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Chapter Seventeen: Visitations and Vignettes

Once Severus had paused to decipher Harry's desperately rapid explanation, Harry was rather relieved to watch the fury that had been roiling through Severus' aura slowly show signs of beginning to dissipate- or to at least avoid a messy (and perhaps for Harry, final) explosion. Wariness was the overriding emotion around Severus now, as though Harry's unplanned words had hurt Severus and he was reluctant to lower his guard again. Harry felt a moment's deep regret that Severus didn't seem able to view Harry's aura in return and distantly wondered why this was so.

"A substance that changed its colour, you say?" Severus's voice was very quiet and controlled, the effort he took in doing so only apparent in the flickering colours around him. Harry promptly nodded vigourously, injecting just a little of his desperation into the gesture in the hopes it would further diffuse the Severus bomb before him. Harry knew that when he acted in such a manner in past, it had made him seem younger and that at times even Uncle Vernon had hesitated or even stopped his prospective violence or anger towards Harry, at least for enough time to get out of range.

It seemed to work when Severus coldly spoke again, "Explain." The wariness was a solid wall behind which the rest of Severus' emotions hid, but it seemed no longer a large effort for Severus to control his anger.

Not daring to approach Severus yet, Harry hesitantly gestured towards him. "I really don't mean anything bad by this ... Severus ..." The man standing before him tensed at the use of his first name, the wariness still an opaque wall hiding everything else from Harry's sight. Bravely, he continued at a more rapid pace again, "I'm just trying to explain another part of whatever this is that we've ... discovered. Part of it looks to be physical change along with the rest. The glamour didn't change your hair color ... but when I had touched your hair, there had been a substance there that when it was on my fingers was clear ... but when I wiped it off onto the cloth, it turned black. I think it is changing your hair color, and that if you washed it off we might see what color your hair really is." Finishing, Harry allowed himself to take a deep breath.

Frowning, Severus kept his arms folded. The breeze stirring through the forest again had little effect on the heavy locks of black hair even as it ruffled Harry's. "My hair has been this color for ... quite some time," Severus stated, his frown growing at his unintended pause for puzzled realisation. Harry remained silent and motionless, not wanting to distract Severus from his thoughts or to interrupt the possible flow of further information.

Eventually Harry's patience was rewarded as Severus continued to speak, almost as though to himself. "When I was younger ... a schoolboy in Hogwarts ... my hair was lighter. As I aged and spent less time outside, it darkened." Explanation given Severus focused upon Harry again, frown renewed upon noting that Harry was still seated while he loomed over him. Not seeming inclined to make any change to the arrangement himself, Severus remained as he was. Instinctively, Harry knew that if he wanted to continue the conversation with any chance of learning more, he should remain as he was as well and let Severus keep the advantage of the dominant position.

Moments passed while Harry left Severus alone with his thoughts, and Severus finally turned to settle himself down at the campsite, several steps more distant from Harry. "We'll look into that further later on," Severus growled. Before he could speak further, he was dive-bombed by a tired looking Phoenix who carried a small package. "Fawkes," Severus irritably exclaimed, tension suddenly seeping through the walls of wariness that surrounded him.

Having landed next to the older wizard, Fawkes studied him for a moment before trilling and depositing the small package at his side, nudging it insistently towards him afterwards. "I see it," Severus growled at Dumbledore's familiar. "Go back already."

"Aw, come on," Harry couldn't help but protest. "Fawkes flew across the ocean to get here, didn't you?" Fawkes trilled once more, but the notes sounded troubled to Harry's ears and the eyes of the Phoenix seemed a match for the sentiment. Harry rummaged for something edible amidst their supplies, found some bread and sheepishly offered it to Fawkes. "Got some water in here, too," Harry murmured as Fawkes accepted the bread delicately from Harry's fingers. Severus watched in silence as Fawkes was cared for, eyeing the familiar without expression.

When Fawkes didn't show any sign of departing and trilled again at Severus, Severus sighed and finally reached for the package with a bit of reluctance which worried Harry. Removing the note attached to the box, Severus slowly opened the scroll and read it silently, his lips pressing themselves together. "Fine," he ground out at the bird. "I've received it." When Fawkes didn't seem to be satisfied with the answer, Severus muttered, "If it'll make you leave, tell him I'll use it when I'm damned well ready to." With that Fawkes ruffled his feathers, chirped once and flew to Severus' shoulder. Tensing again at the contact, Severus nevertheless allowed Fawkes to nip lightly at his hair before taking off and swiftly disappearing from view.

Carefully, Harry asked, "What did Professor Dumbledore say?"

Still showing signs of irritation, Severus gestured at the box he had yet to touch. "He sent a portkey. I'd advise not touching it until we reach the coast; it has an ocean that it needs to get you across."

With a sense of panic that Harry felt but tried not to show, he asked, "Aren't you coming?"

Lips pressed again into an unforgiving line before Severus muttered, "I'll think about it."

"You'll think about it?" The panic Harry was trying not to show somehow found its way into his voice. "You've got to come back!"

"And why is that?" Severus' voice was silky and full of quiet menace.

Hesitating, Harry shifted where he had resettled himself. "We've still got Death Eaters on our trail. I don't think they'll be nice about it if they found us, and Voldemort didn't sound pleased with you either. You'd be better off at Hogwarts."

Severus seemed about to further bestow his ire upon Harry, but he fell silent with a dark glare that promised unpleasantness if Harry continued on that bent.

Curling up where he sat and resting his chin upon his updrawn knees, Harry quietly murmured, "Something happened, Severus. Something's affecting us both, and I think it started when you were still a student." When Severus merely looked at him without expression, Harry took that as permission to continue.

"Back after I first found you and brought you to the shack, you were being summoned. When I touched ... your Dark Mark, something reacted between it and my scar." Raising a hand subconsciously to touch his forehead, Harry lowered his gaze to stare at his toes. "You were experiencing a vision or a memory of some sort, and because of my scar, I heard some of it. They were talking about you and a Prophecy; that you were either a key to power, or the power itself."

"Yes," Severus slowly hissed out the word. "I ... recall the experience somewhat."

"Then you remember what they said. You were being conditioned, Severus. Against your will," Harry added with emphasis.

For a moment, there was peace at their campsite, the rustle of the leaves overhead as they moved in the gentle breeze and the call of distant birds being all that was heard. Impassively, Severus responded without looking at Harry, "They weren't the only ones conditioning me. So was Dumbledore."


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