A/N: I was so angry at Severus after Ch 26, I had to address this drama immediately. ;-)

Chapter 27 - Emancipated Minor - The New Normal - Part III

Harry struggled to pull his invisibility cloak out of his bag as he stormed along. The last thing he needed was a run-in with some Slytherins right now, when he was about to burst into tears and his wild magic was humming in high gear.

"Potter!" Pansy Parkinson called, having just rounded the corner at the end of the corridor with two sixth-year Slytherin girls. She clearly didn't appreciate the fact that Harry continued rushing along, plowing forward as if he would barrel his way past them if they attempted to block his progress. "What are you doing down here?"

"None of your bloody business!" Harry rasped. He knew his eyes were red. He wasn't crying a river yet, but it was only a matter of seconds before he would be. He ducked his head down and stomped on, passing the three girls by turning sideways and scraping his back along the wall in his rush, feeling a sharp jab from a pointed section of the protruding stone. It hurt enough to make him gasp and twist his upper body in pain, which infuriated him all the more.

"Actually, it is our business, Potter," Pansy said in her snearing nasally voice, stopping to turn and follow his progress as he passed them, as if she expected him to stop. "There are a lot of rumors going around about how dangerous you are. I'm not about to let you wander through Slytherin territory when you're threatening my Housemates with violence."

"That's a pathetic lie," Harry said angrily. And the most annoying thing of all? Harry raged in his mind, Dumbledore bloody appointed this cow to be a PREFECT. He officially felt renewed confidence that he had been right to get emancipated. Snape and his paddle be damned. If this kind of thing kept happening, he could always leave Hogwarts. He had no tolerance left for this sort of nonsense. He always ended up on his own, anyway. It was easy for Severus to sit there and judge him. Severus didn't have Voldemort living in a scar in his head. Harry stopped and faced Pansy, who had her wand out. He glowered at her, secretly enjoying the angry warmth beneath his skin and already deciding to do what he had to do to defend himself.

"Are you crying, Potter?" she cackled unpleasantly. "I don't know what everyone is so worried about, you're no threat to anyone, are you? Well, except to those who believe your lies. You're nothing but a motherless son of a mudblood, aren't you?"

Harry stared at her dully, waiting. He didn't bother to pull out his wand.

"Leave him alone, Pansy," Draco said from behind Harry.

Harry spun to face him, not knowing what to expect from Malfoy Jr. in this setting. He easily still considered Draco the biggest threat of all of them.

Draco didn't look at Harry, but he did draw his wand and cast a shield when Pansy sent a skin scalding hex at Harry's back. "Protego!" Draco rasped, slashing his wand fiercely, deflecting her curse. "You're out of line, Parkinson," he said angrily, "and you're being an idiot. Move along, or I'll report this to the Headmistress."

"You've become a filthy blood traitor, Draco. You're pathetic!" Pansy accused Draco in disgust.

By now, Harry was facing her again, but he had backed up to stand beside Malfoy. He was panting and shaking with fury, just barely holding himself in check. He could see the situation was escalating as the other two girls pulled their wands out as well. He clenched his jaw and shook his arm to release his own wand from it's hiding place in his sleeve, down into his hand. He waved it in the appropriate movements, and said an emphatic, "Contego!" but let his wild magic handle the rest. He watched, as if in slow motion, the three Slytherin witches began to cast their hexes, imagining them feeling very, very heavy, and trapped behind a floor-to-ceiling, shimmering field of magic like the one Voldemort had kept Harry in during their last confrontation.

"What the…" Draco muttered, his eyes darting from Harry to the witches and back, trying to decipher what was happening.

Harry used the few moments of suspended animation to remember that he would feel horrible afterward if he harmed any of these girls, but he was damned if he was going to give them a chance to curse him again, so he left the field in place as he turned to walk away. "Thanks, Malfoy," he said softly as he passed the blond wizard.

Draco gaped at him. "Wait!" he said, following Harry.

When they reached the end of the corridor, Harry visualized the heaviness over the girls lifting very slowly, as he continued around the corner. The warmth under his skin began to dissipate. They should be freed by now, he thought, walking along with Draco without a destination in mind. The feeling of having no where to go, and just wanting to be alone settled heavily over Harry.

"What did you just do, Potter?" Draco asked in a not too obnoxious tone.

"Magic," Harry said, his voice raspy from his impaired emotions.

"Did you just come from Severus' quarters?" Draco asked.

Harry stopped and looked at Malfoy. "Why?" he asked, realizing that Draco was seeing his red eyes now. "Are you going to go tattle on me for defending myself?"

"Are you having a bad day, Potter?" Draco asked unsympathetically.

"Yeah, I am." Harry glared at him and stalked off.

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Severus opened the door to Lupin, knowing that the werewolf would be delivering his copy of the Map tonight.

Remus instantly recognized that Severus was in a mood. "Here you are, Severus," he said as he handed The Revised Marauder's Map, copy 2 to the potions master. "I thought Harry might be here?"

"Obviously he's not, wolf," Severus said coldly. "Was that all?"

"No," Remus said in a chiding tone. "You could invite me in for a firewhiskey," he said, also handing his copy of the Evening Prophet to Severus. "I've no doubt you'll need one after you read this. Then we can check the map to make sure Harry and his friends are safe and sound."

Severus glared at Lupin, but stepped away from the threshold to allow him entrance.

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Harry sank into a seat at the only empty table in the library and spread his books out. He had to finish his Transfiguration essay and revise the one for Herbology. He started on the Herbology, since it ultimately consisted of recopying his first try with the edits he'd made after multiple rereads.

He had to start over three additional times.

By the time he got through the third try, he was so distracted by his upset at the way Severus had responded to him, he didn't even remember writing the latter third of the paper. He slammed his quill down and sat staring at nothing for a long stretch of time.

"Harry?" Hermione asked quietly, sitting down across from him. "What do you need to finish?"

Harry didn't stop to wonder why she'd jumped right to that conclusion, rather than asking him the open-the-can-of-worms standard question of what's wrong? Instead, he tried to focus on what he still needed to say in his essay as he pulled it from beneath the stack of discarded Herbology mess-ups. He finally got irritated and banished them to the fireplace in the Gryffindor common room. Hermione didn't comment as she took the parchment from him and read what he'd written silently.

"This is good, Harry," she said. "You just need to mention the magical properties of leather versus canvas, and write your conclusion about why a belt is an easy transformative substitute for a blank canvas, and you're done." She turned the sheet towards him and waited for him to take up his quill. She recited a loose narrative for him to follow and he was finished in a matter of minutes. "Good, let's go find Ron and have a talk."

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"What's going on, Hermione?" Harry asked warily as they walked. He cast a quick tempus in front of them, finding it was not yet nine o'clock. He felt like it was after midnight.

"Harry, there's an article in the Evening Prophet. It's all about you, and your sneakily getting emancipated in the muggle world," Hermione said fretfully. "Professor Snape wants to speak to you about it."

"What does the article say?" Harry asked in dread, definitely not ready to handle a chat with Severus. He was already feeling wrung out from the whispers and hushed comments his fellow students were exchanging as they walked along.

"Ron's going to meet us in the Room of Requirement, and we'll show it to you."

They made their way directly to the fifth floor. "Don't you and Ron have to patrol soon?"

"We've traded with Malfoy," she said. "Harry, I heard about what happened in the Dungeons earlier from Draco. He said Pansy Parkinson, Kimberly Chapel and Lara Melford all attacked you, unprovoked. They were all in the Headmistress' Office when Ron and I went to see her. Pansy's getting stripped of her Prefect badge, and she'll be on probationary status for the rest of the school year. Daphne Greengrass is going to take her place. Snape was there. He looked fit to be tied. I thought you were having dinner and doing your schoolwork in his quarters tonight?"

"I don't want to talk about it, Hermione," Harry said raggedly. His mind was spinning and his stomach sank. That meant that Severus knew that he'd used wild magic. If Draco hadn't commented on it, the girls would have. They all knew he'd used more than his contego shield.

They'd reached the ROR and Hermione opened it to the room they used for their DA meetings. Where there were usually a series of throw pillows, Ron had asked for comfy armchairs set around a low circular stone basin that had a charmed ball of fire hovering over it for warmth. There was also a table set up for making ice cream sundaes.

"What?" Ron asked innocently at Hermione's questioning look. "You up for a sundae, Harry?" He held up a dish that already had several scoops of vanilla and chocolate ice cream loaded into it.

"I guess so," Harry said. In truth, he felt like he was going to be sick.

"I'll just set you up with this one, then," Ron said, with the tip of his tongue protruding from his mouth as he carefully dribbled a liberal amount of hot fudge over the top. "Nuts?"

Harry smiled in spite of his knotted stomach. "Definitely."

Hermione began to read the Prophet article aloud while Harry started on the sundae. "Just this afternoon, this reporter was informed by an anonymous source that Harry Potter will shortly be legally emancipated in Muggle Britain. A little known and rarely practiced law in the Wizarding world will award Mr. Potter Emancipated status as a legal adult wizard on January thirty first, just three weeks from now.

"Ever curious about the personal struggles of young Harry Potter, I sought confirmation of this fact from a second source at the Ministry of Magic. I was able to obtain a copy of the muggle record of Mr. Potter's petition, and had a nice interview with one Rebecca Chase of the muggle London Child Protection Agency just prior to the printing of this edition. According to Madam Chase, Harry Potter was raised abusively in his mother's sister's home. There were regular beatings and hateful treatment. The boy experienced neglect and emotional battering for his entire time in that household. No wonder Harry sought to free himself in the most effective way possible. Well done, Harry Potter. This reporter just hopes you are truly ready for adulthood in Wizarding Britain."

Hermione stopped reading and looked at Harry. He'd set the ice cream aside and leaned back in his chair, staring up at the ceiling and fighting the temptation to give into the urge to apparate. I could go to Headquarters… "I never told Madam Chase any of that stuff," he said to no one in particular. "The entire article is a complete fabrication. Except that it's really not. I wonder who the source was?"

"Ron?"

Harry lifted his head from the chair back to see why Hermione sounded concerned. Ron's face was bright red and his expression was thunderous. "I knew it," he spat bitterly. "I knew they were mistreating you, Harry." He blinked a couple of times and darted his eyes to the side, clearly struggling with a surge of remorse. "We should have tried harder to help you! Mum and Dad were always on Dumbledore to let you stay with us, but he wouldn't let you. Why was it even up to him?"

"I guess because he's had the master plan all of this time," Harry said. His back was hurting from where he'd banged it earlier. He turned slightly so that he was leaning more into his side and shoulder. "He's sorry now that he made me stay." He remembered what Severus had said during one of their earlier conversations. "Severus says we're all guilty of bad communication. Everyone from Dumbledore, down to each of us. I should have spoken up about the Dursleys. No one knew how bad it really was."

"You have no fault in this, Harry!" Ron said fiercely. He shook his head, eyes reddening. "Typical of bloody Snape to put the blame on you!"

"It wasn't like that," Harry said wearily. "He was trying to tell me not to blame myself about Sirius. That things have been so awful for so long that the channels of communication just got really messed up."

That didn't placate Ron. "I've watched you suffer through really horrible times, Harry, and you're always alone. You always have had to just put up with so much more than the rest of us-"

"Ron," Harry cut him off. "Please stop. You're going to make me lose it, and-"

"So what, Harry?" Ron railed. "Everything is always so bloody F-ed up! You never get a break from it! You bloody killed bloody You-Know-Who! All by yourself, again, and our bleeding Ministry isn't even acknowledging it! What kind of bloody half-arsed bollocks is that?" He ducked his face down to blot his eyes on the shoulder of his school jumper. "And they're just telling the Prophet your business, like it's something the rest of us have the right to know?"

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Severus walked into the Room of Requirement in time to hear the last segment of Ron Weasley's rant. All at once he recognized how easily he'd forgotten about Harry's long standing hurts and frustrations. He took in the barely touched ice cream feast, the distraught youngest Weasley son and the always informed Hermione Granger, who was noticing exactly what Severus had spotted about Harry: that he was hurt yet again.

"Harry, what's wrong with your back?" Granger asked as Severus stepped into their full view.

Harry's eyes shot up at him, and the world of confusion, angst, and downright rage contained there was like a solid steel wall between them. Granger turned as well.

"Professor Snape!"

"I hurt it when I was trying to survive my life," Harry said bitterly, eyes on Severus, but he lost his nerve after a few moments and dropped his eyes down to the fireball.

He's afraid of me, Severus thought in alarm. "Would the two of you allow me some time alone with Harry?" he asked Harry's counterparts. When Granger and Weasley exchanged skeptical looks, he added, "I will see to his injuries."

It took a few minutes of fussing, but Granger and Weasley finally left, promising to wait for Harry in the common room. Harry jumped to his feet. He moved away from the chair and yanked his sweater over his head with a wince.

"Slow down, Harry," Severus said calmly. He sat so that he was straddling the arm of the chair Harry had just abandoned and waved the boy over to stand in front of him, using his pointing finger to motion for him to turn away so that Severus could have a look at his back. He lifted the boy's shirt and took in the angry scrape directly over the back of his ribcage. "This looks painful," he said sympathetically, waving his wand to cast a diagnostic charm. The muscle tissue covering the backs of Harry's ribs was badly bruised, but no bones were cracked or broken. He chanted a charm to start the bruises healing and then summoned a balm for the surface level injuries. When he was finished he stood and guided Harry back retake his seat. Severus sat in the chair Weasley had abandoned.

"I thought I was going to catch it for defending myself in the dungeons," Harry said.

Severus shook his head slowly. "That was not my intention," he said, his eyes on Harry's. "So many alarming topics have emerged tonight alone, I do not know where to start," he said. "Where would you prefer to start?"

Harry's chin quivered. He dropped his gaze and after a moment shook his head. "I don't want to talk about anything," he said raggedly. "I'm exhausted and I feel like giving up."

"You feel like giving up on what?" Severus asked softly.

"On struggling with everything in my life!" Harry said brokenly. "I'll think I've finally got one thing settled and then it falls apart, along with fifty other problems that just won't let up." He leaned forward, face flushed and eyes filling as he said emphatically, "I have a piece of an evil bastard living inside of my head, and I don't know how much of what I do is because of him, or me." He gulped, his breaths hitching in his chest as he raged on, "People think they should know my business, even if they have to make it all up when they tell my story! Now everyone knows that I was… mistreated by my relatives. I don't want anyone to know that. I don't even want to know it. I'm going to go back to my common room and my housemates are going to treat me like-" He put his hands over his face and rubbed harshly at his eyes.

The boy was too tired to cover all of these topics tonight, so Severus followed his instincts on the one that most needed addressing. "I mishandled our discussion earlier, and I regret this. I apologize, Harry," Severus said grimly. Harry couldn't seem to bring himself to look his way, so Severus continued. "I could see at the time that you were feeling as though I was not respecting your common sense, but this was not the case, son." Harry looked up at that, as Severus knew he would, and let his mentor see his tumultuous confusion and hurt. "I don't know if I can put into words what motivated my harsh handling of such a sensitive topic, other than to outright admit that the thought of you failing any attempt to apparate, without better information about your magic, nearly made my heart stop." He leaned forward. "Harry, you have become very precious to me in a very brief time. Now, what I know, but you do not as of yet, is that I will never stop caring this deeply about you. I would promise you that I will never react that way again, but hostile anger is my lifelong reaction to fear." He sat back up straight, aware that he had Harry's sharp attention now. "I'm not asking you to accept it, or forgive it, only to remember that behind it is fear for your safety and well-being. That way, you are less likely to feel hurt, and more likely to be annoyed. Hardly ideal, but better than what you experienced today."

Harry stared at him with an unreadable expression for several moments. "You couldn't have just said, 'That's a bad idea, Harry'?"

"I'm way too complex for such a trivial response to a crisis," Severus returned.

"It wasn't a crisis, it was a discussion," Harry said in exasperation, but a smile was tugging at his mouth. He sighed and flopped back into his chair. "I want to crawl into a hole."

"That's a bad idea, Harry." That got a smile and a small chuckle out of the boy. "Am I still invited to attend your DA meeting tomorrow evening?"

"Yeah," Harry said. "Eight o'clock."

Severus stood, so Harry did as well and they walked toward the door. Severus put his arm around Harry, stopping to hug him, twisting back and forth at his waist, and pressing a kiss to Harry's temple. "I had a discussion with Lupin tonight, on the subject of expanding interior spells," he said into Harry's hair. "I am reluctant to admit- actually, I am loathe to admit, that he is extremely gifted in certain aspects of charms, as the Map demonstrates."

"Uhmm hmm," Harry responded, face hidden in Severus' neck, but he could hear the boy's amusement nonetheless.

"I've asked him to equip my quarters with a second bed chamber, that you could use on occasions such as this, when it would be a comfort to have some privacy. Assuming I have not made you feel unwelcome."

"All you have to do is say, 'That's a bad idea, Harry,' and I'll get it," Harry said. He squeezed Severus hard. "That would be really great. Really, really great, Severus."

"I'm glad you approve, because I've already traded the favor of covering some of his classes during the full moon next week for him to do the expansion over this coming weekend," Severus said.