Moving On - Part I
Chapter 17 - EM-E - Moving On - Part I
Harry lay on his back, staring at his ceiling, replaying what Severus had said to him last night, and remembering how it had made him feel as though he'd been slammed into the ground again, like he'd felt when he'd woken up from the time turning spell. But at the same time, Harry had felt how raw Severus' shame was, which was forcing him to realize the world was far larger than his fifteen year old mind could hope to understand. He needed Severus's guidance for just that reason, and it was a bit strange to realize that he felt closer to his guardian even after what he'd been forced to see about Severus yesterday. But it also had to mean that Severus trusted him a little bit, since he could have bitten Harry's head off for being a judgmental idiot, instead of explaining himself. Not only that, but Severus had essentially indicated that he expected this new future that Harry was currently living to play out the way it had been going for them in the other timeline, as in, they were going to stay connected even after Harry became emancipated. That was an incredible relief and made Harry feel a lot less trapped than he had been feeling, even just yesterday. He could tell Severus cared about him now, maybe not enough to want to adopt him, but as much as he had by this day on the last timeline….
That acknowledegement sent Harry off on a tangent where he found himself summarizing the parallels between the timelines, and he realized that a lot of the events had occurred again, just in different contexts:
…Harry had killed Voldemort by himself… Severus had been slashed in battle while protecting him… Lucius had fixed Harry's vision… the dream team had come together, and just like previously, you'd think they'd practiced their moves together before stepping into battle… Severus was Harry's guardian, and he supported Harry's Emancipation… Harry had a room in Severus' quarters (although this time it was bigger and had that cool wardrobe), and he'd gotten all new clothes… Fudge had been killed… Rebecca Chase had been kidnapped…
Harry sat up with his heart in his throat. With all of the parallels and repeats of events… Hedwig was the only one that came to mind who was defying the odds! What if she was still going to die?
There was a knock on his door right then, and Severus opened it and stepped inside. "Good morning," he said, coming closer and giving Harry a narrowed-eye, assessing look. "What. in the world. are you. thinking. about?" He asked slowly. He waited nearly a full second before shaking his head and muttering, "Never mind. Up. I'll give you ten minutes. Lucius and I have been waiting to have breakfast with you." He spun on his heel and left with a smirk on his face as Harry sputtered indignantly.
"Alright, I'm here," Harry said as he joined the two Slytherins at the table after a fast shower, beneath the spray of which he'd realized he was in a weird mood this morning. It was already January fifth, and all of the students were due to return tomorrow. They'd really not talked about what to expect this time around when school resumed, as they'd done on the previous timeline.
"How are you feeling, Harry?" Lucius asked, pouring a cup of tea for each of them while Severus had coffee.
"I'm not really sure," Harry said honestly. He served himself French toast and bacon while he spoke, suddenly conscious of the fact that he was dining in front of one of the biggest snobs he'd ever met. Table manners…yeah, don't have any of those… He at least knew not to speak with food in his mouth, so he waited to take his first bite. "Last time, I'd already had a chance to talk to Draco by now, and we'd decided to try to get along better and form an alliance because of the dangers now facing the children of Voldemort supporters who'd had a change of heart a long time ago."
Lucius nodded. "How would you feel about my sharing with Draco that you'd experienced an episode of time travel?" he asked carefully. "Do you have confidence that he can be trusted with this, already knowing him in the oddly unnerving way that you know me?"
Harry smiled a small smile as he thought about that. His mind wandered from the relief that option would offer, but he knew better than to think Draco would just fall right into the better behavior. And he knew that he was on a short fuse himself…
"What are you thinking, Harry?" Severus asked as he sipped his hot coffee carefully.
Harry set his fork down, suddenly feeling overwhelmed at the realization that tomorrow was the day he had to start over with Ron and Hermione, and remembering how hard it had been that first week to shift back into boarding school student mode. Suddenly that warm sense of feeling closer to Severus again felt jeopardized. Suddenly the fear of more loss was right in his throat again. "Do you suppose I could go see Hedwig?"
The look on Harry's face when he'd asked to visit his owl had been one of such vulnerability that Severus had said, "Of course," without giving it another thought. Harry had been visibly relieved, but still off kilter. The rest of the conversation over breakfast had been a recap by Harry of how much Granger, and by extension, Ronald Weasley, had guessed about the horcruxes, and what they could be used for if they got into the wrong hands. Harry had also told them about the students who had been troublemakers in the other houses and how those confrontations had manifested. It had been very apparent that Lucius had been present during all of those confrontations and that Harry considered him vital in that regard. By the end of the conversation, Lucius had asked Harry to use his first name when it was just them. That had clearly meant something to Harry that neither of the adult wizards understood.
And now Severus was in the process of apparating his ward over to The Burrow after a brief interchange of patronus messaging with Arthur and Molly. They landed just within the wards of the property. Severus kept his arm around Harry and dropped his head down to say, "Perhaps it would ease your worries about tomorrow if you reveal your secrets in full to Miss Granger and Mr. Weasley today, while you are here, and can have private time to talk. But only to them, understand?"
"Really?" Harry asked in shock. He leaned into his guardian's side and hugged him back when Severus' hand cupped around his head to pull it to his shoulder. "That would help a lot."
"Indeed," Severus said, giving Harry a one-armed squeeze. "Go see your owl. I will see you in a couple of hours for the lunch Molly insisted that I join, and we will return home after that."
"Yes, sir," Harry said, pulling away and flashing a wan smile as he headed over the rough dirt of the property perimeter, liking the way Severus had referred to their shared living situation as home, and listening for his guardian's departing crack! as he avoided the snowy patches on his way to the back door of The Burrow.
Severus watched Harry for a moment, realizing he'd experienced a significant deepening in his affection for the boy in the last twenty-four hours. Harry was officially and irrevocably in his heart, and though he could easily have said he would die for the boy before today, today he knew he would die if he lost Harry. He turned in place to disapparate and his parting thought was… and how in the bloody hell did I let Molly talk me into lunch at The Burrow?
"Harry!" Hermione called from the back stoop, skipping down the five steps and tearing out to throw her arms around him when she reached him.
"Hi, Hermione," Harry said into her hair as he hooked his chin over her shoulder. Harry flashed a grin at Ron, who was approaching him with that uncomfortable expression of his that said he already knew something about Harry's recent experiences.
"We saw you with Snape, Harry," Hermione said quietly and quickly, before Ron could hear her, "I think it's great, as long as he's being kind to you."
"He is," Harry said quickly too, but then he snorted. "Well, he has his own style of kindness, but I'm okay with it."
"Dad says you've been worrying about Hedwig," Ron said as he slapped Harry on the back in greeting. "She's fine, see?" he whistled through his fingers as if he was summoning Harry's familiar, but they all knew she'd already sensed Harry was there and was flying over to him now.
"Hedwig!" Harry said, and promptly burst into tears.
Well, this is getting off to a great start, Harry thought in disgust at himself as he swiped at his eyes. I'm still as much of a crybaby as I'd been last time. Worse, actually.
They'd stayed outside and settled into the lawn chairs the twins had charmed with bubbles of warm air surrounding them. Harry had Hedwig on his lap and was stroking her feathers. She seemed to know that he was struggling over something having to do with her, because she kept nipping gently at his fingers and turning her head to look at him every few minutes.
"So, what's that like, Harry?" Ron asked carefully, after a long stretch of silence while he and Hermione had digested that Harry had just told them that he'd time-traveled backwards, and was almost halfway through reliving four harrowing weeks. "How have you not gone spare, trying to keep track of what's what, and while Snape's looking over your shoulder?"
"It's been…," Harry shook his head. It was all unsaid again. Everything. All of the justification for who he cared about now, who he trusted, what he'd been through, what he'd seen, what he knew how to do.
"You've got new clothes," Hermione said with a small smile of encouragement, but her eyes were full of sympathetic emotion. "And where are your glasses?"
"Dad and Bill told us about Snape being your guardian now, and that they'd seen a whole new side of him yesterday when he was worrying about you," Ron said, trying to be encouraging, while at the same time squirming in revulsion.
"I don't suppose I can ask you to just believe that Severus is actually really great when you get to know him," Harry said feebly.
Ron barked an ironic laugh. "That's a lot to ask, Harry."
"By the second week of school, you were already changing your mind about him," Harry said. "Wait 'til you see him in battle, that's all I can say."
Ron's eyebrows shot up at that. "In battle? 'Xactly what's going to happen at Hogwarts, Harry?"
"Hopefully nothing, but there's still a lot of danger." Nagini, Wormtail, the diadem, Bellatrix Lestrange and her bloody cup… My scar. When he saw the expressions of trepidation on his friends' faces, he felt a little better, knowing that they were starting to get it. "It's so much more than that even, honestly," Harry said, clearing the emotion from his throat, but his eyes were still spilling over. "It was really hard last time because I didn't get to tell you guys as much at first, but you figured it out anyway. Ron had a rough time with my new alliances, and you did too at little bit, Hermione. And it's not that I don't get why, it's just that there's no time, or room for it, in what I've got to handle."
"So just say it," Ron said. He'd been badly affected by Harry's breaking down like this. He'd only seen Harry cry that one other time after the graveyard, and this meant that things must be that bad. "I'll do what I have to do to handle it, mate."
Harry smirked at him, in spite of his red nose, "Be careful what you promise, Ron." He took a sip of the party punch Mrs. Weasley had hovered out to them, and girded up his nerve. "Look, I'm just going to lay it out. I'm friends with the Malfoys now, well, I'm not yet with Draco, but he's going to be let in on the secret about my time-traveling too. Lucius has gone into deadly situations several times already and put my safety over his own. He's betrayed his Death Eater peers, well he's been doing it for way longer than anybody knew, and so now he's a target, and so is Draco. Lucius fixed my eyes, so I don't need glasses anymore. All of this is kind of a side effect of the really hard stuff," he paused, realizing he was rambling and that he ought to give Ron a moment to digest this. He was a little worried at the way his best friend's eyes were bulging out of their sockets. Hermione had her hand over her mouth and a very worried look, but she was listening. "The hard part is that even though I killed Voldemort's body, I didn't kill him, and there are parts of him still existing in enchanted objects called horcruxes that can be used to bring him back." Now he turned to Ron. "The diary was one. They're unbelievably powerful and they turn anyone who touches them into absolute bastards at the very least, and mini Voldemorts in the worst case. And I've seen both instances at this point."
"What are those other objects, Harry?" Hermione said, and Harry could tell she was already picking up on his angst.
"Er, well, there were seven of them. We've destroyed two more after the diary," he said shakily. He told them about the locket, ring, diadem and Hufflepuff cup. And then he told them what's required to destroy a horcrux, and what happened to him when that sandy black smoke came looking for him. "Voldemort's snake is one too," he added, but his throat was tightening up.
"That's six, Harry," Hermione said. Her eyes were spilling over. "What's the last one?"
Harry tapped his scar. Ron reacted the same way the adult wizards had that day in the ROR, by jumping to his feet and storming several paces away, as if the space was going to make it easier to process the information. Harry gulped, and after a few moments, found his voice again enough to tell them about the MRI, and Hermione's suggestion that he could shield himself from whatever had to be done to kill his horcrux. Neither of his friends knew how he could shield himself yet, and he didn't elaborate. Ron kept his back to them for several minutes while he struggled with his own composure, finally blotting his eyes on his sleeve and coming back with a look of rage on his face.
"What's being done for you, Harry?" he demanded, dropping heavily back into his chair.
"Er, what do you mean?" Harry asked. "I've got Severus looking out for me, and Remus and Lucius. And Dumbledore."
"I mean, what's being done about what you've had to go through? What's the bloody Ministry doing to thank you for killing bloody Voldemort?"
"It sounds like they're completely falling into disarray over there, actually," Harry said. He was feeling pretty grateful for Ron's outburst. And a tad of déjà vous.
"And once again, that's why we've got to resume the DA," Hermione summarized.
"Yeah," Harry agreed. "I'll want to meet every week - more, if possible. I've got some awesome tricks to show- er, actually I've got tons of new stuff, between last time and this time, it's going to be pretty great."
Harry smothered a grin, ducking his head down so that Severus couldn't see his amusement at the way the Weasleys were making conversation with the evil potions master. All of the present offspring (Ron, Ginny, Fred, George and Bill) were completely unsettled by his presence at the lunch table, except Bill, who happened to be home for the weekend. But that didn't stop the twins from asking off beat questions, and Molly and Arthur chatting away, while Severus gave one- and two-word responses when he could get a word in edge-wise. They touched on his guardianship of Harry briefly, and Arthur whistled dramatically under his breath, saying, "You will never feel a thrill of fear as strong as the one you feel when a child of yours is in peril."
"I am quite familiar with that thrill," Severus said in his slow enunciation, albeit in a tone that was possibly sarcastic and ultimately unreadable for its true sentiment. He settled his eyes on Harry who looked up at him then and smiled an amused smile that revealed genuine affection. Severus nearly gave himself away at that, as a warm rush of unfamiliar emotion swept through him. He had revealed far too much to his audience already, but he was not feeling as unsettled at this as he probably should. Tomorrow, the entire Hogwarts student population and staff would know he was Harry's guardian. The only way around that was through it.
"Is this really happening?" Ron blurted his inner monologue out loud after they'd watched the Evil Bat of the Dungeons disapparate with their friend. "How is this happening?"
"It is rather an odd site," Hermione agreed. "But I'm scared for Harry, Ron. He needs someone looking out for him. And he even said that we'll come to see Snape in a different light pretty quickly." She giggled a tiny laugh, remembering the way Harry had read Snape's humor at the table, when no one else was catching on. "They already understand each other."
"I'm not happy about this, Hermione," Ron said with conviction. "Snape's been a total bastard to Harry, to all of us, but especially Harry, all this time, and now none of that matters?"
"You heard Harry," Hermione said with a shaky voice. "He's been through so much that we can't possibly fathom. Life and death situations, Ron. There's no telling what could happen with his scar. He's terrified and dreading having to face it. That changes the way people see things." She sat down in one of the warm chairs. Ron followed suit. "They've bonded, Ron. Give it a chance, won't you?"
"It's not like we've got much choice with it," Ron said glumly.
"Careful what you say," Hermione warned as she spotted Ginny and the twins coming their way.
"What are you two on about, then?" Fred asked.
"I was just asking Hermione how this could be happening? You know, how can Harry possibly trust Snape?" Ron told his brother.
For once, Fred and George didn't have a snappy comeback. It was Ginny who responded, just as Hermione was opening her mouth, "It's happening because that's Harry. Of course they're growing close. Harry brings the best out in people, if they just take the time to get to know him."
After ten minutes of dissecting the lunchtime conversation and the way Snape had behaved at the table, how clean his hair looked, how he'd worn a white shirt at the table, with the collar open, they ran out of steam. They all agreed to see how things went in the coming days and weeks. Ginny snickered about how many girls were going to start crushing on their potions professor now. Ron proposed they go see if there were leftovers in the kitchen. No one was the least bit surprised.
"Do you feel better about resuming school tomorrow?" Severus asked as they stepped out of the floo and back into Severus' quarters. The two of them removed their outer wear and banished robe and jacket to their respective bedrooms, and then Severus replaced his arm around Harry and guided him over to the couch, sitting heavily and dragging the boy down with him.
Harry leaned back into the cushions and looked up at the high ceiling over the sitting room, stopping to consider his answer. "I don't know. At least they already know that you're my guardian and we're getting along. And about the horcruxes, which was tough to talk about."
"You were in tears," Severus pointed out, reaching his hand up to card through Harry's hair a few times while he waited for the boy to respond.
"Yeah," Harry said, remembering a somewhat similar discussion on the other timeline that had taken place on the first morning of classes. "I think I scared them, but I couldn't help it when I saw Hedwig, it was just such a relief that she's actually alive. And all of it started hitting me again." That numb feeling started clouding his focus. Severus squeezed him with the arm that was still around his shoulders. "I'm better off this time though, with Ron and Hermione already knowing the worst."
"Do they?" Severus asked carefully. "What's the worst of all of this for you?"
"My scar," Harry whispered.
"For me as well," Severus admitted solemnly. He squeezed Harry again and kissed his temple as a heavy dread settled in his stomach.
The two of them sat there in comforting silence, watching the flames, for nearly thirty minutes. Severus could tell Harry had started to doze and took the opportunity to reflect on the many many things that remained undiscussed between them, first and foremost his impression of Harry's actions in yesterday's confrontation with Umbridge and Fudge. Not only had the boy been completely sensible about his defense, but he'd even chosen a proper venue to try out his new spell, which had been brilliant. His fifteen year old ward had already learned how to channel his peripheral magic into a spell of his creation, that had been powerful enough to overpower Fenrir Greyback. That was something. Ever mindful of Lupin's accusations about his indifference to Harry's sensitivity, Severus wanted to pick his moment to praise Harry, when there wasn't a multitude of other issues threatening to detract from the moment.
He was hard pressed to determine which should be addressed in their next window of opportunity. Fudge had died in front of Harry, while engaging with Harry, and the boy had been openly bothered, but they had not yet discussed this. They'd come back here and Harry had asked about the slicing hex. Severus had felt as if an enormous burden had been lifted from his shoulders after their discussion last night, and actually thought that it would pave the way towards him having stronger credibility with Harry. But this poor boy, this child, needed so much time and space to recover, at the very least, from all that he'd recently suffered through. Severus wasn't particularly eager to see Harry return to his dorm tomorrow night, either. He was curious as to where Harry stood on this.