He woke up to a shockingly bright head of red hair looming over him.
"He's awake!" Ron said excitedly.
"Of course he is," came Hermione's exasperated voice. "You poked him."
"I never did," Ron replied indignantly. "I sort of bumped him, is all. And anyway, he's slept long enough. How you feeling, Harry?"
He felt groggy, actually, and had to fight for a moment to remember where he was. The hospital wing. He'd come here after he and Snape had - Snape! Harry sat up far too quickly, his head spun, and then he slumped back down on the bed.
"Oh, Harry, slow down," Hermione said in quick concern. "With Quidditch injuries you have to be very careful, you know."
"And you're the authority on that how ... ?" Ron snorted. "Attaboy, Harry. Here, have a sip of water."
Quidditch. That's right, he was supposed to be recovering from a Quidditch injury. Nobody was supposed to know what happened, and he was pretty sure Dumbledore would think that "nobody" included Ron and Hermione. But how was Snape? How could he ask without giving everything away? Head spinning, he took the proffered glass of water and took a cool swallow. His throat felt stuffed with cotton. How long had he been asleep?
"What time is it?" he mumbled.
"Sunday morning, if you can believe it," Ron said, sounding awed. "You've been out for twenty-four hours. What'd you do, bang your head up?"
"You've lost a whole day of studying," Hermione added, sounding most distressed. "Don't worry, we'll help you catch up ... look, I brought your books ... "
Harry gaped at them both. "Twenty-four hours? How? But I just ... I ... yeah. Yeah, my head. I think I remember hitting my head." He must've been more drained than he thought, to have slept so long ...
Hermione went from 'concern' to 'lecture' mode. "Well, honestly, Harry, practising Quidditch in the dark. What do you expect? You're lucky you weren't killed - and that McGonagall isn't taking off any House points!"
"Yeah, she said she wouldn't," Harry murmured. "Said my injuries and some detentions were punishment enough ... I'm sorry," he said as penitently as he knew how, when they both leveled accusing gazes at him.
"You should be," Ron snapped. "I wake up at four-thirty in the morning, freezing my arse off, to find the window flung wide open and you and your broom and your Invisibility Cloak gone. Fair scared the life off me. 'Mione's right, you should've been more careful. At least you could've asked me to go with you."
Distracted, Harry raised one eyebrow. " 'Mione?' " he repeated archly. "When's that started?" Ron and Hermione both flushed.
"Um, just a nickname," Ron mumbled, looking briefly at the floor while his ears turned pink. Hermione stared determinedly at the wall above Harry's head, and then Ron seemed to find inspiration. "Hey, did you hear the good news?" he asked brightly.
"What, you're engaged?" Harry asked sourly. They flushed again, but Ron hurried on anyway.
"Snape's gone! They said this morning he's been called off on 'personal business.' Binns is making up the exam. Binns, of all people - I mean, ghosts - well, whatever. You know. And Binns knows NOTHING about potions - this is going to be the easiest exam ever - er, Harry, are you all right?"
"Fine," Harry said faintly, and managed a weak smile. "Just feeling a bit off, I guess. Er ... did they say where Snape went?"
Ron snorted. "Who cares? Just so long as he's gone! Although this 'personal business' bit, I don't buy it for a minute. Since when has Snape ever had a personal life, that's what I want to know - " Ron sniggered. "Excepting the love of the illustrious Draco Malfoy, right Harry?"
Harry blanched. Hermione herself looked rather ill. "I do wish you'd never told me about that, Ron," she said plaintively. "I think it's perfectly horrid. You must be exaggerating. Isn't he, Harry?"
"I ... " but before Harry could come up with anything half-coherent to say, Professor McGonagall's voice rang down the infirmary corridor.
"Well, I see you're awake at last, Potter." Ron and Hermione turned round guiltily to see her sweeping up towards Harry's bed. "And Miss Granger has brought your books. How fortuitous. Are you up to getting out of bed?" Harry nodded. "Good. Then have a wash and get dressed as quickly as possible, and go to the headmaster's office to await the details of your detention. Take your books; I imagine it will be some kind of study hall. The password is," McGonagall made a face, " 'Ring Dings.' Miss Granger, Mr. Weasley." With a curt nod at all three of them she turned and swept out again, though not before giving Harry the concerned once-over.
Ron turned around, a sympathetic comment obviously on his lips, but Harry cut him off by saying hastily, "I'd better go. Get it over with, right?" Dumbledore's office. Maybe he could find out how Snape was. His friends nodded.
"Really, Harry, you're very lucky," Hermione said earnestly. "Dumbledore giving you a study hall so you can catch up, instead of making you do something horrid."
"Dumbledore would never make anybody do something horrid," Ron said indignantly.
"I don't know," Harry said slowly, but when they looked at him in surprise he quickly dredged up another smile. "Sorry. Just woolgathering. Thanks for stopping by."
He'd never bathed and dressed so quickly, but it seemed like each motion took ages to complete. By the time he'd made his way to Dumbledore's office he felt as if his heart was about to pound out of his chest. After such a long sleep it felt like all his senses were coming back to full alert, and he was having to restrain himself from hopping up and down again as he waited for the gargoyle to swing aside and admit him.
Dumbledore's office was empty when he entered, but the door had scarcely shut behind him when the headmaster entered from a private door in the back, looking tired and worn. Harry's heart clenched painfully. "Headmaster," he croaked, "is ... is Professor Snape ... "
He was somewhat reassured by the weary smile Dumbledore gave him. "Professor Snape is resting peacefully, Harry, and I have every hope he will make a full recovery. I shan't fool you; it was touch- and-go for a while, and my long-dormant studies in potions and medicine underwent a most thorough test, but I did my best for him. He shall sleep a long time, I think; his body has been through an enormous strain. But he will be well."
In sheer relief, Harry sagged down into a chair without even waiting to be invited. Dumbledore chose to overlook this faux pas, instead seating himself heavily in his own chair and leaning forward over the desk. "Harry, before we say anything else, I must offer you a full apology."
"It was the grossest mistake on my part to ignore what you said as I did. I am terribly afraid that I fell into the same error as Professor Snape; we both wanted so very much to make contact with Voldemort that we blinded ourselves to the consequences ... no one is immune from such failings, Harry. I trust this lesson has taught you that." Dumbledore blinked slowly at Harry over his half-moon spectacles, and he had never looked so old or sad.
"Yes, sir," Harry said quietly, not sure what other response he could give. And then, because this was Albus Dumbledore and no matter what he shouldn't look so miserable and uncertain, Harry added generously, "You didn't make him go, Headmaster. You gave him the choice."
"Yes, I did," mused Dumbledore, and seemed to look all the sadder for it. "When in fact, I should have taken the choice away. Forgive me, Harry, it is not seemly for me to indulge my doubts in front of a student this way; but I am sure you will understand when I say that I feel I should have categorically forbidden him from attending that meeting. My instincts urged me to do so. Why I did not follow them in this instance, I cannot imagine ... and if it had not been for you and your extraordinary bravery, he would have been killed."
It was a sudden flash of insight that allowed Harry to say, with utter certainty, "He would've gone anyway."
Dumbledore blinked; and then, for the first time since entering the room, smiled a little. "Hum. Perhaps you are right. That is our Severus, isn't it?" Uncomfortable with that particular turn of phrase, Harry stared into his lap, but Dumbledore appeared not to notice. "All the same, I am ashamed ... well, well, no use dwelling on the past. I shall consider it a lesson for the present and the future." And then he sighed heavily, as if attempting to purge his demons with one breath.
Frankly unnerved by this display from his so-capable headmaster, Harry said nervously, "He will be all right?"
"Quite all right," Dumbledore said firmly, regaining some of his authoritative demeanour, "and I shall let you in to see him presently. But first, to business: I need you to tell me exactly what happened early Saturday morning. Your note was not exactly ... " a faint smile, "informative."
Harry nodded, steeled himself, and launched into the tale. This time he didn't stop for tea, although Dumbledore offered it again, but ploughed straight through, feeling very proud of himself when he didn't start shaking at the nasty bits. Drawing finally to an end, he mumbled, "So I was the one who set the fire to the clearing ... but that was all, Headmaster, honestly, and I couldn't think what else to do. I saw them putting it out, I thought it would be all right. I didn't start any of the other fires."
"I believe you," Dumbledore said, sounding tired again. "As I predicted, the Ministry moved fairly quickly to get that under control. No Muggle towns were touched, although I understand from their newspapers there was some panic. Hogsmeade is undamaged as well. As far as that goes, we were very lucky."
Harry nodded gloomily. All the people living in or near the woods ... he just hadn't thought of them when setting the first blaze. Why not? Was he really that "nasty little boy" who didn't care so much for rules? Or had he just naively assumed that the Death Eaters would put all the fires out, instead of starting more? Either way, there was probably something better he could have done to create a distraction, but under the circumstances he'd simply been unable to think of a thing.
As if reading his mind, Dumbledore said kindly, "You did fine, Harry."
Harry bit his lip, and then fidgeted a moment longer before bursting out with, "Can I see him?"
Dumbledore smiled again, and this time it was a real smile. "Of a certainty. Come this way. Bring your books." Harry wondered what was so damned important about his books, but shouldered his bag anyway and followed the old headmaster through that private door in the back.
As he entered the room that lay beyond, Harry reflected that he should have expected something like this; it was only reasonable that Dumbledore's private rooms should lie beyond his office, just as every other teacher's did. But ... this was the headmaster's home, and it seemed so odd that he, Harry Potter, should be intruding in it. Dumbledore led Harry through a small sitting-room, which held a very comfortable-looking armchair that appeared to be snoring, and then to another room in the back, blocked by a magnificent mahogany door. Dumbledore paused before the door and muttered under his breath a series of incredibly intricate incantations, waving his hands in slow, vague motions. After a moment, the door shifted open.
"Um, interesting type of lock," Harry ventured.
"I put the spells on the door after installing Professor Snape inside," Dumbledore murmured. "I flatter myself that Voldemort himself would have to take at least a few moments to figure them out. It seemed the best way of safeguarding Severus ... after you, Harry."
Steadying himself against the butterflies that were suddenly fluttering in his stomach, Harry stepped inside Dumbledore's bedroom. Like the office, it was a circular, thoroughly comfortable-looking room, with a large, round bed sitting as unobtrusively as possible in the back. Lying perpendicular at the foot of the bed was a cot, sprinkled with several long gray hairs, where Dumbledore was obviously sleeping, and in the bed itself was ...
"Snape," Harry breathed, unaware of the sheer amount of relief his voice carried. Severus Snape lay quite securely tucked in amongst some rather outrageous yellow-and-scarlet sheets, head propped up on a few soft-looking pillows, hair a black shock against the riot of colour. He didn't stir as Harry and Dumbledore entered the room, not even the slightest twitch of awareness, and Harry quickly felt the bite of concern again. "Um, is he ... "
"In a Healing Sleep," Dumbledore murmured, ushering Harry to sit in the chair that sat by the bedside. "It's quite the best thing for him; once the body is healed from the pain inflicted by the Cruciatus curse, the mind must find its own way of recovering. He will wake when he is ready to face life again. Knowing Severus, he's too stubborn to stay down for long." The headmaster chuckled again, but there was an element of melancholy to the sound that Harry had never heard before.
Then Dumbledore rubbed his hands together briskly, shaking off his mood. "Well, now. In the interest of maintaining our little fiction, you are to be given a detention for your illicit Quidditch practise. Now, we both know this is rubbish, and that were it possible I would be giving you the highest honours that a student can receive. However ... "
"He's got to be kept safe," Harry said immediately. "I understand that."
Dumbledore smiled again, and this time his eyes smiled merrily with him. "Good. I thought you might. Therefore, I thought you might appreciate the opportunity to sit with Professor Snape while he recovers; I think this could only benefit the both of you. Not to mention giving me the chance to catch up on some much-neglected paperwork ... if Cornelius Fudge were still speaking to me, I'm sure he'd have sent me several irascible letters demanding to know why I haven't been attending to my correspondence. So perhaps you could take your books and try to study while you keep an eye on him for me?"
Harry blinked. It didn't sound so bad, but ... "What can I possibly do for him?" he asked, flabbergasted. Snape was out cold, after all. What was the point of sitting by a bedside and reading books?
"You've done more than enough already," Dumbledore said gently, "but I do not think you will see this final imposition as too onerous. We often find the presence of others comforting, Harry, even when we are asleep. You will do him a greater service than you know. That is, if you don't mind. If you had rather find something more ... interesting to do with your time, as many young men would, I can think of something more enjoyable. Naturally, you will not be punished for your actions of Saturday, no matter what you choose."
"No, this is fine," Harry said quickly, glancing again at Snape, who lay so still on the bed, even if he was a little less pale than when Harry had seen him last. "I ... I was worried about him. I'd be glad to sit with him for a bit." Now that he thought about it, it sounded like a fine idea. He could sit with Snape and reassure himself as much as he liked that the other man really, truly was alive and well - and maybe get some studying done in the process. It was a lot quieter here than the Gryffindor Common Room would be, or even the library. Hermione would no doubt leap at the chance.
Dumbledore nodded, and with a final kind pat on Harry's shoulder left the room, presumably to return to his office. Harry spent a few long moments staring at Snape's sleeping face, feeling a bit out of place, before reaching into his bag and pulling out his Potions text. So Binns was giving the exam and didn't know anything about Potions - Harry wasn't certain he should be relieved about that. They might be asked all kinds of odd things. And the test was tomorrow. Hermione was right, he'd lost a whole day. Best to get cracking.
Half an hour later he slammed the book shut with a frustrated sigh, and then cast a quick, guilty glance at the sleeping man on the bed, but Snape didn't move a muscle. This was impossible. How was he supposed to concentrate with Saturday's memories ceaselessly banging at his head: the remembered sound of Voldemort's voice, the heat of the forest fires, the sensation of his broomstick dropping out from under him? How could studying Potions compete with that? And then there were the other memories, and these seemed to undermine his concentration even more: the recollection of Voldemort's cold hatred suddenly replaced with the memory of sensation, of a warm, hungry tongue sliding against his own, of soft dark hair brushing against his cheeks and throat, banishing the chill of a Hallowe'en night.
Harry squirmed uncomfortably in his chair, keeping his book over his lap, even though nobody was there to see, and sent a vicious glare at Snape. True, remembering that kiss was a lot more pleasant than remembering the Death Eaters, but it wasn't helping him study any. Worst of all was the element of curiosity: if Snape kissed him again (which didn't seem likely), would he feel the same way? Or would he get excited if anybody kissed him like that? It wasn't fair. He had no basis for comparison, and it was driving him mad. But what was he supposed to do? Waltz up to Cho Chang and say, " 'Scuse me, but I need to find out if I'm in love with Professor Snape. Would you mind kissing me so I can be sure?' "
Aargh. Harry squeezed his eyes shut against the headache that threatened to come pounding up. Things were just so complicated.
He heard the creak of the door and popped his eyes back open, turning to see Dumbledore's face poking around and peering into the room. "Just thought I'd check in," the headmaster said kindly. "Do forgive me if I'm interrupting your studies. Is he still sleeping peacefully?"
"Yes," Harry said, embarrassed at how sullen he sounded. "Um, Headmaster, I'm sorry to bother you, but I can't concentrate. I can't stop ... remembering." There, that was ambiguous enough. Dumbledore's face softened into compassion.
"That's perfectly understandable, Harry. Now, I wonder ... " the wizened face took on a musing expression, and Dumbledore wandered over to the desk sitting near the window opposite the bed. It was a nice desk, but nowhere near as big as the one in the office. He rummaged through drawers and finally came up with a small silk bag. "Ah!" Beaming, and fiddling delightedly with the soft material as if he were a child, he then turned to Harry. "This looks to be just what you need, my young friend. A Concentration Charm." He held out the tiny purple pouch.
Harry took it, perplexed. "It's in a bag?"
Dumbledore nodded, still smiling. "You take that thread and wear it round your neck. While you have it on you will be able to concentrate absolutely on whatever you are doing; that Potions text will suddenly seem like the most fascinating thing in the universe. May I suggest that you wear it only while looking at a book or taking an exam, or you may well find yourself memorising more about people's nostrils, for example, than you ever wanted to know. And, of course, you can never wear it while you are trying to do more than one thing at a time."
"Wow," Harry said, awed. "It's - it's the perfect study aide." Hermione would kill for this. Not that she needed it.
Dumbledore's eyes twinkled. "Not necessarily. In another - let us say, another hour and a half, I will come in and remove the charm from you so you can eat. You would never dream of doing so unimportant a thing while wearing the bag ... now. Focus hard on that selection of text before you. I am going to slip this bag over your head. Focus on the text."
Harry did, determined not to look at Snape or Dumbledore or anything else, though he failed to see how anything could possibly make this awful stuff interesting. It was just so incredibly - he felt something slide over his neck - fascinating. Really, he'd never thought before how Potions was so engrossing a subject. The sheer amount of memorisation and delicacy of touch required ... he would, of course, be dedicating the rest of his life to studying this field, come hell or high water. Just LOOK at how many types and strengths of Truth Potions there were! Veritaserum was only one example.
He thought he heard someone chuckling, and then maybe a door closing, but he really couldn't be bothered to care.
Just a few minutes later, when Harry had almost reached the end of the textbook and was feeling a very real sense of despair that there weren't an infinite number of pages on the subject, he felt two gentle hands lift something off his neck and over his head. The words on the pages in front of him blurred suddenly, and he swayed forward, mumbling, "Whoah."
When he looked up again, he saw Albus Dumbledore's most mischievous expression. "And did it work?" the headmaster enquired.
"Did it ever!" Harry gasped. "That - that was never an hour and a half, Headmaster!"
"Two hours, actually," Dumbledore said. "I'm afraid I got rather caught up in the office. Now let's get you something to eat. How do you feel?"
"Exhausted," Harry admitted.
"Hm, yes. That's often a side effect of using the Charm, and the longer you wear it the more tired you will be. I don't think I'll let you have it again today; in any case," those blue eyes twinkled again, "your knowledge of Potions is likely greater now than it has ever been."
"It seemed so ... interesting," Harry said wonderingly. Dumbledore actually laughed.
"Now you know how Professor Snape feels all the time, I suppose. Ah, there we are." He waved his wand and suddenly a tray appeared before Harry, loaded with delicious-looking sandwiches, sweet biscuits and a pitcher of pumpkin juice. "That ought to hold you over for a while. I think you had better stay here for the rest of the afternoon; it will make your 'detention' look more convincing. I am sure you have more studying to do, though you will not have the aid of the Charm. But for now, eat up. I'll be in to check on you later. You may, of course, come fetch me if you need anything." With another twinkle, Dumbledore swept out.
Harry set to enthusiastically - McGonagall hadn't given him any time for breakfast, but strangely enough he hadn't felt the lack until the food appeared before him. Now he was ravenous. He ate two sandwiches, all the cookies and had drained half the pitcher before he finally felt full. And sleepy. Extremely sleepy.
Bugger all, that Charm had made him exhausted, and a full stomach didn't help matters. He was as caught up on Potions as he was ever going to get in his life; surely a little nap wouldn't hurt. He cast a longing glance at the extremely comfortable-looking bed where Snape lay. No, that was a bad idea. Probably a very bad idea. Dumbledore wouldn't begrudge him the use of the cot, surely. Or he could even curl up on the rug; it was awfully thick and cosy.
But ... Snape lay so still.
Harry decided to throw caution more or less to the wind. He was getting good at that. He sighed, pulled off his shoes and lay down on the bed, on top of the sheets and not actually touching Snape at all. He could figure all this out when he was less tired. He'd only rest for a minute. And now, yes, now he could hear Snape breathing, in and out, deep and slow. He could see the rise and fall of the chest beneath the covers. If he concentrated, he could even imagine he heard the beat of the heart.
For the second time in as many days, Harry dropped like a stone into sleep.
When he woke up, it was to the gently prodding hand of Albus Dumbledore, who was looking down on him bemusedly, outlined by the sunset coming in from the window behind him. Harry blinked, totally disoriented for the second time in one day, before he glanced over, saw Snape, and remembered how he came to be lying in the bed. Mortified, he stammered, "I'm sorry, Headmaster, I was just tired, I know I shouldn't have, I only meant to for a minute, he didn't wake up did he - ?"
"No. It's all right," Dumbledore said gently. "It's all right, though I confess myself ... surprised. You would have been perfectly welcome to the cot. Unless, of course," he added with some humour, "the long gray hairs on the pillow scared you out of your wits ... "
"Um. Yeah," Harry mumbled, feeling as if he were about to implode with embarrassment. "I mean, no! I mean - I'm sorry."
Dumbledore nodded, and mercifully changed the subject. "Are you feeling all right?"
"Yeah," Harry muttered again. "I was just ... pretty tired. But I think I know all the Potions stuff, now, thanks so much for the Charm," and I'm really sorry I repaid you by crawling in your bed next to a professor like I had tripe for brains.
"Not at all," Dumbledore said, giving Harry a hand up off the bed, before bending down to lay a hand on Snape's forehead. His silver brows raised. "Hmm."
"What?" Harry asked, wincing as he heard the anxiety in his voice.
Dumbledore turned a searching glance at Harry. "Hm? Oh, nothing for you to be concerned about. But he seems much improved since just this morning." A faint smile. "I told you that we don't always know when we're helping others."
Harry shifted. "Yeah, well ... I think if he'd woken up to me lying there, he would've had a relapse." Dumbledore laughed out loud at that.
"It's late. Are you up to eating dinner with your friends?"
"I just had lunch when I fell asleep," Harry confessed sheepishly. Great, he'd slept the whole day away. He'd be up all night. Well, maybe he could study.
Dumbledore smiled, obviously amused. "Well, I'm sure you would like the company, in any case, as opposed to being cooped up in here. Take your books and go on down to dinner, and give your friends my best wishes on the coming exams, of course."
"Yeah, of course." Harry picked up his bag, cast one last glance at the sleeping Snape, and came to a sudden decision. "Headmaster ... Professor McGonagall said I would have detentions plural."
"Hm? Well, well," Dumbledore said, waving his hand in the air as he bent to examine Snape again, "don't worry about that ... "
"But surely," Harry said, determined to get through this if it killed him, "practising Quidditch after hours is a serious offence?" Dumbledore turned to look at him then, cocking an eyebrow. "I mean, I really should be punished more, shouldn't I?" Harry stared as hard at the headmaster as he dared. For God's sake, don't make me SAY it ...
There was a long moment of silence before Dumbledore replied. "There is some merit in that, I suppose. Yes. Why don't you report here tomorrow, after your Potions exam?"
"Yes, sir," Harry replied, feeling weak with relief. "Thank you, sir." He turned to go.
He turned to see Dumbledore watching him with an expression that was kind, yet stern. "Next time, I think you had better take your nap on the cot."
Part 7 | Non Anime Fanfiction