Settling In - Part I
Chapter 6 - Emancipated Minor - Settling In - Part I
Harry sighed with relief when he stepped into the Gryffindor common room, dropping his rucksack on the floor before plopping down in the squashy chair that faced the fire. He looked at his watch and saw that it was half-two.
Now he could finally be alone with his thoughts, which were chaotic and incoherent, and streaming through his mind like a reel-to-reel projector. Desperate to deflect thoughts of Sirius, he started by replaying his private chat with Dumbledore, and the imploring way the elderly wizard had requested that Harry mind his actions for the next two weeks. Harry was to remember that Professor Snape was voluntarily looking after him, on his own time, and to please keep that in mind when tensions were high. Harry had asked if there was any way to communicate with his friends, and Dumbledore had promised to bring letters from them personally, saying he would return on Boxing Day for a visit. He'd warned Harry not to send letters with his owl. That posed a significant problem. Harry tossed around the idea of disobeying this request, but the thought of Snape and his paddle were a very strong deterrent. Besides, Hedwig could get hurt. She already did, not too long ago. Wait.
"Dobby?" he called out. When the elf had popped into view, and after the gush of happy greeting, Harry asked, "Dobby, if I needed you to take a note to my Aunt Petunia, could you do it for me?"
"Of course, Harry Potter, Dobby will happily deliver all of your messages now," the elf's ears flattened at the unspoken reference to the summer after second year when he'd held Harry's letters hostage.
"Good, because it's going to be a very important note, and then I'll need you to go back later and get one from her to me," Harry said. He thought for a moment. "What about if I needed you to get something to a certain goblin at Gringott's for me?"
"Dobby can do this as well, Harry Potter."
"You are a lifesaver, Dobby," Harry breathed in relief. He asked for a tray of sandwiches and pumpkin juice, and was rewarded with the meal within a couple of minutes. Dobby resisted leaving, until Harry reassured him that he was alright and needed a nap.
Harry scarfed down most of the sandwiches as he told himself to stop worrying. He really was going to be emancipated. Everything was going to work out. It had been fortuitous in some ways that he'd been sent back to Privet Drive, so that he and his aunt had been able to do the in-person interview together. Harry had been planning to stage a visit with Hermione over the holidays and they would have snuck out to the solicitor's office then. Remembering the interview triggered Harry's mind to jump on to reviewing this morning's events, and recalling that Snape and Remus had to have heard Aunt Petunia yelling at him that he wouldn't be eating again until his cupboard was cleaned. His face burned at that memory. Harry had eaten the last of the bread late yesterday afternoon, with the two stale heals from the loaf and a gigantic blob of the last of the peanut butter making a disgusting and messy sandwich of sorts. He'd finished the milk by Saturday, so there'd only been water in his glass, which had helped wash down the peanut butter, but hadn't done anything to help satiate his gnawing hunger. He reached over and grabbed two more of the sandwiches from his tray. Roast beef. Way better than peanut butter. I'm not going to go hungry ever again, he promised himself.
Neither Remus nor Snape had commented on his aunt's ranting… That thought led him to the replay of his interactions with Snape. His potions professor had been acting out of character to some extent… What was with the casual attire? It was weird to see the man in a white shirt. It was weird to see him looking like a normal adult male wizard, for that matter. Like someone who had some confidence and worldliness, and a smidgeon of personality that was not in the realm of git. But then Harry recalled the threats, and the flashes of judgement that had come into their exchanges today. Who am I kidding? Nothing's changed. I know exactly what he's capable of.
There were way too many cruel people in the magical world.
Harry imagined how he was going to feel when his emancipation ID card came, and what freedom would feel like. Soon, he would have the ability to threaten legal action to anyone who abused him the way Umbridge had, or Snape for that matter. Receiving that letter would be the light at the end of a fourteen-year-long tunnel of misery.
This line of thought led to all that he had to do, to prepare himself, so that he could be on his own for real. He had been thinking he should retain a wizarding solicitor to call on, when those inevitable first few events would occur, like when it came time to decide where to go for the summer holiday. It would no longer be Dumbledore's decision, and he wondered how the elderly wizard would react. Harry would accept his advice, of course, but he would not go anywhere he was not wanted, ever again.
Harry hadn't made up his mind yet about where he would go, but he had no doubts that he would leave Hogwarts the very first time anyone mistreated him after January thirty-first. Thirty-eight more days for the likes of Snape, Fudge, Malfoy, or the Dursleys to do something awful to him. After that, he could tell them all to bugger off. And he would. He began to make a mental list of everything he'd need to learn over the coming weeks: glamour charms to disguise himself, clothing and furnishing transfiguration spells, household charms for laundry and cleaning, and just how far away he had to go to be outside of the jurisdiction of Britain's Ministry of Magic and all of its corruption. Harry was under no illusions that being emancipated would make him any less of a target for Fudge and the other Ministry goons. If anything it would make him more of one.
Thinking along that track, Harry realized anxiously that he needed to get really good at defense very quickly.
But most importantly, Harry needed to find out how to apparate. All of his instincts told him he'd be able to do it, even though he was still small and skinny, and his magic wasn't anywhere near fully matured. I'll be able to do it, he knew with certainty. That would be where he would start with his defense training... Because, in the midst of all of this preparation for independence, he had to deal with his Dark Lord problem, the one that Dumbledore still hadn't discussed with him while they had been alone. The one on which Snape's brutal "lessons" in Occlusion had had no impact. The one where Harry had realized that he was part of a Trinity that included Voldemort, his snake, and Harry. He'd come to this conclusion after thinking back on how he'd been the snake when Mr. Weasley had gotten attacked. Harry had been in the snake's mind. But so had Voldemort. The three of them had been participants, but Voldemort had been in control.
Harry had to find a way to take control.
It was at least a stroke of luck that he was staying at Hogwarts, actually, because he could practice his magic here. That was a good thing.
Severus paced around his living room area, struggling with the convoluted thoughts that were clogging his concentration. He was not pleased with himself for threatening Potter with such an extreme punishment, and realized the idiot boy could very well get it in his head to do some other stupid, impulsive act. That would mean he'd have to follow through on his threat, which, not too long ago, would have been something he'd have done without hesitation. But today he'd seen sides of Potter that told him he needed to be careful. And that meant that Severus needed to make an effort to improve the communication between the two of them.
Severus now knew that the boy had a whole side to his nature that he'd kept hidden. And it was clear that whatever he was hiding had to do with secret hurts. Severus stopped his pacing to reflect on his own cruel treatment of the boy, and how he'd justified it in his mind by assuming Harry Potter was completely self-centered, adored by all, and skirting from one drama to another, acting impulsively and irresponsibly, and expecting everyone else to clean up his messes. If that was not who Harry Potter was, if the boy was actually not self centered but selfless, then Severus' cruelty could only have reinforced Potter's inner misery.
Potter had told Albus that he was taking care of himself, like he'd always done. What, exactly, did that entail, and did it have anything to do with the failing wards?
Severus stepped through the floo into the Gryffindor common room to find Potter sleeping, curled up in the large, overstuffed armchair that sat several feet clear of the hearth. His glasses were off, set somewhere out of view, and his face was relaxed, and looking very youthful and innocent. The boy had kicked off his shoes and one threadbare sock, and there were angry red rub spots on his exposed foot that looked like they hurt. Severus noticed how large the shoes were, compared to Potter's smaller feet and frowned in confusion. Potter was still in the oversized dress shirt and jeans from earlier, but the blazer was nowhere to be seen...
He turned to glance back into the fireplace and saw the unburned remains of a sleeve of the blazer as the only surviving remnants of whatever demons setting it ablaze was supposed to have released for Potter. Severus smirked in amusement at that.
"Potter," he said in a low voice. The boy did not stir. He stepped over and wrapped his hand around the teen's upper arm and gave it a squeeze, this time saying more loudly, "Wake up, Potter."
Harry sucked in air as he jerked awake with a start. Someone had his arm and he couldn't see. He wrenched away, blinking rapidly as his senses returned and he remembered where he was, and that he was going to have to get used to seeing Snape. A lot.
"It's after six o'clock, young man," Snape was saying to him in a rather moderate tone, considering he was also indicating that Harry was late for dinner.
"Oh! Sorry, sir," Harry said hastily, still somewhat groggy from the first heavy sleep he'd had in nearly a week. He leaned over the side of the chair to retrieve his glasses and put them on.
"You had said earlier that you hadn't slept well," Snape was saying. He still didn't sound angry.
Harry was realizing he needed different shoes, and that his good trainers, along with the jacket he'd bought for himself in Hogsmeade a couple months back were still at Privet Drive. Bugger. "Um, can I meet you down in your quarters in about five minutes?" he asked.
"What's wrong, Potter?" Snape asked, suspiciously.
"Nothing, I just want to splash some water on my face and get different shoes," Harry said.
"Go. I'll wait."
Harry hastily grabbed his rucksack, the shoes and the one sock, and scooted up the staircase to his dorm. He grabbed a pair of old trainers he'd inherited from Dean that were still in good shape, but were also a bit too big. He added a second pair of socks and put them on before going in to wash his face. He looked at himself in the mirror, seeing the same boy he'd seen this morning. Same loser, different setting.
Snape was waiting for him by the fireplace. Harry walked over to him, growing more reluctant as he realized he had to say that stupid phrase to floo to the potion professor's quarters. Apparently the older wizard was reading him like an open book, because he was way too smug when he calmly asked Harry, "Problem, Potter?"
"No, sir," Harry said with gritted teeth. He gestured to the fireplace. "After you."
"Absolutely not," Snape said firmly. Now he gestured for Harry to go first. "Youth before beauty."
Harry snorted involuntarily and tried to cover by coughing, but ended up snickering as he said, "Fine," threw the pinch of floo powder down, and said with a tone of disgust, "Severus Snape's Slytherin Sanctuary!" and disappeared from sight.
Smirking with satisfied amusement, Severus threw down his pinch of the powder, saying, "My place!" and stepping into the green flames.
Severus had a small kitchenette that had room for a table and four chairs. He waited until they were seated and had each served themselves shepard's pie from the large dish in the center of the table. "Are you at all interested in what has transpired with your relatives since earlier today?" he asked the boy.
Potter blinked, but kept his eyes cast downward. "Are they alright?"
"They are quite put out at having to move away," Severus said. The boy only nodded. "You are being very tight-lipped about what actions of yours may have been the cause of the wards failing," Severus added.
Potter's breathing began to grow labored as he poked at his food with a very distinct and sudden lack of interest. He kept his eyes cast away from Severus', but raised his head when he said, "I have no idea why they failed. Nothing that happened while I was there this time was really any different than it's ever been."
"Mr. Potter, you can feel free to look me in the eye. I've no intention of Legilimizing you, at least not without first taking pleasure in threatening to do so," Severus said.
Potter eyed him resentfully, but bit his tongue.
"I have been recollecting what I'd seen in your memories during our lessons," Severus told the boy carefully. "Much of what I saw left me with the impression that you were harboring those particular memories the way a normally situated child would do - as in, those were the worst of them."
The boy's breathing was still labored, and he'd dropped his glare back down to the tabletop.
"Were you successfully Occluding worse occurrences, Potter?"
"Are you asking me to confide in you, Professor?" Potter demanded incredulously.
Severus schooled his features to be impassive, which seemed to incense the boy even further. But Potter said nothing more. Instead, he quickly shoveled food from his plate into his mouth chewing quickly and swallowing it down, making short work of his dinner. He was still heaving his angry breaths in and out, and for a moment, Severus feared the dinner was about to come right back up onto the table. Potter picked up his glass of pumpkin juice and gulped it down.
"May I be excused, Professor?" he asked with his jaw clenched.
"You may not," Severus said severely. "If you think you will be allowed to eat like some sort of mongrel at my table without repercussion, you are mistaken." He glared right back at the brat when Potter glowered at him. "It is poor manners to leave the table when the other person is still eating." He was deliberately smug when he added, "Now, I, unlike you, have room for seconds."
Harry suffered through watching Snape eat his second serving of pie, quietly declining dessert, but then realizing he would be forced to wait for his professor to eat that as well. Tonight it was custard, and Snape was taking his sweet time at eating it.
"Tomorrow is Christmas Eve," Snape said. "Did these recent events change plans that you will be feeling badly about missing?"
There he goes again! Harry griped. Who is he kidding, thinking I'll answer him? He had a feeling he would only get away with so much sullen behavior before he got in real trouble with Snape, but every instinct he had told him not to reveal anything personal. Unfortunately, the question had sent Harry's mind racing to the real answer to that question, the answer being yes. Yes, he was going to be spending the holiday alone, when he was supposed to have gotten to spend it with Sirius. And as soon as that thought formed in his mind, desperate grief rushed to the surface along with it, and so did a literal river of tears that welled up and spilled down his face.
"Please may I be excused?" Harry begged brokenly. If he hadn't felt so overwhelmingly heavy, he'd be berating himself for crying in front of Snape. Again.
"You may," Snape said quietly. He put a small jar on the table in front of Harry as he stood up. "For your sore feet."