Unmitigated Gall - Part II
Chapter 16 - EM-E - Unmitigated Gall - Part II
When Harry pulled his hand back from his face, he was shocked to see fresh blood on his fingers. A quick search of his scalp revealed a bleeding gash that must have come from one of the low branches he'd skidded into, and of course as soon as he identified it, it began to sting pretty badly. He'd also landed hard on his left side, mostly on his bum, and that burning pain was an ironic follow-up to Severus' threat of a spanking. Harry struggled to focus, beginning to shake as he realized there was real trouble barreling into his life, again, and anything could go wrong. But after the way Severus had torn into him a few moments ago, Harry's confidence was faltering.
He circled around, staying out of sight beneath a ridge that obscured view of him from the path that Severus was on, and from all of the intruders. His teeth were chattering, more from nerves than cold, but it was quite cold. Snow was on the ground, and the afternoon light was beginning to dim into dusk. We won't be able to see soon. He could hear snide threats and taunts being spouted off at Severus, and his guardian's baritone replies that sounded calm and unaffected. Harry peeked through a gap in a clump of brush that he'd stayed ducked behind while he'd scrambled along, and now the ever-present knots in his stomach tightened so dramatically he nearly gasped. Severus was literally being confronted by twelve dark wizards, including Umbridge and Fudge. Harry felt paralyzed with fear. His instincts were not telling him what to do. He was ready to shield Severus, but knew he'd run out of strength after a while, and that might put them in an even worse spot if one of the horcruxes came into play. Where were the others?
There was a soft pop about twenty feet away, and Harry shot a look over his shoulder and down the incline to see that Remus and Lucius had just been delivered by Fawkes. The beautiful red phoenix popped away again very quietly. Harry pointed over his head and held up a single finger on one hand and two on the other, mouthing twelve to the older wizards. Lucius pointed at Harry and held up his hand as if he was gesturing to a dog to stay. Harry nodded. He hadn't been lying when he'd told them all he didn't want to do this alone. Truth be told, he didn't want to do it at all.
But then his scar began to prickle. He pointed at it and got a terse nod from Lucius. Remus crept over to take a look at the scene from Harry's vantage point. "We're slightly outnumbered," he whispered to Harry, giving him an assessing look. "How badly are you hurt?"
"Just scratches," Harry whispered back. His scar irritation was getting more noticeable. "There's a horcrux nearby. Probably the snake. Remus, be careful."
"If we get separated, save your magic to protect yourself, Harry," Remus advised, gently squeezing Harry's shoulder. "Otherwise your guardian will have a credible reason to murder me." He took a peek over the incline and had a look at the scene.
"Why hasn't anyone attacked yet?" Harry whispered.
"My guess is that they're trying to lure you and Severus out of the gates so that they can overpower you and disapparate you away," Remus answered quietly. "We, on the other hand, want them inside the gates so that they can't get out."
"Is more help coming? The Order?"
Severus had felt the warm vibration of his coin and known that Harry had notified the others, which had also calmed his nerves about the boy being injured. At least he was conscious. Now the coin activated again, which he took to mean that he was no longer the only one on hand besides Harry to fend off these bastards.
Umbridge had made a show of reversing the direction of the gates, so that they were now wide open. Severus could have overridden her acts, but actually considered this to be helpful. Now she was taking steps toward him again. She passed Fudge, who fell in behind her for a half dozen paces. "You have been relieved of your post here, Severus. You need to leave the grounds, immediately."
Harry managed a crooked smile as he heard the trademark Snape taunt in that tone. If Harry couldn't get 'ol Dolores back for the way she'd treated him this past term, he'd be happy to watch someone as powerful as Severus handle her for him.
"And here we go," Remus said under his breath, "I'll be just up there. Stay out of sight if you can." Now he was laying on his belly to creep up the incline and away from Harry.
Harry stayed hidden but moved away by a few yards. He put his shield up around himself and went to have a careful look to make sure he was out of reach of the attackers.
Umbridge responded to Severus' taunt with a lethal disemboweling curse. He deflected and she shielded in the flash of an instant. Severus kept an eye on the rest of the intruders while he fired off a selection of his most favored disabling hexes, ones that target the knee and elbow joints, cracked spines, crushed limbs, etc. He kept a steady rhythm, wand arm slashing away, keeping the pink cow engaged in a way that he knew from experience would get the other Death Eaters itching to join in. How had she aligned herself with them, anyway? Severus took stock of those assembled, and other than Fenrir Greyback and Dolores, knew the rest to be far less capable wizards, all riffraff and taggers-on, who would have been called to battle by Voldemort because they could be counted on to be unpredictable in their desperation to participate.
Lucius made an appearance off to Severus' left and cast a horrendous blasting spell at Umbridge that she only just managed to deflect. Remus appeared on Severus' right and took advantage of the weakened and unshielded opening on the former DADA professor's left flank after Lucius' curse. The new DADA professor crossed his left arm over the crook of his right elbow and bent his wand arm upward as he cast the hangup hex, sending Hogwart's High Inquisitor flying undaintily through the air and coming to a standstill, about ten feet off the ground with her black Mary Jane patent leathers dangling beneath her, as if she was suspended by her collar from a hook. For Harry, compliments of Sirius, Remus thought, as he spun his wand in first clockwise and then counter clockwise motions, watching her spin in fiercely propelled circles. He heard Lucius' amused snort and flicked his wand up and down, making the pink clad witch bounce like she was suspended from bungee cords. Her howls of rage and fear as she soared upward and plummeted downward seemed to echo across the grounds.
"Enough, please!" Lucius begged between guffaws of laughter, "I've had way too much tea in the last hour to be able to withstand much more hysteria."
Severus saw his chance and slashed off a spell he called reciperare at a wizard named Calvin.
Harry knew he would laugh later at the way Remus was handling 'ol Dolores, but he was too anxious to ignore the alert from his scar to let amusement distract him from the real danger he, especially, was in. If it was Nagini that was causing that pain, she would be coming for him. Harry checked his senses for any signs of being pulled, but there were none yet, so he watched Severus cast the spell that appeared to lasso a younger wizard around his ankles and drag him from the outer crowd, inside the gates, and up the hill, pulling him towards the center of the dream team's V formation. Umbridge continued to dance around in the air, her shrill threats of retribution wasted on the deliberate and exaggerated efforts Remus was making to keep her in motion, chatting animatedly with Lucius, who made a show of giving him suggestions for more ways to toss her about.
The response from the rest of the Death Eaters was like a magnetic attraction. The remaining nine miscreants broke into an enraged roar and charged through the gates after their mate. Nervous now, Harry scooted further along to a spot where he could obscure himself behind a large jagged rock. He kept his shield intact and tried to control his agitated breathing as he watched the ruckus through an obscured view. To be safe, he cast a silencio on himself.
Things went completely mad after that. Harry's eyes darted around the clearing, attempting to track all that was happening, and watched as the dream team simultaneously took down three of those charging Death Eaters for good. Someone hit Fudge with a blasting hex and he suddenly landed a few feet from Harry, wand in hand and ready to attack. Harry could see the glaze of enchantment in the Minister of Magic's eyes as the older wizard scrambled to his feet and fired off a brutal hex that Harry didn't recognize, but he felt its impact on his shield and knew he would have been killed if it had gotten to him. Wary of drawing further attention to himself, Harry disarmed Fudge with a silent expeliarmus enhanced with his wild magic.
A split second later, Harry had the MOM's wand in his hand when a flash of lethal green light hit Fudge in the back... and he dropped to the ground, dead….
Stunned at the sight, Harry spun to see who had cast the avada kedavra he just knew had been meant for him, and found a very imposing wizard who was far more hairy than any one male human should be. The predatory energy coming off of him was terrifying. Harry stood his ground, but he was not at all certain that he could shield himself from the killing curse. When the wizard he would later find out was Fenrir Greyback, the one who'd turned Remus into a werewolf when he was little, aimed his wand at Harry again, Harry did what he always did. He acted on the instincts that kicked back in, just in time.
"Lapsus sido!" Harry yelled, enhancing the spell with wild magic, while still maintaining both his silencing charm and his shield. He watched in satisfaction as Greyback's feet pulled out from beneath him, to the back, so that he fell on his face too quickly to brace himself. The thunk of his body, accented with a HUUNH! of a grunt, was almost satisfying. Harry waited to see if the spell would work the way he'd designed it to, as Greyback jumped back to his feet to resume his attack. The corner of Harry's mouth pulled into a strained smile as the tenured werewolf's feet pulled out from beneath him again, inducing another thunk and HUUNH!
And the loop continued, keeping Greyback occupied while Harry retreated backward to where he had been with Remus just moments prior.
Severus, Lupin and Lucius zipped their magic across the small clearing, casting and shielding, watching for Wormtail, - and because Lucius had shouted to Severus, "His scar is hurting," - watching for the snake. Their spells were intentionally only strong enough to disrupt the attack while they kept the Death Eaters in play until Ministry-sanctioned Law Enforcement could arrive to remove them. They all saw Fudge go down, and were trying not to be distracted by the oddly amusing sight of Fenrir Greyback falling down and standing up, falling down and standing up. Thunk / HUUNH! / thunk / HUUNH!
Lucius groaned loudly over the noise of their magical conflict as he tried to stop himself from laughing.
"I'll relieve Harry," Remus said. He wasn't laughing as he charged down the incline. He was hard pressed to determine who he felt more lethal hatred towards, Fenrir Greyback or Peter Pettigrew.
"Do not kill him in front of the boy, Lupin," Severus said grimly, but the werewolf couldn't have heard him. "Enough of this!" He waved his wand and the two despots he'd been toying with were hogtied, along with the two that Lupin had stunned before he'd taken off. "Where the hell is Albus?" Severus yelled in irritation. He did not like not having Harry within his sights with this kind of mayhem underway.
"Leave him to me, Harry," Remus said from behind Harry.
Harry spun to face the older wizard. "Are you going to kill him?" he asked quietly.
"Oh, I'd hardly be justified," Remus said insincerely as he glared at the hairy deviant that continued to be stuck in the loop of Harry's spell.
"I can't lose you, too, Remus," Harry said brokenly. And they both remembered how he'd talked Sirius out of killing Wormtail for the same reasons.
Remus blinked and instantly shook off his vengeful rage. "And you shan't, Harry," he said, battling his longstanding reserve at being physically demonstrative, only confident enough to squeeze Harry's shoulder in spite of the rush of affection he was feeling. "But that son of a bitch is not getting to go free again." He flicked his wand at Greyback at the moment the hairy wizard was facedown on the ground. "Revelo. Restringero." Harry's hex ended and Remus slashed his arm in a dramatic figure eight making a whistling sound that was literally like a lasso twirling. The result was a rather fantastically fast and very alarming style of restraint that left Fenrir Greyback facedown over arms crossed round his torso, revealing his hands at his hips, where they each grabbed and held the opposite foot.
It looked extremely painful and frankly implausible to Harry, but he smirked in satisfaction at the sight. And then he was muttering, "Oh, no!" and clasping his forehead as the burn in his scar soared to a point of causing his knees to buckle, and the pull kicked in. He stumbled around from his hiding place and looked for Severus and Lucius so that he could spread his shield around the dream team, who were each instantly aware of his distress. Harry kept looking back towards the Forbidden Forest, expecting to see the snake coming from that direction.
"Harry!" Severus yelled.
Harry spun back to see what had alarmed Severus, just as they heard a POP! of apparition and Dumbledore appeared in their midst via Fawkes. The elderly wizard raised both extended arms over his head and clasped them before swooping them downward as if to illustrate a gust of strong wind, and all of the felled intruders were swept bumpily along the ground, and outside of the school gates. Harry looked frantically around for Nagini as he pressed his hand to his scar, and finally the snake appeared on the other side of the now closed gates, slithering in and among the restrained dark wizards, inducing wails of fright from those who were conscious. But she was not interested in them. She was looking for Harry.
"She can't get in from this side, Harry," Albus told him. "And there is limited space on the grounds where she can access you, which I have minimized further with new warding. As long as you stay away from the Forbidden Forest, and the Lake, you will be fine."
"Really?" Harry said, still gasping from the pain.
"Yes," Severus said from beside him. "Let's get you inside."
Harry felt Severus' arm encircle his shoulders and he was being gently turned and moved away. The pulling sensation was dissipating now, and so was the pain in his scar.
"A tribute to you, Harry," Lucius called after them.
Harry didn't really follow, until he heard, "Vox vocis - voilá!" and then an instantaneously obnoxious onslaught of shrill French language diatribes, as undoubtedly all eleven captives were being induced to contribute, and they were undoubtedly each still agitated by the appearance of the snake. That made Harry laugh. He looked up at Severus and caught his scowl of disgust and laughed harder, knowing that this was equally intended by Lucius. But after a few steps, Harry sobered again, as the weight of aftermath settled over him.
"What's going on with the Order?" he asked Severus. "Why didn't any of them show up?" He accepted the pain reliever potion that Severus handed him and downed it as they walked, aware of Severus also dosing himself.
"There had been an emergency assembly of all aurors at the Ministry this afternoon. Madam Bones is in the process of restructuring the Office of Magical Law Enforcement, and there was literally no legal team to call on at this very moment," Severus explained. "This is an example of the hardship we will be facing in the coming weeks."
"Yeah," Harry said. "All of that drama, and for what? Wormtail didn't even show up, did he?"
"Not to our knowledge, Harry, but we both know he can get past the wards in his rat form. He doesn't need the Hogwarts Express to gain entrance."
Harry remained subdued as they made their way up the hill and down to the dungeons. Once they were in the lower corridors, Severus looked him over. The boy was filthy and had blood stains and skid marks all over his clothes. "How badly are you hurt?" he asked Harry.
"Just scratches," Harry muttered dismissively. His mind had wandered back to their earlier confrontation that had been in full swing when Fudge had interrupted them. Severus had thought he was being cocky… but that hadn't been it. I was being rude, though, he admitted, feeling confused and conflicted. He'd been really, really angry, and unable to understand it for himself, let alone try to explain it now. The overwhelming desire to go to sleep hit him again.
Severus worried about the injuries Harry was not admitting he had, and about the reasons behind his denial. Something had shifted that had caused Harry to guard himself again, and the little idiot ought to know by now that Severus found this intolerable. "Do you want to talk about our argument earlier?" he asked.
Harry flashed a troubled look at him then, replying with a flat, "We weren't arguing, sir. You were telling me off, and I was being defensive."
"And that's it?" Severus chided, reading hurt in Harry's tone.
"I think you were misunderstanding me," Harry said, "but I shouldn't have been rude to you. I'm sorry."
Severus stopped and turned Harry to face him. It was then that Harry noticed that his guardian was bleeding on his side and his eyes bugged wide open. "I've already healed it, do not concern yourself," Severus said, lifting his bloodstained shirt up so show Harry the knitted slash on his abdomen. "Healed," he repeated. "How was I misunderstanding you? What were you trying to relay to me?" He used his wand to syphon off the dried blood from Harry's temple and the side of his face while he waited, then found the cut on his scalp and healed it as well. "Hmmm?"
Conflict was causing Harry's stomach to roil. "I don't know," he murmured. "Honestly, I need to think about it, I guess."
Severus had allowed Harry to deflect further discussion while they had another battle of wills over Harry's scrapes and bruises from his fall after Umbridge's curse. Severus had no intention of violating his ward's sense of privacy, but he was terribly curious about what was behind the embarrassment. He indulged Harry by handing him a jar of bruise balm before he went to have a shower, and refrained from forcing the subject again until well after dinner, when the boy had disappeared into his room.
"Do you want to tell me what is behind the wall you've put up between us?" Severus asked directly as he pulled Harry's desk chair over beside his bed and sat.
Harry glared at the ceiling. He'd had a chance to reflect on the things that had gone through his mind that day. "What's the name of that slicing spell that was used on all of those kids at Dudley's school?" he asked, accusation coloring his angry tone.
Severus' expression shuttered, and he felt the rise in his own shame as strongly as he felt if from Harry. "It's called Sectum sempra," he admitted grimly.
"Wormtail said Voldemort was so impressed by your creation, he made everyone learn it," Harry said, now glaring directly at Severus, unrelenting because he felt defensive at the way Severus always seemed ready to assume he would make up something as awful.
Severus nodded, and Harry couldn't read what was behind the older wizard's masked countenance. "I developed that one in my sixth year."
Harry blinked. "Oh," he said. "So, after you'd lost my mum's friendship?"
Now Severus blinked. Obviously, Harry knew a lot more about his past than he'd realized. "What else do you know, young man, and how do you know this?" he demanded, unable to scale back the snarl that always surfaced when his worst losses were called to fact.
"I know enough to put together that you justified your attitude toward me by telling yourself I was like my dad," Harry said matter-of-factly, "and that you'd been the best of friends with my mum. Until fifth year. Until that day that I saw in your pensieved memory." He felt impatient to get this off his chest and didn't think it was fair that he had to wait for Severus to catch up to things that had already happened for Harry. Even though that was not his guardian's fault. "Look, it's bugging me that you made up that spell, okay?"
"And it's haunted me for years," Severus grated. He held the boy's glare with equal tension. "It's been used in hundreds of atrocities. And I have to bear that. Daily."
"Oh," Harry said again, this time without the bluster. He sighed, his glare turning to a look of pain. "Why would you have done such a thing?"
A huge wave of remorse washed through Severus suddenly and he felt his eyes redden and threaten to fill. The instinct to snap at Harry was quite strong and it took all of his self control to hold it in. But he could not soften the bitterness in his response when he replied harshly, "You are not the only who had to make his way through childhood without a caring adult to guide him. I had no one, either. I did not bond with Albus until after your parents were killed, and after the Dark Lord had disappeared. That was when I pulled my head out of my arse and begged for him to help me." He tilted his head as he took in Harry's blanched pallor. "He agreed, but I had a high penance to pay. I've had to walk a very dark path for many years, and that spell has kept me alive on numerous occasions. You have no idea how awful life can actually get, Harry. I'm not minimizing your suffering, but there is a whole other realm that you could have been forced into. One where you see the very worst of yourself, out of necessity, and out of survival. You told me that you'd come to see yourself as a "pawn" on Albus' chess board. I have been one for fifteen years, and still, my past haunts me. I can only do what I can do as of today to try to make up for that, son. That is the best I can offer." He softened his tone in spite of his inner turmoil because Harry's eyes had filled and he looked like he might be sick as he stared back at Severus. "If you are going to allow me to have a parental role in your life in the future, Harry, you're going to have to accept this."
Harry turned on his side, facing Severus. "I just need to work through it, Severus. I haven't turned on you."
They stared at each other, both battling tumultuous emotion. The result was visible in the way they were each panting as they struggled to hold onto control of a very complicated reaction to what had just been shared between them. Finally Severus nodded his head, blinking his reddened eyes and heaving in an unsteady breath as he crossed his arms and leaned back into the chair. "Then close your eyes and sleep. I'll attempt to compose myself."