Barriers - Part I
Chapter 25 - EM-E - Barriers - Part I
The following morning was Saturday, so Harry didn't need to rise by any particular hour, which was good because he felt completely overwrought when he awoke at about eight o'clock. He could hear Severus moving around in the sitting area and wondered how his guardian was able to handle the heaviness of all of this drama on a day-to-day basis. Harry still feared he was adding complicated hardship to Severus' many burdens. He also worried about his friends. He hoped they'd be able to protect themselves from the kind of attack he'd suffered yesterday. His anxiety climbed as he remembered the way that group of seventh year Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs had come after them on the grounds, only to be surprised by Nagini. That happened today on the last timeline. Maybe things were playing out differently on this calendar, but there were still a lot of upper years with ample rage toward Harry and Severus, and Lucius for that matter, and by extension Draco, and all of their friends…
Plus, the horcruxes….
And Wormtail, Bellatrix, and that blasted snake. And my scar.
A tap on the door announced that Severus was coming to check on him. Harry looked over at his approaching guardian, and the signs of a goatee were already shadowing his upper lip and chin. That made Harry smile, in spite of his desire to hide from the day.
"You are reluctant to rise, I presume," Severus said, standing with his arms folded and giving Harry an assessing look.
"Where do you get all of your drive to get out of bed, anyway?" Harry asked as he threw back the covers and sat up, turning to let his feet dangle over the side.
"I believe the muggle term is orneriness," Severus replied. He tilted his head. "I forgot to see that you dosed yourself with dreamless sleep last night."
"I'd worn myself out enough that I didn't need it."
"The goatee is going to be a hit with the witches," Harry said, ducking his head to avoid seeing Severus' response.
"Merlin, deliver me," Severus drawled, hoping madly that he was covering the desire to flee at such a thought. He had no desire to be the subject of adolescent crushes. But he had a very strong desire to disguise his discomfort from his brat of a ward. And Lupin. And Lucius. Yes, Merlin, deliver me.
"That's a damned good theory," Remus said in frustrated response to Severus, who'd again voiced suspicion that they would have to find a way to deconstruct the magical field to break through it, repeating for the former Marauder the surface tension philosophy. Remus had just expended a significant amount of energy, blasting and slicing and scraping with various hexes directed at the practice dummy, which was currently enveloped by Harry's seemingly impenetrable shield. "Well, it must be something akin to your theory, Severus, because I see no signs of weakening from our attempts thus far."
"Do you know any spells that act like a detergent?" Harry asked, flashing on a memory of his primary teacher's lecture about the way Fairy dish detergent broke apart oil molecules.
All three of the adult wizards snapped their heads to look at Harry with narrowed eyes. He shrugged his shoulders and used his wand, combined with some wild magic, to summon the bottle of Fairy liquid from the cupboard beneath the kitchen sink at Privet Drive. He turned the bottle and squirted a healthy dose of the soap onto the shield that still surrounded the practice dummy. Nothing.
"Perhaps it would require a magical enhancement to have effect?" Severus pondered aloud.
"The full moon is Thursday," Remus murmured to Severus when they gave up their efforts to break for lunch.
"Yes," Severus acknowledged. "It is good that Albus has returned to the school, and Minerva has resumed her role as Head of House. You need only cover your classes."
"Between Albus, Dora, and possibly you, this is taken care of," Remus agreed. "I regret the additional burden that brewing my remedy will add to your schedule."
"You have paid a portion of your debt by installing Harry's bedroom," Severus said, ignoring the way Lupin tilted his head with a look that said, a portion? "I have been considering bringing in a student apprentice to learn the brewing. Perhaps this round will be the first run."
If Lupin had any concerns, he gave no indication, and simply bowed his head and left the Room of Requirement to go be a presence in the Great Hall during the lunch hour. Harry had been standing off to the side while they'd spoken, but neither adult had been concerned that he'd overheard.
"Last time, you had Draco and Hermione brew the first and second stages," Harry told Severus. "They did great."
Severus studied Harry for a long moment. "How in the world are you maintaining your sanity through all of this repetition, Young Harry?"
Harry looked at him with open regard. "I've got you." But as soon as the words came out, his expression grew vulnerable.
Severus nodded, moving over to drape his arm around the boy and proceed to direct him out of the Room of Requirement. "Indeed you have."
And so, the second week of the new term went by. All was normal to the extent that it possibly could be, what with the new on-site presence of Ministry aurors Tonks, Dawlish, Jones and Moorepeace, who were indefinitely stationed for round-the-clock six-hour shifts, for the protection of the students. There were no skirmishes, although the tension remained tenuous among the older students. Dumbledore led the school through a heartfelt memorial for Paloma Tso, which her devastated parents attended. Classes resumed on Monday, and there was an announcement that quidditch would also resume in early February.
Harry had spent Saturday night in his bedroom, but had returned to his dorm for the other nights until the full moon, so that he could study with his friends and monitor the friction within his House for himself. Cormack McClaggen had withdrawn from Hogwarts, and there was some hostility directed at Harry over this from a few upper years. Lee Jordan came to Harry's defense whenever he heard his classmates mouthing off, but even he was operating on hearsay, because Harry had been tightlipped about his experience, as usual.
In the meantime, Harry had continued to apply himself to his studies, and so far, was keeping on top of his assignments. In truth, he found that burying himself in schoolwork kept his mind off of the other pressing sources of stress. As the days passed, he had an increasingly nagging fear that too much time had gone by without incident. They'd had another DA session on Tuesday night that had gone well, which Lucius had attended, while Severus used the time to be a presence in the Slytherin common area, and Remus had used the time to brief Tonks and Dumbledore on his lesson plans for the following days.
Harry had continued to wonder about the mystery of his magical field during the DA meeting on Tuesday night. Things were going well, and fellow members were distracted by their excitement over the new tactic Harry had proposed to them on Remus' recommendation to direct them to form trios, to coordinate a sequence of defensive spells as a team. Ron, Hermione, and Neville had offered to demonstrate to the group while Harry had rapidly cast knee benders and Draco's pinching hexes at them.
"The point is to integrate this coordinated effort between your defensive shielding. You have one person casting some form of distraction, while another casts a disarming spell, and the third casts the disabling spell," Harry had called over the noise of the demonstration. He had simply narrated an overview of what he'd watched the dream team do in repeated confrontations. His three fellow Gryffindors illustrated his direction by casting their shields and looking for a weak moment from Harry. On the first try, Ron had deflected Harry's pinching hex right back at Harry, which had forced him to shield shallowly and immediately after, Hermione had gotten his wand with an expelliarmus. Neville had followed with an incarcerous. "Well done!" Harry had bellowed over the applause of the audience. "Now, you all know I can easily shield against a simple expelliarmus, but it was Ron's deflection that caught me off guard and I didn't shield sufficiently on that occasion. That's what you're working towards. It may take loads of tries in a real attack, but just keep your focus." He'd turned the others out to begin to practice and the results had been quite positive.
Harry called a break, announcing that he planned to force them to rotate around and work with all new partners every couple of moments in the next segment. He stopped to have a drink of water and ended up standing aside from the others with Luna. He was aware that Lucius was nearby as he gave into temptation to ask the often eerily insightful witch, "Did you have a lot of wild magic when you were little, Luna?"
"Of course, Harry," she said with a small smile. "It's completely natural for that to happen."
"What do you suppose happens to it as we get older?"
"I've often wondered," Luna said dreamily. "Daddy says it's still there in each of us. Lots of wizard children are punished when it appears, so we grow up seeing it as something that must be controlled. But magic is beautiful, isn't it, Harry?"
Harry smiled crookedly at her. "Sure it is," he agreed, although his own descriptive term might have been more like 'magic is cool.' "So, do you think it's just as strong when we're little kids as it is when we're grown? Like, well, I remember disapparating once, when I was trying to get away from my cousin. I ended up on the school roof."
"I think it is," Luna said with a tone of reassurance, as if she knew Harry was fishing for information. "I imagine it's far more difficult to channel magic through a wand. That's likely why we struggle as students. If we'd been allowed to express our magic as naturally as we expressed our imagination while we were little, it seems logical that our magic is actually a very gentle energy when it's not being forced from the tip of a wand."
"Yeah," Harry said. He glanced over at Lucius and saw a frown of distracted thought on the older wizard's face.
Wednesday brought the first day of the three-day full moon influence over Remus, and they'd gotten through it without incident. Defense class had been quite interesting with Tonks taking over the fifth year lessons, and as usual, she'd shown them a few new spells that worked as a means of distracting your opponent. Like the shoelace summons, or one that felt like a cuff upside the head. That had of course been a big hit, and had furthered the curricular emphasis that strong defense had little to do with the strength of ones magic. Harry had wanted to gush about this to Remus when he slipped back to the dungeons, to be there when Remus showed up to receive his potion from Severus, but the werewolf had seemed more self-conscious about his affliction than he had on the last timeline.
Severus had indeed invited Hermione and Draco to brew the first stage, but had handled the second and third stages himself. He did not admit this to Harry, but Harry suspected his guardian was picking up on Remus' off behavior, and was attempting sensitivity to any fears the ex-Marauder might have had about the quality of the Wolfsbane potion. It didn't immediately occur to Harry that Remus might be bothered to have Tonks in such close proximity during the lunar phase, but by Friday evening, he was convinced she was behind the tension in his older friend. Especially after the way she'd pulled Harry aside to applaud him for his accomplishments and made a point to let him know she knew he'd set the terms of the wager with the adult wizards. All three of them had fully grown their goatees now, but Harry was not certain when Tonks would have seen Remus'.
"I'm particularly fond of that look on a wizard," she'd told him with a wink.
Poor Remus, he's got his hands full, I suppose, Harry thought with amusement. And Tonks has got a lot of competition. By Saturday morning at breakfast, Harry was repeatedly hearing unabashed comments about blossoming newfound attractions among the students to not only their Defense professor, but also to their nasty Potions professor and the appointed guard, that Mr. Malfoy.
The dream team and Harry spent the morning hours before lunch on Saturday again in the Room of Requirement, hacking away at Harry's shield with newly researched spell options, but to no avail. They were all feeling frustrated with the continued failure to find a means to break through. Severus had used his down time to research the physical properties of water, and how surface tension forms after Harry's comment the previous week, and had played with creating a couple of spells that should challenge the strength of the shield by decreasing its breadth, the way the surface tension of a body of water would shrink in proportion to its decreasing volume. Hence, a drop of water's surface tension is far less than that of a lake.
"It's a brilliant theory," Remus had offered quietly. He was still showing signs of exhaustion from his transformation.
"But it was not correct," Severus groused.
"Miss Lovegood's comments from the other night have been replaying in my mind," Lucius told the group, and then relayed what she'd said to Harry about the underlying gentleness of unharnessed magic.
"I know," Harry agreed. "It made me think a toddler could probably break through this shield because he'd not be trying to be forceful. But I don't remember much about my magic back then, and I just can't think of a way to gently break through it."
"Nor can I," Lucius concurred. "But it suggests, and so far we have seen proof, that excessive force is not what will dismantle it."
The room reformed into a smaller chamber with comfy chairs and a fire. Harry looked around, but was not aware of which of the older wizards had made the change. They each took a seat and relaxed. Harry asked for a hovering tray of glasses of cold water and helped himself when it came over to him. He looked around at the expressions on the other wizard's goatee'd faces. Lucius was distracted in thought. Severus was studying Harry with concern he'd yet to reveal, but the look had been there all week. Remus was sipping his water, eyes focused on the fire. Harry wondered what was bothering the older wan wizard, but didn't feel like he should ask. At the moment, he could feel the proverbial walls around Remus, and now knew what Severus had referred to when his guardian had called Harry out for retracting into himself in the same manner.
"What is going on with all of the Death Eaters that got caught two weeks ago? Like, Greyback and Umbridge, and 'ol Pius?" Harry asked on impulse. "And is anyone actively searching for Wormtail? That whole attack at my cousin's school was his doing. and maybe also the attack on us last Friday. Does the Ministry know?"
"Madam Bones has been very forthcoming about her limitations," Severus replied grimly. "Those that were captured are in Azkaban prison, but there are no official efforts to track down any other Voldemort followers. There is not enough of a task force on hand at this time."
"Buggar," Harry muttered, glaring in frustration at how pathetic Wizarding Britain's governing body continued to be.
"The Order is looking for Wormtail," Remus told Harry. "They've seen no signs of him since the kidnapping."
"What's bothering you, Harry?" Severus asked when Lucius and Lupin had left the Room of Requirement for lunch.
Harry smirked at him. "I was going to ask you the same thing."
"You first," Severus said, his tension too strong suddenly to feel at ease with his ward.
Harry frowned at him for a moment, but he sighed and admitted, "I'm worried about Remus. On the last timeline, he told me he didn't hold out much hope for things to get better in his life." He stopped to watch the way Severus received this. "He told me that his time with my dad and Sirius, and my mum, and probably Pettigrew, was his glory days. That he'd already seen the best of life, and when he'd lost all of that…"
Severus was not unmoved by what Harry was telling him, but he felt a bit uncomfortable to be hearing it. He wasn't at all confident that Lupin would appreciate Harry's disclosure. "Harry, he's an adult."
"I know," Harry said softly, "but that doesn't mean he doesn't need help." He bit his lip. "He's always been really good about not having a problem with you and I being close, even though in a lot of ways it would have made more sense for him to have taken me in. And he told me last time about how close you and my mum had been, to make sure I understood that she'd be alright with it."
The subject matter was taking a desperate turn, as far as Severus was concerned. But Harry wasn't finished. His ward informed him that Lily had talked about the way he hugged to the bloody Marauders. And apparently that conversation had clued Harry in on Lupin's reserve with showing affection.
"I think he expects people to be creeped out that he's a werewolf," Harry was saying.
"People are… disturbed by this, Harry. I myself have had to overcome my own response to his plight."
"But a lot of that is because of how Sirius set you up to be attacked, isn't it?" Harry reasoned.
Again, the boy knew more than Severus realized. He sighed. "Lupin is in an unfortunate position to be rejected for his affliction. I cannot blame him for keeping people at bay."
"I know," Harry said. "But I was starting to see signs that he was feeling better about things last time. This time, he seems worse off."
"Well, then by all means, give the poor sot a hug the next time you see him, Young Harry."
Harry rolled his eyes and snorted in annoyed amusement. "Well, there you have it. That's what was bugging me. That, and the fact that nothing bad has happened for a whole week," he declared. "Now you tell me what's been bugging you."
Severus gave Harry an assessing look while he chose his words. "Today is the nineteenth of January, twelve days until your Emancipation." Harry's expression grew vulnerable as Severus spoke. "I have no intention of allowing you to begin a life of independence because a piece of paper declares you can."
Harry blinked. On the last timeline, he would have been conflicted by this announcement from Severus, but he'd already had three additional weeks of being under the potion master's guardianship, and if it was possible, felt even closer to him and trusted Severus more strongly than ever. A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth as he struggled to sound defiant when he quipped, "You just want to get to boss me around some more."
"That is exactly the case."