Harsh Reality - Part I
Chapter 10 - EM-E - Harsh Reality - Part I
Harry was silent at dinner with Severus. The tension level was minimal, but as was becoming the pattern for Harry when he experienced fewer distractions, the muffled effect on his emotional state set back in.
"Are you alright?" Severus asked quietly. "I imagine you still do not have much appetite if you were snacking this afternoon."
"It's not that," Harry said. He suddenly felt utterly deflated. His jaw worked and he kept his eyes focused on the tabletop. "It's just that so much happened. So much awful, scary stuff, pretty much on a daily basis on the last timeline, and …it's been really hard on this one too, and I never got a chance to feel sad about Sirius. It already feels like it happened so long ago, and I've just been going along, like it didn't happen at all."
"I see," Severus said carefully. "But you cannot hold yourself responsible for having had no time to grieve."
"I know," Harry whispered. "But today it sort of hit me. I feel like I've done something wrong."
"It sounds to me as though you have been coping the best way you can. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, Harry. As long as you don't push your emotions down when you have a chance to deal with them." Severus paused, realizing he was definitely not an expert on this matter. "Or, so I'm told. And it's alright to let it hit you right now." He stood, determined to help his ward with this. "Come, you don't have to force down dinner if you don't want it."
Harry stood too, finally looking at Severus with pain-filled eyes. "Can I go up to my dorm?" he asked in a voice that broke on the last word.
That hadn't been what Severus had in mind of course, but he still had a long way to go to earn this boy's trust. "Once again, I am concerned with you being alone with your sorrows, young man."
"But I am alone with this, sir," Harry said fiercely, lip quivering and eyes filling.
Severus stepped over to the boy and pulled him close by cupping a hand around his head and draping a heavy arm down his back. "You are not entirely alone, Harry. I am not indifferent to how awful that final moment was," he said grimly, resting his chin on Harry's head. "I have been struggling with my own reactions to that event since it happened. There was no love lost between your godfather and I, but I would not have wished such an end upon him." He squeezed the lean body of his teenaged ward tightly but the boy was tense and trembling, and not yielding to Severus' attempts to comfort him. "I have some idea of the enormity of what you have experienced in his passing. You do not have to hide your feelings about your loss from me, understand?"
Harry wanted with all of his heart to feel that sense of belonging and mattering again, and there was a slight snippet of it here in this moment. But it was not enough to make a difference when held up beside the price he'd already paid to bond with Severus once, only to have lost it, and to have to start fresh. He knew all too well that if he gave in and started to depend on Severus, he'd get his feelings hurt again, and that seemed like it could lead to a very real breaking point for Harry. It would kill him if Severus turned on him again. But even still, he didn't want to make things worse by outright rejecting the older wizard when he was going to such lengths to bridge the gap between them. He hugged Severus back and tried to calm his shaking.
"Are you conflicted about my having taken over your guardianship?" Severus asked. "We haven't even discussed this, have we?"
"I'm okay with it," Harry said into Severus' shoulder. He stared at the kitchen wall, trying to get a grip on his emotions so that his guardian would believe he was feeling better.
"Now, why would that be?" Severus asked with bald irony. He still had his chin resting on Harry's head, having his own emotional response to being embraced by his ward. Severus hadn't had anyone in his life to be demonstrative with since Lily. Initiating comforting hugs was a natural instinct that he'd stifled for most of his life. The slow surge of that reemerging instinct was having an impact on his consciousness, and being on the receiving end of an embrace was also touching his heart in a long forgotten way.
"You'll see, sir," Harry said in a strained voice. He needed to be alone with all of this. He took a deep breath and said, "I feel like I need to lay down," as he pulled away and looked up at his guardian.
"Very well," Severus agreed against his better judgement, but he already knew he'd check on his young ward repeatedly over the coming night. He palmed his wand and waved it over his right hand, producing a vial of dreamless sleep potion.
"Thanks," Harry said, flashing a weak smile at Severus.
Friday morning, Lucius arrived at Severus' door with a self satisfied smirk on his face.
"I suppose that you are feeling better about your marriage this morning?" Severus asked. Lucius had spent Boxing Day with his wife and son, and obviously had relayed the news of the Dark Lord's demise. Severus knew full well that his friend had been suffering under a burden of fear that he'd lost Narcissa, and by extension Draco, because of his struggles with his dual role of Death Eater and supporter of the Light.
"I am," Lucius agreed. "Narcissa and Draco will return on the weekend, and we will work at rebuilding our lives together. It is understood that I will be involved in the removal of Voldemort's remaining influences. Narcissa is not foolish enough to believe that the Dark Lord did not have yet another contingency plan. She understands there must be further steps taken to prevent another resurrection. The fact that I am no longer acting as a slave, but instead as a freedom fighter is quite appealing to her. Imagine such a thing." The last he said with a wink.
Severus snorted. "Lovely." He gave his friend a serious look. "I am happy for you, Lucius. I know the toll that you've paid, along with your son and wife."
There was a sudden moment of sentiment, and neither of them could speak the unspoken, and as yet uncollected, words to express the depth of gratitude they each had for the gift that Harry had given them. Freedom.
"What the bloody, bleeding, buggaring hell is the problem?"
On the stairs, climbing the last several steps to Harry's dorm, Severus raised an eyebrow at the outburst that came through the passage, and girded himself for an unexpected encounter with a tantrum-yielding Potter. "Language, Mr Potter," he chided as he entered the dorm.
Harry snapped his head up, and blinked as he slowly registered that Severus was carrying his heavy jacket and trainers. The ones he'd just spent the past fifteen minutes trying to summon from Privet Drive. "Oh!" he said in relief. "Sorry, sir. I was trying to summon those, and it wasn't happening, so I was thinking I'd lost the ability."
"Ah," Severus said, handing the items over to his ward, and somewhat taken aback at the sudden shift in Harry's demeanor. "But they were not where you'd left them."
Harry smirked and shook his head. "Sir, is this all that you moved in my cupboard?" Harry asked.
My cupboard. Severus was unable to prevent the grimace of shock at this label for the slanted, dusty and cold storage cubby that had been the boy's room. "It is," Severus said carefully. "Why do you ask?"
Harry smiled at him, unaffected by his guardian's expression because he was distracted by his intense need to reassure himself that he still had this one skill. "Ferre army man," Harry said, giving his wand a small swish and directing it at the surface of his newly made bed. A small green plastic figure that was missing an arm appeared on the spread.
Severus recognized it as one he'd seen, sitting among a few other sparse items inside the cupboard. "How did you learn to do that?" he asked in shock.
"You taught me," Harry said, grinning. "I had trouble at first, because I was trying to do it either just with wild magic or just with my wand, but after a while, I learned to use both for some types of spells. Like long distance summoning of sturdy things. Fragile things get summoned just with my wild magic."
"I see," Severus said, although he actually didn't. He watched while Harry sat down to put on and lace up his shoes. "What else have I taught you, pray tell?"
"Some great defense spells," Harry said. "And between you and Remus, I've got a pretty good sense of how to defend myself against stronger wizards."
"And you've had an opportunity to test this theory?" Severus asked with reluctance.
"We had a lot of incidents," Harry informed him matter of factly. "Another version of you thinks I've got great instincts. Just so you know."
Severus was amused at this declaration, but alarmed by it as well. He withheld comment, raising a questioning eyebrow instead. He assessed the boy's attire, noticing that Harry wore the pair of jeans from the other day and a white school uniform shirt with his school tie. When Harry had put his jacket on, he asked, "Are you nervous about this encounter?"
Harry blinked. "Well, I wasn't until now," he said with a frown.
Severus smirked and led the boy out of the room. "While we're out, would you like to go shop for some new clothes? We'd have to stick to muggle London, so no new robes just yet." he tempered the question as casual, hoping he wasn't offending his ward.
"That would be great!" Harry said, nerves forgotten. "And when I get back, I'm going to burn every bloody thread of Dudley's pig-sized rags," he added under his breath.
"We could have a formal ceremony, if you'd like," Severus suggested drily.
This time when he put his arm around Harry to lead him through the floo, he gave the boy a squeeze while he was at it.
As before, Severus led Harry through their secure floo sequence, followed by the apparation into the parking structure for the London Child Protection Agency. Their eleven o'clock appointment with Rebecca Chase went uncannily similarly to the one on the previous timeline. She made the same announcements of what she knew of the Wizarding World, and asked Harry about the now long gone knot on his head. When she acknowledged Harry's letter, she suggested that the Dursleys be investigated, but Harry quickly let her know that this would prove a challenge, as his relatives were now in hiding (he conveniently omitted the fact that this would end soon since Voldemort was basically dead). This was the only real moment that was different. Madam Chase again expedited the next stages of the Emancipation filing, walking them through each department until it was completed. Harry even had his ID card in his pocket when they'd concluded.
Harry assumed his having written the letter was what triggered the unexpected development that Madam Chase wanted to see them again in one week. "In normal situations, I would make a site visit, to assess you two in your home together," she explained. "I will settle for a visit next Friday. Are you in agreement to comply?"
"Of course," Severus said with a slight bow, and Harry realized his guardian was unfazed by the request.
"Wonderful," Madam Chase returned. She gave Harry a warm smile. "I'm curious to know how you got your letter to me, Harry."
Harry scrunched up his face. "Er, can we just leave it at: with magic?" he asked hopefully.
"As long as you give me your word that you didn't somehow break in here to deliver it yourself," she returned.
"No, I didn't," Harry said quickly. He flashed a look at Severus and muttered, "I only break into places when someone else is in danger." He received an acknowledging squeeze from the warm hand on his neck.
"Then I will see you both in a week's time."
Severus took Harry to a nearby cafe for lunch, and while they waited for their food, he suggested they go to Harrod's for their shopping. Harry agreed and promised to make short work of the task because he remembered all of the items he'd purchased previously and wanted the exact same mix. He also told Severus that he'd learned the shrinking charm after their last shopping spree.
"And I think that's everything you taught me," Harry summarized. He flashed onto the conjured bear spell, and grinned to himself.
"Except for the one that you're deciding to keep to yourself for now?" Severus surmised. He was enjoying their time together, and pleased that Harry had stayed fairly lighthearted throughout the day thus far.
"Well, you didn't actually teach it to me," Harry told him his eyes drifting off over Severus' shoulder as he remembered the Ursa giga spell he'd cast to get Nagini away from Betsy Charron. "You demonstrated it, so to speak, and then told me not to use it. But there was a moment where I was in a tight spot and I couldn't think of anything else to do. It sort of worked." He shook his head and looked back at Severus, finding his guardian watching him with a blended expression of amusement and trepidation. "Sir, if you are up to teaching me some new magic, could you show me how you develop your own spells?"
That caught Severus off guard. Yes, he was enjoying this easy time with Harry Potter, but this was a far cry from actually attempting to teach the boy, rather than antagonize him as he'd done for four and a half years. "You would trust me in such a situation?" he asked carefully.
Now Harry was caught off guard. He realized he was jumping the gun in a sense, by expecting Severus to step comfortably into the role of instructor after all of their bad history. He scratched his head and averted his face as the wave of sadness swept back over him. "I guess I would, at some point," he said helplessly. He lost enthusiasm for the idea. "I suppose I should worry more about my holiday assignments first."
"There would be time for both," Severus said, ignoring the guilty clench in his stomach that was the response to the quick shift in Harry's demeanor. "We will take small steps."
Harry nodded. Their food was served just then, allowing an easy diversion from the topic altogether.
It was nearly five o'clock when Severus led Harry back to the area in the parking garage that was safe for disapparation. They both had shrunken packages of newly purchased clothing and shoes in their pockets. The relief of not having to wear cast-offs any longer, again, helped pull Harry out of the heavier mood he'd sunken into during lunch. Harry knew that Severus was worried about him, and sensed that the older wizard was feeling remorseful. This was also difficult to be aware of, because now Harry was worried about Severus being worried about him. UGH!
The best thing about the day so far was that at some point as they had walked, Severus' arm had draped around Harry's shoulders and stayed there. Their bond was growing.
"We should duck behind that stairwell just over there," Severus directed in a quiet voice as they walked.
There was a sudden and very loud CLANG of metal banging on metal that startled them both, and they each had their wands in hand within a second of the initial reverberation of the sound. Severus pulled Harry against his side, having a quick look around as he led the way to the small area behind the emergency exit staircase. Two things happened simultaneously that caused Harry to bristle: his scar tingled sharply, and he heard a voice he'd been quite happy to consider forever gone from his world-
-just as Severus disapparated them both from the scene.
"She's got a horcrux!" Harry told Severus when they'd landed on the back stoop of Spinner's End. "My scar hurt!"
"Stay calm, Harry," Severus warned, stemming his own alarm at how badly Harry was rattled by this development. He removed his galleon and sent a message, keeping his eyes upon it while he awaited a response. "She must have been tipped off about my claiming guardianship of you."
"What if she goes after Madam Chase?" Harry said nervously, and not liking the idea that Dean's aunt could be kidnapped in another context in this timeline.
"Come," Severus said as he sent another message through the coin. He disapparated them again.
They landed on the front steps of Number 12 Grimmauld Place and entered quickly. Harry could hear the crack! crack! crack! of three additional arrivals and turned to find Remus, Lucius and Dumbledore crowding into the entry. The portrait of Madam Black began to howl and screech. It was too much to ask for them to tolerate on top of the agitation of the moment. Harry spun around and glared at the painting, imagining it at the bottom of the Black Lake at Hogwarts, down where the Grindylows could make her miserable. And voilà. She was gone. Payback.
The sudden silence was palpable. Harry shot a look back at the others, who were all staring at him in blatant shock. He smirked in spite of his anxiety. "What? I learned a bit about summoning and banishing," he declared in mock defensiveness. And before anyone could take a stern tone with him, he added, "and don't insult me by suggesting I'd ever to that to a living being."
"At least not before you first turn him to dust?" Lucius asked with a raised eyebrow and the hint of a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.
"Oh," Harry said realizing he'd put his foot in it. "Well, yeah." Reel it in, Harry, he cautioned himself. This was the kind of thing that would make Severus snap at him. He shot a look at his guardian and saw that Severus was assessing him with narrowed eyes.
"This is our first opportunity to reacquaint ourselves, isn't it, Harry?" Dumbledore was asking carefully. At Harry's guarded nod, he added, "Shall we adjourn to the kitchen? We have much to discuss."