A/N: Just a quick note to say, in case you missed it in the summary, this story is a sequel to my other story The Stinging Habits of the Western Honey Bee. While you could probably muscle through this one without having read the other it probably be a lot easier if you did. The story can be accessed through my profile or you can just throw the story ID in your URL: 6903136.
Albus Dumbledore was just a bit worried. Severus had asked him if he had some time to for a meeting that evening at seven, which might seem like a spur of the moment type of thing, but Severus had that look that said "I've been planning this a long time so don't mess it up." Not that that was particularly worrisome in itself, look number 12 was one of Severus's favorites, right after number 1 "I hate the world and the world hates me" and number 5 "I can't believe the idiocy I'm surround by." No what had Albus worried was that Severus had shown up for meeting with Poppy in tow and announced they wouldn't be able to start until Minerva showed up with Harry. Albus wasn't sure what was going to happen next but it couldn't be good, not with Severus sporting number 8, "You're not going to like what's about to happen, and I'm going to enjoy every minute of it."
The three of them had been waiting for a minute or so when there was a brisk knock on the door, and Minerva entered, followed by Harry. The boy appeared a bit more subdued than on the other occasions Albus had seen him around the school and more than a little nervous. That was understandable though, given he had been called to the Headmaster's office on the first week of school and likely had no idea why.
"Harry, so nice to finally get a chance to talk to you, my boy," Albus said, hoping a warm welcome might calm the young wizard down, an effort which seemed marginally successful.
"It's nice to meet you Professor. Er... I'm not in trouble am I?"
"No Mr. Potter, you are not in trouble," Severus said, choosing to answer Harry's question himself, luckily for Albus. He really wasn't entirely sure what this was all about, but it seemed a shame to give up his impression of omniscience this early on.
The announcement, or more likely the sight of the Potion's Master, relaxed the boy completely, achieving what Albus's earlier words could not. And that was another thing he was worried about, Harry's obvious emotional attachment to Severus. It wasn't jealousy (though he'd be lying if he said he wasn't at all jealous), but concern for Harry's welfare. Albus knew, despite the many student rumors to the contrary, Severus did indeed have a heart and was fully capable of love. But because of that, Albus knew better than perhaps anyone else how emotionally shut-off Severus really was, and despite all the teasing (really Severus was much too fun to tease) Albus was afraid that the things Severus did were out of duty to Lily's child, not genuine caring for the boy. Harry was going to go through far too much, and was too important for Albus to be willing to stand aside while he continually threw himself at the walls Severus had built around his heart. Trust between the two of them would be good, but trying to build an emotional reliance would likely only break the boy. It really was too bad, Lily's son had a better chance than anyone of getting Severus to open up again, but there were more important things at stake than one man's emotional well-being.
Still, it wouldn't do to just rip Harry away from Severus, that would likely shut Harry off emotionally as well, which was the very last thing Albus wanted. No better to build a relationship with the boy first and slowly build up a replacement support network before gradually weaning him off any dependence on the Potion's professor. Remus was still convinced he needed to stay away from Harry for the boy's own good, but Albus thought if he started working on it now, he could probably convince Remus to come and visit Harry by Easter break, provided the moon wasn't full, of course. That would probably be the best course for all involved.
Whilst Albus had been ruminating, everyone else had found seats, and now Severus seemed ready to begin. "Mr. Potter, do you remember when I told about what happened to your parents?"
"Yes sir," Harry replied, and Albus was glad to see that he had inherited his manners from his mother rather that his father.
"Do you remember what you promised me in exchange for me telling you that story?" Severus prompted. Minerva looked vaguely outraged that Severus would put a price on that particular story, but Albus was just somewhat amused. Leave it to Severus to find way to bargain with information he fully intend on giving anyway.
"You said I'd have to truthfully answer any questions on one topic of your choice. You don't want do it now, right here do you?" asked Harry, looking a bit panicked. Clearly he had expecting the question and answer session to be a private conversation.
"Yes I do. You didn't seem fit to make any specifications about time and place when you made the deal, so you can't complain now that they aren't to your choosing. Or are you intending on going back on your promise?" said Severus.
"No sir," Harry replied sullenly, though Albus hoped he was paying attention. It's not every day that the Head of Slytherin deigns to give students lessons on cunning. "What's the topic?"
"I think, Mr. Potter, I would like you to tell us what your life with the Dursley's was like. You can start with the address written on the first letter you received from Hogwarts." Harry looked reluctant to answer and Albus felt his vague sense of worry develop into something that wasn't quite full-blown panic, but it was a close call. "Answer the question; I will see to it that you do not get in trouble with your relatives for it."
"Mr. H. Potter, the cupboard under the stairs, 4 Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey," Harry recited.
For a moment the room was completely silent. Finally Albus spoke up. "Harry did you sleep in the cupboard the night before the letter came as a joke, or on a dare?" he asked, praying he was right.
At first he thought Harry wasn't going to answer, but the boy took one look at Severus's face and dutifully responded, "No sir, that's where I slept every night until I got that letter. After that Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon moved me into Dudley's second bedroom." And the conversation only went downhill from there.
Severus somehow managed to maintain a calm, professional air throughout the whole thing (Albus suspected him of using Occlumency), but Minerva was looking nothing short of murderous, and Poppy's hands actually started twitching with her desire to drag Harry down to the hospital wing and start running any number of tests. Objectively speaking, it really wasn't anywhere nearly as bad as it could have been. A few carefully worded questions from Severus eliminated the possibility of sexual abuse and the physical abuse seemed to be mostly limited to enabling their son and his friends. Harry's words, however, painted a picture of an unloved child, who had been neglected and mentally and emotionally abused, not to mention the frightening new light his skinny frame took on. A child whose guardians not only made it clear they didn't want him, but went out of their way to make sure no one else would ever look on him with favor either. Albus had known that there was some favoritism going on at the Dursley's, Arabella had told him that much, but this went far beyond anything he suspected. Though now he had to wonder how much of his blindness had been willful; how much had he been subconsciously ignoring in order to keep the use of the blood wards?
Finally Harry and Severus feel quiet, and the torture was ended. Albus stood up, walked over to Harry, and, heedless of the creaks and protests of his old bones, knelt down in front of the boy, taking his hands into Albus's own wizened ones. "Harry," he said, his voice as thick and heavy as the feeling in his chest, "I hope you know that I… that we didn't know it was so bad for you."
Harry looked almost confused, though whether it because of Albus's statement or his emotional reaction, it was hard to say. "Of course you didn't sir, how could you?"
"Harry, I'm going to tell you something, and I can only hope you forgive me for it. I was the one who put you in your Aunt's care when your parents died, but I want you to know that I only did it for your own protection. You know about the night your parent's died?" Harry nodded. "Well what a lot of people don't know, is that when Voldemort came to your house that night he told your mother she could live if she let him kill you. But your mother refused to get out of his way and died because she was trying to protect you."
Harry's eyes were over-bright as he replied "I know, Professor Snape told me."
Albus felt as shocked at the revelation that Severus would share something so personal, as Minerva and Poppy, who hadn't heard any of this about Lily before, looked, though Albus rather hoped he concealed it better. "That was good of Professor Snape," Albus finally said, giving Severus a meaningful glance. "Did he tell you about the blood wards too?" Harry shook his head, so Albus continued. "Well, because of what your mother did I was able to cast a very powerful spell that made it so, as long as you lived with one of your mother's relatives, you would be safe from any of Voldemort's followers who might be around and even Voldemort himself, if he was, as I fear, still alive in some way. But I never would have just left you there had I known they were going to treat you like that, and I promise that it will never happen again. Do you think you can forgive an old man his mistake?"
Harry was quiet and thoughtful for a moment, which was, in a way, more reassuring than an instant and light-hearted reply. If Albus was to be forgiven he wanted it to be because he deserved it, not because Harry wanted to make him feel better, or because the boy had an easily forgiving nature. After a minute's deliberation Harry finally answered. "I forgive you. You were just trying to protect me, and no one has ever done that before, besides my parents and Professor Snape."
For what felt like the first time all evening Albus smiled. "Thank you, my boy. Now I think you'd better go with Madam Pomfrey, I know she's dying to give you a once over after that story."
"Do I have to?" Harry protested.
But Poppy was in her element now that Harry had been officially placed under her charge, something that some of the professors had a hard time standing up to. "Yes you have to. Lord knows what kind of lingering damage those horrid people caused. You'll be lucky if I don't decide to keep you all weekend. Now march," she said, pointing to the door.
"All weekend? But Draco, and Ron, and me were going to help Neville build his aquarium tomorrow." Poppy's stance did not quiver one iota, and eventually Harry sighed and relented. "Yes ma'am."
Albus thought he saw Minerva suppress an eye roll before she said, "Come on Mr. Potter, I'll come if you and see if I can't convince Madam Pomfrey to let you return to the tower tonight, but only if you fully cooperate with whatever test she needs to run."
"I will," Harry assured Minerva brightly. Then he turned back to address Albus and Severus again. "Good night Professors,"
"Good night Harry," Albus replied, while Severus gave a brief nod in recognition. The two women ushered Harry out, leaving just Albus and Severus.
Wordlessly Severus stood up and offered his hand to Albus, to help him up from where he was still kneeling on the ground. "Thank you, my boy. I'm afraid I'm getting too old to do this kind of thing." Severus didn't respond to his comment, but Albus wasn't particularly surprised by that. While it was universally acknowledged that Albus Dumbledore was old, most witches and wizards seemed content to completely ignore any negative effects that his age might have.
"Well then Severus, I suppose I will bid you good evening, unless you have something else you need to discuss?"
"Not at the moment," Severus said. He walked to the door, but then paused, hand resting on the doorknob and looked back with an expression that Albus was quite sure he hadn't seen before. "Oh, and Dumbledore? Harry will not be going back to the Dursley's." And then he strode out of the office, leaving Albus alone with his guilt.
A/N: And so goes the first chapter of the sequel. The format of this story is going to be a little different. It is currently planned for ten chapters, one for each month of Harry's school year, and they will all be some sort of meeting in Dumbledore's office. The tentative plan is for them all to be from Dumbledore's perspective (I know, I was surprised too), but my tentative story plans have a way of changing on me a rather lot. But however it ends up I hope you all enjoy. And as always my many thanks to anyone who reads, reviews, favorites or alerts.