During the train ride before third year Harry has a close encounter with a dementor that causes him to absorb the soul fragment within him, granting both knowledge and power. Features Harry with a ...
I I I
"Ah, Harry. How are you and Hermione doing this fine morning?"
The couple looked up from where they'd been standing invisibly at the edge of the Forbidden Forest and about to enter, to see the young Ravenclaw coming directly towards them.
"Good morning, Luna." Harry answered. "How did you know I was here?"
"By your feet," she kindly pointed out. "They press down the grass."
The boy nodded. "Ok, fair enough. How did you know Hermione was with me?"
"Whom else do you trust?" Luna came close and reached out, grasping a hold of the cloth, and, after a second feeling around for the front fold, allowed herself in. "Well, in past years, there would also have been Ronald. But you haven't had much time for him this year."
"We're sorry," Hermione apologized. "We keep meaning to, but with all our classes..."
"Oh, don't be," Luna affably cut her off. "It gives him less ammunition to use to start rumors behind your backs. You've both realized that people are less hostile to you this year? That's because Ron is so estranged from you no one believes anymore when he starts rumors saying you two shared in confidence with him things revealing how much you hate the other students at school. It is starting to make people wonder how much of what, along those lines, he's told them in the past might not be true."
Hermione's eyes had bugged open, and her mouth flew wide.
Luna gazed at her curiously. "Oh? Don't tell us you don't recall your first year, when Ron was saying all of those horrible things and telling people he was just passing on what Harry told him? There were those months before the troll you were on the outside of this."
"But... but I thought..." the bushy haired one stammered.
"No, you didn't think. You trusted. And Ron was not a good choice of person to trust. In fact, he is a very poor one. Have you never wondered why Harry here is so isolated? Everyone in our world supposedly adores him, and yet here at school he is ostracized until he is practically apariah. How is it that the world as a whole can love him, but the school, as a subset of that whole, hates or avoids him almost universally?"
Seeing Hermione gape in wordless astonishment, Luna fired off a clincher,"Why do they buy ugly rumors like him being the 'Heir of Slytherin' so easily and so completely? Yet never trust him when he says otherwise? Doesn't he have the image of a hero? He certainly performs heroic actions. So why does everyone here seem to view him as some sort of villain just waiting to throw on his black cloak and start killing people?"
Harry was nodding. "Negative PR. Someone has been working very hard to blacken my image, yet it would have to be someone close to me, or else the rumors would not seem very credible. People would think Malfoy was just jealous, if he tried. Most people don't have the kind of position to launch a smear campaign, as people would know they didn't have access to the right sort of information to go against the public perception like that. They'd have to have close access to me to reveal my 'secret nature'to all, in order to get me hated like this."
"But WHY?" Hermione starting shaking her head at the nonsense of it all.
"One of six great questions." Harry slid an arm around each girl's waist and led them deeper into the forest. "Once we know Who, What, When, Where, How and Why we'll have the entire story. But I think you're starting out at the hard end. We'll only know that one once we've already got answers to most of the others. I think our first clue is Who, and my first guess as to that lies somewhere in the vicinity of another question: Who was it who arranged for me to be waiting, scared and helpless, abandoned outside the platform for the Hogwarts Express? And was it this same person who told Ron to use that easily disproven lie to share a compartment with me?"
"Somebody set you up!" Hermione breathed in horrified wonder. "Someone wanted you to meet the Weasleys, and for Ron to be your friend, then used him to spoil your reputation!"
"Now we know a bit of What they have done, the Why seems more obvious."Luna observed. "Someone wanted to isolate Harry, to hurt him, or make him more vulnerable, less influential and all of that. Ron has been their tool to this end from the beginning."
"But the Weasleys are NOT a dark family!" Hermione was shaking her head, then threw down her hands in frustration. "Argh! I could so easily see a Death Eater wanting to do this, and that's probably what Draco was trying to do when he offered Harry his hand in friendship. But why would a Light family want to hurt Harry?"
"Again, you're starting at the hard part," Harry reminded. "Why is always the most difficult question to answer. What is usually far easier. And if you can solve one or two others, the rest usually fall into line."
"Speaking of that, What are we doing out in this forest today?" Luna asked while batting her eyelashes.
Harry sighed. "Do you remember dinner last night?"
"Of course!" both girls chorused. Who could forget? But Hermione took it on herself to elaborate. "Professor Snape showed up, which was shocking seeing as how we'd all witnessed his death in class before. But he seemed hale and healthy, up until he started eating and his guts exploded all over the Slytherin table, then he burned to ashes from the inside out."
Harry fought hard to conceal a grin.
While he'd been shocked and disappointed to see Snape alive after having killed him once, it didn't appear that he'd robbed Bellatrix of her kill after all. She's just taken longer to get to him, that's all.
"Unfortunately, Snape appears to have survived both his deaths," he commented.
The Boy-Who-Lived placed his finger gently over Hermione's mouth, stopping her rant. Gently, he instructed. "Hermione, we both saw him die, not once but twice. We didn't miss anything and we weren't mistaken. First his head exploded, which is not something even wizards survive, and then he burned to ashes right before our eyes. That's not something you can fake. He died both times."
"But... he's alive," the brainy girl muttered. "We saw him after. He..."
"And that's our problem," Harry instructed. "There are a number of ways that a wizard can survive having died, but they are all, every one of them, tremendously dark rituals. So..."
Finally her eyes widened. "Harry! Are you saying Snape..?"
"Is it really any surprise?" Harry gently teased.
They walked in silence for some time while Hermione worked to get her eyes to stop bugging out, and her wild thoughts under control. "But, if that's true..." she started.
"The most likely method he used was a horcrux, a soul anchor," Harry informed her, letting Luna quietly listen in to their discussion. "The Hogwarts library card catalog lists the books that show you how to make one. They are in the Restricted Section, but we know that's not any barrier to students, and certainly none to professors."
"But, if he's using it for good purposes..." Hermione began trying to justify such a thing. After all, Dumbledore trusted him.
"Hah!" Harry snorted. "The price for the creation of a horcrux is to commit murder. Not just cause death, but cold-blooded murder of an innocent. But to any dark wizard that isn't a price at all, that's free! They commit murder for fun and profit! It is their SPORT! To say they can not only have their games of death, but gain a form of immortality at the same time?There's no cost to them in that. No, it's a wonder every Death Eater hasn't had a horcrux!"
"We know Snape was a Death Eater in the last war," Luna agreed. "In fact, a very high ranking one in their organization, reporting directly to Voldemort - and he was responsible for passing on information targeting Harry's parents for death. He, more than anyone save for Voldemort himself, is responsible for Harry being an orphan."
Hermione went back to gaping again. Once her astonishment was more fully mastered, the girl sputtered. "But..! He's a TEACHER! He shouldn't be..!"
Finally frustrated, Harry rounded on her, stopping the group's progress."Hermione, do you commit murder or rape?"
"No!" She cried, shocked and appalled at the question.
"But you do admit that those things happen in our world?" He shot back.
"Yes," she allowed, puzzled.
"So," he concluded, "If you would not do them, but they happen, then it is clear that not everyone out there thinks or feels or acts the way you do."
She thought about it a moment before nodding, having never come to that important realization before.
Harry sighed, resisting the urge to roll his eyes and thank god she'd finally seen that one, key issue. "That something 'shouldn't be' doesn't mean it isn't! Okay. So, the question no longer becomes why would YOU do something like that, but why another person might. Right? And to that we have plenty of answers. Think of a million cheesy mystery novels and you'll get just as many motives. Who would put a murderer in place to teach at a school?"
"Someone who wants someone murdered would be one possibility," Luna supplied, feeling helpful. "And..." she drawled, "Since we already know that a person or persons has been working to isolate and destroy Harry..."
Hermione was back to shaking her head. "No! They'd first have to get it past Dumbledore! And I don't think..."
"You're not thinking, you're trusting," Luna corrected. "Just like with Ron."
Hermione stopped in her tracks.
"Leader of the Free World is a very nice sounding title, but has every United States President been fully deserving of our respect?" Harry asked gently. "I don't care about party - take your pick and think of your own example. Can you tell me that all of them have been exactly what they should be?"
"No," his best friend shook her head, not liking where this was going.
"What did Voldemort want?" Harry asked, changing the topic.
"To rule the wizarding world," the bushy haired one supplied cautiously.
"Who does?" he asked, very reasonably.
"Loads of people," she answered. "There's the Wizengamot..."
"Which is led by Dumbledore," he interrupted.
"But there is a magical legislature! It's..."
"Also headed by Albus Dumbledore," he coolly supplied.
"But there's the Minister of Magic! He..."
"Is famous for having worn out several post owls a year asking Dumbledore for advice on every subject, and over everything he does. Something he's done across his entire term of office, ever since Dumbledore turned down the job." Harry gave in to the urge to roll his eyes.
"And you missed one," Luna supplied rather helpfully. "It's the International Confederation of Wizards - also headed by Albus Dumbledore."
Hermione was staring at them, then frowned. "But having power doesn't make someone evil..."
"Neither does it make them pure and good. THINK Hermione!!" Harry pled."If you wanted to rule the wizarding world, what would you want that Dumbledore doesn't ALREADY HAVE?!?"
The girl was left speechless.
"Hitler and Stalin had loads of power. Being in charge doesn't necessarily make anyone a nice person!" Harry insisted.
"But he defeated Grindelwald," Hermione objected in a small voice.
"Stalin helped defeat Hitler," Harry answered simply back. "That didn't stop him from murdering twenty million of his own countrymen in bloody purges." He sighed, but forged on, closing his eyes. "And I defeated Voldemort, but you don't see me holding virtually every office of authority in our world."
At that Hermione ventured a small smile. "No, I don't."
It was actually reassuring. He was just Harry.
Harry steeled himself, before continuing to walk out into the Forbidden Forest with the girls huddled with him underneath the invisibility cloak and holding a whispered conversation.
"Hermione, do you know why this forest was originally forbidden?"
"Yes, of course. Hogwarts: A History is always talking about the various dark creatures in there," the young lady answered.
Harry couldn't help but chuckle.
"What's wrong?" she pressed him, confused at his reaction.
"I'm not laughing at you, just the situation. I've read that book myself, and it is wrong on this issue. Only the latest printings carry that explanation. There was a copy I found printed in the 1940s, before Dumbledore became Headmaster, that had an entirely different version of that story."
Hermione stopped and faced him, sucking in her lips. "Can you let me read it?"
"Of course, but I can also summarize the details," he answered affably.
Hermione dragged him over to a stump and sat them down on it, looking up at him expectantly.
Harry laughed. "Very well. The forest is as old as the castle, and the wizards back then were not shy about dangerous creatures. They were the ones building dragon preserves and taming those great beasts to ride, defeating manticores and mastering sphinxes. If there were anything so simple as a threat in there, they would've dealt with it."
Harry paused to draw breath before rushing on, "This place was created as a PRESERVE! A refuge for all sorts of LIGHT side creatures!! A 'no-hunting'zone where phoenix', fairies, unicorns and so on could survive and breed, so the magical world would not ever lose those precious creatures! This was to be a place where everything good and gentle and beautiful could be preserved for future generations! Up until fifty years ago it was forbidden for any sort of dark creatures at all! It wasn't until Dumbledore came to power that they called off the twice-yearly hunts through the forest to drive out all of the evil creatures that tried to creep in! Heck, the centaur tribes in the forest HELPED US on those rides!"
Hermione's jaw was hanging open.
Harry was standing, clenching his fists. "Now the fairy populations are down to a record low, having been fed upon until they're nearly extinct by the growing acromantula menace in there. Werewolves and other dark things infest the place. The unicorns are dying off... everyone now just accepts the place as a festering pit of darkness and evil. And why? Because Dumbledore made it that way. He let people seed it with the worst sort of dark creatures imaginable, then did nothing to remove them, in spite of nearly a thousand years of tradition saying he had no right at all to let anything like that exist in what was to have been a precious preserve for good magical life!"
Harry drilled Hermione with a glance. "The very worst of all dark Slytherin Headmasters had never sunk so low. This forest was one of FOUR places in the world where unicorns roamed free, and now over half their population has died, gone to feed the hunger of creatures like those acromantulas- who'll be moving on to human babies the moment they've exhausted this forest. But what will the world look like when no unicorns exist to grant hair for wand cores? Only three ingredients like that still get used, and unicorn tail hairs are one of them. There used to be dozens. What happens when this one is gone? Will wands choose fewer wizards, because the ones that might have matched them now have no ingredients for appropriate cores?"
He sighed. "Hermione, try a mental exercise. Just for a minute, imagine that Dumbledore is not the sort of person the books paint him to be. Imagine him as someone like Voldemort; now try to put the puzzle pieces together for all of these mysteries. Ask yourself all of the questions, like why was Nicholas Flamel's Philosopher's Stone stored here, when they knew Voldemort would be coming after it? Why endanger the students like that? And why couldn't Dumbledore just tell everyone a basilisk was stalking the halls, when every painting reports to him? Why were dementors allowed around the school? How is it that this place has been so dangerous ever since we got here? It didn't used to be like this. The school's never been so dangerous in history!"
Luna broke in to add her own bit, "And who is trying to kill Harry?"
Hermione thought about it for a moment, and then looked green. "I guess it could be. Things do sort of make sense that way."
"To get back to our main point, Snape died twice yesterday right before our eyes, yet he lives." Harry stated. "The only way that is possible is through tremendously dark magic. We know of a way it is possible - the books for one such method exist in the Hogwarts library (which is another of those things that ought to get our jaws dropping. What kind of MORON keeps those types of spells available in a SCHOOL of all places?!?). So Snape had access to the knowledge of how to do it, and he was a Death Eater, someone who kills with as little feeling as a golfer hits little white balls. So he had access to the chance to commit murder and create one. We know SOMETHING is keeping him alive in spite of dying several times. Do you have a better answer?"
Hermione shook her head, still looking green. "But, why would Dumbledore want to kill Harry?"
Luna shook her head sadly. "You still keep trying to start at the hardest possible question to answer: Why. You NEVER know that one until you've solved some of the others! Weren't you listening to Harry explain that?"
"Start over again at the What, that's usually the easiest to get some feelers on," Harry told her, supporting Luna on this. "And the What, in this case, is that Albus Dumbledore controls virtually all aspects of magical government. Over the years he has defended that position from several rivals, notably Voldemort and Grindelwald. Perhaps he's just tired of fighting off rivals and hopes to get rid of me before I become one?"
"Dumbledore got most of those positions through his reputation for having defeated Grindelwald. Wouldn't another person, having the same type of reputation, only bigger, be an even greater threat to him than openly Dark Lords could ever be?" Luna asked reasonably.
The Granger girl's head was spinning.
"Hermione," he relented. "Don't believe me. Do some research for yourself. Don't listen to those books singing Dumbledore's praises. Put some facts together and ask yourself what makes sense. Can you do that for me?"
"Actually, there is a safer, more immediate option," Luna interjected."Why don't we put him to a test? Hermione, you want to believe what everyone believes about Albus Dumbledore, that he is a perfect paragon of all that is good in the magical world, correct?"
"Very well," Luna explained. "Then let us examine that. A good person, in a position of power, uses that power for good purposes, does he not?"
"Yes!" Hermione smiled brightly. "That's the whole point, you know. Of giving them those positions, I mean. They use their powers to benefit us."
Luna nodded. "So, our question becomes: Does he? Dumbledore has plenty of power. Let us take a moment to stop and examine what he does with it. Let's look close to home, shall we? The position of authority he holds that has the most immediate bearing on us is being Headmaster of Hogwarts, is it not?"
She got nodding.
"And we have the most direct personal experience with? So the most data to judge by? Therefore the most evidence for the most correct conclusions?"
Luna nodded herself. "So, taking this as our example, assuming for the moment that it will be representative of all of his uses of power, what has Headmaster Dumbledore done for Hogwarts, that we know? First question: Does it provide a good education? Count up the teachers who do a good job versus the ones that do not."
Hermione's face paled dramatically.
"It is his direct responsibility," Luna reminded. "No other person has as much say on the hiring or firing of teachers as the Headmaster. So nothing ought to bear his mark as much as the quality of our instructors. Whether we have good teachers or bad is almost entirely the work of our Headmaster. So, do we have the uniform good instruction a good man would try to give us?"
Hermione was horrified.
"Count out loud," Harry suggested. "It helps sometimes. On the good side we have McGonagall, Flitwick and Sprout. All of whom are at least decent, even though none strikes me as being particularly stellar or inspiring- but none of them were hired by Dumbledore. They predate his being Headmaster."
"On the bad side, however," Luna counted, "We have Snape, Trelawney and Binns, who do nothing but drive students away from those subjects, the very worst sort of teaching imaginable. You'd do better with no instructor at all, just reading those subjects out of books. And all of those WERE hired directly by Dumbledore."
"Astronomy is also centuries behind what is known in the muggle world,"Hermione grudgingly agreed at last.
"And what about Muggle Studies?" Harry questioned.
Hermione made a face. That was answer enough.
"So we have three teachers who are not just bad, they are epically horrible,"Harry concluded. "I've read Snape's records, and he is the worst teacher the school has ever had, bar none, getting fewer graduates with lower grades than ever before recorded - even during periods when we HAD NO potions instructor! But Binns and Trelawney are not far behind him. Any one of the three of them could have and should have been removed for incompetence long ago. That any one of them is allowed to teach is a scandal, that all three are is an outrage. Anyone who cared about students at all would've removed them all long ago. Snape alone commits WEEKLY offenses that would get any other teacher not just fired, but blacklisted for life! Entire schools have been CLOSED DOWN over lesser offenses! I can show you the paperwork on them when we get back to our quarters. But Dumbledore just sweeps it all under the rug, not just ignoring the offenses, but actively defending his man."
Hermione looked sickly.
Luna softly added. "But they aren't the only bad teachers. We've also got plain old ordinary incompetent ones about - all of them hired by Dumbledore."
They waited a moment while Hermione digested those thoughts in silence.
"So, in conclusion, what does the evidence say? This is Dumbledore's direct and personal responsibility. No one else does this for him. He's handled every hiring or firing of staff since he began the job as Headmaster. It's all his own work. What do the results he's provided say about him?"
Hermione broke down in tears on the spot.
I I I
Hm, while I'd fully intended to do other things, this whole chapter turned into a rant against Dumbledore. Worse still, I don't know how to remove it, since they are convincing Hermione, and that is vital to the plot.
Odd how things like that happen.
Oh, and it was a friend in the local school district administration(the people who officially handle this sort of thing) who pointed out that Snape's behavior was bad enough to get schools closed down AND him blacklisted for life. They have rules about ethics, and he breaks every one of them.
Not the behavior of a soul tortured by remorse and seeking for redemption. No, not at all.