McGonagall and Dumbledore have a talk, and Lupin visits angry!depressed!Harry. Things turn out... less than ideal.
Chapter 1: Summer, Day 3
"So," said Harry, dredging up the words from what felt like a deep well of despair inside him, "so does that mean that... that one of us has got to kill the other one... in the end?"
"Yes," said Dumbledore.
For a long time, neither of them spoke. Somewhere far beyond the office walls, Harry could hear the sound of voices, students heading down to the Great Hall for an early breakfast, perhaps. It seemed impossible that there could be people in the world who still desired food, who laughed, who neither knew nor cared that Sirius Black was gone forever. Sirius seemed a million miles away already, even if a part of Harry still believed that if he had only pulled back that veil, he would have found Sirius looking back at him, greeting him, perhaps, with his laugh like a bark...
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, chapter 37 -
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Minerva McGonagall, professor of Transfiguration and Deputy Headmistress at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, stared at her cup of tea, lost in thought. She sat on a couch in the Headmaster's office, not really seeing the cup of tea resting on the table before her. Dumbledore, the Headmaster, sat in a chair across from Professor McGonagall, looking pensively at his long-time friend and confidante.
After a few minutes, McGonagall looked to Dumbledore, pausing a moment as if to weigh her words. "How is Potter - Harry - faring now, Albus?"
"He's back home, recovering," replied Dumbledore, as he rose and walked to the perch of his phoenix companion, Fawkes, and began to stroke the phoenix's head. McGonagall recognized the gesture as one of the small habits Dumbledore displayed in times of stress to calm himself and sooth his nerves.
"Recovering? At the Dursleys'? I sincerely doubt that," McGonagall said as she reached for her tea, only to find it had gone cold. "I understand why you've isolated him, but I believe the risks of leaving him alone after the loss of his godfather are now far greater than any others that he faces."
"Yes, Minerva, I have somewhat belatedly taken that into consideration. That is part of what I wanted to discuss with you today. I seem to have misjudged our situation, in terms of the emotional toll of many of the choices I made. In playing to undermine those amassed against us, I compromised the well-being of both Sirius and Harry. What's worse, I was completely blind to doing it. Voldemort used my mistakes against us, and now Sirius is dead and Harry has been traumatized yet again."
McGonagall smiled sadly. "It's amazing, Albus. You have always demanded more of yourself than you would ever consider asking of another. Now you are called to forego that lifelong habit, to fight your natural instinct, and to hand the burden to a new generation. You must realize - you cannot shield Harry from his connection to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, nor can you shoulder the burden for him. The best we can do is to prepare Harry - to prepare all of our young charges - to face the oncoming darkness."
McGonagall sighed. "I must admit that I fail to understand why you insisted on keeping Harry in the dark for so long. What was it you said after the Tournament last year? 'The truth is generally preferable to lies'. Where does that leave purposely withholding information?"
Dumbledore stopped tending to Fawkes and began pacing slowly around the room. He finally stopped at the window that overlooked the Hogwarts grounds and looked off into the distance. "It's odd, really, to be as old as I am, to be a master Occlumens and Leglimens, and to not know my own mind. I honestly cannot explain why I did not tell Harry. After his third year would have been the best time. He had gained Sirius as a father figure, albeit they were both new to their roles. Was it really love on my part... or fear? Was it because I saw myself in him, or Tom Riddle, or someone else entirely? I honestly have no clue."
Dumbledore turned to face McGonagall. "You are right about the isolation, of course. I knew the circumstances would take a great toll on both Sirius and Harry, but I truly misjudged the possible consequences. And they were so obvious..."
"Nonetheless, Albus," McGonagall interrupted, "the fact remains that, without some change in his environment, Harry, his friends, and the Order would have all been compromised. We all saw the toll that the year was taking on poor Harry. We let the Minister's...," McGonagall searched for a word suitably distasteful, "lackey distract us from the true work at hand."
Dumbledore pulled himself up, regaining his composure, the strength and resolve reappearing in his eyes. "Yes, Minerva, we all made grievous mistakes and are paying the cost, some more than others. Poor Harry sees his own hand in Sirius' death, as he did Cedric's, when it was I who allowed Harry and Cedric to be taken, I who arranged the events that led to Sirius' death. But we will gain nothing from self-recrimination. It's time to pick up the pieces, to regain our footing before we've lost it all to Voldemort. And it starts with what we do for Harry and his friends."
McGonagall's gaze hardened. "Before we start that discussion, we need to discuss an even more basic matter: I believe you've facilitated Severus' behavior far too long."
"Minerva, we've discussed this before," Dumbledore replied wearily, obviously not relishing the shift in topic. "While many people possess the potential to become heroes when they are born, Fate chooses not to take them down that path. They never face a life-altering event that gives them the opportunity and choice to become the hero. Severus represents the adversity that many will have to overcome to become that hero. Not only that, but the role Severus plays lends credibility to his servitude in Voldemort's inner circle, a deception we cannot afford to compromise."
"I have no desire for another pointless debate of this issue, Albus. I simply ask you this: after everything that has happened, do you truly believe Severus' treatment of Harry relates in any way to playing that role?"
Dumbledore took off his glasses and sighed. "No, I suppose I don't. I was certain that Severus would see past the specter of James Potter, that teaching Harry would help him exorcise that particular demon."
"Perhaps it will," McGonagall conceded, "but Severus has not chosen to allow that yet. We cannot afford to sacrifice any more of Harry's well-being - or Mr. Longbottom's, for that matter - for Severus' sake."
"Again, you are correct, Minerva. I will ensure that Severus understands that, while he does have a role to play, it is unacceptable for him to use that role to pursue his own personal vendettas."
"Good; that is an adequate start," McGonagall said with a small smile. "Now, on to the fallout of the Ministry incident. Fortunately, Poppy seems relatively certain that Mr. Weasley's mishap with the floating brains will not leave him with any psychoses or other major side effects."
Dumbledore looked pleased at the small victory in that piece of news. "Good. That is at least one outcome from the incident that is reaching a happy conclusion. In general, Mr. Weasley and Miss Granger have been coping since then using each other for support, while Miss Weasley, Miss Lovegood, and Mr. Longbottom appear to have each other or other friends for support. Mr. Potter, however, seems increasingly unable to confide in his friends."
"I believe Harry will have to be able to rebuild trust, Albus. Someone else that he loved, that he depended on, has abandoned him. We need to provide him with counter-examples to this trend. If Harry must stay at Privet Drive, arrange for regular visits by his friends and companions. We must never let him feel isolated or abandoned again until he has worked through this crisis."
"Yes, I agree, Minerva, although Harry's refusal to talk to anyone for any reason is making that difficult. I believe a... solution may present itself here shortly, though."
Dumbledore continued, "Next, we must also recognize Harry's need for some control of his life. We have a myriad of places we can allow Harry to exert such control."
"Yes, of course," McGonagall answered thoughtfully. "The issue of an Occlumency teacher is a good example. Instead of assigning Harry an instructor, let him know that, for everyone's sake, he must learn Occlumency, and then give him a choice of several instructors. He still does the required learning, but he can feel he has some control over the situation by choosing his teacher."
"Good, and again, quite obvious, Minerva. The simple solution, though, is often the best."
"Speaking of Harry's training, Albus, we need to choose how to groom Mr. Potter to face his future, rather than letting the standard student curriculum and his magnetism for trouble dictate what he learns. While I do not know the contents of the Prophesy, I feel confident that its contents warrant extra time and resources for Mr. Potter's education."
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Harry Potter, intended savior of the wizarding world, lay in his room, staring at the ceiling. The room looked exactly as he had left it the year before, except Harry, his trunk, and Hedwig and her cage were all back in their places. Harry had not unpacked a single item since he'd gotten back, nor had he changed his clothes in that time. The only things to rouse him were trips to the loo, food delivered through the cat-flap, and trips to Hedwig's cage whenever she came or went. He'd also manage to get up when owls would fly in to deliver messages, so he could return the messages to them unopened before they flew back home. Hedwig's cage was lined with whatever correspondence Harry couldn't return.
A quiet knock sounded at the door, and Harry's one-time teacher Remus Lupin peered in.
Harry was surprised - almost happy - to see his former professor, but the joy died almost before it was born. Harry's gaze remained fixed on the ceiling.
"Hi, Harry," Lupin said softly, looking calm and slightly sad. "It's been three days since you left Hogwarts, and we hadn't heard from you, so I decided to check in on you."
Harry continued to stare at the ceiling, not acknowledging Lupin's appearance as he stepped into the room.
"Harry, I know it hurts. I wanted to let you know I'm available when you're ready to talk to me. I'm not Sirius or one of your parents, but I miss them too."
Harry turned his gaze to his one-time mentor. Fine, Harry thought, as he pictured himself rising up, drawing his wand on Remus, then turning it around and offering the handle to Lupin. Obliviate me.
Harry's reply, however, was "I'm fine. I want to be left alone."
/Polite, but cold - whatever response requires the least interaction/, Lupin noted. "Look, Harry, it's been a tough year, and I know nothing I can say will change any of it."
A year of secrets, you mean, /Harry reflected. The Order wants me to be a good, obedient boy, kept in the dark and brought out once or twice a year for especially dark occasions. I can't live like this. Change me, make me forget Sirius. Make me your good little agent, or go away and leave me alone./
But "Go away. Please," was all he said.
The aging Marauder searched Harry's empty eyes. "Please, Harry. Don't shut me out. I've spent my entire life keeping the world at arm's length. Neither of us can afford that now."
Fire rose in Harry as he shot up from his bed. Angry thoughts raced through his mind, things he wanted to scream at Lupin, things he wanted to say. Why is it you weren't concerned enough to visit me at any other point in my life, when I had no parents and no godfather, but now I can't get rid of you! You, Dumbledore, and everyone else decided to lock me away, just like Sirius - a prisoner my whole life. None of you trusted me enough to tell me what was going on! Don't blame me if I agree to it now!
But Harry knew that no matter how loud he yelled, how fiercely he fought, or how hard he tried, nothing would give him his family - Sirius - back. By the time Harry was standing and facing Lupin, the fire had died. "Look, professor, I don't mean to be rude, but no one was here for me in all the years before I went to Hogwarts. All of you chose it before, I'm choosing it now. Go. Away."
Lupin looked at him sadly, wanting so badly to reach him, to break through to Harry, but not knowing how. "Fine, Harry, I'll go. But remember: you can reach me through Hedwig or Mrs. Figg at any time if you need to talk or need anything else."
As Lupin quietly closed the door behind him, Harry lay back down and resumed his inspection of the ceiling.
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Author notes: What did you think? Was it unbelievably good? Abysmal? I'd be grateful for your feedback.
Thanks, Kybo, for your encouragement regarding this story. That was enough for me to pull this out of mothballs and try it again. It will, however, take a back seat to my post-HBP story, Harry Potter and the Mind Sifter.
This story was originally posted at FanFiction (dot) net, Checkmated (dot) com, and FictionAlley (dot) org. I have removed the version from Checkmated, and will leave the version at FictionAlley as is for now. The revised version will be posted at FanFiction (dot) net and FicWad (dot) com.
Originally posted 2004/06/26
Revised and posted at FicWad 2006/09/08