Chapter 38 Fairytales, Part 5 (Revised as of July 2012)
The dwarfs, when they came home in the evening, found Snow White lying upon the ground, she breathed no longer and was dead. They lifted her up, looked to see whether they could find anything poisonous, unlaced her, combed her hair, washed her with water and wine, but it was all of no use, the poor child was dead, and remained dead. They laid her upon a bier, and all seven of them sat round it and wept for her, and wept three days long. Then they were going to bury her, but she still looked as if she were living, and still had her pretty red cheeks.
They said, "We could not bury her in the dark ground," and they had a transparent coffin of glass made, so that she could be seen from all sides, and they laid her in it, and wrote her name upon it in golden letters, and that she was a king's daughter. Then they put the coffin out upon the mountain, and one of them always stayed by it and watched it. And birds came too, and wept for Snow White, first an owl, then a raven, and last a dove.
December 13th 1995
St. Lucia Day
"Don't be scared, baby," said Bev, cupping Sera's hand in hers. "Everyone's here, me your dad, your brothers and grandmother Evie. You're not alone, honey. We love you so much." She began to sob again and kissed her daughter's cold hand. "Please, please, don't die."
"I'm sorry, princess," Rick said, tracing the line of his daughter's face with his fingertips. "Daddy's very sorry."
He had failed as father. He hadn't been there to protect her, to save her. He should never have allowed her to leave, never brought her to Hogwarts, never let her out of his sight. He should have continued the court fight. It would have bought them time. How many more days would they have had? How many more bedtime stories could he have read to her? Now, she might never know that Odysseus made it home to Ithaca – to his family, in the end.
'Pray to the Goddess, Rick,' his mother had entreated him. 'We may be powerless but She never is.'
And he had. He had gone down on bended knee in the hospital chapel with his family and with his head bowed and hands clasped, he had pleaded at the shrine of the Great Lady to take pity on his little girl.
'Don't make me bury another child,' he had begged the marble statue, a representation of the Goddess as Demeter, a mother who had lost her daughter Persephone to the God of the Underworld for a time.
Grief-stricken, the deity had wandered the earth in search of her only child. Her despair and mourning were so great that the earth became barren and desolate. Vegetation died, animals starved and it seemed humankind would perish; such was the depth of the Goddess's sorrow. Surely, she would understand their anguish.
'Grant to us your mercy, Goddess of the earth, Mother of all humanity,' his mother had implored. 'We your loyal supplicants ask for intercession on behalf of Seraphina Bianca, a child anointed in the name of the Lord and Lady. In perfect love and trust we have tried to raise her and dedicated her to the ancient mysteries. Take pity on us for we are not ready to be parted from her.'
Rick was grateful to have his mother present to lead them in prayer. She had demonstrated all the strength of her seventy-seven years of age in these dark days. She had practice at it, holding the family together after the sudden death of Rick's father and managing the family's financial assets with acumen goblins could envy.
But looking at Sera now, Rick wondered if their prayers had fallen on deaf ears. Her skin was nearly translucent revealing the blue and purplish veins beneath. Her black hair had thinned and emphasized the pallor of her complexion. Sera's intakes of breathe were imperceptible, but once in a while a finger would lift, a leg would jerk, her head would turn, and indicate to them that she was still alive, because she could still feel the pain of the poison coursing through her body.
"You're Aunt Andromeda and Uncle Ted and Cousin Tonks sent you flowers," his wife said placing the blue irises and yellow lilies in a pale green vase by their daughter's bedside.
The bright cheerful floral arrangement reflected the Tonks family, who had stopped by for a brief visit not wanting to intrude. It was unfortunate Sera had never met them.
"Your Aunt and Uncle Malfoy and Cousin Draco are here too. They just want to stop by to wish you well, sweetheart," Bev continued to say. Professor Snape had given his permission for them to visit. "Don't worry, baby. Your dad and I will be right beside you," she added in consolation.
The Malfoys had a chilling disposition compared to the sunny outlook of the Tonks. Though Andromeda and Narcissa shared the same pointed face, fair flawless skin, and pale-blue eyes, their personalities were polar opposites. Andy with her violent shade of red hair had been warm and optimistic, while Narcissa appeared to suck the life out of the room. Their choice in husbands, one an arrogant aristocratic pureblood, the other, a down-to-earth Muggleborn, emphasized the difference between the two families of each sister.
Danny took Roscoe for a much needed walk, while the Malfoys visited Sera. Grandma Evie and Will went to get some food for everyone at a local bakery. The Malfoy's declined their offer to bring something back for them especially after realizing that they were going to a Muggle establishment. They entered Sera's small hospital room in all their robed finery, decked out in heavy wool cloaks trimmed with black fur.
"These are for Sera," Draco said formally, handing a dozen long-stemmed white roses to Mrs. Keating.
"Thank you, Draco," Mrs. Keating said taking the flowers from him with a welcoming smile. She rose from her chair and conjured a clear vase and placed the flowers in it, adding water from the table-side pitcher. "These are lovely." White roses for innocence and purity, love and sympathy, she recalled mentally.
"Imperio," Narcissa said pointing a wand at Mrs. Keating's back.
Simultaneously, Lucius had cast the same curse on Mr. Keating before the man could retaliate.
"You will both go with Lucius and wait with him outside the room," Narcissa ordered them. They both stood still, unmoving, confused expression on their faces. "Imperio!" she fairly shouted at the pair of them, setting her dominating will against theirs.
"You're fortunate I put a silencing charm on the room, sister," Draco castigated her once the Keatings were subdued. "Need I remind you that not all of us want to make friends with Dementors."
"Out of your seats, Mr. and Mrs. Keating," Lucius drawled. "You two could use with an airing out I daresay," he said, eyeing their disheveled appearances disdainfully. The couple looked like they had slept in those disgusting Muggle outfits they wore. "Come Cissa."
"Fifteen minutes, Bellatrix," the pseudo-Draco hissed at the pale-blond woman.
"Thank you, sister," the faux-Narcissa said as the boy closed the door.
The door closed and Bellatrix in the form of sister took a step towards the bed. Her expression softened as she quickly removed her sister's black leather and shed the heavy fur coat.
She sat by the girl's bedside and touched her cheek and brushed the dark hair from her forehead.
"My sweet girl," she said softly, "It's your mother, Bellatrix. Your real mother; not that other woman." How she hated Mrs. Keating. "I may not look it now, but I assure that it was I, who gave birth to you … in this very hospital no less.
"They say that you're dying, luv, but I know that's a lie. You can't die. You're too strong. You're a Black. They can call you Keating and Snape till they're blue in the face. And Black's don't die of silly grindylow bites. Snape will find something to help you. It's the least the slimy git can do after what he's done… to me – to the both of us. He wasn't meant to be your father, darling. Men are all bastards, Sera. Never trust them," her voice going cold.
"Enough of that… we shall discuss all of it some other time. I came to make sure you were being taken care of. They could have given you are better room than this," she said surveying the room with a critical eye at the small cramped hospital room with a single bay window.
The glint of a silver photo frame caught her eye. It was a photo album Bellatrix realized as she picked it up from the wooden bedside table. She thumbed through the pages and drank in its images. Sera as an infant in a cradle. Her christening – held in the arms of an elderly couple. Sera's second birthday – sitting in the lap of Mrs. Keating in front of a pink cake with two white candles. Sera, a toddler now, on a swing pushed by Mr. Keating. Sera opening Christmas presents with the Keating boys.
"I've missed you growing up," Bella said bitterly. "I've never even held you, not even when you were a baby."
She would now, Bella decided shutting the album. She peeled back the layers of tartan blankets covering up her daughter and lifted the girl into her lap. She was so light and deathly cold in her arms. Bella pressed the girl against her gently, resting the child's head against her shoulder and rocked her back and forth like an infant. She kissed Sera's forehead and stroked her cheek. It felt wet against her fingertips. Bella realized that she was crying and wetting the girl's face with her warm salt tears.
"Mother's sorry, darling," she said wiping the moisture from Sera's face. "She's being silly. "You're just sleeping… resting… waiting for the right moment. I did the same thing for thirteen years. I waited and I waited. I thought it was for him. Now I know it was you I was waiting for. You'll wake up. I didn't wait thirteen years in hell for nothing… I didn't wait all that time just to watch you –"
There was a rap at the door signaling her that her time was up. Bellatrix returned Sera to her bed and covered her up with the blankets again.
"One day soon, luv, I'll come for you and we'll be together again. I promise. Then no one is ever going to take you away from me ever again," she promised and sealed it with a kiss on the girl's forehead.
Mr. and Mrs. Keating were led back into the room. Their memories were adjusted not a moment too soon before Will and his grandmother arrived back with caffeine beverages and pastries. The Malfoys said their good-byes and left quickly.
"Did they behave themselves?" Evelyn asked with pursed lips handing Bev a cup of coffee.
"Yes," Bev said almost trance-like. "They were very polite and well –"
" – mannered." Rick said finishing her sentence.
The Dark Lord had made it abundantly clear to Severus that he would be extremely put out if Sera should die. As punishment for Snape's paternal negligence, he had given Bellatrix leave to inflict the cruciatus curse on him, but the vicious woman had surprisingly declined.
'You're a Potions Master aren't you? Poisons are supposed to be your area of expertise, Snape,' she had sneered. 'What use are you to us if you can't save a mere child bitten by a grindylow? Go back to your dungeons, Snape and find a cure. Save her Snape. Save her or you'll be begging for death by the time I'm done with you. I'll have you castrated, maimed, skinned alive and sent back to Hogwarts so all of those dunderheaded children can point at you and scream, 'Merlin, what is that thing,' she said mimicking a mimicked a child's horrified voice.
'It's what you hate more than anything – to be humiliated, to be pitied, but on second thought maybe I'll only blind you instead,' Bella continued coldly, 'And cut out your tongue to feed to you. Snape without his sharp-witted tongue, imagine the possibilities,' then she had laughed, a high-pitched cackle that made even the other Death Eaters shudder.
"Fuck," cursed Engels, interrupting Snape's reverie.
She removed her gloves and goggles, tucking in wisps of brown fine hair that had escaped the ponytail elastic.
"Time of death 3:05 GMT. Total duration of life after injection of poison and anti-venom thirteen hours and forty-seven minutes twenty seconds," she said aloud, recording the results into her lab book and sat down dejectedly on the high lab stool. The mouse had died an hour sooner than the last one they had tested their trial cure on.
Tanabe levitated the mouse carefully from Engel's workspace to his table and began the autopsy.
The antivenin they had been working on for the last twenty-two hours came from Crotaphytus collaris, the collared lizard. It was an ophiophagic ("snake eating") animal, the irony was not lost on Professor Snape. It had innate antihemorrhagic and antineurotoxic antibodies.
Snape had drained the animal of its blood and prevented it from coagulating with a preservative solution. Tanabe examined the blood's chemical composition, extracted the antibodies and added Engels's mixture of proteins to create a viable antivenin, which they then tested on comatose mice that they had been poisoned with tetrodoxin. The poisoned mice had a life span of approximately ten hours. At most they were able to prolong the rodent's life for four measly hours before the tetrodoxin overwhelmed the body's defenses.
"The antineurotoxic factor of the compound partially neutralized the toxicity of the anhydrotoxin but the tetrodonic acid was not inhibited," Tanabe assessed.
"It's still able to block the ion channels of the cell membrane," Snape concluded sourly.
"We should confirm it with the electromicroscope," a cautious Tanabe replied.
Engels pinched the bridge of her nose, "There's not enough – Healer Addison," she said as the older wizard entered the room.
"Hello Elaine," he greeted her with a wane smile. "Takashi," he said with a nod to the toxicologist. "Professor Snape, I need a word with you."
They two men stepped outside into the empty corridor. The early morning daylight poured in through the window panes casting shadows.
"Professor Snape, I've just come from examining Seraphina," Healer Addison began. His light brown eyes were sorrowful. "Her right lung has collapsed. I'm sorry – she hasn't very long."
"Then uncollapse her lung," Snape ordered tersely.
"I can't do that without invasive measures, Professor Snape. She wouldn't survive the procedure. There aren't any other options," Addison explained patiently. "All we can do is to make her as comfortable as possible."
"How much time does she have?" Snape asked.
"A few hours, but not more than a day's time, I would estimate," the Healer answered soberly. "Professor Snape, I may be overstepping my bounds, but as one father to another, you should spend this time with your daughter instead of wasting it on a futile effort."
"Professor Snape," the youngest Keating boy said. The tall dour man was just a few steps ahead of him on the staircase.
"Daniel," he said not stopping to turn around.
"Wait a minute, professor. I – I've been meaning to ask you something," Danny said fumbling for the right words, as he raced up the steps quickly with Roscoe in tow, "I sent a letter to Sera a few weeks ago that I shouldn't have sent, but I did. Anyway, I know you read all her stuff and I was wondering if you gave it to her because she never wrote back, so I was hoping that she hadn't read it – that you hadn't given it to her."
"Is this your idea of remorse, Daniel?" the Professor asked caustically. He stopped to meet the boy face-to-face.
"I was angry when I wrote it," Danny said twiddling with Roscoe's leash. "I didn't mean any of it."
"Oh, so you didn't mean to accuse Sera of ruining your parents' marriage. You didn't mean to express your wish that she had never been adopted by your family. You didn't mean to say that you hoped she'd never return," Snape listed the boy's accusations.
"No, I didn't," Danny said firmly, his face flushing with shame and indignation.
"Did you think your letter would pass my inspection simply because your name was on the envelope?"
"I hadn't thought about it, till after I sent it out. Afterwards, I hoped you had thrown it out. Look, I need to know if Sera read the letter or not."
"How do you think she reacted, Daniel," the professor said resuming his walk up the stairs, "what did you think Sera's reaction would be. Would she write you an equally vindictive letter in response?"
"No, she's not like that," Daniel said following a step behind.
"How well you know your sister," he drawled. "Do you think she wrote to your parents about what you had done?"
"No, they would have said something."
"Do you think your letter made her cry?"
"Sera doesn't cry," Danny said fuming.
"How very true," Snape said, "I wonder how many times Sera has kept her silence growing up – what sorts of things you and your brother have gotten away with over the years when your parents weren't looking."
"Nothing," Danny replied incensed. "We didn't do anything to her. We protected her from the other kids when they'd tease her or take her stuff."
Snape snickered in disbelief.
"What a perfect victim she must have made for your pranks and jokes. A helpless little target to vent your hostilities on."
"You didn't give it to her did you?"
"Not a total dullard are you? No, Daniel, I did not. Your letter would have devastated her and I do not like cleaning up other people's messes. No, Seraphina is still under the blissful delusion that you are her loving caring older brother," Snape said continuing up the next flight of stairs leading to the third floor. "As much as I would like to dispel her of the notion, she is not emotionally mature enough to understand that some people feel quite differently about you when they discover that you are 'not really related,' I believe that is how you worded it. "
"I am still her brother," Danny said defensively. "I didn't mean what I wrote."
"You meant precisely what you wrote," Snape retorted smoothly, "you're nothing but a spoiled adolescent boy vying for his parents' attention. Everything's worked to your advantage hasn't it? You're parents have reunited and if Sera dies, you'll have them virtually all to yourself."
Snape pushed open the swinging door leading to the third floor reserved for those with Creature-Induced Injuries.
"You're heinous," Danny said following Snape.
"Name calling," Snape remarked. "What sorts of things have you called Sera over the years? Don't answer. I tire of your guilty conscience. I'd like to spend some time with my daughter, now, alone."
The Keatings vacated the room begrudgingly. Severus sat down in the chair formerly occupied by Roderick Keating, the man Seraphina had grown-up calling father. She had never once called him father only 'professor' or 'sir' as though she were another one of his students.
Her bedside table was crowded with floral bouquets, get-well cards, and stuffed animals mostly of the bear variety. They were sent from her old tutors, neighbors and relations of the Keatings.
He felt chagrined that he hadn't brought anything for her. He'd been too busy working on a damned cure for her after all. Well, Sera wouldn't know in her present state, unless she really was conscious, as Engels supposed she might, but then again the woman had been educated by Muggles.
"Seraphina, it's Professor Snape," he said taking hold of her cold pale hand. "I'm sorry to have failed you. The antivenin isn't as viable as I had hoped. You must persevere on your own.
"Here is your locket back," he said taking the silver necklace from his pocket. Severus had repaired the broken clasp. He picked up Sera's head slightly to wound the chain around her neck. "Longbottom, that fat lump of a boy you rescued from the Black Lake, brought it back. He is most unworthy of your sacrifice.
"I suppose it's Fate's wicked sense of humor – divine justice. Your mother, Bellatrix cursed Frank and Alice Longbottom into insanity. They're two floors above you puttering about. It makes strange sort, you should save their blockheaded son at the cost of your own life to balance the equation. 'A tooth for a tooth. And an eye for an eye.' 'For I, the Lord, thy God am a jealous god visiting the iniquity and transgression of the fathers upon the children unto the third and four generation.' I don't know if you're familiar with the Muggle Bible. You were brought up in the old ways. My father, your grandfather, you see, made sure I was well versed in another religion."
He gazed with dark eyes at the girl. A doll, he had thought the first time he'd seen her picture, a piquant face with large eyes and delicate features. Severus brushed away a stray lock of hair that had fallen on her face and tucked it behind her ear.
"I can hardly believe sometimes that you are flesh of my flesh and blood of my blood. You do have my mother's eyes. I never told you that. Your grandmother wasn't a beauty like your mother, but then again my mother was also not a psychopath."
There was a small twitch of Sera's right foot at the end of the bed and then stillness once more. He understood what it meant. The poison was causing peripheral nerves to fire as it overcame the rest of her body's defenses. It delivered a shock-like pain causing her limbs to jerk and convulse.
This agony he felt was worse than the cruciatus curse. Having to sit here and watch as she suffered, broken and dying because of the choices he had made. How much better her life had been before she'd known that he was her true father.
"You suffer because of me," he said leaning over his daughter so that he was speaking directly into her ear. "You should hate me. Perhaps you've never learned properly that you ought to hate those who hurt and abuse you. Remember how I took you from your loving family. Remember my callous treatment of you. Take with you the knowledge that I failed to cure you. Hate me for not protecting you as I should have. Hate me, Sera, for I am your murderer. Leave part of your spirit to haunt and torment me all the days of my life. Let me have no peace, if you should die. But stay, Sera. Stay with me."
Nothing begins, and nothing ends,
That is not paid with moan,
For we are born in other's pain,
And perish in our own.
– Francis Thompson (1859–1907), British poet
In Seraphina's final hour, she was surrounded by her family. Bev and Rick each held a hand at opposite sides of her deathbed unwilling to let go. The rest looked on from their posts. Will had claimed the window seat with Roscoe sprawled across his lap. Danny sat at the foot of the bed with Evelyn flipping through a family photo album. The professor stood in the corner watching.
Will stroked the top of Roscoe's head absentmindedly. He noticed how the sun's diffused light shined and reflected off the water in the vases. The flowers, the carnations, irises, lilies, roses, and baby's breath were still fresh and in full bloom, not so much as a petal had fallen.
Twilight had come.
Will recalled the words of Healer Addison, 'A few hours – not more than a day's time.'
For Merlin's sake, Sera was only thirteen – too young to put in the ground. But Sara Phoebe had never even breathed air outside their mother's womb. She had not even had the few hours that remained for Sera. Sara Phoebe had died before she'd been born and laid to rest the next day. Will's parents had taken him and Danny to visit their sister's grave. They had wiped off the snow that covered her tombstone and laid white lilies against the wet gray stone. His mother had sobbed and knelt down on the frost covered ground entreating the goddess not to take another one of her daughters. If the gods existed, Will thought, then they were either deaf or cruel. And he would rather be damned than pray to gods that killed little girls.
His mother's gasp jolted Will out of his reverie and into the present.
Sera's arms and legged jerked spasmodically. Her back arched against the bed as she convulsed.
"Oh Good Goddess," his mother cried out, fresh tears spilling from her hazel eyes.
Addison and Engels rushed into the room. A stout, round-faced nurse pushed them out of the room. Will had to pry his father from his sister's bedside.
"Dad we have to let the Healers work," he pleaded.
"You too, professor," the nurse said sternly even though the man was two heads taller than her.
Outside in the hallway, his mother cried into his father shoulder. "Not like this," she said sobbing and shaking her head.
His father cradled his mother against him. His handsome face contorted in an expression of anguish that was almost too painful for Will to witness.
Danny held their grandmother's hand and gave her a tissue from his pocket. Opposite them, the professor stood with arms crossed, his face inhumanly devoid of feeling.
They heard the charm Enervate being cast over and over again followed by a thumping noise, that could only be Sera's body rising and falling on the bed as they tried to shock her back to life with magic. The thudding noise was sickening to Will. Then there was silence, it only worsened the effect.
Addison and Engels emerged from the room downcast, tired and somber.
"A grand mal seizure," Addison pronounced solemnly, "I'm sorry. She's gone."
"I'm sorry," Engels echoed, her voice empty and hollow.
The nurse came out, "You can see her, now," she said calming, so different from the bossy tone she had used a few minutes ago.
What the bloody hell is there to see, Snape thought as he trudged into the room behind the Keatings.
Sera lay in the center of the bed covered up to her throat with a clean white sheet. He guessed the domineering nurse, who reminded him of Madam Pomfrey, had conjured it.
Mr. and Mrs. Keating returned to Sera's bedside. Mrs. Keating picked up the girl's limp hand and held it against her tear stained cheek.
"I love you, Sera. You'll always be my little girl," she said and kissed the girl's forehead.
"I love you, princess. I'm sorry," Rick blubbered, the man was actually crying. He recomposed himself enough to kiss Sera on the forehead as his wife had done before him. "I'll always love you, Sera."
Mrs. Keating stepped away so that her mother-in-law, the old woman could say her farewells in the same sad manner. It was like pouring salt over a wound for Severus having to watch them, this family that had spent over a decade with his daughter, pawing at her corpse. He resisted the urge to tell them all to go to Hades and stop touching his little girl, marring her deathly perfection.
The Keating boys kept a respectful distance standing at the foot of the bed.
"At least she's not in anymore pain," Evelyn said to her son and daughter-in-law. "She's at peace."
"Oh my god," Daniel said his hazel eyes wide with alarm. "She's alive!"
The boy had gone mad, Severus thought. His guilty conscience had eaten away at his sanity.
"I saw her foot move underneath the covers," Daniel continued to rant. "She's alive!"
"No, Danny," Will said, before Severus could throttle the boy. "She's dead, Danny. We have to accept that."
"No, I'm not crazy. The covers moved," the boy insisted, he wrenched at the white linen and pulled it aside revealing Sera's body clad in a plain white cotton nightgown.
"Danny," the boy's grieved parents entreated him.
"It's rigor mortis," Severus explained angrily. "A body stiffens after death, you imbecile." He moved forward to cover his daughter once more, but then he saw it too, the left foot twitched.
What if the boy was right?
He dropped the cloth and pushed passed Mr. Keating. He placed two fingers on Sera's neck feeling for a pulse.
"Forgive me," he murmured, before opening Sera's mouth and leaning his ear over it to see if she was drawing breath.
"What the hell are you doing!" shouted an enraged Mr. Keating.
Severus felt a tingle in his inner ear. Was that an intake of breath?
"Stop, Rick," Mrs. Keating said before Mr. Keating hexed him. "He's trying to see if she's still alive."
Finally, the voice of reason, Severus thought wryly.
And then a hiccup.
"She's alive!" the Keatings shouted to one another.
Another hiccup. Severus raised her head gently, "Seraphina," he called to her.
The girl coughed, her eyes still shut tight, and turned her head towards him and vomited.
TO BE CONTINUED IN A NEW FANFICTION ENTITLED, "SHARPER THAN A SERPENT'S TOOTH"
Author's Note: This is not cheating. Okay, yes, well maybe it is cheating, just a tiny bit, but thanks to a reader, the fire to write has been reignited. See how powerful it is to be a reviewer? Think about it. Authors are not paid so the only fuel to these stories is knowing that somewhere somehow someone with the capability to read can also write an opinion. Back to the not-cheating part... I've decided to continue this fanfiction in a new one, "Sharper than a serpent's tooth." Same alternate universe but under a new title. Just needed a kick in the pants or dress by bloodyrosesthorn (a reader... just like you) who sent me a message. The power of reviews and messages... see don't underestimate yourself... you can bloody well force or beg an author to write and they might out of sheer guilt and because there is a story to finish!