Emancipated Minor

Endings and Beginnings - Part I

Chapter 42 - Emancipated Minor - Endings and Beginnings - Part I

"Harry?" Severus called again, voice breaking. Lucius had dropped to one knee beside them, his hand gripping Severus' shoulder.

"Bloody divot," Harry mumbled. He couldn't seem to find the strength to open his eyes.

Severus dropped his head beside Harry's ear. "May I squeeze you until you can't breathe, or would that be a bad idea?" he asked, still not in control of his emotions as he pressed a kiss to Harry's temple. The smile tugging at the boy's mouth was like the dawn of a beautiful new day.

"I'll want a squeeze as well," Lucius announced, swiping at the moisture in his eyes and turning to kiss his wife, who'd rushed over to him and was now on her knees beside Harry's legs.

"He's not hurt?" Narcissa Malfoy asked anxiously. "How can he not be?"

"Harry? Harry!" Voices were calling from people rushing over, still in the process of realizing The Boy Who Lived still lived, in their frantic haste to make contact.

Harry was still leaning back against Severus' legs, eyes still shut, still too weak to move, but laughing softly at the way Severus kept increasing the pressure of his hug, asking periodically if it had reached bad idea status yet. Harry could tell someone had joined their little circle, kneeling on his other side. Remus.

"How long before he can take a replenishing potion?" Remus asked Severus anxiously.

"A few more minutes. Ten, actually," Severus answered. "If you wouldn't mind keeping track?"

"Of course." Harry felt Remus' hand squeeze his reassuringly. There was a pause. "What is Albus doing?"

"I believe the muggles call it damage control," Lucius answered, his humor audible, as deep-seated relief took its hold.

"Albus, your arm?" Minerva was asking from a few feet away.

"It will require Poppy's assistance, I'm afraid," Albus said, clearly in considerable pain.

"I've summoned her," Minerva announced.

"Oh, Severus," that was Molly Weasley, "he's alright?"

"He is," Severus replied. "He'll be on his feet soon enough. But please be reminded that he's not particularly fond of hugs."

"Am too!" Harry rasped, wondering what Severus was up to.

"It's your funeral," his guardian said in his ear, continuing to hold him. But Harry still didn't get it.

"Bloody hell, Harry!" Fred and George said in unison. "We thought you'd been offed!"

"Merlin, that was a spectacular showdown!" Arthur added.

"How did you all come to be here?" Bill Weasley wanted to know. "The goblins were saying Griphook had taken Harry down into the vault chambers?"

Harry could hear Remus answering Bill, but wanted to hear what the others were saying about what they'd witnessed. Did they realize they'd just watched the final destruction of Voldemort?

"It's been ten minutes," Remus told Severus, who now had one knee propped up for Harry to lean against in a sitting position.

Harry felt the rim of a potion vial press against his lips and obediently sipped the moderately unpleasant liquid, waiting mere seconds to feel much better. Still weak, but now only in the exhausted sense, he reckoned he could at least stand.

"Wait, son," Severus said, handing him another vial. "Pain relief."

As soon as Harry was on his feet, he flung his arms around Severus and held on for dear life, all at once realizing he was free… just as Severus had promised he'd be one day. He was hugged equally fiercely for several long moments, and with the special care Severus always showed when Harry was shaking, which, of course, he was involuntarily doing now. Actually, he was quaking, to be exact. Severus pushed him backward enough to be able to smooth Harry's fringe away to have a look at his scar. "What's there?" Harry asked his still-not-yet-adoptive-father.

"A very faint memory of something that used to plague you," Severus said gruffly, but there was genuine happiness in the smile he allowed for Harry.

A strong hand had clamped around Harry's arm and he was being tugged away from Severus and over to Lucius who enveloped him in another tight embrace. Hmmm… nope, not quite as nice as a trademark Severus Snape hug, Harry joked to himself in his head. He hugged Lucius back, not at all unaware of how unlikely this moment would have seemed a mere month prior, as he assured the older blond wizard that his shaking was getting better.

Immediately after Lucius, Remus pulled Harry over, leaning forward to make his emphatic point, declaring harshly but with a smile of deep admiration, "You. Scared. The. Bleeding. Hell. Out of each of us." He wrapped werewolf-strong arms around his best friend's son and squeezed. In Harry's assessment of this embrace, he could see Remus had already come a very long way in becoming more demonstrative. Remus held onto him for a long time, and Harry knew what today's events meant for the older wizard, as his parents' only surviving contemporary from the first war. Plus, he was shaking a bit too.

"HARRY!" Hermione's shrill call surprised him out of his reverie. Remus let him go, and Harry managed a smile for him in spite of the lump in his throat. Remus was in better shape, and he winked at Harry, turning just in time to catch Tonks mid-flight in her launch at him. Awesome, Harry thought, turning just in time to catch Hermione in a similar launch. Luckily for him, she had the sense to not slam too hard against him in his weakened state. Ron was right behind her and surprised Harry by enveloping both him and Hermione in a bearlike hug, ducking his red head to hide his emotions. And now the lump was back in Harry's throat.

"I think it's finally over, guys," he told his best friends in a voice laden with heavy emotion. But… "Wait, what are you two doing here?"

"We saw the messages on the coin, Harry!" Hermione said. "It's not like anything could have kept us away, is it?" She was shaking as well, enough so that it seemed to be reenergizing Harry's quakes. "You're shaking," she said shakily.

Harry laughed and hugged his friends harder.

Okay, this is getting to be a lot to handle, Harry acknowledged as Augusta Longbottom insisted on a long, hard hug. He caught Severus' amused and very smug smirk from a few feet away and narrowed his eyes at his guardian. But it was completely worth it when he saw that Remus and Tonks, were still hugging.

Dumbledore was making his way over, his injured arm now in a sling. As Madame Longbottom let him go and promised to let Neville know that Harry was well, Dumbledore came to stand in front of Harry, looking down at him with deep affection and pride. "You are a very brave, very wonderful boy, Harry. And so very, very clever."

"I hadn't planned on doing that," Harry told him with a small smile. "I've had an awful lot of luck, through all of this. People say or do things that stick in my mind, and they've just seemed to work when I've needed them to. Using my shield to protect myself from whatever was done to my scar was Hermione's idea. She'd just suggested it yesterday, and I'd not even had time to practice. Severus and I had been thinking we'd have to use basilisk venom."

Dumbledore nodded, still smiling, but clearly not following Harry entirely. "What exactly was it that you did?"

Harry pondered for a while. "I've never really been sure what to call what I'm doing," he admitted. "But I visualized the divot of skin cells behind my scar," at this Dumbledore tilted his head slightly, not yet having heard the MRI results and assessment from Severus, "and kind of… protected all of my body except that part." He stopped for a moment, the shaking resuming. "I can't believe I was able to repel the killing curse…"

"I'm not certain that's what you did, Harry," Dumbledore surmised. "Actually, I think you may have separated yourself from the horcrux, and made it the target of Madame Lestrange's spell."

Harry blinked a few times. "You know what sir?" he said slowly. "I'm not all that clever, I'm just really good at surviving."

"That, you are, Harry," Dumbledore said, moving over next to Harry to put his uninjured arm around him and squeeze briefly. He seemed relieved that Harry didn't pull away, but released him quickly, as if not wanting to push his luck.

Harry was beginning to understand how Dumbledore operated, and was less angry, now that he realized it had never been a completely informed decision on the Headmaster's part to put Harry in the horrible circumstances life seemed to deliver. It had been convenient that Harry hadn't revealed how awful his relatives were, and had unfortunately facilitated Dumbledore's plans to set the stage for ridding the world of Voldemort at a later date. But Harry had gotten in the way of that. He wondered idly how long it would have taken to destroy Voldemort if they'd followed Dumbledore's plan?

Severus was making his way over, having successfully disentangled himself from a very emotional Percy Weasley, who seemed to have been confessing something, or more likely apologizing for his horrible past stupidity, but regardless, had been clinging to Severus, who was clearly having no part of it. Harry chuckled and held the question he had for Dumbledore until his guardian had reached his side. "Sir," he said to the Headmaster, "do you think people realized what we were actually doing in here just now?"

"I believe many did, Harry," Dumbledore admitted. "I do not expect any controversial fallout to ensue, however, at least not in the form that you should feel worried about still being vulnerable to. You are untouchable now, my boy. The both of you are." The elderly wizard winked at Harry and reached out to grip Severus' upper arm, very profound affection showing in his eyes for each of them.

Suddenly realizing he was ravenously hungry, Harry glanced around the room, wondering what more had to be done there, and how soon they could leave. He hoped he wouldn't have to help clean up… He blinked. The interior showed no signs of the battle from less than an hour ago. "Sir?" Harry turned back to ask the elderly wizard who was still regarding him fondly.

"Magic, Harry," Dumbledore said with a happy twinkle in his eye.

"How are you feeling?" Severus asked Harry after another round of praise and hugs and backslaps from stray Order members and bystanders had taken place. He draped his arm around the teen and tugged him close.

"Starving and exhausted," Harry admitted. "But, Severus, what about the adoption?"

"I've asked William Weasley to set up a proper meeting with a reliable goblin," Severus said. "Perhaps on Thursday." He smirked slightly at Harry as he added, "There will still be eight whole days until your Emancipation. More than enough time."

"It can be done in a day?" Harry asked skeptically.

"By the goblins, yes, if they are so inclined," Severus said. "I'm fairly certain they will not hold a grudge over today's event's, especially since Narcissa offered additional compensation via contributions from her sister's vault to settle any further outstanding damages."

Harry grinned at that. Remus and Lucius were standing nearby, so Harry asked, loudly enough so that each of them would hear, "Which one of you dream team duelists did ol' Bellatrix in?"

"I did." All three wizards said in unison.

Harry's grin widened as he watched the three of them glare at each other and argue about their spell casting.

"You need to sleep," Severus said into Harry's hair as the boy flopped back to lean against him on the sofa in their quarters. They'd both felt compelled to shower as soon as they'd returned, and each had just now consumed countless sandwiches from the tray Severus had charmed to hover within reach. It was barely two o'clock in the afternoon, but it felt like midnight after a day of hard physical labor.

Harry could still have eaten more, but he was too tired. "Can I stay here?" he asked, eyes closing.

"You'd better," Severus said, kissing Harry's clean hair and moving his arm to cradle the-boy-he-had-come-to-adore to his side, while using his free hand and wand to charm the sofa back to support his head so that he could doze as well. He closed his eyes too. "We'll be awakened when the others return."

"Party in the ROR," Harry mumbled.

"Merlin, help me," Severus mumbled back.

"We can take Pepper-Up at that point?" Harry asked after a moment of silence.

"We can."

The so-called party in the ROR was actually a very relaxed gathering of the exhausted core five coin holders: Harry, Severus, Remus, Lucius, and Dumbledore. The room had arranged itself into their standard meeting layout, complete with a circle of squashy plush armchairs and a table in the center with a tray holding a crystal decanter and glasses, and a bucket of bottles of butterbeer on ice. The adults drank a premium twenty year old single malt Scotch that McGonagall had gifted to Albus upon his return from Gringott's that afternoon, and Harry had butterbeer.

"January twenty-first, nineteen hundred and ninety-six, the day the Dark Lord was banished from existence," Lucius toasted grimly, raising his glass. A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth when Harry raised his butterbeer bottle, and they all clinked their glasses together. After a sip and a long moment to appreciate the smooth amber liquor's ideal qualities on his palate, Lucius directed a fond glance at Harry. "And to think, one month prior to now, you wouldn't have been able to stand the sight of me, Harry."

Not really wanting to think along those terms, Harry said flippantly, "Actually, one month ago, I could barely see you without glasses, so that's debatable."

Lucius held his gaze. "You showed great restraint that first day, by not hexing me on reflex."

"As if I could ever successfully get a hex at you," Harry said ironically, but smiling back at Lucius as he realized he should be open with this group. It was safe to tell them things now. It actually had been for a while already. "I might have been willing to take my chances, if someone had told me I'd be spending a lot of time with you, considering that one month ago today, I was in my cupboard, probably needing the loo worse than any of you can imagine, with a giant knot on my head, and a brochure about Emancipation that I must have read a hundred times to distract myself from how hungry I was. I spent hours fantasizing about buying my own groceries so that I could have something to eat besides peanut butter."

The stunned silence among the four adults spoke volumes about how much they still didn't know about Harry's experiences on Privet Drive.

"And yet, you still managed to come away from all of that, sane and honest," Severus said tightly, holding Harry's gaze for a moment before shaking his head in disbelief, "and so damned resourceful."

Harry huffed and shook his head too. "If I'd come straight from my cupboard to Gringott's, to the scene that played out today, or to any of the other clashes that have happened since you started looking after me, I'd be dead. I've no doubts." He looked around at them all, and even included Dumbledore when he said, "Each of you have taught me things that have saved my life." He smiled a small smile, adding, "I'll agree that I'm resourceful, but I wouldn't have had anything to tap into without each of you having shown me something important."

There was a long silence while the adults struggled with whatever was troubling them, and Harry's mind raced with all of the things he had to get caught up with. Like the adoption process, and his O.W.L.s, the next DA meeting, and more than anything, he wanted to get back into quidditch.

And now, he could. As long as there is no more interference from power-mongers, that is.

"What's on your mind, Harry?" Dumbledore asked.

"Just thinking about what will happen now," Harry said. He looked over at Severus. "I'll feel better when I've got an adoptive father, because I just can't help but expect trouble from the Ministry of Magic. Nothing's ever come of ol' Umbridge, or Pius Thickeness, getting their comeuppances."

"I meant what I said earlier, Harry," Albus assured him. "There will be trials for each the perpetrators who broke wizarding law when they came onto Hogwarts grounds and raised their wands in attack. Don't forget, there's yet to be repercussions for Dolores Umbridge's attack on Professor McGonagall. There will be lot's more excitement, but it will be of the type that you can read about in the Daily Prophet. From a very safe distance."

The room had arranged itself into a cozy chalet-style setting, complete with a roaring fire on each wall, long couches and chaise lounges. A table laden with platters of small meat pies and assorted fruits, cheeses and bread appeared and all were hungry enough to partake. Harry hung back to have a moment with Remus. "So… you and Tonks…?" He tried lamely, all at once realizing he was crossing a line and adding in a whisper, "I'm not asking because I want details! It's just that I want you to be happy."

Remus smiled down at him. "Yes, Harry, I have gotten out of my own way, in that regard," he said indulgently. "Let's just hope I don't…well, let's just have hope, shall we?"

Harry grinned at him. "If she were a song, which would she be?"

Remus' eyebrows shot upward. "How in the world do you know I do that?"

"I swear it was just a guess!" Harry laughed. He waited while Remus debated his answer.

"There is a band called America," Remus started, and when Harry nodded that he knew them, he added, "They had a song called Sister Golden Hair. That would be Dora for me, at this stage, anyway. And that's all I'm going to say on that matter."

After a while, they were each sprawled on their own sofa or lounge, stuffed, relaxed and feeling tranquil. Severus was across from Harry, watching the boy as he sat lost in thought. He was still aching with sadness at the way Harry had been forced to suffer and had ended his own inner monologue with a declaration that he couldn't change Harry's past, but could only do his best to make the young hero's future as happy as possible. He enjoyed seeing Harry looking content, the way he did now. He realized that in all the years he'd now known Harry Potter, he'd never seen an expression of contentment on his face until these recent weeks.

At least I can feel good about having given him that.

"Alright Harry," Severus announced as he stretched a lazy arm over the side of his lounge to retrieve the guitar he'd silently asked the Room to provide. "I'll grant you a specific request." He loved the sight of Harry's face lighting up. "But, it must have been a hit during the early seventies. That's the best I can do. And remember, its been twenty years."

"Liar," Lucius said, brandishing a bass guitar.

Harry chortled in glee. "Yes!" He grinned at the two adult Slytherins while Severus and Lucius nagged back and forth at each other.

"-I was trying to spare you, Lucius, but if you-"

"Oh please, Severus, you've memorized every song-"

"Not every song, and I'd hate for you to embarrass yourself-"

"You can admit it now, Severus, you know the entire Beatles catalog-"

"I don't intend to be here all night-"

"-not to mention your lovely singing voice-"

"How about Sister Golden Hair, by America?" Harry called out over their nattering. He returned Remus' grin and settled comfortably against the reclined back of his lounge.

It was five minutes past midnight, and Harry was back on the sofa in their quarters with Severus, watching the fire with a goofy grin on his face as he silently recapped the rather fantastic set of songs Severus and Lucius had played for them. The part that Harry had enjoyed the most was watching how caught up Severus got in his playing, keeping perfect time and looking unbelievably cool when he strummed rapidly through a refrain. Harry instinctively knew to not do too much more than grin and tell his guardian how much he'd enjoyed the playing. Severus was not yet ready to hear Harry's gushing, or observations about seeing a new side of him. It would be too much. So Harry kept all of that close to his heart for now, knowing that eventually he'd be able to share it, and have Severus hear it as a well deserved compliment.

"Remus admitted he and Tonks are sort of together, now," Harry told Severus.

"Hmmmm. You are not surprised, are you?"

"Nah," Harry said. "Earlier, when you helped him in the battle, what did he say to you after?"

"Why do you want to know?" Severus hedged, not entirely certain the boy should hear the truth.

"It was the looks on your faces," Harry said. "Like you were finally on the same team. Completely."

"We've been on the same team for a while, Harry," Severus said. He turned to look at the teen who was again sitting so that he could lean into Severus' side.

"I know, but you weren't admitting it, so, you know, I just wondered what finally cliched it today," Harry said.

"Understand, there was never any question that you were the priority over any of us," Severus said. Harry nodded, keeping his eyes on the fire and waiting for Severus' answer. "It was a discussion about which of us got to kill Bellatrix."

"So you'd intended for her to die?" Harry asked.

"I didn't see any other way around it," Severus admitted. "Does that bother you?"

"No!" Harry turned to look at him. "I was surprised you didn't do it when you flew into her."

"At that moment, I wasn't entirely certain that she could be eliminated yet," Severus explained. "Albus had surmised that the snake had swallowed a horcrux, but I wanted to be certain that Bellatrix hadn't hidden it on her person, or the like."

"Oh." Harry turned back to look at the flames again, relaxing his head back against Severus' shoulder. "So who was supposed to get to kill her?"

"Remus claimed it, but I didn't completely concede," Severus said.

"You called him Remus," Harry pointed out, and Severus could hear his smile in his voice.

"That is his name, Harry," he told the boy, bending the arm he had draped around Harry so that he could card his fingers through Harry's hair.

Harry sighed. "And now we'll never know for sure," he said in a feigned tragic tone.

"He got her," Severus admitted. "I only argued for sport. So did Lucius. Remus got her."

They sat in silence for a long stretch.

"I think the world of you, Severus," Harry said quietly. "I hope I can be half as fantastic at things, by the time I'm your age."

"I think the world of you, too, Harry, and if you could only see yourself through my eyes, you'd know you've far surpassed me in many, many ways already."

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