Grazhir :: Harry Potter :: Crumbling Pedestal :: 16 :: Speaking in Tongues

16 • Speaking in Tongues

The next time he woke up he was in a strange bed in a strange room. There was an odd, though pleasant scent in the air, something his mind eventually identified as patchouli. It faintly perfumed the linens with its rich odor—enough to tantalize without being overpowering. A murmur of voices sounded from somewhere nearby, making him pull himself up and blink his eyes open. The room was pitch black but for a faint outline around what he presumed was the door—it was the right shape, anyway.

After that peculiar, internal twist of his senses, Heru gazed around the room and spotted his wand glimmering on the nightstand. He threw back the covers and pivoted, then stood up; someone had undressed him before putting him to bed. Heru shrugged and looked around until he spied his clothes, then picked them up and shook them out gently, grabbing his wand to perform a quick cleansing charm before pulling on his jeans and T-shirt. He shoved the wand behind his ear and made for the door, opening it slowly against the difference in light levels.

That didn’t stop him from blinking repeatedly when he stepped out, though he was able to see Severus and Mark sitting on opposite sides of a low table playing a game of wizard’s chess. He sank to the floor at the end of the table and squinted at the board.

“You all right, father?”

“Mm.” Heru blinked slowly a few times.

“He tends to be grumpy when he wakes up,” Mark said in confiding tones to Severus.

Heru gave Mark a halfhearted glare and went back to looking at the board.

Severus moved one of his pieces, taking a pawn.

Heru slung an elbow onto the table so he could support his head against his palm and looked at Severus. Everything still looked fine.

After a moment, Severus met his gaze and asked, “Are you hungry?”

Heru furrowed his brow. Maybe it was all that coffee, but he wasn’t sure.

Severus stood gracefully and walked to the fireplace to call in an order to the kitchens, then resumed his place at the board. Mark, being a fundamentally honest child, had not taken advantage of the situation, and waited until Severus was seated again before making his move. They played in silence until a house-elf popped in, whereupon Severus directed it to set up next to Heru, then went back to his contemplation of the board.

After a few minutes of breathing in the smell of freshly baked bread, Heru was moved to take a slice, spread it with butter, and begin to nibble. Shortly after that he felt energetic enough to have some soup and a few sips of pumpkin juice. He let his eyes wander around until he spotted a clock, which informed him it was seven in the evening. Heru turned back to the meal and slowly worked his way through it. Then, feeling quite full, he began to yawn.

Severus stood up and moved the tray out of the way, then held out a hand to help him to his feet. Heru ignored the sounds of mirth from his son, and allowed himself to be led back into the bedroom. Severus lighted a single candle and pointed at a second door. “The bathroom,” he said. Heru shuffled off and was back several minutes later.

“Now, strip.”

Heru sat on the edge of the bed, staring at nothing for a moment, then slipped his wand out from behind his ear and placed it back onto the nightstand. After another pause to yawn, he pulled the shirt over his head and tossed it to the side. Severus tsk’d and stooped, picking up the shirt and laying it on the same chair Heru had taken it from a short time earlier. Heru finally managed to get his jeans off, though he was nice enough to hold them out instead of flinging them wherever, and Severus placed those on top of the shirt.

A second later he advanced, pushing Heru back against the bed and getting his legs into place, then pulling up the covers. “Sleep,” Severus commanded, passing his hand over Heru’s eyes to make them close, then brushing the hair gently out of his face. And so he did.

He woke up feeling refreshed and alert, though momentarily disoriented. When his memory had caught up with him, he sat up and stretched, then slipped out of bed and into the adjoining bathroom. On returning he located his clothing and got dressed, tucking his wand behind his ear, and exited into the lounge. He stopped dead when he saw Severus asleep on the couch and realized that he had taken the man’s bed. Mark was nowhere to be seen and the clock read 6.45 in the morning.

Another close look after he sat down in a chair revealed that nothing had changed insofar as the alterations he had made to Severus. Now that he was awake, he noticed a number of doors leading off the room aside from the one into the bedroom, but he felt no pressing urge to explore. Instead, he slipped a book off a shelf at random and sat back down to read. A half hour later Severus abruptly opened his eyes and sat up.

“Good morning,” said Heru, feeling absurdly perky. He hated perky, though, and thought morning people should be taken out and bludgeoned, repeatedly if necessary. “Still feeling all right?”

“Yes. I assume you’ve already checked?”

It was disgusting the way Severus went directly from asleep to awake. “Yup,” he said cheerfully. “Nothing has changed, so you appear to be fine.”

Severus gave him an intent look, then said, “I thought you were grumpy on waking.”

“I am,” agreed Heru with a smile. “I have no idea what’s come over me.”

“I see. I’ll return in a few minutes.” Severus stood up and headed for the bedroom, disappearing within.

The moment Severus was out of sight, Heru felt like someone had wrapped a warm blanket around him. He glanced upward, startled, then laughed softly. “Good morning, dear lady,” he murmured. “I know, I haven’t slept within your walls in ages.” He felt a sense of agreement greet his words, and a touch of petulance. Casting a quick glance at the bedroom door he murmured, “I’ll be here a few days, so that’s good for both of us.” He felt a pleasant sensation tingle down his spine and squirmed. “Now you behave, or Severus is going to come back out here and think I’m insane.”

A tendril of curiosity touched him and he tilted his head to the side. “You know who I mean. I assume Mark is around here somewhere?” A light appeared in the short hallway at the back, then vanished. Heru nodded. “You’ll keep an eye on him while we’re here?” Assent brushed against his ear almost like a sound. “That’s comforting. He can be overly curious. But I suppose that’s no surprise to you.” A feeling of mirth made him smile.

“I—” Sounds from the next room had him choke off what he’d been about to say. Keeping his eyes on the door he whispered, “We’ll talk a bit later, all right?” He looked back down at the book he was holding as he received the equivalent of a hug from the castle, only to look up a moment later as Severus emerged and sat down.

“Unfortunately, it is customary for staff to eat in the Great Hall, but I will be stopping in as time permits. I know I’ve used the excuse of you examining the wards to explain your presence, but you need not feel compelled to do so.”

Heru shrugged and said, “I may as well. What I find is another story.”

Severus nodded. “Obviously, you have the run of the castle in that capacity, though you can use the fireplace for calls to the kitchen and various other places, such as Albus’s office. The password for these rooms is currently set to ‘Lycompodium’. I have already informed Mark.”

“Er, how exactly did I get here, anyway?”

“I sent to the school for a carriage. Mark packed up a few things he thought you would each need, and told your servants where you’d be. The only difficult part was getting you out to the carriage, and then down here once we’d arrived.”

“Why did you give me your bed? I’d have been perfectly fine on the couch, or Mark would have. I never meant to put you out.”

Severus arched a brow and said, “It was convenient at the time.” After a pause he continued. “Mark can wander around the castle, but he will very probably get lost in the process. I’m afraid he may find it a bit boring here for the time being. I would suggest the services of a house-elf in case he would like a guide.”

“That sounds like it might work,” Heru said agreeably. “It would probably be far less intrusive if Mark and I were to eat in here. I think we’ve stirred enough fires of curiosity already during visits.”

“How long do you think it will be before you can be sure the alterations are in no danger of reverting, or worse?”

“A couple of days, I suppose. Perhaps later on today we can visit the inlay for a little comprehension test, or the portrait. If they stuck through that, I’d be more reassured that I’ve done nothing to harm you.”

“That sounds reasonable.” Severus glanced at the clock and rose. “I must be off. The earliest I will likely see you is at four.”

“I hope you have a pleasant day, Severus.”

“That depends on how many students screw up,” Severus replied, then left.

Heru shook his head and glanced at his book, prepared to wait until after the normal start of breakfast for the usual inhabitants of the castle before he requested anything for himself. When the clock pinged the hour, Heru continued to read for another ten minutes, then set down the book and firecalled the kitchens with an order for two. He had a good feeling that when it had been delivered the smells would draw Mark out, if he wasn’t already up. And so it was, with Mark appearing sleepy-eyed not more than five minutes after Heru tucked in.

Afterward, Heru said, “Severus says you can wander around the castle if you like, though it would be better for you to have a guide. Did you want to do that, or would you prefer to stay down here?”

“Today,” Mark said with a yawn, “wander.”

“Go get cleaned up, then, and dressed.”

Still yawning, Mark headed off down the hallway.

Heru firecalled the kitchens again, figuring that was the most logical place to start. He told the elf who answered that the trays could be removed whenever it was convenient, and requested a guide for his son. A minute later two elves popped into the room, one of which went straight for the trays to clean up and disappear. The other, however, came to stand before him, hands clasped in front.

“Your name?” Heru asked, even though he already knew the answer.

“Dobby is being my name, sir.”

“Well, Dobby, it is a pleasure to meet you.”

“Oh! Sir is being so kind! Sir is being—” Dobby stopped in mid-wail and asked, “Sir is being who?”

“Heru Slytherin, a guest of Professor Snape for the next few days.”

“Dobby is being happy to meet sir,” Dobby said with a little bounce followed up by a wide, toothy grin. “What is sir wanting Dobby to do?”

“My son is here with me and I was hoping you would be kind enough to accompany him as he wanders around the castle and grounds. You see, I’m afraid he might get lost, or inadvertently get into trouble.”

“Dobby is being happy to be of service to sir and sir’s son.”

“Why don’t you take a seat until he comes out,” Heru suggested. That set off another round of happy wailing, though Dobby did sit down, dangling his legs above the floor like a child. When Mark reentered the room and spotted the elf, he smiled and looked to his father.

“Mark, this is Dobby. He’ll make sure you don’t get lost today.”

“Hello, Dobby. I’m happy to meet you.” When Dobby let loose with another round of wails, Mark said in an aside to his father, “I wondered what all the ruckus was about.” Dobby eventually calmed down and hopped off the chair. “Young sir is coming with me. Dobby will show young sir the castle.”

“Stay out of trouble, all right? And if Dobby says you’re not to go someplace, don’t argue.”

“Yes, father.” Mark nodded to Dobby and the two of them took off, leaving Heru alone.

Heru got up and moved to the couch to stretch out and close his eyes. “So, dear lady, will you give me fair warning if Severus or Mark return?”

The castle agreed readily.

“What do you think of Albus Dumbledore?”

She was a touch ambivalent in her response.

“Hm. Do you think he’s trustworthy?”

<In what sense?> she seemed to ask.

“Do you know what he wants me to do?”

<Yes.>

“I’m not sure that I should, you know? The wards were put in place for a reason, and I don’t think the founders ever thought past themselves as exceptions.”

<I don’t know.>

Heru sighed. “Assuming he is trustworthy, that doesn’t mean everyone he would want to allow apparation rights to is.”

<I agree.>

“Let me ask you this, then. If someone were allowed, and you noticed them doing something you thought was alarming or potentially harmful, would you revoke their right?”

<Yes.>

After a few minutes of thought he asked, “What do you think of Severus?”

<I like him.> What Heru actually got for a response was a warm, fuzzy feeling that made him smile.

“So do I. I never thought I would, but I do. Do you think he’s trustworthy?”

<Yes.>

“Is there anyone here you think is untrustworthy?” A confused welter of images flashed across the canvas of his mind, disorienting him. “Whoa,” he said, relieved when things went black. “Never mind. That was a silly question, I suppose.”

<Yes.>

“Maybe what’s bothering me most is that if Albus gets one thing he wants, he may start to ask for more.”

<That’s possible.>

“And if that happened—well, I could just refuse, and so could you.”

<Yes.>

“Am I the only one who can talk to you—who understands you?”

<I don’t know.>

“Albus has tried and failed, though.”

<Yes.>

“That’s so odd. He’s always seemed so powerful.”

She shrugged. Considering that she communicated with feelings and images, Heru was having a remarkably easy time interpreting what she wanted to say.

“Well, here’s a thought. Is Mark in a reasonably safe place?”

<Yes.>

“Now, I think you know what I mean when I say nobody around here knows the whole story about me.”

<I do.>

“And it would be a very difficult to explain if they did find out.”

<I agree.>

“So, with that in mind, want to have a little fun?”

<What do you want to do?>

“Try to communicate with Mark and see how he reacts?”

After a short pause, an image formed in his head of Mark doubled over with a case of the giggles, a perplexed Dobby looking on.

“It worked.”

<Yes.>

“That’s pretty neat. I wonder if it’s a bloodline thing, or just chance.”

<I don’t know.>

“I guess it doesn’t matter for the moment, though I can explain later on to Mark what happened to him. Getting back to the actual subject, now that we’ve had our fun, I suppose we could give Albus what he wants on a case-by-case basis, reserving your right to revoke the privilege if you think it’s necessary.”

<I agree.>

“I don’t think I’ll say anything to him for a few days, though, else I won’t have an excuse to be here so openly.”

She laughed.

They continued to talk about whatever came to mind until she flashed him an image of Mark walking down a dungeon corridor. After he and Mark had lunch, the boy went off to explore again with Dobby. Severus returned shortly past four p.m., so the two of them left his quarters for the portrait after leaving a note in plain sight in case Mark should come back before they did.

Heru cleared his throat and the portrait opened its eyes. Heru kept his gaze on Severus, though, when he hissed, “Hello again. We’re trying a little experiment.” Something definitely triggered, though he wasn’t certain what it meant until Severus spoke.

“Why are you using English?”

The portrait gave Severus a superior look and snickered. “He wasn’t, you daft idiot.”

“It worked? It worked.”

Heru didn’t respond; he continued to watch Severus’s magic.

“What worked? You currently resemble a landed fish, by the way. Very attractive, I’m sure. Somebody has been tinkering, since you obviously understand me now,” hissed the portrait accusingly.

Severus looked over at Heru, then back at the portrait. “Amazing.”

Heru thought so, too. Just as had happened with him, Severus didn’t realize he was hearing and speaking a different language until someone pointed it out to him. Heru, at least, had gained the control to know which was which, and chose which language to speak in consciously. Glancing at the portrait he hissed, “Thanks. You’ve been very helpful.”

“Any time.”

Heru placed a hand on Severus’s shoulder and firmly guided him toward his quarters. When they were back inside, Severus sat down and stared at him for a moment. “Why not just speak to me yourself? Why use the portrait?”

“I could have. But I can watch more easily if I’m not involved in the conversation. Obviously it worked, except that you don’t yet know which language you’re using, though that will come in time. I still want to check over the next few days to make sure nothing decides to spring loose or go haywire.”

“Of course.”

“I’m sure I can find ways to amuse myself during the time when you’re occupied with meals or classes.”

“There’s plenty here to read.”

Heru gave Severus an arch look and said, “You do realize the portrait insulted you, right?”

“Did it?”

Heru laughed and shook his head. “Never mind. It has an odd sense of humor, I’ve noticed. Still, it occurs to me that it might be wiser not to mention this particular new ability, aside from the obvious fact that it might not last.”

Severus angled his head in thought, then nodded. “What people don’t know is to my advantage.”

“Yeah. I also think it would be beneficial to have the three of us converse in Parseltongue this evening, and the next few. You’ll get a better handle on how it feels, and I’ll be able to spend a lot more time watching things in action. I’d suggest you get a snake, but that would be like waving a red flag in front of Albus and saying, ‘Look here, I’ve got a secret’.”

Severus smiled normally for the first time Heru had ever seen and it made his breath hitch for a second. The way the man’s eyes lit up was incredible. After clearing his throat he said, “I’m not saying Albus isn’t trustworthy, but I am reserving judgment for the time being.”

“Yes, I understand.”

Three days later Severus was still fine and nothing had gone haywire, so Heru decided it was time for another chat with Albus. He had already gone to the trouble of ascertaining whether or not he needed to speak out loud for the castle to hear him, and discovered he could remain silent if he chose, though it made things more difficult. He left Severus and Mark hissing away at each other and made the walk to the headmaster’s office alone, not breaking stride when he came to the gargoyle, which glanced around quickly before leaping out of the way without a word being spoken. Inside the office, Heru accepted a cup of tea—it was not drugged—and a seat—it was nice and squashy.

“A pleasure to see you, dear boy. What can I do for you?”

Heru wondered occasionally if Albus fell back on that appellation so as to not have to remember anyone’s name. “I have considered your request. Do you happen to have a list of names for those you would like to be able to bypass the apparation wards?”

“I do, actually, though I confess I thought I was getting rather ahead of myself to even write them down at this point.” Albus pulled open a drawer and fished around for a moment, then produced a sheet of parchment and handed it over. “You have already tested this?”

“I have,” lied Heru with a faint smile. “On myself.”

“Splendid, dear boy.”

Heru glanced over the list, noting that Albus’s name was prominently written at the top. Curiously, or not, Sirius Black was not one of the names. He looked up and said, “Shall we begin with you?”

“I would be delighted.”

If a star could twinkle any brighter than Albus’s eyes, Heru wasn’t sure he had ever seen one. He nodded, took a sip of his tea, then silently formed the request in his mind. Several seconds later he noticed Albus’s eyes widen slightly, then felt the castle’s affirmation.

Heru took another sip of tea, then said, “I’m sure you’re dying to try it, so don’t mind me. I’ll wait right here.” Albus looked both skeptical and hopeful as he stood. Heru had a sudden image flash through his mind of the headmaster anxiously biting his nails, and almost laughed.

“Yes, yes. One moment, then.” Albus disappeared with a faint crack and was back within thirty seconds, a blooming smile on his face. He clapped his hands in delight and reached for a sherbet lemon, popping it into his mouth before sitting back down. “Marvelous!”

Heru smiled indulgently and said, “Just to clarify—you did feel something when the wards shifted, correct?” When Albus nodded he continued, “Then I believe each person needs to be within the castle walls during the attempt. I don’t think it would work otherwise.”

Albus dimmed for a moment, a faint glimpse of hesitation and something calculated flashing across his face before it returned to a cheerful expression. Heru thought it a good idea at that point to be open to extra information, and extended his senses. Being able to tell truth from falsehood by looking a person in the eye was all very well, but there were times when one wanted that little extra something.

Apparently coming to some kind of a decision, Albus said, “Tell me, please, how much you know about Voldemort’s defeat.”

Heru chuckled. “Are we going to discuss rats again? Nasty creatures, I’ve always thought.”

Albus chuckled as well and said, “You did warn me, I admit.” Heru felt the man’s relaxation more than he saw it. “How about we discuss dogs, then?”

“I’m always up for a good, grim tale,” Heru replied archly. The tension level dropped another notch.

Albus rose and said, “One moment, please.”