Chapter 35: Fearful Heart
Albus had awoken a little later than he normally did the next day. His exhaustion from everything that has happened during the summer just seemed to pile up. Not for the first time, he felt the ill effects of old age. And while he was glad to see that the storm had finally passed from last night, he longed for the sun to come out.
Instead, the dark overcast swirled with rain-soaked clouds that resembled smoke, giving everything a little extra gloomy look.
Though still tired, he took his place at the staff table, and was cheered up slightly to see the teachers handing out the student's schedules. He smiled when he saw all of them sharing their timetables with their friends, wondering what they had today. Ah… to be young again with no worries except turning in your homework…
He could even pick up traces of the a few students talking about ways to enter the Triwizard Tournament. He chuckled a little louder at that as he turned his attention to his eggs and kipper. One thing you could always count on from the young… they think that they're invincible and could do anything. He couldn't help but smile a little wider at the thought of any of them being able to outwit his age line however.
His eyes fell over each and every one of them. His eyes stopping only for a second longer on the trio sitting there pouring over their food and paper. Needless to say, the first day had gone as normally as possible for the students something that he was grateful… however he was forced to spend most of the day sending letter after letter to the Ministry with last-minute preparations for the tournament before he was finally able to sit back in his chair in exhaustion. In fact, it was almost dark by the time everything was ready and he was allowed to rest.
He looked to the window to see that the sun was already setting and groaned wearily—feeling as if he had just wasted a whole day on mindless paperwork. He leaned his head back and shut his eyes, feeling that planning this tournament was a lot more trouble than it was worth.
"You don't look so good, Dumbledore," said the idle voice he knew so well.
His eyes still closed, he smiled and asked, "Yes, Dexter?"
"Just curious if you wanted to know anything that happened to our little trio today?" he asked brightly. "Course if you rather not…"
"Please say not," he then heard Phineas whisper hopefully. "I'm sick of hearing about those brats."
Albus was very tired—but listening to some of what he missed today might cheer him up—and annoy Phineas at the same time as well. "Please, do," he said politely, but he didn't open his eyes yet… just wishing that he could drop off from all the worries and cares he had.
"Oh, just Herbology and Care of Magical Creatures sure seemed interesting today," he answered as he heard Phineas hiss in annoyance. "The fourth years didn't seem too happy about the Bubotubers that they had to collect pus from."
Albus chuckled at that, remembering vaguely how disgusted he was when he first saw those things. "I can imagine so," he answered. "But Bubotubers has always been one of Pomona's favorite plants to start off a year with because she gets a kick out of her student's reactions."
"Well, I'm sure she wasn't disappointed," Dexter went on and Albus heard the other portraits laugh at that. "And Madame Pomfrey will be happy… they collected enough puss for an army of kids with acne."
"Like that Midgen girl?" Phineas asked scornfully. "That dim girl cursed her own nose off!"
"Phineas, please refrain from insulting the students when I'm around," Albus requested—his eyes still closed, feeling close to dozing off. "Dexter please go on."
"And right after that, they went down to Hagrid to deal with those… those…" he seemed to be having trouble trying to find a way to explain, but Albus didn't need it.
"The skrewts?" he offered helpfully, finally opening his eyes to look at him. He knew of them ever since he paid a trip down there just last week only to find hundreds of the eggs there. They were unlike anything he had ever seen before and he had asked Hagrid where they came from.
Hagrid only went red and started stuttering—a sign that he was hiding something. Hagrid was never a good liar and after a few more persistent questions, he came right out and told him that he had only just bred them.
"Yeah, them," Dexter went on. "Even though we have never seen them, I'm guessing that they aren't the most eye-catching monsters?"
"I've certainly seen more attractive creatures," Albus admitted and smiled gently as Fawkes let out a soft song that seemed to ease his weariness. The stunning bird fluttered from his perch and onto his knee—demanding attention.
"Dumbledore what are you going to do with them?" Dexter asked worriedly as Albus gently began to stroke the phoenix's feathers. "They may be small now, but they're bound to get much bigger! I think I overheard Granger say that she's betting they'll grow up to at least six feet long. And they're already dangerous! They explode for crying out loud! And you're letting them around children!"
"I know," Albus nodded, and most of the others let out similar shouts of worry. "And I've tried to tell Hagrid this… but it'd just break his heart."
"You say that now," Dilys whispered harshly, "But when we got several of them full grown, you may not think that they're so harmless then."
"Oh, I'm well aware that they're dangerous now," Albus assured them. "But we need those skrewts later on in the tournament. Hagrid says that they will be an important part in the Third Task."
"If that's the case," Everard said darkly, "My sympathies are all for the Champions. You think that maybe if you let a few hints drop about what's going to be in the Tasks, the students might think twice about trying to force themselves into the competition?"
"I wish it were that simple," he smiled tiredly. "Unfortunately, not everyone will listen. They have no idea what they have to face until it happens. But, now has anything else happened?" He was feeling a little better with these little interesting bits of information of news.
"Well, Granger is up to something," Dexter shrugged. "No idea what it is though. All I know for sure is that it's not homework apparently. She just wolfed down her food as if it were her last meal for the rest of the year and went running off to the library."
"And that's different from normal because…?" Phineas asked coldly.
"Oh, shut up," Dexter snapped at him before going on, "Like I said, no one really knows. If you ask me she's doing a lot of research on something. Oh, by the way, I think that you're going to hear from Minerva either tonight or tomorrow about that Moody nutter."
Albus groaned, not liking where this was going already. "Oh, no," he said closing his eyes again, dreading what he was going to hear. "What happened this time?"
"Oh, something about him cursing the students…" he answered.
Albus felt the need to smack himself and go see Alastor for himself about this. If there was one thing he couldn't stand it was using magic on his students as punishments. But what would cause Alastor to do this? "What happened? And who was the student?"
"Well, it started when the trio was all heading down to dinner when Malfoy appeared," he answered.
Albus groaned again. This couldn't end well. "And?"
"He showed him that newspaper article today about how Weasley rushed to help out Mad-Eye after he raised that false alarm. There was a picture of their house and the boy started insulting Weasley's mother," he said angrily. "Insulting their house and saying that his mother could lose some weight."
Albus frowned. He hated hearing how cruel children could be while so young. Young Mr. Malfoy was so used to getting his own way and putting everyone else down without any forms of punishment that he enjoyed seeing making everyone angry without fearing for the coincidences. A worrying sign indeed. "And then what happened? Did Ronald attack him?"
"No," Dexter said with a laugh. "Didn't see it coming. You see, Harry stood up for Ron, insulting Malfoy's mother back and Malfoy lost his temper. Draco can dish it out, but he sure changes his tune when someone stands up to him doesn't he? Here I got a little insight to the boy's mind. When he gets angry, it's like he's reduced to the mentality of an angry five year old who doesn't want to go to bed. As soon as Harry turned his back, Malfoy pulled out his wand and tried to curse him. That was when Mad-Eye came by."
Albus could see what had happened now; and he couldn't deny that he grew angry at the thought that someone would attack someone when their back was turned like that. "I see… so Mr. Malfoy didn't like what he heard and tried to get back at them. Not that it's completely his fault… he has been so spoiled that he doesn't know what is right and wrong anymore. I have to say that it saddens me greatly to see this."
"He's a coward, just like his father if you ask me," Everard muttered scathingly under his breath.
"And while I don't think I need to ask," Albus went on. "But Alastor…?"
"Well, what do you expect happened?" Dexter went on excitedly. "Mad-Eye went nuts. Wiped out his wand, and he… well you see he turned…" he seemed to have trouble speaking for he was being overcome by laughter. "He turned Malfoy into… into a ferret and was bouncing him all over the hall!"
Everyone but Albus and Phineas laughed at that. Indeed, Phineas was looking outraged that a Slytherin had been cursed like that and was now complaining loudly about how things wouldn't have been run like this in his day. Albus waited patiently until Dexter had calmed down enough for him to speak again.
"I'm sorry," he grinned through watering eyes. "It's just funny. That boy was asking for it if you ask me though. It's about time someone showed him he's not as high and mighty as he thinks he is."
Albus shook his head, half exasperated, half amused. "And then what happened?"
"Moody said that he didn't like people who attack when their opponent's back's turned," Dexter explained and Albus nodded in understanding.
"While it's not something that I can approve of, but that does indeed sound like something that Alastor would say. And tell me, was young Malfoy injured? Not that I would believe that Alastor would intentionally hurt a child but…?"
"Well, Minerva came by and turned him back," Dexter shrugged as if in disappointment. "Boy is just embarrassed of course, but I don't think there's any lasting harm… well maybe if you count a fear of Moody of course…?" he smirked at that.
"I had told Alastor that we never use magic on a student as a punishment," Albus said while he shook his head. "At least stop Malfoy from performing a curse and then talk to him."
"I hate to admit it, but I have to agree with what Moody did," Everard said frowning. "That would be a shock the boy won't forget anytime soon. There are some kids who never learn. Especially for someone like Malfoy… talking doesn't do a damn thing to them. They pretend to listen and be sorry before they do it again. And I've been angry at Malfoy anyway for all the trouble he's been causing since he arrived. And Snape thinks that Potter's the problem…"
"Speaking of Snape," Dexter finished. "I don't think that he's too happy to see Moody."
"Now that I'm not surprised by," Albus nodded. "He's had a cautious fear of Alastor Moody since the war ended thirteen years ago. He knew Alastor's persistence of capturing Death Eaters and how he doesn't stop until that Death Eater is brought to justice. In fact, it took me a great deal of effort to convince him that Severus is on our side… and even then Alastor still isn't happy about it. And after everything's he's seen and done, I'm not surprised that trust is almost impossible for him."
"I like Moody," Everard admitted. "He doesn't take any amount of disrespect from anyone."
"Maybe…" Albus sighed again. "But I will have a word with Alastor about this in the morning." He thought it over for a moment and asked, "The fourth year Gryffindors have him on Thursday I believe? Please tell me how that class goes."
They nodded in understand as he groaned and got painfully to his feet. He went to bed that night, but his mind was swimming with everything that was happening. With everything that has been happening lately, he knew that it would only be a matter of time before Voldemort returned. When and how were still the biggest questions… but he had to start preparing his students for the worse… but it still felt painful to him that his students would be the ones to suffer for everything that was happening.
Because of Tom's lust for power, so many will lose so much… it felt like a punch in his gut just thinking about it… like all his breath has been taken from him. This helped to ease that pain by knowing that they will be more prepare for what might come… better that they be prepared and never have to use these skills then find themselves in a situation and have no idea what to do.
He had a very good idea to what his friend was going to teach them on Thursday… he knew that this lesson is going to be a hard one for more students than others like Neville and Harry…
This was going to be a hard for these two to witness. For two of these three unforgivable spells took their parents from them. Especially Harry… this is going to hit Harry hard because, even though he had been the recipient of the curse, he had never actually seen it before.
He rolled over—guilt weight heavily on his heart and he wasn't completely sure why.
*Two days later*
Two days had passed without much trouble—except for the portraits informing him that Mr. Longbottom's fear of Severus caused him to melt his sixth cauldron in potions. He had talked to Severus again and again about how he treated his students. Either he wasn't listening, or just didn't care.
He was getting ready to go down to dinner when Dilys had appeared to tell him what had happened in Defense Against the Dark Arts.
"Well, the Gryffindors were really looking forward to their first lesson with Moody," she told him conversationally just as he was putting a few of his books back on the shelves. "In fact, so much so that they were all waiting for him outside his classroom before the bell had even rung."
"I'm sure they were," Albus answered knowingly. "They must all be anxious to learn what the best Auror the Ministry ever had has to teach them. Now tell me, what did they learn about? Did anything happen?"
"Dark curses," Dilys sighed sadly. "The Unforgivable Curses in fact. Albus what were you thinking allowing this? They aren't supposed to learn about them until sixth year. They aren't old enough to understand how dark things were back then."
"I know," Albus sighed back. He hadn't wanted to, but they needed to learn this. If Tom was making a comeback soon, then he had to get them all—Harry especially—ready just in case.
"Moody cursed a spider under the Imperius Curse first," Dilys went on grumpily. "Made it do all sorts of funny things like making it dance and roll over. I don't like it! He made it look so… so… comical. They were all laughing… and then he brought it all crashing down by asking them if they'd like it if he did it to them."
"Hey," Phineas said thoughtfully. "I like the way this nutjob thinks."
"Scared them all half to death he did," Dilys went on. She then grew uncomfortable before she went on. "And… Neville talked about the Cruciatus Curse."
Albus stopped midway through putting the last book on the shelf. He slowly lowered his arm as he became lost in thought. Yes, Mr. Longbottom would know that spell all too well.
"It did something to him," Dilys went on worriedly. "Just seeing it turned him white as a sheet and he was shaking something awful."
"While I'm not astonished, I am truly sorry to hear that," Albus murmured so quietly that he wasn't sure she heard him. He had expected that the poor boy would react like this—in fact, he would've been astonished if he hadn't.
"And finally… Avada Kedavra," she finished just as softly. "Harry just zoned out. He just saw it performed in front of him, and knows that he's the only person to survive it. I don't think he even heard anything for the rest of the lesson."
Albus closed his eyes. He knew that seeing that spell for the first time would also have an effect on Harry. Albus had been certain that he had been able to convince himself that this was for the best. But now his resolved wavered. Why? He hardly ever questioned himself before… and yet this one boy was making him question everything.
For years, Albus had a strong idea of what Harry had to face and sacrifice and do, and he wanted him to be prepared for what his future held. He needed to teach him—but it wasn't about training him to be a dark wizard killer, it was helping him to survive. There has to be a distinction there. He had a unique relationship to Harry—so different from any other—because he watched him so closely for so many years. He saw what the boy went through and how he rallied against setbacks: he didn't watch any other student this closely. His relationship formed with Harry at first because it was circumstantial—Harry could save the world, he had to keep an eye on him…
But why did he suddenly feel that the world wasn't as important anymore? Why did his heart ache so terribly?
"They spent the rest of the lesson taking notes on each of the Unforgivable Curses," Dilys finished up grimly and Albus snapped out of his thoughts. "I didn't like the way they talked about it after they left. They were talking about it as if it were a show. I worry about this generation."
"They are young," Albus sighed as he finished putting the book back. "They don't understand what the real world is like yet… or rather… most of them don't."
"Oh, I feel real bad for that Longbottom boy," she told him. "If you ask me, he took the lesson harder than Harry did. He's really out of it…"
"Is he alright now?" he asked in concern.
"Oh, yeah," she waved his hand at him. "Moody took him off to his office and gave him some tea. I was concerned so I paid a quick visit up there to make sure he was going to be alright. I listened from a portrait outside his office. They just talked for a little while—in fact, Moody told him that Sprout said how good he is at Herbology and he even lent him a book on water plants."
Albus smiled sadly; glad that his old friend was acting more like himself. It was heart-warmingly domestic, but so depressing in the simple fact that there was no possible way to prevent it from happening. He shook his head free of creeping thoughts and listened for more.
"That Ronald is some idiot," she said grumpily. "He just talked about how that spider died in front of Harry. You think he would've known better than to talk about that…"
A part of Albus agreed at that, but he was more taken aback than anything that Ron Weasley had forgotten how much his best friend had lost.
"You really don't care what the Ministry thinks do you, Dumbledore?" Armando asked him wheezing.
"I prefer to think of it more along the lines of… thinking what is best for the students," Albus politely retorted.
"Well, I can see why you and Moody are such good friends," Dilys teased, leaning back in her chair. "Do what you think is best and worry about the coincidences later."
Albus left the portraits to relax for now and he went down to the Great Hall—suddenly less hungry than he had been than before. Almost unconsciously, he glanced at the Gryffindor table and his eyes almost instantly found Harry sitting between his two friends. Though Miss Granger almost inhaled her food and left almost as soon as he had sat down. Albus watched her run to the doors and out of the Hall before he looked back to Harry.
The boy didn't seem to be as hungry as the rest of the Gryffindors around him. He just seemed to silently pick at his food with his fork but didn't even bring himself to bother with eating. He and Ronald sat in silence for awhile before they too finally left.
Albus sighed unhappily, watching them go. He looked back along the table, but didn't see Neville among any of them. He supposed that Neville wished to be alone for now and couldn't bear to face the rest of the school at the moment. Ignoring the feelings of guilt, he quietly finished his food and had gone straight back up to his office, hoping that he could have a chance to go to bed without having to deal with any more drama tonight.
He silently finished up the rest of his work for the next day, feeling that with any luck, he wouldn't have to deal with much tomorrow before he asked his portraits for a report.
"The boys are now sitting there doing their homework," Everard assured him.
"Good," Albus sighed, "They should be at that for awhile."
"Not sure why they bother," he laughed lightly. "They're just talking about making up predictions for Divination. Just predicting horrible tragedies and their untimely demises for next month… apparently Weasley's going to drown trice…"
Albus burst out laughing. After feeling so miserable for the last couple days, it felt good to laugh at something again.
"Also," Everard said sounding exasperated. "I found out what Granger had been doing in the library so much lately. She was looking up all the information on House-Elves. She now started up something she calls S.P.E.W. Lovely name isn't it?"
"Spew?" Phineas called indigently. "Spew? What is this about?"
"Rather," Everard went on, "It means, the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare. She is determined to do something about the treatment of the House-elves and has a box of badges with the word Spew on them."
"She is nuttier than Moody," Phineas said firmly. "Don't know why she bothers. Why the House-elves have been treated the same way they have been for countless centuries!"
"And it's about time they change," Albus added thoughtfully. He was now truly interested in this. "Please," he asked Everard. "Go on, I'd like to hear more about this."
"Well, from what I heard, she's been looking at everything she could find on elf enslavement and is determined to change it. She can't understand why no one's done anything before now."
'Because no one's cared enough,' he thought sadly.
"Anyway, she sure gave a firm speech to the boys," he said half laughing. "She didn't just assume that her two friends are going to join, she's not giving them a choice. She had decided that she is going to make sure that all House-elves get wages and proper working conditions. Once she's done with that, she is going to change the laws and is going to make sure that the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures had them represented… or something along those lines."
"Well, she's not too ambitious is she?" Dilys asked and Albus laughed again, more hearty than the first time.
"Has she some idea how to follow through with this plan?" Albus asked curiously. "Saying is one thing… doing is another."
"Well, she said that first she's going to get members—and collect a few Sickles from them to fund the origination. She made Ron treasurer and Harry secretary… I know she said a lot more but I can't remember anything else."
Albus shook his head and continued to chuckle deeply—enjoying himself more than he had been all year. He finally calmed down, wiping a few tears of enjoyment from his eyes and said, "While I agree she is doing the right thing, she's going about it the wrong way. House-elves are used to poor treatment and now consider that things like wages and sick leave as disrespectful. I hope she doesn't expect them to change and want all this overnight. While I am pleased to hear this, I'm afraid that Miss Granger has a long way to go."
"I think that her main problem at the moment is the name!" Everard called disgustedly. "Who wants to walk around with badges that say spew?"
"I have a name," Albus said happily. "How about… Wizards for Elf Independence, Rights, and Dignity? I personally am fond of that name."
As the rest of them laughed, Albus heard a slight tap on the window. He looked up to see a rather ruffled-looking owl sitting there, impatient to get in. At first he dreaded the thought of it being another owl from the Ministry, but he noticed that this one didn't look like it was one of the official birds. Curious he got up and opened the window. The owl hopped in and stuck his leg out eagerly.
Albus untied it and as soon as he did, the little owl flew off into the night in a rather weary sort of way—obviously looking for a place to rest. In the distance, he could see an almost ghostly figure of a white owl, shining like some lost spirit in the darkness, soaring off towards the owlery. Albus watched the owl until it was out of his sight before he pulled the rather crumpled up note inside and opened it. The writing was sloppy, as though it had been scribbled in a great hurry. To his surprise, he saw that it was from Sirius.
I'm coming back north. I got a letter from Harry over the summer telling me that his scar hurt him and I'm worried. He told me that the last time it happened, it was because Voldemort was near him. Why would Voldemort have been near him in the first place? What exactly has been happening to my godson in Hogwarts? And why should his scar been hurting in the first place? I know that you're going to tell me to go stay where I am, but I have to know that he's alright. I have no idea what is happening here, but you better keep him safe for me.
Albus was shaking his head at the note. Sirius… he had always been so reckless, but this had to be one of the worse. What if he was caught? He would be handed straight back to the dementors without a second thought. But what he said bothered him greatly.
Harry's scar had hurt him again? But Tom was nowhere near him all summer… how was this possible? Suddenly a thought came to him… a terrible, horrific thought… he shook his head, not wanting to even dwell on this what if. Ignoring his portraits he went back to the desk and quickly wrote back a reply. Trying to explain as best he could to Sirius before his old student could do something even more reckless.
While at the same time, a terrible fear that he hadn't felt in a long time began to sink into his heart.
(Oh, things are getting good. Dumbledore now knows about Harry's scar hurting him, and is starting to come up with theories about why that may be. I hope you all enjoyed this chapter and the next one will be welcoming the two schools—to when Harry's name come out of the goblet. Hope you are looking forward to it and I'll get it posted as soon as possible. Thanks again.)