Grazhir :: Harry Potter :: Crumbling Pedestal :: 31 :: Fishing Expedition

31 • Fishing Expedition

Once they were seated—Xavier ended up directly across from Heru—the soup course appeared. The utensils looked fine, the soup looked fine, so Heru tapped the top of Severus’s foot with his under the table a single time. He used his soup spoon in the properly prescribed manner, moving it away from himself to fill it, and had taken a sip—without any noise, of course—when Xavier opened the conversation.

“I understand that you are the creator of the tapestry, Heru, that Lucius arranged for me.”

Heru smiled and nodded. “I trust you were pleased with the results.”

“Quite. One wonders where you learned such an accomplishment.”

Heru paused to have more of the soup—he detested it, actually, and thought that cold soups were an affectation of the wealthy—then said vaguely, “Oh, here and there. One finds all manner of interesting things during life’s journey.”

“Is it the sort of thing anyone could learn to do?”

Heru allowed one corner of his mouth to quirk up. “Fortunately for me, no, I’m afraid not.” He turned to Narcissa and said, “This is quite good. My compliments.” She gave him a wintry smile and he took another spoonful.

“A shame,” said Xavier, “but I can see why you do not take on many commissions given the amount of work that goes into one.”

“Yes, they are somewhat fatiguing,” Heru agreed.

“I did have the odd question or two about them if you didn’t mind.”

Heru shook his head and reached for his glass to try to banish the soup’s taste from his mouth.

“I noticed that the names only go so far back—why would that be?”

“If you think of magic as a living thing, a thing that can be passed down from person to person—in part—like genetics, just as certain abilities are passed down from father to son, and so on, then you can imagine that part of that magic contains information on a person’s ancestors.”

Xavier nodded, so Heru continued, “The process taps into that information, taken from the person’s blood and extrapolating from it the magical signatures of the people in a person’s direct line—going backward, at least. However, there is a finite amount that can be maintained. After a certain point the information becomes vague or incomplete, and the magic of the tapestry can no longer accurately divine the names, so it stops updating. The process forward is understandably different, as the tapestry updates in real time as each change occurs. A completely different situation, really.”

“I see,” said Xavier, then paused as their bowls disappeared and the next course appeared. “Then what might be the cause of names that appear to be blurry, or other such oddities?”

Heru noticed immediately that the dressing on the salad was tainted, at least for his plate and Severus’s, and tapped his mate’s shoe twice. He plastered a thoughtful expression on his face, as though thinking deeply about the question, and set about unweaving the magic that permeated their food. When he was done he tapped Severus’s shoe again, once. “Well,” he said slowly, “that can be caused by a number of things.”

He picked up the correct fork and poised it over his salad. “For instance, the magic could be vague for that name. Because the odds of it being correct are so high, it gets placed on the tapestry, but what you actually see is blurred, or some of the information is missing, such as a birth date.” Then he delicately forked some of the greens and took a bite, not missing the slight smirk on Lucius’s face as he did so. Then he wondered how it was that people at dinner parties ever came away feeling full if the portions were always so small.

“I see, yes. It makes a great deal of sense when you put it that way.”

“Was there anything else that brought to mind a question once you had a chance to look over the updated tapestry?”

“There was one thing, now that I think about it. One of the names—a very old one—almost looked as though another name was underneath it. Why do you suppose that might be?”

Heru shrugged and looked Xavier in the eye. “I have a theory on that. I strongly suspect there is a lost art from ancient times, a method whereby a person could change their identity. I speculate that if a person were to do so, their magical signature would retain some vestige of their original identity. So, when something like a tapestry is created, the magic used becomes confused and attempts to place both names. But, I have no way of proving my suspicions.”

Xavier remained silent for a minute, long enough for the salad plates to disappear and be replaced with the main course. Heru wondered if Lucius or Narcissa had a little button or something under the table that they pressed to signal the house-elves in the kitchen.

He took that opportunity to check the food, tapping his mate’s foot twice before disabling the carrots, then once. He also wondered if any of them thought he or Severus were that stupid as to take this dinner at face value. Surely they did not normally consist of two people talking while the rest listened politely and affected rapt attention.

“I can see why you’re a professor, Heru,” Xavier finally said with an engaging smile. “You certainly have a way with words. And, for more than one subject I hear.”

Heru responded with a charming smile of his own and said, “How very flattering. I have taught more than one subject, yes. If one knows the material and can interact with children on a level they understand, almost anything is possible.”

“And your wife—does she also teach?”

“No, she doesn’t do much of anything except lay about all hours of the day and night. She’s dead, you see,” Heru said callously. “A rather unfortunate accident involving a niffler and some diamonds. I don’t really like to talk about it. I’m sure you understand.”

“Yes, of course.” Xavier pushed right on with, “I’m surprised you’ve not remarried. Surely a man of your talent and good name would be sought after by any number of ladies of good family.”

Heru shrugged. “One was enough for me. I got what I wanted out of it.”

“Ah heir, I presume?” asked Xavier.

Heru smirked and said, “No, the title of Widower. The heir was just a bonus.”

“What if something should happen to your heir?” Xavier persisted.

Heru laughed softly and forked a carrot. “I’m not a Divination professor for nothing. I wasn’t hired for my good looks, after all. It’s amazing what someone with talent can find out if they just put their mind to it.” He turned to Narcissa and smiled warmly. “These carrots are prepared so exquisitely. You simply must send the recipe over so I can have my house-elves replicate it.”

Conversation was rather stilted after that, and Lucius and Severus finally joined in. Narcissa remained silent, acting as nothing more than an aesthetically pleasing manikin who had faultless table manners. The subject rolled back around to divination, which afforded Heru an opportunity when Xavier gave him another thinly disguised compliment.

“Ah,” Heru said with a dazzling smile, “since you have expressed such interest, you shall be my subject in this.” He had chosen his words very carefully, knowing that the implication would be something to make Xavier itch. “Would you be so kind as to extend your hand?”

As the man did so, the plates disappeared. This time they were not replaced with the expected sweet course, perhaps in deference to the little show Heru was about to put on. Heru took Xavier’s hand in one of his own, brushing it open, palm up, with his other. It was, perhaps, slightly awkward as they were sitting across the table from each other, but Heru did not let that get in the way. He was sure to make Xavier be the one to make more of an effort.

He affected a very thoughtful look as he studied the palm carefully, then pulled his head back to consider the overall shape of Xavier’s hand, and consider the relation between the palm and fingers. Then, in a truly rude move, Heru released the hand and snapped his fingers, ending up so that his index finger was pointed at Xavier’s other hand, then flipped his hand over and crooked his finger.

After a slightly shocked moment of silence, he was able to study the second hand as well. A minute later he released Xavier and sat back. “This will take some time, so I suggest we finish the meal before I continue,” he said rather imperiously.

There was another moment of silence, then the sweet course appeared. Conversation wandered back into the realm of social politeness for the time it took to finish up, then everyone repaired to the lounge. Heru seated himself in a cushy armchair and looked expectantly at Xavier, whose face betrayed a hint of anger. But, the man pulled up a chair to the side and sat.

“Which hand is dominant?” asked Heru. “We’ll start with that one.”

Xavier extended his right arm, his hand palm up again. Heru laid it atop his own, using his thumb to force the index finger slightly down. “You could consider this insight into your public nature,” he commented absently. “Your other hand would give insight as to what you keep private. This . . . tells me you are quite confident, smooth, and charming. Very much in control of your surroundings and not afraid to be commanding.”

He tilted his head to the side and paused. “You can be single minded and intense, almost to the point of obsession.” He looked up and smiled disarmingly. “I imagine that can be quite useful in your business.” Shifting his gaze again, he said, “This”—he traced his index finger across one of the lines in Xavier’s palm—“tells me that there is some division in your life. For example, it can denote a wide gulf between the public and private, or a new beginning in life.”

He lifted his head a bit and pursed his lips. “You’re not a square,” he said abruptly. “Elongation is quite evident”—he tapped Xavier’s palm—“and your lines are strong and defined. Patience is not your strong suit, though you would make a good leader despite that. Along with that, you can be dogmatic. That can be a very good trait for someone with a particular goal in mind, but it can lead a person down fruitless pathways, or cause them to miss the alternate possibilities. You definitely have some goal in mind, there’s no doubt about that, and a great deal of your sense of self is tied up in it. However”—Heru released the hand and took Xavier’s left—“I can see that there is danger involved, and deception. Some of the people you deal with on a regular basis are those you feel cannot or should not be trusted. What people see in public is far from all that you are.”

Heru flipped Xavier’s hand over and studied the back and the nails, looking through the glamour. “I’m afraid you have some health problems, my friend.” He flipped the hand over again and reached for Xavier’s right to hold them side by side, palm up. “You keep your private life very private, showing only what you feel is necessary. Deception is easy for you, effortless.”

Heru wasn’t mentioning half of what he was seeing, not particularly wanting to see Xavier erupt into fury at having his life and personality discussed or dissected openly in front of his minions, though he was speaking so quietly that it was possible only Xavier could hear him properly. “And, your family is very important to you. Something occurred within the past year that brought you rather a lot of good fortune.” Heru squinted and cocked his head. “It’s a bit fuzzy, actually. I cannot tell if you caused it to happen, or if it was serendipitous—how strange. You’ve spent a great deal of time traveling, but that’s hardly a surprise in your line of work.”

Heru straightened and released his grip, allowing Xavier to reclaim his hands. In a slightly louder voice he said, “I sense that you currently have two major goals—more immediate, that is, as opposed to an overriding one. Both of them are attainable and I see nothing that bars your way for either. I am quite confident in saying that you will achieve success for these two things, though it may take up to six months to realize them both.”

Xavier gave him a measuring look, then nodded and sat back. “Fascinating. But you cannot see what those goals are?”

Heru shook his head. “I would have to take more time than I have this evening to give to determine what they were. And, they are your goals to share or not, as the case may be, with whom you see fit. I wouldn’t dream of trying to delve more deeply without due cause.” He gave Xavier a quirky smile.

“So you would have no recommendations as to likely associates?”

Heru appeared to consider, then shook his head. “I would need the proper tools before I could attempt to answer that.”

“I see.” Xavier gave him another measuring look, then angled himself as though inviting normal discussions again.

When they were finally able to leave Heru and Severus donned their travel cloaks once more and stepped outside. Heru checked the cloaks over for anything odd as they strolled through the frosty air to the gates of the estate, then nodded to Severus once they were through. “Shall we?”

Back at Hogwarts—they had apparated to underlake—Heru snatched a pain potion from a cabinet and downed it, then dropped onto the couch in the lounge.

“So tell me, what did they try?”

“A derivative of veritaserum and something to make us very agreeable to suggestions.”

“And your impressions?”

“Aside from the obvious, I think Voldemort was searching for something I wanted, something he could provide and have me owing him for. But I wasn’t giving him the answers he wanted—well, except for the one genuine prediction.” He shrugged and leaned back.

“That I am already aware of.” Severus folded his arms over his chest and stared.

“Sorry. Yes, I was able to study him once he stopped interrogating me and the rest of you were able to join in. And then again after that reading, though I was able to spare a bit during it as well.” He sighed and stretched his legs out, rubbing his forehead reflexively.

“Severus, I may be right in my suspicions, but I really need more time. My first impression was that he’s very tenuously put together. I think his little ritual was slapped together haphazardly, as though he couldn’t quite manage to do what he was supposed to, so he improvised. It worked, but. . . .”

“But you aren’t sure. Are you even watching right now?”

Heru shook his head. “I’m sure Moody or Sirius is. Or even Albus. I did set up a mirror for him. One of them can fill us in later. If not, I can always scry.”

“Then I expect we should be thinking about the fact that you need more time around Voldemort and how to accomplish it without committing to anything. And I should, perhaps, be thinking about the fact that they did, after all, use potions against us—or tried to.”

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t see why I cannot use my knowledge and talent to try to find a way for us, and the Order by extension, to become immune to veritaserum, even if only temporarily. You cannot always be there to defuse things.”

Heru gave him a blank look. “All right. Please forgive me for sounding like an ass, but why haven’t you tried before now?”

Severus sat down beside him and said, “Because, my dear Heru, up until not so long ago, I was a chained man. You released me, remember? I continue to play a role out of choice, but I am freer now than I have ever been in my life. I have time now—actual time—to try to accomplish things that prior to now were only fragments of dreams.” Then he gave Heru a rather intense look. “Besides, even what little you did this evening is more than enough to make you look like hell.”

“I didn’t—”

“No.”

Heru started to say it was only a little pain, but remained silent. He knew that Severus would rightfully lay into him, and be merciless about it. “Do you think you could?”

“The answer to that lies in trying.”

“Well, you are better at Potions than I am,” Heru said diplomatically. “I don’t have your flair and intuitive understanding.” Severus gave him an incredulous look. “I don’t. I like Potions very much, but I think you love them.”

“I’m not sure I see where that makes a difference. You are not unintelligent.”

Heru sighed. “I’m not sure I can draw an accurate comparison. I love the kinds of things I’m good at, but I can’t show you the beauty of magic in its most raw state. I wish you could see what I see, and be able to manipulate the threads of pure power. I can spin them from my fingertips, but I can’t share that with you except indirectly. Potions, well, they interest me a great deal, but I wouldn’t say I’m passionate about them. I don’t have the particular mind set that says, what if?

“All right, I can accept that.”

“I feel like I missing something. Something so obvious that I’m going to kick myself for days when I realize what it is. Something is very much not right with Voldemort,” Heru said in frustration. “All I can see right now is the forest, not the trees in it. Or maybe I mean the other way. I don’t know.”

“Shush.” Severus reached out and pulled Heru into his embrace. “You’re tired and in pain right now, potion notwithstanding. Just let it go for the moment. It will come,” he soothed, his fingers trailing through Heru’s hair. “We’ll figure it out.” After a minute of silence he said, “You were magnificent, by the way. I nearly choked at some of the things you did, though, but you played him well.”

“Thanks,” Heru said softly, letting the sound of his mate’s heartbeat steady him. “I’m glad you’re here. You have always helped me to see things more clearly.”

Severus’s hand paused for a fraction of a second, then resumed its slow movement. “Even then?”

“Even then,” Heru agreed in a whisper. He reached up without looking to trace his fingers over Severus’s lips gently. “I was so lonely, so scared, so angry, and then, so resigned,” he said in a detached voice. “I didn’t appreciate you enough back then. Later on, I did. I appreciated you. I delighted in crossing swords with you. I loved your sarcasm, your quick mind, even your suspicion to some extent. You were so alive, so fierce. But it hurt when you didn’t actually trust me. I know it’s not rational. I just. . . .”

Heru felt Severus shift, then a hand on his own, and a kiss pressed against his fingertips. “I miss my children, Severus. Isn’t that crazy? I feel like all I should need to do is walk a few steps into the next room and they’ll be there waiting for me. And for all that Salazar was an ass, I miss him like I’d miss one of my arms or legs. I don’t know whether to feel cheated or blessed for what I was given. I guess I’m wrong to be so selfish.”

Severus shifted again, pulling Heru onto his legs so he could cradle him against his chest more comfortably. Heru rested there for a while, idly playing with the buttons on the shirt his mate was wearing. “I’m sorry,” he said finally. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” Severus pressed a soft kiss to the top of his head and went back to stroking his hair. Eventually, Heru drifted off to sleep.

He awoke to filtered light that shifted ceaselessly around the room, stained blue by the water it traveled through and the sky from which it came. Seconds later, Severus appeared with a muted crack of sound and took a seat on the edge of the bed. His eyes were soft, and the hand he placed on Heru’s chest was gentle. His tone when he spoke, however, was quite normal. “It’s about time you woke up.”

Heru blinked in confusion and looked around, his gaze shifting back to Severus when his mate spoke again. “I thought it was best to just let you sleep last night, rather than waking you so we could return to our normal quarters. I also thought about taking advantage of you, but I decided you were in no condition to appreciate it.”

Heru smiled without thinking. “What time is it?”

“Just about ten. Not too bad, considering.”

“Considering what?”

Severus arched a brow at him. “Considering how badly you were affected by last evening’s activities and how much strain you were obviously under.” He paused and tilted his head to the side. “You know, I never thought I’d hear myself say this, but your moments of vulnerability are strangely endearing.”

Heru flushed and dropped his gaze.

“I see that I need to explain. It makes me feel like this isn’t all some sort of dream. You are here, with me. You trust me enough to let down your guard, to show me what you’re really feeling, and you trust me not to use it against you or think less of you.”

“Severus, I. . . .”

“My dear Heru, we are bonded for reasons other than convenience or mere physical expressions of desire. You don’t always have to be strong, and you aren’t. You let me be that for you at times. I wish I could be as open as you.”

“I think you’re doing a pretty good job right now,” Heru mumbled, glancing at his mate through his lashes.

“Well, then, I shall continue. When you are vulnerable I feel a number of things, but one thing is crystal clear. Not one part of me doubts the depth of your feelings for me. I believe. You need not say it, because I see it and I feel it.” A moment later he removed his hand and said briskly, “Now get up. Your son has been driving me mad with his requests to see for himself that you are all right.”

Heru’s head shot up. “Oh, so now he’s my son?” He snorted and struggled up to a sitting position, then shot a glare at Severus. “Push off, then, so I can.”