Emancipated Minor

Holiday Struggle - Part II

Chapter 2 - Emancipated Minor - Holiday Struggle - Part II

Harry had the good sense to scoot quickly down the hall in Dudley's wake and deposit his rucksack in the cupboard under the stairs, before his uncle could see it and attempt to confiscate it. He stood at the swinging kitchen door, wishing he was anywhere but there, and fiercely battling the tears that were welling in the corners of his eyes. The Dursleys were in an uproar on the other side of the door, likely gathered around the table stuffing themselves with holiday sweets.

"You promised, Mum!" Dudley was griping. "You said you were ridding us of him, once and for all!"

"Yes, Petunia," Uncle Vernon agreed angrily. "We've never had to deal with him over the winter hols before. What is he doing here?"

"I have no idea," Petunia said angrily.

Harry pushed the door open. "I'm sorry, okay?" he said roughly. "A lot of bad stuff has happened and no one is allowed to stay at school over the holidays."

"What about your ruddy friends?" Uncle Vernon demanded. "Let them deal with you!"

Harry managed to keep his temper in check, and his tone was more reasonable than usual when he said with great restraint, "Don't you think I'd go to them if I could?" He looked at his aunt. She gave a very slight shake of her head. He pressed his lips together and dismissed the next bit he was going to add, saying instead, "Look, I promise to stay out of the way-"

"Oh, you'll do exactly that!" Vernon bellowed. "You think I'd let you run wild after what you pulled last summer?" As if he was suddenly recollecting his rage at Harry over the Dementors, his face turned beet red quite rapidly. He stood up, the force of his bulky movements shoving his chair back and causing it to totter precariously for a second. With a snarl, he crossed the short distance to get in Harry's face, gathering a handful of the boy's jacket. "If I see you again while you're here, I'll break bones, boy. That's a promise."

Harry believed his uncle. His stomach sank as Uncle Vernon propelled him backwards, back to the hallway, stopping in front of the Harry's old cupboard. Uncle Vernon yanked open the door and shoved Harry inside, causing him to hit his temple hard on the low doorway. Harry fell at an odd angle onto the dusty mattress, sprawling awkwardly and gasping at the sharp pain in his head. His feet were being kicked impatiently, so he quickly pulled them inside, and then the door was slammed shut.

"Petunia! Bring me that padlock we keep in the junk drawer!" Uncle Vernon barked. Harry could hear his aunt hastening to do as she'd been ordered and in another moment, the lock was being attached to the cupboard door, effectively preventing Harry from escaping. Vernon stomped away, calling after Dudley that it was time to watch their favorite Christmas special on the telly.

"Do not make a sound while you're in there," Aunt Petunia warned him, her cold voice carrying through the slats near the bottom of the door. "You will be allowed out twice a day, but never when Vernon is here, and you will not complain about that, if you have any sense at all!" She stomped off to join her family in the living room.

For once, Harry could care less that he was trapped in this dingy little space. He rubbed his aching head, already feeling the resulting knot begin to swell on the side of his forehead, opposite his scar, which was surprisingly free of its constant tingling. He lay on his back on the mattress, grateful that he could still stretch out in here, if only just barely. He didn't bother with turning on the light. It would hurt his eyes, which were already filling and spilling over as Harry lay there, willing himself to breathe and do nothing else. He'd long ago mastered crying soundlessly, forcing only his eyes to well over, and keeping his sinuses relatively undisturbed. This helped tremendously by minimizing his need for a handkerchief. He just swiped regularly at the rivulets of tears tracking down the sides of his face, letting them air dry on his skin.

Today was Wednesday, the eighteenth of December. Thirteen more full December days, then the thirty-one in January, and then he could start anew.

Severus had returned to Hogwarts and exited Dumbledore's office in haste, taking the hidden passages back down to his quarters to be out of the way when the Ministry arrived to take control of the school. He did not yet know what had happened to Dolores Umbridge, only that she'd disappeared sometime before Potter and his cohorts had left the grounds.

Now, why did he suspect they would know exactly what had happened to her?

With Minerva still in St. Mungo's, it was anyone's guess who would be put in charge of the school in the interim of bureaucratic nonsense that was due to follow before Dumbledore could be reinstated. If he was to be reinstated. That still remained to be seen. The good news was that all of the students would depart for home in the morning, and the castle would be empty of most of its inhabitants by late morning.

Albus was waiting for him when he entered his quarters moments later. The old wizard had his trusty phoenix familiar, Fawkes, with him, and Severus knew the bird had been his mode of transport into the castle. The beautiful red bird sat on Albus' shoulder and trilled a short song for Severus when the younger wizard sat opposite his longtime mentor and friend before the crackling fire.

"Harry is safely back at Privet Drive?" Albus asked.

"He is," Severus said. He waited for the inevitable inquiries about how the boy was doing emotionally, but they did not come.

"Harry is suffering incalculable pain tonight, Severus. This could very well be a turning point for him. We may have seen the last of his willingness to please us."

Severus gaped incredulously. "His what?" he demanded.

"Harry has been completely isolated this year," Albus said, ignoring Severus' refusal to see the truth. "I have ignored him out of necessity, but in doing so, have left him at the mercy of numerous predators. I include you in that assessment, my boy."

Severus glared at Albus in defensive rage. "Hardly."

"I fear much of the damage done to be irreparable."

The dark mark on Severus' arm had burned with his other master's rage while Albus was still there. The older wizard had opened his arms to give Severus a rare embrace and admonish him to be careful before they had each departed the school. It was surmised by them both that in the best case scenario, it would be at least a month before Albus would be reinstated as Headmaster of Hogwarts. It was yet to be seen what the fall-out of tonight's Voldemort sighting by the handful of Ministry officials would be. There had been several aurors in the group that had responded to the Ministry security alerts. Albus had been quite confident that each of them had seen Voldemort with his or her own eyes. Bureaucratically, Fudge wouldn't be able to continue to deny the truth, but he could play games about reinstating Albus, if only to save his own career. After all, reinstating Albus would require public admission that he'd erroneously refused to believe in Dumbledore's credibility, and at the cost of public safety, no less.

Albus retreated to parts unknown, and Severus left the Hogwarts grounds to disapparate to the Dark Lord's lair, which was currently located at Riddle Manor. Severus was subjected to interrogation about any knowledge he'd had of the evening's events, of which he'd convincingly claimed ignorance, and had been mercifully spared from torture. Bellatrix had escaped the Ministry, and had spent the duration of the gathering sitting at the Dark Lord's feet. Lucius Malfoy had been suspiciously unaccounted for, although, as all of the others were known to now be in custody in Azkaban, it was a likely conclusion that Lucius had been arrested and detained as well. Voldemort adamantly insisted that his Death Eaters devise a plan to free the prisoners as soon as possible. Severus played his part, but was hard pressed to keep his focus by the time they'd disbursed.

I am not handling this well, he worried as he left the scene.

Back at Hogwarts, Severus poured himself a dose of firewhiskey and sat before his fire, staring at the flames and trying to quiet his mind. He was still feeling unsettled, and the events of the Ministry were still dominating his thoughts. Albus calling him a predator had left a mark on his conscience as well. He thought about Potter and wondered what he could feasibly change about the way he treated the boy to perhaps minimize this perception of his intentions. Some of his hostility was necessary, but a lot of it was not. He could at least admit that. Still, the very mention of Harry Potter irked him to no end. There was no love lost between them, of that he was certain.

Harry's mind had replayed the disaster at the Ministry over and over and over, and his eyes had leaked his misery all night long. He had flashes of recollection about the shattering orb that held the prophecy, and the words that had been recited about his fate, but he couldn't keep enough coherent thought together to remember it in its entirety. First I have to survive my stay here in the cupboard, he thought. Uncle Vernon would definitely break my bones if I woke them all up with my nightmares. I'll worry about the prophecy after I get through this. He didn't dare go to sleep the following morning, until he could be sure Uncle Vernon had left. But alas, now there was his full bladder and his significant thirst keeping him awake.

Harry lay on his back in exhausted despair, listening to the household noises as his aunt got up with his uncle, making him breakfast while he showered and dressed. When the front door finally slammed shut, Petunia hustled over to the cupboard and unlocked the padlock.

"Out," she instructed in her usual annoyed tone of voice. "You have ten minutes in the downstairs powder room." She thrust a towel and bar of soap at him. "Do not leave a mess in there!"

Oh, and I'm fine, by the way, Harry thought sarcastically. His face was red and splotchy, he had a giant purpling bump on his forehead, and there was no question he'd been awake all night, but his aunt couldn't be bothered to ask about the bad things that had happened. She doesn't care, idiot. He numbly followed her orders, entering the tiny bathroom and placing the towel and soap on the edge of the sink. He used the toilet quickly, then stripped and sponge bathed as hastily as he could, redressing in yesterday's clothes and spending the remaining time taking a long drink from the faucet. There was a rap on the door.

"Out!" he heard again.

Harry opened the door and faced his aunt. She pointed to the kitchen and followed him when he went through the swinging door. There was a plate with a peanut butter sandwich and a glass of milk waiting for him. Surprised to be given food so readily, and in spite of the fact that it may as well have been made of sawdust for all of the appetite he had, Harry sat and forced himself to eat while his aunt paced back and forth.

"Do you have all of the letters and financial statements we need to go through with this legal melodrama?" she demanded.

Harry knew this to mean she wanted him to hand over the four hundred, twenty-five pounds she'd told him it was going to cost. "Yes," Harry told her. "I have all of that." Hermione had helped him forge several letters of reference, and the goblin at Gringotts had provided the financial documentation of his ability to support himself. "I also exchanged some wizarding money for muggle notes for you, and have a pamphlet called Emancipation Of A Minor Via The Muggle Legal Process. It says that once I'm emancipated legally in the muggle world, The Ministry of Magic is obligated to provide me formal Emancipation in Wizarding Britain as well. I'll be a legal adult in both worlds, and no one will be able to tell you that I have to live with you after that. Oh, and I have a solicitor who will handle the wizarding stuff after we do this. You'll just have to have your solicitor send the papers to my solicitor, and it will all be handled nearly instantaneously from there. It's only about six weeks until I'm fifteen and a half, so by then, this will all be handled and I'll never have to come back here."

"Fine," Aunt Petunia sniffed. "I will call to make an appointment as soon as possible. We will go when Vernon is out. I have not told him or Dudley about this. I do not want any interference."

"Nor do I," Harry said." He drank his milk and grabbed the last part of his sandwich as his aunt cleared his dishes and gestured for him to get up and go back to his cupboard. "I'm really grateful that you're doing this for me," Harry said earnestly.

His aunt frowned unhappily. "I'm not doing this for you, boy," she snapped at him as they walked the short distance. "I'm doing this to prevent my husband from becoming a murderer. You've gone way too far with your freakish pranks!" She slammed the cupboard door shut after him.

Harry took the opportunity to sleep through the day. He was let out for another bathroom break at about half four that afternoon. Petunia sent him back into the cupboard with another sandwich and glass of milk. It was clear that she'd set aside a loaf of bread and peanut butter for him for the time he would be living there. He doubted she'd feel inclined to buy more when the loaf was gone. No matter, he thought as he willed himself back to sleep for the last stretch of time until his uncle and cousin were both in the house again, as of January thirty-first, I'll be legally independent and can buy my own bloody food, and have my own bloody place to live. The burning question of the moment was where he would live. So far, the only thought that came to mind was someplace far, far away.

Severus received a summons the following afternoon, asking him to appear Friday morning for a face to face meeting with the School Board and Minister Fudge. He'd just returned from St. Mungo's and was aware that Minerva had been appointed to act as Interim Headmistress, while facts were compared to fiction, among those who were desperately trying to find a way to hold onto their Ministry jobs. Minerva had recommended Severus to manage the school over the holiday break, and it appeared they were prepared to move forward on her recommendation. She would be fully convalesced by the time the students returned for the winter term. Severus prepared a list of the numerous decrees of Delores Umbridge that required reversal. Most significantly, he would insist that the monitoring of the floo network and school mail cease immediately. Those two measures, at least, would help return a sense of normalcy to the school.

Severus headed into his potions lab to check the final stages of this month's dose of Wolfsbane Potion for Lupin. He could not travel with the potion, so the wolf would have to come to him this evening. Hopefully by the time the second dose was due to be taken Friday evening, the Ministry monitoring would have ended, and Lupin would be able to floo through from Grimmauld Place untraced.

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