12 Moves Sideways
Light Yagami is beautiful. That is what Harry thinks the first time he sees him sitting at the teacher's table, hair falling into his eyes, a study of casual elegance, young and ancient and ageless in the same moment. He might be seventeen, he might be twenty-five, he might be forty for all Harry knows. He is beautiful the way a spell is beautiful, the silent wings and flash of avada kedavra green.
He thinks of Gryffindor's sword, goblin-made and indestructible, shining silver and rubies, or maybe he thinks of the giant serpent king he had to fight with it, he's not sure.
Professor Yagami is dazzling, is charm and elegance and charisma so great it's deadly. The students do their best for the bright white of his smile, for the momentary glittering regard of his eyes, for the singular experience of watching his head tilt back and his lips curve and his eyes gleam, all it without the barely concealed impatience and not quite gentle mockery of his normal gaze.
Harry thinks of Tom Riddle without being aware of it, thinks of Dumbledore and his twinkling eyes, wonders if the price of brilliance is to be without human understanding.
Professor Yagami is a supernova, and sometimes Harry watches his face when he is looking out of the window, away from the class. Impossible to believe that the sun doesn't shine just for him, impossible to believe he's quite human, impossible to think this man can be real. The third time he watches, Professor Yagami turns his head and catches his gaze with his own. Harry feels his breath stop in his throat, isn't quite sure if it's the same as the fear that stopped his breath when he saw Voldemort reborn, or if it's the same as the wonder he felt the first time he laid eyes on a unicorn. Yagami surveys him for a moment, looking into him and calculating his worth, and he smiles.
Harry decides it's the unicorn he's thinking of, beautiful and magical and dead and so terribly sad.
The ghosts are afraid of Professor Yagami. Harry is not surprised.
Professor Yagami keeps an apple on his desk, shining and red and the personification of sin.
The first class he gave he held out the apple as if offering it to the entire class, taught them the muggle superstition of the snake in the Garden of Eden, of power and knowledge. "I will be the serpent," he continued, cool and unruffled and smiling faintly. "And in every class I will give you knowledge, I will give you power," and he laughed and Harry felt a chill down in his spine, like the moment he begged Tom for help and received nothing but scorn. "However," he said, his laughter gone in the same instant, "the knowledge of good and evil is not kept in the flesh of an apple. I cannot make you decide what use you will put your knowledge to. But there are things out there that I assure you will make you think very carefully before you act."
Harry wishes he saw the fruit on the desk and just thought of muggle schoolchildren and the phrase of an apple for teacher. Something about the gleam in the professor's eye, the gold of his skin and the power of his words frightens him.
He tells himself he's never seen the apple disappear into thin air when leaving class late and in a hurry, eaten in large gulping bites by an invisible mouth.
Harry is in the Room of Requirement with Ron and Hermione, watching them practise charms and hexes and jinxes, a private duelling tournament, when the Room begins to change around them. Suddenly they are being hidden behind bookshelves and boxes of forgotten things, and the professor walks in, not looking for anything in particular but finding it none the less.
He looks for a long moment into the Mirror of Erised and laughs in shock and wonder at what he sees there. Harry steps hard on Ron's foot when he opens his mouth to ask a question, and they continue watching with the hard, inquisitive eyes of not quite grown children used to being given mysteries to solve.
The professor presses his forehead against the cool glass, and he is no longer ageless and his eyes are soft and human, none of the calculating intensity of his normal gaze.
"…L…" he says, and laughs again, a little tired and a little broken and all his otherworldly gleam stripped from him by whatever it is he sees in the glass. "You bastard," he murmurs, voice twisted with something Harry realises about two hours too late is affection. They watch him stand for a moment, bare before the Mirror, and then his eyes close and bit by bit he begins to glow again.
Hermione says later that he made her think of a knight putting on his armour, preparing himself for war. Ron scowls and refuses to talk to her for no reason at all. Harry wonders aloud what an 'L' is and within moments things are back on track again as they argue in their attempt to uncover mysteries that have nothing to do with them.
He teaches them the Patronus charm, though most of them already know it.
Harry has a momentary glimpse of elongated limbs, a grinning mouth full of sharp teeth and bulbous eyes.
Hermione goes through half the library before she slaps her forehead in irritation and writes a letter to Flourish and Blotts requesting books about magical creatures indigenous to Asia.
By the time she presents her gathered information to Ron and Harry the books are covered with post-it notes and filled with pieces of paper sticking out haphazardly all over the place, and she declares with due ceremony that she believes Professor Yagami's patronus to be a shinigami.
Harry mouths the word several times, trying to work out its construction, how it divides, the foreign taste of it in his mouth.
Ron asks what's that when it's at home, and Hermione, with a dutiful huff of exasperation, tells them it's a creature associated with death – a little like a thestral – a 'death god'.
Harry grins and remarks on the irony of having a creature of death of all things protect you from a Dementor. Hermione frowns at him and snaps that she doesn't find it very amusing. After a moment, it clicks, and Harry frowns too.
Professor Yagami has little interest in politics, in Dark Lords or the Ministry or Hogwarts. The world that purebloods take such pride in defending means little to nothing to him; he shrugs it off like it could mean less. He is fascinated by the magic hidden away in their world however, entranced by every type of witchcraft and wizardry that he comes across, and passes this fascination on with every impassioned word. His intelligence blinds them sometimes as he spirals from runes to spell construction to various uses of transfiguration to dark arts to potions to wards and every piece of magic in between.
Harry imagines the professor sitting at his desk with a jar of butterflies in front of him. He can see him letting them loose and shooting them down in flashes of emerald green, sifting them between his hands until his fingers are covered in the fine dust of crushed butterfly wings.
Distracted briefly from magic to wizarding government he speaks like a muggleborn, of change and rights instead of duty and tradition, yet Harry notices that despite this the quieter Slytherins seem to drift towards him, as if pulled by an invisible string.
Hermione, who values logic and looks beyond ancient Hogwartian tradition, says it has to do with power. Slytherin is a house of cunning, ambition, and above all, the pursuit of power in all its forms – information, social, political, magical.
Harry wonders what Voldemort or some other Dark Lord would give to have someone like Light Yagami on his side in any capacity, and then remembers that the professor is a foreign muggleborn.
He watches him tilting his chair back with the sun on his face, some trick of the light making his eyes gleam bright arterial red beneath his lashes and thinks purebloods are fools.
"They're beautiful," Professor Yagami says, watching the 'horseless' carriages as they approach the castle, ready to take students to Hogsmeade. "In a grotesque sort of way." He elaborates with a grin at Harry's look of revulsion.
They have tea with Hagrid and pretend to be oblivious to the plate of rock cakes.
He tells them about his plans for the next year, waxes enthusiastic over the virtues of his favourite monsters. Eventually Hermione can't hold her tongue any longer and blurts out a question about shinigami.
Hagrid looks at them for moment through the tangle of his beard, and Hermione carefully appeals to his knowledge of all things big and bad and dangerous before he begins talking.
They walk away mulling over the significance of having a protector that is capricious and malevolent and brings misfortune to the one it follows.
Eventually Harry decides that the rules of sneaky information gathering need to be broken every once in a while simply asks the professor straight out about shinigami. The professor looks at him for a long moment, and Harry knows the look on his face, the one where you judge how much information to give, if at all, and eventually he spends an entertaining hour between classes hearing myths and legends and fairy tales and doesn't even mind that he'll be late for Transfiguration.
"Shinigami love apples," the professor said, and it never occurs to Harry to wonder why his smile suddenly became wry and a little nostalgic because he never saw it. He'd been hypnotised by the apple the teacher had been holding in his hands, rolling it gently back and forth between his palms.
It's only after he tells Hermione everything he knows that he realises he still doesn't know why Professor Yagami should have a shinigami for a patronus.
On the fifth of November – Bonfire Night, Harry remembers with a start, finally grasping why he was thinking of fireworks and scarecrows – the Professor turns up to his classes with the faint smoky scent of Firewhiskey on his robes. He's in a foul mood, the truth of him as naked as the day he stood before the Mirror of Erised in the Room of Requirement, all his light and charm torn away by the date.
Harry has never been one to avoid unpleasantness, and at the end of the lesson he looks into the professor's tired eyes over the desktop and asks if it has anything to do with 'L'.
The blood drains from his face leaving him starkly white, but his eyes are suddenly aflame, and Harry thinks he's never seen anyone so angry. He looks like he wants to hit him and Harry can almost feel the force of his fist against his face, can almost feel his lip splitting, blood dripping down his chin.
The professor turns away and says several things under his breath in a different language – harsh and sharp, words spat out like bullets – and tells him in a tightly controlled voice to get the fuck out of the classroom and not talk about things he has absolutely no idea about.
Harry decides he has more curiosity than sense in the next moment as he blurts out that he'd have an idea if the professor would tell him.
"…he slept about four hours in a week, he never ate anything that wasn't sweet and sugar-filled, we couldn't stop ourselves from fighting every three days out of five, I wanted to hit him every time he started chewing his thumb and every time he suddenly blurted out some random percentage. He drove me absolutely crazy. I hated him. He was my friend. He's dead. I miss him."
Nobody is surprised when Professor Yagami vanishes near the end of the school year – they're used to losing Defence professors, although Harry secretly thought he might stay.
He goes back to the Room of Requirement with Ron and Hermione – show me what Professor Yagami wanted of you, he tries on a whim, and is surprised that he succeeds.
The Room is starkly utilitarian, filled with computers and other, more advanced muggle technology that won't work. There's a piece of strawberry shortcake on a plate in front of one of computer screens, a cup of tea and a neatly stacked pyramid of sugar cubes next to it, as if their owner has just walked out and will be back at any moment.
It's the photograph that fascinates them most, of a young man in plain muggle clothes with black bags under his eyes and messy hair and eyes so dark none of them are quite sure if he has any irises at all.
Ron takes it because Harry doesn't want to touch it and Hermione argues that it's too private, and shows them the back, where a piece of paper – not parchment but muggle, and even then odd and unfamiliar – is covered with indecipherable symbols, elegant lines and curves and dotted brush strokes, tucked into the frame.
It takes Hermione an hour, two dictionaries and several crossed out attempts before she decides it's an apology and farewell note.
Harry is disappointed that for the first time a mystery remains unsolved at the end of the school year. He keeps the note in his pocket, folds and unfolds it so often it soon starts to fall apart at the creases, and thinks of Light Yagami with his golden glow and ageless face. He decides on balance that he might have learnt more from the man than any of the other Defence teachers, and pretends to himself that he did because he wanted to and not because of the shiver of fear he felt on the back of his neck whenever the professor forgot people were watching.
He blinks at the apple in his hands, thinks for a moment of knowledge and power and good and evil and takes a bite.