Settling In - Part III
Chapter 8 - Emancipated Minor - Settling In - Part III
Severus stepped in front of Potter, blocking his exit.
"Let me go," Potter said desperately, chest heaving, tears resuming.
"You will stay," Severus said calmly. "This is not a good time to be alone."
Potter looked at him with enraged incredulity. "I've never been more alone!" He made to dodge around Severus, but Severus grabbed first one upper arm and then the other. "Let me go!" Potter said desperately, attempting to wrench away, but Severus held him fast.
"You will stay," Severus repeated in the same even tone. He pulled the struggling teen against his chest and draped one arm down his back as if to anchor him in place. The other hand cupped around the boy's head and guided it firmly but gently to press against his clavicle, where it fit just below Severus' chin. "And you are not as alone as you imagine yourself to be."
"You don't know me," Potter said raggedly into Severus' neck, "you don't know anything about what I do or don't have." He was making a feeble attempt to pull away again and was shaking so badly he was beginning to quake.
"I'm beginning to get an idea, Harry," Severus said, deliberately using the boy's first name.
Potter was not yielding to his embrace, so he squeezed him with the full length of his arm and began to rub his back with the tightened pressure. Potter's response took about two full minutes, as if he had needed time to process who he was being held by, and when it came, it was in the form of a harsh sob of defeat that seemed to be torn from his chest. The way the boy was crying now was so loaded with angst and discomfort that Severus lost confidence that he was actually helping Potter. Feeling a bit desperate to calm the boy down, Severus wrapped his other arm around the distraught teen's shoulders and began to twist from his waist, back and forth, back and forth, still rubbing his back, still squeezing him tight. Finally, after many long moments in which Severus' conflict over his own personal contributions to Potter's miserable state grew steadily stronger, the boy sagged against him and raised hesitant arms to seek something to hold onto, settling for a loose circle around Severus' middle, hands gripping Severus' shirt.
They stood there for nearly thirty minutes, and by now Severus could tell that Potter had accepted the fact that he was going to have to stay put, and let his professor run the show. The boy's face was still hidden in Severus' neck, the frame of his glasses digging painfully into a small area of exposed skin at the open collar of his white linen shirt, but Severus was loathe to disrupt Potter in any way, and would let the boy decide when to end the embrace.
"You must be utterly overwhelmed, and I imagine you feel completely trapped," Severus said softly, "and that is quite understandable. You are handling yourself very bravely and admirably, Harry. You and I will need to work together to minimize the stress of your situation. To make it as tolerable as possible."
Harry heard his professor's reasonable words, but had no response. He turned his head and lay his cheek against Snape's shoulder, needing to continue to escape the agony of his inner turmoil for a little while longer. The soothing pressure of the warm hand smoothing up and down his back, and occasionally moving over to his side, so that he felt like he was being hugged with genuine caring, was like a salve to lifelong wounds, and it had a paralyzing effect on his sorrows, suspending them, and giving Harry a tiny respite for the first time in his living memory.
"You have much on your plate," Snape was saying. Harry could feel the pressure of the older wizard's chin pressing to the crown of his head, moving as he spoke. "And being confined will make it more difficult, so we will make some adjustments to the way you have to pass the time. At the very least, you should be allowed to move somewhat freely about the castle, if for no other reason than to burn off agitated energy. Lucius?"
Harry had forgotten about Malfoy, but was too numb to feel the mortification that should be rising within him at being so weak in front of these enemies… who were acting so completely out of character… I must be having another one of those odd dreams.
"I see no reason why that couldn't be arranged," Malfoy was saying from somewhere behind Snape. "You have a cloak of invisibility, do you not, Harry?"
When Harry didn't respond, Snape answered for him. "He does." Then to Harry, he said, "We could have an understanding that you keep the cloak with you at all times, and perhaps wear it while in the hallways. That being said, I will add that I know you are planning something, and I know that you are of the mind that you must proceed alone. History has shown that this is the tactic that has led to disaster. Now, I will not threaten you with punishment again, because I know you heard me loud and clear yesterday."
Harry could feel his tension rebounding. He had listened to the two older wizards as they made concessions on his behalf, not understanding why they would do this. When Snape had gotten to the part about knowing Harry was planning something, instinct kicked in and he tried to pull away, but his professor wasn't letting him go and had resumed the back and forth rocking.
"Perhaps you might consider asking for help with your endeavors?" Snape was saying now, still holding Harry tight and still creating that numbing cocoon of safety that was tugging Harry back from his tortured thoughts. "I saw that you'd been doing a bit of research yesterday evening. Perhaps, I may assist you with answers to your questions, or guidance with the charms you seek to learn?"
Harry couldn't put his finger on just exactly why Snape's offer brought the surge of grief right back up, but it did, and now he was bawling uncontrollably.
Severus flashed a look of alarm at Lucius and saw that his blond friend was as grim as he. Neither one of them could read anything from Potter's emotional outburst. But it was clear that if ever there was a boy who needed to be held, it was Harry Potter. So, Severus continued to comfort his young charge in the same manner and waited for him to cry himself out.
"Perhaps if we limit Harry's mobility within the castle to the kitchens, the Library, and the Room of Requirement, he might feel as if he is at least somewhat less confined," Lucius said after a long stretch of time, when Potter was showing signs of quieting. "I would need a means to send Harry a missive of some sort if I have concerns of an additional Ministry visitor making an appearance."
"We use enchanted galleons to send alerts to each other in the DA," Potter said reluctantly in a hoarse voice. "They warm in our pockets when there's a message."
"Impressive," Lucius said. "That is an excellent solution. I am quite impressed." He looked at Severus. "I have reservations about Harry being out on the grounds, but none about him being in the castle. Where do you stand on this, Severus?"
"I am in agreement. Are these acceptable terms for you, Potter?" Severus asked, his chin again pressing into the boy's hair.
This cannot be real, Harry thought. Snape was right, he was utterly overwhelmed, apparently to the point of hallucination. This time when he pulled away, Snape allowed him to, but did not let him go entirely. He was ushered over to the sofa and handed a calming draught. He drank it without argument and his fuzzy thoughts seemed to smooth themselves for the moment.
"Here you go, Harry," Malfoy held out one of three gold galleons he'd just charmed to send messages. "This will not only warm, but vibrate as well, so there will be no mistaking the urgency of your need to seek a hiding place."
"Alright," Harry said, taking the coin, as the father of his least favorite schoolmate took a seat beside him. He told neither man about the Mararuders' Map, and how he would know already if he needed to hide. He'd not yet ventured out because Snape had said he'd set wards. If those came down, Harry would take full advantage of the freedom to roam.
"Harry," Lucius Malfoy said, his tone of command back in place, but the goading, condescending note was not there. "You are the target of those at the Ministry who resent the fact that you called them to the table by showing them that the Dark Lord has indeed returned. Word of this has circulated, as you must know, if you've seen the paper?" When Harry shook his head, Malfoy raised a surprised eyebrow, but continued, "I see. Well, their half-witted idea that detaining you can somehow excuse their refusal to accept reality will peter out soon enough, but in the meantime, this is the most practical way to hide you. And I am a part of that effort, alright?"
Harry looked at him with open distrust. "You were instrumental in their denying that Vol-"
"Do not say his name in the presence of one who bears his mark, Harry," Lucius said harshly. "It sends a magical message to him that is quite like a sensual stroke to his ego." At the look of revulsion on Harry's face, Lucius said, "Exactly," before resuming his response to Harry's accusation. "I was playing a role, and you were the casualty, and I am sorry about this." Malfoy paused to make sure Harry was hearing him. "There are innumerable circumstances that require that I do this. I take no pleasure in the resulting difficulties you have experienced, Harry. It is an untenable situation all around. Things will change now, but they will not likely get easier." He held Harry's eyes with his for a long moment. "I will be circulating the grounds most of the time, but if you see me in the castle, and have any needs, please ask, alright?"
Harry blinked. "Sure," he said with open sarcasm. "That's a gear I can shift right into."
Malfoy narrowed his eyes and asked in confusion, "What is a gear?" But there was a telltale quirk at the corner of his mouth.
Oh, so now he's a comedian, Harry declared with inner irony.
But Malfoy just gave his knee a pat and stood. "I will take my leave. Harry, if you do shift into that gear, and decide you need something, press the tip of your wand to the coin and ask the question, followed by Nuntius." He smirked and dipped into a shallow bow before leaving Harry alone with Snape.
Severus attempted to keep Potter in his quarters but the boy was exhausted and clearly not comfortable with the idea of napping on the sofa with his potions professor as an audience. Severus insisted they have an early lunch before Potter retired to his dorm. Potter had fingered the letter his poor owl had perished in order to deliver to him, but had said nothing, and Severus was not foolish enough to think he would disclose the contents. So, at half noon, he shooed Potter through the floo, telling him their previously established dinner time of six o'clock still stood.
Harry stumbled out of the hearth and into the squashy chair he favored in his house common room. He pulled Aunt Petunia's letter out, knowing that whatever it had to say was going to be more bad news. And so he read:
We have a problem. That Rebecca Chase is suspicious that you were dishonest about your circumstances, and she is insisting that she interview you privately before she files the petition. You need to get yourself over to her office, and tell her whatever she wants to hear. Your uncle is fit to be tied. We have been taken from our home and our lives are completely on hold because of you, and your problems, and those useless wards. Fix this, Boy. You do not have a home with us any longer, and if you cannot emancipate yourself, I can just as easily release you to an orphanage, or the like.
Harry dropped the letter and flopped his head back against the chair. He had the fleeting thought that he could easily walk out of here now without interference, and go climb the countless stairs to the Astronomy Tower, and end it all, once and for all. Harry was not afraid of dying. He knew he'd see his parents again when he did, but something far deeper within him was bound and determined to do what he was fated to do first. Although, he still wasn't entirely sure what exactly that was….
Severus went up to check on Potter just before six o'clock, deciding not to leave it up to the boy to get himself together in time for dinner. He found Potter asleep, again, but this time, there was an open letter lying face up on the floor where it had obviously been dropped from the boy's limp fingers. He stepped closer and read the missive from where he stood.
"Potter!" Severus barked in rage. He was not at all sorry to have startled the boy from heavy slumber. Now his hand was shaking as he held the letter up to show the brat that he knew the big secret.
"You can't just look at my private things!" Harry yelled in rage, jumping to his feet and snatching the bloody letter from Snape's hand. He balled it up and threw in into the fire, glaring hatefully at his professor. It's like remedial potions all over again!
"I am sorely tempted to give you a spanking," Severus said severely.
Harry blanched, but held his ground. "It won't change anything," he said with conviction. "I will find a way to go to Muggle London and see it through. You know I will."
Severus was battling to hold onto his temper. He thrust his hands into his pockets to keep them from grabbing Potter and tossing him over his knee. Calm yourself, his inner voice advised. The boy is speaking truthfully, and you will not dissuade him by violating him further. "I am struggling to comprehend the logic behind this plan of action," he said in an admirably calm tone.
"I don't belong to anyone," Harry said icily, "and yet so many of you are free to treat me as you please."
Ahh. "So, this is about protecting yourself from the likes of me?" Severus asked, successfully masking from his voice the way his stomach had twisted into a guilty knot at Potter's proclamation.
"Yes," Harry said simply. "I can imagine you must really hate the idea that you won't have permission to punish me, or teach me lessons in your favorite fashion any longer," Harry added sarcastically. "Just try to let that go, if you can. You were rubbish at it anyway. I'm still the awful little menace you've always thought me to be."
They stood facing each other, chests heaving with tumultuous emotions that while related, were so very different. Severus knew he needed to take the lead here, but was feeling quite impotent at the moment. But then he recalled this morning's unspoken truce, when he'd managed to console the boy and they'd been on friendlier terms.
"Harry," he began, and was not indifferent to the flash of disquiet on Potter's face at the use of his first name, "I was not being untruthful when I told you earlier that I was seeing you in a new light. I am not of a mind to teach you any more lessons, or to mistreat you any further. But what I do see in you is a boy who is attempting to take on something that is way beyond his means to handle."
Harry ran an angry hand through his hair. "Professor, there is no point to this conversation," he said tersely. "You are talking about my wanting to be able to legally manage my own life, as if that's the sum of it all. I've got a bloody Dark Lord living in my head that's the real problem. Along with all of these bloody adults with their bloody need to-" he stopped himself, pressing his lips together and glaring at Snape. "Becoming emancipated is the only way I can think of to be able to take him on!"
"You are completely delusional if you think you can take him on, Potter!" Severus barked. "This is not something you can do alone, you foolish, idiotic-"
Harry grinned bitterly. "You don't know what I know," he said emphatically. "You don't know what I've felt, or seen, ...or know."
"Then that's where we will begin, and quickly, before I decide to take advantage of these last days to legally paddle you senseless," Severus said, and he grabbed Harry by the arm and made like he was going to force him to bend over. "Speak, or I'll spank you until you do."
"I don't trust you," Harry said, his voice cracking with dread. He was beginning to shake again.
"Well, you'd better learn to," Severus replied. He made a dramatic production of summoning over a straight-backed chair.
Bugger! Harry thought. Fine. "I have a piece of him inside me! Don't you get it?" he blurted out, voice breaking. "I am trying to figure out what the prophecy meant when it said neither of us can survive while the other lives. I'm trying to think of ways to buy us time so that I can get strong enough to do something about it. If only I hadn't gone to the graveyard. If only he was still in that helpless state he was in last year…"
Somehow he was back in Snape's embrace again.
"Harry, you should not be keeping such thoughts to yourself," Severus said, his own voice wavering as Potter's palpable horrors were really settling in. He could feel how alone the boy truly saw himself to be. "This is too much for one boy to bear. For anyone to bear alone."
"But I am alone with it! No one will tell me anything, Professor!" Harry cried harshly, turning his face away from Snape's view, but still pressing his cheek to the man's shoulder. "Don't you get it? I've been seeing things through Vol- …through Tom Riddle since the summer before fourth year. Back then, I thought they were dreams, but they weren't. And Dumbledore has known this all along, and never told me he knew!" Now a sob of hurt burst out of him. "He left me at the Dursleys, with no one to talk to about what I'd seen at the graveyard. He wouldn't let Ron and Hermione write more than superficial nonsense in their letters to me, and never told me why. I spent the summer thinking people were angry at me for helping resurrect your bloody Dark Lord, and in the meantime, my nightmares were waking everyone up on Privet Drive and I got in a lot of trouble. It was the worst summer yet, and then those bloody Dementors showed up. My uncle was convinced I'd summoned them, just to show off my magic. Aunt Petunia was the one who said I should get emancipated. She knew there wasn't much hope that Uncle Vernon could tolerate me being there any longer. She told me yesterday that she was keeping him from becoming a murderer by helping me petition for emancipation."
There. Stew on that, Snape, Harry thought. He no longer cared that he was spilling his secret hurts all over the place. It was all falling apart anyway. If Snape got it in his mind to interfere, Harry knew it would be a simple task to go obliviate Rebecca Chase and close the door to his petition filing. The pamphlet had said that the Ministry of Magic was obligated to honor his Emancipation, but it had to actually happen first.
"I'm going to get emancipated," he declared forcefully.