Thou didst smile, Infused with a fortitude from heaven, When I have deck'd the sea with drops full salt, Under my burthen groan'd, which rais'd in me An undergoing stomach, to bear up Against what should ensue. The Tempest, Act I scene 2
We'd been at Lucy's for three weeks over the summer hols, and there'd been much giggling and horseplay. The kids had missed each other badly -- so much so that they'd avoided the usual squabbles. I spent every day with them while Lucy was at work, and at the week-end the four of us would take day trips out to the country.
And there had been no incidents. The focus Ian had learnt his first year at Hogwarts had taken.
Lucy noticed and commented on his control, one night while we were preparing dinner.
"He knows what to do with it now, does he?" she said casually.
I froze, hand poised over the chicken I'd been basting. "It?"
I slowly shoved the chicken back in the cooker and turned to her.
"How much do you know, and for how long?" I asked suspiciously.
"Since the first episode I saw." She grinned at my consternation. "Dad's mum was a healer back in Jamaica; she knew a lot of witches. She's told me the stories." She turned back to the lettuce she was rinsing.
"Why didn't you say anything?" I croaked.
She laughed. "Can you imagine? 'Miss Hunter, I know exactly what's wrong with your nephew: he's a wizard.' Wouldn't have kept my licence much longer, would I?"
"But why didn't you say anything after we'd finished probation?" I persisted.
"You'd figured it out," she told me with a shrug. "Not the specifics, but enough. And he was improving, so there wasn't any point."
"So that's why you signed off on our case," I thought aloud.
"No, that was your overwhelming charm and great body -- yes, you great git," she teased, "that's why. I knew you were doing everything you could."
I sat at the kitchen table and toyed with my wine glass. "I'm sorry, Luce." She glanced at me over her shoulder. "For not telling you about the school... I got the impression I shouldn't."
"S'all right. I thought that must be what it was; Granny says it's all kept very hush-hush."
I picked up on the verb tense. "How old is your Granny?"
"One hundred three and going strong." She grinned as she transferred lettuce to salad bowl.
"And you didn't get any of the... extras?"
"Not a drop," she said cheerfully. "Dad neither, nor my sibs."
"Jaysus." I drained my glass, and she laughed again.
"D'you think we could stop being such a bother to that Climpson woman?" she asked seriously. "Direct owls are the usual method, aren't they?"
Neither of us saw the lorry, and there was nothing we could have done if we had. We later learned that the driver was going too fast on an unfamiliar road, had rounded a blind curve, and missed the stop.
The impact slewed the car 'round with a sickening crunch of metal and the sharp retort of shattering glass; for a second everything was a blur in front of me before we struck an embankment, and then the air bag deployed, striking me in the face.
I loosened the shoulder-belt. Sodding thing's practically useless -- that's why I was thrown forward --
Lucy was pinned to her seat by the steering column, the wheel jammed against her chest; there was a lot of blood. "Breath low, Luce --"
"Paula --" she gasped at me, and I twisted 'round to check. The girl had cuts on her face and chest, and she was clutching her arm where she'd been thrown against the door. She was crying lustily, however, and I decided that was good.
It was several seconds before I processed the fact that Ian was silent and unmoving.
Paula was fine, though her arm was broken. Her granddad had collected her from the trauma centre, and she was staying with him until Lucy was released. Lucy'd given us some worry, as her chest was badly bruised, a lung punctured, ribs broken; she'd also had a compound leg fracture, and it had taken two surgeries to put everything right. She was slowly mending.
But my boy was gone.
I stepped off the Express at Hogsmeade, mine again the only coach attached to the engine. It had been a difficult trip, being the only passenger in it this time, and my eyes and nose were red and swollen.
Hagrid was waiting for me. He didn't say a word: he just looked at me for a moment, arms poised helplessly in the air, and then he gently pulled me into a tight hug and kept me there.
"Hagrid?" I finally mumbled into the folds of his filthy coat.
"Yeah, 'Randa?" his voice rumbled in my ear.
"I need to breathe."
He let me pull away, but kept his huge hands on my elbows.
"Got it back?" he asked when I'd taken a good lungful I nodded. "Good," he said, and crushed me to him again.
He finally let me go when I began to laugh helplessly.
"I'm so sorry, 'Randa. Ev'rybody is," he said earnestly. "Even Snape," he added.
"Thanks, Hagrid." This would be the worst part: dealing with the condolences.
Hagrid's gentle enthusiasm had dislodged my glasses; they'd slid down my nose, and I irritably pushed them back up. I wasn't used to them, yet.
"Let's get yeh home, then," Hagrid said, and hoisting my case on his shoulder, he escorted me to the waiting carriage. We sorted my bits and ourselves, and the carriage moved briskly toward Hogwarts.
"I don't 'spose yeh want ter talk about it now, 'Randa, but yeh know where I am," the big fella started, "though I may be gone off an' on this year -- oooh, I shouldn'a --"
"It's all right, Hagrid," I cut him off before he could launch into the familiar self-recrimination. "I heard a bit more that I should last year, the night of the third task."
He looked relieved. "Oh, righ'."
"No dragons this year, then?" I asked lightly, to change the subject.
"Naw. Though I did pick up an intrestin' critter in France -- Three-toed Grizzard, it's called, techy little bugger --" and he was, happily, off in rhapsodies of his latest creature obsession.
"Miranda -- my dear, I'm sorry, I lost track of time --"
I surprised both of us by swiftly crossing to him and bending impulsively to kiss his cheek.
I would never have done so ordinarily -- I wouldn't have had the cheek: this was Headmaster, for God's sake, my employer, my elder, and a very powerful wizard to boot. But frankly, he looked as badly as I felt at the moment.
He didn't seem to mind the familiarity: he took my hands to hold me there next to him when I moved to go.
"Give us another, would you? Those are better than medichocolate," he said with more his usual animation. So I kissed the other cheek and his forehead as well, for good measure.
"Thank you, dear heart," he said as I settled myself on the hearthrug at his feet.
"You look like hell," I said with an utter lack of tact. "Been a bad summer all 'round, has it?"
He smiled wanly. "I feel every day, minute and second of my age. I'd hoped at least some of us would have a good, restful holiday..." he trailed off, eyes on the fire, and then turned back to me.
"I know you don't want to hear it, but I am so terribly sorry, Miranda. We all are, even --"
"-- Snape; yes, Hagrid said."
"Minerva and I would have liked to go to you, but it wasn't possible. We've been dealing with the repercussions of the Tournament."
"Molly said the Ministry tried to have you removed. Thank you for sending her, by the way," I reassured him.
"It doesn't look like she did you as much good as I hoped," he said shrewdly. "You're much too thin."
"She did her considerable best." There had been times the very thought of food had made me ill; I'd spent much of my time at the Burrow sequestered in Ginny Weasley's room.
I leaned back against the chair and rested my head on his knee -- I needed physical contact more than I liked to admit -- and he reached down and lay a warm, gentle hand on my hair, at the nape of my neck. "Molly said he didn't suffer."
"That's what the doctor told me, at least. I should be grateful for small blessings," I said bitterly, and Albus' hand tightened briefly on my neck, and then soothed the tense muscles. When I was calmer I continued, "In all likelihood, he barely had time to feel the impact before he was gone. The brain damage was that severe."
We sat silently for a moment, and then Albus quietly said, "I won't lie to you and tell you the pain goes away; you know better than that. But you will learn to live with it with some kind of... grace. Eventually."
"Is your friend recovering?" he added.
"Slowly. I think the worst for her is the guilt -- stupid, really, it was absolutely the lorry driver's fault."
He smiled -- I could hear it in his voice when he spoke. "Guilt in inherent in human nature. In the decent sorts, at least," he added. "But I've quite forgotten my manners -- would you care for some chocolate?" he asked brightly.
Good. He was going to let me off the hook.
"No, I said, rather too decisively. "The trolley witch kept pushing it at me all afternoon; I had five cups just to mollify her." I finally noted a significant absence in the chamber and asked, "Where's Fawkes?"
"Oh, he had his Burning Day last week; he's snuggled up in a warm nest in my rooms until his feathers come in. You've never seen him in his newly-fledged glory; I've been looking forward to showing him off to you."
I rose stiffly, stretched, and sat in the chair facing Headmaster. "I suppose we ought to discuss the curriculum."
"That was one of the things I wanted to see you about, yes," he replied. "I think you're on the right track: continue as you will."
I looked at him, surprised. "I didn't see much improvement, myself," I admitted.
"Baby steps, Miranda, that's all we can expect," he gently contradicted me. "We're not going to change centuries of engrained prejudice in a single year." He smiled and then added, "In any event, I was quite pleased with the samples of work you left me. I fancy I saw I slight thawing even among some of the Slytherins. I give you carte blanche: teach what and how you think best."
That was shocking, but once I got over it I was absurdly happy he was so pleased with last year's work.
"There is another matter...." he shifted uncomfortably in his chair. "But not tonight, I think," he finally decided, "we're both too tired. Right now I want you to report to Madam Pomfrey in the Infirmary."
I opened my mouth to object, and he stilled me with a hand.
"I'm quite serious, Miranda," he said sternly, with that brief flash of impatience that I'd seen once or twice and dreaded. "I know your doctors did their best, but Poppy and Severus between them might be able to do better."
I wasn't going to win this one, and I knew it. "Very well," I assented.
"Furthermore... while I realise that you may prefer to retreat to your rooms whenever possible, I expect to see you in the Great Hall at least once a day -- twice, if I'm not satisfied with your progress. Do I make myself clear?"
He had me pegged, damn it. I wondered, not for the first or last time, if he could read my mind. This was a lost cause, too; the most I could do was wheedle him into a better mood.
"I promise, Da," I retorted with an exasperated sigh, and then grinned weakly to remove the sting. "I'll even try to eat all my vegetables."
Dumbledore gave a credible imitation of Snape's derisive snort and shook his head. "You and Severus drive me to distraction," he muttered. "Both too independent and stoic, by half. Twice this summer he's come back from his... work nearly dead, and each time I had to order him to see Poppy. But you are the more pleasant sparring partner, by far," he admitted with a wry smile, and looked at me with sparkling eyes. "I should have been so fortunate," he added cryptically.
It took me a moment to connect his comment to my gentle mockery earlier.
"You've had thousands of children, Albus," I softly chided.
"True. And I love them all, even those who've disappointed, no less than the ones who've made me vastly proud. But it's not quite the same as having a lovely young life that's part you, part the other, and yet something entirely itself, is it?"
"I imagine not," I said slowly. "I never found 'the other,' so it never occurred to me that I might miss having children of my own. Not until Ian, at least."
He nodded and turned back to the fire.
"Did you know your father well?" he asked absently, out of the blue.
"Not well, no; he died when I was eight. He loved Shakespeare: I remember him quoting huge chunks, so I come by it honestly."
"And hence 'Miranda'," he noted, and I smiled. "I've been feeling more like Prospero, recently," he mused.
'Now my charms are all oe'rthrown,"At low ebb, perhaps," I retorted gently. "Overthrown, never. I don't think that's possible."
And what strength I have's my own,
Which is most faint.'
"It is, I assure you," he said ruefully, and then mischief flared in his tired eyes. "But if you should catch me at low ebb again, please be so kind as to whisper 'Da,' in my ear; it's cheered me immensely."
"Only if Professor McGonagall isn't present," I qualified. "I think it would greatly offend her sense of propriety."
"Bugger Minerva's propriety," he observed succinctly, and we parted in better spirits than we'd found each other.
If Albus looked like hell, Snape was death walking. He seemed a good ten years' hard living older than at the end of last term: thinner, paler, sharper; more lines around the tightly-compressed mouth; and his hands trembled ever so slightly when he steadied my chin and peered into my eye with the aid of his wand and Lumos.
"How much sight did you lose?" he asked brusquely.
"About twenty percent. It could have been far worse; it healed exceptionally well," I informed him.
"Hmmmph. St. Mungo's could have done better."
Same old Snape, despite the wear-and-tear.
"I wasn't in a position to be choosy," I replied coolly.
"Is the redness a residual effect of the damage?" he asked, ignoring the retort.
"No, it's... intermittent," I admitted shortly. He shot me a keen glance, and then brushed his blunt, calloused fingers over the healing scar that cut across my eyebrow.
"You'll take care of this, Poppy?" he queried her, and dropped his hands.
"Oh, yes -- that's easily done, just cosmetic."
"Unless," Snape said again to me with a sardonic arch of his brows, "you wish to wear your battle scars openly, like Moody?"
"I don't care either way; it's a small thing, considering I might have lost the eye altogether," I replied calmly, refusing to rise to the bait.
"No, vanity isn't one of your failings, is it?" he observed dryly.
I have never known someone who could so effectively turn what might be a compliment into a deadly insult. Pomfrey, standing behind him, caught my glance and rolled her eyes in silent commentary.
Snape continued without pause. "The other eye has been strained, yes?" he asked as he slipped his wand back up his sleeve.
"Yes, but the glasses have helped. I've far fewer headaches now."
He moved to Pomfrey's desk and leaned against it, crossing his arms over his chest. "The damage to your vision is most likely permanent, though you should consult with a specialist at St. Mungo's at the first opportunity. Do you concur?" he casually asked Pomfrey over his shoulder.
"You don't think Phoenix Tears --?" she hazarded.
"Not at this late date, though it might prevent further scarring and loss of acuity. The eyes are very delicate," he informed me, "and a pure solution would be like swatting at a fly with a bludger bat. I will work on a milder formulation, but I cannot promise you it will help. Soothing Drops for the other eye, I think," he again addressed Pomfrey, "and something for the headaches." She nodded and bustled out of the room to retrieve them.
"I am sorry, Professor Hunter."
I shook my head. "It's nothing my doctor hadn't already told me," I replied, and slipped the glasses back on.
"I meant," Snape said with the merest hint of asperity, "about your nephew."
My head jerked up, and I stared at him in shock; he was watching me intently, with dark, tired, unreadable eyes.
"Thank you," I finally managed to blurt out, just as Pomfrey returned with the medicines. Snape roused himself and made for the door.
"I should leave off whatever rubbish they gave you," he threw over his shoulder. "There might be an unfortunate interaction. Good evening." And he was gone.
Pomfrey tssked as she set the medicines on her desk.
"His bedside manner stinks, doesn't it?" I noted with amusement.
"Typical," she replied darkly. "I don't know a single researcher who wasn't a hazard to the patient's mental health. All theory and no sensitivity whatsoever." She picked up her wand and approached me. "Now, spectacles off, and lie down, dear. I'm going to fix that scar straightaway."
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