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"I would like to update you on what is happening in the wizarding and wider communities. I think, perhaps, you should read this, Harry, Draco." Snape passed a newspaper over to the boys.
Harry glanced downwards. "Hang on, this is a muggle paper," he said, on recognising the logo of the Times.
"Read the article, somewhere in there, about politics. You'll see…"
Harry began reading the article Snape indicated; it appeared to be an extremely dull article about elections. "Why –"
"Keep going," said Snape darkly.
Strangely enough, a relatively popular candidate for the post of Prime Minister is not affiliated with any party at all. For the first time, one of the serious contenders for leadership of the House of Commons is an independent candidate, a woman by the name of Dolores Umbridge of Upper Flagley, Yorkshire. She has so far appeared in public as a mild, sweet-tempered person, although she has a certain compelling way of speaking that has served her well in the debates so far. Her powerful calls to return to an earlier England are steadily increasing her popularity.
"Many people feel that we are out of touch with our roots," said a strong supporter of Umbridge. "This country has had so many invasions, so many different ruling houses and nations that we don't often connect to the people who first lived here. Umbridge will revitalise the country by helping us tap into our original selves."
Harry laid down the paper, his hands shaking. "This is a joke, right? Tell me you're joking."
"Turn the page."
Harry turned the page, and there was a picture of a small, stout woman wearing a black bow on top of dark reddish curls and a wide, toad-like grin. He glanced, almost reflexively, at his left hand, its white scars tingling: I must not tell lies. She looked strange in muggle attire, in this muggle photo, unmoving. "Is this the Ministry moving against muggles?"
"Yes, and Umbridge was chosen to spearhead the campaign. I do not think she is not often actually there in person; she is most probably acting through some kind of avatar. Within the Ministry, she is active in the campaigns of the new order."
"But what's all this about returning to our roots?"
"It is a long story, difficult to explain properly. Basically, the first religious order in this country was magical. The Druids, as they were known, were priests for the primitive people of the earliest civilisations in Western Europe. Often, they were essentially savages acting as priests for savages. They practiced human sacrifice and so on. That part of history is partly responsible for muggle wariness, animosity or even hatred of magic. The Dark Lord is preparing muggles for obeisance once more, after millennia of wizard prudence. That's the start of the campaign."
"Right… so back to Umbridge, is she advocating the murder of half-breeds?"
"Or mudbloods?" Draco added vaguely, looking down at his empty plate.
"Please do not use that term," Snape replied. "But yes, both of you are correct. All other sentient creatures are being pushed even more firmly below wizards. All the goblins at Gringotts are now personally answerable to Selwyn. Other goblins are being rounded up throughout the country to the bank, as well, so that all the goblins in the country are registered and regulated. That campaign is proving difficult to run, as goblins are hardly incapable of armed resistance. In the name of Ministry security, however, the Unforgivable curses have been officially legalised for use against enemies of the Ministry – in other words, of the Death Eaters. This is giving those in charge of the goblin hunt – how do I put it – an edge."
"Fighting goblins on that kind of scale…" Harry's voice trailed off as vague memories of how Binns's droning voice could make even the bloodiest goblin riots boring. Somehow it didn't seem at all boring now. "Isn't that somewhat suicidal? Is this some kind of punishment for Selwyn?"
Snape gave a singularly humourless laugh. "Selwyn is using an army of 'criminals' to do the actual fighting – people who were incarcerated in Azkaban for resisting new regulations and so on. If he runs out of those, he will use the Imperius curse to build a new army.
"Goblins aren't the only beings the Dark Lord is trying to control. He is also insisting on registration of house-elves. He uses them, sometimes…he likes to know exactly where and who they all are. That is proving far easier than controlling the goblins; house-elves, seeing as they are always attached to wizarding houses and are not inclined to leave, are easy to register. Jugson will probably be in charge of that division."
"What about you?" Harry asked before he could stop himself.
Snape looked directly at him, his face blank and cold. "I will tell you of my role if and when it ever becomes of any relevance to you, Potter. I sincerely hope that you asked before you had time to consider that question, rather than because you are so arrogant that you actually expected an answer." Harry tried to apologise, but Snape's eyes left his and the man turned away as though Harry was of supreme unimportance. Harry saw his eyes flicker over Draco's blank face. There was that little crease between the eyebrows again, that Snape seemed to wear every time he looked at his godson these days. With a barely discernible effort, he then turned back to Harry and began lecturing him on his arrogance. Harry, with the half of his mind that wasn't wondering what was going to happen to Draco, supposed he should count himself lucky that he wasn't being hit.
"And naturally, that means you are going to have a particularly gruelling training session today. Do you deny you deserve it?"
"No, I don't," Harry replied, biting back the retort that training session were all varying degrees of gruelling anyway. "I apologise," he added, just flatly enough to be rude, not flatly enough to be punished. Just the balance that generally kept him from going insane with Snape.
"No problem," Snape continued smoothly. "We shall start now." He and Draco disappeared.
When he actually arrived at the training room, Snape was ready, waiting, a smirk on his face. "I think we have done rather enough magic for the day," he remarked. "So…your wand, Pot-Harry." He held out his hand, and Harry reluctantly surrendered his wand. "Now, just in case you thought you were going to use magic anyway, I will take steps. Has your Granger friend ever told you anything about the Egyptian wizards of ancient times?"
"She said they were fascinating when Ron went to Egypt, but that was it. Oh, and she said something about Horus," said Harry, calling power to his fingertips in preparation for the wandless task he was certain was in the offing. Snape, however, had other ideas.
"Indeed. One thing they did was use demons, which is a lost art today. Lost to most, that is. Not to me. I can still call on powers greater than any human magic if I wish. Have you ever read about hieroglyphic magic?"
"Yes. Hermione said they used to use the Eye of Horus to dampen any power. It was supposed to protect you. And there were other glyphs too, but that's the most famous. Muggles put it on amulets. And there's the Ankh, but I don't remember what it does. Most modern authors don't seem to think they worked though."
"Naturally. The key lies in using the power of the demon, although the Egyptians themselves would have called him a god. They worshiped demons, you see. That was how they did magic. The secrets have been lost, so most believe it was never really done. Now –" and Snape whirled his hand through the air and Harry felt a sudden keen, icy draught. A huge glyph burned in mid-air.
"The Eye of Horus?" Harry asked.
"Yes. We will look at demonic magic in due course, do not fear, but now, I will use this symbol to ensure that the task I am about to set you is correctly completed." Harry tried, and failed, to look supremely unconcerned. Snape smirked once again. "Physical training," he remarked.
"You don't normally disarm me before physical training," Harry said. It was almost an accusation. "And it's the wrong time of day."
Snape ignored the second question. "This is because you're going to be truly tempted to use magic now. It might not be of any use when I put you on the treadmill. But I'm going to put your life in danger, and letting you escape from it magically would defeat the purpose. Turn around."
Harry turned, and saw a climbing wall that looked as though it was about a thousand feet tall. Lava poured down it, and clear liquid that could have been poison, or acid, or possibly poisonous acid. Know Snape, the latter was the most likely. "Do I get an asbestos suit?"
"What's that?" Harry jumped; he had hardly registered that Draco was there. He was looking positively ill, his face pale grey and drawn.
"Fireproof material. I think it's acidproof too."
"No you won't, now get on there and start," Snape said, almost roughly, his eyes on Draco again, his forehead creasing slightly.
Harry began. It was hot and dangerous, and Snape hadn't particularly tried to provide handholds, so he felt as though he was scrambling up bare rock. He desperately tried to use magic to make himself fireproof or invulnerable in some other way, but the Eye of Horus glared at him, and resisted anything he tried to do. Every so often, lava flowed so close he almost screamed with the heat of it, but somehow, he didn't. The physical training he'd had up to this point seemed to be helping him, enabling him to cope with the pain, empowering him to cling to the vertical rock face. It was ridiculously difficult, but doable. Just keep going, he told himself repeatedly, as lava and acid flowed about him, and he shifted out of the way as he doggedly moved on upwards. Just keep going.
At suppertime, Harry was too tired to talk much, but Draco's silence was so absolute he felt to need to do so anyway. He asked Snape about the ancient Egyptians, and got an almost animated response. Snape appeared to be positively enthusiastic about the ancient Egyptians.
"So what you had was, each demon, god, whatever, stood for a particular type of magic, whether it was combat, healing, teaching, potion-making and so on. Each temple had priests, scholars and wizards that followed that demon, and the sorcerers of each temple were usually specialists in a particular kind of magic. You might worship Shu, the air god, and then you'd be into air spells, or Anubis the god of death, and you would study necromancy. Possibly you could follow Bastet, the cat, and learn escape artistry. And so on. The secrets of Egyptian magic are mostly lost, though, and even those, like myself, who know some of them, know little compared to what was known. Dumbledore himself once considered making secrets of Egyptian magic public but decided against it – just as he chose to let many lost paths of magic remain secret. What we have left now are mostly Druidic, Greek and Roman rites of magic. Hopelessly Eurocentric, although the Landlime Academy in America teaches Incan and Aztec magic as an option for advanced students."
"The Egyptians, however, were truly in a league of their own…"
Snape continued waxing lyrical about the Egyptians, becoming animated and eloquent. Harry was almost fooled into thinking that Snape actually had an obsession with Egypt, but when he saw that Snape keeping half an eye on Draco's face, he realised that his mind wasn't on his words. At length, he grew tired of Egypt, and his brain was fed up of hearing the facts, fascinating though many of them were, about the different types of wizards in the different temples. It was a relief when supper was over.
Harry left the room, trying not too seem to eager, and he half-expected Snape to call him back, or tell him where to go to start the obstacle course before training. But nothing happened. Harry was starting to feel as though he was the only one alive in the room. Once he was out of sight of the door, he began to run, then suddenly, a strange impulse pulled him back towards the dining room. The door was now shut. Harry waited, and waited, and waited.
He heard Snape's voice.
"Draco." No answer.
"Draco, listen to me." There was a sort of moan.
"Draco, listen! You cannot let this destroy you! You must not let this destroy you! You cannot build a wall around you to keep out the pain, Draco, because you will keep out everything else as well. Me. Everyone who cares about you. Draco, please, you're throwing out the baby with the bathwater! He was my friend! Do you think, after losing him, I can stand to see his son become like this? Empty? You owe it to him, Draco, Draco, he wouldn't want you to shut the world out! I promise! Draco, don't do this to me!"
Harry looked through the keyhole. Snape was standing half in front of Draco, half over him, holding him by the shoulders. He would not have believe that Snape could make a sound like that. Pleading. Snape was desperate but gentle and pleading too. Harry did not think he wanted to see Snape like this, but he somehow kept on watching.
"Draco, please, I love you! You're my son! Don't do this!"
At the words I love you Harry almost gasped, but fought his breath down. He watched as Draco's face slowly came to life, and then, with a horrible rough gasp, Draco burst into tears against Snape's chest. The worst was over.