Chapter Eight - Eversor
Harry waited until Sev lay twitching and whimpering. He pressed his lips to that furrowed brow and climbed out of bed. By now it was almost a comic routine: feign sleep, listen to the scratching of the quill, give the potion time to work, get up and read the new entry. He didn’t even feel guilty anymore. Well, not as much. Knotting Dudley’s old dressing gown, he again told himself he was doing the right thing.
“Das ego ipse me.” Soft cotton pages slithered apart under his wand. Magical books were temperamental – he’d learned that well in the restricted section – but Harry rather got the feeling Sev’s journal liked him. He settled into one of the chairs in front of the fire.
26 October, 1998. Neville Longbottom has been reborn, and her name is Nadja Alabaster. I would try to be patient but the concept is ridiculous. That nitwit actually managed to invent a Shrinking Solution that made Stepses’ rat grow. And grow. And grow. The blasted rodent was the size of a Saint Bernard before I managed to get a Deflating Draught past those shovels it called teeth. Bloody near took my hand off. Wouldn’t that be one to listen to at dinner? Alabaster is brilliant in her incompetence. The girl can learn, I know she has a brain inside that garbled little head, but unless she decides to use it I give little chance of Stepses’ rat seeing Christmas.
Nothing. I can do nothing. I need Harry’s mind; mine seems to be falling apart. But, then, what can he do beyond watch? I know there’s a way around this Hell. It touches my brain like a long-forgotten dream, but when I try to grasp it, it vanishes like smoke. If I could just think clearly I’d have it. Perhaps my conviction, in itself, is proof of another grain of my life pouring into the abyss. I’m retracing steps from too long ago with only half the map. Harry still studies Latin every chance he gets, according to Irma. He actually thinks he can help. How can a dead language save a dying man? Maybe that’s why I so desperately need him – his hope has never diminished. Otherwise, he wouldn’t waste time on my damnation. Every time I look up from another useless tome I expect to see those wretched glasses glinting over a book or a scroll; every time I feel the hours in my back I still expect his fingers to drive them away. I can’t allow that, though. This is my fault and my responsibility. If I were to say it he’d remind me of how effective we were last time. Voldemort was our responsibility, though. Nobody else had the bollocks to take it.
Poppy accuses me of pride. Perhaps she’s right.
The entry was tailed by a fairly silly sketch of students fleeing a giant rat. From its huge teeth hung most of a Hufflepuff robe. Harry half-smiled. Those increasingly rare pieces of black humour reminded him that Severus was still there. They fueled his hope. He looked up as Sev screeched. His emaciated fingers clawed the air. “Look at it, Father. No, don’t leave, look at what he did…”
“Shh. It’s just a dream.” For the moment the journal lay forgotten on Harry’s chair. He pulled feathery strands of steel grey hair from between tight, wet lips and smoothed them into the black mess. While Unicorn Blood somehow gave him that badger streak, the grey at Sev’s temples had to be a legacy of the Death Eaters. According to Poppy – they’d been on a first-name basis for a good month and a half – it wasn’t rare for trauma to have an effect like that.
“… Hunh… ‘Versor…”
“Eversor’s not here. He can’t hurt you.” He kneeled by the bed and stroked Severus’ hair until the figment passed. The duvet had slipped down. It was nearly Halloween, and Sev was indeed a skeleton. Curled up in a foetal ball, his spine stuck out in a jagged line. Harry ran a hand over his back and cringed at the waves of his ribcage. The tissues of his mouth were still red and living, and his eyes were sharp behind dry lids. The Unicorn Blood wielded its double-edged blade.
They’d never actually discussed it. Harry supposed that was due to Snape’s bloody-minded pride, or possibly fear that Harry would go away. The journal hinted at that much. To the world he denied anything was wrong even when bone stood out around his cold eyes. To Harry he offered quiet tolerance and, when the dungeons finally became too cold and lonely, chess or words or his dwindling but vehement body. In fact, the further into walking death he drifted the tighter he clung to that piece of life. The poor rug in his office would never be the same.
With a kiss on one protruding scapula Harry tucked the covers tight around him. Anybody with an ounce of sense would have left after the blood clot, the sickening omission of truth, but the Sorting Hat put him in Gryffindor for good reason. More guts than sense, dammit. Then again, it tried to put him in Slytherin, too; Harry was starting to understand that reasoning better than he liked. He picked up the everlasting journal again and leafed through until he found his place.
18 February, 1973. Father wants me home at Easter. Gran’s worse and he’s not sure if she’ll make it to the end of summer term. She must have asked for me, otherwise he wouldn’t have said anything. I thought we were supposed to live a long time. She’s not even seventy. You’d think someone as stubborn as Gran wouldn’t want to give up the ghost just yet. She told me once that she intended to die young just so she could get back to mocking Grandfather Curtus to his face, though.
I’d like to kill someone in his sleep. But, really, it’s too good for him.
And a few entries later:
28 February, 1973. Gran’s died. Leaving for her funeral tomorrow. I don’t have to go at Easter.
Harry studied the small drawing. A witch, whose long white hair was streaked with black, stared from the page. Her eyes were dark like Sev’s and dared him to keep reading. That smirk and contemptuous squint were familiar, even in her round, elfin face. He smiled faintly at the picture and, alone of the drawings, it raised a sharp eyebrow at him. He sighed. “You could tell me about Eversor, huh?” She frowned. The journal had no real information, just a name here and a bitter allusion there. It didn’t say anything about what the Death Eaters had done either. “But you won’t.” She slowly shook her head, icy eyes fixed on him.
Harry sighed and turned the page. He really didn’t need that accusing glare. There was nothing unusual: a little about classes, a poetic tirade on “the four horsemen” (quite obviously referring to a Potions assignment Sirius and James had sabotaged, leaving Sev with rather a lot to explain), a striking Slytherin crest with serrated scales and fangs dripping venom. The blackletter caption read, “Tread Carefully”. He’d long ago come to the conclusion that the journal was nothing more than a vent. It drugged him, showed him what Severus carefully lanced before it could surface; but it felt like he couldn’t bring himself to write the real horrors. Those were locked in his desk.
Harry still had enough honour not to look there.
He read a few more pages before flipping through rapidly. There was one entry he’d read more than any other; it was one of the first he’d ever looked up. Sometimes it made him smile, sometimes shake, but it never failed to get a reaction.
10 April, 1998.
When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state
And trouble deaf Heaven with my bootless cries
And look upon myself and curse my fate
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope
Featur’d like him, like him with friends possess’d
Desiring this man’s art, and that man’s scope
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising
Haply I think on thee, —and then my state
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at Heaven’s gate.
For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.
Harry closed the book and sealed it, trepidation building in his chest. He pushed an angry tear out of the corner of his eye, hating himself. There was no justifiable reason for him to do this night after night. Once again he denied that it was anything more or less than betrayal. As quietly as he could he locked the book back in Sev’s desk and threw his dressing gown over a chair. Two in the morning. Five hours to sleep. Sev might be up and gone by then. He prayed for it; it had grown very hard to face him in the morning.
Nadja set her book on the checkout desk and sniffled. It was another thick Potions tome – “book” just didn’t cover these monsters. Antidote To Life was imposing, bleak, and described the more horrific aspects of death by poison and overdose in unflinching detail. Harry leaned over the desk and gave the poor girl a hug. “What happened this time?”
“I knocked over my cauldron,” she whispered. Harry had to strain to hear her.
“Want me to talk to him?” He’d kept out before, but this was too much. Neville must have knocked his cauldron over a dozen times and never got more than a night polishing armour. To his surprise she shook her head madly. The long black plaits down her back whipped like the Whomping Willow having a tantrum.
“Professor Snape’ll yell at you if you do.” She gulped, eyes wide with fear. “I’m scared. I don’t want to be here anymore.” The tiny girl tried to hide in her bulky cloak.
“Did he yell at you?” Her terrified squeak, the whites of her round eyes, told him Sev had gone off on the mother of all tirades. To give her reports on advanced books on top of it made Harry’s temper flare. Well, Severus said she had a brain. Time to use it against him. “I think there’s a way to make him be a little nicer.”
She coughed. “How?”
“I’m going to talk to some friends of mine and see if one or two can tutor you. Don’t mention it to Professor Snape, let him think it was your idea.” Sev would respect that kind of determination. Nadja nodded a little. Harry checked out her book. She had to wrap both arms around it just to pick it up.
“Thanks, Harry. It’ll be our secret, ‘kay?”
He beamed. “Okay.” She balanced the book on her chest and stuck out her hand to shake on it. Harry waited until she’d staggered out of the library – Nicky offered to take the leather-bound beast but Nadja refused – to slip out from behind the deserted desk. Ginny was alone in the corner, poring over her Muggle Studies homework. He slid into the chair across from her. “Oi, Ginny, got a favour to ask.”
“Hey, Harry.” She looked up from her parchment. “Does it have to do with computer programming languages, electricity, or European monarchies? ‘Cause if it does, the answer’s no.”
“You’re pretty good in Potions, right?” She was bloody brilliant. Sev’s journal compared her to Sev as a student. She nodded suspiciously.
“Can you tutor a friend of mine? Her name’s Nadja Alabaster; she’s a Ravenclaw first year. Snape’s giving her a really hard time and I want to make him eat his words.” Two bright brown eyes regarded him.
“What happened to ‘he’s not as bad as he seems’?” He raised an eyebrow at her.
“C’mon, Gin, he’s being a real bastard. She wants to quit school.” Harry glanced back. No line at the desk, and no angry Irma. Whew. “Please?”
She shook her head. “Sorry, Harry. I really don’t want to deal with Snape any more than I have to.”
“But he likes you. He even said you’re—“ he caught himself. “He said you’ve got a lot of talent.” The last thing he needed to do was tell Ginny what Severus wrote about her in his journal.
She laughed. “If he likes me I don’t even want to know what he does to you. Last Thursday I spent twenty minutes in his office with him yelling at me that my Incendius Solution wasn’t red enough. With the door open so everyone in the school could hear.” She tugged at a bit of her hair and picked the ends. “After that I’m not about to ask if I can use the classroom after hours.”
“Please? I’ll ask him for you.”
“I’ll pay you. Ten Galleons a month?” Her angry eyes caught his.
He gaped. “That’s highway robbery.”
“It’s Snape.” She looked back down at her parchment. In a moment her quill started scratching. Harry wondered how bad Sev had really gotten to make sweet Ginny Weasley demand fifty Galleons a month to tutor one person.
A crash broke the relative silence. “You ignorant child! Don’t you have eyes?” The muffled shriek echoed through the library. Oh. Shit. Harry knocked his chair over running to the door. “Or are you just too stupid to remember that there are other people in this school?” Harry wrenched the heavy door open. Sev held Dennis Creevey up by the neck. Dennis was limp with terror. A large pile of textbooks lay scattered on the floor. Snape shook the boy. “Well? Answer me!”
“Severus!” Frenzied black eyes looked up. Sev snarled at Harry.
“This is none of your concern.” Harry stormed over and wrenched Dennis free. A forest of eyes peered from the library. Dennis immediately dropped and started stacking the books.
“I’m sorry, sir, I tried to watch where I was going…”
“Shouldn’t you be working, Mister Potter?” The shaky stack of books tipped over. “Oh, clever, Creevey. Perhaps you should be an architect!” Harry grabbed Snape by the collar.
“Leave him alone.”
Sev bared his jagged, yellowish teeth. “You have no right to tell me how to deal with my students.” He tried to straighten himself, to break Harry’s grip. Harry wrapped the worn fabric around his hand. Their eyes locked.
“You have no right to treat your students like lower life forms.”
“Take your hands off me, boy.” Obsidian eyes slit. Harry could feel fragile tissues start to give under the twisted fabric in his fist. He let go. Severus straightened his cloak, ran a finger under the collar of his robe. “We’ll discuss this later.” Flecks of spittle dotted Harry’s glasses. He glared as Sev stormed down the hall, loose robe billowing behind him, outlining his skeletal form.
Refusing to shake, Harry knelt and helped Dennis carry his books to the checkout desk. Irma had taken over his spot. She glanced at him. Silently, he started to check in Dennis’ books. The fingers of his right hand throbbed. Ginny, arms full, stopped in front of him. He didn’t look up. “Fifty, then?”
“I’m really sorry, Harry. Normally it wouldn’t be a problem but he’s so bad this year—“
“I can tell.” He slammed the heavy rubber stamp on the last of the checkout cards and started arranging them to shelve. “Sure you want to tutor?” Ginny nodded.
“He might lay off Nadja and me both.”
She snorted. “Yeah. I’m going to the tower. Too much noise here. See you at dinner?”
“Probably.” His workday was almost over, thankfully. Irma, a bit of a night owl he’d found out, came in after lunch now and stayed until well after close. Harry worked the early shift, which suited him fine. Ginny wandered out. He pulled out his watch to check the time. Five twenty, ten minutes to freedom. Harry took the stack of books and disappeared between the shelves. Most of them went in the Transfiguration section; a few notable pieces of fiction were at the bottom of the pile. He filed automatically, mind wandering. His overwhelming anger was starting to falter, its void filling with worry. That was his problem: he couldn’t stay angry with Severus, he couldn’t hate the man again because he understood him too well. Every fight, every omission of truth, every corrosive outburst in wakefulness or sleep eventually led back to the large, warm bed, and futile attempts to keep the brittle man safe from his nightmares. He’d hoped to lure Sev away from his research for a little while tonight. He’d hoped for a game of chess. Somehow, that didn’t seem likely now. He slid the last book on the shelf and checked his watch. Five thirty-five. Severus Snape – Harry James Potter. No vows, no promises, no legal binds. Only the slightly outsized work of a stylus, but it was enough.
“Nice watch.” Harry jumped and turned to see Professor Dumbledore smiling down at him. His eyes sparkled.
“Hullo, sir. Are you looking for something?” Dumbledore reached past him.
“Just this, I think.” He pulled a thin book from a low shelf. The headmaster flicked through, a faint smile on his lips. He offered the book to Harry. “Have you read any?” When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes…
“A little.” Harry looked away. He shoved the watch back into his twilight blue robe.
“You should, really. It’s not terribly wizardly, but there’s very little in this world more relaxing than a comfortable chair, a mug of cocoa, and a few of the bard’s sonnets.” The intense blue eyes fixed on Harry. They both adjusted their glasses. “Severus could stand a few nights of that, I think. Dennis Creevey has the notion that he’s stressed.” All knowing, all seeing, the benevolent rule of Albus Dumbledore held sway.
“He won’t let me help him.” Harry shifted his weight. This wasn’t the most ideal place to talk.
“Would you care to come up to my office? I’ve got a fresh tin of biscuits and it seems a shame to eat them all myself.”
“Um… okay.” Harry was quite amused to see the headmaster wait in line with students to check out his book. Irma carefully wrote his name (Dumbledore, A.) on the book’s card and in the cover and gave it back with a wry smile. The card went into the checkout file.
“Thank you, Irma. I really don’t see why I haven’t bought a copy of this yet.”
“If you did we’d never see you down here.” He laughed.
“True.” Harry noticed that the headmaster’s name was printed on the card several times in a row. “Would you mind if I steal your assistant?”
“Oh, good Heavens, no. What are you still doing here, Harry?”
“Shelving.” She waved a hand at the door.
“Shoo.” She took a third year’s books and started to mark them out. “Tell Severus to keep his voice down outside my library.”
“Yes, ma’am.” She waved them at the door again. Harry grabbed his things and followed Dumbledore, who had hidden the slim book in his robes.
“You know, I used to think the headmaster was in charge of the whole of Hogwarts. Then I met Irma Pince. I’ve since come to understand the folly of my ways.”
Harry nodded. He wasn’t in a terribly chatty mood.
“It was her idea for you to be her assistant.”
“She knew what the governors were going to say?”
Dumbledore bobbed his head. “No, but she’s got a knack for deduction. In the eventuality, let’s say.” Harry realised they were walking down a corridor he’d never seen before. Strange portraits watched him. “Just a little shortcut of mine. It comes in handy when I get peckish in the middle of the night.”
“Are we near the kitchen?”
“Mm. It’s to our left a little ways up here.” They turned right and almost bumped into the gargoyle statue. “Peppermint Toad.”
“How often do you change the password?” Harry realised after he’d said it how rude the question was.
“Oh, whenever I feel like it. It perturbs Minerva to no end.” He smirked; where Sev’s smirk was arrogant by nature, Dumbledore’s was lighthearted. He and Harry rode the long, twisting staircase and he unlocked the door with his wand. Fawkes chirped in greeting. “Good evening, Fawkes.” Harry noticed the phoenix was starting to look a little ratty again.
“Hey, Fawkes. How’s life treating you?” Harry stopped to stroke the scarlet bird’s neck. It nibbled at his cheek affectionately.
“Make yourself comfortable, Harry.” The headmaster tapped a teapot with his wand. The water boiled. He dropped in a small wire cage filled with shreds of tea and capped it. “Do you take sugar?”
“Yes, please.” Harry eased himself into one of the chairs in front of the fireplace. The warmth felt good on his fingers, and he considered for a moment kicking his shoes off to toast his toes. It didn’t seem like the sort of thing to do in the headmaster’s office, though. In a minute Dumbledore set a silver tray on the table between the two large armchairs. It contained a teapot, two cups with saucers, a plateful of rich tea biscuits, sugar, and milk. The headmaster poured some milk into one of the cups. He added two lumps and enough tea to nearly slosh over the edge and handed it to Harry. “Thank you, sir.”
“Call me Albus. You’re no longer a student, after all.” This surprised Harry. The only people he’d heard call the headmaster by his first name were teachers and Ministry officials. Even they tended to use his titles.
“Thank you, Albus. Sir,” he added hastily. Dumbledore chuckled.
“How’s your neck been?”
“Severus told me all about it.”
“Ah.” Was there anything Sev didn’t eventually tell the headmaster? “It’s fine.” Dumbledore relaxed with his own tea and two biscuits, kicking off his high-heeled shoes to reveal thick, purple socks. One had a hole in the toe. He nodded and took a sip.
“Good, good. Glad to hear there’s no lasting damage.” None physical, anyway. “He was quite upset when he came to me. Apparently he’d had some sort of nightmare?” The look in Dumbledore’s eyes told Harry he knew everything – Harry just needed to fill in a few of the details.
“He thought I was his great-grandfather.”
“Ah. Eversor?” Harry nodded and let a biscuit soak up some of his tea. The liquid made it deliciously warm and crumbly. “How much do you know about his family?”
Harry shrugged. “A little. I know he didn’t like his father very much, and his mother died when he was young. And Sev seemed to get along with his grandmother pretty well.”
“Mm. Philia was a formidable woman.” The headmaster looked distant for a moment, and a little sad. “Anything else?”
“Not really.” The journal didn’t give any details, and there were no holiday entries. Everything else Harry knew was in the watch.
“Then he’s never told you about his brother,” Albus said softly. Harry did a double take.
“He told me he didn’t have a brother.” Harry started to wonder if anything Sev had ever told him was the truth.
“He doesn’t anymore.” He took a long drink of tea. His hands looked very thin and old next to the porcelain. “Eversor was a Squib, so he never came to Hogwarts. I only met him a few times.” Harry’s tea sat on his knee, forgotten. A dull, nauseating ache ran up his spine. Squibs, and other such anomalies, were considered little better than bastards. “You’ve probably deduced that they didn’t get on.”
“Yes, sir.” Harry stared at Dumbledore. The headmaster looked at him dubiously. The unsteady firelight made his skin look like a flock of startled canaries.
“Severus killed him.”
Harry’s cup and saucer shattered. Time slowed down as shards of white arced up and out. They chimed when they hit the floor, bringing reality into focus. Sickly brown liquid seeped between stones and soaked into the rug in front of the fireplace. “I’m sorry, sir – Albus.” He whipped out his wand, dizzy. “Reparo! I’m sorry.” Dumbledore held up a hand.
“Forgiveness freely given, Harry. I must have broken these cups a hundred times myself.” The smile didn’t quite reach his eyes. Harry picked up the cup and saucer with shaking hands and set them on the tray.
“Why did he…?” Harry felt very small and very scared and realised exactly how close he’d come to death.
“That is a very long and complicated story that you will have to work out for yourself, I’m afraid. I’ve never blamed him, though. Severus was justified in what he did.” Harry hiccoughed. Sirius was right: he was sleeping with a murderer. Now that Harry knew who one of Sev’s victims was, it felt real. Acid bubbled up his oesophagus.
“How can you justify anyone killing their family?” Anger dripped like tar from his words. He thought of his mum, his dad, all of his little brothers and sisters who’d never had a chance to be born. In his pocket, the watch felt like ice.
“I can justify putting someone out of his misery, no matter what he may have done to deserve it.” The headmaster’s voice rang hollow. “This is a situation he should have told you about a long time ago.”
“Like the Unicorn Blood?”
“Yes. Like the Unicorn Blood, Harry.”
“So why the fuck hasn’t he?” Albus’ eyes widened in surprise, but only for an instant.
“Fear.” A void opened in Harry’s chest and immediately filled with rage. His knuckles turned white as he gripped his chair.
“Y’know, he wouldn’t have to be scared of me leaving if he’d just say something once in a while.”
“That’s a very arrogant statement.”
“Well, that’s what his jou—“ he stopped too late. In a quiet, humiliated voice he finished, “That’s what his journal said. Don’t tell him I’ve been reading it?”
He felt a warm hand squeeze his wrist. “In any other situation I’d be upset, but I know that you’ve been driven to uncharacteristic actions. Harry, why are so many wizards still afraid to say Voldemort’s name?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know.” As he’d never learned the same fear as the rest of the wizarding world, that trait had always puzzled him a little bit. “I guess they’re afraid of him.”
“But he’s dead. What possible reason do they have to be afraid of him?”
“Why wouldn’t they be? After everything he did—“ he screwed up his face. “What did Eversor do?”
“Things that would be best left until after dinner. And that I promised Severus I would let him tell you when he came to me in May.” Dumbledore worried at his hands. They were unusually thin. “Of course, he also promised he would tell you.”
Harry sat quietly, staring at the licking flames. In a voice so soft he could barely hear it he asked, “What did the Death Eaters do to him?”
“He never told me.” Harry looked at Dumbledore. The blue gaze was steady.
“I thought he told you everything.”
“While there is very little Severus doesn’t confide in me eventually, there are a few things he keeps to himself and I try not to pry. If he needs to talk he knows where to find me.” The headmaster stood up and stretched. “Look at the time. If we hurry we might not be late to dinner.” Harry took the cue and pulled himself out of his own chair. His head was full of questions, although many of them seemed to be the same one repeated over and over.
“Sir?” he asked as Dumbledore led him to the door.
He squirmed. “Do you think the Death Eaters r… do you think they took advantage of him?”
Albus’ face was stony. “I would bet my soul on it.” Harry shuddered.
“I’ll kill them,” he whispered through shaking lips. When the headmaster pulled him into a fatherly hug he let his face screw up but there were no tears to fall. Tears meant release, and he wanted this hatred, this fury to build back upon itself a thousand fold.
When Albus released him there was a shimmering layer in his pale eyes. He smiled sadly. “I know Severus doesn’t see me as his father, but it’s never easy to think of something like that happening to your son.” He pulled out a polka dot handkerchief and blew his long nose loudly. “Forgive me. I’m a bit of an emotional old fool.” Harry shrugged. There was too much conflict in his head. He allowed himself to be shown out and was in the Great Hall before he realised he was alone.
The poem is William Shakespeare’s Sonnet XXIX. Nice, no?
Pronunciation Guide (‘cause I wanna):
Eversor: uh-VER-sir (not EV-er-sore)
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