Minerva stopped for what felt like the first time in days and lifting the cigarette to her mouth inhaled deeply and held the smoke there until the burn was too much. Breathing out, she closed her eyes and prayed to whatever deity that was out there for strength. She was too old for this; too bloody old. She had lived and fought through three separate wars, she had taught for nigh on forty years and had been Headmistress for three, overseeing the most radical changes to the school in the last five-hundred years. Yet today, she thought, might have been her most taxing yet.
The stone of the window sill was cold beneath her, causing her tired bones to ache in protest but the fresh air coming through the window was a pleasant change from the stifling heat of the hospital. She tapped the ash off her cigarette, closing her eyes and letting her mind drift.
“I don’t expect they like people doing that in here,” a raspy voice said from the bed behind her. She started, the cigarette dropping from her fingers in her surprise and she watched the glowing ember fall, caught by the night breeze, dancing until it disappeared from sight.
“One of these days I’m actually going to hex you Severus,” she said, without turning.
“Threatening a man when he’s flat on his back seems extreme, even for you.” There was amusement evident in his tone even through the exhaustion. “I thought you’d quit again,” he said more quietly.
“I had,” she said with a sigh, standing and sweeping a hand to filter the air of any hint of her pollutants and then lower the containment charm, “then my Deputy Headmaster collapsed during lunch in the Great Hall.”
“How terribly inconsiderate of him,” he drawled as she took the seat next to the bed.
“I’m thinking of replacing him with a younger model.” The banter was so familiar, so comfortable that Minerva felt something begin to uncoil in her chest.
“You’ll not be rid of me that easily, a few day’s rest and I’ll be right as rain.”
“Let’s not be too rash shall we? You had a massive heart attack earlier today.” He looked better than he had done, but the monitoring charms and the other healing paraphernalia that surrounded the bed were enough to shed light on the lie. ‘Just in case’ the young mediwitch who had taken his last set of readings had said, they like to keep some of the equipment nearby ‘Just in case’.
Even though there was some colour to him and he was sitting up, able to talk to her, still the events of the afternoon came bubbling back to the surface turned Minerva’s blood cold. She had been talking to Pomona on her left and the first indication she’d had that anything was wrong was the sound of a goblet falling and clattering off a charger and Remus, calling Severus name urgently.
“Severus? Severus, can you tell me what’s wrong?” She turned to look and saw the younger man almost hanging out of his chair, grasping his left upper arm and turning greyer by the second. Remus caught him before he fell any further, guiding him so that he was laying on the stone slabs behind the high table, and thankfully out of sight of the students. Moments later Poppy arrived from her own seat and within seconds it was clear how serious the situation was.
“Can you hear me Severus?” His eyes fluttered but he didn’t seem to be able to focus on anything other than the irregular gasps he was struggling to draw. Minerva was captivated by the rivulets of sweat that were rolling down his face and the blue tinge to his lips. Poppy had started diagnostic charms as she spoke, and was beginning to see results. “His heartbeat is very faint and erratic; Remus are you still familiar with circulatory support?” The werewolf nodded grimly, kneeling and drawing his wand.
“Severus?” Minerva asked quietly, kneeling next to his head and taking his hand in hers. His head rolled in her direction and she pushed the hair back out of his face. She simply sat there, holding his hand and avoiding spouting ‘pointless platitudes’, as Poppy continued working and Remus kept the blood flowing through his veins.
“Damn,” the medi-witch muttered, as the gap between Severus last breath and the next lengthened until it became clear that there wasn’t going to be another. She cast an auto respiration charm, artificially inflating and deflating his chest, “Remus?”
“I’ve got it,” he replied and Minerva could almost feel the change in the magic. She looked up at the medi-witch who had now conjured a three dimensional image of the prone man’s heart.
“He’s in full cardiac and respiratory arrest. No poison, or curse work but the electrical circuit in his heart has given out and the muscle in this area here,” she gestured to an area that looked for lack of a better word, dead, “has been damaged.”
“Can you start it, again? His heart?” Minerva asked.
“Possibly, but not with any degree of success until we can repair the damaged heart muscle.”
“Ok, can you do that?”
“It’s outside of my expertise Minerva, it needs to be St Mungo’s but I don’t know if we can get him stable enough to get him to the hospital wing never mind there.” Minerva called for two house elves, who appeared almost instantly and Poppy offered her a quick smile in thanks. “I need one of you to go straight to St Mungo’s and tell them that I’ve got a 52-year-old male in full cardiac and respiratory arrest, stats are unstable even on complete circulatory support and with severe muscle damage to the right atrium. I need support to transport.” The first elf nodded and disappeared in a blink There wasn’t another one. She turned to Poppy who had already realised what had happened and was casting a charm that had Severus’ lungs inflating and deflating regularly if artificially., “I need you to go to the hospital wing and fetch…” Minerva zoned out, looking at the image of the damaged heart still floating in the air before her.
“Poppy?” she said, after a moment. “We don’t have time to wait for St Mungo’s do we?”
“Possibly not,” she said, taking the potions she’d requested and infusing them directly into her patient’s blood stream.
“So, battle field first aid,” Minerva muttered to herself as she kneeled up, before glancing up at the mediwitch. “You’ve always told us to trust to our strengths.”
Poppy looked at her steadily for several moments, “Do you think you could?”
“I think so, can you show me a healthy example?” she asked, her resolve stiffening. With a flick of the other woman’s wand there was another three dimensional image next to the original one, this one suffused pink and obviously healthy. Minerva studied it carefully, particularly the area where Severus own heart was damaged. After a minute she gave a tense nod. “I’ll need to…” She trialled off but the mediwitch nodded. This was going to be quick and dirty, not refined. This was not the type of transfiguration she did on a daily basis and wasn’t something to be taken lightly but when needs must… Rolling her sleeves up, she carefully pushed her hands into her friend’s chest until they were resting around his heart.
“Minerva?” Severus’ voice broke through and she blinked out of the memory. Her hands were trembling and she pulled at her sleeve trying to ignore the desire to reach for her cigarettes. “I’m going to be fine,” he continued with a quiet, soft seriousness, that she’d only discovered in him in the last few years. She wanted to snap at him, that he didn’t know that, that he hadn’t seen himself, hadn’t had his hand in his chest around the heart that should have been beating. He hadn’t had to speak to a hall full of students, try to reassure them that everything was going to be okay, all while his blood had been dripping from her finger tips. The anxious knot of ‘what if’ that she had lived with throughout the war has returned and it was making her nauseous. This wasn’t about her though, she couldn’t allow her inner turmoil to take hold. She needed to be practical first and foremost and deal with the reality of the situation. She straightened in her seat, and reached forward to straighten the sheet on the hospital bed.
“Well you’re in the right place,” she said, trying to sound like her usual no-nonsense self, “and this is where you’ll stay until the professionals say otherwise.”
“The cardiac specialist has said there’s not to a lot more he can do, he was very complimentary about your work.”
“Well, I’m sure he would have done a better job but I’m glad that it worked.” He seemed to study her for a moment.
“Do not underestimate your own skill or success Minerva, it is one of your poorer traits. I owe you my life.” Her automatic instinct was to protest or brush him off but instead, she swallowed.
“Have they…” she cleared her throat, “did they say anything about why it happened?”
“Repeated exposure to the cruciatus. Apparently it’s not good for the nervous system or the heart, even if it doesn’t drive you crazy,” he finished with a hollow laugh.
“I am so tired of that man reaching out from history to slap us in the face.” This time his laugh was full throated until he grimaced, obviously still sore.
“Yes well,” he said after a moment, “the blame is not all his, in this instance.” Her brow contracted as she watched him almost squirm against his pillows. “I may have been ignoring some warning signs.”
“Severus!” she chided, but knew that this wasn’t the time to scold him. He was obviously flagging already, his eyes drooping and the hand he tried to wave her away with barely making it off the bed. “I meant what I said, you’re well missed already but I’d rather we did without you for another two months and you came back hale and hearty.”
“I appreciate the thought but I really don’t think I’ll need that long. They’re talking about discharging me in a few days.”
“Discharging you into Poppy’s tender care, don’t think you can fool me young man. There will be repercussions to this Severus, it will take you time to process & heal what’s happened even if there are no long term effects on your physical wellbeing. There is no need to rush these things and there certainly doesn’t need to be any decisions made in the next few days, just rest and focus on being well.”
“Perhaps,” he said quietly and she could feel the maudlin mood settle on him like a heavy winter coat. “Perhaps I should just give you my resignation now.”
“Now that is certainly not what I meant and you know it,” she was tired and she never dealt well with a petulant Severus when she was in that state. It struck her that it had been such a long time since she’d had to deal with him in this mood at all that it sent her immediately back to those interminable years when he had been being pulled in so many different directions it was a wonder he had not snapped altogether. “I’ve told you on several occasions that I will not hold you over a barrel and force you to stay, but that does not mean I do not rely and value your contribution. I have every intention of retiring one of these days and there is no-one I would rather intrust Hogwarts to than you. But you need to make the decision that’s right for you.” She didn’t look away despite the fact he wouldn’t meet her eye. It was, she had discovered, usually best to treat Severus like a recalcitrant student if that was the way he was insisting on behaving. It was too her surprise however when she saw moisture start to gather beneath his eyelashes, for all his occasional strops, even as a child he had not been one for tears.
“Hush now,” she said, taking hold of his hand.
“Oh lad,” she sighed, “there is nothing to be sorry for. You’ve had an awful time of it today and it’s simply catching up with you. Just rest now, and everything else will follow.” The tears were falling freely down his face now. His fingers tightened around her own and she felt a lump form in her throat. “I’m not going anywhere until you’re off to sleep,” she tried to reassure him. “Poppy tells me she’s been inundated with cards and chocolate frogs from the students,” she continued quietly, stoking the back of his hand with her forefinger. “Septima is looking after your Slytherins and your classes will be covered for as long as you need them to be.”
“Who…?” he asked, his breath hitching,
“Bill has agreed to take them and I’ll cover Transfiguration – fear not, I will not be infringing on your territory.”
“Well in the long term, I’m hoping you’ll be back, but in the mid-term, Pomona has sent an owl to Horace to see if he’d be willing to help us out.”
“Sorry…” he said again, but this time it trailed away, his exhaustion winning out.
“Shhh, all will be well,” she told him, “all will be well.” And it would she was sure, it was just going to take some time.