It was around four in the morning when Harry awoke from one particularly nasty nightmare, involving his Uncle and Voldemort, both finding abject glee in his torture. Harry was glad he had remembered his Silencing Charm before drifting off around midnight. Moreover, he was just as glad that in a magical dwelling (and according to Sirius, "Unplottable") such as this meant a guarantee for Harry immunity from using underage magic.
Not that I need the protection now, he reasoned in foggy thought. His expulsion from Hogwarts was still currently on record, and it made the blood in his veins feel like withered ash to think of it. But, he supposed with a few seconds to clear away the mist of sleep, silence from his cries meant no undue questions. No pity. No people—people he did genuinely care about (aside from Snape)—to crowd him and see what the latest fracture in The-Boy-Who-Lived's mind dare tell.
He stretched, feeling the texture of the covers and sheets of the bed he was borrowing, in the room he was a guest in. They felt expensive, and smelled a bit old; not in a decrepit way but instead much like when walking into one of the antique shops. The kind of shops his Aunt Petunia loved to pick around in on a dull Saturday morning. It reminded Harry strangely of Hermione because old books had much the same smell, and she was always reading some such thing. Or the linen closet, right beside Ron's room that kept Harry's favorite blue sheets that he always used when he stayed over.
His chest constricted at the thought of his friends, still not particularly happy with them keeping this Order thing a secret. It was founded but a tad irrational to sulk about it now. However, it kept his mind busy from the more piercing memories of his nightmare, the likes of which still fresh in his head.
He slipped off his bed, intending to get a glass of water when he heard muffled voices down the hall. All morose thoughts paused as his interest was piqued, and Harry gently crept down the way to investigate. He stopped at the corner where the larger guestroom Albus had chosen for himself and Snape to share was located.
An audible sigh. And then, "Great. Just bloody fantastic." A young voice Harry had begun to recognize as Snape's had spoken.
"You lied to me, Severus." Said Albus's, but his was not jovial like when he first entered the house; instead it was tinged with anger and…was that regret?
"You found out later anyway. It's not as if it is news to you now." Snape said, his voice small and trying to contain his emotion.
Harry, sparked by his infuriating curiosity, silently moved to where he could see through the crack in the door opening. He wasn't sure why he felt compelled to, he just did. Perhaps feeling rebellious from the things withheld from him all summer.
He saw Snape turned away as he folded up a shirt and laid it on his bed. He hadn't any other shirt on and was reaching for his regular black long-sleeve when Harry caught sight of his back. It had scattered scrapes and a couple welts from what Harry knew to come from a thrashing. His green eyes widened and then turned to see Albus sitting on his own bed, head in his hands.
"I didn't know you suffered to this degree…so early…" Albus finally said as Snape carefully did up each button. Albus slammed a fist on his knee, and Harry felt the air around them all crinkle with a barely contained power and anger. Harry sucked in his breath, thankful that it passed as Albus once again held his head in defeat.
"I saw no reason to dig up the past. By the time anyone who would have genuinely cared found out…he was already dead. As was my mother. And I was myself already of age, a burden to no one any longer as to my own welfare." Snape now said without emotion, as if he were discussing the weather.
"But I…had I known..." Albus sunk back into himself. "I've failed you so much my boy." He whispered. Harry shifted, wanting to leave as he knew how private this moment was, but staying because he was glued on the spot by some indescribable need, latching onto each new word.
Snape turned away, facing Harry's sight but his eyes focused on something far away.
"It seems the potion also acted as a memory agent—it simply happened to reduce my body to the age and condition of a specific time." He turned to Albus. "It is not your fault. It is his for being a sorry excuse for a Muggle. I chose not to tell you when it happened because I was distrustful of adults. When I joined the Light, and we discussed my…past…I saw no need to tell you more than what you asked. I have no desire to do so now, as you can understand."
Albus looked up, eyes old and dull looking, immensely laden with sadness. " I…understand." Snape seemed guilty at the elder's sadness and since he thought no one was there, came and rested a small hand on the older boy's shoulder. "You will not burden yourself because of this." He allowed a curl of a smile to creep up his usually frowning mouth and Harry was blown away by how close the two seemed to be. Harry quickly made it down the stairs in quiet ease, with head swimming through conflicting thoughts.
He felt uncomfortable with what he had just learned. Snape was abused as a child but by whom? Harry guessed his father, but that would make him a half-blood…like Harry. And he had trouble trusting adults…like Harry.
And he kept secrets, secrets about his home life…like Harry.
Harry silently made his way to the kitchen, too numb to have the good sense to return to the relative safety of his bed. No, that wasn't exactly right was it? It wasn't his anything. Just a bed in a room, in a house he held no claim to that in turn belonged to a man that held no real claim to him either. He seemed to have more common with Snape than Sirius at this very moment. Perhaps always? Harry dug the heel of his palm into his eye sockets beneath his glasses breaking up his painful thoughts with momentary physical pain. He let out a deep sigh as he plodded into the room, stopping short in the doorway at the sight at the sink.
The silhouette of a frumpy, frail elf could be seen taking his great time at running a rag over some dishes, his work lit only by the dim torches that seemed to provide the only light in this almost-mansion of an apartment.
"Hello?" Harry called out, only to be completely ignored, aside from a hateful look the elf shot him from over his shoulder a moment as he worked.
"My name is—" Harry tried again, tentatively stepping forward, heart beating a bit faster now.
"I know who yous is, Harry Potter." The old thing replied in a nasty tone, the rancor diminished by his age and rasp of the throat.
"…Oh." Was all Harry could say to that. He would have been disappointed (again) that his fame had preceded him and stole away yet another introduction had it not been for the scathing tone of the elf. He was happy that with Ron he was able to make his own first impression as himself: Just Harry.
That thought just made him sad now, feeling the absence of his best friend hollow out the little warmth he got from the memory of his first train ride to Hogwarts. That, and the way the elf continued to talk, snapping him out of the reverie.
"…filthy half-blood son of a blood-traitor. Disgusting vermin not fit to eat off the scraps of Mistress' cherished plates. Yous who comes at the invitation of he who disgraces the venerable name of Black with his disgusting ways…"
Harry stepped backward, not sure if he heard the creature correctly from his strewn out dark mutterings mingled with the soft splashing of water as he washed.
"What did you say?"
"Yous is not fit to step foot in this house, not worthy of the dust that coats the once uplifted home of the House of Black, withered down into the ungrateful hands of the half-wit brother of Master Regulus."
Harry looked away, hurt and confused by his words. "You know nothing about me."
"I knows yous is filth!" The elf wheezed, his patience apparently wearing thin for no reason at all in his conversation with the teenage boy.
A growl could be heard from the doorway Harry had stepped away from to talk to the elderly elf. Jumping slightly, he turned to see two eyes glittering in the darkness about level with his thighs. But a moment later it was Sirius that emerged from the darkness and into the kitchen.
"You will not say anything so deplorable nor cruel to my godson ever again, do you hear me Kreacher?" Sirius hissed, striding forward to yank the elf on the ear, causing him to shriek in pain. Harry felt shocked at the action, even if it were for his benefit. He moved to them both, his earlier upset forgotten in his concern for the old house elf.
"Sirius stop! Don't hurt him!" Harry pleaded, his voice a rough almost-whisper as he was, in the back of his head, afraid of causing a loud enough scene to bring down Dumbledore and Snape—and he really did not want to see either of them (especially Snape) right now.
Sirius released the whimpering servant and looked at Harry with an odd expression, a cross between not seeing him clearly and being genuinely surprised, with an added touch of regret, likely from his actions. He turned to the elf after a second's hesitation.
"Go to bed, you wretched old thing. And do not, I repeat, do. not. speak to my godson like that again. That's an order."
The elf hobbled down his stool, wiped his hands on his ratty pillowcase rags he wore, and passed the two wizards as he made his way to the stairs to some compartment where his nook of living quarters seemed to be located. He did, however, spare one last look of pure loathing at Sirius and Harry before turning the corner.
Harry stared after the darkness for a long moment, bewildered and feeling cold inside-and-out for reasons he couldn't identify. He didn't realize Sirius was staring at his back, worried of his reaction.
Harry defied the old marauder's worries with a surprising question.
"What's his name?"
Sirius leaned back on the countertop, hands shoved into his night-robe pockets, perplexed.
"Creature?" Harry turned to him, bewildered by this odd fact.
"Mmm. With a 'K' I believe, but yes. Don't look at me like that, I didn't name him."
Harry wrung his hands in his pajama sleeves, feeling sick all of a sudden. "I didn't mean—"
Sirius immediately softened his gaze and moved toward Harry, taking his upper arms in his own hands and missing the slight flinch of his advance due to the darkness around the poorly lit room.
"Harry, I'm sorry. I only meant…well, let's just say Kreature is not a friendly elf. He has always hated me and the feeling has been mutual. He is the only thing left alive from my…less than ideal life in this house. I should have warned you before," he sighed here, "he does not bring out the best in me."
Harry, taking in his words, could only let himself nod in reply or else he would have either asked a dozen more questions or possibly begun to cry. The tightness of his throat at this point could mean either.
Sirius seemed satisfied by this response however, and ran a hand through his wavy hair, stepping back a bit to give Harry more room. Harry, on the contrary, immediately missed his warmth and strength.
"What were you doing in here anyway? Come to have a midnight snack then?" Sirius winked, a dull but familiar sparkle in his eyes. Harry found himself smile even though the question had his heart speed up again.
"No, I had a bit of…er, trouble sleeping and came down for a glass of water." Harry replied softly, wiping his face and slurring some of his words, helping him sound more out of it from sleep than he actually was. He felt even worse for lying to his godfather, but he was not about to explain he was having nightmares and eavesdropping on private conversations in the dead of night.
Sirius ruffled his hair, staving off the clawing anxiety Harry was feeling. It was a small gesture of affection but Harry soaked it up like a sponge.
"Me either, kid. But understandable for you, eh? Had a rough day and all." Harry kept quiet about the fact that this was bordering on normal for him. He didn't want to ruin the moment, nor drag on this seemingly endless night.
Turning away, Sirius grabbed a glass from the top cabinet (obviously not trusting the newly washed ones done by his elf) and filled it with water. It was comforting to see him do this in their companionable silence—Harry was so used to the mundane done in fantastical ways, and seeing something familiar as drawing a glass of water rather than pitching it out of thin air really grounded him.
Sirius handed him the water and gently pushed him out, joining him on the landing of the stairs before bidding him goodnight. It was a bit awkward as Harry could tell he was unsure what else to do, so Harry saved him the trouble and simply dashed up to his room. He had the odd flashback of an old Christmas cartoon the Dursleys would watch like clockwork every year about a green being that tried to steal the holiday away. Harry very much felt like the little girl in that story, sent up with his water. Thankfully, the only Grinch in the house was Snape, or perhaps worse (amazingly so) was this Kreature he had the misfortune to meet.
Harry violently turned over as he nearly jumped back into the bed, hating himself for his misadventure tonight. Where his thoughts, currently unhindered by the company Sirius briefly provided, were now straying. What other secrets revolved around his Potions Master? And what other parallels would he draw between himself and his previously hated teacher? Harry couldn't exactly hate him now, that was sure. And why did Sirius treat Kreature so badly? Obviously, the elf had a tongue as sharp as the sword of Godric Gryffindor, but then so did Harry if pushed enough by his relatives.
All these feelings were too much, and he was too raw from the day before and his nightmares in between. Harry imagined himself bundling it all up in a dark tangled mass and shoving it down once again. He could deal with this once that was done. He felt nothing with intensity when he did this. Nothing hurt or crashed into his world when he stuffed the emotions aside rather than let them take him over. With confidence he could have control in at least that, Harry Potter fell into a dreamless sleep.
Harry startled awake from the light doze he had taken to after his rather eventful night. A wild chirping to his right could be heard and peering out the opposite wall's window Harry spotted a white blur scratching at the panes clouded with age and disuse. A dark green image mingled with the white and the squawking only got more frantic and loud, though muffled as it was on the other side of the thick, ancient glass. It registered after a few seconds that Hedwig had been en-route, having been let out to hunt before he took to sulking in the playground, and so she must had found him here at Grimmauld Place. Harry scrambled out of bed and slapped on his glasses in one swift motion, and his knees buckled in fright at what he could now see.
Hedwig was at his window, flapping madly as she battled what seemed to be a nasty dark green vine snaking around her. Her yellow eyes looked terrified but also indignant at being attacked by vegetation. Harry slipped in his socked feet on the hardwood floor as he scrambled to the window.
"Hedwig!" Harry shouted frantically as he lunged for the locks. They refused to budge. Harry felt the numbness suddenly vanish in his current adrenaline rush, replaced with fear of losing his familiar in what was rapidly looking to be a gruesome death if he were unable to rescue her.
Harry continued to yell out for his owl, beating on the panes of the window with his fists until they began to bleed slightly. The glass seemed to be warded against breaking. The bedroom door flew open to reveal Sirius in an old muggle band t-shirt and flannel bottoms; a deeply rich maroon robe haphazardly slung onto half his body and falling the rest of the way off as he dashed inside, his hair tangled and his silver eyes flashing.
"Harry! What's going—" But Harry interrupted him, with Hedwig's screech drowning them both out. Harry then saw the wand in Sirius's hand and dashed back to the bed, making Sirius jump back to get out of his way, still groggy and almost frightened from the chaos in the room.
"Harry?!" Remus's voice could be heard now, as well as his jogging steps. But Harry paid the two men no mind as he snatched his wand from under his pillow and then turned back to the window. Harry was about to try another go at casting when Sirius jumped in front of him and clawed madly at the window.
"Remus! Help me with this blasted thing!" He exclaimed in a strangled yell, wand forgotten in his hand. Remus was at his side instantly, but only to shove him out of the way.
"Sirius move!" Remus cried out in his swift movement, brandishing his wand in another. He shot out a wordless but extremely powerful spell that shattered the window panes and wood to bits. Hedwig's screeching increased ten-fold now that the sound barrier to her screams was removed completely.
"What the—!" Harry heard a younger voice call at his door, registering somewhere back in his mind that is was Snape. But how did that make sense? His inner voice, panicked and muddled in a thousand thoughts, couldn't make the connection just then.
Harry paid the disjointed thoughts no mind and dived almost directly through the window and jagged glass. He barely heard several voices calling his name as he was now too busy tangling with the hideous plant to respond. He dimly felt his skin cut to ribbons in the fight, and his glasses thrown off and shattered somewhere below him as Hedwig flapped her wings frantically. The nasty vine slinked a tendril right around Harry's neck and constricted his breathing almost immediately. More tendrils wrapped around his biceps and left wrist, but not before he pried its grip loose of his beloved owl.
"Watch it, Lupin! You'll hit Potter!" shouted McGonagall, joining the fray along with Dumbledore. Hedwig was now free and she flew about the room, creating more rukus with her cries for her distressed master. Harry almost blacked out from the hold when he felt two pairs of hands reach for him and pull him backward.
"Merlin! Stop! We're making it worse!" Sirius exclaimed as he and Remus tried to pull Harry from the window, the glass shards scraping his skin again.
Remus was then knocked over the desk before he could reply, and Sirius thrown backward into Snape (who was trying to get a clear shot without hitting Harry) to the foot of the bed. Hedwig had made her round by this point and dived with ferocity at the monster now choking her master. It slapped her out of the way, knocking the poor bird out cold.
"Now, Minerva!" Albus called, twirling his wand in tandem with hers.
Their spell combo struck the vegetation dead center at its thickest: the stalk. It actually screamed before releasing Harry and slid back out the window and down the stone wall outside where it had taken root.
Harry was dropped to the floor as the thing retreated and Hedwig took no time to land right beside him, she having revived from her momentary knock-out. Without getting up, Harry ruffled her chest feathers, just to assure himself that she was there and alive; Hedwig in turn nipped at the tangles in his hair, affectionately cooing.
Harry breathed an immense sigh of relief, feeling like a sack of rocks on the bottom of the ocean as he lay there.
"Bloody hell, is anyone going to explain what just happened?" Snape groaned, after sliding out from under Sirius (giving him a hard kick off his person in the process). Harry might have laughed at the absurd sight of a child-version of Snape swearing like a grouchy old muggle sailor had he been more coherent of his surroundings.
Remus knelt beside Harry with Sirius shuffling next to him, stammering out a reply as Dumbledore approached and McGonagall went to inspect the window.
"That thing in the window—" Sirius trailed off, attention only for his godson.
"Harry, can you hear me?" Remus asked, his voice laced in gentle worry. As he placed a hand on Harry's head, Harry flinched. Remus retracted his hand, seemingly at a loss on how to comfort the boy. Sirius noted the exchange, and refrained from scooping Harry up into his arms as he was dead set on doing not two seconds earlier. The two Marauders shared a look of helpless worry.
"Merlin, his arms…his throat…" Sirius gasped, and Harry groaned, now more awake from his momentary collapse. Albus knelt by them as well, Snape coming to stand beside, but noticeably farther away from Harry's immediate vicinity.
"We need to get him on the bed to heal him properly." Albus assessed after a moment, taking in the gashes in the boy's skin. Even Snape looked paler than usual taking it all in. Remus and Sirius took up the task with quick precision, with Sirius scooping up Harry in his arms (as he wanted to do instantly) and Remus gently coercing Hedwig to an old coatrack in the corner. Purebloods may have cherished their owls, but they didn't deem it proper to have them hanging about in perches in their living quarters like commoners. Hedwig seemed to understand the need for improvisation and allowed him to transfer her from her master to the nearby make-shift perch. She watched them with intent at their every move.
Upon picking him up, Sirius almost jostled Harry, expecting him to be heavier than he was. All those baggy clothes…the pajamas had been transfigured by McGonagall of course, but even then they hung on him oddly. And now he felt why—Harry was much too thin for his age. Almost…frail.
Harry's breaths began to quicken at the touch, and Sirius tried his best to focus on the task at hand, pushing his concerns in the back of his mind for now. Harry moaned softly, trying to awaken; fight off his touch.
"Un'cl…Vern'n…I'm s'rry…" Harry murmured as Sirius laid him back on the bed, Albus having spelled the bed made and ready for its occupant.
"What did he say?" Remus asked as he joined the group, brows crinkled in worry and confusion.
"He said something about…a Vernon?" Sirius replied, equally confused.
"That would be his uncle, Sirius." Albus explained absently, now taking over with a full diagnostic. "Severus, I do believe we have need of—"
"Yes of course, I'll see what I have on hand." Snape didn't even need him to finish, he knew exactly what the boy may require from his potions and salves. He was only thankful he thought to request them from Poppy that previous evening via the Floo. One could only anticipate a common cold to a veritable flesh-eating curse staying in a house like this; and if anyone in this house was going to be well prepared it would be him.
Especially when Potter—as he JUST demonstrated—was under the same roof, that incurably accident-prone whelp.
As he hurried down the corridor, Snape tried not to think about the blood smeared on Potter's thin arms nor the way Potter looked so lifeless in the brief instance he was in Black's arms.
"That disgusting beast is no more." Minerva announced, walking back into the room as Snape left. She had managed to slip out and conquer the beastly plant outside while the rest of the group tutted over Harry and Hedwig. She knew her lion cub was well protected and had some revenge to exact.
"Just don't tell Pomona what I did, mm? Now then, just what exactly happened?" Minerva echoed Snape's earlier question as she straightened her bun. She was trying to hide the tremble in her hands that had developed since Harry got caught up by the creature only minutes earlier.
Sirius was wringing his hands as he watched Albus' wandwork like a hawk, leaving Remus to answer her.
"That thing was strangling his owl outside the window and Harry was unable to open it himself to help…" His attention was divided as he noted a red hue slip in the normal gold that had previously been emitting from his old headmaster's wand during the diagnostic scan. Albus looked more concerned by this as well.
"What's wrong?" Sirius asked, voice cracking and eyes wild.
"Sirius—" Remus half-heartedly tried to calm his friend down but Sirius shrugged off his steadying hand.
"I know that look; Dumbledore, what is it?" Sirius almost hissed.
Albus was about to reply when in bustled Snape, barely able to carry his black potions kit. Careful not to shake them unduly, he lugged it by the bed. Remus tried to help but Snape merely growled him away as he struggled (but succeeded) in hefting it on the bed by the Boy Who Made Gardening Into A Death Defying Stunt.
"Gl'ass's…" Harry coughed, his voice a harsh whisper still from being choked. He seemed more alert now, if extremely tired.
"He needs his glasses!" Sirius looked wildly about, latching on something productive he could do with disproportionate fervor.
"Way to state the obvious, Black." Snape spat as he shoved him out of his way to get to Harry's side.
"What—Hey! Don't let him near Harry, he may poison him!" Sirius practically squawked. Remus winced and felt his chest pinch at how wild his best friend looked just then—his inward consolation being that he knew his emotions ran raw when it came to Harry; they did for them both.
"Sirius Black! Don't be absurd!" McGonagall snapped at him, "Severus may be a grouch but he has only Mr. Potter's best interests at heart." She intoned rather formally. Albus recognized it as one she fell back on when agitated—or worried. Especially illustrated in her less than tactful description of Snape.
Snape shot her a dirty look from under his thin lank of a bang that had hung limply by his face as he leaned over his bag to dole out a couple of potions and a salve.
"Are you a wizard or not, Black?" Snape snapped as he roughly uncorked one of the bottles.
"What kind of crack is that-?!" Sirius looked livid.
"Instead of standing there gawking like a first year Gryffindor that just got hit in the head with a bludger, you could be summoning the boy's glasses!" Snape rapidly fired without even looking up as he mixed one potion into another, measuring them out carefully as he spoke. Albus looked a bit consternated at the jab and Minerva looked flat out offended, but it did get the reaction he wanted—Sirius distracted from hindering his healing ministrations.
"Right right…" Sirius muttered darkly, but with a softness that meant he inwardly berated himself for not doing it sooner before Snape called him out on it. A moment later Harry's old glasses plopped in his scarred and calloused hand, a tangle of wire and broken lenses. Remus moved near him to inspect the mess.
"Is it fixable?" He mused aloud, one eye still on Harry as Dumbledore continued to work and now proceeded to pull out bits of glass from his skin. Remus winced again, this time with empathy for the small teen. He wished there was something he could do to help them, but knew not to get in the way yet.
"Let me have a look." McGonagall replied, moving them both over to the repaired window and desk she had just fixed.
Meanwhile, Snape hiked up a folded knee as he settled closer to Harry, who was quiet now but obviously awake.
"Idiot boy, only you would risk life and limb to save a ruddy bird." Snape reprimanded in a mumble as he shook his bottle.
"Hedwig is special to me!" Harry defended earnestly in another hoarse whisper. "Ugh, you sound just like him…"
"Mind your tone, boy." Snape growled, as obsidian glowered at unfocused emerald. His own anger at the assumed cheek made him forget to wonder just who Harry could be comparing him to.
Harry's brows furrowed even more, his nose crinkling in disgust. Snape had to stop himself from smacking him right then and there, so similar did he look like his father just then.
"See? Professor," Harry turned to the blurred form he knew to be Albus, "does he have to be in here? I can do whatever by myself—"
Before Albus could reply Snape beat him to it.
"Far be it from to deny the precious prince Potter something he wants, but as it is I am the only wizard qualified to apply these on your disrespectful, insolent body!"
"Oiy! How dare you—"
"What are you doing?!"
These came in unison from the other corner of the room, from Sirius, Minerva and Remus. Turning around completely to ignore their approach and remarks on his brand of rebuke (even Albus was saying something about being "more tactful") Snape was inwardly surprised to see not a smug Potter but one that looked vastly uncomfortable.
"Lie still—" Snape tried with gritted teeth, Sirius practically breathing down his neck now. He only had himself to blame for this, his sharp tongue often got him into trouble ever since he was an actual boy.
Harry obeyed but visibly recoiled at the slightest touch of Snape's hand. Snape felt his anger renewed, misinterpreting the reaction.
"FINE. One of you idiots do it!" Snape swirled out in a huff, stomping out of the room entirely, shrugging off Minerva and ignoring Albus.
Dumbledore looked after the small knobby form of Snape retreating and sighed as he watched him disappear from sight down the corridor.
"I'm sorry." Harry sighed as well, hitching up higher to lean against the headboard.
"It's not your fault, Harry. I wouldn't trust him either." Sirius commented as he sat on the edge of the bed, Remus taking the jar and sitting on Harry's other side. Albus came to stand beside the foot of the bed as McGonagall still fiddled with the glasses.
"That's…that's not why I…" Harry sighed again, digging his heel of his hand into his eyes again as he did the night before. Merlin, it was all coming back. The nightmare, the conversation, Kreature…Harry felt his stomach twist and dug his palm deeper into his eye socket.
"Hey, hey, kiddo! Careful there, eh?" Sirius gently chided, taking Harry's hand away from his face and softly into his own bigger one. Harry now almost wanted to cry, as Sirius's tone was warm and loving. Remus scooched closer and slowly scooped up a small glob of the magical salve with two fingers.
"Severus may be more qualified, but I also have a bit of experience with nasty scratches." Remus grinned with his dark amber eyes holding a mixture of mirth and resignation. Harry matched the expression, understanding only too well the feeling.
As Remus began at Harry's arms, Sirius cleaning the wounds before the werewolf softly rubbed in the healing balm, Albus took grasp of a footpost of the bed and regarded Harry. Harry had only seen this certain serious alertness in his headmaster a few times over the years, and it was always coupled with events of tragedy or Voldemort—usually both. It was like he was lost in thought, a million miles away trying to sort out a puzzle when all the pieces were the exact same color.
"What's wrong?" Harry blurted out, absolutely not okay with the feelings of new dread creeping up his spine.
Albus blinked, standing upward from his leaning stance, taken off guard by the question. He then smiled genially, helping Harry to calm down a bit.
"My boy, I do often take for granted how observant you are."
"Harry has always been sharp; I saw that the first day we met." Remus commented quietly, his smile still hinted on his face as he worked in the slightly stinging solution onto Harry's cuts and scrapes. He proceeded to roll up the sleeve of his pajamas when Harry looked at him curiously.
"On the train?" he asked.
"Oh no, right after you were born." Remus grinned, darting a look at Harry who blushed but didn't even seem to notice his own face heat up.
"You were there?"
"Of course he was! I was too!" Sirius barked a laugh, causing McGonagall to jump and shoot him a disapproving glare as she adjusted her spectacles. "It was an amazing day, Harry, one of the best in my whole life."
"Really?" Harry couldn't help but ask in confused wonder. "Why?"
Remus and Sirius shared a small laugh but also an uncertain look at the question. Remus then answered,
"Because you were born." His tone was light as if gently teasing Harry for not knowing this was obvious. Sirius was nodding his head vigorously and Harry chuckled at the duo's antics despite himself. But then his attention went back to Albus as the wise—young—man addressed him.
"I wondered if I may ask you a few questions, Harry? It has to do with the test I ran on you earlier." Harry felt a bit anxious again but nodded. The young Dumbledore looked regretful as he interrupted the pleasant mood of the conversation, but Harry felt it better to get this—whatever it was—over with.
"What do you remember about your accidental magic?"
"His accidental magic?" Sirius perked up, wondering where this was leading. Even McGonagall had turned her attention to their conversation, a half melted blob of glass in her hand from her work's progress.
Albus nodded. "In assessing that the plant did not create any lasting, serious damage on you, my spell indicated your magic is a bit…stressed."
Remus made a face, his brow crinkled; but his back was to the conversation. It was Harry who took up the questioning, shifting up a bit more to give Remus more access to his shoulder now but not paying much more attention to him than that.
His focus was almost solely on this new topic.
"What does that have to do with my uh, accidental magic?" Harry this time did indeed feel his cheeks warm with embarrassment. Accidental magic for him had never, ever been good. He failed to see why there was a need to talk about it now. He'd much rather not.
Dumbledore shifted his weight to one foot and folded his arms to better balance, looking more like a casual teenager than a wizard over a century old. He rubbed his beardless chin in thought, then answered,
"Our inner magic, the very purest part of the whole, is at its fullest and most potent when we are born. As we grow," here Dumbledore began to pace about the room, in a full lecture mode Harry had not been privy to hear before and actually found to be enthralling. "—this magic seeks ways to manifest. Once we get older and can control it, our inner magic matures with us and develops into full magic, and is not nearly so unpredictable or…shall we say, concentrated. It marks a great wizard that can train their magic to reach this particular peak naturally once again. It is common—understandably so—that most magic-folk cannot."
Albus stopped to hold Harry in his gaze. "Accidental magic is always to be expected in the young, beginning when a witch or wizard is born. It is in this way that inner magic finds an outlet. It's like keeping lighting in a bottle, you see. Without a healthy exercising of this proverbial muscle, atrophy will result."
"Atrophy…?" Harry ventured.
Albus nodded. "A decline in strength and a wasting of this magic in some cases…" he trailed off, almost uncertainly, which was an odd expression to hear in Dumbledore's voice.
"So…you think my um, inner magic is stressed then?" Harry queried aloud, wincing a bit as the balm Remus applied stung. Remus then gently pushed his sleeve back down and silently slid around to the other side to begin work on the other extremity. Sirius meanwhile was rapt with attention to the conversation progressing.
Dumbledore looked intensely thoughtful for a moment before answering.
"I am…unsure. I ask about your accidental magic because it may give us some clue as to what your magical health levels are now. It is difficult to further test otherwise."
Harry thought for a moment. "Um…well, weird stuff happened. When I was a kid, I mean. And I didn't know what it meant at the time…only that it made my relatives really mad."
Remus pushed his sleeve down, finished with his ministrations (there had been less damage to that side) and ready to fully focus on the conversation at hand. "Mad? Whatever for?" he asked.
Harry pushed himself up against the headboard, linking his arms around his now flexed knees. The timidity of his stance now was lost on no one.
"Do we have to talk about this right now?" Harry asked in almost a whisper.
Sirius looked torn between letting his worried curiosity win or his overpowering protectiveness prevent Harry from doing anything he didn't want to ever again. Albus, thankfully, relented almost immediately.
"Of course, dear boy. You've had a rough morning after all." There was something in his crystal deep blue eyes now that Harry couldn't really make out, as if almost hidden. "Get dressed, little one, and join us for breakfast. I have it on good authority that Professor McGonagall can make a mean swiss cheese omelet." Harry grinned finally, widening it when Minerva bustled up to smack at Albus's arm playfully and to hand Harry his now fixed glasses.
"I don't care what those elves may tell you, I'm not that good a cook!"
"Falsehoods, my dear, falsehoods…" he chuckled as they turned to leave the room.
Harry had muttered his thanks, but McGonagall was going off a mile a minute in a very deep accent that she seemed to have tamed with age, for he had not heard it quite so distinct before. He slipped on the glasses, and was content to feel them stronger than before. However, they were still weak in the lense and he wondered if he should try and get his eyes checked at some point. Now that he was out from under the Dursleys, anything was possible, right?
Harry looked to his father's remaining best friends and shifted a bit, unsure if he were comfortable or not in the stretching silence and the weight of their stares.
Finally, though, Remus cleared his throat.
"Sirius, old boy, we must leave little Harry to dress! It just isn't proper for us to be hovering about!" he jovially interjected as he jumped up and made to move Sirius out the door.
Harry, slightly amused at the teasing, did not quite catch the overly-light tone of his former professor.
"Little!" Harry argued in a tone meant to be a yell but came out as a harsh rasp. He coughed to clear it a bit.
Remus, shoving a stammering Sirius out into the hallway turned to Harry. "Yes little, you've got a lot of growing left in you! One would think you never eat!" Remus chuckled and closed the door with a snap.
He therefore missed the frightened look that crossed Harry's face at his words.
A/N-feel free to send me any questions, comments and concerns kiddos. I read every review, even if I don't get to reply to each one :') Tell me, if anything, what you'd like