The time has come! Thank you to everyone who has reviewed, I hope this chapter doesn't disappoint.
If Severus heard one more person say he shouldn't blame himself, he swore it would be the last thing they would ever say again. He understood he shouldn't blame himself, but he did not need the constant reminder of it from Minerva, Albus, Poppy, and even Molly. When it was all said and done, it was his job to protect Harry and if he had done his job properly, Harry would not be fighting to breathe through the pneumonia. Trying to think ahead, there was no way to prevent possible exposure if he was still teaching and Harry was getting tutored which meant he'd need to get creative in finding a way to keep Harry safe. In an effort to help busy his anxious mind, he spent his time by Harry's bedside determined to find a way to better sterilize their environment; even if it meant creating the spell himself.
Severus spent most of Friday in the hospital wing - trying his hardest to avoid Molly who was still regularly visiting Ginny - except for when he had visited the headmaster's office before lunch to discuss the situation with Daphne Greengrass. It was decided that Severus would start searching for any kind of Dark Arts history throughout the Greengrass family line which would help them know how deep rooted the family could potentially be with the Dark Lord. Concurrently, Draco would also help him to learn more about the discussions for Daphne's initiation from over the summer holiday. With any luck, this was a simple enough task for Draco to take the lead on almost without the professor's help. Their end goal was to have a plan worked out before the Christmas holiday to prevent her from receiving the mark, which would give them an additional two months before her 17th birthday should things not go as planned.
As if the day hadn't been trying enough, he'd gotten back from the meeting with Albus to find Minerva sitting with Harry, who was still unconscious. He hadn't talked with Minerva about everything that had happened before Harry had gotten sick and with his luck, that was what she was intent on discussing.
"Good afternoon Severus," she somberly greeted him.
The defense professor put on the muggle medical mask which was now required for anyone visiting Harry because his white blood cell count was still dangerously low. Without muttered a single word, Severus nodded his head to acknowledge her greeting; having no real need to talk to anyone right now.
"This is not your fault you know," the Transfiguration Professor lectured him for the twentieth time causing Severus to emit a small growl. "In the wizarding world if someone is sick, we merely take a pepper up potion and most of the time we go on our way. There was nothing else you could have done."
Taking a deep breath, he said, "I'm developing a charm to better sterilize our quarters. With everyone coming in and out, it's not surprising he caught something. I should have done this over the summer and had it ready before the school year started."
His colleague didn't hide her amazement at the fact that he was talking about developing a spell as if this were something he did all of the time. Giving a small chuckle she said, "Of course you are. I wouldn't expect anything less."
"Aren't you supposed to be teaching a class right now?" He was getting frustrated and wanted this seemingly pointless conversation to end.
Albus had excused Severus from his classes until further notice, bringing in Nymphadora Tonks to cover them - who apparently would have been offered the position had Severus not needed to change departments this year. While he was grateful for the help and the time to spend with Harry, he was also dreading the return to the mess she was sure to leave his class in upon his return. Albus didn't have the best track record with hiring defense professor's, himself included if were being honest, though he thought he at least had a good start to the year.
"Obviously I have a free period now," she responded as if Severus should have known that; which he had, he'd merely hoped to use it as a sign for her to leave. "Why do you think Harry's going to die regardless of his treatments? That was quite the statement you made the other day."
He was really hoping she would forget all about that. With any luck, Harry would not remember either - not like that was a reason to ignore what was said that night. In fact, even if Harry woke up with no recollection of the event, he'd have to tell Harry what had happened. Too much had occurred over the last several months to risk losing his trust over this. For now, he couldn't tell Minerva about the Horcrux. Until he had more knowledge and a plan of action to rid it safely from Harry's body, the information stayed between himself and the headmaster.
"As I said that night, it was taken out of context," Severus rubbed his forehead more to give him time to think than because of a potential headache. "I was having a very... negative night and I let it get to me."
"Have you considered a mind healer Severus?" She was now the second person to say that in the week. He didn't need someone to talk to; he needed to get these mysteries solved, he needed Harry to heal, "There's nothing wrong with getting help when you need it. No one would think any less of you; Merlin knows both you and Harry have been through a lot in such a short amount of time."
All he could think about was the same thing he'd told Alton when he had suggested it, "Thank you Minerva; I'll take it under consideration."
"Sure you will Severus," she knew him well enough to know the man would put it off as long as he thought he could get away with it, and in that moment she committed to asking him periodically until he finally took her seriously. "Now tell me, how could Harry ward his door to where not even I could open it?"
"I haven't figured out what is going on with that yet," he replied curtly. It was another thing on his ever expanding list of things to research. If he wasn't feeling overwhelmed before, today was definitely pushing him over that edge. Maybe there was some benefit to eliciting help in at least this quest and it was definitely something Minerva could provide good insight into. "All I know is that he has started doing, what I unofficially call, unintentional magic. I thought it was simply his accidental magic manifesting due to his unique situation - a blanket being summoned when he was cold, his leg healing itself - but it's gotten more advanced and most definitely more controlled.
"The only pattern I've ascertained is that it's almost always related to something he needs in that immediate moment and that it's at its strongest after the episodes of the burning feeling in his stomach. He'd had one of those on Tuesday, which is why I didn't think twice about his door being locked on Wednesday night. I keep going back and forth and I don't know if I should be concerned over it depleting his magical core at a higher rate or feel relieved that it seems to be getting stronger instead of weaker, possibly indicating he won't completely lose his magic when all of this is over."
The elderly witch was thinking hard through the types of accidental magic she'd heard of, but couldn't come up with anything without doing some more research on the subject.
"I'll look into the unknown magic Severus. Nothing comes to the forefront of my mind, but if something like this exists, I will find it," she assured the man sitting next to her. "You have plenty of other things on your plate; let me at least take this one."
"Thank you Minerva," he said genuinely meaning it, "I would greatly appreciate that and it would be extremely helpful to me."
By Friday evening, Harry was still mostly unconscious using the oxygen to help with his difficulty in breathing, but the new antibiotic Alton started yesterday seemed to be helping the fever come down slightly throughout the day. For the first time Severus could at least see some light at the end of their proverbial tunnel. Hopefully, it was only a matter of time before the teen woke up and they could move on from this horrible nightmare.
"Professor Snape?" he turned around, surprised to hear Ron calling his name.
The professor was back at the hospital wing, after eating dinner in the Great Hall, reading through the book on cleaning charms when Ron and Hermione tentatively peeked around the curtain that was in place to give Harry some semblance of privacy. Unfortunately it didn't stop students from wandering by - or even into - the hospital wing in hopes of seeing what was going on and Severus knew every so often the curtains had been moved. They'd be lucky if Harry's cancer wasn't a rumor around the school by the end of the weekend. Severus stood to allow both of Harry's friends to sit.
"How's he doing today?" Hermione asked nervously, sitting down the chair Severus had just vacated with Ron taking the other one.
"Madam Pomfrey says he's doing well, but it's hard to know for sure," he answered her honestly. Harry had very few moments when he was awake and lucid which was concerning to the professor no matter what the medi-witch had said. Since Alton had not stopped by since last night when he started the new antibiotics, he hoped to get more information once the healer eventually arrived back at the hospital wing.
Severus watched Hermione take a hold of Harry's right hand, gently rubbing at the scars from the blood quill. Both of Harry's friends had known about the detentions and neither thought to say a word to any of their professors. It was frustrating, nevertheless he knew why they hadn't; Harry would have denied it even with the visible scars as irrefutable proof. No matter what his opinion was on Harry's friends always enabling his secrecy, the professor knew how important they were to Harry and was grateful they could be here with the ill wizard.
"I knew he wasn't looking well when I was there on Wednesday afternoon," Hermoine said sadly trying to hold in her tears. "I even told him so and he said he was fine. Why does he always do that? Tell us he's fine when clearly he is not."
It was something Severus battled with the Gryffindor in both realities, but it was noticably worse here. Likely due to his continued neglect and abuse from his relatives, Harry had this inability to ask for help and then always assumed he had to be the first to jump in to aid others. That fact alone solidified Harry's Gryffindor placement because none of the Slytherins would go to that extreme; himself included. This Harry didn't know it, but Severus had learned from his old reality about the young wizard almost being placed in Slytherin. Occasionally, the professor questioned if there was a reality out there where that had happened. How different would life had been like if Harry Potter were a Slytherin?
"He is definitely a true Gryffindor," the professor said for the first time in this reality without any malice, to which the two teenagers in front of him turned towards him in confusion. Ron simply shook his head, Hermoine gave a small giggle, and Harry - of course - did not react at all. He would have said it over and over again if there was any chance of a reaction from Harry.
"I should go; let you both visit," the professor continued, "please have Madam Pomfrey find me should anything change or if Healer Smithe finally arrives."
As soon as he exited the hospital wing, turning the corner to head back to his quarters for a little rest, Severus ran - quite literally for the student - into Draco, who was panting as if he'd run all the way up there from the dungeons. Severus immediately placed his hand on his own dark mark confirming there had not been a summons, and yet Draco appeared panicked; something very rare for this particular student.
"Sir..." The Slytherin called out, clutching his side as he tried to catch his breath. "Professors... I... I need..."
"You need to stop talking before you pass out," the professor furrowed his brows, bending over to Draco as his student was now taking large, slower breaths, "Much better... Now you may speak."
"I need to talk to you," Draco said in a still panicked voice.
"Yes," Severus replied losing his patience, "that part was quite obvious. What is it that you need to discuss?"
The blonde peered around at the empty corridor they were standing in and whispered, "Not here. Can we go to your office sir?"
That sounded ominous and not at all what he wanted to hear. Severus should have prided himself on instilling this level of caution into Draco, instead he ran through all the different possibilities that the blonde could have to tell him that would require this amount of secrecy. Without muttering a word, he nodded his head and both Slytherins took off towards his defense classroom - or more accurately Professor Tonks' defense classroom - to use her office.
"What is going on?" he said the moment the door was closed and warded silent behind them.
"I've seen him before," Draco called out pacing the office in front of Severus's desk. This time, the professor did not even try to hide the confusion from his face. In his frustration Draco started rapidly explaining, "Potter's healer! On Tuesday, when he was asking me all about what happened when Potter passed out, I thought he looked familiar... there was just so much going, it didn't sink in at the time.
"Then last night at the hospital wing I was sure I'd seen him somewhere. I thought I was going crazy all day thinking about it because where would I know a wizard who specializes in muggle diseases? But then it hit me... he was definitely at the manor."
No, no, no...
"And when was this?" Severus asked sharply, his eyes wide in realization and practically holding his breath waiting for an answer. It made no sense and yet somehow he knew Draco was correct even before he answered. Clarifying his question further Severus asked, "Was this before or after the Dark Lord moved his headquarters into the Manor?"
"After sir," Draco had fear written in his eyes as he tried to make the same connection Severus was making, except he had so little information he would never be able to get there. "It was maybe... I don't know... Three or four days before the raid with the muggles. I only saw him in passing as Bellatrix walked him to the floo, but I'm sure it was him! You can check my memory in a pensieve if you don't believe me."
Severus took notice at Draco's use of his aunt's full name without the title. The teen was distancing himself from the Death Eaters - another great sign of his Slytherin's moral growth - even if he wasn't aware of it himself.
That was, of course, nothing compared to the problem they now faced. If Alton was seen, relatively unharmed, within the Dark Lord's headquarters, he needed to figure out if the healer was there voluntarily or if he was coerced into being there.
How far back had this been going on?
Severus knew the Death Eaters had found out the healer's identity long before the Privet Drive attack, but when did they approach him? Was that all a ruse and his friend had been working with them since the beginning? Severus's first realization of a potential leak was after the Burrow attack, but there was the possibility he could have been working against them all along. There were so many unanswered questions, but Severus's instincts still told him the healer would not intentionally harm Harry. However, what else could he have been doing there?
"Did he see you?" The professor first needed to know if Draco was in any danger from this revelation. Based on their previous interactions in Severus's quarters, Alton would have no knowledge of Draco's connection to the Dark Lord and if - for some reason or another - he did, the healer would have no way of knowing the Slytherin's intended betrayal. If that did get back to the Dark Lord, Draco would be in grave danger.
"No," the blonde said after taking the time to think seriously over the question, "I don't think he was paying enough attention to notice me. I was in the library when they passed by to the floo; hell I didn't think much of it myself at the time, so I doubt he would have."
That very well could be a fatal assumption.
They would have to be careful what was said in front of Alton going forward in regards to both Harry and Draco. Severus didn't think Alton would be placed specifically to spy on Draco, but it could definitely be a side effect they could not afford at the moment.
Heading straight to the office door, his heart pounding as if it were trying to escape his chest, he called after Draco to follow him. As much as this pained him inside, they needed to notify the headmaster that they had, with no uncertainty, found their leak.
"I don't see why we can't just go and get him. We obviously know he'll be back to tend to Potter at some point and he has no idea I've identified him, so we have the upper hand," Draco naively - and quite frustratingly - suggested. "Maybe, I don't know... Tie him to a chair for a day or so and let the mad man interrogate him?"
He's obviously still upset about that experience.
The three wizards sat in Albus's office digesting the information Draco had uncovered about Alton being seen at Malfoy manner. The headmaster had asked to see the memory from Draco and no matter how they interpreted it, the situation was not looking favorable for Alton. Not only was his face seen clear as day walking across the corridors, Bellatrix didn't necessarily have a "prisoner's hold" on him as she accompanied him through the manor. It ended up being a good teaching moment for Draco to learn how to read some subtle body language, but Severus wished it had been under better circumstances.
He could be reading the situation wrong, although Severus highly doubted so since his friend had no reason to know the Malfoy family personally; or it could have to do with why the Dark Lord has not yet been feeling the effects of the Leukemia - however Alton was not qualified to oversee any potions regimens, so that was also unlikely. He landed on the only conclusion he could think of and that was either Alton was providing intimidate information on Harry for Voldemort to use to then attack, or he was going to try to do something to kidnap Harry and bring him to Voldemort. The latter brought his mind back to the conversation about Harry going to the muggle hospital versus the hospital wing. Had Alton been trying to get Harry there so it would be easier to abduct him? Or perhaps it was a distraction to get him to the hospital wing and somehow the healer had plans for something to happen there? Severus could feel himself getting more paranoid by the second and wanted Harry moved back to his quarters immediately.
Out of every scenario he'd gone through, the one thing Severus was sure about was that the healer was not actively trying to kill Harry outright. If that was his goal, he would have simply needed to leave the antibiotics on the one that was clearly not working last night. It would have been easy enough to pass off the incorrect medication as the correct one and kill Harry quickly. Severus had also been verifying all of Harry's chemotherapy medications and dosages; none of them had been off and that was another time the healer could have killed the young wizard with almost no one the wiser. Harry's life was not in direct risk from Alton, but it definitely was indirectly.
"Think about it Draco," Severus said trying to get the teen to work his way logically through the scenario. "If we simply capture him, we lose every bit of the advantage in the situation. However, with the right execution this can work in our favor."
The last part was said to Albus regarding how he believed they should move forward. There was still so many different pieces they had to put together. The two professors made eye contact and silently decided on their next steps; the headmaster nodding his agreement slightly.
"I need you to go back to the hospital wing and stay with Mr. Potter until I can make it back," Severus explained to Draco. "Stealthily, you need make sure if Healer Smithe arrives for Harry's medication refill, that Madam Pomfrey is there to verify everything he does. Firecall this office should she need my confirmation of such a request, but I doubt you'll have much of an issue as long as you explain that I've asked her to do it."
The blonde looked as if he were about to argue, but changed his mind at the last second. With a smirk he sarcastically said, "Ok sir. We were supposed to have a Quidditch meeting tonight, but I suppose it's more important to go watch The Chosen One sleep."
"It most certainly is," the younger professor retorted shaking his head slightly.
Once Draco had left and the door to the headmaster's office closed, Albus stood and started pacing with his hand clasped tightly behind his back. This was his usual seriously thinking routine.
"Severus, I know you have a history with Alton Smithe," Albus turned to meet his defense professor's dark eyes hoping to convey his message with as much decorum as he could, "Therefore, I will understand if you wish to not be involved with the investigation. I, myself, would probably not feel comfortable being in such a position."
"My loyalty is to Harry first and the Order second," the former spy reassured his employer. "If it's determined that Alton is working against us, I do not care about whatever history we may have. If he's a threat to Harry, I'll do whatever it takes to protect Harry; friendship be damned."
"That's comforting to hear my boy," the elderly wizard replied in a soft voice as Severus was thinking carefully about recent events.
"Albus," he said in almost a whisper, "you do realize it's more than possible that the two muggles the Dark Lord kidnapped--" Severus was interrupted by the headmaster raising his hand already anticipating where this was headed.
"I know you don't want to hear this Severus," the elder wizard said with a sad look in his blue eyes, "but if Healer Smithe is, in fact our leak, the timeline does not match up in his favor. It would mean he was working with Voldemort for at least a month prior to when the muggles were taken. Unless they were kidnapped in retaliation, it's not likely they are the Smithe's."
Severus was aware of that, but it did not stop him from pursuing his train of thought.
"If Sarah and Mary were kidnapped - for either blackmail or as a punishment - we cannot leave them there. We have to find a way to get them out!" The former Death Eater slammed his hand on the headmaster's desk, rattling the trinkets sitting upon it.
"Let's table any rescue attempts for now and figure what to do with the information we currently have and how they relate to Harry," insightful as always, the leader of the Order of the Phoenix jumped right in, "Are there other healers we can call upon to treat Harry?"
"Alton has been in communication with a pediatric oncologist, however she's a full muggle - with only a magical sibling - which would complicate treating Harry's magical core issue," Severus answered honestly.
"From my understanding there is no treatment for his depleting magical core. So why does the magical status of his healer or muggle physician make a difference?" It was a fair question even if Severus did not want to answer it.
"Technically that is correct," Severus said hesitantly, "however trying to explain his pain levels to a muggle, even if she had a magical relative, will not be simple. Harry's been on a high dose of his pain medication specifically to combat - and in some cases preemptively treat - the pain from his core depletion. I'm afraid that level of aid won't be an option for him through a regular physician. Not only that he is getting treatments done in a magical castle."
Albus sat back down at his desk across from Severus, "But when is anything we do easy, my boy? I think it would be worth pursuing should we need an alternate option in a short amount of time."
He was right and at that moment Severus would give almost anything for their life to be easy; just this once.
"I can make sure Alton is never alone with Harry," Severus decided, "but I still think he's doing more good than harm at this point, and we should let this one play out for now. I can find out if, and how long, he's been working with the Dark Lord and what his objectives are, if you give me some time. I'd wager a significant amount of galleons that it's either information or access and I won't let him get either of those anymore."
Albus wasn't convinced, but Severus knew in the end he would agree. There was no way Severus would allow any harm to come to Harry and the headmaster knew that fact, which was the only way he had any chance of sorting this out before Moody actually got a hold of Alton.
First thing was to find out if Sarah and Mary were in any danger because regardless of the reason why, if they were at Malfoy manner they needed help. Then he could find out how long the healer had been working with the Dark Lord, all while trying to keep Harry on track with his recovery and treatments.
"As you wish Severus," The headmaster said, "however, please notify me the moment you feel our boy may be in any danger."
Arriving back in the hospital wing, he should not have been surprised to see that Alton had finally arrived. The healer was busy switching Harry's medications with Draco watching him from the chair besides Harry's bed and Madam Pomfrey tutting around with the healer verifying his work as Severus had instructed Draco to have her do. Going forward he would need the medi-witch to have as much knowledge of Harry's medications as possible so he could have an extra person to help make sure everything was given as instructed. Until now they haven't had any issues, but as time went on and the pressure from the Dark Lord on his friend grew, a fatal mistake could easily be made.
"Nice to see you Alton," Severus exclaimed coming around the curtain. Harry remained unchanged; still unconscious and breathing with the oxygen assistance. "How is he doing?"
Severus couldn't help being hyper aware of what was going on around them and he was proud to see Draco following suit. The blonde Slytherin was watching every move Alton made, however it was done in a way that an untrained eye would not take notice; Alton would assume he was studying his Potions textbook. After Harry was finally through this and healed from the infection, they would have to go through the skills Draco had been using successfully and the ones that needed more tweaking. In the short time they had been training together he was proud of how serious Draco was taking his position, especially considering his past relationship with Harry.
"Again Severus, I do have other patients to see occasionally," Alton didn't even turn around towards the professor or pause from his work when he addressed the accusation. "However, we do need to talk about Harry's condition. I'm afraid things have taken an unfortunate, but expected, turn."
Severus sat down in the other chair as he prepared himself for the worst. How could Harry be beating the cancer overall, but not something as simple as pneumonia?
"Unfortunately, the latest blood sample result was not good. Harry's white blood cell count is not rebounding at the rate which he needs to successfully battle the infection," Alton explained standing near the top of Harry's bed directly across from Severus, "I'm recommending a granulocyte transfusion which is a transfusion of white blood cells. It will help give him a better boost to really fight off the infection. With that, plus a little luck, he'll be able to get through this, but I suggest we move quickly."
The professor had read all about blood transfusions in the muggle medical books. He wasn't nearly as surprised as Alton would have expected. He already knew that they were very common for Leukemia patients to need at least one during their course of treatment as their bone marrow no longer creates the levels of blood components - either due to the cancer itself or the chemotherapy - at which the patient may need at any given time.
Severus was not concerned about Harry needing the transfusion because the young wizard had already had one done after the Privet Drive attack. In that emergency, it was needed to help both his platelet and white blood cell counts and the donor then had been his cousin Dudley; who was thankfully a match to Harry and willing to donate on such an urgent basis. Now if Harry needed blood, they would have to go to the generic muggle blood bank or see if there was a way for Dudley to come to Hogwarts. While the latter seemed excessive when there was no reason the blood bank could not work, it was also the one Severus felt the most comfortable going with for this incident. Given everything they'd learned tonight, who knew what could happen with Alton arranging a random blood donor? Again he was forced to make a decision that was being over complicated by the revelation about Alton's potential treachery.
"He needs it Severus," Madam Pomfrey confirmed, likely picking up on his hesitance not knowing it had to do with Alton's trust, "I've reviewed the test results as well. The fever hasn't lowered ant further and I'm afraid he won't be able to fight this infection on his own much longer. I'd recommend we discussed the possibility of Harry's cousin coming for an extended visit."
The professor hadn't forgotten how he was supposed to discuss the idea of Dudley visiting Hogwarts with Albus over the summer, however this was not the circumstances he'd imagined for such a visit. Based on where Harry and Dudley had left their relationship after the attack and their continued correspondence over the rest of the summer holiday, Severus had no doubt that the other boy would be willing to help save his cousin's life yet again.
"Absolutely," the professor said confidently making the decision on the spot, "Poppy, can you make the arrangements with the headmaster for Dudley to visit? I trust you'll express the urgency in the matter."
"Of course Severus," she nodded and, after giving one more look at Harry in bed, she quickly left for Albus's office. With any luck Dudley would be here in a couple of hours and they could start the process as soon as possible.
"How are you doing Alton?" Severus asked his friend, trying to sound as casual as possible with the probing question. It had been a busy few days and checking in wouldn't seem completely out of the blue. "With everything going on these past several months, I've rarely ask you how you're handing it all. Something like this cannot be easy on you either as a healer and especially as a father. I was just thinking the other day that I don't know how you and Poppy do it."
"No Severus it's never easy," the healer replied rubbing his his hand down his face, "but it comes with the territory. Sometimes we win the hard fight and other times..."
Alton never finished his sentence as he trailed off. It was an interesting statement. Did Alton view them as losing this battle? Did he think Harry would not recover, and if not, was that part of his ultimate goal?
"Well, I've never thanked you properly," the professor continued, "I know Harry is not your typical patient type on many levels and you were really only doing me a favor testing him for the Leukemia in the first place. I appreciate you sticking with him, but I would also understand if you wanted to pass this onto another healer. If nothing else, you'll have more time to spend at home."
"Thank you Severus. I'd like to see this one through; he really is a remarkable young man. Doesn't that first appointment seems so long ago?" Alton smiled and it was almost his normal kind smile. In fact, for someone less observant than the former spy, they wouldn't notice a difference. Briefly Severus wondered if Draco had noticed any difference.
"That it does Alton," he paused reconsidering the next question he was tempted to ask. He refused to let his exhaustion cloud his judgement and he needed to ask it. The reaction could make all the difference in how he proceeded, "How is Mary doing these days? No lasting effects from her potions I hope."
Alton made no visible outward change to indicate anything out of the ordinary was happening; that was, nothing except for the small extra inhale he took at the sound of his daughter's name. Severus had conveniently said it early in the question to gauge Alton's reaction to it compared to the rest of the sentence. Now the professor had no doubt that the two muggles - Mary was too young for accidental magic so she would be assumed a muggle like her mother especially if Alton was not present - were Sarah and Mary Smithe. Now the question was why did the Dark Lord kidnap them in the first place? Was it as a punishment for Alton's lack of progress or was it to use them to better control Alton? The Dark Lord would imprison them differently, so knowing the reason behind their abduction would aid the Order in any rescue attempts in the near future. Severus hated how he knew that fact and he was determined to put it to good use now.
"They're well Severus. Sarah sends her best for both you and Harry," his friend replied in a soft voice, "Mary's having no issues at all; she's maintained her clean bill of health since her potions."
"That's good to hear," he was too tired for this charade no matter how necessary it was. "It seems like we'll be in for a long night. Go get some rest while you can; you look awful."
"Like you're one to talk Severus; I'm certain you never sleep," Alton said lightly, turning back towards Harry. "Call me as soon as you hear something about his cousin. I'll be back to collect and start the blood processing."
Once the healer had left and only Severus and Draco remained, neither Slytherin bothering to address the other initially.
"Isn't Potter's cousin a muggle?" Draco asked almost insulted by the idea. At the end of the day, it would take Draco years to get passed his anti-muggle upbringing. "How is he going to get into the castle?"
"What do you think happens if there is an emergency with a muggleborn student? Or how do you think muggle parents attend their child's graduation?" The professor asked with a layer of exhaustion to his voice. "Should Miss. Granger's parents not get to see her graduate simply because she is muggleborn?"
"Obviously I've had no reason to think about that," the teen said arrogantly. "At the rate the Golden Trio is going, they'll be lucky to make it to--"
One quick look at Severus's deathly stare and Draco didn't finish his sentence.
"The ability to allow select muggles into the castle lies with the headmaster," the professor explained, "I do not anticipate any issues in this case."
"Well there's no way Professor Dumbledore will let anything happen to Potter of all people."
"Don't be jealous Draco, it is unbecoming of you," Severus lectured leaning back in his plush chair and closing his eyes. "I'm sure Mr. Potter would be more than willing to give up his current predicament along with any presumed favoritism to just about anyone at the moment."
"Fine," Draco eventually conceded. They sat in an uncomfortable silence before Draco asked, "What's up with you and Potter? I can't see you going through all of this if it were only a job to you. It's almost as if you're taking this too... personally. No one would ever expect you to be standing up for the Boy-Who-Lived after the way you've treated him in class all these years."
"First it is none of your business," the professor said sternly sitting back up from his impromptu rest, "second, even if it were your business, you should avoid going around and making blanket accusations as you just did. Not only will do risk you showing your hand prematurely, you may end up insulting the wrong type of person.
"And lastly, you should view every job as if your life depended on its success and as such, go above and beyond any effort you may think necessary."
The blonde Slytherin narrowed his eyes in doubt, "So this really is just a job to you?"
Severus pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration, "You completely missed the point... It is none of your concern."
"I bet Potter gets tired of hearing that," Draco said snarkily, "because I know I do and I don't live with you full-time."
Severus was shaken awake by Madam Pomfrey. His body protested every moment of his waking and he was quickly reminded that he had yet to sleep in his bed since those early morning hours before he'd discovered Harry was ill. Without knowing how long the Gryffindor would continue to be this severely sick, he needed to commit to getting some kind of sleep back in his quarters. If not, even he had to admit his sanity would not last much longer.
It was dark in the hospital wing, likely the middle of the night, and it took him a second to process why the medi-witch was waking him up.
The blood transfusion and Dudley Dursley's visit.
"What did Albus say?" He asked impatiently as Poppy took the seat next to him; a yawn escaped him proving how tired he actually was.
"Albus has finished with the arrangements to allows Harry's cousin entrance and now he's heading to see if the boy will agree. It's a complicated situation given that the cousin is underage, but as Harry's last blood relative hopefully that will make it a bit easier," Poppy had a nervous energy surrounding her and again Severus questioned how she managed to keep her resolve in the career path she'd chosen. He would have long given up if he were in her position.
"Perfect," was all the defense professor could think to say. Picking up on the matron's questioning glare, he demanded, "Might as well get out whatever it is you wish to say."
Relieved with the transition and permission to continue, Madam Pomfrey asked, "What is going on with Healer Smithe? When Mr. Malfoy entered the hospital wing before you or the healer arrived, he demanded that I verify all of Harry's medications and I not leave Healer Smithe alone with the boy. I was just about to question Mr. Malfoy, but he said it was on your orders and then of course Alton arrived and I didn't want to draw any unwanted attention to the situation.
"I did what was asked of me since there was no harm in two sets of eyes, however if there's an issue in trusting Alton I best know about it now."
She sounded concerned, but not nearly as insulted as she had the right to be. Harry was as much her patient as Alton's and she's never held back when she thought her territory was getting threatened. Poppy has always been a silent member of the Order - working behind the scenes and rarely attended meetings - but Severus knew first hand that she was no less important in the war against the Dark Lord.
"We've discovered evidence that Alton may have been compromised," saying it out loud made the awful accusations all too real. "Albus has agreed that he's the best option we have right now for Harry, however we need to double check all of Alton's work and test results; without him realizing it of course."
It was a lot to ask from someone who wasn't used to espionage and stealth, but he knew she could pull it off. Poppy already demanded to know every piece of business going on with her students, making this not out of the realm for her normal personality. The best cover ups always started with a sliver of the truth.
"I can do it; don't you worry about that," she fussed at him. "I've been studying my own copies of muggle textbooks for a while now and I will make sure I'm completely familiar with everything that happens to Harry.
"You and I can work out a schedule so one of us is here at all times. You might also consider asking Molly to keep an eye and ear out too. I know she would have no problem helping out; Harry's as good as one of her own son's."
That was an option he hadn't considered, but he would run it by Albus. If told to keep a close eye on Harry, the Weasley matriarch would do it - no questions asked - so she wouldn't even need to know about Alton's subterfuge.
The professor was lost in his thoughts when the curtain was pulled back and walking into their little nook of hospital wing was Albus with Dudley partially hidden behind the man's extravagant purple robes. Dudley was far thinner than Severus remembered seeing him; a testament to how difficult losing his parents had been on the teen. He was wearing pyjamas and looked as if he'd recently been dead asleep, but of course he probably had as it was the middle of the night after all. His pale face gave way to the fact that Albus had likely apparated them both to Hogsmeade, which was disorienting the first time even to a wizard, and then adding the walk through the castle - with its moving staircases, snoring pictures, and random ghosts - and it was more than enough to scare a muggle like Dudley. Apart from all of that, it wasn't the primitive hospital wing, lanterns, nor anything else magical from the castle that held Dudley's attention at that time; it was Harry, who was still unconscious in the hospital bed, lines of medications and oxygen coming out from his small body.
"Hi Professor Snape," Dudley said, not even turning his head towards the professor as he walked out slowly from behind Albus and approached his cousin's bedside. With a quiver to his voice, he asked to no one in particular, "What happened? Is he going be alright?"
Before Severus could answer, Albus approached Harry's cousin, "He has pneumonia and if you're willing to help him, he will be."
"Of course I'll help him," Dudley responded clearly insulted what the headmaster was insinuating. "Let's get this started."
While Severus hadn't expected any resistance from Dudley, he knew coming all the way to Hogwarts in the middle of the night was - at least at some point in the past - beyond the teen's level of comfort. Severus was grateful that the one person who could aid Harry through this was more than willing to do so even through his own discomfort. It was another example of how powerless Severus was; there wasn't a single thing he could actually do for Harry outside of keeping him safe from whatever Alton's intentions were with the young wizard.
If Alton, the Death Eaters, or even the Dark Lord himself thinks they'll get to Harry, they better prepare for a difficult fight.
Coming up Next: Telling the Truth
A/N: I wanted to let you all know that I'm not sure if or when I'll be updating for the next week and a half. I've essentially been immersed in the world of this story's universe since quarantine started for me back in March, but I'm finally getting to go out of town for a bit to visit family. I have around 35,000 words already written towards this fic and I'm sure I'll be adding to that as ideas come to me while I'm away, so once I'm home again the updates will go back to their regular frequency. Thank you all again!!