Snacks and Letters - Part 96

Authors:[info]valkyriekat and [info]sionna_raven
Title: Snacks and Letters - Part 96
Words: 5123

~Sirius~

“About time someone shuts him up,” Phineas comments. Several honourable headmasters grumble of disrespectful youngsters, but others giggle and snigger with us.

This office still makes me nervous, but when not being watched by twinkling blue eyes it's bearable. For all the times I have been called here I rarely had the chance to have a good look around. Regulus said Severus doesn't use it. It doesn't look used; not much has changed as far as I can tell.

This is not what we came here for. We're not students. He's not headmaster anymore. I give Sev a questioning look. He slightly inclines his head and I make the curtains on the portrait move to the sides.

Dumbledore blinks and smiles kindly.

“Sirius, still playing pranks, are you?” he chuckles. “I've been hoping to see you, since Severus informed us of your return. I'm so glad that you survived the veil and returned in such a good health. We were all devastated at your supposed death.”

“Were you?”

“Of course, I was. How can you doubt...?” Dumbledore seems genuinely surprised at my brusque reaction.

“It suited your purposes quite comfortably, didn't it? But no hard feelings, I don't blame you for... my accident.”

“You seem to be still a bit upset about certain things you might not fully understand. Why don't you sit down and we have a little chat. I'm sure we can solve all possible misunderstandings amicably.”

Severus has been listening to our exchange quietly, too quietly in my opinion. What does Dumbledore think of acting as if this is still his office and he can invite me to a chat?

“The only misunderstanding is with you. I'm here on the headmaster's invitation not yours.”

“Tell him, he always forgets that he's in retirement.” Phineas cheers.

“I've been merely trying to be polite. Severus, I'm sorry, if I've sounded condescending. Phineas, your grandson and I are old friends. There's no need for nit-picking on formalities.”

Severus smirks slightly and I think I can hear him hiss something like “... portraits under my command” Sarcasm is probably the only way to deal with the lot. He offers me a chair.

“Nothing can be said against a nice post-breakfast conversation. You haven't spoken to …. Albus since your return, Sirius?” he says softly.

“No, I haven't. There aren't many portraits of him around. Harry merely keeps an old photograph in his house.”

Albus.... blinks. Then he smiles his always kind and understanding smile again. Portraits don't learn new tricks, ...... but they still know the old ones. He makes me want to shout all the accusations at him, the names of all the dead friends and thereby lose the battle. He's the wise old man, the great wizard. I'm just an immature brat, not understanding the complexity of life. Not this time.... I have grown up, not a student any more. He's just a portrait, just a portrait. Just a portrait! I want to yell at him anyway. Ask the questions only he can answer, … if anyone can.

Why did they die? Why did they have to die? Did they have to die? Why have you always been there to give each of us a push in the … right direction and never when we truly needed you?

Severus must have given you a warning! I am sure he has! Our eyes meet. Severus can see their faces in my mind and looks down slightly nodding. Of course, he has warned you.

Where were you when James and Lily died?

“Harry has grown into a young man to be proud of, don't you think? His father would have liked to see him like that.”

He's really trying his old trick again. Last time he made me move back into Grimmauld Place with it and the time before that he made me sign that fatal note with the secret. I don't know what annoys me more that he is stupid enough to dare or that he believes I will fall for it again. Severus at my side has turned into his inscrutable self. I envy his skill in dealing with the old man, just a matter of years of practise perhaps. I try to follow his example.

“James would have been very proud of his son's bravery,” I assert. “I am proud of Harry, he has managed very well. Lily however would mostly be glad that he survived.” My voice becomes a little sharper. “Not thanks to you!”

I incline my head slightly into Severus' direction to make clear who I credit for that.

“I see you two have finally reached some friendly understanding. It was about time you buried your childish grudge against each other. Your brother is so excited about it. He's a rather cheeky little fellow for a portrait, reminds me of you at his age.“

Harry didn't work, so it's Regulus now? Once you see through it, his tricks are rather cheap, but that doesn't stop them from hurting. I've let down Reggie; I've let down James and I've let down Harry. But that damn old coot has no right to tell me! Not when I did it to meet his expectations of goodness. I'm following my own judgement now. I won't let down Severus.

“You can bet I'm excited, Professor. Sirius and Sev are friends now, like it or not. Oh and I'm not cheeky, I'm just stretching my legs after 20 years in a dark drawer.”

Talking of little brothers, there's a bit of a commotion in Phineas' frame. Regulus has squeezed himself in. Do teenagers have a sixth sense for such situations?

“... impossible brat! Almost as bad as your brother...,” Phineas growls as Reggie is brushing snow out of his hair and from his robes. His nose and cheeks are red from the cold and probably from exercise.

“Have you found a broom and a winter landscape with snow drifts?” I laugh.

“Yeah, it was great! Much more fun on a broomstick. You've got to try yourself, Sirius. You both should try! Sev really, you're going to like it. It's brilliant!”

“Do I really want to know what your brother is talking about?” Severus tries to sound exasperated, but the tiny wrinkles in the corners of his eyes betray his amusement at the little one's excitement.

“I don't think so, Sev.” I reply as seriously as I can manage.

“Whatever it is, I trust you not to do it in front of students, Professor Black.”

“Of course not, Headmaster. Nothing of the kind without your permission during the school year.”

Dumbledore makes rustling noises with his robes. Has he chosen the iridescent blue fabric to stick out among the mostly sombre appearance of the other portraits? He really looks like the puppet I bought at the Christmas market. Except that he's watching us over the rim of his spectacles and there is a hint of a dangerous glitter in his blue eyes. He's obviously miffed at being ignored. I want him to be miffed, because if he was his usual smug wise-old-man self, I couldn't refrain from setting fire to his canvas. It's a childish wish, petty! I shouldn't give him the satisfaction that he still can reduce me to an obnoxious school boy. Scorch mark in the corners would be nice, wouldn't they? Play it cool, Sirius! He's just a portrait! He's not going to get at me! He's not going to get at us.

He is! He always will!

“I'd very much like to know about your exciting adventures, Mr Black. If…. the headmaster doesn't mind.... “ Dumbledore addresses Regulus pleasantly. Reggie looks at me and I look at Severus. He shrugs and nods at Reggie.

“Tell us, Reg. And no, I'm not going to try it!”

Regulus chuckles. “On our way here Sirius flew his motorbike through a huge snow drift. It was fun, but I really wanted to do it myself, the proper wizard way on a broomstick. I borrowed one from another painting and went to the painting of the Corbetts on the third floor. You've got to try, Sev. It's just harmless fun, really, nothing to worry about. Perfectly safe, maybe Sirius can take you on his bike the first time, if you still don't like brooms.”

Severus frowns at me. “I thought you've said you used Muggle roads and only took to the air where you could not be seen? Racing through snow drifts doesn't look like not drawing attention to yourself.”

“One snow drift and I swear nobody saw us.”

“How many students have seen you, Reg?”

“Not many, how stupid do you think I am? The Corbetts painting is in a remote corridor. I'm not a Gryffindork who needs an audience.”

“Thank you very much, Reggie. Don't think I'm showing you any more fun tricks.”

Reggie sticks out his tongue and Severus buries his face in his hands in – I hope – mock despair. I'd laughed, if Dumbledore wasn't a witness. He smiles and that spoils the moment for me. I'm getting as wary as Severus about Dumbledore seeing my feelings.

“Isn't it warming your heart, Phineas, to see your grandsons having overcome their discord? Things had been so much easier, if only they..... I could have helped....”

A lump forms in my throat. I remember his face when he saw my Patronus. His evasive answers when I asked about Regulus after my escape. If only we trusted our hearts against his wisdom.

Portraits can't use Legilimency, but Severus' eyes are set on me now. His voice is cold and cutting as he interrupts his old master.

“What are you hinting at, Dumbledore? Are you blaming Sirius and Regulus for believing what they had been taught by those they trusted? You could have helped indeed, but you ...”

He's interrupted by Reggie. “No Severus, don't even think of that. I can't remember why I didn't ask you or Sirius for help when I found out about the Dark Lord's lies. For all I know I would have wanted you to be with me, both of you, if that had been possible. “ Regulus all of a sudden doesn't sound like a teenager. His voice is calm and determined like he has thought about those things quite a lot. “I am sure about one thing however that I didn't want the help Professor Dumbledore might have offered. I think I rather died than selling all of us into slavery. He'd done to us what he later did to you.”

“Reggie! I would have done anything ….”

“That's exactly what I mean. You would have done anything he asked you to do. That is not what I call help, it is taking advantage! That's what he has done to Sev. He nearly got him killed. I'm not stupid. I listened to you, talking about what happened, I listened to Phineas and maybe to a few other portraits since you brought me here. And Kreacher could also tell me a lot”

“Mr Black, I'm afraid you're stuck in the year you've been painted. You cannot possibly fathom the complexity of events, the danger your master meant to the wizarding world. I wish you would have trusted your brother with your discovery. Things had been so much easier, if I had known about the Horcruxes. As it was your noble sacrifice achieved nothing to stop Voldemort. On the contrary it could have ruined all our endeavours, if the locket had got lost forever. I don't blame you, you were young and scared and confused....”

Reggie stares at him, biting his lip. Severus and Phineas frown. I wish I could comfort Reggie. His sacrifice achieved much.

“Achieved nothing? Anything that didn't further your plans was nothing? Our mother and Kreacher lived. Of course that means nothing to you!” I can feel the weight of my father's locket around my neck. Mother shouldn't listen to this, but it can't be helped. “Once he figured out Voldemort's secret, Regulus couldn't risk to face him ever again. Sev, what do you think how long would he have lasted under Legilimency?”

Severus resignedly shakes his head. “Not a second. Like you and most of your family he had the talent to occlude, but lacked the discipline. The Dark Lord would have seen it all. Regulus knew. I had warned him about it more than once.” He pauses for a moment and then continues very quietly, “Regulus would have been lucky to die at once, but I doubt it. The Dark Lord would have very likely spared him to witness the deaths of all he cared for before granting that mercy. Not just your mother and Kreacher, Sirius, all his loved ones.”

I smile bitterly. “I know. Though it's not that easy to kill us, is it Sev? Both our masters tried and both failed.”

“I never..... Sirius, how can you believe... I've never wanted you or Severus to die. You can't deny I've done my utmost to keep you out of trouble and protect you from the Ministry. Both of you.“

The sound of our laughter at Dumbledore's words makes the magic trinkets that fill the endless bookshelves clink and rattle.

“Let's face it, you did a lousy job on that, Dumbledore. You kept us alive while we were useful in your schemes. After we served our purpose, we could go to hell.”

“He probably means we should be grateful to have been indispensable long enough. Others were less lucky. Tell me Dumbledore, would you ask approval or praise from Benjy, Caradoc, Edgar or Marlene for not wanting me dead, when you were convinced beyond a shadow of doubt that I was the traitor. On a purely pragmatic thought you should have killed me instead of letting them die! But it was more to your taste to play your cunning games with passing false intelligence to the Dark Lord. They trusted you! I trusted you. I'm not even counting those you betrayed yourself, those you swore to protect. All for the greater good?”



~Severus~

My voice is rising in a way that is impossible to overcome. All of my defences desert me, feeling like I am a First year with bad memories and no control. Dumbledore can't know, he can't possibly understand, he can perpetually overestimate and underestimate and never in between. He still doesn't know why I generally refuse to speak to him unless cloaked by the utmost sarcasm. He'll never fathom it, though Potter said he thought he may have killed his sister. If he does know how I feel at killing him whether through a forced hand or not, then he is more despicable than I dreamed.

And there were others. Others he let die at the right time. For the right reason. How wrong can being right get? The Dark Lord never had any pretence as to why others were to die...is Dumbledore's path that different? The Order meetings and the Death Eater conferences ran together and blended so well I was at wit's end. But Dumbledore...I am completely at wit's end. I try to rein in my voice, always think through and weigh my words, but these are things I have said to the cat, under my breath, in practice for a time that would never come. But the time is here. Sirius is staring at me, set on edge by my continuing lack of control that started on the Astronomy Tower. I tried to feel, to act within reason but it has abandoned me fully.

I feel like I am back in the cutting flakes of snow, feel the chill, the wind, the pain.

“And your protection! Since when do you protect anything more than your limitless calculated plans of action that no one else ever shares fully? Who cares if someone gets hurt while you're scheming? Even those innocents like Emmeline who did nothing worse than to offer to help you? Help you bolster my position with the Dark Lord?” My voice is wavering. My mind is spitting words and I find it hard to catch them. It feels strange not to use forethought, and I almost relish the freedom of it. The next few words that come I do plan and feel the sting of the words before I even speak them. Back to normal. Even a waspish whisper that carries on the air like noxious gas.


“And my soul, Dumbledore? Don't you think it's perhaps been harmed on your orders? Your own murder – I can see it no other way, mercy killing is still killing – did it not rip my soul? I ask you to take responsibility for the havoc you wreaked, in a way as cunning as the Dark Lord himself did. I think of Caradoc's accusing stare as I watched him die.”

“More frightening than the ghost of an Inferius are the murders I contributed to that I should have helped but did not have the foresight to. All because I assumed you would protect your own hand-picked helpmates in the Order from harm or death as far as was possible. I could have saved Emmeline... I was in a position to do so and I did nothing.”

“Fenwick was found in pieces and whose fault was it? I thought as I thought with Emmeline that both had an escape route out of their separate fixes. A hidden Portkey perhaps. You knew they didn't. I thought they did. At least some chance, I thought, some small sliver of a chance at life. I abandoned them because I never guessed you had abandoned them.”

Sirius had been looking at the former Headmaster and his eyes snap to mine the minute I look at him. Hot tears burn my face. Once again control spins out of my grasp.

“Who is the guilty one? I take the brunt of the blame, for trusting you!” I'm shouting at the top of my voice which still isn't very loud. Angry tears mix with grief tears. An Elixir To Induce Agony, I think, despair in the sarcasm. My brow is more knitted that it ever has been. Still Dumbledore doesn't stop me, and if I hear one snivelling platitude I will hex his canvas to cinders. But that would be too kind to him. Let him live with the guilt.

Sirius speaks, saving the day for me. And not Dumbledore.

“About Emmeline and Benjy, Severus. I know both were captured at different times by the Death Eaters. Dumbledore set them up as decoys set up to give you credit with Voldemort. They didn't die due to some fault on your part. At first I thought it was inexpert planning. But somehow both were a liability to Dumbledore, because their private lives were interesting enough to make them easy marks – easy targets for blackmail. I was there when Emmeline was given her orders, to take a post near the Ministry and watch out for suspicious activities. It was only a day or two before the battle at the Ministry.”

He shrugs in a helpless, embarrassed way. “You know everybody thought I was too drunk to follow what was going on and they didn't care what I overheard. Maybe I was too drunk, but I remembered when the fog was cleared. It sounded like a harmless task. She was given no warning, no way out. ”

I look at Dumbledore. He looks shocked, but more at being discovered than being innocently surprised. He's never had much of an inscrutable look, more an act of keeping secrets and hoarding lies in front of everyone. That and the wise, bearded sage position and the act of pretending to care, a mockery of true kindness.

I have had enough of this. “You are a portrait under my command. You are bound by ancient laws of honour to help the current headmaster. Unlike you, I won't use coercion, if you stay still and let me ask a few questions of the other portraits...what they saw and heard. I will only delve into a few topics, and you must answer truthfully, and then we can see if you still try to blame someone else for your own actions.” I mutter under my breath so Sirius alone can hear, “Portrait under my command.”

Sirius is smiling strangely. He looks at me and asks audibly, “I have a few questions too if the current headmaster authorizes it.” He seems to be imitating my overly formal use of speech. What do I care if he digs up dirt for me?

“Certainly. You have equal freedom as I have as headmaster to question my portraits.”

“Be ruthless, Severus. You're too kind to some people.” Sirius' observation throws me. No one has accused me of being kind, leave alone too kind. But then, no one has ever known me as well as Sirius does. Not even Regulus, and never Lily.<

“I know,” I snap at him. Sirius doesn't blink, but waves his long arm at the walls. Not a single portrait is feigning sleep. I think they may want Dumbledore to be exposed to the winds of the Astronomy Tower quite as much as I do. It doesn't matter so much what happens now, I know I did not split my soul when I was forced to kill him. I was under an Unbreakable Vow, and the old man was very soon to die. But I always thought that he didn't deserve to die like that, I was wrong. I should have spat in his face as I did it. Sirius would, it took courage to overcome my inner morality and do what I thought was murder rather that a duty. Too kind, Sirius says.

I haven't felt such hatred in a while. I will get the portraits to tell their tales. The current headmaster needs information, I need to make the idea man behind the Greater Good admit that he might have been wrong. Apologize for using us all. Without platitudes attached. Or lies. I won't use Phineas because the old man will say Phineas Nigellus Black is prejudiced in our favour, being a Black and being in the same house as me. I look at the portraits carefully. Three should do, too many voices just make for chaos.

Regulus whistles, and there is an outpouring of muttering, nods and even a whistle from the portraits. Here I am over-thinking and Regulus cuts to the chase. How very like when I was sixteen. There must be good points to having teenagers around.

There have been many.

There will be great use for him soon, I think, and my spirits rise. This all seems darkly amusing somehow, without all that guilt burning in my veins like molten lava or white phosphorous. I am still going to get to the bottom of this.

And I am going to enjoy it.

“In my defense, I did none of those things. They were the idea of the Order of the Phoenix. We had to find any way to destroy Lord Voldemort...” Dumbledore begins.

I hiss at him for using the name. I don't hiss at Sirius for doing the same.

I move closer to the portrait, looking him squarely in his perplexed eyes. “You say to always use the proper name for things. In my view he was the Dark Lord. The name you use makes him special among any other Dark Lords. He was not special, he was common. You try to change everyone but yourself. You fail to see anyone else's point of view. Did you or did you not give Fenwick and Vance each a fatal task with no way out?”

“You must understand, I did not intend for them to die that way. They were a liability but I didn't force them to take their jobs. They were voluntary.”

“And did they 'volunteer' to expire in that way? Did you or did you not give them their orders knowing that they could not back out or find a way to escape?” I snarl.

“The circumstances surrounding this unfortunate...”

“Dumbledore, you are in a room full of eyewitnesses!” Sirius snaps at him. He looks around at Phineas Nigellus and Dilys Derwent, Fortescue with his ear trumpet, the corpulent, red-nosed wizard and the gimlet-eyed witch...even soppy old Armando Dippet is looking stern and non-conciliatory.

“The truth, sir!” cries a sallow skinned wizard with a short black fringe. Everard. There is more muttering and every face is turned to Dumbledore, Sirius or me.

Regulus scowls. “Professor Dumbledore, you never frightened me, you never got the chance to use me like you would have, the way you used my brother and Severus. If you don't spit out the truth in a one-word answer I'll come into your portrait and poke your eyes into your head with my thumbs. I swear I will.”

“I don't want him to be forced. I want him to...” I begin, then I hear a croaky whisper carried on the thick, tense air.

“Yes.”

He said it! I never thought he would admit to anything.

“The circumstances made it so I was forced to...” he continues, but stops at the sight of Regulus flexing his thumbs in the background of his sketch. The great Albus Dumbledore looks like a wee lad caught with his hand in the biscuit tin. I feel like sneering at him for weeks.

“I've heard enough. I won't wait for the backstabbing self-justification. We have better things to do.” Sirius barks a laugh that is like a threat.

There is a chorus of clapping coming from the former headmasters and headmistresses. It isn't pleasant. I think Dumbledore will have to answer to that lot and suddenly I feel – happy.



~Sirius~

I really have enough. Severus seems to be feeling the same. At least he has recovered from his guilt trip on the tower. Don't let him make you feel guilty, it's more powerful than any Imperius curse your Dark Lord could cast. Mischief managed.... in a way.

I look at the portrait like seeing the old man truly for the first time. The fury I've felt for all those months fades. There is a lingering trace of disappointment.... yes, disappointment, broken dreams. Some part of me still had hoped that he could explain what happened. He can't. We are left to our own devices. Not the worst situation, I like it that friendship prevails where wisdom and power have failed.

The curtains fall back over the portrait. It's none of his business what we are planning to do next.

“Is Hogwarts' new Defence Professor ready to study the Dark Arts?” Severus tries to sound cheerfully. He almost manages.

“At your service, Headmaster. Let's see what do we need? Not books, I suppose.” I look at Reggie, twinkling. He meets my look with excitement and curiosity. Suddenly I know how to take him with us. I fumble with the chain around my neck and open the locket.

Severus watches me in astonishment. He must have noticed the locket before, today or at the funeral, but I've never told what it contains.

“Mum, would you mind to change frames with Reggie? We'd like him to accompany us on a … stroll around the castle.”

She smiles kindly and nods. In an instant she appears in Phineas' portrait. Phineas hides his surprise well and like a gentleman he rises from his chair and offers it to her.

“Walpurga...., nice to see you again. It's been a long time.”

She slowly sits down, still unused to so much space and company. Reggie takes her hand to give her comfort. She looks up to him reassuringly and then scans her surroundings. Her eyes fall on Severus who seems to get a bit uncomfortable or wary in her presence. I remember she barely accepted him. No, she didn't welcome him in the past, only better than my bloodtraitor friends as she called them by a margin. Will she now?

I see that Reggie presses her hand and she takes a deep breath.

“Professor Snape,” Her voice is quivering, so different from the mad shrieking of her other portrait. “I'd like to... I think... I owe you an apology and a thank you. I always believed that only pure blood could make one a worthy Slytherin and the House of Slytherin is the only one that counts. I've almost lost both my sons to that belief and you who I treated no better than a servant because of your mother's misalliance brought them back to me. Regulus told me there are exceptions, men in whose veins the old magic blood runs true despite their fathers. I wouldn't believe him. I was wrong. You are such an exceptional man, Professor Snape and I want to thank you for being such a good friend to my sons, past and present....”

Her voice fails her and I guess that's for the better. Regulus kisses her on the cheek and Phineas has put his hand on her shoulder. Severus stares at her. He's trying to make sense of the still unrepentant racist rubbish she calls an apology. We look at him pleading for … tolerance. It's the best she can do. She really means it. I don't need to worry. Severus understands. The corners of his mouth twitch only for a fragment of a second. He inclines his head in her direction. He can be a match to her Pureblood arrogance, if he chooses to.

“Madam Black...”

“Reggie, hop over.” I hold the empty locket in his direction and he pops up inside it.

“What do you want me to help with? “ he pipes excitedly.

“We tell you on the way, but first answer one question. Do you really understand the tinsel snakes?”

Regulus hesitates to answer. He watches us warily.

“I have no idea what you mean, Severus.”

“Reggie, you know perfectly well. Do you understand the snakes, yes or no?”

The portraits around us whisper.

“What, if I do? That doesn't make me...”

“Nobody has said that, Reg. We don't judge anyone's character by a natural gift he hasn't asked for. It depends what you do with it. Would you agree to put it to good use? For the honour of Slytherin House?”

The whispering portraits of the dead headmasters are now very much awake. I suppose some of them got the point. Reggie has. He's beaming.

In a lowered voice he asks, “You want me to open.... the Chamber of Secrets for you, don't you? The three of us together on a magic quest? What are we waiting for?”

Severus again proves his amazing ability to keep his countenance.

“What are we waiting for indeed?” he says softly.

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October 2013

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