48 : Fearful Lion
A knock on the door cut short their conversation, stopping whatever question Ginny was about to ask. Hermione had just finished retelling what happened during Christmas (not going into detail over what happened to Horris afterwards), and Ginny seemed to have questions without end.
"Yeah Max?" She asked,
"Do you gals want anything tonight?"
"Ginny," She forwarded the question, turning to face the younger girl, "you hungry?"
"How can you think about food at a time like this?" Was the indignant reply, accompanied with a pointed stare.
"We'll probably talk right through dinner Ginny…" Hermione reminded her, mentally adding that her transfiguration assignment would have to be put off till tomorrow. Merlin, when had she stopped doing everything the second the work was assigned? This is exactly what happened when you left work for later. "Could you ask for a plate of club sandwiches with extra mayonnaise and a jug of Pumpkin Juice?" She asked, turning back to Max.
"You sure Lea? They have apple pie…"
"And two pieces of pie." She confirmed, smiling. "Thanks Max."
"What was that about? I wouldn't have thought Slytherins snuck out to the kitchens…" Ginny asked after the door shut again.
"They don't… a house elf brings it." She explained, not adding that the said house elf actually belonged to a first year who's mom went way overboard when it came to making sure her little baby was properly cared for.
"Slytherins get private rooms and in-house catering?" Ginny scorned, "What next? And since when are you not opposed to house-elf enslavement?"
Hermione shrugged, not really knowing the answer. "I guess I learned I cannot change everything."
The more you widen your scope, Hermione had learned, the fewer imperfections you see. Earth seems perfect from outer space, after all… no pollution, destruction, death… just a beautiful blue orb with patches of land and swirls of white. When the magic world revolved around Hogwarts, SPEW seemed like a righteous cause; now it just looked foolish and naive. Voldemort was no longer some abstract evil they fought through solving puzzles at Hogwarts or the devil Harry spoke of… nowadays people felt his destruction and The Prophet was full of 'unexplainable' deaths and terror attacks. Voldemort was slowly trying to make everyone slaves… and she knew his idea of slavery made what the house-elves endured seem like freedom indeed. She still did not think it right, but how could she put it in front of all the other dangers?
The sandwiches came a few minutes later, giving Hermione a much-needed break from explaining herself to the girl. Afterwards, however, Ginny went right on questioning her. At least these questions were more serious, unlike the girl's earlier accusations. It had taken her a bloody half hour to explain that Max and she had not been flirting, that it was just part of his humor, that he was well accounted for, and that he did not even 'swing her way'. From the very onset Ginny had proved most distrustful (as Lea had figured she would be, though the foreknowledge did little to make dealing with the negative attitude easier), and it took all she had to keep from simply giving up on the girl.
"If you don't believe me, Ginny, you won't. I've told you what I know, and if you still think Ron is simply caught somewhere then I really can't help you anymore." She told her at last.
"I still say Snape and Malfoy made all this up somehow… forced memory alteration, Occlumency, there are ways to do it you know."
"To what end? What would they gain from it?" Hermione countered tiredly, "What's there to gain from something like that?"
"They can form distrust among us Gryffindors… divide and ensnare, or whatever you once said. They could keep Dumbledore form looking for Ron, thinking he got himself into it… spread misinformation through you…"
"Hanging around Slytherins only caused the Gryffindors to ostracize me Gin… not very good for spreading misinformation or spreading the 'mistrust' any further than myself." If they had wanted to do that, one of the Gryffindor or Ravenclaw Asps would have worked far better than me, she added silently, shaking her head. You never spread misinformation through so known a source… always through those who seem least likely. "Before you even think it, they get no help from me beyond an occasional tutoring session or an essay check, which Ido for any Gryffindor who asks. I certainly don't hand them Gryffindor secrets on a platter, just as I don't recite Slytherin ones in the tower." She said pointedly, "And don't forget that you're not to tell anyone about this place either Ginny… don't make me regret bringing you here.""Have I answered all your questions?"
"Hardly." Ginny mumbled back, not sure what else she could actually ask, but certainly not convinced.
"Want me to let you think things over for a while?" Hermione asked, a bit softer this time.
Ginny nodded after a moment, unsure of what to make out of everything she had seen and heard.
"Can I trust you not to go snooping through Horris' stuff?"
"You want to leave me here… alone?" She questioned fearfully, distraught by Hermione's light tone.
"That was the general idea, yes…" the girl nodded. "I'll be right outside if you'd need me, and it's not like they can just barge in here while I'm in the common room…"
"This is probably the safest place in all of Hogwarts. I know of only three other people who have access to it, all of which are presently on vacation. The only person that might be able to get in without one of us four is the Headmaster, though with all the wards Horris layered on this place, I'm not sure even he could get in."
"You're telling me that only four people can open that door?" She demanded,
"From the outside, anyway."
Ginny remembered how Hermione had to trace the snake with her finger to make the door appear… it wasn't exactly a discreet maneuver.
"It's not keyed to an act or a word but a certain person's touch in certain places." Hermione supplied in answer to Ginny's unspoken question, "Draco touches three drops of blood, for example, and I think the Professor just has to put his palm on the lily."
"So, can I trust you not to go looking through his stuff or trying to pull some sort of prank while I'm out?"
"I'm not the twins Hermione…" Ginny growled, hating to be thought of as a prankster just because her brothers were.
"Promise not to do anything that I might have to apologize for later?" Hermione asked, waiting for her nod. "Can I leave you to your thoughts?"
"I guess…" Ginny agreed after another moment of uncertainty,
"I'll be right outside if you need me, just come out when you want to go back to Gryffindor or if you need me for something…" Hermione assured her, stepping out and shutting the door.
Alone in the room, Ginny took a real look around. The room, unlike the rest of Slytherin, was done in a calming blue instead of the cold green and gray. Money sure did get people special treatment, she ridiculed, shaking her head at the injustice of it all. Snape had this huge room, complete with the couch she was presently sitting on, a coffee table the plates from their dinner stood on, his own bathroom and a bed twice the size of the Gryffindor four-posters. There was a wardrobe bigger than the one she had at home, and she was sure the rug under her feet alone could have put her entire family straight through Hogwarts with brand new wardrobes and books each year. If Malfoy's room was like this (as she was quite sure it was), it was no wonder he was so stuck up. And if this sort of furniture was bought for a boy's schoolroom, as she was quite sure the school did not provide such things, what sorts of things must their homes be filled with! She knew they were rich, of course, but it was quite different to see a taste of the wealth than to simply know they were loaded. At least she was rather sure that the money hadn't had anything to do with Hermione coming here… though she doubted it hadn't helped influence her choice. How was it that of all the people outside, only Hermione was able to open the door? If Snape (jr.) had trusted hardly anyone with access to his room, why had he let her… wouldn't it have been more logical to let another Slytherin open it instead? Slytherins weren't exactly known for being trusting… especially of Gryffindors. It seemed Hermione… Lea… the 'Lioness of Slytherin'… was not in the position Ginny had thought she was in. People who tried to manipulate you, rarely trusted you. Though she was too scared to actually snoop around, she was sure that there were probably things hidden somewhere here that could embarrass or even incriminate Snape. If they had been just using Hermione, letting her be here alone could prove dangerous at best. They were Asps, after all, as Hermione had admitted to knowing. Then again, according to her, Asps were in all the houses, even Gryffindor. She didn't mention any names, to Ginny's utter dismay, as she had refused to provide any names Ginny had not already known. Hermione had confirmed none of the Asps had stayed during the break though, which crossed out 'Max'. She ran her hand over the intertwining snakes engraved on the lid of a little box that sat on Snape's dresser, letting her fingers feel the individual scales, each one perfectly chiseled in the deep mahogany. It almost looked like a jewelry box, though she figured, based on it's size and the rumors going around about Snape's skills on a broom (though, ironically, no one had ever seen him fly on any 'respectable' broom), it probably held some extra-expensive Snitch.
"What the hell are you doing?" A male voice suddenly demanded behind her. "Who the hell let you in here!"
"I… I… I" She stuttered, accidentally knocking the box down and struggling to catch it before it broke on the hard floor.
"Don't touch that!" He yelled at her again, pulling it out of her hands. "I asked what you were doing here, Weasley." He demanded once more, even as she backed towards the door. 'Asp!' kept screaming in her panicking head as Malfoy growled at her.
"Hermione!" She yelled out as soon as her hand touched the door, pulling it open with all her strength. "Help!"
"What the hell?" Hermione asked with a confused expression as Ginny made a beeline towards the only other Gryffindor around. Though she wasn't looking for it, Ginny had no clue where the exit actually was, and she wasn't about to look for it with an enraged Asp on her tail. "Draco? I thought you weren't going to come back till break ended?"
"What's she doing here Lea?"
"You're scaring her Draco…" Hermione scorned, glaring at the Asp as if he was no more dangerous than a first-year Hufflepuff.
"She's supposed to be scared of Slytherins, Lea…" He countered with just as much disdain.
"Can we not make a scene in the middle of the commons? You'll traumatize the first years!" Hermione scolded, practically pushing him back into the room in frustration. "Don't make me pull you along as well Ginny…" She added over her shoulder, spurring Ginny into following. If even Malfoy seemed to fear her temper, who was she to go against her, after all.
"This better be good Lea." Draco warned as he locked the door, staring intently at the glowering lioness.
"Would you rather I explained things to her in the middle of Gryffindor tower?"
"What things?" he prompted, raising a brow.
"She confronted me about hanging out with Asps… I believed she posed a greater danger thinking you were holding me under Imperius or some such nonsense than it was to tell her what was going on." Imperius… is that the first thing all Gryffindors think of when someone chooses to do something not anti-Slytherin?
"How'd you get her to come Lea? She looks more scared than an owl's breakfast the moment before it's caught…"
"Oh, you know what they say… 'curiosity killed the cat'." Lea responded, obviously catching his attempt to lighten the mood a bit. "Besides that, I think she finds an angry beta quite unnerving."
"Hey… when I came through I expected to find you studying, playing in the common room or something, not a Weasley snooping around."
"Snooping? Ginny!" Lea snapped, turning on the girl with more zeal than Draco himself had.
"I was just looking at the carvings on a box!" The Gryffindor defended herself, "Honest Lea… I was just looking when he…" and she broke off, nearly gulping, apparently remembering his earlier outburst and rank.
"Oh for Merlin's sake Weasley, I'm not going to kill you for it… you wouldn't be able to open that box anyway." Draco sighed, pushing the matter aside. A scared Gryffindor would only keep Lea occupied longer, and he had things he needed to tell her. Besides, he figured Lea's goal was to make her see that Asps are more than Voldemort's tools of destruction, so he'd best help provide that image if he was to get Lea alone anytime soon. "Speaking of, that was a nice catch, just so you know… you'd probably make a better Seeker than that buffoon you've got now."
"The box," he explained, "you have good reflexes."
"Oh." Merlin… it really was a miracle Lea got her to come here!
"I need to speak with you Lea… think the Gryff could wait in the commons or something?"
"Is it really sensitive? I've told her almost everything that I knew was safe, so if it's not that big a deal… I doubt she'd be too comfortable out there alone." He saw the other girl flinch at the thought, echoing Lea's sentiment loud and clear.
"It's about Horris… a situation arose a bit back and-"
"What happened?" She cut him off, but that he wasn't about to tell in front of her little friend, no matter how trustworthy Lea might think her.
"He might be late coming back… I figured warning you now will spare me an earful come Monday." He explained honestly.
"Could you ask Brian over? Tell him to make sure she's fine?" Lea asked, turning to try and convince Ginny in a dismissive manor. Anyone but her, the professor and Horris he'd maim for such an act, but he did as he was told nonetheless.
"Brian?" He asked Lea after she had finally seen the two off. He had to hand it to her, she certainly knew how to get the girl to do what she wanted… then again, the same rang true for most occupants of his house as well. He was surprised though, the other girl held out for over ten minutes!
"Those two are guaranteed to hit it off." she said simply, "They're perfect for each other."
"Oh really?" he teased, "Are you trying to set my little snake with your fearful lion?"
"Maybe later. What happened to make you use the portal? I didn't even know the Professor moved it from his room…" She pressed, as he knew she would, totally killing his subject change. Still, it was worth the try, as he knew it wouldn't prove a pleasant topic.
"He didn't, he gave Horris a second one," he motioned toward the mirror that linked the room with Snape Manor. "As for what happened to make me activate it, Markus did one of the curses wrong… really hurting Pansy. They're fine," he calmed quickly, "but Horris was quite mad at Markus. I'm not sure exactly what set it off as I was getting the professor at the time, but I guess all the dark curses caught up with him. Anyway, while he was yelling at the kid, Soulshadow caught him… The professor got him out of the frenzy but he's still quite out of it. I need you to be careful Lea, Soulshadow changes people…" He figured, based on her expression, that she'd at least read a little about it (and knew that she would, undoubtedly, read all there was to know as soon as he left and she got Weasley off her back) but he needed to stress it. "My cousin went through it a while back…" he told her, "he's dead now, but I've never seen a person change like that before him… no book I've read explains it right, at least I don't think it does, so you'll have to trust me on this Lea." he pleaded, "We're going to have to walk on eggshells around him for a while… even though the professor claims that he has potions that'll minimize the change. He's not going to be evil or anything Lea," he calmed her when he saw her eyes were wide with alarm, "he's not going to kick you out or anything, he'll just be… different."
"How?" she asked softly, and he saw tears run silently down her cheeks.
"It's different for everyone, but he'll definitely change. He'll act different, probably, and be more drawn in..." he told her softly. "We can't anger him… he might frenzy then, and then he really couldn't really be held responsible for his actions…no one can control a frenzy, not even him." He told her, "In fact, I don't want to risk upsetting him over this either… I don't want him to know about the Weasley coming here, not yet. I'll talk to Max before I leave, neither of you will tell Horris and you'll make sure the girl won't go telling anyone either, can you do that?"
She nodded softly, still crying.
"I know what you're thinking Lea… it shouldn't have happened." He agreed, wiping her tears, "But he's an Asp… he'll get through this. The professor thinks it might not be as bad on him… us Asps being dark creatures and all…and he definitely has a strong will and sense of self. That's important, not to lose yourself to the frenzy too often…" he talked on softly, feeling Lea cry into his shoulder as he kept looking blankly ahead, trying to convince himself as he tried to convince her. He'd seen Soulshadow before, a bad one, or so his father had classified it. The man had been twenty three and took out seventeen Aurors in one of his frenzies… if Horris ever lost it like that…
He dropped the thought path, trying to reassure Lea and himself with more talk of Horris' strong character. He wasn't lying, that did make some difference, and Horris was one of the most willful and assertive people he knew. It wouldn't do anything for him in a frenzy beyond perhaps helping it to end sooner; but it would most likely help him keep from falling into it. They'd have to be careful around him, especially her. The Asps could take the punishment to some extent as long as they steered clear of his venoms, but she was basically defenseless. The Defense Against the Dark Arts crap they taught here would only annoy an Asp, or agitate it… both of which, he knew, would most likely prove suicidal if Horris was in a frenzy.
"I should go…" Lea said after a while, pulling reluctantly away. He had to go as well, the professor would need him, but he didn't want her alone tonight. "It's almost curfew and Ginny-"
"She's probably not happy I've left her for so long. Do I look all read and puffy?"
"Just a little." He admitted, "Lea, about the dorms…"
"I know, I won't come here till you're all back."
"No, it's not that… I just think you need to be around people tonight, but if you really want to stay here, you're always welcome, you know that. "
"I know." She nodded, slowly. "I'd best get Ginny…"