Chapter 26: A Lot To Think About

Harry woke with a start, screaming. He floundered, clutching the sheets around him so hard his knuckles turned white. He panted, struggling to catch his breath, as he gazed, disorientated – not seeing the sterile white walls, but Voldemort's chalk-white face around him.

"You're finally awake!" a girl's voice exclaimed from beside him.

Harry jerked his head around, staring at Hermione in incomprehension.

"I'll… I'll go fetch Madam Pomfrey," Hermione murmured, worrying her lip between her teeth as she hurried off.

As the images of Voldemort faded, Harry swallowed, gritting his teeth against the dull ache in his head. He fingered his scar, absentmindedly glancing around the room, and only then did he realise the other occupants of beds gaping at him.

"Mr Potter, lie back down this instant!"

Oh.

Harry let Pomfrey push him back against the pillows, drawing the curtains around him as she did so and blocking Hermione from view.

"I – I'm fine, Madam Pomfrey," Harry said.

"Seeing that you have been here three days," Pomfrey countered. "No, you are not, 'fine'."

"I've been here three days?" Harry asked incredulously.

"Yes, I believe I just said that."

"What… what happened?"

Pomfrey paused in her ministrations to look Harry in the eye, her gaze softening.

"Professor Dumbledore will be around to speak with you; you can save your questions for later. Now, Mr Potter, are you in any pain?"

"It's nothing I can't handle," Harry replied, all the while wondering what business the Headmaster of Hogwarts had visiting him personally.

"That's not what I asked," Pomfrey clucked, disapproving.

Harry sighed.

"My head hurts," he admitted. "A lot."

This time, it was Madam Pomfrey who sighed.

"And this, Mr Potter, is why people worry," Pomfrey said, handing Harry a vial of orange liquid.

Harry eyed the potion suspiciously, guessing, from the ingredients used in Potions class, how unpleasant it would likely be to take.

"It will help with the pain."

Harry relented, gulping the pain reliever down, and screwing his face up at the taste.

"Are all potions this unpleasant?" he spluttered. "It's… urgh."

Though, Harry thought, potions were a whole lot more effective than Muggle medicine, seeing as his headache had receded, almost instantly.

"That is Professor Snape's area of expertise," Pomfrey answered amusedly, as she ran her wand over Harry. "Perhaps you should ask him yourself."

Harry jerked, recalling the events under the Corridor.

"But he's… Snape's still here? He's… Voldemort called him his servant – doesn't the Headmaster know?"

Pomfrey straightened and studied Harry, a sad look in her eyes.

"The way I understand it, it is much more complicated than you or I can fathom. Professor Snape has had a hard life," she paused, then, something akin to sympathy entering her voice. "But it is not my place to say."

Harry remained silent, unsure of what to say, and Pomfrey pulled the blanket higher over him, apparently satisfied with her examination.

"The two of you are far more similar than you realise," she added, barely audibly, as she redrew the curtains.

Harry frowned.

"I'll tell the elves to send a meal up," Pomfrey said. "Rest, now, Mr Potter. You'll find it does wonders."

Before Harry could protest – hadn't he been asleep for three whole days – Pomfrey had already turned away.

"Make sure he stays in bed, Miss Granger."

At Hermione's frantic nodding, Harry knew he had no other choice. He forced a smile as Hermione hesitantly approached, attempting to reassure her that he was alright – though, inside, he thought he'd never really be.

Hermione, teary-eyed, pulled a chair closer to his bedside and all but fell into it.

"We've all been so worried about you, Harry."

Harry swallowed.

"I'm fine now, Hermione. I really am."

Hermione, to her credit, didn't look convinced.

"Draco's tried to see you about a dozen times, but Madam Pomfrey wouldn't have it. Your housemates, too – they hung around outside past curfew, and Professor Snape had to drag them away."

Harry stared at the sheets, feeling guilt welling up in him – for no explainable reason.

"I really hope you get better soon, Harry. Exams are just around the corner."

Harry really wasn't in the mood for laughing – nor for exams – but somehow, that did it – it was something only Hermione would say.

Hermione blushed, but joined in with Harry – and that was how Dumbledore found them when he strolled into the infirmary.

"Ah, Mr Potter, you look much better than the last time we met."

Harry bit his lip.

"You were… there?" he asked, mindful of the other students that were more than likely listening in.

Harry noticed the twinkle in Dumbledore's eyes dim.

"I was not," Dumbledore spoke, his tone regretful. "You must forgive an old man his mistakes, Mr Potter. Perhaps, if I had returned sooner…"

Dumbledore bowed his head, flicking his wand – and suddenly, the occupants of the other beds appeared to no longer be interested in Harry, nor their Headmaster's sudden appearance.

Hermione's eyes widened.

"I – I'll just leave you to it then, Professor Dumbledore," she squeaked.

Dumbledore smiled.

"You're most welcome to stay –"

Harry hoped she wouldn't.

"– if Mr Potter wishes it."

Harry flinched, and he didn't think it escaped either of their notice.

Why was it always he who had to choose?

"I'd rather you didn't, Hermione," he murmured, and saw Hermione's face fall.

As she left with a sad smile, Dumbledore gently admonished him.

"I had hoped you would not push your friends away."

And I had hoped you wouldn't let me, he thought back bitterly.

When Harry said nothing, Dumbledore sighed and took Hermione's vacated chair.

"Professor Snape has me informed that the first-year Slytherins, and a certain Mr Malfoy, have not been the same without you."

Harry opened his mouth, but Dumbledore forestalled him.

"I know what you think, Mr Potter, but I trust Professor Snape with my life, and so must you."

Dumbledore caught his eye, then, and Harry once again felt that squirming in his head. He shivered, tearing his eyes away, and the feeling abruptly stopped.

Was Voldemort in his head now, too?

"I –"

"He may have detested your father, but everyone on staff knows that that hate does not extend to you. Not since October, at least," he added genially.

"He hated my father?" Harry asked, finally getting the confirmation for what he had long suspected, but had never dared to ask.

"Ah, I fear the man in question will have my head for revealing that information, if he has not yet shared it with you," Dumbledore chuckled, before turning serious once more. "But yes, it was a schoolboy feud that should not have progressed as it did, if we had only paid closer attention, I regret to say. You will have to ask the Professor for more than that, I'm afraid."

"Even then, he has always had your best interests at heart – and it was he who brought you here. He cares for you, Mr Potter, and it is he whom you should confide in, for I cannot show such favouritism, as Headmaster."

Harry nodded stiffly.

"What about the Stone, sir?" he asked, in an effort to turn the discussion away from Snape.

"It has been returned to my dear friend Nicolas and his wife Perenelle. The protections were sufficient, though they did not work as I had anticipated."

Harry breathed a sigh of relief – at least, not everything had gone wrong.

"Though I must add, I cannot condone your actions, however honourable they may have been. You are fortunate that Professor Quirrell is out of danger, for I cannot imagine what his death would have done to you," here, Dumbledore's voice turned just a little harder. "You must remember, Mr Potter, that hate should never be one's motivation, no matter how justified it may seem."

"Lord Voldemort was a bright young man, once, but he was lost to hate. I cannot let another lose his way. Your parents' love protected you that day, and in the face of something so good, Lord Voldemort could not bear it. Do not throw that love away, Mr Potter. It is the only thing that he cannot understand, and the only thing that can defeat him, in the end."

Harry agreed – wholeheartedly. He was not, ever, going to be anything like the Dark Lord.

"I understand, sir, but… I have questions that I hope you will answer… truthfully."

"The truth," Dumbledore lamented. "It is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with the greatest caution. However, I shall answer your questions unless I have a very good reason not to, in which case I beg you'll forgive me. I shall not, of course, lie."

"Voldemort said that he would spare my life if I gave him the Stone, that I would not have to die as my parents did. But why would he do that, why kill my parents, and not kill me? Why was he even interested in us in the first place?"

"Alas, the first thing you ask me, I cannot tell you. Not today. Not now. You will know, one day… put it from your mind for now. When you are older… I know you hate to hear this… when you are ready, you will know."

"When I'm ready, sir?"

"You are but young yet, Mr Potter, yet to fully enjoy your childhood. It would be remiss of me to end it now, no matter how much you think otherwise," Dumbledore chided.

Harry resigned himself to it, knowing that Dumbledore was wrong, yet also knowing that he could not argue against it.

"Alright then, sir. The Cloak – you sent it, didn't you?"

Dumbledore shook his head minutely, looking as if he hadn't expected this query.

"Indeed, you are correct," Dumbledore said. "If I may, how did you find out?"

"It took me a while, sir, but the handwriting. It was the same, in the notes from the Mirror and the Cloak."

Dumbledore chuckled, looking exceedingly amused.

"I believe Ravenclaw could have suited you well, Mr Potter."

The Headmaster stood, bidding Harry farewell.

"If that is all… best of luck for your exams, Mr Potter."

"Thank you, sir," Harry replied automatically, having a lot to think about.


The next time Harry woke, it was to closed curtains and the face of Professor Snape, wiped clean of all emotion. He swallowed, not quite ready for… whatever this would be.

"Sir," he greeted, guardedly.

Snape nodded in reply, offering a card to Harry.

"I was tasked with ensuring you received this," Snape said, as Harry opened the card to reveal signed messages from each of his classmates, wishing him, among other things, a speedy recovery.

A smile ghosted over Harry's face – he appreciated the gesture, and yes, he did miss them too, more than he could say.

"Mr Malfoy was in half a mind to buy you the whole of Honeydukes, but I persuaded him otherwise."

"I'm glad you did, sir. Somehow, I don't think Madam Pomfrey would've let so much candy in here."

"Neither did I, Mr Potter."

It was uncharacteristic, but it seemed to Harry as though Snape was making small talk to, he supposed, avoid the larger issue at hand. But Harry himself – he couldn't.

"Sir, I… what happened down there?" Harry queried, unsure himself if he'd even want to know the answer.

Snape stiffened.

"I am only privy to the final minutes of your… confrontation with the Dark Lord. It appears as though–"

"You know I don't mean that, sir."

"A child should not be burdened with such things," Snape murmured.

"I thought you knew, sir," Harry scoffed bitterly. "I stopped being a child the minute I arrived at the Dursleys."

Snape's eyes flashed.

"You should never have been sent there."

"And you should have checked," Harry shot back.

"It is another one of the wrongs I have attempted to right. Along with… this," Snape responded, sighing, as he rolled his left sleeve back.

Harry stared, half enraptured, half in disgust, as a vivid red tattoo came into view.

"I took this at the age of seventeen," Snape whispered, looking at the skull with a snake protruding from its mouth with a sneer.

"What is it?" Harry breathed.

Now speaking with emotional detachment, Snape answered.

"It is the Dark Mark, the symbol of the Dark Lord, borne only by the most trusted of his followers."

"And you…?"

Snape jerked his head.

"Until your birth."

"My birth?" Harry furrowed his brow. "What was so special about me?"

"It was not you. The timing was coincidental," Snape answered, too quickly, Harry thought, and it also seemed like it pained him to say so. "Certain actions of the Dark Lord disillusioned me from… his greater cause."

"It…" Harry began, his fingers drummed on the sheets. "It didn't look that way."

He pierced the Professor with a challenging stare.

"You have to understand, Potter. It was as much a shock to me as to anyone, coming face to face with the Dark Lord after so long…" Snape trailed off, gazing at a point over Harry's head.

"Then what now, sir?"

Snape sent Harry a questioning look.

"He's back, isn't he?"

Harry glanced meaningfully at Snape's Mark.

Snape hesitated, for just a fraction too long, and Harry jerked in outrage.

"I think you'd better go, Professor."

"Harry–"

"Don't worry, Snape," Harry – why did he care so much, anyway? – snarled. "Why would the Headmaster even be foolish enough to hire someone like you? No one would believe me even if I told."

Harry didn't even flinch when Snape docked five points for disrespect. But really, Harry thought, it should've been more.

"Harry–"

He turned away, but Snape reached for him, lifting Harry's chin to look him in the eye.

"I assure you, Harry, whatever the future holds, the Dark Lord will not have my loyalty."

Harry, caught in Snape's obsidian eyes, could not miss the Professor's desire – and urgency – for him to understand.

"Okay, sir," Harry mouthed.

Snape let go, and Harry dropped his eyes, sensing there was something far more complex going on. The something, perhaps, that Dumbledore had told him he'd know about, one day.

The resulting silence was awkward, but not as uncomfortable as it probably could have been.

Snape stood.

"No student knows the full extent of what transpired, including Mr Malfoy, who arrived only seconds after your… confrontation with Professor Quirrell. I expect it to remain that way."

Harry nodded – he wasn't going to tell anyone the full extent of what had happened, anyway.

But –

"How do the staff know?"

Snape's answer was vague, anything but satisfactory.

"The Headmaster has his ways."

"If that is all…" Snape said, unknowingly echoing the Headmaster. "Your stay here does not excuse you from the expectations I have of my students on their end of year exams."

"I understand, sir."

"I expect you will be returning to Slytherin by tomorrow," Snape said, and gave Harry a curt nod.

He drew the curtains, sweeping out of the infirmary. And Harry was left alone, with even more to think about.


A/N:

You might have noticed, some dialogue was pulled straight out of the book. I apologise, but Rowling has always been the best wordsmith of us all.

Anyway, thanks for reading this chapter. It was a rather significant change of pace, espcially after the last chapter, but I hope it was decent.

I expect about 2 chapters before the end, so until then, please continue to leave reviews and favourites.

Until next time.