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
#3: Unchartered Waters
[In which vessels are for hire - at a price.]
Of course, it wasn't as simple as that - but then what was? House-elves, it seemed, although they were resistant to all forms of wizarding magic and could pass through anti-Apparition wards as if they were so much smoke, were bound by their own much older magics. Unless directly summoned by their master, they could not Apparate more than the traditional seven leagues at a time - in fact Lynsey suspected that the Seven-League Boots of beloved folk memory had been based on house-elf magic. Hopping across country in lots of twenty-one miles at a time was fine when it was across country; but Azkaban, she gathered, was on the far side of about a hundred and fifty miles of very cold water.
"We're going to need a boat, aren't we?" Lupin said, looking at the little vessels bobbing in the harbour.
"Short of commandeering an oil-rig - that's a sort of artificial metal island used for extracting oil from under the sea-bed, right? - then, yeah. And I don't know if there even are any oil-rigs in that area." ["Who but Venus should govern the Rose? // Who but Jupiter own the Oak?"]
"That's another thing," Harry said glumly. "In what area? Azkaban's Unplottable, isn't it?"
"Not to a house-elf. If we can get within twenty-one miles of the place, Dobby can go there. So we only need a very rough idea where it is - and Dobby may be able to help, even there."
"I can help," Lynsey said, grimacing. ["Half of their remedies cured you dead - // And most of their teaching was quite untrue -"] "I told you I can feel the professor: I ought to be able to get some sort of directional fix on him - while he's busy scrambling my brains."
"That'll help," said Lupin. "All right, people - where are we going to get a boat? I mean, I suppose we could nick one - but I think we're going to need something a bit more substantial than one of these, and I don't know how to sail it once we've got it. Do you?"
"No - but I can ask my Dad. He's bound still to have the contacts - he used to work for MacBrayne's, and you know what they say, don't you?"
Almost the hardest part was having to lie to her father about why she wanted to charter an ocean-going fishing-boat in the first place. Lupin, it seemed, dabbled in water-colours, when he could afford the materials, which was enough to lend artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative; so she told him that she had a friend who wanted a platform from which to paint seascapes.
The actual hardest part was finding a crew who weren't all Wee Frees, and weren't too superstitious to ship with a woman. They couldn't just supply their own crew - even with magic to assist them, an ocean-going boat was just too complex and dangerous a prospect for the unskilled, and it wouldn't even be legal to take the thing out without a skipper with a proper skipper's ticket - yachtmaster, deep sea, coastal or fishing.
"We're going to need a skipper, two deckhands and an engineer, minimum - oh and a ship's cook, unless we do it ourselves."
"I think we can supply our own cook. What's this going to cost - and how are we going to pay for it? I mean - I'd pay for it myself if I could, but..." He gestured eloquently at his threadbare robes. "I'm probably the only wizard around who's more broke than Severus himself."
"Well - the cheapest thing we can hire that's big and stable enough to go the distance seems to be a diesel-powered forty-foot motor fishing vessel, according to Dad - and that's going to set us back about a thousand a week. Plus wages for four crewmen - at a guess, at least a thousand a month each."
"So basically that's going to be - uh - about two thousand... what, pounds? per week. What's that in real money?"
"About seven hundred galleons," said Harry gloomily. "It's going to be me, isn't it? Since I seem to be the only person who's actually got any money."
"I can put up about five hundred pounds," Lynsey muttered, too embarrassed to admit she had already spent nearly sixty pounds on a pair of tickets to a Runrig concert in Stirling in March, on the sound magical grounds that a practical expression of confidence in Snape's early release would make it more likely to happen. "And the same again in about six weeks when I get paid for the website I'm working on at the moment. Assuming I get it finished, with all this going on. So if you could pay for it for the moment...."
"I'm going to have to, aren't I? I mean, I suppose we can't just leave the bad-tempered old sod stuck there, can we, especially since...."
"Especially since he's been in there before," Lupin concluded grimly. "When he first... when he first came over to our side Mad-Eye didn't believe him and he was locked up for several weeks until Dumbledore could get him out. At least... well, at least this time around there aren't any Dementors but the place has got to have horrible associations, quite apart from...."
"Quite apart from the Minister doing his bloody best to drive him round the bend," said Lynsey, pulling a face.
"I think I preferred him as an enemy," said Harry. "It was a lot cheaper."
Dobby presented an unexpected complication. He was willing, even eager, to do whatever he could to help "poor Master Severus," but when he realized that infiltrating Azkaban would involve dressing in a pillow-slip like a regular, enslaved house-elf he had a fit of the vapours. In the end Molly Weasley ran him up a special shirt which looked like a pillow-slip but which was really a real, proper garment made especially for him, and that apparently was acceptable to his pride.
In the end, they got their crew. One of the deckhands was a Goth, complete with full black and white makeup, who'd been thrown off a trawler for brawling, and the skipper was well past his sell-by date - but he had his deep sea ticket all right and beggars couldn't be choosers, especially when time was of the essence. Which it was, really, because they didn't want to leave Snape in such a psychologically horrible trap any longer than they could help.
Now that they were actually doing something Lynsey felt less frustrated and it was easier to maintain a good fighting high; but even so, trying to shift her professor's mood was like trying to move a loaded cart with the brakes on. He felt to her to be not only crushingly, clawingly depressed but weak and ill and bitterly cold and she wondered whether, if he were to suffer a relapse into pneumonia, the prison would even bother to treat him. Lupin said harshly that they probably would, if only to prevent him from finding too easy an escape, but she was not much reassured. She was left alternately cursing and cajoling - "Come along darling you silly bastard" - trying to ground him psychically through a nightmare switchback of real and remembered horrors. His increasing disorientation made her dizzy, and his unquenchable misery ached in all her joints like rheumatism.
And she felt hellishly guilty about the cats - but it would cost a fortune to put them in a cattery and she probably ought to give whatever spare money she had to Harry, to help with what she thought of as the campaign fund. It wouldn't necessarily be any better for them than leaving them for the neighbours to feed, in any case. She salved her conscience by buying the neighbours a bottle of fairly good malt whisky as a thank-you (or a bribe, depending on how you looked at it), and hoped that Starbuck and Nestor wouldn't have turned completely wild by the time she got back.
At least, the engine on the boat apparently generated enough spare electrical power to run any gadget you liked, within reason, so she would be able to take the laptop and the mobile 'phone and get some work done. As an afterthought, she packed a few of her tools, and a nice piece of sycamore, and a hank of silver wire - feeling that it would be good magic, and lucky, to begin working on a wand for the professor.
In addition to the four-man crew there was herself, to act as a pathfinder. There was Lupin, ostensibly as a painter of seascapes which, he said, gave a whole new meaning to the term "water-colour" - but in fact there mainly to fiddle with the crew's memory in case they caught sight of anything disturbing: Dobby, for example. There was Dobby himself, bobbing and grinning. And there was a bun-faced, vague-looking boy called Neville who was apparently very good with weather charms, and a halfway passable cook.
Harry, although he was paying for most of it, was to remain on land and act as courier, ferrying messages of both sorts by broom while Lupin provided the crew with vague, half-forgotten helicopter-shaped thoughts to explain the sudden appearance of extra food on board, should they stay out long enough to need it.
And they were off - setting sail (if that was the right word for a motor-driven vessel) from a little Northumberland harbour-town called Seahouses, just south of Bamburgh. The sea was high and choppy and the day had a flat bright greyness to it, like polished steel: but Lynsey had a strong stomach, and the taste of salt in her mouth was a promise that her professor's grinding unhappiness would soon find an antidote. Or at least a counter-irritant: she was already finding Dobby's eager-beaver bounciness a bit hard on the nerves.
They kept themselves to themselves and didn't mingle, much, except for meals on the mess deck; even putting a curtain up to divide the forecastle, which had enough bunks to sleep twelve at a pinch, in addition to the separate cabin for the skipper. It went against the grain to appear so standoffish; but the less the crew saw of them the less likely they were to notice anything odd (like Dobby) and need to have their minds adjusted.
Not that Dobby was necessarily much odder than the Goth deckhand, who had a habit of wandering about the deck gibbering slightly and doing bird-calls. Lynsey wasn't sure whether he was crazy or just liked to freak people out.
Trying to get a fix on the professor was like smelling the wind with her mind. Ordinarily, psychic contact was directionless and distanceless, but if she willed it to have direction then she could feel the fierce ache of him waxing and waning as she turned her head. After that, it was (apparently) a fairly simple matter for Neville to tweak the weather so that going in the direction they wanted to go would seem like a rational decision to the crew.
They slept overnight in the rolling darkness of the forecastle, where Lynsey clung half-awake to the edge of her bunk, sick and restless not with the motion of the sea but with the dizzying waves of emotion which were not hers but Snape's, singing to him in her head, softly but with force: "I will keep, I will keep // My watch on the deep // 'Gainst the reef and the tempest howling." Lupin sprawled across the bunk half on his back and half on his side with his arm flung out, looking like an ageing version of The Death of Chatterton; Neville curled up in the foetal position and snored; and Dobby slept in a locker full of clothes and pretended not to be there.
In the morning, Dobby tested the world with one of his extra senses, turning his head slowly from side to side and sniffing with his long nose. "Azkaban is near, oh yes" he muttered. "Dobby can smell it."
"What does it smell like, Dobby?" Neville asked, intrigued.
"Pain," he replied, baring his sharp little teeth, and disappeared with a crack.
They waited anxiously for over an hour, although it felt like eternity - suppose Dobby was discovered the instant he arrived? Could a house-elf be captured in any meaningful sense? Would he be able to return safely to what was, despite Neville's best efforts, still a moving vessel? Lupin got out his paints and his sketchbook, in order to look the part, but was far too tense to do any actual art.
They were all vastly relieved, therefore, when the sound of Neville clattering saucepans in the galley told them that he was covering up for the gunshot-snap of Dobby's return.
"Not found Master Severus yet, but Dobby finds out about prison, Dobby does. Whole prison is warded against Apparition by humans, and against Portkeys, but is a landing-stage in front of gates where boats tie up, and Portkeys work there. Bring prisoners in that way.
"Prisoners in windowless punishment cells, like where Master Severus is, lie very deep in fortress. House-elves forbidden to speak to them. Dobby is sorry to say the guards hate Master Severus, say he killed great Headmaster Dumbledore - spit in his food or worse so he won't eat, and then make him eat it, just enough to stay alive."
Lynsey felt queasy with sympathy, but Lupin, who had a dog's lack of squeamishness, simply asked, "How do you know this, Dobby?"
The little figure shrugged. "Dobby asks prison elves. Got to go back in one hour, speak to shift coming up from punishment cells, find out which cell Master Severus is in."
"But - " Lupin sounded out of his depth and bewildered for the first time since they had started this private little war. "Won't they - give you away? Betray you to the guards?"
Dobby shrugged again. "House-elves at Azkaban always told, watch out for strange witches and wizards and report it; watch out for prisoners escaping and report it; don't speak to prisoners; don't help prisoners; don't give clean food to prisoners. Not told to watch out for strange house-elves."
"But - they must realize that their - their masters would want to know about a strange house-elf coming in asking about a high-security prisoner?"
For the third time, Dobby shrugged. "Not told to say."
Lynsey began to grin; an incredulous, spreading grin. "It's called a work-to-rule - if you don't like the orders you're being given, or the way your bosses treat you, you can cause incredible trouble by doing exactly and only what the rules say. That's right, isn't it Dobby?"
"Miss Muggle Miss understands - house-elves don't like being in a place where humans are being hurt, and being told not to help them. Can't disobey direct orders - but implied orders are... optional."
The second time, he was back much faster. It was perhaps a good job that Neville was naturally rather clumsy, so no-one in the crew would think there was anything odd about his constantly clattering the pans.
"Dobby knows where Master Severus is now - Master Severus is in cell nineteen on the second punishment corridor. Guards check on Master Severus about every fifteen minutes but Dobby can be in and out of Master Severus's cell in two shakes."
"What will you do about the noise, though, Dobby?" Lupin asked. "Won't the guards notice if you keep arriving with a bang?"
"Have to take a chance on first time; house-elves often check on prisoners to stop them killing themselves. After that, Dobby thought, borrow Master Remus's wand, take it to Master Severus so Master Severus can set a silencing charm on a corner of the cell. Then Dobby can come and go quietly."
"Er - yes, all right, that should work. But don't lose it or anything, will you Dobby? Only, if you did we'd only have Neville's wand left between us!"
"Dobby would never lose Master Remus's wand!"
They made up a small tray of items for Dobby to take through for this momentous first visit, on which he would be appearing as a very small and peculiar ministering angel. Any food or drink had to be something which could be seen off and tidied up after inside fifteen minutes, and which didn't have a strong smell. A substantial cheese and pickle sandwich - that was obvious - and Lynsey remembered what Snape had said to her when they were running for their lives underground, and added a mug of heavily sweetened black coffee. Lupin protested that coffee would leave a strong smell which might alert the guards, but Lynsey pointed out that it was only Maxwell House, and barely even tasted like coffee, let alone smelled like it.
Lupin's wand - accompanied by a certain amount of muttering. "Just - make sure he knows we're going to get him out of there, OK Dobby? If he hangs on to it and tries to break out on his own, he'll get himself killed."
A pen and a notepad. Lynsey had thought ahead and bought a couple of those felt-pens with brush-shaped nibs; less messy (and expensive!) than a fountain-pen, but less of a culture-shock than a biro, to someone who was accustomed to use a quill.
And finally, of course, the piece de resistance - two very expensive tickets to a Runrig concert, and a note which read: "This for your birthday - Minerva assures me that it isn't a bad investment, and that she fully expects to have you out of there in time to attend." As an afterthought, Lynsey grinned suddenly and signed it "Blondel." A bit theatrical, perhaps; but then, he was nothing if not theatrical himself.
Caledonian-MacBrayne's, or Cal-Mac, is a ferry company which has been publicly-owned since 1948. It has been a major carrier of passengers and freight from the mainland of Scotland to and from the Hebrides since the 1870s, and has enjoyed a virtual monopoly since the 1970s.
The comment about lending artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative is a quote from Gilbert and Sullivan's light opera The Mikado.
Wee Frees are members of the Free Church of Scotland, a small, hard-line Protestant sect whose main activities are the singing of very strange and beautiful Gaelic hymns, and schisming into ever-smaller splinter groups and fighting each other. Wee Frees do not work on Sundays and they would be horrified at even a sniff of witchcraft.
In Scotland "messages" means your regular household shopping, as well as the transfer of information.
The Goth deckhand is based closely on a guy I actually know.
"I will keep, I will keep // My watch on the deep" - chorus of the song The Night Watch, by Andrew Hennessey, arranged by Jim Blain, from the album Something Old Something New by the Scottish folk band Cauther Fair.
According to legend, when Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned at a secret location his minstrel Blondel travelled across Europe, from fortress to fortress, singing under the castle walls until finally he heard his master's voice join in with him from within the prison. At the end of Mood Music Lynsey promised Snape that if he was sentenced to Azkaban she would "...come and serenade you through the bars, in the manner of Blondel."
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