"Must you continue pacing around and around like a bloody caged panther?" Severus demanded irritably as Harry walked past the desk in the attic for the fiftieth time that morning, his footfalls breaking the Potion Master's concentration once again.
"I can't help it, Sev," Harry whined. "I'm bored, there's nothing for me to do in here."
"Oh really?" drawled the professor.
Harry could have kicked himself then. Aww hell! Why did I say that?
"Would you like me to assign you some busy work, Mr. Potter? Like writing three hundred times I will not disturb my guardian while he is attempting to decipher an Ancient Runic code that may lead to the destruction of a forbidden object?"
"That's not lines, that's a damn paragraph!"
"Would you like to write it?" demanded Snape, his patience fraying rapidly.
"No, sir." Not on your life! That's torture. "I just wish it would stop raining. I hate being cooped up in here." He dug a trainer into the floor, hating the way he was complaining, he probably sounded like a spoiled brat like Malfoy. But he was so bored he could die, honestly!
It had been raining ever since last night, the sky just opened up and drenched the entire area with rain and the wind was screeching and occasional flashes of lightning still lit the sky. Harry hated being confined in a small space, and the Gaunt house was the size of a shoebox and had nothing whatsoever of interest in it unless you found dust motes and mouse feces fascinating. The books in the bookcase in the attic were all old first and second year texts and Harry already knew their contents by heart.
"I need to fly, Sev."
Severus set down the quill he'd been using to write possible code patterns on the parchment he'd found inside the desk and gave his apprentice a look that should have lit his backside on fire. "Mister Potter," he hissed, enunciating every syllable of Harry's name distinctly, a sure sign he was going to go postal in about a minute. "You will not go flying in the middle of a bloody thunderstorm, as I have told you for the tenth time! Now quit whining and acting like an impatient three-year-old and find something to amuse yourself right now, otherwise I shall make you stand in the corner and count the grains in the wall and write an essay on self-control until I have finished deciphering this, am I clear?"
"I hear you," muttered the somewhat chastened Animagus. He heaved a sigh. "Could I help with the code, maybe?"
"Can you read Ancient Runes?"
"Well, no, but . . ."
"Then how could you help me?" asked Snape sharply. "I am aware this is not fun for you, being trapped this way in this house, but you must learn to endure it. Meditate or sleep, Potter, but for the love of Merlin, do not interrupt me again! These runes are difficult enough to translate without constant disruption."
"All right. I'm sorry. Let me just go bang my head into a wall," Harry grumbled.
Severus scowled and cast a Silencing Charm about himself, hoping to minimize the distraction of Harry's pacing and huffing and sighing. Teenagers! None of them these days had any patience, everything was supposed to be given to them immediately. And his ward seemed to have been bitten by the restless I'm-Bored bug at the worst possible time.
As Severus had told Harry last night, there was nothing glamorous or heroic about being a secret agent. The job was dangerous and frustrating and the benefits sucked. However, Severus had been a top spy for years, and he had been trained to break codes and ciphers by some of the best in the Auror department. He knew that code in the notebook could be broken, it was not an impossible encryption, but it just took time . . .hours of it, since Severus had to rely upon his photographic memory instead of Ancient Runes texts. The texts he needed were under lock and key in the Auror Department, in a protected vault resistant to Summoning Charms, and Severus knew he would never be allowed to remove them from the Ministry.
Still, he was confident he could crack the code, given enough time and silence and the cooperation of his restless adolescent ward. He glanced up to see what Harry was doing and saw the boy sitting on his sleeping bag, looking at his hands disinterestedly, but at least he wasn't pacing and huffing. It was a vast improvement compared to the previous two and a half hours. He went back to translating the runes, relieved that each rune only had one or two meanings.
It was the way that they were combined that was frustrating the hell out of him.
Harry sat staring down at his hands, trying to do as his mentor had ordered and meditate, but so far the peace of inner reflection was eluding him. He felt filled with a terrific restless energy, one that drove him crazy demanding an outlet, but he was denied any. He rose, careful not to go anywhere near Snape, who had his head bent over the notebook, and went downstairs.
At least the main room of the shack was bigger than the attic and Harry shifted into Freedom, flying back and forth across the room in short bursts. He flew spirals and loops, hovered and dove, trying to rid himself of the manic energy. He had been tired this morning, but sometime after breakfast, his magic had replenished itself and now he long to do something-fight a dark wizard, break a curse, anything but stare at a wall for three hours.
He wished he dared call Hedwig from the forest, but he did not want to injure his owl by making her fly to him. Severus was right, the storm was too dangerous for any avian to fly through. Harry peered out at the cracked window, watching the rain come down in silvery sheets, soaking the brambles and the lawn. The roof had sprung several leaks and for a while, Harry was kept busy shoring them up with Repel Water Charms that the twins had taught him.
But once the roof was secure and he had mopped up the water with some old rags he had found in a small closet, he was at loose ends again.
He understood Severus's annoyance with him, and he didn't mean to irritate his guardian, especially when he was trying to break an important code, but he was going stir-crazy, and the depressing atmosphere of the house wasn't helping. He kept recalling what Severus had told him of the Gaunt family, which he had learned from Albus ere their departure from Hogwarts.
Marvolo Gaunt had been a direct descendant of Salazar Slytherin, but something had gone wrong in the Gaunt makeup, perhaps too much inbreeding of pureblood cousin to pureblood cousin, but whatever the genetic mishap was, it had made the Gaunts subject to fits of insanity and megalomania, among other things. Once a respected pureblood House, by the time Merope was a young girl, their reputation had fallen into obscurity and ruin. Marvolo had been desperate to marry off his youngest child to a pureblood wizard of good family, and also deep pockets, for the Gaunt vault was nearly empty, since Marvolo refused to demean himself by working.
But Merope was not a pretty child and as she grew, she became more introverted and her looks did not improve with time. Ashamed of their poverty and browbeaten by her father's constant cruel criticism, Merope refused to mingle with any appropriate purebloods, and happened to see handsome Muggle Tom Riddle riding past their hovel one day and been smitten instantly. She had seen Tom and thought he was a fairytale prince, ready to carry her off and he was also forbidden fruit, being a Muggle. Sick and tired of her father's endless demands and her brother Morfin was little better, always drunk down at the tavern, Merope rebelled and tried to catch the eye of the handsome son of the landlord.
Only Tom would have never looked twice at the odd unattractive young woman, with her patched clothes and strange eyes and unwashed hair. Merope tried repeatedly to get him to notice her, growing more and more desperate, until at last she resorted to using a forbidden Love Potion to make young Thomas desire her above all else.
She had managed to get him to drink the potion, how was unknown, and as soon as he had done so, he was hers. Riddle kidnapped her and took her away to live with him in London, and for awhile they must have been happy, though it did not last. Dumbledore had been unsure whether the potion had worn off before Merope could make more, or if Merope had felt Riddle's feelings for her were false and she longed for the real thing and released him from her enchantment, but in the end Riddle was released and he immediately left his pregnant wife alone and returned to his home. Merope later died after bearing her son, leaving young Tom to be raised in an orphanage.
When Tom was fifteen nearly sixteen, he came to the village where both his parents had lived and killed his father and grandparents. He then tried to use Frank Bryce and Marvolo Riddle as scapegoats to cover his trail. Then he returned after graduation and killed his remaining grandparent and framed his half-wit uncle Morfin for the deed. Morfin was later sentenced to Azkaban for life and died there. That seemed to be a standard procedure with Voldemort, allowing others to take the blame for his misdeeds, at least before he grew strong enough to threaten all of the wizarding world.
Still, dwelling on the occupants of this house and their twisted and sad history was not peaceful, and Harry could not settle down. He glanced at his watch. Only an hour had gone by since he had come down here. Rain was still pelting down and Harry began chewing his nails and shadow boxing, anything to relieve the endless monotony of staring at four bare walls.
It was then that he heard a soft shush of wings and he jerked about to see a rather bedraggled snowy owl come flying down the chimney.
"Hedwig!" he cried, and held out his arm for her to land on. "Why did you fly here in this weather? You could have been hurt."
The wind is not as bad as it sounds, the owl replied, beginning to fluff and groom her feathers. I wished to be with you, not sleeping alone in a tree in the rain. Besides, there is no telling what trouble you two will get into without me.
Harry chuckled, and removed his spare cloak from his pack and tried to help dry his familiar. But Hedwig told him he was hindering more than helping, and she could dry faster by picking her feathers. She settled upon his shoulder and began to preen vigorously, and Harry talked to her about what had happened and how Severus was trying to break the code in the notebook.
"I just wish he could work faster," Harry sighed. "I'm going crazy here, Hedwig. It's nearly as bad as being locked in my room or the cupboard."
You expect too much from your guardian, Harry. He is only human, after all. Hedwig reproved, nibbling at the feathers inbetween her talons. I am sure he is trying his hardest. Why don't you eat some lunch and then take a nap? Sleep might ease your restlessness.
Harry wanted to protest that he didn't need to take a nap like a child, but suddenly Hedwig's suggestion started to sound good. He rummaged in his pack for a sandwich, butterbeer, and a Cauldron Cake, ate them, then brought some to Severus as well.
He placed the food on the desk near the Potions Master, who did not even look up, but continued scribbling rapidly on the parchment. "Here, Severus. It's lunchtime."
When the other did not respond, Harry shrugged and left the food and went to fling himself on his sleeping bag. He closed his eyes and tossed and turned restlessly until finally he declared sleep a lost cause.
He darted a glance at Severus, who was still hunched over the desk, but the plate of food was empty. Harry wanted badly to ask if the Potions Master had figured anything out, but did not want to risk the man's temper, so he quickly departed the attic and headed down to the main floor.
It was around two o'clock in the afternoon, and the sky was still a dreary gray, and rain was still coming down, though it was much less forceful than before. Hedwig was perched upon the back of the stove, near the stovepipe, her head tucked beneath her wing, asleep.
Harry shot her an irritated glance. Great. Now he had no one to talk to.
He gazed out the cracked window longingly. When would the blasted rain stop?
He felt the minutes tick by endlessly and all at once he could not bear it any longer.
Rain or no rain, he needed to fly, and not just around a small room. He needed the sky.
He blurred into Freedom, recalling that Hedwig had said the wind was not as bad as it looked, and the rain seemed to be slowing. Then he flew up the chimney and out into the rainswept sky.
* * * * * * *
Severus had been sitting at the small desk in the attic for over seven hours before he decided to take a break and stretch and walk about. He rose, doing some elementary stretches and head rolls, and then walking about for ten minutes, before sitting back down and resuming his work.
Thus far he had managed to translate all the runes and discover about twenty-five combinations of them that whoever had written this had used to write down seemingly nonsense words and sentences. He knew he was close to discovering the pattern the writer had used, because though skilled in runes, the writer was not quite as skilled at making coded sentences.
Severus rubbed his brow and scowled down at the notebook. That pattern . . .where have I seen it before? I know I have.
He shut his eyes, his head was throbbing, and then he thought back to when he was learning how to form and memorize different codes.
Minutes later he opened his eyes and nodded. The pattern that had eluded him for hours was now clear in his mind.
He bent and tested it upon the first sentence in the notebook.
To his delight, it worked.
The fragmented sentence read, when properly deciphered: In this notebook I shall record my deepest secret-that I have discovered the secret to immortality.
Definitely the notebook of the former Tom Riddle, junior.
Severus felt his breath quicken. What secrets did this notebook contain? He could hardly wait to begin translating it now that he had deciphered the code. Of course, that would not be accomplished all in a day. But he had made a very important breakthrough.
He looked about the room and since he did not see Harry in the attic, assumed he must be downstairs. He walked down the staircase, only to find the shack was deserted.
Snape opened his mouth to call for the boy, wondering where the hell he had gotten off to.
* * * * * *
Freedom soon realized that Hedwig may have been trying to downplay the effect of the wind so as not to worry him too much. It was much stronger than he had been led to believe, and his first attempt to fly above the roof nearly resulted in him being blown across the village.
He abruptly decided that it had been a huge mistake to try and fly in such weather and struggled to get across the rooftree to the chimney.
The wind buffeted and slammed him and he was hard put to stay upright, clinging to the roof with all of his strength. Little by little, he inched his way back towards the chimney, the rain soaking through his feathers, despite the natural oil upon them. He started to shiver slightly, for the rain was not only relentless, it was chilly.
This was one of your stupider ideas, he lamented as he crawled towards the chimney. I hope Severus never finds out about this little bit of idiocy.
At last he finally managed to gain the chimney and huddled there for a few moments, catching his breath and regaining his strength. Then he jumped up onto the lip of the chimney and flew down it. His feathers garnered soot that clung to him because of his wet state, but being filthy was the least of his worries, as he soon discovered upon entering the main room of the Gaunt house.
Severus Snape was standing in the middle of the room, his arms crossed, scowling at the soot covered hawk that emerged from the fireplace.
Uh oh. I think I am so dead.
He swiftly transformed back into his human self, landing with a thump upon the floor, wet and shivering, his eyes fixed upon his furious guardian.
"Harry James Potter, you had better have a suitable explanation for why you have been flying during a storm when I have expressly forbidden it," Snape began, and his tone, though soft, warned that if Harry didn't, he would wish he was back at Hogwarts, scrubbing cauldrons, compared to what Snape would do to him now.
Harry gulped and suddenly found the floor very interesting.
"Well, young man? I'm waiting."
Chapter End Notes:
Okay, we all know that Harry is in big trouble now.
Only question I have now is . . .what should Sev do to him?
Thanks to everyone who has reviewed so far, it's really encouraging me to write more. Please continue to do so!!