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Time Is A Pretzel

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It isn’t the first time that a non-Slytherin has snuck into the Common Room in the middle of the night. The Common Rooms used to be open to everyone, after all. Nor is it the first time that the infiltrator has been a Gryffindor, or willing to talk to Nizar, or even a parselmouth for that matter, although the last one has been far less frequent.

Harry Potter is different.

Maybe it’s because Nizar has already heard so much about him from other sources. Maybe it’s because he’s a paradox, an entirely bewildering child, who is somehow so familiar.

Maybe it’s simply because Nizar is a useless broken portrait with memory problems and attachment issues, desperately clinging to the Gryffindor parselmouth who reminds him of home.

A thousand years is too long to spend as a portrait.

Talking to Harry is wonderful while it lasts, right up until Nizar’s sense of responsibility – which might be the only thing functioning right now – makes him send the child to bed.

Then Nizar is stuck alone, looking out at a far too empty Common Room full of imagined ghosts that he can’t even remember, but have somehow been awakened by the brief appearance of a single thirteen-year-old child.

It’s not a pleasant feeling. Disjointed thoughts, unsettling, with the strong conviction that something important is occurring way beyond Nizar’s comprehension. Like the world’s largest headache, and he can’t even remember what is causing it.

Useless. Broken.    

He is almost certain that portraits aren’t meant to be able to get headaches, but he’s just as sure that he hates whoever his painter was, so maybe they were actively trying to cause him distress all along. That makes no sense at all, but Nizar is sure that he'd be able to think of a more reasonable explanation if his brain would stop trying to beat itself to death on the inside of his painted skull. This is entirely ridiculous.

He’s supposed to be better than this.

Says who?

Fuck.

Severus notices Nizar’s, ah, absentmindedness and even asks if he’s alright, and that is completely terrible as well. It's a sign that Nizar is even more of a failure than he’s realised, if he’s enough of a mess that the real people with real concerns are wasting time worrying about him too.

He just needs to get past this impending meltdown about nothing in particular. Then he can go back to being a decent friend to Severus, and a pretending-to-be functional portrait who is most definitely doing his job at preventing his young Slytherins from doing foolish things.

No more indulging in his unreasonably messed up emotions.

Right.

Harry’s return to the Common Room, the following night, is a genuine shock and Nizar’s emotions catapult so wildly that the promises he has just made to himself are almost useless.

Of course the Gryffindor parseltongue-speaking Raven-Huff-Slytherin Hat Stall is insane enough to be repeatedly breaking the same set of rules while sneaking around the castle at night.

Nizar would have done exactly the same, but that is not the point.              

He is, perhaps, not in the best of moods to be dealing with confirmation of the already suspected tampering on his brother’s portrait, but he is reasonably sure that Harry doesn’t notice either, given his willingness to stay and talk a while afterwards.

Nizar tries and fails to not feel guilty about his deliberate avoidance of the topic of Spain, and feels even more ridiculous for believing that it might be enough to persuade Harry to return, when books exist and contain far more relevant information than a random painted amnesiac is able to provide.

Then Harry repeats his acts of insanity by turning up for a third night running, and Nizar pretends that he has regained enough emotional stability to be functional.

He’s genuinely delighted to find that Harry is as much of a Ravenclaw as he first suspected, and Harry is delighted to terrify him with the total lack of useful history and geography that Hogwarts is teaching her students. It is a good trade.

Nizar is still a hopeless mess.

 

The Tuesday after the Dementor Quidditch match, an unusually stressed and irritable Severus storms into the Common Room to ask if Nizar has seen any Slytherins sneaking out of the Common Room after hours since Halloween, and Nizar is happy to be able to respond that he has not.

It’s rare that Severus is so obvious about caring for his students, but in the light of Sirius Black’s Halloween break in – not to mention those fucking dementors – Nizar is more worried about their safety too.

Severus doesn’t stay long, muttering something about checking the monitoring charms on the Common Room entrance, which Nizar didn’t even know existed, so that’s an interesting development. Either they have never been particularly effective, or Severus was willing to turn a blind eye to Slytherins out after hours before there was the risk of running into an escaped convict in the corridors.

It is a slightly baffling exchange, but Nizar takes it as a positive that Severus doesn’t seem to be aware of the wandering habits of one Harry Potter. That’s nice, if it means that he can avoid directly lying to either of his friends.

 

The school year regains some semblance of normality from that moment onwards, and Nizar returns to successfully lying about not being a complete disaster. The explicit confirmation that Harry, for whatever reason, actually wants to risk Severus’ anger in order to talk to a (ridiculous, useless, impossible) portrait is comforting, and almost enough to silence the self-sabotaging thoughts still dancing around in Nizar’s head.

He now has two weird, intelligent idiots who choose to visit his portrait instead of sleeping.

 

Friday evening. Harry bounces into the Common Room, and flings himself onto the sofa like a whirlwind of a child who is pretending to get far more sleep than he really is. Kanza immediately crawls up onto Nizar’s shoulder to insult the Gryffindor properly.

There has still been no explanation as to why his basilisk has specifically decided to be rude to the only other parselmouth available, but Harry finds it hilarious, and it is nice to see him taking the opportunity to act like a child. Even if the circumstances are less than normal.

“I’m an idiot for so many more reasons than where I was Sorted, Kanza,” is today’s argument, Harry grinning widely, while Nizar tries to prevent the indignant basilisk from falling off his shoulder, “unless you’re going to tell me Draco Malfoy isn’t an idiot. In which case I’m leaving, by the way.”

Kanza hisses and shows off fangs which are only threatening if one is aware that she is a basilisk. “But you are still annoying, reckless and foolish,” she insists. Then, as an afterthought, “And you’re far too small for a human.”

“You can’t call me short. I’m taller than you, so your opinion doesn’t count. And you’re a snake.”

“I don’t hear any counter points about you being annoying, reckless and foolish though,” Nizar notes, resting his chin on his hands, while Kanza whispers muffled abuse into his hair.  

“Maybe I know when to pick my battles,” Harry says, like a complete liar.

Neither of them have time to call him out on it, because Harry’s bouncing excitedly in his seat again, apparently remembering some essential piece of information. “Did you know, Ron threw a crocodile heart at Malfoy today? In Potions. It hit him in the face and everything!”

“How well did that go?”

“Professor Snape took fifty points from Gryffindor!” Harry looks far too gleeful for someone who has lost so many house points. “It was totally worth it!”

Eyebrow raise.

“Well... Professor Snape didn’t think it was very funny, but it did stop Malfoy from being a git, and it made a huge mess everywhere, and that was really awesome.”

 

“Crocodile heart?” Nizar asks, the next time Severus passes through the Common Room.

“You heard about that?”

“I have ears,” Nizar drawls, and tries not to smile when Severus shakes his head in disbelief.

“It was a little bit amusing,” is all he says, entirely straight-faced, as if Draco Malfoy covered in crocodile heart is not a sight that Nizar has been dying to see since he found out that it happened.

Nizar’s friends are wonderful.

 

On the evening after the Hufflepuff-Ravenclaw Quidditch match, Harry appears in order to explain how badly Hufflepuff lost in excruciating detail, getting so caught up in talking about the work of the two Seekers that Nizar is no longer sure if it is entirely about the Quidditch.

If Harry does feel something for either or both of the Seekers, Nizar is most determinedly not going to make it his business unless he really has to.

He really hopes that he doesn’t have to.

Less than five minutes after Harry has gone to bed, Severus turns up to inform Nizar of the exact same Quidditch match, though with fewer explanations of Seeker tactics and far more complaints about how bloody freezing it was.

Either there is some very specific luck which is preventing the two from running into each other, or one or both have some skill at Divination, and Nizar would love to find out which it is some day.

 

It’s Thursday. Of course it’s a Thursday. Thursdays are entirely terrible, and it’s not fair on the young Gryffindor who deserves a space to have his unnecessarily aggressive discussions about grass snakes with an offended basilisk.

The fact that it is Thursday is not remotely relevant, but Nizar is exhausted, and Harry needs someone more capable than an ancient Slytherin portrait to be dealing with this shit. At least Severus would be physically capable of making Petunia Dursley’s life miserable.

“Grass snakes are boring,” Kanza insists for the ninth time.

“Not as boring as the Dursleys,” comes Harry’s response, exactly the same as the eight times before.

Kanza turns her nose up. “You should find some more interesting snakes then.”

“Well, that’s a brilliant idea, but I think a couple of people might have something to say if I try to drag your portrait back to Surrey with me.”

“No one has ever tried that one before, as far as I can remember,” Nizar comments, amused. “Lucius Malfoy did try to set me on fire, but that’s hardly the same thing.”

“He- really?” Harry asks in wide-eyed disbelief, derailing the now rather repetitive snake debate. “I mean, I realised that he was a bit... dramatic... when we met last year, but...”

Nizar almost bursts out laughing at Harry’s delicate understatement. “He doesn’t appear to have changed at all since he left school.”

Harry chews on his lip and takes a few seconds to set his face in a determined expression. Immediately, Nizar can guess where this is going, and he almost wishes that they could return to Harry’s attempts at antagonising the infant basilisk.

Still, he’s surprised that the topic hasn’t come up sooner.

“You know everyone who used to be Slytherin here, don’t you?”

“Mostly. Some have been more willing to talk to a mere portrait than others.”

“And...um.”

Nizar closes his eyes briefly. “Tom Riddle was unpleasant from the day that he stepped into this Common Room, and grew worse from that day until he graduated.”

“Okay,” Harry says in a very uncertain tone. “That’s... good to know, I guess.” He bites his lip, then:

“My parents were Gryffindors.”

Oh, fuck. Of course. Nizar is the idiot who has been making the same mistake as everyone else in forgetting that this child in front of him is an orphan who has little or no memory of his parents.

“James Potter and Lily Evans,” he acknowledges, as if he can somehow cover up his stupidity. “I was never able to meet them personally, but—”

Nizar cuts himself off abruptly, because that wide-eyed look has returned to Harry’s face. “Baby Gryffindor? Are you alright?”

Harry blinks three times, before he nods, his gaze still focused somewhere else. “James Potter and Lily Evans,” he repeats, his voice soft, almost reverent. “Lily Evans.”

Nizar does not enjoy the cold feeling that steals over him. Nope, this is not a good day at all. Thursdays are the worst. “No one bothered to tell you their names.”

Harry actually sits up defensively, glaring at Nizar before he registers that it is not a criticism. “I didn’t know mum’s name,” he says quietly. Defeated.

Nizar would desperately like to know what happened to make Harry believe that his lack of knowledge is a personal failing. He can, unfortunately, guess.

“I would so love to stab your relatives,” he says, before he can help himself.

The cautious half-smile that Harry offers him makes his heart break a little bit more. Nizar can pull himself together. And he’ll do it, too, for the hopeful child in front of him. Whatever it takes, no matter that he is nothing more than a portrait. This is important.

“If no one has bothered to tell you the first thing about your parents, we are changing that right now. It just so happens that I used to talk quite regularly with a friend of your mother’s.”

The expression of surprise returns to Harry’s face for a third time, and Nizar pushes down his fury as he does his best to ensure that Harry Potter has more of his parents than the ability to recognise their faces in a photograph.

There should have been someone better equipped to put this right.

 

Monday evening, and sometimes Harry’s priorities are truly strange.

“All the teachers keep following me everywhere,” he complains, flopping onto the sofa with the inelegance of a thirteen-year-old who finally feels comfortable in the room that he’s in. “I can hardly sneak off at all.”

Never mind that Harry appears doing a perfectly adequate job of sneaking around when he wants to. Such as, for example, every night that he comes to visit the Slytherin Common Room.

“I think they’re trying to protect me from Sirius Black.”

Nizar gives him a narrow-eyed glare. “That is a good thing.”

Harry scowls right back. “I can’t even escape by using my cloak most of the time, because it’s too crowded, and I keep walking into people. And then Peeves decides to join in, and one of the Ravenclaws was in the Hospital Wing for three days after he pushed her down the stairs.”

“You could always... accept the additional protection?”

Harry looks at him like he’s gone mad, which is not entirely an unexpected reaction. This is the child who decided to chase down a maddened basilisk.

“If he happily blew up 12 muggle witnesses, I don’t know how Professor Vector’s presence is going to stop him from doing anything. I don’t even take Arithmancy!”

Nizar would love to push further, but this is where he loses all credibility, because he is a stupid, useless, selfish, hypocritical portrait idiot, and those thoughts are not helpful while he is trying to be functional right now. He sighs instead, definitely not in defeat, and accepts the proposed change of subject. “What electives did you choose, then?”

Care of Magical Creatures and Divination. That sounds promising.

Harry’s description of his first Care of Magical Creatures lesson does not sound bad either. It is perhaps a brave choice for an entirely new teacher, but apart from an idiot student getting mauled by a hippogriff, there is little that could go wrong.

Gods, Nizar wants to hit Draco Malfoy over the head with one of Hagrid’s biting books.

Biting books which sound like an excellent idea, by the way, or at least highly entertaining. He is quite sure that he would like never to be anywhere near a book that is actively trying to chew his hands off, but fortunately Nizar is a portrait and is therefore at liberty to not give a fuck.

He doesn’t say all of that aloud, of course, and Harry promises to bring his copy of the Monster Book of Monsters to the Common Room sometime, with a bemused expression that does not quite explicitly state that he thinks Nizar is insane.

Nizar breaks off into outraged, amused and slightly horrified spluttering when Harry starts to describe the unique way that Professor Trelawney approaches her subject. It is perhaps a good thing that Nizar hasn’t tried to tell Harry of his probable divinatory talent before now.  

“I hadn’t realised that Professor Thorne’s replacement was almost as useless as he was,” he says indignantly, when his words are coming out in the right order again.

Harry is grinning in a way that is absolutely at Nizar’s expense. “Wait- there used to be someone worse than Trelawney?”

“How terrible is she exactly?”

“She predicts my imminent death three times a week.”

“Ah. That sounds less than ideal,” Nizar says, raising his eyebrows. Harry does not seem upset, exactly. “She is setting herself up for a lot of inaccurate predictions.”

“Or maybe she’s expecting me to die from drowning, being trampled by a hippogriff and falling off the Astronomy Tower all in one week,” Harry agrees mock-thoughtfully.

“You are supposed to be the Boy Who Lived...”

Harry shudders. “Maybe I actually can’t die properly at all, and I’m going to live for over a thousand years until I find my ‘one true love,’ like a muggle fairy tale or something.”

“Maybe.” Nizar nods along wisely. He actually has no idea what muggle fairy tales Harry might be referring to.

“But then,” says Harry through a yawn, “she’s also expecting me to get eaten by a dragon next year, and stabbed with basilisk venom again the year after that, so at least I’ll be kept busy...”

“Time for bed, I think, dear Child of So Many Prophecies,” Nizar tries to say, but Harry is still mumbling to himself.

“... and I doubt there are any more basilisks are hanging around near here, and it shouldn’t be too difficult to avoid bumping into a dragon at school—”

“Little Gryffindor, you have Potions class tomorrow.” That is usually enough to remind Harry that he needs to sleep, whether the statement is true or not.

“...I mean, we’re all hoping that Norbert was a one off.”

“Harry.”

Harry jerks upright, and then immediately stands, almost tripping face first into the fire place. “Oh! Time! Yes, I’ve got to... Sorry. G’night Nizar. I’d better go – got Potions tomorrow, or today, or... sometime.” He stumbles towards the door with uncharacteristic abruptness, nearly tripping over his cloak as he tries to pull it over his head.

Nizar silently watches the Common Room door close behind a half-invisible Gryffindor, and trying not to be worried is already a doomed effort. It is late, but it is not that late, and if Harry is this exhausted at the beginning of the week...

He’s missing far more sleep than he claims, and Nizar didn’t notice in time, and now Harry has to walk all the way back to Gryffindor Tower on his own, because Nizar is still a useless fucking portrait.

He also really wants to know who this ‘Norbert’ is.