AN: Sorry this one is a little shorter, but it ends where it does to set up the next set of events. And thanks to all of you sticking with me and being patient! Lots of life events recently, but hopefully I can get back on a schedule to be more regular in my writing. Best wishes, and happy ready (hopefully)...
Chapter 4 – Cracking
The next days passed rapidly for Harry as he and Severus moved into a comfortable pattern. Severus found himself relaxing around the boy remarkably quickly. The boy was careful, precise. Perhaps because of his time in a cupboard, or being without light in the cupboard, he understood that things had a place and he was neat. He quickly learned the process of cutting supplies, and the boy could SENSE the magic in them.
Severus quickly started a journal with the boy and was jotting down things that Harry could feel, precisely when changes were happening in the potions. Scents and color changes were less exact. When exactly did a potion move from yellow to mustard? Given those were the only senses and cues most wizards had, they made do.
Severus had never seen such potent potions as he had seen with Harry. Active magic on the potion to find out more ruined the potion, after all. Sensing magic or runes would disrupt the potion, but somehow what Harry was doing didn't, and the new information was going to make drastic changes in some of the professional practices, once the boy could be around the more powerful stuff. Schoolchildren would still have to rely on old practices, but Severus could already tell once he finished studying and published these findings, others would find a way to replicate it. Magic always found a way, and potions masters could be as stubborn as dragons with a new egg when the felt something was being withheld from them.
Harry found he loved their time together. Severus would hide a picture of Harry's mom under a ward or in something new in the room, getting Harry used to situational awareness. As he gained confidence in the boy, Severus started to add small traps, gradually increasing to an obstacle course he made in an unused room, then the entire basement as it was clear that, if all was required was avoidance, Lily's boy was a natural.
And as he did, Harry was learning to be cautious around magic. More powerful spells, even just ones causing a flash of light, nothing that would cause damage, started showing up. Severus managed to make several on his own, and then had Dumbledore stop by and preload several booby traps as well, and the old codger had brought some of Zonko's best. What possessed the man? He was worse than half the kids in the school, and likely the reason Severus had to deal with the Weasley twins running as brazenly as they did, Severus had mused close enough for Harry to hear. The boy had nearly choked picturing the old wizard pranking the entire school with charmed sweets.
The obstacle courses were fun for Harry, but they had the ulterior motive of both testing and helping build up the boy's magical resistance. It still wasn't as much as growing up in magical home would have done, but it helped. When Harry got too close to a trap, though, or got lured by the lights and colors of it, the spells could knock him out for a short period still. Severus had in morbid fascination decided to let the boy wake up to learn the effect of the spell her had tripped. Thus, Harry got to experience waking up in the ceiling, being trapped in a mirror, and having his left and right arms switched. Unfortunately, each correction caused Harry to pass out a second time, and Severus quickly decided it was too taxing on the boy's system, so he fixed Harry before waking him.
Once he was sure the boy could handle those basics, and the potions lab, though, Severus was determined to continue to work on the other areas of the boy's development. Time was fleeting if they were to be ready for Hogwarts.
Harry's favorite times were occlumency times. Severus had at first tried to push Harry to develop shields, but had quickly found the boy had little to work with and simply couldn't envision such a place. His only real options had been school, cupboard, and park. Disgusted, Severus had decided on a quick tour of the isles. Harry had been surprised when Severus rented a car, but after he had gushed effusive thanks, Severus threatened to leave him at one of the stops.
Severus's personal favorite mindscape was a castle, with a devious potions lab, of course, and no one had ever managed to get anything from it. Not Dumbledore, not Voldemort. Severus was rightfully proud of his trap system, and as he drove he explained the concepts to a rapt boy who managed to listen with eyes so wide open taking in the landscape that Severus was stunned they didn't dry out.
Harry loved older castles too, so they did a driving tour stopping at castles like Conwy, Caernarfon, and Harlech. They drove down the coast and then cut inland in Wales to visit a book festival in Hay-on-Wye, then went to more castles like Raglan and Caerphilly. A quick stop at Stonehenge on the way east to London and then back north. They visited beaches, forests, everything to give Harry a series of mindscapes from which to choose and find as patient or dangerous, as suited his needs.
Once home, the construction of mental maps began. Harry quickly decided he loved the moat and classic defenses of Caerphilly, with the narrow form and tall towers of Caernarfon, with the ocean view of Harlech. Severus taught him how to develop rooms within his castle in which to store memories, obvious ones like a library or dining room, but also secret places hidden under the moat and behind tapestries, things that would take time to find and give him time to respond to the threat. Others were hidden with riddles as traps, or logic puzzles. Severus also showed him how to lock and protect areas, even how to arm the defense around it. As summer came close to ending, Harry had control of his thoughts and more structure, and his mental strength had increased, but Severus could not tell how well Harry would be able to withstand Hogwarts herself.
They were in the middle of a potions session in which Severus was teaching Harry to match smells to ingredients when the wards gonged. Severus had warned Harry about this, and Harry rushed out and up to his room. There he sat, worried and without any way of protecting himself. While Severus had taught him how to avoid things, he had drawn the line at giving him a wand early. So while Harry had gained some idea of how much damage magic could do, there was little he could do to stop it. Severus had also told Harry of the three mostly likely reasons they would ever be bothered.
The first possibility was of course Dumbledore. And the kindly old man had shown up and had several long conversations with Severus that left both of them seeming sad, or so it seemed to Harry. Other times, he seemed to just want to visit Harry, and these times were ones that warmed Harry's heart. The teacher and scholar who loved learning came out, and he regaled stories of Harry's parents' education and even Harry's own tiny feats of magic as a baby as he let Harry try "just one or two things" with his wand. That had caused Harry to instantly have to try to get his mental shields up just from holding the wand, as a jolt of light emanated the second he touched it and warmth flowed up his arm and into his chest while also giving him a headache that radiated from his scar on his forehead. Dumbledore had apologized and promised to bring a new wand for Harry to try the next time! Harry had never tried a spell yet, but he could hold a wand without passing out or pain now.
The second option, Severus had told him, was a possible Death Eater. That conversation had lasted a long time, as he explained his own past and how he had chosen to follow the false Dark Lord. He explained how he had fallen out with Harry's mother and then pushed himself on to explain how he had passed on the prophecy but then turned away to try to protect Harry and his family. Severus had watched sadly as the light in Harry's eyes died a little then, but over their time together they had grown from it and he felt better not having it looming over him. Harry for his part could not doubt the sincerity of Severus' sorrow or his concern for Harry himself. Old friends, Severus had warned, may no longer be friends, but better to know what they are up to than not. So he had made Harry's room into a safe room. Severus's instructions on any visitor other than Dumbledore, though, included going to his now carefully warded room, which too helped build Harry's magical resistance.
The third possible visitor, who hadn't shown up, was Severus' godson, Draco. Severus had warned Harry that Draco had been brought up very strictly and by a father who still sought the Dark Lord's approval. Draco spouted off those beliefs, but Severus has been carefully and slowly countermining them, and Draco's comments indicated that his mother Narcissa had been doing something quite similar. Draco, Severus warned, could be coming without any notice if he needed a safe place to avoid his father, and Harry had readily agreed, even though he knew it wasn't his decision. His response had seemed to please Severus though.
So it was that Harry waited, worried, for Severus to come up to talk him which of the last two visitors had come. Harry was nervous about meeting Draco if that was the visitor, but he far preferred it to a Death Eater, so he thought about what it would be like as he tried to avoid worrying about Severus. Finally deciding it was a bad job all around, he tried to work a small magical maze Severus had made to let Harry see if he could tap his magic. He tried to manipulate a small steel ball through a maze full of trap doors, miniature creatures that would eat it, push it backwards, or even explode it. Harry had become quite engrossed in the game when he heard soft tap on his door.
"Harry," came Severus' comforting voice even as the door just began to open, "this is Draco. He needs to stay with us awhile."
Harry bounced up off his bed, and quickly came to a stop as he could see the tell-tale signs around Draco's body that indicated he'd been using some of Severus' potions. He took in the pink blood replenishing glow, the yellow pain reducer (the powerful one, yikes!), the deep purple one he didn't know. Then he squinted and saw smaller signs of a reddish-black tone on Draco's arms, legs, back. What would do that? He looked back at "normal" sight as Severus called it to see Draco looking at him as calmly as possible, but still clearly agitated.
"Sorry, Draco. I'm Harry, and it would be a pleasure," he'd said, looking at Severus to see if he'd chosen an appropriate response from that etiquette book he'd been force-fed. Severus' small nod and wave told him yes, but to get moving. So Harry walked over and offered his hand. The small, blond boy looked at him carefully, then nodded and looked around the room, ignoring the hand.
Offended, Harry looked at Severus who gave a calming gesture with his palm down. Sighing, Harry waited for Severus to guide him.
"Am I to stay in this room?" Draco finally asked.
Severus shook his head. "Bispy has prepared the guest bedroom for you."
Another gong indicating the floo was active called Severus away. Draco paled. "Is that likely to be your father?"
Draco looked surprised but shaking. Harry offered him a seat, which the blond boy took. "It could be mother," said the boy, but he didn't look hopeful.
Rising voices could be heard, and then suddenly all sound outside the room cut off. However, even as Harry and Draco started to look at each other, the house around them started to shake, as if lightning had struck and the thunder was pummeling the house. Draco sat down spinelessly. Harry joined him, feeling light-headed as well. He redoubled his focus on his mental shields, and turned inward to tend to them.
"He's here," muttered the blond boy to himself, shaking and drawing in on himself.
Harry didn't notice, as he too drew inward, in his case mentally. Harry knew now, there was a LOT of magic being dispensed nearby. Suddenly, a massive pulse of magic moved through the room, not with any light or direct manipulation of the room, but it covered Harry. The short hairs on his arms rose as if in an electrical field. His shields wobbled and he fell to the floor.
Bispy popped into the room looking distraught. It was too much; Harry passed out like a nox after a lumos. Draco never even noticed as Bispy came over to him and popped him out of the room and away to safety.
Some time later, Harry slowly awoke. His mouth was incredibly dry, and he moved it trying to get some salvia going.
"Relax, Harry. You've had a trying day," said the gentle tones he knew were the headmaster's.
"Professor Dumbledore, sir?" Harry asked groggily. There was something important that had happened…
Then it hit him as he managed to find his glasses on the bedside table. He was still in his room. But Draco was gone; the fight…
"It is okay, dear boy. You are okay, young Mr. Malfoy is okay, and young Severus will be too, once Madame Pomfrey has tidied him up."
Harry looked around the room, but there were no signs of any damage, and the magical pulse he'd felt seemed to have done nothing. "What happened to Professor Snape? Will he be okay?"
Dumbledore nodded easily, which eased Harry's fears. "He will indeed."
"Did…did Draco's dad really come here to attack Professor Snape?"
Dumbledore nodded but gave the boy a serious look. "It was an interesting thing, Harry. I would like you to examine with me. Severus could have stopped Mr. Malfoy by blocking his floo access. He suspected Draco would need safe haven at some point, but he didn't take steps to block Lucius. Once Lucius arrived and showed himself to be out of control, Severus could have used the house wards to throw Lucius from the house as well. So why do you think he did not?"
Harry pondered, and then sat in a crunched up ball, head on his hands. "It's because of me, isn't it? He didn't want the magic to be too much for me? It's all my fault…"
Dumbeldore reached a gentle hand over to the distraught boy. "Please trust me, Harry, when I say it is not. Let's examine a bit more. Here, have a quick drink of this."
Harry took a deep sip, and instantly felt calmer.
"How did that feel?"
"I feel much calmer now."
"And nothing else?" asked the older man looking over his spectacles.
Harry shook his head negatively.
"Well, it looks like Severus was right. You can handle minor potions now. My boy, you ARE improving!"
Harry, far from happy at the development, stayed fixated on the issue of blame. "And Severus…wasn't my fault?"
"Ah, yes, I am afraid Severus has to blame himself on this one. You see, he could have blocked Lucius easily enough. But I believe he wanted to actually deal with the man, give him a lesson, as it were. Severus, you will find, takes abuse quite seriously and likes to dish some back out when he finds it. While that man is as Slytherin as it comes, on that point he is all Huffledore. Do you see?"
Harry nodded slowly. "The loyalty and concern of a Hufflepuff with the bravery and impetuousness of a Gryffindor."
Dumbledore chuckled. "Very Severus definitions, but yes. So I think he wanted to teach Lucius a lesson. He had given Bispy prior orders about saving Draco in the unlikely occurrence Lucius bested him before Severus could throw the wards back up. The poor elf seemed completely divided on whether to follow her orders on Draco's safety or yours."
Harry gave a sad look. "She made the right choice, but she shouldn't have worried about me. I just passed out. Draco would have been bad off if he'd been caught. I'm sorry we won't get to be together, though. I'd just met him. Although…" Harry trailed off. The boy had been a little aloof, maybe not friend material.
"I think you and Draco could become fast friends with a little time together, which you shall have at Hogwarts if not before." Dumbledore's eyes twinkled as he seemed to consider the idea.
"Do you think I can make it to Hogwarts, then, sir?"
Dumbledore nodded. "If everything has been going as well as Severus has indicated, you will indeed. Maybe not at the usual time, but you are gaining enough class knowledge here, I think you won't be behind if you do need to wait. Let me just run a check if I may?"
Harry gave a short nod, but with a small hopeful smile. It was good he wouldn't be behind, but he did hope to get to go on time. He had overheard Uncle Vernon had told Dudley how important it was that he meet people at school quickly as friendships formed rapidly, and then took up space that made it hard for others. He almost missed watching Dumbledore wave his wand softly.
The magic Dumbledore called up washed softly over Harry, nothing like the pulse he had experienced before during the battle. But it made Dumbledore frown. Harry's smile dropped.
"What is it, sir?"
Dumbledore made a quick move with his wand and then hastily stowed it. "I am going to have to look at that scan some more and perhaps show that to Madam Pomfrey to check. I dare not run it again."
"But what is it?" asked Harry, nervous voice rising.
"Now, my boy, I do not wish to concern you…"
Harry sighed. "Too late…" he muttered.
Dumbledore stared at the boy a long time and looked conflicted, but finally he sighed, slumping back in his seat. After everything the boy had been through, he was mature beyond his years. He did deserve to know rather than be scared without knowledge. After all, Dumbledore himself had spent his life in pursuit of knowledge, and even with its costs he preferred knowledge to being unaware. The boy deserved to know. "I know Severus checked your core as did Madam Pomfrey, and found no ruptures. Whatever happened since, and most likely tonight specifically, though, seems to have caused some."
"My magical core is…cracked? Cracking? Will it stop? Will it get better? What does it mean?"
Dumbledore ignored Harry's question at first, thinking furiously. "I am going to need to ask you again about what you experienced, very carefully, and then talk with Severus about the magic he saw and used. Ah, forgive me. To answer your question, 'cracking' is an inexact term, Harry. But in essence, yes. The magic around you, or perhaps even your own magic, is starting to damage your own core. As for what it means…" The old wizard took off his spectacles, wiping them, and then put them back on slowly. "I'm afraid I don't know, my dear boy, I just don't know."