Harry Potter and the Striped Cardboard Box
Harry listened as the song drifted to him through the waves of the bathwater. If he had not been so busy deciphering the lyrics, he may have appreciated the bewitching melody. But Harry had much more important things on his mind than music: he'd have an hour to search for a lost treasure. Underwater.
As usual, Hermione had a scheme.
"You've really outdone yourself, Hermione. This is bloody ridiculous!" Ron blurted.
His voice echoed around the deserted girls' loo.
Hermione ignored him.
"We will need more lacewing flies and boomslang skin for this batch of polyjuice potion," Hermione said, giving a stir to the bubbling cauldron. "And the hair of a mermaid, or scale, when the potion's ready."
Moaning Myrtle floated overhead, eavesdropping as usual.
"Ooh, Harry, I'd love to see you as a merman," the ghost giggled. Harry thought he heard her murmur, "no shirt."
He shook his head and rolled his eyes.
Ron said, "Beat it, you nutter!" causing Myrtle to wail and plunge herself into her toilet.
Hermione glared at Ron, but he just shrugged. At least Myrtle wasn't being a nuisance now.
Harry ran a hand through his messy hair. All he could think about was what Hermione said about needing ingredients and a mermaid's hair. It would mean raiding Snape's stores. Again.
He looked at Ron. Suddenly Ron realized the implication of the matter at hand.His freckled face blanched in fear.
"Well, do you want this polyjuice potion or not?" Hermione asked as the boys hesitated.
"You want the ingredients..RIGHT now?" Harry inquired.
Hermione raised a pernicious brow at the insolence, and for just a moment her authority was more threatening than the sallow skinned professor's.
Harry and Ron beat it from the girls' loo, leaving Myrtle to cry even more about Harry's absence.
"This is bloody ridiculous. Snape will definitely know it was us," Ron moaned.
"Well, do you know any place else where we can find lacewing flies and boomslang skin?" Harry asked, pushing up his glasses.
"No..." Ron muttered. "But I think there must be better way of winning the Triwizard Tournament."
Harry dug in his pocket and pulled out the Marauders Map. He scanned it for 'Severus Snape.' He spotted him pacing in his office.
"All right," he said, handing it to Ron. "You keep an eye on this while I search the store room. Hoot like a brown owl if Snape gets close, then I'll throw on my cloak and we'll do a runner."
"Okay, Harry, but, what about AFTER Snape finds the supplies missing? That's what I'M worried about!"
Harry exhaled, his cheeks blowing up like a chipmunk's. He shrugged. He was the Boy Who Lived. The Chosen One. Something would come to him...he hoped.
Inside Snape's store room, Harry ran his fingers over a menagerie of bottles and jars and vials, most of which contained dubious looking substances. Harry thought he saw an eyeball floating in a particularly viscous liquid but tried not think about it. He did think fleetingly of Borgin and Burkes in Knockturn Alley. Was that where Snape got some of these rare potions ingredients? Somehow it seemed fitting to picture Snape there.
Finally, Harry came across a bottle of lacewing flies. It was halfway empty, which made Harry wonder if SNAPE was the one up to something. Was Professor Snape brewing polyjuice potion too? Harry sprinkled a handful of flies into a vial he had brought. He heard footsteps outside and a distinct cough. The vial clinked dangerously as he nearly dropped it and the bottle in his surprise. He pocketed the vial before real disaster could strike. He re-shelved the bottle, too, turning it to the same angle at which he had found it. He held his breath. From outside he heard the voice of Professor 'Mad-Eye' Moody,
"Hurry up in there, Potter."
The footsteps retreated. Harry didn't stop to ask himself what Moody had been doing there. He was too busy rejoicing it hadn't been Snape; and that Moody, with his all seeing eye, seemed to be rooting for him.
Now, to find the boomslang skin, and (hopefully) a mermaid's hair. Maybe HARRY would have to go to Borgin and Burkes for something like a mermaid's hair? Somehow he didn't fancy paying another visit to that tenebrous shop of Death Eater wares.
Harry shoved some more bottles and jars aside, and behind them, deep in the shadows of the shelf, his fingers seized upon a cardboard box. It was very dusty, as if it had not been handled in years and years. It was white, striped red and blue on the edges, a postal box for shipping smallish packages. Harry knew you wouldn't store mermaid hair, or really any potions ingredient in a cardboard box; which made this all the more intriguing...
An owl hooted in the distance. Harry paid it no heed as he prized open the box, earning himself a smarting paper cut on his thumb. He sucked away the salty blood as the owl hooted again. It sounded rather insistent.
Harry reached his hand into the box when the owl shrieked out, "HARRRRRRRYYYYY!"
In fact, that owl sounded a lot like Ron! With a gasp Harry remembered the pre-arranged signal. He threw on his invisibility cloak, turned off the light, set the box lopsidedly back on the shelf, just as Professor Severus Snape flung open the door. His lank, dark hair framed his stern, aquiline features, which were currently chiseled into a deep scowl.
The Potions Master searched deftly for a flask of mandrake essence before he turned to go. Suddenly he stopped, as if sensing something was amiss. Harry scooted cautiously to one side of the room as Snape reentered. He nearly tripped on Snape's billowing cape as he leapt through the storeroom door behind his professor. Harry breathed a sigh of relief as he caught up with his ginger-headed friend a few corridors away.
Snape was unconcerned with the escape of the invisible Potter boy. He knew Harry had been there within smacking distance. Snape would just take ten points from Gryffindor next time he saw Harry. Right now he was concerned with the striped cardboard box and how much of the contents Harry had seen. Snape had nearly forgotten about the box himself...perhaps, he had tried to forget on purpose.
He wiped the cobwebs from the address scribbled on the front, relieved Harry had not had the presence of mind to do so. (There's a reason the Potter boy is not in Ravenclaw, thought Snape, tempted to smirk. But a smirk was too close to a smile, and it was impossible to feel happy with this box in his hands.)
The box read:
4 Privet Drive
Little Whinging, Surrey
His long, white fingers opened the cardboard flap the rest of the way (so Potter HADN'T seen what was inside!) and Snape eased the contents into his outstretched hand.
There was a folded, retro-looking Gryffindor sweater, a wand (nearly broken), and an old notebook with a fraying quill.
Snape didn't kneel often, for there was little in the world that could bring him to his knees. But just now he closed the door of the storeroom with a snap, locked it, and knelt, turning over each object in his hands. He scanned the letter which accompanied the items, composed in Petunia Dursley's hasty, careless scrawl.
Here are the effects of my late sister, Lily, that pertained to her life in YOUR world. I would prefer to burn them, but at your insistent requests and offer of payment...here they are. Do with them as you wish. No payment necessary. Just never contact me again.
Snape placed the letter back in the striped postal box. He caressed the wand, causing it to spark, before putting it away too. The Gryffindor sweater was draped over his lap as he cracked open the old notebook. It was full of class notes from Lily's first year. He recognized her writing, bubbly and neat, even as a child. She could have written this yesterday. As he continued to flip through the fragile pages he saw it contained, in fact, more doodles than notes.
He remembered sitting next to Lily in first year, and saw his own comic drawings next to hers. Memories flooded over him, drowning him, and he found himself sitting next to her again, sliding the notebook back and forth when the professors weren't looking to add more pictures. He exhaled in surprise despite himself. There was that rather bad caricature of Dumbledore he had nearly forgotten about. Snape had drawn Dumbledore's face, locked in a silly grin. He could not remember if it was his lame drawing skills, or perhaps a fowl mood that had caused him to draw Dumbledore so ill. Lily had drawn in a bouquet of flowers for him to hold. Snape had plopped a newt on his head. They had both taken joy in drawing pieces of candy all around him. Snape smirked at the co-illustrated Dumbledore despite himself.
But here...He had turned another crackling page...Snape's heart stopped.
It was crudely done, but young Snape had drawn a picture of Lily, looking as beautiful as he could make it. He slid it over to her. She smiled, took her quill in hand, and drew Snape next to her, joining their hands. She slid it back over to Snape for his approval. He cautiously drew a lopsided heart above their likenesses and slid it back nervously. Lily's eyes beamed with laughter –the thought of Snape having stooped to drawing something so girly as a heart was hilarious. She added in her pretty child's scrawl the bold caption: BEST FRIENDS FOREVER.
Snape closed the notebook, stuffing it and its quill companion into the box.He refused to let the ink be smudged with his tears. He squeezed his eyes shut, and pressed them hard with the palms of his hands, as if it could stopper the flood of his emotions. His lip curled, a cry of grief struggling to escape his lock-jawed mouth. He remembered now why he had not let himself look at Lily's effects since the day Petunia had sent them to him.
He lifted the Gryffindor sweater to his face. It still bore the stains of his tears from fourteen years ago. It still smelled like wildflowers. Its red and gold wool still felt like a lost life.
"Did you get it?" Hermione asked as Harry and Ron skidded to a stop in front of her.
"No, just a helping of lacewing flies," said Harry. "I don't think Snape has mermaid hair or scales. We need a new strategy for this challenge."
"Yeah, one that you'll REMEMBER," said Ron, folding his arms.
"I'm sorry I didn't register your hooting! Just for the record you sounded more like a barn owl than a brown owl. But listen...I was distracted because I found a box in Snape's stores and…" Harry tried to explain.
"And you barely made it out! That could have been fifty points from Gryffindor House, mate! Or worse!" Ron interjected.
"But it wasn't," said Hermione, standing, and pouring the bubbling contents of her cauldron down the drain. "Now, come on, back to the library you two! We only have so much time to figure something out before the next challenge!"
The boys followed her grudgingly. Harry looked down at his Marauders Map and noticed Severus Snape, still stationary in the store room before tapping it with his wand.
Snape reverently folded the sweater and slid it back into the box. He closed the cardboard flaps and slid the box back into the shadows of his stores.
No doubt Potter had been in here searching for something to help him in the next Triwizard challenge, thought Snape. He rubbed his knees, stiff from kneeling so long. In his mind's eye he saw Lily. She tilted her head and smiled.
"For you, Lily," he murmured. "Just for you."
He reluctantly climbed the ladder to the topmost shelf of his stores and sifted through his collection. It would have taken anyone else hours to find the gillyweed, but Snape knew his potions store like the back of his hand. He brought the gillyweed down and placed it quite obviously at eye level in front of all the other potion ingredients. Not even Potter could fail to miss it the next time he crept in.
Of course, it was Dobby the house-elf who profited most from this action, for it was he who crept in next; but Snape was not to know that. He just knew that Harry Potter had survived another Triwizard challenge and that he had had a small hand in the matter. So, naturally, he pretended to be upset about the missing gillyweed.
He thought of the storeroom and the striped cardboard box as a dripping Harry Potter, towel round his shoulders, shivered by.
Lily would have been proud of Harry today. Snape hoped Lily would have been proud of him, too.