8. Blind Haze

"Come on, Harry," Hermione urged him on as the pair trudged through the corridors together. "That's it. Oh, I wish you'd tell me what just happened!"

Harry could barely see. Red and black haze shimmered at the edges of his vision, retreating and advancing with the decrescendos and crescendos of ringing in his ears. No thoughts drifted through his mind, no cognition took place beyond placing one foot in front of the other. Hermione spoke to him, a buzzing insect somewhere by his left ear. He kept walking, stumbling occasionally and leaning on her shoulder.

They stopped suddenly, and Harry tried to keep walking, but Hermione took him by the upper arms and forced him through a tall doorway. A familiar doorway.

"Madam Pomfrey!" Hermione called. Harry's head pounded, and he swayed, eventually leaning on her. He smiled dopily when her arm went around him in a half hug.

"Madam Pom-"

"Oh, for Merlin's sake, not him again." The nice old witch came out of another room, a bundle of clean sheets folded in her arms. Harry closed his eyes. Hermione's shoulder was soft.

"Sorry," Hermione said. Her voice sounded funny with an ear to her shoulder. Harry smiled again. "He just…fell over for some reason before Double Potions."

"Not skiving off, are we?"

"No!" Hermione's voice got louder. Harry's head lolled off of her shoulder, eyes opening again. He didn't like when she was loud.

"Well, bring him over here," Madam Pomfrey said, patting an empty bed.

Hermione gave Harry a squeeze. "Come on, Harry."

Harry stepped forward again, then stopped. Something scared him. His chest tightened, and he gripped his forehead. Everything hurt…

"Harry?"

"No," he murmured, stumbling backwards. A table crashed behind him.

Both women were at his side now, muttering and saying something, each taking one of his arms—

Uncle Vernon took his thin wrist with a meaty hand, dragging him through the narrow hallway—

"No," Harry repeated, eyes widening. Hermione's pale face danced in front of him, two faces, not quite coming together.

"Harry, you need to lie down, all right?"

"No," Harry breathed, struggling against them. He fell suddenly, a pitiful rag doll when Hermione let go on accident—

He fell, something cracking as he hit a step at a bad angle, Dudley laughing from the top of the stairs—

"It hurts," he whispered, curling up on the floor. "Stop it!"

Nothing moved or made a sound for a few seconds. Then whispers started somewhere overhead, hissing and low, scared and confused. Harry looked up. Hermione and Madam Pomfrey stared back. No Uncle Vernon. No Dudley.

"What hurts, Harry?" Hermione asked, kneeling beside him. "What's wrong?"

Green light, laughter, Cedric, Snape—

"My head," Harry managed through gritted teeth. Each memory branded the inside of his skull. Hands reached for him, spells shot toward him, and steady through the haze was a tall, black-robed figure with his wand trained on him…

"Snape!" Harry shouted hoarsely, reaching through the haze. "Snape did it!"

Madam Pomfrey stood over him, and darkness replaced the pain.

"He seems to be acting out like someone…someone who had been under the Cruciatus curse for too long."

"How so?"

"Interacting with things that aren't there, asking for the pain to stop. Then he mentioned you."

Harry frowned, listening to the whispers. It was Madam Pomfrey and Snape. And by the smell of the room and the feel of the bed in which he lay, he was in the infirmary once again. He stayed still; his head pounded and he didn't want them to know he was awake.

There was a pause in the conversation. "What did he say?"

"Just… 'Snape did it.' He was hurting himself on the floor, I had to knock him out after that."

Everything clicked in Harry's mind, the drowsy haze lifted. Snape went too far with Legilimancy, ripping through his mind rather than finding out what Harry wanted him to see. Anger at the greasy professor boiled over into panic. He had gone to Snape for a particular reason. He had to get out of the time loop!

"It appears Mr. Potter is awake," Snape said, and Harry cursed inwardly, opening his eyes. The git inspected him, pitiless gaze sweeping him up and down.

"I feel better," he said quickly. Madam Pomfrey gave a dry, humorless laugh.

"You've sustained real mental damage," she informed him, coming over with a tray of food. "Professor Snape was about to help me diagnose you."

Harry knew exactly what the problem was, and he didn't want the old bat anywhere near his head ever again. How could he tell them? He looked at the food presented to him. It was very much like a dinner meal.

"What time is it?" he asked, tense.

"Nine at night," Madam Pomfrey said, and he groaned, shutting his eyes. Just great, this loop was almost over.

"I really do feel better," he tried once more.

Snape's tongue clicked, and he looked over at him. Their eyes met for a brief second—

Harry screamed. His head…he sat up in his cot, banging his forehead with his knees, eyes shut as tight as they would go, locks of hair coming out of his scalp as his fingers tightened around them.

A pair of hands was forcing him to lie down again. Harry gasped for air, daring to open his eyes. The pain dissipated with the urgency of Ron getting to his homework—not nearly fast enough. The ringing in his ears returned. He stared at the ceiling, doing his best not to breathe too hard or move a millimeter.

"Interesting."

Snape's casual comment filled Harry's mouth with bile. He choked, tears hot in his eyes. "Interesting" was all he could say…interesting that Harry was half mad, interesting that his skull was splitting open, interesting that he was trapped and ready to sob in frustration. And it was all Snape's fault.

"Stay out of my head," Harry breathed, his mouth sour.

"I would not presume to enter your mind without permission," came the silky reply. Snape continued watching him, like an "interesting" science experiment or case for medical students to observe in the hospital.

"Liar," Harry whispered, a tear falling down the side of his face. He didn't bother to catch it with a finger; he still couldn't move without the pain coming again.

The pain came anyway, uncalled, unprompted by anything Harry did. All behind his eyes, crushing his brain, making him scream…

"Stop it! Stop it!" Harry half-shrieked. He looked at Snape, and the professor frowned more than usual. The pain abated once more.

"Stay out of my head," Harry repeated.

"Care to explain why your mind resembles burnt lasagna, Potter?" Snape hissed. Like it was Harry's fault. Harry laughed, choking and laughing and crying at the same time.

"It's your fault," Harry said through heavy breaths. He spoke now of both the time loop and his destroyed brain, sure it was all Snape's fault…why would he do such a thing to a student, even one he hated? How could Snape be almost nice in one loop and become a psychopath in the next? If the two hour loop and the password changes with Dumbledore were suspiciously pointing to the Headmaster as a cause in all this, completely different responses to Harry's plight in each loop were even more suspicious…gods, he couldn't even think…

"And what did I do to you?" Snape asked. Calm, still staring.

"You keep sending me back in time to torture me," Harry said. Now Snape and Pomfrey exchanged looks. Harry sighed. "That'll keep me in here for the rest of the loop."

Snape's black eyes went back to him, but Harry continued to stare at the ceiling, unwilling to risk another encounter with the Legilimens. "I'm getting the Headmaster," he said to Pomfrey, and he left with a twirl of robes.

Madam Pomfrey didn't say anything to him, but she left his food on the side table before retreating to the adjoining room. Harry picked at the pudding, but he still felt too sick to eat. He checked his watch every few seconds. Ten o'clock. Ten fifteen.

The infirmary door opened with a creak, and Harry looked over to see the Headmaster glide in, resplendent as usual in blue robes with sparkly moons on them. He leaned his head against the pillow while Dumbledore took a seat on the bed next to his. They watched each other for a few seconds…or rather, Dumbledore took in Harry's face without meeting his eyes.

"How are you, Harry?" Dumbledore asked.

"Fantastic," Harry said, staring. What kind of question was that?

"Good, good," Dumbledore said. "I'm fantastic as well."

"That's great, sir," Harry said, brimming with anticipation. He decided to blurt out his problem, since Dumbledore was finally here and might be able to help. "I need help."

"Yes…Professor Snape said you are going back in time to be tortured by him, is that right?" Dumbledore asked.

"Something like that," Harry said, checking his watch again. Ten twenty. "It's like I'm stuck on this same day, always going back to one in the afternoon outside of Potions."

"I see." Dumbledore stood, dipping his finger in Harry's mostly untouched pudding. "I wish you wouldn't be so quick to accuse Professor Snape, Harry."

Harry watched the old man bring the pudding to his mouth, managing to keep it away from his flowing beard. "But…but he's doing it…I think it's my detention from the first loop…and he keeps—"

"Professor Snape would never harm a student in the manner you have described," Dumbledore insisted, reaching over and taking the whole bowl. "Please trust me on this."

Harry shook his head, mouth open slightly as he struggled to think of words. "But I'm still going to go back in time," he said thickly.

Dumbledore smiled at him over the pudding bowl, eyes twinkling. "I wouldn't worry about that, my boy."

Colors swirled and blended, from the warm lighting of the hospital wing to the cold dark of the dungeons. He was on his feet suddenly, his bed gone, Dumbledore gone. He sunk to the ground, Neville's bag hitting him in the stomach as he did. Then he heard it:

"Being clumsy again, Longbottom? Five points from Gryffindor for being an unwelcome distraction in the learning environment."

Harry shook his head, staring at the ground as he ripped the denim fabric of Neville's bag with his bare, shaking hands.