Chapter Two: Crocodile Smile
After breakfast, Harry, Ron, Ginny and Draco all went clattering up the stairs to their bedrooms, excited about the prospect of a walk. After all, it had been two long weeks since they'd been allowed outside for the opportunity to stretch their legs.
Ron was talking animatedly as he started getting dressed, pulling on his cloaks as though he really did not care whether they were on properly or not. Draco, as usual, was in the bathroom getting changed. His excuse was that he needed to comb his hair and this required privacy and concentration, but Harry had doubts. He was almost certain than Draco changed alone because he didn't want Ron and Harry to see his dark mark. It was still black, and Harry had walked in on him daubing blood from it once. Draco had gone scarlet and barricaded himself in the bathroom for an hour after that.
Harry got dressed fairly quickly in jeans and his new jumper, with the Snape t-shirt underneath, and then he opened up his fuzzy fungus kit as he sat back on Ron's bed. Ron was still staggering around trying to get a sweater that was two sizes too small over his head.
"So these fuzzy things," said Harry, glancing over his shoulder at Ron. "They're actually going to be alive."
Ron nodded. "They're like pets. They're really cute, I remember when Bill got to bring his home."
Harry took the plant pot out of the box, and set it on the bedside cabinet, looking through the rest of the box for one of the seeds. He had three, in a little packet, each about the size of a brazil nut, and so he chose the biggest, dropping it into the plant pot and starting to choose what colour powder he wanted.
As he selected the green, the bathroom door opened and Draco came out, tying his hair back in a ponytail as he did. It really was getting long now - Draco looked more and more like his father with every day that went by.
"Oh, are you trying those furry things?" he said, idly.
"Fuzzy fungus," Harry corrected, sprinkling the powder in. "Yeah... it might be a friend for Sneezy, if it works. He's getting bored and could do with somebody his own size to talk to."
"You can do all sorts of things with those," said Draco, vaguely, twiddling with a lock of his hair. "Mixing powders and putting different potions in... the effects are quite gruesome, really. You wouldn't believe the sort of things people have discovered by experimenting."
"I don't want to know," said Harry, grimly. He fetched a cup of water from the bathroom, and poured it in with the seed and the green powder. "There. Now we wait a few days and it should emerge."
Ron peered over Harry's shoulder at the gloopy mess in the plant pot. "What if it mutates or something? And takes control of the house."
"Then we get some weed killer," said Draco, dryly. "Problem sorted."
"Boys!" Mrs Weasley called from downstairs. "We're going soon, come on!"
They all grabbed their backpacks, and made their way out of the room onto the dark landing. Grimmauld Place looked very much the same as Harry remembered it - dark, gloomy, and very grim. But luckily, they were going to be decorating soon. Fred and George had donated some of their SuperSplatterDecorator 2003s, so with any luck, it would be a lot brighter soon.
"Potter," said a voice from the corridor to their left. "I need to see you for a moment."
Harry looked around, and saw Snape watching him from the door of his room. Ron gave him a worried look, but Harry frowned at him, and then headed down the corridor to Snape. The professor held open his door, and after a moment's hesitation, Harry stepped inside. Snape's room had already been decorated, by Snape himself, and everything seemed to be even darker than normal. The windows had been removed completely, replaced by candles, and the floor had been stripped right down to stone. Apparently, Snape was feeling homesick and missed his cold stone dungeon.
Harry turned his eyes from the decoration onto Snape, who was sinking into an old moth-eaten armchair by the fire, and indicating to Harry to sit down. Nervously, Harry sat on the edge of his seat. He always felt like a stranger in Snape's room, even if Snape had invited him in.
"I just received an owl from the headmaster," Snape drawled, lazily. There was a curling piece of paper on the arm of his chair, and Harry recognised the handwriting as Dumbledore's. "Yet again, the plan for our lessons is to change..."
Harry couldn't really think of anything to ask or say just at this moment, and so sat still in his chair, staring between Snape and the letter.
Snape sat back and studied him over steepled fingertips. "Now that you've learnt as much occlumency and legilimency that you need to survive, the headmaster wishes for you to progress onto something far more useful... and more dangerous."
Harry's eyes widened a little. "What?" he said, in hushed tones.
"Various things," Snape explained, absent-mindedly reading through the letter again. "Mind control... memory subtraction, memory addition... even, though I highly disapprove of this, physical manipulation using the mind."
Harry was staring at him in near horror. "Physical what, excuse me?"
"Physical manipulation using the mind," said Snape, frowning slightly. "Turning the human body into a controlled puppet, by stimulating different areas of the brain."
"Like... making somebody touch their nose?" said Harry. "Isn't there just the Imperius curse for that?"
Snape shook his head. "The imperius curse can only stretch so far. Touching one's nose, yes, but spontaneous combustion, no. Physical manipulation using the mind can achieve things that - "
"Spontaneous combustion?" Harry repeated, in horror. "You've going to teach me how to make people explode?"
Snape frowned at being interrupted, and continued as though he had not heard Harry. "Physical manipulation can achieve things that the imperius curse cannot. It is, however, highly dangerous and can go most terribly wrong. I would much rather not go through this with you, but I must. The headmaster thinks it is time to begin training you for your ultimate challenge."
"Killing Voldemort," said Harry, quietly.
Snape nodded. "Curses will only ever take you so far... if you are to destroy the Dark Lord, you need more skills at your disposal."
Harry felt rather worried now. He was going to be learning how to manipulate somebody's mind? He didn't know how comfortable he would be with Snape poking about in his brain.
Snape seemed to pick up on his hesitation, and with a hint of a smile, he said, "We will start with simple things... and I do pride myself in being skilled with matters to do with the mind."
"Can't they just give me a gun and teach me how to shoot?" said Harry, hopefully. "I could get rid of Voldemort that way."
"Muggle gun wounds," Snape said, haughtily, "are one of the easiest wounds to treat by magic. We could just as well equip you with a sharp stick."
"A sharp stick sounds good," said Harry, a smile playing at his lips.
"Speaking of which..." Snape stood up, and crossed the room to a large chest of drawers made of dark wood. He started searching through the various compartments, found what he was looking for, and walked back to his chair, handing it to Harry as he sat down.
Harry blinked. "For me?"
"No, I just want you to sit there and hold it for a while, for no reason at all."
Harry smiled at the rich sarcasm in Snape's voice, and studied the box Snape had handed him. It was thin and rectangular, coated in black velvet with silver studs all around the edges. "What is it?"
"Something I believe will be of practical value... and something I want you to have."
Curious now, Harry slid his fingernails along the edge of the box, working underneath and then prizing it open gently. What he saw inside made his jaw fall.
There was a cold chuckle from Snape at the expression on his face. "Surprise."
Harry reached into the box, pulled back the leather covering it, and lifted it out, staring in both horror and awe at Snape's idea of something practical. "It's... very lethal."
It was a dagger, with a very thin and narrow blade that was almost just a spike. The handle was solid silver, and glittering with many blood red rubies encrusted into the metal work. Harry wasn't surprised Snape hadn't given him it at the breakfast table. Mrs Weasley would have strangled him.
"It has been in my family for generations," said Snape, quietly, leaning forward to turn it over and show Harry the word 'Snape' engraved into the handle. "Though I no longer have any use for it, and it is about time you were armed."
"What on earth did you use it for before now?" said Harry, staring at him.
Snape raised one eyebrow, and said in a hushed, dangerous voice, "Perhaps when you are older and more worthy, I shall tell you just that, along with the dagger's story. For now, keep it with you... just in case. If you can reach your wand, then by all means, use that, though if you can't, this dagger can cause a nice amount of damage to an attacker."
"You sound more and more like Mad-Eye Moody everyday," said Harry, a smile of disbelief starting to curl his lips. Carefully as he could, he placed the dagger back in its box, and snapped it shut. "Where am I going to keep it? In my pocket?"
"Keep the leather over it at all times, and just fasten it to your arm under your sleeve," said Snape, idly. "I don't think I need to tell you to mention this to nobody, Potter..."
Harry smiled weakly. "If Mrs Weasley finds out that you've given me a knife..."
Snape made an odd, twisted grimace. "Mm, indeed. Then she won't find out, will she, Potter?"
"I hope not," said Harry. He opened up his backpack, and slid the knife inside in its box, severely hoping he wouldn't have to use it anytime in the near future. "Are you coming on the walk with us?" he asked Snape.
"No," was the reply, and Snape looked very pleased at this. "I persuaded Lupin to take my place instead. I have Wolfsbane to brew by tomorrow or you will all be eaten in your beds."
"Thanks for that extra little detail."
"My pleasure." Snape stood up, and lead Harry to the door, holding it open. "Try to burn some energy. Merlin knows you have too much."
Harry smiled slightly. "Yes, Sir."
Snape smirked, and shut the door. Harry made his way down the corridor to the stairs, and then into the hallway. Everybody was ready by the front door, standing clear of a large circle chalked on the floor. Harry knew that the circle indicated the Mrs Black Danger Zone; any noise made within the boundaries was sure to wake up the portrait of Sirius's mother, and she was nearly as crabby after waking up as Snape.
"Right then," said Lupin, who was standing by the door, smiling down at them all. "Everybody ready? Bill, Molly, Tonks and I will be with you, so we'd better pair up teenagers with adults, just in case we're separated... Harry, you come with me. Ron, you can go with your mother, Tonks, I'm sure you can look after Ginny. Draco, you'll be with Bill. Everybody happy?"
They all nodded, and he opened the door, leading them all out into the street. Harry stepped out into the warm summer's air, and took a deep breath, feeling clean and fresh oxygen surge into his lungs. It was wonderful to be outside again after being cooped up indoors for so long. The sun seemed to smile down at them all as they made their way out of the dirty, cold square and towards the shopping centre.
Mrs Weasley was arguing with Ron about the state of his hair "That horrid white stripe, Ron... honestly, it looked so much better without"), Ginny and Tonks were chatting enthusiastically about an upcoming Quidditch match, and Draco was asking Bill a lot of questions about archaeology. Draco had seemed very interested in Bill from the moment he had seen Snape greeted Bill quite pleasantly, and had taken to asking him lots of questions about Egypt at meal times.
"And what about the curses in this pyramid?" he was now asking, curiously, walking alongside Bill.
"Well, there were a lot of your usual curses," Bill explained. "One of the most common is one that only comes into effect when the tomb is first opened, and usually effects the first people in there. Luckily, muggles have opened up most of the tombs with this in, so we don't need to worry about that."
"And what happened to these muggles?" said Draco, so interested in what Bill was saying that he nearly walked into a lamp-post, dodging at the last moment.
"Terrible luck, mostly," said Bill. "The Egyptians made the most spectacular curses, very hard to break if you don't have a lot of practice."
"How did you get this practice?" asked Draco, raising an eyebrow.
Bill smiled down at him. "Lots of training and working hard in my NEWTs."
"Which NEWTs did you take?"
"Defence Against the Dark Arts, Herbology, Charms, Transfiguration, Potions, Runes and History of Magic."
"Hmm... I didn't take Charms, Herbology or History of Magic. I'm doing Pure Arts and Astronomy."
"Astronomy can be helpful," said Bill. "But you might want to take a course on History of Magic before you start trying to get into curse-breaking for Gringotts. If you didn't get really high marks in your NEWTs, you might have to do some working in the bank first, and that needs Arithmancy."
"You also need to be uglier than the goblins, so they don't get jealous," Ron interrupted.
"Yes," said Draco, lazily. "I think that could be a problem." He chuckled airily. "What am I saying, 'could'?"
Ron gave him a look of utter disgust. "You really do need to open your eyes and buy a mirror someday, you know. You'd learn a lot."
Draco smiled sweetly. "If you can lend me the money to do so, Weasley, I'd be delighted to."
And with that, he flounced off after Bill to ask some more questions, leaving Ron standing next to Harry looking rather confused. Harry raised his eyebrows at the look on Ron's face, and Ron said, blankly, "I can't work out who he was insulting then."
"Maybe it's better to not try," said Harry with a smile.
"I'm never ever going to forgive you for letting him stay with us," said Ron, grumpily, as they crossed the road towards an alleyway shortcut.
"It's my house," said Harry. "And whoever I like can stay there."
"Well," said Ron, shrugging. "I suppose so. But I'm drawing the line if Crabbe and Goyle ever come back. No way, Harry. The smell will kill us all."
Harry chuckled, and they hurried up after Lupin to dip down the alleyway. A few minutes later, they found themselves walking through the double doors of the muggle shopping centre, and Ron gasped, blinking. "Look at all the colours! This is way too busy... how do muggles cope? Eurgh, luminous pink, look at that!"
"Muggles are a bit more modern than wizards," said Harry with a slight smile.
"They're a bit more colour blind," said Ron, wrinkling his nose as they passed a large display of orange and blue tracksuits outside a sports shop. "I wouldn't be caught dead in one of those. I swear."
"It's a shame Dad's working today," said Bill. "He'd have loved all this. But knowing Dad, he'd probably have bought two thirds of it and brought it home with him."
Lupin had stopped, and brought them all together in a group. "It looks as though we'll be split up in all this," he said, worriedly. "So we should go into our pairs now, and meet up here in about an hour or so... if there's trouble, we've all got our - well. You all know."
"Know what?" said Ron, interestedly, looking between the adults. "What have you got?"
"None of your business," said Mrs Weasley, promptly. "Come along now, I want to have a look at some more muggle clothes..."
She lead Ron off, ignoring his groans of frustration. Tonks and Ginny went off together towards a jewellery shop, and then Bill and Draco headed away towards a large muggle bookshop near the far doors. Lupin turned to Harry with a smile. "So," he said. "Where would you like to go?"
"Anywhere, really," said Harry, shrugging. "We could just go and have a look around, I guess. You're not used to muggle shops, are you?"
"Not really," Lupin admitted. "Let's go and have a look at the upper floors then..." He turned his eyes onto the escalator, and looked a little worried. "The stairs appear to be broken... we'll have to find some other way, Harry, I don't think that's safe."
Harry smiled, and lead Lupin towards the escalator, stepping onto it. "It just moves up," he explained, as Lupin nervously stepped onto the bottom stair and clung onto the side. "And you get off at the top."
Lupin raised his eyebrows. "Oh, it's one of these? Arthur told me something about this yesterday, though I didn't really understand what he was saying... I don't think I quite like this, Harry..." he added, worriedly, watching the people gliding away below. His hands tightened on the moving rail. "No, I definitely don't."
"You get used to them," said Harry, with a slight smile, stepping off at the top and helping Professor Lupin. "Aunt Petunia hates them. She always makes Uncle Vernon and Dudley take the stairs."
"With good reason," said Lupin, casting a nervous glance back at the escalator.
They spent most of their hour just wandering around the various shops, studying the things on sale, and talking a lot about just anything. Harry did have a little muggle money (at the start of the holidays, Mr Weasley had gone to Gringotts and converted some of their money, as they would be living amongst muggles for two months) though he didn't really spend it on much. He and Lupin had a coffee, and he bought a plastic cauldron full of sweets meant for Halloween which he was sure would amuse Mr Weasley, but nothing else, until they were passing a very sophisticated looking jewellery shop. Harry paused.
"Professor? Can we just stop here?" he said.
Lupin turned around, and nodded, coming over to him. "Seen something interesting?"
Harry nodded. His eyes were lingering on a gold necklace hanging in the shop window, with a heart-shaped pendant. He knew that very soon he would be going to see Kainda, and he quite wanted a present for her. Earlier, he'd mulled over the idea of a love potion in reply, but now that he'd seen the necklace...
"I'm just going to buy something," Harry told Lupin, as he headed inside the shop.
A few minutes later, he came back out, with the pendant clutched tight in a bag, his pocket of money considerably lighter. Lupin smiled at him. "Ready?"
He nodded, and was about to follow Lupin towards the escalator again, when something suddenly made him stop. He'd heard an odd noise behind him, like a whisper, and wondering what it was, he turned around to face the shop again. What he saw as a reflection in the window made him jump backwards and nearly knock Lupin to the floor. It was a single face that Harry had seen many times before, though only in his dreams. The structure of a human boy, but with the tan skin of a lion, the eyes of a hawk, and a mouth full of sharp teeth like a crocodile. The boy was smiling, just smiling.
The vision faded as quickly as it had come, taking the strange boy's reflection away. Harry could feel his heart pounding inside him, trying to escape. He had a sickening feeling now lodged in his chest, as though he'd seen that face somewhere before, but didn't know where.
"Harry?" said Lupin, concerned, turning around to see what was the matter.
"I-... I saw, in the window - " Harry gabbled, pointing. "It was a face, it was like a m-monster - "
Lupin frowned slightly. "There's nothing there, Harry, don't worry... it must have just been an odd reflection. Muggle lighting is truly terrible."
"No, no, I saw it," Harry protested, grasping Lupin's arm. "It was like a boy, but... I'm so sure, Professor. I really saw it there."
Lupin patted him consolingly on the shoulder. "There's nothing there now, Harry... come on, we're already late as it is. Stay close, the crowds are getting busier." He started to move away. Harry stayed for one last glance into the window, and for a moment, he thought he saw a shadow pass over the glass, before Lupin called him, and he hurried after the professor, fighting to keep up in the crowds. He couldn't shake off the horrible feeling of being watched, and everytime he passed a shop window, he was careful not to even glance at it - though as they were leaving the shopping centre, and Mrs Weasley was suggesting a picnic outside, he was almost certain he saw a flash of teeth glitter at him from the glass of the sliding doors.
"Are you okay?" said Ron, looking up at Harry over the top of his Quidditch magazine. "You've hardly said a word since coming back from the shopping centre."
"I'm fine," said Harry. He fed Sneezy another peanut with a small sigh. They had got back from their walk a few hours ago now, and Harry still felt paranoid and worried. Though everytime he considered telling somebody, he couldn't think of words for what it was that he was scared about. He'd sat having a picnic, and wondered if Mrs Weasley would help, then he thought of Bill, with a lot of experience in dark creatures. He'd got back home, and Snape had been sitting in the kitchen marking essays. Surely, of all people, he could tell his magical guardian - but something just felt odd. He had no evidence, and Snape wasn't the comforting type.
He looked up at Ron, his best friend, wondering if he could tell him. Then he glanced across to Draco, who was lounging on his bed and drawing something. Draco might know something about weird faces appearing in glass and then vanishing. Was it perhaps a dark magical object? His family had hoarded hundreds of such things. But then Harry realised he just couldn't say, that it would sound far too stupid. He could just imagine Draco's reaction if he said he was seeing faces in glass. Draco might have become tolerable over the last year, but he wasn't ready to admit to that just yet.
"You look all... weird," said Ron, watching him closely.
Harry shrugged. "Just bored, I guess."
Ron nodded and yawned. They could all identify with boredom. Harry now had a hint of how Sirius must have felt two years ago, being forced to stay inside around the clock, with nothing exciting really happening. He had another month left of staying inside, as school had broken up at the start of July, and it was now the end of the month. Harry couldn't really comprehend sitting and watching a seed float about in a plant pot for another month.
The noise of the front door opening met his ears. He heard it shut, and somebody carrying an awful lot of things crept down the hall. A few moments later, and probably a check that whoever it was was clear of the Mrs Black Danger Zone, and Mr Weasley's voice shouted out through the house. "Molly! Children! Come quickly, I've got marvellous news!"
Harry, Ron and Draco got up off their beds, and headed out onto the landing, where they met Ginny and Tonks, peering over the banister. Mr Weasley was beaming up at them from the hall, and to Harry's amazement, he was holding a muggle television under one arm, his briefcase under the other, and perched on his head was a party hat with a large M on it.
"What on earth is that?" said Ron, staring at the television as though it was about to explode.
"I bought it with my pay bonus," said Mr Weasley, grinning up at them all. "I've been promoted!"
Ron and Ginny cheered, tearing across the landing and practically jumping down the stairs to hug their father, asking lots of eager questions, examining the television in amazement. Everybody else joined them, and they proceeded to the kitchen, all sitting down. Mrs Weasley, who had been drying up at the time, put down her cloth and hurried over to embrace her husband.
"Oh, Arthur, at last! Well done!" she said.
He grinned and patted her back, setting down the television on the table top. Draco was watching it with the greatest suspicion and narrowed eyes. "What, exactly, does it do?"
"It's one of those things that muggles use to heat up food, isn't it?" said Ginny, looking up at her father. "Luna was telling me about it... her auntie works with muggles."
"What have you been promoted to, Arthur?" asked Mrs Weasley, turning her eyes onto her husband.
"I am now the official Minister For Inter-Muggle Relations," said Mr Weasley, proudly. "I'm going to be having a lot of contact with muggles, finding out more about them. You-Know-Who has indeed returned, and who knows what might happen? If he starts attacking muggles, the ministry need somebody to cover up the tragedy. And that person will be me." He beamed and laughed. "Cornelius said I might have to have tea with the muggle queen! Me!"
"Oh, that's wonderful Arthur!" said Mrs Weasley, hugging her husband again.
Draco was studying the television closely, running his fingers over the glass screen and wearing a frown. "Mm. I remember something like this from last summer..."
"Where were you?" said Ron, quickly. He had been trying to prize the information of where Draco had spent his last summer out of him for a month now, and was getting nowhere.
"Somewhere," said Draco, in a cool voice.
Perhaps Lupin had noticed the tension rising between the two boys, for next second, he jumped up and said, "Tea, I think... Ron, can you help me? Draco, go and hang up Arthur's coat."
Draco and Ron glared at each other for a moment, then set about their tasks. Harry watched them both for a moment. The back of Ron's neck was rather red, and Draco's left hand was tightening in a fist as he left the room. Luckily, Mr Weasley then sat down to try and get the television working, and the potential fight was averted. Or perhaps just delayed.
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