Grazhir :: Harry Potter :: Crumbling Pedestal :: 35 :: Itsy Bitsy Spider

35 • Itsy Bitsy Spider

After the technicalities were out of the way, they settled back into a more normal conversation, whereupon Mark called his father on spilling the family secret yet again. “Why am I keeping a secret when you obviously can’t,” he hissed.

Heru gave him a halfhearted glare and fiddled with his hair. “If your dad thinks they can be trusted with the knowledge, that should be good enough for us,” he hissed back.

Severus smirked, and, after a quick look at Remus, hissed back, “That’s right, Mark. Your father has already admitted I am more intelligent than he is.

Remus narrowed his eyes and said, “Just exactly how much have you been hiding from Albus?”

“Whatever it is he doesn’t need to know,” said Heru blandly. “And that includes me working on your particular problem.”

“Considering that for some things it makes Heru pass out for a day, I think,” said Severus, “that you can understand why we have remained silent. Albus would be sure to take advantage of anything he could get his hands on.”

“How do you know I won’t go tell him what I just witnessed?”

Heru smiled. “Because you can’t. Because I very much doubt even if you wanted to tell, that you would be willing to give up the chance at a normal life. I may not ask for money, Remus, but I do exact a price for my services, and for knowledge.”

Remus darted another look at Severus, who said, “No.” Remus nodded and took on a thoughtful aspect.

“All right,” he said finally. “I won’t even ask how that was possible. You’d still have to cover for me, though.”

“Of course. That goes without saying. I would not have made the offer without considering the effects.”

“Why are you offering?”

“Because I think you’ve got a bad deal. I don’t much care for when a person is forced into something against their will, by accident or design. As Severus does not object. . . .”

“Who the hell is in charge here, anyway?”

Heru and Severus exchanged a look. “Of what?”

“You two.” Remus shook his head and said, “Between you two.”

Severus looked at Heru again and said, “That’s rather impertinent, don’t you think?”

Heru laughed softly. “Neither and both, Remus. We each have our strengths and weaknesses. I would be a fool to discount Severus’s formidable intelligence and reasoning, and he would be equally foolish to discount my very real ability.”

Mark stirred and said, “I’m going back to my room. This is boring.”

“Remember to change back,” Severus advised, then returned the hug he was getting.

“Sure, dad,” Mark said, then paused to give Heru a hug. After a brief wave at Remus, and a very distracted Sirius, he disappeared.

“Well, then, I suppose I should ask how you plan to go about this,” Remus said.

“I don’t really feel up to anything this evening, but if you want to stop by tomorrow I could begin trying to figure out what I would need to do to free you. The actual process would have to be set aside for a full day, preferably a weekend. And it would also be wise if Sirius could be here during that time.”

“Why?”

“As a template. You see, that I am aware of, Sirius only has the ability to be an animagus. Mark is a metamorphmagus as well as a parselmouth, and that means I have to look more closely and mentally subtract what comprises those abilities before I start making changes. Having a less complicated template to observe makes things easier.”

He paused, then added, “As well, the first full moon after I make my changes—no wolfsbane. You shouldn’t need it anyway. And if you did, for some inexplicable reason, it would interfere in my observations. Logically speaking, it’s a very simple curse.”

“Observations—should this wait, then? Allow you to watch as I transform, then back?”

“Yes,” said Severus, “though you would not like going without the potion that time.”

Remus shrugged. “I’ve transformed for years without it. One more time isn’t too much to bear, considering.” Then he looked at Heru curiously. “Are you even an animagus?”

Heru flicked his eyes toward the ceiling for a moment. “I have no idea, actually. I never bothered to try. It’s not an issue, if that’s what you’re thinking. I can quite adequately contain you, or me, whichever is easier. Though, I think you’ll understand when I say it would more likely be you.”

“Yes. Sirius is normally with me then. Is that a problem?”

Heru shook his head. “I will caution you. I may not be able to pull it off, though I will do all that I can to make sure the curse is removed.”

Severus snorted.

Heru rolled his eyes and said, “Anyway, stop by tomorrow after breakfast so I can take an initial look. We’ll figure it out from there.”

“Right. And thanks.” Remus didn’t expand, wisely. He rose and pulled a still distracted Sirius to his feet, gave them both a nod, then dragged Sirius out.

Heru turned and gave Severus a steady look.

“Because you wanted it, and because it will make you happy. All right?” Severus said with a slight scowl.

*

Heru stretched luxuriously as he awoke and yawned, then rolled over to wrap his arms around Severus—or more accurately, his mate’s pillow. Heru blinked his eyes open and sat up, glancing around the room in confusion. Mumbling under his breath, he slid out of bed and padded into the bathroom to have a wash, then back out to dress and consider hunting down breakfast.

He spared a moment to glare at Severus, who was seated on the couch with a book in his hand, and headed to the fireplace to put in an order. After seating himself quite deliberately in a chair, he waited in silence for his meal to appear.

Severus looked up and smiled briefly. “I see you’re your usual morning self,” he commented.

“I wouldn’t be if you’d still been in bed where you belonged,” muttered Heru.

Severus smirked. “It is hardly my fault you cannot seem to wake up properly in the morning.”

Heru ignored him in favor of the breakfast a house-elf delivered just then, tucking in with appetite. When he was done, and felt a bit better, he said, “So, about Lucius. If all he’s going to do is visit to play proxy for a request, I’m not sure how I’m supposed to conduct my little experiment. I suppose it’s possible that a small mirror would only need a fraction of the threads bound to it that mine did, but I honestly don’t know that.”

Severus adopted a thoughtful look, and remained silent for so long that Heru wondered if he would ever speak. Finally, he did. “Wing it.”

Heru blinked. “I’m sorry?”

Severus gazed at him patiently. “My dear Heru, you have exceptionally good luck, and things generally fall out the way you would like them to. Just . . . wing it.”

“You’re mad.”

“No, I am not. Did you spend hours searching for answers when you wrote those letters? Did you agonize over your conversations with Lucius? Did you pace restlessly when faced with dinner at Malfoy Manor? No. If Lucius cannot be kept here for long enough, then another way will be found, or another target. It isn’t the end of the world. Now is hardly the time to stop trusting yourself.”

Heru thought about that for several minutes, then shrugged. “All right. You win this round. I wonder what the impact would be of revealing your lack of a Dark Mark to Lucius openly? Say, the two of us in here dressed—dare I say it—normally?” Severus shot him a dark look. “Fine, like I do, then. Very casually.”

Severus relented after a moment and said, “Voldemort knows that his Mark no longer works. He is not sure that it is actually gone, though naturally that is what he expects to be the case. I see no harm in confirming it.”

“Fine, then I pick out today’s outfits,” Heru said with a grin.

*

Remus and Sirius arrived at 9.30 and were ushered in without ceremony. Heru directed them to sit on the couch again as they had been the evening before. “Try not to move around too much, but you can talk,” he said before closing his eyes and settling back comfortably.

A short time later he opened his eyes and rose, only to move to kneel in front of the two men, between them, and rest a hand on the knee of each. Then he closed his eyes again and went back to looking, and comparing. After a startled silence, Remus and Sirius continued their low-voiced conversation.

An hour later, Heru opened his eyes and retracted his hands. “I think I can do it,” he said, then stood and returned to his chair with a yawn. “I’ll be able to confirm better after seeing you transform.” He yawned again and closed his eyes.

“Sleep,” came a deep and decisive voice from behind him. “Now.”

Heru smiled faintly. “Fine. Just make sure to wake me in time for Lucius.” When he didn’t move, Severus tapped him smartly on the shoulder. Heru forced his eyes open and rose, nodded to the two men, then disappeared into the bedroom, leaving his mate to deal with their visitors.

*

When the time came Severus was lounging in a chair, and it was Heru who went to answer the door. Lucius kept his expression smooth as he entered, with just a faint hint of a smile touching his mouth, but when he got a look at Severus it cleared to utter blankness. Heru’s mate was slung sideways in his chair, legs over one arm, wearing a pair of black jeans and a black, ribbed tank. Naturally, his left arm was resting against the back, exposing his unmarked forearm. Severus looked up from his book and nodded. “Lucius.”

“Severus, how pleasant to see you again.” He simply stood there for a moment, looking, then took a seat on the couch.

“Feeling a touch under the weather?” Severus inquired innocently as Heru took a seat in the other armchair.

“I am fine, I assure you. I trust you are both well, and your son, of course, Heru.”

“Yes, quite. We’re all doing splendidly. Please feel free to take refreshment,” Heru said, reaching out to retrieve his bottle of butterbeer. Lucius had just poured himself a cup of tea when a loud, angry hiss sounded from the direction of the back hall. Heru sighed and went to set his bottle back down.

“I’ll do it this time,” Severus said, slipping out of the chair and placing his book on a side table. He went nowhere, however, as Mark appeared then with his snake wrapped around his torso and neck, and a frustrated look on his face.

“Will you please tell Selthis again he isn’t allowed? He still won’t listen to reason,” he demanded of Heru.

Severus held out his hands. Mark unwound the snake and deposited him with a look of annoyance, then disappeared back into his room. Severus forced Selthis’s head around to stare at him for a moment, then sat down in his prior casual pose, pulling his book off the table.

You did very well,” hissed Heru. “Now be a love and stare at Lucius here and see if you can make him nervous.” Selthis nodded his head and coiled up in Severus’s lap, fixing his unblinking, unwavering gaze on the blond. “So, Lucius, what brings you here on this fine day?” asked Heru.

Lucius swiveled his head and said, “My associate wished to find out if you would be willing to meet with him again.”

Heru raised his brows. “He was unable to make the request personally?”

“He is . . . in the middle of some rather delicate negotiations at present, and asked me if I would be willing to do him this small favor.”

“I see. Do you do him many favors, Lucius?”

“When the need arises, yes.”

“How kind of you.” Heru smiled warmly. “I trust he compensates you adequately for your service. Why does he wish to meet?”

“He was most impressed with your prediction after dinner. Considering how important some of his negotiations are, he wished to have a better idea of how things will go. After your display of talent, naturally, he thought of you.”

“I’m very flattered,” Heru said. “Of course, with school back in session, my own time is somewhat limited. It would be better for this to occur at a weekend. Did he have any place specific in mind to meet?”

“I would need to check, now that I know you are willing. And—” Lucius glanced over at Selthis for a moment before saying, “Is there any cost associated with this?”

“With this?” Heru affected surprise. “I feel it would be wrong to take money for such a thing. Perhaps I’m being foolish, but I believe that doing so might lead toward the obscuration or even removal of my sight.”

“I’m sure you could never be foolish, Heru.” Lucius tensed a bit when Selthis decided to ooze off Severus’s lap and coil up next to him on the couch, flicking his forked tongue rhythmically. “What a lovely snake,” he said quietly, shades of insincerity and anxiety colouring his tone.

“Mark found him in a pet shop in Hogsmeade of all places. As I consider him a suitable companion, I allowed it.”

“Was there a problem earlier, if I may be so bold as to ask?”

Heru smirked slightly and replied, “Nothing important, really. An ongoing argument between Selthis and Cooper, Mark’s cat. Cooper seems to find Selthis’s tail irresistible, and Selthis would like to squeeze Cooper to death in retaliation for his frequent pouncing. Unfortunately, as we cannot reliably communicate with the cat, it falls to Selthis to behave himself.”

“I see,” Lucius said, very much aware of the snake staring at him. “He is a constrictor, then?”

“Oh yes,” said Heru cheerfully. “I expect him to get a great deal larger over the years. Enough to incapacitate a man, I’m sure, or kill. I confess that at times I find myself curious as to what that would sound like. But, he only eats rodents, currently, so he’s hardly any trouble.”

“How fascinating.”

“If your associate has no particular place in mind, I’m quite sure my home in Hogsmeade would suit nicely, though you might find it a bit plain and understated. I had planned to check up on it soon, in any case, so I may as well handle two things at once.”

“Ah, yes. I’m sure that would be fine.” Lucius paused as Selthis unwound and slithered across his lap, then around to perch on the back of the couch behind him. “I will owl you as soon as I’ve had a chance to speak with Xavier on the matter.”

“Splendid. Well, then, I expect you have other business to attend to, so I’ll just see you out.” Heru rose and stepped away from his chair. Lucius, being no fool, stood as well and allowed himself to be gently ejected from their quarters.

Thank you, Selthis,” Heru hissed, back in the lounge. “Please tell Mark thank you as well. I think you did a lovely job.

As if I could do otherwise,” hissed the snake, then slid off the couch to wind its way back to Mark.

“Well?” Heru delved into his pocket and removed a small mirror, then handed it to his mate. “Very good. And he wasn’t even here all that long.”

“I’ll just write up a note to Sirius for when he stands duty,” Heru replied, then went to fetch supplies. As soon as he had dashed off several lines and dried the ink, he rolled the parchment and tied it off, then called for Praecino. His phoenix was happy to oblige and flashed out with the note.

“I suggest you pull the same trick when we meet with Voldemort again. Much as I hate to admit it, I’m beginning to think you were right about certain things. I don’t think he’ll even notice what you’re doing.”

Heru smiled and moved in for a kiss, then resumed his chair. “However, perhaps I shall use a method that does not require such close contact this time. It isn’t fair to you or Mark if I come away in such a wretched mood, so if I can avoid it, I will.”

Severus nodded. “If the transference does not work, the small mirror will at least be something.”

“True. Depending on how involved things get, I may be able to manage more than one. For reference, that one didn’t take nearly as many strands.”

Severus set the mirror on the table. “Now, if you don’t mind, I shall go change back into something decent.”

Heru leapt to his feet and advanced on his still seated mate. “I don’t know, Severus. I like what you’re wearing. It gives out such tantalizing hints of what you normally keep hidden. I think it’s . . . sexy.” He extended a hand and smiled when Severus took it. “Maybe I could show you?”

“And have you drop off into another coma directly after?” Severus favored him with a dark look, then smiled. “You should be resting, my dear Heru, but in this instance, I will bow to your whims.” He hauled himself up using Heru for leverage.

When Praecino arrived shortly thereafter with a reply from Sirius, he was kept waiting for some time.

*

They arrived early and Heru immediately set out to temporarily disable the wards designed to prevent Death Eaters from entering his home, and indeed, the wards designed to keep anyone out who was not a member of the household. Mark was spending the evening with Tonks again; she had been more than happy to help out. Severus went through the ground floor vanishing dust from the rooms, eventually coming to settle in the lounge where Heru was already standing, eyes closed.

Heru’s hands were moving in strange gestures, almost as though he was manipulating something tangible, yet unseen. Severus watched, fascinated, as he had never been able to see Heru at this kind of work before—unless one counted the removal of his mark. Without opening his eyes Heru said quietly, “It should not take much longer. I think I will want that replenishing potion, though.”

Severus nodded reflexively and flipped his robes aside so he could open a slim case attached to his upper thigh. From it he pulled several vials and placed them on the table. “I’ll go make sure Dobby has things ready and waiting,” he said as quietly, then turned and left. By the time he returned Heru was reaching for the first vial, flipping the top back and downing the contents in one shot.

“It’s so much easier when the structure is sentient,” he said with a grimace. “And this stuff tastes bloody awful.” He vanished the vial and reached for the second, downing and vanishing that as well. He eyed the third vial uncertainly, then shook his head; that one went into one of his pockets. “How long?” he asked as he dropped into a chair.

“A half hour. Enough time for you to doze a little if you wish.”

Twenty minutes later Heru was being shaken gently. He rose with a yawn and began pacing the room to help wake himself up. When he felt a bit better he re-checked his pockets to make sure the mirrors were in place, then headed out into the hall, his wand conspicuously tucked behind one ear. Even so, he waited a good thirty seconds before opening the door when the expected knock came.

“A pleasure to see you both again. Do come in,” he said, gesturing with one hand. Once Lucius and Xavier were inside, he closed the door and turned, saying, “Please follow me.” They were barely seated when Dobby popped into the room.

“Sir is wanting refreshments now?”

“Yes, Dobby. That would be lovely.”

Dobby popped out and was back in seconds, placing a tray in the center of the table that separated the four chairs currently in Heru’s lounge. Heru cast an amused glance at Lucius, making sure that Xavier noticed him doing so, then said, “Thank you, Dobby. I will call you if I am in need.”

“Sir is being most kind.” Dobby gave a little bow and popped out. Not once had he so much as looked in his former master’s direction.

“It’s so hard to get good help these days,” Heru said casually, “but Dobby is quite an entertaining little fellow. Very nice of him to volunteer to help out this evening.”

“He is not bound to you?” asked Lucius a bit stiffly.

“Oh, no. He works at Hogwarts. Quite an independent little creature, I must say, but very helpful to those he takes a shine to. And he does love to chatter away—Mark is rather fond of him, so he tends to be underfoot at odd times. My own house-elves are having a holiday at the moment, you see. Dobby was absolutely delighted when we gave him several sets of socks for Christmas.” Heru smiled warmly, though not because of his feelings for the house-elf. Rather, Lucius’s expression appeared to have frozen. He reached out to snag a bottle of butterbeer and flip the top off.

Severus poured himself tea directly after, which seemed to shake the other two men into action as well.

“I trust that your lovely wife is well, Lucius.”

“Yes, she is. I will tell her you asked after her.”

“And, Xavier, I trust things are well with business? I always did like to see people get ahead.”

“Yes, things have been well thus far, though one can never be too careful. I was pleasantly surprised when your prediction bore fruit so quickly, so you can understand why I wished to meet with you again. It is always advantageous to have some idea of the future.”

“Naturally, and it is a wise man who seeks outside assistance in certain matters. What it is that I can do for you this evening?”

“Several things, I hope. Most pressing, however, is what you can see regarding several people I was considering doing business with.”

Heru tilted his head to the side, reaching out along his link at the same time. “I would prefer I not know their names, then. If I happened to know them, it could influence the results.”

“Understood.”

Heru stood up and crossed to a cabinet on the far side of the room, then paused with an air of confusion. “Severus?” he asked, glancing back.

His mate tapped the side of his head without bothering to turn.

“Right.” Heru slipped his wand out from behind his ear and tapped the cabinet in a complicated, quick pattern, then shoved it back into place. He opened the door and pulled out a small bag, then closed it and resumed his seat.

“I thought we would try something a little different today, then. While palmistry can be very illuminating, it won’t do for what you want to know.” Heru opened the bag and pulled out a handful of gleaming, multi-coloured scales. Setting the bag aside, he fiddled with them for a few seconds, then looked up. “I’ll need you to hold these each time, concentrating on the person in question.” He held them out, then deposited the set in Xavier’s outstretched hand.

Heru paid careful attention to what was going through Voldemort’s mind, then smiled and held out his hand. Xavier returned the scales, though he did not sit back. Heru pushed the tray off to the side, then tossed the scales onto the table with a flip of his hand, watching as they did strange little dances on the surface. When they finally stopped moving, he pulled his wand out again and used it to tap one of the scales.

“This tells me that the person you’re thinking of is moderately well suited for association. This one”—he tapped a different scale with his wand—“says that you could get their cooperation in a very short amount of time.” He studied the scales for a moment before saying, “I also see that the person is quite cunning. A bit manipulative, but trustworthy if the incentives are right.”

Heru gathered up the scales and cleansed them of influence with his magic, then looked up. “A decent candidate, I should think. Next?”

They went through the same routine several times before Xavier decided to speak. “How exactly is it that you read these?”

Heru jiggled the scales in his hand reflectively, then said, “Part of it is simply intuitive understanding—where ability steps in and responds and guides. But, it’s also in how the scales move when thrown. If you’ve watched closely, you’ll have noticed that they do not just hit the table and stop. If one bounces, it’s like adding a modifier to the final position, and even that depends on how many times it happens before it comes to rest. If it spins, that’s something different, and so forth. Someone without ability can learn to read these, but what they saw would never be as accurate. For instance, one of the scales would indicate—in this case—whether or not you could secure a person’s services. How that scale acts tells me how quickly or slowly, and gives me an idea of how far up or down the amount it is.”

“Is that what you were doing at the beginning—adjusting them for the particular type of query?”

Heru nodded. “It makes them quite flexible, within a certain scope. Obviously, they aren’t much good for yes/no types of questions, but neither are they very good for things with too many variables.”

“I don’t believe I’ve ever seen this method before.”

“I would be surprised if you had. They tend to be quite uncommon. They don’t have to be scales, of course, but using something from a magical creature tends to enhance their usefulness. I certainly don’t teach this at Hogwarts—it would take far too much time to get the children to understand them, and I find it’s not really worth trying to teach someone who lacks talent.” Heru shrugged and handed Xavier the scales.

This time, Voldemort was thinking of Severus. Heru adjusted his reading slightly. “Now, this one has me curious. This person is well suited, but whether or not you could secure their services is iffy. It’s pretty much dead on center. In fact, I get the sense that you’ve done business together in the past. This person is extremely intelligent, sly and cunning, would make for a good candidate, and is very trustworthy.”

He scooped up the scales and cleansed them again, then held them out. When Heru got the scales back, he adjusted his reading again, for this time he was the target. “This person is extremely well suited, but also dead center as to whether or not they could be recruited. Quite independent, actually, and rather like the last one in other respects. Intelligent, cunning, loyalty is hard won but unshakable once given.”

After several more rounds Heru affected to be a bit more tired than he was and sat back, jiggling the scales in his hand again. “I think that’s it for these. Pushing is unwise. But there is something I’d like to try.” He reached for Xavier’s cup without asking and swiftly reversed it; the resulting mess was a bit nasty. While he waited for it to drain he tipped the scales back into their bag, then returned them to the cabinet and went through his little façade regarding the reestablishment of the wards.

After he sat down he picked up the cup and studied the interior carefully, turning the vessel slowly, and letting his brow furrow slightly. “Hm. Not good. Not good at all,” he said distantly. “One of your associates is thinking of betraying you, but—no, they are not yet aware of it. It is”—Heru tapped the side of his head in an absent gesture—“somewhere in their subconscious, and has not yet risen to actual conscious thought.”

Heru shook his head and looked up to focus his gaze intently on Xavier. “I strongly suggest you keep a close eye on things,” he said soberly, then vanished the mess on the table and set the cup down. “A sad note to finish up with, but I would hardly be true to my nature if I ignored what I was sensing.” A second later Dobby appeared.

“Sir is wanting me?”

“Yes, Dobby. Would you be so kind as to clear away? Thank you.” He frowned slightly, then reached into a pocket and pulled out a vial, which he uncapped and downed quickly, wrinkling his nose as he vanished the empty. “Severus, do you have another?”

Severus scowled and revealed his case, and slipped out another vial to hand to Heru. The fact that he was once again wearing black jeans was probably not lost on either of their visitors. He stood abruptly as Heru drank the potion and said flatly, “I would be happy to show the both of you out.”

Heru leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes, seemingly unconcerned.

Severus said, “If there are additional names, I’m sure another meeting could be arranged at some later date. Please follow me.”

Both men rose without a word and let themselves be escorted to the door. A minute or so later Severus was back. “Are you able to reset the wards?”

“Yeah. That took too long—what did they say?” Heru raised his hands and began gesturing again, his movements a strange mirror to earlier.

“They were curious about the potions, of course. I told them the truth, that this is tiring for you.”

“I feel like I’m about to pass out, actually, even with them,” Heru admitted, his hands never wavering in their movements.

Severus took a seat and waited, quietly. When Heru finally finished he rose again, crossing the space between them quickly, and laying a gentle hand on his mate’s shoulder. “I know you’re tired, but we must return to the castle. Are you able to apparate?” Heru’s brow furrowed. “All right.” Severus picked up the empty vial that Heru had not bothered to vanish and turned it into a portkey. Then he slid Heru’s wand out from behind his ear and tucked it into his mate’s pocket.

Severus gave a slight sigh, then managed to maneuver things so he could heft Heru into his arms without losing his grip on anything. After making sure the portkey was touching both of them, he activated it. Heru was placed into bed and his clothes banished right off his body, onto a chair, then tucked in. He went to see about Mark and Tonks as Heru drifted off.