Emancipated Minor

Defense - Part V

Chapter 32 - Emancipated Minor - Defense - Part V

"I believe Petunia would benefit from a face-to-face encounter with me," Severus said after he and Lupin had sat in silence, sipping their whiskeys and glaring at the flames in a companionably shared malicious rage. "In fact, I believe I will pay her a visit tomorrow morning. Early. Before Harry wakes up to face a horrible day of feeling completely exposed and discredited."

Remus looked over at Severus. "Do you think that's what will result from this? He'll feel discredited?"

"I know teenaged malice, and I know he will be verbally assaulted for having been overpowered by muggles."

"I'll join you on that visit, if you'll allow," Remus said. He stood suddenly and flung his glass ferociously into the flames. The glass shattered and the remaining alcohol caused the flames to ERUPT dramatically, if only briefly.

"You owe Lucius a glass," Severus grumbled. He'd wanted to throw his glass, but bloody Lupin had beaten him to it. He'd need to break something else instead, and soon.

They were both startled by the sight of Dumbledore's disembodied head in the fireplace. "Well, gentlemen, while I am not thrilled to be the target of your rage, I am pleased to see that you are not directing it at each other. May I step through, Severus?"

"You may," Severus said between gritted teeth. The rage Albus was referring to had intensified at the sight of his mentor, nevertheless he stood to offer the elderly wizard his seat.

"Thank you, Severus," Dumbledore said, "I will admit to feeling a bit of exhaustion. It's been a very busy weekend."

Harry's bedroom door opened and the subdued teenager emerged, hair tousled and face still puffy from his earlier tears.

"Did we wake you?" Severus asked. "I'd put up a silencing charm."

"No," Harry said. "My wards alerted me that I was missing something," he said casually, circling around and plopping down on the end of the sofa. He met Severus' eyes, and smirked at the expression on the older wizard's face. "Just kidding, I don't know how to ward things very well. I woke up and didn't want to start tossing and turning. So, what am I missing?"

"Well, Harry," Albus said resignedly, hands gripping the arms of his chair, as if for support. "I've come to confess that I've interfered with your circumstances, on your behalf, one final time. And I am hopeful you will find my efforts agreeable." The look on not only Harry's face, but the faces of the other two grown wizards told him his words were not welcome, but he continued, as all three of them were seemingly speechless at his audacity. "You see, the first Prophet article on Friday evening which broke the story about your impending emancipation alarmed me significantly. I suspected, and correctly so, that the Ministry would attempt to use the knowledge that you are essentially without legal guardianship for the next three weeks to their advantage."

Now he had their attention. Harry gulped. Remus leveled a wary glare at Albus. Severus paced.

"What have you done, old man?" Severus asked, barely keeping a lid on his rage now. If this old coot has-

"I sought out Petunia Dursley and had Harry's legal guardianship released to you, Severus," Albus said calmly.

"Well, thank Merlin for that!" Remus said in open relief. "You had me worried for a moment, Albus." He turned a grin towards Severus, only to find the dark haired potions master's eyes locked on Harry, his expression of shock barely disguising the vulnerability beneath it.

Harry was staring at the floor, blinking rapidly, and for a brief moment, all three adults thought he was going to react with anger. But after a long pause of silence, while he apparently composed himself, he finally looked at Albus and said, "That was a brilliant move, sir, thanks." He looked up at Severus and smiled nervously.

Severus let his features soften as he nodded in agreement with Harry, all the while trying to quell the threat of his knees buckling, in terror, at what coming this close to parenthood actually felt like. Still looking at Harry, he asked Albus, "Are you certain that you've created a legally binding transfer of guardianship?"

A muggle clipboard holding a stack of white muggle documents and outfitted with a ballpoint pen that dangled from a knotted rubber band, popped into the air in front of Severus. He blinked and narrowed his eyes, taking the forms and the pen and bringing them over to the sofa, sitting between Harry and Lupin. He began to flip through the pages.

"Petunia has signed them, and had them witnessed by Harry's solicitor, at her expense, and paid the weekend rate for his legal fees," Dumbledore paused as if to stop himself from saying something off color about Petunia's behavior, "and Mr. Morris will personally facilitate their filing first thing in the morning, tomorrow. I will accompany him myself to be certain."

"But is it truly going to keep the Ministry out of my business?" Harry asked anxiously, his eyes on the forms Severus was reviewing.

"It will, Harry, as in your case, all documentation of your guardianship thus far has been in the muggle word," Dumbledore replied. "The rules of guardian transference into the Wizarding world require two additional steps, within two notoriously backlogged departments at the Ministry of Magic. Pius has not yet been able to take these, due to the weekend, but I've no doubt he will be attempting to do so early tomorrow morning. We will be one step ahead."

Harry struggled to tamp down the anxiety that would no doubt be unsettling his stomach until he knew for certain the guardianship had transferred to Severus. He watched Severus sign the form in the three areas marked with neon pink stickies. The older wizard slid the clipboard over to Harry's lap for him to flip through, which Harry did, but with little focus.

"I'll believe this is real, this time tomorrow, when I'm still here at school and not off with ol' Pius," Harry muttered as he held the clipboard out to Dumbledore. It popped out of sight. "So, you saw Aunt Petunia on Saturday?" Harry asked. "Is she the one who gave the Prophet their Sunday story?"

"No, Harry," Dumbledore said sadly. "I'm so sorry, Harry. I feel directly responsible for all of your suffering. I will do what I can to reverse as much damage as possible, but unfortunately, I did not suspect the Prophet would seek out the very ones who were purported to have been the abusers. But they did. And they found a willing participant in your cousin Dudley."

"Dudley told wizards about how I grew up?" Harry said. Severus' arm came around his shoulders as he stared in disbelief into the fire. "But he was as much a part of it as my aunt and uncle! He'd-" he stopped himself. Enough, he thought. They all already know way too much.

"He'd what, Harry?" Severus asked softly, angling his arm so that he could hug the tense teen into his side.

Harry shook his head. "It doesn't matter," he said in disgust. "It's just… well, now that I think about it, the article didn't exactly talk about the things Dudley did." He looked up at Dumbledore. "I'm surprised he did that, even still. What was in it for him?"

"One thousand pounds in muggle funds," the elderly wizard answered grimly. He watched Harry process that information. "Yes, Harry, I too was appalled to learn that he had traded your very personal, very painful secrets for his own gain. It is quite clear that the entire family is very desperately in need of a sense of accountability for their actions. Therefore," and here, he leveled a stare first at Severus, then at Remus, and then finally back at Harry, "it will not be necessary for any of you exact revenge. You see, I've arranged for some impending, life altering experiences for each of them to occur immediately." A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth at Harry's reluctant interest. "For example, your uncle has apparently been quite adept at hiding some deceptive practices he's had at his place of business. Apparently, and this all true, he has been quietly embezzling small amounts of money on a regular basis for years. His superiors at Grunnings have been investigating him for months." Dumbledore winked at Harry. "I helped them along. Oddly, his direct manager felt like spending some time at the office on a Sunday, of all things, and he found today the evidence they have been seeking. The authorities have been contacted, and an arrest warrant for Vernon Dursley has been issued. In the meantime, your Aunt Petunia also has a secret vice, one that has slowly drained the family's coffers for several years. She enjoys gambling her husband's pilfered funds. That will also be brought to light, as she is actively breaking muggle law by being a participant in an organized gambling group."

Harry hunched forward, resting his elbows on his knees, not at all clear on how he felt about any of this. He hated his relatives, but he was not indifferent to how terrified they'd be when this all came together. "You've not manufactured any of this?" he asked Dumbledore, to be certain. When Dumbledore shook his head, Harry realized life was finally catching up with the Dursleys. Finally. He was unsurprised to hear his upstanding relatives weren't as pure as they'd always held themselves up to be. But he knew without a doubt that neither Vernon nor Petunia ever considered the chance that they could be held accountable. "And Dudley?" he asked.

"Now, I'm afraid that Dudley's activities in the neighborhood have also come to the knowledge of the authorities," Dumbledore said. "He's going to find himself under arrest under multiple charges of assault on younger children. This is due to occur simultaneously with each of his parent's arrests. And Harry, these offenses will yield time spent behind bars for each of them."

Harry nodded solemnly. "They've all got it coming," he said softly.

"I am assuming that you are not interested in pursuing legal action against them for their mistreatment of you?" Dumbledore asked.

"No," Harry said quickly. "Just knowing I don't ever have to see them again is enough, honestly."

"You wouldn't expect to find any satisfaction in bringing charges against them and putting them through the humiliation of a trial?" Remus asked carefully.

Harry snorted. "I might consider it if I had any faith in any legal justice system."

Harry went straight into the bathroom for a quick shower when he rose the next morning, summoning fresh clothes and his toothbrush from his dorm. He stood under the spray, feeling oddly off-kilter. Actually he felt naked, but not the kind of naked that's erased by putting on clothes. Everyone in Wizarding Britain now knew his own family hated him enough to not only starve him, but hurt him bodily, and emotionally, for his entire childhood. But the feeling of exposure also came from having had all of his worst secrets laid bare and watching Severus react. Harry had been quite aware of the way the older wizard had battled his own emotions while he'd comforted Harry. And now, Severus was going to be his legal guardian. He stopped his thoughts from racing off with that last bit, because he could find lots of ways to feel bad that it had taken so long to finally get some real help from a protective adult…

Harry came out of his reverie with a jolt, realizing he might be keeping Severus from the bathroom. He finished up quickly and emerged ten minutes later to see Severus was not only already up, but drinking coffee and correcting assignments at the kitchen table.

"Good morning," Severus said, appraising eyes set on Harry as he came further into the room. "Clearly, you have magically accessed your things from your dorm?"

"Yeah," Harry said with a tiny smile. "Magic's the best." He sat at the table, feeling lighter than he should, considering what lay waiting for him outside of Severus' quarters. "Did you already eat?" he asked the older wizard.

"I did not. I was waiting for you," Severus replied, neatening the stack of corrected parchments and wandlessly banishing it. "I wonder if you are prepared for the quality of day that likely lies ahead of you?"

"Are you offering me the option to hide out in here instead of going to my classes?" Harry asked with exaggerated hopefulness, never expecting that Severus would want to indulge him to that degree.

"If you would prefer, then absolutely," his mentor replied.

"Really?" Harry responded in utter surprise.

"You've had a traumatic last couple of days," Severus said. "I would think you might like to take a day to catch your breath." He was rewarded by the smile of affection from Harry that always put a lump in his throat.

"No, thanks. I'll just face it," Harry said, slicing into this French toast. "I need to get it over with."

"Somehow I anticipated that you would feel that way, so I've summoned Weasley and Granger to come for you in about forty minutes. Lucius and Draco are hovering nearby as well," Severus said. "You can congregate as you walk."

Harry snorted. "Is that some sort of 'best defense is a shocking offense' tactic?" But he thought about it while Severus continued to watch him with caring concern. "That could work, you know. You and Remus should join us, and we could all walk the halls, holding our sides from laughter at some inside joke that only our little clique was privy to."

"I would have thought you'd know me better by now," Severus drawled over Harry's chuckle at his own humor. "I would never hold my sides in laughter." Now the boy was outright giggling at whatever visual he had in his head. Merlin, help me. "I didn't even ask if your assignments were completed for today."

"Of course they are," Harry said lifting the cover from the platter of French toast and stabbing another slice for himself. "Just knowing that someone besides Hermione actually cares about how I do in my classes is instant motivation." His eyes were on the food as he added bacon and eggs to his plate, so he missed the remorse that washed over Severus' expression.

"If at any time during the day you should wish to break away for some quiet time," Severus said after a few moments, "you should not hesitate to come here, or your dorm. But let me know where you've gone, alright?"

Harry looked up a him. "Yeah. But, I'll be fine."

Severus left a few minutes before Harry to attend to his Slytherins, from whom he fully expected trouble, and he found it. He entered his House common room to do a brief sweep to confirm that all students had gone to class, and walked in on a wand battle involving five students. A quick assessment confirmed that Blaze Zabini was under attack from Annette Rookwood, Lawrence Langstrom, and Fabian Smythe, all sixth years, while fourth year Macy Langstrom had been keeping watch. Zabini had taken a few harsh spells that left him showing signs of having been bodily injured while the others were in complete control.

"Cease and desist, immediately," Severus seethed in a dangerous tone, wand at the ready.

As if the entire confrontation had been staged to create opportunity, all four of the assailants turned on Severus and began casting hexes at him from all directions. He shielded angrily, expression thunderous. In a matter of seconds, he'd disarmed the younger Langstrom and Fabian Smythe with Harry's numb arms hex, leaving the pair of them to stand helplessly watching the rest of the confrontation play out.

"You bloody traitor!" Fabian Smythe yelled at Severus in frustration.

"Pugna hostis!"

A fierce zip of red magical energy collided violently with Severus, as Rookwood's slicing hex got past his shield and hit his side, causing a significant wound that both shocked and incensed him. He could feel his own blood seeping into his white linen shirt, adrenaline keeping the pain at bay for the moment. While he would never use magical force against a child, both Rookwood and Langstrom had reached their majority in November, both already seventeen, and were fully responsible for their actions.

"Idiot girl," Severus raged. "You are very foolish to raise your wand to me." A fierce slash of his own wand had the Rookwood witch lashed in tight bindings that ruthlessly pinned her arms to her sides. Severus spun to shield another lethal hex from Langstrom while Rookwood screamed in frustrated rage, spewing off obscenities that would make even her Death Eater father's jaw drop in shock. A flick of Severus' wand and she was mouthless.

"Zabini?" Severus called over his shoulder to the fifth year.

"I'll guard them, Professor!" Blaise yelled, shielding himself from a hex from Langstrom.

Severus used that opportunity to fire off a sweeping charm that knocked Langstrom off his feet. The teenager fell heavily and smacked his head against the hard stone floor, appearing to briefly lose consciousness. Severus ensnared him in tight leather bindings as well.

"You've each crossed a very dangerous line," Severus informed them. "There is no turning back for you."

"You've aligned with Dumbledore! With Harry Potter! And you think you can just continue on, safe in your little cocoon of new friends?" Smythe blared out in a rage. He suddenly had only skin and chin on his lower face as well.

"That is exactly what I think," Severus said dangerously as he glared at the four assailants. "And the fact that each of you believe you have the right to attack with malicious intent because you question my allegiances, or Mr. Zabini's, is exactly the reason that you will no longer be attending this school." He briefly assessed the teens, considering the best way to remove them from the dungeons. Macy Langstrom was in tears, but otherwise able to walk, as were Smythe and Rookwood, albeit disabled by Severus' lingering spells. He levitated Lawrence Langstrom, turning him until he was upright and lowered him to stand on his own feet.

"Professor!" Zabini raced toward him with a frightened expression. "You're hurt! You're bleeding, sir!"

"As are you, Mr. Zabini," Severus said between gritted teeth. "Can you manage the climb to the Headmistress' Office?"

"Yes, Professor."

Severus nodded. "Very well," he commanded, "please lead the way." Blaise headed out. The others stood stubbornly still, glaring at Severus until he shouted harshly, "OUT! You are finished here!"

Harry was alarmed when Headmistress McGonagall appeared instead of Severus. She approached the Gryffindor and Slytherin fifth years where they'd gathered in the corridor outside of the potions classroom.

"Attention, please," she said brusquely. "Your potions period has been cancelled due to another incident with combative students. Professor Snape has asked me to direct you to the Great Hall for a study session, and asks that you review chapter thirty-eight in your textbooks so that you will be prepared to brew in tomorrow's class." She gestured impatiently with her arm in a sweeping motion that they should all head off to the first floor.

Already on edge from the way his fellow Gryffindors had been tiptoeing around him in the few minutes since he'd left Severus' quarters, the last thing Harry wanted to hear was that there was more drama. He couldn't keep track of all of the things he was on edge about. He hung back to ask McGonagall if Severus was alright.

"I believe he is, Potter," she said as she rushed along, forcing Harry to jog to keep up. "I will contact you if there is anything to be concerned about."

Harry frowned, giving up on trying to keep up with the Headmistress. Now he was walking beside Ron and Hermione, and the three of them were bringing up the rear behind Draco, Daphne Greengrass and Theodore Knott. The group merged up the stairs, passing through the entrance hall when suddenly the students in front came to a startled halt.

"Wha's going on?" Ron griped, craning his head to try to see over the crowd.

"I'm looking for Harry Potter," an unwelcome, familiar voice announced loudly.

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