Evening, 7 November 1976.
Long shadows darkened the infirmary, and evening came earlier every day as Winter grew nearer. Severus shared a repast of a seafood chowder with Madam Pomfrey, and over dinner she discussed what he could expect from his recovery in the next two days. He might be able to start to speak as soon as sometime tomorrow, but she cautioned him not to overtax his newly regrown tongue.
Before leaving for some staff meeting or other, (Severus hadn’t quite heard her mumbled explanation) the Mediwitch had set him a series of new exercises to hum through. He had a modicum of musical education from Primary school, so understood the therapeutic goal of stretching and strengthening his larynx. At school, he had learned musical notation - enough to get on with anyway. Given that he was forbidden from using magic over the Summers, one of the things he had picked up was the guitar, mostly to piss off his old man. He really lusted after the electric bass, but he was pushing it as it was.
Pomfrey wanted him to extend his vocal range from low to high and back down again. He sat there, working on it in the otherwise unbroken silence of the infirmary. Internally he mused, “Whale. I sound like a damned broken whale.” His speaking voice had finished cracking by the time he was fifteen, but he daren’t sing with the band last Summer as he found he hadn’t yet settled into a firm timbre. “Aoorooooo.” What kind of whale was that? He sniggered at himself. Humpback. He cut off mid wail as his brain supplied, Sperm. No, no no. He would NOT go that way. Beluga. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Respectable. “Urrrgoooo.” He paced up and down the floor, East to West, between the two banks of windows of the Hospital Wing. The light of the full moon bathed his path in an ethereal glow. An onlooker might have mistaken his figure to be a new phantasm, perhaps a victim of potions lab gone wrong, or a particularly unlucky casualty from Care of Magical Creatures.
He had missed Madam Pomfrey slipping back into the infirmary a little earlier, so entertained with his own thoughts was he. A golden glow spilled from the Mediwitch’s office door across the floor in contrast to that of the moon, confirming that she had returned and was undergoing her usual evening rituals. Soon, a few of the castle’s inhabitants would present themselves for dosing of various chronic maladies, and Severus preferred not to be seen or heard by those unlucky denizens. By the sound of it, their potions were every bit as vile as his was.
It was a perfect night for brewing, as some of the components would be particularly powerful in the moonlight. He threw himself into the work with gusto, having more than one project going at once. By the time Madam Pomfrey had found him in order to dose him with his tongue growing potion, and, he suspected, a dash of sleeping draught, he had potted up several healing salves. One set was for aching joints, and he had set a few tubs aside to give as personal gifts. It was scented with camphor and a bit of pepper for heat, but the underpinning components were much more than the short term relief the obvious ingredients would supply. He gifted Madam Pomfrey with a rare, shy smile of pride as he air-wrote what he had been up to. The Mediwitch’s eyes twinkled back at the young man before she observed aloud, “Why, there is absolutely no hurry in returning you back to classes, is there my dear? Do make up more of that bruise paste you did yesterday, would you? I am not sure what you did to it, but it really seems stronger than what I got last time from Professor Slughorn.” Flattered, Severus tentatively ducked his head in acknowledgement.
Professor Horace Slughorn was celebrating his 45th year as Potions Master here at Hogwarts, but everybody knew that he preferred to have the students fulfill most of the brewing required by the infirmary, and was not afraid to assign detentions for just that purpose. Severus suspected that the few he had garnered over the years might have been just that, at least until he had expressed a deeper interest in the subject. His requested time in individual study allowed the Professor to legitimately assign him work instead of fobbing it off as detention, and Severus could not experiment without supervision as it was dangerous. Everyone was happy, except perhaps Lily Evans, who had previously frequented the lab in the evenings alongside Severus. Now they were forced to contort themselves through a complicated dance of avoidance; painful for them both in more than one sense. Since their dramatic breakup in friendship last May, Lily wouldn’t speak to Severus, look at him, or even acknowledge his presence. She was working towards a NEWT in Potions too, and Severus missed being able to talk over his ideas with her, but now even his most earnestly potions-only related advances such as, “Watch out, I think your pepper up is getting ready to blow” were met with a well applied stasis charm on the offending brew and a glare that suggested it was always his fault when something of hers went the least bit astray. She had hexed him the last time he interfered, preventing another disaster. Lily just wasn’t all that when it came to potions, honestly, but Professor Slughorn doted on her. Severus supposed that he couldn’t blame the man. She was top in the form on her written work and would likely be Head Girl next year.
Professor Slughorn was an effusively supportive mentor to Severus, but ultimately had grown intellectually lazy and had pointed Severus into correspondence with some of his famous connections. Fortunately, they were able to garner more enthusiasm for Severus and what seemed to be a natural born talent for potions, not only in execution but in pushing beyond the set recipes to create new draughts with innovative applications. While Severus had never been much of a conversationalist face to face, his written correspondence shone. If only Severus had more personal wealth, he would be a shoe in for some of the best apprenticeships on the continent.
As he tucked into bed under Madam Pomfrey’s watchful eye, the melancholy washed over him. Whenever he thought about Lily, the same blackened emotional wound would rip open and bleed anew. He wondered if the Mediwitch had sensed his mood turn for the worse because she seemed to rather hover over his bed, pounding the pillow into shape for him and setting the blankets just so. That night he fell asleep quickly, to dream of whales who looked like Professor Slughorn getting harpooned by a raging redheaded Valkyrie for no particular reason.
The Mediwitch rose early, checking up on her two resident patients before heading down to the Shrieking Shack to collect Remus Lupin. Her heart ached for the lad. It seemed so cruel to leave him out there alone. Recent times found the young wizard doing less damage to himself, but he still was in a right state when he woke in the morning. This particular morning he seemed rather agitated. “Blood, Madam Pomfrey! There was blood in the Shack! Not mine, I smelled it!” He looked truly frightened. “I didn’t hurt anyone, did I? No one came in?” He struggled weakly, as if he was about to run off and check every dormitory in the castle to be sure.
“No, Mr Lupin, calm yourself. There was no blood that I could see, dear. Surely what you found must have been left over from a mouse or other vermin that perished in there. No students have been out of their dormitories. You know Mr Filch is particularly careful on the full moon. He wouldn’t let anything happen.”
Remus felt somewhat reassured, although he’d not feel certain until he had indeed checked out the student body for himself. Perhaps later tonight at dinner he would do just that. Hobbling on doggedly, he allowed Madam Pomfrey to guide him up to the infirmary. His senses were still quite sharp, and he stopped abruptly at the infirmary doors. “Ah. I should have known Snape was still here.”
Madam Pomfrey noticed the frigid attitude in Lupin’s pronouncement and sighed to herself inwardly. Honestly, these children would never give it a rest. She did understand the werewolf’s desire to remain undetected, of course. “Well, next time, police your friends to avoid hurting the lad, especially at this time of the lunar month. I will not allow him back out into the populace until he can fend for himself. I am not so cruel.” Her voice was clipped in response, dripping with disapproval.
Lupin moved into the infirmary, trying to suppress the limp he had not been worried about showing out in the hall. He did have a pained look on his face. “I am a Prefect, Madam Pomfrey. I shouldn’t be directing James and Sirius’ pranking schedule, and if I had known about it…” He trailed off without completing that thought. What? Would he have stopped them? No, of course not. He would have spoken to them pointedly and then turned the other
way, like always. He shifted a glance at the Mediwitch beside him. “Look, I’ll have a word but we both know how little that means when they are caught up in it. Besides, Snape won’t leave it be. He follows us around when he thinks we can’t see. He’s always up to something.”
Madam Pomfrey guided Lupin to a cot in a corner furthest from Severus and her new Ward. She had drawn privacy screens around Deidre, which hadn’t escaped Remus’ notice. He didn’t recognise that scent, and his attention was torn away from those idle thoughts by the pain in his back as he collapsed into the bedding where he laid, limp and unresisting to the matron’s ministrations. He could hear the gentle snore coming from Snape’s cot, proof against the nosy git’s wakefulness. Reassured, he allowed himself to be dosed with medications for the pain in the aftermath of the transformation. He usually spent most of the day after the full moon resting in the infirmary, under the guise of migraines.
Dusting off her apron in a show of nervous energy, Poppy said a little prayer in thanks. She tried not to show how nerve wracking it was to orchestrate what she knew was to happen that morning. It had been six years now that she was in charge of keeping Lupin’s lycanthropy a secret, and she would be damned if she would allow petty rivalries to ruin that now. If she could just get everyone to remain none the wiser through to dinner, all would be very well indeed. In the distance, she could hear the sounds of the castle waking around them. Casting a critical eye at Severus, she calculated how much longer the boy would sleep before she had to start keeping him occupied and ignorant. Turning, she strode back to her office for a spot of breakfast and to write a note to Professor Svartrunir, a missive suggesting that perhaps this afternoon would be a good time to send some of Severus’ classmates with his homework for a visit. Yes, that would do nicely.
Blinking away the blurriness of a long slumber, Severus propped himself up on one elbow to see Madam Pomfrey barreling towards him. A quick wordless Temporus charm showed that the time was 10:22 AM. Levering himself upright, he straightened barely in time to accept the breakfast tray that was thrust into his hands. Severus jerked back reflexively as he registered the Mediwitch’s cool, dry hands prying at his jaw. “Tut tut, open up!”
Severus did so with a sullen glare. He had just woken up and somehow he had already irritated Madam Pomfrey. It seemed out of character for her, really. She was usually so patient with him. As thin tendrils of guilt wormed their way into his chest, detailing exactly how much he was really imposing on the woman who had time and again pieced him back together, she had stepped back with a coo of approval. “Right then. I think today is the day, Severus. Won’t it be lovely to speak again? Here’s your medicine. Bottoms up!” She held the vial to his unresisting lips, tipping its contents therein to further befoul his already not terribly good morning breath. After swallowing, he carefully probed around his mouth with his tongue. There was noticeable progress now, no doubt.
Defiantly, Severus made his very first attempt, “Ank you.” His voice was low, and sounded like it was coming from deep in his chest. The diction, however, was no better than that of a drunk Manchester man. He knew all about that, thanks to Dear Old Dad. Severus never bothered to write to his parents when these incidents happened. Communication from him never seemed to particularly move his mother, and his father would have fits regardless of the content of any missive he might have sent. He learned that the hard way, after he had won a medal for showing exemplary promise in potions in his first year. He was so proud he hadn’t waited to get home to tell Mum. When he arrived home the next day, his mother didn’t mention his triumph, and Severus had noticed the new bruises peeking out under the sleeve of her housecoat, ones she had thought were well hidden. Severus had made the same mistake twice more before he stopped writing home entirely. It was hard to give up contact like that. He worried about his Mum, but couldn’t bear to cause her any more pain.
This increasingly maudlin reverie was interrupted by a gentle pat on the arm and Severus focused his attention back on the Mediwitch long enough to register her tender gaze of approval before she started in on his work for the day. “Severus, this morning I want you to work in my potions lab. While you work, I want you to try and read the potions recipes you are working on aloud.”
Ah, well, that couldn’t be too bad. No one would be likely to hear him talking like a cotton mouthed idiot back there. He brightened, nodding as he moved to tuck into the bowl of oats before him. Fortunately it was still warm. As he chewed, Madam Pomfrey hummed. “You are going to have to shave today, Severus. Can’t have you looking like that when you have company this afternoon.”
Severus almost spat out his oatmeal in surprise. Who would visit him? It must be old Professor Svartrunir. Or maybe Professor Slughorn was going to come by with the latest Potions Weekly. It was Monday, after all. The Mediwitch pretended not to notice the consternation on her patient’s face as she barreled on. “I thought maybe tonight you could read to Deirdre?” Now there’s an audience that wouldn’t care if he sounded like a total prat. He twiddled his wand, making words appear in his customary golden script. “That would be acceptable. If I am to be so busy today, who will wheel Deirdre around to catch the sunbeams?”
Madam Pomfrey quickly smothered a smile as she considered Severus. Was that only idle concern for an interesting puzzle to solve, or was the boy building up an attachment where there was absolutely nothing from the other party? The girl was in a coma, for pity’s sake! Deciding that such a thing was unlikely, but also not going to lead to anything, she replied, “I’ll take care of that, Severus. I’m the Mediwitch here, you might recall?”
Severus had since chewed and swallowed that arrested bite of oatmeal, and was free to answer her jibe with a dry guffaw, “Hawr hawr.”
She quirked a lopsided smile Severus’ way before buzzing away to get started with Deirdre.