The Sugar Quill
Author: Ada Kensington (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Birch Wood and Dragon Heartstring, 11 Inches  Chapter: Chapter Two
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Birch-Wood and Dragon-Heartstring, 11ĺ Inches


"Severus... SEVERUS!! Godsdammit boy, there's that old wizard at the door for you! Get your arse down here - and you'd better be ready to go!"

Tobias Snape's dulcet tones reached his son's ears in his bedroom a floor up less by wafting through the door like Zephirus' sweet breath and more by thundering up the stairs like Tanngrisni and Tanngnost: taking the door out on the way in and battering him unceremoniously over the head. Or at least, that's what it felt like.

Absently, the thought flitted across his mind that it was strange - strange why Thor of all people had opted for a pair of mouldering old goats to pull his chariot. Why not horses? Or bears? Or griffins? The latter two would have at least conveyed the right image. But then, he supposed - and a slight smile tugged at one corner of his mouth at the thought - that Mr. Sturlusson had held goats in high esteem as the fiercest animals in all Iceland. Ruefully, he recalled an early visit to the zoo with his mother and father and the great, hulking black goat that had knocked him over and ran off with not only his ice-cream cone but a large clump of his hair (to add injury to insult). None of the other animals had caused him trouble that day. Not the lions, not the tigers, not the bears. It was then that he supposed maybe Thor had chosen well after all.

Bloody goat...

And he realised, yet again, that his thoughts were wandering.

At present, he was standing clutching the glass jar that held the heartstring he had been given only a few weeks ago, looking down at it thoughtfully. He had been ready for hours, but had been just about to head downstairs when the thought occurred to him that he might be able to bring his heartstring along with him and have it made into a wand. He smiled and held the glass up to his eye, peering in at the gently glowing, silvery string. How many students could have ever boasted in Hogwarts' History that they had managed to procure their own wand core? Not many, heíd wager, but now he would be one of them.

"SEVERUS? SEVERUS!! DONíT MAKE ME COME UP THERE, BOY!"

Rolling his eyes, he stuffed the jar into his backpack and left his room, closing his room door behind him with a little more force than necessary. Last night, he had received a note informing him that someone from Hogwarts would be arriving to take him to Diagon Alley. He had no idea how they knew he'd been planning to go in himself and stay the night in London so he could catch the train in the morning. The apparent omniscience of the letter-writer had unnerved him a little, and when he had taken it downstairs to show his father, he'd started ranting on about "Big Brother" and "Orwell" and "Bloody Wizards" and other such nonsense he'd heard hundreds of times before. At the end of his rant, Severus had asked him somewhat scathingly whether he'd actually read 1984 or whether he'd just heard someone from work talking about it. His father had then duly clipped him round the ear and sent him upstairs, red-faced, and hadn't spoken to him until he told him to get up and get dressed this morning.

Running downstairs, his shoulder-length black hair fluttering behind him, he dodged a book and a pair of shoes, rounded the corner and jammed to a halt, his mouth open and his hand still on the banister.

"Pleased to meet you, Severus."

Standing before him in the hallway with his father was a man: an old, tall man with long, silvery white hair and a beard to match. He was definitely a wizard. Dressed in indigo robes, the man's startlingly blue eyes regarded him with amusement over a pair of half-moon spectacles that sat, perching, upon his crooked nose. Their eyes met and Severus flinched, actually taking a step back. Stricken, he remembered the cold eyes of the Hunter. They were so similar to those of this wizard that the resemblance startled him, and all sorts of wild and fantastical suspicions began clamouring for his attention. Polyjuice Potion? Appearance-Altering charms? Wigs? Beards? Muggle disguises, undetectable by magic? Instantly, the amusement in the man's eyes evaporated and was replaced by a mingled look of curiosity and concern. He looked as though he was about to open his mouth and say something when--

"For god's sake, lad, speak when you're spoken to and answer Professor Dumbledore," his father barked.

At the mention of that name, his fear vanished, its place resumed by something bordering upon awe and respect. So this was the man, the most powerful sorcerer of the age, Headmaster of Hogwarts and Minister for Magic in all but name? How he could even have thought...

"Professor... P-Professor Dumbledore?" he stuttered, cursing himself inwardly for being so stupid. "What are you doing here? Shouldn't you be at Hogwarts?"

For a moment, Dumbledore appeared to deliberate over the answer, before replying, slowly, "Yes, Severus. By all accounts I should be at Hogwarts. The day before the commencement of a new academic year is always, I must admit, a very busy time for me. But," he added significantly, his eyes searching Severusí "I must occasionally allow myself time to give help to those who need it."

A moment passed in silence. He felt the weight of Dumbledore's benign gaze pressing uncomfortably upon him and he looked away. Then, inexplicably, coming totally out of the blue, he began to feel angry.

"I don't need your help," he said coldly.

"Perhaps not," Dumbledore answered gently, "but I believe it wise for you to accept, Severus--"

"I would have managed fine on my own!" Severus interrupted, the heat rising in his cheeks. "What? Do you think I'm a charity case? That, oh no, the poor boy's motherís gone mental and his father can't afford to take a day off work to get him to school and if you step in, it'll make it alright? That I canít do anything about it because... because I'm too young?" he shouted, spitting out the last two words with such venom, it was as though the very utterance of them left a foul taste in his mouth.

"Thatís enough, Severus," his father warned, laying a hand on his shoulder. But Severus shrugged it off angrily and turned on Dumbledore, his black eyes flashing.

"I don't need your help," he said, shaking with the indignity of it all. "I don't ever remember asking for it! I don't want you poking your nose into my business! I don't even know how you know anything about my business in the first place! I want it to stop! I don't want you here, laughing at me behind your eyes like everyone else! I don't want you here - I want to do it on my own. I know I can, so why won't you all just leave me the hell alone?"

"Right, that's it - you're in trouble, lad. You've gone too far, telling things like that to a complete stranger," his father began, taking a step towards him, his voiced strained and his face red and shaking with fury just like his son's. "You don't deserve a place at that school, you ungrateful little--"

This time, Severus wasnít quick enough to dodge the blow. He stiffened and shut his eyes, waiting for the dull, throbbing pain of a freshly blooming bruise to manifest itself. But it never came. Cautiously, he opened one eye, then the other, to find that Dumbledore had caught his father's arm mid-swing. The Headmaster was looking down at his father with something young Severus readily recognised as anger - and, coming from Dumbledore, it was cold and it was powerful. His father's face had gone red and his mouth twitched. For a horrible moment, Severus thought his father was going to go for Dumbledore - but his fears went unrealised. His father, stung and ashamed, snatched his hand away from Dumbledore and stalked, tight-lipped, into the kitchen, slamming the door shut behind him without the slightest glance at his son.

For a moment, Dumbledore's gaze lingered upon the closed door before turning to back Severus, who was clinging to the banister, rather lost for words. This was incredibly, uncomfortably awkward. Right now, if he could have performed a Disillusionment Charm, he would have gladly shrunk back into the banister and disappeared from view. The Headmaster smiled at him, took a deft step forward and opened the front door, indicating that Severus step outside.

"Shall we?" he said, his blue eyes twinkling over his half-moon spectacles.

Severus swallowed and nodded mutely, shrugging his backpack onto his shoulders and stepping outside into the early morning light.

"Have you ever Apparated, Severus?" came the question from somewhere to his right.

Severus looked round just as Dumbledore followed him out, closing the front door with a quiet click.

"No."

"Do you know what Apparating is?"

"Yes."

This time there was a little more rancour in his reply, which made the Headmaster chuckle. This, in turn, made Severus scowl.

"Then I shall inform you that we are both about to perform a small, magical feat called Sidelong-Along-Apparition, which," he added rather too casually, "I suspect you also know of."

Technically, he was still very much a child, but no one could say that Severus wasnít an intelligent boy. He knew, for one thing, when someone was taking the piss. Thus, he was also aware of how to respond accordingly.

"I do believe so, Professor Dumbledore," he said, summoning all his powers of insincere sincerity to the fore. "Though I would not want to overestimate my knowledge and abilities. After all," he added with a touch of sarcasm he just could not bring himself to hold back, "Iím far too young to know about such things, not having had any formal magical training."

This comment made Dumbledore laugh out loud. "My dear boy," he replied frankly, "the more I speak with you, the more you make me doubt it. You are unnaturally conversant for an eleven-year-old and also appear to have cultivated a degree of cynicism matched perhaps only by my esteemed colleague Professor Sweet."

"What does he teach, Sir?" Severus asked, his curiosity alight.

"The subject Professor Sweet teaches is an offshoot of the Defence Against the Dark Arts, only recently revived. He teaches Practical Defence," Dumbledore answered, smiling. "A very accomplished and talented man. You will learn a lot from him..." he hesitated ever-so-slightly before adding, "if you work hard."

"Ahhhh..."

"If you work hard..." There's something Dumbledore has conveniently chosen to leave out. So the man's talented but a terrible teacher? Or is it something else?

"Now then," he said, gesturing for Severus to stand by his side, "if youíd be so kind as to get a good, firm grip on my arm, we'll be off."

More than a little nervous, but remaining stoic, Severus looped his arm around Dumbledore's, pretending not to notice that the older wizard had to bend down a little for him to reach.

"Holding on tight, Severus? Good. In three... two... one..."

Immediately, Severus felt a sharp sense of displacement as everything blurred, then went completely black. He felt the weight of dimension pressing in on him from all directions as though he were forcing himself through an impossibly small slit torn in the fabric of reality. The sense of being compressed, constricted, was unbearable and he had to fight very hard to stop himself letting go of Dumbledore. And then, all at once, the colours and the light came back. Objects came into focus. He shook his head and blinked.

"Ahhh... Here we are, Severus," Dumbledoreís voice informed him with a cheerful flippancy. "Diagon Alley. The heart of wizarding Capitalism and commerce in Britain."

Diagon Alley...

He had been here before a few times with his mother, but that was years ago and his recollection of the place was hazy at best. Around him, witches and wizards jostled their way through the crowds of shoppers who seemed to consist of those either in their element, represented by the grinning heads peeking and chattering over great piles of bags; the utterly frazzled, dragging children along the street by the hand, mid-tantrum; or the bored-stiff wizards trailing along, sullen-faced, behind their wives. The place was a mass of bustling colour, full of raised voices, and teeming with life and activity. The atmosphere was positively electric, and with a smile Severus knew right away that this was where he belonged.

"You don't care for it, Sir?" he asked, looking up at Dumbledore, with a shade of incredulity.

"Ahhh, you mistake me, my dear boy," the Headmaster replied, shaking his head. "I do care for the place. Very much, indeed. In fact, I must confess that I care, in particular, for Florean Fortescueís excellent establishment at which he sells the most delicious coconut, raspberry and pistachio sundaes."

The combination made Severus' nose wrinkle with distaste.

"However, when even the owner of such a well-known face as my own has to ready their elbows for battling their way through the pre-term crowds of frantic, last-minute consumers," he added with a dash of wry resignation, "Iím afraid I do not care for the place in the least and tend to barricade myself in my quarters at Hogwarts and wait out the worst."

"I can see why," Severus muttered, first impressions turning sour as a screaming child jarred his elbow and dropped its ice-cream cone at his foot.

"Indeed, Severus. So I propose we make this experience as painless as possible. You have all your books, I take it?"

"Yes, Sir," Severus nodded. "They were my mother's. And I have all my Potions ingredients, and a cauldron, and my robes, and all the rest of my equipment."

"Excellent!Ē Dumbledore cried, clapping his hands together. "Then, if you donít want a pet?"

Severus shook his head.

"All there is left to organise is the most important item on the list: your wand."

Severus' eyes lit up.

"Where do we have to go to get it?" he asked, genuinely excited, as it was his wand he was most looking forward to finally getting his hands on. All the spells he had learned from his mother's books that he could finally try out! Curses, hexes, jinxes, charms - anything! Everything!

Dumbledore's blue eyes twinkled mischievously. "Why, just turn around, Severus."

Whirling round, Severus was greeted with the sight of a narrow, crumbling, ancient-looking building, dry as dust and decayed, affording it the sinister air of a desiccated corpse - completely at odds with its vibrant surroundings. The faded sign above the door revealed the name of the shop and what it sold. It read: Ollivanders: Makers of Fine Wands since 382 BC. Severus raised an eyebrow.

"In there?"

"In there," Dumbledore confirmed. "Now come, Severus. Let us find you a wand."

Severus felt Dumbledore's indigo robes brush past him and saw the old wizard rapping sharply on the door before entering. He followed him over the threshold, jumping slightly as the door shut itself behind him.

The sepulchral air of the building was not solely confined to the faÁade. Inside, the place felt like a tomb. Row upon row of boxes lined the walls from floor to ceiling, and a single, spindly chair provided the sole furnishment. A few candles, dotted here and there, cast a heavy light over the musty surroundings, making almost manifest the strange, eerie shadows that flickered and danced in the dark corners. A tangible hush hung over the dimly lit room like a pall.

Severus shivered.

Then a voice, a horribly familiar voice, like something from a dream - or, indeed, a nightmare - drifted in from one of the back rooms like a malevolent spectre.

"Ahhhh... Dumbledore. Welcome, welcome. I wasn't expecting you until a little later but you are, as you always have been, a busy man."

Severus' mouth had opened with shock. He was shaking his head in disbelief.

No.. No, it can't be him. It just can't. Not possible...

Footsteps now. The man was making his way out to the front to greet Dumbledore, who had stepped forward attentively to do the same. Severus' head snapped round towards the door. He had to get out of here. Though what if Dumbledore came after him? He couldn't do anything to hide himself for long without a wand. He looked to Dumbledore. The old man was distracted. They were shaking hands. He could make a run for it and see how far he got. But then, how could he go to Hogwarts without a wand?

"And who have we brought along with us this year?" the voice queried, as its owner rounded the corner and stopped short at the sight of Severus.

Too late.

A stillness descended, cut with an almost tangible tension - so much so, that when Dumbledore replied, his answer fell upon deaf ears.

"Well, well, well..." Ollivander began with a wry smile, drawing nearer, regarding Severus with a cool eye. "We meet again, boy. Ironic. Yes... Very ironic, indeed..."

"What's ironic?" Severus retorted defiantly, looking and sounding much more composed than he felt.

"Why, that you would come here searching for a wand, what with all the strings I have torn from the hearts of dragons over the long years that are serving as cores for these very wands you see before you," he replied with apparent nonchalance, his white hand skimming over a shelf of dusty boxes as he watched intently for Severus' reaction.

But he didn't give Ollivander the satisfaction. Instead, in that instant, his pride choose to play the trump card. Reaching round for his backpack, he unzipped it, pulled out the glass jar and thrust it out in front of him, his head cocked insolently to one side.

"I donít care about how many strings you've collected, Mr Ollivander," he said. "I donít care about anything. I want you to make me a wand. Right now. And with this," he finished, walking straight up to Ollivander and forcing the jar into his hands.

For a moment, Ollivander gazed at the jar. Extricating a long, thin pair of tweezers from the folds of his robes, he unscrewed the lid and gently pulled out the glittering, silver heartstring. He looked at it from one side, and the other, from above, and below. Then, he started to laugh. It was a low, mirthless sound, and Severus couldnít help but shiver. But now, Ollivander was sizing him up, sweeping over his slight frame with a calculating eye.

"Very well then," he began slowly, tracing his lips with a thin finger. "I think... Yes... I think I have just the wood for you, boy," Ollivander concluded, the consummate professional now rising to the fore. "New consignment of birch-wood from Scandinavia - arrived only this morning... Rather odd wood... Contradictive qualities, you see... Tough, yet flexible and highly durable. Yes... It will suit..." he said quietly, as though he had almost forgotten Severus' existence. "Wait here, boy. It should not take too long. Procuring the cores is the most time-consuming part of the process..."

And then he was gone: spirited away, it seemed, into one of the labyrinthine back-rooms. From behind him, there came a small, polite cough, which almost made Severus jump a foot into the air. Dumbledore was looking at him almost as calculatingly as Ollivander had been only moments ago, although Dumbledoreís eyes betrayed a hint of something else - of curiosity, yes, that was unmistakable. Perhaps concern? AndÖ was that admiration?

"I must admit, Severus, that out of all the students I have escorted to Mr Ollivander's in order to find a wand, you are the first to have supplied your own core," he said, surveying Severus over his spectacles with a hint of amusement. "And neither a unicorn hair nor a phoenix feather, but one from the very creature least disposed to donating parts of its anatomy to provide a wizard or witch with a means of channelling their magical power. May I ask," he added after a short pause, his bright blue eyes studying Severus intently, "how you managed to acquire your heart-string?"

Over my dead body...

"It was a gift," Severus said coldly, defensively, looking away from Dumbledore and choosing instead to stare straight ahead at an interesting wand-box.

It was strange. Normally, he would have been more than happy to advertise his achievements to the entire world, if it were in his power. But this time, for some reason, he did not want to discuss his encounter with the amphiptere with Dumbledore. At all. Ever. The man already knew far too much about his business and Severus was resolved in keeping to himself this most secret of secrets.

From now on, anything important - really important - I'm going to keep to myself. And that's a promise.

To his relief, Dumbledore didn't press the matter and after about half an hour of waiting in relative silence, Dumbledore conjured up a pack of cards by which means they whiled away the two hours it took for Ollivander to re-materialise sitting on the dusty floor playing poker. At first, Severus had not known how to play, but by the end, even though he had been soundly trounced by Dumbledore, he had come on leaps and bounds, Dumbledore having commented approvingly on his poker face.

"Well, boy," Ollivander said, carefully handing him the finished product, "let's see whether this time it will be a case of the wizard choosing the wand."

Ollivander took a step back into the shadows and folded his arms. Dumbledore, too, was watching him intently. Suddenly, he started to feel a bit sick. What if it went wrong? Dumbledore would lose all respect for him. Ollivander would laugh at him. And worst of all--

I would have wasted its gift to me...

No. He was not going to let that happen.

Taking a deep breath, he closed his eyes. He decided to try a simple spell he had learned from his motherís books. A brisk flick followed a smooth swish and then...

"Wingardium Leviosa!"

Suddenly, he felt a warm feeling spreading throughout his left arm, felt his wand vibrating ever so slightly as magic coursed through it. Tentatively, he opened his eyes to find a wand box hovering in mid-air in front of him. He grinned.

"Bravo, Severus," Dumbledore's voice said approvingly.

"Yes.." Ollivander mused, stepping back into the light. "Birch-wood and dragon-heartstring. Eleven and three-quarter inches. Tough, yet flexible. Extremely durable. Particularly suited for both healing and hexes. Wand arm: left."

Severus, elated and still stunned, felt a box and a sheet of parchment slapped into his hand.

"That will be seven Galleons," Mr Ollivander said, suddenly business-like, bringing Severus down to earth with a bump.

"What? Oh. Of course," Severus muttered, as he raked about in his backpack for his money pouch.

Fishing out six gold Galleons and making up the rest with Sickles and Knuts, he handed them over to Ollivander who promptly transferred them to his own small, drawstring purse.

Then he felt Dumbledoreís hand upon his shoulder, gently but firmly ushering him out the door. For once in his life, he was grateful for being forced to do something. But just as he was about to step out of the door and back into the hustle and bustle of Diagon Alley, Ollivander's voice held him back.

"It will be interesting to see what you make of it, boy," Ollivander called out suddenly, fixing Severus with his cold, blue gaze.

Spinning round and regarding the wand merchant insolently, he resisted Dumbledoreís firm attempts to guide him out of the shadowy shop. He couldn't let this one pass. "And what do you mean by that?" he retorted.

"Hexes or healing, boy," Ollivander replied, directing Severus another of his mirthless smiles. "You have chosen your wand. So it will be up to you. Will it be used for hexing, or for healing?" he repeated, pulling out his own wand from the folds of his robes and waving it once. "Only time will tell. Good-day, Dumbledore. Boy."

And with that the front door slammed shut in Severus' face with a clatter. Rage boiled up inside him at the insult.

How dare he?

His head began to feel very hot and Ollivander's smirking face was at the centre of his slowly reddening field of vision.

How dare he!

Before he knew it, he was bawling at the top of his lungs in the middle of Diagon Alley, kicking repeatedly at the door to the shop. People had stopped to look at him, open-mouthed and horrified at the display, but Severus did not care.

"I'm going to go in there and break the bloody door down and curse you so badly you'll be crawling to St. Mungo's on all fours with a shrunken head before you'll even know what's hit you!!!" he screamed.

"Severus..."

"One day I'm going to get you, Ollivander!!"

"Severus!"

"This isn't over!! THIS ISN'T OVER!!!"

"SEVERUS!! That is enough!"

Suddenly, he felt himself being grabbed by both shoulders and spun round. Dumbledore had knelt down on the ground and was looking at him with a mixture of disappointment and concern. Instinctively, Severus tried to shrug him off, but the headmaster had the stronger grip. He began to speak, his voice never raised above a whisper, but the firmness in his tone made every syllable abundantly clear.

"Whatever occurred between yourself and Ollivander in the past, this is neither the time nor the place to be airing such grievances. Do you think that by making such an exhibition of yourself, you are somehow hurting Ollivander? No. On the contrary, Severus. You are only hurting yourself..."

As Dumbledore trailed off, Severus finished the headmaster's words for him in his own mind. Half-heartedly, he pushed Dumbledore away and looked down at the ground.

"I've made an arse of myself, haven't I?" he murmured, bitterly.

Dumbledore made a non-committal gesture that, in Severusí eyes, bore all the hallmarks of an affirmative response. He sighed and ran his hands through his hair. Then he looked up. They were still there.

"What the hell are you looking at?" he spat.

The little group of people that had gathered to watch him throw his tantrum gradually dissipated, with a few disapproving looks and tuts thrown at him from a safe distance. He looked back at Dumbledore, who had risen and was now dusting down his robes. Now that he was alone with him (well, as alone as he could be in a busy shopping street), he felt rather sheepish and not a little stupid.

"I'm sorry," he said softly, meaning every word.

"Quite alright, Severus," Dumbledore replied airily, as though nothing had happened. "We all have our off-days."

"No, Sir," Severus began, his voice dropping to almost a whisper. "It's not that... I mean, well... I don't think I'm just in a foul mood. I'm not normally like this... Not this bad. Ever." There was a pause in which Severus felt his hands clutching at his hair. He didnít know whether to tell Dumbledore or not. He didn't know whether he could tell anyone, for that matter...

"Ahhhh, Severus," Dumbledore began, with a chuckle. "You'll find that as you get older your moods begin to change. You seem to be younger than most, but it comes to us all."

Severus blinked, puzzled. Then...

You don't mean? Oh for heaven's sake...

Severus fixed the headmaster with a baleful glare.

"Please don't patronise me, Sir," he replied, as politely as he was able, considering the circumstances. "I'm not talking about... about that. Something inside me... It's changed," he said, almost pleading with Dumbledore, pleading with him to understand. "I don't know what because I can't describe it. I always spoke properly before - my mother always told me to - but now words just come to me and - well, my dad noticed it - and I get angry really rather easily - sometimes I don't even know why - it just happens, and. . .Ē

Now it was his turn to trail off. Dumbledore was listening to him intently with his head tilted slightly to one side. But the words sounded silly. What he was saying was silly. Maybe Dumbledore was right. Maybe it was just... that time.

"Forget it," he said curtly, running a pale hand through his hair. "Youíre right. I was being stupid."

"Not at all, Severus," Dumbledore replied, his brow furrowed with concern, fixing Severus with his curious, penetrating blue gaze. "Is there something you wish to tell me?"

For a heartbeat, hearing the genuine kindness in the old man's voice, he seriously considered spilling his guts and telling Dumbledore everything. About his dream, about what Ollivander had done to the amphiptere, about how he had woken up in the middle of the night to rescue it, about how he brought it back from the brink of death, about meeting Ollivander, about the gift the amphiptere had given him.

But something held him back.

Over my dead body...

"No, Sir," he said firmly, taking a deep breath and composing himself. "There's... there's nothing to tell."

"Very well, Severus," Dumbledore said, smiling at him. "Then let's get you home. You have had a rather eventful day."


When Severus arrived home, his father had already left for work. Though he had left a note on the door telling him he'd left money on the kitchen worktop so he could order in some food for himself at dinner time and to make sure he packed his stuff and was ready to catch his train to King's Cross tomorrow morning. Round about six o'clock, after Severus had checked and double-checked the contents of his trunk, he phoned the local Indian for a curry (and ordered his father something for when he came in) then went downstairs and curled up on the sofa and read the Mabinogion for a while. After he had his dinner, he put his book down and watched television until he couldn't keep his eyes open any longer, so he turned all the lights off, went upstairs, changed into his pyjamas and jumped into bed.

As he was lying there, thinking about Hogwarts and how it felt strange that he wasn't really that nervous about going there and that by all accounts he should be terrified, he heard from downstairs the sound of his father's key turning in the front door, of it opening, then closing behind him. Wide awake, he listened as his father found the food he had ordered him earlier and heated it in the microwave. For a while, there was silence, and then soft thuds as his father climbed the stairs, those footfalls faltering as they stopped outside his room door. In the dark, Severus' eyes opened wide and he rolled over onto his side, with his back to the door, pulling the covers up around his neck. The door opened a crack, and a thin streak of yellow light darted across the floor.

"Severus?" his father said, softly. "Severus, are you awake?"

Severus kept perfectly still and said nothing.

"I... Well... I'm sorry I can't take you to London tomorrow," he began, somewhat awkwardly. "But you know how it is... Ever since... Well, ever since your mother was attacked, it's been hard, I know, but... Well... I mean, I... I just wanted to say goodbye, really, because I won't see you in the morning... and that you've to write and let me know what's going on in that wizard school of yours and your mother's... Alright, boy?"

Severus didn't answer.

"Right then."

The door began to close, the strip of light narrowing, narrowing, almost disappearing.

But then--

"You know I'd never hurt you, son," his father's voice whispered, almost inaudible, from behind the door. "You're all I've got now. Remember that, eh?"

With that, the door closed and the light in the hall was switched off as his father went to bed. Then, Severus sat up in his bed and wiped the tears from his eyes. He hated when his dad made him uncomfortable and confused like that, and when he reminded him of his mother. Severus knew his dad missed her, but he missed her too sometimes. . .

No. Can't think about that.

He couldnít think about his mother. He wasn't ready for it. The memory of what had happened to her was still too near. Tears threatened in his eyes but he angrily and determinedly held them at bay. He couldn't cry about it. That'd be the worst thing to do. He had to find something to drive himself to distraction, to stop him thinking about things he really shouldn't be thinking about at all.

Read... Read a book.

Yes. He could read a book. Something easy, something light-hearted to take his mind off things. Now armed with a plan of action, Severus spun round in his bed and stretched an arm out to reach for a book from his bookcase beside his bed, when a flash of blue from the window caught his eye.

His body stopped stiff in mid task, and for a few seconds, he remained motionless. When it didn't happen again, he snatched up a book and opened it at the first page, peering at the print bathed in the silvery half-light of the moon. However, far from gaining solace in reading, now he felt even more uncomfortable. The hairs on the back of his neck were standing on end and he simply couldn't shake the feeling that he was being watched.

"You should not read like that, young wizard. You will damage your eye-sight. It is most important for humans, as your sense of smell is so weak. Would you like me to shine brighter for you?"

Severus went rigid. Then, painfully slowly, he turned around...


//
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