Chapter Twenty-Six: Voldemort

It wasn't working. Lord Voldemort was angry. It wasn't the type of rage his Death Eaters feared, though they clearly should, this was different. It boiled inside him, frothing just under the surface, it was the storm they had to see. They feared what came after, few recognised the telltale signs.

Few.

Severus Snape, Potions Master and loyal servant, regarded the Dark Lord as passively as he could. His master, for want of a better word, had been frustrated, listless. He had hoped, after learning of his inadvertent connection with the boy at Christmas, to manipulate it. To cast visions into Potter's mind, of what even Snape did not know. But it wasn't working.

"If I may," Snape began carefully, "my lord, the boy is undergoing rigorous Occlumency training. I had hoped that I would be the one to train him, but alas, Minerva McGonagall has taken over his lessons. It would seem his defences are… more able than we first imagined."

"Severus," Voldemort hissed, a thin smile contorting his snake-like face. Snape readied himself. It was never especially enjoyable being the victim of a Cruciatus curse at the best of times, but it was somehow worse when you didn't see it coming. "It is vital the boy see what I want him to see. I have poisoned his mind with interest in the Department of Mysteries, he is primed, and you inform me that I can no longer set him loose?"

"Of course you can, my lord," Snape said, reverently, keep a watchful eye on the wand held loosely in Lord Voldemort's hand. "I simply mean to say that it may take longer than anticipated."

"And what of the girl?" The Dark Lord's attention seeming to be incapable of maintaining its focus on only one failure at a time. Only this was a failure he had yet to realise. "Rookwood believes her mother has recalled her home for the summer."

"Correct, my lord." It was true enough. Snape had read the letter himself, Umbridge hadn't been the only one capable of intercepting owls, after all. She was just rather more of a blunt instrument, where he was a scalpel. Melissa Greengrass had played her part well, just like he had. Rookwood might see muggle trickery, but he could.

"It is essential she return, Severus. Do you understand me? If the boy will not enter the Ministry willingly, I can force him in other ways. I need to hear that prophecy."

It was a testament to the various times Lord Voldemort had split his soul and the various pieces of dark magic which he had used on himself that disguising the Dark Lord now proved virtually impossible. It was possible, everything was. But Snape had heard Malfoy suggest such a plan once already, to say it had been rejected was an understatement. The Dark Lord would not hide his face, too proud, too misguidedly vein to do so. He would not stoop to the methods of other wizards. That was the price of power, sometimes the obvious was missed in favour of the implausibly difficult.

"I have heard nothing to suggest she will not be returning home." It was a careful trick he had developed over the years, but exceptionally useful in evading detection. That was true. He had heard nothing. The fact he had read of a plot to prevent Daphne Greengrass from returning home, however, was entirely different.

"Excellent, Severus. Excellent. You will continue to keep an eye both of them. Potter and the girl."

"My lord."

"Do not fail me, Severus."

Snape remained totally immobile. "When have I ever?"

He was dismissed with a wave of Lord Voldemort's hand and Snape knew better than to say anything else after that hand had been waved. Once he returned to Hogwarts, he headed straight for the Headmaster's office, as he always did after reporting to the Dark Lord. The few students still to return to their Common Rooms gave him a delightfully wide birth as he swooped through the school.

"Ah, Severus," Dumbledore said happily when Snape opened the door to the office. As was always the case when he entered the Headmaster's office, Dumbledore did not look up from what he was doing. Some were perturbed by his apparent ability to almost supernaturally tell who was to enter his domain. Snape knew that the instruments in front of him were for more than just decoration. He and the Dark Lord were more alike than others cared to admit. Both favoured appearing to be more than the sum of their parts.

"I hope that your meeting was not too taxing?"

Such a pleasant way to ask if he had avoided torture. "It was not unpleasant," Snape answered stiffly. "The Dark Lord is frustrated. He revealed again his plan to use his connection with Potter to manipulate him."

"He is still unsuccessful?"

"Quite."

"Perhaps Minerva deserves more credit than I first gave her," Dumbledore said cheerily.

"There is another matter, Headmaster," Snape said. He had not yet divulged what he had found in the letter to Dumbledore, nor had he informed him of what Rookwood planned to do with Daphne Greengrass. Although he suspected Dumbledore had no doubt connected those dots all on his own. "The Greengrass girl. Rookwood plans to manipulate her in some way, he has already succeeded in getting her mother to ask her to return home."

Dumbledore said nothing, clearly waiting for the rest, so Snape ploughed on. "I had already read of this in her mail. She also received a warning in the same letter not to return."

"Do you believe she has found this warning? I assume Rookwood failed to do so?"

"I do, and he has. It was well concealed. The Dark Lord is unaware."

"Then perhaps we can use that to our advantage," Dumbledore mused.

"You would have her return?"

"No," Dumbledore said softly, staring pensively at Snape. "But I do have a notion, it seems Lord Voldemort has finally given us something we can use."

oOo

"It's Bogrod, right?"

"No, that was 1347, this was Hodforth."

"How can you like this stuff?" Harry asked, marvelling at Daphne as he crossed out Bogrod's name and hastily added the correct goblin to his History of Magic notes. They were sat in the library, for the first time in a long while it was the entire group. Hermione, Tracey and Ron were surrounded by stacks of books slightly further down the table. It was the weekend before their OWLs and last minute revision was the call of the day, although Hermione insisted that if Ron and Harry had started earlier as she'd suggested they wouldn't need last minute revision.

"I spend a lot of time teaching it to myself."

"Only 'cause listening to Binns is like having your eardrums trod on by a troll," Ron said bitterly, he too was crossing out the incorrect notes he had made. "I'm never gonna pass this."

"You only need an Acceptable," Hermione shot, snippily, as she leafed through her copy of Magical Herbs and Fungi. "It's just a memory test."

"Bit tricky when you didn't listen to it in the first place," Tracey smirked, teasingly.

"Not you too."

"Oh, be fair, Ron. You do make it far too easy."

Harry interrupted them before they could get going on another couply 'argument'. Unlike Ron and Hermione, Tracey seemed to enjoy winding Ron up. "And in the 800s that was Griphammer and Blastgund, right? The German one?"

"Very good, Harry." Daphne congratulated, before adding pointedly, "looks like someone has been paying attention."

"I never said I pay attention," Ron pointed out, once again correcting his notes. Harry privately agreed that there was no way Ron was ever going to pass this exam. He'd probably get more marks if he wrote nothing. "This is pointless. I'm never going to get it."

He thrust away his History of Magic notes bad temperedly and instead pulled his Herbolgy work towards him. "List the uses of the Strangler Fig," Ron read before looking blankly at the rest of the table. "So, what are the uses of the Strangler Fig?"

Tracey was having to bite her lip to stop herself from laughing while Hermione looked as though she was fit to murder him.

"It eats the nutrients of other trees and plants," Daphne told him, as she flicked a page in her own Potions book. Potions was, by far, her worst subject and despite the exam being later down the line she was cramming for that over everything else.

"What good's that?"

"Well, you can use them to effectively leech the properties of plants that are a bit trickier to harvest. And they're huge. Professor Sprout won't have them in the greenhouses, they'll kill anything they come into contact with."

"Sounds like Griphammer," Harry commented darkly as he finally found the page he'd been looking for. "Did you know he slaughtered a village of 600 German goblins because they refused to surrender?" He turned the page. "Wait. 1,000, he killed the children after he'd finished with the parents."

"Could do with being fed to the fig thing," Ron said, dutifully copying down what Daphne had said.

"What's the correct consistency of Polyjuice Potion?" Daphne asked, apparently unable to find her answer in the book she was reading. She was clearly stunned when both Ron and Harry were able to answer before Hermione. Harry had never gotten around to telling her about his escapades with the stuff in his second year. Not that he was desperate to drink the stuff again. Essence of Goyle had been revolting.

They had been revising for weeks, but no matter how much they went over everything they had learned Harry didn't feel like he was getting any closer to keeping it lodged in his brain. The only exam he was truly confident on was Defence Against the Dark Arts, primarily because Madam Bones had taken him aside after one class to tell him as much.

"You'll be fine, Potter." She had said brusquely. After calling him to stay behind. He'd asked her if there was anything else he should be doing and she'd simply answered with a wave of her hand. "I'd hazard a guess the lot of you will. You're a damn good teacher."

"Erm, thank you, Professor." Harry had been stunned by the declaration. Madam Bones, he had learned, was not a woman who gave out praise easily.

"That's what I wanted to talk to you about. Susan tells me you're thinking of stopping the DA next year."

"Well, we don't really need it. The whole point was because Umbridge was so useless. Professor." He added hastily.

Madam Bones surveyed him appraisingly through her monocle, it did nothing to prevent the sense of dread he felt whenever he spoke to her. "I'd think again about that. You do work, Potter and it'd be a shame to see this lot lose their confidence. And," she paused, "I'd hate to see Susan go out there without someone like you showing her how it's done."

"But we've had you, I mean, what's better than an auror?"

"I'm done end of this year, Potter. Besides, you've seen things even some of my aurors haven't. Take my advice, keep it going, it'll do you good and you never know when you might need them."

He didn't need to ask what she meant. Daphne had said it all those weeks ago. There was something coming, Voldemort wasn't going to just roll over and let them win. Last year he'd have rejected the idea out of hand, refusing to let other people put themselves in danger for him. But the more he spoke to Daphne the more he realised it wasn't him.

"I'll think about it, Professor."

"Good man," Madam Bones had boomed, heartily. "I'd better get going, I've got a meeting with Dumbledore."

Harry hadn't seen the Headmaster since Christmas. Every time he asked Professor McGonagall about it she said he was busy and that she would be continuing to teach him Occlumency. Not that he minded, she was better than Snape any day. But the mention of Dumbledore's name had twisted something inside him. It wasn't like the feeling to bite, the desperate need to cause pain that had struck him at Christmas. No, it was different. It was the feeling he associated with missing Sirius before they'd had the mirror to talk through.

He missed Dumbledore. Not that they had ever been truly close, but he had always been there as someone to go to. These days, Dumbledore felt more like one of suits of armour littered around the school. A protector, true enough, but not one that Harry could rely upon. The year had brought him closer to his friends, but more than that he'd had to get by without the Headmaster. Even after Umbridge had gone it had not been Dumbledore who had supported him but Daphne, Ron, Sirius and Hermione. Even Luna, Neville and Tracey had been there to talk to if he'd needed.

The exams were about as enjoyable as Harry had expected. Nerves aplenty hit the fifth years as they were dragged from exam hall to exam hall, hoping they had managed to do enough to scrape by with the grades they needed. Even Hermione seemed unsure of herself, quizzing Harry and Ron on just how they had answered every single Charms question. Ron was saved from exploding at her by Daphne, who interjected with her answer having caught them up out of the hall.

Harry knew he had definitely failed Divination, having lost his head entirely and predicted that his examiner would be suffering a fatal death in a freak boating accident — even though she admitted afterwards that she hated water and refused to sail anywhere. Charms and Transfiguration were okay and he was confident that he'd gained the O Madam Bones had been after when he saw her smile at him after summoning his Patronus for Professor Tofty who whooped with delight.

Daphne and Tracey apparently had had an equally mixed bag, with Tracey struggling in her Herbology exam while Daphne confessed that she loathed her Ancient Runes exam. Only Hermione, Harry was sure, would pass everything. He had spent most of the evenings of the fortnight with Daphne and the others, most of whom acted as a buffer between an anxious Hermione and a slowly shutting down Ron — who threatened to throw Seamus off Gryffindor Tower if he asked him about his Herbology paper once more.

Their final exam, History of Magic, was not as tricky as Harry had expected. There were some names that escaped his mind, but as he made his way down the paper he was fairly certain he could remember all of the dates — even if he got some of them in the wrong order. At the other end of the hall, he had watched Ron almost audibly groan when he had turned over the paper. Hermione and Daphne were two of the only students not to look aimlessly around the room as they desperately tried to remember a certain date or goblin who had brutally beheaded another goblin.

If Binns had been a more interesting teacher, Harry mused, as he began rechecking his answers, he was fairly certain History of Magic would've been pretty interesting. He remembered reading about the various witch burnings and trials at the Dursley's as he frantically searched for more and more information about the wizarding world. If only Binns could have been more engaging he mightn't have needed to rely on Daphne.

He looked over her. Her head was low over the paper, her quill moving furiously as she detailed every single piece of goblin war information stored in her brain. A smile pulled at his lips, despite himself. Unlike Hermione, Daphne was rarely pushy with how much she knew and was happy to admit when her knowledge was lacking. But she was smart, more than smart. She was brilliant. He often found himself wondering how he'd never noticed her before.

A Slytherin robe had hidden from him one of the most talented witches he knew, and certainly one of the most terrifying when she wanted to be. But also kind and caring, in her own way. He only wished he could show her that. More than once he'd gotten the feeling that somewhere deep inside her, she didn't think she was good enough for him. It wasn't often but just some of things she said, the way she looked at him. When the truth was he didn't really deserve her. This was not self-pity or self-doubt, he knew, but fact. He, Harry, was destined for a life of misery and fighting, of heart-ache and loss, he didn't deserve her because of what being with him meant. Yet, she'd accepted it. Lived with it. Lost plenty already and would do it again.

He looked back down at his paper, realising he'd been staring for quite a while. At the front of the hall, a giant hourglass was emptying, their time running out. Harry focused. Question fifteen: When Bogrund the Mighty slew his successor, Gripnar, who went on to replace him and why?

He knew this. Somewhere, in his brain, was the answer. He closed his eyes, trying to think. Bogrund. Bogrund. The frailty of memory left him scrambling around the emptiness of his head, as all the goblins Binns had ever droned on about leapt around trying to be heard. Then, quite suddenly, his scar felt as though it exploded. Without even realising, he let out a gasp of pain, clasping his hand to his forehead. Pain like he had felt only once before coursed through him.

It was like the graveyard and the Cruciatus curse. The memory flashed in front of him, as solid as it had been all those months ago. Voldemort laughing. The cold high laugh of a madman. The Death Eaters circling him. It was pointless. Hopeless. Dread gripped him. He tried to open his eyes, but even when he did all he could see was Voldemort, high above him. Laughing.

Another blossom of pain burst at the back of his head and then the memory faded. For a moment he could see the concerned face of Professor Tofty, swimming into view, but it melted. The skin dripping off his face, his nose drooping and his eyes becoming runny like an uncooked egg. The features poured into his robes as the man vanished. The blackness of his cloak billowing out behind him, reshaping, freezing for the tiniest of moments and then billowing out across Harry's entire vision. The world span. Nausea gripped Harry, everything blurred, and then stopped. The cloak was gone, the blackness of a long corridor remaining.

The Department of Mysteries.

Harry tried to breathe, tried to remember what Professor McGonagall had told him, but he couldn't breathe. His lungs were working but his mouth was clamped shut. This wasn't real. It wasn't real. A laugh echoed around him again, high and cold, then a scream. Without even realising, Harry felt himself break into a run, running towards the scream. The door at the end of the corridor flew open and he was in a circular room, impossibly high ceilinged and rotating. Doors whooshed passed him and then stopped. The door ahead of him stood ajar and the scream tore through it again.

"Harry!"

This isn't real. It's not real. The words repeated round and round his head. He tried to think of flying, of being weightless, of closing his mind, but every thought slipped through his fingers like mist.

"Harry!" It was that voice again, a girl's voice. Daphne's voice. The scream, so real, morphed and became hers. Sprinting now, Harry cleared the circular room and was at the other end of a room lined with jars and glistening gold. A mechanical clicking filled his mind but he didn't stop to investigate. He wrenched open the door at the far end and found himself in a gigantic room filled with shelves. Row upon row, all stacked with glass spheres. A blue fog filled them, but Harry ignored them. Daphne's cry of anguish was getting louder and louder.

She's not here, it's not real. It's just a dream. She's in front of you, look. She's here. She's not in danger.

Then there was another voice, not his own, but Voldemort's. Cold, cynical and callus, the Dark Lord spoke so close that Harry felt the hairs on his arms stand on end. "Oh but she is, Potter. She is. Just not yet."

Aisle ninety flashed by, ninety-two, ninety-four. He was nearly there. Ninety-seven. He rounded the corner, the breath he wasn't breathing burnt in his throat as his lungs screamed at him to slow down. To breathe. There was a shape at the end of the aisle. Harry's stomach clenched as his world opened up beneath him. It was Daphne. Blood streaked down her face, flowing freely from a large gash in her cheek. Her eyes were empty, unseeing, almost clouded over.

"I had hoped to trick you here," Voldemort's voice echoed around the cathedral sized room. "Perhaps show you your godfather, crying, weeping, refusing to take it for me, but your defences have grown considerably. You could not be fooled by what wasn't, so let me show you what will be."

Another scream burst Harry's eardrums, this time it was Ron. He lay on his knees at Harry's feet, his arms gripping the body of Ginny, her lifeless gaze fixed on Harry. Sobs burst out of Ron's agonised body.

"You did this," his voice was so quiet Harry could barely hear it, filled with so much anguish and grief. "We'd never have been involved if it weren't for you. She'd have been safe."

"He's right," it was Sirius, his face was harder than Harry had ever seen it. "We all would've been safe if it weren't for you. James and Lily. Ginny. Everyone."

"This is what will happen, Harry Potter." His name came out with mocking, cruel laughter. Voldemort, his bone-white hand appearing from nothingness and gripping Harry's shoulder. Harry tried to move, but the grip was vice-like. Whether it was the power of the dream, Harry wasn't sure, but he was suddenly stuck. Like a statue. Watching his worst future. His heart was pounding. Ron and Ginny, had been replaced by Hermione, writhing in agony. Her screams pierced the still air and Harry could nothing but watch his best friend cry as the worst pain imaginable coursed through her.

"And you can stop it, all you have to do is give me this." A sphere from the shelf to Harry's left floated down and was captured by Voldemort's outstretched hand. "Then this future will be averted. I am not cruel, lord, Harry. I am capable of mercy."

"Yeah, right." Harry said through gritted teeth. He was staring at Hermione, unable to look away, his heart pumping. It's not real. This isn't real. But it bloody well felt real. Voldemort lazily stretched out his hand and let the orb fall into Harry's grip. It was oddly warm, almost as though someone were gripping his hand, he had expected it to be cold given the stillness of the air and the slight chill in the stale room.

"All you have to do is fetch me this and all your fears will never come to pass."

Harry refused to look up, but his eyes wouldn't let him look away from Hermione's writhing body, nor could he unsee Daphne screaming at his feet or Ron holding Ginny's broken body. It wasn't like the other visions, he knew this was a lie, but that was the point. Voldemort wasn't trying to sell him the present, he was showing him a future, a future that Harry knew could well come to pass.

The orb felt heavy in his hand, as though it had the mass of an elephant. "You cannot lie to me, Harry Potter." Voldemort whispered. "I see your mind. I know you. You are weak. You blunder through this world blind to what is possible without the weakness of others. Without love."

Harry said nothing. A sinking feeling gripped his stomach. He tried to focus, tried to think, but all he could see were his friends. Daphne. Sirius, disappointed and angry with him for existing. What would Mrs Weasley say if one of her sons or Ginny wound up caught in the crossfire? There were so many people, so many of his friends that he'd dragged into this for no reason. They were in danger just by being close to him.

There was a clatter as the orb fell from his grip. His knees had given way. He was dimly aware of it rolling under one of the shelves. Hermione had vanished now, replaced again by Daphne. Her blonde hair was cast across her face. Her skin was far paler than it was in life. Bloodstained her crisp white shirt and beneath the curtain of hair he knew those eyes would never truly look back at him. Unseeing. Dead. Was this what the future held for her?

"We're in this together," that's what she had said when she had told him about her mother. "Me and you. 'Til the end." But whose end?

"Bring it to me," Lord Voldemort said again. "And the girl will live. Bring it to me and I will spare her."

oOo

"Out of the way, out of the way!" Madam Pomfrey ordered as she bustled through the small crowd of people gathered in the Hospital Wing. Daphne did not move but Ron and Hermione were shunted aside. Out in the hallway practically the entire school was waiting outside in the corridor. Murmured whispers were being uttered, rumours spread, coalescing, hitting one another and then changing again. Daphne was only half aware of what they'd been saying. The hall had been united in silent confusion when the bang of Harry hitting the floor had broken the silent tension of the exam. Professor Tofty had instantly run forwards and summoned Professor Binns, who had been floating near the exit mournfully, and asked him to get a teacher. Professor Flitwick had been closest by. The tiny man had let out a little squeak and levitated Harry almost at once.

The exam, it had been safe to say, was well and truly over. Daphne hadn't even waited for the hourglass to empty. Professor Tofty had done his best to shield Harry from view before Flitwick arrived but it had done no good. Harry was white, a small trickle of blood stained the stone floor from where his head had cracked against it. His emerald eyes, so usually full of life, had rolled back into his head.

It hadn't been just Daphne who insisted on following Harry. Ron and Hermione too had jumped to their feet, and Ron had sworn so loudly at Professor Tofty when he said he couldn't follow him that the old man looked as though he wanted to faint. All three of them hurried with Professor Flitwick, who was far too concerned with Harry to argue. Halfway to the Hospital Wing a gaggle of students had joined them and the army only grew.

"Let me look at him," Madam Pomfrey demanded. Sweat shone on Harry's white skin now. What the hell was happening to him? Daphne had never seen anything like this, never heard of anything either. She fought back the tears that threatened to spill onto her cheeks, but did not let go of Harry's limp hand, which she had taken since they had managed to get him onto the bed.

"What's wrong with him?" asked a third-year girl loudly in the crowd.

"He collapsed."

"Bet it's an act, attention-seeking prat!"

"Shut your face, Nott," snapped Fred Weasley, who had managed to muscle his way to the front of the congregated mass of onlookers.

"Yeah or we'll shut it for you," added his twin. "We've been dying to test out our new nose bleed nougat, only we can't stop you from bleeding."

"Be a shame that."

"Yeah, real waste."

"Fancy giving it a go?"

"I'm not scared of you, Weasley. Potter's just faking it. Again."

"Enough!" roared Professor McGonagall who had appeared out of nowhere and had carved a path through the crowd through sheer force of will. "Out, the lot of you. That includes you two. No, I will not hear another word from you Mister Weasley. And if I hear either of you talking to another student like that again it'll be ten points from Gryffindor. The same applies to you and Slytherin house, Mister Nott. Now, leave at once or I will deduct points from every single one of you. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves."

"You're going to have to let go of his hand, Miss Greengrass." Madam Pomfrey said, not unkindly as the crowd began to disperse. The great doors swung shut as Professor McGonagall strode into the room. "I need to get a proper look at him."

"What? Oh, right. Sorry." Harry's hand fell limply from her own and Daphne felt herself being pushed kindly, but firmly, away from Harry. She wanted to shout and kick and scream and refuse to be pushed away from him, but the part of her brain that knew Madam Pomfrey was the best person to help forced her to take a step back, forced her to stay calm, forced her to keep breathing.

"What happened?" Madam Pomfrey asked the room at large.

"I dunno, he sort of just collapsed," Ron said, dully.

"We were in the middle of our exam," Hermione continued, looking almost as worried as Weasley. She was biting her lip and her hair, curly and wild at the best of times, looked almost alive; she had run her hands through it so much. "I just heard him fall off his chair. It was rather nasty, actually. I'd just finished my answer about the, well, I suppose it doesn't matter, but I didn't really see anything."

"You two were still working," Ron explained. "I'd been done ages and I looked over and Harry had his eyes closed. I thought he was just thinking but then, it was weird, I think his scar hurt 'cause he had his hand on it and then the next second he, well…" Ron trailed off, staring at his best mate. "He just collapsed, like Hermione said. That Tofty bloke was on him like a flash. Binns went and got Professor Flitwick and now… this."

"Is he going to be alright, Poppy?" Professor McGonagall asked, sounding more anxious than Daphne had ever heard her.

"Hard to say," Madam Pomfrey looked around at the three of them. "Has he ever experienced anything like this before?"

"Yeah," Daphne heard herself say. Her eyes never left Harry's face. She'd recognised it almost at once. Only this time he wasn't writhing or screaming. "At Christmas. When Mr Weasley was attacked."

Ron went white. Hermione finally stopped playing with her hair, staring at Daphne. They knew exactly what that meant and so, it seemed, did Professor McGonagall whose lips narrowed to the point they almost disappeared from her face.

"I'll fetch the Headmaster. Weasley, Granger, you come with me, you can tell Professor Dumbledore what happened. No arguments, Weasley." Ron had looked as though he wanted to explode with outrage. "Miss Greengrass —"

"I'm not leaving." Daphne bit back bluntly before Professor McGonagall could say another word. "I'd rather be expelled." She quickly added, remembering too late who she was talking to: "Professor."

"I was going to say," Professor McGonagall continued patiently. "You may stay here. No doubt Potter will need a friendly face when he comes round."

"Oh."

"Weasley, Granger, with me. Fillius, make sure no-one except Professor Dumbledore comes in without my express permission."

"Of course," squeaked the tiny Professor Flitwick, and with that the two teachers and Ron and Hermione were whisked out of the Hospital Wing leaving only Harry and Madam Pomfrey behind. Madam Pomfrey, who clearly disliked the idea that one, let alone two students, would be in her company, sniffed but said nothing as she continued to look at Harry. Her wand tip flared with light, which she shone in his eyes, as if trying to garner some form of movement there.

Daphne found herself staring blankly at her as she continued, not really seeing the school nurse, not really registering what was happening. She was dimly aware of slumping into the chair next to the bed and watching on as various spells were cast and potions fetched from the storeroom. All Daphne could do was watch. Only once before had she felt so useless, so helpless. An all too familiar sense of dread was creeping up from the pit of her stomach, wrapping around her heart and fuelling the whispered anxieties in her mind. Scenario after scenario played itself out in her mind's eye. Each future bleaker than the last. What if they couldn't pull him out of this? What if Madam Pomfrey couldn't save him? What if he stayed like this forever? Or worse, what if, whatever was doing this won?

Christmas he had seen into Voldemort's mind, but the Occlumency had stopped that. He'd said so, she had asked him. No more nightmares, no more visions. But what if this wasn't a vision? What if it was something else? What if she looked into those eyes, Harry's eyes, but didn't see the boy she had fallen for looking back at her. What if they were replaced with snake-like slits?

She tried to remember Christmas, how long had it been? Minutes? Five, ten max. This was already longer. It felt like hours. What if he didn't get out of this? More than anything she wanted to reach out and hold his hand one more time, but every time she thought she could reach for him Madam Pomfrey bustled in front of her.

After what felt like an eternity the Hospital Wing doors opened for a second time and Professor Dumbledore strode inside, accompanied by Ron, Hermione, Professor McGonagall and, rather depressingly, Professor Snape. Snape's dark eyes fixed on Daphne almost immediately and there was a quiet rage there that she had not seen before. Had the circumstances been different she might have been angry, but the worry for Harry was quashing everything else in her brain. She just needed him to be alright. To him again. Then she could worry about Snape.

"I've tried everything Headmaster," Madam Pomfrey said, "nothing seems to be working. I fear he is far beyond my expertise. He needs to go to St. Mungo's."

"Severus," Dumbledore said by way of command. Snape came forwards, drawing his wand. Daphne watched how Ron instinctively reached for his own but was stopped from grabbing it by Hermione. "All in good time, Poppy. I would first like Severus to examine Harry."

There was a long pause as a third of the room distrusted the man now suddenly in charge of administering aid. "It is as we feared, Headmaster."

"What is? What is it?" Ron asked, loudly, ignoring the stamp on his foot from Hermione.

Snape ignored him.

"Is there anything you can do, Severus?" Dumbledore asked, calmly.

"He has been keeping up his Occlumency lessons?"

"Every week," Professor McGonagall nodded. "He's become quite adept."

"Will somebody tell us what's going on?" Ron shouted, refusing to be swept under the carpet by Snape or Dumbledore.

"I am afraid, Mister Weasley, that Harry is currently under a form of mental seige." Dumbledore explained, rather forlornly. "I had rather hoped that Occlumency would be enough, but it appears… Poppy you are of course correct, please summon St. Mungo's at once. I will accompany him."

"Right you are, Headmaster."

"As for you three," Professor Dumbledore said, addressing Ron, Hermione and Daphne, who had still not moved from her chair beside Harry. "I trust that you will understand the seriousness of keeping this information within these walls."

"Is he going to be alright?" This time it was Hermione who spoke, voicing the question that Daphne did not dare ask for fear of the answer.

"I really cannot say," said Dumbledore. "This connection with Lord Voldemort is, I must admit, rather beyond anything I have ever seen. We can only hope that whatever he is attempting to do proves unsuccessful. The healers at St. Mungo's will make him comfortable, but I fear that the battle rather lies with Harry."

Daphne knew better than to ask the next question that leapt almost immediately to her mind. It was becoming clearer and clearer that Dumbledore had known this could happen, probably knew it would happen and what had he done? Nothing. Occlumency by Snape had been his answer, if that'd happened God only knew what Harry would've been seeing. He knew, he knew what was happening and could've stopped if he'd just said something. Rage was slowly replacing the anxiety that had gripped, a white-hot rage, the kind of fury that lasted years not seconds.

"They're on their way, Headmaster." Madam Pomfrey informed them, returning from her office.

"Professor McGonagall, if you would be so kind as to greet our guests."

Professor McGonagall gave a curt nod and exited with barely a wish of her cloak. Snape was now muttering quietly, no doubt trying to sever the link that had been established between Harry and Voldemort. Counter-curse after counter-curse left his lips, but Harry remained gripped by whatever Voldemort was doing inside his head.

"Severus," Professor Dumbledore said, quietly, but Snape did not cease his muttering, nor did he pay any heed to the Headmaster's words. For the first time, Snape actually appeared as frightened as Daphne felt. His eyes were feverishly scanning Harry's face, his words more hurried and frantic than before. For a man who loathed the boy before him, he was doing a damn good job of hiding it.

"Severus." Dumbledore repeated, more forcefully this time, "let him be. He is beyond even your understanding now."

"And what do we do?" Daphne asked as Snape reluctantly took a step away from Harry.

"I fear all we can do now is wait," answered Dumbledore mournfully.

"Wait?" echoed Ron, dully. The memory of hiding in Grimmauld Place after Mr Weasley's attack swam to the forefront of Daphne's mind. Then she had not known the worry, nor the anguish Harry and Sirius had ben gripped by. How she wished she could on not knowing.

"Until the conclusion," Dumbledore nodded. "There are few wizards who possess Harry's strength, however. I will not say do not worry, but I shall instead advise that you be hopeful."

"Right, hopeful," intoned Ron, who looked about as hopeful as an Azkaban prisoner with life imprisonment.

"I will send word as soon as his condition changes," Dumbledore informed them. "I would advise that you make use of the Room of Requirement in the meantime."

"And if it doesn't? Change I mean."

"I will keep you abreast," Dumbledore assured him. "Severus, might I ask that you go and inform Harry's godfather?"

There was a palpable shift of tension. Ron's ears went scarlet and even Hermione's jaw clenched. From what little Daphne knew of Sirius, there was no-one else he would rather not hear the news of Harry's struggles from than Severus Snape. Dumbledore, as was becoming increasingly apparent, saw little reason not to trust Snape and believed, wholeheartedly, that everyone else should follow along.

"No. We'll go," Daphne said, quickly, before Snape could give voice to the disgust that had contorted his face. "Or I will, if you two don't want to?"

"Nah, we're coming, right Hermione.?"

"Of course," Hermione nodded.

"So that's settled, you said yourself, Headmaster, we should use the Room of Requirement to avoid the students. Where to better to hide than... not in the school." She had wanted to say Grimmauld Place but the words had refused to come. She warily eyed Madam Pomfrey. Clearly, not everyone here was a member of the Order. Dumbledore looked as though he wanted to argue, but the resolute glares on Ron and Hermione's face seemed to crumble what little resistance he had.

"Professor McGonagall will accompany you," Professor Dumbledore said, it was not a request. "I would not have the burden of informing his godfather fall on your shoulders. Any of you. But you are correct, Miss Greengrass. It would better for you to not be victims of rumour or intense questioning."

The Hospital Wing doors swung open for a final time, three people in flowing white robes were led in by Professor McGonagall and Dumbledore shook his head, almost imperceptibly, indicating clear as day that none of them were to say anything else. Before the healers could reach the bed, however, Daphne seized her moment and took Harry's hand. She would let him go without at least saying goodbye.

Words churned around her brain in a whirlpool as she looked into his face. His eyes were moving non-stop, still rolled back into his head. Sweat caked his skin and even as she gripped his hand tightly she could feel how hot he was. Three words rose to the surface of the storm in her mind. Three words. Three simple words. The months she had been dating him, the months of their friendship and all the time she had been without him seemed to flit through her mind. It was impossible it wasn't true, fear finally giving her clarity. She had never felt this much fear in her life, not once. She couldn't lose him, but couldn't tell him like this either.

So instead she simply reached down and kissed his forehead. Closing her eyes and resting her own to his. She felt hands on her back, trying to gently pull her away.

"Please come back," she whispered to him before letting herself be dragged away by Professor McGonagall. The healers swooped in, casting spells that Daphne didn't hear and saying words she didn't want to know about. Dumbledore was quickly explaining where they were going, summoning the same portkey he had given them at Christmas and tapping it gently. No-one watched. No-one paid them any attention. Harry was levitated from the bed and Dumbledore and Madam Pomfrey followed.

Daphne refused to meet McGonagall's gaze, but numbly reached for the portkey. A second passed and then the all too familiar feeling grabbed at her naval and she whisked away without even a moment to finally let her tears fall.