Summary: Dumbledore may have triumphed over him, but his mistake was in not killing him when he had the chance! After decades of incarceration, a decrepit and dying Gellert seizes his freedom and claims his vengeance in the best way he knows how: through the one Albus cares for the most. "Tell me, boy, how would you like to possess the power to right the wrongs of your past and to seize your future?" AU Grey/Powerful/Selfish/Harry
Tags / Warnings: This story will contain the following themes: Strong Language / Violence / Alcohol Use / Lemons / AU (the story will become very much so the further into the tale we go) / Character Death / and interpretations and branches of magic pulled from an assortment of different mythologies.
Pairing: Harry / Hermione / Bellatrix
AN: I won't make a habit of placing author's notes on my chapters, but for the first one it's kind of required I do so. After such a long period without publishing anything, I admit I find myself more than a tad bit nervous with this latest endeavor. This story is just one of many that I've started, only to second guess myself before finishing. I'm unsure if this story is one I should continue, or if it would be better to go with an entirely different one (perhaps a separate mythology entirely), or simply restart one of my older, unfinished stories. (That last option is very unlikely) Either way, I guess we'll all figure it out together.
Huge thanks to Joe Lawyer, beta extraordinaire, for putting up with my lack of focus and constant stream of "inspired" story ideas.
A Gift, an Unkindness
Prolog: A Bearer of Gifts
Ignoring the horrified gazes of his two closest friends, Harry clumsily rose from his hiding place at their knees and dashed recklessly toward the exit of the Three Broomsticks. Shock and despair temporarily overwhelmed him, his chest aching from the knowledge of the betrayal his parents had suffered at the hands of their supposedly closest friend. His mind tauntingly replayed the Minister's devastating, yet rather revealing conversation as he slipped through the press of bodies within the popular little pub and out into the cutting winds flowing through Hogsmeade.
Uncaring and unknowing as to where he was heading, the last living Potter sprinted blindly down the crowded cobbled streets, barely managing to stay upright atop the slick, snow covered ground. In seconds he had escaped the busy shopping district of the quaint all-wizarding village, and minutes more of running left him free of its many rows of cozy, thatched cottages as a whole. And when all signs of life were good and gone and well behind him, his only company were the tall, snow strewn trees and the sound of his labored breathing playing in his ears. He continued to run.
Which would come to a stop first, the rhythmic slapping of his trainers against the frozen earth or the frantic pounding of his heart upon his breast was currently unknown to the Potter heir as he pressed desperately forward, unconsciously supplementing his frail, tired body with his magic.
"It's been my personal experience…"
His hands appearing as nothing more than a blur to the naked eye, Harry slid to a stop, his wand drawn and its tip aglow with magic before the raspy voice ghosting through the trees had finished its ominous message.
"…that no matter how far or how fast one runs, rarely do we succeed in fleeing from our problems."
"Who's there?!" Harry growled unflinchingly. Eyes like chips of frozen emeralds, he searched the darkening woods for any sign of the anonymous speaker. "Black?! Is that you?! Come out and face me, you coward!"
"Fear not, child, for I am not the one you wish death upon."
Bristling with anger, and still with no sign of whom it was the voice belonged to, Harry spat, "Afraid?! I'm not afraid of you or that bastard Black! I'm ready for you both; SHOW YOURSELF!" he bellowed into the rapidly falling darkness. It was in that moment, as he glared into the surrounding thicket that he realized the voice had been correct. He wanted nothing more than Black's gruesome demise… preferably carried out slowly and by his own wand.
"Not afraid, you say? That's the one thing you should be, young one." With those few words a trill of fear made its way down the Potter's spine. The hollow amusement in the unseen speaker's voice quelling his blinding, bloodthirsty rage, leaving a hesitance and growing apprehension in its wake that gnawed unrelentingly at his stomach.
"Not afraid of the very man who betrayed your parents to their murderer, a wizard so adept, so in tune with his magic, that he managed to escape from the darkest recesses Azkaban has to offer without the aid of a wand, with the likely intent to bring about the end of the name Potter once and for all? And yet, despite his infamous notoriety, which strikes fear within the hearts of even those who braved and survived the horrors of Britain's previous war, you don't fear him or what he could do to you? What he can and will do to your little friends in his pursuit of revenge?"
Harry's mouth became steadily dryer as he listened to the voice, his nagging hesitance making the rapid transition into something far more disheartening. However, it wasn't until his friends were mentioned that Harry came to the realization that he had never before known the true meaning of fear. Sirius Black, just like his master had in twice in as many years, was rapidly closing in on him, a third year wizard who rarely took his studies all that seriously—a path that would undoubtedly lead the traitorous bastard directly to Ron and Hermione, his dearest friends.
Hogwarts' mighty walls, a building said to be impenetrable and as well-guarded as Gringotts, in that moment, no longer felt as safe as it once had… It was, quite abruptly, no longer home. In fact he was now painfully aware of the many times he'd faced near death in its walls in the past two years.
"My, my, what a brave young wizard you are, scion Potter. What prodigious skill you must be masterfully hiding to possess such bravado in the face of such tragic odds." Cruel, bitter laughter echoed throughout the woods, turning what would have once been a scene from a fairytale, an expanse of pristine, snow blanketed forest at dusk, into a living nightmare. It took everything Harry had not to allow the hand clasping his wand to shake in response to the chilling sound.
"Or, perhaps more likely, as is often the case for those of a similar age as yourself, you simply allowed your anger to control you and blind you to the danger. An anger and rage that was born in the small, cold, hungry, helpless little boy trapped within the cupboard under the stairs—the one who suffered terribly at his uncle's cruel, unforgiving hands and could do nothing about it. Perhaps an insatiable hatred was behind it as well, born from having your loving and laughing family that you've only seen in gifted photographs—your lovable, jovial father and beautiful, gifted mother—cruelly stolen away from you. Or perhaps it's simply the perpetual state of vex you're in these days, fueled and made all the more consuming each time those around you unjustly make you the scapegoat for their current fears and animosities. Tell me, little lionheart, what would you do if Black were to appear before you in this moment? How would you go about sating your bloodlust?"
"How do you know about all that?" Harry whispered, his hand wavering minutely as if he were suddenly struggling to bear the almost nonexistent burden of his wand. All attempts to appear unaffected by the stranger's words forgotten. "No one knows about the cupboard… not even Hermione and Ron."
"My knowledge of you is far more intimate than that of any other. In my search to discover your worthiness of what I have to offer, I discovered just how much suffering you've endured in your short life…how many times you've been betrayed by those you hold close to your heart, betrayals you are not yet even aware of. The Weasley boy nor the muggleborn witch you harbor secret feelings for, know what I know of you. Not even that fool Dumbledore—the so called protector of the weak and the Leader of the Light—has an inkling, in his deliberate ignorance, of the abuse you suffered as a child or the wrongs which have been wrought upon you as I do." For a fleeting second the raspy, echo of a voice took on a much harder, much more sinister tone. Whoever his hidden antagonist was, they certainly didn't like Dumbledore, Harry absently mused in the back of his mind, the part not dominated by overwhelming fear of the voice and what horrors lay ahead for him and his friends.
From his place amongst the shadows, the speaker watched as the teen struggled to keep his labored breathing under control. His words were resonating with the boy, unnerving him to his very core and awakening the anger, desperation and other such dark emotions that he required of the boy—his chosen. Given his history of abuse at the hands of those who should have loved him unconditionally, those dark emotions were many and already a fundamental part of the boy, whether he acknowledged them or not. He simply needed to bring them to the surface. "Calm yourself, young one, I do not wish you or yours harm. Far from it, in fact. As I've proven to you, I well know the trials and tribulations you have endured and overcome in your short lifetime. Those horrors that would have broken so many others, yet made you strong, like the tempered steel blade of a masterwork. I know what kind of man you are, and know that you possess the potential to rise above the shadows cast about you by the legends of Dumbledore and Voldemort. I wish to see you become a deity amongst wizards—an existence no mortal will ever dare question or forget."
The snapping of a grounded branch alerted Harry to the speaker's approach and direction. Whipping around so quickly that he was in danger of losing his footing, Harry wildly unleashed his spell in the direction the disturbance had originated from. Relief flooded through his body like the searing sting of Fire Whiskey on a frosty winter's night when the yellow blur that was his spell collided unerringly with the shadowed silhouette's face. A self-satisfied smile pulled crookedly at his lips (unaware of how his joy gave him a cruel, bordering on disturbed look), Harry began to cast a second hex, but was stopped as the same hollow laugh as before filled the air.
"No hesitation in your attack whatsoever, even after I assured you that I meant you no harm... Excellent," the man chuckled amicably, remaining just beyond Harry's field of vision in the darkness. "Though nearly everything about you is still raw and unpolished, your power and talent shines through. It's astonishing to see the gem Dumbledore has allowed to remain at his feet, buried and dirtied, and utterly unutilized."
A single step forward was all that was required of the speaker to reveal himself to the frightened teen. Harry's keen gaze darted rapidly over the ancient man standing before him, instantly realizing that he had been telling the truth: he certainly wasn't the fugitive Sirius Black.
Upon first glance Harry had mistaken the frail, skeletal figure for one of the inferius he had read about in Percy's defense textbook. But as he scanned the being's harsh, craggy visage, the twisted smile it possessed showcasing the few stained and decaying teeth it had left, his eyes connected with those of the one who had intruded upon his temporary hysteria. Sunken as the skin around them were, his eyes, like sapphire-shaded beacons, left no mistake in the Potter's mind that the heavily scarred, malnourished individual before him was very much alive and not some reanimated corpse. They were the eyes of a man with a last mission that bore upon the soul. And with that single meeting of blue upon green, Harry was left without a choice but to recognize just how insignificant an existence he had had compared to the one before him.
"Tell me, child…" said the man as he glided forward, carrying himself with a dignified, self-important gait that defied his decrepit appearance. "…how would you like to possess the power to right the wrongs of your past? Possess knowledge that could mean the difference between life and death—both of those you care for and that of your enemies? To seize your future and make it as you will, no longer at the mercies of those more powerful."
"Who are you?" Harry asked grimly, his curiosity momentarily overriding his fears, which in turn frightened him once more. He wasn't someone who thirsted for power and would do anything to get it. He wasn't like Malfoy and his father. And yet still, the man's words were… enticing, to say the least.
"A bearer of gifts… and if ignorance is truly bliss, perhaps, an unkindness," the stranger answered mysteriously.
Before Harry could truly comprehend his answer, the ancient enigma, whose appearance could barely pass for that of a human, had drawn a wand from his person and had fired a silent stunner directly into the teen's chest. Watching the boy collapse bonelessly at his feet with a fair bit of amusement, the war-criminal Gellert Grindelwald shook his bald head chidingly, his disturbing smile unwavering.
"Not now, young one, but perhaps soon, you'll thank me every day of your life for the pain I'm about to inflict upon you."
Chapter One: Minute Changes
Two weeks later, January 1st, Dumbledore's Office:
"Boy-Who-Lived Vanquishes Grey Plague… With article titles such as these, we can rest assured Potter's already over inflated ego will succeed in doing the impossible and grow to be even more insufferable." Dropping the special edition of the Daily Prophet into a waste bin, Hogwarts' resident Potions Master sent a distasteful look at the picture gracing its cover page; a candid shot of a messy, raven haired boy in quidditch robes being hoisted up onto the shoulders of a group of teens wearing uniforms that matched his own.
"Really, Severus," McGonagall tiredly admonished from her place next to her fellow head of house, Pomona Sprout. "The boy has yet to wake from the slumber he was discovered in, and still, you show yourself incapable of putting aside your petty, adolescent grudges, even where the wellbeing of one of your students is concerned. I dare not imagine someone so fool hearted as to disrespect your godchild, Mr. Malfoy, if he were in a similar condition, nor your reaction to such an offence."
"Unlike Potter, Draco knows how to follow the rules and guidelines set in place for his safety," Snape responded without missing a beat, earning sounds of disbelief from not only the Head of Gryffindor House, but those of Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw as well. "Had Potter and his friends not been eavesdropping on the private conversations of those vastly more important than themselves, he never would have been made aware of his blundering father's fatal decision to trust Black. Nor would he have run off like a petulant child, further endangering himself and those who were forced to search for him. Though how the boy failed to make the connection before he decided it would be a good idea to stick his overly eager nose in the matters of others when the information has been sprawled throughout the Prophet since well before the school year began is a testament to his astounding shortsightedness and just how self-absorbed he truly is."
"Yet now, another instance of his blatant disregard for the rules is being rewarded with such imbecilic rubbish as that which is being fed to the public. Potter, a boy who fails to obey even the simplest of direction, able to defeat Gellert Grindelwald, a wizard whose infamy is comparable to that of the Dark Lord's here in Britain, and of an even grander scale in the eyes of the rest of the wider wizarding world throughout Europe, is beyond laughable. It's downright insulting," spat Snape, his bitter resentment of all things Potter twisting his features into an ugly sneer.
Surprisingly it wasn't McGonagall who the Potioneer's words drew the strongest reaction from, but rather the diminutive charms Professor Filius Flitwick. However, before the former dueling champion and part goblin could give his scathing retort, his tiny hand laid threateningly upon the wand in his lap, Albus, who had been sitting lost in thought for a majority of his staff's bickering, spoke up, silencing them all.
"That's quite enough, Severus." His aged voice that carried the full weight of his beyond considerable life experience cut through any further arguments, as the owner of said voice rose up from behind his desk to take up residence at the high overarching window that stared out over the school grounds. "Matters at hand are far too pressing for the seeds of discord to be sown amongst us. I fear things may be even graver than initially suspected."
"What do you mean, Headmaster?" Pomona asked, her hands fidgeting in her lap. "Other than Grindelwald's presence being leaked to the public and the assumption that young Harry had something to do with his death, nothing has changed as far as I can see. If the healers' reports are to be believed—and we have no reason to believe otherwise—then Heir Potter should wake any day now. Though all evidence points to the fact that Grindelwald took his own life, Harry will be able to confirm our suspicions."
A sound of weariness escaped his lips at that, which, unbeknownst to the aged headmaster, added to the strain all of his Heads of House were currently under. Albus continued to gaze out at the snowcapped mountain peaks off in the distance. Though unknown to those around him, the always stunning view wasn't registering with him at the moment, too turbulent were his thoughts for him to appreciate the majestic sight. "Contrary to what many would have you believe, I am as flawed and prone to making mistakes as any other sentient being to grace this plane of existence." His humble admittance resonated in their ears, though there was no echo to be heard. All those gathered bestowed Dumbledore with their undiluted focus, instinctively sensing that what was about to be said would be of great importance. "This was never truer than in my youth. A time when the world around me—my peers, professors, and a number of alluring, albeit anonymous parties, who had taken an interest in the potential I showcased throughout my academic career—lavished me with heavy handed praise and the assurance that I possessed no equal amongst those of my age, both past and the then present. And at the time—my youthful ignorance blinding me to all but that which fed my already impressive ego—I readily believed them. All throughout my academic life I believed myself without equal… That is until the summer after my final year at Hogwarts… When he would enter my life at a time when I felt hopelessly trapped by circumstance and obligation… He was a catalyst, if you will, that would shatter the fragile existence of my conceited, naive world and forever shape the path I was to venture… for better or worse."
"Within the confines of Godric's Hollow, I met and befriended a teen every bit as blessed with talent and a gift for connecting, and dare I say, communing with magic as myself. There, in the final summer of our youth, I formed an enchanting, volatile bond with Gellert Grindelwald." Placing one of his darkest secrets, which had been forgotten by all save time and himself, out into the world once more, Albus turned to face his office at large and the incredulous, disbelieving looks of those in his employment. Such an uncharacteristic loss of control of their emotions on the parts of the normally unflappable Severus and Minerva would have seen a great deal of light ribbing from their old friend. However, in the situation he currently found himself, the sharing of just a small portion of his many secrets—albeit an astonishing secret that would anger, offend, and undoubtedly alienate a great deal of those who saw him as a beacon of the light—had the ever-composed Dumbledore upon unsteady ground, and unable to find any levity to speak of.
"Surely-" McGonagall began with an uncommon hesitance shaping her voice. "…Surely you kid, Albus? You and Gellert Grindelwald as… as friends?! The mere thought seems unlikely. Outlandish, even."
"I assure you, dear friend, we were indeed. Gellert, before we went our separate ways at the end of that summer, was the single most cherished connection I ever made." Though they had all attempted to regain their normal composure, Dumbledore could still see the cracks in their hastily crafted facades, but gave no indication he saw as such. He chose instead to continue on with sharing his uncomfortable truths. "The last time I saw him before being forced to intervene in his selfish conquest, we separated on the worst of terms. And though I won't go into detail of our time together, or why our friendship came to such a sudden, drastic halt, I can tell you that I knew him well enough to know he would never allow others to view him as being so weak as to commit suicide. He was charming and brilliant in the extreme—a very cunning, very manipulative individual. He was what a muggle mind healer would refer to as a sociopath."
Momentarily pushing aside his shock, Snape managed to muster a sneer. While not as menacing as those his students had become familiar with, it succeeded in its task of conveying his disbelief and disgust. "So you would have us believe Potter defeated him?"
Dumbledore shook his head as his eyes closed tiredly, appeasing his greasy haired Potions Master. "No, Severus. While I know young Harry possesses a great deal of potential, the child is still just that, a child. No, what I meant to convey is that as more time passes the more suspect does Gellert's death become. My childhood friend was very much a trickster, a fox in the grass if you will. Whatever purpose he had in escaping prison and then kidnapping Harry, I fear we have yet to bear witness to the fruit of whatever plan he had in store for myself."
"Planned for you?" Flitwick parroted, giving voice to the private thoughts of his colleagues.
Taken aback by his own uncharacteristic carelessness at having spoken that last part aloud, Albus sighed internally as he prepared to field the bombardment of questions his little slip up was going to cost him. However, before any interrogation could begin, a barely audible pop announced the arrival of one of the school's house elves. The tiny, humanoid creature, whose features were almost comically too big for its face, bounced excitedly from one foot to the other, pulling franticly at its tunic emblazoned with the crest of Hogwarts.
"Mr. Dumbly, Mr. Dumbly! He's be waking up!"
A Gift, an Unkindness
"If possible, Mr. Potter, refrain from further fidgeting. Your squirming about could affect the results of my scans. You wouldn't want to repeat this process again, now would you?" Madam Pomfrey asked her young charge as she continued with her bevy of diagnostic spells.
"No," Harry sighed as he attempted to remain still. Doing so, however, was rather difficult when you had someone's lit wand inches from your eye. That they also wanted to cast spells on said eye didn't help in keeping him from moving about as if a bowtruckle was making its way down his back. "What do you think could have caused it to change?" he asked after only a few seconds of silence, his voice wavering with uncertainty and a fair bit of nervousness.
"Neither I, nor the best healers the ICW could lend us, could ascertain the cause or origin of the slumber you were in, only that you were fine and that you would soon wake. As such, we have no way of telling if the change in your vision and that to your left eye is a product of the magical-coma you were placed in or if it's a result of something else entirely." Running the last of her scans, Poppy was easily able to see the apprehension lingering in the teen's now mismatched eyes. It was look of vulnerability and no small amount of confusion that awoke her maternal instincts for the boy who she couldn't deny she had grown quite fond of over the past three years.
"There, there now," she said taking him softly by the chin and directing his gaze to her own. "No need to worry. All my scans show you to be in perfect health. Better, I dare say, than you were the last time you visited me. Besides," she quipped lightly, gaining an impish smile that, disturbingly enough, gave the elderly medi-witch a striking resemblance to a certain pair of redheaded twins, "you're quite the handsome young man, even more so now without your glasses obscuring half your face." Even as Harry's cheeks took on a faint hue of pink, she allowed her hearty, unladylike laugh to fill the infirmary. Something that had happened on too rare an occasion for someone who loved a good joke as much as Madam Poppy Pomfrey. "Who knows, perhaps the change will lead to some of the more forward lasses finally scrounging up the courage to ask you out."
Poppy's laughter, however infectious it normally was, abruptly died away as she caught sight of the young Potter's face as he embarrassedly buried it from view by way of his hands. Where once his fair visage had shown only a light, albeit impressive dusting of pink, now resembled a tomato, unnaturally so. His forehead, temples, ears, and the back of his neck were all aglow with the color. And though she was unable to see the rest of his face, she was sure the entirety of his facial features, too, had been altered to match his embarrassment. Poppy only just had time to come to terms with what she was witnessing when the infirmary doors were flung open with more force than was strictly needed by a contingent of Hogwarts' professors, all of whom, bar the final member to come striding in, wore looks that ranged from relief to concern.
Picking up on the disturbance, Harry, still wishing he could disappear into a different dimension through his palms, pulled his face from the sanctuary of his hands to see what all the ruckus was about. In doing so he revealed his, unbeknownst to him, altered features to the professors and the Headmaster, causing them all to stop where they were in mid-stride. Hearing the sounds of shock coming from Flitwick, Sprout and McGonagall, Harry paled… in all senses of the word. Rapidly, before their very eyes, the group of adults watched as the red faced teen turned such a ghostly white that his skin threatened to turn transparent.
"Madam Pomfrey isn't sure why my eye changed color, but, um, she believes it'll be okay," he babbled nervously, mistaking their shock at his chameleon act for that of the sole change to his eye.
Dumbledore was the first to regain his composure, leading to the man smiling in his customary grandfatherly fashion as he approached the Potter heir's bed. "And your complexion?" he asked jovially, giving a wave of his hand and summoning a small, handheld mirror which he handed over.
Having only just found out about the change to his eye from Madam Pomfrey, who hadn't actually allowed him to see the change himself thanks in large part to her need to assure herself that he was fine, Harry forgot his momentary revulsion to being the focus of attention and took the offered mirror. As one would expect, his eye wasn't what captured Harry's attention but his other radical changes. It only took him a second to register what it was that he was seeing before he felt himself beginning to feel nauseous by his face's deathly pale color.
"I think I'm going to be sick," he moaned, dropping the mirror onto his bed. Too busy was he taking the expertly summoned potion Poppy was offering him that he failed to catch sight in the mirror's reflective surface his features once more change shade—this time from a milky white to a lime-shaded green that perfectly represented his sudden overwhelming need to find a rubbish bin.
Struggling to get the potion down before the contents of his nearly empty stomach made the trip northward, Harry handed the empty potion vial to the medi-witch as he fell back onto his bed. No one said anything as the teen took a few deep breaths, trying to regain control of his tumultuous stomach. Once he had succeeded, or more accurately, the potion began to take effect, Harry, still an unnatural shade of green, though a few shades lighter than he had been moments before, opened his eyes, allowing the heads of house who had just arrived next to his bed a better view at the change that had been present since his awakening.
"What's happening to me, Albus?" Harry asked without preamble. So disturbed was he and the professors around him by the unexplained alterations to his skin and eye that only Albus himself and Severus noted his use of the man's first name.
Dumbledore, however, instead of being enraged by the child's slip, as his colleague happened to be, was unnerved. The combination of the candid use of his first name (something even a rare few adults felt comfortable doing), and the presence of his piercing, cerulean eye sent waves of uneasiness through the old man's bones like nothing else had in over thirteen years. 'No,' he corrected silently to himself, 'you felt the same jolt of fear when you learned of Gellert's escape from Nurmengard.'
Clearing his throat to stop the Potions Master from making any unnecessary comments about how arrogant and disrespectful he thought the child to be, Albus dismissed the anxiety driven thoughts from his mind, forcing himself to focus on the here and now. "Before I can answer your question, my boy, first allow me to pose one of my own." Receiving a nod, Albus continued down the path his prodigious mind had quickly deduced to be the cause of the raven haired teen's involuntary imitation of a rainbow. "Have you ever noticed any changes to your physical appearance in the past? Something that couldn't be explained away as natural? Perhaps something you looked back on over the years and simply assumed was accidental magic or a trick of the mind or memory?" Even before Albus had finished speaking Harry had begun to nod knowingly.
It was the Headmaster's use of the word "natural" that triggered the memory of his enraged uncle storming around in a frenzy the morning after receiving a disastrous haircut from his aunt. "Once, when I was in primary, my aunt gave me a dreadful haircut at home. Like so many other things, she couldn't be bothered to spend a few pounds on getting my hair trimmed up, so she used a pair of rusty and dull old kitchen shears to cut my hair herself. When she had finished, all that was left were my bangs, which she purposely left because they were more than long enough to cover up that 'hideous scar on my freak face,' as she called it." Harry paused in telling his story, momentarily surprised at himself by this admission. In the past, he had gone well out of his way to draw attention away from his home life and the years prior to his arrival at Hogwarts. But for some reason that was beyond him at the moment, he suddenly no longer felt the overwhelming need to remain silent about his treatment at the Dursley's hands… Quite the opposite in fact. These were scars he would wear proudly from now on. He had survived in spite of everything. There was nothing to be ashamed of.
Albus and those around him alike felt the first uncomfortable stirrings of dread in the pits of their stomachs after hearing this small anecdote, but made no attempt to stop him from speaking so candidly or to interrupt the pensive silence that had suddenly taken hold of the teen. More than one of the professors present had noted his state of dress and his almost frighteningly skinny stature in the past. Those who had taught James at that same age had often wondered why Harry was so much shorter and less developed than his father had been, when otherwise they looked exactly alike. Having heard of just one instance of cruelty on his aunt's part gave birth to the idea that there could be numerous other instances of treatment lurking that were just as bad—possible worse—that they didn't know about. Though his current wellbeing was of the utmost importance at present, there would be more than one of the few standing around his bedside that would begin to investigate Harry Potter's past for any further signs of abuse or neglect. No longer would they merely speculate idly on what their eyes found so strange.
"I went to bed that night positively dreading what everyone would say the next day at school, but by the next morning, when my aunt arrived to wake me, all my hair had grown back." Harry smiled at the memory, the last of the green that had still been lingering in his cheeks fading away. "In fact, I've never had any need for a haircut. No matter how much time passed, my hair never got any longer."
At the teen's pensive look and the light of recognition in the gazes of his staff, Dumbledore allowed a soft chuckle to escape him. "Minerva, I believe you know and are capable of casting the spell used to identify a budding metamorphmagus, are you not?"
"Of course," nodded the Scotswoman as she drew her wand from the confines of her robes. "With your permission, Mr. Potter?" Receiving a shaky nod from the young Gryffindor, she cast the spell Albus had spoken of, one that would forcibly return a metamorphmagus to their "base" form.
Besides a slight twitching in his left eye that was the magic returning it to its original shade of emerald he had been born with, Harry was unable to distinguish any changes to his eye or vision. What he and the others did notice, however, was the rapid growth of his hair. Where once it had been shaggy and untamable, it now pooled around him on his bed, showing no sign of halting its shocking growth.
"It would appear that you've required a bit of a trim for quite some time, Mr. Potter." The tiny charms professor joked as the growth of his hair came to a sudden halt. Entangled around his arms and person, cascading over the edges of his bed and brushing the floor at his professors' feet, his hair lay, untamable once more, but in a vastly different way than his normal state of eternal bedhead or the hairstyle that continued to draw remarks about him looking like a replica of his late father, but with his mother's eyes.
"I, uh…" Harry began uncertainly, overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of his hair. "What's going on?" he finally managed to ask, looking to them each, even the tight lipped Snape, for some form of answer that would lessen the confusion he was experiencing.
"Why, my dear boy, you're what is called a metamorphmagus!" exclaimed Professor Sprout, surprising the boy with the amount of sheer joy that was present in her tone. "A witch or wizard who is capable of fundamentally altering their appearance without the aid of a wand. It's an exceedingly rare ability that one can only be born with, not learned. Why, just a year prior to your first year, a metamorph by the name of Nymphadora Tonks graduated from Hogwarts. She was a lively lass who was a member of my own house."
"A meta-morphmagus?" he repeated uncertainly, bewilderment playing in his eyes even as the left one once more made the transition back to a sharp shade of blue. Watching the unconscious change take place in the mirror, it did nothing to abate his confusion nor the gnawing unease plaguing Dumbledore's thoughts.
"Indeed. It's a very rare gift that you will need instruction on if you wish to learn how to fully control it. You're quite lucky that another young metamorph is even around to potentially offer you instruction, given just how rare the gift is. Most struggle on their own through intense trial and error to gain control of their gift." Dumbledore sent Pomona a knowing look that the Herbology professor returned. "I'm sure it wouldn't take a great deal of persuasion on our part to entice young Nymphadora to come impart some of her hard earned knowledge to you, another young metamorph." Unsure as to exactly why, Harry felt he was being left out on some private joke as those around him shared a brief look of amusement that he failed to comprehend, and could only assume it had something to do with this Nymphadora character that they had mentioned.
"I'll send her a letter as soon as we conclude our business here. But for the moment, I believe it prudent that we move on." At Dumbledore's words it was as if an electrical charge was sent throughout the room. A tension that was palpable overtook them, turning their postures rigid and their focus on him sharp and inquisitive, almost demandingly so. "What can you tell us about the events prior to your incapacitation?"
"I…" Harry began, unsure of how to proceed. Barring the few clarifications from Poppy that he could squeeze out of her during his examination, Harry was unaware of just how much they all knew.
"Quit stalling, Mr. Potter!" Snape demanded in his eternally dry tone, causing the teen to flinch guiltily, much to the Potions Master's delight. "We know you not only used your father's blasted cloak to sneak from school grounds, selfishly endangering yourself and your classmates, but that you saw fit to eavesdrop on the Minister's private conversation. After which, you decided to go running off into the forest bordering on Hogsmeade, an area where the Dementors roam in droves searching for Black."
Ignoring the reproachful glances his approach was receiving, Severus glared down at the visually uncomfortable teen, attempting to convey his considerable dislike for the boy with nothing more than a leer. "Though the concept may be foreign to you, perhaps a bit of humility on your part might go a ways at projecting the illusion that you're at the very least somewhat repentant for your disregard for your own safety and that of those who are meant to protect you?"
"How dare you, Severus?!" McGonagall interjected, making her, and from the upset sounds they were making, the others' displeasure known.
"Try to be honest for once," Snape continued, paying his colleagues' outrage no mind. "What happened after you disappeared into the woods?"
"I know what I did was against the rules, but the only person I put in danger was myself. There was no way to know the unlikely set of events would have happened this way." Harry shot back, his metamorphic ability almost eagerly taking effect, causing his skin to turn an angry shade of red and a pattern faintly resembling the armored scales of a snake, a look that was startlingly different from that which had been present earlier. His anger was only added to when Dumbledore did nothing more to the Potions Master than ineffectually sending the man a disapproving look for his badgering. "I don't appreciate you lying and saying otherwise!" Harry knew as soon as he finished speaking that he had crossed some invisible line that he had never before touched upon during his previous disagreements with the man. What bit of color that was in the Potions Professor's cheeks had taken on a hue similar to that of his own, though admittedly, to a much lesser degree.
"Are you so deluded by your own self-worth that you fail to see the danger your heedless, reckless actions placed those around you in! Did it ever occur to you that this staff, Ministry appointed aurors and hitwizards, and concerned members of Hogsmeade would go in search of you when it was discovered that the famous Harry Potter had run off? I would dare guess you didn't, did you?" Snape asked rhetorically, building up to a steam that none present were going to be able to work him down from until he had said his peace. "Nor, I take it, did you take into consideration the danger every person who searched for you was placed in! Sirius Black, numerous Dementors who the ministry has shown incapable of controlling, and a number of other beasts who find themselves in those woods by way of the Forbidden Forest! All those things posed a very real threat to those who selflessly placed themselves in harm's way for you—a brat who can't be bothered to worry about anyone but himself and his juvenile fits of melancholy!" Snape smiled cruelly down at the teen who he loathed almost as greatly as his father before him, taking a sadistic joy from the horrified look his words have given birth to.
Unable to help himself and using his audiences' shock to his advantage, he leaned across the foot of the bed to better intimidate the boy, whose complexion had lost all color, quite literally, once more. "Did you not stop to comprehend that your equally as foolish friends, who are always at your heel during your attempts to further your notoriety, would let you run off without attempting to locate you themselves? You placed them and numerous others, of which your schoolmates are included, in peril. But endangering the lives of others wasn't enough for you—the great Harry Potter. You so selfishly chose to neglect your own safety, as well. You could have gotten yourself hurt or killed during your little jaunt, and did, in fact, succeed in being captured… Had you died during your encounter with Grindelwald, it would have been the same as spitting on your mother's grave! If there were such a thing as an afterlife she would look upon you with equal parts shame and disgust-"
"SEVERUS!" Albus bellowed, shocking them all, save Harry, from their horrified stupor. The terrible rage blazing within the Headmaster's eyes made even Severus, who had witnessed on a number of occasions Voldemort's rage induced killing frenzies, place some distance between himself and the living legend who towered over him now. "You will leave this place this instant and report to my office. You will wait for my arrival so we may discuss the punishment for your gross misconduct on this day." Striding up to the now pale skinned professor, Dumbledore pinned the man in place with the weight of his terrible gaze, his magic sparking around him visibly.
"If Lily Potter were present on this day, it would most certainly not be her still young son who would bear the burden of her disgust; nor, dare I say, her rage and hatred." His words were breathed as little more than a whisper, but from the stricken look Snape wore one would have believed he was once more a child left to the mercy of his abusive, drunkard of a father. The myriad of raw, unchecked emotions he betrayed in that moment—the appearance of an innocence and guilt that Dumbledore alone had ever witnessed from the man—stole the breath from the Headmaster's lungs, much the same as one would experience when falling through ice into waters whose temperatures were given birth by the breath of death itself.
Before he could come to terms with the hurt he had caused the Potions Master, find some way to apologize for allowing his considerable, yet momentary anger to get the better of him, Severus had strode from the room and all their sight.
"I must go-" Dumbledore began, a haste to his movements that none of the present had witnessed in some years. His trek, however, was brought to a sudden halt when he caught sight of the last Potter and the state he had been left in by Snape's wholly uncalled for and cruel words, especially so for a still painfully young boy, yet inexperienced in the ways of the world and having known only for a terribly short time the guidance and unconditional love of his parents.
Sparing a final brief glance towards the exit, he quickly made his way around the twin sized bed and to Harry's side. Though he knew the child before him required his counsel far, far more than Severus Snape ever would, it made it no easier to turn his back on the one whom he had harmed more with his words than any spell ever could.
"Harry my boy," Albus tried rousing him gently. His worry for the young man increased tenfold, as did his early misgivings as they were inexplicably renewed, when the helpless, oppressed air that hung about the boy evolved into a palpable anger and rage the likes of which Dumbledore had never witnessed or felt before from the last Potter. It was as if another person entirely, one whom was capable of awakening a terrible sense of foreboding in the Headmaster, was sitting before him, where only seconds ago there had been a fragile teen whose emotional state had been left devastated by the cruel words of a man who supposedly was tasked to look out for him.
"Yes, Headmaster Dumbledore?" Harry bit out, his gaze never wavering from the mirror. Watching as an intense angry flush overtake his pale features, he mused about the chaotic flux of his emotions and how this seemingly new ability of his was going to make his already complicated life, even more so.
"It's imperative we know what happened to you after you left the Three Broomsticks. How did you come into contact with Grindelwald, and what took place between the two of you before his death?" Dumbledore, thanks in no small part to his considerable self-discipline, maintained an even tone with each mention of the man whose very existence had haunted him for well over a century, or so he had thought. Unsure how something as innocent as the gaze of a young child could exude the same sense of unease as the presence of cold steel being pressed to his throat had been, Dumbledore found himself being subjected to a look that was every bit as penetrating and curious as his own had been in his youth.
"Professor," Harry started, only for the rest of his words to catch and die in his throat. In the span of a heartbeat that felt as long as any lifetime, the last Potter had the unpleasant and off putting experience of having his eyes play a trick on him. Though the vision had abated as quickly as it had come, Harry found himself without any of the bitter-tasting anger that had ruled him just seconds before.
Dumbledore and the others watched as the teen whose unexpressed loathing had put them all on edge, once more became the docile and unimposing boy that they had come to know over the years. Looking both exhausted and wholly uncomfortable in his skin, a feat all the gathered had witnessed numerous times during their years spent as professors, Harry placed the mirror face down on his covers, pushing the summoned item to the edge of his bed whilst scooting backwards into the iron headboard. It was a move Dumbledore instantly recognized as an unconscious attempt to place distance between and himself that stirred his own curiosity, adding yet another emotion the teen had drawn out of him during this, so far brief, yet eventful meeting.
"…I don't know, Professor." Noting the expectant, if somewhat apprehensive looks of those around him, Harry sighed. "The last thing I remember before waking up here is running into the forest bordering Hogsmeade. Everything in-between is… darkness."
"And you're sure of this?" Dumbledore asked without betraying any emotion (worry for the most part) after a period of time in which an uncomfortable silence had filled the infirmary. "You don't recall meeting a stranger?"
"Nothing, just as I told Madam Pomfrey moments after I first woke." Harry shook his head, his features scrunching up as he recalled the name the Headmaster had used. "Though the name sounds familiar for some reason, I've never met any… Grindelwald, was it?" Dumbledore nodded absently, his thoughts as rapid and unpredictable as the path of a chased snitch, though he made no attempt to speak.
"Seeing as there's nothing more to be gained from disturbing my patient's recovery, I believe it's time you all take your leave, now." Slightly taken aback by the medi-witch's abrupt dismissal, McGonagall and her fellow Heads made to object, but were stopped by Dumbledore as he once more returned to the present.
"You're quite correct, Poppy." Motioning to McGonagall, Flitwick and Sprout that it was indeed time to go, the Headmaster sent Harry one last smile before making for the exit himself. "We won't deny you further from your rest, my boy. I'm sure this all has been a most trying experience for you."
Pulling the infirmary door gently closed behind him, Dumbledore turned, intent on heading up to his office, only to be halted by the look his Deputy Headmistress was wearing.
"Explain yourself at once, Albus!" she whispered harshly, so as not to be overhead by the bedridden teen on the other side of the door. "You know as well as I, that there are many more questions that need to be asked of him, not only for his own safety, but that of numerous others. Nor did you make any mention of the painful truths he unearthed that sent him running into the forest in the first place! Morgana knows what he must be going through after discovering the betrayal his parents suffered. Now, more than ever, he needs a firm hand and unwavering support."
"Minerva, you witnessed yourself how fragile his emotional state is at present. Pressing the matter now would serve only to alienate him." McGonagall's lips were little more than a thin line, but she nodded her reluctant agreement, sensing the truth of his words. "During the entirety of our discussion, I sensed no deception in his words. There was a sense of confusion present, most certainly, but no sign of deceit. For now all we can do is wait…"
"I, for one, am unsure as to whether or not Mr. Potter regaining his memories of what took place between himself and Grindelwald would be a good thing." Flitwick thoughtfully added, breaking his silence. "We have no idea what transpired between the two, and perhaps that's for the best. We can't rule out that it was Mr. Potter's own mind, and not Grindelwald, who locked away the events of that night. In any case, only a certified mind healer, something that there is a severe shortage of here in Britain, should be the one to speak to him about his loss of memory."
"If this is a case of amnesia at all." Pomona commented, speaking more to herself than any of those present. "For all we know, Grindelwald simply stunned him once he was beyond view of the village. If such a thing happened there wouldn't be any memories for Mr. Potter to recall."
"Perhaps," Dumbledore said distractedly, looking lost in a world of thought. It was a sign of the stress he was under at the moment, from both the press and his official duties with the Wizengamot and as Head of the ICW, that his fellow educators were able to gain such a reading on the normally composed and unreadable Headmaster.
"And the support he needs at present?" McGonagall asked once more, feeling the need to confirm that her cub would get all the emotional support he needed. She had plans to visit him on her own after her business as Deputy Headmistress was over.
"After encouraging them to spend their holidays with their respective families, instead of keeping a vigil over Mr. Potter, I'm sure his friends, once they return tomorrow evening, will be more than willing to offer him all the support he can handle."
"And until then?" McGonagall prompted vigorously, unwilling to let the matter drop. After her shameful failure to step in when Severus was having a go at her cub, she felt the need to go above and beyond where Harry was concerned. She also had a few choice words for the thin skinned Potioneer when she next saw him. He was the adult in this situation and he needed to start acting like it. "The Hogwarts Express won't return until late tomorrow night."
Albus smiled at the over protectiveness the Scotswoman was displaying. It had been one of the many reasons he had appointed her as his Deputy Headmistress. "Once I return to my office, I'll be contacting an old friend of mine, Alastor Moody. Young Nymphadora is currently apprenticed to him. I intend to see whether or not Ms. Tonks would be interested in coming to see Harry tomorrow. Between meeting a fellow metamorphmagus, opening his presents, and the medical scans the ICW healer will wish to take, I'm sure Harry will be capable of entertaining himself until then."
"Now then," Dumbledore continued after receiving an accepting nod from McGonagall. "As was seen before, it would appear young Harry's emotions are at an increased, unpredictable flux after his encounter with Gellert. I would like for each of you to keep an eye on him should he begin attending classes like normal on Monday…"
A Gift, an Unkindness
"Can I ask you a question, Madam Pomfrey?" Harry absently asked, as the medi-witch bustled about around him.
"You may," she agreed, noting how the boy's gaze had yet to drop from the door the group had disappeared through.
"Did you know Dumbledore in his youth?"
Pausing in her work, Pomfrey sent the teen an amused smirk, not that he saw as much. "Seeing as the Headmaster has a good fifty years on me, I can't say that I did. Though that does pose the question as to just how old you actually believe me to be?"
Harry was pulled from his reprieve wearing an embarrassed blush that stained well below his collar. "M-madam Pomfrey, I never meant to-" he began hurriedly, horrified by his unintentional disrespect.
Poppy, for her part, was able to see the humor of the situation and was once more laughing heartily, lessening the poor boy's mortification.
"What I was getting at was whether or not you knew what the Professor looked like when he was younger?" Harry continued, trying and failing to ignore the lessening warmth in his cheeks.
"I do, in fact. There were plenty of photographs of him from his youth in my time, seeing as he was bit of a... symbol… even then. Though you rarely see those photographs these days. Why do you ask?"
"Well, what color was his hair?" Harry pondered aloud, recalling the image that had momentarily obscured his vision of the man.
"Oh," said Poppy, sounding as if she were recalling something particularly pleasant. "It was the loveliest shade of auburn that I ever had the pleasure of laying my eyes upon. In fact, it had retained its color even through my years here as a student and well into my tenure as Hogwarts' resident healer."
Harry nodded knowingly, his thoughts turning turbulent and uncertain once more. "I suspected as much…"
AN: So, as far as an attempt to get back into the writing game, how was it? Should I even go about creating a second chapter, or hit the drawing board and find something more deserving of my time? Originally, I had planned for there to be much more to this first chapter, but my need for reassurance that this wasn't a waste of time grew to get the better of me.
So please, if you feel so inclined, leave a review and tell me what you think…