Grazhir :: Harry Potter :: Induction :: 06 :: Head Games

06 • Head Games

Monday, 18 November 1996

“Ah, Severus, my boy. How good to see you once again.” Albus aborted his attempt at offering a sherbet lemon on seeing the ice cold glare from his potions master and settled for smiling benevolently.

In all his years within the influence of the old man, Severus had yet to determine just how daft he really was. Not wanting to waste the short-lived little trick he commonly employed to negate the need for blinking—staring people down was difficult otherwise—Severus moved right along to the point of the meeting.

“It’s about Potter,” he began, then stared at the meddlesome coot until his mouth shut on whatever it was he had been about to say (no doubt an admonition). “It seems there’s been a rather unexpected side effect of the lessons.”

“Oh?” inquired Albus, looking both interested and faintly worried.

“Yes, oh. While I was having the brat do some potions work for me I noticed he was in a bit of pain, not that the boy even noticed until I mentioned it. He kept rubbing his scar, so I sat him down for a little chat, and pointed out to him that he was supposed to be informing me of these things, not waiting until someone called him on it.”

“Do go on, Severus.”

Severus shot Albus a harsh look for interrupting. “He felt—and this is the best way he could describe it—something like mist hitting his mental shields. His scar was prickling, but aside from that he could sense no actual intrusion. I hypothesized that it could be something similar to when the Dark Lord was sending those dreams to the brat, but there’s no way of knowing. The time of day was also suspicious.”

After another quelling look he continued. “The point is, the defenses are holding for the time being. And however it is that the scar affects the boy, it does not seem to be able to allow access to his excuse of a mind even through dreams. He’s placed a barrier between the scar and his thoughts. With any luck, and some experimentation, those shields might become more useful than we could ever have imagined.”

Severus gazed at Albus and waited.

“More useful?” came the expected inquiry.

“The boy has learned, to some extent, to reflect attacks, and I do not mean push me out of his mind. While I do not expect, nor does he, for the Dark Lord to waltz up and try brute Legilimency on him in the near future, it goes without saying that it could buy him time if it happened. With that in mind, depending on the brat’s unique abilities—not one word, Albus, or I’ll hex you—he might be able to use those same defenses to alert you and me when the Dark Lord is trying to sneak in.”

“Oh my, that is good news. But what exactly do you mean by alert?”

“Don’t you think it would be useful if we felt what he felt? At least to the extent of knowing that Potter is affected. His scar prickles, his shields are touched, and we sense it too. If the boy is prevented from seeing out, at least we’d know when the Dark Lord is feeling high emotions, or potentially planning something.”

“Mmm,” said Albus, nodding sagely. “And this reflection you mentioned?”

Severus glared again. “Perhaps it would be beneficial if you were to attend part of one of his lessons and see for yourself.”

“That would be lovely, Severus. His next lesson is Wednesday evening?”

“Should you wish to drop by, then I’d suggest you come at seven, when he does.”

“I’d be delighted!” Albus declared.

Several minutes later, once he’d escaped the headmaster, Severus sent a note to Haze letting him know of the slight change of plans.

Wednesday, 20 November 1996

Haze arrived early to the lesson, and paused for only a split second after seeing that the squashy armchairs had been replaced by a student’s desk and chair before taking his seat.

Severus watched as the boy investigated the texts he’d placed on the desk, and made no comment, waiting instead for the headmaster to arrive as planned, which he did a minute later after knocking politely before stepping into the room, and closing the door behind him.

Haze looked up and said politely, “Good evening, professor,” before shuffling the texts around and checking out the various covers, missing the subsequent, slightly surprised smile.

Severus cast the usual privacy spells and cleared his throat. “Mr Potter, if we may have your attention.” Once Haze had pushed the books into a neat pile at the corner of his desk, Severus continued. “The headmaster is here to gain a better understanding of what your defenses are currently capable of, so for the first part of the lesson you will be facing off against him. As this is the case, you are requested to display both facets of your shields, absorption and reflection, preferably several times each. Understood?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good. You have the floor, headmaster, and I’ll remind you that you need not wait between attacks,” Severus said as he settled more comfortably in his chair. He had no doubts that Haze would perform as instructed.

Albus gave the boy a smile and gestured that he stand, then asked, “Are you ready, Harry?”

Haze gave a nod and replied, “Yes, professor.”

“Splendid!” Albus exclaimed, then looked the boy in the eye and said, “Legilimens.”

A second or two later Severus noted an odd look flash over the headmaster’s face.

After shaking his head slightly, Albus said again, “Legilimens,” this time with more force, but with the same results.

Severus carefully hid a smile, enjoying the rare sight of a nonplussed Albus. After several more attacks he caught Haze’s eye and gave a slight nod. The next time Albus attacked, Haze reflected it straight back into his face at twice or more the strength. The old man reacted by standing stock still for a bit, a blank, though focused cast to his visage.

Albus attacked several more times with the same results, and finally lowered his wand, the vague signs of confusion wrinkling his brow. The old man blinked at Haze and asked, “When you do that, Harry, are you seeing what flashes through my mind?”

“No, sir.”

Albus went silent again, stroking his beard in contemplation. “Remarkable, quite remarkable,” he mumbled to himself, casting the occasional glance at the boy, before turning to Severus. “I begin to see what you mean, Severus. Perhaps we should discuss this again at a later time?”

Severus nodded. “Of course. Naturally I assumed that would be the case.”

“Yes, yes. I shall be going then, so that you may continue with your obviously fine teaching methods, Severus. Harry, I’m glad to see you’re doing so well, and expect that with this sturdy foundation you are well on your way to mastering the subject.” Albus smiled again and took his leave before anyone had a chance to respond.

Haze cast a lingering gaze at the potions texts the moment the headmaster was out the door, then looked up at Severus.

“You did well, Haze. I’m proud of you,” Severus responded to the unspoken question. “Did you bring the things I requested?”

“Yes, sir.” The boy reached down into his bag and rummaged around, eventually producing a thick stack of parchment.

Severus stood and walked over, quite curious as to the sheer quantity revealed, and took the parchments back to his desk to peruse. Sitting down he said, “You did well enough with the headmaster that you can start looking over those books now. They are yours to keep for the time being, but I expect you’ll see that they remain in good condition. Inside the cover of the first is an guideline of sorts you should read before getting into them.”

Looking down Severus saw that the top sheet of parchment was a chart detailing Haze’s schedule, clearly showing what classes he was expected in and when. The boy had lucked out this year, as all his classes were mornings, leaving him every weekday afternoon open. Severus decided privately that Albus had most likely arranged this miracle, specifically to make things easier for his Golden Child. Quidditch practice took up two of his evenings, while his Occlumency lessons took another three. And, of course, the boy’s mornings and afternoons at weekends were free as well.

Haze had made additional notations, marking each afternoon as time he used for assignments or private research, with further notes on the weekend days showing that he’d been using them for a mixture of frivolous activities (such as chess or Exploding Snap with Ron) and more revision and research, though he did not specify exactly what he was engrossing himself with.

To that end, Haze had indicated he was perfectly willing to give up his weekends for potions tutorials, or even his remaining two free evenings. However, as there was more time available at the weekend, he thought it would be more productive.

Severus was beginning to once again wonder at the reactions of the boy’s two closest friends. It appeared that Haze was turning into even more of a bookworm than the Granger girl. A quick glance over at the boy showed he was concentrating deeply on the contents of a book. Severus shook his head and looked back down.

Setting aside the schedule, he quickly realized that the remainder of the stack was the essay he’d assigned. All twenty pages of it. Severus stifled a groan at not having placed a specific length to it, and began to read, occasionally pushing his hair back when it threatened to obscure his vision. Luckily for him, he was a fast reader.

And the more he read, the more he became interested. Apparently, a little encouragement went a long way, especially when reinforced. He’d even included an outline of the paper before he started the actual content, which showed he’d used both a summary and conclusion portion to begin and round off the assignment. All in all, Severus felt like he was reading something he’d more expect to see in a trade publication.

Once he had waded through the exhausting examinations of each of the three topics—he was very pleased to note that Haze never wandered off topic as his friend tended to do—Severus moved on to the sections which detailed the comparisons Haze had drawn.

A slight noise made him look up, and he absently took in that Haze had set one book aside and was reaching for another.

Haze had allowed that resisting the Imperius curse was very likely something of pure will and a deep seated sense of self. This didn’t surprise Severus given that he’d always thought the boy was arrogant and confident, but Haze was speaking of a deeper meaning. There were different aspects to labels such as strong-willed or self-assured.

All people were at times unsure, harboring deep-seated doubts about one thing or another, and usually related to how they viewed themselves. All people had different buttons to push, triggers to pull, which resulted in generally predictable behavior. All three topics had a very simple thing in common, among others: self-control.

Haze had written that, in allowing himself to rise to insults from people like Malfoy, he had lost the control which he easily kept when subjected to the potential loss of self created by Imperius. He went on to say that it was much the same case during his original Occlumency lessons of the previous year. In allowing the harsh words and underhanded accusations to undermine his control and distract him, he found his defenses next to useless against the mental intrusions that followed.

In the end, it was about control, about knowing who he was and what he was capable of, or could imagine, and not letting those facts be submerged by things he could not control. Words only hurt if you let them. Spells only subverted your will if you hadn’t the sense of self to withstand them. Intrusions only succeeded if you couldn’t hold fast to the idea that no man’s thoughts or memories were free for the taking.

All in all, Severus came to the conclusion that he had no bloody idea why hypnosis had worked. And quite frankly, he wasn’t sure he wanted to dig deeply enough into the boy’s psyche to find out.

When next he looked up, Severus saw that Haze had moved on to a fourth book, and had only two left waiting. Severus blinked at that, checked the time, then went back to the essay, getting out his scarlet ink and quill, and taking his own sweet time in highlighting any sloppy turns of phrase, weak logic, and such. It went unsaid, even in the privacy of his own thoughts, that he did not mark harshly, for he was truly impressed with what he’d read.

By the time he was done there were only minutes left in the time normally allotted, so he shuffled the parchments back into order and cleared his throat.

Haze gazed up immediately with an expectant look on his face.

“I’ve looked over the schedule you brought. For the time being, you should present yourself to me each Saturday and Sunday after breakfast. We will be spending from nine until noon in my private lab working on potions. The afternoons are negotiable, depending on various factors. If I am not in a staff meeting, or otherwise unavailable, you may use that time as well to work. When you come on Saturday, I’ll have ready your instructions for those sessions. Any questions?”

“Not about that, sir. I’ll just wait until then. But I do have one question, about the essay?”

Severus inclined his head slightly.

“How long do you think before I might see how I’ve done, sir?”

The boy looked strangely anxious, perhaps, Severus thought, because the feedback was not instantaneous. “Possibly by Saturday, Haze. Do you have any objection to me showing this paper to the headmaster?” he asked curiously.

“No, sir. If you think he should see it. . . .”

Severus nodded. “Lack of objection noted. We’re done for the evening, then. You may run along and amuse yourself, Haze.”

Thursday, 21 November 1996

Severus, having taken the time to hide the old man’s supply of sweets when he’d entered the empty office, had settled himself stiffly in one of the waiting chairs. When Albus arrived a few minutes later and sat down, Severus was laughing internally over the look of surprise and consternation that resulted when the headmaster reached out automatically and found nothing to appease his cravings.

After several more minutes, in which Albus fussed around in mild distress, the headmaster finally got around to welcoming Severus with a rather pained expression.

“Severus, dear boy, I really am amazed at the things you come up with, and with how well Harry is progressing. Perhaps I should give you a pay rise.”

“It would be my life’s dream,” Severus replied dryly.

Albus responded by brightening up enough to chuckle, then said, “It was really the most interesting sensation, trying to penetrate Harry’s defenses. I could feel the energy I’d put behind the attack simply vanish. Quite remarkable indeed. And the reflection you spoke of—I do believe I now understand what you meant. The return on that was far stronger than I anticipated.”

The headmaster gave Severus an inquisitive look.

“There are very few people who would use Legilimency, and two of them are sitting in this room. I’m quite sure I don’t have to point out the third,” replied Severus. “If he can put a person out of commission for long enough, he has a better chance of escaping or potentially binding his opponent.”

“Yes, but how is he doing it?”

“It’s quite simple. As the visualization process I spoke of is working quite well, I told him to add a battery with which he could augment the energy before reflecting it. He’s had no trouble doing so, which is why you noticed a definite change when it came back.” He added sarcastically, “You do know what a battery is, Albus?”

Albus’s eyes twinkled merrily at the explanation and gibe. “I definitely need to see about giving you a rise, dear boy.”

Severus ignored that and said, “I’ve had him working on strengthening that response, though I plan to try a few other things as well. I believe I mentioned an alert the last time I was up here.”

“That reminds me, Severus. Has anything come through on recent activities?”

After giving the headmaster a sharp look over the abrupt change of subject, Severus said, “Yes. Epsilon got word to me. As soon as I’ve had a chance to look it over I’ll send you the report.”

“Any of the others?”

“No. Though Theta is still investigating the town mentioned in the last report sent in. I don’t expect to hear anything until there’s something of substance to send along.”

Albus nodded, clearly lost in thought, which Severus was more than happy to snap him out of.

“Aside from that, there are two things I wished to discuss, both of which concern the boy.”

“Oh?”

Severus reached into his robes and produced a copy of Haze’s assignment, then tossed it on the desk. “You can read that after I’ve gone. It’s a copy of the essay I gave him for homework. I believe you’ll find it quite illuminating.”

“And the other?”

“I want to know if the boy has a family vault, and if there’s anything in it that might suit him for Christmas this year,” he said insouciantly. “Oh, don’t look at me like that, Albus. The brat’s done exceptionally well this year, especially compared to the utter waste of my time he made of the previous lessons due to his antagonistic and rebellious displays of temper and arrogance.”

Albus interrupted immediately. “Speaking of which, he does seem curiously calm this year. I don’t suppose you have any idea why?”

“Don’t change the subject,” Severus snapped.

“Now, now, Severus. I am simply asking. I would have expected Harry to avoid me this year, and so far he’s been nothing but polite and respectful. Merlin knows he was ready to bring this office down around my ears last June.”

“I’ll get to that. Now let me finish.”

Albus folded his hands on the desk patiently.

“Setting aside the technical meaning of the phrase, positive reinforcement is not to be overlooked. The more confident the boy becomes and the more willing he is to listen and trust, the stronger his defenses will become.”

When Severus paused long enough, Albus asked, “And what has that to do with whether or not he has a family vault?”

“Everything or nothing. It had occurred to me that someone may have retained his parents’ wedding rings, and that Potter might like to have them as an early gift this year.”

“Ah, yes, and if you were the one to see that he received them. . . .” Albus began stroking his beard again, no doubt running the idea through his mind a few times. “Well, it is true that I have the keys to those vaults until Harry is old enough. The one he currently uses contains nothing more than funds set aside for his school years.”

Severus waited.

“And it is true that such a thoughtful gesture on your part would do much to show Harry how pleased you are with him of late, not that you have grown in any way fond of the boy, naturally.”

The look Severus shot Albus spoke volumes.

“Dear me no. As it happens, Severus, I do believe I recall seeing their wedding rings in one of the vaults, yes, since I made sure they were put there. I suppose I see no harm in the idea,” he said, tapping the side of his face. “I’m sure I could find the time to make a quick journey to Gringotts.”

At about the time Severus was picturing himself strangling the old man with his own beard, Albus said, “Yes, yes. Quite so. Now, what is this about how calm he is this year?”

Severus snorted. Finally. “I think you may find his essay to be illuminating, as I said. However, aside from that, we had a little chat about death and guilt and it appears he has come to terms with what happened to the mutt.”

“Hmm,” Albus replied. “I’m surprised he was willing to talk about it.” He gave Severus another curious glance. “But that is good to hear, certainly. I hated to see him so lost and angry last year. I shall definitely take the time to read what you’ve brought me. Now is a good a time as any to start. Was there anything else, Severus?”

“No, so I’ll just be on my way.”

*

Back in his private quarters, Severus spent his evening working out a list of instructions for Haze to start in on for Saturday. Having compiled a list of every potion taught during first through sixth year, he transferred the information to sheets based on year, including a note for each about the length of time it took to complete.

It was, perhaps, a cruel way to go about things. The only exceptions he made were for those potions Haze had done Sunday last, placing a thin scarlet line through each one. Another sheet was prepared, this one detailing directions for the boy to follow, with basic instructions like proper labeling, where to place the completed concoctions, and that he could do them in any order he preferred.

When he was done, Severus made two copies of every page. One he tacked to the wall in his private lab, one was for his own use, and the last was for Haze to keep. When Saturday arrived, he would be ready. After placing the graded research essay in his notebook and putting it on his normal station, Severus went to bed.