A/N: This chapter begins in the late evening, the day following the last chapter. In synopsis; Harry has been relocated to Professor McGonagall's ancestral home following the dire pronouncement that Severus has received instructions to kidnap Harry from school. Albus and others, including Harry, have devised a possible way to circumvent these orders that will allow Severus to continue to live.
Allow me to add a very heartfelt thank you to all who took the time to respond to my cry for help. Your suggestions have proven invaluable and have helped to form the outline of the upcoming chapters. It was beyond reassuring to know that there was still interest in this story despite the time lapse. I (nervously!) hope you enjoy this chapter and would, as always, be delighted to hear your constructive thoughts. They really do motivate this author.
Very special thanks to Kittyrunner – who kindly agreed to put my mind at ease by reading over the various stages of this chapter as it developed. Such help from a truly talented author was both a blessing and an honour. If you haven't yet read her fic 'Harry Potter and the Time of Transition', I urge you to do so.
Any sunshine that had daringly fought to shine upon the most northerly point in the British Isles the day before had been beaten back and smothered by the unrelenting expanse of steel grey clouds that now dominated the skyline. A fine, persistent mist of moisture drifted in the sea breeze, dampening the aged stone of the castle behind Harry to a shade of grey seen in the scaled rocks and cyprine shells littering the beach far below. The sun, hidden as it was behind the turbulent and fast moving cloud cover, managed only to highlight the lighter patches in its decent towards the horizon.
Harry shivered, pushing his hands deeper into the warm pockets of his jeans where the salt water had not yet soaked through. It was silly, he knew, to stay; he was cold and wet, his glasses misted over with a sheen of precipitation, and, judging from the darkened slanted shadows he could see on the horizon, heavier rain would soon make landfall.
Gulls and guillemots rode the thermals high above the cliff edge, some seeming to hover in stillness for extended periods before swooping or banking sharply in an impressive aerial display. Harry envied their freedom. He used the cuff of his hoodie to wipe the gathering moisture from his glasses as he followed their movements, wondering idly how Hedwig was faring and when he might next have the chance to fly his firebolt.
It would not be long before someone came to usher him inside, in any event, he knew. He had been granted permission to explore the gardens and take in some air a half hour before; after all, with so many witches and wizards roaming the halls of McGonagall Castle it was felt he would be safe enough within the ancient wards, with ready assistance at hand if he should suddenly need it.
It was nice to be out of doors, despite the weather. Harry had been cooped up for weeks now in one castle or the other and he had missed the simple pleasures of being outside. It was one of the reasons he was delaying his return to the comfort and warmth of the castle. Not the only one though, and if he were honest, not the most pressing.
Professor Snape had arrived with Kinsley Shacklebolt in tow; the two wizards, intimidating in their own ways, had immediately joined Dumbledore, Remus and Professor McGonagall in the parlour for a discussion that did not include Harry. Initially peeved, one look at Snape's forbidding expression was enough to swallow whatever objections he had and instead, follow Professor McGonagall's suggestion of getting some air.
A low, hand built drystone wall, crumbling in some places, marked the limits of the property and furthest extension of the wards. It curved and hugged the contours of the craggy cliff edge, stretching out at either side in a serpentine manner that at times disappeared beyond the peak of a low lying hill only to reappear in the distance on another. Harry rested his weight precariously on a pile of flat, weather beaten stones that had at one time formed a part of the perimeter. He drew his numb hands into his sleeves and bent over his knees, laying his head upon his arms as he watched the choppy waters in the distance.
It wouldn't be long now. The task that lay ahead loomed in his mind like a dementor and had done since his conversation with Dumbledore two days ago. He had spent the entire day thus far practicing his Parseltongue casting, starting with the basics before graduating to both offensive and defensive spell work, all under the watchful eye of either the Headmaster or Remus. When it was clear he had achieved all he could with that particular activity, and indeed, was comfortable in both his Parseltongue and his casting, the last hours before Snape's arrival had been spent with all three of his elders, going over the incantations he would try when the time came to attempt to remove the Dark Mark.
From what he could gather, the research undertaken by his guardian and Remus had provided very little new information, and from what Dumbledore had said; his conversations with Snape, conversations that had obviously taken place out with Harry's earshot, had only reinforced what little knowledge they already possessed. Snape's memories of the event, even viewed through a pensieve, revealed very little. His guardian had explained that upon the first touch of Voldemort's wand to Snape's arm, the pain had been so immense that anything following it had been blurry and broken at best. And as the Dark Lord cast wards before bestowing his mark, even those followers who were present at new recruit initiations, Snape included, were privy only to the sight of witches and wizards, young and old, screaming soundlessly and writhing with untold pain.
It had made Harry a little sick to his stomach. In the end they had agreed, much to Professor McGonagall's continuing disapproval, on several variations of a type of spell Harry had never cast – a sort of advanced unsticking charm and banishment spell combined into one. He had had several hours to practice the Parseltongue versions of all of them. But doubt persisted, despite his practice and the reassurances of those around him.
A zing of magic startled Harry from his thoughts. He upset the stones he was perched on when he sprang up and around, his wand in hand. Professor Dumbledore strode calmly towards him, his lips slightly pursed as he finally gazed down at his dishevelled charge. Harry realised the Headmaster must have cast animpervious, as he no longer felt the tickle of cold misted rain across his reddened cheeks.
"Whilst I'm a firm believer in the healing power of nature, Harry, I think any benefits you may have gained will be counteracted by your continued exposure to the elements." Dumbledore said, waving his wand in a lazy arc around Harry's head. The rush of magic made Harry shiver, but his clothes, now dry and warm against his cool skin felt blissful, and he hunkered into his hoodie a little to enjoy the new warmth. He saw Dumbledore smile slightly, and smiled himself when the Headmaster cast another warming charm with the hand not holding his wand.
"Thanks" Harry acknowledged, feeling a little foolish for not thinking of the basic charms himself, but secretly relishing the feeling behind it. The alien one of being looked after; of being cared for. He shivered a little as the warmth sank deeper, not realising how chilled he had become in his time spent outdoors. Dumbledore, his sharp eyes missing little, clasped Harry by the shoulder and steered him into step, heading across the rough, thickened grass to the castle entrance.
"Tis truly a magnificent view, my boy, but not one worth your continued good health! Let us retreat to the comforts of cushioned chairs and hot drinks hmm?"
Thirty five minutes later, Harry was indeed curled into a cushioned wing backed chair and had his hands wrapped around a steamy mug of hot chocolate, having polished off a large bowl of Scots Broth and crusty bread, still warm from the oven. He felt full and warm, though nerves kept any drowsiness at bay quite effectively. Dumbledore had joined him for an early supper and Harry had even managed a snorted laugh when the wizard managed to dip his beard into his broth as he took his seat. But now he was alone again and any levity he had found in his guardians company had followed the Headmaster from the room. He swallowed a mouthful of creamy, sweetened chocolate and passed his hand across his top lip to clear the residue left behind. The adults were apparently delineating an area where this experiment would take place, temporary wards – Dumbledore had explained while they ate- to reinforce the safety of all involved and to keep the location of Professor McGonagall's ancestral home a secret should Tom catch a glimpse during the event.
'Catch a glimpse' indeed. Harry could only imagine two ways in which that could happen and one relied on Harry's non-existent grasp of Occlumency for any hope of being averted. Shaking off his morose thoughts, Harry did as he had promised Dumbledore minutes before and thought seriously on whether he wished to undertake this endeavour. His guardian, perhaps sensing Harry's hesitation and perhaps, Harry suspected, nursing his own concerns, had reassured him once more that he, Harry was under no obligation nor pressure to attempt this removal. As he had continued, Harry had the sense that the Headmaster was actually attempting to sway him away from the task now that it was upon them.
But Harry knew, as he had when the he had first discussed this with Dumbledore, that he would help in any way he could. That is was Snape who required this help was inconsequential. Harry knew he would lend whatever assistance he could to any victim of Voldemort, or indeed anyone whose life hanged in the balance. It was simply who he was. And despite his new circumstances and the feelings it had roused, that of being cared for and of having an adult to call his own – he was not a child. Not when it came to life and death scenarios at any rate. He could not sit idly by while knowing that there was a chance, as slight as it may be, that he could affect some change; which is exactly what he had told the Headmaster when the wizard had appeared conflicted.
With these thoughts firmly in his mind, Harry set his cup aside and walked steadily to the parlour, following the sounds of numerous voices engaged in overlapping conversation. The main living area of the castle appeared unusually cramped given the number of people milling around. The fireside chairs had been pushed to the walls and the tapestried rugs lifted, making the room appear rather cold. Professors Dumbledore and Snape stood apart from the rest, Harry noted, engaged in what appeared to be a hushed and intense exchange. Snape looked as he always did, greasy hair falling across his sallow features, dressed head to toe in unrelenting black.
Shacklebolt and Remus were gathered before the banked fire, and as Shacklebolt lifted his wand and muttered beneath his breath, Harry's eyes widened when whatever spell the auror had cast highlighted for a split second a dome of iridescent magic, which rippled like water before vanishing once more.
"Mr Potter" Harry turned his attention to the approaching figure of Professor McGonagall, who was brushing her hands together as though to shed them of dust. Her lined face was as serious as it ever was when she peered at him, making Harry feel as though he had already done something wrong.
"I presume that Professor Dumbledore has gone over all you need know about this…." For a moment she seemed to struggle for a fitting term, or more likely, Harry thought, was attempting to find an alternative to what she would like to call it.
"…attempt. I would however like to emphasise that you need not participate in today's proceedings, nor indeed, feel you must simply as arrangements have already been made. It would be a simple matter to reconvene a meeting and discuss the alternatives."
Harry nodded, to show his understanding, but at the Transfiguration Professor's sharply raised eyebrow, he rushed to add words.
"I know that, Professor. I want to do this. Really." He willed his earlier determination to show on his features but wasn't sure he had managed when he saw his strict teacher sigh. She seemed to consider something for a moment, her eyes unfocussed, before coming back to herself and softening, her gaze holding warmth that she rarely displayed.
"Mr Potter. Harry. I also worry that you are doing this to please your guardian. To gain his respect and approval?"
Harry felt his scar pull as he frowned deeply, indignation and anxiety warring within him.
"That's not it. Not at all Professor! I'm doing this because it's the right thing to do, not because Professor Dumbledore expects it of me, or, or that I want him to be…proud of me! Is that what you really think?" he ended plaintively, shocked at how upset the notion made him. His impassioned speech drew the eyes of Remus and Shacklebolt, but they made no move to join them.
Professor McGonagall brought him back to her gaze with a hand placed lightly on his upper arm. She looked satisfied, and there was a fondness in her eyes as she twitched her lips.
"My apologies, Harry, I did not intend to upset you so. I can see that you are driven by your own selfless motivations and not the other. I hope you see that I have only your best interests at heart and why I needed assurance. You are still a Gryffindor, Mr Potter, and last I checked I am still your Head of House after all." She finished, her eyes twinkling in a similar way to the Headmasters.
Harry relaxed his tense shoulders and breathed a sigh of relief, glad that she believed him and relieved in a way he didn't really understand. He nodded again, acknowledging her words, accepting her apology and even returning her smile a little. The various conversations beyond them were breaking up and Harry could see Dumbledore and Snape, the Headmaster's hand on the younger wizard's shoulder, making their way over to where Harry knew the temporary wards were. As he and his Head of House made to move to join them, Professor McGonagall's hushed voice accompanied his first steps.
"And you should know, Harry, that you already have his respect, his approval and his pride. You need not concern yourself on that front." She whispered, before striding ahead of him.
Harry swallowed the lump of emotion that had arisen at her kind words and avoided his guardian's gaze as he followed in his Professor's wake. He did not think on it for long though when his eyes met the unrelenting, fathomless black of his Potions Professor's hard gaze. The temptation to look away was strong, but he knew to do so would be admitting some of his nervousness and so he held it, standing a little straighter and clearing his face of all emotion. Professor Snape's lips curled a little before he abruptly turned away, removing his flowing black outer robe in sharp, economised movements.
"I think we are ready to begin. Harry…?" Professor Dumbledore lifted an arm and beckoned his charge closer, resting a heavy hand on his back when Harry followed his instruction. The rumble of the Headmaster's voice was a comfort when butterflies began to develop in Harry's stomach.
"Minerva, gentlemen, if you could take your places as discussed? Harry? You will join Professor Snape and Iwithin the wards, obviously. Everyone else will have specific roles of their own, namely to provide stability to the wards and assistance, externally, if required. Do you understand?" Dumbledore asked, looking at Harry quite seriously across the top of his half-moon shaped glasses. Harry nodded quickly, wiping his damp palms across his jeans.
"Any questions?" the Headmaster prodded gently, a thumb passing quickly across Harry's bony spine where his hand still rested.
Breathing deeply, feeling Dumbledore's magic, powerful and bright, pressing against his own, he shook his head in the negative, giving the man a brief half smile in reassurance. Remus caught his eye, smiling enough to crinkle his eyes and cocking his head to the side as he looked across at his young friend.
"Sometimetoday,perhaps…" came the drawling, octaves-deep rumble from a scowling Professor Snape, who was watching their interaction with ill-concealed impatience and repugnance. Despite his surly demeanour, Harry thought he appeared somewhat paler than his usual shades of moon bleached white, and the long fingered hand that gripped his wand at his side was flexed hard enough to show the whites of bones and fine tendons beneath the alabaster skin.
Without further ado, Harry stepped forward at the gentle push at his back and felt the heavy tingle of powerful magic sweep over him as he penetrated the dome like wards, Dumbledore and Snape behind him. When they were within, Harry was surprised that looking out from inside was vastly different, the room and people highly distorted by the constant rippling of magic, like viewing the bottom of the lake through the lapping water above.
He did not comment on it however as he watched Dumbledore, eyes closed in concentration, cast a wide arc with his wand, the results unseen but powerful if the wash of magic was anything to go by. Harry could feel the fine hairs on his arms stand on end. Snape, ignoring whatever his mentor was doing, was concentrating on unsnapping the tiny buttons which ran in a straight line from his cuff to just shy of his elbow. That achieved, he proceeded to roll both tunic and bright white shirt in precise folds until Harry caught sight of the ugly black tattoo on his forearm.
"Severus? Are you prepared?" Dumbledore enquired a moment later, his aged face showing his concern. Harry saw Snape straighten, and even without his voluminous robes he gave the impression of filling more space than he truly did. His obsidian gaze locked once more with the Headmasters and his voice when he spoke held resolution and challenge.
"Are you?" the younger wizard questioned boldly, his question carrying the impression of a previous conversation. They held each other's gaze for a tense moment before Dumbledore nodded, his bright white hair shifting with the unwavering gesture. With some sort of understanding reached, both wizards turned to Harry, who was uncomfortable with the sudden attention.
"Come here, my boy." Dumbledore invited; his wizened features kind and encouraging. When Harry reached his side, he gave one final bolstering wink.
"Wand out." The Headmaster instructed, ignoring Snape's gusty nasal sigh. Harry withdrew his holly wand from his sleeve and rolled it between his fingers nervously as he glanced between Dumbledore and Snape. Needing no instruction, Snape held his arm, palm up, away from his body, lowered somewhat so that Harry could actually see the mark clearly. And Harry could, in all its horrible, blackened glory. He couldn't help but stare, tracing the twisted body of the serpent from where it emerged from the gaping jaws of a fleshless skull. He had seen the ghostly apparition in the sky more times than he cared to recall, but nothing like this. This solid, tangible mark, applied by the Dark Lord himself was more vile and disturbing than any he had seen before.
"Whenever you are ready to begin, Harry." Dumbledore intoned, breaking the trancelike state he had slipped into. Harry twitched slightly, avoiding meeting Snape's eyes and instead lifted his wand to point, somewhat unsteadily, at the still, unmoving mark. He needed no snake of course, as long as the clear image of the one branded into Snape's arm was within his line of sight. He saw, from the corner of his eye, his guardian rolling his uniquely carved wand between his fingers and felt reassured by the Headmasters presence.
Taking a deep breath, he chanced a quick glance upwards to gauge the Potions Professor's readiness, and finding only the same dark, unreadable expression, he firmed his stance, consciously relaxed the grip he had on his wand and pushing out all other distractions, focused only on the image of the coiling reptile. His magic moved within him and left his wand with the usual rush as he breathed the Parseltongue equivalent of 'Abrogare Describite', the first of the three agreed upon spells.
He held his breath, looking from the unchanged arm before him to Snape's unchanged expression, eventually looking to his guardian when it became obvious that nothing had, or would, happen. Dumbledore simply nodded for him to continue, his countenance one of quiet intensity and unwavering attention.
Readjusting the grip on his wand, Harry looked back to the reason for this exercise and, with more determination, cast a second time, ordering the blackened serpent to release its hold. The last hissing vowel, English to Harry's ears, had barely left his lips when the need for a third attempt slipped from all their minds.
If asked later, Harry wasn't sure what he had become aware of first; whether the blackened mark on Snape's arm becoming animated, writhing in apparent agony; or the Potion's Master sharply indrawn breath and sudden lurch to his knees; or the stabbing, blinding agony ripping through his head, seeming to sear a burning path from his scar to the back of his skull, ricocheting to his eyes, nose and even throat as he tried to draw in a reedy, gasping breath.
Familiar magic filled the air around him, potent and crackling. He felt the sensation of it, padding him at all sides, cocooning him but not suffocating. The pressure in his brain was beyond bearable, roiling through him in ever increasing waves of pressure until, just seconds after casting his spell, a high, mocking laugh filled his consciousness, causing his ears to pop as though he had climbed to a high altitude. Cracking his watering eyes open, the blurry visage of Dumbledore, more a smear of white and blue against a wavering background, slowly came into focus. The Headmaster appeared to be casting furiously, his wand flashing through the air in sharp strokes. The black blur which signified a slumped Snape suddenly slid across the dark flagstones, repelled by the Headmaster's magic beyond the limits of the now pulsing wards.
More laughter, gleeful and anticipatory, echoed through Harry and he panicked when his neck craned and mouth opened to release the mad cackle. He tried to speak, to lift his hand, move his head – but it was as though he had lost control of all motor functions. The unrelenting pain now pulsed downwards, filling his neck and shoulders so that he felt as though his spine were being crushed in the claws of some snarling, vicious beast.
"He is mine, Dumbledore. He always was..." Harry's mouth moved, his vocal chords buzzed, but it was not his voice that emerged. He felt his facial muscles pull in the fake facsimile of a smirk and writhed within himself, panicked and sick and in agony. His eyes tracked the movements of the Headmaster as he stepped lightly to his right, his wand held by his side.
"Was it worth it, old man? To sacrifice the child for the traitor?" No sooner had the words fell from his tongue than he felt his arm lift and a hot surge of magic rip through him, channelled through his wand and aimed directly at the Headmaster. Harry could only watch, horrified then relieved, as the streak of brilliant red shattered across whatever shield his guardian had immediately erected. The potent spell, more powerful than any he had ever cast before left him feeling scorched and blistered, as though every capillary and blood vessel in his right arm had burst and split in the path of the magical current.
Harry, in the midst of his silent agony, could feel Voldemort's distain and anger at his inexperience and under developed magic. His arm slashed upwards again, magic burning a blazing path across his chest and down to his fingertips before a swirling, spiralling fiery jet cut across the limited space between himself and the Headmaster. Harry watched as Dumbledore slashed his own wand downwards, the unknown spell meeting Harry's with a deafening boom and brilliant flash of light. The wash of residual energy bathed Harry's exposed face and hands in a firestorm of pins and needles.
"Remember, Harry. It is your greatest weapon. Your greatest virtue."
Dumbledore's calm voice reached through the pain and exhaustion and panic, far into the smallest, darkest part of his mind where he had retreated. Like a marionette, his arm jerked under the power of another, powerful curses being formed with his own magic, dragged from him until he felt sure his very magical core would wither and collapse from the strain. A maniacal laugh shook his shoulders, full of dark amusement.
"Virtuous? Undoubtedly. Weapons?..." Dark, sartorial laughter rolled across Harry's tongue. "…A mere child whose magic hasn't reached maturity. What weapons do you imagine he may wield against me?"
Another curse lit the air around them and Harry could only watch as his guardian demonstrated his defensive skill, seeming to deflect the spell into the dome like wards, which shivered with the impact, before disappearing completely. A foreign growl tore through his throat when in the very next instant strong hands grasped his wrists from behind and effectively wrapped his own arms around himself. Sudden pressure behind his knees made them give out and Harry felt the Headmaster's bulk follow his slumping body to the ground before he was pulled back tightly to the wizard's chest through the unrelenting grip on his wrists.
His holly wand slipped from numb fingers as the fingers wrapped around his right wrist sharply pinched nerves. He could do little to stop the writhing in his body as Voldemort fought to release Harry from the Headmaster's surprisingly solid hold, nor could he stop his inner cry as the skin in his arms suddenly heated as though held over living flame. He could breathe again when the heat was chased away by a rushing iciness emanating from the point where Dumbledore held his arms securely at his sides. Magic surged across his skin, causing gooseflesh to rise; a sign of impending accidental magic in his experience.
"Fight, Harry. You have done so before…" came the Headmasters rumbling, somewhat breathless voice at his ear.
Exhausted, Harry desperately focused on bringing memories of those he loved and cared for to the forefront of his mind, as he had once done before. Expecting Ron, Hermione, his parents and Sirius, Harry was not prepared for more recent memories to appear instead.
Professor Dumbledore, healing his wounds and telling him he did not have to return to the Dursleys; Bringing him hot chocolate and listening to his troubles; Appearing in the dead of night to console him after nightmares; Holding him when he cried; Asking his forgiveness; Caring enough to speak to him when he made mistakes; Helping with his school work; Rescuing him time and again.
Becoming his guardian.
Harry was filled with an overwhelming sense of gratitude and desperate need to keep his guardian, this wizard who, with every gesture and overture, demonstrated his love, caring and need to protect Harry these past weeks. He let the warmth spread, chasing the coldness that had seeped into every pore and vessel in his body.
He bucked against Dumbledore's broad chest, his face pinched and sweaty with agony as he fought to rid himself of the Dark Lord's presence. He felt the same pressure building in his head as he had at the start and when his jaw stretched open to release a gasping yell, it was his own voice that emerged. His numb, prickling fingers weakly grasped at the Headmaster's robes and he turned his head to press his face against the softness of his guardian's beard.
Images of Voldemort's twisted, furious face flashed in Harry's mind and with a final, snarling yell of pain and defeat, the Dark Lord's presence within him vanished.
Harry had only time to acknowledge the pressure in his head had vanished too before he succumbed to the darkness blurring at the edges of his vision.
Harry regained consciousness with the blurry but certain knowledge that it was not the first time he had done so. His confused mind flickered with fuzzy snapshots of muddled conversation, hands touching him, sharp spikes of unnatural light piercing his eyes and the sensation of horrible tasting potions being spelled down his throat. He felt too warm, like the time he had fallen asleep too close to the fire in the Gryffindor common room.
Thankfully, the air around him was crisp, fresh and carried the perfume of forest greens and morning dew. As he drew the scents inside, it reminded him briefly of times at the Dursleys when he had fallen asleep with the window open; at least as far as the bars would allow. Confusedly thinking himself there once more, Harry's breath hitched and a husky moan of despair climbed his dry throat to tickle against his lips.
As his wakefulness grew, so too did his awareness of how very, very unwell he felt. There was a dull, throbbing pain behind his sealed eyelids, a leaden heaviness in his achy limbs, a roiling acidic hole in his stomach and a particular heat and tightness in his right hand. He tried to curl his fingers inwards in an attempt to loosen the rigidity but found he was unable to do so. A soft groan of frustration rumbled in his throat, and he moved his head to seek the cold cotton of his pillowcase against his overwarm cheek.
A cool hand smoothed across his fevered brow, sweeping back his wilting fringe and allowing the chilled air access. Harry shifted awkwardly, agitatedly, and his protesting body gave enough of a jolt of reprimand to push him to full awareness. He cracked open slightly sticky eyelids and immediately closed them against the muted natural light beyond. His second attempt went better and despite blinking in a slow and sleepy manner, the blurriness around him began to take familiar shapes and shadows. Or as much as it usually did without the aid of his glasses.
The hand at his brow left and Harry blearily followed its retreat until he was looking at its owner, dressed in verdant green robes with a familiar crown of brilliant white hair and beard, Professor Dumbledore sat close enough to the bed Harry was recumbent on that his knees pressed against the off-white linens. Recognition brought a halt to his restless movements, a peace settling over him that threatened to easily pull him back into sleep.
Harry simply gazed sleepily at the Headmaster, watching the wizard watching him. His head felt as though it were stuffed with cotton wool, his thoughts disjointed and half-formed. Had he thought he was at the Dursleys? Was he? But why would the Headmaster be at his summer home? Vernon wouldn't stand for it, he knew. A frown pulled his eyebrows downwards, concern for his Professor taking root.
"You should pro'bly go, prof'ssr" he warned; his voice a slurring, dry whisper. He watched as Dumbledore leaned forward, his azure eyes patient though clearly concerned as he affixed his gaze on Harry's over-bright, half-lidded ones.
"Go, Harry?" Dumbledore enquired softly, and Harry sighed with comfort at the sound of the old man's voice. The Headmaster had a nice voice, Harry distractedly concluded. He never barked, or cursed; his words were never mean or cruel. He didn't hiss at him, or throw insults; and he never, ever screamed at him, even when he made the man angry. That was nice.
Why was he so hot? Harry wondered again. He used his left arm to push away the light blanket covering him, helped along with his right foot kicking weakly at it. His muscles protested the movements and he stilled without objection when his Professor reached across and folded the offending bedding towards the foot of the bed. That felt better.
"Am I miss'n class?" Harry suddenly wondered aloud, looking worriedly at the Headmaster, his previous question forgotten. He saw Dumbledore shake his head in the negative, a small smile playing around his mouth.
"No class today, Harry. You are exactly where you are supposed to be." Dumbledore reassured, patting his knee once.
"Tha's good." Harry agreed, shifting again. His right arm now throbbed in time with his heart beat but a glance down revealed little but the fact he was wearing off-white pyjamas that exactly matched the bedding. His eyelids fluttered with the effort and he fought the tempting pull of sleep again.
"M'really tired, Sir. Don't think m'gonna make class t'day…" Harry announced softly and solemnly "…don't feel so good." He finished with a slightly hitched breath, an unknown wretchedness sweeping over him.
Dumbledore leaned forward, and, careful of Harry's arm, spread his broad hand across Harry's pyjama clad chest.
"Then go to sleep, my boy. Close your eyes and rest. You needn't worry about class."
Harry's lips quivered with emotion and sinuses tingled with the dire prediction of unwanted tears. He swallowed hard.
"Pf'ssor" Harry whispered, a seldom heard frightened note in his voice. He felt the weight atop his chest lift and fall, lift and fall in a steady thump. His fever bright eyes closed of their own accord, and despite the discomfort and lethargy, he dragged his uninjured left hand across his own body to rest across the now still one, trapping it against his over-warm chest.
Professor Dumbledore's eyes, shining for different reasons, watched intently until every line of tension and fear melted away as Harry once more succumbed to his exhaustion.
Harry awoke with a groan. He felt stiff and sore, as though he had overslept on a hard, lumpy mattress. Blinking open tired eyes, Harry could just make out the familiar topography of the Hogwarts Infirmary, squinting a little at the bright light spilling across the opposite beds. Trying to sit up proved a mistake; his first firm push against the mattress to right himself sending darting, lightening bolts of pain through the fingers in his right hand and straight up into his shoulder.
His eyes prickled with the pain and he carefully cradled his damaged limb against his chest as he pushed upwards with his feet. Finally leaning, breathless, against the headboard, Harry checked the night stand for his wand and glasses. Finding only the reflective glass of his spectacles, Harry pushed them awkwardly into place and pulled the covers atop him to his chin. The room was unusually chilly.
It was as he was trying to remember how he had ended up in the infirmaryagain that his mind kicked into gear and the memories of the dark mark removal flooded his consciousness. He might have believed there was a chance he had dreamed the entire event were it not for the pain and aches he could feel blossoming across his body. To say nothing of just how very tired he felt, more than he felt was warranted following an obvious sleep.
The arched doors of the infirmary opening distracted him and he watched as the Headmaster strode across the threshold, tall and thin and surprised, if the developing expression on the wizard's face was anything to go by.
"Harry! I did not expect you to be awake, my boy. How are you feeling?" Dumbledore enquired, nearing the bed. Harry thought he sounded relieved as well as surprised.
"I've been better, Sir. How are you? And Professor Snape? Did it work? What happened?" Harry asked in a rush, regaining his senses as well as his memories. Dumbledore folded himself into a chair Harry hadn't noticed earlier and held up a hand to halt Harry's continuous line of enquiries.
"Peace, Harry. One thing at a time, hmm?" the Headmaster advised gently, tilting his head back to seemingly study Harry through the glasses perched upon his nose. It was Harry's turn to blink in surprise when his guardian leaned forward, shook his wide, embroidered sleeve back and placed a warm, dry hand against his forehead. The gesture was so patently parental that Harry blushed slightly, dropping his eyes to study the bandage swathing his throbbing right hand. The hand retreated and Harry glanced upwards, the soft, pleased look in Dumbledore's face enough to hold his attention again.
"It would appear your fever has, at last, broken. May I?" Harry nodded when Dumbledore indicated his wand, and held still as the wizard cast unknown spells above him. Questions formed and reformed in his mind, one taking priority before another would quickly take its place.
"Sir, did Voldemort find out where we were? Is that why we're back at Hogwarts?" Harry asked somewhat urgently, huffing quietly with impatience when his guardian restowed his wand and pulled the folded blanket at Harry's feet up and over him. The Headmaster shuffled back to his seat and flattened his beard against his chest in a habitual motion.
"No, Harry. Voldemort, whilst achieving much in his short stay, did not discern the whereabouts of Castle McGonagall. It is safe, as is Professor McGonagall, Kinsley Shacklebolt and Remus Lupin."
Harry nodded, relieved. He pushed away the tiredness that had not yet loosened its hold.
"And Professor Snape? Is he…? I mean, did it work, Sir?"
Dumbledore interlinked his fingers, the silver rings adorning them glinting in the bright morning light.
"Professor Snape is presently recovering at his home in Cokeworth, alive and in full possession of all his limbs. The dark mark remains, though its functions, thanks to you, have been permanentlycast off. It remains only as a reminder of a young man's folly - and a grown man's regret."
Harry sighed in relief, slumping a little further into the flattened pillows at his back. His eyes travelled over his guardian, seeing little to indicate any harm had befallen the wizard under Harry's attack. Still….
"Are you…ok? I mean, I didn't, um, hurt you or anything?" Harry hedged, feeling both guilt and embarrassment. The Headmaster's expression hardened somewhat and Harry felt himself shrink a little, a coldness seeping into his hollow stomach. Seeing this, and probably much more, Dumbledore shook his head and leaned forward, the twinkle absent from his gaze.
"Firstly, it was not you, Harry, who attacked me. It was Voldemort. It is imperative you see the difference. Secondly, I can assure you I suffered no lasting physical effects from my impromptu duel with Tom, which, regrettably cannot be said for you, my boy. And lastly, whatever guilt and discomfort you are harbouring is vastly misplaced. Rather, it is I who rightly shoulder these burdens. I allowed you to participate in what transpired to be a dangerous, painful and harrowing event. And, once more, it is you who must bear the brunt of my misjudgement and ill-conceived plans. I do not deserve your forgiveness, yet I find myself asking for it once more."
Dumbledore looked as though the burdens he spoke of literally weighed down on him, his shoulders sagging with it. It pained Harry to witness the depths of his guardian's self- reproach, depths he too had explored quite thoroughly.
"Professor, I wanted to help. I knew what might happen, I'm not….stupid. Or naïve…well, about this anyway. This wasn't like the Ministry. Or Ron and I flying Mr Wealsey's car, or, or drinking polyjuice to sneak into Slytherin…"
Harry blushed furiously at his inadvertent confession, looking down at his fingers as he worried stray threads on his bandaged hand. Which, incidentally, ached something awful he noted. If he had maintained eye contact, he would have seen fond amusement chase the shadows from the Headmaster's face.
"…anyway, what I mean is I didn't do this without thinking it through or without telling anyone. We talked about it, you were there and so were others. I might feel like a Hippogriff trod on me but no-one died, Snape is sorted, you're ok and so is Professor McGonagall's home. All in all I'd say we won this one, Sir." Harry finished tiredly, displacing his glasses as he rubbed his good arm across his heavy, itchy eyes.
His glasses were nimbly plucked from his face and he blinked blearily at his professor, frustrated with his body's apparent weakness. A dull headache played around his temples, his right side felt as though it had taken the worst of a fall from his broom and exhaustion rolled through him in waves. He reconsidered his description to Dumbledore – trodden on by a herd of hippogriffs was more likely.
"Sit up a little, Harry." The Headmaster assisted, a hand on his back, and Harry wrinkled his nose in distaste when a glass containing a royal purple potion was held under it. Too tired to argue or question, Harry took the glass and, holding his breath, downed half the contents in one gulp. A shiver wracked his shoulders as the foulness coated his tongue. He turned his head away from what remained and swallowed convulsively, biting back the swell of nausea.
"And the rest, Harry. Come on now." Dumbledore encouraged, indicating the remaining potion.
Glaring miserably at the glass, Harry was momentarily tempted to spill the contents across the off white bedding, but seeing the futility and immaturity in that, instead threw the rest to the back of his throat and blindly held out the empty glass. Uughhhh.
"Scoot down." Was his next instruction, and Harry followed this one without complaint, merely grimacing as achy muscles protested. He breathed out a sigh of relief when at last he was more or less horizontal, and watched as a slightly blurry Headmaster busied himself with straightening his bedding. That achieved, the old man perched beside Harry, much as he had in his first year, and, like then, began to explain.
"You have been suffering the ill effects of a fever these past two days, Harry. A fever brought on by a sudden and dramatic drain in your magical energy. Though you will eventually recover, you will be feeling rather poorly as your body attempts to replenish that which you lost. Tom is not only a powerful wizard, but a well read and experienced one. He attempted to utilise the same means and experience in our duel as he would normally do, that is to say, while residing in his own adult body."
Harry listened quietly, nodding slightly when his Professor paused to show his attention.
"Whilst possessing you, Tom had access to the resources you normally have at your disposal. As you do not yet have his power and experience, his attack drew forth magical energy that whilst you possess, has yet to be developed. He employed curses that you have never attempted, Harry; ones which your body and magic are not yet developed enough to cope with. Do you understand?"
Harry nodded again, a mere shift against the soft pillow supporting his head. Whatever potion Dumbledore had given him had left him feeling woolly and detached, and whilst it had the benefit of pain relief, it was making concentration rather a challenge.
"The results were a rather severe episode of magical exhaustion. It is neither unheard of nor untreatable, but it can be uncomfortable and draining, as I am sure you need no reminder of at the moment, Harry. Immediately following the event, I removed you from Castle McGonagall and returned you here, where Madam Pomfrey made a temporary return from visiting her family to ascertain your condition. I have her instructions for your conditioned improvement and her assurances that you will be back to your normal self in due course."
Dumbledore studied his charge's heavy eyes, considering his next words.
"Your arm and wand hand have taken the brunt of the damage, as you've no doubt noticed. They will take time to heal and you must not delay that process by attempting to use them. Which means no magic. Not even the most basic spells or charms, Harry. None. Is that clear?"
Irritation flooded Harry, pulling him from the lull he had fallen into whilst listening to the steady rumble of his guardian. A part of him understood the reasoning of course but another part, the part pissed off at being back in the infirmary, of being bested by Voldemort yet again – that part growled in defiance. Well, he thought mulishly, it wasn't as though he could afford to be entirely defenceless. He silently decided that if and when the situation required it, he would disregard Dumbledore's advice. It was only sensible as far as Harry could see. Still, no need to start an argument – he was already exhausted and a fight would only make the matter worse.
"Yes, Sir. No magic." He agreed, perhaps a little too quickly, as the Headmaster stared at him a moment longer with his penetrating gaze, a gaze which Harry found he couldn't hold as he looked down at the wizard's wide embroidered sleeve. He heard the man sigh and followed his progress as the Headmaster fluidly rose.
"Sleep, Harry. Get some rest. By the time you wake you should be fine for some food and drink."
Harry only nodded and slid a little further under the blankets, Dumbledore's suggestion seemingly holding the power of a spell as he immediately felt his heavy eyelids begin their descent. He was asleep before the Headmaster reached the foot of his bed. Had he not been, he may have witnessed the older wizard click his fingers, and grinned at who appeared with a muted pop.
TBC. Next: During Harry's convalescence, he receives a letter, which, given the unlikely correspondent, could have far reaching consequences.