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Chapter 8 : Lending an Ear
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“Yes, sir,” Harry answered. It was technically true; he had spent a good ten or fifteen minutes of dinner discussing the matter with Hermione at the end of the Gryffindor table, while Ron fended off eavesdroppers. He simply hadn't had time until then, what with all the exams he'd had that week. “We – Hermione and me, I mean – we were thinking I could use hedges. Like the ones from the maze in the Triwizard Tournament.”
“Ms. Granger is quite astute,” said the professor, which, coming from Snape, was high praise indeed. “We shall see how well your mind takes to these hedges. Legilimens.”
Harry was expecting it, this time. He allowed himself to fall backwards, suppressing the instincts that told him to fight back. He found, upon landing, that his parlor had grown a carpet, in the same shade of deep red that adorned the Gryffindor common room.
“Hmm,” said Harry, scuffing one of his trainers through it, “I wasn't expecting this.”
“As one grows more accustomed to the use of his mental parlor, it tends to furnish itself. The Headmaster, for example, did not consciously populate his mind with its vast assortment of odds and ends.”
“Does this mean that I'm getting better at this?”
“Hardly. You are growing accustomed to, rather than proficient at, Occlumency. There is a world of difference between the two.” Snape crossed his arms and eyed the carpet with some distaste. “You need to learn how to use Occlumency, instead of merely stopping at the boundaries of your as-yet insufficient ability.”
"Right, I get it, sir," said Harry, seized with the sudden urge to roll his eyes. He refrained, and asked, "What do I do with the hedges?"
"Create walls around this parlor, It should not be terribly difficult." Snape glanced pointedly at the armchairs, and then at him; Harry tried to quickly school his slightly befuddled expression. The professor sighed, and added, "Imagine the walls of the Triwizard maze enclosing this space."
“All right,” said Harry, half to himself, “here goes.” He stared at some point in the flickering darkness of his mind, where he imagined the parlor might end and the rest of his mind begin. He pictured trees, shrubs, masses of branches and leaves sprouting from the edge of the carpet, the red plush bleeding into rich browns and greens. He found himself walking forward, past the couches, past Snape, who stood by with his arms crossed; the scent of fresh soil and undergrowth assailing his nostrils. He ended up standing with one foot in the carpet, the other in a pumpkin patch that looked remarkably like Hagrid's, his palms flat against the trunk of a tree. The scene looked like a cross between the Triwizard hedges and the edge of the Forbidden Forest.
“Um,” said Harry. “Well.” He propelled himself backwards and up -- it had been a disconcerting feeling, at first, but it was rather like Portkeying and he had quickly grown accustomed to it -- and came into himself, sitting across from Snape. He glanced at his hands, then back at Snape, who coolly raised an eyebrow at him.
“There is hope for you yet,” said the man, favoring him with a smirk that could possibly be mistaken for a smile, if Harry squinted. “The next task will be to create some defenses. I would not expect a coherent system from you, but it should not be too taxing upon your mental faculties to populate the forest with a host of unpleasant creatures – you have certainly encountered them in unusual density in your career at Hogwarts."
Harry grinned ruefully, rubbing at the back of his neck. "Yeah, well, it's not like I'm asking for trouble. It just... tends to find me."
"Including the troll of five years ago?" said Snape, just a bit snidely.
"That wasn't my fault! It was – Hermione was in there, and that was five years ago! I was eleven – I had just discovered magic was real about a month before, for God's sake – how was I supposed to know that it could have killed me?"
"By its sheer size, perhaps?" said Snape.
"If you're going by size, then Hagrid could have killed me!"
"If he did not, it was not for lack of effort. There was a certain dragon, I seem to recall, not to mention a few... indiscretions, you might say, in a pub in Eastern Europe," said Snape with a curl of his lip.
"It's not like he mean to – he, well, you know what he's like – a bit rough around the edges, but pretty harmless, most of the time. Anyhow," said Harry, casting about for a less incriminating topic, "I have to put animals in the forest, right?"
"Not only animals," said Snape, taking Harry's diversion impeccably in stride, "Magical creatures, Devil's Snares, Whomping Willows – traps for the unwary. You should strive not for realism, but for damage to intruders."
"Sounds like a lot of work to maintain," Harry said, half to himself.
"It will become easier, much as the parlor comes naturally to you now."
Harry blinked at him; he had been expecting something more along the lines of a sneer and an "If the work is too much for famous Harry Potter, then perhaps I shouldn't be wasting my time on you." But not really – he didn't think Snape had said something like that and really meant it, for some weeks now. He wondered, briefly, when things had changed – and how he hadn't noticed them changing.
"Collecting kneazles, are you?" said Snape, interrupting his thoughts.
"Huh? Oh, they're not that scary – Crookshanks – that's Hermione’s cat – is part-kneazle."
Snape looked, for a moment, as though he might roll his eyes. "It is a Wizarding expression," he said instead, "equivalent to the term 'wool-gathering'. Surely after so many years at Hogwarts, you have managed to acquire some knowledge of Wizarding colloquialisms."
"Well, 's not like anyone ever taught me," Harry grumbled half-heartedly.
"Have you never availed yourself of the vast library of wizarding literature at your disposal, then?"
"I've never really had the time for that. School, you know, and Quidditch, and stuff," Harry shrugged.
"You are aware that Madam Pince has a summer lending policy, are you not?"
"Err... Hermione may have mentioned that once, but, um, I don't really have time over the summer, either." Harry flushed; it was a weak excuse, he knew, but he couldn't come up with anything more convincing.
Snape raised an eyebrow. "The summer holiday is three months long. I would think you have ample time for a few books -- not to mention your summer assignments, which bear all the signs of having been completed the night before -- amidst the undoubtedly unprofitable activity that fills the summers of all teenaged wizards."
"Um, right." He could only imagine what Aunt Petunia -- or worse, Uncle Vernon -- might do if they caught him reading Hogwarts books over the summer. He sighed, and glanced up at Snape, who was looking expectantly at him. "Look, Professor, you probably know this already, since you've been in my mind and stuff, but my relatives don't like magic. I -- I basically pretend to be a Muggle every summer." At Snape's slightly dismayed expression, he quickly added, "It's not actually that bad -- I mean, I didn't know that magic existed until I got my Hogwarts letter." Merlin, thought Harry, why was he trying to reassure Snape, of all people?
"I am not, as you seem to believe, completely ignorant of the non-magical world," said the man, his expression inscrutable, "nor, as a Head of House, unfamiliar with cases of magic-adverse Muggles. Nonetheless, it is not as though most unillustrated books are manifestly magical to the eyes of untrained Muggles."
"I don't think they'd actually bother to check -- they kind of assume that anything that comes back with me from Hogwarts is contaminated or something," Harry said with a shrug.
"Contaminated," Snape repeated, nostrils flaring. "Really."
"Er... something like that," said Harry, flushing a bit. "It's not a big deal -- just means I can't do my summer homework until get back. At Snape's raised eyebrow, he added, reluctantly, "They lock it all up."
"And your wand?" demanded Snape, his tone suddenly much colder than before. "Do you go three months without that bare minimum of protection, too?"
"I'm not that stupid!" Harry exclaimed. "I keep it with me, under my clothes. Used to stick it in my waistband, but Remus got me this holster for my birthday -- it's a bit itchy and a bit big, so I don't wear it around here, but I use it over the summer hols."
Harry could tell that Snape wasn't completely satisfied with the answer. "Really, sir. Remember that thing with the Dementors last year? How they dragged me in front of the Wizengamot? I cast the Patronus -- got me in trouble, but I had my wand, see?"
"Yes, I do remember," said the man, seeming somewhat mollified. "You say that your relatives lock up your school things?"
"Umm..." Harry looked away; he was beginning to regret having let that bit slip. "Well, just the really obviously magical stuff, like spell books. They let me keep my clothes -- my Muggle clothes, that is -- and my toothbrush, and most of my Muggle stuff, and Hedwig -- but that's mostly 'cause Order people expect to hear from me, and they'd probably get in trouble with them if she died or something."
Snape took a moment to respond. "Hedwig... is your owl, is she not?"
"Yeah." Harry didn't quite see where this line of inquiry was going, but didn't think it was particularly damning.
"And yourself?" said the man in a seeming non sequitur.
"What about me?"
"They do know..." Here, Snape coughed, as if reluctant to continue. "They do know that the same principle applies to you, as well?"
"Huh?" Harry blinked at him, and then said, "Oh, that. Yeah, some of the Order people let them know that they'd be keeping tabs on me all summer, so the Dursleys know not to do anything too horrible." Almost as soon as he had spoken, Harry realized that he had probably said a little too much. Snape was uncommonly good at getting people to talk when he so chose; it probably came from being a spy, Harry thought, or a Slytherin.
There was something in the man's eyes that scared him a little; it wasn't a nice expression, even for Snape. But try as he might, Harry could not fathom what it meant. "Too horrible?" the professor said silkily.
"Um. Never mind," Harry said quickly. "What about the hedges? Sir?"
"You mean your Occlumency shields," said Snape, taking the diversion in stride. If he noticed Harry's attempt at misdirection, he did not comment upon it. "I suppose we should see about populating your shrubbery with dangerous creatures, then."
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