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
Apologies for the length of time it's taken to update this. I had my computer down for almost a month, then I was tied up with working on a massive essay on the layout of the Hogwarts grounds - which has taken almost a year and is still not finished - and although much of the latter part of this story is already written I'm having trouble working out "how to get there from here". Then my intention of getting it out for Boxing Day was sabotaged by the Uncommon Cold from Hell and by the chapter itself turning out much longer and more complicated than I had expected. But I'm certainly not going to abandon this story, and I hope to have the next update out in somewhat less than the three months it's taken me to do this one.
#11: Poetic Licence
[In which damages are limited, and options assessed.]
He had taken to surfing the net like - not a duck to water, perhaps, but a reasonably seaworthy chicken. When she wasn't using the dial-up herself she would often find him poring over some obscure occult or herbal text and amusing himself by finding fault with it. So she wasn't surprized to see him staring at the screen, his posture poised and tense, leaning forwards - but the iron grip of his hands concerned her, clenched on the table's edge with the knuckles standing out like ivory beads. As she moved towards him he whipped round and then relaxed, defeated-seeming rather than relieved, his eyes like liquid night.
She looked at the screen, at what he had been so fixated on, expecting some horror, news of a death, perhaps, but it was only poetry. If good poetry was ever just an "only". The verses were scrolled up the glass, as if he had been looking at the end of it; her gaze slid down the column of words idly and saw what had caught his eye:
She stepped back to stand behind his chair and laid her hand on his shoulder, tentatively, ready to snatch it away if he flinched; but he leaned against her touch, slightly, and dropped his head, and his hands unclenched themselves from the table's edge and drew back cautiously into his lap.
"I have to go away," he said quietly. "Not - not forever I don't mean, I just - Order business. That's all."
"How long for?"
"A week, maybe. It's for... brainstorming session, Filius calls it, but really it's bloody damage limitation, to try to work out where we bloody go from here, now that the - He - knows every bloody thing I know, practically."
"They won't blame you - "
"Will they not?" he said bitterly. "Minerva - Minerva I grant you is being - being kind, I suppose, and Lupin as you say is my dog for good or ill, though why he should want to be baffles me. Arthur will be kind too, because he always bloody is. I suppose I should be glad of any kindness I can get," he added almost under his breath. "But Alastor, Kingsley, even that wretch Mundungus - Minerva expects me to bloody lead them and I have to stand up in front of them and explain how I betrayed them."
Lynsey gave a small and fairly ladylike snort. "I imagine she thinks if they get nasty you can just pull rank and tell them to sit down and shut up."
He looked at her sideways through his hair, and she saw the momentary flicker of a smirk. "There is that."
"When do you have to leave?"
"Tomorrow. I wish - "
"Nothing. It's just - "
"I've got spoiled," he muttered quickly. "Used to having a - to having company."
"Minerva is your friend too, you know."
He sighed and then rubbed at the back of his neck, massaging tired muscles. "I do believe she is, as strange as it seems, but she is also arguably my employer and it's hard to - what friendship we have is largely based on provoking each other. Amusing, but not - " He pulled a dour face, and left the sentence hanging.
Lynsey flopped down into the armchair and looked at him, resting her elbows on the arms. "No good for unwinding with?"
"Not much." He looked away from her - a sure sign, she thought, that he felt embarrassed or ashamed at revealing some perceived weakness or other. "I wish...."
"I could come with you - " She stopped abruptly. Thought about it. "Could I come with you?"
"In theory - I suppose - you're not the Secret Keeper, you couldn't betray the exact location even if they - "
"Even if the Mouldywarp's lot captured me," she said sombrely, "and I'm quite sure I'd break a lot faster than you did."
He gave her a bleak look - but at least he was no longer looking away. "If we Apparated straight there, you wouldn't even be able to describe the area around it. But - I can't ask you, it's - ridiculous, I'm not a - a child, and you have your work."
"This is what we have laptops for, though, so that work can go with us, and it would be so nice to see them all again - even if it was only between meetings. I really would like to come. If I could."
"I'm not sure if it would work...."
"Well: I know Arthur managed to get a telephone to work in a standing magical field, but I suppose he has a particular gift for technology...."
"If Arthur can do it, I'm damned sure I can!" he snapped back, bridling slightly, and Lynsey bit the inside of her cheek to stop herself from grinning.
"You really are - certain about this? Not just because - because you think I'm too bloody feeble to look after myself?"
"I don't have to be - " She stared at him, baffled and trying to think of a way of explaining something so obvious that she'd never really had to think it through. "Look - there's nothing - wrong about having a friend chum you somewhere, or wanting them to, whether it's because you feel like you need the company or just because - " She bit back "that's what friends do" and substituted the slightly less loaded "because you're mates", but he made the connection anyway.
"I wouldn't know," he snapped, "would I? Never having had any - chums...."
"...whether pedigree or otherwise," Lynsey murmured, unable to resist a good feed line, and Severus snorted.
"I suppose you could call Lucius a pedigree chum if he hadn't - if he had ever really been a bloody friend and not a - just another sort of bully."
Lynsey winced inwardly at the memory of the blond man's hateful, gloating voice as he relished her professor's humiliation. "I could definitely see him as something brown and wobbly and smelling of monosodium glutamate, though." Sometimes when she looked at Severus the image came, unbidden, of how she had first seen him, stripped and bloody and shrieking for mercy. When it did she pushed it away at once, fearing he would see it in her mind and think himself shamed by it, although all it made her feel towards him was a fierce urge to protect him. "You can do better than that berk, for damned sure - even a Pet Rock would be better. Muggle thing," she added, seeing him open his mouth to ask. "Just a - a silly toy." Besides, the near-mindless agony in which she had found him wasn't what was important: it was the courage and the spirit he had shown later which mattered, which defined him.
Cautiously, as if a sudden movement might make him startle away, she reached out and fussed a strand of hair back from his face, tucking it behind his ear without touching his skin. "I'd miss you, anyway," she said. "I wouldn't know what to do with myself, now, if I was here for a whole week with just the cats, and it will free up two Order members from guarding me. And besides, I really do want to see Arthur and Minerva and that lot again."
"One Order member. There'll still have to be one left to watch the flat, to be certain we won't walk into any little... unpleasant surprizes on our return. Still: even freeing one up is, as you say, useful."
It was probably as well that she did have her work: she would only have fretted, otherwise, waiting out the long day while her professor was in conference with his colleagues of the Order. She had brought a small petrol-driven generator with her and set it up at the edge of the magical field, to re-charge the laptop's batteries with: and Severus had managed to contain both a telephone point and the computer itself in a null-field, a little bubble of non-magic. Interestingly, this interfered with Lynsey's own feeling of connectedness with the machine: evidently her magic and his were indeed interconnected at some deep level, even though superficially they appeared very different.
The generator wasn't the only thing they had brought from home: the cats, too, Nestor with his black coat and white shirt-front, and Starbuck with his patches of coffee-brown and white, were slinking about the room, flat-eared and dubious about the whole enterprise. Lynsey would have been afraid that they would run away and lose themselves, but Minerva, who had something of a special insight into all things feline, had charmed them to stay within five hundred yards of Lynsey's room, so that they could have an interesting holiday without getting lost.
She could hear voices coming along the corridor - Harry arguing with Severus (of course). They seemed weirdly fascinated with each other - like somebody picking at a boil, she thought.
"...had only come to me first, instead of tearing off to London without adequate backup - "
"It never even occurred to me to ask you, until I saw you in Umbridge's office, and by then it was really too late. Would have been too late, if - if what I saw had been real."
"But that's my point, Potter - it 'never occurred to you' that I might be - well, something with any value. A real man, not just a - a sort of lay figure for you to despise."
"Of course it didn't bloody-well occur to me to ask you - sir. After what you did when I asked for help for Mr Crouch - "
"Oh." He half-opened the door as he said it, and Lynsey could see him standing in the doorway, looking baffled. "But I...."
"Had you forgotten - sir? You told me Professor Dumbledore was busy, you wouldn't even let me speak to him, and it was a lie, he wasn't busy because he came out a minute later - "
The professor lounged back against the doorpost and folded his arms, looking casually austere and forbidding. "You were fourteen, Potter, and I was sensitive of Dumbledore's dignity even if he never bloody was about mine. I was hardly going to say 'The Headmaster is taking a leak', was I?"
"Oh." The boy actually blushed, slightly but definitely. "But - you could have said he'd be down soon, or, or taken some action yourself, not just stalled me when there was a - a real emergency."
The older man had the grace to look embarrassed. "I could have: but since I knew Dumbledore would be down in a minute, I was enjoying myself too much winding you up. Childish of me, I know, but, well...." He looked away slightly, not meeting the younger man's eyes. "I had no particular desire to go to the assistance of Bartemius Crouch."
"Surely you must know... or perhaps not. I do forget, sometimes, that you were not - raised as a wizard. During the, the first war against Voldemort, Crouch became as vicious as all but the worst of the Death Eaters he opposed. He authorized the use of Unforgivable curses on prisoners - including the Cruciatus. Against suspects whose guilt hadn't even been proven...."
"Um, yeah, Sirius told me."
"He probably spoke from personal experience... as I do."
"I - I know you were investigated, but I thought Professor Dumbledore...."
"He did, but not - not fast enough. There was a limit to even Dumbledore's influence - as the continued incarceration of that silly little fantasist Shunpike should show you."
"So Crouch - he - you - ?"
"Articulate as ever, Potter? Oh - not with his own wand, no. But he - he liked to watch. And not even because he was a giggling, twitching sadist like Bellatrix but because it made him feel righteous to see those he considered to be unrighteous... squirming in the dust. Literally."
"Oh. I'm - really sorry. Truly."
"Oddly enough - oddly enough I believe you are" Severus said, in a voice which sounded suddenly rather husky.
"Yeah, well," the boy said darkly. "I know you think - think if you admit to having feelings about things people will use it against you - but really, I find you a lot easier to put um, get along with now I know you're stressed-out instead of just a general evil-tempered sod. Sir."
"Thank you so much for that, Potter," the professor replied rather balefully, but Lynsey could see a faint quirk of amusement at the corner of his narrow jaw. "I'm sure we shall all sleep much better in our beds, knowing that."
Harry actually gave a little huff of laughter at that, and Lynsey thought that that was a great advance: if they could make each other laugh, they might even be friends of a sort, one day.
The boy pressed his hands flat against the wall on either side of himself and ducked his head, his messy black hair standing up like hedgehog spines. "I did think about what you said, about... about me trying to save Dudley. I know when you - when you were trying to have Sirius Kissed, you thought he was a Death Eater - "
"Yes. I thought he was the - That One's agent, the secret one, the one the rest of us weren't allowed to know the name of. I thought he was the one who - who turned my moment of idiocy into murder, who defeated my attempts to save your parents and made a mockery of my change of heart."
"Yes - I do see."
"You don't see," the professor said sharply. "I thought he was the - Riddle's best agent, that he would know that I was a Death Eater and know that I knew that he was."
"Don't overtax your brain, Potter. I had to - I had to try to defeat him, I thought he was there to kill you and I had to bloody-well save you, didn't I? That seems to be my whole bloody purpose in life. But if I saved you from somebody who knew I knew he was probably doing - Riddle's - will, he would know where my true allegiances lay, and if I didn't silence him I'd be a target for every ex-Death Eater with a grudge including him, if he escaped."
"Oh. But - didn't Pettigrew...."
"Make the same deduction? Fortunately for me, Wormtail isn't bright enough to work out that in attacking Sirius I was attacking someone I thought was his Master's agent, and - He - isn't interested enough in His subordinates to actually ask him about the circumstances of his escape."
"If you'd got a medal for it, though, it would have been a bit on the public side...."
"Oh, but at least it would have been some bloody recompense, instead of forever being sneered at by the likes of Alastor Moody - and you! - and, well, it wasn't as if I could have kept my part in Sirius's arrest a secret anyway. But at least with him Kissed it would have been only the werewolf's word against mine as to the exact circumstances, and I could have come up with some sort of convincing lie - and don't pull that bloody face at me, Potter. For good or ill you know how little weight a werewolf's word carries in our society: you saw as much at my bloody trial. Whereas Black - if he had been what I thought he was, he would have been one of Riddle's most trusted advisors."
Harry looked up at him, too interested to be resentful. "I didn't get that impression from Wormtail, I have to say."
"Wormtail is such a twitchy little shit that not even a psychopath like Riddle could place much reliance on him, but he does have his Master's ear."
"Yeah," Harry muttered under his breath. "Probably in a box in the fridge…."
Severus quirked an eyebrow. "That would not surprize me. And he may not have worked out the implications of my willingness to arrest Sirius, but I'm sure it contributed to dear Bellatrix's suspicions of me, which - which in the long term were partly responsible for this - situation in which the Order now finds itself."
"Yes. Um. Hermione said you were right - it was unfair of me to blame you for winding up Sirius when I do the same to Dudley. Even though I kind-of expect I'll have grown out of it by the time I'm...."
"Potter...!" the professor said warningly. Lynsey wondered to herself whether it was only his promise to Dobby which kept him from retaliating with a full-bore verbal assault, or whether he was indeed beginning to learn the difference between affectionate teasing and bullying spite. The remarkable thing was that Harry did sound almost affectionate.
"Yeah, well, but you - Malfoy broke my nose and I was all over blood, I know I was, and all you could do was snarl at Tonks and me and I thought you were being horrible because her new Patronus looked like Sirius and he was only just dead and - only it wasn't, was it?"
"Oh, credit me with some bloody decency, Potter. If Nymphadora's new Patronus had been Padfoot I wouldn't have mocked the dog in front of his cousin and his godson - not two months after his death! Four months, possibly...."
"Oh, don't pretend to be sensitive all of a sudden" Harry snapped, suddenly angry. "You were willing enough to make me read all Sirius's and my f-father's detention notices, you must have known that it would - "
"That it would what, Potter? Upset you? You'd just nearly bloody killed another student and there you were lying to me about the book and radiating anger and arrogance, not remorse - what could I think but that you were turning out much too damned-much like Sirius for comfort? I wanted to show you what a - a pathetic rôle-model he really was."
"Yeah, well - I didn't mean to hurt Malfoy like that, and he was trying to Crucio me at the time - "
"Ah." Severus coughed delicately. "He didn't - ah, tell me that little detail...."
"Well, he wouldn't, would he? He wasn't going to tell you anything which might land him in Azkaban before he'd finished killing the Headmaster - "
"If you had told me you were acting in self-defence - "
"What would have been the point? Would you have believed me?"
"Yes, of course - if you had been honest. Haven't you worked it out yet? I'm a Legilimens: if you had paid attention to our lessons you would know that I know when you are lying to me: even if I don't always know exactly what you are lying about. And you were always - lying to me."
Harry frowned, and pulled his glasses down his nose so he could rub tiredly at his eyes. "I suppose I was. Thinking about it. But not - everything was always so complicated, somehow, and I always ended up protecting other people's secrets - Hagrid's, Cedric's - "
Severus snorted. "'Hagrid's secret' is an oxymoron, Potter. I think I already knew everything he ever got up to - yes, including the baby dragon he got you to post to Charlie Weasley."
"Hah. So... if it wasn't because of Sirius, why were you so - so rude to Tonks?"
"Oh, surely you can imagine that after the charming trick your charming godfather and his cronies played on me - I was ravenously hungry, I was missing the Sorting feast where I should have been there to oversee my new students, all because of you, and I'd just been bounced out at by a Patronus in the form of the same monster that nearly bloody ate me, of course I was - not in the best of tempers."
"Yeah, well - I guess. But, um, that wasn't what I wanted to talk to you about, anyway."
"Well - out with it, then!"
Harry cast a wary glance at the room's human occupant. "Does Lynsey - does she know about what we were discussing with Bill...?"
"If you mean, does she know about the Horcruxes, then yes. I had to inform her about them because there was a good chance that I would be killed, and I needed somebody I could trust to take information to the Order for me in that event."
"In that case... could I - could I come in and sit down?"
"You would have to ask Miss O'Connor that."
"Ah. So, are the two of you...?"
"We appear to be sharing a room, yes. You would have to ask Professor McGonagall why, since she made the arrangements."
"Of course you can come in, Harry," Lynsey said, and the boy stepped further into the room and sank down on a chair by the table, looking restless and subdued.
"Well, Potter - what is it?" the professor said sharply.
Harry looked up at him bleakly. "I think I may be a Horcrux."
Lynsey thought, or hoped rather, that Severus would immediately pour scorn on the idea but instead he sat down in the faded armchair, taking the strain off his damaged feet, and gave the boy a steady, level look. "Dumbledore and I - did discuss that possibility," he said quietly.
Harry nodded tightly. "Is there - if it's true, is there any way of getting it out without killing me?"
"I am not certain. The act of removing a Horcrux can be dangerous even for the witch or wizard performing the removal - as you saw from Dumbledore's injuries which he sustained as a result of cleansing Marvolo Gaunt's ring. Admittedly it wasn't clear, in that case, whether the curse related to the Horcrux or to the ring itself - but since the locket was also so heavily defended...."
The boy nodded again. "I don't want anybody to blow themselves up trying to get it out of me without killing me, so if the only other way is.... If - if there's no other way to get rid of it, will you do it? Sir?"
The professor's face hardened. "Do you think me so inured to violence that you can use me as your hired killer?" he said bitterly. "You think that after firing on Dumbledore, killing a student would be small fry, is that it?"
"No! I didn't mean - it's just... I know you'd make a clean job of it. If you had to do it. You wouldn't make a mess of it or, or prolong it by arguing or anything."
After a moment, Severus gave a quiet nod. "Very well; but I sincerely hope it won't come to that."
"Oh, me too!" the boy said fervently. "But - well - "
"Are you allowed to talk to me about it?" Lynsey asked.
"I don't see why not," the professor replied wearily. "It's not as if - He - doesn't know it all already; thanks to me. There are... you know what a Horcrux is, a fragment of soul peeled away from the donor by an act of ritual murder and stored in a specially-prepared object. Dumbledore believed that - Riddle - had intended to split His soul into seven parts: six Horcruxes, you see, and the bit that's still in His body."
"Seven being one of the numbers of power."
"Quite. You understand that - He - originally sought power in the nineteen-sixties and seventies but He was seriously damaged and disembodied during an attack on Mr Potter's parents in nineteen eighty-one, and only returned to full physical life three years ago."
"Consequently there are - two waves, two phases of His existence, and possibly two phases of Horcrux creation. During the first - we know that He at least intended to make six Horcruxes, but the process is complex and we do not know how far He had progressed. Dumbledore believed that He intended to use the attack on the Potters to make a Horcrux, but we do not know if that was the sixth and final one or not. We are certain of the nature, and even of the existence, of only three: a diary, which was destroyed; the Peverell ring, which Dumbledore successfully denatured at the cost of his right hand; and a locket which once belonged to Salazar Slytherin himself, which we do not possess but are confident of reclaiming in the near future."
"Yeah," Harry muttered: "now that that thieving bastard Dung is out of jail and can tell us who he fenced it to." The professor quirked an eyebrow at him. "And then he - Professor Dumbledore - he thought Voldemort's snake, Nagini, was one, because she - because she seems to have a special connection to Voldemort's mind. But so do I, to Voldemort and to the snake, and I'm afraid that - well, Professor Dumbledore thought Voldemort came to my parents' house meaning to make a Horcrux by killing me, and instead he - he killed my mum and dad instead and I'm scared the Horcrux went into me, instead of whatever he'd meant to use."
"If so," Severus said thoughtfully, "there should be something, some object, in the ruins of Godric's Hollow which He had intended to use... unless it's already been removed?"
"Yeah, well - that's part of why I - why I'm afraid it might have gone wrong. When I went to Godric's Hollow I found - found this really old chess piece, made out of a walrus tusk, Hermione said it looked like some really old ones they found in the Hebrides, from the time of the Founders and I'm sure it wasn't the sort of thing my parents would have had. And it was a Viking sort of thing and I thought - maybe it was Godric's and anyway if - even if the Headmaster was right and there were no relics of Godric's except the sword, then maybe using something from the time of the Founders and doing the spell in Godric's Hollow - the Hollow itself is a sort of relic of Godric's, isn't it? So I think Voldemort brought it with him, but it...."
"But it was just a chess piece" the professor said, in what was, for him, an oddly gentle voice.
"Yes. If he was planning to make a Horcrux out of it - well, it didn't work."
"However, I can assure you that He did not have Nagini before His - immolation, so if she is indeed a Horcrux she is one made since His return. If He came to your parents' house meaning to make a sixth Horcrux, and failed, then if Dumbledore was right surely Nagini, not you, is the sixth Horcrux."
"We don't know the chessman was going to be number six, though, do we sir? That was just Professor Dumbledore guessing. We know Voldemort had Helga Hufflepuff's cup and he probably used that for Horcrux number four, but how do we know whether the chessman was number five or number six? Or even - even if it was six, if V-Voldemort doesn't know when a Horcrux is destroyed - the Headmaster said he didn't think he did know - maybe he doesn't really know when one's created either. Maybe he made an extra one by mistake."
"In which case," the professor said, frowning and rubbing his fingers fretfully across his lips, "there would still be four Horcruxes to account for: Hufflepuff's cup, an unknown object probably associated with Rowena Ravenclaw, Nagini and - and yourself. Possibly."
"But you don't know for sure," Lynsey asked, "that snake-face actually got as far as making the Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw ones?"
"No," the professor admitted. "It is only an assumption, based on the length of time He had available to Him and the - well, let's say there was no shortage of murders He could have used to split His soul. It's a virtual certainty I think that He did make one using Hufflepuff's cup, since we know He had it in His possession for a very long time, but He does seem to have been trying to build up a quartet of object based on the four Founders, and if He had not yet succeeded in locating a relic of Rowena Ravenclaw...."
"And what happens when he's killed, Prof - or not killed? Are these Horcruxes - shouldn't that be Horcruces? - are they just like, like so many tent-pegs, pegging the seventh bit of soul to earth and preventing it from crossing over, or are they actual back-ups? When he's killed and he comes back to life, are there still the same number of Horcruces there were before, and the same bit of soul is still in his body, or does the bit in his body get set free and one of the Horcruces gets used up, and the bit of soul that was in it gets used to re-animate his body?"
"It must be the first, mustn't it?" Harry chimed in. "We know that after I - after he killed my mum he was like this, disembodied thing drifting about, so doesn't that mean that the bit of soul that was in his body got left behind when his body was destroyed?"
"It could do," Severus said thoughtfully, "but it could equally well mean He was killed, both body and soul, and then a piece of soul from a Horcrux was brought into play with the intention that it re-animate His corpse, and it became the drifting parasite which you saw because it found there was no body left to revive."
"So," Lynsey said. "Logically, there could be as many as five Horcruces left to find, including this locket which you say you know how to lay hands on, or at the other extreme, if snake-features hadn't managed to make the Ravenclaw Horcrux before Harry here blew him up, and if he simply failed to make one at Godric's Hollow and Harry isn't a Horcrux, and if one of the ones he'd already made was used up when he pseudo-died...."
"...then there could be as few as two," the professor finished for her. "Nagini and either Slytherin's locket or Hufflepuff's cup, depending on which of the existing Horcruces was used up when His original body was destroyed." He pulled a bitter face.
"But He - He's known for three years that Lucius allowed the diary to be destroyed; He may well know that a Horcrux was used up in restoring Him to life, if indeed that is the case; and thanks to me He now knows that the ring Horcrux was destroyed too so He could in fact have already made more, or be planning to. If - even if you are a Horcrux, Potter, if He doesn't know that you are, and He has already set out to replace those which were destroyed, there could be as few as two left to find or there could be as many as six in addition to yourself."
"Oh joy," Harry muttered. "You're really good at this cheerful optimism thing, you know that, sir?"
"There is one thing, though," Lynsey said, frowning. "If killing him does actually use up a Horcrux, then perhaps you could get the Horcruxes out of Harry and Nagini just by killing snake-face lots of times until he used them up. So long as you did them like, really close together, so you knew he didn't have time to make a replacement in between."
"You are talking," Severus said balefully, "about one of the most powerful wizards in recorded history. Killing Him even once will be an almost insurmountable task: just how do you propose to kill Him several times in quick succession?"
"I'll tell you one thing for damned sure" the professor said grimly, after Harry had left; "if I do have to kill Potter, which God forbid, I'm taking myself along with him - either to death or to somewhere abroad where the Ministry won't find me."
"You think the Ministry would be... less than understanding?"
"If I killed The Boy Who Lived, after being 'let off' as they see it for killing Dumbledore? Not even Minerva and Horace and all their works would save me. They'd fucking crucify me, nearly literally, and I am not going back to Azkaban. Not at any price. Nor do I wish to find out the hard way whether or not Dementors really destroy souls or just...."
"...send them out naked, neither properly alive nor properly dead," Lynsey finished sombrely. "In which case, I could at least walk the other world until I found you, although whether I could put you back into your body again is moot and I also have no urge to find out the hard way. But pet - if they did send you back to Azkaban, there are still the contingency plans which Harry and Remus worked out to spring you with if Minerva failed, and they were pretty good plans - especially the one with Peeves."
"You think Lupin would still be willing to - to spring me, as you put it, if I killed Potter - even knowing that it was at his own request?"
"Oh yes - he's your dog."
He looked at her dubiously for a moment and then nodded abruptly. "I suppose it's a point in our favour that the Ministry never did find out about our... secret weapon. Hard as it is to imagine Dobby in that light."
"That's the beauty of it though, isn't it? Nobody, hardly, thinks of house elves like that and yet they're such... sinister little brutes, really. I mean, I like Dobby - but I'd hate to be on the wrong side of him."
"Talking about being on the wrong side of people, I'm relieved to see that Minerva has at least provided us with separate beds; even if they are suspiciously close together."
"She said she had to put us together because there weren't enough rooms to go around, but I'm not sure I believe her - in a place this size."
"Minerva is a wretched conniving old lech."
The second day, he came silently, shepherded by Neville Longbottom who pulled an anxious face at Lynsey through the door. She nodded to the boy almost imperceptibly before touching her fingertips to her friend's elbow. "Prof?" He gave her a blank, blind look and groped his way unsteadily to the couch, almost as if he really was blinded. She poured him a brandy without asking, and he downed it in one violent swallow.
"They were asking him questions," Neville said quietly, "about - about what You-Know-Who wanted to know."
"I can make my own bloody excuses, Longbottom," the professor snarled, clutching the brandy-glass in an unsteady hand. Nestor jumped up on the couch beside him and nosed thoughtfully at his knee.
The boy winced, but didn't back down. "It's not excuses, is it, sir, just - explanations."
"And what does that bloody mean, pray?"
"He means there's nothing that needs excusing," Lynsey said, sitting down on the couch next to him and rubbing Nestor's back absently. "You've done nothing wrong." She exchanged a small smile with Neville, who nodded, pulled the door to and presumably departed.
Severus slumped back against the couch and shut his eyes, and she nipped the glass from his slackening fingers before he could drop it and set it on the table, very softly. "Are they giving you a hard time about it, pet?"
He shook his head slightly, without opening his eyes. "No I - not that. Most of them are - are being quite - considerate. Surprizingly so. I suppose they - since He shamed me by letting them all hear me, like that, begging and, and pleading they think that I am... fragile." His mouth tightened wryly. "I should resent their pity, but it's - better than the scorn that I expected, and under the circumstances I'll take all the pity I can get."
"It's the - they do need me to relive it, there's no other way, I have to go over it and over it, what they, I mean Lucius and that lot, what they asked me, what I told them, what their response was and it's so hard to keep out the images of why I told them, of what they did to, to make me." He opened his eyes then and looked at her, troubled and deadly-tired but at least, she thought, he wasn't shutting her out, and she could see focus and feeling in those black eyes. "Alastor wants me to use a Pensieve so they can see for themselves, assess every nuance of every bloody question and in some ways that would be easier, but I don't - oh, God, I don't want them to see me like that, especially the, the sexual aspect of it."
"What about Minerva?"
He rubbed wearily at the bridge of his nose. "Oh, Minerva has been very - kind. It's not that.... They are, most of them, treating me as a leader not a, a supplicant, they're not - bullying me, exactly...."
"No - you're just bullying yourself!"
"More or less." He gave her a tired flash of a grin. "Minerva is the only one who has the authority to stop me. She called a halt to the meeting and pretty-much sent me upstairs to bed because she could see that I was - flagging a bit."
"Thanks the gods for Minerva, then."
"Yes. But I do have to - I do have to go through with it. You can see that, can't you?"
"Yes. You are not in any way to blame, I think, for having told your secrets, given the... the circumstances. But as their leader you have to do everything in your power to limit the damage irrespective of whether it was your fault, and to a very advanced degree irrespective of how much it hurts you to do so. But you should also pace yourself, and be as - as nice to yourself as possible to help yourself to get through it, not beat yourself up about it."
His face twisted suddenly. "How can I - how can I be leader, Lynsey, to people who heard me - begging for mercy, so - so completely unmanned -?"
"Remus doesn't see a problem with it, and wolves have a very good instinct for what makes an alpha...." She looked at his drawn face and sighed. "Oh, listen. There was this laird in the Scottish Borders, Johnny Armstrong, in the sixteenth century, and he was a reiver - a kind of political cattle-thief - and not submissive enough, too much of a Power in his own right, so the King of Scots... according to tradition, anyway, the King of Scots invited him to what was supposed to be a neutral parley, and then arrested him and his men and hangit - hanged them."
"It sounds like the sort of thing the Ministry would do - but what has it to do with me?"
"There was a song written about it, very close to the event; a song that put words into Armstrong's mouth, although I don't know if they were really his. And he - in the song, he pleaded for mercy for himself and for his men - through about ten verses! - and the song says:
"And Armstrong - he's seen as a great hero, you understand, and nobody that wrote the song or that sang it thought any ill of him for having begged; only for having wasted time asking for mercy from a man that had none."
Severus nodded curtly, the lines of his face austerely calm; but she saw him swallow, and a suspicious glitter behind his thick eyelashes, and the lines of another verse came into her head, about the man who "... poised between shocking falls on razor-edge // Has taught himself this balancing subterfuge // Of the accosting profile, the erect carriage."
Suddenly restless and frustrated, she stood up, ignoring Nestor's beep of protest, and began to pace. "It makes me so angry," she said, almost inconsequentially, "the kind of feminist who thinks that men have no complex emotions, who makes jokes about it. It's so - fucking unfair."
He quirked an eyebrow at her. "You think men might aspire to the same... depths of rampant emotionalism as women?"
"Tchah. Don't tease."
"Why not? You do."
"I'm serious. I know they say - say that studies have shown that men are less good at expressing emotion than women but even that has to be nurture, not nature, surely? Auden was probably the greatest writer of emotion in the English language and it's not just a, a Gay Thing, because his nearest rival is Donne who was as straight as a ruler."
"Isn't it some sort of literary sacrilege, to ignore the pre-eminent claim of Shakespeare?"
"Shakespeare had a lovely turn of phrase but he was constrained by the need to be commercial, to play to the grand-stand - I don't think he captured the... delicacy of emotion as well as Auden or Donne. And in any case - another bloke, isn't it?"
"You're committing heresy, you know that, don't you? Even in my world, it's heretical to suggest that a wizard's feelings might be as - as fine as a witch's."
"It's depressing, is what it is." She sat down again and Nestor jumped into her lap, pinning her to the couch. She wondered idly where his brother had got to. "It's been my experience.... You know, or maybe you don't know, that men tend to occupy the extremes in intelligence, so that most geniuses are male, and so are the great majority of patients who have learning difficulties so severe they can't function independently. It's probably to do with having the unpaired X-chromosome - men have a higher chance of expressing recessive genes, if you know what that means."
"I know a bit - enough to follow you, I think."
"Right, well, it's been my experience that men tend to the extremes in a lot of things. So most of the great monsters in history have been male - I mean you do get your Elizabeth Báthorys - "
"Or your Bellatrix Lestranges."
"Quite. But, on the whole, most homicidal nutters tend to be male - the ones that get caught, anyway. But so, in my experience, are most of the truly saintly. Women are usually much too cynical and hard-boiled for that - that real sweetness of temperament, that flawless sincerity. And in the same way, if you took a trawl of the most insensitive, emotionally blind oicks in any given town four-fifths of them would be male but so would most of the really emotionally aware and vulnerable people be, too."
"Looking back on my own Slytherins, I can certainly say that most of the obnoxiously over-confident brats were boys, and so were the ones who huddled in corners and had to be coaxed out with peppermints. The girls are usually - so much older, one way or another."
"'xactly." She grinned at him suddenly. "There is one feminist joke about men that always tickles me, though - I think because there really is some truth in it, and also because it's not unkind - or at least, it's unkind to both sexes equally." She reached for the laptop, which was currently on a side-table within reach, and had a brief rummage around in Yahoo before passing it over to him. "Here you are."
The professor gazed at the screen, its dull glow underlighting his bony face and making him look even more dramatic than usual.
"How to Please a Woman: Compliment her; respect her; honour her; cuddle her; caress her; love her; kiss her; stroke her; buy things for her; tease her; comfort her; protect her; hug her; hold her; spend money on her; wine and dine her; listen to her; care for her; stand by her; support her; hold her.
"How to Please a Man: Show up naked. Bring beer."
"It would certainly be a great time-saver," he murmured.
After dinner they went out together, into the gathering dusk, to call Starbuck in from the fields at the back of the house. Across the valley, the long stone legs of an aqueduct strode across the slope, and it was possible to make out a barge moving slowly across it, suspended between earth and sky.
As Lynsey yodelled her cat's name across the long grass, she became aware that somehow she and Severus were holding hands. He noticed it in the same breath and drew back, looking unnerved, and she smiled at him sadly.
"You know I fancy you, but I promise I'm not going to - to stop liking you or anything, if you don't reciprocate."
"It's - kind of you to say so, but I know that if I.... There must be a strict limit to the time that I will be able to remain staying with you, if we are not - not engaged in a - physical relationship. Otherwise I would feel that I was - well - standing in the way of you finding a true partner."
"Oh, gods, don't feel that you have to shag me in order to pay for your bed - that's ghastly."
"It's not - not only that. To be partners would seem like a - a sensible arrangement on both sides. If it's truly what you want. I just don't know if I - if I can."
"Gods, the romance," Lynsey muttered, and Severus flashed her one of his there-and-gone smirks.
"I don't do 'romance', I thought you'd have noticed that by now."
"I'm not exactly a hearts and flowers type myself, that's one of the reasons.... Do you want to be able to?"
"I think so. Probably. Maybe."
Later, in the darkness, when he cried out in his sleep and stirred restlessly, Lynsey thought she understood why Minerva had made them share a room. Cautiously, not certain whether it was a good move or not, she clasped one of his long hands in hers, and after a moment he came awake and looked at her, sleepy and serious.
"I never know," she said, "whether it's a good idea to touch you when you're dreaming, or not."
"Everybody," he said drowsily, "from my father onwards, taught me that being touched would hurt. It's only really you and Poppy ever touched me in a way that healed - though I'd never tell her that. She's far too bossy as it is."
On the third day, she missed him at the communal lunch. Abandoning an interestingly techie conversation about daisy-wheel printers with Arthur and leaving her soup and bread to go cold, she went in search of him, and found him in the library, sitting with a book clenched in his long fingers and his head bowed in an attitude of quiet despair. As she stepped through the door he glanced up and gave her a tight flicker of a smile which did not reach the eyes, and then looked away again. Without asking, she went and stood behind his chair, reading over his shoulder.
It was an anthology of modern British poetry. Squinting, she made out the words:
...and then further down the page, to the end of the piece:
Lynsey let her breath out slowly and carefully, and felt Severus shift in protest as she gripped his shoulder so tightly that her fingers dug into him. "Pet - you do have friends, even - even boyhood ones. Remus - "
"Remus was my tormentor," he said harshly, "not my friend. He may be - an ally of sorts now but we're hardly going to sit down to an evening of fond reminiscences of how he jeered and - and baited me and nearly bloody-well ate me, are we?"
"I'm sorry; I didn't mean...."
"He still holds the bastards' memories dear, he won't admit that they - and the boys who were my friends, or that I thought were my friends, they grew up to be worse than bloody Black and bloody Potter, so I sold them down the line and they repaid me by...." He made a wide, inclusive gesture, indicating his own body, his lamed feet, and Lynsey flinched away from the memory (flayed bones and tendons showing whitely through bloody ruin...).
"Oh, listen," she said, "you can have.... Your life may not have turned out the way you would have wanted, but whose does? A house in the high woods and a parlour full of old schoolfriends would be nice but you can still have... other things just as good. Things that are interesting and - and worthy and of value. Things that are yours. And you won't have to be alone...."
He turned his head slightly, brushing her fingers with the side of his sharp jaw, and she returned the gesture by stroking the back of her fingers across his cheek. "Never have to live alone unless you want to."
"The white light just made it worse," he said, as if he had already begun the conversation long before. "It was like being in the Caves again, hung up - you know how, stark bollock naked with my bloody shoulders ripping out of their sockets and - When I was in Azkaban... before, when I was twenty-one they kept me in the dark, I could hardly see my hand in front of my face, not that I wanted to after they - " He made a strange self-protective gesture, tucking his hands in against his chest as if to shield them, and Lynsey winced. "Cells in Azkaban usually are dark, I could have dealt with that better, but I think some bastard saw I didn't like bright light and chose it just for me; it would be just bloody like them."
Lynsey shivered. "Bastards."
"I am so - tired of being punished, Lynsey," Severus said quietly, leaning back into the chair with his head tipped back and his eyes closed; a gesture of infinite weariness. "And I was so - glad when Dobby showed up, I can't tell you." Lynsey shifted to stand directly behind him, her hands lying loosely across his shoulders, listening to that quiet, steady voice. "Even though there were no Dementors to claw at my sanity this time around, I was - I had been - absolutely crushed", he said, "by the weight of memory and by feeling... by expecting that that was how I was to die. Like that. That I would die completely alone, after maybe a century of isolation and scorn and sheer screaming boredom; that I would never, never hear a friendly word - or even an insult! - spoken to me again and then Dobby popped up like a bloody leprechaun, all toothy grin and flapping ears and 'Master Severus' this and that, and it felt - it really did feel as if my heart was going to burst out of my chest in pure bloody relief. And it wasn't - it wasn't even necessary, was it, I mean Minerva would have got me out anyway, wouldn't she? - it wasn't even to free me, to get me back to the Order, it was just to, to make me feel better while I was waiting."
"I wouldn't call that unnecessary, pet - we wouldn't have left you in such a state an hour longer than we had to." Carefully, so as not to startle him, she slid her hands back to the sides of his neck and began to work her thumbs into the knots she could feel burning under his skin.
"Ah!" He turned his head from side to side, loosening the tired muscles. "If I live to be a thousand I will never be able to thank you enough for putting so much effort into caring how I felt, as opposed to what use I could be."
"It's not really me you should be thanking - I mean, I cared, yes, very much, but the practical bit was mainly down to Remus and Harry. They both seem to have this attitude that - well, there was never any question of obeying the Ministry's rules or going through official channels or, or anything 'lawful' like that - just this assumption that the Ministry and the rules were there to be worked around, like a boulder on a footpath. Never any 'Should we?' - just 'How do we?', coupled with this profound sense that rules only happen to other people."
The professor gave a sharp snort of laughter. "Oh, God, I do so know what you mean. As Remus's classmate and Harry's teacher I've cursed them both for it a thousand times over - but now I suppose I'll have to bless them for it!"
I very rarely dream, or at least I very rarely remember doing so: perhaps three or four times in a year. I could probably count on my fingers - certainly on my fingers and toes - the number of times in my life that I've had anything you could call a nightmare, and on those rare occasions when I do I am always behaving competently in the dream, and generally defeat, or at least stall, any monsters. This morning (28th December 2006) I dreamed that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was out and that it was clear from the first few pages that Snape would be dead by the end of the book: and that, for perhaps the first time in my life, left me so frightened and confused that I couldn't get back to sleep, or even stop shaking, for about a quarter of an hour. This, despite having suffered several genuine bereavements in Real Life. Somehow, Snape just feels so extraordinarily real, for a fictional character, that the idea of him dying is horrifying.
"...I see at last that all the knowledge..." - last few lines of the poem 90 North by Randall Jarrell.
A mouldywarp is an old English dialect word for a mole.
"Chum" is a rather old-fashioned British slang word for a friend; we don't use "friend" as a verb, as I gather Americans sometimes do, but "chum" can be used as a verb in constructions such as "I'll chum you to the shops". Pedigree Chum is a very famous British brand of dog-food, and part of the reason that "chum" meaning friend is now rare is probably because the word has come to be so inextricably linked with the product.
Lech - contraction of lecher.
For the benefit of those who find the Scots puzzling:
[To "ask grace at a graceless face" being to ask for mercy from someone with a merciless expression.]
"But poised between shocking falls on razor-edge" - from the poem Watch Any Day by WH Auden.
Elizabeth Báthory was, at least according to repute, a prolific Hungarian serial killer, circa 1600, who murdered numerous girls and young women in order to bathe in their blood, in the hopes that it would preserve her youth.
"A lost thing could I never find" - from the poem The South Country by Hilaire Belloc.
When Lynsey refers to Harry and Remus's actions as not being "lawful" she is using the term as it is used in the rôle-playing game Dungeons and Dragons, to mean a person who is inclined to follow orderly routines and go through organized channels. D&D splits character-traits along two axes, Good<==>Evil and Lawful<==>Chaotic, and this often turns out to be a useful way of analysing people in real life.
The HGSS story Lost and Found which I am co-writing with Dyce also updated recently, on 23rd December. I don't know if readers will be aware of this as the email-notices bot at ffn appears to be broken - again.
In the light of the new canon revealed in Deathly Hallows, this chapter has been re-edited to make Severus call Dumbledore "Dumbledore" rather than "Albus", to make Severus twenty-one rather than twenty-two when he was investigated by the Wizengamot, and to leave it open whether the curse on the Peverell ring belonged to the Horcrux or to the ring itself.
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