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
#17: Household Accounts
[In which various forms of petting are discussed.]
Since they were in London anyway, Lynsey introduced Severus to the delights of Muggle Covent Garden, and showed him the little exhibition-space and shop which specialised in wooden and card automata. He was more pleased with these than with any number of glibly glamorous spells, and bought two self-assembly kits: a Chinese dragon with a twisting, nodding head for her, and a ship which rose and fell among cardboard waves for himself. After a late-afternoon tea with cakes at a pavement café, watching the jugglers and dancers in the long, cobbled plaza within its frame of flat-fronted white buildings, they returned home by Apparating into a wood near Boarhills in the gathering dusk, and then catching the bus.
They put the cardboard kits away for another day, being much too tired for the intricacies of assembly and glue at this point. About the other, wizarding automata Lynsey had mixed feelings. She placed them on a shelf in the bedroom, where they might serve for inspiration - but on a corner unit where they would not be all the time catching the eye. Nestor promptly pounced on them and tried to eat them, and then retreated baffled when the moving little animal figures proved to be hard bronze. The cat slunk off to the sitting-room to wash himself furiously, and the centaurs kept at it: they were not, Lynsey noted, simply acting out an endlessly repeated loop, but varied their actions as if they were real, with tireless enthusiasm.
Lynsey and Severus, however, crawled into bed quite early with no intention beyond sleep, and curled up together in companionable, mutual exhaustion. Severus looked, she thought, more relaxed after a weekend filled with so much practical activity, and he slept the night through almost without interruption.
In the morning, he woke her with breakfast already cooked, although he had managed to burn the toast. All the way through the bacon and eggs he seemed pre-occupied and withdrawn, until Lynsey uneasily asked, "What?"
"Nothing, I just...." His husky early-morning voice trailed away uncomfortably; then: "I'm going to need more shelf-space," he said abruptly, staring into the murky depths of his tea. "For the books and for Albus's instruments, if - if that's all right. I thought that I could... buy something. Shelves."
She frowned at him, trying to work out why he looked so uncertain. "Sure," she said casually. "I'm sure we can wiggle another bookcase or two into the back bedroom, and you don't want to be all the time living out of suitcases - as it were." His expression lightened at once, and it occurred to her that he had been nervous about asking for a step which would put his residence on a more permanent footing. She thought about reassuring him that he could stay forever, as far as she was concerned - but perhaps it would embarrass him, or make him feel crowded.
"I ought to...." He ducked his head. "Now that I'm earning and - and everything, I ought to... contribute. I mean, not just food but - the household. If, that is...."
"If you want to put something in towards the mortgage, b- that would be grand." She had very nearly said "be my guest", but the point, she knew, was not to be a guest any more, however welcome, but a fixture, and she thought about the word "householder".
The professor still had his head down, looking wary: he glanced at her sideways and murmured, "I was wondering if you were... of course, it might just have been kindness or, or the romantic setting, but you said that you were... favourably impressed?"
"Damn straight I was!"
"Oh." His shoulders relaxed visibly. "Good."
"Are you just fishing for compliments, or were you genuinely worried?"
He flashed her a sharp grin. "Both." The grin devolved into a grimace. "It's just - I was worried that I might be rather bad at it. Being so long out of practice, you understand, or never really in it."
"I should think you'd be good at anything you turned your hand to - as it were."
"It's true I always was a fast learner...."
"And one with great natural talent in many disparate fields. But in any case, all that stuff, that - that quest for sensation, it's all just optional extras. It's the closeness that matters."
Severus, it seemed, was not the only person who was lacking in confidence in sexual matters. On Wednesday evening they were joined by Remus Lupin, ostensibly to report on Arthur and Kingsley's continuing efforts to get the Order access to the Ministry's spell-tracking facilities. After the official business, though, he lingered uneasily, soaking up coffee like a sponge and frowning at the rug.
"So," Severus said speculatively, steepling his fingers, "I heard from Minerva that you and the flexible Miss Tonks were... 'walking out together', was the way she put it, 'instead of pussyfooting around' - and she would know. Are we to expect wedding bells... or perhaps the patter of tiny paws?"
Remus bared his teeth in a sudden growl. "It's not - my condition, it's not - heritable. But it's ignorant bloody oiks like you - "
"If you're too thick to know a joke when you hear it -"
"Then it was in exceedingly bloody poor taste!"
"And you would know about jokes in poor taste, wouldn't you?"
There was a sudden, frozen silence, which Lynsey broke by saying "Now, boys...." rather feebly. Two sets of eyes, one black and one amber, glared at her briefly, before the two men returned to their sudden flare-up.
"Yes, well," Remus muttered, dropping his gaze before Severus did; "tasting you wasn't supposed to be part of the plan, until Sirius decided to make some unauthorised bloody modifications."
"I always knew that you were in on it," Severus said bitterly, "but no-one would believe me. Such a nice, tame werewolf...."
"Don't!" Remus said sharply. "It wasn't - like that."
"Then you tell me - what was it like?"
Remus set his mug down on the coffee-table and pulled an irritated face. "You weren't supposed to get hurt, it was just - well, you couldn't cause trouble for me with the staff just by finding out what I was, because they all knew anyway, but I didn't want you telling everybody in class, either. Didn't want the hassle, you know? And the others - well, they'd just managed to become Animagi and we didn't want you finding out and getting them in trouble with the Ministry for not registering, or spoiling our fun before we’d properly begun."
"So you decided to kill m-"
"No!" Remus interrupted hotly. "Severus, I swear, no. You were just - James said, if you thought you knew what was happening you'd lose interest, he quoted some Muggle - Alan Somebody -"
"Alan Breck," Lynsey said automatically, recognising the quote, and Remus murmured "Yes - something like that."
"It's fiction," she said. "I mean - Alan Breck was a real person, but it's from a fictional account of him." She realised she was burbling, made nervous by the tension in the air between them - but the quote was one which appealed to her so much, which struck her as so profoundly and usefully true, that she had learned it by heart. "'Them that cannae tell the truth should be aye mindfu' to leave an honest, handy lee behind them. If folk dinnae ken what ye're doing, they're terrible taken up with it; but if they think they ken, they care nae mair for it than' - well, for something they don't care about at all. Pease porridge, according to Alan Breck, because he didna' - didn't - like it."
Remus gave a delicate little snort. "You're corrupting her, Severus - that sounded positively Slytherin."
"Now here I always thought that Alan Breck was a true Gryffindor," Severus said silkily; "always quarrelling and bragging about what a wonderful fighter he was."
"I didn't mean it nastily," Remus replied mildly; "and, God knows, the most devious bastard in our year turned out to be a Gryffindor, after all." He grimaced. "You were right to fear that one of us might be a danger to Lily, just wrong about - about who."
"I had the little bastard in my power," Severus said tightly. "I could have done - anything to him, and I don't think Riddle would have missed him much, but I didn't want to be that person, not even for Lily, so I just - bossed him about a bit. Made him clean the dishes. But later, he - when I was in his power, he -" He swallowed, and Lynsey saw that his knuckles were almost tight enough to break through the skin.
"I wonder now if he put Sirius up to it," Remus said sombrely. "We thought he was just a - a sort of portable audience, or maybe what the Americans call a 'cheer leader', always there to sing the big boys' praises. But I can see now that he - he got off on that, on their - our - cruelty, and he was always winding us up to be worse, more reckless, more cruel, so he could get off on it some more." Severus made a rather sick sound, and Remus gave him an odd look, both sympathetic and measuring.
"Anyway..." he continued quietly, "when it was all four of us together, he agreed that we should let you see me, to satisfy your curiosity so you'd piss off and leave us alone, but I wonder whether when he had Sirius alone... or maybe I just don't want to believe Sirius could be that reckless or vicious on his own account."
Lynsey could see the catty remark struggling to escape from Severus's lips, and the manifest struggle with which he bit it back. By an effort of will, he managed to say only, "Go on." Remus flashed him a hunted look.
"That was it, really. We thought... if you satisfied your curiosity about me being a werewolf, you'd think that was all there was to find, and stop poking about. You couldn't very well tell everybody what you'd seen, because if the teachers heard about it they'd know you'd been down the tunnel where you shouldn't have been, and you'd be the one in trouble - and if they did find out that you knew about me, they'd bind you to secrecy as, in fact, they did. You were never supposed to get more than a - a bit of a fright which - well, which the others all thought was a big joke."
"Don't try to tell me that you did not. You were as eager as they were to hound me, to bait me -"
The other man rubbed his eyes tiredly. "When we were younger I - it felt so great to be part of the pack, and designating someone else as an outsider made me feel even more like an insider, you know?" Severus compressed his lips into a thin line and nodded curtly.
"But by fifth year I was a prefect, I didn't like the idea of luring somebody else to break the rules, although Sirius said if you took the bait that was your own fault - and I hated the idea of them playing up my own monstrousness in order to scare somebody else. But James said if I wanted - wanted company at full moon, we had to get you off my furry tail, and it seemed reasonable the way he explained it. But then Sirius decided that dead men tell no tales, and overrode the wards that were meant to confine me to the Shack... but I swear, I didn't know about that part until afterwards."
"One wonders what he proposed to do with the - the body. I wouldn't have thought any of you at that age had the knowledge or power to do a Lasting Transfiguration - were you supposed to eat me bones and all?"
Remus shuddered. "I don't think he thought that far ahead. I loved him, but even I can see that consecutive thought wasn't really his long suit."
"He dared me to go down there, you know."
"Yes; I remember you said. But you were mad to go down there in the dark to meet that - that thing, even if you did think that it - I - would be confined and not actually loose in the bloody tunnel."
Severus sighed wearily. "I didn't know. I thought - and everything which Black said encouraged me to think - that you were being taken to a secret location in Hogsmeade, and that the tunnel opened into the village. Which was true after a fashion, but...."
"But you hadn't expected the tunnel to go straight to the building I was kept in, and hit a dead end without ever coming up for air."
"Quite. Seeing the werewolf actually in the tunnel with me was - unexpected. To say the least."
"But you see, that's partly why I -"
"Nymphadora, she -" He made an absent, frustrated gesture, tugging at the lock of light brown hair over his ear. "She wants us to marry, she bullied me into it, Severus, into sort-of agreeing but I - how can I let somebody I care for marry that?"
"Provided you take Wolfsbane -"
"But what happens, you tell me, what happens if the supply dries up, or it's faulty in some way? She says it'll never happen, that she's an Auror and she can restrain me if she has to, but I have nightmares about waking up next to a heap of bloody bones! And as for exposing a child to me -"
"That was why I had to tell the students - I thought you were in league with a murderer but in any case, after you failed to take your Wolfsbane -"
"You were right to, I think," Remus said, sounding depressed. "I wasn't really thinking straight at the time, what with - well, finding out about Sirius, and you trying to get him locked up again - I see now why you still thought he was guilty, but at the time I wasn't in the mood to be objective."
"You lot never bloody were, where I was concerned."
"That's pot calling the kettle Black, don't you think Severus? You may have been right - no, damnit, you were right - to spill the beans about me after I'd ended up running around in the Forest drooling and endangering everybody, but you didn't have to bloody-well give the class hints about me when I was taking Wolfsbane!"
"I had seen you smarming around Potter, and that same night Black broke into the castle, attacked the Fat Lady - what could I think but that you were helping Black to gain entrance, and setting Potter up to be killed? I couldn't warn him directly because I had promised Dumbledore never to betray your - condition unless I had firm evidence that the condition itself was endangering others; but I hoped that Granger at least would work out what you were, and warn Potter that you were deceiving him."
"She did work it out - she warned him not to trust me when we were in the Shack. If I had been - what you thought - that might have protected him from me, to some extent. And I suppose -" He straightened his shoulders and gave Severus a bleak look. "I have no right to complain of you falsely accusing me, when I let Sirius suffer twelve years, twelve years in Azkaban and never doubted his guilt -"
"I don't suppose you could have done anything at all to help him," Severus replied bitterly, "even if you'd known. It's not as if they let ordinary unimportant prisoners like him and me have visitors or, or post, even if I hadn't been on the bloody total-isolation regime: and Black was supposed to be Public Enemy Number One."
"Sirius may not have been the son of a senior official, like Barty Crouch, but the fact that he was a Black might have got him visiting privileges: you know yourself, even a visit once a year to tell him somebody was working for him would have meant a lot. And even if not, maybe I could have done something, something like what we did for you - although using Dobby as an agent was really the product of Harry’s warped imagination."
"And I'm grateful to the little sod, I really am." He pulled an irritated, tsk-ing face. "A bit of ingenuity is all it takes to manage your problem, as well. You can transform in a strong, locked cage every month - under the supervision of a Werewolf-Control Officer if you feel you need one - and Nymphadora can let you out once she's seen that the Wolfsbane has taken properly. And you can drink it under supervision, in front of witnesses - as you should have bloody done at Hogwarts."
"I think Albus vaguely assumed that you would supervise me - but there was no provision for what to do if we missed each other, and I can't think straight once the moon is up, even if I haven't changed yet."
"You're not thinking straight now. Much as I hate to admit it, Nymphadora is surprisingly competent, and if she's sure that she can handle you you shouldn't - shouldn't turn down the chance of love when it's offered to you. If you feel you can reciprocate, of course."
"I don't know if I can reciprocate!" It was almost a wail. "She's - sweet and, and a lot more efficient than she likes people to know, yes, but I don't know if - how do I know if I even fancy her? Visually, I mean, I mean there is no 'her', visually, is there? Is the - the face we recognise as Dora actually her, or is it just like a favourite shirt she likes to wear?"
"If you were blind," Severus said softly, "you could still love her, without seeing her real face. If you can love her at all, that is."
"I don't know if I can or not. It's not - not my place to, is it?"
"What do you mean?"
"I don't know if - it just doesn’t feel -"
"Wolves," Lynsey said, and they both looked at her, this time with attention rather than annoyance. "Only the dominant pair breed, only the dominant pair pair - that's right, isn't it?"
"Yes I - I don't know if that's the problem but it doesn't feel right to me, to think of myself as a - 'the man of the house', you know?"
"How very old-fashioned of you," Severus said dryly.
"Yes, well," Remus snapped, "it's easy for you, isn't it? You've shacked up with a woman older than you, moved into her house - Dora's hardly older than a kid and she's going to expect me to be the, the family man -"
"I'm hardly a bloody Kept Man," Severus snarled; "not by bloody choice, anyway."
"I didn't mean it that way: just that you two - neither of you has to take the lead, do you? And I suppose Dora will expect me to, because I'm older, and I don't think I'm ready to. I've made a complete and utter balls-up of every responsibility I've ever been offered, so why should this be any different?"
"I cannot tell you whether you love her or not - unless you want me to Legilimise you? But if you need my permission as so-called alpha, I can give you that. Go and spawn if you feel you want to," he added rather ungraciously.
"Thank you," Remus replied, sounding depressed. "That does help, a bit. But even if - even if I was sure I wanted to, how can I ask someone who loves me to expose themselves to the - the public disgrace of being known to be in bed with a monster?"
"That is up to Miss Tonks herself, surely - she won't thank you for patronising her by protecting her from something she herself is sure she can handle."
"I suppose so...."
"I can read cards for you," Lynsey murmured. "If you like."
"Divination? Yes - maybe...."
"In my experience," Severus said, steepling his fingers, "and speaking as one who has taught her to NEWT level, Nymphadora is a solidly practical young woman and somewhat managing. She is, after all, a Black. She is also extremely fond of animals."
"And what's that supposed to mean?"
"Lynsey tells me you make a very suitable pet when you're on Wolfsbane, and I'm sure any children you may have will be happy to play ball with Dads in the garden."
"Oh, that's just bloody brilliant, that is."
"I'm serious. More or less. So long as you take your potion punctiliously, she won't see your... alternative self as a monster, but as an amusing and, God help us, 'cute' variation on the theme of somebody she - for whatever reason - loves. She, after all, changes her face and figure as casually as her clothes: she won't feel that you have ceased to be you just because you have four legs and a tail."
"Without the Wolfsbane, I do become - something else. God, I hope that isn't me. The Ministry could cut off my supply in an instant if they decided to play rough - what will I do then if you can't -"
"Lock yourself in a cage overnight, as I said. But Hermione Granger is now competent to brew the Wolfsbane for you if - if I should become... unavailable."
"Look at me, damn you!" the hoarse voice snarled, and Lynsey blinked awake in the cold dawn light to see Severus looming above her, his face twisting in distress and his eyes tight shut. "I'm here, I'm real, bastards, bastards, why won't you see me?"
She had feared, insofar as she had thought about it, that he might dream about being persecuted by the Marauders: but evidently it was the fragment of conversation about Azkaban with Remus which haunted his sleep. "Shhh," she murmured, hauling herself up sleepily to sit beside him and take his hand. "I'm here."
"Speak to me!" he gasped, his voice suddenly small and terrified. "Please, I don't want to die alone -"
"You're not alone, really you're not - Severus, wake up, it's just a dream." The nightshirt clung damply to his skin as she carefully gathered him into her arms and held him close.
"Lynsey -!" he said with another choking gasp, and she patted his back as if he were a child.
"That's right, good lad; you're here at home with me, you're not on your own, honest you're not."
"No - just-just white cold - nothing there - get me out of this, please, please get me out of this place -"
"Shhh," she said again, rocking him gently. "Brave lad, beautiful lad. Open your eyes for me, pet. This is real, and I'm real."
"I dreamed that I dreamed you," he said quietly with his face resting against her shoulder. "I dreamed that I had only dreamed Dobby coming to me, that the whole thing - all of it, being freed, being here with you, teaching combat, making love - it was all just a hallucination I was having, and I woke up from it and found that I was still chained to the bed in that horrible little white, empty room, facing a century or more of howling loneliness and sheer bloody unadulterated boredom. And how can I tell...?"
"I can't prove to you directly that I'm real, but, well - if you were going to imagine being rescued, would you imagine being rescued by Harry and Remus and Neville and Dobby?"
"No...." he agreed with a sigh. "I suppose not. Longbottom's kindness to me especially was - something I couldn't even have dreamed of. Not to mention his competence, which was almost as unexpected."
He sat up, pulling away from her grasp, and began raking his knotted hair and crumpled nightshirt into order. "I dreamed about you when I was there," he said without looking at her, "but I didn't imagine that you could come for me... being a Muggle, I mean. I fantasised that Albus was alive and would come and save me, or that Minerva would somehow manage to send me her Patronus, through the wards, but a Patronus can't survive there - not when it was the Dementors' own stronghold, anyway. Even if a Patronus could find the bloody place, which I know that it could not."
"I was very impressed by your silver doe," Lynsey said. "I still like the horse best, but she's very lovely."
"Lily was very lovely," he said shortly. "It's no credit to me."
"But surely - the Patronus is in some sense an expression of your soul, so even if the doe is a borrowed flag, your soul couldn't manifest as something so lovely unless there's a lot of loveliness in you." She supposed that by that token there must have been loveliness in Lily too - however loath she was to admit it of somebody who had abandoned him.
"If it's an expression of my soul, it's an expression of my loss and guilt and of a beauty I aspire to - not of something I actually possess."
"Whereas mine basically represents a desire to rip things' heads off."
"I wasn’t going to say it."
They dozed fitfully for an hour or so, before staggering blearily to the kitchen. Severus sat hunched over the breakfast table like a tousled rook, sucking up tea. "Combat training this morning," he said glumly, "and if I don't wake up sharpish I'm going to get my arse shot off."
"Maybe you should call in sick," Lynsey said, passing him the marmalade without being asked.
"Nah - if I took time off because I wasn't sleeping properly, I would never have made it to class."
"Well, I'm working from home today, so at least when you've finished I can make you a hot soup or something and put you to bed. It'll be nice. Or we could make up those automata, and get covered in glue, and then stick ourselves together in a compromising position and have to be rescued by paramedics."
He gazed at her quietly over the rim of his teacup. "That's something I hadn't expected," he said.
"What? Getting mothered? Being fancied madly?"
"Those, too. But what is so - remarkable is something I hadn't even considered or imagined: the idea that when I come home (and that's a novel concept in itself!) someone will be there who is pleased to see me. I mean, not just pleased that I haven't got myself killed yet, but actively pleased to have my company."
"You're very good company, pet."
"Nobody else seemed to think so - except Lily, and she -" He looked down at his hands as if he'd never seen them before, examining the sharp ivory bones. "I was so... amazed, when Dobby came, not because you lot had found a way to make contact with me, but because you'd made the effort to try. Offhand I can't think of a single instance of anybody - not even Lily - putting themselves out for me before, unless they were paid to do it, like Poppy. At the time, I hardly realised it, it was just how things were, but I can see now...."
He gave her a rather desperate look. "Why was I so unimportant? To my father I was just a - a punch-bag, something to vent his perpetual rage on, and to Lucius and his cronies I was just reactive meat. I didn't exist, I was just - nothing. Even my own mother scarcely cared when Dads beat me, provided he didn't take his belt to her. And to the Marauders I was just - a toy. Like a wizarding chess-piece - something spelled to bleed and weep almost like a real person. Nothing that I wanted, no preference or pain of mine, had the slightest importance to anybody."
"It was probably nothing to do with you, pet, except coincidentally. Those sort of people, they're just people who can't relate properly to anybody else - everybody is meat to them, or a punch-bag, or a toy. You just happened to be handy. There's nothing wrong with you - only with them."
"But even to Albus - he was fond of me I think, at least as an adult, but I was still expendable. It doesn't matter how many excuses are made, he really didn't care that I'd almost been killed - down the tunnel, I mean. I didn't count for anything. Even my life could be thrown away, without thought or repercussion."
"Don't distress yourself, pet. Honestly, from what you and everyone else says about him, I think that he was so nerveless himself, or so careless of the possible alternative consequences of his actions, that he didn't think 'almost killed' mattered. He'd have grieved if you'd been really killed, I'm sure of it."
"You could be right - but I remain unconvinced. Why are you kind to me?"
"Huh. Because I'm a kind person. Because I am inordinately fond of you. Because you've suffered so much random, unearned cruelty in life that you deserve to have a lifetime's worth of random, unearned kindness to balance it up. And you're not unimportant to me, or to Remus or Minerva or funny old Horace - we would have burned the world to get you free, if we'd had to."
"God, that's - I'm not sure if that's reassuring or terrifying. Why now, when nobody much except Albus ever seemed to give a damn about me before?"
"I think perhaps he stood between you and the world too much. He protected you from harm - some sorts of harm, anyway, he protected you from open blame or suspicion - but his protection made a barrier which prevented you from interacting with people in your own right, instead of through him. It prevented you from forging independent connections with them - connections that were because of who you were and not because of who he was."
"God - what an age to begin again. It's like starting school all over again, only with bigger bullies. But can I ever be more than merely tolerated in wizarding society - with my background?"
"Being an ex Death Eater? But you're a hero now, and soon everyone will know it."
"You can't really be a hero in your own right if you're working class, in our world. You can only be comic relief - or some pure-blood's plucky sidekick! Whatever I do, to too many wizards I will always just be - low class. And now I'm a bloody jailbird who got off, the craven traitor who screamed for mercy and spilled what he knew - God knows how much they'd despise me if they knew what Lucius made of me! In fact I'm sure they're bloody speculating - even though, thank God, they only heard my end of the conversation which was mainly just 'Don't!'"
Lynsey winced, knowing how horrible it must be for him to have had what he saw as his humiliation made so public. "You know what they say, don't you?" she said brightly. "The people who matter don't mind, and the people who mind don't matter."
He grinned reluctantly at that. "Snobbery, Muggle-style?"
"Absolutely. Anybody who would despise you for being tortured and abused is themselves to be absolutely despised, and is therefore negligible: and anybody who worries about class, hasn't got it."
"So where do you fit into all this?"
"Me? My parents moved to Oban when I was twelve, but I was born London Irish, and that's a thing all by itself. As regards the British class system, you may say I'm an outside observer."
"My family were not working class - as in, 'not working'. My father despised himself for being unemployed and unable to provide for his wife - although that was no fault of his, since there was no work to be had. Then he took to drink, and despised himself for that. Then I came along, wearing his face, and he saw himself in me and took out on me all his hatred of himself. I can see that now - in fact I think I half knew it then."
"Did that make it easier to cope with?"
"Not a lot. When you grow up being told that you're worthless all the time.... The converse also applies of course: I hated him, I saw his face in me and so I hated myself. Though I realize now that my mother must take part of the blame. She could have reassured him when he first started to fret about not being a good breadwinner, but instead she undermined him at every turn. Not a very reassuring woman altogether, my mother. In fact - I've never quite dared to ask her about it, but I've a suspicion she poisoned him, in the end. She always was good with potions." He reached for the teapot and carefully poured himself another cup.
"Is she still alive, your mum?" He nodded in a rather subdued way. "Won't she want to - well, to see that you're all right?"
"I Floo-called her," he said shortly. "When I was staying at the Weasleys'. She had been - distressed, I do believe, when it was reported that I had been taken and tortured, and about - about Azkaban, and she was certainly quite relieved to hear that I was free and tolerably well. But she doesn't really do 'warm', and her sense of obligation towards me, such as it is, doesn't extend to actually socialising with me. If I'm alive and healthy and not actively under arrest, that's sufficient."
"You mean... she feels she has a duty to care about your well-being, at least on a physical level, but she doesn't actually like you much?"
"Quite. Of course, I don’t like her much, so I suppose it evens out."
"Well, I like you," Lynsey said firmly. "And I blame her very much for allowing your father to physically abuse you."
"What could she do, though? She was afraid of him."
"I appreciate how it works for the normal run of battered wives - or battered husbands, for that matter - how they become hypnotized into thinking they're helpless and worthless, into thinking that they deserve it. But I find it hard to believe that that would apply to someone who knew absolutely that only a legal technicality was preventing them from turning their attacker into a frog and stamping on him.
"And as a witch, surely she had access to far better escape routes than most battered wives? If she'd escaped with you into the wizarding world, how could he have found her? And you said yourself that you think she killed the old bastard, in the end - well, she could have offed him a lot sooner, to protect you rather than herself, rather than - rather than, it seems to me, only getting round to doing something about him when he had turned his attentions onto her because you were no longer around for him to batter."
"She didn't want to admit her mistake," he said, frowning. "My grandfather shocked the family by marrying a Muggle-born witch, so the only way Mums could prove how daring and iconoclastic she was was by going one better and screwing an actual Muggle - in a convenient alley after a local church social, I believe. When she fell pregnant with me - and later when she found out what dear Tobias was like as a life-partner - well, she didn't want to admit that the family had been right about him and she'd been wrong."
"Oh terrific - so she sacrificed you on the altar of saving face?"
"Yes. Basically. But she always did take after the Prince side, and that's a very... pure-blood thing to do. Even Narcissa has done it, and unlike my bloody mother she really does dote on Draco - but she still let Lucius alternately spoil and belittle him, rather than cause a scandal by walking out."
"But she probably really is too scared to run - he's a powerful wizard himself, so where could she go to, that he couldn't follow her?"
He cocked an eyebrow at her and gave her a bright, sceptical look. "You haven't met dear Narcissa, have you? She's very... sweet."
"Ah. As in, I always warn my male friends that any woman over the age of about eighteen who comes on strongly as 'sweet little me' is either mentally retarded or up to no good?"
"Cissy may not be entirely stable - but she's fairly bright."
"But - you said yourself that you were afraid of what Lucius might do to her if he found out that you and she...."
"True. If he was provoked into rage against her he might do any bloody thing, including murder. But in the normal way of things she has him wrapped firmly around her little finger. Narcissa definitely wears the trousers in that relationship - sometimes literally, I believe."
"Too much information. Way, way too much information."
On Friday he came home in a state of some excitement, to announce that Harry's house-elf, Kreacher, had managed to steal back the Horcrux-bearing locket, which Mundungus had fenced to a very unpleasant woman who worked for the Ministry. The dishonesty involved was, in Severus's considered opinion, counterbalanced by the fact that a) Mundungus had stolen the locket in the first place, and b) the Ministry official, Dolores Umbridge, had extorted it from Mundungus with menaces.
"Mind you," he added, flopping down on the sofa in a flurry of black and putting his feet up on the coffee table, "Potter said that Kreacher had been holding it in trust for Regulus Black, who stole it from the - from Riddle, who nicked it and the Hufflepuff cup from an elderly collector, who herself had bought it from a Dark Arts curio shop, who had conned it out of Riddle's mother Merope when she was desperate, who had nicked it from her Dads, who had it legitimately from Salazar. Merope had some legitimate claim to it because her father owed her something for two decades of unrewarded drudgery, and she was cheated out of it, so I suppose Riddle really did have a right to it - but he murdered the collector to make a Horcrux, rather than just reclaiming what was his."
"What a saga. It doesn't sound like a lucky thing, does it?"
"It never was. Godric Gryffindor gave it to Salazar, with a lock of his own hair inside, as a make-up present: but they still parted. I, uh, don't mean that sort of makeup...."
Definite progress was being made: Argus Filch, who held Severus in some kind of awe even though Severus privately called him "a creepy old would-be pervert who makes my skin crawl", had agreed to lend his Probity Probe to Kreacher for a few days, and Kreacher was going to make a sweep of the Come-and-Go room over the weekend. Severus himself had been neglecting Lynsey all week in favour of poring through sinister-looking tomes - some retrieved from the lake, some from his own private collection from behind the panel on the left of the fireplace in his quarters at Hogwarts - and making scratchy, angular notes on a loose-leaf pad. He had tried recording his findings on the laptop, but after it had spontaneously rebooted itself three times, and the mouse-cursor had begun to move about on its own, he had decided that pen and paper was safer.
[Some of the more exciting volumes had to be kept zipped up in Severus's old carpet-bag when not in use, in order to keep the cats away from them - and not to protect the books. The bookcase he had ordered included a glass-fronted section for that reason.]
"The problem is," he said irritably, tapping his quill against the page, "that often the actual spell-words are given in riddles or mnemonics, rather than um spelled out plainly, and the gestures are anybody's guess. The usual method when reconstructing spells from old texts is to make some informed guesses and then try them out and see what works - but I can hardly try this."
All this activity was not before time, for the news from the wizarding world was bad. There had been several successful attacks by Voldemort's forces, some of them especially targeted at undermining Ministry control, and it had been discovered that somebody at the Ministry had infiltrated the system used to monitor the Floo network, and had set up a chain of unregistered Floo-points which had not yet been traced.
On other fronts, Lynsey had admitted to her other friends and family that she had a bidey-in, who was, she informed them, a security consultant whom she had met during the witch-moot in Croydon. His name she gave as Gordon Mercer, on the grounds that this had nothing at all to do with his real one: if it ever became possible to use the name "Severus" in public, she would probably tell them it was his Principality or fannish handle.
Severus had agreed to have lunch with a group of her friends next week, wearing the glamour which made him harder to memorise. Lynsey overcame his reluctance by reminding him of Alan Breck's maxim: once her friends thought they knew enough about him, even if it was mostly lies, they would stop asking and lose interest; but if they knew they didn't know, they would keep on digging until they found something inconvenient.
Over the weekend, they put up the bookcases which Severus had bought, so that he could unpack Albus's silver instruments from their little brass-bound chest. From what he said, they were mostly prediction machines - a sort of artificially-psychic magical computer, or a mechanical Tarot - and their power-usage was circumscribed enough not to register to an outside observer.
One of the shelves had a rough, poorly-finished patch where fibres of wood had protruded through the varnish. Lynsey fetched sandpaper from the cupboard and had rubbed the offending area smooth before she noticed that Severus was watching her hands fixedly, his throat working and his skin the colour of porridge.
"What is it, pet?"
"Macnair," he said thickly: "after he tore out my nails the raw surface was so - exquisitely sensitive and he -" He looked away, swallowing convulsively. Feeling as queasy as he looked, Lynsey put her hand on his shoulder and he leant against her touch, quietly.
She wondered, sometimes, about her own position. There was certainly a level on which she enjoyed the closeness which was created between them when she comforted him through his trauma; she hoped that that didn't mean that there was a deeper level on which she actually wanted him to be traumatised.
Opportunities for that sort of closeness were certainly plentiful. During the day he might be combat-master and strategist-in-chief to the Order of the Phoenix, and by night an enthusiastic if still rather nervous lover; but in the small hours of the morning the memories of torture and bleak isolation, of his miserable childhood and hunted teens, of Lily's murder and of the things he did and saw both as Death Eater and as spy paraded through his sleeping mind, leaving him sweating and shaking in Lynsey's arms. And they both knew that it wasn't going to get much easier anytime soon: she could help him to feel better and stronger about himself, and she meant to, but there was no quick cure for the horrors in his head.
Sometimes when he was racked by memory she could get him out of it with song, or with poetry, usually Hopkins or Yeats: holding his hands and murmuring "'Though I am old with wandering // Through hollow lands and hilly lands'...." until the hypnotic cadence steadied his breathing and drew him down into peaceful sleep. Or at least got him calm enough to benefit from a cuddle.
She had not been sure, at first, whether Coisich a Ruin - the very song she had used to free him from the Unnameable One's torture-room in the first place - would calm him or freak him out completely: whether it would taste to him of salvation or of torment. But in fact he seemed to find it soothing - provided she sang it quite slowly and wistfully, rather than with the hard crash and thump which she had used to break through his howling agony, on the cold cusp of the year.
"I can't - I don't - please - no -"
She had grown used to coping with his night-time terrors, almost without waking up herself: but it was new for him to fall into a flashback when he was up and dressed. Some pattern of shadows across the wall, some grisly item in the Prophet, had caused him to fall into the well of memory, and left him staring wild-eyed at something invisible to her.
She crossed the room and sat down on the floor by his feet, so as not to loom over him, and laid her hand on his arm - carefully, without gripping. She could feel the muscles jumping under his skin. "Come on, pet," she said quietly, and he moved his head stiffly to look at her, his gaze dragging back into focus from a great distance. He opened his mouth to speak, but could not force his throat to cooperate.
She gave the arm a gentle pat and shifted to sit with her side pressed against his leg, looking away from him. "'I caught this morning morning's minion,'" she began quietly, "'king//dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon in his riding // Of the rolling level underneath him steady air and striding // High there,'" and Severus's soft, dark voice cut across her: "'Turning and turning in the widening gyre // The falcon cannot hear the falconer'".
"Trust you to find a way to put a sinister spin on it," she replied with profound relief.
"'Things fall apart;'" he went on determinedly; "'the centre cannot hold'. I'm falling apart. Or-" He covered his face with his hands. "Ordinarily I can use Occlumency to keep them, the flashbacks, out, at least when I'm awake - but some of those books that Dumbledore had, you read them and they read you back, and it's undermining me, feeble fucking idiot - promise me you won't try to look at them without my supervision!" he added sharply.
"I promise, pet." In fact, she'd already flicked through several of them, carefully bypassing the ones which gave her the cold grue just from looking at the spines, or which actually smoked; but there was no point in worrying him. "And you're not being feeble, you're really not - it's impressive that you can block flashbacks at all."
"But I shouldn't bloody-well have them in the first place. Not everyone does, do they? - and my mind is supposed to be disciplined, I'm meant to be able to direct my thoughts, my memories: I wouldn't have lasted ten minutes as a spy if I couldn't. And it's not as if - as if I hadn't been - tortured - before and, all right, I had dreams, but they didn't spill into my waking life: so why now?" He twisted his hands together, beginning to claw at his own skin. "It's not just the books it's - I can feel myself walking on a knife-edge."
"Don't," she said, taking hold of his hands and stilling them. "Look, it's like, two people can be in a car accident and one walks away with minor cuts and bruises and the other ends up with a broken back, but it's not weakness that broke the guy's back, just the luck of the draw - and once it's happened, he can't just unmake it happen and get up and walk through sheer willpower. It's done, and you have to deal with it, and you can deal with it - but you can't make it not have happened in the first place."
"But that is referring to - physical injury. That's a very different matter from not being able to control my own bloody mind."
"Yes but it is a physical injury, sort-of. As I understand it, what seems to happen is that sometimes, during an acutely traumatic experience, especially a life-threatening one, there's a rush of stress-hormones so intense that it disrupts the hippocampus - the bit of the brain which controls the filing-system for memory. Then that particular memory doesn't get attached to the temporal framework properly, and instead of being stored as Then it becomes permanently tagged as Now and keeps floating to the surface as if it had just happened, or is still happening. Kind-of like a film slipping off its little ratchetty things and not winding on properly. There's nothing much you can do about it except ride it out and wait for the filing-system to sort itself out - which does usually happen eventually, but can take years - or learn lucid-dreaming techniques which enable your present self to get into the memory and override the past self enough to calm it down."
"Lucid dreaming - that's - a bit like the astral work you showed me, isn't it?"
"Mmm, except in your sleep rather than a waking trance. It's becoming conscious within the dream and knowing that you are dreaming, or within a flashback and knowing that it is one, and then walking about in it and directing it, yes, a bit like astral visualisation. It's possible to learn it... and, well, maybe it would help you to join a discussion group on the net for victims of torture or, um..."
"Yes." The difficult word "rape" was understood without saying it. "But I don't suppose they have internet discussion lists for abused wizards: and if I went on a Muggle list I'd have to be always watching what I said, in case they thought I was mad, or taking the piss."
The next day was a Monday, and Severus came home from work in a state of high excitement, to announce that Kreacher had identified several suspicious objects which might be Horcruxes. Remus was with him, having decided, he said, to take Lynsey up on her offer of a reading.
"Believe it or not," Severus said happily, "we think it may be that tiara - the one that was on that bust near where we found the, um, the centaur figurines."
"A tiara? Isn't that a bit girly for Tom Riddle to store a bit of his immortal soul in?"
"It's still got to be authenticated," Remus said, "but it looks as though it may be a missing Ravenclaw artefact. It will be a shame if we have to destroy it."
"No more so than if we have to destroy Salazar's locket," Severus muttered, and Remus pulled a rueful face.
"I suppose so."
"I found something myself that I think will interest you," Lynsey said. She hadn't intended them to have an audience for this, but instinct told her that it would be all right. "You remember I told you that when we were in the caves, and you turned the tables and hunted Riddle's lot right back, I saw you as a great black fox?"
"Did she now?" Remus murmured to himself, watching Severus with lively interest in his amber eyes.
"What of it?" Severus said warily.
Lynsey fished out the old-fashioned LP and put it on the turntable, carefully lowering the needle into the smooth blank stripe before the song she wanted. "Listen to this."
The springy, striding tune told of a party of foxhunters who set out on horseback but could find no fox to run for them, until the master cried:
And then there sprang like lightning
A fox from out his hole:
His fur was the colour of a starless night,
His eyes like burning coals."
Lynsey watched Severus out of the corner of her eye, and saw a scowl warring with a faint but definite self-satisfied smirk, as the song detailed the fox's prowess and stamina, until it turned, laughing, and cried to its exhausted persecutors:
And when your need is greatest,
Just call upon My Name:
I will come and you shall have
The best of sport and game.'
All the men looked up in wonder;
All the hounds ran back to hide;
For the fox had changed to the Devil himself
Where he stood at the other side."
Severus started uneasily, and the smirk relocated itself to Remus's face.
'Ride on my gallant huntsmen:
When must I come again?'..."
As the song wound down to its conclusion, her professor ducked his head, letting his hair swing down in curtains. "I appreciate the thought," he said awkwardly, "and your less-than-subtle attempt to make me feel better about my part in the whole miserable bloody affair, but being compared to the Devil is... too apt for comfort."
Lynsey pulled a face. "I was forgetting you were Catholic, and I didn't mean to imply you were evil. The song - well, it's not exactly traditional but it does incorporate bits of a traditional story, and in British folk tradition, especially here in Scotland, the Devil tends to be portrayed more as a sort of Trickster figure - as a folk-hero, witty and clever and only a little bit sinister."
"Speaking as an official Dark Creature," Remus said lightly, "I'll buy that."
"If I was - like that," Severus said, "I mean witty and so on, there, it was because I was borrowing it from you. You were the strong one and I was - abject, pleading, and what does that make me?"
"Your memory is defective: even though you were in a very bad state physically and psychologically, you behaved with massive courage and competence. He really did," she added as an aside to Remus, and he nodded firmly.
"I wouldn't have picked him for an alpha if I didn't think he was competent and brave," he murmured.
"And we bolstered each other: I would have been paralysed with terror if I'd been on my own. Anyway," she added in the face of his bitter, sceptical expression, "isn't it rather sexist of you to worry about the fact that a woman might be stronger than you?"
"She's got you there, Severus!" Remus said with a grin.
"I didn't mean it like that!" he protested. Lynsey didn't give him time to explain what he had meant, since the object was to wrong-foot him out of his self-doubt.
"In any case, I'm older than you - I'm allowed to play Big Sister without calling your touchy masculine pride into question. And you saved me many times over in the caves - you’re the only person I know that's strong enough for me to lean on. It's right that you should have somebody to lean on too."
"When I was a kid," Severus muttered, "before Hogwarts I mean, the PE teacher got us to do that trust thing where you fall back and the person behind catches you, but the boy who was supposed to catch me didn't. He thought it was a big laugh. And I never - I hoped it could be different, but I never had any hope that it would be, if that makes sense."
"From now on," Remus said seriously, "if it's humanly or, in my case, semi-humanly possible, when you fall, someone will be there to catch you."
Remus joined them for dinner: a circumstance about which Severus was uneasily polite; embarrassed, Lynsey supposed, by the sentimentality of the other man's assurance, or doubting its sincerity. Afterwards, she fetched out her deck and laid out the Shining Star spread: once for the future of the relationship between Remus and Tonks - which was imperfect, but tolerable - and once for how Remus himself should approach the matter. Severus pretended uninterest, but Lynsey caught him watching intently out of the corner of his eye.
"On the emotional level, Mourning - that's emotional lability and, um, self-pity" - she ignored Severus's delicate snort - "and The Horse Thief reversed - 'unfounded fears repel success'. That means the cards think that what you're pitying yourself about is an unfounded fear, which is good news really, so they're telling you to stoppit."
"These aren't normal cards, are they?" Remus asked, squinting at the little cardboard picture which showed a bare-chested, long-haired man in a species of maroon half-cloak, leading a grey horse. "What would that be in a regular deck?"
"Seven of Swords. This is the Native American deck - I like it because it's, well, brutally honest. A lot of modern decks, they've been bowdlerised so you can hardly get a bad reading, but this one doesn't so much do character assessments as character assassinations."
"Lovely," the werewolf replied balefully. "Just what I wanted."
"And...." She turned over another card. "There we are: on the mental level, which is how you think about the situation, you've got The Warrior of Vessels - that's, um, quite a good card for a relationship in some ways because it can mean luck in romance, and being quick to respond to physical attraction, but it also means problems with lack of staying-power in romance" - depending on context, on the Physical axis it could also mean erectile dysfunction, but she kept that bit to herself - "poor management of one's affairs, over-sensitivity to external influence and, um, factors to do with possible mental illness or drugs, which in your case probably means the werewolf-thing."
That was putting a much politer gloss on it than the deck itself did: the little booklet which came with the pack spoke of possible schizophrenia, certain weakness of character and probable disaster, but the strongest meaning of the cards was not always the correct one.
"You make me sound like a hopeless case," Remus muttered, and she could hear resentment and anger warring with self-doubt under the peaceful facade.
"I wouldn't say that - see, here's the other Mental axis card now, and it's The World. That means you need to buckle down and put some serious work into the relationship, to think about it as a piece of work that you can do, and as a thing which won't work unless you work: but the good news is that the cards clearly think that you can do it if you try. This means that through your hard work you can obtain your goal and move the situation on and up to a higher level. With more and harder work to come, of course, but always progressing, and achieving something well worth the effort."
Breathing an inward sigh of relief - with the fangs that this deck had, it could have been so much worse - she gave him a reassuringly professional smile. "Despite some 'issues'" - she winced as she turned over The Journey reversed, the inner void, on the Spiritual level - "it's clear the cards think that you and Tonks have the potential to be a going concern."
And in the end, through all their problems, there was Strength at the heart.
"Now that you've finished fussing over that damn' sheep-botherer...."
"You were jealous? That's sweet!"
"Huh. No, not jealous, just...."
"Feeling a bit neglected?"
"Well, c'mere then and let me un-neglect you for a bit."
She had already learned that the main thing about Severus and sex was not to do anything suddenly - there were a lot of forms of touch which he was perfectly OK about if he was forewarned, but which freaked him out if he wasn't expecting them. And tentative and uncertain though he still was, he was easier about touching her, about pleasing her, than about being pleased.
He was tautly eager to explore her body himself with careful lips and fingertips, so long as she made the first move, and what he lacked in experience he more than made up for in dexterity and application; but when Lynsey found herself conveniently placed to trail her tongue experimentally along the underside of his erection, and did so, he jerked and shuddered. "God - don’t -"
"I'm sorry," she said, and cursed herself for moving too fast; she had thought he had been aroused enough to just go with it. "If you don't want -"
"It's not - not that I don't like it," he said unsteadily.
Lynsey propped herself up on her elbows on the bed, watching his blanched, nervy face from a necessarily low angle, since her head was now about level with the pale rack of his lower ribs. "What, then?"
"I just - it makes me feel -" He winced, and muttered: "Don'twanttofeelI'mbeinglikeLucius."
Blast - she should have thought of that. "The fact that Lucius likes certain things," she said delicately, "done by unwilling partners, doesn't mean that you can't do them with somebody who's extremely willing to. But if it freaks you out, or, or reminds you of stuff -"
He sighed irritably. "Everything to do with sex 'reminds me of stuff', and I said I wasn't going to let that put me off, didn't I? But if you - do things for me, sexually I mean, instead of vice versa, it makes me feel as if I am... taking advantage, like him."
Lynsey frowned at him. "Look, if I want to, to please you that doesn’t mean I'm being meek, placating you - what's to placate? I'm far too good at managing your moods to need to go to so much effort - sorry, but it's true and you know it."
Severus made a little huffing noise at that, and heaved himself upright to sit with his back against the headboard. "Why, then?"
Lynsey had to sit up on the bed herself, facing him, in order to continue to see his face without getting a cricked neck. "Because I like to do nice things for you - because I care about you, and because you deserve to have nice things done for you, and it pleases me to do nice things for you."
He flinched away from her, snarling like a dog. "I don't want to be anybody's bloody pity-fuck." He visibly thought about that for a moment. "Well, not unless it's the only kind of fuck on offer...."
"Tish. Quite apart from asking what's wrong with giving and taking a little kindness, it's way more complicated than that. Thinking about somebody dear to me being hurt, it tears me up, it makes me hot and miserable - so putting things right for you puts them right for me too."
"Am I, then?" he asked in an odd voice.
"Are you what?"
"Dear to you."
"Oh, immensely. And I also fancy you immensely, so doing things that give you pleasure really pleases me too, I get a buzz from it. It's very - erotic. It's a bit like tickling the cats under the chin until they go all purry and ecstatic - and you know how weirdly satisfying that is - but so much more intense."
"You don't feel - you don't feel that it means I am - controlling you?"
"Oh, no - quite the reverse. There's a definite sense of power in making you purr like a cat - but you don't need to feel threatened by that, because you must know I'd rather die than use that power to hurt you."
"I do know, more or less - and in any case I'd far rather it were that way round, that you have power over me, than feel that I was - that I was doing Lucius's work for him. Being his proxy, an extension of him, of his control over me."
"Oh, but, look, I've told you - it's what you feel about it emotionally that matters, not the purely physical bit." She wondered how long it was going to take to give him back to himself - if it were even possible to do so. He had considered himself to be someone else's property, one way or another, for nearly all his life. "You might feel the, the same physical sensation as he did: any man might. But as I understand it, Lucius wanted other people to do him sexual favours because he wanted to feel he was dominating them - he likes to feel he's forcing himself on someone who's revolted by him, doesn't he?"
"Oh yes. At least - it was more complicated than that, in my case." He looked away from her, staring into the private distance of memory. "In the beginning - when I was twelve and he was seventeen, he would have called what he did to me seduction, and there was perhaps some truth in that, at first. I was just so - so fucking starved for any kind of attention that didn't involve being hit and this didn't. At first. And I was just at that idiotic age to have same-sex crushes, and Lucius was so - he shone."
He moved his head restlessly, shaking something off, before meeting Lynsey's eyes again. "They say there's some Veela in that bloodline, and I could believe it. I suppose he was flattered to be the object of such wide-eyed devotion from such a, a little black scrap of a thing, and I was flattered beyond measure when he responded."
"It was still abusive, though - you were so much younger, he must have known you were too young even to know what your sexual preferences were going to be."
"I was too young even to understand that I would have preferences, and he knew how - idiotically needy I was, and played on it. Later on -" He stared down at his clasped hands, gripping and twisting them together until the knuckles shone palely through his skin. "The older we got, the worse he got, the more he liked to, to humiliate me, to keep me down in the dirt, and the more I knew I didn't want him - touching me. Him or his bloody creepy friends. The more I started fancying girls, yus kin - the more I knew what fancying people felt like and that what they were doing to me wasn't it! But I suppose he still thought.... He always liked an, an unequal relationship, I being so much the younger, and he thought he was really being so bloody generous, lowering himself to touch half-blooded trash like me. He really did. It came as a great shock to him, I think, to discover not only that I was a traitor to the Cause but that I had despised him for years - and then he wanted to, to degrade me - that way, to obliterate me as a sentient being even, to punish me for showing himself to himself in such a poor light."
"And that's without even knowing that you were shagging his wife...." Lynsey murmured, with the slightly hysterical ghost of a laugh.
"God, no. I was very tempted to tell him - he could hardly be any more vicious than he was already being, and revenge would have been sweet - but God knows what he would have done to Cissy if I had."
"Well, you don't bloody want to dominate or degrade people that way, do you? You want to feel desired, accepted, wanted - it's not the same thing at all."
"And what do you want, Lynsey?"
"In bed, you mean? To be absolutely close - without any barriers. To cherish somebody I care for. To touch and be touched in that - that immensely electrically tactile way that's like stroking the cats raised to the nth power. Somebody to cuddle - and to warm my feet on." She shifted her position, so she could use the toes of her left foot to stroke him delicately in a sensitive spot. "To have a bit of a laugh at what is, basically, a very silly activity."
"Oh, God - the last thing I want to do in bed is feel silly, can't you understand that?" Nevertheless, she could feel his fleshy heat pressing against the sole of her foot as his body began to respond.
"But is there a choice?" Using her foot instead of her hand was difficult, almost a meditation exercise, and she leaned back and half shut her eyes in concentration. "Listen, this friend of mine, she was making love with her husband when their enormous and very jealous cat wandered in and landed spread-eagled on the poor guy's back with all her claws out at a moment of sexual crisis and you can't tell me that's not silly. Or there was -" she grinned at him as she felt him begin to wriggle at her touch "- there was this couple in I think the Thirties, making love in an orchard, and they were planning to, um, 'Get off at Haymarket' as they say in Edinburgh, only an apple fell off the tree and thwacked the poor guy on the backside just as he was, um, about to - dismount, and he very nearly went through to Waverley. When I told my mum about that one, she said it proved God has a sense of humour."
Severus gave a whoop of laughter so sudden and sharp that he made himself cough. When he had got his breath back he gasped "I am never, never even trying it again unless you make sure the cats are out of the room - and you can stop that and go and shut the damn' door to keep them out, since you're obviously feeling so lively!"
Later, lying in darkness with the taste of him in her mouth, and idly doodling a pattern on his bare forearm with her fingernail, she asked, "Did you never think of going to your house-master about what Lucius was doing?"
"To Horace Slughorn - when the Malfoys had so much influence? I don't know...." He shifted restlessly, making the duvet rustle. "Maybe he really would have helped me - I'd like to believe him - but I was just so bloody embarrassed. I really believed what Lucius told me, that I deserved everything I got. In the end I just did whatever he told me - it was easier that way. Even when he - even when he still wanted to, to see me after he left school." He grinned suddenly, showing a flash of uneven teeth in the darkened room. "Later on, of course I had an... ulterior motive, since seeing Lucius meant, um, seeing Narcissa...."
"Devious smug bastard," Lynsey said affectionately, and Severus made a little huff of amusement.
"As Head of Slytherin, I'd be letting the side down if I wasn't at least moderately smug and devious."
"I remember you said Slytherins were selected for ambition - but there seems to be a lot of, um, inter-house rivalry?" She had certainly got that impression from some of the undertones to the conversations between him and Remus.
"All the time. There are four houses. Slytherins are supposed to be selected because their dominant characteristic is ambition; Ravenclaws for disinterested intellectual curiosity; Gryffindors for bravery - although often that translates to arrogant bravado - and Hufflepuffs for diligence and loyalty, although in practice Hufflepuff gets anybody who didn't fit into one of the others. Which, to put it at its crudest, means psychopaths and abuse-survivors in Slytherin, high-function autistics in Ravenclaw, narcissists, schizophrenics and manic-depressives in Gryffindor and Hufflepuff gets the ones who've already given up."
"It's not that bad, surely?"
"The wizarding world is a very small, inbred population - if it wasn't for Muggle-borns like Granger and, and Lily, and half-bloods like me, they'd all be barking mad by now. And all the houses, all of them, they compete, they try to best each other, but the rivalry between Slytherin and Gryffindor is especially bitter, and all the other houses unite against us. Whoever is playing Slytherin, the other two houses always support the other team. And the staff - well, most of the staff went to Hogwarts themselves, and they tend to reproduce the same biases they had as children."
"Ouch. Why are they so hostile?"
"Historical reasons, partly. There were four original Founders, one for each house, but Salazar, the Founder of Slytherin, he quarrelled with the others over their admissions policy, among other things. He felt that taking Muggle-borns into the school was tantamount to kidnapping them - this was in the eleventh century, when neither Muggles nor wizards had fast long-distance travel or communications, remember. At that time - well, people lived widely-spaced, it was easier to conceal magic then, so the need to hive ourselves off in a separate community was less pressing. Binnsey claims that it was nevertheless a period of great persecution of magical folk, but I suspect he's overstating the case."
"Well - the main witch-persecutions weren't for centuries. There were some, I think - but most Christian churches at that time didn't even believe in magic, as far as I know."
"That's what I thought. It would have been enough to send emissaries to warn Muggle-borns not to do it in public - as it were. There was little pressing need to take them out of their local culture and into ours, other than the desire to indoctrinate them and to control all magic."
"Ah. A bit like the Roman church absorbing the Celtic church." She snuggled up comfortably against his side, which smelt faintly sweaty after their recent exertions, and he hooked his arm round her and gave her elbow an absent-minded pat.
"Quite. The other Founders thought that there was a sort of One True Faith - or rather a One True Way of Doing Magic - and they wanted to make sure that everybody who could do strong magic, learned to do it the Hogwarts way. They wanted to prove they could do it better than the College of Warlocks at Dún Scáith in Skye."
"The Fortress of Shadows? Do you mean Scáthach was one of your people?" She craned her head round to look at him interestedly, although all she could really see was his hawk profile, a sharp black cut-out outlined against the relative pallor of the curtains and the faint glow of streetlights beyond.
"Mmm. The stories say she wasn't entirely human, but she was certainly a witch! The magic she and her successors taught was... wild, and most of it was used for combat. The Founders had a theory that magic would work better and be more... well, that if magic was harnessed and controlled by organised spells, then its effects would be safer, more predictable: easier to conceal from Muggles, and more accessible to the less able."
"You mean... people who only had a little bit of magic could still produce a specific effect, and know what they were getting, by using the right ritual - um, spell-words?"
"Rather than doing it by exerting raw force and shaping it with 'will and wand', yes, in the way that an adept like Dumbledore can do, where what you get depends heavily on how powerful you are. Their argument had a lot of merit: the problem came in when the other three wanted everybody to only learn formal, spell-based magic. Salazar thought that we shouldn't restrict magic to only the one branch, or seek to impose wizarding culture on others: but he also thought that, well, that wizarding culture shouldn't be diluted by too many outsiders, either, and that was where the problems came from."
"Ah. I can see how that might be... taken the wrong way."
"Mmm. As far as I know he really did value Muggle culture as well, he wanted to preserve the characteristic oddities of their culture and of his own in a Ravenclawish, anthropological sort of way, and he thought that if we were going to take in newcomers at all it should be done carefully and they should be taught our ways: but subsequent generations took him to mean we shouldn't take in Muggle-borns at all."
"You mean, he was thinking 'Don't sell TV sets to the natives, we mustn't corrupt their pure tribal culture' in that slightly patronising but well-meaning, PC sort of way, but his successors turned it into an excuse for apartheid?"
"Exactly. The irony was that he and Godric Gryffindor were lovers - although Salazar must have been bi, since he had a son - but anyway Godric took the fact that Salazar disagreed with him very badly, as a betrayal rather than a difference of opinion, and when Salazar upped sticks and went to work at Dún Scáith instead, Godric accused him of having had a secret lover there all along. There was a lot of bitterness and recrimination, and Salazar's real message ended up being distorted - he himself ended up distorting it in order to annoy Godric, I think."
"Oh dear - people tend to forget that important historical figures could be just as silly as anybody else."
"Quite. People portray Salazar as this brooding dark mastermind -"
"A sort of camp James Bond villain, plotting world domination with a white Persian cat on his lap?"
"Mmm. But reading between the lines, I suspect he was a lot like Hagrid - basically good-hearted but excitable and a bit bigoted, and prone to fits of the sulks. He even collected pet monsters! Even his interest in preserving the pure-blood line was a spin-off of his interest in breeding miniature dragons for use as guard-dogs. But nobody wants to know that. Slytherin House wants to think that their Founder was, well, not exactly an evil genius, but..."
"All suave and slinky and romantically brooding?"
"Exactly - not a, a funny little bloke from Norfolk with a face like a leathery apple, who trained Jarveys to catch ducks for him, and tied his clothes together with string. And Gryffindor wants to think that he was the sinister friend-turned-enemy who betrayed the noble, high-minded Godric: not that both of them acted like a pair of sulky hormonal teenagers. But at any rate Salazar became the pure-bloods' Poster Boy. Slytherin House developed a culture of exclusion, of rarely if ever taking on Muggle-borns, and not being that keen on half-bloods like me either, although I didn't know that in advance.
"You see it's not - the Hat doesn't only Sort on the dominant personality trait: a lot of students would be suited to more than one house, or none, and then the Hat makes decisions based on the student's personal preference, or on where their family went before them, or sometimes just to even up the numbers. Because nearly all the Muggle-borns and half-bloods went to other houses, the Hat sorted a disproportionate number of the witch-born to Slytherin to balance the numbers, and then of course a lot of children from those old pure-blood families who didn't want to associate with trash like me or Lily chose to be in Slytherin...."
"Quite. Even though many Slytherins were simply Sorted on the basis of ambition, and many of their ambitions were selfless - to cure disease or to feed the poor, or understand the true nature of time - the other houses thought that we were all bigots and ruthless climbers, and that - isolation, that sense of being unfairly accused, gave the bigots more power to make converts.
"Not that we were all bigots, even in - in Riddle's day. Horace, for example, has his own prejudices, but he's completely free of house bias, and he tries hard not to care about blood-status: if anything he favours Muggle-borns and half-bloods, in order to be certain of not being the bigot he was probably raised to be."
"He's a dodgy bleeder, that much is obvious, but I rather like him."
"Yes. It was because of Horace that I wanted to be in Slytherin in the first place. I was always interested in potions, and when Mums was in one of her chatty moods she told me that the Potions master at Hogwarts was the Head of Slytherin and that he didn't care about blood-status or class, if you had talent - he could advance the careers of clever boys even if they were ugly little buggers like me."
He sighed heavily in the darkness. "And I wanted - not just the career, but I wanted so much so have a, a father figure who would encourage my interests, instead of trying all the time to crush me. And he did - he let me have the use of a lab., when I was older, and he invited me to join the Slug Club as soon as he saw that I had real ability. The only problem with that was that the junior members were overseen by the older ones - he thought it built a supportive network, and I suppose for many it did, but it put me in Lucius's path. But Horace was fool enough to be taken in by Tom Riddle, so I suppose it's not surprising he didn't see through Lucius's dubious charms."
"Was Riddle in the Slug Club?"
"I don't actually know - I don't even know if the Slug Club existed in the forties - but he was a Slytherin, and I know that he charmed Horace into giving him valuable information about the Dark Arts." He shifted uneasily again. "That's another problem - another black mark the other houses hold against us. Because Salazar himself believed that magic was a broad church and that authorised spells and potions shouldn't be all there was to it, the climate in Slytherin was always more favourable to those students who were interested in... alternative magic. Including the Dark Arts."
"What does that mean, exactly? If I say 'black magic' I mean magic used for selfish or harmful ends, but it sounds as though you mean an actual class of magic."
"It doesn't mean anything exactly - the term is used widely and sloppily and is often applied, as you say, to any magic which is harmful. That's part of the problem - the other houses associate Slytherin with Dark Arts and they associate Dark Arts with evil which - which isn't necessarily true. They are always dangerous, but... they feed on external energy, from a person or from - I suppose you'd call it astral forces or something - or from the environment. They are - mutable, protean, ridden and directed by will...." Lynsey could hear the edge of longing in his voice.
"But in the wrong hands - even sometimes in the right ones - they can be very dangerous. Wounds made with Dark curses are often slow or impossible to heal, because the curse sucks energy out of the subject to perpetuate itself - it's self-perpetuating rather than self-limiting. It's easy for the caster to become - drunk, after a fashion, on the energies involved, and that can be addictive. Some of the energy sources behave as if they have personality and will, and their will is often inimical to the caster's. If I were still a practising Catholic I'd say that some of them were... demonic."
"I'd probably call them 'neggies'," Lynsey said - "'negative entities', that is. A lot of traditional Western ritual magic involves trying to raise and control those sort of forces, and it's always risky, even though the energies involved can be directed for good ends."
"Yes. Mattheus of Rhyl, in the Middle Ages, used Dark Arts to raise a cone of force which protected a Muggle ship from foundering in a storm, although the energies involved destroyed his body from within and he died three days later. Unless he just had a stroke, of course." He rolled over and settled himself down comfortably alongside her and she shifted to accommodate him, but her mind was still on what he'd said.
"It sounds a bit like... in one of Terry Pratchett's books, Guards! Guards! , there were these dragons you could summon which were in some way an expression of the summoner's will, and there'd been this guy who was sure that he could raise one and control it, use it to do good with: but he wrote a book about what he was planning to do, and the book was all crisped around the edges. But what about those... Dementor thingies? Aren't they demonic forces?"
"You would think so, wouldn't you?" Severus agreed sleepily. "But the Ministry doesn't call bargaining with Dementors Dark Arts, because it's them doing it."
"That sounds about typical."
"Yes. The Marauders, too. A lot of what they did was at least bordering on Dark Arts, the bastards, especially the Map which appears to suck energy from the castle to power itself, and behaves like a living and somewhat malicious entity - malicious to me, anyway! - and is activated by an oath of wrongdoing. But it was them doing it, so they were sure it was all right, whereas anything I did was necessarily Dark to them.
"That was the other reason," he added quietly. "Why I became a Slytherin. When I saw that Lily had been Sorted to Gryffindor I might have dropped my plans for a father-figure and a career, and changed my mind about wanting to be in Slytherin, just so I could follow her. The Hat told me I would fit equally well in any house - although I suspect I would have fitted equally badly. But we'd already met Potter and Black on the train, and they were such a pair of unmitigated little shits that when I saw them Sorted into Gryffindor too I couldn't face it, even for Lily - I couldn't face having to spend seven years, the whole of the rest of my childhood, sharing a dorm with them. The idea of - of them being in the room with me while I slept turned my stomach and so I went to Slytherin anyway."
He was so close that Lynsey could feel his breath tickling her skin. "If I hadn't, a lot of things would have turned out differently but I can't swear they would have turned out any better - and I will not dishonour my house by saying that I was wrong."
The automaton-makers called the Cabaret Mechanical Theatre used to have a small shop and exhibition space at Covent Garden Market, 1984-2000.
"Them that cannae tell the truth should be aye mindfu' to leave an honest, handy lee behind them." - quote from the novel Catriona by Robert Louis Stevenson. Catriona is the sequel to the more famous and widely-read novel Kidnapped, which Severus might well have read as a child, and in which Stevenson's fictionalised version of Alan Breck Stewart memorably defeats several opponents in a shipboard sword-fight and then cries "Oh, man - am I no' a bonny fighter?" in an ecstasy of Gryffindorish self-satisfaction.
I assumed in Mood Music that ordinary Transfiguration reverts at sunset, and that it takes special power to make a Transfiguration stick permanently. The logic behind this was that if normal Transfiguration were permanent, a) all those animals who get Transfigured into objects in class would have been murdered, and b) there would be no logic behind the existence of wizarding clothes shops, which we know do exist. Everybody would just buy a cheap T-shirt and Transfigure it into whatever they wanted.
In Mood Music, Severus enabled Lynsey to manifest her Power Animal - the form she takes on in astral when she wishes to appear dangerous and impressive - as if it was a Patronus. It appeared as a smallish, scruffy, horrible Velociraptor.
Personally I think that there were probably sound reasons why Albus didn't realise how serious the "joke" played on young Severus had been, and was concerned about Sirius's mental health. But Severus isn't in the mood to be objective.
The Principality (formerly Barony) of the Far Isles is the British end of the Society for Creative Anachronisms. There is a strong overlap between the Principality, the pagan movement and the SF-convention crowd. Members have alias names for use when they are in costume, as do many SF fans: and some of them end up using their costume-names in normal life too.
"Though I am old with wandering // Through hollow lands and hilly lands...." from The Song of Wandering Aengus; "Turning and turning in the widening gyre // The falcon cannot hear the falconer;" from The Second Coming; both by William Butler Yeats.
"I caught this morning morning's minion, king//dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon -" from The Windhover by Gerard Manley Hopkins.
The song Lynsey plays on the record-player is The Black Fox, on Graham and Eileen Pratt's 1980 album To Friend and Foe.
The term "bowdlerise" refers to the English physician Thomas Bowdler, who in the early nineteenth century produced versions of the plays of Shakespeare, and of Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, expurgated in order to render them more suitable for (women and) children.
In Tarot, the Strength card has the ability to soften or neutralise any negativity in the cards around it.
"Getting off at Haymarket" is a south-east Scottish metaphor for coitus interruptus - Haymarket being the last stop before the main Edinburgh train station at Waverley.
Hogwarts was founded in the tenth century - over a thousand years ago as at 1992 - but it must have taken some time to build the castle, so I'm assuming the falling-out happened after 1000AD.
According to information given in The Tales of Beedle the Bard, Potterverse wizards use "warlock" to mean a wizard skilled in magical combat, a sort of wizarding knight. According to Irish tradition Scáthach, which means "The Shadowy One", was a Scottish warrior-woman who ran a martial-arts school, and taught the Irish hero Cúchulainn. According to some sources she was one of the Sidhe, and the skills which she taught her pupils involved coping with magical creatures and obstacles, so it's reasonable that in the Potterverse she would be a witch. Her fortress was called Dún Scáith (the Castle of Shadows), and many people believe that the real but now ruined 14th C castle in Skye called Dun Sgathaich was built on the site of Dún Scáith.
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