Grazhir :: Harry Potter :: Induction :: 18 :: Marking Time

18 • Marking Time

Harry rolled out of bed, wide awake, and headed for the bathroom to shower. When he later walked back into his bedroom, he shut off his alarm, which hadn’t been ringing earlier. He smiled to himself, pleased at the evidence that his mental shenanigans were working. Harry got dressed and settled on his couch to continue reading where he’d left off the evening before, then abandoned the effort when it was time for breakfast.

Sliding in beside Ron, he said, “Morning,” then repeated the greeting to Hermione across the table, who looked up from her book long enough to smile and nod at him.

Ron paused long enough in his savage decimation of a pile of eggs to grunt, swallow, and say, “Hey, mate. I thought the trials went well. Of course, the new seeker will never be as good as you.” He looked a bit dejected by that knowledge. “Hopefully he’ll work out all right this year.”

“I have faith in you,” said Harry equitably as he loaded up his plate. Turning back to Ron, he said, “Besides, the Slytherin team has suffered quite a bit and has to replace a number of people.” He shared a wicked grin with his friend, then started to eat.

Ron eventually sat back and patted his stomach with a satiated smile. “You coming up this morning? Ginny is no fun to play chess with,” he complained.

“Can’t,” replied Harry. “I still have those, er, special lessons.” When Ron frowned his confusion, Harry jerked his chin slightly toward the head table.

“Oh. Those. Bad luck, Harry. I’d have thought you’d be done with that by now.”

Harry shook his head. “I’m pretty sure I’ve got everything down, but they think it’s wise to keep up regular testing, just in case.”

Hermione, who had apparently caught the comment, looked up and said, “That’s right, Harry. I’d be surprised if they stopped.”

Since Harry didn’t mind either way, he was able to agree with a smile. A minute later, after saying his good-byes, he left. It was precisely 8am when he knocked on Severus’s door.

They were having a bit of a breather between attack rounds when Severus said absently, “You look a bit warm, Haze.”

Harry hadn’t even really been paying attention to the attacks, letting his subconscious handle how he responded to them. He was in the middle of replaying in his mind the way Severus had been swooping all around the room like an elegant black bird when he realized he was removing his robes and laying them over the arm of his chair. After seating himself again, he looked up to see his mentor’s opaque gaze.

“Haze, go under.” As before, Harry felt himself go curiously blank, his eyes closing automatically. “Open your eyes, Haze.” And they did. “I’d like to know more about you, Haze.”

Harry found himself nodding.

“Why do you persist in wearing such outsized clothes?”

“I’ve not been allowed to wear anything else,” he replied calmly.

“By whom?”

“My family.”

“You have enough money to buy what you wish. How is that their opinions carry any weight?”

“They believe I’m a burden and a freak, and that they’ve never been adequately compensated for being forced to house me. If Uncle Vernon knew I had money of my own, he’d try to take it from me on those grounds.” The detached part of his mind watched as Severus blinked in surprise over what he was saying.

“But you aren’t with them any longer, and need never go back.”

“Yes,” he agreed. Several emotions flickered across his mentor’s face, capped with obvious frustration.

“Then why haven’t you corrected your clothing situation?”

Harry shrugged. “It never occurred to me to do so.” A faint scowl etched lines on Severus’s forehead. A corner of his mind speculated on why it mattered to the man, and why he seemed to be having so much trouble with it.

“So, you’re trying to tell me that you’ve accepted it, become used to these rags you call clothes, and did not see the point in doing something about it once you were able to, is that right?” Severus finally asked.

“Yes.” Other than seeing the corner of his mentor’s mouth tighten, no other reaction could be discerned.

“Haze, directives.”

Harry reeled off the entire list, nonfunctioning directives included. He watched as Severus sat down in his customary chair and muttered to himself for a minute. The detached part of Harry reminded him that Severus had often asked peculiar questions, and had just as often abruptly changed the subject.

“Why are there locks on the door of the room you used at Privet Drive?”

“Uncle Vernon intended for me to never return to Hogwarts after my first year. He put locks on the door, bars on the window, and included the cat flap so they could shove food through and not have to bother with me except to let me use the bathroom twice a day.” That response had the effect of hardening his mentor’s expression, though if it was due to anger he could not tell.

“You’ve been a good, obedient boy, Haze. I think you deserve some kind of reward, don’t you?”

Harry nodded. Even though he was no longer compelled to be so agreeable, it was easier, and less suspicious, to be so. After a long pause, Severus spoke.

“Over the next week or so I want you to think about your clothing, Haze—whether you’re truly comfortable being dressed like that, and whether you would like to own clothes that actually show you off to your best advantage. These thoughts will not interfere with your Mastery study or your Defense training, understand?”

“Yes.”

“That’s right, good. If you do decide you wish to purchase a new wardrobe, you will . . . tell Remus Lupin how you feel, and ask if he is willing to help you, understand?”

“Yes.”

“Haze, when I wake you back up, you will think I had already been sitting down, isn’t that right?”

Harry nodded.

“What was it that Dumbledore wanted to speak to you about after lunch yesterday?” Severus asked tersely.

“He wanted to give me the keys to my family vaults.”

Severus relaxed. “Haze, wake up.”

Harry didn’t suffer any confusion this time from the command, though he was confused about the reasons behind Severus’s seemingly benign interest in his wardrobe. Why should Severus care how he dressed? Unless . . . his interest in Harry was a bit more long term than Harry had ever anticipated.

“Let us begin again, now that you’ve had a chance to rest,” Severus said, and stood.

This time, though Harry continued to watch his mentor’s movements as he reflexively responded to the attacks, he wasn’t thinking about how much they fascinated him. He was contemplating a rider to his own conditioning that would make any new directives or suggestions from Severus subject to dismissal based on whether or not the part of him that stayed aware thought they were harmless.

Severus straightened in one smooth movement and lowered his wand just as Harry felt a peculiar sliding sensation. “That should be enough for now. Next time we’ll work with veritaserum. I’m sure you’ll find something to amuse yourself with for the rest of the day, Haze.”

Harry, more than willing to stop so he could find out what was happening, gave Severus a smile and took himself off after grabbing his robes and wishing his mentor a pleasant afternoon.

He skidded through his own door and threw the robes on the couch, then ran down the hall to kick his bedroom door shut. Back in the lounge he checked the time, then stretched out and immediately sought to follow the link outward.

Laughter always felt good, but it was even better when it was at someone else’s expense. He dismissed the current bunch of faceless minions and called forward Watkins.

“I trust you brought your son with you today,” he said sibilantly.

“Y-yes, master.” Watkins turned his head quickly, making impatient gestures at a shorter figure off to the side.

He waited until the figure approached, then said, “So, this is young Nigel. Do tell me, Nigel, what you were doing at Hogwarts when you should have been here before me?”

“I was scouting the dark forest,” was the prompt reply.

“Crucio!” After watching the young man writhe on the floor and scream for a short time, he lifted the curse and said, “You would do well to remember your manners, whelp. Now get up. And whose brilliant idea was it for you to do that? I don’t recall making any such request.”

“Nobody, my lord. I thought it would be a good idea to check for weaknesses.”

He looked out over the massed figures and smiled. They twitched, but held their ground. “Dear me, someone who believes he can think.” Looking back at the young man he said, “I don’t recall asking you to make my decisions for me. Crucio!”

He hummed tunelessly to himself as the boy dropped a second time in agony, an obscenely twisting display against the damp, dirty floor. When he lost track of where he was in the melody, he lifted the curse. “However, such initiative should not go unrewarded. Prepare yourself,” he commanded, and was pleased when the brat hauled himself up shakily and stepped closer, baring his arm.

“How charming,” he murmured. He touched the tip of his wand to the young man’s forearm, then pushed, intent on making this as painful as possible. “Morsmordre,” he intoned, and inhaled deeply as the flesh beneath his wand burned, drawing in the sickening scent.

Harry was almost frantic in his need to understand everything that had gone into that spell, and paid close attention to all that was running through Voldemort’s mind during those critical seconds.

The sizzling stopped; a cause for regret, perhaps, but also a reason for him to draw his wand back and admire the harsh black brand on the young man’s formerly pristine forearm. “Very good,” he said briskly. “I trust you will refrain from having any more bright ideas. Now, you two, back into place!”

He gave his followers another ghastly smile as he considered what to torture them over next.

Harry took that as his cue to depart and did so, and was back in his own body within seconds. A moment later he was on his feet and pacing the room in thought. Knowing what it felt like to place the mark wasn’t going to be enough. After ten minutes of fruitless pacing, Harry left his rooms and headed for Gryffindor tower.

*

By the time December was half over, Harry had experienced a number of markings firsthand. The only thing that varied was how cruel Voldemort was feeling at a given moment. And at that, they all ended up branded like cattle by a farmer who was a little too free with his irons. Harry was currently reading on his couch, one ear open for any questions that might issue from his lab where Hermione was in a frenzy over some potion or other she hadn’t managed to do perfectly in class. She had told him quite seriously that she wanted to get it right before they broke up for the holiday, so Harry had given her free rein to try it as often as necessary in his lab.

Word had long since come back from Dumbledore that Malfoy and his cronies were enjoying the dubious comforts of a year at Durmstrang, and Harry had promptly passed the information along to Ron and Hermione. He had been somewhat surprised to find his guess verified. Harry had almost expected Voldemort to kill them out of hand, either for failing in their attempt, or for having tried to kill Harry in his stead. But their fate was hardly important in light of what Harry had finally discovered.

It was an accident more than anything, though some might have been tempted to call it serendipity, that Harry realized after some time that whatever he was concentrating on while he lurked in the back of Voldemort’s mind often triggered corresponding thoughts on the part of the Dark Lord. While it pointed out some obscure flaw in the protections Harry had designed for himself, it was also fortuitous. He had first made the connection when he’d been struggling with the problem of the Dark Mark’s removal.

After realizing that Voldemort’s own train of thought had shifted to a similar topic—though he was gloating over the sheer beauty of his creation—Harry purposely began to concentrate on what a shame it was that he couldn’t remove the Dark Mark from those who proved out to be traitors to his ideals and cause. And, while Voldemort didn’t make any obvious moves to consider that idea, Harry could sense that something had changed. From that point, when he wasn’t actively storing up the details of what he was witnessing, Harry would concentrate on that single thing.

He knew he had succeeded when Peter was killed, but not before his Mark was removed. Voldemort had delivered a scathing diatribe to his minion covering every fault and weakness he’d ever witnessed, plus a great deal he made up on the spot, then removed the brand. And before Voldemort had proceeded to torture, and finally kill, Peter, he’d told the sniveling man that he didn’t deserve the privilege of death while still one of his followers. It was on that day that Harry knew he could remove Severus’s Mark whenever it was convenient.

That, naturally, presented an entirely different set of problems. How often did Severus feel his Mark burn? How could Harry remove it and not make others suspicious? Would any of his mentor’s contacts report back exactly what had happened to Peter? Could Harry replace the original Mark with one he made himself to disguise the fact that Severus was no longer bound to Voldemort? Was it ethical to even consider the idea? Moral? Should he be—

“—in here for a moment, Harry?” Hermione called from the lab.

Harry collected his scattered wits and called back, “Just a second.” He ruffled his hair absently then marked his book and set it down. Entering the lab, he moved to stand across from her on the other side of the station she was at.

“Thanks, Harry. Listen, what do you think of this one?” She indicated her most recent attempt.

“The colour is right,” he said, then picked up a stirrer and coated the end lightly to hold up to his nose. “Smells right, and the consistency looks correct as well. I do believe you have a winner, Miss Granger.” Harry gave her a playful smile as he replaced the stirrer.

She gave him a look that was full of happiness, then frowned. “Oh dear, look at the time. We’re going to be late for dinner.”

“Then I’ll help you clean up. Just cover the cauldron—it should be fine cooling down by itself, and I can bottle it later to bring up to the infirmary.”

“Really, Harry?”

“Yeah. I made a lot of potions for the infirmary last year, so why not you?” He grinned at her and began collecting unused ingredients to put away. She immediately followed suit by gathering up and washing a number of tools, and they were able to head out to the Great Hall in good time.

“You never told me you made potions for the infirmary before,” she said thoughtfully as they headed for the stairs to the ground floor.

Harry shrugged and said, “It never really came up. It was when Professor Snape was first checking to see if I really could make them, and then after when I was doing all that remedial work. Since everything was coming out well, he saw no reason to waste them. I didn’t think it was all that important at the time.”

“I suppose,” she said, still thoughtful. “Then again, you are going to sit for the Mastery exams, so I shouldn’t be surprised.” Hermione flashed him an understanding smile as they stepped through the double doors and walked to the Gryffindor table to find seats.

He couldn’t be upset that she’d broken his train of thought earlier. It was something best dealt with alone. He slid in next to Ron while she sat across the table—without a book in her hand for once.

“Are you finally done?” asked Ron with a scowl. “Are you even packed yet?”

“Yes, Ron,” Hermione replied with a long-suffering sigh. “And yes, I am packed.”

“Good.” Ron dove for the food the moment it appeared, provoking another sigh from Hermione and a shake of the head.

Harry chuckled and filled his plate at a more sedate pace, then settled in to catch up on their plans for the holiday.

*

Harry and Remus shared a carriage with Ron and Hermione. Moony had already assured Harry’s two friends that he would be keeping a close eye on Harry over the holiday and that they were not to worry about a thing. When they arrived at the station, hugs were exchanged and well wishes, then Ron and Hermione boarded the train, levitating their trunks behind them.

Harry looked at Remus and said, “Soon as it’s gone, we can go shopping?”

“Absolutely, Harry. I’ll even point out what I’d like so you don’t have to wonder,” Remus replied with an unrepentant grin.

Harry grinned back a bit sadistically. “Great. Then you won’t mind helping me shop for a new wardrobe.”

Remus stepped back with a comical look of horror and held up his hands. “Anything but that! You better not be like Sirius, Harry. He was always dragging me into shops looking for just the right outfit to make an impression with.”

Harry snorted and raised his hands, forming a cross with his index fingers. “Silence, foul blasphemer!” he mock-thundered. He dropped his hands with a grin and said, “No, I’d just like some stuff that fits properly.”

“Whatever you say, Harry. But for this, I deserve two presents.”

“Sure, Moony. I may even buy you three.”

They spent the entire morning browsing through shops and purchasing gifts for people, though the bulk of it was spent getting Harry’s wardrobe brought up to speed. The first time he’d tried on a pair of trousers that fit properly, Harry felt almost as though they were obscenely tight and was quite diffident about showing Moony. When Remus whistled at him, he blushed and ducked back into the fitting area. As revenge Harry pleaded and begged and made a total nuisance of himself until Moony gave in and agreed to accept some new clothes for himself, then gleefully shoved him into the waiting hands of the shop girls.

Harry’s good mood continued all the way back to the castle and to his rooms, where he sat Remus down on the couch and ordered lunch for them. Afterward, they spent another hour or so wrapping presents, though Remus was quite careful to not reveal whatever it was he’d got for Harry despite his sly attempts to peek.

Harry took the time to box everything up and write out addresses for each package, and followed Remus out when he decided to take his leave. They split part way up the castle, with Remus heading for his own rooms, and Harry heading to the owlery. He was puffing slightly when he reached his goal, not having bothered to float anything, and paused for a minute before calling to Hedwig and several other owls. Hedwig got special attention, and plenty of affection, before Harry gave her a package to deliver. When she flew off he apportioned the remainder out to the waiting owls, watched as they left, then trekked back down to his dungeon lair.

He had two presents for Severus, though only one of them would be given openly. Harry intended to deliver both personally.

*

Harry silently watched the clock. Old fashioned timepieces were useful that way, having hands and the ever important one that ticked off the seconds. Digital might be easier to read and wizarding versions might be very useful in allowing you to see if a loved one was all right, but nothing beat being able to watch as time flowed forward before your eyes in quite this fashion. When the second hand returned home and the others adjusted to reflect the change, Harry stood up. It was midnight, and therefore Christmas day. Harry scooped up a package from his nightstand and approached the bare stretch of wall. “Open sesame,” he whispered, and stepped through the opening that appeared.

He placed the package on the table in Severus’s living area where it could not be missed, then padded on silent feet to the bedroom and slipped in. Harry stripped as he approached the bed, placing his wand on the bedside table, then sat down and brushed loose strands of hair away from his mentor’s forehead.

His wrist was immediately caught in an iron grip. “What,” said Severus, “do you think you’re doing?”

“Seeing if you were too far gone in sleep for this to have any effect,” said Harry softly, then bent over to kiss him. He felt the loss of the fingers wrapped around his wrist as Severus opened his mouth and darted his tongue forward. Harry surged forward with his own, and didn’t resist the sudden pressure on the back of his neck or the unspoken demand that he lay himself out properly forthwith.

But the moment he had the chance, he twisted the rings on his finger and watched as Severus went limp against the yielding surface of the bed. Licking his lips, Harry sat back up and smiled in satisfaction. “Severus, I’m going to do something in a moment which may cause you pain, but you will not resist, and you will not remember anything of what happens, just like you never recall consciously anything that happens when you’re in this deeply relaxed state, isn’t that right?”

“Yes.”

“Yes, that’s right, Severus. Very good.” Harry took a deep breath and grabbed his wand, then touched it to the Dark Mark which stood out in clear relief on his mentor’s forearm. He had decided on a compromise of sorts. While he would not remove the Mark itself—thereby rendering moot the ethical question of having to replace it with his own version—he could snap the bonds associated with it, freeing Severus from any potential ill effects from Voldemort’s death.

When he was done, it was nothing more than an ugly black brand, a disfigurement he would take care of when he was ready to remove the threat of the Dark Lord. Though he was not Voldemort, he did hold the brother wand, and that counted for something. After another deep breath, Harry put his wand back on the bedside table and returned to the same position he’d been in and said, “Severus, wake up.”

His mentor grabbed him and flipped him over so he could loom ominously, then lowered his head to continue ravaging Harry’s mouth. When Harry did return to his own room, he was satisfied on a number of levels. He fell asleep almost before he’d finished the visualization exercises for his defenses.