Chapter Four: A Learning Experience
"Why are you suddenly so interested in Harry's whereabouts, Severus?"
The Potions master steepled his fingers and chose his words carefully. A near-truth was called for in response to the headmaster's question, and the wizard found himself somewhat out of practice in the art of misdirection.
"I have been conducting some additional research into the stabilizing potion I brewed for Potter, and I am troubled by my findings."
"The potion is losing its potency, Albus."
"I see. What might the repercussions be for Harry?"
"Without analyzing her blood, I cannot say. But I think it would be prudent to find her before she experiences any related difficulties that might arise over my . . . lack of care."
"Do you truly believe that a loss of," the older wizard said, narrowing his eyes in concentration, "less than one percent efficacy is cause enough to violate the young woman's privacy, Severus?"
The Potions master stood up angrily. "Damn it, any loss of efficacy is cause for concern!"
Albus reached for the crystal bowl of lemon drops that sat on the edge of his desk, retrieved one, and popped it into his mouth.
"You are the master of such matters, of course," he replied in a noncommittal tone.
Severus sat again, thinking, No, you are the master here. I was a fool to believe that I could hide anything from you.
Albus smiled. "Then why not tell me why it is that you truly wish to find Harry?"
"Because it is no concern of yours."
"Albus, I cannot explain. To do so would be a violation of her privacy, and I do not wish to betray Harry's trust further than I already have."
"Would you be referring to the events that transpired during your attempted apprehension of Lucius Malfoy?"
"She surely never—"
"—no, dear boy, she did not, but I have seen enough in my time to know when two people have become magic-fasted to glean something of what passed between you that day."
Severus was shocked by this revelation. "What do you mean, magic-fasted?"
"You did not know? Interesting . . . . Well, Harry did seem to take great pains to avoid you afterwards."
"But such a bond as that is our oldest form of marriage! I was only attempting to save her life!"
"And so you did."
"Gods! No wonder . . . this is worse than I . . . what have I done?"
"I believe that we have just established that. The real question is why did you do it?"
"I hardly think it matters, Albus. Harry must despise me."
"Perhaps this will provide you with answers," the wizard said, holding out a hand before him to retrieve a conjured letter.
"—from Harry? Indeed it is, my friend," Albus told him, offering him the letter. "It is also the only assistance that I may provide you in this matter. Harry did not know where she was going when she handed the letter to me—by design, I believe. You trained her well, it would seem."
Severus tore open the light blue envelope without delay and read:
"I know how furious you must be with me for seeking Voldemort out on my own, but it was necessary. You would have tried to stop me from doing what we both knew had to be done, and I came to realize, finally, that it was my job to destroy him, my job alone.
"My methods were my own, but you helped me discover them when the bond you forged between us repelled Voldemort from my mind, from my body. I was too weak then to have prevented him from taking me over. Thank you for that, for looking out for me, for saving me.
"I will not forget your gentleness.
"But I have to leave. I am not the same since I ended it, not safe, and I will not allow what still exists of Voldemort inside of me to cause anyone harm. That is the point of winning, isn't it? To make everyone safe?
"I'm glad that you are safe, even if you won't believe it.
Severus felt his gorge rise as he digested the implications of Harry's letter. She allowed herself to be used, he thought, shame coiling in his belly, and I taught her to do it.
"That is taking too much upon yourself, dear boy."
"You . . . you should have killed me, Albus," Severus replied hollowly, staggering to the hearth and flooing to his chambers without another word.
The headmaster sighed heavily when he was alone, his own feelings of guilt enfolding him as might the arms of an old friend. He had borne much over the years toward the preservation of the Greater Good, and had elected to bear his burden alone rather than share it with those he loved.
And Harry has learned much by my example.
The new year dawned at Hogwarts bringing with it several changes in staff. Professors Flitwick and Binns had retired; Flitwick to write, and Binns because he had suddenly realized his condition—with some help from Dumbledore, who had wished to install Remus Lupin as the new History of Magic professor. Those on the Board of Governors had been displeased by this change, but had been greatly mollified by Tongish Oddfish's acceptance of Professor Snape's classes while that wizard was on sabbatical. Oddfish was a noted agitator for the rights of those infected by werewolf venom, and the prestigious member of the Spellcrafters' Guild would not have understood it if prejudice had exempted a qualified professional from employment.
The fact that Lupin was a war hero was also an influential consideration for the governors.
"Good morning, Professor Lupin."
"Headmaster," the other wizard acknowledged. "What brings you out on such a cold morning?"
"My own disquietude, I suppose."
"Ah. I was just wondering how to inject some excitement into Binns' lesson plans."
Albus laughed. "Be kind to yourself—and to your students—and draw up your own."
"I've already decided to bring in someone from the Department of Mysteries to discuss some of the old forms of war craft that were discarded after the Great Goblin Wars."
"A capital idea! Though I must say that I do wish so much of our history was not that of conflict."
"Agreed—but it wouldn't do to forget."
Neither wizard spoke for awhile, each troubled by his own concerns about the nature of the "victory" against Voldemort. The Dark Lord was dead, but the social conditions that had permitted his rises to power were yet extant in their society.
"We go as children to war ignorant of our own uselessness, and emerge as mighty tools for he who dares to make use of us. And only when we have come to accept our places in the game of power are we then fit to be discarded," Albus murmured.
"Who said that?"
"Grindelwald, shortly before I discorporated him."
"Did he mean you?" Remus asked, though he did not expect an answer.
Dumbledore was known for having never spoken of his time with the would-be Dark Lord of his era, just as Harry had refused to speak of Voldemort.
"When I was a much younger man, I often found his statements worthy of much reflection. But that was before he went mad. It's a tricksome thing, power, when one has not the internal resources to reject its use."
Remus turned to the headmaster and said, "Thank you."
"Exercising your 'internal resources'."
Albus gave a rueful chuckle. "Perhaps it would be better to thank my mother. She spent the first two decades of my life teaching me to scrutinize my every whim, and dismiss my desires as never as important as the good of others. She was a hard woman, and a talented witch, and she knew her boy."
Remus removed a battered flask from his robes and toasted, "To Madeline Ginevra Morgana Templeton Dumbledore, the greatest teacher of her generation" before passing the container to Albus, who accepted it, and drank deeply.