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The Darkening of Your Soul

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Chapter 33

As Harry followed Dumbledore through the castle the smile slowly slipped off his face the closer they got to Dumbledore’s office. Harry was well-aware that magically he stood no chance against Dumbledore, no matter he was an eighteen-year-old in a child’s body. In fact, no one save Tom stood a chance against Dumbledore when it came to a one-on-one duel, Harry was sure. Which meant that should Dumbledore want to magically control his sacrificial lamb, there was very little Harry could do about it to stop him.

It took everything Harry had to not reach for the charmed necklace Tom had given him weeks ago when Harry had started receiving his mail. The last thing he wanted was to draw Dumbledore’s attention to the fact he owned and wore a piece of jewellery full of protection charms. The necklace wouldn’t hold off someone like Dumbledore forever, but it would buy Harry some precious seconds should Dumbledore turn his wand on him. Enough time to call for Kreacher to help him. Harry was also sure if he called Dobby he would come and he could go and fetch Tom if need be.

Not that Harry expected Dumbledore to outright attack him, but there were so many subtle and not-so-subtle mind altering spells, everything from compulsion charms all the way up to the imperius curse that Dumbledore might be tempted to magically fix Harry should he not live up to the old man’s expectations.

Having some kind of plan in case the meeting went horribly wrong calmed Harry’s pounding heart at least a little bit, which was a good thing because the gargoyle was just ahead of them. Harry hadn’t been lying when he told Tom he was afraid of Dumbledore. The old man had orchestrated Harry’s entire life up to his untimely death even from beyond the grave. Harry would be a fool if he wasn’t afraid of a man with that kind of power who was determined to see Harry dead at some point in the future.

“After you,” Dumbledore said with a gesture towards the moving stairs after the gargoyle slid aside.

“Thanks,” Harry said politely and kept his expression as close to mildly confused as he could while he purposefully kept his breaths deep and slow as not to give away his nervousness. They rode the stairs in silence and Harry entered the office only the pause in the middle of it, waiting for Dumbledore to start their meeting.

“Take a seat, my boy,” Dumbledore said with a wave of his hand at one of the chairs opposite his desk as he slid into his own chair behind it. “Lemon drop?” Dumbledore held out his candy dish but Harry barely noticed it because he’d just spotted Fawkes sitting on his perch, staring at him with intense, black eyes. Harry stared back as he slowly sat down in his chair opposite the desk. Harry realized Fawkes hadn’t been present in the office the first time Harry had been in there since he’d gotten his second chance. He briefly wondered if Fawkes would notice he really wasn’t an eleven-year-old boy.

“Ah, that is Fawkes,” Dumbledore said with a jovial chuckle. “He’s a phoenix. Extraordinary creatures, phoenixes are. Their tears have healing powers, they can carry heavy burdens and they’re excellent judges of character.”

“Wow,” Harry said, and he didn’t even have to fake his admiration for the magical bird. He’d always liked Fawkes, especially since Fawkes had saved his life in the Chamber of Secrets and had always been helpful. Then again, Fawkes voluntarily spent his time with Dumbledore so that made Harry wonder how intelligent Phoenixes actually were. Perhaps Fawkes knew perfectly well what kind of manipulative asshole Dumbledore really was and he simply didn’t care. “It’s nice to meet you, Fawkes,” Harry said with a shy little smile. Fawkes tilted his head for a few seconds, gazing at him in silence before letting out a musical thrill that seemed to resemble a friendly greeting. Harry did his very best not to release a relieved sigh.

“Now that introductions are out of the way,” Dumbledore said while sitting straight in his chair, lacing his wrinkled fingers together on top of his desk. “Professor McGonagall told me you went to visit Sirius Black in St Mungo’s.”

“Yes, Sir,” Harry said, beaming at the headmaster. “He’s my godfather and he’d been in prison without a trial for years and years before people finally realized he was innocent. It was nice to meet him.”

“Very good, very good,” Dumbledore mumbled while giving Harry a solemn look. “I understand you’ll want to live with Sirius, my boy, but –“

“What?” Harry yelled, shrinking back in his chair. Somewhere in the back of his mind he could practically hear Tom saying not to antagonize the headmaster or treat their interactions like some kind of joke, but Harry couldn’t help himself. He’d figured out the perfect way to deal with Dumbledore’s insistence on meddling with Harry’s custody options. “Why are you trying to make me live with Mr Black? My aunt Petunia always told me that grown men that try to take little boys away from their homes can’t be trusted and that they’ll want to hurt those boys and do very bad sex things with them. I’d like to go now.” And while giving Dumbledore a deeply suspicious look, Harry got up from his chair and walked towards the door, back straight and legs stiff, as if he expected to be attacked any second now.

Dumbledore looked absolutely flabbergasted, which was an expression Harry had never seen before on the headmaster. It was hilarious, but at that moment Harry couldn’t express any hilarity. “Mr Potter, wait,” Dumbledore said, sounding more than a little flustered. Harry paused and narrowed his eyes at him. “I assure you, I’m not trying to lure you away from your family. In fact, I’m thrilled you want to stay with them.”

“Promise?” Harry asked, still offering the headmaster nothing but suspicion and wariness.

“I promise, my boy.” Dumbledore seemed relieved when Harry turned around and shuffled back to his chair. “There is one more thing I wanted to talk to you about.”

“Sure, Headmaster,” Harry said, keeping his posture just a little bit stiff and anxious, as if Dumbledore really had broken any trust Harry might have had in him. Privately, Harry was in stitches and couldn’t wait to tell Tom he’d basically called Dumbledore a paedophile to his face and gotten away with it.

“I heard you’ve started a student club,” Dumbledore said, visibly pulling himself back together to broach this new subject. “I’m not sure if you’re aware, Mr Potter, but official student clubs must be approved in specific ways.”

“Oh, I know, Sir,” Harry said, allowing a little enthusiasm back into his voice and posture. “I got three autographs from three Heads of Houses, just like you’re supposed to.”

Dumbledore’s bushy eyebrows rose while his eyes widened as he peered at Harry through his spectacles. “And where did you get this information?”

Harry offered Dumbledore his brightest smile. “I asked a teacher, of course. They’re here to teach, after all.”

This seemed to surprise Dumbledore. “Who did you approach about this?”

“Professor Binns,” Harry said, and kept his smile in place while he relished Dumbledore’s brief look of shock. “He’s the history professor, so I figured if anyone knows about how to start student clubs, it’s him.” Harry had decided on this strategy some days before, after giving all his options much thought. Binns was the perfect choice to be the scapegoat. He was old enough to have seen Hogwarts’ rulebook first-hand and know the rules and regulations, yet he was distracted enough that if Dumbledore asked him about his talk with Harry which obviously never took place, Binns would probably confirm it anyway or ignore the question entirely until Dumbledore went away. Binns never remembered student names, after all, even ones as famous as Harry’s.

“Ah.” Dumbledore seemed a little embarrassed he hadn’t realized he had staff that still knew the rules and would freely share it with their students when asked. “Well, I’m afraid I’m not sure this club is a good idea.”

“Why not?” Harry asked, making sure he looked visibly upset by that suggestion, lips pursed and eyebrows bunched.

“You and your friends are first-years and you already have lots on your plates,” Dumbledore said in a tone that suggested he was ever so sorry for their circumstances but still insisted they should do what he wanted. Harry was becoming quite familiar with that particular tone of voice. “Perhaps it would be a better idea to postpone this club at least for a few years until you’re older.”

Harry sighed in disappointment. “My friends and I always make sure we finish all our homework before the weekend, Sir. I know my friends are going to be ever so sorry if we can’t have our club because we were all enjoying it so much and we were going to get our families to send us foods and decorations for Christmas. Neville’s gran was so proud of him for being the club’s vice-president, and Susan’s aunt wrote her saying she thought it was an important club to have for first-years.” Harry offered Dumbledore a questioning look. “I wonder what they’ll say when they hear you’re not allowing us our student club even after we did everything right and the club’s proving to be a huge success.”

It was a subtle reminder to Dumbledore that he was already in trouble with the Board of Governors and the Head of Magical Law Enforcement, for both the Fluffy debacle and his possible involvement in the illegal imprisonment of Sirius Black, and that they very well might want to question him officially should he go ahead and forbid a perfectly legitimate student club for ridiculous reasons. Harry wasn’t sure if it would be enough of a threat to get Dumbledore to back off, but it was the only option he had. If Dumbledore insisted on cancelling Harry’s club, Harry would take it to the Board of Governors, and if that wasn’t enough, he’d involve the press.

“I see,” Dumbledore said after a few moments of silence while he gave Harry a contemplative look. Harry smiled politely back. “I suppose we can see how you and your friends keep up with your schoolwork while also running and attending this club. Perhaps until after the Christmas holidays? We can then re-evaluate how you and your friends are holding up.”

Translation: Dumbledore knew well and good he was on thin ice with the Board and Amelia and hoped that by the time the new year came around people would have forgotten about his little Fluffy faux-pas and he could forbid Harry’s new club in peace.

Harry jumped up from his chair. “Thank you, Headmaster. I’ll tell all my friends you’ve given us official permission for our Culture Club! Thanks for the talk. Goodbye!” And without giving Dumbledore a chance to respond other than some incoherent sputtering, Harry ran out of the office and all the way back to the dungeons.

Harry found Blaise and Theo sitting on Blaise’s bed, Quidditch magazines spread out between them, Blaise’ little wireless announcing summaries of all the Quidditch matches that had been played over the weekend.

“How did it go?” Theo asked, moving to the right to make room for Harry.

“So how crazy was he?” Blaise offered Harry an expectant look while Harry sat down with his friends.

“He’s surprisingly sane, at least on the surface,” Harry said honestly. Sirius had been very lucid and put-together, especially when compared to his demeanour when he’d escaped Azkaban in Harry’s third year. Perhaps being let out two years early did make a huge difference. Or perhaps receiving immediate medical care is what caused this improvement. Or perhaps both. “He was nice enough, happy to see me.”

“That’s good,” Theo said, seemingly genuinely interested in Harry’s situation. Blaise was paging through a magazine, apparently paying little attention, but Harry suspected this had a lot to do with Blaise’s very skewed experiences with adult male authority figures in his life, far more than genuinely not caring about Harry’s situation.

“Yeah, I’m happy I got to meet him. We’ve agreed to write letters, and I’ll visit him around Yule for a few days,” Harry said and released a deep sigh. He genuinely was relieved this first part of his reintroduction with his godfather had gone relatively smoothly. “Oh, and I got to meet Draco’s auntie.”

Theo looked at Harry with a deep, slightly worried frown. “Isn’t she in Azkaban?”

“Auntie Bella is in Azkaban, yes, thank fuck for small favours,” Harry said, grinning. “But Auntie Andromeda was visiting with her cousin while I was there. She’s very nice, nothing like Draco’s side of the family.”

“Wasn’t she disinherited when she married a mud –“ Blaise snapped his mouth shut when Harry whipped his head around and gave Blaise his filthiest glare.

“Yes,” Harry said slowly, keeping Blaise locked in place with just his gaze. “She married Ted Tonks, a muggleborn and together they have a daughter, Nymphadora Tonks, who just started her Auror training. She’s really nice. A lot of fun. And a metamorphmagus to boot.”

“Really?” Theo sat up a little while even Blaise seemed at least somewhat impressed. “I’d heard rumours but I wasn’t sure if it was true.”

“Completely true. She can shapeshift like it’s going out of style. Really amazing and dead useful in her line of work,” Harry said, happy enough to share what he knew about Tonks’ abilities. He’d always liked her and he’d always admired that particular talent of hers.

“Strange it should be her to have that ability,” Blaise muttered, to no one in particular. “It’s always been a trait of the Black family, or at least it used to be. I don’t think anyone in the Black family has been born with it for at least a century.”

“Except that someone has,” Harry said pointedly. He couldn’t express how happy he was Blaise had brought this up. It was something he and Hermione had debated at length during their year spent living in a tent in the middle of nowhere. “Tonks is a member of the Black family, but instead of being the product of generations of inbreeding, she is the product of some fresh magical blood being added to her line.”

“Huh,” Theo said, staring at his knees with a very contemplative look. Harry wanted jump up and do a little victory dance but he controlled himself. He was aware it would take more that just this to break his friends’ pureblood brainwashing, but Harry knew that little seeds of doubt like the ones he was planting now would one day grow and help his friends learn to think for themselves and learn to view the world rationally.

“Yes, yes,” Blaise said with a dismissive little wave. “You’re about to tell us that mixing in mud- …muggleborns into old, pure families is somehow better for future generations or some such rot.”

“Because it is,” Harry said, leaning forward and holding up a hand. He began ticking off his fingers one by one. “Who do we know who are magically much more powerful than average? Me? Half-blood. Snape? Half-blood. McGonagall? Half-blood. Dumbledore? Half-blood.” Harry paused for a moment before he delivered his biggest truth bomb. “The Dark Lord? Half-blood.”

“No, he’s not,” Blaise said at once, looking to Theo to agree with him.

But Theo had a knowing look on his face and offered Harry a small smile. “My father went to school with the Dark Lord and he’s always been candid with me about who the Dark Lord was, though warning me to keep that knowledge to myself.” He shook his head as he looked from Harry to Blaise. “But since Harry’s let the niffler out of the bag already, yes, Blaise, I can confirm that the Dark Lord is in fact a half-blood. His father was a muggle, his mother a Gaunt. Direct descendants from Salazar Slytherin himself.”

“And inbred to the point of insanity,” Harry felt compelled to add. “Seriously, the Dark Lord should be bloody grateful his father was a muggle, otherwise he’d likely have been born a squib. His poor mother had barely more magic than your average squib to begin with.”

Blaise looked between Harry and Theo and back, his nostrils flaring, lips pinched. “How do you know all this? I get that Theo’s father shared information with him, but where are you getting yours, Harry?”

Harry swallowed, having not prepared an answer for this. How to explain his knowledge in a realistic way without saying too much. Blaise was far too smart, even young as he was, to accept an answer that didn’t make any sense. Then again, Harry could just tell his friends the truth they were going to tell the world anyway. Sometimes this week Tom and Barty were going to announce their existence on the front page of the newspaper, after all. That was, if the Daily Prophet got off their arses and ran the article already.

Pulling his wand free, Harry gave both Blaise and Theo a significant look. He closed the bedcurtains around them with a flick of his wand and added a bunch of privacy spells.

“What I’m about to tell you stays between us, at least for the time being, all right?” Harry said, placing his wand in his lap and clasping his hands on top of it.

Theo and Blaise nodded quietly, apparently sufficiently impressed by Harry’s quick and silent spell-work they didn’t feel like questioning his demands.

“During the summer I made a friend in the Quidditch store in Diagon Alley. An adult, late twenties I think, who taught me how to fly. His name is Bartholomew Crouch.”

“Related to…” Blaise said while he arched an eyebrow.

“Yep, second cousin to Barty Crouch Sr, that department head who died this summer. Anyway, through this new Barty I met a fellow named Thomas Gaunt, also somewhere in his twenties. We became friends as well and have been keeping in touch,” Harry said matter-of-factly. “He’s the one who’s told me all these things.”

“Gaunt,” Theo said while giving Harry a wide-eyed look. “How closely related do you think he is?”

“Very closely,” Harry said with a mysterious little smile. He wasn’t about to confirm or deny anything else just yet. Let Theo and Blaise wonder about Tom’s identity for a while, before anything was made official and public.

“Anyway, I’ve got a letter to write to my godfather and then I’m turning in for the night. It’s been a long day,” Harry said while cancelling the spells around Blaise’s bed. He hopped off the bed, leaving his friends staring after him with their mouths hanging open.

Harry got washed and changed into his pyjamas, and penned a quick letter to his godfather while seated on his own bed protected by a dozen privacy charms. He’d send it off first thing in the morning, but he wanted to assure his godfather that he’d stay in touch and he wanted to drive some of the seeds of doubt he’d planted earlier in deeper. He mentioned his talk with Dumbledore, how strange he thought the man acted and how he really had no business interfering with their lives since he was just the headmaster of a school.

After finishing his letter and stuffing it in his schoolbag, Harry lay down under his covers and got out his mirror.

“Soulmate!” Harry chirped the moment Tom answered. “You’ll never guess what I said to Dumbledore this evening.”

Tom’s sigh was filled with the kind of exasperation and reluctant amusement he usually displayed when Harry mentioned anything to do with Dumbledore and their interactions. “And good evening to you, too, my dear. I’m sure you’ll tell me. In great detail.”

“Yes!” Harry said and did just that, leaving out no detail of his chat with the old man. “So I basically called him a paedophile to his face and all Dumbledore did was look very, very flustered.”

Tom chuckled while shaking his head. “This is a memory you’ll have to share over the holidays when we can make use of Dorus’ pensieve.”

“Consider it done,” Harry said, still snickering while remembering the look on Dumbledore’s face. “And I got him to back down about our Culture Club while blaming Binns for getting the word out about how to create student clubs.”

“That was very clever and inspired, to use Binns as the scapegoat,” Tom admitted with a rather proud look.

“Why, thank you,” Harry replied with what he hoped was a small little bow. It was difficult to do while lying in bed, propped up on a pillow.

“How was Black doing?” Tom asked once they finally got over their amusement concerning Dumbledore.

“Better than I expected. He still needs time to recover, but he was in much better shape physically and mentally than in my third year in our previous lives,” Harry said while Tom nodded along. “I guess spending two years less in Azkaban and getting medical treatment did him good. I also met the Tonks’ and Lupin, briefly. And I treated Hagrid to dinner at McDonalds.”

Tom’s sigh was one of slight disbelief this time. “You took an eight-and-a-half foot half-giant to eat at McDonalds, which I am to understand is as close to actual garbage as muggles have managed to make food.”

Harry laughed, loudly, while clutching his belly, at seeing Tom’s expression of complete incongruity. “It’s not that bad, really. I’m sure there’s better restaurants out there, but Dudley always wanted McDonalds and I never got any. So now I’m finally able to eat it whenever I want.”

Tom glanced down while nodding in understanding. It was nice to talk to someone who understood such random urges stemming from a neglectful childhood. “And did you finalize any custody agreements with your godfather?”

“Sort of,” Harry said with a small shrug. “Sirius wanted to me move in right away, but thankfully Andromeda Tonks was there to be the voice of reason. We’ve agreed I’m visiting a few days around Yule and any other decisions will be postponed to at least the summer holidays.”

“That’s good,” Tom said with a warm, pleased smile. “Though I would prefer it if you spent Yule itself with us.”

Warmth flooded Harry’s chest and belly at the idea of Tom wanting him to spend the actual holidays with them. “Yeah, that’s fine. I’ll just tell Sirius I’ll be spending those days with my family and I’ll visit him right after. That should be all right.” And it was kind of the truth, too, as Harry considered it those days. Tom and Barty really were the closest thing he had to a family right then, but Harry felt far too embarrassed about such emotions to mention any of that to Tom.

“Good, it’s settled then,” Tom said with no small amount of finality, and somehow the warm feeling in Harry’s chest got warmer still. They spent another thirty minutes or so chatting about Harry’s visit to Sirius and about what Barty had been up to and some things Tom was working on and then they finally called it a night.

The next morning Harry sat down in the great hall with anticipation buzzing around his belly, but alas, the Daily Prophet wanted to milk the current scandal for a little while longer before hanging Lockhart out to dry.

WHO SHOULD PAY FOR THIS SIRIUS MISTAKE?
By Rita Skeeter

Harry ate his oatmeal porridge and toast with strawberry jam while perusing the article. Skeeter left no one blameless, naming the previous Minister for Magic, Millicent Bagnold, as a main perpetrator of injustice, along with the late Bartemius Crouch Sr and the current Chief Warlock Albus Dumbledore. Fudge, surprisingly, was hailed a hero for finally getting Sirius a trial, even though Harry knew that was all Amelia Bones’ doing. Well, he couldn’t expect Skeeter to report the whole truth, now could he? She had gotten it right about who to blame for Sirius’ illegal imprisonment, surprisingly.

“The Weasley twins are awake,” Draco announced as he all but threw himself onto the bench opposite Harry. Vince and Greg sat down on either side of him, starting on breakfast at once while Draco took his time to serve himself some substandard tea while making sure he had the attention of everyone around him.

“They woke up late last night and immediately got into bed together and they’ve been clinging to each other ever since,” Draco said, his smile morphing into a smirk. “I bet they got brain damage from that curse and now think they’re babies.”

Harry stared at Draco while several thoughts spun through his head. First, how was Draco getting all that kind of information? Had Draco always been this big of a gossip and had Harry simply not noticed in his previous life? And how close of a relationship with Filch did Draco have, since Harry suspected it was the caretaker that fed Draco all the local Hogwarts news somehow?

And then Harry remembered what Draco himself had said about Harry and his temporary brain damage and he felt like giving Draco another set of donkey ears, but he restrained himself. The middle of the great hall during breakfast was not the place to hex your fellow students.

“Yes, thank you, Draco,” Blaise drawled beside Harry while not even bothering to look up from his bowl of porridge. “How utterly fascinating.”

Harry said nothing but finished his breakfast while Draco retold the story to anyone who would listen again and again. Checking his watch, Harry realized he had half an hour until Herbology started. “I’ll see you in class,” he said to Theo and Blaise, and without offering any further explanation, Harry grabbed his bag and took off to the hospital wing.

While he walked through the castle at a clipped pace, Harry wasn’t even sure why he was going to see the twins, just that he felt like he should make it clear to them that they shouldn’t attempt to do something as utterly idiotic again, especially aimed at Harry himself. Harry would much rather spent some time lecturing the twins, than having to try to hold Tom and his curses back should the twins accidentally hurt him again. They might even be thinking about getting revenge for the nightmare curse or something.

Harry pushed the door to the infirmary open without making a sound. He quickly checked for Pomfrey but didn’t see her about. Then he slipped inside and rushed towards the bed holding the twins.

Draco hadn’t been lying about them clinging to each other and at once Harry knew what kind of nightmares they’d lived through over and over again during the last two to three weeks.

Harry well remembered the unearthly sounds of George’s desperate sobs as he hung in his father’s arms like a limp ragdoll during Fred’s funeral. All Harry could think of back then was that George sincerely looked like he wanted to be just as dead as Fred was. Harry didn’t think he’d ever seen a person look like that before.

Now the twins had similar expressions. Utter desperation and loss was written all over their pale, wan faces.

“I’m not going to draw this out,” Harry said as he stopped at the foot of the bed containing the twins holding onto each other for dear life. “You killed me. Simple as that. If it wasn’t for magic and a few very talented witches and wizards, I would have stayed dead.”

“We didn’t mean to do that,” George whispered, his voice hoarse.

“And yet that is still what happened,” Harry said reasonably. “Actions have consequences. You decided to violently attack an eleven year old during a game. That eleven year old got his skull cracked open. And you got to spend two weeks living your worst nightmares.” Harry offered the twins a sharp little smile. “No, I didn’t cast that curse or had anyone cast it for me. But there are plenty of people out there willing to extract vengeance on my behalf, apparently.”

“We’ll leave you alone,” Fred whispered, voice just as rasping as his twins’.

“Excellent,” Harry said, beaming at the twins. “That is all I wanted to know. I wish you a speedy recovery.” And with that, Harry turned on his heels and marched out the door. He made it to greenhouse one just in time.

The rest of the day Harry attended classes like usual and later in the library he answered his friends’ questions about his visit with the infamous Sirius Black and yes, Hannah, he really is innocent, and no, Hannah, he’s really not going to murder anyone in their sleep.

The next morning, Harry sat down at breakfast with a sort of anxious desperation brewing in his gut. Was the Daily Prophet finally going to run the story on Lockhart and Tom? Dumbledore was seated at the head table, so if the Prophet finally delivered, Harry got to see his expression and eventually share it with Tom.

An unassuming tawny owl dropped the paper in Harry’s lap and Harry unrolled it with trembling fingers.

GILDEROY LOCKHART ARRESTED FOR FRAUD
By Rita Skeeter.

Below that headline and the main article, about halfway down the front page, was another headline with picture.

CROUCH AND GAUNT FIND PRICELESS RAVENCLAW’S DIADEM

A brightly smiling Tom and Barty waved at Harry from the picture and Harry was tempted to wave back but controlled himself. Around him students were exclaiming in shock about yet another scandal being publicized.

“Is that the bloke you mentioned the other day?” Theo whispered in Harry’s ear while he read the paper over his shoulder.

But Harry ignored him for now, and raised his head up to look at Dumbledore.