Grazhir :: Harry Potter :: Crumbling Pedestal :: 11 :: Playing at Innocence

11 • Playing at Innocence

Severus said nothing as they made the slow walk down to the ground floor. It was not until they had descended to the dungeon level that either of them spoke, and at that, Heru was led along a series of passages first, a route that eventually led to a very familiar dead end.

“It is,” Severus said as he indicated the portrait, “quite remarkable how much you resemble this man. It seems the Slytherin look breeds true on occasion.”

“Yes, I see what you mean.” Heru tilted his head and pretended to subject the portrait to intense scrutiny.

“Unfortunate, though, that there is no given name. I have long wondered who he is.”

The portrait, which had woken at the sound of voices, squinted for a moment at them, then flashed a quick, secretive smile. A moment later it hissed, “You keep getting older, I see, unlike myself.”

Heru laughed softly and shook his head, looking over at Severus to see a fiery spark of curiosity burning in his dark eyes. “Shall we continue with the tour?”

“Of course. Follow me.” Severus led him away, back into the more common areas, pointing out various rooms as they passed them and explaining their use. Eventually Heru was led into the main classroom and through to Snape’s office. He wondered where Severus actually lived, and what, if anything, was now behind the snake-inlay door Salazar had used so long ago.

Severus settled in behind his desk, in a titular position of power, while Heru took a seat in the first chair he saw after laying his cloak over the back. Leaning back, he crossed his ankles, pushed up his sleeves, and aimed a pleasant smile at Snape.

Severus wasted no further time on social form. “Those potion formulas—you say they came from your personal library? It must be very old, or quite unique.”

“I would say both. Would I be wrong to assume that you’ve personally tried them? It seems to me to be the kind of thing a Potions Master would do.”

“A wise assumption. I would be very interested to see your collection.”

Heru arched a brow. “Perhaps. My books are stored quite carefully to ensure their near pristine condition. I might be persuaded to bring one or two by to show you. I’m quite protective of them, as you might understand.”

“As would I be, were they my own.”

“I suppose I see no reason to object. I hardly think a man of your reputation would play me for a fool. I will select a few I think might pique your interest.”

“What did the portrait say?” asked Severus abruptly. “People don’t normally laugh for no reason, or because they were hissed at.”

“You never know, dear fellow. I may be certifiable.” Heru flashed an amused smile. “But to answer your question, it appears the portrait agrees with you about the resemblance. It said it would never look as old as I do.”

“Then you are a parselmouth.”

“One might draw that conclusion. I get the distinct feeling I’m not down here so you can ask me about my work.” Severus gave him the barest of smiles, though it more closely resembled a snarl. Heru found it oddly erotic, and almost shook his head in surprise at his reaction. “Yes, I am a parselmouth. But that is allegedly quite common in the Slytherin line, is it not?”

“Undoubtedly. You seem quite comfortable with your lineage,” Severus stated.

“Shouldn’t I be? Though, with a madman like Voldemort running about it takes a very secure person to be so these days. There isn’t much one can do about masking reality in any case.”

“Indeed. Your little show isn’t fooling me, by the way. You’re quite casual about it, but I understand well what you’re not saying out loud.”

“And this means what to me?” Heru gave Severus another pleasant smile.

In return, Severus snorted. “You’ve made it very clear that you aren’t Marked. You arrived with a phoenix as your familiar. One must assume you are attempting to deflect ill will before it has a chance to manifest.”

“Aren’t we the clever fellow. That does not, however, mean I’m safe or harmless, as I’m quite sure you’re aware. But still, I must wonder what it is that you’re getting at.”

“You are . . . a very talented writer.”

“I appreciate your opinion, especially as you are a Potions Master and I am not, though I suppose I could take the exam.” Heru shrugged in an offhand manner. “You may call me Heru, if you wish. I certainly don’t mind.”

“So, we are supposed to come to the conclusion that you have utterly no connection to the Dark Lord,” Severus stated.

“How very odd, dear fellow. I thought it was only Death Eaters who referred to Voldemort in that fashion. Should I be worried?”

Snape’s expression congealed. Several heartbeats later he said, “You are being evasive.”

“As are you. Would that I could prove my sincerity, but I do believe a fellow such as yourself is rightfully cautious.” He cast a meaningful look at Severus, then said, “If you like, you’re more than welcome to visit my home in Hogsmeade. You can even meet my household. I’ll arrange for the books I mentioned to be available. Otherwise, I will await an owl from you with a time that is good for you that I may come back here and bring them with me. Regardless, I am far more concerned with whether or not you’ll be endorsing my textbooks. This venture is doomed to failure if you do not, and if that is the case, I’ll sell off the equipment I purchased and find another way to spend my time.”

“I have no issue with the texts. If you can complete the series prior to the start of the next school year and have them ready for order by Flourish & Blotts, then I intend to use those in the book lists.”

Heru gave Severus a genuinely pleased smile. The effect was interesting; Severus leaned forward slightly, his eyes seeming to burn black fire. “You have my sincere thanks. I will definitely continue working to the utmost of my ability on the remaining texts, starting when I return home today.”

Severus nodded and straightened. “And those books?”

“As I said—if you would prefer I return here, so be it. Otherwise you are welcome to visit me in the village. You will . . . have to let me know.”

“I shall inform Albus, then. And now”—Severus’s gaze focused on something behind Heru for a moment—“it is just coming on time for lunch. Will you be joining us for the meal?”

“It would be my pleasure.”

“Let us be on our way, then.” Severus stood, prompting Heru to rise, and ushered him out and up to the Great Hall. He did not introduce Heru to any of the staff, though he did give the headmaster a faint nod as they approached the head table. He steered Heru to the last seat at the end of the table and sat beside him, a buffer between Heru and other staff members. A number of curious glances were shot down the table, but out of courtesy they did not persist in such behavior throughout the meal.

It had been a distinctly peculiar feeling for Heru to sweep his eyes over the house tables and see himself as a child. Seeing Ron and Hermione almost undid him; he maintained his composure by sheer force of will. After that he mainly kept his head down, or turned toward Severus when they conversed intermittently. In consequence, he missed the blatant stares from the occupants of the Slytherin table. When the meal was over he stopped beside Albus long enough to give voice to his farewell, then allowed himself to be led to the main doors by Severus. After a parting inclination of the head, Heru stepped out and began the walk back to Hogsmeade and his home.

*

It was a week later that Heru received word from Severus; by then he had completed the fifth year text and sent word to Mr Lovegood regarding the felicitous decision made by the school. The letter read:

Mr Slytherin,

There are several matters we should discuss at this time. If the twentieth is convenient, please send confirmation by owl and I will stop by on that date at ten in the morning.

Severus Snape

The writing was a reminder of days gone by, inciting nostalgic feelings in Heru, perhaps only because it was not insulting. But then, Severus Snape wasn’t writing to Harry Potter. He didn’t answer right away. The letter was set aside as Heru considered the problem of Mark. He could, if pressed, prove the blood relationship with the boy; the results would show not the exact relationship, but rather only that it was quite distant without markers to denote—in this case—whether that meant upward or sideways. Despite that, Mark would be seen as inferior in the eyes of most pure-bloods.

Would the child be safer as he was, and more at risk should he agree to blood bond to Heru, or was the reverse more apt to be the case? After letting his thoughts run in circles for a half hour, Heru had Flick summon Mark to his study.

“I have a very important question to ask you,” Heru said once Mark was seated, “and I believe you’re old enough to make this decision on your own.” Mark immediately looked bewildered. Heru smiled and continued, “This may come out as a bit confusing at first, so please bear with me. You and I share a blood relationship, distant as it may be. Normally, that would be enough for me—though I have not adopted you in either the muggle or magical worlds, I am your legal guardian in the eyes of the muggle authorities, so by magical standards, that’s all that matters.”

Mark nodded uncertainly.

“What causes me to worry is that one of the professors from the school will be visiting in a week.”

“Why?” was the mystified question.

“Because there is every chance he will learn your full name, and I’m not sure how I feel about that. As it stands, you are considered a muggle-born in the eyes of the wizarding world, even living here. And though you are of the Slytherin bloodline, that perception would provide you some order of protection from the interest of Voldemort and his minions in terms of recruitment. On the other hand, it makes you more vulnerable as a target for extermination. There is good and bad on both sides of this equation.”

“I don’t think I understand what you’re trying to ask.”

“To put it simply, Mark, I have been deliberating whether or not to offer you a blood bond.”

“A what?”

“I have three options. I can leave things as they are and see how it all plays out. I can adopt you, but that won’t technically change anything except your surname. Or I can blood bond you to me, making you literally my son, blood and name. Make no mistake—no matter what you decide, I will do my utmost to assure that you grow up safely, even if it means leaving the country. You are family and I won’t abandon you.”

“So you want me to decide?” Mark squeaked.

“Yes. I feel it would be wrong to decide for you. If you choose not to decide, then I will be forced to at some point, but I think you’re mature enough to take a day to consider things and tell me what you would prefer.”

“The blood bond would mean I wasn’t Mark Evans any longer?”

“You’d still be you, but biologically speaking, you’d be a pure-blood Slytherin, as much my son as if I’d fathered you myself,” Heru explained.

“And I could be in danger either way.”

“Yes. I will always be honest with you, Mark, if I am able. I would never intentionally lie to you, though I may not be able to reveal everything I know.”

“Does it hurt?”

“Not really. It is called a blood bond for a reason, though. I must draw blood from both of us to accomplish it.”

“But don’t you plan on ever getting married and having children?”

Heru coughed and shifted uncomfortably. “I have no wish to, nor intention of, ever marrying a woman, so children are not an option. Regardless, you are family no matter what you decide.”

Mark gave him a slyly curious look, then dropped his gaze to his hands.

“I should point out that I very much doubt anyone aside from myself knows how to perform a blood bond, so I would appreciate you not speaking of it to anyone. Consider it a family secret.”

“All right,” said Mark suddenly. “I’ve decided.”

“So quickly?” Heru said in surprise.

Mark looked up and nodded. “I would prefer the blood bond. How long will it take?”

“Several days to prepare, then an hour or so for the ceremony. If you are sure, we can begin now.”

“Then let’s start.”

In the amount of time it took for Heru to stand, he idly wondered what effect this would have on the family tapestry.

*

Precisely at ten that morning a knock sounded at the door; Heru answered it personally. After returning Severus’s greeting, he invited the man in, asking once the door was closed if he would like anything to drink. Severus politely declined—and it was polite for Severus if Heru’s memory was anything to go by—and was subsequently guided into the lounge.

“Please make yourself at home while I fetch those books. I’ll only be a moment.” Heru inclined his head briefly and walked out of sight. Less than a minute later he apparated back into the house holding two bulky cases, which he brought to the lounge. He placed them carefully on the low table in front of Severus, then took a seat.

Severus, after a quick glance at Heru, leaned forward to open the first, then froze in place as Mark stepped into the room. Heru said, “Ah, let me present my son, Marcus. Mark, this is Professor Severus Snape of Hogwarts, the Potions Master.” He wasn’t sure if it was the revelation that he had a son, or Mark’s resemblance to himself that had arrested Severus mid-motion.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, sir,” offered Mark with a half bow and a disarming smile. After receiving a nod Mark turned to Heru and said, “I’m sorry to have interrupted. I wanted to know if it was all right for me to visit the shops.”

“Sure, but if you run into any trouble, summon Flick.” He then rolled his eyes and said, “Who am I kidding? If you aren’t back in time for lunch he’ll probably find you and drag you home.”

Mark giggled and raced off, the sound of the front door closing coming moments later.

Severus gave Heru a penetrating look, then opened the first case and moved the book within to his lap. He spent several moments gliding his long fingers over the cover, then flipped it open carefully. Heru settled back in his chair, prepared for a potentially long wait. And he was not disappointed in that expectation. When a half hour had gone by, he quietly stood and exited the room, stopping in at the kitchen to ask Guin for a pot of tea, and waiting until a tray was ready. He returned to the lounge and set the tray at the far end of the table, poured himself a cup, then sat down. Severus did not even appear to notice he’d been gone.

He was on his second cup when Severus replaced the book in its case and reached for the other, giving it the same odd caress before beginning to turn the pages. Heru had just poured his fourth cup when Severus looked up at him. Naturally, Heru smiled.

“I cannot believe what I’m seeing,” said Severus as he put the book back into its case. “Do you have any concept of how valuable these books are? And you have an entire library?”

Heru shrugged. “They have a lot of sentimental value for me, certainly.”

“These were written by Salazar himself.”

Heru took a sip of his tea and nodded. “So I understand.”

“Do you?” asked Severus almost rudely. “These books are priceless. How in Merlin’s name did you come by them?”

Heru blinked slowly. “They stayed in the family,” he said as if it were the most obvious answer in the world. “Some of them were written by the other founders.” Heru got the distinct impression that Severus wanted to groan. “I even have a few written by Salazar’s brother,” he added, just for shock value. He wasn’t disappointed that time either.

Severus closed his eyes briefly then said, “Brother?”

“So family lore goes.”

“And this alleged brother’s name?”

“The same as mine.”

“Heru.”

“Yeah. I looked it up once because I was curious. Apparently the alternate is Horus, the Egyptian God of Light,” Heru said cheerfully. “Interesting, eh?”

“Quite.” Severus didn’t appear to know what to do with that little tidbit of trivia. He was saved from saying more by the sound of the front door being closed, and a whirlwind called Mark blowing into the room.

“Father!” he cried. “Please say I can keep him.” Mark thrust something at Heru and deposited it in his automatically outstretched hands. Heru took a deep breath and looked down at a green snake with white banding.

“Oh. Well, I don’t know,” he temporized, angling his head to the side. “And what exactly are you?” he hissed.

The snake raised its head and gave him a beady stare. “You don’t know?” it hissed back, apparently affronted. “I am an emerald tree boa from Brazil.”

Heru looked up at Mark and asked, “They had this at the pet shop?”

Mark nodded and bounced, looking inordinately pleased with himself. “Can I keep him? He didn’t cost much ‘cause he’s not venomous.” Turning to the snake he hissed, “You want to stay, don’t you?”

“If you promise to find me plenty to eat,” it replied, coiling around Heru’s arm.

Heru raised his eyes heavenward, paused, then said, “All right. But next time, please ask first. And make sure he doesn’t scare Flick or Guin. The last thing I need is a house-elf having a nervous breakdown.” He held out his arms, allowing Mark to retrieve his new pet, then flapped his hand. “Go on, then, and introduce him to Praecino as well.”

Mark nodded vigorously and dashed off. Heru dropped his head into his hands and sighed. After a moment he straightened and said, “I’m sorry. Where were we?” Severus looked a little pale, he noticed.

Severus cleared his throat. “We were about to discuss your texts. But I only have time now to inform you of how many copies should be printed in anticipation of next year.”

Heru replied, “Please, continue.”

After relating the figures, Severus rose to his feet, prompting Heru to do the same. “The rest will have to wait until another time, I’m afraid.”

“That’s fine. I’d like to thank you for coming down here.”

After a last, lingering look at the cases Severus nodded and made a move for the door. Heru walked him out, then returned his treasures to his underlake quarters.

Four days later, Heru and Mark made the trip up to the castle to watch the second task.