Disclaimer: I've said it before. Harry Potter is the property of J.K. Rowling and Warner Bros.

Chapter 13: The Legend and the Headmaster

Harry could hear music. His eyes were heavy and his thoughts sluggish, but he was still able to make out the high, haunting melody running through his mind. It was a song of pure sadness and loss; his eyes seemed to water up behind his eyelids.

He'd heard this song before...

It was Phoenix song.

Harry's eyes snapped open, and the song broke off at the exact same moment. He immediately snapped them shut again, hoping to catch strains of the music again, but it was gone.

His heart felt heavy, it was like he had lost a friend. The song had been beautiful, wild and mournful at the same time, full of despair and regret.

"Mr. Potter?" His eyes opened again, and this time, water did leak out of them as his eyes adjusted to the lighted confines of the room.

"Easy now," he heard, followed by a murmured incantation. His dry eyes were immediately lubricated and his tears vanished, they now felt infinitely more comfortable.

The first thing he saw were twinkling blue eyes looking down at him – except they weren't really so benevolent anymore.

"Professor Dumbledore," he acknowledged; his voice scratchy. He sat up in bed, aware that his muscles felt like they'd been pulled every which way and his back felt like it had been starched.

"Drink this," the same voice repeated, and he realized that it was Madam Pomfrey. Pausing to put on the glasses offered to him, Harry downed the Potion in one go. Warmth rushed to him, bolstering his body with strength and returning a semblance of order to his foggy mind. Feeling infinitely better, he turned his attention to the Headmaster.

"Professor," he asked, noting subconsciously that Dumbledore looked older than Harry'd ever seen him, "where were you?"

Dumbledore, to his surprise, replied with a chuckle. "Ah, Harry, only two days ago, that was a question I was hoping to ask you when we met." Harry kept his face carefully blank at Dumbledore's words, and instead looked expectantly at the old man.

Dumbledore shifted. "Very well," he said, "I suppose I do owe you an answer, seeing that you did what I should have done and protected my students. But perhaps this," he flourished his arm, "is not the right place for the discussion. Do you feel up for a walk, my boy?"

Truth be told, he didn't, but he'd never been one to remain in the Hospital Wing if he could help it. Ignoring Madam Pomfrey's squawks of protest and grinning at Dumbledore's endless platitudes that he'd be fine, he pulled on his robes and walked out side by side with the Headmaster.

Closeted and secretive as the man might be, however much he wanted to alienate and shelter Harry, the teenager couldn't deny that Dumbledore had a style of his own, one that made it very hard for him to dislike him.

Walking side by side with the Headmaster, Harry turned his head subtly to the right and examined the man. Others might have thought that Dumbledore was just as well as ever, but he could feel – maybe it was because of his enhanced senses - that something was off about the man. Instead of walking tall and proud like he'd always had, Dumbledore seemed to be stooping, almost hunched over from the cares of the world.

He suddenly realized that Dumbledore had lived and fought through two wars, lost countless of friends and near ones – maybe even directed several to their death himself. The Headmaster had to be over a century old, and here he was getting ready to lead the Wizarding World for another fight against Voldemort...

"You are pitying me, Harry," Dumbledore said, his voice low. Harry started. "I confess that I have started to feel my age as of late, but maybe I have not fallen that far yet."

"How -?"

"A side effect of beginning to learn Occlumency, my boy," Dumbledore replied, his eyes beginning to twinkle slightly again, "I'm delighted to learn that you decided to devote some time to learn the art. Might I ask if this is one of the talents you picked up during your...vacation, shall we say?"

Harry debated how to answer the question, and finally replied, "Amongst others, sir."

"Wonderful, wonderful," Dumbledore replied with a smile, like Harry had personally pleased him in some manner. After a few moments, though, his smile dimmed. "But, I suppose, that is not what we are to talk about."

Harry said nothing, only keeping pace with Dumbledore as he walked. After a few moments, the older wizard spoke again.

"Walls have ears, Harry," he began, and Harry couldn't help but raise his eyebrows at the sudden turn in their conversation. Dumbledore noticed, and chuckled. "Even more so this year. While you were so bravely defending the students from the Dementors, I was held up at the Ministry." A shadow passed over his face. "The Ministry has noted our unfortunate succession of Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers over the years, and finally decided to take matters into its own hands. Since you missed the feast, I suppose I should inform you that the newest addition to our staff is one Dolores Umbridge, Senior Undersecretary to the Minister of Magic himself."

Harry frowned – there was something in the Headmaster's wording there. "The Ministry wants to infilitrate Hogwarts."

"They do," Harry was taken aback by the direct answer. Normally, Dumbledore was one for riddles and hints, but in this instance, he had chosen to give Harry a straight answer, almost like they were conversing as...equals.

"And what do they say about the Breakout?"

"I believe the official statement will be released tomorrow morning," Dumbledore said, "as of now, I believe that they are to foist the blame on to the last man to successfully break out of Azkaban –"

"Sirius," Harry breathed, suddenly panicked. Despite his anger towards his Godfather, he was exactly that – the man chosen by Harry's parents to take care of him.

"Indeed. I assure you, though, that Sirius is perfectly safe, and in a secure location – I have seen to it personally. I would advise you to write to him, but then I would be presuming to tell a teenager what to do – and that would be foolish on my part."

Harry ignored the jibe, concentrating on the matter at hand. "Voldemort, he cast a spell on some rock in the prison –"

"Ah, yes," Dumbledore said, "I was grateful for your prompt letter to me. It seems Voldemort managed to win himself the allegiance of the Dementors, but at present, he is only using them to wreak havoc so he can safely carry out his plans in the background without being noticed."

Harry raised his eyebrows – that was impressive strategy. "So he's using the Dementors as a smokescreen?" he verified, and Dumbledore nodded.

"A remarkable idea," Dumbledore comment, unknowingly agreeing with Harry. "However, I believe that it was not his idea to send them in Hogwarts direction. Whatever his other faults – and considerable faults they are -," Harry snorted, "Voldemort has held an unhealthy fascination for the school. I do not think he intends for it to fall until the very end. I believe he simply wanted the Dementors to go out and cause chaos..."

"But then why did they attack here?" Harry asked, his forehead creased from his frown.

"I think the blame there," Dumbledore said, his voice suddenly cold, "lies with our Minister."

"Fudge?" Harry asked, surprised. "I don't follow –"

"The Dementors have been proven to possess a measure of long term memory, Harry," Dumbledore said, his voice controlled – but Harry could feel the anger vibrating beneath the surface. "They remembered the only place in recent memory other than Azkaban where they had a veritable array of victims –"

"Hogwarts," Harry answered, anger suddenly flashing within him. "Fudge deserves to be strung up for that idea –" Dumbledore said nothing, and Harry continued as his mind made the connections himself, "but he can't. People will be panicking enough when they hear about the Death Eaters who've broken out. They can't deal with losing one of their figureheads, too."

Dumbledore again chose not to reply for a few seconds. "You have grown over the Summer, Harry," blue eyes looked at him curiously, "I almost find myself asking exactly where you were."

This took Harry by surprise. "You won't ask?" To be honest, he had been expecting, and almost relishing the thought of a Spanish Inquisition. He even had some choice spells ready -

"Do you want me to?"

Again, Harry was caught off-balance. "Er, no, I guess."

"Were you harmed in any shape, form or manner?"

"No."

"Were you part of any malpractice that would harm the students at Hogwarts or the Wizarding World in general?"

"What – no, of course not –"

"Were you safe?"

"Yes, I was."

"Very well, then. I will relay the order to the Order," Dumbledore smiled at his own pun, "not to pry in your matters unless you speak of them. But Harry," his tone grew serious again, "I am afraid that we must, for the most part, avoid contact this year."

"You're deserting me," Harry's retort was bald and blunt; and it gave him some mild satisfaction to see those blue eyes lose some of their legendary twinkle. "Of all the times to choose, Professor, after all the times I've supported you, all the manipulations I've taken silently –"

"You know -?" Dumbledore was visibly surprised. For a fleeting moment, Harry thought that he looked extraordinarily like a young boy with his hand caught in the cookie jar.

He realized that Albus Dumbledore was not a man who was used to getting caught in his schemes.

"If you mean that I know that you have lied to me and manipulated me over the years on several occasions," Harry said, enjoying how Dumbledore flinched, "then yes, I do."

"I will not be so foolish as to deny your claims, Harry, but I am completely honest when I say I have never lied outright to –" Dumbledore began, but Harry cut him off.

"Did you willingly harm me in any shape, form or manner?" Harry asked, throwing Dumbledore's own question back at him.

The silence, this time, was oppressive and all-encompassing. Harry waited for the older man's reply, and after a while, he realized Dumbledore didn't have an answer for him.

He looked up. The old man's eyes were suspiciously wet.

"It seems, then, Professor," Harry said, gearing up to do what he had been planning to for quite some while. Truth be told, he had expected more of a fanfare when the moment arrived, and had even imagined tempers running high and spells flying about – especially so on his part.

But Harry finally realized that he had grown up over the summer, after all. His episode with Calli had awakened him to the harsh realities of the world, and he now understood that there was no point in getting angry over things he could now not change, and which might even have helped him.

He would never forgive Dumbledore for leaving him with the Dursleys – the old man had protected him from the demons of the outside world, but not the ones within. His childhood had been far from normal, but in the end, he had survived.

Harry Potter was a survivor, when it came down to it. Dumbledore, despite his faults and mistakes, had helped him survive some.

"We are at a crossroads, Professor."

"It seems we are." Dumbledore's voice was heavy, resigned. "How caught up, we are, in our webs, Harry. What do you plan to do?"

"I wish I knew," Harry answered honestly, "I'll figure something out along the way, Professor. That's how it has always been."

Dumbledore laughed this time, his moustache quivering. "It has, hasn't it?"

"We plan, we get there, all hell breaks loose – " The two of them were laughing in earnest now. Some would have expected the conversation to have degenerated into a brawl now, with hexed knees and burned skin, but the two of them were as amiable as ever. Perhaps it was because Harry recognized the power within Dumbledore, and Dumbledore was finally beginning to see Harry for who he really was. True, their entire interaction had been strange, but then again, normal was not a common word for Albus Dumbledore or Harry Potter.

Finally, the two of them stopped, eerily identical grins on their faces. "You do realize, Harry, that I will still be doing my best to...guide you along, shall we say?"

"Of course, Professor," Harry replied, not breaking eye contact. "I wouldn't expect any less."

The game was on. Harry was sure that Dumbledore was many things to him – teacher, benefactor, manipulator, liar – but he was not the enemy. No, their enemy was a common one.

"Professor," Harry asked on a sudden whim, very seriously. Dumbledore seemed to sense it too, and turned sober.

"Have you ever harmed my friends in any shape, form, or manner, including, but not limited to, enchanting them?"

"I have not," Dumbledore replied, as serious as ever, and Harry just knew that the man wasn't lying. "Those are serious –"

"Then it seems that there are more enemies in the shadows than the obvious one," Harry told him, his voice level.

Dumbledore digested this particular bit of information. "I see. Anything more that you care to add, Harry?"

"No, sir," Harry answered. This was it. The game was on.

Dumbledore seemed to have come to the same realization. "Very well, Harry. I bid you farewell, and hope that you will enjoy a warm bed now that our talk is over." With a start, Harry realized that they were currently walking down the seventh floor corridor.

They reached the Fat Lady, who was still awake despite it being very late in the night. "Headmaster! To what do I –"

"Nothing of import, my lady," Dumbledore said courteously, "if you would kindly let young Harry here in?"

"Of course," the Fat Lady replied, turning her gaze on Harry. "Password?"

"Blade," Dumbledore replied, his voice completely flat. As the Portrait flung open, Harry whirled around, his eyes wide with shock. The Headmaster knew!

But Dumbledore was gone. The corridor before him was empty, showing neither hide or hair of the older man.

Harry stood there for a second, stunned. Then he shook his head, and grinned, walking into the familiar confines of the familiar Common Room.

"That magnificent bastard," Harry muttered, his thoughts coming back to just how difficult it was to hate Albus Dumbledore. He needed to be more cunning if he was to play their little game...and then, with another start, Harry realized something else.

Even without raising his wand, even though he had expressly stated that he would be avoiding Harry for a better part of the year, Dumbledore was still managing to teach Harry some lessons.

"That magnificent bastard," he whispered again, and walked up the steps to his dormitory.

Sleep beckoned.

Outside the Common Room, Dumbledore reappeared and stared at the now dozing Fat Lady. His eyes were bright as he relished the challenge from the man, who – whether he liked or even realized it or not – was his young protégée. It would be a learning experience for them both.

He mused for a moment about the password, as he stared at the portrait guarding the hole he knew was in the wall before him.

Suddenly, a sharp pain shot through his skull, making him clutch his skull and reel backwards. For a second, he saw the pointed end of a wand and barely remembered a murmured incantation...and then it passed.

The world went back to normal and he was only left with the phantom, stinging pain in his head.

No, my boy, he thought, you are right. There is more than a single force at work here.

XoX

Harry's prediction had been correct. The Great Hall was in a state of general uproar when he arrived for breakfast the following morning. He'd been late after having a bit of a lie-in, and Ron had left a note on his bedside table that he'd be waiting for Harry at the Gryffindor table if he woke by then.

Owls were flying back and forth, people were talking in raised voices, some had even reached outright hysteria. From what he could see, Susan Bones was breathing heavily into a paper bag, while Terry Boot was trying to revive Stephen Corfoot from where he'd fainted at the table.

Nobody noticed him as he walked in, despite the fact that he'd probably saved every single one of their lives the night before. He supposed that Dementors did pale somewhat in front of Death Eaters. Moreover, he suspected that the students had been unaware of the accompanying breakout until morning – they'd been terrified enough at the defecting Dementors, he supposed.

Dementors could suck your souls out. Death Eaters would cause you immense pain, revel in it, and then blow your soul out of your body with an Avada Kedavra.

Nevertheless, there was a lull in conversation when people realized that he was in the Hall and walking towards the Gryffindor table.

"-he'll protect us from them, right?" A first year's high pitched voice carried quite a bit across the Hall.

The silence that fell across the halls at those words seemed to be so tangible that Harry could nearly see it standing before him and poking its tongue out at him.

He was suddenly aware of over a hundred pairs of eyes on him, looking at him for a reaction. He was, however, saved from replying by an unexpected interruption.

"Mr. Potter," he looked up at the Staff Table where the voice had come from, and almost backpedalled at the sight that met his eyes. The woman who'd addressed him had a flat, toad-like face, and small black eyes, but worse of all, she was dressed completely in pink.

This must be the honourable Dolores Umbridge, his brain supplied. She simpered, and he immediately knew that he disliked the woman, and that it was mutual.

"I believe that will be ten points from Gryffindor for being late to breakfast."

He was sure that his face was not the only one displaying a blank disbelief. Out of the corner of his eyes, he could see the gobsmacked expression on every student's face – even on some of the Slytherins' faces, who had looked unbearably smug until moments ago.

The silence was now so large that he was sure that they could feel its effects all the way to Hogsmeade.

And then, all at once, there was pandemonium.

"That's rubbish!" Fred and George Weasley yelled, identical, mutinous expression on their faces.

"You can't do that!"

"He's probably late because he came from the Hospital Wing!"

"And he was there because he saved us all last night, you hag!"

It was madness. Students were on their feet in outrage, shaking their fists and even their wands at the staff table. While most of the teacher's looked shocked, Harry, who was standing calmly at the centre of it all, noticed that Dumbledore looked quite amused.

It was chaos. And it was beautiful.

Harry couldn't help the smile that was pulling at his lips. All these people, they were protesting because of him. For once in his life, he was not being shunned and isolated; quite the reverse, in fact.

He supposed it had something to do with the fact that tempers and emotions were running high, and it was also an outlet for many of the students. Maybe, he thought, it was also because of the fact that the Wizarding World took their debts very, very seriously.

"Enough!" surprisingly enough, it was McGonagall who put an end to events, and not Dumbledore. "You will cease this disgraceful behaviour at once, before the entire school is put in detention." The look on the students' faces was mutinous, but they backed down anyway, knowing that she would be as good as her threat.

"Mr. Potter's punishment," she continued, "will not stand, considering his heroic actions." She completely disregarded the filthy look Umbridge sent her way, "In fact, it will be my pleasure to award him a hundred points for his fantastic deed, and to announce that he will be receiving an award for special services to the school."

Her announcement was met with cheers and claps from the students, and Harry couldn't help but grin cheekily and raise a fist in the air, which only increased their cheering. Feeling pleased that some of their attention had been diverted from the breakout; Harry finally sat down at the table and pulled a rack of toast towards him.

"Still the hero, I see," Ron said, grinning at him.

"What does the Prophet say about it?" Harry asked, shoving fried eggs into his mouth as he realized that he was ravenous after his little display of magic.

It was Fred and George who answered his question, speaking in their own unique way.

"Not a mention, Harry, m'boy –"

"Except a wee line at the end of Paragraph 2 –"

"Something about the loony helping the teachers."

"Of course, they didn't mention that you drove away a Dementor all alone –"

"Or two –"

"Maybe even ten – "

"A hundred?"

"You're joking. Five hundred, surely?"

"All in all," Hermione said, rolling her eyes at the twins' antics, "they glossed over it as best they could. Doesn't really matter, though."

"And why not?" Harry asked, now scarfing down bacon as even Ron stopped eating and watched him attack the meat.

"Everyone here saw what happened, Harry," Hermione said with a warm smile, "you saved us all. The Ministry can't take away everybody's memory of the event, and you can bet they'll be writing home about it."

"So not the loony any more?" Harry asked with a grin.

Hermione gave a grin of her own. "Of course you're still the loony, Harry," she answered patronizingly, "it's just that everybody now knows what a heroic loony you are."

"Oi!"

XoX

It was a good time to be Harry Potter. All over the castle, all through the day, people stopped him to shake his hand and thank him for saving them. The boys complimented him on his magic and good-naturedly offered to spend time with him in a variety of events, while the girls gave him hugs and kisses on his cheek until he was beginning to think that someone up there loved him very, very much.

After a rather salacious proposal from a sixth year Ravenclaw, though, and after a beet-red Hannah Abbot had rushed off after a quick 'Thank you' and a peck on the cheek, Ron was beginning to look a little disgruntled.

"It's not that I'm very jealous, mate," he said frankly, "but it's starting to fray on my nerves a bit," the redhead commented, as they sat down together for lunch.

Harry couldn't help but have similar thoughts. He'd lost count of the number of times he'd had to charm lipstick off his cheek, and even his lips in some cases. He wasn't really complaining – no healthy fifteen year old would – especially after a Muggleborn seventh year had pulled him into a broom closet out of nowhere and given him a very enthusiastic thank you in the dark (before leaving without even giving him her name) – but it was getting a bit tiring.

The giggling, that is. Even now, Parvati and Lavender were taking turns in looking at him and giggling, before putting their heads together and whispering furiously.

"That's nothing," Hermione said airily, pulling a flagon of Pumpkin Juice towards herself, "you should've heard the gossip in the bathrooms. I think you should get a girlfriend just to protect yourselves, Harry, because those girls are willing to do anything to get their claws into you –"

"A girlfriend?" Ron sputtered. "But – but – that's -"

"That's perfectly normal for a boy of Harry's age and disposition, Ronald," Hermione said, before turning to Harry.

"But Harry's never dated!" Ron protested, and Harry was just about to tell him that he had indeed been on a single date with Parvati last year before calling it quits, when they were interrupted.

"As fascinating as this discussion is," Harry grimaced at the unfortunately familiar oily voice, "Mr. Potter has been summoned to the Headmaster's office immediately. I am," Snape paused at this junction, before resuming his speech with more vinegar in his tone than ever, "to accompany Mr. Potter to the Headmaster's office at his behest."

Seeing that Ron was about to open his mouth, Harry stood up quickly and turned around. "Of course, Professor. Lead the way."

Snape sneered in a fashion that told him that he'd sooner lead Harry into the very depths of hell, before stalking off like an overgrown bat, his cloak billowing behind him. Harry was left to follow, taking hurried strides to keep up with the older man.

The journey to Dumbledore's office was thankfully completed in silence, though it was rather awkward for him to be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Snape as they took the revolving stairs up to the office.

"Come in," Dumbledore's voice called as Snape knocked on the door. Harry walked in, and was surprised to see all the Heads of Houses sitting around Dumbledore's table. There was also another woman with short, grey hair and a monocle set in her stern face. Behind her was another man, tall and with tawny hair streaked with gray; who gave off the overall impression of an old, battle-weary lion. Finally, there was Umbridge, who looked like she'd been forced to swallow a very bitter lemon very recently.

"Ah, Mr. Potter, Severus," the Headmaster commented, giving no indication that he'd had an intimate conversation with Harry only hours ago. "I'm glad you answered my summons so promptly. Might I present to you Rufus Scrimgeour, Head of the Auror office, and Madam Bones, Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement?"

The both of them nodded briskly at Harry, and he replied in kind. Dumbledore turned to Madam Bones, who took that as her cue to speak.

"Mr. Potter, I will endeavour to come straight to the point," she said. Her voice was loud - yet not uncomfortably so - and booming. Harry thought that she would have made a good judge. "The Ministry of Magic needs your help."

"My help?" Harry asked, unable to believe what he was hearing.

"Yes, Mr. Potter," this time, it was Scrimgeour who answered. "With the recent Dementor Defection, the Auror Office has come up with a plan to contain the Dementors and minimize the damage they are causing. Casualties are already through the roof, and time is of the essence. Aurors are working to save lives as we speak."

"I see," Harry answered with a nod, immediately alert. He may not like the Ministry or the Minister of Magic, but hundreds – even thousands – of lives were at stake here. "How can I help?"

"We need the support of every wizard who can cast a Corporeal Patronus, Mr. Potter," Madam Bones told him, "and that is a remarkably exclusive group of us, unfortunately. In fact, you are the youngest wizard on the list, by a large margin as well. Impressive!" she boomed, and eyed him speculatively.

"Very well, Madam," Harry replied, "I am yours to command for now."

"Good man," she replied, and Harry quietly noted her choice of nouns. "I will not ask for a demonstration, and take my niece's word instead –"

Susan's aunt, Harry mentally connected, but did not interrupt her to ask. She did not seem like the kind of woman who would take kindly to her.

" –and get straight to the plan." With a flourish of her wand, a map of Wizarding Britain was resting on the table.

"A quick update on Dementors, if any of you are unaware," Scrimgeour took over again, "they prey on happiness and strong emotions, and are strongest where there is decay and mould and depression. Which means –" he tapped his wand, "right now, these areas are somewhat safe, while the main Dementor forces are concentrated in this area."

"We plan to box them in into the Dark Forest up North," Scrimgeour said, waving his wand and showing the designated path of action. Simply put, they would herd the Dementors with Patroni into a specific area, where wards and shields had already started being put up in preparations to hold them there."

"Why can't they be returned to Azkaban?" Harry asked, his eyes drifting over the villages shown on the map.

"Azkaban's gone, boy," Madam Bones answered, "I don't know if you've read the papers, but it was blown to pieces by whoever launched this attack. It's ruined, still barely standing. The wards around it are dead."

"And who do you think is the perpetrator?" Harry asked, his eyes meeting her grey ones.

"That is Ministry information, and is classified at the moment. I feel it prudent to tell you that you are on a strict need-to-know basis –"

Harry felt his temper rise at how blind the Ministry was being, when the proof of Voldemort's return were right under their noses. He almost opened his mouth to tell them just what he thought of the Ministry's evasions and lies, when his brain kicked in.

All the teachers were completely silent, staring at him with mask-like faces. Umbridge, on the other hand, was looking at him hungrily, almost like she were expecting him to slip up somehow. Scrimgeour and Bones, to his surprise, were looking at him very shrewdly, almost as if they were testing him somehow...

Harry breathed through his nose several times. "I see," he said. The eyes of the Officer's glinted, almost like he'd passed some invisible test. "Where do you want me placed?"

The Ministry was in a pandemonium. He knew it, Umbridge knew it, Bones and Scrimgeour knew it. Fudge was somehow maintaining near-totalitarian government, even as it crumbled to the ground around him, firm in his denial of Voldemort's return.

They didn't need him to point out the obvious.

Games, he thought, suddenly remembering his thoughts of the night before, games all around.

XoX

Author's note: Phew, another chapter. This one was a beast to write, but I think it came out ok in the end. It sets up the plot and storyline further, hints at further arcs, and of course, firmly establishes the relationship between Harry and Dumbledore.

For those who were expecting rampant Dumbledore bashing, I'm sorry, but I cannot deliver. Dumbledore is one of my favourite characters to write, because of the depth and sheer complexity of character. People hate him because he left Harry with the Dursleys, and his plan of victory hinged on having Harry die. Of course, people also theorize in most fiction that Harry was abused physically thanks to Dumbledore – a fact JKR never confirmed.

Yes, he was neglected. I could also counter-theorize that Dumbledore's blood wards prevented, say, Quirrel from finding Harry when he was nine and taking him to Voldemort. I think I'd take neglected over dead any day, and Harry realizes this after his summer in this story.

And of course, Dumbledore's plan in canon hinged on Harry dying... but still surviving to end Voldemort. And also pick up the handy title of Master of Death along the way.

I firmly believe that no amount of magical trunks, alliances with Goblins, or even Dark Magic can really send canon!Harry skyrocketing to Voldemort's level in seven years. Voldemort has a head start of half a century, and he was hailed as the brightest student to ever grace the halls of Hogwarts.

On the other hand, Dumbledore engineered the fight so magnificently that Harry had to blunder about for a year, kill Horcruxes, and then sacrifice himself. Sound horrible?

Dumbledore also set the war up so that Harry was able to kill the darkest wizard of all time with Expelliarmus, a second year spell.

One cannot simply bash that man and portray him as senile and stupid. In the story, instead of ranting and raving and flinging spells, the two of them talk like equals. In canon, Voldemort would throw a tantrum whenever Dumbledore was around, but ol' Albus would be calm and collected and just as dangerous – I always thought that was badass.

Of course, there's still the fact that all isn't quite right with Dumbledore either. But that's a story for another time.

Oh, and just in case anyone wants to point out that I'm setting Harry up so he can beat Voldemort himself, I'm not. Refer to the chapter before last. Refer to Chapter 10.

And so ends my rant/impassioned defence of Dumbledore. He's an okay fellow in my books.