Chapter 53 – Warning Visions
At first, it was images of Hogwarts; the Great Hall, Snape's classroom and the maze of hallways that navigated through the dungeons. It all seemed so innocent at first; harmless pictures flicking through his mind in no particular order. But then an angry cold began to seep into his thoughts, and the images appeared darker, as though the lights had been dimmed. Odd…
His feet carried him through a particularly long hallway; the one that led to Snape's personal quarters in the dungeons, he recognised, as the familiar portraits came into view. As he was reaching the end of the passageway he could make out the distinct sound of another set of footsteps approaching from the rear, and turned to see the new arrival, only to be met with a stream of red light. Unable to stop himself he slammed painfully back into the wall, landing in a helpless heap on the ground. He strained his eyes to try and get a glimpse of his attacker, but whoever it was, was too far away. From the shadows approached another curse, followed by a third, and before he knew it he was panting hard, trying to prop himself up against the wall.
The silhouetted figure approached slowly, wand raised ready to attack. Without a wand of his own and unable to defend himself, Harry had no choice but to wait to see who approached. His scar prickled as a face finally started to appear through the darkness. He recognised the man the instant he came into view, smiling menacingly down at him, tongue flicking out every few seconds, like that of a snake. Heart beating rapidly he held his breath, waiting to see what Barty Crouch Jr planned to do with him. After an agonising wait, the forbidden curse came out of nowhere, hitting him squarely in the chest, knocking him to the ground the moment it impacted.
"Crucio!" The voice laughed sadistically as he writhed helplessly on the floor, the severity of the spell setting every last nerve ending in his body on fire, causing a truly immense bout of pain. He tried his absolute hardest to breathe through it, but eventually it became too much for his battered boy to bear.
The most blood-curdling scream imaginable erupted from his chest, a long, drawn out wail that continued until the curse finally ended. Harry had never experienced anything like the unbelievable pain that single curse had just inflicted on him. He lay there panting, sobbing, wishing that he'd actually been killed; anything but that torture. As the gleeful face of Crouch Jr began to slowly fade back into the shadows, he felt rough hands grabbing at his body, shaking him awake with an undeniable sense of urgency.
"Come on Harry," the commanding voice whispered, "I need you to open your eyes for me..." He tried to peel them open as he slowly returned to reality, finally recognising the voice of the potion's professor as he attempted to bite back his sobs. The man could see the obvious pain and distress his boy was in, for he ordered, "Draco, I need pain relievers; now." Harry barely heard the Slytherin boy's reply as he sprinted for the staircase.
As he managed to finally focus his sight, he was met with what was probably the most concerned look that had ever been sent in his direction. He tried to move, but a searing pain ripped through him. He gasped at the sensation and nearly vomited, unable to hold back the choked sob that that slight movement caused.
"Do not move even an inch child," Severus commanded gently, trying to take charge of the situation. "You've just had what appears to be a severe seizure; try to stay as still as possible until we can ease the pain."
Harry foolishly moved to nod, not trusting his voice at that moment. Once again an unbearable heat tore through him as he lay helplessly on the ground, sobbing from the sheer agony that rendered him immobile.
A comforting hand began to pet his head, before moving ever-so gently to stroke his tear-stained cheek, red with embarrassment. He tried to focus on the sensation, attempting to ignore the steady tremors that accompanied the debilitating pain. "Shh… I'm here with you Harry; the pain will be gone soon, I promise."
But despite the soothing words and the reassuring touch, the raging assault on his body continued to get the better of him. "Please help me," he begged though the tears, quickly nearing his breaking point. Harry felt as though his body was actually about to explode as endless waves of scorching heat rippled through him. A sharp, fiery pang caused him to involuntarily scream. He unconsciously attempted to curl in on himself, which only served to worsen the pain. "Please," he sobbed, the heartbreaking pleas beginning to affect the Potion's Master. Severus couldn't bear to see the boy in so much agony. What the hell kind of seizure could reduce a person to this..?
Emerald green eyes stared desperately up into his own, begging him for mercy. "Please sir," he choked out, words breaking as he gasped helplessly for air through the sobbing and the pain. "I…can't stand it anymore. Just kill me, please."
Only one thing in the world that Severus knew of could torture a person to the point that they begged for death: the cruciatus curse. But that just wasn't possible…
…Or was it..?
Draco threw himself down beside his Godfather, who was desperately trying to provide Harry with any comfort he could, hearing the Gryffindor boy begging for death through his cries. He looked as though he were being tortured, trembling uncontrollably with a haunted look in his eyes, blood seeping down his temple where his lightning bolt scar had torn open and was now bleeding freely. What in Merlin's name was going on? Everything was fine until a tormented screaming cut through his sleep, alerting him to the current situation.
The image of Potter thrashing about in his sleep, practically vibrating as he screamed in pain was still fresh in his mind. It was sickening to see someone be tortured to the point of wanting to die, and it was so much worse that this was a result of his own mind. It made him wonder exactly what his classmate had lived through for his mind to come up with such horrifying thoughts.
"Severus," he asked, not even able to hide the panic that was racing through him. "What's going on?"
His godfather was tipping the pain reliever into Potter's mouth in between his pained gasps. He waited for it to work, but it had very little effect. Harry's sobs had died down into sharp breaths, but was still trembling beyond belief. "Stay with him," Severus all but begged as he raced into his own room, tearing through his cupboard to find exactly what he was looking for.
Draco did as asked and remained by his friend's side. Friend? He didn't have time to dwell on that startling occurrence though; he wasn't quite sure when that happened… He even reached out to rest a palm over the bony mass of Potter's shoulder, pressing just lightly enough to try and give him strength. He could see the slightly younger boy was desperately trying to hold himself together, eyes slammed shut and jaw clenched.
"It's alright, Potter," he tried to reassure, hoping to distract him to give him even the slightest amount of reprieve. "Severus will be back any second. Keep fighting and everything will be okay."
Harry attempted a smile that ended up as more of a pained grimace. "Thanks Malfoy," he groaned as a fresh wave hit him. The next time he opened his eyes, Snape was back by his side, holding a vial of liquid, the shade that of a brilliant violet.
"What's that?" Draco asked curiously, nodding to the bottle in Severus' hands. Harry was eternally grateful that Malfoy had asked so he wouldn't have to; he wasn't sure he could manage to speak right now…
He brought the potion to Harry's lips immediately, urging him to drink it. Harry accepted it, with full trust that the older wizard had no intention of poisoning him. Only as the potion began to work its magic did Severus speak. "It's to counteract the effects of the cruciatus curse," he explained, expression grim.
Harry didn't seemed to surprise at the information revealed, which led Severus to believe that he had indeed been correct in guessing what had caused this so called seizure.
"What? The cruciatus curse? How is that even possible?"
Severus never once removed his eyes from Harry as he absent-mindedly answered Draco. "I have no idea…"
Severus had been at a loss of what to do as he drank in the sight of his son writhing around helplessly on the floor in agony, legs, arms, torso neck and even fingers twitching and seizing involuntarily, as he shrieked for mercy, his body convulsing, turning side to side in an urgent attempt to ease the excruciating pain. His worry mounted tenfold as the glistening crimson of blood caught his eye.
Draco's presence went unnoticed as he raced to the young Gryffindor's side, intelligently avoiding the flailing limbs as he settled himself in a kneeling position at the boy's head, using his deep, calming voice, full of worry and panic, to try and break through to the convulsing teen. The moment his body mercifully stilled his hands flew to Harry's upper body, praying to whoever was listening that his child's body hadn't shut itself down in an attempt to escape from the pain. A sigh of relief escaped as the boy obeyed his gentle command to open his eyes, seeking him out with an enormously pained expression.
At first Severus thought the episode to be a simple seizure, like those of which affected a large number of muggles all over the world. But memories of seeing and even experiencing that blasted curse pushed to the forefront of his mind, and he knew deep within that this was what the boy was experiencing… How, he didn't know, but right now he had to focus on doing absolutely everything his power to ease his son's pain.
"Are you able to move now?" He whispered sympathetically as Harry's breathing slowly but surely evened out, allowing his once tensed face muscles to finally relax.
Harry flexed his fingers with cautious, methodical movements, trying to gauge the pain. The slight wince would have gone unnoticed had Severus not been watching for it. With a wordless flick of his wand the older wizard transfigured the lounge into a high-backed bed with a thick, cushioned layer, providing adequate support for anyone who should attempt lean against it. "Draco, could you fetch Harry's pillows please?" he ordered softly as he turned the covers back in preparation for the boy's transfer.
With the addition of the cloud-soft pillows, the bed was ready to be occupied. "Lean forward for me, and bend your knees slightly." Harry complied with a muffled moan, aching neck and muscles screaming in protest, glad that the potions master's arm was slipped hastily behind his shoulders so he could use his solid upper arm for support. "I'm going to move you off the floor Harry; brace yourself. I'll be as gentle as I can." Without having to be asked Draco stood by for support, stepping in to provide stability for the Gryffindor's neck as the boy hollered in agony as it tipped back at the sudden movement.
A steady stream of soothing apologies and comforting reassurances flowed freely from the older Slytherin's mouth, but Harry barely heard them as a blinding, white hot pain surged from his head to his toes, breath hitching into a strangled cry as he was pulled briefly into unconsciousness.
Severus swore under his breath as Harry went limp, neck precariously lolling from side to side. He wasted no time climbing ever so carefully up onto the bed, using his Godson's willingness to assist to his advantage. "Here, let me help," the blonde offered as he took more of Harry's weight, so his Godfather could find a comfortable position at the head of the bed. Severus braced his upper back and shoulders against the headboard, pillows supporting and angling his lower half to allow him to recline slightly, the position perfectly providing adequate comfort and stability for Severus and Harry for the time being.
Draco backed away slightly in shock, feeling very much like an intruder during this private moment. As he caught the professor's eyes he gestured to the staircase, with the intent to leave. Severus shook his head however; he felt out of his depth and it was nice to have potential help, or at the very least, some form of moral support. He signalled for the boy to have a seat…
With Harry cradled protectively, left side pressed flush to his chest, he waited patiently for the boy awaken, gliding gentle hands up and down the boys spine and side encouragingly, trying to coax him back to wakefulness. With the boy's shaggy head tucked neatly under his chin, it wasn't the fluttering of eyelashes, nor the furrowing, pinched eyebrows that alerted him, but the slight tensing that occurred throughout the slim, slightly bony frame, followed by a gasping hiss of pain.
Both Slytherins turned their attention to him immediately; Draco hesitantly climbed onto the very end of the bed, finally finding the courage to move closer. He didn't speak, but his eyes remained glued to the Gryffindor's now only faintly trembling body. After a moment he casted a quiet 'tergeo', unable to look at the dried trail of blood on the pale face any longer.
Severus' left hand found its way to cup the boy's cheek, drawing his attention. He tipped his own head round so their eyes could meet. "Child," he whispered softly, "On a scale of one to ten, one being almost no pain at all and ten being absolutely unbearable, how do you feel?"
Harry had to think about that for a moment. His body definitely ached a great deal less than it had a few minutes ago. Until he moved…
Like a sudden volcano eruption, a searing rush of heat coursed through him, as he tried to tilt his head. He gritted his teeth and clenched his jaw, trying to hide it. He didn't need to worry Severus, or Draco, any further. He'd managed to stress them enough with this little incident.
"A six," he groaned with a wince, knowing full well that was a lie. Well actually it wasn't, unless he was attempting to move. Deep obsidian orbs burned a hole in his skull; he could practically feel Snape's disappointment at the blatant lie as he tried to will the pain away. He tried to hunker down further against his warm bedding, the arms happily snaked around him tightening minutely in response, both supporting him and encouraging him to tell the truth.
"…it's only really bad when I try to turn," he finished reluctantly, breathing hard through the nausea that accompanied the pain.
Severus' sharp mind latched onto the word 'turn'. It was specific enough information to give him more insight into the boy's affliction. That meant it was possibly related to the spine, a fact which terrified the Slytherin Head of House. And, if that were the case, then it was highly possible that it couldn't be treated, even with magic; because magic, no matter how powerful, couldn't cure the damage and effects of curses, which was somehow responsible, he just wasn't sure how yet…
"Harry," he began seriously, though in a soft voice, "I need you to tell me where exactly you are experiencing the most pain; the pain that isn't directly caused by the aftershocks."
"Back and neck." His suspicions were confirmed. Now it was a matter of figuring out exactly how much damage had been done.
A caring hand swept delicately through the messy hair. "I'm going to cast a simple diagnostic spell on you so I can ensure no serious damage has occurred to your spine." He waved his wand elegantly, the motion as complicated as the near-incomprehensible incantation. For the moment the spell was active, to Snape's eyes only, Harry's slight form became transparent in a white glow, the affected areas highlighted in a deep red to give him a clear picture of which parts of his sleek frame had been damaged. He cancelled it with a great sigh of relief, thankful that he didn't need a more detailed picture of his injuries.
Convinced that his actions wouldn't further aggravate the child's injuries, he began kneading the tense, knotted muscles as the base of the boy's neck. He winced in sympathy at the slight hiss, but didn't stop. As much as it hurt now, a gentle massage would help. "Sorry Harry, but this will help to ease the pain. You've strained a number of the muscles surrounding your spinal column from the unnatural way your body was twisting. It's only temporary and the potions you've had will help. Once they are out of your system I can give you a more potent pain reliever as well as a muscle relaxant. You'll just have to take it slow for a few days."
Harry nodded in relief, head drooping slightly after a massive yawn.
The worried atmosphere relaxed with Severus' confident reassurances. "Everything is fine for now... Why don't you boys try to get some more sleep? You'll want to be well rested before your first day back at school. "
As tired as Draco was, he also didn't want to leave. "Fine. But I'm staying." The Slytherin boy plonked himself down into the chair by the fire, attempting to get comfortable. Though he wouldn't admit it, this whole scene had really rattled him; he was worried. Could you really experience the effect of a curse that you'd been hit with in a dream, or was something else entirely going on here..? After agonising minutes of tossing and turning, Draco finally drifted off into an uneasy sleep, a million thoughts still swimming in his mind.
Severus smirked at his Godson curled up in a ball, shadows cast by the fire gently dancing over him. He acted tough and fierce when around others, but deep down he had a kind heart that he kept hidden away; he was more like the Potion's Master than either of them would care to admit.
He dropped his gaze down to the Gryffindor resting contentedly on his chest. He was yet to receive a verbal response. "Harry?"
A small sigh penetrated the ensuing silence. "Is it safe to sleep?" He didn't really sound worried, but more resigned, Severus decided. "It was him again…that Crouch guy. These…dreams that I've been having, they don't feel like they're just dreams. It's like I'm really there. Is it possible that he could be coming after us?"
As much as Severus would have liked to tell the boy that everything was going to be fine, he just couldn't. He refused to lie to him, especially with everything that had happened. "I'm honestly not sure child… But as far as I know, Barty Crouch Jr is still locked away in a tiny prison cell in Azkaban. And even if he were to escape, it would be near impossible for him to get near us, both here and at Hogwarts. I promise you, I will do absolutely everything in my power to keep you out of harm's way," he declared sincerely. "As for the matter of sleeping, I suggest you get some more. I'll be right here should you need me." He gave Harry a loving, compassionate smile, "Shall I move so you can lie flat?
In all honesty Harry wanted to say 'yes', to show that he was strong and brave and didn't need someone close by to keep an eye on him, but at the same time, he was not used to being looked after, and was enjoying the sense of security that he felt when in the man's presence. And, he reasoned, now that school was back, his nights would be spent in the Gryffindor tower with Ron and Hermione. So, decision made, he simply shook his head. "Only if you're uncomfortable..."
Severus smiled. That was close enough to a 'no'. He wasn't exactly as comfortable as he could possibly be in that moment, but that was fine. He too was lapping up the feeling of having someone who cared about him close-by, so he wasn't about to put a stop to it. He was content to let his eyes drift closed where he was sitting.
He smiled as Harry all but purred as he buried his face further down into the soft bundle of robes that clothed his firm, muscular chest. A warmth spread through him that made him wish that he'd been the boy's guardian his entire life. Because in a few years, when Harry had finished his education, found a steady job and a partner who he would share the rest of his life with, would he still care enough to come and visit his greasy old adopted father..? The thought caused his chest to constrict, so he tried not to dwell on it.
When the soft snores finally emanated from the boy, Severus briefly wondered if he would remain that way, or would he be forced to live through another of these so-called nightmares that had been plaguing him? He prayed that the rest of the night would remain as calm and peaceful as it had been the previous month. Convinced that he would be right there should anything else happen before the night's end he allowed his own mind to shut off, once more drifting off into an uninterrupted nothingness.
A/N: I've re-written this chapter so many times and just can't get it right. Was just an excuse for some nice H/C to cheer me up a bit haha. There could be mistakes; It's late and my brain isn't at full working capacity