"You all had a heavy evening, I take it?"
"Harry and Lucius did," she answered worriedly. "They spent a long time in here together tonight and I could tell my husband had pushed Harry to break down. They both looked emotionally spent when they came to the dinner table, and I'd thought that Harry'd gotten the worst of it. But now I realize Lucius must have been holding himself together for the boy's sake."
"That is what I was suspecting…" Severus murmured. He sighed. "Would you like me to have a look for your husband, or shall I leave you to draw him out?"
"You go ahead and have a talk with him. He's likely out on the grounds walking through his thoughts," Narcissa said. "I'm sure your insights would be helpful right now."
Severus gave her a slight bow and swept out of the room, his coat flapping not-so-dramatically in his wake. He strode purposefully through the foyer and conservatory and out to the gardens, then cast a silent point me Lucius with his wand. He found his friend after a few moments slumped on a bench with head in hands. "Lucius," he said quietly, approaching slowly. He'd never before seen Lucius break down. He'd seen him come close, and could remember his relief that the older wizard had reclaimed himself on the last occasion they were together before the Dark Lord's fall. He had a sudden flash of realization that it was no longer a perilous situation for any of them to lose their shit, as his American muggle friends had called breaking down. There was no risk of exposure if Lucius admitted to his distress.
He sat next to Lucius and leaned forward with elbows on knees. "It's not easy being a good person, is it, old friend?"
"I'll have to get back to you about that," Lucius said, hands still covering his face.
Severus sat up straight and lay a hand on the other man's shoulder. "Do you want to share what happened?"
Lucius scrubbed at his face with his hands. "I've always known I was a powerful wizard, Severus. I could claim that in my own right, regardless of heritage and wealth. And even as it dawned on me these last years that I had devoted my life to sycophantic servitude to a mad man, I at least knew I was still talented and powerful with a wand, and that could be enough. I've since had to let go of blood purity as a means to maintain my self-proclaimed superiority. I had to relinquish much of my wealth to prove my regret for my misdeeds, and I was able to do it without hesitation." He swiped at the moisture under his eyes. "I've told myself that in spite of my fall from what I thought was grace these last years, that I still have my power." Severus squeezed his shoulder as he stopped to collect his thoughts. "Harry told me tonight that my power had caused him to see himself, and the wizarding way of life, in a horrible light. He wants nothing to do with a world that classifies people by what they are born into, rather than their merits as wizards. He considers his experiences thus far as a blueprint for what to expect if he immerses himself in adult society. He disparages the ineptitude of politicized institutions, including Hogwarts."
"I can't fault him for that," Severus said, impressed to hear that Harry and he shared these sentiments.
Lucius continued brokenly, "And I have no defense but to receive this… dose of reality. Harry let me know that my snobbery and disdain had been as damaging for him as my cruelest hexes." His hands again covered his face and his shoulders shook. "If I could hurt a schoolboy I didn't even care to know to such an extent, what in the world have I done to my son over the years?"
"You've made mistakes, as have I," Severus said. "And this is part of owning up to them. You have not lost Draco, and your bond with him is still very strong. With Harry, it is as well."
"How does he do it, Severus? How does he… see the good in us?"
"I honestly don't know, but I can only be grateful. It's made coming back here a pleasurable experience. I'm truly feeling happy in my own right."
"As am I," Lucius said, but the sniff and conjuring of a handkerchief somewhat detracted from the weight of his statement. He cast a glance over his shoulder and caught Severus' smirk and chuckled. He mopped his face again and sat up straight. "I'm very glad you've returned, Severus. I'm glad to have someone I trust around while I learn to be a better person."
"Well, you can help me along. I'll follow your lead."
"Nonsense," Lucius retorted. "You're the resurrected tragic hero."
"I was a bitter bastard with nothing good in my mind or deeds," Severus told him. "The only reason I can be pleasant company now is because I literally abandoned my entire previous life. Harry tells me I'm simply being the man I was meant to be. He's probably right."
"He probably is."
"And what lies unresolved between that boy and me is different from what is between the two of you." Severus told Lucius. "My loathsome treatment was based on groundless bitterness. I never imagined myself superior to him, but simply made it my life's quest to make sure he never felt superior to anyone. It is pathetic to even try to define it."
"But you will," Lucius pointed out. "Because it will be a relief to clear the air."
"Yes." Severus gave his friend's knee a pat before he stood.
Lucius stood as well. "I was substantially unsettled by what he'd unleashed of his wrath this evening, and could barely hold myself together until he left... I will check on him soon to be certain he bears no confusion about where he stands in my heart, although I'm pretty certain I've made this quite clear to him."
"We've both become huggers," Severus said, as if that were a weakness to be ashamed of.
"Yes, and I rather like it."
When Harry had not appeared downstairs by his customary half-seven habit, Severus knocked on his bedroom door to check on him. Harry came to the door still clad in his pajamas. It was clear he was still feeling badly about the previous night. "Good morning, sir," he said softly.
"Are you not well?" Severus asked.
"I think I'd prefer to stay in bed this morning."
"Do you want to talk about what's bothering you?"
Harry looked up at him. "I got into it with Lucius. I said things that I didn't want to say and I don't feel right about it."
"You said things that needed to be said." Severus told him. "Lucius needed to hear your perspective, Harry. Many of us do. I wish you weren't feeling so heavy about it. Do not hold yourself accountable for calling Lucius out on his past behavior."
"But I could tell he felt really bad," Harry said.
"And he would have done regardless of who told him what was what. But he was told by someone he loves and trusts. Do you no longer care for him, now that you've aired your views?"
"No! I mean, of course I do!" Harry protested.
"And he knows this, so stop worrying about him," Severus chided gently. "Get back in bed. Are you hungry? Shall I send Kreacher up with some breakfast?" He saw Harry weigh the risk of refusing to eat. "I'll also send the stomach potion, shall I? It's time you tried it. I'll wager it will help."
"Okay. Thanks, Severus," Harry whispered.
Harry appeared in time for lunch, so they went to the kitchen together.
At the table, Severus said, "Lucius didn't consider last night's confrontation as anything other than constructive, you realize."
"I know," Harry said. "I just really didn't want to let loose on him like that. I've only ever done it to Sirius and Remus after I saw your memories from back in your school days. The next thing I knew, Sirius was dead, then Remus and I were at odds so much after that, and we never really got to have a good conversation again. And he's dead too."
Severus could feel the weight of that loss from Harry. He refrained from following the subject tangent of the departed Marauders. "Were you fearful that you would lose Lucius?"
"I guess it's not exactly rational, but yeah," Harry admitted.
"When I saw him last night, he'd had some time to process what you'd told him," Severus said. He saw the pained expression cross Harry's face and reached out to cup his chin and hold his gaze. "You are the only one who has ever let him know how much genuine destruction his horrid behavior had caused. You did him a favor, even though he feels wretched now."
"This is not making me feel better, Severus," Harry whispered. "Is he okay?"
"He is." Severus confirmed, releasing the boy's chin. "Harry, in my own limited experience, I have learned that I was most fearful of my own truths. It's the fear that has the power." He could see he had Harry's full attention. "Power is a strange force of nature," Severus told him. "In the past, you gave Lucius the power to disparage your faith in wizards as a race. He just gave you the power to show him the ugliness of his old perspective."
"I'm giving you the power to help me get back on track," Harry told him to show he understood. "But I also used let you make me so angry and defensive… and rude. In the past."
"And I gave you the power to make me believe you cared little for my opinion of you in the past. Now I want to be worthy of your trust, and of your forgiveness one day."
"When we talk like this, I feel like I have forgiven you, Severus. Like, none of the past matters."
"And maybe you have forgiven me some of the lesser of my misdeeds," Severus agreed. "But not all. That will take time."
"And we have that, do we not?" Harry mimicked him.
They ate in silence for a time.
"Severus, I have a lot to apologize for too. I didn't make any effort to be respectful to you, even when Dumbledore admonished me to. I hope you can forgive my bad behavior some day too. Like when I looked in your pensive and was too afraid to apologize to you, and the way I rarely tried to practice Occlusion. But mostly for when I called you out in front of the school, never once considering all of the past occasions that Dumbledore had told me to trust him on his judgement of your character. I refused to believe you were good."
"Harry, I was not good. I was wretched, bitter and cold to everyone. I was on the side of the Light, as were you, but I brought darkness wherever I went."
"Not when you were with Dumbledore, or Draco," Harry corrected. "I saw that for myself. And Minerva seems to adore you, and you were good to the Slytherins."
"I favored them over you, was that good?"
"You're right," Harry concluded quickly with a sarcastic smirk. "You were awful."
"Then we're agreed." Severus said. He took a moment to eat a couple of sandwiches. "Tell me something about what your life is like, today, nearly a year after you put Voldemort down?" Severus suggested.
"You mean, being nearly nineteen years old and looking like a living memory of the worst part of your childhood?" Harry asked. "It's fantastic, that's what." Severus gave him a level look that suggested he be more forth coming. "I just can't seem to talk about the hard stuff without…," Harry stopped and weighed the risk of sharing the next tidbit. "I was not allowed to cry when I was with the Dursleys. They'd go mad if I did and I paid for it. They didn't get as upset about my mouthing off to them, though. That's probably why I had the courage to show the cheek I showed you and the others who mistreated me." He shot a look at Severus. "I never liked that side of myself, by the way. But now… now, I just seem to fall apart at the slightest sentiment. Hermione thinks its because of the Failure to Thrive - that I didn't get to really recover from everything that happened. She thinks I have to experience being this physical age again in order to recover. If she's right, and she always is, this condition has taken me back to the end of fourth year, when the worst times were just beginning."
"Clever woman, that Miss Granger," Severus said.
Harry smiled at that. "When I turned seventeen, I was a lot taller and more filled out. I had body hair and needed to shave daily. By the time I showed up here to confront Voldemort, I'd lost tons of weight and all of that manly hair. I didn't realize how short I'd gotten though, so I thought it was because I'd gotten really skinny out on the hunt. I'd say by that point I was back to where I'd been at sixteen. Then the changes came far more quickly and by the first memorial, I was back to barely fifteen. I've been wondering if I would have continued to decline if Lucius and Narcissa hadn't stepped up to help me out."
"Perhaps," Severus agreed. "Or, perhaps your worst trauma was during the Tournament, and you'd reached the depth of the decline already." He studied Harry now. "Now you look to me the way you did at the end of your fifth year, which would mean you've recovered about a year's worth of development in just under twelve months. I am also remembering that you grew slowly until the end of your sixth year. Perhaps you will follow that same pace now.
"And be glad of what is now behind you," Severus advised. "You've passed a milestone by admitting where you stand with the wizarding world. I've suspected as much, since you dress almost exclusively muggle and have introduced many muggle amenities into your home."
"You too though, right?"
Severus nodded, raising his cup to take a careful sip of his hot coffee. "I imagine I've returned to my roots. I also believe I simply had to relinquish all of my former trappings. I much prefer my current wardrobe, for example. The all-black, all buttoned up and tightly confined style of old feels like a memory that belongs to another wizard."
"I think it's easier to know you now. You are much more approachable because you're less formal." Harry took a selection of sandwiches from the tray they were sharing. "I was surprised at how easily the Malfoys let go of trying to teach me proper etiquette. We have covered table manners and I do have a set of robes for most occasions on hand. That was enough for them. They seem to be fine with my jeans and jumpers. Now that he's dating an American, Draco wears them more often than not as well."
"And Lucius," Severus added.
Harry grinned. "The man looks almost at home in jeans. I bet he'd wear them more if Narcissa wasn't so unsettled by the sight."
"I don't think unsettled is what she feels," Severus snarked. "They have quite the love affair, those two."
"Yeah. It's nice."
They ate in silence for a time.
"Hermione tells me the two of you had coffee together," Harry said casually.
Severus' eyes darted up. "We did," he said carefully. "I have finally accepted that the fact that she knows everything is actually a pleasant trait." When Harry grinned at him and wobbled his eyebrows, Severus smiled, but refused to take the bait. "I came away from our chat with some interesting insights. You should find it to be poetic justice that I've concluded that the bond of friendship among you of the Trio is magically enhanced by the dynamic created by the chemistry in your personalities."
Harry shook his head, only partially feigning befuddlement. "You'll have to explain that one, sir."
"Lucius recently shared his memory of the encounter with Dolores Umbridge last summer from his vantage point. Hermione had told the tale earlier over coffee, so I had an idea of what had played out before I saw it for myself. Watching through Lucius' perspective actually revealed a very powerful synergy between the three of you in wand battle. It's mesmerizing and rather fantastic to witness. There is so much instinctual reaction that seems to feed off of the interplay between you."
"Yeah," Harry said. "I hadn't really thought of it in those terms, but I can tell you that it keeps evolving. When I got hit with Umbridge's blasting curse, I remember thinking I was mimicking what Hermione would have done as I was responding. There were a handful of life-or-death moments on the hunt when Hermione reacted in mid-flight. She can apparate, shield, and cast while she's flying - as in being thrown - through the air. I picked up on her skills. She's picked up on my style of deflective shields. Ron too, and then Hermione and I have learned to read a situation and plot out our moves, the way Ron does."
"I've told you before that there is much potential for your talents." Severus steepled his hands and pressed them to his lips, eyes narrowed as he contemplated. "Perhaps you should consider compiling content for a textbook on magical defense."
Harry gave him a strange look. "Huh," was all he could muster in response.
"And Harry, as you and I take steps to work through our issues from the past," Severus started. He was not pleased to see the dread in Harry's eyes. "I wanted to let you know that I've been considering the best course to follow, and it's occurred to me that exploring our memories of events might be a place to start. How would that sound to you?"
"I've been thinking that too," Harry admitted in surprise. "I was actually trying to think of a way to do it without a pensieve, but not through Legilimancy."
"Merlin, no," Severus agreed. He held Harry's gaze distractedly while he pondered the boy's idea. "That is rather clever thinking, young man… we need another form of vessel to contain the memories, that is more easily viewable."
"Like a cinema screen," Harry said softly. "I was wondering about transfiguring a pensive into another form, whether it would work-"
Severus raised an impressed eyebrow. "I'm not certain it would be possible, but we should investigate. It's an ideal starting point. I will admit that I am not well-versed in transfiguration," Severus said. He smiled a sad smile. "In times gone by, your mother would have been my go-to for advice on this. Next would be Remus Lupin. We could ask Minerva, of course. And William, or perhaps George Weasley."
Harry had looked away when Severus had brought up Lily and Remus. He turned back with a sad smile of his own. "We have Hermione, the research queen."
Severus smirked. "I'd actually like to do a little research myself. Are you up for a visit to the Malfoys this soon?"
"Of course," Harry said.
Lucius will be relieved.