Emancipated Minor

The Simmering Unknown - Part V

Chapter 19 - Emancipated Minor - The Simmering Unknown - Part V

Harry had his back to Severus as he resealed the Chamber of Secrets, feeling self conscious as he spoke in parseltongue. He was beginning to shake from his stifled reaction to Severus' demeanor and he closed his eyes, trying to will his composure to return so that he could make excuses to go back to his dorm and think things through properly.

"It sounds far more fascinating, and far less evil when you speak it, Harry," Malfoy Sr. said.

Harry looked up as the blond wizard moved around to face him. Malfoy Sr.'s complexion was pale, and Harry could see he was disturbed by the power in the locket. "Are you alright, Mr. Malfoy?" Harry asked.

"I'd prefer you call me Lucius when it's just us, Harry. We've come a long way in a very short time, and it feels too formal otherwise. And yes, I'm fine." Lucius' eyes held Harry's and crinkled slightly when he smiled.

Harry started when Severus' arm draped over his shoulder to hug him from behind. He blinked rapidly against the tears that sprung up from conflicting feelings of relief and renewed fear of deception as he felt the scratch of his potion professor's afternoon beard against his temple.

"I'm returning to my senses," Severus said. "I apologize for my harsh tone earlier."

"S'alright," Harry said, reaching a hand up to grip Severus' arm. A part of him meant it. But more of him promised his inner self not to let his guard down again. Lucius caught his eye and seemed to want to communicate something, but Harry could only muster a half smile of acknowledgement.

"I've been in communication with Pius, Severus," Lucius announced. "I've been asked to continue my surveillance of Hogwarts this coming week, and as well after the term begins."

Severus' arm tightened its squeeze on Harry. "We need to have a face to face with Albus," he said. He checked his watch. "It's half four now, and quite possible that the meeting of the Wizengamut is still in session. I would assume that the meeting was held outside of Pius' knowledge."

Lucius nodded. "It appears to be so," he said. "And there was a distinct lack of acknowledgement that he'd been promoted to Minister on his part, so I acted ignorant of the news." He removed his galleon from his pocket and pressed his wand to it.

"The good news, gentlemen, is that the Wizengamot as a whole is concerned about the corrupt infiltration of Voldemort's followers into the Ministry. The bad news is, they are uncertain whom to trust in the exercise of undercover investigation into the matter. I made my suggestions, of course, and I offered the lists of names of known associates that both Lucius and Severus provided me, and was told in mild terms that my contributions would be taken into consideration, but no action would be taken on blind faith." Albus tilted his head to rest his chin on his steepled fingers, letting his gaze travel above his spectacles to circle around those gathered in the conference area provided by the Room of Requirement: Remus, Severus, Lucius, and Harry. They were all seated in a loop of comfortable chairs, facing each other.

"Was there any specific mention of trying to find me?" Harry asked.

"Surprisingly, no," Albus said, "and I felt it wise to leave it unaddressed at present, as it appears those efforts had been directed by Cornelius, and kept off of any official record as of yet. For now, we will act as we have, keeping you under low profile, and assuming that your return for the new term will prompt no actions on the Ministry's behalf."

Harry nodded, keeping his eyes on the floor. He could feel Severus' gaze burning into the side of his head, but he couldn't look at his professor right now. He felt alone again. Even though they were all supposed to be in it together, none of them knew what they were up against. When something did occur, Harry knew he'd be in the thick of it, floundering as always, and figuring everything out as he went, at which point he always seemed to end up on his own anyway.

He didn't need to bog himself down with worrying about whether people cared about him, or not.

"And then there was the discovery of this locket," Albus said grimly.

Harry's eyes darted back to Dumbledore. "What is it, sir?" he asked adamantly. "What is it, really?" He felt like he already knew the answer.

Albus' eyes circled the group once again. He seemed to resist answering, but finally said, "It's a piece of him, Harry."

Severus watched Harry receive that news as his own mind reeled. Albus was talking about a horcrux. Severus had not yet let himself consider such an extreme possibility. He was peripherally aware of both Lucius and Remus leaning forward to prop their elbows on their knees the same way he was doing. The other two buried their faces in their hands, but Severus kept his eyes on Harry, debating whether to stand up and pull the boy into his arms. But Harry was deliberately avoiding eye contact, had deliberately sat apart from him, between Lucius and Remus, and his instincts told him the boy would not welcome his attempts to shelter him from this blow.

Harry blinked when he heard Dumbledore's answer. His hands gripped the arms of his chair and he pressed his lips together to keep himself in check. This isn't a surprise. And it's finally a chance to get Dumbledore to tell me what he knows. "A piece of him?" he repeated. When the Headmaster nodded, the two of them locked their gazes. "How did he get a piece of himself into a locket, sir?"

"By committing murder, Harry," Dumbledore said frankly. "Taking the life of another, in circumstances of choice where you are not defending your own life, is an action that breaks the human soul. It splinters it. Voldemort knew this, just as he knew about a form of magic - the very darkest magic imaginable - which he utilized to capture a splintered fragment of his soul to keep in that locket." He paused for a long moment, still holding Harry's startled stare. "We've known for some time, haven't we, that he sought immortality?"

Harry could feel the color draining from his face, but felt redness collecting around his eyes, which burned with unshed tears of disbelief. "So he's done this so that he can never be destroyed, then." He gulped involuntarily before adding, "There's a number of those pieces of him out and about, aren't there?"

"I believe there are, Harry. They are called horcruxes," Albus responded regretfully. He flinched when the boy tapped his scar.

"And this?" Harry asked raggedly. "It's a piece of him too, isn't it?"

"Yes," Albus said sadly. "I believe it is."

Don't vomit, don't vomit! Harry begged himself. He panted his breathing to keep down the tea they'd just shared before beginning this discussion. "It's not like it's a surprise," he admitted in a small voice. "It's just really creepy to know for sure now." He couldn't let the conversation stop long enough for anyone to try to coddle him. "What else do you know, sir?" he asked Dumbledore. "Do you know how to destroy them?"

"These are very powerful containers that are meant to hold the portion of the soul until it can be joined with a living body again. The magic that binds the vessel closed is darker than I've had much experience facing, you see," Albus said. "But you've already encountered one, and destroyed it yourself, Harry."

"The diary," Harry said. He inhaled a lungful of air as his memories of the battle with the basilisk played out in his mind. "The bloody diary was controlling that whole event," he said, "and the apparition of Tom Riddle was so bloody real, until I grabbed the basilisk fang, then I knew by the way he was acting that I had something he feared in my hand."

Dumbledore smiled his indulgent smile at Harry's retelling of that dark adventure. "So, we know of one way to destroy them. It was quite fortuitous that you suggested storing the locket there, Harry. The chamber has been sealed since your second year, as I believe you are the only one capable of opening it other than Tom. There should be a basilisk carcass full of teeth down there as well."

"Um, a moment to clarify, if you will," Remus said in a voice that said his own urge to vomit was as strong as Harry's had been. "What exactly happened in that chamber, Harry?"

"Well, the short version is that there had been a basilisk lying dormant in it for years and the diary was trying to get us to open it so that the basilisk could kill all of the muggleborns," Harry said. "Ginny had ended up down there, and Ron and I went to help her. Lockhart used Ron's broken wand to attack us and it caused a collapse so we got separated and I had to fight the basilisk, which I was only able to do because Fawkes showed up with the Sword of Gryffindor. I won, but I came away with a fang in my arm and went over to Ginny, not knowing I was about to die. Tom's apparition came out then and started telling me all of his nonsense about how he was the Heir of Slytherin, etcetera, etcetera. I pulled the fang out of my arm and stabbed the diary with it to put an end to him, and it worked. And then I started to feel horrible, but Fawkes came and gave me tears for the wound on my arm, and then it was over."

Remus had a mild smirk on his face, temporarily forgetting the rest of the horror that had earlier been revealed to appreciate Harry's fortitude. "Well done," he said.

Harry flashed a look at Severus and caught him scowling at Remus. Lucius still looked pale and pasty and was looking off at nothing at the moment. Harry turned back to Dumbledore. "The diary was able to produce an apparition, Professor," Harry said anxiously. "How do we know the locket couldn't do the same thing? to lure someone to go down and fetch it?"

"A valid concern, indeed, Harry," Albus replied, "Each of you that had contact with the diary had the opportunity to open its pages and share messages with it. It would not have been able to communicate, or release the apparition of Tom, otherwise. The locket is not of the same ilk. It will require someone to speak specifically to it, to ask it to open before it can fully release it's contents."

"Albus," Severus finally said in a strangled voice, "Do we know that destroying the vessel will destroy the soul fragment?"

"That is the working theory, yes," Albus said. "We have a few incidents to consider, in that regard."

"I think it comes down to that black, sandy, flurry of stuff going into the air that tells us whether he's really out of the vessel he was in," Harry said. "I saw it when he left Quirrell, and it came out of the diary too, and both times it came at me and kind of washed through me, and then it was gone. When he possessed me at the Ministry, I didn't see what form of him entered, but it was that same stuff that left. Did anyone see it when I blew him up the other day?"

When Harry looked at Severus, he nearly abandoned his resolution to keep guarded around the older wizard. The potion master's expression was full of raw emotion that all seemed entirely to do with him.

It was Lucius who answered, "I did, Harry, it swirled outward as you began to collapse, and it chased after the snake."

"I've kind of thought that it was looking for another host when it does that. When it happened in the Ministry, it reformed itself into Voldemort's body. But it ran out of time and kind of dissipated when it happened with Quirrell and the diary," Harry reflected. "I wonder if it was able to join with Nagini this time?"

"You know the bloody snake's name?" Severus said in a strangled voice. He was growing angry in response to all of this fear. "This entire scenario is unthinkable."

"Yeah," Harry said, tensing at Severus' show of temper. "I know her name and I know what her voice sounds like." He turned his attention back to Dumbledore. "Sir, Voldemort pointed out to me that he, Nagini, and I had all attacked Mr. Weasley. At that point, I was thinking I was part of a trinity of sorts. I didn't know how I'd gotten linked to him, but I've known that I am, for a while now. If my scar is a horcrux, and that's linking me to him, then Nagini must be one too, right?"

"I think that is a wise deduction, Harry. All speculation, of course, but I would conclude the same," Albus said. He leaned back in his seat. "Now Harry, this is a lot to take in, in one sitting." Albus made a point of looking around at the other wizards.

Harry circled his gaze at the rest, seeing ashen complexions and reddening eyes on each them. "Please don't table the conversation yet, sir!" he begged Dumbledore, his own eyes filling against his will. "It's not like I get to put it aside too. It's with me wherever I go."

"There's not much left to cover, Harry," Albus said gently, "other than to wonder how many of these horcruxes Tom could have created. From what I've found out, each splinter that comes off of the soul leaves the original in an increasingly weakened magical state. I am hopeful that this factor would limit the number he created, stopping with the four that we have now identified. But beyond this, I have no solid information."

Harry swiped at his eyes. "Will you please talk with me about it as you find out more?" he asked Dumbledore brokenly.

"I will, Harry," Albus said. "And I believe we need to keep this information between the five of us alone, Harry." He waited for Harry to nod, before adding, "Now, Severus, if you will, a calming draught for each of us would be appropriate, don't you agree?"

Severus kept Harry behind as the other wizards said goodnight and made to leave. Even Remus managed to give Harry a gruff hug, if that was a measure of the depth of turmoil unleashed by the evening's revelations. Harry turned to face the potions master when they were alone. His eyes scanned the changing surroundings as Severus asked the Room to recreate the cozy den from the previous night.

"I know you think this is all too much for me," Harry said, his voice breaking, "but it would be so much worse if you were all keeping this stuff from me."

Severus took in the shattered expression on his young charge and felt his heart breaking yet again for this boy. Harry was still keeping his distance. Severus sat on the sofa, leaving room for the boy as he'd done the night before. "Come sit, Harry," he said.

Sobs were rising up in Harry's chest, but he shook his head.

"I did not mean to hurt your feelings," Severus said.

"I know," Harry said brokenly. "I know it was the locket, but…"

"But I was acting too close to the only side of me that you've known until recently, and it brought your guard back up."

"Well, yeah," Harry said, swiping at his eyes.

"Harry, I don't know if you know this about me, but at times, I can be quite surly."

Again the boy wiped his eyes, giving Severus a scowl that said he wasn't amused in spite of the smile that fought at the corners of his mouth. "I did know that."

"Come sit with me, Young Harry," Severus said again. "I've been worried about you for hours, now."

Harry sighed, but did as he was told and flopped heavily down beside the older wizard.

"You're going to be alright, Harry," Severus said, feeling his own eyes prickle with empathy for the boy's misery. On impulse he turned his upper body and slid his arms under Harry's legs and back, half dragging, half lifting until he'd settled Harry sideways onto his lap. The boy was startled and clearly did not know how to react to what Severus was attempting. "I've got you," Severus said softly. "Relax, son. Put your head here. Good. Just relax with me. You are safe."

Son? Harry glared off at nothing, as he realized he was incapable of convincing himself that he couldn't trust Severus. Not when the older wizard was so openly concerned…

"Close your eyes and relax," Severus murmured into Harry's hair. His hand gently rubbed Harry's back.

Harry closed his eyes over the fear. He tried to trust the way the older wizard was acting like he mattered. And like he belonged.

I'm too big to be cuddled like this.

But it was already making him feel better. Finally, he let go of his inner fight, and let himself be comforted.

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