Moving On - Part II
Chapter 18 - EM-E - Moving On - Part II
Harry pulled out of his doze, realizing after a while that he felt much safer when he was sitting still and keeping quiet thoughts in his own mind. But there was too much to worry about again. The whole day had almost gone by, and he'd heard nothing about the Ministry of Magic's acknowledgement of Fudge's demise. Did they even know?
"They undoubtedly do, but the morning edition of the paper had no such news, as of yet. We must watch and wait, but in the meantime, will go about our business the best we can. You do have your O.W.L.s to prepare for, after all," Severus had told him. He'd given Harry a squeeze before removing his arm and standing up. "We'll have company shortly."
Lucius arrived with Draco at four, in time for a light tea, which they took in the Room of Requirement to give the four of them a larger space to have a chat. Harry had suggested Draco design the room, and the blond ponce had requested a French "boutique hotel" interior. All of the furnishings were the stereotypical French country, with rustic aged wood tables and chairs washed in antique white, and cushions in muted tones. Even Harry knew that style, in spite of having grown up in a cupboard. Harry struggled to give Lucius a withering look, but couldn't manage it. Clearly, the blond father and son had already had their discussion. And clearly, it was an inherited trait to mess with people. But Harry actually liked their humor now, in small doses, and when he wasn't feeling overly sensitive about his magic, his insecurities, his lack of family, and the way predators could always find him. Lucius had obviously liked his French-enhanced high voice spell, but what had Severus thought of his Lapsus sido spell? They hadn't had a chance to talk about it yet.
"So, Potter, now that we're bound to be best mates, should we start our own language, do you think?" Draco drawled, forcing Harry out of his worried thoughts.
"What?" Harry asked with an annoyed edge, already feeling reluctant to try to work things out with Draco. The two of them had wandered a few feet away from their elders. He gave Draco an exasperated look.
Draco leaned in, speaking in a conspiring tone. "We could have code phrases. Like, if I say, 'protect the turtle,' you'll know I mean to go hide your head somewhere."
Harry glowered at him, not liking the way Draco was making light of things that were making Harry's stomach hurt with worry. "What do you know, at this point?"
Draco turned to give him a once over with his ferret eyes, his lip curling as it did when he imagined himself to be both clever and superior, "I know that Severus has reigned you in, gotten you under control-"
"Look," Harry interrupted, instantly reminded of all the things he didn't like about Draco. "If you're just going to mess with me, I don't see much point-"
"Father told me that you've killed the Dark Lord twice now, and that we owe you a life debt, and that my aunt hit you with a pretty nasty curse," Draco interrupted Harry in his not-so-poncey voice. "I know you've already lived through most of January once before, and during that time, we formed an alliance that was working out well, and probably saved my life and my friends' lives."
"Yeah," Harry said, trying not to sound as irritated as he was. He'd risen to Draco's bait and was overreacting. He took a deep breath. "Last time, we had Remus set up a chance for us to publicly show that we were working things out in Defense class, and it worked really well. But then I had a run-in with Parkinson and some rogue sixth year witches from your House later that could have gotten bad, if you hadn't shown up. That was when you basically declared your allegiances."
"Rogue witches?" Draco sneered teasingly. Harry rolled his eyes as the blond continued, "Father also told me you can take care of yourself, that you have skills," this, of course, was said with blatant disbelief, "so how would it have gotten bad with Parkinson?"
"Just that I was in the dungeons coming from Severus' rooms and no one else was around to witness them trying to gang up on me," Harry said. "It would have been my word against theirs."
"Your word would be enough with our Headmistress, wouldn't it?"
"I wasn't really sure it would. Long story," Harry hedged, realizing it wasn't McGonagall he'd been worried about not believing him at that point.
"I will admit to a high level of tension," Lucius told Severus as they surreptitiously watched the younger wizards interact. "I'm quite happy to oblige Minerva's request to be an additional presence for security on the grounds as a member of the Board of Governors. After all that Harry revealed this morning, I don't believe I'll spend many hours off the grounds until this is completely done, Severus."
"That is a comfort to my ears," Severus said, clearly having no issue with his friend's plans. "I believe Harry would agree."
"I'd like for those two to become friends," Lucius said about the boys. "I've always wanted it, but now that I know Harry, I think they'd actually like each other. Draco just needs to use more care with his teasing."
"I think we both know it's bullying, Lucius," Severus said in a low tone. "And between the examples that both you and I have set for him, Draco will be challenged to earn Harry's regard."
"I realize this," Lucius admitted quietly. "I just pray he won't have to suffer a life-altering trauma to find himself humbled."
Remus stopped by Severus' quarters to check in with them about the following morning's plan. "So, I will come for you at eight thirty, Harry, and we'll go straight to The Burrow," he summarized, bowing shallowly at Severus when the potions master handed him a tumbler with a shot of firewhiskey.
"Great," Harry said uncomfortably. "Thanks, Remus." He was feeling like a needy child who was completely unable to stifle his fears about something happening to Hedwig before he got her safely here. Severus had arranged everything about tomorrow without Harry having to ask, so that had been good. But he felt shaky and nervous again, and had retreated into the farther end of the sofa and turned himself sideways with his knees drawn up, arms hugged around them, and knew both adults were aware of his disquiet.
Severus watched his ward with concern. Harry had seemed alright when they'd returned here after their time with the Malfoys, but something had shifted again during their dinner conversation. It had been then that Severus had told Harry he'd prefer for the boy to sleep down here in his bedroom rather than return to the dorms, but that the decision was Harry's. Harry had flashed him a happy look at first, but then had retreated into troubled thoughts. He'd finally explained that he wanted to keep Hedwig close for their first night back, and that she'd do better if they stayed in his dorm. Severus was not pleased, but had agreed, and told Harry he understood his concerns. He had admitted then that he'd sensed Harry's anxiety strongly enough to have arranged for Harry to leave for Kings Cross, together with his friends and his owl, from The Burrow the following morning. And while he was reluctant to let the boy out of his sight, he needed to remain at school to keep surveillance on the map, as well as do last minute preparations for lessons that he'd neglected in favor of spending time with Harry this past week.
"Are you ready to start back up with classes?" Lupin was asking the boy. He'd taken a seat on the sofa and turned to face Harry.
"I guess so," Harry said, visibly trying to shake himself of the nagging, fretful thoughts that were plaguing him. He looked at both Remus and Severus. "It's just that with all of the students back, it just feels like…"
"A circus in the making?" Severus quipped, spreading his hands before him as if to lay out a scene of chaos.
That made Harry laugh. "Exactly."
When it was just the two of them again, Harry felt like he should apologize to Severus for not agreeing to stay in his bedroom. "It's what I'd rather do," he said. "But-"
"It's alright, Harry," Severus said with frown, finally realizing Harry was worrying about his feelings. "And you may sleep here any night you choose, or not again until the Easter holiday. It's up to you. I will miss your company, but I will also be busy, and not physically here nearly as often anyway."
Harry nodded quickly, eyes on the fire. "Right."
"Look at me," Severus directed, and when Harry complied, he allowed one of his rare smiles to find its way to his face. "I haven't yet told you how impressed I was with the way you comported yourself in yesterday's mayhem." The look on Harry's face at his words made such a huge lump form in Severus' throat that he literally could not speak again for a moment, so he covered by holding Harry's stare as if to bring home the full conviction of his words. "Well done with Fenrir Greyback, Young Harry."
Harry grinned happily, ducking his head to hide his emotions for a few minutes. "Thanks," he finally said. "That was one of the spells I wanted to practice. The other one isn't as rough, but it makes the recipient think they're being tortured. I had Umbridge in mind for it. I guess I won't get to try it on her."
Severus' smile turned to a smirk. "Oh, the suspense," he drawled. He refrained from admonishing Harry to be careful when he finally did introduce the other spell into a confrontation. Clearly the boy had good sense about this facet of his defensive arsenal.
The fireplace roared and Dumbledore's head appeared in the flames. "Ah, Severus, Harry, would it be alright if I came through?"
"Of course," Severus said, but not without trepidation as he stood to give Albus his seat and moved over to sit near Harry.
"I've a bit of news, just in time for you both to face a new term with many, many unanswered questions about security," Albus began in uncharacteristic irony. "The Ministry of Magic will announce Cornelius Fudge's passing in the evening edition of the Prophet tomorrow, but they will not reveal the circumstances, nor the players present when it happened. The Wizengamot officially sanctioned Madam Bones to act as Interim Minister of Magic, but she has had little time to oversee more than immediate efforts to purge out the unreliables from the Ministry's ranks."
Harry frowned at that, remembering what Ron had pointed out earlier. It's as if nothing that's gone on here matters at all. He shook his head with disgust, but kept his thoughts to himself.
"There has been no formal acknowledgement, outside of the emergency panel that Madam Bones has established, that Voldemort no longer exists in corporeal form, and therefore nothing official is on record about the incident as of yet," Albus continued, watching both of the dark haired wizards over the rim of his glasses while he spoke.
"While neither Lucius nor I have had contact with any from the Dark Lord's the inner circle, we obviously know that they've gleaned onto the facts, hence the scramble to claim the horcruxes," Severus said. "And we will not know until tomorrow and over the coming days just how this is impacting the families of Voldemort supporters."
"Indeed," Albus said grimly. "You will both be wise to act with caution at all times."
"When will you be reinstated?" Harry asked the elderly wizard.
"Not as soon as I'd prefer, Harry," Albus admitted. "I'm afraid the Ministry of Magic is in shambles, and will only be able to act in a legislative manner in response to individual crises as they present themselves."
"In other words, something bad has to happen here first," Harry said resentfully.
"Yes," Albus admitted. "I do believe that is the case." He allowed a beat to pass before he winked at Harry. "You must simply continue on as you are, Harry. I quite liked both of your spells yesterday."
"You were there in time to see the Lapsus sido?" Harry asked. "I didn't see you until after."
"That was my unfortunate intention, Harry. I have no right to be on the school grounds, and certainly no right to raise my wand in circumstances that are not being recognized by the Ministry of Magic. Too much is at stake, so I have to measure my risks. But you four handled the problem with glorious flare."
The following morning found Harry enduring the bumpy ride on the Night Bus with the Weasleys, Remus and Hermione. He carefully guarded Hedwig's cage from bangs and collisions with other moving objects. It was a nuisance, but worth every bruise he acquired along the way, just to have her back in his life. Remus had stayed close to him, crowding in with Ron and Hermione in the corner they'd usurped on the downstairs level. Harry could tell Remus was enjoying the goofy journey, but was also there to reassure Harry, which meant the world to him. In fact, he had a much stronger conviction about how well protected he was on this timeline, and in truth, a lot of it had to do with Severus praising him the previous night.
At Platform Nine and Three Quarters in Kings Cross Station, they milled through the crowd and found a clearing where the lot of them could gather together to wait to board the train. The twins had come, along with Arthur and Molly, to see them off, so there was a slew of ginger heads as usual. Harry looked around and caught Lucius' eye from a dozen yards away. Lucius gave him an upraised eyebrow of silent inquiry, to which he nodded back that he was alright, and received a small smile in return. Lucius did not let his eyes wander through the group Harry was with, instead looking around for his son. Draco was a few feet away, talking with Daphne Greengrass and Theodore Knott.
So far, so good, Harry thought. But he fully expected trouble.
The journey played out much the same as it had previously, with Ron and Hermione leaving their things with Harry in an empty compartment and heading off to act as Prefects. The rest of the Ministry Ensemble appeared, and the next hour was filled with conversation with Neville, Ginny and Luna that was nearly identical to the previous ride, with no mention from Harry of Voldemort's demise, nor the fact that Umbridge had been running amuck. Instead, he told them only that he'd heard she was under house arrest. Everyone was glad McGonagall was recovered and would be there to greet them.
By the time Ron and Hermione had returned and the others had left to go visit other friends, Harry had calmed down a tad. At one point, Lucius had passed the compartment and looked in through the window, casting a quick look at their expressions to see that all was well and then winking at Harry as he moved along. Harry grinned at him, but caught Ron's scowl and sobered quickly.
For once, Ron showed a little sensitivity without being admonished first by Hermione. "I know what you said, Harry. But it will definitely take a lot for me to see him any differently."
"I know," Harry said. But the smile returned, and he recapped Friday's encounter at Hogwarts, laughing as he retold Lucius using his spell.
Ron and Hermione had each grown very quiet, and were clearly stunned at what they'd heard. "This happened two days ago, and you're already telling it with a laugh?" Ron asked.
"Harry, that must have been terrifying!" Hermione said fretfully.
"It was," Harry agreed. "And that was after Wormtail had posed as my Uncle Vernon and kidnapped me and my social worker from the hospital, where my cousin was apparently dying-"
"That's where Dad and Bill found you, right?" Ron asked, completely riled now. "Blimey, Harry!"
"I know," Harry said calmly. "That was just one day, Ron. I've had a bunch of those days, so I don't have time to try to justify to you why you can trust Malfoy Sr., but you can. Even if you don't like him."
Remus joined them right then, and his expression was full of turmoil as he came in and sat by Harry. "You've not yet seen the Daily Prophet, have you, Harry?"
Harry slammed the bloody gossip rag down on the floor and leaned forward with his hands over his face, trying desperately to hold in his tumultuous emotions. He was surprised to feel Remus lay a hand on his neck and squeeze briefly, and then move it over to his shoulder and let it rest there. No one asked Harry to speak, but they could all see the article from where it lay, face up on the floor.
The Minister of Magic is Dead!
The article revealed that Cornelius Fudge had died Friday under suspicious circumstances before it went on to summarize his investigation into The Boy Who Lived. It was written from a perspective that they'd likely all been hoodwinked by Harry Potter's claims of having seen the resurrection of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named last summer after the Tri-Wizard Tournament, and how the now deceased dedicated official had been questioning whether Potter himself had murdered the Diggory boy. From there, it went into another full blown, nearly identically verbatim to the last timeline's exposé on Harry's abusive upbringing in the Dursley household, and how it had predisposed him to dishonesty, attention-seeking behavior, and now possibly murder. And of course, it revealed his petition for Emancipation.
"I hadn't seen this yet," Hermione said shakily.
Harry felt his coin warm and vibrate in his pocket but ignored it. He could feel Remus reaching for his own while still keeping his hand on Harry's shoulder.
"He's just seen it. I'm with him now," Remus chanted to the coin, wandlessly creating his response. "Nuntius."
Harry watched his tears drip onto the floor, heavily and rapidly enough to leave a widening stain in the carpet. Now Severus, Lucius and Dumbledore all knew he was a mess, too. He couldn't look at anyone. The paper had been snatched up by Ron, who was reading it thoroughly.
"I knew it!" Ron rasped. "All this time, I bloody knew it." He stared at the top of Harry's head, wishing he could think of something to say or do to ease his best mate's troubles. "I'll kill anyone who tries to mess with you over this, Harry. You can count on that."
Hermione could read that the tension in her best friend required adult intervention, and at least for once, someone was actually present for Harry. She moved over to kneel beside him and press her forehead into his hair. "You know you can tell us anything, and you know we'll leave you to decide what to say, and when to say it, right?" She didn't really expect an answer, so she stood up. "We'd better go back to the front of the train, Ron. We'll be arriving shortly."
When they'd left, Remus warded the compartment against any further intrusion and simply leaned back against the bench. He moved his hand to gently pat Harry's back and let the boy work through his distress.
After a while, Harry mopped his face on his sleeve and leaned back too, forcing Remus to move his arm, and knowing that he'd later be pleased that the reserved werewolf had mustered the courage to drape it around Harry's shoulders. "A very similar article came out about the way I grew up last time, and that was bad enough. But nothing like this, with all of those accusations by Fudge."
"I've told you before that you are not alone with this, Harry," Remus said adamantly. "Those of us who know you best are ready to set that bloody paper factory ablaze to end their nonsense, once and for all."
Harry dragged himself off the train with dread. The cars were wall-to-wall with clamoring students, so of course he got separated from Remus almost immediately. He looked around as he deboarded the train with Hedwig and saw him greeting Hagrid a few feet away. There wasn't much sign that the other students had read the paper yet. Harry trudged along, holding Hedwig's cage against his chest with both arms wrapped around it. Ginny had Crookshanks again, and the half-kneazle was acting normally, so Harry kept pace with the two of them. They in turn moved along with Neville and Luna for a few feet until an all-out scuffle broke out between Pansy Parkinson, Kimberly Chapel and Lara Melford, and the three witches were pushing and shoving and cursing each other enough to force a major parting in the crowd. Harry was separated and on his own again, and though a very strong part of him wanted to see the witches fight, like any healthy adolescent wizard would, he had Hedwig to think about, and wanted very badly to get back up to the castle.
He turned to head towards the carriages and damned if he didn't get shoved again, and sent sprawling again, only this time his beloved familiar was trapped in her cage and forced to endure the fall with him. A wash of frustrated rage swept over him, the one that came from being a target, and having no way to defend himself from predators.
But I could retaliate, couldn't I? he thought angrily. There's only so much I can take of this shite.
"Watch yourself, Potter!" Goyle called over his shoulder laughing raucously as he joined the burly seventh years that were, as before, his new posse.
"Enough of that, Goyle," Draco said harshly. He offered a hand up to Harry, who took it, but then bent back down to check on Hedwig.
"What's it to you, Malfoy?" One of the seventh years barked in disgust.
"Call it school pride, Barton," Draco said sarcastically. "I'm a Prefect. And you're a big boy now. You should know better."
"No, it's you who ought to know better," Barton returned, with a very real threat in his tone.
"Is there a problem here?" Lucius interject as he strolled with deliberate calm towards the scene.
Harry would have had no qualms about tripping Goyle with far more violence than he'd done on the previous timeline. Being saved by Draco of all people was not doing much for the self loathing and bitterness he was battling. He tried to reign himself in while he checked on Hedwig. She was indignant and definitely had ruffled feathers, but seemed to be uninjured otherwise. "Sorry about that, girl. It's why I've been worrying about you." He glared over at Goyle, who was still surrounded with the thuggish older students and was walking away with a smirk of satisfaction on his face. Harry opened the cage and helped the snowy white owl out. She clung to his arm as he raised her up to have a more thorough look at her. "I was going to have you come up to the dorm with me tonight, alright?" Hedwig HOOTed her annoyed acquiescence. "Good. I'll take you up there before dinner so you can have a chance to recover a bit."
"Alright, Harry?" Lucius asked carefully, as if he knew exactly how volatile Harry's anger would be just now.
"Yeah," Harry said, keeping his head ducked down, but flashing them both a look of acknowledgement and saying to Draco, "Thanks for that. I guess you've just declared your allegiances, then." He coaxed Hedwig back into her cage. "Just until we're inside, girl." When he'd managed that, and had picked the cage back up, he turned to head back and nearly collided with Severus.
Indifferent to the curious observation of scores of students, his guardian was looking at him with deep concern as he took the cage from Harry and suspended it from his right hand while he wrapped his left arm around his unresisting ward. "I will escort you while you deliver your familiar to safety," he said, laying his cheek on Harry's head while he simply held him.
I guess Severus just declared his allegiances as well, Harry thought, wrapping his arms around the older wizard and clinging to him as everything that was difficult in his life hit him all over again.