Altered State - Part I
Chapter 4 - EM-E - Altered State - Part I
Harry paced back and forth in his common room. The Marauder's Map was spread out on the sofa for him to keep his own surveillance of the school, stopping every once in a while to look for Snape's return. He didn't really know what he should tell the older wizard about what he was sensing, and could already imagine the sneering response he would get when he asked after Lucius. But Harry couldn't help it. Lucius hadn't yet earned his friendship on this timeline, but that didn't mean that Harry no longer knew him to be a better wizard now. Knowing the arrogant Sr. Malfoy was in real trouble was only adding to Harry's insurmountable agitation. His scar had been burning, and angry feelings that weren't his own had been seeping into his awareness all morning. As if I don't have enough anger of my own.
He stopped to check the map again and saw that his former guardian had finally returned to in his quarters. Not entirely relieved at the sight, Harry hesitated, watching the animated movements of Severus' name. He could tell the potions master had begun to pace as well. Probably worried about Lucius too… Should he chance it?
Severus looked up in surprise but quickly narrowed his eyes at the sight of Potter stumbling out of his fireplace.
"Professor!" Harry started, but stopped at the expression on Snape's face.
"You and I need to have a discussion," Severus said slowly, allowing his frustration with the boy's ongoing deception to add a dangerous edge to his tone. It had the desired effect because Potter gulped audibly, and took a step backward. Severus took in the sight of him, messy hair, baggy and disheveled clothing that looked dirty by virtue of the dullness of the colors, wire framed glasses that were the exact style that James had favored, and that now-constant expression of desperation. "Sit down," Severus directed, pointing at the sofa. When Potter hesitated, clearly feeling more compelled to linger near the escape route the fireplace provided, Severus added severely, "Now."
Harry obeyed, realizing he'd been a fool to come down here, and feeling like he'd walked right into the enemy's lair. He sat rigidly on the sofa, warily watching Snape as he circled around to face him.
"You have been lying to me, boy," Severus said fiercely. He watched the confusion flash over Potter's infuriating countenance, which only increased his blood pressure, which drove his temper closer to erupting.
"I haven't said anything that wasn't true, sir," Harry declared, hating being called boy, as much as he hated this tone in Snape's voice. Something had happened. His stomach clenched painfully. His wild magic began to pulse. Survival instincts were kicking in.
"You have lied by omission of fact, then," Severus confirmed. "And I will not tolerate this from you, at all, going forward. Do. You. Understand?" He stepped over to the mantle and took the paddle in hand. He kept his eyes on Potter and saw the boy blanch, his breathing accelerating significantly. "Calm yourself," he said tauntingly. "You needn't fear my using this on you, if you simply answer me truthfully."
For Harry, Snape might as well have just announced that all hope was lost. If Snape started trying to beat the truth out of him… Anything I say could change the future. People I love could be killed. I have to keep my mouth shut. But if he does this…I'll never get over it. The feeling of his heart breaking caused a huge surge of sorrow to wash over him and he had to duck his head to hide his anguish from his unsympathetic potions professor.
"First question," Severus began with satisfaction, having witnessed Potter's reaction to his overt threat, and assuming he'd finally induced the boy to spill his secrets. "Why did you lie about not knowing what had caused the wards at Private Drive to fail?"
Harry's anger kicked in at that. He was so bloody sick of being accused of things that weren't his fault. "I wasn't lying!" he said forcefully. Snape took a step towards him and Harry reared back, only just stopping his arms from raising to cover his head and face. "I don't know why they failed!"
Severus glared down at the idiot boy, leaning forward threateningly. Perhaps Potter really did not understand the definition of lying? "You filed a petition for Emancipation, Potter, that legal action in itself made an irreversible magical declaration that you did not consider your aunt's home to be your own!"
Wait… what? Snape knew already? How could he know? "But it isn't final," Harry said, scrambling to comprehend that Snape had somehow found this out without intercepting Aunt Petunia's letter. His voice cracked under the strain of trying to manage this unexpected turn of events, on top of the secrets he'd brought back from the future and couldn't share, when he protested, "I'm still in their custody, so the wards shouldn't have broken!"
Severus blinked at that, straightening up, as he contemplated Potter's strategy behind all of this nonsense. "Your aunt signed away her guardianship when she acknowledged your petition."
"She didn't sign anything that I could see," Harry said in confusion, struggling to stop the way his breaths were hitching in his chest like a frightened toddler, and feeling no comfort from the warm presence of his wild magic. It couldn't save him from the way he was feeling.
"But she did," Severus said, realizing the boy was speaking truthfully, at least in this regard. "In order for your petition to be granted, she had to legally relinquish custody of you."
"That was only supposed to happen when the Emancipation went through. What if my petition gets denied?" Harry asked. He was sitting at an odd angle, leaning away from Snape, and feeling an incredible need to flee. This information was treading within the realm of his deepest, most desperately kept secrets that had nothing to do with Voldemort, or bonding with Severus, or the dream team, or anything. Snape was telling Harry what he'd always known, but it had never been made so blatantly official as now: His aunt truly hated him. Last time, he'd thought her threats in the letter were just that, threats. But she'd already signed him away. That was why the wards had failed.
Potter looked like he was going to vomit. Severus waited while the boy wrestled with this information, and could see that it was doing a lot more damage than seemed reasonable. Moving on, he thought impatiently. He was determined to lift the veil over all of this agitated angst Potter was oozing into Severus' living space. "Now, I next want you to explain to me why you've stopped trusting Headmaster Dumbledore."
Harry's chin was quivering, so he kept his head down. This wasn't something he wanted to discuss, either, but he dreaded being paddled even more. "Because he turned on me," Harry said defensively, and feeling every bit like the big zero he apparently was in Snape's eyes. I was right all along. I don't matter.
"How did he turn on you?" Severus asked, impatiently.
Déja-vous... I've already done this. "He left me alone with the Dursleys last summer! After everything that had happened in the graveyard!" Harry yelled roughly. "I was going spare, wondering if everyone else was alright, and having horrible dreams and visions, seeing what Vol- what Riddle was up to!" He rubbed at the agitating tingle in his scar, wanting to stop there, but finding himself unable to stem the rant that was following, "I needed to tell this stuff to someone who gave a damn! But Dumbledore just left me in the muggle world with no answers, and didn't explain why I couldn't get answers from anyone else! Even when I had to go to trial, he waited until the last possible minute to come help, and then left without talking to me after. I found out from Ron and Hermione that he'd told them not to tell me anything about the Order. They thought he was monitoring their letters, so they didn't. So I figured he was angry with me for letting Riddle get resurrected. When I got back to school, I tried to apologize. But he turned his back on me and walked away. I didn't know what to do!"
"So you decided to take matters into your own hands?" Severus asked, and his tone was still unsympathetic. Potter was withholding more, he could tell, and he was itching to force it out of the boy. "To just go and throw away years of an organized effort to protect you?"
"I never knew there was a protection detail on me!" Harry railed in frustration. "Why would that need to be kept a secret from me?" When his professor's expression turned condescending Harry responded with as hateful a glare as he could muster. There he goes again, assuming I know nothing. "If there was really someone always watching, why didn't they see anything?" His voice cracked with that, but he continued to glare.
"What should they have seen, Potter?"
Harry took a shaky breath, realizing that in Snape's eyes, he was coming across like a needy, helpless child who was overdramatizing his discontent with his circumstances. He shook his head. I'm not doing this again with him. "I filed for Emancipation because I wanted to be on my own, Professor. Whether you want to believe it or not, I felt like I was in danger, in spite of the organized efforts."
"Why didn't you discuss this with anyone in the wizarding world, Potter?" Severus asked dangerously, sensing the infuriating boy was erecting walls to hide behind again.
"I just told you that I tried to!" Harry seethed. "You don't know what my life has been like! You have no bloody idea!"
"Well, then, do tell, Mr. Potter."
Harry flashed a look at Snape. The older wizard was turning the paddle in his hands, directing a suspicious, narrowed eyed glare at him. Harry couldn't bear to wonder what was going through the potion master's mind. His voice was tight with strain when he finally answered. "I feel like Professor Dumbledore has a plan, and that I'm a player on his chessboard. He needed me to stay at the Dursleys, out of the way, while he's worked things along. And now he's upset because I've ruined his plan. But his plan was going to get ruined anyway, because I wasn't safe with them, or anywhere else." His voice was getting louder and more emphatic as he continued, "And I know a lot more about what's at stake than anyone realizes. I'm finished letting people who don't know what I'm up against make decisions on my behalf. I'm trying to survive." That last word came out loudly in an enraged growl.
"You are testing my patience by claiming that you are not safe anywhere," Severus said severely. "There are teams of wizards dedicated to watching over you, both on Private Drive and while you are at school."
"I guess we have different definitions of what safe means then," Harry said bitterly, still louder than he probably should have.
Severus glared at Potter for a long stretch of time. So far, the boy had not revealed anything that sounded completely genuine, but rather it all had sounded manufactured and pre-rehersed. And yet, Severus' mind flashed to the previous day, when he'd healed the purple knot on Potter's forehead, which the boy had been less than forthcoming about explaining. He also recalled the bruise on his torso, along with the other random marks on his legs, that he'd seen last night. He then replayed the vitriol in Petunia's rant about Potter earlier, and reminded himself that he could by no stretch of his imagination conclude that she had taken good care of her nephew. As for Albus, the boy's sentiments were actually a rather simplified version of his own. Albus did have a master plan, and each of those who thought himself to matter to the old coot often found himself questioning that conviction somewhere along the line. Perhaps Potter had done himself a service by seeking independence. Perhaps.
A jolt of pain ripped through Harry's scar. He pressed the heel of his hand to his forehead. "Professor, have you heard from Mr. Malfoy? He got called to Vol-"
"Do not say his name!"
"I'm sorry!" Harry said angrily, and somewhat insincerely, considering how sick he was of Snape's waspish tone. "I forgot! I'm in the habit of saying it because Dumbledore always encourages it! Who do you want me to bloody listen to? You or him?"
"As I am your legal guardian now," Severus informed the enraged teen. "You will listen to, and obey, me."
Harry shot his eyes up involuntarily, a huge lump of anguish in his throat. This was supposed to be a good thing. He wanted to be happy about it, the way he'd been before. Why had fate turned on him? Again? He gulped, unable to believe things were so dramatically different now.
"Stand up," Snape demanded.
Harry didn't need a map to see where this was going. Already leaning away from the older wizard, Harry literally scooted further over on the sofa, but Snape took a step towards him. Harry's wild magic surfaced, along with his instincts to get himself away from what for some fifteen year-olds would simply be a humiliating experience, but for Harry, it would erase all hope of ever trusting Severus again. When Snape reached out to grab his arm…
Harry removed himself from the room, without even so much as a muffled pop.
Severus was stunned. Had the boy just disapparated? Impossible! No one could do so inside the castle or the grounds without the aid of extremely strong, atypical magic, the likes of which was only possessed by elves, or phoenix familiars such as Fawkes.
And where in the hell had he gone to?
Quickly reviewing all that Potter had just told him, what had come across the most forcefully was his claim to be trying to survive. So where would he have gone to? Where he would feel safe? And what would stop him from disappearing again if Severus found him?
He was at an utter loss.
The fireplace roared to life with the green flames of the floo network. Lucius stepped through, looking like the wrath of Merlin. Severus stepped over to take his arm to support him, but his friend shook his head violently.
"I need your potion, Severus," Lucius rasped. It was clear he'd suffered the Dark Lord's fury under the cruciatus curse, the effects of which tended to linger indefinitely, leaving the recipient's nerve endings very sensitive to the touch, sometimes for days on end. It was uncomfortable to lie down or sit, and most tended to stay on their feet as much as possible, battling horrible exhaustion and discomfort.
Potter had been aware that Lucius was in peril, Severus reflected as he conjured three vials and handed the first to the blond wizard, waiting while Lucius shakily lifted the dose to his lips. Severus repeated the gesture until all three parts of the potion had been ingested and the two of them waited the few critical moments it needed to take effect.
"You left without a message to me," Severus said, frowning as he watched his friend struggle.
"I feared you'd be among muggles. I attempted to send a patronus to Albus, but I'm not certain it was strong enough. The Dark Lord was in quite a temper. I've never yet felt such pain through my mark," Lucius admitted. "Did the boy stay hidden?"
"I believe so, but I just had a confrontation with him that ended in him disapparating from sight."
Lucius gaped at him. "He did what, now?" he asked.
Severus sighed. "I've discovered some troubling information about him, and what he's been up to," he gestured for Lucius to take a seat in the armchair and began to pace again.
"Should we not search for him?" Lucius asked, though they both knew he'd be of little use in that regard.
"I wouldn't know where to begin, other than Headquarters," Severus admitted. "If he actually survived what he just attempted, he'll only do it again when I show up." He sat on the sofa opposite his friend. "I let him think I was going to punish him, and that was that." Severus reviewed the facts as he knew them with Lucius, finishing with, "Potter admitted to his reasons for filing the petition, and that he'd given up on trusting Albus to protect him, but it is very clear to me that he's hiding much, much more. If it's anywhere near as destabilizing as these recent activities have been, I can only fear for us all."
Lucius was frowning now. "All I ever hear from Draco is that Potter is Albus' little pet," he said, doing a rather admirable impression of his son. "How could Harry be claiming otherwise?"
"Apparently things have been difficult since the graveyard incident last summer," Severus replied. "Even Albus admitted to me that he'd abandoned Potter this term, so the boy's claims have merit. And I am aware that Dolores Umbridge targeted him repeatedly."
"Yes, Draco also told me the same," Lucius said. "Her detentions involved some activity that resulted in physical suffering."
Severus raised an eyebrow. He'd not been made aware of this. He was certain that if any of his Slytherins had suffered at her hand, he would have had complaints from parents, ironic as that could be, considering the parents of Slytherins were particularly fond of corporal punishment in general. But most parents in this school wanted to deal out physical punishments themselves.
Harry stood in the middle of the parlor at Number 12 Grimmauld Place, eyes wide as saucers, heart hammering so loudly in his chest he was surprised he couldn't see it bouncing beneath his jumper. He couldn't believe he'd just done what he'd just done. And what had that been, exactly? He hadn't disapparated. He knew the difference between the types of magic that had to be engaged. He didn't even know what to call his disappearing act. His stomach was so tense from dread over what was going to happen to him now, his knees were buckling. He went over to the sofa and collapsed, and as his heartbeat struggled to level out, the intense and very familiar exhaustion from depleting his magic set in. Harry was unable to find the strength to do much more than lean back and stare at the ceiling while tears streamed from his eyes.
Wishing he could pass out and forget reality through the escape of heavy slumber, Harry unfortunately realized that anyone in the Order could show up, any time, for whatever reason, possibly even to look for him, if Snape had alerted anyone about what had happened. What a mess! Should he just go back to Hogwarts and save all of those people the worry? The thought brought back the paralyzing dread again and he had to force himself to take slow, deep breaths to compensate. But then he had a thought….
"Kreacher," he called out.
"Oh, the young master has turned up, what does he want from Kreacher?" the shriveled old elf muttered in the mode of externalizing his internal monologue, as per usual, as he hobbled into the room.
"Kreacher, please fetch me that locket. Please," Harry requested. "It's a good time for me to take it and hide it."
"Kreacher's young master is very foolish to-"
"I know what it is, and I know what it will take to destroy it," Harry interrupted. "Please just bring it!"
Kreacher grumbled crabbily, but POPPED ungainfully away, returning within a minute with the locket. Harry immediately heard a high pitched whistle, the likes of which could drive anyone mad if he had to hear it for too long.
"Thanks," Harry said. He looked around and saw a set of runes in a leather sack sitting on one of the bookshelves. He dumped the runes out and used the tip of his wand to hook under the chain of the locket and put it into the bag without touching it. "Kreacher, do you suppose you could take me back to Hogwarts?"
"Kreacher thought the new young master was going to gift him with a new locket. Kreacher has been fooled into helping-"
"I swear to you, I'll get you a duplicate," Harry said earnestly. "I can't do it on my own. I'm going to ask Remus Lupin to help me, but he's on a mission, isn't he? I don't think he'll be back until Friday. When I next see him, I'm going to ask for his help." Harry waited for the elf to reply but the craggy little creature continued to give him a disgruntled glare. "Alright, I guess I'll have to ask my other elf friend to help me," Harry said with feigned disappointment.
"Kreacher will assist his new young master."
Harry smiled tightly, wishing he could effuse a little more warmth, but he was too messed up. "I'm really glad I can count on you, Kreacher. You have no idea how important this is. Can you take me to my common room? Right to where you came to last night?"
There was a rap on Severus' door. He used his wand to open it, keeping his pacing uninterrupted while Lucius continued to convalesce in the leather armchair.
Remus Lupin walked in, frowning in concern, still looking as disheveled and weighted down with grief as previously. He looked at the two of them. "I got your patronus, Severus. Why did you ask me not to inform Albus that I was aborting my mission?"
Kreacher delivered Harry to his common room and Harry thanked him, saying he'd call for him when the new locket was ready, and to not feel bad if it took at least a week. The elf nodded skeptically and POPPED away, but Harry felt like he might have just forged a reluctant alliance with his inherited elf.
Harry was hard pressed to stay on his feet, and was actually swaying unstably as he called, "Dobby?"
"First of all, Lupin, before I respond," Severus said tersely, "you should know that I have, as of today, become Harry Potter's legal guardian."
Lupin gaped at him, and then his eyes narrowed and the strain on his usually congenial expression deepened. "That cannot be a good idea, Severus."
"Actually, it was my only recourse," Severus said dangerously, "and do not assume you know my motivations, wolf."
Lupin was openly glaring at him now. "How did this come to be?"
"I went to speak to Petunia Dursley, and found that she'd vehemently relinquished custody of Potter yesterday, when the two of them had seen a solicitor to petition for legal Emancipation for Potter," Severus informed his former schoolmate, frustration at the entrapping circumstances in which he now found himself enhancing the bitterness in his speech. The werewolf's eyebrows shot upward and his mouth dropped open. "The boy considers himself to be at risk for degrees of danger he has yet to elaborate upon, but he openly declared he no longer trusts the Headmaster, and considering the information that I have thus far gathered, I am as of yet unwilling to reveal his secret to Albus. I begrudgingly admit it, but it is Potter's perception that he is but a player in a performance of Albus' design. This is not unlike my own perspective."
Remus blinked, considering Severus' words, and rather taken aback to hear them aloud, being that he'd often had the same thought, but had squelched it beneath his loyalty to Albus, and his trust that the elderly wizard was the only one alive with enough power to rid them of Voldemort.
"Open," Harry said tiredly, hoping he was speaking in parseltongue, as he stared at the snake-shaped fixture, grouchiness seeping upward through the arm of the hand that held the bag containing the locket. He stood by as the sink in Moaning Myrtle's bathroom separated from the wall and began to open the chute-like entrance to the Chamber of Secrets. When it was wide enough to do so, Harry tossed the bag down the chute. "Close!" he said quickly, reacting to a rush of adrenaline that hit when he released the bag.
Harry had already decided that he couldn't destroy any horcruxes until he'd killed Voldemort's corporeal body again. He wasn't at all convinced that the evil megalomaniac would be unaware as each one was destroyed. Remembering the power that second year Ravenclaw Thora Breckin had had when she'd donned the heirloom diadem, Harry began to shake at the thought of facing Voldemort again, let alone all of the bloody horcruxes.
He turned wearily to Dobby. "Alright, back to the common room and then I'm set."
"How did Harry respond to the news that you're his guardian?" Lupin asked with a knowing tone, already angry on the boy's behalf.
"Exactly as you'd imagine," Severus replied, attempting nonchalance. "I'd only just announced it, when he up and left the room." He could hear Lucius' quiet snort behind him, but he was not ready to admit the afternoon's incidents to the wolf. "Would you be willing to move into your quarters here earlier than planned?" he asked, and yes, he'd managed to sound congenial, at least to his own ears. "Lucius was earlier called to the Dark Lord, and I expect that my turn will come shortly. We need another presence here to conceal Potter from Minister Fudge, if we two are called simultaneously."
Lupin was nodding his head. "I'll go fetch my things now, and will return by late evening," he said. "Are you going to object if I want to spend time with Harry? Tomorrow is Christmas, after all."
"I have yet to make any demands of him other than explanations for his behavior and his presence for dinner each evening. He will need to complete his holiday assignments, of course." Severus said. Realizations were surfacing as he spoke. He'd not yet given any thought to the best means for keeping Potter in line. What he ought to do was assign the boy tasks to keep him occupied and therefore out of trouble. As an afterthought he added snidely, "This is all subject to change, if he tests me further."
Lupin held Severus' look with narrowed eyes again. The wan wizard was not fooled by any means, but he was smart enough to pick his battles at the moment. "I will return tonight then," he said, nodding to both Severus and Lucius. "Call on me if you need me to come sooner."
Severus stepped through the floo into the Gryffindor common room, hoping beyond hope to find the wretched teen had ended up here. There were no real signs of life, so he headed towards the stairs to check the dorm, when his peripheral vision registered outstretched legs sprawled on the floor behind the sofa. Eyebrows furrowing with genuine concern, he swept around to find the boy sitting as though he'd slid down and collapsed, tilting somewhat to the side, eyes closed, cheeks wet with recent tear tracks, nose red and the hitched breathing of someone who had recently bawled uncontrollably.
Now it was Severus' stomach that plunged as he realized just how wrong this had all gone. And still, not a lick of it made sense. He'd set out to get answers from Potter, and depending upon what he'd found out, had intended to set new ground rules for the coming weeks while he decided how to handle the issue of the petition for Emancipation. Petunia Dursley had proven herself to be quite a hostile creature, and quite frankly, if Potter had been on the receiving end of her brand of hostility on any kind of regular basis growing up, it was a wonder the boy had any capacity for civil discourse whatsoever.
And now, whatever was bothering The Boy Who Lived was showing itself to have resulted in deep hurt. Severus wished he understood what was behind it, so that he could avoid antagonizing Potter any more than necessary. Yes, he could admit he was being a bastard to Harry Potter, and that he'd pushed too hard today. Potter had clearly assumed he had been about to be punished, which had not been the actual case, although Severus had taken pleasure in letting Potter believe so for a few brief moments of satisfaction, which now seemed to have been a terribly foolish tactic. The results could have been tragic. He crouched in front of the boy.
"Potter," Severus said calmly. The boy's eyes struggled to open. "Potter, are you hurt?"
"Nnnn," Harry struggled to form words. "Weak."
"Have you depleted your magic?" Severus asked, relief shooting through his stunned veins. He felt his chest open up slightly for the first time in days.
Severus conjured a magic replenishing potion and pressed the vial to the boy's lips, having to cup the back of Potter's head to help him swallow it all down. Within moments awareness returned to the teen, but he was still exhausted and weak. "I'm going to lift you to your feet, do not fight me. I will not hurt you," Severus said calmly. He put a hand under each of Potter's upper arms and lifted him up as he rose to his own feet. When they were both standing, he scooped the scrawny son of his age-old arch nemesis up into his arms, carried him up to his dorm and placed him on his bed. "Open your eyes and look at me," he commanded, still using a moderate tone. The boy obeyed and Severus was struck by the level of misery he saw there. He was careful when he said, "Do not do that again. You've made your point. We will have to try to communicate more carefully in the future. Understood?" Severus received an affirmative nod and then heavy lids fell over Potter's eyes once again. He carefully removed Potter's glasses and put them on the side table. Then his shoes. He spread a warm coverlet from the foot of the bed over the boy, for good measure. "I'll come back to see if you are strong enough for dinner. It's half three now. We'll eat at seven tonight to give you more time to rest." He turned to leave the room, surprised when he heard a verbal response.