Language That God Speaks, The
by Liz Barr
Subject: [glass_onion] FIC: The Language That God Speaks (PG-13, HP/Sandman crossover) Date: Thursday, June 27, 2002 10:43 PM
The Language That God Speaks
by Liz Barr
HP, Hermione, Snape, echoes of Snape/Lily, a dash of Ron/Hermione, a touch of religion, crossover with Sandman, disregarding the canon of "The Kindly Ones" and "The Wake".
Summary: Pratchett reassured us that all libraries are one, and Gaiman told us about one particularly unique library. Hermione discovers a twenty-year-old experimental potion which allows her to access the Dreaming.
Notes: A blatant HP/Sandman crossover, with a dash of Pratchett: let's all play spot the Librarian. (Hermione, fyi, would never mistake him for a monkey.) Must apologise to Gaiman purists for my complete abandonment of latter Sandman canon; I tried to make it work, but it just wasn't happening. I did the same thing with my HP/Buffy crossover and no one complained, but I still feel compelled to feel bad about it. This has elements of sequelness in relation to my ongoing Snape/Lily WiP, "There Is No Such Place", but it's not necessary to read that to understand this. "No Such Place" spoilers are minimal.
Characters: Property of J. K. Rowling and Neil Gaiman respectively, with a healthy debt owed to Terry Pratchett.
Feedback: pet me, I'm a whore. email@example.com
Libraries, Muggle or magical, are stable places. Books are kept in their place, librarians maintain order, and the whole system works to Hermione's benefit.
Sometimes, the library changes: new shelves appear out of nowhere, and there are rumours about a group of Hufflepuffs who were lost forever in the Restricted Section.
Hermione doesn't believe those rumours.
But she doesn't sneak into the library at night anymore, and it's not just because she's afraid of getting caught.
The library dominates fifth year, in a way that it hadn't in years past. When Hermione looks back, she'll remember lying awake in her dorm in September, hearing the library call out to her. She'll remember the cold stone on the soles of her feet, and the ominous creak as she quietly opens the library doors.
She is never caught.
But she meets someone, once. Not a student, not a teacher, not a human. A tall, thin man with pointed ears and a book under his arm.
"Oh, hello," he says politely.
"Don't worry, my dear. Professor Dumbledore has given me permission to access this library." He dropped his voice and added in a conspiratorial whisper, "Madam Pince rather objected, but then, we librarians can be a competitive lot. I said, at least I'm not an ape, but she became rather upset began muttering about turning the facility into a bloody menagerie, and that was before the orangutan appeared. So now I come at night. When the school is dreaming."
He bows at Hermione, and walked away. She has the feeling that, were she to follow him into the stacks, she'd be lost forever, and never find him.
That night, her nocturnal visits to the library end.
She discovers the hiding place during the Christmas break: a secluded corner on the second floor of the library, well lit, with room for two people and a lot of books. It is created by a cluster of shelves, three of them holding books that haven't been checked out since 1900, and one which isn't a shelf at all.
The concealment charms are degrading, but the twenty year old preservation charms on the cushions are still in working order. Hermione recasts the wards and makes the space her own.
She intends to tell Harry and Ron about it, but they're always busy. Harry has special Defence Against the Dark Arts classes, and Ron works hard to keep his hard-won place on the Quidditch team. When they are together, it somehow always slips her mind, until the corner is so very much hers that she can't imagine anyone else inhabiting it.
It belonged to someone, once.
Under the cushions, Hermione finds a crushed green and silver tie, and a broken Gryffindor prefect badge, and then she understands the secrecy. Sometimes, she speculates about the former residents: who were they, did they create the nest, or just find it, how often did they come here, are they still together?
Late in November, she discovers a hiding place within a hiding place: a hidden cupboard disguised as a row of old history textbooks. It conceals a small collection of Muggle photos, a number of plant samples, and a sheaf of parchment covered in crabbed, near-illegible handwriting.
She doesn't recognise Snape at first, wearing Muggle clothing, a half-smile on his lips which might, she thinks, be equivalent to a belly laugh on anyone else.
She identifies Snape before she recognises his companion, but then she sees something familiar in the eyes, and all at once, everything makes sense, and nothing.
She thinks of showing the photos to Harry, or returning them to Professor Snape, but in the end, she returns them to the cupboard. Some things are better left unsaid, untouched, unremembered. She doesn't think about them.
The parchment, on the other hand...
The students know, instinctively, that their Potions Master is a genius. Hogwarts tends to attract the best professionals in their fields, and Snape is hardly the kind of man who would conceal his abilities.
There are few sixteen year olds who could study a previously-unknown plant, fewer who could use it as the basis for a potion. Fewer still who would want to.
He described the plant in some detail, sketching it with a skill that would have made Professor Sprout proud. He named it dreamweed, and described its effects on three unnamed individuals.
Hermione read his notes four times, rewriting them for the sake of legibility.
Then she brewed the potion.
Oneiros Potion, Snape had written, twenty years ago. Inspires dreams; true, if not prophetic. Test on a Seer?
The plant samples, maintained with the same powerful Preservation Charms Hermione had encountered earlier, are still fresh. The potion is ...
When she was twelve, Hermione brewed Polyjuice Potion. This year, she has brewed Wolfsbane Potion, during the uncomfortable two months when Snape was missing. She does it because it is necessary, but above that, because she can.
Now, concealed in her bolt hole, she brews the Oneiros Potion. Holding a goblet up to the light, she watches the vapour rise from the thick liquid. In her mind, she hears Snape's voice, critical and appraising, but behind that, she imagines him as a sixteen year old, curious and fascinated by his own creation.
Hermione drinks the potion.
Hermione often has anxiety dreams: forgotten exams, public nudity, memory loss. Now, she is searching for a book. She wanders through the stacks, seeking her missing volume, but the library is vast, and when she looks up, she can see hundreds of storeys, stretching up into infinity.
She goes on searching. A part of her thinks that a systematic search would be more efficient, but she is powerless to stop her body from running from shelf to shelf at random.
Madam Pince is nowhere to be found. Hermione is completely alone in the library. Off in the distance, she can hear the voices of children, and she catches glimpses of shadows disappearing behind shelves, but no one speaks to her.
After a long time, a figure appears in the distance, and for a second, she thinks that someone has found her.
But then she draws closer, and recognises Ron's corpse. His chess pieces are eating his flesh, and she can't do anything to stop them. Tears run down her cheeks, and she kisses his dead hand.
His lips ... his lips are gone.
Hermione keeps walking. Shadows pass her, but she pretends to be a shadow herself, and no one touches her.
She finds Dumbledore sitting at a table in the corner. The table is spread with a white cloth that looks like a shroud. Dumbledore raises his glass of wine in a toast.
"We all have to take responsibility for our actions, Miss Granger. Eh, Severus?"
"Indeed, Headmaster." Professor Snape is the main course: his head has been served to Dumbledore on a silver platter. He glares at Hermione. "Five points from Gryffindor, Granger, and for God's sake, stop staring."
Hermione moves on. In the distance, she can see her cubbyhole, but when she gets closer, she sees that it's a whole new wing of the library.
Perhaps her book will be there.
This library is different: larger and somehow older. Much, much older. Hermione is faintly disturbed to find that she doesn't recognise a single title. Surely there were only seven Chronicles of Narnia? She certainly has no memory of The Emperor Across the Sea, yet here it is: an unprepossessing Penguin paperback with a publication date of 1965. And she is quite, quite certain that Harper Lee only wrote the one novel, but she finds a whole shelf of her novels.
There are five copies of every Jane Austen novel. Some have different titles and familiar characters. Others have unfamiliar endings: Brandon married Elinor and Miss Bingley was persuaded to elope with Wickham.
These are not the books that Hermione was looking for.
She walks through the strange library, pausing to flip through a biography of Harry Potter (Gilderoy Lockhart, back in print!) that ends with his death at the hands of Voldemort in 1995.
She puts that one down quickly.
She hears it before she sees it: a book that throbs with power and magic. It calls out to her, and she responds, moving towards it before she is even aware of her actions.
It is a heavy book, bound in something luminescent and beautiful. She has heard of books bound in human flesh, but she has never encountered a book bound in light. It stands alone on a display shelf, inviting her to open it.
She touches it lightly, and it shimmers beneath her fingers, the colours shifting from white to purple to red.
It is the most beautiful book that Hermione has ever seen. Respectfully, reverently, she opens it, closes her eyes to savour the moment, and then looks down.
She cannot read.
Letters, random swirls of ink, dance on the paper. She is multi-lingual, fluent in two European languages, and able to get by in three others. She has the highest marks in Ancient Runes for twenty-five years.
She. Cannot. Read.
Hermione stares at the shifting ink until her eyes blur, and then the tears spill over and she sobs shamelessly. Loud, painful sobs that rack her chest and leave her gasping and empty.
After a long time, she realises that she is crouched on the cold marble floor. Her nose is running, her eyes are sore and her hair is a mess. And there is a hand on her back, rubbing it gently.
"There, there," says a voice she remembers. "Feeling better?"
Unable to speak, Hermione nods. The librarian helps her stand up. "I'm afraid that I'm not sure how you've accessed the Dreaming," he says, "but please, won't you join me for a cup of tea? I meet so few true bibliophiles these days..."
Her drink tastes like a dream of tea: both more and less like the stuff that Hermione remembers from the waking world. She sips it delicately, thinking of Platonic ideals, and wonders if there's any sugar.
"Now," says the librarian, "perhaps you should tell me a little about yourself."
"What do you want to know?"
"Well, how you entered the Dreaming, for one thing. My master does rather dislike it when that happens."
"I -- I drank a potion. And I was looking for a book."
"Ah, yes. Dreams of libraries will invariably lead back here, especially if the dream is -- stimulated. All libraries are one, you know. And this is it."
"And then you found the Book."
"The Book," she echoes. "I couldn't read it."
"No, no mortal can."
"I need to read it. It's so beautiful. I could hear it calling to me..." Even now, rooms away, she can still feel its presence. She tilts her head, considering her location, and remembering her reading. "This is the Dream King's castle."
The librarian beams. "Precisely. It's my pleasure to serve as Lord Dream's librarian."
"The realm of the Endless," Hermione says, tasting the words on her lips. "That Book -- was it the Book of Destiny?"
Hermione turns. For a moment, she thinks it's Professor Snape, but the newcomer is too tall, too lean, and far too beautiful. He moves with a grace that is both careless and aristocratic as he takes his seat at the tea table. His eyes are sparks in the centre of darkness, and they see straight through Hermione.
"No," he says again. "My brother is not one to lend his books." He regards Hermione seriously. "Little scholar. Little witch. How have you entered my Domain?"
"I drank a potion," she says, "and I was dreaming of the library."
"A potion." The Dream King frowns. "Lucien, do you know anything of this?"
The librarian shakes his head. "No, Lord, I'm afraid not."
The Dream King rises, begins to pace. "I don't like this, Lucien. If a half-educated witch can enter my realm, then others can. And ... there are others to be considered. Roderick Burgess is not the only one who would seek to bind my sister."
"The matter is being dealt with, Dream Lord."
This time, it is Snape, looking furious and respectful all at once.
"She is my student, Lord Morpheus. She is ... over-enthusiastic."
"Nevertheless, she has entered my realm, wizard. She creates a precedent." They are standing toe to toe: the Dream King and the Potions Master. Hermione and Lucien watch them, fascinated and nervous. "You should keep better control of your students, Potions Master."
"I agree." Snape glares at Hermione. "I confess, I was not aware that the potion she created would facilitate access to the Dreaming. It hasn't been used for twenty years ... and it was different, then."
The Dream King nods. "Twenty years ago, I was imprisoned. In my absence, the Dreaming decayed."
Snape nods. "Then the stimulation of the second sight was an aberration." He looks almost relieved, though Hermione cannot say why.
"Indeed." The Dream King steps back, relaxing slightly. "Take your student and leave my realm, wizard. And I would advise you not to create potions which create portals to the Endless. Your student explored my library in relative safety. She would not have fared so well in the realms of Delirium or Despair. And there are those who you would not name, who would not confine their explorations to libraries."
Snape nods. "The potion will be destroyed, Dream Lord. It was ... not meant to be created." There is a flicker of something like pain, or regret, in his eyes, but then he turns to Hermione, and it is gone. "Come, Granger." He smiles, rather unpleasantly. "Time to return to the waking world."
"Wait." Hermione stands up, putting her tea cup into its dream-perfect saucer. "That book." It still called to her, seductive and untouchable. "What is it? And why can't I read it?"
The King of Dreams regards her for a moment, a spark appearing in the blackness of his eyes.
"You are familiar with the notion that the world was created with words?"
In the beginning was the Word, whispers a part of Hermione's mind, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
"That is the book containing the Word."
"I couldn't read it."
"That is not a privilege for mortals, little witch." Lord Dream bows slightly, turns and departs without acknowledging Snape.
Lucien shakes her hand. "A pleasure, truly a pleasure," he says. "Perhaps we will meet again, in the Hogwarts library."
"I'd like that."
Snape clears his throat.
"I'm coming," Hermione says.
Snape leads her out through the shelves of the Dream King's library. She wakes up as she passes through the threshold.
She is in the hospital wing, opening her eyes and blinking heavily. Her mouth is dry, and there is a bitter taste on her tongue. She isn't strong enough to lift the water jug beside her, but Madam Pomfrey crosses the room to assist her.
"Awake at last, Miss Granger," she says.
"Awake." Hermione drinks the water and holds her glass out for more. Her head hurts. "Professor Snape?"
"Likewise." The professor is sitting up now, his hair falling into his eyes. He pours his own water.
Madam Pomfrey scowls as Dumbledore enters the hospital wing. "Headmaster, I really don't think--"
"Please, Poppy." Dumbledore is gentle and firm, and Madam Pomfrey retreats. "Severus."
Dumbledore lowers himself into a chair and says, seriously, "The Oneiros Potion. You never told me that you were a student when you first developed it."
"No. I didn't."
"From ingredients only available from the Forbidden Forest."
Snape is both regretful and defiant. "You already know of -- my history. Is one more youthful mistake worth your attention?" Sardonically he adds, "or are you going to remove points from Slytherin?"
Dumbledore smiles slightly. "I'd have to remove points from Gryffindor as well, would I not?"
"How much do you know?"
"Nearly everything." Dumbledore nods at Hermione. "I imagine that Miss Granger has a number of questions, though."
Snape glares at her. "As do I. Beginning with the question of how she found that corner of the library, and what compelled her to drink an obviously unfamiliar and untested potion without supervision." He sneers. "I expect that kind of foolhardiness from Potter or Weasley, Granger, but I was under the impression that you were the intelligent member of the party."
Hermione, nursing a headache, and not in the mood for a lecture, loses her temper. "I found the corner in the library because the wards had decaying. It was really quite obvious, once the spells were gone." She is guessing that the protective wards were his work, and judging from the sour look on his face, she is right. "As for the potion, perhaps you should have thought of that when you--"
Dumbledore nods. "Indeed, Miss Granger."
Snape is still scowling at her as though she was -- as though she was Harry, or Neville. "That version of the potion was faulty, even before the Dreaming was restored," he says. He turns to Dumbledore. "I reinvented it, the second time around. It was truly a new potion. More effective and less damaging. I'd forgotten that I'd left a set of notes in the school."
Dumbledore nods. "I understand."
"This doesn't excuse Granger's stupidity. She should have known better." He speaks to Hermione. "You've been sleeping for three days."
"How did you find me?"
"Ah." Dumbledore's eyes are twinkling. "Harry and Ron came to me with a rather unusual map, having searched the library for you themselves. Madam Pince assures me that they've spent more time in the library in the last few days than they have in five years here. Once Severus saw the map, he was able to locate the hidden corner and bring you down to the hospital wing."
"And then he came after me."
"Shared dreams were a -- distinctive aspect of the dreamweed, the first time around. I gambled that the potion would have the same effect." Snape's mouth twisted. "I did not enter the Dream Lord's realm lightly, Granger."
"I know. I'm very grateful--"
"I believe that fifty points from Gryffindor would be appropriate, Headmaster?"
Dumbledore's eyes are sparkling. "Only thirty, Severus. After all, you went unpunished..."
"Thirty points. And a month's detention. For sheer stupidity."
Madam Pomfrey returns to the ward, shooing Dumbledore out and making Hermione rest for a few hours. Snape, only unconscious for a few hours, is allowed to leave.
Hermione's head clears, and she is able to receive Harry and Ron when they are finally permitted to visit her. She tells them about the corner in the library, and the potion.
She refrains from mentioning the photos, the prefect's badge, the tie. She knows that they'll be gone before she returns.
"You should have told us, Hermione," Ron reproaches her.
"I know. But it was so -- it was a space of my own."
Harry is taking it better than Ron. "We always said that, given half a chance, you'd move into the library."
"You should have told us," Ron says again, but he is touching her hand, and she thinks that he'll forgive her.
Later, she tells them about the library in her dream, and Lucien, and the Dream Lord, and they are suitably awestruck.
She doesn't tell them about the Book, although there are moments when she can feel it, calling to her, and sometimes, she feels its cover beneath her fingertips. Walking through the not-quite-familiar shelves of the school library, she catches glimpses of it out of the corner of her eye, but on further investigation, it always turns out to be a textbook, or Practical Transfiguration, or Do It Yourself Necromancy.
She serves her detention with Snape in silence, and somehow prevents herself from calling him a hypocrite to his face.
Harry still has special classes, but Ron cuts back on Quidditch practice and accompanies her to the library. She shows him the hiding place, and after a while, they make it their own.
She doesn't go looking for the Book.
She once catches a glimpse of Lucien, disappearing into the shelves with an armful of books, but she stops herself from going after him.
She doesn't visit the library at night anymore. Not even in dreams.
"Not. Happy. Jan."
If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to Liz Barr
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