Me, whom he'd engaged to disabuse his students of those very prejudices; I, who'd taken a holier-than-thou attitude toward Draco Malfoy and Snape, and anyone else who dared look down on me because I wasn't "talented." Anyone for that matter, Muggle or Wizard, who'd ever patronized or sneered at me for my background or views, or whom I'd felt had belittled my intelligence and skills.
Even Dennis-Fecking-Neill, who'd so badly damaged Ian. I was no better than he.
I stopped in the Entrance Hall to compose myself. I had to get to Neville before he let this morning's event slip to his mates: I knew that, much as I thought he respected me, it was too upsetting an incident for him not to share with them eventually.
Not that I deserve his respect.
I ruthlessly shoved the thought to the back of my mind and stepped into the Great Hall to summon Neville outside. He caught my eye and came out immediately.
"It's all right," I assured him straight off. "It's being dealt with. Best try to forget it."
The absurdity of telling Hogwarts' most forgetful student that he should forget something wasn't lost on me. Nor the fact that, given the violence in his personal history, he was highly unlikely to do so.
"But what if it happens again?" he whispered anxiously.
"Hagrid and Headmaster will do their best to make certain it doesn't, I'm sure. But I'm afraid that, for the time being, we ought not walk outside anymore -- maybe in the Quad," I cut off his objection, "before anyone else is about, if you like. I'm afraid it's a direct order from Headmaster."
So of course he had to agree.
"And we mustn't tell anyone. Not your friends, not the staff -- no one, Neville, you understand? It's very important if we're to find out who did it. If you're still upset about it, come to me or go to Headmaster, all right?"
"Yes, Professor Hunter."
"Good." I slipped my arm around his shoulders and gave him a quick squeeze; it was silly and not at all appropriate, but he looked about as badly as I felt and we both needed it, even though he was a teenager and nearly as tall as I.
He's still growing; with any luck, some of that podge will move upward, and solve at least one of his problems....
"If your friends quiz you, tell them I've set you extra work. On anything, something boring to them, though, so they won't get too curious."
"Yes, Ma'am." And with another pat, I sent him back in to finish his breakfast.
I wasn't in the least hungry, and I couldn't keep this up, at any rate. I stumbled off to my rooms, and, once the door was safely bolted, I let loose with all the self-loathing I'd kept under wraps since Dumbledore's dressing-down of me.
It was the real Moody, of course: he'd stayed on to fulfill his promised year of teaching after the Barty Crouch débacle, despite an overwhelming (and justified) paranoia. Luckily he'd satisfied himself early on that I was harmless, and we had not only a good collegial relationship, but a decent social one as well.
"Morning, lass," he said as he stumped his way over to the sofa and pushed it up against the bookcases. "First things first: this little pig-sticker," he flourished a sheathed dagger with an ornate hilt, "is to stay with you at all times, Albus tells me. Show me how you'd use it." And he tossed it to me.
I pulled the wicked little blade from its sheath, hefted it a bit to find the balance, and went for him.
"Not bad," he panted when he had me pinned to the wall. "Know a bit, do you?"
"Stage combat," I croaked, and had to cough before I continued. He'd subdued me with a forearm across the neck.
"Aye, that's why you pulled your thrust at the last second. That could get you killed," he noted, "so you'd best forget everything about that but your grip. Now, try again," he said as he took a fresh stance, "and go for the gut. Don't bother with the chest -- it's too hard to get between the ribs. 'Course, if he's a little bastard -- beg pardon, a scrawny little bugger, shorter than you -- you might have to go for the neck instead, but always use an underhanded thrust. It's too easy to block overhand."
We ran through various attacks and defences for an hour and a half until Moody was satisfied I'd picked up all I could for one day, and then we sat down to discuss The Other Matter -- the more personally disturbing portion of my "training."
Moody did not turn down an offer of poteen; in fact, he was quite appreciative.
"Haven't had as good a drop as this since 1959, at a shibeen near Newgrange," he said admiringly, smacking his lips. "Run by a witch named Peg Foley," he added with a leer. "Gods, she had the biggest -- never mind," he said hastily. "Who's your supplier?"
"Bull McCabe, an old friend of my Gran's -- he lives near Leenane; private stock," I told him with a grin. "His family's been beating the Excisemen for generations."
"Home-brewed: the best kind. That's wild country, Leenane," he noted.
"Still is. And when I was growing up, fishing and farming were still the only things you could do, really. Most of the fellas were nearly Hagrid's size. Had to be: it's not forgiving land."
"I wonder..." he mused. "You know, Albus might be on to something. Powerful magic, that corner of the world. The old, wild magic, not this airy-fairy wand-waving stuff, no disrespect intended to Filius. But we'll have to try that, soon as we get you a wand. I've already owled Ollivander to send along something for you to try -- didn't think your nevvie's would work for you, too heavily controlled. We've no time for mucking about."
He heaved himself out of the sofa-cushions. "In the meantime, we'll work on fighting Imperio. Some Muggles have a natural resistance to that, and Albus says," he added with a grin, "that you're stubborn as a mule, so I reckon you're in that group."
I showed him to the door, and he said gruffly, "Tomorrow after dinner, my classroom," and stumped off down the hall.
I'd kept my mouth shut and didn't contradict him, even though I had no confidence whatsoever that anything useful was going to come of this.
Filius had been surprised when I suggested he resume his visits: I think he was afraid they'd remind me of Ian, and they did, but I'd missed our weekly chats. He was genuinely interested in my former former field, and it was a relief to have someone around who appreciated what I'd done in my other life. More hubris on my part, obviously. But he'd been happy to take his visits up again.
At the moment, he was happily esconsed on the sofa listening to Oklahoma and following along in an old prompt-book (Manchester, 1987; it seemed every company I'd ever worked with had to do it at least once). I was at the kitchen counter fixing us soup and sandwiches when someone knocked sharply on the door.
It was Snape. He carried a chess-board, and wasn't at all pleased when he found Filius in residence. I had to convince both of them to stay.
"I was concerned," Snape said under his breath as he leaned against the counter, "when you.... Can he hear us?"
"Not if you keep it low," I answered. I'd pulled out headphones for the Charms Master, and though they didn't cover his ears completely they cut the volume level in the room considerably.
"-- when you didn't come to the match," Snape finished his thought.
"I think you can guess," I said heavily, "that I wasn't much in the mood for games. And then Moody showed up for an impromptu combat lesson. Headmaster's worried I might become a target; I had to promise to practice defence. Physical and magical," I informed him, and Snape's eyebrows rose at the admission.
"Ah." He considered this for a moment. "Hagrid was right, by the way," he noted eventually, very softly. "It was simply a hare."
I hummmphed and concentrated on ladling soup into bowls. "Hindsight," I eventually told him, "is not particularly helpful, in this case."
"I disagree. You won't make the same mistake again."
"It's not the same mistake that's got me worried," I muttered, and ended the discussion by the simple expedient of crossing to the sofa. I tapped Filius on the shoulder, and he popped off the headphones. "Soup's ready, gentlemen."
The three of us shared a late, uncomfortable lunch -- for Snape still made his displeasure at Filius' continued presence known -- and the little man excused himself as soon as was possible.
"Could you manage something less ebullient?" Snape demanded acidly as soon as the door closed behind Flitwick.
"Piano? Violin?" I kept it short; I wasn't pleased with his attitude toward my other guest.
"Bach?" he asked hopefully.
"Only the organ preludes."
"Piano, then," he sighed, and I popped Piazzolla's tango duets into the player -- suitably complex, though not the pure couterpoint that Snape obviously favoured.
I settled myself on the other end of the sofa as Snape pulled out the chess pieces from their velvet-lined drawer and ordered them to arrange themselves. I'd seen self-moving chess pieces before -- Ronald Weasley often had his out, in the Great Hall -- and they weren't that different than the computer chess games I'd seen. Although of course most computer-generated sets didn't pull out broadswords and literally behead their opponents.
"Are you certain you want to try this?" I asked doubtfully. "I'm no good, and it'll irritate you no end." Snape had been livid when I'd admitted, at the lake, that I didn't appreciate chess.
"If Moody can teach you combat, I can teach you strategy," he said firmly. "Did you settle with Longbottom?" he asked, fixing me with a stare.
"Yes. He's to come to Headmaster or me if he has the urge to gab about it."
"Hmmmph. I hope to the gods you're right to trust him. If Potter finds out --"
"Why do you hate Potter, so?" I interrupted impatiently, and regretted the comment the instant it came out of my mouth. I shouldn't have asked, but I was annoyed with Snape, and I always shot my mouth off when I was irritated.
"I don't hate him," Snape protested with a faint undertone of outrage -- less than I deserved.
"Dislike, then. You dislike him about as much as I dislike Malfoy," I said, more boldly. After all, he hadn't shut me out totally, and that was something at which Snape excelled and which he had no difficulty exercising.
He leant back into the cushions, crossing his arms over his chest -- a defensive move, I was beginning to realise, as much as an intimidation -- and stared at me.
"He doesn't play by the rules," he said finally. "Not that that's always a bad thing; but he doesn't bother to acknowlege them, let alone stop to think and consider the consequences to himself or others before he acts impulsively. A very Gryffindor trait," he added with particular emphasis, "though not confined to Gryffindors, as such."
He was not referring to Potter. Or Gryffindors in general, for that matter.
I reddened and hastily fixed my eyes on the chess board: the little queens were shifting about impatiently, and the knights' horses pawed at the marble squares. "Point taken," I muttered. "Although some of us weren't aware we were part of the game."
"Which is why allowances have been made," he responded quietly. "Potter, on the other hand, does not have that excuse."
"He's young, yet," I said softly. "It takes some of us longer than others."
"True," he said -- rather grimly, I thought -- but it wasn't directed at me. "Do be still," he snapped at the chess pieces, and they jumped like a bunch of First Years and settled down. "If that is settled," he said with a self-satisfied smile, "there is one other thing. Albus has elected to set nightly patrols of the grounds, and Hagrid needs help. All faculty and staff will pair up and take three hour shifts, starting tonight, and you and I," he grimaced, "are to take eleven to one."
I sighed. "Do you get the feeling he's not pleased with our progress?"
"Yes," Snape replied shortly. "Now, do you remember the basic moves?"
This was going to be ugly.
He beat me in less than fifteen moves. And after a muttered comment about short-sighted, illogical females (to which rudeness I could only respond with a shocked, open-mouthed glare) he packed up the pieces, gave me the stern instruction, "The Entrance Hall, five minutes to eleven," and took his leave.
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Bull McCabe is a small tribute to Richard Harris, who died as I was putting this chapter together. The character is from The Field. Great film, and great work by Harris and the ensemble. They filmed on location, and that is Connemara, in all its rough, wild glory.
Technically the Piazzolla recording I'm thinking of wasn't issued at this time, but tough. It's beautiful, and several of the tracks suit Snape's nature quite well.