Severus Snape sat in the candlelight, a thin book entitled Horobane: Curse Propagation and Astrological Conditions open before him. It was late. The third-year Gryffindor, who had been doing detention for dangling another student’s kneazel out of the classroom window, had long since left, hand appropriately cramped from doing lines.
A scratching sound emanated from the window just as Snape closed the book and bent to snuff the candles. The familiar white shadow of Hedwig showed through the glass, hurrying Snape to open it. Hedwig handed over a letter, which had been rolled rather than put into an envelope. With alarm Snape read its contents before striding from the room, leaving Hedwig on his chairback, head tucked in her wing.
The door to the headmistress’ office was closed, which usually meant McGonagall had gone to bed. Snape knocked anyway and after a short delay the door swung open on its own. The headmistress stood on the second level of the office, just by the handrail, wearing an emerald green dressing gown. “Severus? What is it?” she asked.
“I just received a missive from Harry, and I am in need of your advice.” He held the letter out. She descended and accepted it. After scanning it, she lowered the parchment and stared into the distance. Handing it back, she said, “Go and fetch him.”
Snape froze while rerolling the letter. “Fetch him?” he echoed in alarm. “Did you not read this?”
Sounding intentionally patient, she said, “Yes, Severus; I did. First off, I believe this castle capable of holding back such a doorway, and second this school owes it to Mr. Potter to do all that we can. Go and fetch him . . . he is clearly at wit’s end.”
Snape used her Floo and powder with only one pause of hesitation, during which he failed to find the heart to continue to argue.
In Shrewsthorpe, Snape immediately went up to Harry’s room. Harry lay across the top of his desk, head resting on his arm, his pet draped over his shoulder. Kali lifted her head at Snape’s approach, blinking heavy eyes at him.
Rather than awaken his charge, Snape hovered a trunk from the corner and packed it with the contents of the wardrobe as well as the many stacks of books scattered about the bedroom, including the purple one that looked forlornly destined for the fire. After another moment of studying the sleeping Harry, Snape went downstairs and hefted the books lying out in the library. On the way back, he stepped down into the kitchen, Winky, shining a cauldron with a bundle of steel wool, flinched at his approach before standing and tugging her tea towel straight.
The room seemed orderly enough but Winky had a row of scratches on her arm that didn’t look owl or chimrian in origin. “I am taking Harry away,” Snape informed her. “Look after the house as usual.”
In an almost inaudible voice, Winky said, “Bad things happening, Master.”
Snape, who had turned to go, turned back with a snap. “I expect they will cease with Harry removed.”
Her long-fingered hands turned over one another. Sounding far away, she said, “Winky cannot protect master’s house. Winky failed. Should Winky punish herself?”
“No. Just continue as you were,” Snape insisted. Her pathetic posture didn’t ease but she stopped wringing her hands.
“No punishment for Winky?”
“No,” Snape insisted more firmly and with no little exasperation before stepping away.
Back in Harry’s room Snape finished packing the trunk and latched it before moving to rouse Harry. Harry’s wand lay loose in his hand lying across the desk. Snape considered slipping it away before risking startling him, but instead, trusting him not to jump immediately to a dangerous spell, simply patted Harry lightly on the shoulder and called his name. Harry’s head jerked up and he did clutch his wand, but he didn’t raise it.
“Severus?” Harry mumbled and rubbed his eyes.
“Come with me,” Snape instructed him.
Harry turned in his chair but didn’t rise. “Come where? Did you get my owl?”
“Yes. That is why I am here to fetch you.”
Harry swallowed hard. “Fetch me where?”
Snape hovered Harry’s trunk to the door from where he stood. “To Hogwarts. Come.”
Harry woke up quickly then. “Hogwarts? I can’t go to Hogwarts,” Harry fiercely insisted. A dragging sound and a burst of chittering came from beside the hearth. Snape turned his head slightly but didn’t react otherwise. Kali growled, a sound more like a purr in her tiny throat. “Did you hear that?” Harry asked him.
Harry stood and faced him down, visibly struggling. “Severus. I can’t-”
Grasping Harry by the upper arms, Snape stated in a calm, measured manner, “Harry, you asked me for help and I am still legally your father and I am taking over.” Squeezing harder on the muscular arms under his hands, he added, “You will do as I say.”
Released, Harry swayed once before leaning on the desk. “What is Minerva going to say?” he asked blamefully.
Snape took Kali from him and placed her into her cage. He then put both cages on top of Harry’s trunk and rehovered it. “She ordered me to fetch you. Come. No more arguing.” His attitude grew unyielding, prompting a tired Harry to obey.
At the dining room hearth, Snape took the cages and gestured for Harry to lead with the trunk. “I’ll follow. Go on.” His voice had already lost its hard edge and sounded only sadly sympathetic, which left Harry zero space to argue.
Harry tossed in powder and disappeared. He landed with a slap and stepped out into McGonagall’s office, trunk in tow. The headmistress stood beside her desk in a dark green dressing gown with a matching nightcap so long that it nearly reached the floor. “Harry,” she said in a warm greeting.
Harry dropped his gaze. “Professor,” he returned. She approached and ducked her head to catch his eyes. “You are always welcome here, Harry,” she said in kind tones.
“I don’t want to put anyone at risk. Especially not at Hogwarts.” As he said this, Snape arrived behind him.
“Filch and the house-elves have opened up a visitor’s suite on the fifth floor,” McGonagall informed them. “First one off the staircase,” she directed to Snape. “Harry dear, if you need anything . . . “
Harry nodded, wishing uselessly that he were elsewhere. Resigned, he followed Snape out of the office. The corridors were dark and quiet. At the steps, a portrait of a man with a lamp turned it up brighter to watch them pass.
“How are you doing?” Snape asked as they ascended.
Harry hadn’t heard a thing that didn’t belong. “All right,” he answered in a whisper. More thoughtfully, he said, “I may be all right here, after all.” They had reached the fifth floor and Snape stopped at the first doorway they came to down a side corridor. Harry went on, “I remember when I was taking Nott up to McGonagall’s office. I was furious with him. Threatened to kill him even . . . and there wasn’t any sign of the Dark Plane.”
Snape turned at this, his glowing wand tip hovering between them. His expression didn’t change. “Minerva is quite confident in the wards of the castle.” He unhooked the oversized latch on the door and wanded up the lamps.
Harry paused in the doorway. Before him was a room almost half the size of the Gryffindor common room, with two long couches and an overstuffed chair around a low table. Dormers were cut into the roof, though right now they showed the black night sky. Snape opened the room on the left and Harry followed, dragging his trunk. A large four-poster stood in the middle of the next room. “This is nice,” Harry said, hovering his trunk over to rest beside the wardrobe. He brushed his fingers over the large claw of one of the carved phoenixes framing the wardrobe doors.
“You may be here a while,” Snape observed.
Harry grumbled darkly and then relished that he could. He exhaled in relief and relaxed for what might have been the first time in weeks. Without turning around he said, “Thank you, Severus.”
“I am glad we found a refuge for you.”
The phoenixes had rubies for eyes, Harry noticed. “I can’t stay here forever. What am I going to do?” His voice sounded difficult.
“We will discuss it in the morning after you have rested. Is there anything else you need?”
Harry finally turned around. “No. Thanks,” he answered grimly.
“Send me a silver message if you do.”
Alone, Harry paced around the room once before changing for bed and falling into it like a stone.
- 888 -
On the fourth floor of the castle, Ginny Weasley was returning from the kitchens with a bowl of chicken soup for a Gryffindor second-year who had not felt well enough to go to dinner. She spied something moving on the staircase and at first thought it was a house-elf, but they didn’t have such a head of hair.
“VanEschelon, what are you doing out of your tower in the middle of the night?” Ginny demanded. Erasmus, shrunk down behind the railing a moment before relenting and coming around the balcony, feet dragging. Ginny huffed, “Stay RIGHT HERE. I have to deliver this before it burns my fingers off.”
Presently she returned and found Erasmus getting brow-beaten by a painting of a knight. “You should have more sense of chivalry and responsibility,” the knight was lecturing pompously, although he couldn’t stand up straight and his speech slurred.
“Yes, sir,” Erasmus replied obediently anyway.
Ginny grabbed the small boy by the arm and pulled him down the corridor. “Now, what are you doing out at this hour?”
Erasmus scrunched up his face and stammered, “Sir Nicholas told me that Harry Potter was here and-”
“Sir Nicholas said he was,” Erasmus insisted. “Said he just saw him in one of the chambers on the fifth floor.” Erasmus stared at the floor and tapped his toe against a nearby banister pole. “I just thought, maybe, you know, I’d say hello.”
“Go back to your tower, VanEschelon. If Harry is here, you’ll see him tomorrow, I’m sure.” When the boy didn’t move she sternly said, “Now. Or I’ll give you detention . . . with Hagrid,” she added since she had heard he scared the boy more than Filch did.
“All right. All right,” Erasmus whined and headed down the stairs with a desultory step.
Ginny stood thoughtfully in the dim lamplight; unexpectedly, it grew just a little brighter. She turned to the painting of a man in a stained white nightcap and flowered pyjamas. “You didn’t see Harry Potter come up this way?” Ginny asked it.
The man yawned. “Someone came up this way, towin’ a trunk. Professor Snape was leadin’ ‘im.” Ginny was off up to the fifth floor like a shot.
The main corridor was quiet and deserted, but the cobwebs had been cleared from the first door down the smaller left-hand corridor off the staircase. Ginny ran a quick check for intruder spells and found the standard one they used in D.A. She neutralized it and opened the door onto a dark sitting room. The door on the left was ajar, so she tiptoed over to it and pulled it open a little more, flinching when it creaked loudly. She stopped still but didn’t hear any movement from within. After giving the hinges a quick oil charm she opened the door farther. Inside, a lamp burned low on the side table illuminating the bed’s occupant.
Ginny stepped closer on quiet feet. Harry was indeed here and he was quite soundly asleep, lying with one arm extended, his head tilted to the side, lips parted just slightly. He looked, Ginny had to admit, highly kissable. Feeling tingly she shook herself, remembering that stupid day she had taken her twin brothers’ bravery enhancing Hutzpotion and ended up in Harry’s bed, to Harry’s dismay. Rolling her eyes, which helped drag them away from the well-studied angles of his face, she stepped back, resisting the still sharp urge to lean in just a little closer. She huffed at herself and backed up again before dredging up enough self-disgust to turn to leave.
A dark figure loomed in just as Ginny turned, making her gasp and raise her wand. “Professor,” she breathed, wincing badly.
Snape’s wand ignited blue-white and he stepped by her with a swish of his robes. She watched him circle the room, dropping the wand low at his side as he reached each corner of the room. With growing mystified curiosity, she watched him stop in the corner where the cages sat and lift his wand to study Harry’s sleeping pet for rather a lengthy half a minute. Snape then moved to the bed and, wand held at arm’s length to reduce the light, leaned over Harry to study him as he slept. In the glow of his wand Snape’s face took on a rather uncharacteristic look of deep concern. Ginny’s brow went up under her hair, stunned to see that look on this man.
In the next instant, Snape was striding past Ginny again and the door to the bedroom soundlessly closed. “Ms. Weasley,” Snape sternly snapped. Ginny followed him out and down to the Defense office.
“Sit down,” Snape ordered her, and Ginny did so, wondering what was in store. “First off,” Snape said, staring down at Hedwig who still sat on the back of his chair. “How did you find out so quickly that Mr. Potter was here?”
“Oh, Nearly-Headless Nick told Erasmus VanEschelon and I found him making his way up to the fifth floor. I thought Harry would still be awake if he’d just arrived. Actually didn’t imagine he’d be here at all. Is Harry all right?”
Snape paced to his ingredient cabinets. “At the moment,” he replied cryptically. “Tomorrow the Prefects will be told that he was in need of a rest and has come here to get it.”
“But that’s a lie?” Ginny suggested.
“No, it is quite true, but hardly complete.” He turned to face her, placing his hands on his hips. “Harry is having difficulty with a new power he has acquired, the nature of which he can share with you if he wishes.”
“Is he dangerous?” Ginny asked, then quickly added, “Sir.”
Snidely, Snape replied, “Not while he is here. The castle renders him safe . . . for others and himself.”
“Can I go visit him, then?”
“I am certain he would appreciate that,” Snape replied neutrally although his eyes were oddly knowing. Ginny bit her lip. Her professor went on in a more stern tone, “And you were out of the tower, why?”
She cocked her lips in amusement at his gruff change in demeanor. While trying to square both the sneering professor she was accustomed to with the look she had seen on his face just minutes ago on the fifth floor, she replied a little cockily, “I was getting soup for Algie who was sick at dinner time, sir.”
Snape’s eyes narrowed in on hers and an instant later, his look went befuddled before he turned away with a jerking motion. Ginny blinked and wondered that he was checking for a lie in that; she was a Prefect and any decent excuse usually sufficed to be out of the common area during the night. She stood. “It’s late . . . may I go, sir?” He gestured with a wave of his hand that she could.
In the corridor she walked slowly to the tower while considering things. Professor Snape was still a little strange but as long as he took care of Harry . . .
- 888 -
Harry awoke when the sun streamed through the dormers. He hadn’t closed the drapes around the bed but the sun was up late enough this time of year that it made an acceptable alarm. Dobby appeared by his bed in a sparkle, bearing a covered tray. “Morning, Dobby,” Harry greeted the elf.
“Breakfast for Harry Potter, sir,” Dobby squeaked.
“Thanks.” Harry accepted it and set it on the bed. The scent of ham and fried potatoes made his stomach rumble. Dobby departed only after many assurances that Harry didn’t need anything else. A knock sounded on the door, and Harry invited in whomever it was.
Snape glided inside. “How did you sleep?”
“Good morning to you too,” Harry teased. “Not bad.”
Snape stood at the foot of the bed, arms crossed. “No dark creatures?”
“None. So what am I going to do . . . move into Hogwarts?”
Snape’s lips twitched. “No one would mind if you did . . .”
“I would mind,” Harry complained. “Not that I don’t like it here . . . I just have other things to be doing. Speaking of which, I’m supposed to be at training in less than an hour.”
“I took the liberty of sending owls to both Rodgers and Tonks.”
Harry nibbled on a bite of ham since he was too hungry to resist it. “Saying . . . ?”
“I requested for leave for you . . . I did not know how much you had told them-”
“Tonks knows,” Harry supplied, rubbing the back of his neck in a nervous gesture.
Snape said, “I gave them an outline of the truth. It is not the easiest to explain to the Ministry that their star future Auror is attracting the attention of the vilest of dark creatures. Plus I am not certain exactly where we stand.” He moved in closer. “Go ahead and eat, Harry,” he said. “I can hear your stomach growling from here.”
Chagrined, Harry picked up his fork and ate while Snape talked. “Minerva has owled a number of witches and wizards with the intent of finding someone who can help, as have most of our staff members. Most of the letters need to travel quite distant, so it will be a few days before we receive replies. Also, according to research I set Madam Pince to, several Shaman in Mozambique have experience with opening a gateway for some of the creatures you are sensing, usually to intercede with powerful ancestors, but it would be a start. Certainly one does not call forth something one cannot send away again.” More dryly, he added, “At least I certainly hope not.”
“Mozambique?” Harry asked doubtfully between large bites of toast.
“I am not keen to send you so far, but we will do whatever is necessary, Harry.”
Harry frowned, but then shrugged. He didn’t have any choice, really. “I wish . . .” he began, then trailed off. No more wishing, he told himself firmly.
A knock sounded on the outside door and a moment later, Ginny stepped through the doorway to the bedroom. “Morning, Harry.”
“Ginny!” Harry said. “Good to see you.”
“Good morning, Professor,” Ginny said brightly.
“Ms. Weasley,” Snape muttered grimly before turning and stalking out. Ginny and Harry both watched this departure with some surprise.
When the outside door had closed, Harry asked, “What was that about?”
Ginny shrugged, but a moment later was distracted inward. “So how are you?” she asked after shaking herself.
“Better,” Harry admitted.
Ginny plunked down on the end of the bed. “So what is up with you?” she demanded.
Harry slowed his chewing. “I’m sensing the Dark Plane,” he admitted, figuring he could trust her not to tell anyone else. “Actually, I’ve been sensing it a long time, but now I’m some kind of gateway and these terrible creatures can come into our world whenever I get angry or even just annoyed.” As he spoke his shoulders tightened and his hand gripped his fork fiercely. But the room remained still and he allowed himself to relax again.
“That doesn’t sound good,” she commented.
“It isn’t. It’s really awful,” Harry said, feeling good to complain to someone. “I’m stuck here for a while, I think.”
“Yeah, yeah, I’ve been stuck here since September. Don’t tell me about stuck here.”
Harry laughed, which eased his heart rather a lot. “You need to get down to breakfast.”
“Yes, Professor,” she teased. But she stood and left with a grinning promise to visit later.
Harry had barely finished breakfast before another visitor arrived. Rodgers came marching into the room with a sharp knock that didn’t wait for an answer. He crossed his arms and stood at the end of the bed, a disgruntled twist to his lips.
“What is this about?” he asked stiffly. “I received a rather bizarre owl early this morning. Something about you having Dark powers you can’t control. I would have ignored it except the letter was signed by the one dark wizard that I happen to know personally . . . who happens to legally able to send owls,” he snarkily added.
Harry was tempted to point out to Rodgers that he and Snape had remarkably similar tones of voice sometimes, but he held back. “I’m apparently, without trying, opening a gateway to the Dark Plane. Here in this castle it doesn’t happen. So that’s why I’m here. Last night I got into a spiral of frustration that kept feeding on itself and it was too much. . . anyway.”
Shaking his head, Rodgers said, “A little warning, Potter. A little . . .”
“I told Tonks,” Harry countered, happy to be able to get a little angry. “I can’t help this. If I could help this I wouldn’t be here right now.” Harry banished his breakfast tray and stood up, only putting his wand back away slowly. Rodgers tracked him doing this with far too much attention. “So, do I get leave or are you just going to kick me out because I need a break?”
“We’ll see,” Rodgers snipped, looking Harry up and down a few times. “Keep up with your reading at least.”
Harry gestured at his Auror books lined up on the otherwise empty shelf on the wall, very grateful Snape had the foresight to bring them. “I will.”
With a deeper frown Rodgers departed. Harry, feeling annoyed and helpless, pulled down a book on sneaking and tracking techniques and buried his nose in it.
The day passed quickly enough considering how very quiet it was, given the thousand pupils below him going about their day. Harry moved his wardrobe directly under the dormer in the bedroom and sat atop it, reading with a view over the frozen lake and the mountains beyond. His breath froze on the cold window when he leaned close. Harry had another visitor just before dinner. Headmistress McGonagall seemed a little surprised to find him huddled up on top of a piece of tall furniture. Harry jumped down and greeted her properly.
“Would you like to come down to dinner in the Great Hall?” she asked.
“Not really, but thanks,” Harry replied.
“Are you certain? There is plenty of room at the head table . . .“
Harry grinned, thinking that didn’t help her invitation much. “No, really. I’m enjoying the quiet.” In all honesty he was a little stir-crazy already.
“All right, then . . . perhaps tomorrow if you change your mind.”
Or the day after, or the day after that, Harry thought darkly.
She stepped a little closer and touched his arm. “Anything you need, Harry?” she asked kindly.
“No. I’m all right, right now.” He dropped his gaze. “Thanks for letting me stay.”
She squeezed his arm. “You are quite welcome.”
When she had gone, Harry felt the warmth of her hand on his wrist still. He didn’t particularly like being treated as though he were a terminally ill patient. Focusing his stubborn anger, he returned to his assigned readings, this time while lounging on the couch in the sitting room.
Over the next day, the room grew oppressive, so Harry decided to explore the fifth floor a bit. It required a few complicated unlocking spells to get all the way to the far attic, but once Harry started walking he didn’t feel like letting anything block his path, even as the rooms grew successively colder. In the last gabled section of the last wing, an array of broken statues stood like blind sentinels. Harry read their plaques. Iris the Irascible, who’s headless body clutched a thick stone book of hexes, was followed by Ivan Invisible who had been reduced to just a marble platform. Or perhaps he had always been just a marble platform and Filch finally decided that was too silly and shoved it up here. It certainly wasn’t broken. Harry turned at the end and found himself facing the familiar.
Sighing, Harry stepped over to the Mirror of Erised and made himself step directly in front of it because, if he didn’t, his curiosity would make him come back and do so. His parents were gone. Harry stared at his reflection smiling confidently out from the glass. It was him, unbothered by any dark creatures. Yup, he thought, that was exactly what he was desiring right now. He didn’t need the mirror to tell him that. More illuminating was the familiar arm hooked around Harry’s and the bubblegum pink Mohawk the arm’s owner was sporting. Harry shook his head in annoyance.
A foot scuffing on the dusty floor brought Harry’s attention to the robed figure standing by the status of Iris. “Everything all right, Harry?” Snape asked, seeming unwilling to invade Harry’s private moment.
“Yeah,” Harry said, moving away from the mirror to join his guardian.
“Learn anything?” Snape airily asked as they stepped from the room.
“No. I could have figured it out for myself. Any owls today?”
“You should relock the door,” Snape said as Harry closed the door to the attic.
Harry obliged, using a spell even harder to break than the one that had been on there. If it made trouble for Filch later, that would be fine. “Any owls?” Harry repeated.
“Two, both recommending the same Shaman. I will owl him tonight, but I wanted to borrow Hedwig.”
“Sure,” Harry said, his spirits lifting a little. “Is he African, then? I could use a break from the cold weather, I’ve decided.”
“No such luck,” Snape replied. “He is in Finland.”
“Oh,” Harry said, following along back through a disused corridor with faded tapestries on the walls. “What’s his name?”
“Per Hossa,” Snape replied. “Master of the Dark Plane.”
“Seriously?” Harry asked, sounding doubtful.
“So he is reputed.”
“What kind of wizard is he?” Harry asked, wondering about trusting him.
“Standoffish, so I am informed.” They had reached Harry’s rooms where Harry handed Hedwig over after insisting that she carefully deliver this letter Snape would give her.
When Harry was alone again, he found he really didn’t want to be. He put on his cloak and headed down and out to Hagrid’s hut, stopping halfway along the snowy lawn to be certain either his emotions were controlled enough or the castle’s wards extended far enough. All seemed quiet, so Harry followed a trail stomped through the drifts by boots the size of a small trunk. Hagrid gave him a hug when he opened the door, and warned Harry that he had to get off to class in half of an hour.
Harry settled into a mug of tea and cauldron cakes that seemed to have improved a bit, at least one could bite into them, sort of. Harry dipped it in his tea, determined to actually finish one for once. He explained to Hagrid why he was visiting, to exclamations of certainty that everything would work out all right.
“I don’t know, Hagrid. This is fighting something inside, not someone outside.”
Hagrid stood to poke the fire up a bit and the little gamekeeper’s cabin warmed up even more. Hagrid’s small place with its massive hearth was always toasty even on the most blistering days. “Yer always fighting yerself, Harry, even when it’s driven by meetin’ up with someone else who wants to do you harm.”
“I suppose,” Harry uttered, giving that surprisingly philosophical view due consideration.
The new log on the fire sent a pop of sparks out onto the floor. Fawkes fluttered his wings in the wake of it and cocked an eye at Harry.
“How is Fawkes?” Harry asked.
Quietly, Hagrid answered, “Right ornery bird that is. Doesn’ pay any heed when ya’ talk to him, barely deigns to be a class demonstration, and can’t keep any kind of molting schedule.”
Harry sipped his tea and secretly thought Hagrid didn’t believe the bird dangerous enough to respect. “Does he carry you places if you ask, like he did for Dumbledore?”
Hagrid gave a burst of laughter that nearly shook the cauldron off its hook over the fire, let alone forced Fawkes to flit back to his perch. “’E’s got no interest in that.”
“Dumbledore was his favorite, I guess,” Harry said, eyeing the bird knowingly.
- 888 -
In his office Snape penned a polite letter and addressed it after no short deliberation. He had two different addresses for the man in question, one in Finland and one in Norway. The addresses were possibly seasonal, but both were at the same extreme latitude, making distinguishing them impossible. Worse, a quick second look at the atlas showed both to be north of the artic circle. Eyeing Hedwig, Snape decided that she was smart enough to work it out if the first address was wrong, so he wrote out one followed by the other on the front of the envelope.
With the letter off the only thing to do was wait. Well, that and grade essays on Dementors. After the third one that expressed rather creative guesses about the creatures, he was half-tempted to call on Harry to grade them.
A knock sounded on the door and Professor Cawley put his head inside. “You sent me a message?” he asked, fidgeting with the door handle.
“Yes,” Snape said, “I have a question for you. You studied African magical arts . . . do you know any Mekonde Shamans, by chance?”
“Mekonde? No. Totally other side of the continent from my expertise. Most South American African slaves came from the west coast.”
“Ah, well, never mind then.” Snape thought to himself, that would have been too easy.
“Oh,” Cawley said, leaning back in after beginning to close the door. “Can you do a little demonstration for my class this week? I asked Headmistress McGonagall and she suggested asking you.”
Dryly, Snape asked, “What is it?”
“I want to do an Animagus demonstration . . .”
Snidely, Snape asked, “And you aren’t one?”
“No, no. I am, it’s just that . . . well, my shape is not the most conducive to a class demonstration. It ah, well, it’s a sea slug . . . you see,” he explained in the voice of a man who sees no hope for putting off the truth. “It is most inconvenient and embarrassing, frankly. Headmistress McGonagall is a rather attractive house cat, but she is too busy, she says. She suggested you,”
“Perhaps you should ask Mr. Potter. He has copious time on his hands.”
“Ah,” Cawley uttered, looking a bit put-upon at having been handed off again.
“But if Mr. Potter is unwilling, I can probably arrange to be available for a short demonstration.” Cawley thanked him and started to depart, hesitating only when Snape began muttering something along the lines of: “There’s been a shortage of screaming around here lately. A bit too quiet really.”
- 888 -
Per Hossa glided to a stop outside an empty corral and kicked his skis off the curved toes of his boots with practiced ease. His pale slate eyes scanned the twilight-lit snow. A figure emerged from the trees, also on skis, but stouter and shorter than himself and gave him a wave. Siri Blind approached and accepted the supply sack Per carried.
“Have you finished charming the area?”
“For all the good it will do in the winter talking to rocks . . . it is charmed.”
Per scanned the hillsides of the valley that led into the corral. During summer calf marking, the reindeer at the end must be driven downhill against their nature. “I think this will be good. Did you ward those erratics there?” he asked, pointing at the tall stones dotting the distant hillside.
“Yup,” she answered. “Now I’m ready for coffee.” Before she slid off toward the snow covered goahti with a plume of smoke emerging from it, she asked, “How long has that owl been following you?”
Per huffed. “Since yesterday. Stubborn. Won’t even go off to hunt.”
“Lucky it’s an artic,” She held up her hand, breaking the wards Per had up to keep the owl at a distance. The snowy owl immediately launched from the branch it rested on and glided down to land on her woolen-covered arm. She took the letter from it, then reached into her hide bag for a strip of smoked reindeer meat. Despite Per’s scoff, she held it out for the owl, who snarfed it hungrily. “You shouldn’t make the animal suffer. It is only loyal to its master’s command.”
Per used a glove to clean the ice off the bottom of his ski. “It should learn to think for itself in that case.”
“Mr. Hossa,” she began aloud, translating the letter into Saami, their native tongue. “I am writing to you on behalf of my son who is experiencing grave difficulties with the Dark Plane.”
Per dropped that ski, base up, and began scrubbing at the other one.
“I am only taking this extraordinary step of contacting you because I fear he may be on the verge of causing harm to himself or those around him. The only option I see is to arrange for him to receive training in controlling the gateway he is inadvertently opening to this other Plane. You are highly recommended by wizards from both Britain and Denmark, so I am appealing to you to consider providing-”
Per stuck his feet back into his skis. “Don’t bother,” he interrupted. “Silly man has a typical teenage son with brooding dark magic he’ll outgrow on his own and assumes the worst.”
“He signs the message as professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry,” Siri pointed out before folding the letter and holding it out. Hedwig swayed on her shoulder when she moved, but held fast.
Per paused and then scoffed again. “Send the owl away,” he said, before skiing off, retracing the bands through the snow he had just broken.
- 888 -
Friday morning came with ice crystals covering the dormer windows so there was no view out from his usual perch. Harry had been at Hogwarts all week. His only scheduled task was to happen today when he had agreed to help with a demonstration in Transfiguration at 10:00 a.m. Mostly he had agreed to this because the very notion, after years of struggle in that class, had made him chuckle. He occupied himself before then with wondering how he could get Belinda to reply to his owls. He had sent two letters to her, explaining, but not really, truly explaining. Harry frowned and scratched his head. He didn’t fancy writing yet another dodgy letter to her and he couldn’t bear laying the full truth out, so by the time class arrived, he hadn’t written anything.
Harry stepped into the Transfiguration classroom just on time. It looked much the way it used to with its tiered seats and animal cages lining the tall shelves. Only Snape, who stood cross-armed beside the teacher’s desk, was a unique addition. The class was of fifth-years—the oldest Cawley taught. Harry accepted the professor’s welcome and introduction as though perhaps, just maybe, someone in the room wouldn’t know who he was. A glance around the blue and green uniforms showed keen interest in him. Harry wondered at this point what exact rumors were circulating to explain his presence.
“As I said last class,” Cawley continued lecturing, “Animagia is one of the hardest Transfigurations attempted by ordinary witches and wizards. Few succeed, although this school has an unusual number of registered Animagi seventh-years, due, I am told, to Mr. Potter here.”
“Hermione Granger, really,” Harry supplied.
Cawley gave him a distracted smile. “Of course.” He went on with the lecture, “Animagia is the ultimate self transfiguration. Metamorphmagia is a quick make-over by comparison. If you will demonstrate, Mr. Potter.”
“Most everyone here has seen this,” Harry pointed out, “But here goes.” Harry transformed on the spot after only an instant of concentration, it had become so natural. A few students ohed and stared up at him with wide expressions. Cawley on the other hand, fell backward in surprise.
“My Merlin! What is that?” he exclaimed, picking himself up after scuttling to the first row of seats.
Harry transformed back so he could reply. “A Scarlet Mountain Gryffylis. It is native to the Ural Mountains.”
Cawley closed his mouth with a clap of his teeth. “Well, amazing, just amazing. And do you fly?”
“Ah,” Cawley muttered, looking disturbed and perhaps jealous. “Must be nice. All right then, Professor Snape is also an Animagus.” He gestured for Snape to approach and quietly asked, “You aren’t anything quite so big, correct?”
“Not at all.” Snape leaned back on the demonstration table before transforming so he could slither into a tall coil on top of it. At least two students, both Ravenclaw, ducked behind their desks when the asp hissed at the room, long teeth bared.
Cawley seemed to be frozen in place beside the table. At least, Harry expected that if he could have moved when Snape slid over beside him, he would have.
“Be nice,” Harry teased and it must have come out as a hiss of Parseltongue given Cawley’s further, frozen, unblinking dismay now turned upon him instead.
Snape returned to his human serpentine self and gave his colleague one of his thin-lipped smiles.
“Do we get to learn that?” one of the Slytherins asked, hand raised in the air. She sounded intensely interested in the prospect.
“Well, if we get through your O.W.L. preparation . . .” Many students began madly pulling out their notes and sat straight and attentive, quills poised. “Well, we’ll try . . .” Cawley began before dismissing the two of them. “Thank you, Professor, Mr. Potter, for the demonstrations. I think,” he muttered more quietly.
In the corridor the afternoon sunlight shot straight along the floor, glinting on a nearby suit of armor. Snape said, “I will be finished with meetings and detentions after 4:00 today if you would like to play a bit of chess.”
Harry thought ahead to his extraodinarily open afternoon. He was tired of doing his readings even though he had intended to reread nearly all of his books so as to impress his trainer when the opportunity arose. “Sure,” he replied.
Snape was unaffected by Harry’s delay in replying. “Come down to my office around then.”
Harry really needed to find something productive to do to combat this boredom or he might go stir-crazy. “I think I’ll go to the library in the meantime.”
“Madam Pince has done an exhaustive search-”
“Yeah, but she doesn’t really know what to look for.”
Snape conceded this point with a tilt of his head. Small figures had gathered nearby by passing along the corridor and then slowing with artificial casualness. Harry recognized two of the first-years who composed the unofficial Harry Potter fan club. They gave him shy giggles, half hidden behind hands or books.
Snape’s stern voice cut through their wide-eyed trances. “Is there something you need?”
Sobering, they shook their heads and moved slowly on, large eyes darting back over their shoulders. Snape growled in annoyance.
Harry said, “It’s hard to be cruel to them.”
“No, it isn’t,” Snape countered forcefully, making Harry grin. Ginny stepped up in their wake with a warm greeting. Snape turned suddenly, sending his cloak billowing. “I’ll see you in my office later, then. It is good to see you out of your chambers,” he added over his shoulder while stepping briskly away.
Harry watched his rapid departure and said, “That’s the second time he’s done that. What did you do to him?”
Ginny crossed her arms and casually replied. “I think I showed him his soul, but it was his fault.”
“What?” Harry uttered.
“I’ll explain some other time.” She adjusted her backpack and stepped away in the other direction.
Harry watched her turn the corner and considered going back to his chambers instead of the library and trying another letter to Belinda. But failing to get a reply yet again would only frustrate him more. He really needed to go talk to her, or send someone else to go talk to her. Snapping his fingers, he realized that there was someone who could go talk to her for him.
“Dobby?” Harry called out in the nearly deserted corridor. A moment later the house-elf appeared, pulling nervously on one ear. He had scaled back to wearing only one pair of socks at a time but today they were a huge pair of white and red striped ones that spilled around his stick-like legs.
“Harry Potter called Dobby?”
Harry crouched down before the elf so as to talk to him more easily. “Yes. I need you to do something for me. Is that possible?” The elf nodded vigorously, sending his ears bobbing. “All right, then. Can you go see Belinda Belluna? She’s Madam Bones’ receptionist at the Ministry. She hasn’t answered my owls and I think she’s upset with me. Can you tell her that I really care about her, but I just can’t fully explain some things.” Harry frowned, frustration at himself overtaking him. “Just say that, I suppose.”
“Dobby will deliver this message, Harry Potter,” the elf promised.
“Thanks.” The elf disappeared in a bang. Harry wondered anew at how he did that inside the school, getting around the Apparition barrier. As he straightened and stood, he found Ginny standing nearby with an uncomfortable smile. “Hi again,” Harry said.
“Sorry, forgot to tell you something,” she said.
Harry assumed she had heard his message to Belinda. He shrugged, “All right.”
“There’s a party in the Gryffindor tower tonight . . .” she offered.
“Thanks, I’ll think about it.”
She twitched one shoulder. “Okay. Maybe see you later. . .”
“Sure.” Harry headed toward the staircases, firmly deciding that moment on going to the library. Dobby sparkled in ahead of him, hands clasped, looking humble.
“Harry Potter, sir,” Dobby said. “I delivered your message.”
Harry glanced back and saw Ginny again turn the corner at the far end. “What did she say?” he asked the elf.
“She said that if Harry Potter doesn’t trust Belinda enough to tell her what is happening that she is glad to be knowing that now.”
“Tell her Harry Pot- tell her, I don’t know how to explain, but there are some things I just have to take care of on my own, without explaining.” Dobby spent a dubious moment taking that in. Harry added, thinking grimly that his not explaining had become a bigger issue than the terrible new power itself that he didn’t want to explain. “Nevermind, don’t tell her anything. No,” Harry said, pointing for emphasis. “Tell her she should trust me.”
Dobby bowed and disappeared again. Harry stalked off to the library thinking that he had bigger things to worry about and he couldn’t let her bull-headedness get to him. He would sort it out later with her when it was easier to.
Professor Snape returned to his office to find Hedwig waiting there. He glanced around the desk, but didn’t see any new envelopes. “Did you deliver the letter?” he asked the empty-clawed owl. Hedwig dipped her head up and down a few times. “No reply?” The white owl looked out the window and back and tilted its head. Snape made a tisking noise with his mouth and the owl looked up at him. It was dangerously unpredictable to Legilimize an animal, especially one with such radically different instincts than a human, but needing to know; he delved into the bird’s thoughts.
Flashes of distorted memory flickered by. White fields and forests of pine. A man. A barrier. Hunger. Being forcefully sent away for her own good. Snape put Hedwig in Franklin’s cage and sat rubbing his fingertips together in thought for many minutes. The sun came and went from behind small white clouds, sending many transient beams through the numerous panes of the tall windows.
When Snape did move it was to rapidly assemble a good quill and fresh ink.
Your lack of answer leaves little chance for argument, forcing me to guess what your objections may be. Were you not my only option, I would not be bothering you again. Certainly, I can send this disturbed young man to an African Shaman, but I fear he will be seen as a tool rather than an unskilled wizard in need of guidance and I cannot risk that unless it is truly my only option.
My first guess as to your objection is that you believe I am sadly mistaken and do not have the skills to recognize the Dark Plane. Let me assure you that I am no stranger to the Dark Arts as a teacher nor as a practitioner.
Snape hesitated. He needed this man’s help badly enough that he felt this second and possibly only chance had better get the Shaman’s attention.
I have stared straight into the eyes of evil many, many times—into the eyes of Voldemort himself as one of his servants—so trust that when I hear the sounds from the corner of the room and see the odd injuries to my house-elf—that I do indeed recognize what I am encountering.
Your second likely objection is that you belive this young man is not worth your attention. I do not know how bad things were in your particular village during the previous reigns of the Dark Lord, but trust that here they were most grievous. And here in Britain, at least, we feel that we owe every last effort of assistance to the one who freed us from this horrible Dark Reign. For the young man I am asking you to instruct in your rare skill is none other than the Destroyer of Voldemort himself, Harry Potter, my adopted son.
I will be concrete in my request. All I ask is that you see him and judge the first for yourself. I will send him to you strictly for this consideration with no further expectation. Simply tell me where and when and I will see to it that he is there.
Pronouncing Candide — Like the Opera. CanDEED. I figure her parents liked the name but were too clueless to know the origin. Candide (a man, by the way) in the opera maddeningly always sees the bright side of even horrendous circumstances. I figured someone who was with Snape had to have a bit of that.
Harry/Hermione — I’m just going to shoot this here. I’m not going that way. That one instant of Harry’s panic at a potential misunderstanding actually emphasizes how much he needs her purely as a friend.
Demise of Voldemort Day — Wizards can’t have a cool/catchy name for something; that would be unwizardish. Besides, this makes it d-v-day, which harkens to other vaguely similar holidays.
Why doesn’t Harry just tell Snape? — Well, that wouldn’t be very much fun... Better reason though is he is in denial, which is not rational. This has been remarkably hard to write with Harry as my primary point of view, because it makes him an unreliable source of information and reasoning on unfolding events. It means the events he observes and his internalization of them have to not match so that the reader is ahead of him. I may be failling on pulling that off—and thank goodness we are past it, it made for very slow writing—but I wouldn’t feel bad if I failed, because it is tough to do. And by the way, I don’t know jack about writing; I’m just making this up, really. Sounds good though, doesn’t it?