The New Normal - Part II
Chapter 26 - Emancipated Minor - The New Normal - Part II
Harry glanced around the Forest, at the patches of snow that had gotten through the canopy of tree branches, taking in the grey, monochromatic beauty of the woods in winter, wishing it was as lovely of a place as it appeared to be. He rubbed at the tingle in his scar, and had a very thin, filmy feeling of being pulled again. Is that me? or is it him? he wondered distractedly, but the sensation faded and he wasn't able to make a conclusion. Class was going on all around him, the fog of breath escaping the students' mouths as they chatted distractedly and recast their warming charms on their robes, waiting for direction from Hagrid. He sighed.
So much for a nearly normal Tuesday.
He pulled his wand out of his sleeve and Lucius' galleon out of his shirt pocket, turning his back to the other students to quickly spell a message.
I'm at the edge of the Forbidden Forest with COMC class….and my scar is prickling….Just a little….But still.
He waited for a moment and received a response from Lucius: On my way. Another came from Severus: Keep me posted as to….the intensity of sensation in your scar….I won't say the other warning….I know you know.
If you know I know….why do you even say that much? Harry replied solely to Severus.
I know you know that as well.
Harry smirked as he turned back to the group, who had been waiting while Hagrid went ahead to have a look at a clearing just over a slight incline topped with fallen trees. Harry caught a whiff of a very distinctly foul odor. He knew that smell… Death. He clenched his jaw, noticing several of his classmates registering the odor as well. Many began to retreat without being told to. Hagrid came lumbering back over the incline and into full view. Harry could tell he was rattled.
"Best get back to our school grounds," the half giant said, clearly attempting to be calm. "On with ya, now!" he barked, making a sweeping gesture with his arms as if to herd his class back to safety. "You too, Harry, all of ya!"
Hermione and Ron had hung back for a couple of brief moments to wait for Harry and now the three of them flanked Hagrid, bringing up the rear of the retreating students. Ron snickered at the way Crabbe and Goyle were leading the rush.
"I'd say they were just looking out for number one, but I'm not entirely convinced they understand what's going on," Ron snarked.
"Hagrid, there are wards to keep intruders off the grounds, right?" Harry asked.
"Some, 'Arry," Hagrid said. "We've counted on the centaurs to help with that too, but no longer, I'm afraid."
Harry rushed along, tempering his panic as he recognized that his scar was still only prickling in a minor way. I bet it's that bloody snake. "Hagrid, what was dead back there?"
"A friend," Hagrid said gruffly. "That's all I want to say on it for now."
Lucius appeared in their path as they emerged from the edge of the Forest. "What's happened?" he asked Hagrid. He seemed to register Hagrid's tension and reluctance to answer in front of the three teenagers. "Is everyone accounted for?" He cast a look around until he spotted Draco hovering on the edge of the retreating class and visibly relaxed.
"I 'spect so," Hagrid said. "Ron, Hermione, you come with me, then."
Harry stayed back to talk to Lucius, who had his coin out and was sending a message to the other four coin holders, which now included McGonagall. "Lucius, how do we know Voldemort's snake can't come onto the grounds?"
"We don't know for certain, Harry," Lucius said. He pocketed his coin. "After you shattered the Dark Lord, Headmaster Dumbledore cast a series of wards around the perimeter of the grounds that the rest of us reinforced as well as we could. They will hold against human intrusion, but other forms of life may be able to get by."
"Like Wormtail," Harry said, turning with Lucius to continue walking back. "Someone or something was killed just where the Thestrals usually gather. We could smell it. My scar is still only mildly bothering me, so it must have happened a while ago. I'm betting it was Nagini."
"She is indeed hovering in the forest, then," Lucius surmised. "We'll have to curtail any class expeditions in there forthwith, until she can be destroyed."
"Any idea how that's going to happen?" Harry asked.
"None," Lucius said. He smoothed his hand over the back of Harry's head and then gave him a gentle push between the shoulder blades. "Back to class with you. And Harry, thank you for yesterday, with Draco."
When Harry looked back to acknowledge Lucius, the other wizard was smiling in spite of his concern. "We'll be careful, sir," Harry told him. He quickly spelled a message to Severus and jogged back to join his friends.
"I'm calling a DA meeting for tonight," Harry told Ron and Hermione as they hiked back up the hill for their last classes of the day: Divination for Ron and Harry and Arithmancy for Hermione. "We've all got to learn contego. I just feel like with that bloody snake out there, it would be the only possible defense that could possibly-"
"Unless you happened to be a Gryffindor in need," Ron supplied. "Like when the sword showed up for you with that other big snake you fought off, eh?"
"Yeah," Harry said thoughtfully. "We should keep that in mind, just in case. I wonder if the other houses have protective weapons like that?"
"Only one way to find out," Hermione said. "Meet me in the Library after class!" she called over her shoulder as she ran off.
"She did that so that we couldn't refuse," Ron griped.
Harry smirked. He pulled out the DA galleon, which he kept in his trouser pocket so it wouldn't be confused for the Lucius galleon. He sent the message for the DA meeting that night, eight o'clock in the Room of Requirement. They began to walk again and received a happy look from every DA member they passed on the way to Divination. For good measure, Harry told Severus and Remus about the plan as well on the other coin. No adult was going to be able to accuse him of trying to do everything on his own again, if he could help it.
For Severus, the week flew by in a disgruntled blur. It was already Thursday, and there was a very palpable decline in student unity within his House, indeed this was the case in all houses but Gryffindor. He and the other professors had each been required to intervene in time to prevent hostile clashes. The most surprising nondevelopment of the week was that none of these events had included Harry.
He waved his wand to spell the directions for the wart removal potion onto the board as his next class began to gather outside of the room. It was the last class of the day and he had the Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw second years. This particular combination tended to be docile, so he was not expecting any problems. Fifteen minutes in, he was overhearing a conversation between Mabel Dawlish and Thora Breckin, talking about Harry Potter, the unsung destroyer of You-Know-Who. He hovered within earshot, (yes, he did have bat-like hearing) which the students thought was a safe enough distance to safely have whispered conversations. He heard that both Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff had a good dozen students in each House that were denying the demise of You-Know-Who, claiming he lived on. There were also claims that a mere boy could never do harm to a wizard as powerful as "Voldy," and therefore, according to Miss Breckin of Ravenclaw, Harry Potter was just doing what he always did, making up lies and acting like a martyr.
Hmmm. A martyr. That's a new spin on the Boy Who Lived, Severus smirked to himself. He supposed in some ways Harry did play that role, but ultimately he saw a fierce survival instinct in Lily's son. As fierce as hers had been.
Severus opened the door to the young Gryffindor at six o'clock sharp, not surprised to see the boy pulling off his invisibility cloak at the same moment. "You brought your homework?" he asked to cover the unexpected desire to hug Harry in greeting. He'd missed the regular interactions with the boy all week, finding himself worrying about how Harry was balancing his lingering grief with all of the stress of resuming classes. He had to battle the urge again when Harry gave him that relieved smile that had been showing up on his face in recent times.
"Yes, sir," Harry said, as he came over the threshold and dropped his bag onto the sofa for later. "I've gotten O's on every holiday assignment, so far. You're probably surprised to hear that I like the way that feels."
"You might have had that experience repeatedly in potions if I'd not been as cruel in my methods of educating you," he said.
Harry shrugged. "There's a lot of reasons why I've never done all that well," he said. "Mostly, I just didn't have the will to try."
That got to Severus. He stepped over to Harry and cupped his hand behind the boy's head to pull him close, again feeling the lump in his throat at how tightly Harry hugged him back. "I've been worried about you this week," he said into the young wizards hair. "Have the potions helped you sleep better?"
"Yeah," Harry said. "But I'd rather have the chance to talk more with you about things. Just going to sleep on what's bugging me makes waking up to the same mess much less appealing."
"I would prefer the same," Severus said. "I'm not certain there is any other option. You are a boy at a boarding school. The boarding school experience does not offer a multitude of quality time with adults, I'm afraid."
"I know," Harry said.
Severus could tell he was smiling, but he was still leaning into the embrace, rather than pulling away. If ever there was a boy who needed to be held… "I do see now that your friends are very loyal to you, Harry," he said, "and that puts me somewhat at ease. I wouldn't want to think you hold in your sorrow around them."
"Well, that's just it," Harry said. "I always have in the past. But I just can't seem to stop myself from-" he squeezed Severus hard and then pulled away. "Ugh, it's embarrassing. I've never cried this much. I lost it when Hermione asked about Hedwig, and that really shocked her. It's only a matter of time before I fall apart in front of Ron, if I keep it up. That would be mortifying."
Severus smirked. "I would think that if you could survive a breakdown in front of your mean old potions professor, that you could handle it with your best friend."
Harry pondered that with raised eyebrows. "Hmmmm. Point taken." He cast a glance over his shoulder. "Can we eat? I'm famished."
At the table, Severus asked Harry for an overview of what he'd heard from fellow students about his encounter with Voldemort.
"It's odd, actually," Harry replied between bites of steak and kidney pie, "no one is saying anything to my face outside of my closest friends. Even other Gryffindors are keeping their comments to themselves. They're treating me like they owe me something, or like they think I'll blow up at them at any minute. And then the other Houses… well, no one outside of the DA has said much either. But in our DA meeting on Tuesday night, they all wanted to know about what had happened." He stopped when Severus raised an enquiring eyebrow, and held the older wizard's look solemnly. "I told it pretty much like it happened, only I never said where I was when I got pulled to Voldemort. I told them that I'd been thinking a lot about how I'd defend myself if I ever saw him again, and I made it sound like I managed to time my very clever, yet simple spells well enough to catch him off guard so he couldn't protect himself. The detail of wands never came up. But I did tell them that his snake escaped, and that I don't think he's completely gone, that he's probably in the dormant state he'd been in before the Tournament last year."
Severus nodded. "Well done," he said, not missing the relief in Harry's posture as he took another bite of his dinner. "And I have heard a multitude of rumblings of a similar nature. Most of the students seem to be of the same mind that he's not extinguished, only debilitated for now. Which I believe is most appropriate at this time, as it's the truth."
"Hagrid didn't say what or who was killed in the forest, only that it was a friend. With Hagrid that could be a giant spider," Harry started, smiling crookedly when Severus' austere expression registered amusement. "Do you know which friend of his it was?"
"It was another unicorn," Severus said quietly. They both knew this to mean that Voldemort was seeking strength again in his sandy smoke form.
"I'm certain it was Nagini that killed it," Harry said. "Lucius said we can't be sure she's warded out of the grounds?"
"We've warded against snakes and serpents, but she could possess magic that overpowers these, enough to let her through," Severus said grimly. "Lupin is currently making duplicates of your map for us to use to surveil the grounds more thoroughly." He tilted his head, narrowing his eyes at Harry. "Which means that I will know where you are. At. All. Times."
Harry laughed, shrugging in feigned indifference, "Fine. My days of late night wanderings are in the past." That was the truth. "Severus, I only went out at night because I knew things were wrong and couldn't get answers otherwise. You've answered every question I've asked you lately. I don't feel like you're keeping me in the dark."
"I am not, although my instincts often direct me to do so," Severus agreed. He took another bite of his pie, chewed and swallowed before requesting, "Tell me about your DA meeting. Lupin attended, I understand."
"Yeah," Harry said. "I think it made a big difference that he was there, like we weren't so much on our own anymore." He ducked his head, making a show of using his fork to gather the last crumbles of his dinner for one last bite. "You could show up one time. Let the others know you're also on our side of things."
Severus sighed. "I'll consider it," he relented easily, mostly because he was curious to see how Harry interacted with such a large group as their leader. "But I would only intend to observe, not participate. Most of the students will likely be disturbed by my presence, which is exactly as I'd prefer to keep it."
Harry shook his head as if bewildered at Severus' attitude, and served himself seconds. "We only managed to cover contego to the point that everyone could cast it and create a visible shield. We didn't have time to test the actual strength of them, though. I've scheduled another meeting for tomorrow night, and I'm going to set up mini duels so that we can practice casting on the fly." Harry had his eyes on his plate, but if he'd looked up, he would have seen a very impressed expression on his mentor's face. "I wanted to discuss something with you. I know what your initial reaction will be, so hear me out. I'm just thinking out loud, alright?"
Severus set down his fork and leaned back, tilting his head back so that he was looking downward at Harry, the way he usually did when he was expecting to have to reprimand him. He was only slightly amused, on the inside, when Harry rolled his eyes at him.
"So, remember when I got pulled away to Voldemort? how I said at first that I couldn't tell if it was me, or him, that had transported me to the Forest?"
"I do," Severus said warily.
"Well, a tiny bit of that feeling crept in again when I was down in the Forest earlier today. I still couldn't tell if it was me, or if it was coming from the, you know, essence of Voldemort that lingers on, somewhere out there," Harry told him, gesturing with his arm to indicate the vast expanse that constituted "out there."
"What I wanted to discuss with you is that everything I did when I faced him that day, and also in the Ministry, was based on a feeling I had. I think it's my instincts. But it got confusing when I realized Voldemort was using his wild magic too. That made me think I'd gotten mine from him, like the way I can speak parseltongue."
"And now?" Severus asked.
"Now I'm back to thinking it was mine all along. Maybe he got the idea from me, even," Harry said. He looked at Severus. "I've had a really, really strong urge to try to apparate for a while now. Ever since Remus apparated me here that Monday before Christmas."
"Harry," Severus warned, tension skyrocketing instantaneously. "Do not make me summon that bloody paddle back to keep you company."
Harry frowned. "If that's going to be your response to every complicated thing I bring up, I'll just-" he almost said he would just go to Remus instead, but thankfully cut himself off. "I just want to talk about it."
"Then let's talk, but if you even think about trying to apparate before you're fully grown, I'll charm that paddle to hover beside you, every minute of every day, reminding you of what to expect if you're foolish enough to test me," Severus said firmly.
Here we go again, Harry grumbled inwardly. "I'm going to be Emancipated in three weeks."
"I will follow through on my promise, regardless," Severus said. "I will not let you disregard your own safety so foolishly. Period."
Harry blinked. He didn't understand why he felt like bursting into tears instead of barking back some sort of defensive retort. Keeping his eyes on the table, he tried one last time, "I'm trying to be honest with you. You said as long as I was, that we'd be alright."
"And we will be," Severus said. Alarm bells were blaring in his mind as he glared at the top of Harry's head. He would not retract his threat. It was the most effective means of communicating his gut wrenching need to curb any wayward desire Harry may be entertaining. His tone was still severe when he added, "It's dangerous enough to apparate in the standard way, with a wand, you foolish boy. There is so much that could go wrong with a blind experiment with poorly understood peripheral magic."
"I know that," Harry said in frustration. "But that bloody feeling keeps creeping up on me. I couldn't stop it when it got past a certain point!"
Severus leaned forward with both elbows on the table, chin resting on the heel of his hand while his narrowed eyes studied Harry, trying to process what he was hearing. Harry was clearly not interested in defying him. That was not in question. "Well, which is it then, young man? Are you having an urge to apparate, or are you being pulled, as you call it. So far, you are not clearly distinguishing between the two."
"Forget it," Harry said angrily. He was going to lose it, and his wild magic was stirring up enough to make him feel desperate to leave. He shoved his chair back from the table and stood up.
"We are not finished with this conversation," Severus said sternly.
"Aren't we?" Harry yelled. "I think we've covered everything pretty well. You think I'm stupid, that I take stupid risks for the hell of it, and you're going to beat me if I mess up by your terms. I get it." He shoved his chair under the table and stalked out of the room.
Severus scowled at Harry's outburst, standing as well, and following him into the sitting room. "I think no such thing, Mr. Potter. Calm yourself and let's start again," he said.
Harry had his back to him and was swiping at his eyes. "I've said all I'm going to say, and I've heard your response." He grabbed his bookbag and darted around the sofa towards the door.
Severus debated forcing him to stay, but decided against this because his own temper was reaching a breaking point. He had missed something in that interaction, and had somehow left Harry feeling betrayed. He had little faith they could resolve the rift without some time to cool down first.