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
#4: The Cry of the Deer
[In which Snape proves to be an extremely fast learner.]
The third journey was definitely easier. The professor was moving far more freely now: he was still wobbly-tired, and walked with his hand on Lynsey's shoulder for support, but she no longer had to hold him up with an arm round his ribs. And as they walked, they talked - for the professor had remembered a little charm called Muffliato, which he declared himself embarrassed to have forgotten about before, and which placed them in their own portable sound-proofed bubble. Lynsey wasn't sure even that was wise, since the spell made a buzzing in the ears of potential listeners, and that might alert them to the fact that there was something they weren't hearing. On the other hand, they couldn't move without making at least some sound, since the professor's breathing was still ragged and harsh - so the muffling charm was perhaps better than the alternative, and once they had it, they might as well talk.
And self-contained though the professor seemed to be, her sense of the situation, and of him, told her that being tortured had been an abysmally lonely experience, as well as all the other things it must have been. He was starved for some sort of friendly contact, as well as very interested to know how she, as a Muggle, had worked out how to free him.
"You gave me the clue yourself when you said I hadn't the power" she said, into the weird intimacy of the dark. "If it was a matter of know-how or finesse I wouldn't know where to start with your sort of magic - but if all it takes is brute force and ignorance I can do you any amounts of brute force: it's just a matter of time spent cranking it up."
"By means of singing?"
"That's one way - often the quickest and surest way."
"The mechanism being basic self-hypnosis." Christ! she thought, as realization dawned - he's taking notes. Here, in this awful place, in this darkness and pain, he's thinking about his next academic paper. She felt suddenly relaxed and light-hearted, knowing the quality of mind she was dealing with now, and finding it as familiar and comfortable as fire on the hearth.
"Mostly. Yes. It's all about psyching yourself up, tricking yourself into feeling what you need to feel to access the power. Coisich a Ruin happens to be a particularly good one because it takes off like a racehorse and it's really long - you don't lose impetus by having to start it over very often. But all wauking songs are good for this sort of thing."
"Wauking. It's how they used to make the tweed up in the Hebrides. It was - um - soaked in, um, stale piss, basically, to break down the fibres in some way, and then the women would toss these great heavy lengths of cloth from hand to hand around a table and pass the verses of the song from mouth to mouth with it, and the verses are sort-of cumulative - "
"Each verse takes the last two lines of the previous verse and adds two more of its own - I got that."
"Right. In the old days it was often done as a game - somebody would toss in the first couple of lines and then they passed it around and actually made the song up as they went, hammering the tweed down onto the board with every pass to make it shrink and thicken. That's why the music has such a snap and thump to it. The actual words in wauking songs are often a bit - a bit sort of nothing much really, because of being invented on the fly: but that steady thump, thump, thump makes for a terrific hypnotic."
Under better circumstances she could have talked about the old music all night long: but the reality of their present situation was nibbling at the edges of her concentration. She wondered aloud how much further they could go into the maze before they found an edge or an exit of some kind - and whether the apparent absence of pursuit, either physical or magical, meant that their escape had not been discovered yet. But the professor answered her grimly out of the darkness: "I know Him. He enjoys tormenting His victims with false hope. He'll let me run, and then take me back at leisure just when I think myself saved."
"He's a gloater? Well, that gives us a bit of leeway. Me, if I was setting out to kill someone, I'd just kill them first chance I got - I wouldn't waste time faffing about."
"I'd probably gloat, I have to say."
A moment later, she heard him gasp in evident pain and his hand slipped from her shoulder. She felt rather than saw him reel away from her and collapse to the ground. She slipped down to kneel beside him, running her hands over him and trying to work out by touch what was wrong. "What is it? Prof - Prof, show me!" Light flared in the darkness, dazzling her. When she could use her eyes again she saw that he was lying on his side with his lips skinned back from his teeth, clutching his left forearm in his right hand, although he had somehow still managed to hang onto the wand. "What is it? What can I do?"
"Nothing." A few seconds later and the pain, whatever it was, evidently abated. He let go of his arm and pushed himself up into a sitting position, and then sat panting, his long hair swinging limply about his bowed head.
"Show me." He looked up at her then with an odd, defiant, mocking expression, and held out his left arm, turning it over so that she could see the soft skin inside his elbow. She realized with a cold shock that what she had taken to be just a bruise among bruises contained within itself the blacker outline of a skull, with a snake protruding from the fleshless lips. She rocked back on her heels and stared at him, as if she was seeing his white face and straight, sweat-soaked black hair for the first time - and for the first time she tried to imagine him without the beard.
"I've seen you before," she whispered, as realization dawned. "You were with them, at the Samhain parade."
"Took you long enough to catch on" he said bitterly.
"You're one of them."
"Go, then. Go and leave me to my former - colleagues' tender mercies."
"Don't be stupid. But - why?"
"So, let me get this straight, you're a double agent, right?"
"Quadruple, I think."
"I worked it out. He sent me to spy on Dumbledore, and Dumbledore sent me back as a double agent. He knew that Dumbledore thought he had 'turned' me, but He believed that I was still His, and used me to spy on Dumbledore and to dispense disinformation. Dumbledore knew this, and really I was giving him true information, and dispensing only disinformation back to Him. Four layers, you see."
"Sheesh. It's worse than the French Resistance." She could see what a rich tapestry of misunderstanding that one could lead to as soon as she opened her mouth, and before he had finished opening his - having already gathered that wizards received almost none of what she thought of as proper education after age ten. "Resistance in this context is a group of people secretly resisting an evil invader - it's not to do with electricity or anything, OK?"
"If you say so."
"So what became of the two people who were taken at Samhain?"
"Trust me, you'd prefer not to know. I wish I didn't know."
"Argh. Well, then, I'll tell you one thing, Prof - if I was slated to be horribly killed anyway, you really don't need to feel bad about involving me in your - difficulties. But I really, really don't like the idea that that shower can use the Dark Mark to locate you."
"It's not as major an issue as you might think. Down here, the fact that He can tell which direction I'm in isn't going to be all that much of a help in finding me, since the tunnels run every which-way. But if He's pinpointed me magically, He may be able to break through the protection you set up, and reassert control. To - hear me again. For one thing."
"Hearing what you say is hardly going to help him find us - since we don't know where we are either. But I don't like the implication that he might be able to torture you again at any time."
"I'm not - ecstatic about it myself. If I only had more energy I could perhaps hold Him off and stop Him from touching the Dark Mark - for a while, at least."
"Then I shall just have to summon power again, and be a battery. This time, I think, I shall dance it up."
"You may if you please. I'm in no condition to."
They were, inevitably, resting in another side-chamber - a tiny one, hardly big enough for what she proposed. The professor, without comment, took the box-lid drum off her and began to tap on it softly, holding his long fingers very flat and straight to minimize the pressure on his damaged fingertips. He seemed to know what he was doing - she was getting the impression that he always did - and she went with his rhythm and began to dance.
Dancing was a fine way to summon power: as hypnotic to the dancer as singing, and often faster. She began with ordinary Highland stepping, that feeling that one was floating above the ground at every step, bouncing up on the ball of the foot and never quite coming down. When she had the rhythm - when her senses had narrowed until there was nothing except movement and the drum - then she moved into another step entirely, keeping her hands by her sides and banging her heels down hard to emphasize the beat. While you were actually dancing, the expenditure of physical energy only seemed to bring more energy in its wake: she could feel her own heat standing off around her like a wall, and yet not touching her, and energy coiled up through her spine and spilled out through her open mouth, her open hands. The professor kept on drumming, firm and brisk, although when she saw a slightly dazed look begin to creep over his narrow face she muttered "Don't watch too closely - you'll make yourself dizzy." She danced for ten minutes, twenty - on and on until she began to feel dizzy herself. Finally, when her head was spinning, she folded down out of the height of the trance and back into her mortal sense of herself, and felt the heat she had been holding off crash down on her.
Gasping, she sank to the ground next to the professor, who summoned water to fill one of the glasses from her bag and passed it to her, still in silence. She felt as if she was so full of power she might spill herself, like the glass he gave to her. When she had smeared a palm-full of water over her face and drunk the rest, she took both his elegant, battered, skilful hands in hers and felt him drawing the energy into himself. Although gods knew how sore those long hands must be now, after drumming for her for so long without complaint.
She had all the energy of the dance: while her channels were open she had all that and more, she could feel the power under the ground, striking up through her feet. She might not be able to do much that was constructive with that power herself, but it was there for the professor to draw from her, to draw through her, and to use as he saw fit. Already, her default expectation was that he would know what he was about.
The wand-light grew brighter and more steady - that suggested, then, that the efficacy of the spell depended partly on the energy of the caster. The professor sat up straighter, shrugging his shoulders and neck back and forth to ease them. He looked for a moment as though clear light was shining within his skin, and as he stroked the wand across the reddened soles of his feet, easing away that sore, bruised look, she thought she saw a flicker of St Elmo's fire following his gestures, competing against the wand-light.
A moment later and she was sure of it. The wand-light shrank in on itself as he concentrated his attention elsewhere, and as he began to pass the tip of the wand to and fro above the Dark Mark in a complex pattern, she definitely saw a glimmer of blue, tracing his gestures against the darkness behind him. Sometimes he muttered very softly under his breath: mostly it sounded like Latin, but she thought she heard the words "be bound here" and "beyond His seeing, beyond His knowing." He seemed to be constructing a cage or net of force around his own arm.
When he was done - when the ethereal blue glow had been drowned out by the dandelion-clock, silky whiteness of the wand-light - he frowned at her, puzzled rather than annoyed. "That was - very odd. You appeared to be running backwards on the spot, in some way."
"I was. It's called Shetland Stepping - as you step backwards with one foot you bounce forwards on the other, so you stay in the same place."
"For fun, of course."
"If you say so."
And of course, they couldn't allow the situation, or themselves, to rest. Staggering through the darkness was taking on the aspect of nightmare - a minor form of torture in itself - but having, as they both hoped, temporarily blocked the snake-man's ability to touch the professor's Dark Mark, they both wanted to get away from the last place the snake-man knew him to have been; and between black night and the professor's reeling weariness she knew they must be moving at less than half of normal walking speed.
"From what you've told me, I'd guess yer man is a psychopath with Narcissistic Personality Disorder - a souped-up serial killer, basically. Plus the snake bit. A lot of it must just be overcompensation for the birth-defect."
"For what birth-defect?"
"Don't give me that. You can see at once that he's drastically deformed."
"Of course - but not from birth. He was born handsome - beautiful, in fact, in a cold way. His current appearance is the result of the damage He has done to himself through a lifetime of Dark Magic unwisely handled."
"Ye gods and little fishes. Talk about an industrial injury." She thought about the snake-man's terminally bizarre appearance. "What's with the contact lenses, anyway?"
"What contact lenses?"
"Oh. What's his name, then? You haven't said."
"The Death Eaters call Him the Dark Lord - but I swore I would not call Him 'Lord' a moment longer than I had to. His name when He was - still human was Tom Riddle. His name now - I may not say it. To say it is to attract His attention."
"Oh, yeah - there are gods like that. Ones that come when they're called, and you'd really rather they didn't."
"Same thing with the fairy legends of course - people in Scotland used to call them The Good Folk because they were afraid if they named them they might turn up, and they really, really didn't want them to."
"I can see why - although Dumbledore was quite fond of the things."
She decided she really didn't want to think about that one, just at the moment. "Why 'Death Eaters,' anyway? They snack on corpses, or what?"
"Hah - no. Nothing so amiable. He - the -"
"The snivelling little psycho."
The professor's mouth tightened at her words as if he had bitten into something unpleasant. "Yes.... He wants to devour death itself, so He can live forever. His followers - some want to escape their own deaths, some simply enjoy bringing death to others. But they all want control over death."
"And what did you want, Prof?"
"I? I wanted - I thought I wanted - to understand death. To turn it on and off, to make and unmake it like a potion.... But the price was - unacceptable, and it was not I that was paying it."
"So when they made a sandwich out of the tongues of a protected animal...."
"It probably wasn't a coincidence, no. To a true Death Eater, the extinction of an entire species would be a striking achievement."
On and on into the darkness, until Lynsey herself was ready to drop and she didn't want to imagine how exhausted the professor must be. In the end, when even he admitted that he really could go no further, they collapsed together into what was hardly more than a pocket in the chalk.
"We can't both sleep," the professor said wearily. "One of us will have to keep watch, in case He sends the Death Eaters after us - or attacks us magically."
"Oh, don't start being noble and volunteering to be the one who stays awake - you're far more tired than I am."
"But I rarely sleep anyway - and I would be better able to defend us if He makes a magical attack, since He will do it using my sort of magic and not yours."
"I strongly suspect that he has to some extent 'pointed the bone' at you: that is, that his ability to harm you depends to a large extent on you buying into the same belief system - and that by the same token he might well not be able to do anything serious to me, because I don't buy into it."
"And do you intend to put this hypothesis to the test?"
"Shit, no - not if I can help it. But I feel like you lot are playing chess and I'm playing backgammon, you know? We're not playing by the same rules at all."
"Yes, I see. And there are both advantages and disadvantages to that."
"Did you understand what I meant about 'psyching yourself up'? Using the music to hypnotize yourself into becoming whatever tool you need to do the job?"
"Listen to me. I have spent my entire adult life locked in a sort of - of mental arm-wrestling match with the Death Eaters, tricking myself into almost-really feeling things that they would expect a genuine fellow-traveller to feel, while crushing my own true feelings down so hard that I'm no longer entirely sure what they are. Yes, I know."
"Well, that sort of nearly-really feeling things comes into shamanism a lot. Especially in trance-work, when you are 'travelling in astral' - you're dealing with something which is half in the real world and half in your head, and even the bit which is in the real world is malleable. It flows with what's in your head, and you shape a thing by half-convincing yourself it already is what you want it to be. You shape yourself, you convince yourself to be what you need to be, and you make a setting in your head to be it in. And then if you do it right, what you did in your head affects the physical world as well, and the demon is defeated, or the disease cured." She realized she probably wasn't being very coherent, but she was too sleepy to care - and the professor seemed to be following her OK. Or perhaps he too was just too sleepy to quibble, academic paper or no academic paper. "The same with the music. I don't have a subconscious: I have a soundtrack. There's music running through my mind almost constantly. The music in the head tells me what I think and feel - but I can change what I think and feel by changing the music."
"I always was interested in the old magic," said the elegant smooth voice in the darkness, "but it's not something that's encouraged in the wizarding world. I always felt there had to be something more - more raw, more primal, than waving a wand and saying a few words - but all I found was Dark Magic, which combines the worst of both systems and the best of neither. And it always seemed natural to use voice itself as a tool. Not just saying the spells - that I can do better inside my own head anyway - but tone, rhythm...."
"There's a Vanir creation myth - you understand 'Vanir'? The oldest Norse gods, who came before Thor and Odin's lot? Anyway, it says 'In the beginning was nothing but fire and ice. When they came together, they made a sound. From that sound, everything else was born. Sound is a horse: you can ride it where you want to go.'"
"Oh, I like that. Would it work with the spoken word as well, do you think - with poetry as well as with song?"
"I don't see why not. It's really about manipulating your own mood, to put yourself into the right frame of mind for the power to come through you - whatever power you are trying to access, whether it's the power inside yourself, or the light under the ground. You can use whatever makes you feel the way you need to feel - which can be a bit off-beat, sometimes."
"Sad songs often make you feel less sad - or at least calmer."
"And happy songs can be dead irritating - yes."
She sat there listening to his breathing slowing into the steady rhythm of sleep, and wondered about the ineffable weirdness of things. Here she was, in utter darkness, keeping company with this strange, spiky academic in a dream landscape that belonged in a Dungeons & Dragons game. And it was only, what? - four hours ago? - that she had been on Croydon High Street, shopping for kitchen supplies.
She sat close against him, sharing body-heat. When he shuddered and jerked in his sleep, and pleaded wearily with some unknown person, she hesitated between waking him before the nightmare got any worse, or leaving the dream to run its course in hopes he wouldn't even recall it when he woke - but he solved her dilemma for her by dropping quietly back into profound sleep, lying sprawled on the cold chalk with his head pillowed somewhat uncomfortably on the lumpy bulge of her duffel-bag. She wondered if it would soothe his raw nerves (or her own, indeed) if she put her arms round him: but she decided against it. He was about the most determinedly uncuddly man she'd ever met. She did, however, rearrange matters in the closed-in darkness until the loose folds of her robe draped across his bare legs.
She must have been half dozing - no more than that - when she became aware of a sense of growing oppression: as if the darkness were the folds of some dirty, smothering cloth which was closing around her. She clapped her hand on the professor's shoulder to rouse him, and he started harshly awake, his breath rasping beside her. A weight of horror bore down on them both. Beside her, her companion scrambled to sit up. There was a metallic, ozone smell: a thin crackle of fire raced across his skin, briefly lighting up the darkness, and was gone, and he moaned aloud, sounding sick and desperate. She touched his arm, both offering and asking for support, and found it icy-cold and slimy with the thick sweat of absolute fear. A muscle in his forearm jumped and fluttered beneath her fingers. The sense of the dark mind pressed at them both, so foul she felt as if her brain needed to be scrubbed.
That horrible shimmer of artificial lightning came back, illuminating the room with an irregular, under-water light, and she saw that the professor's eyelids were flicking back and forth as if he were in REM-sleep, although his eyes were open. He was clutching the wand so tightly that his broken nails gouged into the heel of his hand. He was obviously fighting it with all his strength - but that was as obviously not enough, as the fire began to focus, licking at his lame feet, at his fingers, at his groin, searching for something to hurt. Lynsey turned the surface of her mind outwards as hard as she could and chanted under her breath "Turner be turned, burner be burned; turner be turned, burner be burned; turner be turned, burner be burned...." over and over, but all she could do was to maintain a little space around herself. However hard she pushed, she couldn't force that space wide enough to include the professor, and he was shaking with terror as the fire began to bite in earnest.
She saw him open his mouth, fighting for breath, for control, and she was terrified that in another moment he would be screaming again, and this time there would be nothing she could do for him. But instead he spoke, so softly and breathlessly that the words were like empty outlines, mere spaces in the darkness where words could be.
"At Tara in this fateful hour
I place all Heaven with its power,
And the sun with its brightness,"
And she knew it - she knew where the shadow-words belonged, now, and what he was trying to do, and she joined in with him in profoundest relief.
"And the snow with its whiteness,
And the fire with all the strength it hath,
And the lightning with its rapid wrath,"
- and he was speaking more strongly now - and she should have known, she should have, even on the strength of six hours' acquaintance, that he wouldn't let raw terror get in the way of competence -
"And the winds with their swiftness along their path,
And the sea with its deepness,
And the rocks with their steepness,
And the earth with its starkness,
"All these I place," he said firmly, with great clarity and force,
"By God's almighty help and grace,
Between myself and the powers of darkness."
And the sense of oppression and the hideous, tormenting lightning blew out together, like a dark candle, and left them side by side in the peaceful night.
"Well that was pretty damned impressive, Prof - for a first attempt!"
"If a technique for fighting the Dark Arts exists, I can learn it. And you turned in quite an impressive first-time performance yourself, or I wouldn't be sitting here now talking to you. I'd still be - "
"Yes. When you were - hanging there and I didn't know what I could do to help you I was climbing the walls, nearly literally: but as soon as you gave me the idea of what I could do I stopped worrying about it and just did it, as hard as I could, until I had done it."
"Do your best as best you can and don't worry about it - that seems an eminently practical philosophy."
"Fretting butters no parsnips. The right time to freak out is after the job's done, not during."
"We are both - good under pressure, I think."
"How come you know The Cry of the Deer, anyway, and you a - whatever?"
"My grandmothers on both sides were Spanish: that's where I get my colouring from - and the nose. That's how my parents met, in fact. You might not believe it, but I was raised Catholic - though I haven't practised it for a long time, and if I were to confess my sins now I wouldn't know where to begin. But there was a time when I used to collect the Christian Muggle poets."
He still sounded very wobbly. "If you like," she said diffidently, "I could do a healing thing to make you feel calmer."
"No! No - I'm sorry. I don't want anyone but myself in my head at the moment."
"That's all right pet."
He snorted at her in the darkness. "I am nobody's pet." He lit the wand-light and tried to summon water to the glasses they had brought with them, but nothing came. "Damn." He let the light flicker out again. "I was afraid of that. You understand, when you put up a ward to stop a spell being used in a given area, nobody can use that spell: so they daren't block me from using spells they may need to use themselves. But they can and will try to block any spells which might be of use to me and which they think they won't need. Depriving us of water... that's spite, if you like - a punishment for defying Him."
"Well, I noticed the walls were damp in patches, and if we're still in Britain then it's winter somewhere above us: we'll have to try and find a seep of rain-water...."
"But gradually, He will wear us down. Oh, God, I don't want to go through that again. I can't bear it, I can't...."
"Sweetheart, I promise you, I will kill you, rather than let them take you again."
"How - without your knife? You can't even use a wand."
She brushed his long hair aside and touched the soft hollow behind and below his ear. "Here. If I drive my thumbnail in hard, right here, it should stop your heart."
He arched his neck under her fingers like a cat being stroked, as if the promised death was a caress. "Ah, God - that's - ah, no, you mustn't. I can't ask you to. He'd punish you for it."
"Can't - leave you to Him."
"Well, I can't stop my own heart, I don't think it's possible - and you haven't the nails for it." Even if they hadn't been as broken and bloodied as they were.
"I suspect I won't even be able to kill you with the wand. He will want to take us alive, and He won't want us to be able to kill any of His people, so He will have blocked the killing curse. But I could break your neck - if I had to."
"But that leaves you alive and at least as badly off as you were before, and you know what he'll do - shit."
"I know a curse to cut with which I doubt He will have thought of. It doesn't cut very deep, but if I had to I could open my own wrists, or my throat - but I don't know if I could bleed out faster than they could heal me."
Irrationally, since it made no difference to the darkness, Lynsey squeezed her eyes shut and jerked her head aside, trying to shake off the sudden vision of him recaptured alive, sliding frantically in his own blood. "Shit. We'd damn well better just get out of here, is all. We'd better just bloody had."
The singing magic and the shamanism are all genuine, although I am of course only guessing at how much power they would have in the Harry Potter universe.
I, personally, have never managed more than about three steps of Shetland Stepping before I got my ankles in a knot and fell over - but it's really impressive if you see it done properly. If you try to watch it too closely, however, it makes you feel as if your eyeballs are turning inside out.
The Cry of the Deer (a.k.a. the Faedh Fiada or The Rune of St Patrick) forms part of a much longer ancient Gaelic prayer said to have been composed by Patrick himself.
A thing which butters no parsnips has no practical use.
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