*A/N: Firstly, all characters, places, etc., are not mine. Secondly, my apologies for those of you waiting for updates on stories – as I mentioned, my posting schedule is completely random and unplanned, and I thank you all for your kind support and understanding! I do hope you enjoy this in the meantime =) This will most likely have a handful of chapters, though no set limit has been decided yet*
"Headmaster – I ... I have to ask if you would arrange something for me."
Harry Potter, the Man-Who'd-Destroyed-Voldemort, stood in the Headmaster's office, shifting nervously from foot to foot. The Headmaster himself sat across the desk, splendid in his wild robes, while Professors McGonagall, Flitwick and Snape had arrayed themselves in the armchairs around the desk. Professor Sprout was busy, alas, with some mandrakes that needed emergency re-potting, but Harry was only too glad to have one less person in the room to witness this. It was bad enough that he was here, after... but Harry quickly blocked that thought, stonewalling off the hurt and anguish that would have followed.
"But Harry, my dear boy, I thought you had somebody in mind."
"I did." The young man took a deep breath, and his hands clenched into fists before he looked at them again. "But I was rejected. Quite thoroughly, in fact."
Three jaws dropped in unison. Dimly, Dumbledore and Snape both registered the squeak as Filius fell off his chair, and McGonagall's surprised huff. To reject the request for a First – well, it was quite possibly the greatest expression of disgust and disdain a witch or wizard could perform. It implied that the asker was considered less than human, that they were deplorable enough that the request to be their First was more insult than honor.
Although titillating myths about First rituals had been around for centuries, it had absolutely nothing (or very little, at least) to do with intercourse; rather, the First was simply someone the witch or wizard trusted enough to stand guard the night of their 19th birthday, when they came into their full power. Without a First there, to ground the newly developed power and control, a witch or wizard could do severe damage to themselves and others. It could, of course, include intimacy, which was one of the ways to ground power – but more than that, it was the ultimate expression of trust and the hope for some type of sustained relationship, whether it be friendship, mentorship, or something more.
No one in Severus' recollection of the past Hogwarts classes had ever been rejected – and for this to happen to the Golden Boy was all too implausible. Before he could stop himself, Severus found himself sneering out an automatic taunt.
"So, the Golden boy has his first taste of rejection. A long time coming, don't you think?"
The impact of Snape's mocking words hit Harry like physical blows, and jerked Dumbledore out of his private thoughts. He saw how Harry flinched, and immediately turned to his Potions Master, blue eyes flashing with anger.
"Severus Snape, that was beyond uncalled for. You will sit there, and stay completely silent, or you will leave this room immediately."
From the look on Severus's face, even the acerbic Potion's Master realized that he had pushed too far this time. Dumbledore kept a steady glare at the man until he had bowed his head apologetically, then moved back to look at Harry, still standing before his desk.
Dumbledore looked at the hurt young man before him, and felt sorrow and anger in equal measures. Here was a young man with more heart, and spirit, and sheer goodness than any person Albus had ever met; Harry had sacrificed more than the most battle-hardened soldier, and lived through a life of hurt and disappointment with barely a whimper. This, though, this last rejection – Harry was the last person to deserve such an insult, and Albus feared it had finally broken the spirit behind those too-old green eyes. It was only the last in a series of rejections that had started with the Dursleys, and Albus's ancient heart ached fiercely with the irrational need to somehow make this better.
"Oh, my dear boy.... that, you did not deserve. Never doubt that you are highly prized by a great many people, myself among them; I can only say that this individual did not deserve the great honor that your trust was. I will, of course, arrange something if you would like it that way; are you sure you wouldn't like to make use of your Tokens, though? I do realize how much you put into them."
Green eyes met his, and there was hurt and weariness, but also a terrible resignation in that gaze. "No thank you sir. It might seem weak but I have no desire to try again. And, besides..." and here Harry shifted his feet nervously, gaze moving to some spot above Albus's head, "I left the gifts for them, anyway. It's not like I had much use for them, and they were put together with only one person in mind. I'd rather not keep the reminders, if it's all the same."
This time, each person in the room felt the weight of those words descend. They each knew Harry Potter in their own way, and none of them doubted that the Tokens he had created to signal his interest were both incredibly valuable and extremely rare. The same determination and power that he had put towards destroying Voldemort would have been put into the effort for this, and all of them, even one Severus Snape, felt for the young man who couldn't even get a break in this.
"Of course, Harry," Dumbledore replied gently. "Why don't I arrange something and we can, perhaps, discuss if over lunch sometime soon?"
The Man-Who'd-Destroyed-Voldemort's mouth twitched slightly at the corner – not quite a smile, but an acknowledgement, nonetheless, that the close relationship he and the Headmaster had built over the last few years was still there and that somebody, in the end, did care a great deal about his personal welfare.
"Of course, Headmaster. Perhaps later this week?"
"That would be lovely, Harry. And do call me Albus – I do think we're quite past the time of student and Headmaster, and family never does address me by title."
Albus savoured the stunned looks on the faces looking back at him, but concentrated most on Harry, who, before he ducked his head, could be seen to be slightly glassy-eyed. There wasn't anything Albus could do about the situation, much as he wished to – but he could, and would, he swore, remind Harry that there were individuals who cared for and valued him.
Harry took one more deep breath, and then looked back towards the Headmaster. "I'll see you later this week, then. And... and thank you – Albus."
There was a short, quick smile, and then Harry was gone, out the door and down the staircase before any reply could be made.
Humming absently to himself, Albus quickly finished off the meeting and dismissed his teachers from the room. Ever since the topic had first been brought up, he knew that Harry had had somebody, and somebody specific in mind. He wasn't hurt that Harry hadn't asked him – they did, after all, already have a fairly steady bond in place, and although nothing had been said, he'd known that Harry was looking for something more from the First rituals. After the war, and all that he's been through, Harry was too much an adult at eighteen, almost nineteen, to want a parental figure, or even another mentor. No, Harry would be wanting someone who'd be an equal, a partner, somebody who would have the strength of character to ground the immense amount of power the young man would soon wield, and somebody to share a life with.
And put like that, Albus thought, there were only so many candidates. He popped a candy into his mouth, and started composing a list. He might not be able to do anything specifically, but that, he knew, was what plausible deniability was for.
Meanwhile, several floors down and three corridors to the right:
The portrait squeaked as the door was slammed behind a frustrated Potions Master. Severus Snape hated puzzles, and he hated not knowing who the mysterious idiot who'd rejected Potter was. It was, he acknowledged bitterly, a left-over from his only-recently-complete spying days – after all, for a spy, not knowing information exponentially increased the risk of dismemberment and painful death.
In the last two years of the war, he'd come to what he thought was a tentative truce with Harry Potter – constantly attacking Death Eaters, too little sleep and a too-long war meant that there was little room or energy for friction between two of the most powerful and key figures in the Order. And that, Severus thought, entirely proved his point – obviously their relationship had improved somewhat, if he could acknowledge Potter's power without an accompanying insult. Harry Potter had grown up, mostly out of necessity as the death toll had risen, and so Severus thought it was quite valid for him to question why the Boy Wonder hadn't mentioned the rejection to Severus beforehand. Of course, it wasn't like they were in the habit of sharing confidences, but all too often they'd had to guard each other's back, or had ended up in a sticky situation with only each other to rely on. The enforced closeness had bred a type of familiarity, and even though Severus hadn't curbed his acidity towards the Golden Boy one bit, he was still pretty sure that Harry Potter knew and understood him better than almost anyone besides Albus and Minerva, and vice versa. Why, then, could he not figure out who Potter had approached?
It was as he was pouring a tumbler of brandy from his well-stocked cabinet that Severus Snape saw the small pile of packages on his table – he blamed his distracted thoughts for not noticing earlier. Cautiously, and carefully, his paranoia not decreased one bit in the months since the war, he sent wave after wave of spells to check for everything from contact poisons to tracing spells.
Finally satisfied, and with his curiosity racketing to a fever pitch, Severus reached out with a long-fingered hand to pick up the packages. There was a crystal vial, almost as large as his hand, and the Potions Master examined it carefully before gasping in shock and placing it down with trembling hands. Undiluted basilisk venom was both rare and incredibly expensive, and Severus could think of no-one who would leave him such a ridiculously extravagant gift. The table also held two ancient, musty books, and Severus had to sit down as he read the flyleaf of each – both were rare Potions and history tomes that could only be found in the old Pure-blood libraries, the type of library that Severus had never been able to gain access to.
The last item was tiny and golden, a small, ornate SS in gold attached to a fine chain. The magic radiating from it, however, was beyond impressive and the flummoxed Potions Master felt the dormant magic in the amulet wash over him as it attuned the necklace to his personal magical signature. Somebody had made this specifically for him, and had felt – did feel? – enough protectiveness and caring for him to weave some of the strongest defensive spells imaginable into it and then attune them to him. Shakily, Severus fastened the amulet around his neck, letting it fall under his robes, and felt the warm touch of its magic wash comfortingly over him once again.
He felt curiously off-kilter, and knocked back the brandy he had poured, glad only that no-one else had been around to see his discomposure. There was a hollow, sick feeling in his stomach that only increased as he noticed the folded note that had been lying below the books, and he swallowed down sudden and intense nausea as he picked up the heavy parchment and unfolded it carefully.
The sharp black eyes skimmed over the letter incredulously, and then the parchment was left to flutter to the floor as the Potions Master cursed violently and stormed from the room.
Professor Snape –
Please be assured I have no intent of pressing the offer that had so disgusted you. I know you have no desire for these, but they were made for you nonetheless. Do with them what you will.