Grazhir :: Harry Potter :: Crumbling Pedestal :: 15 :: Requests Abound

15 • Requests Abound

“Fascinating, and rather curious,” said Albus. “I quite see now why Salazar left, though I cannot say I agree with his reasoning. It seems to me that he was as much to blame as his friends for what happened.”

Heru nodded, even though it looked as though Albus was speaking to himself more than anything.

“The journal is also illuminating. A revealing account of normal life, though with a great deal of sadness woven into it.” Albus fixed his bright gaze on Heru and said, “Tell me, if you will, are you able to see the wards here?”

“If I exert myself, yes.”

“Are they comprehensible to you?”

Heru blinked slowly. “I would have to spend a great deal more time examining them,” he lied, “for that to be the case.” Movement to the side caught his attention; Mark was beginning the practical portion of his exam.

“Yes, yes. I suppose that makes sense,” said Albus, stroking his beard. “Would you be willing to do so?”

“For what purpose?” countered Heru.

“It is my belief that the castle is sentient, and that the wards are a part of it in some obscure way. What I have read in the journal only confirms that belief.” Albus adjusted his spectacles and resumed, “While I do not possess your particular talent, it seems to me that one who understood the protections we enjoy might also be able to modify them to our advantage.”

“In what way?”

“I believe this came up in conversation with Severus, actually. It would be preferable if certain people were able to apparate in and out of the castle at will, while all others remained restricted to the more normal methods of conveyance.”

“You think it’s wise to tamper with the wards in that fashion, possibly allowing for the inclusion to the exceptions of a traitor?”

“I’m not sure I follow. A traitor?”

“I know more history than you might think, headmaster,” Heru said stiltedly. “Imagine if a rat were given free and easy access to the grain silo.”

Albus blinked and sat back.

“Not to mention, if I were able to do as you ask, you must realize I could easily include myself in that list of exceptions, and I don’t think you trust me.” Mark opened his mouth to speak, so Heru held up his hand in a quelling motion so he could pay attention.

“Professor?”

“Yes, Mark?”

“Mr Slytherin—”

“Heru,” he said absently.

“What do you think of father?”

“Why do you want to know?”

“Because he likes you.”

Heru choked at almost the same moment Severus did.

“Heru, what are you doing?”

Heru flapped his hand and said, “Shush.”

“I’m sorry, what did you say?”

“He likes you, so I want to know if you like him too.” Mark looked down and added some diced frog livers to his potion and stirred it carefully.

Severus waved his wand at the classroom door, closing it and locking it. “I think your father is an intelligent, talented person.”

“That’s not what I meant, sir.”

Heru ignored the fact that Albus was staring at him intently.

“Aren’t you a little young to be asking questions like this?”

“If I’m old enough for it to come to mind, then I’m old enough to ask, right? So do you?”

“Don’t you think that is a topic better discussed between your father and me?”

“Of course, sir. But I don’t think he’d ever come right out and ask you.”

“Damn kid,” muttered Heru.

“Then isn’t that an indication that he doesn’t wish to?”

“I don’t see why, sir. He doesn’t have any friends. You make him smile, though, and I see the way he looks at you.” Mark gave Severus an ingenuous look.

Severus covered his eyes with one hand as though weary. “Mark, please return your attention to the potion, or I’m afraid I might have to mark you down for messing about.”

“Awwww. If you say so.” Mark produced a sullen pout, which had no appreciable effect on Severus, and dropped his eyes.

“Dear Merlin,” breathed Heru. “I really need to have a talk with him.” He blinked and looked up at Albus. “Sorry, what were you saying?”

“If I may ask, what was that all about?” Albus asked patiently.

“Oh. That was about my son being too nosy for his own good and me needing to set him straight on a few issues.”

“How do you know he was being nosy?”

“Because I’m watching him, of course. What else?”

“I feel much like we’re standing on opposite sides of a great chasm, Mr Slytherin—Heru. How are you watching your son?”

Heru squinted at Albus. “A spell. It can be a little distracting at times, I admit, but I occasionally find it useful, especially when both of the house-elves are out on errands.” Albus steepled his hands in front of him, the twinkle in his eyes back at full force. “Anyway, we were talking about the wards, I believe, and how I think you don’t trust me in the first place.”

“Yes, of course.” The brightness of his eyes dimmed slightly, and Albus sat back. “It is true that I have no particular reason to trust you. That you have freed Severus could be for your own designs, and showing me a bit of the past is also of no real value except perhaps to a devoted historian.”

“But?”

“But I do believe that Severus is, generally speaking, a very good judge of character. I would appreciate if you would consider the matter of becoming familiar with the wards at Hogwarts, and let me know if you are willing.”

“Sure. I’ll consider it.” He glanced off to the side for a moment before saying, “But as it seems Mark is finishing up, I wonder if you would escort me back to the classroom? I’d hate to get lost.”

“Certainly.”

Heru stood up and checked his pocket, then called out, “You come home whenever you’re done talking, Praecino. I’m not sure when that’ll be for me.” He turned back to Albus and smiled, then allowed himself to be led back to Severus’s classroom. Thankfully, the journey was mostly silent. Heru didn’t dismiss the spell until after he had knocked on the door and saw Severus coming to open it. On the way down he had decided to leave well enough alone and not chastise Mark, so when he was admitted, he merely ruffled his son’s hair in greeting.

“It appears I have excellent timing,” Heru said, casting a pointed look at Albus, who smiled and excused himself. He could only hope that the headmaster would play along, lest Severus come to find out that Heru had been keeping an eye on things. That Albus had no idea what Heru had witnessed was beside the point; if he mentioned it to Severus, Severus would figure it out, and the potential for embarrassment was high all around.

“As it is not quite time for lunch, would you care to check out that inlay?”

“Inlay?” Mark repeated.

“Yes, inlay. And yes, I would very much like to see it.”

Severus finished locking Mark’s efforts away in one of his desk drawers, then led through a maze of corridors to the serpents Heru remembered from years ago.

“Hey, that’s neat,” cried Mark. He reached out to trace the inlay, jerking back in surprise when one of the snakes moved to avoid his hand.

“Stop that,” it hissed. “It tickles.”

Mark bent over giggling and Heru chuckled. Severus looked perplexed.

“If we promise not to tickle you, will you open up?” hissed Heru.

“It has been many years since one of your kind has come,” it hissed as its companion nodded. “We will open for you.”

A moment later the wall sank back and shifted to the side. Heru stepped through, followed by Severus and Mark. In truth, the room was quite bare. The shelves were empty, as was the desk. Aside from the furniture, the room contained nothing of interest. Heru stepped back out, gesturing to his companions, and focused on the serpents when they reappeared.

“When was the last time one of my kind was here—do you remember?”

The snakes exchanged a stony glance. One hissed, “Decades ago—“

“Five perhaps,” hissed the other.

”—there was a young boy. He came for several years. We never saw him again after that.”

“Who?” hissed Mark.

“He did not tell us his name.”

Severus cleared his throat. “We should get going.”

“Oh, right.” Heru hissed, “Thank you for the information.”

The serpents nodded and went still. They arrived at the Great Hall via the adjacent room at the back. An extra chair had been placed at the end of the table on the side Severus usually sat at. Heru took the last seat with Severus to his left, facing the house tables, and Mark took the one at the end, ending up with a view all the way down to where Hagrid customarily sat. Heru very carefully hid his amusement at Mark’s wonder, especially when the food appeared, knowing that even though the child had become quite comfortable living in the wizarding world, it was still quite a lot to experience the school’s atmosphere, muggle-raised or not. And while his son busied himself with the food and all the things available to look at, Heru conversed quietly with Severus.

“To fill you in, the serpents knew only that a boy used the room for several years back about five decades or so. They never knew his name, but I think it’s safe to assume it was Riddle.”

Severus nodded, then sat up sharply and glared down at the Slytherin table. After a moment he murmured, “You’d think the little blighters had never been introduced to the concept of discretion.” When he relaxed again he said, “It is at times like these that I wish I were a parselmouth.”

Heru didn’t know what to say to that, so he took another bite of his meal.

“Too bad it isn’t easy to give as some things are, or to take away,” was the next murmured comment.

Heru thought about that for a moment and said, “Next you’ll be wanting me to produce working notes on the metamorphmagus potions accident.” Then, “Hey, hang on a minute. That was bloody hard work, what I did.”

“Yes, and I am eternally grateful for your efforts. I’m also feeling a little envious at the moment, if you don’t mind. Stop spoiling my fun.”

Heru chortled, causing Mark to look over with wide eyes. “It’s nothing, Mark. Just a joke. There’s plenty more if you’re still hungry.” Having successfully distracted his son, he murmured to Severus, “Sorry.”

“Your son was born with the ability, I presume?”

Heru paused in the middle of forking a carrot. “Yes, of course.”

“A pity.”

But it did make Heru wonder. He hadn’t been born with it, or so Albus said. He couldn’t very well make a family tapestry for Harry Potter—not without a great deal of trouble—but could he possibly make one for Voldemort to prove that Tom Riddle and Harry Potter shared no common ancestor? And could he prove that the ability was not always genetic?

A nudge brought his wandering thoughts back in time to hear, “Were you going to eat that, or did you just plan on stabbing it to death?”

Heru looked down and realized his carrot was in pieces and flushed. “You brought up a very interesting point, is all.”

“Yes?”

“We both know of someone who was not born with the ability, or so it is believed. It makes me wonder.”

Severus flicked his eyes toward the Gryffindor table and sneered. “Your point?”

“If it can be done once. . . . It might prove to be a curious experiment, even if only for my own satisfaction.” At that moment, Harry looked up from the Gryffindor table and locked eyes with him, then quickly looked away. Heru felt an odd weakness sweep through his body, followed by a sense of foreboding he couldn’t explain. “Poor kid. I’d hate to be in his shoes right now.”

“Why, because he flaunts himself where you do not? Because he parades around as though he has the right to own the world?”

“No,” said Heru softly. “I’ve got the strangest feeling something bad is going to happen to that kid soon.”

“Surely you jest.”

Heru angled his head to the left so he could stare directly at Severus. “No,” he said, shaking his head slightly. “One look in his eyes and I felt—I’m not sure, and it doesn’t feel good.”

“You have the same eyes—did you know?”

Heru smiled and looked away. “I wasn’t aware you’d noticed them, Severus. In any case, you’ve given me a neat little problem to poke at.”

“If it turns out it can be done, I shan’t mind you spoiling my fun, then.”

Heru chuckled and said, “I’m not sure why you’d want it. Serpents aren’t the best conversationalists.”

“Perhaps. But not all desires are rational.”

*

Mark was thrilled to be a guinea pig, especially when it didn’t require much effort on his part. Heru took to studying him constantly over the next few days, feeling much like he was trying to separate individual stands of spaghetti with chopsticks fashioned from tree limbs as he sorted through the many threads of magic that ran through the boy’s body. In the end, he derived a simple solution for finding what he wasn’t sure he was looking for to begin with.

He asked Mark to speak to him using Parseltongue. When the boy complied, Heru could see a change in the weave of his magic. After having Mark babble whatever came to mind for several hours straight, Heru thought he had a very good idea of what ought to be where and why. Of course, Mark was a natural parselmouth. Heru sent a note to Severus at the castle, asking if it would be possible to sit in on a class invisibly. Specifically, a double period with Harry Potter in it.

Severus sent back a note inviting him up on Friday and giving him the time. He wanted to know if Heru could find his way alone or if he would need an escort. Heru sent back a note a few minutes later to let Severus know he’d be fine on his own.

When he did arrive, he was already invisible, and didn’t bother to walk the entire distance. He apparated into the castle at the serpent inlay, arriving a minute later at the classroom door and slipping through without anyone being the wiser. After sliding a bit of parchment on the desk behind Severus’s back, he found an advantageous spot and began his study of Harry.

He did notice at one point that Severus had found the note and looked around, but had then quickly gone back to stalking up and down the aisles looking for an excuse to yell at someone. By the time the class was over, Heru had noted several interesting differences between Mark’s and Harry’s ability. Apparently, Albus was correct. And without being able to study Voldemort, or himself, that was as good as it got.

He slipped out just as deftly as he had slipped in, found the inlay again, then apparated to underlake and faded back into view. After another bracing chat with the portraits of himself, he apparated home to consider things.

The next morning Severus was admitted and shown into the library. Before Guin had a chance to pop out, he handed her a sheaf of parchment for Mark, then found a seat across from Heru.

“How did he do?”

“Quite well. Nearly perfect, in fact.”

“Nearly? Hm. I don’t know if I could stand the shame of an imperfect score from my son in Potions.” Heru rolled his eyes and snorted. “He’ll be quite pleased, then, as am I.”

“Care to tell me about that little note?”

Heru braced his elbows on his knees and placed his chin in his hands. “I spent quite a while studying Mark, but he’s a natural-born parselmouth. I thought it would be wise to also study a person who purportedly was given the ability, so I could compare.”

“And?”

“They are different, and I could take that to mean it is in fact because of the presumed difference. Unfortunately, I know of no way to study myself, or any other natural parselmouth, so I can’t be sure.”

“Do you think it can be replicated?”

“I don’t know. I could try, but I’m not sure of the end result. Nothing might happen. I could end up with a new parselmouth. Or it might have unexpected consequences.”

“Let me rephrase—do you think you are able to try?”

“Yes.”

“Will you?”

“You could end up a squib for all I know, Severus, or dead.”

“Will you?”

“Only if you absolutely insist.”

“How long do you estimate it would take?”

“Today, possibly tomorrow. I’d want to put you under for the duration.”

“May I use your owl?”

Heru winced. “Are you sure about this?”

“Yes.”

“All right, then.”

*

Mark was curled up in a chair, sleeping. He’d spent most of the day reading quietly once his initial interest in the proceedings had worn off, playing template. Heru used what he saw in Mark, combined with what he had learned from the study of his younger self, to decide what threads to move and what threads to create and insert. He also remembered what Albus had said—two years ago or twenty-two, depending on your point of view—about the transference of power.

He spun strands of pure magic from his fingertips and carefully wove them into place within Severus’s body and his existing magic. It was tiring at first, then exhausting, so Heru had been taking frequent, short breaks throughout the day, giving himself a chance to rest and replenish his own energy, but without taking a great deal of time away from the process. It was nearing midnight when Heru felt he had completed his task. A comparison of Mark to Severus showed that everything looked the same, at least, insofar as the weave for that particular ability. Heru was starting to have grandiose notions of playing God when he sat back and wiped the sweat from his forehead.

But he wasn’t really done. All of it would be wasted effort if the threads unraveled or shriveled in place. The worst case scenario would be them shriveling away, taking Severus’s original magic with them, like some cancer that traveled at light speed. He remained awake through the night, drinking frequent cups of coffee and checking often to see if his work remained stable and whole. By the time the first light of morning crept over the sill, Heru wanted to sleep for a week. Mark eventually woke and padded off, yawning hugely, so Heru summoned an elf.

“This will be a peculiar request, but I want you to check in here every half hour until I tell you to stop. If I’m asleep, wake me up, so I can see how Severus is doing. All right?”

“Yes, master.”

“For now, some breakfast would be nice, and more coffee.”

“Right away, master.”

After he ate he checked again; things looked all right. Heru leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. By noon, things still looked fine, so he told the elves they could stop checking in and woke Severus from his induced sleep.

“How do you feel?” he asked, then yawned.

Severus visibly took stock, then said, “I don’t feel any different.”

“Mm. Listen. Gonna lay down. Stay here, wake me for anything odd. No spells. Wards’ll stop you.” Heru flopped onto the couch and stretched out. “Might want to call for something to eat.” And then he was out.

He swam up from the depths of sleep to the sensation of someone brushing his hair back from his forehead with their fingers. The corners of his mouth curled up slightly and the movement stilled, only to start again a few seconds later. He enjoyed it for a few moments longer, then realized he had a thundering headache and whimpered in pain. He heard a faint snap, followed by a pop, then a deep voice ask, “Pain potion?”

Heru frowned and shifted in irritation at the noise. The fingers shifted with him and continued their soothing motions. Several minutes later—he had almost decided the pain was worth it if Severus would keep doing that—he heard the click of glass against wood. The hand moved away—Heru frowned again—and slipped under his neck to raise and support his head.

“Come on,” coaxed Severus. “You need to drink this.”

Heru batted a feeble hand at the air.

“Heru,” said Severus sternly. “Don’t make me hold your nose closed.”

He sighed, and when he felt a vial against his lips, opened his mouth to let the potion trickle in. He swallowed and grimaced immediately at the taste.

“There we go. You’ll be feeling better in no time.”

“Tired.”

“I realize that, Heru. But I do need to return to the castle, and I think you ought to come with me.”

Heru considered speaking, but settled on a puzzled frown instead.

“You need to be able to check easily if I remain well over the next few days, and while you’re there, you can consider learning more about the wards in case you decide to help Albus. Mark is also welcome.”

“Mm.”

“I’ll take that as a yes.” Severus lowered Heru’s head to the couch and began stroking the hair back from his forehead again, until he fell asleep.