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Chapter Thirty-Six: Deductions and Derailings

There was an understandable pause in the conversation at this point, during which Severus spent a good minute staring at the unfortunate boy before him. Harry was thinking of himself as unfortunate during this particular period of time mostly due to the indescribable expression- or lack thereof- on Severus' features. It wasn't so much a lacking of expression that was so frightening, but rather the sheer nothingness to it. Even his aura had gone still as though frozen in a moment of time. It brought to mind the phrase of 'the calm before the storm', or perhaps more appropriately, 'the calm before the megaton explosion fated to level a city block'.

But Harry wasn't a Gryffindor for nothing. Holding bravery and defiance before him as a shield, Harry met and headed off Severus' reaction with his not so carefully thought of but unarguably true observation. "If we're going to get anywhere together without killing each other first, there is a certain amount of faith that will need to be extended. There's something in your aura that I think has to do with the Dark Mark and I can't see it clearly against the blackness of your robes." Out of some sense of self-preservation he added, "Please. I realize this must be difficult for you ... but we really should be aware of anything which might be a problem for us."

The expressionless stare was maintained, but Severus moved to unfasten the cuffs to his robes and the shirtsleeve underneath with deliberately efficient motions before drawing the cloth away from his left forearm. Discomfort shifted around him, causing Harry to shift with a similar emotion in turn as he bent to study what he had caught a fleeting glimpse of; a dark swirl that hovered just over the skull and snake of the Dark Mark.

Harry frowned at it, feeling his brows draw down into an expression that just might be similar to some of Severus' past scowls. "What the heck?" he muttered, stepping within touching range for a better look.

"Language, Potter," Severus' tone of voice was controlled ... removed as though distancing himself from the proceedings apart from his admonishment.

With a sigh, Harry fell silent in order to concentrate more fully. It probably shouldn't be unexpected to either of them as they had both experienced Voldemort's connection to Severus firsthand, but to see evidence of it was still startling. The funnel-like swirl moved slowly around itself, a filament of which was connected to the Dark Mark at the bottom of the funnel, barely perceivable. Surrounding the funnel, Severus' aura was interrupted, the colors faded to pale as though absorbed by the darkness that was now contrasted against the pale skin of Severus' arm.

"Well?" Severus' impatient question caused Harry to jump and then to look up at him a little guiltily when Harry realized how the older wizard must have felt, confirmed by his aura.

"Sorry," Harry tried for a sheepish smile before explaining what he had found, trying to couch it in terms that were impersonal. "There's a sort of small black funnel hovering just over the Mark and touching it at the bottom. It's moving, but slowly. I think it must be at least part of how Voldemort is able to ... do things."

Showing his low opinion of Harry's choice of words, Severus' tone contained the delicate touch of his most expertly manipulated sarcasm, "'Do things'. I see. Are you quite done with your examination?" Quickly Harry nodded and stepped back, returning Severus his desired personal space. Displeasure expressed, Severus pivoted and stalked over to the far side of the room where Harry assumed the readout was waiting for them, all the while securing the armor of clothing around his arm.

Harry followed Severus across the room at a somewhat slower pace, watching as Severus retrieved a rolled up and rather long sheet of parchment, set it on a nearby table and held a quill over it before muttering a few words. Around them, Harry heard the humming of the room become quietly audible as Severus let go of the quill which began to write on its own upon the slowly unfurling scroll.

When Severus moved away to another corner to sit in a chair and take up a book that had been resting upon it, Harry indulged his curiosity and went over to the parchment and quill to see what it was writing. With a small amount of disappointment, Harry saw that most of what was being recorded wasn't in English but rather was a mixture of symbols and some Latin as well. Harry remembered seeing similar symbols on some of Hermione's homework when he and Ron studied or worked with her in the Common Room. "Is this Arithmancy?" he asked.

Severus glanced up from his book, the distantly stiff expression fading into one of mild surprise. "It is based upon Arithmancy among other disciplines and rituals. You recognized a rune?"

Harry admitted to comparing them to things he'd seen from Hermione. Peering back at the parchment he asked, "Can you read this mess?"

Shaking his head with a puzzled flicker within his aura, Severus smirked, "It wouldn't do me much good if I could not. Advanced potions work requires some familiarity with Arithmancy as there is much use for it in the field of research. Some of the more unstable materials can be tested for potential without chancing the explosions. Therefore the occasional rune that comes through the readout isn't difficult to parse."

"The occasional rune?" Harry incredulously asked. "This is mostly runes- or in a symbol language I've not seen before."

Severus got up and approached, frown renewed, and inspected the parchment from over Harry's shoulder. "I should have expected this," he muttered irritably. "I'll be able to decipher some of this, but there seem to be a number of complex variables to our little situation. I may have to consult with Professor Vector when she returns for the next school year." The irritation in his aura mingled with and was taken over by his determination. "We will have complete information on hand when I do so. First the two of us will undergo a second scan together, then we will take another separately; it is likely there will be further information to be found with that method. Perhaps even a third scan individually with the other person not in the room nearby. Yes," he decided. "Very well. Once the write up is finished we can start the next scan." Despite his monologue, Severus still seemed dissatisfied.

Taking a guess, Harry asked, "How long will it take to finish the scans and get the write-ups?"

Proving Harry right, Severus muttered, "Probably the rest of the summer break for all of them. It is possible for me to make an adjustment to allow for the scans to be done at once and stored, but the change could potentially affect the results and would negate the comparison between our previous scan together and the next one." Staring sightlessly at the parchment, Severus continued to think aloud, "I'll make the adjustment after the second scan together; our individual scans should be done in quick succession so as to remove the variable of time changing us."

Harry sat down; he felt dizzy from trying to keep track of the whirlwind reasoning Severus presented.

Severus smirked. Harry looked dazed in his efforts to follow the path of sound logic. "It's the scientific method, Potter. Try asking Miss Granger about it sometime; I'm sure she'd be more than happy to tell you all about it."

A rather childish grimace was Harry's reply; Severus was surprised the boy didn't stick out his tongue as well before rambling on. "Speaking of Hermione, what's going to happen once the school year starts?"

"Part of that will depend upon the information we learn from the scans. All teachers return the week before the year starts at the very latest, so we will have some time," Severus observed. "However there must needs be a certain level of normality; we can't very well be joined at the hip for the rest of our days."

Having been lost in daydreams rather than listening to Severus as was normal for the boy, Harry perked up. "Perhaps we can do something about this beforehand." Rising from the chair, he came closer, "I've got the healing ability now, and I've repaired holes in your aura before. Maybe I can heal over that funnel connection to your Dark Mark."

Alarmed, Severus took several steps back to distance himself from the foolish boy, "You'll do no such thing without further information being gathered first. Sit back down."

Harry paused, almost pouting, "But I'm sure it'll work."

It appeared that Potter needed a bit of a scare. "You're sure, are you? Do you remember what happened each time you touched the Dark Mark? It would be at the height of stupidity to act without planning concerning this. Our ... new abilities are near to complete unknowns. I would much prefer avoiding the possibility of further harm to either of us."

Finally Harry obeyed, albeit reluctantly, and Severus was relieved to hear the quill coming to a halt and replacing itself into its holder. The room around them grew quiescent once more.


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