BURNING – Part 2
1997; after Deathly Hallows
(Raven is OFC by Nakita Akita, http://www.restrictedsection.org/story.php?story=2576)
Severus, dead... the truth sank in
Alice was there, her wife, companion, fellow witch and animagus, soothing, supporting.
Thanks to their romps in the park in animal form, Catrin was able to get some sleep, but for several days she did not trust herself to treat patients. Cancelling most of her out-patient appointments, she left the clinic routine in the care of her two assistants, and asked them not to call her except in a genuine emergency. Catrin’s apprentice, Stephen, requested time off from work to care for an ill relative. On the next day he appeared at Catrin’s and Alice’s door, ready to help take care of his mentor. Alice gave him a talking-to, forced him to receive payment for his work, and accepted his help with gratitude.
The depression was at its worst in the morning. Listless and filled with a numb ache, Catrin struggled out of bed, seeing no point in the exercise. She had authorised Alice and Stephen to use mild force to get her to shower, dress and take some nourishment. She was picking at a bowl of yoghurt with muesli and fruit when the tawny owl appeared at the kitchen window.
Alice let the bird in, served it a piece of liverwurst, and untied the letter from its leg.
Catrin opened it and read:
“Dear Healer Achrya!
I deeply regret to inform you that Professor Severus Snape, potions master at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, has given his life in battle against the Dark Lord Voldemort.
Professor Snape listed you as his next of kin. I urgently need to consult you as to his funeral arrangements and his last will and testament. Kindly use the enclosed portkey to visit me at Hogwarts any time after 3 p.m. on the day you receive this message.
Should you be unable to meet the appointment, please suggest some alternative times by returning owl.
The stressful aftermath of the dramatic events that we have just lived through forces me to this bluntness and insistence, for which I apologise.
Sincere condolences and kind regards,
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry”
Catrin handed the parchment to Alice to read. She put down her spoon, and turned the silk-wrapped portkey in her fingers. Then she looked listlessly at her wife.
“I’ll be there. Please send her a note.”
Alice gave her a brief hug, kissed the top of her head, and picked up a quill to send a message with the returning bird.
--- --- ---
The elderly witch’s piercing blue eyes had a tired watery gleam to them.
“Healer Achrya,” she said, holding out a sinewy hand.
Catrin clasped her hand in greeting. “Professor McGonagall. I do wish we might have met under happier circumstances.”
“As do I,” said the professor. “I’m rather puzzled with you being named as next of kin. Professor Snape had no living relatives that anyone knew of, and he never mentioned you to any of us at Hogwarts.”
She motioned Catrin to a tall upholstered chair by the fireplace, and took a seat in a similar chair herself.
“We were not related by blood,” Catrin explained. “We met years ago, in America, at graduate school. I believe that Headmaster Dumbledore intended for Severus to keep that section of his life apart from the rest. ”
The older witch nodded with a glance at the portrait of a grey-bearded bespectacled wizard on the wall.
“You might call us surrogate siblings,” Catrin went on. “We became quite close at Greylock, but then the realities of life kept us apart. We co-authored some scientific papers. Aside from that we got together perhaps once or twice a year, picked up instantly where we’d left off, just like family when things are good.”
Catrin felt her voice close to cracking. She broke off and stared into the fire, blinking hard. Then she turned her head and her eyes met McGonagall’s scrutiny.
The Headmistress picked up a blue glass vial from a small table by her elbow.
“Then you won’t mind going through a test,” she stated, rather than asked.
“What is it?”
“Something that Professor Snape left together with his will. You should add at least three drops of your blood to the vial, wait one minute, and drink the contents.”
“Will you permit me to examine a sample of the potion first?” Catrin asked. “Under the circumstances, I need to be careful as well. ”
“I wouldn’t expect anything else, if you are what you claim to be.”
The older witch removed a used teacup from its saucer, poured a few drops of the potion into the saucer and handed it to the healer.
Catrin tilted the saucer and watched the viscous orange liquid leave a thick shiny trace on the white china. Then she smelled the potion, dipped a finger in it, rubbed it between a finger and a thumb, smelled it again with a slight, wry smile. She picked up another drop on her finger, tasted it, and blinked back tears again as her throat constricted in a sudden, physically painful attack of nostalgia.
“I have absolutely no objection,” she said quietly. “May I draw my own blood, or would you prefer to do it yourself?”
“It’s closer to your area of expertise,” McGonagall said, “and I rather think I’d notice if you tried to cheat.”
Catrin looked around, and her eyes stopped on the professor’s black hat atop a knot of grey hair.
“I’ll borrow one of your hat pins, if I may.”
The headmistress reached up and withdrew one of the ornaments. It was over five inches long and looked viciously sharp. Catrin cleaned it with a brief wandless charm. Then she squeezed the top of her left middle finger with the thumb, and calmly, almost casually, jabbed the point of the needle in it. When she withdrew the needle, a large dark red drop appeared on her fingertip. Shifting the needle between her fingers, she motioned for the vial.
“Count along with me, please,” she said.
McGonagall’s eyes followed her every move as she squeezed her fingertip once again and clearly, distinctly, let five drops of her blood drip into the potion. They waited. Shortly there was a slight hissing sound, and a small white cloud rose from the vial.
“Is this what you were expecting?” Catrin asked.
The headmistress nodded. “There should be a scent resembling cinnamon,” she added.
Catrin sensed a whiff of it as she handed the vial to the other woman who sniffed at it, nodded, and returned the vial to the healer.
Catrin raised it with an ironic tilt of her eyebrow.
“To absent friends,” she said, and tipped the contents of the vial into her mouth.
The two women sat in silence, Catrin looking into the flames on the hearth in light meditation, the headmistress watching her in a scrutiny that grew less critical with each moment when no adverse effects of the potion became manifest.
Finally Catrin broke the silence.
“Severus’ potions were quite efficient. If I was to crumble in a groaning heap, clawing at my throat and with foam dripping from my mouth, I rather believe it would have happened by now.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever felt better. Not since I sensed Severus die, anyway.”
“You sensed it?”
“We were in rapport when he died,” Catrin said dryly, taking refuge in clinical detachment.
“Yet you tell me that you were not related by blood?”
“Not in the least. I’m almost purely Slavic. One of my great-grandmothers was Tibetan – that’s where the ‘almost’ comes in.”
“And... you were not... lovers?”
“I have a wife. Sorry if it shocks or offends you. One of Severus’ pet names for me was ‘you twisted dyke’.”
McGonagall chuckled, checked herself and glanced at Catrin.
“It’s all right to laugh,” said the healer. “It was all in good fun.”
“Now you shock me. Severus Snape, making fun?”
“Well... his life over here didn’t offer that many opportunities for humour.”
The headmistress could only nod her head in assent.
“Now that you have me... hm... verified,” Catrin changed the subject, “I believe there were issues you wanted to discuss with me?”
“Yes. By the way, I’m Minerva.”
Once more the two women shook hands.
“Before we get down to business,” the headmistress suggested, “perhaps you would like to... say good-bye.”
--- --- ---
Catrin had never seen Severus’ study at
Now she understood how it might feel frightening to students, but to herself the dungeon chamber was simply a protected oasis of peace and quiet, a place for focused work and silent memories.
One of the four stone walls was covered with shelves containing all sorts of glass and metal implements of potions making: bottles, beakers, tubes, retorts, mortars, cauldrons... together with a closet of standard ingredients that did not require special storage.
Another wall, floor to ceiling, corner to
corner, supported a reference library. The black stain had worn off the centres
of the steps of the stepladder in front of it, so that bare wood was shining through.
Opposite the entrance and the rack of protective equipment – smocks, aprons, gloves, goggles – there was a desk by the fourth wall, and two high-backed chairs with a small table between them.
The centre of the room was dominated by a massive work bench, about waist high, eight feet long by four wide. The black marble top had been cleared of all implements to accommodate the still figure of a tall man. About three feet from the bench, a little to the side of the figure’s head, was a stand with a simple, unadorned stone basin filled with water. On a metal tripod in the middle of the basin, a short, thick, white candle burned with a steady flame.
Severus Snape’s body might have been a wax effigy, the face somewhat more tinged with yellow than in his lifetime. The black hair, falling away from the sharply etched profile, had glints of silver that might be mistaken for a trick of the light. A black shirt was buttoned loosely about his neck that was swollen from the effects of the snake venom. A brocade cover in Slytherin dark green and silver draped the abdomen and legs. The body’s left hand, also somewhat swollen, covered the right at waist level, with Severus’ dark, worn wand wedged between the hands and the body.
Catrin swallowed the lump in her throat and looked, long, thoroughly, purposefully observing and taking in the reality of her friend’s death. She touched the black hair in a semblance of a caress, touched the cold forehead with her lips, felt the stiff, cold, waxy cheek and ran the backs of her curled fingers over it in an old, familiar gesture. The body’s hands had the same cold feel of wax-covered wood. The real wood of the wand felt almost more alive. Catrin touched it with her fingertips, and a last hint of a familiar presence tingled through her hand. Her throat constricted again. As she swallowed through the obstacle, tears broke free from her eyes and ran, unchecked, across her cheeks, into the corners of her mouth, down her chin.
She turned to stare into the flame of the candle, and its reflection in the water in the basin. She had no idea how long she stood there, her two feet planted firmly on the ground, tears running down her face.
Finally she was able to look at the dead man’s yellowish face, take a deep, focusing breath, and wipe her own face with a handkerchief. She coughed, spoke a phrase that ended in a croak, sighed and coughed again, found her voice. She had not spoken Tibetan in a long time, and the first lines of the ancient ritual felt clumsy. Soon she fell into the old, familiar rhythm, and the prayer went on smoothly. She was not a believer, not a religious person at all, but the good intentions and wishes of the “bardo” prayer for the peaceful passing of the soul, together with the physical feel of the burry murmurous vocal drone like a cat’s purring, brought a calm, consolation and strength beyond faith, beyond intellect, beyond conscious thought.
The prayer ended, she took another deep breath and scooped up some water from the basin beneath the candle. She let the water trickle from her fingers onto her head, repeated the gesture, and again a third time.
Catrin stood straight, quiet, collected; she bowed to the still body of Severus Snape, her friend, and left the room.
--- --- ---
“Who or what is Raven?” asked the headmistress, handing Catrin a parchment across her desk. “There’s a very strange codicil in Severus’ will, relating to someone by that name.”
Catrin scanned through the paragraphs.
Severus had left Raven his house in Spinner’s End to dispose of as she wished, and one third of his rather substantial balance at Gringott’s, on two conditions:
1) that she enrol in an academic programme of her choice, magical or not, starting with the academic term immediately following his death;
2) that she make a serious attempt at a personal relationship within a year of his death.
Otherwise, his bequest to her would revert to the scholarship trust that the remainder of his money was funding, leaving Raven with just a few keepsakes of affective value.
“Raven was Severus’ lover,” Catrin said bluntly. “He’s telling her to get on with her life.”
“His lover? So, where does his devotion to Lily Evans come in?”
“The memory of Lily was what kept him alive. Protecting her son was his redemption. It was the only true meaning of his life. But being physically faithful to Lily’s memory would have helped no-one, only disturbed him. Raven... Raven gave him balance. She was his safety valve, the outlet for his good side.”
“I thought you were that,” Minerva frowned.
“I was his big sister. I was the sparring partner who wouldn’t break, who could match him spell for spell, and patch him up when his experiments misfired. He did the same for me. We knew and trusted each other implicitly. He needed that, but it made me a poor vehicle for romance and feminine mystique.”
“Surely Severus had no need for that?”
“How do you know? For that matter, how should he know, without ever even allowing himself the thought?”
“So, with Raven...?”
“He had an opportunity to be Prince Charming, to woo and win her. He could do the most extravagant magic just to make her smile. She gave him back the sense of wonder that wasn’t there when magic was just an instrument, a weapon. It was good for him. She was good for him. She made him stronger and braver for what he had to do... here.”
“Perhaps, but... do you know if there was some sort of understanding? Did he make any promises?”
“Raven isn’t a blushing virgin. She was stranded in Spinner’s End after the wreck of a marriage – it was the only housing she could afford on her wages from the book shop she works in. She is feminine and romantic, but she wasn’t expecting Severus to make an honest woman of her and keep her as his homemaker.”
“That wasn’t really what I was asking.”
“I know they had exuberant daydreams... but Severus never promised her a ‘happily ever after’. Possibly a trip to Venice when things calmed down. Basically, to be totally honest... I think he knew.”
“He knew what?”
“That he wouldn’t get through this alive. After the war his task would be over, so nothing else really mattered.”
“Yes... probably,” Minerva said, mostly to herself. Then, to Catrin:
“Do you know where to find this Lady Raven?”
“Yes. And we can’t just send her an owl. Where can I apparate from?”
“You’ll have to walk to the village. I’m sorry – security reasons. It’s never been possible to apparate to or from Hogwarts. It would be best if you could bring Raven back here, by portkey. It goes to the corridor outside Severus’ rooms, and it works any time you touch it and say ‘Princeps’.”
The portkey was an actual key, large and heavy, made of brass. Catrin slipped it back into its silk pouch and took her leave.
--- --- ---
The woman who was closing the book shop told Catrin that Raven had left early – it had been her day to open the shop. Catrin turned the corner into an alley, and apparated to Spinner’s End. She barely glanced at Severus’ house, dark and more lonely-looking than ever. There would be time for nostalgia later.
The lights were on in the small house across the street. Catrin braced herself and rang the doorbell.
Raven opened the door, looking tired and serious.
“Catrin!” she drew her inside. “Do you know anything about Severus? I’m so worried!”
“Yes, I’ve come about Severus,” Catrin herded the younger woman unobtrusively into the living room. “I’m afraid I have bad news.”
“He’s hurt again? At your clinic? Or has he been taken prisoner?”
Both of them had sat down on the couch. Catrin looked away, and then she looked straight at Raven.
“Raven, there’s no nice way to say this. I’m terribly sorry. Severus is dead.”
Raven sat perfectly still for a moment, looking at nothing. Then she flew up and launched herself at Catrin.
“No! No, he is not, you disgusting lying jealous pervert! It isn’t true!”
Catrin sat still, only shielding her head from the blows that Raven’s hands dealt her. Raven slapped her arms, her shoulders, again and again. After a while she stepped back, but went on screaming:
“Go away, you’re lying, go away and leave us alone, go back to your pervert wife!!!”
She turned and was about to run out of the room, when Catrin stood up and grabbed her by the shoulders. Raven looked straight into her eyes and said with deceptive calm:
“He’ll come back soon. The war will be over, he’ll come home and we’ll go to Venice. He promised. We’ll go to Venice. He promised. He promised.”
“I’m sorry, Raven,” Catrin said quietly. “Severus won’t be able to keep that promise.”
She put an arm around the other woman’s shoulders and steered her back to the couch. They sat down, Raven sobbing loudly, like a child.
Catrin beckoned with her fingers in a wordless spell, and a glass of water came floating through the air from the kitchen. Catrin put it in Raven’s hand and directed it to her mouth.
“Drink. It’s only water.”
Raven twisted her head to the side.
“You don’t want it,” Catrin went on, “but you need it. Drink. You must.”
Raven gulped down some water, sobbing into the glass.
Catrin helped her to hold the glass away from her mouth, her other arm stroking the young woman’s back, slowly, gently. Raven’s breathing calmed a little and Catrin helped her to some more water.
“The war is over,” Catrin explained. “We are alive and not slaves or prisoners, to a great extent thanks to Severus. He did not personally kill the Dark Lord, but his effort made the victory possible. He helped to save the wizarding world from slavery, and the non-wizarding world from being wiped out.”
She was aware that Raven neither listened nor cared, but she knew that the sound of a friendly voice would eventually help the young woman to connect to reality again.
Like a child, Raven wiped her face with her hands, and asked through tears and sobs:
“How did it happen?”
“A snake. Voldemort set a venomous snake on him.”
“Was it painful, do you know?”
“For a while, probably. Then the poison numbed his senses. And Severus had an important message to pass on to someone on our side, so he focused on that effort. You know how strong he could be when it really mattered.”
“But not strong enough!!!”
“No, not strong enough to survive. If it helps, I don’t think it’s fair either.”
They sat in silence, Catrin’s arm still around Raven’s shoulders. Raven put down the glass, grabbed for Catrin’s other hand and clung to it.
“Where is he?” Raven asked.
“In his study at Hogwarts. Would you like to say good-bye?”
“Yes. No! ... I don’t know. Do I have to?”
“The choice is yours. You should, though.”
“Why?! I think you’re cruel. Why can’t I remember... keep the memory... ”
“Because you wouldn’t get to keep the good memories in peace. After a while you’d start speculating... imagining things... having nightmares. If you can’t find the strength to face reality, your imagination will fabricate monsters.”
“Is that something from your books about the mind?”
“It’s that, too. But it’s from real life as well.”
“Oh... You see, I’ve never... seen anyone...”
“A dead person?”
Raven nodded. Catrin pulled her a little closer.
“You’ll be all right. There’s nothing messy. And I’ll stay with you as long as you like.”
“Thank you,” Raven said in a small voice. And a little louder: “Can we go now?”
“Of course. You may want to bring some things, to stay a few nights.”
“I don’t think you should be alone, and it’s better for you to be around people who knew Severus. Then, the headmistress wants to see you about the funeral arrangements, and about Severus’ will. And, you probably don’t feel like it now, but you should stay for the funeral, for your own sake. Don’t worry. It won’t be a big official affair. Severus expressly forbade that.”
--- --- ---
The portkey dropped them in the dungeon corridor outside the metal-studded door to the Potion Master’s quarters. Catrin lifted the wards and opened the door. Raven hesitated, but when she saw only a small hallway filled floor to ceiling with books, she followed Catrin inside.
“So this is where... ” Raven said haltingly.
“Where Severus lived and worked, yes,” Catrin filled in. “Would you like to see the other rooms, before we go into the study?”
“No. Maybe later. Some day. Could I just see him now, and then get some rest?”
“Of course. We’ll go inside in a moment. Just so you know what to expect: the body is laid out on Severus’ work bench in the centre of the room. His eyes are closed and he looks quite calm. There is no disfiguration, only the neck and one hand are swollen a little from the poison. It’s all right to touch him – there is no residue of the poison, and the preserving spell on the body is harmless.”
Raven nodded slowly. Without looking at Catrin, she asked:
“What does it feel like?”
“The body? Hard and smooth, like wax or thick, supple leather on wood. Cold, but not clammy.”
Again, Raven nodded, and looked at the three doors as if trying to guess which one to use. Catrin motioned towards the middle one:
“This way,” she said, and opened the door.
Raven passed through the doorway slowly, straight-backed, wide-eyed. Catrin followed a few steps behind, ready to give whatever assistance she could, if needed.
Raven stopped about three feet from the work bench, looked at the body, and back at Catrin. She was pale and her hands shook a little, but she seemed quite collected.
“Would you like to be alone?” Catrin asked.
Once more Raven nodded without a sound.
“I’ll be waiting for you just outside,” Catrin said calmly. “Take the time you need. You have no obligation to stay long, but there is no hurry. And it’s all right to cry, or to be angry. There’s a silencing spell on the room, so no-one will know.”
Catrin withdrew, and closed the door gently. She looked at some of the bookshelves, took down a small, ancient-looking tome, blew the dust from its top and opened it.
--- --- ---
“What is it Hogwarts does to people?” Minerva asked.
She had met Raven briefly, just long enough for an introduction and a bare mention of the funeral and the will. They would talk more when Raven was rested. Catrin settled Raven in the room they would share near the Headmaster’s office, gave her a sleeping potion, set a Healer’s monitoring charm on her, and re-joined Minerva.
“What do you mean?”
“Raven speaks of Severus with such love, affection and respect, and you do the same. Both of you only knew him outside the school. At Hogwarts he was harassed and ridiculed before he made his fateful choice. After that, he was feared and loathed. Some colleagues had a grudging respect for him, but there was never any affection.”
“Not even from Headmaster Dumbledore?”
“Yes, in a way. But Albus couldn’t afford to concern himself too much with individuals. He saw the means to an end. A good and crucially important end, but his strategic thinking prevented him from being completely, unreservedly open and affectionate with anyone.”
“Raven and I were privileged. We got to see something of the Severus who might have been.”
“If it hadn’t been for Hogwarts.”
“No, no. If
you’ll allow me to speculate, from what he told me about his childhood,
if not at Hogwarts, he’d have been harassed somewhere else, and probably
joined the Dark to get back at his tormentors. Without Hogwarts he wouldn’t
have been able to develop his gifts, cultivate his love of knowledge, learn
whatever it was that drove him to make the right choice after Lily’s death, and
continue making the right choices again
and again with unbelievable persistence and courage. Don’t doubt or demean Hogwarts. Learn from Severus’ fate. Let Hogwarts improve still more by it.”
“Help me, then,” Minerva said. “Come here and teach. Re-building the school will mean a lot of hard work. We need someone with your perspective, your optimism.”
“No – I can’t leave my clinic, and I won’t leave my wife, for that long. I’ll help out in your infirmary while I’m here. I’ll come back as often as I’m able to leave my patients. And later, if you have any fifth- or sixth-years seriously interested in healing, I’ll be happy to organise something for them at my place.”
“Thank you. I appreciate that.”
“We’ll have time to discuss Severus’ will in detail later,” Minerva changed the subject, “but there is one bequest that you have to claim now.”
“Bequest? I need or want nothing. Well... perhaps some keepsake. I’ll leave the choice to you.”
“Severus has left you his personal library, including his research notes and his collection of ancient alchemy books.”
“That’s wonderful. I know that he had some real treasures. But it’s going to take time; we’ll have to go through the collection together, so I don’t remove anything belonging to Hogwarts, or anything that the school needs.”
“There will be time for that. But one object won’t wait. You have to claim it before the funeral, otherwise the wards that Severus left will destroy it when the funeral rites begin.”
Catrin stared into the fire for a few moments. Then she looked at Minerva and said tonelessly:
“What is it?”
“Over there,” the headmistress pointed to a sideboard by the wall.
The dark object was rendered still more indistinct by the shadows that enfolded it.
Catrin stood up and took a few steps in its direction.
It was Severus’ old oaken potions chest.
Suddenly she was back at Greylock, at the time of their graduate studies, the dark gleam of the polished wood, its smooth texture and the spicey, tangy, clean smell of the contents assaulting her senses, everything coming back, odd experiments, failures, successes, Severus’ eyes clouded with worry at her injury, or flashing with joy when they accomplished a new spell together... Memories overwhelmed her, head spinning, knees buckling, eyes smarting, throat constricting, she groped for support and found Minerva’s hand to clutch at.
“I can’t,” she mumbled. “Not yet. If I open it, I’ll fall apart. I’m sorry. It’s impossible.”
Supporting her, slowly, step by minute step, Minerva led her toward the sideboard.
“You don’t want it to disintegrate, to disappear for ever,” she insisted.
“No, but I can’t touch it yet,” Catrin said. “I must have more time.”
“You don’t have to touch it,” Minerva said firmly, “but you must acknowledge the wards and add your own to them. Take out your wand!”
Mechanically, Catrin complied.
They were standing in front of the chest. Catrin supported herself on the sideboard with her left hand, and forced herself to look at the chest. Minerva’s arm was around her back when her knees threatened to give again. She took a ragged but deep breath, another one, focusing as though for a major magical task.
“Reach out to the wards, now!” Minerva ordered.
Catrin’s wand rose and approached the chest close to the lock.
The familiar mental signature made her groan in pain. Then she forced herself deeper into focus, accepting the familiar mind touch that she would never sense again, tracing the firm, secure wards without unraveling them, joining her signature with his across time, the energies interlacing smoothly, the pleasure of the flow piercing and wringing her with the pain of the loss.
The combined wards flashed in completion and Catrin’s vision went black.
She recovered her senses in the tall upholstered chair, with Minerva holding a cup of tea to her lips. The tea was not too strong and had no milk or sugar in it, and Catrin gulped it down gratefully.
“I’m sorry,” she murmured. “I made a total ass of myself. Falling apart like a twelve-year-old.”
“It’s all right,” said Minerva, “it’s known as feelings. Nothing to be ashamed of.”
She re-filled Catrin’s tea cup and handed it to her.
“Yes,” Catrin replied sheepishly. “That’s what I’d say to anyone else.”
“I’m a healer. Control mania goes with the territory.”
“It would. Well, you saved the chest, anyway.”
“I’d have hated to lose it. Thank you for the push, and for picking up the pieces.”
“Don’t mention it. I still can’t get over someone caring for Severus that much.”
“I never had any siblings. He was the best brother I could have wished for.”
“Are you up to talking about the funeral?” Minerva asked after Catrin’s third cup of tea.
“Yes, yes. We have to. Did Severus leave any instructions?”
“Severus found a very ancient ritual, almost completely silent, and adapted it himself.”
“Which one?” Catrin asked.
“The Fire of the Four Winds. But he re-configured it for one single officiator.”
“Did he appoint one?”
“No,” the headmistress answered quietly. “I think that he just didn’t believe...”
“... that there would be four willing guardians?”
“Do we prove him wrong?”
“Well, you and me, makes two. For the North and the West, I think.”
“Raven, for the South.”
“Isn’t she a Muggle?”
“No. Her powers may not be very strong. They are completely raw, and deeply suppressed – she’s always been taught that magic doesn’t exist. But, given her potential for mind work, I frankly don’t believe she’s a Muggle.”
“Ever use a wand?”
“I don’t know. Do you have any spare ones she could try?”
“A few. In fact... What would you say about rowan and dragon scale?”
“A bit incongruous. But then, so is Raven. It could work.”
“Here,” Minerva opened a drawer and handed Catrin a purple silk pouch.
Catrin opened it and slid out a slim, honey-coloured wand.
“Talk to Raven,” Minerva said. “Have her try it. And I’ll see about a Guardian of the East.”
“Who might that be?”
“Think about it. We three women and how we related to Severus. There’s one blatantly missing.”
“Lily, who is dead.”
“Her son is alive, thanks to Severus.”
“Yes... Severus found peace, at the very end, when he saw Lily in Harry Potter’s eyes.”
“Oh... you were there. I’d almost forgotten. I’m sorry.”
Catrin waved away the apology, not
trusting herself to speak for a moment.
The older woman went on:
“I’ll speak to Harry. He used to hate Severus, but a lot of things have changed. I think he’ll want to stand in his mother’s place.”
--- --- ---
Raven staggered out of the Headmaster’s office with tears in her eyes.
She fumbled for the door handle and stumbled into the guest room that she and Catrin were sharing. She threw herself face down onto her bed and cried, cried, as if she would never stop, the tears rising from the very core of her being, gathering in her throat, pouring out of her eyes, on and on. The pillow muffled her sobs, and she beat and beat and beat the mattress with her fist, a wordless scream accompanying each blow. Then she went on sobbing, less loudly, almost normal breaths intermingling with the sobs.
She felt a hand on her shoulder.
“That’s right,” a low voice said. “Let go. You are safe here.”
The hand left her shoulder, stroked her hair a few times, went on stroking her back.
The voice went on murmuring reassurance, soothing, supporting her as she slowly calmed down a little.
She rolled over onto her side and looked up at Catrin, who was sitting sideways on the edge of the mattress.
“I want Severus. I don’t want his money, or his house. I want Severus to come back!”
“Of course you do. You don’t stop loving someone just because he is dead.”
“It hurts. Why did he do that to me?”
“Dying? He’d have preferred to live, and find some joy with you after the war. But first and foremost Vodemort had to be defeated, regardless of the personal cost. Many people have lost their loved ones in the war.”
“No, I don’t mean that. I mean the will.”
“Severus knew what it was like, living for and through the memory of someone. He didn’t want that for you. The war is over, and you have no atonement to make, the way Severus had. His will gives you the greatest gift he could imagine. Your own life. The possibility to develop your potential, to find your true self and to make your own choices.”
“Without him. And he wants me to find a lover. That’s cruel!”
“Why don’t you try to leave that aside for now.”
“That’s easy for you to say!”
“Oh... I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking...”
“It’s all right. You have a right to be in pain.”
“So what should I do? How do you manage?”
“I hurt as well. I’m not impervious to pain. And I manage... one day at a time. I find an occupation. Sometimes – just staying alive is work enough. Taking in food. Keeping clean. Getting dressed.”
“You look so composed, so efficient.”
“I fell apart completely in Minerva’s office last night. It happens. You fall to pieces, and put yourself back together. If you’re lucky, someone is there to help you.”
Raven whimpered and passed a hand over her eyes.
“My head... I’m dizzy.”
“That’s normal. You’ve been crying a lot. Turn around so I can reach your head, and stretch out on your back.”
Catrin pulled up a chair to the foot end of the bed where Raven’s head rested. She cradled the young woman’s head in her hands, and felt for the small, tense muscles at the base of the skull.
“Focus on your breathing,” murmured the healer. “Feel how the air fills your body cavity, how it streams in and out.”
How long it lasted, the gentle murmur, the soft manipulation that let her neck and shoulders relax, Raven neither knew nor cared. After a while she felt pleasantly heavy, grounded, connected, not sleepy, but rested – ready to open her eyes and to start moving again.
“Good,” said the healer. “Roll over on your side, and sit up. Take your time.”
“Have you ever tried using a wand?” Catrin asked.
“Don’t,” cried Raven. “Please, don’t!”
“You know what’s wrong, you’re just being cruel!”
“I want you to tell me. Say it aloud. Give your troubles a name.”
“You have a great potential for mind
work. You’ve had no training, but there are simple ways of using your powers to
deal with your pain. This is one. I know you can do it.
– So, have you ever tried using a wand?”
“I won’t talk about it. It’s too painful. It was... it reminds me... it was with Severus!”
“Very good. Don’t talk about when and how. Just tell me what happened. What you did, and what the wand did.”
Raven took a deep, shuddering breath.
“I just waved the wand... and there were sparks... like miniature fireworks. My fingers tingled a bit. And then I... I pointed it... at the fireplace. I said... I said... ‘Fire’... and the wood just... it just started burning... just like that. I pointed it... and said ‘Fire’ and it was on fire.”
Raven spoke haltingly, once again through tears and sobs, but she did not stop until her short tale was finished.
“All right. Let’s try something,” Catrin said, walking over to the desk and picking up a long purple silk pouch from it.
Raven, curious, forgot her discomfort. She rose from the bed and came closer.
“Here,” Catrin handed the object to her. “There’s a wand inside. Take it out.”
Raven hesitated. There was a trace of fear in her glance at the healer.
“No, it’s not that one,” Catrin explained. “It’s a new wand.”
Raven drew out the piece of honey-coloured wood, and Catrin took the pouch from her hand.
“Feel the contact between your fingers and the wood,” she instructed. “Sense if there’s something you want to do. If the wand suggests a movement to you.”
Quiet, wide-eyed, Raven raised the wand and moved it in a smooth, fluid wave.
Purple and silver sparks trailed from the tip.
She repeated the gesture, varied it a little, tried again.
Each time a scatter of tiny fireworks appeared in response.
“Well, well,” smiled Catrin. “It would seem that you have a wand of your own.”
Raven nodded, her smile the only comment necessary.
Then she sobered suddenly.
“What if I can’t afford it? I don’t have... I’ve no magical money at all!”
“It’s a gift. Minerva kept it as a spare, and meeting you made her suggest that you try it. Obviously she was right. It’s a rather unusual combination, rowan wood with dragon scale core.”
Raven studied the wand closely, caressing the smooth golden wood with her fingers.
“On one condition,” Catrin added sharply.
“What?” Raven’s eyes locked with Catrin’s.
“That you work with it. That you study some magic every day. You have to explore your powers, learn to use and control them.”
“Will you teach me?”
“To begin with, yes. Later, Minerva will set up a proper curriculum for you, and work out the practical details. You will formally be a student at Hogwarts, but, of course, under different conditions than the children.”
“That would be...”
“Your academic commitment, yes. The first article of Severus’ codicil. But don’t worry too much about that. You need to learn those things in any case, and it will give you something to do. At best, to keep your mind off the sorrow occasionally.”
Raven stood musing for a moment. Catrin interrupted her.
“Let’s get started, shall we? Here’s a book of basic spells that Hogwarts students learn in their first year. You should be able to progress faster; a grown-up mind has recourse to certain shortcuts.”
Raven did prove to be a fast learner.
Catrin demonstrated several simple spells to her. Raven understood the principles almost instantly, and her control of the wand and its power improved dramatically in the first few attempts.
“Excellent,” Catrin said. “You can read on in the book, but don’t experiment on your own just yet. And get some more practice on your first spells. I expect you to be fluent at them tomorrow, so you have something to show Minerva.”
She gave Raven a brief hug and left for her stint at the Hogwarts infirmary.
Raven sat, looking at nothing, holding the wand loosely between her fingers. Then her eyes focused and she raised the wand. Once more, sparks were trailing from its tip.
Raven smiled to herself and turned her attention to the book of spells.
--- --- ---
On the day of the funeral, Catrin was frankly impressed with Raven’s poise.
It was the younger woman’s first public encounter with the wizarding world, the first time she wore a witch’s robes in earnest, her first real task to be accomplished with the aid of a wand.
As funerals go, it was probably like nothing she had ever experienced. Still, she was focused, outwardly calm, taking her cues from her surroundings like a professional actor. There was comfort to be found in the conventional occupation provided by a funeral, and Raven obviously had the strength and the intelligence to use even an unaccustomed ritual to that purpose.
According to Severus Snape’s instructions, there were no seated rows of conventional mourners going through the motions of a formal ritual, or listening to official speeches; no black-clad, sandwich-chomping, gossip-mongering crowd; no obligation to put on a show of sorrow that one did not feel. Whoever wanted to would have the opportunity to pay his or her respects. – Later, the body would be ignited with magical fire in seclusion, by the four volunteer Guardians.
The long but simple, informal farewell took place in the Potion Master’s study. At dawn, the four Guardians opened the iron-studded doors to the chambers and assumed their places by the body. They would take turns during the day, two of them always present at the dead man’s side. A portrait of Headmaster Dumbledore, moved here for the day, appeared to be supervising the proceedings from the wall opposite the entrance.
Teachers, older students, other staff, even kitchen elves and castle ghosts, all sorts of people and beings, some of them involved in the re-building of Hogwarts, some having arrived specifically for the occasion, passed by and paid their respects in varying ways.
Flowers, small stones, magical tokens were placed next to the body. Some spoke incantations; some drew magical symbols or wrote down words of power on pieces of parchment. Some stood in silent meditation; a few cried openly.
Every mourner stopped to speak with the Guardians. Some simply to shake hands and utter a vague phrase of condolences, others to share a memory of Professor Snape, some even to speak of their feeling of guilt over having neglected and distrusted him for many years.
The school was closed, so the students had no obligation to take part in the funeral of a teacher who had been almost universally disliked – but one short, chubby Ravenclaw second-year had insisted on joining her much older brother for the day. She came in, shivering with dungeon cold and her own apprehension, facing death for the first time in her life, grateful for Raven’s sympathetic arm around her shoulders.
That way she gathered enough courage to approach the still figure on the black marble bier and to whisper: “Thank you, Professor. I finally got it right.”
She slipped a small crystal vial containing a clear blue liquid onto the surface by the dead man’s head, and even touched the cloth of the black shirt with her fingertips.
Then she turned to Raven and pulled out a small book from a pocket of her robes.
“This is the Professor’s. I’d like to return it. He wasn’t sure if a young dunderhead like me could make sense of it, but it was really helpful.”
She made a small gesture towards the crystal vial.
Raven took the book and pulled the girl closer. With her other hand she held out the book to Catrin, with a questioning look.
Catrin examined it. ‘Intermediate plant extraction techniques’. Heavy going for a second-year. A magical seal showed that the book was part of Severus’ personal collection.
Catrin beckoned the girl to her in a corner by the bookshelf.
“Hello,” she said to the young student. “My name is Catrin Achrya and I’m a healer. Professor Snape and I did some research together.”
The girl’s eyes lit up. “I’m Helen Grey, and I’m going to be a healer. Or a potions master. Or perhaps both.”
“Well, then, you’re going to need this book. Would you like to keep it? The professor has left it to me in his will.”
“Oh, I couldn’t. It’s yours. I’m sure it’s valuable.”
“I have the impression that you appreciated Professor Snape’s classes.”
“Yes. He was very demanding, and not always fair. Most people mocked and hated him, but he knew so very much. And now it’s all gone, all lost. It’s so sad.”
“Oh, but it isn’t gone. The professor left lots of notes, and it’s up to us to develop his ideas, now that we have the peace to do it. I’m certainly going to continue his research, and I hope you will as well.”
“Of course. You have much to learn, but at this pace you’ll be inventing new potions of your own in a few years. Go on, keep the book. If you like, we’ll do some extra work on healing potions when the school re-opens.”
“Are you going to be a professor here?”
“Not all the time. I’ll give some lectures and help out in the infirmary a few days a month.”
“And teach me more about potions!”
“If you don’t neglect your other subjects.” And, in a mock threatening tone, she added:
“Don’t look too pleased. Some people call me Severus Snape’s sister!”
There were tears in the girl’s eyes at the mention of the professor’s name, but she smiled through them and said: “That’s good. I’ll learn a lot, then!”
“We shall find out, Ms. Grey,” said Catrin, still with mock sternness, returning the book to her.
“Thank you, Healer Achrya. Thank you very much.”
The student turned to cast a last look at the figure on the work bench; then she left the room, hugging the small book to her chest.
Sunset was approaching and dinner time ended the last of the trickle of mourners.
Catrin was feeling light-headed from fasting and drinking nothing but water since the previous sunset. Fasting was not compulsory – in fact, the lack of nourishment might have weakened a less powerful witch or wizard to the point of inability to perform the evening’s ritual. But Catrin was strong, and refraining from the consolation that food would offer, exposing herself unprotected to the raw emotion, was her own private tribute to the memory of her exceptional friend.
Headmistress McGonagall and Harry Potter had an obligation to appear at dinner, to keep up the spirits of all those involved in the re-building of Hogwarts. Raven and Catrin were alone with Severus’ remains, arranging and tidying the tokens of tribute on and around the body. Catrin withdrew to the bathroom, as much for a physical need as to give Raven a few moments on her own. When she returned, she glanced about the room.
“We’re almost ready – we just need to move the water basin to the foot end,” she said.
“It looks very heavy,” Raven commented. “I suppose we’ll have to wait for the others.”
“Not really,” said Catrin. “No need for anyone to break their backs. You’re a witch, remember? You can do it on your own.”
“I don’t think so, not me!”
“You’ve already moved many things with your powers: books, cauldrons, even chairs. This contraption is just a bit heavier, and you have to be careful about balance, because it’s filled with water. But nothing will explode if you slosh some on the floor. Give it a try.”
With a doubtful look at Catrin, Raven took out her wand and pointed it at the basin.
Catrin corrected the angle of the wand a little, to help with the balance, and Raven spoke the incantation. The basin on its stone stand rose a few inches from the floor and slowly, smoothly, moved towards the foot end of the bier. There it settled in the exact centre. Even the flame of the candle had barely fluttered. Raven lowered her wand, let out a deep breath, and her face lit up in a moment of genuine joy.
The door opened, and the remaining two Guardians came in.
No-one was wearing black. Harry and Minerva had chosen the deep scarlet of formal Gryffindor robes. Raven had felt the need for an outward sign of affinity in dark Slytherin green that complemented the cover on the dead man’s lower body. Catrin wore blue, a late evening blue of the sky above the Roof of the World, a place that Severus never got to see in his lifetime, in spite of his fascination with its magical powers and healing plants.
They took their assigned places at the four points of the compass.
Minerva McGonagall raised her head to look at the portrait of Albus Dumbledore.
“We are the voluntary Guardians of the memory of Severus Snape.
As the four winds gather to herald the
end of a season and the beginning of a new one,
so do we gather to honour his memory and carry it into the world. Thus we declare ourselves with our names.”
“To the East, Harry Potter, standing for Lily Evans, my mother.”
He finished the sentence and took a step closer to the bier. The youngest of the Guardians, the black-haired, green-eyed boy represented a woman Severus had met in his childhood, and who determined his fate for the rest of his life – even, and still more, after her own death.
“To the South, Raven.”
Her voice faltered a little, but she stepped forward without hesitation. A young woman from another continent, almost from a different world, had offered unexpected solace, a respite from the war, and given Severus back a sense of joy and wonder at his powers.
“To the West, Catrin Achrya.”
A companion of mutual trust, she had been Severus match in intellect and magic, one who saw him without disguise, outside the confines of the war, his anchor to what he might have been.
“To the North, Minerva McGonagall.”
She was the last to step forward, an older colleague and fellow warrior, one who should have been closer to death than Severus, if the circumstances had been normal.
A golden glow surrounded the portrait of Albus Dumbledore when the four Guardians took their places. The glow had been spreading as they declared themselves, and covered the whole scene like a protective hemisphere when Minerva spoke the next sentence:
“We are gathered here to consign Severus’ mortal remains to the cleansing and healing element of fire. With his body gone forever, he will live on through the memories represented in our minds, our speech and our actions.”
The next part of the ritual was silent, as each Guardian evoked a happy memory of Severus. Catrin shot a sympathetic glance at Harry – this would be quite a challenge for him. But, in a quick, smooth flash of rapport, she caught an image of a silvery doe Patronus by a frozen lake surrounded by trees. She nodded imperceptibly, and focused on her own memory.
Their first mental touch. The cringing mind of a young man tormented by guilt, mortally afraid of his own strength and the harm it could cause, slowly letting go... unfolding... reaching out... trusting her to be sturdy and solid, and finally trusting himself to be gentle.
Her eyes fogged for a moment, and she rested in the memory, purposefully experiencing the pain of it, before laying it aside in her mind, drawing a steadying breath, and readying her wand.
Catrin lifted her eyes and met Minerva’s steady gaze. She looked around and saw four wands at the ready. Again she nodded to Harry, and together they folded down the dark green cloth, uncovering the long black shirt that shrouded the entire body. Catrin put down the heavy cover on a chair and stepped back into her place.
Four wands rose higher, waiting for Minerva’s signal.
Catrin saw Raven’s wand shake and waver. The young woman was tense, her weight on one foot as if taking a step, neck and shoulders stiff.
“Raven,” Catrin murmured, “breathe...”
She felt a tangible release of tension as Raven complied and planted her two feet firmly on the floor.
Minerva sought Albus’ portrait with her eyes, found it and nodded.
Three wordless spells and one whispered ‘Incendio’ released four cascades of magical fire over the still figure before them.
There was none of the mock-tortured twisting, flexing, blackening and crumbling of a body consumed by ordinary fire. The magical flames enveloped the body, shimmering blue as they met the black cloth and the sallow skin, and the form disintegrated, gradually, quietly, transformed into fine, pale grey ashes.
The four Guardians lowered their wands and, in silent meditation, watched the process take its course. Shortly the flames died down, the golden shimmer withdrew into the portrait, and was gone. Only the ordinary light of Hogwarts’ magical candles illuminated the four robed figures, and the pile of ashes on the black marble-topped work bench before them.
Minerva drew the two young people to her, laid her arms about their shoulders, and steered them towards the door.
“What about Catrin?” she asked.
“I’m going to finish things here,” Catrin explained. “as the designated next of kin.”
“Can’t I stay?”
”Go on with Minerva. I’ll join you in a little while. It’s just a bit of housekeeping.”
She was alone. Standing in front of the collection of potion implements, she raised her eyes to the top shelf, and saw what she had been looking for. Her hands high above her head, she lifted the fragile object down.
The urn was about the size of her head, rounded, somewhat oblong. It was made of fine, thin, translucent China, the outside glazed in a light but distinctive jade green. Catrin lifted the round lid. The inside was perfectly white and spotlessly clean.
Catrin picked up a small rook’s feather broom from among the potion implements, tilted the urn and began sweeping the ashes from the work bench into it. She worked mainly by hand, only aided by simple charms not to spill any of the ashes or to leave any remains on the marble top.
Then she closed the urn with a magical seal and swept it in the Slytherin green cover that had been removed from the body. She bowed to Albus Dumbledore’s portrait and left the room, cradling the fragile green bundle in her arms.
--- --- ---
The portkey dropped Catrin on a grassy hillside overlooking a green valley. High above it, like silent guardians, rose many grey, rocky, snowy peaks. A rapid glacier stream ran along the centre of the valley. On its other side there was a group of large black woolen tents, the size of small cottages. Among the tents, a herd of black, white and piebald yaks was grazing, grunting contentedly.
Catrin drew a few deep breaths. She had been away too long, and was feeling the altitude. Slowly, she made her way downhill to the stream. Before crossing it on a few stepping-stones, she called out in Tibetan:
“Tie up your dog! It’s me, Achrya!”
It was not just a polite, formal greeting. A massive, heavy-jowled black dog, wearing a viciously spiked collar lined with red wool, bounded towards the visitor, barking furiously.
A woman appeared in the entrance of the nearest tent. She called the dog and tied it on a crude rope leash attached to a pole in the ground. Her face barely shifted, but her eyes smiled at Catrin.
Inside the tent, Catrin scrutinised the woman who had been in her mother’s place during her school days in Ladakh. Pema had changed little over the years, there were just a few more wrinkles in the golden skin of her face, and the long, black braid had a scattering of silver in it.
Pema filled two wooden bowls with tea, and the two women sat down.
Catrin took a few small sips, savouring the tea, the old familiarity of the taste returning to her. Butter tea, nourishing when the altitude destroyed one’s appetite for food, soothing and refreshing, with the tangy undertone of fresh yak butter.
Catrin emptied her bowl quickly, and nodded her thanks for a refill.
She opened her pack and presented Pema with her gifts: several bricks of high quality tea. They chatted a little about the family and the herd; Pema showed her the year’s rich harvest of worm plant. They agreed on a price, and Catrin was pleased at the chance to renew her store of the rare medicinal herb.
Then Catrin took out a big cloth bundle from her pack, opened it and showed Pema the jade green urn. She explained her business.
“You can take the brown mare,” Pema told her. “She is in good shape, and afraid of nothing. You know her. She will comfortably take you to the pass and back before nightfall.”
Catrin thanked her, finished the last of her tea, put away the urn in her pack, and hefted the heavy, hard, iron-framed saddle in her arms. Pema returned to her work; Catrin went outside and called to the brown mare.
Breathing was getting harder as she approached the pass. The top of the pass was at about 16 000 feet, with another 300 to climb on foot before reaching her goal. The sturdy little brown mare, bred and raised in the mountains and not burdened with any baggage apart from her rider, had negotiated the stony path quickly and surely, breaking into a trot on stretches of even ground. Now even the horse was beginning to feel the altitude, its walk steady, but not as quick as before.
The pass was decorated with long rows of
prayer flags, blue, white, red, green, yellow, the series repeating itself
again and again, on strings suspended between the ground and the tops of
several tall poles. The main path continued down into the next valley, but a
barely discernible footpath led at an angle towards a jagged peak nearby.
Close to the footpath, an old woman was squatting next to a stone brazier, burning sweet-smelling juniper twigs and thin scraps of paper with prayers printed on them.
Catrin swung down from the saddle and led the horse to the old woman.
She paid her to look after the mare and burn an offering while Catrin was completing her task up the hill. The offering was a sizeable piece of dried worm plant, and if the old woman thought it strange to burn such a valuable item, she did not show it.
The going was slow and heavy. Catrin had to scramble up some parts of the steep path on all fours, and her lungs, unused any more to the thin air, were punishing her. Headache closed like an iron cap about the top of her head, she felt her heart hammer against her ribs, and nausea attacked her again and again. Every dozen of steps she had to stop, straighten her back, and catch whatever was left of her breath. The wind was rising as she approached the jagged rocks, and the tears that it drove pouring from her eyes made her eyeglasses slip.
She staggered on, on and on... and at long last she could grab hold of the sharp, upright rock on top of the path. The rock stood like a parapet over a steep precipice on the other side. Deep, deep below, in a circle of rocky slopes, inaccessible to any wingless creature, lay a small, turquise-coloured lake, almost perfectly round.
Catrin planted her two feet firmly on the rocky ground and drew some deep, steadying breaths. The air was thin, but she focused, relaxed, and her headache receded somewhat. She slipped the pack from her shoulders and took out the jade green urn. She raised it towards the deep sapphire blue sky, stood steady and poised for a long moment, and hurled the urn down the precipice in front of her.
It flew, spun, finally crashed down on a jutting outcrop of rock about fifty feet below. The fine china split into a few large, curved shards, landing on a narrow rock shelf. The sharp, clean wind took hold of the ashes, picked them up in a light grey cloud, and let them disperse into nothingness over stones never touched by human hand.
Did Raven fulfil the conditions of Severus’ will, and if so, how?
Find out in the third and final part of this story.