The Simmering Unknown - Part III
Chapter 17 - Emancipated Minor - The Simmering Unknown - Part III
When the Malfoys had exited, Tonks checked her watch. "I've got the evening shift at the Ministry," she said. "Only a mo' before I've got to 'ta, but maybe we could have a round Harry?"
Harry lit up immediately, "Yeah, that'd be great," he said, but then caught himself. "But I'll be rubbish, I can't cast-"
"Blimey, Harry," Tonks interrupted him, giving him a playful shove on his shoulder, "you don't think I expect you to duel at the level of that lot do you?"
"You're an auror," Harry said, as if that fully illustrated his point.
"True, that," Tonks said with a wink. "But I also remember what I knew at fifteen, and how I felt lucky to have straight aim with my hexes at that age. I thought maybe we could break things down a tad, you know? Have a go at shielding yourself from flying bits of blasted rocks, for example."
"Although, be aware, Harry, that those boulders out there are not made of stone, but of compressed foam," Remus said with a wink. He watched Harry realize they'd been in far less danger than he'd been led to believe. "Takes some of the grandeur out of our performances, doesn't it?"
Harry smirked. "A little, yeah, but not that much." He flashed a look at Severus, but the older wizard was distracted with repairing the blasted "boulders" for them.
A few moments later, Harry was standing in the clearing with four large boulders close by. Tonks had taught him a shielding spell called contego, which she liked to use for this kind of protection. Unlike protego, which tended to dismantle and deflect a spell, contego created a shield that was like an impermeable barrier to both spells and debris. The wand movements were minimal and Harry had cast the shield easily on the first try.
"Ready then?" Tonks called to Harry.
"Yeah," he said with a grin. He watched Tonks cast her silent blasting hexes and was able to read which rock she was targeting. He easily shielded himself from each blast, and so she went on to attack the neighboring trees. Harry blocked the splinters of the mock wood, that still could have taken out his eye regardless of their softer, lighter material. His adrenaline was on high as Tonks went for the grand finale by causing one of the trees to tip over directly at Harry. "Whoa! Contego!" he yelled, laughing, and the tree slammed into the barrier he'd cast, tumbling over him and landing at his feet. "Wicked!"
"Not bad," Tonks said.
"Well, done," Remus said with a broad smile. "Contego was a good choice, Dora."
Tonks beamed at Remus for a moment, before turning back to Harry. "I wanted to warn you a little bit, Harry. It's strange that there's been no announcement of Minister Fudge's death to any of us Ministry employees yet. Perhaps they're waiting for tomorrow morning, but it's rather unprofessional and unfortunately rather telling…"
Harry sighed. "Interference from the Ministry is going to get even worse, isn't it?" he said in frustration. "What was that Pius Thickeness like when he was Deputy Minister?"
"Slimy," Tonks said blatantly. She'd had normal, mousy brown colored hair this whole time, but as she'd said slimy, her hair took on a combination of mustard and green streaks, looking very reptilian. "And you should be warned that he and ol' Dolores Umbridge were thought to have been having a fling. As Minister, he may decide to reinstate her as High-" she stopped herself as she realized Harry was turning the same colors as her hair.
Harry actually felt like he was going to vomit at that news. He pressed his lips together, flashing looks at Severus and Remus. "Should I even be here at school? If they decide to come after me like Fudge did, and I'm here when the new term starts-"
"That is why I suggest we wait," Severus interrupted with a tone that warned Harry to keep his wits in check, "and watch how things play out, before making any decisions. Do not forget that there is a Wizengamot with whom Albus is very strongly tied. Pius doesn't have that much power, especially without his Dark Lord to back him up."
Harry took a shaky breath and nodded.
"Harry?" Tonks said, tilting her head when he looked back at her and giving him a grin, "You just keep on working on all of that talent of yours. Whatever that magic was that you used yesterday was right brilliant. In the meantime, remember the rest of us all are in this too. It's up to all of magical Britain to fix this problem, not just the fifth years at Hogwarts. We'll all stick together, yeah?"
Harry blanched as the full weight of Tonk's words hit home. "Well, yeah," he said shamefully. He instinctively knew she wasn't trying to make him feel responsible for what had happened at the Ministry nearly two weeks prior, but the facts were right there, weren't they? Harry wanted to crawl into a hole.
"Well, Dora, if you're ready, I'll walk you out," Remus said. He'd put his sloppy robes back on and had resumed his wan persona, but was not indifferent to Harry's distress. "Harry, come see me after dinner, if you'd like."
Harry watched them walk away as he struggled with the resurgence of guilt and grief that had been held at bay for the last couple of hours.
"Where did your errant musings just take you, young man?" Severus asked knowingly. The authority in his tone seemed to further agitate the boy. Harry's body language had visibly tensed and his pallor had gone from green to grey. He took a step closer to Harry and reached out to cup his chin, but the boy turned his head away. "Harry?"
Harry's mind was racing through a multitude of confused thoughts. A flare of panic rushed through him as he realized how fragile all of these new alliances really were, especially his new truce with Snape. Harry had really only survived this past week because of Severus. So much was at stake. If he messed up again, would his professor suddenly revert to his former ways? Harry wouldn't stand a chance if he did. And what about the Order? He'd messed up badly, and Sirius had died. Remus had suffered a horrible loss, and all of the people who'd had to rush to Harry's aid had all been traumatized unnecessarily. Isn't that what was behind what Tonks had just said? And why had he agreed to a truce with Draco Malfoy? That tosspot would tell the whole school that Harry had gotten dozens of paddlings from Snape.
"I need some time alone, sir," Harry said edgily.
What just happened? Severus wondered. "Tell me what you are thinking right now," he requested, instinctively knowing that Harry was ready to flee. He did not want a confrontation with the boy when he was this worked up. "Look at me," he commanded with calm authority when Harry had not answered. "Harry, look at me."
Harry clenched his jaw, wanting so badly to count on Severus, but when he met his professor's eyes, his mind would not let him see his nice new persona. Instead he saw the memory of a very cruel and hostile wizard, who had made Harry feel utterly worthless and intolerable, for four and a half long school years. "I need some time alone, sir," he repeated hoarsely.
Severus stared at Harry, debating inwardly how to best deflect the disturbing energy he was sensing from the troubled teen. "A compromise then," he said, turning aside and silently asking the Room to convert their surroundings into a cozy den. A sofa appeared before a crackling fire, and the arena and stadium seating disappeared behind closer walls. "Sit with me, Young Harry. You don't have to speak."
Young Harry? Amusement battled with tears as garbled emotions choked up into Harry's throat and he blinked rapidly, keeping his eyes averted. Severus had taken Harry's arm and was gently tugging him over to sit heavily down beside his professor to stare into the flames while he struggled to control his angst and sorrow.
Severus leaned back into the cushions and stretched out his legs, staying silent beside Harry and studying the fire. He replayed the day's events, remembering each of the verbal exchanges he'd had with Harry. The only thing that Harry had revealed of his inner turmoil was when he'd indirectly admitted to being bothered at the idea of working on the potions ingredients. Severus had deliberately set up that short time in the potions lab so that they could experience a trauma-free session of brewing together. And so, he'd brushed over Harry's comment, but perhaps that had been a mistake. It was foolish to assume that the wounds he'd inflicted on Harry were so quickly healed; that the boy would have no reservations in giving Severus his trust. The reunion with Draco earlier had seemed to yield positive results, but Severus also knew that the vast majority of concessions that had created the truce had been given by Harry. While Harry would simply have to stop reacting to Draco's instigation, which would be no problem if Draco truly ceased that behavior, Draco had promised a lot, in that he was supposed to show better character. Harry no doubt questioned Draco's sincerity. The truce itself was a lot to ask from the one who'd been a constant recipient of taunts and bullying.
...All of this on top of having recently watched his godfather die, and feeling responsible for the events that had led to that death. Add to that a completely empty Christmas holiday, with no one giving him presents or making efforts to make things special.
Severus looked over at Harry and saw that same stark fear that he'd seen etched into the boy's profile in Rebecca Chase's office. "You're going to be alright, Harry," he said. He watched the boy take a shaky breath between clenched jaws.
At the dinner table, Harry watched Severus put away double helpings of his dinner. "Are you a bit hungry, then?" he asked innocently. Severus raised his eyes to give Harry a level stare, but by now, Harry knew how to distinguish his snarky humor from his diminishing grip on his temper, and knew that his potions professor was amused at his question. "I'm not sure which one of you was more impressive today," he told Severus honestly, again controlling the urge to blather his newfound hero worship. He'd do that in secret with Ron and Hermione. "I can see I've got loads to learn yet."
Severus swallowed his last bite of food and lowered his fork. He wiped his mouth on his napkin and leaned back to give Harry his full attention. "You do, indeed, but you are well ahead of most who are your age."
"What's required to be able to master non-verbal spells? Is it a level of magic, or a level of mental strength?"
"It's likely both," Severus said. "I'd put nothing past you in that regard, but I believe your handicap is your size and physical development. You are still small and skinny. That is likely why you drain your magic so quickly. You are capable of the event, you simply do not have enough magical stores to perform it." At Harry's despondent expression, he clarified, "I am not criticizing you, young man. It's just the reality of the here and now for you. But you have impressed me in a multitude of ways recently, not the least of which is to have held your ground, and your temper, around me."
Harry didn't know what to say to that. He thought again about the past week and the near misses with Severus' temper, and also of how much differently it would have played out without the older wizard's help. Not to mention the emotional support that he was already back to feeling fearful of losing. "Where did your thoughts just go to, Mr. Potter?" Severus asked.
"I was thinking about how much time you've had to put in with handling my problems," Harry hedged. "Do you need more help with your own tasks? I could do more ingredient prepping for your potions, if you need me to," Harry said.
Severus blinked. "One session where I don't decimate you with insults, and you're offering to help again," he said drolly. He held Harry's gaze. "I would appreciate your additional assistance, perhaps later in the week. In the meantime," Severus began carefully. He did not want to insult Harry when he asked, "Would you, perhaps, like to take a trip into muggle London to get some new clothes?"
Harry's face lit up. "Yes! That would be brilliant."
Severus nodded in satisfaction. "Then let's go tomorrow, later in the morning. We can spend the rest of the day away from the castle if you'd like."
When Harry showed up at Remus' quarters a little while later, he was greeted with music - a familiar rock 'n roll song that he'd heard numerous times on Aunt Petunia's oldies station. "I know this," he told Remus as he walked in. "Electric Light Orchestra, right?"
"Very good, Harry," Remus returned with approval. "This song was popular in our fifth and sixth years." He used his wand to increase the volume while they listened to Evil Woman. "There was one particularly awful witch that I had my eye on. She never knew I existed. This song reminds me of her." Remus told Harry.
Harry chuckled as he sat on the floor in front of the fire and listened. He'd liked every ELO song he'd ever heard. Aunt Petunia obviously did, too, because she was ultimately responsible for all of Harry's awareness of muggle music. When the song was over, Harry told Remus, "My aunt kept some of my mum's records. She'd listen to them in the afternoons and have a cup of tea. One time they left me home alone for a long afternoon, so I snuck into the living room and looked through them. There were a bunch that had Lily, or "L" written on them in black ink. Now that I think about it, the writing was from a quill." He smiled at that thought.
"Your mother and I bonded over music in third year. She was particularly enthusiastic about an American band called Chicago. She loved the sounds their brass instruments made."
"I've seen her Chicago albums. They're both called Chicago," Harry said with a smirk. "I really like their music, too."
Remus was moving over to the turntable to remove the current ELO album. There was a knock on the door to his quarters. Remus waved his wand to open the door. "Severus, do come in," he greeted warmly. "Harry and I are just taking a stroll down memory lane." He held up a Chicago album to show both Harry and Severus. "What's your fancy, Harry?" he asked.
Harry could tell that Remus was goading Severus, and he cast a glance at the other wizard, who looked particularly pasty at the moment. "Er, how about Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?" Harry said with a bit of trepidation. He turned himself on the floor to watch Severus struggle for a moment before taking the chair closest to Harry.
Remus put the music on and immediately summoned a tray with a bottle of butterbeer, two glasses and a bottle of firewhiskey. "I told you I'd inherited a few things from Sirius, Harry. He had quite a stock of whiskey. Severus?" he offered.
Harry waited for Severus to say something curt or snarky. He certainly had that look on his face, but he nodded grimly instead, serving himself a glass when the tray hovered next to him. He took the bottle of butterbeer as well and handed it to Harry as the song began to kick into the chorus.
Does anybody really know what time it is? Does anyone really care?
If so, I can't imagine why we've all got time enough to cry…
"I was telling Remus, my aunt saved my mum's records. I used to sneak out and listen to this one whenever they left me at home by myself," Harry told the dark haired wizard.
"I gave her that album," Severus said quietly.
Harry's jaw dropped. He closed it quickly and warned himself to tread carefully. By now he knew that if Severus wanted to share something with him, he would. If not, Harry was playing with fire by being too inquisitive. "There were others in the collection. They were each marked with an arrow pointing to "L," and next to it an "S" with an arrow pointing inward from the other side." Severus nodded, his eyes not on Harry. He seemed to have split his awareness between the goings-on in the room and the memories this song was invoking. "Have you listened to music much since those days?" Harry asked.
Severus blinked. "I have not." A part of him wanted to burst into tragic, sentimental tears, but the other, newer part of him was uncharacteristically open to making such an admission.
"Music can be very therapeutic," Remus said with a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. He leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes to avoid Severus' annoyed frown.
Harry smiled crookedly at Severus and set his butterbeer to the side so that he could lay back on the rug on the hearth of Remus' lively fire. He lay there, knees bent, hands behind his head, remembering how he'd felt so close to his mum while he listened to these songs. And now, it had turned out that Severus had had the same exact experiences with the music: a secret indulgence for a lonely boy.
"Have either of you had any updates from Professor Dumbledore?" Harry asked when the music had stopped and they had each returned to the present. "Or, of Professor McGonagall?"
"I have," Severus told Harry and Remus. "I had originally come down here to inform you each of what I'd heard. Our esteemed Headmistress has been released earlier than projected from St. Mungos. She will return to Hogwarts later in the week to prepare for the new term. Albus was at her home when I received one of his scrolled missives to let me know this. Additionally, there is a meeting of the Wizengamut tomorrow morning, in which Albus intends to inform them that Harry Potter destroyed the Dark Lord's corporeal body yet again. He indicated that he will guard his words until he knows that they will be received as credible. If there is any fallout, we may have to postpone our plans for London, Harry."
"I understand," Harry said quickly. The last thing he wanted was to be a bother when so much else was constantly in flux. "Severus, what would be the point of withholding Fudge's death from the public?"
Severus tilted his head, considering for a moment. "My best guess would be that those of the Dark Lord's ranks who have infiltrated the Ministry are madly trying to find their master, and are awaiting his direction before making their next move."
"Does that mean they haven't figured it out that he's, well, gone for now?" Harry asked.
"That is the assumption," Severus agreed. "This could change at any moment."
Harry nodded, thinking. "I wanted to ask you both about that enclosure that Voldemort had me in yesterday. The contego shield Tonks showed me was really reminding of it."
Severus frowned as he considered, "Did he use his wand in your presence? I don't recall seeing it."
"I didn't see it either, actually," Harry said. "The more I think about it, the more I'm certain all of my wild magic getting stirred up was because Voldemort was working with his, and I just kind of tapped in somehow. Bit of a let down, actually. Here I thought I was being so original."
Remus smiled, "You were quite original with the means by which you destroyed him, Harry."
"Are you thinking that you were channeling his magic?" Severus asked.
"No," Harry said with full confidence. "It's definitely my magic, just not my ideas."
"Well, then, if you should decide to work on recreating that magical field," Severus warned, "I would like to caution you to pay careful attention to your energy, Harry. It is actually possible to damage your magical core by draining it too low."
"Alright, sir," Harry said. He looked back and forth between Severus and Remus for a moment. "Should I even tell my friends about my wild magic? Besides Ron and Hermione, I'm mean."
Severus raised his eyebrows, as if to say with his look that he was surprised that Harry was asking for advice about this. "I would have very real reservations about the student body hearing that you have tapped into that aspect of your abilities."
"I would as well, Harry," Remus said. "Of course you could tell your closest friends, but only in the strictest of confidence. I would also use extreme caution with how and where you demonstrate for them, if at all."
"Okay," Harry said. He was not surprised at this advice, and was pretty much in full agreement. "I was thinking it might be best to keep it a complete secret until we find out what people are going to believe about Voldemort."