BOOK ONE - Harry
ONE: Trouble Brewing
"Now," Professor Snape intoned, "drop the essence of Lindera into the mixture. Three drops! No more, thank you Mr. Weasley, and no less, Mr. Longbottom. Now."
When the students were following his words carefully, Severus Snape reflected, he could almost forget how he loathed each and every one of them. Almost. As it was, he was edging away from his usual disdain and wavering slightly into indifference. He watched somewhat smugly as each child counted under his or her breath, partners trusting their more steady-handed counterparts to accomplish this, the most difficult phase of the brewing.
Hermione Granger, ever the teacher herself, had Neville Longbottom counting aloud with her under his breath: one, two… three! They exchanged triumphant smiles as their potion bled from a vibrant green to a sludgy, unattractive blue. Veritaserum was never pretty until the very last stage of its brewing, when it began to look precisely like water.
Draco Malfoy and Harry Potter were actually fighting over the tisane, yanking it back and forth. Snape was about to step forward to halt the altercation when he heard the blond hiss something quietly that froze Potter, allowing the Slytherin to yank the bottle away. Draco added the three drops and Severus relaxed.
Potter, blinking rapidly, then growled something in return that made the Slytherin's hand spasm. At least ten new drops fell into the brew in addition to the first three.
So much for an incident-free hour. Snape glided up to the ill-matched pair and sneered at them, curling his lip at their botched potion. "What," he began venemously, "do we have here?" He peered into the cauldron, where the sludge was turning hard and viscous. "Another mistake, Mister Potter?" He pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger in an exasperation that was not entirely feigned. "Some things, it would seem, are as perennial as the grass."
As for Harry, he had not even seen Draco accidentally squeeze the extra spicebush extract into their shared potion. "I don't see what's wrong with it," he muttered rebelliously.
"That," he hissed, "is only because you are an ignorant whelp with no sense of potions, potion-making, or, perhaps, the simple mechanics of water plus heat equaling steam, Mister Potter."
"You just hate me!" Potter shouted angrily.
"Yes," Snape drawled patiently, as though waiting for the rest of Harry's statement.
"…so you're yelling at me about our potion when it's perfectly fine!" he finished.
"Yes." Professor Snape's tone of voice had gone from affable to ice-cold in a matter of moments. "That's right, Mister Potter. The whole world revolves around you. Any time I berate you, it is solely because your whine is insufferable and because your stupid heroics yank on my nerves like an extended session of Cruciatus. It could never be because you have quite obviously done something wrong." He pointed out the cauldron, which was smoking and had begun to shake.
"That's right!" Harry continued to shout, ignoring Snape's sarcasm. "I can't have done something wrong – I never do! It's always you – you and your vendetta against my father –"
"Mister Potter," Snape cut in, voice low and infinitely more dangerous. "I highly suggest you cease your ranting this instant, if you value your Saturday nights."
"As if you'd have any issue with spending your Saturdays in detention!" Harry shouted. "But if you're that desperate for company, I guess I'll have to join you."
Even Draco Malfoy was aghast. Most of the rest of the Potions class was, come to that, staring with the sort of horrified attention one gives to the scene of a grisly accident.
Snape finally and predictably lost his temper. If anything, there was a consensus of genuine surprise that he had not done so earlier. "You addlepated fool," Snape spat angrily. "Some day very soon your antics will bring forth your sorry and ignoble death. I am not quite certain what it is about you that makes you feel so very invincible, but I assure you that you are quite human and far smaller than you seem to believe. You had best learn how to keep your mouth shut and your head down!" The Professor's face was white, with hectic spots of colour on each cheek, and his breathing was labored when he finished.
As though he had not dug himself a fine grave already, Harry went on. "At least my mouth," he said coldly, deliberately, "is not so big as your –"
The cauldron exploded.
At least, that was the way it seemed to the students in Potions; perhaps, however, 'erupted' would be a better description, as the contents of the cauldron climbed eagerly to the ceiling as though from the mouth of a geyser before crashing down all over Harry, Draco, and Professor Snape.
Draco coughed the potion out of what had been his gaping jaw and gawked, looking horror-struck; he had obviously swallowed some.
Harry gulped. He knew that this was his fault, although he did not want to say so. Draco of all people looking so terrified at what had happened did not sit well in his gut.
Snape, still dripping, growled at Harry, fury no longer quite encompassing his stance. "You listen to me, you ungrateful little wretch!" he shouted. "You have absolutely no idea how lucky you were to have anyone in your entire existence care for you so much as your mother did! Can't you understand that by mucking about in this highly dangerous class and sneaking out after curfew and mouthing off to the wrong people that you are essentially thankless for the priceless gift that she handed you without so much as a second thought? Your parents died for you, and unless you shape up, they will not be the last."
The righteous anger drained from Harry like a lanced wound throughout Snape's speech, until he had never felt so low in his life. "I'm sorry," Harry said, looking at his professor with anguish in his eyes. "You have to believe I never thought of it like that…"
Professor Snape looked only slightly mollified beneath the layers of grey-blue sludge. "All right then," he continued, his voice more weary now than angry. "Let's get to the Hospital Wing so that we can be fretted over. Class dismissed."
The entire class cleared out of the room in record time, save Hermione and Neville, who gave more care to placing their near-complete Potion in stasis before beating a hasty retreat.
Draco growled at Harry out of the corner of his mouth as they trailed behind Snape's dripping form. "This is horrible," Draco spat angrily.
"Yeah," Harry said, shaking potion out of his right sleeve. "Sorry."
Draco stared at him. "What?"
Harry blinked. "Said I'm sorry. You've never heard me say that before?"
Draco gaped. "What?" He frowned. "There's something wrong with my hearing."
Harry shook his head angrily. "I said that I was sorry, all right? Look, this isn't my bloody fault completely. Something went wrong with that potion, and I'm pretty sure I got most of it right, okay?"
Malfoy's grey eyes were wide and haunted. "Okkaaaay, crazy person," he muttered.
"What the hell?" Harry muttered in return.
Luckily for both boys, they had finally reached the Hospital Wing. Madam Pomfrey looked up and smiled cheerfully at their entrance.
"Why, hello!" she exclaimed. "If it isn't the three people most likely to be injured in all of Hogwarts! Why, Harry; it's been nearly a day since I've seen you. Have you fallen off of your broom?" She paused. "Wait, perhaps I ought to hazard a guess: you were playing Quidditch when you and Mister Malfoy collided in mid-air. Severus felt he ought to punish you severely, and also wanted to see the both of you in pain. How close am I?"
The trio gaped at her.
"Madam Pomfrey, that's not fair!" Harry began.
"Madam, I hardly think –" Snape began.
"It was a Potions accident!" Draco yelled.
They all quieted.
"I never asked for a shouting match," the mediwitch muttered irritably.
Harry wondered if she'd woken up on the wrong side of the bed that morning. "Madam Pomfrey, we made a little bit of a mistake in Potions today, my fault, mostly, and we were wondering if you could have a look at us." Harry attempted to keep his tone as even as possible.
Draco snorted and rolled his eyes. "Smooth, Potter."
"If you want help, you need to learn how to be polite," Snape said, which was rich coming from him.
"I was polite!" Harry exclaimed. "All I said was that we had a mistake in Potions and we wanted her help!"
Draco eyed him curiously. "Is that what they term polite in the Muggle world?"
Madam Pomfrey then broke in, looking slightly confused. "Why don't the three of you go into the emergency showers and rinse that gunk off of you. You should keep your clothes on; I'll have some Hospital gowns ready when you come out. Though, I don't know why I bother; you'll only all be in another scrape tomorrow."
"Thank you," Harry said with straining patience.
Draco elbowed him. "Merlin, Potter! Do you want to be seen by Madam Pomfrey or not?"
Harry was beginning to feel more than a bit angry. "Damn it, Malfoy!" he exclaimed as they jostled on their way to the emergency shower. "What's your problem?" The both of them could fit, but Snape had to resign himself to waiting.
"Likewise," Draco spat.
The two boys crowded into the shower and Harry yanked the cord that would wash the potion away. When Snape went over his safety guidelines in class, Harry had been surprised that the greatest solvent was the same in the Muggle and Wizarding worlds. Being soaked to the skin to get rid of the potion seemed very – unWizardly and inelegant; he felt he must look like a drowned rat. As the water ran over them, Draco sputtered.
"What in regards to what? You're so bloody confusing."
"I don't understand you." Harry was nearly shouting by now. "All I said was that… you know what? Never bloody mind!" He stepped out of the way to allow Snape room to enter.
Draco followed him, and together they stood dripping on the flagstones of the Hospital Wing. Madam Pomfrey handed them warm-looking robes rather than the usual tie-in-the-back gowns, and Harry was beyond grateful. "Thank you so much."
"There, that's better Potter," Snape said from behind him. "That didn't hurt now, did it? You stupid brat."
Harry gaped, but Madam Pomfrey didn't seem to have heard the insult, or at least she was studiously ignoring it. He slipped behind one of the screens, shrugging out of his robes, which were now heavy and quite cold, and managed to wrap the warm robe around his thin frame. Tying it tightly at the waist, he emerged to find Malfoy and Professor Snape in similar attire in more Slytherin green for Snape and silver for Draco, which Harry found very thoughtful.
"I like this robe," he said, almost to himself, but Draco heard him.
"I like the fact that it reflects our Houses, too," he said, the sneer pasted across his features making it appear as though he were making fun of Harry; but that was an awfully strange thing to tease someone about.
"Are you feeling all right?" Harry wanted to know.
"I'm confused," Harry said slowly.
"Me too," Draco agreed. "But this is as much my fault as it is yours."
Harry turned to stare.
"What?" Draco demanded, not looking as though he felt he had admitted anything untoward. "I put in over four times the Lindera I was supposed to, because you startled me."
Harry pondered over this for a minute. "I'm scared of you right now," he said.
"As scared as I am of you? Impossible."
Madam Pomfrey managed to get the three of them situated into different beds without speaking, for which Harry was suddenly grateful. Harry was not an avid Potions student, but he was no fool. He could tell that something had gone horribly wrong with the way that he, Draco and Snape communicated, and he would rather the mediwitch didn't open her mouth.
Finally, after she had tucked them all in and advised them to try to nap – 'not as though you'll listen' – she moved to her small office and left them alone.
Harry turned to face Draco, who was lying on his back and glaring at the ceiling. "What do you think has happened?" he wanted to know.
"Curiosity killed the cat, Potter," Draco replied. However, he turned to face Harry, curling in on his side. "I can only hope it's fixed up by the Slytherin-Gryffindor Quidditch match on Thursday."
"Yeah, what?" Draco inquired, frowning. "What are you agreeing to? This is horrible."
"You said something about Quidditch," Harry explained.
Draco sat up, fear twisting his features. "No – no I didn't –"
"Will the two of you be bloody well quiet?" Snape demanded. "I'm running on nearly three whole hours of sleep right now, and if you don't shut your ridiculous and hormonal gobs, I'll do what the Headmaster has only threatened to: lock you together in a room until you've either had sex or committed murder." Glaring at their shocked expressions, he muttered, "personally I'll be hoping for mutually assured destruction."
Harry shut his eyes tightly. "He didn't really say that, he didn't really say that –"
Malfoy shook him on the shoulder. "I know it's absolutely appalling," he said slowly, "but if it was about sex and the Headmaster – oh, Merlin! Those two words should never, ever be in the same sentence ever again – then I heard it, too."
"I'll swallow the key," Snape continued idly. "Your father will only find you years later, when you and Potter have had lots of little messy-haired, grey-eyed children."
Draco buried his head into the pillow behind him and let out a terrified scream at the very thought. He seemed to be chanting to the pillow: don't! don't! don't!
"But if he isn't really saying that," Harry said, swallowing thickly, "what do you suppose he is saying?"
They turned unwillingly and simultaneously to Snape's prone form; the older man had his eyes closed. "And stop staring at me, or I'll feed you to Fluffy," he added.
"Okay," Harry said slowly, "he's not really saying that. So we're not hearing what he's actually saying. Are we hearing what he's thinking?"
Draco considered this. "No. His lips are moving, Potter, use that messy head of yours for something! He's saying something, we're just not hearing it properly."
"Instead we're hearing something else? That doesn't make any sense!"
"I'm frightened, too, Potter, but we have to think this through, because it's productive, and therefore calming."
"I didn't say anything about being scared," Harry said huffily, "I said that this is confusing and it doesn't make any sense!"
"I heard you the bloody first time. And didn't you hear me say that I need to keep thinking this through? It's the only reason I'm not hexing you within an inch of your life or casting Obliviate on myself so that I can pretend I didn't hear that comment of Snape's!"
"All right, all right," Harry said, realizing that communication breakdown had somehow occurred again; and they'd been doing so well, too. "We'll keep talking if it keeps you calm."
"What? I never said…" Draco rubbed a hand tiredly across his features.
Harry shook his head. "Could it be that he thinks he's saying something else, but he's really saying what we hear?"
Madam Pomfrey returned from her office. "Gentlemen?" she inquired. Once she had gained everyone's attention, she smiled and held up a placard. It read can you read this? If you can, hold up one finger. If you cannot, hold up two.
Harry's eyebrows raised in tandem with both of the others; Madam Pomfrey was cleverer than he'd thought and, he realized, somewhat funny. He lifted his pointer finger.
Draco lifted a different finger entirely; obviously, Madam Pomfrey's quip hadn't amused him.
Madam Pomfrey presented another placard. That's quite enough from you, Mister Malfoy, it said. Now, what exactly happened?
"But we told you!" Harry exclaimed. "The potion…"
"I warned you once about being rude," Snape snapped. "Twenty points from Gryffindor for this whole fiasco, Potter."
Madam Pomfrey moved the new placard to the back. Did any of you ingest the potion?
Draco raised his hand tentatively in the air. "By accident," he said ruefully.
Are you feeling sick to your stomach? Dizzy? Angry? Unfocussed? Sleepy?
Draco shook his head for all of these symptoms.
Do you have any symptoms?
Draco looked at his professor and shrugged. "Other than terror?" he said.
Is the confusion accompanied by any dizziness?
The Slytherin frowned at his professor and shook his head.
"That's not what you said," Harry pointed out. "You didn't say confusion –"
"I did so!"
Madam Pomfrey cleared her throat and pointed to a new placard. Harry just said, "That's not what you said", it read. Mister Malfoy denied the claim.
"Our hearing is perfectly sound," Professor Snape bit off. "Now, if you'll excuse me, the Headmaster will likely fire me if I don't arrive to teach his little urchins –" Professor Snape paused when he caught sight of Harry and Draco's slightly puzzled glances. Such a comment was rather – uncharacteristic of the irascible Potions Master.
Once Madam Pomfrey had regained their attention, new words formed on the placard. Draco, would you please come up here and write the name of the symptom you just told me?
Draco nodded cautiously, walking over to the placard. When he moved away to his cot, Harry saw the word confusion written in large, spidery handwriting.
Harry, Madam Pomfrey's words continued just below Draco's. Would you please come up to the front and write what you heard Mister Malfoy's symptom to be?
Harry did. Just below Madam Pomfrey's writing, he wrote TERROR in block letters.
Draco gaped. "I didn't say that!"
Professor Snape, did you also hear the word 'terror'? the nurse inquired.
Snape nodded slowly. Harry noted he looked very pale.
Harry, would you mind stating what I said to you when you first arrived?
Harry nodded. "You said that Draco and I probably were fighting on our brooms and that Snape actually enjoyed seeing us in pain and that was why he walked us here."
Draco walked over and handed Harry a piece of paper. It said, You were horrible, the meanest I've ever seen you be. The last thing I need right now is to be shouted at, I'm bewildered enough as it is. I'm even angry about what you said about Snape.
Harry took a deep, shuddering breath. "That isn't what you heard –"
Malfoy, pale, nodded. Then he passed the sheet to Madam Pomfrey, much to Harry's embarrassment.
She skimmed the letter and blinked in confusion. Could it be that the potion is translating what you're thinking?
Snape shook his head, along with Harry and Draco.
"Well, if you're so clever –" Madam Pomfrey began, then paused. I apologize. Why don't you think so?
Snape pursed his lips in thought. "I believe we are hearing something more specific – the truth in the statement is emphasized, while any untruths are downplayed or perhaps even eliminated completely. I think – I think that Mister Potter, Mister Malfoy and myself can no longer hear any lies."
The words translated on Madam Pomfrey's board just as Harry had heard them, which he thought was somewhat impressive. He supposed that Snape was very clever, and was therefore arranging to speak the most absolute truth he could manage, just so that Draco and Harry would understand him.
"We might," Draco said slowly – much more slowly than Snape had, Harry noted. "We might be hearing what the other person means instead of what they say."
When the words translated faithfully on the board, Harry was somewhat heartened. "This might not be so bad," he managed cheerfully.
Draco stared at him. "It can't be that horrible," he managed, and Harry slowly realized that Draco and Snape had heard the fear behind his statement. This was incredibly confusing. When Draco's gaze found the board, his grey eyes lit with realization and he shrugged at Harry.
"This will be – difficult," Snape said. "In other words, this is possibly the most challenging and demeaning potion I've ever seen. Veritaserum is tricky and it's entirely likely that there is no cure for the condition in which we have found ourselves. It's a shame I decided to pair Draco and Harry today of all days," he went on to Madam Pomfrey. "Their relationship and Potions ought not to mix."
Harry didn't need to look at the board to see that Snape had said nothing of the kind. "What should we do?" he wanted to know.
Madam Pomfrey opened her mouth to answer before rolling her eyes in exasperation at herself and turning once again to the written word. You three ought to stay here until we can figure out a way to at least filter actual speech through to you.
"You heard Professor Snape," Draco countered. "There isn't a cure for this, and we may well be stuck with it for good."
Professor Snape said no such thing! Madam Pomfrey's tablet exclaimed.
"But he meant it," Harry agreed. "We can't stay here indefinitely; and besides, I feel fine."
"Sometimes, in unpredictable moments," Professor Snape said slowly, "I fear for your life. This is one of those times."
Harry frowned, wondering how to respond to this. He tried to figure out what the professor must have actually said to him. "I… promise I'll be very careful?" he tried. He tried again, making sure the intent matched his words. "I promise I'll be very careful."
Draco snorted. "If you only heard how both of those emerged, Potter, you'd laugh yourself sick."
"Somehow I doubt it," Harry muttered, pinking. He suspected he'd rather made a fool of himself just now, although he couldn't be certain. Suddenly he really didn't want to be around Professor Snape or Draco Malfoy anymore; he didn't like anybody hearing what he actually meant rather than what he said.
He wondered what this said about him as a person. "I'm going to see Ron and Hermione," he said, attempting simplicity.
"Me, too," Draco said, rising and heading for the door.
Okay, generally I've got it, Harry thought, strongly doubting that Draco really meant to go have a chat with Harry's two best friends. Likely, Harry had meant that he wanted to get out of the Hospital Wing as quickly as possible, and Draco was more than willing to follow suit – or perhaps he'd actually said that he was headed off to Charms, where Ron and Hermione happened to be.
"I'm really sorry, Professor Snape," Harry said earnestly at the door, focussing on the shame he'd felt at his professor's last telling-off. Flushing, he slowly wondered what Snape had really been saying at the time. The colour drained from his cheeks as a new thought occurred to him. When Snape yelled at Harry for doing something dangerous, was he always thinking of Lily Potter and her sacrifice? Was that why Snape kept calling him spoiled and lazy and stupid? He could certainly see how Snape could think so with such a foundation to build from.
"So you say," the older man replied. "But give you five minutes and you'll fall into the sharpest object in the room. On a street full of ordinary wizards, you'd find the one Death Eater to ask for directions."
Harry shook his head, not knowing how to respond to this – mostly because he could not imagine this speech's original incarnation, but partly because he was startled that Snape's meaning was so far almost always separate from his actual words. Professor Snape, Harry now realized, literally never said exactly what he meant, while Harry and Draco sometimes did and sometimes did not. "I'll be very careful," he repeated slowly, hoping that got through. Then, he headed off to Charms, which was already underway.