Once again I have managed to convince my muse to provide an update. I do think the hard part is over and now, hopefully, we can make our way to a conclusion to this story. Still think it can be done in 4-5 chapters.
Disclaimer: I once again proclaim that I do not own Harry Potter or any character that appears in those books. I do lay claim to the Snarky Goddess of Love Miranda and a mousetrap laying Death.
"Thank you Alastor," Dumbledore said as the Potters followed the retired Auror into the office.
"No thanks needed Albus," Moody replied. "They wanted to come and I was more than willing to provide what protection I could for them."
Dumbledore internally sighed but nodded. "I'll make sure they make it back to Grimmauld."
"Actually sir," Hermione said. "Madam Bones wishes to see us when we're done here. Tonks is supposed to escort us so we need to either go back to St. Mungos or coordinate somewhere else to meet Tonks."
"Must you keep putting yourself at risk?" Dumbledore asked the teens. "You must realize how real the danger is for you? Will you not just go back to Grimmauld and stay there?"
"I'll let you three work out those details," Moody said before Harry could retort. "It's time for me to find a bed for a bit of shut-eye." The retired Auror turned toward the door to leave but before he had taken a step he turned back. "And Albus, according to Sirius, who spoke to Madam Bones last night, Snape might have told Voldemort that you were not around yesterday which facilitated the attack on us. If I find out that's true…well let's say inviting him to the next Order meeting would be a mistake."
"I will take your words under advisement Alastor," Dumbledore replied evenly. "If it is true, then it was most likely a case where disclosing the information was the only way to keep his cover."
Moody just grunted at that explanation before he turned to Harry and Hermione. "Just to let you know, I've decided that I'm tired of staring at the front door of Headquarters at night. If you want to continue giving Albus the midnight runaround, feel free to do so. Or better yet," Alastor continued as his magical eyed stopped as it pointed at the Headmaster, "let me know ahead of time so I can enjoy the entertainment of Albus running around foolishly over and over again."
Harry nodded and grinned at the gnarled-faced man who turned and walked out of Dumbledore's office. Once the door had closed, Harry turned toward Dumbledore only to see the Headmaster's features sag with a look of weariness. Though he was still angered at the Headmaster's determination to return him to being a prisoner at Grimmauld, he still felt concern. "How are you sir? Was Madam Pomfrey able to fix your hands and legs?"
"You didn't get cursed from that ring did you?" Hermione asked as she saw the same change in the Headmaster's demeanor.
"Madam Pomfrey performed her usual superb treatments," The Headmaster replied, "and I've suffered no lasting injuries, neither from your hexes nor of any curses from the Horcrux." Albus smiled to himself at the concern shown by the teens. It had been one of his tricks he had used over the many years; to show a hint of vulnerability. He knew that when you do so, your opponent usually will do one of two things. They will either act aggressively to try to press their presumed advantage or they will show compassion, opening themselves up as well. Either of which could be used successfully against the opponent; each allowed a way to regain control of a situation. "Now to continue," he said to himself.
"First," Dumbledore continued in a soft grandfatherly tone, "I should thank both of you for possibly saving my life and at least saving me from grievous harm. Once again it appears that I have a weakness that prevented me from dispatching the Horcrux."
"We're just glad we were there," Harry replied. He was sincere in those words. They knew that if Dumbledore were to die, Riddle would move openly against the Ministry and it might fall as quickly as they had seen in the previous timeline.
"Not being aggressive," Dumbledore thought, "Good; but there is something I need to make clear with them." He gazed at both of the teens for a moment, giving them his best grandfatherly demeanor before he continued. "I do hope you understand that I don't owe you a life-debt though since I specifically told you not to follow me or attempt any rescue."
"Even if he hadn't," The voice of Miranda appeared in Harry and Hermione's heads, "it still wouldn't have been a life debt since you had knowledge of the impending danger and did not tell him of it. Not that you should have of course, but you can't knowingly allow someone to be in danger, rescue them from that danger and still expect a life-debt."
"I didn't even think of life-debts," Harry replied to the Goddess and again he repeated it out loud to the Headmaster. "Actually sir, I never had even thought of a life-debt."
"Well now that we've settled that," Albus said, "Please have a seat; it seems we have a lot to talk about."
"I agree," Hermione replied as she and Harry sat down in chairs across from the Headmaster. "The first being Ginny Weasley."
"After all that happened yesterday, it's an infatuated young lady you wish to discuss?" Dumbledore asked showing disbelief. Though he did want to convince the Potters to just let things alone with Ginny since her knowledge of a Horcrux was too important to risk sharing with anyone else in any depth, Dumbledore needed more time to find an appropriate argument. "Surely…"
"Ginny is a mentally disturbed young woman who tried to kill me earlier today," Hermione replied cutting off the Headmaster. "She put hemlock in my salad at lunch today and admitted that she needed me dead so that she could marry Harry. Now if that is your idea of simple infatuation, then you are a lost cause sir."
"But…." Albus started to argue but then he realized what Hermione had said. "Ginny tried to kill? Not possible; I'm sure I would have realized something like that."
"As Hermione said, she admitted it," Harry was the one to cut the Headmaster off this time. "We've already spoken with Mr. and Mrs. Weasley. They agree she needs help. It was either that or have her formally charged with attempted murder."
"I…." Dumbledore started again then paused as he tried to determine a way to control the situation as once again he found himself completely blindsided by the Potters. Finally after a couple of moments, he continued, "I guess I misread the situation with young Miss Weasley. Obviously I was wrong to not have listened to you earlier. I will, of course, arrange for her care."
"Not a chance sir," Hermione almost snorted. "We're going to work with the Weasleys to find somewhere outside of Great Britain for her to be treated; far away from you and your attempts to interfere." The last words were accompanied by a glare.
"You really think I would interfere in any help Miss Weasley might need?"
"You have already, haven't you?" Hermione accused. "Funny how the Weasleys just happen to win the Galleon Draw after the year Ginny had been possessed? A year you did the actual draw? And earlier, even after we showed you the seriousness of the potions she tried to use on us, you still called it infatuation and convinced her parents that she only needed calming draughts."
"The only reason we could determine was that you had to make sure Ginny didn't say anything about Riddle coming out of a Horcrux," Harry added.
Dumbledore could only stare at the teens who kept unraveling his secrets and plans.
"Yes, it definitely would be Slytherin now," The Sorting Hat murmured in a voice they could all hear.
Harry turned to the Sorting Hat and asked. "Do you still think I should be in Slytherin?"
"Oh no, Mr. Potter," The Sorting Hat replied. "In fact the Headmaster and I were just discussing you earlier and I said you most definitely should be in Gryffindor. You are more like Godric than any that have come through these halls in many of years. No…no I was referring to Albus there. He is the one who should have been sorted into Slytherin."
Harry couldn't help but share a smirk with Hermione, but then he nodded and said. "I'd have to agree."
"Can we get back to other things besides sortings?" Dumbledore asked with annoyance in his voice. "Let's return to Miss Weasley's care later, but for now can we discuss you deciding that you needed to kill yesterday? More blood that exists on your hands?"
"We did what we needed to do to save Sirius, Moony and the rest of the Order," Harry retorted. "Or do you think we should we have flown around asking the Death Eaters nicely to go home and stop trying to kill our friends? Maybe invited them out for tea and biscuits to discuss our political differences?"
"When will you take these actions seriously? When you take another person's life, it leaves a mark on your soul," The Headmaster complained.
"What does letting innocent people or your friends die when you can save them do to your soul?" Hermione asked with growing ire. "Which one of those Death Eaters' life was worth Sirius'? Remus' life? Professor McGonagall's? Moody's? What about your own?"
"Still…" Albus started.
"We did what we had to do," Harry said cutting off the Headmaster once again. "Do we want to kill anyone? Of course not, but we'll do it again and again if necessary. We aren't looking for trouble, but if Death Eaters attack innocent people or our friends and we can stop it, we will; something that you, the supposed leader of this fight seems unwilling to do."
"An innocent life or a murderer…" The Sorting hat murmured in the uneasy silence that had descended on the office. "What path leads to darkness Headmaster?"
"What?" Harry asked the Hat.
"Just an argument the Headmaster and I had before you arrived." The Sorting Hat replied. "Right Albus?"
"An argument that is much more complex than you make it seem," Dumbledore complained as he felt himself being cornered by the arguments; something he was used to doing, not have done to him. "ALL life is important."
"As we both have said, we are not out trying to kill Death Eaters," Harry replied, "but we aren't going to let innocent people be killed if we can prevent it either. Besides, haven't you already told me that I have to kill Voldemort? Are you now saying that I should forget about that? I mean if you are opposed to Hermione and I killing those who murder innocent people, then you must be opposed to me killing Voldemort."
"That's not what I said," Dumbledore argued.
"So what is the difference between Voldemort and his Death Eaters?" Hermione asked. "Why does one deserve to die while the others shouldn't be killed?"
"Many of those Death Eaters are just followers, doing what they are told by Voldemort," Dumbledore explained. "They have loved ones and children who care and love them."
"Children and loved ones who learn from the Death Eater that it's alright to be a bigoted killer of innocent people," Hermione argued. "Something that, as Harry said at the end of term, you are allowing to continue in this very school by not adequately disciplining those who bully or use derogatory words such as mudblood against other students."
"Just words…." The Headmaster started.
"As Harry told you at the end of the year, words, when not disciplined, soon escalate," Hermione replied. "Especially when those words are continually supported by someone's Head of House."
"Professor Snape would…"
"Who creates the passwords for the Slytherin Common room?" Harry asked. "Because I know one of the passwords in our second year was 'Pureblood'. How is that NOT supporting the bigotry?"
Again Albus found himself without an argument and all he could do was stare at the teens as he tried to gather his thoughts. After a few moments of silence that had descended on the office, Harry stood. "It looks like there is nothing left to discuss Headmaster. We need to get to the Ministry and speak with Madam Bones about yesterday. May we use your floo?"
"Before we forget," Hermione said as she rose from her seat as well, "We should give this back to you." She pulled the Elder Wand from her bag and laid it on Dumbledore's desk.
Albus reached for the wand, but as his fingers touched it, he knew ownership had passed. There was no warmth, no acceptance from the wand he'd taken from his lover's hand so many years ago when he had finally defeated Grindelwald. He inwardly sighed as he realized that even his wand was following Harry Potter, or at least his wife, now. Dumbledore's first inclination was to take the wand and hide it away, but then he remembered the long history of this particular wand finding its way back to its owner or a new owner. With an audible sigh Dumbledore pushed the wand back toward the teens. "It seems it's your burden to bear now. Maybe even a larger burden that it was to me."
"Burden?" Harry asked, wondering if the Headmaster would explain.
"From your parting words yesterday, I presume you know what I am referring to," Dumbledore replied. He leaned toward the teens. "Though how you recognized the stone in the ring for what it was so quickly is beyond me."
"You…" Harry almost blurted out that Dumbledore had shown him Slughorn's memory with Riddle wearing the ring as a ready excuse, but then remembered that was from the previous timeline. "Uh…." Harry hesitated as he glanced at Hermione.
"It was you mentioning your sister by name sir," Hermione lied quickly, "as you were about to put the ring on. We… eh…have been researching Harry's cloak and the fact that it was still in pristine condition even though it was generations old suggested it wasn't your typical invisibility cloak. Eh…when we brought it up to Luna, she mentioned the Tale of the Three Brothers and the cloak in it. Though I originally scoffed at the idea, there was no other answer for why the cloak was…what it is. Luna then told us about people who believed in the…Hallows, she called them. She drew us a symbol of what people who believe in the Hallows wear; the same symbol that is etched on that stone."
"That was amazing," Harry said to his wife.
"A cloak, a stone and…a wand," Dumbledore said as he nodded at the Elder Wand on his desk.
Silence descended on the office again as each waited for another to speak. Finally Harry reached into his pocket and pulled out the ring with the Resurrection Stone in it and laid it next to the wand. "Does…does it really give you the opportunity to speak to the dead?" He asked.
"Obviously the tales suggest it does, but frankly I don't know," Dumbledore admitted as he reached for the stone. His hand stopped as words recently spoken returned to his mind. "Clearly you are not a special kind of man Headmaster, but I believe young Mr. Potter is."
As Dumbledore stared at the Hallow he had most desperately sought, memories appeared in his mind he had tried to keep locked away; memories associated with two words; "The Dead." Albus could see Ariana's dead body lying on the floor of his childhood home; images of his father, dead in an Azkaban prison; his mother whom he had resented for dying in Ariana's accidental magic explosion which forced him to care for his sister. "The Dead." The words repeated in the Headmaster's mind as more memories surfaced. He could see images, imagined and real, of the millions of muggles and wizards who had died in a war started by Grindewald; a war that in different circumstances of his youth Dumbledore himself might have helped start. Dumbledore's thought's turned to those who had depended on him, who had trusted him and who had died; Edgar Bones and his family, Caradoc Dearborn, Benjy Eenwick, Gideon and Fabian Prewett, Hestia, Dedulus, Mundungus and many more including the parents of the young man in front of him James and Lily Potter.
"Could I be wrong? Is the blood of those people who trusted me staining my hands because I failed to protect them? How many have died because of my failures?" The Headmaster's eyes moved back to the young man and his wife in front of him, but this time he did not see two teens, but of two people trying to not make the mistakes he had made."I was willing to allow someone to die, someone who trusted me…and in that willingness, almost everyone died." Dumbledore swallowed as he glanced at the Sorting Hat.
"Something you wish to say Headmaster?" The Hat asked.
With a slight shake of his head, the Headmaster broke out of his reverie and pulled his hand back from the stone and shook his head. "And maybe now is not the time to find out."
"But your sister…" Harry started but then stopped. "It is like the Mirror of Erised isn't it? What happened to the second brother? You can get so wrapped up in your past or desires, that you forget there is a future?"
Dumbledore eyes met Harry's and he nodded. "You are gaining a lot of wisdom for someone so young. Keep the stone and of course the wand. I have proven time and again that I'm not worthy enough for the Hallows."
Harry remembered a similar statement by Dumbledore after he had died. "The truth?" He asked his wife who could only shrug. Green eyes stared at blue ones, which now seemed to be filled with wetness. Finally Harry nodded and took the stone and the wand, but shook his own head. "Sir, I actually think you're telling the truth right now, but you have told me so many lies and mislead me so many times that I can't be sure. How can I be sure you aren't just trying to convince me that you are sincere so I'll follow you blindly later?"
"Do you really think so little of me that you distrust a simple compliment on your wisdom?" Dumbledore asked.
"Unfortunately yes," Hermione replied, "especially since you were just criticizing his judgment on how to save people whom Death Eaters are attacking." She then glanced at her husband. After quick mental conversation, she continued out loud. "Besides, it has become abundantly clear that there is something you need from Harry, something other than or wrapped up in the Prophecy; something that you are keeping from him. Now you might have the best intentions in the world for keeping it from him, but frankly my own opinion is that those intentions are only going to grease your path to hell. A path I guarantee I will put you on myself if Harry dies because you haven't told him something he needs to know."
"And people wonder why I put the young woman in Gryffindor instead of Ravenclaw…." The Sorting Hat commented.
"The same goes for me," Harry said more quietly. "If you are withholding ANY information that leads to Hermione's or any of our friends' injury or death, then I will presume there are two Dark Lords I am destined to vanquish." After a couple of seconds pause, he continued. "Again, maybe we use your floo to go see Madam Bones? She is sure she found the leak in the Floo Department and has that sorted out."
Dumbledore could see the determination in the Potters' eyes and he knew that if the two teens left his office and later found out the last critical piece, he would lose their cooperation entirely. And with everyone starting to follow Harry, that would be disastrous. With a final sigh, he motioned toward the seats, "Please sit back down. There are things you need to know, but understand that if I tell you, then not only am I taking away what may be a serious advantage to the fight against Voldemort if things go wrong, but it may cause you distress that could have been avoided for some time to come."
Harry glanced at Hermione and silently asked, "Is he actually going to tell us about me being a Horcrux?"
"Have we left him much choice?" Hermione replied. "But be wary." Before she sat back down, Hermione moved her chair significantly to the side, while indicating for Harry to do the same on the other. "To make it more difficult for him to try to hex or obliviate us." As they sat down, both teens also showed their wands were in their hands.
Seeing the teens actions, Dumbledore again sighed. "I really do not mean you harm and currently..." He showed his empty hands, "I have no wand."
"Your previous actions or inactions do not match your words on occasion," Hermione replied. "And we both know that you are more than capable with wandless magic. Now as for this information distressing us, I believe we can truthfully say we prefer to know what will affect us instead of being in a situation where not knowing may lead to our deaths."
"Your deaths or at least Harry's at least is what this is about," Dumbledore replied hoping to startle the two teens; to get some advantage, but once again he was disappointed when they continued to stare at him. With their separated chairs, he had to continually move his eyes from Harry to Hermione, losing the ability to return their stares as well. "Harry, have you given serious consideration to what gives you that link to Voldemort? How you were able to connect with Voldemort's snake when he attacked Arthur Weasley and how Voldemort was able to send you those images?"
"Actually Hermione and I have a good idea of what it is," Harry replied, "but please enlighten us to your beliefs so we can determine if we are mistaken."
"Really?" Dumbledore asked. "Please tell me what you think it might be?"
"Really sir?" Hermione complained. "That is one of the oldest tricks in the book."
"Trick?" Harry asked out loud.
"What Professor Dumbledore is trying to do is determine what we know without disclosing anything he knows or limiting what he has to tell us," Hermione explained. "If you were to answer that question, then he could just tell us that is all he knows as well and keep any additional information to himself. Or if we are mistaken, then it gives him the upper hand in these discussions."
Dumbledore sighed once more. It really was a simple trick to get information from people without having to disclose what he knew, and he had used it many times over the course of his long life. In this case he hadn't intended to use it, but the question had come out before he had considered the consequences of possibly distancing the Potters even further away from trusting him. "Very well." The Headmaster paused to consider his words before continuing. "As I said, I've been very reluctant to part with this information because I know it will be a burden for you to bear, but with your insistence and rebelliousness, it seems to you leave me no choice." Dumbledore paused before continuing. "I'm sorry to say that I believe you, or at least your scar, contains one of Voldemort's Horcruxes." The Headmaster sat back to await the panic he knew would materialize the teen's eyes. He was sadly disappointed once more.
"Looks like you were right again," Harry smirked at Hermione.
"It wasn't difficult once all of the facts were known," Hermione replied with a smile as she played along.
"You…you knew?" Dumbledore asked, bewildered.
"Yes and it's what we have been waiting for you to tell us," Harry replied with hard edge to his voice and he looked back at the Headmaster.
"It was fairly easy to figure out once you explained horcruxes considering Harry link to Voldemort, especially when you also consider what happened with Mr. Weasley," Hermione explained.
"But you do realize what that means?" Dumbledore asked.
"What do you believe it means?" Hermione asked, turning the informational ploy around.
"Remember what I said; a Horcrux container must be destroyed beyond the ability of magic to repair it," Dumbledore replied with a look of great sadness. The smirk that the Potters shared was once more unexpected; especially when they rose from their seats.
"That was your last chance sir," Harry said as he stared at the Headmaster. "We have given you every chance to be honest with us, but you continually try to mislead us with lies or in this case an answer, but not the answer you believe."
"It is very doubtful that you believe for one second that there is no way for Harry to survive," Hermione continued. "And since you seemed to be more interested in continuing this unwillingness to share information instead of actually trying to help Harry complete the prophecy, then consider this our last time communicating with you about what we do or not do with this war. I WILL figure out how to save Harry and if for some reason I can't, well remember what I said earlier about your path to hell."
"Now if you'll excuse us, we'll go see Madam Bones," Harry said. "At least she is willing to help."
As Dumbledore watch the teens turn their backs on him, his shoulders truly sagged as he felt every one of his years. Too many secrets; too many memories; too many deaths all laid in his lap with absolutely accuracy by the Potters. "You're right," he sighed in voice barely above a whisper. "I do believe Harry has a chance to live, but I'm not absolutely certain."
"How?" Hermione asked as she turned back to the Headmaster.
"The same way the Horcrux got into him in the first place;" Albus replied as his eyes turned to Harry, "a killing curse by Voldemort. You see, I think Riddle made a terrible, or for you Harry, a wonderful mistake that night he used your blood in his return."
"What kind of mistake?" Hermione asked as she attempted to get the whole story out of Dumbledore.
"By taking Harry's blood, Tom thought he was strengthen himself, but I believe, or should say, I hope that he took a bit of Lily's protection into his body," Dumbledore explained. "It's possible that protection, that connection, will tether Harry to life while the soul piece in the scar will be killed."
"Why didn't you tell me all of this before?" Harry asked. "Why keep it from me?"
"Many reasons or at least that is what I've been telling myself," Dumbledore replied truthfully. "I had thought there might be a time when you would need to sacrifice yourself willingly to save lives, and if I was wrong, then your death might give others the same protection as your mother gave you. I also believed that if the knowledge of what is inside of you made it back to Voldemort, he might unravel some of the mysteries he's so desperate to figure out. But mostly, I believed you were too young to bear the burden of that knowledge."
"And now?" Harry asked.
"I can only hope you're old enough," Dumbledore countered with a shrug. "You have taken on many burdens for someone your age, but you've been doing that for several years already."
"More years than he realizes," Harry said to his wife before replying to Dumbledore. "So…what now?"
"I think for now, you should go have your visit with Madam Bones," Dumbledore replied wearily. "But I would like to discuss things with you further in the near future. One of those things would be how you feel I should deal with students here at Hogwarts in regards to bigotry. What would you have me do?"
"I have a few…creative…suggestions," Hermione replied.
"Also Harry," Dumbledore said. "I am in need of a new Professor once again. I would like your help in recruiting one."
"A defense professor?"
"No." Albus replied. "I refuse to be put in the situation I had last year and end up with a Ministry person. I need help in recruiting a certain Potion's Professor. I'm sure the two of you can figure out what that means."
"Eh…yes sir," Harry replied.
"Now instead of the Floo, will you at least allow Fawkes to transport you to St. Mungos?"
Harry looked at the majestic phoenix and nodded. "Of course sir."
A/N Well how did I do with Dumbledore?