Chapter 9 : The Mage in Training

Publish Date: 31 July 2005

Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter, its characters, or anything associated with it. I'm not making any money from this story, and I don't intend to. I'm writing it purely for the satisfaction of it, and because several people warned me that there would be dire consequences if I didn't finish it. The resemblance of any character to an actual person is completely accidental. Please don't sue -- I don't own enough to make it worth your while.

Note: This is a Harry / Severus slash story -- and while their relationship is also accompanied by plot, action, and drama, if you seriously object to the slash element -- or to the particular pairing -- then don't read the story!


THE MIRROR OF MAYBE: Chapter 9
-- The Mage-in-Training --

The weekend came and went, and for Harry the fourth week of term began with the strangely elusive impression that he was being watched.

It wasn't that Severus or the staff and students were watching him -- he already knew what that felt like, and their attention didn't have the faint edge of danger to it that this new sensation did.

Whoever or whatever it was, didn't like him, and in response Harry quietly reinforced the wards on his apartment. He also considered placing some around Severus' rooms, but at the moment the hidden presence only seemed to be watching him, and Harry reasoned that showing undue interest in the Potions Master might actually draw the watcher's attention to the other man. Far better that whatever it was should consider Sev just another teacher.

The sensation wavered at the edge of Harry's consciousness for three days. During that time, he used various meditation and breathing exercises to remain relaxed and alert. Becoming tense and jumpy would only tire him out and flood his body with fatigue poisons, which would slow down his reaction times. This kind of mental intimidation was all part of the game, and Harry was an adept player who would not be put off by an indistinct presence that might be nothing more than an elaborate bluff.

At one point, Harry wondered whether it could be Voldemort or one of his minions -- perhaps trying to study him with some kind of long distance spell. But they were unlikely to know any magic subtle enough to penetrate the school's defences without sounding an alarm. //And besides,// Harry thought, //my scar would have warned me by now if Voldemort was taking a personal interest.//

That didn't leave too many other people who might have cause to dislike him. 'Ash' simply hadn't been around long enough to make that many enemies.

On the second day, Harry reported the situation to Albus. The Headmaster had looked both thoughtful and concerned -- but without more to go on, there was very little he could do. They discussed the possible wisdom of Ash taking a leave of absence, but Albus argued that whatever it was might very well be watching other people too. Since Ash was a War mage -- and thus more sensitive to dangerous situations -- it might well be that he was simply the only one who was aware of the attention. If this was indeed the case, then it would be foolish for the Dark Arts professor -- who stood the best chance of dealing with any malevolent magic -- to leave the school alone with whatever it was.

Harry could see Albus' point, but he was still concerned for the safety of his students. If -- as he privately believed -- he was the only one being watched, then Harry didn't want any of the children getting caught up in whatever was going to happen.

However, it wasn't until Thursday morning that the unseen watcher finally decided to translate their dislike into action.

----oo00oo----

The day began with Harry's awareness that the presence was slightly stronger -- more there at the edge of his mind. He almost felt as though he might be able to see the mysterious watcher if he could just turn around fast enough.

Briefly, Harry toyed with the idea of cancelling his classes for the day. If the watcher was finally going to make a move, then it would be best if Harry was not surrounded by his vulnerable students.

But ultimately, he had no way of knowing whether anything was going to happen -- and if he cancelled his classes every time he sensed the presence, then there wouldn't have been a single Dark Arts class so far this week!

Cautiously, Harry decided to carry on.

That morning he was teaching a class of first-year Hufflepuffs about gargoyles. It seemed that a great many students were under the impression that the stone creatures on the castle heights were simply statues of evil monsters that someone with very bad taste had used for decoration.

Harry had therefore taken his class up to the highest battlements and explained to them that gargoyles were, in fact, beneficial protectors whose ugly appearance was intended to frighten off evil spirits. He'd then explained that each gargoyle was set into the stone at selected vantage points so that they could watch out over the surrounding land and sky for approaching danger. The large number of gargoyles scattered around Hogwarts actually formed part of the school's defensive network of spells and enchantments.

The reason Harry was conducting this class so high up on the castle walls, was because it was one of the few places in the school where you could not only see several of the gargoyles at once, but could also stand right next to one that was sitting on the outer wall, overlooking the lake.

While the Hufflepuffs stood shivering in the cold wind, Harry pointed out some of the gargoyles that were visible from their current location. Then he used 'Brevis Vivificus' to actually bring the one next to them to life.

Harry gave his students plenty of warning, but a few of them still screamed when the ugly grey creature suddenly stretched its wings and leapt off the wall. The class huddled together as it soared into the sky and then circled back to land on the walkway behind their teacher. Harry calmly waited while it crawled up to him, and then butted against his legs like a huge, misshapen dog. The Hufflepuffs were astonished to see their teacher lean down and scratch the scaly monster behind one ear. It made the most hideous noises, which were accompanied by a ferocious-looking grimace full of sharp teeth.

"Don't be afraid," Harry told them, "that's the noise they make when they're happy. They all love to be petted and scratched while they're animate." Harry petted it for a while longer, before adding, "They aren't actually alive, of course -- they're really just stone imbued with magic. Also, you should note that it's the magic of Hogwarts that they rely on, since they're really part of the castle itself. That means that if the school was ever attacked, each gargoyle would become temporarily animate and would rise up to defend us."

"But Professor," one Hufflepuff girl asked, "wasn't it your spell that brought it to life?"

"No," Harry replied. "Remember -- they're not really alive at all -- my spell only makes it seem alive, and even then, it won't last long. What I've actually done is to give it a small 'boost' of magic to bring it into its active state. Once the excess magic is used up, it will return to its dormant position on the castle wall." Then Harry smiled at them and asked, "Would anyone like to pet it before that happens?"

Eventually, Harry managed to coax all of his students into touching and petting the animate gargoyle -- something that caused the gargoyle itself a great deal of pleasure.

Once his students got used to the fact that the noises it made were expressions of happiness, some of them even enjoyed playing with it. Harry was vastly amused when a few of the girls used baby-talk on it -- cooing things like 'Who's a big sweety, then?', and 'Aren't you just adorable?' Several of the boys made gagging noises at this, and pointed out that it was a shame being a girl made your brains dribble out your ears. Gargoyles, the boys loudly announced, were strong and tough, and were obviously designed to be fighters and defenders. They were not sweet or adorable!

Harry stepped in and broke up the argument when the gargoyle began to look unhappy.

"The gargoyles around Hogwarts," Harry pointed out, "are designed to defend the castle itself. However, while you are students at the school, you are -- in some ways -- also part of the castle. This is because Hogwarts was constructed by its founders as a teaching institution, and thus, you -- as its students -- are part of the reason it exists. That means that the gargoyles will also defend each of you. However, please bear in mind that it takes a threat to the entire castle to activate them." Then Harry chuckled. "If another student tries to hex you during dinner, don't expect one to come rushing to your aid."

Then the gargoyle -- which was still crouched in the middle of the students -- suddenly shook off its admirers and crawled over to the battlement wall. It quickly clawed its way up the stone and resumed its original position looking out over the lake. A second later, its skin hardened, and there was only a cold stone sculpture sitting on the wall.

Several students -- both boys and girls -- made disappointed noises.

For a class that had initially been terrified of the ugly creature, this was a complete turn-around.

Harry led the Hufflepuffs back inside, where they eventually came out at the top of the large central stairwell. Once they were out of the wind, Harry motioned for them to gather closely around. "Now," he said, "raise your hand if you like gargoyles." Every hand in the class shot up. "All right," Harry smiled, "now raise your hand if you thought they were horrible scary monsters when you first saw one." A couple of half-hearted hands were almost raised. The students shuffled in embarrassment. "Come on," Harry coaxed, "be honest about it -- who thought they were monsters?" Eventually every hand was raised, although most of them were not raised very far. Harry nodded. "That's what I thought," he said, "and now that you know they're not so bad, who can tell me what we've learned about gargoyles that can be applied to every scary-looking thing you come across?"

There was some confusion, but a few students raised their hands.

"Yes, Mr Evans -- what do you think?" Harry asked one lad towards the back.

"Please Professor," he said, "I think we learned that just because it's ugly, doesn't mean it's something bad."

"Ten points to Hufflepuff." Harry smiled. "Well done, Toby." The boy blushed with pleasure.

Harry was secretly very pleased. In future lessons, he would try to demonstrate the opposite as well -- that just because something was beautiful didn't make it good or trustworthy. But the final lesson -- that everything could be seen as beautiful or ugly depending on your point of view, would have to wait until they were older. As eleven-year-olds, these children were unlikely to comprehend all the nuances behind the simple saying 'Beauty is in the eye of the beholder'. For them, the world was still defined by the concepts of good and evil, love and hate, or pretty and ugly. Things could be one or the other, or somewhere in between, but not both extremes at the same time.

//Still,// Harry thought, //given their age and cultural upbringing, they've done very well.//

And then the curse hit him from behind.

----oo00oo----

Harry was kicked forwards toward his students as the defensive spells in his battle robes absorbed the curse and dissipated the magic across his back. His first thought was to protect the children, and he immediately yelled "Run!" When some of them paused in shock or fright, he quickly used his wand to erect a barrier that moved steadily away from him -- herding the Hufflepuff first-years towards the nearest door, and back out onto the battlements. From there they would be able to find another way down through one of the other towers, or even down the exterior stairs.

Then -- flat on the floor -- Harry scrambled off to one side, eyes searching for his assailant.

For a moment there was nothing -- then a second curse erupted from the other side of the stairwell. This time Harry got a good look at the nasty bit of magic and recognised it as an elven spell designed to cause pain and temporary paralysis.

//Not fatal,// was the first thing that sprang to Harry's mind. //Elven?!// was the second.

He rolled to one side as the curse hit the wall beside him.

Elves didn't wear robes -- they wore cloaks, and an elven cloak had the ability to blend in with the surrounding environment, much like a chameleon. There were a couple of spells that would cause such a cloak to fail, but if -- as Harry now suspected -- it was a battle cloak, then most of them would be ineffective. So instead, Harry waited until his concealed opponent fired another curse, and then immediately retaliated with a jet of bright red dye sprayed at waist height across the opposite wall.

For a moment, nothing was visible. Then came a muffled curse -- in the elven tongue -- and a block of dye detached itself from the wall. The red-stained cloak was thrown back to reveal the elegant features of a young mage-in-training.

"Ell'evisor?!" Harry gaped.

The elf -- who hadn't taken his eyes off his opponent -- looked momentarily surprised that Harry knew his name, but refused to reply. Instead, he gestured with his hands and shot off another hex.

Harry dodged it easily. //What the hell is going on?// he wondered. In the Mirror, Ell'evisor had been a student War Mage when Harry had been accepted for training. The elf had been resentful and arrogant -- deeply offended that a mere human -- not even twenty years old -- had been accepted for training, while he had been forced to wait until he was over seventy! No matter how often their teachers explained to him that Harry was actually older than he was in terms of a human lifespan, Ell'evisor had refused to hear them.

For his part, Harry had assumed the elf was just another Draco Malfoy, and responded in kind.

Eventually, the War Mages had become exasperated with both of them and began forcing them to rely on each other as partners. Under the combined wisdom and heartless determination of their elders, the two young men were finally forced to get along. After a few years together, Harry and Ell'evisor even managed to become friends -- and when the young elf finally understood that Harry would probably be dead of old age several centuries before Ell'evisor himself -- Harry's one-time adversary finally began to understand how a human could be both younger and older than him, all at the same time.

The knowledge that he would lose his human friend all too soon, even meant that Ell'evisor had not begrudged Harry the joy of graduating as a full War Mage several years before the elf finally managed to do so himself.

But here and now, Ell'evisor was still dressed as a mage-in-training -- and his disgust with humans was all too evident.

//Why in the Green Lord's Name would the circle send this child here?!// Harry thought -- and then realised he had slipped into elven thought patterns -- unintentionally invoking the name of the forest deity most elves honoured.

In the elven tongue, Harry called out, "~Ell'evisor! Why are you attacking a fellow mage of the circle?~"

Also in elven, the other exclaimed, "~Upstart human!~" and then he yelled angrily, "~There are none of your kind within the circle! You dare to impersonate one of us, and you expect no punishment for it?!~"

"~Ell'evisor, listen to me!~" Harry yelled back, as he dodged another curse, "~I am a member of the circle --"

"~Liar!~" and this time the spell he aimed at Harry was a force blast that sent a shower of stone chips into the air. "~You besmirch our name -- using it for your own ends to gain respect you do not deserve!~"

//Wonderful,// Harry groaned to himself, //He's managed to make this all about names.// War Mages were very conscious of the correct use of their names -- but Ell'evisor was obviously not thinking at all, if he was applying that to this situation.

"Ash?" Minerva McGonagall's voice called up the stairwell. "Professor Ash! Can you hear me? What's going on up there?"

Harry detected a number of curious student voices on the stairs below, as well as Argus Filch's deeper tones commanding them to move on. "Get off the stairs you lot!" he was yelling, "What good d'you think yer goin' t' be if the Dark Arts Professor can't handle it?! Go on -- get off to yer classes!"

//Shit,// Harry thought as his mind fell back into entirely human concepts. //Even as a mage-in-training Ell'evisor could do a lot of damage -- and class has just finished: the stairs will be full of students right now!// To an elf, the structured environment and uniforms of the school would resemble an adult teaching institution, rather than one of the elven crèche-schools for children and sub-adults. It was entirely possible that Ell'evisor -- being so completely ignorant of human society -- didn't even know that he was fighting a battle in the middle of a school full of children.

//He won't listen to me,// Harry thought grimly, //so I've got to get him out of the building and somewhere I can force him to listen.//

Swiftly, Harry reached out to his one true home -- the castle itself -- and asked a favour. Below him, there were sudden cries of alarm as staircases began to move. Hoping like hell that he wasn't about to do something terminally stupid, Harry suddenly stood up and dove head-first over the railing.

Ell'evisor's startled oath sounded behind him.

Harry needed to stay ahead of the other mage if he was going to lead the elf out of the castle, and Ell'evisor's shock at seeing him jump allowed Harry to gain several precious seconds. Even Ell'evisor knew that -- of all the sentient races -- flying was a gift restricted to the elves and the Kyrii -- a shy, feathered people living high in the mountains.

To Ell'evisor, it had momentarily looked like Harry just tried to commit suicide.

"Accio Skyfire," Harry said calmly, as he began to plummet downwards. Yelling would not help him at this point, and he was just glad the castle had responded to his plea, and was moving all the stairs up against the walls. The entire central tower now resembled a giant atrium of clear air -- which was a good thing, since it was unlikely Harry would have survived a sudden meeting with one of the shifting staircases.

He passed Minerva's startled face, and heard her shocked cry. It quickly mingled with other voices and the occasional scream as he fell past the higher levels. Still diving head-first, Harry cast an anti-levitation charm on himself, in case some quick-thinking student or teacher had wits enough to try 'rescuing' him. Ell'evisor was still too close for comfort, and Harry could not afford to be slowed down.

As an afterthought, Harry cast the spell that would monitor attacks from behind. He knew he was going to be attacked from behind, but it was always good to have a moment's warning and a direction for the incoming attack.

Harry was aware that the elf would be following as quickly as he could, but without the energy of a living forest to draw power from, Ell'evisor would be slowly falling behind. Growing up amongst the massive trees of the Elvenholme had not taught the elf how to concentrate his magic while surrounded by unfriendly stone -- and simple freefall, which Harry was presently utilising, went against every instinct Ell'evisor had. A fully trained War Mage would have suppressed those instincts, but Ell'evisor was far from fully trained -- otherwise this entire situation would never have arisen.

A shock blast sped past him as Harry performed a tumbling roll that altered his shape as a target, and caused him to dodge sideways in the air. He prayed the blast would not hit anyone, and soundly cursed Ell'evisor for his stupidity.

Harry was just beginning to feel a bit nervous about how quickly the ground floor was coming up, when his broom soared out of a passing doorway and executed a tight aerial roll -- swiftly angling down to chase after him. Its appearance was another surprise for Ell'evisor, and Harry was glad the elf was too ignorant to realise that he should have grabbed the broom while he had the chance. Harry's Skyfire quickly drew parallel with him, and he gratefully reached out and pulled it in. Harry wrapped himself around it, and once he was sure of his grip, poured on a burst of speed.

Moments later, Harry pulled up in a sharp curve and sped out into the entrance hall, heading for the main doors. He skimmed high over the heads of several people, and suddenly burst out into the open sky.

He knew he could not afford to head towards the Quidditch pitch -- there might well be a flying class, or some other lesson being held there -- so instead Harry headed for the lake. A battle fought above the large expanse of open water would not damage any property, and if he or Ell'evisor fell, then they would be far more likely to survive slamming into the water than into the ground.

...assuming, of course, that none of the creatures in the lake could reach up and pull them down out of the sky.

//Well, hell,// Harry thought, //what would live in the lake?// He wasn't certain -- it had been a long time since the Triwizard Tournament in fourth year -- which was the only time he'd ever seen any of the creatures that lived in the cold depths. Harry made a mental note to keep half an eye on the water below him at all times. The first years crossed it at the start of their schooling, but the boats they rode in might well be enchanted to repel monsters.

Once he was far enough out over the water, Harry abruptly pulled up and spun around. The next blast Ell'evisor fired at him hit a magical shield that the War Mage had temporarily erected.

Then Harry retaliated.

He didn't actually want to hurt the young mage-in-training, but Harry was damned if he was going to put up with this kind of bone-headed stupidity from a mere student!

Talk about disgracing the circle!

At first, Harry simply flew rings around the elf -- dodging and weaving while Ell'evisor squandered his strength in useless fireballs, shock spells, and assorted curses -- all of which harmlessly expended themselves in empty air. Then Harry started firing back -- but only annoying things like laughing fits, itching hexes, and dizzy spells. Yet Ell'evisor -- not realising they were mostly harmless -- continued to erect spot-shields that would have protected him from much stronger curses. So now the elf was not only wasting energy on attacking, he was also wasting it while splitting his attention between offence and defence.

Ell'evisor -- red-faced with fury -- was obviously outclassed and outmatched. But, having started the fight, he didn't know how to end it without being hexed, and his pride and anger would not let him retreat to a purely defensive position.

Harry decided to teach his one-time enemy-turned-friend a lesson that he would not soon forget. He let off a series of minor hexes simultaneously, and while Ell'evisor's attention was focused on erecting multiple shields, Harry reached down and enlarged one of his boots so that he could slip it off without fiddling with the fastenings. He pocketed the knife he habitually kept in the boot top, and returned his footwear to its normal size, just in time to duck as Ell'evisor threw another curse at him.

//My, my,// Harry thought, //his aim seems to get better the more pissed off he is.// Then -- still dodging -- Harry transfigured his boot heel into solid steel, and quickly enchanted the remaining leather. Then he hurled the boot at Ell'evisor.

The elf's eyes widened with surprise, and Harry could only grin with malicious enjoyment at the complete confusion on the young mage's face as he watched a boot come flying towards him!

The absolute insanity of being attacked with footwear made the elf incredibly suspicious of his opponent, and Ell'evisor raised the strongest shield he could in an attempt to ward off whatever spell Harry might have cast on the boot.

When it reached the shield, the boot bounced harmlessly off and spun away with incredible speed and energy.

Then, Harry let loose with his other boot.

Again Ell'evisor cautiously shielded himself -- unwilling to let down his guard just because the two objects looked the same.

Once again the boot ricocheted away.

Now the elf obviously thought he was being mocked -- which he was -- and his rage knew no bounds. He began gesturing wildly with his hands, creating spells and curses at an astonishing rate. In his anger, he fell back onto purely elven magic, and Harry either dodged or countered them easily.

"~Pond scum of stagnant water!~" the elf screamed. "~You shall -- " but he got no further as the first enchanted boot slammed into his back.

Ell'evisor had hardly recovered when the second one hit him upside the head.

Harry had turned both boots into Bludgers.

The spell for creating a Bludger could only be cast onto leather, and a real Bludger was only dangerous because it was made of hardened leather over a solid core. Harry's boots were much too soft to do any real damage -- that is, until he'd turned both heels into solid steel.

Each boot was now speeding around heel-first, and Harry had slightly altered the spell so that both of them were firmly fixated on Ell'evisor. The elf had been watching for spells coming from Harry's direction -- not enchanted objects that returned after they'd been defeated once. The young mage obviously hadn't cast the warning spell to watch his back in battle.

//Sloppy,// Harry thought. //I'll have to speak to his teaching guide about that.//

Then Harry entertained himself for a few moments, watching Ell'evisor's continuous shielding as he tried to deal with the concept of steel-heeled boots that kept coming back. Finally, the young mage got some common sense into his head, and fried both boots to a cinder.

Harry watched regretfully as the metal heels dropped uselessly into the lake.

//Oh, well,// he thought, //lucky I've got more boots back at the castle.// Then he engaged Ell'evisor in combat once more -- intent on finishing the lesson with a more personal touch.

Gradually, Harry made it look as though he was tiring more rapidly than Ell'evisor -- playing up to the elf's belief that a mere human couldn't match his opponent's stamina in a regular duel. But Harry also incorporated a certain amount of swooping and ducking -- pretending that he needed to run away from those spells that he couldn't counter.

Ell’evisor eventually got the idea, and took note of which spells Harry was avoiding. Then he cast a couple of them at the same time, making it impossible for Harry to duck all of them.

Harry made it look as though he'd been stunned, and fell backwards off his broom. He grabbed the handle as he fell, and pulled the Skyfire down with him.

At the time Ell'evisor cast his spells, Harry had been very deliberately passing directly over the elf's head. If Ell'evisor didn't move, Harry would fall on top of him. But of course, Ell'evisor did move, and as he'd been taught, the elf moved far enough out of the way so that Harry could not grab him on the way past.

But Ell'evisor forgot about the broom.

Just as Harry had used his broom on Madam Hooch to extend his reach during their one-on-one match, Harry once again used his broom to bridge the gap between himself and Ell'evisor.

As he fell past the elf, Harry righted himself and thrust the broom handle-first into Ell'evisor's stomach.

The elf didn't even cry out.

He simply grunted, doubled over, and dropped like a stone.

Harry got his broom back under him, and followed the elf down. He watched as the young mage-in-training tumbled into the water. //Ooo, I bet that hurt.// Harry winced as he watched the huge splash Ell'evisor made. Contrary to popular belief, water was not at all soft when you fell into it from a great height. //Still,// Harry grinned to himself, //his battle cloak will have protected him... mostly.//

Then Harry waved his wand and pulled the half-drowned and pathetic elf out of the water. "Lucky for you there don't seem to be monsters in this lake," he muttered. Then he levitated the pitiful young man back to the lake's edge, and unceremoniously dropped him on the ground.

There was a curious circle of onlookers from the school -- although the teachers in attendance were doing a fairly good job of getting most of them back to class -- and as Harry landed, the Headmaster calmly walked over and surveyed the groaning wretched elf.

"Is this our mysterious watcher?" Albus asked.

"Yes," Harry replied tersely.

"An elf, I see."

"Yes," Harry repeated.

"Mmm," the Headmaster observed mildly. "Do we know who he is?"

"His name is Ell'evisor," Harry replied in a disgusted tone. "He's in training to be a War Mage."

Albus blinked. "Then why on earth..." He frowned. "I know you said your 'circle' would be unhappy that you had revealed their existence to me, but surely they wouldn't send someone to attack you."

"No," Harry agreed, "and even if they did, it wouldn't be a mere student. I suspect he may have overstepped the boundaries of his mission by quite a bit." Then Harry turned a concerned look towards the Headmaster. "Was anyone hurt by his stupidity?"

"No, thankfully," Albus replied. "Nothing a few repair spells won't fix."

"Don't bother," Harry told him, "Ell'evisor here is going to be doing the repairs just as soon as I find out what the bloody hell is going on."

"Do let me know," Albus told him, and then the Headmaster turned and strolled away towards the castle. "I'll be in my office when you're ready!" he called over his shoulder. "Tea and biscuits all round!"

Harry smiled slightly as the Headmaster's apparent unconcern allowed the rest of the teachers and students to relax -- which was, of course, the reason he'd done it. As Harry cast a displeased eye back over his sodden captive, he could hear Albus in the background saying, "So, Minerva, how are your fourth-years doing? Any problems? No? Good, good and, oh -- would you mind sending Filch along to sit with Professor Ash's next class? He's going to be a bit late, I'm afraid..."

----oo00oo----

Harry stared down at Ell'evisor. The elf was still on the ground -- groaning and unsuccessfully trying to cough up his lungs.

Harry made an elven hand gesture and paralysed the young elf's arms. That would stop him from using any magic that required hand or arm motions -- which ruled out all purely elven magic, and quite a few non-elven varieties as well.

Then Harry pulled out his wand and cast one of the rough and ready healing spells he'd learned to use in the field. It was by no means a cure-all, but it did partially heal the worst of the elf's injuries. Ell'evisor stopped coughing after a few moments, and slowly managed to uncurl himself. His arms flopped uselessly at his sides as he tried to stand up, but he didn't make it, and had to settle for kneeling on the wet grass.

"~Well,~" Harry told him coldly, "~you're not much of a credit to your teachers, are you?~"

The elf stared at him stonily.

"~First off,~" Harry continued, "~you should have researched humans before you got here. Three days of observation is useless unless you know what you're looking for, and you have some background information to help you understand what you're actually seeing. That was your first mistake.~"

"~You're next mistake was in not realising that my robes absorbed and dissipated your first attack. Just like your battle cloak would have! Did you imagine that all humans go about dressed in battle robes?~"

The elf was now starting to look a bit confused.

"~And,~" Harry said, "~you definitely should have stopped to talk the instant I used your name! Just how many humans do you think would know that?~" Harry paused to let that sink in. "~And if that wasn't enough,~" he added scathingly, "~I then addressed you in elven -- your native language! How many humans speak elven, Ell'evisor?~"

Before the bewildered elf could reply, Harry continued to elaborate on the young mage's shortcomings: "~You also allowed your instincts to guide your descent down the tower -- if you'd been thinking instead of reacting, you would have gone to freefall as I did. You also didn't know human wizards use brooms to fly, and so you missed the opportunity to grab my broom before it reached me. You followed me out to my choice of battlefield. You allowed anger to cloud your judgement -- which was the first thing you should have learned not to do when you were admitted to the circle! You wasted effort on trying to hit a target that was too fast for you, and then on deflecting minor spells that were hardly worth your attention. Have you ever even heard of the technique I used on you? -- it's called 'wearing down your opponent'! Then you failed to cast the watch-your-back spell -- something we teach novices to remember, you dunce! That led to you being hit by a pair of enchanted boots -- although since I doubt you've ever seen anything like a Bludger, I'll forgive you for not realising they might keep coming back. But after that, I fooled you into believing that I was injured -- and you allowed me to get close enough to make a physical attack on you! Did you think a broom couldn't be used as a weapon? Haven't you done any training with staffs?!~"

Ell'evisor's mouth opened and closed a few times. He looked pathetic in his confusion, as he bluntly received the most scathingly acute criticism of his battle skills he'd ever heard. He hung his head in shame as he finally realised that the man standing before him could not possibly be anything other than a true War Mage.

The criticism -- delivered in flawless elven -- was so typical of Ell'evisor's teachers after a training session, that he was not the least bit surprised to hear the grudging praise that always followed a teacher's first words of censure.

"~Well,~" Harry finally allowed, "~at least you recognised the pattern of spells I was pretending to be defenceless against. You saw a weakness and tried to exploit it -- so I suppose you're not totally hopeless. ~"

Ell'evisor blushed with embarrassment. There wasn't much to be proud of if that was all the War Mage could find to praise.

Silence reigned for a few moments.

"~Ell'evisor,~" Harry said -- and the elf quailed at the grim expression on the human's face, "~there's one more thing you need to know about what you've done here today. It's something you should have known about humans -- and about this place -- before you got here.~" Then the War Mage paused, and he almost looked compassionate, "~This is going to hurt you far more than your physical wounds. Prepare yourself for a heart-shock.~"

Ell'evisor looked confused again, but automatically controlled his breathing and heart rate so as not to pass out or hyperventilate when he received the news. Heart-shock was the kind of thing that happened when you witnessed a loved one fall in battle. Whatever the news was, it was going to be bad...

"~Humans,~" the man in front of him said, "~do not mature the same way elves do. Our life spans are only one fifth of yours, and as a consequence, our minds mature much more rapidly -- and much earlier -- than an elf's. Unlike your people, we do not wait until our children's bodies stop growing before we begin serious training.~"

Ell'evisor's eyes widened. Surely the War Mage wasn't suggesting...

"~I'm sorry Ell'evisor, but the training in this place is not structured according to caste, sub-race, genetic variation, or any other strange theory you may have come up with. The people here are all of the same kind: members of my race who grow taller as they mature, and progress through our educational system. Ell'evisor, this place is the human equivalent of a crèche-school -- and you began a mage-fight surrounded by children.~"

"~No...~" the elf begged as his eyes filled with tears. "~It can't be...~"

Elves -- with their much longer lifespan -- paid the price for those extra decades in terms of the tiny number of children born each year. As a result, elven numbers were slow to increase, and children were considered a great blessing. No sane elf would ever harm a child -- even the children of other races.

Ell'evisor broke down as the shocking truth slammed into him. "~I'm sorry! I'm sorry!~" he wept, "~I didn't know...~"

Looking down at the shattered and remorseful elf, Harry released Ell'evisor from the paralysis on his arms. The young mage immediately wrapped those arms around himself, and rocked back and forth as he tried to deal with what he'd done.

Harry sighed. Seeing the pain of this younger version of his friend, he found it hard to maintain his anger. The idiot might really have killed someone, but at this end of history, Ell'evisor was hardly much older than Ron and Hermione -- even though he was probably approaching his ninth decade. Sighing again, Harry knelt down beside the sobbing elf and put his arm around Ell'evisor's shoulders.

"~You didn't hurt anyone,~" he reassured the mage-in-training. "~Nobody was injured, I promise you.~" He repeated the words until the elf finally got himself under control and once more apologised -- wiping tears from his cheek with the back of his hand. It was a curiously child-like action, which privately reminded Harry of a first-year Ravenclaw he'd found suffering from a bad bout of homesickness last week.

"~Come along, Ell'evisor,~" Harry eventually told the elf. "~You need something relaxing to drink, and I need to hear exactly why the circle sent you here.~"

//And I also need to find my other pair of boots,// Harry reflected as he led the elf back towards the castle. //These socks are going to be ruined...//

----oo00oo----

A few minutes later, they were seated in Harry's private rooms, and Harry had changed his socks, replaced his boots, and asked Dobby to let Albus know that all of his classes would have to be covered for him until he could sort out what was going on -- a process which might take several hours. While he was doing this, Harry left Ell'evisor to look around the living room, and the elf was obviously put much at ease by the sight of the little elven lights scattered around the place.

Harry served him hot chocolate with marshmallows, and watched as delighted surprise spread over the elf's face.

"~What is this?~" he asked, "~It's... very good.~"

"~Hot chocolate,~" Harry replied, "~and the floating sugar things are called marshmallows. The drink rather reminds me of your elven beverage 'corella', but I don't think you have anything resembling marshmallows.~"

"~No...~" Ell'evisor agreed, "~but I think we would if I were to show one to War Mage Silver.~"

Harry laughed. "~Yes,~" he agreed, "~she always did have a sweet tooth. I'll give you a packet of them for her, but if you want any for yourself, you'll have to get them out and hide them before she eats one.~"

"~You... you know War Mage Silver?~"

"~Oh, yes,~" Harry replied. "~Quite well, in fact, although she won't know me. You see, we haven't met in this timeline yet.~"

Ell'evisor's eyes widened. "~This timeline?!~"

And so Harry found himself once more explaining the Mirror of Maybe.

----oo00oo----

Harry didn't give Ell'evisor any of the specifics of their own convoluted friendship, or talk about particular events that had happened in Harry's version of history -- but after some time, and a lot of clarification, Ell'evisor thought he grasped the concept behind the Mirror well enough to be able to explain it to the other members of the circle.

Then it was the elf's turn to explain to War Mage Ash why he was at Hogwarts, and exactly how badly he'd screwed up his assignment.

It turned out that the circle had become aware of Ash's presence shortly after his public debut in the newspapers, but had done nothing until last week when they'd summoned Ell'evisor to the council chamber and told him to go and observe this so-called human 'War Mage'. His instructions after that had been to 'decide on an appropriate course of action' and report back to the council on what he'd done.

Ell'evisor had taken this to mean that he should discourage the human upstart from using the War Mage title for personal gain.

"~No,~" Harry told him. "~You misunderstood what they told you completely. From my experience with the council in the Mirror, I can tell you that they probably decided on a wait-and-see policy within hours of learning about my presence in the wizarding world. They only sent you out after I had my run-in with some of Voldemort's followers. That encounter identified me as a person who is actively opposing the Dark Lord, while at the same time claiming the title of 'War Mage'.~"

Then Harry grimaced, "~The council doesn't want War Mages to become involved with either side just yet. They still think the situation doesn't warrant their intervention.~"

"~Does it?~" Ell'evisor asked.

"~I think so,~" Harry stated, "~and as a full War Mage, the council doesn't have the right to order me to pull out.~" Then Harry pursed his lips thoughtfully, "~In fact,~" he added, "~as a member of the species most directly involved, by rights they should be taking my advice on this matter.~"

"~Did they not in the Mirror?~" Ell'evisor asked curiously.

"~By the time I graduated and my Acceptance was held,~" Harry explained, "~things had become so bad that the circle was already involved. But I always thought they should have moved earlier...~"

"~Perhaps this time, they will,~" the elf suggested.

"Mmm," Harry said noncommittally. "~But regardless of that, what they asked you to do was essentially a training exercise. They wanted you to gather information for them, and then decide what to do with that information -- nothing you haven't done before in your classes. You could have reported back to them without contacting me at all. Or else, you could have approached me, and simply asked me to stop using the title. Why in the Green Lord's Name did you decide to attack me?!~"

Ell'evisor squirmed a bit in his seat.

"~Ell'evisor," Harry warned him, "-- the truth now.~"

"~I...~" the elf began, "~I was angry... I mean... there you were -- claiming a Name that you had no right to, when... when I had to work so hard to get taken in for training.~"

"-- and had to wait so long?~" Harry asked quietly.

The elf looked surprised. He blushed with embarrassment. "~I thought... I thought it wasn't fair that you -- a human -- could claim a Name that I'm not entitled to yet. It... I was angry... it didn't seem fair. I didn't know about the Mirror.~"

"~The Mirror makes very little difference, Ell'evisor,~" Harry said. "~From an elf's perspective, all humans are very young. Including my time in the Mirror, I'm still only twenty-nine years old, yet I can honestly tell you that if I were an elf, I would be about one hundred and forty-five.~" Then he looked seriously at the young mage seated across from him. "~By the time you reach middle age, it's very possible that I will be dead of old age.~" Ell'evisor looked startled. "~and even then,~" Harry continued, "~you're still at least seven or eight decades older than me now.~"

Ell'evisor frowned. "~That's... that's really weird...~"

"~Just remember to multiply any human's age by five,~" Harry told him, "~And don't be too concerned with 'weird' -- you're a mage: you'll get used to it.~"

After that, Harry very carefully gave Ell'evisor instructions for not revealing his true name to anyone who wasn't part of the mage circle. "~Remember,~" Harry warned him, "~this is my private name we're talking about, and I'm going to be deeply offended by anyone who reveals it to someone outside the circle. If anyone asks where 'Harry Potter' is, the circle's answer is to be nothing more than 'safe', you understand? The only reason I'm even telling you my private name is that other humans do not yet understand about War Mage names, and they're going to be asking about me with my private name. I don't want them to be worried, hence the answer I want you to give. This does not give those in the circle the right to use that name. To all of you -- my name is Ash.~"

The younger mage inclined his head in solemn agreement. "~Your Name is, of course, your personal privilege, War Mage Ash.~"

For Harry, it was particularly reassuring that the mage circle's attitude towards names would hold his secret secure without argument or fuss. For an elf like Ell'evisor, it was probably the most understandable thing he'd been told so far today.

"~Just let the circle know that in future, if they wish to contact me, they only have to come and ask for me. I'm more than willing to talk -- although I would prefer not to travel too far from the school, since that would interrupt my students' lessons.~"

Then Harry took Ell'evisor back out into the central stairwell, and made him repair every bit of damage he'd done to the castle -- including the removal of the red dye at the top of the tower. This was part of his punishment for his earlier behaviour -- and the rest of it would be for his teachers back in the circle to decide, after he told them what he'd done.

The elf was only too happy to serve some kind of penance, since he was still feeling absolutely wretched about endangering children, and Harry used the opportunity to teach Ell'evisor a few basics with regard to concentrating his magic while surrounded by stone. This in turn, cemented Ash in Ell'evisor's mind as one of his teachers, and a proper authority figure.

When it finally came time for Ell'evisor to leave, it was mid-afternoon, and the mage-in-training promised to faithfully report everything he had learned as soon as he reached Elvenholme. Harry was just showing him out of the castle -- with a packet of marshmallows clutched in one hand -- when the elf once more apologised for his behaviour, and asked Harry to please pass on those heart-felt apologies to the school's leading course guide.

Harry assured him the Headmaster would understand, and then bid him farewell.

Just as Ell'evisor was leaving, some shred of honesty caused him to turn back and say, "~War Mage Ash? I... I should have told you -- there's... well, there's another reason I didn't just come and talk to you this morning.~" The elf paused, then looked at the ground in embarrassment. "~You see,~" he began, "~I, uh... I... that is... Ican'tspeakhuman and Ididn'tknowyouspokeelven.~"

Harry blinked. Once he sorted out the rapid-fire words, he almost laughed. With amusement, he replied, "~Then I would suggest you speak to Silver about learning one of our languages. Tell her I recommend English, and that it's part of your punishment so that you never do something like this again.~"

The mortified young elf nodded, and then hurried away.

----oo00oo----

After that, Harry went to face Albus, and explain why a student War Mage had attacked the Dark Arts teacher -- a full War Mage -- inside the castle. Naturally, Harry would have to find a way to do this without mentioning the Mirror, or telling Albus that Ell'evisor hadn't known Ash was a War Mage.

Basically, Harry was going to present Ell'evisor as an overzealous student who'd misunderstood his teachers, and thought his mission was supposed to be a training exercise against an unfamiliar, but superior opponent. That was close enough to the truth to hold up, since Albus didn't have any idea about how the circle trained its War Mages anyway. The 'real' message, had, of course, been that the young elf was to observe what Ash was up to and then 'decide on an appropriate course of action'. This would also stand up to Albus' scrutiny, because it had enough truth in it to sound real, but enough ambiguity to let Albus assume that the circle simply wanted to know what their missing mage was doing at Hogwarts.

And so, Harry drank tea, ate Albus' biscuits, and skilfully mixed truth and lies into a thoroughly believable whole. Whether Albus bought it or not was anybody's guess, but he wasn't asking any hard-to-answer questions, so Harry didn't care.

The school's Dark Arts teacher didn't make it back to his regular schedule until just before the last class of the day -- and even then, all Harry's students wanted to talk about, was what had happened that morning, how awesome he'd been, and what had he done to get all the staircases to move like that?

For Harry -- who'd never before had to contemplate fighting a fellow mage of the circle (student or otherwise) -- that last class of the day seemed to last forever...

----oo00oo----

Finally, after all the excitement from the day before had settled down, it was Friday again, and Harry decided to spend his evening in the staff lounge.

He'd been making a habit of this, ever since Sev had lain in wait for him with the intention of confronting Harry about the reason the War Mage always sat beside him.

Harry hoped that the excuse of obtaining his forgotten book would draw the Potions Master back to the lounge for a second round of discussions -- or was it negotiations? Well, whatever it was, they were talking to each other, and that was something to be encouraged.

But so far, Harry hadn't had much luck. Sev had stubbornly refused to show up, and Harry didn't want to have that kind of discussion at the dinner table in front of the staff and students, or rush it along in the hallways between class.

Harry was also trying to avoid holding it in either his or Sev's quarters. The staff lounge was perfect because it was neutral territory, and they were on somewhat more of an equal footing.

But it wasn't much help if Severus didn't show up.

Harry knew Sev could not sneak in and collect his book in secret, for one simple reason -- Harry always magically hid the book whenever he left the room, and then revealed it again whenever he returned. That way, the War Mage could honestly say that the book was always in the staff lounge, but if Sev wanted the damn thing back, then he was going to have to keep looking for it until he came in while Harry was there.

But Sev never asked, and Harry hardly ever saw the man.

Still, patience was a virtue, and Harry was content to fill his current Friday evening by reading the Daily Prophet cover to cover, and then pulling out a new issue of Quidditch World. An hour and a half later, he was the only teacher still sitting in the room, and he was finally reduced to curiously staring at Sev's book on the coffee table. Eventually he picked it up to see whether it was any good.

Not surprisingly, it was a potions book, and far too advanced for him to really understand. But some of the pictures used to illustrate the various brews and their results were quite interesting, and Harry idly began flipping through the pages.

"As you have led me to believe you are hopeless with potions, I fail to understand why you are pretending to read my book."

Harry blinked, and looked up to see Severus Snape glaring down at him from behind the armchair on the far side of the table.

Harry smiled. "I'm not reading it," he calmly replied. "I'm looking at the pretty pictures."

Harry was rewarded for his candour with the hint of an amused expression on Severus' face. "At least you're honest about it," the Potions Master told him. "Others I could name would try to pretend they understood it."

"Pfft," Harry scoffed, while making a dismissive gesture with the closed book, "-- as if they had to be skilled at everything. I know better. I'd never bother to lie about something like that."

"But you would lie about other things?"

"Of course," Harry replied. "Doesn't everyone?"

"Most people are not very good at it."

"I'm not most people."

Severus regarded him for a moment. "No," he said finally, "I suppose you're not." Then he added, "May I have my book back?"

Harry smiled again. "I suppose I could see my way clear to returning it -- for a price."

Snape looked startled for a moment -- then suspicious. "I take it we are not discussing the complete impossibility of me actually paying you for the return of my own book."

"Well, not with gold, anyway," Harry replied.

Severus raised an eyebrow at him. "Ah," he said, "And what currency would I therefore be expected to use?"

Harry almost bit his own tongue off in an effort not to tell Severus exactly what currency he would like to be paid in. After a second or two, Harry managed to reply, "Nothing more than a few minutes of your company, Professor."

The scowl was back. "You persist in your ridiculous assertion that you 'like' me."

"So I'm deluded," Harry replied airily. "What does it matter? You need only sit with me for a while -- being your naturally dislikeable self -- and you shall have your book back. Is it really so great a price to pay?"

"For how long?"

"Excuse me?"

"For how long," Severus repeated, "would I be required to remain in your company?"

"Umm, how does fifteen minutes sound?"

"Fine," and the Potions Master irritably deposited himself in the armchair he'd been standing behind.

"You're in the wrong chair," said Harry, gesturing to the vacant one beside him.

Severus smirked. "Our agreement never said anything about where I was required to sit. Only that I had to be here."

"Ah," Harry said. "Remiss of me not to have specified the chair."

"Quite."

"You really are a very irritating man," Harry grinned.

"Do tell."

----oo00oo----

The next part of Harry's evening must surely have confirmed that War Mage Ash was completely insane.

Initially, Severus seemed content to simply sit in his chair -- as silent as the grave -- and wait out his imprisonment until the fifteen minutes was up.

Harry however, was determined to get the other man talking -- so when he deliberately opened Sev's book and started making guesses about the 'pretty pictures', it didn't take long before Severus was calling him a complete dolt and complaining that even an ignorant first-year would know more about potions than a War Mage who was supposed to be fully-trained.

It seemed that the more stupid assumptions Harry made, the more impossible Severus found it to suffer in silence. He just had to correct Ash -- at length -- and in the most scathing terms.

Harry let Sev's voice wash over him like a balm. The man was animated and passionate, and even his insults were a marvel of language and wit. Better yet, all that intelligence and emotion were currently Harry's to enjoy in the otherwise deserted staff lounge.

All Harry had to do was interject the occasional dumb comment, and Severus would keep right on talking.

Eventually, however, Harry made a comment that was just a bit too dumb.

Severus stopped mid-sentence, and abruptly sat back in his chair.

"Even you are not that stupid," he said after a moment. "You are being deliberately obtuse. Why?"

Harry smirked. "Because I like you, and I like hearing you talk about something you enjoy. I like the way you... come alive... when you're talking about potions."

"I have been insulting your intelligence for the last..." Severus checked his watch, then blinked with surprise, "... thirty minutes?!"

"And some very creative insults they've been," Ash said admiringly. "You have a truly formidable vocabulary. I may even have to look some of those words up."

Severus just stared at him. "You are a lunatic," he finally said.

"If so, then I'm a lunatic who likes you," Harry smiled.

Severus' face took on a kind of desperate edge. "Please," he said, "will you just tell me what you want? -- without all the games and lies?" Then he looked Harry straight in the eyes and said, "What the hell do you want from me?"

Harry considered it. It was late, and they were both tired. Tomorrow was Saturday, and Sev could have the entire weekend to sort through it...

//Damn it all,// Harry thought suddenly, //I'm as tired of this run-around as he is. Time to own up.//

Without words, Harry locked eyes with Severus, and then leaned down to carefully place the disputed book in the centre of the coffee table. As he leaned back into his own chair -- with Severus still carefully watching him -- Harry calmly threaded his fingers together across his chest, and raised his elbows to lie across the top of the chair's armrests. Then he arrogantly propped one foot up on the coffee table between them, and suggestively let his knee fall open so that his thigh leaned against the chair's armrest as well.

Severus blinked at the undercurrent of sexuality.

Then Harry deliberately dropped his eyes to the foot of Sev's robes, and slowly ran them up the line of his legs. Harry passed his sight appreciatively over the other man's crotch, those elegant hands, his stomach, the chest, and then finally up the column of Sev's neck to rejoin the dark eyes. Harry let his own eyes smoulder at the shock and startlement he saw reflected there.

Then Harry saw something that astonished him just as much as the astonishment he'd caused.

Severus Snape -- the most universally feared and despised teacher at Hogwarts -- master of insults and casual disregard -- blushed bright red, right up to the roots of his hair.

"You're out of your mind!" Severus choked.

"So you've mentioned before," Harry replied, still charmed by the fading blush.

Severus got himself back under control after the unexpected shock. "I'm not interested in becoming another notch on your damn belt," he sneered.

"Good," Harry replied. "I'm tired of notches anyway -- they're ultimately very unsatisfying. This time I want something that has the potential to last."

Severus stared at him -- seemingly shocked again. "You... what...?"

"You," Harry said with a half-smile. "I want you -- and not just as a notch or a casual affair. I want to find out whether we could be more to each other than that." Then he leaned forward, and with a quiet intensity that seemed to inhabit the very air between them, he added, "I want to know whether we could be as much to each other as any two people can be."

After that, Harry leaned back and waited.

Silence reigned.

Severus had completely closed off the play of emotions across his face, so that Harry currently had no idea what he was thinking or feeling.

Harry felt strangely calm.

//Now Severus knows,// he thought. //The first big step had been taken.// Harry instinctively understood that it would take the other man a while to believe that Ash genuinely wanted him for more than a one night stand, or his potion-making abilities, or the information he could supply as a Death Eater, or any other damn thing Severus could come up with.

But Harry could be an extremely persistent bastard when he wanted something badly enough, and he knew that if he had to, he could wear Severus down until the other man agreed to give it a chance between them -- if only to prove Ash wrong, and finally get rid of the War Mage.

But all Harry needed was that chance.

The silence stretched.

Finally Severus got up, and left. He still hadn't said a word, or given away a single emotion.

With that same unearthly sense of peace, Harry looked down at the coffee table -- and noticed that Sev had once again forgotten his book.

----oo00oo----