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
#6: And the Truth Shall Make You Free
[In which Minerva exploits her sex appeal.]
Bamburgh was a smaller village than Seahouses but much more famous and more touristy, since it boasted one of the most spectacular castles in all England, standing out boldly against the sea. They walked inland of it until they came to wooded ground; skirting the caravan park at Glororum, looking for a quiet place to sit and wait until the full moon should do its work. There was no point in going to the guest house until Lupin was transformed; no point in paying for a bed for someone who was going to sleep in front of the hearth. They had hardly found their spot before the moon came out of the clouds and the man Lupin gasped and twisted and fell away, leaving a great grey wolf in his place. Lynsey fitted the collar round his neck with an apology, knowing that he kept at least some of his human mind under the influence of Wolfsbane, although she herself could hardly think for the blood hammering in her ears, whispering that her friend was alone and afraid and she could do nothing.
Transformation complete, Lupin ambled off to rummage through some interesting piles of dead leaves, and Neville fished out the Talking Glass. After a number of false starts, including one where it turned into a magnifying glass instead, he managed to get it to work. At first it was dark, like a bowl of night, but after a few minutes Minerva McGonagall's pointy austere face swum into view.
"Ah, Mr Longbottom," she said calmly. "I take it that Remus Lupin is... indisposed."
"He's eating beetles, if that's what you mean, miss. Professor, something's gone wrong with Professor Snape." He explained the situation fairly concisely and coherently, and McGonagall's already sharp face tightened and hardened into grim certainty.
"Thank you, Longbottom. I see I shall have to bring matters to a head sooner than I had anticipated. I had scheduled a meeting with the Minister for this Friday but I shall have to insist on bringing it forward. I'm sure if I... explain matters to him he'll be able to squeeze me in."
"You mean if you um drop a hint that you know he's gay and his wife doesn't?"
"Oh no Mr Longbottom, Minister Scrimgeour is entirely heterosexual" she replied, rrolling her rrs melodically, "as he has demonstrated with...." There was a pause during which she looked away, evidently consulting a written list. "Ah, yes, with seven young ladies other than his wife during the preceding month. One of them I believe was his sister in law. I will contact you as soon as I have his reply."
It was hard to believe that without the Wolfsbane Remus Lupin would have turned into a monster, still with a trace of human about the face, but with nothing human left in his head except the random viciousness which wolves would seldom stoop to. She rubbed her hands through the thick fur on his back and pressed her face against his shoulder, praying incoherently for Minerva's success and her professor's swift release.
In one way, taking the boat out again seemed pointless, when they could no longer use it as a platform from which to contact Snape; but if Dobby was discovered and there was no boat for him to jump to, he would be trapped; and besides, being on the boat would at least give them the feeling that they were doing something for Snape, however futile.
Seeing Harry wince as he wrote out cheques for another two thousand for Lupin to give to the crew (evidently Gringotts had a Muggle Transactions department, and enough savvy to issue a normal-looking cheque-book instead of a parchment one), Lynsey muttered "Look - this is getting ridiculous. If I re-mortgage my flat, it'll take a couple of months but I can raise enough money to pay you back."
Harry sighed, looking down at his hands, and shook his head. "No it's - it's OK. Really. It's mostly my Dad's money, isn't it - Mum's family weren't all that well-off - and my Dad treated Professor Snape like shit when they were at school. If it hadn't been for him and Sirius, Snape probably would've never've joined Voldemort in the first place. So it's right, isn't it, that my Dad should help get him out."
"That's - very noble of you. True, too, but still noble."
"Yeah, well," he said, scuffing at the ground with his shoe and looking embarrassed, "Gryffindors are stupid that way."
She should have been depressed - had expected to be eaten up with grief and anxiety over the professor, but as the boat lifted up over the waves her heart lifted with it, and she felt unreasonable hope and fierce defiance rather than misery, as she was drawn to him like a lodestone - as if it was the hot weight of his mind which reeled them in over the water. Something was working right, her mind ran into his at the edges and they were moving the same way, he was no longer pulling against her - he did believe, he did, that they were working to free him, that they had at least some chance of succeeding, and so it mattered that he should be sane when they did so and he had set his mind to it, to not being overwhelmed.... If nothing else, his pride would not permit him to be seen by the Order in a state of babbling collapse.
When they were sure the crew weren't nearby to see it Lupin mirror-called Dobby to check that he was all right. The strange little figure bobbed his head anxiously.
"Dobby thinks Master Severus is embarrassed to walk, to exercise in front of watchers and he is hungry and cold and still stiff from being beaten, so he just lies down, mostly, and tries to sleep. Dobby knows this because Dobby has swapped with one of the prison elves so Dobby can clean on Master Severus's corridor, go in cell sometimes so he can see Dobby is still here and he is not abandoned."
That explained the fierce, defiant hope. Probably few people would be reassured by the sight of Dobby, with his leathery brown skin, his needle nose and his bulging acid-green eyes like twin limes, but beauty, she supposed, was in the eye of the beholder, and the professor was a bizarre-looking cove himself.
"That is excellent news, Dobby," Lupin said gravely. "You really do seem to have a great deal of influence with the prison elves - you're sure that they won't betray you? I don't want Severus or you to be punished."
"Master Lupin is good to care about Dobby, sir, but Dobby is quite safe. To many elves, especially - those who are not happy in their work, Dobby is, is a hero, sir, like Harry Potter is to wizards - if it is not presumptuous to say it."
The news from Minerva was frustrating. She had managed to bully the Minister into seeing her two days early, all right, but he was stalling, and insisting that whilst he might consider a relaxation in Snape's regime in return for the Order's co-operation - "Harry's rubber-stamp on his ruddy policies" Lupin muttered under his breath - release was really out of the question. He had suggested, indeed, that even if it could be proven that Snape had killed Dumbledore on Dumbledore's own orders, that order had been an illegal one and Snape was still guilty of a crime for obeying it.
"But Professor," Neville said anxiously, craning over Lupin's shoulder, "didn't you tell him that you knew about - you know?"
"I did. He said that it was only my word against his, and unless I could produce evidence of these unsubstantiated rumours neither his brother nor the press would credit it - and suggested that if I were to be seen as a madwoman making wild unfounded accusations it would do Severus's case no good at all. He didn't put it quite so bluntly, but that was the gist of it. He seems to believe he has Rita Skeeter in his pocket - from which I infer that he's been in her pocket more than once."
It took Neville a moment to work that one out; when he did, he went pink to the tips of his ears. "But Professor, that's - what can we do?"
"I shall just have to fire a warning shot across his bows," she replied crisply. "A few 'unsubstantiated rumours' in tomorrow's papers should be enough to convince him that I am in earnest."
"But how will you get them published, Minerva?" Lupin asked with a frown. "If he has managed to get the Skeeter woman on his side...."
"Hermione Granger has a certain... influence over Ms Skeeter which - well, suffice it to say that she believes it will exceed Minister Scrimgeour's influence, and I believe she is right. And failing that, Xenophilius Lovegood is eager to publish."
"And failing that," Lynsey muttered to Lupin, "I know at least two people in the SF crowd who can make bombs...."
"MINISTER'S CALL-GIRL COCKUP" made the front page the following day, and even hedged about as it was with careful allegeds and suggesteds it still made Scrimgeour's hair curl. McGonagall was on line to them by lunchtime, looking grimly satisfied.
"He has marked Severus's case as 'under review.' I told him that your party would prefer to collect Severus by boat rather than by Portkey; forgive me Lynsey, but I let him think that your experience with Lucius Malfoy had left you nervous of that mode of travel. It seemed wiser not to let him know you needed the boat in order to collect your private agent."
She was back again the same evening. "The wards on Azkaban are to be lifted for half an hour, starting at nine a.m. tomorrow morning. You may bring the boat in and moor at the landing-stage, pending Severus's release."
"That's - that's brilliant, Professor!"
"It is certainly hopeful, Mr Longbottom, but I for one will not permit myself to relax until Severus is safely on board - and out of wand-range of Azkaban."
Lynsey expected to feel as high as a kite when they actually drew in sight of Azkaban, when they were within spitting distance of getting Severus out, but after four days of freezing cold again, of gnawing hunger and the guards' relentless impersonal eyes she could feel his resolve to stay positive beginning to flag a bit, and her mood was plummeting with his, as much as she tried to keep them both up.
And Azkaban was a horror; she could feel the despair radiating from it before they even came in sight of it. The island it stood on was perhaps three hundred yards long by half that wide and the prison covered most of it, rising straight up out of the sea like a grey, rotting tooth, its tiny windows barred and grudging. Nothing seemed to grow there except seaweed and a few stunted bushes (apparently it was Unplottable even to puffins), but Lupin set a charm on the crew to make them see it subtly differently - to see the island greener and the fortress far smaller, something like the Bass Rock.
They had told the crew that they needed to make landfall at the island in order to pick up a friend who had been... "Bird-watching," Lupin said firmly.
When they had tied up at the damp little landing-stage, Lupin went in by the great iron door to speak to whoever was on duty there, but he came back out looking grim.
"They won't let me see him," he said, slumping dejectedly onto the bench in the galley. "They said that they had not been - had not been notified of any change of plan in relation to Severus. They know we're here as part of an appeal but as far as they're concerned he is still... no one is to speak to him. Bastards. They won't allow him even one friendly word... if the appeal fails and he's to be kept here, they want his isolation to be unbroken." He rubbed his face with his hands. "They actually said that; that he had been sentenced to live in complete isolation until his death, and they had no authority to say otherwise. When I think that Sirius spent almost twelve years in this dump...."
"But Professor Snape won't be here that long, will he?" Neville said anxiously.
"God, I hope not."
"We should have known something would go wrong," Lynsey said glumly. "Today of all days."
"Why? I mean, why today particularly?"
"Fucking Friday the Thirteenth, isn't it?"
"The Minister is concerned that the other members of the Wizengamot will not endorse any decision to free Severus," said McGonagall's precise voice, "which, in fact, is a valid point: we want Severus's release to be incontestable. But I have told him that they are likely to concur. It will take two or three days for Horace and me to ensure that that is the case; maybe four, since some of them will I suppose be going away for the weekend."
"Macpherson - I got the impression that Macpherson wouldn't need much pressurizing."
"Indeed, I believe that Armand Macpherson favoured a free pardon from the beginning, but he was over-ruled. That is the line that I have advized the Minister to take: to say that the court had convicted Severus of killing Dumbledore knowing and accepting that he did so on Dumbledore's own order, but holding that that order was an illegal one which he should not have obeyed - and that in view of the authority which Dumbledore held over him the Wizengamot has decided to show clemency."
Lupin grinned like - well, like a wolf. "And how did he like having his decisions dictated to him by a 'sheltered elderly lady'?"
"To be honest, I think he was just glad to have somebody offer him a way out. Ms Skeeter was verry annoyed to find out that she wasn't his only... side-interest. I told him I would ask Miss Granger to call her off - at a price."
Listening to them, Lynsey found herself vaguely uneasy at the idea that somebody who had been convicted of murder (however wrongly) could be freed as the result of a combination of blackmail and pressure from the press, without even a re-trial. But since the original trial had been more like a Soviet show-trial than anything she would recognize as due process, she supposed that in this case two wrongs would succeed in making a right. And the sooner the better; after coming so close, the delay was gnawing at her nerves, and it took an effort of will not to allow her own anxiety to bleed through to Severus. Four more days! If he had been fit to begin with it would be nothing, but starved and ill as he already was she wondered what condition they would find him in. After McGonagall had gone off-line, she went into a huddle with the other two to make up a list of things which might help get him back on his feet, and which Harry and Ron could bring out to them.
As for the Muggle crew, who all had a faintly dazed look whenever they looked towards the fortress, they told them that their friend had been delayed by an especially rare tern, and would be along in a few days. Afterwards the Goth one shuffled up to Lynsey, not quite looking at her, and murmured "You lot are really international drug-dealers or diamond-smugglers or something, aren't you?"
She thought about that one. "No we're... the sort who catch criminals. Sort of."
"Ah." He gave her a slightly shifty look which made her wonder what he'd been up to.
They went ashore, they did, it was good to stretch their legs although the atmosphere of the island was so terrible that even the crew felt it, and slunk back to their boat. But the rest of them, the Away Team Lynsey privately called them, they went through the door into the Devil's keep. Lynsey could see at once what Dobby had meant; the very stones leaked sorrow and fear and she could hardly begin to imagine how much worse it must have been when the Dementors had been there - when her professor had been there for a month as a young man, not much older than Neville.
The door opened into a vast empty entrance hall, with nothing in it but four guards waiting with wands drawn; anybody who tried to make it across to the doorway out without permission would be a clear target. Even to them as guests it was intimidating to have to cross that echoing space under so many hostile eyes. At the far side there were two doors, one of which led to the cells and the other, as she would later discover, to the staff quarters.
But it was important to go in, to talk to the prison staff; Lupin wanted to spy out the lie of the land and speak to the guards, so that when they got the go-ahead they would be able to get Snape out as swiftly and painlessly as possible. Also, Lupin had a morbid desire to see the cell in which his dead friend Sirius had spent twelve miserable years, condemned for thirteen murders which (however much of a murderous little amateur psychopath he might have been at school) he had not committed, and one of the friendlier guards was happy to oblige - even if it meant disturbing the square-built, sullen-looking young woman who was the cell's current inhabitant. Lynsey noticed that she seemed much better fed than the professor, and had two quite new-looking blankets; he really had been singled out for special vindictiveness.
"What do you want?" the girl growled, backing into a corner.
"I just wanted to see - a friend of mine was imprisoned here, and I just wanted to see...."
"Bully for you."
The cell was small, and cold, but it did at least have a view of the sea. Later they asked to be shown where Snape was being held, so that they could plan their journey out, but they were permitted only as far as the far end of the corridor. Lupin opened his mouth to call out to Snape that they were there, and a grim-looking mouth-breather type pointed a wand at them and snapped "Silencio!
"Did you think," he said with an ugly grin, "that I'd fall for that one? Silence he was condemned to, and silence he's going to get. He talks in his sleep sometimes, begging prettily for someone to speak to him, but he'll die alone if I have any say."
Later they learned that the sullen girl had killed her girlfriend in a fit of jealous rage, and tried to dispose of the body by Transfiguring it into a tree-stump.
Later they passed Dobby in a corridor, and he gave a performance of not-knowing-them so elaborate that even the thickest of the guards looked at him oddly.
Later they sat in the staff canteen, drinking tea wearily and waiting for the latest word from McGonagall, hoping against hope that she could get them permission actually to speak to Snape. And Lynsey shunted along to the end of the table, and very quietly began engaging the mouth-breather in conversation, until she had coaxed him into a quite animated discussion about his bunion.
"What the Hell was that about?" Lupin snapped, as they made their disconsolate way back to the boat.
"You! Talking to that - that creature. God! You heard him, practically licking his lips over what they're doing to Severus!"
"And do you think, tomorrow, when he looks at Severus and instead of a murderer he sees a friend of that nice woman who was taking such an interest in his feet and his dahlias, do you think he'll treat him worse, or better?"
Neville grinned at her. "That's really Slytherin of you, miss."
"It's... basic witch stuff. My kind of witch."
Three days - another three days of this, while she could feel her professor's resolve crumbling before the forces of misery and cold and constant, gnawing hunger, and she sang to him under her breath about herbs and stars and brave horses and the watch on the deep; while the crew grew restive with nothing to do except get drunk, and there was nothing for the Lupin/Snape party to do either except cook, and go over and over the list of things they needed for Snape (which Harry was getting for him in Diagon Alley), and sometimes slouch reluctantly onto land and into the keep just to remind the guards that they were still there. Lynsey had got the mouth-breather, whose name was Jared Heggarty, as far as actually playing chess with her, and sometimes allowed him to win. If he had been less unpleasant she would have felt guilty about toying with his affections, but as it was she plastered on a smile which she thought would at least buy her professor some clean food, and hoped not to have to follow through with a kiss. But she was prepared to put up with much worse, if she had to.
At least all this waiting around meant that she had nearly finished the wand for Snape - it remained to be seen whether it would actually work for him.
Finally on the Monday night, almost a week after Snape had been moved to the new cell, a tired but triumphant Minerva appeared in the mirror. "We've done it!" she announced. "Horace managed to get together sufficient of his old contacts to make up a quorum for an extraordinary meeting of the Wizengamot, and between us we bullied enough of them into making the vote swing our way."
"So what does that mean for Severus?" Lupin said tensely.
"A free pardon. Basically they are taking the line we suggested - he is still considered guilty of murder but in light of the circumstances they're prepared to be merciful. Harry and Ron will be coming up to you tonight with the things you requested and the authorization for release, signed by the Minister and by Armand Macpherson - who I may say seemed highly entertained by the whole business. If nothing goes wrong, Severus will be released into your care at eight a.m. tomorrow morning."
"I suppose," Lynsey said thoughtfully, after the celebrations had run their course, and they had warned Dobby to make his goodbyes and stand by to leave, and they were just waiting for Harry, now, "I suppose it's like 'mercy killing' - assisted suicide, you know? I mean, in Muggle law, it's still a crime to kill someone even if they want you to, but the judges are usually lenient. If, that is, he really had killed him...."
They told the increasingly dazed crew that Harry and Ron were part of the bird-watching team, and had just come from the island - with a charm to make it stick. Dobby Apparated back to them in a fever of excitement when he heard that the great Harry Potter was going to be on-board. He was sorry to part from the new friends he had made in the kitchens and cellars of Azkaban, but he wanted to be ready so that he could come in with them openly when they went to get "poor Master Severus - just in case," he said, "anything goes wrong." None of the wizards, Lynsey noted, seemed to think that there was anything odd about the idea that a house-elf might be a significant ally in a fight. And Dobby was greatly relieved to wear proper clothes again, if you could call a rather hideous sugared-almond-mauve knee-length pullover "proper." It had apparently been knitted for him by Molly Weasley, in a fit of colour-blindness.
Nobody slept; they were all too sick with nerves. Lynsey could feel no answering leap of anticipation from the professor, and she was privately sure that the bastards hadn't even done him the kindness of telling him that he was to be released tomorrow. She tried hard to push the feeling of movement into his tired brain, the knowledge of freedom coming - but it was hard to maintain that absolute confidence when they had had so many setbacks already.
They decided to leave Ron on-board with the mirror in case of accidents. At seven-forty the following morning Lynsey, Lupin, Neville, Harry and a startlingly mauve Dobby presented themselves at the doors of Azkaban, clutching the precious pardon and order of release.
The walk through the fortress seemed to take forever and everywhere they walked, ragged hands and faces came to the barred apertures in the rank on rank of doors, expecting that they were the early shift come to bring them their breakfast. Lynsey appreciated that it must be very difficult to control and contain criminals who were also powerful magic-users, but there had to be a better way than this. Even knowing that the owners of most of those pathetic, unwashed faces really had committed serious crimes didn't make it much easier to take, and she thought privately that the wizarding world had a damned nerve looking down on Muggles as "primitive." Culturally and intellectually, they seemed to be lagging at least a hundred and fifty years behind the rest of Britain. Maybe two hundred and fifty.
She could feel when they were getting close to Snape; feel the uneasy mix of hot misery and bloody-minded defiance which radiated from him. And no, they had not told him yet: their guide ushered them into a large cell where there were already two guards sprawled on hard chairs, smoking and looking at and past the huddled shape of her professor, curled under his thin blanket and trying to sleep, or at least to shut out the world. Without word or warning, the guard with them strode across to the bed and grabbed Snape by the hair, jerking him half upright. "You - up!" He came awake with a sharp yelp of surprize, tried and failed to catch himself against the bed with his hands tightly cuffed together and fell back against the mattress again, his eyes wild.
"Severus - " Lupin said, stepping forward into his line of sight, and for an instant Lynsey saw her professor's narrow face completely naked, his eyes wide and his expression raw with a mixture of disbelief and desperate hope - and then she saw him give a small convulsive shudder and pull himself on over himself, consciously, composedly, and the lines of hard pride settled over his face like a mask.
"Lupin," he replied, with a small inclination of the head, and held out his bound hands. "I'm afraid you find me at a disadvantage; you will have to help me to sit up."
Lupin quickly bent down and clasped his colleague's hands in his, drawing him upright - though Lynsey noted that Snape's own hands looked limp and numb. "It's all right," Lupin said quietly, "Minerva did it. We're getting you out of here." Snape simply nodded, curtly, and Lupin put a hand on his shoulder.
"Will you leave us to get him dressed now, please?" Lupin said to the three guards, but the one who had led them there shook her head, muttering that she had no such orders, and one of the others grinned unpleasantly.
"Wouldn't want to miss the show, would we?"
It was Dobby who rounded on him, with a sharp scowl and a peculiar light in his enormous, lime-coloured eyes. "Go, now," he said clearly, pointing a bony finger at them. "You have here no business with him." The three fell back before him, muttering, and oozed out of the room.
As soon as they were gone Lupin sat down on the bed next to Snape, who unbent enough to lean against him in order not to fall. He looked exhausted and ill and as much shocked as relieved; sweating and pale, his face and arms and shins marred by fading bruises. "Get me out of these - bloody things" he growled, holding out his manacled wrists, and Neville knelt in front of him to open them with his wand, but they remained resolutely closed.
"Idiot!" Snape snapped and Neville flinched, but a moment's experiment showed that neither Lupin nor Harry could open them either. They were obviously charmed not to open to magic. And it wasn't as if they could even take him out of there with the cuffs on; a stout chain ran from his wrists to a loop set into the wall.
"Wait here," the little house-elf said firmly, a look of grim power on his face. "Dobby will get keys."
"Suppose they try to make difficulties?" Neville asked anxiously.
While they were waiting Neville gave Snape a flask of clean water, which he drank from very awkwardly with his hands bound as they were, but refused to allow anybody else to hold for him; and a ham sandwich which he wolfed down in about four bites, shaking. And Lupin took the opportunity to shave him, since he could hardly do it himself with his hands tied. Scraping off the lank tatty apology for a beard only showed up more fading bruises, and the remains of a fat lip - and Lynsey noticed a few streaks of grey at his temples.
Dobby returned with the keys and a very smug expression, and Neville carefully undid the handcuffs, which left sore-looking grooves in Snape's bony wrists. The boy took Snape's hands in his and began to rub them gently with soothing ointment, trying to restore the circulation.
The man looked as if he might be going to faint. Harry rummaged through his pockets and produced a small bottle of something which looked as though it probably contained chili. "Sir? I thought you might need some Pepperup." He held the phial out towards Snape, who flinched back violently. "Sir?"
"No, I - no." He shook his head, then looked directly at Lynsey for the first time, and held out his hand to her. Understanding, she reached out and clasped his cold fingers firmly in hers, and felt the rush and drain as he drew energy out of her, as they had done seven weeks ago in Chislehurst Caves. She staggered slightly as he broke his hold and he gave her an odd look, half contrite and half defiantly smug.
She grinned back at him happily. "It's good to see you."
"I thought you'd rather walk out in your own clothes than in...." Harry said, nodding at the miserable prison-drab shift thing Snape was wearing, and unfurled an armload of heavy black cloth. "I got this for you in Diagon Alley."
Snape raised his eyebrows at him. "I wasn't aware that you were so... fascinated by me that you knew my measurements, Potter."
"I didn't need to - I just used Ron as a model. He's at least as tall as you now, and much the same build."
"I suppose he is.... God, that makes me feel old."
"I'll just clean you up a bit," Lupin said apologetically, raising his wand. "A quick Scourgify...." Snape jerked back as if he'd been stung, his eyes flaring and darkening, and Lupin flushed and ducked his head aside. "You know that I would never...."
"Yes," the other said after a moment, relaxing visibly. "You're not James."
Lynsey wondered what the Hell that was about, and why Harry had also suddenly gone the deep red of shame. She turned her head away politely while Lupin helped her professor to strip and change into the new robes Harry had bought him, even though strictly speaking there was nothing she hadn't already seen. There were new boots with the robes, as well. When he was dressed he looked more armoured, sterner - for the first time she could see why his students found him so forbidding. He staggered slightly as Lupin and Harry helped him to his feet, and more so when Lupin suddenly caught him up into a rough embrace which he returned rather half-heartedly; but weak though he obviously was Lynsey could still see how the flowing black lines of the robes suited him. He looked fierce and fine, even with his hair as straggling and matted as it was, and she could see what he had meant about a heavy cloak making him stand with more confidence.
He was very stiff, though, and winced when he tried to walk. If they had had unlimited time Lynsey would have massaged the cramps away for him, as she had done in the Caves, but they all wanted to be away from there as soon as possible. Which was why one of the things they had asked Harry to bring was a potion for relieving cramps and other muscular pains.
The long walk back through the fortress was nerve-racking; they kept expecting something to go wrong, for the pardon to be rescinded, and the eyes of the other prisoners glared hotly at Snape as he passed them, wondering what he had that they didn't. Lupin and Harry stayed close on either side of him to steady him, ready to grab an elbow when he stumbled, but at least the long walk did give him the chance to find his feet, and by the time they were approaching the entrance hall he was walking almost normally, with only a slight, stiff limp.
Lynsey was in the lead, striding out as fast as Snape could follow her, but when she came through the door into the echoing hall she stopped dead, so suddenly that Neville walked into her. It looked as if virtually every guard in the place - a couple of dozen, at the least - had come to see the rare spectacle of a prisoner being released before his term. Some seemed merely curious; but the expression on most of their faces was sullenly hostile - a gauntlet of cold eyes and scornful smiles that Snape would have to run if he wanted to get to the door.
Behind her, she heard him say quietly to Lupin "Give me your wand." She looked round in time to see Lupin comply, though he eyed Snape warily as he handed it over.
Snape glared at the assembled prison staff with an expression of fierce hatred. Gesturing sharply with the wand, he snapped "If they would be silent, let them stay silent." He strode towards them, a savage expression on his face and his robes billowing like dark sails, like boiling black clouds, and they fell back before him clutching their throats and moaning incoherently as he flung open the final door and stormed through it into the sunlight.
"What - what did you do to them?" Lynsey chattered, struggling to keep up as he marched towards the tiny dock - though she hardly dared ask.
"Psalm One Hundred and Thirty-Seven, Verse Six."
"Hey, I'm a pagan, remember? You'll have to explain."
"Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth."
"It will be an interesting exercise in non-verbal magic for them. Oh, don't worry," he said with a sideways, glittering look: "in a few days I'll tell someone from St Mungo's to check up on them - in case they haven't sorted it out for themselves by then."
The Bass Rock is an island in the mouth of the Firth of Forth, on which there are the ruins of a late Mediaeval castle which was used as a political prison during the 17th Century. It is a famous site for both bird-watching and seal-watching.
The name of Luna's dad has been changed to comply with the new canon backstory in Deathly Hallows.
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