Chapter 15 : Exceptions
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Devlin looked over his shoulder at the Professor. His dark eyes were even darker in the dim light, his face half cast in shadow; making his sneer even more deeply pressed.
He wasn't sure why he said the words. The desire had been small and not very persistent, but with the draught it didn't take much to make him do something foolish. The Professor's eyes sought his regard out; hard and unmoved.
"Keep walking, Mr. Potter."
Devlin turned around, his feet shuffling against the stone, his head woozy and clear all at once. Thoughts came and went and stayed without him flinching away in his mind. He felt distant from them, and yet the closest he had ever been.
"I torture myself a lot, too," he said and he could feel Snape's narrowed eyes on the back of his head. Shut up, shut up, shut up, his sharpness growled, unaffected by the calming draught. "My sharpness doesn't like me to say so, but we do."
Snape's fingers dug into his shoulder and then Devlin was spinning around to confront his shadowed face. The thought don't touch me rose waspish in his head, but he did not fear this man, and so the immediate anger and terror vanished under a wave of the draught's calming force.
"My wolf," he clarified, but Snape was already sneering the way people do when their time is being wasted.
"I am well aware of what you call it! Is it not…as calm…as yourself?"
Severus peered at him the way a Potion Master would observe a new draught.
"No, of course not. The potion doesn't work on it. You should know that," he said, the admonishment sliding off his tongue without much consideration. "There are many papers, written before Wolfsbane, which discussed the use of calming draughts on werewolves; they all write about it's failure to render any change."
Severus peered at him.
"Your wolf is very…different. Are you telling me that there is always a part of your mind that is effected differently than the other by potions?"
Devlin scrunched up his nose as he tried to follow the complex concept, and for a moment he was able to summon the feeling that maybe he really shouldn't be talking about this while he was on a potion that altered his perceptions.
"Yes, that's what I said." The wolf seemed to have no objection to Severus knowing, only what he had revealed already about torturing himself. Such unnecessary knowledge you have placed in a man you mean to dominate,his wolf growled. He felt a thrill up his spine that he always got when their minds worked together; the wolf pulling from his vocabulary, his brain pulling from the wolf's perspective to understand what he meant. He always felt most alive when he was that boyish wolf.
"Intriguing," Snape said, and spun him around to continue walking.
His mind spun out of the peaceful emptiness of sleep, the harshness of reality bearing it's weight upon him in a way that reminded him of that crazy werewolf, hands on his windpipe. For a moment he was frozen with the memory.
"You up, Devlin?" Apparently he had forgotten to close his curtains, or change into his pajamas. He turned his head to look at Andrew, answering the question. "Oh, good. I was afraid I'd have to wake you up. We'll be late for breakfast if we don't hurry up."
Devlin wasn't really hungry. His body relaxed against the bed; maybe he would just lay here until it was time for classes. Then reality tore at him some more, and he realized he was supposed to go to Snape before breakfast. His heart hammed suddenly in his chest, his fingers fumbling to throw the cover off his body. The idea of taking the original potion again made his gut wrench. He changed in front of Andrew without a thought. Grandfather had taught him a spell to tie a tie and Devlin was never more thankful. Unfortunately he didn't know a spell to tie his shoe laces. He opened his trunk and pulled out a vial of potion, tucking it into his robes. Andrew had waited for him at the door.
"You don't have to wait for me," Devlin said, as he gathered his school bag. "I have to stop at Professor Snape's office first."
"We can leave together at least," Andrew said. "Professor Snape is being pretty harsh on you. It's not like you ran away from school - some psychopath kidnapped you."
Devlin froze in front of the boy.
"Words like that have consequences you wouldn't find pleasant."
The other boy shrugged.
"They gonna use a spell to make me trip and give me a wedgie or something?" He made a face.
Devlin let all the muscles in his face relax, his eyes that nothing, nothing, nothing. Andrew shifted uncomfortably.
"No. They will be more clever about it, and they will make your life hell. School is far safer than wherever you live - and yes, they will know. You are only a mudblood to them; worth hardly more than a muggle. Do you know what they do to muggles, Andrew?"
The boy shook his head.
"It's more horrible than anything your innocent mind can think of," he replied, and then he pushed toward the door. "I like you. Just shut up and think before you get yourself hurt, Andrew."
He did not really want to see Snape after his display of such blatant weakness the night before. He had meant to blackmail the Professor, and now he was instead indebted. The humiliation of it all sent a flush across his skin and made him glare at Andrew as he left the dormitory.
Devlin was not unfamiliar with the sensation of humiliation. Each time he met the feeling, he felt that he had once more been thrown down onto his hands and knees and that the danger was regarding him from right above his down-turned head. Don't look, don't look, don't look, a part of his mind would murmur, frantic and full of freezing fear. Except that fear had never completely frozen him like it always did Maria; it shut down his body and sped up his mind, and inevitably he would realize that he did not want to die, and every bit of him would flush back into reality.
Humiliation came later; came when he would realize that in order to be afraid, in order to need to realize he did not want to die, he had to have been weak. He had always hated humiliation worst of all.
Devlin had thought he had Snape under control, but instead he was indebted to the man he had meant to blackmail. The weight of the vial in his pocket was like a pendulum, keeping him moving toward Snape's office door, despite every other desire he had to run the other way.
His hand felt heavy as he lifted his fist to knock on the door.
"It is open, Mr. Potter," Snape said, from the other side. Devlin opened the door slowly, somehow expecting an ambush. Instead Snape was seated behind his desk, and the vial was sitting on the corner of his desk, purple liquid oscillating inside the glass. He stepped into the office and shut the door. Snape looked up from his papers. "I had almost thought you might have forgotten our arrangement."
Devlin shook his head.
"There is not much which I forget, Professor," he replied. His voice was smooth and level, his lips twitching into a momentary, socially appropriate gesture of shared interest in the conversation that also acknowledged the awkwardness. Devlin had seen others do the same; somehow he thought by acknowledging the awkwardness and showing a shared interest it was meant to release the two parties from the awkwardness. He couldn't be sure though, because such intricate, seemingly innate, things usually did not make him feel like other people felt. He used them consciously, whereas he suspected other people spoke through their body in a subconscious sort of way.
"Take your potion and be on your way to breakfast, Mr. Potter."
He stepped forward.
"It is purple, sir," he said - reminding himself of his conversation with Voldemort.
Severus looked up briefly from what Devlin assumed was grading.
"Indeed. It was the synthetic nature of the main ingredient which altered the color."
Devlin was sure that must have been the Himalayan flower. He took the potion, drowned it in front of the Professor and turned to leave.
"I will take the other one off your hands, Mr. Potter."
"Let us just consider it a curiosity of mine, and a payment of yours."
Even after all these months at Hogwarts and all the years with his mum and dad, his birth name still felt strange to his ears. Half the time, when people called him Mr. Potter, his reflex turn was simply because he associated it with Harry. Hearing Devlin still often made him get lost in a momentary sense of knowing but not knowing. His brain would spark and fire, and he would instinctively shove one part of himself down while another rose forward.
He looked up from his eggs and met the regard of one of the Slytherin Prefects. Her brown eyes were narrowed with a distaste he could tell wasn't aimed athim but at whatever had interrupted her own breakfast.
"Yes, Evelyn?" Her head drew back; surprised that he knew her first name.
"The Headmaster wanted to have a word with you after breakfast," she said. Now he understood her annoyance; the Headmaster was watching to make sure she fulfilled his request. It was possible the request had even been made yesterday and she was only now doing it.
Evelyn Frost did not really fit in with Slytherin very well. She was a model student, but her blood was all wrong. Without Professors around, even the first years took her authority as a suggestion rather than a fact. She stood there, a sneer in place to cover her weariness, and waited for his response. She probably suspected he would comply to her now and say something about her out of the staffs earshot.
He smiled up at her, feeling the muscles across his face shift with that easy charm Grandfather said came all from him.
"Of course, Evelyn. Thank you for letting me know."
She swallowed, her left eyebrow betraying her further surprise.
"Thank you," she said; courteous, authoritative, and in control. He had never seen her lose her temper. In his opinion, knowing what the others had put her through, that signaled to him she wasn't someone he wanted to unnecessarily wrong.
He doubted little Tom Riddle had ever lost his temper at Hogwarts, either.
Last night he had slept, dreamlessly, in what must have been months. In someways, this recharge protected him just the tiniest bit from his terror.
Just don't bloody have a seizure in front of him, he thought, as he put more eggs into his mouth. He felt his wolf's entire agreement.
The Gargoyles that guarded the Headmaster's doors had spears for teeth. With such authentic detail, Devlin had always wondered if they were spelled, in an emergency, to animate.Today, he was simply glad that they allowed him passage, despite not knowing the password.
The little spiral staircase brought him to the top and he knocked delicately on the door. Instead of an answer, it simply opened beneath his knuckles. Surprised and a bit cautious, he stepped into the Headmaster's empty office.
For a moment he thought of sitting; strategically it would be best if the Headmaster came into the room to find him sitting with his hands in his lap, twiddling his thumbs. Devlin, however, had never been very good at doing nothing; even when it wasn't strategically his soundest option. Doing nothing had not been what had secured his survival. Perhaps, he was just very bad at unlearning habits.
So he moved forward, curiosity winning the war inside of him, and looked around the office. Fawkes was the largest he had ever seen him, staring at him inquisitively.
The bookcases led him to a nook, occupied by a tall glass cabinet. Less than three months ago, he would have thought the tiny vials inside the cabinet were potions, but now he knew better; they were memories. Initials or one-word labels were scrawled neatly across each vial.
His curiosity made his brain work feverishly to scan them all. And then his gaze froze on a small group of them.
What did the "M" stand for?
"I see the Gargoyles let you in a bit early."
Devlin's eyes peeled away from the vials and his body spun around so that his eyes could see Dumbledore. Panic and terror surfaced in his mind like quick fire, but Devlin stomped on it before it had even leaked into his veins. He smiled at Dumbledore, face unheated, lips unquivering, breath unhurried.
"Yes," he said. "I was looking for your lemon drops."
Albus smiled and sat himself behind his desk, folding his hands on the table and looking at him over his half-moon spectacles. For a moment he looked neither Grandfatherly nor powerful, but just like a wise old Headmaster. Usually, he seemed to achieve this by sugar-coating his intimidating power, or hiding behind a serene elderly persons expression. Today, he seemed to be doing neither of those. Devlin wondered how he hid it, presently.
"My lemon drops?" He asked, his eyes crinkling. "I do believe they are right here on my desk."
He reached forward and lifted the bowl, the small yellow candies rolling around inside. Devlin laughed, biting at the corner of his lip and smiling a smile he knew would convey embarrassment and amusement.
"I don't know how I missed that," he said, eyes widening, brows arching, chin tilting. Dumbledore put down the bowl.
"Hmm," Dumbledore said, eyes still crinkled, mouth still smiling. Some of his power seeped from where he had hidden it, but just enough for Devlin to remember it was there. "For future reference; some better excuses might have been that you were just looking for something to read or thought I might have been in a different room. I have heard more imaginative examples, but these tend to be the most believable."
Devlin did not answer him.
"I hope, in the next seven years, that you and I will grow in our understanding of each other. For instance, in those seven years, you will learn that if I wish to conceal something, I have better choices than my office in which to do so. Many people ask me about my memory cabinet, although none yet have recognized his initials, of course. Did you know they were memories?"
"Yes," he said, simply. His charming smile had been stripped from him, and he felt the rawness of exposure acutely. Dumbledore looked at him, slightly surprised. "My Grandfather showed me some."
"I would be curious to know what a man like him keeps in his memory cabinet. My own are very humble recollections of him as a child."
Of course, Devlin did not answer him.
"Evelyn Frost implied there was something of which we needed to speak."
"Of course, of course," Albus said, shuffling some papers on his desk and pulling one out of the pile. "I am recommending you for the Dueling Club. Usually, students need to be in third year, but you show a sufficient comprehension of Defense Against the Dark Arts knowledge, so I am making an exception. I wanted to hand the form to you myself."
"Why are you making exceptions for me?" He asked, studying the Headmaster.
Dumbledore hmm'd in thought.
"Sometimes it is good to stay busy, Devlin," Albus said thoughtfully, "and I suppose I am simply acknowledging that this might be something that could sustain your interest. I understand your school work is quite easy for you."
"Do they actually do dueling in this club?" Albus nodded. "And you reallywant me dueling other students?"
"Yes, that would be what I would expect you to do in dueling club, Mr. Potter."
"Have you talked to my dad about this?"
"Children do not require parent permission to join clubs or sports."
Devlin stared at him hard for a moment, but then he reached forward and took the offered paper. Dumbledore's signature was already scrawled across the bottom; beautiful script to rival his grandfather's handwriting. Devlin wrote his own name Devlin Augustus Potterand passed it across the desk. Dumbledore stared at the drying ink as he placed the completed seal at the top.
"Augustus; sometimes I do forget that is your middle name too."
"Hmm?" He waved a dismissive hand. "No, no - I just have an older friend who shares the same middle name."
"My father says my name came as a set, whatever that means."
"I would imagine it meant that your father did not create the name, but rather was inspired to use it."
"They're trying to bury me under paperwork as punishment," Harry said, as he came into the kitchen to set the papers down before hanging up his cloak. Alexandra looked up from some script she was writing, probably in some foreign language like Goblin, and Emma frowned down at her homework. Harry felt terrible as soon as he realized he had said anything in front of Emma, who wouldn't understand enough not to be worried.
"Rubbish," Alexandra said, winking, "they just have more confidence in you than anyone else. Obviously they need you do the important papers. It's not anyones fault there happens to be so much of it right now."
"Exactly, Daddy," she said, "it's like when Trevor says he knows something he doesn't in class and the teacher raises her eyebrows, like this, and tells him he should come to the front of the room and explain all about it."
Actually, that was, considering Emma's limited life experiences, a pretty damn close comparison to what was happening.
"Yeah, something like that," Harry said. He looked at the kitchen table - cluttered with Alexandra's work (which was safe to do in front of the ever quicker and clever Emma because it was written in some strange language) and Emma's homework, there was hardly any room for his neatly stacked pile. "I'm going to get a head start on this before dinner," he said.
He wandered into his study and laid out the folders, starting with the significant arrests this week. Halfway through the monotonous chore, his focus waned and he found himself thinking of Devlin.
Already the house seemed empty without him, a somber sort of air weighing everything down. He wished he had hugged him more, tucked him into bed, offered to help with his homework, or tried to get him to stay up late and chat over ice cream and butter beers. But instead he had let Devlin have his space, hoping the boy would reach out to him in his own time.
If Harry knew anything about his son, it was that he needed his space and that forcing him into uncomfortable situations was bound to injure their relationship.
So instead Harry comforted himself in other ways, and tried not to think too much about what Devlin would think if he knew.
The Marauder's Map opened at his command, the ink spreading across the surface and forming the hallways, classrooms, and passages that Harry still thought of as his first home.
He watched Devlin's dot at dinner as he finished out the arrest reports. When he checked on him again, shifting to the pile of murders they believed to be linked to Death Eater activity this week, he noticed that instead of heading up to his dorm like he usually did, Devlin was heading toward the third floor. There were other children heading in the same direction, although none got close enough to Devlin to make Harry think they knew him. Up toward the left, where there was a quickly-filling room.
What was that about?
Dueling Club met on Wednesday nights, which meant the Headmaster had given him the paper the same day as the meeting. The Headmaster had said to go to the third floor after dinner, take a left, and go to the fifth door. He ended up climbing the stairs with another, older, boy who kept looking at him curiously.
"Er, you need to be a third year for this club," the boy said, as he realized they were both headed for the same room, keeping his space so as to express that he wasn't accompanying Devlin.
"I have an exception," Devlin said, trying to be casual around the older boy. The older boy quirked his eyebrows and hurried on, likely thinking Devlin would realize his folly at the club itself.
For one brief moment Devlin wondered if Albus would do that; send him here to be humiliated. The thought made him pause outside the door, as students streamed in around him.
It did not really seem like something the Headmaster would do. He had his signed name in his hand, for one thing, and he suspected the Headmaster thought he would achieve something out of this arrangement, so he was not likely to sabotage it. Besides, Devlin had information, and the Headmaster had not completely given up on him, or Devlin would not have been allowed back at Hogwarts. He would not risk alienating Devlin by humiliating him.
Devlin stepped forward, grasped the knob, and pushed the door open.
The murmur and organized chaos of a crowd bombarded his senses. Some students set up chairs, while others laid out a long blue mat. There were smaller groupings doing nothing more than chatting or practicing wand movements with each other.
He was tall for his age, but he was definitely the shortest student in the room, and his handsome features were still much more boyish than any of the other males in the room. He stuck out, and soon there was a tall, not-quite-a-boy-still-not-a-man, coming towards him. He was wearing a golden shirt and black slouchy trousers that looked muggle made.
His hands were in his pockets, his shoulders casually slumped, his head slightly tilted, and his steps slow and curious. Every bit of his body language oozed confidence.
"You must be Devlin Potter," he said, quirking an eyebrow. "You look even smaller close up."
He knew it was an insult - it had to be - but the boy's blue eyes were shimmering with humor and his white teeth visible with his smile. Devlin should probably let the insult slide, since it seemed he was in charge. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed a few students stiffen at his name, and noted that some of them were Slytherins.
"I am," he said.
"The Headmaster promised you would be able to hold your own," he said, his head tilting again, a hand leaving a pocket to brush back his black locks. "Before I let you play with us, you have to prove you can at least hold a defensible shield. I don't want anyone worried about throwing a spell at you. We don't lower our abilities to match our opponents, here."
"I think I can manage to hold my own," he said, "and can show you anything you need to see to reassure you."
"Good. And just so you don't feel singled out, it's not just 'cause you're a tiny squish of a thing; I make all the newbies show me they'll be able to stop a spell."
A tiny squish of a thing.
He could feel a prickle of annoyance readying itself to become anger. He bet the boy was a Gryffindor.
"I don't think the Headmaster would have signed my paper if I couldn't."
"Great. Meet me at the mat." He began to walk away, shouting as he went for the students to clear the space, find a spot, and settle in. "You know the drill! There's a newbie here tonight. Let's make sure he'll be okay, and then we can get some practicing and dueling in."
They were standing across from each other now, mere feet apart.
"My name is Taylor, by the way," the elder boy said. "Ever dueled before?"
"Not the sort you're used too," he replied, "no one ever taught me any rules."
There - a flicker of curiosity, finally.
"We bow first," he said. So Devlin did, wand hand behind his back like Taylor demonstrated. "Draw your wand forward, now hold it in an offensive position, step back, and…we begin."
He shot the first spell as soon as he stopped talking. A jinx that would have turned Devlin's hair blue. Devlin's kept his shield purposefully weak, targeting the arrival of the spell and creating just enough of a wall to stop it; a circle of blue light coming up to meet the spell head-on. The boy frowned; weakness with the complexity of strategic placement. His perplexity made the perfect opportunity for Devlin to fire his own spell; a cutting hex flung itself from his wand, racing toward the boy as red-hot light. A translucent shield crackled around the older boy, veins of energy pulsing across it's surface.
The boy's lips parted, and Devlin flicked his wand again. A cutting hex struck at the boy's shield, and it crackled ominously beneath the onslaught. But it held.
A force propelled itself from Taylor's wand, and Devlin realized it must be some variation of the tripping jinx. It spun him, but he fell to a knee to stop himself, wand still held and aimed at Taylor. Fire erupted across the mat, charing the surface even as the charms healed it in the immediate wake of the traveling flame. Taylor's eyes widened and Devlin was completely sure he had the boy beat - all he could do was summon a shield, and he would still be pushed off the mat. Instead, water gushed from his wand with the same power as his fire, meeting the flames between them.
To keep the spells going would only drain them both, and Devlin cut his own and side-stepped the water, trying to come for a new attack from an angle.
"I think that will do," Taylor said, and Devlin had a hard time stopping himself so abruptly. The students were silent around them. Taylor approached. His shirt was wet from his own spell. Devlin smelled like smoke. "I gotta ask where you learned that fire. That was seriously impressive - a little over the top - but impressive. I'm sensing you meant to make your point quickly."
Actually Devlin had just been rather annoyed the boy had gotten him to his knee.
The students watched, and surely listened, and there was a moment when Devlin felt that strange sense of time freezing and allowing his mind to recognize that there were two ways to proceed.
"From the Dark Lord," he said, aware of the eyes on him; aware that not to give Voldemort credit was more dangerous than to defy what Albus Dumbledore or his father probably thought would be the best course of action. Of course you will take the potion, you foolish child. Of course you will, because you have chosen to play a very dangerous game. Foolish boy. This was much the same. Of course he would connect himself to the Dark Lord here, at Hogwarts, in a club little Tom Riddle would have enjoyed as much as him. One more way in which they would be the same. One more thread to tangle them. One more thing to keep him alive, when Voldemort took him again. "I buried myself in ice - but the water is a neat trick I should remember."
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