Grazhir :: Harry Potter :: Crumbling Pedestal :: 10 :: Cat & Mouse

10 • Cat & Mouse

Diagon Alley was full of noise, from people, animals, and odd little devices on display. Mark’s eyes were full of wonder, even more so than they had been while exploring the village. Heru took his hand and led him toward the imposing edifice of Gringotts, leaning down briefly to remind the boy in a whisper about the goblins he would shortly be seeing.

The grip on his hand tightened when Mark caught his first look of the interior and saw the beings he had been warned of, but did not protest with word or movement when Heru led him up to one of the clerks to arrange for an account to be opened. While he was there, and after Mark had been presented with a shiny new key, Heru exchanged a quantity of galleons into muggle bills for a trip into London proper.

He watched with barely veiled amusement as Mark suffered through being measured and fussed over as the ladies at Madam Malkin’s fitted him for a wizarding wardrobe, then treated his new charge to an ice cream at Fortescue’s. As they ate he pointed out the various shops Mark would eventually become familiar with, then led him to a bare brick wall.

“What’s this?” the boy asked, plainly puzzled.

“Not everything is as it appears,” he replied vaguely, then tapped several bricks with his wand.

“Brilliant,” breathed Mark as the bricks reformed into an arch, then stepped through quickly, as though afraid the wall would snap closed at any second.

Heru stepped through and said, “The Leaky Cauldron serves as a gateway between Diagon Alley and muggle London. Muggles can’t see it from the outside, and they certainly can’t get past this archway since you need a wand.”

When they arrived home several hours later, Mark went upstairs to drop off his packages before lunch, which they ate in the kitchen. They had not yet finished eating when Guin announced a visitor. Heru was far more surprised than Mark, who wouldn’t know what to expect as normal. It turned out to be a man from the Floo office, come to complete the final hookup.

He was dusty and carried himself as though he held the weight on the world on his shoulders. He spent a half an hour puttering around and making odd little gestures at the hallway fireplace, then explained everything Heru had already read in the provided pamphlet in a voice that practically oozed boredom. Heru had to stifle yawns by the time the fellow took himself off, and went ahead and set a password before his body could convince him to have a nap.

*

Over the next few weeks Heru busied himself in organizing a wealth of information into categories. These potions for first years, those for second, and so on. He was also compiling a complete list of ingredients along with sketches or photographs, information on their habitats—flora and fauna—smell, taste, whether or not each was poisonous, and handling instructions.

Then he began to write. Each potion was separated in sections. The first was meant to serve as material to read beforehand, and explained in detail why a particular order, and what the interactions and instructions actually accomplished, not to mention how to correct common mistakes. The second section provided a straight list of ingredients, followed by a short-form version of the instructions.

After he had written a half dozen of those for first years, Heru had Mark look over his work to see if he was losing his audience or not. When he’d made a few minor corrections in how he explained things, Mark pronounced him well on the way and went back to his own books about history.

There were incidents of wee-hour upsets, where Mark would have nightmares and cause Heru to wake up to comfort him, but they were not nightly, making Heru wonder just how close the boy had been to his parents, and how strong he was emotionally.

It was somewhere near the end of August when Mark looked up one day and asked, “So this Grindelwald fellow . . . the headmaster of the school defeated him?”

“Yes. Albus Dumbledore. He’s been offered the position of Minister of Magic in the past, but he’s always turned it down, preferring to remain at Hogwarts.” Seeing Mark’s curious look he said, “I think he believes he can do far more good helping with the education of so many children than to be stuck in bureaucracy and red tape.”

“Is he a nice person?”

“That depends, doesn’t it? He seems serious in the pursuit of his goals, but appears to have quite a sense of humor. However, he is no friend to dark wizards and witches. Perhaps I should say evil. Make no mistake, Mark—dark does not always mean evil.”

“So things are all right now? This was a long time ago.”

Heru exhaled and smiled at the same time, his breath coming out in a gust. “Well, not exactly. But, since you’ve read about Grindelwald, I suppose it would be best if you understood more about things today.” He moved over to crouch down next to Mark’s chair, gesturing for the book in his lap. He flipped through the pages until he found the right spot, then handed it back. “There, read that. Ask me again when you’re done.”

Eventually, Mark asked, “Is he really gone? I mean, aren’t I a muggle-born?”

“Technically, no. Nobody is certain that Voldemort is gone. And despite evidence to the contrary, you aren’t muggle-born. We are very distantly related, and you have a number of wizards in your family tree. You recall what a squib is? Good. Obviously, any wizarding family can produce a squib, though I don’t think anyone is really sure why. Maybe it’s too much inbreeding among pure-blood families, and maybe it’s just a quirk of genetics. You, however, come from a line containing squibs that intermarried with muggles and wizards. Though, I have no doubt you’d show up as muggle-born when it came time for your letter—or would have if I hadn’t come along.”

“Um. . . .”

“Yes?”

“How do you know all that, and who exactly are you anyway? All you’ve ever told me is your given name. I’m not saying I dislike it here, but. . . .”

“I’ve seen your family tree, of course. If you know where to look, you can find out a lot of things. As for my name—my family name—you should recognize it. It’s Slytherin. Don’t look at me like that—it’s quite legitimate.”

“And we’re related.”

“Yes.”

“And all of this has what to do with this Voldemort person?”

“Everything and nothing. You are of the Slytherin line, as am I, as is Voldemort. Voldemort claimed to be carrying on Salazar’s noble cause of denying muggle-borns entrance to Hogwarts because muggles couldn’t be trusted. And if you’ve absorbed enough history, you’ll understand why he thought that way.”

“So there may or may not be this Voldemort person running around trying to exterminate muggle-borns and muggles, among other things.”

“I’d say that just about covers it. Getting back to Albus Dumbledore, he would be opposed to someone like Voldemort, who is both dark and evil.”

“If you’re a Slytherin, how come you weren’t a part of Voldemort’s group?”

Heru coughed and blinked at Mark. “Because I don’t happen to agree with his aims, or his methods. A name doesn’t make you who you are, though it can open some doors, and close others. Believe me, if I came to the attention of Dumbledore, he would be highly suspicious of me, simply because of my surname.”

“How would he even know it was real?”

“There’s such a thing as magical identity. I could tell people my surname was anything, but if I needed to sign a magical contract, I’d be forced to use my real name. Sort of like when I purchased this house. Also, there’s a potion called veritaserum. Ever heard of sodium pentathol? Hm, well, veritaserum is a truth potion. You are incapable of lying if you’ve been dosed with it. Its use, however, is restricted by the Ministry.”

“Oh. All right. Am I in danger?”

“Not that I’m aware of, but if it becomes an issue, I’ll rethink things. I suggest you go back to where you left off at Grindelwald. The more you learn before you attend Hogwarts, the better.”

That night, Heru had his first taste of how effective the meddling of the founders had been. Something woke him, that was sure, but it wasn’t Mark having a nightmare. When Heru checked on him, the boy was sleeping peacefully. He wandered around for a while checking windows, looking in on the elves, and testing the integrity of the wards, even though he knew they couldn’t possibly be defective.

Eventually he went back to bed, still puzzled. When he was in the process of reading The Daily Prophet later that morning it struck him. Harry had had a dream, a vision, of Voldemort. Today would be the day Harry would leave Privet Drive for the Burrow.

*

It had become habit, a routine. Heru would work like a man possessed to produce several chapters for a text, and Mark would skim through them and make suggestions. Heru would make corrections—he wanted things to be as clear to a muggle-born as it would be to a pure-blood—then move on to the next set.

Life was quiet and calm, despite the excitement that permeated the village once news of the Triwizard Tournament got out. No one bothered them at the house, and the shopping was handled by the house-elves. Neither of them left other than to stretch their legs with a walk. Heru had no guests, as he had no friends—or at least, no friends he could expose himself to. Most people would damn him the moment they learned his name, never bothering to give him the benefit of the doubt.

If any of that bothered Mark, he didn’t mention it. After he’d got over the disappointment of no electricity, he’d inveigled Heru into teaching him wizarding games and would often drag him into a game if he got bored of reading and there was no one in the village he wanted to visit.

When he completed the first year Potions text, Heru went back over other texts he’d purchased to make sure he had not included too much, or anything that could be considered too advanced. Satisfied, he moved straight into the second year effort. When he felt like a change of pace he worked on the compendium.

By the time the students from the competing schools arrived at Hogwarts, Heru was well into the third year text, and beginning to think about finding someone willing to publish his work. Naturally, he had no idea how to do that offhand, but the checking a few books gave him names to start with.

Mark thought it would be a bit posh to send a phoenix off with letters so they took a day off to go owl shopping, one for each of them. Heru tried not to think about Hedwig. Once that mission was accomplished, Heru sent out letters to each of the publishers on his list. Then he went right back to writing.

Mark asked him at one point why he was working so feverishly, if he was short of money. Heru sat back and ruffled his hair, then said, “Because. Current texts are horrible. If I can convince someone to publish, then convince people to buy them, that would be great. No, I don’t need money. I’m quite comfortable, actually. I do, however, need something to do with my time. As to why I’m working so hard on this, if I can get the series completed, then it might be ready for next year.”

A couple of weeks later Mark looked up from The Daily Prophet and started asking about Harry Potter. “So, this is the kid who defeated Voldemort?”

“That’s how history writes it,” Heru said vaguely. “All anyone really knows is that Voldemort failed when he tried to kill him, and no one has seen Voldemort since, though his followers are out there somewhere.”

“I wonder what he’s like. Potter, I mean.”

Heru shrugged. “You’ll no doubt have a chance to find out in a couple of years. That is, if you don’t meet him here in Hogsmeade.”

“Yeah,” Mark replied.

A week later, Heru got back responses from the publishers; only one of them was interested enough to provide a date for him to come in and talk. It was another reason for him to shrug; if it didn’t come together, he’d figure something out.

Out of pure curiosity, Heru hauled Mark with him up to the castle in order to watch the first task a few days later. The only downside to the treat was Mark’s sudden and keen interest in having a broom of his own. Heru promised to think about it.

On the last day of the month, armed with drafts of the first through third year Potions texts and a partial compendium, Heru traveled to Diagon Alley, leaving Mark in the care of Flick and Guin. He found the publisher’s office easily enough and was immediately ushered into a smaller room for his meeting.

He arrived home several hours later slightly pissed off. Things had gone quite well until the subject of his name had been raised. The publisher was more interested in digging for gossip fodder than in discussing the actual texts. After repeated attempts to get the man back on track, Heru finally gave up and left.

He stomped down to the basement and took a good, long look. His next action was to send off a letter to a publisher, not of books, but of a paper.

The second week of December found Heru having a cozy chat with one Mr Lovegood of The Quibbler over cups of tea. Rather than obsessing over Heru’s name, Mr Lovegood was far more interested in talking about whatever came to mind; he was delighted to find someone who didn’t automatically assume he was a bit lacking.

When his guest was nice and warmed up, Mr Lovegood took Heru on a tour of his business, pointing out details large and small, and explaining just how the printing process worked from start to finish. When Heru questioned the size of the press being used, Mr Lovegood pointed out that books could be made on a much smaller one, which in turn sparked a discussion of exactly how much room would be necessary for a private press.

In the end Heru realized he could manage to convert his basement, but he wasn’t sure if he wanted to make that kind of commitment right at the start. That occasioned another cozy chat with Mr Lovegood. The agreement they finally worked out was simple. Heru would pay for all the equipment, to be set up at at The Quibbler. He and Mark would assist Mr Lovegood in producing a very small run of each text, and those would be sent out for consideration.

If things went well, Heru could either renovate his own basement and transfer the equipment, or hire on Mr Lovegood to oversee things while providing the funds for additional personnel. The only problem Heru could think of was of translation. While he was fairly fluent in French, he couldn’t say the same for any other languages. He decided not to worry; if he could convince Hogwarts to use his texts, Beauxbatons and Durmstrang could be approached. If things went badly, he’d wait a bit before deciding whether or not to sell off the equipment.

A week later found Heru and Mark getting a lesson in the art of typesetting, wizard style. Though the press had not yet arrived, they were able to begin the tedious process of setting up pages. Naturally, they took a break for Christmas. The highlight of the holiday was Mark receiving a broom—which he loved—and a kitten—which he promptly named Cooper. When Heru asked the for the logic behind the name, Mark pointed out that the cat had an odd pattern of banding that reminded him of barrels.

On the same day that Hogwarts began classes again, Heru and Mark went back to see Mr Lovegood. Together they spent the entire day running off copies of the books, including a partial compendium. While the work wasn’t difficult, it was as tedious as setting up the pages had been. It was also a lot more work overall, having to constantly change the plates out, then getting the texts properly compiled and bound. All Heru could say to himself was, Thank goodness for magic.

The following day, after sleeping in, Heru bundled up a set and sent them off to Hogwarts along with a letter of introduction and explanation. After that he went back to writing, and Mark went back to reading, convincing Heru to play the odd game with him, and flying around the quieter sections of Hogsmeade. It was approximately three weeks later when Heru received a response.

Mr Slytherin,

We would be pleased if you would come to Hogwarts to discuss the sample texts you have provided us with for consideration. As these are Potions texts, Professor Severus Snape would also be present as our resident Potions Master.

If you are agreeable, we have set aside the morning of the 6th so that we may meet. We would also be pleased if you would take the noon meal with us. We await your owl confirmation.

Sincerely,
Albus Dumbledore

“Hm.”

“What?”

“Here, have a look.” Heru handed the letter to Mark and waited for him to finish reading, drumming his fingers on the kitchen table. “I was wondering if I should ask Praecino to come along with me.”

“What for?” Mark laid the letter on the table and reached for his pumpkin juice.

“People tend to view a person with a phoenix a lot more favorably. It’s very rare for anyone to have one as a familiar because they’re so selective. If I showed up with Praecino, it might offset the name, you see?”

“I suppose so.”

Heru finished his breakfast and went to dash off a quick reply.

*

The walk up to the castle was pleasant enough, though quite cold. Heru was glad he’d used warming charms on his clothing before leaving the house. Rather than make Praecino endure the journey he resolved to call him once he was safely inside. And that’s exactly what he did after he was greeted by Professor McGonagall. When she offered to escort him to the headmaster’s office, he begged her patience long enough for Praecino to appear and perch on his shoulder. Other than widening her eyes, she showed no sign of surprise, and after delivering him to a very familiar office, she disappeared.

“Welcome, Mr Slytherin. I am Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of this school”—he held out his hand, which Heru shook firmly—“and this is Professor Severus Snape, our Potions Master.” Snape merely inclined his head, which was just fine with Heru, who inclined his as well. “Please, have a seat.”

Heru selected a chair directly across from the headmaster and looked around the office with adult eyes, and the eyes of a person who had witnessed the inception of the room’s use. He could feel a faint sense of welcome lingering in the air, though it did not originate from either of the two men. Finally, he returned his gaze to Dumbledore and smiled.

After the rest of the social niceties were out of the way and Heru had a cup of tea to warm his hands, he was amused to note that Praecino was busy carrying on a quiet, trilling conversation with Fawkes up on the second level. Albus, noticing the line of his gaze, was moved to comment.

“Your friend seems to be getting on well with Fawkes. He’s quite a magnificent example of a phoenix. May I ask where you got him?”

“I would not say I precisely got him, Albus. Rather, I would say he found me.”

“Oh?”

“Indeed. I was talking my customary morning walk when he flew out of the nearby forest and landed on my shoulder. I confess I did not understand quite what was happening at first, but after consulting with friends of mine, I formally accepted Praecino’s offer of companionship. I felt quite honored, and still do.”

“Ah, I feel much the same way. As I’m sure you know, it is a very rare thing.” Heru saw peripherally that Severus was watching the two birds, apparently ignoring the conversation. “I do confess, however—and you may find this to be impertinent—that I am quite curious as to how you bear the name you do.” Dumbledore’s manner was relaxed without being off-guard, a state Heru attributed to Praecino’s endorsement.

“It is simply my name,” Heru said with a casual sort of shrug. “I recall when I purchased a property in Hogsmeade this past summer that the estate agent was quite surprised, as was a publisher I spoke to, but I admit he was far more interested in dredging up items for gossip than in evaluating my work. History tells us very little about the past—most of it is quite murky—but I find it curious that there are so few of us left who bear the name.”

“Yes, I can see where you might run into certain difficulties.” Albus gazed at him over the rims of his spectacles for a moment. “But tell us, please, how you came to author these textbooks.”

“And,” cut in Snape’s resonant voice, “where you obtained some of these potion formulas.”

“Shall I be blunt?” Heru deliberately paused long enough to push up the sleeves of his jumper, exposing his bare, unmarked forearms. “I find the currently available offerings to be badly written and lacking in what I consider to be valuable information. When I considered those things, along with the fact that my own personal library contained potions that none of those texts made mention of, never mind explained, I felt it was worth trying my hand at correcting the situation. After all, failure presents no great loss to me personally, though I think it would be a loss to children at schools such as Hogwarts, especially those who do not come from a wizarding background.”

Severus was now staring at him intently.

“Interesting, very interesting. A most enlightened point of view.”

“Not to be rude, but that begs the question—do you mean to say, for a Slytherin?” Heru asked archly. “I ask, of course, because I am well aware of the reputation the name of Slytherin holds.”

“That would be the most obvious way of looking at it, yes,” Albus replied vaguely. “You have a unique way of presenting the material. I presume that you are currently at work on the remaining year texts, and the completion of the compendium?”

“Indeed. At present I am nearly finished with the fifth year text, though I can say the material is already organized for the ones beyond that. It was my intention that in later editions, each text would contain references to the compendium so that they could be more easily used in conjunction with each other. Even if they were not used as primary texts, I feel they would be an excellent addition to a student’s library.”

“Do you feel they would be complete prior to the start of the next school year?”

“I do. I began this project during the summer. I gave some thought to a separate work detailing potions which are no longer used, mainly as a historical aide to show how potions have progressed and evolved over time, but could not quite decide if there was an actual point.” His sleeves had worked their way down again, so Heru pushed them back up, as though it were a reflexive habit.

“It might prove interesting, were you to do so,” said Albus noncommittally. “I myself have no objections to the use of your texts, though I would prefer to be sure that the full set would be available in time for the new year.” Albus turned his head away and said, “Severus?”

“I would prefer to speak with our guest in more depth before making a decision.” Snape arched a brow and asked, “Would you care for a tour of the dungeons while we discussed this further?”

“Certainly. Never let it be said I turned down the opportunity to see a Master’s home territory.”

“Very well,” said Albus. “I hope to see you at lunch, then. If not, it was a pleasure to meet and talk with you.”

“Likewise. You have been a gracious host. Though, if I may ask, would it be all right if Praecino waited here? He seems to be quite happy at the moment. I can either summon him before I go, or he would return home at his leisure.”

“No trouble at all. Fawkes is delighted to have company.”

Heru stood and inclined his head in thanks, then looked to Severus, preceding him out of the office at his gesture after gathering up his cloak and folding it over his arm. When they were back in the hallway, Severus said, “This way,” and started off at a slow walk.