Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter, as will be evidenced by the fact that this story will be "chest monster" free.
Quick A/N: The story follows canon through the fight in the Department of Mysteries, and Dumbledore's conversation with Harry shortly afterwards. Hermione's injury might be slightly more severe than it was in the book, as in order for this opening chapter to work, I needed her to be the only one left in the hospital wing.
No More Mysteries
Chapter 1: A Conversation in the Hospital Wing
Harry Potter was no stranger to the hospital wing of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. He'd wound up there so many times during his first five years at the school, it had become something of a running joke between he and his friends that they should rename the wing in his honour.
Harry was in no mood for jokes or humour at the moment. He doubted he ever would be again. After all, it had been just days since his godfather, Sirius Black, had been murdered right before his very eyes.
Harry had lost count of the number of people who had approached him since that terrible night to offer him words of condolence, sympathy and regret. He was getting rather tired of it. It was all well and good for people to tell him that his pain would lessen eventually, as time passed. What did they know? He'd just lost the closest thing he'd ever had to a father, or a family.
The fact that wizarding Britain finally realised he and Dumbledore had been telling the truth about Voldemort's return to power was of little consolation, either. The price had been far too steep, and at this point, he didn't really care whether a bunch of strangers thought he was a deranged nutter. All that mattered to him was what his small circle of close friends thought of him.
It was the health of one of those close friends that brought Harry to the hospital wing at this time. The six of them had really been quite lucky to have come through a battle with some of Voldemort's chief Death Eaters in one piece. Harry had been through far worse physically, and as for the friends who accompanied him on his foolish mission, only minor injuries had been incurred. Ginny had broken her ankle, Neville's nose and wand were broken, and Ron had been attacked by those freaky brains, but all of them had since been released from the hospital wing.
All except one, that is. Hermione Granger's injuries were a bit more serious, and she alone was still confined to her bed per the orders of Madam Pomfrey. She was not alone, though. Harry had scarcely left her side over the past couple of days, staying longer and visiting with much greater frequency than any of Hermione's other friends. At the present moment, while the rest of his friends were eating supper down in the Great Hall, Harry was occupying his usual seat near Hermione's bedside, watching over his closest female friend as she slept in the otherwise deserted room.
Harry leaned forward slightly, making sure his friend looked as comfortable as possible. Once he reassured himself that Hermione continued to slumber peacefully, Harry allowed his thoughts to drift to the deluge of life-altering information that Headmaster Dumbledore had dropped in his lap after they returned from the Department of Mysteries.
For years, Harry had believed in the Headmaster. He'd trusted him, and had always taken comfort in the fact that the wise old man was there to watch over him, help him and guide him. But all that had changed.
Harry's disillusionment with Dumbledore had been brewing for nearly a year. Sure, Dumbledore had shown up and helped him out during his trial at the Ministry, but the entire time, he'd refused to look Harry in the eye. And Dumbledore's detached behaviour towards Harry continued throughout the school year, as the old man seemed to do his very best to avoid him. Harry now knew that Dumbledore had behaved in this way in an effort to prevent Voldemort from spying on him, but this did little to ease Harry's frustration towards his Headmaster. And that was really only the tip of the iceberg.
After everything Dumbledore had thrown at him during that memorable conversation in his office, Harry knew he'd never look at the man the same way again. All along, he'd known exactly why Voldemort had targeted Harry. He'd known the precise reason that his parents were murdered on that dreadful Halloween night so many years ago, and why Voldemort continued to come after him to this very day. He'd not only known of the existence of the prophecy, but he'd known what it said, word-for-word. And yet, for the past five years or so, he had deliberately kept Harry in the dark.
In doing so, Dumbledore had created an opening for Voldemort to take advantage of. If Dumbledore had told Harry what he needed to know, Voldemort would never have been able to lure him to the Ministry. Harry would not have led his friends into danger—nor Sirius to his death.
Harry still felt he deserved some of the blame for what had happened to his godfather, but as he'd thought it over extensively, he concluded that Dumbledore was just as much to blame, and truthfully, probably deserved the brunt of it. Harry made many mistakes on that night—but the biggest mistake of all was Dumbledore's. If Harry had been given all of the facts, everything would have been avoided. The blame for that lay at the feet of Albus Dumbledore.
Harry believed the old man when he'd said that he had acted with Harry's best interests in mind. But still, Dumbledore had hidden so much from him for so long. He could never put his trust in the Headmaster again. Not completely, at least.
"Harry? What's wrong?"
Startled out of his musings, Harry glanced over to see that Hermione had awoken. She rubbed her hand across her face sleepily, but fixed him with a steady gaze as she pushed herself up into a sitting position.
"Nothing's wrong, Hermione; I'm fine. The real question is, how are you? Is your wound hurting?"
Hermione shook her head, but never took her eyes off of her friend. "It's feeling much better, Harry. It's just a slight discomfort now. But don't try to change the subject. I know you too well for that to work on me. Something's bothering you, Harry, I can tell."
Harry shook his head in dismissal, though he did break eye contact by lowering his gaze to Hermione's bed.
"Don't know what makes you think that. There's nothing bothering me, aside from simply being worried about you."
"That's rubbish, Harry," Hermione asserted. "Something's eating at you. Stop trying to deny it; I can read you like a book."
"I've seen the way you read books, Hermione. There's no way I'm that easy to figure out," Harry said with a grin, trying to sidetrack his friend with humour.
Hermione wasn't about to let him get away with it.
"Harry..." she quietly commanded, letting him know that she would not let the issue drop.
Harry held no illusions about being anywhere near as perceptive as Hermione, but he still knew his friend well enough to realise that she would continue pressing him until he shared what was on his mind.
His first instinct was to try and make something up that sounded at least semi-plausible. After what had happened with Dumbledore, Harry was reluctant to put his trust in anyone else. But before he had the chance to come up with anything, he started second guessing himself. Yes, he felt horribly betrayed by Dumbledore's actions (or, more accurately, his inactions.) But, in all the years he'd known her, had Hermione ever given him a single reason not to trust her? The only thing he could really come up with was their disagreement over the Firebolt in their 3rd year. He'd been angry with her at the time, feeling like she'd betrayed him by going behind his back and sharing her suspicions about the broom with Professor McGonagall. It turned out she'd been right, as the broom really had been sent to him by Sirius Black, though obviously not with the intent that Hermione had feared.
She'd done that without voicing her concerns over the broom with him, or telling him what she was going to do. Would she do the same if he confided in her now?
"Hermione...if you could do it over again, would you handle the Firebolt incident in our 3rd year any differently? Or would you make the exact same choice?"
"You're trying to change the subject again, Harry," Hermione said irritably.
"This is important, Hermione," Harry said. She rose her eyebrows and looked over at him doubtfully, but Harry met her gaze unflinchingly this time. "Really, it is. If you answer this question, I'll answer yours."
Hermione shrugged, not seeing how this was relevant, but answered him nevertheless. "Honestly? I'm not sure that I would do that any differently. I don't regret telling Professor McGonagall about the broom. I was worried about your safety, and rightfully so. You had no way of knowing who sent you that broom, or for what purpose. It would have been incredibly reckless for you to start using it immediately, without having any sort of tests done on it. You can admit that now, right?"
"Considering that someone has tried to kill me every single year that I've been here at Hogwarts, absolutely," Harry agreed with a nod. "Even back then, I'd already had several near-death experiences here. I guess I was just so excited to have a new, top-of-the-line broom to replace my broken Nimbus, and I didn't really let myself think about the danger."
Harry paused, thinking, before he continued. "I wish you'd have come to me first, though. It felt like a betrayal, kind of. Even though I eventually got over it, and realised that you'd had a point, I still felt hurt that you went straight to McGonagall without at least talking to me about it first."
"I see what you mean," Hermione said as she nodded thoughtfully. "But it wouldn't have done any good, would it? Just from the way you and Ron were acting when you got that broom, I didn't feel like there was any chance that you'd listen to my concerns about it. You wouldn't have, right?"
"Right, I wouldn't have," Harry agreed. "I was too excited to look at things logically. But I was a 13-year-old boy. 13-year-old boys aren't really known for thinking things over. Now, I know I'm still not the most rational bloke around," Harry said with the ghost of a smile on his face, "but I'd like to think that after everything I've been through since then, I'd be willing to listen to what you had to say, if something like that came up again. Especially after what happened when I refused to listen to you about going to the Ministry to save Sirius," Harry finished, frowning in sorrow and regret as he thought about his godfather.
Hermione patted his arm in sympathy. "I think you would, too. I honestly believe that if you hadn't had Voldemort in your head, influencing your thoughts and emotions, I'd have been able to talk you out of going to the Ministry."
"I should have listened to you...how often are you wrong?" Harry said morosely.
"Don't torture yourself over it, Harry," Hermione said firmly. "We've already been over this. It was not your fault. There are many who deserve blame for what happened that night. Voldemort, obviously. All of those Death Eaters that attacked us. Kreacher, for deceiving you when you tried to contact Sirius. Even Professor Snape, for his dreadful attempts at teaching you Occlumency."
"Don't forget Dumbledore," Harry added darkly.
"Dumbledore? What do you mean? He wasn't even in the castle at the time. How is he responsible for what happened?" a confused Hermione asked.
How do I answer that? Harry wondered. Should he talk with Hermione about what had been on his mind for the past few days? Could he trust her?
"Well...it's...complicated," he said hesitantly.
After spending a moment trying to figure out how to respond, Harry decided there was still a question that needed answering.
"Before we get into that, could you answer my question?" he said quietly.
"About the Firebolt? I thought I already had," Hermione responded.
Harry nodded in agreement. She had answered that question. But it still didn't tell him what he needed to know.
"Yeah, you're right, you did. And I can't really blame you for your answer. Back then, I wouldn't have been mature enough to listen to your rational objections about the broom. I guess the question I really wanted to ask you wasn't whether or not you'd change that decision if you had the chance, but what you'd do if something like that happened again."
"What do you mean by 'something like that', exactly? Give me an example."
Harry took a deep breath and glanced around the room quickly, making sure they were still alone, before replying.
"OK...let's say I was thinking about leaving Hogwarts. For good. What would you do then? Would you go run off to tell a professor, or would you keep it secret?" he asked in an intense whisper.
Hermione felt a wave of pure fear coursing through her stomach at Harry's whispered question, but did her best to fight her rising panic and respond in something close to her usual tone.
"Well...I suppose I'd want to hear your reasons first. After that, I'd respond to them as best I could. If I disagreed with anything that you had to say, I'd let you know. If I had any suggestions to offer, advice to give, or counter-points to make, I would share them with you. I would want to discuss the situation with you thoroughly. If I felt that you were making a mistake and needlessly putting yourself in danger, and you refused to accept my arguments, I suppose I would alert whomever I thought could help me keep you safe. But would I immediately tell Professor Dumbledore or Professor McGonagall, as I did with the Firebolt? No. You've grown up and matured, as have I. If I disagreed with you now, my first response would be to try to reason with you. If it got to the point where I felt that I had no choice but to tell someone else, you would already be well aware of how I felt."
"So...basically what you're saying is that you'd at least hear me out? No matter what I might be thinking of doing, you'd be willing to discuss it with me before telling someone else?"
"That's correct, Harry," Hermione confirmed. "But if push came to shove, I would do what I thought I had to do. I can deal with you being angry with me, so long as I do whatever I can to make sure you make it through this war healthy and alive. Is that good enough? Will you trust me, and tell me what has you so worked up that you're thinking about leaving the only place you've ever really felt at home?"
Harry didn't respond right away, as he was silently mulling over what she had said. He thought she'd been pretty upfront with him. She hadn't denied that she would go to someone else if she thought it was absolutely necessary, but she had promised to at least talk things over with him before resorting to that. He did worry that she would disagree with him, and eventually would wind up going to Dumbledore. The old man knew that Harry was upset with him; all the things he'd broken while in his office were proof enough. If he knew the true extent of Harry's thoughts, though, the Headmaster might try and dissuade him or redirect his attention elsewhere before he'd had the chance to think things over in full, and weigh all of his options.
On the other hand, was making this decision by himself really even an option? He could readily admit that his changing opinion of the Headmaster and his actions was strongly influenced by his emotions. Hermione would be able to set the emotions aside, and help him look at his concerns logically and rationally. Together, they'd be able to work through all of Harry's misgivings towards their Headmaster, and figure out what Harry should do next. Plus, she would be able to help him figure out exactly what his options were.
If they didn't reach the same conclusions, and she wound up telling Dumbledore just how betrayed and misled Harry felt? Well, Harry would cross that bridge when he came to it. Because when it came right down to it, he couldn't take the next step in his life, whatever that might wind up being, alone. He needed someone alongside him. Someone he could trust, someone who would always look out for him, no matter what.
He needed Hermione Granger, his best friend.
His decision made, Harry let out a deep breath, glanced around once again to reassure himself that they were quite alone, and prepared to share his thoughts with Hermione.
"It all comes down to Dumbledore," he said quietly. "I don't trust him any more."
"What do you mean? What did he do?" Hermione asked worriedly.
"It's not so much what he did...it's more what he didn't do," Harry said with a grimace on his face. "You know that prophecy that Voldemort was after, that he lured us into the Department of Mysteries to get?"
"Of course," Hermione interjected. "Are you saying Dumbledore knew about the prophecy, and didn't tell you? Is that why you're angry with him?"
"Not only did he know of it, he knew what it said. Word-for-word. My parents died because of that prophecy, and yet he went all these years without telling me about it. Even if he'd just told me that it existed and that Voldemort would be after it, I would've understood that Voldemort was trying to lead me into a trap. But he left me completely in the dark, and I fell for Voldemort's tricks. Ginny's broken ankle, Neville's broken nose, Ron being attacked by those brains, you nearly being killed, and Si-Sirius being murdered...it all happened for nothing! It all happened because Dumbledore deliberately withheld things that I needed to know!" Harry finished hotly.
"I see," Hermione said, frowning in disappointment that the respected Headmaster had concealed something of such importance from Harry. "That is indeed a grave mistake. I understand why you're so upset with him about this, Harry. It'll be hard for you to fully trust him after this. But is this reason enough for you to leave Hogwarts? Or is there more to it?"
"There's more. There's loads more," Harry assured her. "For one thing, he knew exactly what the prophecy said. He knew what it meant for me, for my future. Yet he's done nothing to help prepare me for that future."
"This prophecy...what did it say?" Hermione hesitantly asked. She was almost afraid to hear it, knowing that it would mean nothing good for her friend. But she needed to know what he was dealing with, so she could try and help him.
Harry opened his mouth to share the prophecy with her, but before he could begin, they were both startled by the door opening. Madam Pomfrey walked in, and approached Hermione's bedside.
"Time to have a look at that injury, Miss Granger. You'll have to remove your shirt, of course, which means it is time for Mister Potter to leave."
"Actually, could you give us just a minute, Madam Pomfrey?" Hermione interrupted. "Harry and I were discussing something, and I'd really like to finish our conversation before he leaves. It'll only take a minute, I promise."
At first, the healer was going to insist that the boy leave so she could perform her examination immediately. But something in the girl's tone, and the look on her face, seemed to suggest that this was a conversation of great importance.
"Very well. I have a bit of cleaning to take care of anyhow. I will be back shortly, so say whatever it is you have to say," the healer commanded. She headed in the direction of her office, which was far enough away to allow the teens to speak privately, so long as they were quiet.
Hermione watched to make sure that the healer was well out of earshot before she returned her attention to Harry.
"We don't have much time, Harry, so we'll save the prophecy, and whatever else is bothering you, for later. But before you go, promise me that you won't take any action or make any decisions before we've had a chance to discuss things. Please?" she begged, squeezing his arm to emphasize her concern.
"I promise," Harry reassured her. "But if your injury is healing as well as you say it is, she'll be discharging you from the hospital wing soon. It might be hard for us to speak in private when that happens. Ron will be around most of the time."
"You don't want to tell Ron about this?" Hermione asked in surprise.
"No," Harry said, shaking his head. "Not yet, at least. It's not that I don't trust him. I do. But, it's just...being raised in magical Britain like he was, he's had this reverence for Albus Dumbledore drilled into him almost from birth. Most people seem to think he can do no wrong, and is incapable of making mistakes. But not you. I know you've always admired Dumbledore a great deal; so have I. But you're like me. You didn't know who the man was until just before you started here at Hogwarts. You're more likely to be able to acknowledge his faults than Ron, who has been hearing how great Dumbledore is since he was in nappies. Plus, you've always been able to set your feelings aside, and look at things reasonably. You're the only one I want to talk to about this, Hermione. At least for now."
"OK, I understand your point," Hermione said. "We won't discuss this with, Ron, then. At least not right away. That will make it more difficult for us to find time for this, because if we ask Ron to leave us alone for a bit, it might raise some questions we don't really need to deal with yet. And the term is ending in just days. Perhaps we can talk through owl post during the summer?" she offered.
Harry shook his head. "No good. Aside from the possibility that an owl could be intercepted by a Death Eater, there's also Dumbledore to consider. If Dumbledore had people guarding Privet Drive last summer, when Voldemort was still laying low, I'm sure he'll do the same now that everyone knows the git really is back. And I wouldn't put it past that old man to have his guards take a look at any owls I send or receive, so he can keep tabs on me and what I'm thinking and feeling."
"Very well; owls are out then," Hermione conceded. She chewed her lower lip in thought, before her face suddenly brightened as she came up with an alternative. "What about muggle post?"
"You mean, just exchange letters through standard mail?"
"Absolutely!" Hermione said excitedly. "It takes care of both problems. Voldemort and his Death Eaters despise all things muggle; they'd never even think to check the muggle post. And there'd be no reason for Dumbledore or his supporters to check your mail, either. So long as you're still sending Hedwig out to deliver other letters that don't contain anything important, they shouldn't think anything is out of the ordinary."
"It could work," Harry began slowly, before he noticed a flaw in the plan. "But Dumbledore knows that I didn't have any friends before I started at Hogwarts. If I suddenly started going out regularly to send mail, wouldn't that make them suspicious?"
"You're right. That would look suspicious, since the Dursleys made sure you never made any friends," Hermione said, deflating slightly. She thought it over for a moment, and offered up a solution. "What if you asked the Dursleys to send your letters for you? If they just included your post with theirs, Dumbledore would have no way of knowing, unless he actually checked the envelopes. And as long as you continue to send Hedwig out with letters to your usual contacts, myself included, I don't see any reason why he would check the Dursleys' post."
"That would work, yeah, but why would the Dursleys agree to it? They go out of their way to make life miserable for me. I don't think there's any way I could get them to go along with it," Harry said.
At that moment, Madam Pomfrey announced her impending return with a louder-than-necessary cough. The two teens locked eyes, realising that their time was up.
"I'm sure you'll figure it out, Harry. I'll let you send the first letter, so I can be sure that you've reached some kind of understanding with the Dursleys before you begin receiving anything from me. Now go; Pomfrey's almost back. And remember: you can tell me anything, Harry. I'll always do whatever I can to help you."
"I know you will. I can trust you, Hermione, I know I can. And I'm glad you're willing to listen. I don't know what I'd do without you," Harry stated.
Harry gathered his things and stood up to leave, nodding at Madam Pomfrey as he passed her. As he reached the door, Harry turned around and flashed a grin at Hermione before he exited.
Hermione returned the grin, and after he left, she silently began unbuttoning her top so the healer could perform her check-up. As she sat there, Hermione thought about the conversation she'd just had. She was extremely concerned about Harry. She could see how bothered he was with everything that had happened recently. From this prophecy, whatever it said, to his mistrust of Dumbledore, to the injuries suffered by his friends, and of course, the death of his godfather, Harry had a lot to deal with. But she silently vowed that she would stand by him every step of the way. She'd be there to comfort him if he needed to share his grief over what had happened to Sirius. She'd be there to help him deal with the prophecy, and whatever it meant concerning his future. She'd be there to listen to his doubts about the man some regarded as the greatest wizard since Merlin himself, Albus Dumbledore.
If she could help him work through his misgivings towards the Headmaster and agree to return to the school they'd called home for five years, she'd be there to watch over him, to make sure that Dumbledore wasn't trying to hide anything else from him.
If she couldn't refute his arguments, and he wound up leaving the school? She'd do the same. She would follow him anywhere, to any end, just as she'd done when she couldn't dissuade him from going to the Ministry. He was the most important person in her life, bar none, and if she could help him, she'd do it. She'd be proud to stand by his side, wherever it led them. And not because he was Harry Potter, Boy-Who-Lived. His celebrity status meant less than nothing to her. She would stand with him because he was Harry, her best friend. Just Harry.
A/N: There's the first chapter. Unlike my last story, I have a solid grasp of where this one is going. I've got brief outlines written out for the first 10 chapters, and have a rough idea of where the story is going over the long haul. Hopefully you all will like it. Reviews, suggestions, comments and constructive criticism are, as always, welcome.
Chapter revised on 1/27/2011.