Unmitigated Gall - Part I
Chapter 15 - EM-E - Unmitigated Gall - Part I
Rebecca Chase insisted on accompanying the two of them to St. George's Hospital. Severus surreptitiously sent several messages through the coin while they rode in the hired cab, as Harry chatted nervously with the social worker from his seat between the two adults. She'd at least put both of them at ease when she told them the guardianship was sealed and permanent, letting them watch her rubber stamp the document and sign and date it so that they could be certain it was done before following them down to the street level to summon a taxi.
"Look, it's just the way the Dursleys see things," Harry explained to Madam Chase. "The fact that they had to let me into their home is the only possible explanation for all of the bad things that have happened. Even if they believe this all happened because of someone else's wandwork, they'll still see me as the reason it happened to them. And I can't really argue with that."
"No, you can't argue that with a rational mind," Rebecca said, smiling reassuringly at Harry. "But you, Harry Potter, are not responsible for the criminal behavior of other individuals."
"I would be if I was the mastermind, and the Dursleys believe I am. They think I've wanted all of this," Harry argued. "They will have an unexpected reason for wanting me to visit. It's certainly not going to be because my presence brings them comfort."
"Well, then you can reassure yourself that of the lot, you are the one with the good intentions and better heart," Madam Chase said.
Severus slid his wand back up his sleeve and his coin into his pocket. When Harry gave him an inquiring look he said calmly, "I've secured backup."
Harry stayed beside Severus as they entered St. George's, following Rebecca Chase as she weeded through the assembled muggle news crews, who were there to report on the condition of all of the victims of the previous day's events. She led them up to the Intensive Care Ward, to the small visitors' room where Petunia and Vernon Dursley were both sitting. Petunia jumped up when she saw Harry, and then looked at Severus, and then beyond Severus as Remus walked into the small chamber behind them, having just arrived at Severus' summons. Harry flashed a look at the two older wizards and saw that they were both poised and ready to respond to whatever was behind the school violence, and the Dursleys' unlikely request to see Harry.
Now Harry looked at his aunt. "Do you have any news on Dudley?"
Petunia pressed her lips together. Harry couldn't tell if she was stifling her typical loathsome vitriol, or if she was searching for more decent words. She stepped closer to Harry, glancing quickly through the large windows that overlooked the round bay of patient rooms that were also glassed in with curtains up for privacy. She looked at Madam Chase as if considering speaking to her, but finally addressed her response to the magical individuals in the room. "This was not…" she said in her standard pinched voice, "this was something done by your kind." Now she shocked them all by looking up at Severus and saying in a pleading voice, "You could go have a look at him, couldn't you? See if you can undo what was done to him? They say he won't live because he's not healing as-" The last word cut off as her voice broke in sheer despair. She heaved in harsh breaths, battling herself and finally choked out. "Severus? You might help him. Please? Or can you call someone who could?"
Harry looked over his shoulder at the potions master and saw his frown of discomfort. Severus turned assessing eyes on Harry, as if wary of how Harry was handling this situation, before casting an inquiring look at Remus.
"Minerva had just arrived when you messaged us, Severus," Remus said, deliberately not mentioning Hogwarts. "She'd summoned Albus for a briefing and I believe he was en route. Lucius was suspicious of this being a diversion of sorts, so he wanted to see her settled and not leave until others had arrived. We summoned more Order members to watch the area."
Severus nodded. He looked over at Petunia. "I will have a look at your son," he said somewhat kindly, as even he was believing her despondency to be genuine. "We too suspect foul play from the Wizarding world based on what Harry has said about the boy who is responsible for the brutality."
Petunia flashed a look at Harry that he couldn't read, probably because he'd never seen anything on her face but fear and hatred when he was around. "They were not kind to you," she said, referring to Dudley and Piers, "but they are not capable of something this terrible."
"I know," Harry said quietly. He looked over at his uncle for the first time. Vernon Dursley seemed to be in a catatonic state. He'd not reacted to their arrival, nor had he shifted his eyes away from the distant spot they were still focused upon. Madam Chase had gone over to take a seat beside him, and was also studying him.
"Very well," Severus said. He made a show of pulling Harry back against his chest and hugging him around the shoulders, dropping his head to say, "Don't let your guard down. Stay here with Lupin."
"Yes, sir," Harry said back, reaching up to grip Severus' arm for a moment. He looked at Remus as his guardian left the room with his aunt. Remus was frowning at Vernon, narrowing his eyes. Harry wondered if his werewolf senses were picking up on something from his uncle.
"Severus?" Petunia whispered as they walked the short distance to Dudley's room. She could no longer see her sister's former best friend.
"I've disillusioned myself," Severus replied in a low tone. "I'm beside you. Lead the way."
When they entered the small private room, Severus was rather shocked at the sight of the burly teenager in such a deteriorated state. The boy's face was swollen around at least ten deep slashes that spanned from hairline to chin. His large hamhock body seemed smaller too, and it was wrapped from neck to toe in white gauze that showed the absorbed ooze from deep wounds that were struggling to seal themselves. "Watch for the appearance of other muggles," Severus warned as he raised his wand to do a simple assessment charm, looking for dark magic. He was disgusted to find his own signature spell indicators. Whoever had attacked this boy had used sectum sempra. It had to have been a Voldemort affiliate. But whom?
"Can you help him?" Petunia asked, breaking into uncontrolled sobs and pulling a tissue from a carton near Dudley's bed.
"Yes," Severus said. He paused, weighing his next request, but knew it was necessary. "But in return, Madam, I want your word that you will not cooperate further with Cornelius Fudge." When Petunia raised wild eyes in his general direction, he knew his suspicions had been correct. "I do not know who was responsible for the attack, but you can be quite certain that it began with Fudge. He is not in his right mind, and he has made a target of Harry. Whether or not you approve of his attitude toward your nephew, it would be very foolish of you to believe that his actions have any valid purpose, or to try to assume that this situation is not connected."
"Of course not!" Petunia spat. She checked herself for having lost control. "I will not respond to him again, Severus. I promise."
Severus couldn't help himself. "If it had been Harry who had received these injuries because of your willingness to align with Minister Fudge, would you have any remorse?"
Petunia pressed her lips together. She was visibly shaking. "I know what you think of me, what you've always thought of me. I could not love that boy. All that I could see was the danger that having him near was putting us all in! What happened to Dudley is something I've feared since Potter showed up on our doorstep! I'm surprised that it took so long to happen!"
Severus dropped his disillusionment spell and recast a notice-me-not on the windows and doorway so that he could face off with Petunia, outside of the awareness of the hospital staff. She visibly started at his reappearance. "You turned on Lily because of her friendship with me, didn't you?"
"Everything changed when you came around!" Petunia said bitterly. "What would you expect? We were children! You took my best friend from me! I've never had another!"
Severus was not unaffected by her words, and knew he had also demonstrated a similar redirection of his anger at innocent parties, but he couldn't help needing to say out loud, "Petunia, you and I are of a similar ilk. We lash out when we are hurt, and have hurt many innocent souls because of it. Harry has suffered extensively from this. Do you not have any desire to conclude your hatred of your nephew? To see him for who he truly is?"
"Not while my son is lying there, dying, no!" she spat back. "If you are nursing a guilty conscience over Harry, that's not my concern. You're welcome to him!"
"I will heal your son, but I will come after you if you give any further aid to those who aim to harm Harry," Severus said severely. His own conscience was battling itself over his hypocrisy as he turned to begin incanting the healing charm for the Dursley boy's wounds. There would be scarring, but Severus had a fleeting thought that the reminder of what people could be pushed to do when treated poorly would be a good thing for this muggle family. Severus shut off further reflection of how lucky they all were that Harry had not responded with violence to their mistreatment of him.
Dudley's coloring began to change as Severus worked. Petunia crept a little bit closer, continuing to cry softly, and too fearful of being hit with the magic in play to step beside her son's bed and take his hand as she longed to do. Severus cast a sleeping spell on Dudley to keep him from awakening for another day. It would be too suspicious to the muggle healers that his condition had changed so dramatically. The muggle news crew outside the hospital would further exacerbate a declaration of "miracle healing" by broadcasting it to the world. Let the young whale-boy sleep.
"Harry, perhaps if you take a seat on my other side, we could have a chat with your uncle," Rebecca Chase suggested, clearly thinking this was a good idea.
Harry looked up at Remus, and saw that his suspicious frown had only intensified over the past quarter hour that they'd all been gathered there, silently waiting for an update on Dudley.
"Perhaps it would be better for you to come stand with us, Madam Chase," Remus said in a growl that told Harry something was definitely off.
Harry flashed a look of alarm at the social worker, which she returned as she quickly jumped to her feet. Vernon Dursley suddenly shot up and grabbed Madam Chase. Harry and Remus lunged toward her, and Harry got a hand on her arm just as "Uncle Vernon" disapparated them both away.
"Dammit!" Remus yelled, oblivious to the scrambling of startled hospital workers who glanced into the room to see a lone individual who was clearly venting his terror over a loved one's predicament. Remus pulled out his galleon in time to read a message from Harry.
…We're at Riddle Manor, in Little Hangleton… in the house on the back of the property…. I don't know who the wizard is…. but the real Uncle Vernon is here too…
Remus spun at the sound of rushing footsteps, already girding up for Severus' tirade. But the potions master stayed mute with his rage, entering the room and casting another notice-me-not before giving Remus a look that said very testily, well? Remus nodded and they both disapparated in unison.
"This can only end in two ways, and you're going to die in either one," Harry warned the impostor version of his uncle. He was surprisingly not frightened by this turn of events, so it wasn't much effort to speak with disdain. "You're out of your league."
He was desperate to find out who was behind the disguise, and not above using his natural inclination to taunt (now, where had he learned that?) to get a response from the other wizard. Like his uncle and social worker, Harry was wrapped in painful bindings that bit into his flesh, but the muggles were in worse shape, having vomited on themselves after the violence to their systems from disapparation. The room reeked of sick, and yet the disguised wizard was completely unaffected. Wanting to help Dean's aunt, Harry imagined Madam Chase's blouse to be clean and it suddenly was, but she still looked to be extremely nauseated. He left Uncle Vernon's mess as-is for the moment. He knew he could release them all from their bindings, but needed to first think of a way to get them safely out of this dilapidated house they were in. And, what was it with dilapidated buildings and these evil psychopaths, anyway?
"Shut up, little boy," Impostor Vernon spat, bringing Harry back to the present. "You're done. I'm simply waiting for the traitorous Severus to come as well, so that I can finish you both, together."
Harry couldn't help the thrill of fear that rushed up his spine. Who was this bastard? He looked over at the real Vernon Dursley. "Did you get a look at him before he changed into you?" he asked his uncle.
Vernon's complexion was a deep lobster red, and his mouth was full of the spittle that always gathered when he was the most angry. "You all look alike to me!" he sputtered.
Harry glared at him as he wondered how Severus and the others had responded to his message. "I think Dudley will be okay," he told his uncle matter-of-factly. "My new guardian was helping him when this bastard took us away."
The impostor Vernon laughed harshly. "Of course he was helping the boy, Harry. He knows exactly how to reverse that spell, since it was one of his best creations! The Dark Lord lauded him with enormous praise, insisting that we all learn it."
That got to Harry. He shut his mouth in confusion and reined himself back into his thoughts. There was always a reality check flashing up, just when he was letting himself feel completely free to trust and admire Severus. The result was always the return of that feeling of being alone. In this case, it was because he could never imagine himself feeling enough hatred to create a spell that shredded people to bits. Oh, Harry wanted revenge, and he wanted people like Bellatrix and Wormtail to die. But he wanted the endings to be a result of their own actions, not by someone he trusted acting in cold blood.
CRACK! CRACK! CRACK!
CRACK! CRACK-CRACK-CRACK! CRACK!
They all reacted differently to the sound of the new arrivals. Both muggles startled dramatically and Uncle Vernon whimpered. Harry flinched, hoping beyond hope that it meant help was here, as he watched Impostor Vernon raise his hand and give him an exaggerated buck-toothed grin, wiggling his fingers in a very familiar way as he disapparated from the scene. Harry flashed back to that night by the Whomping Willow in third year. Wormtail!
Severus and Remus entered the room a second later, followed by Arthur and Bill Weasley, Dawlish, Kinglsey and Hestia Jones.
"He's gone!" Harry said anxiously. He looked at Severus intently. "Who's at Hogwarts?"
The way that Severus had made his way to Harry and looked him over with concern had not been lost on the Order members, who were openly observing this side of Severus Snape. When Severus cupped his hand around Harry's head to pull him in for a tight hug, Harry could hear his heart pounding. He hugged his guardian back and put his agitated thoughts aside for the moment at this sign of vulnerability in Severus.
"Now, now, Mr. Dursley, you might want to consider taking advantage of magical transport on this occasion," Mr. Weasley was saying coaxingly to Harry's uncle. "You'll see your son all the sooner this way."
"I'll do nothing of the sort! Not with your lot!" Vernon spat, literally, leaving flecks of bubbly spittle on Arthur's muggle suit jacket.
"You were raised by him, Harry?" Bill asked in disgust as he cast a scourgify over his father's clothes, wrinkling his nose as he did the same to Vernon's shirt front. "Just get him out of here, Dad, he doesn't deserve any say in how we help him!"
Rebecca Chase thanked Harry for looking out for her. "You really are a remarkable young man, Harry," she said with a shaky smile. "Very brave, and very crafty." The last was accented by her gesturing at the front of her blouse. They all turned to see that Arthur had taken Uncle Vernon's arm and cracked away with him. "And I concur with that other man that it's quite amazing that you are you, after being confined through your childhood with the likes of Vernon Dursley."
Harry gave her a strained smile. "I'm glad you're alright," he said.
Remus had been in discussion with Hestia and Dawlish, but when he heard the pause in the conversation between Harry and Rebecca Chase, he come over with the other Order members. "John and Hestia will get you home safely," he said. "You'll be quite secure there with Albus Dumbledore's wards protecting you, but you'll need to remain in your home until we can be certain we've captured the one responsible for all of this."
"I will happily comply," Madam Chase said. "I'm very grateful to you all."
Harry stood by with a pinched look of intense anxiety on his face, not at all happy that they had not yet left to return to Hogwarts. Severus gave his neck a squeeze so he looked up at his guardian.
"I've warned Lucius to watch the map," the potions master said quietly. "He'll alert us." Severus watched Harry wrestle with something. "Are you hurt, son?" he asked, calling Harry son without really thinking about it. When Harry's eyes shot up to meet his, there was a whole new world of angst there. Now what?
Severus spun on Lupin as soon as the others had cracked away in departure. "You pathetic idiot! This could have ended very badly!" he seethed, letting further unspoken accusations speak volumes about his perception of the werewolf's defensive tactics.
"Don't blame Remus!" Harry said in alarm. "It happened so-"
"No, Harry, Severus is right," Remus said, ducking his head in a consenting bow, taking responsibility. "I knew that man was an impostor. I was weighing the merits of acting in front of Madam Chase, and delayed my decision far too long."
Harry sighed in frustration at the resurfacing of Severus' nasty temper. "The truth is, I wasn't in danger. I could have protected myself," he said emphatically. "At the very least, I could have put up my shield. Wormtail isn't strong enough to break through it."
Severus didn't like the sound of Harry's confidence, and his face obviously reflected this because Harry reacted defensively.
"I've told you, I know my limits! I know I can't handle a lot of stuff, but I could have gotten us out of this mess on the spot. I just didn't want Wormtail to know about my wild magic yet, so I played along!" Now Remus and Severus were exchanging a look of shared alarm at Harry's claims. Harry didn't know why he was so enraged at this, but he was. He had the good sense to shut up, however, not wanting to feed the open flame of reprimand he knew he'd just ignited in both Severus and Remus. He thought resentfully about that spell of Severus'. At least he hadn't openly contributed to the evil they were all battling.
"I'm going to say this once, young man, and I want you to hear it clearly," Severus said sternly after he'd snatched Harry's arm, tugged him into his side, and disapparated with him to the Hogwarts gates. He was responding to the inner alarm bells that had CLANGED, quite loudly, when he'd heard that cockiness in Harry's declaration of having it all under control. He waved his wand and the gates creaked open while he retook Harry's arm and started the long hike up to the castle. Harry had his head ducked down, so Severus could not see his expression as he lectured, "You are fifteen. You are not completely developed, neither magically nor physically. Yes, you are accomplished for your age, and yes, you have a very powerful alternative source of magic that is unique. It comes in quite handy in many situations. But you do not have it mastered. The worst possible thing that you could do would be to make the assumption that you have."
Harry was seething. He was so wound up, he couldn't put words together to respond. Severus stopped walking and turned Harry to face him, attempting to cup his chin and make him look up. But Harry jerked his head away and resumed walking. "Fine. I get it!" he said angrily. He was stopped again, and this time when he saw Severus' thunderous expression, he realized he was pushing his luck.
"The fatherly thing to do in this situation would be to turn you over my knee to make this point very clear," Severus said dangerously. Harry reacted as he'd expected, by taking a step backwards and shutting his expression down into the indifferent mask that had hidden so much from so many people in times past. "Ah, now I have your attention," Severus said, still stern and unrelenting.
They both turned to see who had just arrived in time to pass through the slowly closing gates. It was Fudge.
"Severus, Harry, I've come to make one final attempt at getting Harry's cooperation before I return with a team of aurors to remove him into Ministry custody-"
Harry rolled his eyes as Severus cut the round little politician off with his already terse and very impatient tone. "Enough, Fudge. You need to leave. You are acting outside of the law, and I will do what I must to protect my ward from the threat you continue to pose." To Harry, he said quietly, "Look at his eyes. He is not himself."
Harry realized Severus was right. Fudge had the glazed eyes of one who is operating under the Imperius curse.
Severus removed his coin to call for backup just as another CRACK rented the air and damned if it wasn't Dolores Umbridge, who in spite of her bulk and horribly juvenile fashion sense, was rather quick and very powerful, and she caught Harry with a spell that blew him backwards and out of their view.
"Harry!" Severus yelled in alarm.
"Hem hemmm," Umbridge dramatically cleared her throat, wand aimed at Severus, as if she believed she had him under control. She took several confident steps towards him while he waited to see what her game was. "The school's wards have not been reset to keep me out, have they Severus? Was that an oversight on your part? Or, on Minerva's?"
"How do you know it was an oversight, and not part of a grand plan?" Severus returned. "You should lower your wand, witch. I will hurt you, quite severely, if you do not." Where was Harry?
Dolores laughed her simpering girlish laugh, ending it on another hem hemmm! "You and your foster child are of no threat to Cornelius and I. I am the High Inquisitor of Hogwarts, and you, sir, are fired!"
Severus nearly laughed at that, but was distracted from the desire when a dozen more CRACKS! sounded just outside the gates, revealing a slew of demonic, demented individuals, all of whom had a vendetta against him for betraying Voldemort.
Harry crept among the shadows imagining his message to the other coin holders as he moved: …Severus is surrounded at the gates… Umbridge with Fudge, he's imperio'd… more just arrived…. a lot of them…. ten galleons they've come for the diadem…
He reached up to rub his scar, not immediately registering the increasing tingling sensation.