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Chapter Thirty-Eight: Distraction and Detachment

Severus saw Harry stiffen and pale in his peripheral vision and regretted his last statement, however true it might be. He should have just told the boy to mind his own business, but he'd rather hoped that the harsh reality would give Potter further reason to curb his Gryffindor tendencies, to be more cautious and allow him his privacy. Severus turned from the picture of his father's fond gaze to regard the boy who looked like his knees weren't going to support him for much longer. "Go and sit down before you fall down, and pull yourself together." Not wanting to discuss the topic further, Severus walked over to his desk across the room.

Harry found his way to Albus' chair by the fireplace, falling into it and continuing his stare at Severus if the prickling on the back of his neck was any indication. Annoyed, Severus sorted through the notes on his latest project, "Do I have to send you away to sort yourself out in your own room? I'd rather get the next batch of scans done now but if you're going to insist on your current bout of emotional upheaval the readings will contain potential inaccuracies."

Severus decided that reviewing his notes for the interrupted project would be best; Albus had caught him mid-sentence when he made his urgent request to go and fetch Potter from New York where he'd been abandoned. Such a short time ago and yet it seemed like an age. And now the dubious protection given by his family's blood didn't look like it was going to do much good any longer. What with the new link between him and Potter he had the uneasy suspicion that he was going to be seeing more of the boy than he might like to in future school breaks.

"I'm sorry."

The fool boy thought some sort of good would come out of an apology? "What are you sorry for, Potter?" Severus kept his tone business-like as he scanned his work.

"I'm ... I ... that your father is in Azkaban, I mean," the boy offered timidly.

"It wasn't your fault," Severus pointed out, reasonably enough he thought. Hmm. With his new 'outlook' on things, he just might have to revise parts of his research...

"I know," Potter replied in frustration. "I'm- just trying to express my sympathy, damnit!"

How annoying ... Severus spoke without looking up from his papers. "You may save your sympathy for those who require it of you." It was the work of a moment to find something to distract Potter from that topic. "We have some time left tonight; I suggest that you take a break to help calm yourself. I have a number of fictional works on the last shelf that you may borrow a selection from. You may also call the kitchens for some tea and snacks if you would like. We will perform the next scans in one hour, so you would be best served by remaining here."

A frustrated sigh came from the direction of his student who paused as though about to speak. Instead he stomped over to the bookshelf, grabbed a book almost at random and stomped back. At the sound of Harry throwing himself into the chair, Severus tried amusing himself by mildly murmuring, "I'll thank you not to damage my property," before delving into his notes in earnest.

Severus was hurt. Harry could see it; harsh colors of the self-loathing that swirled around him in jagged pieces as though searching for weak spots to gain entry. The sharp pieces weren't able to find their way in, however. There was a sort of layer between Severus and them; a layer of numb nothingness ... detachment ... cold logic. It explained his current behavior, Harry supposed. Severus was still busily reading from a pile of parchment, a quill in hand as he made the occasional notation.

When he put in the order for tea and biscuits, Harry made certain there was a second cup and enough sweets on hand for them both. He'd even filled a cup with tea and set it on Severus' desk, just out of the way of his papers. Still no response from the man and his tea was getting cold now.

He needed- wanted Severus to show a reaction. Ever since delivering the information about his father's being a prisoner in Azkaban, Severus seemed to nearly shut down emotionally. But how to get a reaction? Harry dismissed the idea of bringing up the subject of Severus' father for now; he didn't like the idea of using a person whom Severus seemed to have some sort of feeling for in order to achieve his own ends- even if they were for Severus' benefit. There was no way that Harry was about to get Severus angry with him by goading him with insults or annoying him. He knew he'd just as easily be chucked out of the room as have his problem solved. And Harry had worked so hard on improving their relationship out of both necessity and more recently out of his own wishes.

Ah. Severus is an intellectual. He's even concentrating on intellectual pursuits of some sort in those notes of his in an effort to ... distance himself? So then, perhaps an intellectual method would work best.

Harry had always counted himself as being somewhat intelligent, perhaps more crafty and wise than smart however. What sort of intellectual topic could he bring up that Severus would respond to? He looked down at the book he'd taken from Severus shelf for the first time as though for inspiration. 'The Fall' by Albert Camus. French? Interesting but not of any help right now...

Wait. There was an intellectual topic right in the next room, ready made for him! Harry turned to study Severus carefully, "You'll be looking at the results from the scan before you go over it with Professor Vector, won't you?"

Severus continued his notes for a moment, finishing what he was writing before replying in his distant tone, "Yes, after we've finished our next round of scans. You do realize it will be necessary to perform another full set of them in future? All six of them."

"Another six after these?" Harry nearly groaned. "Whyever for?" Looking up only briefly, Severus murmured, "We have to take readings when our ... abilities have reversed again and I am the one with the aura sight."

Grumbling at the idea of the time spent, Harry nevertheless had to agree that if their information was going to be complete they'd have to do as Severus advised. It was then he noticed that Severus had distracted him with a subject that Harry could potentially spend lots of time griping about- if Harry hadn't been determined with his own project. He shook his head and glared at the top of Severus' head which was currently bent back to his work.

"All right," Harry sighed as he went back to his Severus-watching, "I see your point. But what I was asking was ... well ..." Severus was showing signs of irritation at the interruptions while Harry's mind furiously searched for something else to ask him. Ah-ha! "You said this room was a secret one that Headmaster Dumbledore didn't know about. What if Professor Vector found out about the room when she's helping with the translations?"

Finally Severus put down his quill and rubbed at the bridge of his nose. The layer of detachment was growing thinner; signs of calm and a curious surprise began to show in the aura as Severus looked over to study Harry in return. "A good question, Pot- Harry," he allowed. "However, Professor Vector already knows about this room- in theory at any rate. She helped me with my research for creating it. I'm certain she will be more than happy to get a look at the finished product. She is a professional, and tr- trusted by Dumbledore," Severus finished with a stuttered realization.

Quietly, Harry gave voice to it. "But things are no longer the same any longer, are they? For both of us, when it comes to the Headmaster."

"We shall see, Potter," Severus muttered darkly. "We shall see."


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