaking.
Something heavy dropped into Voldemort's stomach. "What is the meaning of this interru–" he started.
"Harry's been kidnapped!" the red-haired girl shouted before her eyes overflowed with tears.
Voldemort went very, very still, turning half his attention to the connection between himself and Harry. "Explain," he ordered, voice gone low and cold.
The red-head opened her mouth, expression darkening with fury, but the blonde touched her shoulder before she could speak. "He decided to apparate back," the blonde explained, voice eerily calm, given the way her unclasped hands were shaking. "He had just left the grounds when a stunner hit him. A couple wizards appeared out of nowhere and went to pick him up. Ginny and I, w-we–" and there it was, a tremor in her voice that told everyone that she was far from calm "–tried to stop them, but the school wards stopped our spells."
Well, that was an unfortunate side-effect of tightening the wards to keep the Rebels out.
The connection finally completed. Harry was alive, but unconscious. Magically unconscious, apparently, since Voldemort couldn't nudge him awake. He couldn't tell exactly where Harry was, but he had an idea of distance and direction: France.
He stood from his desk, abrupt enough that the other three in the room all flinched. "Amycus, return them to the school," he ordered. "And have someone send the Lestrange brothers and one of the Malfoys to me on your way."
Amycus bowed. "Yes, my Lord," he agreed before grabbing for the witches.
The blonde went without a fight, but the red-head dodged him before closing her eyes and taking a deep breath. Before Amycus could reach her, she opened her eyes and turned to stare at Voldemort, fearless and intense. "Save him," she ordered.
Voldemort couldn't help but admire the courage it took to order the Dark Lord about anything. There were few people who would dare, and even fewer who would do so for Harry, any more.
It was that last that had him stating, "You will be informed once Potter is returned home."
There was a strange taste in his mouth, following that last word. A taste of wrongness, like that wasn't the right word, wasn't personal enough, wasn't–
'That damn prophecy.'
The students left with Carrow, apparently soothed by Voldemort's promise to keep them in the loop, to some extent. He shook his distraction away and turned towards his map of France, focussing on the problem at hand.
The map was dotted with marks of possible bases and known former bases. With a quill, Voldemort marked off the area where he was near certain Harry was. It was hardly a singular house, but it was a thousand times better than the whole of northern France.
There was a knock on the doorway and then, because the door was still open, two heads poked in. "You asked for us, my Lord?" Rodolphus asked.
Voldemort nodded. "Potter was kidnapped by the Rebels," he announced, pausing to watch as the brothers stiffened before their expressions hardened; the loyalty Harry inspired was truly a wonder, but at least these two wouldn't fall to girlish hysterics. "I've narrowed the search, but it will require multiple groups to search."
"My Lord," Rabastan interrupted, "could you not use Harry's phoenix?"
Fawkes. Of course. He held out an arm and called, "Fawkes! Come here, you infernal creature!"
The phoenix appeared with a flare of fire. Voldemort's robe smoked slightly as the bird landed on his arm; punishment for the insult, he was certain. "Potter was kidnapped," he stated as a blond head poked into the room; Lucius.
Fawkes let out a sharp cry and took off from Voldemort's arm before wreathing himself in fire again. He was very still for a moment – even his flames frozen – before he let out a terrible scream and went up in flames, ashes falling to the carpet.
Voldemort knelt next to the pile of ashes, shocked and admittedly concerned; Fawkes hadn't looked anywhere near his Burning Day. His death was unnatural, and possibly–
A weak chirp sounded from the ashes and Voldemort brushed a small pile off the chick's head. "What happened?" he whispered, quiet enough that he didn't bother hiding the concern in the words.
Fawkes let out another quiet chirp before struggling against the ashes cocooning him. When Voldemort moved to help him, the phoenix climbed into his hand, then turned beady eyes towards the map behind the Dark Lord.
"My Lord?" Lucius asked, uncertain.
"Silence, Lucius," Voldemort ordered as he stood and brought the chick up to the circle he'd made in the map. Had Fawkes...?
The phoenix leaned forward and hit his beak slightly to the south-east of the centre of Voldemort's circle, leaving a hole in the map.
"He's there?" Voldemort demanded and the phoenix nodded. "I assume it's well warded."
Fawkes let out an angry-sounding warble, the meaning of which was clear: 'What do you think just happened to me?'
Voldemort turned to the three Death Eaters standing near the door. "Lucius, see to it that the healing ward is prepared and the dungeon rooms are secured. Rodolphus, collect a strike team; Bella isn't coming. Rabastan, return the phoenix to Potter's room, then join Rodolphus."
"Yes, my Lord," all three chorused. Lucius and Rodolphus immediately exited, while Rabastan stepped forward to accept the phoenix Voldemort held out to him.
Once the office was empty, Voldemort waved the door closed, then pulled out a mirror to scry on the area Fawkes had marked. It showed him a farmhouse with multiple outlying buildings. The land around it for quite some distance was flat, the nearest crops forming a sort of half-circular border around the property.
A ward line. Far enough out that it would be difficult to attack unnoticed, but at least Voldemort knew exactly how close they could get. He wasn't apparating them blind.
Like a bucket of cold water dropped over his head, Voldemort was suddenly aware of a feeling of terror. It calmed after a moment, a sort of determined stillness that was buoyed by a strange certainty taking over.
Harry was awake.
A plan formed in Voldemort's mind. It was crazy, every bit the sort of insanity Harry would plan, and which would actually work. But only so long as he could communicate it to Harry.
The only thing he could do was try.
Harry stood in the corner of the dark cell he'd woken in, one hand clenched tight around the bucket he'd nearly tripped over when he'd stepped into the corner. It was the only weapon he had, with his wand and every stitch of clothing he'd been wearing taken. Not that Voldemort's plan required him to have a weapon, he just felt more secure with something in his hands. (Something he could maybe use to give himself at least some dignity when his rescuers showed up. Which, yeah, that was embarrassing, but at least he knew rescue was coming, which was a far sight better than any of his adventures at school.)
A feeling like a bell going off in his head came over him and he took a deep breath, then let out the most terrified scream he could manage. It came out far too easily, in his mind, and sounded far too real, but he'd take what he could get at this point.
There followed a rise in voices and feet moving over his head. Some of them would have been scared themselves, others would have been confused. Some would likely know where it came from, and who made it.
Harry took another deep breath and screamed again.
Someone pounded on the door and a male voice shouted, "Tais-Toi!"
Harry let out his third scream, choking himself off with a sob that he couldn't help when the door slammed open. A brawny man stepped in, easily matching Voldemort for height, but physically built more like Hagrid. His eyes swept over the entire room before landing on Harry. He pointed his wand at Harry, then froze.
Above them, people were screaming.
Harry bared his teeth in a smile that was eight parts victory, two parts lingering terror, and threw his bucket at the man's head. What he lacked for in strength, he made up for in aim, and the man dropped to the floor like a sack of bricks.
Harry dove for his captor's wand and pointed it towards the open door as he backed back into his corner. Well it was true that he could escape, he was naked and armed with an unfamiliar wand, and Voldemort and the Death Eaters were upstairs trading curses with his captors. Harry was safest right where he currently was. (Anyway, he knew Voldemort would come for him as soon as it was safe.)
He actually didn't have to wait long before the screaming stopped. Not long after that, careful steps sounded above him, then on what sounded like wooden stairs down the hall from Harry's cell.
:Potter?: came a familiar hiss.
Harry let out a relieved breath. "It's clear," he called back.
When Voldemort stepped into the cell, red eyes glaring down at the unconscious man on the floor and robes marked with singes from spells that had missed him, Harry was hit with the need to hug him. So he dropped the wand and ran forward to do just that.
Voldemort was still for a moment, spine stiff under Harry's hands, before he suddenly relaxed in a rush, arms coming up around the younger wizard and holding him so tight, it seemed as though this was his first hug.
(Harry wouldn't have been surprised to discover it was, and that ached.)
"You idiotic child," Voldemort snarled, arms still tight around Harry's shoulders. "Next time, take the Floo."
"Okay," Harry agreed, even though he knew it was a lie; he much preferred apparation.
Voldemort finally pulled back, stiffness returning to his bearing as he took in Harry's state. "We'll have to find your wand," he declared as he pulled off his outer robe and handed it over without a word about it. "At least we've finally landed an attack on the Rebels; something good's come out of your idiocy."
"How much of a dent did you make?" Harry asked as he tightened the robe around his body and followed Voldemort from the room, the Dark Lord's wand tip turned up, towards its brother wand.
"We won't know until we get one of the survivors to talk, but I expect it was a large one; this complex has all the earmarks of a semi-permanent base."
"So this was better than just a 'good' victory," Harry pressed.
Voldemort snorted. "So it seems." He spun, then, completely unexpected, and gripped Harry's chin tight enough to hurt. "I will not have you getting captured again, Potter."
Harry could think of about a dozen responses to that, half of which would likely end with Voldemort leaving him here. He settled on resting his own hand over the one holding his chin and saying, "Thank you," with every ounce of honest gratitude he could muster.
Voldemort stared at him for a long moment, expression softening just enough to show the trace of desperation mixed with fear that Harry had felt when he'd first woken, before he'd realised what had happened and his own terror had overwhelmed it.
"Thank you," Harry said again, the closest Voldemort would probably let either of them get to admitting the Dark Lord had cared. There was something there, horcruxes or brother wands or a prophecy neither of them wanted to think about, there was something between them that they couldn't brush off. Right then, on the steps leading away from the cell he'd been held captive in, Harry could admit it, at least to himself.
Voldemort pulled away, turning to continue up the stairs. :You're welcome,: he hissed, a secret kept just between them.
"I'm sorry, Harry," Dumbledore said, his ghost memory self hugging a baby to his chest for a moment before carefully shifting it and picking up a bottle. He sighed and managed a twisted smile for the green eyes looking up at him. "Oh, my boy, why is fate always so cruel to those least deserving? How is it even the slightest fair that I must leave you to fend for yourself in the last place I would want to leave you? Why must a child so bright live a life so wretched? What is this punishment for, I wonder? And who is it most meant to punish: You, or me?"
Baby Harry let out a gurgle around the bottle and one little hand came up to grab onto the fingers holding the bottle, keeping them in place.
Dumbledore let out a quiet laugh, a little wet around the edges, and leaned his head down to kiss baby Harry's forehead. "My poor boy. Child, I am sorry. Sorry for everything I have to put you through, every pain you must suffer because of me. I'm sorry I can't keep you safe." He sighed, two tears falling free just before he closed his eyes and splashing against the end of the bottle. "I hope, above all else, that at the end of this, you find what I never could." He opened his eyes again, bright with tears, smile twisted by grief.
"Oh, Harry, child of my heart. He's sharp around the edges and flinches away at the slightest suggestion of love, but he's worth all the pain. They always are, the broken ones. Just–" he laughed again, a note of bitterness in the sound. "Soften him, don't blunt him. Don't make the same mistakes I did."
"Albus?" Madam Pomfrey's voice called. "Have you seen the child?"
"One moment, Poppy," Dumbledore called back before gently pulling the bottle away and kissing baby Harry's forehead again, directly over the angry red scar. "I don't deserve your forgiveness, child, and you can hardly give it, but I wish it all the same. Oh, Harry, my sweet boy, I'm so very sorry..."
The ghost memory faded away, leaving Harry standing in the middle of the swirl of inactive memories, tears marking his face as he stared at where Dumbledore had been standing.
For one moment, Harry allowed himself to hold on to a well of anger. Anger for a broken will, a childhood of abuse, a school-life filled with adventures no child should be forced to go through, a world with expectations for a single boy to become their saviour.
And then he let out a breath, something almost like a sob forcing past his clenched teeth, and the anger went with it. In his heart, something broken and jagged mended, leaving behind an ache that felt like a breath of fresh air.
Almost sixteen years after Dumbledore had first asked for it, Harry whispered, "I forgive you, Professor."
A/N: Don't even start with me about how you want more. At this point, you should probably just be grateful I finished it. XP
P.S. - You can find me at Archive of Our Own as Batsutousai, or on tumblr as batshieroglyphics. I don't tend to log in to FFN to respond to reviews any more, so you if you need a response to a burning question, you're best off asking at one of those two places. ;)