Chapter 13 - Acquiescing 

Harry remained in his dormitory through breakfast. He had woken with an overwhelming desire to reorganize his possessions. There was a box in the far corner of the common room of things people wanted to give away.  Harry dumped a few things in there and threw some others out. Around eleven, too hungry to avoid it, he went downstairs. The party was scheduled to start at three; that gave him plenty of time to see to any last-minute preparations.

When Harry returned from the kitchens to the hall with a plate of food, he found the teachers seated in their usual place. Unable to avoid sitting with them, he walked the length of the room. He set his plate down on the end, across from Dumbledore. 

"Good morning, Harry," the old wizard greeted him warmly.

"Morning, sir."

"Sleep well?"

He shrugged. "Mostly." He had had very strange dreams about the Dursleys and his parents, though the details were escaping him now.

As Harry poured himself some pumpkin juice, Dumbledore said, "I hope you don't mind, Harry, if I give you my gift now. I'm not certain how long I can join the party for later." He pulled a long slender box out of his pocket.

Harry put down his fork and accepted it. "I don't mind, Professor."

"Harry, you of all people have earned the right to call me 'Albus.'"

"Uh," he hesitated. "I'd have to work on that, sir."

McGonagall, beside Dumbledore, put her hand over her mouth to hide her grin.

"Only if you wish to, of course," Dumbledore said amiably.

Harry lifted the box top to reveal a dark peach feather quill with a gold tip. "Wow," he said, "thank you, sir." It was clearly a feather from Fawkes. The tip didn't have a well. On a hunch, Harry wrote on the inside of the box with it.  The never-out charm wrote in continuously sparkling gold and peach ink. "Thanks. It's wonderful." He carefully boxed it back up and set it well out of range of his plate and juice.

Hagrid reached into one of his great pockets and brought out a smashed box and handed it over. "Can' compete with the las' one, but here yer are."

"Hagrid, you are talking to someone who used to get old socks for Christmas and no birthday presents at all, so I am pretty easy to please." As he said this he realized that maybe he shouldn't have with Dumbledore right across from him. He concentrated on the difficult unwrapping job, made worse by much knotted string, and tried not to flush.  Inside were a pair of rabbit-lined gloves. 

"Maybe a lil' more of a Christmas present, but they're the bes' I could think of. Made 'em myself."

"They're great Hagrid. They'll be useful for practice in the autumn."

McGonagall and Sprout had fetched their gifts from the pile across the room and presented them. Harry's plate grew cold while he opened them and they joined his small pile. McGonagall gave him colored sheets of reusable parchment and Sprout an ever blooming flower in a glass bulb to put in the window of the dormitory. The rose scent of it hovered around him, even after he had re-closed the box.

"Severus," McGonagall said airily, "didn't you get Harry anything?"

Harry paused in pulling his plate back, an unexpected defensiveness rising in him. "He gave me his present last night, Professor," Harry said, pleased with how even his voice sounded, given how much his heart broke from its usual rhythm.

Dumbledore looked closely at Harry before he leaned forward to look down the table at Snape. The headmaster then gave Harry a knowing look, and Harry twitched his lips in confirmation.

"Do we get to see it?" McGonagall asked eagerly. "In all the time I have known him, I don't think Severus has ever given anyone a present. No matter what the occasion."

"Uh," Harry started. He glanced at Dumbledore for support. In measured speech Harry finally explained, "I haven't accepted it yet . . . so there isn't anything to show."

McGonagall's brow furrowed deeply as she tried to figure that out. Harry expected her to ask more, but she didn't. He wondered if Dumbledore had nudged her under the table. Harry kept his attention on his plate the rest of the meal; he wanted his thoughts kept private while they churned.

- 888 -

"Harry!" Mrs. Weasley gave Harry a hug when she arrived at the door. Ron, Ginny, and the twins trouped in behind her, each patting Harry on the arm as they passed, presents in hand.

"Thank you for coming," Harry said. "And I said, no gifts. You'll see why inside." He led them into the Great Hall. Hermione jumped up and greeted Ron and the Weasley parents warmly. Harry offered butterbeers all around. "We are still waiting on Neville and his grandmother."

"Small party," Neville commented from the doorway.

"Hi, Neville." Harry stepped over to him and took the large wrapped box from him with a shake of his head. "I was ordered to keep it small after the last one."

"Oh, yeah. I can imagine."

Fred held up his bottle of butterbeer. "Congratulations Harry. Never would've believed you'd make it to seventeen."

"Here here," Mr. Weasley, echoed. "To Harry."

Harry rolled his eyes as they all raised their bottles.  "We had enough toasts at the last party," Harry insisted as he straddled the bench. The others joined him around the Gryffindor table and soon, loud conversation filled their side of the hall.

"How are you making out here?" Hermione asked. 

"Bugger to be stuck here," Ron commented. "When is the Ministry going to catch those blokes so you can come visit us?"

"It could be more interesting, but it isn't so bad. It isn't the Dursley's," Harry stated emphatically as he cut himself another piece of cake.

"There is that," Ron agreed. He glanced over all of the gifts again. "I can't believe all of these presents," he said for the third time. "Wonder what is in 'em all?"

Harry put his plate and fresh piece of cake down. "Let's find out!" he said and jumped up from his seat.

He and Ron tore into the boxes, revealing a mostly ordinary assortment of wizard gear along with a few Mugglish crossover things like t-shirts with magical pictures on them.  Every time Ron expressed a liking for something, Harry gave it to him. Ginny, catching on to this, helped out as well. By the time they were finished, the table was a disaster of torn wrapping, open boxes and teetering gifts.

"So you ended up with Krum's autograph anyway," he said, looking over a heavily marked Quidditch bat. 

"So, he and I are even, then," Harry said. He stood up to get another butterbeer. Ron gathered up his goodies and brought them over to mess with them. Hermione was discussing Muggle relations with Mr. Weasley. Mrs. Weasley and Neville's grandmother seemed to be plotting Neville's future together. Harry looked at his friend in concern, but Neville seemed more interested in the flowerless chocolate plant Harry had received. 

"You are definitely the right lady for the job," Arthur was saying to Hermione.

"I think I need Muggle expertise though to have a private practice, like law or policy." Her eyes glowed eagerly as she spoke. "I'm going to apply to some Muggle programs this autumn. I have piles of brochures but I don't have them with me. I'd be interested in your opinion."

"Have you looked at Waxman's Medicinals?" Molly was saying. "They have a farm and greenhouse not far from the Burrow. One of several, I hear." 

Neville looked up in interest at that. "Do you think they have internships?" he asked.

"Certainly worth checking," Molly said.

Harry felt cold as he listened. Other than his sometime notion of becoming an Auror, he didn't have any real plans. Thinking he would find some commiseration, he said to his best friend, "What are your plans, Ron?"

Ron began putting away the advanced wizard chess pieces that were refusing to battle outside of a real game. He said, "Bill says he'd have me on as an assistant at Gringotts to see how I liked it. He said just getting around that place is an adventure." He shrugged. "I think I'll give it a try. Sounds interesting at least. Even get to train security Trolls every now and then," he added with an odd smile.

Harry pushed his third piece of cake around with his fork and frowned to himself. He couldn't imagine what else he would do other than become an Auror, and whatever it was, it sounded like he was going to be doing it alone. He sighed and finished off his luke-warm butterbeer.

"I'm going to take my parents on a quick tour," Hermione said brightly many hours later as the gathering broke up and moved to the doors. "I'll come back down and say goodbye, Harry," she added as they disappeared around the corner.

"We had a nice time, Harry," Mrs. Weasley said kindly, patting Harry on the shoulder. "Hopefully you can come and stay with us soon."

"Happy birthday, Harry," Fred or George said as they departed. The other Weasleys echoed this as they shuffled out into the Entrance Hall. Harry hung back and, as their footsteps faded, returned to the table. The large front door to the castle boomed closed. Harry stood before the mound of open boxes and random gifts.

Halfheartedly, he pulled a larger box free and began digging around for items to load into it for easier transport to the dormitory. The sudden silence of the room pressed in on him and, when the next item, the official Bulgarian Quidditch bat signed by the team, wouldn't fit in the box, he set it down on the floor beside it and dropped down on the bench, facing the fire. The crackle of the flames was the only sound in the large dark space around him. 

Harry wondered at the oppressive feeling in his chest. Discussions about the future had left him feeling uneasy rather than excited as it clearly had his friends. He deeply wished he felt the way they did but didn't know how to find his way there.

A shadow shifting in from the left brought Harry's attention up from the dwindling fire.  "Sir," Harry said when he recognized the tall figure.

Professor Snape lifted a stray lid on the pile. "I do believe that you have not even managed to open them all," he stated dryly.

"No," Harry agreed then wondered if Snape were hinting at something.

"You gave most of them away," his teacher went on, as he held an empty velvet-lined box from Flourish & Blotts.

"Tried to," Harry said. "Hermione took that one."

"Ah," Snape said.

"Did you want it?" Harry asked, a little surprised.

"Hm." Snape put the box back down.

Grinning faintly now, Harry turned back to the pile. "There was another box like it with the same store wrapping."  He dug around to the bottom and pulled out a weighty, silver parchment wrapped box. With well-practiced movements, he pulled away the wrapping and opened the lid to reveal another dark gray desk journal with gold edging to the pages. After flipping it over, Harry observed, "You are in luck, this one isn't embossed with my initials. Hermione didn't seem to care that the other one was." He held it out to Snape.

"You are certain you do not want it?" Snape asked as he accepted it and flipped through the pages once.

"Carry that in my backpack all next year? I don't think so."

Snape closed the journal and set it on its edge. "Thank you," he stated levelly.

Hermione's voice issued from the Entrance Hall, still giving statistics and history at a rapid clip. Her parents followed her in and back over to the party table. "Well, Harry, we should go."

Harry stood up and gave her a casual hug. "Thanks for coming. Thanks for the books."

She started to turn away. "Hopefully I'll get to see you at Ron's before school starts." As she stepped between her parents to leave, she hesitated and looked back at her father when he did not immediately move to follow.

Mr. Granger looked from Snape to Harry. "You all right left alone here, son?"

"Yes," Harry replied automatically. His brow furrowed as he tried to figure the man out. 

Hermione stepped back over. "This is one of our teachers, Dad, Professor Snape."

"Oh," he said and looked Snape up and down another time.

Understanding now, Harry glanced up at his teacher. In his long cloak with high collar and the dim firelight coming from floor level, he did look rather menacing, and, as usual, he wasn't trying not to. Harry felt that surge of defensiveness again, stronger this time.

Hermione's mother patted Mr. Granger's sleeve. "Come on, Hon. I'm sure they wouldn't hire anyone, uh, dangerous."

"Hire anyone who would try to kill Harry?" Harry suggested with such sarcasm that Hermione had to cover her giggle. "Can't imagine that," he finished a little bitterly.

"Poor, Harry," Hermione said in overdone sympathy and giggled again.

"Why are you laughing, dear?" Hermione's mum asked, alarmed and chastising.

"Ehem, uh, nearly every Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher we've had has tried to kill Harry," she explained making her mother look more alarmed.

"You know," Harry said, turning his head to look back at Snape, "as much as you didn't like Dumbledore hiring Lupin, at least he didn't have it in for me."

Snape crossed his arms. "You don't recall running across the lawn away from a werewolf, Mr. Potter?"

"Oh, yeah. Well, he didn't spend months plotting my death. That was an accident."

"Hm," Snape muttered noncommittally.

"Harry," Hermione said, "if you define it as danger to Harry—you have to count five of the Defense teachers."

"So, Professor, do I have to start worrying about you as well now?" Harry turned his head over his shoulder to ask Snape.

"You're teaching Defense next year?" Hermione asked sharply, sounding very concerned. "Who's teaching Potions?"

Snape replied, "A woman by the name of Gertrude Greer has accepted the position. I know her only by reputation. She is expected to arrive tomorrow, in fact." He gave Hermione a challenging look.

"I was looking forward to seventh-year Potions," she explained with a hint of a whinge.

"I don't mean to disappoint, Ms. Granger," Snape said airily.

"That's all right, sir. You should teach what you want to teach. It's just that we need Potions more than Defense now . . ." she trailed off. After a pause where her mother pointed out the time, she added, "We really should go." This time her parents followed her out of the hall. At the door she paused. "Bye, Harry," she said as her mother put a hand on her shoulder to keep her moving. "Happy birthday."

"Thanks," Harry replied.

The sinking feeling started again as the outer door closed, reverberating through the vastness. Harry distracted himself by picking up another larger box from the floor and putting gifts into it, tossing the smaller empty boxes into the hearth.

"Do you want help?" Snape asked.

Harry hesitated before replying, "Sure."

They managed to pack everything into three large boxes. Snape handed Harry each of the last few unopened packages revealed at the bottom. Harry sighed and ripped them open, adding a ninth hat, a third broom compass, and a very soft scarf in Gryffindor colors to the last box. 

"And this one," Snape stated softly as he pulled a small, slender box from his pocket and held it out. "In case you cannot accept the other one."

Harry stared, unmoving, at the box in Snape's hand. He had been merely sinking before—now he was plummeting.

"Harry?" Snape prompted him.

"You don't have to do that," Harry said, voice a little thick. Walls that he hadn't known were surrounding him seemed to have crashed in on him. "You don't have to do any of this." The flare of the hearth faded out at that moment, leaving the boxes and wrapping as glowing filigrees of ash.

Still holding the box out, Snape thought a long moment. "I find myself wanting to," he said quietly; too quietly to give away his tone.

Harry took the box and held it, unable to open it. He was certain he would lose his tenuous control if he did. The scene of minutes ago, of Hermione leaving with her parents, replayed again in his mind. He had never lost that ache of jealousy, of hopeless bitter longing, could conjure it now if he thought it useful.

"Are you sure about the other one?" Harry heard himself ask.

"I never do anything without due deliberation."

Harry still held the box lightly in his fingers. It was a little heavier than he thought it would be from the size. "No, I don't suppose you do," he commented, stalling for time to try to pin down the emotion churning in him. It felt like fear, but that didn't make any sense. 

His internal struggle must have reflected in his face because Snape said, "I don't mean to distress you. My offer has apparently rendered you too vulnerable."

A measure of control returned to him as Snape said that, making Harry wonder if half the fear hadn't been of Snape recognizing what was happening to him. "You already did that," he commented and finally raised his eyes. "That is how I finally defeated Voldemort, you know." At Snape's intense expression, Harry went on. "You thought you'd made a mistake, breaking my concentration. I thought you had too," Harry explained, his heart racing as though it were happening all over again. "But he'd Occluded his mind too much—I couldn't get at him anymore.  

"The Death Eaters were regrouping and I looked around and saw you. All of these confused emotions came out and Voldemort latched onto the hate. He came straight at me with it, so certain he knew you, so certain he had me." Harry paused and shook his head. He was breathing faster now as well. "I didn't have any choice—I had to pull out everything I'd felt at the abandoned manor. I had to relive all the memories I'd been avoiding because I couldn't stand to realize I'd been needing something that badly that I couldn't have." Harry's voice cracked at that. He paused to catch his breath and calm the burn in his eyes.

Snape gave him a moment and then observed quietly, "That most certainly would have done in the Dark Lord."

"He'd staked everything on that surge—hadn't left himself any way to back out of it. The memories did startle him rather a lot," he commented, attempting a lighter tone.

"I had been rather curious, but you'd avoided filling in the details to the Ministry, and I had no right to pry if did you not wish to discuss it."

"You deserved to know," Harry said tiredly. He didn't know where to go from here; numbness had seeped in where everything had churned injuriously before.

"Harry . . . you can have it, you know."

Harry closed his eyes and floated a moment. When he opened them again he could feel that his expression was unduly pained so he closed them again and held them that way. Snape stepped close, his robes swishing over the sound of the fire. After a long pause he put his left hand lightly on Harry's shoulder blade. Clenching his eyes tighter, Harry leaned forward and rested his forehead on Snape's chest.  They stood that way for a long time, until Harry's breathing slowed to normal.

"What do you think?" Snape asked as he stroked Harry's back once, very lightly, fingers uncertain. After a long pause, Harry nodded. Snape caught his breath. "Are you saying 'yes?'" he asked, a little startled. Harry nodded faintly again.

Taking a half-step back and drawing himself up, Snape said in an unsettled voice, "Happy birthday, Mr. Potter."

- 888 -

The next morning, the teachers sat in a staff meeting. "I must say," Dumbledore began, "that having more time over the summer with this many of you here does make preparations for the coming year go easier. Although I am certain you would like to go home at some point."

"Harry did apologize for keeping us here," McGonagall said. She sat back in her chair with her datebook open in front of her. 

"I do hope you dissuaded him from his concern?" Dumbledore asked.

"Oh yes. I pointed out how much busier we would be if he hadn't disposed of Voldemort. He seemed to accept that."

"Thank you, Minerva. He doesn't seem willing to voice his concerns to me."

A silence fell. Snape sat hunched, flipping his quill over in his fingers repeatedly. 

"Yer antzier than a sack of fire beetles, Severus," Hagrid said from the end of the table. 

Snape started at his comment, dropped the quill on the table, and sat back with crossed arms. Dumbledore looked him over once. "Everything all right, Severus?"

"Yes. Why shouldn't it be?" he retorted stiffly.

"You are behaving oddly," Dumbledore said gently.

"More so than usual," McGonagall added teasingly.

Snape glared at both of them but refrained from comment. Dumbledore shifted smoothly onto school business. 

At the end of the short meeting, all but Snape stood up. "There is something I should discuss with you," Snape said to Dumbledore. The rest of the teachers paused and looked at him before continuing out of the room. 

"Everything is not all right, I take it?" Dumbledore asked when the door closed.

Snape again flipped his black quill feather across his fingers nervously. "He said 'yes'."

Dumbledore's eyes widened. "Already?" At Snape's nod he added, "I would not have imagined that." The headmaster stepped to the window and looked out for a long minute. "It concerns me."

Snape rubbed his chin in thought. "I think it need not. Bringing the Dark Lord down forced him to admit things to himself that he would not have otherwise. I believe he had less to think over as a result."

"Well then, congratulations are in order," Dumbledore said. At Snape's dubious expression, he shook his head. "You do seem unsettled . . ."

Snape collected up his parchments, rolling them tightly. "I may have thought the likelihood to be lower than it actually was when I was deliberating."

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