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
#2: Counsels of War
[In which various decisions are reached.]
Lynsey huddled on the infinitely extensible back seat of the little car which Harry had called a Weasley Special, clutching her head and feeling as if she had the world's worst hangover. "Oh gods oh gods did I really call the Wizengamot a bunch of fuckwits?"
"Yes dear," Minerva McGonagall said with pursed lips. "I agreed completely."
The previous hour or so was a blur to her - her tongue tasted like the floor of a parrot's cage and her heart was trying to beat sideways in vicarious panic. Sickly, she remembered how the sentence of unending isolation had made Snape whiten as the mere threat of Azkaban had not, although Scrimgeour's promise that no voice would ever speak to him again had been immediately disproven as herself, Minerva, Lupin, Harry et al had all begun calling out to him and shouting abuse at the Minister, and Lynsey had embarrassed both Snape and herself by breaking down in tears, and -
Oh. Gods. As Arthur Weasley took the car round a corner at speed she shook her head, not sure whether she was trying to clarify the memory or shake it off. They had come for him, the two guards, in perfect silence, and in silence they had jerked him to his feet and away from her under the eyes of the silent, hating crowd. As he was dragged backwards towards the door to the cells he had stared round rather wildly, biting his lip and trying to get his feet under him to stand and she had seen Scrimgeour's face, watching him, hating and triumphant, and then the Minister had looked straight at her and her tears and a small, complacent, scornful smile had appeared on his lion's face and that, as she could have told him, was terminally stupid of him - because tears in her were almost always a displacement activity while she was thinking about doing something violent, and in flaring rage and darkness she had cried out to him "I'll set a thing on you that will never tire!"
And then it had been there, on the astral plane, waiting, grinning, and she had teetered at the edge of some notional cliff and wondered about pulling back from it. And had not done so.
As the car screamed round another bend, Lynsey clutched her head and wondered about the karmic consequences of siccing an undying, tireless fiend made of air and darkness onto the Minister for Magic.
They had ended up at a bizarre, ramshackle house which apparently belonged to the Weasleys: the six of them (Poppy still weeping quietly, and all of them in shock), and several members of the apparently vast Weasley clan, all of them with the same red hair and freckles. One of these walking matches, a gangling, long-nosed youth who bore some physical resemblance to Snape himself, was apparently Harry Potter's best friend Ron. And there was the last one in the trio: a small but determined-looking female with frizzy brown hair.
This girl, Hermione her name was, leaned forward in a businesslike way and said sharply "What you are saying is, they sentenced Professor Snape to solitary confinement for life."
"Worse than that, I'm afraid" said Arthur, resting his elbows on the table and rubbing his face tiredly. "As I understand it, the intention is that he is to be confined to a windowless room, just a - a lighted box, without day or night, and never allowed to see the sky. And nobody - not even the guards - will ever speak to him or look him in the eye or communicate with him in any way, or even acknowledge that they have heard him speak or noticed anything he does, ever again. Muggle children call it being 'sent to Coventry,' for some reason - in this case, until he dies."
As Molly Weasley gasped in shock and clapped her hands over her mouth Hermione nodded sombrely. "I've read about this in Wizarding Law in the Late Middle Ages: A Study in Scarlet. It was called 'The Hermitage.' Some prisoners started seeing religious visions which - well, which might or might not have been real. It's hard to tell. Most just went mad."
"Sensory deprivation," Lynsey muttered. She was feeling hot and dizzy and she realized, queasily, that the hammering dread which made her pulse jump in her throat was not her own but her professor's, rigidly controlled but still leaking out along the link she had with him. "Muggles call it sensory deprivation. It can be an aid to meditation - or a form of psychological torture."
"No prizes for guessing which in this case, then," Ron commented with a freckly scowl.
Minerva McGonagall stood up, placed her hands flat on the table and leaned forwards, her square glasses sliding untidily to the end of her pointed nose. "All right," she said grimly: "This means war. We had to sit by and do nothing while Severus was tortured by He Who Must Not Be Named, because we didn't know where he was. Now we do know where he's going to be, to within a hundred yards, and may I be chopped up small and fed to one of Hagrid's questionable pets if I sit by and let the Ministry torture him as well."
Everybody seemed to be full of secrets, and no-one was talking; the fewer people who knew the details of what McGonagall was actually planning, the less chance there was of the Minister working out what they were up to and making some pre-emptive move to stop them, if he were (for example) to cook up an excuse to feed one of them Veritaserum. Lynsey privately suspected that the Minister might have other problems on his mind - occult entities breathing hotly on the back of his neck, and so on - but certainly, the last thing they wanted was for Scrimgeour to get any bright ideas about converting Snape's life sentence to a death sentence.
She did know that Minerva was going on what she called a "fact-finding tour," to gather information which might help her to prepare an appeal on Snape's behalf. And it would have to be on his behalf, not under his instructions, because the terms of his sentence meant that no-one - not even his own legal team - was permitted to communicate with him in any way. But when Lynsey asked the older woman how she was planning to collect information without alerting the Ministry, Minerva only smiled a secret, aggravating smile. "I have my own ways," she said liltingly, "of passing unnoticed."
There was talk about sending someone with the improbable name of Nymphadora Tonks to locate someone apparently called Old Sluggy. Lynsey thought she remembered Snape mentioning him as an expert on faked disappearances, and wondered if they were planning a jail-break, but nobody was telling. Once, she even caught Hermione smiling at a beetle with a thoughtful, inwards smile.
There was, realistically, nothing Lynsey could do by staying, and the one thing which she could do for Snape - which was to try to support him psychologically via the mental link she had with him - could be done equally as well in St Andrews as in Ottery St Catchpole. And yet to go back to the Muggle world felt like a defeat. Realistically, however, she had already taken over a fortnight off when she should have been working, and if she left it any longer she was going to start missing some serious deadlines. It would do nobody any good if she lost her livelihood; and coding was the one thing which might occupy her mind so completely that whilst she was doing it she could have a break from fretting about the professor.
So she collected the car from Croydon - with a silent prayer of thanks that it hadn't been vandalized, much - and made the long drive back to St Andrews at a much more sedate pace than Arthur Weasley had set. Remus Lupin went with her to put up secure magical wards (his kind of magic; Snape's kind of magic) around her flat, in case the Death Eaters tried to track down the Muggle witch who had helped Snape to make a fool of Voldemort. Blaming him for what nature did, she thought.
Her cats, Starbuck and Nestor, pretended pointedly not to know her but they had no such neutrality towards Lupin - sliding around the walls staring at him with burning eyes. He set the wards, made his excuses and left as soon as he politely could and she, equally polite, did not point out that she knew that tomorrow night was a full moon. And after that, she was on her own. Except for the telephone - at least the Weasleys did have a Muggle telephone, so she wasn't totally cut off from what was going on.
It was two days before the cats stopped sulking and consented to speak to her. She felt guilty about leaving them for so long - but since she had already arranged for them to be fed over that first long weekend of the witch-moot, during which Lucius Malfoy had scooped her up and dumped her into the middle of an alien war, and she had been able to 'phone her neighbours and renew the arrangement on the following Tuesday, they had only missed one or at most two meals over the affair. And if the worst had come to the worst and she had died down there in the dark with Severus, there was a cat-door, so they would at least not have been left trapped and starving.
But it was almost impossible to settle to do any work. On the one hand, although the hand-tailored cruelty of the professor's sentence was nauseating, Minerva seemed confident that she would be able to get him out of it, and do so in a matter of weeks or at worst months, not years. On the other hand, Snape himself didn't know that, and given his chronically low expectations Lynsey knew he was likely to assume he'd been abandoned, and really was stuck in this utterly miserable situation for the rest of what could be a very long life. He could, as she knew from talking to the Weasleys, conceivably live another hundred years or even more and all of it, he would think, in bitter isolation. She could feel him thinking it.
And as far as concentrating on web-design went, it didn't help that Snape's chronic insomnia was catching.
Oh, gods. She tried, she did try, to get a firm grip on his mind, to pool her mental and emotional state with his and then pull him up harder than he pulled her down, as she had done for others before him. But his mind was as slippery as if it had been greased; she could get some basic impressions from him but pushing anything back at him, making any impression on him, was well-nigh impossible
She tried to sing for him to keep him sane; to make the music get into his head as it did hers, and change what he was feeling. For Snape, the key-song seemed to be Kipling's Our Fathers of Old.
"Wonderful tales had our fathers of old,
Wonderful tales of the herbs and the stars -
The Sun was Lord of the Marigold,
Basil and Rocket belonged to Mars.
Pat as a sum in division it goes -
(Every herb had a planet bespoke) -
Who but Venus should govern the Rose?
Who but Jupiter own the Oak?
Simply and gravely the facts they are told
In the wonderful books of our fathers of old.
(in magic, of course, both his'n'hers, they were facts)
"Yet when the sickness was sore in the land,
And neither planets nor herbs assuaged,
They took their lives in their lancet-hand
And, oh, what a wonderful war they waged!
Yes, when the crosses were chalked on the door -
(Yes, when the terrible dead-cart rolled!)
Excellent courage our fathers bore -
Excellent heart had our fathers of old.
None too learned, but nobly bold
And into the fight went our fathers of old.
"Now if it be certain, as Galen says -
And the sage Hippocrates holds as much -
'That those afflicted by doubts and dismays
Are mightily helped by a dead man's touch,'
Then, be good to us, stars above!
Then, be good to us, herbs below!
We are afflicted by what we can prove,
And we are distracted by what we know.
Down from your heaven or up from your mould
Please send us the hearts of our fathers of old!"
Even when she couldn't get a proper fix on him she could feel the long list of herbs and the appeal to an ancient courage soothing him, and she sang it over and over under her breath, round and round, but even she had to take a rest some time; and if she relaxed her grip for a moment she could feel his heart-choking misery beginning to flood back.
The few times she actually managed to concentrate on coding it did actually help. That detached, scholarly concentration as she tried to thrash out a knotty problem in a Cascading Style Sheet was a state of mind he recognized: one that felt like home as nothing else, perhaps, had ever done. Sometimes, she was sure, she could feel him occupying his mind with some equally knotty problem in potions - "Geeks of the world, unite," she thought, wryly - but that small sweet rush of fierce triumph when he found an answer was immediately bitter and fed back into a horrible, resigned despair, because no-one else would ever know. He could solve all the problems of the universe, and they would be no use because he could tell nobody: not even the prison's house-elves were permitted to speak to him or to acknowledge that they had heard him.
Ordinarily, if she was "picking up" empathically on someone else it was easy to tell which were their emotions and which were hers. Ordinarily it was, she thought, like linking two video players which were tuned to different channels - that moment when you had plugged in the audio cable but not the video, or vice versa, and for a moment the sound-track on the slaved machine did not match the picture. You could feel that the other person's emotions were on another channel, totally divorced from what was going on in your own life. But in this case, she was so anxious and unhappy about Snape that it was difficult to distinguish his misery from hers. And that was bad: if she was to have any chance of pulling him up out of his own unhappiness she had to maintain herself in a state of fierce, almost manic joy. However bad he felt, and she felt, if she was to help him at all she had to be able to sing herself up.
At night, sometimes, she dreamed his dreams. She was sure they were his dreams - she herself seldom dreamed at all and in any case they felt slightly foreign, like a shoe worn into the shape of someone else's foot. Sometimes he dreamed about things she was sure had really happened, although they had acquired a surreal intensity - about a woman, falling, her face impersonal ivory and her hair a flame; about faceless guards who would never look at him, even when he provoked them into hitting him. Literally faceless, when he dreamed them. But what was far worse was the recurring dream of himself as an old man, white-haired, babbling and mad, and the guards not relenting even as he lay dying - begging for somebody, anybody to speak to him or even look at him. Night after night in his dreams and in hers he died like that, still alone.
Lynsey had hoped Snape would adjust, that he would settle down; that she would be able to make a stronger link to anchor him with. Instead, he seemed to be getting worse. The cell, she knew from Arthur, was lit round the clock, and even the food didn't vary - breakfast was indistinguishable from lunch, and all meals arrived at irregular intervals. This was both a tailor-made part of his sentence, designed so that he would lose even the intellectual knowledge of the course of the sun, and a deliberate bit of brainwashing. He was, as she could well believe, a powerful wizard and capable of doing a certain amount of magic even without a wand, and as such even the wards on the walls of Azkaban might not be enough to hold him. In the absence of the Dementors, then, other methods had to be used to keep the prisoners too dizzy and disoriented to escape, and the place was threaded through with spells to induce feelings of depression and helplessness.
It was, it must be, all too horribly like being back in the blank whiteness of Voldemort's torture-chamber, and the thought of him being jailed and slapped around by his own people when he was still only two weeks out from that horror turned her stomach. And the Ministry were stone-walling on the subject of an appeal, Arthur had told her, although he assured her that Minerva still seemed cheerfully confident. When he had asked her why, apparently, she had smiled mysteriously and told him it was better that he did not know.
Arthur told her bluntly that Severus was actually far safer in solitary confinement than he would have been if he had been allowed to mingle with the other prisoners - since most of them were Death Eaters. Real ones, too, not fake play-pretend ones with alternative agendas, like Snape himself. He'd be fortunate if they only slit his throat, and any messages he received from that source could only be threats. Scrimgeour's special malice towards him had probably saved his life, but it didn't feel to Lynsey as if he would be very thankful. He was not, she thought, quite ready yet to kill himself, because some rational part of his mind did know that Minerva at least might get him out. He did expect that she would at least try - but he didn't seem to expect her to try very hard, or to succeed if she did.
Lynsey shuddered, feeling her friend's own expectation of the future seep through her like a creeping disease - the long years stretching ahead in an endless grey nothingness of isolation and scorn. Swearing in an undertone, she abandoned all pretence at work and sang to him fiercely under her breath, rocking back and forth in front of the computer and feeling sick and dizzy.
But nothing made any difference, she could feel his mind sliding into free-fall, and further - starting to flash on the memories of what Lucius and Macnair had done to him, all on his own in the blinding white light, until she bit her own tongue in vicarious panic and scrabbled frantically after the music -
The defiant energy in that seemed to drag him back from the awful precipice of memory, this once if not in general, but he felt to her to have given up fighting. She might have expected him to be more resilient, on previous showing, but he was desperately tired, still ill and traumatized and dragged down by the demands he had made on his own future energy while escaping Voldemort, and he had, in his own mind, no hope at all.
Lynsey could see his point, that was the worst of it. Even if the mysterious and devious Albus Dumbledore really was alive and came forward, if he admitted publicly that Snape had deliberately held back from killing him then Bellatrix Lestrange, the Bonder, would know that Snape had broken his Unbreakable Vow, and he would be a dead man in that moment. Or if Dumbledore confirmed the lie that Snape had told the court, and smiled in his beard before all the world, saying: "He sincerely tried to kill me, on my orders, but he failed," that would get Severus out of jail all right, but he'd be right back with the "Kill Dumbledore or die" of the Vow hanging over his head. Any long-term chance of liberty he had depended, it seemed, not only on Albus Dumbledore being alive but on Bellatrix Lestrange not being: and given the number and quality of enemies the woman had acquired in her colourful career, she was plainly very hard to kill.
And if Dumbledore had died, which given his condition when last seen was quite likely.... Azkaban. Forever. Her professor, she could sense, saw nothing ahead of himself but decades of being treated as a mindless object, if Voldemort lost the war, or being hoicked out for more torture if he won. He knew that he would lose his mind sooner or later and he seemed to think that it would be better that it be sooner, because if he was mad he might not mind it all so much.
As Lynsey scrabbled, and shoved, and sang herself hoarse, trying to hold back the crushing tide of memory, she thought irritably that probably only Severus could make a perfectly rational, cold-blooded decision to go barmy.
Twelve days after Snape's trial, and ten days after Lynsey's return to St Andrews, Lupin came to check up on her, bringing Harry with him. "I thought it must be pretty miserable for you," he said apologetically, "being - well, 'out of the loop,' so to speak. Not that the rest of us are exactly in it - Minerva is being nearly as secretive as Dumbledore always was."
"'Mione too," Harry said cheerfully around a mouthful of battered haddock. "I'm pretty sure she's up to something, but she won't tell."
They were sitting, all three of them, in a row on the edge of the high wall which ringed the harbour, eating fish and chips out of greasy paper, with a six foot drop down to the walkway under their feet and nothing at their backs but a much longer drop, straight and sheer down to a grey sea in which there was, as Lynsey happened to know, an impressive collection of boulders like so many jagged teeth.
As they talked Lynsey suddenly flinched and jerked her head aside, baring her teeth as she tried to fight the sudden rush of nausea and despair.
"What is it?" Lupin asked sharply.
"Told you - told you I could read him," she said, her teeth chattering.
"Worse. It's...." She drew a deep breath as the jolt of misery receded a little. "You know the expression 'Nine Days' Wonder'? Because he does, and that's what he's thinking - that he was allowed to have friendship and a little warmth and fun for nine whole days, from Saturday through to Sunday week, and now that's got to last him for the rest of his life. And it's - worse because of it. To have seen what he could have, to have seen that he could have friendship and warmth and then to have it whipped away again, that's far, far worse than never having had it at all.
"I'm doing all I can to raise his mental state but I get the impression he more than half thinks he's only imagining me - that he is alone, that I'm just a phantom he's tormenting himself with to remind himself just how very alone he is. Even with me pulling against him with everything I've got, he feels - dreadful, but sort of accepting dreadful, which is possibly worse. Like - oh, gods, for a moment there it looked to him as if he could have friends, company, and now it's just him again, alone, getting slapped around and spat at and that's - that's almost comfortable, in a ghastly way, because that's the way his life has always been. It's like - he's almost amused, very horribly amused - jeering at himself for having dared to think things could ever be any different because those are the rules, as they apply to him, and those are the Ministry's rules - that he should suffer and be scorned and be alone. And he's - sort of sinking into that - and it hurts worse because he'd been fool enough to think things could ever be any different."
Lupin sat perched on the edge of the wall in his shabby robes, swinging his legs like a little boy, gazing down at the boats in the harbour and wearing a hooded, inward expression. "I realize he wouldn't thank me for saying this," he said slowly, "because the Marauders are still a very sore point with him: but if there was one thing I learned from James and Sirius it was that rules are for the birds. There's always a way to cheat, if you look for it."
"Lateral thinking?" Lynsey said in a bright, brittle tone, fighting to maintain an "up" against the waves of vicarious misery which threatened to drown her. ["Excellent herbs had our fathers of old - // Excellent herbs to ease their pain - "]
"Call it - creative use of the available resources. To start with, we need to define the problem."
"Severus is in bloody Azkaban, what do you think the bloody problem is?" ["Alexanders and Marigold, // Eyebright, Orris, and Elecampane - "]
"That, however, isn't our problem, at least at present - it's Minerva's, and she has it well in hand, according to her. Whilst it might be possible to break Severus out of there, I suggest that it is not desirable for us to get excessively creative unless and until Minerva has clearly failed or his life is endangered."
Lynsey's mind stuttered a little over the concept of a werewolf getting excessively creative. "Yeah - I agree, I have to say. Far better he should be released legally, than that he should escape and then become a fugitive for the rest of his bloody life. But, oh, gods, he feels so bad...."
"The problem, then," said Harry, "is simply to stop him from cracking up while Professor McGonagall does her stuff. It's funny - I never thought of him as the type to crack up before, but now that I've started seeing him as - fragile, I can't see him as anything else."
"He's not fragile, not really - he's been through stuff that would have left most people mad or hopelessly corrupted years ago. If we do nothing at all, I'm sure he will still walk out of there reasonably sane, however long it takes - but he's suffering miserably, and the fact that he's so used to it that he can carry it and keep going doesn't make it less painful. It's especially bad, and especially bloody unjust, because he wasn't allowed any time to recover from being tortured or even, properly, from pneumonia, and now this."
"Mmm," said Lupin, swinging his heels. "So what we're looking at isn't getting him out, it's getting us in, isn't it? - getting something in to him, anyway, even just a message, so he can know he's not been abandoned. And I don't think getting one of us arrested would really cut it, somehow."
"So, what we need is - "
"Dobby," Harry said with a sharp grin. "Dobby is an amazingly available resource, and house-elves can go anywhere."
Programmer's mindset: on the day that I learned that the man I was desperately in love with had just died of a heart-attack, totally unexpectedly, I was writing a program to deadline. Readers, I sat down and I finished that program and then I cracked up. Every programmer I've told this story to understands completely.
Our Fathers of Old: poem from Rudyard Kipling's children's book Rewards and Fairies, with minor alterations to make it more singable - from the singing of Peter Bellamy.
"Halfway round the track up spoke the noble rider:" from the traditional song Skewbald, about an American horse who quite unexpectedly beat all comers at an Irish race-track in 1847.
Minor edits have been made to bring this chapter in line with the new Deathly Hallows backstory. Snape's potential lifespan has been edited downwards from "easily" a hundred and thirty-eight-plus or more, to "conceivably" a hundred and thirty-eight, in the light of the revelation that Albus was between a hundred and fifteen and a hundred and twenty when he died, not a hundred and fifty as Rowling had previously stated in interviews (although she has implied that Aberforth will still be going strong in his mid hundred-and-thirties). Lily's death has been added into Snape's recurrent nightmares, since we now know how overwhelmingly important she was to him.
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