The Sugar Quill
Author: Murasaki99 (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Clouds Over Snow  Chapter: Chapter One: Healer
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Clouds Over Snow Chapter 1. Healer

Clouds Over Snow

By Murasaki99

The usual disclaimer: Harry Potter and friends belong to J.K. Rowling. We're just borrowing them for some totally non-profit fun.

1. Healer

Severus Snape, Minerva McGonagall, and Madam Pomfrey listened to the Headmaster as they took tea in his office. Outside the charmed coolness of Hogwarts, the sultry summer heat hazed the air. The students were away on vacation, leaving the staff of the venerable wizard's school time to catch up on certain matters that were best done without the presence of children.

"I have sent for another faculty member," Dumbledore said, "Although I am not sure yet what she will teach, and teaching is not the primary reason I have sent for her."

"Her? Doctor Kuroo did not accept?" Madam Pomfrey looked confused. Her fellow staff members simply looked blank.

Dumbledore shook his head in a negative. "Doctor Kuroo is, and I quote from his letter:

Mooshiwake arimasen . No can do. Up to my ass in Ashwinders. Call me when you have a cure for the Petrifying Plague or if you need a heart transplant. Good luck with that idiot Tom Riddle. Doctor Honma sends his regards.
Abayo, K."

The parchment was covered with small burn marks, giving a certain air of veracity to the comment about Ashwinders.

"Rather flippant for a Ph.D., isn't he?" asked Professor McGonagall, pursing her lips at the tone of the letter.

"These aren't doctors of letters, my dear Minerva," Dumbledore began, only to be interrupted by Madam Pomfrey.

"Albus, who did accept your invitation? It's not like chirurgeons grow on trees."

Dumbledore lifted a second parchment. The script on the letter was flowing and precise and the note seemed brief. Peering through his spectacles, he read,

"I am honored to accept your invitation and trust I will be of service. I will come as swiftly as I may.

"Doctor Eregion! I thought she was long dead!" Madam Pomfrey looked amazed. Her faculty peers just looked annoyed at being talked-over.

"Will someone please tell me who or what we are hiring?" Severus growled. "Is this some fancy title for yet another Defense Against the Dark Arts professor?"

"Oh no, Severus, a chirurgeon is a doctor. A medical doctor," Madam Pomfrey explained patiently, smiling a little as if anticipating something good. "Doctor Eregion has an excellent reputation. I look forward to watching her work."

"But you're a perfectly good witch-nurse." Severus looked offended. "Why do we need to hire a doctor? St. Mungo's is a simple Floo-jump away from Hogsmeade if anything really major happened to one of the students." He very carefully did not bring up the sore subject of fatalities.

"Thank you, Severus, I think," said Madam Pomfrey. "But Doctor Eregion has experience with a specialty that few of our living magical healers have."

"A chirurgeon is not just a doctor, he or she is a surgeon. I finally remembered the term." Minerva nodded her head, looking pleased with herself for successfully retrieving the errant scrap of memory.

"Surgeons are hardly a rarity." Severus frowned at no one in particular. He narrowed his dark eyes at Dumbledore, as if trying to penetrate the old mage's thought processes.

"You are correct. But to be perfectly precise, they are battlefield surgeons. Doctors Eregion and Kuroo are two of the few practicing chirurgeons on this planet with real experience." Dumbledore's face was grave as he added this extra fact. His professors stared at him.

"You... expect a war." Severus leaped to the obvious conclusion.

"I expect to be prepared."

The Headmaster's reply comforted no one.

The dark shade of the Forbidden Forest offered some welcome respite from the July heat, but did nothing to moderate the humid air. Severus would have preferred not to venture into the woods when it was so sticky, but the herbs he sought came to full strength at the noon hour. So now he was peering into the undergrowth in search of coltsfoot while keeping an eye out for some of the Forest's hungrier denizens. The giant spiders typically hunted at night, but one never knew and it was a good idea not to blunder into their webs, day or night.

"Here we are," he murmured, finding a healthy patch at the foot of an ancient oak. The small green hoofed flower poked up jauntily from the feathery foliage. Soon he had filled his collecting pouch with the fresh herb; its charmed interior would keep the cut plants preserved until he could distill and bottle them. Kneeling on the cool forest duff, he wiped the sap from the small golden sickle he had used to cut the plants.

"Excuse me?" The calm voice seemed to be right in his ear. Severus started, cutting his left hand slightly on the sickle.

At once he turned, wand out. "Who are you?" he snapped and then caught sight of his visitor. It was a woman, mounted on a horse and wrapped in a travel stained cloak of grey, the hood drawn up as if to provide further shade from the already filtered sun. Her horse was not tall so much as massive, with thick strong legs and powerful muscles. The woman sat the animal with familiar ease.

"I come in peace." She held out her right hand, empty palm evidence of her intent. Her left hand held the reins of her horse. "Permit me to introduce myself. I am Eregion of Hollin. I am sorry to have startled you, Nox Fortuna moves very quietly." She patted the neck of her piebald mount. "I seek the school known as Hogwarts. Could you direct me thence?" Her speech had a somewhat Gaelic lilt to it, and her diction was oddly formal, as if English was not her mother tongue.

Severus nodded at the woman. "I am Severus Snape. I teach Potions class at Hogwarts. The Headmaster said you would be arriving soon. It is easier to show rather than explain; follow me." He turned in a swirl of robes and began to stride up the path toward the school.

"Master Snape, please wait, you are injured." Eregion was suddenly dismounted and moving quickly to catch him up.

"What? Ah, damn it all." The curse was without venom, merely an annoyed observation. His cut hand had been dripping merrily onto the ground. "I did buy a very good quality golden sickle."

Now that she was so close, Severus could finally get a good look at her. Eregion had thrown back her hood. Her face was unlined, yet she could not have been young if Madam Pomfrey's description of her long career was correct. Her brown skin and delicate features spoke of origins in the sunny climes of India, while her hair was white, perhaps the only obvious indicator of age.

"Will you permit me?" she asked him, reaching out for his hand, but waiting on his acquiescence.

He stared at her for a long moment then nodded. At once she took his cut hand gently and examined it. He had managed to deeply nick the web between forefinger and thumb. The wound bled at a steady trickle, showing no signs of clotting. Eregion shook her head.

"A good sickle indeed, with a sharpness charm. Although some bleeding cleans a wound, this would bleed until stanched by magic. So. Fibrilus." Severus felt a tiny sting as the edges of the cut ceased bleeding, drew tight, and then vanished. She released his hand and he examined it with interest.

"Now that is a new charm. It appears to work well enough, though," he allowed, flexing his fingers.

"Thank you. I hope to teach such healing spells to the older students, if time and circumstances allow it." Eregion looked at Nox Fortuna, who was staring intently into the forest to their right. "This forest is not entirely comfortable with visitors, and you have spilled fresh blood." In the distance something uttered a deep growl. "Perhaps we could ride double on Nox and we can leave this place behind us?" A chorus of howls, which sounded closer to them, joined the growler. Nox Fortuna stamped and snorted.

"I haven't ridden a horse since I was a child," Severus began, looking over his shoulder. Was that the sound of something large crashing through the woods? "But in this case, I will accept a lift."

"Very good. Up you go, then." Eregion let him mount first and then lightly sprang up behind him, sitting just in back of the cantle of the saddle. Severus scarcely had time to put his feet in the stirrups when the physician said, "Forward," causing the mare to leap away like an enormous gazelle. Without thinking he grabbed a double handful of mane to steady himself, ducking down a little as branches whizzed by over his head. Eregion did the same, leaning forward close against his back. After several great bounds, Nox Fortuna found the trail and began to increase her speed considerably.

"Is this the way?" called Eregion over the rush of the wind.

"Yes! Just keep on this trail."

"Very good. Run, my friend!" the doctor called to her horse. A chorus of angry howls sounded behind them and Severus risked a glance back. At least ten huge hound-like animals pursued them, rushing in their wake with red ears flapping.

"The Hunt!?" He craned for a better view. A branch tore at him and he would have been lifted from the saddle, except that Eregion held him in his seat and all he lost was some fabric from his robes. "What are they doing here?" He scarcely noticed his close call, he was so mystified.

"Look forward, Master Snape, lest you fall. Nox will do all that she can to keep you in the saddle, as will I, but neither of us will be of much use if you insist upon leaning out so far." Eregion's voice sounded as calm as that of a riding instructor teaching her students in the safety of her own arena, and not as if she was on the back of a horse running pell-mell for her life.

"But the Wild Hunt belongs in Wales, not Scotland!" he protested, grunting as Nox leaped over a fallen log and the jolt pushed some of the air from his lungs.

"Indeed? Perhaps they have business here?" The trail began to widen a little; ahead the gloom of the Forest lightened as they approached the edges of the wood. They burst out into the sunshine and Eregion sat up. Nox Fortuna slowed and circled, neck arched, prancing like a medieval warhorse.

"Business or not, they should stop at the edge of the Forest. The school grounds are forbidden to…" he broke off as the pack of supernatural hounds poured out of the Forest, obviously intent upon pursuing them to the very gates of Hogwarts if necessary. He made a belated grab for his wand; trying to decide which repelling spell would be best for the hounds.

"Daro!" Eregion's voice carried clear as a bell, commanding and sharp. Something flashed green in her right hand. As if they had hit an invisible shield, the hounds stopped short, stood panting for a moment, and then turned and retreated silently into the Forest.

Severus turned in the saddle to look at her without craning his neck. "What did you just do?"

"Bid them halt," she replied, tucking something on a fine silver chain into her robes.

"Without a wand?"

"You know well that a wand is not required for magic, Master Snape." Her mild tone somehow discouraged further immediate enquiries, and their approach to Hogwarts itself prevented the Potions Master from pursuing the subject further. Nox Fortuna pranced out onto the green lawns at a slow, lofty trot. At Fang's bark, Hagrid ambled out of his house, then waved at them, a grin blossoming on his bearded face.

"Perfessor Snape! Who's that with yeh?" he called, striding down from the cottage to greet them. The half-giant groundskeeper eyed Nox with admiration.

"Hagrid, this is Doctor Eregion. Professor Dumbledore has been expecting her. Doctor Eregion, this is Rubeus Hagrid, Hogwarts’ groundskeeper." Severus found it impossible to do a proper introduction with the person being introduced sitting behind him. He felt Eregion give a soft chuckle before she spoke.

"Well met, Keeper Hagrid. You have a noble hound, I see." She nodded at Fang, who wagged his tail at her happily.

"Well, thank yeh, Doctor." He grinned at the complement. "'An that's a lovely mare ye've got, a Gypsy Vanner, isn't she? Here, if Professor Dumbledore is expecting yeh, I'll put yer horse up and you can go straight in." He held the bridle as first Eregion then Severus dismounted.

"Thank you, Hagrid." Eregion looked at him curiously. "Are you sure it won't be a bother to care for Nox Fortuna? She needs to be cooled out, given a rubdown, and some fresh hay or grass, and water, of course."

"It's no trouble at all, ma'am. Just leave her to me." Hagrid moved away, holding the reins, and Nox followed him willingly, looking almost pony-sized compared to the big man who led her. "Come along, yeh pretty thing," he crooned to her as they moved away.

"She'll be all right with him, don't worry." Severus felt compelled to add as they walked briskly toward the school gateway. "Hagrid is very good with all sorts of animals."

"I felt it was so, but I didn't want to be a burden. I don't mind attending to Nox's care myself."

"I think given the current state of affairs, it is best we see the Headmaster straight away and not linger over minor matters." Severus walked faster, and Eregion stretched her own long legs to keep up. She gave him a measuring look out of pale aqua eyes.

"And what is the 'current state of affairs', Master Snape?"

The black-clad Potions Master shook his head. "Better to have Professor Dumbledore tell you all of it." He gave her a tight, quick smile. "Besides, our Headmaster is a very good host; he will at least serve you tea and biscuits while he tells you all the details."

"Ah." She was silent as they entered the main hall and moved up the corridors. "The situation is that bad?" Without further comment, Eregion followed him up the stairs.

Grateful thank-yous to my local beta-readers Judi and Kat, and A.L. Sauveterre.
-Colleen (aka Murasaki99)

Further disclaimer: This non-profit fan-fiction is not meant to infringe on the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, either. All his stuff still belongs to him (and his heirs).

"Clouds Over Snow" is an English translation of a Chinese phrase describing the black and white pattern on the coat of a horse or cat.

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