The Four Elements
Harry was surprised when he walked in to see both Snape and McGonagall in the office with Dumbledore. He knew he hadn't done anything wrong. After all, Madame Pomphrey had just released him from the Infirmary an hour ago. He knew they weren't happy that he had gone off after Voldemort on his own. But he had already gotten a dressing down from just about everyone for doing that days ago.
Harry had gone home with the Weasleys for Christmas. They had all gathered at Grimmauld Place and celebrated the big day. Only Dumbledore, Harry, Hermione, and Ron knew they were also celebrating finding and destroying the last of the Horcruxes. That night, Harry had gotten a very special message from Voldemort by way of a particularly nasty vision. Suddenly, he knew he couldn't let another year go by with Voldemort taunting him and terrorizing the wizarding world.
He had snuck out to the roof, changed into his Animagus form (a hawk), and flown off. He flew to the run-down cottage Voldemort was currently taking shelter in by following the pull of his connection with him. He waited in a tree until most of the Death Eaters left and the cottage appeared dark and quiet. Even Dark Lords needed to sleep after all.
He went in through the window of the room Voldemort was sleeping in. The screen was quite old and decrepit — rather easily ripped with his sharp talons. Harry never did understand why he got inside the wards without setting off some kind of alarm, but he just counted his blessings. He landed as a hawk and stood up as a man moments later. While Voldemort was still sleeping, he pulled out Gryffindor's sword and cut off his head. For good measure, he killed Nagini (who had been sleeping by the hearth) as well.
Overall, it would have been a bit of a let down if Voldemort's death hadn't caused so much chaos. Instantly, the wards that he had put up — that were all that was holding the old cottage together — came crashing down. By the time Harry was done with Nagini, the Death Eaters who were supposed to be watching Voldemort burst into the room and tried to kill Harry. As a consequence, Harry couldn't easily turn back into a hawk and fly away. Instead, he was forced to defend himself against five adult wizards — at least until the ceiling fell down on everyone in the room. Unlike his opponents, Harry wasn't knocked unconscious immediately. Instead, he had been pinned to the ground by a very large stone that crushed most of the bones in his left leg. He had just enough left in him to summon the Death Eaters' wands, send a Patronus message to the Order, and stay awake until he was rescued.
Harry had heard more than his share of lectures about his reckless behavior. It's true that he could have been killed, but what Madame Pomphrey, Mrs. Weasley, Hermione, Tonks, Kingsley, McGonagall, Snape, and Dumbledore all didn't understand was that he hadn't really cared too much if he died in the attempt. As long as he killed Voldemort first, Harry would have counted it a success. After all, the problem with his plan wasn't getting in or killing Voldemort but getting out afterwards. Harry had been ready to die; and in the end, that was the power that the Dark Lord knew not — a willingness to die to save someone else. It was what had banished him when Harry was a baby, and it was the edge Harry needed to finally kill him. If Harry hadn't been willing to die, he would have brought other people with him, and he never would have been able to get in undetected and catch Voldemort sleeping.
Generally, all of the people lecturing him didn't like to hear this reasoning. Harry couldn't decide if that was because he actually had a somewhat logical and thought out reason for going on his own or because they didn't like the idea of Harry giving up on life. He didn't think it was that bit of a deal. It wasn't like he was suicidal. He just thought it would have been worth it to die if the rest of the world could live without the threat of Voldemort.
In the present, Harry accepted a cup of tea from the Headmaster. He held it in his hands and waited for the teachers to tell him why he was here.
"Harry, what are your plans for a career after Hogwarts?"
Harry could feel his brow furrow in puzzlement. What about his career plans concerned all of them? "I'm not really sure, sir. I had once thought of being an Auror because I assumed I would need the additional training to kill Voldemort. Now that it's done, I don't know what to do. I hadn't really thought too much beyond it."
"Quite understandable." Dumbledore looked down into his cup. When he looked up, his face was carefully neutral. "Have you ever thought of teaching? You taught your DA group quite ably."
"I suppose." Harry paused to think and then continued, "It might be interesting, but the only things I'm any good at are Quidditch and Defense. I'm sure I need more qualifications to teach Defense, and I'm not sure I could teach Quidditch. I've always been so focused on being a Seeker. I don't really have too much insight into the other positions." Again, there was a pause. "Are there Wizarding schools before places like Hogwarts?"
"Most young children are educated privately, but some small communities have a communal school. Why do you ask?"
"Oh, I just wondered what they taught the younger kids. I might have the qualifications to teach little kids how to fly or read or something."
"Although it is true that most of our Defense teachers are older, their primary qualification was a knowledge of Defensive strategies and experience fighting. I assure you, Harry, you have at least as much experience as some of my recent appointments to the position."
"Are you asking me to be the Defense teacher next year?"
"Yes, I suppose I am — if you are interested."
"I suppose it would at least give me a year to make other plans."
"You wouldn't want to stay longer?"
"Sir, when was the last time a Defense teacher lasted more than a year here?" After he got no immediate response, he continued, "I'm just assuming I would fall victim to the curse or whatever it is that causes every Defense teacher to leave after a year. I love Hogwarts. It's the only home I've ever known. But I doubt I would be the exception that proves the rule. There is nothing special about me."
Harry heard a soft snort from the left and wondered if Snape was surprised or was mocking him for some reason. He really didn't care. Snape snarkiness had stopped affecting him sometime after Sirius died.
"Actually, there is something very special about you, Harry. If you agreed to work at Hogwarts, I believe you might be here for a very long time."
"Why do you say that, sir?"
Dumbledore seemed at a loss for words for a moment. Instead, McGonagall started to explain. "Do you know anything about warding, Mr. Potter?"
"We did a little in Charms at the beginning of the year. I chose "Warding a Family Home" from a list of about five topics and did a short research paper on it about two months ago. So, I know a little but not too much."
"Did your research uncover anything concerning the use of the four elements?"
"Yes, ma'am. A few sources recommend using examples of the four elements when you are setting up wards and then put representations of them in the four corners to anchor the wards."
"Exactly. That would work for a normal family dwelling. For a larger property like Hogwarts, you need more than one wizard to set the wards. When the Founders set them up, the four of them were each very powerful, and each had a certain affinity with one of the elements. Thus, instead of a speck of dirt or bowl of water, etcetera, the four of them were used. Ever since then, Hogwarts and the Wizarding World of Britain has been the most stable and at peace when there were four powerful wizards or witches in the school with an affinity for each of the elements to anchor and reinforce the wards."
"Ooookay. What does this have to do with me?"
"We have been without someone with an affinity for air for some time. We believe you could fill that spot."
"But you said they had to be very powerful."
Again there was a snort from Snape. This time, he deigned to join the conversation. "Surely, you realize that are more powerful than your fellow students, Potter."
"Um. No." Harry grew uncomfortable as all three teachers looked at him closely.
"So, you think anyone could have killed Voldemort?" Snape sneered at him as he asked the question.
"I didn't kill him with any great feat of magic. I beheaded him with a sword. What's that got to do with being powerful?"
McGonagall took her turn. "You mastered the Patronus charm at 13, Mr. Potter. I assure you, that is unusual. Many adult wizards never manage it."
"Most adult wizards aren't watching their only link to their father and an earlier version of themselves about to be kissed. You'd be surprised what you can do if you have to."
Dumbledore took back the reins of the conversation. "Nevertheless, Harry, you will have to take our word for it. You are quite a bit more powerful than average. I know you don't like to stand out from your peers, but this is something that we all became aware of early in your career here."
"I think you are all seeing what you want to see. Just because I'm the stupid Boy Who Lived doesn't mean I'm powerful."
"How about we show you?"
Thirty minutes later, Harry was standing in a room that adjoined Dumbledore's office. He was stunned to see the results of the tests they had just performed. According to them, he was as powerful as McGonagall, who was more powerful than Snape only because she was so much older than he was. All three teachers assured him that his power would only grow as he matured as everyone's did. Some part of him wanted to keep denying it. He knew he would be looking up the test they had performed in the library later to confirm it worked how they said it did, looking into information about growth of magic with age, and the idea of using people as elemental anchors for warding. But another part of him was coming to the realization that what they said was true. He supposed he should be happy about it, but he just couldn't get there.
"Do you see what we mean now, Harry?"
"I guess so, sir."
"I know you will have to come to terms with this new knowledge about yourself. But I want you to think about the job offer as well."
"I guess you are fire, hmm? That's why Fawkes was drawn to you, right?"
"Yes, Harry. I have always had an affinity for fire."
Harry turned to McGonagall.
"Earth." She answered his question before he could ask it. "I am very well grounded and stable."
He could see that. Next, he turned to Snape.
Snape squinted menacingly at him. "Water. And if you tell anyone what you are about to see, I will use your entrails for a very special potion." With that, his sleek black hair seemed to spread and his body got closer to the ground. When he was done, Harry looked at the seal looking up at him with Snape's black eyes and wondered how he managed to sneer at him. A moment later, Snape was back to his usual self, but the sneer was unchanged.
It took all of Harry's hard-won self-control to keep his face straight. He had to get out of here. He turned to Dumbledore. "I'll think about it, sir." With that, he turned and left the room.
Despite his last statement, he was fairly certain he knew what he would be doing. He would look into the test and the information about aging and magic maturing, but he didn't really believe he would find they had deceived him. It was, however, a lot to grasp. Not only was Harry exponentially more powerful than his friends, but he would most likely spend the rest of his days teaching Defense at Hogwarts. Harry wasn't silly enough to think this was a temporary thing. If the four elements were that important to Hogwarts and the Wizarding World in Britain (and he knew just the person to research that for him), he knew he would be tied to the school for a long time. Dumbledore couldn't live forever. And when he died, they would be back down to three, and it would be that much more important to stay.
There could be worse fates than being forced to stay in the place that he considered home.