“Will remain on amiable terms with us,” Fudge insisted, the flames around his face flickering with the intensity of his words. “If there is indeed a war, which I very highly doubt, then I see no need for us to get involved! It’s not our problem.”
“Not our problem?” Dumbledore thundered, beginning to show true anger for the first time today…though not for the first time in their increasingly tense discussions. “They are going to declare war on France if this declaration is not signed! Don’t you think that a war on the continent is going to have a substantial effect on our own economy and morale…not to mention what will happen to the victims of those nations swept up in this war?”
“Professor, we have always been respectful, honest, and reasonable with one another in the past, but this time, you have gone too far! What you have proposed is utter madness!”
“What I am proposing is necessary in light of this revelation!”
“Ministry agents have not heard so much as a whisper of war-mongering in France or Italy. I question the reliability of your sources…”
“Then they are listening in the wrong places, or perhaps they are only hearing what they want to hear!” Dumbledore said, a note of desperation creeping into his voice. “Minister, please, for the sake of the future, consider the possibility that I am right, that war is indeed brewing, and that we are in a position to stop it before it begins…or at least to delay it! You know that I am not in the position to arbitrate international disputes, but you are. You have the authority to intervene diplomatically. You are in a position to verify what I have told you and to act accordingly! If I’m wrong, then we might suffer some short-term political embarrassment. But if I’m right, and I have every reason to believe that I am, then you could go down in history as one of the greatest peacemakers ever to hold the office of Minister of Magic!”
Fudge scowled. “If your story is true, which I highly doubt, then I maintain that it would be in our best interest to keep out of it,” Fudge countered. “Now I have more important matters to attend to. Do not bother me with any more of this war nonsense unless the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse suddenly appear on your doorstep. Good day, Headmaster.”
“Cornelius, wait!” Dumbledore pleaded. But the Minister of Magic was already gone. The headmaster sighed, and placed a hand on his forehead. “It is as I had feared,” he mused softly to himself and to the listening portrait paintings. “Matters are beginning to spiral out of control…”
Just then, he heard the sound of the moving staircase, and presently someone knocked on his door.
“Doc Hyran?” the headmaster called.
“Here at your request,” came the reply. “And I brought the others.”
“Good! Come in, come in,” Dumbledore invited enthusiastically, but with an edge of weariness, as he straightened up behind his desk.
The door opened, and Brice Hyran strode in, followed closely behind by two Aurors attired like himself in gun-metal gray robes over dragon-mail tunics. One of Hyran's companions was a thin, reedy man in his fifties with light blond hair and cool, aloof green eyes. The other was a taller, barrel-chested man, with curly brown hair and amiable brown eyes.
“Albus,” Hyran greeted warmly, extending a hand. He had gained a few more gray hairs, and his face was more deeply lined than the last time they had met. His eyes had a melancholy, haunted look that had not been there when his son had been living.
Dumbledore smiled warmly as he took the Auror's hand and shook it. The last meeting between the two men seemed to have taken place many years in the past on some far-distant world.
“Hello, Doc,” Dumbledore greeted somberly. He conjured a third chintz chair in front of his desk, and all three Aurors settled into the proffered chairs, with Doc Hyran in the center. “How are you faring, these days? I would have sent another owl, but…”
"But lately the Ministry has been checking my mail thoroughly with a magnifying glass and a Revealing Charm if the owl even survives the trip, and you wouldn't have been able to say anything important anyway," the Auror furnished for him. "Yes, I understand. We live in terrible times."
"Terrible times, indeed. And as for yourself?" the professor prodded.
Hyran shrugged. “I'm as well as can be expected, I suppose,” he replied. But Dumbledore knew that there was an ocean of sorrow behind the Auror's lukewarm reply. For he bore an invisible wound more painful than any he had ever received in battle with the Death Eaters. The headmaster decided that this was not the time or place to talk of personal concerns or of grievous losses on the home front, and he reluctantly let the subject drop. Perhaps they would be able to talk of pain and regret later.
Hyran turned his attention to his companions. “Allow me to introduce you to Durant Cobb,” he said, as he indicated the reedy older man on his left, “and Clitus Lempley, my second-in- command.” He nodded toward the younger Auror on his right.
“Auror Cobb, my condolences on the loss of your son,” Dumbledore said quietly, as he somberly shook hands with the aloof, unfriendly, green-eyed Auror beside Hyran. "I was informed by…a confidential source…that he was involved in the conflict at Azkaban…"
Cobb returned the handshake with little enthusiasm. The expression in the Auror’s eyes was suspicious, even vaguely hostile. "I received your owl," he said stiffly.
"Oh," Dumbledore responded mildly, ignoring the Auror's antipathy. "Good. I thought that perhaps the owl had met with some misfortune when considerable time had passed, and I received no reply. I thought it best not to risk another owl under the circumstances..."
"I…employed the owl in an errand of a more urgent nature than confirming the receipt of your…ill news," came the icy explanation. "As you are no doubt aware, my position grants me the authority to commandeer civilian owls for Auror business."
"Naturally," the elderly headmaster agreed politely. "And as your primary business concerns the safety and security of magical and non-magical beings, I would be more than delighted to loan you as many owls as you wish for the accomplishment of your work. However, in the future, I would prefer that you at least inform me when you require the use of one of the school's owls for Auror business, and the length of time you intend to borrow it."
Cobb narrowed his jade eyes, and the smoldering anger in them intensified, caught fire, and blazed with a cold light. "I will return the owl when its present mission is accomplished… unless you would like to speed the process by telling me everything you know about my son's involvement in the attack at Azkaban, and why he perished wearing Death Eater robes!"
Dumbledore sat in stunned silence for a moment. He had not told the Auror what Snape had said about Cluny siding with the attacking forces of Darkness at Azkaban. He had had no evidence of the young man's betrayal—aside from Snape's word—and he had thought it better at the time to merely let the elder Cobb assume that his son had shown up out of the blue in order to aid the defense. Cluny had plummeted into the North Sea; his body had never been recovered. How had Durant found out about his son's betrayal? Had Voldemort leaked the information, perhaps hoping to sew distrust between Dumbledore and his allies? Or had one of the other Aurors involved at Azkaban recognized the young man during the battle, and told his father afterward? And why, oh why, had two serious, dedicated young Aurors turned traitor to their fathers and gone over to the enemy?
Hyran winced, and his eyes glistened with fresh grief at the reminder of his own son's inglorious passing. He interposed himself between Cobb and Dumbledore, and facing the embittered Auror, said sharply, "That's enough, Durant! If Dumbledore keeps his silence on certain matters, it's because he has good reason to do so! Perhaps he was reluctant to tell us that we have failed as fathers and mentors…" he trailed off in a voice choked with emotion.
"How dare you imply…?" Cobb whispered furiously.
Dumbledore spread his hands and said forcefully, "Gentlemen, blaming ourselves and each other for the things we cannot change accomplishes nothing! There is a great evil at work in the world this very moment which will claim the lives and hearts of many more sons and daughters if we cannot find a way to stop it. To that end, you must decide here and now whether or not you will continue to trust me!"
"I gave you my trust long ago, and I will not revoke it," Hyran affirmed.
"For the sake of Auror Hyran's friendship and formerly sound judgment, you will have my trust, for now, with reservations," Cobb said coolly. "But I have no intentions of halting my ongoing investigation into the circumstances of my son's death."
"Let it rest, Durant," Hyran demanded. "For the duration of this meeting, set aside your personal feelings, and focus on the bigger picture."
Cobb glared and said nothing.
Meanwhile, the formerly silent younger Auror on Hyran's right, Clitus Lempley, suddenly spoke up. "Professor Dumbledore, you can count me in without reservation!" he said, as he extended one of his large, callused hands to Dumbledore, and shook it firmly. “It’s a real honor meeting you in person!”
“Thank you, Auror Lempley, and I am delighted to meet you as well, though I wish the circumstances were not so grim,” Dumbledore returned with a sad smile.
“If you don't mind my asking, who were you…errr, talking with earlier?” Lempley asked. "It sounded like Minister Fudge."
“Oh, you overheard our disagreement?" the headmaster inquired mildly, apparently unperturbed by the question.
"Only a little, not enough to know what it was all about, though. Was that the Minister?"
"Yes. I expect major trouble in France soon, but I am afraid that he has chosen not to take my warning seriously. Instead, he believes that inaction is the best course of action to take in response to my advice.”
Hyran shot a withering glare at Lempley to keep the younger Auror from voicing any more impertinent questions, and Lempley shrugged as if to say, "Well, he doesn't mind my asking, why do you?"
Cobb’s face was expressionless as he intertwined his fingers.
“Which brings me to the most important reason for this meeting,” Dumbledore said. “I would like to get some of the giants out of the Siberian reservation and into the underground tunnels near here as soon as possible. I am concerned for their lives, as there have been whispers of a planned weeding out of all who have not cast their lot with Voldemort."
Clitus gasped at the mention of the Dark Wizard's name, Hyran swallowed and closed his eyes, and Cobb curled his fingers and narrowed his eyes to slits of fury.
"We also have a pressing need to get those tunnels cleared out quickly,” Dumbledore continued.
"Wouldn't goblins be more suitable for tunneling than giants?" Hyran wanted to know.
"Giants!" Cobb sneered.
"In some respects, yes," Dumbledore agreed. "And I've sent maybe a dozen or so away at a time, in shifts, to work on the narrower passages. But I hate to weaken the defenses around Hogwarts any more than that. There have already been two attacks here, and I don't want to leave us unprepared to fend off another. There is nothing of more importance to me than the safety of the students."
"Can't you hire any more goblins?" Lempley wanted to know.
Dumbledore replied, "Unfortunately, no. They have their own concerns right now, and only work with us with great reluctance. Since gold has been in increasingly short supply these days, their reluctance has grown proportionally."
"Goblins!" Cobb spat.
"But giants, Albus!" Hyran protested more forcefully, and he raised his one whole eyebrow and his scarred, partial eyebrow.
"They will need a safe place to stay when the war breaks out, and we could use their brute strength to move large boulders in some of the larger underground chambers. Also, a giant or two on the perimeter of the school's defenses would help to discourage future probes by the enemy."
"Are you sure that you can trust these giants?" Hyran wanted to know, while Cobb shook his head in disgust.
"We could use their help. They will not survive without ours, and are smart enough to realize that," Dumbledore said simply. "Trust and cooperation are in the interest of both sides, and the past…is no longer an issue. They are coming here in two weeks, and I have promised to send them assistance. Therefore, I want you and as many Aurors as you can spare, to provide escort and protection,” Dumbledore said. “Rubeus Hagrid will accompany you.”
“Why are we required to risk our necks for brute savages?” Cobb queried angrily. “And to add to the insult, you want to send your half-breed gamekeeper…"
“Durant!” Hyran turned and glared at the thin man. "It is not an insult! It is a request. He would not ask us to do this if there were an alternative."
"Giants," Lempley murmured reflectively into the tense staring duel between the older Aurors. "They are mighty. Even without magic, they are a deadly threat to us. Why do they need our help? Why can't they defend themselves?"
"You have not heard the news, then," Dumbledore murmured worriedly. "You did not know that an advance party of six giants, who were on their way here a month ago, disappeared en route. It is likely they are all dead.”
"Merlin! That's a feat, bringing down six giants, and making them disappear!" Lempley commented in surprise.
"We should have heard about this!" Hyran exclaimed. "Why haven't the Muggles at least…?" He paused, and then said somberly, "There were Muggle observers, weren't there? Even if the giants traveled only at night in thinly populated areas, the Muggles would have noticed. Were they killed or Obliviated, Albus?"
Dumbledore shook his head. "I don't know. It depends on whether the Ministry's covert ops dealt with them…or Voldemort's people."
"I have heard nothing at all of this," Cobb mused, putting a thumb and forefinger to his chin. "If it was the Ministry, this worries me. But even if it wasn't, I should have heard something. I have eyes and ears in Minister Fudge's covert ops…"
"Yes, and you have probably only told them to relay information about your son. Now perhaps you will see that there are bigger things at stake!" Hyran lectured.
Cobb shook his head. "This isn't the first time my source has failed to inform me of an important development. I don't like this."
Hyran grumbled something along the lines of, "Now you get a taste of what I deal with every day." Lempley snerked, then abruptly tried to look serious.
Dumbledore looked concerned. "How you conduct your business is your own affair, as long as you keep within the law and harm no one, Auror Cobb," he said. "But I would strongly advise you to distrust anything you hear from your contact from now on. Many disturbing things have been happening lately, and I have begun to fear the reappearance of an old menace: the Imperius Curse."
Cobb shook his head angrily, and Hyran looked skeptical. "I don't deal with anyone who cannot demonstrate to me an acceptable level of resistance to the Imperius!" Cobb snapped.
Dumbledore stared at him, aghast. "You would do such a thing?"
Cobb curled a lip, and an ugly gleam shown in his eyes. "Ranking Aurors have considerable latitude in the exercise of our powers. I have not broken any laws, and no one has been harmed. As you say, how I conduct my business is my own affair."
"Unfortunately, Albus, the Imperius Curse has never quite died out. Learning to resist it, and to break its hold on others, has been a basic part of Auror training since the last war," Hyran explained. "Durant…often assists with training the apprentices and juniors…in his area of expertise."
Dumbledore's expression relaxed, but there was a hint of steel in his eyes, and his voice rang strangely as he said, "Beware, Auror Cobb, for you are treading on dangerous ground. Anger, resentment, and the power to manipulate minds…are a perilous combination."
"I have no desire to wallow in the Dark Arts!" Cobb sniffed derisively. "My loyalty is to the institution of the Ministry and its ideals, and I would not see it corrupted by those who are weak against the lures of the Dark Side. I seek to probe, to test, to fortify and improve, not to control or destroy!"
"Take care that in fighting the enemy, you do not become the enemy," Dumbledore warned again. "No man is invincible, and evil ever looks for an opening."
"Listen to him," Hyran admonished softly. "For the Darkness has been known to take the ones we thought incorruptible!"
"My son would never have served the Dark Lord willingly, and he knew how to fend off the Imperius Curse!" Cobb all but shouted.
Dumbledore sighed. "All right. I will tell you what I have told no other, as yet. But it must not leave this room. Do you understand?"
Cobb said nothing, glaring at the headmaster with open hostility while his words still hung in the air all around them. Lempley leaned forward and listened intently, while Hyran stared in surprise.
"I have heard rumors that Voldemort is using some means other than the Imperius to control the ones he cannot break. I do not know how this is done, how often it has been done, or how long it lasts, but the implications are frightening."
"Then you think…?" Hyran said hopefully.
"It is possible," Dumbledore replied. "Voldemort would want trained Aurors on his side…but he would start with the younger ones, and work his way up through the ranks…"
"To test the effectiveness of his new means of control," Cobb finished sourly. "Perhaps…perhaps…I owe you an apology. If what you say is true…"
"What I have told you must not leave this room!" Dumbledore reminded. "I simply do not know enough yet. And the only one who could have told me more...is no longer in any position to do so."
Hyran nodded. "I can see why you have held back this information, particularly if you are not sure of the veracity of it. But Albus, do you know what we have been through, thinking…?"
Dumbledore nodded and sighed. "That is why I am telling you now."
"So, will the giants accept our assistance?” Cobb asked. “They're a proud, stubborn race.”
Dumbledore nodded, declining to mention that wizards were as well. “Yes. Giants may be impervious to many forms of magical attack, but they cannot use magic themselves, and are still susceptible to illusions and tricks of the mind. Gaba Maal has requested an escort in case they find more trouble than brute strength alone can handle."
"Minister Fudge will howl bloody murder if he or the Muggles find out about this," Cobb remarked.
"The giants will hide by day and travel by night, and you will be present to surround them with anti-Muggle wards while they are resting," Dumbledore reasoned. "It's a perfectly sound arrangement!"
"Unless we are attacked en route like the last group, and the giants or more Muggle bystanders get killed," Hyran grumbled. "This seems a little too risky for my taste. Isn't there any other way to get them here?"
"No," the headmaster replied. "I wish we could use Portkeys, but again, there would be serious trouble if the Ministry learned of it. Also, I doubt the giants would consent to travel by Portkey. They don't like or trust magic."
"But they come to us because they don't have a choice," Hyran grumbled. "Albus…this could easily backfire and cause more problems for us in the long-run."
"We have all decided that we are against Voldemort and his allies in the Ministry," Dumbledore declared. "After that, the choices become considerably more difficult."
"Indeed," said Hyran, nodding reluctantly. "They do indeed." And Cobb grunted confirmation while Lempley nodded.
"Now, thus far, Gaba Maal has kept his end of the bargain by assisting in a minor Siberian skirmish...”
"What's this?" Hyran queried. "How is it that you know more about what's going on in the world than we do?"
Dumbledore smiled. "I have many good friends with large ears and big eyes. And that's how we very nearly caught two Death Eaters in the Siberian wasteland. Alas, a distraction arrived in the form of several giants loyal to Voldemort, and the wizards escaped. Else we would know a great deal more about what he is up to in the Far East."
"A pity, that! We could do with a little more information around here!" Cobb said irritably.
"So do you want us to choose escorts for diplomacy, or fighting ability?" Hyran queried.
"Both, if you can manage it," Dumbledore replied. "But if not, then at least pick two or three who can speak Giant."
"Of course," said Hyran. "But fluency in Giant is a rare ability these days. I can think of one, maybe two of my people who qualify. The rest are lacking either in knowledge or my trust, and I rather think the latter outranks all."
Dumbledore smiled. “That is why I'm sending Hagrid with you. He learned Giant this past summer when he and Maxime went to meet them,” Dumbledore replied. “And they liked him, and asked for him to return."
"And if misfortune befalls our translators?" Cobb questioned.
"Gaba Maal’s son, Jerran, is quite proficient in English,” Dumbledore replied. "I don't think communication will be a problem, as we've got it covered adequately from several angles. If you find yourself in such dire straits that all means of communication fail you, chances are you won't have long to worry about it."
"Let us sincerely hope that doesn't happen," Cobb said acidly. "Giants!" he sniffed again.
“When do we leave?” Hyran asked, pointedly ignoring Cobb’s remarks.
“Two weeks,” Dumbledore said. “I’ve been trying to resolve a few final details about how, when, and where you will meet them. Also, I would like to let them know that I have met with you, and that you are ready to go. Hagrid will bring you any additional information when he joins you.”
“Sounds exciting,” said Lempley in his usual amicable way.
“We have a problem,” Cobb declared.
“You would say that,” Hyran remarked dryly. “So, what is it?”
Cobb bristled. In his characteristic, cold, nasal tone he explained, “If a troop of Aurors escorts the brutes, we will surely be noticed. If the Dark Lord intends to attack, his spies will assess the situation before attacking, and if they see wizards, they will realize where we are headed and why. They will plan appropriately, and we will be ambushed on a battlefield of their choosing. Even if we survive the melee, Muggles will surely get in the way, the giants will turn against us, and Ministry will react…badly…to say the least.”
“He's right,” Hyran admitted reluctantly. "We can't be seen escorting the giants. Even if we travel at night, Voldemort's spies may spot us."
“Ah, an excellent point, Auror Cobb,” Dumbledore said with a slight smile. “I would expect no less from a master tactician."
Cobb pretended not to be influenced by the compliment, but a bit of his aloofness suddenly melted away like the top layer of a kilometer-thick glacier.
"You have raised an important concern which I intended to address.” The headmaster reached into a deep desk drawer and withdrew a box containing several large flasks. “This is an Enhanced Engorgement Potion, the last project I asked…" He stopped abruptly, and then said, "It is a new formula, one so new that it has not even been submitted to the Department of Magical Cooperation for approval yet."
Cobb and Hyran exchanged skeptical looks, and even Lempley looked doubtful. Potions testers were the Wizarding World's equivalent of test pilots.
"It has been tested adequately, and it causes no harmful, long-term side-effects, if it is not overused," Dumbledore reassured smoothly, thinking of Snape's reaction when he had asked the Potions Master to test it on himself. "You may use this potion continually for several days without concern for your health, other than the usual short-term aches and pains as the body readjusts to its normal size when the effect wears off."
"In other words, it's going to be like a forced transfiguration when it first wears off," Hyran surmised. "It's going to hurt like the devil, especially for more inflexible chaps like Durant and I, who are getting on in years."
Cobb crossed his arms and glared. "I can think of better things to do with my career than to spend the rest of it laid up in St. Mungo's recovering from some designer potion."
"I'm afraid it is a risk that can't be avoided," Dumbledore said. "You must be able to blend in with the giants you are escorting, and to that end you will have to become at least as large as the smallest of them."
Hyran picked up one of the metal flasks and scrutinized it. “Now that I think about it, I'm not so sure I like the idea of making myself a bigger target,” he commented. He gave Dumbledore a doubtful look. “At least tell me who made this before I think about drinking it."
Dumbledore looked pained for a moment. "Someone who knew what he was doing. Someone I trusted implicitly. Someone who should have been here to witness the results of his hard work."
"I see," Hyran replied, shooting Cobb a surreptitious glance. Durant Cobb would never accept any potion made by the hand of Severus Snape, even if his life depended on it. The two wizards used to have an old and bitter grudge dating back to Cluny Cobb's school days, and Snape's disappearance and likely fate had not mellowed Cobb's opinion of him in the least. Fortunately, the rancorous Auror did not seem to pick up on the headmaster's hints.
"Then this potion is over a month old," Hyran continued. "It appears to have been stored properly, though. Do you know how long it keeps?"
Dumbledore shrugged. "No idea. I didn't think to ask."
Hyran changed the subject quickly before Cobb had time to put two and two together. "We'll just have to chance it," he said. "How much should we take, and how long does the effect last?"
“A swallow every twelve hours should be sufficient, and there should be enough here to last until you reach the English Channel.”
"And can you get more if we should require it?" Cobb queried, still mercifully ignorant of the identity of the Potion's creator.
"I'm afraid not," Dumbledore said in a tone of resigned finality. Snape had no doubt kept notes on his progress, but who knew where they were now? It was unlikely that anyone else would ever be able to duplicate his work, particularly since hurricane Igor had come to Hogwarts. For every day that passed, every unfinished project that turned up when Dumbledore least expected it, Snape's absence sank in a little deeper. And it was at times like this that he could almost hear Severus saying in his most resentful, acerbic tone, "Someday you're going to miss having me around to do these house-elf chores..."
“Right, then,” Hyran said quickly as he stood up. "I suppose these will have to do." The other two Aurors followed his lead and rose on either side. “If any other concerns arise, send a fire parchment to my house, but word it carefully, just in case. Owls are probably too risky right now, and my fireplace at the office may be watched.”
“Very well, I understand,” Dumbledore said, as he, too, rose to his feet and grasped Hyran warmly by the hand. “I appreciate your coming today on such short notice, and your support, as always. Sometimes…”
Someday you're going to miss having me around...
"Sometimes, I think perhaps I have not told you that as often as I should."
Hyran nodded with understanding. "You don't need to thank me for doing my duty, or for my friendship, which I more than owe you for all the times you've helped me out. And you know that I would grant it freely to you, even if I were not in your debt."
"Perhaps, but it ought to be said, nonetheless." Dumbledore paused and then turned his attention to Hyran's subordinate. "Auror Lempley, it was a pleasure meeting you," he said with sincerity. "I hope that we will be able to talk more after you have returned from this mission."
"It’s been a pleasure, headmaster," Lempley said with a casual salute.
Cobb snorted, pulled on his flying gloves, and said impatiently, "When you ladies are done saying your fond farewells, we have other places to be." He threw a glance toward the door, and anxiously tapped his gloved hands behind his back.
"Auror Cobb," Dumbledore said, extending a hand. The embittered Auror took the hand somewhat grudgingly.
"I regret that unfortunate circumstances have brought you back to Hogwarts. But at least now, you will perhaps understand why it was necessary for you to come here in person. And I hope that you may find some comfort in knowing that while he was a student here, your son was a credit to his house and his family. And that later, when he fell, it was likely his misfortune to encounter an enemy he was not strong enough to fight, rather than his choice to turn his back on you."
"Understanding and accepting are two entirely different matters," Cobb said flatly. "From me you may have the former, but do not expect the latter. I do what I must for the sake of the future, and for the sake of avenging my boy. But I take no comfort or satisfaction in it."
The headmaster gazed sadly at the Auror as the gloved hand withdrew from his. Behind Cobb, Brice Hyran shook his head and pursed his lips as he donned his gloves, and Lempley hunted through several robe pockets for his own.
"I will see your giant-friends to safety, or die in the attempt," Cobb declared, before turning to leave. "Until then, good day, Professor Dumbledore."
The three Aurors turned to leave with Hyran in the lead. He opened the door for the others, and waited for them to pass through into the curved, narrow stairwell beyond. While the others descended the stairs and retrieved their broomsticks, Hyran delayed.
"Albus," he inquired as he faced the care-worn headmaster, "were you thinking about your former Potions master earlier?"
"Yes," Dumbledore said quietly.
"If he thought that you did not appreciate him, perhaps it was more a matter of his own perception than of omission on your part," said the Auror.
"Perhaps," Dumbledore replied. "And perhaps the accusation had more truth to it than I cared to admit to myself. It is easy to take people for granted when you're around them every day. Easier than facing the possibility that you may never see them again."
End of Chapter 51
Note -- The name “Clitus Lempley" is a nod to my grandfather. That was his nickname.