Snacks and Letters - Part 95

Author: [info]sionna_raven and [info]valkyriekat
Title: Snacks and Letters
Word Count: 4180

~Severus~


Zara wakes me at five o'clock with a loud hoot. I'm still immersed in half-dream, half-memory. I let the feeling of bitterness wash over me, wishing I could forget the images in my mind. It wasn't a dream. I don't often remember dreams. When I do they generally have a basis in fact. I sit up slowly, as if waiting for the memory to fall into my pillow. Nasty thing, the mind, but it can me tamed. I know how to chase such images safely out of the way in case some dolt attempts Legilimency on me. I am not upset because it is a bad memory. I am irritated by the fact that it was a good one.


Zara rustles her wings and puts her head under beneath her feathers. She's used to the snarling. I let the images play through my mind and allow the cinema of pain to play.


I was thirteen. I had crept out of bed early to watch the television. My father had spoken of the Cokeworth FC match the night before. I had avoided him, I feared him, respected him, and had a hate-love kind of match of my own going, where my players were cutting words and magic and his were intimidation and the most callous love. The kind that grates. But he came down after me, followed my steps five minutes later, and saw I was watching the replay of the game I missed. He actually ruffled my hair. The hair he hated because I inherited it from my mother's side. He did not much like magic, because he was incapable of it and felt I had an edge over him. But he ruffled my hair. I denied it happened because it made things too close. He said that he was glad that I took after him, “if only in football.” I couldn't really believe he said that. He was supposed to be impossible to please. I kept that image, didn't take him at his word, continued to think we could never agree.


Muggle.


Does it matter? To sentimental fools such things matter. And I am a pure fool. And I don't wish to think I grew up to have his traits.


I decide to shake the image and feeling of a rough hand gently making me tousle-haired by prowling the corridors and classrooms and nooks and crannies as is my custom. Alexi is still on my ankles. I pull my feet away and she just goes back to sleep.


I want to do something to erase my mind that doesn't tamper at all with coherence. No potion or herb quite does that. I need to get out! I need to move. Sitting still is no answer. Stripping down to nothing I ignore the cracked bathroom mirror and soon hot water is spraying me. I close my eyes. Scourgify my mind, water! I switch to cold and leap out, smirking. Clears my head every time.


After my shower I slip into the usual black robes. Familiarity breeds contempt, they say, but I have no contempt for black robes or Regulus...or Sirius. I am familiar with the Black family and what they mean. Purity in the veins might mean trouble in excess? I don't believe the pure-blood creed. But I don't deny family traits. Though there is some subtlety, in general what you see is what you get. I'm distracted, but I still feel my scalp tingle. A good imagination is not for the weak.

I am nearly through my winding path from the dungeons to the North Tower's landing when the sun breaks out of an east-facing window. I feel the cold air pressing against the glass, trying to get in. I play mental mockery. I make my way down through the castle's unmistakable sounds of waking students and faculty.


Soon I'm walking by wide-eyed students who wish to avoid me and I am glad of this effect, as solitude is better than contentment and contempt is better than the miserable ease of living the self-evident. I enter the Great Hall from the chamber behind and take my unfortunately prominent seat. Good. Sirius is near me, and on my other side, Minerva and Neville. The very rare, the respected lions.

Halfway through toast and tea I notice Sirius' hand straying to his neck quite often, touching the locket around it. Not pressing hard and not terribly obvious, but his hand seems to be drawn as if by magnetic force or a Summoning Charm. I can tell at once it is a memory tormenting him, Sirius being perhaps even more of a purely sentimental fool than I am.


I noticed several places on my journey this morning that Sirius might find of interest. Changes from his years here. I also have a nose for unlikely places, just as Harry Potter does. The difference is, I make use of them without charging in, I tread with caution. And one use is to distract Sirius, who needs something to distract him. Just as I do. Two birds with one stone, a minor exploration excursion, something to pass these tedious pre-term days, or one day at the least.


I catch up with Sirius when he leaves the table, and hiss at him to meet in the staff room in half an hour. He stares at his gold watch and nods, and I give him a brief instruction. “Be quite as prepared as you were when we entered the cave.” I need to move!


He raises his dark eyebrows and gives me that grey look. That Azkaban look, the deadened and hollow stare. I won't have him making me guilty. “We'll go easy at first. I want to explore one or more places with you, more if you have the inclination. I know how keen you are to roar your lion's throat raw.”


He smiles and nods and turns toward the marble staircase. I propel myself downstairs, attaching my wand to my arm again, one wrist movement from action. I take some Ditanny and a bezoar, and some other basic potions and ingredients. The Draught of Peace I hope will not be necessary. Sirius wouldn't break down, as long as there is adventure to be had. He keeps a good head. He always has, though maybe it's learned by force. I scan my rooms. No animals left behind. Good. Padfoot included.


Walking upstairs, I brush into a nervous Ravenclaw, not watching where I step at first. I'm generally observant and I snarl at her. Force of habit. What is she doing down here anyway? Thereafter I keep my eyes looking ahead of me and not in the clouds. My imagination works just fine on the ground, and I'm wondering about what became of the DADA classroom last I used it. The Carrows and those that followed did not go near the place. I had Theo Nott convinced it was guarded by Inferi, and word caught like wildfire. The Carrows were squealing piglets of cowards, and very afraid of me.


I have been pacing exactly the right number and length of steps it takes to walk down the final corridor where Sirius should be waiting. I open the door and there he is, looking tired and not as playful as the jumping hound I am accustomed to. I won't press questions.


“Sirius,” I say, snapping the door shut and facing both him and the ugly mismatched furniture. “Would you care to see where your future classroom is?”


“Not more Inferi thank you,” he snaps at me. It's amusing watching his face work until it settles into the darkened lines etched by Azkaban again. Then it's not amusing.


“Nott has done a very good job,” I say very quietly and clearly.


“What...not?” Sirius looks confused.


“Not whatnot. Theodore Nott, a student. I set him the task of spreading that rumour.”


Sirius goes from sullenness to amusement in a millisecond. He's stubborn about most things, but he has a sense of humour. He can appreciate such subterfuge as he is past master at it.


“What is waiting then?” I'm pleased to see him grin.


“I have yet to see. We have yet to see. Shall we?” I open the door into the deserted corridor and open my hand toward it. Sirius' eyes have that glittering glimmer. I can tell mine do as well. He steps out first, and I follow.


~Sirius~


A tour on the castle, why not? Anything to get me distracted will do. Things have changed since my school days. The castle has magically rebuilt itself after the battle, slowly one room after the other, depending on their importance. Several areas which were not in use for years are still in ruin. A few classrooms and teachers offices are on different floors than they have been, I have been warned by several people not to have a look at my classroom. Severus has been getting sentimental about his realm and didn't want Amycus Carrow or any of his successors to use it. I should feel honoured that he seems to be willing to let me in, but there has been a certain gleam in his eyes. I expect a kind of test or trick. I'm not too worried. I know a good deal about protective wards and I think I know a bit of Severus' style. I don't expect any kind of Dark Arts and nothing that could seriously endanger students. That won't make it easier.

At the door I notice that Severus tries to keep his distance.


“Are you giving me a clue or will I have to go through all revealing spells first?”


He smirks.


I cast the first test spell and just manage to jump out of the way before a squall of.... bouillabaisse hits the floor.


“To Filch with love.”


Severus vanishes the puddle. Only a faint smell of garlic and fish remains.

I look from Sev at the door and back. His smirk is mixed with expectancy. Let's try logical thinking, something he appreciates. The door wards react to the simplest magic. I put away my wand. Sev's smirk turns into a grin.


“Tell me whether I'm on the right track or not. It's something most wizards can't figure out, especially no Dark or Purebloods. It's something Muggle, a password.”


“It's not a password.”


All right, a Muggle lock.... logical.... a puzzle, let's see. I search the carved decorations for something unusual, movable and find a tangram. One of my girl friends loved doing tangrams. She spent hours rearranging the geometrical wooden blocks to new figures, men, women, animals. I remember a few simple figures.

The little snake has Severus laughing at my failure.

“How very original, Black and so fitting for your classroom.”


I arrange the blocks to a small tail-wagging dog. The lock clicks loudly. I open the door.


“After you, Headmaster.”


I follow him at his heels and whip out my wand to open the shutters and all windows. The air is fuggy after three years.


“Good Merlin! Sev, you weren't teaching firsties in here? Excuse me,” I remove the horrible sketches of cursed witches and wizards from the walls.


“They need to learn the truth about the Dark Arts,” he repeats the stubborn sentiment I've already disagreed with when he offered me the job.


“They won't learn anything from nightmares.”


“What are you planning to do? Let them wrestle Grindylows and Hinkypunks and catch Cornish Pixies? Or teach them how to turn Boggarts into clowns?”


“Hinkypunks and Grindylows kill more people per year than Dark Wizards' curses. Maybe I'll have to teach some of them how to turn Boggart clowns into Zombies to make them laugh. Did you know that many Muggles think clowns are more scary than the walking dead? Severus, you promised to let me try my way.” Does he really still think I'm taking the job as a joke? I am not and I'm going to show him. He has received a rough draft of my intended curriculum. I really need to get to know the students better, before I can decide about the details. For the moment I suppose the Darkest threat we are dealing with is still that damned house rivalry. I'm looking forward to this afternoon. They boys will learn to work as a team or fail.


“Where are we going now? I want to rearrange this room later in peace.”


It seems Severus would have wanted more details, but I'm not willing to have my every move checked.


Instead closing the windows with magic I walk up to them and have a look on the ground. The Forbidden Forest looks more enchanted than forbidding with its snow-covered tops. A few students are building a snowman and Filch is clearing the front stairs.


“Do you want to have a better look all over place?” The soft tone of Severus' voice should make me wary.


“Why not? Where are we going?”


“Wait and see....”


He leads me through endless corridors, up and down the ever-moving staircases. A few stairs still seem to be missing, so we have to take detours.


“Do you know where you're heading or are you just giving me a quick tour of the whole building site?” I ask, when we have obviously reached the third floor. In my humble opinion we should have been going up not down.

Severus' answer confirms my impression that the castle is still in a state.


“There's only on flight of stairs left leading to the place we are going to and we can only enter it from second floor. Aren't you enjoying to see the places of your youthful adventures again?”


Youthful adventures translates into nasty pranks in Snapetongue. I get your point. Yes, I remember this corridor and the broom cupboard. We had hexed you in 6th year and pushed you into the broom cupboard, when Lily came around the corner. I suppose you stayed in there for quite some time. We all went to Hogsmeade together and forgot about you.


“I'm not particularly enjoying certain memories. How many times do I have to say we were arseholes? What is it now? Do you want to lock me in to show me what it feels like?”


Severus has opened the cupboard door.


“You should talk to Filch about cleaning hidden corners.” My voice is quivering as I stare into the dark, narrow space. I actually know what it feels like. Some 7th year Gryffindors who didn't like Bellatrix locked me into a broom cupboard in my second week at Hogwarts. It was sheer dumb luck that James came looking for me and didn't give up until he found me. It makes worse what we did to you that I knew.


“Would you go in there and stay?”


Every single nerve of my body tingles and screams “No way!” My conscience whispers “It would be fair.” Then I remember who he is. He's not like that.


“Honestly, I'd rather not.... You know I have a little problem with locked doors.”


Severus smirks, but there's no malice.


“Good, I prefer a friend not to act like a reckless idiot trying to be noble.”


Friend?!


“Thank you,” I say quietly, leaving it to his imagination whether I mean for not expecting me to crawl into that cupboard or for calling me his friend.


On our way to the stairs we pass Moaning Myrtle's bathroom. It's heavily locked and bolted.

I guess she's very unhappy about the locks. Myrtle always liked visitors, especially boys. Her bathroom had been a safe place to plan and prepare our pranks. I halt in my steps.


“Is it still intact? Myrtle happily moaning and all?”


“Oh yes, it remained nearly undamaged. If you're referring to the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets, it is also still there.”


I can't help grinning and twinkle.

“And the current headmaster has never been tempted to explore? Never wanted to know, if a Muggle-killing monster was the only secret Slytherin has left?”


“As it seems to have escaped your attention, I am not a Parselmouth. Don't tell me you are.”


“No, I am not, but we know a Parselmouth who would be delighted to join us for an expedition.”


“If there are more secrets hidden in that Chamber, I do not wish Potter and a gang of Aurors to find them and hide them in the Ministry vaults forever. His ability to speak Parseltongue has nearly vanished since the Dark Lord's death anyway.”


I laugh out.


“You've never suspected anything, haven't you? The little one has been more clever than we gave him credit for. I'm not talking of Harry, I mean my brother Regulus.”


“Regulus? You're kidding. Why wouldn't he tell anyone?”


“Because even in my family speaking Parseltongue would have raised a few eyebrows. He was a cunning little snake and kept his secrets. He nearly gave himself away when he was about five, but I only really understood last Christmas. The tinsel snakes, he always said they were telling each other stories and everybody laughed at the child's vivid imagination. On the night after the party, when everyone was gone I heard them whisper. They are talking to each other. I couldn't understand them, but Regulus could.”


Severus is considering what I've said. “He's just a portrait....”


“He's a talking portrait. He can speak any language he could speak at the time he was drawn.”


“Slytherin's Chamber..... Regulus never believed that all he left was a monster, but he believed many stupid things. What if all we'll find is Darkness?”


“Then we seal the Chamber for good and nobody else needs to know. Aren't you a tiny bit curious?”


“Gryffindor!”


“Slytherin!”


“Let me think about it and we need to talk to Regulus. “


He does think about it while we climb the stairs up to the ….. Astronomy Tower. It is blocked against students. Aurora has told me this part of the castle suffered the greatest damage during the battle. When they reopened the school, they moved her classroom to the West tower. Nobody seems to be in a hurry to get it repaired. The place where Dumbledore died belongs to the Bloody Baron and…. Severus.

Why is he taking me here? Not to enjoy the magnificent view.


It has started to snow and the heavy winds on the highest towers drive icy, needle-like flakes into our faces. The broken battlements don't offer any shelter.

If the students on the ground see us standing here, they will think we are Dementors. Dark shadows with billowing black robes.

Severus' face and hands turn red in the biting cold.

I'm freezing. What for? In memory of....


“That's enough self-punishment for one morning, Sev. Let's get back inside.”


Sev glares at me. The melting snowflakes on his cheeks look like tears, maybe they are tears.


“Go back, Sirius. You don't need to stay with me.”


“I'm not leaving without you!”


I take his arm and try to pull him through the doorway. He swings at me, wants to push me away.

I grab his shoulders.


“Sev, it doesn't change anything! He had no right to force you! No right at all! It's him who should be standing here, freezing, doing penance.”


“I've killed him!”


“You were doing his bidding! And while you obeyed his every command, he even tricked you with his death. Sev, look at me! Yes, you killed him and I thank you for doing so. If he'd been alive when I came back, I had killed him or died trying!”


“You don't know what you're saying....”


“No, I don't, because your loyalty to the old man spared me the knowledge.”


“I gave him my word... to do anything...”


“I know. Harry told me. It was his choice to die, his choice to die the way he did. He used you like he used all of us. All for the greater good! His greater good! He had no goddamn right to decide what was right and what was wrong.”


Severus has stopped trying to hit me. I hold him steady. He never stood a chance against me in a Muggle brawl.


“You really hate the headmaster.”


“I don't know, if I hate him. I don't mourn his death. …. and he's not the headmaster any more. You are! All that is left of him is a portrait under your command!”


“A portrait under my command....” Severus seems to be amused by that idea. “Maybe we should tell him. Has Regulus told you that he has been asking for you?”


I nod. “Are you going to show me your office, Headmaster?”


“It's part of the standard sightseeing tour, isn't it?”


~Severus~


The talk leading away from the Astronomy Tower may not distract Sirius as much as I wish. He is looking at me strangely, as if he never noticed me being in pain before. My humour and his has gone from our minds before we are ten paces from the door leading back downstairs.


I feel bizarre, as if Sirius and I are teenage friends about to be discovered by Filch. I mention the thought to Sirius. He gives me a sheepish grin, but it leaves his face in seconds. A portrait under my command. You tell the bleeding portrait that, Sirius, I think. His grey eyes are concerned. I strive to keep mine empty.


Pain.


Sirius used to cause a lot of it, but all in semi-moronic pranks and sometimes useful hexes I adapted for my own use. But he's never seen me in crisis, unsure, tormented in inner ways, as he has recently. A few slips at Grimmauld Place, but never suicidal and having everything press in on me until it's absolutely intolerable.


Sirius saved me from my eternal enemy, myself.


The old man did that to me, he and Lily. The two Gryffindors Harry Potter sanctifies even before Sirius. Dumbledore. My face shows such revulsion it is no wonder Sirius keeps quiet for a stretch. He respects my feelings. Until...


“I really would have killed him, Sev.”


“Yes. You do mean what you say, I know you well enough to tell that.” I snap the words at him.


We've come down the North Tower quickly enough, and off along corridors and down more stairs until we arrive at the stone gargoyle, and Sirius leans against the wall with that “I own the place and can do whatever I want” pure-blood arrogance the Black family seemed to produce in spades.


“What's the password?” Sirius prompts. “Something along the lines of the shellfish stew?”


“Oh, it's very straightforward. For a Slytherin. Students must be able to access here fairly easily. You think I am more complex than I am. You find me ridiculously complicated, and my password is simple. It is addition that is hard to discover and harder to hold. Answer in the form of a question.”


Sirius looks at me and grins. “I got it at the beginning. No need to rant on about it.” He turns to the gargoyle and it stares at him, unmoving, seemingly unaware. It's so very simple. People do overlook the obvious.


“What is power?” Sirius asks and the gargoyle opens its stone eyes and leaps aside to reveal the spiral staircase. I removed the ridiculous impression of an escalator that was the moving spiral staircase. We walk up. Sirius' smirk disappears at the entrance to my office. It has a serpent rather than griffin door-knocker. Yes, Dumbledore, my office. With Sirius' support I could even move up here. But my heart is in the bowels. The bowels of the dungeons.


I open the door and Phineas Nigellus calls, “About time you decided to grace us with your presence,” with a hint of snide humour.


I look immediately behind the desk. I do not wish to look at him but Dumbledore draws the eye in the same indecent way one wishes to avoid looking at him. You can't look at him or look away.


“Shall we drape the blighter in black coffin drapery? Like my mother's. Same idea.” Sirius asks after seeing the arrested look on my face. He's often so practical. I like that. Good attribute of a real friend. He can think without my input but still along the same lines.


“Purple. Royal purple, for double irony.” Yes, I'm sneering, Albus. What of it? You're quite used to it. You belittle me for it. Now you can be clothed in it.


Sirius whisks out his wand and I look at Dumbledore, look him in the eyes. Blue, but no twinkle. He looks a bit abashed I am glad to see. A purple sash appears around the the frame, and the ends zoom together to silence him before he speaks, so we won't have to endure his wise old commentary.


I have a strange thought. Be draped in your greatness, you Gryffindor King. It is followed by another strange thought, of a much younger Draco Malfoy singing “Weasley is our King” at a Quidditch match. I don't bother to stifle my chuckle.


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October 2013

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