Albus Dumbledore was not having a good year. He was missing his phoenix, the creature he’d allowed everyone to think was his familiar, and had been having quite the time of it when it came to trying to explain where the phoenix had gone and why it wasn’t with him. Even some of his own people were suspicious, and noises were beginning to be made by various others about it as well. So far he’d been able to quell most of the rumors through a variety of means, from starting rumors of his own to out-and-out blackmail, but if he wasn’t able to do something about the situation before word of it reached the Ministry of Magic – who could actually test to see if Fawkes had been his familiar or not – he could be in a great deal of trouble, perhaps even facing an investigation.
And even worse, if they started to investigate him they might discover that he’d lost Harry Potter, the child popularly known as ‘The Boy Who Lived’ and who was particularly important to the Wizarding world. As a baby Harry had survived an attack by the Dark Lord, Voldemort and had been marked but not killed by the Killing Curse, which had rebounded off of the protections his mother had put on him – ‘with her love’, as the story went – and killed Voldemort instead. There was more to it than that, though, and the rest was a story Albus could not afford to have anyone discover. Lord Voldemort had been steadily gaining power in Wizarding Britain, through both politics and violence, when Albus had been made aware of a little-known prophecy regarding a male child who would be able to kill a ‘Dark Lord’. The original prophecy was very general and could have pointed to a good many different people and events, but once Albus had let it be known in less-than-regular circles that he thought the prophecy referred to their very own Dark Lord, and then drew attention to the families of two infant boys born in the correct part of the correct month by taking steps to ‘protect’ them, Voldemort had become convinced that one of two boys had to be the answer to the prophecy and had immediately set out to kill them. One boy’s parents had been tortured into complete insanity for concealing their son’s whereabouts, and and the other’s – Harry Potter’s – had both been killed. Albus hadn’t been able to do anything about the Longbottom boy aside from a very subtle curse to stunt his magic – he was in the custody of his grandmother, who had little use for Albus on a good day - but he had been able to take some very particular steps with little Harry to make sure the child wouldn’t become a threat to him but would be readily available when Albus needed to produce him at Hogwarts in his eleventh year.
And then Harry had disappeared, and so had the aunt and uncle Albus had put him in the custody of, and the only thing the old wizard knew for sure was that the boy was protected by a phenomenally strong Fidelius charm somewhere. In an act of desperation which had cost him the calling in of several markers which were owed to him, Albus had even arranged for the boy’s godfather to escape from prison, hoping Sirius Black might sniff the missing boy out for them…but the aurors who had been chasing Black had lost him as well and now Albus was back to square one in his search.
Or was he? Because something had bothered Albus about the disappearance of Sirius Black, who had vanished in the Muggle world after leading the aurors on quite the chase through the English countryside. Was it possible the Fidelius was there? It didn’t seem likely, that entire area was populated by Muggles…but maybe that’s what the people hiding young Harry from him had been counting on. So Albus had started carefully, painstakingly combing over maps of that part of the country, and finally he’d found an area that showed up on Muggle maps but not on his – although on the Muggle maps, the entire thing looked blurry to him and the names were in gibberish. It was a relatively large area, but one side of it also happened to coincide with the general area Sirius Black had disappeared in. It had to be the place, it just had to be.
Albus waited until he had a free week-end, told Professor McGonagall that he was going to visit someone, and headed for the vague north-western side of the place whose name he couldn’t pronounce. After a little traipsing around he finally found the edge of the barrier, and after activating a charm that was mostly unknown but known to be highly illegal to those who did know about it, he was able to cross said barrier into the protected area.
Which was still in the middle of Muggle nowhere. Farmland stretched as far as his eyes could see, there weren’t any paths or roads visible, and although the scenery was pretty enough Albus wasn’t there to sightsee. He cast a spell to see how many wizards were in the area and found only one nearby, so he set off walking in that direction. If he was correct, that wizard would either be Harry Potter or one of the people who had taken him, and either way he’d have found what he was looking for and would be able to deal with it as necessary.
It took him about an hour of walking, which he didn’t enjoy, but finally he spotted a young boy playing near a copse of trees. The boy spotted him at about the same time and froze, but Albus waved and the boy didn’t run away. The old wizard approached him carefully all the same, smiling his best twinkling smile and projecting his best non-threatening demeanor. “I say, you wouldn’t know a young man named Harry Potter, would you?” he called out.
That made the boy take a step back, so Albus stopped his approach and contrived to look even more non-threatening. “No need to be frightened, young man, I’m not going to harm you! But I was looking for the son of some former students of mine, James and Lily Potter…and I must say, you look quite a bit like James, with that messy hair.”
That got him a scowl. “It just grows like that.”
“So did your father’s,” Albus told him. He bowed, using the gesture to get another couple of steps closer without looking like he was doing it. “I am Professor Albus Dumbledore. You are Harry, are you not?”
“My name is Harry Angel,” the boy corrected him, still suspicious. “Uncle Nick and Uncle Danny adopted me. My mother and father died when I was a baby.”
“Yes, they did – and it was a very sad say for all of us, they were wonderful people. I am so sorry you never got to know them,” Albus commiserated. “But actually, it’s because of them that I came here, looking for you. I don’t know who these uncles are, but you were supposed to be living with your mother’s sister, your Aunt Petunia. I don’t suppose she’s here, is she?”
Harry shook his head. “I haven’t lived with her since I was little,” he said. “And Uncle Nick was my mother’s cousin.”
Hmm, that might explain the Fidelius, then, at least in part; it wouldn’t explain why it was so large and strong, but that could be investigated later. Albus looked the boy in front of him over, critically. No wand, dressed in common Muggle clothing, and there was a little black bird on his shoulder which was most likely a self-bonded familiar. As if in response to that thought, the bird opened its little yellow beak and squawked at him. He pasted on a fake smile, glad that the boy’s familiar was relatively innocuous. “I see your little friend is protective of you, Harry,” he said in a kind, approving voice. “That is very good. Did he just come to you one day?”
“Yes,” Harry told him. “He came to be my friend.”
“I’m sure you needed him,” Albus said sympathetically. “It is so very difficult to be all alone, surrounded by people who, although their intentions may be good, can never have a hope of understanding you.” The boy’s green eyes narrowed; the bird, mirroring his feelings, shook its feathers in an agitated fashion. Yes, definitely his familiar. “I didn’t mean any offence to your guardian, Harry,” he soothed quickly. “But you need to be with people who are like you, other wizards and witches. And you need to be trained to control the magic that is within you, trained to use it, eventually to master it. You were supposed to come to Hogwarts, the premier academy of wizardry in Britain, as soon as you turned eleven; your parents had arranged that from the time you were born. I suppose you’ve never heard of Hogwarts?”
Harry cocked his head, frowning a little. “I got three letters from your school, they were delivered by owls,” he said slowly. “The obvious deficiencies of your school made my uncles decide that my going there wouldn’t be good for my future.”
That was a surprise. “Obvious…my boy, Hogwarts is Britain’s premier magical academy! We’ve been training young wizards and witches for hundreds of years. And how can you expect to achieve anything in your life without a proper education?”
“Your school doesn’t offer a proper education, sir,” Harry said flatly, albeit politely. “No maths, no computers…you don’t offer any courses that are required if I want to get into university.”
Albus was slightly confused. He knew what a university was, but he’d thought they were institutions mostly reserved for children of the landed gentry. “But Harry, why would you want to do that?” he asked.
The boy blinked at him. “Because without a university degree,” he said slowly, “I can’t qualify for the Academy.”
“So I can become a police officer.” He said it like it should be obvious. “I haven’t decided yet whether I want to be in the uniformed branch or CID, but I still have plenty of time to make up my mind about that.”
Albus tried to process that and failed miserably. He latched on to the one term he’d actually recognized and understood and tried again. “Actually, Hogwarts can prepare you to take the exam to become an auror – which I believe is approximately the same as a police officer,” he attempted. “You wouldn’t need to waste time in a university, or at an academy. You could go straight into the job after you graduate.”
Harry frowned again. “I don’t see how that could be, given the courses you offered in the letter. There was no science at all, and I’d have to have at least the basics of that to pass my A-levels and enter the more advanced forensics studies at university.” He cocked his head. “You just don’t understand any of this at all, do you?”
“I…” Albus started to lie, then thought better of it. “Well, no,” he admitted. “Our world doesn’t operate the same way this one does, Harry. So we do things differently. Our way works very well for us, however, and that’s how I know it will work for you as well.”
“But I live in this world,” Harry pointed out. “Not yours.”
“Ah, but you belong in ours,” Albus pointed out kindly, eyes twinkling. “You’re one of us, Harry, you’re a wizard – just like your mother and father were a witch and a wizard. Who both went to Hogwarts, by the way. And they wanted you to go there as well. You’ll be following in their footsteps, keeping up the family legacy.”
Harry shrugged. “That’s what I plan to do here. Uncle Nick and Uncle Danny are both police officers, and so were both of their fathers.”
“Yes, I understand…but they aren’t your parents.”
Albus realized his mistake the moment the words left his lips. The boy’s green eyes darkened and he took a step back, and the bird on his shoulder made a truly awful noise. “They’re the best parents anyone could want,” he said coldly. “And I think you should go, Professor Dumbledore.”
“He’s right, you should.” The new voice made Albus start. A slender blond man in dark glasses stepped out of the shadows of the trees, scowling. “Professor Dumbledore. I’d think that even with a system as flawed and inefficient as yours, you would realize after three rejected invitations that we weren’t interested in sending Harry to your school.”
Albus frowned, taking a stern tone. “It is what’s best for Harry. Surely you’d noticed by now that there was something…different about him? He absolutely must receive proper training, if he doesn’t the results could be disastrous.”
“I’m sure for you they could be.” Another man stepped out, this one stocky and dark haired, but wearing the same dark glasses and the same scowl. “An’ how dare you say we’re not his parents! We may not have given birth to him, but he’s our son – on paper, and in our hearts.” That had Harry dashing into his arms, and the man let him burrow into a protective hug, patting his back soothingly. “It’s okay, Harry, it’s okay. Remember what your Uncle Nick’s told you, about how them psycho types will try to get inside your head? That’s what this guy’s doin’.”
The little black bird had fluttered off of Harry’s shoulder, and after a little more noise and some swooping it came to rest again…on the blond man’s shoulder, where it opened its beak again and squawked, “Bad man, bad man!”
Albus was taken aback. First, because the bird had talked, and second, because it had landed on someone other than Harry and a Muggle to boot. His eyes narrowed. If this man was Lily Potter’s cousin, he supposed it was possible the man was actually a squib, not a Muggle. Which would explain some things. He twitched his robes, wishing the man were not wearing dark glasses so that he might use a bit of Legilimancy and find out how much he actually knew. He focused back on the bird. “You might have a bit of a problem there,” he stated. “That may be an anim…a person masquerading as an animal, and it could be quite dangerous.”
“It’s a mynah bird,” Nick told him with some asperity, and Albus recognized the tone Harry had used on him just moments earlier. “They’re like parrots, they can reproduce human speech to a certain extent. It isn’t an animagus, if that’s the word you were trying to avoid using.”
All right, the blond man was definitely a squib, and Albus wondered if that was part of the problem. “My good sir, if you know that much about magic, then you must know why it is imperative that young wizards receive proper training. Without that, without the discipline being imparted to him, Harry could grow up to become the worst kind of…”
The man moved so quickly that he was standing right in front of Albus before another word could be said. “You will not complete that sentence,” he hissed. “You bigoted, pompous, greedy old man. Even in your own world, I seriously doubt it’s acceptable for you to approach a minor child with intent to lure that child away from its family. My partner and I are well aware of what Harry can do. We sought out and found sources to train him from, and as to discipline that has everything to do with moral fibre and a clear understanding of right and wrong and very little to do with a secret boarding school in Scotland run by a man who puts his own agenda over the welfare of a child.” He smiled then, and it was chilling. “I know you, sir,” he all but whispered. “I know exactly what sort of monster you are; it’s all about ‘the greater good’, isn’t it? Well, we took care of the last bunch around here who thought that way, and compared to them you’re more of an annoyance than a threat.”
Against his will and all common sense, Albus felt a stirring of fear. He licked his dry lips. “These…sources you found. They wouldn’t happen to wear robes with hoods and masks, would they?”
A short, sharp burst of laughter. “No, that was what I put a stop to. We’ll be having no more of that in my jurisdiction.”
“Why’d you think it’s a ‘who’,” Danny asked. Harry was still tucked against his side, under his arm. “There’s books an’ videos aplenty for that.”
Books Albus knew; video he wasn’t too sure about, but decided that asking would only take them off on a tangent. “Harry needs a wand,” he tried again. “Without a wand, he can’t…”
“Yes, he can – so could you, I’d wager, if you hadn’t been conditioned to be dependent on a wand,” Nick corrected him. “And he does have a wand.”
That was somewhat of a relief. “Might I see it?”
“No.” The answer was very flat. “I’m not sure you wouldn’t try to do something to it, to be honest. The same way I believe you’d like to get rid of Harry’s familiar – your expression when you look at him is unmistakable. Not what’s suitable, is he?”
Albus shook his head. “No. True familiars are magical creatures; that is simply a bird, whether it can mimic human speech or not.” The bird ruffled up its feathers and squawked at him, and he made a face. “I can see that Harry has bonded to it, but…”
“But nothin’,” came from Danny, who still had an arm around Harry’s shoulders. “Who’re you to say what’s a right familiar and what’s not, eh? Seems to me, from what we’ve read, that a true familiar is one that bonds with a person what uses magic. None of the books said nothin’ about what kind of animal it could be. And we know that Harry’s is a rare one, not too many magic users have got one like his.”
The little black bird responded to this as well, taking off and circling the group while making a noise that sounded like laughter. Albus made a face and dismissed the issue of the self-bonded familiar for the time being. “Might I inquire as to what books you have been using, and where you acquired them?” he asked. “At the very least, I would like to have some idea of where you believe Harry to be in his magical studies, and how he got there.”
“I don’t see how that is any of your business,” Nick informed him in a chill voice. “Whether you would like it to be or not. We have already told you that Harry will not be attending your school, and every word you have said since you got here tells me that our decision was definitely the correct one. In fact, I believe it would be best if you were to leave now.”
Albus frowned at him. “I simply cannot do that,” he said. “Harry is…a very important person, it is imperative that he receives proper training, that he takes his place in our society. I had not wanted to do this, but…”
What he had intended to do was to draw his wand and Stupefy both men and the boy, then use a memory charm on all three, after which they would all believe that they had agreed it was best that Harry leave for Hogwarts with Albus immediately. It was a very simple plan, and one that a wizard of Albus Dumbledore’s caliber should have been able to accomplish with ease.
What actually happened was that Albus tried to draw his wand, and the next thing he knew he was on the ground and the blond man had the wand in his hand, while the dark haired one had pushed Harry behind him and drawn some sort of weapon. The blond was scowling. “You did not just try to assault a police officer, did you?” he asked, making it sound as though he thought no one could possibly be that stupid. “You do realize that would be a crime, for which I’d have to take you to jail.”
Albus was too shocked to answer. He knew this squib law enforcement officer had laid hands on him, he just couldn’t figure out how it had happened. And the bird was having what sounded like hysterics, which wasn’t helping him think at all. Albus climbed slowly back to his feet, attempting to straighten his robes out and shake them off at the same time. His eyes were on his wand. He could summon the wand to him, he knew, but he wasn’t at all sure that he could get it back into his hand before the blond man could react; he didn’t think the man had used magic, but he wasn’t entirely sure. And he certainly didn’t want to end up on the ground again, it was…undignified. “I do apologize, I lost my temper,” he said stiffly. “You must understand that I truly am concerned for Harry’s welfare. He had been placed with his mother’s sister and her husband...”
“He was removed from their custody due to severe abuse and neglect,” Nick snapped. “I know what you did to the local council to keep him in that situation, and if there were a way I could see you prosecuted for it I would have done so years ago. Be very glad that we want nothing to do with your isolated community of wizards, because I’m sure your own authorities would be very interested in your actions as concerning my nephew’s welfare following the death of his parents.” He cocked his head. “And I believe Harry had a godfather, did he not? Whatever happened to him?”
Albus pulled a distressed face. “I am surprised your contacts with our world did not inform you. Harry’s godfather, one Sirius Black, was sent to prison for life for the betrayal and murder of the Potters.”
If he’d thought this would sway the law enforcement officer’s opinion, he was surprised to be mistaken. Nick hmmd and cocked his head. “What was the outcome of his trial?”
Albus hesitated. He did know enough about muggle life to know that trials were as much a part of the law for them as they were for wizards, so he would need to phrase his explanation carefully. “Well, you see, due to several truly terrible atrocities which had occurred – our world was being terrorized by a dark wizard at the time – public sentiment was such that…”
“So you locked the man who would most likely have been Harry’s legal guardian up without a trial, why am I not surprised,” Nick interrupted him. He leaned just a bit closer, the dark glasses he was wearing making this slight gesture much more intimidating than it might have been otherwise. “I do not know what your exact agenda is, old man,” he hissed. “But you can find yourself another pawn to use, because Harry will not be used by you again.”
“Turn around and leave now,” Danny ordered coldly; he still had his gun pointed at the man’s chest. “You walked in here, you should be able to walk right back out.” He pointed with his free hand. “Two miles that way, then five steps east past the blue barn and you can flash yourself back to Scotland where you belong.”
“Or option number two, we can confiscate your wand and haul you in for evaluation,” Nick added. “I’m sure the psychiatrists at NHS will have no trouble understanding when you tell them you’re a wizard and you came here to take our son off to a secret boarding school in Scotland with you.”
“They’ll give you a nice room and everything,” Danny agreed, although his grin was still about half scowl. “So, one or two?”
Albus seethed. Apparently these men knew quite a bit more about the magical world than he’d expected – they knew that he couldn’t reveal the existence of magic to Muggles, and they knew he couldn’t Apparate from inside the barrier provided by the Fidelius charm. He dipped his head jerkily. “I’ll go, thank you,” he grated, and took a step back. “My wand?”
“We’ll have it brought to you once you get to the blue barn,” Nick told him. “Go on, start walking. We’ve better things to do than stand around dealing with you.”
Albus took another step back and started to turn, then stopped. “You’re just a squib!” he insisted, sounding somewhat put out about it. He waved a hand at the surrounding countryside. “This is the strongest Fidelius anyone has seen in hundreds of years, how in the world did you manage that?”
And the blond man smiled, which was both surprising and frightening at the same time. He strolled over to Danny and Harry, putting his arm around them both. “Love,” he said simply. “It’s the most powerful force in the world, you know…or maybe you don’t.”
Albus turned without another word and started walking, contempt rolling off of him in waves. Love! Popular nonsense, that’s what it was. He would figure out what was really going on, and then his plans could proceed as they’d been intended to from the beginning. And maybe, just maybe, he could even make use of this large protected enclosure himself once he had cracked the secret of its creation.
From the shadowed branches of the trees along his route, round yellow eyes watched him, disapproving of his presence in their new and very comfortable home, making sure he left the same way he’d come in and didn’t do anything else along the way. One of them flew out once he’d reached the barrier and dropped his wand on the other side of it – from about fifty feet up, and over a very muddy patch of ground, so they could all watch him scramble madly to try to catch it. He tried to use his little trick to get back through the barrier to get at them, but the barrier wouldn’t let him through a second time and in fact rebounded him back nearly into the mud again when he tried it, so he was forced to Apparate away muddy and fuming to the chorus of a trio of laughing owls.