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Harry thought, and he paced, and he worked, and he thought some more. No matter how much work he did or how much effort he put into it he could not drive away the worry of the coming of the impending visitors. No matter how much he deliberated, he could not seem to figure out what to say. He knew the minister would be there, there was little doubt in his mind about that. He also knew that the Minister believed him to be guilty, nay, wanted him to be guilty. How could he convince anyone of his innocence if they did not care about the facts?
Harry's nightly nightmares were now in the forefront of his mind. He was no seer, and he knew his dreams had nothing to do with the future, but they had a lot to do with reality and past experience. Harry had dealt with Fudge many times in the past. With no proof to back up his accusations, Fudge had maligned Harry's name for years while the boy was still back at Hogwarts. Harry knew from experience that everything he said would be twisted, and fighting with Fudge would only add fuel to the fire.
But that didn't mean there was nothing Harry could do. No, not at all.
If following Hedwig was truly the way that the minister found him, than it must be obvious that Harry had some news of what was going on in the wizarding world. That, of course, meant the Harry could not lie about the fact that he knew what happened to his family. If he started out with such an obvious lie, it would be the proof Fudge needed to convince the world of Harry's guilt.
It was driving him crazy; the not knowing what was going to happen. Harry knew that with the life debt in place, the ministry could not cart him away to Azkaban. Somehow, that offered little comfort. Harry may not have grown up knowing every nuance of the wizarding world, but even he knew that with magic available Azkaban was the least of his worries. What was legal for the minister to do to him while Harry was held under a life debt? That was what Harry really wanted to know. Well, at least one of the things.
Tomorrow would be the day, Harry had a feeling that everything would become a lot clearer after the visitors had arrived and departed. Perhaps, Harry may even figure out why Snape had required this method of payment for life debt that Harry owed him. Or perhaps it would just be confirmed how big a bastard Snape truly was.
One more night. Harry could get through one more night. And perhaps this night he would actually sleep.
It was dark behind his bed curtains, but Harry knew was time to get up. His internal clock told him it was approximately breakfast time. This was it. This was the day. The big day.
Harry laughed to himself. If his thoughts were not so morose, they could almost resemble one of Oliver Wood's Quidditch pep talks. Well, if it was a Quidditch pep talk, the next line would be, "The day we show the other team who we really are." Somehow they seemed to fit this situation as well. It really was time to get out of bed; Harry had no desire to be called upon in his present state of undress. Groaning, Harry threw back the bed Curtains and slipped out of his bed.
After completing his morning routine, Harry once again found himself out in Snape's Garden. It had been more than a week since Harry had first come to be Snape's new gardener, and Harry finally had nearly finished planting the new seeds. But that did not mean that Harry was done with his task, no, not by far. After he had completed planting the seeds Harry would still have to add the to each plant their individual temperature, moisture, and lighting charms that he had found during his perusal of Snape's book.
Actually, if all went well Harry should have this walkway completed by the end of the day; that is if the people coming to visit Snape did not hold him up too long.
Crap! Harry briefly closed his eyes in annoyance, he had been doing so well not dwelling on the upcoming visit. Harry's heart began to beat faster. He was not ready for this. He had just defeated the darkest wizard of his time; he really did not have the patience to deal with an idiotic ministry.
Harry heard a door slammed shut. A loud arrogant tone of voice came from just the outside the House, but Harry could not make out the words. Harry knew that the time had come, but he did not want to turn around and be seen watching them as they came. He felt that it would show concern, and that was easily translated into weakness. But oh, how he wanted to know who all was there.
Harry did not have to wait long, within moments the voices became clearer.
". . . Wretch here in the garden?"Came the loud voice that Harry now recognized as Fudge's.
"And what," Snape commented calmly. "Would you have me keep him in, the kitchens? Were he not such a natural disaster at Potions his disposition would lead me to believe that he might take it upon himself to poison the food. As it stands, I prefer my food edible and not burned to various shades of charcoal."
Harry scowled at the dirt beneath him. Snape had spoken with such derision in his voice that it brought Harry back to the time before they had to work together to defeat Voldemort. He was momentarily saddened that the understanding he had once worked so hard to achieve now seemed to be lost forever. It was Snape's fault though. Snape took it upon himself to revert back to his putrid personality; there was nothing Harry could have done any differently that would have kept the man from choosing this course of action. Was there?
Harry was startled of his thoughts by the sound of a third voice. It was a familiar drawl. Oh God! He recognized that voice. It couldn't be... Snape would not do that to him. Oh, but this was Snape, of course he would do this to Harry. Snape was after all an unmitigated bastard. After all, what kind of a person would bring someone's worst childhood enemy to taunt him when he would be unable to fight back. Ah, but he had his answer.
Harry's blood ran cold. Draco Malfoy. The boy, no, man who swore he would do anything to make Harry suffer. It was worse than he had thought. With Draco's here, it appeared as if the minister had already decided on his guilt... although the article from the daily prophet and what Hermione said in her letters had pretty much brought him to that conclusion already. It was almost worse than when Fudge brought McNair to Buckbeak's trial.
"I must say, Severus. It is good to see the boy who lived in the dirt where he belongs. I do hope you are keeping an eye on him, he is said to be the next... Dark Lord." Harry could hear Malfoy's smirk, just in the tone of his voice.
"Yes... Yes keep an eye on the boy. It would not do for him to get out hand, not so close after we disposed of the last one." Fudge said in a bumbly agreeable tone.
Harry seethed as he struggled to compose himself. Harry could not ignore the intruders much longer without being blatantly rude, and as tempting as it was...it would not help matters. After taking a calming breath Harry slowly stood and turned to face the three unwelcome visitors.
"Can I help you?" Harry asked in a calm, low voice... The only thing giving away how truly felt was the fury smoldering in his eyes.
The three men stared at the boy. Harry had been correct about who they were. Fudge was standing slightly ahead of the other two, as if he had been the one leading the procession. Fudge looked at Harry suspiciously, as if he were expecting Harry to do something... Something illegal, something wicked. Draco Malfoy on the other hand wore a greedy, smug expression on his face. His arms were crossed, and his eyes twinkled with malicious delight.
Snape just looked as unapproachable as always, his dark hair hanging around his face shading his eyes from the afternoon sun.
Fudge stepped closer to the young wizard. His eyes wandered up and down, taking in Harry's appearance before sneering at the boy in a poor imitation of the Potions professor.
"My, my how the mighty have fallen. You should be in Azkaban, boy. No, even the dementors would be too good for you after what you did your family." Fudge seemed to preen himself, displaying an air of confidence. Of course he had a lot to be confident about, he, after all had two fully trained wizards backing him up.
Harry did not lean back as Fudge moved closer. He refused to show weakness.
"After what I did to my family?" Harry questioned in the same calm voice. "As I did nothing to my family, I assume you mean... What was done to my family. Minister, I had no hand in that."
"Ah, so you admit to know about it. But how would you know about it, hiding here, unless you committed the crime in the first place." Fudge said crossing his arms with a smug look upon his face.
"I heard whispers." Harry said vaguely not wanting to fully admit in Snape's hearing that he had been receiving owls. "Words do fly most readily upon the air. I suspect that's how you found I was here. You followed a whisper did you not?"
"Do not speak riddles to me boy, I have no use for your. . . Your. . . You have no right speak to me! Keep your tongue, boy." Fudge said flustered and turning red.
Harry fought to hide his grin. Despite his annoyance and anger at the situation, Harry was finding himself to be ever so slightly amused. He began to identify with Snape's vocal brutality. It was almost enjoyable to taunt someone with so little intelligence. Actually Harry was surprised to find that Snape had not stepped in yet to keep Harry in line.
Harry crossed his arms and stared expectantly at the minister waiting for the man to get on with his business. Although Harry's stare was nowhere near being at all malicious, the minister began backing up mumbling incoherently before facing Snape.
"See there you have it. He's planning, plotting, thinking up ways to... Do something... something evil." The minister spoke frantically eyes darting at Harry. "I want him locked up. I won't have it any other way! I want him in Azkaban, now!"
Harry raised an eyebrow at the minister, trying and succeeding at keeping the fear churning around in his stomach hidden. Azkaban. God he couldn't go to Azkaban, being locked up in a cold dreary sell cell... That alone would drive him insane. Harry could not even begin to think about dementors...the cold, the pain, the sorrow... the guilt. Harry just took a deep breath and kept his features passive.
"And deprive me of collecting on my debt. That, minister, is rather illegal. I do believe you'll find in all cases that have been brought to trial, the verdict remains the same. Until the completion of the life debt, you hold no influence whatsoever regarding Harry Potter." Harry turned to look at Snape just in time to catch his black eyes narrowing and his entire face harden seeming to dare the minister to disagree. Harry knew that no matter what the Fudge may think about the matter he would not argue with Snape when he was looking like that, the man just wasn't that brave. Inside Harry laughed at the porky wizard. Yet at the same time he cursed Snape, Harry knew all too well what it was like to be in that situation. Harry knew all too well what was like have Snape staring over as if you were a dunderhead, a complete fool, and standing in his way. But still he could enjoy a little sardonic amusement at the minister's expense.
"Of course Severus, the Potter brat the is all yours, provided he truly is under the life debt that you claim you hold over him." Malfoy drawled, throwing a pointed look at the minister.
"Yes... Yes. Must make sure everything is lawful. After all we wouldn't want any criminal behavior to slip to the cracks. Must follow procedure after all." The minister commented, regaining his agreeable behavior once more. "Draco, I assume you brought the vial."
"Do you really have asked?" Malfoy droned. "I wouldn't miss this for the world. The chance to see the boy who lived unable to keep from spilling his hidden secrets, helpless to do anything but speak the truth, and finally getting what he deserves. There is no way I would have forgotten the vial." Malfoy continued with a smirk.
Harry didn't like the sound of that. This whole thing was illegal, how was he expected to fight fair if everything they were doing was illegal. Veritaserum. How the hell was he supposed to continue trying to be Slytherin if they kept changing rules on him.
"That's illegal." Harry said, his voice losing its steady quality.
"Why Potter. I don't believe there's anyone present who gives a damn." Malfoy looked down at his ex-schoolmate and sneered. "Shall I proceed minister? As fun as this is, I do have other responsibilities to attend to."
"Yes... yes, let's get on with this business. Unless you're planning on making a scene, Professor Snape." The minister said, almost daring Snape to disagree. If Harry didn't know for fact that the minister would soil his pants the moment that Snape looked at him funny, Harry would have thought the man had guts.
Harry looked over at Snape fighting desperately to keep the plea from his eyes, but he could not help hoping deep inside that Snape would put a stop to this. In most cases Veritaserum would prove his innocence, but in the hands of an incompetent fool of a minister and a Malfoy, who knew what new juicy tidbits about the boy-who-lived that they could drag out of him to twist and spread across the pages of The Daily Prophet in order to cause him more grief.
"Make a scene." Snape said slowly, his words laced with distain. "Hardly. As I am immune to the potion, I can hardly expect the regular procedure to stand in this case. As you seem to have your heart set on using your..." Snape paused and a slight grimace ghosted across his face as he glanced at the bottle of clear liquid that Draco held in his hand. The expression was gone an instant later, smoothly melting into his almost constant sneer. "Potion, if it is fit to be called that...do continue then, I shall not stand in the way."
So much for hoping that Snape would not put up with the unlawful distribution of the potion, Snape had no intention of putting a stop to the minister's cruel intentions. Fudge nodded and with a wave of his hand he wordlessly gave Draco permission to proceed. Draco's smile grew crueler.
"Open wide, Potter." Malfoy mocked. "Oh, come on Potter, just a little."
Harry lost all semblance of his former calm. He began to slowly back away from the group.
"Oh no you don't, Potter." Malfoy sneered. "Severus, if you'd be so kind." the blonde wizard waved his hand towards Harry.
Severus raised his eyebrows at the boy and crossed his arms, his dark eyes gleaming with amusement. "The two of you come here together, and are unable to handle one young wizard. Or did you come expecting to rely on my assistance?"
"You truly expect me to put my life in danger by consorting too closely with this ... criminal." The Minister looked affronted at the very thought.
"Very well." Snape said with a sneer. Snape smoothly stepped behind Harry only to grasp him by the shoulders in order to keep him from fighting back or from running away. "You would do well to... comply with the minister's demands. Things would go, smoother." The man whispered fiercely in Harry's ear.
Harry froze, not of any compliance to Snape's demands but because this was part of his nightmare. Snape holding him from behind. God, it was coming true, but it didn't make any sense, Ron and Hermione were alive. It was just a nightmare; just because it was the same damn one every night did not mean that it would come true. Harry began to tremble. It was not noticeable to anyone looking at him, but Harry knew Snape could feel it. Harry knew that Snape finally had indisputable proof that he had at last gotten to the boy who lived. Harry tried to cover his fear by once again attempting to get away, but it was useless. The man behind him had been a seasoned death eater, spy or not, and was well train in keeping his victims exactly where he wanted them.
"This is illegal. This is illegal and you know it. You can't do this, nowhere is there a rule book that states a law anywhere in its pages that says you can force Veritaserum on anyone, life debt or not. In fact, it is and has always been quite the opposite. I know my rights." Harry spoke boldly; shoulders tensed an effort not to bolt.
Harry stance did not show his fear, nor did it show his anger. Aside from the slight shaking that only Snape could feel, Harry's stance now only showed his bravery and defiance. Harry's entire body was hardened; from his tense, squared back shoulders, eyes narrowed in retaliation, to his lips pressed down and white from the pressure. But Harry was scared; he was also quite livid. He was being threatened, and just as when he fought Voldemort, he didn't respond well to threats. He wouldn't break down, that is what they wanted. Harry was not going to give them the satisfaction of seeing him break down under his duress.
"He is the minister, Harry. He is the law. He can do whatever he wants. You have no rights." Malfoy taunted waving the small bottle full of clear liquid mockingly in front of Harry. Malfoy lowered his voice, his eyes gleaming as he taunted Harry. "Besides, who would ever believe you over the minister himself?"
As Malfoy stepped nearer, Harry's hand inched toward his wand ... only to be swiftly snatched by Snape's hand and held almost painfully behind his back.
Fudge narrowed his eyes. "I saw that, the boy was about to attack. Really Snape, wouldn't it be safer for everyone if you just canceled your claim to the boy and sent him to prison where he belongs? Even now he's so dangerous you have to restrain him just to get through this little procedure."
"Ah, yes. So you would sit back quietly and let a lifetime enemy accompanied by a political entity who is well known for trying to make your life miserable to minister an illegal truth potion ... And you would not struggle whatsoever? How...intriguing." Snape's tone was one of amusement. It felt to Harry as if the man was laughing at him.
Draco stepped closer, now only inches away from Harry's face. Harry tensed further, everything that was in him and wanted to attack his three tormentors. But that would only earn him a one-way ticket to Azkaban, life debt protecting him or not, and with the way Snape was holding his arm and shoulder, was proof in itself that Snape did not have much love for the dementors either. Harry did remember Hermione's letter, anything unlawful that Harry did while under Snape's debt ... Snape would be held responsible as well.
One of Malfoy's hands gripped Harry's jaw. His hands were cool and uncomfortable, the touch sent shivers of revulsion down Harry's spine. Harry concentrated on his breathing; he focused with everything that was in him to force his last meal to remain in his stomach where it belonged.
Draco's hand forced Harry's clenched jaw apart. The newly graduated Malfoy heir bent closer to Harry, his lips brushing against Harry's ear. Harry once again began to feel queasy.
"This would all be much faster with magic, but being muggle raised and all ... I am sure you identify with this method even more. Besides, it is much more personal." Draco hissed softly in his ear. His hate filled voice lowered even further as he continued; Harry had to strain to hear him. "And believe me, this is personal."
Harry felt something cold and smooth press against his lip. A drop of liquid fell on his tongue quickly followed by two more, tasteless. Harry's vision began to go blurry, but even through the haze Harry could see the malicious smile Malfoy wore as he stepped back and watched Harry go limp under the effects of the potion. Snape slowly lowered Harry down to the ground once the boy's legs no longer held him up.
Harry heard voices, but as they were not directed to him he really could not bother with the effort put forth to understand what they were saying. Then someone said his name. Harry turned to the speaker completely at attention. He could not make out the face, nor could he tell the voice belonged to, but it seemed imperative that Harry listen to the man.
"Harry Potter, is it true that Severus Snape saved your life on at least one occasion?"
Harry was sent back to his first year in his memory. He was once again up on his broom. It was jerking and swaying, having nothing to do with the wind. He was going to fall. He could hold on much longer. Suddenly the jerking slowed and Harry was able to once again get a grip on the handle. He couldn't pull himself up yet, the broomstick was still moving too erratically. Suddenly it stopped and Harry was once again on his Nimbus 2000 and feeling rather sick.
Now he was in a dark room lit only by next. He wasn't alone, but the man with him was not who he had expected.
"No, I tried to kill you." Quirrel had said. Snape, the cruelest man at the school had been trying to save him, save Harry. It had blown his mind.
Harry did not remember saying anything, but the man who questioned him seemed satisfied. There was a pause. Harry looked around uninterested. Nothing seemed important; he did not know why he was here, but then again he really did not care.
"Is it true that you now or at one time owed Severus Snape a life debt?"
Harry once again found himself being thrown back in time. He was with the headmaster.
"Then he did something Snape could never forgive. He saved his life," the headmaster had said.
Time was repeating itself. One enemy protecting another. But Snape had gone over and above any debt that he owed Harry's father. At least once a year Harry got himself into one life threatening situation or another. Somehow Snape was always there to save him, to pull him back. Harry felt it weighing on him, gratitude ... something else. Annoyance? No, Harry owed Snape his life, and just as with Snape and his father a debt had been incurred. Harry didn't even know how many had built up over the course of the years.
There was a pause and Harry was released from his memories. It did not take long before the voice was back and questioning him again.
"What leads you to believe that you are under life debt right now?"
Snape and Dumbledore were talking to him, but he would not say a word. He felt angry and betrayed. Then Snape had commanded him to speak. He did not want to speak, but he felt as if his voice would burst out of him anyway. He had to say something, anything. He wouldn't, Harry refused to give in. Agony tore through him. His magic was tearing away, binding him to Snape's command. Forcing Harry to do Snape's will.
The voice spoke again, but it was not directed at Harry. Harry took no notice, words were meaningless. Empty noise to fill the silence. Other voices, different voices joined with the first voice. The noise level grew and then suddenly tapered off. A different voice commanded Harry's attention.
"What are you hiding?"
The question didn't make any sense. What was there to hide? There is nothing of such importance that would want hiding. It would be too much trouble, it would disrupt the silence. Harry stared straight ahead, not acknowledging the question. The voice repeated itself, louder and impatient.
Once again the voices joined together in a symphony of indistinguishable babble. Harry was once again unconcerned.
Once again Harry was addressed, this time the question was one he could answer.
"What about your life would you not want the wizarding world to find out? What is it that you don't even tell your friends?"
Harry was in the infirmary once again, he had been distracted and his head was in the clouds. Harry didn't notice the stairways changing, and the next flight of steps he went up had a missing step. Harry had been so startled that he threw back his arms and fell down the few steps he had just climbed. He had fractured his leg, and had lain at the foot of the stairs until he was found by Miss Norris. Filch had cackled with delight when he had arrived to drag Harry rather painfully to the hospital wing.
The voices buzzed again, this time they were punctured with what Harry did not really care to recognize as laughter. The voice returned, it once again asked a question, its tone was drenched in annoyance.
"What in your life, in your past, would destroy you in the eyes of public opinion, what are you so desperate to keep the world from finding out that you would hide away rather than face the public knowing?"
He was back at the Dursleys. His aunt was dragging him by his ear. "You useless freak. How dare you mention anything to do with magic in this house. There is no such thing, you hear me, there is no such thing as magic."
It was dinner. Aunt Marge was visiting. Everyone else has filled up their plates; by the time the dishes of food reached Harry all that was left was the soggy vegetables. "I don't know why you keep this boy, Vernon. If he had been abandoned at my doorstep I would have sent him to the orphanage straight away. Especially with the useless parents this one had. Bad breeding, you know."
It was a hot day outside. He still had to rake the leaves and finish weeding his aunt's flower bed. A boy about his own age, with sandy blond hair came over to him. "Hi, I am Anthony. What's your name? " Harry answered the boy. The boy looked scared. "You, you are Dudley's cousin. I ... I am not allowed to talk to, um, strangers." The boy turned around and quickly walked off.
It was dark in the cupboard, and six year old Harry was crying silently. He was lonely. Aunt Petunia had seen the spiders crawling around and had yanked Harry out of his tiny room screaming for Vernon and blaming Harry for the infestation. Dead. The only living things that did not shrink in disgust at the site of him were dead. It was his fault that they were killed, if only he had stood in front of the creatures so that his aunt did not see. Now all he was left with were the carcasses left clinging to the walls, the loneliness, and the need to keep it from happening ever again.
A loud voice abruptly broke through the fog. The memories cleared. The voices began to talk again, louder this time, arguing, angry. After a while something cold touched his lips, liquid spilled onto his tongue and he swallowed. His head cleared and he knew where he was.
Harry fought himself sitting in the dirt; he vaguely remembered getting there. He closed his eyes to try to remember what had just happened. The minister, Malfoy, truth serum, Snape holding him. Harry did not remember what he had said, but the memories that had been flying through his mind were still fresh. Harry was mortified.
Yay! Done with another chapter. And if you did not see it in my LJ let me reiterate. Voice recognition programs in no way what so ever make writing go any faster. Quite the opposite I assure you.
Anyway, thank you so much for your reviews, they really do help, especially when one is in a mental bind.
And congrads to Padawan Jan-AQ for guessing Draco's involvement in this chapter.