Title: Asymmetric Perspective
Rating: Seeing as it's no longer hip -- or legal, or something -- to use film ratings, I'll use manga ones. OT. Swearing, slash, subtle insinuations -- the usual, in other words. Plus random House-bashing. :)
Disclaimer: Everything belongs to JK; all that's mine is the fact that this sometimes keeps me sane. Other times it drives me round the twist. Opening lyrics by Death Cab For Cutie.
Summary: Terry Boot holds sole occupancy of an ivory tower and he likes it that way, thank you very much. The perpetual quest for esoteric knowledge kicks arse. People are just confusing and besides being a person himself, he doesn't have very much in common with them ...
Chapter Three: Jagged Roads
And when I see you, I really see you upside down
But my brain knows better; it picks you up and turns you around
A sudden flurry of wings. Death.
Once dead, the owl understood far more than it had when it was alive. It had never in its life had an adventure, unless survival could be counted as one. Most historical and fantasy epics would not deem that worthy of inclusion in the canon of quests.
However, the owl did now grasp that this -- this was the next great one.
Terry lay on his stomach, turning the pages of Hermione’s book with intense concentration. He would have preferred to do his reading in the common room or library. His current position provided an interesting example of how much pain one’s back could suffer and just how one’s breathing could be restricted to the point of strangulation by occupying said position for more than, say, five and a half seconds -- but that was all. When it came to physical experimentation, Terry would always prefer to be on the observing end of said experimentation.
There was no alternative, though. The library closed at the absurdly early hour of eleven o’clock, even during the summer term when NEWTs and OWLs were pending. Older students had to obtain a written dispensation to remain there after curfew. There was nothing that provided Filch with more unholy glee than catching students who were loitering there without their dispensation.
He had also taken to demanding some evidence of studying work to prove that the students hadn’t just used their time there for the profitable purpose of snogging in the Charms section, which had the largest armchairs. As a result, many students had set up a system of essay rotation to hoodwink the caretaker. There were, Terry had estimated, about half-a-dozen stock essays in circulation, of which every snogging student had possession. Each time Filch grew suspicious about mussed hair, wrongly-fastened robes and -- in both male and female cases -- stubble rash, they would flash these parchments in front of him. Filch had not yet realised that they were all on the same subjects -- most likely because the students had left off the essay titles.
Terry had never participated in such schemes; he had not the least desire to play extended games of tonsil hockey in what was, after all, supposed to be a bastion of learning. There was only so much you could learn about kissing before you exhausted all the knowledge there was on the topic, Terry had long decided. He would, on the other hand, have been driven to the heights of ecstasy to be allowed to prowl the bookshelves until the wee hours.
Terry thought all these restrictions created a ridiculous state of affairs and was stalwart in his opinion that the library should be a twenty-four-seven enlightenment service. He had once coerced Padma into bargaining the point with Madame Pince on his behalf, but the librarian’s unilateral astonishment at such a request was only bested by the severe trauma it provoked in her.
As far as he recalled, her words had been something along the lines of: ‘You nasty, beastly children, in here at all hours of the day and night, committing acts of degeneracy on the floors -- oho, I know what you … teenagers … are like! Out! Out! Don’t make me call the Headmaster!’
Which was, in Terry’s opinion, just a tad extreme.
So the library was unavailable. As for the common room, Anthony was in situ, holding court.
In the last few weeks, that court seemed to have extended its sticky web to include Padma. Given that Terry was absorbed in the convoluted dissertation Hermione had provided for him -- all four inches of spine and size minus-ten font of it -- Terry didn’t not mind, so much as not notice her absence.
Much as Terry disliked to think it about his one best friend, Padma could be more than a little wearying; high-maintenance rated among her top characteristics. It was with an unacknowledged sense of relief that Terry realised he’d been freed for a time from his career of bolstering her esteem, listening to her woes and taking her side in all the exaggerated slights levelled against her.
It wasn’t Padma’s association with Anthony’s group that prevented Terry from studying in the common room, though. It was simply Anthony’s determination that once he had finished his night’s studying, then so had everybody else. Terry, had he stayed there, would have found himself plagued by incessant questions, teasing comments and sly jokoids until everything he was reading came into his head in Anthony’s voice. As Anthony had the articulation of an impatient buzzsaw, he was not the ideal candidate for a mental narrator -- even leaving aside the numerous negative connotations Terry associated with him.
Terry scrabbled for a quill to add another appendix to his already copious notes. Hermione’s book, which was ancient, had long since lost its dust-cover, several dozen pages and most of the peeling gold lettering on its spine and face. As such, Terry did not, in fact, know what it was about.
The author had a rambling writing style, which wandered merrily from minute descriptions of rare plants -- complete with exquisite illustrations -- to remarks on how weather-conditions could impact upon the efficacy of potions which had shelf-lives of over thirty years -- complete with lurid colour illustrations of what the expired potions looked like. As far as Terry could tell, it was in fact a medieval wizard’s -- or wizards’, if the frequent arguments included in the account were anything to go by -- journal.
When he’d approached Hermione one breakfast-time to query what, precisely, she expected him to glean from it, she’d shrugged.
“We’ve been cross-referencing books in the library using certain keywords,” she’d said. Terry had noticed she didn’t reveal what the keywords were. “Harry, Ron and I have been going over the shorter books, but that one’s the biggest by far. It’d be a great help if you could get through it. We have more that you can borrow once you’ve finished that one.”
Harry had been listening in on the conversation, it appeared, for he’d abandoned his eggs to tilt his head in their direction. Ron, on the other hand, had been applying himself to his porridge with gusto and disgusting amounts of honey -- enough to rival Kevin, should Kevin ever bestir himself to eat breakfast. Terry didn’t think Ron would have noticed if a giraffe had sat beside him and asked him to pass the butter, unless it were a very pretty, female giraffe.
“But what are you hoping to find?” Terry had asked.
At Terry’s question, Hermione had looked, if it were possible, even more evasive. “Oh, whatever you think is pertinent,” she’d murmured.
Of course, Terry found everything pertinent. Therein lay the problem. Most unfortunately, not every avenue of erudition was limitless in length, but they all led somewhere. Whether or not this place was one at which Hermione desired to arrive at was quite another question, but Terry had managed thus far by subdividing his notes into areas of possible interest. At present they were a dozen strong and included titles such as “Studies into the intelligence to be found in sapient colours,” “Owls and other birds,” “Potions that explode a lot” and “Ways to stop the bloody quills from breaking the whole bloody time.”
Terry blinked at the passage he had just read and sniggered to himself. It was evident that whoever had typeset the text had not bothered to take what had to have been differing handwriting into account.
“… This being the fourteenth daye of May in the year of our Lord -- what year is it? You stupid olde coot, knowe you notte the bloody date? Looke, it is not the fault of mine that the Sunne dare notte shew his face -- what hath the bloody Sunne gotte to do with anything? Thou is the stupidest olde Fool I ever had the misfortune to encounter.
The weather continues very Fine. The Sunne has come outte. This is highly beneficial for the Potione, for it requires of very warm weather to mature. I am certain that this time, it will be efficacious in the stirring of the Hearte, unlike the previous Twenty-Seven times. Thou is certain of nothing of the sorte, and thou is most certainly not trying it out upon ME again …”
It was a pity, Terry reflected, that the wizards -- or the wizard and the scornful voice in his head -- had not settled it between themselves what year it was. From scraps of withered parchment between the leaves of the book -- which bore scribbled, almost incomprehensible notes -- Terry guessed the journal to have been written before 1497. The notes, some of which contained dates, showed that someone had been studying it from 1497 to 1524. As to when the book had been published and why there were no later versions, Terry had no idea.
He rolled over and checked his wristwatch. Half-past-eleven. With a jolt, he bounced from the bed and made it to the bathroom just as the sounds of voices could be heard dangerously close to the dormitory door.
Terry emerged after changing and cleaning his teeth with his hair ruffled but his dressing-gown securely tied. His dorm-mates were milling about the room. Kevin was lying on his bed, chewing a stick of sugar-cane with audible squelching sounds -- the highest stamp of approval from him. Stephen and Anthony were conversing in low voices by the window. Michael was perched on the end of Terry’s bed, holding his notes up for scrutiny with every evidence of deep interest.
Terry squeezed his eyes shut, hoping that in the absence his vision would realign itself with the proper world-view.
However, when he opened them again, Michael was still sitting on the end of Terry’s bed.
Quashing the hobgoblin of unease that had taken up sudden and all-encompassing possession of his stomach, he hurried forward, at the same time trying to find any plausible reason why Michael would be sitting on his bed.
Michael glanced up at his approach, holding sheaves of parchment in his, for all intents and purposes, grubby hands. He smiled.
Just looking at Michael’s brown fingers curled around the neat edges of parchment made Terry’s brain revolt, with both trepidation and another foreign feeling that Terry didn’t care to analyse. Being in Michael’s presence made Terry feel disoriented, as if Michael were a tower and Terry was vertigo. It made Terry angry -- at himself, but foremost at Michael.
“What are you doing?” hissed Terry.
“I was just bloody looking,” said Michael, spreading his hands in supplication and looking puzzled. “Where’d you find this book?”
“That is none of your business.” Terry was cold as he brushed past Michael and began to gather up his study materials, tidying them away from Michael’s inquisitive gaze.
“Sorry, mate, I didn’t realise it was a bloody state secret.” Michael’s laugh was easy. It grated across Terry’s already taut nerves like a diamond auger.
Terry ignored Michael, hoping that by such treatment he would be inspired to leave. However, when Terry turned back from placing all his notes, his quill and three jars of ink -- red for titles, black for the main body of notes and gold for marking out particularly salient sections -- on his bedside table, with the intention of retrieving Hermione’s book, he found to his rage that it was in Michael’s hands.
Despite himself, the look of rapt fascination on the other boy’s face softened Terry somewhat. If there was any way to redeem a person in Terry’s eyes, it was through extensive reading. Even in Ravenclaw, the House of saints and scholars, excessive partaking of this hobby was not revered. Instead, it was reviled as “nerdy”, “boring” and “anti-social”, and those were only the nicer comments Terry was on the receiving end of.
“This is really bloody funny in parts,” said Michael, laughing. Terry peered over his shoulder, trying not to be too obvious about it. By dint of much neck-craning he saw that Michael was reading the same segment that Terry had sniggered over. He didn’t consider it to be worthy of belly-laughs. Then again, of the two of them, Michael had the less discriminating sense of humour.
Michael looked up, his eyes bright from amusement. “It’s a pity you can’t share this book. I’d bloody love to read it.”
“I didn’t say I can’t share it,” muttered Terry. “It’s -- it’s for a study project. Besides, it’s mostly quite dull, not to mention confusing.”
Michael traced his forefinger over the lettering on the page. When he spoke, his voice sounded almost wistful. “Another bloody study project, Boot? Don’t you ever get tired of them?”
Terry made a moue of astonishment. Tired of study, of learning? He couldn’t even countenance the concept.
Michael hadn’t seemed to expect an answer, for he continued, flipping the pages with a fine disregard for their brittle state, “What’s this one about, then?”
“I’m not sure,” hedged Terry. Deciding that Hermione wouldn’t desire that Terry keep his work a secret unto the grave, he added, “It’s for the DA. Something Hermione and Harry are researching.” Terry didn’t bother to mention that Ron was also involved; he imagined Ron’s input would be in designing the final strategy and not in actual, physical interaction with the written word.
“Really?” Michael sounded unreasonably surprised. He shifted, pushing the sleeves of his robes up his arms. His wrists were dusted with fine dark hair. “That’s odd ... ”
Michael coughed. It was very much a “I’m feeling quite uncomfortable now, so I’m going to pretend I have an article of food lodged in my throat -- even though it’s been five hours since dinner -- in hopes that this state of affairs will distract anyone listening from what’s really going on, even though that’s about as likely as a shower storm of rubies and lollipops” cough. It only ascertained, in Terry’s eyes, that Michael knew something he didn’t.
Something about the book, that was, not “something” in general terms, because there were a multitude of things Michael knew that Terry didn’t. The secret techniques of hair-flipping, for one. How to kiss girls so they liked it, for another.
“Well … that’s a love potion,” allowed Michael at last, jabbing at a list of ingredients that Terry had found to be a random, confusing assemblage.
“How on earth do you know that?” asked Terry, dropping down on to the bed in surprise. He almost rolled into the dent created by Michael’s weight, but managed to prevent such a dire occurrence by the skin of his teeth and the power of his lower calf muscles.
Michael looked altogether gauche, a look Terry hadn’t seen on him since he was fifteen and asking out his first girlfriend. Terry couldn’t remember who she had been, or whether she’d turned him down or not.
“These ingredients … they’re in Moste Potente Potions,” mumbled Michael. “In the bloody “Emotions and other dangers” chapter.”
“You’ve read Moste Potente Potions?” asked Terry, his eyebrows crawling so far up his head it appeared they had ambitions towards morphing into his hairline. Terry had read Moste Potente Potions, but that was as it should be. Terry was a disinterested seeker after every kind of wisdom. Michael … well, he wasn’t, and that was all there was to it.
Michael shrugged. “In third year. Anthony managed to nick a copy off some older student -- Clearwater, I think -- and, well, we read it. You know -- because it was so bloody scandalous and everything. The magical equivalent to porn.”
“No, that would be the Wizarding Kama Sutra,” said Terry, without pausing to engage his brain.
Michael’s eyebrows also had high ambitions, even greater than Terry’s; Michael’s had hopes of getting so far back around his head they could double as back-hair. “You --?” managed Michael, caught midways between a gasp and a guffaw.
Hello, Blush, how are you today? thought Terry, regretting that he’d ever been born with the facility for speech in the first place. His faux-pas deserved their own talk-show on WWN.
“I thought it worthy of at least a -- a look over,” he got out, wishing Michael weren’t grinning so widely he could have been taken for the Cheshire Cat. Or a watermelon. Reading an Indian sex manual wasn’t something to be proud of, it was just something Terry had done once.
“You’ve looked at porn,” said Michael, sounding as triumphant as a mother who had a toddler on wobbly fat legs standing before her.
“Yes, well, you’ve read Most Potente Potions,” returned Terry, not surprised that his voice was rather tinged with hysteria.
Or hysterical rage, if he was honest. It wasn’t exactly as if his dorm-mates kept their drool-worthy idols a secret. Kevin had a poster over his bed that showed an animated young woman suffering from a grave lack of clothing. One of their few contributions to public decency was the liberal use of Silencing Charms at night. Yet because Terry had done what they’d always done, it was somehow noteworthy.
Michael could be so annoying like that.
“Clearwater nearly had our bloody hides for that, I recall,’ reminisced Michael.
“You recall a lot,” accused Terry. “This was what, five years ago? And you still remember the chapter these ingredients were in and what they’re used for in that combination?”
Michael looked at him as if such skills of retention were the most natural thing in the world, and as if Terry were quite, quite insane to be questioning that Michael possessed them. “Yeah,” he said, “so?”
Terry drummed his fingers on his kneecap, not realising that his fingers had picked up gold ink from screwing on the bottle-lid. It was some time later before he found the biomorphic Abstract Expressionism on the legs of his pyjamas, although it at least explained why Michael was regarding him with what Terry had thought to be unfounded amusement.
“You’re definite about this?” said Terry at last, coming out of a reverie with a series of rapid blinks that set his eyesight to blurring.
“I read it in a bloody book, Terry. I should’ve thought that would be bloody enough for you.”
“That’s … intriguing.” Terry reached over and made a grab for his notes. He ended up with the wrong colour ink -- red -- but it didn’t matter. He could fix it later. He didn’t realise that Michael was leaning over his shoulder like a benevolent gargoyle, watching Terry write, until he heard Michael mouthing the words aloud to himself in a manner calculated to unsettle.
His chin was almost resting on Terry’s shoulder.
“Memo -- love potion ingredients -- reference MPP chpt. “Emotions” etc.
Clearly wizard/s conducted a great deal of research into love potions because this is “Potione for stirring Hearte” -- assumed this was medical -- referred to in sections I.e. part about gathering silver beech bark by midnight “
“I think I remember what page,” interrupted Michael, breaking into his own unnerving commentary. Since he’d become aware of it, Terry had felt too flustered to continue putting pen to paper. As a direct result, Michael’s words took several generation-long seconds to sink in, like a welly into subterranean mud.
Terry wondered if the house-elves had put extra warming-pans in the beds; the air in the dormitory was stifling.
“Huh?” he said, with every scrap of eloquence he could muster from the slumbering bivouacs of his brain.
Michael made an impatient noise, leaned across Terry and grabbed the quill out of his hand. Michael’s fingertips were surprisingly cold -- at least, given the inferno-esque heat of the room.
Before Terry could quite register the important details of what was happening, Michael was using Terry’s quill to scrawl in a large, slanted script at right angles to Terry’s notes. Squinting like a blind hamster, Terry could make outPAGE 303 -- about halfway down.
Valiant in ignoring the rather distressing fact that Michael’s hand was still in his lap, Terry remarked, his voice distended but calm, “You must have a photographic memory.”
Terry had never believed that myth until now. He felt a little bit like an atheist waking up to find his leftover cod and chips transformed overnight into a string of fast-food outlets featuring a lot of red and gold, in a modern-day remake of the old loaves-and-fishes-miracle smash-hit.
Michael glanced down at his footnote, shrugging. Given their relative positions, this resulted in Michael’s shoulder banging Terry’s collarbone rather hard. Terry was so skinny it would never have taken much excavation to exhume bone in any case, and it gave Terry quite a shock.
The pain alerted him to current events. He and Michael were sitting far too close together and -- and Terry’s personal space was being severely impinged upon. Terry jumped up yet again to place everything on his nightstand.