"It's for Harry's own good," Dumbledore said, and put a finger on the baby's forehead.
Dumbledore got the owl from the Ministry at two o'clock in the afternoon. Strange. Very strange. He considered, momentarily, taking the Philosopher's Stone with him, but - no.
"You are sure it will be safe?" Minerva asked him, yet again.
Dumbledore knew something was not right with the school - something was rotten in the state of Hogwarts. Someone had a little tickle in the back of their mind, but there was no way to tell who. "It will be," Dumbledore said, and then looked down the hallway. "It is in good hands," he added.
Minerva looked doubtful. Dumbledore put a gentle hand on her shoulder. "It is time," he said reflectively, "to see what our unseen adversary has within him."
"Doesn't the second half of that proverb go, 'and ourselves, too', Albus?"
He put on his hat, and selected a few lemon drops for the ride from the dish on his desk. "Indeed," Dumbledore said. "I am off, Minerva. Don't worry. It's about time."
The governors were kicking him out, were they? "I must speak to my phoenix," Dumbledore insisted. "And surely you do not expect me to move out of my home without even a toothbrush."
Lucius Malfoy grudgingly allowed him to visit his office, following behind, cape flowing grandly. Somewhere below the school, the Chamber of Secrets had opened its door - and such doors do not close so easily. There was no way to tell what was inside the Chamber, and yet, and yet--
"If you wouldn't mind," Malfoy cut in, "I would like to get back to London before ten."
Dumbledore gave him a smile he did not feel. Malfoy did not return it. "Of course, I apologize." He put a few more things into the suitcase absently, and then called Fawkes to him. "You must answer his call, if it comes," he murmured to Fawkes. "He will need all the help he can get."
"What's that?" Malfoy asked sharply.
"Everything in good time," Dumbledore replied. The beast within the Chamber of Secrets was something Harry Potter could hear. People could not typically hear animals talk. People believed the boy was going crazy. And yet--
"Let us depart, then," Malfoy replied. "And we shall hope the beast that lurks within the Chamber is silent."
"Yes," Dumbledore said, as they left his office. "Interesting that you do not seem to fear it."
Dumbledore locked his office, tapping the gargoyle on the head twice and whispering a few words for its ears only. Lucius Malfoy tapped his cane on the floor. "I find most legends," he said, "to be mere exaggerations, retold to put fear into the hearts of those who are too foolish to recognize the truth."
"Truth," Dumbledore said. He had already put the sword into its hiding place, given Fawkes his instructions. With a last look at his office, he concluded there was nothing more he could do for Harry but stand aside and let the inevitable come. "I see," Dumbledore said. "I wonder, Lucius, if it isn't a question of knowing the source."
Malfoy turned on his heel, stared at Dumbledore with narrowed eyes. He tapped his cane against the floor, once, twice, three times. Dumbledore suspected that he would like very much to pull his wand out - oh, but what a mistake that would be, and they both knew it. How sad for Lucius to be the lesser of the two of them, Dumbledore thought briefly. At least the reaction proved Malfoy knew what was going on.
Finally, Malfoy said, "Let us go." Dumbledore nodded, amiably enough, and followed him out. The rest would be up to Harry.
Dumbledore stared at Severus Snape, quiet for a very long time. "I believe I have finally found someone capable to fill the Defense Against the Dark Arts position, Severus."
"Have you now." Snape crossed his arms. "It is about time."
Dumbledore said, "I have written to Remus Lupin."
Snape's voice dropped, low and soft, reflective, but nasty. "Have you now," he said.
Dumbledore watched him contain a hurricane of fury. He replied with a smile, "I have. I await his answer."
Snape crossed his arms, carefully staring at a point on the wall above Dumbledore's shoulder. "I could, of course--"
"No," Dumbledore said quietly. He put a hand out, intending to put it on Snape's shoulder. Snape stood there, arms crossed, and Dumbledore lowered his arm. "No, Severus," Dumbledore repeated. "Not yet."
"Of course," Snape bit out, and then picked up the cauldron on the table, turned to the collection of jars and vials behind him. The sad little house was dimly lit and dank, and there was nothing to speak of it being a home. "Lupin is a poor choice, barely capable," Snape said brusquely, and carefully measured out the first ingredient with a steady hand. The cauldrons and vials were the only new things in the entire house.
"He will manage, and I expect that your promise made years ago to keep his affliction to yourself will hold now, Severus," Dumbledore replied. Snape glanced up, eyes narrowed, pursed his lips. "If people should find out--"
Snape cut him off with, "One might doubt the advisability of asking a comrade of Black's to the castle when he is newly escaped from Azkaban, and looking for aid. A comrade who may already pose a threat to the school and its students."
Dumbledore steepled his fingers, eyes fixed on Snape. "The concern has been noted, Severus."
"One might even," Snape added, "question whether such a choice might not be motivated more by the possibility of catching Black." Snape crossed his arms, one over the other, then added, "there are other teachers you might contact, still."
"Severus," Dumbledore said.
"Lupin is foolish and dangerous," Snape answered, brusquely, "but whatever use he'll be to you in catching Black, trustworthy or not, you are welcome to him."
Dumbledore stared into the Pensieve. Right now, the silver bowl reflected only his own eyes; whatever that might mean. Better to contemplate other things, like Fudge at the door. The more Fudge talked, the less Dumbledore wanted to listen. Cornelius Fudge was a wholly different man than when he first took office.
As Fudge and Alastor argued, Dumbledore put the Pensieve away in its cabinet, and neglected to close the door. He was briefly irritated when Moody announced Harry, but when Harry came in, it was obvious that he had more news of the Dark Lord's movements. Sad, and dangerous, that a child should be his most reliable source of news, but he'd take what he could get.
As they stepped out of the office, Dumbledore glanced behind him at the cabinet and Harry, then decided to leave the door open. He followed Fudge and Alastor. They both put him on edge, for some reason, still arguing; something wasn't right. Fudge was consumed by power. Alastor, he was. He was.
Dumbledore continued to walk. Alastor Moody was not himself.
Dumbledore just didn't know who he was, so he let it pass. For now. That was his undoing.
"And you're not going to say anything to Harry about being careful while Umbridge--"
Molly went on; Remus shook his head. Dumbledore continued the meeting, steering conversation away from Harry and the danger at school. Dumbledore knew that everyone at the table had a better opinion on how to help Harry than he did, and the less they dwelt upon that fact, the better. Remus had been the only one not to speak up, but then Remus's thoughts were wide open to such a skilled wizard as Dumbledore. Dumbledore knew that Remus just hated him, didn't even have to read his mind because Remus didn't bother to hide it.
After the meeting, Dumbledore said to Remus, "I will make sure to watch over him."
Remus tilted his head, mouth curved in a pleasant smile. "The forest for the trees," he said to Dumbledore.
Dumbledore sighed quietly. "There are reasons, Remus, for isolating him. You know--"
And Sirius came up to stand behind Remus, put a hand on Remus's shoulder. Sirius's eyes were hard; Remus answered coolly, "Yes, Professor."
Dumbledore looked away, stepped away. They would cooperate, but nowhere on the original Order of the Phoenix binding magical contract did it say they had to like it.
"The boy really is impossible to teach, Dumbledore. He will not master even the slightest piece of Occlumency." Snape paced from his desk to his office door, and back again. Dumbledore watched him calmly. "My efforts are making things worse."
Dumbledore stroked his beard, frowned. "Yes," he said. "Yes, I see how the two of you may have problems with these lessons."
Snape stopped pacing, stared at Dumbledore. He hissed, "I am doing my best. If you would only take over, perhaps he might be able to close his mind. He is more sensitive to the Dark Lord's intrusions than ever--"
Dumbledore stood abruptly. "I am sure you are doing your best, Severus. Continue to do so. That is all."
Severus Snape stared at Dumbledore, then nodded curtly. He didn't argue.
"Oh, Albus," Minerva said, and started to cry again. "I remember Sirius Black as a lad, Albus."
"Yes," Dumbledore said. He remembered a lot of people as lads, as children. He'd told a different someone that their generation was marked for extinction at least three times; they never are. They always are.
"We - we have to do something about Harry, Albus," Minerva said, and blew her nose. "He's never going to be able to handle sitting still. And his aunt and uncle - surely now he can--"
Dumbledore sighed. "It's too risky," he told her. It was also true.
"Are you sure?" Snape said. He paced in front of his desk, a slight frown the only indication he was displeased at all. He added, "I will, but it will make things--"
Dumbledore nodded. "It's time. And I have very little left, anyway. We must try to put Draco in the position to come to us; he can't be asked to do it."
Snape narrowed his eyes. "That is the only reason? It will mean I will--"
Dumbledore looked at him. Snape nodded, curtly. "Of course. How much have you told Potter?" When Dumbledore didn't answer, Snape said casually, "I wonder how much you gambled, sending Potter to his Muggle tormenters. Most children lash out against abuse," Snape said.
"You wouldn't have said that to me ten minutes ago, Severus," Dumbledore said, and smiled sadly. Most children do lash out at abuse; the one standing in front of him still did. "Never mind." Dumbledore cradled his blackened arm to his side. "I have not told Harry about my condition, any of it. I would appreciate it if you did not." A pause, and then, "Harry will find out the truth eventually."
Well, Harry found out a truth, anyway.
Minerva stared up at Dumbledore, shaking. "He's dead? You saw it?"
Dumbledore nodded, taking his glasses off and wiping them on a sooty edge of his robe. His red hair was covered in ash, soot. Remains of the decay. "I have seen Grindelwald dead."
"How did you do it, Albus?" she said, hand pressed to her mouth.
He stared at her. With his glasses off he looked sadder, older than he should. He sighed. "It is not important. It is done. I killed Grindelwald."
There was sadness in Albus Dumbledore's eyes, sadness and resolve. There were no tears. If she was hoping for any more explanation, it wasn't going to come.