The New Normal - Part I
Chapter 25 - Emancipated Minor - The New Normal - Part I
It's January sixth, Harry thought as he walked away from Severus' quarters under his invisibility cloak, struggling yet again with yet another confusing realization…. he didn't feel alone. So what was he supposed to do when the thirty-first came around and he was officially on his own? I've gone to all of this trouble to make sure people have to leave me alone. But I don't want to be alone again. Two weeks ago today, Harry had been released from his cupboard and taken to the solicitor by his aunt. He'd been in such a state of squashed-down panic, which had been his state of mind for months by that point, that he could barely remember how he'd gotten through that first encounter with Madam Chase. Within a few days of that, he'd already started relying on Severus' support, even as he'd told himself he couldn't trust the man.
A part of Harry already knew that Severus was going to be a presence in his life from now on. But he had no idea how that was going to work. Even now, with school being back in session, he was missing the freedom to seek the older wizard out whenever he wanted to. If the rest of the students hadn't returned, Severus would have come and sat with him last night to talk things out until he was ready to go to sleep. But he couldn't do that now, with all of the Gryffindors crowded in. Harry used to take comfort from the other guys being in their beds while he struggled through his wretched nights, but last night, he'd really missed the reassurance that Severus seemed to bring to the scene, even when he had no answers, or fixes, for Harry. It just felt better that Severus knew something was going on.
He took a deep breath and blew it out through his mouth as he pulled his cloak off, before he rounded the final stretch of stairs leading out of the Dungeons.
"Hi, Harry," a small girl said shyly to him as he walked by. She stopped, waiting for Harry to acknowledge her.
"Uh, hi," Harry said awkwardly, stopping as well. "Did you want something?"
"I wanted to tell you that I know what you did," the girl told him.
"What is it that you know?" Harry asked carefully, stepping closer to the girl who was as small for her age as he'd always been for his. "And what's your name?"
"I'm Mabel Dawlish, Hufflepuff," she told him. "I'm in second year."
Harry nodded. "Your dad's an auror?"
"Yes, and he was really happy when he came home after you'd done your special magic on You-Know-Who. He said we didn't have to be afraid anymore," she said, smiling an adorably dimpled grin at him.
Harry smiled too, but said in a warning tone, "We don't need to be as afraid, Mabel, but there's still danger, so stay alert, alright?"
"From people who will be angry that he's dead?"
Harry didn't try to correct her misconception. "Yeah, that sort of thing. Actually, just be alert about anything that seems off."
"And come tell you?" she asked.
Harry got a slight twinge of discomfort at the thought she might be crushing on him. Just what I need. "Yeah, that would be fine."
"Okay, Harry," she said. "Have a good day."
"You too, Mabel," he said.
He turned and resumed his trek up the last set of stairs to the main floor to head over to the Great Hall to find Ron and Hermione.
"Potter!" Draco called in a softened shout. Harry snapped his head around to find Malfoy standing off on his own in the shadows of the hall that led towards the Headmistress' Office.
"Malfoy," Harry said warily. He made his way over to his former(?) adversary. "How are things?"
"Not great," Draco said.
Now that Harry was close enough, he could read strong tension in Draco. "I noticed Goyle's found a new posse to tag along with," he said. When that didn't start a dialogue, he sighed. "Well? Tell me what's up, already."
Draco clenched his jaw, clearly battling his instincts. "Does anyone in your house know what you did, you know, to him?" he asked.
Harry raised his eyebrows. "No one's said anything about it yet."
"Well, it's all over my House, so watch yourself, alright?" Draco said.
Now Harry was really seeing how messed up Draco was. "Alright, I will. What about you?" He watched Draco bite his lip while he fretted over his answer. "Look, let's set up an opportunity for you and I to become public allies. That's probably the best way to start making others feel like they can cross the lines between houses if they want to separate from the Voldemort camp."
Draco nodded. "Okay. Maybe in Potions class? Or Defense?"
"Let's do it in Defense. I'll ask Remus to help with that," he said. Draco nodded again. "Just so I know, who else should I be open to seeing as an ally?"
"Knott, Zabini, Greengrass, and Clearwater, maybe Bulstrode in our year," Draco told him. "I'd say most of the younger years. I don't trust any of the sixth or seventh years, though."
"Okay," Harry said, suddenly feeling taxed with a heavy responsibility. "We'll see how things go with Defense later today." Draco visibly relaxed. "But Draco, you really have to make sure you never show your prejudices again if you want this to work. You've left a lot of carnage in your wake over the years with your mean comments."
"I get it," Draco said, but he had that look he always got when he didn't like the way he was being spoken to.
Harry glared at him. "Somehow I don't think you do," he said. "I'll help you if I can, but those are my terms."
"I get it, Potter," Draco said defensively.
Their first class of the new term was Herbology with the Ravenclaws, and Harry had the unfamiliar experience of turning in his holiday homework with a sense of accomplishment. He'd always liked Herbology, and had usually done well by his own standards when they'd had the class with the Slytherins, but taking the class with Ravenclaw meant that the grading curve went up significantly, and so far this year he'd underperformed. But he knew he'd written a good essay for the holiday assignment. It had been the last one he'd done and Severus hadn't had any criticisms for it other than a couple of spelling and punctuation errors. The content, he'd told Harry, was very thorough. Professor Sprout collected their parchments as she reminded them all that the coming weeks would be exceptionally challenging for them, as they prepared for the O.W.L.s. Harry listened with a bit of dread, the wind blowing completely out of his sails at the thought of those tests. They were going to be the stepping stones to whatever career he decided he wanted for himself.
That, of course, will be depending on your getting bloody Voldemort out of your head, he reminded himself.
He reflexively rubbed at his scar, and consequently missed the minor prickling feeling that crept through it for a few brief moments.
Harry emerged from History of Magic yawning widely just as Lucius was touring by that particular hallway and received an amused smirk from the blond wizard in passing.
"Ugh, you're that friendly with him?" Ron groaned in disgust.
"You'd be surprised at the things he finds funny," Harry said. But Ron was not relenting. He shrugged. Lucius had a lot to make up for with the Weasleys. He didn't know if that was in the works or not. When they'd broken away from the crowd to walk at a leisurely pace to lunch, he added, "Lucius is the one who fixed my eyes." When both of his friends shot him looks of shock, he finished with, "he did it as an apology for second year. Turns out, he was meant to be an Occulist before he sold himself into slavery with Voldemort."
"Blimey," Ron snorted. "What an idiot."
"All I'm saying is that there is always a back story. He's not entirely as awful as we've known him to be." Harry glanced at Hermione, who was strangely silent. "What do you reckon?"
"He must be really smart," she said. "Occulism is a really difficult profession."
They had Defense Against the Dark Arts after lunch and the lesson for the day was a practical application of the defensive spells they knew, to help Remus get a sense of where they stood, skill wise. Remus paired Draco and Harry, and the class seemed to wait with baited breath to see how things would play out between them. Harry was not about to be bested by Draco, and he had no doubt the poncey Malfoy Jr. had the same sentiments.
"All right, gentlemen," Remus instructed as he waved each of the teens to opposite sides of the cleared area near the front of the classroom, "the challenge is to use only two annoying hexes - only minor pain inducing at most, and no bloodletting ones - and one style of shield to defend yourselves. I will time you for three full minutes and the one who gets past his opponent's shield more frequently receives twenty points for their House. Ready? Go!"
Harry had looked up a few hexes while on holiday to use in the DA. He grinned as he waved his wand in a tiny arc and shouted, "Vox vocis!" immediately followed by, "Contego!" to shield himself from Draco's first hex.
"Haud Os!" Draco cast a split second after Harry, shouting his hex, which emerged from his throat in a high pitched, squeak of a voice that literally sounded like a cartoon chipmunk from muggle television. His mouth dropped open as the entire class broke into hysterical laughter. Turning beet red, he gestured for Harry to try again, narrowing his eyes in an I dare you look. When Harry dropped his shield to cast his second hex, Draco repeated, "Haud Os!" and found himself having to laugh at how his voice sounded, but smirked in satisfaction as his hex hit Harry.
Harry tried to open his mouth, but he found he no longer had one. Bugger! he thought frantically. Now the painless hair pulling hex he wanted to cast would go completely wasted… "Uhm!" he yelled liplessly within his throat when he got pinched on his bum by Draco's next hex. The class was roaring with laughter while Harry danced around trying to avoid the pinching hexes that Draco ruthlessly cast in his tiny voice again and again, until Harry waved his wand in the slashing "x" shape to cast Saeta traho, yelling the curse in his mind and throwing his hands up in triumph when Draco's head got yanked to the side by an invisible handful of his hair.
"Ahhh!" Draco complained in the micro voice before falling to his knees in hysterical laughter.
"Time!" Remus called out as he wiped the laughter induced moisture from his eyes, having laughed as hard as the students. "I can't determine a winner. Twenty points to each of you!" He cast a finite on Harry, who grinned as he released the "tiny voice" hex from Draco. He made a show of rubbing the sting on his bum with one hand as he offered Draco a hand up with his other.
Most of the class came to crowd around Harry and Draco, with the exception of Crabbe, Goyle, and Pansy Parkinson. The Slytherins congratulated Draco, and a couple of them even flashed grins at Harry. None of the Gryffindors acknowledged the other Slytherins, but Seamus called out teasingly to Draco, "I'll bet that pinching hex goes over great with the witches, eh Malfoy?"
Draco snorted. "I dare you to try it on a witch, Finnegan. You just let me know how it plays out."
The last class of the day was Transfiguration with Ravenclaw again. Harry turned in his homework with a grin when Professor McGonagall gave him a surprised look. He'd not had an opportunity to speak with her at all yet, but he knew she was up to speed with all of the events that had occurred over the holiday. He appreciated the fact that she would have excused him for not completing his assignment, unlike his taskmaster of a potions professor. The class practiced transfiguring a sheet of parchment into a water glass and casting Aguamenti to fill it. Anyone who was able to produce a glass that did not leak received full marks for the day. It took Harry three tries, but he got it.
All in all, this had turned out to be a pretty decent day.
Tuesday was a bit more nerve-wracking for Harry because it was to begin with double Potions, the first set of doubled class times for the week. This week he would only be seeing Severus in class on Tuesday and Thursday, and for dinner on Thursday evening. Harry hadn't had any kind of interaction with Severus since breakfast yesterday, and he was realizing he'd probably have benefited from one more reassurance from the former Greasy Bat of the Dungeons that Harry was no longer his favorite target. He tried to keep his growing anxiety in check as he walked along with Neville, but that was asking a lot, considering that Neville still feared Severus enough to make him stutter and break a sweat as they neared the classroom. Ron and Hermione had been on patrol during the breakfast hour, so they would show up shortly.
Harry entered with Neville and they took a table in the dead center of the room. "You alright, Harry?" Neville asked, obviously just as nervous as Harry.
"Yeah," Harry said. "I'm just going to keep my head down and try to get through the bloody potion without messing up. That's my only expectation." He glanced over at Draco, who gave him an innocent look that he did not find amusing. That ponce had better not pull his usual stunts.
Ron and Hermione entered and found a table close to Harry and Neville. The four of them exchanged looks, but just continued getting their cauldrons set up and parchment ready for note taking.
The door to the classroom slammed shut and Snape strolled in, today dressed in his new standard black trousers and white linen shirt under a set of open robes that were a very dark green. Not quite black. The robes still managed to flare dramatically as he swept through the room, eyes darting around as if to see which of them needed to be picked on.
"Today you will work individually," he said in his slow, deliberate tone. "You will brew the Allergy Elixir that is written out on the board. Notice, if you will, that I have neglected to detail the preparation of three of the ingredients. You will decide how to best collect and alter the ingredient into its ideal state for the potion. I will give you one significant hint, which no one in this class should have issue with: consider what you know of the consistency of an elixir, and prepare your ingredients accordingly. If you were to add slippery elm to this potion, would you simply toss in the bark, or would you add only the sap?" Again he darted his eyes around the room, noting the fretful expressions on many of the faces. "I will of course award full marks to all who correctly complete the potion in the requisite forty minute timeframe. I will award each house twenty points, if each of you can manage to turn in a potion that resembles an elixir by the end of the class." He ignored the murmurs of shock circulating among the Gryffindors and stared down the few Slytherins who were not happy that he'd offered any sort of concession to their rival House. "Leave your holiday assignment on your table for me to collect. Begin."
Three hours later Harry emerged from the room with Neville, sharing the other boy's shock at the full marks they'd each received on their potions. They'd also had enough time to get a good start on the homework Severus had set for Thursday, and as they were preparing to leave, had been shocked when Gryffindor was awarded twenty points, but not Slytherin. Crabbe had destroyed his potion three times and had finally given up ten minutes before the period ended.
Now they were off to the Great Hall for lunch, and a free study period, and then Care of Magical Creatures with Hagrid. Everything was fine until Harry's scar began to prickle mildly when they entered the edge of the Forbidden Forest to have a look around for some Thestrals.