Snacks And Letters - Part 88

Authors: [info]sionna_raven and [info]valkyriekat
Title: Snacks and Letters - part 88
Word Count: 4379

~Sirius~

Regulus has left his canvas to explore the castle. What did I expect from a teenager? I'm alone in a sea of green. All right, let's make this room inhabitable for a sane person. Kreacher won't be back any time soon. Away with silver and gold, serpents and lions! Sigh! That's better. I keep the green, changing it to a light mint, white ceiling. Now that's a place to think clearly. A bit of grey here and there. Grey, not silver! I grab my bags and unpack the books Kreacher forgot.

Open the window. The view over the grounds is still familiar. Hogwarts once meant freedom to me. Does it still?

Why is Severus so interested that I learn Occlumency? I will tell him what he asks for. I'll try. Lily. I wish I could tell him what she said. I've tried in my letter. She told us off, when we bullied him. She always told us off about any of our pranks. I thought her an annoying nag for most part of six years. If I'd been asked to say anything positive about Lily Evans before 6th year, it had been she's pretty and quite clever and she's very kind to Remus. When I try to envision her during our first years, I see her surrounded by her friends, talking to Remus, screaming at James and me. I hardly remember seeing her with Sev outside class. I knew she was friends with him, but not because she acted like it. Regulus told me about it. Regulus talked a good deal more about Sev than Lily. ' He's not as bad as you think' she said to me, when she told me how to conjure real roses end of 2nd year. I can't tell him that, can I?Maybe he's right I should learn to close my mind. I think I know how, not the way he suggests. He can't fool me; just closing is not what he did with Voldemort. He must have done what I did to keep the Dementors at bay, give them things they can't feed on, memories they can't use against you.

***

Severus is not in the Great Hall for dinner, headmaster's privilege. I only stay for a few bites. There aren't many students who stay during the holiday break. They stare and whisper. Minerva and Neville make friendly conversation. Minerva seems a bit worried that my stunt made Severus angry.


“He'll come round, don't worry. I apologized to him. He even added to the decoration of my rooms, before he left.”


Minerva isn't fully convinced, but she tries to share my optimism.


“Your rooms? There have been rumours your elf has been very busy for the last few days.”


I snigger. “Nicely put, Minerva. Kreacher has been a bit overenthusiastic recently. I've put it back to a normal level. He decorated everything in Gryffindor colours. I mean everything! Walls, ceiling, carpets!”


“Good Godric! That explains Severus' mood.”


“Not quite, he seemed to think it funny. He doesn't need to try and sleep under golden lions and silver snakes. Do want to have a look after dinner? For a glass of sherry and advice to a horribly nervous new teacher?”


“Maybe you should ask the Deputy Headmaster and Head of Gryffindor?”


Neville blushes and stares down at his plate. I remember Slughorn's question. Does he really think I want his job?


“Of course, would you like to join us, Neville? I need any advice I can get. I think these students scare me more than the headmaster.”


Neville smiles shyly.


“They already adore you. I don't think they talked about anything else than your bike this afternoon and I've seen a few old Witch Weekly passed around.”


“Please, no! I do need your advice desperately.”


We agree to meet in about half an hour and I return to my rooms to sort out a few more things. Kreacher arrives a few minutes later. He looks a bit disappointed about my alterations. I explain to him that I need something more neutral and lighter. The red might have scared the Slytherin students and made the headmaster nervous. Regulus is back and he agrees. That settles it. Kreacher only wanted to do me a favour. I guess I have to leave most of the bedroom unchanged for the moment. I ask him, if he had brought some liquor for the guests I'm expecting. He presents me with a well-sorted bar behind a door in the bookshelves.

When Minerva and Neville arrive I give them a tour. They show tremendous self-control. Minerva addresses Kreacher.


“You worked a miracle. Your master can really be proud of you.”

Kreacher beams happily.


“It's just.... don't you think that the red and the gold would look even brighter and more regal with a white ceiling? We do it like that in Gryffindor Tower. Allow me. I can change it back, if it doesn't work.”


Minerva takes out her wand and the ceiling turns white. Kreacher looks at me. I smile and pray that he believes her. He does.


“You've saved my life.” I whisper while we return to the office.


We spend a pleasant evening together. Kreacher's sherry is excellent. They give me a short overview on the teachers I don't know, yet and a rather sad account on my predecessor. Neville took over as much of his lessons as he could squeeze in. He'll give me his notes.


“They know how to do spells, but they lack any kind of theory.”


“I expected as much from what Ginny told me. I guess they will hate me in a few weeks.”


Minerva throws me a very stern look.


“You don't take this lightly, do you?”


“Do you think Severus had hired me, if I did? I really wanted this job and I want to do it properly.”


“Sirius, I know you can do it, if you really want to. I'm so glad that you and Severus have become friends. He needs a friend, someone he can trust. And so do you.”


“I think he has more friends than he knows, Minerva.” I reply. “Now give me a bit of practical advice how to deal with dangerous, under-age beings.”


“Don't accept chocolate from a female student, especially not in the first week after there was an article about you in the papers.” Neville mutters and Minerva bursts out laughing.


“I think Sirius has known that rule since his 3rd year.”

I have, but I'm interested in Neville's story. We laugh a lot about various pranks and mishaps in a young teacher's life until the depart around midnight.



~Severus~


I wait for Sirius to enter my office at nine in the morning. I spent some time discussing his case with Regulus. He makes a good go-between, interpreting each others' madness to us both. But he can't take away my my scorn about the bike trip, not that he hasn't tried. There are giggling girls in the halls discussing how they'd love to “ride his motorbike” and boys muttering about “I need to get sirius about how I handle my bike.” Petty student nonsense. Even Regulus seems impressed. I am not.


But I push this from my mind. I have to teach him to close his mind to me. I know two Slytherin students, Sixth year Emil Jugson and Seventh year Briony Wilkes, both with parents in Azkaban, want to rid the school of blood traitors, especially a Gryffindor Black with a Dark reputation he never earned. They seek to find his weaknesses and give him a nervous breakdown.


This is my excuse to teach the lessons that I am sure he likely knows are meant to block myself. I want him to take the skill and hone it until I am no longer able to penetrate his mind's defences. I am so tempted.


He needs to learn the next stage, the planting of images. I suspect from the first attempt he already knows how to do something like this. I'd like to dig into his neurons. I stop myself. What I really want is to look at his mind and see his lies, not his truth.


Jugson and Wilkes. Nearly harmless. What about the Muddleborns of the new era? And their blessed Muddleborn parents? They want to see Darkness and they will search for it ad infinitum. Sirius may have fiddled with Dark magic but Death Eater? He never showed the slightest interest or inclination.


I glare at the door Sirius is to enter through. I have decorated my own office. It is a muted grey with a touch of silver and shelves everywhere. There is not as much dark wood and no black. There are all the samples and solution, but on teak wood. Kreacher begged to help. He wants to help Sirius and me. I want to help Sirius, if I can needle him from time to time about his rash choices. He never made as stupid a decision as I did in becoming a Death Eater. He gets my old reputation. The one that never goes away, just fades a bit like the Mark itself.


I don't want to receive the letters that are bound to come. The angry ones and worse, the congratulations on having assigned a sensible member of staff who will teach the children the Dark Arts they so need to learn.


I need to realize that Sirius is tarred with the same brush I am, to an almost equal degree. The door opens and Sirius comes in. He's usually punctual.


Severus,” he says, nodding his head. “I got your note. We're going to have another go?” He looks a little defiant. What else is new?


“Sirius. You're late.”


Three minutes...” he protests.


“Four minutes and thirty-six seconds.” I snap. “Have a seat, a little further from the fire than last time. We don't need you singed as nearly happened before.”


“You noticed?” A small embarrassed grin appears on Sirius' face.


“I watch. I listen. And I can think as well.” My answer needle-sharp.


“Sev, why are you teaching me Occlumency? There is a purpose. You are a Slytherin after all.”


“It is precisely because I am a Slytherin that you need Occlumency. That and there two students, also Slytherins, planning to use it to drive you away from the school using Legilimency. Wilkes and Jugson. They are capable. But they are not the danger. I am.” It costs me a lot to tell him so.


“Why?” Sirius has his head to one side.


“I like to watch. I like to listen. And I can think as well.” I wave a hand to silence him, but there is no need. He is watching me with an expression of shrewdness. Good.


“How? Though I think I can guess parts of it.”


“Sit down.” It's an order and Sirius looks fed up and obedient in one glance. That's talent. He sits. I look at the left hand of my desk, where there is a bottle of elf-made wine and a flagon of firewhiskey and say, “I'd offer you a drink if I didn't think it would lower your defences.” Fall for it. Fall for it.


“You think one drink would damage my chances? Is that....a bet?” Sirius has both brows raised and that shrewd look did not disappear.


“I'm not Ludovic Bagman. You want all your faculties...” False front. This may be the last day I can enter his thoughts in this way. I have a wager with myself that I stay out once he is able to fool me.


“I'm one of the faculty. I had better have all my faculties,” Sirius jokes.


“Very funny. Judging by your entrance I'd say not.” I must have my headlights on, beyond the typical glare. But behind the cutting is amusement on my part, waiting for the catch...


“I'll take your dare. It is a dare...?” He quips, head on an angle as it so often is, like he's trying tor rid himself of fleas.


“Of course it is a dare, and I won't be able to needle you much if you prove adept tonight. I will be trying to gain access to your worst thoughts, what I see of them, and make a character assessment judging by the results. Are you worth me toying with your mind?”


“Stop, you're doing it already. I take the dare, and here's betting you don't get what you want.”


“It is a dare, not a bet.” I summon the firewhiskey and two shot glasses, and pour out a measured ounce in each glass. “To being a tough nut to crack,” I say. I want resistance.


“To not cracking at all,” Sirius replies, with a triumphant bark. We drink, or I appear to.


“To work. Defences. You can block me using any spell, up to a medium strength curse. But I want you to use any strategy to empty your mind and refill it with false, mediocre memories, those that seem the most related, because utter harmlessness isn't a strategy. You need to fill the image in my mind with a false front. Imagine. Breathe slowly, inhaling through the nose for the count of ten, hold for the count of twelve, exhale for the count of eight. Or any permutation you find useful. Lie to me and make me believe it. Repel the 'feel' of me in your head. I suggest jinxes. Keep all of this in mind.”


“Information overload. Let me think. I'll take another firewhiskey.” Sirius looks...well, sirius. Recklessness and danger and he loves it.


“I dare, I don't pry you off the floor.” I smirk horribly at him.


“I'm ready to give it a first go.” We both stand, mirroring raising our separate wands.


I concentrate, breathing in, as I count down “Three – two – one – Legilimens!


Pettigrew in the middle of a Muggle street. Flash of an explosion.


Sirius cowered in the corner of a dungeon. Darkness! No way out! Padfoot lying on a dungeon floor. Dead rats! Bartemius Crouch.


I withdraw. Sirius is kneeling with his eyes closed, but they flash open. I speak before he has gained his breath. “Make at least some attempt. Or I will draw my conclusions about your strength of character that will truly disappoint.”


He stands in his dark blue robes and looks at me, concentrating this time, I can tell. “Three – two – one – Legilimens!


A dog lying on a pebbled beach. An old Muggle woman kneeling at its side. Padfoot in front of a fireplace. The old woman is feeding him toast dipped in chicken broth. Padfoot is shivering in feverish dreams, shaking, trembling, turns into a man. The woman stares at him in shock.


That is a lie I can begin to believe. Or was it truth? I sense some truth and some fabrication. Then I see a wreck of a man up against a wall, smelling salt and decay and listening to seagulls. His hair is matted and filthy. I am blocked by memory after memory of hearing seagulls... his way of tedious surrender is not surrender. It drives me back....with each seagull cry I am pushed into my own mind...


The Hogwarts Express. A boy wearing plain black robes with a white shirt and black tie. He tells the red-haired girl that he'll be in Slytherin for sure. There's nowhere better. She giggles and …


That never happened.


I push back to Sirius, with the endless sea salt and terrible lonely cries... and pull out, leaving us both breathless.


“You're not shabby. Very few use that defence. It works better for some than others. Were they memories made false by how they are presented?.....That Muggle...who was she?"


Sirius smiles reminiscently. "That woman, Annie Fraser, saved my life after Azkaban. She took Padfoot in and nursed me back to health."


"Despite your alarming change. Did she not call the police?"


"She isn't the kind to call the coppers. Or so she said. She recovered pretty fast, asked if I was a selkie."


"Selkies usually are seals not dogs. And how long did you stay with the Muggle? Had she heard stories of the gaol of Azkaban?" He had my curiosity piqued.


"A few days. She wouldn't let me go, until I was halfway well again. I've told her everything. I didn't care for Ministry laws. She deserved an explanation. She has kept my secrets."


"I would like to meet this elderly Muggle some time. I am not one to spread stories."


Sirius laughs. "She always says I should bring a friend, when I see her. You'll like her. Her herbal potions are really good.”


“Harry and this Annie must get along famously.” For once I'm not sarcastic.

“Harry has never asked, nobody has. Wizards don't get in a situation to depend on a Muggle's mercy. That simply doesn't happen.”


I let Sirius pause, and then I pause for him to go on to the next sentence.


“I used my real memories to defend me. Better than trying to use a false image.” He smiles wryly.


“Unless you are trying to feed false information.” I am reminded that he was never a spy. We're both sitting now.


“Firewhiskey?” Sirius asks, his head once more cocked to the side.


I actually laugh.


“What do I win as a prize?” Sirius puts down the bottle of Firewhiskey and pours us both a glass of elf-made wine.


“Knowledge that you can beat Severus Snape in a mind game. I was hoping to prove to you that even with a handicap, Occlumency can be achieved. I acted the part of villain once again. I didn't touch the Firewhiskey beforehand.”


“You'll touch it now.” Sirius is amusing when he growls. But I don't want to see the teeth. I drink.


One last time,” I breathe, a twisted grin on my face. “More evenly matched. Are you prepared? Try your best to think of nothingness, of nothing at all, clear your mind.”


Sirius nods. His hair reflects the torches and the frolicking flames of the fireplace. I bare my teeth. He does the same. “Three – two- one – Legilimens!”


~Sirius~


Rictusempra!” Blocked and backfiring at me …. Laughter, Lily's crystal clear laughter, sending brooms after us to chase us from the kitchen. I can feel him in my mind, the fury, the despair.

It's like keeping Dementors at bay. The more you cling to hope and happiness, the more they can take from you. I feel the cold of the Dementors again and see him move his wand. Cold and darkness, no way out! Dead rats! Torches........Coldness, seagulls, water....


I try to concentrate on nothing.... Nothingness, cold, silvery, misty nothingness! Padfoot running nowhere. NO! Something...warm, cosy something.... kitchen fire. Remus scolding me for watching the fire. Yellow sparks, red tongues licking at wooden logs. Dancing flames, blue flames, blue eyes penetrating my mind..... a wall of fire!


I'm hit by a gush of cold water. Severus is swearing. The rug at our feet has turned to ashes. I must have concentrated too much on fire while holding my wand


“You're worse than your godson. I've told you to empty your mind and calm it, not to set the room on fire,” he snarls.


It has worked, hasn't it?"


At the next attempt I'm trying to think of what really matters. I think of Severus. Severus as I see him, as I saw him without recognizing him.


.“How did you figure that out? I mean it sounds like you've given it a lot of thought.”

Lily giggles. “I didn't. Severus explained it to me.“.....

..An empty corridor, only the two of us, leaning against opposite walls, panting from the fight. I stretch out my hand to a worthy opponent.....

. Remus and I returned to the forest. Severus was gone only the robes remained.....

..The lake shore, dark and cold. The stag has disappeared. The Dementors are returning. Severus wrestles his wand from my hand. I await the Kiss to finish it. It's over.

The Patronus is back. The four-legged silver creature drives away the Dementors. A stretcher, a blanket. The doe holds off the Dementors...............


Severus withdraws from my mind. He looks pale.


“You saw it? You knew?”


I shake my head. “I saw the doe Patronus, but I didn't recognize it. I still can't make the connection. It didn't look like Lily's at all.”


Severus stares at me completely baffled. I try to explain, try to make sense of what I've never understood since Harry claimed that Severus' Patronus was the same as Lily's. It wasn't!


“Hers was a doe and yours is a doe, yes, but that's all. It's like saying Padfoot and Fang are the same, because they are both dogs. Harry has made the same mistake with Dora's Patronus. It was a large canine, but it was a wolf not a dog. Have you ever seen Lily's Patronus?”


Severus shakes his head.


“Dumbledore said it was a doe.”


“When did you say you learned to cast the spell? From Regulus in 6th year, if I remember correctly. We only learned it in 7th year, private lessons with Dumbledore for the new Order recruits. Your Patronus was a doe before Lily even had one. Wait, I think I know a picture of the doe I saw at the lake. You can tell me, if it's correct.”


I let my eyes wander over the bookshelves. I think I've seen one of Regulus' books on them. Tales about knightly wizards, warriors from a time before time, before the Muggles ruled. Kreacher read from them, when we were little and Regulus loved it. I loved it, too.

I've found the one I've been looking for.


“Look at this picture. This is the Patronus I saw.”


The illustration shows a young warrior wizard and his familiar. The knight goes an a quest. The next pages show the doe leading the knight through dark forests and over bare mountains. The wizard fights evil and Dark creatures. He discovers magic secrets and treasures.


“Is this your Patronus?”


“Yes, it looks like mine, but....”


“You don't get it, do you? This is your doe, your guardian, your guide on your quest. Lily's Patronus had nothing to do with this. This represents your inner self, your strive for knowledge and great deeds, your ambition..... your own goodness.”


“You show your true nature again. Merciless hound tearing your game apart. You've got to take away the last bit I could rely on.”


Severus still doesn't understand. He can be such a bloody idiot. I call for one of his ugly portraits.


“Go find my brother. Tell him he's needed here immediately!”


Severus has lowered his face into his hands. I want to give him my support, put my hand on his shoulder, but I know that he needs to hear it from someone he trusts. Regulus arrives within minutes. He pushes the healer out of his frame and looks around. He sees the open book.


“By Salazar! Sirius, you didn't try to tell him the truth about his Patronus, did you?”


Severus raises his head. “Regulus!” he cries out.


Sev, I recognized it immediately the moment it took shape. It was so right for you, so perfect. And you started blabbing about Evans. I knew there was no point to tell you the truth. You were deaf and blind when it came to her. I gave you the book in hope you figured it out yourself.”


Get out!” Severus doesn't shout which makes it even worse. Reggie disappears immediately and I think he's right.


~Severus~


I cannot be around them, put up with their or anyone's company. Regulus is gone in a flash and Sirius moves in haste to my office door. They're attempting to drive me insane? The thistle in the soul, the way they twist it? The Blacks have always been given to sadism. Perhaps not but I feel some need to accuse them. They can't mean it. It's like a wound, and they have the salt. A wound I wasn't aware of, but to my even greater chagrin something I have considered before. That we weren't the same doe, each the selfsame Patronus.


But this book! I pick it up and hurtle it after Sirius. He just let me see some pretty shaky memories. I should trust him. I asked him here. He is not trying to torture me, he thinks he is giving me a compliment, that's strange. My honour-bound familiar? I think not. Me a knightly wizard on some quest? A symbol perhaps, nothing more.


Zara is rustling on his perch. I feel insane as I do this. I pick up the book, crumpled at the door Sirius disappeared through. I carefully flick through the pages to the image so like my Patronus. The knight looks noble of course. She, the true doe, leads but she isn't Lily. If I could only see Lily's doe. “Is this my Patronus?” I ask Zara like a blithering idiot. He clicks his beak several times and hoots as if annoyed.


A little bird told me.. I may as well ask Alexi as well., but she's off hunting.


Regulus' involvement confirms for me that they are not attempting to cut me down. Something Regulus has hidden for so long....but wait, he's a portrait of a teenager that knew my teenage self, and at the age of sixteen I would never have accepted that the does could be different.

Some compliment. Though perhaps it is. As if to say,
“You aren't honourable in the way you thought you were, but in some way more in keeping with your Slytherin nature.” That's not so bad then. But...


It's like losing her and gaining myself all over again. There was grief and acceptance and work to do the first time around, and all I can see now is grief. I cannot mirror her. It is about time I leave her, she didn't want me to pine after her. She … was never my doe. I was my own doe. How many times do I have to repeat it until I can feel it?


The clock chimes twelve. I think the school can do without their Headmaster's presence at lunch.


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October 2013

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