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Two days later:

Harry made his way up the spiral staircase to the Headmaster's office, having finally decided that he could no longer delay his meeting with Dumbledore. He had finished marking all of the homework for his two firstie classes, and completed all of the work for his own courses, he had even worked out for fiteen minutes in the Room of Requirment before deciding to just grit his teeth and get it over with. Strange, he mused, pausing for a moment upon the middle of the staircase, a month or two ago I would have been ready to tear Dumbledore to shreds with my bare hands for what he's done to me and my family. But now, now I just want to be left alone, to be free to make my own decisions, and not get caught up in any of his schemes to "save the world for the greater good of mankind". If I have to "save the world" or whatever, I'll do it on my own terms, not his.

The young Animagus set his jaw firmly, then turned the handle to the office and went in.

He found Dumbledore seated at his desk, going through some papers and writing correspondences to parents and Fudge over the battle with the Death Eaters that had taken place a mere five days before. The papers were still running headlines, and Fudge had sent Harry a written letter of apology, saying he was sorry he had ever doubted him that Voldemort had returned. But now he was dead, everyone could rest easy, according to the Minister's narrow little worldview. Dumbledore hadn't bothered telling Fudge about the Horcrux suspicion, knowing the Minister would scoff and laugh at him for believing in such nonsense.

The elder wizard pushed his paperwork aside when Harry entered, a familiar twinkle lighting his eyes when he saw his favorite student. "Ah, Harry, my boy. It is good to see you. How have you been keeping up with your teaching? Have you discovered that parchment tends to breed rapidly yet?"

"Uh, yeah, I sure did. Seems like the papers never end." Harry chuckled. "But I think I've gotten them under control for now. At least until I have to grade finals, but Professor Snape said he would help me with that."

"Yes, Severus can teach you how to mark finals accurately and swiftly. I take it you are enjoying your mentorship with him?"

Harry nodded. "Yes, I am, sir. He has taught me a lot, and not just about potions."

Dumbledore's eyes twinkled even more brightly. "Good, I am glad to hear it. I always thought that if Severus gave you a chance, he would find another potions prodigy in you. From what he has told me, you seem to have inherited your mother's gift with potions."

Harry was startled. Snape had said that about him? Truth be told, he hadn't been sure if he was any good or not. Despite Harry's changed status as the Potion Master's ward, Severus was still a perfectionist when it came to making potions, and was sparing with his praise. But Harry knew Snape wouldn't have said anything like that to the Headmaster unless he really meant it, and it made him feel great. But Dumbledore's mention of Lily made him recall the false prophecy and that rekindled his resentment and anger towards Dumbledore.

Before he could speak, however, Dumbledore stood and waved his wand at the table in front of his desk. A silver tea service appeared on it along with some shortbreads and a few other biscuits. "Please, do sit down and have some tea, Harry." The old man invited. "I called you here to discuss some personal matters."

Harry did not refuse, even though the last thing he felt like doing was having tea. He moved to sit in one of the chairs, noting as he did so that the office was back to its normal appearance. Dumbledore must have fixed it after he had returned, because there was no pink anywhere and the kitten plates were banished also.

Harry shot a look at the perch behind the door, and saw Fawkes watching him. He walked over to the bird and scratched the phoenix gently. "Hey, Fawkes. How are you?"

*I am well, Harry-chick. And you look very well too. Please hear my master out before you start shouting. You have every right to be angry, but please, listen first.*

"All right." He gave the scarlet and gold bird one last scratch before going back to join Dumbledore.

He sat down and nibbled on a shortbread and sipped some Gryffin Blue blend, which tasted similar to chai, but was a little more fruity. After he had finished, he crossed his arms over his chest and waited.

Dumbledore leaned forward, looking a tad nervous, as he fingered his beard before saying calmly, "First, I would like to commend you on the way you comported yourself while Umbridge was in my place. Both Professor McGonagall and Severus have told me how you tried as best you could to comply with Dolores' unreasonable dictates and her use of a Cuff of Binding upon you." Here the crystal blue eyes flashed sapphire flame. But a moment later, the anger vanished, hidden once more behind the façade of the friendly Headmaster. "They said you acted in a mature and prudent fashion and Severus in particular has reason to be grateful for your actions, as you kept him from being thrown in Azkaban unjustly."

"Yeah, well, I could hardly let the harpy just arrest him for no reason," Harry said, a faint accusatory note in his voice.

"Very true, and you acted very bravely and you should be proud of yourself. Few students would have had the courage to stand up to her as you did."

"Actually, Ron, Hermione, Neville, and the other members of the DA had guts enough to challenge her, but they were betrayed by one of their own."

Dumbledore coughed. "Miss Edgecomb was coerced, in a manner of speaking, by Mr. Malfoy, who used her infatuation of him to gain the answers he needed to find out what was going on in the Room of Requirement."

"How do you know that, sir?"

"Because I have spoken to Miss Edgecomb and also Professor Flitwick. She is not a bad person, Harry, merely misguided."

As you were misguided? He longed to say, but held his tongue.

The Headmaster went on. "You know, from my conversation with Severus, why I was forced to allow Umbridge to take over the running of Hogwarts. I made a mistake, like Marietta Edgecomb, and others suffered for it."

"But that wasn't the only mistake you made," Harry reminded, his voice low and sharp. "What about my parents? And the prophecy you invented? That wasn't a mere mistake, sir, that was a tragedy!"

The old wizard lowered his head. "Yes, I know. I never intended for James and Lily to be hurt. Please Harry, you must understand, when I created the prophecy, it was purely for shock value-a way to slow Tom down. It was never intended to be taken literally by anyone, but that is exactly what Tom did. I knew his weakness was divination, but I never expected such a reaction." He closed hie eyes and opened them again.

Harry felt the anger well up from somewhere deep within him. Oh, and that makes it all right? I'm an orphan because of you. And there's nothing you can do to fix THAT! But he held his tongue as he had promised Fawkes.

Dumbledore brushed a hand across his eyes, then continued, "I should have known what he was like, but I misjudged him badly. I thought the prophecy would make him frustrated and distract him for a time and I thought eventually he must see it as a hoax. "

"But that didn't happen, now did it?" Harry demanded, struggling to keep his temper. "Voldemort believed the false prophecy-believed it enough to target my family and Neville's family too. Only difference was the Longbottoms didn't die, they were tortured into insanity. For a lie you passed off as the truth. When I heard you admit that to Severus . . .do you know what I felt like doing, Headmaster? Do you know?"

Dumbledore flinched. "I would imagine it involved my imminent death."

"Yes. You cost me my family with your bloody meddling . . .sir! My parents died for nothing!" Harry cried, anguish creeping into his voice despite his best efforts to subdue it.

"Not a day goes by that I don't regret my actions, Harry. In seeking to leash a viper, I instead caused him to strike. I never meant for them to die or for the Longbottoms to be tortured. When Severus brought us news that Voldemort was considering acting upon the prophecy, we took steps to conceal you and your parents in their vacation home in Godric's Hollow. We put them under the Fidelius Charm and it should have held if not for Peter."

"Tell me something I don't know!" Harry interjected sharply. "Tell me why the hell you left me with the Dursleys after my parents' deaths? Why didn't you leave me with Sirius? Or Hagrid? Why didn't you make sure they wanted me before just dumping me on the porch like yesterday's post?"

"I . . .thought it best if you were raised away from the wizarding world, and your nearest relatives were your Aunt Petunia and your cousin and her husband. Petunia had once expressed an interest in our world and I thought she would be happy to take in her only nephew. You were her blood, after all. I thought it best to hide you away where no follower of Voldemort would consider looking-in a home of Muggles. I placed protective wards about the house and property-wards tied to you by blood, Harry. I even left a letter for your aunt explaining what had happened and how she needed to care for you now."

"A letter? And you thought that would be better than talking to her?" Harry scowled. "Because if you'd spent a minute or two with her, you'd have known exactly how she felt about wizards and magic! She loathed everything to do with our world-I was forbidden to mention those words ever-because they were freaky and obscene-and if I forgot, she washed out my mouth for five minutes and locked me in my cupboard for a day. And if I dared to perform magic, it was worse. Then I was punished with no food and once or twice a smacking and left in the cupboard for two days. They already had a child, why would you think they would welcome another one?"

"Oh, Harry. You were their nephew-"

"No, I was the unwanted burden who took up space and was only good for cooking and cleaning and being Dudley's plaything. Not playmate, mind, but plaything. He was allowed to bully and hurt me and treat me like a toy and I just had to put up with it. When something went wrong at work-Uncle Vernon blamed me, because I had somehow caused it with my "freaky powers". Whenever anything strange happened-that was my freakiness expressing itself. They loathed me, and I never knew why, they never spoke of my parents, except to tell me that they died in a car crash. And all those years I lived like a servant, you watched and did nothing, old man. Why? Goddamn you-why?"

"Harry, I knew nothing about all of that. Nothing. If I had . . .sweet Merlin, child, do you think I would have let it go on?"

"I don't know. You tell me. Maybe you thought I needed that so I'd become tough and hard-a hero to fulfill your fake prophecy and kill Voldemort? Maybe you just didn't care, after all I was somebody else's problem now. I begged you not to send me back there after second year. Why didn't you ever ask me what the matter was? Instead you just patted me on the head like a good dog and sent me back to the bastards. You were my teacher, how come you didn't wonder why I didn't want to go back home? You could've at least asked!"

"I know, but . . .there were other considerations . . .if you did not return to your aunt's house, the blood wards would be useless and leave you vulnerable to Voldemort. I assumed you were fine . . .Mrs. Figg never reported anything unusual to me about them."

Harry snorted. "Mrs. Figg never set foot in the Dursley's house. And even if she did, do you think they would have admitted that they locked their nephew in a cupboard? You could have cast other spells though . . . Severus told me there are monitor spells that will let you see and hear everything that goes on in a room. Why didn't you cast that and make sure that I was being taken care of right?"

"I . . .didn't think it was necessary. I failed you badly, Harry. I apologize."

"Good for you!" sneered the younger wizard. "But sorry's not enough! You know, I could forgive you for my parents, since that was a stupid but honest mistake, and maybe I could even forgive you for the Dursleys, but there's one thing I can't forgive you for-and that's for letting me go through school and letting everyone think I was somehow destined to defeat Voldemort." Harry eyes blazed now with righteous wrath, burning like emeralds set afire. "You knew-you knew that was a lie. That my so-called destiny was a fabrication and you still treated me like your own personal hero in the making! You made sure I went after the Sorcerer's Stone, made sure I challenged the basilisk, confronted Sirius, even the tournament you encouraged me to compete in. Oh, I know, you didn't have a choice then, my name was in the Goblet, but what about those other years? You made me into your little pawn!"

"Yes, I knew, but understand . . .he would have come for you anyway, Harry. By then, it was too late to reveal that the prophecy was a fake, he never would have believed it, and I had to maintain the fiction. You were our only hope."

"Bullshit, old man!" Harry exploded, unable to restrain himself. "You used me to cover your own arse! Instead of admitting your own mistake and dealing with it, you put the burden on me. Harry Potter-the bloody savior of the wizarding world!" The cups, saucers and teapot began to tremble as Harry's magic began to spiral out of his control. "I trusted you! I thought you were looking out for me . . .that you cared . . .but that was a lie too, wasn't it?"

"No, child. I have always cared for you."

"You have a damn weird way of showing it! Most adults don't try and make a kid do their dirty work, sir! Most adults try and keep kids like me safe! The way Severus does and Sirius tried to." Harry felt himself choke up at that last, but quickly recovered. Now more things upon the shelves behind the desk were trembling and rocking to and fro.

Fawkes trilled in alarm. *Harry-chick, please control yourself!*

But Harry was too furious to heed the phoenix. "If you cared for me, sir, like you say, then where the hell were you when I needed you this year? Why were you avoiding me all last term? If you really cared, why didn't you see what a wreck I was and do something about it? Do you even know why I became an Animagus? No? Well, I'll tell you then. It was so I could get away from my miserable, awful, bloody stinking, depressing, screwed up LIFE!"

That last word, shouted with all the passion and fury Harry was feeling, caused several objects to explode and the tea set to topple over and shatter and the window to shatter and break with a loud CRACK!

Harry was on his feet now, his hands clenched, trying desperately to rein in his magic, which was surging through him in pulses like a star gone nova.

Breathe, Harry. Breathe. Control. Remember what Sev taught you. Control. He shut his eyes and breathed . . .in and out . . .counting softly . . . struggling to pull the magic back inside.

"Child . . .I am sorry . . .but you had developed a blood link between you and Voldemort, and I was afraid he might attempt to possess you if he learned there was more than just a student and teacher relationship between us. I suggested that Severus teach you Occlumency because he was stronger than even I, being a natural Occlumens. I was not aware you were so troubled . . .otherwise I would have attempted to help you. Harry, you are very special to me . . .please believe that. You are my redemption, child, the last chance I have to set things right."

Harry opened his eyes. "Your redemption, huh? Real nice. What do you mean . . .there's a blood link between Voldemort and me?"

"When Voldemort's curse rebounded upon you, it was because your mother had placed an ancient protection upon you . . . a spell formed out of her selfless love for you. That was how you were able to withstand the Killing Curse-because love is the antithesis of death. But even so, the curse scarred you, leaving you with the lightning bolt mark on your forehead. It may have also bound you to Voldemort. Of that I am not certain, but your scar used to hurt when he was angry or nearby, am I not right?"

"Yes."

"Then when he took your blood for the ritual in the graveyard, the connection intensified, because now you were blood-bonded. I . . .suspected that was the case . . .and I was afraid that I might slip up and he would learn of my plans through you, inadvertantly. So I stayed away. I thought it was best, but it was not easy, Harry. Never think that it was. I am sorry you felt so alone . . .sorry that you felt so unwanted that you were willing to become a hawk instead of a boy."

The ancient wizard did indeed look regretful, Harry thought grudgingly, and compassion stirred within him.

"But something good came out of it, Harry. You and Severus have become friends and now he is your guardian as well. Would you not say that is a good thing?"

"Yes. One of the few good things to come out of that night," Harry said shortly. "But still . . .that's no excuse. Your damned prophecy caused a lot of harm . . .to me, to Severus, to Sirius . . .he would never have gone insane if he hadn't been fighting Bella to protect me and a prophecy that never should have existed. All of that . . .are consequences that you have to live with. I don't know how you sleep at night, sir!"

"Sometimes, Harry . . .I wonder the same. I am lucky Severus is such a good Potions Master," Dumbledore admitted sadly.

"You're lucky he's still willing to help you at all, after what you did to him! You never watched out for him either! You let the Marauders bully him and he nearly died that night at the Shrieking Shack but you never gave a damn about him either!" Harry flared.

"No, Harry. That's not true. I thought, wrongly, that the Marauders were mere pranksters, I never knew they carried their pranks too far until that night. I was horrified that Severus was almost killed, but I could not expel Sirius or James without exposing Remus. I had to let them stay."

"But did you punish them at all? Because they did deserve it. Especially Sirius, who didn't even care that Sev nearly died."

"I gave them a month's detention. Privately."

"And you told Severus to keep his mouth shut or else you'd expel him." Harry cried angrily.

"I never would have. It was a bluff, but I had to be certain he wouldn't slip."

"So you saved Remus and your own skin and left Severus to think that you didn't give a damn about him. Do you know what that did to him, sir? It hurt him in ways that you can't imagine. But that's another story, and not mine to tell." He reached into his pocket and withdrew the sphere of prophecy and held it lightly in his hand. "Recognize this?"

Dumbledore paled. "That . . .is a sphere of prophecy. But . . .it was destroyed."

"Yours was destroyed," Harry corrected softly. "This is a new prophecy, made the night of the staff dinner by Trelawney, only nobody took it seriously except her. It concerns me, Severus, and Voldemort. Care to hear it?" At Albus's nod, Harry recited what he now referred to as the Prophecy of Two Hawks Hunting.

When he had done, the Headmaster looked at him with shock and something more . . .respect. "We have a way then . . .to defeat him. You and Severus must destroy the Horcruxes. Harry, listen to me. You may hate me all you like, but please listen to me. While I was . . .trapped in the escape spell . .. I summoned some of my personal texts and research on Horcruxes to me, I had been studying them in hopes of figuring out where and how Tom had created them. I came to the conclusion that one Horcrux must have been in the diary he made and that you destroyed in the Chamber of Secrets. Another was probably in Quirrell, that was why your touch destroyed him so utterly. I suspect he made at least six, possibly seven, considering seven is a magical and lucky number, and Tom always put stock in those things."

"Severus thinks one could be in some family heirlooms-like a ring and a locket. He even thinks Nagini, his familiar, might be one."

"Yes, that may be a possibility. Tom always did enjoy experimenting with animals and he would not store his soul in any old object, it must have signifigance. In that way his vanity would be appeased. It was why he coined himself the name "Lord" Voldemort-to disguise the fact that he was a half-blood of low birth, without a scrap of nobility in him. He always did have a thing for titles and ancestry."

"He was an arsehole," Harry growled. "All that fuss over purebloods is nothing but prejudice and rot. Hermione's a Muggleborn and she's smarter than half the purebloods I could name. And so was my mum." He looked at Dumbledore speculatively. "Do you have any idea where the ring and the locket might be?"

Dumbledore twirled his beard thoughtfully. "Perhaps you might look in the old Riddle house, or the Gaunt mansion, or even the orphanage where Tom grew up-all three buildings are still standing. Other than that . . .I do not know."

Harry drew in a deep breath. "Fine. Some leads are better than none. Besides, that's part of the task-to find what's hidden. Good thing Severus can help, because he's brilliant at that kind of thing." He straightened his shoulders and looked the old wizard in the eye fearlessly. "I'm not going to be your pawn any longer, Headmaster. That ends today. From now on-I decide my own destiny. And I choose to go with Severus and find the Horcruxes and destroy them so that the bastard you set on my parents can stay in hell where he belongs. And after that, assuming we survive, I'm going to go live with Severus and be his apprentice. I'll finish school and maybe even become a professor-Defense will suit me fine. Whether or not I teach it at Hogwarts depends on you though-on you accepting me and my decisions and agreeing to not meddle in my life anymore. You can think about it while I'm gone, sir."

"Gone? You will leave so soon?"

"No. Sev says I need to finish this term first. But after that . . . we'll go." Harry said firmly. Then he turned to leave.

"Wait. Harry . . .I want you to know that I am proud of you. And will always be so. You and Severus . . .are like my own children. And I hope, one day, you will cease hating me and forgive the mistakes of a foolish meddling old man."

Harry halted, then turned about. He gave the Headmaster, who looked as if he were about to start tearing up, a half-smile. "Oh, I don't hate you, sir. And neither does Severus. We just don't . . .trust you. But maybe someday . . .that might change. And maybe . . .we can forgive you too. Right now though . . ." He shook his head sadly. "Goodbye, sir. I have to go and help Severus with some potions."

"Goodbye then, Harry. May Fortune smile down on you, child. Both of you." He sniffed, then added, "Oh, and in case you were wondering why your friends became prefects and not you . . .it was because I thought you had enough to deal with and didn't need to add to it."

"Oh. Okay. That's all right, sir. I . . .didn't really mind," Harry said, then he waved goodbye to Fawkes and left the office.

As the door shut, he could swear he heard the portrait of Phineus Nigellus Black say scornfully, "Well, you've really mucked up things this time, Albus," followed by the sound of an old man weeping.


 



Chapter End Notes:


So . . .how did you like that conversation?

Next: Severus goes to Malfoy Manor to see if Bella is there and get the counter to her curse. . .if he can, and Vince and Harry play a prank on Draco.

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