The pain in his chest was excruciating and forced Severus to lean against the old warehouse wall. He had to hold on. Ginevra would soon arrive. He had important information to pass on to her, and had to be prepared to protect her.
He must have lost consciousness for a few moments, because suddenly he felt someone touching his shoulders. He opened his eyes almost in panic.
He felt relieved to see Ginevra. He was sitting on the floor, his back propped against the wall, and Ginevra was squatting beside him.
"It's nothing," he hastened to say, trying to calm her. She had never called him by his first name before; she must be shocked at his appearance.
"What do you mean, nothing? You're bleeding. Let me take care of you."
He tried to stop her, but he was too weak. She sat on the floor and made him lie down with his head resting on her lap. Then she started unfastening the top buttons of his robe.
"It's not necessary," he mumbled. "I can heal myself."
"Shh. You know very well that you're weak and your healing spells aren't working. Otherwise, you'd've already closed the wound." She unfastened the three top buttons and her face twisted in horror. "What spell did this?"
"I apparated near the train station and an auror saw me. I hesitated... I didn't want to hurt him. He cast a spell on me. I cast a defensive spell that partly absorbed the impact of his, and then I cast a full body bind curse on him."
"But what spell did he cast on you?"
He smiled sardonically. "Sectumsempra. My own spell."
"To what point have we come," she said wearily. "Sometimes I wonder who're the good guys and who're the bad guys in this war."
"There's no black and white in a war. Only shades of grey."
"Thank God you could reduce the impact of the spell. Did you try to heal the wound?"
"Yes, but as you well observed, my spell was not strong enough to heal me completely."
She carefully pushed the material aside to expose the wound, and Severus let out a choked cry.
"I'm going to close the wound," she said softly. "You'll be a good boy and go home and take dittany as soon as we finish here, won't you?"
He tried to smile. "Of course."
"Now stay put."
She drew her wand and traced it over the wound, muttering an incantation that Severus had never imagined she might know. He closed his eyes, and a feeling of peace flowed through him.
When he opened his eyes, the pain was gone. Ginevra was brushing strands of hair from his face, and staring at him in a way that made him shiver.
"Today is my birthday," he said, and felt silly for having said that.
"Your birthday!" Her eyes filled up with unshed tears.
"It's all right." He didn't want her to pity him.
He was still lying with his head on her lap. She cast a cleaning spell to remove the blood stains, then delicately fastened the buttons. The touch of her hands was almost a caress.
"I brought you something." She reached into a pocket of her robe. "If I knew it was your birthday, I'd've brought something else."
It was a bezoar. He reached out and held her hand along with the tiny stone.
"Thank you," he said, wondering if she would understand that he wasn't just thanking her for the present.
Ptyx, August 2006