Chapter 15: The Infirmary
Albus Dumbledore made his way to the school's infirmary to check in on Neville and up-date Poppy on recent events. He silently entered through the ward's double doors. A quick scan of the large room revealed only one visible occupant, a sleeping Longbottom. The old wizard assumed the school's matron must be in her little office at the end of the double row of clean white beds. When he got there the Medi-Witch had her back turned to him, she was deep in concentration, busy conducting a quick stock take of her various potions and salves.
"Poppy," he called softly.
Some what startled, she spun around, a pale hand clutching her chest.
"Ah Head Master," she sighed with relief, exiting her office as her right hand quickly fell back to her side, "Have you come to see young Longbottom?"
"Yes...yes I have, how is he doing?" Albus asked, voice rough with concern.
Both the Head Master's and the Medi-Witch's eyes turned to the left side of the infirmary, to the only occupied bed in the ward were Neville still lay sleeping.
"No real change, physically he's fine Albus, I've treated his minor wounds and given him something for his chill but mentally...," tears began to well up in her tried blue eyes and she shook her head, "the poor mite was so scared he begged me not to pull the screens around his bed. He's worried sick about Severus and can't stop apologising...for what...well I'd rather not know...but it may have something to do with the Unforgivable he was subjected to...how anyone could do that to a child...,"she wondered in utter dismay before continuing.
"It took two doses of calming draught to settle him and ease his tears and tremors and even then I had to hold his hand until he drifted off to sleep...it may be sometime before he fully recovers from this ordeal," she concluded sadly.
"But he will Poppy, Neville is strong child despite appearances, his heart harbours great strength of character and courage, he will get through this, he has good friends and they will be there to support him," the old wizard reassured his colleague.
"And what of Severus?" she whispered worriedly, "do we have him to thank for Longbottom's safe return?"
"That we do Poppy," Albus sighed with a mixture of sorrow and great pride, "at what cost? I do not know but Neville's return has thankfully provided me with the means to track him down and for the moment I know that he lives."
The Medi-Witch's eyes brightened with hope, she didn't doubt the Head Master's word for an instant nor did she question him for proof. If Dumbledore said Professor Snape was alive...then he was and that was good enough for her. The man was capable of things far beyond her and she trusted him implicitly.
"Professor Lupin has just left to search the Forbidden Forest and is tracking him down as we speak. I have the utmost faith in Remus and I'm confident he'll return with our missing Potions Master. However based on young Longbottom's earlier words, I fear Severus may be gravely injured and we need to be ready Poppy," Dumbledore cautioned.
"Yes, yes of course Head Master, I shall see to it at once," she replied eagerly, happy to be of assistance.
Her mind began to instantly catalogue all the salves, potions and spells she might possibly need in order to treat the injured wizard.
Dumbledore nodded and smiled with thanks then made to head for Neville's bed.
"Don't stay too long," she ordered gently, whilst waving a finger in Dumbledore's direction.
"Don't worry Poppy, I shall not disturb him," Albus replied lightly, only too well aware of the Medi-Witch's strong protective streak.
Dumbledore stood over the sleeping form of his student. The child's face was not as relaxed as it should have been despite the calming and sleeping draughts. He leaned over and brushed his wrinkled fingers lightly across Neville's forehead, tucking in a stray lock of hair. The boy shifted slightly and a faint moan escaped his pursed lips.
Albus leaned in closer and whispered something into the child's ear. His body stilled instantly and his features slacked as he finally slipped into a deep relaxing sleep.
The Head Master sat down heavily in the small chair beside the metal bed. His long ornate robes pooled around his feet.
As he stared at the young boy's face noting the faint shadows that lingered still beneath his eyes, Albus prayed silently for the safe return of his colleague, his spy...his friend, for Severus' own sake and that of his student's. Neville may recover from his harrowing ordeal in time but if something bad should befall Severus Snape, the Head Master feared that the boy would never be able to forgive himself.
He also wordlessly thanked his brave Potions Master for sending the student back to them, fully aware of the selfless sacrifice he had made in doing so. He hoped for the umpteenth time that Remus would triumph...he prayed that Severus would have the strength to hang on.
As he sat there silently guarding his slumbering charge, Dumbledore heard a single pair of foot steps echo off the stone floor of the corridor outside. A single door was cautiously pushed open and an unruly mop of dark hair appeared.
Albus looked up to see Harry Potter nervously peeping in from behind the door, his green eyes pleading for permission to enter.
The Head Master smiled slightly and waved the boy in.
"Come in my dear Harry...come in."
Harry slowly advanced towards Neville's bed, eyes locked onto his friend's pallid form, until he finally stood beside him on the opposite side to Dumbledore.
His hand reached out tentatively to touch Neville but he pulled it back at the last minute.
"H-how is he Sir?" he asked, voice shaky with worry.
"I'm not going to lie to you Harry, he's been through a lot but Poppy and I are hopeful that he'll make a full recovery...but he will need his friends around him, you will all have to be strong for him and be there when he needs you...you can do that can't you?" he questioned softly.
Harry simply nodded in affirmation.
As the quite moments passed, Harry grew more agitated. He began chewing on his lower lip and shifted nervously on his feet.
"Sit down Harry...tell me what's bothering you," Dumbledore instructed calmly.
Potter turned around, a chair had appeared behind him, he pulled it in closer to the bedside and sat down. He continued to sit quietly for a while, his head hanging low, eyes obscured. Albus just waited patiently for the boy to speak in his own time.
Harry's thin frame trembled slightly and he eventually looked up. Tears were falling from his green eyes and large wet droplets had gathered on the lenses of his glasses.
"I...I left him," he cried softly as his head fell once more, "I left t-them both."
A wave of guilt, sadness and shame poured out of the boy and washed over the Head Master. Albus got up and walked around the Potter's side where he placed a comforting hand on the narrow shoulders.
"My dear boy, you did nothing wrong, none of this is your fault. You did the right thing in going for help first," he reassured, "what if you had returned to search for them alone, you may have been taken also...we would have been left with no clue as to what had befallen any of you."
He squeezed Harry's shoulder and the boy finally looked up into Dumbledore's ancient eyes. They were soft and encouraging, Harry saw no anger, no recrimination or disapproval and it helped to ease his mind a little.
"Sir, h-how did Neville make it back here? How did he escape?" he asked while roughly wiping away some of his tears.
"Ah that my boy was professor Snape's doing?" Dumbledore explained.
Another sharp pang of guilt and shame enveloped Harry. He remembered all the times he had thought badly of the Professor, all the times he had wished him harm and he suddenly wished he could take it all back. Memories of being berated and shouted at were quickly smothered by fresher recollections, Snape urging them to run, Snape doing his best to protect them, Snape writhing in agony.
Once again, Albus sensed the boy's unease.
"Don't worry Harry, all is not lost, Professor Lupin has already left Hogwarts to find Professor Snape. You see, once Neville returned to us we had a way to locate him, he never actually left the Forbidden Forest and if luck is on our side they both should be back with us soon," he stated confidently, hoping his words would console the youth.
"B-but how? How is that possible?" Harry wondered anxiously.
"Now, now...no need to trouble yourself about all the little details, you'll just have to take my word for now."
A large frown etched itself across the youth's forehead, he needed more than that, he needed to be sure.
"Please Harry, don't fret, things will work out in the end," Dumbledore promised, "you'll see."
Harry hoped the Head Master was right.
"Come now," Albus tapped Harry on the shoulder, "we had better leave before Madame Pomfrey makes a fuss, she will remain here and watch over Neville, he couldn't be in better hands, besides your friends are most likely back in the Gryffindor common room anxiously awaiting news but I must ask you to be cautious Harry, no one else can know the true course of events...for now."
Harry nodded solemnly.
"Yes Sir, I understand."
They turned to leave the infirmary together but as they reached the large wooden double doors, Harry suddenly turned around and ran back to Neville's bed.
He reached out and took hold of his sleeping friend's hand, this time without any hesitation and squeeze it hard.
"Get better Neville...please," he whispered softly, then rejoined his Head Master at the opened door.
He glanced back briefly at his friend when one final question popped into his head.
"What's going to happen to Draco's father Sir?" Harry wondered aloud.
"You leave Lucius Malfoy to me," Dumbledore replied as he turned and headed back to his office.
Harry couldn't miss the hard edge and thinly veiled anger that coloured Dumbledore's normally soft voice and for once in his life Harry actually found himself feeling sorry for a Malfoy.
Author's Note: Well there you have it folks! The latest chapter...and it's late as usual...probably best not to fight tradition at this stage. Now I know many of you were probably expecting a Remus & Severus re-union in this chapter, I was too...sort of...but this is how it played out. I'll just have to devote all of chp.16 to that. It's probably going to be a toughie to write so pleeeease be patient! I want to thank everyone again who reviewed that last chapter, you just blew me all away! I never had 18 reviews for a chapter before...ever! It was fantastic! You folks are wonderful & I'm looking forward to reading all your new feedback so again...don't be shy!
Until next time,