Malfoy Manor was unlike anything that Harry had ever seen. Tall and resplendent, it was dwarfed only by the magnificent grounds within which it resided. Great lawns stretching into the distance framed a long rectangular pond lined by neatly manicured hedges and statues of witches and wizards unknown. A magnificent fountain greeted him and the Malfoys as they 'apparated' (as Lord Malfoy told him teleporting was called by wizards) just inside the front gates to the impressive building, which they had to walk around in order to reach the colossal oak doors that served as an entrance. The doors opened seemingly of their own accord as Lord Malfoy led them up the gravel path past several grazing white birds (peacocks, Harry realized as they got closer, but pearly in colour rather than the usual blue and green). All in all, it was an intimidating sight, and about as comparable to Number Four Privet Drive as a BMW is to a pogo stick.

Nevertheless, he followed his host without a word over the grand marble threshold inside, Lady Malfoy and Draco behind him and equally silent. A small creature of green wrinkled skin and floppy ears dressed in a pillow case adorned with an elaborate M welcomed them into the home and quickly snatched the Malfoys' cloaks as they dropped them to the creature's height and collected their packages, only to vanish with a 'pop', leaving behind a very confused and apprehensive Harry. He had forgotten that on top of everything else, entering the wizarding world meant having to acquaint himself with any number of new races of beings with whom he may be in contact, much as he had been with the goblins at Gringotts bank.

"A house elf, Mr. Potter," Lady Malfoy informed him when she noticed him looking in apparent fascination at spot where the elf had last been visible. "A race of creatures of near-human intelligence that serve the wealthier wizarding families and establishments. The only thing you need remember regarding them is that to give them clothes is to give them freedom, something that neither they nor we wizards have any interest in doing."

Harry nodded quietly and set about admiring the large entrance hall which featured a man-sized fireplace in one wall and sets of doors in the two others. It was through the doors on the left that they walked now, Harry still in his scruffy muggle clothes and feeling particularly out of place in such an opulent setting, though trying his best to suppress it. They passed through an elaborately decorated sitting room and into a dining hall the size of which Harry had never even imagined - the table could have sat fifty people comfortably, though places were set only for the five on the end.

"We are expecting a guest for dinner, Draco's godfather incidentally, but we need not wait for Severus as he is often caught up in his work and loses track of the time," said Lord Malfoy as he held out a chair for his wife while Draco guided Harry to the two opposite hers and the Malfoy lord himself took his seat at the table's head. Harry noticed that the moment he sat down, his goblet filled with water while the two adults' filled with a pale white wine, and while chilled, they did not sweat. He wondered vaguely if it was the glass that was magicked to act in such a way or if this was more of the servants' magic at work, though he felt it would be rather boorish to ask.

"What does he do?" he asked politely of Draco, who seemed eager at the thought of his godfather's arrival.

"He's a professor at Hogwarts," Draco said proudly, "and also the resident potions master. We'll have him for potions this year and every one right up until fifth at least."

Harry remembered the supplementary text for that subject that Lord Malfoy had recommended to him, and thought the gesture a surprisingly kind one. The more Harry studied potions, the better he would do in the class and the better relations he would have with the man whom Draco seemed to hold in such high esteem. He vowed to study that subject the hardest in preparation for September in order to not let Lord Malfoy's hint go to waste.

Shortly, the first course appeared and talk turned to the ministry of magic, about which Harry was intensely curious, especially when it became apparent that Lord Malfoy had significant influence there. Apparently Lord Malfoy was on the Board of Governors of Hogwarts but was also a known advisor to the current minister of magic, Cornelius Fudge. He was just explaining the simplistic method by which the population voted for the minister and the minister then appointed the heads of departments, when a tall man in dark robes with greasy black shoulder-length hair swept into the room, apologizing for his tardiness as he came. He stopped short, however, when he caught sight of Harry's dwarfed form in the high-backed chair that reached well above his head. Harry, not knowing the correct protocol in such a situation, ventured a guess that standing from his seat would be an appropriate show of respect, and did so slowly, his every move tracked by the newcomer.

"Ah," said Lord Malfoy, watching his guest with something akin to glee in his eyes. "Severus, so glad you could make it. As it happens, we are also entertaining a new acquaintance of ours, Harry Potter. Mr. Potter, my good friend Severus Snape."

As Lord Malfoy was speaking, the man and boy had been studying each other intensely, Harry having blanked his face immediately upon recognizing the same clean slate on the Professor's visage. This, he recognized, was a man who was one of many faces, one of layer upon layer of deceitful shields and protections, a man who knew the need to save oneself from the world, the primal urge to hide oneself away from the many hurts that plagued the earth, a man who had experienced the overwhelming pain that humanity could inflict upon its fellows and the unstoppable compulsion to avoid such agony further by setting up barriers of falsehood that could be ripped away and leave no damage done to the core truth beneath it. This was a man who understood. He understood the Masks. Oh, there were many who used the Masks, who employed them shallowly, carelessly, while never truly knowing, the Malfoys among them. But this man, this man knew. He knew what it was to wear a Mask for so long that it became a part of you, that you began to believe in the Mask yourself, which, of course, made for the most convincing Masks imaginable. But more than the knowing, more than the understanding, was the believing. And this man believed. Oh, Harry could sense it in his very soul, this man put so much belief in the Masks and their power that they had become him, and he had become them in a way that Harry had not thought to ever see in one other than himself. And it shook him to his core that there were others out there, other Masked Men, who dealt in shadows and words and blood and life like Harry and few others could. But it also filled him with an undeniable hope, a hunger, an ache to speak with this man, to know him and learn from him and of him and his many, many Masks.

But that would have to wait, for now, for always, always, always there was a Mask to be worn and a part to be played and today's was that of the polite and inquiring mind of the underprivileged project of the power-thirsty Malfoy family. And so he said, "It's a pleasure to meet you, Professor," and tilted his head in deference to the title, but his smile was wry because it truly was a pleasure, and the title he most respected was not academic, nor as a Master of bubbling cauldrons, but as one of subtleties. And the professor's own smile was tinted with a black amusement that showed that he recognized the irony in Harry's statement and in his making it in the home of those who thought to bear the Masks themselves.