Chapter Ten - In The Leaves
18 December, 1998. The little urchins are off in the morning. Thank god. Nadja Alabaster and her precious Nicholas Quentin, sadly, are not among those departing. Sometimes I feel as though this “curse” wields more than even the unicorn bargained for.
Harry is sleeping. Of course. Chaste, quiet, fragile, how many words can I think of to describe him? A year ago I would have thought anyone who suggested that never touching him again would be unparalleled torment were a St. Mungo’s escapee. He tried again tonight, persistent brat that he is. All I can see is his look of horror when… I knew it was an innocent statement. Dammit. Albus, why can’t I borrow your strength just long enough to tell him he’s not the one I’m angry with?
Research. Pfft. Ha.
Something very odd is going on tonight. It’s cold. I think I’ll go to bed. At least I can look at something warm.
Harry had a hard time taking in Sev’s latest entry. There was, indeed, something strangely cold about the castle – like a wall had crumbled and the snowstorm outside was filling it with cruel drifts. All things told, after a month of basically the same rant he was getting annoyed. He’d tried to get Sev to talk about it, but got no more than a blank stare and silence. He closed the journal, sealed it, and put it away before kneeling beside the bed. His chin fit well on his folded hands. “You really are a selfish bastard, y’know?” Sev muttered something he couldn’t make out and turned to face Harry’s side. He only did that in the middle of the night anymore.
Harry couldn’t have slept if he wanted to. The marrow in his bones had turned to ice. Quietly, though he didn’t know why – a herd of rampaging erumpents couldn’t have woken Snape – he pulled his dressing gown on over Dudley’s old pajamas, dragged out his slippers, and wandered into the corridor. The cold here was far more pervasive. The stone walls were glazed with rivulet-ridden ice. It extended over the floor in bumpy mounds and nearly invisible sheets. Harry trod carefully to avoid slipping. As he turned a corner he bumped into an equally slow-moving figure. It yipped. “Harry!”
“Professor Trelawney! What are you doing down here?” They whispered, but he didn’t know why. It just felt like the right thing to do.
“I was coming to check on you. Is Severus…?”
“Are you sure?” He gave her a look. “Quite right.” She pulled her gauzy shawl tight around her arms. “A bit chilly tonight, isn’t it?”
“Like a grave.” The last word echoed slightly, driving the cold deeper. He really needed to get back and keep an eye on Sev. It was too nippy for him, in his state.
Trelawney motioned towards the stairs with her head. “Come upstairs. Have a cuppa.”
He shook his head. “I need to get back.” He didn’t want to be alone with the sleeping dead, though. Maybe if the potion would wear off they could pretend the last month had never happened, but he didn’t relish the idea of cuddling a virtual corpse. “I can’t stay long.” She nodded.
“I understand.” He followed her up the long, winding path to the Divination Tower. Harry had never seen Sibyll Trelawney this… well, normal. It was a little unnerving. She finally started up the ladder into the Divination classroom. Harry followed her, and was pleasantly surprised to find that the sickly sweet fire now smelled of cedar and holly. “Go on, make yourself comfortable.” She bustled about in the gaudy room, filling one of the many teapots with boiling water and loose leaves. Harry sat down in an overstuffed orange chair. The aethereal cold was present here, but not overpowering. Soon, Professor Trelawney sat down across from him and poured two pink flowered cups of tea. The room was smaller than he remembered, and were it anyone but the bizarre Divination teacher with him it might be cozy. She handed him a cup. As in class, there was neither milk nor sugar.
Harry fidgeted with the fragile china. “Do you think someone left a door open somewhere?” She shook her head, blowing on her tea before taking a long slurp.
“This is coming from inside. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s almost like the school is trying to sleep.”
She pursed her lips. “Or die.” Trelawney drained her cup and swished it, peering intently. “Feh. The spirits are stubborn tonight.” She threw the sodden leaves into the red and green flames; they hissed.
Harry decided his own cup was cool enough to brave. He drained it in one go and, out of sheer habit, looked at the bottom. The dregs read, “TAKE CARE”. He yelped and dropped it. The cup bounced on the thick rug.
“What is it? What did you see?” Trelawney was at his side immediately, picking up the cup, looking at it from all sides. “Was it the Grim?”
“It said ‘take care’.” Harry stared at the mess of leaves on the floor. Professor Trelawney rubbed his arms absently.
“That’s certainly an… unusual message. The Fates aren’t normally that forward.” He shook her off and stood up.
“I have to go.” Visions of finding Sev dead and all alone drove him out of the room and down the ladder as fast as he could move.
“Be careful!” she called after him. Harry took a corner too fast and crashed into the wall. He got his footing as quickly as he could and set off again at a run. His slippers flapped on the slick stones. Mrs. Norris sauntered out from behind a statue and nearly got flattened for her trouble. Her yowl echoed through the corridor. It sounded like a death knell. Down stairs, around corners, he didn’t see where he was going and didn’t care. Brevis Tui Tempus est. Not this short! It couldn’t be this short. He skidded into the door and fumbled with the knob. It had iced over. He couldn’t get a grip. In desperation, he pounded on the door.
“Sev!” No answer. “Wake up and let me in!”
“Out for a midnight stroll, Harry? Or a three a.m. stroll, I should say.”
“Prof- Albus! What are you doing here?” The headmaster smiled. His eyes twinkled in a way Harry hadn’t seen in a long time.
“I was on my way to the kitchen to see if there was any cake left from dinner. You sounded like you were in trouble.”
“I think there’s something wrong with Sev. I forgot my wand and he won’t wake up.” Harry was dimly aware of his cheeks growing very warm and wet despite the freezing dryness.
Dumbledore pulled his wand out and tapped the knob. It thawed, and the door creaked open. “He’ll be fine.” Harry gulped and nodded.
“Thank you, sir. Albus. Good night.”
“Good night, Harry.” He smiled again. Harry tore into the room and slammed the door behind him.
“Sev?” he whispered hoarsely. No response. In the dim light of embers he saw stillness – then the sudden slight rise and fall of the duvet, and a faint twitch. Without even bothering to take off his bathrobe he clambered onto the bed and held Severus’ sleeping form tight. He was so thin. “Don’t scare me like that, you greasy bastard.”
Harry smiled painfully. At least he wasn’t having nightmares for once. “No, it’s Harry.”
“… Gran, meet Harry…” Harry giggled through an impending sob. Sev looked peaceful. It was a bizarre expression, and apart from his hair he looked little more than thirty for it. Harry cuddled in close. Even if they went back to their separate selves tomorrow, for now all was right.
Harry groped for the duvet, only to find that he was on top of it. He opened his eyes and the world came immediately into focus. Sunlight streamed in through a crack in the drapes. He was alone. Stretching, he looked at the clock. Ten fifteen. “Argh!” He jumped out of bed, dropping his dressing gown and pajamas in a messy trail, and wrenched the wardrobe doors open. Sev’s nightshirt hung neatly. He’d just pulled out a deep plum robe when he realised the library wasn’t even open today. Most of the students were leaving for Christmas holidays. In… about forty minutes, give or take. Still shaking, he slung the robe over his arm, decided the day called for a shirt underneath, and proceeded to dig through the drawer for his World Quidditch Cup Quebec polo (a late birthday gift from Mister and Mrs. Weasley) and a fresh pair of pants. A few minutes later, having given up yet again on taming his hair and just hiding the cowlicks with his hat, he wandered out. His cloak was slung over his shoulder. Harry had the vague recollection that something happened out here last night, but he couldn’t grasp what. Something about tea and cake. “Must have been dreaming,” he muttered to himself.
The Great Hall was packed with students shouting, students talking, students making various small objects fly across the room. Harry ducked as Rubeus Nattery, who was almost as small as Nadja, zoomed over his head and landed with a screech in the greenery. “Sorry, Harry!” Natalie McDonald yelled.
“S’okay!” He made his perilous way through the crowd and fell into his chair at the staff table. A bowl of apples was within reach and he bit into one. The doors suddenly opened. Professor McGonagall clapped twice and the room quieted down. There was something stiff about her this morning, like she was trying to keep a secret she didn’t want kept.
“If you will all gather your things the carriages are ready to take you to the train. Those of you who are staying must remain here. The carriages will depart in ten minutes whether you are on them or not.” The noise built up again, but only to a dull roar. There was a lot of scraping of trunks, and shuffling of feet, and the occasional shriek of an owl or cat. Within moments the first students began to trickle out, and in seven minutes and forty-eight seconds the last trunk creaked away. Harry dropped his apple core on the table and considered another. A third-year Slytherin and a fourth-year Ravenclaw remained at the Hufflepuff table, lost in a vicious game of chess, and Nadja and Nicky were busy with a set of gobstones. Nicky’s short sun-bleached hair was suddenly drenched with foul liquid. Nadja giggled. She looked up and beamed at Harry. He smiled back. A moment later she’d gone back to her game.
“Hey, Harry.” A familiar figure slid into the chair next to him.
“G’morning, Remus.” Lupin’s eyes were red and swollen. “Are you okay?” He shook his greying head.
“Walk with me. There’s something I need to tell you.” He followed Lupin out of the Great Hall and through the front doors of the castle. The grounds were thick with snow, and gleamed with unearthly purity. A long swathe had been cut through it by myriad feet; where they left off, wheel ruts picked up. From Hagrid’s house, Harry heard a booming bark, and the voice of the new gamekeeper, a stocky woman named Miriam MacAmhaoir, told Fang to settle down.
“What’s wrong? Is Sirius okay?”
Lupin nodded. “It’s nothing to do with him.” He wrapped his darned purple cloak tight. They were headed towards Grendel’s paddock. “Um… Harry,” Remus put a hand on his back, “Professor Dumbledore passed away last night.” Harry halted. He must have looked worried because Lupin continued. “His heart gave out in his sleep. He didn’t feel any pain.”
Harry’s eyes dropped to the ground. Some of the snowflakes were so large he could make them out. “’Take care’,” he whispered.
“What’s that?” Everything came back to him. It wasn’t a dream.
“He can’t be dead. I saw him around three this morning.” But what about the tea leaves? Lupin scowled.
“Harry, Poppy says he died just before three. You couldn’t have seen him.”
“I did! He was going to the kitchen to get some cake. I left my wand in the room and he unlocked the door for me.” The sharp, cold air burned his lungs. His old wound, the deep scar where Voldemort had stabbed him, twinged. “I was out walking, and everything was covered with ice, and I ran into Professor Trelawney, and she made me some tea and the leaves said ‘take care’.” He fell to his knees. The powdery snow slipped and he braced himself with one arm. Chill cut him to the elbow but he didn’t care. First Hagrid, now Dumbledore. Lupin grasped his arms and pulled him up.
“Come on, it’s too cold out here.” Harry shook his head violently.
“I want to see Grendel.” Remus bit his lip.
“Just for a minute. I’m sorry, I thought it would be easier for you to hear this outside.” Harry trudged ahead, oblivious to the knee-deep drifts or the numbness in his hands and feet. The thestral seemed to be waiting for him. He reached out and stroked the cold, black nose.
“Hey, boy. Why aren’t you in your house?” Grendel glanced back at his small, warm barn and snorted. Harry ran his hands under the creature’s coarse mane. It felt a little greasy. He wanted to climb on the broad, black back and fly away like Sirius had done on Buckbeak. Grendel nuffled him. “Yeah, was a shock to me, too.” Harry buried his face in the animal’s long neck. It smelled of hay and strong musk. He felt Lupin touch his arm.
“Sirius will have my head if I let you freeze.” Harry scowled. Rubbing his nose, he let go of Grendel’s long mane.
“You’d better get in where it’s warm, too.” Grendel whickered. He lipped Harry’s hair before obediently trotting to his barn. At the entrance he whinnied and flapped his enormous wings. Harry wished he could do something in return. He let Lupin lead him back through the deep, blinding snow. The sky was crisp, the same clear blue as Dumbledore’s eyes, with only a few high wisps of cloud. Harry had always associated that colour with summer skies, not the edge of winter. Maybe it decided to make an exception.
“Is there anything I can do for you?” Lupin’s hands were thrust deep in the pockets of his worn robe. The ragged and patched cloak was thrown over it. Poor Remus. If Harry could get to Gringott’s he’d buy the man a new wardrobe. He certainly deserved it. Too bad his library salary wouldn’t have covered much more than a single robe, especially after Ginny’s cut. Maybe he could send a note with someone. Then again, if Remus really wanted clothes, Sirius could have bought them for him. Maybe he’d rather get it himself, like Sev— “Harry?”
“Huh? Oh. Sorry. Don’t think so.” He stamped the snow from his feet before they went inside. The entrance hall was like a blast furnace. Clear puddles trailed him as snow melted from his cloak. Harry absently pulled the tall, pointed hat from his head and wrung it. Lupin stayed beside him all the way to his room. They were quiet; he was numb.
“You should change before you get sick. Want me to come in?”
Harry shook his head. “No, thanks. I think I’m going to find Sev.”
“I saw him going down to the dungeon a while ago. You might try his office.” He nodded and started to unlock the door. “Oh, one more thing?” Lupin ran a hand through his wavy hair. “Don’t mention this to any of the students yet? Minerva wants to keep it quiet for now. She didn’t say why.”
“Ah. Yeah, thanks for telling me.” That explained the cheerful chaos in the Great Hall. Remus gave him a sad smile and squeezed his arm. Harry tried to return it but grimaced instead. He pulled out his wand and unlocked the door. Suddenly, he grabbed Lupin in a tight hug. The werewolf hugged him back. “Don’t die?”
“Not just yet.”
“The last person I left out here did. Or had. Or something. I don’t know.”
“Hey, it’s okay.” Remus rubbed his back gently. His voice was low but strong. “I’ll be around as long as you need me.”
“Thanks.” He reluctantly broke away. “I’m going to see how Sev’s doing. He and Prof… Albus were pretty close.”
“Good idea. He looked pretty shaken when I ran into him. Give me a yell if you need anything?” Harry nodded; he slipped into the room and locked the door behind him. Lupin’s steady footsteps got further and further away until there was silence. He dropped his cloak and pulled the purple robe over his head; he left it on a chair. Severus was going to kill him. Or at least make him straighten everything in sight. The polo shirt was damp, too, and clammy. To the floor it went. He opened the wardrobe and automatically grabbed the bottle-green robe Sev always “coincidentally” gave him when he asked for one.
While he dug through a drawer, searching for a shirt, he caught sight of himself in the long mirror next to the wardrobe. Harry paused. Five and a half feet tall, slender, still toned from evenings spent playing Quidditch by himself or with whomever was available, startled-round glasses that could probably do with replacing, still those knobbly knees, one scar on his forehead and another two inches below his left nipple. Slightly furry in the chest, starting to gain the filled-in look of adulthood. And he needed a shave. It was a far cry from the short, skinny boy who’d been rescued from the cupboard under the stairs at 4 Privet Drive. But he still looked basically the same. Harry found a T-shirt and yanked it out. He inspected himself one more time in the mirror – he needed some new Y-fronts, these were starting to go at the waist – and had the shirt tugged halfway down his thighs before he realised it was Sev’s Slytherin Quidditch Cup Champions shirt. The last time he’d worn it they were stretched out on Snape’s cloak in the middle of his office, blanketed with robes to keep out the chill. He’d kicked up such a fuss. Funny how things like Houses didn’t seem to matter so much once a Gryffindor started thinking like a Slytherin.
Harry threw the robe over his shoulder and wandered into the bathroom to shave. He rather liked the way he looked with stubble, especially goatee stubble. Sev thought it was sloppy, though. Sexy, but sloppy. He’d grown even more particular since… well. It had been a rough month. Maybe someday he’d manage to get away with it. If there were a someday anymore. The razor ran over his foamy chin quickly and easily. Harry wondered vaguely if Dumbledore had ever shaved. A lump built up in his stomach and stayed there. He wiped away the last traces of thick foam, did a couple of quick touch-ups, and pulled the green robe over Sev’s shirt. In the low light reflected from ghostly marble his pale skin glowed silver. My god. I really have turned into a right Slytherin.
Albus would be so disappointed.
Not to mention Hagrid.
Or his parents.
Shame burning his throat, he buttoned the robe’s high collar along the back of his neck and went to find some dry socks. Time to do the washing: it was a choice between plain black, and scarlet with metallic gold stripes. Dobby had given them to him last Christmas – one of them, anyway. The other Harry found in Hogsmeade. He kicked off his sodden shoes and left them by the fireplace. The striped socks went on, followed by his worn brown slippers. He looked at himself in the mirror again. The robe swept the floor. He picked it up enough to see his socks. He turned. Suddenly, Harry pulled the robe up past his knees, more than enough to see the long socks on his fuzzy legs, and jumped from one foot to the other. With wild twisting motions he slid from side to side, turning on his heels. His reflection grinned. Dumbledore would approve. He peered at himself in the mirror. “Dork.”
Albus would be proud.
He fished his wand out of the pocket of the purple robe on the way out, flushed and still looking a bit too perky for this particular day. Harry walked quickly to the dungeon. He passed a soggy-eyed Professor Flitwick, who insisted on a hug and told him that Snape was in his office if he was interested. It took several minutes to calm the weeping professor enough to let go. The rest of the way was mercifully clear. He only ran into the Slytherin Belasco twins who, apparently, had decided to stay rather than go home to a houseful of Hufflepuffs. Harry knocked softly on Snape’s office door. “Sev? Y’in there?”
Harry unlocked the door and slipped inside. Sev didn’t look up when the door creaked. Harry quickly saw why. In the middle of his desk was the Pensieve. “Severus?” Still nothing. He had a neutral expression, stiff-greasy hair dangling in his face. One painfully thin hand was on the bowl. His thumb gracefully rode the storm inside. Harry looked into the swirling silver mist-made-matter. Something thin and black wriggled to the top. It thrashed like a drowning snake and sank again. Harry was taken aback. He stared at the contents. Another black filament reared out of the silver. A second strand looped up to meet it and the two wound together in a violent battle. They dragged each other down, and were replaced a moment later by another of the dark threads floating like an alligator. “What the fuck…?”
Sev’s lips twitched. The particular memory was either happy or hideous. Given that he was probably reliving times spent with Dumbledore, Harry suspected it was a happy one. Well. Sev hadn’t had much reason to be happy for a long time, and once the Pensieve released him he’d have even less. Harry grabbed a quill and parchment and scratched:
Sev, I stopped by to see how you were. Come find me when you’re free. Try… I don’t know, the room, or maybe the library. Or the Great Hall.
He raised an eyebrow at what he’d written. In a moment the crumpled sheaf sat in the wire wastepaper bin. He tried again:
Came by. You’re busy. Find me later. H.
Harry left the page next to the Pensieve where nobody with eyes could miss it. He resisted temptation to push back that long, filthy hair. It might disturb Sev, and with his temper anymore that could be lethal. The days of cool, calm, collected, calculating Severus Snape were over. Harry wondered yet again how long it would be before he took a swing at someone. Quietly, he slipped out. He stopped by the room for a moment to get his cloak and hat and sneakers and gloves. Grendel had given him sanctuary last time this happened. Why not again?
Return to Archive | next | previous