Failure To Thrive

Showdown With Lucius

The first Sunday after Severus' return, Lucius sensed a volatility in Harry that he decided to push. The boy had shown up with a dark cloud hovering over his head. He was testy in their interactions and had declined to have a friendly duel. Draco was having dinner with his girlfriend's visiting American family, so he'd taken Harry into his study for a chat before dinner.
"Well, son, while Severus is so accessible and amenable, perhaps you ought to review with him what you would need for your NEWTS in potions and defense?"
It was like adding kerosine to a smoldering fire. No sooner had he broached the subject, than the eruption of temper brought everything to the table.
"You're wasting your breath! It's not going to happen!" Harry raged, fists clenched, shoulders hunched defensively, eyes flashing defiantly, and chest already heaving. "I am not going to subject myself to that kind of misery again!"
"Young man, you will modify your tone immediately!" Lucius warned, his own voice deceptively quiet, yet icy and fierce. "Allow yourself to consider that I am not foolish enough to think that I can cow you into returning to school only to watch you flounder unhappily and waste not only your own time, but that of your instructors." He stepped closer to Harry, towering over him threateningly. "Allow as well that I am not so bullheaded as to insist you put yourself into unhappy circumstances simply to suit my ideals regardless of the cost to you." He could see by the flicker of emotion over Harry's face that he'd mentally checked himself a tiny fraction. But he leaned down to put his mouth close to Harry's ear and said quietly with stern promise to deliver, "And if I hear that tone from you again, I'll spank you soundly."
Harry stepped back warily. "I knew this was coming," he said between gritted teeth.
Lucius raised his eyebrows. "Did you?"
"Yes," the boy grumbled. "Because I won't agree to go back to Hogwarts."
"No, foolish boy. To encourage you to have a civil discussion on the subject. You are withholding your real reasons for resisting further education. We have been skirting around this issue for months. You have yet to explain yourself."
"There's nothing to explain!" Harry said angrily. He edged back from Lucius again, but clearly was not able to reign in his frustration. "I'm done with school."
"Why is that?" Lucius asked calmly.
"Because I am done with it."
"That's not an answer, young man. You're being sullen and rude, and you've been warned. Take a moment to form a coherent thought and then answer me.” He watched Harry struggle with his command. “Please believe my sincerity when I tell you that this will never go away-"
"It will never go away regardless!" Harry blurted out in a wounded voice.
"But you can chip away at the worst of it and take some comfort from sharing your burden with others, Harry. That's how we survive as human beings."
"I don't want to say these things to you," Harry said tightly.
"And I'm guessing I'll wish you hadn't had to, but I'm not going to take the coward's way out and run from hearing about my role in your suffering."
And with that, Harry was steered by the older man backwards a few yards to be seated on the settee. Lucius moved a chair over to sit facing him with an expression of calm resolve. It was exactly what Harry did not want to see, but he realized he had run out of options, short of fleeing Malfoy Manor to escape the 3-day burn, as Draco had called his father's wallopings. He took a few deep breaths and cleared his throat. "It's not going to make sense to you."
"I'm listening, Harry," Lucius said softly.
Harry pressed his lips together, intensity tightening his chest again and his voice, but he finally launched into it. "In so many ways, I hate the wizarding world… I hate the institutionalized inequities. I hate the way so many wizards are so quick to abuse their power. And most of all, I hate how easy it is to do so. I think it's completely vile, and when I really stop to think about it, I want to leave Wizarding Britain altogether. I'm still not convinced I won't."
Lucius leaned forward, elbows on his knees, eyes on Harry's face. "Are you ashamed that you feel this way?" He asked.
Harry gaped at him. "Don't you get it? So much of why I feel this stuff is because of the way you, and your wife and son, treated me on sight. You were all so utterly superior and so quick to show your disdain for anyone less fortunate. You made so many of us feel like shite. So many children feel like shite. You goaded the Ministry into declaring me a liar after the graveyard, and readily gave that horrible interview to the Prophet. I'd had no friends for most of 4th year because of the Tournament, and then it was thousands times worse in 5th because of that article. Everyone called me a liar. It was clear that Draco was encouraged to be as cruel and vile as …-do you know how many times he called my mother a mudblood? Or Hermione? Do you have any idea what it's like to be on the receiving end of that kind of hatred? For something that is out of your control?" Harry was seething. He stopped and gulped in air, swiping at his eyes, glaring at his pseudo guardian's knees, not ready to see Lucius' face yet. "You encouraged and enabled all of the horrible things that went on when Umbridge came to the scene. I hated you because you were so mean. I dreaded the sight of you. You… you raised your wand at me when I was twelve. You might have killed me." Here, his voice broke. "I'd just fought a bloody basilisk and you're throwing the killing curse at me! I was a bloody second year." He scrubbed at his face in frustration then finally set his confrontational glare on Lucius. "I had no one to go to with my nightmares about all of that. And every time I saw you after that, it would bring it all back."
Lucius had been expecting to be set straight about his horrible past by Harry, but had not been prepared for how much it would bother him to know he'd hurt this boy so profoundly. He held the boy's glare without flinching, but felt compelled to offer something, something as a concession to Harry's recollection of the powerlessness he'd experienced. "But then, Harry, you saw us all groveling in the miserable muck that we'd reduced our lives to, through our own foolishness and cruelty. And you never so much as rejoiced in our requital. You witnessed our wretched humiliation and the destruction of our power, and yet you somehow only saw our humanity and were compassionate. Instantly." Lucius supplied. "You saved my son twice during the battle, as well as my wife's life and mine by destroying Voldemort. You gave statements to Minister Shacklebolt that you'd witnessed our duress when I'd fallen out of favor with Voldemort. Whatever you said convinced him to let us stay free."
They stared at each other while Harry processed this. He wasn't ready to finish his rant, but this recognition from Lucius had derailed him slightly. It was all so bloody complicated.
"You know so much more about the goodness in people than I could ever hope to, Harry. Enough to know that when people get their arrogant arses handed to them on a filthy platter, they sometimes come to their senses. You gave us all a chance."
Harry leaned back into the cushions, eyes warily allowing the older man to hold his gaze. "Yeah," he said. "But I don't believe all that prejudice out there is just gone now. I have absolutely no desire to go anywhere near that kind of mindset ever again. And this whole time that we've grown close, I've been dreading the possibility that you could revert back to that side of your nature."
Now Lucius leaned back and cast his eyes over Harry's shoulder, digesting his words. Harry could see a wall going up by the set in his shoulders, but the man had been true to his word and had given his full attention to Harry's speech, and Harry knew instinctively that it had been painful to hear.
Lucius was calm when he said, "Continue. Please."
Harry clenched and unclenched his hands while he searched for the words to say next. "Whenever I think about what it would be like to return to school, to be under the authority all over again, of people who abuse their power, I feel sick to my stomach. I have no faith that people will have changed with the fall of Voldemort. I've seen for myself how basic human weakness allowed him to have that much power to begin with. It's just too easy to use cruelty and evil to get ahead." He looked the older man meaningfully in the eyes. "I don't want any part of it, Lucius."
Lucius blinked rapidly a couple of times, inhaling deeply as he digested his young charge's words. "No, I can see why you would not. I don't think I need to point out that you would no longer be physically vulnerable to these power-abusing adults attempting to call themselves educators while they push through their own agendas."
"No, I know I can take care of myself now," Harry said. His stomach hurt from the way he'd been clenching it since he'd arrived at the manor today. "But every year that I was at Hogwarts, there was at least one adult in authority mistreating me. I could prevent that from happening now because I'm no longer a minor, but if the school board is as inept as it was the last time I was there, I'll end up leaving in disgust anyway."
"Your concerns are quite valid, Harry," Lucius told him. "Do you not see that this is more than just a problem that you alone could face upon returning to school? That it's something that would effect all of the students?"
"I guess." Harry said.
"And do you really think that those in the group you formed, the DA, who all fought for the Light alongside you, would sit back and silently allow adults to carry on in such a way? Do you not think that you may have left a bit of a legacy in your wake? I'm quite certain Mr. Longbottom would not hesitate to challenge an abuse of power. Quite certain."
Harry couldn't help but smile slightly at that. Neville really had achieved god status in Lucius' eyes. He suddenly realized he was calmer now, that he'd said the worst of what he'd had to say to Lucius, and the man was still speaking to him with fatherly concern. And of course, Lucius had been right earlier when he'd told Harry as much. But Harry had been certain the Malfoys would cast him out if he'd ever revealed these sentiments to them. He was brought out from his reverie when Lucius leaned forward and took both of his hands and squeezed them. It was then that Harry realized the older wizard was trembling as much as he was.
"This, Harry, this disclosure between us, right now, is an exercise in trust. Do you understand? We cannot fully grow to trust each other until we can be completely genuine without fear of rejection."
Harry gave him a pained look. "Then be genuine with me too, sir. Do you trust me now that you know that I feel this way?"
"I trust you more than ever, and am proud of your courage to express these sentiments, as harsh as they are." When Harry gave him a doubtful look, Lucius squeezed the boys hands again. He inhaled deeply and let the breath out slowly. "These are your feelings. They are not acts against me, nor are they declarations of intention to hurt me, or my family. What you have revealed is a confession of how much we hurt you. You have told me of my failures." He leaned back. "Now, I won't pretend that hearing it was easy, but you did not hurt my feelings. You took down a wall that has been between us, that was there as result of my actions, not yours. I am the lucky one thus far, to have been given the chance to befriend you, in spite of my past transgressions against you. And there will be no more transgressions of that nature between us. I promise you that. All right?"
"Yeah." Harry looked away with a slight frown as he processed what he'd just been told. He sighed in self deprecation and looked back a Lucius. "So, what you're saying, sir, is that I could have saved us both a lot of tension if I'd just bloody well said all of this beforehand?"
"Language, young man," Lucius warned, but then he stood up and gestured for Harry to stand too so that he could envelope him in a comforting hug. "Yes, my foolish lad, that is what I'm saying." He rubbed Harry's back for a few minutes and Harry leaned into the embrace, accepting the caring without reservation. "This was a very big step tonight, Harry. For both of us. You are way too wise to not gain tremendous insight into the way you will begin to feel after this. You will see. You've lightened your burden by telling me how you've been feeling. You need to do the same with Severus. And you will not overstep if you are as open and honest with him as you just were with me."
"But we haven't resolved my refusal to continue my schooling, sir," Harry said.
"You've revealed the barriers between here and that point of resolution, Harry. I think now you also see that it is going to require more thought and more discussion. In the end, if you still conclude that you don't want to educate yourself further, I will not condemn your choice."
"Yes, but will you condescend, sir?" Harry muttered into his shoulder.
Lucius laughed heartily and squeezed Harry tight. "I never condescend," he said loftily. "I'm merely exceptionally open with my opinions." He released the boy and stepped back. "Come, we have likely made dinner late, and Narcissa will be worried about you."
Harry allowed himself to be guided out of the room by the firm hand on his shoulder, mind whirling at what had just taken place. He was glad Lucius had said what he had about needing to be open in the same way with Severus, but saw the issues with his former professor in a different context. In most ways, Severus had been more abusive than Lucius simply because he'd had much more access to Harry.

Narcissa fussed over Harry during dinner, clearly seeing the signs of his recent distress, and accepting his refusal of second helpings easily, so much so that he felt compelled to promise her to snack before bed if his appetite returned. He confessed that his stomach had been hurting from nerves all day. The tightening around her mouth as she cast a reproachful glare at her husband surprised Harry. He felt an unexpected lump in his throat at the realization that she had become so protective of him. So when she walked him out to the apparation point and asked discretely if he was alright, he told her he was, and then kissed her cheek and hugged her longer than usual, which left them both sentimental and blurry eyed. He hastily bade her goodnight and popped out of sight.

At home, Harry walked up the stairs quietly, not seeing Severus and thinking he might just make it to bed without encountering him...
"You're home," his newest pseudo guardian said from the first floor landing.
Harry turned and looked down at him from the half-flight of stairs he'd climbed, knowing that Severus would see that he'd been upset. When the man frowned up at him and suggested a cup of tea before retiring for the night, Harry begged off. "I really just want to get to bed, sir."
"Did you leave the Malfoys on bad terms?"
"No, we're fine, we just had a confrontation… I need to sleep on it." Severus had been climbing the stairs as Harry spoke and now was beside him, escorting him up the remaining steps to the third floor. Harry turned to face his former professor, hoping that he'd be allowed to refrain from further explanation. "Good night, sir," he said softly.
"Uhm hmm," Severus hummed skeptically but snaked his arm out and around Harry's shoulders and pulled him in for a hug, placing a kiss on his temple and squeezing him tightly. He'd been doing that nightly now, and Harry was nearly moved to tears each time he did. "Good night, Mr. Potter."
Severus hovered by the door while Harry kicked off his shoes and grabbed pajamas to change into while in the bathroom brushing his teeth. When he came out and crawled into bed, the older wizard flipped the muggle light switch off and quietly closed the door, leaving Harry to fall into a heavy slumber filled with emotional dreams that he couldn't recall the following morning.
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