Chapter Seventeen: Winter Antipathy
The first snow fell on the first day of the last month of the year, beginning in the morning in a slow, calm flurry of pin prick sized confetti that soon turned into fat flakes floating down in thicker and thicker clouds. Minerva tried to hold back a smile as she released her last class of the day and they thundered out of the classroom, anxious to christen the newly fallen snow with a snowball fight. She followed them out, locking the classroom behind her and readjusted the books and papers in her arms. She wore a long, warm dress of the richest midnight blue with a thick over robe in the same color lined with delicate gold lace at the cuffs and hems.
"Ma! Ma!" came an excited shout from behind her. Minerva turned around and grinned at her son as he raced towards her, Albus striding along behind him. "Come outside and play, Ma! Me and Uncle Albus are gonna make snow angels and then we're gonna go see Hagrid and then we're gonna go down by the lake and see if the giant squid is still ok, you know, because all the water's frozened."
She looked the boy over, making sure he was wearing enough layers. Satisfied with the two thick layers underneath a heavy green coat and cloak, lined brown boots, and a pair of lined gloves, she nodded her approval.
"I'll meet you out there all right?" she said and Albus lifted Harry up to receive a kiss from Minerva. She laughed, shook her head and obliged, placing a kiss on her son's head before he wriggled out of Albus' grasp and fled down the hall.
"Harry, don't make Uncle Albus run too much," she called to his retreating back. He skidded to a stop to turn around and infectiously grin back at her.
"Now I'm not that old, Minerva," Albus joked twinkling at the witch. Returning the smile, she turned and made her way back to her rooms. Their relationship was purely platonic as far as either of them was concerned, with a past love pushed to the back of her mind and locked away securely.
Dropping her stack of work on her desk for later, she grabbed a heavy cream colored cloak from the back of her chair and hurried out to enjoy what was left of the day. Ten minutes later found her sitting beside the headmaster by the lake on a large flat stone between the main entrance to the castle and the front gate. Harry was skipping stones across the not- quite-frozen lake with a few first years including Alex Wood, an avid Quidditch fan, although he and Harry had yet to agree about Puddlemere United. The first year had taken an instant liking to the little boy with big green eyes, and often sat with him to watch the Gryffindor team practices. Harry adored Alex, who treated him like a younger brother and took delight in teaching him the intricacies of Quidditch. Fellow first years Shea Branson, Reginald Sommers, and Patrick O'Reilly played with the two peacefully, although Pat had a mischievous grin on his face as he made eye contact with Reggie. Minerva smiled happily as she watched the boys skip, or in Harry's case fling, rocks into the lake.
Albus watched her from the corner of his eye, relieved and content to see her happy again. She felt his gaze on her and turned her head to look at him questioningly. As he opened his mouth to give some sort of explanation, she paled, eyes focused on a point beyond his shoulder. Albus whirled around and scanned the landscape for whatever it was that made his friend blanch. She swept past him before he picked up any abnormalities, yelling over her shoulder in a panicky voice, "Get Poppy down here now!"
Not questioning her request, he turned to the puzzled boys behind him, "Boys, please find Madame Pomfrey immediately. Mr. Wood, look for her in the infirmary. Mr. O'Reilly - the Great Hall. Mr. Branson and Mr. Sommers check the teachers' rooms - both of them."
The young boys sprinted up the steps of the castle, intent on finding the medi-witch. Albus turned around again as Harry came to stand beside him, and began his way down the drive.
"Albus, what is it?" Poppy called from the top of the stairs. As she hurried down the steps, she explained, "Mr. O'Reilly told me something was up, what happened? Is that Minerva?" she asked sharply as the pair hurried towards the witch. Poppy gasped in shock when she caught sight of the brown hair and raced down the drive.
Hiking up her skirts slightly, Minerva ran as fast as she could towards the figure lurching through the front gates of the school. She knew that hair, and recognized him immediately, her cat sight aiding her in determining his identity long before Albus even distinguished him. She saw him fall after three halting steps up the drive, hitting the ground with a thud that froze her heart. Putting on another burst of speed, she practically flew down the drive, skidding to a halt on her knees in the soft snow beside the fallen man.
Turning him over gently, she eyed him for the worst injuries. Blood matted his usually light brown hair and dripped down his face. He moaned in pain as she tried to settle his head. Waving her wand over his body, she couldn't find anything else seriously wrong with him, except for a long, shallow gash on the underside of his jawbone that was bleeding profusely. She frowned as she came across an abnormality on his neck. Carefully peeling the blood soaked muffler away, she swore. A chain of silver, like a dog's collar, was twightly wound twice around his neck. Quickly working her fingers across the deadly metal, she struggled to find the clasp. Finally, she found it and flicked it open, gently but rapidly unwinding it from his neck and flinging it to the ground a few feet away.
"Remus," she called softly to the werewolf threatening to slip into unconsciousness, "Remus, stay with me," she pleaded. She cast every healing charm she knew to slow the poison the silver left, but it had already spread throughout his body and was pushing in on his internal organs. "Remus, you must stay awake," she whispered, trying to keep the panic out of her voice.
Rapid footfalls announced the Poppy's arrival. Kneeling down, the medi-witch analyzed the situation quickly and magicked him onto a stretcher, telling Minerva, "He needs to go to the infirmary now."
"Ma, what's going on?" Harry asked tentatively as he and Albus arrived. He had never seen his mother look so distraught.
"Harry, stay with Uncle Albus," she said quickly, following Poppy's hurried strides to the infirmary.
"But, Ma," Harry began, looking fearfully at the figure lying prone on the stretcher speeding up to the castle. Albus clapped one hand gently over his mouth and one around his waist to keep him from bolting after the witches.
"Harry, come on," the headmaster said firmly, pocketing the silver chain he had picked up from the ground and lifting the child up. As he carried him towards the castle, he said quietly, "We need to find Professor Snape."
Minerva's heart was racing at a pace she knew couldn't be healthy as she helped Poppy undress the man. Scratches and shallow bite marks littered his lean body, a deep bite mark on his back stretched from his right shoulder to his lower back. Poppy darted into her office to gather healing medicines to stop the infections and others to heal the wide open wounds. Minerva's hands trembled as she removed his undershirt and trousers, unable to process the fact that this was her Remus, not someone else's.
The two witches applied the salves and potions quickly, Poppy taking care of the head wound and the burns left by the chain, and Minerva working on the lacerations on his body. They worked tirelessly for the better part of an hour before every wound was healed and bandaged. Minerva was leaning over the bed examining the wire-like cuts on his right wrist again when the doors to the infirmary burst open and the potions master swooped in with Albus and Harry in tow. Poppy went over to Severus and they conversed in hushed tones as Albus made his way over to Minerva. Setting Harry down, he pulled up a chair from next to another bed and held it out for Minerva to sit in. She responded with a shaky smile and accepted, perching herself on the very edge of the seat, never letting go of the man's hand. Harry looked up at Albus with huge pleading eyes that wanted to know what was going on. He twinkled back at the boy sadly and picked him up again, settling him on his hip as he placed a comforting hand on Minerva's trembling shoulder. Harry locked his arms around the headmaster's neck and leaned his head down onto the man's shoulder, all the while looking fearfully and curiously at the man on the hospital bed.
"Minerva," Poppy began quietly as she came forward, her discussion with Severus over.
"What needs to be done?" the witch replied stonily.
Poppy cast a helpless glance at Severus, who took over the conversation. "Headmaster Dumbledore showed me the chain that was found around the patient's neck and yes, it is pure, unaltered silver." Minerva closed her eyes in pain. "As you know, when a werewolf is exposed to silver, the results can be lethal." She drew in a sharp breath here and Poppy smacked the potions master across the back of the head, glaring at him for his blunt observation. He glared back as he continued, "However, I have been working on a potion that may reduce the side effects of such a poison. It is untested and untried, and has so far only worked in theory, and if anything goes wrong, it may only speed the poison. The headmaster wishes for me to brew the potion for the werewolf."
"What are the other alternatives?" she asked in a bare whisper, not trusting her voice to be any louder.
"There aren't any," Severus said with an air of indifference, earning him another cuff from the matron of the wing.
Minerva tensed and Albus could feel the fear radiating off of her as he gave her shoulder a compassionate squeeze. She placed her free hand over his, drawing strength from his presence as she nodded her assent. "When will it be ready?"
"A matter of days."
"Poppy, does he have days?" she asked, her voice cracking a bit with the effort of getting the words out.
"I don't know, Minerva," the woman replied in a whisper.
Albus gave his friend's shoulder another squeeze and said, "He will have days, Minerva. He will have days because he needs to have days."
"I'll get to the potion then," Severus said abruptly, and swooped back out of the ward.
"Come along, Harry," Poppy said, gesturing the boy over to her, "I think I'll need your help with a few things."
Shooting the matron a grateful look, Albus set Harry down on the ground again and lengthened the chair to sit beside his deputy. Reaching out to take her free hand, he was a bit surprised when she didn't recoil, but instead grasped onto it as if it were a lifeline.
"I can't loose him, Albus," she whispered hoarsely.
"Everything will work out for the best, Minerva," he replied shakily, giving her hand a reassuring squeeze. In a show of uncharacteristic weakness, Minerva leaned back towards him and rested her head on his shoulder. He shifted slightly so that her head rested more on his chest and the crook of his neck and his free arm could lie on the back of the chair, encircling the woman's shoulders as she gently settled their clasped hands on her hip. Leaning his head on hers, he heaved a deep, troubled sigh.
"I don't even know what happened to him," she choked out. Composing herself, she asked, "What do you think happened?"
"I can only assume as much as you can, that he was caught as a wolf during the full moon and probably picketed away somewhere."
"Why did they have to use silver?" she snapped roughly, her voice all but gone.
Albus' only response was to squeeze her hand again.
That was Minerva's entire weekend - a bedside vigil beside one of her favorite former students, who was so much more than simply that. Albus stayed with her, making sure she remembered to eat, to sleep, and to breath. By Monday morning, the ailing werewolf's condition had not improved. If anything, it had worsened. His breathing was hollow and ragged, his skin sallow and the burn on his neck had turned a frightening shade of pale green. On the up side, his wounds had completely healed, which was a good thing, according to Poppy.
"You see, now his body can concentrate on fighting the poison instead of spreading itself thin over the cuts and bruises," she had said.
Try as she might, Minerva couldn't concentrate on her teaching that day, her thoughts insisted on wandering back to the comatose body lying in the infirmary. So instead, she had given her students busy work, book work, to pass the time.
"Professor?" Miss Jones called for the third time, raising her voice a bit to get her teacher's attention - class was coming to an end. Minerva was staring at the paper before her on the desk, reading the same line over and over until she wasn't reading it at all. She was oblivious to everything until the doors to her classroom burst open to admit a tall seventh year Gryffindor girl.
"Miss Mullet what is the meaning of this?" Minerva demanded sternly.
"It's from Madame Pomfrey, mum," she replied in a distinctly Irish accent as she handed Minerva a brief note, "She says it's urgent."
Minerva's eyes flew over the note once then snapped back up to the rest of her class. "Dismissed," she barked. "Shannon, make sure the door's closed behind them will you?" she requested of the older student as she hurried out the door, ignoring the inquisitive looks directed at her as she made her way to the hospital wing.
She crept into the infirmary quietly and strode over to Poppy, who was busy checking Remus' pulse and heart rate. The medi-witch set his hand down with a sigh and turned to Minerva.
"Severus administered the potion this morning, as soon as you left, and don't snap at me," she said sternly as Minerva opened her mouth to interrupt. "It's better if you didn't get your hopes up." Poppy felt her mouth go dry, but managed to whisper, "It doesn't look good, Minerva."
Shaking her head in acute denial the teacher sank down into the long chair beside the bed and took up his hand once more.
"We should know by tomorrow morning if anything's going to change, so you sitting there pouring your heart and soul into him is not going to make it better," snapped a voice from the doorway.
"That's enough, Severus," came a deeper, more authoritative voice from behind the man.
Harry darted around Severus' legs towards his mother, but was halted in mid stride by a strong arm lifting him up. The boy looked at his mother worriedly, having not really seen her for the past two days since she spent most of her time in here. He had been strictly ordered not to come in and disturb the patient. Instead of time with his mother, he found himself spending more time with Marcus and Amanda. The two of them tried to keep him busy enough to forget his mother seated beside a near corpse in the infirmary, but it was all in vain. He struggled in Severus' strong grasp, fighting desperately to get to his mother until he heard a quiet voice in his ear.
"Stop wriggling," Severus said, "she needs to be with him right now."
"Who is he?" the boy demanded quietly, craning his neck around to look the potions master square in the eye.
Sighing, the young man met his gaze and said, "Let's go." Harry's last glimpse of the room was of Albus settling himself down beside Minerva and taking up vigil again. As the door swung closed, he tightened his hold on the potions master, trying hard not to cry. He had never seen anyone look so sad, and his mother had completely shut herself away. Suddenly, a thought, a frightening thought, came to his mind.
Severus rolled his eyes, but did not correct the boy. Instead, he answered, "What is it Mr. Potter?"
"Is that Ma's real son?" came the whispered question.
Raising an eyebrow, Severus looked down at the little boy in his arms. "Why do you say that?"
A mute shrug was the reply. Then Severus understood. The boy was worried that Minerva was trading him in for someone she loved more. Ducking into an empty classroom, he seated the child on top of a desk and sat in the chair before him so they were nearly eye-to-eye.
"Harry, your mother loves you very much," he began in the gentlest voice he could muster (which wasn't very that gentle at all, but the boy appreciated his attempt), "To answer your question, yes, that is her real son - in the same way that you are her real son. You mean the world to her. Just because she is worried about someone else doesn't mean she loves you any less."
"But we didn't even play yesterday," the boy said as his lower lip trembled.
"You cannot expect her to be with you every moment of the day," he replied, in a harsher tone than intended. When the boy's lips parted to emit a soft sob, he regretted his words and tried to fix this as best he could. "She loves the man upstairs just as much as she loves you. He is very, very ill. That is why she's so worried about him."
Harry nodded and sniffed, wiping his eyes and nose on the sleeve of his sweater. Severus' lips curled in disgust and he fished out a Kleenex for the boy, who took it gratefully and tried to return it to him after using it. When he refused to touch it, Harry sighed and shoved it into his pocket.
"So who is he?"
"His name," Severus couldn't help but sneer, "is Remus Lupin."
Albus cancelled Minerva's classes for the rest of the day, informing the students that their transfigurations teacher had taken ill and was in the hospital wing recuperating. She spent the rest of the day there, thanking the deities that watched over Remus for every rise and fall of his chest, no matter how feeble.
Poppy found her there the next morning at dawn, having allowed her to stay the night beside him. The tall medi-witch trembled slightly as she regarded the pair from the open doorway, Remus was important to her as well - escorting him to and from his painful transformations had formed a sort of bond between them, nothing as strong as his and Minerva's, but solid nonetheless. If his condition hadn't improved, he would surely die. Poppy sucked in a quiet breath, imagining what that would do to Minerva. The dark- haired witch was presently sitting beside the bed, her head resting in the crook of her right arm on the bed. The fingers of her other hand were intertwined with Remus' own, lying very close to her mouth. Tears stained her cheeks, Poppy noticed as she moved closer, but her breathing was deep and steady.
Eyes narrowed in concentration, the medi-witch tried to study the man' breathing. He still looked like death, but his skin pale now rather than sallow, and his face was somewhat relaxed. He breathed deep in his sleep as well, but not moving. His left arm usually twitched in his sleep, if she remembered correctly. Praying that something was really happening and that what she thought she was seeing wasn't just wishful thinking, Poppy waved her wand over her patient.
The door creaked open quietly, admitting Severus and Albus. Immediately, they both went to Poppy's side, looking at her expectantly.
"There hasn't been much of an improvement," she whispered, her voice trembling slightly. "It's left some of his vital organs, but it's still a threat, and a very serious one at that."
"But there's definitely been a change?" Severus demanded harshly.
Albus grabbed them both by the elbow and steered them away from the bed and to the other side of the room.
"Yes, there's been a slight improvement, but it's not nearly enough to heal him," Poppy answered the potions master's question.
"Why do you ask, Severus?" the headmaster cut in.
Severus took a deep breath, groping for the right words to explain this to non-potions professionals.
"I only distributed a small amount of the potion to him yesterday morning," he held a hand up to cut off Poppy's scathing accusation and continued, "and we needed to wait until I could see the full side effects of that small amount on the patient."
"And?" she pressed, "Will you give him the needed dose now instead of just a bit here and there?"
"I am not accustomed to trying out new potions on human guinea pigs," he snapped, "I have no concrete evidence as to how much of this potions is safe for humans. Even simply trying it on him required a huge leap of faith."
Albus silenced Poppy with a look as she began to retort, and asked Severus, "Now what?"
"Since we are apparently finished waiting, I will administer the potion again in a slightly more potent dose," he replied carefully. "I have no wish to overdose him and create more problems," he snapped again, comment directed to Poppy, who was fuming quietly, rather than to Albus.
"What are his chances?" the old wizard inquired softly.
Here, Severus faltered, "I-I'm not sure."
"Guess," Poppy commanded.
"Taking into account anything that could go wrong," he bit back, thoroughly annoyed, "I would say slim, at best. The potion may have serious long-term effects, and we have no idea what it could be doing to his sanity. It may war with his antibodies and create a mass riot in his body, or cause his vital signs to fluctuate severely, and-."
"And if it works, Severus," Albus pressed, meeting the young man's neutral black eyes over the top of his half moon glasses.
"If it works according to plan, which is highly unlikely," Severus began, "and based on what it has done so far, I would say that he may be bodily healed by New Year's."
Minerva woke to the sounds of hushed whispers. Blinking slowly, she tried to focus on her surroundings, her bleary hearing making bits and pieces of the conversation. "What are his chances?" she heard Albus ask. Raising her head up slightly as to free her other ear, she shook her head in order to clear the grogginess and heard Severus' tentative reply, ". . . slim at best. The potion may have serious long-term effects. . . "
She leaned her head back down onto the pillow beside Remus's head and blinked furiously.
"You have to stay with me, dearest," she whispered quietly, "Don't leave me, I couldn't bear it." Rising slightly, she brushed his hair away from his face and kissed his forehead lovingly.
"Ma, can I play now?" a child's voice called from the doorway. Minerva spun around as the other teachers present started at the boy's outcry.
"Harry, sssshh!" she said in a hoarse stage whisper, putting a finger to her lips and shaking her head.
"NO!" he yelled, "I wanna go NOW!"
Albus made for the boy, but Minerva was faster. Reaching Harry who was still yelling at the top of his lungs, she grabbed him by the wrist and dragged him outside before shutting the door behind her firmly. She didn't release her firm grip on his wrist until they had made it to her office (which was closer to the infirmary than their rooms), and slammed the door behind her.
"What is the matter with you?" she hissed dangerously, black eyes flashing.
"I wanna go play," Harry replied in a far calmer manner than before.
"I told you not to come in and disturb the patient."
"I don't care!" he yelled, his face scrunching up in another tantrum, "He can die and I won't care!"
Pressing a hand to her laboring heart, Minerva took deep calming breaths even as the boy continued to yell that last sentence.
"Enough!" she roared. The breaths had kept her from striking the child, but they had done nothing to quell her anger.
"Why?" he asked insolently, "You can't tell me what to do!"
"I can and I will," she replied sternly, "You cannot-."
"I don't have to listen to you!" he yelled "You're not my mother!" He saw her pale and continued, "And I bet my real ma wouldn't yell at me for not doing nothing either! I HATE YOU!"
With that, he pushed her away - she had stooped down to dole out punishment eye-to-eye - and darted out the door, screaming the line over and over again. Back in the office, Minerva stared at the space he had vacated in shock for a full minute, her breath coming in shuddering gasps. Blinking back furious tears, she straightened and followed her young charge's flight out the door. She ignored the questioning stares directed her way by the early risers among the student body as she hurried after the boy.
By the time she reached the Quidditch pitch, he was already up in the air and zooming haphazardly across the pitch, barely in control of the broom he was on. Knowing it would be safer to simply summon him to her rather than convince him to come down, she pointed her wand and muttered "Accio". Boy and broomstick landed softly at her feet. She looked down at him ominously as he glared back.
Unable to hold her gaze for very long, he looked away and muttered, "I hate you."
She bit the inside of her cheek to keep from sobbing and just stood there for a little while. She could feel her stomach turn with the effort of keeping her emotions in check. Kneeling on the ground beside the boy, she reached a hand out to steer his chin so he would look at her. He keep his eyes defiantly focused on a bright yellow dandelion about a foot away and jerked his chin out of her grasp. Withholding a sad sigh, Minerva opted for a different approach.
"You have been a very bad boy this morning, Harry," she stated. He continued to ignore her presence. "Why?" she asked softly.
"What do you care?" he snapped.
"Harry," she began, "What's the matter?"
"Is it because I haven't been there all that much this weekend?"
"I don't care if you're there or not," he said, stubbornly refusing to look at her. "I don't want to there."
She shook her head and tried to explain, "Harry, Remus is very important to me, I want him to get better. I want to stay with him so when he wakes up-."
"I don't care."
Changing tactics, she forced the sadness out of her voice, "Regardless, you have disobeyed me and you will be punished."
"As punishment," she continued, "you will help Mr. Filch with whatever he needs for the rest of the week."
He continued to glare at the ground.
"Come along, Harry," she said as she rose and extended a hand to help him up, "You've got science in a bit."
He ignored her hand and brushed past her without a word, his quick steps taking him away from the Quidditch pitch and towards the greenhouses. She tried to follow, but her trembling knees caused her stumble against the doorframe of the entrance to the stadium. Twisting so she was nearly completely out of sight, she sank down and thrust a trembling hand into her pocket. Bringing out a thin cigarette, she brought it to her mouth and tried to take out her wand so she could light it. A shadow swooped down out of seemingly nowhere and plucked the cigarette from her lips.
"I thought you quit after we beat Grindewald," a lilting voice chastised.
"Which means I haven't had one in about fifty years. Now give it here," she demanded.
Amanda stepped out of the shadows and sat down beside the witch, pulling out her wand and summoning the pack from Minerva's pocket before the other witch could reach for another one.
"What happened?" she asked gently.
Haltingly, Minerva told her about her Harry. When she finished, she found Amanda staring at her with wide eyes.
"Minerva," she began seriously, "You know he didn't mean any of that."
"But it's my fault he said them in the first place," the nearly broken witch whispered.
"And how, pray tell, did you come to that twisted conclusion?" Amanda asked skeptically.
"I've been with Remus this whole time."
"He can't blame you for that!" she cried, "The man's dy-" she bit her tongue to keep the rest of that word in her mouth. "That's not what I meant," she recovered quickly, "I mean that he can't blame you for wanting to focus on someone else who means as much to you as he does."
"I still should have been there, Amanda," Minerva replied, eyes unfocused and staring out over the pitch, "Did you see how scared he looked when Poppy and I brought Remus up to the hospital wing?"
"It's not as though he's been alone for his entire life, Minerva," the flying instructor pointed out quietly, "He's always had you, and he always will."
They sat quietly for a while, until Minerva stood abruptly and said, "I have a class to teach. I'll see you later, Amanda," and stalked up to the castle. The wiry woman watched her friend leave and shook her head sadly. Pulling out a cigarette, she put it to her lips and lit it with her wand. She took a long drag, thinking, 'Well what else can go wrong?' Her eyes narrowed and she muttered darkly, "Oh, plenty, dearie. Plenty."
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