Chapter Ten- High Point and Low Point
The winter deepened. The days ticked by; and endless succession of making the potions, harvesting leaves, distilling the gum and delivering the remedies to the witches who tended the patients. The school was extraordinarily quiet. Many of the students had gone home; those that remained tended to be the children of families where one or both parents were ill. Normal lessons were suspended but everyone was busy. McGonagall, Flitwick, Black and Binns supervised study sessions, practicals, and discussion groups in the four largest classrooms, doing their best to help students with all subjects; not just keeping to their own. Students who chose to work individually, beavered quietly in the library under Madam Pince' beady eye. Senior students helped in the Potions classroom and the greenhouses. Hagrid and Filch, his cold long gone, gritted the icy drive, conducted visitors to the patients, supervised the delivery of supplies, and the disposal of the toxic silverweed dregs and flask washings, and the used face masks and gloves. Rendered as harmless as possible by the Innocuoso spell, they were collected by medical staff for safe disposal at the nearest wizarding hospital – St Bathild in the Trool. Hooch, Sinistra and Trelawney worked a twenty-four hour shift pattern, helping Pomfrey in the hospital wing. In her spare time McGonagall dealt with the organisation of students returning home and made a start on drafting the end of year exam papers. The house-elves delivered the constant supply of freshly laundered robes and hats needed in the Potions classroom and linen in the hospital wing. Dumbledore conversed with the Ministry Departments and helped to cope with distraught parents.
A week later they received bad news – Professor Vector had died in hospital. In a creeping numbness the weekend came and went, hardly distinguishable from the week. The only thing that differentiated the following Monday was that the Wilson twins died, both on the same day, Jonathan in the early morning and David at tea time. Thin and frail, the boys slipped away from life without a murmur.
In a deeper silence the school worked on, like a train on a track that has forgotten how to stop.
She looks awful, Snape thought, as gravely he watched Celeste instructing a sixth year student who was a new recruit to the distillation duties. Without being aware of it, he had begun to worry about her. It was Friday afternoon and he knew that Celeste, like Sprout and many others, himself included, had been working too many twelve hour days. Her skin was pale, the peach hue long gone. No earring had glinted at her ear for weeks and she was getting very thin. She seemed to be living permanently in track suits and she had developed the habit of rubbing the back of her left wrist up over her forehead. An unconscious, nervous habit.
They dined early that evening and returned to work afterwards. By twenty-five-to-ten only Snape and Celeste remained in the classroom, and she was almost nodding asleep as she scraped out the last flask into the last porcelain pot.
Suddenly Celeste stopped what she was doing and sat for some minutes perfectly still. Snape got the feeling that wherever her mind was, it wasn't in the classroom. Raising a shaking hand she pulled off her hat. She summoned a house-elf who arrived as she was dropping her white robe and hat into the laundry basket. "Take these … hospital wing please, Toby" she whispered, indicating the trayful of pots she had filled. She bit her lip. Then without looking up she slipped quietly out of the Potions classroom.
Snape was surprised; she hadn't bid him goodnight. Celeste always said goodnight, her good manners were one of life's certainties. As he worked on, a feeling of foreboding crept over him. It reminded him of the day Filch had come to him when he couldn't get into the female prefects' bathroom.
In a hurry Snape went after Celeste, sealing his classroom door with a spell. She was nowhere to be seen, but he made his way in the general direction of the sixth floor and eventually saw a slim figure in a grey tracksuit padding along a corridor well ahead of him. But it didn't go to Celeste's room, it went on climbing. He followed the figure up and on, up and on, finally reaching the Astronomy Tower; the castle's highest point.
Snape was very worried now. He thought about calling out, but Celeste was at the top of the stone staircase that lead to the observation platform, and he didn't want to startle her. She had opened the door. A North wind raked across the top of the tower, stinging his eyes as he in turn reached the top of the stairs.
Celeste stood at the tower's parapet, her hands resting on the stonework. It was bitterly cold in the bright moonlight; a wonderfully clear night with a myriad of crisp, twinkling stars. Frost was glittering on the parapet, and Snape felt the top step slippery under his foot. He watched. She was looking out over the moonlit grounds in the direction of the Quidditch Pitch but whether she saw the scene he couldn't tell. The biting wind ruffled her hair; she seemed turned to stone and didn't shiver. For a long moment Snape remained at the top of the stairs, too afraid to call out or move. He planned what he would try if his worst fears were realised.
"Celeste" he breathed softly.
Startled, she whirled around. In less than a second he was beside her, pinning her arms to he sides; holding them very tightly just above the elbows and she stared uncomprehending into his worried face. Finally he felt her relax so he eased his grip, but still held her loosely in the cage of his arms. She sighed and let her left hand slide around his waste outside his robe. Her right hand balled into a fist clutching the lapel of his robe and she laid her head against his collar bone. He wrapped his arms more firmly across her back, pulling her to him as her body was racked by dry sobs.
Seconds ticked by and they exchanged no words. He stroked her hair, noticing it smelt of lavender. He bent his head and touched his cheek to her temple. Contact with her skin made him jump and he grabbed at the hand that was clutching the border of his robe.
"You are very cold" he said sternly. "Come on Celeste" he urged more gently, prising her fingers open. Her grip was strong but he forced her to break it. Slipping out of his robe and wrapping it around her shoulders, he hurried her to the top of the steps. "Be careful, it's slippery" he warned.
He half led, half carried her down to her room. Sitting her down on the sofa, he waved his wand to light the fire. Then he lit the candles and placed his wand against the service panel to summon a house-elf. In a very short time Tavey appeared.
"Send a female elf to stay in here, then arrange for warming pans for Miss Lavelle's bed" he commanded. "Both of those things are urgent. Then go down to my bedchamber. In the sea chest you will find a V-shaped pillow and a blanket; bring those up here, also a pillow from my bed. Have you got all that?"
"Yes, sir" Tavey replied obediently and disappeared.
Binnie appeared almost immediately. "You want me to stay here, sir?" she asked.
"I want you to run Miss Lavelle a hot bath and stay with her while she takes it" Snape instructed, keeping his voice low. "Make sure the water is kept sufficiently hot; she has got very chilled. Do not let any harm befall her. She is not to be left alone! Do you understand, elf?"
"Good … Thank you." Feeling relieved, he turned to Celeste. He called her by name but she seemed to be in a daze, so he knelt in front of her, holding her forearms and shaking her gently to make her focus on him. "Celeste! I am going to make you a potion. I should be back well inside the hour. I want you to take a hot bath, then get into bed. Do you understand, Celeste?" His face had grown anxious again, his fierce eyes fixed upon hers.
"Yes … Yes, OK" she replied resignedly.
She was shivering now, shaking uncontrollably. The tears had finally come; they were trickling down her face and, not wanting to be seen crying, she was angrily wiping them away. Snape got up and brought the box of tissues to her. Grabbing a couple he blotted her face.
"Binnie will stay with you" he said gently. "Do not send her away. I will be back soon. Have a quick bath; then into bed. Do not get cold! Celeste, are you listening?"
"Yes. OK" she said again. She watched him open the door. "Severus" she called, "thank you." She managed a faint smile.
For a second he gazed down at her. Then, suspecting his expression might give too much away, he quickly left the room.
Snape unlocked his classroom and immediately attended to the toxic waste. He then began work on two potions. His pre-prepared stock levels were better than he had estimated and he was back inside Celeste's room in just over twenty minutes. He found his robe folded in an armchair, on top of the pillows and blanket he had requested, so he put the robe back on and sat on the sofa, listening to the faint sounds of Celeste and Binnie talking in the bathroom. As the door opened he called "Would you like me to wait outside, Celeste?"
"No, its OK" she said. "You stay there."
She sat beside him on the sofa and bent forward to dry her hair in front of the fire. She was wearing the long white towelling tunic he had seen hanging on the back of the bathroom door. Her skin looked slightly pink.
"Let me do that" he said, seeing her struggle with a hairbrush. Alternately using his wand and her brush he soon dried her hair sufficiently. The lavender scent was more noticeable. "Now, into bed" he ordered kindly. "Binnie" he called, "you may remove the warming pans."
"Anything else, sir?" Binnie asked as she carried the pans to the service panel. "We usually wake Miss Celeste at six o'clock, sir."
"Don't wake her tomorrow" Snape replied quietly. "I will be here. I will call you if she needs anything. Tell the Headmaster I am here and will be staying all night. If you can't find him, tell Professor McGonagall. I think that is all … Thank you."
Celeste noticed the V-shaped pillow lying on her bed and two goblets of potion steaming on the tray by the herbal teas. She pulled a T-shirt, leggings and socks from one of the chests-of-drawers and changed her clothes in the bathroom. Head bowed, Snape sat by the fire quietly waiting until she was under the bedclothes, before walking to her bedside with the goblets. He had removed his shoes and his footsteps made no noise on the wooden boards.
"This pillow is very comfortable" she commented. "Thank you."
Smiling slightly, he proffered the goblets. "This one is Dreamless Sleep; this one will just help you to relax and keep warm. Which would you like? Have you had Dreamless Sleep before?"
"Err, yes I have" she said guardedly.
"No, not for some years."
"Then the choice is yours."
"Thank you. I'll take Dreamless Sleep." She chose a goblet.
"And I will have this" he said, retaining the other goblet. He sat down on the floor by her bedside cabinet, his back to the window and his legs drawn up slightly so that he could rest his elbows on his knees. He was not looking forward to what he had to say next, but he thought it best to get her to talk.
"Was it the twins' death that finally got to you?" he asked quietly.
Celeste rubbed a hand over her face. "Yes, I think so" she replied. "I spoke to their parents last week. Uncle Albus was trying to persuade them to get the boys into hospital. Muggle hospital. They wouldn't listen. They thought they would be safer here. They think because we can do magic, we can do anything. Work miracles." Her lip trembled and her grip tightened on the still untasted goblet. "I tried– I tried to explain that mending a cut or a broken bone in an otherwise healthy body, is not the same as defeating an army of dangerous micro-organisms. They just weren't listening."
Snape nodded. "Their attitude is understandable, really" he said. "How can Muggles distinguish between magic and miracles? If we can turn a teapot into a tortoise why can't we raise the dead. Anyway, the twins may actually have been better off here; the mortality rate in Muggle hospitals is alarmingly high."
Celeste tried to say 'I know' but the words wouldn't come. Finally she sighed and, to his surprise, turned to the photograph beside her bed. She picked it up and studied it for a while. Feeling that she needed to offer some explanation, she held the photograph out to Snape and said "These two people are my parents." Snape took the photograph and pretended to study it as if he had never seen it before, as she continued "My parents had three children – I had twin brothers, Lucien and Fabien. Fraternal twins, not identical. They died when I was eight; when they were eleven."
"Same age as the Wilson twins" Snape observed sadly.
"Yes … The Wilson twins remind me of my brothers in some ways" Celeste admitted. "Lucien and Fabien could sing. The Wilsons were considering sending their boys to music school, but David and Jonathan were so excited about becoming wizards they were determined to come here. My brothers Lucien and Fabien also had blond hair – they took after Father you see. My father Lucien also has a fraternal twin called Fabien. They are actually very alike; people used to think they were identical twins."
Snape looked again at the comely face of Lucien Lavelle, but didn't admit he had met Fabien and knew him to be a Dominican Friar. "Twins run in your family, it seems" he remarked softly, not knowing what else to say.
"Very much, yes. Even my mother's mother was a twin." Celeste started to say something else but emotion was overtaking her. She fell silent, pressing the back of a hand to her lips.
At length Snape murmured "We cannot save everyone, Celeste. Indeed we have just said as much."
"I know. It's just … it brought back memories."
"Ah yes, memories" Snape whispered savagely. "I know all about those." She seemed to be calming down at last. "Are you ready to settle down now?" he asked kindly. "Then, drink your potion."
She drank it in one. Gently, he removed the V-shaped pillow from behind her back, and she settled down into the warm bed. Waves of relaxing sleep were already overtaking her. "Goodnight, Severus" she murmured.
Snape replaced the photograph beside her bed and swallowed the other potion. Then he doused the candles, removed his robe and tunic, and made himself comfortable on the sofa, covering himself with his robe and the blanket; his head cushioned on his own pillow. Watching the fire burn low, he began to drift asleep…
A soft tapping sounded at the door. Snape jerked awake, and cursing under his breath, rose to open it. He was greeted by the stern countenance of Minerva McGonagall. Her wand illuminating her face. She had her cloak on over a tartan dressing gown. With obvious disapproval she noted Snape's state of dress – a white linen shirt open at the neck and now somewhat creased, black breeches just covering the tops of long black socks; no robe; no tunic; no shoes.
"What's going on?" she hissed. "Why are you here? Is Celeste alright?"
"She's perfectly alright, Minerva" Snape hissed back. "Can we talk in the corridor; she has just gone to sleep."
He all but pushed the Deputy Headmistress out of the room and eased the door closed.
"She became very distressed this evening" Snape began. "I got her back to her room and with the help of a house-elf she has bathed and gone to bed. I gave her the Dreamless Sleep Potion."
"Then why are you here?" McGonagall demanded. "You have no need to stay. I can stay with her."
"I'm not leaving her" Snape growled. "Stay if you want to. I'm staying too, unless she orders me not to. She was very upset. The death of the Wilson twins – she's taken it hard. You didn't see her. See how she looked." His words halted abruptly as he fought to keep his own emotions under control.
"This is most irregular, Severus" McGonagall protested. "You should not be in this room alone with this young lady."
"I have learned a little self control, Minerva" Snape snarled. "You can trust me not to harm Celeste, nor to add to her distress."
"I hope so, Severus" she hissed, and with one last blazing look at him she stalked off. "Be sure to call me if there is a problem" she warned.
Snape settled back onto the sofa. He was furious with McGonagall. But then, he reflected, he was bound to have a bad reputation as far as women were concerned. Death Eaters were notorious for crimes such as torture, rape and murder. He though he had made reparation since those days. However he presumed McGonagall knew of the main purpose of his visits to London. London! He hadn't been to London since last summer. He hadn't slept with a woman since August. He'd had other things on his mind – resentments and suspicions about Celeste, and then the disease epidemic. He'd had Celeste on his mind too, and Hooch. Sometimes both of them together, attending to his needs. Oh Severus, don't pursue this, he warned himself; you promised McGonagall you could behave!
Celeste. He hadn't known how to say to McGonagall he'd had this sudden terrifying fear that she was going to jump from the Astronomy Tower. Perhaps it was best that he hadn't shared that notion – what if McGonagall thought she was mentally unbalanced; what if she made Celeste leave? But I didn't want her here anyway, Snape remembered. So what do you want now, Severus, he asked himself. I don't know, he concluded. I just don't want her hurt.
His potion was finally working – within five minutes Severus Snape drifted into a light sleep.
Despite her potion, Celeste woke at half past six. Sitting up, she could hear faint snores from the direction of the sofa. She lit her wand and tiptoed to the bathroom. Returning minutes later, she gently rocked Snape's shoulder to waken him.
"Would you like some tea?" she asked.
He half sat up; then swung himself upright. "I'll make it" he said. "You get back to bed. Give me five minutes. Can I use your bathroom?"
"Of course" she replied. "You'll find a clean towel in the pile on the washstand."
He lit the fire and some candles, and then disappeared into the bathroom. A few minutes later he stood in the doorway, drying his hands on one of her white towels.
"Herbal or Indian?" he asked coolly.
"Indian please" Celeste replied. "A house-elf will bring us some milk."
Snape brewed the tea, but looked suspiciously at the milk Tavey brought. "What's this?" he demanded. "Skimmed?"
"Miss Celeste always have organic skimmed, sir" Tavey insisted.
"That's quite right" Celeste confirmed. "Tavey is only doing what he knows I want, so don't nag him."
"I suppose you don't have sugar either" Snape moaned. "Really, I might have known! I wanted you to have some nourishment to boost your resources. I suppose it can wait until breakfast. I bet you didn't eat much yesterday. And what is so funny, suddenly, young lady? I fail to see what is so particularly amusing."
"You sound like my mother" Celeste squeaked, trying to suppress her laughter. "Come on, where is this tea! And where is that nice pillow you brought me?"
With a sudden sheepish grin, Snape pushed the V-shaped pillow behind her back and then handed her a beaker of tea. He brought a candle and his own tea, and sat on the floor again, watching her drink. A smile continually hovered at his lips as he realised how fussing and pernickety he must sometimes sound. He drew his legs up, rested his forearms on his knees and wrapped his hands around his beaker to warm them.
In between sips, Celeste watched him. A sheen of dark stubble covered his chin, his hair hung in greasy ropes again and his shirt looked as if it had been slept in – which of course it had. But she was so glad to see him. "Did you sleep OK?" she asked.
"OK … Yes" he confirmed quietly, nodding his head.
"I'm sorry" she said. "For giving you this trouble."
Snape looked up at her and a spasm, almost of pain, crossed his face. "It is no trouble" he insisted gently. "How do you feel today?"
"I'll be alright" she said lightly.
He paused searching for words and finally said "If things get you down … whenever you need to talk, Celeste … we can talk. I'm not good at it – I know. But I'll try. I promise I'll try."
She reached over and squeezed his forearm. "Thank you" she whispered. He heaved a sigh and in a comfortable silence they finished their tea.
Snape ran a hand over his face. "I'm going to my room to shower and shave" he said. "Then I'd like to come back here and we could go down to breakfast together."
Celeste was surprised. "I can find my way to the Hall, Severus."
"I'd like to walk with you."
"Then I will be glad of the company."
The Great Hall was empty when they entered but it wasn't long before McGonagall, Dumbledore and Black arrived. Celeste sat between Snape and Black in the chair Adoración Vector used to occupy. McGonagall came over and asked her how she was. Regardless of Celeste's protestations she seemed to think the night must have been traumatic.
"I'm fine–" Celeste kept trying to explain. "No– No, really Professor– I'm OK– Please listen– I slept very– Thanks to Professor Snape I had an excellent night's sleep, Professor!"
The words finally got through. McGonagall looked outraged. Dumbledore's eyes twinkled, Black snorted, Snape caught McGonagall's eye whereupon he and Celeste collapsed together into fits of helpless laughter.
While Snape tucked into porridge followed by eggs, bacon and tomato and then by toast and coffee, Celeste breakfasted off of orange juice, muesli, a four-minute boiled egg and wholemeal bread without butter. While she ate, she though about the Potions Master sitting at her side. She had never seen him laugh like that – without sarcasm or spite, unguarded, carefree, genuine. It had been a revelation. She suddenly felt she could cope once again. From being her enemy, Snape had changed to being on her side and he was a resourceful and experienced ally to have. She felt supported. She couldn't say why, but his friendship was very important to her.
"Ready for the fray?" Snape asked, when she had finished her meal.
She took a deep breath and nodded. "Yes, I'm all set" she said firmly, and they set off together to the Potions classroom.
End of Part 1