Chapter 5 – Compromise

"It is normal to give away a little of one's life in order not to lose it all."

"And you're sure this is what you want?" Dumbledore asked for what had to be the seventeenth time.

Lily smiled softly at the elderly man, her arms cradled around her curious one-year-old son. "I am," she said firmly. "I know my sister, Professor. She despises our kind, despises me; but I don't think she would ever harm a child. If there is no other option, I'd like for Harry to go to her."

Dumbledore returned the smile easily, though something really bothered him. "She lives in a Muggle residence, however," he pointed out. "And while that is obviously no problem, given your own upbringing, the Potters have been rather notorious for their…advanced accidental magic, for lack of a better word. Is this truly the best choice you could make for little Harry?"

Lily hummed thoughtfully as she carefully chose her words. "Petunia will…most likely be adverse to the idea for a while," she admitted, her eyes tinged with an awful sadness. "We used to be close before I discovered magic and was accepted into Hogwarts. We were going to go into law, and we had many plans for our lives—none of which included either of us leaving the other. My decision to pursue my magical education no doubt felt like a betrayal to her, and I know she still hasn't gotten over it. She's bitter, and hurt, but she's still my sister.

"You didn't see her, Professor," Lily murmured, pausing briefly. A tiny frown made its way across her lips. "When she was at my wedding, we hadn't spoken for nearly a year. It wasn't like at Hogwarts when I sent her letters even if she never replied. I got tired of writing to a sister that had cut her ties to me, and hurt. But now that I think about it, I truly believe Petunia was hurt more. And when she actually showed up to my wedding despite her reservations about James, it just looked like she wanted to tell me something. I could see it in her eyes, Professor. She might think she hates me now, but her eyes tell me an entirely different story."

Dumbledore nodded his head solemnly. He'd experienced his own rift with his brother, Aberforth, though he still wasn't sure if reconciliation was possible. It warmed his old heart to see that another pair of siblings would not suffer the same estranged relationship he had with his brother so late in life. "I see."

Lily continued almost absent-mindedly, smiling gently as Harry took one of her fingers and nibbled on it. "I wrote Petunia a letter explaining my reasons. It might take a few months, perhaps even a year, but I know my sister will come through for me. She's a better person than a lot of people give credit for."

Dumbledore stroked his beard. "And what of any monetary compensation?" he asked quietly. "Taking care of a child is no inexpensive task. And your sister has a child of her own around Harry's age, yes?"

Lily nodded her head. "I was going to give her Number 4, or rather allow her to live in it until Harry is an adult," she explained. "Though my little Harry is absolutely priceless, I think if Petunia were to save money she would have used on monthly rent throughout the years and instead spend it on my son, it should be just fine. When Harry reaches his majority, Petunia can have the deed to the house and all of the other paperwork. All of the details are in the letter. If Harry is placed with her, will you be sure to give it to her?"

"Of course, my dear," Dumbledore said jovially. "Would you like me to look at the letter?"

Lily laughed and wagged her finger. "No, I've ensured that only Petunia can open it," she said teasingly.

Dumbledore's eyes twinkled. "Ah. Forgive this old man's curiosity. You have such skill with words, I was only interested."

"Very nosy of you, sir," Lily said bluntly, a smile tugging at her lips. "But don't worry. I've taken care of it all."

At that point, Harry began to squirm and grunt. "Oh, I do believe the little tyke wants to be put down," the elderly Headmaster stated softly.

Lily smiled proudly as she put Harry on the floor. He toddled a few steps, somewhat wobbly, but gaining more confidence and walking towards a sleeping Fawkes. "He's so independent already," she whispered happily. "It's sort of worrisome how sufficient he's becoming."

"Wizards are naturally more developed than Muggle children." Dumbledore smiled as Harry tried to reach Fawkes' tail feathers only to fall on his bottom. "Harry's progressing quite nicely to Wizarding standards."

Lily nodded. "That's what the Healer said." She picked Harry up when he yawned. "We best be off, Professor. It's time for Harry's nap, and James should be home in no time."

Dumbledore stood up and walked her to the fireplace. "Of course, of course. Be a dear and visit this old man often," he said lightly.

Lily laughed. "Of course, sir. Can't deny Harry the privilege of seeing his honorary grandpa, right?"

Dumbledore sighed heavily, feeling so very old and so very tired. His visit with the Dursleys had not gone over nearly as well as he had hoped. The knowledge of Harry's poor upbringing was beginning to fully settle in, and he rubbed his temples wearily.

How could he have messed something up so badly? How could Lily have been so wrong about her sister? In the span of a couple of hours, his world turned somewhat upside down. It had been a long time since he had felt so shameful and guilty. He may have been honoring Lily's wishes in placing Harry with Petunia, but he should have done more. He should have done so many things, but he didn't. Lily had misplaced her faith in Petunia, and Dumbledore had been so blinded by his belief that not all estranged siblings like him and Aberforth were bitter for so long.

Dumbledore stroked his beard. All of the mistakes he'd made with following Lily's wishes and not making sure Petunia followed them thoroughly all boiled down to one thing—Harry was the one to suffer.

One of the trinkets on his desk buzzed lightly, informing him of someone's presence at the door. He instantly recognized the magical signature of the Transfiguration professor.

"Come in," he said before she could knock.

"Albus," Professor McGonagall greeted. "How did the meetings go?"

Professor McGonagall was, unsurprisingly, knowledgeable about Harry and Hermione's arrangement. She was informed not only because she was their Head of House, but also because she had them in class together. Until the bond fully settled (and Madam Pomfrey couldn't even give an appropriate estimate giving the pair's young age) Harry and Hermione would need to remain in close physical contact at almost all times, meaning they'd need to be partners for nearly everything.

"The meeting with Miss Granger's parents went as well as it could," Dumbledore said neutrally.

Professor McGonagall winced in a rare show of emotion. "You don't need to tell me how they took that."

"Indeed," the old man said dryly. "They were understandably furious at the breach in security as well as their inability to pull Miss Granger out of Hogwarts."

Professor McGonagall frowned slightly. "I still fail to understand how a mountain troll could have entered the wards," she huffed. "This never would have happened if the Ministry had just agreed to update the wards over the summer."

Dumbledore cracked a small smile. "They'll have no choice but to allow us to update the wards now," he said mildly. "I'm sure the letters I sent home informing parents of the situation will be more than enough to convince our lovely Ministry the importance of the safety of the future generations."

Professor McGonagall cocked an eyebrow. "You always did have that manipulative quality about you," she said almost accusingly. "Politics."

Dumbledore actually smiled this time. "It's come in handy," was all he said.

"And Mister Potter's relatives?"

He'd been expecting her to shift the conversation back to their original topic, but it still made him lose his smile. "I must confess I did not expect such unpleasantness from someone related to as kind-hearted a witch as Lily."

Professor McGonagall scowled. "I told you they were the worst sort of Muggles," she practically hissed not unlike her Animagus form. "Harry Potter never should have been left with them!"

A sigh escaped the elderly wizard's mouth. Her words were like rubbing salt in an open wound. He was already deeply regretting his decision to leave Harry with the Dursleys. "I know," he said tiredly. "You were right; I shouldn't have left him with them."

A silence filled the room—the calm before the storm, Dumbledore guessed. He guessed correctly if the way Professor McGonagall's eyes narrowing and her cheeks slowly darkening into an interesting shade of red were any sort of indication. "Was I?" she asked quietly, pinning the Headmaster with a formidable stare. "Please, Albus, explain to me how you came to this conclusion. I'm merely curious since I've only been fighting a seemingly uphill battle regarding your poor choice in guardians for the past ten years."

Dumbledore could admit that his dear old friend frightened him a smidge when she became angry in such a way. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, after all. Despite that, he was still quite the formidable wizard, and straightened in his chair slightly. "The Dursleys were a poor choice of guardians. In that, you are correct, Minerva," Dumbledore said quietly. "I should not have placed him in that home."

That did nothing to appease Professor McGonagall. For being considered one of the strictest professors in all of Hogwarts, she did have a soft side, and the Potters had long since wiggled their way into her heart. James Potter was indeed something of a thorn in her side because of all of the pranks he and his gang of friends had committed, but he'd matured and became a respectable young man. There was no way brilliant Lily Evans ever would have given him the time of day otherwise.

When Harry was born, Professor McGonagall had been one of the first informed. She had the privilege of holding him mere hours after he was born, and she was named his honorary grandmother by a cheeky James—something that touched her deeply. Besides being absolutely devastated when James and Lily were killed, she had also felt responsible for their little tyke. However, due to the many positions she held at Hogwarts, Professor McGonagall was in no way prepared or able to take care of a child.

It would have been easy to quit or even acquire the help of a house elf, but Professor McGonagall was deeply ashamed to admit that the thought of raising the last Potter frightened her. She herself had never had kids, and by the time she became a mother figure to James, he was already in his teens. To raise a child, a helpless infant that would require care around the clock, was vastly different than looking after the wellbeing of someone already so self-sufficient.

More than that, what if she had taken him in, raised him as her own, and he grew up despicably? How could she face Lily and James in the afterlife if she had failed their only son?

But as Dumbledore, someone she highly respected and was intensely loyal to, seemed to age before her very eyes with such a heavy air of defeat around him, Professor McGonagall realized she already failed little Harry.

She failed for a lack of trying, and that was worse. She should have fought harder against leaving Harry at the doorstep of unfit Muggles. She should have checked on him to make sure he was cared for properly. There were a lot of things she should have done.

"How bad was it?" Professor McGonagall's voice was almost too quite to hear.

Dumbledore stroked his beard again, clearly a nervous habit. "He was neglected," the elderly wizard admitted softly. "For the longest time, he believed his parents to be worthless freaks, and him a terrible byproduct. Young Harry was starved—emotionally and physically—and slept in a cupboard under the stairs."

Professor McGonagall's face was white, and her lips were terribly pinched. "How did this go unnoticed?" she asked harshly, her voice still not above a whisper. "Even Muggles should have been able to see something was not right with those—those—beasts!"

Dumbledore appeared to wither before his old friend. "I have a theory," he almost hesitantly admitted. "You see, the Potters have always been known for their very strong, very noticeable, accidental magic. To prevent young Harry from gaining unwanted attention from the Muggles in regards to his gifts, I weaved a strong Notice-Me-Not charm into the wards."

Professor McGonagall arched an eyebrow, her eyes showing confusion. "Such a charm would not have caused an entire neighborhood to ignore the mistreatment of a child."

"No, it normally would not," Dumbledore said quietly. "But I suspect that when the charm was woven with the blood wards, the two interacted unusually with each other. Instead of ensuring young Harry's magic went unnoticed, it became so most of the time Harry himself went unnoticed."

"If that were the case, Albus, wouldn't we be dealing with the death of Mister Potter instead?" Professor McGonagall asked. "Because if a young boy went unnoticed most of the time, who would remember to give him the bare necessities to survive let alone live?"

Dumbledore stroked his beard. "And that is where the rest of my explanation is pure theory," he said softly. "It is my opinion that the unusual interaction with the blood wards and the Notice-Me-Not charm did not stop his relatives noticing him. With the exception of Vernon Dursley, they share the same blood and were all too aware of his presence. However, the blood wards were also meant to be reinforced because of Harry's emotional ties with his family. Given inadequate care, the wards began to weaken. With the wards weakening, young Harry was noticed more, though still not enough in regards to basic human contact."

It was silent for a few moments as Professor McGonagall absorbed the information he presented. "Oh, Albus," she said, breaking the silence. "We should have done better; should have tried harder."

Dumbledore looked extremely uncomfortable. "The blood wards—"

Professor McGonagall's head snapped upwards and she interrupted him before Dumbledore could get another word in. "Those wards were supposed to keep him safe!" she nearly snarled. "And instead, they only added more misery and neglect. No, Albus. The blood wards may have protected him from the outside, but you said it yourself! With the exception of his uncle, his aunt and cousin were more aware of his existence and yet they did nothing! He was neglected and starved! I told you they were the worst sort of Muggles! I told you!"

Dumbledore flinched at the accusation in her voice. "So you did," he replied quietly.

Professor McGonagall sighed. "It wasn't completely your fault. I should not have let you place him there. I share part of the blame, as well."

"This bond has brought most troubling news to light," Dumbledore said after another moment of silence. "Handling Mister Potter and Miss Granger's new bond was going to be difficult enough, but now to deal with Mister Potter's guardianship? Very troubling, indeed."

"Where is he going to go, Albus?"

Dumbledore's gaze shifted towards Fawkes, and the phoenix let out a pleasant trill. "I had considered leaving him with the Dursleys," he admitted. He brought his hand up to stop the furious tirade Professor McGonagall was no doubt preparing to go on. "The blood wards truly offer him the ultimate protection against those who wish to harm him…but the wards themselves failed him, haven't they? No, he won't be returning to the Dursley residence. I am still unsure of where he will be placed."

Professor McGonagall's lips thinned. "Well, you had best figure this out quickly, Albus," she said sternly.

Dumbledore offered a short nod and then glanced at the old grandfather clock on the wall. "Alas, it is just before curfew. Minerva, would you be a dear and continue to lecture this old man tomorrow? These old bones need to retire and be well rested for tomorrow."

Professor McGonagall stared at him with her eyebrow arched. "We will be discussing this tomorrow, Albus," she said finally. She stood regally and adjusted her robes.

Dumbledore watched as she left. He sighed and rubbed his beard. "How could the wards have gone so wrong?" he whispered. The elderly wizard glanced over at Fawkes' empty perch, wishing for his phoenix friend now more than ever. Alas, he was not Fawkes' owner and as such Fawkes wasn't around him all the time.

He stood and walked to his sleeping quarters. Perhaps a night of rest would benefit him.

The next day, Harry awoke next to Hermione. After having found out that they were bound together essentially for life, he also found himself getting used to her presence. He didn't feel uncomfortable like he did around his other classmates.

Harry subconsciously reached for his glasses on the bedside table. Putting them on, he sat up and simply stared out of the window for a few moments. Today was supposed to be his first Quidditch match of the season. This was something he'd seriously looked forward to. The feeling of flying up in the air with the wind in his face was so exhilarating. He loved flying, and he thought he'd be a really good Seeker.

But he couldn't do that anymore—not until the bond settled, at least. Harry tried not to feel too crestfallen from it. Generally, if something really well was happening in his life, it died a swift death. Harry learned that much from his time at the Dursleys. He'd make a new friend, and the next day Dudley would have chased them off. He'd find a nice book at the library, and Dudley would rip it up and blame him so he wasn't allowed in the library anymore.

Still, Harry wanted to fly. He wanted to catch the snitch at the end of the game, and bring a victory to Gryffindor. But he couldn't. Not when his bond with Hermione was unsettled. If he were to get hit with a bludger or suffer another injury as it often happened in a Quidditch game—especially the Seekers—then there was an extremely high chance Hermione would get hurt as well, and they didn't yet know how badly it'd affect them.

"I'm sorry, lad, but better safe than sorry," Madam Pomfrey had said.

Hermione had looked at him with sad eyes, knowing, feeling, how important the game was to him.

Harry's thoughts came to an abrupt stop as Hermione stirred to awareness. It felt like he was waking up all over again, which was extremely weird, but Harry wrote it off as one of those bond things. Hermione yawned and sat up next to him.

"Morning," she said, rubbing the sleepiness out of her eyes.

Harry nodded his head. "Morning."

"Do you think Madam Pomfrey will let us get out of bed?" she asked quietly as her eyes searched the room for the mediwitch.

"I hope so," Harry replied. "Staying here is starting to drive me batty."

Hermione let out a small snort. She yawned again and stood out of bed. She glanced at him, and then cautiously took a step back. When nothing happened, she took another and another before a sharp pain had them both gasping and clutching their stomachs. Hermione quickly hopped back onto the bed, looking rather pleased with herself.

"I'm going to start recording our progress with the bond," she told him quietly. "It's been a total of six days and we can now be at least a foot and a half away from each other."

Harry rubbed at his stomach. "That's better than when we first woke up," he said softly, remembering how they had to constantly hold hands or they'd be in pain. "How long do you think it'll take the bond thing to settle?"

Hermione chewed her lower lip in thought. "I'm not sure," she admitted with a look of distaste. She absolutely hated not knowing things. "Do you want to go to the library? We could do some research and see what we can find on bonds like ours."

Harry nodded his head, though his heart felt very heavy. He belonged on the Quidditch pitch, not in the library. Still, no use crying over spilt milk. "Yeah, that'd be good. The more we know about this thing, the better we can deal with it."

Hermione grimaced a little and turned her head. She knew he didn't want to be in the library, and she felt awful that he had to miss Quidditch. Truly, she did. Whilst she herself didn't understand what was so appealing about the sport, or being in the air for that matter, but any idiot could see that Harry belonged on a broom. She didn't want him to grow to resent her for taking away something he so dearly loved.

"We can also figure out how we're going to divide our time and whatnot," she suggested. "I know that while I can live in the library, you probably wouldn't want to bother with it all that much."

Harry cracked a small smile at that. "I don't mind going to the library, but I really don't want to spend as much time there as you do."

Hermione smiled back, feeling a little bit of her guilt go away. "So we can compromise about what to do with our time until the bond settles. Like, one day we can go to the library, the other we can spend with…Ron." Her nose wrinkled at the mention of the boy, but despite how mean he was to her, he seemed like a good friend to Harry.

Harry saw her face and bit his lip. "We'll just have to cross the bridges when we get there."

Hermione nodded, feeling very relieved. "Deal."

The rest of the morning was spent talking as they waited for Madam Pomfrey, each feeling a bit better than they had the night before.

A/N: I truly have no excuse for not updating in so long. This chapter in particular has been half-way complete for a number of months, but RL just got in the way. I am sooooo terribly sorry! To any that are still reading, thank you for not giving up on it. I have this story planned out until fourth year, however, so I won't be giving up.

Thanks to everyone that voted in the poll. It was interesting to see different opinions. My plans regarding the Dursleys, however, are still the same. Many of you were upset about the evidence of Sirius' innocence being ripped up. Don't worry; Sirius won't need to break out of Azkaban, and we may see our favorite Grim sooner than in the books. That is all I have to say on that matter.

Anyways, again, thanks for sticking this out if you're still reading this. As always, criticism and/or comments are very much welcome.