Chapter 7 : Parlor Trick
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“Look at me. Don't resist,” he commanded, plunging into Harry's mind without further warning. A brief, disorienting moment later, Harry found himself back in the familiar void of his “parlor”, where he quickly conjured up two armchairs, both unfortunately red and gold.
“We will not be lingering here,” said Snape, eyeing the chairs with distaste. “But, seeing as you are hardly proficient in Legilimency, I must lead you into my parlor. It is, I suspect, not unlike what happens when you dream of the Dark Lord.”
Harry felt something shift in the landscape, somewhere very close by. The vision, he recalled, and tried not to think of it – prayed that Snape would not notice. Snape darted a glance in the direction of the disturbance, and then at him, but made no comment. He merely held out his arm – his right, Harry saw – and said with a grimace, “Take my arm.”
Harry gingerly placed a few fingers on the professor's sleeve, his fingertips barely touching the cloth. “I am not a portkey, Potter,” Snape snapped without looking at him, “Take my arm.”
“Yes, sir,” he mumbled, trying to hide his mortification as he placed his hand more squarely on the professor's arm. Harry could feel the tension in him, like a compressed spring; Snape held himself perfectly still, as though he were trying not to recoil, nor even to breathe.
All Harry's reluctance vanished as they suddenly lurched upward and sideways; his hand clamped down instinctively on Snape's arm as the ground fell out from beneath his feet. It felt as though they were being sucked through a vacuum tube; Harry thought his shoulder might dislocate as he was dragged by one arm out of his own mind and into Snape's.
His feet struck solid ground with a thump; he landed, thanks to his death-grip on Snape's arm, largely upright. He let go as quickly as he was able, a flush of embarrassment creeping up the back of his neck. “Sorry about that,” he mumbled, eyes downcast. Snape did not remark upon it.
Harry looked around at the dimly-lit room; the only source of light, the thoughts swirling about overhead, flickered ominously. There was a pair of wing-backed armchairs and a coffee table between them, all dark wood and leather. An empty fireplace adorned the far wall, its mantlepiece bare save for a few glass vials and dried plants. There was even a rug – dark green, of course – on the floorboards. “Wow,” Harry breathed.
“I do try to keep it simple,” said Snape. “You have not seen the Headmaster's; it is astonishing for the sheer quantity of odds-and-ends he keeps there.” He gestured to one of the chairs. “Sit.”
Only slightly bewildered, Harry sat, and found the chair surprisingly solid, unlike those in his own mind, where the occupant was liable to fall through the seat at any time. “You are only the third person to ever have been here,” Snape remarked.
Harry looked up. “The others... they're Professor Dumbledore and Voldemort, right?”
“Do not speak his name!” Snape hissed, turning the full force of his glare upon Harry. Harry started; he had almost forgotten how venomous the man's eyes were when he was truly angry, rather than merely irritated. Snape's mind churned above them, snarling whispers and snatches of conversation filling the air like the static before a storm. Harry could feel his hair stand up on end.
“I'm sorry,” he whispered, “You-Know-Who, then. It was him and Dumbledore, right?”
Snape turned towards the fireplace, his robes swirling around him, and lit a fire in the grate with a flick of his wand. His other hand gripped the stone mantlepiece; he stood there for several long moments with his back turned, framed in the orange glow of flames, as the roiling thoughts around them gradually calmed.
He slid his wand back into his sleeve and lowered himself into the other chair. “Yes,” he replied curtly, much of the previous strain returning to his voice. He did not look at Harry as he continued, suspiciously lightly, “ It appeared you were attempting an approximation of the Gryffindor common room, though of course, I would not know for certain.”
“Yeah, I was,” said Harry, relieved at the change of subject. “Should I be doing that?”
“A more exact replica is easier to maintain, by virtue of its familiarity. The Headmaster's, for example, is modeled after his office.”
“What about here?” Harry asked before he could stop himself.
There was a pause – Harry could have sworn the room dimmed – and just as he was about to mumble a quick “Never mind,” Snape replied, “My sitting room.”
“Oh.” Harry could not think of anything else to say, and fidgeted silently in his seat.
Snape continued as though the interruption had not occurred. “Of course, the Dark Lord, should he perform Legilimency on you, will not have the courtesy to stay within the confines of your parlor. It is merely the point of easiest access.”
“It's like walking through the front door, right? Instead of trying to go through the wall or something?”
“An oversimplification, but that is the essential idea. Recall, however – and never forget – that your parlor, in particular, has two points of entry where the Dark Lord is concerned: your eyes, and your scar.”
Harry groaned. “I can't be normal, ever, can I,” he muttered.
“If you were,” said Snape, “we would hardly be here, now, would we?”
“Well, it's not like I asked for it.”
“No,” said Snape, in quite a different voice, “I don't imagine you did.”
Harry frowned, and stared at the man, who gazed back at him with a shuttered, inscrutable expression. A few long moments passed, and Harry, desperate to say something – anything – asked, “So what do we do now?”
“I trust you have settled adequately. Now, I shall show you how the mind of an Occlumens should look. Come with me.”
This time, Harry was wrenched out of his seat without even touching Snape. They spun crazily through the space that was Snape's mind, the armchairs falling away beneath them, thoughts and memories flashing from every direction like a shoal of silver fish. Finally, they slowed, and then stopped, at what appeared to be an unending wall of smoky glass. Snape stretched his legs, unbending them from their seated position.
“This is the outermost barrier,” said Snape, gesturing at the vast crystalline structure before them. They floated a bit closer, until it was barely an arm's length away. Harry could feel cold mist emanating from it.
“May I?” he asked, his hand an inch from the surface. Snape nodded. Harry brushed the tips of his fingers against it. “It's ice!” he exclaimed. He looked down at his fingers, which were pink with cold, and then up at Snape.
“Yes. This is what is meant by constructing a barrier – often described as an eggshell due to its globular shape. Your own, however, will be made of something other than ice, as the Dark Lord would recognize my influence.”
“Like what? Rock or something?”
“I leave the choice of material to you. I recommend it be something you can easily visualize.”
Harry tried to imagine a wall of brick, or iron, or perhaps the brown and grey stones of which Hogwarts was built. He found it, oddly, much more difficult than last time.
“Potter,” Snape said, jolting him from his thoughts, “Do not attempt to conjure barriers – or anything, for that matter – in another wizard's mind. It is much more difficult, and is generally considered a severe breach of etiquette, without explicit permission.”
“Oh. Uh, I'm sorry, sir. I didn't know – and I didn't think it'd do anything, anyhow.”
“I am aware of your ignorance,” Snape replied. “It was merely precautionary.”
“Right.” The ensuing silence, Harry imagined, was a trifle less tense.
“I believe this to be sufficiently illuminating,” said Snape a moment later. “We shall return to my office, Potter.”
Harry was prepared, this time, for the disorienting feeling of being bodily forced through the thicket of Snape's mind. He landed neatly in his own head, and blinked several times as his vision came back into focus; he was greeted by the sight of Snape observing him, looking unfairly cool and collected. “I trust you have a better idea, now, of the task at hand,” said Snape.
“Yeah, I guess,” Harry replied, and added, “Thanks.”
“When we next meet, I expect you to have some idea of the material most suitable for your outer walls.”
“Right. I'll think about that.”
“And Potter, what was the earlier disturbance in your mind?”
Harry hesitated, avoiding his eyes. “I, uh, it was...” he began, trying to think of some plausible excuse. He scuffed a foot on the flagstones, the events of the past hour floating about his consciousness. Trust, he reminded himself, taking a deep breath.
“I had another vision last week. I saw you talking to Vol – I mean, You-Know-Who,” he said in a rush.
“Ah. You mean the conversation about 'Remedial Potions'?” Snape's expression remained impassive.
“Er, yeah.” A heavy silence followed, so Harry continued, as lightly as he could, “Actually, I've been thinking, isn't that story a little outdated? I mean, you don't teach Potions anymore.”
“I hardly think you require Remedial Defense, Potter,” Snape replied sharply.
“Well, no, but if I were really having Remedial Potions, wouldn't Slughorn be doing it?”
Snape's perpetual scowl seemed to deepen. “The Headmaster is well known for his belief in penance and absolution,” he said, gazing into the fire, which threw shadows onto his angular face. “Not to mention that Slughorn seems to think you quite the model Potions student.” He turned to look at Harry, the flames throwing strange glints into his narrowed eyes. “I have wondered about that, Mr. Potter.”
Harry froze. Of all the things to dredge up now, he had not expected that. Snape would confiscate the book, he figured, and he couldn't let that happen. Ron, for one, would never forgive him. He shifted in his seat, edging away from Snape – he didn't think Snape was going te Legilimize him, but he wasn't about to chance it – and did some very quick thinking. I wonder if this is how he does it with Voldemort, Harry thought with a twinge of newfound admiration.
“He's not nearly as suspicious as you are,” Harry said. “Well, he doesn't hover around looking over everyone's shoulders telling us how incompetent we are, anyhow. You think he notices if I copy Hermione?”
“And your friend Mr. Weasley, then?” Snape demanded. “There are no similarly glowing reports of him, as I recall.”
“Well... they've been fighting lately – Ron and Hermione, I mean.” At Snape's skeptical glance, Harry continued, “I... really shouldn't be telling you this – so please don't let on – but... well, they've been fighting... about Lavender, you know.”
“You mean Mr. Weasley's insipid... lady friend,” Snape sneered. “I can imagine Ms. Granger might disapprove.”
“Erm... yeah.” Harry prodded the rug with the toe of his shoe. Am I really discussing Ron's love life with Snape, of all people?
Snape must have noticed his sudden reticence; he cleared his throat, much discomfited, and said, “I suppose it is no business of mine how inattentively a colleague runs his classroom.” He glanced at the clock on the far wall, and again at Harry. “We are finished for tonight, Mr. Potter,” he said. He pulled a stack of papers from a drawer and bent his head to his work, ignoring Harry completely. Slightly mystified, Harry took up his bag and left. It was a long while before he found himself facing the Fat Lady once more.
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