Chapter Twenty-Nine: Palaver and Parchment
Severus froze at the sound of the door to the ward opening, moving with the swiftness of learned reflexes so that by the time he heard the outer door close he had swiped at his face and hair so that there was no danger of water or soap dripping into his eyes, his hands were dry and his wand was firmly grasped and pointed at the door of the shower stall. It took him a moment to weigh the admittedly small risk that the person entering didn't belong at the school before he called out in quick succession, "Who's there? I'm warning you; you had best leave before I am prompted to cast something unfortunate upon you."
"Now then, Severus, you know I dislike misfortune before I've had my morning danish and tea," Dumbledore's most unpressing tones came from the other side of the washroom. Muttering curses under his breath, Severus quickly rinsed the rest of the soap from his hair and turned off the shower before casting a drying charm upon himself and dressing with haste. From the idle humming coming from across the room it seemed that Dumbledore was content to wait for Severus to emerge from the stall before continuing the conversation.
Feeling the beginnings of renewed irritation he had managed to begin to shed under the pressure of the water spray, Severus made a last adjustment to his collar and opened the door of the shower stall. "Yes, Headmaster?" Severus' query was couched in a voice that let Dumbledore know his feelings about the interruption.
With thoughtful concern, Dumbledore kept his voice quiet and carefully modulated; no doubt in an effort to keep me calm, Severus thought. I wager he's already cast a silencing charm on the door in case he's not able to. Severus sighed, walked to the sinks to tame his hair into something resembling dignity with a comb and listened. "There is a rather upset boy out there in the isolation ward."
The mirror was given a glare, both to intimidate it into silence and to use the reflection to bestow the remainder of his temper upon the man who had weathered it time and again without so much as the bat of an eye. With the edge of his ire taken off, Severus factually replied, "Yes, it seems that he is still affected by the events of the third task. He blames himself for the death of Cedric Diggory, feeling that his actions were inadequate." To keep things under further control, Severus turned his concentration to his hair color which had lightened a little more and now more closely resembled the medium dark brown of his mother's.
"Actually," Dumbledore murmured, "Harry didn't mention that to me at all. He said that he had spoken words that he should not have and showed great concern for your reaction to them."
At those words, Severus turned around fully to regard the other wizard directly for the first time since his arrival. Dumbledore was seated on the comfortable bench by the door, his hands folded and unmoving in his lap, empty. Sighing, Severus kept his reply simple and distant; the last thing he wanted at this point was an emotional confrontation with Dumbledore, "Did he?"
"He did," was Dumbledore's affirmation. The man was infuriatingly patient and was quite capable of out waiting a mountain in a contest to see which of them would wear down first.
Severus couldn't help but grind his teeth in a brief inner display of wearing down of his own. One day it wouldn't be him that bends, he swore to himself. He wasn't sure if it added to his anger or assuaged it to know that Dumbledore knew him well enough that Dumbledore would indeed bend exactly the right amount for him- the day it became necessary. "I'll go and talk to him then, shall I?" Severus growled.
"Once you're ready to, Severus," Dumbledore softly answered. A pause, and Dumbledore added almost hesitantly, "... I really don't want you to be hurt again."
Severus just stared at him, caught between incredulity and ... something else he wasn't sure of.
Harry was fidgeting. He knew he was fidgeting, he knew why he was fidgeting, he knew he wasn't going to stop fidgeting anytime soon. It wasn't even a spectacular example of fidgeting; he didn't have the energy or focus for that. So instead, he made due with what he had.
He picked at the booklet that Severus had left on his coverlet.
It wasn't a spectacularly crafted booklet. It wasn't colorful, it didn't smell of power or the wisdom of ages ... about the only thing that could be said for it is that it looked very well preserved. Even the cover of the leaflet had remained intact over the years with only some minor discoloring of the pages. Why a leaflet had what amounted to a hardback's book cover was beyond him.
Harry carefully removed the cover from the leaflet; he remembered Hermione once telling him about her fascination with seeing the inside covers of hardback books when she was much younger, having to be carefully watched whenever she was taken to a bookstore lest she strip a number of the books in her curiosity before she could be stopped. She reminisced on her pleasure of discovering leather surfaces and gold colored printing, how sometimes the script matched while other times they were a wondrously different world from the book's outer shell. It was almost in self defense that her parents taught her to read very early to distract her.
The inside cover of the leaflet matched the outer one. Heavy paper, fancy calligraphy in black ink ... by Rowena Ravenclaw. His interest piqued, Harry decided to stop fidgeting and take a closer look. As he grasped the covers to skim the pages by slowly fanning them, the fingers of his right hand detected a small inconsistency. When Harry remembered that the booklet had traveled to Severus' hand by the Accio spell he had used and had hung by the back cover he gave that cover his full attention, squinting and gently running his fingers along the surface for what he had felt previously. There he found an extra page pasted to the inside of the back cover. It didn't look unusual; it could easily pass for the odd workmanship of older publications, but the behavior during the Accio spell prompted him to investigate further. It also made for a good distraction from the silent washroom door.
Feeling the invisible wrath of Hermione for contemplating what amounted to damaging a book, Harry scrunched his shoulders up in guilt made worse as he hadn't thought of his two friends before less than a minute ago. It didn't stop him from following through however. His fingers tried catching at the edge of the extra paper without success. Using his short (and somewhat ragged) fingernails yielded marginally better results, and Harry eventually came away with the page... and a smaller square of parchment hidden inside.
With a soft exclamation of triumph, Harry prized the parchment loose and turned it over to find...
It was a blank piece of parchment less than four inches square ... but it made his fingers tingle. Harry squinted at it harder as though that might be of some help in reading it, but there was no change. Frustrated, Harry lifted the extra page to inspect that more closely; he was at least able to discover that the parchment was likely sealed into the inner back cover of the book when it was first printed due to the discoloring difference of the outer and inner surfaces.
It was in this condition that Severus and Dumbledore found Harry- dissected back cover in hand and extra piece of paper on the cover before him, squinting and muttering to himself. It took Harry several moments to realize that he had company, and he straightened with a sheepishly embarrassed grin which he couldn't make last for long without some sort of positive indication from Severus.
The wizard so named blinked once as he absorbed the scene before him. Harry expected to be asked what he was doing, but then he forgot that seeing auras tended to give enough extra information that sometimes answers could be deduced logically. And Severus was very logical, proven by the question that eventually came from him. "What prophecy have you found?"
Wordlessly Harry chose the smaller piece of parchment as the most likely to be useful, holding it out towards Severus. "It's blank, but I feel something there. I'm just not quite sure what it is. I found it inside the cover of the booklet that had come with your Accio charm."
Severus slowly walked over to Harry's bunk, his stride deliberate and without the stalking movements he used when trying to intimidate large numbers of people in the classroom, hallways or the Great Hall. Long fingers plucked the parchment from Harry's hand and Severus made a startled noise even as Harry experienced a small shock of an undefinable feeling of his own.
Expecting very little more from Severus as far as the parchment was concerned, Harry found himself fascinated by the slightly lighter brown of Severus hair. The black pools of Severus' eyes studied the parchment for longer than Harry thought was strictly warranted, even going so far as scanning back and forth as though reading before widening in shock. "This isn't blank Harry. It's a prophecy from Rowena Ravenclaw, addressed to us."
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