Flitwick had evidently decided to lift the Limiting Charm in McGonagall's absence, and it was a disaster. The window panes had imploded, glass shards littered the floor, and the little teacher was pinned against the far wall with his feet a metre off the ground.
Interesting new development, some part of me had time to observe before I got a good look at Ian. He stood in the middle of the destruction, wandless, his hair disordered, his back to me.
"Ian," I called to him softly, and when he turned I felt a chill. His eyes were remote, unseeing, and the rage in them was uppermost. He didn't seem to recognise me.
Someone just behind me drew in a sharp breath.
It was Snape: he must have been right on my heels. He drew out his wand and pointed it at Ian.
"No." I grabbed at Snape's wrist, and he glared at me. "Let me deal with it," I said, and took a step further into the room.
"Ian, put him down," I commanded. "-- gently," I added hastily.
The boy didn't respond.
"Ian -- Hunter -- Neill," I said distinctly, raising my voice. "I'm counting to three. One... Two..."
Somehow the familiar cadence of the warning brought him back to himself. He looked at Flitwick, and the teacher slid to the floor and lay in the puddle of his robes, twitching alarmingly.
I tried to get to Ian before the tantrum started, but fear had made me slow: just as I reached him, he lashed out, and I took a backhanded blow to the jaw that briefly made me see stars. I finally grappled him 'round so his back was cradled against my stomach, and I forced his arms tightly around his torso with my own around them. He froze for a moment, and then the familiar, shocked wailing began: his legs gave out and we collapsed, Ian half in my lap and half sprawled across the floor.
On the other side of the room, McGonagall and Sprout were bent over Flitwick, supporting him and checking for broken bones.
"Is he all right?" I panted.
"I'm fine, really, it's just the shock --" the poor little man began.
"Really, Filius, you couldn't wait until I was here?" McGonagall asked him sharply. "You both could have been badly hurt."
"I know, I -- is the lad all right?" Flitwick asked me anxiously.
"He will be," I said, and Ian twisted in my grasp to bury his head on my shoulder, wrapping his arms and legs around me like a little monkey.
"I'm terribly sorry, Professor Hunter -- I was curious as to --" Flitwick started to squeak, but I cut him off.
"Well, now you know," I blurted out savagely; it was so unlike me, as little as they knew me, that McGonagall and Sprout looked distinctly shocked, and Ian abruptly stopped crying. "I'm sorry, but Professor McGonagall is correct -- it's far too early to play at this." I tried to rise -- unsuccessfully, hampered as I was with clinging child; Snape took me by the elbows and helped me to my feet.
"We should get them to the Infirmary," Sprout noted, but I demurred.
"Ian will be all right -- he'll sleep for the rest of the day. I'd best get him to bed." I headed for the door, and threw over my shoulder, "Someone please let me know how Professor Flitwick is doing, later on," and I staggered into the corridor and headed for our rooms.
I'd only gone a few labored steps when a dry voice behind me said, "I'll carry him."
I halted and turned: Snape had followed us. "He doesn't do well with men, as you've seen," I said firmly. "Thanks, but I'm used to handling this," and I turned and continued on, conscious that Snape was still dogging my steps.
We reached our door, and Snape swept past me to open it. "Thanks," I muttered again, and sent him a fervent mental message to go away as I lumbered to my room and sat on the bed. I coaxed Ian to relinquish his death-grip on my body, and had just got him to relax on the pillows when he tensed again, his eyes fixed on the doorway.
I turned to find Snape lounging against the jamb: he stepped in and offered me a damp flannel, which I accepted without thanks (churlish of me, but couldn't the man get the message and leave?). I simply ignored him and set about cleaning up Ian, and eventually I heard him turn and leave the room.
I turned to enter the sitting room, gently closing the door behind me --
-- and discovered Snape casually rummaging through my kitchen cabinets. He heard the click of the doorlatch and turned to me.
"Alcohol?" he queried. When I didn't respond, he continued waspishly, "The potable variety, preferably."
I shook my head to clear it. "Leftmost cabinet, top shelf," I croaked, and retreated to the bathroom to sort myself out.
He was staring sceptically at the bottle of poteen when I emerged and crossed to the sofa. "I'm Irish -- so sue me," I snapped. "Help yourself."
The corner of his mouth twitched; he poured a measure and placed the glass in my hands. "Drink," came the stern instruction, and I complied as he seated himself on the opposite end of the sofa. My jaw was beginning to stiffen; I winced involuntarily, and he noticed.
"Let me see."
"It's nothing, just needs some ice --"
"Let me see." The implacable words were followed by cool, clinical fingers on my chin, turning my face to the light so Snape could see the rising bruise.
"I've got worse, really --" I protested.
"Do shut up, and hold still," he said irritably, and withdrew his wand from his coat-sleeve. "I can do better than an ice pack." And with that he brushed the wand-tip over the bruise, muttering under his breath. It was a strange sensation, something between a burn and a tickle; and it was oddly intimate, even more so than his skin against mine.
"How much worse?" he asked as he abruptly released my chin and stared at me with those cold, unsettling eyes.
"The first time," I said tiredly, "he blacked my eye and fractured the cheekbone. I've got better at it; I was just careless today," I added lamely.
He watched me for a moment from under hooded lids, and then gestured with his wand at the fireplace with a soft "Incendio." He returned the wand to his sleeve and stretched his long legs out to the fire as I took another sip from the glass.
"I think," he said reflectively, "that as your nephew will be in my class, you had best tell me about this."
I snorted. "Surely McGonagall's warned you already."
"She's told me that he is uncontrolled and that she's Limited him," he said grimly, "but not why. As I may have to deal with that," he jerked his head toward the bedroom, "I think I need to know."
He was right; I owed him that much. I just didn't fancy airing the family's dirty laundry to such a hateful person. I took a deep breath and another sip of poteen.
"Your sister's child, McGonagall said --" he began to probe.
"Yes -- look, if you let me tell this my own way, it'll be easier for both of us," I said edgily. His lips compressed, but he nodded and folded his arms over his chest, staring into the fire.
"Neither my sister nor I showed signs of... I don't know what you call it, power or talent, whatever," I said. "Gran thought I had the Sight when I was young --"
He snorted derisively, and I glared at him.
"-- but if I did, it's long gone.
"Beth married and had Ian; she died when he was five, and that's apparently when the trouble started." I took another sip before I went on. "I'm not sure of the precise details -- I was traveling a lot, on tour -- but Ian's father couldn't handle it, and made no effort to understand. Not the understanding type, Dennis," I said bitterly, and emptied the glass. "By the time Ian was seven, he was showing up in trauma wards with bruises and broken bones; by eight, Social Services had taken him from Dennis, pressed charges, and I had to fight to be appointed his guardian. Dennis may not have wanted him," I smiled grimly, "but he was damned if I could have him, and the Services weren't convinced that a previously absent auntie could do Ian any good, either." I set the glass down on the table: I was clutching it far too desperately, and I was afraid I'd shatter it.
"That child has been beaten for things beyond his control, and been told that he's worthless and evil," I said savagely, and heard my voice thicken: I was dangerously close to tears. "I've had a hell of a time for the past two years convincing him otherwise."
"You recognised his talent for what it is; that was no small thing, for a Muggle," Snape noted detachedly.
"I recognized that it was something organic to his nature," I corrected him, "not misbehavior, and not evil or supernatural -- in the generally accepted sense, at least," I amended. "I didn't know for certain until Dumbledore confirmed it, in his own unique way," I shrugged, "and 'when you have eliminated the impossible --'"
"'-- whatever remains, however improbable --' yes," Snape interjected. "I do read Muggle literature, on occasion," he said tartly, in response to my surprise. "In any event, Headmaster's offer must have been a relief," he mused.
There wasn't a good response to that -- and it was true, after all -- so we sat in silence for a few moments.
"Does it always take this form?" Snape asked presently.
"Exploding glass followed by the rage, yes," I conceded. "But this is the first time he's... levitated anyone. Not a propitious development."
"No, it's to be expected," Snape contradicted me. "New surroundings, being encouraged to exercise the talent for the first time.... And how often?"
"Every couple of months, if things are going well; a few weeks, if not -- technically he's right on schedule. It was nearly once a week when I first got him, so there's been improvement."
Snape turned to face me and observed intently, "You don't approve of Limiting him."
Jaysus, but he can read me too easily. I'm more shaken than I'd thought.
"He can't learn control if he's not allowed some freedom; but I agree that it's necessary for the time being." I massaged my aching temple with the heel of one hand. "You lot," I admitted inelegantly, "have a much better idea of how to deal with the cause than I -- I can only clean up the mess afterwards."
He snorted. "I'll wager Filius will think twice next time."
"I'd hoped Ian was comfortable with Flitwick by now -- he's been stopping by for a few hours once or twice a week, socially. Naïve of me, I suppose..." I added absently, and we lapsed back into silence.
"I can't treat him any differently than the other students, you know," Snape said sharply, jolting me out of a brown study.
"I don't expect anyone to give him preferential treatment -- he's not a stupid child, and he can, in theory, do what you require," I retorted just as sharply. "But I do expect you to consider the past abuse, and to moderate your responses." Hooch had warned me Snape could be brutal with students.
His eyes narrowed, and colour rose to his cheeks. "I see my reputation precedes me," he noted accurately, and with heavy sarcasm. "Very well, Miss Hunter, I shall confine myself to statements of fact and refrain from more colourful descriptors." He abruptly stood and headed for the door, and was only stopped by my words halfway into the corridor.
"Thanks," I managed, albeit a bit grudgingly, "for the help today," and I made my way over to the door.
Something flickered in his black eyes, but in the gloom of the corridor I couldn't tell what. He gave me a curt nod, and strode away toward the Great Hall.
I wearily gathered up my bag and the scattered books from the floor, closed and bolted the door, and settled myself into the sofa cushions for a good, long cry.
"Filius should have known better," she said bluntly. "I'd warned him that the effects could be rather spectacular, but his curiosity tends to get the better of him."
"How is he?"
"Still shaken, but he'll be fine. No lasting damage. I think," she said pointedly, "he was more wounded by your reaction."
"I was too sharp with him," I admitted. "I'll go see him tomorrow to apologise. Headmaster and I are done with our work," I continued. "I could sit in on the lessons, if Professor Flitwick is willing to continue --" I glanced at the Deputy Head; she looked both amused and exasperated. "Not doing a good job cutting the apron strings, am I?" I said wryly, and she smiled.
"It's unavoidable, and not entirely unexpected. You've had your hands full shielding him from those who don't understand; we can't expect you to trust us immediately."
"I do trust you, or we wouldn't be here to begin with. Just maternal instinct, I suppose." (The funny thing was, I'd never had a maternal bone in my body until Ian came along.) "I'm pleased in an odd way that he's had a good clear-out before the start of term, though the levitation bit frightened me."
"Yes, Severus said you were worried about that."
I shot her a glance. "I enjoyed that conversation," I said heavily.
McGonagall met my look with amusement. "I shouldn't let him worry you. Professor Snape is not an empathetic man by any stretch of the imagination; but once he applies his intellect to a problem, he usually handles it well.
"As it happens, Potions is less about talent -- for First Years, at least -- and more about simply following directions: so Severus and I agree that Ian should remain Limited in Potions until he is more in control. I believe," she added with a stare at me over her glasses rims, "that you already impressed upon him the necessity for delicacy in personal interaction."
Good God, he really had told her everything. Highly embarrassing.
She read my expression, and her thin lips twitched upward. "As it happens, I approve of your forthrightness, though I shouldn't say it. Knowing Severus, it was probably provoked.
"At any rate, I think we should meet with Ian's teachers before the start of classes and explain the warning signs to them -- then they can choose to replace the Charm or defuse the situation before there's another incident."
It seemed reasonable, so I agreed.
"Good. I shall arrange it and let you know when we'll meet. Now, go get some rest -- you look shattered."
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