Dumbledore was staring at the boy who he had sought for years. Harry Potter was currently sitting across a table from him and was laughing his head off. Every once in a while he would stop laughing take a look at Dumbledore's face and would start laughing again. Needless to say Dumbledore was a bit worried. Poor Harry had not taken the news of his destiny well. No doubt, the boy had cracked under the strain caused by Dumbledore's revelations.
Unfortunately, there was not much he could do. The restrictions that Harry had placed on him meant that if he cast as much as a calming charm on Harry then the wards would immediately expel him from the house. He could do nothing but stare at Harry's laughing face and wait for him to stop.
It probably took only a few minutes for Harry to stop laughing but it felt like forever to Dumbledore. Eventually though Harry's laughter finally petered off and he straightened up, wiping tears from his face.
"Sorry, sorry, I just couldn't help it," said the boy as he let out a few more chuckles.
"Are you okay?" asked Dumbledore worriedly. "Perhaps a glass of water...?"
"No, no, I'm fine," said Harry. "I just had a funny thought..."
"What did you find so funny Harry? After all, we were discussing an extremely serious topic."
Harry sobered up a bit and stared at Dumbledore. "Yes, yes we were and the thing is...Well, most of what you told me got me really angry. You have no idea how many times you were close to getting hexed. Just that remark about the ten dark and difficult years..."
Harry stopped and shook his head. He held up his hand with his thumb and forefinger held just millimetres apart. "I was this close to tossing you out that window right there when you said that."
Dumbledore was bewildered. "Why did that upset you so much Harry? You were too young to remember living in the magical world. You could not have missed what you did not remember so... I mean, even now you choose to live in the muggle world. Surely it could not be as bad as I imagine."
Harry looked at Dumbledore as if he was crazy. "Is that what you meant by dark and terrible? Living in the muggle world?"
"Why yes. Of course," said Dumbledore. "Living without the warmth and life of magic surrounding you, in the cold sterile muggle world. I know it must have been absolutely terrible but..."
"Are you bloody crazy..." exploded Harry. "I wasn't talking about living without magic. I was talking about the bloody Dursleys. You...you went on about how closely you watched me...You knew that my aunt didn't want me. Surely you knew about how they treated me?"
"When I said I watched you closely, I was talking about your years at Hogwarts. Before that...I did have someone watching you but they assured me that you were healthy and relatively happy."
"Really?" asked Harry. "Who exactly was this delusional person?"
"An acquaintance of mine who lived quite close to Privet Drive. A squib by the name of Mrs Figg, she assured me..."
"THE CRAZY OLD CAT LADY?" shouted Harry. "That's who you relied upon to make sure I was well taken care off. No bloody wonder! What is with you and the incompetents you seem to rely on for everything?"
Dumbledore started to say something but before he could get more than a couple of words out he was interrupted by Harry.
"Let me tell you something about the Dursleys," said Harry. "Have you ever been inside their house? Do you know how many bedrooms they had?"
"Well, the last time I was there was the night you disappeared, that was ten years ago, so I don't recall the exact number but it seemed to be a reasonably large house..."
"They had four. Four bedrooms! One for Petunia and Vernon, one Guest bedroom and two...two bedrooms for Dudley. So where do you suppose they made me sleep? Which was my room?"
Dumbledore was once again stricken dumb. He had no idea what Harry was talking about. If the Dursley family had lived in a house with four bedrooms why would they have not given one to Harry? Where could Harry have slept? Aah but of course...
"Then I assume they made you and your cousin share a room. Surely this was not such a great hardship..."
"WRONG!" yelled Harry. "Don't you ever listen. I already told you Dudley had two bedrooms. Do you know where they made me sleep? Do you? In the cupboard under the frigging stairs. That's where."
"What? A cupboard? But...But...Harry I assure you I had no idea..."
"Stop bloody lying to me... .My Hogwarts letter was even addressed to the 'The Cupboard under the stairs'. Don't you dare sit there and claim that you never knew anything about it."
Dumbledore sat there, absolutely stunned by Harry's tirade and the knowledge that the Dursley family had treated Harry so poorly. He tried to explain himself - "Harry, the Hogwart's letters are not addressed in the normal sense. Much like Owl post, they do not need an actual street address. There is an ancient enchantment that sends them out directly to all registered students. It is this enchantment that displays the address to the recipients. It simply displays what the recipient thinks of as their address or current location. It does tend to be rather oddly precise."
Harry stared at Dumbledore. Talking about his time with the Dursley family was always difficult and never failed to anger him.
"Fine," he barked. "I could almost believe that. However, that still doesn't excuse you. Why on earth did you never check up on me yourself? And don't give me any bullshit about you being a busy man. Wizarding travel is almost instantaneous. You could have apparated or taken a portkey and been there in seconds. How long would it have taken you to check up on me? Five minutes, ten. I refuse to believe that you never had a free ten minutes over the entire ten years I lived with them."
"I thought it best not to have too much contact with you," explained Dumbledore. "As long as you had to stay in the muggle world, I assumed it would be confusing for you if you had any contact at all with the magical world. I was also afraid that someone might wonder why I was visiting a muggle area and deduce your location. I thought it would be safer for you if I stayed away. Also, as I said earlier, I had Mrs Figg sending me regular reports. If she had even hinted at you not being treated properly... I see now that it was a mistake and all I can do is beg your forgiveness."
Harry was really not in any sort of mood to listen to Dumbledore's excuses. In his mind, at that moment, Dumbledore was as culpable as the Dursleys for his miserable childhood.
"Then the blood wards. That nearly saw you defenestrated as well. When you told me you relied on wards fuelled by my mother's sacrifice," said Harry shaking his head as if he could not believe the Headmaster's stupidity.
"Harry, those wards kept you safe for many years, I assure you..."
"Oh please, the problem with your story is that I actually know a little bit about warding. Here in the States warding is a very dynamic field. Ward crackers and hackers are constantly working on new methods of breaking into wards. Warders are constantly improving their warding scheme to stay one-step ahead of the crackers. Why, not six months ago I had to replace my anti-portkey wards after a ward hacking group demonstrated a new way to break through them at MageCon."
"I fail to see..."
"Testing Dumbledore, testing. An effective warding scheme is one that has been tested to hell and back and been proven to last over years. Now according to you, your blood wards were based around my mother sacrificing herself in an attempt to save me. Correct? Now, I know that there was some sort of protection around me, Quirrell burning up when he tried to touch me proved that. But blood wards based around that? The problem is that you don't really hear about that kind of protection much. You'd think there'd be dozens of cases of mothers shielding their children from harm. Especially during a time of war. Yet I've never heard of anybody else having that type of protection."
"I believe this was due to the fact that you were the target and not your mother. If your mother had not come in Voldemort's way she would likely have lived. This would not have been the case in a random attack in which the mother would likely have been a target as well," explained Dumbledore patiently.
Harry waved away Dumbledore's explanation. "No," he said. "Like I said, whatever the reason, I know that I had some sort of protection around me. No, my problem with the situation is the rarity of that protection. Obviously, this is not a situation that happens everyday. So, when you set up a ward based on something like that - How did you know it would work? You would not have come across such a situation before so this had to be the first time you set up a ward of that type. Or was it? Do you make it a regular habit of going around looking for children whose mothers were killed in precisely that way? I would think it would be pretty hard to find people who precisely meet those requirements. Well, not unless you're the type to go around arranging the murder of young mothers. Are you that type of person? How many mothers have you had murdered?"
"HOW DARE YOU?" shouted Dumbledore, absolutely incensed at the allegation.
"HOW DARE I? You sir are the one who tossed up a totally unproven, untested ward around Privet Drive. There is absolutely no way you could have known that your so called Ancient Magic Blood Wards would have had any effect whatsoever."
"You are here, aren't you," snapped Dumbledore. "That alone proves that those wards were effective."
"No, all it proves is that no one ever tried to kill me while I was at Privet drive. Perhaps I was just lucky that no Death Eater ever came across me while I was staying at the Dursleys. No, as far as I can tell there was absolutely no good reason for me to stay at the Dursley house, none whatsoever. Hell, they didn't even have any way of contacting you if something happened. What could they have possibly done against any wizard who wished to do me harm?"
"The thing that really gets me is how easy it would have been to get Petunia and Vernon to treat me a little better. And I'm not talking about anything like a compulsion or Imperious charm to treat me better. After all, it only took one letter addressed to 'the cupboard under the stairs' for them to get terrified that someone would find out about how they had been treating me. One letter and I was moved into Dudley's crappy second bedroom. One letter, that's all it took. All you had to do was let them know that there was someone out there who was going to be checking up on me. Someone who cared to see that I was treated well and not made to do all the cooking and cleaning while my pig of a cousin lolled around. Perhaps it would have even stopped them from locking me in that damn cupboard after every little bit of accidental magic, and the endless verbal abuse, being called a freak and a burden. All you had to do was let them know that there was someone who would hold them accountable for their treatment of me. That's all, and you couldn't even be bothered to do that," sneered Harry.
"Harry, I know I failed you but..."
"No, that's not all you did. Perhaps, I should explain why I was laughing," said Harry. "You see Dumbledore, here I was listening to you, explaining about how much you loved me and all the other bullshit you were spewing. I was getting angrier and angrier and I was actually fantasising about wreaking a painful revenge upon you when a thought suddenly popped into my mind..." He stopped and looked at Dumbledore expectantly.
"What thought was that Harry," asked Dumbledore knowing that Harry was waiting for him to ask.
"I suddenly thought - What if the prophecy was true? Now, there is just so much wrong with that prophecy that I could probably spend hours picking holes in it. Everything from how my parents defied Voldemort a lot more than three times..."
Dumbledore interrupted Harry "No Harry, I am absolutely certain that your parents fought Voldemort only on three occasions. Each time barely escaping with their lives"
Harry gave Dumbledore a withering look - "You don't have to face someone in battle in order to defy them. My father was a pureblood who married a muggleborn. Every day he remained married to her was a day in which he defied Voldemort and everything Voldemort stood for. For that matter every single day my mother lived as a witch, every single spell she cast was in direct defiance to Voldemort and his views on blood purity. I would say that counts as a lot more than three times. But like I was saying - everything from that to that rubbish phrase 'neither can live while the other survives' - I mean, really, what sense does that make? I'm living and so is he. I could go on and on but it suddenly occurred to me - What if? What if the prophecy is true and I am really the only one that can defeat Voldemort? That's when I realised; I don't have to do anything to you. Your own actions have already condemned you and wreaked a far better revenge than I could ever do. That's what I found so funny and that's why I was laughing."
Harry sat back and grinned in satisfaction at the look on Dumbledore's face.
"You see professor, thanks to you I grew up in the muggle world. Thanks to you, I only lived in the British Magical world for four years. Most of that time was spent at your school where let's face it - in between the constant assassination attempts, teachers like Snape, students like Malfoy, other students accusing me of being a dark lord who makes it a habit of going around petrifying muggleborns to half the school proudly wearing badges that showed exactly what they thought of me... Let's just say I don't have the fondest memories of Hogwarts or its students. As far as actual magical society, well, I never really experienced that apart from the few weeks when I stayed at the Leaky Cauldron. I have absolutely no ties of any sort to magical Britain."
"So, thanks to you and the Dursleys, I have no fond memories of muggle Britain and I barely even qualified as a tourist in Magical Britain. Now, what makes you think I have any intention or reason to fight Voldemort? As far as I'm concerned, he's welcome to Britain. May he choke on it."
Dumbledore was stunned. His plans had just crumbled to dust and blown away in the wind. He would never have believed in a million years that Harry Potter would refuse to do his duty. Not him, not Harry. How could he have been so wrong? How could he persuade Harry to fight Voldemort? How?
"Harry, I...I refuse to believe that you truly believe that. You, the boy who was willing to face a basilisk to save someone he barely knew. No, there is no way you would condemn so many innocents to suffer under Voldemort's reign."
Harry gave Dumbledore a puzzled look. "What innocents are you talking about? Even though I no longer live there, it's not as if I've totally ignored the events that have happened in Britain. I know that most if not all of the people that would have suffered under Voldemort - the muggle borns and the half bloods, left Britain years ago. Hell, anyone with half a brain left Britain and the rest...well the rest made their choice. They can live with it."
"But Harry, you must see..."
"Professor, even if I had stayed in Britain, I sincerely doubt that I would have bothered to fight Voldemort. Well, I might have done it just for a desire for revenge...to get justice for my parents if nothing else..."
"Yes...yes...your parents," said Dumbledore, eagerly snapping at that point. "Would they not want you to fight Voldemort, Harry? They were among his most adamant opponents and..."
"And they died," interrupted Harry. "Frankly, I don't think they would have too much of a problem with my actions. I like to think my parents would have been more concerned with the fact that I'm leading a happy and healthy life as compared to embarking on a pointless and dangerous quest for revenge."
Harry smiled ruefully. "You know professor; it took a lot of therapy for me to believe that way about revenge and Voldemort. My therapist, who I had to tell that my parents were murdered during a robbery, was especially fond of the saying - 'When you first seek revenge - Dig two graves'. Have you ever heard that one?"
"Yes, but...therapy? Really?" said Dumbledore looking extremely puzzled.
"There is another one that I prefer - 'If you wait by the river long enough, the bodies of your enemies will float by'."
"I'm not quite sure...," said a confused Dumbledore.
"Voldemort is an insane dark lord. Sooner or later he will self-destruct. Look at the state of magical Britain today - the economy is still in a shambles as far as I know. How much longer will his followers put up with him? Eventually, their desire for a better life will overcome their fear of Voldemort. Then they will act and I have no doubt that either they or Voldemort will perish..."
"No Harry, I'm afraid not. Once again, you are forgetting the prophecy. Without you it is impossible to defeat Voldemort."
"Aah well, then the world will lose a few inbred pureblood bigots. Not such a great loss," stated Harry callously.
"Harry, I implore you to think about the people of Britain," begged Dumbledore. "Think about what will happen once Voldemort has built up an army strong enough to invade Europe. I can tell you with absolute certainty that he has been striving to do just that. Sooner rather than later there will be war."
"You know what Professor, you're forgetting one little fact. I already saved the people of Britain once. What happened after Voldemort's defeat in '81? Are you forgetting that?" asked Harry.
"We had peace Harry. A peace that lasted more than a decade before his resurrection."
"Yes," said Harry with a sneer. "A peace in which you let Voldemort's followers, his death eaters, who were just as guilty as Voldemort, get away scot-free. How many of them managed to get away without even a slap on their wrists by pleading the Imperius Curse excuse and lining a few pockets?"
"A few of his followers did get away but..."
"Yes, a few," said Harry in a voice dripping with sarcasm. "Death Eaters roamed free and my innocent godfather was imprisoned and tortured in Azkaban and I was sent to the Dursleys. Yes, I must say that the wizards in Britain really know how to reward someone for saving them from someone like Voldemort."
Harry continued, not letting Dumbledore get in a word edgewise. "Have you ever thought about who was directly responsible for Voldemort's resurrection? Peter Pettigrew and Barty Crouch Junior. Do you realise that Voldemort might never have been resurrected at all if you, Albus Dumbledore had simply done your job? With your position and influence within the Wizengamot you should have insured that Sirius had a fair trial. If you had done that, Pettigrew might have been captured. If, with your power, influence and position you had insured that Azkaban was secure then Crouch might never have been able to break his son out of there. Who would have resurrected Voldemort then? And even if they had, if you had done your job and ensured that every single Death Eater was punished to the full extent of the law then who would have turned up at his resurrection party? No one. Instead Voldemort was resurrected into a world where you had allowed his former followers like Lucius Malfoy to gain an incredible amount of power and influence. Power and influence that they immediately put to work towards Voldemort's goals. And now, now, you come to me to clean up your messes. No, I don't think so."
"Besides, it's not really about saving the people. Say I do kill Voldemort, what would happen? His government would probably be replaced by one very similar to what I found when I first rejoined the magical world. The wizarding world I re-entered when I was eleven was not such a great place. In my second year, I saw Hagrid sent to Azkaban so that the Ministry could be seen to be doing something. In my third, I learnt that my godfather had been imprisoned unfairly. In my fourth, I saw the Minister order the Dementors to kiss Barty Crouch Jr. That, no matter how you slice it - was a summary execution. Sirius's kiss on sight order, after he escaped, was another example of exactly that. Summary executions are the stuff of dictatorships and nightmares. They are not something one expects to see in a modern, civilised, democratic nation."
"They say a society can be judged by how it treats its prisoners. Well, Britain's magical society treats its prisoners exceptionally well. Torture by way of exposure to dementors? Tsk, tsk. Treatment that has been known to drive prisoners insane. Well, perhaps I would not mind so much if I knew they were all Death Eaters. However, I know two people who were sent there unjustly without even the semblance of a trial. Based on that, I would not be surprised to learn that Azkaban was filled with hundred of innocents."
Dumbledore was stunned into near incoherence. "Harry, you must know that I have never condoned the presence of Dementors but...Why do you say that there might have been hundred of innocents in Azkaban?"
"Are you familiar with the concept of representative sampling? One takes the characteristics of a small subset of the population and from that uses them to infer knowledge about the population as a whole. Now, I did not have much exposure to the Magical World outside of Hogwarts. So let's take the adults I did know as a sample. Even if I count mere acquaintances like Florean Fortescue and Tom at the Leaky Cauldron, I doubt I knew more than twenty adults in magical Britain. Out of those twenty adults, two of them were imprisoned unjustly without a trial. That's ten percent of the people I knew who were tortured even though they were innocent. A ridiculously high percentage, wouldn't you agree?"
"By that logic most of the wizards in England would be teachers in a school," said Dumbledore.
Harry shook his head again quite unwilling to listen to anything that Dumbledore had to say at this point - "No Professor, I'm afraid that you're wasting your time. I refuse to fight for a magical society as corrupt and worthless as that. No, I will not."
If there ever was a time when getting ridiculously drunk was totally and absolutely justified, this was it, thought Dumbledore. After leaving Harry's house he had apparated around until he found a bar and now he was trying his best to get ridiculously plastered.
There was no fire whiskey, which was unfortunate but he supposed that the muggle stuff would do as well. He just had to drink more of it to compensate. He gulped down his drink, single malt taken neat, and ordered another.
He burrowed his spinning head into his hands as he waited for his next drink. The problem was that he had no rebuttal to many of Harry's complaints. Yes, he was only too aware that he could have done more. He could have pushed for stiffer sentences and stringent verification of those Imperius curse claims. He should have investigated Black's case more thoroughly. He should have insured that Harry had a happy childhood. He should have insured that the boy had more ties to the magical world. He should have... he should have... His failures and mistakes swam around and around in his head.
The bartender was giving him the eye as he downed yet another drink and signalled for a refill. Stupid fellow should be used to people drinking heavily. Was this a bar or a teashop? No, he would not let that bother him. He was going to sit here and drink until he passed out or a solution presented itself.
He could not bear the thought of returning to Hogwarts and confessing his failure to the few followers and allies he had left. Not that the boy had left him much leeway to do that. He could not even discuss the boy with anyone thanks to that ridiculous contract Harry had forced him to sign.
Bloody bartender was looking at him again and telling him to slow down... Buddy... he called him buddy! Why, the sheer cheek of the man. Here's a confundus charm, now keep serving me you bloody idiot. Aah yes, there it was. Ridiculous of the man, as if he was going to get drunk on these weak muggle drinks. Now fire whiskey there was a drink that...what was he thinking...yes, how to convince Harry and that bloody contract...can't talk about him, have to make sure that he takes precautions that no Death Eaters can follow him... wait a minute...
Ok... he could not talk about Harry... could not lead Death Eaters to his house... but had the boy put in anything about getting a friend to accompany him to his house... no he hadn't, which meant that... yes... yes... there was a way.
Harry was not a hopeless case, he thought. The boy had talked a good line about not wanting revenge but at the same time he had spoken of tossing Dumbledore through a window. Clearly the boy was not above thoughts of revenge no matter what he said. The problem was that the boy was being unreasonably antagonistic towards Dumbledore.
All he had to do, thought Dumbledore was find someone else that might help convince Harry. People like the Weasley family. They had all moved to Romania shortly before Voldemort took over the Ministry. Yes, he could grab Ron Weasley and have him tell Harry how miserable he was living away from England...but then...oh dear, Molly Weasley might come to know of it and she had really not left him on the best of terms. He shuddered as he remembered her last howler, which she had sent after his little faux pas with Ron Weasley. Looking back... yes that had probably not been very wise. Not Ron, then. Best to not risk another Howler.
Another drink was required.
Who else? Well, the boy had mentioned Sirius Black. Despite their difficult past Sirius had always been loyal. He could not even blame him for disappearing the way he had. After his godson had vanished, Sirius too had nothing to keep him in England. Yes, he would fetch Sirius and make him convince the boy. Hmmm, would that work? Sirius should not be that difficult to find, the last he heard the boy, well man he supposed, was living in Brazil. The only problem would be getting Sirius to accompany him without him being able to tell the man why he needed him. Well, if there was one thing he was good at, it was convincing people. Most people anyway, he amended as he recalled his conversation with Harry, which made him order and down yet another drink.
Still, Sirius might not be enough; the man had not really spent much time with Harry. He needed someone who knew Harry well, someone like... yes, someone like Hermione Granger... Perfect, yes. The poor girl had been forced to live in a former penal colony. Yes, she would do perfectly to show Harry how people he knew were suffering because he would not do his duty.
He lurched unsteadily to his feet and weaved his way to the door where he disappeared in a brief flash of Phoenix flame not really caring if anyone was around to see.