A/N: This is a story line that came to me before HBP was released, so before the horcruxes. I haven't yet decided whether or not to keep them... The story mostly follows OOTP, but all sited events of book 5 will have happened before the Xmas holidays. Right now, Severus is AU, in that his irrational rage from canon is not as strong in my story. There is a common theme to my other story, Failure To Thrive, in Harry's disgust with the abuses of power he sees all around him. I hope you like it!
Chapter 1 - Emancipated Minor - Holiday Struggle - Part I
Fifteen year old Harry Potter lay sprawled on his back on the floor of the Atrium in the Ministry of Magic. Body battered and depleted, his eyes focused on the high, high ceiling. A swirl of black, sandy-looking smoke circled above him, tugging upward and seemingly sucking an invisible essence of Harry's being along with it, as it ended its possession of him and exited through his chest. The debris on the floor that spread as far as the eye could see in the vast interior bespoke of the spectacular wand battle that had just taken place between Albus Dumbledore and Lord Voldemort. There was a brief moment, when the swirling smoke spun itself into the shape of a man, and Harry vaguely recognized Voldemort glaring tauntingly down at him, just as the roar of flames activated within the fireplaces all along the Atrium walls. Scattered gasps and exclamations sounded, and Voldemort's body disappeared into the vanishing sandy, swirling smoke once more.
In the background, Harry barely registered the shocked voice of Cornelius Fudge declaring, "He's back!"
"Severus! Quickly!" Albus Dumbledore's sharp whisper penetrated the periphery of Harry Potter's very blurred awareness. Dumbledore was kneeling close to Harry, attempting to obscure the newcomers' view of his prone form. Harry closed his eyes.
"Open your eyes, Potter," Harry heard Snape say in a low voice. "Can you move at all?" Harry could not respond, the act of opening his eyes had felt like way too much to ask, as it was. He felt himself being pulled up into a sitting position. Another moment and he was being eased back against someone's chest and arms were circling under his own and around his torso. "Albus? Hand it to me?" There was another pause. "Alright, Potter, do try to let me control our flight."
"Potter," Snape was addressing him again after they'd slammed hard onto a carpeted floor. "Open your eyes, boy," he demanded grimly. When Harry was looking up at him, he said, "Good. Now I'm going to sit you up and give you two potions. We have only a few minutes before we must leave again. You cannot be here when the Ministry officials arrive."
Harry was being pulled up by his wrists. A strong hand clamped onto his shoulder, near his neck, applying uncomfortable pressure to his clavicle. He heard the clanking of glass and a vial was being pressed to his lips. He drank two mildly unpleasant potions that he could not recognize. It became easier for him to stay upright within moments, and some of the ache in his muscles subsided.
"That second one will help replenish your magic. Fortunate timing it's the holidays, so you can't perform magic anyway," Snape said. His tone was still flat, and grim.
Harry's mind was whirling as he struggled to shut out all that had just happened from his thoughts. Don't think about Sirius! Sirius couldn't be dead! And his friends? had they all survived? Ron! Hermione! Ginny, Luna, Neville! Where were they right now? He looked wildly around and realized he was in Dumbledore's office. He was on the floor. Snape was kneeling beside him, still propping him up. Harry couldn't look at his professor's cold eyes, didn't dare to. "Where am I going next?" he asked in an emotionless voice.
"Home," Snape said. If he heard Harry's gulp of dread, he gave no indication as he checked his watch. "We have another portkey leaving in four minutes."
"Wait! I need-" Harry didn't know what to do now, what to think. "I need my rucksack! From my dorm!" He scrambled shakily to his feet. "I can't leave without it!"
Snape still used his stern, grim tone, but oddly restrained his typical inflammatory comments, "There's no time, Potter. Leave your books here. We both know you won't study over the holidays anyway, and surely you've got clothes at your aunt's to tide you over." He stood as well, keeping his grip on Harry's shoulder as if to steady him, but Harry thought it more likely that Snape was making sure he couldn't bolt away.
Think, Harry. "Dobby!" he cried desperately.
The elf popped into view directly in front of him. "Yes, Harry Potter? Dobby is happy to help Harry Potter!" Dobby tilted his head as his features grew concerned, "What has happened to Harry Potter? Who has hurt him?"
"No time, Dobby. Please bring me my rucksack from my trunk, quickly!" Harry said. The elf had barely cracked out of view before he was back in a split second, handing the small backpack over to Harry. "Thanks," Harry said. He was heaving in great gulps of air, struggling desperately to hold himself together. "Thanks a lot, Dobby."
The little elf stared up at Harry, his ears laying flat, and seeming to pull his features into a frown. "Harry Potter must call on Dobby for any help he may need."
Harry could only nod his understanding, and the elf obligingly popped out of view.
"Take hold of this, Potter," Snape said, holding a sterling silver candlestick out to Harry.
This time, Harry was fully conscious during the portkey journey, and the tugging sensation behind his naval set off a flashback of memory of traveling with Cedric, both to and from the graveyard via this same method. His visceral reaction brought an involuntary sob up in his chest as they landed on the lawn at Number 4 Privet Drive. Harry hunched forward and put his hands on his knees, attempting to contain his emotions. He could not lose control in front of Snape, even if the older wizard was being oddly civil. He still had to face the Dursleys before he might have the slightest chance of gaining enough privacy for a breakdown. It was late evening now, and the inky darkness of December in the suburban Surrey neighborhood made everything hard to see, in spite of the warm glow of holiday lights showing through the windows up and down the street. Harry's relatives were home, he could hear the telly blaring in the living room.
Harry was being pulled up straight, as Snape cast a lumos and shined it over his face for a moment, apparently looking at his cuts and bruises. Next, Snape cast a floating ball of flame, enchanting it to hover nearby as he used his wand to heal two cuts on Harry's cheek and temple, never speaking a word. He examined each of Harry's hands and healed the scapes and cuts he found on them, his thumb running over the scar from lines with Umbridge. I must not tell lies. Finally he cast a scourgify over Harry's clothes and hair, ridding them of the detritus from the hurled elements that had showered upon him while he'd witnessed the magical battle.
"There," Snape said, his customary sneer accompanying his taunting tone, "now your aunt won't think you've been mistreated while away at school."
Harry was too numb to question just exactly what point his professor might have thought he was making. He turned wearily, hitching his rucksack strap higher on his shoulder and walked up the three shallow steps to the Dursley's front door.
Severus was all too happy to turn the wretched boy over to his relatives. It was unclear to him what Potter's state of mind was at present time. He was likely in shock. After what had just taken place, Severus was hard pressed to process his own reaction to Potter's idiocy and impulsive actions, except to realize that he felt strangely deflated. And perhaps that was the best assumption to make about the boy. Harry Potter had two kinds of emotional responses to crisis: outright belligerence and recklessness, or unreadably affected indifference and silence. He'd seen for himself, just now, that Potter had the will of steel to hold his emotions intact. Normally, such a realization would inflame Severus' temper, but he had nothing more to invest at the moment. He was oddly unsettled by the whole event, and that was saying something, considering the atrocities he'd witnessed the last time the Dark Lord had been seeking power. Although he supposed the fact that Fudge had laid eyes on the Dark Lord just now was a positive take away, the cost to Potter, and therefore the Order, had been unthinkable. Severus had alerted the Order when he'd discovered the students had gone, but out of necessity had had to obscure himself from view and limit his participation in their rescue. His silent jinxes and curses had caused interference, but not much more.
It had been harrowing to watch both Potter and Lupin register Black's death. Severus had seen this tragedy coming. Black had been showing his reckless side more and more often in recent weeks, and today was no exception. He'd been showing off for Potter. Severus hadn't missed Black calling the boy James while they'd dueled with Lucius and Bellatrix. And now Potter is a stricken mess, Severus thought wearily. He was too shocked to react with his usual venomous rage at the boy's stupidity. Give yourself time, he said snidely within his head. You'll be fantasizing about using a paddle on him again by this time tomorrow. If that little idiot had practiced occluding, this may have been avoided altogether.
But even as the thoughts registered, Severus knew it had been too much to hope. The connection between Potter and the Dark Lord was difficult to comprehend. And since the dunderheaded boy was not able to articulate what he could sense of the connection, Severus could only conclude it was a strong enough link that only a very accomplished Occlumens could hope to block it. Potter had managed to expel the Dark Lord's corporeal possession of him this evening, Severus realized in afterthought. No doubt Albus would have new insights about the connection as a result. But for the moment, they'd had another tragedy, and such a price should yield far greater developments than Severus could see just now.
He watched the boy take a deep breath before knocking on the door. A few moments later, he could hear the lumbering footsteps of someone very heavy coming to answer. The door whipped open and a thick-necked teenaged boy who had a build that made Severus think of ham, and who was at least twice Potter's weight, and a good head taller, demanded, "Wha' are you doin' here?" He didn't wait for Potter to responded, he just turned to walk back down the hall towards the back of the house, complaining in a wretched, unpleasant adolescent whinge, "MUM! He's come back!"
Severus watched Potter step inside and softly close the door. His lip curled as he imagined Petunia squealing with delight at the sight of the boy, insisting he have a warm meal and a comforting cuddle, and then sending him off to bed to recover from the day's events. Severus tapped the candlestick, casting a new portus charm upon it, and took one last look at the house on Privet Drive before taking the magical transport back to the Headmaster's Office.