Snacks And Letters - Part 84

Author: [info]valkyriekat
Title: Snacks and Letters - Part 84
Word Count: 3556

 

~Severus~


Finally I see Sirius arrive, and he's not as late as I expected but I give him an annoyed look, a glare that I hope gives some indication of an employer-employee relationship that is not strained by friendship. I am barking up the wrong tree or perhaps at the wrong hound. I can be as cold as I wish and he will still like me. How irritating.


My lip doesn't curl despite my annoyance. Care for a house elf on the Minister's orders? I raise a brow, as if to see if he is having one on me. But he sees my face and skips the elf joke for now.


“The matters with Kingsley took slightly longer than anticipated. That and Harry grabbed me for a quick visit.”


I sound colder still at the mention of Harry. “Will you tell me the basics? What is to happen with Dearborn and the departed? And when?”


“Relax. I'll tell you in order.” Sirius tries to steer me back to my seat but I've had quite enough of sitting.


“Enough,” I snarl at him with foul intent. “We're going to tread where we can both walk between the raindrops so as not to get wet.”


“Are you calling me a skinny weakling?” Sirius says with a bark-like laugh as I lead him out into the alleyway, and tap the appropriate brick.


“Why would you think that I would insinuate such a thing? That would be the pot calling the kettle Black.”


“Ha, ha. Your sarcasm and pithy humour are lost on the initiated.” We step though the magical boundary, Sirius looking up at the sky and frowning at the lack of rain.


We barely notice where we are going and are soon in the middle of Diagon Alley, and I want to go to Eeylops Owl Emporium for Zara's treats. He hasn't had any in quite a while. But first things first. “Back to my question. What of Kingsley?” I press Sirius lightly in the chest and he doesn't back away into the display of cauldrons heaped high next to a door. Bloody Gryffindors are not easily intimidated. I smile. He knows me and backs up very slightly.


Sirius looks twice at me, and decides to start speaking again.


“Fine, as I said before you started on raindrops, I told them you'd checked the cave, that it is safe to enter. I mentioned Caradoc's accusation against you in hope that Kingsley would understand. I said Caradoc was impatient, and Kingsley was in Gryffindor with him. Kingsley understands that you had no choice but to act as you did, and Kingsley seems to approve of you.


He'll look at the cave with us likely on Monday or Tuesday. Percy will send an owl,” Sirius finishes.


“I am very grateful Weasley did not land in Slytherin house on sheer ambition. What a self-serving pompous prat.”


“Are you sure you didn't want him in Slytherin? Self-serving prat sounds like an accurate...”


I push Sirius into a puddle that is showcasing the spitting rain. He sprays me with his foot. We're no better than small misbehaving children.


“Anything else?” I say as I inspect the mud damage. Gryffindors have a talent with mud. I do recall Harry mudslinging most literally at Draco. They didn't splatter at the Black Christmas party. Things change, more than they should. I would die of self-loathing if I knew at sixteen who I walk with and in what manner. Sirius reminds me that I asked a question. He frowns with a hint of mischief not yet managed.


“I had to get a license to keep Kreacher. House elf owner's license. Pass a test.” The rain is coming down harder on the cobblestones. We're nearly at out destination but we're back at this nonsense.


“Excuse me? You're pulling my leg. Or Hermione Weasley is pulling the Ministry's leg. The elves – does she really think of Elfish welfare? Just her own self-righteous...”


“She means well. She's a Muddleborn, one has to expect muddled thought.”


“So Regulus taught you something,” I smirk as we enter Flourish and Blotts.


Someone whistles. People stare at us, silence, and then more silence among the bookshelves and the book laden tables. I smile, hoping Sirius thinks I cause this kind of reaction wherever I go. But this nice image gets stomped into dirt by a teenage girl squealing, “Merlin's beard, it's Black with Snape! Did the Headmaster lose his mind?” I recognize the girl, she's in my house. Her friend giggles hysterically. I do not approve of this dimwitted behaviour, but how to stop it?


I grab Sirius' arm in a friendly way. I would never do this but I loathe squealing. I lead him to the counter and ask for assistance with our purchases.


That's not necessary,” Sirius says, straightening his shoulders and letting them fall back in pride. Evident pride that he is with me? I think not. I narrow my eyes.


“You prefer to enter the arena without a shield? Even lions will eat you for being with me just because I exist if you know what I mean.” I recall the words of James Potter so long ago.


“I'd call you paranoid but considering the surroundings...” He lets his voice trail away. I won't bite at him, he wants to be the brave Gryffindor that knows no caution? We both know better.


The attendant takes the list I prepared and Sirius' list and says, “We have the teachers manual for each subject. This is the second year since they've been introduced. However, I have never heard about them actually being used. Bloody busybodies.” She stops short and says, “Blimey. I didn't mean...” No skin off my nose but I won't tell her so.


“Blunder on by all means. It's just yet more meaningless noise.” I snap at her. Perhaps I have a bit of a short temper. Perhaps.


“We don't mind hearing what you have to say at all.” Sirius glowers at me. “I hear the Standard Book of Spells years one through seven have been reissued with a lot of serious revisions.”


“No doubt,” I say with a grimace. The assistant giggles. Being a bookshop employee she understands why I smile so ironically.


“They were rewritten with the knowledge of the Ministry, but luckily the Headmaster here took things in hand and reminded them that other Headmasters had not needed the Ministry to tell him how to run his school. A good thing, the changes. A few of the Defence teachers have been...very shady.” She looks at me again and I wish she'd stop eyeing me. I regret being with her. I remember her being a Ravenclaw. Chang.


“Which people wrote the revisions? Were they decent?” Sirius asks, grinning at my displeasure.


“Ask the Headmaster!” Chang says.“He wrote all of them.”


I smile tersely and turn away from Chang and look at Sirius, speaking in a barely audible tone, “What else does one expect of the Half Blood Prince? My hushed-up pen name?”


“Arrogant berk.” But I can tell he's impressed.


“You'll note the texts don't contain Sectumsempra or Levicorpus,” I say with a smirk.


We wander the shelves as a pair, feeling the eyes following us.


Sirius buys his set books for the year, and buys a number of other volumes, mostly obscure spell books and a tattered old book on magical creatures. I want to shop separately but the giggling, staring or hissing customers vex me to the point I know I'll need to use the spell I created last night in the Leaky Cauldron.


“Sirius,” I whisper at his side, “I'm going to cast a newly developed spell on us. It only works if there are two or more people. Put your foot on mine. This spell has no name but the Dunderhead Repelling Charm.”


Sirius looks a little alarmed, but hides it well. “We appear to others as together but disconnected, not together, which of course is the truth. It is a mind control spell that overcomes distance, and works on the weak-minded in particular. We have likely no cause to worry.”


“Older magic in a new way. I like it. What's the incantation?”


I draw my wand and aim it at our feet. Sirius obligingly puts one foot on my shoe. I aim, and chant slightly, “Celate Maxima, Celate Maxima...” I murmur it softly watching the interest wane but not disappear. Those who had looked curious or intrigued now lose their focus, and they turn to other things. There are a lot of weak-minded people on this planet


“Will it work at Hogwarts?” Sirius enquires, watching the clueless customers.


“We shall have to wait and see.” My tone is clipped.


“I hope we can use it.” Sirius has his head to one side like an inquisitive hound.


“We can send letters.” I say shortly. “I'm going to select some books for myself, excuse me. I will see you at the check-out.That spell isn't the only mind control going on. I look at the books I bring to the check-out, and see Sirius looking disgruntled. He's buying other books as well and damned if half of them aren't the same as mine, and not schoolbooks. But I still have to pick up at least one book in Knockturn Alley.


I have a small number of items for sale there as well, whose profit goes to the Spellman's Literacy Fund. Items confiscated from last term. A Ravenclaw had a jinxed textbook that ate one's hand. A Slytherin had several cursed Dark Detectors and and a wand that had been altered until it produced nothing but hexes. A badger actually had a wasting watch, a watch that burned away the flesh of the wrist and was nearly impossible to remove.


Every term there were more.


One Dark Detector I have put aside as not for sale. It was affected by a complex curse – but that is it, that it was a complex curse. It took hours of using deviations on counter-curses known and unknown that I managed to make it workable. A miniature Foe-Glass the size of a paperback book. I'm distracted by my thought, that I told Sirius we can send letters. I obviously fear friendship.


I don't want to just send letters, I want there to be an open partnership between us, as educators and a friends. He would say I'm insecure and he'd be right, but where have I ever been provided the stability to nurture security? Sirius stands next to me with two overladen bookshop bags.


The apothecary and Eeylops next?” I suggest. “And then a quick turn down Knockturn Alley?”


In reply he puts his foot on mine. He's determined to pursue our friendship, and I did him a nasty disservice in telling him we'd exchange letters. I scowl at our feet. I cast the Dunderhead Repelling Charm again, and I smile at him. “Better than if it were not necessary,” I say, and Sirius' eyes widen. He looks away. I haven't any idea what he's thinking. That will change when we're practising Occlumency. Has he taken the hint yet? I want to see “eye to eye” on this.


We are quiet in Eeylops with all the hooting in the otherwise silent shop, and distracted in the Apothecary. Sirius buys a few potion ingredients. As I remember he wasn't half bad in classes as a student. When he tried. Sometimes when he didn't try. The strings of fangs in his hand have a dull sheen. These particular fangs should be more luminescent and I tell Sirius so. He ends up buying some Gingko Biloba an antidepressant herb and a jar of St John's Wort. Am I that depressing? He has his reasons, after years in Azkaban, and being shut away and then presumed dead.



**


I hope that really was an offer to teach me Occlumency,” Sirius says as we leave the Apothecary. “I know that's what you meant. And Legilimency?”


Of course not. No one treads the paths of my synapses. But if you are willing I will tread yours. And teach you to block the forays I or others make in your neural pathways.” I smile grimly. This should be interesting, now that he has mentioned it.


I pause.


“Step one is to calm yourself. Empty yourself of emotion, learn discipline of your mind. I assume you know this much from your term in...”


Azkaban, yes. And I really hope you don't mean to visit it in my mind. I may surprise you.” Sirius looks both haunted and smug. How does he manage that?


I ignore him, but not really. I'm taking note of his strengths and his weaknesses.


You need even more aptitude. It requires practise. For instance, listen to your heartbeat, it focuses you, and no need to worry, because if it stops you're dead anyway.” It was how I started when I learned.


Sirius chortles.


I stop near Knockturn Alley and ask Sirius to hold a paperback in his hand. He does so, looking amused.


Do you control your heartbeat? Do you think you have control over the book falling to the ground?”I ask, waiting for a millisecond for him to think and then...


WHAP! I knock the book out of Sirius hand and the book flops on the wet cobblestones. I duck and pick it up, slightly damp in my fingers.


I thought not,” I sneer. Sirius blinks, then recovers almost immediately.


I had a suspicion...when you asked...” Sirius says.


Suspicion is not control...but it helps.” I smirk.


Why would it help with me? I'm not your antagonist, I want to learn, and I trust you. I'm not hiding anything, so you probably find it works differently on me. But you're the expert.” Sirius shrugs.


“I am not teaching an adversary...that is true. But ask yourself how much you want me in the interior of your mind.”


“I had my mind made up the moment you offered,
” he says immediately. I wonder if he planned this response.


“We'll see, later. For now, let's just skulk down Knockturn Alley.”


You're on,” Sirius says, nodding his shaggy head and we slip into the grey alley where so much has been done, taught, sold, bought, concealed and conceived. No one has spotted us entering, and no one here wants to be caught looking. Not at the Dark Headmaster and his controversial staff appointment companion, who they don't really connect with me.


The weak-minded, anyways.


Before we go, however, I point to the robe shop, the one my mother worked part-time in, Twilfitt and Tattings. “I hate to interrupt the fun bit, but I do need to go in here before we go into Knockturn Alley proper.”


So the next stop is Twilfitt and Tattings, where I always buy my robes. They're the only seamstresses who have enough sense to make robes with wand pockets that are very easily accessible. That and they know me. Sirius is feeling fabrics flow over and between his long fingers.


He makes no comment as I am measured and pinned, and the robes will be sent to the Headmaster's office. Sirius buys some existing dress robes that are easily altered, and I note the breadth of his shoulders. He's rather small in the waist. He has narrow hips too. Same build as me, only broader in the shoulder. He takes the Prussian blue robes in their fitted casing, and folds them over one arm. All those books. If he buys anything in Borgin and Burkes he'll tip over from overload.


Down into the alley through the small knots of people and the longer deserted stretches, past shops selling artifacts from raids, artifacts from fires, artifacts that had their origin right there. Past a filthy pub – why does the Dark Arts attract such places? - and into a seedy second-hand bookshop. In the showcase is a black velvet hand holding a copy of “Disguises for the Disgruntled.”


More bookshelves, more books, and though I spent every cent of the gift certificate for Andromeda, I buy two more books. The text from Sirius' library, Possession and Reanimation and another copy of The Occluded Mind, which is at home in the other obscure volumes. So few people use it. They say too soon old, too late smart. Too soon a fool, too late concealed, I think. I have been in training not to trust for at least twenty-five years. Perhaps that is its own foolishness.


Sirius keeps to his business. Due to the nature of the establishment and our purchases, we do not look to see what each other has bought. We exit and walk up the cold grey stone with large, grimy windows and wilted hands, collarbones, and cursed and jinxed who-knows-what. I want to know what, my curiosity is piqued before we even enter Borgin and Burkes.


There is a tinkling of a bell as we open the front door of the ancient establishment. Young Burke and elderly, stooping Borgin look around from their Prophet-gazing. Newspaper reading. I've never met the granddaughter of Caractacus Burke, but I'm told she has blazing red hair and hazel eyes. Belinda is her name. But she is not a dead ringer for Lily, would that she were for her sake. She has the stature and build and all the looks of Dolores Umbridge.


Sirius walks over to her first. They seem to know each other. Sirius makes some enquiry while I look at the display items. A deck of playing cards black as soot that gleams like opals. A sign before it reads: 'Cursed'. No doubt, but I would like to know how. Beside it are two other items. One is a pair of white kid gloves with a strong Attachment Jinx. It will bring what the seeker needs. Cost? Only three thousand Galleons. Not really dark at first thought but then... I look at the last object. A dog's skull. I wince. I dislike animal remains being used for such purchases. The sign: Hound's Head. Train your pet using a low-level set of jinxes activated by touching the skull. Price...I turn away with a grimace.


Borgin is right beside me now. “Very pleasant to see you, Headmaster.”


I bring out my box of Dark artifacts and he says,
“For sale?”


For trade, and perhaps a small profit as well.” I smile coldly at him, and his manner is slippery as Mundungus Fletcher's armpit.


What would you wish to purchase, Headmaster?” We start to haggle immediately. We throw a few questions each other about the items for sale. And the card deck- what did it do?


“Nothing like Divination. I'll give you a thousand for the Dark Detectors, I remember them well. Still carrying the same curses I see, but we're down the Foe-Glass.”'


“I tamed the Foe-Glass.”
I say this very softly. Sirius isn't staring, nor is Belinda Burke. They're still caught up in conversation.


Very gooood,” Borgin says in his none-too-pleased tone, equally softly. “How did you manage..”


I strum my fingers on the counter. “Can we get back to the card deck?”I snap.


“Of course, Headmaster. It forces whoever touches it to produce a curse, not an Unforgivable but a curse of moderate strength and which they have no idea how to work. Perhaps you can tame this as well.”


Shrewd man, Borgin. He knows I enjoy making things simple where there is complexity and thing complex where there is simplicity.
“I'd say the wasting watch and the Dark Detectors cover it. The hand-eating textbook and cursed wand I'll take store credit.”


Very well,” he says in that slick voice. He scratches his quill on parchment, and hands me a slip of parchment with the store credit and his initials. I read it and then slip it into my box, along with the deck of cards carefully wrapped in black fabric. All that is left of my Death Eater robes.


Sirius appears beside me holding his many packages. I have many but my load is lighter. He doesn't appear to have bought anything, but Blacks are not as innocent as they seem. Ever.


“Ready to go?” I ask.


“Yes,” I say. We walk together, seemingly apart, back to the mouth of Diagon Alley. There is still the occasional outbreak of hissing from a Gryffindor or other who simply cannot help themselves. Slytherin house would have a lot to teach them. And so could Sirius Black.


We're off to Hogwarts,” I say. I find myself echoing a child of eleven speaking, telling Lily that we're really going. “But separately, of course.”


Of course,” Sirius echoes and I watch him enter the short queue for the Floo Network. When I see him next, he really will be under my employ. See you on Saturday, Sev,” he calls before entering the emerald green flames.



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October 2013

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