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
#10: Coming to Grief
[In which Severus suffers a loss, and finds the music.]
With less than two weeks to go until the concert, Lynsey started to worry about what they would wear. For herself she had a decent pair of jeans, and a blue-grey cord jacket over a military-cut satin shirt the colour of a cherry.
Severus had got himself a plain second-hand leather jacket, but other than that his sartorial purchases had not included anything really suited to a night on the town, and outside the safely academic environs of St Andrews his robes would incite comment. He declared it to be a hopeless enterprise and a lost cause anyway, and refused to shop for fripperies which he insisted would look like gilt scrollwork on a dredger; so Lynsey took matters into her own hands and kitted him out in a full-sleeved cream linen shirt of the kind made, worn and sold by members of the English Civil War Society, a stock in a dark chestnut brown which would not cast an unpleasant tint onto his pale skin, and a thin ribbon of the same colour to loop back his hair. He hissed at her and complained at being dressed up like a damned doll, but later she caught him admiring the general effect in a mirror, and scowling critically at his own teeth.
At least, he was starting to get the hang of the laptop: if not actually programming yet, he was able to use it to write up his research notes on all the strange combat they had engaged in in Chislehurst Caves. This meant that he went from annoying her by asking her what button to click, every three minutes, to annoying her by demanding explanations of her take on astral travel, power-beasts and etc., and enthusing about aspects of modern computing which were, to her, absolutely routine.
"I've been thinking - "
"And what a pleasingly novel experience that must have been for you."
"Shut it." She had had a hard and frustrating day dealing with a difficult client with a bad case of feature-creep, and was in no mood to be teased; but when she looked at the professor properly he looked even worse than she felt. There was a raw score across his cheekbone where one of his students had got in a lucky hit with a hex, crossing the still faintly visible marks of Fenrir Greyback's claw-like nails, and his skin-tone was greyish. "I've been thinking about what we were talking about the other day, about that prophecy. Even if it's a calendar reference, you know, 'the seventh month' could be July or it could be September because September - "
"- means 'month seven'. Yes." He was curled into the corner of the sofa again, looking unusually subdued despite the reflex crack about her thinking skills.
"Because the new year used to begin in March - yes."
"Not only that - it could mean the seventh month from when the prophecy was made, which was... it was at the beginning of April, so that would take us into November. Not to mention the possibility that it refers to somebody born two months premature...."
"Or, like yourself, born two months short. And we don't know whether the one who approaches, the one born at the end of the seventh month and the one with the defiant parents are all the same one, or not; or whether the mark with which he would be marked is the mark on Harry's head or the one that used to be on your arm - don't scowl. Like most spoken prophecy it's very ambiguous - that's why I prefer Tarot."
"But are the cards not - equally misleading?"
"Depends how you handle them. With cards, you can at least usually narrow it down by asking additional questions. And that 'neither can live while the other survives' clause is especially odd since, as you say, Harry and snake-features both demonstrably are alive. In fact I wondered if it could refer to the mess you got into with the Vow and Dumbledore." She heard him suck in a ragged breath at that. "What?"
"Dumbledore is dead," he said bleakly. "I managed to get to speak to Horace after the training session today, and he told me - told me Dumbledore did survive the fall, he did ask him to help him to hide and fake his own death to protect me, but he didn't last out the week. The poison and the curse between them were too much for him - poisoned on Wednesday, dead on Saturday."
"Oh, my dear, I'm sorry." And she was, truly; even though she had never met this Dumbledore, and he had been dead nine months, for Severus this confirmation of death was a new bereavement, on top of the other shocks that he had suffered, and it was small wonder that he looked grey and shaky.
"I've been so... stuck there, with them, not knowing whether Dumbledore was alive or dead, not able to contact anybody to find out, and all the time - if I'd been there, I might have been able to save him. Horace is good, but he isn't in my league and we both know it. But I couldn't - and then, Christ, I was so - crying, pleading when they - hurt me, useless bloody -" He clenched his fists and drew a deep breath, trying to steady himself.
"But I never told Bellatrix I broke my Vow, even though that would have ended it. You understand that, don't you? If she, the Bonder, had known that I had refused to kill Dumbledore, that there was even a possibility that he was alive, then the Vow would have come into play and killed me, and I would have been spared... everything that came after."
"Yes. But you wanted to protect him."
"I thought that if he was alive, keeping silent about it was the best way to protect him and give him the chance to work unseen. Literally. If he had been alive - the bloody man could turn invisible at will, did you know that?"
He nodded tightly. "So I, I stayed alive and let them - hurt me, to protect his interests. I thought that I was being so fucking brave, that I could prove I wasn't the coward Potter said I was, but in the end - the end of it was that the - He - broke me and violated my mind so completely, He took every other bloody thing except that, until I was - until I fucking well volunteered information, to buy a few minutes' respite. That was what He bloody gave me, for every secret I spilled He gave me ten minutes without pain before it bloody started again, counted to the bloody second - so Potter was right, wasn't he?"
"It was still brave of you, it was, to go on living in so much pain to protect Dumbledore when you had a way out ready to hand, even if you were - acting on incomplete data." She could feel herself twisting her own hands together in her anxiety, wanting to make it better for him and not sure how. "The Morrigan will still love you for it."
"But He's acting on very complete data now, isn't He? Thanks to me. I told Him the secrets Dumbledore died to find. He knows what we know about the Horcruxes, about the prophecy; it would have been so much better if I had simply died, before I had a chance to betray - " He shuddered convulsively. "I wanted to die so badly oh, God, and I could have had that for the asking from the beginning and taken the Order's secrets to the grave with me, instead of - spilling my bloody guts, in the end, if only I hadn't been so fucking - stupid as to hope.... To hope that I hadn't killed him."
"Pet, you didn't kill him, as far as I can see. If anybody did, Harry did, surely, by giving him the poison."
He gave a cracked laugh. "Try telling that to my esteemed wizarding brethren. Lupin keeps the paper from me half the time and pretends he forgot to buy it, and he thinks I don't know it's because the letters page is full of people baying for my blood, saying that the Ministry was wrong to release me - if this place wasn't warded I'd be inundated with Howlers. God help me if Scrimgeour falls, because if a Minister comes to power that Minerva can't twist around her finger they'll have me back inside for good. And Minerva and the rest will bloody disown me anyway when they find out that I failed to save him."
"You haven't told them yet?"
"I only managed to track Horace down after the meeting."
"I really don't think.... I'm not entirely sure about Harry but I'm sure Minerva won't turn on you, or Remus - they know you didn't want Dumbledore to die and, well, Remus is your dog now, whether you want him or not, and Minerva was so... she was really angry, upset, when they sent you to prison. Poppy, too - she's very fond of you."
"They pity me, more like, because they heard me - heard me beg. Only Dumbledore was ever truly fond of me I think, even if he did use me, and Dumbledore...." He fanned his long fingers in a gesture like something flying away.
"You have more friends than you think you have, pet. Truly."
"Don't be naïve. The ones who trusted me, trusted me because Dumbledore trusted me - not because they ever did. And they were willing enough to believe I was a murderer."
"Some of them at least, were willing enough to believe that you weren't - when given the slightest encouragement."
He nodded wearily. "Wait and see, Lynsey. Just - wait and see."
"When will you tell them?"
"I'm not sure - soon - there's no regular meeting place now Grimmauld Place is no longer secure - thanks to me! - and the place and time of the next meeting hasn't been fixed yet."
"Bring them here, then - I don't mind. I can do cold meat and pickle, or something."
"So you can hold my hand in case I'm upset? I don't need your bloody - charity."
"I'd like to see them again - I got quite fond of them all - but Apparition isn't my favourite mode of transport, and in any case the more of the Order's secret hidey-holes I get to see, the more of a security risk I become. Whereas if you bring them here...."
"Oh, for a delightful social chat about how I failed to save the man they all worshipped as a bloody demiurge, and spilled the Order's secrets for the sake of a phantasm. I shouldn't complain if you see me as a bloody charity case - I'm bloody-well pathetic enough."
"There's nothing wrong with wanting to offer moral support to a friend, you know - or with wanting to accept it. Although immoral support is generally more fun."
He made a slight huffing noise at that. "It confounds me why you would even consider it. You can't possibly imagine yourself in love with me."
"Not as such, no. But you do... appeal to me."
"I'm not some bloody - big-eyed stray you can just pick up - "
"Not that sort of appealing - more like tormented-landscapes-full-of-dark-forests-and-crashing-waterfalls appealing." Sorrow and loss were etched into his hard face and she remembered again that he had, in effect, suffered a major bereavement today, even though his friend and quondam father-substitute had been dead for nine months. She stood up to go and make tea, that universal panacea; as she passed him she went automatically to touch his shoulder, but he jerked away as if her touch had burned him.
"I'm sorry," she said, drawing her hand back. "I didn't mean to offend you."
"I'm not - offended." He sagged back, letting his head fall back against the back of the sofa, and she saw that the skin around his eyes was papery with weariness.
When she came back with the full mugs, it was to find him moving his head from side to side and picking at the material of the sofa, restless and fretful. "You said the other day," he muttered, "that you were sure I wasn't gay...."
"Yes. Why, are you?"
"I don't know - how can one be sure?"
"What do you mean, 'how can you be sure'?"
"Lucius - when we were boys - even after I was sure I didn't want him I still responded to him when he.... Do I need to draw a bloody picture? And he said it proved that I wanted it really, that I was a...."
"You do know, don't you, that that's just neurological wiring? That sort of - well, stimulation of the, um, of the prostate will get a response even if the subject is unconscious."
He gave her an odd, mocking look. "You know this for a fact, do you?"
"Oh yes - it's how they get sperm samples from gorillas. Under general anaesthetic. I mean, you can see that if the gorilla was conscious...."
"Good grief. That's - but I didn't know that then, and he made me feel so - dirty. And then when I was - when I was sixteen Harry Potter's bloody father and godfather stripped me in front of half the school, when I had just been - in proximity with a girl I fancied rather madly...."
"I, um, I heard what you said to Lupin about that, when you were in sickbay. It sounded - ghastly."
"It was indescribably ghastly. And I - just before that - she was my friend, the only real friend I ever had I think, but I was so - angry and humiliated and so scared, so frightened of what Avery and that lot would do to me if I let myself be rescued by a Muggle-born, so scared of what Potter would do to her, too, if she didn't get out of the way and, and furious too because she looked as if part of her found it funny and I lashed out at her, I insulted her and she - I drove her away, she joined in with them and jeered at me too but I still thought she was - magnificent, and then she left me there. With them. I lost her, she was never my friend again because of it, and then they hung me up by my heels and stripped me, while I was still a bit... you know."
"So any time you get, um, interested...."
"Something in me is convinced that if anyone notices, I'll be held up for public ridicule and humiliation. Which I know intellectually to be ridiculous in itself - but knowing I'm being stupid just makes me feel even more bloody stupid." He turned away, letting the long hair fall across his face. "And they - and they did. Jeer at me. When I was - you know - in the Caves. If I - responded. Which just made the whole bloody neurosis ten times worse."
He flicked his hair back again with an irritable toss of the head and looked at her directly, mockingly. "Added to which, of course, and thanks mainly to bloody Lucius and bloody Bella, part of me now thinks that anyone who desires me must be out to hurt me. I mean - badly."
"It's not," he said, in an unpleasantly precise tone, "as if anyone would want something like me for any purpose except to hurt me, is it?"
"Don't be an arse. But - you managed it with Narcissa, didn't you?"
"Frequently. But I was nineteen: at that age, things more or less run themselves. So why are you so sure...?"
"You mean, aside from the fact that you flirt with wimmin?"
"I could be bi... I don't think I am, I don't desire men, but maybe Lucius just gave me a sickener - God." He pressed the back of his hand against his mouth, looking genuinely queasy. "So why...?"
"Promise you won't be angry?"
"I promise no such thing."
"Um, well - you're so, um, catty and, um, a bit - a bit... dramatic, so if you were gay you'd almost certainly be the queenie, bitchy kind."
"Well... exactly how many screaming queens do you know that don't take care of their appearance?"
"Damn you, Snape, surely there was something you could have done?"
"What could I have done, Potter?" He paused in his restless pacing, spun on his heel in a flare of black and bore down on the boy, a fixed snarl on his face. "You tell me - what could I have done?"
"You could have fought them - "
"You have a very bloody inflated idea of my abilities. There were four of them, in case it escaped your notice - Dumbledore was unarmed and in no condition to engage in wandless magic, Draco was dithering and mithering and just as bloody likely to come in against me as for me and you were a sitting bloody duck in the middle of a potential fire-fight, and no use to man nor beast since Dumbledore refused to unbind you. And if I went down - God, Dumbledore would have been killed for certain, and Greyback - "
Remus Lupin looked down at his own hands and muttered "He's right, Harry. Greyback would have been - a wolf among the flock. In a very real sense."
Severus bared his rather yellowish teeth at Harry, who backed up slightly, looking uneasy. "He wouldn't just have killed your little friends - he would have eaten them alive. Literally." He spun away again and paced to the window, his back towards them and his shoulders hunched like a mantling crow, and gripped the windowsill until his knuckles turned white. "And suppose, in the unlikely event that I had fought them all and won - what then? I would have been dead the instant word got back to Bellatrix - and it would have done, even if I had killed all four of them."
"I'm sure Harry didn't mean that you let him die to save yourself - " Poppy began gently.
"Didn't he? But what would have been the - the point of my dying? If I was dead, I still couldn't have brewed the potions to save him - if I ever could have done, which is moot - so he would still have died, and you would have been left... that was all he bloody cared about, that one or other of us should survive to help you find the Horcruxes - and he said that I was better placed to do so."
"Don't!" Harry said sharply. "It was his secret - "
"But it's not a bloody secret any more, is it? Dumbledore told me every bloody thing he knew about it, to prepare me to work with you after he was - and now thanks to me, R-Riddle knows everything I know."
"Nobody is blaming you, Severus," Minerva said quietly.
"Aren't they? Well, bully for them, because I bloody am."
The older woman - his boss now, Lynsey supposed, if he was still counted as a Hogwarts teacher - crossed the room to stand at his side, her expression troubled, and laid a hand on his sleeve. "You are," she said quietly, "no more than human, whatever you may think: no more and no less."
The professor nodded curtly. "Not to mention that I had to tell everything I'd managed to find out about the bloody Horcruxes to Lynsey here - with a memory charm to make it stick, no less - so that she'd be able to get the information to you in the event that you bloody shower shot me on sight. And it's no thanks to Alastor that she didn't have to."
"You and Dumbledore," Minerva said softly.... "You and Dumbledore were always alike, you both cared far more about bringing Tom down, and about your students, than you did about yourselves."
"Dumbledore cared so much about The Cause that he sometimes took what I considered to be unconscionable risks with student safety, although it always seemed to work out in the end - so I suppose that in some mysterious way the old goat knew what he was doing. But he certainly... Draco told me, you know, that at the end - at the end, just before - just before I arrived, Dumbledore actually praised him for a clever piece of work in getting my former bloody fellow Death Eaters into the building. The boy was trying to kill him, and he still gave him marks out of ten for it."
"So did you," Harry said suddenly. "I was trying to kill you, and you still told me what I was doing wrong and how to do it better. Except in your case you were tearing me apart as per bloody usual, not praising me."
"If you had ever deserved praise," the professor snarled, rounding on him, "I would have given it to you, but a more lazy, slapdash, dishonest, cocksure - "
"Steady on, Severus," Remus said sharply. "We understand that you're - well, under pressure, but to call Harry dishonest - "
"Oh but he is - aren't you Potter? He lied to me nearly every time he opened his mouth, I could feel it in him. Ask him about how he and one of his little cronies stole expensive, dangerous ingredients from my private store, which cost me nearly a month's salary to replace! And last year... last year he even stole my ideas, from one of my own old notebooks, and passed them off as his own in order to get a reputation for brilliance at Potions which was entirely fabricated."
"Is that true?" the other man said, even more sharply. "Harry - did you really cheat on your class assessment?"
Harry looked uncomfortable. "Yeah, well - I didn't exactly, uh, mean to, and it's not like it would affect my NEWT scores or anything. It just - sort-of happened, and then I was afraid that if I told anybody they might take the book off me and I - well," he added in a small voice, "I really liked it. I really liked the boy who wrote it, and it made me understand, for the first time, that Potions could be quite interesting. At least, I could see why he - you - liked them, even if I didn't. And anyway," he added, in more his usual manner, "you're a fine one to talk about me being dishonest - sir. You didn't tell Professor Dumbledore about me having the book, did you - in case he found out that you were the one who invented Sectumsempra, and then left the book lying around for anyone to find."
"Wrong on all points, Potter, as per bloody usual. I didn't invent the bloody thing, I didn't leave the book lying around, and I went straight to the Headmaster about it as soon as I recognized my own book in your devious little mind."
"That's right, Harry," Minerva said, nodding. "He told me about it too - why did you think neither of us asked you where you found such a dangerous spell?"
"But then why - why didn't he - ?"
"Because he bloody put the book there for you to find."
"He wouldn't - "
"He would and you know he would." Turning from the window and from Minerva, he made his way rather blindly to the sofa and sat down abruptly. Lynsey went to put her hand on his arm and then thought better of it in case it unsettled him, in such a strung-out mood, although he had not seemed to flinch much from Minerva.
"Why - ?"
"He said that if he - if we couldn't halt the curse on his hand, if we couldn't find a solution which would enable us both to survive, then you and I would have to work together, I to assist you in finding the Horcruxes - and in denaturing them without being blasted off the face of the earth - and you to - to keep me out of Azkaban. He was bloody-well delighted that you were concealing the book from me and using it to cheat in class; he said that it would prove to you that I was - that I was 'quite likeable in my own curious way'," he said mincingly, "and it would prove to me that you were capable of learning what I wished to teach you. A fact of which I am still in doubt, since I saw no evidence that you didn't simply copy my work parrot-fashion in exactly the same way that you spent six years copying Hermione Granger's work, and fondly imagining that I wouldn't notice. Dishonest and ignorant to the bloody last."
Harry gave him a strange look, simultaneously contrite and smug. "I know this is going to sound really childish, but, um, I'll tell Dobby on you if you're nasty to me. If it's really true that Professor Dumbledore wanted us to work together, then you have to at least try not to keep sniping at me all the time."
"It's what I do, Potter. You should know that by now."
"Being cheeky and cribbing Hermione's essays is what I do, but you don't like it much, do you?"
Severus glared at him for a moment and then nodded grudgingly. "I - concede the point," he said, as if it choked him. "And you may tell Dobby that I said so, please. If I so much as swear about you behind your back the devious little brute somehow gets wind of it, and lectures me like a little maiden aunt."
"I wanted to ask you," Minerva McGonagall said, pinning Lynsey against the kitchen wall with her steely gaze, "how you have found Severus to be coping, these last few weeks."
"It's, er, not really my place to say...."
"Well, he certainly isn't going to say, which is why I am asking you." The menfolk had been left in a state of uneasy truce in the living-room. Remus and Harry seemed happy with the idea that the women would do all the messy cooking stuff, even though Lynsey knew Harry to be a tolerable cook himself, and Severus was clearly reluctant to leave either of the other two unwatched; so Lynsey found herself pinned between these two iron matriarchs in the privacy of her own kitchen.
"He seems to be under a lot of strain," she admitted. "But you'd expect that, after everything which - "
"But that is precisely my point. He has had an appalling few months, even by the standards of a life which had never been easy or pleasant, and to have to know that the people he works with every day had heard him being - humiliated like that... and now this. This - additional loss."
"But you've all... you all cared about this Dumbledore bloke, didn't you?"
"Oh yes - but we had had seven months believing him to be dead, before Severus dropped the bombshell that he might not be. We had already - not 'got over it', it takes years to recover from a loss of that kind, but at least we had begun to adjust to it. Whereas Severus has spent all this time not knowing if Dumbledore was alive or dead, believing, hoping that he had managed to save him, and now to find out that he failed after all...."
"Assuming he did fail," Poppy Pomfrey muttered, "and that this isn't yet another one of Dumbledore's little schemes."
"Oh, surely not." Minerva raised her hand in a rather helpless gesture, almost but not quite touching her fingertips to her own cheek. "Surely not even Dumbledore would be so thoughtless...."
"Be that as it may," said Poppy grimly, "Severus has been very seriously ill, and is still a long way from well. He may think that he's fit enough to take on the whole world as per usual on the strength of a few weeks' rest, but that's just Severus being Severus, and I am afraid that if he continues to wind himself up like a watch-spring, that spring is going to break."
Lynsey nodded and grimaced. "Being resolutely himself, despite everything that was done to him, is admirable, really, and it would be a healthy sign; if only 'being himself' didn't mean being so bloody hard on himself."
Minerva pulled a wry face. "He doesn't quite dare say it to my face in case I pull rank on him, but he doesn't really believe that anybody else is competent to do anything unless he watches them round the clock. I've tried to tell him that not everything that happens is his responsibility, but he feels so bad about having been broken, about having betrayed Order secrets, he keeps on trying to make up for something nobody but himself blames him for."
"It doesn't help that so many people do blame him for - supposedly - killing Dumbledore," Poppy muttered. "Last week I went with him to Diagon Alley to choose potions supplies for the infirmary, and somebody actually spat on him in the street."
Minerva winced and made a small sound of protest, but Lynsey - who had acquired a fair idea of how Poppy's mind worked - asked "What did you do to them?"
"Trod on her instep," Poppy replied with satisfaction. "Hard."
"Good for you, then," Lynsey said, although the thought that it had been necessary made her feel exhausted and sad. "He really doesn't need that kind of bloody idiot, on top of everything else."
"I'm afraid the 'everything else' may be getting on top of him," the nurse replied. "If it does... if you need me, call the Order member who is watching this stair, and they will summon me. Otherwise...." She fished in her robes and produced a flask of liquid the colour of sunlight shining through a dark amethyst, which she proffered to Lynsey. "This is Dreamless Sleep. Use it sparingly; taken too frequently, it can become addictive, and Severus has taken so much over the years that he has built up a tolerance. Nevertheless; a wine-glass full of this, if you can persuade him to take it, will ease him if he... if his sleep is disturbed."
"He has had - well, bad dreams, yes." She wasn't sure whether four a.m. freak-outs about things which had actually happened really qualified - but certainly it seemed to be bad dreams which woke him in the first place.
Poppy nodded briskly. "That's only to be expected, given his - history. He has always suffered from disturbed sleep, even when he was a child. How bad was it?"
"Worrying. Bad enough to wake me too."
The nurse nodded again. "Yes. It will be worse before it is better."
"I thought that I was acting for the best," she heard Severus say wearily as she re-entered the room. "I thought that I could save him whilst still getting Greyback out of the school without serious incident. But instead, it turned out to be the worst choice I could have made. My own life is still forfeit if Bellatrix finds out what I did, or failed to do; I spilled my ruddy - guts to Him along with every bloody thing I knew, rather than risk Dumbledore's non-existent safety by activating the Vow which could have protected the Order and killed me; and yet Dumbledore is still - dead."
"Also, you yourself suffered horribly as a result," Lupin said softly. "That also matters."
The professor twitched his head irritably, as if shaking off a fly. "I should have trusted the old fool to know what he was doing, and killed him when he told me to, instead of faffing about trying to be bloody clever."
"But if you had - just killed him, I mean," Harry said steadily, "then you wouldn't have broken your Vow, would you? So you wouldn't have been able to use that to top yourself. You would still have had no way out and they would still have br- ... um, got information out of you."
"He's right," Lynsey said, coming through and beginning to set out the dishes. "It's a Kobayashi Maru scenario. There was no possible way to win; the best you could hope for was to lose with style."
Severus quirked an eyebrow at her and flashed her one of his there-and-gone smiles. "I hope I do everything with style."
"I know that you may not believe this," he said quietly, turning back to the other two men, "but I did try to save Sirius as well; with as singular a lack of success."
"You hated Sirius" Harry said sharply. "Don't lie about it."
"Oh, I did more than hate him, Potter - I despized him; and with damned good reason. And I won't deny that I enjoyed the chance to bait him and get a bit of own-back - after all that the bastard put me through when we were children. In fact, I felt about him almost exactly the way you feel about that great, bullying oaf of a cousin of yours - and for much the same bloody reasons. But you still did everything in your power to save him from the Dementors."
She got the chance to test Poppy's potion soon enough. It was the cats who woke her, moaning uneasily in the darkness, but once she was awake and had padded blearily to the bathroom she could hear Severus apparently having a muttered, angry conversation with somebody who wasn't there. Or, at any rate, with somebody she hoped wasn't there.
She pushed the door open, quietly, and said his name, but there was no sign that he had heard her. His eyes were tight shut and his lips skinned back from his teeth in a flat snarl; as she approached he moved his head frenetically from side to side and muttered "...I won't, damn it, no... curse you, no! - take your hands off me - I never meant - I didn't, I swear I didn't - on my honour - no bloody honour left, swear it on Lily's grave ah, God, I didn't mean - "
She tried to wake him, even seizing him by the shoulders and shaking him, but his head still jerked from side to side and nothing seemed to interrupt the disjointed rubble of anger and grief. In the end, she brought a glass full of purple sleep, physically manhandled him into a half-sitting position as he flailed at her drowsily, poured what she could of the potion past his set teeth and then patted him on the back until he swallowed it down, and his restless twitching and muttering gradually eased into silence.
In the morning, he complained bitterly of a pulsing headache, and swore the potion had been badly made. When Lynsey pointed out that Poppy had told her it was from a batch which he had brewed himself, he snapped that in that case it had clearly been badly stored. But she forgave him his wilful bloody-mindedness for the sake of the blue veins threading his skin, and the tremor of exhaustion in his graceful hands.
Two days later they drove the fifty miles down the A91 to Stirling, and made their way to where the castle stood over the town like a dream; one of those peculiarly Scottish castles which let the terrain take the strain, and are basically a small fortified town perched on top of a very large rock. As they climbed up into the sky, higher and higher into the shelter of the rambling castle wall, following the music and the swell of the crowd, Lynsey felt her professor's fingernails digging painfully into her wrist and remembered that he was mildly agoraphobic. But when the rough melody began with a sudden thrumming along the nerves; when the crowd stood up and began to sway; when the lights glinted through the soft drizzle of rain and the sun sank crimson below the horizon and the sound carried them and lifted them up like a boat and the band cried out sorrow and strangeness and the people answered in a voice like the surge of the sea; then she knew that he had forgotten to be afraid.
Later on, they would go to a little Chinese place that she knew and have one perfect meal together, isolated from all care in an island of light and warmth and plenty as the rain gathered force beyond the dark windows. But here and now, there was only the music.
When I first roughed out this story I couldn't make my mind up whether Dumbledore was alive or dead. JK Rowling's insistence, at a conference in New York, that he really is dead has somewhat lowered my respect for her as an author, since it presumably means that all the anomalies in the Astronomy Tower scene were not cunning clues, just sloppy writing. But it pushed me towards having Dumbledore not have survived.
"Feature-creep" is a techie term. It means that a client orders a piece of programming or website-design and then they keep on coming back partway through the job asking you to add new features, which will greatly increase the time and work involved, and for which you probably won't get any extra money.
"Mithering" is a northern English word; strictly it means "nagging" but it can also be used to mean bleating on about something.
"Own-back" is revenge.
"Let the terrain take the strain" - pun on "let the train take the strain", a famous advertising slogan for British Rail which has passed into the language.
So far as I know Runrig did not do a concert at Stirling castle in 1998, although they did a spectacular one there for their 30th anniversary in 2003. Their concerts are famed for their high level of audience participation.
This chapter has been slightly edited in the light of the new canon in Deathly Hallows, to place more emphasis on the curse which Dumbledore suffered, to make Sectumsempra not Severus's own invention and to emphasize that the Pensieve/bullying incident was so terrible partly because it resulted in a break-up from Lily.
PLEASE NOTE: Sons of Prophecy has been nominated in the Azkaban category of the The Sorting Hat Harry Potter Thematic Fanfiction Awards. Readers who liked it enough to vote for it should go to The Sorting Hat and cast their vote by 1st October 2006.
In some respects this story covers similar ground to the story Lost and Found which I am currently writing jointly with the writer Dyce, under the joint pen-name Borolin. I had finished Mood Music, the story to which Sons of Prophecy is the sequel, and had already mapped out much of the plot of Sons of Prophecy before Dyce and I read the story Missing in Action, by Sheriff of Nottingham. In that story a hideously injured and mentally destroyed Snape is returned to Hogwarts after four ghastly months of intensive torture, starvation and sexual abuse, and his colleagues can do nothing for him except keep him company while he dies.
I find stories in which terrible things happen to somebody (especially Snape) and there is no ultimate hope for them acutely depressing, and they always make me want to change things so it comes out all right - and although Snape's injuries in that story were terrible they were ones which modern Muggle medicine would have at least a fighting chance of combatting. Therefore, Dyce and I decided to write an alternative ending in which Snape is saved, with the assistance of a Muggle surgeon, and a team of friends and colleagues then have to battle to restore his fractured mind - developing eventually into an HGSS romance.
This explains how I ended up simultaneously writing two stories in both of which Snape had been revealed as a spy, tortured and sexually assaulted, and in both of which he forms a friendship, eventually tending towards more than a friendship, with a female carer. But the nuances of Snape's situation in the two stories are very different.
Snape in Lost and Found is initially in a very much worse condition, crippled and catatonic, unable to tell what is real and what a dream; whereas when Snape escapes from Voldemort (with Lynsey's help) in Mood Music he has "only" been tortured for two and a half weeks and is still fairly coherent and just about capable of walking. But when it comes to processing his own trauma, Snape in Lost and Found is actually in a rather better position. Enforced bed-rest due to the severity of his injuries means that he has, probably for the first time in decades, actually been getting enough sleep, he is heavily protected and in the safest place he could be, and The War is not currently his concern; so although he is very deeply traumatized he is, in some ways, under much less stress than usual.
Snape in Sons of Prophecy, on the other hand, is exhausted and still in considerable danger, vilified for the apparent murder of Dumbledore and trying to play a major rôle in the Order whilst effectively heading for a nervous breakdown. And the totally-shattered-yet-fairly-relaxed Snape of Lost and Found feels constrained to be much less harsh towards Hermione, who is so much younger than him and so delicate-looking, than the only-partially-shattered-but-incredibly-tense Snape of Sons of Prophecy is towards Lynsey who is both older than him and an obviously tough broad.
Readers may be interested in an essay on Snape's character entitled Reserved!Snape - Canon or Fanon? which I have posted on my website in response to some of the reviews for Lost and Found.
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