Harsh Reality - Part III
Chapter 12 - EM-E - Harsh Reality - Part III
Severus took one look at the blood spewing from Thickeness' hand, where his ring finger had been mere moments ago, before shooting a look over at both Lupin and Lucius to find they each had expressions of awe that could only be shortly followed by declarations of, "oh, shite!" and decided his ward had done quite enough in this encounter. Merlin help me, he thought as he draped an arm around Harry and announced, "We're finished here," before disapparating them both away.
Harry pulled away from Severus when they'd stepped through the floo and into his quarters. The boy spun around to face him, eyes wild with fear and more of that now-constant desperation.
"We are going upstairs," Severus interrupted him. He stepped aside and gestured for Harry to precede him through the floo. The agitated teen threw down the floo powder and choked out his request for his common room while Severus stood by. Severus paused, gritting his teeth while he removed his outer robes and banished them to his bedroom, finding he needed to place a hand on the mantle to lean on while he summoned control…
…of the raucous guffaws of laughter that threatened to overtake him. Severus rarely laughed, but he could tell if he gave into this amusement, he'd have trouble composing himself afterward. It took every vestige of his skill as an Occlumens to block out the constant replay of the Umbridge witch's head snapping to the side while her ridiculous bow flew out of her hair and covered her enormous fly-trap of a mouth. I couldn't have handled her better myself. And then, the bloody - literally - finger transporting to the box with the ring! He hung his head and stared at the stones of the hearth at his feet, his jaw beginning to ache from clenching against his desire to grin. No grins. That was enough indulgence of his dark humor. He had to set an example for his ward. Breathe in. Exhale slowly. I must not encourage Harry to use such tactics on a regular basis. He took another moment of breathing, also taking that opportunity to permanently banish the paddle. Any future need to take Harry to task for something would be done verbally. Finally, Severus followed Harry through the floo.
He emerged into the Gryffindor common area to find Harry sitting on the sofa looking up at him with eyes as wide as saucers. "We will have a discussion now, and you will withhold nothing else from me, understand?" Severus declared, hearing a terse quality to his tone in spite of his attempts to sound moderate.
Harry blinked, and his brow furrowed as he registered the indirect accusation. His heart was pounding so hard and his senses were reeling with so much real terror over what he'd just done to Pius Thickeness, that he was unable to protest in his own defense. He tried again to speak, "Sir, I-"
But Severus held up a hand again. "Ah ah ah, not yet. First things first. Stand up."
Harry blanched at that, flashing back to the other day when he'd been in that other pickle, and had received the identical command. But Severus had put his hands into his pockets and pulled out the shrunken parcels of their earlier shopping. Oh. Relieved, Harry stood and removed his packages from his pockets and held them out in one hand, in the same manner as his guardian.
Severus swished his wand and banished the lot of their shopping down to Harry's room in his quarters. He looked at Harry and said firmly, "You will unpack your new wardrobe into your room downstairs when we return there. No arguments."
"Yes, sir," Harry said. He gulped down miserable nervousness and waited.
"We will take turns with our questions," Severus announced to Harry's surprise. "And while we exchange information, we will dispose of your former wardrobe, one piece at a time, until we are each in a better frame of mind. Understood?"
Huh? "Er, yes, sir," Harry said.
"Take off your jacket," Severus directed, aware that he was torturing Harry, but needing to keep this tone for the time being while he set the stage for what he had in mind. He waited while Harry complied, raising an eyebrow when the boy threw the discarded outerwear over the arm of the sofa.
"Oh," Harry muttered, banishing it to his trunk upstairs with his wand.
"Summon the rags here." Severus pointed to the open area before the hearth.
They were several minutes into their 'discussion,' which was essentially a quid pro quo engagement, and Severus was exceedingly glad that he hadn't given into his instinctive desire to harshly scold when he started in by asking the boy about the banishing of the portrait. He had instead directed Harry to levitate a particularly wretched pair of pajama bottoms over to the fire to burn while giving the explanation, and the history behind his declaration at Grimmauld Place. The boy had clearly been relieved to have been able to inform him that he had already had the opportunity to learn to use his abilities in very sparing ways, outside of banishing towels to hampers and summoning jackets. (And apparently in battle.) Severus now knew that Harry had previously banished the portrait with success and had been confident that it was safe to do when they'd been at Headquarters earlier.
"But it was really stupid of me to try to move the ring from Thickeness' finger to the box," Harry finished. "I should have remembered how stuck the diadem was to Thora's head." He was strained with anxiety as he gave a quick overview of the previous timeline's incident where Thora Breckin put the diadem on and channeled Voldemort, followed by her linking her magic with Gregory Goyle and launching a violent assault on the student body. "Is Thickeness going to be alright? Am I in trouble now?"
Severus raised an eyebrow to indicate Harry was not following the rules of their activity.
"Oh, uh, the rugby shirt," Harry said. He watched as the blotched and faded shirt was levitated straight upward, and then zipped dramatically into the fire in typical Snape flare. The action amused Harry enough to induce a smirk in spite of his nervousness.
Severus weighed the merits of downplaying the enormity of the injury the teen had inflicted on an enemy, in a situation that was not self defense. "It would be a challenge for Ministry Law Enforcement to prove you were the one responsible," he told Harry, "considering your wand was never visible throughout the event. And to my knowledge, the magic you used is untraceable. However, I believe this event will remain unreported, considering the players involved. In this instance, we were in the right to have fought as we did, including the removal of the ring. The fate of the Wizarding World is still very much at stake. We will continue to operate outside of the law as this progresses, Harry. It will be up to each of us to remember to preserve his own honor." When Harry's eyes met his, and let him see the world of exhausted turmoil the boy continued to carry, he added, "I am going out on a limb by saying that I don't believe you would have otherwise been as quick to act as you did without this level of peril. In your own words, young man, it is not as though you have much choice in this, is it?" He paused to hold Harry's eyes while this sunk in. "And, perhaps Albus will be able to reattach the finger."
Harry clenched his jaw and looked away for a few moments to process what he'd just been told. He was pretty sure his professor had just told him that he approved of Harry's actions. When Severus directed him to burn a beat up pair of jeans, Harry did so, verbally incanting his wingardium leviosa, and waiting to be asked a question by his guardian.
"How is it that you do not even have a scuff mark on your attire? I personally witnessed you flying through the air when we were attacked."
"You too," Harry replied knowingly. The rush of thrill at how fantastic he considered Severus to be in battle helped to break through his heavier mood, and Harry smirked at his guardian as he added, "you're no more scuffed up than I am." When the older wizard raised a skeptical eyebrow, Harry concluded, "I've seen you fly. It's bloody brilliant." The expression on his guardian's face was priceless, but it was clear that he would not be able to receive Harry's gushing with any degree of grace. Even still, Harry couldn't help but insert, "You flew during a battle with Thickeness on the other timeline, when he was attacking me." From there he gave a recap of that encounter and how much credibility future Professor Snape had gained with his students. "It's strange to think that none of that will have happened when school starts back up."
"You have not answered my original inquiry," Severus reminded him, completely unsettled to hear that he'd had to rush to Harry's defense on school grounds, and when other students were present. And he couldn't even entertain the possibility of becoming well liked by his students. That will never happen.
"Oh yeah," Harry was saying. "This shield of mine is pretty versatile. I find out new things about it every time a new bout of mayhem comes up. Today I used it while I was airborne."
"So you cushioned your landing?"
"Hmmmmm. Your turn."
Harry studied the pile of rags. "We should let at least three pairs of pants count as one turn, otherwise we'll be here all night."
"Agreed," Severus said, amusement at what they were doing finally overcoming the tension in the subject matter.
"What will Dumbledore do with the ring?" Harry asked, laughing as his professor made the three pairs of threadbare plaid boxers dance over the flames before dropping fatefully to their demise.
"I expect he'll bring it here. You do not have to be involved in its destruction."
"I'm fine with that," Harry said. He could see his professor's surprise. "What happened earlier is going to be the type of thing that happens regularly until we get all of the horcruxes dealt with. And this was easy compared to the diadem and Nagini's attacks."
Severus raised an eyebrow, but did not allow that last bit to add to his current stress level, instead directing Harry to burn a sweatshirt. "Why would you have not disclosed your ability to combine your magic with others?" he asked the boy, again stifling the urge to have phrased this as criticism.
"I didn't know I could until tonight," Harry surprised his guardian by saying. "I suppose the one good thing about being in so many dangerous situations is that I keep discovering new ways to use my wild magic." He thought about it. "Like the charm to show us inside the cottage. That idea came from a book Remus just gave me. Actually, I didn't cast the charm, I just imagined the result."
"So that's what you're doing, then?" Severus asked. "Visualizing, rather than casting spells?"
"Yeah," Harry said. "And I'm literally making it up as I go along. I had no idea what you were going to cast at 'ol Pius and his best girl, so I just imagined my magic feeding through your wand." He narrowed his eyes at his professor. "You have to burn something else. That was two questions."
"Hmmmm." Severus levitated the other sweatshirt from the dwindling pile into the fireplace. He was struggling not to smile at Harry's descriptions of Umbridge and Thickeness. It was quite apparent that he needed to properly guide his ward in the use of this peripheral magic of his, but this could prove to be a tricky situation, where Severus would have to reign in his harsher side while yet again having to operate without enough information.
Harry snickered when he was told to burn the thermal shirt with the hole in the armpit. "Gladly," he said as he sent the embarrassing but warm garment to meet its end in the flames. "Do you think Dumbledore can try to get the Wizengamut to bypass Fudge and get himself reinstated as Headmaster?"
"I believe that is on his agenda," Severus responded. "And after today's events, he will have to decide how to best convince his audience of Voldemort's demise, and to confide to some extent the continued threat without revealing that there are horcruxes."
Harry was feeling a lot better now. He had been terrified Snape was going to bite his head off after the finger debacle. "I don't have any more questions," he admitted.
"I have many," Severus said. "But as we are down to the last vestiges of your former apparel, I will narrow down the count." He'd been sitting on the sofa beside Harry for the duration of this activity. He now turned himself so that he was facing his ward and allowed his deep concern to show as he asked, "Did they beat you, Harry?"
Harry looked at Severus sharply, knowing exactly who they were. He nervously began to flick his wand at the remainder of the clothes, remembering suddenly that he could cast nonverbally now if he kept his thoughts calm. The pile was down to about thirty individual and worthless socks, so he sent each into the fire, one by one, as he relented and gave a real answer to his guardian, "A few times, yes. Uncle Vernon cornered me and used his belt. But mostly it was more about being knocked around. I got shoved a lot. And punched." He looked over at Severus and saw the undisguised alarm in the older wizard's expression. "The worst of it was them not letting me eat for long stretches, and locking me into the bedroom I used, or into the cupboard. They'd padlock it. I couldn't get out until they'd let me out, and they didn't do that very often." The alarm had evolved into raw shock on Severus' face, so Harry quickly moved on because he was pretty sure he knew why his professor had asked this. "I know that you think I'm all about breaking rules and seeking glory, but I'm not. I don't want to be in trouble with you, sir. Ever."
That got to Severus more than anything else that Harry had just revealed. "I've been realizing this," he said solemnly. He again recognized how very careful he needed to continue to be with young Harry Potter, and, how glad he was that he hadn't acted on his threats of spanking this boy.
"If you tell me not to do something, I won't do it. Well, unless, I guess, if my life or someone else's is on the line."
Severus nodded to acknowledge Harry's words. His mind was reeling at the significant step that Harry had just taken by trusting him with information about the Dursleys' abusive treatment. It was time to reduce the intensity of the moment. They both needed the break. "I have two more questions for you."
"Alright," Harry said warily.
"Did you alert Headmaster Dumbledore to our plight? Or was that one of the others?"
"It was me," Harry said, relaxing again when the topic moved away from his abusive relatives. "I found out I could do the messages with my imagination just before I got hit with Bellatrix's curse."
Severus was having difficulty disguising his growing regard for his ward's abilities. "Impressive," he said, and was pleased to see the impact this had on Harry. "And finally, would you be comfortable with calling me Severus, again, as it were?"
Severus wasn't certain whether it had been his asking Harry to call him Severus, or his adding as he'd stood up, "Come, Young Harry, let's get some dinner," that had brought Harry's emotions to a head, but by the time he'd flooed the two of them back down to his quarters, Harry was swiping at his eyes, trying desperately to avoid looking at Severus. And this time, Severus was deeply moved by the sight, enough so that his own voice was close to breaking when he grabbed Harry's arm and said, "Wait, Harry," so that he could pull the poor child into a much needed embrace.
Harry clung to Severus, burying his face in the older wizard's shirt, struggling to control harsh sobs that contained so many conflicting emotions, he was extremely relieved his guardian hadn't asked what was wrong. Harry couldn't have said, even if the world had depended upon it. But, no matter, Severus clearly had an idea anyway.
Now, things were starting to feel like they could get back to normal.
After about an hour of contemplating the flames from his seat in his leather armchair, Severus snapped back to the present to realize it was late, and he was hungry. Where was Harry? He made his way into the boy's bedroom and found Harry asleep on his bed, appearing to have slipped off into oblivion unintentionally. Severus smirked, but took a look around while he could do so unobserved by his ward. Severus had furnished the room with a wardrobe, desk and chair, and a full sized bed, selecting unused furniture that had been stored throughout the castle and having elves assist with its delivery. The bedding consisted of the standard Hogwart's white linens and a navy blue duvet encasing a heavy down comforter. There wasn't much about it to personalize it for Harry yet, but the boy had summoned his school books down and stacked them neatly on the desk, along with his owl's cage. Upon inspection, Severus found Harry's new clothes neatly stored in the wardrobe.
"Harry?" Severus called softly, stepping over to look down at the boy. He could see Harry struggling to open his eyes as he sat on the edge of the bed beside him. "Are you down for the night?" he asked in amusement.
"Uhn," Harry murmured.
"Uhm hmm. How's your room? Is it the same as the previous?"
Harry awoke at about midnight with a growling stomach and more than a little annoyed with himself that he hadn't showered before falling asleep. After that last stint in the cupboard and being told he stank by his aunt, Harry had preferred to shower twice daily to insure he never offended anyone again. There was a soft, warm glow coming from a magical wall sconce that illuminated the room enough for Harry to be able to find his way through the dark as he carefully opened the door and poked his head out to see if Severus was still up.
Severus stepped through the floo to find Harry sitting up on the sofa with his transfiguration textbook in his lap. "Were you unable to sleep?" he asked the boy in a flat voice as he took a seat in his armchair.
Harry knew the minute he saw Severus that his guardian had just been involved in destroying the ring horcrux. He had the same stoney expression he'd had after the locket event on the other timeline. "You know it was all Voldemort, and not you, right? No matter what the apparition said," Harry pointed out quietly, and very carefully.
Severus looked Harry over, noting that the boy was wearing new pajamas that were quite an improvement over the now burned hand-me-downs. "Did you have anything to eat?"
Harry nodded. "Dobby brought me sandwiches. Er, will you just tell me if everyone is alright? Then I'll go back to bed."
"Everyone we consider a friend is fine," Severus said, still sounding toneless and flat. He studied the boy for a long moment. "If you would like to stay there and read, you should do so. Be warned I am not in a mood for conversation."
Harry struggled to decipher from that whether his company was genuinely wanted, or not, and finally decided to stay for a little while when his concern for his guardian's state of mind outweighed his fear of rejection. He reopened his book and continued reviewing the subjects he had to include in his holiday essay. He'd ultimately be rewriting assignments that he'd already completed and received high marks for, and he was actually alright with this because he was now the type of student he never expected to be: the high achieving type.
Severus was surprised that Harry had stayed put, not yet ready to believe that the boy enjoyed his company, especially when he was sullen and introspective, as he was right now. He had also been surprised at the boy's comment about the apparition. He wondered what Harry had witnessed previously, and would be mortified if it had been what had occurred tonight when he had joined Albus, Lucius and Lupin in a remote area on the coast. It was bad enough that the others had witnessed an embodiment of Severus' guilty conscience looming over them all while they struggled to refocus their attention to the task at hand. Albus had used the Sword of Gryffindor to destroy the horcrux, and consequently the trapped finger, and the resulting evacuation of enraged evil energy that swept through each of them had given Severus a very strong taste of what Harry had been dealing with alone.
The occasional crackle in the fire was the only sound in the otherwise silent room shared by the two dark haired wizards over the next thirty minutes. Severus sipped at a moderate dose of fire whiskey, and was slowly relaxing, enough so that when Harry began to yawn uncontrollably, he was able to flash a smirk with his raised eyebrow at his ward.
"I'm going," Harry said with a sleepy smile. He wasn't expecting Severus to get up, but he did, and he pulled Harry into a hug.
"There is a stock of dreamless sleep in the drawer of your nightstand," the older wizard said. He held Harry for a long moment while his conscience wrestled with itself.
Harry hugged back, feeling more at ease with his guardian than he had all week. "Goodnight, Severus." He was rewarded with a hard squeeze and a kiss on the top of his head.
"Have a good sleep, Young Harry."