Disclaimer: I'm not muscling in on JK's turf - just gambolling on it, like a spring lamb, having fun working out the literary and psychological puzzles which she is having fun setting us
#3: Flying Blind
[In which Snape and the shaman stumble blindly through miles of tunnels in the dark, pursued by the Death Eaters.]
Worrying about being able to find their way back to anywhere was pointless, since she had never seen any way out - did not in fact know if there even was one, in any normal sense. Any direction was as good as any other, as far as that went. The main thing was to get as comprehensively lost as possible vis-à-vis the Death Eaters, and so she switched directions almost randomly at every side tunnel they came to. She did try to keep a tally of rights and lefts, to be sure they didn't circle back on themselves - but it was hard to assess the curvature of the tunnels in pitch-black night.
Blundering through utter darkness felt extraordinary - as if she couldn't tell whether her eyes were open or closed. But she could sense the side-turnings by changes in air-pressure - and by more subtle clues. The dark man was trying to support as much as he could of his own weight, she could feel it - she could hear his tight, stressed breaths although he made no complaint about a journey which must be both painful and exhausting for him. She was trying to sense his own position as well as her own, when a sudden instinct told her to pull him towards the right of the tunnel, slightly off his current course, so that he stumbled against her and almost fell.
"What" said the soft voice in the darkness, the first word he had spoken since they left the cave, and an unmistakably irritated one, "was that all about?"
"Low ceiling on that side - you would have hit your head." The acoustics of the place were peculiar, and even though she had spoken in an undertone "head head head head...." echoed softly back at her from all sides.
"Am I to suppose you have Dark Sight?" "Sight sight sight sight...." went the whispering echo.
"If you mean, can I sense where I'm going in pitch-blackness well enough not to crash into anything major, yes."
"In that case - lead on McDuff" he said with the faint ghost of a laugh, and she thought that she was going to like him. It didn't really make much difference, for she would not have left her bitterest enemy in such straits - although she could think of a few she would just have finished off. But since she was probably going to die with and for him, it was nice to know that she was going to like him.
She tried to support him firmly without squeezing his bruised ribs, but it was clear he was flagging. She was torn between wanting to get away from the cave as far and fast as they could, and worrying about what the journey must be doing to him. About ten minutes after the incident of the low ceiling he solved her dilemma for her, by muttering "It's no good - I just realized - they'll be able to track us. I'm leaving... bloody footprints."
"Oh, gods - are you sure?"
"They whipped... soles my feet... until they were flayed - of course I'm bloody-well sure."
"Shit. How can you walk?"
"It's not as if I have... much choice. But I'm - going to have to rest soon."
"Hell and damnation. Look, you lean on me as much as you need to. Anyway - you're supposed to be some sort of powerful Magic User, aren't you - can't you heal them?"
"'Physician... heal thyself?' If I had a wand... perhaps."
The built-in radar he had called Dark Sight identified a side-pocket off the main tunnel and she turned into it, and supported him as best she could as he folded down onto the ground - trying to prevent his controlled collapse from becoming a bruising fall. Why it should matter that they were in a side room she wasn't sure, except that she for one felt safer with walls on three sides, instead of echoing space out of which anything might come, from any direction.
His breathing was worryingly shallow, there in the darkness. After a moment he gasped harshly and said "As before. I'm finished either way, but if you kill me and run we both have a chance of escape. Of a sort."
"Surely - if you could heal yourself with a wand - the wand is only the focus. The virtue, the power is in you, surely? It's just how you channel it."
"Wands - wands are special. Wandless magic... I can do a bit. Not this though. Not enough control." He sounded as if he was falling asleep, and she was afraid she was going to lose him altogether. The bulk of the chalk and whatever earth was above it kept the temperature above freezing, even here on the cusp of the New Year; but it was still bitterly cold for an injured man with nothing but a cloak to cover him. If he died here, at least that would solve the dilemma of whether to follow his orders and kill him - but she still cherished some hope of getting both of them out of this alive, if not precisely well.
She thought hard about what made a wand a wand, and not just a stick. "I have a wand in my bag" she said carefully, "but it's a bit - small. Almost a pocket thing. It's a little piece of nonsense, really - but if you maybe could try it..?" As she spoke she fished out a slender, straight little piece of elegant frippery, cut-and-combined from contrasting woods.
"Yes...." he said sleepily. He was not quite as sleepy as he sounded, though. When she put her hand out, blindly, in what she hoped was the right general direction, and encountered the sharp jut of a knee, his long, bony hand came down over hers at once and deftly removed the wand, although there was a tremor in his touch.
She held her breath in the darkness, hoping for some sign that the wand could work and he could, potentially, still be saved. But "Can't, I can't - " he muttered in the darkness, and the sound rolled back at them - "can't can't can't...."
"What is it?" she asked, though cold dread already told her the truth: that the wand was nothing which could be made to work in his world.
"My arms - my shoulders - I can't hold it steady enough. My shoulders are half out of their sockets."
"Oh, is that all?" she said in profound relief.
"It feels like a bloody big 'all' to me: it hurts like burning wire. No good. You - you'll have to do it."
"Oh, lor' - I don't know how to do that kind of magic."
"If can - use wand, I can teach you the charm. Probably."
"Oh gods. It's not my wand, I was, um, taking it to somebody. I don't use a wand."
"No good, then" said the drowsy voice. "Can't use my arms, I'm done for."
"Here, let me see. Well, feel." She reached out towards his breathing in the pitch darkness - encountered the sweat-soaked beard and worked her way round from there, although he drew back uneasily from her touch.
Working blind, sliding her hands under the cloak by touch alone, she could feel the mess of bruises, blisters and cuts that laced his skin. His shoulders were burning hot and she could feel the slight distortion of shape. He permitted her to move his arms about gently, working out how the joints had been unseated and which way they needed to move to be put back again; although his breath hissed sharply as she did so.
"All right - I can put this back for you I think. Only thing is - it'll be a bit rough and ready, and it's going to hurt. But, time being of the essence...."
"Just - get on with it" he said through audibly set teeth.
She hauled off in the darkness and chopped the edge of her hand across the joint as hard as she could. It went back in with a queasy little pop: the dark man yelped and swore, but after a moment he growled "And the other one - come on!" which she took as confirmation of success. This time, he bit the yelp back to a sharp grunt.
"How does that feel?"
"Sore" - but light flared suddenly in the darkness. Dazzled, she saw the slim wand held loosely between his hands, the ball of soft light blossoming from its tip like a dandelion clock.
In the half-light, he looked thinner and more battered than ever; bruises showing up black against a pallid toast-rack of a chest. He really did have a face like a hatchet - narrow and sharp, with a high thin prow of a nose which had somehow escaped being broken, this time around, but which already had quite an impressive bump in it. He sat there frowning in dark-browed concentration, examining the sole of his right foot, and her gorge rose when she saw the red-black ruin left by the snake-man's whips: but the snake's victim looked as if he was merely contemplating an interesting puzzle.
After a moment he gestured with the wand and began to sing to himself - a little humming, halting, lilting tune which plucked at the senses. The hairs on the back of her neck rose in unison as she saw new skin begin to creep across the flayed muscle and tendons: although the result still looked angry and sore.
When both his feet looked like something it was possible for Lynsey to contemplate him standing on without feeling sick, he pointed the glowing tip of the wand back out into the corridor they had come by, and murmured "Evanesco." For a split second she saw that he had been right - that smears of both old and fresh blood marked their progress - before the marks flicked away as if blown by an unknown wind.
"I don't know," he said tightly, "how far back I managed to clean our trail - or how far along it they might already be. If I'm coming with you, we must go. Now."
"Do you want another energy boost, first?"
He shook his head, although he looked so grey around the gills that she thought that that was an unwise move which might make him too giddy to stand. "No. Later. For now, I can - draw ahead on my own future strength." He murmured something inaudible, making a complex gesture with the wand as he did so; and indeed his colour improved slightly, and he looked a lot less as though he was about to pass out.
She suddenly remembered what the man Crabbe had said, on the far side of nightmare. "I have some food in my bag...."
For a moment he stared at her, a wild, desperate look like a famished dog, and then shook his head again sharply. "Later." He held out his free hand for her to help him up - a gesture much more imperious than pathetic. "Well, come on then - McDuff."
The second leg of the journey was both better and worse. They had swapped sides so that he was on her right, now, leaving his own right hand free to use the wand. They still travelled for the most part in darkness, in case traces of light might give them away to a pursuer: but it was a relief to know that they had a light to use in emergencies. Perversely, however, the knowledge that light was available interfered with her built-in radar, and she managed to bark her shins twice in as many minutes.
On the positive side, the dark man had done something odd to the cloak he wore, and to her robe, so that they seemed to retain heat better: his skin still felt rather cold, away from the bruising, but she was no longer worried that he might actually die of exposure. He was moving a little more freely - which was only to be expected, and it made her queasy to think how much walking must have hurt him before - but he was obviously flagging badly. Come to that, she was flagging badly herself, and reaction was setting in in earnest, so that she couldn't tell which of them it was that was shaking. Both, probably.
An unexpected bulge in the wall at her left made her lurch sideways, and she felt her companion fling out his hand to brace himself against the chalk. He made a thin, sharp sound of pain which went through her like a knife. "Are you OK?" she asked automatically, and then realized as she said it that it was a monumentally stupid question.
She expected a sarcastic answer and knew she would deserve one, but for a wonder he just muttered "Cramp - I thought it would ease but - getting worse."
"We'll have to stop - you can't go on like this."
"I learned to - ignore pain and keep moving, when I was a child."
"Up to a point! But you shouldn't drive yourself until you collapse - and I'm about ready to fold even if you're not." Conversing as they were in absolute darkness seemed unnaturally intimate; as though they were inside each other's heads: and the fact that they both spoke so quietly, for fear of being overheard, just made it more so. She tightened her arm about his ribs. "Come on, now. Come and eat. We've come such a long way in the dark."
"I suppose so. I wanted to go - as far as I could before the energy I drew ran out."
"But it won't do any good if you knacker yourself completely. You'll have more energy if you'll only stop for a while and eat. Come on, pet."
He made a dismissive little snort at that but he let her steer him into another side-chamber: one where he could use the wand-light without casting more than a very faint trace of light beyond the door. She wondered at the fact that the idea of him creating light from a piece of wood and pure willpower already seemed almost normal.
And it was only potato salad, after all that. She wished she'd had something more to give him, seeing him so starved that even the anticipation of food made him shake with desire. But she was shaking in earnest too, now. Watching him bolt down the measly bit of sustenance like a winter wolf, with the underlit shadows making him look even stranger and wilder than he was already, she was shuddering as if she would never be able to stop.
The whole thing made her mildly hysterical anyway. She wasn't sure if she believed any of it. It didn't feel like a dream - far too consistent, and she very seldom dreamed in any case - but she wondered how she would know if she were lying head-injured and hallucinating in some hospital somewhere. But she couldn't say to this man "I don't believe in you," and walk off and leave him injured in the dark. To leave him as she had found him, hung up to suffer in invisible chains, would have been even less imaginable - and the idea that she might have had to do so, that she might so easily have failed to free him, was nauseating.
She realized suddenly that he was watching her, with a brittle, mocking expression. "You look like I feel," he said. "Are you all right?"
"Just coming down off the buzz, a wee bit." She sank down to the ground, facing him, and leaned her back against the wall. "Gods that was novel if you like - and very exceedingly bloody hairy."
"You appeared to know what you were doing."
"I've used the song magic before on people who were in psychological pain, but that's a bit different. You don't necessarily have to sing aloud - you can do it in your head - and they don't even have to know you're doing it. You just pool their mind with yours, work yourself into the right state and pull them with you. But doing it for someone who was in physical pain - I was terrified I wouldn't be able to reach you."
"I've never seen that particular technique before. I've used singing myself to give an existing charm more power - you heard me do so - but I've never heard a, a non-magical song, a song that was never intended to be a spell, used in a magical context like that."
"I've never done it in a context quite like that. I mean, using this stuff for psychological pain can also get a bit hairy. You go lock-step with someone who's in a flaring panic and you end up panicking too: you feel as if you've swallowed your own tongue but you still have to keep singing, and staying with the music feels like wrestling a python.... But the, the blood and the not knowing whether I knew what I was doing just added a whole new layer of awful."
"I apologize for - distressing you. You really shouldn't have had to get caught up in my danger, my - "
"Oh, hush. And I wasn't exactly in an ideal situation myself."
"Nobody who comes into contact with - Him - is in an ideal situation. Do you have anything more to drink?"
"Ah, no - I'm really sorry."
"That is - that shouldn't be a problem. Do you still have the bottle?"
"No - I left it behind. Sorry."
"That's perfectly all right." He balanced the empty plastic tub from the potato salad on the palm of his left hand, frowned at it thoughtfully for a moment, tapped it with the wand and said "Scourgify. Auguamenti." Instantly, it was scrubbed clean and filled with equally pure water. He held it out to her without comment, but she shook her head.
"You, first. You need it more."
He drank from the awkwardly-shaped, square-sided tub with some difficulty, steadying it in both hands - and she saw for the first time that the outer two fingers on his right hand were broken. No wonder it had hurt him when he had to use that hand to steady himself. When he had finished he filled the tub again with the Auguamenti charm, drained it again, filled it again, and handed it across to her without a word. As she drank she watched him, flopped back against the wall with his eyes closed, looking rather better for having had enough to drink and at least something to eat.
She was feeling a lot better herself, now - only very slightly wobbly. "I've been thinking," she said, frowning at her own memories. "We may have a bit of grace here. When that shower in the hall were listening to you being - " She stopped abruptly, hearing him catch his breath, and seeing his face twist from comparative relaxation into a mask of shame and self-loathing. He stared at her with wide, blind-looking eyes, as if she was herself the torture that was coming to him, and she ducked her head in apology, feeling sick. "I'm so - sorry - but you know it was so. The thing is, they weren't just hearing you - screaming, they could hear your heartbeat and your breathing as well."
"Your point being?" His voice was completely flat and steady, and his expression had gone in an instant from anguished to inscrutable and hard-boiled.
"When I broke you out of - of that, you said yourself that you didn't think the - whoever - could hear you any more. You didn't think he would hear what you were saying to me. If that's true, he'd have lost your heartbeat and breathing as well. He won't just think you fainted, he'll think you died, surely - and since they were planning to leave me down there with you for a couple of hours, maybe they'll just do that - leave me to contemplate your supposed corpse."
"Yes. That would seem - reasonable. So they may not even realize we've gone, yet."
"Quite. Time enough to have a look at you, my lad, and see what can be done about you."
"What did you have in mind?"
"Well - cramp I can sort out for you, I'm good at basic massage. But massage when you already have so many bruises and cuts - well, it's going to hurt, is all. Can you fix the lesions the way you did with your feet?"
"Some of them. Bruises and breaks are harder, and I'm no mediwizard - but I can repair cuts and burns, as you saw. That's just a matter of making new skin grow, which is simple. The problem is that open wounds really need to be thoroughly cleansed before they are healed. I can clean the worst of the - mess off myself magically, and indeed I shall do so." He passed the wand across his own body in a complex, graceful gesture, and most of the dried blood and other matter flicked away, as the blood had flown from his footprints. "But that isn't sufficient to get rid of the - the agents that cause infection."
"If you say so. That takes a disinfecting potion, which I don't have and can't brew because there are no ingredients here to make one. I can call water, of course: but it really needs something stronger. And without proper cleansing, there's a risk of closing the skin with infection inside it, and that can make for serious problems. I wouldn't have sealed the skin on my feet, except that I didn't think I could take another step without it. I am paying the price for my haste already." Indeed, the new skin on the soles of his feet, what she could see of it, looked patchily red.
He tilted his head back against the wall again and shut his strange, coal-black eyes. Lynsey thought that he looked utterly drained, despite the food. "I could manage this so much better if I had more energy. I can take a little from you and that helps, but it's just burning me up more because my body can't match it. And this wand - it's better than nothing, but not nearly as responsive to me as my own was." He opened his eyes again and looked at her, as if from a great distance. "They used my own wand, you know. My own wand, to punish me with - I don't know if you can understand that but -"
"I do, though, I think. Like having a part of your own self corrupted and twisted against you."
"You seem to be doing fine with that one, anyway."
"It feels - farcical, using something so slender. Or girly, which is possibly worse. But it does the job. What I really need, though, is food and sleep - but food is nowhere to be had, and I want to be a lot further away from the minotaur before I would dare to sleep in this maze."
"I'm going to need to eat at some point too. Can't you just - magic up some food, the way you did the water?"
"That's not as stupid a question as it sounds."
"I mean it. There are places where you can do that. At Hogwarts, the - school where I used to teach, you could do that, because the necessary magic was built into the place. If you called food it would come from the kitchens to wherever you were. But I can't in general summon food unless I can specify where I'm calling it from."
"Pity. Why 'Hogwarts'?"
"It's the name of the hill on which the school was built. It has something to do with King Arthur and a great boar that was supposedly killed in a meadow - in a place called Hogsmeade - near there. As I understand it, the local people thought the hill was shaped like a pig."
"Wart as in Art as in Arthur - yes. Twrch Trywth?"
"Much too far south. No, this was in Galloway, and another boar entirely."
"There is - there is food here, you know. Or there was. In that - hall, they'd been having some sort of party - " She stopped, seeing him shut his eyes and flinch again, and then ploughed on regardless. "There was a table, with sandwiches."
"Ah. That might actually work. I'd have to use a Summoning Charm, though. The problem with that is that they might work out where we are by following a trail of flying sandwiches - but if they aren't actually expecting such a move, the goods should be out of sight before they realize what's happening. Assuming, of course, that He hasn't blocked Summoning as well as Apparition and Transfiguration."
"Whenever the Death Eaters meet inside a building He sets up wards to prevent certain spells being carried out on the premises."
"Yes. Now - I will need to look at your memories and get a feel for where this hall is located. If you would permit me?"
"What? Oh - yes. Certainly." She let her barriers down without hesitation. The sensation was odd but not unpleasant - it felt rather as if he was running his fingers through her memory but he had a firm steady touch, like someone grooming a dog.
She should have realized what would happen - since it seemed clear that humiliation was as bad to him as physical pain. As he broke the contact he turned away from her and doubled up, clutching his arms across his chest. She put a sympathetic hand on his shoulder and he lifted his head and looked at her, white-faced and queasy-looking under the bruises and the scrubby beard. "A party - with me as the chief entertainment!"
She couldn't think of anything to do except pat him on the shoulder again - a sympathetic touch which he shied away from, hunching his shoulders against her. "Come on, sweetheart" she said gently. She realized she didn't know enough to know what would help him - or even what to call him, to get through the barrier of his burning shame. "Oh, look - I can't just go on calling you 'lad.' What's your actual name, love?"
"Professor - Professor Snape." It seemed to be the right question to ask - at least it got him partway into competence again. "You?"
"Lynsey O'Connor, forty-one, five feet eight.... Are you going to insist on 'Professor'? It can hardly be your given name."
"Severus, then. And I can't pretend to be surprized: I've seen them take apart some other poor bastard, often enough. There were - drinks there as well? Alcohol, maybe?"
"I think so - but would that be a good idea, when you're already so sleepy and cold?"
"I'm not intending to drink it - although that would be a plan, too. I want it as an antiseptic." He straightened his shoulders purposefully, flourished the wand and said "Accio leftovers," with a tight, self-mocking smile.
"What happens now?"
"Now we wait - for some time, if need be."
While they were waiting, she did her best for him with her limited psychic healing abilities. Musculo-skeletal aches had always been one of the things she was good at, and he declared that she had made him feel significantly less bruised and sore. She was relieved and flattered at that - since she had already worked out that he wouldn't say such a thing just to be polite. But it was clear he was uncomfortable about being touched.
"If you'd prefer it," she said diffidently, "I could teach you how to massage yourself - the bits you can get at, at least. It's quite easy: you feel along the muscle until you find a hard knot in it, which is the cramp, and then you rub it with your thumb until it eases up."
He made no comment on that, but he gave her a hard, mocking look and held his hands out to her, palms up, showing her his swollen fingertips and bloodied nails, and the two fingers on the right that were broken and displaced.
"Ah, no" she said. "I'm so sorry."
"I should splint that for you - if they had left me scissors or a knife to cut a bandage with." She gestured vaguely at the already ragged, scorched hem of her robe.
"Are you wishing - willing - to sacrifice part of your robes to make a dressing?"
"Oh, sure - but it's tough fabric, and I don't have anything left to cut it with."
"If you're sure...." He picked up the hem of her robe in his left hand, pulled it tight and gestured with the wand as if it were some sort of laser-cutter - and a thin, neat strip of fabric curled free as he did so.
"Good gods!" she said, more surprized by that than by almost anything else he had done. "That thing seems to have more settings than my Swiss Army Knife."
He looked at her sharply, almost as if he was seeing her for the first time, and she was surprized to see a look of profound alarm settle over his narrow face. "That's - a Muggle artefact?"
"A knife-handle with multiple different little tools slotted into it - but they bastards back there took it off me. Yes it's a Muggle artefact - why shouldn't it be? Seeing that I'm a Muggle myself."
"What does it matter?"
"Oh, bloody hell. I thought you were one of us - you were wearing our robes."
"I was wearing my robes, thank you! You must have realized that I was... doing something different from wand-magic. I told you, I don't even use a wand."
"I just thought you had - different skills. That you were - well, only graduates of one of the wizarding colleges use wands, and even graduates don't all stick to the approved Hogwarts style! Oh, damn. Damn, damn, damn, damn, damn."
"Why is it so important?"
"Because it's against the bloody Statute of Secrecy for me to let you see me using a wand! I could end up in prison, and you could end up having your mind re-adjusted!"
"Worse prison than here?"
"N-no - not since the Dementors left."
"Well, then - is there any point in worrying about it? It wasn't you that kidnapped me from out of my natural environment, and showed me some extremely nasty signs and wonders."
"I suppose so. Yes... you're right, of course. Right now, survival is our main priority - and if we fail at that, there's no point worrying about the other."
"It just - goes against the grain."
"All right - but I am a witch, even if not quite the same kind of witch you are."
"I should bloody hope not! I may be stuck with this damned girly-looking wand, but - "
"Ah. Where I come from, witch is a gender-neutral term, describing a particular method of working."
"What I mean by a witch is someone who uses a combination of psychic ability, traditional lore and psychology to manipulate events, and people - for their good, if you're a 'white' witch, and for your own if not. And, oh, as the man said - lying crosswise to the world, stepping outside the play - knowing where the scenery hangs and where the trapdoors are - being on the outside, never quite believing, thinking all the wrong thoughts. Watching yourself watching yourself watching other people. Knowing that you are yourself the strange and terrible thing that strides through the darkness."
"I'll hold my hand up to all of that - but I am still not answering to 'witch.'"
"But to me, 'wizard' sounds a bit - big fat men in red velvet, you know? I could call you a cunning-man."
"I've been called worse."
He insisted on straightening his damaged fingers himself, left-handed - saying he would hurt himself less than she would, since he was better placed to judge what he was doing. Hearing him make that sharp, sick sound in the back of his throat as he jerked the damaged joints back into alignment, she wasn't sure if that was true or not: perhaps he just found hurting himself less emotionally distressing than being hurt by others. But afterwards he held out his hand in silence and allowed her to strap a splint (in fact, a pen from her bag) to the side of his hand and fix the broken fingers in place.
While she was fiddling with the tension of the bandage, there was a slight clatter and a trail of yellowing sandwiches flew in from the corridor like a flock of birds, followed by a gaggle of glasses. The sandwiches arrived without plates, but she was relieved to see that some internal logic in the spell had caused the drinks to arrive still in containers. By mutual agreement, they decided to eat first, before proceeding any further.
"What have you got?"
"Cucumber, I think. You?"
"Ham and tomato and - what is that?"
"We will dispense with the bats' tongues, I think." He gestured with the wand, and the offending sandwich was suddenly plain bread and butter.
When they had stowed the remainder of the sandwiches in her duffel, Lynsey set to work to do what she could for the professor. She had some difficulty thinking of him by his first name - there was something about the biting way he said it which made her feel there was some unpleasant subtext that she wasn't getting, and wouldn't like if she did - and the name "Snape" made her think too much of spiky, long-beaked little birds. So he was just "the professor."
He bowed his head but made no complaint when she slid the cloak down off his shoulders, although it stuck where it touched, and had to be eased away gently. Indeed, he had helped by slicing another chunk off her robe to use as a swab, and now he sat patiently with the light-bearing tip of the wand resting across his shoulder, so that she could see what she was doing.
She almost wished she couldn't. His back was a nightmare mess of bruises and weals and burns: but her flinching sympathy wouldn't do either of them any good, so she set to work to clean the open lesions as best she could, using red wine and the square of linen he had cut from her robe. As she worked, her patient sang that same odd little tune, half music and half incantation, and the cleaned wounds healed over, after a fashion.
She became aware that there were many old, silvery scars already crisscrossing his skin underneath the newer injuries. The most spectacular were what looked like three great gashes, some months healed but still quite fresh, running from his left shoulder to his right hip.
"Good gods:" she said, tracking these enormous scars, "you look as if you were slapped across the back by a grizzly."
"Hippogriff" he said succinctly.
"Really a hippogriff?"
She tried to put that into a rational context, still feeling mildly hysterical. "Primo Levi - Italian Jewish writer - in one of his books he had this really bizarre line: 'He did not hesitate to harpoon my last hippogriff.'"
"But I didn't harpoon him, or anything like it. I could have struck him down and saved myself - but, poor brute, he was only doing his duty. As I was."
When the worst of the damage was repaired, he laid down on his face on the chalk floor, and Lynsey set-to to work her way over him, from his neck out to his wrists and down his back and out to his ankles, finding all the knots in his muscles and working them loose. She could feel at once that he had been right to complain, and was again surprized that he had managed to walk at all: for his limbs were knotted up with rigid cramps which must hurt like hot coals. She did her best to skirt round the worst of the bruises, but it was impossible to avoid hurting him altogether, and his breath hissed erratically through clenched teeth as she worked. Soon enough she was doing some tooth-clenching and hissing herself, as her thumbs began to burn and sting from the effort involved; and finally she was reduced to using her knuckles instead. But it did the job, even if it did it slowly and painfully for both parties, and when she had finished her patient declared himself to be moving far more freely.
He shook his head like a dog coming out of water. "Pleasant though it is to lie down, even when being kneaded like a piece of putty, we're going to have to shift soon. If they didn't already know that I was still alive, they'll have realized it when they saw the flying sandwiches. I realize we're deep in the maze and it won't be an easy task for them to find us: but even so, I want to go as far as I can go before I sleep."
"Are you sure you're strong enough?"
"Oh yes. And I can always draw ahead on my own strength again - up to a point."
He pushed himself back up into a sitting position without needing a hand up, and adjusted the cloak back around his bony shoulders. Lynsey looked at it critically. "You know," she said, "if we're going to be creeping around evading detection in what seems to be a chalk-mine, black and gold isn't really the thing. My robes are a bit better - but we could do with both being dressed in patchy pale greys and yellows. Do you know a spell for changing the colour of a thing?"
He turned his face aside and muttered something, catching his lip in his teeth.
He turned to face her, snarling, and she realized to her amazement that he was blushing furiously. "I said yes, yes - I use one to stop my hair from going grey - all right?"
She rocked back on her heels and grinned broadly. "Oh - that is so cute. I swear men are every bit as vain as women!"
He looked affronted for a moment, and then glanced at her sideways with a sort of tight amusement. She folded down beside him and started to laugh, and then by some natural progression they were holding on to each other and laughing until they were both sobbing for breath. Then as suddenly he was sobbing in earnest, and laughing between the sobs in rising hysteria. She shook him by the shoulders, trying to get him to stop, but his eyes were blank and wild and he was whooping for breath, until she feared he would laugh himself into a stroke. In desperation she hauled off and slapped him, hard - then felt abruptly very sick, seeing him cry out and throw up his hands to shield himself, cringing from the blow.
At least she had broken him out of his hysteria - if shuddering panic was an improvement. She laid a gentle, soothing hand on his arm and he flared from panic to rage and bared his teeth at her, so much like a fierce dog that she snatched her hand back, irrationally afraid that he might actually bite.
He glared at her wildly for a moment, then relaxed and looked away, obviously embarrassed. "Sorry, I'm sorry" he muttered. "I don't want - to make a fuss."
"That's OK - you're entitled."
"No I - I c-can't afford to give way to nerves, I never c-could."
She wasn't sure if he was stammering, or whether he was simply so afraid that his teeth chattered. "I hate to say it but that's sound thinking right now. If you roll up on me I don't think I could carry you. Tell yourself you'll allow yourself to have a nervous breakdown once we get out of here - as a treat, like."
He gave her the ghost of a smile. "All r-right. And I can't change the colour of the damn' cloak anyway - it's a type of Transfiguration spell and He always blocks Transfiguration everywhere except the throne-room, so no-one except Him can make any unexpected weapons. The same with Disillusionment - another damned Transfiguration. If I go grey from stress down here, I'll just have to go grey."
"Do you want another piece off my robe, to bind your feet?"
"No, I - the chalk is quite soothing, and appealing as the idea of you with your robe cut short almost up to your backside might be in some respects, there's no point in both of us freezing."
"I'd suggest swapping, but - "
"But I am not going to wear something that looks so obviously like a dress, quite apart from there being no reason why it should be you that goes cold."
Before they set out again, he gestured at the glasses and murmured "Reducto," but nothing at all happened. "Damn," he muttered - "another bloody Transfiguration." With an odd, rueful expression, he took each glass in turn - except for two which she stowed in her bag with the remaining sandwiches - held it out at arm's length and dropped it onto the hard chalk. When he had a pile of broken shards, he flicked the wand at them with the same firm "Evanesco!" he had used before, and the splinters blew away to nothing. And she made him stand still while she used the belt from her robe to transform her dress-cloak, with its high collar and gleaming gold edging, into something which on him resembled a thigh-length Mediaeval tunic. The general effect - which was that of a battered and slightly piratical Medici prince - was undermined by a pair of very thin, white, hairy legs.
"Lead on McDuff" is a fairly common, joky British catchphrase used when following someone somewhere - a corruption of the phrase "Lay on, McDuff," which occurs in Macbeth. "You look like I feel" and "Attaboy" are also common British throw-away tags.
The fact that Lynsey refers to Snape as a Magic User tells us that she plays D&D-type rôle-playing games.
Twrch Trywth was a magical, giant boar whom King Arthur hunted through Wales and Ireland, as recorded in the Mabinogion. I have placed Hogwarts in Galloway for the following reasons. It is generally assumed, because of the length of the journey from London, that Hogwarts is in Scotland and is a long way from the border with England, and because of this most people place it in the Highlands. However, the name Hogsmeade is almost excessively English, and suggests that Hogwarts, if it is in Scotland at all, is in the far south of Scotland. Yet, it isn't in the Borders, because the journey time is too long. I assume, therefore, that when the train reaches the Scottish border it turns west and heads into Dumfries & Galloway, rather than continuing north.
When Lynsey talks about witchcraft, beginning from "as the man said," the man in question is Terry Pratchett and the rest of this paragraph paraphrases him. The comment about wizards being big fat men in red velvet is also a Pratchettism. A cunning-man is a traditional Scots term for a male witch or herbalist - the masculine equivalent of a spaewife.
I refer anyone who thinks that it would be impossible for someone to walk on injured feet to the following quote from Helen Bamber, founder of the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, concerning a refugee who had walked from Poland to Germany in 1946. "He had walked for so long that his feet were in the most appalling state, it was as though his feet were no longer like human feet, they were lumps of meat and the shoe was somehow part of the flesh of each foot."
The Dark Sight really exists, and I've seen it used, although I don't have it myself. I recall a friend and myself in the 1980s, walking away from the village of Padstow, Cornwall, into a moonless, starless night. As we left the lights of the town behind us and the road grew darker I walked in front, because I had much better night vision than she did. When it grew so dark that I quite literally couldn't see my hand in front of my face she walked in front, and I followed. She couldn't do it if there was any light at all, because then her brain kept trying to see instead of sense - but in utter darkness she could walk ahead at full speed and know where all the kerbs and obstacles were.
Since Deathly Hallows makes Snape a year younger than the evidence in OotP suggested, I have also reduced Lynsey's age from forty-two to forty-one, to preserve the gap between them.
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