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
NOTA BENE: Readers are advised to read the poem There exists something that fits nowhere by Gunnar Ekelöf before starting this chapter. The poem is referred to in the course of the chapter but is not quoted at length because doing so didn't seem to fit in very well at that point: the scene in question will make more sense if you already know roughly what the poem is like.
#14: Damaged Limitations
[In which boundaries are drawn, and then scribbled all over.]
In the end, going seemed more awkward than staying, especially with him still so shaky and shaken, so Lynsey ended up spending the rest of the night with him, each of them keeping nervously to their own side of the bed and it was fortunate that it was a double, or one of them would have ended on their arse on the floor. But she laid her hand cautiously on Severus's arm, over the nightshirt, and he placed his hand loosely over hers, gruffly embarrassed and trying to pretend not to be, and she thought how thrilling it was to be sharing the little enclosed world under the bedclothes with him, adrift together in their own little private, mutual bubble, even with rather a lot of human night-clothing in the way and the heavy, faintly itchy presence of the cats nailing the blankets to the bed at their feet.
Exhausted by the flashback and by his own temerity in kissing her, Severus fell asleep fairly easily. Lynsey lay in the half-light of approaching dawn, watching his frown-lines loosen into a sort of quiet sorrow, and she hoped she would some day see true relaxation in his sleeping face, and that she might help to put it there. Hearing him ranting about that ghastly Christmas, on top of the images which she had seen of him when he used the Pensieve, had left her feeling shuddery and grey with the realization of what he had suffered, had still been suffering, for weeks before she found him in the heart of the chalk. The image which haunted her most was not one of the gory ones but something she had seen in his memory, a brief glimpse - himself half standing, half slumped naked against a wall, his head turned aside and down and his matted hair hiding his face, cringing miserably away from what was coming to him.
A kind of agonized pity was mixed with admiration, knowing that if she hadn't talked him out of it he would have handed himself back into that protracted hell to save Draco - pity, admiration, and horror that she might so easily have failed to save him, and she couldn't let any of them affect how she behaved towards him, or he would know and be mortified. And the image of him shivering and cringing like a whipped dog might be burned into her mind's eye but he was just himself, after all - just her friend and putative love-interest, as prickly and uptight and embarrassed and tentatively hopeful as he was. It would do him a disservice to turn him into some sort of icon of suffering, when he was so much more than that - so full of interest and incident.
In the morning, she woke wondering why she felt so cold, and found that Severus had somehow wrapped himself up in all the blankets like a monochrome chrysalis, and left her with none.
She sat and contemplated him at breakfast, over his tea-cup and hers: scruffily unshaven and bundled up in a crumpled dressing-gown, his shoulders hunched around his ears and his stringy hair flopping over his forehead. He looked pale and exhausted and his skin had an unhealthy, waxy sheen: she realized that she must have it - whatever "it" was - very badly indeed, since he still looked attractive to her. "Stay me with flagons," she thought distractedly, "and comfort me with apples, for I am sick of love."
"What do you think," she said idly, into a silence which was otherwise broken only by the faint slurping of tea; "could you be comforted with apples, do you think?"
Severus gave her a quizzical look. "It would depend on the apple," he said seriously, evidently giving the matter some thought; "but I'm certainly amenable to being comforted with cider."
"About last night...."
"Yes," he said, flatly and unhelpfully, and she glowered at him, but softened when she saw how wary and uncertain he looked.
"It was... nice, I mean, not the bits where you were having flashbacks, obviously, but the, um, afterwards."
Severus relaxed perceptibly and gave her a cautious smile. "It was - invigorating. And God knows, I could do with a bit of vigour, at present."
"If you, um, wanted to do it again - I mean, not right now, obviously, but in general...."
"That would be...." He inclined his head in an acknowledgement which she was almost sure was positive.
"If you wanted a bit more vigour, or anything."
"Yes." A flicker of a smirk chased across his lean face. "Exactly how vigorous are you planning to get? I feel I should be forewarned."
"How vigorous would you like me to be?"
A shadow displaced the smirk, and he winced slightly. "I don't really know", he muttered, not quite meeting her eyes. "Not so vigorous that I start bloody panicking."
"Moderate vigour. Check. I can do that." Now it was her turn to look away and down, awkwardly. "Um - about last night...."
"You're repeating yourself, O'Connor," the professor said silkily. He shifted to lean back in his chair, putting on a creditable impression of lounging insolence, and she bared her teeth at him like a cat.
"Leave it out, do. I'm trying to be serious. I mean - well, sharing a bed, you seemed to sleep better and... do you want to make it a regular thing?"
The black brushstrokes of his brows drew down, a sweeping curve and flare of india-ink. "Do you?"
"I think so. It was - "
"Nice. You said."
She clicked her tongue at him. "When you're in this mood, I don't know whether I want to kiss you or slap you."
Severus sipped delicately at his tea, looking at her sideways through his thick lashes. "But either way, at least I have the comfort of knowing that you are not - indifferent to me."
"Damn straight I'm not."
And that, she thought, was maybe the truest word she had ever spoken. She still wasn't sure if she could call what she felt for him "in love", exactly, in that can't-think-of-anything-else sense - whatever it was she felt for him, it didn't stop her concentrating on a nice, knotty problem in applets - but she knew she was immensely, bottomlessly fond of him, even when he was at his most aggravating, and the nearness of him made her come over all tactile, so that she wanted to pass her hands over every plane of him in a way that was almost more sculptural than sexual.
Not that she looked like getting the chance, any time soon. They had taken, warily, to sharing her bed on a regular basis - though only after much reassurance on her part that it wasn't just an act of charity, and that she would still want to do it whether or not they ever put the bed to more active use. The clincher came when she pointed out that the mental link which had developed between them meant that she would wake up whenever he had an especially bad dream anyway, and it was much more convenient for her to nip his dreams in the bud, or failing that at least to rouse him from them, if she was already lying next to him and didn't have to get out of her nice warm bed and pad round the flat in the dark.
Severus did seem to sleep more easily for the sense of a friendly presence, but he wore a long nightshirt and kept very strictly to his side of the mattress, radiating a sense of personal space as effective as barbed wire; and Lynsey respected that space punctiliously and did not touch him except on the arm or shoulder, and that only when distress stirred him half-awake and shivering. She would have suggested that they shared a room but slept in separate beds, except that both her beds were doubles, and neither bedroom was big enough to take two double beds and still leave space to walk between them.
Even kissing was a potential emotional minefield. Smoothing his hair back with her palm was one thing, or placing her hands either side of his narrow face - but when she put both hands behind his head to draw him down into a kiss he jerked away in panic, shuddering and hyperventilating until she could feel his heart pounding in his chest as she laid a hand on him in puzzled concern, and she flinched and felt miserably guilty when she realized what having his head grasped and pulled down might mean to him. Cupping one hand around the back of his neck was acceptable though, and even appreciated - and she found that if she rubbed him gently behind the ears she really could make him purr like a cat.
Meanwhile, on other fronts things were progressing rather faster. Harry's threat to tell the press about how Scrimgeour had held Snape hostage to force his compliance with Ministry policy, coming on top of the scandal about Scrimgeour's sex-life and the uneasy sense that something unpleasant was breathing on the back of his neck, had got the Minister so rattled that he had authorized Minerva to re-open classes, although Hogwarts itself remained closed - perhaps wisely so, since it was known to be one of Tom Riddle's primary targets, and there was no longer any Dumbledore to protect it.
Many parents still chose to keep their children away from the Hogwarts staff, who were perceived as a lightning-rod for trouble, but the Ministry had commandeered a couple of vacant premises in Diagon Alley where the staff could hold at least basic classes for day-students aged fourteen and over who commuted in by Floo. As soon as the Easter holiday was out of the way Severus was due to start teaching four mornings of Defence training and two afternoon duelling clubs per week, and would at last be getting something approaching a regular salary again. Indeed, the Ministry had agreed to start paying the staff almost immediately, in respect of all the administrative work which they would have to do before the school opened.
It was to be hoped that since Severus would not actually be teaching Defence at Hogwarts itself, the curse which prevented any Hogwarts DADA teacher from lasting more than a year would not be activated.
There would be no house-divisions among this handful of day-students, at least in theory: but Severus still felt especially responsible for his Slytherins, and was anxious to see as many of them as he could. But many Slytherins, unfortunately, came from Death Eater families who would see them dead before they would see them taught by that notorious traitor, Severus Snape.
"Somebody has to look out for the little brutes," he said glumly; "even the ones who are just Death Eaters in waiting. And at least now I don't have to pretend to be one of them any more, and I can openly advise them against taking the Mark. That's one good thing to come out of being - being discovered."
"Will they listen to you, do you think?"
"I don't know - but I have to at least try." He fiddled absently with the cuff of his robes, scowling. "Most people think they're all bloody trainee Death Eaters, or Dark wizards, and - well, Slytherins are Sorted on the basis of ambition, and that means I do - did - tend to get the ruthless and the psychopathic, because such children generally are very ambitious. Also the ugly and the abused, because the ugly and the abused so often feel so driven to prove themselves - which explains how I got in. But I also got the dreamers, the inventors, the ones who wanted to write the Great Wizarding Novel or find a better cure for dragon-pox, the ones who were willing to die for an ideal - whether it was a good ideal or not. And they are, all of them, my responsibility - even the ones who think that I deserved what I bloody got, and ought to have been left to rot."
The irony of it was that many of the other side still felt the same, and regarded him as a murderer who had got away with it on a mere technicality; but Minerva's support for him, both personally and professionally, was firm and unequivocal. They could, as she melodiously told more than one set of parents, either like it or lump it.
"Come away from that now," he said firmly, sweeping in in a flutter of black and producing a bottle of curiously-labelled wine from the depths of his robes, "and come 'n celebrate my first proper pay-packet in - " He stopped to think about it. "Ten months."
"Looks like you've been celebrating already" Lynsey replied, saving her work and standing up to greet him.
"Oh, Horace and I had a little post I mean preprandial port in the Cauldron" he said happily, setting the bottle aside and sweeping her into an enthusiastic embrace. "No more relying on Potter's thinly-disguised charity, and having to be grateful to the little sod!"
"You're pissed, aren't you?"
"Only a little bit. Not too much to know what I want." He stooped towards her like a hawk and she rose eagerly to meet his kiss, and let him press her back until she was sitting perched on the edge of the desk with her hands on his shoulders and her knees either side of his hips.
"Port obviously has the same effect on you that it does on me" she said cheerfully, when he paused to breathe.
"We should definitely get in a supply," he growled, leaning in for another kiss with reckless and slightly clumsy enthusiasm, and she opened her mouth wider for him and rubbed the back of his neck in small, firm circles until he shivered against her with desire and she could feel his heart racing even faster than hers.
They were practically there already, she thought, his tongue was already doing highly suggestive things in her mouth, and a little judicious unbuttoning and unzipping and a slight shifting of the hips were all that was needed - and it would seem like a waste of golden opportunity not to. "Do you want to...?" she murmured against his lips, and drew his hand down to rest against the zipper of her jeans.
The change was as abrupt as if some cosmic switch had been thrown. He flinched violently away and stepped back out of her reach, staring at her through wild untidy strands of hair, his chest heaving. "I - no!" When she put her hand out towards him his shoulders hunched as if to ward off a blow.
Lynsey winced. "I'm sorry - I didn't mean to rush you, you just seemed so... ready."
Severus dropped his eyes, putting his knuckles up to his mouth as if the taste of kissing was surprising to him, and shook his head. "I'm sorry," he muttered, a dull flush spreading along his jawline. "It's not that you're not - I do want to. Very much. Theoretically. But I'm not sure that I could, um, 'get it up'. Not and keep it up for long enough, anyway."
Lynsey slipped off the desk and back onto her feet and laid her hand lightly on his upper arm, and this time he let her, although she felt his skin shiver through the dark cloth. "If it's partly an, um, mechanical issue, we - Muggles - have things that can help: there was a new treatment in the news only about six weeks ago. Don't wizards have, um, potions or charms that...?"
Severus twitched himself out from under her hand, snarling. "In bloody abundance. Don't you realize - " He spun about and began to pace, jerkily, a few steps one way and then back. "I had to, to use those charms, those potions, any time I couldn't fucking-well get out of it, that bloody lot all baying, cheering, egging me on to f-force myself on somebody when every bloody nerve in my body was screaming 'no' but I knew I was dead meat if I didn't, I couldn't - couldn't save them except by killing them and then their last moment would be me doing - doing that, do you think I'm so bloody perverse that I could have managed it without a charm or a potion?"
Behind Lynsey, the laptop squeaked as if stepped on and spontaneously re-booted itself, as random power lashed out from him. "Although I do know that the bloody - hydraulics work, the fucking hydraulics" - he flashed her a horrible, skull's grin as he said it, baring his yellow teeth to the gums although his eyes looked mad with grief - "because I couldn't not get it up when they were - inside me, tearing - when they used the same bloody charms on themselves, Ramrod charms, Engorgement - "
His panic, his distress was infectious but she didn't know what the hell to do with him, he had his head thrown back and his white face tilted towards the ceiling, she could see tears leaking out of the corners of his eyes as he ranted and paced, his long hands plucking desperately at each other and the last thing she wanted to have to do was slap him to snap him out of it - in desperation she grabbed his right upper arm with her left hand and as he spun round in fury to face her she seized the other arm as well and dragged him towards her, not quite embracing him. "Stop it! Stop it now. Breathe."
For an instant she thought that he would jerk away again, even hit her; but then he nodded once, sharply, and drew a deep, ragged breath, and then another and another, as she slackened her grip to something which was merely steadying rather than restraining. When he was breathing almost normally he looked at her, from so close to that she could have kissed the tip of his nose with little effort had she been so inclined, and said bleakly "Having to force myself to, to force myself on other people was worse than having other people force themselves on me, yus kin, and I'm ashamed that - that I should even bloody mind what they did to me, in comparison, but it hurt so damned much - I tried not to but they - "
Moving slowly, so as not to provoke him into startling away again, she reeled him in into an embrace, and he let his head drop wearily onto her shoulder. "I remember you said," she said, "that if you had to - do that, you did it as painlessly and quickly as you could."
She felt his nod through her bones. "Yes. But when they... to me, they made it as bloody painful and protracted as they could. And whichever way you look at it it's all - tainted. I mean - sex. All that."
"Would you rather - rather forget the whole thing?"
He shook his head, and then broke away from her embrace and went and sat down on the off-white, probably-not-a-sensible-buy-when-you-have-two-dark-furred-cats settee. He leaned his elbow on the back of the sofa, rested his chin on his hand and gazed out of the window at the tops of the trees stirring against the sky.
"I want - I do want to be, to be able to. I want to feel that - that I own myself, apart from the purely... pleasurable aspects." She could see his grimace, even though he was facing mostly away from her. "Kissing you is very - pleasurable and I do feel a certain... you know."
"Something stirring in the undergrowth?"
"Hah. Yes. But if I think about feeling it it just freaks me out, and the idea of using - using potions and charms again to force an erection is just - horrible. Ghastly."
"I'm sorry. I would never have suggested it if I'd known. I didn't think."
"Then you bloody-well should have done!" He drew a deep breath. "I apologize. You're not - familiar enough with my world to think in those terms as a matter of course, yet."
Lynsey sighed and sat down on the other end of the sofa, retaining a distance between them. "You're right. You'd told me that you sometimes had to... do that, but I hadn't thought about how you were able to. Magically speaking."
"It doesn't bother you?" he asked, his mouth twisting bitterly.
"Oh, it bothers me all right, but not - it bothers me for you, not about you, if you see what I mean. It's a wonder to me that you're still bloody sane."
"I'm not sure that I am. I certainly - part of me is, is quite - hopeful, kissing you and, and the rest of it, but the rest of me is - sliding. Coming apart. I can feel myself bloody coming apart and I don't know how to stop it."
"I haven't - haven't hit bottom, yet," he said, turning his head restlessly. "It will be worse before it's better."
"That's what Poppy said." Lynsey was privately relieved that he still assumed that he would get better - but forbore to say so, in case he should decide, out of sheer bloody-minded perversity, not to.
"Poppy knows what she's bloody talking about." He turned back to face her, his mouth twitching wryly. "And even the - kissing and - you understand that part of me expects to submit to any sordid bloody thing anyone wants to do to me as if - as if the gutter is where I belong, which - part of me thinks is true anyway; and the other part can barely endure to be touched. Like somebody's bloody prissy maiden aunt. But I do appreciate that sharing a bed without actually doing anything about it is - peculiar, not to mention a waste of perfectly good opportunity, and I don't like to feel that I am... disappointing."
"That's all right, pet. It's nice to have a friend to curl up with - or next to, at any rate - even without anything else."
"Just like another bloody cat, in fact," he said rather bitterly.
"Well - you make a good hot-water-bottle on cold nights, and you do purr very nicely."
"Huh." He rubbed his hand across his face distractedly. "You know what today is, don't you? It's Good Friday."
"Yes. I did wonder - well, whether you were going to do anything for Easter."
"I can't, can I? Can't go to confession - the priest's mind might be read or, or even if I didn't say anything Riddle might want to know, He still might take any priest I spoke to and rip his mind open, just to see. I can't put anyone in that kind of danger; but then I can't go to mass either."
"I thought you might want to spend it in meditation or something...."
"On Sunday - on Sunday I'll light a candle and say my prayers, like a good little boy." The lines of bitterness tightened around his mouth. "But I'd rather get drunk than spend today meditating on the Wounds of Christ, and commit blasphemy by thinking that what I suffered was worse."
She woke to find him twisting and threshing in a tangle of sheets, jerking his head restlessly from side to side as if trying to shake something off and chanting "Get him off me get him off me get him off me" in a sort of flat snarl. She was still fuzzy herself but she dragged herself into full consciousness and tried to wake him - caught his face between her hands and tried to get him to look at her and he did at least open his eyes then, but he gagged and retched and spat "Bastard! Bastard! Get him off me get him off me...." and then suddenly lunged to his feet, stumbled blindly past Lynsey's reaching hands and somehow made it to the bathroom, where he crashed to his knees and was violently sick into the lavatory. She followed him and perched diffidently on the side of the bath, outside his personal space - trying to be supportive without being intrusive.
When he was through with the first violent spasm she fetched a dressing-gown and draped it round his thin shoulders, over the cotton nightshirt which was stuck to his skin with sweat. He stared at her with that blank, blinded look she was coming to know all too well and snarled "What did you think it would be like? Did you think being tortured would have been all - tidy and - and clean and all you have to do is save the poor victim and he'll be so fucking grateful and no trouble and - all easy and clean and no, no dirt, no shit semen vomit blood no piss no pus no pain no poison - oh God - "
"Credit me with the rudiments of sense - I'd a fair idea what I was getting into. You're not imposing on me, pet - I volunteered for this with my eyes open."
"You must be mad!" he muttered, turning his face away from her.
"Nope. Just mindlessly brave."
"Comes to the same bloody thing."
"I happen to care about you, you loony. I'm not going to wimp out on you."
"I don't know how you can bloody stand me."
"Idiot. I've told you before, and I'll tell you again as many times as it takes to make it stick - you are not the one who has anything to be ashamed of, here." When he made no attempt to move but simply leaned back against the tiled wall, his eyes tightly shut and his face pinched in grey around the mouth, Lynsey came and sat down next to him so that they were just touching at the elbows. She looked away from him, and began softly: "There exists something that fits nowhere...."
Somewhere, as she spoke the calming hypnotic words of Ekelöf's poem, the professor's hand took hold of hers, almost surreptitiously. When those words had hissed away into silence like the receding waves, she sighed and said "Rinse your mouth out, love, and I'll make you a sandwich."
The sky was already greying into dawn and there seemed little point in going back to bed, which explained how Lynsey found herself sitting and contemplating Severus wearily over the breakfast table at 5 a.m. on a damp Saturday. He looked, if possible, even seedier and scruffier than he usually did, first thing in the morning, and his skin was the colour of old plaster, but he had lost the jangling tension he had had the night before - as if his outburst had lanced something and brought at least temporary relief. He seemed to be examining his own hands, folded whitely around a soothing mug of hot chocolate, but as Lynsey watched him he looked up and gave her a weary smile.
"I've decided," he said, quite calmly.
"What have you decided?" she replied cautiously, inwardly praying that it wasn't suicide or anything else daft or disastrous.
"I've decided I'm not going to let those bastards stop me from having a sex-life if I bloody-well want to."
"Oh! That's a good decide."
He gave her one of his best smirks. "I thought you'd approve. Only - only you're going to have to help me. I mean - more than is usual in these matters." He took a sip of chocolate, blushing slightly. "Not that I'm any expert, you understand."
"Oh, me neither, but I've at least, um, read a bit. If you... I'm guessing you don't want to actually see a sex-therapist - "
"You guess correctly."
"And you know what they say - 'Good guessers never get married'. But I can hazard a guess at what a sex therapist would say, anyway, which would probably be to start with Sensate Focus."
"What's that when it's not at home?"
"Well, as I understand it it means that we - well, that we get used to touching each other and, um, being touched, on the, uh, non-sexual bits first and then - progressing. Knowing in advance that we're not even going to try to have sex until you - we've got comfortable with the touching bit."
"Oh. That sounds - that sounds all right, actually." He smiled at her, wryly but sweetly and for once without the smirk. "I think I might - might actually be able to do that without making any more of a total bloody fool of myself than I have already."
His hands on her skin were dry, light, tentative - as if he were thinking his way through a complex problem using his fingertips. His expression was contemplative and inwards-looking, a little frowning, and only the shortness of his breath betrayed his nervousness as he spanned her belly with deft fingers, running his thumbs softly along the edge of her ribcage.
When it came to her own turn, Severus lay down naked on his back on the bed with his arms at his sides and his hands fisted into the sheets, as rigid with nerves as if he expected to be punished. She looked at him for a moment, enjoying the view, then sighed and went and fetched her newest purchase and unfurled it over him, a fall of bright colour.
"What is it?" he said, squinting down at his own no-longer-bare chest.
"Duvet. It's like a - a very lightweight but warm quilt. Instead of blankets. Budge over." She slipped under the covers beside him, propped herself up on her elbow and trailed her left hand lightly across his chest and down to his flank, learning the shape of him. His skin was icy cold and shivered everywhere she touched him. "Shh - it's all right." She could feel the sharp lines of his ribs, and the faint, slanting bars of scarring where the lash had curled around his sides or a curse had scored him.
He turned his face towards her, as far as he could from that angle, and looked at her out of the corner of his eye, glittering and bright. "Talk to me," he said commandingly.
"Um - what about?"
"Anything, just - distract me. You never did tell me what a Klingon hunt was."
"Oh! - well - do you remember Star Trek, from when you were a kid?" She traced the line of a scar around his side to his back: he jerked at the touch and it occurred to her for the first time that he was probably very ticklish, on top of all his raw nerves.
"My family didn't run to anything as nobby as a telly until I was already away at Hogwarts, but - ahh! - vaguely. I do know what a Klingon is: but how does one hunt a fictional entity? Assuming you're not The Quibbler?"
"Well...." As her hand smoothed across his backside he flinched away so violently that she moved hastily on to the long muscles of his thigh, which she hoped had fewer unpleasant associations. "You get a bunch of Science Fiction fans - "
"Shouldn't that be 'Science Fiction fen'?"
"Uh - yeah, strictly." Sitting up and craning down towards the end of the bed, she pressed her palm against the sole of his foot, and winced to find it still hot and tender; but he flinched away again before she could assess the damage, and she remembered that if he was ticklish about the ribs he was probably even more so about the feet.
"If you're going to use arcane terminology, O'Conner, at least be consistent." She could hear the tension tightening his breath.
"Pedant" she said affectionately, stroking the back of her hand back up the other leg and onto his stomach, skirting anything too personal for the moment. "Anyway you get a bunch of fen in a big hotel - usually a hotel, but during the Eighties, before the police got too sensitive about IRA terrorists, there was a mass Klingon hunt held all round the Circle Line - that's part of the London Underground - and anyway sometimes they split into two teams, sometimes it's every man for himself and then basically they stalk each other around the hotel for an hour or two, with toy space-guns. It's terrific fun if the hotel has lots of side-passages and stairs."
"But how do you determine when someone has been hit - with toy guns?" She could feel him making a conscious effort to relax under her touch.
"Honour, basically - you trust the target to recognise that you got a clear shot at them, and to withdraw from the game. Or there are versions now that you can play in the woods with special guns that fire blobs of paint." She pressed the flat of her hand against his chest to feel his strong heartbeat, almost steady now that his nerves had nearly caught up with his conscious knowledge that she wasn't going to hurt him or make any unexpected grabs. "It would be easier to do it like your lot and actually fire wands at each other."
"It would, wouldn't it?" He shifted suddenly, lacing his fingers behind his head, and Lynsey tucked in contentedly against him with her head resting on his arm. "You've just given me a very good idea on how to get at Dumbledore's secret books. Do you suppose the Ministry would let us back into Hogwarts to hold a Klingon hunt - as a training exercise?"
It would be a long time, if ever, before he felt comfortable enough about being touched on bare skin to sleep naked, when the nightmare associations of nakedness still stalked his dreams; but she persuaded him to let her brush his hair while they were both bare, drawing the bristles through his heavy locks in long strokes, and making the same sort of "Ssss, ssss" noises she would use when grooming a horse. He grew to like the soothing, rhythmic touch, and no longer flinched when she put a hand on his scarred back to steady herself. And he became, in turn, less tentative about touching her, although he still passed his hands back and forth across her skin as carefully as if he thought she was made of eggshell. She herself had a fairly low opinion of her own body - lumpen, imperfect and sliding rapidly towards middle-age - so it was strange to find herself being handled like something precious and surprising.
On other fronts, the Ministry had agreed to let the school-in-exile have access to Hogwarts for training purposes over the May Day holiday weekend, when there would be only a skeleton staff manning the Ministry's new Scottish office. That gave them less than three weeks to prepare and, if possible, to work out how to get into the Ministry's spell-tracking system.
The mirror flashed and wavered where it hung on a hook in the wall, and a familiar blond, bland face appeared in the glass. "Severus, my boy," said the apparition, waggling its walrus moustache, and the professor lounged to his feet and walked over to the mirror's line of sight.
"Horace. Is there a problem?"
"Mmm - not a problem, precisely. Minerva has young Gregory Goyle downstairs in the office, saying that he and Vincent Crabbe wish to attend the day-school 'If Professor Snape's gonna be there', quote, unquote, and despite considerable opposition from their families."
The Professor folded his arms. "I find it hard to believe their families would let them come at all, considering that their fathers helped to - " He swallowed, and stared stonily ahead.
"Yes, well," the other replied chattily; "I gather there's been something of a rift in the lute in that department, and they are both now living with a mutual second cousin in Hartlepool. But young Gregory wished me to convey a message to you. I hope - hope it doesn't turn out to be anything unpleasant."
Lynsey, listening, winced and hoped that the boys mentioned were sincere, and that whatever was coming was not a coded threat from their fathers, at least one of whom she knew had played an active rôle in her friend's torture.
"Well, go on then" that friend said flatly.
"Well - I really don't know quite what to make of this, and I got the impression he didn't either, but he said I was to tell you that - that somebody he seemed to think was called Shredded Fishy had said to tell you that he was more well than could be expected."
Severus lit up like a candle, quite suddenly, the lines of resignation and wariness flaring into sudden eagerness. "Oh, God, Horace, ask him - go and ask him if it could have been 'Sredni Vashtar'."
"Well, I will if I can remember how to say it...." The atrocious 'tache disappeared from the glass.
"Pet...?" Lynsey started, but the professor waved her impatiently to silence, chewing on the side of his own knuckles in his anxiety until Horace returned.
"He said, and I quote, 'Yeah, summing like that'."
"Oh - oh thank God." He folded down onto the sofa rather suddenly, as if his legs would no longer bear him, and covered his eyes with an unsteady hand. Horace harrumphed in evident masculine embarrassment.
"Well, if you're sure it's good news I'd, ah, better be on my way, unless you'd like to tell me...? Well, perhaps another time."
Lynsey cocked her head on one side.
she murmured dreamily:
"So what was that all about?"
Severus put his hand down and looked up at her, his face utterly drained. "It's a message from Draco, thank God - to say he got away with it. That the - He - didn't punish him much, if at all, for his failure to capture me."
"Why 'Sredni Vashtar'?"
"It's - I would say it's private to him, but it's such common knowledge there's hardly any point. When he was fourteen, someone - someone pretending to be Alastor Moody, in fact - "
"Yeah - Minerva told me about that."
"This - person turned Draco into a ferret, and then knocked him around and terrorized him in front of his classmates. He had been misbehaving, and I as his house-father would have assigned him detention in private afterwards, but instead Crouch injured and publicly humiliated him which - well, which I suppose was only what you'd expect from a Death Eater. His pride was very much hurt, so I, um, loaned him a book...."
"Oh! You showed him the story about the ferret who became a dark god!"
"Cool! That's such a witchy thing to do."
"I'm flattered you should think so."
Touching his back or his side was one thing; touching him anywhere more intimate had to be taken in tiny, careful increments, laying her cool hand over the fleshy heat of him for a moment and then moving away before he could begin to panic, until his body began to believe that she would do nothing painful or shaming. It took a week of gentle mutual exploration, of leisurely kisses and concentrated reassurance before he was even halfway comfortable about lying awake skin to skin; a fortnight before he would lie belly to belly with her, warming the cold knot of tension in his gut, and knowingly let her feel the physical evidence of his own desire without shying away.
She knelt astride him, feeling his warm pressure pressing up inside her, running her hands over the firm muscles of his chest and stomach and even brushing her thumbs experimentally across his nipples; but that pressure was receding, not growing. No more than half aroused and fading fast, he moved his head restlessly from side to side, muttering: "Oh, damn it's not fair - something that should be so - empowering but I can't do it anymore, it just makes me feel so fucking helpless knowing I can only be what they made of me - doll, puppet, useless thing, thing without volition.... I don't own myself any more."
"If not you, who?"
"Whoever - whoever wants me. That way."
"Which would be me then, at present. Logically."
"Then I give you back to yourself - that's simple, isn't it? I don't do anything to you without your say-so."
He stared up at her blindly, as if dazzled. "I don't know. Don't know. Lucius - "
"The hell with Lucius. Aren't I braver, cleverer, more virtuous than Lucius?"
He actually smiled at that, and gave a sleepy little chuckle. "Oh yes - and with far more class!"
"I'm telling you nobody owns you but yourself - I, me! Whom are you going to believe - that shady prick, or me?"
"When you put it like that...."
She smiled down at him, feeling the pulse and swell of renewed desire, within his flesh, held within her own.
It was too much to expect that he would actually be able to achieve climax on a first attempt, with so many reasons to be fearful and so few to relax; but she found it drowsily pleasant to spend time just lying engaged together, languid and content, feeling that absolute closeness - feeling him as warmth inside her, touching as deeply and completely as it is possible to be touched - while her hands rubbed slow, lazy circles across his neck and shoulders.
"Mind-reading aside," she murmured contentedly, "this is the closest you can get to another human being."
"Yes" he said, shivering against her. "That's why it's so good to lie with someone you want to be close to, and so horrible to do it with someone you - don't."
"Ssh - nothing bad is happening, and nothing bad is going to happen. Lovely man, everything will be fine."
"I couldn't help it," he whispered, burying his face against her shoulder; "I couldn't not - respond, that way, when they - it just happens, but they cheered, and jeered, always, always jeering - the worst thing, the worst thing was that I didn't care, in the end, because even when they - heal you to tear you open again it hurts less than having your fucking toenails ripped out, and even though the, the shame is scalding all you can think about is pain."
And she could do nothing but hold him close, murmuring "Shh, shh. There's no pain for you here, there is nothing here for you but honour and praise. Let it be a cure for all pain, for a while."
"Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples: for I am sick of love" - Song of Solomon 2.5, from the King James Version.
Note that cider in Britain is always alcoholic: often quite drastically so.
Applets are tiny little custom-built applications which perform fancy functions on websites, and which you write in a programming language called Java.
To nip something in the bud is to stop it before it has properly started.
"Like it or lump it" means "Take what's on offer or go without".
"Postprandial" means "after eating", the usual time for consuming port. Drinking alcohol on an empty stomach is notoriously prone to make you very drunk very fast.
Note that in Britain "pissed" on its own means drunk, not annoyed. To be annoyed is to be "pissed off".
"... a new treatment in the news only about six weeks ago" - Viagra was licensed for use in the treatment of impotence in late February 1998.
"Sofa" and "settee" are interchangeable terms.
"There exists something that fits nowhere" - from the poem of that name by Gunnar Ekelöf.
"Good guessers never get married" is a saying of my Irish grandmother's.
"What's that when it's at home?" is a common, if now slightly old-fashioned, British response to an unfamiliar term.
The subject of Klingon hunts was mentioned briefly in Mood Music, the story to which this is the sequel, while Lynsey and Severus were chasing and being chased by Death Eaters through the long tunnels in the dark.
A "nob" is a slang word for an aristocrat, so to be "nobby" is to be up-market.
A "rift in the lute" is a weak spot opening up and spreading through a situation or a relationship which had previously seemed sound.
Sredni Vashtar is the title of an extremely sinister short story by Saki, in which a lonely, sickly boy who knows he isn't expected to live to grow up designs his own warrior-cult around the big hob ferret he keeps in a hutch at the end of the garden, and prays to it to rid him of his cruel, oppressive aunt.
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