Grazhir :: Harry Potter :: Crumbling Pedestal :: 13 :: Trading Favors

13 • Trading Favors

By the time another week had passed, Heru completed his work on the sixth year text and had begun the seventh. He felt confident that he could manage to finish everything in good time and had stopped in to see Mr Lovegood about the number of copies to print for the first six books, plus hand over the necessary money for the hire of workers to set the most recent text and take care of the press operations for all of them. He fully expected to have the seventh year text and the compendium done by the end of April if his current rate of progress was anything to go by.

He had taken to writing down in the basement so he could work and still keep an eye on Mark as the boy continued to make potions from the first year text. Heru would not have been surprised to find out in the end that Mark was years ahead of himself when it came time for him to attend Hogwarts, if indeed he did actually go. He even set his son homework to attend to, similar to what he remembered of his own years at Hogwarts as Harry Potter. Tests, however, he decided were too much trouble, though it did make him consider a teacher’s companion that would contain sample assignments and tests. But, knowing what he did of the Potions Master, he made the assumption that for as long as Severus was employed at Hogwarts, such a book would not be necessary, and might be construed as insulting.

When Mark arrived home from a walk around town, Heru listened absently to a scattered account of a chance sighting of Harry Potter at Gladrags, and something about socks, but other than making the odd noise or nod of the head occasionally, he didn’t much pay attention. He found it easier to distance himself from that situation, even though Mark found it all very exciting indeed. It did serve to remind him that Sirius was in town, though, but he had no earthly idea what to do with the information. As touchy as Sirius was about his family, he doubted that being approached by a Slytherin would go over well at all.

Because of that reminder, and because things were fast rushing to that key point in time, Heru began to wonder a great deal about what would actually happen when time caught up with itself. The disembodied being had given him no real reason to favor one potential outcome over another. The only thing he could be reasonably sure of was that he had been sent back not quite to that point for a purpose. That he did not know why was immaterial. He would have to have faith that he would be able to accomplish necessary things without too much thought. Then again, Fate might have kept him so long in the past out of necessity or compassion.

Heru shook his head. It didn’t bear thinking about any longer just then. Instead, he pushed aside his barely-started text and reached for a fresh sheet of parchment. He dashed off a quick note to Severus, letting him know that the sixth text was complete, work had begun on the seventh, and that all was proceeding to plan. After signing his name with a flourish, he addressed it and had it sent off.

A brisk walk through the chill air of the village served to help clear his head, though he had the distinct impression that his every step was being shadowed. It was confirmed—perhaps it was coincidence—when the sound of his own footsteps developed a faint echo as he approached home and headed down the short walk toward the front door. Considering that he had taken his own house wards one step further than most, to the point where any spells aside from his own were negated almost as soon as they were cast, he was not unduly worried.

When he did gain the entrance, he turned slowly to see who was behind him, and smiled. “Hello, Mr Snape. What a pleasant surprise.”

“My apologies for not giving you adequate warning. Are you available, or should I return at a later time?”

“Think nothing of it. I’m quite a casual fellow, don’t you know. And yes, as it happens, I’m free at the moment.” After ushering his unexpected guest inside and taking care of both their cloaks, Heru led the way into the kitchen. He could have been mistaken, but the combination of his plainly muggle clothing and the obvious similarities in the kitchen’s accouterments caused a pained expression to pass fleetingly over Severus’s face.

Though it was long past lunch and ages until dinner, Heru had every intention of making himself a snack. He whipped open the refrigerator and started to rummage around, asking in a somewhat muffled voice, “Did you want a sandwich?” as he pulled out packages of ham and cheese, along with a dish of butter, and placed them on the counter.

Severus didn’t respond, so Heru yanked out a freshly baked loaf of bread and made two sandwiches, then put everything away. Tossing the plates on the table, he said, “If you don’t eat the second one, I will, so there’s naught to worry over. Care for a drink?” Severus gave a faint nod. Heru produced two glasses of cider and sat down, sliding one of the plates over to himself.

When Severus finally availed himself of a free chair, Heru asked, “So, what’s on your mind?” then bit into his sandwich hungrily.

After a slight pause, during which Severus took a sip from his glass, he asked, “Where is your son?”

Heru angled his head curiously and replied, “In the lab. I’ve asked the elves to keep an eye on him while he works. I reckon they can contain any tendency Mark might have toward blowing the house up.”

“I see.” Severus eyed the remaining sandwich, then said, “First, let me extend my apologies for my . . . impertinence . . . during my last visit.”

Heru nodded and took another bite.

“Something happened yesterday.”

Heru raised his brows and continued to eat.

“Something that disturbed me a great deal.”

Heru sighed inwardly and wondered if Severus was ever going to get to the point. Nevertheless, he smiled, took a sip of his cider, and another bite of his sandwich.

“You see—rather, are you aware of who Igor Karkaroff is?”

Heru gave an affirmative grunt—the least rude response possible at the time aside from a nod.

“He came to me yesterday, interrupted my class.”

Then Heru remembered. After swallowing he said, “And probably showed you how his Dark Mark was becoming more and more distinct, no?”

Severus gave him a wary look. “You wonder this, why?”

Heru waved his sandwich airily. “Call me a prophet. I often get odd glimpses of the future, and sometimes the past. Karkaroff is worried that it means Voldemort is gaining strength, that he isn’t really dead. Right?”

Severus pulled the remaining sandwich closer and picked it up. “Yes,” he said shortly, then took a bite.

“Should I then surmise that you also fear that is the case, and worry for your own sake? After all, you were, or still are, a spy, am I right?”

“Yes.”

“So let me ask you, my dear man, why are you here speaking to me about it?”

Severus lowered his sandwich and said, “Because I think you might be able to do something about it.”

Heru arched a brow. “Are you trying to tell me you trust me?”

“I don’t know. But I do think you can help.”

“I see. All right, we’ll set trust aside for the moment, though I think it’s a fairly important factor. I would like to hear why you think I have the power to help you.” Heru wolfed down the remainder of his sandwich and got up to make another.

“Isn’t that obvious?” asked Severus. “You’re . . . you.”

A pregnant silence ensued while Heru finished and packed everything away again before taking his seat. “I’m sorry,” he finally said, “but I don’t quite follow. What about me? Is my surname actually being Slytherin some sort of magical talisman to hold fast to as though I am automatically better, smarter, and more powerful than the family black sheep?”

Severus had the grace to look vaguely embarrassed.

“I’ll grant you, I bet I have a better grasp on what the name of Slytherin has to offer than that poor fool does. Merlin knows I didn’t come down from some wastrel cadet branch of the family, and I certainly didn’t have the hubris to create a lordly new name for myself in an attempt to intimidate people. Well, all right—I’ll give you that Slytherin is enough to manage that on its own. Salazar had very good reasons to distrust muggles, but I have it on good authority that he was as much to blame for the death of his wife as any of the other founders.”

Heru pointed his sandwich at Severus and said, “Even he made mistakes of monumental proportions. It’s a damn shame he left behind something for that Riddle boy to find, as I doubt he could have found the Chamber by accident. He’d have been better off blowing up a forest or two in anger than to do whatever it was he did. Maybe then we wouldn’t have had a war, with another one potentially looming on the horizon. And for that matter, Riddle should have pulled up his socks and made something of himself, not gone haring off to every two-bit dark arts whore to learn how to rule the world in ten easy steps after a bit of hard luck as a child.”

Heru took a swig of his cider and repeated, “So, I would like to hear why you think I have the power to help you.”

Severus’s eyes had slowly widened during the impromptu speech, but then he blinked. “I think you can undo what he did. I think you can free me.”

“Really. And suppose I can. What would your headmaster have to say?”

“I don’t really give a damn,” was Severus’s bald reply.

Heru chuckled appreciatively. “Fair enough. Again, supposing I can, what do I get out of this, Mr Snape?” The look on Severus’s face made him laugh softly. “Come now. I’m already rich beyond the dreams of avarice, but you don’t really expect me to perform such a task out of the goodness of my heart, do you?”

“What do you want?”

“Quite frankly, I have no idea. I live a very simple life, as you know. I lack for very little, except perhaps for companionship.” Heru sat back and took a bite of his sandwich, staring at Severus with half-lidded eyes.

“It would be worth anything to be free.”

“Anything is a very vague sort of offer, my dear fellow. How about this?” Heru raised his brows and leaned forward. “You begin by using my given name, and I’ll determine if what you ask is even possible.”

“As you wish, Heru.”

He found it interesting what a bit of stature and power did to Severus. Given a figure he was convinced was so much more than he was himself, Severus seemed to relinquish the role of alpha and slide into what might almost be construed as subservient behavior—if you squinted. “There, see? That wasn’t so difficult. Small steps, Severus. Now, let us finish our snack, and then we’ll get down to business.”

A short time later they were barricaded in Heru’s study. He had called in one of the house-elves and given instructions not to interrupt them unless there was some kind of pressing reason, and to continue to keep an eye on Mark. When Guin was gone, Heru asked Severus to find a comfortable seat and bare his arm.

Whereas Heru had always before been the subject of study, he had not been entirely unaware of what was going on, and what was being done to him when the founders had investigated and modified his scar. Based on that experience, he had a pretty good idea of what to do in Severus’s case. Drawing upon that, he placed his hand on the Dark Mark, closed his eyes, and sought to unravel its mystery.

His delicate probing had the effect of causing the hairs on Severus’s arm to rise, and the professor shifted more than once as though trying to find a more comfortable position. Heru could see a twisted melange of spell threads emerging from the otherwise innocuous mark—threads that bent backward to flow up the man’s arm and split at the shoulder to travel both to his heart and his brain. Still more of them reached further down and out.

“This is a very nasty piece of work,” Heru muttered. “Did you know it is designed to either crush your heart or snap your mind like a twig on demand?” he asked conversationally. “And, oh dear, that is vile. . . . Here’s an impertinent question for you, Severus. Had any trouble sustaining a relationship, by chance?”

Severus shifted again, almost yanking his arm out of contact.

“I’ll take that as a yes,” Heru murmured, eyes still closed. “Hm, no, that’s just for pain. All right.” He opened his eyes and smiled, then stood up and brushed his shirt down, wandering over to a chair a moment later and seating himself.

Severus’s eyes were at once cold and curious.

“A very nasty piece of work, indeed. But to satisfy the curiosity I see looming in your eyes—yes, I can get rid of it. It might be hideously painful, but I can remove it.”

Severus relaxed marginally, and exhaled. “I’m not sure it could hurt much worse than when it was put in place.”

“Did you start out with the intent to be a spy, or did you turn, and why?”

“I’m not sure how that matters.”

“My dear man, consider who you’re talking to. And consider—why would I want to free a person who may have turned only because he thought it was the more expedient route to take, and who would, if he thought he could get away with it, go right back to his master and continue to wreak havoc?”

Severus’s lips compressed into a thin line. Then he said, “No, I did not take the mark with the intent to spy. But it was not long before I realized what a fool I had been, and what a lie his service was. I allowed myself to be branded in exchange for fool’s gold and cheap promises. I resigned myself then to a painful death, and decided that so long as it was going to happen, I may as well do so in the service of something I could trust in, or should I say, someone.”

“That person being Albus Dumbledore.”

“Correct.”

“Well, then.” Heru gave Severus a genuinely pleased smile, and was happy to notice the same reaction he had seen weeks before. Severus leaned forward almost imperceptibly and his eyes burned black fire. “If we can come to an agreement, I see no reason why you should not be set free.” It didn’t particularly matter to Heru at that moment whether or not he trusted the headmaster, or even his childhood perceptions of the Potions Master. He was in a position to help, which he normally would have been happy to do, but he wasn’t going to appear easy.

“I don’t know what to offer you. You said you lacked for nothing.”

“Except for companionship,” Heru pointed out. If he was not mistaking the signs, it was worth a try.

“I’m not sure I’d know how to be anyone’s friend,” said Severus with a faint sneer.

Heru chuckled. “Have you ever bothered to try?”

“No.”

He suddenly felt tired and depressed, and let it show. His gaze roamed over the walls and the ceiling, eventually coming to a rest on his hands where they laid in his lap. “I don’t understand you,” he said quietly. “I’ve told you I can free you, and you quibble over such a little thing. Would you prefer I replaced it with a brand of service all my own?” He waved his hand, dismantling the wards, then snapped his fingers. When Flick appeared, he said, “Please show Mr Snape out. If he returns tomorrow, be sure to announce him.” Then he stood and apparated upstairs.

*

Heru was in the library working when Flick popped into the room and announced, “Mr Snape is being here to see you, master.”

“Where is Mark presently?”

“The young master is being in the basement with Guin.”

Heru yawned and nodded. “All right. Please show Mr Snape in here, and do not disturb us unless it’s an emergency.”

“Yes, master.” Flick gave a little bow and popped out.

By the time Severus appeared, Heru was tilted back in his chair with his hands behind his head. “Please have a seat,” he said tonelessly, then warded the door with a wave of his hand. “I assume you still want that mark removed,” he stated.

Severus nodded and lowered himself into a chair.

“Fine.” Heru sat up and stretched, then stood and moved to kneel next to his guest. “This will take a while,” was all he said for the next several hours of painstaking work. Each thread was carefully drawn back from its point of destination, then delicately severed from the brand, and each one shriveled like a dying thing when he tossed it onto the floor. He had no idea what Severus was seeing, if he even had his eyes open. It must have looked like a pantomime of sorts. When every spell thread had been removed, Heru concentrated on leeching out the pigment embedded in Severus’s skin, one molecule at a time.

By the time he was finished he was sweating heavily and exhausted, gratefully letting himself slip down to the floor so he could stretch out on his back and rest. Eventually he felt well enough to rise so he could to move to the couch, where he promptly stretched out again and flung one arm over his eyes. He must have fallen asleep, for someone was gently shaking him and asking him to wake up. “What?” he muttered, thinking only of rolling over and dozing off again.

“Heru, it’s getting late. If I don’t return to the castle soon, Albus will start to wonder.”

“Mm. Right.” Heru absently dismantled the wards, this time using his wand. “Later.”

He heard a sigh, and then, “We have not discussed the details of what you wanted, Heru.”

“Sod that. Don’ owe me damned thing, Sev’rus. Tried, you don’ like me, s’get out. Got what you wanted.” Heru let his head loll to the side, then licked his dry lips and rolled over, absently fumbling his shirt down where it had risen up; the cool air against his skin didn’t feel so good.

Distantly he heard a few footsteps, then silence. A couple more were followed by the sensation of something being laid over him, then a series that faded off into nothing.

*

On the last Saturday of March, Heru sent another short note to Severus, letting him know the seventh year text was complete and that he expected the compendium to be finished in approximately a month. On the final Saturday of April, Heru sent another note, informing him of the completed compendium, and that he expected Severus to inform Flourish & Blotts of his selections for the upcoming year. Then he sent a package to Mr Lovegood with the final text, and a request to let him know if the expected order did not actually arrive.

He was at a complete loss for what to do with himself the next morning. Several hours in his study after breakfast had him tentatively considering a somewhat autobiographical work on his time with the founders, centering on the origins of Slytherin house. Naturally, the moment he pulled over a fresh notebook, Guin popped in to announce a visitor. “Mr Snape is being here to see you, master.”

Heru blinked and frowned, then took a deep breath. “All right. Please show him in.”

“Yes, master,” she said, before popping away. He had started a rough outline when Severus strode through the door, stopping in front of his desk.

“What can I do for you?” Heru asked politely and looked up for a moment, then as an afterthought said, “Please, make yourself comfortable.”

Severus sat. “I’ve been thinking about what you said.”

Heru wrote out another line and said, “Yes, all right.”

“I think perhaps that is exactly what I thought you meant—trading one form of servitude for another.”

Heru stopped writing and looked up from his notebook. Severus’s face was a peculiar mixture of pain and embarrassment. He let his gaze slide down for a moment and back up, then arched a brow questioningly.

“I owe you an apology.”

Heru let his brow drop. “I’m afraid I have no idea what you’re referring to. I did a favor for a friend in need. No apology is necessary.” He looked back down and started writing again, but stilled his pen when he heard a rather gusty sigh.

“Heru, I’m sorry. You treated me as you knew I would expect, and even then I was suspicious. I felt ashamed that night when you sent me away.”

Heru set his pen down and folded his hands, but did not raise his eyes.

“I’m not sure what I can do to make things right.”

Heru wasn’t sure if he should be enjoying this, or feeling a bit ashamed himself. But, he had left Severus alone to come to his own conclusions, and it was rather interesting to hear the man speak without his usual mask in place. The corner of his mouth quirked up as he thought.

“Will you say something?”

Heru flicked his gaze up to meet Severus’s. He unfolded his hands and used one to comb the hair back from his forehead, letting his fingers slide down to cradle the back of his neck, then smiled faintly. “It’ll be lunch shortly. Were you planning on staying?”