"What you need is sustained outrage... there's too much unthinking respect given to authority."
Harry stared moodily at his Occlumency text. He wasn't sure what to think of Snape anymore--the man was still being a right bastard to him, but he'd given him the book the night before. Truthfully, understanding the theory behind Occlumency had made it easier to clear his mind. It wasn't that he was exceptionally good at it yet, but his next lesson wasn't until the following evening.
It didn't help that Umbridge was getting worse. He glanced at the scar on his hand and grimaced. He'd just have to keep him head down and stay out of her sight; he had no wish to serve more detentions with her. It didn't help matters any that she'd also taken away his biggest joy.
Briefly, he wondered why it was that Defense teachers always seemed to have it in for him. Aside from Professor Lupin, all of the ones they'd been gifted with so far had been out to kill him. For that matter, even Remus, albeit unintentionally, had tried to do him in. Well, all right, Lockhart hadn't tried to kill him; instead he'd only tried to obliviate him, which, in Harry's opinion, was almost as bad.
Harry slumped back into the embrace of the worn chair and sighed. Ron and Hermione were off doing rounds, and he was just waiting for them to come back. He'd already managed to finish his homework, so he had nothing better to do. Well, he supposed he could read ahead a bit in his Occlumency book, but he wasn't sure he really wanted to stop having the dreams; they were his only route to the information that Dumbledore was keeping from him.
"Harry!" Hermione's voice interrupted his musings.
He looked up to see Ron and Hermione climbing through the portrait hole. "Hey," he said softly.
"We promised that we'd tell you what Snape wanted to talk to us about," Ron reminded him.
Harry watched as his two best friends flopped down on the couch. "Umbridge's class sure wasn't the place to talk about it," he offered with a wry smile.
"I swear, if it weren't for the DA," Hermione said, shaking her head.
"I know," Harry said. "It's the only thing keeping me from going completely nuts."
"Snape wanted to know what we know about the Dursleys, Harry," Ron said abruptly. "He says that he's going to make sure you don't go back there."
"What did you tell him?" Harry asked softly.
"Everything we know," was Ron's prompt reply.
"Which, frankly, isn't much," Hermione pointed out. "You haven't really told any of us how you've been treated at home."
"I tried to tell the teachers that I didn't want to go back there," Harry mumbled. "But nobody ever listened."
"They will now," Ron said, slouching down into the couch.
"I went to the library during my free period," Hermione pushed some hair behind her ear. "They'll send somebody to investigate; you'll have to tell them."
"I don't think I can," Harry said. "I tried to tell when I was little, but nobody paid any attention."
Hermione stood up, crossed the room, and gave his shoulder a squeeze. "There's another way," she said. "I read about it in the library today--they can pensieve your memories if you help them, and then they can see for themselves."
"That's fine, I guess," Harry said dubiously. "But how did Snape figure it out? I mean, he hates me, and I never said anything to him!"
"He didn't say, mate," Ron said. "But I asked him why he cared--he said that it was his job."
"Occlumency lessons," Hermione said succinctly. "He saw some of your memories. And Ron's right, it's illegal for him not to say anything if he finds out that one of the students is being hurt at home—that's one place where Muggle and Wizarding laws are the same."
Harry was silent for a few minutes. He didn't know whether to be grateful or angry! What right did Snape have to start prying after seeing his memories? On the other hand, Snape was ensuring that he'd never have to return to the Dursleys. Not only that, but the book had made it clear that the Occlumency training itself made sharing a certain number of memories unavoidable. And until he got the hang of it, he wouldn't be able to control what Snape saw.
He supposed that fact was further incentive for working hard at his lessons; he didn't want anybody to know all his secrets. While it was true that Ron and Hermione knew a good deal of them, there were some that he just didn't want to share. He didn't trust anyone that much--especially not Snape. Frankly, he rather mistrusted most adults on general principles. Even the ones he trusted, he didn't trust completely.
"I wouldn't have thought it would matter to him," he offered finally. "I mean, he's been making our lives miserable for four and a half years."
Ron shrugged. "I hate the greasy git," he admitted. "But he is a teacher. I guess it would follow that he cares a bit."
"Are you all right, Harry?" Hermione asked quietly.
"I don't know," Harry admitted, as he stood up and stuck his hands into his pockets. "I think, well, I think I'm going to bed."
He barely registered their goodnights as he headed up the stairs to his dormitory. While it was nice to know they cared, discussing anything having to do with the Dursleys always made him uncomfortable. Harry hurried into his dorm, grabbed his worn, too-large pajamas, and changed quickly. Climbing into his bed, he pulled the curtains closed and climbed under the bedclothes. He attempted to clear his mind, but with the startling revelations of the evening, it was a losing battle. It was a long time before he slept.
Harry scooped some eggs on his plate and reached for the bacon. He was no closer to figuring out how he felt about the whole situation than he had been the night before. He yawned a little and poked at his breakfast before taking a bite. Breakfast was quiet, punctuated by yawns rather than conversation.
He glanced up at the head table, skipped over Umbridge, who was wearing a fluffy, pale blue cardigan and a matching headband, and sneaked a glance at Snape. Part of him wondered why the man had bothered to ask questions about him. After all, it wasn't like they got along or anything. He'd grown slightly comfortable in their mutual antipathy.
It was rather confusing when Snape stepped out of his accustomed role. Harry just wasn't sure what to think of the sarcastic potions master anymore. Did he care, or was he just looking out for himself? Snape was Head of Slytherin, after all.
"Mr. Potter," Professor McGonagall interrupted his thoughts.
He turned around to face her. "Yes, Professor?"
Her face softened. "Some Aurors will be coming to get you out of my class today for an interview, Mr. Potter."
"About my family?" he questioned.
"I expect so." Professor McGonagall made a move as if to touch him, but seemed to think better of it. "Why didn't you tell me, Harry?" she asked. "I would have helped if I'd known."
"You didn't ask," he said quietly. "Nobody ever wanted to know. I said I didn't want to go back there every summer, but no one seemed to care much."
"I'm sorry, Harry," she said softly. "We weren't listening hard enough. Go on to class, and I'll see you there."
"Yes, Professor," Harry whispered. He finished his breakfast quickly, then picked up his books. Ron and Hermione joined him. He hadn't been ignoring his friends, not exactly, but both of them had been quiet. He was grateful for their unwavering, silent support, for he didn't know how he would have managed to make it through the mess he was in without them.
Harry kept his head down, pretending to take notes. In reality, he was trying not to panic at the thought of the Aurors who were to interview him about his relatives. A small part of his mind noted that it was probably a good thing that he was such good friends with Hermione; Transfiguration wasn't making an impression, but he could always borrow her notes later to pick up on what he missed.
Harry looked up when he heard a knock at the door. McGonagall gave him a brief nod as he gathered his things and headed out the door.
"Wotcher, Harry." Tonks gave him a bright smile as he walked out of the classroom.
"Mr. Potter." Shacklebolt gave him a brief nod.
"Hello," he said softly. "So you're here to interview me?" he asked.
"We'll be using the Room of Requirement," Tonks said with a nod.
"Professor Dumbledore will be there, too," Shacklebolt offered. "And I give you my word that this will not reach the media--Wizarding law prevents anyone from publishing specifics about abuse cases, and that includes names."
Unwilling to speak, Harry simply nodded. He trailed behind the two aurors as they headed upstairs and to the proper corridor. They stood outside the Room for a moment, then entered into a simple lounge setting. Harry's mouth twisted into a grimace—it looked like something he'd seen in one of Dudley's favorite programs on the telly.
He flopped onto one of the dirt-brown chairs and crossed his arms over his chest. He didn't want to talk about his life at the Dursleys'. Ever. After all, it wasn't like Dumbledore hadn't known--there was no way he could've avoided it! Harry's first letter had been addressed to "The Cupboard Under the Stairs" for Merlin's sake!
He barely registered it when Dumbledore walked in and sat down without a word. The usual twinkle was absent from the Professor's eyes and Harry, lost in his own thoughts, didn't acknowledge him.
Harry supposed that there were things that Dumbledore didn't know about; Dudley's baggy hand-me-downs could hide a multitude of sins. And his relations had always been very careful to hit him where it wouldn't show. For that matter, they'd been careful about just how much damage they'd caused, as well. It just wouldn't have done for them to be taken to jail as abnormal freaks who abused a child.
He watched in silence as Tonks and Shacklebolt sat down across from him. "Harry," Tonks began gently, "would you tell us about how you grew up?" she asked softly.
Harry bit his lip and stared at his trainers. "I--I don't know if I can," he said finally. "I never really told anybody; the one time I tried, they told me I was lying."
"We won't, Harry," Shacklebolt said, looking uncomfortable.
"Why not?" was Harry's bitter retort. "If the Ministry and the Prophet is to be believed, I'm nothing but an attention-seeking liar."
Tonks made as if to lay her hand on his arm. For once not censoring his reactions, Harry flinched back. He'd become accustomed to the boisterous jostling and shoving of the dorms and the Weasleys. He'd learned to anticipate things like occasional hugs from Hermione, Ginny, Sirius, and Mrs. Weasley. But he'd never grown comfortable with casual touch. A large part of his mind still equated touches with pain, because the only times that the Dursleys had touched him was to hit him for some real or imagined sin.
Rebuffed, Tonks let her hand settle back in her lap. "We believed you about You-Know-Who, Harry, and we believe you now," she said quietly.
Harry could see that she was serious, but he'd grown accustomed to not speaking about it. He'd learned to heed the little voice in his head--the one that sounded suspiciously like Uncle Vernon--that said that, if he told, there would be consequences. Silently, he shook his head. He looked up through long eyelashes and saw the Aurors exchange a glance, then look at the Headmaster. Dumbledore gave them a slight nod, as if encouraging them to go ahead.
"There's another way," Shacklebolt volunteered. Harry could tell that the man was trying to be nice. "There's a special kind of pensieve that we use for children and traumatized victims," he offered. "We draw out a copy of your memories and the pensieve allows us to view them, but to do that, we need your cooperation."
Harry drew in a shuddering breath. He didn't want them to see his memories. Hell, he didn't like the fact that Snape had seen enough to report that the Dursleys were mistreating him! But then again, if they knew, one of his fondest dreams would be realized: he'd never have to return to Privet Drive. Wasn't that worth a bit of embarrassment? Slowly, he gave a tiny nod of consent. "Okay,
he whispered. "Go ahead."
Shacklebolt produced a piece of parchment and a self-inking quill and handed them over. "We need you to sign a consent form, Mr. Potter," he said quietly.
With hands that shook slightly, Harry took the quill and parchment and signed it before handing it back. He laced his fingers together, put his hands in his lap and examined them minutely; he didn't want anyone to know about the Dursleys, but the secret was already out. There was nothing he could do now but ensure that they couldn't get to him again.
Tonks knelt in front of him and tipped his chin up a little so he was looking at her rather than his trainers, the floor, or his hands. "Harry, love, look at me," her voice was gentle as she pulled her wand out.
Dimly, he noticed Shacklebolt putting several bottles on a nearby table, but he was too busy trying not to start hyperventilating to notice much. "Good boy," she said softly. "Now breathe," she said. "That's right, in and out--big, deep breaths."
Harry, knowing that he had to cooperate in order to remain Dursley-free, obeyed. "Now," she said. He could feel the tip of her wand on his forehead. "I need you to concentrate on your memories of your time with your relatives. Start with the earliest memory you have of them, Harry," she said.
Harry simply nodded, closed his eyes and concentrated. When he was two, he'd been beaten for breaking a plate while doing the washing up. He'd been around three when Dudley had pushed him down the stairs and then screamed that Harry had fallen trying to hurt him. Not only had Harry broken his arm from the fall, but Aunt Petunia had hit him so hard that he'd been practically tossed across the room. Then he'd been locked in his cupboard for three days without food.
Time slowed to a crawl as Harry let Tonks copy memory after memory, detailing a childhood stuffed with beatings, being locked in the cupboard, scant meals, no meals, and constant belittling. He made sure to include times when he'd been the one punished when Dudley had brought home notes about his bullying Harry while Dudley got praised for the same incidents. Finally, they got to the previous summer. As Harry's summer went, it had been fairly normal—hard work, scant meals, insults, and the occasional beating.
But with each memory copied and dropped into the bottles, Harry somehow felt... lighter. No matter what came of it, he was no longer alone; somebody now knew, and there was no going back. Conversely, with each extracted memory, Harry's anger at the people who should have protected him grew. He had tried to tell, but nobody had ever listened. A small part of him wished that, for once, there was somebody who would take care of him, but he knew it was a false hope.
As a small child, he'd dreamed of being rescued, but it would never happen. In a way, Snape had done it, but not really. In reality, Snape had simply done his job; he'd noticed what everyone else had overlooked. Harry's chin sagged to his chest as Tonks extracted the last memory. "We'll take care of it from here, Harry," she promised.
Harry looked up, exhausted. "What will become of me now?" he asked. "If I'm not going back to the Dursleys', where will I go?" His voice rose with trepidation. "Will I end up in an orphanage during the holidays?" he asked.
Harry knew that he was starting to sound hysterical, but Uncle Vernon had been threatening to send him to an orphanage for as long as he could remember. He'd heard that Voldemort had been raised in one as well, and having something else in common with him was something that Harry wanted to avoid at all costs.
"I won't let that happen," Dumbledore's voice rumbled.
Harry clenched his fists. "But you knew," he whispered. "You had to have known; my Hogwarts letter was addressed to the cupboard under the stairs."
"The cupboard under the stairs?" Tonks questioned.
"That's where I lived," was Harry's soft answer. "The cupboard was my room until I was eleven; they liked to lock me in there and not feed me when I did something they didn't like after they smacked me about a bit." He took in a deep breath. They had his memories; they'd know everything soon enough.
Harry started picking aimlessly at a hangnail. "I'm their house-elf," he murmured. "Have been since before I was even big enough to be useful--have to earn my keep."
"Harry?" Tonks interrupted his train of thought. "Is there anything else you want to tell us?"
Slowly, he shook his head, picked up his books, and got up to go back to class. Harry listened absently to their comments as the Aurors escorted him to his next class, but he didn't really believe them. He'd ignored the Headmaster in the Room of Requirement, simply because he was angry with Dumbledore for not having noticed earlier. He was furious at Snape for having told what he'd seen in his head. And most of all, he was mad that in the fourteen years or so he'd lived with the Dursleys, nobody had ever rescued him before.