Storm clouds rippled across the ceiling of the Great Hall. Distant thunder rumbled over the clatter of cutlery and plates. Harry stacked up the copies of yesterday’s Daily Prophet and dropped them onto the bench out of his way. Bellatrix’s body bobbed in the photograph of the atrium’s fountain beneath Hedwig’s talons as she fluffed her feathers up and stared up at Harry.
‘There’s no bacon yet.’ He met Hedwig’s amber gaze. ‘You’re worse than Katie.’
Harry glanced down the table, then pulled the menu out of this pocket and scanned the French text. Aha, marzipan and plums. Finally. He slid his wand from his sleeve and tapped the tart; it glowed a soft blue.
He folded it up and charmed it shut, then passed it to Hedwig. ‘Collect it and then deliver it to Fleur, please, Hedwig.’
Hedwig released a soft hoot, then fluttered off out the window.
That ought to make Fleur smile.
‘Anyone seen Hermione?’ Ron asked, peering down the table.
‘Library,’ Seamus said.
Parvati nodded. ‘She’s revising so much I don’t think she’s slept this week. Every time I get up in the night to get a drink, she’s reading by wand light in her bed.’
‘Could be worse, Parv,’ Seamus said. ‘Mandy Brocklehurst’s been in the infirmary three times for calming draughts today.’
Hermione’s going to beat all of us anyway. Harry yawned. Don’t know why she gets so wound up over it when she already knows everything you could possibly need to for the exam.
Katie swung herself in next to him, clattering his goblet to the floor. ‘Morning Harry. Long time no see.’ She yawned. ‘I’m so tired today. Can you do my transfiguration work for me?’
‘I’ve been busy.’ Harry retrieved his cup. ‘And no, I’m definitely not doing your work for you.’
She made a noncommittal noise somewhere between a sigh and another yawn, then leant an elbow on his shoulder and used her arm as a pillow. ‘Where’s McGonagall?’
‘No idea.’ Harry displaced her onto the table with one hand. ‘Haven’t seen her.’
‘Food.’ Katie perked up and stole the toast rack out from under Harry’s nose.
He summoned it back into his hand.
‘You’re annoying.’ She pouted and glowered at him from beneath a scatter of brown hair. ‘First you all but disappear, then you steal my breakfast!’
‘I would feel a great deal guiltier if I didn’t know you considered the latter the more heinous a crime.’ Harry poked the toast rack back toward her.
‘Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.’ Katie wagged her finger at him. ‘Ron understands.’ She giggled and pointed down the table at Seamus and Dean’s futile attempts to part Ron from the plate of sausages.
‘You should be encouraging me to eat, then.’ Harry dragged the bacon across and draped a few slices over his toast. ‘If it’s so important.’
‘I am.’ She stuck out her tongue. ‘Just not from my food.’
The twins slipped into the seats opposite. ‘The bacon—’
‘Is for everyone on the table.’
‘Nobody ever told me that.’ Katie crossed her arms.
‘We tell you that every mealtime we’re with you, don’t we, George,’ the leftmost twin said.
‘Quidditch practise is tonight,’ Fred said. ‘Angelina organised an extra one.’
‘Right before exams?’ Katie asked.
‘Quidditch is far more important than OWLs or NEWTs,’ Harry quipped.
‘Harry.’ Both of the twins dipped their heads at him, then shuffled down the bench toward Alicia and Angelina.
‘Harry.’ Nev slid into a gap across from him. ‘You’re looking cheerful.’
‘You will be in a moment when the post arrives. Your favourite politician has been forced to tender his resignation.’ Nev pulled today’s paper out of his pocket. ‘Gran sent me an early copy.’
Fudge Resigns. The headline sat above an unflattering photo of Fudge with his head in his hands. All Educational Decrees Revoked.
‘Gran said it was only a matter of time once it became obvious Voldemort had returned. The Wizengamot voted to show no confidence in him after half the Ministry’s atrium was torn apart and the Department of Mysteries broken into. Apparently, only Dumbledore’s appearance managed to prevent anything terrible from happening.’
Harry borrowed Nev’s paper and flicked through the first few pages curiously. Dumbledore duels He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named in Ministry. Harry clenched his jaw. Or did he just set everyone else up to die and swoop in at the last moment to play hero?
‘Is something wrong?’ Katie put a hand on his arm. ‘Harry?’
‘Just surprised the Daily Prophet managed to change its tune so fast from slandering Dumbledore to this story.’
It doesn’t matter. I’ve got what I needed.
‘War’s coming now,’ Nev said. ‘I’m going to continue with the DA next year. We’ll all need the practice.’
I doubt any of you will be doing much fighting. Voldemort’s not after you.
‘I’ll help if you want,’ Harry offered. ‘When I can.’
‘Maybe every now and then,’ Nev replied. ‘I can handle it for the most part.’
‘Awww.’ Katie pouted. ‘I enjoyed Harry teaching the Patronus Charm.’
‘Only because you managed it so quickly.’ Nev said. ‘In all the other meetings, you either sat around with Harry and did nothing, or sat around on your own and did nothing.’
‘That’s not true!’ Katie monopolised the plate of bacon. ‘I’m ninety nine percent sure.’
‘I suppose you did transfigure Smith’s robes into a short, pink dress after he called Harry a spiteful coward with no interest or care in anyone else’s well being.’
‘He didn’t look very good in it.’ Katie wrinkled her nose at the memory. ‘But he did deserve it.’
‘Maybe it was because of the colour,’ Nev suggested.
‘It was his legs,’ Katie said. ‘He doesn’t have the calves to pull off a dress like that, especially not with all that leg hair.’
Nev shuddered. ‘McGonagall still isn’t here.’
‘Ominous.’ Katie eyed the empty spot on the teacher’s table. ‘Maybe Umbridge’s back?’
I doubt it. Aragog doesn’t seem the type to easily relinquish anything, least of all a live meal wrapped in webbing and suspended a hundred metres above the ground.
‘I hope not.’ Nev chuckled. ‘She hasn’t exactly been missed.’
‘Your gift of understatement is second to none, Nev,’ Harry quipped, helping himself to a bit more breakfast.
Nev watched him pile food onto his plate. ‘Don’t we have a lesson now?’
‘Well, we’re meant to have a lesson, but I guess for you it’s just extra breakfast.’
‘If Katie leaves any for the rest of us,’ Harry said.
She growled. ‘There’s plenty of toast, and eggs, and sausages—’
‘But no bacon,’ Harry teased.
‘Well I actually go to my lessons, so I need my energy.’ Katie beamed. ‘You just skive and for some reason nobody does anything.’
‘I think the teachers mostly take pity on me.’
‘Not Umbridge or Snape.’ She laughed. ‘I heard Snape smiled when you stopped turning up.’
‘That’s obviously just a rumour,’ Harry replied. ‘If he’d actually smiled, he’d’ve given away the fact he’s a vampire.’
Katie giggled. ‘That explains a lot.’
‘McGonagall’s here,’ Nev muttered. ‘And she is smiling.‘
Harry glanced up.
McGonagall moved to stand in front of her old seat, not the gold, gilt throne of the headteacher. ‘It gives me great pleasure to announce the return of Professor Dumbledore as headmaster again. He’s just arrived at the castle and bids me tell you that he greatly enjoyed his holiday, but simply couldn’t stay away longer.’
Harry’s heart sank. Damn him. I was so close to slipping free in the chaos. So bloody close.
‘Gran will be happy, she wasn’t expecting he’d be able to come back until next year.’ Nev joined in the applause that rose from every table but the one in silver and green.
Her and me both. Harry smothered a scowl. I bet I’ll be in his office before the end of the day.
McGonagall took her seat, beginning her own, belated breakfast and Harry went back to toying with the last piece of toast.
‘You don’t seem particularly cheerful about Dumbledore’s return, Harry,’ Katie murmured, setting her bacon sandwich down with a serious expression. ‘Is there something I should know?’
No doubt. A little warmth curled through Harry’s chest. I guess she really meant that promise about not letting me down.
‘Recently, I’ve started to feel something’s not quite right,’ Harry whispered in her ear. ‘The greatest wizard in the world, but he can’t figure out a basilisk is roaming the school when twelve year old Hermione can? Hiring a man possessed by Voldemort in my first year and not noticing anything? And don’t even get me started on him allowing Umbridge to torture students with that bloody quill.’
Katie squirmed and gave Harry’s knee a squeeze. ‘I hope you’re wrong.’
‘So do I.’ Harry leant back, then vanished ketchup off his knee. ‘You’ve ketchup on your hands, Katie dearest.’
She turned them over and flushed, then licked the ketchup off with the tip of her tongue. Harry raised an eyebrow. She gave him a wink and made a show of sucking the sauce of her other finger.
Nev groaned. ‘Please not while I’m here, you two.’
‘I have to go, anyway.’ Katie sighed. ‘McGonagall will notice if I’m not in her lesson.’
‘You might get away with it,’ Harry suggested.
‘I’ll see you later, Harry.’ Katie shot him a mock glower. ‘You owe me for vanishing.’
‘I gave you my firebolt,’ Harry said. ‘If anything you owe me.’
‘Bribery doesn’t work on me.’ Katie beamed and grabbed her bag. ‘It’s mine now.’
‘That’s a lie.’ Angelina appeared, Alicia in tow. ‘Have you tried offering her fire whiskey chocolates?’
‘No. Would that really work better than a firebolt?’
‘Not for important stuff,’ Katie shot over her shoulder. She pointed two fingers at him from the bridge her nose. ‘No running away. I will find you.’
Harry blew her a kiss and laughed at Alicia’s scowl. She’s never forgiven me for that Rita Skeeter article.
Katie pulled a face, then pretended to swat it away with the back of her hand and vanished into the crowd.
‘Good,’ Nev muttered. ‘We can talk freely now.’
‘You can trust Katie, Nev,’ Harry said.
‘I know, but this isn’t something I want to talk about with anyone else.’
‘Dumbledore or someone killed Bellatrix Lestrange,’ Nev whispered. His knuckles whitened around his fork. ‘I used to dream of killing her.’
Harry weighed his words. ‘Albus Dumbledore doesn’t believe in killing. He’d rather offer a second chance to those who’ve committed crimes, even those who have done something truly unforgivable. He’d have stuck her back in Azkaban if it’d been him.’
‘She would’ve just escaped again,’ Nev hissed. ‘Any Death Eaters sent to Azkaban will simply escape and rejoin Voldemort.’
‘I’m sure he does,’ Harry replied. ‘But he values the moral high ground more highly.’
‘They carry on killing and torturing.’ Nev’s voice went gone distant and faint and his eyes simmered with rage. ‘Doesn’t he feel at all responsible?’
‘I don’t know.’ Harry shrugged. ‘A little blood on his hands in the last war and we’d not even be here—’
A flash of red light rippled across the table and a wave of warmth settled through him in a pleasurable shiver. Nev relaxed back into his seat. Harry tensed and flicked his wand into his palm. He found himself eye to eye with Fawkes.
Fawkes fixed one dark eye on Harry and hopped closer over the plates as the whole hall turned to watch. Harry flicked his wand away. Fawkes trilled, then stalked closed and scoffed half a plate of fried tomatoes.
Those probably aren’t good for him.
Fawkes raised his beak and trilled, then hopped onto Harry’s shoulder. A flare of red fire flooded across the table, setting Neville’s breakfast alight.
Harry dropped into the uncomfortable chair opposite Dumbledore and shot the immortal bird a glare.
‘Sorry, Harry,’ Dumbledore said. ‘I should’ve known that Fawkes wouldn’t have given sufficient explanation.’
Fawkes can’t talk, so yes, yes you should’ve known.
‘I assume you wished to speak with me, sir?’ Harry inspected the small wood box on the side of the desk. Runes marked the pattern carved along the edges of the metal bands and lock.
That looks very well warded.
‘Yes. Yes I did.’ Dumbledore straightened the piles of letters, books, and papers on his desk, then produced an elegant, silver bowl full of bright, acid-yellow sweets from within the box and placed it on the desk between them. ‘Sherbet lemon? I’ve had ample opportunity to indulge my fondness for muggle sweets recently.’
Harry resisted the urge to sigh. Only Dumbledore would keep something as mundane as sherbet lemons inside such an interesting looking box.
‘Harry?’ Dumbledore waggled the bowl.
‘Thank you, sir.’ Harry picked one. ‘I’ve not a huge fan of boiled sweets, but recently I’ve started to develop a liking for sweet things in general.’
‘You’re the first person to accept one since Gilderoy Lockhart. Most of the students seem very suspicious of them, something I find odd given they’re perfectly prepared to eat Bertie Bott’s Every Flavoured Beans. Perhaps they’ve some strange idea I drug them with truth potions or compulsions to be good.’ Dumbledore chuckled into his beard. ‘If only behaviour management was so easy as that.’
Harry slipped the sherbet lemon into his mouth. A strong, sour-edged sweetness filled his mouth. Fleur might like this. They’re probably a bit sour for her, though. Gabby would like them a lot.
‘How have you been?’ Dumbledore crunched his sherbet lemon and swallowed. ‘I see you’ve abandoned your glasses. An unusual solution to short-sightedness, that. I’d be most keen to learn who did it for you and how you found them?’
Harry smiled. ‘How I’ve been since you… left, sir?’
Dumbledore nodded. ‘Indeed.’
‘As well as could be expected, I suppose, sir. Umbridge wasn’t the best headteacher.’
‘No.’ Dumbledore folded his hands and sighed. ‘I imagine she might not’ve been. Dolores was an unfortunately short-sighted woman. Perhaps she should’ve attempted the same magic you had cast on your eyes, my boy.’
‘At least she was arrested. Even Fudge couldn’t let her get away with using veritaserum on students.’
‘Arrested?’ Dumbledore pushed his half-moon glasses up his nose. ‘Why do you say that, Harry?’
‘She used veritaserum on students, myself included, then aurors were seen at Hogwarts and she disappeared. I doubt Fudge would’ve wanted a public scandal, so he probably had her quietly sentenced, like how he tried to get rid of Sirius.’
‘I’m afraid she inexplicably ventured into the Forbidden Forest, Harry. You know as well as I the dangers of the forest. That is not, however, what I brought you here to discuss.’
Good. Harry leant back in his chair and frowned when the back dug into his spine. This isn’t a good seat. He pulled his wand out and transfigured it into something more comfortable. Much better.
‘Excellent, Harry.’ Dumbledore peered down at the chair. ‘For someone your age, that’s a very admirable piece of transfiguration. I daresay Professor Mcgonagall will be much less concerned about your attendance record once I tell her.’
‘I got used to studying alone last year, sir.’ Harry shrugged. ‘I’d just end up reading other things in most of my lessons.’
Dumbledore nodded. ‘Understandable, Harry. I’m inclined to grant you leniency, all things considered, especially as I’ve not been entirely honest with you. Professor Snape serves a unique and crucial role within the Order of the Phoenix, the group that your parents and godfather joined to help stop Voldemort.’
‘He’s a spy. Sirius told me.’
‘He’s possibly the most important member of the Order of the Phoenix,’ Dumbledore murmured. ‘The information he divulges to us may be vital in stopping Voldemort for good and I trust him completely.’
‘So he’s a good spy.’
Dumbledore steepled his fingers. ‘There’re very few with the skill to deceive Tom these days. Professor Snape is one of them. However, I digress. Professor Snape returned from a meeting of Death Eaters to inform me Tom was not only intrigued by your evident increase in skill, but also bemused that you didn’t seem to know of the prophecy. I waited for you to ask me about it, but you never came.’
Harry stifled a bitter chuckle. ‘Would you have told me about it if I had?’
‘I would’ve told you as much as you were ready to hear.’
Presumably that was when you were sure you’d convinced your lamb to walk itself into the slaughterhouse. Harry smothered a cold, sharp twist of anger. You’ve been watching me grow up like a farmer watches his prize bloody pig.
‘I trusted you to tell me when the time was right,’ he said.
‘Ah, I see. How then did you come to be in the Department of Mysteries?’
‘Mr Weasley died,’ Harry said. ‘Sirius agreed it’d be better if we broke in and destroyed it rather than risk anyone else dying.’
Dumbledore sighed. ‘Your godfather can at times be quite rash. That prophecy was one of the few things that might’ve been able to lure Tom from hiding before he was ready. Mundungus Fletcher, for all his flaws, was very loyal to me. I helped him out of a tight spot and offered him a second chance, you see.’
‘He warned you about Sirius.’
‘He did indeed. I wasn’t sure what to make of it to begin with, but I knew Sirius knew it’d take either you to remove the record, so I attempted to plan accordingly.’
‘Nobody from the Order came.’ A note of accusation slipped into his tone. ‘We found Mundungus’ body and Sirius called for back up, but you never came.’
Dumbledore flinched and deep creases marred his brow. ‘We had to wait. Only a privileged few knew of Tom’s plan to attack. I have no doubt they were all told different days. Whomever cast the Dark Mark over London didn’t do so with Tom’s blessing and Professor Snape had to be very careful not to be branded a traitor. His position as a spy mustn’t be compromised.’
‘Did Snape tell you to delay?’ Harry asked. ‘I bet he did.’
‘He recommended it,’ Dumbledore said. ‘We are fortunate things worked out. You managed to destroy the prophecy and escape with Sirius, Tom’s rage at losing it has cost him one of his more dangerous servants, and with poor Cornelius pushed from office, the Ministry will open its eyes to reality.’
‘You couldn’t have planned it better yourself, sir,’ Harry murmured.
‘I must know, Harry, what happened to the prophecy. Sirius told me that you retrieved it and broke it, but he didn’t say whether you heard it or not.’
‘It got destroyed, but I did hear it.’
Let’s see you explain your interpretation, Dumbledore. Harry bit back a thin smile. How will you wrap up sending me to die in golden words?
Dumbledore slipped his pale wand out and waved it at the cabinet to his left. ‘This is a pensieve. A very useful tool. One can store any number of thoughts and memories within it for future review. Among my many recollections here is the night that prophecy was made.’
Was it just him that witnessed it? Harry studied Dumbledore’s face. Did he even tell Voldemort about it and give my parents the blood magic they cast to protect me.
‘How did Voldemort learn of it if you witnessed it?’
‘I heard it above the bar in the Hog’s Head after going to meet an applicant for the post of Divination Professor.’ Dumbledore studied the polished surface of the desk between his hands. ‘Unfortunately, a young Death Eater overheard the first part before I cast a silencing ward and rushed off to inform his master.’
‘Does it matter, Harry?’ Dumbledore murmured. ‘The past cannot be changed.’
‘Whomever passed on those words condemned my parents to die.’ He met Dumbledore’s blue eyes. ‘And from what Bellatrix said, it wasn’t just my family that was targeted as a result.’
‘I can assure you that the wizard in question has suffered for it every day since.’ Dumbledore closed his yes. ‘Perhaps I should tell you, Harry. It might help you understand things are not always so simple as they seem. Yes, I think that would be wise of me.’
But if my reaction doesn’t please him, he might not spill the beans on the prophecy. Harry weighed up his options. My parents are long dead. No amount of wishing will bring them back. Fleur’s more important.
‘After the prophecy, professor.’
‘Quite right, Harry.’ Dumbledore smiled and nodded his head. ‘The prophecy, the future, is far more pressing.’ He pulled a single strand of silver, hooked on the tip of his wand, out of the basin. ‘There’s no need to experience it in its entirety. Hearing the words will suffice.’
All of it? Or will you try to deceive me the same way I tricked Voldemort?
Professor Trelawney’s hoarse, rasping voice echoed from the glowing silver strand at the tip of Dumbledore’s wand, reciting the full prophecy.
‘You see, Harry, the mistake that Voldemort made,’ Dumbledore said. ‘In his fear and hubris, he attempted to fulfil the terms of the prophecy as he knew them, and, to his cost, was proved mistaken. That he doesn’t yet know the full prophecy and a way by which he can safely defeat you is one of our greatest advantages.’
‘That doesn’t help me defeat him, professor,’ Harry said. ‘He knows far more magic and is much stronger than I am. How am I supposed to defeat him?’
A small smile spread across Dumbledore’s lips and a bright twinkle appeared in his eyes. ‘There’re many mysterious forces in this world. Magic is only one of them. In the Department of Mysteries lies a door that is kept locked at all times. The force behind it is deemed too complex to understand and too powerful to study by Unspeakables that investigate time, death, and many other equally terrible things.’
It’d better not be love. If he tells me the room is full of love, I’ll strangle him with his own beard.
‘Within that room is contained the most powerful force in the universe.’ A touch of passion coloured Dumbledore’s tone. ‘Love.’
Harry’s hands twitched toward the tip of Albus Dumbledore’s impressive white beard. Let me guess, I should love all the shallow, selfish people who wanted me to give everything for them, but never gave anything back to me. I should die for them.
‘Voldemort never knew love,’ Dumbledore murmured. ‘He does not, can not, understand it, and I believe that will prove his undoing. He is a master of many magics, some that even I myself remain a novice in, but he underestimates the role of love in life. It has nearly cost him everything once before already.’
‘I don’t understand, sir.’ Harry allowed himself a grin. ‘I don’t think professing my love for him will stop him.’
‘Your mother’s love has protected you to this day,’ Dumbledore said. ‘Your own ability to love will prove to be Tom’s downfall.’ He fixed Harry with a gentle, but penetrating look. ‘You must trust me, Harry. I have, in my absence from Hogwarts, been collecting and studying memories of Tom Riddle, the boy who became Lord Voldemort, and learnt a great deal of his character. Aside from once again having to recruit a new Defence Professor, my summer will be spent beginning to try and make sure that everything you need to bring about Tom’s defeat comes your way.’
Presumably he wants to destroy the horcruxes over the summer so when I return here, he can send me off to die, then pat himself on the back at a job well done.
‘Thank you, sir.’
‘Now.’ A gleam of pride entered Dumbledore’s eyes. ‘I’ve understood from your teachers that your performances have improved dramatically when you do attend your lessons. Even Professor Snape admitted you might be demonstrating the hard work and maturity required to temper talent into something more.’
‘How was unexpectedly kind of him.’ Harry’s grin stretched a little wider. ‘Did it cause him physical pain to say it?’
‘Professor Snape is, amongst other things, a very fine judge of character. When he was a young student here, Severus Snape was a clever and committed student in Slytherin House, one who was even brave enough to befriend a muggle-born girl in Gryffindor, but, thanks in part to the efforts of a handful of marauding Gryffindors, he was eventually driven to fall in with some less reputable house mates.’ Dumbledore rested his palms on the desk. ‘From there he was led down a path of mistakes that would lead him to a cold, wet night at the Hog’s Head and making a decision that betrayed the one person he cared about most. He has never forgiven himself for it. Indeed, I don’t think he ever will.’
Snape was the one who told Voldemort. A ball of ice closed about Harry’s heart. And he dared to mock me about my parents after he’s the reason they were killed.
‘I believe he’s earnt the right to try and make amends.’ Dumbledore adjusted the position of his bowl of sherbet lemons by a fraction. ‘He’s turned his back on Tom at no small risk to himself and for no reward. Professor Snape is a very different person to the misled young man he once was.’
I don’t care. Harry forced the twisting, thrashing coils of ice to still, forcing the chill deep down and honing it into a razor sharp calm. For eleven years I drowned alone in the dark because of him. Not only hasn’t he managed so much as an apology, he taunted me about the parents he stole.
‘I must ask that you promise not to add to Severus’ woes, Harry.’ Dumbledore sighed. ‘I tell you this secret of his in the closest confidence. He bears a great weight of responsibility on his shoulders, one we can’t afford to add to by helping him drown himself with guilt. I understand it will be hard for you, but sometimes what is necessary is hard.’
‘It’s ok, Professor Dumbledore.’ Harry plastered a neutral look across his face. ‘I understand. He’ll have the second chance he deserves.’