Moon and Stone 1
Disclaimer: This is a work of fanfiction based on the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling. No undue claim nor any material profit is intended.
Authors' note: This is not a part of any of our other fic universes. Feedback is welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
Moon and Stone
by Andrea13 and Persephone_Kore
The chill was the first thing that penetrated, and penetrated was the word for it; it seemed to have reached all the way into the marrow of his bones, and he ached.
Part of it was the transformation, of course, but... it wasn't always this bad... and those were usually sharp pains, and tearing muscle aches, and this seemed to run deeper yet. He seemed to have been unconscious. It wouldn't have been the first time he passed out, he supposed, but he didn't remember transforming back, and that worried him; he lay now with his cheek pressed against cold stone and sweat drying on his body and --
Stone. Stone, and icy metal lying over his body -- he slitted an eye open and closed it against the painful silvery glitter.
He'd been caught.
He wondered why they hadn't yet killed him.
"I wondered," a woman's voice said reflectively, "when you were going to wake."
Well. At least they were expecting him to. Probably to torture him before they killed him.
His thoughts were always so optimistic after a transformation. "Now you know," he rasped through a dry throat.
"So I do." She moved into his field of vision as he cautiously tried opening his eyes again.
A small woman, not that that meant anything, when this field of silver around him argued strongly for a witch's hand to be involved. Blonde-haired, blue-eyed, cheerful. He loathed her immediately. People like her could have a normal life, could stand there in clean robes with neat hair and fat cheeks that had never known a day's want.
And people like him were netted like rabbits at their feet.
"What do you want?" he snarled.
"Well, if you'd hold still, please...." She took out her wand and touched it to a knot in the silver, then grasped a handful of strands and yanked hard. Salazar ducked involuntarily as metal cords that had apparently been sunk straight into the stone came free and skittered over him, twisting into a single fat rope in her hand that she then flung into a corner of the room.
Then the backwash of the spell hit him, like cold water pouring down, and he nearly passed out again.
"I'm sorry," the witch's voice said, closer this time, "but you see we were rather in a rush, and we couldn't take that off with you still unconscious; it might have driven you down entirely."
He pulled back from her unconsciously, registering more "person close enough to attack" than "person who just took the net off you, you prat." He was shivering slightly from the cold. "W--Why would you -- If you were jusssst going to take it off..."
"Well, you were a bit unmanageable earlier in the night," she said dryly. "As I said, I'm afraid we were in something of a hurry."
The knot of dread that always hovered in his stomach after a full moon gave a sudden twist. In a hoarse, fearful voice, he asked quietly, "Did I bite ssomeone? I didn't think there'd be anyone in that foresst, I ssswear!"
Oddly, she smiled at him. "No, no, you didn't. We rather thought that might have been why you chose the place, though you did very nearly run straight into where we'd been spellworking. But Godric and Rowena had already felt you coming, and we were...well, partly ready, at least. You didn't bite anyone. But I'm afraid we did have to improvise a way to restrain you rather quickly."
At least they'd gone for "restrain" rather than "kill". Salazar sighed. "I'm sssorry. I'll leave at oncce. I won't be anywhere near you by next full moon."
"Mmf. Well, you can't leave now."
Now the other knot of dread gave a sharp tug. This was the one that read "please don't let anyone decide they need to rid the world of werewolves, starting with this one" instead of "please please please please don't let me hurt anyone." "I promisse I won't causse any more problemss."
"Well, that might be easier from here, really, mightn't it? But we've got to talk about that; we've not had much time and, well, I've been here watching you.... That's not the point right now though. You look dreadful."
He snorted and muttered, "Thiss iss how I alwayss look," before he thought better of it. What on earth was the woman talking about, anyway? Were they...were they planning on keeping him locked up so he couldn't hurt anyone? Knot of Dread Number Three started dancing. He was only truly dangerous one night a month, regardless of what suspicion might say. He'd go mad.
"Oh dear. Can you walk?"
"I jusst ssaid I'd leave. Of coursse I can walk." Not easily, of course, and heavily aided by magic, but he'd taught himself long ago to ignore the searing pains and deep-seated aches from the transformation. Of course, he usually preferred to try without someone staring at him the whole time...
"Well, let me help you up then?"
He tried, lurchingly, to get up and found that his limbs were even stiffer than usual, as if the stone and silver had sapped all the energy out of them even more than a night out in the woods.
The witch knelt and put a hand on his back after a moment. "No, here, let me help. You ought to rest." He felt a spell take hold of him with a flick of her wand and a whisper, and then rather to his shock he was lifted into the air.
This would have been one thing if she'd stuck to levitation, but instead of directing him with her wand she fixed the spell when she apparently considered him lightened enough, then reached out and half-cradled him.
He would have protested the indignity, only, Merlin, she was warm and the shock of it drove home how chilled he was and set his entire body shivering violently. "Why are you--" He broke off, wracked with shivers. He wanted to ask why she was helping him, but he was half-afraid if he did, she'd say she was only taking him up to the waiting mob with silver knives or something. So he just concentrated on trying to stop shaking.
"I know it's not very dignified," she said rather apologetically, apparently mistaking his question, "but I've found body heat and warm water generally are rather less of a shock than most warming charms -- of course, possibly I'm just not very good at warming charms. We all have our failings." She was walking swiftly but with a smooth stride, and a door opened ahead of her without her touching it.
"I think my dignity abandoned me yearsss ago." Along with his family, friends, any hope of normal life -- no, don't think about any of that. "You ssseem good at everything, right now."
"Well, that'd be no excuse normally," she half-murmured, shifting him slightly. Salazar found his head resting on her shoulder; she must not be very worried he'd try to bite her, at least.... "And not everything, but hopefully the relevant things. Ah --" She paused mid-step by a door. "I almost didn't think. Have you need to relieve yourself?"
"...No. Where are you taking me?"
She began walking again. "Well, I rather thought you might do with a warm bath. You are rather badly chilled; that net didn't help."
"Did you really think it would?" he couldn't help snapping. She was really being much nicer than anyone else who'd found out about what he was, and certainly nicer than she could be, but blast it, he was tired, aching, cold, and very confused, and he'd like some answers!
"No," she said quietly, "but it was the best we could do on short notice. So I'm going to get you to a nice bath, and maybe heat it up a bit more as we go -- water absorbs warming charms very nicely."
"You sssound like a Healer. Well, either that or a mother--" He stopped that thought very quickly. His mother hadn't exactly put him in nice baths with warming charms.
"Not a mother, not yet." She sounded faintly wistful. "But there's time yet for that, I suppose. I am a Healer." She paused by another door that swung open on a room whose air was filled with lazy drifts of steam. "Here we are. We can get you warmed up now -- and you sound as if you could use something to drink."
"...Yesss, thank you." He still couldn't figure out why she was being so nice. She'd as good as said he'd attacked her and her two friends -- friends? siblings? parents? -- last night. Why wasn't she cursing him, or making sure he got as far away from them as possible?
"There now...." She got him into the bath and stepped away -- the water felt strange, slippery; had it been that long since he had a real bath, that he'd forgotten it was supposed to feel this way, or had they done something to it? "Don't swallow any of the bath water; there are potions in it not meant to be taken internally," the woman said lightly as she came back with a carved wooden cup in hand. "Here. Can you hold it all right?"
"Yessss." But he needed both hands, and they shook slightly as he drank. It occurred to him as soon as the water passed his lips that it could be poisoned -- but if she'd wanted to kill him, there were much easier ways of doing it. And it tasted so good... He drained the cup while he was still debating, then blinked at it and smiled sheepishly at the witch. "Thank you."
"You're welcome." She smiled back and perched on the edge of the tub, felt his forehead, then aimed her wand at the water. He felt it heat subtly and swirl around him as she reached for the cup. "Want more? It wasn't too cold, was it?"
"It wass wonderful," he said fervently. "I...wouldn't mind more, if it'ss not too much trouble."
"Not a bit of it." She patted his water-slicked shoulder and disappeared again as he sank a little deeper into the water. It was wonderful too, curling comfortingly around aching limbs and driving out the anguished ache....
Surely she wouldn't bother bathing him and giving him water if she was just going to kill him. Of course, she might have some spell planned that needed a live, healthy werewolf as an ingredient. There'd been a few less than ethical wizards with that in mind over the past years... He gave a sudden start, splashing water on the floor, when the witch came back into the room.
"Sssorry," he apologized, wondering why he'd only just now started wondering what had happened to his wand and starting to look for it surreptitiously.
"It'll dry." She regarded the increasingly misty air dubiously. "Eventually." She perched on the edge of the bath again and handed him the cup. "There. -- My name's Helga, by the way, I just realized I hadn't introduced myself."
"...I'm Ssssalazar." ~Why are you being so nice to me?~ No, that probably wasn't the best thing to blurt out. He took another cautious sip of water instead, and once again ended up draining half the cup in one swallow.
"Easy there...." She touched his shoulder again lightly. "I'm sure you do need the water, but it's not good to drink it too fast."
"Sssorry," he apologized again. "It'ss jusst very good."
"You're just very thirsty," she told him with a hint of a smile.
"That too." His mouth quirked up a bit, though his eyes were still scanning the room in hopes of spotting his wand. Failing that, at least he could find all the possible dangers and escape routes.
"Are you looking for something? Oh!" Helga reached into a pocket and took out... his wand. He eyed it warily; to his astonishment, she held it out. "I was a bit worried you might panic and hex me when you woke up; I wouldn't exactly be in a friendly mood if I woke up under a net. Do you want it now, or shall I put it aside so it doesn't get wet?"
He took it wordlessly, feeling like he had an old friend back. ...Not that any of his old friends had ever come back. ~Getting depressing again, Salazar. Stop it. Worry about not dying now.~ "Thank you."
"You're welcome." She heated the water again and then gave a flick to her wand that sent the warmer parts slithering down and around his back. "Once you're warmed up and dried off, do you think you could stomach some soup? You seem to be doing well enough with the water...."
"Yesss, thank you..." Salazar's curiosity and confusion finally got to him and he blurted out,
"Why are you being so nicce to me?"
"...You seemed to need it." Helga's mouth flexed in a wry smile. "Don't take that for pity, at least not alone. I've some notion what a werewolf goes through, and... you didn't ask to be bitten, and from where you were, you were trying very hard not to bite anyone else. Which what you've said only confirms. You don't deserve to be ill-treated, and if I can help...."
"Bite ssomeone else and put them through thissss? No one could be that cruel-hearted," Salazar said bitterly. "And few enough have cared before whether I assked to be bitten or not."
"Well, I do. As do my friends." She didn't bother walking away to refill the cup this time, but spelled the drinking water into it until it was brimming again. "We've no wish to harm you; for that matter, we've no wish for you to get caught in some of Rowena's odder experiments by way of roaming the area. And we could hardly let you wander off in this state anyway."
The dread twisted his stomach again at the casual mention of not letting him leave. He wondered absently if he was up to Knot #4, or if one of the old ones was acting out again. Either way, he couldn't stand the thought of drinking again. She certainly seemed nice enough, and at least his captivity was likely to be an easier one than it could be, but...gilded bars could still make a cage.
He'd thought for one tantalizing moment that...but no. They were still afraid of what he'd do, even if they didn't think it was his fault.
"Especially since we had to leave you on the floor all night," she added wryly when he didn't speak. "Are you starting to feel any better?" A brief pause. "...Salazar?"
What, was he expected to thank her for locking him up? Well, for not killing him, perhaps. "I'll try not to be too much trouble," he answered bitterly. Maybe they had the right idea, maybe he was too dangerous to be allowed to roam free, but...
Helga snorted mildly. "Well, that'll be a refreshing change. I think having a healer move in has convinced certain people that the acceptable level of risk has jumped -- well, never mind; I really can't say they weren't always like that."
"Tell any of them to try having their body ripped apart and reformed oncce a month, then ssee how eager they are to court more injuriess."
She winced. "I'm sorry: I didn't mean to be rude."
Salazar shrugged. "It'ss all right. I wassn't trying to inssult you either. You've been...very kind."
"I don't know -- I'd say we got off to rather a bad start, but I'll try to make up for it if I may. Do you mind soaking a bit longer while I look for a clean robe for you?"
"...No. The water feelss wonderful." And perhaps he'd be able to escape while she was gone, though presumably she wouldn't be leaving him here if there was such a way.
"I'll be right back then." She heated it again. "And I'll see whether the soup's ready. Do you like beets?"
He laughed mirthlessly. "Right now, madam, I like anything that isn't raw."
"That we can definitely manage." She half-smiled at him and started away, glancing back over her shoulder to add, "And once you've some food in you I'll have a better range of healing spells to choose from."
Salazar sank deeper into the spell-warmed water as she left. Healing. He hadn't had a Healer attend him after a transformation since...well, the first one, until everyone realized just what had happened to him and cast him out. He supposed he should feel grateful that they hadn't had the heart to kill him themselves, out of memory of the man they'd known, but that was cold comfort. Maybe...it might even be worth the prison to be truly healed, if only for a few days. Of course, he'd just undo all her hard work in a month's time, so there wasn't really much point.
But he was warm, and he was clean, and it had been quite a long time for either.
He was dozing in the tub when Helga's return made him jump and splash more water over the floor. He regarded it sheepishly. "I need to sstop doing that..."
"Quite all right. You needed the rest, I should think." She flicked a warming charm at the floor without paying much attention, and the puddle hissed into steam. She eyed it ruefully. "See, this is why I worry about using those directly on people.... Here, I've got a towel and a fresh robe. They smell of mint. I think Rowena's done something peculiar to the laundry."
"That'ss all right. Mint aidss healing, doessn't it?" Salazar stood, slightly shakily but without help, and wrapped himself in the warm and soothing-smelling towel.
"In many cases." She smiled at him and shook out the robe, which once he had dried off also turned out to be warm and soothing-smelling. "We've taken the liberty of preparing a room for you; I'd imagine you could do with some time to rest...."
He wondered fatalistically what kind of cage they'd designed for him. But he felt as if he was about to fall over as it was, so he could either accept gracefully or be carried there. "Yess, thank you."
"Good, then, we'll go tuck you in and get you something to eat..." She tucked herself under his shoulder helpfully; he tried not to lean on her too much, still nervous, but he wondered if she was feeding strength over -- would she? Could she do that? Or was it just the nerves themselves?
"Here we are." Another door opened smoothly for them, and he blinked. It wasn't a large room, and the walls were weirdly sleek stone and looked quite sturdy -- but so did all the walls here, and the stone peeked out from between tapestries and rugs, and there was a bed and a table and two chairs, one of which looked rather odd and came over to sniff him. Helga patted it and steered it back to the table. "I think Rowena may need to watch what she has in mind when she goes trying to animate furniture. The bed won't do anything peculiar, though, I promise."
"Thiss iss....very, very nicce. Thank you." He was starting to feel overwhelmed. What prisoner was treated like this? He hadn't been treated like this since...he was still considered human. He was about to start shaking, so he seized on the first thing that came to mind. "Thiss...Rowena? Who is she? A ssisster, neighbor..?"
"A friend. A cousin of some sort by marriage; I think her house is still in this somewhere, but Godric has earth-affinities and they did decide it needed to be a bit sturdier, so it's something of a keep now. They invited me to visit, and I ended up staying rather longer than planned. Here, would you prefer to sit, or just prop up in bed?"
"Bed, I think." He might not be able to get up if he chose a halfway point like a chair. He managed a sort of controlled collapse onto the amazingly soft mattress -- was this magically enhanced, or had he just forgotten how a real bed felt? "Godric. Iss that her hussband?"
"...You know, I'm not actually entirely sure what they are to each other. Husband, lover, spell-partner only -- I wouldn't be surprised at either of the first two, though, and it's for certain they're not close enough kin for anyone else to believe it's strictly proper after this much time." She was rearranging pillows underneath him; he found himself sort of half-sitting up and very comfortable, and she put a tray over his lap before giving him the soup-bowl.
Salazar thought that she really should know a bit more about the people she cast with, but supposed the unknown relationship between his two as-yet-unseen hosts was not as important as the food in front of him. It had been so long since his last warm meal...
He attacked the bowl with a vengeance and finished it in record time, looking up from the empty bowl to see Helga watching him with an odd mix of amusement and pity. He wondered if his table manners were that bad by now. "Er, thank you. It wass exccellent."
"Glad you liked it. There's more, and of course you're welcome to it, but perhaps you should go easy just now -- it won't do much good if it doesn't stay down." She stepped toward him with her wand out and reached for the bowl with her free hand. "May I?"
He had to fight hard not to pull away as she approached with wand extended, and reminded himself forcibly that she had been nothing but helpful. It was highly unlikely she'd kill him now, but... He managed to not do anything more than stiffen slightly, but his eyes still showed his panic. "As you wisssh."
Helga turned to set the bowl aside, then looked more closely at him and put her wand away before she removed the tray and reached down for his hand. "I will do you no harm," she said quietly. "I am sorry. I should have thought more on what you would have reason to expect, and made that clear from the start. Forgive me?"
"I -- yesssss, though I ssstill don't undersstand what you want from me..."
"I want to help, mostly. Though if I'm not mistaken your voice says you're a Parselmouth, and I might ask you questions on that if you're willing -- and I can't say the practice won't do me good. But I can hardly ask much of anything of you at the moment; you did spend a hard night, and while I suppose you would have no matter what, it was partly my fault."
"...Yess, I'm a Parsselmouth. I'll ansswer your quesstionss..." He shook his head faintly. This was a confusing woman. "It really wassn't that much of a harder night than ussual." His face and voice grew sober as he added, "And anything would be worth it sso I didn't attack an innoccent."
"Anything? A noble sentiment. But waking up under a net still can't be too pleasant." She was tracing a pattern on his wrist that might have been the symbol for a written spell. "If you will permit me, I will heal you. But I don't want you alarmed at the time."
"It'ss not noble," he half-hissed. "It'ss bad enough that I have to go through thiss becausse sssomeone elsse wassn't careful enough. I'm not going to put anyone elssse through it! No one desservess that."
"I've met a few," Helga said softly, "who were bitter enough to say otherwise. Leave it that I respect you for the attitude you do take, and let me tend to you. ...Try to relax, if you can; it makes things easier."
"I've done nothing admirable," he said quietly, but tried to relax somewhat for the healing. "Thank you for your help."
"You are, as I've said before, welcome." She took her wand out again, but kept hold of his hand, and to his surprise she began by telling him softly to close his eyes and then casting an illusion spell straight into his mind -- an oddly cool one, staff-and-serpent that glided and spiraled mesmerizingly. His own mind must have supplied the words when it hissed trust and comfort. Strange. Then there was warmth, starting down from the back of his neck and spreading out from his spine, with another pool starting where she held his hand, and he found himself relaxing despite all the reasons he still had to worry.
Then she began reciting other spells, and not all of them were comfortable at all, but the uneasy feelings always ended in the sensation of something having been set right and then soothed down...
He still felt drained when she laid her wand down and cupped his temple with the hand she had freed. He was trembling slightly, though not with cold and not really with fear, and his stomach was prodding him about feeding it again.
"There. You should be able to eat some more now safely, I think, but lie still for just a bit while the blood flow evens out...."
He tried thanking her, but the words got mixed up and turned around in his head so he just ended up hissing quietly and a little incoherently for a moment, his eyes half-closed. The illusion snake still hovered in his mind, making him feel...really better than he had in a long, long time....
"That...illussion," he said slowly when he thought he could speak again. "The ssserpent. What iss it? It'ss beautiful..."
"The caduceus. It's a symbol that came down from a Greek Healer, long ago."
"He musst have been a Parsselmouth. It wass beautiful. Can you...are you permitted to ssshow me how to casst it?"
"At my discretion... Yes, in other words, though I'd be... strongly encouraged to teach you healing spells first. What I did is one, in fact; the illusion alone isn't terribly hard to work out, given enough time to study the details, but it's best cast in conjunction with ones to ease fever or soothe distress."
"I already know ssome healing sspellss, though I'd love to learn more...if you would teach me, of courssse."
"I'd be delighted to. Of course." She grinned at him. "Some of them are stronger in Parseltongue, too, I'm told."
"Thosse are the oness I know, mosstly," Salazar admitted with a return grin. "I sstudied a bit, before... I'm besst at healing potionss -- potionss in general, really -- but it'ss difficult to have a full apothecary OR laboratory anymore."
"Hm. I imagine so." She tilted her head. "Rowena does some work with potions, and I know those I tend to need -- I also that's little enough compared to the full range of study, though. It would be nice to have someone with a wider range; if you wanted to stay, I'm sure there could be space made...."
Salazar froze and stared at her. "Wanted? But -- you sssaid -- I thought I wassn't to be allowed to leave."
Helga looked at him in bewilderment. "I don't think I said anything of the sort!"
"Yesss you did!" Salazar insisted. "You ssaid you didn't want me wandering off and getting in the way of Rowena'ss experimentss, and then you ssaid you couldn't let me leave anyway."
Helga still looked decidedly nonplussed. "Well, I wouldn't want you getting in the way of Rowena's experiments -- half the time I don't want her in their way -- oh. Oh dear. I did say I couldn't have just let you leave, but I meant... in this condition, right away, especially after we'd just made things worse leaving you on the floor all night."
"...You didn't meant I had to sstay? I thought you meant...when you ssaid 'this condition', I jusst asssumed you meant...being a werewolf, that you couldn't rissk me hurting anyone..." Salazar blinked rapidly and tried to take this in. They weren't considering him a prisoner. He could leave any time he wanted. But...they were treating him as a guest and talking about letting him stay, even though they knew what he was. ...Could that be possible?
"I meant I couldn't send you away or leave you lying there, half-starved, half-frozen, and injured." Helga looked a bit pale. "I wasn't referring to trying to restrain you; clearly you've been doing the best you could already about not endangering others, and I'd guess from the area that you were doing quite well up until you ran into a few other people... who were trying to avoid endangering others by magic, and had thus also picked a relatively unpopulated bit of forest." She hesitated. "I admit, though, that it would be reassuring, if you stay, if you'd be willing to be restrained somehow that one night. Or if not...." She shrugged. "We never meant to hold you prisoner. I'm sorry if I gave that impression. If you don't wish to stay here, you can go -- but if you wished to come back for the full moon, for stone walls to prevent harm to anyone else and healing to ease the harm to you, I'd imagine that could be arranged too."
Now Salazar's blinking was to hold back tears. "You...you would let me ssstay, or come back for sshelter, even knowing what I am? Offer your home, even heal me? But...I'm a beasssst..."
"Only the one night," she said softly. He thought he saw a glitter of tears in her eyes, but couldn't be sure.
"No one elsse caress about the disstinction," Salazar retorted bitterly. "No other healers would have anything to do with me oncce they knew what I wass, even after the full moon had passed. My own family wouldn't have me around! Why--" His voice faltered and broke. "Why would you bother?"
"I suppose it makes a difference," she said slowly, eyes lowered, "that we can protect ourselves, over the full moon. But -- it would not be fair to blame you, though granted it probably is better for everyone if you've a sturdy place to stay at least over the full moon, and I'm sworn to help people where I can, and," she looked up again with a tiny smile, "I like you."
"No one's ssuppossed to like me," Salazar muttered. "I'm a bloody werewolf."
"Well, I do. So there."
Salazar laughed a little despite himself. "Thank you. I'm not...ussed to that, but...I think I'm glad. And I think I like you too, though I definitely like you a lot more now that you're not planning on keeping me locked up!"
"I wasn't planning on it in the first place!"
"But I thought you were, which was making it very difficult to like you, no matter how nice and ssoothing you were." He looked very hopeful. "Were you sseriouss about being able to sstay here, even at full moonss? I -- I can't rissk hurting anyone, no matter how ssmall the rissk is..."
"Yes. I had a chance to talk with Godric, however briefly -- he says if you can bear being closed up in stone there will be no risk. And I can look after you, afterward...."
No risk. No risk. No risk. NO RISK!
The words sang over and over in Salazar's blood until he felt like laughing and crying at the same time. No risk His breath was catching hard in a chest that felt like someone was squeezing with a giant hand. No risk There was something hard and spiny caught in his throat he didn't really want to think about no risk and he couldn't stop grinning like a fool. No risk "I can bear anything, for that," he said, voice husky with unshed tears. No risk "Thank you... That'ss not even enough to ssay...but thank you."
"Easy...." Helga had leaned forward, looking slightly alarmed; after studying him keenly while he managed to get words out, she said softly, "I'm not the one you should be thanking, really, but...." And then she hugged him. Hard.
And how long had it been....
Salazar was really about to say something witty and profound, but then her arms wrapped around him and held on tightly, driving every other thought out of his head but Hug BACK! His arms tightened around her convulsively. Everyone acted like he had some catching disease -- which he did, but only once a month, and only if he bit them. Hugging didn't hurt anything. Hugging was just...hugging meant someone was there, who wasn't afraid.
"You're very welcome," she said softly, and he felt her hand rub gentle circles between his shoulderblades, and when she finally pushed back from him it was with a slightly apologetic smile. "And you're stronger than you seemed a bit ago; may I breathe?" But she didn't take her hand from his arm.
If the truth were known, Helga was a little bit afraid. It wasn't as if she hadn't heard all the stories, the whispers, the warnings. Still, she was a healer, and she'd treated many people -- and many beasts for that matter -- who were far more dangerous in their illness or pain than a werewolf was between full moons. Certainly than this one, who was nearly undone by a little kindness and the prospect of being shut away from any chance of harming someone during the full moons. It was heartwrenching.
He flushed and stammered out an apology. "I'm ssorry. I didn't intend to -- did I hurt you?" What a foolish thing to do, and now he'd be driven away from here just after they'd offered him help! He needed to control himself better.
"No, no, I'm fine." She squeezed his arm reassuringly. "Don't worry -- I'm not terribly fragile, just needed a little more room to breathe after a while. Don't look so upset."
"I didn't mean to..." Salazar sighed and looked away. "I'm ssorry," he repeated. "Can I -- do you -- will you sstill let me ssstay?"
Helga looked astonished at him. "Of course! Oh, for -- Salazar, listen." She tugged at his arm, then shook her head and wrapped him in another hug. "You didn't hurt me, I told you. You just, er, held on so tight I had a little trouble getting my breath. And I don't mind that, as long as you ease off periodically."
He didn't hug back this time, though he wanted to, but he did feel just a little better. "I am ssorry. I'll try to remember."
"It's all right, I tell you. I did say I didn't mind, didn't I?"
"Yesss. I'm--" He stopped himself before he could apologize again. "I...do greatly appreciate the offer, though. I'd be honored to...ssstay, for as long as you'll have me.."
"We're glad." She didn't let go of him. "Look, you can still hug back, you know, it is all right...."
He closed his arms tentatively around her again and hugged, though he was very mindful this time of how much pressure he was exerting. Being a werewolf, oddly enough, gave him more strength even in his untransformed state, but he was rarely around humans enough to need to worry. "Thank you, again." His stomach gave a loud and embarrassing rumble. "Er...I think the blood flow has sstabilized..."
"Quite right. I shouldn't have kept you waiting." She resisted a brief urge to ruffle his hair and moved back to refill his bowl of soup.
He smiled faintly before applying himself to his food. "Believe me, it wass worth it."
...He'd been hungrier for the touch than the food.
Helga smiled back and drew the better-behaved chair beside the bed to break her own fast. "Very well then."
He fought with himself to eat the soup and not simply inhale it. That was poor table manners (even if he had a tray, not a table) and he'd rather like to taste it besides. It was quite good. He also wondered what precisely a Parselmouth werewolf wizard said to a Healer witch who'd just offered him his heart's desire and then proceeded to sip at her soup like she hadn't done anything extraordinary.
"Will I be able to meet your...friendss?" he asked at last, trying and failing to think of how better to classify the absent Rowena and Godric.
"Hmm? Oh, yes, of course. I don't think either of them will be in a state to talk about anything but their latest spellwork until this evening, though."
"All right. I wouldn't want to dissturb anyone." And sleeping for a week would be nice too, but he was anxious to meet his hosts. "What wass it you were doing out there? It'ss been a while ssince I've heard any magical theory."
"A sort of mathematical alchemy, earth-and-air work. The walking chair's an earlier related result."
"That ssoundss fass--" He was interrupted by a huge yawn that appeared to swallow his head momentarily. "Fassscinating. Excusse me. I'd love to obsserve ssometime, if that would be accceptable."
"I'm sure it would. Or participate if you're willing. They brought me into it for the transfiguration aspects; I'm sure they'd love having someone better at potions." She grinned. "You, however, could probably use a long nap."
He smiled ruefully. "I'm ssorry. I'm ussually not up for much the day after a full moon. And it's harder to ignore exhausstion when I don't have sso many achess and painss! I haven't felt thiss good in...yearss."
"It's absolutely nothing to apologize for. You were up essentially all night; you went through two exhausting transformations, a fight, and a healing -- you have every right to be tired. I think I'd be rather shocked if you weren't."
"You're far more undersstanding than mossst." And that was a vast understatement! "Thank you, for everything. And thank your friendss."
"I will, until you've the chance to meet them for yourself."
"Thank--" another yawn "--Thank you. Again. I can't wait to meet them..." His voice trailed off and he fell asleep sitting up in bed with an empty tray of food in front of him.
Helga, when she was done herself, quietly took the tray away and rearranged his pillows so he could lie down, then tucked him in. "Sleep well," she murmured, and he might have heard her in his dreams, "and wake a great deal better than last time."
If he'd been awake, Salazar might have commented wryly that it wouldn't be possible to feel much worse and still wake up.
However, he was not awake, so Helga took the trays and brought them down to the kitchen, then sought out the owner of the place and her...well, whatever Godric was. The two were found, completely unsurprisingly, in Rowena's library. Rowena was sketching out some effects from the previous night's casting on a scrap of parchment and gesturing quite violently with her quill. Helga simply settled onto a nearby chair, waited for a lull, and put in mildly, "He woke up."
"Oh good," said Rowena. The quill flirted around to point at Helga, largely because of the way its owner had just swiveled her hand under her chin. "Were there any difficulties? You look well enough, but how is he?"
"Sleeping again, at the moment, but largely healed, bathed, and fed. He's looking much better, and he's actually rather sweet." Helga tilted her head slightly, considering how to filter the whole conversation down to the most pertinent information. "It's as we suspected; he was trying to avoid hurting anyone and had no idea that part of the forest was occupied. The poor thing, he turned dead white when he thought he might've bitten someone."
Godric nodded. "You asked me about other full moons, didn't you? -- Will he be staying, visiting...? Trying to get as far as possible from where we netted him?"
"I thought he might want to get as far as possible, but when I mentioned the possibility of staying with no risk during full moons..." She swallowed hard. "He was overwhelmed. I don't know how long he's been traveling, but he looked shocked that anyone would even consider letting him stay. We only discussed it briefly, but he seemed quite happy at the idea of staying as long as we would let him."
"Well, it's better for everyone that way, after all." Rowena's tone was brisk, but her expression was soft. "I always thought the tales of what they were like between full moons sounded as if they might be feeding themselves much the way those of witches do in some areas.... Well. We'll have to meet him when he's feeling up to it."
"He mentioned several times that he wanted to meet you. His specialty is potions, apparently. I thought that would be very useful to have around. If nothing else, I'd love to have someone help brew MY potions so I don't have to spend three days doing what a better brewer could do in one."
Rowena grinned. "Mercy, if he's really good at brewing he's a godsend. Of course, I wouldn't imagine he's exactly in practice at the moment, so give him time."
"No, he said it had been a while since he'd had either supplies or space to work properly. But he sounded eager to get back to it. He never said how long, but it certainly seemed to be a long time, from his reactions." She hesitated, playing with a stray strand of hair that had escaped her braid. "I...I like him, Rowena. I know it's strange, after only speaking to him for a few minutes, all told, but... He seems very sweet, and polite, but I can see humor flashing in there as well. I think he could be a very good friend, truly."
"You want to like everybody," Godric pointed out with a hint of a smile, "but don't get defensive; you tend to be an excellent judge from what I've seen, even if you put up with more than most. I'm quite willing to take your recommendation." He arched an eyebrow. "And heaven knows you could use someone less preoccupied around here, right?"
"I want to like everyone, but that doesn't mean I do," Helga sniffed. "And you'll like him too, just wait and see. I'm not sure about less preoccupied; he seemed quite willing to sit and discuss spell theory until he fell asleep in the middle of it."
"Well, in that case, he'll fit right in."
"Right in with you two. I prefer a little magical practice with my magical theory." Helga grinned at the old argument. "But in any case, do try to remember that he's been ill and give him a little time before you go dragging him into your newest experiments."
"We were practicing," Rowena protested laughingly, "or trying to."
"But we'll be good," Godric promised. "Is there anything else he needs just now? Or, when he wakes up, I suppose."
"I don't know of anything, but he wasn't asking me for anything. He just seemed so grateful we'd let him stay. As I said, he's as healed as I can get him for now." She paused. "He could probably stand some clothes. I borrowed one of your robes, Godric."
"That's fine, of course, and we can get him more -- I suppose I should expand the brewing rooms and equipment, too."
"Perhaps we should be certain he's staying first, though I really think he will. Oh yes. Do you two promise not to go wake him up and drag him off for experiments if I tell you something else?"
Rowena looked amused. "We have a werewolf who's also a potions expert and interested in magical theory; what else could you tell us to make us be so bad mannered as that?"
"He's a Parselmouth."
"...Oh, my." Rowena paused for a moment and visibly restrained her excitement, then grinned teasingly. "Wouldn't you be the most interested in that anyway?"
"You and Godric are the ones who have trouble restraining your curiosity, and besides, I have already talked to him," Helga laughed. "And he already agreed to discuss healing spells with me later. I'm surprised a Healer hasn't gotten a hold of him before, but he acted like he'd never seen the Caduceus Charm."
"Hm. Well, you did mention doing it really well is relatively advanced...."
"Relatively, yes, but I'm hardly the only one who can do it."
"I gather he liked it?"
"Very much. I think he would've talked me into showing him how to do it then and there if he hadn't fallen asleep."
"Well, I suppose you'll get to it soon enough."
"Doubtlessly. Remember, though, that my purpose is to heal him, and for that he needs rest, not magic lessons."
"We know, we know." Godric smiled. "We'll be good. Though if he's staying and seems as if he'd feel better with something to do, instructions on setting up potions laboratories shouldn't be too strenuous."
"I'll keep that in mind."
"We'll try to get him anything he needs. Do let us know when he's up for more company." Rowena smiled.
"I will," Helga murmured, but she wasn't entirely sure the other two heard her, as they had bent their heads together again over the parchment. Chuckling, she left the library and went to check on her own affairs.
She was up to her elbows in manure when the enchanted bell she'd left with Salazar chimed to tell her he was awake. She muttered thanks, then a quick cleaning spell as she left the greenhouse. On the way, she flagged down a passing brownie and sent him to fetch Rowena and Godric. "Good morning! I do hope you're feeling better," she said cheerfully as she bustled into Salazar's room.
Salazar sat up in bed and found, rather to his surprise despite a perfectly good memory of the healing, that he didn't have to move gingerly. "Far better," he said, "and far better than I ordinarily would. Much thanks to you." He hesitated, then asked cautiously, "Is it still morning, or again?"
"Actually, it's about mid-afternoon, but I tend to always say good morning to a person in bed. Rather odd of me, I know. At any rate, I'm glad you're feeling better. Do you feel up to meeting Rowena and Godric? They should be here--" She paused at the sound of voices raised in heated debate in the hallway "--right about now."
Salazar briefly considered asking whether he actually had a choice in the matter, but suppressed the thought; it seemed ungrateful. "Ah, ccertainly. Would I be amisss in asking what they're... ah...discusssing?" He really hoped it wasn't him.
Helga cocked her head and listened for a moment. "Hmm. I think they're still arguing about whether unicorn horn would be more effective than phoenix tears in our experiment. Hmph. That's my area." She smiled brightly at him. "Just a moment, I'll call them in."
She poked her head out the door and called out, "Do you think you two can stop arguing for long enough to greet our guest?"
"Of course," Godric replied promptly. "We can always go back to arguing, after all."
They stepped into the room; Salazar considered trying to rise to greet them and was forestalled by Rowena's hasty, "No need to get up. Helga might kill us."
"Not kill," Helga replied mildly. "I have enough work to do. Non-injurious pain only."
Salazar blinked at her, but she just smiled. "Ah...hello. I wanted to thank you for...everything."
"You're very welcome." The animate chair hurried over to Rowena; she looked at it in mild surprise, then patted it with an air suggesting that she would have given it a treat if it were capable of eating and sat down. "We'd have tried to meet you sooner, but had no idea you were in the area."
"I haven't been here very long. I wass jusst passsing through. If I wassn't," he added with a slight grimace, "I would've known ssomeone wass in that part of the foresst."
"Well, contrary to the impression Helga may have given you, we don't really make that much of a habit of spellcasting outdoors in the middle of the night." Godric smiled. "And, of course, if we'd known you were about already we'd have been better prepared. Ideally to the point of looking for you before last night -- Helga did relay the invitation to stay, I believe?"
"Yess, sshe did. Sshe ssaid you...had a way to make ccertain there wass no rissk during full moonss. I -- Ssuch a thing iss beyond pricce. I could never repay you, but...thank you."
"It's hardly a debt. It makes quite as much sense for us to thank you for cooperating, after all. It's not exactly an elegant solution, I'm afraid, but...." Godric held his hand over the floor and set his jaw; after a moment the stone puckered and a thin stalagmite climbed up into the air. He sent it smooth again and shrugged. "I would, I think, be able to close you in securely for the night."
Salazar eyed the now-smooth stone and muttered, "It'ss a good thing I don't ssuffer from clausstrophobia. Ssstill--" he raised his voice again "--to me, it iss a debt. It'ss been...a long time ssincce I was around anyone who'd be willing to housse a werewolf." Try "never," actually.
Godric half-shrugged. "Knowing we can deal with you during the full moon, we'd be doing very ill to turn you away for that." He frowned slightly. "And we can seek another solution, if you wish; I confess I don't know what the effects of that one are likely to be...."
"As long as there'ss enough air insside, I don't ssee any harm. Ccertainly sseems ssafe enough... Other safeguardss could fail." Salazar shrugged. "At leasst there would be nothing I could damage."
"Except yourself." Godric frowned. "But I don't know that the net would be a better choice."
Salazar shuddered violently. "Not the net. Ssstone will be fine. Better than sssilver."
Godric frowned concernedly and started to put out a hand, then let it fall. "I am sorry about that. As I said, you caught us a little off guard."
"It wassn't your fault. Anything you'd done would have been all right to sstop me." A quiet sigh, not quite looking at them. "But if I have a choicce, I choosse not sssilver."
"Then not silver," Rowena said matter-of-factly.
Godric took a step closer and set a hand briefly on Salazar's shoulder. "And I'll be sure not to suffocate you, I promise."
Salazar fought down a flinch at the touch. Hadn't the man just said he'd help? And hadn't Helga even hugged him earlier, without any harm? But he was so unused to touch being anything but an attack... He covered the flinch as well as he could and smiled faintly. "I'm ssure you won't. Bessidess, I'm harder to kill than that."
"Well," Godric replied with a hint of an answering smile and a step back (had he noticed?), "that's as may be, but there's no call to test it."
"I'm perfectly happy to never tesst it again," Salazar said fervently.
"Of cour--" Godric paused and blinked. "Er, have you nearly been suffocated at some point? --Or should I not ask?"
Salazar blinked, then laughed a little. "Not yet. I jusst meant being hard to kill in general."
"Ah. No, not something to look for chances to test, generally speaking."
"Not that you act that way," Helga jibed at him.
Godric grinned. "I don't test it on purpose. I just don't see any reason to hold back from a perfectly good experiment just because it might kill me."
"The fact that it might kill you ussually iss conssidered a good reasson."
"I hate being tied down by the usual," Godric replied blithely. "I won't tell you two how to heal or brew if you don't tell me how to do MY experiments. I swear, she's gotten you on her side already."
"Don't worry," Helga said resignedly, "we just won't listen to you. And it's time we had someone else with a bit of common sense about..."
"MY kind of sense is uncommon," Rowena said loftily. "You just don't recognize it as such. At any rate," she continued, grinning, "I'm very glad you're staying as well, Salazar. Helga tells me you're a Parselmouth?"
"Yess. She tellss me you're likely to have quesstions?"
Rowena beamed at him. "I always have questions."
"And how long did it take her to ask him?" Godric murmured, grinning. "We're not supposed to wear him out now, remember?"
Rowena looked only slightly abashed. "True, true. My apologies, Salazar."
"No apologiess neccesssary," he replied, looking slightly bewildered. "I feel better now than I have in agesss."
"And you will probably feel better still if I listen to Helga properly and let you rest," was the gracious rejoinder.
"...As you wissh. I'd be happy to ansswer any quesstionss." A glance at Helga. "That'ss not too tiring."
"It can wait, really -- especially if you're staying -- unless you're bored?"
He hadn't stayed still this long for years. "Not esspecially, but...it sseemss the leasst I can do to ansswer a few quesstionss...."
"There's no hurry." She smiled at him again. "And you do still sound rather weary, I think."
He laughed slightly. "I cringe at how I musst have ssounded a few hourss ago."
"Intelligible," Helga offered with a hint of mischief in her voice. "No cringing required."
"Well, I ssupposse that'ss an improvement," Salazar said wryly.
"You're still intelligible."
"...I meant an improvement from when we firsst met."
"Ah. Well... yes, not the best time for conversation." Helga leaned in and squeezed his shoulder; from her, he managed not to flinch.
"No. But you managed to ssee passt that anyway. At leasst I know I can only improve from there."
"You seem to be very nice indeed whenever you're in your right mind."
"Damned by faint praisse?" Salazar chuckled. "Thank you. You sseem very nicce when I'm in my right mind too."
"Well, it wasn't meant to --" Helga broke off and shook her head. "Thank you."
"I know very well that you were being kind," he assured her.
"Again, thank you." Helga rubbed her hands together briskly. "Well, we should let you rest again, I think. There will be plenty of time for more questions."
Plenty of time. Salazar smiled over the thought as they bid farewell and left him to settle back into the impossibly soft mattress and pillows. They had plenty of time, because he was staying.