Barriers - Part II
Chapter 26 - EM-E - Barriers - Part II
Harry had a happy bubble in his chest as he made his way with Severus down to the Great Hall for lunch. We're going to be a family. A rush of relief swept through him so strongly, his knees nearly faltered as he replayed the last segment of their conversation just now. Severus had told him that he would make inquiries about the adoption process and Harry had only been able to respond with a goofy grin. I did it. I survived getting back to this place with Severus. And it's three days earlier than last time. Last time, they hadn't talked about adoption until the morning after the MRI, which would be this coming Tuesday. Back then, Harry had been terrified of all of the undefined aspects of their relationship. He'd wanted Severus to be a father to him, but had been afraid to completely surrender to Severus' authority because he hadn't known his guardian nearly as well as he now did.
This time, his bond with Severus had developed on a very different platform, and their roles were already established as father and son. This time, when they went to Gringott's, they'd need to meet with someone besides Griphook, since he had been gullible to 'ol Bellatrix's scheme…
Harry suddenly stopped in his tracks.
Severus stopped as well, turning to look at his ward with a raised eyebrow. But Harry was pale and beginning to breathe in rapid gasps. "What's wrong?" He stepped closer and cupped a hand over the side of Harry's head, waiting with his arm resting on Harry's shoulder while the boy struggled to verbalize his thoughts. What just shifted?
"She-" Harry started.
"Who, Harry?" Severus asked, frowning.
"Bel- latrix," Harry stammered. "If she- hits me with that spell again-"
"Ah," Severus said. "Come here."
Harry clung to Severus. "If I end up in a tussle with her again, I will do her harm, Severus. I can't go through that time travel curse again."
Severus took a deep breath. He had foolishly not anticipated the need for such a discussion with Harry, and certainly not here, in the corridor, near the entrance to the Hufflepuff common area. "Harry, you don't need my permission to protect yourself from a maniac," he said in a quiet voice. Now he rested his chin on the boy's head and tightened the arm he had around Harry's shoulders. "I've told you before that in this course of righting the wrongs that still prevail from Voldemort's reign, we will only have our own honor to guide our decisions. There is a difference between a cold blooded attack, and self defense. However, with Madame Lestrange, one is always on the defensive." He was careful to use slow enunciation to emphasize his point: "I would want you to do. what. you must. to clear her from your path."
Harry turned his head to hide his face against his guardian's neck. He really wasn't sure how he felt about what he'd just been told, but he completely understood it. In truth he wasn't as worried about what he might do to Bellatrix Lestrange when he next saw her. It was what she might to do him, or Severus, or anyone else he cared about. He didn't really know how else to describe what was suddenly overwhelming him.
He was simply full of fear.
When the corridor was empty once again, Zacharias Smith stepped out from the spot behind the large statue he'd ducked behind when he'd realized Snape and Potter had been coming this way. He'd heard their conversation, every bit of it. I thought Potter had killed off You-Know-Who? What are they so worked up about? Now, more than ever, he was happy to help out his two sixth-year Slytherin mates, who, just like Zacharias, simply wanted to know what Potter and Snape, and Albus Dumbledore, for that matter, were really up to. He'd owl ordered the boomslang skins, Lacewing flies, and powdered bicorn horn from Slug & Jiggers after they'd failed to get into Snape's supply closet. Smythe and Langstrom had been happy to let Zacharias foot the bill, of course, but that was alright. The two older wizards were going to brew the potion. They hadn't decided who to impersonate yet.
They had time to work that out.
Severus waited until the students had cleared out of the Great Hall to discuss his intentions with Minerva, Albus, Lupin and Lucius. "I've just confirmed with Harry that this is what he wants as well," he told them. Lucius and Albus had both supported the plan to act through Gringott's and Albus suggested asking William Weasley to help with setting the appointment. Severus appreciated that suggestion. "Harry just had a bit of a panic attack at the thought of the events from the previous timeline repeating themselves."
"Remus and I should accompany the two of you," Lucius said. "You can set the time for midday, Monday or Tuesday, and need only miss a couple of hours from the school day."
Severus gave Lupin an assessing look. "And you, wolf? Where do you stand on this matter?"
Remus' expression had remained strained throughout their meal and up to this point in the conversation, but for some reason, the goading way that Severus insisted on over-enunciating the ever-so-charming nickname of wolf brought out his humor and he grinned for the first time in days. "I want what's best for Harry, of course," he returned. And yes, he could see the flicker of disquiet on his former schoolmate's face at his non-answer.
Severus covered the fleeting feeling of insecurity that someone he was coming to respect might disapprove of his plans to be Harry's father by raising a casual eyebrow as he asked, "Does this mean you will accompany us?"
"It does," Remus said.
"This is wonderful, just wonderful," Albus said with open joy. "We will celebrate together, once it's finalized."
"I'm genuinely happy about this, Severus," Remus admitted after deliberately waiting for the others to depart.
"I'm touched," Severus said, not sounding touched at all. He kept his expression flat while Lupin smirked at him. He studied the wan wizard for a long moment before asking, "Was there a flaw in your potion this cycle?"
Remus frowned. "Not at all, why do you ask?"
"You seem out of sorts," Severus said slowly.
"Do I?" Remus asked in surprise. "I suppose you've not really seen me in the immediate aftermath of a transformation before this."
"It seems more than that," Severus pushed. He waited while Lupin debated his response.
"Perhaps I'm still off kilter from watching my best friend die," Remus said with a bit more of a bite than he'd intended.
Severus nodded without revealing his reaction. "A lot has changed, and very quickly, in a very short time," he commented. "You have friends now that you didn't have one month prior, for example." He was not expecting the rush of emotion that revealed itself in the reddening around Lupin's eyes.
Remus was utterly shocked at the effort Severus was making to let him know he had support. He was speechless, so all he could do was blink while the other wizard continued.
"And Harry counts on your guidance, very strongly. I bring this up because he told me earlier that he would not apologize for - his words - doing harm to Bellatrix Lestrange. I know that none of us would have an issue with doing her harm. I truly hope it does not come down to Harry to eliminate her."
"I share this hope," Remus said quietly.
Sunday morning, Harry's nerves were exacerbated by his excitement about being adopted. It was pretty amazing to have things play out like this a second time, in spite of all of the different circumstances that had manifested as a result of him calling his potions professor by his first name in the foggy aftermath of time travel. It truly was amazing to feel wanted, and to know that he was so treasured by his guardian. I need to tell Severus I love him, he realized.
The day would have been difficult to get through if Dumbledore hadn't announced to the school over breakfast that he intended to install a dueling practice room. To be certain that there would be no confusion that it might be used as an opportunity to attack fellow students, he let the student body know that the room would reside at the base of the Headmaster's Tower, its entrance just around the corner from the revolving spiral staircase. Undaunted by the underlying promise of punishment to offenders of this ethic, the entire student populace seemed to be excited by this new turn of events.
"Your Defense Against the Dark Arts professor will assign your allotted practice schedules, and all who wish to participate are welcome to take advantage of this time. It is indeed completely optional and not subject to consideration for your Defense class marks," Dumbledore told them. He ducked his head down and scanned an assessing look at them over the rim of his glasses. "I have integrated numerous magical alerts into the wards against malicious intentions by its occupants. I am not interested in facilitating violence," he concluded. He clapped his hands and their food appeared. "Now, on to lighter subjects: the elves have indulged us with Belgian waffles this morning. I highly recommend the strawberry topping!"
"How many of your assignments have you completed?" Severus asked Harry quietly later Sunday, as he stood beside the boy to watch the Headmaster unveil the Arts of Defense Room to the assembled lookers-on, which included the rest of the dream team and all of the DA.
"I've left the reading for tonight," Harry replied over the rather loud grumbling of his stomach, looking up at his guardian. "Are we eating dinner in our quarters, or with the others?"
"I believe I should be present in the Great Hall," Severus told Harry. "Unless you have a need for the quiet?"
"I'm alright," Harry said. "But I want to sleep there tonight."
"As you wish, Young- " Alarm bells kicked in immediately as the color rapidly drained from Harry's face and his eyes widened in fear. "Harry? What's wrong?"
"I'm being pulled!" Harry rasped. He looked up at Severus in desperation as his scar exploded with that infernal, debilitating pain. "I'll contact you through the coin-"
By now they were the center of attention, and the collective gasp of shock from everyone present as Harry disappeared from sight reverberated off of the walls, along with multiple yelling voices.
Severus shot a panicked look at Albus but found the Headmaster to be as dumbfounded as he. Everyone who had a coin pulled it out and waited.
"Do not message him," Severus barked loudly, "If his coin is intercepted, our communications will be compromised. Harry will not expect replies. He will request them if it's safe to do so."
But they received no missive from Harry. Only silence.
"What in the bloody hell is happening?" Ron muttered in agitation to Hermione. "Did Harry just do that portholing thing he told us about?"
They were standing near Remus, who'd momentarily ceased his pacing to stare at the coin.
Hermione was losing the battle with her emotions and could only nod as she wiped under her eyes.
Tonks came over to stand with them while she watched Remus. She was slightly shocked when his eyes sought out hers and let her see his anguish. She nodded her understanding and mouthed, we'll get him back. Remus' expression softened slightly. But then he looked away to check on Severus, who was also pacing. Everyone but Lucius and Albus was giving Harry's guardian a wide berth, his previous reputation, combined with his thunderous expression, driving most to move quietly to the farthest corners of the cavernous corridor they were all still gathered within.
"Do you think he's still inside the school?" Ron asked no one in particular.
Severus stopped pacing and snapped his head towards Albus.
Their coins warmed just then. Everyone's eyes were drawn downward to read Harry's message.
I'm okay, but I don't have my coin and… I don't know where I am, but Wormtail has me, and… I guess he's got the diadem because he was… strong enough to pull me to him.
"Why is he being silent!?" Severus demanded while he, Lucius, and Lupin paced back and forth behind the staff tables in the Great Hall. The students attempted to eat their dinners while the drama of Harry Potter's disappearance continued to weigh heavily in the air. Tonks had posted herself in closer proximity to the tables, prepared to defend them if needed, but no one really knew what to expect. Kingsley had sent over additional aurors, who were stationed around the school's most commonly used corridors. Each of them had been instructed to be prepared to leave site on a moments notice to go rescue Harry if his location was revealed.
Albus and Minerva were monitoring the castle's wards very carefully.
"My instincts tell me he's nearby," Remus said. "Peter was far more crafty than any of us ever gave him credit for. He took great pleasure in rubbing our noses in this."
Dumbledore had advised the students to return to their House common areas after they finished their dinner, unless they had detentions or needed to make a brief visit to the Library. The Prefects were asked to monitor the hallways. Ron and Hermione, and Draco and Pansy were assigned to guard the third floor corridors to minimize the dilly-dallying of the students. It was nearing half six now, and Harry had continued to be silent.
Severus remembered that Harry had been hungry for dinner and his frustration skyrocketed. "It's been nearly two bloody hours!" he ranted to Lucius and Lupin where they now gathered in the school's entrance, just beyond the Great Hall.
Explosions, and sounds of falling stone from crumbling interior structures rent the air. Screams of frightened children and the sounds of running feet came immediately afterward.
The three of them quickly spread out, searching for a visual clue to the source of the destruction.
"I can feel his influence," Lucius said grimly, wand ready, senses on alert.
"As can I," Severus announced.
"Hah hahhahhahhah!" The psychotic cackling laughter of Bellatrix Lestrange reverberated all around them via a voice projection charm, bouncing along corridors, and impossible to trace for its origin.
Severus flashed a wild look at his two peers, and it was clear he was thinking of Harry. He spun to his left and launched into the air, his robes flapping over the streams of air he created as he soared away and through the grand entrance to the Great Hall, searching for the demented witch, who clearly had come with her horcrux in tow.
"This is not good," Remus muttered as fear gripped his belly. There were still a few students in the vicinity. Harry was missing. And Dora is here. Remus knew she could look after herself, but he didn't want to think about her getting hurt, or worse.
"No," Lucius agreed. "We would do well with brooms, would we not?" He messaged Draco to inquire as to the location of his broom, so that he could summon it with an accio.
"Brilliant idea," Remus said, his Firebolt appearing a moment later with the use of a strong summoning charm. He scanned the Great Hall for Severus and saw the potions master circling back their way, just as Draco's Nimbus appeared before Lucius.
Lucius grabbed the handle in time to launch onto it, and raced off in search of the offensive demonic Bellatrix, shouting to Remus, who rode beside him, "Follow me, I'll use this sensation of deep dread as my map."
Neville Longbottom had run to the Library to look up a few facts for his potions essay, which he truly wanted to write well. He'd been the last of the students to leave, and had only just exited when he'd heard Bellatrix Lestrange's laughter as if it was being broadcast over a loudspeaker. Visceral rage drove him to duck into an alcove just out of sight of the large, double doored Library entryway. He stood with his wand ready, wanting nothing more than to see that bitch pay for her crimes against his parents. And Harry's godfather.
Severus struggled to contain his rage as he was forced to endure another stream of earsplitting Hah-hahahahahahah-Hah! and all the while, keep his senses about him, rather than collapse into a fearful heap as he worried about Harry. He'd traveled along to the third floor, and on to the Library, relieved to see no signs of lingering students, and landed to stand with hands on hips while his mind raced over the steps he could take next to seek out his ward. He looked up in time to see Lucius and Lupin soaring his way, just as a swirling, spinning form appeared on the floor directly in front of him in the clearing created by the lines of tables and bookshelves. The tables had retracted themselves to line the walls, as they typically did at night after curfew, so the center of the large room was suddenly cleared of obstacles. Severus narrowed his eyes, waiting to see who had come to confront them, as the spinning form began to slow.
It was Bellatrix Lestrange.
She came to a standstill facing Severus, her left index finger pointing upward as she twirled Helga Hufflepuff's chalice around by its handle, and cackled her irksome laughter. The thrust of her magic reverberated around her in a way that felt like a vibration. Severus kept his focus sharp. He could easily lose his life if he didn't.
"Hello, Severus, how's Harry?" She asked coquettishly, appearing to be unaware of Lucius and Lupin, who had reared back on their brooms and elevated themselves higher, casting silencing and disillusioning charms on themselves in the process.
"I imagine he's just fine, Bellatrix," Severus said dangerously, in spite of his fear for the other two wizards, and assuming that she knew exactly how Harry was doing. "I wonder why you'd care?"
"Well, I have a vendetta against him, Sevvy," she purred. "I am planning to show him what happens to brats who harm my Lord."
"Hmmmm," Severus replied with disdain that belied his enraged terror for the Boy Who Lived. "You consider him a brat for having protected himself against Voldemort?"
"How dare you say his-"
"Harry bested Lord Voldemort, Bella!" Severus yelled over her enraged retort. "He. took. your. Dark. Lord. down." His slow, taunting enunciation was an ironic prelude to the quick shielding he was forced to do against her vicious retaliatory blasting curse, only just catching it with his contego. Bellatrix was powerful on her own, more so even than Severus, but with that bloody cup twirling around her finger, she was as strong as the Dark Lord had been.
Ron and Hermione had ducked behind opposite bookshelves just inside the Library entrance when the explosions had hit. They stared at each other across the clearing, about twenty feet from where Bellatrix Lestrange was confronting Professor Snape. Hermione pulled out her coin and whispered a quiet message to Dumbledore and McGonagall.