A Discordant Note
The boat slowly rounded the headland, riding the rolling white horses with determination. On the other side of the harbour, vertical cliffs fell to the sea as if someone had sliced through the rock with a viciously sharp knife. Lush, green grass carpeted the tops of these flat-faced walls of rock right up to their edges, where a few solitary trees clung to the brink in defiance of the gravity that would pull them towards the roaring waves below. The base of the cliff was dotted with caves that echoed to the sound of the relentless tides, whose lashing battered a beach strewn with pebbles and very little else. Cutting into the sea, between the cliffs and the headland opposite, was a small harbour whose walls were in dire need of repair, the stone defences riddled with cracks both large and small. As they drew closer to the walls, they could see the buildings that skirted the harbour were just ruins and had not been inhabited for many years. Old cottages with roofs that had long since disintegrated had become home to assorted wildlife. There were the rotting hulls of abandoned boats by the water’s edge, their aged wood beaten into submission by the unsympathetic elements.
This, Fin informed them, was Baile-Bhroin, a desolate place that neither man nor beast visited, unless by unhappy accident. The story related in pubs and inns across that part of the country was that smugglers had worked from the caves lining the cove, until one night there had been a wicked storm. A ship had tried to take shelter in the harbour, but the smugglers, immediately recognising it as a merchant ship, had put out the harbour lights and caused the ship to be thrashed to pieces on the rocks that lay just beyond the harbour wall. Unfortunately for the smugglers, and the residents of the harbour village who had stood by and allowed them to do it, the ship turned out to belong to an Irish warlord who didn’t take too kindly to having his ships wrecked. This man was a particularly vindictive soul who sent a raiding party to burn the village and seal up the inhabitants in one of the caves where the illicit plunder had been stored. The smugglers had been tied up and set atop a pyre at the harbour mouth, as the Irish Lord had sailed his boats out by the light of their burning bodies. It was said the keening of the womenfolk could still be heard to this day. The forsaken place was so filled with fear and horror that no one ever came near to it.
Maeve shuddered when Fin told her this story, as he deftly manoeuvred the boat into the safety of the harbour walls. She scanned the cliffs, looking for a cave whose entrance was covered, but they were all open, like black maws drinking from the blue-green water. As she listened, she could have sworn that the screeching carried by the wind wasn’t just the cry of the gulls that wheeled overhead. In her own mind, she heard the wails of those desperate women from long ago.
Had someone unfamiliar with the tale, and consequently unconcerned by a haunted village, been walking along the cliff edge, the three figures jumping from the boat would have seemed a strange sight indeed. With their flowing robes of varying hues, Dumbledore’s strange, bejewelled flat hat and an owl fluttering around them, they made for unusual viewing. Fortunately, there were no such observers present and they were able to step into the waiting carriage unobserved. The carriage itself was drawn by one of the Hogwarts Thestrals, although Dumbledore was quick to point out that the carriage was under enchantment. Had any Muggles actually glimpsed them, all they would have seen was an ageing Ford Mondeo car with a slightly bent bumper and a broken wing mirror.
There wasn’t much room inside the stuffy, black-lined carriage once they were all in place. Maeve sat opposite the two men with her bag and Bran next to her on the seat. Bran was still glowering at Severus, who was beginning to feel rather uncomfortable under the owl’s scrutiny and he started to dream up ways that they could ‘lose’ the bird. The bird, sensing the beginnings of a plot, glowered even harder.
“We should be there in an hour or so,” Dumbledore informed her, as she watched the passing scenery change from the verdant green of the valleys to the more rugged purple beginnings of the mountainous region that was home to Hogwarts. “Perhaps you should consider making the changes now,” he prompted gently.
“Will I have to stay this way for the foreseeable future?” she asked.
“That would be your decision, my dear, but for your safety I would advise you not to change back until some sort of resolution has been found.” Dumbledore’s face expressed sympathy. He knew only too well the monumental effort it took a Metamorphmagus to maintain a change for any length of time. He just hoped that Maeve had enough strength in her to endure this for as long as was necessary.
They both knew a resolution could be a very long time off, and so Maeve resigned herself to losing her own identity indefinitely. She wasn’t sure how she felt about that. On the one hand it was exciting, taking on a new persona. It would be challenging and give her the opportunity to explore the world from a different perspective. But it would also be unsettling on top of everything she had gone through in the past day, to lose her own identity also. She came to the conclusion that the only way she would ever know how it would make her feel was to get on with it.
“Could I have the photograph back, Professor?” she asked, reaching out her hand for the proffered image. A still-smiling Remus Lupin was passed between them.
Once she had it, she concentrated on the face that was now grinning openly at her, as if he knew what she was attempting to do and was giving encouragement. It was easy enough for Maeve to transform her hair colour or her features just because she fancied a change, but it was far harder to transform into a completely different person. It required a great deal of concentration and skill to make everything match up convincingly. The first time she had tried it she had ended up with the eyes and forehead of a toddler and the hooked nose and hairy chin of a ninety-year-old woman. It had put her off the whole thing for some time.
Frowning heavily, she focused her mind and both professors watched, fascinated, as first her hair lost its golden glow and changed to a pale brown colour, while becoming considerably shorter in the process. Her cheekbones and nose changed to match the man in the picture and her eyes lost their depth as they became a lighter shade of brown. Her clothes remained the same though, and she left her body exactly as it was; it would be hard enough living with a different head without losing her body as well. Once finished, she looked to them both for a reaction because, apart from a lightness to her head from the loss of so much hair, she felt no different.
“Marvellous work,” Dumbledore announced, pleased at the results. There was undoubtedly a resemblance between the woman sitting in front of him and Remus Lupin. It was subtle and convincing. “We shall have no trouble passing you off as Remus’ sister,” he said with satisfaction, and some relief.
“I’m not so sure, Professor,” she said doubtfully. In her opinion it took far more than just looks to convince people that you were who you said you were.
“Nor am I,” Snape agreed hotly. “For a start, I am not sure the Dark Lord will be fooled by such trickery. I also wonder how secret we can keep this. Her father already knows she has left for Hogwarts.”
“My father may be a boor, but he wouldn’t openly betray me,” Maeve said indignantly. Severus gave her a look that could have frozen Firewhisky, for he clearly didn’t share her optimism. Giving people the benefit of the doubt could, and often did, backfire. Severus hoped that this would not be one of those occasions.
“And what happens when people start asking questions about this sister that appears from nowhere? I went to school with Lupin and I know he didn’t have sister,” Severus argued.
“Actually,” Dumbledore said, “Remus Lupin did have a sister. When he was bitten his parents sent her away for her own safety. The tragic irony is that she was killed on the journey. It was a terrible accident involving a dragon over the Swiss Alps. His parents wanted it kept very quiet, and to all intents and purposes the girl is still alive somewhere. The Lupins were always a very private family; it is not inconceivable that the child can make a quiet return.”
“You are asking her to take the identity of a dead girl?” Severus was openly incredulous. “Surely that is tempting fate in a rather obvious way.”
“It is not ideal, Severus, but it is the best we can do,” Dumbledore said.
“And how do his parents feel about this?” Maeve asked. Stepping into a dead girl’s shoes hadn’t been part of the initial bargain. She also didn’t want to have to endure any Sunday lunches with Remus’ parents looking at her over the roast beef, wondering if that’s what their real daughter would have looked like. The thought made her shudder.
“His parents are dead,” Dumbledore said sadly. “They died a few years ago. Remus is a lonely man, a very lonely man.”
“It’s a completely ridiculous plan,” Severus insisted vehemently. He ignored the look of regret in Dumbledore’s eyes at the losses that Remus Lupin had suffered over the years. Nor did he see Maeve’s appreciation of this sentiment.
“It will buy us time, at least,” Dumbledore reassured them. “I have no doubt that Maeve can be convincing in her new role, and very few people will know her true identity. Those people are ones whose trust is beyond question. Whether or not Voldemort is fooled for long remains to be seen, but for now he will assume I have sent Maeve into hiding somewhere. He will hardly suspect that the sister of Remus Lupin is the same woman he so desperately wants to control.”
“He doesn’t want to control me, he wants to kill me,” Maeve said darkly, taking out a mirror from her bag to view the results, “and you know, I still don’t know why that is.” She stopped playing with her new hair and looked at them both as if expecting them to give her an answer. Severus shifted uncomfortably in his seat and Dumbledore shook his head sadly.
“Nor do we, really, my dear. But it is up to us to see he doesn’t reach you. No doubt these things will become clear with time.” And with that he settled back against the seat with a deceptively calm look on his face.
The final leg of the journey led them through thick forests and mountains, and they were soon lost to the Muggle world entirely. As they rounded a bend in the road, the trees gave way to open fields. At the end of the road they were travelling on, Maeve could see gates that flashed fire in the light. They drew closer, and she could see the gates were flanked with pillars, atop which were two winged boars cast in stone. Her last sight of these had been a backward glance from her father’s car as they swept away from the school all those years ago. The gate swung open and, as she leaned out of the carriage window, she was presented with her first glimpse of Hogwarts since she had left it as a child.
Her time there should have been an unhappy period, so close to her mother’s death, but she could only look back on her schooldays with fondness. The three years had flown by so fast and she had learned so much, both in terms of magic and of herself, that she could only view the place with gratitude, not remorse. The enormous building came closer and closer until soon she could make out the individual features of the walls and turrets. Before long they were passing the cliff that overlooked the lake, on the approach to the main entrance to the school. The courtyard was bathed in sunlight and the windows twinkled brightly, giving a dazzling appearance to the front of the school.
As they drew up in front of the imposing doors there wasn’t a soul in sight, so Dumbledore lost no time in getting Maeve out of the carriage. He quickly led her up the steps and into the school while giving instructions to Severus to see that Hagrid took care of the Thestral. She felt happy memories flood over her as they walked hurriedly through corridors that were lit with flickering torches. Suits of armour lined their path, while on the walls there were inquisitive portraits whose inhabitants followed their direction with whispered speculation. Forgetting the distressing circumstances in which she had been suddenly removed from the school, she could only think of the happy times. Dumbledore took her directly to her room, which was located on the third floor and was adjacent to what would be her office. He had no wish to advertise her presence along the corridors until they were sure of her new persona.
They entered through the office itself, which was bare and contained a large oak desk whose companion was an equally large chair. The chair itself was violently upholstered in dark pink velvet and appeared to hover without any visible means of support. Along the walls were empty shelves that had a thick veneer of dust, just waiting for someone to come along and make use of them again. In the corner by the window stood a grandfather clock that ticked with a rhythmic slow movement, quietly marking the passage of time. The curtains at the window were of the same fabric as the chair and fell in masses of folds to the floor where they lay forming a sea of frothy, pink waves. Maeve wasn’t sure she liked the pink; it looked like a blancmange that had seeped out of the windowpanes and was attempting to take over the room.
“Obviously you will want to brighten the place up a bit with your own things, books, equipment… Professor Lupin always kept some very interesting creatures in here and Alastor had some rather fascinating gadgets.” Dumbledore opened the door to the connecting room, waving her through with an enthusiastic hand.
She now found herself in a very comfortable sitting room with two huge oriel windows that faced south over the lake, offering views of the surrounding countryside. A healthy fire blazed in the fireplace, which was topped with a portrait of a handsome, middle-aged wizard who winked rather rakishly at her. She glanced away in embarrassment at his scrutiny and couldn’t help wondering if she could live with him or whether he would have to go. As if he sensed that his time might be short, he turned away with a huffy flick of his robe and pretended to polish his monocle. In front of the fire were two large sofas of green velvet that looked impossibly comfortable and spread in front of them was a huge Persian rug that was intricately patterned, reflecting the fire’s warmth up into the room. As she watched it, she could have sworn the corner twitched, but despite keeping a close eye on the thing for a few minutes it didn’t happen again so she presumed it was a trick of the light. An assortment of bookcases, sideboards and cabinets lined the walls. These empty pieces of furniture covered all available space except for the large door that was opposite the one they had just entered by. This door led to her bedroom, and here again the furnishings were luxurious. A huge four-poster bed dominated the room with pale, silken drapes hanging from its rails, matching the bed linen that covered it. A smaller fire burned in here and thankfully there was no portrait above it, although the view from the window was the same. There was a large mahogany wardrobe in one corner and a huge, ornate cheval mirror in the other with a dressing table taking up the corner by the fire.
“This is wonderful,” she said, excited by the comfort and warmth of it all. “I couldn’t have expected such luxury.”
“We do have to make some effort to match your delightful home,” he remarked with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes.
“Well, I’d say you had managed it very well. It’s certainly beautiful and I can’t wait to get all my things installed.” She grinned as she put her bag down on the bed, causing the silk to crumple beneath the pressure. Bran, who had been hovering around her since they had arrived, took up a perch on the curtain pole and settled his head into his chest for what would probably be an extremely long rest after his flight to the boat.
“Well, he certainly looks at home,” Dumbledore smiled, “but we will have a proper perch sent up for him. I am sure he would be more comfortable.”
She crossed to the window and surveyed the view. The lake reflected the morning sunshine, making her blink at the glassy intensity of the light. In the distance, she could see the forests stretching to meet the purple mountains. The window was open a little way, allowing in the sweet, earthy scent of the trees and open water. It reminded her of home and in a small way she took some comfort from that. Despite the circumstances that had forced her to stay within the bounds of Abbeylara, she still loved her old house.
“It hasn’t changed at all has it?” she said. Her eyes were over-bright with happiness at coming back to Hogwarts. The feeling that time had stood still, waiting for her to catch up, was a very powerful one.
“And hopefully it never will… despite the coming times.” His voice carried a note of melancholy, which served to remind them of why she was here and the task ahead of her. As she came down to earth with a sobering bump, Maeve forgot her sudden happiness and turned back to the Headmaster.
“How bad do you believe it will be?” she asked earnestly.
“I believe it will be the worst we have seen,” he said, his eyes following her gaze out over his domain. “I believe that, despite our better preparedness, this time it is a fight that Voldemort will not give up. We have to steel ourselves for the worst possible outcome, and pray for the best. You will meet Harry Potter this term and within that child there lies the future of our kind. It may sound a little fanciful, but I do not think this is an overstatement on my part.” He wondered how she would get along with Harry, and how much she would be reminded of her former school friend Lily. It would be a bittersweet meeting, of that he was sure.
“Severus mentioned Harry. I understand there is some conflict there.” She wondered why Dumbledore believed Harry to be so important but assumed he had his reasons; Dumbledore always had his reasons.
The professor sighed deeply and with some considerable sorrow.
“The relationship between the two has broken down completely, which is partly my fault and partly theirs. Severus resents Harry because he is so much like James. He bears a grudge against Sirius and Remus because of the incidents when they were at school. Of course, Sirius did nothing to appease Severus in the short time that he had between fleeing Azkaban and falling into the veil. Harry’s loyalty to his godfather put them on a collision course from which neither has deviated. I fear the situation is irredeemable.” He shook his head, and she sensed his despondency on this particular subject. “I confess that I am at a loss as to what to do with them.”
A businesslike rapping on the outer door announced the arrival of a visitor, making Maeve jump in the process. Dumbledore motioned for her to stay where she was as he went to see who it was.
“Remus!” she heard him exclaim. “How good of you to come and find us. Our new professor is through here and I am sure she will be delighted to meet you again.” Their voices grew louder as they moved through to the sitting room.
“Well of course, I couldn’t wait when Severus told me you had arrived.” The new voice sounded husky but pleasant, with a genial quality to it. She left the bedroom to join them in the sitting room and was immediately taken aback by just how tired-looking her former classmate was. The photograph had not fully conveyed the world-weary aura that surrounded him, but if she was taken by surprise it was nothing to his reaction upon seeing her.
“Merlin’s beard!” he exclaimed, looking at her in astonishment. “That’s quite incredible.” His faded eyes lit up at the transformation she had achieved, and this was the first indication Maeve had that she might be able to pull off the deception.
“I shall take that as a compliment,” she laughed, extending her hand to be shaken. He clasped it, shaking it firmly, but not taking his eyes off her face.
“I must confess that when Albus proposed this plan I had my doubts, but looking at you now I can’t see how it could fail.” He was examining every inch of her countenance with extreme interest, and seemed pleased with what he saw.
“Ever the optimist, Lupin,” said a hard voice from the doorway. They turned to see Severus standing there, surveying the scene with his cold, brittle eyes.
“Rather an occasional optimist than a perennial pessimist, Severus,” Remus replied, keeping his voice calm. “But even you must admit, the transformation is a success.”
“I infinitely preferred her original look. Call me the old-fashioned type, if you will,” he sneered. “I just wanted to make sure our guest had settled in and I see she has. If you need me, Professor Dumbledore, I shall be in my office.” He whirled around and floated from the room in a mass of black. Maeve watched him go and wondered if he had come to see her expecting her to be alone. The possibility that they still had things to talk about was never far from her mind and she wondered when the opportunity would present itself.
“Charming as ever.” Remus grinned at her.
“Yes, isn’t he?” She continued to stare at the space where he had been, mentally cursing him for his peevish manner. “So,” she said, turning her attention back to Dumbledore, “what is my new name and how do I go about learning my new role?” Now that she was here she was eager to get started, the magical atmosphere at Hogwarts was infusing her blood with excitement.
Dumbledore drew himself up as he imparted the next step in his plan. “Your name will be Selene Lupin. I have a plan for you and Remus to get to know one another more closely, while at the same time you will have the opportunity to learn your new history. I have a cottage arranged for you both in a glen not far from here. I want you both to go and become better acquainted for a few weeks. Look upon it as a working holiday if you like.” He watched them both from above his glasses to gauge their reaction.
“And it will be safe?” Maeve asked. She was becoming annoyed with herself at her sudden preoccupation with safety. Considering that just a few hours ago she didn’t care if she lived or died, it was unexpectedly important to her that she stayed breathing.
“Perfectly safe. I have employed the same precautions there as I have here at the school, so you will be quite immune to outside attack for the most part.” He looked confident about this assertion although Maeve thought ‘for the most part’ sounded a little inconclusive.
“Well, I am happy with the plan if Remus is.” She looked to her new brother, who nodded his assent. Happiness, Maeve decided, was relative. Despite the potential danger, this had to be better than riding the same hills every day and making small talk with an unresponsive father.
“I have the advantage of having seen the cottage and it’s perfectly secluded. No one who wasn’t already informed of its existence would know it was there. Not even Voldemort, with all his spies and tricks.” Satisfied that he had done as much as he could to reassure Maeve, Remus turned to Dumbledore and added hurriedly. “I haven’t got long here today and I would like a word with you before I leave.”
“Certainly, certainly. And I am sure Maeve would like a little time alone to take in her new surroundings. So, my dear, we shall leave you for now. Your meals will be served in your room until Friday, which I know will be inconvenient and a little lonely for you.” He looked very apologetic about this. “But it is for your own safety until you have some time to get your story memorised. I will come to see you later, and I am sure Severus will drop in to keep you company.”
She didn’t look overly thrilled at that prospect of an afternoon with Severus, or of taking her meals in her room. Having just escaped one prison it sounded like she had wound up in another. Remus, sensing her disappointment, touched her arm lightly.
“It’s not long, only two days,” he said with a smile. “I’ll try and get back late tonight, perhaps to share supper with you and make a start with our story, but I can’t stay too long.”
Slightly mollified, she gave him a grateful smile and thanked them both. Really, she told herself, what was two more days when she had spent the past seventeen years alone?
She occupied herself, in what little remained of the morning, unpacking her meagre belongings and hanging her few clothes in the overly spacious wardrobe. They immediately looked lost in such a large space, and Maeve resolved to buy some more clothes at the first opportunity she had. She placed the books on a shelf in her office, pleased that even such a small piece of her had taken up residence. Further exploration of the office revealed little about its previous occupants apart from a fluffy pink cardigan stuffed in the bottom drawer of the desk. With a promise to pass it on to a house-elf in the hope that they could reunite it with its owner, she walked to the window. Ripples of water shimmered across the lake, breaking the sunlight into bright shafts that danced across its surface. A few birds occasionally took flight from the long grass that fringed the water, but apart from that nothing else moved. There wasn’t a soul in sight, making her feel she could be completely alone in this rambling building where no one seemed to move and nothing seemed to happen.
Time to assess your situation, she told herself firmly, sitting down in the floating chair. She began spinning herself round until the chair decided it had had enough of this foolishness and came to a dead stop, almost throwing her off. Undoubtedly, she had just escaped probable death at the hands of Voldemort, something that had resulted in her being cosseted by Albus Dumbledore in her old school. This had both good and bad points, but overall Maeve felt it was good. She was starting to grow anxious about her relationship with Severus, which looked like going from bad to worse. The fact she had to form close bonds with someone he loathed could only aggravate the situation. She had abandoned her father in acrimonious circumstances, but she didn’t care to start thinking about him so she carefully folded up that memory and stored it away. To examine thirty-nine years of rejection and dislike wouldn’t be good for her self-possession at the moment, but no doubt she would return to it, eventually.
A knock on the door interrupted her reverie, so she went and opened it just a little, peering through the small gap with suspicion. She half-expected to see Dumbledore, but it was Severus who stood before her holding a tray containing sandwiches, two bottles of Butterbeer and two glasses. He wore a look of complete detachment on his face.
“I have been ordered to bring you lunch,” he explained, nodding at the tray as if in further explanation. She opened the door fully and moved aside to allow him in. “Where would you like it?” he asked.
“Bring it through to the sitting room.” She gestured towards the other door.
Severus moved carefully through the office and into the more informal area. From his stiff movements, she sensed he was uncomfortable in this suite of rooms. Placing the tray down on a table by one of the sofas, he made to go.
“Aren’t you staying?” she asked. The prospect of him popping in to keep her company at first hadn’t been overly attractive, but the thought of a long afternoon alone did wonders for his appeal.
“I hadn’t planned to,” he said crisply. “I have work to do.” His face suggested that the work was mountainous, interesting and infinitely more attractive than spending the afternoon with her. She had always found the amount of expression he could get into his face, while at the same time keeping his eyes static, very impressive.
“And will you not be eating any lunch, or have you already eaten something?” she pressed him.
“No I haven’t… but…” he stumbled.
“And there are two glasses there, and more sandwiches than I can eat,” she coaxed gently.
“I am sure the house-elves will clear away anything you don’t want,” he insisted.
“Severus, please stay for a short while?” She looked so alone and tired that he felt compelled to relent, accepting her invitation with the immediate stipulation that he really couldn’t stay too long.
He sat opposite her on one of the sofas; his long body perched stiffly with the black folds of his robes crumpling around him. She poured the foaming beer into the two glasses and handed him one. He sipped from it, grimacing at the taste before placing it down on the low table in front of them. Butterbeer would not have been his usual drink of choice. He sat back and waited for her to start a conversation; he didn’t usually do small talk, having found from an early age he wasn’t very good at it and it was almost always pointless. Maeve’s lack of skill at small talk was also apparent, but she did, at least, make a valiant effort.
“Do you enjoy your work here?” she asked, staying on neutral territory that wouldn’t involve him taking umbrage. His eyes flicked skywards at the banality of the question, but he did his best to answer her.
“It offers sufficient stimulation,” he replied. “Although, it has to be said, some of the students are difficult to teach because of their inherent stupidity and unwillingness to learn anything at all.”
“And you live here?” she pressed on, ignoring the comment about the students.
“For the most part, yes. It seems pointless to return to my parents’ old house when I have everything I need here.”
She frowned at the mention of that crumbling mansion. Her last visit had been memorable for all the wrong reasons. Darkacre had a certain aura that would have made even the most prolific house-seller fail. Severus didn’t seem to be too interested in the food, but that didn’t deter Maeve, who was by now very hungry. She wondered what had happened to his parents, but felt that now wasn’t the time to ask. There was still the feeling of awkwardness between them that she didn’t want to push over the edge into hostility.
A silence hung between them for a few minutes until she became uncomfortable under Severus’ inflexible stare.
“You think I am agreeing to something stupid don’t you?” she challenged, aware that at least part of his discomfort was down to her appearance.
“I don’t think the task itself is stupid,” he retorted.
“Then you think I am?” she argued. “You think I am incapable of this?”
He frowned and set down his glass before leaning forward in his seat, addressing her slowly, choosing his words with care.
“Maeve, I believe you are more than capable of excelling at any task put before you. What worries me is your recent isolation and your possible naiveté regarding certain people you will come into contact with. I know you are a powerful witch, but it worries me that, like so many others, you may let emotions cloud your otherwise excellent judgement.”
He didn’t take his eyes off her face as she took stock of his comments. She didn’t know how to respond to him, didn’t know how to make him understand that often emotions were the driving force behind most human actions.
“Just tell me,” he asked as if reading her thoughts. “What got you through your time alone? Was it your emotions or was it your reason?”
She looked at him without an answer to his question, because she still didn’t know what had got her through those long days. Had he pressed her, she would have had to admit she had locked her emotions away for most of the time. She found that emotions needed other people to function; otherwise there was little point in having them. But then, she hadn’t always used her reason to good effect either. Anyone with an ounce of common sense would have questioned her drawn out stay within the boundaries of her estate.
“I can’t answer that, Severus, because I don’t know.” She was beginning to wish she had let him go now. He was leading her down a conversational route she didn’t want to take.
“You must have some idea what helped you through?” he continued. “You must have had some goal?” His eyes glittered darkly as he waited for an answer.
“No, I had no goal, no aim, nothing.” She stood up and moved towards the window in an effort to escape those black eyes, but he turned in his seat and she could feel his gaze on her shoulders. Turning back to him she sighed heavily and leaned back on the windowsill. The soft sunlight framed her hair and face, giving her an ethereal look, but when she spoke it was in a very down-to-earth manner.
“Severus, it was a death sentence because there was no hope of anything changing. I had lost every human contact I cared deeply about. I could have changed my appearance, I suppose, but I rather got the impression I couldn’t leave the house no matter what I did.” She came and sat next to him causing him to move his robes abruptly. “And most of all I missed you; I have missed you since I left Hogwarts.”
An indecipherable look crossed his face before he turned his mouth into a taut line, and his face became impassive.
“And why do I need to know this?” he asked coldly.
“Because… well because… because I care for you.” She had said it. Maeve had laid a part of herself open to him again and she waited for him to do with the information what he would.
“You cared for me, as you so quaintly put it, Maeve, and then you left. I hardly think we can go back. Do you?” He visibly shrank away from her.
“I didn’t leave you,” she protested vigorously. “I was made to leave.”
“But you still left, Maeve. You left to go home to Ireland and you didn’t just do it once, you did it twice.” He looked bitter, as well he might. “And you never contacted me, not once.”
“It wasn’t my fault.” She knew it sounded inadequate as soon as she said it. She was soon proved right, because this time his eyes blazed with undiluted anger.
“Not your fault,” he hissed. “One of the most powerful witches in the country can’t find a way past her Squib of a father.” He looked at her with distaste.
“It wasn’t as simple as that.” She tried to look him in the eye but couldn’t. “He needed me; he always had a hold on me. He was my only family, Severus. I couldn’t abandon him.”
“Or go against his wishes and see someone… undesirable.” His emphasis was on the last word.
“Doesn’t the fact I came back now count for anything?” she asked softly.
“You came back because Dumbledore kindly informed you that you would die if you remained at home. I don’t care to flatter myself with the notion that it was anything to do with me.”
They were exactly where she hadn’t wanted to be, openly antagonistic to each other and there was no way out for either of them. He shook his head dismissively as if shaking away her words physically from his mind. The air crackled with tension between them and he rose, pacing the floor in front of the fireplace with steady fervour. The wizard in the portrait watched with undisguised interest at the scene playing out before him. He couldn’t wait to slip out of his portrait to tell Sir Cadogan about the events he was witnessing.
“And your coming here brings us back to this mission of yours,” Severus drawled. “Remind me again exactly what it involves. I haven’t been privy to the details.”
“Once I take on the identity of Selene Lupin, I will be the Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher here at Hogwarts. I will fulfil those duties until such time when, I suppose, I am no longer needed.” Now that she had said it out loud, it suddenly seemed a little silly. Was she playing a game with her life and the lives of others by allowing herself to get involved things that were beyond her capability?
“Needed in what capacity exactly?” he asked.
“As an element of surprise against Voldemort, I suppose.” She was just guessing and even as she said it, it sounded foolish. He was planting seeds of doubt in her mind, causing her resolve to falter just a little.
He came and stood very close to her, a note of cold caution in his voice.
“Have you any idea what you are embarking on? For someone who has already barely escaped the Dark Lord once, it strikes me as foolhardy to be setting off on this particular course. Why don’t you go back to your father and pretend none of this is happening? We would all be safer.” He didn’t move an inch as he waited for her to response, his breath shallow and his face a work of stone.
“I am not going back. It is not an option as well you know, unless you wish to see me dead.” She returned his steady gaze with open defiance. “I am not going anywhere until I have done what I promised Professor Dumbledore I would do. We are both on the same side, Severus, and I would expect your support.” She broke his gaze and walked away to the window. He stood for a moment as if undecided which direction to take, her or the door. Her defeated back won and he found himself standing beside her with his hands on her shoulders turning her to face him. They watched each other warily for a few moments before Severus spoke, and his tone was softer than before.
“I was harsh with you and I am sorry, but you must understand that I was very disappointed when you left. After what we had been through I thought that finally there could be a future for… us.”
He paused as the painful memories came back. The sense of abandonment had been profound after the experience they had shared, and he had finally given up on the idea of love. Everyone, in his experience, eventually betrayed him, so there seemed little point in allowing anyone access to his feelings or emotions. He was well aware people thought him a cold and unduly hard man, but there was no justification for him to behave any other way.
“I had spoken with Dumbledore,” he continued, “and he made me aware of the pressure you endured from your father. I think we have both been the victims of family ambition. It can be rather stifling being brought up at the heels of a tyrant.” He appeared to be devoid of any emotion, but she knew herself that wounds inflicted by your own blood ran deepest of all and were the hardest to forgive.
“I don’t need anyone in my life,” he said, and although his voice was still warm there was a definite finality in his tone. “I have lived too long on my own, regretting the one occasion I allowed myself to be vulnerable. Of course I still care for you, but that’s where it must end.”
She raised her head to look into his eyes and saw nothing but emptiness.
“And, of course, with your current assignment, life would have been impossible anyway,” he continued, oblivious to her feelings. “While you are tied to Lupin it would be too much of a stretch to imagine you could have any time for me.”
“Don’t,” she said angrily. “Don’t you even dare suggest there is anything in this association with Remus that would affect us in any way. Sometimes, Severus, you are the petty-minded, unfeeling idiot that people have you down as.”
He looked slightly abashed at this because he knew it was partly true, although he would have quibbled over the use of the word idiot.
“I am glad,” she ploughed on, “that I will be going away on Friday, because maybe expecting you to have changed was stupid. Maybe I was in love with a phantom, a figment of my imagination, something I had projected onto you. Something you never were and never will be. Perhaps, Severus, I expected too much from you. I certainly didn’t expect you to hold on to childish grudges.” She knew she was saying hurtful things and she knew she didn’t mean them but she was tired. Her lack of judgement was always one of the first things to go when her mind was strained.
“Perhaps you did expect too much, Maeve,” he said sadly.
He swept away from her, his robes billowing out behind him, and she felt an awful sense of longing as he walked away. She was already regretting berating him the way she had and wounding him still further, but it was done. She didn’t see what she could do to undo it now.
“I’m sorry, Severus,” she said in a small voice. “I was insufferable and you didn’t deserve what I said.”
“Oh I deserved some of it,” he said, half turning back. “I do hold grudges, but only when the crime is serious enough. I think trying to kill me in a childish prank was serious enough, don’t you!”
He didn’t let her finish but cut across her with three words that he fired out like arrows. “Lupin, Potter, Black!”
“I don’t underst…” she began, but he cut her off again mid-sentence.
“Don’t ask me, ask them, or at least the one of them who is left.” His tone was still bitter. “I don’t wish to speak of it.”
“Perhaps you were mistaken,” she said hopefully, but the look on his face dissuaded her from pursuing that line of thought.
“I have to go,” he announced and she was suddenly reluctant to ask him to stay. He almost flew from the room as the door banged shut behind him, leaving her deflated and with the feeling something had been lost that might never be found again. Maeve hated herself for allowing her emotions to come to the surface. She had no idea she would still feel so strongly about him after all this time. She desperately wanted to go for a walk to clear her head, but she knew that would be foolish, and despite his doubts about her ability to function rationally she knew she had to do the right thing and stay put. She moved from room to room for a while, a spirit without a resting place, but eventually fatigue drove her to the bed and she curled up on it without disturbing the covers and fell asleep.