AN: Thank you for your continuous support, and for keeping the lovely reviews coming even though I gave you no hope whatsoever that there will ever be a fifteenth chapter. Thank you very much :)
Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter and I do not get paid for writing this story. Please don't sue me.
Warning: Harry Potter and the Plastic Bag, Meet Master Metaphorist
AN: Surprise, surprise! Hope it's a pleasant one ;) How come I'm back? Some of you, who had asked for my notes might have suspected that something didn't go as planned since I failed to send you anything except for the map-out of the first 14 chapters. You were thrilled, I'm sure :P Well...You see, there was this 10 thousand words' worth of ideas sitting there, on my laptop screen, sad, pitiful, puppy dog eyes, and all, whispering keep me, keep me...And I broke. Who says I cannot dedicate three days of my life every year to writing something that will make me and a few people happy? So here goes the plan: There will be no update schedule, since it would take one great feat of divination to find a pattern in my future fits of boredom. I can only promise you that I will update at least once a year, and you can try to speed up the process by leaving more of those lovely reviews for me :) Deal?
In a different, softer way than youth did, old age made you susceptible to the misleading impression that you've seen it all, and so you understand it all, and so nothing can possibly surprise you. To accept and go along with that feeling was a fundamental mistake - yet an unavoidable one, at times, since old age made you repeatedly forget the important parts of your precious home-made philosophy. Old age also caused you to wake up early enough to see the sun rise and wonder how it was possible that the yellow fuzzy ball didn't seem to age and was still the same yellow fuzzy ball as the one you used to squint into when you had been a child. Except he never used to squint into the sun as a child - he had been too smart for that. Too smart to squint into the sun and stupid enough to run with a Dark Lord in the making. The world was just silly like that - or he was just silly like that. Take your pick.
With a sigh, Albus Dumbledore turned away from the arched window and went to sit in the plush high back chair at his desk. Stroking his long white beard in a thoughtful manner, he watched the tiny greenish puffs of smoke rise towards the crystal chandelier every few seconds. He had always found his instruments calming, with all their ticking and clicking and puffing - it came across as steady, predictable, almost trustworthy one would say. Without rush, without hesitation those silver gadgets sliced the bland mass of time into something precise, humanly perceivable, intelligible even. In the long run, it was the same as what death did - giving a close to something quite pointless in nature and making it matter while at it. Taking existence and turning it into life. He sighed again.
It was a quiet morning in Malfoy Manor – too early for the peacocks to screech, too early for Draco to be sulking about, for Narcissa to fuss over him, for Lucius to be sentient enough to sulk, pity himself, and drink, too early even for Dobby to cook breakfast. A single soul – and it was not even a whole one – in the vast Malfoy grounds was up and very much awake. But that soul, despite currently driving its considerable brain activity to unprecedented highs, wouldn't notice if garden gnomes started raining out of the sky, plummeting to the ground at a killer speed. Too busy searching a thin grey book for life-changing messages and hidden truths.
It was not garden gnomes that collapsed in a heap on the pristinely clean, fluffy carpet of the White Parlour.
Rustle. Rustle. Crack. Rustle. Crack.
"I tell you, it's not getting any better. My turn from next time on," grunted the lower part of the bundle of limbs testily. "Now, get off me, fatso. I think you've just broken all of my ribs."
"Who are you calling fatso? Watch where you put your bony elbows, brat. You were an inch away from castrating me there," Severus mumbled, wriggling to get comfortable and make up for at least a part of his sleep deficit.
Rustle. Rustle. Crack.
"And there you have one more reason to get off me before I change my mind and get back to it," growled Harry dangerously, quite uselessly shoving at the dead weight of the Potions Master's body.
Reluctantly, Severus got up, dusted off his coat and trousers, and proceeded to glare at the pesky, bossy little menace picking itself up off the floor.
"What are you glaring at me for, I could apparate us just fine. But no, Mr Let-me-try-something had to give us another dose of breathing without air, choking on nothing in particular, in-ear drone strike…" the boy ranted on, lifting up the white plastic bag (Crack. Rustle.) and heading for the other double door than they had used during their last visit.
"You could always tell me how your way works, so that I wouldn't have to suffer all that each and every time I travel. You know that the purpose of human life is to serve and to show compassion and the will to help others, right?" Severus quoted taking three long strides to catch up with Harry so that he could lead the way.
"Oh, is that what you were telling yourself when you swore lifetime service to a murdering psychopath?" said the boy offhandedly, tapping his index finger against his lips in a thoughtful manner. "Schweitzer," he finally decided, a bit affronted," but that was an unsourced one! That's cheating! Wait," Harry rounded on Severus narrowing his eyes suspiciously (Rustle. Rustle.), "have you been reading up on muggle religion? Trust me, you don't want to go there," there was a pause when they could hear only their footsteps echoing through the cold marble corridor. Then Harry chuckled impishly and said: "True friend never gets in your way unless you happen to be going down," the boy goaded sweetly, swinging the plastic bag back and forth as they walked.
Rustle. Rustle. Crack. Rustle.
"I hate to break it to you but acting as a physical cushion does not bring you any closer to being anyone's true friend. Besides, you are still severely lacking in the 'never getting in my way' department. And I have no idea who said that," Severus added while the brat just continued to swing the bag and pout for effect. "You don't want to feel the answer to your first question and yes, I have. Why ever not? I rather like the idea," he concluded honestly.
"Did I miss something? When did you become an expert on relationships? By the way, it was Glasow, quoted in The Wall Street Journal, can't remember the date, though. And let me guess, are you particularly taken with the confess-your-sins-and-be-forgiven part?" Harry queried innocently.
Crack. Rustle. Rustle. Rustle.
In the span of the last two Thursdays, Severus had become somewhat proficient in detecting this game. Not the quoting one, that was just Harry's method of trying to familiarize him with muggle thinking. Severus liked to believe that he could now stand a fair chance against any sane human being - which, much to his chagrin, Harry Potter was not. But at the moment, he was sensing a different game at play. One of avoiding a topic by way of taunting the interested party out of focus. Severus would not go down without a fight.
Catching the brat's forearm in mid-swing, the Potions Master asked:
"Would you explain to me, how you apparate? What is it that you concentrate on?"
"I said I would think about it," Harry reminded calmly, as if he hadn't just been caught in the act of sneaky, purposeful distraction.
"That was a week ago," Severus remarked letting go of the boy's hand - a grave, grave mistake.
"Well, I've been reading," the brat said and proceeded to shake the bag in Severus' face meaningfully.
Rustle. Rustle. Rustle.
"Oh, for Merlin's sake," the Potion's Master whipped his wand out of his sleeve and struck the bag with the strongest silencing charm he could muster.
Harry didn't even blink at the sudden motion and merely kept watching him with poorly hidden amusement.
Severus gave him the look.
"Well, I have been reading," Harry repeated a bit defensively.
They walked for about half a minute in blissful silence before Severus spoke.
"Is it that hard to put into words?" he asked, stopping in front of the entrance to the Library.
"The question isn't how to explain, but whether I should. I will think about it, Severus," the boy said in a tone that allowed no further discussion, taking the brass handle and pushing the heavy oak door open.
Like every room in the Manor, the Malfoy Library was spacious. Not in the horizontal sense this time but in the vertical one. The wooden ceiling was so far away the room had to be taking up at least three storeys - one couldn't tell exactly, since the usual indicators were absent. There were only books within shelves upon shelves upon shelves upon more shelves. No stairs, no galleries, just four walls made out of four giant bookshelves. In the wall to their right, there were two high Gothic-style windows, and one more broad solid oak door in the opposite wall.
"How? Do you summon the books you need and go read somewhere else?" questioned Harry looking around in wonder.
"You see there, there, and there?" Severus pointed out the three sets of floating furniture. "Those are armchairs, desks, and candles, charmed in a fashion similar to brooms or flying carpets. It's not exactly legal these days. The candles are lit at night and if you want more light at any time during the day, only the house-elf can light them for you. I wouldn't try to summon anything if I were you, it's not particularly pleasant, and doesn't really work.
"How can I get these books back on their shelves then?" asked the boy, still too awed to be properly confused.
"You can't. Only the house-elf or the direct descendants of the Malfoy family and their spouses can. You see, there are only three chairs now, since there are three members of the family. Every time a Malfoy child is born, a new armchair, desk, and candle is added. Every time a Malfoy dies, one of the sets disappears," Severus explained walking to the centre of the chamber. "If a Malfoy gives you permission to use the Library, and calls their chair for you, the room accepts you as long as that Malfoy lives. What I took from here for you were mostly textbooks, and books no more than a hundred years old. Had I tried to carry out something more valuable, the room would have stopped me. There are some unique tomes on these shelves, you could find nowhere else in the world," he paused, looking at the boy for a moment before continuing: "Should the family be in danger of dying out, it would be in the interest of the whole Wizarding community to keep them safe and alive."
"Holding knowledge hostage," Harry pronounced the words as if they were the essence of bitter irony - it was a tone no child should be able to speak in. "There is nothing to invent in the field of self-preservation. Nothing somebody hasn't thought of before you," he murmured still in that strange sardonically amused voice, so quietly that the Potions Master was sure it had not been meant for his ears.
Without further ado, the boy shoved the plastic bag into Severus' arms and as if in a daze, he wandered around the room. He walked along the shelves with his hands raised but fully touching neither the wood, nor the books. He took off his filthy white trainers, his socks, and barefoot, he walked the beautiful bloodwood floor in intricate patterns. Severus had to fight the urge to look away. It felt as though he was intruding on an act so intimate it was unseemly to watch.
It soon became clear that Harry was tasting the magic in everything he could get close to in the Library. Severus was suddenly overcome by the desire to understand. For a while, he marvelled at how light-headed he felt before he realized he had forgotten to breathe. Yes, he was probably one of the best-informed people when it came to Harry Potter but he still didn't know what the boy was made of, not really.
As he watched Harry lovingly caress thin air with his fingertips, near the corner of this ancient hall of magical knowledge, he sensed a connection that had nothing to do with Lily Evans, or the Dark Lord, or anything as lowly as the war or his guilt. It ran so deep he felt he would have to merge with the Earth to find its roots. It was primal, it was carnal, it was divine, it was sacred.
It was the first time Severus felt a brother to anther man because they shared the same life-giving energy. It was the first time Severus Snape loved another magical being because they too were magical.
"This is some strong stuff," Harry concluded, grinning, having finished his inspection.
Just like that, the moment was gone, and Severus came crashing down from his high. For a whole minute, all he could do was stare at the boy in front of him, panting. Harry didn't seem to be as effected, though his cheeks were slightly flushed.
Severus managed only a breathy "Yeah" in response.
Harry walked up to him, took the bag, and before Severus could move a finger, emptied its contents on the bloodwood floor.
"You-," the Potions Master hadn't even got to the insult when soft purple cushions bubbled into existence beneath the books before they could hit the hard surface.
"Self-triggering cushioning charm," Harry commented with a small smile, as though he had just shared some inside joke with...a charmed floor?
As the shrunken books grew back to to their normal sizes, Severus did a rough count, then another one, and then he checked once again. If not for the fact that he had already exhausted his capacity to be surprised today, he would have been surprised. In that pile, there were all the 36 books he had brought Harry the week prior. He would ask about the boy's preternatural reading skills later - since he considered his preternatural magical powers a more pressing matter.
"What did you do? I have been here a hundred times and never before..." Severus trailed off, unable to eloquently describe what had just happened.
"It's not all what you would label Dark, though some of it is," the boy informed, giving the Library one last glance - which could be, without too much imagination at work, translated as 'I'll be back' - before turning around and heading towards the exit. Severus didn't know how exactly that was supposed to answer his question but followed anyway.
"Some of it is just very, very old," Harry continued, leading the way back to the White Parlour, so that they could move on to their next errand of the day. "All I did was touch the surface and lure it forth a little bit," there was a short pause, as if he was weighing whether to say any more. In the end, he added quietly, "the place has a presence to it."
"Like your Office," guessed the Potions Master.
There was a nearly imperceptible nod, and then a long silence.
"Do I assume correctly that the magic in that room is forbidden by law? That merely knowing of such a place and not reporting it could put you in Azkaban for a couple of years?" the boy asked in a casual tone, as if they were discussing the weather.
"Yes," Severus confirmed, and was once again reminded just how wrong some of the Ministry regulations felt. How nonsensical, how against the natural flow of things.
Old age made him susceptible to the misleading impression that he'd seen it all, and so he understood it all, and so nothing could possibly surprise him. Lately, Albus had been tempted to forget all about his precious home-made philosophy and go along with that feeling. Because he had seen this coming. Not so soon - not ever, preferably - but he had. And he thought he did understand - since he had lived through it all. Twice.
Based on the last hundred years of his experience, Albus could safely conclude that extremely powerful, highly intelligent, and hopelessly misguided young men were like comets. A rare sight in these parts, beautiful and awe-inspiring from afar, ominous when coming your way, and most damaging when they hit home. This theory had recently - within the last two decades, mind - proven to be correct to an extent he had not anticipated. True, such occurrences were few and far between but apparently, once every strange, un-round number of years - which was incredibly hard to calculate accurately - these men, just like comets, having left enough havoc and desolation in their wake the first time around already, came back for more.
Ever since one tragic event in June, Albus Dumbledore saw a foreboding flickering light on the horizon every time he looked up at the sky.
AN: Now, now, what do we have here? Could it be a glimpse of the cornerstone? Or just me being my usual misleading self? Either way, I'm dying to know what you make of it *laughs evilly* And by the way, exams over, summer ahead... Anyone wants me to spend my free time doing something in particular? Just asking *shrugs innocently*