A Stormy Passage.
The boat that was to carry them across the restless Irish Sea was a small and weather-beaten fishing vessel that had been borrowed from the Muggle father of a local wizard. Fortunately, it was too dark for the travellers to see just how weather-beaten or they might have doubted its seaworthiness. Times were hard for fishermen and the money needed to keep their boats in good condition just wasn’t available.
Dumbledore got out of the car first and went across in the buffeting winds to have a quick word with the fisherman, who stood on the quayside slapping his arms against his sides in an effort to stave off the sudden chill that had appeared in the air. It was late July but, despite the earlier summer warmth, when the wind blew in off the Atlantic and round the tip of Antrim it made everything unseasonably cold.
Severus shook Maeve’s shoulder gently and she started. Opening her eyes quickly she sat up, panic stricken.
“What! What is it?” she asked frantically, pulled from dreams that were not altogether restful.
“It’s all right; we are at the harbour. Professor Dumbledore has just gone to check that the boat is ready for us.” His steady voice reassured her and she slumped back again. The weather and the cloak-and-dagger style of their departure were beginning to make her jumpy and nervous. She wished they could have done this during the day, when everything would have seemed far less sinister. At this moment in time, the light and warmth of the sun would have been a welcome relief.
“I’m sorry, I think I’m just tired.” She pressed a weary hand to her forehead to try and stave off the headache that was starting to creep across her temples.
“It’s understandable,” he said, “considering the circumstances and the lateness of hour.”
Dumbledore hurried back to the car, with his robes billowing around him in the wind, and motioned for them to get out. Severus collected her bag from the boot while Dumbledore escorted her through the rain to the shifting boat. She stepped carefully onto the gangplank and then quickly dropped down onto the deck of the boat that bobbed like a cork in the restless waters. Severus and Dumbledore swiftly followed her and the fisherman was last aboard, bringing with him the plank of wood.
“I’m sorry about the weather,” he said, to no one in particular. “These sudden summer storms can be fierce.” His heavily lined face was testament to this fact. Even in the semi-darkness it was clear that here was a man who had spent all his life out of doors, exposed to the elements.
“Not to worry,” Dumbledore said heartily. “Let’s get started. The quicker we leave, the quicker we will arrive.” This cheery enthusiasm was lost on the fisherman though, as he grimaced slightly.
“Aye well, just be warned, the crossing may be rough.” He didn’t like taking people out without giving them adequate warning of the harsh conditions they could expect.
“What’s your name?” Maeve asked suddenly. She wanted at least to know the name of the man to whom they were entrusting their safety, and clearly no one was about to make any introductions.
“It’s Fin, Fin Keane,” he said, peering closely at her “You’ll be the lady that’s the cause of these night-time wanderings then?”
Despite his rough exterior, Fin Keane had a very warm heart and the sight of this poor woman with her bedraggled hair and tired eyes made him feel sorrier than he had for a long time. Professor Dumbledore had given him a few sketchy details and, by putting two and two together, he had come to the conclusion that she had been treated badly by her family and was now being pursued by something wicked.
“I’m sorry if you have been inconvenienced, Mr Keane,” she said quietly. “I know it’s a bad night to be out.”
“Aye, not to worry, glad to do a favour for my old friend Dumbledore.” He winked at the older wizard. “Come on then… away in with you before you get any wetter.” He pushed open the creaky door of the cabin. “And I hope none of yis suffers from seasickness,” he added ominously as they entered the small room.
The interior of the boat was simple but clean. A table sat snugly between two wooden benches, and there was a primitive galley across from it that contained a hob, a toaster and a kettle. There were cupboards that presumably contained pots and pans and other culinary prerequisites but no one seemed inclined to investigate them. Further on, a door covered with peeling black paint led through to the boat’s controls and radio. It was through this door that Fin Keane went, with an invitation to them to make themselves drinks if they wished.
Once the door had closed behind him, Maeve asked the two men if they wanted her to make some tea but they both declined and she slipped gratefully onto one of the benches. Dumbledore and Severus looked at each other and Dumbledore spoke first.
“I’ll stand the first watch, Severus, if you want to try and sleep. I’ll wake you around three and you can take over until morning.” The older wizard was already making his way to the door.
“As you wish, Professor,” Severus agreed, taking the opposite bench to Maeve. She had already let her head sink onto her arms, which she’d crossed on the tabletop, forming a makeshift pillow, and closed her eyes. Fatigue was rapidly overcoming her and she just wanted to sleep, despite the intrusive rocking of the board and the roar of the recently fired engine. Severus tried to do the same, but found the position too uncomfortable and the engine too noisy, even though once clear of the harbour walls it quietened to a gentle chug. He contented himself with watching her sleep through his lowered lashes.
It was a very intimate thing to watch people sleep, Severus realised. They looked so off-guard and vulnerable. She breathed softly, disturbing the strands of hair that had fallen across her face, and her forehead was set in an unconscious frown. Her long lashes were resting gently against the whiteness of her face, emphasising their darkness, and her mouth was parted slightly, as if she were about to speak.
Snape once again fell to musing about her; her inaccessibility had made it easy enough for him to forget about her, especially since that inaccessibility had been for her own safety. Now that she was here in front of him, a living, breathing person, she was reawakening things he would have rather left slumbering. The feeling was disconcerting. Even worse was the knowledge that she would be living under the same roof as him, albeit a very large and spacious roof. He wondered how she had passed her years of isolation; he had been genuinely pleased to see that she seemed to have been keeping up with her potions work. When they had been at school they had both shown an incredible aptitude for Potions and had spent many happy hours pouring over cauldrons and ancient magical recipes. Experimentation had been their favourite pursuit; they quickly mastered the tasks set before them by their teachers and drew ahead of their classmates with their constant testing of new formulas.
For her this had been simply a continuation of her mother’s teachings, but for him it had been a revelation. His father had always been a dark soul, both in temperament and skill, and harsh words had flown throughout his childhood home as if they were dust mites. So when his only son had shown a preference for Potions at school, his father had been none too pleased. He had bullied and threatened his son to take more of an interest in the darker arts, and to use the knowledge he had already learned at home to his advantage at school. And Severus had given in to his father’s wishes, proving to be years ahead of most of the other children in his year when it came to Defence Against the Dark Arts. Unfortunately, this also drew some undesired attention to him and he gained a reputation for being slightly disturbed.
He didn’t show the same aptitude for Quidditch, which he would dearly have loved to be good at for the popularity it guaranteed, but his skill with a broomstick was merely average. It was the same with wand work; he was more than competent, but never showed much interest in waving wands about. Severus was a man who liked a puzzle. He liked something delicate, where subtlety and a little finesse were required, and he lost no time in making his pupils aware of this predilection.
Of course, he should have hated Maeve O’Malley on sight. She immediately challenged him in classes and was a constant barb around the school grounds. She was bright and fiery with a great sense of humour (something Severus had no concept of; to him humour was for insulting others, for her it was to make them laugh) and her following was considerable. Added to this was the pursuit several of the more popular males in their year and she should have been sickening because of her popularity.
But Maeve O’Malley had had other ideas, and had politely shunned the worst of the attention and instead focused on a few close friends. Lily Evans, despite being in a different House, became her closest female friend and, much to everyone’s astonishment, Severus and Maeve had become inseparable within weeks of meeting. He didn’t make friends easily; in fact he rarely made friends at all. Even his Slytherin housemates had kept their distance from Snivellus Snape.
Severus and Maeve hadn’t advertised the fact they were becoming close and it was only after several months that it began to be remarked upon. Shortly after this the endless teasing by James Potter and Sirius Black stopped altogether, and life began to look up. It continued to look up for three years, until Maeve was suddenly withdrawn from the school by her father and Severus found himself spiralling back down into introspection, blind ambition and an altogether darker outlook on life.
Despite himself, he fell asleep to the soft moan of the engine and it was only when he felt a hand on his shoulder that he woke up again. Dumbledore was smiling down on him. “It’s three o’clock, Severus.”
“Right, Professor,” he said sluggishly and stood up, unbending stiffened limbs. “You rest now, and I’ll keep watch.”
They switched places and Severus found himself staring out of the door at the rough sea and the torrential rain. Sailing had never been his idea of fun and this was just abysmal, with the boat pitching and rolling from side to side. Although he didn’t suffer from seasickness, the constant motion was beginning to make him feel distinctly green around the gills and he would be more than happy once he was back on dry land again. The sky was black and heavy with clouds so there was no break in the darkness and no light to guide their way. After half an hour of this he began to get bored and made up Arithmancy puzzles in his head to divert his attention from the mind-numbing vastness of nothing. A sound behind him made him turn and he saw that Maeve was awake and getting up from the table to join him.
“What time is it?” she asked quietly, so as not to wake the sleeping Dumbledore.
“Almost four,” he answered. “Dawn won’t be far away now.”
“It’s always darkest just before, so they say,” she said, peering out into the inky world beyond the boat. It was a very humbling feeling for Maeve to realise how small and seemingly pointless she was in the face of such vast nothingness. How easy it would be to lose herself in such a huge world, and who would ever find her?
“Doesn’t the size of us compared to the size of it frighten you sometimes?” she asked him.
“The size of what?” he replied, not following her train of thought.
“The world.” She looked at him with a strange expression on her face, one of almost wonderment. “Doesn’t it amaze you that we are so small compared to the hugeness of the universe we live in. What do we matter at all?”
“You’re attempting to philosophise again, aren’t you? You did that a lot.” He looked at her with something bordering on affection.
“Did I?” she smiled and they fell into an uncomfortable silence. They stood watching the aft of the boat dip and rise rhythmically until she could bear the silence no longer and broke it with a question.
“How have you been, Severus?” she asked.
“I’ve been well, all things considered.” He looked at her, trying to assess if this answer would be enough. It clearly wasn’t.
“Are you still working at Hogwarts?” She tried to sound cheerful, but it was difficult since she couldn’t read Severus’ emotions. Once she had been able to read him well enough, but now there was uncertainty.
“Yes, I’m the Potions master.” He said this with thinly veiled pride, despite his ambitions in other areas.
“Married?” She couldn’t believe she had asked that and cringed inwardly.
He raised a dark eyebrow at this question.
“That’s a little personal but no, I’m not married.”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to pry. I see some news in the Daily Prophet, which is how I already knew you were the Potions master.” She reddened under his scrutiny. She had no idea why she had asked if he was married. It wasn’t as if they were about to rekindle a childhood romance, and it was the sort of foolish question that was likely to make him withdraw into himself. She should have known better.
“Then you will also have heard the news of the Dark Lord,” he said ominously.
“Yes, I have. I followed the saga of Harry Potter and the awful events at the Triwizard Tournament, and then the problems at the Ministry. They wouldn’t believe him, would they, and he was right all along.” She wondered why, at the mention of Harry Potter, his face clouded.
“Yes, well, the famous Harry Potter does rather love the limelight and gets himself into all sorts of impossible situations. It is hardly surprising he isn’t believed.” His voice was cold now and she wondered what had happened between him and the boy.
“You don’t like Harry Potter?” she queried.
“No.” The answer was short and seemed aimed at deterring her from pursuing that particular subject, but she pressed on regardless.
“Why not? He is Lily’s son, so he must have inherited some of her good nature.” She couldn’t imagine a child of her friend turning into a horrible, limelight-loving prima donna, but all things were possible, even if they were also unlikely.
“He is also James’ son… and we both know how impossible that man was. The famous Harry Potter seems to take after his father more and more each day,” he asserted.
“Severus, I can’t believe that Harry is a precocious brat. James had his faults, but he had good qualities too. I also can’t imagine it’s been easy for Harry, growing up without his parents.” She knew what it was like to lose a parent and it hurt no matter what age.
Severus grew angry now and glared at her with eyes as black as the night surrounding them.
“I do NOT want to discuss this with you, Maeve. I am here to do a job, not be questioned about certain personalities who couldn’t control themselves. Why don’t you go and get some sleep before we arrive, and leave me in peace?” He looked away from her to some point in the distance that was indefinable. Stung, she returned to the table and watched as the sun slowly rose into the sky and dispatched both the rain and the night.
Severus stayed at his post with resentment burning inside him. Why did life always have to come back to Harry Potter, no matter where he was or what he was doing? Couldn’t he escape the child for more than two minutes? He was sorry he had been short with Maeve, but he wasn’t good with apologies or backing down and so left the bad feeling hanging in the air between them. He knew how close she had been to Lily, and perhaps he shouldn’t have been so dismissive of Harry in front of her, but these things sometimes had to be said. He would be immensely irritated if she immediately fell for Potter’s selfish, devil-may-care attitude. He knew these things shouldn’t annoy him but, nevertheless, they did.
Professor Dumbledore stirred and immediately looked at the sun.
“Ah, we must be nearly there,” he said, standing up slowly and shaking away the light sleep. “It is seven o’clock by the sun and so we must sight land soon.”
He was instantly aware of the slight shift in atmosphere between his two companions, who had gone from wary friendliness to vague hostility, and he wondered why. Now was not the time to ask though, as he spotted a bird flying starboard of the boat.
“Anyone expecting an owl?” he asked, and both Severus and Maeve followed the direction of his gaze. Maeve immediately smiled.
“It’s Bran, my owl,” she said with delight. “Liam must have set him free, knowing he would find me.”
She brushed past Severus and went out onto the wet deck where the wind whipped her hair around her face. Holding out her arm, she stood while the owl whirled round and landed neatly on her forearm. She stroked his feathers gently, although the bird looked slightly annoyed and refused to look at her.
“How could I have left you, old friend,” she whispered. “You will have to forgive me, it was all so rushed.”
The owl hooted, pecking at her fingers affectionately, and she turned around and took him inside the boat. The owl and Severus glared at each other as if coming to an instant and mutual loathing, for reasons neither could fathom.
Dumbledore cleared his throat. “We will arrive shortly, Maeve, and there will be a carriage waiting to drive us through to Hogwarts. It will not be far from our landing spot and the weather is fairer than when we left.”
He paused as if deliberating how to put his next point to her, before deciding upon the direct approach.
“It is very important that you are not seen entering the school because, whilst there are no pupils there at the moment, there are staff and although I trust them, you are one secret that I would rather keep from them until the time is right.”
“Do you wish me to adopt a disguise, Professor?” she asked. “Change my appearance, perhaps?”
“I do indeed,” he smiled at her quick understanding, wondering how she would take to the idea of the plan that had been formulated only the day before.
“Is there anything in particular you would like me to adopt?” she asked, relishing the idea of using some of her magical abilities again.
“Well yes, there is.” He slipped a hand into his robes and pulled out a photograph. "I want you to become this person’s sister.”
Severus had come closer to see whose picture Dumbledore had produced and he gave a gasp of surprise when he saw the image.
“That’s Lupin!” he said, astonished. The man in the picture was smiling up at them benignly; he nodded politely in Maeve’s direction.
“It is,” said Dumbledore, with a gleam in his eye.
Maeve took the picture and surveyed the ravaged face, with its careworn look and deeply etched lines around the eyes. The hair was flecked with grey, and from what she could see of his clothes they were shabby and lived in. But his eyes smiled out from the picture and there was a sweet look to his face that made her smile involuntarily. He looked like someone who had grown to be very likeable.
“Lupin? Remus Lupin?” she said peering even closer. “Is that really Remus?”
“Aged, hasn’t he?” sneered Snape. “More than you would expect.”
“Yes, well Remus had a lot to contend with, if I remember correctly,” she hit back, annoyed at his tone and suddenly feeling the need to defend the man in the picture. “What is he doing now?”
“It is difficult for him to find work, but he scrapes by,” Dumbledore said sadly. “And he works for me occasionally.”
“But not as a teacher, thankfully. That only lasted a year,” Snape added from the doorway, where he had retreated once more.
“Oh, give it a rest, Severus,” Maeve snapped. “Remus was a lovely person and I can’t imagine he has changed much.”
“Remus was weak and cared only for himself,” Snape snarled, not ready to give up on the argument just yet.
“That’s not true and you know it,” she said quickly. “You chose to see only the bad in him, which, when I come to think of it you do rather a lot, don’t you!” Her eyes were blazing with fire and Dumbledore could only stand back and look on. Normally he would have acted as peacemaker but he had forgotten what it was like to see Severus being chastised by someone he genuinely respected.
“I do not see the bad in everyone. It is just sometimes very difficult to see any good.” His defence was faltering and he knew it.
“Severus, sometimes you set your standards impossibly high and refuse to see anything good in anyone that doesn’t rise to your dizzy heights.” Her hands were on her hips now and she was furious with him, and with herself for letting herself get so wound up by him. “Was that why you tolerated me? Because I at least met your high standards?”
“That’s not true!” His voice rose and now Dumbledore felt he had to intervene.
“Enough, Severus, Maeve,” he said firmly. “You may argue to your heart’s content at another time, but we are not alone here and we need to maintain awareness and our senses.”
They both looked abashed, immediately transported back twenty years to their schooldays where, on more than one occasion, they had been spoken to severely by teachers for their “heated discussions”.
“I’m sorry, Professor Dumbledore,” Maeve said, instantly repentant for her impassioned words. No such apology was forthcoming from Severus, however, who merely stood by the door with his arms folded across his chest, glowering at her.
“So as soon as we are safely in the carriage, I would like you to effect the transformation,” he said, shifting the conversation back to the original subject. “You will have no problems?”
“No, I still have the ability, although I haven’t used it for a while.” This was an understatement, because she had last transformed sixteen years ago.
“Hang on,” Severus chipped in again. “Are you saying you are a Metamorphmagus?”
“Yes,” she replied quickly.
“So why didn’t you use that ability to get out of your house and meet people? Why stay stuck behind those walls all this time?” He asked the question as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. “And why didn’t I know?” he added.
“I rather think that’s Maeve’s business, don’t you, Severus? I am sure there were reasons.” Dumbledore was firing warning glances at his Potions master now, aware that Maeve’s patience was wearing thin, but she kept a hold on her temper this time.
“You know, Severus, it never really occurred to me to do that.” She gave a light chuckle. “It seems I can be terminally stupid after all… am I a disappointment to you now, or will you still talk to me?”
“You didn’t need to be imprisoned,” he noted flatly, and walked out onto deck leaving them alone.
“I’m sorry, Maeve,” Dumbledore began, but she cut him off.
“Professor, we both know that Severus has had a difficult time, and sometimes he relates to people badly. Strangely, his vulnerability was one of the things that attracted me to him, that and his over- abundance of brains. I hope one day that he will not be so hard on himself and allow his feelings a free rein, but I rather suspect we will have to wait a long time if we wish to see it.”
“Forgive my asking, but do you still care for him?” Dumbledore knew only too well how much his Potions master had suffered after Voldemort’s attack on her and one of his initial misgivings about bringing her back had been Snape’s reaction to her. Apart from Severus being an excellent wizard in a tight spot, this journey had also been a good opportunity to study them apart from others.
“Yes,” she answered immediately and unequivocally “How could I not?”
“Time sometimes has a way of erasing feelings and memories if we don’t take care of them...I thought that, perhaps...”
As he struggled to find the right words she shook her head. “Professor, I have nothing but those memories to hold on to. The rest of my life has been working with potions at home, and honing some of my other skills. My last real human interaction was with Severus, so of course I still care for him. Would I have liked to see him happier than when we last met? Of course I would… but I am not sure he can be happy, not yet at any rate.” She shrugged her shoulders.
“Nor am I. His ambition and commitment to his work is such that I fear there is little room for happiness in his life.” Dumbledore agreed with her completely about Severus Snape, and wished the past had been different. He would have been a very different man had Niall O’Malley not acted vindictively all those years ago and removed his daughter from the school. Severus had never found a second chance, and from then on had never given anyone else one.
“How is Remus?” she asked, conscious of his smiling face looking up at her and wanting to put some space between her emotions and Severus Snape.
“In truth he has changed little. He is a loyal and courageous man who has suffered at the hands of others and yet maintains a compassion and an understanding few could demonstrate.” He looked at her thoughtfully before continuing.
“My plan in brief” – here he lowered his voice so that she had to strain to hear – “is that I wish for you to become my Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher this year in the guise of Remus’ sister. I don’t want to speak too much about it now, but Remus will be waiting for us at Hogwarts and I want to introduce the two of you to see if you think you can make it work. It will do no harm if you already look the part.” He sat back and watched her face to see what her reaction would be.
She drew away in surprise, and felt aware of an unexpected apprehension that had more to do with a roomful of children than with any dark magic.
“But I know nothing about teaching,” she said warily, unwilling to voice her concerns about roomfuls of children and their high expectations.
“No, but you know an awful lot about the Dark Arts and their application, and you will be one of the few who have faced Voldemort.”
He didn’t get a chance to elaborate on this though because the door from the bridge opened and Fin poked his face in the room, causing them to stop speaking immediately. He grinned at their sudden silence.
“Hush-hush is it? I understand.” He tapped his finger to the side of his nose conspiratorially. “Well here we are…first sight of land. We’ll be docking in about twenty minutes, so be prepared to disembark.”
“Thank you, Fin, you have done a superb job, despite the weather.” Dumbledore was indeed very grateful to this man who had taken on the trip knowing it could well be dangerous if Voldemort had acted quickly, and had still chosen to help them out.
“Och, it’s nothing, Professor,” he said quickly, before shutting himself back in the bridge, filled with pleasure at the praise.
She handed back the photograph to Dumbledore and looked towards the green landmass that was growing ever larger. What was she getting herself into, and from what had she just been extricated?