The Long Stretch To Independence - Part II
Chapter 21 - Emancipated Minor - The Long Stretch To Independence - Part II
Severus asked Harry to help him with potions preparations in the mornings over the next three days. They got an exceptional amount of work done, and Severus made sure to create opportunities for Harry to practice his technique in brewing as well as the various means of prepping ingredients. They broke for lunch in Severus' quarters, followed by a few hours in the Room of Requirement practicing spells and theorizing further about Harry's wild magic, and what could possibly remain of Voldemort, other than Nagini, and the piece of him inside Harry's scar, at this point. By late Saturday afternoon, Severus could sense the tension in Harry that had been slowly growing since the afternoon they had stopped Mundungus Fletcher from stealing the locket was reaching a head. Severus was slightly puzzled by the boy's ongoing conflict, especially after the extent to which he'd gone to reassure Harry that he would protect him and watch out for him faithfully, moving forward.
"Young Harry," Severus said, still managing to induce a smile in the preoccupied teen in spite of his commanding tone, "you will now indulge me with a discussion of what continues to bother you about the dynamic between us so that I can either endeavor to make adjustments to my own behavior, or, more likely, I will place the blame entirely on you and proceed with ruthless ridicule of your feelings forthwith."
Harry snickered. "Exactly," he said.
"Explain," Severus said, gesturing with his hand for Harry to sit on his sofa, while he took a seat in his plush leather armchair.
Harry sighed defensively. "We still don't have answers. We've heard nothing from the Ministry. Should I worry they'll come after me, or not? Are they aware that Voldemort's gone? Is Umbridge going to get in trouble for what she did here, or could she be coming back?" He paused to take a fortifying breath, so that he could force himself to ask the most pressing question, "And how are you going to treat me after this?"
Harry struggled to keep his expression unaffected as Severus reflected on his own blatantly obtuse blindness to the boy's completely understandable fear of rejection based on Severus' previous longstanding wretched treatment of Harry as his professor. Severus leaned forward with elbows on knees. "Things will be different, Harry," he said softly. "I'm sorry to have let you worry about this."
"How will things be different, sir?" Harry asked in a strained voice.
"I will no longer target you with my hostility," Severus told him. "I imagine that will carry over to the rest of the students as well," he added thoughtfully, "...which will cause a reverberation, which could rebound on me in the form of disciplinary problems, to which I will respond as I always do, so make sure you're not in the center of that, should it occur."
"No problem," Harry said sarcastically. "You know me, I'm never in the center of conflicts at this school." He was more than a little pleased with himself when Severus indulged in one of his very rare smiles of amusement.
Severus regarded the teen, feeling a rush of paternal affection for him that he honestly did not yet know how he would contain. He was a demonstrative person by nature, as Harry had found out these past weeks, which the world around them had never witnessed because Severus rarely allowed anyone to get this close to him. Other than Albus and the three Malfoys, Lily had been the only other one Severus had deeply cared for in his lifetime thus far. Now there was Harry, who was traumatized and emotionally battered, and so very vulnerable that Severus would likely be hard pressed to resume even the stern harshness of his potions professor persona come tomorrow. If he sensed danger, Severus never had a problem in that regard, but his previous antagonistic urges toward the skinny and small teenaged son of his best friend had sizzled and died in the course of these last days of watching out for Harry. "You have managed to claim a very special place in my heart, Harry," he told the boy, and watched the way Harry relaxed ever so slightly in one regard, only to visibly display the sort of discomfort that comes from hearing something you dearly want to hear but don't believe is possible. "I will miss having this kind of time to spend with you, but neither of us will be available for it very often again until the spring holiday."
"I'm going to miss it too," Harry said and the sadness he felt threatened to choke him. "Should I even talk about what's changed between us?" he asked Severus. "How much should I tell people?"
"I will trust your discretion on this," Severus said. "Even if you say nothing, there will be an obvious and immediate change in my behavior."
"What else happened, besides your having found out what I'm really about?" Harry asked. "I mean, don't you think you'll tense up when all of us dunderheads crowd into your classroom with all of our teenaged idiocy?"
"Hmmmm," Severus quipped, "good point." When Harry snickered, he answered to the extent he could comfortably do so. "I'd made a decision to end my role-play as the Dark Lord's double agent shortly before you disposed of his body. In doing so, I freed myself from having to pretend to approve of the prejudice and open malice to those who are not pureblooded. I myself am a half-blooded wizard. My alliance to Voldemort was nearly as ridiculous as his prejudices against the likes of me, considering his own muggle heritage."
Harry smiled darkly. "So, if he hadn't messed with me the other day, and was still out making trouble," he said, enjoying the snort of amusement he'd brought out of Severus, "how would you be planning to act around the students as of now?"
"The same as I will do tomorrow: with far less malice, unless they misbehave," Severus told the boy. "I do have very genuine anxiety while in a classroom full of volatile potions being brewed by volatile adolescents."
Harry had never considered that. "It is rather dangerous, isn't it?"
"Albus seems to believe that your two best friends can be relied upon to keep your secrets, so I will not argue, in spite of my own reservations," Severus commented, needing to address subjects other than his changing behavior. He didn't want to give the boy false hope that he would become the newest favorite professor just yet. "As for the others who share your dorm, how much would you feel inclined to tell each of them?"
"Ron and Hermione can be trusted, Severus, I swear it," Harry said emphatically. "I also can trust Luna, Ginny, Neville and Dean the same way, although I don't tell them as much. Seamus can probably be trusted too, but we've had some rough times this year, so I'm not going to risk it. I want to tell Dean that I know his aunt now, and want to know if she's not okay because of what happened with Voldemort."
Severus nodded. "I have created warding for her so that she can alert me if there is trouble," he told Harry, who seemed surprised but relieved to hear this. "And in doing so, I encountered Mr. Thomas, who immediately concluded that something had happened to you and inquired. I told him only that you were fine, but he suspected there was more." He held eye contact with Harry for a long moment. "Will you listen to my recommendation about what you should and should not share outside of your trust for Mr. Weasley and Miss Granger?"
Harry nodded quickly. "Yes, sir," he said.
"I would not reveal the discovery of your peripheral, or wild, as you call it, magic to anyone but your two closest friends. I would also not reveal that you used this peripheral magic to destroy Voldemort's corporeal form, although I would disclose to those you trust the information that you had the encounter and that you prevailed. Tell it as if you used your wand, Harry."
"Alright," Harry said. "And what about my emancipation?"
"Sharing that should be limited to only this small few that you trust as well. Remember that there is an interpretation of your circumstances that will accompany people's perception of your motivations. You do not want to find yourself the subject of an expose on abused children, do you?"
"No!" Harry said in horror. "Bugger, I hadn't thought of that."
"Indeed," Severus acknowledged grimly. "I don't want to see you hurt, Harry, nor do I want to see unnecessary focus of attention on your personal business."
Harry nodded. "I never talk about that kind of thing, anyway, but I was wondering what you'd think of my telling Dean what his aunt went through because she stuck her neck out for me."
"I think Madam Chase trusts her nephew to know that the story would fall under the realm of your protected confidentiality on her part. If you chose to tell him the story, that is your decision, but she would not do so. Once he knows, she can acknowledge the role she played, but still not provide details outside of her own personal experience."
"Okay," Harry said. He was silent for a long stretch of time before he said, "I didn't even tell Ron that I was going to get emancipated. I didn't want to talk about the reasons."
Severus instinctively knew what Harry felt such an admission would have revealed about him. About his powerlessness. "But you told Miss Granger," he supplied.
"Yeah. I can't hide anything from Hermione," Harry said with a reluctant smile. "She just knows stuff. She's known all along that I wasn't cared about by my family. She would try to get me to admit it and I would just change the subject. Until this year. When I refused to complain to anyone about Umbridge, she really got it. She realized I had no one that I trusted who could intervene for me. And then my aunt sent a letter, which she'd never done before, and it said I should find a way to not go back to Privet Drive. And I just felt completely alone. For some reason, I decided to tell Hermione."
"I wish I had been someone you could have trusted, Harry," Severus said quietly. "I'm sorry I was not."
"Severus, I wouldn't have come to you anyway," Harry said. "Because I knew even then that you are Dumbledore's trusted ally, and I would have expected you to go straight to him with what I had to say." Harry sighed heavily, realizing he still hadn't forgiven Professor Dumbledore for the abandonment and the silence of the past term and the summer preceding it. "He was the one I was trying to get the farthest away from."
"He really hurt you," Severus said.
"I'm trying to let it go, but it's not easy," Harry said. "Even now, I feel like he's withholding something from me, and I don't trust him to be doing it to protect me. Even though that's probably what it is."
"I am not aware that he is withholding anything more from you, son," Severus said. "Other than his extreme remorse."
Harry's eyes had shot up when Severus had called him son again. Now they filled with conflict as he contemplated what Severus had said. "I don't want him to feel so bad that he can't even be around me," he said in frustration. "But I just don't trust him anymore."
Severus and Harry ate an early breakfast together the following morning before it was time to leave for London to catch the Hogwarts Express back to school.
"Let's settle into our schedules, and get a sense of when our time will be free," Severus suggested. "I would like to have you down here for dinner with me at least once a week, if we can afford the time." The responding smile Harry gave him was filled with relief and something that brought a lump to Severus' throat: affection.
Remus stood aside while Severus gave Harry a hard hug, squeezing so tightly for the last couple of moments that Harry burst out in laughter.
"Stay out of trouble," Severus admonished as he let Harry go.
Remus escorted Harry through their standard floo passages to then apparate to Kings Cross for the train ride with his fellow students on the Hogwarts Express. They arrived early intentionally, and grabbed a coffee in the small cafe while they waited for the others to show. Harry was excited to see his friends again.