Title: Career's Advice
Summary: Sirius receives career's advice in his fifth year.
Disclaimer: I don't see the inventor of these characters ever spending so much time with them, so, not mine I'm afraid.
Author's Note: This is my answer to challenge no. 14: "Sirius receives career's advice." Yonks late, I know, but still.
Word Count: 3,109
Thanks: are due to honeybean who bore with me despite me being obnoxious and betaed this twice. Thank you very much. :)
Dedication: This was written on the occasion of lyras' birthday, April 2006. :) As it originated in a challenge from this community, however, I post it here, too.
Crossposted: My journal, quinquatrus, sirius_centric and here.
Sirius knocked on the door of Professor McGonagall's office. Presenting himself in this spot by appointment and not by order, he felt rather out of place, but there was nothing to it. It was the first day after the Easter holidays in fifth year, and they were all going to see their head of house, or rather would be going, as Sirius was the first on the Gryffindor list.
The door swung open of its own accord, and McGonagall, standing tall behind her desk, beckoned him inside. It was strange not to be high on adrenaline at a moment such as this, strange to know there was no scolding and punishment awaiting him once the door fell shut. Not like Friday last.
"Please come in, Mr Black. Take a seat…" she offered, sitting down herself and closing the door with a flick of her wand.
"Now, you know why you're here. Have you spent any time thinking on where you want your studies to lead you?"
Sirius arranged himself neatly in his chair, sitting up straight and folding his hands in his lap. McGonagall fixed him with a piercing stare.
"So?" she prompted impatiently.
"Well," said Sirius, deliberating. "I've looked through the leaflets like everyone else. There's nothing that I can't do."
Professor McGonagall's eyebrows shot up, and her usual stern gaze gained in scrutiny.
"Quite the high opinion you have of yourself there, Mr Black, don't you think?"
Sirius cocked his head ever so slightly.
"With good reason, Professor."
She lowered her eyes, placing his academic transcript a little further away from herself. Twirling her wand with her long, slender fingers, she seemed to contemplate the arrangements on her neatly kept desk, the stack of essays awaiting correction, the inkwell with the gold-tipped quill beside it and the small pile of notes next to the reference books.
It was half a minute before she coldly remarked, "After what happened last Friday I beg to differ."
Sirius bit his tongue in an attempt to keep a straight face. But, oh, it had been too good. McGonagall backing out of her own rooms down the corridor, clad only in a white nightshirt, tartan dressing gown nowhere in sight, shouting spells at an array of hexed sheets and blankets. Naturally, everybody had had a very good idea who the perpetrator was. Sirius admitted to having planned and executed the prank on his own, after a telltale long, black hair had been found in McGonagall's quarters by the young and overzealous caretaker Filch.
"Leaving that set-back in your career as a professional prankster aside, your grades tell nothing about any special talents or interests. Why don't you tell me about your preferences, Mr Black? Which subjects do you favour?"
Sirius lowered his head slightly and coyly batted his lashes at her.
"Why, Professor, Transfiguration is my favourite subject, of course."
McGonagall rolled her eyes, but her answer was calm:
"Well, you're indeed talented in that area. However, Professor Slughorn wrote to me particularly to tell me that you're a superb Potion maker. Why anyone would let you near a cauldron, which is really just one more thing you can cause mayhem with, remains a mystery to me, though."
She lifted the small pile of notes, all covered in different hand writing.
"Actually, I received letters from most of your teachers, each telling me how talented you are." She shuffled through them, shaking her head as she looked at one letter in particular. "What is it that interests you about Arithmancy, Mr Black? I wouldn't have thought that you possessed enough patience for rows of numbers."
A faint smile flickered over Sirius' face; the last homework assignment in Arithmancy had allowed him to enjoy two hours of perfect napping on a Sunday afternoon, after all.
"Those rows of numbers, as you call them, ma'am, can have a very calming effect on the arithmans."
McGonagall's eyebrows almost reached her hairline.
"You should clearly apply yourself more earnestly there if that is the case, Mr Black. Now, Professor Maubry almost forced me into an Unbreakable Vow over emphasising that it was imperative that I tell you how absolutely necessary it is that you become a scholar of the Ancient Runes. How anyone can so mistake one of their students' character, however, is beyond me. Or would you consider the academic sphere of Ancient Runes a genuine option for yourself?"
Sirius looked down at his hands and grinned. Old Maubry could be rather scatterbrained.
"No, Professor. I would die of boredom."
"I doubt that," she returned sarcastically, "rather it would be the people around you who died because of you having too much time on your hands for silly and dangerous pranks."
Sirius bit the inside of his cheek to keep at bay the smirk that had been about to spread over his face. Yes, the sheets had tried to suffocate her once she had begun to fight them last Friday, but as it was she hadn't even so much as tripped, let alone been hurt in anything but her pride. McGonagall was silent for a moment while reordering the memos from her fellow teachers. Then she sighed and said:
"Would you like a cup of tea? I have a feeling that we're going to be sitting here for a while."
"Thank you, Professor. A cup of tea would be lovely."
With a wave of her wand, the tea began to prepare itself. When she placed two delicate bone china sets on her desk and absentmindedly poured the tea, Sirius realised that she obviously knew how he liked his. He didn't allow himself to contemplate whether this was a good or a bad sign, Merlin knew he had been in this very office enough for her to know every single one of his mannerisms. Instead he took a sip of the fragrant Earl Grey, which he was quite certain had never been served to a student before.
"Now, Mr Black," she said after placing her cup and saucer back on the desk, "was there any job in the leaflets that you would eliminate from your list of possibilities?"
"Well, I don't think I would want to train security trolls," answered Sirius, succeeding in keeping the flippancy from his voice. "And Muggle liaison isn't quite in my line of interest, either."
Raising the fragile cup to her lips again, McGonagall remarked:
"Who would have thought…"
Sirius hid a smile behind the rim of his cup.
"Are there any other jobs you'd like to exclude from the start, then?"
"None that I can think of," he conceded. "But isn't this going in the wrong direction? Surely, this advice session is for choices, not determining by elimination?"
With a not-so-slight clank, McGonagall put her cup back on its saucer. Sirius winced, for Spode was usually unforgiving of such harsh treatment. However, the cup held; probably a strengthening charm had been cast upon it long ago.
"Why yes, Mr Black," she replied smoothly. "However, it is for you to tell me what you like in the first place, I believe."
Sirius flashed her a brilliant smile, and McGonagall pushed her teacup a little further away.
"Apart from wreaking havoc that is."
"But, Professor," he said, giving in to the slightest pout. "I was merely wondering if I were suited for a career in fiction."
"You've certainly had plenty of practice there," she commented, eyes raised to the ceiling.
Setting his cup and saucer on the desk without so much as a single rattle, Sirius fixed her with another winning smile and inquired:
"Has it been any good so far?"
"Well, you certainly don't lack power of imagination. Yet I have been getting the impression that your best imaginative work is accomplished under pressure."
"So, maybe not fiction, then. I wouldn't want to spent my life trying to meet deadlines." He looked towards the window, deliberating. "Maybe…"
McGonagall was obviously getting impatient; her wand tapped rapidly in her palm.
"Is there anything in particular you have in mind and neglected to mention until now, Mr Black?" she asked with a sharp tinge to her voice.
"Not really, Professor," he answered slowly, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. "Unless you have spoken to Lily Evans, that is."
"And why should I have done that?"
"Well, she advised me to go and become a fashion designer."
McGonagall snorted lightly.
"In one of her lesser moments, I suppose…" she retorted. "I'm sure Gladrags would be thrilled to have you among their staff. However, Mr Black, we both know that you won't have to work to pay for your bread and butter for so much as a single day in your life." She enunciated each word very clearly. "So, why don't we cut this charade short, and you go back to your Potions lesson, and I can get another essay marked before the next appointment?"
Sirius hid another grin while eyeing the stack of essays on her desk. He couldn't really make out anything, and leaving now was not an option, either.
"But Professor, surely, as a student at this school, I won't be denied the advantage of valuable career's advice from my Head of House."
McGonagall visibly forced herself to remain calm, and Sirius was overcome by an excitement that he knew well.
"You're the heir of the House of Black, your whole career has been mapped out for you even before you were born. As the scion of your house, you will never find yourself wanting for money, your whole family are rich beyond almost any other. There's simply no point to this conversation."
In a split second, the excitement had been replaced by a hollow feeling in his stomach, and he had the impression of a yoke weighing down his shoulders.
"What if I want to work, Professor?" he asked, the jest gone from his voice. "What if I want to earn my own money rather than live off what my family has accumulated over the centuries through what you and I both know are probably less than honourable means?"
She regarded him shrewdly for a moment through narrowed eyes, then answered slowly and quietly:
"Even if you wanted to work in a normal job, I seriously doubt that your family would let you."
Sirius could feel his skin on his forearms erupting in goose bumps.
"What makes you think I would let them tell me what to do?" he asked, noticing that his voice had a slightly hostile edge to it.
"Oh, I don't doubt your determination," she said, folding her hands on her desk. "However, I have known your family for longer than you have. You may be the first Black in my house, but that doesn't mean that I've never had to deal with your family before."
He could feel his hackles rise and his lips pulling back to bare his teeth, and for a moment, he thought, panicked, that he had changed into his still-new dog form. But as it was, he had to contend himself with crossing his arms in front of his chest and leaning back in his chair, eyes narrowed.
"What, then, do you suggest I do… Professor?"
Professor McGonagall stood abruptly and walked over to her window. After she had gazed outside for a moment, she turned her back to the rainy sky and faced Sirius.
"It is not for me to tell you what to do, Sirius." She spoke in a very low voice. "You must choose for yourself. All I can do is make you aware of the problems you're likely to encounter on the paths that are presently before you."
A whole sequence of images flitted through Sirius' mind and he swallowed as he revisited his first official dinner party at Grimmauld Place, his father instructing him with clear, unmistakable words before they had entered the drawing room, and praising him with a nod and a slight squeezing of his shoulder once the guests had left. Then the burned hole on the family tapestry where Andromeda's name should have been flitted before his mind's eye, followed by the shocked expression on Regulus' face when their mother had called him a better son for the first time last winter.
McGonagall's Mr Black? jolted him out of his reverie.
"What about the opportunities, though?" he asked once he had regained his composure.
"What do you mean?"
She sounded vaguely surprised. Or was it expectant? He studied his hands as she sat down behind her desk once more.
"The opportunities of the different paths before me, Professor. Surely there aren't only difficulties."
He could feel her eyes on him, assessing him. When she finally spoke, it was in a low voice, almost a whisper:
"Any decision will have its price, Sirius, and you will be forced to make a one before long. However, you must know that you will not be alone wherever you choose to go..."
As if to give him time to think, she refilled his cup, and they both sat in silence for a while, sipping their tea. He had drunk half a cupful before he could bring himself to ask:
"Supposing I weren't heir to the Black legacy, what could I do?"
"Apart from anything you mentioned at the beginning of this talk, you mean?" she inquired, hesitating with the tips of her fingers caressing the fine porcelain.
"Well, yes. I would have to earn my bread and butter, wouldn't I?"
"You would," she answered evasively. "As it is, it will be for your brother to apply himself to a sensible occupation."
"Ah," said Sirius with a wide grin, "but you don't know my brother."
But they would not discuss Regulus, and Sirius was glad of it. It was really time to change the topic.
"Do you think I'd be suited for teaching?" he asked, suppressing a grin.
McGonagall's eyebrows shot up.
"At this school?"
"Apart from the fact that Hogwarts doesn't accept members to its staff who're straight out of school themselves, I shudder to think what the students would learn at your hands."
Sirius put on a façade of hurt pride.
"Very valuable things, I dare say," he said.
McGonagall shot him a venomous look, a left-over from Friday, Sirius was sure of it.
"I do have a fairly accurate idea what you're referring to, Mr Black, and I do not want to see a repeat of any of them at this school."
"Certainly, professor." One had to know when to let certain things be, after all. "What about healing, though?"
McGonagall's eyebrows climbed higher still.
"Healing, Mr Black?" she repeated.
"Yes," he affirmed, "I think that could be interesting."
"Having poor, unsuspecting people at your mercy is not what I would deem interesting. Indeed, it is not."
"You're crushing all my hopes, professor!" he protested with a grin.
She took a sip of her tea and remarked lightly:
"I am excessively sorry to hear it."
"I could apply for the Auror programme," Sirius suggested with fervour, only barely managing to keep his face from splitting into a huge grin.
McGonagall tapped her wand against her lips, brows drawn together.
"Do you know… That idea is just crazy enough to work. However, you might want to rethink your current stance on following orders before sending your application to the Auror Office."
Laughing silently, Sirius shrugged.
"That's out, then."
"Any other ideas?" she wanted to know.
"Not at the moment, I'm afraid," he said, his fingers going to a loose thread on his left sleeve.
"Now," she continued, "assuming your remark from earlier was not just blatant flattery, you would indeed be talented enough to make a name for yourself in the area of Transfiguration."
Sirius stopped fiddling with the hem of his sleeve.
"In an academic sense you mean?" he asked.
"Certainly," she said briskly. "I believe you stay in contact with your uncle Alphard Black?
"Well, he is, how shall I put it?" She hesitated. "A part-time scholar? Or he used to be, at least. Lately he hasn't contributed much to current research."
Which was no wonder, mused Sirius, as Alphard had other things to worry about. Sirius had last seen him shortly after New Year, and his uncle had looked very pale and drawn.
"Professor," he said, not willing to share any information on Alphard, "I dare say that now you're guilty of mistaking one of your students' character."
"Indeed? How so?"
"As I'm not keeping a tally on these things, I could be wrong. Still, I think that you're the one who tells me most often to apply myself more earnestly in my studies. Though," he conceded with a quick smile, "Professor Kettleburn is hard on your heels."
McGonagall waved her wand with a sigh and when the tin had landed smoothly on her desk, she offered him a Ginger Newt.
"I didn't think you'd be cut for a career of studying," she clarified. "Rather, what I had in mind was applied study. Have you ever heard of the Department of Mysteries?"
"I have. But I'm fairly certain that I won't want the Ministry of Magic to be my employer."
Sirius sat back in his chair and took a bite off his Ginger Newt.
McGonagall looked up sharply.
"And why would that be?"
"I, too, have been reading the papers, Professor," he said after he had drained his cup and set it back on the table.
"I can sympathise with your sentiment," McGonagall remarked more to herself than to him.
"What remains then?" he wanted to know.
"Nothing… and everything," she answered, turning her wand over in her fingers. "Please sign up for any subject you think advisable for yourself, I don't think there is any chance of you overtaxing yourself." Had she just winked at him? "Indeed, I urge you to take as many subjects as possible, because I would appreciate to have my nerves still more or less intact by the time you leave this school."
Giving her another brilliant smile, he got up.
"Yes, Professor, I will try my very best."
He gathered his bag and made for the door.
"Have a good day, Sirius."
"Thank you, ma'am."
As he pulled the door closed behind him, he could hear her throw Floo Powder into the fire and say:
"Headmaster, may I speak with you tonight?"
"Certainly, Minerva," came the reply, but then the thick oak door blocked any further sound from her office.
Slinging his book bag over his shoulder, Sirius strolled down the corridor to the Ancient Runes classroom. At least he had got out of an hour of Slughorn's class today.