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
#11: Night Flight
[In which Snape and the shaman find their way back above ground (at last), and try to locate what's left of the Order of the Phoenix.]
It was wonderful finally to see the surface and the open air again, and curiously apt to do so via a shaft which had been used by other fugitives before them - even if those fugitives had been seeking to enter the caves, rather than to leave them. But that surface looked to be about fifty feet above them and the shaft appeared, so far as they could see by the strictly limited light available to them, to be capped by a metal grille.
"If this were a movie," Lynsey said, cricking her neck and getting an eyeful of rain as she stared straight up at that distant sky, "we'd 'chimney' out by bracing our shoulders and feet against either side of the shaft and walking it - but I really don't think I've ever in my life been fit or agile or - or purely insane enough to try it."
"I could do it if I were fit, I think - but not with my hands and feet and shoulders the way they are at present. And even if - well, with my head for heights it's not a prospect to dwell on, I can assure you."
"So how the hell do we get up there?"
"I have some ideas. I don't suppose you have anything like rope in that bag of yours, do you?"
"String, just. A witch should never be without string, according to Pratchett!"
"It'll do - probably. But first - " He pointed the wand straight up against the driving rain and made a swirling gesture, murmuring "Wingardum Leviosum." Nothing whatsoever happened, except that rivulets of rain streaked his arms and starred his eyelashes and flowed down the raw scratches on his face. "Damn" he muttered. "It must be fastened down. Never mind.
"Get the string out, then" he said to Lynsey, and when she had handed it to him he looped one end and tied it around her wrist "so you don't drop it. Now," he said, "I'm going to use a spell on you called Levicorpus. Ordinarily it lifts the vict - the subject up by the heel but in principle it's possible to make it raise you upright, if I concentrate, and if you balance yourself as if you are standing and being lifted by a force below your feet. But if the worst happens and it tips you up, do try not to be sick on me...."
"I'll do my best, Prof."
"All right. Put your hands up - into the chimney. It will help you to balance."
She did as she was told, raising her hands as far as they would go, and as she felt the first lurch and lift she reached for the opening above her head and pressed her palms against the sides of the shaft. Being lifted by the feet felt strange and unstable, to say the least, but by walking her palms up the chalk she managed to remain upright until she could hook her fingers through the bars of the grille. The rain poured through it, swirling around the metal struts and merging into jets and rivulets which soaked her robes and plastered her hair flat, though the charm which the professor had placed on her clothing prevented her from feeling very cold, even in this midwinter rainstorm.
She looked down at the professor's pale face, framed in the lighted circle of the chimney-foot so far below her. He called something up to her, but she was unable to hear him through the noise of the rain. She freed one hand briefly from the grille and cupped it behind her ear, before reasserting her death-grip on the metal grid. She saw him use the wand to gesture at his own throat - raising the volume again, as he had done when singing.
"Have you got a secure grip on the grille?" When she nodded, he looped his end of the string around his own right wrist, and called up to her "I can't lift myself, but I'm going to make myself weightless with Mobilicorpus, and then I want you to draw me up to you."
Lynsey was highly reluctant to let go of the metal with both hands and just trust the professor's spell to hold her up on its own: and it was with fear and trembling that she let go even with one hand - but she had to, if she was to raise him. When he had passed the wand across himself, she gave a tentative tug on the string and saw him lift from the ground, raising his left hand to guide himself into the mouth of the shaft, as she had done. It felt decidedly odd - "weightless" wasn't quite how she would have put it, because she could feel that she was pulling on something that had mass and potential momentum, and that if she pulled too fast she might swing him into the wall with some force - but the slightest tug was sufficient to lift him. She thought that it was like pushing a heavy object which was skating on an utterly frictionless surface.
She reeled the string in gently, pulling him up a loop at a time and passing each successive loop from her hand to her teeth, until he was on a level with her. He nodded tersely at her, passed the wand across his own throat again to remove the Sonorus charm, and then examined the grille by wand-light. It was clear that it was fastened to the ground by heavy bolts, but a flick with the wand to each in turn severed them almost as easily as he had been able to slice a strip from Lynsey's robe.
"Way to go, Merlin!" she exclaimed, deeply impressed.
He gave her an odd look at that. "Now, if I try to lift you again with Levicorpus I'm liable to push myself down as I push you up, so I'm going to put Mobilicorpus on you and make you weightless, as I am - and then I want you to let go of the grille." She gulped at that, and he gave her a twisted grin. "Just don't think about it, all right? I'm not."
She remembered that he was even more scared of heights than she was, and sighed. If he could do it, she was honour-bound to follow suit. "All right - just say when."
When they were both equally weightless, and Lynsey had finally unclenched her fingers from their death-grip on the grille, the professor gestured with his wand again and the metal cap flew up and fell sideways out of their sight. They levered themselves up and out onto blessed, honest mud and grass, and Lynsey flopped where she had landed in the driving rain, watching the professor place the grille back over the mouth of the shaft and re-seal the bolts which held it there.
Restored to normal weight again, they stood for a moment facing each other in the rainy dark amongst the grass and the trees, with their hands on each other's shoulders, staring into each other's faces. Lynsey might have expected, if she had thought about it beforehand, that sheer relief would see them whooping for joy but in practice it severed the elastic bands of terror and urgency which had kept them moving up till now and left them stranded here, too exhausted and soaked and too busy propping each other up to make any wild demonstration.
After staring at her eye to eye for a long, weary space the professor suddenly seized Lynsey in his arms and drew her to him, so that for a moment she thought that he was going to kiss her - but instead he whirled her around like a dancer, and the weight of the world fell in on them both and crushed the breath out of her.
When Lynsey could breathe again, she found herself still clasped tightly in the professor's arms, enfolded in the twin wings of the cloak with her back against his chest and his bony chin resting on her shoulder, and they were somewhere else entirely. A quiet street somewhere in North London, it looked like. Before she could work out their location more exactly, or even properly get her breath, he had whirled her away again, and she was crushed down like an octopus passing through a wedding-ring, and spat out on a motorway layby in what looked like rural Oxfordshire. Then a field somewhere - then back, back to the layby, and then the London street, and then they were on a mangy-looking beach somewhere -
"What the hell are you doing?" she finally managed to choke out.
"Laying false trails" he gasped against her neck, equally breathless. "Ordinarily they say you can't trace Apparition but He can do a lot of things that 'they' say you can't do. If we just go the one way I'm afraid they'll be able to track us - I want to tie them up in false starts and dead ends."
"OK - just so's I know." As she resigned herself again to dizziness and the crushing dark, the sound-track in her head sang softly "Wrap me in your blanket, dance me around...."
Now that she knew what he was doing, it was easy to see the pattern - he was bouncing them back and forth, first out and then backtracking, laying down a multiply-bifurcated trail like twiglets on twigs on branches on a tree, so that the odds on any pursuer picking out the one most recent line which actually led to them were reassuringly small. After about twelve jumps he relented enough to get the glasses out of her bag and used Auguamenti to summon clean water, much better than the few half-mouthfuls of smoky London rain which they had managed to catch before, and they drank and drank - the professor was shaking again as he did so, remembering, Lynsey thought, the unending hell of pain and thirst which he had so narrowly escaped.
Thence to more bounding and rebounding, through the elastic constriction of Apparition. Each time they backtracked, she could feel him tense and clutch at his wand - poised to fire and then whip them away at speed, if they should turn out to have unwanted company. But there was no sign of pursuit.
"Hey, Prof. How long do you suppose they're going to spend creeping around down there in the dark, frightening each other into conniptions, before they realize we've left the building?"
"Long enough for our trail to have gone cold, I sincerely hope. But just in case...."
They jerked away again, landing in a rough, twig-littered wood - and this time the professor yelped and staggered as they landed (or arrived, or whatever you wanted to call it). The cold smoothness of the chalk had been one thing, but some of the surfaces they were finding themselves on were rough even to Lynsey, in the soft-soled leather dancing-pumps which she always wore with her robes - and on the professor's bare, deeply-bruised and tender feet they must be agony. She insisted that he stop for a few minutes and trim a little more cloth from her ragged robe, to wrap them with - and modesty be hanged. She had always quite fancied herself in a thigh-length tunic, in any case.
"So why didn't you make yourself weightless before, Prof, and let me steer you? It would have taken the weight off your feet."
"Think about it. Think about drifting literally blind, in absolute dark, through low, narrow, curving tunnels whose irregular walls are studded with projections...."
Yet more jumps - by the time that the professor was satisfied that their route was sufficiently obscured it was well after dawn and he was sobbing for breath, burning hot and fainting with exhaustion, and Lynsey was having to hold him up in her arms as strongly as when they had made that first staggering, stumbling escape from the scene of his torture. Everywhere they came out in seemed to be freezing cold - not really surprizing at this time of year, she supposed - and most of them were wet, such that they were both by now as soaked as if they had jumped fully-clothed into a swimming pool.
Warmth as such was not really an issue, since the professor had bespelled their clothes to be as warm as winter overcoats even when wet. But she was concerned about him going bare-legged in such weather - quite aside from the issue of looking weird if they should encounter any of her fellow Muggles. However, she supposed that as far as that went, at this time of year people would just assume they were en route to a fancy dress party.
They had emerged in a little wood on a slope overlooking a small village - location unknown, but from the red earth she would guess Devon. Lynsey persuaded the professor to rest for a while and catch his breath, while she took what little money she had down into the village to purchase supplies. For the purpose he Transfigured her robes so that the hem at least looked neat, but was too exhausted and drained to attempt any more major changes. At least she now looked moderately respectable, if bizarre.
It was a pity that the village included no bank or ATM, so that she had to make do with what little money she had on her. There was a 'phone-box, at least, and she used her small change to ring various friends and family, saying that she had been called away to tend to a sick friend - which wasn't a lie, as such - and to arrange for her neighbours to continue feeding her cats. The only open shops she could find were a small chemist, a charity-shop which she supposed to be the only one for miles, and a tiny newsagent which sold a bare minimum of basic groceries, and seemed to have been virtually stripped by people stocking up for the New Year. She had been hoping for something in the nature of sardines, or even suspiciously orange cheese, but there was little left apart from a forlorn packet of sage-and-onion stuffing. There had evidently been, at some point, a proper convenience store in the village, but it seemed to be closed and in the process of changing hands. And of course, none of the shops took credit cards.
At least she was able, by surreptitiously looking at the papers in the newsagent's, to establish that it was now Tuesday, 30th December. It had been the afternoon of Saturday 27th when Lucius had lifted her out of Croydon High Street. By spreading what little cash she had she managed to come away with a pair of second-hand charcoal-grey slacks and ditto of soft-soled shoes which she thought would fit her professor; two loaves of bread; two cans of beer; butter; a jar of radioactive-looking pink jam; a couple of Mars Bars; an antiseptic wash with which to clean the inflamed tracks where Greyback's nails had caught him and, in a moment of inspiration, a tube of Ralgex to ease his poor feet.
For an awful moment she thought that he was gone - that the Death Eaters had found him and taken him - but then her eye was caught by a suggestion of movement, without colour or definition, and his white face and black hair appeared suddenly out of nothing at all. Lynsey gave a small shriek and almost swallowed her tongue before she realized that he had done something which blended him into the background like the world's most effective chameleon. He smirked at her, entertained by the effect of his little coup de theatre, before gesturing with the wand and restoring himself to his full monochrome glory.
"You could give someone a bloody heart attack, doing that."
"Come now, O'Connor - you've proved you're made of sterner stuff than that."
He was pleased with the slacks, and the relief on his face when she rubbed the "Muggle pain-relieving potion" into the soles of his feet and his aching shoulders was almost overwhelming. But he was wary about the shoes. Even though they looked to be the right size, he examined them dubiously and seemed reluctant to put them on.
"I think they should be soft enough to be comfortable" Lynsey commented, "and I would have thought almost any shoe would be better than none."
"It's not the soles that concern me, it's the - the depth. I don't think I'll be able to bear anything that puts any pressure on my toes."
"What's the problem, love? They don't look damaged. Is it the joints? - because if so then Ralgex would help."
He looked down, not meeting her gaze. "During each round of - punishment" he said in a thin, careful voice, "Macnair would progressively pull out each of my toenails, and then later they would be regenerated, ready for the next - session. He had not yet got round to it this time, but the new nails are still - conveniently sensitive."
"He seems to have a thing about feet," Lynsey observed. The professor nodded curtly, and then somehow - she wasn't sure how - he had his face pressed against her shoulder, shivering miserably, and she was holding him gently and making reassuring noises.
"Each time," he muttered, choking. "Each time they regrew them it got worse, more sensitive - in the end I was screaming if he just touched them, before he even began to - tear - "
She rubbed the side of her face against his hair like a cat. "Sshh now. You got through it. It's done with, now."
He muttered something unintelligible and pulled away almost immediately, obviously embarrassed. "I'm probably done with. You do realize, don't you, that the likelihood is that the Order will hex me on sight?"
"Because you - because you killed this man Dumbledore?"
"I - " He stopped, frowning, and shook his head. "He ordered me to kill him - but I doubt if many, if any of them, will have worked that out. Especially as bloody Potter will have given them the worst possible account of my actions. I'm going to have to brief you on everything I need to tell them: if they kill me on sight - which they very well may do - you'll have to make my report for me."
"But Prof - "
"No! No buts, quibbles or arguments. This is more important than my life - and I will not live as a fugitive with both sides hunting me. I have run far enough, for long enough, and I will not run any further."
Talking, mind-sharing, memory-charms to make it all stick - she thought they would never be done with it. Most of what he was telling her was quite beyond her, and the bits she understood, she wished she didn't. "...by using their daughter as a hostage: if the Minister disobeys, the girl will be given to Greyback...." "Dolohov has encountered some resistance from a tribe of giants living in the Himalayas...." "Money for this enterprise is obtained by coercion...." "Macnair threatened to rape the wife of...." "A slow poison was used to ensure that...."
"Be careful what you ask for," she thought sourly, recalling her own early obsession with true spy stories: "You may get it." And in truth, it was a miserable bloody business, all cruelty and betrayal and dry statistics about expenditure and strategy. And it took hours.
When the professor was satisfied as to the effectiveness of the lesson - when he was sure that if he died, Lynsey would still be able to inform the Order of the Phoenix of those points of information which he considered most vital - then he returned to his main objective: actually locating and, putatively, rejoining the Order's High Command.
The school, he was sure, could be ruled out: Hogwarts had been closed due to the escalation of hostilities, and was being used as a Scottish base by the Ministry of Magic, so it was unlikely that the Order would be meeting under their noses. They Apparated first to a tall, dingy house on a dusty square somewhere in London. The precise house they were seeking was apparently both invisible to Lynsey and standing shuttered and empty. The professor observed grimly that it had probably been abandoned in response to his own apparent defection to the other side. The Fidelius spell theoretically kept the place hidden from anyone who had not been told of its whereabouts by a designated Secret Keeper, but Fidelius could be cast in several different ways, and Dumbledore had never really been clear about which method he had used. The Order might think the professor was now free to reveal the secret, since Dumbledore's death: and in any case if he had been a traitor he could certainly have arranged for the Death Eaters to watch the square which the house seemingly stood on, and pick off visitors.
So they dotted from point to point, in stages which were generally about fifty miles long, looking at a succession of houses and barns and ruins in which the Order had at some stage had an interest. Each stage required half an hour or more of careful reconnoitring, and at each stage the property proved to be empty - though the disused beach-huts at Scarborough did at least show signs of recent habitation. Property belonging to the Order, the professor explained, might seem to Muggle eyes to be small and derelict whilst in reality providing access to quite large premises. Lynsey nobly forbore from explaining the word "Tardis."
As the evening drew on, she insisted that she was too exhausted to continue - though her motive was as much to force the professor to rest as to get rest herself. Too weary and too wary to find any human habitation to shelter in, they ended up in mixed woodland somewhere in North Wales. Snow dusted the ground and drifted up to six inches deep in places, but the shelter of the trees kept the wood comparatively dry and warm. In the end, the professor had Transfigured the shoes into open-toed sandals - a process which he had to remember to renew at sunset - so he was at least able to walk over knotted roots and drifted needles without whimpering much. All of which explained how they came to be staggering erratically arm-in-arm through the woods in the dark, in sleepy but hilarious good spirits, singing:
"Cope sent a challenge frae Dunbar,
Sayin 'Charlie meet me an' ye daur;
An' I'll renew the airts o' war,
If ye'll meet me in the morning.'
"Hi Johnnie Cope, are ye waukin' yet?
Or are your drums a-beating yet?
If ye were waukin' I wad wait,
Tae gang tae the coals in the morning."
They made themselves a campsite close by a stream, at the foot of a steep bank which sheltered them from the prevailing wind, and Lynsey gathered potential firewood which the professor dried and ignited by magic. Then he limped to the side of the water and began to make strange stroking, coaxing movements with his wand. Before Lynsey could ask what he was doing a great length of a silver fish, its sides shimmering with rainbow freckles, flopped meatily onto the moss at her feet. She braced herself to deal with the poor creature's dying struggle, but there was none. It lay at her feet limp and dead, where it was soon enough joined by another, and another.
She couldn't help thinking that what the professor was doing was a) cheating and b) sinister in the extreme. But she could hardly say "Stop - I wanted to kill them by a more haphazard and less humane method." And hot trout sandwiches certainly beat radioactive jam butties any day. As she set-to to gut and fillet the fish with the stone knife, she tried hard not to think about what she had last used it for but, truth to tell, she had used the Swiss Army Knife for some pretty odd things too.
While the fish were roasting gently at the side of the fire, Lynsey flipped open the beer and passed a can to the professor. He took a swig and then yelped and clapped a hand to his mouth.
"What is it?"
"Too bloody cold - I'll have to warm it a little."
"I have several broken teeth and a bitten tongue - how sore do you think my mouth is?"
"I - I didn't realize. I assumed since you were talking...."
"I'm only too grateful to be able to, however painful it is. At one point He - He slit my tongue, because I was a traitor. But He healed it again after a day or two, because He preferred to be able to hear me beg."
"Look at me pet," Lynsey said softly. "Come on - that's the lad. You are not the one who has anything to be ashamed of, here." He nodded and smiled thinly, looking as if he might at any moment burst into tears of exhaustion and lingering shock.
"Be careful with that stuff, anyway" she said warningly. "It's eighty-shilling."
"That would be - what? Four pounds? I had no idea Muggles still used shillings."
"It's not a price - seventy and eighty-shillings are measures of the strength of beer. Seventy-shilling is pretty strong, and eighty-shilling means - well, just don't swig the lot on an empty stomach, is all."
In the event, it was probably the best meal either of them had ever eaten. As Lynsey licked melted butter and flakes of chargrilled fish off her fingers, she grinned at the professor across the wavering heat of the fire. "If you ever decide to give up teaching, Prof, you could have a promising new career as a poacher."
A woman, she felt, should always have more stamina than a man, and he had been already far past exhaustion and into burn-time when she first found him. But he was a tough one, her dark professor - as tough and as wiry as blackthorn. She thought that she should stay awake and do her part to defend their camp: but her friend was singing softly under his breath through the darkness, on and on, and the black horse was looking so fine, pacing round and round the edge of the firelight, that she dozed off again with her head pillowed on the professor's bony shin.
When she surfaced again, the black sky was just starting to fade towards the grey of a midwinter dawn, and the professor was still wide awake, leaning upright against the tree-trunk behind him and breathing in harsh, raw gasps. His eyes were fixed and dilated and his skin was visibly flushed. Lynsey went to place a tentative hand on his forehead and he flinched away from her, glaring wildly, and started on a miserable, dry cough.
"Hold still!" she snapped, with authority, and he reluctantly permitted the touch. "Gods, how hot are you?"
"I don't know" he gasped. "How hot am I?"
"Too bloody hot. I'm really starting to think I should get you to a hospital - I mean a Muggle one."
"No! If I am stationary for more than a day or two, in a place without wards, the Death Eaters will find me. It would be better and more humane to kill me now, rather than that. My only real hope is to locate the Order and take my chances with them - and a pretty forlorn bloody hope it is."
"Well - at least get some rest for a few hours. I'll keep watch, don't worry."
In the event, though, he was unable to lie flat on the ground, because to do so made him wheeze and gasp until Lynsey really began to fear he would choke to death there and then. In the end, she sat down with her back against a tree-trunk and persuaded him to lean back against her, with his head on her chest and her arms around him, holding him up. The degree of physical contact clearly made him bristlingly uneasy, but it enabled him to doze in relative comfort without drowning, and it meant that Lynsey was able to support him through the periodic bouts of violent shudders which tore through him.
His efforts at drawing strength from his future self were probably beginning to catch up with him, she thought - but even apart from that it was clear he was now seriously ill and verging on delirious. When the shaking fits racked him and he cringed and cried out in his sleep she tried to soothe him by hugging him gently, but his eyes flew open unseeingly and he murmured "Don't touch me - if you touch me it'll hurt and I'll break like glass. I am so tired of being hurt. Oh please, I'm so tired...."
When he finally woke properly it was about midday and he was at least coherent, if still sounding rather spaced-out. He was stiff from sleeping in so awkward a position and had no appetite for the dodgy jam sandwiches (even after Lynsey had toasted the bread in the remains of the fire): instead coughing harshly and complaining of a splitting headache. But he insisted that he was well enough to resume their search for the Order and, indeed, what other choice had he?
It was late, and dark, and very cold when they finally found what they were looking for. They knew they were onto something when they hit a barrier which the professor couldn't Apparate through, so that they had to walk half a mile almost knee-deep in snow to get where they were going. It looked to Lynsey simply like a ruined farmstead somewhere in the Lake District - crumbling walls and broken-backed roofs, no different from thousands of other such stone-and-mortar ghosts of a way of life which died in the trenches. But when the professor wrapped his large hand around hers, sharing the wand again and making her see what he saw, the buildings were lighted and in much better repair, interspersed with insanely ornate versions of Portacabins. As they stood at the crest of the bank surrounded by drifted snow, with the black trees over them and a long white slope before them leading down to the farm below, it looked to Lynsey like a fairground, and the distant snatches of music and whoops of people partying hard which drifted up to them on the wind only strengthened the resemblance.
As they watched, a party of young people in what looked like reverse choristers' robes - black with white trimming - emerged from the wood perhaps fifty yards to their right and began to wend their way down the slope towards the farm. Each child bore a candle-lit glass lantern on a long pole, and the boy and girl at the head of the column carried a great clear glass bowl of water - levitating it with pointed wands, Lynsey noticed, rather than using their hands. And as they walked, they sang.
"Here we bring new water
From the well so clear
For to worship God with
This happy new year.
"Sing levy-dew, sing levy-dew,
The water and the wine
The seven bright gold wires
And the bugles that do shine.
"Sing reign of Fair Maid
With gold upon her toe
Open you the west door,
And let the old year go"
- and Lynsey was surprized for a moment, and then not surprized at all, to see unshed tears glistening in the professor's eyes as he listened to those cold, clear, soaring young voices -
"Sing reign of Fair Maid
With gold upon her chin
Open you the east door,
And let the new year in"
"Well, well" said a soft Scots voice to the left of them, so that for a mad moment Lynsey thought it was still part of the song, of the well of clear water the choristers sang of - "what have we here?"
"Sing levy-dew, sing levy-dew,
The water and the wine
The seven bright gold wires
And the bugles that do shine."
They whirled about, both of them, to confront the most extraordinary-looking man Lynsey had ever seen. He looked as if his face had been rammed repeatedly into a wall until it set like that, all knitted and knotted with scar-tissue, and he had one slightly crazed-looking brown eye, and one totally bizarre bright blue one which rolled around independently like the eye of a chameleon. A mane of wild, grizzled grey hair completed the ensemble and he was clearly already somewhat the worse for wear on this Hogmanay night. "Snape" this apparition said softly, staring at the professor with an expression of loathing and scorn, and he made a complex gesture with his wand, opened his misshapen mouth and began to pronounce a curse which looked to be as dire as his disgust was searing.
"Alastor!" the professor cried urgently, before the spell was spoken: "Alastor, you have to listen - we have information - "
He held his wand well out to the side, pointing away from the scarred man, but the latter gestured with his own wand and snarled "Expelliarmus", and the slender piece of expensive woodwork flew across the snow, leaving the professor disarmed in the face of danger. The man's glare was so crazy-looking and distorted that Lynsey half expected a gout of blood to shoot out of his forehead, in the manner of Cuchulainn in the warp-spasm. "People say I don't like to kill but I'd kill you where you stand, Snape," he said softly, "except that you deserve to suffer for a lifetime. Too bad the Dementors have left Azkaban...."
"Alastor - don't be a fool. I know what the - the Dark Lord is planning - "
"Are you so high in his confidences, Snape? We all heard you - whining to him for mercy. 'Stop! Oh, please don't!'"
The professor made a soft, broken noise deep in his throat, which made Lynsey's stomach flip over just to hear it. His eyes looked like black glass. He stood stock-still for one frozen moment, and then swore violently and turned on his heel to run. He managed only a few floundering paces down the slope before the man with the eye shouted "Impedimenta!" and he crashed down on his face in the deep snow.
As Lynsey hurled herself down the slope after him she heard him groan "Oh no, no - not again!" She was aware that there was some sort of subtext here that she wasn't getting, but the main narrative was the man stalking towards them with - ye gods - a wooden leg with a clawed foot. It looked as if he had pinched it off a particularly naff Victorian armchair.
"Stand aside" he growled, levelling his wand at both of them.
"Away and poke yourself" Lynsey replied, planting herself firmly between him and the professor. It was a point of pride with her that no-one on earth could do truculence as well as she could. This was just another sort of enemy, after all, and she found that in a rather horrible way she was enjoying herself. In the back of her mind, she called on the Morrigan, Our Lady of War - not for support, but simply because she thought that the Raven Mother would enjoy this too, and would like to come along for the ride. Meantime Alastor was still trying to bring his wand to bear on the professor but she had always been very good at "marking" an opponent on the playing field, and remained resolutely in his way.
"Then I'll make you." He turned the wand towards her and she slammed the barriers of her mind down hard, praying that she had sufficient power left to block him. If it wasn't for the wand she would be quite prepared to opt for physical violence and see where it took them; and she wondered whether, if she were to challenge him in the approved Kzinti manner, she could get inside the range of the wand and knock it out of his hand. But if she was going to do the scream-and-leap thing, she would certainly not have chosen to do it uphill in thick snow.
Behind her, she heard the professor stir, propping himself up on his elbow. "I don't need help from - a filthy little Muggle" he said in an odd, jerky, sleepwalking voice, as if he was quoting something - possibly something written on the backs of his own eyeballs. She had the feeling that his words were teetering on the edge of some sort of abyss - but she was too distracted to pay it much attention.
"Charmed, I'm sure. Hush, now - donít spoil my little moment of glory."
"Listen to him and know, woman!" said the man called Alastor. "He's pure poison. Befriend him and he'll turn on you, as he turned on Albus Dumbledore."
"What's it to you, Father Jack? I'll pick my own friends, thank you so much."
"If you think this man is anybody's friend you are sorely mistaken. In time of war normal rules are suspended, Snape, and I can use any curse on you I like" the man said, with a horrible gloating relish. "No one will complain if I use Cruciatus on the traitor who killed Dumbledore."
"How about if you use it on a Muggle?" Lynsey said brightly, staying in his way.
"Stay out of my way and you won't get hurt. Well, Snape - are you going to beg me for mercy too?"
"Oh, do shut up." Knowing what she knew, remembering the snake-lord's hall and the Death Eaters licking their lips over her professor's screaming anguish, she could happily have ripped off Alastor Whoever's ridiculous wooden leg and made him eat it: but to acknowledge his cruelty by complaining of it would only humiliate the professor.
"Step aside. I'm going to have to Obliviate your memory anyway, but I don't want to do it here, without a chance to prepare - I don't want to knock out half your mind!"
Behind her the professor stirred and gasped out "Alastor, please" - and then restored her faith in her own judgment of him by adding "Don't be bloody stupid. You mustn't wipe O'Connor - told her what I know - at least let one of us speak!"
"You hold your wisht, Snape. I'll listen to you later - when I've loosened that poisonous tongue of yours a little with Crucio - " and he raised his wand and pointed it as he spoke, and Lynsey surprized herself by growling in her throat like a dog.
"Donít you fucking dare!" She knew that she had nothing to back herself with, no way of enforcing that white rage if he chose to ignore her - except that she could feel the Raven Mother grinning and nodding somewhere away and large and that sense of communion with the divine seemed to be sufficient. Enough to give her the impression of authority, the smell of power, if not the fact of it.
"And how will you stop me, girl? I have only to say the spell, and you wonít even remember that this traitor ever existed."
"And you will do that, will you? This isn't some - chance overlooking of some wizard's little moment of carelessness, to be snipped away without leaving a hole. You're really going to take days out of my life - take away knowledge that was for me, that was meant for me - take away the bravest and most - interesting thing I ever did, take away a part of me that would have coloured the rest of my life and, yes, my memory of a friend - just to serve your own convenience? Do you really think that - Muggles - are just machines whose souls you can turn on and off? What kind of a thief are you, Alastor Whoever-You-Are?"
"I will ask you one more time, you stupid woman - are you going to get out of my way?"
"No." She tried to make eye-contact with the man - which was quite a challenge. "That's not nice, what he just called me, but that's between him and me. You don't even think I'm worth an insult. You're going to take my mind away, aren't you - take away my me and put back an edited artificial me of your own construction. How will you do it, Alastor?" She breathed deeply in a way which she knew made her bust go up and down, and wished for an outfit with more cleavage.
For a wonder, he looked discomfited, and the normal eye looked away - although the blue one still stared straight at her. "We have a right to protect our security."
"Aye, right. I, however, call it a minor form of murder."
"And yet here you are, girl - keeping company with a murderer."
Now that he was talking to her as a person and not just as an obstacle in his way, she decided to defuse the situation further. She looked away from him, hanging her head (and incidentally keeping him in her peripheral vision in case he made any sudden moves); sat down next to the professor in the freezing wet of the snow and placed her hand protectively over his. And gods, but it was freezing, his hand and the snow both, and she realized that the warming charm the professor had set over their clothes had failed, and left him to the cold.
She looked back and up at Alastor, then. "If you want to shoot us there's nothing I can do to stop you. We are both unarmed. But is that really - what you want - to fire on a sick and injured man, and a defenceless woman?" Beside her, she felt as much as heard the professor clear his throat. Digging her nails into the heel of his hand, hard, she thought at him frantically "Shutupshutup - now is not the moment for a sarcastic remark, OK?"
As she stared at the scarred man, willing him to calm down and find some shred of decency and fellow-feeling towards a very sick former colleague, a voice from the right, from the direction in which the singers had gone, said sharply "Alastor - what is going on here?"
"Just catching vermin, Minerva," he growled. "See what I caught creeping around the farm."
Into Lynsey's field of view there came a tall, stern-faced woman whose black hair was starting to escape from its bun. She was wearing a tartan sash over her robes, and Lynsey had the impression she was very slightly tipsy. She looked cold and forbidding enough, gods knew, despite the suggestion of seasonal dishevelment - but when she looked past Lynsey to see who it was that was lying beside her, her face softened and twisted in open pain. "Oh, Severus!" she breathed softly, and collapsed to her knees in the snow beside Lynsey, staring at her companion's face.
But he made no response, whether friendly or otherwise. The professor was lying hunched on his side in the snow, with his arms wrapped tightly across his chest. His breathing came ragged and harsh, and it was clear that he had, finally and completely, reached the limit of his endurance.
"Wrap me in your blanket" - from the song Saskatchewan by Buffy St Marie.
I am reliably informed that American readers won't know what Ralgex is. Ralgex is a warming and anaesthetic cream which comes in a metal tube, like a giant toothpaste-tube, and which is rubbed into the skin to relieve musculo-skeletal aches.
"Cope sent a challenge frae Dunbar" - from the traditional Jacobite ballad Johnnie Cope, which tells of a commander who thinks he knows all there is to know about war, but who in the event bolts when confronted by the enemy.
"Here we bring new water" - traditional New Year carol set to music by Benjamin Britten.
Am I being unjust to Mad-Eye Moody? The man was replaced for almost a year by a mentally disturbed, fanatical, patricidal Death Eater and nobody noticed the difference - not even people who supposedly knew him well.
Kzinti are huge horrible cat-like aliens in Larry Niven's Known Space series. The approved method of challenging a Kzin is "You scream and you leap."
Anybody who has ever seen the surreal British comedy Father Ted will understand why Mad-Eye reminds Lynsey of Fr. Jack Hackett.
The Scottish expression "Aye, right" is reputed to be one of the few examples in the world of a double-positive-negative. "Aye" and "Right" on their own each signal agreement - but "Aye, right" means "Who are you trying to kid?" Americans use the related construction "Yeah, right."
This chapter has been revised to bring it in line with the new background revealed in Deathly Hallows, which affects the parts dealing with the operation of the Fidelius (a horrible fudge, but no worse than Rowling's own horrible fudge) and the tracking of Apparition. I am assuming that main time-line Snape didn't learn to fly until some time during his Headmastership, so this Snape has never acquired the knack.
N.B. Since I wrote Chapter #3, Flying Blind, there have been reports in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science describing research into "blindsight" - the ability of some apparently completely blind people still to distinguish objects, and even facial expressions, at close range. The experiments appear to confirm that this is a real phenomenon, and that sighted people can do it too if temporarily deprived of sight. It is clear from the description that this is the same thing which I have Snape refer to in chapter #3 as "Dark Sight."
Also N.B. - Snape feels so real to me that reading or writing about him being hurt makes me uneasy, and it is partly for this reason that I kept most of the violence he had suffered in this story offstage and only alluded to, rather than witnessed. But while I was writing this chapter I came across a story on ffic called An Apostate, by LSD Feniks, which is vivid and horrible and harrowing and could - if you add about two and a half years to everybody's ages and gloss over the canon-shafted idea of Snape and Lucius being in the same year - easily be a vignette from a couple of weeks before Lynsey first wound up at the Death Eaters' revel: including the fact that Lucius makes Draco watch some of what is done to Snape, and that Lucius is looking back on a schoolboy sexual relationship which he thinks of as a romantic seduction, but which was clearly both manipulative and abusive. It gave me the heebies - but anyone who wants a more explicit feel for how ghastly a situation Snape was in before Lynsey turned up could do worse than look at this story.
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