Caught between his boss and his most volatile, shoutiest alum, can Horace stand the strain? Will the head of the Order squash the suspected DE like a bug, or can a sly young serpent wind an old optimist around his little finger? What is a 'normal Slytherin mind-trick' anyway, and what will happen to the pineapples?
Temporary notes: I don't exactly apologize for falling off the net last week. It was better that way. If you'd seen me try to buy milk three times in the same half hour (and still forget both sugars) you'd understand it was really for the best that I was too zonked to remember email existed or try to talk to people. I mean, I had Raising Steam in my hands, which I had been waiting for the library to give me for months, and I fell asleep on it one page in. I do not fall asleep while reading. It just doesn't happen. Apparently my body REALLY did not want that cold that was coming on. Have to say, I can't argue with those priorities. I hope if I tried to talk to you before giving up entirely it didn't come out blue giraffes eating bacon ice cream or something.
(They were serving caramel bacon lattes at a local-y movie theatre I went to after mostly-waking-up. I did not have one because Jewish. My friend did not have one because she had to have the Goblet of Fire chocolate espresso jalapeño milkshake instead. Can't argue with those priorities either.)
(I will spell theatre with an RE if I want to, spellcheck: google AND wiki validate me, have a raspberry. Guess what, I'mma spell grey with an e, too, die of scandal and shock if you must. I do, however, draw the line at 'shew.')
No, I am awake now, really. Mostly. Kinda. Look, I said I wouldn't go two weeks without posting if avoidable, so you're stuck with it. There probably weren't enough oranges.
But do not be alarmed! The chapter was not written this week. Promise.
However, WARNINGS for implied past child abuse. And mood control that could be disturbing and/or creepy.
Less serious warnings for Fun With Lineage. This topic was previously introduced in The Wicket Gate:ch 4 (May), btw, for anyone who's skipped the prequels or wants to revisit that or its notes; am not pulling it out of nowhere.
Still The Three Broomsticks
"You have betrayed me, sir," Severus said to Horace, deeply grave with only a hint of playfulness. "Or at least, played me most blatantly. Commensurately, I am withholding the white chocolate dipped pineapples."
"Severus, really," Horace protested, looking quite taken aback.
"I know," Severus interrupted him cheerfully, sitting down. "'It doesn't work if you do it out loud.' Evan tells me at least once a fortnight."
"Really, m'boy," Horace tried again to plead innocence, but gave up when Albus, just as cheerfully, sat down too.
"Another shandy, Professor? Professor Slughorn, top off your mead?" Rosmerta asked, bustling over. More coolly, she asked Severus, "Anything for you?"
"Cider, if you would be so good," he said, matching her chill politely and without expression. "Dry, if possible."
"Oh, la," Albus heard her mutter as she headed behind the counter again.
Horace and Albus looked in surprise at Snape, not having ever seen the friendly and very popular publican behave like that. "One of Black's conquests," he told them without removing his cold eyes from her back, "although despite his claims I should be astonished if it ever went beyond flirting and slobbering over her hand. I expect she thinks I devour small children and fluffy bunnies in graveyards."
"You didn't really want to come and live in Hogsmeade again, Severus, did you," Albus theorized kindly.
"What I want is rarely relevant," Severus said, still icy and distant, not removing his eyes as she pulled their drinks. In the same not-really-there tone, he said, "Ah, no unasked additives today. I must make sure always to have high-status companions when drinking here."
They watched in moderate alarm as he gave Rosmerta a perfunctory and just-civil smile that went nowhere near his eyes, and checked his glass for Merlin knew what before drinking.
Horace tactfully waited until he looked less like an assassin under Imperius before asking, "And how is Evan? Do pass him my thanks again for the lovely basket he sent me for Beltane."
Severus snorted, looking more present and much thawed, even amused. "I will, but given that his only contributions were the card and the actual basket, I'll say you're welcome myself. He's doing well, of course; Evan always does well."
"And Miss—I beg your pardon, Mrs. Malfoy, and young Regulus?"
"Hasn't she had you by?" Severus asked, surprised. "She's fine; up and about again. I'm sure she'll be kicking herself when I mention I've seen you, but Draco wasn't thriving at first. She wasn't thinking about other things."
"Oh, dear," Horace tutted. "All serene now?"
"Not the word I would have picked," Severus said dryly. "Healthy, but not serene. Cacophonous, actually. And Lucius has gone completely berserk now the scare's over; he still hasn't stopped attacking people with cigars." Horace laughed, his waistcoat bouncing gently, and Albus smiled. "Reggie appears to have misplaced his elf," Severus went on. "His parents say they're afraid the library ate him—the elf, I mean. Reggie's awfully upset about the whole business, of course, but he's getting by otherwise. Oh," he added, "you'll appreciate this; Wilkes seems to have found someone who can stand her."
"You're so unkind, Severus," Horace chuckled into his moustache. "She is a lovely young woman, after all."
"Yes, but my god the squid hands," Severus said with a plaintive shudder.
"Who is the lucky young thing?"
"Some low-level Ministry wizard, that's all I know," the boy shrugged. "And that Evan wasn't favorably impressed. Which I must admit doesn't surprise me; Evan likes confidence, and Wilkes is best with people who haven't learned to be suspicious when they're fawned over and smothered."
"True, true. I hear that Gilderoy is planning to write a book?" Horace inquired, with a careful delicacy that Albus didn't quite understand.
"I've heard that, too," Severus agreed, equally careful, with a wincing sort of expression. "Regulus mentioned it, but he didn't seem be able to make out what it's going to be about. Theoretically about. One doesn't need to wonder what—or who—it'll be actually about. Reg said it was quite," he stopped, opened and closed his mouth, looked at Albus, and visibly attempted diplomacy. "Quite a good read." Under his breath, he added, "Taken with an appropriately-sized salt lick."
"How enterprising of Mr. Lockhart," Albus suggested, in an enquiring tone.
"Lockhart has always," Severus said, still as though on eggshells, "been most enterprising, and, ah." He coughed. "Enthusiastic."
Horace patted him on the back sympathetically, and said, "I was rather surprised about your owl, you know, Severus."
"Ev's a worrywart," Severus muttered.
"Evan Rosier is a most sensible young wizard, as well you know," Horace scolded him jovially. "Come across, m'boy."
Albus watched the boy do that embarrassed re-settling of his shoulders again and glance at him. "If it's a very private matter," he said graciously. Sometimes the offer was enough. If not, he'd get the meat of it out of Horace later.
"Oh, he'd just tell you later anyway," Snape grumped.
"Only every fortnight?" Horace murmured.
Severus made a face at him, and sighed into his cider. After a long moment, he sighed again, evidently making up his mind. He told the cider, "Evan—well, you know Ev, he's the same with everyone. Takes everyone in stride, just the same. He got curious about how I'm not, and when I told him about it, he about spat his teeth out. Made me promise to come make sure I'm not accidentally doing the kind of dark magic that'll drive me 'round the twist and over the cliff. I don't think it's magic at all," he added, with an aggrieved note. "But he said it didn't sound like a normal Slytherin mind-trick to him, so," he looked at Horace, "we hoped you'd know if it was something other people have done. If there's a history."
"What is a 'normal Slytherin mind-trick'?" Albus asked Horace, blinking.
"Buggered if I know," Horace admitted. "I'm afraid you'll have to tell me a bit more about it, lad."
"Well, you know," Severus appealed to him fumblingly, waving a hand as though sifting through the ether for words. "Turning your mind into what you need it to be."
"Slytherin 'mind-tricks' usually involve changing other people's minds, m'boy," Horace told him, bemused. He took a deep draught of his mead, and patted it out of his moustache.
"Argh," Severus said coherently, and jammed the heels of his hands into his eyes.
"Now, now, don't give up, Severus," Horace said, patting the narrow back again with a pudgy hand. "I'm only an old potioneer, after all. The Headmaster here, on the other hand… does it sound at all familiar to you, Albus?"
"Well," Albus said slowly, "Severus hasn't told us much, Horace. Turning one's mind into what one needs it to be… I can think of a few things that would describe. Severus, can you say more about it?"
The answer turned out to be not easily, but the boy persevered, struggling on as Albus's face grew graver and graver. Finally, Albus asked him, as gently as he could, "Severus, is it possible that your home life was… not the happiest?"
Severus stared at him, face a perfect blank again. Very tightly, with perfect enunciation, he let out a stream of incredulous, disgusted profanity that had Albus's eyebrows trying to fly past his hat and Horace murmuring an appalled I-say! He ended on a snarled, "I should apply again; you blind innocents cannot be trusted with children. Why the hell do you ask at this late date, Headmaster?"
When Albus had finally accepted that his reproachful look was never until the end of time going to make a dent in the boy's glacier-burn fury, he said, "Well, my—" and stopped. The poor boy looked angry enough to lose his head and hex him.
In a more businesslike tone, he said, "Because, Severus, what you've said reminds me of two things. One of them is a trick that some of the best muggle actors do, and the other is something that happens sometimes to people who… who weren't treated well as children."
"Happens," Severus repeated grimly. Albus's switch from the grandfatherly seemed to have let him compose himself, although he looked contemptuous and disgusted at the euphemism. "Tell me about them both, please."
Horace, in a blatant and dishonest move to avoid any upcoming opportunities to be yelled at more, muttered something about never being able to wrap his mind around headology. He scuttled off to settle his tab with Rosmerta, and hurried out.
"Really no pineapple for him after all, I suppose," Severus said, looking after him with a detached air. "Too bad; I'm sure as hell not eating the sickly stuff." He looked back at Albus, still with that emotionless face.
"That was an abrupt pivot you did just then, Severus," Albus noted. "Was it something you decided on?"
Severus nodded. "Can't listen while shouting," he noted coolly.
"How did you do it?"
"Just did it."
"Did you, for example, remind yourself of a time when you'd felt calm?"
"No," Severus said, still with a face that belonged even more on a statue than a Ravenclaw. "Just put the other things away."
"Do you feel, right now, like the same person you felt like when you were teaching those girls?"
Severus hesitated. His black eyes, which had turned mirrorlike as he'd pulled himself more or less together, lowered in dispassionate thought. "Depends how you define a person, maybe. No one's the same with everyone all the time."
That answer (more or less) ruled out one possibility, and was a great relief. Still, "You're avoiding the word 'I,' I notice."
Albus smiled. "Could you call up, right now, the Severus that the girls saw?"
"Not for you," the boy said tonelessly. "If they were here. And I didn't have to talk to you. Maybe."
"Too angry with me?"
"And you don't call for that that," Severus agreed remotely.
"So you are, somewhat, in control, but you would have difficulty choosing a feeling style that didn't make sense. Could you make yourself see me as someone for whom that Severus would be appropriate?"
Severus looked at him for another long moment, cold-eyed, and said, "Not just now. I have no liking for you at the moment. It was the same mindset I used for the interview."
"So it's not pretense."
"No. It's… spin."
"Ah," Albus said, and sat back in his chair, thinking. Grieved as well, because it clearly wasn't just method acting after all, but mostly he was thinking. He asked, "Could you remember how you felt about me then, and use that to change your 'mindset'?"
Another long silence. Then, in a different voice, resentful and grudging and just a little amused, "I don't particularly want to, Professor."
Albus smiled again. "I can understand that," he said. "I'm sorry that you feel we've failed you, my boy."
"Be sorry you did," Severus said sharply.
He spread his hands, and said, "The school doesn't interfere with children's guardians, Severus. That argument was settled when Salazar Slytherin left."
"Deciding that excluding or kidnapping muggleborn children are not, in fact, the only possible ways to keep our secrets and culture safe is not the same as…"
"What would you have us do?" Albus asked, looking at him intently when he didn't speak again. "Such children rarely even speak of it, Severus. Even when asked. Even when pressed. What should we do?"
Severus's mouth tightened, and he breathed out, hard. Angry but present, he looked hard into Albus's eyes, sparking like flint, and demanded, "If I come up with an answer to that, will you listen?"
"If you come up with a workable answer to that," Albus pledged, holding his gaze, "I'll find a post for you on the spot. A part-time position as, oh, Inter-House Liaison, or Student Advocate, or something of the sort, if necessary."
The boy let out another breath, this one long and shaky, and turned away, tilting his head so his hair fell between them. "See you hold to that," he threatened, his deep voice stiffly throttled. "Because I will think about it."
"Do," Albus told him. He was perfectly aware that he had probably just opened himself to a spy. But that was sure to happen in time, anyway, and this way he could control what was seen and heard. Most of his secrets weren't kept at the school anyway. And it would be worth almost anything to find a good answer to that piece of hopelessness.
Besides, unless what he was seeing in the boy was a complete lie from start to finish, if Albus couldn't win him over, he would deserve to be sacked from every post he held for senility. "But as to yourself, Severus."
"Ugh," he said plainly, re-settling his shoulders, jamming the heel of his hand into his eye again and looking back at Albus. His skin was a little blotched around the eyes where he'd been rubbing, and just a little damp in that direction. No cidery tint to the moisture, though (and cider would have been a bad drink choice if this had been a planned ruse), so Albus put it at around a 75% probability that he wasn't seeing a trick. There was a moment where Severus was glaring notice that and death, but seeing that Albus was chuckling at his reluctant noise, he relaxed and seemed steady again.
"A difficult topic for an… Ebor?" he asked, vaguely remembering the boy's mother had hailed from not merely Yorkshire but York proper. Tyke had been rude, when last he'd heard it, although language did change so quickly.
Severus shook his head. "The Princes are York and Gloucester as a rule, it's true," he allowed. "My family's Lancashire, embarrassingly enough. I suppose it's much of a muchness, though."
"The line does come through the Tudors as well; they were Lancaster," he pointed out. Severus's great-grandfather had been entirely wearisome about the fact, back in the dawn of time/their first year.
It had been, goodness, decades since he'd had cause to think about Henry Prince. But that was natural, given what a tedious stuffed shirt his old roommate had been. Unkind to Elphias, too. Albus hadn't been teaching yet when Severus Prince was at school, and hadn't known the fellow personally. Knowing nothing more about him than that he'd been a son of Harry's, Albus's disgust at learning the man had disowned his only heir—the child of his autumn years—for marrying a muggle had been tempered only by surprise, not disbelief.
Eileen's muggle-mailed assurances afterwards that she and her young man were managing had been a relief. She'd always been, if anything, too honest, and he'd believed her. From the sound of her son today, something must have changed. Things did, of course. The brief twenty-odd years since her wedding would seem like forever to a young girl like Eileen, were of course longer than Severus had been alive.
"Mam says the family mostly tries to ignore that, apart from some witches in ecstasies over the Gloriana connection," Severus said wryly. "My being the first Slytherin since the roses joined did us no good whatsoever with my grandfather. White roses, boars and double-handed battle-axes all the way, thank you so very much. Never mind absolutely everyone involved was a Gaunt scion from one marriage or another," he added, rolling his eyes, "and the Lancasters threw out enough Slytherin-types to choke an Ironbelly."
Albus tried hard, when the boy said 'battle-axes,' not to look at his nose. His own was more misshapen, yes, but it really was a word that anyone who looked like young Snape should avoid at all costs. As were beak, prow, fox, and horse.
Then he blinked. "A Gaunt scion—of course you are," he said slowly. He'd quite forgotten. Understandable, of course; standard practice had been to smile vaguely while letting Harry's boasting flow between one's ears unimpeded. Reminded now, his brain was suddenly afire with does Tom know that?
"I'm a mudblood mill shrew who works for my bread and can't convince myself swearing by a wizard who let himself be trapped in a tree for what we're told were personal reasons isn't silly. Although I'd like to think his real reasons are just lost to us. No one who otherwise might give a damn who begat whom six hundred years ago is interested," Severus said dryly. "Its only effect on my life is to provide me with an excuse for being bloody-minded that the blood-obsessed can be sympathetic instead of disgusted over, if they feel like it."
Ordinarily, Albus would have discouraged language like that, but the boy's heavy irony held no hint of shame, self-depreciation, spite, or even humility.
"Professor, while god knows I'd rather talk about Good King Richard—or the Lionheart, for that matter," he added with a sly little flicker, making Albus laugh, "if I go home without having made a serious stab at sorting myself out, I'll be in the doghouse for a week. Have you ever been in a Black's bad books? I sincerely do not recommend the experience."
"Well, we mustn't have that. Severus, you know, of course, that two wrongs don't make a right?"
"But three lefts do?" Severus parried at once, scooting back in his chair with an expression exactly like the one Horace had fled from him with. It looked sharper on his thin face, but it really was the same expression. Amazing what people picked up from each other. The body language was different, though. Severus's face said run away! just as Horace's had, but he was braced to endure.
"Yes, indeed," Albus twinkled at him, and he relaxed a little. "I'm glad you said that, my boy, because what I'm going to tell you is similar."
"All right," he said slowly, and took a bracing sip of his cider.
"Severus, does the word 'dissociative' mean anything to you?"
"Dissociate does," he said, wary. It would, Albus thought with a tiny mental grimace, to any Slytherin. They were worse than Hufflepuffs for cliquishness. They, of course, would not agree, on the premise that it was only reasonable to change one's mind about a previous attachment, if other things had also changed. "Dissociative, no."
"Have you studied your Paracelsus?"
"Do you recall his patient who believed her own alter ego was stealing from her?"
"Yes," Severus said, drawn out, more warily still. "Multiple Personality Disorder, they call that now."*
"Yes. It's one of the more extreme ways that dissociation can happen; he was the first to describe it, as far as we can know. There are many ways that the mind may try to retreat, or go elsewhere, or bring only a part of itself to the forefront when something can't be borne, or make the real seem unreal."
Severus's eyes flashed to him, not wide but fully open for a split second, and then fell away.
"Let's call that the first left," Albus said.
"And the second?" Severus wasn't looking up.
"You are using dark magic, my boy."
"Excellent," Severus muttered audibly. "Mad and self-cursing. What's the third, go on, hex me."
"Only two," Albus told him, "but two may be enough."
"How, enough?" Severus drawled, not only looking at him now but tipping his chair onto its back legs. It made him look, not liable to fall, but reared back to strike.
"Because not all will-based, unchanneled magic is chaotic," he said. "If it were, we couldn't in conscience allow any children to go for years between their first instances of accidental magic and learning to use a wand, as many must. What do you know about mind magic?"
"I know how to use a pensieve, and I've read that Slytherin could see thoughts, or memories, or something of that nature." He stabilized his chair with a thump, tilted his head and an eyebrow, and commented, "One sometimes gets that impression of you, Professor."
"That art is called legilimency," Albus told him, and saw his throat tighten for a moment as its existence was confirmed for him. Albus doubted very much that Severus had gotten that impression from him alone; he knew Tom to be a powerful legilimens. "There are others. I wonder, Severus, if you've ever—"
"I was… I was out-of-my-mind tired once," he said slowly. "Dueling practice with a really good teacher for hours; brutal; I was done. Absolutely done in. And a friend came by and wanted me to teach him something I just didn't know how to talk about. I… I don't know how else to say it; I just reached out with my eyes and pulled him in," he said, looking helplessly at Albus. "Pure instinct. It was awful. Like we were almost one person for a minute. It was all I could do to show him what he needed and keep us a little apart, and I felt so utterly sick after. Other times, I've been able to help people calm down. But I thought that was just… ordinary confidence-based eye-contact hypnosis."
"You're going to be quite good, Severus, if you work at it," Albus said after a moment's surprised and rather horrified contemplation. "And it's a very fortunate thing for you that your first attempt was a generous one."
"Because heart is key in the Dark Arts," Severus nodded.
"Exactly so. Legilimency in its common form is largely invasive, and I'm surprised that you in particular produced such a sharing experience."
"All right," Severus said warily, "this is me biting. Just because I'm reserved?"
"That could be," Albus allowed.
It wasn't the first word he himself would have thought of to describe a boy who seemed to him to spend most of his time teetering in a self-imposed straightjacket on a swaying tightrope between blind implosions of rage and fear and savagely aimed explosions of candor or violence. He could see how a young, stiff-necked wizard like Severus might prefer to call his combination of prey-animal instincts and the unrelenting tension of that precarious balance 'reserve,' though.
"You will have realized, no doubt, that you're relatively powerful, as wizards of your age go; that your spells and potions take shape for you more easily than those of others and are stronger, that you find wandless or silent spells easier than some, and tire less from them. That magic seems present enough for you that you can sense and work with it with relative ease."
"I notice half-bloods often are relatively powerful," Severus said, with another one of those sly flickers. Of course, his friends would have made sure he was well-versed in Nature's Nobility; he would know about Albus's muggleborn mother.
A more interesting question was, did he know about Tom's father? He wouldn't have learned it from a book, but Tom, always grasping about for loyalty, might have told another half-blood the truth in secrecy to forge a connection. Just as he let the purebloods believe what he needed them to believe, to keep their respect.
"And for those with deep reserves, just as with children," Albus said, "the magic we don't intend to use often bends itself to our deepest, or most secret, or strongest wishes."
Severus thought about that, and it didn't take him long. "You're suggesting," he said, "that my magic is responding to my direction—but not my conscious direction—to let me… to let me obscure as much as myself as I think I need to? No—as much as I feel I need to. Yes?"
"That discipline," Albus told him, "is called occlumency."
"It's a discipline," Severus repeated, eyes jerking to his, huge with a crushing relief, fastening onto the word like a lifeboat.
"At its simplest, it can be a strong wall against invasion," Albus said. "And I must tell you that yes, I can, when I try, see thoughts, or, rather memories. And that I believe I could, if I tried, see yours. But you would notice it, Severus, as others might not. There's a smoke-screen behind your eyes I would have to sweep away or otherwise get past. A legilimencer would have to be very subtle indeed, or you would feel it."
He didn't have to watch as closely as he'd thought he would to find out whether that struck home for Severus, whose mind he never had reached through to. With a rather sick look, Severus said, very slowly, "Yes. I think I would." He looked up at Albus again. This time his eyes said, very clearly and with intent, and have, and will: what you tell me will be heard.
Albus nodded, holding his gaze, showing his understanding. "But even that shield isn't the simple wall I described," he said. "Never mind these other things you're doing. And, Severus, do you know the Centipede's Dilemma?"**
"…Oh, hell," the boy groaned at once. He buried his head in his arms on the table, just like Minerva.
"I take it that's a yes," Albus noted lightly. He put his hand on the boy's wiry shoulder, and said, "Severus, do you remember what I said about my window?"
One black eye peeked up at him, doleful but alert.
"I meant it," he said. "Is there anywhere you absolutely need to be for the rest of the day?"
A slow, wary headshake.
"Come back to the castle with me," Albus told him. "We'll make a start right away."
Looking as though an enormous chunk of this proposal did not make sense to him, the Slytherin asked, "Why would you… you've decided," he changed his question dubiously, "that you owe me for '76?"
Albus was pleased that he'd internalized his vow enough not to even try to say Lupin's name in public in connection with it, even to his bonder. "Would it help you to think of it that way?"
"Not if it isn't true," Severus told him, blunt again.
"Severus," Albus said, shaking his head with a half-smile, "why did you teach those girls that protection?"
"Er… because their prefects are largely useless and they're going to need—Oh," Severus finished after a moment, and raised his head. He dug into his robes for a few sickles to leave on the table, and rose. "Well," he said, brightly rueful, "that's thoroughly humiliating, but, as the man said, take advantage wherever you can."
"If you say so, my boy," Albus chuckled. Leaving his own coin, he gave Rosmerta a cheerful wave as he ushered his student out.
* Now it's called Dissociative Identity Disorder.
** A centipede was happy – quite!
Until a toad in fun
Said, "Pray, which leg moves after which?"
This raised her doubts to such a pitch,
She fell exhausted in the ditch
Not knowing how to run.
Credit to Trouble at Mill for almost always, as in this case, being the source of Severus's lapses into dialect and such. Their phrase was 'spat his dummy out,' but Severus didn't think Evan was being infantile and besides, 'dummy' is one of those words he doesn't say even when he means 'idiot' rather than 'pacifier.' It's just not him. Also thanks to Ebony for confirming my suspicion that Brits do not, in fact, say 'had a cat.' Which is rather a pity IMO—although probably does cut down on the opportunities for homicide by Minerva, if you consider that a plus.
Headology, of course, would be patented to Granny Weatherwax if she could be having with that sort of thing. All that business with papers and long words and that is wizard nonsense. When you're a witch (or at least when you're Granny), everyone just KNOWS. 'Cause if you ain't got respect, you ain't got a thing. And if you do, someone will come out and build you that swing if you wants one, and probly bring a ham or some old clothes with some wear left in 'em for good measure.
'The man' is probably Salazar Slytherin within the story, but IRL that's the title of a mazoku yaoi doujinshi, and if you do not know what ALL of those words mean, you probably don't want to know more than you already do.