Emancipated Minor

Defense - Part III

Chapter 30 - Emancipated Minor - Defense - Part III

Twenty minutes later, Betsy Charron had been taken to St. Mungo's via emergency portkey, and the Slytherins who'd never made it to the scene were on their way to the Ministry of Magic to be held accountable for their crimes of assault on Hogwarts professionals, and suspicion of intention to commit murder. Harry had learned that Vincent Crabbe had been among them, and that Professor Hooch had suffered a partial stunning hex as she'd flown into the melee to help, but had deflected the worst of it back to Crabbe. The rest of the Slytherins were upper years that Harry didn't know by name, but none were particularly adapt with their wands. In the meantime, Madam Pomfrey had Luna on a conjured stretcher, and was currently levitating her along the path back up to the school. Aurors Dawlish, Shacklebolt, and Tonks were escorting Mullen, Sorrell and Stoner back as well for an interview before determining whether their crimes needed to be handled outside of the school authority. McGonagall was walking with Belkin. All of the seventh year assailants were weeping. Harry could hear Dominick Belkin brokenly telling McGonagall that everything had gotten out of hand, and he certainly hadn't expected a snake to come into the conflict. And that Harry's quick thinking had probably saved Betsy. Harry was glad he didn't have to tell Dominick that Nagini's venom prevented wounds from healing magically, as Mr. Weasley had found out. Betsy was in for a rough convalescence.

Harry looked around at his friends. Ginny was walking on her own, flanked by Ron who kept looking over at her anxiously until she finally told him she could always hex him to prove she was fine. But it was clear she wasn't completely alright because she was slightly hunched forward as she walked. She actually had been punched in the stomach by a giant snake, Harry reflected inwardly. That must have been terrifying. Madam Pomfrey had told her she had no real injuries but should come to the infirmary for a couple of potions to help with the bruises developing on her abdomen. Harry wondered if Lucius would do or say anything more to the Weasleys at this point. He was currently walking just behind them, clearly keeping a watchful eye.

Remus was walking with Neville, who'd had the slash on his arm healed up and was wearing a sling. The DADA professor had a comforting hand on Neville's shoulder, and Harry could see that the aftermath of what they'd just been through was taking its toll on his friend. He felt a warm swipe of Severus' thumb from where his hand lay on Harry's neck. Harry looked up at his mentor to find the older wizard watching him. Hermione was walking on Severus' other side and it was clear that she was sticking close to him for reassurance as well. That made Harry's eyes fill. It took a lot to frighten Hermione.

"This was a rather complex event," Severus commented, still watching Harry.

"They were coming after us because of what we did at the Ministry," Harry told him. "I really don't think they intended to do more than scuffle."

"I thought at first that your scar was hurting because of one of them," Hermione told Harry, leaning forward was they walked to speak around Severus. "But then Nagini came out of nowhere…" she stopped, thinking about her next comment. She looked up at Severus and made an inward decision. "If she still has the power to make Harry's scar hurt, then she probably wasn't killed just now by Mr. Malfoy's spell. She may need to be destroyed by something far more powerful."

Her voice was shrill and shaky, in spite of the hushed way she spoke the words, and Harry knew there was no point in trying to deflect her insight. He looked up at Severus and found the potions master looking down at Hermione with narrowed eyes, but there was not disapproval in his expression. He was impressed.

"Miss Granger," Severus said in a low tone, "I trust that you will limit your insights on this matter to discussions only within the circle who hold the charmed galleons."

Hermione looked affronted, "Of course, Professor," she said with a tiny huff.

Harry smiled in spite of the grim circumstances, sharing a look with Hermione that let her see he thought the world of her. "Sir," he said to Severus, still speaking quietly, "we've done a bit of research, thinking about how Griffindor has a House-loyal artifact that is a strong weapon, and how I'd been able to kill the basilisk with it. So, we wondered if the other houses had their own weapons for protection. But they don't. They each have an artifact, all three of which had gone missing sometime in the last few decades."

Severus had slowed their pace down, so that now a gap was growing between them and the others. "And one of these items was Salazar Slytherin's locket," he said. He'd had a similar discussion with Albus earlier this morning.

"Yes," Hermione chimed in. "And there's a cup for Hufflepuff and a diadem for Ravenclaw."

"Indeed," Severus said. "You are on the same track as Albus in this regard. But we are only in a state of conjecture at this point to assume that those items could be harboring the same evil as the locket." He lightly rested his hand between Hermione's shoulder blades to gently push her to resume their previous pace while he guided Harry the same way with his other hand. "We will likely have a chance to discuss this soon. This incident will most certainly have caused an alarm that will require immediate response from the Board of Governors, the Ministry of Magic, and likely The Wizengamot."

"What's happened, Father?" Draco asked from the periphery of the procession of students, aurors and school professionals just after they'd entered the castle.

Lucius halted, turning to seek out his son as the others passed. "A rather spectacular attack, actually." He jerked his head to indicate Draco should come to him and clearly surprised his son by hugging him. Severus and Harry stood by while Lucius added, "The danger we have anticipated continues to loom, son. Harry and his friends were just attacked. One of their assailants was a large serpent that you have been acquainted with. I'm hopeful that Harry and I have destroyed her, but that is probably wishful thinking."

Harry chimed in then. "I used your mouthless hex on her," he told Draco, wanting to be sure Lucius knew Harry hadn't been the originator of that idea. "And then your dad gave her a massive gash and flung her into the lake."

Draco paled significantly, not even able to smirk or tease Harry for using his spell. "Could she survive under water without her mouth?" he asked.

"I don't know," Harry said, flashing a look up at Severus. "I don't know how long my magic would have held out."

Draco studied him. "You didn't do it with your wand, then?" he asked quietly, hastily glancing around to make sure no one else was hearing them.

"My magic isn't strong enough through my wand," Harry said, suddenly realizing this as he verbalized it.

"What about the reaction in your scar?" Severus wanted to know.

"It stopped hurting when we all started hexing her, and that was before Lucius arrived, so I can't tell if she's dead," Harry said in frustration. "It may just be that she's too far away again to register."

Lucius said goodbye to Draco, and they proceeded with the entire group through the Great Hall and back into the large gathering room behind it, where Mr. and Mrs. Weasley were waiting, along with Madam Longbottom and Mr. Lovegood.

"Where's my Luna?" Xenophelius Lovegood asked the group in general, but he spotted Harry and made his way over to introduce himself. "My daughter considers you a dear friend, Harry, it's a pleasure to meet you."

"I feel the same for Luna," Harry said, shaking the older man's hand. "We all do. And I'd like to thank you for your article in The Quibler."

"Miss Lovegood is in the infirmary," Severus told Mr. Lovegood, adding as soon as the panic registered on Luna's father's face, "a simple concussion. Nothing more."

No sooner had Mr. Lovegood hastily exited, than a POP made a few of them jump in surprise and a small cloth bag with the Hogwarts Infirmary crest stamped on it appeared with a small scroll, hovering in front of Severus. He took the bag, read the note, and headed over to Ginny. Harry followed. Molly Weasley was busy hugging her children, more carefully so with Ginny, then pulling Hermione into her arms, before finally nabbing Harry into a suffocating embrace. He hugged her back, at once feeling both relieved that she didn't hate him, and guilty for getting her children into yet another mess by virtue of who he was.

"Oh Harry," she said, loosening her hold but not letting him go. "We missed you over the holidays. Are you alright, dear?"

"Yeah," Harry said honestly. "Things have been rough, but I'm doing okay."

Severus was handing the two potions to Ginny in the order she was supposed to take them.

"What on earth happened out there?" Molly asked. Arthur came to stand in their assembly, putting an arm around his wife.

"We got attacked by some upper years," Ron said. "But things got really bad when the giant snake showed up."

"Snake?" Arthur paled. "That's what injured your tummy, Ginny?"

"It would have been far worse if Harry hadn't sealed the snake's mouth shut," Ron said. He seemed to be girding up to what he admitted next, taking long enough to do so that his audience had nearly assumed he was finished speaking. "Mr. Malfoy came in and finished her. Cut a nasty gash in her and threw her out into the lake."

"But one of the girl attackers was horribly bitten," Hermione said.

"The snake probably would have eaten her, if Harry hadn't cast that horrible bear at her," Ginny added.

Severus sighed dramatically to cover his resurfacing inappropriate amusement. He ducked his head down to say in Harry's ear, "And now, it's only a matter of time before there are bears all over the school." He'd meant this as a teasing comment, but Harry didn't look at him or react, other than to move a little closer and lean into his side when Severus draped a protective arm around him. The boy was shaking again.

By dinnertime, the auror interviews had concluded and it seemed that none of that group of student assailants would be expelled. Harry could tell they would be losing basically every privilege available to restrict as their punishment. There was also a distinct drop in the stone count in the hourglasses for Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff. He'd kept close to Severus while the matters were sorted out. He'd been happy to see Madam Longbottom being sweet to Neville, kissing his cheek and telling him he could come home for a few days if he wanted to, but Neville had said he'd be fine. Ron, Ginny and Hermione seemed like they'd gotten enough comfort from Mr. and Mrs. Weasley to tough it out as well.

So, why am I being so clingy to Severus? Harry wondered. His own inner voice sounded defensive. He would have forced himself to move away just then, but Severus pulled him to the side as the others were saying their goodbyes and weeding out of the room.

"It's good timing to have a space in my quarters, isn't it?" Severus asked Harry.

"I was thinking that too, but I feel kind of weird leaving my friends when they went through just as much," Harry said.

"Their battle was not the same as yours, son," Severus told him quietly. "Do what feels right, but do not downplay the enormity of what you took on today, yet again." He put his hands on Harry's shoulders. "Harry, for your friends, there was an attack on your group by some bullying upperclassmen, and then a chance attack by a giant snake. Horrifying, yes, but for you, this was another reminder of what you still have to face, on so many fronts. They can go home to escape this danger. But it will follow you, wherever you go. Won't it?" This last he said very carefully, watching Harry's inner battle. "I will shelter you with my life, Harry, so you are not alone with this danger. You need to take care of yourself, and let your friends do the same."

Harry clenched his jaw against his emotions. "Alright," he gritted out. After a moment, he threw his arms around Severus and buried his face in the older wizard's neck. He was rewarded with the trademark Severus Snape embrace that his mother had adored all of those years ago.

"Attention, students," Headmistress McGonagall announced as everyone assembled at their House tables for dinner. "Some of you may be aware, and the rest of you need to be informed, that there was an incident on the grounds this afternoon that yielded six expulsions, and a very harshly reprimanded group of upperclass students," she said severely. She paused while the resulting hum of student murmuring would have obscured her voice. "I want to make it very clear that there will be no tolerance for violence in this school. From this moment forward, any unprovoked attack, from one student upon another, will be turned over to Ministry Aurors. It is against wizarding law to use your wand aggressively toward another individual, unless in self defense. The definition of self defense does not include disagreements of opinion, of any sort, nor does it apply to verbal assaults. However, I will also warn that verbal bullying and taunts will be punished severely as well. Things are far too volatile for such nonsense to be engaged within our student body. This is a time for unity. I sincerely hope you heed my warning."

Harry turned his head back to look down on his plate. He'd yet to serve himself dinner and found he had no appetite at this point. But then he reminded himself of his promise to never go hungry again, and spooned some vegetables and potatoes onto his plate.

A sudden POP startled him and his table mates, and a familiar looking scrolled missive presented itself. Clearly it was meant for Harry. It unrolled itself with a loud zip and a woman's voice recited loudly, so that all within the Hall could hear:

Harry James Potter, your presence is required at an emergency assembly of The Wizengamot tomorrow at eight o'clock a.m. The subjects for your interview will include the capture of Peter Pettigrew, and the destruction of He Who Must Not Be Named. Hoping you are well, Amanda Peterson, Ministry Liason to The Wizengamot.

Harry sighed.

Harry did indeed stay in his new room in Severus' quarters. The potions professor and Head of Slytherin House was unfortunately tied up with school proceedings for several hours after dinner, but he was more than willing to talk with Harry late into the night, knowing the boy wouldn't sleep without getting to vent his spleen on what could possibly be awaiting him at the Ministry of Magic, on a Sunday morning, no less.

"Given the continued rumble of strife in my House, I will remain here tomorrow. I am actually surprised not to have been called as well," Severus told Harry. "Lupin will come for you and escort you there in time for his own appearance. Lucius will also be in attendance, so either of them will return you to the school when you're finished. But Harry, if at any point, you find yourself in need of my presence, I will be there, without hesitation. Understand?"

"Yeah," Harry responded with a small smile, adding with far more conviction than he actually felt. "I'll be alright, though."

It actually didn't surprise Harry in the least that the meeting was being held in the same chamber as where he'd had his hearing last summer. The members of The Wizengamot were collected, but their number was fewer than Harry remembered, the blaring difference being the absence of Dolores Umbridge and Cornelius Fudge. Maybe this smaller number reflected the absence of any Ministry representatives? The new Minister of Magic was not present, either.

Harry was asked to be seated in the same setting as his previous visit, a lone chair that faced the entire assembly.

Not the least bit intimidating at all.

But once the interview began, there was only one question for him. Harry was asked to recap what he knew about the recently detained Peter Pettigrew. He'd reviewed what to say with Severus last night, so he launched into his recital of the facts as he knew them:

Pettigrew had been the secret keeper for the Fidelius charm that had protected his parents, and he'd betrayed them to Voldemort, leading to their murders. (Harry had been openly unwilling to be politically correct by catering to the "safe" name for Voldemort, and was indifferent to the discomfort some of those assembled seemed to experience as a result.) Next, he told them that Peter had framed Sirius Black to look like a mass murderer, severing his own finger to leave behind to make it more convincing. He told them about Scabbers being the Weasley familiar, with its missing toe. And he told them about Sirius coming to Hogwarts in third year to capture Peter, and how the events had played out to reveal the rat animagous did indeed live on, and how he'd escaped.

Telling them next about Peter's role in the resurrection of Voldemort was a bit difficult because Harry's throat threatened to tighten up on him as the remembered tension came back in full force. His temper flared then, and he couldn't help but saying in a bitter tone, "I told Minister Fudge all of this last summer. So did Professor Dumbledore. But Fudge called us liars and didn't do anything about it. There was never a manhunt for Pettigrew. Fudge just kept chasing Sirius!"

A bony hand squeezed Harry's shoulder then. Harry looked up in surprise to see Albus Dumbledore standing behind him.

"Harry was also instrumental in his capture at Hogwarts last week," Dumbledore said, and it was clear that Harry was to follow his lead and stick to the facts.

"My friend's Kneazle spotted him. We couldn't believe he'd have the audacity to return to the school," Harry added.

"And it was Harry's strong contego shield that ultimately put an end Peter Pettigrew's impending escape," Dumbledore concluded.

A recess was called and Harry was released, but now had to wait for his turn to respond to inquiries about his recent round with Voldemort. Dumbledore was asked to stay in the chamber, so Harry left and went to find Remus or Lucius. Remus was waiting for him and the two went to the cafeteria on the top floor to have some lunch.

"Mr. Potter, how do you do? I would have preferred to meet you in simpler circumstances, but nonetheless, it is a pleasure," Madam Lee, Deputy Madam Warlock of the High Counsel of The Wizengamot, told Harry when she took the podium to begin the next interview. "Albus Dumbledore has informed us that you are responsible for destroying You-Know-Who's corporeal body for a second time, do you agree with this?"

"Er, that's what I'm thinking is the case, yes, Madam." Harry was already expecting that he was going to leave here at best angry, at worst under more suspicion or restrictions by the Ministry.

"And you accomplished this the second time by an atypical selection of spells," Madam Lee prompted, as if expecting Harry to recite the means by which he'd disposed of Voldemort.

"Well, yeah, I was facing Voldemort," Harry said, failing to mask his sarcasm, "I just did whatever came to my mind, and well, I'd been practicing some transfiguration."

"Wonderful. Very clever of you," Madam Lee said. "But Mr. Potter, it is the understanding of the court that You-Know-Who had very, very enormous power. How could a boy of your size and development have overtaken him?"

"I'm quoting my Head of House when I say, it must have been sheer, dumb luck," Harry said, receiving a response of several amused chuckles. "Honestly Madam Lee, everything happened so fast, I can barely remember it."

"Perhaps you have enormous power of your own, young man," she suggested.

"Well, if I do, it's not showing up when I'm taking tests at school," Harry quipped. Again, the chuckles. Oh, isn't this lovely? I'm such a funny fellow, he griped inwardly. If he'd been wearing a watch, he would have overtly checked it right then.

"The incident at Hogwarts yesterday, Mr. Potter, found you and several of your classmates in a confrontation with the Dark Lord's familiar, did it not? With his snake?" a younger wizard in the back row asked.

"Yes," Harry said, bristling at the words "Dark Lord." That could only mean a Voldemort sycophant was asking the question.

"Do you believe the snake was destroyed by the efforts of yourself and Lucius Malfoy?" the same wizard asked.

"I sure hope so," Harry said emphatically. "But considering that Voldemort didn't die when the killing curse he cast at me reverberated back on him when I was a baby, I'm doubtful that he's completely gone. It might not be the best idea to assume his snake is finished off, either."

"And what do you believe would be required to put an end to You-Know-Who, Mr. Potter?" this question came from Madam Lee now.

Harry ducked his head to hide his rage. As if he would trust this body of government, who'd thus far completely abandoned him to handle Voldemort on his own, with any working theory he might have on the subject! He blinked several times and took a deep breath, hoping not to sound too hostile when he responded by saying, "With all due respect, Madam, I'm fifteen. I'm just trying not to mess up my O.W.L.s."

There was a long silence, where Harry imagined many of them were appalled at, and rendered speechless by, his response. Harry heard footsteps approaching him from behind and he craned his neck around to see who it was. He didn't recognize the wizard heading toward the front platform, but judging by the decorated headpiece, and the body language that reeked of pompous arsehole, he guessed it was the new Minister of Magic.

"Yes, Harry, you are only fifteen, aren't you?" Pius Thickeness said as he reached the front of the room, stopping short of taking the stairs up to join the assembly. "But you are also always there when a confrontation with the Dark Lord ensues, aren't you? One must conclude that you are tied in, somehow, mustn't one?"

Slimy. Tonks was so right, Harry thought. "I guess I'm a target because I supposedly killed Voldemort fourteen years ago," he said, noticing the blatant flicker of animosity in the Minister's eyes when he'd used the Dark Lord's name so casually.

"There is a prophecy about you, is there not?" Thickeness went on. His thin lips turned up at the corners when the blood drained from Harry's face. "It purports, Harry, that you must die in order for the Dark Lord to survive. Perhaps the snake intended to kill you, so that he could return once again." This last bit was said with an expression of glee that only Harry was witness to.

Harry narrowed his eyes at all that he'd heard in that last little speech. He let his mouth drop open before turning to glare accusing eyes at The Wizengamot. "Am I the only one present who noticed the reverence with which our esteemed Minister of Magic referred to Voldemort as the Dark Lord?" he asked in enraged irony. There was a responding clamor of unsettled reaction, but no one bothered to answer Harry.

Lucius stepped in front of him and jerked his head for Harry to rise. "I would ask the court to consider the time, and that this boy does indeed have studies to maintain at his school."

"Yes, of course," Madam Lee said in haste as the muttering behind her rapidly turned into arguing among her colleagues. "Thank you for your cooperation today, Mr. Potter. You are dismissed."

Harry jumped up and followed Lucius out of the chamber, having to jog to keep up with the angry older wizard. Lucius led him to the Atrium and into the first available floo. At this point, Harry was convinced he'd blown it and was nervous at how Lucius would react as he followed the blond wizard into the fireplace.

Lucius draped his arm around Harry's shoulders and took them to Malfoy Manor. When they stepped out, he turned Harry to face him. His expression was severe, but his tone was kind enough when he said, "I continue to marvel at your fortitude, young man." He sighed. "Merlin, will this ever get any easier?"

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