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
#7: Psycho Logical Warfare
[In which Snape and the shaman attempt to out-weird Voldemort.]
"Let me see if I understand this. You left the Death Eaters partly because you had realized your friend was in danger, but also because you were growing afraid of your own capacity for violence - you felt you would become a monster, if you weren't one already."
"Yes. If I were still a practising Catholic I might scourge myself in punishment for my manifold sins - if there weren't so many other people willing to do it for me."
"Tchah! But, then, in order to spy on them, you had to do the very things you had left them to get away from doing - you had to at least appear to give free rein to your worst instincts, to become the monster you had feared becoming, and to nearly-really feel the, the lust for violence which you had been so afraid of really feeling, well enough to convince an experienced mind-reader - one who was going to kill you horribly if you failed to convince."
"Whilst, at the same time, pretending to befriend people whom you were in fact betraying, and - messing about with your own memory in some way?"
"Thing called a Pensieve - you can use it just to display a copy of a memory, to help you to analyse it, but you can also use it to take away the colour, the emotional content from a memory and store it outside yourself, to relieve stress. But you have to put it back in eventually, or you become - something less than what you were. Do it too much and you get lasting memory-damage: and the longer you leave the memory out of your head, the more painful it is to put it back. I used sometimes to take the, the worst memories out for a few days so I could rest from them, but I had to have them all ready at the forefront of my mind when I was near Him, and yet keep the - revulsion I felt buried. I used to take the most emotionally... warm memories of my colleagues in the Order out and leave them behind whenever I went to Him. Insofar as I ever had any warmth to remove. But that last time, I had to leave in such a hurry there was no chance to do so. And when I left - when I left, I had to fire on the only bloody friend I had in the world, to make my - defection to the Death Eaters look convincing."
"You - you killed your friend?"
"He ordered me to. It was - politically expedient to do so, and he always did care more for the cause than for.... And I hated him, for asking me to do such a thing: for leaving me cut off from all safety, with every man thinking me a murderer and every hand against me and I was so - I had no way to offload all that - that rage and grief and shame, I had to carry it with me. To Him. That was a part of how I was - discovered for what I was, in the end. I tried my damnedest to suppress it all, to present the usual front of hot ambition and cold spite, but He could feel that I wasn't reacting, feeling, quite the way I usually did - and so he decided to test me. To set me a - special task, to prove my loyalty. When I refused - well. Bellatrix and some of the others had suspected me for a long time, and for a while that stood me in good stead, because He can't abide criticism, and the more they told Him He was wrong to trust me, the more determined He was to prove Himself right. But when He finally learned that they had been right and He had been wrong about me all along, His wrath was - beyond anything I had seen."
"Urgh. What was it he tried to make you do?"
"He ordered me to, to rape a child. And I - wouldn't. Not even to keep my cover, not even for the Order. There are limits - I thought I'd reached and exceeded mine many times over, for the Order, but I'm a teacher, for God's sake, I couldn't -"
"No, of course not."
"I spent years cultivating a reputation for asceticism and sexlessness, just so I could avoid the nastiest of their little games - and then this."
"Well that's why, isn't it? It was a test of loyalty because he knew you'd never do it of your own will. It sounds like el psycho knows all the wrong buttons to push."
"Eh? Why would - ?"
"Sorry - electrical reference. Muggle reference. Knows the - um, what, um, triggers will get particular reactions."
"Ah. We say, he knows which strings to pluck, to get the note. But yes, of course He does. He's been in my head often enough - though I managed to keep parts of it private. In this case, however, I believe the suggestion came from Lucius: his way of buying his way back into favour."
"What happened - to the kid?"
"I don't know. Don't want to think about it. If I could have done so I would have killed him, to keep him from the others, but they'd taken my wand; and the instant I refused, I was done for. I couldn't even kill myself."
"Well - good for you, then. Good for you. And you had to let - That get inside your head and sniff around in your private thoughts?"
"It was bad, always - very bad. Sickening. Violating. And then I had to kneel to Him and thank Him for it."
"Brainwashing or no brainwashing, I'm surprized you ever got involved with them. You don't strike me as exactly the - submissive type."
"It wasn't supposed to be like that. They were supposed to help me escape from - from a life of routine, mind-numbing humiliation: they weren't supposed to inflict more. There was such an atmosphere of fear and recklessness in those days, you can't imagine - it seemed as if, if you were a Death Eater you could do anything." He folded his arms round his updrawn knees and rested his head on them, his voice sinking to a thin whisper. "I wanted power over my enemies, my tormentors - power to wipe the sneer off the pure-blood's bloody face. I never caught the worst of them, but I wanted to - I would have killed them if I could. Those I did catch, I - hurt."
"But you didn't kill?"
"Not then - but that was only by chance. I would have: and I've killed since, if not by my own hand then by the information which I revealed, to keep my cover. Such a faithful little Death Eater, so eager to please the Master!"
"Why are you - telling me this? You know I don't blame you for any of it."
"Because I'm going to die here - and someone must hear my confession before I die." He was almost inaudible now, and his eyes were bright with fever. "But I swear to you, I never wanted power to hurt the innocent."
"You didn't realize what they - what they were like?"
"Hardly." His face tightened into a hard sneer, and his voice was back to full strength, and even more bitter and mocking than usual. "They assured me that any - excesses were the work of 'A small, unrepresentative minority who would be summarily dealt with once He was in power'" - this last spoken in a mincing tone, dripping with spite. "And I was so fucking na´ve, I believed them."
"You were very young, though, weren't you?"
"Youth, O'Connor, is no excuse for total fucking stupidity. I can never excuse my actions at that time, to myself or to anybody else, and I don't doubt that I deserve everything which I may have suffered as a result."
"Give over, do! Boys at that age are a bit dozy anyway - and that 'unrepresentative minority' spiel is a standard technique for suckering in dreamy, academic kids. Ask me some time how Konrad Lorenz became a Nazi!"
"Then answer me this - honestly, please. If you had been in my place, would you have done what I did?"
"No. But that's largely because I'm female. Girls tend to go through the idiot politics stage at age ten - by the time we're old enough for any mad extremist party to want to recruit us, we're usually far too hard-boiled to fall for it. And frankly, Prof, I think it's not surprizing if you sometimes seem to be missing a few marbles - "
"Yes, but the wonder is that you have any marbles left at all. You must have an incredibly strong character still to have a character."
"Strength! Ah, O'Connor, if you only knew - if you could only have seen me:" he said bitterly; "puking my guts up with terror every time I knew I was going to have to go near them." He looked almost ready to throw up as he said it, his long hands plucking aimlessly at each other.
"But, sweetheart, the more scared you are of doing something, the more true courage it takes to do it. There's no great virtue in doing something that doesn't rattle you."
"If those are your criteria, I must be the bravest man alive!"
"I think you might well be. And, um, someone once said that flying a plane means finding that fine balance between trusting your instincts and nailing them screaming into a trunk. Do that for too long and that - internalized panic - starts leaking out in odd ways, I think." She thought she already knew one of them, didn't she - from what she had seen of him, she thought that part of the reason his hair stayed greasy was because he was constantly sweating with nerves, and it sounded as if that had been the normal condition of his life for longer than she wished to think about.
"To extend your analogy, then, I always felt like a - a plane that was on the verge of crashing down in flames."
"Well - we're all going to hit the ground some time. Gravity sucks! But it's possible to crash and burn with style."
"That's - weirdly comforting."
"Ah, there's a lot to be said for a spot of bracing nihilism, Prof."
Walking and talking again. "No, I cannot just 'read their minds and find out what they're up to.' Don't be ridiculous." Lynsey sighed to herself and thought that she could not really complain about his hissing ill-temper, since he must be ravenously hungry and, still, very bruised and sore.
"Well - the Scaly One seemed to be able to find you without too much difficulty."
"He is one of the two most powerful wizards alive in this century! And even He wouldn't be able to locate me if I didn't already have His Mark burned into my flesh."
"He can't just - see you where you are, regardless?"
"No, of course not - what do you think this is, a party-game for children? Even He can't read someone unless He has an established link with them or unless they are physically before Him: time and space matter in magic."
"Truly? Is that really the case, with your sort of magic?"
"Why - is it not with yours?"
"Oh, no - never. I mean - if you're trying to link to something physical, a person or a scene, the further away it is the more you need a clear idea of what you're looking for - as if your attention is more easily scattered off target if the target is distant. But otherwise - well, I have a personal mantra for trance work, and it's 'Time is not; space is not.' And a person is a target, is a location - you just think 'I want to see so-and-so' and that takes you wherever they are because they are where you want to be. Through the astral, you can touch anyone, anywhere, anywhen, provided you have a clear idea what you're aiming for."
"You've used that word 'astral' before. Define it, please."
"It - Oh, lor'. You couldn't ask me something simple, could you? It's a bit - involved. You really want to go into this, now, here?"
"All knowledge is potentially useful: even knowledge which simply distracts me from going mad with fear." She glanced at him sharply, and saw the bitter, self-scorning twist to his mouth. "And if this is, as I both fear and expect, no more than an interval between tortures, at least I will have - something that was mine, to take with me."
"How do you mean?"
"A piece of conversation, of communication, that wasn't purely utilitarian and in some way serving someone else's interests. Talking because we were interested in talking, and not just to achieve some goal of His or of Dumbledore's."
"You make it sound as if that would be - unusual."
"It would be nearly bloody unique, in my experience."
"Well. Um. OK. The usual theory - the theory is that the universe is divided into a series of layers, shells, one within the next like the layers of an onion. These are not physical layers, you understand. This physical, solid world around us" - she patted the chalk wall as she spoke - "is the lowest level, or close to lowest. On this level, matter is king, and what you think, what you do with psychic power, has very little effect. But the outer layers are much more malleable to mind, until you get right up to realms of pure thought."
"And how does this - onion-like universe bear on magic?"
"Well, it - when you do trance-work, you see pictures in your head, see, or you feel things, and those pictures, those feelings, are assumed to be real in the astral planes. It gets a bit complicated, because it's all very subjective, and it can be hard to tell imagination from True Seeing - but if the theory is right then the astral is so malleable that what you imagine may become real on the astral planes anyway. You get things like, one person visualizes a flower-bed in the astral and it comes into being, and then other people see it without being told to expect it, but each person sees it slightly differently."
"So the - the shape, if that's an applicable term, of the astral is a sort of consensus construction?"
"Exactly. Of course the theory is that this physical, four-D world is a consensus reality as well - but a very old and stiff one, in which it takes an enormous amount of effort to bring about even tiny changes. Oh and, some people go 'out of body' and enter the astral entirely; some just see visions while continuing to know where they are on the matter level. Some people say that the astral realms are the other dimensions which modern physics predicts, and that we are all always in those dimensions all the time, and what you do when you 'go into astral' is simply to swing your awareness around and point it in another direction."
"Yes, I can see how that would work," he said, frowning in concentration. "As if a man were to spend his life only ever looking around him at eye-level, and then one day he looked up and saw the sky."
"Exactly. When you can travel in the astral, you can use it as a short cut to anywhere."
"All right. In that case, I think one would have to say that our sort of magic is much more in tune with the physical world than yours is, and can induce gross physical changes on this 'matter level,' far more easily than your magic could ever do - but by operating in the physical world, we are constrained by its limitations as regards things like physical distance."
"Yes. That sounds right. So I can't produce anything like the striking physical effects which you can do with a simple flick of the wrist: but, conversely, I was able to deal with the Dementor far more easily than you could, because they are a class of creature which exists mainly in astral, and I was able to, um, 'get at it where it lives.'"
"You say 'a simple flick of the wrist,' but what it feels like is as if - as if part of myself was standing outside the world, behind the scenery, somehow, and like a Muggle puppeteer for a moment I can pull the strings, I can put on the gloves, and make the world move as I direct it." As he spoke he acted out that movement of control with his long hands, and Lynsey half expected the world to stretch and reshape itself visibly around them. "What I am wondering is whether there might be some way to combine the two. Could I, in fact, combine with you and use your ability to short-cut through the astral, in order to project my own powers over a much greater distance?"
"Maybe. You have the advantage of me in all this, you know - for you can learn my techniques, but I can't learn yours. I don't have the gene for it." And that, inevitably, sent the conversation off at another tangent - trying to explain genetics to somebody who hadn't studied Muggle-type biology since he was eleven, though she was pleasantly surprized to find that he took a mild interest in Muggle science, and knew at least the bare basics. From his description of the appearance of Squibs, non-magic-users, in wizarding families it seemed to her that the wizard gene must be dominant. Yet it also occurred spontaneously in some Muggle families - perhaps by a new mutation occurring at a long-standing weak spot on a chromosome, as happened with achondroplasia.
Or was it the other way round, and it was the Squib or Muggleness gene which was dominant and which recurred by fresh mutation? No. From what he'd said, families with even one wizard grandparent still produced a high proportion of wizard children, so it must be the having of magic that was the dominant gene. Unless there were two genes, both recessive, one for magic and one epistatic gene which masked magic, so that many people who appeared to have no magic were nevertheless homozygous for it.
They had reached some kind of temporary end-of-tether, since the professor needed to rest even if he was unable actually to sleep, with the Dark Mark increasingly stinging and biting at him. Lynsey was not sure what good aimless wandering was doing them anyway. Her efforts at map-making had largely gone by the board. She supposed that constant motion made them harder to track - but they might as easily blunder into their pursuers as away from them. Supposed also that they might find water or a way out eventually, but the chances were that all exits would be barred to them, and if they were going to have to fight their way out it made sense for the professor to be as rested as he could be. Except that rest took time, and time was not their friend, was it? They had bickered their way through the last of the curling sandwiches hours ago - each of them insisting that the other should have the lion's share - and had water enough for perhaps a day, if they were sparing. Meantime, the professor was only getting hotter, and his breathing was beginning to worry her.
On the plus side, he looked less fraught - quite cheerful in fact and full of glittering devilment, in a way which suggested that he might be thinking about happening to somebody. "Penny for your thoughts, Prof?" she asked, eyeing him rather warily.
"I was just thinking" he said slowly, rubbing absently at the brand on his arm, "about the - practical applications of nihilism."
"Oh yes. Nearly everything has a practical application, if you know how to find it. I was thinking," he said dreamily, "about something you said earlier - about the Death Eaters wanting so much to cling to life. Really, you know, they imagine themselves to be so - sinister, so in command of the darkness, but in truth they fear it."
"Oh, yeah - they think that they are the Counts of Creep, but really they're not in tune with creepiness at all. If it came to a straight freak-out contest, I reckon I could out-weird them any day."
"Well, you may have your chance - for I mean to try it."
"Erk. Why do I get the feeling I'm going to regret this?"
"I don't know. Why do you? The danger, at this stage at least, will primarily be mine. But I am sick to death - almost literally - of having that - creature walking through my head, clawing at my arm - using me to do His dirty work and making me so bloody afraid all the time. Sick to death of feeling His mind scrabbling at the edges of mine all the time, trying to find a way in, contaminating me. If I'm going to die here, I am determined that it not be before I've sent at least a little taste of fear back to the sender."
"Oh, wow - you're going to out-weird snake-face! How?"
"I'm going to need your help - if you would. If it's - permissible to ask."
"Oh, yes - anything!"
"Don't be stupid!" he said sharply. "Don't make promises when you don't even know what you're being asked!"
"Hey, I trust you, Prof!"
"Then you're a fool. You barely know me: and if you did know me you would still be a fool to trust me. All I need from you is power - power and your support to keep me focused, if I should seem to be... losing control."
"Yes, yes, absolutely - but how are you going to get at him?"
"I'm going to drop my defences and let Him attack me" he said simply.
"Good gods - you're going to use yourself as a bait-goat to lure the tiger?"
"Yes - basically. Which is why I shall need all the power you can give me - so that He doesn't - overwhelm me. I have no desire to end up - hung up for slaughter like a beast in the shambles, again."
"Dear gods - are you sure about this? Is the revenge really worth the risk?"
"Yes. And besides, if it works it will make Him back off from me, from pressing His mind on me - and then it will be much harder for Him to find us. Frankly, if I can't get Him to back off He's going to wear down my defences and get me in the end anyway - and I might as well be hanged for a sheep as for a lamb."
Power - dear gods, she was far too weary to dance for power, and he would need enough power to be blazing with it - to out-burn the sickly lightning of the torturer's will. But they were in the wren-days, weren't they, with St Stephen's Day itself only two days past? She might be able to make ritual use of the season itself, at a time when seasonal music would have the most power.... Setting the makeshift drum on her knee, she began to tap out the rhythm, sharply, swaying in time with herself and chanting:
"The wren, the wren, the king of all birds,
On St. Stephen's Day was caught in the furze,
Up with the penny and down with the pan,
Give us a penny to bury the wren.
"The wren, the wren, the king of all birds...."
over and over, while the professor watched her with a strange, hooded look, both reserved and eager, and she could feel the power gradually climbing up her spine until all her hackles bristled with it. On and on, swaying to the drum - Ta-ran, ta-ran, ta rat-a-ta-tan, on and on....
"The wren, the wren, the king of all birds,
On St. Stephen's Day was caught in the furze...."
By the time the professor held up his hand to stop her, she felt dizzy and disoriented and as buzzing with energy as a lightning-rod. She offered her hands to him and felt him earth her, the crackle of power flowing from the land, from the season, from every wren-sacrifice that had ever been made, through the conduit of her soul and into his long, lame hands. Although she was the one feeding him energy she could feel the weight of inchoate power that built up behind him like a thunderhead, he should have been humming like a generator in his own right if he hadn't been so battered and outworn and so crippled, she thought, by lack of confidence in himself.
"If I fail here," he said softly; "if He succeeds in taking me again and you can't stop it...."
"Understood" she murmured, praying numbly to any power that might be listening that it wouldn't come to that. The last thing she saw before he snapped off the wand-light was the expression on his face, terrified and triumphant at the same time, and the first thing after it the trace of blue fire which followed his fingertips in the darkness.
Then the soft voice said "I am here. I am waiting for you - Voldemort" and the night was full of hissing shadows.
Almost on the instant, the lash of fire licked across him - as if his some-time master had been poised watching for the slightest chink in his armour - and he arched his back and gasped in pain. Frantic with anxiety, Lynsey seized his left hand in both of hers and squeezed, trying to hang on to him mentally as well as physically as he choked and sobbed for breath and the unwholesome light showed her his lips pulled back into a hard, straight line as he fought not to scream. But then suddenly he was singing - his voice was hoarse and choking but still, he was singing -
"Bring away the beggar, bring away the king,
And every man in his degree.
Bring away the oldest and the youngest thing:
Come to death, and follow me...."
- he was hardly doing more than whispering in rhythm, and the lightning answered him, lashing at him until he cried out, whipping his head from side to side as he tried to shake free of it, his voice was shaking too and almost inaudible -
"Bring away the merchant who made his money in France
And the crafty banker too:
When you hear the piper, you and I must dance
The dance that everyone must do.
"Dance, dance the shaking of the sheets
Dance, dance - when you hear the piper
Playing, everyone must dance
The shaking of the sheets with me."
Clearer now, more forceful - but the Dark Mark flared with an evil unlight, a pulse of nothingness felt more than seen and he retched and faltered, clawing at his arm and almost dropping the wand. Lynsey batted his hand aside and laced her own fingers across the brand, her thumbs either side of his forearm, pressing down and willing all the strength and power she had into forcing that burning evil away from him. Despite his obvious pain, his voice had a throaty, sinister growl to it now and she thought that he was starting to enjoy himself.
"I'll find you in the courtrooms, I'll find you in the schools:
When you hear the piper play
I'll take away the wise men, take away the fools..."
Under her hand, it felt as if the Mark turned into a succession of squirming horrors, freezing and burning and writhing like a handful of maggots, but she thought about Tam Lin and hung on grimly, thinking "Mine! Not yours, mine!"
"And bring their bodies all to clay.
All the politicians, of high and low degree;
Lords and ladies, great and small:
Don't think that you'll escape..."
The professor was singing strongly now, with a fine snarl and snap and a faintly alarming relish - he still flinched and jerked as the lightning bit at him, but it was faltering now and he wasn't and there was a growing sense of fear which certainly wasn't hers, or the professor's - in fact she didn't think she had ever seen him look less afraid -
"...and need not dance with me -
I'll make you come when I do call.
"Dance, dance the shaking of the sheets
Dance, dance - when you hear the piper
Playing, everyone must dance
The shaking of the sheets with me.
"It may be in the day, it may be in the night:
Prepare yourselves to dance, and pray
That when the piper plays 'The shaking of the sheets'
You may to Heaven dance away - "
and the torturer's tame lightning danced away, it flicked away like a blown leaf and the dark mind went with it, and she could actually feel the dark one recoiling, withdrawing in alarm and confusion as the professor's lovely, clean voice sailed serenely into the last chorus.
As he brought the wand-light back up Lynsey handed him the water-bottle and he drank sparingly, and then leaned his head back against the wall and gazed down his long nose at her with both eyebrows raised, looking incredibly smug.
"What - exactly just happened there, Prof?"
"He fears death - overwhelmingly, obsessively...."
"So you just - reminded him of a few facts - "
"Which would have much the same effect as showing a tarantula to an arachnophobe...."
"Precisely" he said, smiling his tight little flinching smile.
"If he gets over that one," Lynsey said, grinning back, "I know a really nice nasty one about Lady Howard's Coach - 'Now pray step in and make no din//Step in with me to ride//There's room I trow by me for you//And all the world beside.'"
"Numbers" he said softly, pressing his hands flat against the wall. "Numbers, everywhere - what is this?"
"It's from the war - the war against Hitler. There were so many bombs falling on London that a lot of people chose to sleep down here at night. There were wooden bunk-beds in here, floor to ceiling, and each bunk had a number inked on the wall - so that people could find their own bed, and get post delivered there."
"God, that's a strange thought - there must have been so many...." They stood for some time in silence looking at those ghostly addresses, stretching from floor to ceiling and out along the long curving walls of the corridor, on and on for hundreds of yards: imagining the crowds of anxious, frightened refugees who had huddled down here in the dark every night, not knowing if the homes they had left behind would still be standing in the morning.
"Knowing Londoners, though," Lynsey said finally, breaking the spell of that numinous, aching nostalgia, "they probably made a bit of a party out of it. I'll tell you what, though - they didn't go right down into the deep mine, those wartime sleepers, so we must be fairly near the main entrance here."
"If it's a main entrance, the Death Eaters will certainly have it heavily guarded."
"Worth a try, do you think?"
"Worth a look - carefully."
Watching him sliding along with his back to the wall, wand at the ready and outlined against the glow from further up the tunnel, she thought that he looked like a great stalking black fox - as spiky and precise and delicate, as subtle and as sinister (also, he definitely had the nose for it). He peered round the curve of the wall, very slowly, and then held up four fingers to her - an indication of how many of the snake-man's bully-boys there were between them and freedom, guarding the gates of Avernus. That wasn't hyperbole, was it? - this place had been a very strict and Roman hell for the professor, and would be so again, or be his death, if they couldn't find a way out. And she still thought of his torturer as "the snake-man." The name which the professor had hissed into the darkness was too full of present power to be invoked in mere casual conversation - even if it were only conversation with oneself.
The professor was already easing his way silently back towards her when they both heard loud male voices and footsteps up ahead - the sound of someone crashing in through the entrance in what sounded like a furious temper, and heading their way at speed. For a split second Lynsey and the professor stared at each other, appalled, and then turned as one to flee back the way they had come.
But they were too far from the nearest turning, with the professor as stumbling and unsteady as he was, and she had never claimed to be a sprinter herself. As they reached the side tunnel and turned up it, out of the line of sight of whoever was following, they heard a shout behind them and the sound of running feet. There was no time to find shelter - no time for anything, as the professor pushed her roughly to the floor and came down on top of her, shielding her, as a bolt of sizzling turquoise light shot past at what would have been chest height, had they still been standing. Bangs and yells - the professor ought to have been a bull's-eye target, sprawled on the floor in the middle of the tunnel and in plain sight, but he seemed to have some sort of powerful shield in place and the spitting light was bouncing away from him, back towards the senders - screams now, and swearing, and she had just time to see one of their pursuers spinning wildly on the spot, flailing his arms and projectile-vomiting, a second collapsed on the ground in a suspiciously distorted way and a third, apparently uninjured, trying to aim his wand at them but being hopelessly obstructed and covered in technicolour sick by his spinning, staggering colleague, before the professor had hauled her to her feet by the elbow and shoved her ahead of him into the darkness.
"What the hell - what did you do to that guy?"
"The dervish, or Elasto the Rubber-Man?"
"The one on the ground."
"Something I once saw somebody do by accident, and stored up for future reference - I took all the bones out of his arms and legs."
"Don't worry, they'll re-grow - eventually." Once again he was collapsed against the wall, panting and holding his ribs. As she watched him, almost as out of breath herself, he sucked miserably at his own bleeding fingertips, cursing under his breath and trying to ease the pain he had caused himself by manhandling her out of danger: but when she caught his eye he gave her an unreasonably cheerful, self-mocking grin and gasped "I hate to admit it, O'Connor, but I'm definitely getting too old for this sort of thing!"
"Fer sure - we both are. Klingon-hunting is a game for twenty-somethings, not forty-somethings."
"Give me a break, please - I won't even be thirty-eight until January. Is it January yet?"
"Not quite. In a few days."
"Oh." His expression hardened suddenly. "Then I must have been - back there - about two weeks. I lost - Klingon hunting?"
"Don't ask. Really. Just - don't ask, OK? Just say, it's a type of war-game that involves running up and down long corridors in big hotels - I'll tell you the rest some time when you've got a fortnight to kill." She thought again about the phrase "a fortnight to kill," and pressed the heels of her hands into her eye-sockets. "Gods - do you mean that you'd been hanging up there - like that? - for a whole fortnight?"
"No" he said, suddenly hoarse, and she looked at him sharply and saw that he was trembling. "Don't know how long - that was only the latest.... Took me apart, healed me, started again. And again. Again. I forget how many - "
"S-said He could - keep this up for years, if He chose to. Started, started with - curse called Crucio. Worst pain you can have but - can't keep it on for long or - you die or - go mad. So He - varied it. Inventively." He was looking straight at her as he spoke but his eyes were blank and empty, almost blind-looking. Uneasily, she remembered hearing the term "Thousand-Mile Stare" spoken of in connection with post-traumatic stress disorder.
"Gods - what did they do to you my dear?"
"No. Don't want to - think about it. I'm not thick - I know I'll have to at some point, if I get out of this alive - but later, not now. Not now. I've spent almost half my life knowing this would be my end, preparing for it - I can deal with it. Have to deal with it. You said it yourself, if I roll up on you...."
He was shaking violently now, and looked so exhausted and distressed that something twisted sharply in her own chest to see him. "Stupid!" he muttered with passion. "You would think I would be used to it, to being - punished, but somehow the - helplessness, it's worse as an adult - like being forced to be a child again."
"'He is strong and pain is worse to the strong, incapacity is worse'" she murmured, looking at his wild hawk profile, and scarcely aware that she had spoken aloud until he answered her in kind.
"'The wild God of the world is sometimes merciful to those//That ask mercy, not often to the arrogant' - but I did ask for mercy, and what was the point?" His lank hair was plastered to his skin with sweat. Suffused with sudden tenderness, she made as if to smooth the long strands out of his eyes for him - but he glowered at her in such furious resentment that she thought better of it.
"Gods - way to spend Christmas, eh?"
"You have the most striking eyes" she said, half teasing. "What colour would you call them? Black? Bitter chocolate?"
"Bloodshot." He frowned at her, his face white and set. "Just because I am - injured and - a bit shaken doesn't mean that I am not in command of the situation or of myself, do you understand me?"
"I wouldn't dream of suggesting otherwise. Seriously, I wouldn't."
"I thought you said before that - he didn't have any Healers with him?"
"Not good enough to deal with serious spell-damage, no. But good enough for breaks and burns and ripped tendons - and they didn't have to make me well, after all. Just keep me from dying."
He had to rest - even he admitted grudgingly that there was no way he would be able to go on without it - but when he tried to sleep he only fell into a fitful doze, moving his head restlessly from side to side, pleading hoarsely with someone in the darkness and then, which was far worse, whimpering in his throat like a whipped dog. Lynsey would have liked to have sung to him, something to soothe what sounded like a lifetime's worth of raw nerves, but she was afraid he would find that patronizing - and the last thing she wanted to do now was belittle him, when his pride as well as his body had already taken such a beating. Remembering what he had said about Christian poets, she sat alongside him, not looking at him but leaning shoulder to shoulder with him, and murmured:
"Glory be to God for dappled things -
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced - fold, fallow, and plough;"
and without comment or hesitation his soft voice joined in with her -
"And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim."
She left him to quote the second verse, which she was less sure of, by himself:
"All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
And so they sat companionably in the old night for a while, and talked about the extraordinary beauty of laboratory glassware - of alembics and Hoffnung bottles and flasks and burettes - and the way in which people who studied what were considered to be Arts subjects so often failed to appreciate how much scientists might be moved by the sheer aesthetics of their own particular trade.
After a while, she heard him shift restlessly in the darkness, and she could tell by his voice that he had turned to face her. "I'll quote you another poem, if you like. 'Go mad in good company, find a good country,//Make a clean sweep or make a clean end.' God, I wish I could - make a clean end, that is. I'd do it now - but I can't leave you alone here, and you aren't ready to die yet."
"That's moot - but I'm certainly not ready to give up on you." She wondered guiltily if that was quite kind. If he was indeed doomed to be retaken it would be far more merciful to fold her hand and end this now: to do as he asked, and send him into the peaceful dark. But instinct was against it, and a witch should follow her whim. Softly, under her breath, she began to pray: "Ganesha, Lord of Obstacles, Lord of Hosts, do not lose us here under the ground.... Send us the rat that gnaws the walls, and let him lead us to the open air."
She had begun to feel that horrible, raw not-quite-headache of sheer exhaustion and psychic overload - as if the inside of her skull had been scraped out with a grapefruit spoon. The gods alone knew how bad the professor must be feeling, but his colour looked even more peely-wally than usual, and the least worst of the bruises were beginning to fade from blue-black to a spectacular khaki and yellow. Hunger and hopelessness wore on her nerves and made her nearly as short-tempered as her companion: he on the other hand preferred to deal with stress by giving it to other people, and was back in that strange, flying, feverish mood, wondering aloud whether they couldn't freak-out and unnerve the Death Eaters in general, not just their master, by serenading them with something memorably gruesome.
"But surely - if you take the Muffly-whatever off and sing to them, won't they just use your voice to pinpoint us?"
"I don't think it will do them much good, or us much harm. I can magnify our voices to parade-ground levels and then use a charm to throw them, so that they appear to come from some distance away - and in any case the acoustics in this place are - strange."
"Oh, yeah - mondo-bizarre-o."
"I don't think that the phrase 'mondo-bizarre-o' has ever darkened my horizons before - but if you mean that echoes seem to come at one from all directions, then I concur." He gave her a glittering, sardonic look, and she had an uncomfortable suspicion that he knew that she had just called him a pompous ass under her breath.
So somehow there they were, ambling through the darkness in a somewhat hysterical high humour, singing the grisliest songs either of them could come up with until the echoes roared through the tunnels from every side - and Lynsey wondered if the professor was mad, or she was, but since they had hardly a prayer of getting out of this alive they might as well, as he had said, be hanged for a sheep as for a lamb and have a little fun on the road to death.
In the event, it was Lynsey who started the ball rolling with Kipling's buoyant fatalism:
"Cheer, for you'll never live to see no blooming victory;
Cheer! You'll never live to hear the cannon's roar;
The large birds of prey, they will carry us away
And you'll never see your soldiers any more...."
"Mother, mother make my bed"
sang the professor's clean, carrying voice with horrible relish:
"Make for me a winding sheet:
"Wrap me up in a cloak of gold -
Try if I can sleep...."
"Steeleye Span" she said: "The music of our misspent youth."
"More misspent in some case than others" he replied, with a bitter twist to his thin lips.
"Ach, you'll do, Prof." And in truth, she was coming to feel a most profound affection for the man. He might be dour, ratty and terse but he was definitely growing on her, like lichen.
"As I wis walking all alane
I spied twa corbies makin mane...."
and they both knew that one....
"Mony a one for him maks mane,
But nane shall ken fere he is gane:
O'er his white banes, fhen they are bare-o,
The wind shall blaw for ever mair-o,
The wind shall blaw for ever mair."
"'...If he had've been twice as fair
Ye micht have excepted me.'
'Ye're neither lord nor laird,' she said,
'But the king that wears the crown,
And there's not a knight in all of Scotland
But to thee maun bow down.'"
- one of the saddest songs she knew, about a young man who was killed for nothing but his pretty face -
"And they hae taken tae the heiding hill
His young son in his cradle.
And they hae taken tae the heiding hill
His horse baith and his saddle.
And they hae taken tae the heiding hill
His lady fair to see;
And for the words that the queen had spoke
Young Waters he did dee."
"On that basis, I suppose I should be content to be ugly" the professor muttered, turning down the magical volume-control for a moment.
"Tchah! Do you really mean that, or are you just fishing for compliments?"
"I walk these woods at night undead,
My mother's crown upon my head:
I'll bleed this land eternally...."
The only disadvantage to the whole glorious madness was that it made one thirsty, and they had so little water left with which to lubricate dry throats. But it was worth it, she thought, to see her companion in that wild humour and crackling with energy. As soon as they stopped, though - as soon as they had to stop, because he was burning-hot and close to fainting, power or no power - reaction set in, and he was back to shivering with nerves and generic, low-level terror.
But he had come far on from where he had been, even so - far enough to agree to let her into his mind, to try to soothe him enough to rest. Theory, however, was one thing and practice quite another.
"Will you cut that out?" she said irritably, after ten minutes of fruitless mental effort.
"Ducking and sidling. I swear, you have the slitheriest mind I've ever met - it's like trying to arm-wrestle a squid."
He gave a throaty little chuckle. "Then it will be a good exercise for you, will it not?"
"Do you have to be wilfully bloody difficult, even when people are trying to help you?"
"I fail to see that it is any fault or responsibility of mine if you choose to waste your time on such a futile exercise as I am."
"Oh come on - you don't really believe that: that's just another way of fishing for compliments."
"If you believe that, O'Connor, then you're even more stupid than I thought." He looked away from her, running his hands through his long hair so that it fell across his face and obscured his expression from her.
She laid a hand lightly on his elbow. "Quit sulking, there's a lad."
"Am not" he replied, folding his arms and looking at her provokingly under his brows.
"If childish games are what amuse you, O'Connor, far be it from me to seek to contradict you."
"Can it, Merlin: you're driving me mad. For the gods' sweet sakes - if you weren't permanently on the bloody needle you'd be a lot easier to talk to. Why do you do that?"
"It passes the time."
"It's an obstacle to sensible conversation, is what it is."
"Then I apologize," he said, so meekly that she knew for certain that he was laughing at her.
It seems obvious that when a memory is placed in the Pensieve the owner doesn't forget what that memory was, since neither Snape nor Dumbledore seems in any doubt about what Harry will see when he looks at their memories. So why does Snape take out the memory of being bullied by James, when it will still be in his head for Harry to find? I can only assume that placing a memory in the Pensieve does, or at least can, dilute the emotional force of that memory - and that Snape decants the memory of being bullied so that he will be able to deal with Harry without having a kneejerk fear-and-loathing reaction to James' face.
There was an ancient British custom, especially in Ireland, of young boys parading either a dead wren, a caged wren or a wren effigy through the town on St Stephen's Day on December 26th (and in some places for several days thereafter, up to New Year's Eve), collecting coins.
The Shaking of the Sheets, as used here, is an arrangement by Steeleye Span (from their Tempted and Tried album) of a song called The Dance of Death which was already being referred to as "olden" in 1568.
Tam Lin is a character in a traditional ballad of that name, who is the servant of the Queen of the Fairies, and is due to be sent to Hell as a tribute. In order to save him, the girl who is his mortal lover has to hold onto him while he changes into a variety of awful forms.
Lady Howard's Coach is a filk (Science-Fiction or Fantasy-based folk) song by Cecilia Eng, from her album Of Shoes and Ships. Lady Howard herself is a local Dartmoor version of personified Death: according to some sources the coach is made of the bones of her four murdered husbands. Anyone who gets into it is already dead.
Avernus was a volcanic lake which the Romans believed marked the gates to the underworld, and later became a name for the underworld itself.
The quotes about "pain is worse to the strong" and being "merciful to those That ask mercy" are from the poem Hurt Hawks by Robinson Jeffers.
"Glory be to God for dappled things" - this is the 1918 poem Pied Beauty, by Gerard Manly Hopkins.
"Go mad in good company" - from The Magnetic Mountain by C. Day Lewis.
"Peely-wally" is a good Scots expression which means that one has a face the same colour and probably texture as ancient, grubby whitewash peeling off a tenement wall.
"Cheer, for you'll never live to see no blooming victory" - Leslie Fish's adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's The Birds of Prey March.
"Mother, mother make my bed" - from the traditional Mediaeval ballad Little Sir Hugh. This wonderfully creepy song has a most regrettable history, since the original is anti-Semitic - accusing the British Jewish community of the sacrificial murder of a child who went missing. But Steeleye Span produced a cleaned-up version, making the villainess of the song a generically sinister "lady fair" rather than "the Jew's daughter:" and the chorus is so spooky I couldn't resist using it here, even though its origin makes me uneasy.
"Mony a one for him maks mane" - from The Twa Corbies, a traditional Border Ballad set to music by Steeleye Span - although Lynsey is singing it here in a much heavier and more north-easterly Scots accent than they do.
"'...If he had've been twice as fair//Ye micht have excepted me.'" Young Waters, traditional, from the singing of June Tabor.
"I walk these woods at night undead" - from the filk song Red as Blood by Cecilia Eng, based on a short story of the same name by Tanith Lee.
This chapter has been edited in several minor ways to conform with new canon from Deathly Hallows and subsequent interviews. Apart from having Snape refer to "Dumbledore" rather than "Albus", and making him a year younger, I've edited his motives for quitting the Death Eaters in order to make Lily more prominent, made it ambiguous whether he had ever killed directly or not, even in the service of the Order, and added the possibility of an epistatic gene (one which masks the expression of a second gene, in the way that, for example, albinism masks what colour the animal would have been had it not been an albino) to Lynsey's thoughts about the genetics of magic.
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