“How does he do it? Someone in that constant pain should be in a wheelchair.”
The young apprentice mediwizard looked at her, wide-eyed. The patient had very politely and the more firmly declined any help in preparing for the night. A shower, a visit to the toilet, putting on a nightshirt, slow, shaky, laborious, but the man had managed, meticulously, on his own.
“Where did you go to school, Stephen?” asked the middle-aged woman with a golden Healer’s badge on her light gray robes.
“Pechorskoe, in the Ural mountains.”
“And your meditation mentor didn’t shove Professor Snape down your throat? I know they do it constantly at my old school, and that’s in Ladakh!”
“You bet! Professor Snape, his name synonymous with focus, mindfulness, control, all that stuff I was disastrous at in my teens. And, what does some 18th century super-wizard have to do with…”
Her lips twitched with barely suppressed laughter.
“18th century?! Don’t let him hear you. And definitely not when he gets well.”
“Healer, you’re pulling my leg!”
“Not one bit. Our patient in the high-security warded wing is the actual Professor Snape. He teaches Potions at Hogwarts, in Britain.”
“Bloody hell! Um… sorry, Healer. But, how does he do it? Where does it come from?”
“Trust me, you don’t want to know. Remember those articles saying that ‘if it doesn’t kill you it makes you stronger’ is just nonsense?”
Nod. “Even if it doesn’t kill you, it breaks you down.”
“They’re correct, in general. And Professor Snape is one of the rare exceptions to the rule.”
“He’s incredible. But, anyway, I thought you should know. He made this terrific effort, so he may have a very difficult night.”
“Very good, Stephen, five bonus points for empathy.” Crystals rattled in an hourglass on top of the bookcase. “I’ll take his night watch myself. The Hour of the Wolf may be quite bad, and he wouldn’t want people around then.”
“You’re not ‘people’?”
“Severus and I go back a long, long time. We’ve trusted each other with our lives more than once. When he’s convalescing after the intervention, why don’t you ask him about some of our graduate-school experiments. He doesn’t suffer fools gladly, but you’re smart enough to hold his interest.”
“About the intervention…”
“Are you sure that you don’t want me to assist on Saturday?”
“But if he’s so strong…”
“Thank you for your concern. Normally I’d welcome your help, but this case will be easier on everyone if there are no strangers present.”
“It’s such a special case, both the affliction and the patient.”
“Stephen, you aren’t just offering to help, you’re plain curious!”
“No harm in that. We’ll ask Professor Snape how much of the intervention you may be allowed to see in a Pensieve. He trusts me to protect his privacy, but if there’s one thing he understands, it’s intellectual curiosity. Get ready for a lecture about the neural mechanisms behind his mind block, once he’s rid of it.”
“So I should review Cognitive Neuroscience as well as Advanced Potions?”
“Something like that. Well, see you in the morning.”
- - - - - - - - -
“The Hour of the Wolf, beware, beware!” moaned the clock on top of the bookcase.
Three o’clock. The Healer rose from the couch in her office where she’d been asleep since checking on her patient shortly after midnight. The sensors she had set showed nothing extraordinary, but she perceived that he was getting restless. She stretched and felt her back and shoulders crack, went to the wash basin in the corner and splashed cold water in her face. She toweled her face vigorously and ran wet fingers through her dark inch-short grey-streaked hair. Then she groped for a pair of eyeglasses on her desk and put them on.
From three to four, she thought, the depressing hour just before dawn, when nightmares run rampant and all manner of sufferers need extra strength. The Hour of the Wolf.
On her way to the door she checked the wand in her pocket. An inveterate skeptic’s thirteen inches, linden for her Slav ancestry, snow leopard whisker core for her Ladakh upbringing, it was worn to a dark oak shade and a stone luster through almost forty years of use.
By reflex she warded her office door. To get her circulation going, she walked to the high security wing, down two flights of high, old-fashioned steps, through the entrance hall, up three flights.
were strong enough to cause her discomfort although she had set them herself.
She shuddered as she reset the wards and secured the passage. A number of
doors along the corridor stood open and dark. One was closed, a subdued
green night light shining through the small round window in it. She cupped her
hands around her face as she peered
through the glass. The man on the bed was moving restlessly, his hands grabbing at the sheets as if he was trying to get up. She focused and sent out a light mind probe. Purple and brown whorls, silvery flashes, creaking as if of twisting metal, a steady thumping beat. Pain.
She took a couple of deep breaths before opening the door, passing through yet another set of wards and approaching the bed.
“No… no… it… hurts…” she heard among unintelligible sounds.
His whispered shouts hurt her throat in sympathy. There was a silencing spell on the room, but he clung to what he perceived as his dignity in any way still at his disposal.
She took out her wand and made a quick scan of his condition: head, torso, extremities. He was as well as could be expected, in no immediate physical danger. And in pain that sometimes grew or lessened, moved to different parts of the body, but never ceased.
Now his legs were moving aimlessly and he made another attempt to rise from the bed.
He fought her hands holding him down.
“Cramp... need to... get up.”
“Severus! Keep still. It’s Catrin. I’m going to help you. I’ll make it better.”
His eyes opened and fixated on her, never leaving her face while his head rolled from side to side from the pain in his legs. They closed again when she left his field of vision and moved to the foot of the bed. She lifted the covers aside.
The white linen nightshirt was bunched about his thighs, his knees half bent, his feet strangely arched. She felt his calf muscles, like wood beneath the dry white skin. She sat down on the bed and picked up one foot, the heel cupped in her hand, gently and firmly manipulating the foot with the other. After a while his head stopped rolling and tossing, and the leg lay relaxed in a natural position. She repeated the process with the other foot. He heaved a huge shuddering sigh, his whole body relaxed and lay still, as if savoring the calm.
He opened his eyes again. “Thank you,” he said.
His hand moved towards the glass of water on the bedside table. She picked it up and supported his head to help him drink.
“So it’s come to this,” he said. “All that’s left of me. Pathetic.”
“Pain-induced depression,” she said. “It’s always at its worst early in the morning.
You will get well again, and you know it. There is a cure.”
“Yes, the cure. Saturday.” His lips tightened.
“After Saturday comes Sunday. You’ll feel better then. You’ll be rid of the pain and recovering your powers. And your lady friend Raven will be here on Friday.”
“Good thing she can’t see me like this. ”
“Just you wait. She’ll be happy to help nurse you. Raven isn’t some dainty fragile Meissen figurine, not even in your mind. I’ve looked, you know.”
“You’re right, I want her to come. She’ll help me fight this blasted self-pity.”
Once again his breathing grew laboured. His eyes closed and his voice rasped: “It’s… back…”
His hands scrabbled at the sheets again, and his body tensed. His abdominals stood out grotesquely under the thin linen cloth, cramping so as to lift his shoulders from the pillow. Then he fell back, exhausted, semi-conscious.
She recognized the signs. Cradling his head in her hands, thumbs to temples, she probed his mind. There was the block, lumpy, hideous, thumping out its monotonous rhythm like an army marching across the brain. And, amazingly, incredibly, she perceived a crack in it, a fissure. It was repairing itself, efficiently but haltingly, hampered by his stubborn resistance beyond anyone’s hope. She released his head, not needing physical support to maintain the familiar mind link, and drew her wand. She repeated the body scan, quickly but thoroughly. When the wand passed over his solar plexus, the closing of the fissure paused and the man gasped. She touched the wand to his body. He gave a hoarse cry and the parasite choking his mind missed a beat in its rhythm as it cracked slightly wider.
She paused briefly to think, the wand still in her hands. Then she reached for his hand, felt his wrist, found a sensitive point, sensed his reaction. Her decision made, she pulled a steel-topped instrument trolley towards the bed, laid her wand on it and reached into a cardboard box on a lower shelf. Sterile packages rustled.
“Please…” A childlike voice from the bed. “No needles… don’t want…”
She touched his shoulder and he twisted away. “No… please… don’t…”
She took a deep breath and braced herself. Pinning down his shoulders, her lips close to his ear, she said in a low and distinct tone: “Professor Snape!”
His body stiffened with the effort to hold himself still, his gaunt cheeks hollowing even more. His eyes snapped open, cold, perfectly lucid, and locked with hers.
“You have been fighting the block on your own, but it keeps repairing itself. Now I’m going to help you damage it permanently. Your coming treatment will be much easier then. You will be in better shape when Raven comes.”
“G… a… h…” He gathered his strength and enounced distinctly: “Go ahead.”
Eyes and lips closed, his entire face shut down.
She moved his limbs into position, feeling the muscle tone. Then she scrubbed her hands at the washbasin in the adjoining bathroom and sealed their surface with a protective charm. The light in the room was still subdued, now a yellowish tone, but she worked mainly by touch, physical and mental.
She picked up a sterile package, ripped it open, felt him flinch at the sound. The needle was two inches long and thin as a hair. Again she felt his left wrist, found the correct point, rubbed it with an alcohol pad and positioned the needle.
“Take a deep breath and hold it. ” He complied.
“And let it out.” Spinning the needle between her fingers and thumb, she inserted it firmly. He exhaled with a weak cry and his fingers twitched. She twirled the needle again, pushing it deeper, and again. Finally she felt a shudder run through his entire arm. She laid her palms on either side of the needle, and the arm remained still.
Another needle, a sensitive point close to the right ankle.
He kept quiet, silent, perfectly still, merely submitting to her instructions.
Once more she twirled each needle in turn, diagonally, to reactivate the points, causing him to flinch and gasp.
He was ready. She picked up her wand.
Her hand over his solar plexus caused his torso to arch slightly, then contract.
Unable to answer, he opened his eyes determinedly, then shut them again.
“I know how hard this is, but I want you to do nothing. Nothing at all. Don’t fight. Don’t make an effort to help. Just let it happen. It will hurt. Relax as much as you can, and allow it. Let it pass.”
His eyes opened and shut once more in consent.
She located the block in his mind again, the fissure closing sluggishly, laboriously.
When she inserted her wand between her hand and his body, the closing stopped.
She touched the top few inches of the wand sideways across his solar plexus. His torso contracted, twisted, arched, a long, hoarse scream escaped him. She could sense him gather his strength for a deep focusing breath, and did the same. They exhaled simultaneously, her wand channeling energy to his nerves, his mind struggling to let the stream continue.
His body was covered in sweat, on his face mixed with tears.
The fissure stiffened, its ends coated with a solid silvery substance.
The thudding rhythm stopped – then resumed, slower and with less force.
Healer and patient drew several breaths that grew less and less ragged. He barely noticed when she reached out and removed the four needles.
She sensed his relief and exhaustion, and withdrew from the mind link.
She moved about the room, tidying the instruments away, bringing him a fresh night shirt, cleaning his body and putting the shirt on with two smooth spells. She took a long, gulping drink from his water glass, refilled it, watched a salt and sugar tablet dissolve in it. When she made to hand him the glass, he murmured: “Got to piss.”
She reached for the plastic container under the bed, but he grabbed her arm.
“The toilet,” he said.
“Severus, you’re a vain, stubborn git!”
“I know.” His lips twisted in a lop-sided smile. “But I’ll be good. I won’t fight your help.”
He lay on his side and she helped him to lower his legs off the bed and to stand up.
She supported him to the toilet and back, helped him into bed again.
He drank all the salt and sugar solution in small sips, not even grimacing at the taste.
“Saa…” It wasn’t a moan, or a sigh, but a Tibetan word.
“Yes, Gsaa is coming. She’d like to wish you good morning,” she said.
She crouched by the foot of the bed… the light gray robes shimmered…
- - - - - - - - -
… the snow leopard rose from its crouch. It raised its hindquarters, the magnificent tail curved towards the ceiling, and stretched luxuriantly with a huge yawn.
It padded around the bed and put its furry front paws and its round head on the bed next to the man’s face. “Arrrummm,” it chirped.
The man looked at it with a big, gentle smile. He stroked the paws, the head, scratched behind the small round ears. The snow leopard whuffed, nudged him with its head, and he moved over on the bed. The big cat bounded onto the bed. It flopped over on its side, its back towards the man, all four paws stretched out in front. The tail flicked, flexed, settled over his feet to keep them warm.
The pain came back later, familiar but subdued, manageable. The man barely woke up from his rest. He reached an arm across the animal stretched out in front of him. His fingers curled around a handful of the soft five-inch fur on the big cat’s belly. The snow leopard sighed once and then its deep rumbling breaths reverberated through the bed. The man rubbed his cheek against the cat’s head and settled back to sleep.
There were still three hours of rest before the day staff came on duty.
If you want to find out how Severus was cured of his troublesome affliction,
read the next story .