AN: Woo! Chapter 2 and it only took me about a year *grins sheepishly* Seriously though, you guys should be thanking josephina_x (I already have) becuase I had kind of fallen out of the fandom and she wrote a lovely Harry Potter fic that she gave to me as a present which single-handedly pulled me back in.
Albus traveled up the spiral of steps to his office, having received word that the troll had been apprehended, and was not particularly surprised to reach the top and see Severus waiting outside the door. Quirrell's little scene earlier had been highly suspicious and Albus was actually a bit disappointed in his former student, albeit secretly. Not because he was, at best, greedy and selfish enough that he didn't care if children got hurt, though that was upsetting too, of course. No, Albus was disappointed because he was relatively certain some of the first years could and had come up with better distractions and Albus was relatively certain Quirrell had only gone through with it so he could make that admittedly impressively dramatic entrance. But regardless of why he had done it, the fact remained that Severus was bound to investigate anything that suspicious and report any findings to Albus. So Severus's presence was no surprise, though Albus hadn't been expecting him to be accompanied by four children.
"Why, Professor Snape, Miss Granger, Mr. Longbottom, Mr. Potter, and Mr. Weasley. What a pleasant surprise." Severus looked up from giving the children look number 2 "You're lucky that it's illegal to chop people up for Potion's ingredients" to give Albus an approximation of an eye roll. Albus choose to ignore this in favor of opening the door to his office and gesturing the children, who looked an interesting mix of in awe and terrified, through. He conjured a few extra chairs and took his own seat behind his desk before turning to the assorted group before him. "Now what seems to be the problem?"
The three boys turned to Hermione, who in turn turned to Severus to answer the question.
"I found the four of them in the girl's bathroom, trying to take on a troll," said Severus, sounding unsurprisingly displeased by this.
Albus felt his eyebrows rise in surprise. "The four of you faced a troll. Did anyone get hurt?" There was the appropriate amount of concern in his voice, but truthfully he wasn't all that worried. The children all looked a bit shaken up, but none of them appeared injured.
"Neville hurt his ankle," Hermione reported dutifully. Neville looked a bit embarrassed by the attention, and muttered something about it being "just a sprain."
"If that's the worst of it, then I think you can all count yourselves lucky. Now," Albus said, scrutinizing each of the children in turn, "what exactly happened?"
He directed the end of this question to Severus who said, "Granger, since you were so eager to share, why don't you tell the Headmaster what happened?"
Interesting. If the children had already told Severus their side of the story, then their presence in Albus's office could only mean one of two things. Either Severus considered whatever they had done to be so bad that he lacked the authority to mete out the proper punishment, or more likely – though only slightly so; Severus was a bit trigger happy with regards to expulsion for non-Slytherin students – he suspected them of lying to him and believed that Albus might be more affective at ferreting out the truth than Severus would be with his own terrifying, from a child's perspective at least, methods.
"Please, Professor Dumbledore, it's all my fault," Hermione said with a measure of desperation that did seem to lead credence to the lying theory. "I had read all about trolls and I was sure I could deal with it on my own. So I went looking for it, and they came after me to try and stop me from getting hurt. By the time they caught up with me the troll had already cornered me and there wasn't time to go fetch any help. They tried to confuse it and maybe hurt it a bit so we could all escape, but it was too big and probably-" Here, Hermione let out a great sniff, her eyes over-bright. Considering that these four children had apparently faced down a full-grown troll on their own, the fact that none of them had broken down before this was a bit surprising. Must be the adrenaline.
With a casual flick of his wand, Albus summoned up a handkerchief floating in the air before the poor girl, which she accepted with a mumbled thanks, dabbing her eyes. "And then suddenly Professor Snape showed up and shouted out a spell I didn't recognize," Hermione continued, nose wrinkling with distaste at her own lack of knowledge.
"Stupefy, the stunning spell," Ron volunteered, causing everyone in the room to turn toward him and regard him with some surprise. Stupefy was hardly a part of the average coursework for a first year, nor was it something that might just be picked up around the house growing up in a magical family. Ron, however, just shrugged in response and said, "It comes up a lot in my brother, Charlie's stories." Charlie being the one who went on to work with dragons. That would explain it.
Hermione nodded and, despite the continued presence of tears, got a bit of a calculating look in her eyes, as though she were filing that bit of information away for later reference. "The troll did fall over unconscious after that," Hermione said, agreeing with Ron's assessment.
Now it was Severus's turn to be regarded with mild surprise, though only by Albus this time. Trolls weren't anything like easy to stun, and doing it single-handedly was no mean feat. Albus considered congratulating the man on his accomplishment, but then Severus was so sensitive about these kinds of things, and Albus wouldn't want to embarrass him in front of the children.
So, rather than saying to Severus, Albus looked back to Hermione. "Is that all?"
"For the most part, Professor," Hermione answered. "All that happened after was I told Professor Snape what happened and Professors McGonagall and Quirrell showed up in time to take care of the troll so Professor Snape could bring us here."
"I see." Well, she was clearly lying. Not about the latter half of the story, that rung true, but the beginning…
"You know, Ms. Granger, I've heard a good deal about you from the other professors," said Albus in a conversational tone. "The unanimous agreement is that you are very intelligent for your age, and justifiably proud of that intelligence." Severus half-made a noise that might have, in private company, been a snort, but Albus stood by his statement. Severus comments about her just needed a bit more translation was all. "They also all agree that you are very respectful of the rules, and not likely to be inclined to do something such as, say, run off on your own after I instructed all the students to return to their dormitories."
Hermione quailed under his direct, if somewhat subtle, prodding, but didn't retract her earlier lie. Ah, well, Albus was far from done yet.
"I'm afraid I wasn't quite so well-behaved when I was your age, not as bad as your two brothers Mr. Weasley," Albus said with a small chuckle, effectively drawing Ron into the conversation before turning to Harry and Neville to bring them in too, "but I did get myself into trouble now and again. And, of course, whenever I was caught I did what most of us do when we're caught doing something we oughtn't; I lied. Now, I won't tell you I never got away with it, I very much doubt you believe me if I did, but when I didn't manage to get away with a lie, I found the consequences were a good deal worse than they would have been if I had just told the truth."
Albus let that statement sit in the air and waited. Unsurprisingly, it didn't take long.
"Don't be angry at Hermione, she just didn't want us to get into trouble," Neville said, stuttering slightly.
"Yeah, Professor, don't blame Hermione; it's all my fault really," Harry insisted.
"And what makes you say that?" Albus asked gently.
"She wasn't even in the Great Hall when Professor Quirrell told everyone about the troll, she was in the loo cr – errr… she had gone to the loo. And when you told everyone to go to their dormitories Neville remembered that she wasn't around to hear and I said that we should go get her and warn her. And everything else she said was the truth," said Harry earnestly.
"Mmmm," Albus said, thinking. It was certainly good to hear that none of them had done anything so foolish as to actually try and take on a troll, but this was a bit worrisome. Still, best to alleviate the children's nerves before he dealt with it. "Thank you for being honest. Now, Ms. Granger, I can hardly fault you for availing yourself of the restroom, nor are you boys in trouble for trying to warn a fellow student about a dangerous situation." All four children sagged a bit in relief and Albus granted them a brief smile before continuing. "I would like to have a private conversation with Mr. Potter however; Severus if you could take Ms. Granger, Mr. Weasley, and Mr. Longbottom to the Hospital Wing so Madam Pomfrey can take a look at Neville's ankle?"
Albus was half expecting Harry to intercede and ask if Severus could stay while the two of them talked, and Albus was fully planning on leaving that decision up to Severus's discretion. What Albus was not expecting was for Severus to say, "Actually, Professor Dumbledore, I would like to stay and have a word with Mr. Potter as well."
Albus blinked in surprise once before dutifully turning to Harry and saying, "It's up to you Mr. Potter."
Harry darted a quick glance up at Severus before saying, "I'd like it if Professor Snape stayed, if he doesn't mind sir." Well, at least Albus had completely lost his ability to predict people.
Albus turned back to the other three children. He could probably just have them wait outside the office, but there was no guarantee that the quick word he wanted to have with Harry wouldn't turn into something longer, and it really would be better if Neville had his ankle looked at sooner rather than later, even if it only was a sprain. Normally he might instruct them to go to the Hospital Wing by themselves, but after the way the evening had been unfolding, it didn't seem a good idea to send them off without any kind of supervision. There had to be someone he could have look after them… Ah!
"Fawkes," Albus called, and with a gentle trilling the phoenix emerged from whatever back corner of the office he had been perched in, landing on Albus's desk.
The children regarded Fawkes with an open-mouthed astonishment, with the exception of Harry who didn't seem to realize Fawkes was anything beyond a particularly magnificent bird. A lack of knowledge that was soon to be remedied when Hermione blurted out, "That's a phoenix! I read all about them in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them."
Albus's lips curved up into an amused smile. "Yes he is. Fawkes is also a very dear and loyal friend. Fawkes," he said, addressing the bird directly, "these three need an escort to the Hospital Wing. Would you be willing to help?"
Fawkes turned his head an inspected Albus with one eye before inspecting the children with the other. Then, with a chirp of agreement, he launched himself off the desk and landed directly on top of Hermione's head. Ron, Neville, and Harry looked at Hermione with a mixture of amazement and envy as Hermione, with the same amazement, tentatively reached up to touch Fawkes's feathers. He allowed her three strokes before he nudged her hand with his beak and made a gently impatient sound. "I believe he's eager to see you to your destination," Albus suggested.
"Yes sir," Hermione agreed, "er–"
"Fawkes will find his own way back here after Madam Pomfrey takes charge of you," Albus said, guessing at what she wanted to ask. When that failed to get her to stop biting her lip, he continued, "And he'll be more than happy to direct you if you get a little lost on the way there."
Her expression cleared and she said, "Thank you Professor," before turning to leave. Ron and Neville followed her out, Neville limping a little and Ron offering a shoulder for the other boy to lean on.
Once they had left Harry turned to Albus a bit nervously and asked "I'm not in trouble am I?"
Severus rolled his eyes a bit and pointed out, "Professor Dumbledore just said you weren't in trouble less than ten minutes ago."
"Quite so," Albus agreed.
Harry gave the both of them a sheepish grin. "Oh, right."
"I just wanted a quick word with you, Harry," Albus assured. "Now, am I correct in assuming that, while you lived with your Aunt and Uncle, if you had any sort of problem or something troubling you, you were expected to sort it out for yourself?"
"Yes sir," Harry said, swallowing.
"And do you think that might be why this evening, instead of telling one of the Professors about Ms. Granger's predicament, you went to go find her yourself?"
Harry's eyes went wide with shock. "I'm sorry Professor, I didn't even think –"
"It's quite alright," Albus told him, giving Harry a gentle smile. "You lived with your relatives for ten years; even if the ways that they taught you of dealing with certain things are no longer applicable it's understandable that you might forget from time to time. I just wanted to remind you that all of us, the professors, the Head Boy and Girl, the prefects, we're all here to help you if you need it."
"Harry," Severus interjected, "how do you think I knew to come to save the four of you so quickly?"
"Er… didn't you hear the troll wrecking the bathroom Professor?" Harry hazarded.
"No," corrected Severus. "Mr. Malfoy saw the three of you leaving the Great Hall and came and told me because he was worried you were going to do something to get yourselves hurt."
"Oh. I guess I should thank Draco then," Harry said.
"That would be a good idea," Albus agreed. "And maybe next time follow his example as well."
Harry nodded, and then peered apprehensively up at Albus from under his fringe. "Um, Professor? What if I forget next time too?"
"Well," said Albus brightly, "I suppose I'll just have to remind you again."
"Yes sir," Harry said, grinning brightly.
"Good. Now, is there anything else you wished to say to Harry, Professor Snape?" Albus asked, turning to Severus.
"Only that I'm willing to remind him as well, as many times as it takes to get it through that dunderheaded skull of his." Harry beamed up at Severus, and Albus fairly suspected himself of beaming too.
"And did you have any other questions, Harry?"
"No sir," Harry said, shaking his head.
"Alright," Albus said. "If you do have any questions or concerns in the future, my office is always open to you. That same password, 'Chocolate Frogs,' will be good for the rest of the year. But for now, I think if you hurry you can catch up with your friends on their way to the Hospital Wing."
With a quick goodbye Harry rushed out of the room, with Severus following at a more sedate pace.
Alone, Albus leaned back and thought. Severus had been far more open with Harry this evening than Albus had expected him to be willing to be. He hadn't said much over the course of the meeting to be sure, but that he had requested to stay during a private somewhat emotional conversation with Harry, and had voluntarily offered the boy encouragement had been something of a surprise, a pleasant one.
This certainly bore watching.