Facts Vs. Fiction - Part I
Chapter 10 - Emancipated Minor - Facts Vs. Fiction - Part I
Dumbledore had left Harry with a huge box of assorted Honeyduke's candy, and a stack of letters from each of his friends who had gone to the Ministry with him. He'd sent a set back with the Headmaster, but was not certain when they'd be delivered because Dumbledore was apparently staying way out of reach of the wizarding authorities. The aging wizard had left the common room via the assistance of Fawkes, who first needed to sing a lovely tune for Harry, which actually lifted his spirits for the rest of the day. Dinner with Snape was reserved and quiet, but not particularly tense. Snape was preoccupied with something, and that was fine with Harry, because that meant the potions master wasn't asking any more of the pointed questions that had been putting Harry over the edge of his self control.
Now it was Thursday night, and he'd survived both Christmas and Boxing Day without breaking down. He'd taken a long hot shower and dressed for bed, but came down to sit near the fire to read his letters. Those from Luna and Neville were mostly about sending Harry their condolences over Sirius, which he appreciated, but needed to set aside if he wanted to hold onto his calmer state of mind. Ginny's had more of this, but she had also praised him for chasing after "that evil [insert word here that is appropriately directed at an evil witch, yet not appropriate for a good, and well-mannered young witch to use]," which made Harry laugh and gave him a bit of an ego boost. Ron's letter assured him that the whole Weasley family, sans Percy, were in full understanding of his "need to get his own answers," and not to worry about anyone being in trouble, because no one was. That was a big part of what Harry needed to hear, so that brought relief. He'd deliberately waited to read Hermione's missive because he wanted to talk her so badly, he had almost asked Dumbledore to help him visit her. But Hermione was in Switzerland with her parents, on a ski holiday, so a visit was out of the question anyway.
I hope you are well. I've been worrying about you, and the things you've had to face lately. I still support the way you are handling it, so count on that, alright? When I get back to school, let's spend some time reviewing what we've learned so far this term, and I'll share some more ideas that I have. In the meantime, don't forget, you still need as many E's and O's on your OWLs as you can get, so study, study, study. I've got some fantastic Swiss chocolate to give you as your reward!
Well, it was obvious that both Ron and Hermione expected the letters to be inspected before they were delivered. Harry didn't truly believe that Dumbledore would violate their privacy that way. The elderly wizard was way too supportive of the friendship between Harry, Ron and Hermione to do something like that... Wasn't he? That's what Harry wanted to believe, anyway, but he'd been just as cryptic in his own missives, just in case. The stakes were way too high to take chances.
And it's not like Dumbledore has gone out of his way to get my trust back, come to think of it, Harry mused as he tossed the letters into the fire so that Snape wouldn't find them.
He stood up and took out his wand, attempting to conjure the jacket that he'd left at Private Drive. I want that bloody jacket, he thought in frustration, it's the only decent thing I have to keep warm, and it's actually mine, not Dudley's. The familiar frustration and humiliation that always hovered in his mind when it came to clothing and cleanliness surged forward. Harry noticed this as he set his focus on the jacket, remembering exactly where it was in his cupboard.
"Ferre jacket!" Harry said firmly, waving his wand in the small arc that Snape had taught him.
Harry blinked. His jacket was right there, on the sofa, right where he'd pointed with his wand!
"Brilliant!" he shouted, feeling a rush of pure thrill at his accomplishment. For a brief moment, he had the urge to floo down to Snape's to tell the older wizard what he'd done. A voice of caution stopped him. I really don't trust him not to suspect I've got plans he won't approve of. Instead, he congratulated himself with some Honeyduke's chocolate, and pondered whether to try the spell again to get his better trainers that he'd also left in the cupboard, or, to try to summon them through his wild magic….
Severus flood up to check on his charge and found him, once again, collapsed in heavy slumber on the sofa. It was now obvious to him that Potter was exhausting himself learning magic, and his face broke into a rare smile when he saw the jacket. Now, that's impressive, he thought. It would save him a trip to Privet Drive to retrieve it, which he'd intended to do tomorrow after replaying recent events with Potter in his mind, all day today. The boy had mentioned that he was missing his jacket when Severus and Lupin had arrived to escort him away from his aunt's house, and once again, the boy's needs had been overlooked. He reached down and gave Potter's shoulder a gentle squeeze.
"Potter? Can you roust yourself enough to get up to bed, or shall I carry you again?" he asked in a tone that should goad the boy into wakefulness if he was capable of it. But Potter's eyes only fluttered slightly beneath their lids, as if he'd tried to open them, but it was just too much effort. Severus smirked as he scooped the limp teen up and carried him, again, up to his bed.
Harry woke early Friday morning feeling well rested and more hopeful than he had in quite some time. He realized with a blush that he'd been put to bed again, but even that didn't dampen his lifted spirits. He completed his History of Magic essay while he ate breakfast, but his mind was not entirely on the subject matter of the origins of wizarding currency. He kept getting distracted by a desire to make a budget for himself, to be prepared to have to pay for things that adult wizards had to worry about. Like rent, and his education at Hogwarts, and food when he was not at school. Clothing and school supplies were things he'd had some experience planning for, not that he'd really gotten far with handling it in actuality. Thank Merlin for Mrs. Weasley. He tasked himself with investigating financial ledger charms and common banking practices. But more importantly, he was going to look for the chapter in the six- or seventh-year textbook that discussed the ways to practice apparating and disapparating. He remembered when the twins were talking about it, and decided to go to the Library, rather than have Dobby bring them. But first, he would floo to Snape's quarters to drop off the two finished holiday assignments.
Lucius Malfoy was sipping his tea when Harry stepped out of the fireplace. The boy clearly did not expect to see him, and flashed a glance around for Severus. "Good morning, Harry," Lucius said evenly. "Severus is out, at the moment. He had some business to attend to."
"Oh, uh, well I only meant to leave these for him," Harry said. He was as unsettled by the sight of Malfoy as he was by the news that Snape was not on the grounds. He wondered if Snape had been summoned by Voldemort.
"Harry," Lucius asked carefully, "Might we have a chat? A short one?"
Harry eyed the blond wizard warily. "I don't think I should be here, not without Snape being here too," he said, tension building.
"Severus told me you might floo through this morning, Harry. You are allowed to be here. I myself am taking tea here because I am avoiding seeing Dobby in the kitchens," Lucius admitted, and he briefly allowed his own discomfort to show. Briefly. But that was enough. The boy took note, and seemed to relax a little bit. Lucius tilted his head, eyebrow raised, "Join me for a cup of tea?"
Harry relented and had a seat on the sofa, so that he was opposite Malfoy. "Snape told me you were alright with me and Dobby being friends, and whatnot."
"Do you not think you might want to call Severus, Professor Snape, rather than just by his surname, Harry?" Lucius asked mildly.
"He calls me Potter," Harry said without apology. "I call him Snape. Outside of class, that is." A small smile tugged at Malfoy's mouth. Harry held his gaze, still wanting a response to his question.
"I would like to make an act of good will toward you, Harry, in an attempt to demonstrate my remorse for the way I comported myself when Dobby was freed," Lucius said. He paused to make sure he had Harry's full attention, then continued somberly. "My conscience will haunt me for the rest of my days over that entire incident. But, I will say now that I was in a rage that was compounded by being informed by Headmaster Dumbledore that I had been instrumental in occurrences that had nearly cost the lives of you and the youngest Weasley. Imagine, if you will, knowing my self appointed superiority over Arthur Weasley in all wizarding traditions, imagine how I might have received the information that I'd allowed myself to be controlled by an enchanted book. And then, add to this, finding out that you, the twelve year old hero of monumental proportions, had to come to the rescue, where I was too besotted by my misguided allegiances to notice what I'd done. And then, you helped me free the elf that I had been openly abusing before a live audience for years. Hardly my finest hour."
Harry was startled to be receiving such an admission from Draco's dad, of all people. He realized his mouth was hanging open, so he shut it, but could not summon a response to offer to the conversation. "I don't know what to say, sir," Harry said softly.
"You needn't say anything, Harry," Lucius told the boy. "But that's not what I wanted to discuss with you. I was wondering, Harry, if you've ever seen an Occulist for your eyesight?"
"A what?" Harry asked.
"An Occulist, a vision healer for wizards," Lucius explained.
"No," Harry said quietly, preparing himself for the inevitable feeling of being out of his element because of his lack of experience in the world he supposedly belonged to. He looked over at Malfoy and saw the older wizard's eyes resting on the mantle.
"My father used a paddle just like that one on me, the day I pompously announced I'd joined ranks with the Dark Lord," Lucius said. "He was quite severe with it… I was supposed to be an Occulist, you see. I was top of my class at The Wizarding Institute of Visual and Auditorial Magic. I threw that away for this enchanting set of circumstances we are finding ourselves sharing today. My chosen path has led me to become deceitful and cruel, especially to anyone who makes the proper choices in life. I am not proud of this, Harry."
Harry was shocked to hear this. Malfoy is a fantastic actor, he thought. The question is, which version of him is the theatrical one? "Why don't you just stop, sir?" he asked aloud.
"Because I am enslaved," Malfoy said roughly, emphatically folding back his shirt sleeve to expose his left forearm. "I do hold out hope, however, that one day I will be free to resume my studies and receive my mastership in my intended profession."
Harry stared at the Dark Mark with a knot in his stomach. "Sir, don't you worry about telling me this, with my connection to Vol- … Don't you worry that I may transmit what you're saying, to him?"
"I have faith that you will not," Lucius said simply. "And I've again strayed from the original topic, which was a gift that I would like to offer you. I still retain my knowledge of Occulism, Harry. Would you be comfortable with me casting a few diagnostic spells on you to assess your vision? There are many spells that can correct poor vision in younger wizards, and I know how to perform them. The correction may not last for your whole life, but the spells are usually good to last for about fifty years." He watched the boy react to his offer, and could see the hesitation.
"I… sir, I don't-"
"It's just a diagnostic spell, just like those that Madam Pomfrey casts over you. Completely painless. It will give me a reading that will let me assess whether I could correct your vision for you. That would be the next step, and that's the one you will want to think on."
Harry bit his lip. "Er, alright."
"Excellent," Lucius said, and he began to cast the series of spells.
Severus used the enchanted coin to find Harry in the Library when he returned from his quest in muggle London. The boy had another stack of books, including the seventh year Transfiguration text, spread out on one of the large tables. But the one Potter was currently studying, with focused attention, was one on magical healing.
Harry looked up at Snape and saw that he was in the mild mood he'd been in since Wednesday. Let's see how long that lasts, he thought as he asked, "Sir, what do you know about vision correcting spells?"
Severus smirked. Lucius had clearly had the chat he'd been working himself up to having with the Boy Wonder. "If you allow Lucius to repair your vision, you will be pleased with the results, but you will also have to hear his son brag about his father's talents to your peers. The price you will pay."
Harry eyed his professor. He hadn't considered this aspect of it. He'd been more afraid that Malfoy Sr. would destroy his eyesight altogether. "So, you've no reservations about his skill, then?"
"None." Severus held Potter's gaze while the boy contemplated that afore mentioned cost. He raised an amused eyebrow, but Potter was still indecisive. "On other subjects, Potter, I have just come from setting up an appointment for you to see your muggle social worker, Madam Chase."
"Wha-?" Harry asked, but a reflexive gulp cut off the word. He swallowed to loosen his throat before belting out, "You said you wouldn't operate behind my back!"
Severus' temper immediately flared. "In what way, exactly," he said in a steely tone, leaning down to put his face closer to the boy's, "did I just indicate that I had operated behind your back?" He glared at Potter, but the young teen had a wild look of panic and was clearly running miles ahead in his imagination. Severus sighed and forced patience into his voice. "Potter, I actually set out to see how to facilitate your petition filing, first by assessing the agency and the individual representing it. I was not about to feed you to wolves who might have wanted to assume state custody of you, for example, because of suspicions they had about your home life. Understand?"
Harry dropped his eyes down to stare at the book in front of him. He had to be careful around Snape. He was too damned good at angering his professor, just by blurting out his suspicions. "Um, I'm sorry, sir," Harry mumbled. He was beginning to shake. This was the only thing he really cared about now. As far as he was concerned, if he didn't get emancipated, he'd be dead soon, killed either directly or indirectly by any one of the number of ruthless adults whose fanciful desire to toss him around as they saw fit could be the real end of him. Snape's hand was under Harry's chin now, forcing him to raise his face so the older wizard could see him better. Harry clenched his jaw in lingering fear that Snape would Legilimize him, but the older wizard simply studied his face.
"I have suggested once before that you need to remember I am not new at the practice of strategizing and carrying out plans," he told the boy, softening his tone again when he saw the moisture collecting in the corners of Potter's eyes.
"Won't Dumbledore be upset that you did this?" Harry asked tensely. "I know you didn't tell him yet."
"He is not a fool, Mr. Potter," Severus said with a smirk. "It was clear to me that he suspected something akin to this, but he told me he trusted my judgement, and to keep him informed if your safety becomes an issue."
"Now, why don't you demonstrate for me your newfound skill at summoning, and bring your jacket down here?" Severus said with a tone that suggested he knew Harry had his own strategizing going on with regards to that spell. "We have an appointment with your Rebecca Chase in thirty minutes."
Harry could not suppress his tension, and was actually grateful Snape's warm hand was keeping a constant grip on the back of his neck as they made their way to his quarters. Harry found out in transit that Draco and his mother were out of the country for the Christmas holidays, which Snape told him incidentally as they flooed first to Malfoy Manor, and then to Spinner's End, which was Snape's dreary childhood home, and exited to his even drearier backyard. From there, Snape apparated them to a secluded corner of the underground parking structure for the London Child Protection Agency. If Harry hadn't been so horribly terrified that this meeting would put an end to his plans, he would have complimented Snape's stealth practices. Instead, he tucked this away as a tip on how to make his own travels untraceable in future.
Snape directed him up to the third floor, and into a rather dingy area filled with cubicles and corner offices. Harry was oddly reminded of Mr. Weasley's working space, as each of the desks he passed had endless piles of papers and folders that were likely case files. They have one of those on me… Snape's hand moved from his neck to his shoulder and gave it a squeeze before releasing him altogether as Rebecca Chase left her cubicle and headed toward them.
"Hello again, Harry," she said warmly, extending her hand.
"Hello, ma'am," Harry said in a tight voice. His stomach was in multiple knots that were growing more and more painful.
"And Mr. Snape, welcome."
"Madam Chase," Snape responded, taking her hand.
"Please follow me, I've got a nice spot for us to chat," the social worker said, leading them to one of the corner offices, which had a large table and chairs instead of a desk. "Please have a seat, both of you."
Severus was a bit uncertain. "Madam, would you not prefer to interview Harry in private?" he asked. He looked at the boy and saw raw fear. "I will stay if it's alright with you," he said to Potter.
At this point, Harry figured he'd better let Snape stay, if only so that the older wizard could offer coherent translations of Harry's nervous mumblings. He cleared his throat, "Yeah, it's okay if you stay."
They all sat, and then Madam Chase got right to it: "So, Harry, the first thing that you need to know is that I don't believe for a minute that you have the happy life you presented in our last interview." She held up her finger when Harry opened his mouth to sputter a contradiction. "I'm not accusing you of anything, other than struggling with horrible circumstances in the best way you know."
Harry's leg began to jiggle, and he pressed his lips together to contain the panic that would not calm itself. He felt Snape's hand on his neck again, and when it gave him a gentle squeeze, he felt slightly better. "I really am better off on my own, ma'am. I've pretty much always been," he said, voice still tight.
The social worker put her elbows on the table and leaned forward to look closely at Harry, showing him she was not here to antagonize him. "I actually know a bit more about you than you realize," she told Harry. Then she looked at Snape. "I've heard your name, as well. I know you are a Hogwarts Professor." She watched Harry and Severus exchange a surprised look before continuing, "You see, my nephew is a friend of yours, Harry. He's a muggle born wizard, and he's told me about you since his first days at your school. I know that you are a really good person, and a good friend, and that you're brave, and talented." She stopped to smile reassuringly at Harry, who was now shaking so badly it was visible from across the table, even though the boy had his hands in his lap.
"Who is your nephew, Madam?" Severus asked.
"Dean Thomas," Rebecca replied. She watched Severus arch an eyebrow in response and flash another look at Harry, who had smiled at the mention of his friend's name. "Now, Harry, you need to be assured that what I know about you is confidential outside of these offices. I would never admit to Dean that I'm working with you, so rest assured about that. However, when I received the Notice of Intent to Petition Emancipation from your Mr. Morris, and saw your name, I did indeed recognize it. I was quite curious to meet you and put a face to the name of my nephew's friend, who has apparently had an incredibly rough time for well over a year, now." She waited for Harry to nod his agreement, and noted the way Mr. Snape was gently kneading the boy's neck. This did not match the description of the wretched, hateful man that taught potions at Dean's school. Unfortunately, she would never be able to tell her nephew about the man's softer side. "I just saw Dean at Christmas dinner," she continued. "He told me things had gotten worse, and even harder for you. But I also know that you are teaching your friends how to defend themselves, and are making a difference in spite of your hardships."
Harry took a long shaky breath and let it out. The social worker seemed to be waiting for a response, so he told her as plainly as he could, "I need to be Emancipated. My aunt and uncle do not want me, and I'll be put into an orphanage if I can't make this happen immediately. That will leave me completely vulnerable to some of the rougher sides of the wizarding world. There is no one who I trust on the wizarding side who could take on my guardianship. I do have friends, though. And I do know I can get help if I need it. It's just that those sources could never get legal approval to care for me because our Ministry is very corrupted, and is ultimately falling under the influence of-" he flashed a look at Snape, remembered what naming Voldemort out loud did to the evil, snake-faced monster, and went ahead and used the common term he despised, "of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named."
"So, the stakes are very high for you," Rebecca Chase concluded for him.
"Yeah," Harry said. His heartbeat was so loud after that little speech of his, he was sure Snape and Madam Chase could hear it.
"How did you get that awful knot that was on your forehead the other day?" she asked, putting him on the spot in a way Harry thought was a quid-pro-quo exchange.
"My uncle shoved me into my cupboard and I banged my head on the top of the frame," Harry said.
"Your cupboard?" Severus asked. He had turned his upper body to look fully at Potter. His cupboard?
"That was my room until I was eleven," Harry admitted. He was jiggling his leg quite crazily now. "Look, the Dursleys have been in danger because of me for the past few years, now. And a lot of bad things have happened to them because of who I am, so they hate magic, and they hate me. It's just the way it is, alright?"
Rebecca Chase looked at Severus with raised eyebrows. "Rumor has it that you are not exactly a fan of Harry Potter," she challenged. "And yet, you are here with him, acting quite protective. So which is the true story?"
Severus clenched his jaw, his hand still on the boy's neck with his thumb rubbing a reassuring back-and-forth swipe, as he said grimly, "Both are the truth, Madam." He slanted a glance down and saw Potter's very vulnerable profile, and felt his shame rise again, as it had been doing all week. "But I am endeavoring to change the former. Potter is safe with me, and I am one of the ones he could come to for help, when needed, once he is emancipated."
"So you agree with him that this is the best alternative," she asked.
"With full conviction, yes."