"Princes have persecuted me without a cause: but my heart standeth in awe of thy word." — Psalm 119:161
Author's Note: This story is AU as it takes place immediately after the events of Half-Blood Prince. Inspired by a reader of mine who loved my one-shot Double Jeopardy, I decided to try this out. Basically, Harry is being framed in this story for using the Cruciatus Curse on Snape to try to stop him from getting away after murdering Dumbledore. Hope you like it!
Chapter One: Dread
"Your maxims are proverbs of ashes; your defenses are defenses of clay." — Job 13:11-13
Harry awoke in the middle of the night startled, accidentally letting out a slight shriek. Terrified that the Dursleys may have heard him, Harry sat up alertly, wiping the puddle of sweat off his forehead and unbuttoning his soaked pajama shirt. Again, just like every other night since he'd returned to Privet Drive following his sixth Hogwarts year, nightmares recollecting Dumbledore being murdered and the Death Eaters attacking Hogwarts haunted him restless. Harry had hoped that since he'd be safe at the Dursleys', at least until his seventeenth birthday anyway (which was now just a day away, actually), that he would not be so easily disturbed.
How wrong he'd been.
Harry hadn't had a peaceful night's sleep since that bastard Snape killed Dumbledore in cold blood while the defenseless headmaster begged for mercy. 'I reckon I haven't slept more than four hours at any one time since that night,' ruminated an annoyed Harry to himself. Yes, it was the trauma of losing the man he'd admired more than anyone else that so pained him, losing the one person whom had in fact faithfully protected him since the very night of his parents' death, but equably maddening, too, was how Snape had gotten away with so cowardly betraying them all. Pointlessly attempting to shake off these thoughts, Harry knew too well that he would not be able to return to sleep (he never could), and with a weary sigh turned on his side and flickered on his bedside lamp.
Relieved to not hear any footsteps or door slams from the other side of his bedroom door, Harry let out the deep breath he'd been holding. However, then of course came the repetitive, completely despairing thoughts which were so all-consuming. 'It's never going to get better either. As a matter of fact, after today it'll only be worse — assuming I even live to see tomorrow night.' This was very true — the moment he turned seventeen the protection enchantments that made staying at the Dursleys' irreversibly safe due to his mother's bloodline and her sacrificial death in attempt to save Harry, would be gone, for good too. As Dumbledore had explained to him just over a year ago, the extraordinary power of that beyond rare magic would instantly expire the moment he became of age, which in the Magical World referred to a wizard or witch's seventeenth birthday. 'Less than twenty-four hours away,' thought Harry miserably; indeed, his own suffering had undoubtedly turned him into an overwhelmingly pessimistic young man.
If only Harry knew that the "worse" scenario he was currently expecting (which he obviously viewed as irrefutable) would be about a million times more so than he could ever have imagined.
Nerve-wracked, Harry spent the entire next day anticipating the "rescue" which, notably, he knew nothing about, because although the Order had notified him it would happen, they did not at all give him details or instructions. The reason given for such concealment was that the risk was too great that the letter could be intercepted by Voldemort or his henchmen. Professor Lupin, whom himself had written the letter, did emphasize his apologies, and Harry technically even agreed with the Order's decision on that, but it did not make the excruciating suspense any easier to endure. He was forced to face a life-or-death experience (in which 'death' was arguably more likely at that) without a shred of foreknowledge. As he suffered the strife of this, in some ways it felt like the hours leading up to midnight were vanishing at light speed, and then in other ways the heart-wrenching wait of it felt tortuously prolonged. Eventually Harry just felt like there wasn't anything that made sense anymore...
Throughout the course of the day the Dursleys made it their mission to prove to Harry that they were elated about him leaving. Dudley and Uncle Vernon, making sure to appear carefree as can be, watched the game on television, exaggerating their laughter as they blared the surround sound. Aunt Petunia, on the other hand, made sure to display an extra-high level of perkiness, and without being asked made hotdogs and cookies for the two. Nonetheless, Harry privately suspected there had to be some fear in them that if he, Harry, were no longer being protected, perhaps they wouldn't be safe, either. If nothing else there was something to be said about the glimmer of terror that had passed Petunia's eyes when Harry had first told them about Voldemort's return, back when Dudley had been attacked by that Dementor. That alone made it quite clear that his aunt was to some degree less ignorant than she (intentionally) came across about the severe consequences of such news.
Anyhow, this was all in stubborn response to when, closer to the start of his summer vacation (if it could even be called that), Harry had tried persuading them to flee into hiding: "Do you lot really think Voldemort would hesitate to kill you?! You're Muggles for Merlin's sake, AND my only living relatives. He probably already plans to take pleasure in the opportunity to kill the rest of my family, too, not to mention he'll be furious I escaped!" Those were the impatient words which he tried to convince them with, but Uncle Vernon wouldn't have any of it, much too prideful. In fact, very strongly the man was fastidious to declare that he wasn't going to desert his own home because of, according to his uncle, "...the trouble YOU'VE gotten yourself into, boy." (Harry had to admit he'd felt a lot more confident back then about presuming he would of course escape without fail, if for no other reason than the fact that the impending date had been much farther away, more surreal-feeling.)
Although Vernon's dimwitted response to Harry's forewarning was not altogether surprising — nor his audacious blaming of Harry for the whole thing (just to infuriate his nephew no doubt) — Harry still could not cease to wonder if Petunia differed, if only slightly, with her husband on the matter. After all, Harry would never forget how haunted her voice sounded when she slipped and revealed that she knew not only what Dementors were, but what their purpose was as well. So, logically speaking, it certainly stood to reason that if she knew about Dementors then she was probably aware of other things that Vernon didn't know about, too. Thus, the moment Harry got a chance to confront his aunt alone about this situation he did, because if nothing else he needed to understand why she was allowing Vernon to intentionally lead them to their deaths.
It wasn't until sundown that this miraculous moment of opportunity elapsed. It was when Dudley and Uncle Vernon were loudly playing video games, utterly distracted from the outside world, that Aunt Petunia finally went upstairs for something. Immediately Harry seized what could be his one chance to speak to her alone, because despite the fact that the Dursleys had mistreated him his whole life, they didn't deserve to be murdered. So, creeping up the stairs as silently and quickly as possible, Harry was able to reach his aunt before she even made it to her bedroom door. "Aunt Petunia," he called bravely, safely speaking in a voice that was just loud enough for her to hear. "We need to talk. Now, before Vernon and Dudley have time to notice." It was an unhesitating demand; his domineering confidence gave Petunia no choice.
Aunt Petunia jumped with shock as she acknowledged her nephew, his radiant contention, the audacity he brought, his ultra-demanding demeanor. Instantaneously left gasping for air, Aunt Petunia's reflexes made her turn pale-white as pure, utter distress tossed her aback. Her whole demeanor wrinkled with terror so emphatic that it instantly confirmed Harry's suspicions. 'She DOES know, well too, I reckon, how bad it is, what all this really means!' Harry thought darkly, only slightly surprised.
When she finally did speak it was in a choked squeak that was almost incoherent. "What are you blithering to me about, boy?" Aunt Petunia shot back sternly, but at this point nothing she said could suffice to even halfway conceal the fact that there was something hidden deep inside her; simply put, Harry's oh-so-dear aunt's vulnerable, defensive voice made it pitifully obvious that she knew damn well what her nephew was referring to.
Frustrated beyond comprehension, Harry frowned at his insubordinate aunt, for there could not have been a worse time than now for her to reject his severe forewarning, even his willingness to in some way help, too. 'How could Aunt Petunia suddenly just stop caring about her own family?' Harry wondered confusedly. But it felt like the more he tried to mentally reason it the more puzzling the whole thing got, and it affected his ability to at all muster virtually any patience in his response. "Petunia, get off it, would you?! We both know you're a lot more knowledgeable about the wizarding world and Voldemort than Vernon reckons you are," he put bluntly, not bothering to politely address her as 'Aunt' (nor Vernon as 'Uncle' in his reference) in this moment of overheat. To follow himself up immediately, Harry looked her up and down with a nefarious-like eagle eye, trying an intimidation tactic in order to force her into conceding to the truth. "Don't even bother to deny it."
Petunia flinched, returning a sharp look of disgust, except this time it only lasted but a minute. Holding his breath, Harry watched as his aunt looked down at the floor, clearly deep in her own thoughts as her head tilted in motion. It was as though she were calculating her best mode of action with more seriousness than ever, and that was good because it demonstrated that she was subsiding to his reality check, but it also could potentially boast her confidence in her continuous stubbornness. Alas, without bothering to look him in the eye, in a half-audible, tortuously reluctant voice, Aunt Petunia slowly complied despite her humiliation to Harry's demand, beginning in a harassed murmur. "It's not what you think! The people working for your kind's Ministry are planning on arresting you at midnight, once the protection magic ceases—" she began to say very fast, a discomfort more overbearing than ever practically suffocating her tone.
But Harry, incredulous with shock and feeling as though he'd just been stabbed in the back, thrown under the bus, and slapped in the face all at once, in a voice that desperately desired disbelief he couldn't help but spat out in one killing breath, "WHAT?! Arrest me?! Arrest me for what?" he exclaimed, barely able to breathe.
Before responding Aunt Petunia finally lifted her head and prudently looked behind Harry to make sure his outrage hadn't reached Dudley and Vernon downstairs. Luckily, no impending footsteps or voices could be heard, and they'd stood there silent for almost a full minute dreading. She turned back to him, flustering, and in a choked voice said, "Look, Scrimgeour or whatever that awful man's name is said that they have proof you used — what was it that he called it — an Unforgivable Curse, yes that's right. They cut a deal with Vernon and me to give us a top-security refuge to hide in. That's why I haven't—" she started to elaborate, her shaken tone relaxing the more she continued, but once again before she could even be close to finishing Harry once again interrupted.
His anger — infuriation, actually — his shock, his frustration, his total spite for the Ministry's shameful injudiciousness (which was certainly intentional), all of it seemed to take away his conscious freewill, all-consuming. 'No doubt that git Scrimgeour has something up his sleeve,' Harry thought with a poisonous volume of bitterness inundating him completely. Fighting to breathe after hearing this shell-shocking, rage-inducing news, Harry lividly vented out in a weakened, unintentionally much quieter voice, "What the bloody hell? I used the Cruciatus Curse to try to stop Snape from escaping after he MURDERED Dumbledore, that fucking coward and traitor—"
Aunt Petunia raised her palms forward, gesturing for him to hold on a second, and then took her turn to interrupt. "Harry, listen! I know that already, the Order of the Phoenix or whatever sent me an Owl when they got word of the Minister's conspiracy. They promised me that you, Dudley, Vernon and I would all be saved and then long-term protected as long as I didn't side with the Ministry. But you damn well better hope that your lot can work a miracle tonight, boy!" Aunt Petunia emphasized pessimistically, speaking in a dark, cool tone that revealed how highly doubtful of the Order's competency she apparently was; even yet, though, but this once her voice seriously contained a true, open compassion that Harry was absolutely positive his aunt had never offered him. It was almost too shocking.
Harry let out another deep breath long-delayed, having begun to turn a slight shade of blue already. Then, in a voice that was significantly less overwhelmed and out of control with anger, Harry somehow gained enough strength to bring reason back into the equation, composedly saying, "We better get back downstairs...Does Uncle Vernon even know about all this?"
If possible, Petunia turned an even paler pallid-white, gravely whispering, "No. No, he doesn't." And at that she turned her head away from him, walked around him, descended the stairs, and then, masterfully playing it off as though everything was perfectly normal, Petunia proceeded to the kitchen and pulled out the brownies from the oven just in time.
They could only wait out the remaining hours until midnight; then, for better or for worse they would each find out very quickly whether their greatest horrors would be confirmed...
Author's Endnote: Hope you like what you see so far! Chapter Two will be up soon!