Chapter 42

A Dash of Asphodel

Harry spent the rest of the night in the common room, hoping to catch Hermione on her way downstairs the next day. When she saw him sleeping in a chair by the fireplace in the morning, she smiled softly, and went to shake him gently.

"Harry?" she brushed his bangs away from his forehead, causing him to open his eyes.

"Hello," he whispered, his voice slightly hoarse. His joints ached, which certainly told him not to sleep in a chair all night again.

"Oh, Harry," Hermione whispered, wrapping her arms around him. "I'm so sorry about last night. I…I over reacted."

Harry smiled. "I know you're scared, Hermione," he told her, as she kissed him.

"I just don't want to loose you. You're still not well, and I'm…" she hiccoughed. "I'm scared."

He held her, stroking her hair. "Everything'll be fine," he told her softly. "Everyone's protecting me. Dumbledore, especially." He frowned, remembering the headmaster's attitude towards the incidents revolving around the Quidditch World Cup. Was Professor Dumbledore really able to protect him anymore? After all, Barty Crouch Jr. entered Hogwarts undetected and disguised as Mad-Eye Moody; surely Voldemort could do something worse, now that he was fully human. Or, if you could even call him that.

Still…he rested his chin on Hermione's shoulder, just as the other students were coming out of their dormitories, many still half asleep as they stumbled down the steps. Erin and Jess came after Colin and Dennis Creevey, and immediately the two first year girls dashed over to Hermione, giving her enormous hugs.

"We are so sorry about last night, Hermione," Jess apologized, staring at the sixth year girl with wide eyes. "We didn't mean to upset you. We were just joking around."

Hermione smiled at them, as Lavender and Ron came over.

"Is there anything we can do to make it up to you?" Erin asked, chewing awkwardly on the edge of her nail.

Hermione shook her head ."No," she told them. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have gotten all bent out of shape about it. It's okay," she promised, when they both started to proest. Harry coughed as Hermione stood, pulling him to his feet.

"Come on," Ron encouraged, pointing towards the portrait hole, which was open as everyone made their way through it. Harry coughed again, massaging his chest, and received a look of concern from Lavender.

"Are you sick?' she asked, and harry shook his head.

"No," he replied, allowing Hermione to lift his backpack for him. "I've got it," he promised, swinging it over his shoulder. When he was settled, he took Hermione's hand, causing her to let out an, "Eek!" with surprise as they reached the portrait hole at last.

"Your hands are frozen!" she gasped. "I don't think sleeping in a chair all night long is good for you. Don't do it again," she ordered, noticing just how pale he seemed compared to the other day. They made their way out of the common room, where Jess and Erin met up with a few other Ravenclaw first years they were friends with, and hurried on ahead in a group to the Great Hall.

"You slept downstairs?" Lavender asked, and Hermione nodded.

"It's a long story," she replied, as Harry kissed her.

When they entered the Great Hall, it was filling up quickly with students, and already, the food was sitting on the long tables, ready to be eaten. Breakfast itself was a rather quiet affair; Harry didn't feel much like starting conversation, and it was uncomfortable to have Hermione, Ron and Lavender staring at him everytime he coughed.

"Will you calm down?" he told them, nibbling on a piece of toast.

"Oh no!" Erin's cry of alarm from down the other end of the table startled them, and they turned.

"What's wrong?" Lavender called, and Erin showed Lavender her course schedule.

"I have flying lessons today!" she looked terrified, and Jess giggled.

"Ooh," she replied, "I forgot about that! We've had Madame Hooch earlier this past week, but it was only introduction. The conditions were much too awful for flying in. She was going over the importance of needing to learn how to fly, and blah blah blah. Today we're actually going to actually do it! I'm so excited! I'm hoping to try out for Quidditch when it starts again!"

Harry smiled at her. "Are you afraid of heights?" he asked Erin, who seemed to have lost all interest in her eggs and kipper.

"Oh come on," Jess encouraged. "It's fun, flying is!"

"Isn't it dangerous?" Erin asked, and Hermione looked at her. "I mean, broomsticks aren't very stable, are they? Couldn't you possibly slide off the end if you go too fast?"

"I don't like it much either," she admitted, "but it's required of witches and wizards to learn, because we're not able to apparate until we're of age and have a license."

"But there are other methods of transportation, aren't there?" Erin asked. "I mean, a witch flying on a broomstick is so…stereotypical!"

"What were you thinking of?" Jess asked. "Other transportation we have is the Knight Bus…"

Ron sniggered, "oh, the Knight Bus is considered a good alternative?" he sniggered, as Harry broke into coughing again, immediately reaching for his goblet of pumpkin juice.

"That sounds healthy," Jess told him, frowning. "You should see the nurse, Harry…you look flushed."

Hermione felt his forehead just to be on the safe side, and sighed with relief. "You don't have a fever, so that's good," she told him. "Does anything else hurt?"

He looked at her, still drinking from his goblet. "Well, my back hurts…and my neck, but that's not surprising, considering I slept sitting up all night."

"You know what I read about in herbology that might be good for you, Harry?" Neville spoke up suddenly, and everyone turned to him. "Asphodel. I read that when mixed with wine, it can actually help a cough. Madame Pomfrey might be able to make you some, or Professor Sprout, if you have herbology today."

Hermione looked at Harry. "That's an interesting idea," she said, and Ron raised an eyebrow.

"Mixed with wine?" he asked, and Lavender nudged him.

"Oh please, Ron, a little wine won't kill him," she insisted. "I have wine with dinner all the time when I'm at home."

"Oh aren't you lucky, then?" Ron asked, and she kissed him.

"That cough does sound kind of bad," Erin added, digging through her bag. "Maybe you can try one of these," she added, handing him a miniature box.

"What is it?" he croaked, and she popped the lid, revealing a mound of hard, round, red candies.

"Cough drops I picked up from the apothecary in Diagon Alley," she explained. "They taste like cherry. Go on, take one."

Harry gratefully plucked one from the box, and, after thanking her, popped it into his mouth.

"Is that all you're eating, Harry?" Lavender asked, noticing his plate was still empty. Usually, Harry piled on as much as he could stomach at breakfast, and Ron was currently shoveling food in as though he were a trash compactor. "Are you even tasting anything?" she laughed, and he stuck out his tongue. "Okay, thanks," she cringed, and he smirked.

"I'm hungry," he told her. "cant a guy enjoy breakfast in peace?"

"Try to eat something else, Harry," Hermione encouraged, rubbing his back. "A bowl of porridge? Here, try a hot cake!" she cut a piece of her blueberry pancake, and offered it to him.

"Hermione, I'm not really that hungry this morning," he admitted, and he rested his head in his arms.

"We're taking you to the hospital wing," she told him. "Right now. Come on, Harry."

"No," he croaked, and she glanced at Lavender and Ron, who were watching him with worried expressions. "Hermione, I didn't sleep very well last night," he insisted.

"Then go on back to bed." She kissed him. "In bed," she added, and he shook her head.

"I can't start making a habit of missing classes this early in the term," he muttered, and she sighed.

"Harry, listen to me. Either you go to Madame Pomfrey and hear what she has to say, or you march right back to the tower and get some sleep. I'm not giving you a choice other than that, Harry. You're not feeling well today, and I'm not letting it get out of hand."

Ron sniggered into his pumpkin juice at Harry's astonished expression, and Lavender winked.

"Fine," he told her with a sigh. "I'll go and see Madame Pomfrey. But you're coming with me," he added, and she nodded.

"I will," she promised, and glanced at Lavender and Ron. "We'll see you later, then?" she asked, and Lavender nodded, waving as Hermione wrapped an arm around Harry's waist for support, leading him out of the Great Hall.

Luckily the infirmary was empty, except for the nurse herself, who was muttering to herself and straightening the sheets on the cots. "Madame Pomfrey?" Hermione asked, startling the older woman, who jumped. "Oh, sorry!" she apologied, and the nurse put a hand over her heart.

"You gave me a fright!" she gasped. "Oh, it's you again?" she asked, smiling.

"Yeah," Harry replied, letting out another deep cough. She clucked her tongue, and ordered him to sit down.

"You don't have to…" Madame Pomfrey began, looking at Hermione, but Hermione shook her head.

"He wants me to stay with him," she said stubbornly, and the nurse sighed.

"Well, all right. Now tell me, Potter, what's ailing you this morning?"

Harry shrugged. "Well, I haven't been able to stop coughing since I woke up," he explained. "And I'm not very hungry, either."

"Are you experiencing any other symptoms? Chills? Headache? Stuffiness?"

Harry shook his head. "No," he replied.

"His hands are like ice, though," Hermione pointed out, rubbing them vigorously, and, after Madame Pomfrey felt his free one, she nodded.

"Yes, they are." She felt Harry's forehead as Hermione had done earlier, and frowned.

"Mmmm." She put her hands on her hips. "This is certainly one stubborn cold. I'm starting to get a bit worried, myself," she told him.

"Could he be relapsing?" Hermione asked, wishing his hands would warm up.

"Giving the symptoms he's told us about, I don't think so," she replied. "Though that cough worries me. I'll mix up some asphodel and wine together and see if that helps. Clearly the pepper-up potion only did so much," she said. Hermione and Harry looked at each other with amusement, remembering Neville's advice at breakfast.

"Sure," Harry insisted. "Hermione, you should go to class," he whispered, checking the time. "You're running late."

She shrugged. "I want to make sure you're all right," she said. "I won't be able to concentrate, otherwise. Besides," she added, "It's Professor Flitwick. I'm sure he'll understand."

Harry nodded, having to restrain himself from kissing her in front of Madame Pomfrey.

"This will take about twenty minutes to make, Potter," Madame Pomfrey told him. "I have to strain the wine, and brew the asphodel. You may lay down for a spell. Miss Granger, I insist you get onto class…there really isn't much you can do here, dear," Madame Pomfrey told her, and Hermione pouted. "He'll be in good hands with me, I promise."

"Go," he told her. "I'll be okay."

"Oh Harry," Hermione sighed, and then nodded. "All right, all right. I love you. Thank you, Madame Pomfrey," she added, and the nurse gave a little wave. When Hermione left, Harry slid under the thin covers, feeling considerably warmer once he was under them.

"Madame Pomfrey?" he asked, pulling the blankets to his neck, "I was talking to Sirius over the winter holiday, and he said there's a possibility I won't get better from the illness I had this summer and last year."

Madame Pomfrey glanced at him. "He did, mmm?" she asked, and Harry nodded.

"I haven't felt well since this summer. I feel like I'm getting weaker rather than stronger, in fact. I mean, I have good days and I have bad ones, but…"

The nurse used her wand to heat a small cauldron, and, after filling it with water, began mixing the asphodel leaves into it. "Your godfather told me about the bad fever you had over the summer holiday before you were brought to me," she told him, uncorking a bottle of wine. Harry raised an eyebrow; he wondered how many professors and other staff members had alcohol hidden away in their rooms or offices. He knew for a fact that Dumbledore kept a stash of brandy in his office, because he'd offered it to Mad-Eye Moody on several occasions during his fourth year.

"Yeah," Harry told her, shuddering at the memory.

"Well, no doubt that fever damaged your heart, Harry. You're more susceptible to what comes through the school. Most students would get over a cold in a day or two after taking pepper-up, but you unfortunately, take a longer time to recover." She poured a good amount of the white wine into a goblet, and began to stir it with a spoon. "This is legal, I assure you," she laughed, as she poured the wine into another contraption. "Oh, I forgot to ask you, dear, how did your first rehearsal go last night?"

Harry sniggered. "Well, awful," he admitted.

"Really?" she looked at him.

"Of course, we only read from our scripts, but Snape…sorry…Professor Snape…he thought we did terrible."

Madame Pomfrey gave a snort, as she tapped the strange contraption with her wand. "What can he expect from a group of students who have never taken up acting in their lives?" she asked. "Harry, don't fret. I'm sure everything will turn out wonderfully. I am personally thrilled by the idea of the production; we needed the arts introduced to Hogwarts!"

Harry raised an eyebrow—personally, he would rather have Quidditch practice than anything in the world. Though he was glad Hermione was getting to try something she enjoyed; usually, the students at Hogwarts focused so much attention around the Quidditch matches, and she had very little interest at all in the sport. She only came to watch the games, because Harry and Ron were playing…she was their support.

"Here, we are." She eventually poured the final contents into another goblet, and carried it over to Harry. "Now, it's a bit strong, but you've had Skelegrow, which is probably the worst of the concoctions you'll ever have to take from me."

Harry smiled weakly at her, struggling to sit up against the headboard. He took a deep breath, easing the edge of the goblet to his lips. The harsh scent of asphodel startled him, and he was dreading what it would taste like.

"Down the hatch, then." Madame Pomfrey clapped her hands twice, and Harry shakily took down the medicine as fast as he could. When he was finished, he groaned, craving water.

"There now. That wasn't so bad, was it?" Madame Pomfrey gave him some water to wash out the taste, and then felt his forehead again.

"You should stay here and sleep for a little while," she encouraged.

"No," Harry told her. "I'll be fine. I really have to get to class." He tried to sit up, but felt a wave of dizziness past over him, and she eased him back against the pillows.

"I'll wake you in a few hours, Harry. You need your rest," she added, and, defeated, Harry snuggled down against the mattress and soft, fluffy pillows.

Madame Pomfrey didn't wake Harry until lunch, which meant that he had missed Herbology and Charms. He felt considerably better after being able to sleep properly, and his hands weren't so cold anymore.

"Have a good rest of the afternoon, Potter," Madame Pomfrey told him as he left, heading for the Great Hall for the second time that day. He was grateful to be feeling considerably hungrier than he had.

"Hey," Ron called, when he entered. "Where have you been?" He and Ron had Herbology together. "Was everything okay with the nurse?"

Harry nodded. "Yeah, it was okay. I took some medicine and she let me sleep for a few hours. Where's Hermione?"

"She said she had to go to the library," Ron said, "and Lavender went with her. She had some stuff to look up for her Arithmancy homework."

Harry nodded, sitting down at the table. It had been a while since he and Ron spent time together without their girlfriends in tow, though Harry had to admit, it felt so…strange, without Hermione sitting right beside him.

"Good to see you eating again," Ron told him as he snagged a sandwich and a handful of crisps from the bowl in the center. "What'd she give you, anyway, Madame Pomfrey?"

Harry smirked. "Wine and asphodel."

Ron snorted into his pudding. "Neville must be getting extra lessons from him, then." He rolled his eyes. "This is weird, okay, I admit it!" he raised his arms. "No girls!"

Harry laughed. "What do you say we surprise them in the library?" he suggested.

"Oh this is pathetic," Ron smirked. "we cant even spend time alone together without thinking of them!" he finished the last of his food. "Remember when we had a hard time getting dates for the Yule Ball? Blimey, why didn't Hermioine and Lavender come along then, eh?"

"Well, Hermione had been there all along," Harry told him. "We just never really thought of her as well, a dating type…probably because we kept thinking she was one of us…one of the guys or something."

"You came around faster than I did," Ron admitted, and Harry grinned.

"You didn't come up empty handed either," he replied, and Ron raised an eyebrow. "Though you and I have to go out and practice Quidditch one of these days, so we're not rusty when practice starts up again next year."

Ron nodded. "Yeah, sounds good. I miss flying regularly. Ready to head to the library, then?" he asked, and Harry slipped an apple into the pocket of his robes. He was sure Hermione had decided not to eat lunch…she tended to put her schoolwork in front of the essential meal sometimes, which amused him.

When they arrived in the library, they found Hermione with her nose buried in an enormous book, frantically scribbling notes on a piece of parchment. She let out a groan frustration, and flipped the page once, and then back again. Lavender wasn't there, but Ron mouthed for Harry to sneak up behind Hermione. Ron tiptoed down one of the empty isles of books, as Harry walked very quietly around the back of Hermione's chair.

"Hungry?" he asked, presenting the apple to her. She shrieked, covering her mouth with her hands, and receiving strange looks from the other students sitting around her. Madame Pince, also, gave her a distinctly annoyed look, and, with a loud, "SHHHH!" went back to stamping books again.

"Harry!" Hermione whispered, once she calmed down. "What are you doing here?"

Harry sat down in the empty seat, and handed the apple to her. "Well, Ron told me you were here, and I decided to come and surprise you." He kissed her.

"So…what did Madame Pomfrey say?" Hermione asked, once Ron tiptoed out from behind another isle. Lavender was in the next one over, and she peered through a space in the books when she swore she saw him.

"Ron?" she hissed, and he came right up to the shelf.

"Hello," he said, and she raised an eyebrow.

"What are you…" Ron kissed her between the books, which nearly toppled to the floor. Laughing, both of them came out from the isle, and Hermione glanced over her shoulder.

"What can we say?" Ron said. "We can't live with out you."

At that moment, Jess and Erin came into the library, both looking surprised at seeing the other four. Erin, though, looked even more terrified than she had at breakfast; her face was so white, it almost appeared to have been painted. "Had your lesson, eh?" Ron asked, and Erin squeaked.

"What happened to your head?" Lavender gasped, noticing a ghastly bruise forming on her younger cousin's forehead.

"Flew into a tree," Jess growled, and Ron immediately began laughing.

"Ron!" Lavender growled. "She could have been really hurt!"

"It was actually funny, really," Jess admitted. "I was distracted by a bunch of pretty birds, and I wanted to fly closer and get a better look at what kind they were. Unfortunately, I missed that tree and flew smack into another."

"How did Erin do?" Hermione asked, certain that the other girl was not going to speak anytime soon.

"Panicked about three feet in the air," Jess replied.

"Kind of like Neville did in our first year, remember?" Hermione asked Harry, clucking her tongue. "When he kicked off too soon, and ended up hanging from the astronomy tower?"

"I…I don't like it," Erin wailed. "I don't want to fly again, ever!"

Lavender came and gave her a hug, patting her shoulder. "It takes practice, but you'll get better at it. It's a really good skill to have," she said, and Jess grinned at her friend.

"I take it you won't be trying out for Quidditch with me, then?" she asked, and Erin gave her a murderous glare. "What, I was kidding!"

Hermione nudged Harry. "Would it help if Harry gave you a hug?" she asked, and Harry glanced at her with amusement. Erin stared.

"Hey!" Jess gasped. "If Erin gets one, can I get one too?"

"Jess, for once, can't you keep your mouth shut?" Lavender asked, clamping a hand over her cousin's lips.

"I suppose so," Erin replied softly, and Harry, though rather reluctantly, gave Erin a small hug.

"Me next!" Jess mumbled through Lavender's fingers, and Harry grinned.

"Oh go on, Lavender, let her have a go," Ron teased, and Harry raised his arms.

"What, are you going to start auctioning off hugs from me, now?" he asked, giving Jess a hug as well. When he finally sat down again, Jess stared.

"Wow," she said softy, "for a guy, you really have a weak hug there."

"Jess, please!" Lavender begged. "Shut it, will you?"

Jess looked at her. "What? I was just saying…it's unusual."

"It's unusual?" Erin asked, nudging Jess's arm, and the younger girl stared.

"Oooh," she breathed. "Shutting up. C'mon, Erin, let's go and start er…looking for those books we'll need for Snape's essay." She pulled her friend away, and they disappeared down another isle. Lavender placed a hand against her forehead, leaning her back against the table.

"It's all my fault," she said. "I was the one who suggested Jess go and sit with Erin on the first day. I didn't know this would happen."

Hermione laughed. "No, you did a good thing, really," she insisted. "Sometimes it's hard to make friends your first year. It was good you introduced them. Only, I wish I'd gotten to them first before Fred and George…"

Lavender groaned, and Ron smirked. "All right, all right," he said. "Lavender, do you really need to be in the library right now? We only have a half hour until classes."

"Ronald, unlike you, some people actually care about their schoolwork," Lavender retorted. "I have to work on my Divination assignments."

"A half hour, Lavender!" Ron was pleading, and she gave a heavy sigh, looking down at what she'd accomplished.

"This is my life," she told Harry and Hermioine. "Schoolwork and snogging. All right, you're lucky…I'm nearly done, so I can finish the rest of it tonight. See you at dinner!" she called, and, after packing her stuff up, drug Ron out of the library once she checked out her books from Madame Pince. Once they were gone, Hermione leaned in and kissed Harry on the lips.

"I'm nearly done my essay," she whispered, tugging on his robes. "And Ron's right…we do still have a half hour."

"Mmmm." Harry smiled. "Homework and snogging. I like the sound of that." He winked, tickling Hermione's sides gently. "If you're sure you want to stop working," he added, and Hermione grinned.

"Sure. Let me just finish this once sentence, and we'll go and make out for a bit." She put the finishing touch on her paragraph, and, after returning her books, she and Harry dashed out of the library, where she shoved him into nearest corner.