STORY NUMBER FIVE: E Pluribus Unum: Part 2
Tuesday, October 5, 1999
There was, clearly, no time to lose. Russ weighed his options in a matter of seconds, glancing up and down the road to be sure no one was observing them. "Drop the bicycle," he told Hugh. "I hope this works. I've never done it with a muggle before. It'll feel strange…"
"I don't care how it feels!"
They apparated into Euston Station because Russ had never been to Paddington. It didn't matter. From the moment they raced out of Euston, they could see the dark smoke billowing into the air to the west. Three more apparations – a matter of less than a minute – and the two were in Ladbroke Grove, along with a growing crowd of police, fire fighters, and paramedics.
The fire fighters had gone in first, and as more arrived they moved through the fence onto the rail right-of-way to battle the inferno that had engulfed the engines and first coaches when the diesel fuel carried by the two trains ignited. Thick black smoke poured out of the center of the wreckage, making it hard to see what had happened, but it was evident that the train coming into Paddington was a high-speed express of at least seven carriages, while the westbound train out of Paddington was smaller and lighter. The front of the express had risen up and crushed the first carriage of the smaller train, and it appeared the worst of the fires was raging in the front coach of the express, while the rest of that train had jackknifed off the track. The rear carriages of the westbound train had been thrown off the track and had rolled over.
Even above the roar of the fire, the frantic watchers could hear the screams of the injured. They began to see figures wandering near the wreckage, figures of people who must have escaped the inferno, dazed people whose burnt clothing hung in charred and melted tatters…
"Do something!" Hugh hissed at Russ as the two waited helplessly by the fence while more and more ambulances arrived, their crews and the gathering volunteers from the neighborhood held back by a line of police, who could not let them go near the trains or the victims until the fire fighters guaranteed that it was safe.
"There's nothing I can do," Russ replied.
"More rules?" Hugh's voice was bitter. "Too many muggles around?"
"Don't be a jackass!" Russ snapped. "I can't undo what's done! The people in the fire – they're already dead. I can't help the injured if I can't touch them. I couldn't go into the coaches from here because I'd be materializing into crushed wreckage and be killed myself." He glanced over at Hugh's rigid jaw. "We don't even know which car she was in."
It seemed an eternity, standing there with the acrid smoke choking them, burning eyes and lungs, the fire raging like some wild animal, but it was really only a few minutes. Suddenly, from behind them, a man cried out in shock. His voice was echoed by others. "It's Death!" someone shouted. "We've been touched by Death!" the murmur spread through the waiting crowd.
'Death' touched Russ, too, but he recognized its icy fingers, grabbed Hugh's arm, and pulled him back to the other side of the fence where they could stand apart from the rest. "Where are you?" he asked in an urgent but low tone.
"She's in the last coach," replied the ghost of Professor Snape, pale and nearly invisible in the broken bright sunshine of that terrible day, the sun being rapidly obscured by the smoke. "The one on its side. She's pinned, and probably broken some bones, and she's unconscious, but she's breathing."
"You've seen her?" Hugh cried, hope dawning again.
"No," said the ghost sardonically, "I used a crystal ball. Of course I've seen her."
"But she's unconscious. That's not good." Hugh clenched his hands.
"What's not good about it?" the ghost countered. "Do you really want her to have to remember this? I warn you. It's gruesome over there. I hope you have a strong stomach."
"Can you do anything?" Hugh pleaded.
"I'll go sit with her. If she wakes up, I'll tell her you're coming." The ghost vanished and, as if on signal, the all clear was given for the rescue workers to approach the trains.
Russ and Hugh raced down the slight embankment onto the road bed, picking their way over rails and through patches of straggly grass to the carnage of the wreck. It was like a battlefield. Shattering windows had showered the passengers with razor sharp shards of glass, passengers had been thrown from the coaches by the impact, there was blood everywhere. Walking burn victims approached, groggy, but nonetheless pointing the rescuers towards others not so fortunate who were still trapped in the twisted metal.
Trying to ignore what he couldn't help, Hugh went straight to the last of the cars of the outbound train from Paddington. Crushed and battered, it reminded him of a tin of sardines. He joined a group of men trying, without success, to force open the doors, or pry great shards of sharp glass from the mangled frames of the coach windows. From inside, victims called for help as the rescuers assured them it was coming. Two firemen brought over a hydraulic spreader and set to work on the doors, but Russ stood quietly watching until he saw a translucent head come up through one of the windows, then he clambered up onto the side of the coach.
"Over here!" he called to the others. "I think there's enough open space to slip through this one!"
"Not for me," said a burly paramedic, climbing up beside him. "You're small, though. Think you're skinny enough to get through that glass without getting cut to pieces?"
"I can try," said Russ. With the help of Hugh and the paramedic, Russ slid down through the broken window past the seats from which passengers had been tossed, trying to find a place for his feet that would give him support, while at the same time not stepping on any of the injured around him. Smoke blocked the sun outside and, unseen in the dim interior, Russ's wand slipped from his sleeve into his hand.
In the rear of the coach the ghost glowed, a subtle pearly essence in one corner. Russ started inching his way in that direction, squeezing through the tangle of smashed seats, metal bars, and flung bags, reassuring those who were conscious and could hear him. "They're coming. They've got one of those 'jaws of life' things, and they're working on opening the doors now. As soon as they've got an opening big enough…"
He didn't make it to Gillian. From his left a hand thrust out and grabbed the leg of his trousers. "My baby," a woman sobbed. "Help my baby…"
The 'baby' was a little girl of about four wedged between two seats. Her mother, pinned by the legs, was unable to reach her. Russ eased himself down into the tiny space. He didn't dare use his wand to widen the area more than a little for fear it might destabilize the balance of the wreckage and cause more injury.
The child was unconscious, her breathing ragged. Assuming that the mother would not understand what he was doing, or be believed if she reported it, he tried a levitation spell on the girl, reasoning that it would cause less damage than if he pulled her out. Slowly, gently, the small body rose from its position between the seats.
"I'll get her out now," Russ told the weeping mother. "She's small enough; she'll fit through the window." The maneuvering was tricky, but a few minutes later he was calling up through the window, "I've got a child here. She's out cold, but she's breathing." Hands reached down as Russ lifted the child toward the light, then took her from him and gave him a kit with gauze pads and bandages. He retreated back into the coach. He was already near the rear of the car, and was soon crouching next to Gillian, whose face and the area around her were covered in blood.
"I thought you said she was all right!" Russ whispered hoarsely to the ghost.
"Basically, she is," replied the Professor. "Facial wounds bleed a lot. I think she has a broken leg and cracked ribs as well…"
Russ was wiping away blood. "What did this?"
"Glass, I presume. Don't look at me like that. Do you think I was going to tell the Peeler his wife's face was all cut up when I knew you'd get here first? If you do what you're supposed to do, she won't need a plastic surgeon."
Acknowledging the reasonableness of this, Russ first did an examination of Gillian's eyes to see if the broken bones presented any unusual problem, then analyzed the gash that ran from the corner of her right eye past her nose and cut through her upper lip. Though long and unsightly, it wasn't as deep as he originally thought. He began a quiet chant, aware as he did so of the continuing groans and cries of the people around him.
Mere flesh heals more rapidly than bones or internal organs. It was just a short time before the edges of the cut came together to form a seam that then melted away. Russ rose, doubled over in the confining space of the wreck. The screech of rending metal told him the door was coming open, but it might still be a while before any of the others could enter. Leaving Gillian, Russ began to work his way forward in the coach, checking the injured as he passed, offering encouragement, applying bandages where he could, and trying to alleviate the worst of the damage to improve the victims' chances of survival. There were just so many of them, and so much to do…
Triage, he thought. This is triage. What kind of person has the strength to do this as their life's work?
Before he'd made it even a third of the way through the carriage, the door came open and more light filtered into the area in front of him. Russ called upwards, "The window I came in through… can you clear the glass a little more? There's people back there we can get out now!"
With Russ on the inside helping to support the broken glass so it wouldn't fall inward and cause more damage, the men soon cleared the window. Soon more men were crawling inside, and one by slow one they began to free and move the wounded out of the coach.
Gillian was third, with Hugh helping to pull her from the coach himself. He stood by the stretcher as the paramedics checked her vital signs.
"She'll be all right," the ambulance driver told him as they loaded the stretcher into the back. We can't take her to St. Mary's – that's just for the worst cases. She'll be at another hospital. Do you want to follow us?"
Hugh looked in despair at the tragedy around him… victims still trapped in the train cars, volunteers working desperately against time to save as many as they could… but there were hundreds of victims… hundreds…
"How can I?" he said. "She would never forgive me."
The ambulance drove off. Hugh and Russ returned to the trains where the rumor quickly spread that there could be two hundred dead in the cars. This added more urgency to their work, and now each living person they managed to extract from the wreckage was a victory. In a very short time, the problem of what to do with the injured became paramount. There were at least thirty ambulances shuttling victims to various hospitals, but it was slow work. Accurate information had to be passed to doctors and nurses, and each ambulance had to be disinfected and sanitized before picking up its next load. The most serious cases were taken first, but even they had to wait.
While Hugh joined the volunteers pulling people from the wreck, Russ devoted himself to the rows of injured lying on the embankment, dressing wounds, keeping them warm with donated blankets, and kneeling beside the most desperate cases to offer a low, constant chant of healing for burnt skin, for spines, concussions, livers and spleens, for a punctured lung and compound fractures. And there was no time. Not for so many. Get them to the point where at least they won't die, at least not here and now, and move on to the next one, all the while praying for each incoming ambulance, that it arrive soon…
Then, much later, after the most badly hurt, more than two hundred of them, had been taken away, there remained the care of those with minor injuries, hundreds more, as they waited for family and friends to come and help them home, some from cities and towns far outside the London area. A nearby market opened its doors and its floor space as a refuge.
At four in the afternoon, Russ collapsed between the rails of one of the service tracks near the site of the disaster. He'd lost count of the hours and had no idea what time it was. His healer's talent, once a source of great pride for him, had become a nightmare, for in all the length and breadth of the train wreck there was no one he could actually heal. Healing, true healing, took energy as well as time, and he had long ago run out of energy. He could only stagger from victim to victim, offer comfort, gaze into eyes, try to determine if there was anything that could be life-threatening, and repair that just to the point where muggle medicine could take over. No relief from pain, no restored mobility, just the bare minimum of treatment…
"Hey!" a voice said above him. "You been here since this morning!"
Russ looked up to see the burly paramedic who'd stood by him on the side of the train carriage and helped lower him through the window. "You're here, too," he pointed out.
"Yeah, but I come and go. Take one to hospital, get the 'bus scrubbed down and disinfected, take another to hospital, disinfect the 'bus. You been here all day."
"I didn't know you called them buses."
"We don't. Usually it's the big white taxi." The paramedic settled next to Russ. "That's 'cause pregnant ladies call us instead of a taxi when they're about to deliver. They don't need an ambulance. They just want one."
Russ realized after a moment that the man was studying him. "Do I look that bad?" he asked.
"You have to accept that there's a point where you can't do anything more. Your reactions slow, your judgment is impaired… You become a liability. There's another shift coming on. Fresh volunteers have been showing up every hour. Most of the rescue teams here are different from this morning. You need to rest. You don't, and you'll end up in hospital, too. Is your friend still here? The out-of-town copper?"
"Hugh?" Russ looked around. "I think so."
"That was his missus we pulled out of that coach, wasn't it? He should go see her. She's at Chelsea. The staff there'll check you over, too. Maybe get you something to wear."
Russ looked down at his clothes. They were soaked with blood. "Gah! I smell awful!" he cried. "I can't go home like this."
"At least there's some good news. This morning they were saying a hundred seventy dead. A couple of hours ago they revised the estimate down to seventy. Now I just heard they think maybe only forty. We were lucky." The paramedic scrambled to his feet. "Look, there's your friend. Over here!" he yelled, windmilling his arms to attract Hugh.
Hugh was as bedraggled as Russ, his uniform, hair, face, and hands drenched with clotted, cloying blood. "Is he all right?" he asked the paramedic, indicating Russ.
"No, he isn't. I'm taking him to Chelsea and Westminster for clinical exhaustion, and I'm taking you for good measure."
"I don't want to go to Chelsea and Westminster."
"It's where Gillian is," said Russ quietly.
"Oh." Hugh just stood there, staring numbly down at the grass.
The paramedic waved to his driver, who wheeled over a gurney. "We went off duty fifteen minutes ago," he said, "and we'll be back at midnight, but we can make one more run. This is Pete, by the way, and I'm Oscar."
It turned out to be no trouble at all getting Russ onto the gurney, and then Hugh had to come along to keep an eye on Russ. "I'm sorry," Hugh said as the two settled into the back of the ambulance. "Now you're going to have to scrub it down again."
"Won't be the first time we've done that after the shift was over," Oscar informed him. "Part of the job. Par for the course."
The staff at Chelsea and Westminster was attentive and solicitous. They'd been getting patients all day, but theirs were the more routine cases involving broken bones and the less severe burns. The truly urgent cases had gone to St. Mary's which was only five minutes from the crash site. Hugh and Russ, suffering from exhaustion, sun stroke, and dehydration, were given hospital gowns and supper, and then Hugh was taken to Gillian, who was awake and would do well with her husband sitting at her side.
All the beds being full, Russ elected a quiet waiting room, lined up a row of chairs, and promptly fell asleep across them. The hospital staff provided a pillow, a blanket, and a rotating bodyguard to prevent anyone from disturbing him.
About two in the morning, a nurse shook Hugh gently awake. "I'm sorry, sir," she told him, "but we need to ask you about your friend. His vital signs are low, and we can't wake him."
Hugh came, following the nurse in a hospital gown that he had to keep adjusting for modesty's sake. He had an idea what he would find.
Russ lay quiet and still in one of the wards. He looked very much at peace, and there was no way to wake him.
Alert at once, Hugh demanded, "Where was he before you brought him here? And was he carrying a strange looking stick about nine or ten inches long?"
The inquiry about the stick added a page to Hugh's file, and would have added more had not one of the nurses pointed out that there was, indeed, a stick – applewood, about nine inches long. She brought it to Hugh, who took it into the waiting room where the chairs that had formed Russ's bed were still standing in their very formal line.
"Accio Snape," Hugh said, holding the wand over the chairs.
Nothing happened. Nothing happened the next two times Hugh tried the spell. A nurse came over and gently tried to steer him back to Gillian's room, but he resisted. He was now terrified that if he couldn't retrieve the mist of Severus's mind, neither Russ nor Severus would ever wake up.
Another woman walked over to Hugh and the nurse, a woman about twenty-five years old dressed in the blue smock of a volunteer aide. Her chestnut hair was pulled back in a severe bun at the nape of her neck, but her smile was warm. "I think it's just the events of the day," she said to the nurse. "I can sit here and watch him if you like."
"Thanks, dear," replied the nurse. "We do have our hands full. Poor man, he's been through a lot."
After Hugh and his new guard were left alone in the waiting room, the volunteer regarded him shrewdly for a moment, then said, "Accio? It's done with a simple Accio? That's a fourth year spell."
"I wouldn't know," Hugh responded, no longer capable of being surprised by anything. "I never studied them. I'm…"
"I know," said the volunteer. "I read the papers." She pulled her own wand out of the pocket of the smock. "What am I looking for?"
"It's a little pool of mist. Close to the floor."
"I don't see it. Well, here goes. Accio Snape!" The mist sprang up like iron filings to a magnet. That done, the woman went with Hugh to the ward where Russ lay, holding the wand very carefully. "Now what?" she asked.
"Just hold the wand to his temple." She did as he instructed. It was like a butterfly kiss, the gentlest of touches.
Russ sneezed. The volunteer went out to inform the staff that the patient was responding. Hugh was nervous. Russ acted bored. "What're you doing here?" he inquired. "I'm s'posed t' be sleeping."
Two nurses hurried in to record vital signs, but after that, the night staff left Russ to Hugh. That was, of course, not the end of it. Alone at last, or as alone as a privacy curtain at three in the morning can make it, Severus demanded, softly "What in Merlin's name is going on? Why am I here?"
"Can't you guess?" Hugh's voice was edgy. "You splinched again."
"And you brought me to a hospital!"
"You were already in the hospital."
"What am I doing in a hospital?"
"Don't you know?" Hugh asked." Haven't you been at Ladbroke Grove all afternoon? How can you not know?"
"What," said Severus, "and where is Ladbroke Grove?"
"There was a train accident there this morning."
"What has that got to do with me?"
"You were there. You were helping to pull people out of the carriages. You saved them."
"That's a lie; I did no such thing. So that's what little Lord Fauntleroy's doing here. And he had another weak 'episode.'"
Hugh's eyes narrowed menacingly. "He was on the front lines pulling people from a disastrous wreck and saving their lives. He was doing something useful. Where were you?"
Severus smirked. "Not on the front lines, obviously." The pause that followed this comment had him reassessing. "Don't tell me. The princeling was being heroic. The princeling was being self-sacrificing. When will you get it into your head that he is not me, and that nothing he does binds me in any way whatsoever?"
"I'm getting it now," Hugh said. "Yet you were inside his head while it was happening, and he has no cognitive awareness when you're gone. How can you be separate?"
"Miraculous, no?" Severus's pleasure was unmistakable. "The moment I saw that smoke, I knew I didn't want to be…"
"You saw it!" Hugh was fuming. "You knew what was happening and you distanced yourself instead of supporting him!" He blinked a couple of times. "How can you do that when you have the same brain?"
"I have no idea," Severus admitted. "I knew I didn't want to be there. You tell me he was there. Something separated. When I puddled just now, was he still awake?"
Hugh shook his head. "No. You're the only conscious entity. What's happening?"
"I don't know. Give me a few hours. I need to poke around a bit. If there's two of us in here, it's going to get uncomfortable. Crowded, like."
"But if there's only one of you, how could you separate?" In the instant before Severus left, Hugh thought of something else. "He could feel what was happening, you know."
"Who?" Now it was Severus's turn to narrow his eyes, Severus's expression on Russ's face.
"The ghost. He came because he could feel that Russ needed help. You're more separate, but he's more connected."
"Joy," said Severus. "That is truly all I need." He left to explore Russ's brain, Russ slept, and Hugh returned to Gillian.
Gillian was released from hospital the next morning, her ribs wrapped for support and protection, and her right leg in a cast. The record of her stay and treatment at Chelsea and Westminster was filed, but ready at the request of her regular physician who would be monitoring the progress of her injuries. Hugh was confident that, given the hectic circumstances under which she was admitted, the fact that no physician ever asked for those records would probably never be noticed.
Russ, too, needed to be discharged, for he, too, had been treated. Severus wisely kept his mouth shut during most of these proceedings, the staff attributing his reticence to the lingering impact of the day before, and cautioning Hugh that the brave young man should see a trauma specialist once he got home.
"It is quite inspiring, what he did, you know," confided one of the nurses as she finished her night shift and said good-bye, "and him still a teenager and all. Gives you hope for the future of the country."
Russ and Hugh were clothed from apparel donated to the hospital for the indigent, their own clothes being unwearable. They insisted on taking the blood-soaked clothing with them, though, despite the hospital's offer to burn it. Hugh, especially, needed his uniform and had great faith in the power of bundimuns to restore it to its pristine cleanliness.
As they waited for a wheelchair and escort to take Gillian out of the hospital, Hugh spied the volunteer of the night before signing out at the end of her shift. He crossed over to the desk to speak to her.
"I want to thank you for what you did," he said, inclining his head toward Russ and Gillian. "I don't know what I would've done if you hadn't been there."
"Pure luck," she replied. "I was only on the night shift because of the accident. Of course, you were only there because of the accident, too." She held out her hand in a firm, warm clasp. "I'm Maybeth. I know who you are. Like I said, I read the newspapers." She glanced over at Russ. "Tell him to be careful. He's not the one who's supposed to be able to split apart like that." She smiled and headed toward the elevator, and was gone
The wheelchair arrived, and Gillian was taken down to the street where they hailed a taxi to Euston Station, ostensibly to catch a train to Lancashire, but really to slip into a secluded corner with a styrofoam cup as a portkey to the Latimers' backyard.
That was when things began to break down. Hugh got Gillian settled on the sofa, then went to make tea while Severus checked her eyes to find the exact damage and began a soft healing chant. He paused when Hugh came in with the cups of tea and checked Gillian's eyes again. A worried frown creased his brow.
"Something wrong?" Gillian asked.
"There doesn't seem to be any change." Severus resumed his chant.
Fifteen minutes passed, with only Hugh touching any of the tea. When Severus next checked Gillian's eyes, what he saw made him rise and go to the window looking out on the street.
"Nothing?" Hugh asked. He joined Severus while Gillian watched, puzzled, from the sofa. "Have you ever healed anyone before?"
Behind them, Gillian opened her mouth to chide Hugh, then thought better of it and remained silent. Her gazed focused more intently on Severus, who was concentrating, trying to remember. "I don't think so," he said finally. "I mean, there wasn't really any need… not until the horse…"
"And by then you were more or less integrated." Hugh shook his head. "I think we have a problem."
"What are you talking about?" Gillian demanded. "He's healed people. Mrs. Wainwright…"
Hugh crossed the room and knelt by his wife, taking her hands in his own. "Gill, he split again in the hospital. When I put him back, it wasn't Russ anymore. It's Severus."
"That's silly," said Gillian. "They aren't two different minds. They're the same mind."
"He can't remember yesterday. He can't remember the crash site."
"Oh." The silence stretched out for several moments. "How bad was it? The hospital staff didn't tell me anything."
For answer, Hugh rose and went to the front door, opened it, and picked up the morning's newspaper. The Ladbroke Grove disaster monopolized the front page. Hugh handed the paper to Gillian.
"Oh my God," she breathed, staring at the photos of the massive wreak of the two trains. "How many people died?"
"Yesterday morning they were saying a hundred seventy, then they revised it down to seventy, then forty… Now it looks like the toll was around thirty."
"Russ… were you healing people yesterday?"
Severus shook his head. "I don't know," he said. "I wasn't there."
"No." Hugh spoke with authority. "Stop this. You were there. You saved a little girl from a crushed carriage. You were tending scores of wounded…" Hugh went to the back door to retrieve the plastic bags containing their clothes and opened the one with Russ's things. "That's what you were wearing yesterday."
Severus wrinkled his nose in distaste. "It was a stupid thing to do," he said.
"It was the right thing to do!"
"Really? It seems Sir Galahad disagrees with you because he's packed up and gone Walk-About." Severus flung himself into a chair, ignoring the stricken look on Hugh and Gillian's faces.
In the tense silence that followed, there suddenly intruded the sound of something soft beating against the garden windows. It was Nelson, with a note in his beak. "Hoo," he said when Hugh opened the door to let him in and took the note. Then, as he touched down on the coffee table and noticed Severus, he added, "Kew-wick." His claws click-clicking on the wood, he marched across the table to stretch out his neck. "Kew-wick?"
Severus rolled his eyes, the trace of a half-smile flitting across his face. He reached out a hand to tickle Nelson's ears. "I'm all right," he said. "Yesterday, on the other hand… Hey!" Nelson had nipped a finger with his beak.
Gillian smiled wryly. "Even the owl notices the difference," she said. "And I'll bet anything that Mrs. Hanson does, too. Is that from her?" she asked Hugh.
"Yes. She's worried about Russ and wants to know if we know where he is." He went into the kitchen and returned with a pencil, scribbling a few words on the note and handing it back to Nelson. The owl clamped his beak on the paper, jumped and hopped to the open back door, strutted through it, and sailed off towards the cottage. Hugh watched until the bird was out of sight. "I told her you'd be back home soon."
Gillian swung her legs off the sofa and reached for the crutches she'd brought from the hospital. "I say we all go see Mrs. Hanson together," she stated firmly.
"I don't think you should be moving around too much," Hugh cautioned.
"I really don't need babysitting," added Severus.
"Do you think I want this thing on my leg for the next six weeks?" Gillian turned her body and used the sofa for leverage to push herself onto her feet. It happened so smoothly that it was clear this was not the first time she'd broken a leg. "We need our healer back, and I want to be there when it happens. I can lie on the back seat of the car. We're going out to see Mrs. Hanson."
There was no way to deny her. Hugh went out and brought their car to the front door, an older model, gray Ford Escort, and he and Severus helped Gillian slide into the back seat. From there it was a matter of a couple of minutes, and they were turning in at the cottage gate, which Severus held open while Hugh drove the car across the grass to the front door.
"There you are," called Mrs. Hanson, who'd heard the car coming and was outside to greet them. Her smile faded slightly as she watched Severus. "Where's Russ?" she asked.
Severus froze, closed his eyes, then opened them and rounded on Hugh. "You told her! You wrote it in that note! There's no way she could have…"
"Don't be silly, dear," said Mrs. Hanson, laying a hand on his arm. "You're as different as night and day, and he'd never have that expression on his face. Come inside. I have a nice apple pie that just came out of the oven. With the brown sugar crumb topping. It was always one of your favorites."
Releasing his breath slowly, Severus said, "Then you admit you've known me…"
"All your life? Of course I have. I've known Russ all his life, too." She guided him gently towards the door. "And I know you both love apple pie with a bit of clotted cream. And there's another surprise. Something you've been waiting for arrived by post yesterday while you were gone…"
Gillian let Hugh pull her up from the car seat and adjust her crutches. "That young man needs a mother," she said, "even more than Russ does. He must be severely traumatized from yesterday."
"It started before then," Hugh reminded her. "He was already beginning to talk like two different people, remember. It was spooky. Yesterday may have intensified the problem, but I don't think it started it."
As Gillian, with Hugh's support, hobbled into the cottage, it became clear what Mrs. Hanson's surprise was. Severus was bending down in front of their ten-year-old television, a low floor cabinet-style model, and inserting a video cassette into a VCR. A few seconds later he was perched on the edge of an easy chair, with a piece of pie, watching the very first Dr. Who episodes, totally ignoring the others.
"Come into the kitchen, love," Mrs. Hanson told Gillian. "There's something bad happened to him yesterday, and you need t' tell me what it was."
For answer, Hugh handed her the morning Guardian.
"Oh, my," said Mrs. Hanson. "I saw that on the news last night. He was there?"
"It's where I broke my leg," Gillian explained. "I was in that last car. He spent the whole day trying to heal people. Russ, I mean."
"So that's what happened?"
"He doesn't remember it," said Hugh. "And he's lost his healing ability." The puzzle pieces were coming together.
"He needs to face it," Gillian said after a moment. "He's in denial. He needs to face what happened and accept it."
"He needs t' feel safe first," Mrs. Hanson pointed out. "If he doesn't feel safe, he's never going t' come back."
"He was never in danger." Gillian sighed. "What he saw, what he had to… deal with was terrible, but his trauma is different from the trauma of the victims, who have to work with fear and pain as well as horror. What Russ has to cope with is the same as what Hugh has to cope with." She turned with sudden concern to her husband. "Are you all right?"
The grin Hugh flashed at her lacked its usual edge. "I don't know yet. Ask me again tomorrow," he said.
"You don't know that it's the same," Mrs. Hanson pointed out. "Russ was healing. He says it drains him, having t' enter into the damage and the pain of others. If he's tired, spent from healing one person, what must it be like t' go in and feel the pain of scores of people?"
Hugh closed his eyes, remembering. "That's true. And he said to me once during the afternoon that he didn't really have a chance to finish the healing on anybody. It was just trying to patch them up enough so they didn't die."
"The revision down of the death toll," Gillian exclaimed. "Do you think it was him?"
"Maybe," said Hugh. "Some of it, at least. He didn't have the time to get to anywhere near that many people."
"Still, some may be alive today because of him that otherwise wouldn't. We need to tell him that, to reinforce the fact that he was important… that he made a difference."
"I still say," insisted Mrs. Hanson, "that he's got t' feel safe. Coddled, even. You don't know what it's like t' do what he does… what he feels when he's doing it. I don't know; I wish I did. If I did, I could help him."
"Who would know?" Hugh asked.
"Another healer?" Gillian ran the possibilities through her mind. "Who'd be in the best place to help us find one? Harry? Hagrid?"
"I'd go with that Hagrid fellow," was Mrs. Hanson's opinion. "Russ trusts him. He's been taking care of Russ for a long time."
"He's told you that?"
Mrs. Hanson laughed at the look on Gillian's face. "He told me about Hagrid when he was thirteen," she said. "I didn't meet Hagrid 'til after Russ died, but I knew about him from the time he started watching what Russ ate. They go back a long way."
Hugh stood up from the kitchen table. "Shall I send Nelson?" he asked.
Gillian sighed and shook her head. "That'll take hours."
"Is that necessarily a bad thing?" Hugh tilted his head inquisitively.
"He's right," Mrs. Hanson added. "Give the poor boy a chance t' relax and feel at home."
"I was thinking about Nelson," said Gillian.
Hugh's grin was more like his normal self. "Why don't we let Nelson decide?"
As Dr. Who blared in the background, Hugh wrote a note to Hagrid. They then invited Nelson into the kitchen and explained the situation to him. The reaction of the owl was immediate – he stepped forward and took up the note in his beak. Then he stuck out his leg with the little pouch on it.
Chuckling, Mrs. Hanson brought out a small jar full of copper knuts. She placed five of these in Nelson's pouch, then ushered the owl out of the kitchen. He headed north with steady wingbeats.
"I wonder what he does with the coins," Hugh mused, to no one in particular.
Dr. Who was interrupted from time to time by the need to eat. The others managed to entice Severus away from the television at ten o'clock for breakfast, and at one-thirty for lunch. Four o'clock was tea time, and dinner was announced at seven. During each of these breaks, Severus regaled the others with a running commentary on the series he was watching, being particularly vocal about the episodes that were not available.
At eight o'clock that evening, Hagrid apparated into the garden of the Prince cottage. He brought with him someone who was unknown to either Hugh, Gillian, or Mrs. Hanson, but who had long known Severus intimately, and who was in the perfect position to deal with the trauma of a healer – Madam Pomfrey.