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.
This chapter is so phenomenally long that I've had to break it into two parts, otherwise it takes too long to load: but the two parts should be read as one chapter, since there isn't a natural story-break anywhere except at the end of part b).
18b: NOT RAVING, BUT DROWNING
[In which trouble is afoot, and matters come to a head.]
"I've found her!" said the silver goat in its old-man voice, wavering in and out in the bright light from the window. "Come without delay."
On the Saturday morning which was three weeks after their trip to Hogwarts, Severus slipped the Pensieve into the same miniature yet bottomless chest he had used to convey Dumbledore's instruments, and Lynsey slipped it into her duffle-bag. Trailed at a distance by a shabby tramp with one spinning blue eye, they walked along the road to Abbey Court, which was far enough from the house not to immediately draw attention to it, and quiet enough to Apparate from without being overlooked, and then Severus spun them round and in and down and then out again into a Hogsmeade afternoon. Which was raining.
Cursing, Severus waved his wand to shield them from the worst of it, and they squelched up the side road to the Hog's Head where it lay close against the rising ground below the Hogwarts wall. Severus, Lynsey noted, was limping badly. When they entered the old pub, Aberforth jerked his head to them to call them over to the bar, and Harry stood up from the window-seat where he'd been slouching and joined them, with a polite nod to Severus. Many of the customers scattered about the cramped room craned their necks at them as they went past: on several of them the action did not look quite human.
There was a public stair next to the bar, with a faded sign and an arrow suggesting it led to lavatories on the left and a bedroom to let on the right, and Lynsey wondered why Severus flinched when his eye lit on it, and looked away, his mouth setting into a grim line. Aberforth gave him an ironic, glittering look before hustling them through a door behind the bar itself and into a small space at the foot of a second, evidently private staircase.
"Go on up," he said gruffly. "I'll join you in a bit." They passed him and ascended the narrow, creaking stair to a shabby upstairs flat. Four doors led off from the small landing at the top; one, half-open, led to a tiny kitchen but Severus tried the other doors, revealing first a bathroom, with a bath in which - as Lynsey's experienced eye and nose told her - someone had recently been making up bran mash, then a glimpse of an unmade bed and finally a fair-sized but dingy sitting-room containing a rickety sofa, a moth-eaten armchair, a small table with four spindly wooden chairs and a Victorian writing desk covered in peeling veneer. At the far end was a small fireplace, above which hung a portrait of a blond teenage girl with the slightly dazed expression of the mentally impaired, painted standing in front of a partially open door and wearing a mixture of wizarding and Victorian Muggle clothes. As they came into the room the painted girl inclined her head and smiled vaguely.
There was a sense of presence, Lynsey could feel it, a waver in the air - but Harry said "Hello Myrtle, it's, uh, good to see you", as casually if he were talking to a living girl. There was no answering sound that Lynsey could hear but a sensation of words in the air, words she couldn't quite resolve but she could feel the intention behind them, which was flirtatious. Severus stared directly at a space by the fire.
"I take it you can hear her - as if she was talking normally?" Lynsey said quietly.
"Yes," he muttered distractedly, and took a step towards the unseen presence. "Miss Higgins - I take it Aberforth told you I wished to speak with you?"
The words arrived in Lynsey's head without sound, encapsulated, like something written in a cartouche.
[He crept. In by the loch. When I was watching...]
"I am aware of your - proclivities" Severus said stiffly, and the unheard voice giggled maniacally.
[...saw you, poking about just now, being nosy - listening at doors - ]
Lynsey could see Severus struggling to bite back a sharp retort. Drawing a deep breath, he spoke with his lips flattened against his teeth, a smile pasted on over a snarl. "At present," he said, "I am interested in you - and in how you died. Your memory could be of inestimable value..."
[ - to you] the presence thought/said angrily, [but I'll still be stuck in a toi-toilet ...body t-to talk to - ] Underneath the first thought, Lynsey caught the wisp of a second thought: no boys with nice bums to look at-
Behind them, Aberforth stepped into the room, the floorboards creaking under him. "You'd be famous," he said in his raspy voice. "Lot o' people would want to talk to you, and if you do it right, the school will reopen and the students will come back."
"That's right!" Harry agreed. "Everyone will want to hear your story and - and maybe you won't be tied to your toilet any more, if you help defeat Voldemort."
Severus gave him an odd, complex look - feeling respectful, Lynsey thought, but surprised to be feeling it. "That's... an excellent point. It might give you -" his lips twisted as if he had bitten on something distasteful - "'closure' and enable you to move on, either into true death if you wish it, or at least to a new location where you will have more opportunities for amusement."
[-poseso] - the contact Lynsey had broke up like a bad telephone connection, then re-formed - [to know?]
Severus sat down carefully at the table and held out his hand to Lynsey, who silently passed him the miniature chest containing the Pensieve.
"I understand from Potter," he said carefully to what, so far as Lynsey was concerned, was wavering air and a half-seen shape in the corner of the eye, "that just before you were - were killed, you heard Tom Riddle speaking in another language, possibly Parseltongue, and then you met the basilisk's eyes and..."
[...died... like lamps, all glowing...]
"I would like to know, firstly, how soon after your death you - er, regained consciousness."
[...know ... not long ... was still there...]
"Riddle was definitely still there, in the bathroom - you're sure he hadn't been away and come back on a subsequent occasion?"
[No no - my body was still warm - it was creepy'n' he - he was staring down at me, at it 'n' he didn't know - ] Lynsey jumped as the shrill giggle broke through briefly into physical audibility, like the screech of a gull. [...called me back 'n' he didn't know, he was turning it round 'n' round in his hand an' he didn't know what he'd got...]
"Whatwas he turning?" Severus exclaimed and the giggle spiked again.
[It - in his ring, the Resurrection Stone - but he didn't know... I didn't tell him, I just watchedhim...]
At mention of the Resurrection Stone Aberforth sucked in his breath audibly and Lynsey could see that Severus's back had gone rigid, as if he were holding his breath; but he said only, carefully, "And did you see or hear him perform any spell words or gestures, then or later, relating to your, ah, body or to a small book...?"
[...book - oh yes... threw it through me, they did -]
"I'm sure she didn't mean to -" Harry began, but Severus cut across him, quellingly.
"But did you see Riddle himself perform any action with the diary?"
[... pulled a piece of himself out and put it in the book. He thought there were no witnesses but Isaw what he did...]
"That was clever of you, and very brave" Harry said, batting his eyelashes at the waver of presence, and Severus nodded sombrely.
"He is a dangerous foe. Do you think that you would be able to put that memory in a Pensieve, so that your - your cleverness would be put to good use? To help destroy the man who killed you?"
[... like that, I'll show him! ... make him a ghost, so I can chase ... ] For a moment the ferocity of the spirit's will twanged through the room like a plucked guitar-string; but then the unheard whispering cut in again on the edge of perception: [... too faint, too far, can't...]
"This is about as far from the castle as she can show herself, I reckon," Aberforth said. "I wasn't even sure she'd be able to come this far. It's only really because there's a tunnel to Hogwarts nearby..."
Lynsey cleared her throat nervously, attracting the attention of the three men (the young, the ancient and the prematurely careworn) and, she felt, of the ghost. "Are you - is she - saying that she isn't physically present enough to, um, manifest ectoplasm?"
Severus raised both eyebrows. "Very possibly."
"Well, uh, I don't really do mediumship - not a lot, anyway - but she might be able to, um, channel herself through me and use me for extra power and a source of, uh, physical material." And added, to Aberforth's sceptical expression, "It's perfectly safe - nearly."
In the end it was no harder than any other clairvoyant session she had done - easier, in some ways, because she didn't have to exert herself so hard to translate for the spirit voice, since her three "clients" could hear it better than she could. She packed herself away into the wings of her own head and let the rather sweaty presence of the ghost girl take centre stage in her speech and motion centres, let it speak and act through her, as she sat at the battered table with the carved bowl displayed in front if her.
As before, when she had stood by Severus as he took back the memories of torture, she saw a confused jumble of excerpts from the images which were being pulled through her, were being wound into skeins of semi-real psychic matter and poured into the bowl. These memories were nearly as disturbing as the others, though in different ways.
There was the handsome boy who radiated chill and who appeared to be talking animatedly to a tap, the memory's sense of him informed by a combination of righteous indignation and covert lust; then the great snake with its eyes that no-one ought to be able to look into and live yet here she was, looking at two shining lamps in Myrtle's memory, green-gold and brilliant and deep as wells, and she could feel them trying to suck her soul out of her body even here, like this.
Then there was a falling into those well-like eyes, a dislocation, moving into the glass-clear yet insubstantial sense of the astral, the beginning of the journey into the realms of the dead which, as a clairvoyant, she had taken many times and always come back from; and Myrtle was coming back too, she was wrenched back and dumped, dead but not gone, into the same Gothic-looking bathroom where the tail-end of the great snake was just sliding out of sight down the pipe in the wall, the chilly boy was staring down at the body of a plump, acne-ridden girl, looking vaguely horrified by the turn of events and rolling a ring with a black stone over and over in his hand...
Then the same boy had gone, had come back clutching a book and a silver knife. He was chanting, performing strange gestures, he cut the heel of his hand and dripped blood onto the book, he was pulling from his forehead strands like the strands which Lynsey was, under the ghost's control, pulling from her own, but whatever the dark boy was drawing out smoked and writhed...
Distantly, as the pictures flashed across her inner eye, her outer eyes saw that the blond girl in the picture over the fire had walked away into the background and was talking to a scarecrow figure half glimpsed through the partially open door - Albus, she realised suddenly, but looking much younger and with red hair. Either Severus or Harry must have brought their photographic copy of the headmaster's portrait with them, giving him access to the house.
"What's hedoing here?" Aberforth demanded, staring up at the portrait as Lynsey nursed a rather grubby glass of Firewhisky and tried to shake herself back into her own head.
"Talking to Ariana about her death, as each or either of us should have done long ago," portrait-Albus replied. His voice was much stronger and clearer than when he spoke from the photographs, and his face was radiant.
"And what good's thatdo? Whichever of us fired the shot which killed her -" Behind the old man, Severus's hand tightened on Lynsey's shoulder.
"But that's just it -" Aberforth's brother replied: "she told me that none of us did!" He turned commandingly to the vague teenager in her Victorian clothes. "Ariana, tell him! There's a good girl."
Ariana walked to the front of her frame, putting her hands up against the inside of the glass. "N'body shot me," she whispered. "I thought you knew."
"But you died- somebody must have -"
She shook her head. "You were all shouting, angry, it was scary - I could feel the magic building, inside of me, you were all shouting and I was 'fraid I'd kill you dead like I killed Mama, I tried to keep it locked up, not to let it out but -" she put her hands up and touched her head, her heart. "Something broke, here."
Aberforth got up, blindly, and began to light the lamps. "You're still to blame, Albus," he said thickly. "If you hadn't brought himinto the house..."
"It's the same bloody ring, I know it is." He banged his hand down on Lynsey's living-room table and glared at portrait Albus, who still looked confused and disturbed. "I saw it on your hand old man, and then I saw it on Hishand, in that." He gestured wildly at the Pensieve.
"You knew that the ring was cursed, and a Horcrux," the faint voice said, "and I know Horace told you it was a ring which Tom Riddle used to wear when he was his student."
"But you didn't tell either of us it was the bloody Resurrection Stone, did you? Was that why you put the damn thing on?"
"I was - tempted."
Severus drew a deep breath. "To speak to Ariana?"
"Yes. To - to say how sorry I was, if it was me who..."
"If you'd told me what the bloody thing was, I might have been better able to treat you! Where is it now?"
The portrait of the old man sighed minutely. "Inside a Snitch in Harry's pocket, charmed not to open until he goes to meet his death at Voldemort's hands."
"It's probably just as well - I'd be too tempted to use the bloody thing."
"To - to speak to Lily?"
"Yes. Not that I - not that I have much hope she would forgive me," he muttered, looking away and down until the curtains of hair swung forwards to hide his face. "But I would like the chance to - to tell her how sorry -"
"I'm quite sure she knows," Lynsey said, laying her hand on his arm. "She will see you: it's only you directly hearing her answer which is lacking. And I hope her answer would be better than you expect - but if not, you're better of without it."
"I suppose so - God, I sound like Myrtle Higgins."
"She's a peculiar girl: I feel sorry for her, but letting her inside my head was a bit - a bit icky."
"She died on the cusp of puberty, poor little brute: all that sexual tension and nowhere to put it." He flicked his hair back and gave Lynsey a sideways grin. "I remember when I was a student, she used to pour herself out into the loch and spy on the mermen having sex - and on me, when I went swimming. If I caught her at it she'd pretend to shocked modesty, but her gimlet eyes have been glued to my naked arse many a time."
"It's such a nice arse, a girl couldn't help looking."
"I'm glad you approve. Really." He had been wrestling with the grimoires again, comparing what was on the page with Myrtle's memory, and was thrumming with tension, but he smiled at her again, a little sadly. "I've done as much as I think I can with the Horcrux spell for tonight: it's not time-critical in any case, because it will take at least another week to get the access we need at the Ministry. Your eyes should at least see what Myrtle Higgins has seen, I think, and I said I'd show you..." Carefully, precisely, he poured off Myrtle's hard-won memories into a flask and stoppered it, and then fetched a second flask from one of his personal shelves and emptied it into the bowl. "I made a copy of this while I was in Diagon Alley - so as not to attract attention to this place by doing active magic."
Although the flask was quite small - a quarter of a pint at most - the contents expanded to fill the great stone basin almost completely, lapping up to the rim in a swirl of white halfway between vapour and fluid. Following Severus's lead, Lynsey leaned down and dipped her face into the shimmering surface, her temple brushing against her lover's as they dived in.
And dived it was: as soon as her eyes were submerged she found herself falling forward into deep water with Severus beside her, looking slightly insubstantial. For an instinctual moment she started to panic, flailing, before realising that she couldn't drown and didn't need to breathe because she wasn't physically here, although she wondered whether her mouth and nose were under this - this - whatever it really was, the substance which was generating this hologram.
That was what it was, she knew: a three-dimensional film strip, which they could observe but not interact with. As Severus took her hand a younger version of himself glided past unseeingly, heading down into the depths, his feet lengthened into flippers and the pink slits of gills pulsing along his neck. The boy was as she had expected, sallow and gawky, his black hair undulating like water-weed, too greasy to separate properly into individual floating strands, and his impressive nose cleaving the water like the prow of a boat: but his young limbs were long and fine, he appeared slender and coltish rather than scrawny and he had, indeed, a beautifully-sculpted backside. Not to mention other parts in which she had an intense personal interest, although she resisted the urge to perv over a boy of fifteen or so - even if he had since grown up to share her bed.
The young swimmer was mother-naked apart from a long, narrow holster strapped to his right thigh. Faint scars already flecked his young back and backside, although nothing like as many or as deep as he would have as an adult, and his left arm was innocent and unMarked.
To the left of them Lynsey could see sun-dappled shallows, the light dancing over flat stones protruding from the silt, but the boy was heading into deeper water and they turned to follow him.
It was a peculiar sensation, swimming without really swimming; halfway between real swimming and astral projection. She was aware of the smooth glide of the water and yet the sensation was distant from her, although her lover's hand on hers was warm and real; they moved their legs to keep going forwards but she felt that it was only habit and they could have flown if they'd wished. A shoal of silver fish darted and swerved to avoid the naked boy, but Lynsey felt several of them swim straight through her as if she were smoke, and the sensation was hollow and tickly, like the proverbial butterflies.
The floor of the loch dropped away beneath them as they swam, the light still glinting dully off stones scattered across a plain of mud from which sprang clumps of tangled black weed. A few pieces of rotting wood lay about amongst the weed, shed by the trees along the shore half visible through the surface distortion, and more fish picked about the fallen branches, looking for bugs.
Severus's younger self grasped at the water with webbed hands, driving deeper, and the man he would become followed him down. The surface was now only a distant glow, while ten feet below them a smooth field of waving, pale green weed stretched away like grass into the distance ahead of them.
Twice Lynsey thought she saw a malign face watching the swimmer from among the long weeds: the second time she pointed to it and Severus beside her murmured "Grindylow". The young Severus ahead of her drew his wand and rolled over in the water, bringing it to bear as a flurry of activity sent several creatures like green, web-footed monkeys soaring up out of the depths to tear and claw at him. For a moment Lynsey was breathless with fear before common-sense reasserted itself: obviously, the boy had survived, or his thirty-eight-year-old self wouldn't have been swimming beside her. Even so, she caught her breath when one of the creatures managed to claw a long score across the boy's calf before it was rebuffed, and a dozen more rose from the weeds, homing in like sharks on the dark trail of blood.
"Don't worry" the Severus beside her said, his voice echoey and unreal, as the gilled boy mouthed an obscenity and slashed at his own leg with his wand, sealing the wound, before drawing a wide arc which caused the water to boil and roll, tossing the Grindylow pack away from him like birds blown by a hurricane. Before the predators had begun to re-orient themselves the slender white shape of the boy had shot away and deeper, gliding smoothly over the descending underwater meadow towards an expanse of black mud.
"They clear the land around the village," Severus's echoing, dreamlike voice said beside her as he swam, "so they can see if anything tries to sneak up on them." As if on cue, a vast, dark shape sailed overhead and to their left; but Severus-the-boy put up his webbed hand and waved to it, and a lazy tentacle waved back.
The light down here was dim: here near the floor of the loch they could see clearly only for a few feet now but in that near darkness they passed by a group of children: the same grey-skinned, dolphin-like merpeople they had met before, appearing suddenly almost in front of them and then disappearing behind. They had with them a tame Grindylow on a lead, and seemed to be encouraging it to dig for worms.
They sculled on into the darkness, following the gleaming white shape of the swimming boy, with nothing beneath them but mud and the occasional scuttling thing, the waterscape featureless and empty. Then in an instant the walls of a stone hut reared up in front of them. As they swerved to avoid its green-streaked walls Lynsey glimpsed through a window an interior dimly lit by some sort of bioluminescent life, neat hammocks of woven waterweed hanging from the beams and a merman skilfully gutting and cleaning a fish at a stone table...
They followed Severus-that-was around the edge of a tangle of huts, some of them with their own small gardens of edible or ornamental underwater plants, to a towering boulder which looked as if it might have been left over from the building of the castle above them. It was painted with scenes resembling cave-art in style, and showing merpeople of both sexes doing battle with a kraken: perhaps Hogwarts' own giant squid, perhaps a monster out of history or story.
The boulder marked the entrance to something resembling a street. As they sailed down it Lynsey could see that the huts on either side tended to be grouped into little courtyards, with navigable alleyways in between, but this was the only clear, fairly direct route.
The younger Severus looked impossibly exotic here among these grey, fin-tailed people, with his gleaming-pale skin and his coal-black eyes, his rangy long-boned limbs and his straight, heavy black locks, so unlike the wild, grey-blond tangle of the merpeople's hair: but few of the villagers remarked on him as he passed. He seemed to be a known figure here.
"Over there," the adult Severus said with a wave of his hand, and Lynsey followed his gesture and saw the same girl she had last seen lying dead on a bathroom floor, here looking definite and three-dimensional and yet mostly transparent, like a statue made of grey glass. She supposed that she could see Myrtle - who was currently spying through a window on the mermen within, her eyes big and round behind her round glasses - this clearly because this was Severus's memory, and he had been able to see her - or would have been had he been facing the right way. As Severus the boy went past, ghost-Myrtle peeled away from her window and began to undulate after him, as if she were part of the water.
They rounded a last group of huts and found themselves in an open space surrounding a rough-hewn statue of a reclining merman: a god or a famous leader, perhaps. His stern face could have been either, but she bowed to him anyway, in case he was Father Poseidon. Spread out around the statue were what Lynsey supposed were market stalls, though there were no tables and most of the wares were restrained in weighted nets and lobster-pots to prevent them from floating - or in some cases swimming - away. A substantial crowd of merpeople - a couple of hundred Lynsey thought - glided from stall to stall with flicks of their wide tail-flukes, chattering together in dolphin voices like the creaking of a thousand rusty gates.
There was not only food on offer, and what might be pets, but belts of fish-skin and splendid-looking rough, tribal jewellery; spears and knives with finely-wrought stone blades; toys and ornaments carved from stone or driftwood and flat slates painted with pictures and with regular patterns which Lynsey took to be writing. She wondered how they managed to paint underwater: the slates could be painted at the shoreline and left to dry in air until the colours were well-set, but the rock at the entrance to the town was a different matter. Oil-based pigment-sticks, perhaps?
Payment seemed to be by barter, and indeed Lynsey several times saw shopkeepers exchanging goods with each other, sometimes selling them on again to an insistent customer a few minutes later. It was, she realised, not so much a market as a mass bring-and-buy sale. They passed among the stalls, trailing behind the naked boy and the ghost, whom the mer people seemed unable to see. It had been strange enough to meet the mer people at the surface, or the goblins and house-elves, but this dimly-lit underwater township was fantastic to Lynsey; she knew that she had stepped into the pages of a science-fiction novel and was looking at a genuinely alien world. It was as crisp and clear as if she had been truly present here, and yet she could move among - and sometimes through - the shoppers and peer at them from all angles without disturbing them, and she knew that if she missed an incident she could re-run it. She shuddered with sudden chill at the realisation that Filius had watched Severus's torture in equal definition and detail.
Meanwhile, the boy he had been had stepped into a quiet corner between two houses and gestured with his wand. "What's he - you - doing?" Lynsey asked, and the man that boy had become snorted.
"Showing off. Or being lazy, depending on how you look at it - it was easier to go to the village empty-handed and then summon whatever I needed from the lakeside, than to swim carrying it."
As they watched, the boy put his hands up to catch a rack of stoppered vials which was descending rapidly through the water. Two mer-girls who had been watching him applauded, and he visibly soaked up the admiration and stuck out his hairless chest, attempting to look more manly. Then he spun around, hearing Myrtle's giggle, and shouted "Oi!"
"It was easy enough," the older Severus remarked, "to be naked among people who were themselves naked and thought nothing of it and I, uh, liked the sensation of swimming nude: but being ogled by somebody wearing clothes was different somehow. More... exposed. Even if she isdead."
"Got to sympathise with her, though - you had a very nice bod."
Behind him the ghost batted her eyelashes at his younger self, retreated to a safe distance and kept on looking whilst pretending not to.
They watched as the boy, muttering to himself, found the stall he wanted and began to barter his vials of potions for a necklace of coarse-cut, honey-gold and yellow butter-amber. "Did you get it?" Lynsey asked softly as the figures around them began to run down like clockwork toys, slowing towards immobility as the memory neared its end.
"Yes," he replied, equally quietly. "It was a present for her, of course."
As the scene faded out, Lynsey distinctly saw the group of children with their tame Grindylow whom they had passed earlier out on the plain, proffering a basket of worms and insect-larvae to a stallkeeper in return for a stone board-game.
"I always liked the sea," he said afterwards, "but I was never much good actually on it."
The memory of the merpeople's village had been beautiful and strange, but it had left her freighted with sorrow, knowing how much suffering and regret was coming to that slender youth - even if his natural resilience and capacity for finding his own amusements where he could had mitigated it.
"A penny for your thoughts, he said, and Lynsey shrugged awkwardly.
"I was just thinking that - well - you know - that he was heading for a rough life, that boy. And he hadn't exactly had it easy up to then, either."
"There was a song," Severus said softly. "I heard it the other day spilling out of a pub doorway on the Muggle side of the St Martin's gate, there were - these crowds of tourists and commuters milling about on Charing Cross Road, people overflowing out of this dark interior onto the street and with them came - this:" - and his clear, sad voice welled up for a moment and hung in the air like the scent of rain.
"For all the roads we have to walk are winding,
And all the lights that lead us there are blinding;
There are many things that I would
Like to say to you.
I don't know how..."
Lynsey shivered. "I always did think that song was creepy - beautiful, but creepy. I've said it before," she said, "but you have a lovely voice: it's a privilege to hear it."
Severus put his hand up, covering his mouth. "I told you that he - that Riddle - he slit my tongue, and then mended it again so he could hear me beg. That wasn't the only time he - but singing with you, singing with you I got my voice back, it became mine again."
"I'm glad - that I managed to help, I mean - and I hope I've succeeded in giving you your body back too."
Severus sighed. "That's a rather taller order. And seeing him, Riddle, seeing him again like that, in Myrtle Higgins's memory..." He shuddered. "I know intellectually that he was a coward - so afraid of losing his fine looks and his faculties to age that he poisoned what he was trying to preserve, warping himself into that ugly - but I just bloody wish I could stop feeling him touching me." He turned and looked at Lynsey, as from a great distance. "His touch is like ice."
When she woke, it was close to dawn and Severus was tangled in the sheets and thrashing, his eyes shut and his mouth open. As she reached for him he began to howl, horribly, jerking and wailing in rhythmic jolts. The sudden violent noise was overwhelming: overcome by panic Lynsey grabbed his shoulders, calling his name, trying urgently to reach him through whatever he was reliving - no not a rape, she thought, the beat of the insane, interrupted howling was too slow for that - he jumped and twisted under her hands, hysterical with terror, she tried to shake him awake and his eyes flew open but whatever he was seeing it wasn't her, the howl rose to a crescendo, the lightbulb in the ceiling popped and he was going into convulsions, squealing and shrieking like a rabbit in a trap -
As the glass on the bedside table burst, showering her with water, Lynsey thought for a brief moment of calling Dumbledore and getting him to summon help, but then the fierce hard rush of her own competence closed down over her, her certainty that this was something she could do, and left her giddy and drunk with power. Without thinking about it she grabbed hold of his hand and began to sway, chanting aloud above his frantic misery.
"Listen to me. This is my place; no one comes to this place without my permission; I permit nobody to come to this place who would harm you; I will sleep across your door as a hound and no-one will come near you except I permit it, and I permit no-one who would harm you..."
That did seem to get through, enough to make him recognize her as a friendly presence, because he suddenly lunged towards her, buried his head against her chest with a choking sob and then was miserably sick over both of them. But at least he was conscious, after a fashion. Trying not to feel queasy in response, Lynsey wrapped her arms round him and stroked the back of his head, making soothing-scared-horse noises. "What is it? Tell me, pet - if you want to."
He clung to her silently, still jerking spasmodically and sucking in air in harsh gasps, but eventually he mastered his own breathing enough to answer her in a low, grating voice. "Macnair - my feet - they were only light blows and they were spaced out, a couple of seconds apart, and at first you think 'This isn't going to be so bad' but they kept on, and they kept on, for so fucking long..." He choked again and started to cry quietly. "After the first hour or so every blow, every blow shot through me as if my bones, my nerves had turned to molten iron. As if nails were being driven through my whole body with every blow, from the feet up. Down. He had my feet in the air. Trapped on my back like a beetle. Stupid. Ugly. From the feet down."
Holding him close, Lynsey could feel herself shuddering nearly as badly as he was doing. "Lucius and the rest still had their f-fun with me in other ways while he was doing it, but Macnair - athlete, rower, never rested - not even for a moment, not even when I fainted." His normally smooth voice was broken and rough, almost keening. "He just kept on, and on - "
"How long did it go on for?" she asked, dreading the answer but knowing that at this stage what he needed was not to be coaxed out of his fit, but to be encouraged to talk and given permission to cry some of the poison out.
"Don't know - long time - hours - half a day, maybe - Every time," he said, choking, "every time I blacked out Lucius brought me round again and it was still happening - I prayed, I prayed for a stroke to end it but he dropped my blood pressure until I was dizzy and then force-fed me Pepperup to keep me conscious, and Macnair just went on whipping me and the pain, the rhythm got inside my head, I couldn't dissociate from it - by the time the skin started to tear I was foaming like a mad dog, shrieking, pleading, vomiting, shitting myself and he said that he had hardly started- " He clung to her, as damp and sticky as they both were, and she hugged him and rested her chin on the top of his head, rocking gently as tears ran down his face and soaked through her clothes. "He was quite correct" the harsh, choking voice went on inexorably. "You saw the state of my feet - that degree of destruction took him - hours more. I thought I would go mad with it: I'm not sure that I didn't."
"Hush now - you're sane enough to be getting on with. You were never anything less than sensible and competent that I saw, even in extremis."
"But he's in my head - he's in my head, and I can't get him out. In my head it's still happening, it's always going to be happening oh God, oh please oh please, make it stop..." He clutched at her desperately, with such force that she knew he would be leaving bruises. "It will never stop happening."
"Shussh now. Everything is always happening. You are also always singing with me in the dark; you are also always sitting by the fire in the woods; you are also always giving a paper at some conference somewhere - it's just a matter of which 'always' your mind is re-visiting at the time. You are always here with me and I am always holding you."
He tried to nod, but instead ended up heaving convulsively in her arms and retching again. "You know that begging does no good," he murmured against her shoulder, "that nothing you can say or do will make it stop, but you can't hold it in, you scream for mercy anyway even - even knowing how fucking useless it is. And I know now that the whole fucking Order could hear me, the whole bloody way through it, which makes the whole thing so much more fucking delightful." Lynsey tightened her arms around him in a fierce grip, and he tucked his face into the hollow of her neck.
"Hours - hours before he'd finished," the inexorable voice went on, "something in my throat tore and then I couldn't even scream any more, just make these stupid, gurgling, embarrassing noises - but the next day was Christmas Day and He - he Himself- stroked my throat with those cold fingers and gave me my voice back - so they would be able to hear me properly. That was His Christmas gift to me - the ability to scream for him."
Lynsey felt sick and faint with the knowledge of how completely terrible that Christmas had proved to be, but she could do nothing but hold him while he wept, stroking his hair and murmuring "Ssh, ssh, pet, my dear, you have a beautiful voice, in three more days you were singing up power for me..." and feeling like bursting into tears herself, until the tension went out of his shoulders and he relaxed against her, limp and shivering.
After about ten minutes he pulled away from her. In the half-light she could see that tears had run not only out of his eyes but out of his nose, and she winced in embarrassment for him as he tried ineffectually to wipe his face with his hands. "Damn," he said, in his normal bitter, brittle voice. "What a delightful prospect I must be - crying in a bloody pool of sick. I'm sorry you should have to put up with me."
"Don't be an arse - I'm not even going to dignify that little shard of self-loathing with a response. Look at me." When he did so she cupped his face in her hands, running her thumbs symmetrically from the crease over his nose out along both curving eyebrows, and down round his cheekbones to rest on the corners of his long mouth, which twitched upwards slightly in response. "That's better." She leaned forwards and kissed him lightly on the forehead. "Come along my dear - we'd better both get cleaned up."
They ended up sharing a shower together, propping each other up in a way that had nothing to do with sex and everything to do with mutual, companionable exhaustion, and it being easier to soap someone else's back than one's own - although looking too closely at her friend's back provided an unhappy reminder of how much he had to be traumatized about. But he was a strong one, even so, and a nice, solid warmth to lean back against, standing with her spine against his chest and then tilting her head back onto his shoulder so that they were cheek to cheek, with his arms wrapped around her and hot water sluicing over them, slicking his long hair to his skin, his chin coming to rest pointily on her shoulder and both of them half asleep on their feet.
Afterwards, they were so weary that rather than rummage out fresh night-clothes they stumbled back to the bedroom together naked. As they entered the room the professor's eye lit on the centaurs, still beavering away on their shelf in the corner: he clicked his tongue with a "Tchah!" noise and then fell into bed and into Lynsey's quiet embrace, skin on skin, and didn't shy away - which was progress of a sort, she supposed, even if it was only because he was too exhausted to be tense.
When Lynsey woke the next morning Severus was lying sprawled on his face beside her, still half asleep. "How do you feel?" she asked casually - trying hard not to sound as if she was poor-thinging him.
"Stiff," he replied: "and not in a good way."
"Do you wantto feel stiff in a good way?"
"Mmm." He gave her that flicker of a smile of his, looking lazily amused, and she put her hand on his shoulder and guided him to roll over onto his back.
She had told him that the quest for pure sensation in sex was an optional extra, and she had meant it: but on the other hand, she thought that he deserved to have someone care to give him a little pleasant sensation for a change. As she trailed her fingertips lightly down across his stomach he sighed and shifted restlessly, responding to her touch almost at once; but at the sight of his own erection his muscles tightened and his dreamy expression became set and taut, still unable, Lynsey knew, to break the connection between being seen to be aroused and being mocked and humiliated.
"Sshh," she said, kissing his bony knee which happened to be the nearest part she could reach, "you're perfectly safe. Safe and admired and lovely, I think so anyway, but if seeing yourself still disturbs you I can hide it from view soon enough, and you don't have to look..."
"No I -" He gave her a crooked smile. "I want to watch, it's very - you know, erotic, and it makes me feel that my - well, that being, um, 'stiff' is acceptable, not bad or or dirty or... or a presumption by somebody too ugly ever to be desired," he finished quietly.
"You aredesired, very much. Not just by me, either - May said I was a lucky cow, and I thought Eck's eyeballs were going to come out on stalks. Even Tonks preens herself when you look at her."
"Hah." He wriggled down into a more comfortable position on the sheets. "I just want to be able to be... happy and uncomplicated in bed, like -" He jerked his chin expressively in the direction of the busy little centaurs. "Not that they're in bed, as such, but you know what I mean."
"Yes, I know exactly what you mean. Sshh now." She stroked her thumb across sensitive skin, circling gently until he shifted and gasped, and then bent her head to give him as much pleasant sensation as she knew how.
When her tongue encountered scarring on what should have been smooth flesh - the relic, she already knew, of an inventively awful half-hour involving Bellatrix and a razor-blade - her gut clenched in sympathy; but it didn't seem to interfere with sensation, to judge from his response. It made her smile to see him arch his back and clutch at the sheets, his long hair fanning out across the mattress like black water, and his breath halting and catching softly in a seizure of pleasure rather than fear.
It was fortunate that it was a Sunday, anyway, so that it was possible to have breakfast in bed and then lie-in companionably. Severus insisted on getting up to make breakfast himself, and Lynsey did not seek to prevent him, not wishing to hurt his already red-raw dignity by suggesting that he couldn't cope; so she contented herself with fussing a warm dressing-gown around his bony shoulders.
He still looked desperately tired, his eyes sunken into dark hollows, but he was relaxed and - for him - unusually amiable. They ended up with him lying with his left hand behind his head and his right arm round Lynsey's shoulders, and an expression of dark amusement on his narrow face. Both cats were piled in a hot furry heap against his left side, and Lynsey curled up happily against him on his right, with her head pillowed on his upper arm. After a while he rolled over to face her, smiling, and kissed her with lips which tasted faintly of marmalade, and they drifted into the easy rhythm of love. As they moved together, peacefully, she smoothed his hair and called him "My good lad, my lovely lad" - but he called her "My refuge, my homecoming."
Afterwards, though, he lay on his back with his long fingers laced behind his head, suddenly serious. He turned his face towards her and said clearly "I never, neverwant to live through last night again."
Lynsey grimaced unhappily. "It was - terrible, even to an outside observer."
He nodded tiredly. "What Macnair did - it wasn't the most degrading thing, by far, nor even the most painful, but it was the thing that took me closest to true madness, because of the - relentless, inescapable rhythm of it. I can still feel it eating into my head like disease - a negative version of the way you used rhythm to break me free, but this was just to break me. Did break me. God!" he said vehemently, "I thought that I was - evil, when I was a Death Eater, because I sometimes hurt people - in combat, when I was eaten up with passion and rage. But to spend hour after hour deliberately driving someone round the bend in that cold, meticulous, passionlessway, as if it was some sort of, of foul meditation exercise - without even anything to gain by it, except the pleasure of watching another human-being writhing and squealing in agony..."
His dark eyes were glittering, and Lynsey reached out gently to brush a tear off his cheek. "Try not to think about it, pet."
"No! That's wrong I - I need to think about it, I think. If I try and push it away it will just come back at me as soon as my defences are down - and if you enjoy having me throwing up over you in the middle of the bloody night, I for one don't. I need - need to be able to think about it rationally, to let myself believe that it was something which had time and limit - something which is over."
"All right - I can see that I think. How will you...?"
"I need your help I think - I don't think I can go through it alone. I realize of course that I have no right to ask..."
"Tsk. Stop fishing for reassurance - of course I'll help you. Any way I can."
"Then just - hold me, please. Remind me that I'm not alone."
In a way it was the previous night all over again: him in her arms, gasping and shuddering, and her stroking the back of his hair and crooning to him, calling him my hinny lamb, my beautiful, my raven darling, my lad of parts - but it was all different, because he was wearily calm even as his muscles twitched and jerked to that awful remembered rhythm, and quiet tears rolled down his face.
After a long time he whispered "It still hurts - that's part of why I can't get free of it, I think. I ache, all through my bones: a lot of that is from the Cruciatus, but some of it..."
"Well, then" Lynsey murmured back; "there are things I can do for that, to ease it." She broke free of his hold and moved away, raising his two hands to her lips and kissing the backs of them before letting go. "Wait on - I'll not be long."
She slung a dressing-gown on and went and fetched a selection of blended massage oils from the bathroom: Joints Ease, and Muscle Ease, and Relaxing Oil, which was basically lavender with added bits, and tea-tree and peppermint lotion, which was especially for feet. Returning, she remembered to turn the heating up, since she was going to strip the covers off him, and the day was far from warm.
He was lying face-down as she had left him, shivering and crying in that careful, controlled, silent way. She sat down on the bed beside him, peeled back the sheets and began to work the soothing oils into his muscles and joints, gently flexing his elbows, wrists, shoulders as she went, and digging her fingers in with firm, even pressure. And as she did so she sang softly in Gaelic, "Come on my love, hu il oro," and worked his sore muscles with her hands in rhythm with the song - that same song which she had used to reach him when he was hanging in chains of fire.
After a few minutes, he turned his head to look back at her over his shoulder. "I hadn't realized before," he said sleepily, "but the rhythm - the fall of the main stresses is exactly the same pace Macnair used when he - beat me." Lynsey stopped at once, appalled - but he shook his head in irritation. "No- don't stop. It helps. I can let the music get into the spaces in my mind where the, where the pain was, and that's - soothing."
So she worked her way down the length of him, singing steadily, while he drowsily catalogued all the ingredients in the oils she was using, from smell alone. His calves in particular were tight and hot with cramp, but Lynsey pressed down with her thumbs, loosening all the knots of pain until he lay sprawled across the bed as loosely as an unstrung puppet. She could still see the scar the Grindylow had left him, a thin line of silver tracking across his right calf.
Eventually, she sat bent over his narrow feet, using her fingertips to work cooling lotion into all the complex, damaged little muscles. "That feels - very bloody odd" he said sleepily. "No - dont stop - goododd. Peppermint, tea-tree and - aloe vera?"
"Yup. You have plantar fasciitis on both sides, that's a given, but it feels to me like you have some adhesions here, as well: that's probably half the problem. I really should do this every night until they ease up."
Severus sighed, flexing and easing his long toes under her touch. "Be my guest. Please."
"For all the roads we have to walk are winding" - chorus of 1995 song Wonderwallby Oasis.
Plantar fasciitis is a painful inflammation of the band of connective tissue which stretches along the sole of the foot from heelbone to toes.
Thanks to Aurette for the brainstorming session which finally got my disconnected jumble of odd scenes and cryptic notes sorted into some kind of half-coherent order so I could get this chapter written.
Barring fatal accidents I will eventually get this story finished. At this point, there are only around six more chapters to go, depending on where I decide to put the chapter-breaks, and I am fond of both the characters and the story. At the same time I am now vaguely dissatisfied by it because the more I analyse the books, the more I realise that my original take on the characters was too heavily influenced by fanon.
I can still just about support the idea of ReallyEevil!Lucius, even though his portrayal in DH has made it less likely and, of course, the long hair is pure Warner Brothers. How we read Lucius depends, I think, on whether or not it was he himself who thrashed Dobby severely for burning the dinner - a point which canon leaves open. If it was, if he beat an unresisting servant half his size with his own hands or wand instead of saying "Go away and punish yourself", then that suggests that he is a physically sadistic control-freak who gets a kick out of hurting victims who aren't enjoying it, and since he is a member of a paramilitary organisation and accustomed to indulging his own whims, he would probably have become the kind of monster he is in this story. OTOH, if it was a more senior servant who beat Dobby, or Dobby's own parents, Lucius would still be a smug, bigoted, amoral prick willing to advance his family by extremely shady means, but we'd have no reason to think he was anything worse than that. Post-DH I am now leaning towards the second interpretation, but I can still just about make a case for the first one.
I've also realised that the idea of the Death Eaters as wholesale recreational torturers and killers owes much more to fanon than canon. The evidence in the books is unclear. We're told that many Death Eaters tortured Muggles, but Voldemort uses the term "Muggle torture" to describe the baiting of the Roberts family, which wasn't much worse than what the Marauders did to Severus: so we don't know if "Muggle torture" in general means bloody atrocities or aggravated bullying. Harry says that Voldemort kills Muggles for fun, and there's evidence of some random recreational Muggle-killings after the Death Eaters take power in DH; but prior to that the only Muggle killings we actually know of were apparently done for practical military reasons, e.g. to exert pressure on the Ministry. We know that the entire families of Order members were sometimes killed in Death Eater attacks but there's nothing in canon to say whether this was a deliberate policy of brutal terrorism, or collateral damage while going after what they saw as a legitimate target.
Every native-born Briton of my/Rowling's generation grew up with terrorism as part of the daily background of our lives, and there were I believe twelve terrorist attacks on mainland Britain during 1996 when JK Rowling must have been working on the first Potter book, including the Docklands bomb in London and the one which took out much of central Manchester: so home-grown terrorism would have been on her mind. Despite the elaborate, grotesque masks used in the films, in the books the Death Eaters' masks are just cloth hoods with eye and mouth-holes, very similar to the masks worn by the IRA, and many specific events and debates to do with the Death Eaters or with the Ministry's handling of them match up closely with similar events and debates in the real world of British terrorism and the British government's handling of it.
Therefore, I now think it very likely that Rowling intended the Death Eaters broadly to parallel real British paramilitary organisations. And with a few exceptions British paramilitary organisations have not, on the whole, made a habit of gratuitous cruelty or of intentionally targeting civilians, although they have often been perfectly willing to kill civilians as collateral damage if they got in the way. There were eighty thousand people within range of the bomb that took out central Manchester, and not a single death, because the IRA warned the police just in time to evacuate the area.
So, I no longer quite believe in the take on the Death Eaters which I have used in this story, and I've also realised that the term "Dark magic" as used in the Potterverse applies to any magic which is transgressive or "alternative" in some way - anything from monstrous evil which warps the very fabric of magic itself, all the way down to Goth lifestyle accessories. I can still just about justify the way I have presented these topics, and Lucius, in this story, but I would hate for anyone to take this story as evidence that this is how Lucius, the Death Eaters and Dark magic necessarily arein canon. It's still a possible interpretation of canon in all cases, but it's not the most likely one.
You can find a page about British cultural references in the Harry Potter books, including parallels between the Death Eaters and real-life British paramilitaries such as the IRA and UVF, at www. whitehound. co. uk/Fanfic/Britrefs. htm, and an essay on the nature of curses and Dark magic at www. whitehound. co. uk/Fanfic/Sectumsempra. htm.