Mayhem - Part II
Chapter 39 - Emancipated Minor - Mayhem - Part II
I spend a bloody lot of time on my back, feeling helpless, Harry griped inwardly, a bitter edge creeping into his awareness as he lay, on his back yet again, on the electronically controlled bed, staring at the pegboard tiles that formed the ceiling in the MRI chamber. Severus had only moments ago squeezed his shoulder, leaving with the doctor to go into the bay that held the controls and protected them from the magnetic field, while Harry got to muddle through alone, as usual. He took a deep breath to calm his nerves as the rollers beneath him began to hummmm, and with a slight jerk, the platform he lay upon slid backward into the podlike chamber. Harry was not afraid of the procedure, he was afraid of the results. He'd been aware of Severus watching him like a hawk, and had been surprised the older wizard hadn't asked him what was bothering him. He probably is as afraid as I am, Harry realized. That reaffirmed that there was something to fear. Something else to bloody deal with because of bloody Voldemort. Bloody bastard.
I wonder how Hermione and Dumbledore are coming along? he thought next, picturing his best friend and the Headmaster sitting in the basement of the Hall of Records building, sorting out rolls of microfiche, which he only knew about because he'd been given a detention in primary school and been tasked with labeling the small canisters that stored the film. He membered the librarian explaining that the school had the only local microfiche reader, so the community used the school library for research. Computers were set to take their place, she'd explained. That had meant nothing to Harry at the time, but at least he hadn't felt like someone who'd been raised in a cupboard when it came up today. Madam Chase had shown Hermione and Dumbledore how to get started in their search for Riddle family information, showing them the reader machines, which of course Hermione knew how to use. Harry and Severus had gone down with them, but had then immediately left to head over for this appointment, which was in a medical building down the street.
Harry could hear snippets of conversation from the observation bay over the intercom. He could tell that Rebecca Chase had just arrived. He had sensed a tiny bit of awkwardness between her and Severus, which was weird, because Dr. Archie Bankhead was her boyfriend, so there should be no vibe between them, right?. And how weird was it that this Archie bloke was an older stepbrother to their Head Girl at Hogwarts? Quite convenient, actually, because he understood that Harry had magical influences in his anatomy and physiology. They didn't have to hide that much. Archie had already heard from Head Girl Melinda Bankhead via owl post that all hell had broken loose at Hogwarts two days before. It truly was amazing that the Wizarding World believed itself to be so secret.
Statute of Secrecy, my arse, Harry thought.
"I can put some music on for you, Harry. What do you like?" Archie Bankhead asked through the microphone.
"Got anything by Bread? Or, The Cars?" Harry asked through the intercom, and Severus couldn't stop a snort of amusement.
"Hmmm, nothing by them. I see you like American bands. I've got Hall & Oates," Archie said, clueing in that there was some sort of inside joke between Harry and his guardian. "Oh and there's a Boz Scaggs greatest hits collection I could put on for you."
"Remind him he can't sing along," Severus told the doctor in all seriousness.
"I heard," Harry said glumly. "How about something soothing. Some sort of classical music, then?" He sounded completely put out. "Just not the sort of tunes you hear in elevators."
"I've got the perfect concerto for you, Harry, and it's just long enough to fill in the time it will take to finish this up," Archie responded.
Rebecca came over to stand beside Severus, watching his reaction to the CD Archie was sliding into a tray on his stereo. "They're called CD's and have replaced vinyl albums for the most part. They have richer sound. None of that scratching in the background," she told Severus.
Severus picked up the Boz Scaggs CD and opened the case, brow furrowed with interest. But he quickly diverted his attention to the monitor that was beginning to image Harry's brain.
"So, it's like a divot?" Harry asked, not at all certain how he felt upon hearing this. They'd gathered in the observation bay around the final images of the inside of Harry's head on the monitor.
"I suppose that's one way to describe it," Archie said. "I've never seen anything like this, to be frank. It literally looks like an impression from a shallow teaspoon was pressed into your forehead. There's a sort of membrane encasing it that is made of elastin and collagen, which are found in connective tissue throughout the body."
"And what constitutes the interior?" Severus asked. He'd been watching Harry for signs of needing comfort, but the boy was edgy and keeping just out of his reach at the moment.
"I want to say it's skin cells. I believe that's all it is," Archie answered. "There are no signs of nerve cells, which doesn't help explain the headaches you get, or the localized pain in your scar, Harry. The anomaly is that there's no sign of damage to the skullcap, so what we're seeing is actually defying reality. There should either be an old fracture in the bone area of your forehead to make room for this pocket of skin tissue, or it should be visibly popping forward."
Harry scowled. Severus frowned.
"I suppose there's magical influence going on as well, then," Rebecca suggested, and Archie nodded.
"Yes," Archie said with a half smile. "Whatever that means."
"So, there is definitely a container there, an organic container," Severus summarized. "Is there any way to know whether Harry would suffer brain injury if that tissue were damaged or removed?"
"I don't see how he could…" Archie answered, "But the challenge would be to isolate that area." He thought some more. "I hesitate to recommend having it excised, simply because what we are seeing is not technically possible. We could make an incision on Harry's forehead and see if it appears under his epidermis, but if it's not there, I wouldn't want to drill into Harry's skull, intending to cut it away and risk finding nothing." He stepped closer to the monitor and used his pen to point as he explained, "This image gives the impression that the tissue resides outside of Harry's skullcap."
"Indeed," Severus said grimly. Now when he looked over at Harry, he could see the boy's pallor had turned grey. He stepped closer to his ward and pulled him into his side. "And, as we are only fact gathering at this point, we are simply this much more informed."
Their galleons warmed and vibrated. Severus pulled his out and read the message. Albus and Granger had found a reference to a Riddle Family Crest, along with a list of heirlooms that bore the emblem. They'd also found a reference to the impromptu marriage of Tom Riddle Sr. to Merope Gaunt. Dumbledore asked them to return to the Hall of Records at their earliest convenience, as he intended to gather Remus and Lucius to assist with his quest to locate each of the Riddle heirlooms.
A few hours later, Severus was riding in a cab with Harry and Miss Granger. The earlier experience with apparation via Dumbledore had proven quite unsettling for the young witch, in that she had nearly vomited and had remained feeling nauseous since. Hence, the formal escort to the Granger residence via automobile for a brief visit while she recuperated further from both this and Saturday's events. Arthur Weasley would come for her Tuesday, to take her to The Burrow to join the younger Weasleys in their wait to return to Hogwarts.
The continued search for more information on Merope Gaunt, whom they knew to be magical, but had hoped to find that her crossing over into the muggle world for marriage would have yielded additional threads of information, had unfortunately turned up nothing more. The tension had been high after so much fruitless effort, so Severus had diverted the two teens out of the building for a light lunch at a nearby cafe. Rebecca had joined them, and the conversation had revolved around being a wizard raised in the muggle world, which had proven to be a good distraction. Harry had stayed quiet, allowing the two women to dominate the discussion. Severus had shared little either, but had actively listened, realizing that there was indeed hardship in straddling both worlds, as he well knew. It was clear that Miss Granger felt obligated to choose between them, and that she was deeply invested in Harry's survival and Voldemort's destruction.
But now, as they drove along, Harry, who was currently sandwiched between his guardian and best friend, finally began to summarize his experience with the MRI for Granger. Severus still noted the edge to his ward's demeanor.
"So, I've got a divot," Harry concluded. "A bloody indentation of a pocket of skin that's there but not there, and it's probably where ol' Tom has been residing all this time."
"But that's good news, Harry," Miss Granger said, turning slightly so that she faced Harry and Severus. "Don't you see?"
"I really don't," Harry said grumpily.
"You could shield yourself from whatever has to be done to your scar, couldn't you?" the young witch told him. "You'd need to practice, but why shouldn't you be able to protect the rest of your body from… well, the release of Voldemort?" She glanced up at Severus, and her expression registered that she saw his startled look.
Harry snapped his head around to look at him as well. "What?" he demanded in agitation.
Severus raised an impressed eyebrow, trying desperately to mask the intense rush of relief that was flowing through him. "That is a very astute suggestion, Miss Granger," he said.
Harry looked from Severus to his blushing best friend. "Oh, sure, that's no trick at all, shielding all of my body except an elusive pocket of skin cells hanging out somewhere about here," he griped as he tapped his scar. But both his mentor and his best friend were smiling.
"You'll just have to practice, Harry," Miss Granger said. "I'll help you." She looked over at Severus, as if for confirmation as she continued, "And it's not as though you have to rush, is it? You're fine as long as none of the other carriers are nearby, aren't you?"
"I suppose so," Harry said. But he was not particularly appeased. This would be a monumental undertaking, that he'd have to figure out how to do, with a type of magic that no one else utilized. Except Voldemort.
"What now?" Harry asked after Severus had apparated them to the back stoop at Spinner's End. They went inside to head to the fireplace to return to Hogwarts.
Severus draped his arm around Harry. "I believe an opportunity to burn off that furious anger you've been battling all day is currently called for."
"How?" Harry asked warily.
"With your wand," Severus answered. He hugged Harry against his side, increasing the pressure until the boy grunted but couldn't quite bring himself to laugh. "What would make you feel better right now?"
"Ice cream," Harry said baldly. He knew he was sounding cross and childish, but there wasn't much he could do about it. Everything his mind reflected upon made him angry, from his bloody scar and its spoon-like impression into his skull, to the other horcruxes that were still out there, to having been acutely aware that Rebecca Chase was watching the interaction between him and Severus all day, and being fearful that she'd find fault with it. He was glaring at nothing in particular when Severus turned him bodily so that they were facing each other and was now standing with arms folded, simply waiting for Harry to snap out of his reverie. "What?" he asked defensively.
"Are you referring to the single scoop of pumpkin ice you can request from the kitchens?" Severus asked, surprising Harry yet again by reacting permissively to what he would have thought was an outrageous request.
"Actually, I was thinking of the sundae fountain Ron managed to get from the Room of Requirement," Harry said, finally lightening up enough to smile.
"And would you want my company while you partake in this indulgence?" Severus asked.
"Are you going to ask me to share my feelings?" Harry countered.
"We will have a dueling session first, however," Severus said.
"And if I still want ice cream for dinner after that, you won't forbid it?" Harry asked skeptically.
There was a stretch of stunned silence where the impact of Harry's question hit each of them simultaneously. They each realized that Harry had just openly given Severus authority over him. The fact that things had sort of fallen into place over the last several weeks, and the way that they'd so far seemed to work together, albeit by banging heads on occasion, to build their relationship into what it was today, had never been openly discussed between them.
"If I were to forbid it, would you respect my wishes?" Severus asked carefully.
"If I defied you, would you turn your back on me?" Harry asked impulsively, and then was blindsided by his own suppressed emotions, as he was completely overtaken by an enormous sob of fear that rapidly turned into all out bawling, as all of the anguish and uncertainty of his world, and his life, rushed upward and outward.
"Harry?" Severus asked in alarm, at once wrapping his ward in a tight embrace. The boy's knees were giving out beneath the weight of all that was burdening him, but Severus supported him. Sympathetic tears of his own began to leak from his eyes. "I could never turn my back on you," he told the boy emphatically. "I love you too much. This cannot be undone, Harry. I love you like a son, and I'm not going anywhere."
Harry was clinging to his guardian, shaking so hard his teeth were chattering, as wave after wave of anxiety and grief washed through him, choking him, hitching his breathing. Severus was rubbing his back and waiting for him to speak. "I love you, too, Severus," he whispered because his throat was too constricted to rely on his voice. But he knew his guardian had heard him because he was being pulled even closer and the hug grew even warmer. Harry finally was able to say it, the thing that made him most afraid: "I don't know what's going to happen on January thirty-first. It's eleven days away."
Severus cleared his throat, resting his chin on Harry's head, allowing the tears that had tracked down his cheeks to remain unaddressed. "Ultimately, it would be no different than if you were turning seventeen, son. You'll be legally able to make decisions and take actions on your own behalf. But, you will not lose my guardianship, Harry, because the bond itself is built on mutual respect and caring. That type of relationship is a cooperation in any context, in any family, is it not?"
"I feel like you're my family now," Harry said.
"I feel the same," Severus told him, "and that does not change when a boy reaches his majority. That bond does not go away."
The dueling practice finally got underway, after they'd returned to Severus' quarters and sat together on the sofa for a time, letting the intensity of that conversation settle in and slowly take hold until they each were able to see it for the gift that it now was: Harry and Severus were a family.
Now, in the Room of Requirement, Severus narrowed his eyes at Harry. "I've some ideas of what you ought to practice with me, if you'd like me to take the lead?" he asked.
"Uh," Harry said hesitantly, "I wanted to ask you if you'd help me try something first, if that's alright?"
"Or course. Do tell."
"Well, back in the first Defense class with Remus, Draco and I had a duel. That's where I learned the mouthless hex from Draco, and well, while I was mouthless," Harry stopped to smile crookedly at his guardian, who was clearly amused, "I managed to sort of yell a hex inside my throat, and it was enough to cast it through my wand to hit Draco."
Severus raised a curious eyebrow. "And, so?" he asked as if he knew where Harry was going with this line of thought.
"Well, I was thinking it was probably the first step towards learning to cast nonverbally," Harry said. "I mean, I'm not able to speak the words without a mouth, so that's technically nonverbal, isn't it?"
"Indeed," Severus said. He flicked his wand and said, "Haud Os."
"Hey!" Harry found himself complaining into his throat. He wanted to laugh but had no facial muscles to accommodate the smile required, and the struggle was significant while he got a grip on himself and finally focused his attention on what he intended to accomplish from this exercise.
"You're slipping, Severus," Lucius chided when he found them in the Room of Requirement, clearly directing his comment at the fact that Harry was currently consuming a massive hot fudge sundae at the dinner hour.
"It's fantastic," Harry said, spooning up a large bite for himself with an expression of pure pleasure.
Lucius strolled directly over to Harry. "Indeed, it is a lovely looking concoction, but I will have to see for myself if it is actually fantastic," he said skeptically as he conjured a long handled spoon and promptly dipped it into Harry's dish. "Uhmm," he said after he'd swallowed down a substantial sample, pretending to be oblivious to Harry's sputtered shock at his audacity. "You are correct, Harry, that is quite delicious."
"Now that this is established," Severus drawled, "what news have you brought?"
Harry watched in amusement as Lucius prepared himself a more modest sundae and joined Severus and Harry in their circle of chairs surrounding the pit and its hovering ball of burning paper. "I'd rather hear of your day first," Lucius finally said.
Severus glanced at Harry with a raised eyebrow, and Harry nodded, continuing to devour his ice cream. "Harry's MRI revealed a container for his horcrux, which is situated directly behind his scar," Severus told Lucius, going on to explain the anomaly of its existence, and Miss Granger's suggestion that Harry should be able to shield himself while the horcrux was destroyed, when the time came.
"Ahh," Lucius said. "This is a lot to take in." He was not oblivious to the signs of recent tears on either of them. "And so, you've compensated with ice cream."
Harry grinned in satisfaction. "And, I just managed nonverbal casting, thanks to Draco's mouthless hex and Severus' infuriating and relentless taunting with rictusempra."
"I would very much like a demonstration," Lucius said. "Perhaps before I leave later?" He set aside his now empty dish, eyeing Severus' empty plate that had clearly held sandwiches. "Just couldn't bring yourself to go straight to dessert, could you?"
"I could not," Severus agreed without apology. "It is my way."
Harry set aside his empty dish as well, summoning a damp washcloth from the bathroom in Severus' (and Harry's) quarters to wipe his hands and mouth, smiling in satisfaction at Lucius' impressed snort, but continuing his ministrations before banishing the cloth to the hamper down in the dungeons.
"And was that your wild magic that you just employed, young man?" Lucius asked.
"Yeah," Harry said. "I'm noticing that the more I use it, the longer I can go without exhausting myself. Well, except in situations of battle. That uses everything I've got."
"But we've seen that you are able to use it to enhance your spells as you cast through your wand," Severus noted.
"Yeah," Harry said again. "I feel like I'm going to eventually link the two together, but it's not going to happen for a while." He braced his hands on the arms of the chairs to lift his body and bring his legs up beneath him. "So, obviously, you've brought grim news," he said to Lucius. "Let's have it, then." He smirked at Severus' raised eyebrow.
"Yes," Severus agreed, giving Harry a look, before turning to his best friend, "let's have it, then."
Lucius crossed his legs and took a moment to fuss with the hem of his trousers, keeping his eyes on the fabric as he began, "We tracked down each of the Riddle family heirlooms, and none have been missed, nor did any of them give me cause for concern." No one needed him to specify that he had sought signs of the evil energy that had inhabited the locket and diary, although Harry did wonder what this quest had actually entailed, as in, how had they gained access to these items? Supposedly oblivious, Lucius continued. "We also took a trip over to Little Hangleton and located the Gaunt family home, which has stood abandoned for several decades. It was hardly a home, actually," Lucius added, "more like a shack. It was in terrible disrepair, and clearly had been the site of a recent encounter with dark magic. There was additional, older magical residue that was also very strong which lingered around an upturned floorboard and an empty wooden box."
"I used to hide my wand under a loose floorboard in Dudley's second bedroom on Privet Drive," Harry murmured. He caught the frowns of confusion on the other wizards' faces, and shook himself, explaining, "I was allowed to use it as a bedroom after second year, and only got thrown back into the cupboard when I was in trouble…. Anyhoo, it was a great hiding place for something that meant the world to me."
There was a long silence that was filled with the unfortunate and dreadful conclusion that someone or something had found a horcrux and retrieved it.
"Did you see any recently shed snakeskin?" Harry asked flippantly.
Lucius held his gaze. "I'm afraid I did."