Utilizing Resources - Part II
Chapter 14 - EM-E - Utilizing Resources - Part II
Severus had shooed Harry on ahead to go and meet Lupin and Lucius in the ROR for an impromptu defense practice session later in the afternoon. Harry had been somewhat reluctant to leave his guardian's side, after a morning of being kept in close proximity to the potions master. Harry had known that Severus was being very careful with him, and he had allowed himself to be enveloped by the attention. By the time Severus had suggested Harry go on ahead, he could honestly say that he was feeling a lot better than he'd felt when he'd awoken for the day.
"It's rather odd, the way he's acting," Tonks was saying to Remus and Lucius when Harry found them in the ROR. Her voice carried through the large interior as he approached. "He's broadcasting to anyone who will listen that he'd spoken to Mrs. Dursley about Harry, and that she'd informed him that her family had been driven out of their home on Privet Drive after she'd terminated custody of Harry. She told Fudge that Severus had forced her into hiding for reasons that were groundless and ridiculous. Fudge says he'll be going to the Prophet with what he knows, to get the word out that Harry Potter has mental issues that are being indulged by his new guardian and Albus Dumbledore."
Harry stopped in his tracks when he heard this. "I just don't see why he's being such a tosspot about this," he said in exasperation as the adult wizards turned to acknowledge him. Harry realized that in spite of this pseudo repeat of an event he'd already experienced, he was almost at the point now where so much was happening on this timeline, it was overshadowing what he'd brought with him from the future. Case and point, this new development with Fudge. Harry stopped short of regretting that Fudge was still alive in this version of events, although there was a thread of fleeting thought of how things would be much easier if the cowardly politician was no longer with them.
"Wotcher, Harry," Tonks called to him as he made his way over. "Guess you heard all of that. I thought I'd come by and pass it on first hand, and just in time for a mini defense class, eh? Well, there's nothing to do about it but be prepared to defend yourself!"
"This is a disaster," Harry muttered, but he found himself casting his eyes off to survey the room the others had set up.
"Yes, it is," Remus agreed, "but it is for all of us to face, Harry. You are being targeted personally and publicly, yes, but the rest of Wizarding Britain is being deceived and left very vulnerable to evil by their own Ministry of Magic. We are all at tremendous risk."
Harry knew Remus was right and forced himself to shake off the morose attitude that wanted to consume him. He was so, so bloody tired of constantly being in a state of fear. But he wasn't the only one who was afraid. So, knowing this made him feel less alone, at least for the moment.
"I hear you're thinking up your own spells already, Harry," Tonks said, winking at Harry when he met her eyes.
Harry smirked. "Well, that's the plan, anyway. I have a couple of ideas that I think I could make work, but I doubt they'd be worthy enough to make it into common wizarding spell use." He cast a glance at Lucius, who had narrowed his eyes as he'd listened. "Have you ever created a spell, sir?"
"I haven't, Harry," Lucius said. "I never had the instinct to do so. I have always been the type of perfectionist who is driven to master what is already known." He paused for a moment, reflecting on unspoken thoughts. "Severus was very accomplished in that art. I remember being both impressed and intimidated by his skill in that regard, but finally concluded that it was not an inclination for me."
Harry smiled at that. "I'll probably go that route as well. I enjoy learning from watching others in action."
"Well then, let's have a little action, shall we?" Tonks suggested. "Mad-Eye just told me about something he used to do when he had been disarmed, back before he could cast a shield non verbally."
The four of them had spread out to engage in an exercise that was a test of speed and reflex. There was only one simple rule: to use only one single spell, any spell, and attempt to cast it in time to force its magical energy to clash with an opponent's spell, to disrupt the magic in a modified form of deflection. Harry was reminded of a muggle news report about anti-missile operations that caused missiles to explode in midair, high above and safely out of reach of muggle society.
They stood in a square formation, casting diagonally and upward into the center of their enclosed space. Harry was casting expelliarmus because it was one that he could do non verbally. The whole thing was exactly the kind of practice that Harry thrived upon, and it was proving to be an incredibly useful tactic. They were all laughing and breathless after about thirty minutes of constant casting, and each of them, including Harry, felt confident that he or she'd acquired a new and quite effective skill.
"That was brilliant, Tonks," Harry said enthusiastically. He nearly commented that she always showed him excellent spells, but caught himself just in time. Tonks was not aware that Harry had come backward in time.
"Well done," Remus said with his warm, wan smile. Tonks beamed, blushing slightly.
"Let's have some one-on-one, shall we?" Lucius suggested.
He'd directed his request at Remus, who responded with almost identical confidence to the last time Harry had witnessed a moment like this between the two older wizards. In fact, Remus was wearing the same ensemble he'd worn that day of dueling last time, sans the robes. Curious, Harry said to himself, hearing Severus' voice in his head instead of his own, which nearly made him laugh out loud. He flashed a look at Tonks and saw that same look in her eyes as before, as well. She's got it bad for Remus, he thought. He wondered if they might speed things along a bit more quickly this time. Last time, Harry was pretty certain they'd end up together, but it hadn't happened yet by the time he'd been blown back through the calendar.
This time, when Remus and Lucius sparred, Harry was treated to a visual introduction to a whole new selection of spells. He was fascinated by the force of their magic as they waved and slashed their wands at each other. Each wizard had a different expression of concentration, but from where he stood, Harry would be hard pressed to say which was the stronger of the two. This time, Remus was bested by Lucius, by virtue of a simple disarming spell which the blond wizard slipped in after creating a massive explosion that forced Remus to angle his shield in a way that left his right flank exposed.
"Aah!" Remus growled in disappointment, conceding reluctantly with a bow, but winking at Harry nonetheless. "Well done, Lucius. Harry, I hope you took note of the patient strategizing that went on just then."
"Oh, I did," Harry said with an impressed grin.
Next, Harry and Lucius faced off. Lucius was not particularly gentle with his spell selection, but Harry was able to block almost all of what came his way with his wand. When the renowned muscle-cramping hex got past Harry's contego shield and hit his calf, Harry gasped at the annoying pain and retaliated on instinct. As his knee buckled sharply enough to take him down, Harry used wild magic to enhance his spell, casting Vox vocis - voila! as he was dropping, and managing to get past Lucius' shield. The spell was one of his new ideas, adding a French twist to the "high voice" spell he'd used on Draco in the past. The resulting high pitched shriek of babbling that erupted from Lucius, consisting of segmented feverish rants in French were so hilarious that Harry literally fell to the floor laughing, lying on his back and struggling to breathe while Lucius went on and on, helpless to silence himself.
…"alors alors alors! c'est ridicule, comment osez-vous? qui fait quelque chose de si horrible? avez-vous une idée de qui je suis? qui fait mes cheveux? la valeur de mes idées?"…
It was right about then that Severus walked in, finding Remus and Tonks in hysterics, Harry on the floor holding his stomach and laughing harder than Severus could ever remember witnessing, while Lucius stood over him spouting off nonsense in a cartoon voice, and in French no less, gesturing madly and emphatically, but clearly enjoying the way the boy is laughing.
"What. in. Merlin's name. is. going. on?" Severus demanded in his trademark professor enunciation. He cast a loud finite and then a finem on Lucius, but neither ended the French diatribe. Lupin and Tonks were watching him pretend to be unamused while they continued to crack up, along with Harry. He raised an eyebrow at his ward. "Mr. Potter, if you would kindly put us all out of our misery and end this horrific display-"
"Revelo," Harry gasped, flicking his wand in a very simple arc and then collapsing into giggles again.
"Good lord," Lucius rasped in exasperation. "You've even built in a failsafe release to that spell? Who in the world would think to use revelo?" He stood glaring unconvincingly down on Harry for a few moments while the boy continued to laugh. "Severus, your ward is an all new breed of devious in a duel." And he was clearly quite impressed.
Severus looked down at Harry, who was finally managing to catch his breath. "This is how you plan to overpower your enemies, young man?"
Harry grinned, sitting up. "I think it could work, Severus. I nearly died laughing just then."
"Forgive me if I misunderstand, Mr. Potter, but isn't your aim to cause your opponent to collapse, and not yourself?" Severus was losing the battle and a smile was making its way to his face.
Harry allowed Lucius to pull him to his feet and stood facing the two adult Slytherins. "That spell would be perfect for overpowering a very particular sort of menace," he said, thinking of the likes of Draco in bully mode.
"What else have you put together, Harry?" Remus asked wiping his eyes and joining them with Tonks.
"Er, well, I don't know if I want to reveal that yet," Harry hedged. He looked at both Severus and Remus. "How would you have practiced a more… aggressive spell back when you were making them up?"
"How aggressive?" Severus asked, just managing to keep himself in check in spite of the bling of alarm bells in his mind. He did not want to see Harry turn into a younger version of himself, creating the likes of sectum sempra to slice his enemies to shreds. But Harry was already putting him at ease before he'd finished the inner reflection.
"It's not so much what the spell does, but what it makes the recipient think it does. If it works the way I want it to, it will make them respond like the coward they really are…" Harry was saying. He smirked. "I could pay a couple of first years to let me practice it on them. But that's more than a week to wait, to see if it's really going to work."
"You will do no such thing!" Severus said, outrage getting the better of him. But the boy had been goading him, and was now looking far too smug at having gotten a rise out of Severus. Severus narrowed his eyes warningly, but Harry had already achieved his goal. "Clearly, you are not aware that you are playing with fire, you little fool."
Harry grinned at Severus again. Oh, he knew he'd been playing with fire, but he was incredibly proud of himself. "Alright, no experimenting. I promise. Although, you do realize that is how the Weasley twins tested the efficacy of a lot of their Weasley Wizarding Wheezes products for the store they're going to open?"
Harry was both relieved and unnerved at the way nothing out of the "new normal" occurred over the next few days. He and Severus maintained a routine of mornings spent on Harry's assignments and potion brewing, and free-forming with magic in the afternoons. Harry then hung out with Remus in the evenings after dinner on Wednesday and Thursday, listening to music and hearing more about his parents. Most of the stories were repeats that he'd heard previously, but they were nearly as enjoyable to hear a second time, plus he really loved listening to records with the wan Marauder. Harry noticed that Remus again kept the little tidbit about Severus' guitar playing abilities to himself, in spite of their conversation crossing over into favorite instruments and live performances. Harry came away from each visit reflecting on how much integrity Remus had, and how much he truly respected the older wizard.
Late Thursday evening, Harry and Severus had a visit from Dumbledore and were informed that Headmistress McGonagall had been released early from St. Mungos, and would return to the school on Friday afternoon to prepare for the new term. Harry acknowledged inwardly that this was another parallel to the previous timeline.
"Is the Wizengamot doing anything about reinstating you, sir?" Harry asked.
"It's hard to say, Harry," Dumbledore replied. "I definitely have a strong number of the members convinced that we need to act on the continued threat of a collapsing Ministry of Magic, along with the need to dismantle Minister Fudge's power structure."
"Do they know now that I killed Voldemort?"
"I am confident that this group believes my information is valid, but Harry, there is a reason Cornelius Fudge has been able to mislead the public with his little fantasy," Dumbledore warned.
"Yeah," Harry said. "People would rather believe the easier scenario. The one where I'm a disturbed little miscreant who's making up stories to make himself sound important."
Severus frowned at the visible shift in Harry's mood as this topic came to light. He'd been happy to allow the boy as much stress-free time as possible these last two days and was loathe to see it end. But alas, he could not protect the boy from all of it. "Albus, have you heard anything about Fudge's visit this past Saturday? He indicated that he had a full investigation of Harry underway."
"He has made no reports or announcements of his intentions to the Wizengamot," Dumbledore said, ducking his head down to cast a look at Harry over his glasses, before looking back at Severus. "The two of you need to go see Madam Chase again, do you not?"
"We do," Severus replied. "Tomorrow, at eleven."
"That will at least finalize the question of guardianship until the end of January," Dumbledore said, nodding in approval. "This is something that Fudge cannot undo without rewriting Wizarding Law that has been established for well over a century."
"Good morning," Rebecca Chase greeted Harry and Severus when they entered her department area Friday morning. Both wizards immediately registered her reserve.
"Is there anything the matter?" Severus asked. He kept his hand on Harry's neck, already feeling a distinct tension in his ward.
"Well, I've had a strange past couple of days," Madam Chase informed them. "Come, let's go into the meeting room."
When they were in the room that was now quite familiar to Harry, the social worker seated herself across from Harry and Severus, so that they could see her disquiet far more clearly. Harry's stomach took a plunge. "What happened, Madam Chase?"
"I got called to a school named Smeltings Academy yesterday morning," she said carefully. She could see that this was news to Harry, but that he knew his cousin would be part of this story, "I'd been summoned to help with the aftermath to an episode of major school violence on the campus. Do you know a boy named Piers Polkiss?"
Severus was watching Harry's profile from where he was again seated beside the scrawny teen. Harry paled, clenching his jaw as he nodded and waiting to hear the rest of the story.
"It appears that young Mr. Polkiss experienced an inexplicable mental breakdown that induced a violent rage, and he apparently planted and detonated bombs on the school grounds. The explosions destroyed three classrooms and injured at least twenty people. He allegedly went on a rampage of attacks on students after that. He is being held for multiple counts of murder and assault, and for terrorist acts, which is something I'm unclear about at this time. Harry, your cousin was among the severely injured. He's in hospital now, hanging on by a thread, and his physicians are noncommittal about his prognosis."
Harry's mind was reeling. He knew this was not what it appeared to be.
"What sort of injuries were inflicted on those who were attacked?" Severus demanded in a low, grim voice as he reached under Harry's chair to grab its base and slide him nearer. He draped an arm around the boy and tugged him even closer.
"He must have had a machete or a large knife. The authorities hadn't yet found the weapon when I was there," Madam Chase told them, "but the injuries were all deep, brutal slashes."
They sat in silence. "I don't know what to say about this," Harry said after a while. He had a horrible desire to get up and run out of the muggle facility. The Dursleys had been targeted because of him, and as much as he disliked them, he was sick to hear this news.
"I went to the hospital to check on Dudley this morning and encountered your aunt and uncle," Madam Chase said carefully. "I asked them if they wanted me to have you visit. I have to admit I was rather shocked when your aunt said she wanted to see you."
Harry's stomach had been settled down around the base of his spine since he'd walked in, and now it sunk beneath the soles of his feet. He jiggled his leg.
"Harry?" Severus prodded softly. Harry leaned into him slightly. Severus looked at Madam Chase. "I am skeptical about Petunia Dursley's desire to see her nephew."
"I was too," Rebecca Chase admitted. "But her distress seemed to be so full of desperation, as if she believes Harry could inspire his cousin to hold onto life."
Harry struggled to say something but couldn't formulate what he wanted to say without sounding hostile. He had no doubt in his mind that Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon would blatantly pin this all on him.
"I can't believe this happened," Harry finally said in a rough voice. "Dudley and Piers have been best friends for as long as I can remember. Both of them are bullies, but they're the kind that is a pure coward underneath all of the bluster." He hastily cleared his throat. "I'm willing to go see Dudley, but I really don't think it will do much good."