Across the infirmary, Severus dropped the Potions journal he was reading. He knew what the man was seeing for the first time. Professor Nott had much to learn if that was the most potent explicative he could pull out of thin air. Severus had crept over to take a look at the arm himself on the second night, after Madam Pomfrey had retreated to her office to claim an hour’s sleep between necessary ministrations to both him and the girl. The recall of what he had seen made his stomach turn, even from this distance in time. The curse was deep, carved down to muscle and bone. The flesh around it was red, puckered, and feverish looking. It seeped blood even after all Madam Pomfrey had already done at the time. Not even murtlap essence had staunched the flow.
Pomfrey’s whispered reply drifted to Severus’ ears. “I don’t know. I am afraid that the girl will not wake until this has been seen to, and the Headmaster does not want her moved to St Mungo’s. He says she belongs here, but Whit, I’ve never seen her in my life.” She hissed, “The castle granted her Sanctuary. All five ghosts confirmed. We are obliged to do everything that we can for her.”
Whit wasn’t looking with his eyes anymore, so she allowed the girl’s arm to drop gently back to the bed before smoothing the coverlet back into position. An audible clearing of the throat from the Defense Professor brought Pomfrey’s attention back to the wound at hand.
Professor Nott queried, “Have you swept her mouth for charms or retained food? Cleared her stomach? What else did you find on her scans?”
Madam Pomfrey straightened up as she responded, turning away from the bedside. “Yes, no poisoned apple or obvious long acting soporifics are in her system, although it is clear she had been taking ample doses of calming potions and sleep aids before she came here.” She shifted her weight onto her left hip, considering how to convey the next piece of information. “Her magical core is depleted, Whit. I was afraid...”
She paused before completing the thought, one that the cursebreaker anticipated and completed for her, “You were afraid that she had completely tapped herself out.”
The Mediwitch nodded minutely. “I was, but it appears that her magic is slowly rebuilding itself, a trickle. Her channels are raw, Nott. I don’t know what she was like before, but her potential capacity is incredible.”
Whit was pale, considering. A witch or wizard could give so much that their magic would not regrow. It was not a well studied phenomenon, because when it happened, most often the victim died swiftly. Thankfully it was a rare event. What could she have possibly been doing? There had been no reports of major events in the newspaper since the thwarting of a Death Eater attack on a Muggle masquerade on Halloween. Aurors had died, but they had successfully brought down what the Ministry was proclaiming as Lord Voldemort’s second in command. It was Whit’s turn to have his thoughts yanked back to the moment.
“But as things are, conscious use of magic seems right out for her, it would be pure agony.” She added with a sympathetic wince.
Whit quirked an eyebrow as he watched Poppy’s mood drop into despondency. This girl had the castle, the Headmaster, and the no-nonsense Mediwitch all wrapped around her little finger, and the little chit hadn’t even regained consciousness yet. He reached for the clipboard where the girl’s vitals have been charted and read the name, “Deirdre Ward. Melancholy and guarded.” He shot Poppy a glance heavy with bemusement.
“Well, I couldn’t very well just call her ‘Girl’, could I now? It is only a loaned name. We know almost nothing about her.” Poppy crossed her arms across her chest, looking away from Whit.
Nott had not intended to put the nurse on the defensive and felt a pang of guilt, “Sad tale, the name suits her. No one has been looking for her, I take it?”
Poppy shook her head to the negative. “I have made some inquiries to St Mungo’s, and they haven’t had anyone asking after someone of her description. I hesitate at calling the Ministry directly, as Albus seems adamant that she not be allowed out of his sight or the castle walls.”
Something clicked at this pronouncement. “The Headmaster thinks she’s in danger?” Whit amended this in a moment, “Or is she the danger itself?”
Poppy’s eyes widened at the idea. “I’d hardly believe the Headmaster would allow her to stay if he thought she was a threat!”
Nott ducked his head in disagreement, looking back at the girl. That wasn’t exactly true. The man was a magnet for trouble. He should know. “Did she have anything with her? Any clues to her identity?”
“Albus took her wand to his office, but Whit, she was only carrying one small pocket book and nothing else. No identification.” The Mediwitch’s lip curled up in disgust. “Her robes were torn, blood soaked, and they smelled of unnatural fire. I burned them.”
Grunting understanding, the DADA Professor swung his gaze back to the girl’s features before tilting his head to the girl. “May I, Poppy?”
The Mediwitch gave perfunctory permission, “Of course, why else would I ask you here? Surely not to simply admire the mess?”
Suppressing an uncharitable response, Whit found a stool and positioned it on the girl’s left side before he flung his weight onto it, next to the patient. Getting comfortable, he reached and re-extracted the girl’s arm, holding her hand gently as he moved her arm to the best light. With a whispered prayer, he placed his hand over the wound itself and immediately started to shiver, eyes screwed tightly shut.
Severus had heard everything, and now was out from under the covers, hanging on the metal frame of the end of his cot, craning his neck to get a better view.
Moments stretched out to minutes before Whit’s eyes snapped open, and the sight caused Poppy to stumble backward. Whit’s eyes were completely black, making it impossible to tell what he was fixing on. The professor moved his hovering hand about a foot above the girl’s recumbent form, muttering a countercurse. What appeared to be smoke seeped out of the words in the girl’s arm, seeking out the man for direct contact, which he carefully avoided.
The air directly below Whit’s hand rippled, as it does over hot pavement on a summer day. The wisps of smoke seemed to be changing, dissipating when they reached upwards. If any had looked close enough they would have seen a quartz crystal lodged between Whit’s ring and middle fingers.
The longer the spell lasted, the harder it was on the both of them. The girl was sweating, her hair plastered to her face, beads forming on her flushed face. The professor struggled to maintain the distance, his brow knotted in an expression of pain. The crystal was blackening, becoming more visible.
The man finally straightened and cut off the spell, seating his focus in the palm of his hand. The stone cracked unceremoniously before crumbling down to dust. Whit winced in embarrassment at the clumsiness of it all. Poppy handed him a phial and Whit gratefully deposited the vile dust therein.
Willing his breathing to slow and his heart to stop pounding, the man shook his head. “I didn’t get it all, Poppy. It will have to wait until she’s awake. I can’t finish it off without her help.” Some curses needed to be actively rejected in addition to being ripped out by the roots. He’d got a chunk of it, but the root had snapped and was still embedded in the girl. He commented, “Duced clever, that curse. It seems to be feeding off of her magic, Poppy. There’s your answer of how she got into this state.”
Poppy asked quietly, “But is the curse keeping her from waking?” She moved to minister to the girl’s arm. The ordeal appeared to have reopened the cuts in the word and the edges seeped ominously. The witch frowned as she cleansed the girl’s wounds, thankful that her patient wasn’t awake. She’d have to give her extra nutrient potion and hydration powder after this.
“I don’t think so.” He sighed, his voice modulating to a petulant whinge. “Great. Now I have extra credit homework. Thanks, Madam.”
Poppy looked over her shoulder, her expression bland. “Hand me those clean bandages.” She pointed at a stack a few paces away, and Whit complied readily enough. His mock grumpiness couldn’t cover how heavily he placed his feet, and how his fingers seemed to fumble at picking the squares up. He held them patiently for her and she had the girl’s arm wrapped and covered up in a trice.
He knew he needed to go rest, and so did Madam Pomfrey. “I will return daily to report my progress and to assess hers. Please, do let me know if anything changes.” Poppy indicated her acquiescence with a nod and walked the man to the door before turning to check on Severus, who has now laid down with his face to the wall in an effort to simulate the prescribed nap he was supposed to be taking.
Madam Pomfrey wasn’t fooled. “I know you’re awake, Severus.” She had caught sight of the lad hanging over the bedframe, mouth hanging open in unadulterated awe. She felt much the same at the time, and hadn’t dared to interrupt Professor Nott’s concentration.
The boy hitched his hips, turning back towards the room. He wiggled his wand, and words appeared in the air, “That was dead amazing.”
She had no intention of discussing what happened, and rather hoped the lad would get the point. Poppy put her hand on the lad’s jaw, imperiously commanding, “Open.” He briefly complied, displaying a small, gently glowing tongue. It was only an inch long, but it was properly rooted.
As her grip on his face slackened, Severus impatiently pulled away and twitched his wand again, adding, “Lucky for her Professor Nott is here. I wonder if he’d teach me that countercurse?”
Poppy’s expression rippled quickly from her placid professional face to one of horror. “Severus, I can’t think of anything worse for you right now. Drawing out a curse like that would expose you to Dark magic. Professor Nott is an adult, and has been trained to do that sort of thing. No, I simply would not want any student here to even think to attempt such a thing.” She sniffed in derision, her eyes cutting off Severus’ protestations with a look that he knew he would only lose ground if he pushed harder.
Thinking to change the subject he picked up a book and shook it, indicating that he wanted more to read. He’d already gone through his homework, current potions journals from the library, and two of Madam Pomfrey’s books on treating common magical maladies - entry level texts for those interested in healing.
“Yes, yes I know. You have eaten through all of these books already.” Turning slightly, she used her wand to Accio a book titled, “Remedies for what Rankles.” It was a book detailing compounding salves and had the potential to hold Severus’ attention for a few hours at least. She had a reading list stashed away somewhere for Severus as he spent so much time here.
Madam Pomfrey looked Severus over with a critical eye, marking the return of the lad’s eyebrows and eyelashes. His head was now covered with a downy fringe of thick, curled, ebony hair. She was going to have to find the boy employment before he got even more nosy, as she still didn’t feel it appropriate to release him back to the tender ministrations of his housemates yet voiceless. He was a sitting duck without his ability to speak.
Professor Svartrunir had sent the boy a missive detailing his rather unsatisfying interaction with Minerva McGonagall on the subject of her prize students and their misdeeds. She had promised to punish the boys by placing them under a geas of silence for the weekend, which was something anyway. Poppy mused that she should suggest that next time that McGonagall also force the perpetrators to only eat gruel and to charm them to make sure that everything they tried to sneak would turn to gruel in their mouths. If the way to a wizard’s heart was through his stomach, it was a fair target for punishment as well.
Clearing her throat to distract Severus from making his new book’s acquaintance too swiftly, Madam Pomfrey offered, “I think you will be able to start to speak tomorrow, although you will still want to use the writing, I daresay, for lengthier interactions.” Severus’ eyebrows knit together as he contemplated how sore his mouth was. The new flesh was tender. “Perhaps you’d care to work on some brewing tonight, after you’ve exhausted your attentions on that book?”
Severus straightened to the alert, his eyes lighting up with the idea of doing anything else. His hand clutched his wand for a moment in excitement before he waved it, putting up his response in gold writing, “Of course, Madam Pomfrey. What can I help with?”
The Mediwitch suppressed a responding grin, replying simply. “I’ll get you a list of what we are running low on. You can write up a list and we’ll send the elves to retrieve the ingredients. You can use my brewing station for now.” She savored the expression on the boy’s face. He had grown so much, but for a moment she saw joy and anticipation, and the transformation they effected was magical. As all things caught in time, it was soon gone.
Severus nodded curtly causing the golden writing to morph now reading in more careful formal writing, “Thank you for this opportunity, Madam Pomfrey.”
The Mediwitch was disappointed as the boy visibly schooled his expression to something more seemly for a Slytherin. That is, inscrutable. It was though a cloud covered the sun on a early spring day, changing the air instantaneously from a promising warmth to cold shadows. Pomfrey pulled a shawl over her shoulders as proof against that chill before consulting her stores. The to-do list was handed back to Severus for his perusal in short order.
Severus ended up making two batches of AcneAid that night. If it bothered him that the purpose of the potion was not vital, he didn’t let it show. He had been reading up on a unguent for arthritis that seemed promising. He had been looking for something he could do for the old caretaker, as anyone could see that Mr Filch never moved quickly or without some stiffness. He speculated that perhaps Professor Svartrunir would appreciate it as well. The kind man had sent him some extra credit Runes puzzles to go over as his idea of entertainment. To Severus, those puzzles were more thoughtful and delightful than any flowers.