Altered State - Part III
Chapter 6 - EM-E - Altered State - Part III
Severus sat with his coffee the following morning, unable to stomach food on top of the knots that currently filled his abdomen. He was tense on so many levels, not the least of which was his conviction that he must handle what was to come with Harry Potter with very, very special care. It had been an extreme luxury to have channeled his longstanding bitterness, to such an overbearing degree, into cruelty and hostility toward James Potter's son. Severus had indulged himself wholeheartedly, and without apology, for years now, ignoring reprimands from his peers and from Albus, and convincing himself he was in the right to continue to treat Harry Potter with disdain. As if the boy had somehow earned such treatment.
And how quickly Severus' self righteous sense of justification had deserted him when he'd finally seen the boy's true vulnerabilities. In the flash of an instant, Harry Potter was no longer James' spawn, but Lily's precious child. The one she'd died for, without hesitation. Severus had sworn to protect his best friend's son, and he'd failed. It was as simple as that.
Severus had slept very little the previous night, spending several hours at Potter's bedside, watching the boy struggle with night terrors and feeling ashamed that he could not offer comfort or a sense of security. He should at least be able to reassure Lily's son that he would be kept safe. That he is safe in my care.
But Harry Potter had been very adamant about just how unsafe he'd truly been all of this time, and about the role that Severus had played in reinforcing this. For years now, Severus had interpreted Potter's reactions to his criticism as indifference, assuming that the messy haired teen could care less what his professor thought of him. He'd taken satisfaction in pushing the young wizard's buttons, inducing bouts of temper that could be punished with questionable justification. And he'd been enraged on the occasions that Potter had responded with dry-eyed indifference to his taunts, so much so that Severus had concluded that the boy could not be made to feel shame or remorse without very strong encouragement. You have no idea who Harry is, Lupin's words from last night now haunted him. You never have. He is incredibly sensitive, and if you think your wretched treatment of him has left him unscathed, you are a fool.
His stomach muscles clenched again, causing a painful cramp. He had no idea where to begin. His instincts told him to bring the boy down here, but not before he could at least make an initial gesture toward Potter to prove he was ready to be more supportive. Potter had already had several episodes of harsh crying, which he'd tried to hide, and Severus had not even acknowledged this. He'd not offered a kind word, nor any other sort of comfort. They'd yet to have a coherent discussion about all of the developments that had occurred in the last three days, including that episode of disapparation, and Severus' encounter with Petunia, as well as his discussion with one Madam Chase.
A rap on the door interrupted his thoughts, and he leapt at the opportunity for distraction, although he knew it could only be one person seeking his attention. "Lupin," he greeted, managing to abstain from sneering as he opened the door for his fellow professor.
Remus was a tad surprised at this reception, and had been prepared use his wand if necessary, but the potions master stepped aside to let him enter, which he did with a raised eyebrow. "Good morning, Severus, Happy Christmas," he said as he walked a few steps further in before turning back to face the other wizard. "I wanted to apologize for my behavior last night. I do realize you are under extreme pressure, and that an unexpected guardianship of a teenager is a lot to take on. I would much rather that you consider me someone who is happy to share responsibility of Harry with you, than as a threat or an obstacle." He allowed a plea to show in his expression. "I think the world of Harry, and I'm very worried about him."
Severus struggled with this information, and with himself. He knew damned well that he should not antagonize Lupin any longer, and he recalled his recent decision to stop treating him as an enemy. But that didn't mean he wanted to be mates with the wan wizard. He gritted his teeth for a moment and girded himself to give an appropriate response. "I appreciate your apology, and… I apologize as well. I do know you care about the boy. And I also know that I've given you little reason to believe I have his best interests at heart. I've given him even less reason to believe this."
Remus nodded calmly. "Will you tell me what was behind your becoming his guardian? Why you didn't have Arthur and Molly take him in, for example?"
Severus' eyebrows shot up inadvertently as he realized he'd not considered any other options. He narrowed his eyes, reminding himself not to be so transparent as to become defensive over a simple, logical inquiry. "I didn't truly have time to consider the options. Petunia had relinquished custody. The Ministry of Magic would have received an alert on the matter in a manner of seconds. At least this way, the paper trail could take until the end of the holidays to make it's way into our world. I wouldn't want Fudge to be able to use this as a reason to force Potter into Ministry custody."
"Ah," Remus said, clearly recognizing the significance of Severus' decision. "Well, done."
Severus inclined his head and continued, "It is just over a month until the Emancipation would become legal, so it's not a lifelong commitment, you see. And I will admit that I wanted to position myself to act on Potter's behalf, in regard to any actions that will be taken against the Dursleys. The boy has not revealed details, but I fear his conditions under their roof were quite poor, and quite regrettable…" He tapered off, pondering whether to say more. He looked away from Lupin when he added, "I will also admit that I …dread discovery that I have overlooked such a horrible possibility, all of this time. As you said, I have seen what I've wanted to see." There. He'd said it. And to the worst possible person. Remus Lupin would hold him accountable going forward if he mistreated the Potter boy again, and that alone was incentive to behave himself. He'd be damned if he was going to answer to the werewolf for anything.
Harry had been awake for about an hour and had requested a huge breakfast from Dobby. He'd stayed in his pajamas while he'd eaten oatmeal, and eggs and toast, worrying that he was still feeling the heavy numbness that had set in the previous night while he'd been "having a dialogue" with Snape. He felt better physically again, as if he'd replenished his strength with all of the sleep and now the meal. But the fogginess in his mind was a bit unnerving. He was having trouble keeping track of everything he was so distressed about…
His scar had been prickling too, all day yesterday, and now again this morning. It was reminding him of all of the trying events that had occurred in this first week of the holidays last time around. I need to know how Snape found out about my petition. I wonder if Fudge went to Privet Drive last time? He must have done, right? I was asleep in the chair when he went there, so I hadn't ticked Snape off yet and changed the way things are happening this time.
Harry thought about how Dumbledore had gone into muggle London to get the papers drawn up for Severus to become Harry's guardian that second week in January. That meant that last time, Aunt Petunia hadn't yet relinquished custody, right? That's what Dumbledore had said… had he fabricated all of that? Had Harry actually been without a legal custodian for those three weeks, and Dumbledore had stumbled upon that, and turned it into an opportunity to make nice with him and Severus? I'll never know, now. Harry was not inclined to believe Dumbledore typically lied to keep his plans moving forward, but this new question was worrisome.
He'd deliberately not allowed himself to dwell upon, or contemplate the upcoming confrontation with Voldemort. The most compelling reason for this had been simple fear that he could reveal something through his thoughts to the snake-faced menace. But he also just couldn't breathe when his stomach clenched that tightly. He wondered if Fudge would get killed this time? Or if someone else would…? That option scared him. Badly.
Prickle. Tingle. Tingle. Prickle.
He rubbed at the damned firebolt mark on his forehead. What is that bastard up to, now?
"Ahhhhh!" Harry suddenly yelled loudly, as his scar raged with angry pain at a level of intensity that he recognized as perilous. This was bad, and it was too soon. Last time, this didn't happen until Saturday. It was only Wednesday. Christmas Day. He could feel Voldemort's invasion a few minutes before it came, and was unable to expel him, having no happy thoughts on hand to fall back upon.
Harry, Harry, Harry… tssk tssk. I believe I need to have a chat with you, in person. I've been aware that you've been in hiding, and have suspected that Severus and Lucius are aiding you in this regard. So come here. Now. We must discuss this.
Harry felt that pull, that bleeding, infernal pull. Again. He wasn't ready to do this! I've lost everything! I don't have- he stopped that thought before it could form. He could remember the same hug from Severus that he'd used the last time. That had been real, and it had repelled the evil snake-faced bastard once, so it could bloody well do it again. He struggled against Voldemort's determined efforts to transport him, wanting to at least be able to alert Snape about what was happening, but he was losing the battle.
The scene was somewhat similar to the last time Harry had been pulled through whatever porthole Voldemort's wild magic was actually accessing, in that he was outdoors, in an open area. Harry was again forced to sprawl on the ground by the intense weight of Voldemort's magic, and he was only able to see with impaired peripheral vision that the megalomaniac of everyone's nightmares was indeed working alone again, and that he again had a prisoner in tow, along with Nagini, who slithered in a winding figure eight around her master's feet.
Harry shut his mind down, not wanting to risk revealing anything of what he knew from last time, in case he was going to be Legilimized again. He startled dramatically when he heard a bellow of pain in a familiar voice. Lucius. Harry struggled with all of his might to roll onto his hands and knees and have a look at his surroundings. He was in the clearing on the hillside below Hagrid's hut, almost exactly where they'd used the basilisk venom to force the diadem to release its grip from Thora Breckin. This time, Lucius was kneeling in front of Voldemort with what appeared to be little remaining strength.
"Crucio!" Voldemort yelled, angling his wand down on Lucius and smiling a very ugly smile of satisfaction at the blond wizard's cries of agony. Lucius fell to his side and writhed uncontrollably on the frozen earth. "Ah, Lucius, I've gone and spoiled your Christmas, haven't I? Such a shame. Narcissa and Draco have had quite enough of your absences, haven't they?"
Harry's heart rose up into his throat, but just like the previous time he'd confronted the bloody Dark Lord, he was trapped beneath that wretched magical weight. He dared not reveal how badly he felt for the senior Malfoy, and it was a true test of his strength to keep his mouth shut. This is different. I may not be able to end it this time, he realized in horrible alarm. It took tremendous determination, but Harry was able to angle his head slightly enough to see if the shield was there. If the Centaurs were there.
The shield was visible, but the clearing was empty of others. It was just the three of them, and the snake.
"Now, Harry," Voldemort began, leaving his wretched blond haired servant in a quaking heap on the cold ground while he stepped closer to The Boy Who Lived. "I believe we have some things to discuss. You see, I am having a difficult time believing the explanation I've gotten from dear Lucius about what actually occurred last week at the Ministry of Magic." He took another step towards Harry, beginning that same circular arc he'd walked in the previous confrontation.
Harry's scar exploded with pain, and he was terrified of losing consciousness if it got much worse. "What do you want to know?" he grated out, trying with all of his might to hide his discomfort.
Voldemort chuckled. "You're not particularly fond of our Lucius, are you?"
"I'm less fond of you, Tom, and if you want me to be forthcoming, you'll keep your distance," Harry said, crossing mental fingers that the evil bastard would step away. No luck, there.
"Well, now Harry," the darkest wizard of recent ages said in a sick, slithery tone, "you are showing very poor manners just now. I'm happy to remind you of your place, when you are before Lord Voldemort."
Bugger! Harry thought in the split second before he was hit with some sort of scalding hex that felt like a wide strip of skin had been flayed off his back. He cried out before he could stop himself, hating the satisfied laughter coming from Tom Riddle. The pain on his back went on and on, in waves, like someone was lashing him, over and over. Voldemort had indeed stepped a pace or so backward and the relief in Harry's scar pain only made room for him to feel the godforsaken curse.
"If I end the curse, Harry, will you be more respectful?" Riddle asked in what he probably thought was a kind, parental sort of tone. "I'm not enjoying having to punish you."
Eyewww. Harry thought in utter repulsion, but it was enough of a distraction for him to remind himself to look for his moment to act. He was still on his hands and knees, and feeling distinctly vulnerable to further attack. The creepy way Tom had said the word punish had set off alarm bells in his mind. "What do you want to know?" he repeated in a rasping voice, struggling not to panic.
"I want you to tell me what you remember of your encounter with Mr. Malfoy, here," Voldemort commanded, his cold voice like hard steel now. "Lucius is also getting punished today, and you get to contribute, Harry."
Harry managed to sit back on his knees. He wasn't certain if he was gaining strength on his own, or if Riddle was allowing him some more movement, but now he could see the full scene before him. Lucius was still conscious, and he was looking at Harry, but it was clear that the blond wizard expected Harry to take advantage of an opportunity for payback. Harry looked at the dark Lord Voldemort, keeping his eyes on the evil wizard's cheekbones to avoid eye contact, as he tried to ride out the curse pain, and the scar pain, and speak coherently. "I remember Mr. Malfoy showing up in the Department of Prophecies, right as we found the globe with my name on it," Harry said, hoping he sounded resentful for Malfoy Sr.'s intrusion. "I had no idea how the prophecy worked, and reckoned that I should try to leave with it." In truth, Harry had no idea what Riddle had expected Lucius to do with the prophecy, since supposedly it could only be heard with Harry's intention. "Malfoy kept appearing, no matter where we ran, and I realized he was afraid I was going to drop the prophecy." Yeah, yeah, blah, blah, Harry thought. I'm going to get Lucius killed at this rate.
"What else, Harry?" Voldemort coaxed silkily. He flicked his wand and another streak of burning pain slashed across Harry's back.
Harry nearly passed out again, and now his large breakfast was starting to feel like it wanted to come back up. But he resisted the desire to yell out his agony.
"What else, Harry?" Voldemort demanded.
"What do you want me to bloody tell you?" Harry yelled, his voice cracked, but the emotion behind that was rage now. I am so bloody tired of this! "I threw the prophecy, and it smashed on the ground, and that was a dumb thing to do because Malfoy got to hear it, didn't he?"
"Look at me, boy," Voldemort commanded.
Harry gritted his teeth. He tried to calm his anger as his eyes darted over to look at Lucius, who was still watching him like a hawk. Finally, he met the red snake eyes of Lord Voldemort, revulsion creeping upward into his chest as he did so. He was immediately aware of intrusion, accompanied by the familiar knifelike pain that Snape always induced. Panic set in, and he struggled to pull himself into the part of his mind that he knew he shared with the Dark Lord.
"You've had many, many sad and humiliating experiences, haven't you, Harry?" Voldemort taunted.
"Plenty," Harry agreed. And then his courage kicked back in. Bugger off! It was no trouble at all to summon a more recent memory with Severus, when the older wizard had shed tears of frustration on Harry's behalf while he'd held Harry. That had been an awesome hug… Harry smiled as the burst of happiness and belonging resurfaced. He smiled even wider when he saw Voldemort physically squirm in revulsion and step back. He managed to hold the dark wizard's stare with a challenging smirk. It didn't matter if he was shaking. Harry was smirking.
"You've come to care about Severus that deeply?" Riddle said tauntingly. "You shouldn't have let me see that, Harry."
"I wasn't remembering it for you," Harry said.
"Yes, but you see, now I have no choice but to put Severus to death for his betrayal."
The hell you will. Harry narrowed his eyes as he visualized a large, invisible set of hands clasping around Voldemort's reptilian head and snapping it harshly to the side. There was a horrible crack, and the Dark Lord's knees instantly buckled. Harry suddenly felt an enormous rush of physical strength, as he next visualized Voldemort as the same brittle porcelain figure as before, and just as he'd done the previous time, levitated it high into the air.
Harry pulled out his wand. "Bombarda!" he yelled, sending wild magic into the curse. This time, the corpse blew apart so powerfully, all that remained of it was completely pulverized into tiny shards. Harry blinked, looking around quickly before the inevitable collapse he knew was about to come. In the flash of an instant, he saw Nagini take off across the grounds for the Forbidden Forest, and a familiar cloud of black, sandy-looking smoke swirl around, looking for a tie to Voldemort. Lucius proved useless to it, so it tried Harry next. Harry shielded himself with his wild magic and repelled it easily. After another few moments, it dissipated into the air.
Now his knees buckled, and he started to sink toward the ground. There was a roar in his ears as he called out to Lucius, "Can you banish any of this dust from here? Send it far away?" He was aware that Lucius reacted as he pointed his own wand at a section of the layer of powdered Dark Lord, and cast it away to the bottom of the lake as he'd done previously. Then, with the last of his strength, he sent some to the flower beds on Privet Drive. For fertilizer, he thought with a snicker. And then he knew no more.
Harry's awareness returned sometime later, along with an intense chill and a horrible realization of what he'd just done. Again. I've killed twice, now.
"Lucius?" Harry heard Snape's voice yell out in alarm over the sound of pounding footfalls. Snape was running toward Harry.
"I'm alright," Lucius rasped from somewhere not too far off. "Help Harry."
Harry felt a rush of wind from Snape skidding to a stop and dropping down to his knees beside him.
A rush of emotion filled Harry's chest and he tried to open his eyes, but couldn't. The palm of a warm hand rested on his forehead and the back of another one brushed at the tears that had leaked down the sides of his face. Harry heard Snape mutter a series of charms, and felt instantly warmer and softly cushioned from the harsh ground beneath the deadweight of his body.
"What in the hell just happened?" Snape demanded anxiously, but his thumb was gentle as it swiped back and forth across Harry's forehead.
"Check your dark mark, Severus," Lucius said brokenly. "The boy just rid us of the Dark Lord."
Harry literally felt bereft when his guardian removed his hand for a moment to do as Lucius had suggested. "What?" he heard the older wizard whisper, and then the huff of a relieved sob that was quickly stifled as the warm hand returned to Harry's forehead. "How did you manage that, Mr. Potter?" Snape asked brokenly.
"Mmmuurrrddduur," Harry struggled to say.
There was a long silence. "I highly doubt that what you did constituted murder, young man," Snape said quietly.
"For Merlin's sake, Severus," Lucius said testily. He sounded to Harry like he was on his feet now, standing nearby. "The boy is in tears. Where is your compassion? Put your arms around him. Or are you too jaded these days to even manage that?"
"I am not jaded," Severus snarled at his friend. "The boy has just encountered the Dark Lord. There is little likelihood that he has escaped without being cursed. I didn't want to agitate any injuries." He could hear his own defensiveness in his tone and was livid that Lucius had said so much in front of Potter. He'd been battling himself not to scoop the boy up and crush him to his chest. But Potter had told him not to touch him the other night. Severus was not about to impose unwanted physical comfort on someone who would be repulsed by it. But he looked back down at The Boy Who Lived and the tears had resumed to the point that his eyes were reddening around his closed lids and his pallor had grown flushed with emotion. Severus ducked his head down closer to his ward's. "Harry? Are you injured?"
"He did take a couple of curses," Lucius realized. "They should have lifted when the Dark Lord succumbed to the snapped neck that Potter induced."
There was another long silence as that bit of information settled in.
"I'm going to lift you," Severus told the deflated teen as he sat him up. He pulled a magic replenishing potion from his pocket and pressed it to Potter's lips. "Drink," he instructed. And then, "Good," when the boy had complied. Severus waited another moment before asking softly, still keeping his own head ducked down closer to the limp teen's, "Will I hurt you if I pick you up, Harry?"
"Nnnn," Harry managed, still weak, but far more aware of his circumstances.
Remus traipsed up the steep slope of the grounds from the gate, needing the exertion. He'd just come from briefly seeing Arthur and Molly, and had gotten an earful about how much they'd always worried about the way Harry's relatives had treated him. Both Weasley parents were adamant that Harry should have been allowed to spend the holidays with them, and the fact that they'd not been allowed to know where he currently was had left them fit to be tied. Remus had felt extreme guilt for not letting them know Harry was at Hogwarts, but also knew it was too dangerous to reveal this at the moment. Besides, the first question Molly would have asked was whether Severus was giving Harry proper care, and Remus would have been hard pressed to have sounded convincing that Harry would be fine.
Severus had asked Remus to look for Hedwig at The Burrow, so at least he could let Harry know she'd gone to stay at the Weasleys' for the holidays. And, his pockets were loaded with shrunken packages containing Molly's holiday cooking. Remus had little else to offer Harry, other than a gift he'd purchased a while back for the boy. He struggled to force his thoughts away from Sirius, and the tragedy that his best friend was missing a Christmas he had been so excited to spend with his godson. I just hope he's at peace, wherever he is now.
Remus hastily cleared his throat against the tightening he felt there, casting his glance off to the distance, near Hagrid's hut.
"Severus? Lucius? What's happened to Harry?"
Severus glanced down at his ward's face and saw that the boy's distress was still visible. "He's alright, Lupin," he told the DADA professor in a voice that was stripped of all affects, and left with the pure rawness of brutal reality. "Harry Potter has rid us of Lord Voldemort."
"What?" Remus had to have heard incorrectly.
It had been a challenge for Severus, but he had managed to maintain his composure, as well as to have convinced Lupin to hold his questions until they had The Boy Who Lived safely inside, and Lucius thoroughly dosed with post cruciatus potion. Severus had settled Harry in his Gryffindor dorm bed, and Lupin had tactfully refrained from mentioning the bedroom for him in Severus' quarters just yet, instead suggesting they reconvene once Harry had slept off his magical exhaustion. Lucius had excused himself to go rest in Severus' quarters, and followed Lupin out of the room.
Severus fussed with the covers, pulling them farther up over Harry's shoulders while he debated what to say. He could tell by the way the boy was breathing that he was not asleep. "It's of little consequence now, Harry, but I do apologize for my contributions to your hardships. And I also realize how much distress I have caused you these last few days. I will endeavor to change my behavior." He tucked the blankets around Harry again, then straightened up to look down on him. "And, now that you've rid us of the Dark Lord-"
"It's not over yet, sir," Harry muttered. His chin quivered and tears spilled out of his closed eyes again. "There's a lot more coming."