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
[In which Snape and the shaman try to make up their minds whether they are fighting with the Death Eaters or each other.]
"Why - why did you shove us across their path like that?"
"So they wouldn't box us in against the back-wall. Get trapped on that grid and they could literally corner us."
"OK." As it was, they had had to hole up in a parallel tunnel and wait while the two Death Eaters shuffled past them on their way back to their master - one still whimpering and moaning. Lynsey tried not to think about what she had seen as the professor pushed her into and then out of harm's way, but the image kept creeping back unbidden - a man blundering helplessly, crashing into the wall and crying, with his eyes swollen to the size of tennis-balls and hanging out of their sockets, weeping red tears.
She glanced at the professor sideways, trying not to show how appalled she felt, and failing miserably. He stared back at her with a hard sneer on his narrow face, the lines of viciousness and rage bitten in deep around his mouth, and then snapped out the light with a mocking look which burned itself into her retinas.
"Listen to me" said the soft, bitter voice in the darkness. "I have seen that man take apart an entire family, beginning with the cat. It took him several hours to get to the grandparents, and I had to stand and watch the whole thing, and pretend I liked it. Who are you to judge what I choose to do?"
"No-one! - it's just - oh, gods. I hate this."
"Do you imagine that I enjoy it? If I could have, I would have been more - humane, as he has not been to me, and simply killed him. But the Killing Curse is blocked, and I couldn't get at him to finish him with my hands with Nott there - even if my hands weren't - You do realize, don't you, that if you want to be - humane, that is what it will entail? I to knock them down with a spell and you to finish them with your bare hands? Have you ever killed before, O'Connor?"
"And do you honestly think that you're going to be able to bring yourself to take a life now?"
"Oh yes. Look," she said, in the face of that sceptical voice, "if I'm going to become a crime-statistic, I know which side of the dock I mean to be. I've no qualms about killing someone who's trying seriously to kill me - it's a Consenting-Adults thing, if you like." He gave a little snort of amusement at that. "Mind you, if you knock them down so thoroughly that they can't immediately get up again, then killing them with my hands would seem a bit - well, Geneva Convention, you know? And actually - strategically, it might be better not to kill them. Can that guy's injuries be - magically cured? If so, how long will it take?"
"Well - He has no proper mediwitches or Healers among His forces, so - days, probably. Weeks possibly."
"Well, then. There's a - a concept in Muggle warfare which says that it's better to seriously injure an enemy soldier than to kill him, because then his own side will have to waste resources retrieving and treating him. So it may be better just to aim for the messiest, most hard-to-heal injuries you can think of."
"Good God - I thought that you were the one accusing me of being vicious." He brought the light back up, and she saw that he was gazing at her in nearly as much alarm as she had earlier looked at him. He kept the light quite dim, though, the better to see other lights approaching, and his gaze flicked away and back again as he spoke, always on the alert.
"It was just a suggestion. If you're going to be vicious anyway, you might as well use it to maximum advantage. How did you know who it was that was coming, anyway, if the - if the level of violence was tailored to the target?"
"I recognized both their minds, since I know them both well. His is - revolting in the extreme, and I could sense that he was in the lead."
"Oh, yes, of course. I should have realized." She ducked her head, diffidently. "You said that that - that guy was not humane to you, personally?"
The professor looked away from her and shut his eyes briefly. "Macnair is directly responsible for the state of my - of my feet, among other things. For most of the overt physical damage that wasn't caused by Lucius or Bella. The feet took him a very long time - but he has always had the virtue of patience."
"Ack. Then I suppose I'm not sorry you exploded his eyeballs."
"Engorged, O'Connor - not exploded."
"I can see circumstances where that might be useful" she muttered under her breath, not really meaning to be overheard, but the professor raised an eyebrow at her. The bright, mocking look was back - but this time with more real amusement in it and less bitterness. But as he glanced about restlessly, on the alert for ambush, he was shivering and sweating at the same time, and looked, in Lynsey's considered opinion, like hell.
"It's a pity you couldn't knock one of them down long enough to steal his robes, though."
"No! It may be - a ridiculous prejudice, but now that I don't have to be one of them anymore - I don't think I want to wear something that one of them has touched. It would feel.... No. I feel quite dirty enough already, without that."
"I know. I hate not being able to wash: I always shower and wash my hair every day."
"I am not so - pernickety as I perhaps should be. I tend to just use a cleansing spell instead of wasting the time it takes to bathe, even though the results are not as thorough. Not that it matters much in my case. I am - nobody's idea of male beauty. Taking too much time over my appearance would be like gilding a cowpat."
"Don't be daft. You may not be exactly, um, handsome in the conventional sense - "
"And do please tell me, what would I look like if I were 'exactly handsome?' 'Exactly handsome' would look exactly not like me."
"Oh, come on - you're not that funny-looking, and a lot of women prefer 'striking' to 'pretty.'"
"I have never remotely imagined myself to be either of those things. And I grew up in this - tiny little two-up-and-two-down, with no bathroom - "
"Oh, don't tell me - and an outdoor loo in the garden."
"In the yard, which was so small you could spit across it, but fundamentally yes."
"Lots. Washing meant standing up at the kitchen sink, dripping onto the lino, and washing your hair meant making yourself dizzy bending double to get your head in the sink, and bashing yourself on the taps on the way up. I still have to spend part of the summer there, and I never could afford to have a proper bathroom put in, so I just - tend to remain out of the habit of bathing every day."
"You couldn't just do the alterations by magic?"
"I'd have to either sacrifice one of the bedrooms, or convert the loft - and even at the fading fag-end of the industrial revolution, a magical loft-conversion appearing overnight might attract comment, and get me into trouble with the Ministry."
"I thought there might be some more - oh, I dunno, some more magical way of doing it."
"There are spells for making the inside of a room not match the outside - people use them to make fancy tents and so on - but it's complex, specialized work, and probably even more expensive than hiring Muggle builders."
"Which is expensive enough, god knows. So I take it you're from - where? Wales? Northern England?"
"The north. But there are no romantic moors in my past, unless you count the wasteland covering the local bombsite." And that in itself explained a lot about him, didn't it? - the fact that he came from an area where "surly and anti-social" was the default personality type, and tactlessness was celebrated as a virtue. As she watched him, he smiled his tight-mouthed, flinching smile that looked like a smirk even when it wasn't, and to her surprize he began to sing, softly but with great purity and clarity.
"I've seen snaw float down Bradford Beck
As black as ebony;
From Hull and Hell and Halifax
Good Lord deliver me.
"Except that it wasn't coal, where I came from: I was born in King Cotton's land, in one of those miserable, ugly little mill-towns strung out on a line between Derby and Manchester. Only the last of the local cotton-mills closed before I was born, and there was nothing left for my father's generation but drink and the dole."
"You know something? You've got a beautiful voice." And that was the understatement of the dying century, wasn't it? Now that his throat had recovered a little from so long a time spent screaming, and his tongue from being bitten, his singing voice was so lovely and clear and sad that it made her want to howl at the moon.
"Huh" he said, looking slightly pleased despite himself. "It must be the only thing about me that is beautiful, then." He shook his long hair back where it flopped down around his face. "In any case, no matter how many times I wash this," he said irritably, "and whether I use soap or a spell, it always comes back greasy in a few hours. I've given up worrying about it."
"Maybe you try too hard."
"I hardly try - it's not as if I'm suddenly going to become beautiful if I can only get the hair right, is it? What difference does it make, how hard I try?"
"If you have that kind of naturally greasy hair, sometimes stripping the grease out too hard is counter-productive, because it just stimulates the scalp to produce more grease. You need a more sophisticated shampoo."
"A Muggle thing, evidently - but you must remember from when you were a child."
"Oh. A hair-washing potion. Yes.... I can't believe we're sitting down here in the dark discussing - hair-care." Nevertheless, she watched him raise his hands to his face and rub moodily at the scruffy-looking, half-grown beard.
"Do you people use a spell to shave with, or what?"
"Shaving charms are a bit unpredictable - you're liable to chop half your hair off along with the beard. We usually use razors which have been enchanted, so they can't cut you or raise a rash."
"So you're stuck with the beard, for the moment?"
"It's not a bad beard, Prof. Not as such. And you could always take another wee strip off my robe and tie your hair back, if it's bothering you."
"Not a good idea. It makes my nose look even bigger than it is already; if that's possible."
"Listen, my duck - you're always going to have a face like the prow of a ship, so you might as well get used to it, make of necessity a virtue and go sailing."
"There is one thing I do miss. I don't mind not having my own robes, much; this - thing - of yours is fine, in a weird way. But I do miss my own cloak."
"You could certainly do with the extra warmth."
"It's not just that. I know that - wearing a long cloak indoors made the children jeer at me, call me a great bat and worse, but wearing it makes me feel - better, somehow. Bolder."
"Oh, yeah - I know that one! A heavy floor-length cloak pulls your shoulders back and forces you to walk tall and to breathe properly, and carrying the weight of it makes you swagger until you start to believe in the swagger."
"If I am to be honest" said the professor's voice into the polite darkness, as he passed the cleansing spell over her undressed body, and his own, "I didn't really mean that I felt dirty in the physical sense - although I am, of course, at present."
"If you mean you feel psychologically dirty then you're just being daft. I'm sorry I fleered at you over Macnair - I don't see you have anything to reproach yourself for."
"It's not that. I've felt dirty for as long as I can remember - it goes with the insomnia. 'No rest for the wicked,' remember?"
"You're not wicked, Prof."
"How the hell would you know? You have no idea what I have done in my life; and even as a child I was - half in love with the glamour of the Dark."
"Oh, me too." She shrugged back into her robes, and smiled at him as he brought the light-level back up. "There's this - we, um - " He cocked a sceptical eyebrow at her, and she took a deep breath and decided to start again. "A lot of Muggles like to hear stories which imagine what the future might be like - both in books and in film. There was this TV adventure series about a - a sort of professor who could travel through time - and in this one episode, there was a, a sort of disease which was gradually turning human beings into these kind-of cheetah-like predators."
The professor nodded gravely. "Yes - I can see how that could happen."
She looked at him sideways and decided to let that remark pass, for the moment, and not to get sidetracked into general weirdness. "The - the professor and his current lovely-young-assistant were trying to cure these people, but one of them didn't want to be cured, and he - I think it was a he - said that life as one of these cheetah-things was very seductive, because 'You can run and run and hunt in the dark forever.' When I heard that, it made my hair stand up - because I realized just how much of me wanted that."
"And that doesn't - make you feel bad about yourself?"
"Oh, no." She laughed a little at his solemn face, suddenly taken up by the sense of her own dark humour, and began to sing softly:
"We're poor little lambs who've lost our way,
Baa! Baa! Baa!
We're little black sheep who've gone astray,
Gentlemen-rankers out on the spree,
Damned from here to Eternity,
God ha' mercy on such as we,
Baa! Yah! Bah!"
The professor stared at her, frozen and wary. "You do - you really do like that. Are you really so - in love with your own darkness?"
"It's not a coincidence that the songs which make me feel high as a kite, which I use to psych myself up when I need to crack somebody else out of a depression, are nearly all songs about blood and death and ruin. I recognize my own darkness, I let it out when I need it, and the rest of the time I keep it in check by means of a rigid morality. As you do, surely."
"What do you imagine yourself to know about my morality?"
"Assuming that you've told me anything like the truth, I know you've spent nearly twenty years subjecting yourself to mortal danger and what must be overwhelming stress, in order to overthrow an evil cult and to atone for something-or-other that you did when you were little more than a child. That seems pretty moral to me Prof - and rigid as all hell."
"You have no idea what you're talking about, do you?"
"Listen, Prof. There's this guy - a witch like me, I mean a male witch, obviously - who writes books which are - fantasies about what your sort of overt, physically-potent magic would be like if it were real. I mean, he doesn't know that it is real, so he's just speculating. Anyway in one of his books there's an old witch-woman - who lives in a swamp, and has a hut with duck's feet! - a sort of a voudoun priestess if you know what that is, who says 'I stand between the light and the dark, but that no matter, because I am between.' And one of the other characters says that it doesn't matter so much where you stand, only which way you're facing."
"What do you know about where I stand - or what I'm facing? If you really knew me, O'Connor, you wouldn't - "
"You wouldn't want to be any closer to me than you could help" he said hoarsely. "You don't know what I am - what I've had to be."
"Oh - take a look around you some day and you'll see most people are pretty horrible. I doubt you're so much worse than the norm."
"I was a Death Eater O'Connor - I've had to be a Death Eater. You have - no idea what that's like." He folded down to sit against the wall, turning his face away from her and letting his hair fall forward to hide his eyes. "I've had to do - dreadful things, to maintain my cover, and watch while other people did worse. I have stood by and watched men and women tortured to death or insanity and had to convince my surface-self to enjoy seeing it, to get pleasure out of their suffering, just so that - that He - could look into my mind and see a sadist like Himself!"
"Um. That's - horrible for you, but it's not horrible of you, considering why you were doing it."
"You can say that?"
"Well: maybe I'm callous, but a teenage obsession with true spy stories has left me - pretty hard-boiled about the things an agent might have to go along with to maintain their cover in a cold war."
"I wish it were only that. But when I joined them, I wanted to be one of them - I did terrible things of my own will, in order to make them like me, and I liked what I was doing - at the beginning. They offered me power when I had none - and I wanted that." By now he was leaning against the wall with his head tipped back and his eyes closed, his expression superficially impassive: but his mouth twisted in evident self-loathing as he spoke, as if he was trying to spit himself out.
"I think I can honestly say I've never wanted power over anybody else - far too much bloody hard work. All right. But you know now that - whatever you did wrong when you were a lad was wrong, don't you, and you regret it?"
"Every moment of every bloody day that passes I regret it."
"If you still thought that - whatever you did - was OK I'd drop you so fast it would make your head spin, trust me. But, listen, young men have this sort of a warped romanticism which makes them prone to idiot politics at the best of times - that's how my cousin ended up as a Communist - and it sounds to me as if this - group are what we call a, a cult, and they do what cults everywhere do. They target lonely, insecure teenagers and offer them love and respect and power, only it's all a fake, but they never get the chance to realize it's fake because by that point they've been - sort of hypnotized into buying into the group delusion. We call it 'brainwashing.'"
"Oh, Christ! - I wish I could wash my brain" - and there was such true longing in his voice that Lynsey flinched in sympathy: although he lost her rather when he muttered something that sounded like "pensive" under his breath, and then said clearly "When I am here - with Him - the worse the memory the more it has to be at the forefront, and now I've no bowl to put it back in."
She sat and watched him, concerned but abstracted, as she fished after the trailing thread of memory his words had woken in her. When she had gathered enough of the thread to know what it was attached to, she said quietly "Listen, then. Listen."
"Wind's four quarters, air and fire,
Earth and water, hear my desire.
Grant my plea, who stands alone,
Maiden, Warrior, Mother and Crone.
"Eastern wind blow clear, blow clean:
Cleanse my body of its pain;
Cleanse my mind of what I've seen;
Cleanse my honour of its stain - "
- and she knew that it would be fatal, in one sense or another, to admit that she had seen the tears which coursed down his narrow face -
"Maid whose love has never ceased,
Bring me healing from the East.
"Wind's four quarters...."
And she was fishing, she really was. It was years since she'd sung that particular song. Her mind kept trying to make it "Wind's Twelve Quarters," which she knew was something else entirely, and she hardly knew what each line would be until she came to it.
"Southern wind blow hot, blow hard:
Fan my courage to a flame.
Southern wind be guide and guard;
Add your bravery to my name.
Let your will and mine be twinned,
Warrior of the southern wind.
"Western wind blow stark, blow strong:
Grant me arm and mind of steel;
Honour-road both hard and long;"
(or should that be "On a road" - she had never been sure, but "Honour-road" seemed more affecting - was self-evidently affecting to both of them, she had never seen the professor's face look less bitter or more sad - although she had forgotten quite how fierce and martial the song became)
"Mother hear me where I kneel.
Let no weakness on my quest
Hinder me, wind of the west.
...and it was already far, far too late to stop when she remembered how the song ended: but perhaps the ending was after all as painfully appropriate as the beginning.
"Northern wind blow cruel, blow cold:
Sheath my aching heart in ice;
Armour round my soul enfold -
Crone, I need not call you twice.
To my foes bring the cold of death:
Chill me, north wind's frozen breath.
"Wind's four quarters, air and fire,
Earth and water, hear my desire.
Grant my plea, who stands alone,
Maiden, Warrior, Mother and Crone."
She looked at the professor uneasily, and saw that his eyes were open now - hooded and glittering. He gave her a rather ugly grin and said thickly "You know some - interesting songs."
For an instant she felt that he was freakish and dangerous: decided in another instant that she was the one who got off on singing about blood and death and was therefore in no position to talk, and grinned back in a sort of cosy, mutual malice. "Destruction to our enemies, then, Prof. Destruction to our enemies."
I toyed with the idea that the house at Spinner's End might be a "back-to-back" - part of a double, terraced row where the houses down one side are built all of a piece with the houses behind them, so that there is no space between them for a garden or yard. But the fact that the front door opens straight into the sitting-room suggests that the house is one room wide and two deep, rather than two wide and one deep, so there must be a yard at the back to allow illumination of the rear rooms.
There is actually a real street called Spinner's End in a place called Cradley Heath, in the Black Country north-west of Birmingham - which is steel-and-coal territory. But it seems unlikely JK intends it to be an accurate portrait of a real street - otherwise the inhabitants of that real street would find themselves swamped in Snape-freaks. Taken as a fictional street, the name tends to suggests that that mill in the background is a textile-mill rather than a steel-mill. The British textile industry (almost defunct since the 1950s) existed almost exclusively in the north of England: wool in Yorkshire and cotton in Derbyshire and Lancashire.
It would be kind-of nice to think of Snape as a Yorkshireman. However, Yorkshire is a popular tourist destination, and it's unlikely that a disused mill-town in Yorkshire would still be disused as late as 1997. If Spinner's End were in Yorkshire, probably by 1997 the river would be sparkling-clean, and all the little houses would be full of Yuppies. The only real possibilities I know of in Yorkshire would be Huddersfield or Bradford, which were still quite run-down in the 1990s - but I am told that the textile factories in Bradford were mostly weaving, not making the actual thread, and as such probably wouldn't have mill-type chimneys. This leaves us with Spinner's End most likely being in Derbyshire or Lancashire.
The lines about Hull and Hell and Halifax which Snape quotes here are taken from a very well-known traditional folk-song called The Dalesman's Litany.
The thing about hunting in the dark is one of my three favourite quotes from Doctor Who. The others are "We've lit the blue touch-paper and found there's nowhere to retire to" and "There is a difference between serious scientific investigation and meddling."
The little black sheep are from Rudyard Kipling's poem/song Gentlemen-Rankers, later adapted into a drinking-song used by an American singing group called the Yale University Whiffenpoofs. Wind's Four Quarters is a filk (Science-Fiction-based folk) song by Leslie Fish and Mercedes Lackey, based on Lackey's book Oath Bound, although it has been taken up by the pagan community and is now commonly used as a pagan hymn. Wind's Twelve Quarters, on the other hand, is a collection of SF/Fantasy short stories by Ursula le Guin.
The voudoun priestess who had a hut with duck's feet, like a sort of soggy Baba Yaga, can be found in Terry Pratchett's book Witches Abroad.
"Fleering" is a Scots expression, meaning to sneer or pull a wry face, and a "flyting" is a formal two-handed dispute in verse or sung form.
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