Time is precious when confronting deadly curses. Tick. It
is so easy to become lost in the riddle of a curse, or become ensnared in it.
Tock. Life will slip right through the fingers of the careless or unmindful.
Tick. The clock is running.
Snape looms over the hospital bed where Katie Bell lays. She
is still trying to scream, although she has already lost her voice, and she
thrashes violently against the sheets. It is a natural instinct to want to
stop the pain first, especially if the victim is still awake enough to scream.
This is a trap. It is a waste of precious seconds when even
a minute of hesitation may be too long.
Snape has never fallen for this trap.
“Be still,” he commands with all the authority he possesses,
and though she still twitches, she stops shaking the bed until it rattles.
Observation is always the first step in treatment. It is
not a waste if you have to get it right the first time.
He pulls off her glove to inspect her hand. Some curses
attack the point of contact, degrading skin and bone like some horrible
flesh-eating bacteria, but Katie’s hand is undamaged. He glances at her glove
and finds the small hole on the index finger. The brevity of contact may be
the single fact that saves her life. If he can act quickly enough to stay its
Snape hold’s Katie’s hand in his own. Her fingers are cold,
her nails are a purple-blue, and her skin blanches to pressure for far too
long. He pushes her sleeve up to her elbow and notes the blue veins standing
starkly against her pale skin. He counts the pulsations at her wrist and finds
they are weak and much too fast.
Tick beat. Beat. Beat. Tock beat. Beat. Beat. Tick
beat. Beat. Beat.
Eyes are the windows to the soul. Katie’s are screwed shut
but Snape pulls them open with long, yellow fingers. Her blue eyes dart from
point to point, but her pupils are wide and unchanging and he knows she does
not see anything.
Peering into her eyes, he looks for memories that might lead
him to the curse. He has to tease away thoughts from her obsession with pain.
Time and life slide away (tick, tock, tick). He admits surprise to discover
that she wants to die. It is a rare curse indeed that not only kills but convinces
the mind to desire death.
He frowns and loosens the red and gold scarf at her neck to
find the artery. With each pulse (tick) and between the pulses (tock) he feels
the ebb and flow of life and death. He feels he is getting closer to the source
and his lips curl into a smile.
She stops trying to scream without her voice now and her
breaths are coming in shallow pants. Time is running thin, but Snape does not
rush. It is a trap to rush and become tangled in your own processes. Instead
he leans forward to listen to the puffs of air from her mouth.
It ought to sound like life in someone so young, but instead
the noise is harsh and raspy, and he can smell death coming, like sulfur, or
maybe something else. He pauses to place the scent. It might be important.
It is. Monkshood was once a common ingredient in potions
used by scorned lovers for revenge. Snape nods to himself. Of course this curse
could be capable of convincing a young girl to want to die. An enchantment of
passion is most persuasive, and the hardest to remove once it has penetrated
He follows the arteries back until his hand hovers an inch
above her heart and then listens with his eyes closed. He must find the root,
the place it has lodged, before he can dispel it. He smiles and black eyes snap
open. He has found it, wrapped around her heart. With each beat it spreads
further into her body, devouring as it goes. It is raw and angry, and the
passage of hundreds of years has done nothing to assuage this. Then there is
something else that spasms and makes it worse.
He prods the mass gently and is not surprised to find it
squeezes the heart even tighter. It will not be removed easily. With eyes
closed again to better feel what cannot be seen with the naked eye, he traces
the tendrils that snake toward her brain. He pulls on the strand, trying to
reason it back to its root, and recognizes the spasm that propels delicate
barbs even further into Katie.
Perhaps Dumbledore is right. Perhaps love is the strongest
of all magic.
A curse like this does not respond to the usual tricks. It
will not respond to reason for it has none. It is blind with rage and
unrequited devotion and its sole desire is to kill. Every attempt to dislodge
it will only drive it further in and if it is cornered, it will lash out with
all its anger and hate. Katie will be consumed, for even if her body were to
survive, her mind may already be lost.
This is a fight few would attempt and one even fewer could
hope to win. It is not a sense of arrogance or pride that leads Snape to draw
his wand and prepare the incantations in his mind, nor a sense of compassion or
sacrifice. Good and evil have no part in his actions here. There is only the
challenge and the win that must be forced.
As he has felt before every such duel, this was the one he
was born for, the one he was meant to overcome.
There is nothing beyond the quiet panting and the ticking
second hand. His wand ready, his mind’s eye seeing nothing but the enemy
ahead, he enters into battle.
And he will win.