(Raven is OFC by Nakita Akita, http://www.restrictedsection.org/story.php?story=2576)
“Hello! Everybody decent?”
The healer knocked at the door and opened it a crack.
“Since when do you care, you twisted dyke?”
The warm tone of the man’s voice cancelled out the offensive words.
“Severus, you’re frightening your visitor.”
“Oh… Sorry. Just a moment.”
A brief creak of wood, a subdued sigh, shuffling steps.
“Please come in.”
The heavyset woman in light grey healer’s robes opened the door and stepped into the sickroom.
She turned back and extended her arm into the corridor towards the visitor.
“I have to adapt the wards to you. Take my hand and wait a moment.”
She passed her free hand over an invisible barrier across the door.
“All right, you can come in now.”
Raven paused at the threshold. An unpleasant creeping sensation assailed her.
“Come in. The wards won’t hurt you.”
The man’s voice, rather than his encouraging words, made her take a few rapid steps into the room.
The creeping sensation grew briefly, then disappeared.
He stood in the middle of the room looking even taller than she remembered him, or was it because he had lost weight and was dressed in unrelieved black.
Still, it was Severus and he was holding out his arms towards her.
Raven pressed her whole body against his and buried her face in the soft cloth on his chest.
With his arms around her, he murmured into her hair: “Thank you for coming. I missed you.”
Unable to speak through the lump in her throat, she just tilted her face up for a kiss.
It was soft, gentle, very tender. But she felt his arms stiffen about her.
“Let’s sit down”, she murmured. “I’m still dizzy. That Portkey thing was a bit…”
Gratefully playing along in the charade, he guided her to the couch and they sat down, his arm still around her shoulders.
“Severus, how are you, love? I thought you…”
“You thought you’d find a bed-ridden invalid. I’m afraid, eventually, you’ll get to experience that aspect of things to the full. I won’t expose you to it unnecessarily.”
The healer interrupted them: “I’ll just show Raven how to reach me, and leave you to your catching up.”
She picked up a small mirror from the bedside table. “This is magically connected to my wand. Just say ‘Catrin’ to it and I’ll know. I’ll be able to hear anything that happens in the room. And if you direct the mirror at something, I’ll see it.”
Raven looked at her questioningly: “Severus can use it, can’t he?”
“I can,” he said. “But I’ll feel safer with you being able to call for help as well.”
She turned the small mirror in her hands, adapting to the gravity of the situation.
Severus was ill. He could get worse suddenly and it was up to her to get help.
“Okay,” she said. “Sounds easy enough.”
“Good,” said the healer. “Severus, I’ll be back before lunch to check on you.”
She looked at Severus and Raven with a small smile and left the room.
- - - - - - - - -
The healer returned shortly before noon, to find Severus supine on the couch and Raven sitting on a cushion on the floor, her back leaning against the couch and his hand playing with her hair.
She could sense Raven’s presence like a warm cloud helping to subdue his discomfort and his constant pain. From a medical point of view, her arrival before the intervention was a godsend, considering how much it improved his mood and even his strength. In private Catrin thought that meeting Raven had been the best thing that had ever happened to him.
“All right, Severus, let’s have a look at you.”
She brought a low stool and sat down by his head.
“Raven, how much has Severus told you about his condition?”
“A lot of things about the brain, neural pathways, communication. I don’t know how much I understand, but it sounds bad. He’s lost his magic. And he’s in pain, I can see that much.”
“Hm. The lady worries about you, Severus, so you give her a lecture in neuroscience. You must be worse off than I thought.”
The man smiled weakly, but his eyes fluttered shut from a new assault of pain. His hand on Raven’s head stilled completely.
The healer looked at Raven. “Would you really like to understand?”
“Yes, of course.”
“If you’re game, I might be able to show you.”
“What do you mean? Would you go inside my head?”
She remembered Severus telling her about Legilimency, and shuddered.
“No. You’d come inside mine. I can show you what I see when I examine Severus.”
“Good idea,” the man said.
Raven was flabbergasted at hearing them discuss mind-reading as if it was the lunch menu.
“How was Raven with Legilimency?” the healer asked Severus.
“Talented. Very receptive. Potentially very strong. Leaking emotions like a sieve, no training.”
Before Raven could feel offended at his words, the healer asked her: “Raven, are you sitting comfortably?”
“All right. There’s something I’d like to show you first. Close your eyes.”
“What??? Show me something with my eyes closed?”
“Take a couple of deep breaths and feel yourself relax.”
She felt Severus’ hand in her hair again, soothing her. If he thought it was all right…
Her breathing slowed and deepened and she heard the healer’s voice as if from a distance.
“There’s no need to move if you don’t want to. Just imagine your arm and hand reaching out. Imagine yourself reaching out towards my voice.”
She tried to comply, and felt a dizzying wrench.
She was standing in a domed room lit with a subdued, diffuse light. In front of her, like a 3D map, was a landscape of rounded curving ridges separated by fissures and connected by thick many-stranded cables.
“What is this? Am I in your head?”
“No, not in any sense. It’s your own mental model of the information that I’m giving you about my mind.”
“Well… okay. I’ll take your word for it. So what does it do?”
“It gives you an image of a normal mind…”
They heard Severus snort derisively in spite of his pain.
“Quiet, you! Or I’ll get some blunt needles!”
“Ouch,” Severus yelped mockingly.
“All right,” the healer went on to Raven, “– a wizardly mind unaffected by a block. Remember it so you can compare with what we’re going to see next.”
Raven was floating in a soft grey mist, unfamiliar but strangely reassuring. She perceived a vague outline of Severus’ face in the distance, and the healer’s voice speaking gently to him:
“Your turn now, Mister Snarky. You know the drill.”
Raven felt Severus’ breathing settle and deepen. Then an image appeared, similar to the one she had seen before, but parts of the landscape were covered with a brown and purple blotchy, lumpy mass that pulsated with a dull thumping noise. Through the middle of it ran a ragged fissure, its ends coated with a silvery metallic substance. Somewhat to the side another fissure was attempting to form, but it closed almost as fast as it opened, the divisive process gaining ground only with painful slowness.
“That’s it, Severus,” murmured the healer. “You’re fighting it. That’s excellent.”
A mental image of a wand, Raven knew that it was the healer’s own, began tracing the outlines of the parasitic mass. Severus’ breathing grew heavier and more laboured. The wand arrived at where the block touched one of the cable-like structures, and sparks flew from its tip. Severus cried out hoarsely and his body contracted.
Raven opened her eyes and jumped to her feet. The strange landscape was gone, she saw only the healer cradling Severus head in her hand, the other hand approaching her wand to his forehead.
She grabbed the healer’s hand holding the wand.
“Stop it, ” she cried. “You’re hurting him!”
The healer shook her head to clear it and straightened slowly on her stool. She put down her wand and let go of Severus’ head. They saw him stretch and open his eyes laboriously. “What happened?”
Then he realized and looked at Raven. “You shouldn’t have done that.”
“You were in so much pain…”
His hand patted the couch briefly, telling her to sit down. She did.
He took her hand and brought it to his lips. Then he touched her cheek gently.
“I’ll be in worse pain before this is over. You can’t stop it. We must let it happen.”
“Nonsense. That’s torture. The Middle Ages. You have to get a second opinion.”
“My love, I am the best second opinion available. Catrin and I are the two top experts in the field. If she was the patient, I’d be the one treating her in exactly the same way. If anything, she works more gently than I ever could.”
“But… can’t you be sedated? Have some kind of potion? A painkiller?”
“No. We have to be able to follow exactly how the intervention impacts the block. And because the block is locked onto my pain receptors, it elicits pain when tampered with. My reactions, the pain, are an indicator that the healer has to follow and adapt to throughout the intervention. When Catrin examines me, she’s making up a plan of attack for us. She has to gauge the effect against what I can bear without losing consciousness or going into shock. She knows my strength and my limits, and will not harm me.”
Severus spoke quietly, lucidly, clearly, until his strength ran out and his eyes closed. His breathing grew ragged again.
“I’m sorry, Raven, “ said the healer. “You see now the kind of enemies we’re facing. Severus’ options are either permanent pain and loss of magical powers, or submitting to a torturous treatment in order to recover.”
“And that’s going to happen tomorrow.”
“Will he really get well?”
“As far as anyone can tell, yes, completely, in a few weeks.”
“And he’ll be able to get back at whoever did this to him.”
The healer allowed herself a small smile. “That’s the general idea.”
“How can I help?”
“We’ll see. Try to follow me a little further when I examine Severus and see if you can deal with his discomfort. If so, you may assist us tomorrow and help him over the rough spots.”
“I’m no doctor or nurse, or witch. So what can I do?”
“That will depend on just what happens at each moment. Sometimes you’ll help just by being there, and sometimes by distracting his senses. You’re the best distraction that I can imagine for him.”
“But if I can’t take it? I’m not very good at pain.”
“You’ll be here when it’s over,” said the man. “I’ll have that to look forward to.”
“Catrin,” he added, “I’m getting tired. We should get on with it or your readings will be too far off the mark. At least finish checking the cranial nerves before I pass out.”
“Give it another try, Raven?” the older woman said.
Raven said nothing, but settled back on the pillow by the couch. Severus’ hand found her hair.
The healer lowered her voice to a steady drone.
“All right. Settle your breathing and focus on it. Imagine yourself reaching out to me.”
By the time the healer had probed all the contacts of the block with the cranial nerves, Severus had fallen into an exhausted sleep, snoring lightly. Occasionally his lips twitched as he fought the pain, and once or twice a low cry escaped him. Raven was limp with fatigue but wide awake, unable to stop the tears trickling down her cheeks.
“Why don’t you use Severus’ bed and get some rest too,” the healer suggested.
“I can’t sleep. Why does he have to hurt like that? Or... I guess I see why, it just isn’t fair. He’s such a kind man.”
The healer snorted. “Not a lot of people would agree. You’re bringing out altogether unique aspects of our dear Severus. I sometimes wonder if he even recognizes himself. He enjoys the change, though. He has a reputation for being a hard man in the wizarding community, and living up to it gets quite strenuous sometimes. It’s good to see him able to relax and let out his nice side with you.”
“You sound like his mother!”
“You didn’t know his mother, so I’ll forgive you this time.”
“Oh... one of those, huh?”
“Very much ‘one of those’, I’m afraid. Anyway, Severus and I have been each other’s substitute siblings for something like fifteen years, so in a way you’re right. I’d go to the wall for him, and I love him dearly.”
“You... love him?!”
“Nah, not like that. I’m very solidly... um... ‘differently inclined’. Stop me very firmly if I ever start giving you wolfish looks; my wife is a redhead and would carve my heart out with a spoon.”
The tone was so humorous that it didn’t occur to Raven to feel uneasy even for a moment.
She even chuckled at the healer’s comment.
“You know, believe it or not, I’m hungry!”
“Mind work does that to people. How about lunch? My wife should be back from rehearsal by now, and Severus will be fast asleep for at least another hour.”
The healer ran her fingers through her short hair and gave Raven a searching look.
“After lunch I’ll talk you through tomorrow’s intervention, as far as it’s possible to plan it.”
“Do you really think I should be there? I really made a mess of it just now.”
“I thought you rallied very well. What do you say? Do you trust yourself to handle it?”
“I want to. I really do.”
“All right, practise controlling your thoughts. Think about all the good things you’ve done with Severus, and the ones you’d like to do. And when the other, horrible stuff sneaks up at you, don’t deny it. Call it by its name, and then return to the good things again. And think about how you might distract Severus physically, apart from the sex act proper.”
The healer’s remark was completely matter-of-fact, and Raven liked the idea. She sat musing on it for a moment. The healer stood up. She reached out to Raven, who took her hand and was pulled up from her pillow with surprising strength.
The healer pointed her chin at the door and grinned: “Come on, then. Feeding time.”
- - - - - - - - -
Catrin’s wife Alice turned out to be excellent company. A tall, big-boned woman with porcelain skin and a fiery red braid long enough for her to sit on, she entertained them throughout lunch with stories about bad-tempered and incompetent conductors getting their comeuppance by a smart and unified symphony orchestra, and made the life of a classical musician sound perfectly normal and human. Time passed quickly. When Catrin and Raven returned to Severus’ room, he was himself finishing lunch. No tray on the sickbed for Severus, though. He was sitting in a chair by the window, his plate and glass on a proper table.
“So, what did you have for lunch?” the healer asked almost casually.
“A two-egg omelette, tomato sauce, one slice of whole-grain toast. A slice of melon. One glass of San Pellegrino mineral water,” he quipped at the medical need to keep track of his food intake.
The healer sniffed the air. “And enough garlic to scare off a regiment of vampires. At least Raven and I don’t have to feel guilty about Alice’s Provencal fish soup. – But, drink at least a pint of liquids apart from your potions this afternoon, and you won’t need that intravenous gooey tonight.”
“Your kindness is touching, Healer,” he said wryly.
“Go on, get yourself to bed to digest your food.”
He took small, shuffling steps, but he walked from the chair to the bed without stumbling and without support. A sigh escaped him when he lay down.
“Come here, Raven, and console the suffering invalid,” he smiled at her.
He raised his head for a kiss and she gently but thoroughly complied. Then she sat sideways on the bed, holding his hand.
“Raven and I were just going to have a briefing for tomorrow,” the healer said. “Are you up to joining us? Make it a full pre-op meeting.”
He nodded. “You do the talking.”
With a gesture of her fingers Catrin raised the head of his bed to a semi-reclining position, and brought a chair for herself.
“All right. First I want you to check these: your evening and morning potion, and your bath oil and scrub for tomorrow. They’re pretty much a mixture of standard ingredients, so I can still modify them.”
He scanned through the scrolls she had handed him.
“Yes, that should do it,” he said. “But get rid of the St. John’s wort.”
“It’s good for anxiety.”
“It might also mess up my coordination.”
“In your case the risk is negligible, you’ve tried it before.”
“I’m not taking any chances with my mental aim. The anxiety is something I’ll just have to deal with.”
He commented on his own condition with such detachment that he might be discussing some anonymous experiment subject. Raven listened with a puzzlement bordering on awe.
The healer nodded and added a note on the two scrolls. Then she turned to Raven:
“You’re not quite with us, are you?”
“Not really. I thought you were the one who was going to... well... operate on Severus. And now it sounds like he’ll be... I don’t really know.”
“It’s a matter of perspective. Basically it’s Severus’ own fight, but he needs our help. My job is to help him navigate, help him keep on target, if you will, and to channel energy to him. He can handle only so much at a time without the pain overwhelming him, and that’s why I have to keep track of his reactions. And you... you’ll be there to support and motivate him when he feels it’s too much. To feed him good sensations in order to take him through the pain.”
“Wow. That’s a tall order.”
“All you need to do is to be there and not panic,” the man said. “To touch me so I’m aware of your presence. If you think you can do that, please, don’t leave me alone.”
Raven tried to speak, but her throat constricted. She just nodded and, with a fierce blush, kissed his hand.
The healer looked away with a private smile, pretending to make another note on her parchment. ‘Woman,’ she thought, ‘what have you done to Severus Snape? I never thought I’d live to see him confident enough to show himself vulnerable.’
“So here’s what’s going to happen,” she continued aloud. “We can’t just rip the whole block away without it leaving uncontrollable residues, or without causing a possibly fatal shock. So we’ll pick it apart piece by piece, according to the nerves that its various parts impact.”
Raven nodded. So far, so good.
“I’m going to use acupuncture to activate certain nerves in a given part of the body. That way we’ll be able to focus energy on the corresponding part of the mind block.”
“I thought acupuncture was just something to relieve pain.”
“In the Chinese tradition it can treat just about any condition. And we have our own applications of it because a wizard’s nervous system is a bit different from a non-magical person’s.”
“So first you’re going to hurt Severus by sticking needles in him, and then the block will hurt him when you try to break it down.”
“It sounds horrible, doesn’t it, when you put it that way? Usually pain is a signal of something bad happening, like burning your hand on a stove. But this time it’s a signal that what we want to achieve actually happens. And in that case someone with Severus’ training can tolerate it to a degree that would send an untrained person into shock.”
“I’ve told you before,” Severus added, “Catrin knows my limits. She’s more likely to play it safe than anything else.”
Raven felt confused, and rather angry. At what, she didn’t quite know. This wasn’t her normal world, where you got ill, was sedated, had surgery, and woke up on your way to recovery. All this mind work business sounded like some New Age bogus nonsense, but Severus and Catrin discussed it like two rational, competent doctors, in fact too cool and detached for her comfort. And Severus trusted her, her of all people, to see him through a long stint of this torture.
Well, she had asked not to be protected. She had wanted to take part in his fight, to share his troubles. So now it was time to put her money where her mouth was. Severus was so special to her, and obviously, incredibly, she was special to him.
She nodded and looked from Severus to Catrin and back. “Just tell me what to do. Help me not to make an ass of myself,” she grinned.
“We’ll have to improvise a lot,” the healer said, “but don’t worry. I’ll keep an eye on your end of things. You’ll do fine.”
“Catrin and I have to talk shop for a while,” Severus added. “You’re welcome to stay, but I’m afraid we won’t be very entertaining.”
“I think I’ll get some rest.” Raven kissed Severus on the lips, stood up and went to lie down on the couch. It was both soft and firm enough to be very comfortable, and the light woollen blanket felt like a caress. Catrin and Severus went on talking, their conversation full of Latin phrases both medical and magical, and she understood very little. They did sound like a pair of siblings. Catrin’s voice didn’t have Severus’ sensual burr, but it was low and soothing, and soon Raven began to drift.
- - - - - - - - -
When Raven opened her eyes, the healer was standing looking down at her. Severus’ irregular, laboured snoring was heard from the bed.
“How are you?”
Raven rubbed her forehead. Her neck felt stiff and her head heavy. “Oh... I’m okay.”
“Would you like something for it?”
Raven thought of Severus’ super-efficient potions. “Yes, please. I’d appreciate that.”
The healer took a step towards the stool by the head of the couch.
“Let me just find out what causes it, so I can give you the right thing.”
She recalled earlier that day, Severus on this couch, and the healer with her wand doing painful things to his head.
“Come to think of it... no thanks. I’ll manage.”
“It’s nothing like that, ” Catrin said. “It won’t hurt.”
Raven sat up abruptly. “Are you reading my mind?!”
“No. Your body language. And I know what you experienced earlier today. Let me put it this way: I won’t touch your mind. I won’t use the wand. I won’t cause you pain. And I never, ever lie to my patients.”
The healer sounded sincere. Raven knew that Severus trusted Catrin, and the romantic notion of experiencing a little of what he was going through held some strange sort of appeal.
She stretched out on the couch again.
“All right.” Catrin’s voice had quickly sunk into her healer mode. “Take a moment just to lie still. Feel your body against the surface that it rests on. Feel its contact with the surface... In some places it touches more, in others less... Notice the differences. Feel your breath filling you, the air going in... and out. Your chest, your belly and your back... Your shoulders and your groin... Focus on your breathing and observe it. There is no right or wrong here. If you feel you need to change something in your position, it’s all right to do it.”
The healer had settled on the stool by Raven’s head with just enough noise to let her notice. No sneaking up on her – the presence felt solid and reassuring. Two hands approached her head, cradled it gently and firmly. It was restful, safe. After a little while fingers started softly kneading and manipulating the small muscles in her neck and the base of her skull. Not exactly massaging her, rather hinting at ways to relax, to soften, to let go. Raven lost track of time and rested in one single now, a pleasant awareness of the moment, here and now to the exclusion of everything else. She gave a deep sigh... a little later a big yawn... Then her head was resting on the pillow again and the healer instructed her:
“Move your head from side to side. Gently. Do less than you are able. And less. And even less than that. Just imagine the movement. And rest.”
Another deep breath.
“Feel your body resting against the surface again and see if you notice any differences. When you are ready, move your hands and feet a little. Stretch any way you like and open your eyes.”
Raven complied. The healer was still sitting by her head, so Raven could only hear her voice:
“How is your headache?”
“Almost gone. Thank you.”
“Not completely, though.”
“No, but that’s no problem.”
The healer pulled the stool over to the middle of the couch so she could reach Raven’s hand.
“Let me try something. It’ll just pinch a little.”
She took Raven’s hand and kneaded the muscle at the base of the thumb between her thumb and fingers. Then she pressed it, quite hard. Raven tensed as the healer’s thumb hit a sore spot, but the sensation passed after a short moment. The healer squeezed harder. The tension around Raven’s forehead dissipated and the heavy feeling lifted. She grinned at the healer.
“All gone?” Catrin asked.
“It’ll come back when I let go.” She did, and the heaviness and ache returned.
“To get a more permanent effect I’d have to use acupuncture. Care to try?”
Raven swallowed hard. “Not really. I’m not into needles. My head is okay.”
Still, she felt curious. It would be something to bring her closer to what Severus was going through, what he would subject himself to in the morning. ‘Nonsense,’ she snorted at herself. ‘He’s really suffering. How could you compare a little pinprick to that.’
“Make your head well and demonstrate what will happen to Severus, on a bearable level. It’s a very simple treatment with just one needle.”
Raven glared at the healer. “Is my mind really that easy to read?”
“I’m sorry, but you do broadcast a lot of emotion. And your thought is so natural, I don’t really need Legilimency to guess it.”
“All right.” Raven thrust her hand at the healer. “Do it before I lose my nerve.”
“Wait a minute. One thing at a time.” Catrin picked up two small sterile packages and ripped one open. “I want you to see this. It’s the kind of needle that I’m going to use.”
It was two inches long and very thin, only the dimension of a thick hair. Catrin ran her hand across it and it bent like a bristle in a stiff brush. Raven imitated her. No, this thing didn’t look or feel very threatening.
Catrin discarded the needle, rolled her wand between her palms in a cleaning spell, and opened the other sterile package.
“I’m going to tell you how to breathe to help you relax,” the healer said to Raven. “Still, it may hurt a bit. You may close your eyes or keep them open, whichever you prefer. I won’t give you any nasty surprises while your eyes are closed.”
Raven’s eyes fixed on the healer’s face for a moment,
then shifted to her raised hand that the other woman was holding. Catrin rubbed
the spot at the base of Raven’s thumb with alcohol and waved her hand over it
to help it dry.
“We don’t want the alcohol to sting you,” she explained. “All right, take a deep breath and hold it.”
Raven obeyed and felt tension rising in her whole body.
“And let it out.”
Raven did, feeling the relaxation, but ended with a little yelp as the needle broke the skin.
“Yes,” said the healer. “Focus on your breathing. It has to go a little deeper.”
Twirling the needle between her thumb and fingers, she inserted it firmly and securely.
Raven gasped. Her curled fingers twitched involuntarily. Then she felt a jolt like an electric current running through her forearm up to her elbow.
“That’s it,” Catrin said. “Keep still and rest. It won’t hurt while you do that.”
Raven had to admit that the healer was right. Still, she lay musing if the cure did not feel worse than the affliction. Then she asked: “You said this is a simple treatment with one needle. Severus’ will be complicated. So how many are you going to use on him?”
“I can’t say really, it depends on how the block reacts and exactly how we attack it at each moment. Eight or ten is a reasonable guess. It will vary in different stages of the treatment. All of them won’t be this thin, and some will be in other metal alloys. But the needles aren’t the problem. The big source of discomfort will be the block defending itself. The acupuncture will help Severus fight some of that pain. – All right, I have to activate your point again. You may want to take a breath to relax deeper. Try not to brace yourself, just let it happen.”
The jolt was not milder, but more familiar, less frightening.
“I’m going to do this just once more, in a little while,” the healer prepared her.
They waited in silence, Catrin focusing on a breathing exercise of her own.
Then she reached for Raven’s hand, gave the needle another twirl, waited a moment and extracted it.
“That’s all. Don’t hurry to get up. Stretch a bit, take your time to start moving again. ”
The healer tidied away her instruments, picked up the scrolls and made to leave.
“Head all right?” she asked Raven, who looked as if she felt quite secure on her feet again.
“Perfect,” was the answer. “By the way...”
“Where do I sleep tonight?”
“You have some options, the choice is up to you. If you’d like to sleep in your own bed and come back in the morning, I’ll make you a couple of portkeys. If you’re in the mood for a drink and some more of Alice’s funny stories, you’re welcome to the guest room in our apartment in the other wing. And if you’d like to stay close to Severus, you can have the room next to his. Or a bed in here. Or share his bed.”
“Would that be all right? His bed, I mean.”
“You wouldn’t get much sleep, and not for any pleasant reasons. In his present condition Severus can’t have sex. He’s likely to be restless and wake up several times during the night, because of the pain and pre-op nerves.”
“But... do you think he’d want me in here?”
“You’re joking. The man needs you. You’re good for him.”
“I just thought that a wizard would want to... I don’t know, prepare himself, meditate, stuff like that.”
“No, Severus is as ready as he’ll ever be. The night will just be a number of hours for him to live through. He shouldn’t be left alone with his ghosts, and it’s you he wants. In my professional opinion, your presence in his room tonight is medically indicated.”
“Even in his bed?”
The healer raised her wand and murmured a few phrases. The bed where Severus was sleeping grew to a comfortable double size, and another set of pillows and covers appeared.
“Then maybe I should get some air before dinner,” she said. “Make me sleep better tonight. I’ve only seen you park through the window; it’s beautiful.”
“It belongs to the property and it’s magically warded. Enjoy, and don’t leave the grounds. In fact, you could take Mao Xiong for a walk.”
They left the room together and walked along the corridor to the stairs.
“Who or what is Mou Cheeong?”
“You’ll see.” The healer gave a low whistle through her teeth and listened.
There was a low thud on the stairs and an animal came bounding down the corridor.
the size of a large stocky cat and most of its fur was an amazing deep dusky
It had a black belly and legs, large pointed ears edged in white and white markings in the face. Its nose and eyes glittered like three obsidian buttons and its magnificent bushy tail, ringed in auburn and pale yellow, streamed behind it. It took a leap and landed in Catrin’s arms with a gentle twitter. It looked at Raven curiously and stretched its neck as if to sniff her. It looked absolutely irresistible and Raven immediately reached out to scratch its head. It licked her hand briefly and then leaned into the caress. Catrin handed the animal to Raven and it scrambled over to settle comfortably in her arms.
“Meet Mao Xiong, Cat Bear. Lesser or red panda to you.”
“It’s so sweet. Is it your pet?”
“She’s a magical creature who lives here with me. Nobody owns her: she’s as smart as you or I, even though she can’t speak. And don’t worry, you won’t have to carry her or keep track of her outside. She’s more likely to keep an eye on you.”
The animal blinked and butted Raven’s chin affectionately. Then it squirmed to be let down.
It set out down the stairs and Raven had no choice but to follow.
The walk in the park with Mao Xiong turned into a memorable romp. The cat bear rushed about and pounced at leaves, making Raven laugh like a child. It wound about her legs like a cat, ran off, came back and started off again, inviting her to follow. Soon they were playing tag, until Raven had to sit down on a bench to catch her breath. The animal climbed up into a tree and looked down at her with what resembled a smile. Then it climbed higher to check out a bird’s nest, scrambled down and settled in her lap to have its ears scratched. Raven had no idea how long they sat there. When the cat bear stood up, stretched and once more butted her chin with its head, she realized that her stomach was rumbling something about dinner time.
Raven went to Severus’ room to visit with him and to clean up before dinner in the attached bathroom. Meanwhile the cat bear slunk into Catrin’s living room and turned a somersault on the thick woollen rug. Suddenly it was Alice standing there, her cheeks still flushed from the romp in the park. Catrin smiled at her and the two women embraced affectionately.
- - - - - - - - -
After dinner Raven and Severus shared the bathroom like an old married couple, taking turns to shower and brush their teeth. Occasionally Raven forgot the depressing reason for their presence there, and simply enjoyed the companionable atmosphere.
Severus drank his evening potion with an expressionless face.
Both of them wearing identical simple linen nightshirts, Raven climbed into bed and opened her arms to Severus. He joined her with a hint of hesitation.
“Raven, I don’t know how to say this, but... I can’t... do you justice tonight. I’m sorry.”
She held him close and stroked his hair.
“I know. It’s all right. Everything will be fine. We’ll make up for it. Lots and lots of times.”
She fell asleep, but woke up again after a while and listened to his laboured breath. Tears rolled down her cheeks in complete silence. Then she dried her face with her sleeve and practised remembering the good things. Their first dinner together. The day she came home and found the walls of her room transformed. The night he threw out the burglars and revealed his powers to her.
Suddenly she heard Severus cry out, thrash about briefly, and jerk himself upright. She spoke gently to him, calming him, soothing the pain. He lay still next to her, but she could sense that he was awake.
“How can you be so strong? Aren’t you afraid at all?”
“I heard you speak with Catrin, as if you were talking about an interesting case in some medical textbook.”
He swallowed hard and she feared that her question had been a huge mistake.
Then he said in a very quiet, low voice: “I am afraid. Terribly. Most of all, that the cure won’t work. That I’ve lost my powers forever. I literally don’t know if I’d be able to live like that. Being a wizard is such a crucial part of being me.”
“And still you can sound so detached, and crack jokes?”
“Just think about it. If I let go and turned into a whimpering, gibbering wreck, how would it help things? My best chance is to be rational. Be the expert that I am. Keep my spirit up. Poke fun at Catrin. Hold you and tell you that I love you. That we’ll have a chance at some happy time together when this is over. It’s so good to have you here, Raven.”
He curled up on his side next to her and sank into a spell of quiet sleep.
She lay awake again, and remembered something she’d read ages ago in American Literature class. About courage being grace under pressure. In high school the phrase had made them giggle – anything they didn’t understand they found ridiculous. Grace under pressure. She understood now. Severus was grace under pressure personified. For his sake she should be as alert as possible in the morning. She fell asleep, and went back to sleep every time his restlessness woke her during the night.
- - - - - - - - -
Barely awake, unwilling to move just yet, Raven kept her eyes closed and listened to Catrin and Severus speak in hushed tones.
“… the usual samples,” said the healer. Then she added: “I’ll help you to the bathroom and then analyze them right away.”
“Good,” Severus said. “I’m glad to spare Raven that detail.”
She felt him move next to her, sit up with Catrin’s help, then rise from the bed.
The sounds from the bathroom were muffled by the closed door. Then Catrin and Severus came back and she could feel him return to bed. There was a low clank of instruments and Catrin’s low professional voice saying: “All right, make a fist ... and let go.”
“You have beautiful veins.”
“That’s one compliment I could have done without,” he answered wryly.
Raven lay still, but peeked through her eyelashes. Severus was sitting up in bed, Catrin standing next to him, and there was an ordinary, non-magical, rather thick IV needle stuck in his arm. Catrin had filled two test tubes with his blood, and was filling a third one.
Raven blinked, lifted her face towards Severus and murmured: “Hmm… G’morning.”
He smiled at her and stroked her cheek with his free hand. “Good morning, my love. Excuse me for a moment – I’m being visited by a vampire!” he ended in a mock-horror tone.
“Good morning, Raven,” said the healer.
Noticing Raven’s questioning look, she went on: “Well, wizards have a biology as well. It’s just not altogether like non-magical people’s. So, sometimes the best way of getting reliable data is by simple trivial urine and blood analysis. Or rather by applying spells to samples instead of the entire body.”
Meanwhile, she had filled and put down the third test tube, pulled out the needle and pressed a small wad of cellulose onto the puncture to staunch the bleeding. Severus’ free hand found the spot by well-acustomed touch and took over pressing down on it. After a moment he lifted the square of cellulose and nodded to Catrin, who touched his arm with her wand. No trace of the puncture remained.
He slid back between the covers and held Raven close to him.
“Good morning,” he murmured, “And thank you for a restful night.”
Catrin was busying herself with the test tubes, touching her wand to them and voicing incantations. Gradually, the contents changed colour: one turned a deep sapphire, the second a clearer, brighter shade of red, the last one a rich golden hue.
“Severus,” Catrin said, “look at your samples. And you’ve seen the other ones.”
She and the man exchanged a pleased look.
Before Raven could start feeling left out, Catrin explained: “The test results are excellent. This man is in better shape than he has any right to be.”
“I have the best medicine.” He kissed the top of Raven’s head before she stumbled out of bed and headed for the bathroom.
Catrin asked: “So, Raven, what would you like for breakfast? Eggs, sausage, porridge…?”
Raven gagged at the idea. “Nothing, please. I just need some coffee.”
“Sorry. ‘Nothing’ is not an option. Severus can’t eat now, so he needs our energy. You don’t want to faint halfway through the intervention.”
“Eggs, then. Soft boiled. Toast, orange juice and black coffee.”
At least something that wasn’t weird and magical.
Catrin conjured a scroll out of thin air and made signs on it with her wand. The scroll popped out of existence. “Breakfast in ten minutes,” the healer said.
“We’ll need your help with the next step after breakfast. Cleanliness is essential in magical healing just as it is in regular medicine, and some healing substances are best absorbed through the skin. You’ll help Severus to bathe and wash himself.”
Another first. Raven had no children or young siblings, so washing someone, other than as a part of sexual foreplay, felt strange to her.
“I rely on you,” Severus said with a bite of irony in his voice. “The horrid alternative is being left at the mercy of a twenty-year-old male bumbling apprentice healer.”
Raven couldn’t help laughing. “Okay, I can do that.”
“Here,” the healer said, handing her a large blue vial. “Empty all of this in the bathtub and rinse it to get the full dose. The water as hot as he can bear, to begin with. Soak for at least ten minutes, preferably fifteen. Make sure that his hair gets saturated with the solution as well.”
“All of the contents, hot water, ten to fifteen minutes,” Raven repeated.
The healer nodded. “He may need to rest in bed for a while after the hot soak. And he knows what’s at stake, so he’ll be honest about feeling dizzy,” she shot Severus a challenging look.
She handed Raven another vial, green, with a light scent of peppermint.
“This is for the shower just before the intervention. Comfortably warm, as pleasant as possible. Wash every part of him thoroughly: his face, his hair, the soles of his feet, his genitals, everything.”
Raven blushed furiously, but Catrin and Severus looked calm and detached. She went into the bathroom to deposit the two vials, and when she came back, her breakfast had magically appeared.
Raven looked at the tray with slight disgust, but sat down in front of it. Severus gave her an encouraging nod. She picked up the glass of orange juice and raised it, as if drinking his health. He replied in kind, with a goblet containing the morning dose of his potion.
- - - - - - - - -
Catrin brought Raven to the operating room by sideways Apparition, as she had done with Severus. Wearing only a long dark blue dressing gown, he was standing by what looked uncomfortably like an ordinary operating table. A large disc set with white crystals hung over the table, where Raven would have expected a lamp. Next to the table, an instrument trolley had a few instruments laid out on it hat Raven could not place, but above all there was a large array of needles of different sizes, the metals ranging in colour from a reddish tinge over yellowish and pure white to an icy blue. The shimmer of a cleanliness charm covered the table and the trolley. Severus scrutinized the instruments intently, as if making an inventory.
Catrin slipped her fingers around his wrist and seemed to listen, rather than count his pulse. “Very good,” she nodded, satisfied. “And, is anything missing?”
“Of course not,” he said. “Just making sure, for myself.”
She turned towards Raven. “All right, let’s scrub and change.”
They scrubbed their hands and arms up to the elbow in the adjoining preparation room. Catrin swept her wand over them and Raven felt the tingling sensation of a sealing spell. A similar spell covered and secured their hair. Catrin handed Raven a pale blue healer’s smock and put on one herself. They returned to the operating room.
Severus removed his bathrobe and handed it to Raven, who hanged it on a hook by the door. He wore nothing underneath, having put on only the robe after his shower. He sat on the edge of the lowered operating table. Raven moved forward to help him lie down, but he held her back with a gesture.
“Thank you, I’ll manage.” He did, by an effort of will, and breathed heavily as he lay on his back. Catrin slipped in a hand to feel his neck muscles, and placed a thin, firm pillow under his head. She raised the table to the level of her waist. Then she made a gesture towards the crystal disc, and it lit with a clear, white light.
The breath caught in Raven’s throat. Severus looked so pale, fragile, exposed. His legs were slightly apart and turned out a little from the hips. There were hints of silver in the black hair on his torso and at his groin, where the penis rested flaccid and inert. This sight and the slight shivers running through his abdomen tore at her heart more than anything else. His arms lay palms up, showing the thin, sensitive skin on their insides. His eyes searched for hers and gave her a hint of a smile. She tried to smile back and felt herself fail miserably.
Then he looked at Catrin, who said: “Are you ready?”
“Yes.” And he added, wryly: “I am entirely at your mercy, ladies.”
Catrin asked: “Shall I choose a first move?”
He said: “No. I know how to start. We’ll give it a good stiff general blow before moving to the specifics. The solar plexus again, but this time with short diagonals, just the torso. Copper alloy, medium… no. Make it rough gauge.”
The healer laid out four needles on a tray. They were stubby, with a reddish tinge, broadening from a very sharp point to over a millimetre in thickness. She picked up several alcohol pads and wiped four points, left and right at the angle of shoulder and collar bone, and on the lower belly near the hip bone.
“Raven,” Severus said. She stepped closer to his head. “I want you to pin down my arm and hold it still. Don’t be afraid. You’ll only have to do it once. The first time the reflex will be hard for me to control. After that, I’ll manage.”
Raven swallowed her tears and placed a hesitant hand on his shoulder. Catrin beckoned for her other hand, and moved them into the correct position. “Put your weight on them. He’s very strong.”
Raven complied, and closed her eyes. As if through a layer of cotton wool, she heard the healer’s murmured instructions:
“Inhale and hold… steady… exhale.”
A vast shudder racked Severus’ body, almost dislodging Raven’s hands.
“Focus… steady your breathing… that’s right... focus…” Catrin droned on.
Raven felt a smaller shiver. Then the man lay still.
Raven heard Catrin’s voice close to her ear: “It’s all right. You can let go. Breathe. Open your eyes. Deep regular breaths.” Raven obeyed and felt somewhat better.
“Rest a little and find your balance. You’ll be needed in a few moments.”
Carefully, gently, firmly, the healer placed the remaining three needles. The man lay with his eyes closed, perfectly still apart from the steady rise and fall of his chest and abdomen in slow, determined breaths. Raven needed desperately to touch him, but she was afraid to cause harm. She moved haltingly to the foot end of the table and gently placed her hands on the man’s feet.
She stroked them a few times and then just let her hands rest there.
“Very good, go on,” the healer said. “You’re helping him.”
Catrin had laid her left palm just below the man’s breast bone and raised her wand in her right. She touched it to his skin and, again, his torso shuddered. Raven could feel his feet go stiff. Again she stroked them, started kneading them gently, wishing for the tension to go away. Slowly, it did recede.
To her relief, Raven was not required to share Catrin’s perceptions. Even without mind touch, she suffered Severus’ gasps and spasms as the healer applied needles, activated and re-activated trigger points, worked her wand, and repeated the process again and again so that Raven lost count. She held, touched, massaged his feet, as if to keep him grounded, to keep him close to her. For a while she was asked to hold his hand and speak to him. She did not know what to say and she murmured and repeated nonsensical endearments, like spells in her own brand of healing magic.
And then the needles were gone, Severus lay relaxed, the healer preparing for a final touch of the wand to his head that would dissolve the last of the block.
The healer touched her wand to the man’s forehead, and his face relaxed still further. His breathing calmed, deepened, settled. He was asleep.
Raven collapsed on top of Severus’ body, barely conscious. She was shivering and her tears mingled with the sweat coating his chest and abdomen.
Catrin, holding her wand in both hands, ran it along the contour of Severus’ head and chest. The scan satisfied her that the intervention had been successful.
She touched Raven’s shoulder lightly. “It’s all right. It’s finished. He’ll be fine.”
She took a moment to turn on a cold water faucet in the preparation room, let the water run through her short hair, lapped it like an animal and swallowed it in huge gulps.
Then she Apparated the two patients back to Severus’ room.
- - - - - - - - -
Raven woke up feeling lazy and relaxed and refreshed, in Severus’ arms.
She lay a long time propped up on her elbow, watching him sleep. This was real sleep, deep, calm, restful. His cheeks even had a slight pinkish tinge.
The sheets felt strange. She moved about and ran her hand across them. Silk. Ivory silk.
Silk sheets in a sickroom in what amounted to a hospital?
She looked around, puzzled and delighted. The bed had been turned into a sumptuous oaken four-poster with dark green damask hangings that matched the drapes across the windows. The floor held an intarsia pattern of dark exotic woods polished to a deep lustre. The thick Oriental rugs had rich jewel colours, again dominated by a dark emerald green.
She stood up and tiptoed to the window to open the drapes. The view was one of the clinic park, just as the day before. But the room had been transformed.
“Good morning, my love,” she heard from the bed.
Severus lay looking at her, with a beaming smile, holding his arms out to her. She climbed back into bed and held him close.
“Do you like the room?” he asked.
“It’s wonderful,” she said. “Absolutely gorgeous.”
“Inspired by my favourite room in my favourite hotel, a 15th century palace, in my favourite city, Venice. With a few personal improvements. I’ll show you the real thing someday.”
She kissed him hungrily and the room was forgotten for a time. Then he looked into her eyes.
“What else would you want me to magic for you?”
“Nothing. Anything. It doesn’t matter. You have your powers back. The rest isn’t important.”
He lay on his back, stretching lazily.
“I know,” he said. “Rose petals. I’ve been told that women like rose petals.”
“Rose petals?” she asked incredulously.
He reached for his wand on the bedside table and pointed it at the expanse of damask above them.
Pink, red and tea rose petals began snowing down at them, floating and fluttering, dissolving into puffs of warm air when they touched the sheets.
Raven burst out laughing. The laughter went on and on, and shortly Severus’ velvety burr joined her.
She calmed down enough to speak and said in a tone of mock drama:
“Yes, Master Wizard, I do harbour a secret wish.”
“What would that be, my lady?”
“I could use some breakfast.”
If you want to find out what I think happened to Severus, Raven and Catrin
after the Deathly Hallows, read the next story