The Prime Minister sank, weak-kneed, into the nearest chair. The idea of invisible creatures swooping through the towns and countryside, spreading despair and helplessness in his voters, made him feel quite faint.
You did not do as I asked. You have never treated Harry as a son. He has known nothing but neglect and often cruelty at your hands. The best that can be said is that he has at least escaped the appalling damage you have inflicted upon the unfortunate boy sitting between you.
“Is he…Do you think he’s good?” asked Harry.
“An interesting question,” said Dumbledore. “He is able, certainly. A more decisive and forceful personality than Cornelius.”
“Yes, but I meant – “
[Harry] could not quite keep a note of derision out of his voice; it was hard to sympathize with Slughorn’s cosseted existence when he remembered Sirius, crouching in a cave and living on rats. “Most of the teachers aren’t in it, and none of them has ever been killed – well, unless you count Quirrell, and he got what he deserved seeing as he was working with Voldemort.”
He used to handpick favorites at Hogwarts, sometimes for their ambition or their brains, sometimes for their charm or their talent, and he had an uncanny knack for choosing those who would go on to become outstanding in their various fields. Horace formed a kind of club of his favorites with himself at the center, making introductions, forging useful contacts between members, and always reaping some kind of benefit in return…
In spite of the feeling of dread that had just swept through him, his spirits could not help but lift at the sight of it. Ron was in there…and so was Mrs. Weasley, who could cook better than anyone he knew…
His eyes burned suddenly and he blinked. He felt stupid for admitting it, but the fact that he had had someone outside Hogwarts who cared what happened to him, almost like a parent, had been one of the best things about discovering his godfather…and now the post owls would never bring him that comfort again…
Harry did not really listen. A warmth was spreading through him…He knew that Ron and Hermione were more shocked than they were letting on, but the mere fact that they were still there on either side of him, speaking bracing words of comfort, not shrinking from him as though he were contaminated or dangerous, was worth more than he could ever tell them.
Moreover, it had seemed the right destiny for him since he had heard the prophecy a few weeks ago…Neither can live while the other survives…Wouldn’t he be living up to the prophecy, and giving himself the best chance of survival, if he joined those highly trained wizards whose job it was to find and kill Voldemort?
It would have been a happy, peaceful holiday had it not been for the stories of disappearances, odd accidents, even of deaths now appearing almost daily in the Prophet…To Mrs. Weasley’s displeasure, Harry’s sixteenth birthday celebrations were marred by grisly tidings brought to the party by Remus Lupin, who was looking gaunt and grim, his brown hair streaked liberally with gray, his clothes more ragged and patched than ever.
He and Cho were too embarrassed to look at each other, let alone talk to each other; what if Ron and Hermione started going out together, then split up? Could their friendship survive it?...And then, what if they didn’t split up? What if they became like Bill and Fleur, and it became excruciatingly embarrassing to be in their presence, so that he was shut out for good?
It was as though something large and scaly erupted into life in Harry’s stomach, clawing at his insides: hot blood seemed to flood his brain, so that all thought was extinguished, replaced by a savage urge to jinx Dean into a jelly. Wresting with this sudden madness, he heard Ron’s voice as though from a great distance away.
But unbidden into his mind came an image of that same deserted corridor with himself kissing Ginny instead…the monster in his chest purred…but then he saw Ron ripping open the tapestry curtain and drawing his wand on Harry, shouting things like “betrayal of trust”… “supposed to be my friend”…
I mean, anybody who has actually interviewed him agrees that he’s about as much a Death Eater as this Satsuma…but the top levels want to look as though they’re making some progress, and “three arrests” sounds better than “three mistaken arrests and releases”…
“You are determined to hate him, Harry,” said Lupin with a faint smile. “And I understand; with James as your father, with Sirius as your godfather, you have inherited an old prejudice. By all means tell Dumbledore what you have told Arthur and me, but do not expect him to share your view of the matter…”
If you were to be seen popping in and out of the Ministry from time to time, for instance, that would give the right impression. And of course, while you were there, you would have ample opportunity to speak to Gawain Robards, my successor as Head of the Auror office. Dolores Umbridge has told me that you cherish an ambition to become an Auror.
“He accused me of being ‘Dumbledore’s man through and through.’”
“How very rude of him.”
“I told him I was.”
…To Harry’s intense embarrassment, he suddenly realized that Dumbledore’s bright blue eyes looked rather watery, and stared hastily at his own knees.
“I am not proud…” he whispered through his fingers. “I am ashamed of what – of what that memory shows…I think I may have done great damage that day…”
“You’d cancel out anything you did by giving me the memory,” said Harry. “It would be a very brave and noble thing to do.”
“Yes, Harry, you can love,” said Dumbledore, who looked as though he knew perfectly well what Harry had just refrained from saying. “Which, given everything that has happened to you, is a great and remarkable thing. You are still too young to understand how unusual you are, Harry.”
It was, he thought, the difference between being dragged into the arena to face a battle to the death and walking into the arena with your head held high. Some people, perhaps, would say that there was little to choose between the two ways, but Dumbledore knew – and so do I, thought Harry, with a rush of fierce pride, and so did my parents – that there was all the difference in the world.
“Watch it,” he said, pointing warningly at Harry and Ginny. “Just because I’ve given my permission doesn’t mean I can’t withdraw it – “
“’Your permission,’” scoffed Ginny. “Since when did you give me permission to do anything?”
Come over to the right side, Draco, and we can hide you more completely than you can possibly imagine. What is more, I can send members of the Order to your mother tonight to hide her likewise…Come over to the right side, Draco…you are not a killer…”
…People who cared about him had stood in front of him one by one, his mother, his father, his godfather, and finally Dumbledore, all determined to protect him; but now that was over. He could not let anybody else stand between him and Voldemort; he must abandon forever the illusion he ought to have lost at the age of one, that the shelter of a parent’s arms meant that nothing could hurt him. There was no waking from this nightmare, no comforting whisper in the dark that he was safe really…the last and greatest of his protectors had died, and he was more alone than he had ever been before.
…In spite of everything, in spite of the dark and twisting path he saw stretching ahead for himself, in spite of the final meeting with Voldemort he knew must come, whether in a month, in a year, or in ten, he felt his heart lift at the thought that there was still one last golden day of peace left to enjoy with Ron and Hermione.