Categories > Books > Harry Potter > Echoes of Power, Part I: Anger

4. Harsh Reality

by moshpit 3 reviews

Chapter 4

Category: Harry Potter - Rating: R - Genres: Action/Adventure - Characters: Andromeda Tonks, Angelina Johnson, Arthur Weasley, Barty Crouch Jr., Bellatrix, Bill Weasley, Blaise Zabini, Cho, Colin Creevey, Crabbe, Dean Thomas, Dobby, Draco, Dudley, Dumbledore, Ernie, Fleur, Flitwick, Fred, Fudge, George, Gilderoy Lockhart, Gi - Warnings: [V] - Published: 2006-12-30 - Updated: 2006-12-31 - 7519 words

Chapter 4: Harsh Reality

After the Headmaster finished placing wards around the room again, Harry and Dumbledore settled into their seats. Dumbledore asked a house-elf to bring tea and contemplated the young man in front of him. Breaking the silence, he looked over his cup at Harry and started the discussion. "You know that Voldemort will now be aware of exactly where you are since you have come here, don't you?"

Harry shrugged. "He always knows more or less where I am, in terms of geographical region - on the Isles, on the continent, in Asia, that sort of thing. We'll get to why in a bit. Does it concern you?"

Dumbledore stared out the window by his phoenix before looking back at Harry. "It will bring more attention to Hogwarts, but after the events with the Tri-Wizard Tournament last year, I am not overly concerned. I spent a great many weeks the prior summer strengthening and reworking the wards on this school. It still remains a major target of his."

Irritated, Harry looked Dumbledore straight in the eye. "We both know Voldemort couldn't care less about Hogwarts as a building, or even as a school."

Dumbledore sighed heavily. "How are you aware of this?"

Harry smirked and simply raised his left eyebrow. "My mentors and I worked it out some time ago."

Dumbledore stood and paced behind his desk for a few minutes before clearing his throat. Harry felt that the conversation was really about to begin, so he put his cup down on the tray and gave his complete attention to the Headmaster.

"I spent much of dinner contemplating the mutual oaths we have sworn, Harry. I still feel it was rash and that we will wind up regretting this before long, but I think there is a way we can work within the oaths and still have time to do what we need to do. Do you realize that I could sit here and talk to you for nearly one year without interruption and still not cover all the details of what I know about Voldemort?"

Harry looked back at him in mild surprise. "You know him this well? And yet he still is among the living? I find this hard to believe."

Dumbledore shook his head. "Soon, you will understand how I know so many details. What I want to discuss first is our pact. I have come to the conclusion that so long as we both agree to - shall we say - delay relaying some information, the Unbreakable Vows should not be triggered." As Harry started to look angry, Dumbledore hurried on. "For example, I think it more pertinent to discuss his major background points rather than what he had for breakfast on 15 September 1942, don't you?"

Harry checked his rising anger to think about this. Clearly, Dumbledore knew exactly what Voldemort had for breakfast in 1942, which spoke volumes on how much the Headmaster really knew about his opponent. That said, they should start with the major points that were most relevant and deal with the more minor details later on; either that or just agree never to discuss mindless trivia at all. "Alright, Headmaster, I see the point you're making. How do we go about this?"

Dumbledore sat back down and raised his wand before him. "I hereby declare that with the agreement of Harry Potter, I shall limit the scope of our conversation to the major points of Voldemort's history and related prophecies until our next agreed upon meeting." Dumbledore looked expectantly at Harry.

Harry shrugged before raising his own wand. "I hereby declare that I agree to limit the discussion with Albus Dumbledore to only the major points of Voldemort's history and related prophecies until our next agreed upon meeting."

Dumbledore nodded at Harry. "All we need to do is substitute the relevant bit of what we're going to be covering at the beginning of each meeting, and we will both be fine. The key here is that you and I both feel that we have done as we stated, for if one of us has doubts that we were told the full information as related to the topic, the consequences of breaking the oath will kick in shortly. For this reason, we need to ask each other if we are satisfied with the discussion before we end the meeting."

"I understand and I agree to this," Harry said. "The major highlights and the prophecies are enough for tonight. Prophecies always tend to make me cranky for hours after learning of them anyway. I won't be fit for company by the time we get through with them."

Dumbledore nodded again. "Very well, Harry. Let us begin. I trust you are familiar with a pensieve? Good, I have prepared some critical memories of interacting with Tom Marvolo Riddle - ah, you already know his true name, excellent! -- and we shall begin with his early history..."

Harry was fascinated as he traveled through a web of stories, facts, insights, and pensieve memories detailing the incredible life of Tom Riddle, more recently known as Voldemort.

Harry could empathize with many of the points of Riddle's early life yet could not agree with his views on magic, power, and the rights that it may or may not convey. Floppy would twitch periodically during their discussion, but the hat never spoke. After detailing the return visit where Riddle asked to become DADA professor, Dumbledore proceeded to give a very broad overview of the first war, the major battles, and basic tactics each side used.

Following his narrative, Dumbledore fell silent for quite some time, gazing steadily at Harry. Harry knew the conversation, which had already been quite dark, was about to become even more unpleasant.

"It is because of my pride and arrogance, Harry, that your parents are dead."

That simple statement was the equivalent of a bomb going off in Harry's psyche. His already barely suppressed anger with the Headmaster rose like a snake, screaming for immediate retribution. Harry shot to his feet, his magic control so erratic his aura manifested itself in a glowing, shimmering pattern. Harry's wand was raised, dangerously close to the Headmaster's face. He was shaking with rage and fighting to regain control over his emotions.

Breathing heavily, he slowly ground out from clenched teeth, "You. Will. Explain. Now."

Dumbledore looked sadly at Harry before pouring both of them another cup of tea. He then pulled a small bottle of Ogden's Finest Firewhisky from his desk and dispensed a generous portion into each cup. Keeping one eye on a still shaking Harry, Dumbledore absently took a short sip and slowly spoke.

"We were in the middle of the First War against Voldemort. Hogwarts was in need of a new instructor for Divination, and I was at the Hog's Head in the nearby town of Hogsmead. My brother runs that pub, and I was using an upstairs room there for an interview. Previously, we had met there with some of our spies, as it was better on their part to not be seen entering or leaving Hogwarts."

Dumbledore sighed again before telling the most damning part. "I collapsed the wards after the last meeting, and Sibyll Trelawney arrived for her appointment some 15 minutes later. I doubted she had any real ability, so I failed to take any precautions to ward the room. She suddenly fell into a trance and gave a prophecy. A spy for Voldemort overheard the first part of the prophecy, Harry, and this information led to the attack on your family. This prophecy is the reason they were targeted, the spy the reason Voldemort found out, and my own arrogance that nothing critical could possibly happen was why anything was revealed in the first place."

Harry managed to gradually force his rage back into its customary box and sat breathing heavily. Reaching out, he blindly took a long swallow straight from the Firewhisky bottle before picking up the cup of tea. He nodded once at the Headmaster, telling him with his eyes to continue his tale.

Dumbledore tapped the side of his pensieve, saying, "This prophecy foretold your birth, Harry. Observe." The ghostly figure of a woman rose from the surface of the pensieve and spoke in an unearthly voice.

The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches...
Born to those who have thrice defied Him,
born as the seventh month dies...
And the Dark Lord will mark him as His equal,
but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not...
And either must die at the hand of the other
for neither can live while the other survives...
The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be
born as the seventh month dies...

The figure sank back into the silvery depths of the pensieve.

Harry rose and paced the room for a few minutes before sitting back down and drinking his tea. "The signs are apparent. I understand the implications. Was I the only candidate?"

Dumbledore shook his head briefly. "No. Neville Longbottom could also have been the one with the power, yet Voldemort marked you."

Harry nodded absently while looking at the phoenix. It trilled quietly, helping Harry settle back to a more even keel. "You said at the beginning of this meeting there were prophecies, plural. How many are there for tonight?"

Dumbledore held up four fingers. Harry inclined his head and motioned for Dumbledore to continue.

The Headmaster looked somewhat nervously at Harry, the first palpable emotion he had displayed this evening. "Harry," he hesitantly said. "The major thing I have not told you is that Severus Snape was the spy who overheard the first part of the prophecy and subsequently told it to Voldemort. Later, when Voldemort announced his intention to attack your family, Severus came to me and revealed everything. He indicated that he wanted to cross over to our side, and through his warning we placed both your family and the Longbottoms under the Fidelius Charm. Severus harbored an intense hatred of your father, Harry, but owed your father a life debt, and this was how he chose to try to repay it. While it kept Voldemort away for a few weeks, in the end it was the betrayal by the escaped convict Sirius Black that led to that fatal night. I trust Severus with my life, Harry, which is why I did not wish to tell you this information or see you press charges against him. Severus feels that his life debt was not paid, and he now owes it to your father to protect you. This, however, does not make him feel kindly towards you. After today, I fear that the best that might be said regarding your relationship with Severus will be that your hatred and desire to kill him is equally reciprocated."

Harry snorted into his tea cup, as the feelings of hate and anger stirred again. "You will soon learn some information that may cause you to think otherwise, Headmaster. I don't trust him, and after this revelation, I'll be happy to see him in hell as long as he gets there first. Do continue."

"When we arrived at the scene of destruction at your house that night, Harry, I had to make an instant decision. It was clear to me that Voldemort was not, in fact, dead, although the Ministry refused to hear my warnings. When I determined the scar on your forehead was the result of a failed Killing Curse, I conducted many tests to try and understand how you had survived. Further tests suggested that it was caused by the selfless, willing sacrifice of your mother for you. There is a rare type of blood magic warding that can be performed, and I knew that if my suspicions were correct - if I were to place you with blood relatives of your mother - you would remain safe from any direct attack by magical means. Alternatively, I could place you with a magical family, and you would likely have grown up with an inflated head full of propaganda and would have been a puppet of the Ministry for your entire life. Those were dark times, Harry, and you were the only beacon of light that was available. The Ministry would have used you in a heartbeat, and I feared your childhood would have been terrible. You were technically a ward of the state, and I knew I must act before the Ministry could. So I decided to place you with the only blood relatives of your mother and sealed a blood magic ward between you and your Aunt Petunia to keep you safe. They became your legal guardians leaving the Ministry powerless. I then turned my attention to discovering where Voldemort had fled."

Harry was distinctly displeased, and he once more had to work hard to keep his anger in check. When he allowed himself to experience the emotions, what little he remembered of his life at the Dursleys still left him in a towering rage. The man in front of him had sentenced him to that life and, therefore, to the life that followed, and he was not about to casually forgive the man for his actions.

While Dumbledore was unaware of the struggle Harry waged with his emotions, the phoenix was not, so it flew onto Harry's shoulder where it softly trilled a song of comfort and hope and strength, helping to keep Harry's mind mostly clear of troubling emotions.

After refilling his cup, Dumbledore resumed his narration. "Over the subsequent ten years, I chased rumors of Voldemort. I spent time in Albania, Austria, Russia, and the Balkans looking for him. I never found him, but several times I found signs of his passage. I even unearthed some signs that he might have been in England as recently as four years ago. Before today, my best intelligence placed him somewhere in the forests of Albania, reportedly without a body yet possessing whatever life forms he could to continue a bitter, powerless existence. Every break I can take from this school I do so in order to continue my search. I know he is out there, biding his time, waiting to strike and come back more powerful than ever. Earlier, you indicated that he has already regained his body. I am most anxious to hear what you have to tell me. Before that, however, let me share the other three prophecies that I believe are of immediate importance." Dumbledore paused to stir the pensieve in front of him again.

"Approximately two years after you were born, Trelawney again made a legitimate prophecy. After her initial interview, I spent some months constructing special wards that would detect the change in her mind as she entered the Seer's Vision and would log any predictions disclosed during the trance. This was the first prophecy I recorded by that means. I am not entirely certain but suspect that it relates to you or Voldemort." Dumbledore tapped the pensieve and the lone figure of Trelawney straightening an empty classroom rose above the surface. Her head suddenly shot back and her disembodied voice filled the room.

Her tears of blood and pain set fire to the world...
Her fire burns all who would touch it...
The Chosen One must be judged by the eternal fire...
The Dark Lord must have the fire to live...
The sky weeps at Her cry of loss and pain...

Dumbledore looked carefully at Harry. "Clearly, this may not apply to you and Voldemort, but it is highly likely that it does. You are likely the Chosen One, and we know the Dark Lord is Voldemort. The rest of this is unclear, except that both you and Voldemort must have whatever this woman possesses - you to win, Voldemort to live. If taken in the context of the first prophecy, it seems likely that if Voldemort obtains this woman, you will die at his hand, whereas if you find her and whatever artifact she has judges you worthy, then you will win. While I suspect this, I cannot say this is definite. As always, be cautious interpreting any prophecy, Harry."

Harry nodded in agreement, feeling that the first prophecy was quite useless except to tell him what he already knew, and this prophecy - if it was about him at all - was even more useless.

"Trelawny made the next prophecy two years ago, towards the end of the school year. I feel this relates to Voldemort but do not know how it applies to him." For the third time, Dumbledore tapped the pensieve and summoned the figure of Trelawney, sitting at her desk and marking papers. Ink smudged her weary forehead. Suddenly her head flew back, and that familiar voice emerged again.

It will happen tonight...
The Dark Lord lies alone and friendless, abandoned by his followers...
His servant has been chained these twelve years...
Tonight, before midnight...
The servant will break free and set out to rejoin his master...
The Dark Lord will rise again with his servant's aid,
greater and more terrible than ever he was...
Before midnight...
The servant...
Will set out...
To rejoin...
His master...

As Dumbledore prepared to resume his discussion, he paused while Harry fought down laughter. Before long, Harry gave in and laughed heartily for nearly a minute. "Too right, she was, too right. He's worm food now, but he did rejoin his master. You'll find out when it's my turn, do go on."

Dumbledore regarded Harry's ostensibly peculiar reaction and then flicked his pensieve one last time. "This final prophecy was delivered to me in this office while reading your first letter informing me of your coming to Hogwarts for this school year. I won't even pretend to know what it really means beyond the obvious possible references to Voldemort as terrible and vengeful." Trelawney appeared sitting in front of the Headmaster as Harry was right now, with tea cups in nearly the same locations. Her head shot back, and the voice he was coming to loathe floated again in the room.

He comes...
He walks among us again...
He comes wrapped in blood and hatred...
Fear His power, Tremble at His price...
The world will shatter before His battle...
The choice must be made anew...
The pit of darkness yawns yet eternal...
His wrath will consume us all...
The Chosen One must find the light, 'ere we all burn...
He comes...

Dumbledore sat back and tented his fingers, much as he had earlier in the day. The phoenix left Harry's shoulder and flew over to the Headmaster's, singing a song of love and redemption. Harry smiled absently at the Headmaster before nodding at the bird. "A lovely specimen. I've only ever seen one other, and that from a distance."

Dumbledore inclined his head. "Yes, Fawkes here is my old friend, and seeing a phoenix these days is a rare event. Now, I believe that, to the best of my ability, I have covered the major events of the past and the prophecies that are the most immediately relevant to your particular situation. So I ask you if you are satisfied with my information?"

Harry nodded slowly. "Yes, I think I am - for tonight. That was... quite a lot of information to take in. However, I think I can fill in some of the gaps for you on more recent events." Harry refilled his cup and began wondering if it was a bottomless pot of tea. Looking around, Dumbledore gestured to a small facility just around the corner where Harry could take care of his needs. When Harry returned to his seat, he leaned back, far from Dumbledore, yet relaxed in posture.

"First, I feel I should tell you that I had to kill your Professor Quirrel when I ran into him during the winter holidays some four years ago." Dumbledore sat up straight at this information but made no comments.

"I have an ability that you have likely heard of - I have an overabundance of conduits in my eyes. I can, therefore, see magical signatures and magic being cast. You are familiar with this?"

Harry waited until Dumbledore nodded briefly.

"A couple of my mentors and I ran into Quirrel while Christmas shopping in Diagon Alley. You never heard of my presence because I always travel well disguised. Quirrel was coming out of Knockturn Alley when I saw a massive Dark aura around his head. After a quick discussion, we followed him back to a small cottage in the woods near Sussex, confronted him, and found the spirit of Voldemort embedded in the back of his head. I'm afraid we didn't wait around for a long discussion with His Vileness, and I simply put a Reducto curse across Quirrel's throat. Voldemort was less than pleased by the development, as you might imagine, but we persuaded him to move along sharply. He was rather reluctant to let us capture him, despite our offer that we would be quick about it." Harry smirked slightly when Dumbledore's eyebrows crept near his receding hairline. "I do so apologize for killing one of your Professors. I shall try not to make a habit of it."

Harry paused to take a drink of his tea. "I must also confess to being part of the reason why Lucius Malfoy no longer uses his cane for strictly cosmetic purposes." Yawning slightly at the late hour and from the prior night's lack of sleep, Harry continued his terse summation of recent events. "We were hunting down a particularly nasty Dark Arts text and found ourselves in Borgin & Burkes about three years ago. It was toward the end of August, I think. Anyway, that prat and his malodorous son were there arguing with Borgin while we waited for service. I recognized a tantalizingly familiar Dark aura leaking out of his coat pocket, so my mentors waylaid him in the alley. His son was Obliviated, as was Lucius, so they wouldn't know the exact details, but we recovered a very Dark artifact: the school diary of one Tom Marvolo Riddle. After conducting experiments for the better part of a year spent, we discovered who Tom really was and made the most disturbing find of all: that diary was a Horcrux, one created expressly to return Riddle to a new body by draining the life of another wizard or witch."

Dumbledore had a look of horror on his face as he stared at Harry. "A Horcrux?"

"Unfortunately. That tells us why he survived when the Killing Curse failed. What it doesn't tell us is how many, because he's obviously created more than one." Harry smiled thinly at Dumbledore. "That, combined with the events this past summer, is why I am here, Headmaster. I need to know what you know, so we can do something a bit more permanent about His Scaliness."


"Oh, right. The rebirth. We'll get there, but for now, he looks like a half-snake, half-man abomination in gene splicing. I take it you know as well as I do why he opted for a new form that most probably has a lower than normal body temperature." Dumbledore nodded briefly as he sat back again in his chair, looking somewhat resigned to what was coming next.

"About that prophecy concerning his servant... I'll spare you the details for now, we'll talk about it in depth later, but we caught Peter Pettigrew crawling around in his Animagus form on the continent probably a few months before that prophecy was made. We literally kept him chained up, trying to drain any useful information from him. He escaped, in all likelihood on the same night that prophecy was made, the ruddy bugger. We had a couple of incidents that night and somehow, in the confusion, he broke free and disappeared." Harry frowned a bit at the thought of Pettigrew getting away due to their carelessness. They had been tracking down two suspected former Death Eaters and had been planning to make a strike on their headquarters when they found themselves under attack. It made Harry regret ever saving the sorry rat from his mentors' fury when they discovered his real identity.

"Since we suddenly knew Sirius Black was innocent, we busted his arse out of Azkaban. And no, I won't tell you how, since you'd be obligated to report it, and they'd fix the problem. Anyway, Sirius is under my protection now and, until we can prove his innocence, he will remain safely hidden. After the nightmare of Pettigrew's escape, we started tracking his good-for-nothing arse down. We were very close to catching him two summers ago, but he gave us the slip at Malfoy Manor. As you and I both know, that's not someplace to enter if you want to see the sunshine ever again."

Harry was too tired to be as angry as he usually was when he thought of how close they had come to nabbing Pettigrew that day. He really needed to find a way to permanently inhibit an Animagus from transforming. It was just too hard to spot a rat in the middle of a big grassy field that had never seen a mower.

"We're not sure exactly what happened, but all the signs point to Pettigrew and Malfoy deciding the time was right for the Tri-Wizard Tournament to be revived. We believe it was the foundation of a plan to keep both you and the Ministry completely focused on the political and social situation with the international spotlight on Hogwarts. In effect, it was perfect - it kept both of the main opposition groups that Voldemort needed to get around nailed to the floor in one place. All it took was Lucius lubricating the right people with some galleons, and suddenly it seemed like everyone had the same idea at the same time. No one thought Voldemort was really alive, so no one was actively on guard. You all fell perfectly into his plans."

Harry took a long swallow of his tea before placing the empty cup back on the desk. He felt that if he had any more of the damn drink he would explode.

"While you all were prancing around and dealing with the press, eventually celebrating the victory of that Diggory kid, we were trying to keep tabs on all the known suspected Death Eaters. It was clear they were planning something major, and it looked like it was going to culminate on the same night as the third task."

Harry stopped to pour himself a cup full of Firewhisky. "We had caught wind of Pettigrew that day." Harry looked back out the window for a moment. "My favorite mentor, your former partner, and I ran across him seemingly by accident. We followed him to a town called Little Hangleton, where we planned to capture him and find out what the hell was going on."

Harry took a healthy mouthful of Firewhisky from his cup.

"It was an ambush. We were completely set up. Lucius and Nott were waiting, and Pettigrew turned on us when we least expected it. It was a short fight since we were not fully prepared and had expected nothing in the middle of a Muggle village, surrounded by Muggles." Harry finished his Firewhisky and walked over to the window.

"That was the moment when Nicholas Flamel died. I was knocked unconscious right after watching him get killed." Harry put his hands out, feeling the rough stone of the window embrasure, the smooth cool glass, the weathered wood holding the panes in place. "I woke as Lucius, Nott and Pettigrew were conducting a ceremony to bring back Voldemort. Lucius tossed in a bone from Riddle's Muggle father, and Pettigrew chopped his hand off as flesh of the servant. Nott used my blood - forcibly taken - to bypass the protection that my mother may, or may not, have given me when she gave up her life in order to save mine." Harry could see the events that night clearly in his mind.

"When Voldemort stood proud in his new and ugly-as-sin carcass, all of the Dark Marks on his servants' arms became crystal clear instead of the indistinct blob shape they had been in the intervening years. It was obvious to anyone with the Mark that their master was back and was ready to kick some arse." Harry turned to look at Dumbledore. "I saw Snape's mark earlier. It's just as clear as all the others. He knows, old man. He's known since that night that Voldemort is back."

Albus stared at his desk, an expression of immeasurable weariness on his face. Harry turned back to the window before finishing. "He wanted to demonstrate his power over me, so we fought. He didn't know that I had been in War Mage training for a few years and was surprised how well I fought back. Prior Incantatem took effect, and during that my other mentors arrived. It was a hell of a fight, Headmaster, a hell of a fight. Voldemort and most of his followers got away. Pettigrew bled to death during the fight from cutting off his hand in the resurrection ceremony. I guess Voldemort wasn't all that thankful to have a bit of rat in his new body. Unfortunately for Sirius, Pettigrew's body also got reduced to ashes when a stray Incendio caught it."

Harry could feel the hatred simmering inside of him. It was distant, quiet for the moment, but still present. Cleaning his tea cup out, he tapped his wand to his temple and extracted the memory of that night in Little Hangleton. "Here's a copy of the ceremony. You might see something we overlooked."

Harry stretched for a moment before looking back at the Headmaster. "That was the end. We all knew it. The cat-and-mouse game we'd been playing was just not working. That's why I'm here. I'm pissed, I'm ready to kill some people, and I need to know more than I do." Harry looked hard into Dumbledore's eyes. "I've killed quite a few people now, Headmaster. I'm not done yet. You know the oath I took when I started down this path. You know what it means in the long run."

Dumbledore just watched Harry with a soft, sad expression. Slowly, he nodded his head.

"Right. One last major thing for the evening then. You know the basics of Occlumency and Legilimency, but what you don't know is that this ruddy scar is a direct link from my mind to Voldemort's. For as long as I can remember, I've had flashes of intense pain or heard faint echoes of screaming. My mentors realized the true cause about five years ago, and I began the most intensive ever known study of Occlumency. I know you think the 'level' designation is probably nonsense, but I'm living proof it's not. I'm level five - have been since earlier this summer. Flamel was at seven before he died. It helps, but the connection is on the inside, not the outside. So I still get flashes of pain and the like, but at least I can keep my thoughts to myself. That git can't bother me directly anymore."

Albus rose and walked over to the window next to Harry. They stood next to each other for a few minutes, watching the night sky, while Fawkes sat on the Headmaster's shoulder, quietly trilling a song of strength. "Harry, would you tell me who your mentors are?"

Harry laughed softly. He walked over to the bookcase and pulled out the single, massive tome that was in the middle of the bottom shelf. He dropped it onto the Headmaster's desk with a heavy thud. The Theory of Magic: Essays of the Essence of Energy, edited by R.J.L.

Harry waved vaguely at the book while looking back at the Headmaster. "Every contributor and editor in that pre-release volume has been or is one of my tutors. I think the official release will be after old Snakey has been put down for good. As for what level my abilities are at, I think we should talk about that next time."

Dumbledore nodded while looking at the tome on his desk. "I think, Harry," Dumbledore began, "that we should call it an evening. We both have much to think about, and it is quite late, nearly two in the morning. I suggest we meet here again tomorrow, directly after lunch. My morning will be occupied by dealing with your charges against Professor Snape. Regardless of your earlier statements, I still believe the man is working for me in all honesty and was simply unsure of what the change in the Dark Mark meant. I have forbidden him from going anywhere when summoned by that method, which is why he was unaware of the rebirth. Are you sure you won't consider dropping your charges?"

"Not a chance," said Harry offhandedly. "Based on all the stuff I've heard about him, the man is only getting the first taste of what he deserves."

Dumbledore bowed his head in resignation. "Very well. Do you agree that we have covered everything tonight that we needed to and that we shall resume our discussion tomorrow afternoon, then?"

Harry nodded his agreement. "I agree that we have covered everything well enough tonight." Hopefully that agreement was enough to satisfy the magic behind their oaths. "Oh, I'm willing to try sleeping in the dorms, sir, but for the record, that may not work out. If there are problems, I will let you know, and we can come up with some alternate arrangements."

Dumbledore frowned briefly but nodded. Extending a wizened hand, he snapped his fingers loudly. "Rosen!" he called. A short house-elf, looking rather cute in a Hogwarts tea cozy, popped into the room. She looked at Harry briefly before turning her attention to Dumbledore.

"Rosen will show you to the Gryffindor common room, Harry. The password is 'Patronus', just tell it to the portrait, and she will allow you in. Rosen will show you to your dormitory. I shall see you at breakfast." Giving Harry a final nod, Dumbledore rose and waved him out the door. Harry followed the house-elf down the steps to the Headmaster's office and through a maze of staircases and corridors.

"Don't people find it irritating that the stairs keep moving?" Harry muttered.

"Most people seem to like it," Floppy observed, shuddering slightly before becoming a dark brown fedora. Harry gave a start; the hat had been quiet for so long that he had all but forgotten about it. "Students find it a convenient excuse for being a minute late to class. Well, the first years get a bit frustrated, but you'd already know that if you came here when you were supposed to."

Harry laughed bitterly. "Right, and give Dumbledore the opportunity to regulate what information is available to me? I respect the man for his achievements, Floppy, but I've heard too many stories about Albus Dumbledore even before my first letter of invitation arrived, that I could not just blindly accept his seemingly innocent offer to go to Hogwarts. I knew part of the prophecy and I knew I needed training. Not having any official contact with the magical world before that date made it clear to me that Dumbledore was unconcerned with my problem, given that he knew of the situation with our favorite psychopathic terrorist."

"You do realize that the portraits you are passing will report what we're talking about to others?" Floppy asked.

Harry shook his head quickly. "No, they won't. Only you and I can understand what I'm saying. Everyone else will only hear an annoying buzz, like too many insects flying next to their ears. Errr, well, whatever portraits use for ears, at any rate."

Their conversation came to a halt when they reached the portrait of a very large woman wearing a frilly pink dress. She was clearly sleeping. Harry tapped the frame with his finger, causing her to hastily straighten up and look blearily at him. "What? I was having the nicest dream..."

"Patronus." Harry said.

The Fat Lady nodded drowsily. "Well, you're out late, aren't you? In you get." She was asleep again before the portrait was even fully closed.

The house-elf tugged his sleeve forward, guiding Harry through the dark common room. It was chilly with the fires out, but the large windows showing the night sky made it quite pleasant. It was a definite improvement over the dull orange glow of the night sky he was used to seeing.

"This is the boys' staircase, sir. Mustn't try the girls' staircase, sir, it sets alarms off," the house-elf warned.

Harry made a mental note to figure out how to get around that. After all, every rule needed to be broken at least once. As he followed the house-elf up the staircase, she pointed out a door with a sign on it which read 'FIFTH YEAR STUDENTS'.

While not a very imaginative or lively caption, the designation probably kept confusion to a minimum. That would have to change shortly, Harry decided.

The house-elf opened the door and pointed to a bed near the window. "That's you's, sir, we's put you's trunk at the foot. Good night, sir." With a soft 'pop' the elf went back to her other duties.

Harry stepped back to the staircase and closed the door. Pausing for a moment, he pulled his wand out and tapped the plate on the door. The 'FIFTH YEAR STUDENTS' tag came off cleanly in his hand. Chuckling, he removed the plates from all the doors and then randomly reattached them. He suspected that only a first year would get the wrong room, but it would be amusing to find out for sure. Harry then drifted back to the common room below.

"Well, Floppy," Harry began, sitting on the couch facing out the windows in the deserted common room. "What think you now?" Harry stretched a bit to put his feet up on the end table, enjoying the darkness and quiet of the common room.

The hat twisted gently from side to side as though swaying in a soft wind. "I find that Albus has been keeping a lot of secrets, Mr. Potter. I knew some of that from overhearing conversations in the Headmaster's office, but the picture is much clearer now. Do you know what you need to do?"

Harry sat quietly for a few minutes. "I think I need to start with getting Dumbledore to teach me the more advanced magic. The Hogwarts curriculum is rather limited. The books in his office are far beyond N.E.W.T. level and seem more appropriate for what I need to be learning right now."

"Magic isn't everything, Mr. Potter." It was a bit of a cryptic statement, but what else would you expect from a sentient hat that sat around for eons with nothing to do except for ten minutes once a year?

"Of course not," Harry replied. "Was there a point to that, or are you just trying to be Dumbledore's number one fan?"

Floppy jumped a bit to one side of his head and pulled the tip into itself with a sucking motion, looking rather like a jaunty beret. "Uncalled for, Mr. Potter! Let's try again. How do you really do magic, Mr. Potter?"

Harry could feel a flicker of irritation rising. "Don't you start with me on magical theory. I know how I do magic. You're being deliberately obtuse, and I'm tired and not thinking clearly. Spit it out, would you?"

Floppy made a slight popping noise before turning into a perfect top hat, only about a hundred years out of style. "I don't know if I should. I am worried about what you are using to drive your magic, Mr. Potter. Specifically, what patterns you have chosen to set your mind with. It's a slippery slope you're on, and no one will be able to catch you if you fall." Floppy turned into a long, soft nightcap with a large frizzy ball at the end, and suddenly became inert, as though turning off for the night.

Shrugging and thinking about annoying magical artifacts that could turn into three foot long yarn snakes, Harry rose and went back up the stairs to the dormitory he would be sleeping in while he was a Gryffindor student. He was far too tired and frustrated to train tonight. As he quietly made his way over to his bed, he pulled out a blank sensory monitor and quickly started to copy from his current one to the blank one. While the orbs were glowing during the duplication stage, he pulled out a large piece of parchment and began to compose his letter for the evening.

My most excellent plotters, partners, and scoundrels,

I must start this letter by saying you each owe me 100 galleons. You all swore that it would take me at least three days to get Dumbledore unhinged. I am happy to report that it took less than three hours from when I first met him. As evidence, and future blackmail material, I submit along with this letter a copy of my sensory monitor. Please note the fun on the train with that idiot Malfoy, the fun with Snape, the fun with Dumbledore, and the most excellent sorting. I have made one new friend, he likes to go by the name 'Floppy' - but you'll have to watch the playback to find out more. If one of you can figure out how to make a wizarding photo from a sensory monitor, we could make a killing with these pictures of Draco, Severus, and Albus. Possibly of the red-headed clan members too. Well, it was fun for me at any rate.

To more serious business - I have received from Dumbledore some of the information we have been after. You will find it also on the monitor log. I ask each of you to study Dumbledore's comments and the prophecies he has recited, and offer some of your vaunted mentoring. I am most concerned with the whole "fire" nonsense. I suspect Dumbledore completely missed the boat on the last one, but... only time will tell. That will make sense when you hear the prophecies. I will continue to send nightly monitor copies to you whenever Dumbledore and I have a meeting, or I otherwise discover something of merit.

Now to the best part, I find myself in a prank war with two of the Weasley boys - Fred and George. They are unaware of what they have started, but I will happily accept their inevitable unconditional surrender. If I find them worthy opponents, I will be extending the offer to have them join our fold as part of the next generation. Tomorrow I am going to demand a blanket pass to all restricted material in the library and will make myself visible reading said texts so that I will bring fear to my opponents.

Now, I need a couple of you to put your heads together and come up with a bit of custom work. I have effectively put Snape on notice that his days are numbered, and I expect him to come back fighting when the Aurors finally release him. In the interim, my guess is that I have three days before Dumbledore and Fudge spring him, and I cannot waste this time. I am looking specifically for some enchanted objects to be made and for one custom prank spell for use on Snape, which I'll describe below.

The objects should be comfortable enough to be worn, manufactured in such a way that every student can have one, and, most importantly, ready by Sunday afternoon. Price, as you know, is immaterial on this. I need them to have the following properties...

Harry spent another five minutes finishing off his letter, before rolling it up and sealing it with a bit of hot wax. Pulling out his wand, he moved the tip through several intricate motions before tapping his trunk, causing it to spring open. After a few moments of digging, Harry pulled out a small box, roughly two feet on each side and one foot tall, made of a grey slate rock. Lifting the cover, Harry deposited his letter inside along with the copy of his sensory monitor for the day. He then gently closed the lid, tapped the top of the box and said "Zing!"

With a brief popping noise, the top of the box flickered gold for a second before reverting to a dull grey. Returning the box to his trunk, then closing the trunk and tapping the lock once with his wand, Harry stripped down to his boxers and crawled into bed.

"Goodnight, Floppy. We'll talk more tomorrow, right?" Harry asked.

"I look forward to it, Mr. Potter," the hat replied, draping itself across the pillow like something from a Dr. Seuss story.


A big thank you to my genius betas who have valiantly strived to make this story better, despite my crafty attempts to make it incomprehensible. Immeasurable thanks to Chreechree and cwarbeck.

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