Chapter 1 - Never Simple
Why was it that he always seemed to end up in the Hospital Wing? He was fairly certain that he knew the place better than any other student, past or present. He stretched and flexed his arms above his head, easing his head from side to side, wincing as a sharp pain shot down his spine. He'd been instructed not to leave his bed for at least another day, but he was already starting to get a touch of cabin fever. Term had yet to begin and so few were around, save a couple of teachers. He was desperate for some company, if only to keep his mind off recent events.
The Dursleys were dead. Or so he had been told. He couldn't really remember those last few minutes in which they'd reportedly been killed. The attack had been so sudden, devastating in its precision and unexpected even by those highest up in the Order. Harry had fought to the best of his abilities, trying to defend himself and his so-called family, but in the end it just hadn't been enough. He'd been knocked unconscious just after seeing various members of the Order storm through the door, the last of which had been Snape, whom he had a vague memory of stepping between himself and an advancing Death Eater. He'd woken up a day later in the Hospital Wing to see Remus sitting at his bedside, concern evident in his worn and tired features. He'd answered his questions, the ones he had been allowed to anyway, and Harry found himself no less satisfied by the man's explanations.
It seemed that Snape had lost his cover as a spy; the attack had been so sudden, so completely unexpected, that he had had to act on the spot, inescapably making clear that his allegiance was to Harry and the Order. The attack on Privet Drive had, it seemed, been known only to Voldemort himself, and Snape had been able to alert the Order only when they were in Little Whingeing itself. Apparently the man was expecting retribution of some kind and the Order were on the alert to expect dire reprisals for the loss Voldemort was suffering in the form of Snape's betrayal. He hadn't seen the man since the incident, but then, that wasn't exactly something he was complaining about.
He still felt numb, the news of his relatives' deaths having still to affect him. He wasn't exactly waiting for the floodgates to open, but he was expecting to feel something, anything. He hadn't really processed the information, hadn't taken any of it in properly, though if he was honest, he didn't particularly want to examine his feelings too closely.
"Morning Harry, feeling any better?" he heard Remus' voice from the doorway and he turned to see the tired-looking man making his way over to the bed.
"Still a few aches and pains, but I'll live," Harry replied, his voice hoarse from disuse. "You look awful," he said bluntly.
"Ever the charmer," Remus returned dryly, taking a seat beside the bed. "I've had a rough couple of days that's all – Order assignments and things, there's a lot of clean-up to do from the fall-out of this latest attack," he said with a dismissive wave of his hand.
"None of which you'll tell me about I'm sure," Harry muttered, then seeing that Remus was about to remonstrate said, "Sorry, don't mind me, I'm just a bit frustrated that's all, been shut up in here too long."
Remus gave him a gentle smile and reached for his hand, giving it a comforting squeeze. "I understand Harry, we're all just trying to do what's best."
Harry simply nodded in response, his love and affection for the man in front of him stopping him from saying that what others thought to be best usually turned out to have disastrous consequences for him. "Remus?" Harry said quietly, finally seeing his opportunity to ask the question that had been bothering him ever since he had learnt of the Dursleys' deaths. "What's going to happen now that the Dursleys are dead? I mean, technically I have no legal guardians right?"
"That's something we've all been giving a lot of thought to. You know I'd take you in tomorrow if I could, but the law prevents it, so we're going to have to think of something else."
"Shame," Harry said quietly, "it would have been nice to come and live with you. Still, I suppose anything would be better than living with the Dursleys."
Remus looked uncomfortable for a moment, unsure of what to say. Harry decided to be generous and spare him the discomfort, giving him a nudge and saying, "I'm sure it'll all work out. Do you think I could get up and go for a walk? I'm getting a little stir crazy in here."
"As long as you're feeling up to it, and as long as I can't be held accountable for it by Poppy. Be back in an hour."
Harry wandered aimlessly around the castle, occasionally glancing out of the window or stopping to take a brief rest. He was tiring easily and he knew he probably shouldn't be out of bed, but at least he was out of that damn Hospital Wing, if only for an hour or so.
He stopped just outside the Great Hall and slumped down on the bottom step of the staircase. He quite liked Hogwarts without the students; true it was strange and it echoed unusually, but there was more room to breathe, more time to just sit back and appreciate things, and best of all, no wide-eyed first years looking alternately scared and awed.
He ran a hand through his hair and stretched his legs out in front of him, feeling his abused muscles complain at the movement. Poor Remus, feeling like this every month and having to just get on with it. He had to admit to being disappointed to learn that Remus wouldn't be permitted to become his guardian. He'd grown close to the man over the last couple of years and he viewed him almost as a father. If it were up to him, he'd be there in a heartbeat.
"You're making the place look untidy Potter," came a voice from behind him and he turned to see Snape make his way down the staircase, coming to stop on the stair Harry was sitting on.
"I didn't know you were so fastidious about housekeeping Professor," Harry shot back, forgetting to check himself in time. Snape merely raised an eyebrow, his expression saying all he needed.
"You've given me a wasted journey Potter, I've just been up to the Hospital Wing to deliver this to you," he said, handing Harry a vial containing a lavender-coloured liquid. On seeing his questioning look, he elaborated, "Muscle relaxant, to ease those aches and pains," he said with a mocking sneer. Harry rolled his eyes but thanked him nevertheless, grateful to have something to help with the pain.
"I suggest you get back to the Hospital Wing, people need to know where you are."
"Perish the thought of being able to have the slightest control over my own life for an hour," he said bitterly.
"Do please spare me the self-pity Potter. You may not like it and indeed personally I couldn't care if you took a tumble from a very high cliff, but people have invested a great deal of time and effort in keeping you safe. I would think you would wish to do them the courtesy of rewarding their efforts."
Harry went to retaliate but then thought better of it; Snape had a point, whether he liked it or not. "Yes Professor," he muttered in response, getting a kind of twisted enjoyment from seeing the look on Snape's face when he realised Harry wasn't going to argue with him.
"Just get back to the Hospital Wing and save everyone from running around after you," said Snape, sweeping off in the opposite direction.
For the third time that afternoon Harry threw his book down on his bed in frustration. He'd been confined to the Hospital Wing all day and everyone had apparently disappeared, leaving him to entertain himself…all bloody day. He sighed and folded his arms behind his head, staring up at the ceiling. He just wished people would tell him what was going on in his own life, instead of buzzing about all around him, making arrangements and taking decisions without even thinking to consult him or inform him about what was going on.
He heard the doors open and he raised his head, hoping he'd finally have some company, but promptly let it fall back on the bed when he saw Snape striding towards him. The man chucked a vial down onto the bed and said, "Blood strengthening potion, take it now and before you go to bed. If you spill it I'm not making any more so try not to be your usual oafish self and take care of it."
"Aw thanks Professor, it's always so nice to know you care."
"Watch your mouth Potter and take the damn potion."
Harry swore under his breath, fairly certain that Snape could hear him, and uncorked the vial, his nose wrinkling at the assault from the odour. He held his breath and downed half of it, gratefully re-corking it as he shuddered in disgust. "Do you make it taste worse when you know I'll be the one drinking it?"
"Don't flatter yourself that I give you any such thought. Be grateful I took the time to make you any at all," Snape replied acidly.
"Thank you Professor," Harry returned with sickly sweetness, almost regretting it when the look Snape shot him almost froze him to the core.
"I'd be very careful if I were you Potter; my hand might just slip the next time, and who knows what might find its way into a potion destined for you," Snape said, his voice lowered and his eyes narrowed dangerously.
Harry was thankful to hear the Hospital doors open and Dumbledore's voice saying, "Ah Severus, I was wondering where you'd gone, I wanted to speak with you, but it can wait for a moment as I need to speak with Mr Potter also."
"Potter first of course," Snape said with a sneer, moving off to stand next to the window. Harry ignored that last remark, preoccupied with watching Remus make his way across to his bed. The man looked troubled, and that usually meant bad news for Harry. He didn't fail to notice that Remus was carefully avoiding making eye contact with him, and that gave him more than a little cause for concern.
"Harry," came Dumbledore's voice, breaking his concentration. He looked up at the old man's face, his heart sinking when he saw Remus' concern mirrored in those blue eyes. "Harry, as you know, the Dursleys' deaths mean that you are now left without any legal guardians. I hadn't thought this would pose too much of a problem, but…"
"But?" Harry prompted, beginning to worry.
"Harry," Remus cut in, picking up where Dumbledore left off, "there's a…a tradition among old wizarding families. If an underage witch or wizard is left without a legal guardian, a witch or wizard of age can put in a request to gain…ownership of sorts."
"Ownership? How can you have ownership of a person?" Harry asked, disgust evident in his voice.
"It's a very old law Harry, it originates in times where slavery and ownership were commonplace. The law fell into disuse, but because it left people's consciousness, nothing was done to repeal it, therefore it can still be used by those who know of its existence."
"But I've just turned 17," Harry argued, "surely this doesn't apply to me?"
Remus shifted uncomfortably and said, "The law originates from a time when 21 was considered to be the legal age. It overrides any other law that would recognise you as an adult."
Harry heaved a sigh and said wearily, "I suppose the next thing you're going to tell me is that someone's put in such a request for me?"
Dumbledore moved to stand in front of Harry, his eyes holding apology and regret. "Unfortunately that is the case my dear boy. A man named Aldrington has put in his submission."
"Aldrington?" Harry queried, the name unfamiliar to him.
"An old family, steeped in Dark Magic," came Snape's voice, the first he had spoken since skulking into the shadows. He moved forward and fixed Harry with an expression that told of the twisted amusement the man was deriving from the situation. "I'd say you were in trouble Potter."
Harry glared back contemptuously at the Professor, hating the man for finding amusement in his predicament. "And what would you suggest sir?" he asked, putting a sarcastic emphasis on the man's title.
"Harry," came Remus' placating voice, accompanied by a gentle hand on his shoulder, "that won't help."
"Then what will?" Harry asked, turning to face him.
There was a long pause, the longest of Harry's life, then finally Remus said, "Marriage Harry. The petition can only be declared null and void if you were to be married."