AN: Been a while since I've done one of these but I'd just like to thank everyone for their support. It means an insane amount to see every chapter get both positive and constructive feedback, so thank you. I'd just like to caveat this chapter with a quick note. I do not know anything about medicine, it is not my specialist subject, so if the medical bits here read a bit off I apologise but I wanted to have a crack at something new. I've been reading up on it, but only basic stuff and clips from House so be gentle! I'd also like to say a huge thank you to Frinkles for giving me a shout-out in their story 'A Simple Act of Vengeance', so if you've got time why not go check that out too? Anyway, thank you again and I hope you enjoy this chapter.
Anyway, thank you again and I hope you enjoy this chapter.
Chapter Twenty-Seven: Grim Greetings
Grimmauld Place lurched into existence around the small group of students. Hermione staggered, but Ron and Daphne — who were used to the severity of magical travel — caught her before she slammed into the table. There was no-one in the kitchen, Daphne was idly aware that she had no idea what the time actually was. It could have been the next day for all she knew. Plates lined the counters, dirty and uncared for. Sirius had clearly not had guests for some time.
"You three stay here," Professor McGonagall ordered, she seemed even more severe than usual, no doubt hiding the gaping hole that had torn through her. Just like everyone else. Harry had told Daphne how much he'd weirdly ended up enjoying his lessons with Professor McGonagall, it seemed that he was not the only one.
"Reckon he'll be alright?" Ron asked, quietly, when Professor McGonagall had left the room to search the house for signs of Harry's godfather. "Harry, I mean."
No-one answered, not even Hermione. "Yeah, that's what I thought."
"Why did Dumbledore want to send Snape?" Hermione asked, filling the silence that threatened to deafen the room. Daphne, who felt ridiculous standing around waiting to be told what to do, threw herself down into one of the chairs at the dining table, not looking at either Ron or Hermione. She did not want to see their pity, nor did she wish for shared anguish. The fury at Dumbledore was still bubbling inside her, like any cauldron she touched in Potions it could overflow any second.
"Trusts him, doesn't he?" Ron shrugged. "You know what Dumbledore's like, probably didn't even think about it. Far as he's concerned everyone should get on with Snape. Fat chance."
"He is a teacher, Ron."
"And a Death Eater."
"He changed sides," Hermione insisted.
"We only think that 'cause Dumbledore says so," Ron spat back, frustrated anger coiling out of him like a snake in tall grass.
"Well, I trust Dumbledore, and so should you."
"Why?" Daphne asked quietly, staring up at the cracked and slightly saggy ceiling. It was a question no-one liked to ask, seemingly ever asked. Why did they trust Dumbledore? Because he was Headmaster? Anyone could be Headmaster, Umbridge probably would've ended up in charge if Daphne hadn't seen to it she got the push. So what then, because he was a powerful wizard? Voldemort was a powerful wizard, no-one trusted him.
"He's spent all year avoiding, Harry and I'd be willing to bet my family's entire fortune on the fact he knows more about what's going on than he told us." Her words remained entirely level and calm, frosty, yet never wavering to a shout. "He wanted Snape to teach him Occlumency, refused to do it himself when I asked and why? Why if everyone trusts him so much won't he go near Harry?"
"I…" Hermione faltered, clearly flustered. "He… He's always helped us before."
"I'm not saying he doesn't care," Daphne continued, still eyeing the various crisscrossing cracks in the ceiling. They made a vast network across the ageing partition. "I'm just saying he's not telling us or Harry everything. Or even some of it. How much do we really know about the Order, about what they're planning to do to stop Voldemort." Ron winced violently. "Nothing. Yet we're all just happy to sit here and be told what to do by someone we don't even know. I mean how much does anyone really know about Dumbledore?"
"We're not in the Order." Hermione managed, rather feebly.
"Not for lack of trying," Ron murmured.
"Not you too," Hermione said, exasperatedly. "Look, he's probably just trying to keep us safe. That's all. We don't have to know everything that's going on."
"We might not, but Harry should," Daphne countered. "It's his life, isn't it? Don't you think it's odd that Dumbledore's ignored him all year? Don't you think maybe he knew this could happen? Why else get him to learn Occlumency? I reckon he knows just exactly how Harry's connected to Voldemort because it's not normal. No Legillimens should have that amount of power. So why not tell him? What's so horrible that he can't know?"
"I… He… Dumbledore cares about Harry."
Daphne's temper, which had frayed to breaking point since she had seen Harry collapse, finally snapped.
"He could be dying!" She yelled, slamming a fist into the table and finally looking at the two Gryffindors. Both looked petrified. "He could be dying and for what? Because Dumbledore was too scared to talk to him, to tell him what's going on?" Cold fury was pumping through her veins now. "And we just sit here, like good little children, just sit here and not think!"
She was sick of mind games. Sick of being controlled. Sick of her stupid always pretending not to care just to toughen her up. Sick of Death Eaters. Sick of what they'd taken from her. Sick of the thought of Harry lying there, going through God knew what, just because Voldemort had singled him out. Dumbledore was becoming the centre of everything she loathed, everything she despised. It was unfair but she didn't care. She needed something to be angry, someone to target all her fury.
"I don't know," Hermione said, quietly. "But he's always looked out for Harry, always. I don't know why he's avoiding him, I wish I did, but there's got to be a reason."
A reason. But what reason? Daphne's mind raced through possibilities, discarding them as she went, desperately trying to figure it out because it was so much better than the alternative. So much better than thinking about Harry lying in bed, fighting whatever it was Voldemort was putting him through, clawing away inside his own head. She allowed that image a second too long in her head, before banishing it to a corner, focusing on the task at hand.
"It all started this year, right?"
Both Hermione and Ron nodded. Daphne moved from the chair, unable to contain the nervous energy coursing through her and instead began pacing up and down the length of the room.
"And what's different? What's changed?"
Ron shrugged, but Hermione frowned. "You… Voldemort."
"Exactly, so whatever it is, has something to do with him coming back. Did Harry have dreams before?"
"A few," Ron answered, being the only one who shared a room with Harry most nights. "Nothing major, there was that one about that old muggle, do you remember?"
"He was killed, Harry saw it. But that was different, he wasn't watching through anything, not like with Nagini, he was just there. Like it was a film. And his scar hurts more. It's always hurt him, but not this often before."
Daphne nodded piecing all of this together. Something had changed about Harry's connection to Voldemort. Bringing him back had almost intensified it somehow, but what would that do? She stopped, chewing her lip and drumming her fingers on the table, trying to think. Her anger was channelling her, driving her forwards.
"Dumbledore's scared," Daphne breathed. It was the only thing that made sense. "What if that connection isn't one way? What if he wanted to clear Harry's mind because he was worried Voldemort would be able to see what Harry was seeing? That's why he's not told him anything, that's why he kept us in the dark because if he didn't we'd just tell Harry anyway. It was never meant to stop Harry seeing Voldemort's mind, but Voldemort seeing his."
"But he'd have said," Ron objected.
"Not if he thought Voldemort could see," Daphne countered, levelly. "Maybe even he doesn't know what it is. Or didn't."
Their discussion was interrupted by a loud shout from upstairs, followed almost immediately by screams of "Mudbloods" and "Blood traitor" from the hall. More indistinct yelling filled the house, a thundering of feet on the stairs and before Daphne could say anything to the others the kitchen door had been flung open and Sirius Black hurtled into the room followed by an incredibly flustered Professor McGonagall.
"Sirius, listen —"
"He's my godson, Minerva!" Sirius roared back, furious.
"And going to St. Mungo's would endanger any future relationship you may have with him."
"He needs me!"
"He won't know you're there," Professor McGonagall countered frustratedly, before drawing her wand and summoning the jar of floo powder from the fireplace. Sirius froze, halfway to its original home. He'd clearly been too incensed to think of doing that himself.
"Give that back," he said, his voice suddenly cold, no longer shouting. It was somehow worse. Suddenly, Daphne could see the man that the court had decided to send down for mass-murder. There was a flicker of something in his eyes. He might be a good man, but he was still a Black after all.
"Not until you calm down," Professor McGonagall insisted. If was scared she was doing a bloody good job of hiding it. "Potter is in the best place for him. The Headmaster is with him —"
"Oh, I see. If Dumbledore is there, he must be fine." Resentment that had previously left Daphne's lips rang out on the Headmaster's name.
"The Headmaster," Professor McGonagall continued, "is doing everything he can. The healers need time to work, Sirius, they wouldn't let you in even you weren't wanted for murder."
"Murders I didn't commit!"
"That is not what the rest of the world thinks and right now that is what matters."
"Minerva, I need to see him."
"No," Professor McGonagall snapped, sternly. Sirius looked like he wanted to explode again, so she added, a bit gentler this time, "None of us can. I'm sorry, Sirius."
Her words seemed to click something into place in Sirius' head. For the first time he actually looked around the kitchen and didn't see an absence of an escape but the three students standing before him. He sagged. The fire inside him seemed to just die out, as though he was suddenly aware that he wasn't the only one desperate to be by Harry's side.
"You alright?" He asked them gruffly, in what he probably thought was an attempt at kindness.
"Not really," Daphne answered. "But we have a few hours on you so."
Sirius let out a small, mirthless laugh. "What happened?"
"He collapsed," Hermione said, taking a step forward. Ron had gone white since Sirius' arrival and Daphne didn't particularly want to relive one of the single worst moments of her life. Instead of listening, she stared at a point just above Sirius' head returning to the nagging sense that her suspicions about Harry's connection were right. No-one should have that level of power, not even Voldemort. She knew the Imperius curse all too well, but it wasn't that. This was something else, something unique.
Distantly she was aware of someone saying her name. She snapped back to the present.
"Do you want some tea?" Sirius asked, a lot more kindly than he had been talking when he entered the room, somehow he'd ended up by the kettle.
"Oh, yeah, sure."
"Still two sugars?"
She nodded and with a flick of his wand the kitchen came alive. Mugs flew from the cupboard, the hob burst into life and within a few second the water was boiling as teabags threw themselves into the assorted mugs.
"Where's Kreacher?" Ron asked, curiously, looking around the kitchen.
"No idea," Sirius shrugged. "Probably up in the attic sniffing my dad's old robes or something. Or he might have died," he grinned evilly, causing Hermione to gasp.
"I'm only joking," he said quickly, though Daphne suspected he was not. The relationship between House Elf and mastered was frayed at best, and that's if you were being kind. "I'll have a look for him later, once all this has settled. Mind you, I guess we don't know how long it'll be. You can go, Minerva, if you want. Hogwarts still needs its Deputy Headmistress. I promise I won't do anything stupid." McGonagall looked uncertain. "I wouldn't abandon these three. Tell you what, you can even send Remus to check on me if you want?"
"I'm sure it won't come to that."
Sirius let out a small hum of disagreement but continued distributing the tea with another wave of his wand. Daphne's mug settled in front of her with a dull thud into the wood table. The warmth of the mug was a welcome relief as it spread through her hands. She had felt so numb for the last few hours, it was nice to be reminded that her heart was actually beating.
"But if you do not have need of me I shall return to Hogwarts," Professor McGonagall said, stiffly, still eyeing the three of them warily but Sirius was doing a good job of ignoring her. "I'll send word if I hear anything."
"Thank you, Minerva."
The use of her name seemed to make her even more robotic than normal, but with a final curt nod to the students, she went to the fireplace and disappeared in a flash of green flame. No-one spoke for a long time. Ron and Hermione kept sending furtive glances to one another while Sirius stared morosely into his tea, not drinking it, as if he was hoping to see Harry magically displayed in it.
For Daphne the wait was agonising and the silence brutal. Quetiness killed her, it forced her to think, forced the memories too raw to think about to surface from the depths of her mind where she was trying to keep them locked away. Desperately, she tried to concentrate on the last time Harry had been like this. Christmas. He had woken up, terrified and dazed, but he had woken up. He could get out of this. He was going to get out of this.
Yes, he had to. She'd go and hunt down Voldemort herself if she had to. She'd decided her path, she'd be damned if she wasn't going to walk it now, with Harry at her side.
"Where'd your dad get attacked?"
The question seemed to form unwanted in the back of her mind but as she picked apart Harry's last vision, for they could no longer be truly referred to as nightmares, she realised she had no idea where Ron's dad was and why the snake had attacked him. So much else had been going on, once they'd realised he was safe Daphne had been whisked home and the matter had been settled.
"The Ministry, he was doing work for the Order, right Sirius?"
Sirius nodded, still examining his tea which had no doubt gone stone cold.
"But what was he doing there?" Daphne had often been called single-minded, determined or stubborn, some were praising, others derogatory, it really rather depending on the circumstance. The only thing that never changed was her bloody-mindedness to pursue something once her brain latched onto an idea. Which, under most circumstances, wasn't an issue, but when desperately seeking a distraction from her conflicting emotions it came it bloody helpful. "I mean, no-one's in the Ministry at that time of night, not even the Unspeakables."
"That's Order business," Sirius said, dully. "Dumbledore's orders."
Back to Dumbledore again, wherever she looked he seemed to be at the centre of it all. "He was guarding something, the weapon."
"Weapon?" Daphne repeated, looking at Ron who was suddenly becoming a font of previously untapped information. Why did Harry never mention this? "So there's a weapon in the Ministry Voldemort wants to get his hands on? Maybe that's what Harry's seeing, right now, maybe Voldemort needs him to get to it or something?"
"Or maybe it's something else entirely," Sirius suggested. "Look, I want to know what's going too, but until he wakes up guessing isn't going to get us anywhere."
"I'd rather that than sit around doing nothing," Daphne bit back angrily.
"Join the club," bitterness filled Sirius's voice. "I've been doing nothing but sit around in this house for a year. At least you've got company."
"Well, that makes all the difference."
"Right now, I'd say it does. I don't like it either, but all we can do is wait." He sighed, running a hand through his lank hair. "I'll make us some food."
"And that is it, is it? We just sit around stuffing our faces while Harry's —" her voice cracked, and tears, unbidden, unwanted, began to shimmer in her eyes. Images of wizards and witches gathering around him, none of them knowing what was happening as he desperately clung to the life that remained in his body twisted something horrible inside her. Three sets of eyes stared at her. Unblinking, wondering what the hell she was going to do next. She almost laughed, she'd thought this would be Ron, ranting and raving, maybe even Hermione panicking. But clearly, they were used to Harry fighting for his life, they'd been on enough adventures with him, of course, they were. But for Daphne, this was all painfully new. She felt a tapestry whose loose strings were being yanked at by an especially curious cat. One thread after another just falling away.
"If there's Harry's going to want when he wakes up, it's you three. I might not be able to do anything to help him in St. Mungo's, but at least I can make sure you lot are all right. Sometimes surviving is enough."
Okay, survive. She could do that. Just survive.
Healer Dalir Safiq, or just Saffy to the healers who knew him well and Saff to the ones who couldn't be bothered to learn how to pronounce Dalir, liked to think that he was a brilliant man. It was not ego, nor was it misplaced arrogance. It was a necessity to being good at his job, having recently taken on a variety of specialist cases at St. Mungo's. He cured the incurable, saw the definitely done for and even tried his arm at the terminally unhelpful when he worked with the immediate response team. As one of the youngest and most successful healers at the hospital, he had done all he could to help as many people as possible, the byproduct was a certain sense of self-assurance. It was no good just walking up to someone and thinking you couldn't help them, after all.
This factually brilliant man, then, was also flummoxed. It was not a feeling he was used to, nor was it one he particularly enjoyed. Most cases required a level of curiosity, how did that happen, have you tried using this old theory with this new spell, that type of thing. But he always had an idea. A starting point.
He gazed down at the boy. It wasn't, of course, any boy. Depending on who you talked to he was either the saviour of the world or a total show-off. Merlin's beard, if he got this wrong, he'd have a mob after him. One who wanted to kill him for messing up the world's saviour and the other irritated that it had not been them who had killed the boy.
"And you're saying he just collapsed?" Dalir asked, once again casting his usual charms and tests on the boy.
"That is what I have been informed," nodded Albus Dumbledore. A team of healers were standing ready behind Dalir. He was nervous. He was thirty-one, that was nothing by wizarding standards, nothing even by muggle standards. He was like a child working at a bank.
"Has he ever experienced anything like this before?"
"Once, I believe, but never to this extent."
Dalir nodded. Dumbledore, for some reason, was being incredibly cagey. You got a sense for it after a while. Relatives telling you that no, I've never seen those marks before, were later arrested for things like assault and domestic violence. Not that he thought Dumbledore had done this, that would even worse than accidentally leaving Harry Potter with brain damage.
He was panicking.
He hummed, tapping his wand against his leg. All the tests he'd done showed it was incredibly unlikely these were hallucinations, nor was he experiencing any real bodily pain, but his brain activity was insanely high. And there was something else too, something odd. Every few seconds he would get the same reading, layered over the top of the first one. It was as though everything amplified and then died down again, but there was no physical response to show that any extremes were taking place. It was like a shadow being cast by the pain itself.
"Professor, would I be able to speak with you in private please?"
"Certainly," Dumbledore said, as though Dalir had just asked him out to coffee. Dalir vaguely remembered the Headmaster from his own time at Hogwarts. He had found him confusing then too.
"Morris, Shutter, see if you can't make Mister Potter a bit more comfortable and no-one is to come in here before I get back, understand?"
Anathema Shutter and Clark Morris nodded. Shutter rather more enthusiastically than Morris, whom Dalir had never known do anything enthusiastically in his life. Morris was a man of few words and even fewer personality traits.
Dalir led Dumbledore away from the private room and to his office, which was down the hall. A few people nodded to Dalir as he passed and a small girl gaped at Dumbledore who smiled politely. The office was cramped, apparently it was the only one the hospital had although Dalir was unsurprised to learn when Anton Prewitt got his new office it was a lot bigger than his. Anton was older, more senior, and, well, Dalir didn't like to think about the third thing.
"Take a seat," Dalir said, gesturing to the small chair opposite his desk. Dumbledore took it while Dalir navigated his way past an over-stuffed filling cabinet, which didn't look it thanks to some enlargement charms, and set himself into his own chair. It squeaked.
"Headmaster, can I ask, are you being entirely honest with me?"
"Why would I not be?" Deflection, classic. Questions instead of answers, this was going to be harder than he first though. Dalir scratched his beard thoughtfully.
"Well, for starters, nothing you have told me explains Harry's condition." Dalir began, as politically as he could given that Dumbledore was one of, if not the, most powerful wizard of all time. "I know you have to protect your students, but I don't understand how a perfectly healthy boy could be having an episode like this. He is a little under-weight, but aside from that there's no real physical trauma I can see yet his state is indicative of some kind of mental battering. We see it typically with people who have been suffering from their partners invading their minds once too often, although, again, there's no real evidence that Harry has suffered any Legilimens assaulting his mind.
"It could be a posion and that could be causing hallucinations," Dalir went on, "but I checked and his body is showing no signs of being affected by any poison. And then there's something else." He hesitated, not wanting to sound completely insane. "It's like there's something else inside him being affected by all of this. I know that sounds… peculiar, but every reading I did came with a second almost unnoticable mirror image."
"I am afraid, I cannot help you."
"But I think you can," Dalir persisted, "I have spoken to Madam Pomfrey, she and I have worked together from time to time, and she tells me that Professor Snape asked Professor McGonagall if he had been," he checked the note he'd quickly scribbled down on his desk, "'keeping up his Occlumency lessons.' Now, Professor, I very much doubt that a student, let alone Harry Potter, would be receiving such lessons from another members of staff without your permission."
"It is true, Harry has been receiving tutelage in Occlumency."
Dalir nodded, it was no fresh news but it was nice to hear the Headmaster at least admit it. "But why? That's my question. From my memory, Hogwarts students don't cover Occlumency and it was never offered as an extra-curricular lesson. And why would a fifteen-year-old boy need training in such advanced magic?"
"That is information, I am afraid, I cannot share with you."
Most people made up an excuse, or even just said they didn't know. It was both refreshing and confusing that Dumbledore would blithely sit there and refuse to part with knowledge that could, theoretically, help his student.
"But it could help me figure out what's wrong with him," Dalir pressed, though he recognised a losing battle when he saw one. "Has he been in contact with any Legilmens recently, anyone who could be invading his mind?"
"There is no-one at my school who would do that."
Well, that killed that theory. Legilmens needed to be with casting distance, it wasn't something you could just will into happening out of nowhere. "And the shadow, do you have any idea what that could be? Anything at all would be helpful."
"I do not, I am sorry. I really do wish that I could be of more help."
"Thank you, Headmaster, I'm sorry for taking up so much of your time."
"Not at all," Dumbledore smiled, pleasantly. "It's always nice to see old students."
Dalir showed Dumbledore back to the main body of the hospital, exchanging pleasantries before returning to Harry's bedside.
"Any change?" he asked Shutter as he entered the room, Morris was busy noting down the progress, if you could call it that, they'd made on the chart at the end of the bed.
"Nothing, sorry. He's just the same, completely inert and unresponsive to external stimuli. I think it's just a waiting game."
"External stimuli," Dalir repeated quietly, his thick eyebrows almost knitting together with the depth of his frown. "What if we tried internal stimuli."
"I don't quite follow."
"Think about it, this is a mental problem right? Whatever he's… experiencing we cannot see, but if we were to enter his mind, would we be able to get access to what he's seeing?"
"It's difficult to say, something like that, if he's not ready, could have catastrophic effects."
"Or it could help us cure him," Dalir pointed out, beneath him Harry barely moved, they had managed to bring some colour back to his skin and they were working on the sweating, although that could be linked to nerves or mental exertion as his heart rate was fluctuating, apparently in-sync with stress patterns Shutter had assured him. Looking in his head could work, but it was risky. The answer was in that reading, Dalir was sure of it, he just wasn't sure how.
"Can you think of anything that would could be living inside him?"
"We did all the scans, there's no living creature in there. Not even the Bulgarian Dream Worm," a worm capable of creating visions in its hosts, mood swings and even increasing intellect. Dalir had read about it during his Healer training and had insisted they look for it despite reluctant protests from his team.
"Yes but could it be something else? Something that doesn't really register as alive without him, like symbiote?"
"We could check, but I doubt it." Shutter said lamely, "I mean, I wouldn't even know what we're looking for."
"The kid'll wake up when he's ready," Morris said, looking up from his notes. The quill he'd been using drifted back to the inside of his robes, tucking itself neatly away in his inside pocket.
"And if he doesn't, we've wasted good time we could be using."
"Look, Shaff, there's plenty of nutcases on the fourth floor, wanna go play hero? Why not fix them."
Dalir had to resist sighing, he and Morris had never got on. He didn't like Morris because he had the personality of a flannel and had no drive to succeed at anything and Morris had hated him since he arrived at the hospital. Dalir still wasn't entirely sure why but the way he said Shaff gave him some idea.
"Well, I have been assigned this patient, so I will continue to work with him. Now, Shutter, if you wouldn't mind."
The beauty of magic, Dalir knew, was that everything, everything you ever wanted, was instant. Want a test result? Here you go. Chair into a coffee table? Why not? Muggles spent so much of their time just waiting around for stuff to happen. The flip side of this particular coin was that instantaneous everything created impatience and patience was vital when dealing with so insubstantial an idea it was like trying to grab fog.
But that's what he was going to do. Grab at fog and hope he caught it before it was too late.