"Thomas, Dean." A tall boy with a nervous smile stepped forward to put on the hat.
Albus waited a moment before the hat shouted, "GRYFFINDOR!"
Lisa Turpin was off to Ravenclaw.
Then, came the one he had been waiting for. He was quite sure he was not alone in awaiting this name. Filius leaned forward slightly, Professor Vector had an interested glint in her eye and Pomona perked up, appearing hopeful. Severus, to his not unexpected disappointment, looked like he had swallowed a lemon.
There was a definite note of excitement in Minerva's voice as she called, "Potter, Harry!"
Whispers broke out at the name, a mix of admiration and anticipation.
Slowly, young Harry stepped forward. His dark hair hung in his face, but even from this distance he could make out Lily's green eyes. He was slight; shorter and slighter than both of his parents at eleven.
Taking the hat from Minerva, Harry turned away from Albus to face the hall as he sat on the stool.
For three long minutes, neither hat nor boy moved. Once, Harry flinched. After that, Harry's shoulders tensed and Harry muttered something–Albus didn't catch what, but it sounded rather like Latin.
Finally, at four minutes and twenty-nine seconds the Hat shouted "GRYFFINDOR!" and put an end to the whispers of the students.
Harry handed the hat back to Minerva (whom he gave a polite nod) before heading off to his new House table amid joyful shouts and enthusiastic applause.
Albus did not make a habit of singling any one student out in a staff meeting, unless there was a problem. Thus, he had not started the conversation about young Mr. Potter.
And, really, this was uncalled for. His teachers were gossiping about the boy like little old witches at tea.
"…so polite," Pomona gushed. "And he seems to have some real talent for working with the Blubbering Bubbleberry Bushes. I've never seen a first year get half as many berries –except perhaps the young Longbottom boy. They work together as partners, you know, even when they don't need to."
"That will be good for Potter," Minerva chimed in. "Longbottom, too. Potter is rather academically gifted, but he doesn't seem to have much in the way of friends."
"Oh, I don't know." Albus had known Filius long enough to realize that he did know something and was about to say so. He knew that tone. The decisively light, dry words followed by a counter-point to whatever subject was at hand. "I think he's just a little introverted. And adjusting to being away from family, I'd imagine."
"Perhaps," the cat animagus allowed. "And he was raised by his Muggle relatives, so he's still getting accustomed to magic. I doubt they knew much about it and what they did know Potter doesn't seem to have been told much, or anything at all."
Albus supposed that last comment from the Transfiguration teacher was a not-so stutle dig at himself for having left Harry with the Dursley's.
"Perhaps," sneered Severus, mimicking Minerva's posture. "We could discuss something besides one mediocre and conceited first year."
"Severus!" Minerva snapped. "The boy is one of the most polite students below fourth year! He'd hardly conceited!"
"Yes, I quite agree," squeaked Filius, sternly. "Mr. Potter is not full of himself at all. If anything, he tries to downplay his success."
"Potter is very talented and always does his best to help his classmates–!"
"Potter is a self-absorbed–"
"That will be enough!" Albus cut in. "Severus is right. This is not the time to discuss Mr. Potter. However, that does not mean you should resort to needless insults."
He leveled the Potions Master with a stern look. The man glared and averted his eyes, but said nothing.
"Now," he said, forcing a smile. "What is the next issue we need to resolve? How has Peeves behaved? Is the Shrieking Shrubbery by the lake causing any blasted eardrums?"
Between Wizengamot meetings, soothing Cornelius Fudge's insecurities, his position as the head of the International Confederation of Wizards and other titles Albus' time was on high demand. Still, Hogwarts took priority and Albus made it a habit to be present at two meals everyday, just to be seen. Dinner he tried the hardest to attend, striving for a sense of presence in the student's lives.
He did his best keep up with the students, at least a little, be notices their patterns and selective groups, clubs and friends. He never could keep up with who was dating who. It simply changed too often for him to keep up, but other things he did pick up on
Harry Potter, for instance, normally sat near the end of the Gryffindor table with Neville Longbottom. Occasionally, they were joined by a Ms. Hermione Granger or Ronald Weasley, but the other boy preferred the company of his dorm mates Thomas and Finnigan and the girl seemed to like her books.
Young Neville seemed to be good company for Harry. But there was something …not quite right about the boy. Nothing bad or evil. Harry seemed to be the polar opposite of Tom in that respect.
Harry didn't smile often, he noticed.
And it bothered him. Albus couldn't say why, exactly. Maybe it was guilt for leaving Harry with family that had not treated him as family should. He'd heard all about Harry's intense dislike of touch, wariness and distrust. That sort of thing only came from enduring hardship. Who else could have hurt the boy so?
He had observed for himself Harry's silent, but sure independence and the way he carried himself like… an old soldier. He seemed tired often. Not from lack of sleep or too much homework, but from carrying a burden too big for his young mind to handle alone.
The last thing he wanted was to add to that burden with the information of Voldemort and the prophecy…
Harry didn't smile often, he noticed.
Albus had never heard the boy laugh.
Giving gifts to one's students was frowned upon. Favoritism was something he attempted to avoid. Albus had never done it before, at least not when school was in session. Still, he reasoned, he'd had James's (Harry's now) Invisibility Cloak for ten years. It really should be passed along.
It might spark a much needed sense of adventure in the boy.
It might be the only other gift the boy would receive, with the other coming from Mr. Longbottom.
Yes. It was a good idea. What could possibly go wrong what with handing an eleven year old boy a Cloak of Invisibility? Here you are, Harry. Use it well.
Oh. Use it well. That was laughable. He might add that to the note.
He wondered what Harry would use it for.
The compulsion charm he had added to the Cloak would fade within hours. The magic was too strong to let an enchantment like that stick around. He knew he shouldn't have added it, but he was unsure if Harry would have even used the Cloak at all without it.
If he was being honest, he really did want to know what Harry desired and what sort of insight into Harry's character he might glean from the opportunity.
And he just wanted to meet Harry. Face to face for the first time in ten years.
Harry's hand hung in midair, outstretched, reaching for whatever he saw in the mirror.
The boy stood, unmoving for a long moment. With the Cloak at his feet and longing in his everbright green eyes, Harry refused to move closer. But he had yet to turn away.
Suddenly, Albus was sure that once Harry left he would not go searching again. If he wished to talk to Harry, it was now or never.
"I see, Harry, you like hundreds before you, have discovered the delights of the Mirror of Erised," he began abruptly, canceling his disillusionment charm.
Harry did not start.
His hand fell to his side, but he didn't look around.
"You think so, Professor?" Harry asked quietly. "Little is …delightful about it."
"Why is that?" Albus asked stepping closer so that he was next to the boy.
"Because," he paused, searching for words. "…it doesn't… it doesn't do anything but show you what you want, none of it is real."
Harry finally tears his eyes away from the mirror to look up at him.
"Quite right," he acknowledged, rather impressed by the answer. "But it does not simply show you what you want…"
He trailed off, hoping Harry would work out the mirror secret. He also hope Harry would give a hint about what he saw, not that it was his place to push.
This time Harry met his eyes, though his expression remained unreadable. "…It shows us nothing more or less than the deepest, most desperate, desire of our hearts," Harry said, finally, but it an almost self mocking tone.
"That is exceedingly correct," Albus praised, impressed in spite of himself. "I could not have put it better myself."
At that, Harry averted his eyes looking uncomfortable. He discreetly wiped his eyes. Albus had noticed the tear tracks on his face until the moon light streaming from the classroom window made the water shine.
He was just about to ask another question, but Harry beat him to it.
"Do you think… Professor?" Harry began, hesitantly. "Do you know if I might find some pictures of my parents?"
"I think it might be wise to ask Hagrid, the gamekeeper. He was goods friends with you mother when she was in school and your father in his last three years."
"Th-thank you, Professor."
"Not at all, Harry. I just wish I could do more. …Now, why don't you put on that admirable Cloak back on and get back to bed?"
Harry bent down and gather the Cloak in his hands. He paused. Green eyes darted up to meet blue.
"Good night, Professor," Harry said, then he threw the Cloak back over his head.
Albus was fairly certain Harry knew who had returned his father's Cloak.
He was enjoying a cup of tea and some lemon drops in the teacher's lounge.
"You could help, you know," she said tartly.
Minerva was decidedly not enjoying her task of marking all the end of year exams in addition to the normal load of homework.
Really, she asked for it by assigning so much.
"Help with what, my dear?"
He was close. Minerva hated spelling this out for him. At least, things she felt he should know. …Unless she was giving an "I-told-you-so" speech, in which case she took great delight in outlining everything in great detail.
But this was not the case.
"You know what! Honestly, you make every-! Oh, really, that boy!" She glared at a student's essay. The unfortunate student seemed to have raised her ire, if they way her eyes snapped back and forth on the page was any clue.
"Sickle for your thoughts?" Albus offered, wondering what had offended her sensibilities. Perhaps a student had slipped something in about Divination?
She glared at him for a moment, still upset that Albus hadn't taken her hint about "maybe two transfiguration masters might made the grading a little faster." In the end, she decided the essay was more offensive than the headmaster.
"Potter," she spat with uncharacteristic venom.
"Harry? Last I knew, you singing his praises as a sort of transfiguration prodigy, not turning his very name into a curse! …Have you been spending much time with Severus?"
Minerva let out an exasperated sigh as her anger faded visibly. "No, Albus. Harry's work is as good as ever. Better, in fact."
"Whatever can be wrong, than?" Albus asked, quite perplexed.
"He's been reading from the restricted section again," she muttered, darkly.
"He doesn't have permission?"
"Well, I suppose he did for a little while. Pomona became tired of signing slips for the boys –Potter and Longbottom. They like Herbology very much and do more extra credit than all the other class combined. Against her better judgment, she signed an All-Rights/Any-Reads form."
"She signed a form to allow a pair a first years to read any book in the restricted section?" Albus repeated, shocked.
"Well yes, she did. She knew they wouldn't abuse it, And they didn't really, I'll admit, but I didn't like the idea of a first years reading advanced Transfiguration theory. I don't want them getting confused or trying something reckless."
"Do you think they would?"
"Doubtful. Those boys are careful. But I couldn't risk it. Others might have stolen the books and used them rashly…" She shook her head.
"It also looked like favoritism. Potter had to go to the hospital wing twice because he ran into some jealous sixth year who decided jinxing would be a good way to show their disapproval."
Albus mulled it over. He didn't quite agree with taking permission away when the boys hadn't done anything wrong, but he didn't like the fact that it had been given at all. Then he remembered the essay.
"You said Harry was reading from the section again? How can you tell? Is he sneaking in?"
She laughed. "He wouldn't sneak in. I'm inclined to believe that Harry is owl ordering the books. He has enough money to make the purchases and his essay are always better when he has access to advanced material. That's I can tell."
"In the end, the effect is the same. It would been better to just put some restrictions on his permission form."
"Yes, it would have," Minerva muttered bitterly.
"You can't fault a student for pursuing knowledge."
Quirrell was dead, body burned to ash. The stone was gone. Harry was riding the Hogwarts express, but unlike his classmates, he wasn't going home.
"Do I have to, Professor? Hogwarts is more my home than Number Four ever was."
"Harry, please, it is the safest place for you."
"Why? They don't make it exactly safe…"
Harry had challenged that he might spend the summer at a Muggle friends house if the Professor couldn't explain why he needed to be there.
Horrified at the thought of Voldemort finding the boy, he explained the blood wards and how Harry would be safe from the Dark Lord's followers and Tom Riddle himself.
Harry had quickly agreed to stay the first month and a half, but he felt that it was less Harry caring about his safety and more an attempt to pacify Albus.
Albus didn't know how he felt about that. He worried more than ever about his treatment at the hands of the aunt and uncle, but at the same time could forget the smile Harry gave him when he promised to arrange visits with Neville every Saturday.
He would work something out. He had promised.
Albus forced himself to focus on Voldemort. What was he planning? How would he use to the Stone? What specific rituals had the man performed to ensure his "immortality?"
How long would it take for him to rise again?
How would he explain to Nicholas?
An owl. Albus moved over one of the window of his office to let the barn owl in.
Swooping low, over his desk, it dropped a package before darting quickly back out the window.
Intrigued by the almost familiar magic that emanated from the brown wrapping, Albus lifted it up and inspected for any sort of Dark magic. Twenty minutes later, his curiosity got the better of him. He was almost sure this wasn't a trap.
Inside, there was the Philosopher's Stone.
And a note. It read:
The Stone, returned. Strengthen your school. Voldemort will find another way to return.
There wasn't a signature.