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
#12: Misty Watercolour Memories
[In which the past bears examination.]
"Let it be Filius and only Filius, then, if it must be anybody."
"Very well, Severus, but might I ask…?"
He ducked his head and stared down at his hands, avoiding Minerva's eye. "It seems easier," he said carefully; "less - shaming, to be seen like - that - if I must be seen, by somebody who… who isn't entirely human. And I won't have it be Lupin: he wants me to be his alpha wolf, if you can believe that, and I couldn't - how could I be, be that to him if I couldn't even look him in the eye?" His mouth tightened dryly. "A question which hardly arises with Filius."
Minerva gave a ladylike snort. "Nor with Hagrid either."
"Indeed. But Hagrid… Hagrid isn't as well-equipped to assess the information as Filius is, and besides he - he would pity me too openly. Whereas Filius - I'm a child to him in any case, so I don't have to feel so… lessened, by having him witness my total bloody degradation."
"Filius is the dwarf, isn't he?"
"Oh. But isn't he…?" She held her hand out at waist-height, palm-down.
"Yes, but he's not a dwarf: he's part goblin."
"Ah. I should have guessed." She looked at Severus dubiously where he sat pressed firmly back into the armchair. He for his part was wearing a determinedly neutral expression, but his grip on the chair's arms was like iron and he was shuddering gently. "Would you like a drink? Tea or…?"
He nodded jerkily. "Coffee, please."
When he had wrapped his long fingers around the warming mug, Lynsey perched on the edge of the couch, since the cats had already taken most of it. They seemed to have settled in well and to be enjoying their unexpected holiday, now, although initially it had taken several hours to coax Nestor out from under the furniture. "What's it like," she said diffidently, "taking part of your memory out like that?"
"Draughty." He took a thoughtful sip at the mug, shivered suddenly and violently and then settled again, the shuddering becoming less marked. "It's not that I don't know what I ought to remember: I know intellectually that I - that they asked me questions, and I told them. To buy ten minutes without pain. I still remember that - that voice, counting the seconds away before it would all - start again, I remember that - terror, hearing the seconds counted away, trying to cling on to the moment as it slipped away from me; but not the shame and desperation I know intellectually that I felt as I betrayed the Order with my own mouth or the, the sense of invasion as that creature cracked my mind open and rummaged about in it. That part, the emotion that went with the memories I gave to Filius, that's all just - neutral. Greyed out."
He grimaced. "You understand that I - that I gave Filius the minimum portion of my memories that I could, and still have him see what they asked me."
"I would have thought you would be glad to get the whole thing out of your head for a while."
"But the more I take out, the more I'll have to put back later, which is - it brings it all to the surface so much more bloody vividly. And I didn't want to risk even Filius seeing any more of what they did to me, what they made of me, than is strictly necessary. Quite apart from the fact that - well, it's going to take him the best part of a day just to view what's there, even once, as well as the time taken to analyse it. He's a sentimental creature at the best of times, in any case, always getting tearful over things he can't bloody-well help; I don't know what he'd do if I made him watch seventeen days of bloody - agony just to pick out the few hours that were actually relevant to anything important."
He took another sip of coffee, looking at Lynsey seriously over the rim. "I worked the exact time out, you see, when I was in Azkaban. Seventeen days. It's not much, really, is it? I don't know what I would feel if I took out the whole memory of those seventeen days. Calmer, I suppose, but - like my own ghost. As it is… even taking out part of the memory, the part where I spilled my secrets, it leaves me less - burningly ashamed, even though I know intellectually that I should be, but I feel… raw. Scraped thin."
"Like the crater after you clean out an abscess?"
"Just like that, yes."
"Would it be worth my while to point out that you shouldn't be ashamed?"
He flashed her a tired smile. "Probably not."
"It's a pity that they didn't - well, that when they, they all heard you being - you know, that they didn't hear what you said when you were questioned. But I suppose even Snake-Features isn't stupid enough for that."
"No. He - He didn't want them to know how much He knew. Stupid, I suppose, since they all thought that I - that I was a traitor and would have told Him everything I knew in any case, but He - He muffled my voice when I was - answering. Just not when I was bloody - begging." He took a sudden swig of the coffee, swallowed it down and gave her a mocking look. "They did hear me pleading with you to finish me, or so I'm told, which is why when they stopped hearing me they thought that you'd… obliged me."
"And I can't tell you how glad I am that I didn't have to." She could feel her own mouth tightening at the surge of memory, the image of his desperate anguish, and tried to school her face into calmness. She could so easily have failed to save him - so easily have had to leave him there in misery and blood.
"Mm," he replied noncommittally, and she wondered if he was glad too - but if he was, he wasn't admitting to it. She hoped that that was all it was.
When he had drunk most of the coffee, he set it aside and hunched forwards, elbows on knees, staring at his own hands.
"It's - hard," he said, in a soft, steady voice, "to think of even Filius seeing me - like that. Stripped, violated, pleading - I don't know which I fear worse: his disgust, or his pity." He turned slightly to look at Lynsey, his bony face showing pale and wan through his straggling hair. "Even with you - you didn't see the worst of it but even knowing that you heard me begging and screaming, that you saw me naked - I don't know how to be with you. I don't know how to have any dignity with you."
"Huh," she said, with a little huff of desperate laughter. "We'll just have to see to it that you get used to me seeing you naked, then, and then it won't seem so unusual."
Severus blinked at her, caught between angst and amusement. After a moment amusement evidently won, as one eyebrow climbed almost into his hairline. "I can't imagine why you should want to," he said dryly. "I would have thought that what you'd seen already would be more than enough to put any sensible person off from wanting to see it again."
"Did I ever claim to be sensible?"
"I suppose not," he muttered, dropping his gaze, "and the fact that you are - or claim to be - interested in me just proves it."
"Oh, hush." She reached out tentatively and rested her hand on his. After a moment he closed his fingers around hers, and looked up at her enquiringly. She smiled at him. "I know you think I have peculiar tastes," she said lightly, "but I, personally, rather like your nose, we can work on the hair and the hairy legs we'll just have to live with, unless you plan to take up shaving them."
"I shall do no such thing!"
"Well, then. You have courage and character; a brilliant mind and quite a good bod, if a little on the scrawny side; a sexy voice; beautiful hands and arms and you move like a cat. What more could a girl ask for? Everybody's got something about them that's less than ideal."
"I'm never sure, with you, whether I'm being flattered or teased. It's - " He gave her fingers a squeeze. "Oh, damn. It’s an appealing idea, it really is, but you know that I - I grew up associating being touched with being hit, and then Lucius - "
"You said the other night that Poppy and I could both touch you in a way that healed."
"Yes, but - I don't know if that would hold true in a, a sexual context." He stood up abruptly, letting go of her hand, and turned his back, clutching his arms defensively across his chest. "I want to be, to be able to be touched" he said in a rather thick voice, "but I don't know if I could stand it. I'm afraid I might just be - numb, dumb, obedient, the way I was with Lucius and, and Bellatrix and Macnair; or I might end up like Nestor, metaphorically hiding under the wardrobe and hissing."
"If you do, I promise to coax you out with a nice saucer of warm milk."
Life, however, went on. As tense as the professor was, he still had his brainstorming sessions to attend (although he insisted sourly that there was far more storm than brain involved, especially where Alastor Moody was concerned), and he and Hermione Granger between them had commenced brewing another batch of Wolfsbane in the pantry. Lynsey, likewise, still had the laptop and her mundane work.
When she heard footsteps coming up the passage, however, she set work aside gladly and went to meet Severus. He was talking animatedly to a short, fat, elderly man with an improbable moustache, a gleaming bald pate and a retro-camp taste in clothes.
As she approached them her friend looked up and gave her a brief flicker of a smile. "Ah, Lynsey. This is Horace Slughorn, who was my Head of House when I was a callow student instead of a teacher."
"Pleased to meet you," she said, vaguely holding out her hand to be shaken, but instead the rotund little man seized it and raised it to his lips.
"Charmed, to be sure," he murmured, gazing at her shrewdly with misty-green, slightly protuberant eyes which looked as old as the ocean. The last time she had seen a look like that, it had been on an auctioneer weighing up the value of a suspect painting.
Still, she knew that her professor to some extent owed his freedom from Azkaban (and hence his sanity, if you could call it that) to this man and his network of contacts, so she was cautiously well-disposed towards him. "Ah - hello," she said rather warily, reclaiming her hand. As if some switch had been thrown, he suddenly beamed at her, causing the ridiculous 'tache to waggle up and down. Evidently, she thought, her brushwork had been deemed authentic.
"And you would be the delightful young lady who helped Severus to escape from He Who Must Not Be Named." Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Severus wince slightly.
"Um - yes."
"Most impressive. Do you know," he said chattily, "I don't believe I've ever spoken to a Muggle, well, socially before."
"I'd never spoken to a wizard socially before I met Severus: not that I know of, anyhow."
"To be sure, to be sure." He waggled his walrus moustache at her again. "But I'm very grateful, my dear: very grateful that you were able to help Severus to get away from that place."
"We helped each other" Lynsey replied rather uncomfortably. "I'm sure I'd never have got out of there alive on my own." Over Horace's head, she exchanged an uneasy, embarrassed look with Severus himself.
"Doesn't surprize me. I knew Severus had star quality from his very first Potions class, and I am never wrong about these things."
"Aren't you Horace?" the professor said, baring his teeth in sudden spite. "I seem to remember you thought the same thing about darling Lucius - and Tom Riddle."
The old man winced slightly, but rallied with spirit. "I'll not deny that they both - applied their talents in unfortunate directions. But that they had talent - no, Severus, you can't deny me that, and you can't deny your own worth to me either. You've always been one of the gems of my collection: a bit of a rough diamond, perhaps, but a diamond nevertheless."
Lynsey found herself warming to the man considerably - but then he spoilt the moment, all unknowingly, by adding: "I know that he - well, that he became a monster, in the end, but when you were boys I always thought it was to Lucius's credit that he took such an interest in you. Few pure-bloods - " - and stopped, seeing the blood drain from the professor's face to leave it chalk white, with two flags of violent red on the cheeks. "What is it?"
"Nothing," Severus said tightly.
Slughorn gave him the same assessing look he had earlier given to Lynsey. "Tell me," he said softly.
"Lucius," Severus ground out through set teeth, turning his face aside and down and refusing to look his former Head of House in the eye. "His interest - not - benign."
"Use your fucking - imagination. Literally."
The older man turned almost as white as his former student. "I…." he said lamely, his gigantic moustache drooping. "He…. I had no idea."
"No." The professor dragged his head round with a visible effort, to meet the other man's eyes. "Not your doing," he muttered. "Like Tom, Lucius is very - plausible. He had me believing for years that it was my fault."
"No, no, it - I'm sure it wasn't. You were so young…. If anyone was to blame other than Lucius himself then I - but as you say, he was - he seemed so - well, so refined…."
"Effortlessly superior? Above molesting little boys - especially a common little guttersnipe like me?"
"He got off on that, you know. He thought he was really - slumming it."
"I am - so sorry. If you had told me - "
"Would you have believed me?"
"I - I'd like to think so."
"So would I. But he had made me so - ashamed. I was just his 'bit of rough', he made me feel so bloody dirty, and it would only have been his word against mine anyway."
"Hardly." The moustache, which seemed to have a life of its own, bristled out like a scrubbing-brush. "I would have invited him to my study for a pleasant chat about his career, and laced his brandy with Veritaserum."
"God - would you have done that, for me? You could have been sacked - "
"Oh no - get the dosage right, get the questioning right and I flatter myself he'd never even have known."
"I should have told you." He thumped his fist against the wall in sudden fury. "I should have - fucking - told you."
"You should, yes, but you said it yourself, Severus - Lucius is very… plausible, and you know I speak as an expert. You mustn't blame yourself for being taken in by him."
Severus gave a shaky laugh. "I suppose we both were - just as we were both taken in by Tom."
"D'you think that he - Draco?"
"Not so far as I know. He treats the boy like an indulged but slightly stupid pet, which does him no good service, but he doesn't actually - abuse him. Unless he does it and then feels so guilty afterwards that he showers him with presents, but - no, I don't believe so."
"What a strange bloke. He made me feel as if he was examining me under a microscope to see if I'd pass muster: but he seems to be genuinely fond of you."
"I believe he is: as strange as that may seem. Horace is… well, like a man who owns racing Hippogriffs. He's ruthless about choosing his 'stable', he only ever takes an interest in students who have either talent or connections, who he thinks will be high-flyers - but once he's picked them, he's genuinely fond of them and he takes pleasure in their achievements. And I've never known him to drop somebody once he'd properly taken them up, unless they - well, let's say Lucius would be dropped from a very great height at this point, if he hadn't already dropped him for turning out to be a Death Eater." He was still even paler than usual, but had lost that deadly chalk-and-flame, livid pallor.
"Like a racehorse owner - yes, I could see that. And probably the main benefit he gets from it is pride in his own ability to pick a winner, rather than actual monetary gain."
"Yes. He does get some mundane gain from it as well - little presents and so on - but I think it's mainly the pleasure of the game which attracts him. And - well, I've never known anybody to come away worse-off from knowing him. That is… I do know for a fact that he tricked Hagrid out of some very valuable spider-venom, but it was a thing Hagrid would never have used or sold in any case, and Hagrid got a convivial evening and some rather fine wine out of it. And his favourites at school - I'm the only one I know who came off worse because of it, and that only because I was stupid enough to fall under Lucius's influence, after I met him there. And even in my case - it's possible Lucius would have noticed me anyway, even if we hadn't both been in the Slug Club."
"You are very - noticeable. In a good way."
"On the whole I'd rather not be, believe me."
She had been aware of Filius Flitwick since the first day here. He hadn't been among the group in the Lake District at New Year - she was sure she would have remembered him if he had been - but here he was noticeable as one of the adult Order members who was most friendly towards Severus, along with Remus, Minerva and Arthur and the half-giant Hagrid, who had put in a brief appearance on the second day.
He was also the only Order member who seemed to have a sweeter tooth than Severus - as well as being energetic, enthusiastic and not more than three feet tall, with an upstanding shock of white hair which gave him the appearance of an elderly cockatoo. He had presence, though - squeaky presence, but presence - and Lynsey had no urge to laugh when he neatly separated her from the professor after lunch, and cornered her in the corridor.
He had a steely blue-grey eye, a little rheumed by age, perhaps, but still penetrating, and his face, what she could see of it from this angle, was careworn and sad. She remembered noticing that he had hardly touched his food today: not surprising, considering what he had been viewing.
"Professor Flitwick," she said cautiously, and his lined face lifted into a smile of great sweetness. With his fringe of beard, he reminded her a little of the dwarf called Marmaduke Scarlet in a book she had read as a child.
"Oh, call me Filius, do." He blinked at her and sighed. "I must apologize for accosting you like this, but I just wanted to ask you - well, how Severus is coping."
"I'm not being funny, but why does everybody ask me that, instead of asking him?"
"Because he is the last person who would answer that particular question honestly," the little man replied with some asperity. "I know that this matter of the Pensieve is stressful for him, and after witnessing him in the hands of those - giggling degenerates I am even more concerned for him than I was."
Lynsey nodded tiredly. "He is - still functioning. Just about."
"That's what I was afraid of." He pulled a wry, regretful face, and Lynsey thought she saw a liquid glimmer of tears in his eyes. "So much suffering… do make sure he knows that if - if there is anything I can do to help him, anything at all, I will gladly do it."
"I'll tell him, I promise. Just knowing that you've made the offer may do him some good. You know he expects that you'll despise him for having - well, lost his self-control in front of those creeps?"
Filius sighed and raised his heavy white eyebrows in exasperation. "He always was a silly boy. Clever, you know, but silly."
When she got back to their room it was to find Severus already ensconced, demonstrating the laptop to a fascinated Arthur Weasley. She slipped through the door quietly and sat down on the couch, not wanting to interrupt them unless he made an egregious error.
"A bit like a diagnostic spell, yes," he was saying patiently. "It doesn't have a real brain, as such, but it can respond to questions with verbal answers. And a bit like a chess-piece; it can be made to behave as if it's thinking, but it isn't really. It's just been primed with instructions on how to look as if it is."
"And this all runs on - on lightning?"
"On the same sort of energy that makes lightning, yes. The same sort of stuff you get when you stroke a cat and get sparks."
"And you use that little ball thing to move the arrow around and point it at these pictures of buttons? And you can - change the instructions? Like telling the chess-piece where to move?"
"Or like tweaking a set of wards that are already in place, yes. Using a special language - like using Latin for spells, only this is one especially written for the machine. Look, I'll show you."
Several busy seconds followed, filled only with the staccato clicks of the keyboard, and then Arthur suddenly leapt from his chair with a sharp yelp and shot several paces backwards. "What?" Severus snapped irritably, his face bathed in the light from the screen.
"That - that thing, you said it it wasn't conscious, that it didn't have a real brain or or know who was using it - "
"Yes - what of it?"
"Then why did it say 'Install wizard'?"
"What did Filius want, earlier on?"
"To find out how you were - from an unbiased source."
"Wants to see if I'm going to crack up and be a nuisance?" he jibed, his thin lips drawing back into a snarl.
"He's concerned about you, you daft bleeder. He said to tell you that - well, that if there was anything he could do to, um, to help, he would. Willingly."
"Help me with what, pray?"
"With not cracking up - presumably."
"And that's the assumption, is it? That I'm going mad?"
"People are just - aware that you've been under a lot of pressure. Even more so than usual, I mean. And Filius - well, what with him having actually seen - " She stopped, seeing his bone-deep flinch. Hesitated. Went on. "He's just - been given a strong reminder of just how much stress you've been under, is all."
"Huh." He drew a deep, unsteady breath. "I suppose it was inevitable that he would - pity me more than he blames me. He always was a sentimental fool."
"It's not - not pity I think. Not in that… lessening sense, anyway. Just concern. Affection, even."
"Why not? You're fond of him, aren't you?"
"I'd never really thought about it. I suppose - maybe. Yes."
"Well, then. And no, it's not 'different' when it's the other way around."
The situation might be stressful but at least the venue was pleasant. After an awkward dinner at which Severus studiously avoided looking at Filius at all, they sat out on the veranda with Remus Lupin, cracking nuts and drinking port, courtesy of Horace Slughorn.
Remus had been taking the opportunity to do some more painting, and had an easel set up with a view of the aquaduct, which in his vision of it seemed to stalk across the landscape on long, thin legs. The cats, Lynsey noticed, seemed to have decided cautiously to accept the big man-shaped dog, and were lolling across the veranda some distance from the artist, eyeing him inscrutably through slitted eyes.
Severus eyed him with a rather similar expression. "For somebody who presents such a - a harmless persona to the world, you have a remarkably dark vision, Lupin."
"I always was attracted to the night - and I suspect I would have been even if Fenrir Greyback hadn't decided that it would be funny to give me the disease to go with the name."
"I like them," Lynsey said. "Remus's paintings, I mean."
"They're competently executed, I'll admit, but - disturbing."
"I know - that's why I like them." Severus gave her an old-fashioned look and rolled his eyes in silent comment.
"The Wolfsbane is almost ready," he remarked with an air of rather forced casualness.
"Mm," Remus said, examining his own painting critically.
"You will be certain to take it, won't you?"
"I'm hardly going to forget, am I?"
"Oh no, it's not as if you'd ever forgotten to take it before."
Remus gave him a sharp look. "That was - different."
"I reminded you that you hadn't taken it, and you still didn't take any steps to render yourself safe - with children there! If you had had the remotest sense of responsibility you would have asked me to bind you!"
"Yes, well, it's - I did some asking around, later, and it seems that - well…."
"Almost as articulate as Potter!" the professor jibed.
"You leave Harry out of it," the other replied without much heat, "or I'll tell Dobby, and then where will you be? It's just - I hadn't realized before because always, before, either I'd taken a full course of Wolfsbane or I hadn't taken any, but it seems that - well, you know how when I'm on Wolfsbane, the pull of the moon on me is weakened, so that I don't transform until the moonlight actually touches me?"
"Well, it seems that if I miss the final dose, I still don't actually transform physically until the moon catches me, but the transformation starts to pull at my mind as soon as the moon is up, even if it's behind cloud, and it - the monster in me, it's like a separate, living thing, it wants to be born and it - it affects my mind, it makes me keep forgetting to try to prevent it."
"God." The professor stared at him, his long nostrils flaring in alarm. "That's hardly reassuring; it makes it even more imperative that I make sure you bloody-well drink the bloody stuff."
"The circumstances were most unusual that night, though, and I was very - distracted."
"Unusual circumstances happen nine times out of bloody ten, in my experience. God." He looked down at his hands, twisting whitely together in the act of cracking a hazel-nut. Looked up again. "Will you tell me," he said, "what happened that night? Both before and after I…. I've never really known."
"Yes; I suppose that you - well, missed quite a lot of it."
"Thanks to you bastards throwing me headfirst into a wall, you mean! I understand now that you - that you did have to protect Black, but wouldn't it have been enough just to bloody disarm me, not half bloody-well kill me?"
"Oh but - see, that's one of the things - I suppose the blow will have made you forget it. We did try to disarm you, but, uh, more than one person fired at once - "
"Spare me the attempt to take the blame on yourself. You were bound and Black was unarmed, I haven't forgotten that much. You mean two of the children fired on me."
"All three of them, actually. But not - it was just Expelliarmus, you understand, but because all three of them fired at once it - reacted rather more strongly than any of us had expected."
"Ah. I - yes, I do see. Very well."
"I - the first thing was that I was looking at the Map when I saw Ronald Weasley approach the Willow, and I saw that Peter Pettigrew was with him. Then I saw Sirius dragging Ron and Peter down the passage to the Shrieking Shack, and I - my first thought when I saw Sirius's name was the same as yours, that he was a murderer who had come to kill the children, but seeing Peter's name I thought - I didn't know what to think. I was so confused I - I forgot that you would be coming soon with the Wolfsbane, and I just - ran."
"Very well. Go on."
"When I reached the Shack Sirius, he - he was quite calm, he still looked like my friend, not like a, a monster at all and it made me stop and think - think that maybe we'd all been wrong all those years, that maybe it was Peter who…. The children thought that I'd betrayed them, but Sirius and I explained to them that Peter was a rat Animagus and that we thought he was the rat which Ron was carrying…."
"Information which I missed, and which nobody bothered to explain to me," Severus said dryly.
"How much did you hear?"
"I heard you telling them all about how your little friends became Animagi and abetted you in ignoring Dumbledore's security precautions and endangering half the local countryside, but nothing to say what kinds of animal they were, only that - " He frowned and rubbed his fingers across his lips, remembering. "That Black and Potter were large animals, and Pettigrew was small. I suppose if I - if I had been in a calmer frame of mind I might have associated that with Black burbling on about a rat, later, but I was - you understand, being in that place, the place where I had nearly been murdered, confronting the two people who had nearly murdered me, expecting - more than half expecting to find the children already dead, knowing that you were on the verge of a full unmodified transformation and believing that Black was - what Pettigrew turned out to be, I was - not in an especially rational frame of mind."
"You were frothing like a mad dog: but under the circumstances you were probably doing well not to have wet yourself - and I know you didn't, because if you had I would have smelled it."
"Huh. I'd have been a lot more bloody - rational if I hadn't just had to stand there listening to Black boasting about how he nearly fucking killed me and saying that I had deserved it, and you bloody-well lying to Potter and telling him that the reason I hated his father was because I was fucking jealous of him."
"Yeah, well, Sirius was in a… fragile frame of mind, I couldn't very well say that he and James bullied you ragged, could I, and I didn't know that you were listening."
"Even so - you could have found something to say that didn't involve accusing me of being jealous of that, that empty-headed, arrogant prick who kept what few brain-cells he possessed below his belt and thought that Good Hair and the ability to play with his balls was a substitute for developing an actual personality…."
"Hah, yes, I remember you actually told him that in public once."
"I did, didn't I?"
"You always did have an… interesting turn of phrase. That was part of why they - we - hated you, of course. But even so - I know that you had good reason to bind me, it was sensible considering that I was about to transform, and if I hadn't already been sliding towards the were-madness I would have known that at the time. But to threaten Sirius - and me, incidentally, but that doesn't really concern me - to threaten Sirius with being Kissed, after all that he had suffered, that was - unconscionably cruel."
"I have - regretted it since," Severus said remotely, "but I hadn't really… my intention initially was to hand you both over to the Aurors, I hadn't really intended either of you to be Kissed, or at least - it was to my advantage that Black should be, I thought, because I thought that he - that he was - Riddle's - right-hand man, and so it was to my advantage that he should be silenced before he could tell any of the surviving Death Eaters that I had thwarted his attempt to kill Potter.
"Even so - I hadn't had time to think it through, but I wasn't really intending either of you to be Kissed, initially. It was only when… when you called me a fool and Potter called me pathetic for minding hearing Black boasting about how he had nearly killed me - and for what? - just for bloody existing, that's what - and then Black himself saying that the joke was on me again - and I just - saw red."
"Would it have made a difference if we had been more - placatory?"
"Oh yes. I think so."
"Maybe," Remus said, sounding depressed. "If we had been, then perhaps all the rest of it - Peter's escape, He Who's return… but we were all in a, an excitable frame of mind and I was - not myself. Or at least, I was halfway to being my other self."
"So what happened after - after Potter and his darling friends threw me into a wall and brained me? Did anybody even bother to check that I was OK?"
"I - Hermione asked me to, and you didn't seem too bad, apart from still being unconscious."
"'Still'? How long was it after I was knocked out before you bothered to check?"
"Um - about quarter of an hour. But there wasn't - there wasn't very much we could do anyway. If you'd been, um, seriously hurt."
"Black could have slunk off into the woods with his tail between his legs and you could have sent Potter or Granger to fetch Poppy. You could at least have checked my vital signs and put me in the bloody Recovery Position, but I take it you didn't even bloody do that?"
"Um, no, but you - I was feeling more and more - less and less human, and Sirius and Harry just wanted to talk about Peter."
"And that was more important to all of you than whether I lived or died."
"I'm sorry. Then we forced Peter to transform - as much to convince Harry as anything - and then Sirius and I were going to kill him, but Harry stopped us which - which was unwise, as it turned out."
"And had Pettigrew actually confessed, at the point at which you decided to kill him?"
"Um - no. But he did later."
"Marvellous. So for all you knew, Black could have been lying to you, and Pettigrew - nasty creature though he is, and why he ever turned into a rat I don't know, they're quite nice little beasts - Pettigrew could still have been innocent, and Black could still have been the murderer. The only thing that had changed was the knowledge that Pettigrew had survived the original blast, and on that basis you were willing to execute him without trial."
"Well I - I could smell that Sirius was sincere and Peter was nervous…."
"Of course he was bloody nervous, you were going to bloody well kill him!"
"Yes but - he was guilty."
"Yes - but so far as I can see you didn't know that when you decided to kill him: you just assumed. Then what?"
"We - after Harry persuaded us not to kill Peter, we decided to bring him to the castle for questioning. Ron and I were handcuffed to Peter on either side, Hermione followed us, then you, Sirius and Harry. Sirius was supposed to steer you through the tunnel but as I found out later he - he wasn't very careful."
"You mean he brutalized an unarmed, unconscious prisoner."
"I'm not sure how much was deliberate and how much was just - he hadn't used a wand for twelve years, after all. But certainly he - he didn't care much."
"Did any of you?"
"I think - it was such a narrow tunnel, only Sirius himself and Harry could see what was happening to you. And then - well, you know the rest, I think. When we emerged from the tunnel I transformed into a full were. Sirius headed me off to protect the children, but in the confusion Peter turned to a rat and escaped, and Ronald was knocked out. Sirius went after him as Padfoot and was caught by the Dementors, Harry and Hermione went after Sirius to rescue him and Harry somehow managed to summon James's Animagus form as his Patronus - or at least, future-Harry did - "
"I was spitting tacks when Dumbledore - " He stopped abruptly, and Lynsey saw grief settle over his face like a second skin. After a moment he went on, more quietly. "...when Dumbledore hinted to me that he'd had a hand in Black's escape, and that he'd connived in the illegal use of a Time-Turner. I was - concussed, furious, almost bloody delirious but I still recognized a high-sign when he gave it me, and swallowed my temper till later."
"I'll bet you let him have it with both barrels once Fudge was out of the way, though."
Both men sat quietly for a while, staring out across the darkening lawn, united in loss.
"There's something that's been puzzling me," Lynsey said eventually, into the silence. "If you don't transform until the moonlight touches you, when you're on Wolfsbane, why do you need to transform at all? I mean, the wolf - he's nice, you have lovely thick fur and everything, but why not just stay in a shuttered room and stay human?"
Remus sighed and leaned back in his chair. "It's perfectly possible to do that," he said seriously, "but if I do - well, the wolf, he takes his revenge. If I miss a transformation, the next one will be much worse. Painful, you understand. If I miss two in succession - not even Wolfsbane will prevent me from turning into the full monster at the third moon, whether the moonlight touches me or no."
He swirled the red liquor in his glass and held it up to the rising moon in ironic salute. "To the bitch who rules this poor tattered dog!"
Lynsey clinked her glass with his and murmured "To the Lady of the Moon", and after a moment Severus followed suit and muttered "Our Lady" under his breath. They drank together in silent unease.
"This really is remarkably good port," Remus said, sniffing at his glass with luxurious enjoyment. "The old rogue has done us proud - I wonder why?"
"Horace feels he has a guilt to expiate," Severus said dryly, "concerning… a failure to look closely enough at dear Lucius's extracurricular activities. When we were - boys."
"Ah." Remus swirled the red liquid in his glass, meditatively.
"I told him not to feel too badly about having been conned by such a consummate shyster, and that he has, in my opinion, more than expiated his guilt by his contribution to getting me out of Azkaban."
"That was - surprisingly kind and even forgiving of you," Remus murmured. "It really was that bad - Azkaban I mean - even without the Dementors?"
"Just - talking, like this - " Severus replied, his voice suddenly gone husky. He turned his head and Lynsey saw his eyes flash in the half-light, dark and bright. "It was so - having the guards sit with me, watching me, all the time, in case I did wandless magic and yet never looking me in the face, never meeting my eyes, it was - I could listen to them talk to each other, about their work, about their lives, it gave me something to fix on, but it was - it was worse, hearing them talk across me as if I wasn't there, knowing that for them I wasn't there, that if I spoke to them they wouldn't hear me, that I was on the other side of the glass forever and I couldn't make them hear me or even look at me, I was a shadow, voiceless, shut out in the dark, forever - "
Remus's teeth gleamed in something that was probably meant to be a smile. "Being a werewolf means being excluded too: the difference is, I am the darkness into which they shut me out."
The professor made a little huffing noise and flicked a nutshell out into the gathering night. "Are you actively trying to give me the creeps, or is that just a happy accident?"
"Ah, you know me, Severus."
The other man turned and looked at him, frowning, and his mouth tightened and turned down at the corners. "I really think that I don't. Or that nobody does, possibly."
"Not even Tonks?" Remus said flippantly.
"I wouldn't presume to speculate on what Nymphadora does or doesn't know."
"Look at me, Severus, do," the little man said, as commandingly as his rather piping voice would allow, and Lynsey's professor stopped his neurotic pacing and visibly forced himself to meet the old man's eye, insofar as that was possible with both of them standing, although the look of shame on his face still made Lynsey's stomach crawl.
"I don't know how you can bear to," he muttered, and swallowed convulsively, his skin blanching to the colour of milk.
"What you showed me is - ghastly, of course," the older man said gently, "but I've seen nothing to change my view of you. And before you say it," he added, as Severus opened his mouth to comment, "my opinion of you is high. Very high."
The younger man turned away, squeezing his eyes and his fists tightly shut. "Even after watching me - spilling my secrets, spilling piss and - and the rest of it; totally stripped of all fucking - pride - ?" he said jerkily.
Filius made a "Pshaw!" noise which Lynsey privately thought might have been the height of teenage cool in about 1820. He was possibly old enough for it to have been original. "I've never been one to stand on dignity - too busy standing on a pile of books just to see over my own damned desk." He trotted across the carpet with neat little steps like a Shetland pony's, until he could reach up and give his colleague's elbow a careful pat
"It's not as bad as it could have been, my boy," he said seriously, his squeaky voice grave with concern. "You didn't - you never volunteered any information they hadn't specifically asked for, and they didn't… none of them knew all the right questions to ask, Merlin be thanked. It's not good, but it could have been a great deal worse."
Severus looked down at him, frowning. "I thought that I - that I did volunteer information. After they...." He swallowed convulsively again, and Lynsey could see the sweet breaking out on his skin.
"Yes, but - only on subjects which they'd already been asking about. There are whole areas which - you told them at length about Order headquarters at Grimmauld Place, for example, as far as you could do so without being the Secret-Keeper, but they didn't think to ask you about other meeting-places such as this one, or they hadn't got round to it yet, and you never offered to tell them."
The younger man drew a deep, shaky breath. "It seems my - my training held, then. Thank God for conditioned reflexes."
"Under the circumstances - you did very well."
"Don't give me credit I don't deserve, old man," the professor said harshly. "I spent years conditioning myself not to give Him any more information than I could help, until it became automatic. If I - if I hadn't been too dazed even to think of it, I would have told Him any bloody thing I could think of to stop the pain, by the end."
"I would have traded him any information he asked for, to get you out, if I could have done. But there was no trade on offer."
"Even when you all thought that I - that I had murdered Dumbledore?"
"Even so. I've known you since you were a child, Severus, I couldn't - " He sniffled audibly, his eyes filling with tears, and the object of his concern made an exasperated noise.
"Sit down, Filius, do. Here." He fished a clean handkerchief out of a pocket in his robes, and handed it over. "Do you want a peppermint, like one of my soggy little homesick first years?"
The little man hopped up to perch on the edge of the couch, his feet swinging in mid-air, and blew his nose loudly. "I never liked James and Sirius" he said inconsequentially. "Can't say that to Minerva, of course, but they were nasty, nasty boys, always picking on my Ravenclaws." He blew again, honking. "I give mine chocolate frogs."
"Not 'grown up' enough for most of mine - they're snobby little brutes, most of them. They'd rather have a Mint Imperial and feel sophisticated, even if they don't really like it as much. And hard mints don't bloody melt in your pocket and get all over your robes."
"Ah, well, mine are all collecting the cards, you see…."
"You astonish me."
"If it's not one fad with them, it's another - do you want the hanky back?"
"No, no - you keep it. Really."
"So you, um, now you have to put these memories back into your head, and that means pretty-much re-living them as you do so?"
"I already told you. Yes."
"Do you have to?"
Severus sighed irritably, pushing his hair back from his face with both hands and then pressing the heels of his hands against his temples. "It would be possible, and in some ways preferable, not to, but in the long term it's - not healthy just to tear pieces out of your own mind and leave them out, and the longer you wait before re-inserting them, the worse it gets. And besides - " He spun away from her in a swirl of black robes and began to pace restlessly. "The whole point, I told you, stupid, stupid, the whole point was to have a second viewpoint, so that Filius and I could go over and over and fucking over the whole sorry bloody mess together. If I can't even remember it properly myself, that means I can't talk it through and that means somebody else has got to view it and I can't, I can't bear it - "
Lynsey made to intercept him, to steady him, making cautious soothing noises until he at least stopped pacing to look at her. "If there's anything - anything that I can do to help…."
"There's nothing that you can do to make it any easier." He turned his back on her, hunching his shoulders, and Lynsey thought she heard the silky voice murmur: "Even if I bloody deserved to have it any easier."
"I can be with you. For whatever that may be worth."
The stone basin with its curling symbols looked like something out of the deep time of Celtic folklore - a great or lesser hallow which might have sat on a pillar in Glass Castle, to ensorcel the unwary. She was tempted to touch it, to run her fingers over the swirling unknown words, but she knew better than to interfere with a magical object whose properties were obscure to her. When she looked at it, it seemed to contain, impossibly, a reflection of the sky: silver-edged clouds drifting across the dingy Tupperware-coloured firmament of a British spring morning.
She turned to glance at Severus, and saw him give her a look of wall-eyed apprehension and swallow once, before stepping firmly up to the table on which the bowl sat. He took out his wand - her wand, the wand she had made for him, all creamy-white and silver - tapped it briskly on the rim of the bowl and then drew the tip of it lightly across the surface of that upside-down sky.
A rope of glimmering mist came away from the stuff in the bowl, like a controlled flurry of cohesive frost, and adhered to the tip of the wand. The professor touched the sycamore lightly to his temple, transferring the clinging, glittering stuff, which began to sink into his skin. "Ectoplasm," Lynsey thought wildly, feeling slightly hysterical - "real ectoplasm, none of your Victorian butter-muslin rubbish" - but all trace of hilarity left her as she saw the professor flinch slightly as if he had been struck, his hands grabbing for the edge of the table to steady himself, and a brief flare of horrible vision burned itself across her consciousness: himself held fast in magical bonds, jerking and jolting in agony, sobbing for a chance to spill his secrets as a short, burly man with a moustache and a butcher's apron did something indistinct to an arm which looked impossibly distorted and wrong - even more so than could be accounted for by the splinters of white bone tearing out through the skin and the dark blood which turned both torturer and tortured to gory spectres - a vision of Hell recast as an abattoir -
Again, and again - eight strands, ten, twenty - as many units of memory as there had been questionings, during seventeen days of torture, and each time Lynsey saw a flash of what was passing across her friend's mind. In some, the early ones she supposed, he was still resolutely refusing to talk, his bitten lips clamped tightly shut even as his body arched and convulsed, although it was still important to know what the Dark One and his minions had been trying for; in others he remembered himself utterly abased, mindless and howling and babbling information through a jagged succession of torments - a few mortifyingly sexual, most simply brutal or bizarre, and she half thought that she should block the images if she could, to save his privacy, and half felt that it would be important, somewhere, somewhen, to have seen and not turned away. It was a measure, she thought, of how shattered he was that he was letting his mind spill over like this, but she dared not speak to him, to disrupt a process which he was obviously finding quite hard enough as it was; and so she could do nothing but bite her own lip and wince her way through a slide-show of horrors.
When the last skein of electric, sparkling silver candyfloss had sunk through his sweating skin and the bowl was finally empty, her professor turned and walked blindly towards the window, finding it by the simple expedient of crashing into the sill. Lynsey hovered at his side, feeling useless, as he leaned his palms against the glass, staring out at the bright and clouded sky. When he began to shake, she put her hand on his arm, gently, covering the place where the Dark Mark had been.
The shaking got worse and she saw him close his eyes as if in pain, the bitter lines of his face tightening into a terrible mask as he swallowed and swallowed again to keep himself from throwing up. Abruptly, he made a sharp, harsh sound and turned towards her. Lynsey wasn't sure if he was planning to embrace her or strike at her to drive her away, but without thought or hesitation she stepped forward inside his reach and slipped her arms round him, drawing him close.
His narrow back stiffened under her hands and for an endless, awful second she thought that she had made the wrong move, perhaps mortally offended him: but then his arms clutched at her, desperately, and she felt him sag forwards, almost fainting, and his head dropped down to rest on her shoulder.
Lynsey wrapped her own arms firmly around the professor's sharp ribs, leaned her head against his, and murmured "Sshh, now, good lad." Blinking away tears, she felt him slowly relax against her, until she could feel his heart racing and stumbling against hers and there was no barrier between them at all.
"I'm sorry," he muttered quietly against her shoulder, and she hugged him closer.
"You've no need to be," she murmured back, giving his ribs a gentle squeeze. "There's nothing in this that you should blame yourself for, you loony. Nothing at all."
I couldn't resist doing a partial re-run of the same conversation Snape has with Hermione in Lost and Found, where he says to her that if anyone were to take a sexual interest in him he doesn't know if he'd behave like a robotic whore or a scared cat, in order to show how different Lynsey's approach is from Hermione's.
Marmaduke Scarlet appears in The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge: which apparently was JK Rowling's favourite childhood book.
Thanks to Countrymouse and Ramos for the "Install wizard" gag - I wish I could say I thought of it myself, but I didn't.
During the Shrieking Shack incident in PoA Snape initially says, referring to Sirius and Remus, "Two more for Azkaban tonight". At that point, he is slightly out of breath and is gloating a bit, but perfectly rational. It's only after Sirius snarls "The joke's on you again, Severus" that Snape starts ranting about summoning the Dementors and having either of them Kissed.
I'm not sure whether JK Rowling herself is aware of this, but Snape's injuries sustained during the Shrieking Shack incident would, in the real world, be considered very severe, and would require an urgent X-ray and an overnight stay in hospital at the very least. He was hit on the head and was bleeding from the scalp, with his head at a funny angle which could have indicated a broken neck. Any period of unconsciousness resulting from a blow and lasting more than ten minutes is considered potentially life-threatening and can result in death or permanent brain-damage: Snape was unconscious for around fifty minutes. Allowing a patient's head to suffer even a slight knock shortly after an initial blow, as Sirius did when he scraped Snape's head against the ceiling, risks triggering Second Impact Syndrome, which can kill in seconds. And Snape's wild, literally spitting rage later that evening is a typical symptom of severe concussion.
There have been minor edits to this chapter, mainly to take account of the fact that Remus was very small when he was transformed and therefore probably wouldn't remember having already been attracted by the night, and to show Lynsey being plagued by memory.
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