Settling In - Part II
Chapter 7 - Emancipated Minor - Settling In - Part II
Harry burst through the floo and into the Gryffindor common room, charging into the center of the open space and standing there, heaving sobs of frustrated anguish as he officially gave into the tears that had betrayed him to his git professor. Why did he have to go through this horrible time while under Snape's supervision? Why were so many circumstances in his life so bloody infuriating? And why was it always okay for him to get picked on and poked at? He swiped angrily at his eyes beneath his glasses, wanting to get himself under control, but failing completely. Had it finally happened? Had he finally cracked? That should make Snape happy. He looked down and saw that he was still holding the balm for his feet and felt confused. What was Snape playing at? He'd never really gotten used to the palpable disdain that the potions master was able to fill a room with whenever they happened to share it. But so far, it hadn't been in the air between them since the Ministry incident. His professor had jumped to his typical conclusions about Harry, but he'd done so with stern authority, not that inexplicable loathing. Still, Harry knew without question that the man hated him.
Harry gritted his teeth, feeling the need to kick or punch something, but sofa cushions weren't going to cut it. He stood there glaring at the message board because it happened to be directly in his line of vision. That heat was returning, warming him in a way that felt like it was sitting just below his skin. It was a nice feeling, and he could tell his tension was beginning to ease as he distractedly thought that those High Inquisitor Notices still posted on the message board needed to go. He blinked.
They were gone.
It was like those odd bits of his magic that had surfaced in his childhood, when he'd wished for something so badly it had happened. Let's try that again, he thought. He looked at the sofa and thought about wanting to sleep there, so he'd need his pillow from his bed. The pillow materialized. Is this how wandless magic works?
"Brilliant," Harry said aloud. "What else do I want?" He looked down at his hand-me-down trainers and decided they needed to be smaller, and cleaner. Nothing happened. Hmmmm.
Noticeably, that lovely warmth had subsided, so he replayed Snape's infuriating questions again in his mind, and the feeling returned, full force. Harry was pretty sure the heat was his magic. Now I know how I am going to survive the rest of the holidays.
Severus had spent several hours working on his list of demands for Cornelius Fudge on behalf of Minerva, but had been distracted the entire time, and was now pacing before the hearth again. The events of the day were concerning, most especially the conversation at dinner. He had not expected Potter to actually open up to him. But the boy had given him the answers he'd been seeking by virtue of his body language. And his tears. Severus did not enjoy seeing that boy cry. And he was not indifferent to the fact that the isolated teen had absolutely no one to confide in or seek comfort from. He looked at the clock on the mantle. Half ten. Too soon to check on Potter. He would not be a welcomed sight. So, he resumed his pacing and wondered yet again what had caused the wards to fail at Privet Drive. If what the boy had said was true, and he believed it was, it really did beg the question as to what had been holding them in place all of these years?
The flaring of green flames in his fireplace interrupted his reverie, and he looked up to Lucius Malfoy stepping through, haughty arrogance intact as always. "Severus," he said with a formal nod before seating himself elegantly in Severus' leather armchair.
Severus smirked at his old friend. "And how are we, Lucius?"
"We have been assigned by both the Ministry and the Board of Governors to play monitor of Hogwarts," Lucius informed him smugly, and Severus couldn't help but think he sounded exactly like Draco.
"This is good news," Severus responded with measured relief, offering Lucius a fire whiskey and pouring one for himself.
"Agreed. It is a also relief to continue to appear as an instrument of the Dark Lord's interests - hopefully only in his eyes. I have been a tad worried that the he would find fault with my clumsiness with the prophecy, but so far, he's been accepting of my explanation that breaking it was the only way of getting the message back to him," Lucius sighed. He sipped his drink. "I have little hope that I'll be spared from his wrath for long."
"None of us will," Severus agreed.
"How is the boy?" Lucius asked. "Why did the wards fail?" It had been Lucius who had alerted Severus that morning. He had been keeping surveillance of the Dursley home as both a Death Eater, and a spy for Dumbledore. He'd waited until Severus had shown up with Lupin to clear Harry and Petunia away before sounding the alarm to Voldemort.
"I don't really know," Severus said flatly to answer both questions. At Lucius' raised eyebrow, he added, "He is secluded in his dorm. I am wondering if he perhaps should have his familiar with him just now. His owl."
"I assume he knows not to send letters?" Lucius' eyes had settled on the mantle. "Ah, I see you've left an open threat in plain site," he said with a smirk.
"I have," Severus confirmed without humor, "and I am hopeful he will heed the warning completely."
Harry returned from his shower, dressed in ratty pajamas, determined to have one more go at the experimental magical exercise he'd created for himself earlier but had yet to master. He focused intently and visualized his end goal for several minutes. Nothing. Ugh, I must be doing something wrong, he griped inwardly as he flopped back onto the sofa, feeling completely boneless, his eyes closing at the overwhelming pull of exhaustion. Awareness began to recede…
He was having the weirdest dream… he was in the common room, on his back on the sofa and Snape and Lucius Malfoy had just come through the floo.
Harry heard a snort of amusement, followed by an all out burst of laughter, and a mirthful, "What in Merlin's name went on in here?" that sounded like Malfoy, which was how he knew for certain that he was dreaming because that arrogant tosspot never even cracked a smile, unless it was an evil one.
"I wouldn't know," Snape replied without amusement. "What have you been up to, Potter?"
Harry vaguely realized that they must be reacting to the thousands of loose feathers that had exploded all around the common room when he'd tried that one last attempt to make the pillow return to his bed. Now warm hands were gently turning each of his feet, side to side, before clasping around them as if to warm them. The dream continued as he heard Malfoy ask his professor if "the boy" was quite alright, and Snape replying that he appeared to just be sleeping. Then Harry felt arms sliding under his back and behind his legs and he was being lifted. A span of time went by when he was aware of being carried, the chest he was being bodily held against was warm and comforting. Then there was another snort of amusement and a comment about his missing pillow, and he was next aware of cold sheets and covers being tucked around him. His glasses were removed and a warm hand rested on his head for a moment.
Lucius took his leave when they returned to the common room, promising Severus he would have a look for Potter's owl in the morning, when he returned for observation duty. They had both snickered disdainfully at the Ministry's assumptions that any wrong doings on the school grounds could only happen during normal business hours. "See you at nine," Lucius had said as he'd left.
Severus remained, flipping through the pages of the numerous open texts littering the common room. How had Potter gotten these? He was quite certain the boy had not breached the set of wards he'd left in place… And what was he doing looking up wizarding law about bequeathing ones fortune to non-blood relations? Severus skimmed through more of the content on the other topmost pages: freezing charms, magical development from birth to maturity, eyesight enhancement charms, financial spreadsheets and calculation charms, apparation, food preservation charms… Oh, the intrigue, Severus thought with narrowed eyes. He smirked as he used his wand to banish the feathers, thinking about how challenging it would be to find the answers to all of these questions. But he was up to the task.
Harry woke slowly the following morning, feeling better rested physically than he'd been in ages, but having no desire to get up and face the day. Today was Christmas Eve. He was supposed to be at Grimmauld Place right now. He should be waking up there, not here, and getting up to go find Sirius, and maybe Remus, and just enjoy hanging out with them. He should finally be getting the chance to talk to his godfather about all of the horrible things that had happened in the past year, all of the things that he'd had to dwell on all by himself, and just face alone. Harry rolled onto his back and stared up at the canopy of his four-poster and remembered the gut clenching fear he'd suffered through before each of the tasks of the Tri-Wizard Tournament. He thought about how Cedric's dad had been there for him throughout the Tournament. If Cedric had been as scared as Harry, he could have turned to his dad to talk it out. Harry's only experience with his own dad coming through was as an apparition bursting out of his wand, but not until after he'd been forced to contribute blood to the resurrection of his parents' murderer, or after he'd experienced the unfathomable pain of Voldemort's cruciatus curse, or after he'd witnessed the murder of a friend.
He'd really wanted to talk about all of that with Sirius. And then there was all of the stuff from this past term. All of the things he hadn't been able to say out loud to anyone. The heaviness of bereavement felt like it had just seated itself on his chest, and he needed to turn back on his side to breathe freely again. He closed his eyes and let the endless stream of tears drain once more, figuring he had all day before he had to show his face to Snape anyway. Forcing his thoughts to quiet, he slipped back into a troubled slumber that ended about twenty minutes later when he'd dreamt that Hedwig had been killed.
Harry shot out of bed in a panic, grabbing last year's Weasley jumper to throw over the T-shirt he'd slept in and left the sleep pants alone as he raced down the stairs to find his shoes so he could use the floo at top speed.
The fireplace roared with green flame just as Severus and Lucius were entering Severus's quarters through the dungeon entrance. Potter leapt out, but skidded to a stunned halt when he saw Lucius. The boy was a mess, and had a frantic expression that quickly changed into rage.
"Potter!" Severus said sternly, intending to stop the impending explosion before it erupted. Their eyes locked briefly before Potter dropped his angry glare downward and shook his head in defeat, turning as if to go right back into the fireplace. "Sit down," Severus commanded, pointing to the sofa. "Now."
Lucius had stayed in the background, and when Potter had done as he was told, circled around to stand in the boy's line of sight. "Good morning, Harry," he said formally, and bowing shallowly. "You are understandably shocked at the sight of me." He waited to see if there would be any comment to this statement, but he was met with more of the same speechless silence. "I have been assigned surveillance of the school on behalf of the Ministry of Magic." He spoke slowly, and when the Potter boy paled and gulped reflexively at this news, Lucius offered him a small smile of reassurance. "I am playing a role, Harry. I know I have not endeared myself to you, but I do not intend you any harm, understand?"
"Mr. Malfoy will keep our secret, Potter, but he agrees that even still, you need to keep a very low profile," Severus interjected.
"Alright," Potter said in a strained voice. He was struggling with his emotions again, and finally leaned forward with his head in his hands.
"What was on your mind when you arrived, just now?" Severus asked. He watched the boy thread his fingers through his hair and tug it in frustration, then shake his head in defeat again. Severus could already anticipate the pending disaster if he didn't get the boy to speak openly. "Potter?" he said again, impatience rising with his own growing anxiety.
Harry looked at his professor, wanting only to find his owl. Snape was waiting for an answer, and growing more testy by the second as Harry hesitated. Finally, he figured there was really nothing to lose, other than potential ridicule down the road, but Hedwig was worth it, so he launched into a rapid, defensive diatribe: "I just really wanted to check on my owl- I figured you wouldn't believe I just wanted to see her- She's already gotten hurt once by the Ministry monitoring, so I wanted to warn her not to take any letters-" he stopped himself at the uncomfortable expression that formed on Snape's face. Harry glanced at Malfoy and saw a grimly sympathetic look on his countenance as well. His stomach plummeted. "What happened?" he whispered suspiciously.
"I'm so sorry, Harry," Malfoy said, and seemed to mean it. "I was actually out having a look around the grounds just this morning when I saw your owl flying with a letter. She was shot down with an arrow. Hagrid found her in the Forbidden Forest and brought her to his cabin. He wasn't able to save her, Harry."
"An arrow?" Harry asked in utter shock. "A centaur's arrow? Why would they shoot at her?"
"I've no idea," Malfoy said. He pulled the letter from the pocket of his waistcoat and passed it to Harry.
Harry glanced at the writing and recognized his aunt's vicious scroll. Now his stomach seemed to have settled itself around his kneecaps as he struggled to his feet and rushed to the floo.