For this, be sure, to-night thou shalt have cramps, Side-stitches, that shall pen thy breath up; urchins Shall, for that vast night that they may work, All exercise on thee; thou shalt be pinch'd As thick as honeycomb, each pinch more stinging Than bees that made 'em. The Tempest, I.ii
Unfortunately, that was more or less how I felt, physically and emotionally.
Winter has never been kind to me. I tend to suffer from seasonal depression; this year's had been worse than usual, between losing both Ian and the guarded friendship of Snape. And then there'd been the wonderful little incident when I'd gotten hexed breaking up a corridor fight....
I don't want to talk about it. Really. It's far too embarrassing. There was no great damage done, it's just that it was the cause for much amusement among the other faculty.
Easter. Rabbit ears.
I'd even managed to run out of cigarettes -- I'd gone through my last stockpile at an alarming rate -- so I was going through nicotine withdrawal as well. I could've asked Lucy to send more up, but it didn't seem right as I'd brushed her off at Christmas -- and besides, she disapproved strongly.
There was nothing for it but to keep busy and active, so I'd taken to walking on the grounds when the jitters got too bad, in addition to my morning walk in the Quad with Neville. Headmaster allowed it -- provided I was accompanied. And my usual companion was a very large, friendly black dog.
He actually behaved himself, except for an occasional canine butt of his head to solicit a pet -- which I usually refused, unless I was distracted.
"You don't look at all well," he observed in my ear, and I jumped. He'd reverted back to human form without notice.
"Could you give me some warning before you do that?" I asked irritably. "Three thumps of the tail, maybe? And should you? I thought you were supposed to lie low."
"Nobody can see us at this end of the grounds -- not even from the Astronomy Tower," Black retorted. "Where would you prefer the thumps? Leg or arse?" he questioned cheekily.
"On the ground," I replied with a glare.
He sulked briefly. "Bet you wouldn't turn it down from --" he stifled the observation immediately as I glared at him again. "Sorry," he muttered. "It gets my goat, that's all."
"I'm not the flirtatious type even in the best of circumstances, if you hadn't noticed," I told him, ignoring the reference to Snape.
"Yes, but you don't even... sparkle, now."
"I haven't sparkled for a very long time -- since before you came here," I said grimly, plodding on through the remaining, slushy snow.
"I was around enough last year to see -- you just didn't notice me," he corrected gently. "Tough break, that. It was obvious you were crazy about the kid."
I decided to take it in the spirit in which it was intended, though I bristled at the characterisation of the accident as a 'tough break.' Snape at least had the decency to keep his mouth shut about it if he couldn't be sensitive -- well, most of the time....
"Look, I'm all for getting on with my life -- I've lost enough people to know you can't shut everything out, though I've been giving a pretty good impression of just that. But I'm not going to pretend to be happy when I'm not, and I'm not going to try to fill the hole with someone else."
It didn't occur to me until after the words were out of my mouth that I'd meant that last about Snape, as well as Ian.
Black didn't notice and went on, oblivious. "No, 'course you can't. But you could stop shutting other people out. It's driving Dumbledore crazy, you know, and when he's worried, McGonagall worries."
"I know," I sighed, and stopped to stare up at the sky. "It's partly this damned northern exposure. I need some real, full sunlight. Things'll get better in a month or two."
He gazed at me for a long moment, eyes darkening. "I understand that better than you might think," he said softly, and turned to stare out at the far edge of the lake. "There were times," he added, "in Azkaban, when I thought I'd go mad -- or already was. Not from the Dementors, but just from the lack of sun and the warmth of it on my face."
I'd finally figured out that Sirius was an escapee -- the Daily Prophet occasionally made reference to his continued status on the run, although they'd assumed he was loose on the Continent as there'd been no sightings of him -- but the articles were brief, and didn't mention why.
I considered keeping my big gob shut, but curiosity won out. "What's it like out there?" I asked him gently.
His mouth twisted. "Like one of those old Victorian prisons, I suppose, but you're not put on the treadmill or made to pick oakum. You sit all day in an eight-by-eight cell, no windows. The only light you have comes through the cell door. You aren't allowed to speak to your neighbors. A human guard comes twice a day with what you can jokingly call food, and the Dementors come three times a day for their own... meals." He shuddered slightly. "That's the only sound you hear -- the screams of your neighbors as the Dementors feed, and their sobs after the Dementors leave."
"Sorry," I muttered faintly to stop him, but he forged ahead.
"It gets routine after a while -- you start to get so used to it that you can block out the noise. But then one morning you don't hear your neighbor when the Dementors make their rounds, and then the humans have to come and clean up the mess. And the next day there's someone else in the cell, with a different voice, one you're not used to...."
His voice trailed off, and it was almost a minute before he shook himself out of his trance.
"Sorry," he said apologetically, as if I deserved one.
"No, I was nosy. I owe you," I acknowledged. "It's a wonder you made it out in one piece."
"Relatively." His mouth twisted into a wry grin. "Padfoot's the only reason -- they can't feed on animal emotions."
"Why couldn't they stop you? I mean, I assume they ward against magic, or everyone would be charming Patroni."
"They block all the usual spells and charms, and they bind known Animagi to their human form. But with me they didn't know. Unregistered," he said with a weak grin. "Totally illegal. Just made sure I was back in this form if I heard a human coming."
"It sounds absolutely barbaric. Even some Muggle societies treat their criminals better," I said grimly.
"You're not kidding. I did a week in Birmingham, once. It was like a holiday in Spain compared to Azkaban." He grinned whole-heartedly when I looked at him askance. "Pot," he explained, "right after I left Hogwarts. Caught me and a Muggle mate smoking in a public loo, and I was too stoned to Apparate out."
I couldn't help it: I sputtered a bit, and then the laughter came out full-bore. "Why am I not surprised?" I gasped.
"Wasn't worth it," he added ruefully. "You probably get a better high off the fumes of the stuff Snape brews."
The absurd image of Snape bent over a steaming cauldron with a blissful, inebriated smile plastered across his face did absolutely nothing to restore my surly mood.
There had been a few more attacks on Muggleborn families by April, but, fortunately, no fatalities: the student body was, for the most part, subdued -- even the purebloods. The attack on the Weasleys had brought home that no one was really safe, not anymore.
All in all, things were far too quiet for far too long, and when the badness came, it came in a big way.
There it is again. There was a faint scraping outside, on the patio.
I slipped from the bed and palmed Alastor's little knife, leaving the sheath behind on the bed table, and moved out into the sitting room.
There was no light in the room, so I sidled over to the French doors and cautiously peered around the outside edge of the curtains. The moon was only a week past new, but the sky was clear and there was enough light to see a huddled figure collapsed on the slate tiles, a hand extended toward the door frame. And it was stained with what I assumed to be blood.
I wavered. I knew there was no Apparition onto the grounds, but I didn't know if that precluded pedestrian trespassers -- after all, one of the students had the run of the grounds after curfew somehow and managed to avoid the patrols, and my run-in with Malfoy had made me cautious.
On the other hand, there were only three people I knew who took regular jaunts around the grounds in the middle of the night: this one was too small to be Hagrid, and was definitely human, not canine.
I concealed the blade in a fold of my nightgown, cracked the nearest door open, and slipped out.
The tang of blood and urine wafted up to me on the chill air before I even had time to kneel beside Snape. I only knew it was him by the ruins of his topcoat -- for he'd lost his cloak -- and the lank, sweaty hair that clung to his face, the weak moonlight picking out the blue highlights in the black.
"Jaysus, Severus, what --"
"Shut up and help me in," he muttered thickly and indistinctly, and coughed up an alarming amount of blood. "... might have followed me...."
He tried to rise, but couldn't do much more than drag himself by slow, painful inches. I had to grab the shoulders of his coat to help him over the threshold, as I was afraid to touch his arms or ribs: every movement he made was accompanied by a hiss of suppressed pain and once, when he fell onto his left arm, a sharp cry, quickly bitten back.
When he'd gotten his torso in I lifted his legs through -- causing him more pain, unfortunately, which he tried to conceal but couldn't -- and then locked and bolted the doors.
"Listen --" he gasped, and grabbed at the hem of my nightgown as I started to move away.
"Hold on," I shot back at him grimly as I navigated the darkened room toward the sofa, barking my shin on the desk chair. "Shite."
"Bloody -- will you stay here, woman, I need -- tell Albus --"
"Shut up," I said brutally as I returned,covered him with a throw, and slipped a pillow under his head. "I'm going to call Albus, I'll be right back." And I ran into my bedroom, where a fire still burned in the grate (Hogwarts' conveniences do not extend to central heating).
I threw a handful of floo powder onto the fire and requested Headmaster. It seemed to take him forever to answer; I eventually resorted to screaming a panicked, "Bloody hell, Albus, get your arse to the sodding fire!"
He was not pleased when he appeared, and if he hadn't been so sleepy he probably would have told me so. As it was, I didn't give him a chance to open his mouth.
"Snape's back, very bad shape -- my rooms."
He woke up immediately.
"I'll call Poppy and be there directly. Keep him still." And he winked out -- the equivalent of a hang-up.
I ran back to the sitting room, flipping on the light switch as I passed it, and Snape hissed at the sudden brightness.
I rather wished I'd left us in the dark, especially after I peeled back the throw to get a look.
He was covered in blood; his clothes were soaked through, far more so than that night in November, and they were stained with other things, as well -- things that would humiliate him later, should he live through the night. I knelt at his side and wiped at the blood and mucus and spittle streaked on his face with the hem of my nightgown.
"You need to listen --" he managed to gasp out between my swipes, and I realised why he was speaking so oddly: a good number of his teeth had been knocked out.
"What I need," I croaked, "is for you to be quiet -- Headmaster's orders. He's bringing Poppy."
And if he doesn't fecking hurry I'm going to rip him a new one.
"There's no -- time," he panted, and gripped at my leg with a shattered hand, the compound fractures bleeding afresh.
"You can bloody well make time," I said grimly. "I won't have you dying on my sitting room floor. So shut it and save your strength."
He glared at me as best he could, and I think he intended to curse at me, but he choked again and promptly spat up another gout of blood -- directly into my lap.
"Sorry," he muttered weakly, and I had to clamp down on a sudden fit of totally inappropriate, hysterical giggles.
"Oh, please," I finally managed. "I survived a nine year-old with violent stomach flu -- this is nothing compared to that."
But it wasn't: it was far worse. There were massive internal injuries involved here, I knew, and I was terrified. It was a miracle he hadn't splinched himself Apparating from wherever, much less made it from the gates to my patio.
I could hear the pop of a floo through the sitting room fireplace behind me, and Albus hurried over, still in his dressing gown.
"Poppy's gathering her -- oh, Severus," he interrupted himself in shock, and painfully sank to his knees beside me and Snape, clutching my shoulder for support as he lowered himself. "Oh, my boy, what -- no, never mind," he said hastily as Snape tried to speak, and cried in pain instead. "Miranda, we'll need to get him to bed -- I don't think Poppy will want to move him to the Infirmary, not in this shape --"
I nodded and gently disentangled Snape's hand from my gown, placing it in Headmaster's shaking hands as I rose and went to ready Ian's room.
I heard Poppy floo in as I was turning down the bed, and her shocked murmurs as well as she looked Snape over; when I made for the bathroom to gather up flannels and towels and a basin of water, she had Levitated Snape and was floating him toward the room, Headmaster gently supporting his head. He'd passed out by then -- at least, I hoped that was all it was.
I took longer in the bathroom than I should have done. My hands were shaking so badly that the water kept slopping over the edge of the basin, and I had to stop for some long, calming breaths before I could walk it to Ian's bedroom.
They'd gotten him arranged on the bed, and Albus was helping Poppy strip him of his clothing when I entered.
"Miranda, I'll need --" Poppy started to say sharply, "-- oh, good girl," she muttered. "Bring them here and start cleaning him up while we finish this." Poppy's hands were deft and competent, but Albus', I was frightened to note, were shaking as badly as mine.
I started at Snape's face, carefully dabbing at the cuts and abrasions: he started to come round at one point, eyelids fluttering, and I barely had time to bring the flannel to his mouth before he coughed up more blood and bile.
"You finish this, Albus -- I need to start," Poppy murmured with a faint hint of alarm, and she whipped out her wand and began working on his torso, eyes closed in concentration as she scanned him for whatever injury was causing the internal bleeding. Albus and I worked around her, cutting off the rest of his clothes (the man even had buttons on his trouser cuffs, for God's sake), and wiping the gore and muck off his body.
The Mark was livid, and the heat coming off it warmed the flannel in my fingers. And even worse, it looked as though someone had tried to obliterate it from his arm: the runes were criss-crossed with thick, slashing burns, as if someone had pressed a branding iron into it.
Or the red-hot tip of a wand.
The surrounding skin was deeply bruised, as was most of the rest of his body, and I winced involuntarily when I reached his pelvis, while Poppy was still preoccupied with his upper torso. Someone had done just about the worst to Snape that anyone can do to a male short of castrating him, and they had excellent aim: his lower abdomen was covered with livid bruises.
"What's the damage this time?" Albus asked Poppy in an undertone when she'd finished with the worst of it.
"Lacerated liver and a punctured lung -- one of his ribs is shattered, and several others are broken. He's probably torn his oesophagus from all the retching, as well," she said grimly. "Numerous broken bones in the hands, obviously -- and I don't know what to do about the teeth; I can set them back in if I have them, but if not it's a trip to St. Mungo's --"
"Pocket," the patient muttered, startling the three of us. Albus picked up the tatters of Snape's topcoat, checked one of the pockets, and withdrew numerous teeth and splinters thereof in his knarled hand.
"Weren't about to leave them with any part of you, were you Severus?" he noted dryly, and Snape let out a pained, rusty chuckle.
"Bloody right," he managed to articulate.
"Well, that saves you a lot of trouble in the long run," Poppy said pragmatically, "not that you'll need them for a day or two. You've got a lovely jaw fracture as well as a concussion. Merlin's beard, Severus, I'd swear you have nine lives -- and you've used several of them tonight."
"Not that it matters," Snape mumbled. "Albus -- I'm out. He's discovered it, and threw me to them after he had his fun." The ghastly, wounded laughter bubbled up from him again, and he gasped, "I'm not wanted in heaven or in hell, it appears...."
"Nonsense, boy," Albus said gently, and moved to Snape's head to stroke the damp, filthy hair from his brow. "Not that I'd call Hogwarts heaven, but you're wanted here, and by more people than I think you know."
"They're planning something, Albus -- I couldn't get it all --" Snape said in desperation, and clutched at the older man's dressing gown.
"Never mind for now, my boy, it will wait," Albus said.
He never got the rest of it out; Albus firmly placed his hand on Snape's forehead; Snape's eyelids fluttered briefly, closed, and the clenched hand fell limply to the bed.
"Do what you can, Poppy," he said softly. "We'll be outside if you need us."
She nodded. "You might want to call some Elves. The bedding will want changing when I'm done."
Albus and I slipped from the room; he took one look at me, pulled me to him briefly for a squidge, and whispered, "Best clean yourself up. I'll make us some tea," and gently pushed me toward the bath.
I caught a good look at myself in the mirror (which mercifully kept its mouth shut) as I bent over the basin: I looked like a vampire victim from a Hammer film, my gown soaked with a good bit of Snape's blood, and smears of it on my face where I'd brushed my hair back.
A quick clean-up with a flannel wasn't going to help this. I peeled off the sticky gown and stepped under the shower, letting the hot water soak in as I held myself upright against the stall.
I was afraid that if I let my knees go, I'd never get up without help.
"Better?" he asked as he handed it to me and slipped a comforting arm about my shoulders.
"Not much," I muttered as I buried my nose in the steaming mug. "Sorry I panicked on the floo. It was a bloody miracle he'd made it here, and that was before I'd even seen the worst of it."
"I think you're allowed," he retorted dryly. "Even Poppy was shocked, and she and I have seen him in bad shape. Nothing like this, though."
"Can she really --?"
"She'll pull him through, although I suspect this will take a long time. It depends a great deal on Severus himself. She can patch him up, but if he...." He trailed off on the thought, unwilling to voice the rest of it. "I think the greatest danger is that he'll decide he's useless, now. So you and I are going to have our work cut out for us.
"They may not have intended to kill him, but I think the best thing to do for now is keep him hidden. Perhaps they'll think he splinched before he made it back. So I'd like him to stay here. He'd be better off in the Infirmary, of course, but the public ward's full right now -- all those cases of Elf-flu --"
It caused mild cold-like symptoms in the Elves, but decidedly nasty viral symptoms in the humans.
"-- and it would be difficult to keep his presence a secret in the private ward under the circumstances. And he'll be in no shape to stay in his rooms by himself for several days. Would you object to keeping an eye on him? It will help Poppy as well, as she and Molly have their hands full."
"That'll be fine."
"Good. I've already talked to Winky and Dobby, and they'll help you," he added: obviously he'd known I wouldn't object. "You'll need to stay with him around the clock, so we'll say you have the flu as well, and I'll arrange for someone to take your classes for the next few days. I'll take Severus' classes myself.
"The worst bit -- besides his fractiousness, when he starts feeling more himself -- will be the after-effects of Crucio. I assume that's what he meant by Voldemort's 'fun.' You should expect some tremors and unsteadiness at best, but sometimes, when it's been applied with... gusto, it can result in outright seizures, and I can't tell you what to expect when you add the other injuries to that. He'd best stay in bed as long as you can keep him there. Good luck with that," he said grimly.
"As to the emotional ramifications... keep him occupied as best you can. I'll bring round some of his journals and books -- if we can get him interested in some of his old research, we might be able to keep him from outright depression. He may refuse to look at it altogether, though, and you'll have to find some other way to distract him."
I snorted a bit derisively at that, and Albus raised one bushy eyebrow in response. "Oh, I think you can manage it. He came to you, after all."
"Of course he did. The patio's closer to the gates than the Infirmary corridor," I blurted out in surprise.
"Oh, no, my dear," Albus said with a tired smile. "I mean, yes, that's true. But my office is even closer, and that's where he usually heads first, wounded or not."
It didn't quite sink in, at the time: I'm afraid I just stared at Albus, befuddled, and he took pity on me, dropping the subject with a squeeze of my shoulder.
"He'll stay here, Poppy. Miranda, Winky and Dobby will care for him."
"Good." Her face was ashen. She'd put a lot of healing charms on Snape, and she was done in. "He'll need constant minding tonight, I'm afraid, and a lot of potions when you can keep them down him."
"I'll sit with him now so Miranda can get some sleep," Albus volunteered.
"He's awake now, and asking for both of you -- the Somnifer Charm didn't last long, Albus, and that worries me. Don't let him talk too much. I'll leave some written instructions with the potions, and check back in the morning." And she moved to my desk and began writing down Snape's course of treatment.
"Go ahead." Albus gave me a nudge. "Tell him I'll be there momentarily."
I pulled myself up and stumbled into the room.
He was curled up protectively around his wounded gut, his back to the door, so I walked 'round to the other side of the bed and knelt beside it.
His eyelids shot open, and his cracked lips worked briefly, without voice; I reached into the now-fresh basin of water and wet them with my fingers, and then dabbed at his sweaty forehead with a flannel.
"Sorry," he managed to croak.
"Oh, Good God, don't be an eejit," I muttered. "On second thought, Albus tells me you're a bloody awful patient, so I'll keep the apology in mind for future reference."
"Won't be long," he mumbled with another ghastly chuckle through his swollen mouth. (Poppy'd set his teeth back in as she'd indicated, and it was easier to understand him now, but he still looked like hell, his face one massive bruise.) "Need to... don't think anyone will... bother with you now, but... be careful...."
"Don't worry, I've no more trips planned, even to Hogsmeade."
He shifted painfully and clenched at my wrist where it lay on the edge of the bed. "Want you to know... know it's been difficult."
I snorted. "Not nearly as bad as it's been for you. Try to rest, Severus. Albus is going to stay with you through the night."
His bloodied eyes bored into me, and the fingers on my wrist tightened; I winced, feeling the delicate bones of his hand shift in distinctly unnatural ways. "I wish... if anyone, would have been... needed to tell you before I... go...."
I shifted away from him in alarm, and tore my eyes away from his to glance at Albus, standing in the door, his eyes shocked. He'd obviously heard.
I was furious -- shocked and touched, too, but undeniably furious.
You great stupid lummox, if you think I'm going to make it so easy for you to leave... well, you've got another thing coming, you have.
"Oh, no, you don't," I growled at Snape through the lump in my throat. "No bloody deathbed confessions, do you hear me? It can damn well wait until you're back on your feet so you can tell me like a man."
Severus stared back at me, and his lips worked convulsively for a moment before he settled for a glare.
I'd ruined his grand gesture.
"Let's assume that means 'wench,' and confine it to that, shall we?" I retorted brightly. "I can supply the rest, I've heard it often enough. Besides, Albus is here, and you know how nosy he is."
That kept him from further attempts at comment: he released my wrist, painfully rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling.
"Go get some sleep, Miranda," Albus said quietly as he pulled a chair over to the bed. "You, too," he sternly instructed Snape, who managed another fine glare, this time in Albus' direction.
"Gods," I heard him mumble as I rose and left the room. "Worst nightmare... at the mercy of... you three."
Back to BNW Index
The teeth business: I have a horrible, uneasy feeling that I've lifted this from someone -- it seems vaguely familiar, but I can't find it -- I lost a lot of files when my old computer crashed. (Quillusion has Hermione healing and fixing his teeth in Soul Searching, but this isn't the one I'm thinking of.) If you know a fic which uses this, please tell me ASAP, and I will contact the author or remove the offending passages immediately. (Can Skele-Gro replace teeth? I doubt it: once your adult teeth are in, that's about it -- they don't reknit if cracked or broken. But who knows what else Poppy Pomfrey might have up her sleeve.)
'Somnifer': lit. sleep-bringing.