The Simmering Unknown - Part I
Chapter 15 - Emancipated Minor - The Simmering Unknown - Part I
Severus had left Harry in Lupin's hands for dinner, being that Rebecca Chase was sufficiently recovered for travel to her home, and they needed to get her away from the school as soon as possible. Though Kingsley Shacklebolt, Tonks and Mad-Eye Moody had come to the scene in the Forbidden Forest earlier, they'd been there as Order members, not as Ministry Aurors. Severus had promised to handle her security to minimize the others' risk of exposure of having acted outside of the Ministry. The Ministry had not yet taken any actions that indicated they knew that Voldemort had killed Fudge, and taken his corpse to the Forbidden Forest, along with a muggle hostage. The knowledge of Fudge's death had been communicated through a system of ward alarms that had alerted the top Ministry officials and The Wizengamut. Kingsley and Tonks had returned to the Ministry of Magic, and upon investigation of Fudge's office, found signs of his murder having occurred there. They'd retrieved Fudge's body and planted it in an unused office the third floor.
After a long debriefing with Rebecca Chase in the hospital wing, Dumbledore and Mad-Eye had determined that the muggle social worker had been summoned to Voldemort's magical enclosure in the forest the same way Harry had been. The limp physical state they'd found her in had simply been akin to extreme motion sickness, and Madam Pomfrey had been able to set her to rights with some basic potions that required no magic to be effective. She'd told Albus and Mad-Eye that Voldemort had seen her name in Fudge's files and he'd tortured the Minister of Magic to death in order to find out what was going on with Harry Potter.
Knowing now that Madam Chase had suffered during the process of being summoned through magical barriers, Severus decided against apparation, and flooed her through Malfoy Manor to Spinner's End, then hired a muggle taxi for the rest of the journey. She seemed to know what each means of transit was as it occurred, and handled herself surprisingly well, chattering instead about her concerns over what she'd learned and seen today. She was quite fierce in her insistence that Severus give his word to watch over Harry, having now seen for herself what the magical world held in store for him. But she'd also seen the urgent response of the Order coming to Harry's aid, and told Severus that he should allow his students to see that heroic side of his nature in school. She admitted she was thinking of her nephew, and wanting Dean to know that Severus was quite an impressive wizard. Severus had been grateful for the darkness of night that obscured her view of him within the interior of the taxi, and the flush that had swept up his neck and face at her praise. He actually laughed out loud at the visual that came to mind of Harry's fellow fifth year Gryffindors' reactions to witnessing their evil potions professor, first in battle, and then rushing over to cuddle and reassure the Boy Who Lived.
"I'll take your advice to heart, Madam," Severus told her, private amusement coloring his voice. "Perhaps circumstances have changed enough so that I might enjoy such an opportunity."
Rebecca smiled at him, and he could see she'd followed his humor. "What will happen now, Mr. Snape, in regards to Harry's security? Well, in regards to all of our security?"
"That remains to be seen," Severus admitted. "There is still a question as to whether our Headmaster will be reinstated at Hogwarts any time soon. There is another body of authority over the Ministry, which is called The Wizengamut. This group ultimately has the power to decide what will result from today's events. It is unclear how many of its members are friends or foe just now. I'm inclined to believe most are friends, but I've no way to be certain. In the meantime, there will continue to be danger for Harry and some of his closer friends, who will be targeted simply because they matter to him. Voldemort has many followers who are of the ilk and mind to avenge him on principle."
"And where do you fall in terms of that level of danger?" she asked.
"I am most certainly a target," Severus said. Even if he'd not yet been revealed as a traitor, he'd made a decision to desist his role-play as a member of the Dark Lord's inner circle. He had Harry to thank for that option, both because the boy's actions had eliminated the worst threat to his safety for now, and because Severus knew that he already cared too much for Harry to resume his previous behavior. He looked at Madam Chase in the darkness, his eyes wandering distractedly down to her ring finger, which was bare. "I would not worry about your nephew in that regard. He and Harry are friends, but not to the public's knowledge. Those at most risk are the Weasleys and Miss Granger."
"What can those of us outside of the magical world do to protect ourselves?"
"I intend to cast some wards over your home when we arrive. These are magical barriers that will deter the trouble-makers from our world," Severus told her. "I truly believe you will be safe, but I will also show you a means to trigger the ward to alert me if you are in fear for your safety."
"Thank you," Rebecca said. Then after a beat, she added in alarm, "Dean is the only wizard in his household, Mr. Snape. But he can't put those spells up, can he?"
"No," Severus said, contemplating. "I truly do not believe that he's at risk. But if it would put you at ease, I could apply similar warding to his family home as well." He smiled at her. "And perhaps, you should call me Severus going forward. It seems we may remain in continued contact for a time."
Dean had been utterly gobsmacked at the sight of his aunt Rebecca and Professor Snape on his doorstep just a few minutes prior. "Is this about Harry, Professor?" he asked anxiously as he followed his aunt and potions professor around the perimeter of his house while Severus cast warding spells at the corners of the property. Dean's parents were out for the evening, so they'd decided as a group that Dean would not tell them about the warding. "Is Harry alright?" he tried again as they entered the home to cast more wards inside.
"He is, Mr. Thomas," Severus said patiently, and yes, he was enjoying the unsettled manner that Thomas was displaying at his congeniality. "But before you enquire further, I am afraid I am not at liberty to divulge much more than that. He is safe, and you will see him in a week. You can ask your questions then."
"Yes, sir," Dean agreed reluctantly, but also knew to quit while he was ahead. "You said there was an overlap between our worlds? And Aunt Becky got caught in it?" Dean looked at his aunt. "Are you alright? Did you see parts of the magical world?"
Severus exchanged a look with Rebecca. She knew her nephew better than he did.
"I saw some things, Dean," Rebecca replied. "Let's wait until you've had a chance to return to school and find out what everyone else knows before I tell you about it. It's a tricky spot for me. I really can't say more, do you see where I'm going with this?"
Dean nodded slowly. "It's a matter of confidentiality, then?"
Rebecca tapped her nose and smiled. "And everyone that I am concerned about is fine."
"Professor," Dean asked, "Don't muggles get their memories erased when something like this happens?"
"That is the common practice of the Ministry of Magic, Mr. Thomas," Severus acknowledged. "But as you can see, I am responding to the situation, not the Ministry."
"So, I am going to be allowed to retain my memories of what I've seen and learned about you? and Harry Potter, Albus Dumbledore, and that nasty Lord Voldemort?" Rebecca asked when they were once again en route to her home.
Severus felt the corner of his mouth tilt upward involuntarily. He had discussed this decision at length with Albus before the elderly wizard had again retreated to parts unknown. Albus had had a twinkle in his eye as he once again told Severus that he trusted his judgement. "I have no reservations about your discretion in regards to what you have witnessed. I do have concern for the trauma you suffered today, and the fact that you can't truly reveal it to anyone. I would use caution with your nephew and his parents, even after we find out what Harry shares with him."
"But you said that Voldemort had been badly handicapped by what Harry did to him today - which to me looked a lot like removing him from existing altogether - so, there should be a return to, at the very least, the status quo of the times prior to the last eighteen months or so," she reasoned.
Severus was surprised and impressed by her knowledge of said status quo. "That is likely true, but we do not actually have assurance. Voldemort is not dead," Severus responded. "But no one is certain just what exactly remains of him at this time."
Harry woke with reluctance on Sunday morning. He was still completely overwhelmed by what had occurred in the Forbidden Forest the previous day. He had no idea what his actions would generate in terms of reaction by both wizarding society and the Ministry of Magic, nor did he yet know how Voldemort's loyal Death Eaters would handle the news. His stomach knotted painfully at the stream of fearful thoughts that ran through his mind. He still had to worry about his friends' safety, and about Snape and Malfoy being found out to be traitors. And what about people like Mr. Weasley? If that Pius Thickeness bloke was the new Minister, what would happen to Mr. Weasley?
Maybe it's not that bad, he hoped. Maybe my bombarda to Tom yesterday was like cutting off the head of a snake. There will still be some nerves in the body that make it twitch, but it will die without the head soon enough. Right? Maybe we can all have somewhat normal lives now.
Harry thought about what Remus had told him about himself, and having already lived through his glory days. And how Snape and Harry's mum had been close as children. He badly wanted to know more about their bond, but something told him he'd be crossing a line if he asked Snape. No wonder Aunt Petunia acted like she knew Snape. She also acted like she despised him, but that was not exactly atypical for Aunt Petunia. He thought about how caring Snape was being, and wondered if he would still be this nice next week, when the students all returned. His instincts told him to be prepared to be disappointed, and that thought deflated him even more.
Severus went up to check on the Boy Who Lived at about half nine and found him sitting on the side of his bed, still in pajamas, staring at nothing in particular. "Are you feeling alright, Harry?" he asked. Harry started, snapping his head around to look at Severus. His expression was glazed and heavy from too much contemplation of quandaries that had no resolution. "Hmmmm," Severus hummed as he stepped closer to the boy and made a point of assessing him. "Go have a shower, and get dressed. I've fallen behind on my brewing and could use some help with ingredient preparation, if you're willing."
The boy blinked in surprise at that request, and Severus could see a sequence of thoughts pass behind his eyes, no doubt processing exactly what he'd be risking by agreeing to help his potions professor. "Uh, I'm happy to help, sir," Harry said carefully, "but maybe I should do something else, like clean things, or organize stuff…"
Severus smirked. "I need some chopping, grinding, and de-seeding done, Mr. Potter," he told the unsettled teen. "If you are worried about your technique, now would be a most opportune time to revise it, would it not?" Harry nodded and averted his face as he got up and gathered some clothes. Severus watched him with a frown. "Have you eaten, Harry?"
"Very well, come to my quarters when you're ready and we'll have tea before we get started," Severus said. The boy nodded again, distractedly fiddling with a thermal shirt that had a hole in the armpit. Severus finally stepped closer to Harry and took the bundle of clothes out of his hands and tossed them on the bed. When Harry looked up at him with a pained expression, Severus opened his arms. "I assume your distress is over the broader scope of recents incidents, and not over the prospect of helping me with potions," he said as he hugged Harry.
"You'd be surprised at how distressed I can get over potions," Harry muttered into his shoulder.
"We'll only do this for a couple of hours," Severus told Harry after they'd settled in to the tasks at hand. Severus had four sets of cauldrons going at once, each with a common healing potion that would replenish Madam Pomfrey's stores. "Lucius has challenged me to a duel this afternoon that I thought you might be interested in watching."
"A duel?" Harry asked in shock.
"A modified battle of wands, yes," Severus told him. "It's excellent exercise, and important practice of reflexive casting of defensive spells. We are careful with the spells we use, of course, but there is a definite competition going on between us. I thought it might yield ideas for you to share with your students."
Harry nodded enthusiastically, nearly smiling. "That sounds fantastic, sir, thanks."
"You're welcome," Severus said. "And Harry, it would be fine if you called me Severus when we are not around your peers, if you think you can remember to shift back to sir or Professor when appropriate."
When Harry went up to the Room of Requirement with Severus later that afternoon, he already knew that he'd find not only Lucius, but Draco Malfoy waiting. And also Remus and Tonks. Harry had studied the Marauders' Map earlier, and had seen the Malfoys on the grounds, and had also seen how Tonks had ended up in Remus' quarters right around the time Harry had gone down to have tea with Severus. A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. He really liked Tonks. Hermione and Ginny had giggled about how obvious it had been that Tonks had a thing for Remus. After what Remus had said about having little hope about the future, Harry figured a bit of romance might be enough to change his DADA professor's mind, so he secretly crossed his fingers for them to work out. He stepped further into the room with Severus and noted that it had expanded exponentially in size. The interior had the feeling of being outdoors, and the ceiling was enchanted to look like sky. It was difficult for Harry to measure the height, in spite of his extraordinary new visual acuity.
"Hello Harry," Lucius Malfoy said warmly.
"Hello, sir," Harry said, less awkwardly than usual. He was remembering the way Malfoy Sr. had treated him yesterday, and was beginning to believe he could trust the man's sincerity. He flashed a look at Malfoy Jr. and saw with shock that his schoolmate was regarding him with a congenial expression. "Draco," Harry greeted carefully.
"Harry," Draco returned with an amused smirk.
"Come over here, you lot," Tonks called to Harry and Draco. "Look, we've set up stadium seating, complete with a full stock of concessions!" She grinned at Harry. "Whotcher, Harry?"
"Hey Tonks," Harry said, finally feeling light enough to smile at her. Tonks and Remus were seated in two of the half dozen plush chairs that were set upon a platform. Beside each, a small tray hovered atop a personal coldbox to hold one's beverage of choice and whichever snack might be preferred. Harry took the seat next to Tonks after flashing a grin at Remus, who appeared to be battling some degree of emotional discomfort, tempered by a healthy enthusiasm that Harry could only guess had something to do with Tonks.
"Make yourself comfortable, cousin," Tonks was saying to Draco.
"Thank you, Nymph-" Draco caught himself deliberately, making a great show of giving Tonks a charming smile of apology. "I mean, thank you, Cousin Dora."
Draco smirked at Harry as he took the next open seat. They simultaneously reached down into the coldboxes beneath their hovering trays, removing a butterbeer and a pumpkin pasty each before giving each other an accusatory look. "Figures you'd want to copy me, Potter," Draco said.
"Uh, I think it was the other way around," Harry returned. He took a sip of his drink and looked back over at Severus and Malfoy Sr., who were staging their arena with boulders and tree trunks. "Have you ever seen them do this before?" he asked the blond teen.
"Of course I have, Potter," Draco said loftily. "Severus is my godfather. I grew up with him coming around the Manor for visits. Father was several years ahead of him in school and taught him about dueling when they were both still young. They've kept a regular practice of it." Draco looked over at Harry with a genuine look of anticipation. "Wait 'til you see. It's rather thrilling."
Harry smiled crookedly, distractedly watching the two wizards while he thought about the odd circumstances he'd just walked into and not even bothered to question. I guess I've truly come to trust Severus, he thought. It doesn't hurt that Remus and Tonks are here without issue.
"What you did yesterday saved my family, Potter," Draco said softly.
When Harry turned to look at him in surprise, his arch rival was battling to hold onto his composure. "I don't understand," Harry said equally softly.
"Father's been in it pretty deep," Draco said. "He's been… difficult to be around for a couple of years now. I was pretty sure my mother was going to leave him, literally, over these holidays. But when he came to see us last night in France and told us about what you'd done, it was as if everything could be alright again." Draco said. He flashed a look over at his father then leaned closer to say to Harry, "He's been far more kind in the last week than he's been in years."
"Yeah," Harry said back in the same volume, "I've noticed." Harry studied Malfoy Jr. for a moment, all at once realizing that being the son of a prominent Death Eater, who felt trapped by his circumstances, had to have created its own set of troubles and harsh circumstances. "We don't have to be enemies, you know," he said. "I'll try, if you try."
Draco looked at him seriously for a short time, but the inevitable smirk came back to the surface. "Well, I'm glad you said that, because Father told me I had to be better towards you now. Said if I didn't, he'd come after me with the paddle Severus has been using on you."
"I-" Harry sputtered. "He-" Bloody hell! He could feel his face flush as Draco laughed. "I haven't been in trouble with him!" Harry rasped.
"Whatever you say, Potter," Draco said, leaning back with a look of pure satisfaction on his face as he sipped his butterbeer.
It must be Slytherin humor, Harry thought.