Darkness and Light 2: Personal Risks
by R. J. Anderson (Revised 08/2003)
Chapter Seven: Patience
"You," Maud said to George without looking around, "are frightening me."
"Not half as much as the idea of you with Snape frightens me," said George.
She turned slowly, met his candid gaze with her own. "How..."
"I'm not as thick as I look." He sounded resigned. "If I'd had any doubt you weren't telling me the whole truth when you said you were spying on Snape, last night would have settled it. Not only did you turn down a perfectly good snog - not that I hold it against you, I'm just submitting it as evidence - you went tearing off into the freezing rain just to meet him." He grimaced. "I just hope you know something about him that the rest of us don't. Because otherwise, I'm going to have to chuck out everything I thought I knew about you and start over."
Maud flushed. "No... don't do that." She looked down at the floor. "You're right... I didn't tell you the whole truth. But-" her head came up again- "I didn't lie, either. I never lie, if I can avoid it."
"Probably for the best," agreed George equitably, "'cause you're absolute pants at it." He paused, then added with a touch of exasperation, "Oh, don't look so tragic, woman, I'm not going to interrogate you. Even if I wanted to know, it's none of my business. And believe me, if Snape is involved, I don't want to know."
She closed her eyes, feeling the knot inside her beginning to unwind. "George," she said, "have I told you that you are one of the most remarkable men I've ever met?"
"Oh, I like that," said George, with something like his old insouciance. "Come back and say it again tomorrow. Until then - hop it, will you? I'm starting to get claustrophobia in here."
Maud gave him a grateful smile, shouldered her bag, and left.
Someone had turned the lights down in the dorm until only a faint greenish glow remained, bathing the room in sickly pallor. As Maud entered, she could just make out a huddled shape on the bed in the far corner. She tossed her schoolbag onto a chair and went over to investigate.
"Muriel?" she asked cautiously.
There was no answer. She stepped closer, reached out to touch the other girl's shoulder. "Muriel?"
"Go away," said a thick voice, muffled by the blankets.
Maud sighed and sat down on the edge of the bed. "Look," she said. "I know it's rotten, but it's not the end of the world. They'll forget about it in a few days, and-"
Muriel jerked upright and turned a red, swollen face toward her. "Shut up!" she spat. "What do you know about anything? Get out! Just get out and leave me alone!" When Maud hesitated, she glared at her fiercely, eyes glowing with misery and rage: then her face crumpled and she collapsed once more onto the bed, weeping.
Resigned, Maud rose to her feet, turned and walked back the way she had come. She was almost at the door before Muriel spoke again, her voice a choked whisper:
"I hate you. I hate you so much. I wish you were dead." She drew a sharp breath, added with sudden venom, "I'll see you dead."
A chill ran up Maud's spine. "You don't mean that," she said, keeping her voice even with an effort.
"Oh, don't I?" Muriel gave a harsh laugh. "Of course you're right. You're always right. No, I won't kill you, not now, not here. But after Hogwarts..." She paused, and her bitter smile glimmered in the darkness. "You'd better watch your back."
Maud's hands curled into fists. She stood a moment in silence, scarcely able to believe what she had just heard: then abruptly she shouldered her way past the half-open door and left.
Was Muriel insane? Schoolgirl rivalry and jealousy were one thing; murderous hate was another. Yet Maud couldn't shake the feeling that Muriel's words were more - far more - than an empty threat. There had been no hesitation, no hint of shame in Muriel's voice when she spoke of killing Maud: indeed, underneath the surface anger was a note of fervent, almost sensual, pleasure.
And that, thought Maud with bleak certainty, is how Death Eaters are made...
Lost in her own troubled thoughts, she left the Slytherin dormitory and was halfway down the corridor when a familiar, crisp voice came from behind her. "Miss Moody?"
Maud stopped, turned to see Professor McGonagall standing there. "Yes?" she said.
"Professor Dumbledore would like to see you in his office." She gave Maud a penetrating look through her spectacles. "Immediately."
Maud wondered, but she followed without protest. They made their way up the stairs and through the corridors to the familiar stone gargoyle, where McGonagall stopped and said, with a faint note of disapproval in her voice, "Canary Cream."
The gargoyle leaped aside, revealing the spiral stair to Dumbledore's office. "Go on," said McGonagall, as Maud hesitated. "He's waiting for you."
Maud stepped onto the staircase, expecting McGonagall to follow: but when she glanced back over her shoulder, the wall had closed behind her and the older woman was nowhere to be seen. Surprised, but a little relieved - at least she wasn't going to be called up before the Heads, or anything of that sort - Maud rode the revolving stair until the familiar polished-oak door came in sight, then stepped off and rapped tentatively with the brass door-knocker.
"Enter," said Dumbledore.
She pushed the door open. There in front of her was the snug circular room she had visited before, its walls lined with the smiling, blinking, scowling or gently snoozing portraits of former Headmasters. Fawkes sat on his customary perch, the Sorting Hat on its shelf, and Dumbledore at his desk; at first glance the whole scene appeared quite ordinary. But no sooner had she stepped inside than an unexpected shape caught the corner of her eye, and she turned to see-
"Uncle Alastor." Her voice was a whisper. "What are you doing here?"
"Maudie," he said, his face blank with surprise, and then again, fiercely, "Maudie!" and he caught her up in a crushing embrace.
"I can't believe it," he rasped over the top of her head, as near to tears as she had ever seen him - certainly nearer than she had ever imagined he could be. "You can see, girl. You can see!"
Dumbledore cleared his throat. "I took the liberty of inviting Alastor here for a private meeting," he said. "I thought you would like him to know."
"Oh, yes," said Maud gratefully, her face muffled against Mad-Eye's broad shoulder. She tightened her arms around him, hugging him back with equal warmth. "I'd been wondering how I could possibly get word to you, when we're supposed to have washed our hands of each other - oh, Uncle, it is good to see you again!"
"But how, Maudie? How did it happen?" He released her and held her at arm's length, gazing with disbelief into her clear green eyes.
Maud smiled. "Sit down," she said, "and I'll tell you all about it."
"So he asked me where Athena was... and that was when I realised I could see."
For a moment after Maud had finished speaking, Alastor Moody sat motionless, his grizzled head bowed. "Poor Athena," he said gruffly. "Poor little creature." Then he gave himself a little shake, as though recalling himself, and sat up again. "Well, you had quite the night, to be sure. Good to know Snape made it back to Hogwarts in one piece: he wasn't looking too lively when he left. And by the way, Maudie-"
She looked at him inquiringly.
"-don't think I didn't notice the parts you left out."
But Maud had already anticipated that challenge. "What," she said with perfect calm, "the part where Professor Snape read me a sonnet, or the part where we danced the tango?"
"Just stay on your feet, girl," growled Moody, but she could see the grin tugging at the corner of his mouth, and knew that she had disarmed him.
"If you will excuse me," said Dumbledore politely, "I believe that was the dinner bell. Miss Moody, you may continue to visit with Alastor in my absence if you wish, but may I suggest that you not miss tonight's meal entirely?"
"Yes, sir," said Maud. "I'll only be a few moments."
Dumbledore smiled at her, shook her uncle's hand, and left.
"So you've accepted Snape, Maudie?" said Mad-Eye, looking at her shrewdly. She gave a little, half-embarrassed nod, and he snorted. "No accounting for taste. Well, at least you won't be taking it too seriously. Not when you know it can't last."
"Of course it can't. It was one thing for you to be working with Snape when it seemed you'd no other option: but now you've got your sight back-"
"We've already discussed that," she said. "I'm not going to be an Auror, uncle."
"Don't try to make me change my mind." Her voice was firm. "I know what you're thinking, but this isn't about Professor Snape, not really. It's just that - if there's one thing I've learned since coming to Hogwarts, it's that I'm not as strong as I thought I was. Maybe it's the fault of those six years I spent at Durmstrang, but I can't trust myself to fight hard and still fight clean. So... maybe I need to do my fighting in a different way."
His eyebrows shot up. "You think pretending to side with Voldemort is cleaner?"
"No," she said calmly, "I don't. And even if I did, fooling my schoolmates is one thing; fooling Voldemort is another. So I'm not going to be a spy, either. Or at least, not that kind of spy."
"I'm not sure yet. I'm a good observer, I know that: and I know how to analyse and interpret what I see. Perhaps I'll do something along those lines. Or I might use my skill at Potions and go into medicine - if there's going to be a war, we'll need all the Healers we can get. But I promise you, uncle, I'm not giving up. I swear I'll find some way to fight Voldemort, some way to make a difference. And once I know what it is... I'm not going to let anyone stop me doing what I believe to be right."
"Not even Snape?" It was a challenge.
"No," she said quietly. "Not even Snape."
A slow smile began at one corner of her uncle's mouth and worked its way over to the other. "That's my girl," he said.
"Four grams of dried Billywig stings," said Maud, her eyes fixed on the book she was holding.
Snape picked up a jar from the workbench beside him, tipped the contents onto the scale. Eyes narrowed, he adjusted the quantity with a small silver spoon until the measurement was perfect, then poured the glittering powder into the cauldron. "Next," he said crisply.
She ran her finger down the list of ingredients. "Three Fwooper feathers."
"Tail or wing?"
"The latter, I think... yes, wing."
"Colour? Always be specific, Miss Moody."
So it was Miss Moody again, was it? Well, she shouldn't be surprised. Fifteen minutes ago she'd walked in the door with her heart beating painfully against her ribcage and her skin prickling with anticipation, only to find a heavy leather-bound book thrust into her arms and a dispassionate voice telling her to make herself useful. He had not so much as looked at her since.
"Pink," she said wearily.
"Pink," repeated Snape, lips curling back from his teeth as though the word annoyed him. "Very well. Next?"
"Two Ashwinder eggs." She was strongly tempted to add, "...and a partridge in a pear tree," but suspected that Snape was not in the mood for jokes.
"A cup and a half of..." She stared down at the book. "Chocolate sauce?"
"Yes, yes." He made an impatient gesture. "And then what?"
But Maud was no longer paying attention: she was reading the rest of the ingredients. When she had finished she looked up and said in a carefully measured voice, "Exactly why, may I ask, are you making a love potion?"
"Because," said Snape, stirring the cauldron, "I had none on hand."
She closed the book, set it down on a nearby chair, and walked over to stand beside him. "Let me rephrase that," she said. "Why would you think that you need a love potion?"
"I don't." He stooped closer to the cauldron, frowning. "Would you call that colour red, or orange?"
Maud opened her mouth to address him sharply by name, realised that she no longer had any idea what to call him, and shut it again. "Orange," she said after a moment.
"It ought to be red." He gave a tsk of irritation, snapped his fingers and held out one hand. "Let me see that book again."
Maud hesitated, then turned and walked back to the chair. Picking up the book once more, she wrapped both arms around it and stood there in silence, waiting.
A few long seconds passed while Snape continued to stir and scowl into the cauldron. Then he straightened up, turned very slowly, and met her steady gaze. "Miss Moody," he said, "hand me the book."
"No, thank you, not at present. Professor Snape-" that much, at least, came easily- "would you please answer my question?"
He dropped the ladle in the cauldron and strode over to her, dark robes billowing. "Give me that."
She spun away from him, still clutching the book against her. It was a childish trick, and beneath her, but it was the only thing she could think of. "Sorry," she said.
Silence. She stood there stubbornly, waiting for him to snap at her or wrench the book out of her hands - he could do it, he had the strength - or anything really, so long as he stopped playing this inexplicable mind game and told her what was going on. Did he doubt what had passed between them that morning? Was he really so unsure of himself, or her, that he would resort to this?
No, it was unthinkable; he must have some other reason. And yet...
Snape took a step closer, leaning down until his mouth brushed her ear. In a low, almost purring voice he said, "Maud. My love. If you do not turn around and give me that book within thirty seconds, this potion will be ruined and I will have to start all over again. So, unless you want the rest of this evening to be just as tedious as the last fifteen minutes have been... give me the book."
My love. Maud felt all her muscles turn to butter. Snape reached around her, plucked the book neatly from her grasp, and walked away without another word.
"That was unfair," she said, when she had gathered her wits enough to speak.
Snape did not look up at her, but the corner of his mouth twitched in what might have been a smile. He studied the recipe intently for a moment: then he snapped the book closed, added several more ingredients to the cauldron in rapid succession, and stirred it for two full minutes in silence. Then at last he put the ladle down, turned back to face her and said levelly:
"Now. As you ought to know, I have no interest in, and no use for, love potion for its own sake. However, it occurred to me that to keep a bottle or two, suggestively half-empty, on my shelves might be... a wise precaution, should our relationship be discovered."
"So that I can disown you and walk away?" She was incredulous. "Never. I'd never do that to you."
Snape's smile was tinged with bitterness. "I believe you. But it may be necessary, nonetheless. Better that the Dark Lord should think you my toy than my lover, I assure you: if there appears to be no real bond between us, he will not attempt to use either one of us to manipulate the other."
Her mouth was dry. "But I can't. Even if I wanted to - I'm not that good a liar."
"It makes no difference. Even if you swore undying devotion to me, with such an excellent piece of circumstantial evidence to hand-" he glanced back at the cauldron meaningfully - "you would not be believed."
The implication - that even among the Death Eaters, he was regarded as so repulsive that any relationship he might have must be the result of some potion - was not lost on her. "And then," she said softly, aching for him, "what would happen to you?"
He shrugged. "Perhaps nothing. Certainly many people would be shocked, even horrified: but you are of age, and no one could prove you had not acted of your own free will. At worst, I suppose, I would lose my position here. But that would do little to hinder my usefulness to the Dark Lord, and no doubt I would find employment elsewhere, given time."
He spoke, thought Maud, as though it scarcely mattered. But she knew better: Hogwarts was his home, his refuge, and to leave it would be like tearing out his heart. "No," she said harshly. "I'm not going to let you do this-"
A dangerous spark kindled in the depths of his eyes. "You of all people, Maud, should know better than to tell me what price I should or should not be prepared to pay. I answered your question; I was not asking your permission. The matter is closed."
"You don't have to protect me." Her voice was quiet, but there was no meekness in it.
"Quite true," he said equitably. "I don't have to kiss you, either. Are there any more staggeringly obvious statements that you would care to make at this time?"
His mouth remained sober, but in his eyes the spark had become a dancing flame; and she realised with a start that he was laughing at her. "I'm serious!" she said, resisting the urge to stamp her foot in frustration.
"No doubt. But if you will insist on indulging your unfortunate penchant for melodrama in my presence-"
"My penchant for melodrama?" For a moment she was outraged; then she saw the glint of Snape's teeth in the semidarkness, and knew she had just taken the bait.
"I beg your pardon," he said. "Your uncle's penchant for melodrama, conscientiously handed down to the next generation. Well, at least one of us comes by it honestly."
Maud stared at him. Had that actually been an attempt at self-mockery?
In a brisk tone, Snape went on: "In any case, there is no point in agonising, much less arguing, over something which may very well never happen. Indeed, the odds are considerably against it, now that the poisonous Miss Groggins has been silenced."
"That reminds me," said Maud, resigning herself to the change of subject. "How did you manage that, exactly?"
He turned back to the cauldron, began ladling the potion into bottles. "I didn't - which is the beauty of it. Everyone knows that I failed to discipline Muriel so long as the choice was left up to me, and that I was most put out when the other teachers conspired to force my hand. After all, her rumours were based on the supposition that I actually had a love life - an unprecedented notion, and one that I surely must have found quite flattering."
There was a note of wry humour in his tone, and Maud put a hand to her mouth to hide her smile.
"As for the matter of the lost Slytherin points being generally attributed to Miss Groggins rather than yourself," Snape went on, "even that was none of my doing. The other Heads deemed my punishment of your misdemeanour excessively harsh under the circumstances, and reduced it to twenty points. Muriel was then given a severe reprimand, instructed to clean the Owlery without the use of magic at her next available opportunity, and told that the remaining thirty points from Slytherin would now be counted as her fault. I, of course, objected to having my judgement overruled-"
"-but alas, my efforts were in vain. Professor Umbridge was ready to intervene on Muriel's behalf, but when it was suggested to her that if wild rumours were allowed to circulate about other members of the Hogwarts staff it would surely be only a matter of time until slanders were made against her as well, she changed her mind. And in the end, all seemed to agree it would be appropriate not to announce to the other students the nature of Miss Groggins' punishment, but rather allow her to see for herself whether her testimony would be believed."
It was appropriate, Maud had to admit: but no wonder Muriel had found it such a bitter pill: not only had she lost favour among her fellow Slytherins, she had lost her place among Umbridge's favourites as well. For a moment she was tempted to tell Snape what had happened in the dorm, but then dismissed the thought. She only wanted his advice, not his intervention; and even if he were nothing more to Maud than her Head of House, a death threat against her was not something he could be expected to ignore. So instead she kept silent, and watched him work.
As he deftly stoppered the bottles he had filled, her gaze lingered on the turn of his wrists, the elegant bones of his hands. The dungeon was cold, as it always was at this time of year; but she could feel the blood pulsing warm beneath her skin, her mouth tingling with the memory of his last kiss. It seemed impossible that twenty-four hours ago she had still been insisting to herself that she was not in love with him; absurd that sixteen hours ago she had spoken of love in merely philosophical terms. There was no sophistry, much less pragmatism, in her now.
With practised ease Snape set the bottles on the shelf, removed the cauldron from the fire, and whisked the debris off the workbench with a flick of his wand. He passed a hand through his hair in an almost unconscious gesture, then turned to her and said in conversational tones, "The door is, of course, locked."
"Of course," said Maud, not quite steadily.
"And I took the precaution of warding the corridor - subtly, of course - so that if anyone decides to wander in our direction, I will know."
"Very wise of you."
"On the other hand, I was not joking about the oath I swore to your uncle. So you need not fear that your virtue is in jeopardy."
"I know." She raised her head, looked him in the eye. "I'm not afraid."
For a moment he returned her gaze without speaking; then he gave a slow smile and replied, in a voice all the more forcible for its softness: "Yes, you are."
She had no answer to this, not least because she was finding it hard to breathe.
"Which is a good thing," Snape went on calmly, "because it would be galling if I were the only one."
Maud was startled out of her trance. "You?"
His dark brows arched. "Foolish girl, do you think I do this every day? Just because you appear to have beguiled yourself into finding me irresistible-"
The tension broke: Maud threw back her head and laughed. "Guilty as charged," she said. "Am I really so transparent?"
"Crystalline." He walked toward her, his steps deliberate but unhesitating. "Pellucid. Diaphanous." He lifted her hair, let it slide through his fingers. "Pearlescent." His thumbs brushed the corners of her eyes. "Luminous." His palm caressed her cheek. "Radiant."
Maud reached up, drew a lock of hair away from his face. There was nothing greasy about it at all. She traced the line of his cheekbone, where his pale skin glowed golden in the firelight, then touched his lips in a wordless exhortation to silence.
"Impatient," said Snape, his voice throaty with amusement, but he got no further, as Maud drew his head down and silenced his mouth with hers.
This was not like their first kiss, where she had been almost too surprised to recognise what was happening; nor like their second, which had been little more than a brief, tender gesture of farewell. This, with his hands sliding down her back to her waist, her arms winding about his shoulders, their lips capturing and recapturing each other's with increasing urgency, was like tasting fire. Another moment, and the intensity was too much for her: she broke away, flushed and suddenly shy.
"Sorry," she panted. "I didn't mean to-"
"Yes, you did," he said, sounding as though he were a little breathless himself. "You just weren't prepared for what it would be like." He paused. "Neither was I, for that matter. Coming from someone who appears to define love as an alliance of compatible philosophies, I expected something a little more... restrained."
Maud smiled and dropped her face against his shoulder. "You've forgotten the other part of the Moody legacy," she said.
She turned her head, lips brushing the hollow of his throat. "Passion."
Snape made an odd, strangled noise, and for a moment she feared she had gone too far; but when he spoke, his voice sounded pained. "Maud," he said, "let me suggest something to you. At this moment, the very last thing I want to be thinking of is what it would be like to kiss your uncle."
Maud choked, spluttered, and began to laugh helplessly into his collarbone. "You know that wasn't what I meant!"
"I'm relieved to hear it," said Snape, weaving his fingers through her hair and tilting her head back. His mouth was relaxed, faintly smiling; his eyes glittered like black diamonds beneath the half-closed lids. "In that case... kiss me again."
A few minutes later, they sat together on the hearth-rug, facing the low-burning fire. Snape's arms encircled Maud's shoulders, and his chin rested on the top of her head. Athena would have been most indignant with him, Maud couldn't help thinking; she wouldn't have had anywhere to sit...
She winced. It was still painful to be reminded that the little owl would never ride on her shoulder again; not even the thrill of having her own sight back could take that sting away. Feeling the threatening prickle of tears behind her eyes, she searched for a distraction, and ended up speaking the first words that came into her head:
"Do you know," she said to Snape, "I don't know what to call you."
will do," he said easily.
She made a derisive noise. "You wish."
"Maud, if you remind me of your uncle one more time-"
"Sorry." She paused. "Severus."
"I was just trying it out. Do you like your name?"
He shrugged. "It serves the purpose. Say it again."
"It sounds all right." His voice sharpened. "Just don't say it in class."
She smiled. "Don't worry, I won't. Can you imagine?"
"I prefer not to."
Silence. Absently, he picked something off the floor and flicked it into the fire, making the flames leap up and burn momentarily blue before subsiding again.
"Of course," said Maud quietly, "we both know this can't last."
It was typical of Snape that he did not even need to question what she meant. "Not like this, no. Even without the Dark Lord and the war we both know is coming, the end of your schooling would see to that. Still..." His arms tightened around her. "All is not lost once you leave Hogwarts. It may be difficult for us to meet often, but we'll find a way." He paused. "Unless you think you might change your mind about not becoming an Auror."
She shook her head.
"Then..." He stroked her hair, then slid his hand down her arm and laced his fingers through hers. "We'll just have to wait and see."