Grazhir :: Harry Potter :: Induction :: 19 :: Tenderness

19 • Tenderness

Harry sat waiting in front of his pile of presents, tapping his foot impatiently. A knock came at his door after what seemed like forever and Harry leapt to his feet to let Moony in. Remus came with his own bunch of gifts, making a neat pile of them for himself. Harry, who always thought presents were one of the best things in the world, was nearly vibrating with anticipation. The second Remus was seated Harry dropped to his knees and yanked a gift from his stack.

“Feeling a little savage this morning?” asked Remus in amusement.

“I’ll give you savage,” said Harry. “I’ll take you shopping again,” he threatened and glanced at Remus long enough to wrinkle his nose in a playful snarl, then ripped off the wrappings and flung them aside. It was not by chance that the present from was Severus. Harry had found it on his bed earlier and placed it at the top. Inside was a book, the one he had asked about almost six months ago on a whim.

It gave him a warm, happy feeling that his mentor had not only remembered, but was feeling so unlike himself as to obtain it—obviously Severus had been having a bad day. On the other hand, Severus had provided him with all those supplies for the seventh year NEWT Potions class without expecting a return, so perhaps he was being unfair. And of course, the rings, though those had an ulterior motive. Harry settled on just being pleased, without worrying over the why of things.

He spent a couple of minutes flipping through the pages before he showed the cover to Remus, who smiled and held up a new winter cloak. They spent the next half hour tossing brightly-coloured bits of paper into the fireplace as they revealed the mystery of each gift they’d been given. Eventually, as was always the case, the gifts ran out, so Harry transferred most of his to his bedroom while Remus packed his up for later return to his rooms.

They went to the Great Hall together for breakfast, sitting side by side. There were only a few students staying that year, many of whom were quite young and rather uncertain looking. Severus was nowhere to be seen, but that didn’t surprise Harry in the least. He wouldn’t have expected his mentor to enjoy a meal at such close quarters to anyone but staff, and even then he never seemed happy about it. Harry made it a point to stop by Albus’s seat before he left to thank him for the gift, then headed straight for Severus’s rooms.

He almost wished the man would just tell him the password, but he knew better, and it would be very, very bad for anyone to witness him barging in as though he had every right to. Once he was admitted he gave Severus a bright smile and crowded in a bit close. Severus, however, had other ideas.

“Tell me, Haze,” he began as he took a step back, “how it is that you came to decide on these as your gift to me?”

“What? You don’t like them?”

Severus turned and made for his chair to sit down, so Harry dropped onto the couch. “I do. What I wish to know is why you thought I would.”

Harry thought his mentor seemed awfully suspicious for no good reason. “Well, I thought it was kind of obvious, actually.” He turned slightly and pointed at one of the highest shelves in the room. “That was one clue. You don’t often see a phonograph, never mind one that, despite being set up so high, has none of the dust that many other things in here do.”

“Point taken. Now, about the precise selection?”

“That was for a couple of reasons. First, you have a wide selection of books here, and not all of them deal with Potions.” He raised his brows at Severus. “I’d have to be blind, or really inattentive, to not notice what they were about, even having looked only casually. I have a pretty good memory.”

Severus smirked slightly.

“Second, I recognized those names. I never would have guessed in the beginning you liked opera, but you seemed to based on the evidence.”

“Anything else you’d like to add to that?”

Harry shrugged slightly and brushed the hair away from his forehead. “I thought it would be nice to get you something . . . for you. Not obvious. Not work-related. Something you’d enjoy just . . . because.”

“I see. In that case, thank you. Your thoughtfulness is appreciated.” Severus gave him a faint smile.

Translation being, Harry thought, thank you for not snooping where you don’t belong. “You’re welcome. And thank you very much for the book. Maybe over this holiday I can puzzle out things I’d like to work on in the future.”

“You should have ample opportunity to page through it before lessons resume.”

Harry gave a vague nod as his gaze slid off to the left. “Severus?”

“Yes?”

“What would happen if Voldemort was defeated? I mean, what happens to his Death Eaters?”

“You’re making the assumption that they would not die with him?”

“Yeah. I’ve been thinking a lot about it lately. I can’t know everything—I’ve been going off what I’ve witnessed. I haven’t really seen anything to suggest that the Dark Mark is much more than a means to summon. So if Voldemort died, they’d still be running around loose.”

“Witnessed?” Severus tilted his head back slightly.

“I remember—it was fourth year—Karkaroff talking about his Mark and how it was getting more distinct. If how faint it became is any indication of Voldemort’s strength—maybe I mean health?—then. . . . Nobody died that I know of is all I’m saying, even though Voldemort lost his body. And then, in the graveyard. He used Peter’s Mark to summon everyone. Peter seemed like he was in pain, but honestly, I couldn’t say why he reacted the way he did. So maybe it could be used to drive people crazy from an overload, but . . . I can’t say with any degree of surety that if Voldemort died that his Death Eaters would follow him. If not, does that mean I end up behind safe walls while Aurors go out and track them all down? Does that mean . . . you . . . might die?”

Severus looked thoughtful. “I think you have drawn reasonable conclusions based on the evidence you do have. As to the final question, I do not know. The Dark Lord has always been much more in favor of causing death personally and immediately to those among his people who offend him past reason. I would not, however, make the assumption that he has not used the Mark as a way of extending his own life at the expense of his followers.”

Severus looked Harry in the eye and said, “If I die, Haze, I die. If I die because of the Dark Lord’s defeat, then I will die satisfied, and that is all I could ask for.”

Harry rose and moved to kneel at his mentor’s side, laying his head on Severus’s knee. “But I don’t want you to die.” It seemed to him that Severus automatically reached down a hand to tangle it in his hair.

“As for your other question, if his Death Eaters are not affected by his death, I’m not sure. I could easily see a division, with some clamoring for you to personally clean up, and others insisting you be kept safe.”

“I don’t want to spend the rest of my life chasing people,” Harry said softly. “I’m not whining, Severus, really. I know it could happen and I accept that. But I don’t want any of this. I don’t want to be a living touchstone. I don’t want to be special,” he said, his voice rising with each word. “I’m just an ordinary person. I don’t want people to look to me as the end-all, be-all of Voldemort’s defeat!”

“Shhh,” said Severus, his fingers moving lightly through Harry’s hair.

“I’m sorry. I guess I am whining after all. You don’t deserve to have to listen to this.”

Severus made an odd noise that wasn’t quite a snort. “Haze?”

“Yes?”

“It is my great pleasure to inform you that you have used up your quota of self-pity for the next decade or so. Do try to remember that, won’t you?”

*

Harry wore a pensive look as he entered his quarters. He wasn’t worried about Severus dying—he could prevent that, and indeed, already had. He knew, despite his brief lapse, that it would fall to him to figure things out overall. He sat down and propped his legs on the table, crossed at the ankles.

Forget the Death Eaters and concentrate on Voldemort. They don’t matter at the moment. How can I use what I know to my advantage? He is being affected by my defenses, and I’d bet he doesn’t even realize it, nor does he necessarily realize he’s been trying to link to me half the time. I can influence what he thinks about. I’ve already proven that. But what does that give me?

Harry tilted his head back to rest on the top edge of the chair and stared at the ceiling.

Can I confuse him even more? Make him believe certain things? He did it to me, so why can’t I do it to him? But, how? I don’t want to end up with the same situation as before. Severus hasn’t got any information on soul magic yet either. I don’t have any idea how to make sure he doesn’t split. Those pagan rituals were no help at all. How the hell is it that Voldemort can know about these things and I can’t find it?

The clock chimed, causing Harry to lift his head briefly. It was coming up on time for lunch. He spent another few minutes thinking about nothing he didn’t already know, then rose and headed for the Great Hall. He got a surprise when he arrived; Tonks had come to visit and ended up sitting on Harry’s other side. Aside from making conversation with Harry, and past him, with Remus, she spent a great deal of time amusing the few children there by changing her features. By the time the meal was over, all of them looked a great deal more relaxed and happy, possibly not regretting as much having had to stay at school over the holiday.

It gave Harry the barest wisp of an idea. Her innocent deceptions were important, somehow. He didn’t try to force it, or attempt to bring it to the forefront. He left the seed he knew was there to sit at the back of his mind to hopefully, eventually, blossom into something substantial.

*

The students returned to the castle for the beginning of the second term. Hermione and Ron were both agitated, though for different reasons. While Hermione had begun to obsess even more over her studies than usual, Ron was usually found obsessing over her obsession or complaining privately to Harry about her near-constant nagging regarding his own studies and progress. Neither one of them spared a thought for the problem of Voldemort, and that was just fine with Harry. The more normal their lives could be, the happier he was.

Harry resumed his lessons with Remus, though they had abandoned the classroom in favor of a disused wing. Remus, always ready with a logical explanation, told Harry that classroom work was all very well, but it was generally the furthest thing from reality. In getting Albus to direct them to a new practice area, Harry could get used to battles that involved hallways, multiple rooms, and all manner of new situations to deal with.

Things became more difficult, and therefore more exciting, when Tonks, Kingsley, and even Moody began to join them on occasion. How they divided out depended on whim. On one day it might be Harry against everyone. On another it would be Harry and Remus against the others, or even all of them playing a game to see who could come out on top. Aside from giving Harry broader experience with his environment, it gave him a much better feel for teamwork. His experience at the Department of Mysteries had been illuminating, but most of that had been a matter of luck and guesswork.

He also learned, as he had only started to during his own adventures, that every person had their own style, their own ways of processing a situation before coming to a decision as to what to do, and did his best not to get so bogged down in his own habits of thought. He had no wish to clash with anyone he needed to cooperate with, and certainly not to the point that a disagreement could herald defeat. And yet, he had no wish to simply give in to greater experience on every issue; new things came about because people took chances.

As before, the one thing Harry wished he could incorporate into his training was the ability to apparate, but there was no place they would dare bring him to do so. He did, however, learn a great deal about what aurors in training went through, and the signals they used among themselves for silent communication. And, Remus was careful to always point out instances when it would have been fruitful to use apparation.

The days seemed to slip by. Between his self-study and his lessons with Remus, which had moved out onto the school grounds so that Harry could get used to a whole new set of circumstances, Harry often pondered the question of Voldemort, and brought Severus into a trance several times to ask more questions he didn’t think his mentor would answer while awake and aware. On one occasion, he asked about what work Severus actually did for the Order.

“I want to clarify some things,” he said, laying on the floor with his chin propped on his palms. “You used to be a spy, Severus. Are you still a spy?”

“Of a sort, yes.”

“Will you please explain what it is you actually do as a spy?”

“I am a spymaster. There are a number of people who report to me as director of operations. I, in turn, pass everything on to Albus as the Head of the Order. If I or Albus need to know something, I send out the request.”

“Is this also how you’ve been attempting to find information on soul magic?”

“Yes.”

“So, you no longer spy directly. Why is that?”

“The Dark Lord knows I betrayed him. It would be my death were I to get close enough for him to capture me. Quirrell was the cause.”

Harry nodded; that made perfect sense to him.

“Are any of your spies Death Eaters?”

“No.”

“Then I guess I’m a little confused. Do they actually get information from Death Eaters?”

“It depends, but that is one source.”

“They’re seen as sympathizers?” Harry ventured.

“Yes.”

“Have you ever asked them to pass information back to actual Death Eaters?”

“On occasion, though it is not common.”

Very interesting, thought Harry. He had already begun to form a vague plan in his head, and this was something he might be able to take advantage of. As it seemed that Severus’s contacts were trusted among at least some portion of the Death Eaters, it might be a way for him to nudge certain things into action.

He spent another twenty minutes asking questions, trying to get every nuance, then called it a night, capping it by luring an unprotesting Severus into the bedroom.

*

Cornelius Fudge was killed near the middle of March, sending the British wizarding public into a frenzy of fear and suspicion. Though many had begun to see through his pompous, self-serving attitude, they were still frightened by the implications his death dredged up. After all, if the Minister of Magic could be picked off that easily, what did that say for the rest of them?

The Daily Prophet had a field day with the news, doing more to scare the public in the end than the death had thanks to the efforts of fine, upstanding journalists like Rita Skeeter. A stranger to Harry was appointed as acting Minister until the next election. Melrose had a spotless reputation within the Ministry, but even that made Harry a bit suspicious, and he began to worry that he might never be able to accept anyone new at face value again.

Hermione began to request the use of his rooms on a far more frequent basis, citing the appalling conditions in the library and the tower. She was convinced that she’d never get any of her revision done if Harry didn’t help her, and often pestered him about the details of when he had taken the NEWTs and what his advice was as a veteran of the exams. Harry bore with her as patiently as he could considering his own workload and how frequently he came back incredibly tired from his lessons with Remus.

And those lessons had been changed yet again, adding another wrinkle to Harry’s life. Because Remus wanted to introduce Harry to nighttime combat, and since the students were expected to be in their towers after a certain point in the evening—prefects and detention-attenders aside—Harry was not getting to bed until the wee hours of the morning. He would wake sometime shortly before lunch, eat, then work on his Mastery in the afternoons.

They often spent the early part of the evening together in Harry’s rooms simply talking. He still hadn’t said anything to his friends about his little secret and had been worrying over it again.

“I don’t want to throw them off stride,” he said, fully aware that he was rationalizing his reluctance to speak up. “The exams are getting so close, and even Ron is buckling down and trying.”

“Harry, if you aren’t ready to tell them, then don’t,” Remus said. “If you’re all wound up and showing it, they’re going to assume that something really horrible is in the works, like you’ve had a vision of Voldemort coming after their families. And while that might soften the potential blow, I don’t think it’s worth rushing things over just for a perceived advantage of circumstance. Either way, it would probably be unkind.”

Harry was sitting close enough that Remus was able to pull him in and gently press Harry’s head down against his shoulder. “I know you can’t help it, but try not to worry about it for now.”

“Moony?”

“Mm.”

“What do you think of Professor Snape?”

“In that sense?”

“Well, I know you two have some unresolved issues, but. . . .”

Remus twisted his head so he could look into Harry’s eyes for a moment, then straightened and said, “I think a lot of things. He’s undeniably talented, and even brave. He’s cunning and sly, works as hard as any other member of the Order, and despite my initial doubts, I think he’s been a good role model for you when it comes to certain things. In his own way, I think he’s quite honest, though I won’t say he always sees things clearly, because I don’t think he does. There are some things Severus can’t seem to let go of.”

Remus glanced down again and said, “I think I know, Harry, but why are you asking?”

Harry took a deep breath and said, “I like him, Moony.”

“I assume you’re not telling me you want to be his pen-pal when you leave Hogwarts, huh.”

The corner of Harry’s mouth quirked as he shook his head gently.

“Do you know how he feels?”

Harry dropped his gaze slightly. “I’m not sure. Sometimes, I think I see—I don’t know.”

“All right.”

“Does it . . . bother you?”

“Harry, let me explain. Overall, I don’t have a problem with Severus. Yes, he can be caustic and very difficult to get along with, but that doesn’t really matter. The biggest reason Severus and I aren’t friends is because I don’t think he’s ever really forgiven me my part in what happened that year, even though I was an innocent party to it. I don’t know if he ever will, but if he did I would still be right there, hoping we could move past it.”

He reached across his chest for a moment to brush Harry’s cheek with his fingertips. “You see, it doesn’t matter how ornery he can be because it’s you that we’re talking about, though I’d say this about anyone. If a person treats you with respect and honesty, then the surface is just that, a façade . And if he makes you happy, treats you right, and feels the same way, I’d be the first person in line to congratulate you and wish you well. Does that answer your question?”

Harry closed his eyes and snuggled closer, enjoying the warmth of Remus’s body. “Thank you for understanding.”

Remus dropped a kiss on Harry’s forehead in response.

“I love you, Moony.” It came out as a whisper.

“I love you, too, Harry.”