It was natural that I didn't have much time to practise during term -- I had vast quantities of essays and projects to grade -- but Moody'd had high hopes that I'd have a breakthrough over the hols. It hadn't happened, and now there were only three days remaining until the students returned. We'd started meeting in my rooms, Moody hoping that the familiar surroundings would put me more at ease.
"It's no use, Alastor," I wailed, and threw myself into the sofa cushions. "Albus is wrong, and that first day with the wand was a fluke. We might as well give up."
He was just about ready to agree with me. He glared at me for a long moment and then lurched over to the French doors and stared out them at the forest, muttering under his breath.
I was miserable. I hadn't failed so dismally since I'd had to take maths over in school.
"You don't trust me; you don't trust Albus. Who do you believe in, lass?" he asked harshly, his back still to me.
"What do -- of course I trust Albus," I said, outraged, "and you; why in bloody hell do you think I'm here?"
"No, you don't," he stated grimly. "Now, I'm not saying Albus knows everything, but he knows someone with potential when he sees 'em." He turned to me and continued more gently, "You say you trust him, but you don't believe him, not in your heart and soul. And that's where it has to come from, lass."
If he'd yelled at me, I could have taken it. Anger would have rescued me: I could have turned cold and stoic and forged ahead, stubbornly insisting that it was useless, of course.
I could, in short, have ignored the fact that he was right.
Ten minutes later I pulled myself out of Moody's arms and retrieved a handful of tissues from the bathroom.
"Sorry," I muttered as I settled myself cross-legged on the sofa.
"Not necessary. It's been a long time since I had my arms around a pretty lass," Moody offered with a comforting leer. (At least I think it was comforting: with Moody's twisted features it was hard to tell.)
"For your sake I hope the others didn't leave snot on your shoulder." I blew my nose.
He grinned. "Better now?"
I nodded and he leaned over and patted my hand.
"That's been a while coming." He leant back and regarded me soberly. "Tell me, lass: why did you never give up on your nevvie?"
I had to stop to consider it. It wasn't something I'd done consciously; giving up on Ian had simply been unthinkable.
"Because he'd been through so much, and no child deserves the kind of treatment he'd had. Because I thought if I could only say the right thing when the perfect moment presented itself, I'd earn his trust. And then maybe he'd learn to trust and believe in himself," I said slowly.
"And he finally did, didn't he?" Moody said triumphantly. "No matter how frustrating and hopeless it seemed, you didn't give up on him or yourself. Well, lass, I'm not giving up on you, not matter how frustrated you are with either of us. I'm a tough old bastard: you're stuck with me," he added decisively.
"Now, go wash your face, put on a pullover, and grab your wand and coat. I've got an idea," and he swatted me on the knee to get me moving.
"We're going to try calling a Patronus," he told me as we skirted the woods' edge.
"Oh, Alastor..." I groaned, and Fang gave a strangled wuff to second the sentiment as Moody pulled him along behind us. We'd tried this before, and each time I ended up curled up on the floor into a foetal ball in terror, not a happy memory or Patronus in sight.
"Now, hold on, lass, I've had a theory about this for a while, and you're the perfect test subject. Muggles talk about guardian angels, don't they? Do you believe in them?"
"Not in actual angels, per se," I admitted. "Though the little voice in my head -- that's what I call it," I said apologetically, "that's gotten me out of a bad place or two."
"You think of it as something other than yourself, do you?" he said with a sharp, beady glance my way.
"Oh, definitely; it's not my own voice, the way you hear your own thoughts. And it's told me to do things against my instincts, and it's been right."
"Here's what I think: the Patronus charm is for magicals what that little voice, or guardian angels, are for Muggles," he explained. "In fact, I think it's more or less the same bloody thing; Muggles just haven't learned how to call it out as a physical manifestation. And if the talent in your family comes from the Old Magic, I'm willing to wager a case of Firewhisky that the forest will help bring it out. Don't know why I didn't think of it before."
Fang's participation was explained when we reached the clearing Moody wanted: he was to serve as a surrogate Dementor.
Wonderful. Death or potential dementia by slobber.
"You know the drill, lass," Moody said as he marched Fang across the clearing. "Ready?"
I took a deep breath to settle my stomach.
Think happy thoughts...
"Ready," I said firmly.
"Verto Dementor!" Moody cast the charm, and sweet, slobbery Fang transformed into a semblance of the most frightening being in the Wizarding World, next to Voldemort.
As it glided toward me I desperately searched my memory for something fine and lovely, but to no avail. Thoughts of Ian never seemed to work: the Dementor always seized on them and twisted them, sending them back into my head, and I would always see him as I had last -- head and face bloodied, neck bent at an impossible angle in the wreckage of Lucy's car.
And that image was the last I remembered before I blacked out.
"Up you go, lass," Moody called, and I dragged myself to my feet, retrieved my wand, and scrubbed away the dog drool with the end of my muffler.
We went through it four more times, and always with the same result. But the last time as I shakily dusted myself off a lazy round of applause rang across the glade, from our right.
It was Snape, lounging against a tree, smiling sardonically as only he could. I hadn't seen him since Christmas night when he'd so thoroughly shaken me up.
"Unusual venue. Are you trying to teach her, Moody, or freeze her to death?"
"This is a private lesson, Snape," Moody warned. "The lass doesn't need an audience."
"I thought all actors craved an audience," came the nasty reply. "The competent ones, at least."
I could have killed him. Our fragile truce was obviously at an end.
"You're not wanted here, man; take yourself off, before I kick your arse from here to Azkaban," Moody snarled.
"He's right, Alastor. I can't manage a happy thought to save my life -- literally," I said bitterly. "Certainly not now," I added with a glare at Snape.
"You see, Moody? It's an exercise in futility -- she's obviously not capable --"
I whirled back to look at Moody and Fang, and found myself again facing the Dementor. The old bastard had sent it after me while my back was turned: my wand was three feet away, buried in the snow. The familiar dread was mounting by the second as the wraith approached.
I sucked in a lungful of frigid air, reflexively threw my empty hand up, and groped mentally for a thought -- any thought, as I tried to form the words Expecto Patronum --
-- and found myself on deck near the bow of a boat, on a rare warm, sunny day on the Thames; the fair-haired boy who stood at the rail before me twisted in the circle of my arms to grin at me, eyes unguarded and happy, and the laughter that bubbled ridiculously from both our throats rose on the same wind that ruffled his hair, and he was mine --
"What --" I slurred.
"You did it, lass," Moody wheezed in my ear, and I winced: I'd knocked my head pretty sharply. "Threw you off your feet, but you did it -- and wandless."
I looked cautiously at Snape and he nodded soberly to confirm it, but his dark eyes were sparkling, and his mouth was twisted in a grim effort not to laugh in my face.
"Holy shite --" I said weakly as I struggled to sit upright, and that set them both to laughing again.
"Thought that might work," Moody observed with vast satisfaction when he could speak again. "Thanks, Severus."
I froze for a second, and then twisted around in Moody's arms. "You --"
Snape could see what was coming and scrambled out of the way, but Moody was, for once, too much a gentleman.
"You sons of bitches, you planned this," I snarled, and shoved Moody away from me with every ounce of strength I possessed. "You manipulated me --"
Moody sprawled flat on his back in the snow, eye blinking in surprise, speechless --
-- and then he howled with laughter.
I dizzily struggled to my feet, slapping away Snape's steadying hands. "You -- you --"
English wasn't good enough: Gaelic was far more vivid, earthy and poetic. I unleashed every invective, insult and aspersion in my considerable arsenal -- not only on them, but their ancestors ten generations back; and then for good measure I invented a few new epithets all my own.
When I'd finished and turned to stalk back to the castle, Moody still lay helpless on the ground: Snape was slumped against a tree, head low and hand over his eyes, shoulders shaking alarmingly.
Fang, the only sensible one of the trio, had long since turned tail and run home.
I seized a pen and drafted a reply on the back.
I shoved it up the flue and lay back down to stew some more.
It might have been better had he stayed away altogether.
"I thought I should return the favour," he said gravely when I opened the door, and he withdrew my patently useless wand from his robes. I snatched it from him and stood in the doorway, blocking his entrance.
"Well? Waiting for a translation?" I asked with as much dignity as I could muster (I still had the ice pack clutched to my head).
"No, Moody provided one. I must say, your way with your native vulgarities is almost as impressive --" He glanced down the hall and stopped abruptly: Sprout stepped past us on her way to her rooms, obviously curious as to why I was glowering at the Potions Master.
I turned sharply on my heel and made my way to the deep-freeze for another pack; Snape, utterly undisturbed by the lack of invitation, sauntered in and closed the door. I ignored him until he took matters in his own hands, quite literally: his fingers closed over my shoulders and he pulled me backward.
"What do you think you're --"
"Come here into the light," he said sternly, and casually drew my hair away from the lump on the back of my head. He prodded at it, uncomfortably, and I hissed.
"It's not terribly bruised. I'd say your pride is more badly wounded," he observed as he let my hair fall back against my neck.
"Was all that really necessary?" I asked bitterly and moved away from him, as soon as possible, to the sofa.
"Evidently. After all, it worked," he noted as he helped himself to a glass of wine. "In my own defence, the idea was Alastor's entirely. He made a good point -- anger is a powerful motivator. Any passionate feeling, actually," he added, and seated himself on the other end of the sofa.
"One Patronus does not a witch make," I said succinctly, and something in my tone made him glance quite sharply at me.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean nothing else has changed. I tried some other charms a bit ago. Nothing."
"You didn't have your wand --"
"If I didn't need it for the Patronus, why should I need it for anything else?"
He wasn't convinced so I threw the ice-pack on the table, got up, grabbed the wand from the kitchen counter, and gave it a flick.
It stubbornly remained on the coffee-table.
"This," I informed Snape as I held the wand up before me, "is nothing more than a glorified swizzle-stick, as far as I'm concerned." I tossed it on the table and replaced the ice-pack against my aching head.
"You are tired and angry, not to mention in some discomfort. I shouldn't rush to judgment on this --"
"Why are you so desperate for me to be magical?" I shot at him, and he blanched ever so slightly before bright spots of colour rose to his cheeks.
"It's a pity," he said tersely, "if you have talent, not to develop it."
Jaysus. When men get an idea stuck in their heads....
"Look, amidst all your plotting, did Moody give you his Patronus theory?" I said in my best 'Ian, you're being quite unreasonable but I'm going to bear with it' voice.
"He thinks Patroni are like guardian angels -- or whatever that entity or instinct is that we muggles call guardians. He suspects that the only difference may be in the wizard's ability to make this entity manifest itself, and that certain Muggles might be able to learn to do so."
"It doesn't follow that you can't perform other magics," he said stubbornly.
"But in my case it does, don't you see? We simply hit on the one thing I can do -- something an expert in the field admits might not be a strictly magical thing, to begin with. And even if it is, not every wizard can do all magical things equally well, or at all. Moody isn't an Animagus, and he's told me he tried like hell to develop that. Longbottom can't go near your classroom without wreaking havoc, but he's bloody brilliant in Herbology. Some Muggles are more sensitive to the magic around them than others -- but that doesn't mean that they're capable of it."
He winced slightly at my use of 'capable,' though I hadn't intended it as a jab; his apparent, uncharacteristic sensitivity gave me pause for a split second, and then I went on.
"So I can produce a Patronus -- good for me. It won't do me any good unless I'm up against a real Dementor -- which I know bloody well I'm not supposed to be able to see, anyway, Moody conveniently neglected to tell me that. I'm afraid I'm not thrilled, either way -- I'm either a Muggle who has a freakish ability to conjure up an entity -- assuming I can ever do it again, against the real thing -- or I'm more or less a squib."
"Have you considered," he said heavily, "that your lack of faith in your--"
"Don't start in on that," I cut him off, and glared at him. "I've gotten that from Dumbledore and Moody both. I'm nearly 40 years old. That's half my lifetime, if I'm lucky, and I've never shown any of the signs that wizarding children do. I'm more determined than a lot of people and more stubborn than most and I've tried, I really have, despite my reservations. It just isn't in me. And that doesn't bother me in the least -- I've my own skills and merits, and that's enough for me. If it isn't good enough for the Wizarding World, that's too bloody bad for it."
"All right," he said, raising a hand in surrender. "You're not in the mood to consider this objectively at the moment."
That was certainly true: I was tired, and it really was quite late.
"You're not intending to stay for chess, are you?" I asked sulkily.
"No, I think you've had enough provocation for one night," he replied, and ran a hand through his hair. He looked bone-tired, and I had a twinge of irritation at Moody for dragging Snape into this.
"He didn't use Crucio, at least?" I observed.
"No," Snape admitted shortly. "I was able to... fulfill his expectations, this time." And he immediately cut me off emotionally. I didn't bother to ask what he'd had to do: even if my curiosity had overcome my squeamishness, he wouldn't have told me.
"Before I leave," he continued dryly, "there are some things we ought to discuss given this development. Will you bear with me for that, at least?"
"Go ahead, just don't try to convince me anymore."
He paused for a moment and absently scratched at the stubble on his chin -- I'd never seen him other than meticulously clean-shaven, so he must have returned only this afternoon and not had time to clean up -- as he marshaled his thoughts.
"I was not strictly accurate when I told you a skilled wizard did not need a wand," he began slowly. "The Ministry would have us believe that it's absolutely necessary, as they tend to view wandless magic as a product of the Dark Arts. In some cases it is..." his voice trailed off, and then he brought himself back and continued, staring into the fire.
"Others, however, come by it honestly, particularly in cases such as yours where the individual has a strong, singular ethnic heritage. Somewhere in your bloodline," he glanced at me, warning me to stifle any objections, "though the gods only know how far back, was probably a very powerful Druid. The isolation of the island over millennia and the views of its invaders regarding fraternisation and intermarriage ensured that the genetic pool remained relatively stable. The wizarding lines did not remain pure," he said, picking his words carefully, for this was delicate territory in the Wizarding World, "but they were diffused in a small, intact population.
"Consequently, Ireland produces a higher percentage of muggleborns than any other region of the world, with the exception of Native American reservations in the United States and Canada --" he glanced at me again. "Is this making sense?"
"I've had enough biology to grasp it: go on," I said wearily.
He quirked an eyebrow upward at my lack of enthusiasm, but continued the lecture.
"It is an open secret among the faculty that our Irish students are more than usually gifted, particularly when it comes to wandless magic, so it was no great leap of the imagination for Moody and Albus to conclude that you might have untapped talent, or have the aptitude to develop one or more talents."
"And why is this important?" I quietly asked. (I wasn't being intentionally rude: I was simply exhausted and wanted to go to bed.)
"I thought you deserved to know," he retorted waspishly. "However, if it's boring you --"
"Stop being so defensive," I shot back irritably. "I do appreciate it, it's just that -- I know there's a 'but,' coming, and I'm afraid I'm short on patience tonight. I'm sorry," I added lamely.
He grunted, but the apology mollified him.
"But," he began with faint irony, "due to the prejudice against wandless magic -- and Ministry fears about unregistered use of magic, whatever Alastor's theory -- you will have to be very careful how you use it, should you need to, and those you are around when you do. In addition to damaging the raison d'être for this little charade --" here he waved a languid hand in the air between us, "-- you could be brought up on charges by the Ministry. They could, conceivably, sentence you to a term in Azkaban, Muggle or no. Not," he said with a faint shudder, "something I would wish on anyone. Except perhaps on one's worst enemy." He sank into his own thoughts, chin on chest, and stretched his long legs out toward the fire.
He may not have been Crucio'd, but his face had an ashen undertone: the thin skin under his eyes was bruised, the lines around them even more deeply etched than usual.
Whatever his 'errand' involved, it had been nasty. I suspected most of them were.
"The only advantage to letting this slip," he muttered softly to himself, "is that the person responsible for the mutilations might assume you have more skills and let you alone. Or if you have to produce it against them, they might be surprised enough to flee. But it would be preferable," he added, "if you could see your way clear to continuing your studies."
Christ, did the man never give up?
"Is it just the fear?" he asked, turning back to me and pinning me to the cushions with a deadly look. "Just the... responsibility?"
"No, it's not just the responsibility, though that's part of it...." I replied. (I was too tired to even be outraged, at the moment.) I sat silently for a minute, trying to find a way to explain.
"This is not my world," I finally started. "Albus brought me here precisely because I'm... ordinary. An outsider, but one trained to have a more objective view of other people, other cultures. I haven't always succeeded with that, but I'm more inclined to practise it than most. And I don't think I want to lose that...."
I wasn't putting this at all well, but it was hard to be eloquent with Snape's dark eyes fixed on mine, challenging. "This is who I am. I'm not willing to throw it away, as ordinary as it is, for something as fleeting and damaging as power."
"You prefer," he asked harshly, "to remain a non-entity?"
"Is that what you think of us -- non-entities?" I shot back. I managed to keep my voice even, but he'd cut me to the quick.
His cheeks flushed: he looked away and again tiredly rubbed at his face. "Not.... It was a poor choice of words, though there are those who feel that, precisely."
"Voldemort and the Death Eaters."
"Yes," he admitted.
"Of which you were one," I observed. It was unkind, but I often wondered how much of the ideology he'd retained; and since he was the one to initiate this terrible, fraught conversation....
"Yes," he hissed, and pushed himself off the sofa to pace the room behind me; I waited for him to speak. For good or ill, any business and collegial relationship we had would hinge on what he said. I didn't think I could bear to continue with this if he truly despised me for being a Muggle: I'd sooner pack up and leave before the start of next term, contract or no.
It didn't occur to me at the time to wonder why I cared. Or when I'd started to do so.
"Unlike you," he finally said, bitterly, "and people like Albus and Minerva, I did not understand the limits of power -- the responsibility, as you say. I wasn't raised to do so, nor to question the superiority of my kind. And the little I saw of the Muggle World, at university, did nothing to persuade me that one should set limits, willingly accept the responsibility. It was expedient and comfortable to accept others' beliefs and agendas, to do what they required to get what I wanted. So I did -- until I realised that there was nothing they could give me that was of any real worth.
"I am aware," he stopped and stared at me, hard, "that you weren't entirely truthful with me the other night regarding your interest in my... change of heart." He spat that last out with rather more vitriol than it called for. "You are by nature intensely curious; and while I thank you for your circumspection, I need to tell you why I left Voldemort's service, simply so that there are no misunderstandings on your part as to precisely what I am. I left not because of conscience or remorse, but because I recognized that Voldemort is a madman, pure and simple. He will not stop at purging the Wizarding World, nor at enslaving the Muggle: eventually his paranoia will turn him against the very people who've helped him -- has caused him to abandon them, abandon me, specifically, long ago. I shan't go into that now. The less you know of him, the better for you.
"Were he capable of reason," he sneered, and resumed his pacing, "I should very likely still be among his supporters. But he is not, nor is he capable of fulfilling the promises he made to me and the others. And I would rather die in the effort to stop him than rule alongside him, constantly wondering when and how he will dispense with me."
After that remarkable outburst he stopped at the French doors, as Moody had, and stared into the blackness outside.
Eventually he spoke again, his voice muffled as it bounced off the window-glass and was blocked by his body. There was no edge to his voice, no sarcasm or silken attempts to sway me: its essential beauty was stripped bare. Resigned.
"I'll go now, if you like," he offered tiredly.
He'd told me in the short span of two minutes almost everything I needed to know about why he'd made the choices that had led us to this. And he had the sense to realise that I would probably be offended by it to the point of wanting no further association with him.
I wasn't particularly happy with what I'd heard. I'd hoped for something more altruistic and honourable: despite our differences, I'd grown to respect him as a teacher and for his work for Albus.
But he'd been unflinchingly honest. He respected me enough to offer me that.
"You might as well sit down and finish the wine," I said mildly.
He turned to me, dumbfounded. I'd never seen that from him before, and I hoped it wouldn't be the last time I did.
"That's bloody expensive stuff, for me, and I'm in no condition to drink it. Don't make me pour it down the drain," I said by way of explanation -- or excuse.
He stood rooted to the spot for a moment, and then cautiously returned to the sofa. After a long sip of the wine -- throughout which he kept his eyes fixed on me, as though he thought I'd bite him -- he asked, "Why does this not upset you?"
"It does." I smiled wryly. "But for some odd reason I've taken to seeing you as a fallible human being, like the rest of us, capable of making the same mistakes. More terrible than some, perhaps," I said carefully, "but not as terrible as others. The fact that you have spent the last -- what, ten years? -- working against him says much for your ethics and character, as far as I'm concerned, whatever the motivation."
He wrenched his eyes away from mine and stared at the dregs of wine in his glass.
"Someday," he reflected, "I shall tell you in precise detail how terrible those mistakes were. And then I think you will change your mind."
It had not, after all, been a good idea to keep him here: all the frustration of this day, and many days preceding, was coming again to the fore. I was headed for a massive blow-up, and unable to halt it.
"Why is it so important to you that I know specifics?" I asked impatiently.
"Because you trust too much," he snarled. "Because, specifically, you trust me --"
"You've already told me what you've done," I cut him off viciously. "Christmas, if you recall, and thank you very much for the present; it's been a nice change from my usual nightmare. 'I have tortured and killed, and I did so willingly. Often with pleasure.' Do you think I didn't take you seriously?" I was enraged with him now and made no attempt to hide or deflect it. "Do you really think anything you could add to that could make it any worse?"
The colour had drained from his cheeks, and he sat there taking it, speechless.
"If you want a confessor, go to Dumbledore: I'm not interested in the job," I said savagely. "And as to trust --" I could barely see straight, now, my head was throbbing so, "-- Sweet Jaysus, I've had Moody telling me I don't, and you telling me I shouldn't --"
For the second time that day tears were pouring down my face, and I couldn't stop them, or shut my mouth and retreat from the confrontation.
"I don't think the problem is me trusting you: you don't trust yourself, whether it's having to go back to Voldemort, or simply that lovely little stunt in the Quad. You don't trust yourself around me, and you want me to help by pushing you away --"
I was babbling uncontrollably, throwing at him things I'd considered, but would never in my right mind have said outright -- and then my lungs seized up and I couldn't breathe.
Snape had had enough as well. He grabbed me by the wrists, pulled me upright, and, faster than I would have thought possible, got me to the kitchen, pushed my head under the tap, and turned the cold water on full.
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Yes, I know that "snot" is not a Anglicism, but it is Irish. And "snot on your shoulder" was far too euphonious to resist.