Chapter 9 : Chapter Nine
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Nobody wants to be here—that much is certain. The long table is surrounded by the several dozen professors who populate Hogwarts, all of whom wear expressions ranging from mild impatience to extreme aggravation. Our first end-of-month staff meeting was scheduled to begin an hour ago, but one of our colleagues has yet to arrive. And so we wait.
Since we are all adults here, most are making an effort to behave in a dignified manner. Pomona Sprout twiddles her thumbs. Filius Flitwick absently levitates his teacup higher and higher above our heads. At regular intervals, Horace Slughorn withdraws a silver pocket-watch from within his robes, makes a great show of examining it thoroughly, then puts it away with a loud, theatrical sigh of annoyance. Perhaps the only one who remains perfectly serene is Dumbledore. He is stationed at the head of the table, calmly sitting with his hands steepled and his light blue eyes twinkling. He has probably gone through at least half his tin of lemon drops by now, popping a fresh one into his mouth every five minutes or so.
‘Really,’ Irma Pince mutters to me on my right. ‘This is a disgrace. I have three hundred books to reshelf, and here I am wasting my time with you people!’
I smile at her sympathetically, thinking of the monstrous queue of patients that is surely forming outside the hospital wing. To my left, Cuthbert Binns is hovering a few centimetres above his seat, reciting an account of the Third Goblin Rebellion to Hagrid on his other side.
‘…and after that, Winduk and Fillarook armed themselves with pickaxes and rallied their fellow goblins to attack the Wizarding stronghold of…’
‘I don’ like goblins much,’ comments Hagrid, staring at the ceiling.
I smother a chuckle and glance at Minerva McGonagall next to Dumbledore. Her lips are thinned to almost nothing and she is casting her beady eye all around the room. As I know well, the associate headmistress highly disapproves of tardiness. As do I, for that matter. This is something deeply unappealing about people who insist upon arriving late, inconveniencing everyone else. I always make an effort to be punctual. However, I have learned that I cannot always expect the same from everyone else.
The door flies open. Filius Flitwick’s teacup shatters on the ground and everyone stares around accusingly at the latecomer.
It is Silvanus Kettleburn. He drags himself into the room, closing the door gently behind him. He then begins his slow, steady hobble over to the only empty seat at the table: on Dumbledore’s other side, at the opposite end of the room. He moves at a rate of perhaps five centimetres per minute. All of our eyes follow him impatiently as he makes his sluggish progress. Slughorn sighs loudly. Irma taps her foot. Dumbledore pops another lemon drop into his mouth.
It’s a shame, really, that is had to be Silvanus. I suppose he dozed off, or forgot the time of the meeting, or any number of other problems suffered by people that age. One simply can’t dislike the old professor: he would never harm a soul. My annoyance fades considerably. The same can’t be said for some of my other colleagues.
When Silvanus finally reaches his seat with the air of one mounting the summit of Everest, Pomona rushes over to help him into his seat. She is thanked with a toothy smile.
‘Welcome, Silvanus!’ pronounces Dumbledore, as though we have not all been waiting for over an hour.
Silvanus garbles something unintelligible.
‘Pardon me?’ frowns Dumbledore, leaning closer.
Silvanus repeats his words, which are just as audible as before. Dumbledore, however, seems to understand.
‘Ah,’ he nods wisely. He turns to us, ‘Silvanus forgot he was in the dungeons and therefore spent forty minutes attempting to locate a staircase leading downstairs.’ He beams at the old professor. ‘A perfectly understandable mistake, Silvanus.’
Irma Pince coughs loudly. I prepare to begin taking notes. Albus Dumbledore rises to begin addressing us, a lemon drop stuck to his beard.
And so begins the year’s first end-of-month staff meeting.
The full moon. Again. A month has passed, and once again I am faced with the task of shepherding Remus Lupin down to that dreaded Shrieking Shack. Admittedly, I am more confident this time around. I did it once, so I should be able to do it again. But when I see Lupin’s drawn face, the confidence drains away and all I feel is useless. Where is the accomplishment in supporting him and Healing him, when I know it’ll just happen all over again next month? He’s like a Muggle wind-up toy: no matter how many times you twist the knob, it’ll eventually stop moving. My greatest efforts are futile. I cannot fix this boy.
This may be the first time, in all my years as matron, that I am faced with an ailment I cannot cure. Oh, I can alleviate it. I can minimise damage and render it invisible. But I can’t make it go away. And no matter how hard I work, it’ll always come back with a vengeance. So when I look at Lupin’s drawn face, I can’t help feeling defeated.
‘That’s selfish, Poppy,’ Minerva tells me, later, when I share my feelings over a pot of strong herbal tea.
‘How so?’ I demand. It must be past two and we are sitting in Minerva’s office, waiting the night out together.
Minerva purses her lips, sets down her teacup. For the past hour she has been busy marking compositions, and I have watched as her stress level has climbed higher and higher with each scarlet D and T. So as she faces me with a sour expression on her thin face, I brace myself for the kind of lecture that only a stressed Minerva McGonagall can deliver.
‘You’re just not thinking in terms of Lupin,’ she begins in a rather stiff voice—I can tell she is masking emotion beneath that rigid facade. ‘You’re only thinking in terms of yourself. What you can’t accomplish, how you can and can’t help him, that you are being defeated by the lycanthropy, and therefore feel useless.’
Despite myself, I sense my cheeks colouring defensively at her harsh words. ‘I do feel useless, Minerva,’ I snap. ‘I feel useless because there’s nothing I can do to fix him.’
‘But there you have it,’ she retorts, shaking her head in a subtle gesture of exasperation. ‘It’s not about what you feel. It’s about what your patient feels. What Lupin feels.’
Suddenly I am breathing heavily. Somehow, I find that I cannot quite grasp what Minerva is trying to tell me—perhaps the lateness of the hour having an effect-- and my irritation is palpable. I am sure that she is wrong.
‘What are you trying to articulate, Minerva?’ I spit out. ‘I know that Lupin feels horrible, because I can’t do anything for the boy.’ My hands are fisted on the desk, knuckles almost white.
Unexpectedly, Minerva’s severe gaze fades into something like pity.
‘Listen to me, Poppy,’ she lowers her voice in an attempt to placate me. ‘You’re an achiever. You think of yourself, and your work, in terms of what you can and can’t achieve.’
I force myself to calm down, to think on this pronouncement. I am an achiever. That, I know. I have always been one. My Muggle-born father used to call me a robot. Decidedly impersonal. A perfectionist and a workaholic. I’m someone who expects the best from myself—for otherwise what is my worth? For my patients that has meant that they can rely on a matron who is efficient and well-meaning—but not terribly
empathetic. And for the majority of the boys and girls of Hogwarts, that has been adequate. But what about Remus Lupin?
‘You can’t afford to think like that concerning Lupin,’ Minerva insists harshly. ‘Concerning Lupin, your job is no longer about achieving something. It’s not about defeating an illness. It’s not about you at all. It’s about your patient.’
‘I care about him,’ I whisper, because I certainly do. And because I do not like this picture which Minerva is painting of me, of the selfish robot which I probably am.
‘Of course you care about Lupin,’ Minerva has softened her voice, her hand finding mind on the desk in a gesture of friendship. ‘I’m certain that you care about all of your patients. But in the hospital wing, your work seems motivated by your need to achieve.’
‘It is,’ I admit. ‘Healing is far simpler when one’s emotions are not involved.’
Minerva smiles thinly. ‘But with Lupin, your emotions are essential,’ she tells me, leaning forward. ‘With Lupin at least, you must be motivated by the fact that you care for him.’
I have a sharp sense that Minerva is trying to force me to vacate my comfort zone—an existence of cold routine. Beyond, there is only a world of raw emotion. The thought of inhabiting such a universe is terrifying. I drag my hand out from beneath hers, fiddle with my teacup. I slump in my chair like a pouting child. ‘Why?’ I demand, even though I am beginning to understand.
‘Because Lupin is not just another patient!’ exclaims Minerva, and the urgency in her voice is potent enough to jerk me upright in my chair. Some of her own dormant emotion is finally flaring to life. ‘Just like his disease is not just another disease.’ Her eyes bore into mine, ‘If your aim in treating Lupin is to cure him of all illness, then yes—you shall fail! If you are attempting to remove all pain from his life, you will never succeed!’
‘Then what can I do?’ I inquire bleakly.
‘Lycanthropy is in the very air that boy breathes,’ Minerva’s voice is now a low hiss. ‘It has consumed his entire life.’
‘I know,’ I whisper. Werewolf. Monster.
‘But Poppy,’ Minerva’s face is gravely serious, shadowy in the half-light cast by the full moon through the window behind her. ‘If you can change that, you’ll have really achieved something.’
The truth of her words washes over me like ice cold Pumpkin Juice—at once jolting and revitalising. My job has not just been to Heal Lupin, as I had originally assumed. No, my job is far more critical than that. Indeed, if I do my job properly, than I may be able to completely alter the boy’s life. Was Albus Dumbledore aware, I wonder, that my task would carry such a burden of responsibility? When placing Remus Lupin in my care, did the Headmaster know that I would be faced with the duty not just of Healing the boy from the ravages of his disease, but of raising him above the disease itself?
‘But you’ll only be able to achieve that,’ Minerva remarks, ‘if you are motivated by caring for him.’
‘Professor! Professor, wake up!’
The unwelcome voice punctures my sleep, shrill and insistent. Irritably, I shift to the right without opening my eyes. I am far too tired for this right now, why are they bothering me…?
Minerva’s voice sounds, sleepy but alert: ‘What is it, Brother Carter?’
‘Please, Professor. A disturbance down my corridor on the second floor!’
I jerk wide awake, staring around wildly. For a moment, I am unsure of why I am sitting in Minerva McGonagall’s narrow office, wearing rumpled robes with my neck throbbing from having dozed off upright. Then I remember—the full moon.
Minerva is frowning at a painting above her mantelpiece. A monk has appeared beside the vase of yellow tulips and is speaking urgently, ‘A young student has been grievously injured…’
‘Minerva,’ I gasp, fumbling for my watch. ‘Minerva, what is the time?’
‘Five o’clock, madam,’ the monk wrings his hands anxiously. ‘Please, the lad is in trouble!’
‘Thank you, Brother Carter,’ Minerva springs to her feet with admirable speed and glances at me, ‘Poppy, the second floor corridor—,’
‘I heard.’ I have risen too, hastily straightening my robes and rubbing sleep from my eyes. With an edgy glance toward the window—still dark for now—I follow Minerva out the door. We hurry along the dark corridors, our rapid footfalls puncturing the silence of the sleeping castle.
‘Brother Carter?’ I whisper to Minerva as we turn a corner.
‘He is a surprisingly reliable source of information,’ Minerva hisses back. ‘And sober, unlike most of his friends.’
‘Minerva,’ I mutter as we pass a wide widow. The moon is rapidly fading in the mottled purple sky. ‘Minerva, it’s nearly sunrise. I must not be late--,’
‘I know,’ she murmurs back, and in the dim torchlight I can discern the agitation apparent on her face. We reach a winding staircase and descend as quickly as we dare move in the shadowy darkness. Minerva flits ahead of me on her longer legs. With one hand she grips her lit wand and with the other she holds her tartan dressing gown off the floor.
‘What did he mean by…a disturbance?’ I struggle to catch my breath as we skid onto the second floor. ‘At this time of night?’
‘Troublemakers, no doubt,’ replies Minerva grimly, as we forge on towards Brother Carter’s painting.
But the disturbance is not immediately obvious, not as Minerva sweeps her wand around the wide corridor, which leads to a rickety old staircase. The problem is not obvious as we call out in low voices. It is only obvious when I reach the end of the corridor and try to mount the staircase. And I nearly trip over the person lying at its base. With a cry of alarm that rings through the castle, I look down and see that it is Severus Snape.
Head trauma. The boy has a lump the size of a grapefruit above his right temple. Feverishly, I flit around the hospital wing, collecting the proper healing implements from their places. With an armful of potions and ointments, I return to Snape’s bed and find him stirring feebly. With his eyes still shut and his face pale as the sheet beneath him, he mumbles something under his breath. But when I lay a hand on his forehead, he falls still.
Working quickly, reflexively, I draw my wand and begin chanting the Healing Charms which will rid him of injury. As I murmur the familiar words, rotating my wand in intricately patterned circles and spirals, Severus Snape remains eerily lifeless, white and unmoving on his bed. Only the steady movement of his chest suggests that he is not a corpse. I am unnerved by this thought, and cannot help shuddering. Automatically, I retreat into my familiar bubble of emotionless routine. This is something I do often in the hospital wing. But for the first time--as a result of my recent conversation--I am fully concious of my actions, and the repercussions they will have.
For a split second I consider following Minerva's advice and allowing myself to be guided by feelings of fear and sympathy--emotions which are hovering very close to the surface of my mind. But once again the bubble presents itself, and I allow myself to hide within it. Right now, I simply can’t tolerate emotion. With a sort of empty calmness, I begin to repeat the Charm. Outside my window, the first early-morning rays of the sun begin to dapple the dewy grounds with light.
At some point, Minerva appears at my right shoulder, her expression severe and her eyes unsmiling. ‘He fell down the stairs,’ she reports flatly.
I turn just long enough to raise an inquisitive eyebrow.
‘Or slipped, more like,’ Minerva amends, and I detect contained ire in the pitch of her voice. ‘The staircase was covered in soap,’ she explains. ‘On the third-floor landing I found an upturned bucket of the stuff.’ She scowls heavily. ‘It smells like a practical joke to me. I only hope that the culprit was Peeves. If I find a student responsible…’
She trails off, but I have suddenly turned cold. I remember James Potter and Sirius Black plotting vengeance in this very ward. I recall Potter’s mocking words, ‘He could definitely use some of this soap…’ I choose to say nothing. Instead, I ask Minerva to prop Snape in a sitting position so I can force several gobletfuls of potion down his throat. Anti-Swelling Solution. An elixir to reduce the effects of concussion. And something for the pain…
‘Poppy, the time,’ Minerva nods towards the window, her face strained with worry. It is well past dawn. The sun is hot and unforgiving in the cloudy sky. I am late—inexcusably late. My emotionless bubble finally pops and I begin to feel the gnarled fingers of dread creeping over me.
As I hurry from the hospital wing, I am forced to wind my way through clusters of students in the corridors and Entrance Hall. They are smiling and laughing, which I find bizarre. There is nothing to smile or laugh about.
It is bad. There is probably a more appropriate adjective to describe what I find in the Shrieking Shack, but as I take in the jagged claw marks and bloody gouges, the only word that comes to mind is bad. Bad, bad, bad. Minerva wished me to be driven by emotion, and I hope that she is satisfied, because right now my feelings are threatening to overcome me.
It is far worse than last month. The poor child is covered from head to toe in raw, scarlet wounds. I hardly know where to begin Healing him. The coppery smell of blood hangs in the air like a disease. How long has it been since he transformed back? How long has he been lying on the cold floor, surrounded by pools of red liquid? Strange tears drip down my face as I unscrew the bottle of disinfectant. But as I begin the Healing process, I soon find myself working mechanically, my mind having gone oddly numb. As I kneel beside him, bandaging wound after wound after wound, I have a vague sensation that my mind has left my body and I am watching this scene from a far distance. My fingers move quickly, robotically, strangely detached from the horror of the situation. Is this how it feels to be placed under an Imperius Curse?
When I am finished, perhaps three hours later, my hands are stained red. But somehow I have successfully cleaned and bandaged all of Lupin’s scratches, bites and bruises. I have dragged clothing on over his thin and battered frame. Still, he shows no signs of movement. For no particular reason, I remain beside him on the floor for a long while, stroking sandy hair out of his pale face. I think of Severus Snape, lying inert in the hospital wing as a result of a careless prank. Before long, I find myself weeping again. What is the matter with me? According to Minerva, my emotions are essential to Lupin. I seem to be following her directives—and not by choice. But I feel like a mess, and not at all like myself.
I am Poppy Pomfrey, the efficient and responsible matron of Hogwarts School. I am more cerebral that emotional. I care about my patients, but at a distance. More than anything, I am professional. Most certainly, I do not stroke students’ hair. I do not sob over a little blood, or even a lot. But is that what Minerva wished me to do? Right now I am an emotional wreck, but is that the point?
Remus Lupin is finally awake. He lies on the floor, pale and weak. His tired brown eyes gleam with signs of terrible pain as he stares at me. Acutely, I am aware that I must at least appear composed. I force myself to be calm, blink a few times to clear my head.
When I speak, my words are steady, ‘Good morning, dear.’
He tries to talk, but coughs instead. His face screws up as this small movement strains the wounds on his chest. I see him clench his fists and again attempt words, but all he manages to emit is a small whimpering noise, like a wounded animal. He closes his eyes.
‘Don’t try to move,’ I instruct him, now fighting hard to remain impassive. My chest feels oddly constricted, almost as though I am suffocating.
‘You weren’t there,’ he whispers, and his voice is so soft that it is only just audible.
‘Pardon?’ I inquire, leaning closer to hear him better.
‘I woke up and…you weren’t there.’
A great wave of guilt washes over me. His words are not accusatory. No, he is merely stating a fact, perhaps attempting to share the horror of his situation with a caring ear. He can hardly imagine the sickening effect his revelation has on me. Lupin woke up before I arrived and found himself completely alone—grievously wounded, in severe agony, and with no one to help him. I can’t imagine it; lying cold and injured in pool of one’s own blood after having suffered unspeakable nightmares—and with no one present to offer comfort. How long did he lie there before he blacked out? It was my job to look after him, and I failed miserably.
I hear Minerva’s voice in my head, exasperated but patient: ‘It’s not about you, Poppy. It’s about Remus Lupin.’
Right. Because I am an achiever. But currently, my own achievements are not the objective. I must not allow myself to drown in selfish feelings of failure. For all that matters now is Lupin’s wellbeing. I must be motivated by caring for the boy.
Somehow, I bring him to the hospital wing. It is not an easy task, with most of the castle wide awake and Lupin in no shape to walk on his own. I conjure a stretcher, and cast a particularly strong Disillusionment Charm. Then, I utilise all of the secret passageways and shortcuts that I know about to reach the ward in a minimal time, having encountered only a smattering of students and ghosts. Thankfully, it is lesson time, and most of the boys and girls are closeted away in classrooms.
Outside the hospital wing is grouped a small mob of students seeking medical attention. Upon seeing me, they break into cries of relief.
‘Finally, Madam Pomfrey!’
‘McGonagall wouldn’t let us in!’
But now is a time for priorities. Stony-faced, I barrel through the lot of them and hurtle through the door, slamming it shut behind me. Minerva strides over from the far corner of the ward, face taut with concern. She is still wearing her tartan dressing gown, and her dark hair is falling out of its bun.
‘I need to get him into a bed,’ I gasp by way of greeting. Unquestioning, Minerva levitates the unconscious Lupin onto a bed as I remove the Disillusionment Charm. She gently supports his shoulders as I tip a strong pain reliever into his mouth, followed by a large dose of Sleeping Potion. Carefully, I settle him on the pillows and draw the covers up to his chin before finally backing away from my patient. From a distance of a few feet, I study him with a critical eye. Lying there, frail and sickly, the boy does not look good. And considering that I recently spent three hours tending to his wounds, he does not appear even remotely healthy.
‘You did your best,’ comes Minerva’s voice from behind me.
I turn to her. ‘How do you know?’ I demand.
She raises an eyebrow, ‘Because I know you.’
I follow her to Snape’s corner, where I find the Slytherin boy sitting up in bed. He is still far too pale, and his eyes are unfocused, but this does not detract from the fury that contorts every line of his thin face. And when he speaks, every syllable pulsates with righteous anger.
‘It was Potter.’
A/N: So how's that? I haven't written anything for ages so I feel a bit out-of-touch. Constructive criticism is welcomed!!!