The Birthday Present
This is not a sequel to "Midnight by the Weasley Watch", unfortunately. My muse was rather brutal, and told me I was going to write a sequel to Order of the Phoenix, to which this story is as compliant as possible. So in a way, it's all Dolores Umbridge's fault.
This is also going to be an extremely long story. The first draft is over 800 pages, single-spaced, and I almost always expand when I retype and rewrite. This story becomes AU at approximately 12:01 Greenwich time on July 16, 2005. Oh, well. Note: this story is rated M, mainly for later chapters. You will be notified of adult content chapter by chapter.
I regret disappointing fans of "Midnight". I think, however, that when I'm done that you'll be thoroughly mollified.
Er yes, it all belongs to J.K. Rowling, her assigns, etc. etc. etc.
The Headmaster of Hogwarts wearily surveyed the wreckage of his office from his chair. Harry Potter had a right to be angry. Sirius Black was dead, partly through his own errors. The one person that the boy trusted was gone, never to return. Perhaps it was just as well that Black would not come back as a ghost. Albus could see all sorts of problems arising from that. Harry hadn't paid much attention to anyone else for most of the year with Sirius living. It would be far too easy for Harry to ignore the living altogether if his godfather were a ghost in residence here. I have failed him so badly. I wanted him to have a childhood, and I failed him.
Now he had to deal with someone else. "Professor Snape," Dumbledore said sternly to the man coming through the door. "Please sit down."
The Potions Master did so without argument. His black eyes glittered as he looked about at the shattered pieces of once-beautiful things on the floor. "What happened?"
"Harry…was upset. Rightly so. I do not want to hear one word out of you about the boy. I have heard enough about how you feel about him. I do not want to hear more."
Snape sat straighter. "But—"
"No. Not one word. I have listened to your complaints and your requests to have him expelled for years now. You are supposed to be an adult, professor. I have indulged you in your juvenile attitudes towards Harry for far too long. He is just a boy! I know you had problems with his father, but it's time to get over it."
"What do you propose I do, Headmaster?" The Head of Slytherin's face was blank.
"Find some way to improve his situation, I suppose. I must admit, you were quick enough to complain about the Dursleys as soon as you found out the truth about them."
Albus sighed. "As you undoubtedly know, the home life of wizards is often not the best either." He really shouldn't bring up that part of Snape's past, but right now he didn't care. He forced himself to use a softer tone of voice. "You have resolved many problems with your Slytherins when they have family trouble. Use some of that expertise for Mr. Potter."
Severus Snape set his jaw. "And what am I to do when he comes back next year and refuses to learn the way he did this one?"
"We'll fly that broom when it's out of the shed. It's your conduct this last year that I'm looking at now." Dumbledore hated it when Snape got his back up like this. It was like talking to a wall. I'll have to get through to him somehow, he thought. Unfortunately, Severus had a point. Some of the other teachers were also unhappy with Harry's progress this year. Even McGonagall had sounded disappointed.
"I have done the best I could." His voice was quiet, with no venom in it.
Something had to be done about Snape, too. "I fear you are right. When he complained about you, I tried to get him to see that Black's death wasn't your fault. I told him I had hoped you would be able to overcome your prejudice I made excuses for you, Severus, that you apparently had some wounds too deep for healing. I have coddled you for far too long because of them. You must find some way to work out your feelings about Harry's father. You have to let the past go. Above all, you cannot let whatever pranks the Marauders pulled affect your future conduct towards someone who had no part of them. I will not let that happen."
"I would hardly call them pranks, Headmaster."
"Opinions differ, professor. However you feel about what happened, I cannot allow your ill-temper to affect Harry any more."
"It is easier said than done." Spots of color now appeared on Snape's face.
"Do it anyway. You may recall the conditions under which you were allowed to teach at Hogwarts. If you cannot behave in a professional manner to any student, I may have to reconsider your presence here." Albus hated using this threat. Yet something had to be done to focus the Potion Master's attention on the problem. All members of the Order of the Phoenix had to sacrifice for the greater good.
The younger wizard turned deathly pale. "I understand, Headmaster," he said in a hoarse whisper. "May I have leave to go?"
Dumbledore noticed then how exhausted Snape looked. It had been hard year for all of them. No doubt his Potions Master had been as busy as everyone else in his absence. "Yes, of course. Severus, you can ask me for help. Get some rest before working on this. You wouldn't start a complicated potion when you're already tired. This will likely be much harder." It had been a long time since they had the sort of talks that Albus knew had helped resolve old problems. Ever since…well, since Harry's first year, really. No doubt Severus had gotten into some old thought patterns over time and didn't even realize it.
"Whatever you say, Headmaster." With that, Snape slowly stood, turned on his heel, and walked out of the office.
His cloak hadn't billowed the way it usually did. Albus didn't know if that was a sign of humility or if the man was just too tired.
Was I too harsh? Should I have shown the naked blade of my power to him the way I did? Dumbledore had never regretted taking Snape out of Azkaban just before he was due to be Kissed by a Dementor. Moody's warning had come barely in time. He also had not minded offering his personal guaranty for Snape's good behavior to the Ministry. No doubt any man the age of the Potion Master found legal dependency on anyone else annoying, but the Ministry had planned much worse for the former Death-Eater. Albus had pointed out to the officials that the Aurors would find few spies if they destroyed someone like Snape who had helped them so much the first time Voldemort rose, but only a few like Mad-Eye had listened.
He sat, nibbled on a lemon drop, and thought. After all, the Ministry had to prove that they were making up for their earlier neglect. Snape was an easy target. Never mind that he'd risked worse than death by showing the Dark Mark to Fudge in order to warn the idiot Hufflepuff that Voldemort was back. Throwing him in prison again would gain headlines assuring the public that their leaders were properly vigilant, and that the headmaster of Hogwarts was a fool for harboring the fellow in the first place.
Dumbledore looked around the office, still in ruins. Harry Potter's anger could become a terrible handicap in the years to come. If he himself did not survive the war, it might be up to Harry to protect Severus from the Ministry. How ironic that Snape was the one teacher with the most experience with that kind of student. His own talk with Petunia Dursley had been temporarily effective last year, but neither that nor Moody's threats would last the entire summer. Perhaps he overestimated how much control she had over the household, but it seemed odd that she hadn't gotten over resenting her sister's powers for so long. No wonder so many Muggleborn students gradually withdrew from their families into the Wizarding World.
Perhaps his own heavy-handedness with her and with Severus had only made things worse.
Oh, Merlin, what else could he do? He'd closed his eyes to the boy's situation for far too long. I thought he would heal here. I thought it would be enough. Before last year he thought he had succeeded. Even after the horror of facing a resurrected Dark Lord, Harry hadn't shown the kind of anger he had just a little while ago.
It was really Umbridge's fault. She had ruined everything. Stunning Minerva, threatening Harry with both Veritaserum and the Cruciatus spell, and even putting Snape on probation in a fit of pique! Miss Granger had nearly gotten herself killed trying to do something about the woman when it was obvious no one else was going to. And then, the Ministry raid.
The only bright spot had been the glory of the Weasley twin's departure. Albus let himself smile thinking about that. Minerva had admitted helping Peeves. If only he had been there to see it when she'd muttered "It unscrews the other way."
I should have done something about the Dursleys years ago, Dumbledore admitted to himself. The boy had always been too thin and stunted for his age, given his parentage. It was galling to realize that Snape dealt with much worse home situations all the time in Slytherin. Clearly, it was time to turn the problem over to someone who knew what to do.
Dumbledore began waving his wand to clean up his office and repair the items that could be fixed. Hogwarts itself could face similar ruin if he weren't careful. It was worth any sacrifice to keep the school, and the Wizarding World, in better shape.