Rewind - Part III
Chapter 3 - EM-E - Rewind - Part III
"Would you be willing to arrive here early in the morning, tomorrow?" Severus asked Lucius after they'd returned to his quarters. "I want to seek out Petunia Dursley for a more thorough chat."
"I will expect full disclosure of what you learn upon your return," Lucius said in an authoritative tone of voice that he knew would get under Severus' skin. When his friend shot a withering glare his way, he added, "I believe you've met your match with Harry Potter. He's just as stubborn as you are. Remember that, when you consider your options as you deal with him in the coming days."
Severus squared his shoulders, mouth pinching in displeasure at the unspoken observation. Lucius was the second one to suggest he could treat Potter better in recent times. "Speak your mind, Lucius," he challenged.
"I am not the most compassionate of wizards, Severus, but you are downright cold," Lucius said frankly. "Whatever it is that you hold against that boy is incredibly powerful. So much so, that you cannot seem to yield, even when he is clearly in a horrible, horrible state of mind."
"I am in a horrible, horrible state of mind!" Severus blared. "I do not want to do this any longer! I don't want to serve the Dark Lord! I don't want to spy for Albus, and I sure as hell do not want to babysit that brat!"
Lucius' eyebrows shot upward, and his expression grew grim. "We are of the same mind, in that regard, Severus. However, I am not as put off by the boy as you seem to be. He should not be nursing his wounds in isolation."
Severus sighed, struggling to shake off the grip of rage that always overtook him when he sensed peril in the making. "I'm aware of that," he said through gritted teeth, "and I'm not as oblivious to Potter's distress as you seem to think. He is acting in desperation for reasons that are unclear at this time, and therefore I do not trust him. Perhaps when I have more answers, I will be able to show him more kindness."
"Some kindness would go a long way," Lucius said. He clapped a hand on Severus' shoulder and stepped back over to the floo. "What time tomorrow?"
Harry sat on his bed, gently massaging the bruise on his torso. It hurt when he moved in certain ways, and of course when he touched it, which for some reason he felt compelled to continue to do, as if to fully convince himself that this new scenario was not going to change. Staring at Dudley's shrunken clothes, Harry felt a burning rage that was so strong he was beginning to imagine he could see his peripheral magic coming through his pores. He shouldn't have to wear things that hadn't been bought for him, that had belonged to someone who hated him, and had hurt him, and taunted him. Every ounce of him wanted to scoop the tattered rags up and go burn them. But then he'd have nothing at all to wear, other than a couple of Weasley jumpers and his school uniform, and at the moment, dressing like a Hogwarts student made him feel even more trapped. He'd returned to this timeline about six hours ago, and already he'd fallen back into the survival mindset he'd adopted first term, as memories of horrible Occlumency induced headaches, and a bleeding hand after lines with a blood quill gripped him, making that abused blood within him boil. His skin crawled with the remembered violation and how he'd felt so ashamed that he had no one to turn to. The Prophet had printed stories about him being a liar, friends had turned on him, Dumbledore had literally walked away from him, more than once, when he'd sought help. And Voldemort had plagued him with visions and hostile feelings that weren't his own.
As if the thought had made its way to the snake-faced monster, Harry's scar prickled. He rubbed it angrily, the heel of his hand knocking into his glasses and jamming them painfully into his face. He growled in frustration. How am I going to do this? he asked himself yet again, now jumping to his feet to pace the floor area created by the circle of beds in the large room. There were so many setbacks… his poor vision, no Lucius-galleon, the diadem was somewhere in the ROR, the locket was at Grimmauld Place and that stinky Mundungus Fletcher could show up any time and get it first, the Hufflepuff cup was in Bellatrix Lestrange's possession… Harry remembered the encounter with her. She'd had the cup when she'd blasted him with the curse that had sent him back in time. Draco had said she'd told him she'd moved it to the Black Family vault from her private vault, but if she had done so, she wouldn't have been able to get to it without the other key carriers… which means it's still in her personal vault. Good luck getting it from her.
His mind wandered over the events of the first few days of the new school term on the last timeline, and he realized all of the other things he had to re-do. His efforts to be friends with Draco had to be restarted. Wormtail had to be caught. Ron and Hermione would have to learn about all of the changes between him and… well… the way things were going so far, Harry couldn't believe he'd actually see that bond again between him and Snape.
Rattled by all of these agonizing thoughts, he'd been too distracted to find out what had happened when Dobby had tried to deliver the letter. "Dobby?" he called out.
"Yes, Harry Potter? Dobby is sorry to have shown himself! Dobby is worried because Harry Potter was talking to Dobby's old master. Master Malfoy is a cruel wizard, Harry Potter!"
"It's alright, Dobby, I promise, he's not as cruel these days." Harry said, but he really didn't have any desire to try to convince Dobby of anything about Lucius. Lucius had been vicious to all of his house elves, by his own admission, and it was his burden to atone for, not Harry's. "Did you have any luck finding Aunt Petunia?"
"Dobby is very sorry, but Dobby could not trace her," Dobby said, "Dobby has punished himself-"
"No!" Harry cried, dropping to his knees in front of his small friend. "No, don't punish yourself, Dobby! You are helping me so much, please don't hurt yourself." He put his hands on the elf's shoulders. "If you're going to be cruel to yourself, I won't ask for anything else."
That worked. The elf was instantly apologizing, promising Harry that he'd refrain from whacking himself around any further. Harry praised him in relief and handed him the note he'd written to Rebecca Chase, asking Dobby to leave it in plain sight on her desk in her cubicle at the London Child Protection Agency. Dobby popped out of sight and returned, happily declaring success, in a matter of minutes, but Harry was extremely nervous about how things would play out. What if in this timeline, Madam Chase had not been suspicious of his treatment by the Dursleys? The letter admitting he had been mistreated and feared for his life in both worlds would open a can of worms he'd never be able to clean up.
Harry sat on his bed again, contemplating his resources for everything that needed to be accomplished. He had to strengthen his magic again, but now that he'd thought about it, last time around he'd killed Voldemort's corporeal body on the Saturday of this coming week, and after that, had been able to form the protective shield around himself…. And, he'd summoned his jacket on that Friday, with his wand. So, it was only a matter of days until he could feel more secure about protecting himself, if he worked hard on his magic.
His scar tingled again, more strongly this time.
Bugger. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve.
Severus stepped out of the floo and made his way quietly up to Potter's dorm, glad to see the lighting in the common room had been dimmed by the elves. That meant the boy had gone to bed for the night. He climbed the stairs soundlessly, but he needn't have bothered, because Potter was in the throes of a very violent night terror when he entered the bedchamber. The messy haired teen was thrashing restlessly on the bed, covers long since having toppled to the floor. Skinny legs dotted with an odd assortment of old bruises and scars protruded from bunched pajama bottoms that were still too big for his lean frame, in spite of the shrinking spells. Pale bare feet dappled with rough red rub marks that he'd refused to tend to earlier clenched and released their toes. The skin on his torso showed at the point above his waistband where his T-shirt and sweatshirt had ridden up as he twisted bodily in his sleep, allowing a quick peek at the shadow of a dark bruise residing there.
Now, Severus was concerned. Potter was emitting tortured moans and garbled words that were overridden by anguished sobs. He stepped over to the bed and leaned down to place his hand on the boy's head, the way Albus had once done to him when finding Severus in the same state. There was a short pause in Potter's movements, and then the boy startled into wakefulness, unfocused eyes filled with alarm, as he scrambled to sit up and crab crawl back against the headboard, drawing his knees up and looking away in shame.
"That must have been a powerful dream, Potter," Severus said quietly, straightening back up and taking a step backward to appease the boy's obvious desire for personal space. He watched Potter struggle to come fully awake as he took calming breaths, but he made no reply to Severus' comment. "Are you injured on your torso?" he asked carefully.
"It's just a bruise," Harry said in a dull voice, feeling the flame of humiliation light his face in a nice rosy glow. "I fall out of bed a lot." It's not a lie, he reasoned.
"Why did you not heal your feet?" Severus asked, still speaking quietly and without his trademark disdain.
"I needed to throw something," Harry whispered. "The jar was in my hand. I didn't think."
"Why did you need to throw something?"
A twitch that in better times would have yielded a smile tugged at Harry's mouth as he recognized Severus' tactics for getting him to open up. But he wasn't ready to yield to them, and at the moment he didn't expect he'd ever be. "I know what you think of me, and my impulsive, selfish behavior, and this mess I'm currently in, Professor. You've made that very clear. So, I'll spare us both the awkward discussion about the poor choice I made when I decided to throw away a healing balm because I was upset about…"
"About what?" Severus asked, still calm, still quiet, and incredibly curious.
"About this hell that is my life!" Harry snapped, literally, unable to prevent the tirade that followed: "How would you like to have a bloody maniac entering your mind? Sharing evil thoughts with you, and showing you the mean, cruel things he's gotten up to? To try to get through school while this is happening, and all the while, people are saying you're lying about it! Punishing you for lying about it! How would you like to be forced to stay with people who hate you, and resent having you around? That's all I've ever known, and I'm bloody sick of it!"
Alarm bells began to sound in Severus' conscience. He pulled the chair for Potter's desk closer to the bed and sat. "Is that why the wards failed, Potter?" he asked.
Harry groaned in frustration, feeling so utterly trapped, and desperate to keep a lid on things. Why'd I open my bloody mouth? Stupid! he raged inwardly.
"Why will you not disclose the cause?" Severus asked, struggling to contain his frustration with the boy again, in spite of the rush of sympathy that came when Potter raised tearful eyes that were unable to focus on his. Where were his glasses? The pain in those eyes was difficult for Severus to witness. Very similar eyes had looked at him the same way from Lily's face, some twenty years ago, and the resulting tragedy had haunted him ever since.
Harry swiped at his tears, feeling helpless against the overwhelming desire to come clean to Severus, to end this feeling of being alone with everything. But he couldn't do that. He just couldn't. First of all, this conversation was taking place between him and Snape, not him and Severus. Snape would go ballistic if he knew the truth. Harry would have to see how things played out over the coming days before he made any attempts to admit to what he'd been through. So, he fell back on his own defensive tactics, and said, "I've already told you, I don't know why they failed. It's laughable to me that they ever held up in the first place. The Dursleys don't love me, and have never wanted me there. Nothing has changed, other than the fact that they're convinced I should have been sent to Azkaban for the Dementor incident."
Severus was not fooled by Potter's attempt to deflect his focus, and his anger resurfaced at the blatant avoidance of a complete answer from the boy, but he kept it in check for the moment. "They do not believe you when you explain?"
"We don't talk, Professor," Harry said in frustration. He reached for his glasses and found them on the side table where he'd had to resume the years-old habit of leaving them, and put them on. "Think of it like this: imagine you and I trying to discuss something that makes us both tense." He cocked his head as if he could see the lightbulb coming on in Snape's head. "Yes. Exactly. There's really no point in trying. Like you, they've never wanted to listen to, or hear about, any sort of problem that I'm connected to."
Severus could not prevent the sneer from returning to his face. "You are walking on very thin ice, Mr. Potter," he said dangerously.
Harry shut his mouth, looking off to the side. He could see Snape standing, ready to explode, and shrank back a bit, as if there was any place to go to get away from the surly older wizard.
"Go back to sleep," Snape said coldly. He conjured a potion and another jar of balm in his hand and placed them on the side table. "Use them, and stop wallowing." He turned on his heel and left Harry alone. Again.
Severus was ready and waiting in his long brown coat over the black trousers, white linen shirt, and the scarf he'd used the previous day when he'd ventured into muggle suburbia. Lucius arrived right on time, smirking at Severus and wishing him luck with his quest. Severus narrowed his eyes, unable to lighten up with his friend.
"I tried again with the boy last night," he said, his tone still edged with undisguised unease over the way he'd left Potter with that withering comment late last night. That was cruel of me. He cleared his throat and finished his declaration, "There is a catastrophe in the making, and mark my words, when it shows itself, Potter will be in the center of it, and I'll be hard pressed not to strangle him." With that, he nodded at Lucius and flooed through Malfoy Manor to Spinner's End, where he exited out to the backyard to apparate to Somerset and the rowhouse where the Dursleys were being kept under guard.
"I will leave whenever I see fit! I have time sensitive business in London!" Petunia Dursley could be heard screeching at someone just inside the entry of the row house. A calmer quieter voice suggested she was putting herself at risk, and that the Order was not able to escort her. "I do not want your escort services!" Petunia yelled over her shoulder as she slammed the front door and stamped down the three low stairs of the front stoop. She stopped short when she saw Severus, standing at the end of the walk and snickering at her poor choice of words. "You! What do you want?"
"I've come for answers, Petunia," Severus said condescendingly, stepping closer to her. A movement out of the corner of his eye distracted him and he turned to see Potter's owl land on the post of the neighbor's small garden wall. She hooted at him. "Hedwig, Mr. Potter wanted to let you know it is too dangerous to fly through Hogwarts right now. Perhaps you can stay at The Burrow through the holidays?" The owl hooted again, actually she HOOTed again, clearly not pleased at this news. Severus turned to look at Petunia. "Do you have a letter for Potter?" he asked her.
"It's private!" she said nastily. "I wouldn't trust you to deliver it without reading it yourself."
"I assure you, I have no interest in reading your private correspondence with your nephew," he told her acidly. "I only wish to reassure his owl that I will get the letter to him. Unless, you'd prefer she hover here and hoot away, all hours of the day and night until you send it with her?"
Petunia glared hatefully at Severus. "You and your freakish lot have interfered in our lives for the last time!" She tore up the letter and crunched it into the palm of her hand, turning on Hedwig. "There! Go away, you stupid bird! There is no letter for Potter!"
"If you have something important to say to the boy-" Severus started.
"I do: tell him to stay away from us!" Petunia spat. "Now get out of the way!" She darted around him and made her way down the street, walking very briskly toward the bus stop on the next block.
Severus watched her go, dumbfounded. What on earth had Potter done to set her off to such a degree? He exists, Severus. He's magical, and he reminds her of losses she suffered when she was young because of magic. Just as you suffered losses that he reminds you of each, and every time you encounter him. He turned to the snowy white owl again. "Mr. Potter is quite worried about your safety, so do be careful as you fly to stay with the Weasleys." Her responding hoot sounded miffed to his ears, but she took off, presumably to do as she'd been told.
Well, there was nothing for it but to follow the angry muggle female. Severus had not climbed the ranks of the Dark Lord's confidence on charm alone. He'd proven himself to be exceptionally capable of ferreting out information. It was no trouble at all to cast a notice-me-not charm on himself and simply follow Petunia onto the chartered bus for the ride to Downtown London.
Severus rode along for nearly two hours of brooding silence in which he contemplated what had just come to light. It certainly corroborated what Potter had tearfully exclaimed last night. How would you like to be forced to stay with people who hate you, and resent having you around? Severus knew the boy had been including him in that statement.
I don't hate him, Severus defended himself to his own condemning voice. I cannot stand the sight of him, but I do not wish him ill. He was quite certain these sentiments would not be particularly comforting to Potter.
"Kreacher!" Harry called out as an idea struck him. He waited for a few moments. Nothing. "Kreacher, come. Now!"
There was a loud and ungraceful POP and the withered old curmudgeonly elf appeared before Harry. "Kreacher is not thrilled to be called by the new master, and to a Gryffindor area of the school, of all things. Oh, how the mistress will wail when Kreacher tells her-"
"Enough," Harry said flatly. "I know you're unhappy, and I fully intend to leave you alone as much as I can, alright? But there is something I need you to do." He summoned his courage, not at all convinced this was a good idea. "Kreacher, there is a locket. A cursed locket that belonged to your dear Master Regulus. Do you know the locket I mean?"
Kreacher glared at Harry with open hostility. "The new boy master has no business with that locket. Kreacher was to keep it for his master-"
"Kreacher, I know about the evil it contains, and I'm going to put it in a safe place where no one can be hurt by it," Harry told him earnestly. "If you don't give it to me, Mundungus Fletcher will probably steal it. I think he's likely to come to the house to try to take things, and if he does, I want you to come tell me, alright?"
"Kreacher understands," was the grouchy and altogether insincere reply.
"I'll really appreciate your help," Harry said. "Maybe, if you'd like, I can ask to have a locket made for you that looks just like it? To take its place?" The idea had suddenly come to him and Harry offered it with genuine intention to appease the disgruntled and heartbroken elf.
The aged and shriveled elf's ears went back and his face softened ever so slightly. "Kreacher would like that. He misses getting to look at the locket."
"Then, I'll get one made for you right away. I promise," Harry said. "And, if you want to try to make the house a little bit nicer, that would be alright, too, you know." Harry said. The look he got from the elf after that suggestion told him not to push his luck any further. "Fine, er, whatever makes you happy. So… I don't want you to bring the locket yet, not until I can get to the place I want to keep it. Just be ready to bring it when I call for you. It may be a few days. But, like I said, if Mundungus shows up, come tell me, alright?"
When the bus delivered its passengers to their destination, Severus kept a close tail on Petunia, following her to the Offices of Montegue Morris, Esquire, and standing by as she waited to be called into the small private meeting room. He followed her in, again standing by as she ranted alarming information about a meddling woman named Rebecca Chase and how Mr. Morris had better reign her in, and why had she even been included in the first place? This had been a private family decision! Severus struggled to decipher the unspoken clues to this melodrama, until Petunia finally screetched, "We don't want him! Get him the damned Emancipation status, or make him a ward of the state. I'm finished with him!"
"Now, Mrs. Dursley, please control yourself," Morris was saying, in a calming tone, although he was clearly alarmed at the viciousness behind Petunia's outburst. "Perhaps you could elaborate as to why you want to relinquish custody of him so abruptly? It's only just over a month until he'd be legally independent of you, and I was understanding he would be away at school until then?"
Severus felt the passage of time and the room's occupants come to a standstill as his mind reeled. Emancipation? He actually waited for the explosive rage to rise within him, but snippets of the boy's desperation filtered back into his memory, and suddenly made appalling sense. Harry Potter was trying to free himself from his aunt's custody... and therefore from Albus Dumbledore's control. What had happened that had made the boy turn on Albus so dramatically?
"You don't understand!" Petunia was sputtering unpleasantly. "He is a little criminal! He brings danger and violence into our home! Last summer, some of his friends showed up and attacked my son! Dudley is still having nightmares!"
"Why don't you report him to the authorities, then, Madam?" Severus demanded, the anticipated rage now exploding on Potter's behalf as he released himself from the notice-me-not charm and scared the dickens out of the shrill woman and her solicitor. "Or do you know damned well that if investigated, the fault would prove to be with you." More clarity came to Severus as he pictured the disheveled wardrobe Potter always wore that was way too large for his small frame. They were cast-offs from his oversized cousin.
"I beg your pardon!" Montegue Morris sputtered.
"This woman is lying about Mr. Potter's character," Severus said severely. "If he needs a guardian for the interim before he receives a formal Emancipation, then I am willing to act as such."
Harry's scar was bothering him again. A lot. He was getting nervous. Something was going to happen. He remembered suddenly that Lucius had announced that Fudge had visited Privet Drive yesterday. Again, he wondered if the Minister of Magic had done so in the previous timeline. This was likely when Fudge had gotten some sort of word that Harry was trying to become emancipated in the muggle world. He couldn't remember if he'd sensed this same thing the other time he lived through this Christmas Eve day.
His grief for Sirius was buried so far below all of the other trauma, he truly wondered if he would break under the weight of it all.
Lucius gasped as he felt a very intense burning on his arm. He was currently on the grounds of Hogwarts, hiking down the hill in the vicinity of Hagrid's hut. He was too far away to warn the Potter boy in person that he'd be leaving the school, and to stay put. He cast his stallion patronus, silently attaching his message for Harry: I've been called to the Dark Lord. Severus is away from the school. Stay in your dorm. Ask Dobby to help watch for intruders. Stay safe, Harry.
The mark on his arm seemed to be trying to scorch him. This was not good. He jogged down the remaining distance to the gates, stepped outside, and availed himself to disapparate to the undisclosed location, where the Dark Lord awaited him.