Disclaimer: Harry Potter and co. are not mine. They belong to J K Rowling. But I think you already knew that. Helen was mine but Snape's stolen her.
Spoilers: Books one to four just to be on the safe side. As soon as book five comes out consider this to be AU.
Rating: PG. The story is probably only G, but I'm hoping to put in a bit of gore somewhere along the line. Maybe I'll really let my hair down and add some bad words. Who knows?
*Warning! Warning!* This is a sequel to "Taniwha" and "Chrysalis." It's not going to make much sense if you haven't read those.
From the centre of the night-bound continent comes death. It roars down from the ice-locked heart at speeds of up to two hundred miles per hour. Its temperatures are the coldest on Earth. Were a traveller to smile at the sheets of light rolling across the midnight sky overhead, his teeth would shatter from the cold.
Moving on over the sheets of ice it reaches the lower lands, where vast flocks of Emperor penguins huddle together against its teeth. These elegantly absurd birds, straight from Mary Poppins' favourite cafe, shuffle together so that each takes a turn in weathering the fury on the outskirts of the flock.
Weddell seals hide where they can from the death. They seek shelter in water that cannot freeze thanks to the miracle of salt. The seals stay underwater as long as they can and only come up briefly for oxygen. By gnawing at the ice with their sharp teeth the seals keep breathing holes open. This gives them a breathing space and, when the orcas return in the spring, a bolt-hole.
As it sweeps out over the ocean, death in its fashion brings life. It is a cog in the great interconnected deux machina that is our world. By moving ice away from the shores and causing frigid salt- and nutrient-rich waters to sink and move northwards, it stirs the currents that feed the rest of the planet.
It is the Antarctic Katabatic Wind.
It is death. It is life.
Miles inland, over one of the wind-sculpted cliffs, ice-crystals fell in what would have been a rainbow had it been daylight.
When they fell they disturbed a sleeper.
The creature stirred and pricked an ear to hear what had woken it. Ice. Ice falling, ice moving; ancient ice so weighted-down that it has lost all air-bubbles and would appear blue could it be seen mutters and moans to itself as gravity pulls it to the faraway shore and its eventual death.
To the sleeper the ice sounds like Mother. The ice holds the sleeper lightly in its snowy arms. It talks to the Aunties. It complains about the daily tug of gravity. It croons lovingly to the baby in its arms.
This sleeper would be happy if the concept of happiness was known to it. It has not known unhappiness, so how could it be aware of happiness? It has, however, known was it is to be restive and in search of a place to stop. Now it knows contentment. This is the closest it can come to an awareness of joy.
Here in the coldest place on Earth there is warmth. Happiness, of a kind.
Home is close.
The creature closes its eyes and sleeps.
I suppose this is as good a beginning as any. Dan has advised me to write for at least twenty minutes every day about anything.
Okay, five minutes later and I'm still trying to figure out what to write. Um... Nice weather today... Blue skies, tweeting birds, autumn leaves drifting to the floor of the Dark Forest where they will form drifts for vampires and the like to hide under while they wait until night's cloak allows them to emerge and continue their relentless and unstoppable hunt for human blood.
Maybe I should write about Dan. When I owled Rona and asked for her advice she told me to go and see Dan. Apparently he's been counselling mental cases for years and specialises in straightening out children and teenagers like me. I don't think he's a Muggle. Rona says he's one of those weird people you find sometimes who can't be bothered with the conventional wizarding world and who like to remain part of Muggle society. Maybe he's just a Muggle she met at University who specialised in psychotherapy, which seems kind of wizardish to me. Dan's okay. I didn't like him at first – well, of course I didn't like him. I'm expected to basically open up all my thoughts for this person and have him knock off all the scabs just so's he can tell me I'm a raving nutter who should be locked up in St Mungo's. How can anyone look forward to meeting someone like that?
He didn't say that, of course. But he did say that I'm suffering from nervous exhaustion. That's why my hands have been shaking like they have and why my thoughts seem to be flying away from me. It's been really hard to make decisions. I spent too many weeks telling myself that I was just being an idiot and even if there was a problem there was no-one I could talk to. Well, I mean, really? If I talked to someone they'd either go completely overboard about it and try to protect me and talk to other people about it and it'd get out and into the papers and... Let's not even think about that.
Or they'd feel sorry for me. Merlin, I couldn't stand that.
Funny how it was Snape who made me realise that something was wrong. He was really cool about it, too. Not that there's any way in a million years I'm going to admit to him that I'm going for psychotherapy.
Harry Potter, hero of the wizarding world, recipient of the Order of Merlin First Class and participant in the destruction of the most powerful Dark Wizard ever known, crouched by the door and eavesdropped shamelessly to the raging argument between Headmaster of Hogwarts Albus Dumbledore, the Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge, and Hogwarts' Potions master Severus Snape.
"What do you hear?" whispered the woman kneeling next to him.
"Shh… I think they're coming out!"
Harry scrambled to his feet and helped his companion up. She didn't really need the help – after four months of pregnancy Helen was only beginning to thicken around the waist a little – but Harry had developed a surprising (to his mind) degree of proprietary fussiness concerning Mrs Snape.
Boy Hero and Pregnant Woman scampered over to the couch.
They had just sat down and picked up their cooling cups of tea ("Thermos," whispered Harry, with a practised flick of his wand) when the door slammed open.
Snape, of course. He had dramatically-bursting-through-doors down to a fine art.
"… and then the Baron told me that Sir Cadogan was, in fact… Oh, hello Severus." Helen put the teacup down in the saucer. "All going well?"
Snape sneered. "You tell me. You and the Potter boy had your ears pushed so close to the door you've virtually left imprints of your heads. Weren't you meant to be helping Madam Pomfrey with her stock-taking, Helen?" He looked extremely cross. Harry hoped he wouldn't take it out on Helen.
Come to think of it, Harry Potter hoped Snape wouldn't take it out on Harry Potter.
"It got too boring up in the hospital. And all we managed to hear was that you were angry," Helen replied, utterly unruffled by Snape's mood. "Seeing as how you being in a temper isn't novel, I'm still curious as to the specifics."
"I think you two can stay curious a little longer," muttered Snape, glaring at Fudge as the Minister edged uneasily into the room.
"Really, Professor Snape, young Mr Potter is old enough to –"
"To act like an idiot if given half a chance," Snape interrupted, snarling. "This is none of his business."
Fudge's mouth pursed. "I hardly see how you can stand in the way of –"
Snape's eyes glittered maliciously from behind the greasy black hair falling over his face. "You don't? Let me spell it out for you. I'm the only one who can source what you are looking for so that you can send Potter off on yet another of your hair-brained attempts to have him maimed or killed." He folded his arms slowly, standing up to his full height to intimidate the Minister further. "I've spent fifteen years – at least – trying to keep his daft hide relatively unscarred and I'm not about to let you discard all my hard work."
Fudge turned to Dumbledore. The Headmaster was examining Snape's bookshelves, possibly for dust of which there was none, house-elves and Snape being what they were.
"You make him see sense," Fudge demanded. "I've no more time for dealing with his stubbornness. Either he helps or I'll find another way around the obstacle. Good day to you, Headmaster. Mr Potter. Mrs Snape."
"Shut the door on your way out," said Snape, but the rudeness was automatic. His eyes were too busy studying Dumbledore to watch Fudge's exit. Even the bang of the heavy door didn't make him twitch.
"Really, Severus," Dumbledore admonished mildly. "He's only doing his job."
"So was Voldemort."
"Now, now. That's unfair and you know it."
Snape looked sullen. "Life's unfair."
For a moment Harry had the impression that the Potions master was about to scuff the carpet with the toe of his boot like a naughty schoolboy being scolded by the Headmaster.
"Yes, so you tell me every day. But it's hardly an excuse for baiting poor Cornelius." Dumbledore forestalled any further outburst by raising one blue-veined hand. "I just ask you to think about it, that's all. The situation would benefit greatly from your expertise, you know." He turned to Snape's wife with a genuine smile. "Helen, I'm sorry I can't stay and chat with you, but there's some pressing business with plumbing that needs replacing."
"It's so hard to get good help these days," Helen replied. Harry wondered if she'd learned the phrase from a book. Given all the books she'd been devouring since she'd become human it was entirely possible. She lifted a plate of cakes. "But take a piece of ginger crunch for the road – hall. I made it myself. This is my day for cooking."
"Why, thank you. My, but it looks delicious."
Harry admired Dumbledore's bravery. The ginger crunch not only made your eyes water, it was like eating one of Hagrid's rock cakes topped with sweet tar.
"Severus? Aren't you going to try some of your wife's cooking?"
"To my everlasting regret, Headmaster, this is the day my people fast."
That was a new one. Harry decided to remember that for future use. By Helen's discrete snort he guessed she didn't believe Snape's excuse either.
Dumbledore nodded and left. The door closed behind him much more quietly than it had closed behind Fudge.
Snape collapsed onto the couch, rubbing one hand over his eyes.
"No, thank you," Snape replied politely, then betrayed himself by picking up and hurling the couch cushions at the closed door. They bounced off it with a succession of dull thumps. He covered his face with his hands again and began massaging his temples with his thumbs.
"Then would you like to tell us what that was all about?" Helen asked as she poured him a cup of tea anyway. "It got you angry enough for one of your headaches, so it must have been something more than Harry getting caught sneaking into the kitchens with Ron and Hermione."
The fingers parted just enough to let through a glare. Harry had never met Snape's foster-mother but he wondered if that glare had been perfected while Snape was still young enough to play peek-a-boo. He'd ask Snape's foster-sister Rona next time he saw her.
"I suppose Mr Potter will find out soon enough…" Snape sat up with a sigh, propping his elbows on his knees and letting his hands dangle tiredly from the wrists. He looked at Harry. "The Ministry wants to send you on some sort of fool's errand. Again."
"And you don't think I should go?"
Snape gave him a sideways glare that would have curdled milk. "Did I give that impression? How odd. I thought I was all but booting you out the front gates of Hogwarts in my haste to have you run out and commit suicide."
Sometimes, Harry realised, even in his sarcasm Snape could give away his finer feelings. He knew better than to point it out, though. If Snape ever wanted psychoanalysis he could talk to Dan. Harry wasn't stupid enough to try digging around in the Potions master's head. Apart from seriously annoying Snape, the idea of what he might find there was a frightening one. "What do they want me to do?"
Snape snorted. "I see. I tell you so that you can race out and get eviscerated."
"I wasn't –"
Harry was interrupted by Snape in Full Sneer Mode. "This may have escaped your notice, Potter, but every time I have prevailed upon you to act with sanity you have utterly disregarded my advice and gone careering about looking for the quickest method of suicide. You've done everything but paint a bull's-eye on your chest and dance around on top of Astronomy Tower in a thunderstorm singing 'stupid, stupid, stupid gods, you can't get me'."
That, Harry knew, meant Snape wasn't going to tell him
Snape's driving me crazy. If it wasn't for Helen and Potions classes I wouldn't need to see him at all, but as Potions is mandatory and Helen's really cool to talk to, the old vampire bat's unavoidable. I'm glad that he was quiet about the real reason for sending me to the infirmary that day when my hands were shaking so bad I couldn't even stir a cauldron properly (not that he'd say I can stir a cauldron properly even when my hands aren't shaking), but I'm sixteen and he's still treating me like a kid! He won't tell me what was going on with Fudge and Dumbledore that day even though I know it was about me. He won't even tell Helen in case she tells me. I know that because I asked Helen.
That day I went to the infirmary was really… weird. In class he was all normal: "Mr Potter, are you too busy polishing your medals to pay proper attention to your Burnease solution? Five points off Gryffindor for your vanity and you will see me after classes to discuss your grades. Now go and see Madam Pomfrey about those boils." And he gave me a note for Madam Pomfrey.
I was so mad at him. I was so mad I was about to throw that potion me and Ron were making just to see it drip from his greasy hair and big, hooked nose and I know Ron wouldn't have argued with me. Much. But Helen would have been cross.
And then when I went down to see him afterwards he told me to sit down and hold my hands out level. I was getting angrier and angrier with how he was treating me like I was an idiot and the way my hands – no, the way I was so weak that my hands couldn't stop trembling.
And then he started talking to me. With me. I've never talked with him like that, like I was finally a person with real problems rather than someone who lived for fame while everyone else around him did all the hard work. He told me what Dan told me later – that I was exhausted. I'd been through too much. I was sixteen years old and no sixteen year old should have been put through what I'd been put through. I needed a rest. I nearly cried right there in front of him (that makes me cringe just thinking about it but Dan says that I have to write everything down, good and bad) because of how finally someone saw what I'd been looking to put words to, that I need a rest.
I'm really, really tired. It's not something that goes away after a night's sleep, either. It's something that's only come up because that thing between me and Voldemort has been finished and I can stop. I'm not needed anymore. I don't have to be strong for anyone else than myself and now I'm worrying that it's destroying me.
He said I should talk to Madam Pomfrey and then he gave me a Potion that I forget the name of to help me get a decent night's sleep. It worked, too. I felt a lot better the next day, as if I could think again and make proper decisions in my life. For my life.
I decided to owl Rona. I suppose I should have talked to Mrs Weasley, but she's just too… I don't know. I think she'd try and help me too much. Sirius... well, he's still got enough problems sorting his own life out. I feel bad taking problems to him. Same with Remus. Rona knew that I didn't want her to help me directly, but I needed someone else who could help me, someone I didn't ever have to meet except to sort out my head. It's easier to talk to strangers. I don't want Dan to ever become a friend. It's not because I don't like him, in fact he seems like a really nice guy for someone so old (he must be as old as Rona and Snape, I reckon) but because I need him to stay sort of a stranger. It's easier to tell strangers the sort of things my friends wouldn't like to hear. There are things I might say that could scare Ron and Hermione, not to mention Sirius, who's been fussing over me every day since he got free in an effort to make up for all the years he wasn't here for me. Poor Sirius. I wish I knew how I could tell him that I know it wasn't his fault. That my mum and dad wouldn't be mad at him. I'm just glad he's here now, him and Remus, even if they do argue non-stop about the best way to teach DADA. I'm really glad they're my family even if they aren't really, but I just don't know how to say these things to him. I'm not ready to have a family. Maybe I'm not meant to. Now that I see it written down in this little book Rona gave me it looks kind of pathetic and whiny, but I don't mean it like that. I wish I'd had my parents live, of course, but maybe I'm the kind of person who can manage without a family. Maybe friends can be enough. Maybe… maybe I'm just too far gone into my own problems to have a family. Maybe I'd be bad at being part of a family. But in reality I think that I've gone so long on my own that I don't really need one anymore. Sirius manages fine without a family. Well… come to think of it, he manages kind of crap and always relies on Remus to make the important decisions for him, like should he buy a house or rent a house, and where…
Why am I writing about Sirius? This book's meant to be for me and me alone, Dan said. It's to sort out my problems and not those of the rest of the world. The rest of the world can get along without me now, after all… Well, that's not what Dan said, but it's true anyway. Snape would probably give me a lovely big label like Anachranism Boy if I asked him to. Well, maybe not Anachranism Boy. He's cleverer with words than me.
I'm not very good at this whole writing-of-inner-thoughts thing, either. I'm not sure how to arrange my inner thoughts. I can't put into words why talking to Dan about my problems is OK and talking to Molly Weasley, who's the closest I have to a mother, is not OK. I'm tired. Time to go to bed. There's some of that Potion left… That's right, it's called Requiem Tincture. It's not like the Dreamless Sleep Potion – this one lets you dream and you have a really good night sleep. The dreams are kind of strange and sometimes they leave you tired in the morning like you've been working in your sleep but at least you don't wake up screaming. That's generally recognised in sane circles as a good thing, or so I've been told.
But… How did Snape know I needed that particular Potion?