BURNING – Part 3

 

By W.M. Achrya

1998; after Deathly Hallows

(Raven is OFC by Nakita Akita, http://www.restrictedsection.org/story.php?story=2576)

 

 

The Hogwarts potions classroom was almost completely silent.

Two fires hissed mutedly under cauldrons on two of the students’ work benches.

At one of them, an attractive young woman in black student’s robes was chopping soaked dried St. John’s wort with a small but meticulously sharpened knife.

At the other one, a middle-aged witch in Healer’s grey was using a large mortar and pestle to crush dried stumps of Tibetan worm plant.

They worked in companionable silence. Occasionally the older woman heard snatches of a song the young one was humming, and smiled to herself. Raven had come a long way.

 

Eight months earlier they had both been broken down by sorrow at Severus Snape’s death.

The Hogwarts potions master had laid down his life in the war against the Dark Lord Voldemort, helping to save wizardkind from slavery, non-magical humankind from destruction. To Raven, Severus’ death meant not only the loss of a fascinating, passionate lover, but also a cruel reminder that magic, far from simply being the stuff of fairy tales, could be a horribly powerful weapon. In the tall, black-haired wizard’s company she had discovered the reality, beauty and poetry of magic, and even felt hints of certain powers in herself. But only his death had given her the impulse to explore her new-found powers in a systematic way in order to learn to control them. It was, as much as anything, her tribute to his memory.

 

To the middle-aged healer, Catrin, the potions master had been an old friend, fellow scientist and more – the  brother she never had. They had experimented together at graduate school, nursed each other through the aftermaths of failed experiments, celebrated their shared successes together. Later, their separate lives only granted them rare meetings, although they re-connected as easily after a year as if barely a week had passed.

Severus’ death ought to have changed little in Catrin’s existence, but in fact the difference was fundamental. The awareness that there would be no more owls with notes asking her advice on a potential new healing potion, no more of his caustic wit to bring a fresh angle and a sense of proportion to what she might consider an overwhelming personal problem, could still occasionally raise a lump in her throat.

 

Raven was a very special student at Hogwarts, Catrin a rather special teacher.

Catrin would and could not leave her clinic in Denmark for a longer period of time, but, as her contribution to the post-war effort, she spent at least three days a month at Hogwarts. She helped at the infirmary, so that several complicated cases did not have to be sent to St. Mungo’s. She replenished the infirmary’s store of potions and introduced some of Severus’ inventions. She taught advanced healing potions to a small group of talented sixth-years; first aid and basic healing to anyone interested; mind work, including occlumency and legilimency, to those with the necessary focus and courage; and she gave a seminar on Animagi for students who believed themselves to have the gift. In addition, she tutored Raven in basic spells, charms and potions to complement Hogwarts’ usual classes to Raven’s personal curriculum.

 

Raven, being an adult, was exempt from the discipline of Hogwarts’ Houses. She had her own room in the Headmaster’s corridor, and a permanent portkey to her old home in Spinner’s End. She had some classes together with the young students, but, under Minerva McGonagall’s supervision, she mainly followed a special curriculum adapted to her adult ability to generalise and to connect seemingly disparate information. It was Minerva’s educated guess that Raven would be ready for her OWLs in three years instead of the five years of schooling received by children. In her first term of studies, Raven surprised both her and Catrin, and all three of them considered it possible that she might be ready to sit the exams in at least some of the subject after her second year.

 

Today, Raven was working on a pain-relieving potion for menstrual cramps. It was a fairly simple, straightforward formula, combining some of the most basic brewing techniques. Only the care required in handling the narcotic ingredient made it unsuitable for teaching in general classes.

Suddenly Raven cried out, dropped her knife and grabbed her bare forearm.

“Ohhh... oh! Fuck!!!”

“What’s wrong?”

“It splashed on me... damn, damn, damn, it hurts!”

The fire under Raven’s cauldron was slightly too high, the contents were bubbling, spluttering and sending splashes of boiling potion base onto the work bench.

 

Catrin quickly realised that the injury was more unpleasant than harmful.

“All right. Pretend you’re alone in the lab. Now, think. You have a burn. What’s the first thing to do?

"Oh... ouch... cool it." Raven reached for her wand.

Catrin stopped her.

"No cooling charm. You can’t be sure if whatever got you won’t interact adversely with it."

"Right," said Raven between gasps and hisses of pain. "Water."

She turned on the faucet over the sink by the wall, and put her arm under the stream of cold water.

"Good. Now you have more time to assess the situation," Catrin instructed. "What caused it?"

"My cauldron is bubbling... Fire too hot."

Raven swept her wand in the direction of her cauldron and lowered the fire.

"What next?" Catrin inquired.

"Identify the substances involved," Raven recalled the lesson from her first aid manual.

"Why?"

"To ascertain if magic can be used to treat the injury, and to what extent."

"Good. So, what’s in your cauldron?"

"Standard calming draughts base, minus the St.John’s wort."

"Which means?"

"It would be all right to use a healing charm even if I hadn’t flushed it with water... oh!"

Raven scowled at Catrin as the realisation sank home.

"You knew all the time!"

"Yes. The problem is, you can’t know for sure every time. A mistake could cause a lot of harm, so you must train yourself to follow procedures fairly automatically."

"Hmm... yes, I suppose so."

Raven stretched out her arm to Catrin for a healing charm, as she had often done before.

Catrin shook her head.

"You can heal yourself. You know how."

"Do I?"

"Well, yes and no. Look at the injury. How do you assess it?"

"A burn the size of a galleon coin, that’s small, not in a particularly sensitive area. Redness, swelling, some blistering – second degree."

"Excellent. So, will a standard minor healing charm handle it?"

"Um... yes?"

"You’re right. Go ahead."

Raven had used minor healing charms on Catrin and on other students in the first aid class, and been healed by them. Now she hesitated.

"What’s it like?"

"Well... you’re familiar with healing charms."

"Yes, but... doing it to myself?"

"You’ll feel less than having someone else heal you. It’s like, you can’t tickle yourself, because you know what to expect and when."

"All right."

"If it’s your first one, sit down and focus. When you’ve had a few dozen, you’ll just be flicking your wand at minor cuts, bruises and burns."

Raven sat down, passed the tip of her wand over the angry red patch on her arm, and murmured an incantation. The injury paled, leaving only a slight brownish spot. The pain was completely gone. She smiled up at Catrin, who smiled back.

"Excellent," said the healer. "You don’t only learn your homework, you remember it in a tight spot."

"Yes, with your prompting," Raven answered wryly.

"Experience is all you need. When you’ve succeeded once, you"ll be less afraid the next time, and will recall what you need more easily."

"Hm... If you say so. Maybe I’m just not that gifted."

"Don’t rush. This stuff takes time. I’ve been doing it for thirty years."

 

The two women returned to their work. Raven’s task was to brew the potion from a standard set of written instructions completely without help, although she could ask Catrin’s help if she considered herself hopelessly stuck. As it turned out, she did not. About an hour later she filled a vial with the transparent greenish liquid and handed it to Catrin for assessment.

The healer smelled the potion, trickled a few drops on her finger, felt it and tasted it, before sweeping her wand over the vial in an analysis spell. The contents remained translucent, but turned a deep gold colour.

"Congratulations, a perfect result. You’re lucky “ the excessive heat didn’t last long enough to spoil it."

"Beginner's luck, I guess," Raven grinned, rubbing her forearm.

"Just don’t rely on it," Catrin grinned back. "Go on, decant the rest of the stuff, and you’re set for the next six months or so. It’ll keep at room temperature."

Raven busied herself filling a row of green glass vials and marking them, while Catrin finished her own brewing.

 

They sat down to go over the theory for Raven’s potions work the following month. Catrin soon noticed that Raven’s concentration was wandering.

“Your mind isn’t really on inorganic ingredients in sleeping draughts, is it?” she asked.

“No, not really.”

“Well, is it on something good, or bad?”

“Um... I’m not sure. Good, I hope. If I feel the way I think I feel.”

“That sounds a bit cryptic.”

“Catrin, would you go on tutoring me if I moved to Sweden?”

“Of course. It would make travel to my place in Denmark a bit easier, too. But why should you want to move to Sweden?”

“Oh, Richard is Swedish, and he’s getting very homesick.”

“Wait, wait, I must have missed something here. Just who is Richard?”

“He’s an actor, singer and dancer. He comes here to work with the children, to help them deal with the war and all that.”

“And you’re in love with him.”

Raven sobered instantly.

“That’s what I wish I knew. I think I am – but maybe I’m just missing Severus.”

“Is Richard a lot like him?”

“Not really. Yes. In some ways.”

“How old is he?”

“Twenty-six.”

“Oooh, nice,” Catrin teased, “the lady enjoys lamb’s meat!”

Raven blushed crimson.

Catrin went on, more seriously: “You aren’t looking for a father’s figure, that’s for sure. You may have been, a bit, with Severus.”

“That’s just it, he’s so young, so vulnerable. I don’t want to hurt him.”

“Come on, twenty-six doesn’t exactly count as robbing the cradle. How would you hurt him?”

“If I gave him the impression that there was something... real, permanent, and in fact I was just on a rebound from Severus.”

“Yes. Well, you’re the only judge of that.”

“Not the only one,” Raven said with a strange edge to her voice. “I want you to Read me.”

“What?!”

“You know. Legilimency.”

“Who are you, and what have you done with the real Raven?” Catrin joked, the levity not hiding the respect in her voice.

“Yes, it freaks me out, but I’ve simply got to know!”

“All right. Let’s make it as little freaky as possible,” Catrin said gently.

“Just lean back in your chair,” she went on, slipping into her healer mode. “I won’t touch you, with my hands or with my wand. And you know it’s safe to close your eyes. Take a couple of focusing breaths with me... That’s right. Go on like that.”

Raven complied, and went on inhaling and exhaling in slow, deep, purposeful breaths.
Catrin’s instructions droned on:

“Imagine yourself with Richard. If it isn’t too personal, think of the last time you met. See it as vividly as you can. Where you were, what the light was like, if you were feeling warm or cold, if there was a particular scent in the air.”

Unobtrusively she drew her wand and thought, rather than whispered, “Legilimens.”

 

A few days earlier, Raven remembered, they met out of doors, after Richard’s last class and dinner. The air was cooling, but she did not want to break the mood just yet.
They were sitting on a stone bench in Hogwarts’ courtyard, sharing Richard’s soft, burgundy-coloured woollen cloak. They were holding hands, but Richard kept gesticulating eagerly with his other hand, making the cloak slip from his shoulder again and again. He was explaining a plan he had, if he could ever afford it, to open a children’s fantasy workshop in or near his home town.

Raven had heard his ideas before, so she simply enjoyed being close to him and sharing his enthusiastic mood.

In the subdued light of dusk, his hair only appeared very dark against his perfectly white skin. Raven knew that it was a dramatic bluish black, slightly aided by a Muggle hair dye. It was carelessly parted on the left, as if he had combed it straight back and it had settled to the sides of its own accord. His forehead was already very high, his distinctive profile rather reminiscent of Severus, but more uncovered, visible, without the two curtains of hair that had always obscured the potion master’s face.

Richard’s eyes simply shone with enthusiasm, their colour also difficult to discern in the dim evening light. Raven recalled, rather than saw, their amazing deep sapphire blue – an ocean blue enough for her to drown in without regrets.

He turned towards her, the cloak definitely slipping off his shoulders. She saw the smile on his tasty-looking cupid’s bow lips, then they approached hers, and she saw nothing more, just felt herself rise on the wave of a heady kiss.

 

And she was back in the potions classroom, facing Catrin with a slightly sheepish and very worried look.

Catrin had put away her wand and was simply smiling at her.

“No worries,” the healer said, “it’s him you want. Not a Severus surrogate. Nobody can guarantee you a ’happily ever after’, life doesn't work that way, but I think you'd be very sorry some day if you didn't give this your best shot.”

Raven's relief was almost palpable.

“I intend to,” she grinned at Catrin. “I can promise you that.”

 

--- --- ---

 

“Who”s this young man Richard I’ve been hearing about?” Catrin asked Minerva over their usual evening cup of tea.

“Oh, Richard Lysander. Scandinavian. He’s a wizard, but he works in Muggle theatre. Does all sorts of things: acting, dance, music, storytelling, tumbling... Poppy met him through a cousin of hers, and I’d heard from several healers that performing arts could help children deal with difficult memories and fantasies, so we invited him here.”

“And?”

“I can hardly believe it. We’ve had no-where near the quantity of nightmares, fights, focus problems and such like that I’d expected, and I do think it’s because of what Richard does. He’s absolutely amazing with the children. He works on pieces of classical Muggle dramas with the older ones, dealing with war, death, personal loss. He takes their troubles very seriously, and shows them how great poets have dealt with similar feelings and turned them into art.”

“And the young ones?”

“The first- and second-years still need to play games, and he’s incredibly patient. They can re-enact the Battle of Hogwarts a dozen times in one afternoon. Nobody wants to be Voldemort, of course, but Richard never tires of playing the Dark Lord for them and letting them kill him over and over again. It’s a good thing he’s such an accomplished tumbler, otherwise he’d end up with broken ribs at the very least.”

“You might want to sound out Raven about him.”

“What on earth for?” asked the headmistress.

“Because you’re Severus” executor. For his second condition on Raven’s inheritance. But, for Merlin’s sake, don’t mention the will to her when you do.”

“You mean...Raven and Richard?”

“I’ve never met him, but she, at least, cares a lot. I’ll be happy to confirm that there’s a serious intention on her side.”

“Well, it obviously isn’t the bequest she cares about, I know that much.”

“But she could use the money. She and Richard could use the money.”

“And you say you’re convinced that it’s for real?”

“Please! I used to spar at legilimency with Severus. Yes, I’ll sign whatever legal rigmarole it takes.”

“I’ll make sure to have a talk with Raven before you’re headed back home,” Minerva promised. “Imagine being able to sign and file the papers in the next couple of days. I admit I won’t be sorry to have this whole legal business terminated.”

 

--- --- ---

 

The bright fire in the fireplace contrasted cheerfully with the monotonous grey drizzle outside the windows.

Alice and Catrin were having their after-dinner coffee in the living-room, sharing the big sofa. There was enough room for two people to stretch out head-to-tail, like two sardines in a tin, heads propped up against the two arm rests.

Catrin was deciphering an alchemy manual from the early 1500s. Her Latin was almost completely up to the task, and the much thumbed, brick-sized Latin dictionary lay unused on the coffee table, next to her cup.

Alice’s book also looked very old, although not quite as ancient. Like Catrin’s, it came from Severus’ private library that had blended seamlessly with their own collection. Alice snickered occasionally, then moved her lips and nodded her head as if keeping time, with a fascinated smile on her face.

“Those poor people,” she exclaimed suddenly.

“Who?” asked Catrin. “What’s that thing you’re reading?”

“Corneille’s 'Le Cid',” was the reply.

“The one that used to belong...”

“... to Beethoven, yes. He was obviously the first owner.”

“Imagine if there was a Muggle way of proving the origin. That book would be worth millions.”

“And I wouldn’t sell.”

“Hey, hold on a second, I’m the one who inherited it,” Catrin yelped in mock indignation.

Then she added: “But I wouldn’t sell either.”

“And someone would break in to try and steal it.”

“And we’d have to blast him into Oblivion.”

“Him or her. Don’t be a sexist pig, my dear wife.”

“So sorry, my beloved wife. So we’d blast her-or-him into Oblivion.”

“As the pair of horrible witches we are.”

“Don’t forget perverted.”

“Horrible perverted book-crazy witches.”

By then the whole sofa was shaking with their combined laughter.

Catrin calmed down enough to get back on topic.

“What was that about poor people? They’re all kings and princesses and things.”

“No, not that kind of poor. I feel sorry for them.”

“How come?”

“All that honour and duty stuff. Your fiancée’s father slaps your father’s face, so you’re honour bound to kill him in a duel, and then she is duty bound to ask the king to have you executed. Sweet, isn’t it?”

“Charming.”

“And the style! You never see people kissing or killing each other, but they talk, talk, talk, about all that love, all those tears, all that blood that you never get to see.”

“So maybe Beethoven read it and decided that he could do with music what they did with words.”

“No wonder his music was R-rated in his time!”

 

Their wild speculations were interrupted by the fire turning green, and a young wizard couple arriving by floo through the fireplace.

“Raven! Richard!”

“How did the house hunting go?”

“Are you hungry?”

Catrin and Alice disentangled themselves from the fleece blankets on the sofa, and a chaos of hugging ensued.

“There’s macaroni  ‘n’ cheese in the kitchen,” Alice addressed the basics first.

“Thank you, we’ve had dinner,” Raven said.

“But,” Richard went on, “I, for one, will be happy to pay it a visit in a couple of hours.”

“Good,” said Alice. “A performing artist needs energy.”

She caught Raven’s eye with a wink, and the two of them exchanged a mock-lewd leer.

“We think we’ve found a house,” Richard hurriedly changed the subject.

“Where? Is it big?”

“Does it need much work?”

“It’s an old village school,” Raven explained. “It closed maybe forty years ago, and then they used it for all sorts of things. Lately it’s been a club house for the local Lions chapter, but they decided that the heating was too expensive.”

“It’s brick, stone and solid wood, built to last a couple of hundred years,” Richard filled in, “and it gets freezing when it’s left empty in the winter.”

“And it’s huge.”

“Just what we need.”

“Two big classrooms and a gym on the ground floor.”

“One classroom for reading, storytelling, dressing up...”

“... and one for drawing, painting, prop-making, sewing...”

“... and the gym for dancing, tumbling and music. The floor is amazing, solid natural boards, really springy.”

“Wait a second,” Catrin interrupted, “weren’t you looking for a place to live?”

“But we plan to live there,” said Raven. “There are four pretty big rooms and a bath upstairs. And the basement is just half a flight down, so it’s got windows, that’s where the kitchen is, that’s huge too, and lots of storage space.”

“And another bath,” Richard said.

“We’ll have that fixed up.”

“Sweetheart, will you buy me a jacuzzi?” Richard mock-simpered at Raven, fluttering his eyelashes.

She picked up his tone: “But of course, daaahling. Anything you say.”

“Actually,” Raven resumed in earnest, “it turns out that we can afford a studio in town as well.”

“So we’re planning to work there on weekdays...”

“... and have weekend courses and summer camps where we live.”

 

The two of them had to stop and catch their breath, so that Alice got a question in:

“When do you plan to open?”

“We’ve started on this “Running your own business” course, you know, the legal and financial stuff, it goes on for six weeks,” said Raven.

“In Swedish?”

“Um ... no, I’m really not quite there yet. Our workshop is going to be bi-lingual anyway, or maybe more, if we can find someone suitable who knows Arabic. Anyway, the course is in English.”

“There’s practically no repair work required on the downtown studio, so we can start advertising in a couple of weeks,” Richard added.

“Are you really all right money-wise?” Catrin asked.

The two young people exchanged a look and a grin.

“Yeah, you could say that,” Raven said. “We’re more than all right. It seems that the developer really, really wanted Spinner’s End, and Madame Pomfrey’s cousin is one bad-ass real estate agent. I even got compensation for the other house that I was renting.”

“So we’ll just go to the bank and sign the papers tomorrow, before heading back to Hogwarts,” Richard finished.

 

Richard flopped down in an armchair, and craned his neck to see the title of Alice’s book.

“What’s that you’re reading? It looks really old.”

“It’s only from around 1800, not an original edition. Corneille’s 'Le Cid'.”

“Ah!” Richard stuck a dramatic pose in his armchair:

Ô rage ! ô désespoir ! ô viellesse ennemie !
N'ai-je donc tant vécu que pour cette infamie ?
Et ne suis-je blanchi dans les travaux guerriers
Que pour voir en un jour flétrir tant de lauriers ?

 

“Uh ... what?!” Raven stared as if he suddenly had grown another head.

“Do you know it by heart?” Alice grinned incredulously.

“Not altogether,” Richard said. “But I spent a month at a French Classics summer school in Avignon a few years ago.”

“What’s that?” Raven insisted. “Who is this Cid character, and why were you talking French?”

Richard jumped up and offered Raven his armchair with an exaggerated bow.

“Have a seat, my love, and attend the tragic tale of the brave and honourable Spanish knight, Le Cid, and his noble lady Chimena.”

He lifted the coffee table aside and gestured to the other two women to take their places on the sofa. They complied, each with a graceful, theatrical curtsey.

 

Without any magical aid whatsoever, Richard proceeded to re-tell the story of Cid and Chimena. He told it in prose and in English, for Raven’s benefit, adapting his voice and his movements to any character he was representing at each moment. From time to time he launched into Corneille’s original alexandrine speeches, in a melodious, only slightly accented French.

When he finished, almost an hour later, everyone had lost track of time.

Catrin and Alice were holding hands, staring silently into the fire. Raven’s eyes were shiny with tears. Richard took her hand gently and kissed it; she looked up at him and said quietly:

“Thank you. That was beautiful.”

Catrin’s and Alice’s smiles showed their appreciation clearly even without words.

Very little else was said, apart from a subdued “Good night,” as the two couples left the room and climbed the wide stone staircase to their bedrooms.

 

--- --- ---

 

Catrin woke up at dawn, feeling relaxed and refreshed.

She stretched luxuriantly, enjoying the sense of leisure and freedom, with no work to do yet for a few hours. Alice would start preparing for rehearsal soon, and Catrin knew better than getting between her wife and a work-day breakfast. Richard and Raven would probably call a house elf and have breakfast in bed, before going off to legalise the first step towards their joint future.

 

Catrin got up, went to the window, opened the curtains and smiled at the sight of the first sun rays gilding the leaves of the oaks in the park surrounding the building that housed both her home and her clinic.

Somewhere deep in her mind she sensed another glint of gold, a glimmer of light in the mental image of a honey-coloured amber gem. The image was embedded in pale grey, silvery ashes.

 

Catrin went to her dressing-room and rummaged in a corner. Covered with a swath of dark turquoise silk, there was a firmly locked, metal-studded oaken chest, a little over a foot long, equally wide and high. She picked it up from the floor, carried it to her bedroom and put it down on the desk by the window. She could feel, rather than hear, the subdued rattle of glass vials secured in their holders inside the chest. She worked unhurriedly, but without hesitation.

She reached for her wand, but checked herself and discarded the idea. Instead, she placed both her palms on the surface of the lid. She took a few focusing breaths and immersed herself in the magical wards securing the chest. For a moment she shivered at the touch of the magic that had set the original wards: an unmistakable mental signature she would never sense again in the real world. The absent friend who had been more than a sibling, a brother she had chosen of her own free will. Severus.

Catrin did not believe in meeting again on the “other side” of death, as she believed in no other side. Severus would live on in the freedom that they all enjoyed from Voldemort’s tyranny, as long as anyone recognised and recalled his crucial role in the war. Severus would live on in the future research that she and other potions masters would base on his scientific findings.

But, for Catrin personally, there was yet infinitely more. Severus’ sharp analytic judgement and caustic wit, tempered by an amazing and little-known capacity for kindness, had become an integral part of her own world view, vivid and permanent enough not to need a mausoleum nor require her mind to turn into one.

 

Firmly, gently, she unravelled the wards. Then she turned the iron key in the lock and raised the deep lid, closing her eyes. She inhaled the scent that rose from the chest: a clean tang of wood, minerals and spices. The scent that had always clung to Severus’ clothes and hair, but also one that reminded her of days much longer past. Noondays in July in her childhood, in an old Central European town, when the air over the pavement was shimmering with heat, and the open entrance of an ancient cathedral exhaled a cooling breath of sandstone, incense, and aged, polished wooden pews, soothing, restful, refreshing.

She rested in the memory, relishing it, a gentle joy mingled with bittersweet nostalgia.

Then she opened her eyes and looked inside the chest.

 

Two rows of small glass vials, colourless, blue, green and brown, as their contents required, stood in their holders, in two tiers, like the spectators of a diminutive theatre show. They were meticulously labelled in Severus smooth, clear handwriting, and shielded with their appropriate preserving spells. A few specific painkillers, cold reliever, wound cleanser, dreamless sleep potion, contraceptives for either sex, some common jinx and poison antidotes, tincture of bezoar “ the precious universal antidote “ in its small brown vial. Behind the front tier, and underneath the top one, she could discern a small store of dry potion ingredients preserved in charm-imbued, tightly-woven linen bags. It was a complete set of potions and ingredients to meet most emergencies, when a potions laboratory was not available.

An open compartment held a flask of normal saline solution, a set of dosage cups, and a satchel containing a few basic surgical instruments, again meticulously maintained and preserved with a cleanliness charm.

Under the satchel, Catrin noticed a piece of dark green silk ribbon that seemed to be wedged between the bottom and the side of the compartment. She pulled at it, and the thin board forming the bottom of the compartment lifted easily. It was not a secret cache, but neither a completely obvious one.

 

There was a pale piece of wood there, and a folded paper envelope.

The long, slim piece of wood might have been a small, crude wand, but it was not. It was a chopstick, of the kind that customers get with orders of take-away Chinese food. Rather handy for practicing wand movements without accidentally jinxing anything, and Catrin smiled as she recalled, decades ago, Severus and herself doing just that.

She savoured the memory for a moment; then she put down the chopstick and picked up the envelope. It was of the kind that sutures and needles are sealed in to keep them sterile. This one had been ripped open, and the thin curved needle inside it had long ceased to be sterile. It had been used, and still had a short piece of suture attached to it.

Catrin’s fingers went to her left eyebrow, to an old, thin, barely discernible scar bisecting it. That was where the suture had gone. The procedure had hurt -- the brief application of a bag of frozen peas numbed the skin only slightly. Strange, she reflected, the way we remember pain. We recall having been in pain, we remember the circumstances, but not the distinct quality of the sensation, not the way we remember a specific sound or smell.

She had submitted to the four stitches without flinching, without complaint, her firm, steady encouragement giving Severus a new confidence. Good actions did not necessarily amount to being nice and pleasant, he understood. Only now, holding the thin curved piece of metal and the stump of synthetic catgut between her fingers, did she fully realise how much her trust had meant to him. Her absolute, unreserved, unwavering trust, in and for himself, her certainty of what he might have been, and what he, for a short time many years ago, truly was.

 

She returned the needle into the envelope, and both envelope and chopstick into the hidden compartment. Then she examined all the vials in the chest once again, thoroughly, in her best professional mode. They were all well-filled, the contents safely preserved and in good condition.

She would make sure that they remained that way, well maintained and replenished, the working potions chest of an active healer. As she closed the lid, turned the key and made to restore the wards, she sensed a familiar presence in her mind, stronger than she had in a long time.

 

Her mental image of the old amber gem was glowing. The fine, pale grey ashes gathered into silvery strands, floated, undulated, enclosed the amber. Gradually they merged with it, strengthening its glow, until no more silver strands were visible, and the honey-coloured gem shone with a warm, steady inner light. Still using no wand, directing the magic with her bare hands, Catrin reached for the wards and, slowly, thoroughly, almost sensuously, restored them into place. They were firm, secure, Severus’ solid mental signature interwoven with and refreshed by her own. Catrin set a single word to release the wards in an emergency, and smiled with the satisfaction of a task well accomplished.

 

Once more she picked up the oaken chest, and placed it on a convenient shelf next to her emergency bag.

“Time for work,” she said to herself.

Feeling exhilarated, although a little silly in spite of being alone in the room, she gave the chest a wry grin and a wave of her fingers as she passed it on the way to her morning shower.

 

 

 

 

 

THE END

 

This concludes “The Prince’s Other Tale”

January 2008

 

 

If you wish to join Severus' friends in remembering him, read the story of his 50th birthday.

 

 

 

 

 

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