Chapter Seven - The End
There had never been a Starting Feast quite like it in all of Harry’s time at Hogwarts. The Great Hall was draped in black. Instead of a roar, the students made a whispering hiss. Several just sat in shock. A few cried. At the staff table, Harry had never felt more alone, more scared, more vulnerable in his life. He’s gone. Just like that, he’s gone. I’ll never see him again. He wanted to die, too. Two Death Eaters had been captured before they could Disapparate, Norma LeStrange’s body found the next day (presumably for giving warning with the Cruciatus Curse), but the cost was obscene. Harry still expected to see that familiar face, those ebony eyes, that long black hair just starting to turn steely grey whenever he looked up. No, there was someone else sitting there. It was wrong. The Cruciatus Curse had nothing on this Hell. He failed to blink back hot tears behind his foggy glasses.
Under the table, Severus put his hand on Harry’s knee. “Do you need to leave?” he whispered. Harry shook his head. He clutched the hand on his leg. It was better to be miserable in public with his Sev than miserable in private alone. “Obnoxious brat.” Thin lips pressed against his ear. To the students it must have looked like another whisper.
The doors flew open and Professor McGonagall marched in, followed by two shaky lines of first years. They looked around, obviously disappointed with the somber décor. Minerva herself was stoic. As always, she had an air of dignified authority. Harry watched the new, young faces and he had to put his head on the table when he realised they were the first students in decades who hadn’t come across the lake with Hagrid.
He didn’t look up when Dumbledore tapped his goblet. The hissing sound died. In fact, the only noise came from the Hufflepuff table where a second year boy still sniffled in his older sister’s arms. The boy – Marinus McPherson – realised the room had gone quiet. He looked up and wiped his nose on his sleeve. A few more sniffles and he was silent. “You all know by now,” the headmaster began gravely, “that Rubeus Hagrid is no longer with us. I won’t dwell. We all have our own memories of him, whether as teacher or friend or both, and I think he would prefer that tribute to an old man’s ranting. However, if I may, I’d like to call for a moment of silence to think back to happier times.” Nobody spoke. Dumbledore lowered his head. Many of the first years looked confused, but some apparently knew or knew of Hagrid and for the most did the same as the headmaster. One little girl reached over and hugged a weeping fifth year Ravenclaw.
Without even thinking about it, Harry leaned his head against Sev’s shoulder. A thin arm pulled him close, and Harry wrapped his around the man’s chest. Students be damned, some things were more important. He glanced back at the rest of the table before burying his face in Sev’s side and was buoyed a bit by Madam Hooch and Professor Sprout hugging each other tightly, and Professor Flitwick comforting Professor Vector. It wasn’t the same thing, but it helped a little. He breathed deeply the scent of strange potions and damp dungeon rooms and the bittersweet, earthy smell beneath them. Sev was warm and alive and untouched by the Death Eaters. Harry broke down. Hagrid had died protecting him from the Killing Curse. It never would have happened if he hadn’t insisted on “getting away”. He tried to think of anything else Hagrid had ever done or said, but nothing came. “It should have been me,” he choked softly.
A long, thin hand grasped his hair and Harry felt Severus’ beaky nose press the top of his head. He wiped a tear from Harry’s cheek with a callused thumb. “No. I might get a little sleep then.” Harry chuckled. Suddenly, his tears burst in a new torrent of guilt and pain. They soaked into thin, black fabric and grew chilly. Severus hugged him tighter. He had never cried himself, just looked a few years closer to his own death. The headmaster cleared his throat and Severus gently pushed Harry away, but again clutched his hand where nobody could see. It was just the way things had to be.
“As always, the Forbidden Forest is strictly off-limits to all students. I would also like you to welcome your new Care of Magical Creatures instructor, Professor Lupin. Several of you will remember him as your Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher.” A murmur went through the room. Oh, yes, they remembered him. From the Slytherin table arose a soft howl, which was quickly silenced by looks from Dumbledore and McGonagall. “I’m sure you’ll all treat him with the same respect you would show any other teacher.” The headmaster punctuated this phrase with a terse, silent moment. “Additionally, to allow Professor Snape more time for personal research, Professor Vector has graciously taken over his post as Head of Slytherin House.” More murmurs; the odd snicker. Harry squeezed Sev’s hand. Sev squeezed back but looked impassive. “I hope you’ll give her a warm welcome. Now, I believe it’s time to let someone else have the floor.” He motioned to the Sorting Hat on its little stool. Harry put his chin on his fist and forgot to listen to most of the annual song.“Long ago in Days of Yore
When I was new and neat
The founders, oh, the Hogwarts Four
Sought a way to greet
Into the proper Houses those
Who hold the traits they prize.
‘Twas Gryffindor who did suppose
A Sorting Hat! Try me for size!
Inside his House he treasured them
With brave and stalwart heart
And thus he told me, pick the gem
That sets my realm apart!
Hufflepuff’s fine royalty
Should value in their minds
Hard work, my friends, and loyalty
Of many different kinds!
Upon Ravenclaw’s fair brow
Sat a thinker’s crown
And so in her House we allow
The knowledge-lovers of renown!
The scepter of Lord Slytherin
Is pointed towards ambition
And cunning, so come hither in
You who possess this mission!
So set me on your head and let
Me see what you’ve inside.
A thousand years and I have yet
To fail to fill the Four with pride!”
Given the circumstances, it didn’t receive quite such enthusiastic applause as usual. It gave a small bow to each of the four tables and Professor McGonagall unrolled a scroll. “Alabaster, Nadja.” The little girl who’d hugged the Ravenclaw took a seat next to her new friend. “Azim, Marcus.” “Belasco, Asher.” “Belasco, Asherah.” Twins, a boy and a girl. “Cooper, Ryan.” “Czezhney, Laurel.” With every new student sorted the applause was a little louder, the mood a little lighter. It was a large class this year and before half of them were Sorted there were several large smiles around the tables. “Nattery, R—“ McGonagall choked. She rasped, “Rubeus,” and covered her eyes with one stiff hand. The somber shroud settled on the room once more as a terrified-looking boy with spiky brown hair found his way into Gryffindor.
The rest of the Sorting went quickly. Nobody seemed to mind.
As the last student, a Hufflepuff girl named Zinnia Zubin, took her place Dumbledore stood up again. He cleared his throat and said, as calmly as could be expected, “Tuck in.” The house-elves had outdone themselves. Not a spot on any table was clear of roast beef, potatoes, curries, pies, pasties, more kinds of vegetables than Harry knew existed, savoury puddings, kebabs, breads, more than he could take in at once. He supposed it was their way of trying to make everyone feel better. The corner of his mouth twitched when he saw the small silver bowl of cherries next to Sev. It really was a shame that nobody had much of an appetite.
Professor Arcadia sighed. “Can’t let this go to waste, I guess.” The Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher loaded up her plate, just as she’d done the previous two years. For a few minutes she picked, finally mashing the curried cauliflower to a nauseating pulp along with her peas. “Wonder if it’ll keep?”
Harry made a noise. There was an abstract pattern tined in his mash that he didn’t remember making. He picked up the gravy boat and flooded it, washing away several of the low walls. With them went any desire to sit there and sulk. Hagrid wouldn’t have wanted that. He tapped Sev on the leg. Snape looked up, a cherry stem hanging out of his mouth. Harry giggled. Sev raised an eyebrow at him and spat the stem onto his plate. “I’m going to go see Grendel.” Severus tapped Harry sharply on the chin.
“Open.” He did and tasted maraschino. Harry gave him a sad smile around the stem, grabbed an apple from the table, and wandered outside with his hands stuffed deep in his pockets.
Grendel was nowhere to be seen, but he whickered and trotted up to Harry when called. The thestral had barely been visible since Hagrid died. When Harry offered him the apple it crunched apart into nothingness; juice dripped from the air, shining by wand light. He felt around until he found the animal’s mane and scratched it underneath. Grendel nuffled Harry’s hair and gave him a slobbery kiss. “Eww. I just had a bath!” The thestral snorted. Harry’s scratching fingers found a cluster of burrs tangled in that coarse mane. “Hasn’t anyone brushed you today?” Harry normally did it now, but Dumbledore gently suggested that perhaps Grendel should get used to Lupin. He hopped over the fence and unlocked the shed where Hagrid kept – had kept the grooming supplies. He selected a large, flat brush and turned back to the animal. “Where are you?” A velvety nose touched his hand. “I need to be able to see you.” Grendel made a very final noise. “Fine. Don’t blame me when you get your eyeball brushed.” Carefully, Harry sought out the creature’s neck. He closed his eyes and let his fingers seek out all of the little twigs and tangles. Calm draped over him and, for the first time in several days, he was able to think.
He woke up with a headache he wouldn’t wish on Draco Malfoy. Harry opened his eyes to the blinding white walls of the hospital wing with a groan, and immediately saw Sev sitting next to him in one of the uncomfortable chairs. In his hand was a battered copy of The Prince. He peered over the top of his glasses. “Nice to see you’ve decided to join us, Mister Potter.” Harry shut his eyes again, only to feel a cool hand on the back of his neck and the rim of a goblet against his lips. “Drink.” A spicy liquid ran down his throat and burned away most of the headache.
“What the Hell happened?” He tried to sit up. He wasn’t sure if Sev or the surge of dizziness actually stopped him.
“Death Eaters. Professor Lupin thinks one of them saw us yesterday morning and decided to ambush. We don’t know how they pinpointed us.” Yesterday? The bed sank next to him. Sharp fingers tapped a nervous rhythm across the back of his hand. “Harry—“
“Are you okay?”
“What about Sirius?”
“Your psychotic godfather made a nuisance of himself by pacing until Poppy sent him out at wandpoint.” Sev’s voice was soft, free of venom. Something wasn’t right. He opened his eyes and looked around.
Sev touched his face. “Hagrid’s dead, Harry.”
Harry stared at him. Those black eyes were shrouded. The lines around Sev’s mouth were deep. “That’s impossible.” The pointed gaze told him it wasn’t. “Hagrid’s not dead.” Sev squeezed his hand. Sharp nails bit his palm. The dizziness that kept him on his back pulsed through his entire body, setting reality off by several degrees. Harry turned his head and retched. Hagrid couldn’t be dead. Nothing could kill Hagrid. He was nine feet tall! He’d stood up to Uncle Vernon! He’d survived Azkaban and rock cakes! That had to make him immortal, didn’t it? Didn’t it? He pulled his knees up to his chest and wheezed. A thin palm rubbed his back. “He’s not dead. He’s just playing, or sleeping, or something.” Why wouldn’t Sev believe him?
“I wish I could tell you that.” A slight body nestled against his back through the thin blankets.
Harry groped for the covers. “Where is he? I’ll show you. He probably just took a sleeping draught.” His fingers caught the edge of a blanket and tried to peel it back. It was made of lead. Sev took his limp hand and pressed it to Harry’s chest.
“Harry, he’s not asleep.” Lips touched the back of his head. “If there were a way to bring him back it would already be done.”
“But… maybe he’s just mostly dead. He’s a little bit alive. Something like Unicorn Blood—“
Sev squeezed the breath out of him. “Harry, he’s gone. Nothing is going to bring him back.”
“Is useless!” The sharp hiss drove home everything Sev had said. Oh, god, Hagrid was dead. No more mystery lunches. No more dragon eggs hatching in the fire. No more enormous hands to pull him out of fights or into bone-crushing hugs. His eyes were so dry they burned. Harry tried to say something but all that escaped his lips was a high, ceaseless keen. It barely registered when the fingernails he’d plunged into his wrist found blood in thin, slow streams.
Sev pried his fingers off one by one. The open end of a vial pressed against his mouth and Harry tasted the bitter Draught of Living Death. He struggled. Severus tilted the vial so the full dose ran into his mouth, then pinched his lips and rubbed his throat until he swallowed. “It’s for your own good. I’ll be here when you wake up.” He tried to choke it back up but nobody could avoid the Draught—
“Thanks. He won’t let me touch him.” Harry snapped out of his thoughts to see Professor Lupin leaning against the fence.
“Why aren’t you at dinner?” He continued brushing slowly. It looked like grooming empty night.
“Dinner’s over, Harry. It’s almost ten o’clock.” Lupin pulled himself over the fence. “I thought you might want to talk.” He took a step towards Grendel, who started.
“Easy, boy.” Harry grasped his mane lightly and stroked his ears. “Nobody’s going to hurt you.” Grendel snorted, but held still. “What would I want to talk about?”
Lupin shrugged. “Care and feeding of thestrals? I can’t figure out why he doesn’t like me.”
“You’re not Hagrid.” Harry found one last tangle in that mane and smoothed it. Never taking his hand off Grendel’s back, he walked around to unsnarl the animal’s tail. “I’ll groom him if you’d like.”
“Would you?” Harry nodded. His attention was on what felt like a small stick, hopelessly tangled. “I can hold off on teaching thestrals until he gets used to me, I guess.” Harry made a small noise. He’d felt a strange animosity towards Lupin since he found out the man had taken over Hagrid’s classes. He was certainly qualified – in the time since his second year Harry had learned how difficult it was to keep hinkypunks in captivity. Life as a werewolf probably made him spend a lot of time with animals. Harry glanced up; Lupin was still there, arms crossed, leaning against the fence. “Any suggestions?”
“Apples. And sugar cubes, but not too many. And carrots. That’s what Hagrid always gave him.”
Lupin nodded and scratched his mostly grey head. “Thanks. That makes sense.” He peered at Harry. Those gold-flecked eyes reflected some of the light from Harry’s wand stuck in the ground and turned it a shifting sort of green. With the full moon so recent it was hardly a surprise. “How have you been? I haven’t seen much of you the last few days.”
“I’m fine.” He finally got the stick untangled. Grendel whickered in thanks. The brush moved far more easily through the long mass. “Irma’s kept me busy.”
“Mm-hmm. She must. I haven’t even seen you at lunch.” Harry shirked, annoyed. The last time he’d eaten lunch was with Hagrid. He’d taken to spending the hour curled up with a Latin textbook. With classes starting, Sev would have to do all of his mysterious research at night and Harry wanted to help like he’d done before. “Listen, Harry, I’m sorry about what happened. You have no idea how much I regret…” he trailed off, chewing his lip.
“Wasn’t your fault.”
“Yeah, it was. Paddy and I were the ones who should have lain down our lives. That was the whole reason we were there.”
“You were there to keep the Death Eaters from killing Sev and me. We’re both alive.” His voice was flat, neutral. As long as he kept brushing he wouldn’t shout. Grendel’s tail was smooth but he kept brushing.
“That’s exactly my point. You’re alive because Hagrid didn’t wait to see what would happen next.” He gave a short, bitter laugh and started pacing. “You’d think the trained wizards would be the ones to react quickly, wouldn’t you?”
“You sure did.” Harry bit his tongue but kept brushing. He hadn’t meant to say that.
“No, I want to know what you meant. If you’re not happy with me taking Hagrid’s job I want you to tell me. Our friendship means a lot to me; I’d rather quit than make you feel like I’ve betrayed you somehow.” Yup, that was Lupin, always the peacemaker. Harry’s stomach turned with guilt.
“You didn’t,” he muttered.
“You’re still upset I’m teaching Hagrid’s class, though.”
“No.” It was more or less the truth. “I’m upset anyone but Hagrid is teaching his class.” He pulled the brush through Grendel’s tail too hard and the animal whinnied. He appeared with a stamp of feet. “Sorry.” The creature, quite annoyed, trotted across the paddock to his haystack. Lupin patted Harry on the shoulder.
“Harry, I’m sorry. I wasn’t fast enough. I was the only person to volunteer for the job in the time there was. I’ve cried myself to sleep more nights than I want to admit. What else do you want to know?”
Harry shrugged. He whistled to Grendel, who turned his hindquarters to him. The night was just getting better and better. What was he supposed to say? That the only reason any of this happened was because he pushed Sev into letting him come to Diagon Alley? The Death Eaters might not go after Snape on his own; there was every chance they wanted to sit back and watch him suffer from… whatever they did. “Nothing. Wasn’t your fault.” He put up the brush and started to climb back over the fence.
“Harry?” Something in that soft voice made him look back.
“We still friends?”
Harry paused but nodded, not quite meeting Lupin’s steady gaze. The man’s worn, faded blue robe flapped in a sudden breeze. He looked like a ghost. “G’night, Remus.” Lupin looked surprised at the familiarity. His face broke into a slow smile.
“Sleep well, Harry.”
The first day of classes was a nightmare. Harry could barely keep his eyes open, despite the ocean of students bombarding him with questions. Sev must have tried a fractional dose of Draught the night before because he’d had another attack. It was the first since he’d begun taking the potion. Harry nearly ran for Madam Pomfrey when he started screaming at the top of his lungs that he was going to kill Harry. It wasn’t Harry he wanted to kill, of course; it was the mysterious Eversor. That still didn’t stop him from nearly strangling the only person near enough to grab. Thank god high-necked robes were in style. For the life of him, Harry couldn’t figure out what Sev’s great-grandfather did to make him react like that. The whole experience might not have been so bad, but the potion wouldn’t wear off. It took a good three hours to settle him down; Harry had been afraid to leave him. He slumped against his elbow and nearly knocked over an inkwell.
“Um… Mister Potter?” A round pair of chocolate brown eyes peeked shyly up at him. “Can you help me?”
He peered. “Nadja, right?” He was rewarded with a bashful grin. “Call me Harry. Everybody does.” It struck him that those were almost the same words Hagrid had introduced himself with years before. Forcing a smile, he asked, “What can I help you with?”
“I can’t find the book I need.” She held up a piece of parchment. Hmm, apparently Sev wasn’t doing too well today either. “Cranky as Hell” was the phrase that sprang to mind. “I… I kinda blew up my cauldron. Professor Snape wants me to do a report.” Harming Hand: An In-Depth Analysis of Twenty Common Potion-Making Disasters wasn’t exactly easy reading, especially for a first year. Sev, naturally, had lapped it up. Harry motioned for Nadja to follow him.
He quickly located the book on the top shelf of the vast Potions section. Grumbling, he trundled the ladder over. Irma had charmed all of the books so they couldn’t be removed from the shelves with magic. It prevented accidents, she said. “Was his eye twitching when he assigned that thing?”
Harry winced. “Cranky as Hell” it was. “Ugh. I’m sorry.” He was going to have to talk to Sev about this. “How much detention do you have?” he asked as he started up the ladder.
“He didn’t say anything about it.” Harry looked back in surprise. Nadja’s dark face had taken on a distinct red tint. “Am I gonna have to have detention with him too?”
Harry looked down the row of books. Ah, there it was. “I don’t think so. Professor Snape’s pretty straightforward about it.” He pulled the thick book from the shelf and started down. Halfway there, a rush of dizziness hit him and he nearly fell off the ladder. Nadja squeaked.
“Are you okay?” He blinked hard, trying to shake himself back to focus. A dull headache had throbbed on one side of his head all morning; now it flared.
“Yeah. Just a little tired.”
“Oh.” He reached the floor and handed her the book. She looked around and conspiratorially whispered, “I wouldn’t get much sleep with him yelling like that, either.” Huh? Had the soundproofing charms failed?
She clutched the book to her chest. Nadja looked more like eight than eleven and it dwarfed her. “All he did in class was yell at us. Last night Nicky,” the fifth year Ravenclaw, Harry remembered, “said you two were… um, that you’re in the same room.” She looked apologetic, and a little embarrassed. “I didn’t know if he’s like that all the time.”
Harry breathed in relief. He smiled at her. “He’s not. Just do everything he says in class, and try not to make any more cauldrons blow up. No guarantees, though.” She nodded solemnly.
“He sounds like a bitch.”
It took rather a lot of control not to crack up. Harry had to put a hand over his mouth and “cough”. It made the headache significantly worse. When he was sure he could respond with some composure he said, “Don’t say that in front of him or he’ll definitely give you detention.” He smirked at Nadja, and she gave him another shy smile. In a minute he’d checked the book out to her and she tiptoed away. He cracked a grin. Oh, Professor Snape, you sexy bitch.
During class period he helped Irma catalogue yet another new shipment of books. He was halfway up a ladder, trying to fit just one more in the crowded Divination section, when the next dizzy spell hit. Irma came running at the crash of books, Harry’s death warrant glinting in her eye. “Harry!” He looked up in her general direction. With the aid of the ladder she helped him to his feet. “What happened?”
“Got a little dizzy.” She touched the sore spot on his forehead. Air hissed through her teeth.
“Off to Poppy with you. Don’t worry about the rest of the day.” He tried to protest that he was fine, but she brushed him off. “If that concussion of yours is still bothering you I want you to rest.”
“I’ll be okay.”
She folded her arms and frowned. “Should I take this up with Severus?” He gave her a look of total disbelief.
“Oh, come on, Irma! It’s not like I took a header off a broomstick.” She made a noise. “You don’t need to notify my next of kin!”
“I may if you don’t have a damned good reason for dropping my books.” She glared pointedly at the mess of hardbacks.
He rolled his eyes. “Fine. I’m going.” She followed Harry and helped him on with his cloak.
“Don’t go too fast. I don’t want the best assistant I’ve had in a decade to fall out a window.” He smiled faintly. He more or less clung to the wall all the way to the hospital wing. He really was quite dizzy, and his head throbbed. The fall must have made it worse. He staggered in to find Madam Pomfrey bandaging up a first year’s ankle. Ah, flying lessons must have started. She looked up to see who was behind her and nearly dropped the poor little Slytherin.
“Harry!” Before he could say a word she’d pulled his cloak off and was tucking him into bed.
“I fell off a ladder in the library. I’m a little dizzy.” She poked at the point of impact on his forehead. The other side of his head hurt more. It was getting a little hard to move his neck, but he didn’t want her to see the telltale marks. Sev was in enough trouble without being accused of battery.
“You’re white as a sheet. Stay here, I need a different wand.” He lay back on the soft pillows. It was getting a little difficult to breathe. He needed a nap. Poppy returned and closed the curtains around the bed. She set up a quick soundproofing charm and waved the diagnostic wand over his head. Madam Pomfrey felt his neck; it made his head hurt more. She frowned. “Did you hurt your neck when you fell?”
“I don’t think so.”
She pursed her lips. “Come on, we need to loosen this collar.”
“This needs immediate treatment.” She reached around for the buttons. Harry tried to stop her but his hands didn’t want to obey properly. She pulled the high, stiff neckline loose and blanched. “I think I’ll keep you here tonight, if it’s all the same to you.”
“It’s not what you think—“
“Lay still. Be quiet.” To Harry’s surprise, she cast a body bind on him. She got up again, and quickly came back with a potion and a syringe. Harry had no idea wizards even used injections. He watched in fear as she filled the syringe with a strange red liquid. She rubbed the side of his neck with alcohol. “This is going to hurt, I’m afraid.” He tried to say something, but the charm had paralysed his jaw and vocal cords along with the rest of him. When the needle pierced his skin he was grateful lest his scream break the soundproofing and bring the school running. What was she doing, digging for an artery? Something thick popped. Silent tears rolled from his eyes, soaking into his hair and itching with heat. It felt like a long time before she applied pressure and pulled the needle out. “You’re going to be all right now.” She brushed his hair back from his face, never easing the pressure against his neck. “Nothing to worry about.” He could only stare straight ahead. His neck throbbed, pulling pain out if his head. Tiny beads of sweat broke out on his face, and ran uncomfortably down his neck. She said little soothing things but it didn’t help. Perhaps ten minutes later she picked up her wand again and flicked it, muttering. The vicious stiffness vanished.
“It was an accident,” he croaked.
“He had another fit, didn’t he?” she said sadly. Harry stared.
“How do you know about them?” Sev. This had to be what he meant when he said Madam Pomfrey couldn’t do anything else. She looked grim. She waved her wand over his neck and forehead again.
“That’s the bruises gone, at least, and the rest. How much do you know about anatomy?”
“A little. How do you know about his attacks?”
She gave him a funny look. “Severus has kept me well informed of the situation. How did this one progress far enough to give you a central carotid thrombosis with ninety-eight percent occlusion?”
“A central what?” He blinked at her. Whatever it was, it sounded bad.
“A blood clot. Cause looks to have been blunt trauma by strangulation. Am I right?”
Harry swallowed. He couldn’t look at her. “I couldn’t wake him up. He’s been taking Draught of Living Death and I think he maybe took half as much as usual. Don’t tell him I know about the potion?” She frowned, looking pensive.
“That man’s pride will be the death of us all.” Gently, she helped him out of his robe and into a soft pair of pajamas. Thick blankets made a warm cocoon. “I’m going to keep you here for a few days, and I’m going to talk to Severus about this. You rest now.” She started to rise; Harry reached for her hand.
“What did the Death Eaters do that would make him act like this?”
Madam Pomfrey blinked. “Death Eaters? He hasn’t told you?”
“Told me what?” She shook her head and sat back down.
“I’m sorry, Harry. He swore up and down that you knew.”
“Knew what?” She shushed him.
“’As much as you need to’, as he put it,” she muttered. “I guess that’s arrogant sod for ‘nothing’. How many attacks has he had, total?” She smoothed the blankets.
Harry shrugged. “Four or five?”
“At least he hasn’t lied to me about that. Harry, just listen to what I’m going to say. Severus is very, very ill. Do you remember when we tried to get you out of the way after he came back?” He nodded. His stomach was doing flip-flops. “As soon as you were gone his heart stopped. We were able to get it started again, but we couldn’t keep it beating.” She took a couple of shaky breaths. Harry huddled up on himself. “A few years ago, when Professor Quirrell killed those unicorns, Severus harvested the corpses. He made a potion – a highly experimental one – just in case it was ever needed. One of the major ingredients was blood from those unicorns. He gave me strict instructions never to use it on anyone until it had been tested on him. I told him it was out of the question. To even test something like that defies all of my training, but when I saw the way you wouldn’t let go of him, and then he… died as soon as you were gone… I guess I’m just a romantic old fool.” She stuck a pink fingernail in her mouth and chewed. It was a very childish thing for no-nonsense Madam Pomfrey to do. “He’d found the formula in some Medieval scroll – it might have been older than that, I really don’t remember – that said it neutralized the side effects of Unicorn Blood. We don’t know if the text was wrong, or if it was the way they died, but… I’m so sorry I didn’t tell you sooner. Severus swore you knew.”
A long crack ran through the middle of Harry’s soul. “I never thought I’d have to resort to Unicorn Blood potion for anyone.” It came back like a forgotten dream. He slumped against the skeletal metal headboard, not even bothering to wince as it bit into his spine. Sev had lied to him. No, to be fair, he’d lied to Madam Pomfrey and omitted the truth to Harry. Right now there didn’t seem to be much difference. “So what’s going to happen?” he asked in too steady a voice.
Poppy twisted her mouth. “I don’t know. Undiluted Unicorn Blood makes a person relive his or her memories on top of reality. Eventually, they can’t tell the two apart, but the process takes six months at most. It’s called Sanguinoform Pseudoschizophrenia. It’s, erm, not got the best prognosis, I have to tell you. Professor Quirrell was lucky enough to die before it really set in. Severus isn’t anywhere near that level of severity.” She gave him a hopeful, questioning look. Harry said nothing. It seemed good enough to her. “Does he sleep at all without a potion?”
“Ah. I’ll make a note of that. How’s your head?”
“S’okay.” The raw wound in the middle of his chest was another matter entirely.
“Can I get you anything?” He shook his head. Madam Pomfrey smoothed the blankets around him and stood up. “I have other patients who need tending, I’m sorry. If you think of anything give us a yell?” Harry nodded slightly. His neck twinged. With another mutter, she broke the soundproofing charm and hurried out, leaving the curtains in place. Harry turned on his side, hugging himself. Despite his exhaustion, he couldn’t sleep. For a long time he thought about what Madam Pomfrey said, and how Sev had been acting and his efforts not to show that anything was wrong, and tried to come up with why. Was this part of what would hurt him more to know? He sincerely hoped not – it so clearly wasn’t true! It explained Sev’s obsessive research, though, and the Latin. Wasn’t it used in the Middle Ages? He was torn between fury, hurt, and absolute terror. Harry realised sadly he didn’t know whom he was more frightened for.
A hand on his arm pulled him out of an extended memory of the fight that had sent him back to the tower. “Are you awake, Harry?” He nodded. “You’ve got a visitor.” Harry gave a harsh sigh. He rolled over, expecting Sev to tower above him with an authoritarian glare.
“Hello.” Two big brown eyes peeked between the curtains. A small hand poked in and waved a brightly coloured box. “I brought you a Chocolate Frog.”
Harry couldn’t help letting his mouth quirk into a wry smile. “Aw, thanks, Nadja. What are you doing here?”
“I had to get another book for Charms, and Madam Pince said you were sick. Did you fall off the ladder again?” An astute one, this girl. Harry wasn’t surprised she’d gone into Ravenclaw. He nodded. His neck burned. “You need to tell Professor Snape to stop yelling so much.”
He rubbed his eyes under his glasses. “I’ll try, but I don’t think it’ll do any good.” She crept in a little ways and dropped the candy on the foot of his bed.
“Um, I need to go eat lunch. I hope you feel better soon.” Harry smiled at her, and she shyly returned it before slipping out. Her shoes made a shushing sound on the white tile floor. He noticed Madam Pince’s slightly surprised expression.
“Sev’s first punishment of the year. She’s doing a report.”
“Ah.” Her calm reaction struck a chord. Snape might not give much detention anymore. After all, look what happened last time. “Can I get you anything?”
“Yeah, ask Irma to send up my Latin books?” he said without thinking. Harry cringed inside. Why would he still study it after what Severus did?
“I think that might be a bit much for you this afternoon.”
“Why?” Her objection irked him. The stubbornness he’d inherited from his father insisted that, yes, he did want those books, thank you very much. “You said yourself that I’ll be fine. It can’t be that serious.” Madam Pince’s lips thinned.
“If you hadn’t come here when you did, you might be dead by now.”
“I’m feeling much better.”
She rolled her eyes. “One book. And I’m taking it away after an hour so you can sleep.” Harry smirked.
… The unicorn ran faster, blood pouring from its throat in a trail of stars. Harry tried to keep up but the ache in his legs slowed him, nearly stopped him. Suddenly, Grendel crashed to the ground and whickered. The thestral blended perfectly with the surrounding night. He climbed on the animal’s back, legs resting in front of those great wings, and his stomach dropped out as they took flight. Far below him, the woods were dark and foreboding and it was difficult to see the tiny trail of stars. He wasn’t the best Seeker Hogwarts had produced in a century for nothing, though. At the first tiny flicker of light in the obfuscating darkness he leaned forward and guided the thestral towards it. In the distance he heard shouting. It didn’t seem quite real, not like this. Something in the forest screamed. Grendel hit the ground, hard, sending Harry rolling through ferns and mud. His head hurt for some reason – it must be the fall. When Harry looked up the unicorn was dead, its legs frozen in mid-gallop. Something was in the groundcover with him. It slid like a snake. It wasn’t a snake, though, because he couldn’t understand the steady hiss. Suddenly, a huge, hooded thing reared up over the unicorn’s body like a cobra. He couldn’t scream. It lunged and the still air was filled with soft sucking sounds. The distant shouts grew louder, but he still couldn’t make out what they said. Grendel snorted. The hooded thing froze. It looked up. Sev’s mouth dripped mercury, and his eyes were like mirrors—
Someone gently removed his glasses, and a moment later eased the book from his hands. Harry recognized the cool touch that wiped chocolate from the side of his mouth. Were it not for the image still so fresh in his brain, Harry might have looked up. No, not when there was a chance those black eyes would be silvered over. Not when there might be blood like stars dribbling from those narrow lips. “Harry?” Sev’s voice was low. Silence. A thin finger traced his hairline. Harry didn’t know if he wanted it to stay or go away. He heard something heavy settle on the table near his head. The cold finger lifted and the curtains around his bed swished.
Harry opened his eyes. A jar of cherries glowed in the muted sunlight; their juice looked like blood. He stared miserably. “You greasy bastard,” he whispered, face twisted with rage and blind forgiveness. “You utter, utter greasy bastard.”
This is not, I repeat, NOT the end of the story. More coming soon! Remember, 130,000 words. Doesn’t all fit into seven chapters, ya know.
I know, I know, the meter on the Sorting Hat’s song is strange in places. I get bored with plain iambic pentameter (or quatrameter, or triameter, or…), though, and I’ve never been one to stick perfectly to the pattern unless I’m forced to. It’s caused my English teachers no end of headaches. Eh, who wants to sound like every other poet on Earth?
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