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 long delay in updating, but I had to move house rather suddenly due to the death of my landlord, which occupied all my time for several months, plus Loose Canon, the Yahoo-based Potterverse discussion-group I mod, has been fantastically busy recently. Normal service should now be resumed I hope (not that normal service is all that fast).
#16: The Swimming-Pool Library
[In which wisdom comes from the deep, but water alone cannot wash away the past.]
She woke to find herself curled on her own in the deep hollow of the bed, and Severus emerging blearily from the bathroom in the washed-out early-morning light, roughly shaven and towelling his hair dry. He was still too thin, she thought, but not as desperately starved-looking as he had been when he first came to her flat. When he caught her watching him he glanced away from her gaze, from her breasts, flushing slightly and looking simultaneously embarrassed, sullen and smug - the more so when she grinned.
She scrabbled through a cursory shower herself in the shabby but clean bathroom. Eyelids at half mast, she accepted the cup of coffee and Danish pastry which he passed her in mutual silence and then followed him, yawning, out into the corridor.
"You don't have to do this, you know," he muttered as he led her down a dark tunnel where moisture oozed from walls of raw rock. "Just because I have to be up at the crack of bloody dawn that doesn't mean you have to be."
"Wouldn't miss it," she murmured back. "I mean, mermen, come on, this is so... how could I look myself in the eye if I passed up a chance to see real mermen?"
"And what a fascinating image that does conjure up."
"Not half as fascinating an image as you being up at the crack of something," Lynsey replied. After a measurable pause to think it through she was rewarded by a flush which turned his still-stubbled jaw almost purple. But it really was an enjoyable image. The thought of the previous evening made her insides glow and contract gently with imprinted sensation; the mind's-eye picture of him as she had seen him last night, lean-flanked, naked and aroused, made her dry-mouthed with lust and the memory of his bitter face softening into pleasure filled her with tenderness. She felt like making some grand gesture to demonstrate her vast fondness for him; but it was the small gestures which he needed, lots of them and for a long time.
They must be well below the water-line, she realised, moving through utter darkness by the soft dandelion-clock light of the professor's wand, as they had done before, and the floor under their feet was muffled with sand, the sound of their own breathing magnified and reflected back to them from all sides. But soon enough the floor of the tunnel began to rise, disgorging them at length onto an underground jetty where several small boats bobbed at their moorings. When she moved towards the boats, Severus drew her back and guided her down and across a skirt of white beach, until by craning right she could see a short way down the tunnel that led off into the thickness of the stone. Water half-filled it, still and black, but she had light enough to see a narrow stone path at the side of the water, and a faint glimmer where the channel curved from view.
Edging along the path, they rounded the curve of the tunnel and emerged through a curtain of ivy into - into the American national anthem, Lynsey thought fuzzily, into dawn's early light, although at least there were no rockets to trouble them. Harry was waiting for them on the shelf of rock at the foot of the cliff, yawning and blinking, the round glasses making him look like a day-struck owl. He was clutching a handful of some rubbery, seaweedy plant - at least, she hoped it was a plant, and not something's tentacles. Did seaweeds still count as plants, these days?
Severus gave a small, stiff nod to the boy, who returned it. The pink-grapefruit rim of the sun was just appearing over the mountains on the far side of the lake as the professor fished the conch-shell from the front of his robes, frowning, raised it to his lips and blew a long, brassy, reverberating note, like the death-cry of some vast prehistoric mammoth. A flight of ducks rose, booming, from the surface of the water; as their creaking mingled with the long dying-away of the conch, Harry raised the rubbery, wormlike stuff to his lips and began chewing furiously, his lips drawn back in disgust.
They stood there, waiting, quietly, watching a little breeze riffling the water and breaking the pink reflected path of the sun into rosy shards. Silently, suddenly, there was a - a thing, a - person looking at them through yellow eyes as slotted and inscrutable as a goat's, its bare chest rising smoothly from the dark water. Lynsey had to fight with herself not to step backwards and even so she could feel her shoulders jerk in fright. The other two appeared quite unconcerned. Harry nodded politely and swallowed the green weed in a convulsive gulp, and Severus just looked patiently weary as he pressed the heel of his hand to his breast and inclined his head in greeting to the - merman - yes, probably a man, at any rate there were no visible breasts, although no visible anything else either as far as Lynsey could see, and she supposed the merpeople kept any dangly bits folded up into a belly-slit, the way cetaceans did.
The merman opened a V-shaped jaw full of horribly sharp, jagged little teeth and said something interrogative in a high, skreaking, chittering voice like a dolphin's. Despite the mane of dark-green hair and the necklace of raw quartz, he was rather dolphin-like altogether, with his dove-grey skin and his pin teeth. Severus cleared his throat and said two or three shrill words which had to hurt him. The merman looked from one man to the other, curled his barely-there-at-all lip at Harry in an obviously derisory way, rolled over and back and disappeared shoulder-first. As he slid under the surface Lynsey glimpsed a sliver of tail, breaking through into air - it was silvery and smooth, but she saw no actual scales, and she thought that perhaps the merman was not a fish/man hybrid but, rather, a marine mammal which had evolved from a primate, as dolphins had evolved from some primitive ungulate.
Movement caught her eye and she realised that Harry was shucking out of his robes - and that there were the beginnings of gills sprouting out of his neck, which presumably were what had attracted the merman's scorn. As she watched, the young man kicked off the shoes from his rapidly elongating feet, and dived into the water with an easy athleticism which had Severus curling his lip worse than the merman.
"Bloody hell," Harry said, breaking the surface, "I'd forgotten how bloody cold it was." He clutched at the stone shelf by their feet with webbed hands, and bobbed there with the water lapping at his ears.
"I could put a Warming Charm on your swimming trunks" Severus murmured, and Harry grinned at him.
"They're just my regular pants - anyway, I'm OK now. It's only cold at first, before the Gillyweed really gets going."
"At least this time you didn't need to steal it from my supplies" the professor said sourly.
"I didn't before, exactly, it -" He frowned, then spat as a ripple overran his lips. "It was Dobby, but you can't be mad at him now, because you owe him too much."
"Just one of the many debts I can never hope to repay," Severus replied bleakly.
"Umm - well, you can call the money I spent on you payment for the things I did nick - if you like."
The sun was edging above the mountains, and Lynsey could make out the pine trees stretching up the high bank beyond the lake. She remembered, from seeing the view out of an upper-storey window, that there was a small train-station halfway up the slope, somewhere beyond the trees.
Suddenly, the professor sucked in his breath, so faintly that Lynsey would not have noticed if she had not been so attuned to him, and his chin jerked up. She looked where he was looking. Four spear-points were travelling in formation towards them above the surface of the lake, trailing streamers of green and black waterweed.
The honour-guard halted a little way out from the shore, fanning out as they did so. Severus knelt down on one knee, bowing his head, as the waters parted and a wild-looking woman wrapped in amber and jet rose up in front of them. She said something in the whistling dolphin-language, interrogative and sharp, and Severus answered her with a long ululation which Lynsey recognised from their conversation with Dumbledore's portrait. The Merchieftainess, for it was surely she, said something in reply and Severus shook his head in a self-deprecating way and muttered a few discrete sounds - Lynsey had the impression that he was probably saying that he spoke only a few words of the language.
Mercus inclined her fierce head and spoke again, a series of slow, spaced sounds, and Severus nodded. "Potter - go with the Merchieftainess. She will take you to the books, but you will need to use your wand to retrieve them. Impervius and a Bubble Charm should be sufficient."
Harry nodded and ducked beneath the water as the merwoman sank from view. Lynsey could only suppose he had his wand stuck through the waist of his underpants.
As the bannered spears wheeled away from them and disappeared beneath the surface, Severus scrambled rather awkwardly to his feet, away from the cold water which was lapping at his knee and soaking his robe.
"How long d'you think he'll be?" Lynsey asked.
"Half an hour, perhaps?" He made a distracted, irritable little movement of the head. "I should have thought to bring a gift for the Merchieftainess - last night, I should have thought, but I was...."
"Your mind was on other things."
"You could say that." He sighed, looking down at his own hands; as solemn and archaic as a slightly damp monk, she thought, although marginally less celibate. "I was - pleasantly surprised. I -" He flushed slightly. "I was going to say, 'I didn't think I had it in me', but under the circumstances that might be a bit unfortunate or, um, the wrong way round...."
Lynsey grinned at him. "I'll surprise you pleasantly any time you like - and the only reason I can't say the same is because I wasn't surprised. I had high expectations of you, and I wasn't disappointed."
"I endeavour to please - well actually I don't, generally speaking, but a change is as good as a rest, and I could bloody do with one, and I'm not going to bloody get it until - until the war ends, or I do."
"I wish you could have a break, pet," Lynsey said unhappily. "I know you can't, really, but I wish I could help."
"You do help." He leaned back against the rock wall and gazed out over the lake, not looking at her. "I was so.... I still have the dreams, you know I do, but it's so much easier, having someone there, not having to go through it on my own, even though - even though I'm ashamed to have you see it."
"Oh, pish. I told you, you know I did, that seeing you - like that," she said, flinching before the memory of him as she had first seen him, hung up bloodied and crying as his shoulders tore out of their sockets, "it just made me see you as... well, as something precious that had been saved from a catastrophe."
"Like an unusual eighteenth century Staffordshire chamber-pot. But that - in the cave, what you saw - that was - was nothing, comparatively speaking. If you had seen what they - and how I -" He looked aside, letting his hair swing forwards like a curtain, and Lynsey threaded her fingers through his, raised their joined hands to her lips and kissed the back of his hand.
"Pet I - I did see, some of it. When you were taking your memories back out of the bowl I could see - see a lot of what you were seeing, I think."
He jerked back, pulling his hand out of her grasp, and stared at her wildly for a moment before a hard, closed look settled over his face. "And how do you know," he said coldly, "that this is not simply the product of your own vivid imagination?"
"I don't know," Lynsey admitted unhappily, "but it certainly felt real." She broke eye-contact and looked down, searching the jagged images for something which was unusual enough to be more than an unhappy guess, without being too mortifying for her to say or him to hear. "They - I saw - they hung you up, upside-down I mean and - as if you were trussed, and then spun you back and forth and somebody said - said 'Keep him awake, it's no good if he faints', and you were trying to be sick...."
"... only I had nothing in my stomach to be sick with," he finished softly, and the bleakness of his voice cut her like glass. She glanced back at him out of the corner of her eye and saw his mouth working queasily. "And did you see the rest of it?"
She wondered about lying, but instinct told her not to - and it was all very well trying to spare his feelings by not saying anything too embarrassing, but he knew what had happened, after all: he had seen it fresh and from the outside only recently. "They used that - Crucio thing, while you were spinning, and" - she forced her voice to sound brisk although it wanted to be husky, her jaw was trying to lock with emotion but letting him know how difficult it was to say or to think about would only humiliate him - "you, um, wet yourself. I didn't see any more." He had spun, shrieking, with his hands bound tight to his thighs and his hair and his genitals hanging down, the shameful liquid spurting over his belly and chest as they fired question after question at him -
"It's hardly the image a man wants to present to a lover," the professor said bitterly, and a small, outlying area of Lynsey's consciousness jumped up and down and waved a flag at the choice of words, even though most of her awareness was taken up with sympathy.
"You've seen me pea-green and vomiting all over your shoes, practically, and you know you don't have to be embarrassed about me seeing your, um, bits - I like your bits. They're very nice bits." He snorted at that, and managed to look slightly as though he was preening himself, superimposed over all the anguish. "And you were - you were being very brave. You didn't tell them -"
"And a fat lot of bloody good that was, since I broke in the end anyway. I might as well have saved myself the effort."
"It was still a very brave attempt, even if - even if it didn't succeed, in the end. Probably nobody could have done better. And...." She frowned, watching the sunlight on the water, and searching for the right words, the ones that would mend him. "You say, 'If I had seen', as if - as if I'd recoil from you if I did but I have seen, quite a lot of it, including some of the - um, sexual stuff." He sucked in his breath and she went on hastily, "Yes, but, the point is, I saw that weeks ago and it didn't put me off you or, um, stop me fancying you or make me think less of you or anything, any more than it did Filius it's just - just a thing that happened to you, like getting malaria or something, so you don't have to do this bloody stupid-arse 'Woe is me, if she realises what it was really like she'll be disgusted by me and Turn Against Me' thing, because I've seen it - bits of it, anyway - and I'm not disgusted." She thought about that for a moment. "Well, not by you, anyway."
Still without looking straight at him, she slipped her fingers through his again, and this time he did not draw away, but gave her hand a gentle squeeze and swept his thumb across the back of her knuckles. "All right?" she said, and he gave her one of his sidelong, glittering looks, his long mouth quirking up at the corners.
Having started on holding hands, there seemed no particular reason to stop, and their fingers were still interlocked when Harry's dark head broke the surface. He saw their joined hands and grinned, and Severus went slightly pink and assumed his most forbidding scowl, which only made Harry grin wider.
He drew up something which seemed to be encased in a shiny bubble of air, and pushed it out through the surface of the water, which slapped back into the empty bowl of the bubble as it passed. "It" was an oilskin bag resembling a good-sized school satchel, which Harry boosted up onto the ledge by the professor's feet. His fingers, Lynsey noticed, were still decidedly webbed.
"Are you coming out now?" she asked.
"Nah. These," he said, putting his hand up and touching the side of his neck below the water-line, where the pink roses of gills pulsed like a heartbeat, "last about an hour, so I might as well have a bit of a swim for, you know, recreation. While I'm here."
"Well, do try not to get eaten by anything, Potter, won't you."
Harry grinned again. "I'm going to try and pick up some really close up mental images of the giant squid, to send to Vol- sorry, to Heehoo, if he tries to mess with my mind."
"I suppose I shall have to wait and make sure the little fool really does get back safely," Severus muttered, hoisting the strap of the satchel over his shoulder as the pale underwater streak that was Harry sculled away from them.
"What's it like down there?" Lynsey asked. "I mean - the merpeople? Have you ever seen it?"
"Oh yes - when I was a student myself, and later when I was in my twenties and the students were on holiday, I used sometimes to go for a swim, although you have to be careful of the, um, outfall from the bathrooms. There's a whole world down there, Lynsey - a good-sized village, two hundred houses, with gardens, crops, arts, a whole other culture, and yet most of the students aren't even curious about them. Too busy chasing a bloody shuttlecock."
"I wish I could see - but I can't swim."
"I'll teach you, if you like - but I don't think now would be a good time. They're not that keen on sightseers anyway, to be honest. But... I could show you my memory of it in the Pensieve some time. If you liked."
"Oh!! That would be marvellous."
After settling Harry's clothes well above the water-line they climbed up the narrow flight of steps set into the cliff, down which Harry must have come, and found themselves at last on a path which ran between the castle and the cliff-edge, separated from the drop by a low wall. "Look," Severus said softly, and looking down, with the sun now well above the mountains, Lynsey thought that she could just make out a cluster of round huts, deep under the surface near the centre of the lake. As she watched, a vast shadow passed across the village.
"What the -?"
"Squid," Severus said succinctly.
She started to walk down the easy slope that led down to their right, fanning out into a green lawn at the edge of the water, dotted with bushes and trees. But Severus stayed where he was, and when she looked back at him his expression was one of grim distaste.
"What?" she said again, and he shook his head slightly.
"Nothing, it - nothing important, anyway. That was where Black and Potter Senior -"
They went the other way, down past the greenhouses to a sloping bank studded with rose-bushes. It wanted still some hours till breakfast, so they sat down quietly to make sure Harry came to no harm, insofar as that was possible. Severus opened the book-satchel and began to examine the contents, while Lynsey leant comfortably against his side. After a while, she went to sleep.
When she woke, a soft haar was whitening the roses, the sun was well up in the sky and Severus and Harry were talking quietly.
"So - find anything useful in there?"
"Give me a chance, Potter," her professor said sourly; "there's a lot to get through, and some of these are - well, let's just say I'm lucky to still have all my fingers." His shoulder shifted against Lynsey's cheek, and she thought that he had probably rubbed his eyes. "This one though, Secrets of the Darkest Art - I think there's enough information here to trace the spell, if we're lucky. And it looks as if Dumbledore was right - the more Horcruxes He makes, the more He weakens Himself."
"So even if he does make more because you - well, it's not disastrous, is it, because he'll weaken himself so we can contain him while we find the new ones."
"'Not disastrous' Potter so long as I can live with the knowledge that he has murdered again to make a fresh Horcrux - because of me."
"Yeah but - it's not like he was going to go and join a monastery and work for world peace and understanding or something if it wasn't for you, is it? He kills people anyway - it's just what he does afterwards that changes."
"I suppose. But denaturing the Horcruxes once they are made is - problematic. If this book is to be believed, only a weapon of exceptional destructive power can eliminate them." As Lynsey sat up and cranked her eyelids open he gave her the ghost of a smile and then looked down at his own hands, which were toying absently with the sycamore wand. "Dumbledore had a - a weapon which probably had sufficient power, but it is not currently available, and there are - special considerations."
"What weapon? Can we get it?"
"It -" He glanced at Lynsey, and a closed look came over his face. "Very probably not." She realised that the matter was one she must not know about, in case the snake-man some day caught her and ripped her mind. "In any case it will keep until later."
After breakfast Severus disappeared for an hour, leaving Minerva, Filius and Pomona to organise the day's exercises. Lynsey suspected that he had gone to talk to Dumbledore's portrait about what he had mentioned to Harry. He came back looking grim and tired, but when she asked him if the meeting had gone well he shut his lips in a thin line, and she left well enough alone. Natural curiosity aside, she didn't want to know anything he didn't want her to know - she trusted him not to be wilfully secretive, unlike his erstwhile commander, and she knew that she would not hold out under torture anything like as long as he had done (spinning, shrieking, striving vainly to be sick...). If there was information being bandied about which it would be disastrous for the other side to learn, she didn't want to know about it.
The exercise of the day, it had been decided, was Peeves-hunting. Peeves seemed quite happy to be hunted, since he nailed his pursuers nearly as often as they got him, and flitted from corridor to hall to stair like a malevolent helium balloon, blowing raspberries and worse things and hurling small breakable objects as competing teams of students thundered after him, snapping off shots at his bobbing, darting form and getting uproariously in each other's way. Poppy Pomfrey was kept busy, though there were as many skinned knees and ricked ankles as more magical injuries.
Severus maintained an air of superior disdain, drifting through the herd with a slight curl of the lip. Lynsey could have told him this was asking for trouble, and was not surprised when Peeves shot out of the open mouth of a roof-boss, cackling, and dumped a bucket of treacle over him. A lanky fourth year Ravenclaw in spectacles bolted round a corner and hit the poltergeist dead centre with a stream of ice-blue light which flattened him back against the wall and held him there, swearing, so that Severus was moved to exclaim "Shot!" in honest admiration.
After lunch, Severus left Lynsey talking to Pomona Sprout, who was always keen to show off her collection of weird and magical plants to anyone who expressed an interest. Lynsey, who had always liked the glasshouses at Kew and at the Edinburgh Botanic Gardens, was fascinated. Many of Pomona's specimens were both ugly and dangerous but she loved the alienness of it all, the steam and heat and greenness trapped in a bubble of glass, circumscribed and disconnected from the cool Scottish spring outside.
She could have stayed all afternoon, but after an hour she went looking for Severus, sticking to routes she already knew and following the baying cries of the students. But when she rounded a corner to find him muttering to Harry, Hermione and Ron in a bubble of silence which rendered them inaudible from more than three feet away, and caught the words "... issues, to do with my Vow", she stepped back again out of range with a nod to Ron, and went to talk to Filius instead.
Not that that was reassuring either, for the little man looked grey and sad, and his cockatoo crest of hair was drooping. It was obvious that what he had seen in the Pensieve of Severus's suffering had left him deeply scarred, and she could not say that she was surprised.
"... only wish there was more I could do," Filius was saying, when there was a bang like a firecracker and Lynsey looked up to see Severus and the Trio advancing towards them down the corridor, her professor's robes billowing about him and Peeves swooping overhead trailing ersatz sparklers and gunpowder, chanting "Ohhh, Potty and Snotty and Swotty and Spotty...."
"They're freckles, you arse," Ron cried indignantly, and Peeves turned a summersault, singing "Spotty dotty grotty Ginnnnger!" As Lynsey watched, the redhead raised his wand and shouted "Langlock!" and the poltergeist made an inarticulate sound of fury, clapped his hand over his mouth and shot away. A distant cry of "Tallyho!" showed that one of the hunting parties had spotted him.
Severus raised his eyebrows. As he fell in beside Lynsey, he said sourly, "I see Potter wasn't the only one who thought my ideas worth stealing," and Lynsey recognised the hex which had silenced the tongues of the guards at Azkaban.
"'s'not stealing," Ron said earnestly. "'s'a tribute, see. You had some wicked ideas when you were at school - I'd have died if it wasn't for you."
"Yes, well," Severus muttered, looking desperately uncomfortable, "it's a pity that your admiration never actually extended to listening to me in class."
Ron scuffed the heel of his shoe along the ground, looking equally uncomfortable. "It's - you know - what we do, not paying attention n' stuff. Besides - I thought you sort-of enjoyed shouting at us."
"Enjoyed!" the older man exclaimed bitterly. "You don't know how bloody soul-destroying it is, teaching a class who won't listen."
"I didn't find it as bad as all that," Harry said, "I mean, teaching the DA. Bit of a pain at times, but I wouldn't have said 'soul-destroying', not as such."
"But you were teaching students who actually wished to learn whereas I, for the most part, was not." He looked weary and outworn; Lynsey tried to catch his eye but his gaze was turned away from her and from everyone, seeing into the past. "Teaching Defence is one thing - most students can summon some interest in learning how to hex each other silly. But Potions requires precision and patience which hardly any student is willing to acquire, and attempting to teach them is...."
"It's not that bad, surely?" Harry replied uneasily.
Severus rounded on him. "Oh, just imagine, will you," he snapped, "how you'd feel if you were chasing the Snitch round the bloody field and the spectators were all talking amongst themselves and, and passing notes to their little pals and not one of the bleeders was paying you any attention. It's as if everything you've ever done, all your work, just counts for nothing."
"I - I'm sorry. I didn't think - "
"You astonish me."
They glowered at each other. Hermione cleared her throat and said, in a forcibly bright tone, "While we're here, sir, we really ought to retrieve your Potions book. Did you say you left it in the Room of Requirement, Harry?"
Dinner was early, between five and six pm. The combatants had all worked up a good appetite and were cheerfully rowdy. Severus looked glum and kept pushing at his hair irritably, without realising he was doing it, but when his and Lynsey's hands collided as they both reached for the cranberry sauce, he gave her one of his flickering there-and-gone smiles and murmured "I suppose it would be asking for trouble to hold hands in front of such a large audience...."
After dinner they made their laborious way to the seventh floor, Lynsey trailing along behind feeling like a spare wheel. She supposed herself to be performing much the same function as a goat used to calm a nervous horse.
For part of the journey they went via a narrow, concealed stair which started behind a tapestry on the second floor, and then mysteriously skipped a stage to emerge behind another tapestry on the fourth floor, jumping them through two storeys for only one storey's worth of steps. Lynsey wondered why they didn't just kit the place out with lifts, as at the Ministry, especially when they all had to jump and clamber to avoid a tread halfway up, which Severus warned her wasn't really there at all. She prodded it with her toe when he wasn't looking, and the apparently solid surface yielded like smoke. The suit of armour at the top of the stairs cackled something about Doubting Thomasina as she passed it.
There were a lot of suits of armour on their route - suits of armour, statues, paintings, decorative reliefs, all of them imbued with a disturbing liveliness. Rounding a corner, they walked first past a boys' bathroom, then a niche containing a man-high, dragon-shaped china vase which rattled its claws and hissed as they passed; beyond it an unusually empty length of corridor extended into the middle distance. On the left was nothing but a few widely-spaced windows with stretches of bare wall between them, looking down into the green grounds: on the right, facing the space between the vase and the first window, there hung a bizarre, badly-worn tapestry in which hulking, lumbering beings like humanized hippopotami cavorted in what looked like pink tutus. At first glance it resembled a scene from Fantasia - at second glance, more like Tom & Jerry, for the dancers finished their pirouettes by beating a confused-looking wizard over the head with clubs. She wondered uneasily whether this was just a form of mildly interactive looped tape like the photographs in the Daily Prophet, or whether the carefully-stitched figure was conscious and suffering.
The coarse, pixellated effect of the enormous tapestry made the scene look more like a simple looped tape, but she was not a hundred percent convinced. What would happen to somebody who was painted undergoing torture or death by fire - would the portion of their soul that went into the image be condemned to an eternity of pain? She resolved firmly to make sure Severus would have a pleasant magical portrait after his death, kept in the hands of friends, so that if his enemies tried to use paint to trap part of his soul into torment he would always have a bolt-hole.
"I need the room where all the junk is" Harry said loudly to the empty wall opposite the tapestry, and he began to mooch up and down in front of it, looking vaguely sulky. Lynsey suspected that he was still unsure about showing this secret to a teacher. On the third pass, a polished wooden door with a brass handle appeared abruptly, and then tried to look as if it had been there all along. Hermione stepped forwards and opened it firmly, and they went through into an Aladdin's cave of lumbar.
To Lynsey's Muggle eyes, it looked like a cross between a jumble-sale and the biggest DIY store in the world - a vast room like an aircraft hangar, with clear aisles extending back and back between towering walls of who-knew-what, the whole illuminated by the light which came slanting in from elsewhere. Curious, she drifted over to one of the high windows, and looked out on a stretch of moorland and a bare hillside where a few wind-stunted trees bent their backs and held on grimly. Strange lights flickered and moved among the trees as she watched. Her professor came to stand behind her, placing his hand on her shoulder, but when she looked round at him in pleasure, expecting a smile, his gaze was fixed on the bleak hill beyond the window and his face was tight with grief.
The next window showed another scene altogether.
"Here it is," Harry called from some distance away. They picked their way towards him, down alleyways between tottering stacks of broken desks and chairs and four-poster beds, through libraries of battered books, past piles of clothes and bottles of shimmering potions and bottles of cheap sherry, edging their narrow way between obscure magical toys and tools and ancient weapons, some of them still bloody. Ron and Hermione walked ahead of them, holding hands and whispering.
On one level, Lynsey was fascinated, and could have spent weeks, months, years sorting through the debris of the ages. Even tat and kitsch become historical and interesting after a hundred and fifty years or so. But a lot of this stuff had something slightly nasty about it: the jars glowed with an unhealthy phosphorescence, and even the Frisbees were designed to bite.
Halfway to Harry, they passed by what looked like a stuffed example of one of the hippo-creatures from the tapestry. The professor's mouth tightened at the sight. "Aren't those - those things - sentient?" she asked quietly.
"Trolls," he said shortly. "And yes - more or less. But there are some wizards who would turn Muggles into trophies, if they got the chance."
"Be fair," Ron said, overhearing them: "I heard that the troll chiefs make their thrones out of human bones."
Harry was standing by a blistered, battered cupboard, holding a very tattered old school text-book. Severus sucked in his breath and stepped forward, his eyes on the book; after an almost imperceptible moment of hesitation, of possessiveness, Harry held it out to him without a word. Behind him, the cupboard door hung open, and Lynsey glimpsed a birdcage containing the bones of some small, bizarre creature which she suspected unhappily had been brought there alive and left to die of thirst. She huddled closer to her professor, who was flicking through pages of smudgy old-fashioned type, heavily annotated in a small, spiky scrawl which she recognized very well, even though his writing had become larger and more confident-looking with age.
"You know," Ron said thoughtfully, gazing around him, "if You-Know-Who did hide a Horcrux at Hogwarts, this would be the place to do it. I mean, who knows what's in among all this stuff?"
Hermione tutted under her breath. "We've been through all that, Ron. I'm quite sure Professor Dumbledore wouldn't have let Riddle walk about Hogwarts unsupervised once he knew about the Death Eaters, even if he did claim to be there for a job."
"He wasn't infallible, Granger," Severus snapped: "he just wanted people to think he was. We can ask him, but - in any case, how do we know Riddle didn't make a third Horcrux before he even left school, and hid it here while he had a legitimate right to roam around the castle as he pleased?"
"Good point." Harry raised his wand and performed a complex little twiddle. "Accio Horcrux... nothing. Nothing happened in the cave when I tried it either but then there really wasn't a Horcrux in the cave, so I suppose...."
"That doesn't actually prove there isn't one," said Hermione, frowning. "If there is one here it could have been warded against common Summoning and Detection Charms - couldn't it sir?"
"Indeed. And there are many objects here which might have occurred to - Him - as a suitable repository." His eyes flickered as his gaze shifted from point to point, and Lynsey looked where he was looking, as far as she could -
- a dagger inlaid with ominous symbols, with a golden snake twisting about its hilt; an ancient ornate lamp of the type traditionally used to contain a djinn; a small but vigorously active statuette of two centaurs coupling, which made Severus's Adam's apple bob and Lynsey's own mouth go suddenly dry; a battered but noble portrait-bust of a plain-featured, stern old man on whose head some wag had placed a wig and a tiara; a painting, half-seen among the piles of junk, in which demonic figures capered and gibbered; a cut-glass vial, stoppered with a grinning skull, which seemed to glow with its own inner light; a musical-box which played a wisp of sinister, skittery tune when Severus's eye lit on it -
"Can you sense it?" she asked quietly. "If not, how will you ever find it - assuming it's here, of course."
"Assuming it's here," he agreed. "We could borrow Argus's Probity Probe and search for magical objects which are concealing their nature, but there must be hundreds, at least - it would take weeks, months, and we have to be out by tomorrow evening...."
"If you can get the Probe off Filch," Harry said, "I could get Kreacher to search...."
"You trust him," the professor said, startled, "after what he -"
"Oh yes. He and I have come to a - an understanding." He wrinkled his nose. "'Course, I'll have to do my own cooking for a bit, but I'm not a bad cook, actually and, well, who needs to clean for a few weeks?"
"Harry!" Hermione exclaimed, and Ron grinned. "If it gets too rank," he said, "I'm sure Mum would put you up at The Burrow for a bit."
"He can clean," Hermione muttered apologetically to no-one in particular, "I know he can - he just doesn't."
"Wouldn't want Kreacher to think I can manage without him," Harry replied smugly; "I wouldn't want to hurt his feelings."
"Very well." Severus nodded curtly to Harry. "I'll make the necessary arrangements with Argus before we leave."
As they turned to go, Lynsey's eye was drawn again to the energetic centaurs. At least, if these figures were actually conscious there was no fear that they were locked in eternal torment like the wizard with the pirouetting trolls: quite the reverse, in fact. "Do you suppose I could...." she began, placing her hand on his wrist to detain him a moment, and Severus flashed her a wolfish grin.
"Why not? They've probably been there for centuries, I doubt the owner is coming back for them. I'll have to check them with the Probity Probe, just in case, but I really can't see Him placing his soul in something so - joyful." He shut his eyes briefly, and she felt the bone-deep flinch shiver across his skin, under the light touch of her fingers. "He prefers His eroticism rather darker."
Afterwards, she trailed behind Severus as he and Minerva mounted the revolving escalator to the Head's office and packed all the ticking, whirring silver instruments, with their cogs and dials and their spidery legs, into a brass-bound chest the size of a shoebox which appeared nevertheless to be bottomless. A slight, earnest boy called Colin Creevey, with floppy mouse-brown hair and acne, set up a camera as odd-looking as the instruments and used it to capture Dumbledore's portrait on film, while the old man chuckled and exclaimed and twinkled his periwinkle-blue eyes, and generally played the harmless old codger for all it was worth.
The result was not quite like a normal wizarding portrait, at least as that had been explained to Lynsey. Dumbledore's face was in the photograph at all times, even when he was also in the portrait proper, but when he was in his portrait the photograph behaved like the ones in the newspaper: a simple looped tape with a limited degree of interactivity, although even that was enough to make her think uneasily about those tribes who believed that photography stole a part of the soul. But the old man could, at will or when called for, transfer the whole of himself into the photograph, and then he departed from the portrait and the photo' became fully conscious, and could even speak, although the voice was as faint and far and tinny as a cheap radio.
After that, Severus had to speak to Filch and to take his turn at supervising the students, and Lynsey, tired out by all the stairs, opted to flop out in his rooms and wait for him there. He showed her which books she could safely examine and which were liable to burn her eyeballs out if she tried to read them and then, looking touchingly awkward and both pleased and embarrassed, he showed her a strange old record-player which would run in a magical environment, and a stack of records which must have been his when he was a boy, and have come with him when he was twenty-one, all raw and new to teaching and to spying. She wondered if he had ever played them in the years since.
She selected an album - Steeleye Span again, the music of their youth for both of them - and flopped back on the battered sofa with a glass of brandy in her hand, watching the six-inch high bronze centaurs necking and quivering and pumping in an eternity of artistically-rendered desire as Maddy Prior's harsh voice soared in song:
After a while she looked away, embarrassed by and a little ashamed of her own temptation to watch, and breathless with desire and sorrow for her friend for whom that simple physical enjoyment had been made so unhappy and so difficult.
The voice soared on:
It stopped her breath: for a moment she remembered what it had been to be twenty and full of hope, as her friend perhaps had never been....
The song spun on, talking about the hiring fair, the teenagers leaving home and going away to work for the first time, the seasoned workers hoping for a better place. And the past ached in her breast like a sore tooth, for growing up and growing old, for all the times and the people and the chances that were gone, for all the young men and their lassies who had danced away into history, and the fairs and the dancing and that whole green countryside from before the trenches along with them -
Prior's scornful voice was singing of eighteenth century London in its hunger and glamour and false appearance when Severus came in at about ten o'clock, looking tired and frazzled, and gave Lynsey a tight, weary smile. She went to make him a cup of tea from the kettle in the corner, but could find no way to power or light it until the professor came up behind her and ignited a ball of bluebell-coloured flame under the kettle with a wordless flick of his wand.
They sat in companionable near-silence for a while, drinking tea with newt-shaped ginger-nut biscuits with little crunchy silver-ball eyes, listening to the music and making desultory conversation. Severus, Lynsey noted, was still flicking irritably at his hair as if it troubled him. At some point, his eye lit on the busy little centaurs on the mantelpiece and he paused with the cup halfway to his lips and swallowed convulsively, a faint pink flush spreading along his jawline.
Lynsey grinned at him. "Bedtime?"
He tore his gaze away from the animate statue with some difficulty and gave her a wary look. "To sleep, or...?"
"I thought you might like to um build on your success of last night, if - if you're happy with that."
"My success!" he snapped with sudden bitter derision. "Just because I managed to...."
"Everybody's got to start somewhere, pet, and I was, um, favourably impressed. I just thought you might like to, uh, practise some more - while we've got the romantic four-poster and the drapes and everything."
He gave her an amused look. "But it's not romantic to me, is it? Four-poster beds in old castles are there for a very practical reason - to keep out the draughts. And this place is -" He pulled a wry face. "I suppose it's the nearest thing to a home I have - had - and since I don't know if I'll ever see it again I suppose there's a certain satisfaction in marking the end of my residence here by proving that I'm not a, a bloody eunoch and I can have - friends and, and sex that I actually wanted to have. So if you feel like joining me in sticking two fingers up to all the bastards who told me I was too bloody ugly ever to get the girl...."
"Absolutely - even if I'm getting a bit long in the tooth to count as a girl...."
"Woman, then." He gave her a sudden sweet, fleeting smile. "You were worth waiting for. But if I'm going to go to bed - in either sense - I suppose I'm going to have to shower again first. Poppy did her best, but I'm still a bit treacly behind the ears."
She wondered why he suddenly looked so fed-up as he said it. "Is that a big deal?" she asked cautiously, "having to shower twice? I know you said when you were at Spinner's End you kind-of got out of the habit of washing your hair every day, because of having to do it in the kitchen sink, but...."
"It's not that - not exactly - I just - I prefer not to use soap but I'll have to; I won't get this out without it."
"Well, soap can be very drying, but if you use the right shampoo... no?"
He ducked his head, letting his still slightly sticky hair swing forward to hide his face, but she could see his lips drawn back into a tight line.
"You don't have to tell me if you don't want to," she murmured, realising uneasily that they had probably strayed into one of those jagged areas of broken glass and barbed wire which were so liberally stitched through his psyche.
"No, it's all right," he muttered, "it's not - not anything dreadful." He looked up again, his face full of bitter mockery. "I suppose there's no reason not to tell you - you deserve to know what you're getting into bed with.
"Potter's father and his delightful cronies, under the beech tree, when they - when they attacked me I swore at them and so charming fucking Potter used Scourgify to wash my mouth out. He filled my mouth with soap till I was choking on it, it was in my throat, my nose, it was foul, stinging, bitter, and then she came, Lily, and she - I loved her so much, I desired her so much but I didn't want her to see me like that, you understand, and I thought she was flirting with him - she was defending me but I was so angry and like the stupid bloody fool I was I swore at her too and called her a Mudblood which was - which was unforgiveable and she... didn't. She never forgave me, and now I can't bear to taste soap because it tastes like losing her again."
"Oh, pet." She thought privately that the sainted Lily had deserved a sharp slap for being so precious, but now was definitely not the moment to say so.
"I denied her, you know," he said, his voice gone suddenly remote. "Like Simon Peter in the Bible. He, Riddle, He hadn't to know how much I loved her, how much I hated Him for killing her... when I begged Him to spare her I had to pretend that all I wanted her for was a quick bloody screw because that was all He could understand and all the love He thought I was capable of, and when I went back to Him I'd to tell Him that I - that I'd realised I could do better than a dirty little Mudblood. And, and prove it by carrying on with some pure-blooded tart at a revel...."
"Hum, well, personally I always thought that Simon Peter was just... being practical. He wanted to find out what had happened to his friend, and the best way to do that was to pretend to be someone else altogether, and keep his head down. The significance of his denial was that Yeshua's dark prediction was coming true, I think, not that Simon was a traitor. Like Judas. If you take out all the journalistic colour - the bits about his inner motives which the writer couldn't actually have known except maybe by clairvoyance - it's pretty clear he was only doing exactly what Yeshua told him to do, but he got blamed for it anyway."
"Like me," he said with a sigh, "except I didn't even do what I was ordered to do."
"Yes. But you didn't betray Dumbledore, unless it was by not killing him, and you didn't betray Lily either. You were just - doing what you needed to do in order to avenge her."
"I suppose so." He did not sound very convinced.
Lynsey leaned forward and laid her hand on her friend's arm. "If you like," she said uncertainly, "I could shower with you - not, not to do anything, I mean, unless you wanted to, but then you can put your head right back and I'll wash your hair for you, to keep the soap off your face." She thought about this for a moment. "And don't turn down the offer out of hand because you think it would be unmanly or imposing or some such bloody thing, because I'd like it, and you're allowed to enjoy having your lover do nice things for you."
He smiled his tired little smile. "All right," he said wryly, "I won't - reject it out of hand, I mean. It sounds... agreeable. As foreplay, if nothing else."
As he felt her bare skin against his he tensed and started forwards, away from the contact, but she held him close, resting her chin in his shoulder and pressing her breasts against his naked back. "I hope," she growled softly in his ear, "that I don't feel like a bloke." After a moment he gave a wild little laugh and relaxed back against her.
"Not a bit: you don't have the stubble for it."
He leaned back into her embrace as they sat together in the long, Victorian-style bath, under the warm fall of the shower, with his eyes closed and his prow of a nose pointing to the ceiling as she worked her own shampoo through his long hair, washing out the sticky mess that Peeves had made of it. He was still underweight, pale and scarred, but he seemed fairly relaxed.
"Did you know," he said suddenly, without opening his eyes, "Minerva told me that Remus and Tonks are actually going out together? ... or staying in together: I wonder if her talents extend to turning into a she-wolf...?"
"Stoppit, you - if you keep making catty remarks, you'll grow whiskers."
She paused briefly in working the shampoo through his hair to pat him on the head, and he made a half-hearted attempt to bite her hand.
"I'm allowed to be catty about Remus," he muttered, "or bitchy, if you prefer, on account of all the cattiness I had to endure from him, over the years. Even if he wasn't quite as bad as the other three, and even if - even if he did help to save me, in the end. I'm not - not ungrateful, at least I think I'm not, but it doesn't make it suddenly all roses and iced buns either."
"You should be moderately grateful, I think, but not excessively so. You have a right to expect that fellow Order members will assist you if you're in bad trouble - and to resent it if they don't." Frowning, she tilted his head further back so she could use the shower-head to rinse the soap away, without any of it getting into his mouth. "That was why you - why you reacted badly when he offered to Scourgify you, in Azkaban. I mean, because he was part of the gang who made you eat soap, before."
"Your observations are, as usual, precise."
"I did wonder about that at the time," she said as she sluiced the warm water through his heavy hair, "and why you" - and she knew it was a stupid thing to say as the words escaped from her mouth, but the compliment had rattled her - "wouldn't take Pepperup" she finished, before she could bite it back.
She felt the shudder which began in his shoulder-blades and progressed all the way out to his feet as the dark eyes flew open, staring at nothing. "Sorry", she muttered, stilling her hands, and then after a moment's hesitation she resumed smoothing his hair out, parting the strands gently with a comb, handling him like glass.
After a while, his breathing steadied and his eyes lost their frozen, panicked look, and a while after that he sighed suddenly, stirring restlessly under her hands, and said: "It was how they kept me conscious - one of the ways. When I was... being tortured. If I started to black out, Lucius force-fed me Pepperup and now I can't - can't - and I felt so s-s-stupid, knowing that steam was pouring out of my ears even while they were...."
"Um," she said, wondering whether she was doing the right thing or not, but doing the best she could anyway, "there's this book called, um, Djinn Rummy, by a guy called Tom Holt, where one of the characters refers to a particularly horrible plan for the destruction of humanity as having 'that ultimately humiliating soupçon of frivolity that marks the true evil genius'."
"Yes," he said with a sigh, bowing his head forwards and pulling away from the comb as he did so.
"Of course, this particular evil plan involved a giant, man-eating primrose, which probably...."
Severus gave a sudden, throaty little laugh and relaxed, sagging bonelessly back into her hands. "Even Lucius never came up with that one - and besides, primroses need rich soil, and Wiltshire's on chalk."
She began to smooth conditioner into his hair, letting the heavy strands stroke across her knuckles. "If you need something to wake you up and you can't use - you know, the wizarding stuff, I'll have to introduce you to the joys of Red Bull."
"Muggle thing - a drink to wake you up when you're sleepy. Full of caffeine and stuff - according to their advertising it's supposed to 'give you wings'."
"You give me wings," he said drowsily. Looking down at his slim flanks and the ivory jut of his pelvis, she saw that he was already half-hard.
Standing, now, under the rush of the water, Severus's long hands lathered her hair in turn, since there was little risk of him getting any soap into his mouth this way. When he had rinsed the foam away, he brushed her hair to one side with his fingers and planted a tentative, careful kiss on the nape of her neck.
"You know," she said severely, "itís not very flattering when you grit your teeth every time I touch you."
"I know." He wriggled awkwardly. "I am trying, it's just - difficult and I'm still - still sore from some of the things they...."
"Enough to want to stop?"
"No! It's just - it makes it harder. Or not, as the case may be. But I can certainly touch you... may I touch you?"
"Perhaps you should watch the centaurs," she said, "they might give you ideas" and she felt rather than saw his crooked smile, his lips being pressed into the hollow of her neck at the time, and his skilful hands busy around and about.
"I have, and they did," he said, his honey-and-silk voice tickling against her skin, "but they make me feel... well, furiously randy, of course, on one level -"
"This is what we like to hear," she said facetiously, wrapping her left hand firmly around his ribs and trailing the fingers of the other lightly down his chest and stomach, looking for the proof of it. His skin was textured with scars, especially on his back; she rubbed her left thumb absent-mindedly across a deep score on his ribs and he jerked and shuddered, reminding her that he was very, very ticklish.
"And on the other level?"
"Sad," he admitted with a sigh, "and jealous, and I don't only mean of the stallion's - endowment. They just look so - happy and uncomplicated, unlike...." He started forwards with a gasp as the fingers of her right hand found what they were looking for and stroked along it, and she brought her other hand round to tilt his chin up and kiss him deep and soundly as the pulse of his desire beat against her palm.
"It's over-late for 'uncomplicated'," she murmured, as he splayed his long hands against her back and slid towards and into her, "but 'happy' - happy we can manage, I think. In time."
Tired to the bone by these latest exertions, he fell asleep still wrapped around and inside her, his sharp chin resting on her shoulder, and the warmth and communion of it were enough compensation for the rather awkward position, although Lynsey knew her joints would be protesting by morning. Severus was actually not snoring, which she put down to his lying more or less on his front, and she drifted peacefully in and out of sleep, holding him close and being held, drowsily watching the grey pre-dawn light bringing a little colour into the green velvet drapes of the bed and still feeling vaguely, pleasurably aroused by the intimate touch of him inside her.
When he finally stirred himself and rolled away from her, she half woke and protested sleepily, but he kissed her on the forehead, a brief peck, and lay back down next to her, encased in one of his horrible nightshirts. She sighed regretfully, since she had been enjoying the feel of his bare skin, but she knew that he was still too traumatised by all that had been done to him to sleep naked without fear, and her minor disappointment was a small price to pay for his sleeping easy for once.
And he did, for a wonder. He tucked himself down against her with a sigh and draped his left arm across her ribs, and for once there were no further night-time disturbances.
When she woke fully, the sun was well up and there were no arms around her. She groped blearily for Severus's presence beside her and found only emptiness, but she had no feeling of alarm. Crawling stiffly out of bed, she flung a dressing-gown around her shoulders in case he had company and creaked her way to the living room, where she found him lounging on the sofa with his feet up, still in his nightshirt, poring over one of the books he had got from the Merchieftainess.
The other books - there were eight of them - were spread out on the floor beside him, most of them open, arranged into arcane groups. None of them looked like an easy read. The largest, which was bound in some strange cherry-red fur, was actually smoking slightly. As she came into the room Severus looked up, his stern expression lifting into a smile, and swung his feet down to the floor so that she could sit next to him if she wished. As he did so he raised the book he was holding slightly so that she could see the cover. It was black - absolutely black, like a hole into somewhere else - small and comparatively-modern looking, and the title was scrawled across the cover in spiky golden handwriting which shimmered and moved as she watched. The Word in Darkness.
"Lynsey," he said without preamble, "listen to this!
"You think - evidence that Horcruxes are actually used up when the originator un-dies?"
"Evidence that Eleusinia the Seer thought that they were, anyway, assuming this translation is accurate."
"And is she - is it a she? - a reliable source?"
"Reasonably so. It's not absolute proof but it's a start, it's something, and that's something more than we had last week!" He was still far too pale and far too thin, but his clever, intent face was alight with curiosity and pride. Behind his head, on the mantel, the bronze centaurs were still about their business, but in the cold light of the morning their busy industry made Lynsey feel more tired than aroused.
The early part of the day was to be taken up with organised war-games, with the students divided into two teams and playing out a script involving the capture of an enemy commander. They were planning to leave and return to London in the late afternoon, so before breakfast Lynsey and Severus packed their belongings. Lynsey supposed her own belongings now included the amorous centaurs, about whom she now had somewhat uneasy feelings, especially when she felt them squirming busily in her hands: but she could hardly leave them where some Ministry official might think they were Severus's fault.
After Filius, in the guise of the commander of the purple team, had been first captured by the orange team and then, after a pause for lunch, daringly rescued by his own side, and he and Severus had debriefed the combatants and commented on the highs and lows of their performance over the weekend, then it was time to gather up their belongings and trail down through the green grounds, past the lake in the sunlight and around the curve of the Forest to the great gates. As they went through, Severus cast one long, hard look back towards the castle, and Lynsey knew that he was wondering whether he would ever see it again.
He kept his promise to introduce her to some wizarding drinks. The departure-point was through the Floo in the Three Broomsticks, but a party from the Order bypassed it and went further down the high street and then up a side-road to a run-down pub whose sign showed the severed head of a boar, oozing gorily. The words ran unbidden through her mind: Caput apri defero // Reddens laudes Domino....
The bar was spacious, with proper pine tables and large windows, but there was a coat of dust and grime over everything and the clientele were distinctly dodgy. As Lynsey walked across the floor, her feet stuck to it slightly at every step.
The landlord of this shabby establishment, it transpired, was Dumbledore's brother Aberforth, who was an Order member himself, a dignified if grubby old man with the same cornflower eyes as his brother. Severus flinched slightly at the sight of him and made as if to touch his ear, and Lynsey wondered what that was about.
Apart from Severus himself there were with the party the looming bulk of Hagrid accompanied by a large, slobbery mastiff; Minerva; Filius and Poppy who were, Lynsey had learned, only recent additions to the Order; Harry, Ron and Hermione; Neville; the girl Luna (an ash blond with an eco-hippy dress-sense and slightly protuberant, considering, silvery eyes) and, bringing up the rear, another girl with carrot hair and the rich chestnut irises one sometimes sees in redheads, who was, Lynsey gathered, both Ron's sister and Harry's girlfriend.
When he saw the orange-haired girl, Aberforth tutted under his breath. "Allowing underage kids into the Order are we now, Minnie?" he said scathingly, and Minerva spun round, apparently catching sight of the girl for the first time, and exclaimed "Ginevra - what I have I told you...?"
The redhead raised her chin defiantly. "That I'm too young because I won't turn seventeen until August, as if Harry wasn't fighting the Dark Lord - and you lot weren't letting him! - " [under his breath, Severus muttered I wasn't and Aberforth growled Nor was I] "when he was eleven. But I know more about Tom than any of you - even Harry and Professor Snape. Besides," she added, sitting down composedly at the nearest table, "it's a free country. I'm sixteen - I can have a drink in the pub if I want to, so long as I'm in a room where there's food." She curled her lip at a plate of yellowing sandwiches on the bar.
Minerva pursed her lips. After a moment she nodded curtly. "Very well: but I must insist that you remain aside from any combat situations until you are of age."
"Yes," Ginevra replied, rather ambiguously; Lynsey suspected that she had agreed to the proposition that Minerva must insist it, rather than to the thing itself.
True to his promise, Severus introduced Lynsey to a range of things in curious, mostly rather sticky bottles. She was especially taken with an ice-blue, glimmering liqueur called Yeti's Breath. When the conversation about the training exercise had rambled on for long enough for any listener to have lost interest, Filius cast a Confundus Charm tailored to make outsiders hear anything they might say as more of the same.
"So," he said softly, watching Severus with an obvious, gentle concern which probably irritated him no end, "the Horcruxes - did you discover anything significant in Albus's books?"
"A little - enough to confirm that the more Horcruxes Riddle makes, the more unstable his soul becomes; and a strong suggestion that the Horcrux acts as a backup rather than an anchor, so that when the principal is killed a Horcrux is used up in restoring him to life."
"So if we keep finding and destroying Horcruxes, and he keeps making more, what will happen to his soul?" Hermione said interestedly.
"He will become ever madder, Miss Granger, and more detached from reality."
"But that won't necessarily make him any less dangerous, will it?" Luna said dreamily.
"But the spell, Severus," Minerva said; "do you have the actual spell?"
"Give me a chance," Severus snapped ungraciously; " I have a possible lead, but there's at least a week's worth of research to do, and do we even have access to the Ministry yet?"
"Dad's working on it," Ron said earnestly, "but listen, I've been thinking."
Lynsey could see the obvious retort hovering on her friend's lips, but after a brief internal struggle he said only: "Go on."
"Yes Ron, tell us please" Minerva said.
"Well - Harry said that you said it had to be something really destructive, to kill a Horcrux."
"You don't actually kill a Horcrux, Ron, strictly speaking," Hermione said. "It's not actually alive."
"But you can um, denature it, can't you?" That was Neville.
"What did Professor Dumbledore use on the ring?" Harry asked. "He never told me."
"He used Gryffindor's sword, Potter, but unless we can make a convincing, permanent duplicate I think the Ministry would notice if we removed it."
"But that's what I've been thinking about," Ron said. "I mean not - not duplicating the sword, but really destructive stuff." A typical teenage male preoccupation, Lynsey thought privately. "That - that basilisk Harry killed, he used one fang to kill -" he glanced at Hermione "- or whatever the diary, but the other one must still be down there."
"There were a lot of them," Ginny said. "Just - lying around in the tunnel."
"Yeh," Hagrid said, "tha's right, the fangs grow all the time - it'd've shed them all through where it was living. Poor thing," he added vaguely.
Hermione looked interested. "Could it have been traces of basilisk venom on the sword which gave it the power to ki- to denature the ring?"
"It could, yes," Severus said thoughtfully, "and your idea is a sound one, Mr Weasley. But it would need a Parselmouth -" he inclined his head slightly towards Harry "- to open the way. Even Professor Dumbledore was unable to gain access, though I know he reviewed the Chamber in Fawkes's memory of it."
"I can go down there," Harry said. "That's not a problem. Sir."
"The problem Potter is that you're too young -"
"I'm of age!"
"Severus is right, boy," Aberforth said, beginning to gather up the empty glasses and bottles; "of age you may be, but seventeen is no age to go risking your neck."
"I've been risking my neck since I was -"
"This time," Severus interrupted firmly, "someone will go with you - someone older and more experienced. Suppose there was a second basilisk? No Rubeus, not you" he added without looking round; "the access-passage is too narrow." He rubbed wearily at his forehead. "As the youngest and fittest fully adult wizard present by far, logically, it will be me: and we must do it today, if we are going to, for who knows when the Ministry will next permit us access?"
The path from Hogsmeade to Hogwarts was an attractive one, just right for an afternoon stroll in the country; but by the third repetition the long walk along the lane and over the fields was beginning to seem less of a pleasure and more of a chore, especially when it came on to rain. Lynsey could have stayed behind, with Aberforth, but she didn't want to be absent when Severus might be going into danger, or at least into a situation he would find stressful.
The access point was through a disused girls' bathroom, where Lynsey could half see, half sense a disturbed and disturbing psychic presence. Harry said "Oh, hello Myrtle" to it vaguely, and then spoke to one of the china sinks on the wall in a harsh, choking hiss. One of the taps, which had a small snake scratched into the brass, began to glow and then spun on its own, releasing some sort of catch. The sink sank down into a recess in the floor, exposing the wall behind it, in which there was the start of a chute wide enough to admit a person of middling build. Harry started towards it but Severus clamped a hand firmly on his shoulder and pushed the boy behind him. With a tight-lipped nod to Lynsey, and to Minerva and Filius, he shed his cloak, gripped his lit wand in one hand, flicked his robes into a tight spiral around his legs so that they would not ride up in the chute, eased his feet into the dark opening and slid from sight.
Harry waited long enough to be sure he wouldn't crash feet-first into the professor's back, and then followed him down, clutching a small beaded handbag which apparently belonged to Hermione.
Some time later, Lynsey found herself standing in the corridor, looking down from a window into an enclosed courtyard, in company with the Lovegood girl. As if they had already been deep in conversation, Luna jerked her head slightly towards the bathroom. "Harry tries to be kind to Myrtle," she said, "but even Harry doesn't treat her like a real person, and Ron is rather horrible to her."
"Who is she?"
"A girl the basilisk killed, some time in the forties. She isn't very nice, really, but it isn't nice for her, being a ghost, so I try to say hello to her at least a couple of times a week. When I'm here, of course, and she isn't off spying on boys in the showers, or on the mermen."
"And you can... see her? Talk to her? I mean - as if she was physically there?"
"Oh yes." She flicked her long grey-blond hair back, so that the little silver bells hanging from her ears jingled. "I'm glad you're sleeping with Professor Snape: it will be good for him to feel someone really wants him."
Hagrid, who had the sharpest hearing, hovered at the mouth of the chute, his vast shoulders filling the room, listening for any sign of trouble or danger; but all that floated back was an occasional faint rustle of voices, talking. At least Harry and Severus did not seem to have come to blows.
It was more than forty minutes before a glimmer of light in the depths of the chute became Severus's doe Patronus - the horse for war, Lynsey supposed, and the doe for peace. It opened its delicate, patrician mouth and purred "Ready when you are, Minerva" in Severus's silky drawl.
Minerva flicked her wand at the chute, and a skein of thick rope shot out of it and rattled away down into the dark. Another gesture, and the near end of the rope wrapped itself tightly around the base of one of the sinks and cinched itself into a knot. After a few moments first Harry and then Severus appeared, floating without weight, gripping the rope as it contracted and hauled them effortlessly upwards. Harry shot out like a cork from a bottle and began to float towards the ceiling: Severus, coming after, flipped his wand at the boy and brought him back to earth with a bump.
"Well? Did you get them?" Ron said eagerly and Harry, grinning, opened the bead bag and made as if to plunge his hand into it.
"Careful with that, Potter," Severus snapped. "If you get scratched, I've no phoenix tears to save you." He took the frothy, feminine-looking bag from Harry with an expression of vague distaste, held it out at arm's length a few inches above the floor and turned it over, and several wicked-looking, arm-length teeth slid out onto the floor.
They left Hagrid and his slobberingly enthusiastic dog behind them at the edge of the Forest, and walked down through the grounds and out over the fields once more in a tired but companionable group. Lynsey was pleased to see how relaxed her professor looked in this company, now. Since there was nobody here from whom they needed to hide, as they walked down the high street towards the Three Broomsticks Severus took her hand, and held onto it all the way down to the pub, through the spiralling green fire of the Floo and out again into the makeshift school in Diagon Alley.
As they emerged into the street, blinking in the low-angled sun of early evening, a man in a violet cloak did a visible double-take at the sight of Severus. The amiable expression which had been on his face a moment before froze with an awful finality, and Lynsey felt her friend's fingers clench convulsively, digging into her hand as the wizard spat and turned away in scorn. And around them, the city went its ways.
sang Prior's inimitable, never-to-be-repeated, bounding, bitter voice,
Seaweed is a kind of algae, and algae are no longer strictly speaking considered to be plants.
Haar is a Scots word for a thick white mist, most often seen early in the morning.
In canon, Tom didn't develop an interest in the Elder Wand until after Harry's wand fired at him of its own accord, during the chase after the seven Harrys. In this universe, the time-line diverged just before the end of HBP, when Percy noticed that certain Ministry officials had been Imperiused, and raised the alarm. Voldemort's takeover of the Ministry, and of Hogwarts, had to be aborted, leaving Snape as a fugitive rather than Headmaster, and Harry was smuggled out of Privet Drive simply by walking through the door behind the Dursleys, wearing his Invisibility Cloak. Tom has not yet (at least so far as anyone knows) begun to take an interest in the Elder Wand.
Severus was told a little bit about the Wand by Dumbledore in order to prepare him to own it (as he would have done had Draco not intervened), and he had worked out more. But Tom did not know to ask him about it when he was tortured, and although Snape broke and told Tom whatever he wanted to know, he did not volunteer information he wasn't specifically asked for. So Tom does not know that Dumbledore's wand was anything special.
Severus knows that the Elder Wand might be capable of destroying Horcruxes, and he knows the Wand itself is in Dumbledore's tomb, but he also knows that the mastery has probably gone to Draco, who disarmed Dumbledore. His Unbreakable Vow to protect Draco to the best of his abilities means he can't knowingly endanger him, even if he would. He would like it if he or one of the Trio could challenge Draco, defeat him and thereby claim the mastery of the Elder Wand for their faction, but he also has to act so as to maximise Draco's safety.
On the one hand Draco has the mastery of a super-weapon which should make him invincible in battle, and though he doesn't currently have access to it he might have some day. On the other hand possession of the mastery makes Draco a target - worse, if Tom ever finds out about it, it will make Draco a target to Tom. Severus has to decide where Draco's greatest safety lies, and he cannot discuss it with Lynsey because there is no benefit to Draco from his telling her, and if she was ever captured, the fact that he had told her about Draco having the mastery would put Draco in danger from Tom.
Telling the Trio also increases the danger of Draco being found out, since Harry's mind is linked to Tom's and any of them could be captured and tortured, but on the other hand if he decides that Draco would be safer without the mastery, telling the Trio that they should challenge and defeat Draco if they get the chance would be an action which protected Draco, or tried to. The only person he can discuss this with without risking breaking his Vow, and who can therefore help him to decide whether to tell the Trio or not, is portrait!Dumbledore, since Dumbledore already knows that the mastery went to Draco, and therefore talking about it with him does not increase Draco's danger.
"Shot!" is a Derbyshire expression meaning "Well done," probably a contraction of "Good shot."
"Wicked" in British slang has a secondary meaning of "impressively clever".
Highly-strung horses, especially racehorses, may become nervous on their own and require the company of another animal to travel with them and calm them. Goats, small ponies and cats have all traditionally been used for this purpose.
The Disney animated film Fantasia famously includes a ballet where the dancers are all hippos in tutus. This scene may well have inspired JKR to come up with the idea of Barnabas the Barmy and his dancing trolls.
In DH, Harry assumes that Tom must have hidden the diadem in the Room of Requirement when he came to apply for the DADA job as an adult. However, we know from what the Grey Lady says that he was already searching for the diadem, and found out roughly where it was, while he was still a student. There's actually nothing in the text to say he didn't find the diadem during the holidays and hide it before he left school. All we know is that judging from the deterioration in his appearance, he made it at some point after the diary and before he stole the cup and locket from Hepzibah Smith: that is, between the end of his fifth year and a point some years after leaving school. He easily could have done it in his sixth or seventh year.
"I'm afraid the shining sun // Might burn and scorch his beauty" - from the traditional song The Blacksmith; both this song and Copshawholme Fair are from the Steeleye Span album Hark! The Village Wait.
Here in Britain, sticking up the first two fingers in a V-sign with the back of the hand towards the onlooker is a gesture of defiance, and is the non-verbal equivalent of "fuck off".
To be "precious" in the sense in which Lynsey is using it is to be overly fussy and affected and melodramatic.
The only feasible etymology anyone seems to have come up with for the word Horcrux is "horrible cross", where cross is meant in the sense of an intersection. Dumbledore was only really guessing as to how many Horcruxes Tom had made; in the event he had seven, including Harry, but there's nothing in the text to say that there hadn't been another one, which was used up in keeping him alive when he was vaporized by Harry, and which he replaced with Nagini.
If we assume that he really did only intend to make six and had planned to use Harry's death to make the final one, then yes, the only Horcruxes were the ones we see - ring, diary, diadem, locket, cup, snake - but we still don't know for sure that one hadn't been used up in making Vapormort, because the Trio never actually test the cup to make sure it's still a Horcrux. So it's still an open question, in the books, whether the Horcrux is just an anchor or whether it's a backup - that is, whether when the body is killed the piece of soul which was in the body dies and a piece from a Horcrux takes its place.
Caput apri defero // Reddens laudes Domino - "I bring in the boar's head, giving thanks to the Lord" - from the Steeleye Span single The Boar's Head Carol.
"London is a dainty place" - chorus of the song London, from the Steeleye Span album Rocket Cottage.
My enormous essay on Snape's personality, with special reference to the evidence for his being especially nasty (or not), has been updated to take DH canon into account. You can find it on this website, under the title But Snape is just nasty, right?
You may also be interested in an essay called Fanfiction.net How-To. This is a guide to how to use ffn's story-upload and editing features. It includes lists of what characters will and will not display properly in story, message and review text, and examples of dozens of interesting section breaks which will display correctly in ffn story-text, and which you can copy-and-paste into your own stories.
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