School Days - Part II
Chapter 21 - EM-E - School Days - Part II
Dinner Monday night was about the same as breakfast had been, only now people were a bit more willing to test Harry's patience with their comments and observations. He heard snarky remarks from all four tables, some of them issued from students who had the nerve to make eye contact, while others were just sort of thrown out there, for all to hear. He was a tad surprised when second year Thora Breckin announced loftily, "Mum says he's a show-off. That he needs a good disciplinarian to put him in his place."
Harry nearly regretted how badly he'd felt for the witch after they'd forced the diadem off her head on the other timeline. What a little snot, he groused inwardly, glaring at his plate and focusing on his food. He was starving after all of that magical activity in class earlier. When he sneaked a glance around the room, he could see that all who had had Defense class today seemed to be incredibly interested in dinner. That amused him, in spite of the continued rattling off of disparaging commentary:
"He's always got to be the center of attention, doesn't he?"
"Why should we believe anything Potter says?"
"I've never seen proof that he's faced You-Know-Who."
"I think it's all a lie, just like Fudge said."
"Strange that his new guardian seems to be snowed by his victim act. Would have thought Snape would be sharper than that."
"Honestly, when will he realize he's not that special?"
Harry felt his coin warm and vibrate. He pulled it surreptitiously from his pocket. It was from Severus.
….A nice solution to this nonsense might just be ….a widely cast "shrill French diatribe" spell …might it not?
Harry flashed a grin at his guardian, the mental image so hilarious, he burst out laughing.
….but you have far more restraint than that, ….Young Harry, fortunately for the masses ….How was your day otherwise?
Ignoring the curious attention he'd inadvertently drawn with his giggling, Harry imagined his response ….Mostly good. I've got an idea to discuss ….with you older lot, when you have time
Severus raised his eyebrow as he read this, silently spelling his response with his wand and coin out of view of the students.
….I will come see you outside of your common room ….later, closer to curfew
After dinner, Hermione and Ron had the first hour of Prefect patrol. Harry suggested they meet him in the Library afterward, since he fully intended to make a good start on his assignments from today before diverting his attention to the DA lesson planning. He'd kept his books with him while at dinner, and headed up to the third floor after his last bite of his second helping of treacle tart.
"Oy, Potter!" An antagonistic voice called after him.
Harry had begun to climb the stairs from the second floor landing and made a decision to ignore what could only be trouble. He was not, however, stupid enough to assume he would not be attacked. A quick glance over his shoulder revealed a group of younger years, mostly fourth and third, from what he could see. He resumed his climb. None of these students, who were mostly Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff, and some of whom were DA members, had had their wands drawn, so he wasn't worried about an attack, but there were at least a dozen of them gathered at the foot of the stairs behind him, representing the collective attitude toward The Boy Who Lived at the moment.
"What, are you afraid of us?" Someone from the group shouted.
"Not in the slightest," Harry replied over his shoulder in an unaffected tone, back still turned as he climbed.
"Are you sure about that? You're afraid of your mug-"
Harry reached the top stair, wondering what had brought on the sudden silence, or more like, who had brought it on. He turned again to nonchalantly glance down at the group. They were all still there, but now were all hanging their heads in shame as Headmistress McGonagall glared at them. He struggled to hold onto the good feeling he'd regained from being on good terms with Severus, so that this rubbish wouldn't bring him down. He smiled his gratitude to McGonagall and rounded the corner to climb the next stairwell, leaving the scene behind, along with the misguided youth who had no idea that they could possibly see or experience something horrible before this was all over.
The smile that Severus received in greeting from Harry when he arrived at Gryffindor Tower's entrance nearly made up for the anxiety he'd indulged during the day, worrying about his young ward's stress levels. He was still reeling from the depth of Harry's misery the previous evening, and the resulting intensification of his protective instincts for the boy. Severus had found himself battling very new impulses, that were ultimately irrational, to keep Harry out of harm's way, perhaps in their quarters all day, or out of the school altogether. But Harry's smile was full of affection, and, aside from the lump that rose in Severus' throat to be on the receiving end of it, indicated that his ward was indeed doing well. Severus allowed a small smile in response and led Harry down the hall to an alcove that would obscure them from the view of the last Gryffindors straying back to their common area before curfew over the next ten minutes.
"Have you been able to plan your DA meeting?" Severus asked, placing his hand on Harry's neck and giving him a squeeze as they walked.
"Yeah, and it's going to be great," Harry said enthusiastically. "Remus had us do a fantastic exercise in Defense today that gave me a bunch of ideas, so we'll try them out tomorrow. He's going to be there, too. But that's not what I wanted to talk about."
"Uhmm hmmm," Severus said. "But before you launch into your idea, answer me this: have you made progress on your new assignments?"
Harry ducked his head to hide the smile of happiness that was still a new feeling in response to having someone besides Hermione keeping track of his schoolwork. "Yes, sir," he said. "I've got rough drafts of both essays done. I need to do the reading for Defense. Hopefully I'll get that started tonight."
"But you will not deny yourself proper rest, in order to do so," Severus said with a stern tone.
"Right," Harry agreed. They'd arrived at the alcove and Harry took a seat on the inset bench beneath the arched window, while Severus cast a silencing charm around them. Then Severus turned to face him, standing with arms folded and eyebrow raised, which amused Harry and kept his mood light. "So, in addition to deflecting all of the lovely feedback and thoughtful insights I've been getting from my fellow students on my character, I've been remembering that we still have to worry about that bloody diadem. And Wormtail. And I think we should work on trying to break through that magical barrier that Voldemort, well, that I can create." He could see Severus battling the instinct to shut down the idea, and so he quickly added. "I don't have to be inside it for us to practice, you know. I can cast it around one of the dummies in the ROR, and we can try different things. There's got to be a weakness somewhere, right? There is with other types of shields."
"That is… a very good idea," Severus said, his eyes on Harry, but his thoughts already organizing into a plan. He didn't suppress the impressed smile that made it's way to his mouth while Harry waited with baited breath.
"Good," Harry said in relief of angst he didn't realize he'd been holding in, "and I know how this sounds, but… if something happens and there's a confrontation, with you and someone who has a horcrux, and I'm not there to form that shield if you need it, I really don't know if you could protect yourself from the level of power they'd have." He hesitated while Severus narrowed his eyes, but did not respond. "And since holding that shield against that level of power drains my magic pretty quickly, we need a better plan."
"Agreed. I will set the works in motion," Severus said. He held out his hand. "Pass me your first efforts on your assignments and I'll give them a look-over. You have a free period after lunch tomorrow, do you not? I feel quite certain you'd use it for schoolwork."
"Of course," Harry said, still enjoying the easy interplay between the two of them. He summoned the two parchments with his wand and handed them to his guardian.
"I'll return them to you at the closing of Potions class tomorrow," Severus said, motioning for Harry to stand so that he could squeeze him hard enough to evoke a laugh of protest.
Harry had mixed feelings about the DA meet-up the following evening. Nearly half of the members were no-shows, including, mercifully, Zacharias Smith, but also including several other younger members who had been part of that group who'd taunted him yesterday. No sixth or seventh years were there, either. Harry was glad for their absence on the one hand, but scared for them on the other. He knew there would be a need for them to know defense.
They were about halfway into the ninety minute session. Remus was in attendance, offering hints and guidance, but ultimately leaving the instruction to Harry. Harry had started with contego again, as he'd done previously, and all of the fifth years present were all able to do it already because they'd learned it from Remus, so he'd pulled them aside to form pairs to mock-duel with each other to intensify their speed and accuracy while the younger years mastered the spell.
"I'm very impressed, Professor Potter," Remus said under his breath to Harry as he passed by to make his way over to those older students.
Harry smiled, mind rushing ahead to the next exercise. "Well done!" he called to Ginny and Luna. "Now let's have everyone in fourth year and down form a queue facing me, and I'll test the strength of your shields with a series of spells. You ultimately want to learn how to add intensity to your casting. Sometimes yelling the spell loudly is enough, other times you have to really focus on your movements and actually monitor what's coming out of your wand." He drilled them for about ten minutes, until each had had a few opportunities to shield with him. He then had Ginny and Luna each take half of that group and play the role he'd just played so that they could all continue to practice. "Just cast a rictusempra at them," he told each witch, "but aim it at different parts of their bodies as you go, to force them to adjust their shields."
Remus came over to him. "I see a strategy here, Harry. The older group is ready for a new step. What will it be?"
"Disabling spells," Harry said. "I want to see if I can teach them how to use enough magic to make their hexes hold for a long while against a stronger wizard."
"I'll be your practice dummy, then," Remus said with a wink.
"Thanks," Harry grinned. "I wonder if we could set up a practice room somewhere else in the school? So that students can practice during their free periods? Do you think that could work?"
"I was having similar thoughts," Remus admitted. "Between the two of us, this lot will do far better if they have a chance to refine their casting and develop instinctive defensive responses. But there will need to be a lot of groundwork done to make such a thing a safe option. I'll bring it up with the Headmistress over scotch later."
By the time the session ended, it was fifteen minutes before nine o'clock, and all of the younger years needed to get back to their common areas quickly.
"Remember that doing magic drains you physically, so each of you needs to get extra sleep, and do not skip any meals. If you do, well, you'll see what happens," Harry told the group. He held up his hands to stop them before they began to herd towards the exit. "I need to make an announcement, and I truly hope you'll all trust my judgement on this." Everyone's heads snapped up, or around, to face Harry. The room went dead silent. "I realize that you are completely going on blind faith that I'm telling the truth about Voldemort-" he stopped while many of them flinched, "and I'm really grateful that you're doing that, because there really is danger. And we really do need to be ready to defend ourselves at any time. And so, because every student in this school deserves an opportunity to learn defense, I want to begin to invite some Slytherins to join us. I know for some of you, this will be a problem, but for many of you it will be just fine."
"But remember," Hermione added. "This is a secret organization. It's up to Harry to decide who joins, and maybe after tonight, we'll have to reevaluate some standing memberships of people who have changed their mind about being here. So, it's still a secret, and you still need to never discuss it around a non-member. If you want to invite someone to join, tell Harry, and let him handle it."
"Agreed?" Harry asked the group.
"This was excellent, Harry!" Seamus yelled from the back as he brought up the rear of the now moving group of members.
"And it's not as though you're the only one making the claims about You-Know-Who, is it? The professors are backing you up," Dean chimed in.
"And there was an eyewitness," Remus added, his chin raised as he looked the group over. No one present seemed to have any conflict about where they stood on the matter.
Harry said his goodnights to Remus and the retreating students, while he stood aside with Hermione, Ron and Neville. He cast a tempus. They had an hour until curfew. "I want to show you some other spells. I think they'll come in handy for Friday's lesson, and I'm going to need all of you to help."
"I wonder if it would be wise to reinstate quidditch," Minerva mused aloud to Remus and Lucius as they sipped at a double splash of scotch apiece in her office. They were waiting for Severus, who had been detained when two of his sixth year students and fifth year Zacharias Smith had been caught attempting to break into his potions supply closet by Filch. "We need something to offset the intense focus on defense for the children. But after what you've just told me about Potter's workshop, I do believe that between all of the remedial defense practice, and the heavier workload this creates for catching up, most of the students would do well with a delay. At least until late-January."
"I imagine Severus would be grateful for Harry's sake if you would postpone the games for a while longer," Remus told her.
"Indeed I would," Severus confirmed as he came through the door, dipping into a shallow bow to both greet Minerva and thank her for the scotch. He scanned Minerva's copy of the Mirauder's Map, which was spread on the low table in their midst, while he listened to Lupin summarize his evening in the ROR and sing Harry's praises for the work done in the DA session.
"There was a poor turnout, apparently, only about half of the members showed up," Lupin concluded. "That is likely indicative of the division of sentiments within our student body."
Lucius directed a smirk at Severus, "And it's no help that you have toned down your manner, Severus," he chided mockingly.
"I beg to differ," Severus returned, raising his eyes from where he'd spotted Harry in his common room to direct a mildly narrow-eyed glare at his friend. "As far as I can see, it's thrown every student who takes a class with me into an utter tailspin. I see no issue." He took a healthy swig of his drink, and since the attention was still directed his way, added, "My young ward also believes we should work on breaking past that magical field he can create. He says, and I'm sure we each concur, that it would be the most direct means of defense in an encounter with a horcrux-enhanced assailant." He exhaled a long sigh as that reality slowly crept back into his awareness.
"He's right," Lucius said. "Perhaps Saturday?" There was a silent consensus. "I've been pondering that issue myself. Our strongest curses make no impact whatsoever. It will likely come down to a matter of deconstruction."
"Yes, but since we have no access to the source of magic creating it, how can we begin to deconstruct?" Severus asked with an edge of frustration.
"Something to puzzle out," Lupin murmured. "I will make sure I have time on the weekend for this."
"I will leave the initial efforts to you masters of the duel," Minerva said. "And you would likely do well with Albus joining in, although I do not know that he should take time away from his work with the Wizengamot."
They sipped and sat in contemplation for a while.
"On another subject, I'd like to return Harry's broom to him," Minerva said. "I hope you'd have no objections, Severus?"
"None," Severus said. "It's a treasured gift. I'm sure he'd benefit from having it handy. From what I understand of his previous experiences, I might also."
Wednesday was a challenge. The moment Harry opened his mouth in his classes with Hufflepuff or Ravenclaw, his classmates would mimmic his speech, or make incendiary comments to their neighbors that he could hear. Of course, none of the professors managed to hear them, so no one was reprimanded. It was like this in Herbology, History of Magic, Divination, and by the time he got to Transfiguration, Harry had just stopped trying to participate in class. McGonagall asked him a direct question about the reading from the previous evening, but even though he knew the answer he shook his head, because he knew he'd lose his temper if he heard one more mean comment. By the end of the school day, he'd completely lost his ability to shrug off the anger and felt a very strong desire to reply with his wand. Don't do anything stupid. You don't want to be in trouble with Severus, he chanted to himself. This thought was literally the only thing stopping him from casting mouthless hexes at people like Smith and Michael Corner, who not too long ago, had actually acted like they were his friends. His real friends tried to run interference, but nothing seemed to deter the desire to goad him. En route to drop their things off before dinner, Ron and Hermione had to intervene in a scuffle between some lower years in the Library, that resulted in detentions being assigned. Harry went to eat dinner early hoping to minimize his exposure to the taunting masses, but he heard more snark from McClaggen and Tso, which led to sneering and annoyed looks from a few of the seventh year Gryffindors, as if he was the one saying all of the obnoxious stuff.
He left his food untouched and stormed out of the Great Hall, through the entrance and out onto the grounds to walk off his frustration. His coin alerted him to a message after he'd made one circuit around the small garden in front of the north face of the castle. It was from Severus, who obviously had been studying the Map, because he asked why Harry was out in the cold.
Harry used his wand this time to message back.
….it's safer for all that I'm burning off tension out here.
The response nearly made him smile.
….bring your self and your tension to our quarters.
By ten-thirty, Harry was finished with his written assignments and his eyes were growing heavy, so he set his Transfiguration reading aside and turned sideways on the sofa, reclining against the arm and watching the flames for a bit. Severus was at the kitchen table, correcting class essays. They'd had dinner together here, and Severus had listened to Harry rant about the way he'd been treated all day. He'd had no real advice for Harry, other than to continue on as he was, and to seek out one of his adult confidantes to vent his frustration as needed. He'd also told Harry to come here to their quarters to get a breather whenever he wanted to.
Harry realized that this time around, there was no question of how much authority Severus had over the goings-on in Harry's life. It's easier this way, he thought. I don't have to wonder what's what. It's like he's already my dad… But he shut down that thought with a nagging doubt that between all of Harry's drama, and the problems with students, and the horcruxes and Death Eaters wanting revenge, it might just be too damned much to ask for Severus to handle.
"Young Harry, you should head in to bed," Severus was saying to him.
"I'm not asleep," Harry said quickly, opening his eyes to watch Severus sit in his armchair and prop up his feet. In spite of the older wizard's patience with his tirade tonight, Harry could sense a level of stress in Severus that had actually been there since the weekend. "How bad is the tension in your House?" he asked.
"It's palpable," Severus said. "I've got genuine concerns, but there is nothing yet to act upon."
"Do you know what's going on with the Ministry of Magic?" Harry asked next, looking for signs that he was being annoying.
"Only that Albus is actively engaged with their governance. There's no news on his reinstatement," Severus told him.
"After our talk the other night, I feel a lot better about him," Harry offered. "It's sort of like seeing his humanity, you know?"
"I do," Severus said thoughtfully. He turned his head to give Harry an assessing look.
"Can I ask you something?" Harry asked on impulse.
"You may," Severus replied with mock reluctance, his expression austere in spite of his sarcasm.
"I can tell you're worried about stuff, and I was just wondering if my unloading on you makes it that much harder?"
Severus stared at him narrowly for several long moments before finally rolling his eyes. He leaned forward with elbows on knees, eyes glued to Harry's so that there could be no question of his sincerity. "No, Harry, your unloading does the exact opposite. It keeps me informed of where you are with your own burdens, rather than leaving me to try to decipher through your words and deeds what might be going on with you. That leads to my having a clear picture of who you are, and what you need from me."
"But my needing things isn't a burden?"
"It's a gift," Severus said. And when Harry's expression turned doubtful, he said quietly, "Harry, if someone as wonderful as you needs me, then that must mean I'm not as awful as I'm often inclined to see myself to be."
Harry stared at his guardian as he pondered how unlikely such an admission from this wizard would have been mere weeks ago. The silence between them grew as there seemed to be a mutual desire for the other to speak first. Finally, Harry cracked a smile. "Remus told me Neville thought you were an impostor."
That got an amused snort, and then a guffaw of laughter from Severus.