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
#5: Snares for the Wary
[In which Snape and the shaman blunder wildly from crisis to crisis.]
"Did you actually have a plan for getting us out of here, or were you counting on getting us both heroically killed? I'm just asking, you understand."
"I intended to play it by ear."
"And what a wonderful picture that conjures up."
"I was - winging it. It seemed necessary to make a snap decision - and what could I do, but what I did do? When you gave me the key to freeing you I just did what came to my hand, and trusted the gods to sort it all out later. I mean, what would you have me do? I couldn't just leave you there in such - would you have done so, if you were in my place, and someone else was being tortured?"
"There are times I've had to do just that, to maintain my cover. But in general - no, I suppose not. But I hope that I would try to formulate some sort of coherent plan, prior to jumping in with both feet."
"All right, Mr I'm-So-Cool bloody Magic User, if you're such a great strategist, you think of something."
He sighed and wiped the back of his hand across his dry mouth. "Don't you think I've been trying to?"
She wondered when he'd found the time. After the terrifying incident of the dark mind and the calling of the elements, they had perforce had to stumble onwards again, away from a place they knew the Dark Lord had sensed them in - the professor on the basis of a couple of hours of sleep, and her on none. They had finally found somewhere to roost up for a few more hours, and the professor had insisted on sleeping turn and turn about with her, so that she herself got at least an hour or two of uncomfortable dozing.
During that hour or two of guard-duty he had certainly not been idle. He had invented, apparently from scratch, a visual equivalent of Muffliato; so that now they travelled in a bubble of light which illuminated everything within about a ten foot radius, and nothing at all beyond it. Anyone standing outside that radiant circle would see only blackness. This was fine by Lynsey, as exhaustion had eroded her night senses to the point that her shins were now nearly as bruised as the professor's. He himself was still going very lame, which was only to be expected, and occasionally he stumbled and had to brace himself against her to keep from falling: but he no longer needed to be supported on a regular basis.
"How exactly did you get here?" said the professor's soft-smooth voice. "I mean, how were you brought into this place?"
"I - I'm not sure. It was - odd. Disorienting."
"Spare me the journalistic colour and just tell me what actually happened."
"I was just standing in the street and that - that guy with the white-blond hair, he called me by name, and when I tried to back away he grabbed my shoulder and touched my face with - with a bit of discarded rubbish, really. An empty cigarette pack. Then I was standing with him in - where the, um, party was. I thought he must have drugged me or something - but I suppose it wasn't that, was it?"
"And what did you feel - physically, I mean?"
"As if somebody got hold of my insides and yanked them."
"Portkey, then. Damn. That means we're on maximum security lock-down."
"I was hoping you'd been brought here by Apparition - that's - a sort of instant transportation that you do with a simple spell and your own willpower. It can take you from anywhere to anywhere, if you know what you're doing. But this sounds more like a Portkey - that is, an object charmed to take you from one specific place to another."
"What does it matter?"
"If you'd been brought here by Apparition that would mean there was at least one place in this complex where Apparition hadn't been blocked: we might have stood a chance of getting to it and getting out that way. But if He's got people coming in and out by Portkey only...."
"Can you make one of these Portkey things, Prof?"
"No. He will certainly have set His wards to block the necessary spells, and in any case I couldn't make a Portkey to take us out of here without knowing where 'here' is. As matters stand, we can't even be sure what country we're in."
"So we have to find a physical exit from this place, or...."
"If there even is a physical exit big enough to admit anything larger than a badger, which is unproven. I certainly am in no condition to try to dig my way out, and all the spells that might have done so are blocked against us."
As they padded cautiously through the darkness, encapsulated in their own portable moonlight, Lynsey became aware that there was also a glow further down the tunnel ahead of them. The professor pulled up sharply, squeezing her arm to indicate caution, and they sidled towards the distant light with him in the lead, wand raised and ready. Lame though he was, he still moved with a dancer's grace and poise.
When he saw what was within the light, though, he froze so completely that for a moment Lynsey thought he had been stunned. Sidling right up to him and peering over his shoulder, she saw something that was almost worse: a small, lighted room, like a glowing bubble in the chalk, splashed and soaked with dried blood and reeking with the stench of pain.
The professor stood there staring rigidly ahead, breathing as shallowly as if he were made of glass, and an unwise breath or a touch might shatter him. She touched him anyway, placing a hand lightly on his shoulder, and he shrugged her off, hunching his shoulders up and shivering. She tried again, and this time he snapped half round and stared at her through the curtains of his long hair, his pupils dazed and fully dilated. With his short thick eyelashes, and the strands of heavy, oily black hair hanging in front of his face, he looked slightly mad - and so much like a fractious, wall-eyed pony that she had to bite back an hysterical urge to giggle.
"Damn," she said, in a studiedly normal voice. "We seem to have come full-circle."
His eyes came slowly back into focus and he nodded to her curtly. "Unfortunately, yes. However - it may not be as bad as it seems. They may not think to look for us... behind enemy lines, so to speak." He looked at the horrible scene again through slitted eyes, and pointed the wand. "Accio bottle."
"Is that wise? If they notice it's gone, surely they'll know we've been back past here." They had been so thorough, after all, in covering up the traces of their passing - the professor even using the same Evanesco charm for the embarrassing business of cleaning up after necessary calls of nature. Interfering with the scene of the crime like this seemed like tempting fate.
"I'll trade the small risk of any of that shower showing a bare minimum of intelligence, against being able to carry water with us - assuming that we ever find any." Lynsey nodded tiredly and stowed the bottle in her duffle. She was beginning to be seriously thirsty herself.
The professor shut his eyes and edged into the horrible room, his shoulders hunched up round his ears and his arms clenched across his chest. Lynsey went with him - although the gory mess made her flinch nearly as badly as it did him. A lot of the chalk in these caves was pinkish anyway: but this was something else altogether, and the abattoir stench of stale blood and urine made her dizzy and panicky all over again. Three tunnels: the one that stood at their backs; one slightly to the right, with traces of bloody footprints leading away into darkness - so the one on the far side must be the door she had come in by, with Crabbe.
The professor's skin was as pale and translucent as porcelain, and she could see the pulse beating in the vein at his temple. She hooked her arm through his and guided him across the rust-red floor, and out by that far door. First left, then, and left again, and right - trying to steer well away from the direction of what she thought of as the function-room, as well as from where they had just come from. The professor came with her blindly, and didn't open his eyes until they were several turns away from the scene of his suffering - but when he did he shook himself irritably, impatient with himself and with her.
"If you had only kept some record of where we'd already been, we could have avoided that."
"Don't blame me, Prof - I could say the same to you."
"Don't be bloody stupid - I can't hold a pen with my hands like this. Do you have quill and parchment in that bag of yours?"
"I've got the back of an envelope and a biro - only you've got the biro. It's strapped to your hand."
"Well, it will just have to come off, then. I need you to keep a record of these tunnels."
"No need for that - here, give me your hand." She eased back the edge of the bandage and fumbled at the mechanism of the pen until she had extracted the thin inner ink-tube. The professor watched in fascination, insisting on a detailed explanation for every little spring and screw-thread, and exclaiming over the needless complexity of Muggle technology until she was thoroughly irritated with him.
More endless winding darkness - except that this time Lynsey had to concentrate on covering the envelope with a pattern of complex squiggles which soon threatened to overflow it at the edges. "I'm surprized," she muttered, trying to make the latest curve fit in in a sensible manner, "that he hasn't already sent someone after us."
"I told you - He's playing with me. Laughing. He can probably sense where we are at all times."
"Oh terrific. Then why am I bothering with this?"
"It will give us some idea of the structure of this place, if we have to run. Assuming I can run. That will give us at least some advantage: I imagine that one of the reasons He has yet to send the Death Eaters after us is because of the simple risk that they will get lost, and blunder about in the dark as randomly and ineffectually as we've been doing."
They were walking as they talked, and Lynsey was too busy looking at her scrabbled attempt at a map to watch where they were going. She relied on the professor for that, now - he was still very wobbly, but he was going so much better for having had at least a few hours' proper rest and several by now decidedly suspect sandwiches, and she was happy to follow his lead, bumbling somewhat sleepily in his wake... without warning, he stopped so abruptly that she cannoned into him. "Good God" he said sharply; "what's that?"
Peering over his shoulder, she found herself looking up into the empty rib-cage of a skeleton, more than man-sized, that hung stretched across the roof of the tunnel, half in and half out of the rock. The professor's hands shook with shock and fatigue, and the wavering wand-light made the ancient dead seem to swim through the chalk, so that she half expected it to slide past them and be gone. In a long skull like a pike crossed with a dragon, the empty eye stared down at them, ringed with tiles of hard bone.
"That, my dear, is an ichthyosaur - which means I know where we are. This has to be Chislehurst Caves."
"Is that good or bad?"
"Depends how you look at it. We're in an old chalk mine - so old that bits of it go back eight thousand years - a few miles south-east of London. The good news is, there are multiple ways in and out - and there are twenty-odd miles of unlit tunnels down here and the Death Eaters can't possibly know more than a fraction of them." As she spoke, he sank slowly down to the base of the wall, the wand held loosely between his knees, and licked his dry lips. "The bad news - "
"Oh don't tell me - let me guess. There are twenty-odd miles of unlit tunnels down here, and you don't know more than a fraction of them either."
That, at least, gave her something to talk about that she knew about and he didn't. As they walked, she told him what little she could remember about the history of the caves - about the Stone Age miners, eight thousand years ago, who came there for the flints with which to make their beautiful, leaf-shaped knives and arrow-heads; about the Romans and the Saxons who came there digging for chalk; and the Royalist fugitives who hid there only a few hundred years ago. She found that the professor was surprizingly knowledgeable about the English Civil War - claiming that Rupert of the Rhine had been a well-known Anglo-Germanic wizard.
Her professor might be noticeably more mobile than he had been the day before, but he was starting from a position close to rock-bottom, and was still an exhausted and badly beaten man. When she touched his skin now, he no longer felt clammy-cold - worryingly hot was more like it. Even though they had found no water as yet, nor any sign of an exit, after an hour or so of wandering he had to admit temporary defeat, and find a place where he could sit down and rest. Lynsey squatted down beside him, and they made sleepy, desultory conversation. He was intrigued by her descriptions of all aspects of Muggle life, but was reluctant to return the favour - taking refuge in the Statute of Secrecy. "The more I tell you now, the more will have to be wiped out of your mind later - if they do decide to wipe you, and not to give you auxiliary status."
"What we do for the parents of Muggle-born witches. They're allowed to know about the wizarding community, and to talk about it between themselves, but they are spell-blocked against talking about it to anyone who doesn't already know. Now tell me again - properly, this time! - what it is you do for a living. Arthur would find this fascinating."
"I'm a web designer - and that's nothing like what you're thinking, OK?" She did her best to explain, and was relieved to find that he followed her fairly well. "It's not nearly as interesting as it sounds - but the pay is good."
"I might say the same about teaching - except for the part about the pay."
He put his head back against the wall and closed his eyes, and Lynsey sat and watched him, feeling rather proprietary. He might be desperately thin, but he looked wiry rather than fragile. If he had had a little more meat on his long bones she would have called him rangy, with a decent width of shoulder when he bothered to stand straight. His hands and arms were beautiful altogether, big-boned but graceful and artistic-looking, with broad, mobile wrists. And she found she rather liked his blade of a face. The beaky nose and black brows had a certain harsh elegance, under the bruising, and his face was certainly full of character - even if not all of it was pleasant.
"What?" he said sleepily, becoming aware of her gaze.
"I was thinking that you looked quite - romantic, lying there. In a Byronic sort of a way."
"Don't mock me, please. I haven't the strength."
"I wasn't - "
"Please! I know I am not - prepossessing, at the best of times, and now I must look - utterly grotesque."
"Do you have a chin under all that face-fungus?"
"Yes I damn-well do!"
"Well, then. Human beings are funny-looking animals, on the whole. A guy called Inge said that 'We tolerate shapes in human beings that would horrify us if we saw them in a horse' so it's like, my basic criterion for whether someone is reasonably well put-together or not is whether they would still be an acceptable shape if you imagined them as a horse. If you were a horse, people would say 'What a strong, fine-looking black horse' and plait ribbons into your mane."
"Thanks. I think."
"Anyway: you know what looking Byronic means, don't you?"
"Mad, bad and dangerous to know."
"Thank you so much for that."
She thought to herself privately that she had known horses like him - all nerves and nose and temperament - and she still had the scars to prove it.
It was not very long after they set out again that they came on a wonder - so wonderful that Lynsey would hardly have believed it, if it hadn't jogged some vague memory about Chislehurst Caves. Their peripatetic wanderings had brought them to another chamber: one much the same size as the torture-room they were fleeing, but very different in other ways. The very first thing that Lynsey noticed was the echo - or rather, it wasn't. She had grown so used to the hollow reverberation which followed their every word that she no longer registered it - but as the professor stepped out into this strange space the haze of echo around his voice abruptly vanished, leaving his latest sarcastic remark to hang in the air bare and sharp.
The second thing was white mist, coiling through the sphere of wand-light, and the third was, wonderfully, water. The floor of the cave sloped down, away from them, and at the low end clear water filled a deep depression in the chalk, spilling over onto the level of the floor. As soon as they saw it, the professor folded down onto his knees with an oath and began scooping water up in his lame hands. Lynsey sat down beside him rather more decorously, and passed him one of the glasses they had saved from the purloined leftovers. As he took it from her she felt the dry heat under his skin.
When they had both drunk themselves waterlogged, Lynsey filled the salvaged bottle and carefully capped it. With only the one source of water - marvellous, clean water, as clear as glass - they were both reluctant to contaminate it by bathing their dusty, sweaty selves: but the professor was so literally footsore that he dipped his feet in the cool edge of the pond, wincing.
"May I see?" Lynsey asked, and he nodded silently. His feet were like his hands - long, slender and shapely - but the new skin was marred by the red patches of inflammation and had a generally bruised look. She tried to soothe them with a little very gentle massage, working the balls of her fingers into the arch of his instep to ease his sore muscles, but even that much made him flinch. "How bad is it?"
"Bad enough. Evidently just repairing the skin wasn't enough, but I don't know how long it will take for the - underlying damage, I suppose one must call it, to heal."
"Well, I dunno how it will work out using your sort of healing, but in the usual way of things I'd have said they'd be sore for several years. Realistically. It takes a long time for that sort of deep nerve damage to heal."
"Hell. I sincerely hope you're wrong."
She hoped so herself, but doubted it. A sense of creeping horror at what had been done to him oppressed her - horror at his own pain and misery, and horror at the elaborate cruelty which had gone into inflicting it. She wished she had the power to make things better for him, but all she could hope to give him was death.... The dampness and cold seemed to eat into her bones, and she remembered that one of the things that was said about this pool was that it was haunted - that the bones of a murdered woman had once been retrieved from its depths.
The professor made a soft gasp, almost inaudible in the deadening stillness of the mist, and she glanced up at him and saw that his eyes were liquid with terror, staring fixedly at something she herself could not see. She felt her own guts turn to water: he was so afraid, and she would not be able to save him; she would lose him back to the hands of the torturers; he would die screaming after months of agony and there was nothing she could do but mourn him in advance; and what a failure she was - she had never been able to save anybody she truly cared about....
Recognizing the symptoms with an abrupt snap, she wrenched her brain 180į around by main force, uncoiled to her full height and began to swagger towards whatever unseen thing the professor was nevertheless seeing - that he was consumed and paralysed by the dread of, staring at it as though it was everything he had ever feared rolled into one, but as she stepped forward away from him she heard him gasp something that sounded like "Expecto -" He was starting some sort of spell, she knew it, but she could hear his teeth chattering, and the wild swinging of the light around them was the measure of how much his wand-hand was shaking.
Swaying her hips in a slow roll and clapping her hands sharply as she went, Lynsey paced forward, chanting "Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight!" in time with the clapping.
"Expecto patronum," the professor's hoarse voice finished, and for a moment there was a sparkle of clean silver light against the backdrop of the mist, a wavering outline of a slender-legged deer, and the sense of oppression lifted: but the sparkle faded out like a dying firework, and the horror came roaring back twice as strong as before. The sense of helplessness and shame prised at the edges of her mind, trying to find a way in, but she thought hard about how pleased she was that the thing - whatever it was - was there, because she was so enjoying fighting it, it was such a pleasure to have something to sharpen her skills on, the longer it stayed the more pleased she would be.... In her mind she was in her beast-form, she rose up on strong, clawed hind-legs and opened her long jaws and she was so very, very happy to have something substantial to bite -
There was a moment of transition, of teetering on a seesaw of power, and then whatever-it-was was sidling away from her, trying not to be noticed. She wondered briefly about following it, but decided not to push her luck. Behind her, she heard the professor lurching painfully to his feet - she turned and offered him a hand up to steady himself and he accepted it without looking either resentful or condescending, which she took as a measure of how shaken he was. "Trap!" he gasped through still-chattering teeth; "It's a trap - get out now!"
Infected by his sense of urgency she swung her bag back out of the way and seized him round the ribs, and they made a staggering run for it, reeling through the complex of tunnels as if their lives depended on it which, she supposed, they did. The professor was sobbing for breath before he would allow her to stop, and by then they were well and truly off the map, and into a grid-like maze of crisscrossing corridors. This seemed to Lynsey to be a particularly disturbing, even nightmarish place to be becalmed in, since there was nowhere where you could stop to rest that didn't have multiple access-routes coming at it from all sides, each one potentially allowing an enemy access to them. On the other hand, wherever they stopped they were at least assured of multiple escape-routes, and the professor had pretty-much run himself into collapse.
She helped him to sit down, or he would have fallen down. He flopped against the wall, almost lying rather than sitting, and gasped "Shit! I can't believe I fell for that!"
"Water - He knew we'd have to go looking for water, so He just set a Dementor to guard the only water in this bloody place and just sat back and fucking waited until I blundered into it."
"That was that - Thing back there?"
"Yes, but - Muggles aren't supposed to be able to see them."
"I didn't exactly - um, what did it look like, to you?"
"The same way they always bloody look."
"Like a very tall man made out of - mostly covered by a long, dusty black cloak, but the few bits you can see that ought to be flesh look as if they're made of white fungus - or like a very old corpse with fungus growing on it."
"I couldn't actually see it as such - and judging from your description I'm lucky I couldn't see it. But I've always been able to sense them: I call them Neggies. Things which feed on negative energy."
"No, that's not right - Dementors feed on positive feelings, on happiness and - and laughter, and they strip it all away and leave you with nothing but misery."
"No, I'm sorry but that's not right. Look, I know this is your world and all, and you can see the thing and I can't, but I know a Neggie when I - um - don't see one. The half of shamanism is fighting these things in one form or another, and I've been fighting them for twenty-odd years. Some of them very odd indeed. They feed on negative feelings - on pain and shame and fear and all that stuff. They hate positive feelings - positive feelings make them sick - so they just shove them out of the way in some way so they can get you to feel nice and horrible, and then they suck your pain up like a milkshake."
"No - they suck your soul. Let them get close enough to kiss you and they suck your soul out of your body through the mouth and eat it, and leave nothing behind but an empty shell."
"Urrgh. I've never heard of one that could do that before, it's true. But then tell me this: if I'm not right about positive feelings getting rid of them, how did I shift it? I just kept walking at it and thinking about how much I wanted to fight it, and it went."
"It's true - true that I failed to produce a corporeal Patronus. But I wanted to fight it - I was trying to fight it with everything I had - and it didn't seem to do any good. Are you claiming to be so much stronger than I am?"
"Never in the world - just more, um, bloodthirsty. I suspect you wanted to fight it because you wanted desperately to get it away from you and protect yourself."
"Why else would one want to fight it?"
"I'm half Irish, and I wanted to fight it because I wanted to fight it. Wanting to fight them because you want them to go away doesn't work. You have to want to fight them so much that you want them to come to you, so you can hit them some more. They don't like you feeling good, so if they think that them being near you will make you happy they go away. It's a particularly perverse little bit of mental gymnastics - also really, really frustrating, because the more you want a fight the less likely you are to get one - but it does work."
"You - ah - do this sort of thing a lot, then?"
"Everyone should have a hobby, Prof."
"You're out of your mind."
"I thought you were the one who liked learning new combat techniques - like collecting stamps!"
"Huh. Yes. But for someone who can't even see them, to tackle a Dementor just for - for amusement, that's - reckless to the point of insanity. Really."
"What advantage is there in actually seeing the things? I can sense them - and it sounds as if their visual appearance is just part of their schtick - I mean, they make themselves look really frightening, so people will be frightened, and then that fear generates energy for them which gives them the power to do what they wouldn't be able to do if you - if one weren't frightened of them in the first place."
"That would make sense - but it isn't particularly helpful. It's said that they dredge up your worst memory and make you relive it - but I have so many worst memories they have to form a queue. It's difficult to feel - especially martial when you also feel as if you are going mad."
"It doesn't have to be martial fervour - some New Age types swear you have to radiate love at the things, but I've always found that love of a fight is better. The dark joys are just easier to maintain in the face of darkness. Light, frothy joys are easily blown away, but if you take a dark joy in danger then the knowledge that you are in danger can only strengthen it. That's why, in my Tarot deck that I use, the equivalent of the Heirophant - the card called the Shaman - has the meaning 'The rough shall be exalted equally with the smooth.'"
"I can appreciate the technique in abstract, but I don't believe I have ever felt joy in my life - dark or otherwise. That's why - I couldn't make the Patronus solidify."
"That was the spell you were trying to do?"
"Yes. It makes an - an embodiment, in beast form, of protection - of the thing you most feel protected by - and to summon it you have to concentrate on a purely happy memory."
"There, you see - that just proves my point. Even in the wizarding world, you use positive feelings to get rid of Neggies."
"All of which is all very well and good if you have a talent for positive feeling. My Patronus - my Patronus isnít really my Patronus, it's a copy of the one that belonged to a friend who - who died. I've never had one that was truly mine, precisely because there is nothing in my life which makes me feel safe, and never has been. In my line of work, I'd need to be mentally defective to feel safe.
"All the happy memories I have are connected to - to the friend whose Patronus I copied but I can't infuse it with any sense of joy or of safety because she died. There's as much pain in it as happiness, so I can use it as a messenger but in the face of a Dementor it just - I just see her death. Repeatedly. Nor will it protect me, since she... I rejected her protection, in life, and she - withdrew it. And nothing on earth makes me feel 'hope and happiness and a desire to live.' That's what the textbooks say you need to cast a strong Patronus: 'Hope and happiness and a desire to bloody-well live.'"
"Although one imagines that the swearword isn't included. I'm not sure about the 'desire to live' thing anyway - that's what the Death Eaters have, isn't it, an overwhelming desire to live? Me, I reckon there's more strength in a willingness to embrace death - but as a new phase, an expansion of possibilities, rather than as an, um, dead-end. And hope can be at least as much a torment as a blessing. But how can you say that you've never felt joy, and you an academic? You must know how it feels, that moment when you know you can prove your theory and it is beautiful."
"Is that joy? That?" He was staring at her, then, and his eyes were as dark and deep as the old sea. "But that feels - like a sword."
"Oh yes - like a sword with both fire and balance, to cleave the air with. That's why Swords stand for intellect in the Tarot."
"I could make a Patronus - out of intellect? You really think so?"
"I'm not sure that I understand what you're trying to do well enough to judge. But I know how you could make a power-beast out of intellectual passion, and I think you could make the power-beast be your Patronus. And I don't think it would stop you from still having your friend's Patronus as well, when you wanted to call it."
"OK. Well, to start with, you have the traditional idea of a Totem beast - a symbolic animal whose magical properties in some way harmonize with yours, or who is a guardian. Then when you - when you fight with demons and Neggies, in astral or elsewhere, you're really fighting them with your mind - with your courage and will. Human beings are - kind of squashy, basically, so to give yourself that courage and will it often helps to imagine yourself to be something other than human. Some people go for god-forms or for robots and so on, but the commonest one is to take on some powerful non-human animal form: a bear, or a panther, or whatever. Sometimes it's the same as your Totem beast - sometimes, just something that walks with a rolling swagger and makes you feel swaggeringly fierce. The form you have in astral, see, is your self-image, and most people's default self-image is some version of their actual physical self - which is why it is very important to make sure that your self-image includes clothes, incidentally - but if you have a good imagination you can take on the form of anything which you can imagine being with sufficient clarity."
"But this is still just - yourself, am I right? Not something you can project outside yourself?"
"Ah, now, that's a very good question Prof." She sat back and grinned at him, and he smiled back; that odd, tight, weary little smile, still pulled out of shape by swelling on the left side, where somebody had split his lip against his teeth for him, and had broken some of his already rather irregular teeth in the process. "Often the power-beast seems to take on a life of its own - it becomes something you are merely riding in, not simply something you are, and you start to get the impression it wanders off and does its own thing when you aren't watching."
"A sort of incorporeal familiar, in other words."
"You think that this - power-beast could be used like a Patronus?"
"I think it could be an alternative way of generating one. Think about it. You reckon there's nothing and nobody that you can trust to keep you safe - but you can trust yourself, right?"
"Let's just say that I am - under no illusions as to my own abilities."
"Good man. Making a power-beast is just a way of embodying yourself - of becoming your own protector and your own safety."
"So what's yours? Is it permissible to ask that?"
"It varies according to what I need - but usually a Velociraptor."
"A sort of small carnivorous dinosaur? Oh, come on - you told me yourself, you lived as a Muggle till you were eleven, and I thought all small boys loved dinosaurs."
"I had - other things on my mind. But I think I know what you mean. Big, ancient, lizard-like things?"
"Kind-of - except that nowadays a lot of people think they were more like flightless birds. This one is a spiky, skittery, giggly jackal of a thing with a frill of feathers and claws like meat-hooks."
"It sounds delightful."
"Listen, I want something that makes me feel strong and vicious - not cute."
She glared at him - but one might as well try to outstare a cat.
And then they were walking again - trying to find an end-wall, a place where the tunnels led off in only three directions instead of four, so that Lynsey would have a sensible place from which to start her map again, on the other side of the now-disemboweled envelope. Privately she doubted the value of the whole enterprise, and suspected it was just something for the professor to do - or rather, to make her do - in order to feel more in control of the situation: research, even pointless research, being a great comforter to the academic soul. She thought that it must be around midday on the day after she'd been taken - but her watch had stopped at some point during the night, which the professor said was common when Muggle electrical goods were exposed to a strong magical field. She wished she had been wearing an old-fashioned wind-up watch, as the lack of direct time-measurement was curiously disturbing.
"So how come snake-features has got a Dementor working for him, anyway? Does he travel in astral - or bind demons with ritual magic? I didn't get the impression he had the brains for either."
"They - the Dementors - came over to Him because He could offer them more souls and more pain to feed on than the Ministry of Magic could."
"You mean your - government tried to hire these things?"
"I mean that it succeeded. They used to guard the wizarding prison at Azkaban."
"And they were paid how, precisely?"
"By being allowed to torment the prisoners. By being allowed to devour the souls of the condemned."
"See, Prof, I've never been happy with this idea that state-sanctioned violence was so much more acceptable than the freelance variety. I realize this may be a sore point - but in exactly what way are snake-features and his lot worse than the government you've already got?"
The professor winced and looked away. "It is - difficult to control prisoners who may be powerful adepts. The fact that Lucius is on the bloody loose again is a case in point. Stripping all hope and happiness from them is one way to weaken them. And the Ministry only tortures people it sincerely believes to be guilty, even if its belief is not always correct - whereas He does it more or less at random, and for pleasure."
"All right, I can see that I suppose, though I don't bloody like it - but do you really mean that your government not only executes prisoners' bodies, it destroys their souls?"
"As a Catholic, even a lapsed one, I don't really believe that that's even possible - but certainly it is what the Ministry thinks it's doing. Insofar as the Ministry ever does think. The Dementors certainly do strip the soul from the body, and one has to ask what they are doing with it, if not eating it. The prospect that they might - keep souls prisoner and continue to torment them is most unpleasant. I wouldn't even wish that on Lucius - not permanently, anyway. Maybe for a few decades."
"I thought Catholics approved of eternal damnation? My auntie was all for it."
"They do - but I myself never cared for the idea that the Heavenly Father might be even more vindictive and implacable than - than my flesh and blood father was."
"That's so logical it's almost pagan. But, you know, what they're probably doing is simply taking the death-power - the energy that's released at the point of death - and leaving these souls to go on all naked and wobbly. Either way, I'm with you Prof - I don't believe it's possible to destroy a soul. I mean, 'Yon soul is immortal by very definition,' as the man said."
"The Ministry, however, believes that the soul is both potentially mortal and capable of being devoured. They do like to reduce everything to the most - mundane level."
"I, on the other hand, as a shaman, believe that the whole world is imbued with soul, and deserving of respectful consideration. Even the ground we're sitting on, and the rocks at our backs - which, I suppose, was more or less what was in your mind, as it was in Patrick's, when you called the elements to aid you in the name of Tara of the Kings."
"Yes - I suppose it was. There's that streak in Irish Catholicism which is essentially pagan, isn't there? But I don't see that the mere possession of a soul necessarily commands respect or consideration. I presume that I have a soul - at least, so I was assured by my grandmother's priest - and nobody has ever treated me with much consideration: so why should I...."
"You going to bloody-well descend to their bloody level, then? What kind of a philosophy is that?"
"A practical one, in my experience. If I can turn whatever soul I have into a weapon, that will be practical too."
"Take my advice and don't try to imagine yourself to be anything with more than four legs. Otherwise, you spend your whole time just trying to figure out how to move."
They were padding along what amounted to a long straight corridor, with other corridors intersecting it at right angles, when they saw a faint trace of light up ahead, spilling out of one of those side-openings. As before, the professor grabbed Lynsey's arm and pushed her in behind him - but this light was brightening even as they watched. Someone carrying light was coming up a tunnel at right-angles to their own, and the glow leaking into their own tunnel increased as the unknown light-bearer (Lucius the light-bearer, she thought - I hope it isn't) approached the intersection.
The professor shoved Lynsey down a side-turning to their immediate left, so that they were now in a tunnel parallel to the one up which that unseen person was walking, and there was a corner of chalk between her and that growing light. The professor himself stood poised right against that corner, with his wand out and raised as if it were some kind of a gun. That was the last she saw clearly before he killed the wand-light - presumably, to allow his eyes to adjust and be more sensitive to that other light.
As they waited, breathlessly, she discovered that she was terrified - not on her own behalf, but on his. He was certainly clever and probably fast, but he was also both lame and ill, and she was afraid he might lose this encounter - whatever it was. And now, tucked back round the corner as she was, she couldn't even see the approaching light, except as a slight greying of the utter night of the caves. There was, in effect, a vast oblong block of chalk lying between themselves and the light-carrier: the far side of that block was being illuminated, and light leaked out around both ends of the block and seeped into their own corridor from both sides, so that that faint lightening of the darkness lay behind them as well as before. Ahead or behind, Lynsey could see nothing except that subliminal dilution of absolute blackness, just enough to keep her night-sight from working, and a very, very faint outline of the professor himself, black on black.
Black on dark grey, now... on paler grey as the light intensified ahead of them and faded out behind... on pink and cream, suddenly, and she could hear cautious footsteps, and the professor waited another second, two seconds while the footsteps became clearer and less echoing and it was clear that there were two sets of them, and the professor stuck his wand-hand round the corner without even bothering to look and there was a flash of violet-coloured light, screams, sparks and the professor grabbed her and shoved her bodily across the lighted corridor into the tunnel on the opposite side and dived after her, just avoiding a streak of orange light that sizzled where it passed. And then they were running again, back the way they had come, in their own bubble of travelling light.
Since it is twenty-odd years since I was down there myself, and I don't have the money to take a trip to London to refresh my memory, I have played a bit fast and loose with the topography of Chislehurst Caves. But if JK can invent imaginary streets, castles and whole towns for story purposes, I don't suppose anyone will mind too much if I have vested Chislehurst Caves with a few more convenient side-chambers than they probably possess.
I've also cheated a bit over the descriptions of the ichthyosaur and the pool. In reality, I believe only part of the pelvis of the ichthyosaur is visible (and some sources insist it isn't really a fossil at all but just a flint which looks like a fossil), and the pool has dried out.
In appearance, and to some extent in personality, the canon description of Snape reminds me of a young professor of mathematics I knew at university: except that this guy's raven locks were clean and curly, and he had a magnificently jutting beard under which he had - as I discovered when I happened to see a photo' of him as a teenager - no chin. At all.
Schtick is a Yiddishism. It means something midway between a modus operandi and a sales-pitch.
"'Yon soul is immortal by very definition,' as the man said" - this is my possibly inaccurate 34-year-old memory of something said by Lt. Cdr. Montgomery Scott in one of James Blish's Star Trek-based stories: it had something to do with tachyons, and duplicating people through the transporter.
The bit about "Neggies" and how you fight them is absolutely straight. And yes, this is the sort of thing I do for amusement. And yes, I'm probably insane.
This chapter had been altered slightly to bring it in line with the new canon background revealed in Deathly Hallows. Originally, I had Snape unable to produce a corporeal Patronus at all.
If you are seeing this text, your browser does not support inline frames: to select a chapter you will have to return to the title-page