"It was really gross!"
"I beg your pardon?"
"His teeth were all brown and nasty and the nurse-witch-lady gave him a potion and they all fell out and grew again in about ten minutes. He was really funny – making silly noises and saying he wanted a teething ring, like the one I had when I was a baby. He says that's why I was crying in the memory, because my baby teeth were growing. He says I was a really smiley baby usually." He took a bite of chocolate cake and sighed while he was chewing, showering cake crumbs all down his shirt. "He cried when he told me. Said my mum and dad…. Well, they really loved me when I was a baby and he's sorry about Scabbers being a man and all that. I've never seen a grown-up cry before - it was horrible. The Nurse-witch-lady said it was because of the dementors doing a number on him but when I asked what number they did, it made Sirius laugh and I never did find out."
Snape waved his wand and vanished the crumbs. "It's an idiom, Harry." Then spotting the lad's expression, added. "It's a saying – it just means they were thoroughly unpleasant and left horrible side effects."
"Oh right." Another, more careful bite of cake and rather slurpy mouthful of lemonade. "He asked me about the Dursleys. I tried not to say too much, in case he cried again, but he still got cross. Not with me, with them. He did say he was sorry he kept getting worked up about things, he said he was working on his occlumency to stop that so I told him you were teaching me too. He was very surprised."
"I'll just bet he was!" thought Snape, sourly.
"Blimey," continued Harry. "You were all horrible in your year!"
"Did he say I was horrible?" Snape was not going to have that! He refused to let Black ruin the relationship he had carefully established with Harry.
Harry looked surprised. "No, you did. At Christmas, you know after ….." Snape waved him silent on the subject. "No, he said he was horrible and when I told him what you'd said, about you at school, he said that when you were at school, with my Dad and Professor Lupin and Scabbers, you all acted like you had to be in the War, and fight at school instead of just, you know, not being friends and ignoring each other." He sighed. "I told him about Malfoy and he said what you said, don't let him get you cross enough to do something daft and don't start fights, just be ready to defend yourself if you have to. That nothing drives bullies bonkerser that being ignored. Which is true because I tried it and Malfoy went all pink and cross."
He ran a finger round the edge of his flute case. "Then when I was leaving, he had to take another potion. It made him sneeze and the hankie turned yellow, all over, bright yellow. Do you know what it was?"
"Radcliffe's Restorer, probably. It's to help people who've been cursed a lot. It bolsters… er… props up their magic so it doesn't flare up and run out of control."
"Like accidental magic? Only for grown ups?"
"In a way. It is a rather complicated potion and not much used nowadays." And not at all suitable for the sort of long term effects likely to be suffered by a former resident of Azkaban. What on earth was St Mungo's playing at?"
"Any way, I'm going to see him next Sunday. Ron is coming if his mum says he can. We're still waiting to see if Hermione's parents will let her come too."
The following week was far too busy for him to devote much attention to Black's potion regime. Dumbledore and Lupin had decided that it was time to continue with efforts to undermine the glamour surrounding Riddle. So, in the sixth year Defence Class of Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws, Lupin described the deaths of Riddle's parents.
It took precisely three hours for the news to travel through every house. The Dark Lord was a parricide.
During dinner, Snape overheard the youngest Weasley explaining to Harry and the Granger girl just why it was so important.
"A lot of purebloods think, or used to think anyway, that everybody's magic comes from their parents. That's why they go mad to marry other purebloods. Because it's the only way you can get real magic. Not watered down with unmagic blood. So if you kill your dad (or your mum) it's like you've killed magic. It's the worse thing you can ever do."
Typically, Granger spotted the problem immediately. "But Riddle's father was a muggle."
One of the Weasley twins leaned forward. "That's what so good about it. They've been trying to say he wasn't a muggle at all. He couldn't be if Riddle was so powerful. But either he was a muggle and it was OK to kill him. Or he was magical—in which Riddle killed the source of his magic."
"What about muggleborns? They don't get it from their parents?"
Weasley looked sheepish. "Well, a lot of purebloods say that muggleborns have somehow stolen their magic from proper witches and wizards. It's rubbish, o' course, and Bill always said that they don't really believe that, they just say they do so that they can go on been snobby."
Longbottom chimed in. "Not every pureblood believes it. My family never did and neither did Harry's…"
"So killing your parents is sort of a taboo? A huge sin against magic."
"Yup. Even people who don't believe that magic only comes from your mum and dad, think it's a wicked thing to do. Look at Malfoy. He looks sick, dunt he?"
And it was true. Malfoy, along with a goodly portion of Slytherin, was not reacting well to the news. There would be a mass flight of owls tonight, demanding answers. Answers that the families would be loath to give. Either they could double down on the bloody purity and insist that magic was inherited – in which case Riddle had committed the foulest crime their nasty little minds could imagine – or they could deny the importance of magical inheritance and undermine everything they had taught their children. The only thing they could not do was deny the facts, Lupin had done a magnificent job of assembling the necessary proofs – from the Prophet, from Ministry records and from Hogwarts itself.
Once again, Snape was called upon to reinforce the truth and reassure those alarmed by it. On Wednesday night there was a nasty fight in the Lower Sixth boys' Dorm between those who were still trying to believe in the blood truths they had been taught from their cradles and those who were gladly grasping at a reason to jettison them. The dorm was equally split and he had to cast noli tangere down the middle to prevent someone being hexed in their sleep.
It was noticeable, however, that there were markedly fewer howlers sent Lupin's way. Either Riddle's people were getting careful or they getting worried.
He was extremely busy. He had more than enough work at the best of times without the Riddle earthquake. But he was a potioneer to his bones and really, Radcliffe's Restorer was completely unsuitable, might even do harm. Though why he should care what happened to that cur Black was completely beyond him.
Saturday brought tea with Harry. An oasis of calm in a turbulent week. Remarkably, he'd remembered to bring his planner and together, over hot chocolate (the weather was foul again) and ginger snaps they went over what Harry needed to do and the time he had to do it.
Eventually, Harry sat back and looked at the following week in the book with satisfaction. "There really is time to fit it all in, isn't there?"
"Yes. It is very easy to get confused or outfaced by what you have to do and just give up. Seeing it written down can be very reassuring and makes sure you don't forget anything."
"Ron started his music lessons this morning. Mrs… I mean Madam McIlroy thinks he'll soon catch up. It was nice of you and Professor Lupin to think of it."
"Not at all, Harry. There was a little money left from the basilisk and we thought it might be good for you to have someone to share with."
"Oh it is. And Ron's really keen. I thought he might think it was like extra homework, but he doesn't."
"I'm glad." They sat in comfortable silence for a while, as Harry sucked the cream out of his ginger snap and crunched it up.
"That is not generally thought polite, Harry."
"Just don't do it anywhere but here. So," he continued with his best attempt at nonchalance. "Did you go see your godfather last week?"
"Yes. Hey, guess what? This time when he sneezed his hankie turned blue!"
This was intolerable. It was definitely Radcliffe's Restorer and it was not what any adult should be taking for Dementor exposure. He had always assumed that the Longbottoms were getting the best of care. If this was the standard of treatment St Mungo's dispensed, he'd make sure he was shipped to St Katherine's in Dublin if he was injured. He shook the thought away.
"I think he was a lot better." Harry said. "He didn't look so yellow and a bit like a skeleton and he didn't cry again. He'd got someone to buy some chocolate frogs and Bertie Botts for me n'Ron and Hermione and it was really nice. He's ever so funny."
Snape thought he had managed to keep his expression neutral but he had obviously failed, since Harry changed the subject. "Are you going to look for the number in my mind?"
And really Harry had made a very creditable attempt to hide it. The book he had chosen was obvious on careful inspection, but if the boy had thought to make sure that the surrounding books were the same colour, Snape was not sure he would have been able to find it without gross and obvious violence.
He talked the lad through the problem and watched while he blended the chosen book into its fellows. "For a first attempt that was really very creditable, Harry."
The next sentence was rushed. "Sirius asked if you would go and see him in the hospital."
Snape reared back in his seat. "What? No, certainly not!"
"He says he's going to be in there for another month and he needs to talk to you."
Snape had no intention whatsoever of running around at Black's beck and call. "No, Harry. And that is my final word."
Harry looked as though he might like to protest but subsided in his seat and the rest of their meeting was reserved for schoolwork and discussions of Harry's music.
The letter arrived on the Monday morning, after Harry's Sunday visit to St Mungo's. At least this time someone had ensured the boy ate a decent lunch first.
The owl wore the St Mungo's colours on its collar and dropped the letter neatly by his plate. Snape examined it with all the care of a Slytherin. The parchment was good quality, but not so good as to be ostentatious or insulting, the pureblood copperplate he had always rather envied a little shaky but legible, and the address referred to him as 'Professor S Snape' and included his academic awards.
He stuffed it in a pocket until he got back to his quarters and could cast the necessary security checks. He would not put it past Black to have cursed it in some way but there was nothing but the usual security charms to keep anyone but the addressee from reading it.
He was tempted to throw it in the fire but he had never been a coward, so eventually he opened it.
I behaved badly as a boy and deeply regret it. If I thought it was something you wanted or required, I would offer restitution. I do not ask for forgiveness for myself. I only ask that you set aside your, very legitimate grievances, and visit me in St Mungo's so that we can discuss arrangements for Harry's continued care.
We both know that the Dursleys are utterly unfit to have the care of anybody, never mind a vulnerable young wizard and, while the Headmaster has explained about the protective charms at their address, I am sure you will agree with me that these in no way make up for the abuse he suffers there.
I intend to play a major part in Harry's life, and you have already cemented your position as a mentor and friend. I believe it is essential that we work together to ensure that Harry grows up to be the man and the wizard he is capable of becoming.
My mornings are occupied with various therapies and with business meetings, but I am free every afternoon and evening except Saturday.
I could wait and call upon you at Hogwarts, but the sooner arrangements are made, the better. Remus Lupin has described the cat you are all setting amongst the pureblood pigeons, I am unwilling to leave anything to chance on the current climate.
I hope you will come
Sirius Black of that Ilk