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
#4: Talking Back
[In which notes are passed in class.]
Later, they were able to reconstruct the moment from Dobby's account - how he snapped from nothingness into solid reality, bearing coffee, to find Lynsey's professor curled up miserable and freezing and destroyed with loneliness on his thin, damp prison-issue mattress, wobbly with hunger and cold and exhaustion and chained to the bed by one wrist. At the time, all that Lynsey knew was a great jolt of vicarious emotion which knocked her dizzy, as Snape surged in that one incredulous moment from aching misery to a sort of violent, wrenching relief.
She was still giddy and gasping, clutching the edge of the galley counter to hold herself steady, when there was a hard bang and Dobby was back with them, grinning and bobbing anxiously. Shaking her head to clear the sudden ringing in her ears, she heard Lupin say "... my bloody wand, I told you he'd want to keep it."
Dobby bobbed again, unhappily. "Master Severus is not sure Dobby is real. Not believe Dobby when Dobby say help is at hand."
He held out the notebook, on which was scrawled faintly in a shaky, disjointed-looking hand, "Dobby says Lupin, Longbottom, O'Connor - boat - not a dream?" There was a brown smear of pickle across the paper, where Snape had dropped part of the sandwich in his shaking eagerness for clean food.
Lupin took one of the brush-pens, flipped the pad to the next page and wrote "Not a dream. According to Dobby we're lying about eighteen miles south-west of Azkaban. Don't worry: Minerva has some private scheme on the go and she's sure she can get your sentence over-turned in a matter of weeks. But you must send me my wand back - if you try to keep it you'll blow the gaff. Lupin." Then, as an afterthought, "How are you?"
A bang, a crack, and Dobby was back almost before he had left, bearing Lupin's wand and a note which said simply: "Starving."
Lynsey might not be able to get much in the way of complex information through her mental link with the professor, but she could feel enough to get a sort of yes/no, positive/negative switch which told her whether it was safe for Dobby to go through. The first priority was food, for according to Dobby that one-word comment "Starving" was not an exaggeration or a euphemism but literal truth.
The house-elf flitted back and forth eagerly, taking small amounts of food and clean water a mouthful or two at a time, so Snape could be sure of having eaten everything before any guards showed up. When he was brought prison food, Dobby carried the bowl through to the boat and emptied it overboard - for even what wasn't deliberately fouled was inedibly bland and stale - and then took it back filled with whatever they could find on the boat; anything from Alphabetti Spaghetti to fresh-caught mackerel. Within only a day Snape's writing on the notes started to look a little less wobbly, and within two days Dobby was pleased to report that the guards no longer forced him to eat contaminated food - since they were under the impression that hunger had broken his will and he was now submissively eating whatever they chose to give him.
SS to L O'C: "Thought I would never see a friendly face again."
L O'C to SS: "And then you did and it was Dobby...."
SS to L O'C: "Just now, believe me, Dobby looks like the Archangel Gabriel - bug eyes, pillowcase and all."
At least Lynsey was no longer overwhelmed and suffocated by Snape's misery and her own sorrow for him, although his emotional state still felt fragile and strained - choked with relief, now, and with wonder, instead of pain. But she knew he was starting to hit his stride again when she received a scribbled but much firmer note which said:
SS to L O'C: "Did I dream this, or did you really curse strutting bastard Scrimgeour?"
L O'C to SS: "Yup."
SS to L O'C: "Do I want to know what with?"
L O'C to SS: "With a deep and horrible curse which should follow him to the ends of the earth, even on Tuesdays."
SS to L O'C: "And it couldn't happen to a more deserving fellow. Have to ask - why Tuesdays?"
L O'C to SS: "Why not?"
Now that Snape was sounding slightly more like himself - which was to say, brisk and bitchy - Remus Lupin settled down and began to paint in some earnest, in order to give weight to his alibi for being out here. He was, actually, quite good - especially his sweeping scenes of the sea by moonlight, with a path of silver dancing over dark water.
Over the course of only a few days they arrived at a kind of routine domesticity. Neville mainly stayed in the galley, talking to members of the crew - or to Dobby, who had taken to lurking in a kitchen cupboard with the door half shut, when he wasn't acting as a benign courier. Lupin had his paints, and Lynsey worked on the laptop for several hours a day, inside the forecastle or the galley where the salt air couldn't get at it, and then sat on deck if it was fine and whittled away at the length of sycamore she was turning into a wand for Severus. He, she thought, both felt and sounded a lot calmer; Azkaban was still a horror to him and her breath still shuddered in her chest when she let her mind run with his, but she thought that he could endure indefinitely, just so long as every day included some sort of pleasant occurrence, some little kindness, instead of being endless dreary isolation and scorn. Even if he really came to be imprisoned for life, he could live with that and stay sane, provided every day included a little conversation and a little kindness.
Lupin had brought an Order tool, a mirror spelled to act as a two-way communicator between specific persons, and with it he was able to talk to Harry and tell him what was needed. They were inside the exclusion zone which prevented humans from Apparating to or from Azkaban, but on a calm night under cover of darkness Harry and Ron flew them out more food, which they pretended to the crew had been in their lockers all along. It included flour for baking, and Neville - who was a passable cook - came to the happy realization that you could put pretty-much anything into a Cornish pasty crust (curry, haggis, cauliflower cheese, prawn cocktail, anything) and it could be eaten in a couple of minutes without leaving a mess. And the news from home was as welcome as the food.
SS to RL: "Any idea how long I'm to be stuck in this putrid apology for a municipal latrine?"
RL to SS: "Minerva says to tell you that a cat may look at a queen and that this is just as well because the Ministry seems to be full of them - whatever that means. Please don't worry. We'd prefer to get you out of there legally if we can, but if Minerva's little scheme fails we have several other options - one of which involves Peeves, and two of which involve high explosives. None of them involves leaving you in there for longer than a few months."
SS to RL: "Appealing though the idea is in many ways, you probably shouldn't actually blow up Azkaban if you can avoid it - the shockwave would bring the Ministry down with it."
L O'C to SS: "And this would be bad how, precisely?"
"I don't know...." said Lynsey thoughtfully, looking at this correspondence. "'Queen' is a slangy, old-fashioned expression for an effeminate homosexual. I don't know how it is with your lot but these days, for - for Muggles that's no big deal, even in government. Unless, of course, the guy has a wife who thinks he's straight.... But why a cat?"
"Oh, that part's easy" Neville said dismissively, without taking his eyes off the pan he was scouring. "Everybody knows Professor McGonagall can turn into a cat."
RL to SS: "We think Minerva may be using her cat form to collect information about Ministry officials' sex-lives, with a view to blackmail."
SS to RL: "Good - I'm sure it's a fertile field for research."
RL to SS: "I thought you'd be more surprised."
SS to RL: "I worked with Minerva for 16 years: nothing she does would surprise me."
RL to SS: "This is just like passing notes in class behind the teacher's back, isn't it?"
SS to RL: "I wouldn't bloody know, would I? Unlike you, I never had any bloody friends to write to - the only notes I ever got in class were insults from your bloody lot suggesting what I should go and do with myself."
RL to SS: "Sorry - I didn't mean to distress you."
SS to RL: "Bad dog!"
RL to SS: "Woof."
The sea was as hard and bright and glittering as a bowlful of broken glass and the deck heaved and swung under their feet. Neville and Lupin both looked decidedly green but Lynsey found the pitching motion and the salt-spray exhilarating. As she swayed her way up the deck, clinging to the rail, her heart swelled with a fierce joy and she thought that it was a shared one. Azkaban might be the pit of Hell in many ways; her professor might still be trapped and freezing, chained to a nasty little rusting iron bed in a blinding white box and pinned down by spells designed to break his magic and his mind; but the spiteful pleasure of knowing that he was putting one over on the guards, and the much greater and less petty pleasure of having friends to play a game on the guards with, were so strong that his mood had apparently swung right round from misery to one of his reckless highs, until she felt positively drunk with it.
And they could do something about the "freezing" aspect, couldn't they? That afternoon, Lupin had Dobby fetch Snape's thin, measly little blanket through to the boat where Neville - who insisted that it should be he that did it - charmed it to be always warm and dry. Dobby whisked it back again before the guards reappeared, and that was that: a simple little spell, and suddenly Azkaban became almost bearable. Suddenly he could sleep, her professor, and not be woken fifteen times in a night by bitter cold and discomfort; and she no longer had to worry too much that he would have a relapse into pneumonia.
When they praised him, nervy, plump little Neville smiled a quick, there and gone smile which reminded Lynsey of Snape himself, and tucked his chin down in embarrassment. "I'm just glad I could help him, is all."
Remus Lupin looked at him curiously. "I haven't asked you this before, but - it really is very good of you to do this - I mean, not just the blanket, but coming out on the boat at all - to do this for Severus, considering that you and he...."
"Considering that he's an evil-tempered bastard and he scares the shit out of me?"
"Well, yes. Basically."
Neville sighed and pulled a face which made him look like a puzzled hamster. "It's true, I'm terrified of him - but I never wanted - they wouldn't even let him go mad. At least my parents - " He stopped and looked down, taking a slow breath to compose himself. "At least for my parents it was over in a couple of hours, but Professor Snape - weeks of it, and then to be thrown in prison after all that, that's just so - You know. And I can't help my mum and dad, but I can help the Professor, a bit. And I'm actually pretty good at these sort of - domestic charms."
He looked up at Lynsey then and gave her a shy, wry smile. "But I dunno how you manage to be actual friends with him, like, without getting your head chewed off."
"Oh, he's all right. If he gets too stroppy I just ignore him - or tell him to belt up. Really."
"God, I can't imagine telling Professor Snape to belt up. Well, I mean I can - I just can't imagine still being alive afterwards!"
"Nah. Where he comes from, they cultivate rudeness as a virtue - it's called 'being blunt' - and he's under a lot of stress and he does tend to deal with it by giving it to other people. But he's all right, the Prof - he'd never willingly do you any sort of physical injury, and he'd cheerfully risk his life to prevent anyone else from doing so."
"I think 'cheerfully' is overstating the case," Lupin said, grinning - "muttering sourly the whole way is more like it, but certainly he'd do it."
"Um. I suppose so. But even his voice is terrifying. So - slithery."
Lupin's face twisted suddenly. "When the - when He Who Must Not Be Named projected the, the sound of…. We didn't even know who it was, it was just - a man, screaming, on and on for days, and then suddenly hearing that voice - that silky, insinuating voice of his - groaning 'No more! Please, no more' - it was… horrible. Shattering. Which was the point, of course."
"My parents - begged," Neville said, staring at the deck again. "For each other. My parents begged for each other. Now that I've heard Professor Snape - like that, I just feel so sorry for him."
"Well," said Lynsey, "show some rudiments of sense and don't actually tell him that, or he really will chew your bloody head off." That or curl up in a ball from sheer embarrassment.
"Oh, I wouldn't. I wouldn't dare!"
"It's partly my doing that he's so bloody abrasive," Lupin said glumly. "We - the Marauders - persecuted him so much at school that the poor sod never had a chance to learn how to interact with people except through defensiveness and insults."
"I'll tell you how you deal with the Prof, Neville," Lynsey said idly, watching the salt-spray forming dew-drops on the back of her wrist. "You have to take his insults as jokes - which they are, usually, even when it's a bit of a malicious joke - and bat the joke back at him, but in a way that doesn't make him feel attacked or scorned. If he insults you and you agree with him and turn it into a joke against yourself, you'll pull the rug out from under his feet completely. And if you do it well enough to make him laugh, he'll eat out of your hand."
"I'd be too scared he might chew it off at the wrist."
NL to SS: "Is the blanket warm enough, sir? I charmed it myself."
SS to NL: "It hasn't actually exploded yet, although it's early days. You'll make someone a wonderful wife one day, Longbottom."
NL to SS: "Well I've already got a pinny - it's got roses on, and all."
SS to NL: "I'm sure you look very fetching in it."
L O'C to SS: "You sound a lot brighter for having regular meals again."
SS to L O'C: "I don't think 'regular' is a word which I personally would ever associate with a trifle pasty."
L O'C to SS: "Caveat emptor: you should look before you bite."
SS to L O'C: "Oh no, I quite like the lucky-dip element. It's like eating Every-Flavour Beans, except you know you won't get vomit or machine-oil."
L O'C to SS: "Is there anything you'd particularly like?"
SS to L O'C: "I'd kill for a bit of fresh fruit."
RL to SS: "OK, I'm sure we can arrange that."
SS to RL: "How are you managing to replenish the supplies on the boat?"
RL to SS: "By broom."
SS to RL: "Who have you found that's mad enough to fly across the north sea - in bloody January?"
RL to SS: "Harry and Ron. [And it's February - just!]"
SS to RL: "I will never, ever live this down as long as I live."
RL to SS: "Oh, it's much worse than that: Harry is paying for the boat."
The answer was unprintable, and tore a hole right through the page. Lupin looked at it and grinned, then looked slightly sheepish - as far as was possible for a wolf in man's clothing. "I still can't resist teasing him, a bit. But I'm touched - I really am - that he trusts me, and Neville here, not to put anything foul into the pasties. Time was, he would have expected me to send him vomit and machine-oil."
"Time was, you would have," Lynsey replied.
SS to L O'C: "Don’t let Dobby panic you: I'm all right."
L O'C to SS: "Dobby says they beat you again - really badly. Enough to really upset him."
SS to L O'C: "If there is such a thing as hypochondria-by-proxy Dobby has it. I'm fine, really I am - it doesn't bother me."
L O'C to SS: "Well, it bloody-well bothers me! Why did they beat you?"
SS to L O'C: "Bored. Decided to see how far could provoke them before they hit me. Found out."
Lynsey clicked her tongue in irritation. "I suppose I shouldn't be surprized - I knew he had a perverse sense of humour."
"You should have been at school with him" Lupin said with a sideways grin. "You have no idea."
"The worst of it is, I can quite see why he did it. The guards are not supposed to even show that they've heard him speak, are they, let alone answer him - so I suppose provoking them like that was a way of forcing them to acknowledge his existence. But he's still a damn' fool."
"Well, look at it from his point of view," Lupin said seriously. "If the guards aren't allowed to acknowledge that they've heard him speak that means he can be as cuttingly and creatively rude as he pleases and they aren't supposed to hit him - and if they do, that means he's won. A fellow's got to make his own amusements, in Azkaban."
L O'C to SS: "Bloody lunatic bloody fool man."
To "blow the gaff" is to give away a secret enterprize.
For the benefit of foreigners who may not be familiar with the beast, a Cornish pasty (or pastie) is basically a circle of savoury pastry about 8" across, onto which you put a big dollop of filling, and then fold the circle in half around the filling and pinch the edges together in a crimped wave. The result is about the same shape as a Portuguese Man o' War jellyfish. They were originally invented as a sort of edible lunch-box for Cornish miners. The filling traditionally is diced meat - either mutton or beef - with vegetables, but there are cases on record of large pasties being made with a savoury course at one end and a dessert at the other.
"A cat may look at a queen" (or sometimes king) is a tradition British proverb, meaning that people of low-rank are entitled to look at the doings of those of higher rank. It has been suggested that it dates from a period when subjects were not supposed to look directly at the face of the sovereign.
"You'll make someone a wonderful wife one day" is a common British remark said to a male who is good at cooking or housework.
"Pinny" is short for "pinafore." A pinafore strictly is a wrap-around apron with armholes, but "pinny" tends to get used loosely for any sort of apron that you might wear in a kitchen (you wouldn't call a blacksmith's leather apron a pinny, for example).
"Caveat emptor" - "Let the buyer beware." Basically, check that the goods are sound before you pay for them, because you won't get a refund.
A wolf in sheep's clothing is a dangerous person who is pretending to be harmless - often, some kind of infiltrator.
"Hypochondria-by-proxy" - a play on Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy, a controversial condition which probably does exist but which was grossly over-diagnosed by an obsessive British medical expert, in which sufferers deliberately make somebody else ill (usually either a parent making a child ill, or a nurse with a patient), or fake illness in another person, in order to enjoy the drama and attention which comes with their treatment.
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