The wand bounced off the wall with an angry crack.
The black-haired, black-clad young man stood with his chest heaving, fists clenched, a small muscle twitching below his left eye.
“Let’s try again,” the woman said conversationally. “You managed the first stage of the transformation, that’s a good start.”
He took a few steps across the room, then turned to face her, black eyes blazing.
“Catrin, I’m obviously a total dimwit. Go to Professor Wang and ask to be paired with someone else.”
“No, I won’t. It makes sense for us to work together. I’m the only unattached foreigner here. The Durmstrang and Vindhya people all come in pairs, there’s even two of the Pechorskoe Russians, and your Hogwarts mates didn’t strike me as very affectionate towards you.”
Obviously somewhat older than he, she wore the regular brown graduate student’s robes, but with a Mediwitch badge pinned on them. She and the young man had been assigned a first research project, where working in pairs was compulsory. The obligation evidently chafed at him even more than it did at her.
“I don’t want your pity!” he growled.
“I’ve no intention of offering you any,” she said coolly, adjusting her eyeglasses. “My plan is to use you. You’re by far the best potions expert in our year, and I’m more experienced than you are in clinical research. This project might turn out a roaring success if we could take advantage of each other.”
Her voice mellowed towards the end, and she even ventured an equivocal grin.
He bit his lip, and said in a calmer tone: “I do believe you mean it.”
There were two small cauldrons on the workbench behind them, safely contained magical fires blazing underneath. One of the cauldrons held a clear orange liquid, the contents of the other one were a murky ashes-of-roses. The woman had given her potion the proper final form by a complex, rapid but smooth manoeuvre of her wand.
“How on earth do you do it?” the man muttered. “You aren’t even specialising in potions. I feel like a complete idiot.”
“Let me guess, Severus. You’re very talented, and have a brilliant analytical mind. So you don’t usually have to practise very long: you think things out and then just do them.”
“Well, yes, what other way is there?” His tone was still grudging, but seeing the problem as an intellectual challenge seemed to calm and focus him.
“Is that why you despise wand work?” she grinned amicably. “It has an important element of motor skill, so you can only learn the really complex patterns by actual physical practice. Which necessarily means that you mess up a lot in the beginning.”
“I don’t know about despising it – I’ve just never seen the point of fancy wand waving around cauldrons. Not until I started looking into the properties of the Himalayan wormplant. Your spell integrates it so beautifully, it saves weeks of maturation time.”
He bent down to retrieve his wand and ran his fingers along it to make sure there were no cracks. Then he turned to his cauldron again, and raised the wand.
“Wait,” she said. “This is a really tough one. At one stage my own tutor threatened to stuff my face into the cauldron.”
The man smiled, but eyed her warily.
“It’s a fully qualitative change: once you get the knack of it you’ll be able to transform gallons of the stuff at a time. So why don’t you take out about half a dozen small samples to practise on.”
He muttered something about ‘dunderhead method’, but set out a row of white porcelain bowls and poured out perfectly equal samples of the potion into them.
“All right,” said the woman. “There’s a rule against jinxing the lab equipment, so try the movement without the wand first.”
She leaned over the remains of their takeaway Chinese lunch and got them a chopstick each.
“Watch,” she said. “This is as slow as I can make it.”
She moved the chopstick like a wand in a fluid, intricate pattern, then repeated the movement, again and again.
He watched intently a number of times, and then raised his own chopstick.
The movement was wobbly, with several false starts.
“Try again,” she said impersonally. He complied.
She nodded slightly, observing him, her eyes hooded.
“Try again,” she said. He did.
Another nod. “Again.”
“Keep your elbow still, the wrist straight, and lead with the outer edge of your hand. Here…”
She reached out and cupped his elbow in her hand.
He flinched a little.
When she touched his bare wrist with her other hand to correct the angle, his arm grew rigid and his breath caught.
“Breathe, Severus,” she said casually. “I won’t bite you.”
She let go of his elbow, took the chopstick from him and held his hand between both of hers.
“You’re very tense. What’s wrong?”
“Well… it’s…” he swallowed laboriously. “I’m not much used to touching people. Being touched.”
“Touching isn’t compulsory,” she said calmly, without letting go of his hand. “Not everyone enjoys physical contact. – Does it disgust you?”
“No, not at all. I think…” he searched for words. “It’s simply a matter of experience. – Habit or lack thereof,” he added wryly.
She had begun massaging his hand and wrist softly.
He exhaled. What she did felt good, in a reassuringly impersonal way.
“Since we’re stuck with each other on this project, and it involves potions,” she said, keeping her tone carefully neutral, “it would make things easier if you could stand a bit of casual contact without freezing up or jumping.”
“Yes, wouldn’t it,” he murmured.
“And, just for the record,” she added dryly, “I don’t intend to rape you. I have a girlfriend.”
His brief glance at her held something akin to relief.
She let go of his hand slowly, then held out her palm and beckoned with her fingers.
He looked down at his other hand, paused a moment, and thrust the hand at her without looking up. She let it rest between her palms, then unobtrusively began massaging it as well.
She worked at it gently but firmly, systematically. Eventually she could sense him shift his weight from the balls of his feet to a more relaxed stance on the entire soles. He took several deep sighing breaths and focused his eyes on her face.
“That feels good,” he said, barely audibly.
She glanced at him, then retuned her full attention to his hand.
“Part of my training. Someday you may even let me rub your neck.”
His breath caught once more, and she chuckled. “Relax. I won’t pounce on you. Take it as an indefinite offer, for whenever you feel like trying it. – All right, let’s have another go at that spell.”
He tried again.
She looked a little doubtful, but agreed when he picked up his wand and approached the first sample.
He pronounced the incantation and swept his wand over the bowl.
A single bubble formed at the bottom, floated up to the surface and burst with an audible ‘pop’.
The man shook his head and inhaled in a furious attempt to focus. He raised his wand, but lowered it again. “It won’t work,” he said, as though to himself.
“I don’t know how else to explain,” said the woman, “and I can’t slow it down more than I already have. But there is a way. I could show you in my mind.”
He sounded puzzled, but eager. “Show me? How?”
“You have something of a reputation for Legilimency,” she said.
“I can’t Read you while you perform a spell. Something might happen. To harm you.”
“I don’t believe you would harm me, in fact I don’t think you could, without hurting yourself – but I wasn’t suggesting Legilimency. I was thinking of Equilibrium, mutual rapport.”
The look on his face was one of open incredulous awe, as if he was facing a mythical beast.
“You obviously know what it is,” she continued, “as you should. You are after all a fully trained Legilimens. Have you really never tried it, at least as a part of your training?”
His tone was icy, his words formal: “Rapport presupposes trust. That has been a somewhat rare commodity in my past.”
She let it pass without inquiring further. “Yes, it’s strictly a method for consenting adults. And very useful, since it permits quick, silent and selective exchange of information.”
“Catrin, you don’t know what you’re suggesting. I am a very strong Legilimens, and I’ve been known to hurt people that way.”
“The more reason for you to practise moderating your powers.”
“You are unbelievably kind to me,” he blurted out, and continued as if afraid of losing his nerve: “You’re offering me something that I never thought I’d experience. It’s a very, very tempting offer. I don’t want to repay you by inadvertently forcing my way… invading your privacy.”
“Come and sit with me.” She led the way to a couple of chairs by a desk. “We’ll do a little experiment.”
He followed, not trusting himself to speak. They sat down at an angle to each other.
“Here’s the scenario,” she went on. “I’m someone neutral, neither friend nor enemy, who has information that you need to acquire. Let’s say that you need the location of the place where I last found a good supply of wormplant. Damaging me would compromise your mission, so you don’t want to use more force than necessary. Go ahead and Read me to find it out.”
Letting his trained instincts take over, he focused and reached out with his mind: “Legilimens!”
… and ran up literally against a blank wall.
The wall was anchored in solid rock, roughly whitewashed except for the bottom part where it met the rock, which was black.
The wall was several stories high; far, far up, there was an inaccessible row of small windows, also framed in black. The top of the wall disappeared in the clouds.
The man mentally pushed at the wall: the stone beneath the whitewash was solid, unyielding. He used more power, to no avail. What more, he felt short of breath, as if the air itself was growing thinner. He felt anxiety creeping up on him.
Desperately, in a final attempt to penetrate the wall, he withdrew a few steps and threw himself headlong against the rough white surface.
He was sitting in his chair in the familiar graduate students’ laboratory, with Catrin looking calmly at him.
“What was that?” he asked avidly, incredulously. “The Potala palace?”
“Fairly close,” she replied. “A synthesis of Himalayan religious architecture. Rock solid, inaccessible, durable – and beautiful, which makes it easier to evoke.”
“And did you actually make the air go bad?”
“It’s the feeling you get when you arrive at a high elevation suddenly, as in Portkeying, Apparition, or Muggle air travel. I emulate it in the subject’s mind, so it doesn’t actually cause physical harm, but it certainly discourages unwanted visitors.”
“It matches your defences,” he smiled, completely immersed in the intellectual enjoyment. He went on: “Come to think of it, it would match mine.”
He paused and gave her a challenging look. “Would you like to see?”
“Yes. Assume you want to find out why I’m curious about your source of wormplant.”
“All right. Here goes… Legilimens!”
She was faced with a wall of huge stone blocks, the bottom row half buried in the grass-covered earth. The blocks fit together tightly, with no mortar, glue or magic, only the sheer weight and precision of the construction keeping them in place. The wall seemed eternal, ancient, almost a natural part of the surrounding landscape. It extended as far as she could see left and right, but did not seem higher than some ten feet. Catrin mentally flexed her fingers, breathed an adhesion spell, found a few minute cracks, and began to climb. The wall grew taller, matching her speed. She murmured a spell to help her rise. She seemed to be nearing the top of the wall, but suddenly her ascent sped up uncontrollably. She felt herself fly up, stop, then fall freely.
And she found herself back in her chair in the laboratory, Severus watching her with concern.
“Are you hurt?”
“Not in the least,” she laughed. “Didn’t get anyplace, though, as you knew I wouldn’t. Spectacular defences. Machu Picchu, isn’t it? Do you have Inca or Conquistador blood?”
“Yes, it is, and no, not at all. I think it comes from reading too many adventure books when I was a boy.”
“You’re right, the thin air illusion would fit in very well. We need to finish what we’ve started today, but I’ll teach it to you over the weekend, if you like.”
“If you don’t think I’m too dense…”
“Come on, stop flirting with being stupid – you’re too smart for that. Besides, it doesn’t involve any wand work.” She attempted a joke, and was relieved to see him smile at it.
“Now, then. What do you know about Equilibrium?”
“Mutual rapport is an equal sharing between two Legiliments of approximately equal strength who cooperate willingly,” he reeled off. “It may be initiated by either party and accepted or rejected by the other without discomfort to either one. The exchange is as selective as speech, in that it is consciously controlled, but it may involve sensations and a certain degree of motor control as well as semantic information.”
“Well, Severus, you certainly have all the theory you need. I won’t insult your intelligence by asking if you understand what it means.”
“But…?” he quipped.
“No buts,” she said quietly. “Let’s give it a try. I’d like you to initiate the contact the first time. Otherwise your defences may trigger, if you feel invaded.”
“I don’t know what to do.” There was an edge of near-panic to his voice.
“Easy. The mind set is the same as for Legilimens. You don’t speak the word, and you use about one fourth of the energy. It's wandless. If you need help directing your thoughts, you can either imagine that you reach out to me with your hand, or actually make the gesture.”
He focused with a great effort, his eyes closed, and raised a hand in her direction.
She winced slightly, but smiled. ‘Welcome, Severus,’ she thought.
His eyes snapped open and he scrutinized her face for signs of discomfort. His own expression was somewhat dazed.
’There, you did it,’ she thought. ’Not too bad, is it?’
“That’s for you to say,” he whispered mentally and vocally. “Are you all right?”
’Perfectly,’ she smiled. ’Now imagine withdrawing the energy, taking it back inside you.’
He complied, somewhat raggedly, and they were just looking at each other again in the physical sense.
“Very good. We’ll do it again, and I want you to use as little energy as you can. No gestures, no looks, you can be completely unobtrusive. Just direct your thoughts… That’s it. That’s all you need.”
He lowered his eyes to a point on the floor, and focused with a sigh.
After another deep breath, he looked up and whispered: “What is this place?”
In his mind they were standing in a long, broad, green valley, surrounded by gigantic glacier-clad mountains. The sky was the deep sapphire blue of extremely high elevation. A shallow, rapid river ran through the middle of the valley. Some distance from the river stood two circular black tent-like structures the size of low, flat cottages. A herd of long-furred, horned bovines was grazing around the tents: some black with white markings, others completely black, and two almost completely white. They looked for all the world like ambulant shaggy rugs hanged on racks for airing.
‘It’s where I get my supply of wormplant,’ she thought to him. ‘They harvest it over there.’
He noticed a group of people on the hillside above the tents, digging up some small objects and collecting them in large cloth bags.
‘I spent two years with this family, learning Tibetan,’ she explained.’ We only used the classical language at school, so I had to live with an ordinary wizarding family to learn everyday communication.’
Severus was amazed. Suddenly he knew the place, would be able to Apparate there if necessary, as if he had both been there himself and studied a detailed map of the region.
He knew, physically knew, where the wormplant came from; he could sense the air and the mountains, hear the low grunts of the grazing yaks, smell the smoke rising from the chimneys of the tents.
He wanted… he needed to reciprocate somehow.
There was a moment of confusion, and then Catrin sensed his fascination with the wormplant: the wonder of encountering it for the first time in a book of rare potion ingredients, followed by a thirst for knowledge that was almost physical. She felt his pleasure of learning, the eager expectation of new understanding – and she saw his ideas before her. Questions that called for answers, hypotheses that required testing, promises of new or improved medicines, both wizardly and Muggle.
‘Severus, you’re showing me all your research ideas,’ she pointed out. ‘If it’s a mistake, you may want to break off the rapport and have me return the memory to you.’
She withdrew gently from his mind.
“No,” he said aloud. “I want you to know. We might develop some of those ideas together. As our thesis work. If you think you could… work with me.”
“I’d like that very much,” she answered. “You just have to promise me to think about it for a while. Some of those medicines could make you really rich and famous, and the ideas are your own.”
“I won’t change my mind, Catrin. Just imagine, your Ladakhi schooling and Western Mediwitch training, and my knowledge of potions, working together.”
“Please, humour me, Severus, and sleep on it. You’re a bit drunk now on having found a new friend, and I don’t want you to end up feeling that you promised too much while under the influence. Tomorrow after the lecture you’ll either ask me to have the memory back, or tell me that you need some more time to think, or we’ll go out and celebrate our joint project. Fair enough?”
“More than fair enough. You’re a good person, Catrin.”
“Humph. Goes to show, you don’t know me,” she quipped. “Yet,” she added with a grin.
“Now, about that spell. I’d like you to follow from within when I perform it.”
They stood up and returned to the workbench.
He felt an impulse from her mind, and his first reflex was to retreat into Occlumency. He checked himself quickly and relaxed his defences, albeit with some effort.
‘Thank you,’ he sensed her warm thought.
She picked up her wand and gave him a moment to get accustomed to the connection with the rich, steady and powerful linden wood, and the peaceful but assertive solitary feline embodied in the snow leopard whisker core.
‘Think the incantation along with me, and sense the movement of my hand,’ she directed.
The double awareness felt strange to him at first, but with his excellent Legilimens faculties he soon adapted, and focused on following her as unobtrusively as possible. At once he sensed the difference between her movements and the way he had attempted them.
‘Oh, I see it now! May I try?’
‘Of course. I’ll help you along, if you let me. Don’t worry, it’s nothing like Possession. You can resist very easily.’
His wand hand felt as if it was encased in a soft glove that gently suggested a movement. He tried resisting it and moving his arm in a different direction, and his will prevailed with no hint of trouble. His eyes found Catrin’s and softened in a brief smile. He gave a small nod and returned to the initial position.
Catrin directed him through the movement pattern, slowly at first, then faster and with greater fluency.
‘Excellent,’ she told him in his mind. ‘You have it now. Try the whole spell.’
He raised his wand over one of the samples, pronounced the incantation and swept the wand over the murky pinkish liquid. Smoothly and rapidly it cleared and turned a bright orange.
Severus noticed that the double awareness was gone.
“Congratulations,” Catrin said with a big smile.
“Not quite yet,” he objected. “You were directing me.”
“No. I withdrew at the first syllable. You did it by yourself.”
He raised his wand over another sample, and repeated the spell.
The liquid reacted just as smoothly as before.
He focused on the cauldron with the remaining potion and transformed all the contents into their final form.
He looked at Catrin, and this time his smile mirrored hers.
“Thank you so much,” he said. “You’ve been unbelievably patient.”
“I thought I pushed you quite hard, and I’m impressed with your responses. I hope it wasn’t too painful,” she added with a hint of levity.
“Anyway,” she went on, “you’ll have a chance to retaliate.”
“Inorganic Potion Ingredients and Their Psychoactive Properties.”
“By Francalanci and Kimura. Yes, that’s a very basic book. What about it?”
“When did you have it memorised: sixth year of Hogwarts?”
“Hmmm… Fifth, actually, in the spring.”
“Well, me, I’m still looking things up. I can manage plants, animal parts, anything organic, most metals, but for some reason I’m totally pants at the minerals.”
“If we’re going to work together, I have to know my stuff. Facts are the bricks of creativity.”
He looked at her questioningly.
She continued: “So I authorise you to use whatever mental torture you can devise to help me memorise the rocks. Call me names, heckle me, be acerbic, be silent, keep me away from chocolate, do whatever it takes. Don’t pull your punches.”
At that moment the Booking Clock over the door shrieked:
“Cleanup time, cleanup time! Fifteen minutes left of your booking!”
They decanted the potion into bottles for further experiments, and worked seamlessly in tandem when tidying up and cleaning the equipment.
“You asked for it,” Severus growled towards the end of the cleanup. “Lapis lazuli?”
“Found mainly in Afghanistan,” she stalled for time. “It’s blue, royal blue… for harmony and truth… also used as a pigment in art…”
His lips curved derisively: “Dissolves best in… what?”
Catrin groped in her memory for an answer, but finally shrugged her shoulders with a sheepish look.
Severus cocked an eyebrow at her and gave a comically exaggerated sigh.
“I’ll have a page on lapis lazuli from you by tomorrow night, bare facts, no fluff, and you’ll review your semiprecious stones of the Hindu Kush for Monday morning.”
“Yes, Professor,” she curtsied mockingly, “thank you, Professor.”
The door of the laboratory clicked shut behind them. Side by side they walked down the corridor, down the stairs, and into the late afternoon sunshine.
If you want to find out how Severus succeeded as Catrin’s healer after a laboratory accident,
read the next story.