|beholder_mod (beholder_mod) wrote in hp_beholder,|
@ 2009-04-16 12:03:00
|Entry tags:||beholder 2009, fic, poppy pomfrey, severus snape|
FIC: "Frozen" for shadowycat
Pairings: Poppy Pomfrey/Severus Snape
Word Count: 3,600
Summary: After the final battle at Hogwarts, Madam Pomfrey cares for a patient who is neither dead nor alive
Author's Notes: shadowycat, you were asking for a story where things generally go well for the characters involved. I hope I didn't make it too angsty for your taste. But as the story is set after Deathly Hallows, I had to make them suffer for a little while first.
The pain was smothering, intense, excruciating, as though a demon were sitting on his chest, digging its razor-sharp nails into his skin, deep into his neck. His head was heavy, it was being pulled down, dangling down from his body, and there was nothing he could do to lift it, to stop it becoming detached from his neck due to the sheer force of the gravitational pull. It was impossible to cry for help, impossible to form words around his spongy tongue, which was filling out his mouth already, and it was still swelling, he could feel it getting bigger and bigger, suffocating him, and he opened his mouth to suck in some air. It stung his lungs with every mouthful, but it was better than lying there, gasping like a fish out of water, condemned to a painful death.
But wait, wasn't he dead already?
The words were spoken so authoritatively that no one would even think of questioning her judgement. Years of experience had taught Poppy how to deal with distressed visitors at a sick bed, and she knew about the importance of short, clear statements, statements that sounded reassuring and comforting and true, and, even if they turned out to be false, in the end, she knew that no one would blame her for the hope she had given.
She turned away from the pale, thin man who was lying on the bed still as death. He barely seemed to be breathing...an after effect of the Draught of the Living Dead he must have taken. It had caused him to fall into a sleep so deep that it should have ended in his death, had it not been for Minerva McGonagall, who had happened to find him abandoned for dead on the floor in the Shrieking Shack.
Minerva McGonagall was standing a few feet away; she seemed hesitant to step closer, and Poppy didn't blame her. Professor Snape was not the most beautiful of men at the best of time, but now, lying at death's door, he looked truly terrifying. His skin had taken on a bluish tinge, his lips were almost black, and his bones were threatening to poke through his skin, giving the impression that it was really a corpse lying there.
Minerva cleared her throat. "Are you sure about that?" she asked, and her voice sounded as crisp as ever. Poppy caught her eye, and, in one heartbreaking second, she recognised the same desperate attempt at maintaining a professional facade that was driving her likewise. But breaking down wouldn't do, for neither of them. Not now.
"Of course I am," she said, turning back to Professor Snape and busying herself with rearranging his blanket. "In there, he's fighting death."
"He looks dead," said Minerva, very quietly.
"That's the effect of the draught," Poppy explained, smoothing Professor Snape's blanket with long, practised strokes. "It keeps him locked in. But the important point is: he still is in there. And he'll come back."
The boy would come back.
Poppy has seen children withdraw after a shock too many times to be alarmed. She puts Snape into a bed in the corner of her office, forces him to drink a goblet of Calming Potion, and leaves him to himself. She and Minerva agree that it wouldn't be a good idea to leave him in the infirmary together with Remus Lupin, who is recovering from his latest transformation and isn't as yet aware that he almost destroyed the life of a fellow student.
Snape hasn't said one word. He is silent when Potter drags him all the way to the castle, remains silent in the headmaster's office, and has maintained that silence when he is eventually brought to the hospital wing and placed under her care. There is an odd, deadened look in his eyes, and Poppy is at first afraid that he might have been bitten after all. She runs her wand along his body to find traces of Dark magic, but there are no wounds. Only his heart is beating fast, fast, fast, but it doesn't show. His face is a white mask, and she almost reaches out to rip it off his face, to force him to unfreeze.
But she doesn't. The boy will come back.
"How can you be sure he has taken the draught?"
"I recognise the symptoms: a death-like state, from which he cannot be woken by conventional magical means. He must have modified the draught so that it didn't take effect until triggered by the snake's venom." Poppy sighed. "Don't you sometimes think that Professor Snape was too smart for his own good?"
Talking, that was the easy part. Offering explanations and prognoses, calming down relatives and friends. The actual work, that was easy, too. She had been matron at Hogwarts for many, many years, and before that, she had seen enough during her training at St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries to not fall apart at the sight of hideous wounds, diseases and deformations.
It was the thoughts she was left with, when all work was done, that brought on the tears and the nightmares. She hardly ever flinched, not now, not after all these years, not when she was tending to the various injuries the adolescent witches and wizards caused each other on a daily basis. She had not been flinching now, when she was tending to the irreparable damages caused by Dark magic, when she worked tirelessly for hours on end, disappearing in her office every now and then only to take a sip of the Vigilio Potion that would keep sleep away and help her function for days. She had not been flinching, but her breath caught ever so slightly when she saw the deep gashes across the Cornfoot boy's chest and the gaping hole where his wand arm had once been; when she had to magically tie down the Madley girl, who had only just recovered enough after the punishments administered by the Carrows to start speaking again, because the Calming Draught wasn't taking any effect; when she had witnessed students fall apart in helpless agony at the sight of their friends and teachers lying dead before their very eyes.
After living in constant fear for all these years, the students at Hogwarts are exploding with joyful energy. The news that You-Know-Who has perished has spread like a wildfire and the entire school celebrates it with wild abandon. Poppy has to tend to twice as many injuries as usual that are caused by magical fireworks, spells gone awry and good-natured jinxes being shot to and fro. In these days of frenzy, there is one man whose appearance makes Poppy sick to the stomach. She catches a brief glance at Severus Snape, who turns up quite unexpectedly at the castle, not long after the deaths of Lily and James Potter and the miraculous escape of their son. Barely more than a boy himself, he stands out in the crowd of students, his black-clad figure gliding through their midst like a silent messenger of death, and Poppy shivers.
Amidst the post-battle chaos, there was no time to stop and think. It had taken several days until the castle had been made fit for human habitation again; in the meantime, the witches and wizards had been camping out in those rooms that had remained more or less untouched, and the Room of Requirement had opened its doors again, barely recovered after the fiery inferno, summoning up surprising resources from nobody quite knew where. Nobody who had taken part in the battle seemed willing to leave. Efficient and resourceful as ever, Minerva McGonagall had quickly organised her staff and the older students and had even succeeded in gathering a group of unlikely allies and helpers in Hogsmeade, who had been providing food and assistance to the survivors.
One of the most unlikely of the allies was Aberforth Dumbledore. Poppy had been taken by surprise when a frantic sixth-year had dashed into the hospital wing, yelling at her to come to the Hog's Head at once. She had been shocked to see the lifeless form of Severus Snape lying on Aberforth's dilapidated old sofa, covered by a grubby rug woven from goat wool. He had appeared to be dead, but when she ran her wand searchingly over his body, she detected signs of life, pulsating deep under the armour in which the Draught had enveloped him.
They had decided to leave him at Aberforth's. It was highly impractical to try to transport him to the castle; Aberforth grumbled and muttered something under his breath, but a look by Minerva McGonagall silenced him at once. He had even given up his bedroom and was sleeping on the sofa in the poky little living room, in which his sister's portrait was staring down at Poppy with an unnerving, eternally-young smile on her face.
She did tell Severus Snape about the smile, while she was changing his bandages, waving her wand expertly above his still body. He had lost weight again; he couldn't afford to lose much more. She had got into the habit of telling him everything, it helped clear her head of thoughts better than a Pensieve (she had never trusted those cursed things anyway), and the nightmares stayed away.
She told him about Harry Potter and the way he had disappeared after the battle; no-one knew where he had gone to, but when he returned, he had joined in into the reparation works at Hogwarts Castle with a vigour and a passion that he had formerly only displayed when playing Quidditch. He didn't talk much, and, as far as Poppy could tell, most people respected his wish for being left alone.
He hates Potter. She isn't sure how much is true and how much a fabrication of his twisted imagination when he brings young Malfoy to her, the boy's chest criss-crossed with angry red gashes. They were caused by a Dark spell, and she's surprised that Potter should use such spells; the boy is fierce in his fight against Dark magic. Professor Snape is livid, his face set into a frozen mask. Through clenched teeth, he shoots a few precise words in her direction, and she accepts his explanation. It is a well-known fact that Professor Snape knows a lot about Dark magic. She is glad that he saved Malfoy's life, and takes over from him silently. There's no point asking him how he knew what to do. He watches her through narrowed eyes and then disappears through the door with a swish of his long cloak, and she feels oddly moved that he entrusts her with Malfoy's care.
She told him about the Malfoy family. Everyone knew that Severus Snape had always liked the Malfoy boy, and she wanted him to know that Draco and his parents were well. It had not yet been decided what would happen to them, there was no Ministry, no legal system, no Dementors.
Everyone was holding their breath, and she told him that, as well. The wizarding community was in a state of suspense, and nothing was clear. The only clarity lay at the tasks at hand, and Poppy made sure to carry them out as well as possible.
That, she didn't tell him. It wasn't necessary, Severus Snape was nothing if not diligent and hard-working, he recognised the same traits in her. She trusted that he knew what she did, and that he appreciated her sense of duty.
It was silly, of course. During her long nightly vigils, when the thoughts caught up with her eventually, she realised with frightening awareness that Severus Snape couldn't possibly know what she did, that she was there at all. That she returned to the dingy little room above the Hog's Head day after day to look after him. As the days wore by, it became more and more apparent that he was buried too deep within himself to be reached. The healer summoned from St. Mungo's was ready to pronounce Severus Snape dead, but she would not let that happen. Backed up by Minerva McGonagall, who turned into a fierce lioness protecting her family, she sent the healer back to where he belonged, into the secluded world of St. Mungo's, and took the care of Severus Snape in her own hands.
Despite being tied-up with a multitude of duties at the school, Minerva McGonagall found the time to come down to the Hog's Head every day. Sometimes, she and Poppy walked to the gate and Apparated in the village together; sometimes, they met there, quite by chance. Minerva McGonagall always made sure to check on Severus Snape, though briefly, and she met Poppy's eyes with an unflinching gaze that didn't quite betray the emotions running through her.
Today was different. It had been a full week since Harry Potter had defeated He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named for good. One busy week, in which Severus Snape had slept every minute of every hour of every day, and Poppy - none at all.
She knew that she had reached the limits of her physical and mental endurance. The potion kept her awake and it kept her alert, but it was taking its toll. The nightmares were creeping up again, more fervent and violent than ever. She didn't have to sleep to dream, not anymore, not when exhaustion had taken her over so completely. Her mind was no longer her own, she was sharing it with a host of thoughts that were bubbling up from the deepest depths of her subconscious.
The nightmares have started not long after Albus Dumbledore's death, and they have become worse and worse in the course of the school year. Like most of the teachers, she has remained at the school, where she is able to ease some of the students' suffering. The sadistic punishments administered by Alecto and Amycus Carrow are sanctioned by Headmaster Snape, and she hates the man, whom she has known as a student and a teacher for many years and whose intelligent face remains still and impassive whenever he witnesses a student being hexed by one of his teachers. He never joins in, however, and after a while, she realises that he only arrives at the scene of the punishment to put a stop to it. She doesn't understand it, and she knows from the expression on Minerva McGonagall's face that she, too, has noticed it and is wondering about it. They are forbidden to discuss their doubts and suspicions, forbidden to talk to each other, and, as the days pass by, she perfects her ability of not voicing her feelings, and the nightmares swoop down at her with unabashed force.
She was too tired to talk. For the first time, Severus Snape didn't get to hear an account of her day, whilst she was waving her wand above him in a practised motion. He didn't show any vital signs; he didn't take in any food and he didn't seem to be breathing. Her wand vibrated slightly in long intervals, whenever it detected a distant beat of his heart, slow and faint. It was the only indication of life he showed, and she clung to it.
Severus' face was whiter than the pillow on which his head was resting. Poppy raised a hand to wipe a black strand of hair from his forehead, but she hesitated mere inches from his face, afraid that even the slightest touch might damage his parchment-thin skin, stretching over the sharp cheekbones.
"He's so cold."
The words made her jump. Turning around, Poppy saw Minerva McGonagall in the doorway. She couldn't quite read Minerva's expression. Poppy cleared her throat and said, quite calmly: "True. This is however quite normal in his condition. Technically, he's not quite alive. His body functions are shut down almost completely, and his soul..." she sighed, turning back to look at Severus' still face. "I don't know where his soul is," she finished, much softer than she had intended.
She was startled again, this time by a soft touch. Minerva had come closer soundlessly and had put a soothing hand on her shoulder. Quite suddenly, a bitterness rose up in her throat, her vision blurred, and, before she even knew what was happening, tears were running down her face and snot was coming out her nose, and she was crying, crying with open-mouthed gasps like a child, without even making the slightest attempt to wipe the tears away.
Wordlessly, Minerva sat on the edge of the bed behind Poppy, and her hand on Poppy's shoulder provided more comfort than any words in the world could have done. And then, as Poppy did no longer have the strength to cry and was merely sobbing drily, her grip tightened. "Did you see that?" she breathed.
Poppy blinked rapidly, clearing her vision with difficulty. "What is it?"
"I think I saw-" Minerva let go of her shoulder and leaned in, watching Severus' face intently.
"What?" Poppy realised to her surprise that her hand had come to rest against the sharp edge of Severus' cheekbone. His skin was deadly cold, she had noticed it previously, whenever she had come close to him. The cold he was radiating didn't feel natural, not like the cold of snow or ice; it felt as though it was pouring out from the depth of a tomb. Nothing she did seemed to warm him: neither the blazing fire, nor the warm blankets that Aberforth had provided, nor any spells she could think of. She didn't like to touch him; it felt unnatural to touch a sick person's skin. In her professional life, she always used a wand to establish a diagnosis and to perform the necessary healing spells. But here and now, her hand did feel natural against his face, and she found herself running her thumb softly along the curve of his temple, his jaw line, down to his mouth. There. There was the slightest puff of warm air against the pad of her thumb.
"He's breathing," whispered Poppy, barely audible, as though afraid that any loud noise might scare him back into hiding. "I can feel it."
Her thumb had left a faint reddish trail in its wake. His skin was still very cold, but, even without her wand, she could feel life running through him again. There was a pulse, just visible under the almost-transparent skin of his throat, and she even imagined seeing a flicker of eyelashes against the dark bruises under his eyes.
Minerva saw it too. She leaned in even closer, resting heavily against Poppy's shoulder, and whispered urgently: "Do you think... Is he trying to open his eyes?"
"I don't know," Poppy whispered back, curling her hand around the back of his neck, supporting his head. "I don't know...!"
"I think he is," Minerva was whispering in an increasingly frantic voice, "I think he is!"
"What are you talking about?!" Both women jumped at the sound of the gruff voice suddenly booming across the room. "How can he be suddenly waking up after being dead for seven days?"
Aberforth shuffled into the room, his blue, piercing gaze, so eerily like his brother's, was directed at the lifeless form on the bed. Poppy kept her eyes locked firmly on Severus' face. She didn't care for Aberforth to see her puffed-up eyes and swollen nose.
Luckily, Minerva saved her from the necessity to talk. "He's not dead," she snapped, falling back into her customary brisk tone. "Surely, even you wouldn't lend your bed to a dead man?"
Aberforth ignored the insult. He shuffled all the way over to the bed, holding his wand aloft. "Here, do you think he's waking up now?" he asked, waving his arm about. "It's the light that casts different shadows on his face."
Poppy's heart sank. But she left her hand where it was, cupping the back of Severus' head in a protective gesture. Her fingers felt warm there; the unnatural coldness that had emanated from him for all these days was fading rapidly. "I do," she said quietly. "I think he's waking up."
Minerva moved behind her, there was a sudden cold sensation when she shifted her weight and rose to her feet. "Come on," she said curtly to Aberforth. "Let's get your wand and your snide remarks out of here. Madam Pomfrey has a patient to look after."
They left. The door fell shut with a quiet snap. Poppy let out a long breath. A sudden shiver ran down her spine. She felt exhausted. The tears had worn her out, and the effects of the Vigilio Potion were waning rapidly. The pillows looked irresistibly inviting. Poppy shot a furtive look over her shoulder. She pointed her wand at the lock and muttered a quick spell. Aberforth wouldn't be using his bedroom anyway, and she needed sleep. It was safer to stay here, better than going back to the castle where she wouldn't be able to get any rest with the injured witches and wizards moaning with pain or screaming in horror in the infirmary. For the first time in days, she wasn't afraid of the nightmares. Severus' company would keep them away. He was waking up, she could tell. Even as she carefully rolled onto the bed, curling against Severus' side, she sensed life starting to pulsate through him, steadily, inevitably. And as she sank into a sleep that would remain free of nightmares, the last thing she knew was that, under her palm, his heart was falling into an ever-firmer, ever-faster beat.