A/N: Hello everyone! It's finally done! I've got another nice long chapter for you all! This one gave me some difficulties, but I think I'm finally satisfied with the final product. I hope you all enjoy!

The potions master found himself gazing out into the moonlit sky somewhere on the third floor that night. All of his strongest occlumency shields were firmly in place, and his outward expression was perfectly neutral.

"Severus?" a surprised voice sounded from the other end of the hall.

The man did not move as Professor McGonagall moved towards him. "Minerva," he replied evenly, still looking out the window.

"What are you doing here?" the woman continued. "It isn't your night to patrol."

"I am not patrolling," Severus responded. "I am merely taking a walk."

"This late?"

"Yes," the man replied brusquely, finally turning away from the window to begin stalking down the corridor. He wasn't the least bit surprised when the Gryffindor Head of House followed after him.

"How did your classes go today?" Minerva asked, walking a bit faster to keep pace with the potions master.

Severus murmured something unintelligible under his breath before offering a reply. "Fantastic, Minerva. Absolutely fantastic."

"Really? Because several of my students expressed concern for your wellbeing today."

"I am in no mood for jokes, Minerva," Severus sneered, rolling his eyes.

"I am being completely serious, Severus," the woman replied. "Apparently, you didn't make any snide remarks or take a single house point today. And when Mr. Longbottom's potion boiled over, you merely vanished the mess and dismissed the class without so much as raising your voice."

Severus grumbled. "Well, I can certainly yell at the little miscreants the next time I see them if it'll make them feel better."

Minerva merely raised her eyebrows in response.

"Yes, well, speaking of yelling," the witch stated then, "after the tongue-lashings you reportedly gave Albus and Poppy, I rather expected to receive my own visit from you at some point today."

"Is that so?" Severus sounded disinterested.

"It is," Minerva pressed on. "As Harry's head of house, I should have—"

"I do not wish to discuss this at the moment," Severus interrupted.

"Now, Severus—"

"No," the man reiterated firmly. "Perhaps I'll stop by your office tomorrow and rant and rave and yell, Minerva…But for now, I would really just appreciate some peace."

And with that, the man paused in the middle of the corridor to stare out of another window.

The woman sighed. "Of course, Severus. Forgive me. May I join you on your walk?"

Severus let out his own sigh then. "If you must."

And so the pair continued down the dark corridor together, a companionable silence hanging between them.

Harry stared in shock and horror at the scene playing out before him. It felt like he was trapped in a nightmare, despite knowing he was really inside the fifty-year-old memory of Tom Riddle.

After being sucked into the diary, Harry had been following the older boy around his memory of Hogwarts for several minutes now. Riddle kept generally to the shadows, though the corridors seemed mostly deserted. He was clearly on a mission of some sort. And apart from being waylaid for a brief moment by a much younger Professor Dumbledore and one of the man's signature scrutinizing gazes, Riddle had made it to his destination relatively quickly and without running into any other students or staff.

But now the older boy had his wand out. And he was pointing it inside a broom cupboard and directly at another boy that Harry immediately recognized to be a young Hagrid. Harry was barely able to register what Tom Riddle was saying to the half-giant. Just moments after the cupboard door had burst open, a large black creature had scurried from the room and down the hall, and Harry had instinctively jumped out of the way as Riddle triumphantly declared that he had caught Hagrid red-handed.

"No!" Harry shouted, as he saw Hagrid huddled in the small room, stuttering his denials pleadingly to Riddle.

But of course neither Riddle nor Hagrid could hear him. And suddenly, Harry really, really wanted to leave.

"Okay, I've seen enough! Let me out!" Harry shouted at Riddle.

But Riddle was still entirely focused on Hagrid. "You'll be expelled for this Hagrid," he was saying. "And that monster of yours will be destroyed."

"You're wrong!" Harry yelled in frustration. "It wasn't him! Let me out!"

Harry attempted to grab at Tom Riddle then, but his hand traveled straight through the older boy's arm.

But just as Harry began silently berating himself for behaving so foolishly inside a memory where no one could see or hear him, Tom Riddle suddenly turned to meet his gaze as the scene around them began to fade.

Harry immediately felt a shiver go down his spine. The two of them were now surrounded on all sides by a thick gray fog. And Tom Riddle was reaching out towards Harry, a single solid finger brushing against the young boy's scar.

"Ahh!" Harry gasped, his hands suddenly flying to his forehead. "What are you do—?"

"What are you?" Tom Riddle interrupted then, his voice quiet, nearly a whisper.

But before Harry had the chance to respond, the edges of his vision went fuzzy. And not a moment later, he slipped away into darkness.

Harry's eyes fluttered open and he immediately let out a groan. His head was pounding intensely, and his entire body gave a shiver despite the fact that he felt hot and sweaty all over.

Taking a moment to look around, the boy was eventually able to discern through his blurry vision that he was back in the little bedroom he was staying in at the Burrow. He was curled up on top of the mattress, and the blankets were bunched together in a heap at the end of the bed. The thoughts in his head were a little fuzzy just then. He was sure that he had been dreaming, but he couldn't remember just then what the dream had been about.

The light streaming in from the window was far too bright, and after a moment, Harry closed his eyes and turned away towards the wall. He took a deep breath and then let out another groan. He felt absolutely terrible.

Seconds later, there was a knock on the bedroom door, though the boy could have sworn that the sound was coming from inside his head and pounding against his skull. Instinctively, the child forced himself to sit up, causing a wave of dizziness and nausea to come over him. Had he overslept? His aunt and uncle hated when he overslept.

"Harry, are you awake yet?" Mr. Weasley called gently from the other side of the closed door.

Harry took a moment to clear his scratchy throat before answering. "Yes, sir. I'll get dressed right away."

"No rush," the man replied. "Molly will have breakfast on the table in a few minutes. Come down when you're ready."

"Ok," the boy responded. And a moment later, Mr. Weasley's footsteps could be heard moving away from the door and down the staircase.

Not wanting to keep the Weasleys waiting, Harry threw his legs over the side of the bed and stood up. The movement caused his already throbbing headache to stab painfully behind his eyes, and the corners of his vision momentarily went black.

For a few seconds, Harry remained completely still, waiting for the world to come back into focus. Or as much into focus as could be expected without his glasses. The boy quickly grabbed the spectacles off of the side table then and placed them on his face. And when he was finally confident that he would be able to move forward without toppling over, he carefully made his way over to his trunk so that he could select his clothes for the day.

Harry knew he should probably take a shower. He was hot and sweaty and felt especially dirty after having slept all night in his clothes from yesterday. But he didn't think he had the strength to do so at the moment. He would just have to settle for one of the freshening charms Hermione had taught him how to do. And then he could clean up properly later, just as soon as the pounding in his head subsided.

Harry practically stumbled his way down the stairs. With every step, his head throbbed, and his vision swam before him. And as the boy finally made it to the bottom of the staircase, he found himself just praying that the Weasleys didn't have any big plans for the day. Because right now, he really just wanted to go back to sleep.

Mrs. Weasley was standing at the kitchen sink, her back currently to Harry, but she turned her head slightly to the side when she heard the boy move into the room. "Good morning, Harry. Breakfast is on the table."

"Thank you, ma'am," Harry said quietly, dropping into a seat at the end of the table before his shaky limbs could cause him to collapse into a heap on the floor.

His gaze moved to the plate of eggs and bacon in front of him, and almost immediately, a fresh wave of nausea washed over him. Letting out a soft groan, the boy pushed the plate of food away and lowered his head to rest on his arms. He squeezed his eyes shut then as the world seemed to spin around him.

The child frowned a moment later, suddenly sensing something wet on his crossed arms. He raised his head slightly and blinked his eyes open. Something red was smeared across his arm. Was that…blood?

Harry's mind was growing fuzzier. He almost felt like he was drifting away into a dream. He brought a shaking hand up to his forehead and brushed his fingers across his scar.

Yes, definitely blood, the boy thought then, pulling his hand away again to reveal more red now covering his fingertips. He stared at his hand in fascination then, vaguely curious about what was causing his forehead to bleed even as a wave of exhaustion and fatigue completely enveloped his mind.

"Harry? Is everything alright?" Mrs. Weasley's concerned voice suddenly rang out, the woman finally making her way over to the table with a platter full of sausages. "Are you feeling we-?"

Mrs. Weasley's eyes suddenly widened at the sight of Harry's bloody hand, and she quickly hurried to the boy's side, dropping the platter carelessly at the end of the table.

"Harry? What happened? Are you hurt?" the woman asked urgently, reaching for the boy's hand.

Harry groaned but otherwise didn't respond. Mrs. Weasley's voice seemed too loud to the boy's ears. And though the woman continued to talk, he was having trouble understanding the words she was speaking to him.

A moment later then, Harry felt a hand brush against his sweaty forehead. And then Mrs. Weasley was raising her voice again.

"Arthur! Come quick!"

Harry let out another groan as his headache intensified, and then there was a second voice at his side as Mr. Weasley suddenly materialized.

"What's wrong?"

The voices became jumbled in Harry's head after that. He tried to understand what the adults were saying, but they were just speaking too fast for his fatigued mind to keep up.

But then Harry's brain latched onto a few words of the conversation. He distinctly heard "Madam Pomfrey" and "hospital wing." And he immediately shook his head in protest.

"No hospital wing," he interjected quietly.

"Here, drink this, dear," Mrs. Weasley brought a vial to the young boy's lips.

Harry pressed his lips together firmly and shook his head again.

"This will help with your fever," Mrs. Weasley coaxed. "And Arthur is just going to floo-call Madam Pomfrey to-"

"No," Harry practically whispered. "I want to see Professor Snape."

Mr. and Mrs. Weasley shared a glance over the boy's lowered head. And finally, Mr. Weasley gave a nod. "I'll see if I can locate him in his quarters."

Mr. Weasley strode quickly towards the fireplace then while Mrs. Weasley again held the fever reducer in front of Harry.

"This will help," the woman repeated. And as the boy finally parted his lips to allow the liquid to slide down his throat, he once again noticed the red. This time on Mrs. Weasley's hand.

"Blood," he whispered weakly.

Mrs. Weasley nodded. "Your scar is bleeding, dear. Don't worry, we'll fix you up in no time."

Harry frowned. Why would his scar be bleeding? He decided not to think too hard about it at the moment though. His head hurt far too much for that.

A few moments passed. The fever reducer didn't seem to be helping at all. In fact, Harry thought he might even be feeling sicker than just a few minutes before. And Mrs. Weasley's soothing voice seemed to be growing further and further distant, despite the fact that the woman had yet to leave his side. The boy closed his eyes and lowered his head further, until his cheek was resting on the cool surface of the table.

From a million miles away, Harry thought he heard Mrs. Weasley say something about moving to the couch. And then he felt the fabric of a cold cloth being pressed against his forehead. But he didn't feel much like moving just then. And besides, if he stayed completely still, he could just about keep the nausea at bay.

There was a sudden whooshing sound near the fireplace and, seconds later, a new but familiar voice suddenly penetrated Harry's head.

"Potter. Look at me."

The boy opened his eyes with a bit of effort to see the potions professor crouched down next to him, a frown on his face and a small crease in his forehead that Harry thought indicated the man must be worried about something.

"You came," the boy stated, a bit of surprise in his voice. As he spoke, Mrs. Weasley moved the cloth away from his forehead.

"Obviously," the man responded, reaching out to feel the boy's forehead with a cool hand.

"I'm bleeding," Harry said quietly.

"I can see that," Snape responded with a bit of his customary sarcasm. "Did you run into a wall, Mr. Potter?"

Harry shook his head slightly but stopped when it made him feel a bit dizzy. "No, sir. I don't know what happened. I just woke up like this."

It was subtle, but the look on Snape's face changed suddenly, his frown deepening and his eyes darkening ever so slightly. The man moved his hand from the boy's forehead to his cheek then, clearly deep in thought about something. "You're burning up," the potions master finally spoke again. "You should be in bed."

"He just took a fever reducer a couple minutes ago," Mrs. Weasley put in. "But I don't know that it's done any good."

"Hmm…" Snape withdrew his wand and cast a quick diagnostic spell. A small piece of parchment popped into existence right in front of him and the man promptly plucked the paper out of the air.

"Well?" Mrs. Weasley asked after a moment of silence.

"His fever is very high," Snape confirmed. "The reason for it cannot be determined as of yet. He should be moved to the hospital wing immediately."


"Do not argue with me, Potter," Snape interrupted before the boy could protest. "Now take this."

The man withdrew a potion bottle from the small bag he had brought with him and placed it in front of the young boy.

"Dreamless Sleep?" Harry raised his eyebrows.

"I'm impressed, Mr. Potter," Snape's voice dripped with sarcasm. "You didn't even need to look at the label."

Harry huffed at the insult. He had spent enough nights brewing potions with the professor to be able to recognize Dreamless Sleep on sight. "Why do you want me to take Dreamless Sleep?"

"Because in your current condition, Mr. Potter, I imagine travel by floo will be rather unpleasant. It would be far better for you if you are unconscious for the trip."

"I'm not that sick, you know," Harry responded, horrified at the scene he suddenly imagined in his mind of his limp body having to be carried through the fireplace. "I'll be fine. I don't need to go to the hospital wing. I just—"

"Mr. Potter, you are going to the hospital wing," Snape stated with a tone of finality. The man was clearly in no mood to argue. "Now either take the potion or don't. But either way we are leaving now."

Harry sighed. There was definitely a hint of concern in the man's voice. "Fine," he answered quietly, pushing himself up out of the chair and leaning heavily against the table. "I can walk."

"You can barely stand," Snape countered, stepping forward to grasp the child's arm before he could topple over. On the boy's other side, Molly Weasley still hovered, ready to step in to help at any moment.

"I managed to get to the kitchen table in one piece," Harry grumbled, even as he leaned more heavily against the potions master as they walked the short distance to the fireplace.

"A miracle, to be sure," Snape drawled, doing his best to steady the boy so he didn't collapse on the floor. And when the pair finally stood directly in front of the fireplace, Snape glanced down at the sick boy clinging to him for support and rolled his eyes towards the ceiling in exasperation. "This is your last chance, Mr. Potter. Are you sure you don't want the Dreamless Sleep?"

Harry hesitated, but eventually nodded his head. He didn't want the Weasleys or Snape to think he was completely helpless.

"Stubborn, foolish child," Snape murmured, grabbing a handful of powder from the pot on the mantel.

"We'll be right behind you," Mrs. Weasley said then, placing a hand on the boy's shoulder.

"You're coming, too?" Harry asked, confused. "But why?"

"Because we care about your wellbeing, Harry," Mr. Weasley put in, coming over to stand next to his wife. "We want to be there for you when Madam Pomfrey checks you over."

"Oh. Okay. Thank you," Harry responded quietly, clearly still confused.

But before Harry could think anymore about it, Snape gave Mr. and Mrs. Weasley a quick nod before guiding the child into the fireplace.

Harry's eyelids felt heavy.

"I think he's waking up."

"Shh. You know what Madam Pomfrey said."

"What? I can't talk at all?"

"Mr. Weasley and Miss Granger! What have I said about staying quiet?"

At those last words, Harry's eyes fluttered open. He blinked a few times in confusion before finally recognizing that he was in the hospital wing, lying in the same bed he so often occupied when he had to come here.

"Oh, now look what you've done," Madam Pomfrey said exasperatedly, depositing the bottles she had been carrying onto the bedside table as she noticed her young patient's eyes following her movements.

"Harry!" Hermione exclaimed, causing her friend's gaze to momentarily shift to where she and Ron were sitting at his bedside, watching him with concern.

Harry's hand moved to his forehead. He could feel a bandage there, right over his scar. "What happened?" he asked then, trying to remember how he came to be there. He recalled being at the Burrow. And then Snape had come to take him to the hospital wing…

"You've been quite ill today," Madam Pomfrey explained, withdrawing her wand from the pocket of her apron so that she could cast some diagnostic spells. "So ill, in fact, that you fainted on your trip through the floo network. You're very lucky that Professor Snape was there to guide you to the correct grate and keep you from falling flat on your face."

Harry groaned at this news and raised one of his arms to cover his face in embarrassment. So much for preserving his dignity. He should have just taken the Dreamless Sleep when he had the chance. At least it would have been less humiliating than fainting against the potions master. And now Ron and Hermione knew about it, too. What were those two doing here anyway?

"How are you feeling?" Madam Pomfrey asked then. "Your fever has gone down, though it still seems to be lingering a bit."

Harry thought about it for a moment. He didn't feel nearly so hot and sweaty as he had that morning. And the fog that had settled over his mind seemed to have gone, at least for the moment. "Umm…better," he eventually replied. "My head still hurts. But it's not as bad as it was. Is my scar okay? Why do I have a fever?"

Madam Pomfrey nodded. "Your scar is fine. I cleaned the wound and bandaged it up. Professor Snape mentioned that you couldn't recall how you injured yourself there?"

Harry shook his head in confirmation. "No. I must have banged my head when I was asleep."

Madam Pomfrey raised her eyebrows but only hummed in response. "As for your fever, my diagnostic spells have been…inconclusive. But don't worry. Professor Snape and I are still looking for answers. And in the meantime, your body does appear to be healing from whatever illness you do have." And with that, the mediwitch turned to Harry's two visitors. "You two may stay and chat for a short while. But then Mr. Potter needs his rest. Understood?"

"Yes, thank you, Madam Pomfrey," Hermione responded, as Ron nodded his head next to her.

Madam Pomfrey nodded then before heading towards her office at the other end of the hospital wing, leaving the three young Gryffindors alone.

And as soon as the woman disappeared from view, both Ron and Hermione rounded on Harry.

"What happened to you?" Ron blurted out first.

Harry sighed, pushing himself up into a more comfortable position and reaching for his glasses. "Nothing. I just got sick and had to come to the hospital wing."

"But where were you before? And why were you traveling by floo with Snape?"

"Ron!" Hermione interjected. "Harry already told us he couldn't say anything about where he was going this weekend. He'll tell us if and when he is ready to do so."

"Sorry," Ron grumbled sheepishly. "I was just wondering."

"Yeah, I know," Harry answered uncomfortably, reaching up to subconsciously run a hand through his hair as he secretly wondered where Mr. and Mrs. Weasley had gone. Maybe they had decided not to come after all. He supposed he shouldn't be surprised.

"It's okay," he finally continued. "I'll tell you both soon, alright?"

His friends both nodded in acknowledgment.

"Now, what are you two doing here?" Harry inquired, determined to change the subject. "Did someone tell you I was here?"

"Nope," Ron rolled up the sleeve of his shirt to reveal a bandage wrapped tightly around his forearm. "I needed a bit of medical attention myself."

"What happened?" Harry asked in concern.

"We were visiting Hagrid today," Hermione spoke up, turning to glare disapprovingly at the redhead. "And Ron thought it would be a good idea to get near Hagrid's newest pet."

"Well how was I supposed to know it was going to shoot fire at me?" Ron defended himself.

"It wasn't another dragon, was it?" Harry asked in alarm.

"No," Ron answered, shaking his head. "A fire crab."

"It's literally in the name!" Hermione exclaimed.

Ron just ignored Hermione and continued speaking. "I'd never seen one before. But they have these really cool shells that are covered in jewels. I was just trying to get a closer look...Mum and Dad weren't too happy when they found out. But I can't be sure if they were more upset with me or Hagrid."

"Your parents were here?" Harry asked, trying to sound nonchalant.

"Yeah. They were here before I even made it to the hospital wing. Madam Pomfrey must have summoned them after Professor McGonagall sent word ahead when she intercepted us on the first floor. They yelled at me a bit, and then Mum hugged me and nearly started crying." Ron rolled his eyes a bit at that last part.

"And then they left?" Harry inquired.

"Just as soon as they were assured I'd make a full recovery," Ron confirmed.

Harry felt his heart sink in that moment. But then, no. He knew this would happen. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley already had their own children to worry about. He couldn't just expect them to stick around for him.

Even if they had already told him they would.

"Honestly, Ron," Hermione was saying, "You should know by now that anything Hagrid considers to be a pet should be treated with the utmost caution. Or have you already forgotten Fluffy?"

Ron shuddered. "How could anyone forget that monster?"


"You'll be expelled for this, Hagrid. And that monster of yours will be destroyed."

Harry let out an audible gasp.

"Harry? What's wrong?" Hermione asked.

But Harry didn't answer right away. It was all coming back to him now. The dream he couldn't recall when he had woken up at the Burrow this morning. He remembered all of it.

Except it hadn't been a dream at all. He had been sucked into Riddle's diary. Right into a fifty-year-old memory. And Tom Riddle had accused Hagrid of opening the Chamber of Secrets.

"I have to tell you something," Harry said then.

Severus was deep in thought as he made his way back to the hospital wing. So much so that, for once, he barely noticed the students frantically darting out of his way as he passed.

Neither he nor Poppy had been able to diagnose Potter's illness as of yet. He supposed he really shouldn't be too surprised about that, all things considered. This was Harry Potter, after all. And absolutely nothing could ever just be simple where that boy was concerned.

That didn't make it any less frustrating, though. After the mediwitch had initially examined the unconscious child upon their arrival in the hospital wing, Severus had left to get to work, leaving the Weasleys at the boy's bedside. He had begun his research on the boy's mysterious illness by first looking into Poppy's theory. The woman still believed that Harry's magic was shielding his body from diagnostic spells as a defense mechanism, a byproduct of the child's abusive past.

But Severus remained skeptical. Of course, after reading through some of the materials Poppy had pointed him to, he was starting to come around to the idea that this theory could explain why the boy had managed to evade detection of his past injuries for so long.

But this illness was different. It did not come about because of any abuse. The child had simply contracted it somehow. And even the deepest of Poppy's scans, including the one that had ultimately been used to discover the secrets of the boy's past, had turned up nothing.

And then there was the boy's scar. As much as Severus wanted to believe that the foolish Gryffindor brat had managed to slice his head open all on his own by engaging in some dunderheaded, reckless scheme, it just didn't seem likely. He was certain the boy had been sincere when he stated he had no idea how his forehead had started bleeding.

And Severus found it more than a little curious that the child's curse scar, given to him by You-Know-Who himself, would suddenly just split open at a time when he and Albus suspected that the Dark Lord may be trying to infiltrate the boy's mind.

Something sinister may be at play here.

The potions master pushed the doors of the hospital wing open and strode purposely inside. His eyes were immediately drawn to the three Gryffindors huddled together in the otherwise empty wing. He immediately tried to contain his scowl. When those three congregated together, trouble was almost certainly never far behind.

He stepped inside Poppy's office before any of the Gryffindor miscreants could notice him. The mediwitch's back was turned to him, her nose buried in a book. He cleared his throat softly, in an attempt not to startle the woman from her thoughts.

Poppy's eyes flew up from her book. "Oh, Severus! I didn't hear you come in. Have you found anything?"

Severus shook his head. "Nothing yet. I came to talk to Potter. Perhaps I'll be able to pry some useful information out of him now that he is awake."

"Of course," Poppy responded. "I think it's time to send his visitors away now, anyway. Hopefully, it'll be an easier task than convincing Molly and Arthur to wait for news back at the Burrow. I had to tell them over and over that if we want to remain discreet about this potential living arrangement for Potter, they needed to remain in the background for now."

Severus nodded. "It is unfortunate but necessary. Especially considering how fast rumors generally spread in this castle. The last thing we want right now is Potter's story to be splashed across the morning edition of The Daily Prophet." The man held up his hand then as the mediwitch made to stand up. "No need to stop your research, Poppy. I'll shoo the little delinquents off myself."

"No need to scare them, Severus," Poppy shook her head. "Just ask them nicely to leave."

"Have I ever been anything but nice, Poppy?" Severus asked sarcastically, stepping out of the office before the mediwitch could respond.

"I think there's a good chance he was wrong," Severus' ears picked up a whisper as he neared Potter's bed. He recognized the voice as Miss Granger's.

"I do, too," Potter replied, even more quietly. "But maybe we should ask Hagrid. Just in case."

"Ask Hagrid what?" Snape interjected loudly, satisfied when all three Gryffindors jumped in surprise at his arrival.

"Professor Snape! We didn't see you there," Granger exclaimed.

"Clearly," Snape drawled. "Now what was it you wished to ask Hagrid, Mr. Potter?"

"Um…uh…" the boy stuttered out.

"About my arm," Ron spoke up quickly. "We, uh, just want to make sure there won't be any lasting damage from the fire crab, you know? He's the expert on these things."

Both Potter and Granger were looking at Weasley as though they were surprised the redhead had been the one to think up a story so quickly.

Severus was a bit surprised himself. Usually Potter and Granger were the ones inventing the lies in a pinch.

"I assure you, Mr. Weasley," Severus decided to play along. "With the job Madam Pomfrey has done, your arm will be just fine…Most likely."

"Most likely?" Ron asked, suddenly sounding nervous. "Why? What could happen to it?"

"Oh nothing to concern yourself over now," Severus waved the boy's question away with a smirk. "Besides, I'm sure if there was an issue with infection or the like... the three of you, brilliant sleuths that you are, would have no problem finding a cure. Perhaps in the Restricted Section of the library. Then you could just steal a few ingredients from my stores, find an abandoned room in the castle to set up your cauldron, and presto," the man snapped his fingers. "You'd be cured. No need to even bother Madam Pomfrey."

All three of the Gryffindors had the decency to turn red in embarrassment at the man's words, the guilt plastered all over their faces at the reference to their recent unsupervised brewing activities. Good, Severus thought to himself.

"Visiting hours are over," the potions master stated then. "I'd like to speak with Mr. Potter alone."

Neither Weasley nor Granger even attempted to argue with him. At least those two had a bit of self-preservation in them. Pity it had yet to rub off on Potter.

"Yes, sir," both of them said in unison, quickly standing up.

"We'll see you later, Harry," Granger said as they began moving away towards the exit.

"Bye," Harry called after them.

And then the pair were gone. Finally. Severus immediately turned to the boy.

"I'm sorry, sir," Potter began, before Severus had a chance to speak first.

Severus sighed. "We will discuss the potion-brewing incident in detention, Potter. You can beg for mercy then."

"Oh, I wasn't talking about that, sir," the boy hurried to clarify, causing Severus' eyebrows to shoot up.

"I mean, I am sorry about that, too, sir," he continued. "But what I meant was, I'm sorry that I…fainted against you in the floo."

Severus blinked. "And why would you feel the need to apologize for that, Potter?"

Harry shrugged as he absently began picking at the frayed edges of his blanket. "Well, you did tell me to take the Dreamless Sleep potion. I should have listened to you."

The man blinked again before summoning a more comfortable chair from across the room. Keeping his eyes on the child then, he lowered himself into the seat and leaned forward, his elbows resting on his knees.

"Perhaps one day, Potter, you'll come to realize that when I tell you to do something, it is not simply because I enjoy ordering you around. I... always have your best interests in mind."

The boy looked like he was thinking hard about those words for a moment. And then he finally spoke in a soft whisper. "I know you do, sir."

A strange feeling suddenly overcame Severus then, and he quickly worked to suppress it. He had things to discuss with the boy, and they were already getting off track.

"How are you feeling, Potter?" the man asked then, determined to change the subject.

"Fine," the boy gave his usual automatic reply. "My head hurts a little bit. But it's nothing I can't handle."

"I have no doubt that you are capable of handling pain, Potter," the potions master responded. "But that does not mean you should have to. Tell me about when you first realized you were sick."

"Um, it was this morning. As soon as I woke up. I just felt hot and sweaty and my head hurt. Much, much worse than it does now. I didn't realize that my scar was bleeding until I sat down for breakfast."

"Hmm. And you felt perfectly fine when you went to bed last night? No pain?"

Harry bit his lip. "Yeah. At least, I think everything was fine."

"What do you mean?" Severus demanded.

"Well, I don't really remember going to sleep, sir. I…stayed up late, writing in my journal. And the next thing I knew, it was morning, and I was waking up."

Severus sighed and leaned back in his chair. "I must tell you, Potter, that the fact that your scar began bleeding for no apparent reason...is of some concern. The headmaster and I believe that it is imperative that we redouble our efforts with occlumency. The sooner you are able to protect your mind against any outside forces, the better."

A look of worry suddenly crossed the young boy's face. "You think Voldemort's respons—"

"Don't say his name," Severus interrupted quickly. "And I do not know for sure. I will continue to look for answers. But unfortunately, Potter, you are quite a unique case. There are no other documented instances of a living, breathing soul walking around with a scar that was caused by a killing curse. There just isn't much information to go on."

Harry sighed. "I'm sorry I couldn't be more normal, sir."

"You apologize for the most ridiculous things, Potter," Snape shook his head. "Things you have absolutely no control over. It really is quite irritating."

"Sorry," the boy answered automatically.

Severus just sighed in exasperation. "Lie down, Potter."

Thankfully, the boy quickly obeyed without asking any questions.

"It's time for your next occlumency lesson," Severus said then.

"What, now?" the boy asked, clearly confused.

"Yes. We are going back to basics, Mr. Potter. I don't believe you ever quite mastered the art of clearing your mind." The man paused then, reaching out to place a hand on the child's forehead, right over the bandaged scar. The boy flinched a bit in surprise at the contact, but quickly relaxed.

"Now close your eyes."

The young Gryffindor looked a bit skeptical, but eventually obeyed.

"Now, pick a potion, Harry. Which one is your absolute favorite to brew?"

"Pepperup Potion," the boy answered confidently. "I could brew that one in my sleep."

"That is the idea," the potions master responded. "Now walk me through the process. List the ingredients for me. Describe the preparation process. Tell me everything."

And so the boy did. He rattled off the ingredients of the Pepperup Potion from memory and explained to his professor what needed to be cut, peeled, diced, or crushed.

"Perfect," Severus encouraged. "Now imagine yourself preparing these ingredients, Harry. Let yourself smell the aromas, feel the knife in your hand as you slice. Push everything else in your mind aside."

The pair continued like this for some time, Harry describing the potion-making process to his professor and Severus listening and offering his guidance.

As the minutes ticked away, the boy became more and more relaxed. And eventually, he stopped talking as his breathing evened out and he slowly drifted off to sleep. Only then did Severus finally remove his hand from the child's forehead.

The potions master stood up then. It was time to return to the dungeons.

With a flick of his wand, Severus removed the child's glasses from his face and settled them on the nightstand. A second spell then pulled the boy's blanket up to rest over his shoulders.

Those tasks done, Severus jerked his head in satisfaction. And with that, the man finally turned on his heel and strode quickly and purposely towards the exit.

A/N: Wow, this one was a lot of work! I had to keep adding and changing and moving things around. So I really, really hope it all turned out okay in the end :) Let me know what you think!

Thanks for reading!


August 30, 2021