Chapter 50: Life goes on
Of course, it was never that easy.
After he had been brought back to the Gryffindor tower by Professor McGonagall there was an uproar. It seemed everyone in Hogwarts had heard of what had happened and there was little they did not dare to ask. One particularly brave - or was it stupid? - boy even asked if he could see Harry's arm, causing Harry to glare at him enough to make him wince.
Thankfully Ron and Neville were there despite it being a Friday as they had currently a free period - as opposed to Hermione who was in Arithmancy. Harry had been given this day off, surprisingly, but he had so much to revise it was probably a good thing to catch up anyway.
For now though he was just glad that Ron was pretty much getting the crowd to lay low simply by threatening to put anyone who couldn't behave themselves to detention.
There were some advantages to being friends with a prefect after all.
Afterwards, the three boys went to their dorm room to talk.
"How... are you feeling, mate?" Ron asked slowly once the door was closed, looking a bit conflicted.
"Horrible," he answered dryly, although he didn't think this word was adequately describing how he felt.
"How much of what the Daily Prophet wrote was true?" Neville looked nervous even as he spoke, but his concern for Harry was quite obvious anyway. Or at least Harry imagined it that way, he guessed.
"Dunno. Most of it, I assume. I met with Dumbledore. We went to a place connected with T-, with Voldemort's past. I got cursed. Badly. The end." He hoped they had not noticed the almost slip-up. Damn that man to make Harry stop calling him Voldemort even in his mind...
"But... St. Mungo's is still looking into it, right?" Ron asked, sounding quite bothered by the whole situation. "I mean, they wouldn't just send you away otherwise, right?"
Harry snorted humourlessly.
"Well, yes. But..." At that he grimaced. "I've seen dozens of Curse-Breakers last week. No one had a good idea yet... And they might not find someone with any good idea until..." He trailed off as his throat constricted somewhat.
"Until what...?" Neville asked softly, although somehow he seemed to have an idea, eyes wider than they should have been and filled with worry.
Harry cleared his throat. He just had to tell his friends in person, even if this surely would somehow make the news soon as well. It seemed like there had not been anything else published besides that he was cursed. Yet.
"The... The curse is... lethal," he finally managed with some effort, closing his eyes to avoid looking at his friends, although he could clearly hear Ron's gasp. "If nothing changes... I'll have maybe... half a year left."
After that revelation, no one said anything anymore for a few long moments. Long enough for Harry to open his eyes again, registering Ron's shell-shocked expression and Neville's unusually stoic face. It was clear that neither of them had any idea of what to do with such a fact. Nor did Harry.
In the end, Neville was the first to speak up again though.
"Thank you for telling us." His voice was quiet and seemed laden with some emotion Harry couldn't immediately discern.
"B-But... this... I mean, St. Mungo's will do something, right? They will... bring more Curse-Breakers, won't they? You're Harry Potter after all, you're famous!" Ron mumbled, tone disbelieving.
"Well... they said they're trying. Guess we'll have to wait and see."
Which... of course, was a great prospect. Not. But it was all he could do, in the end...
The rest of the weekend went... only slightly less awkward, to be honest.
Hermione was brought up to speed once she had come back from Arithmancy, her reaction similar to Ron's, if with a bit more hugging.
At least she offered to share her notes from the week of classes Harry had missed, something Harry gladly took her up on, seeing how there was more than enough homework due - and at least that distracted him nicely from everything else.
Although for the essays he had to use a self-writing quill Sirius had bought him, dictating what he wanted to say. His arm... well, it wasn't completely unusable, but he had lost all feeling in it, making delicate work like holding a quill a bit more difficult, especially if he wasn't focussing on it. He had begun practising to write with his left hand during the week in hospital, but as of yet it still looked horrible. So dictating his essays it was, and practising more in the meantime.
On Saturday the anticipated new article in the Daily Prophet came as well, writing about his release and how he still seemed to be cursed. Luckily, whoever wrote the article still didn't know what exactly the curse did, so... at least the whispers that, of course, followed Harry around again were not too bad. Yet.
Still, he mostly tried to ignore everything by sitting in the library with his friends, working through Hermione's notes in silence, for once glad that Madame Pince didn't tolerate any kind of louder whispers.
Sadly the calm didn't last forever, and soon it was Monday again and Harry was back in the middle of the chaos that was called school.
At least people didn't really dare to whisper in class too loudly, so Defence in the morning wasn't too bad, with Harry mostly partnering up with Neville.
Which was when he was reminded that there was something else he usually did with his right hand.
Why in Merlin's name had he not thought about practising that before?!
With the feeling in his right hand basically gone he did not trust himself to hold his wand with it, worried it would snap in a similar way many quill tips already had, under too much applied pressure.
So, casting left handed it was. Which meant... he was abysmal at it.
And he couldn't help the small feeling that, while most certainly sympathetic, a small part of Neville was a little bit happy at being able to master a spell before Harry.
Most probably the same part that, on Harry's side, felt just a little bit insulted at taking almost the whole practical part of the lesson to cast even a simple Impediment Jinx. It was difficult to copy wand motions with your offhand without accidentally mirroring them!
At least Professor Williamson didn't comment on it any more than to give him some pointers as to how to improve his wandwork - like trying to move both hands in sync for now, to get a better feeling for his left hand.
Still, Harry found himself in the Room of Requirement again just after the lesson had ended - alone, for once, as Ron and Neville had Care of Magical Creatures and Hermione had Arithmancy once again - deciding to practise this while he still had time. It certainly beat moping around alone in the library...
When the four friends met again for lunch, Harry's mood had improved at least a little bit. Sure, casting was still extremely difficult, but he had had a nice, long discussion with Shiva about a topic that was completely unrelated to any of his problems and, as such, helped him getting his mind away from everything again. If only for some time, but it was better than nothing, really.
As such, the mealtime was somewhat relieving, with Ron and Neville basically flanking him, more or less subtly discouraging people from approaching him to ask intrusive questions and Hermione distracting him with talks about... well, mostly homework, but still. It was the thought that counted.
History of Magic was next and, while Harry might never admit it out loud, he had almost kind of missed it. Professor Drakul just had a way with words that Binns probably couldn't even have imagined while still living and breathing and it was quite interesting to listen to his tales, making history more alive than ever.
It was a pity Harry couldn't really take his own notes, although he did try - why not practise his writing in a setting where he was supposed to write things down anyway, after all? He was still very glad that Hermione had volunteered to share her properly taken notes with him afterwards.
Another thing Harry quite liked was that the teacher didn't seem to treat him different at all. Which meant, he was just ignoring Harry like everyone else who didn't have a question until he was asking the class for opinions. It sure beat the reactions of many of the students and the looks of pity he had already received from various people - and even some of the teachers. At least he was already used to ignoring the whispers.
Of course, Harry's relief was short lived, as once class was over Professor Drakul pointed at him.
"You. Stay for a moment, if you please," he said in his unique way of never addressing anyone but a selected few by name, but still managing to sound somewhat pleasant while being rude.
Harry looked around for a moment, hoping he had not been meant, but the teacher was quite clearly looking at him.
"Meet you in Potions?" he asked Hermione slowly, and while she seemed quite hesitant to leave him she did agree after an amused "No worries, I'm not going to bite him." from Professor Drakul - one of his favourite comments, really - leaving her flustered and hurrying away with a quick, apologetic look at Harry, muttering something about never having assumed this anyway.
And then Harry and the teacher were alone, with the latter standing leisurely behind his desk.
"I've heard stories about your arm," Professor Drakul began, quite straightforward. "Are you willing to share more information? I'd rather hear it from the source than the newspapers."
Harry stared at him, slightly taken aback. Oh sure, he had somehow expected that it was about this... curse, but the way the other had asked still managed to throw him off.
"Um... no offence, really, but... what's it to you?" The words almost stumbled out of his mouth without him thinking about it, and he felt like taking them back a moment later already. Finally there was one person actually asking him for some facts instead of blindly believing the Daily Prophet and he was brushing them off?
Professor Drakul didn't seem insulted though, if anything he was almost disturbingly unconcerned.
"Nothing, really. I was merely curious, seeing how you are clearly favouring your left arm at the moment and seem to be a lot more downtrodden than usual."
Harry blinked in surprise.
"I... didn't think you were paying attention that closely... sir," he muttered softly. Honestly, he had assumed Professor Drakul just... taught his stuff and the highest focus a student got was when they were expected to answer a question.
The teacher's lips curled into a small smile.
"Oh I pay attention to a lot of things people don't immediately realise," he offered easily. "But you did not answer my question. Are you willing to talk about what happened or not?"
Harry hesitated, not sure if he really wanted to share much more information with the other. On the other hand... most of the things were already known by people anyway. Professor Drakul himself had admitted to having read the papers. He sighed.
"Well, the papers are right. For once." He couldn't help the dry addition at the end, really. "I've been cursed. A bunch of Curse-Breakers try to fix it. The only thing they've not published yet is that it's... it might be..." His throat constricted, as it always did whenever he thought about the consequences of this situation. He looked down at the table between them, focussing on one of the edges. Like the rest of the table it had no decorations or anything on it. The teacher liked things simple, it seemed. "If they can't find a cure in time, it's lethal," he whispered - not even sure why he was sharing this piece of information with the other, but it was already too late now anyway. Not looking up, he quickly continued. "Can I go now? I don't want to be late for Potions." Not that he had to walk far, but really, he didn't feel like staying any longer.
"Of course," Professor Drakul answered calmly, as if he hadn't even heard Harry's admission. He certainly hadn't reacted in any audible way. "See you on Wednesday. Don't forget to write your essay."
"Yes, sir," Harry replied moodily before turning around and fleeing the class room.
Honestly, this conversation had been horrible! What the hell had he been getting at anyway? Perhaps Hermione could share some light upon this.
Sadly, Hermione seemed to be about as clueless about the teacher's behaviour as Harry - although she suggested that perhaps his sudden willingness to share as much information as he did could have, potentially, come from Professor Drakul being a vampire. Seemingly these creatures - or, well, people, really - had some sort of reputation of charming humans to do all kinds of things. Although Hermione certainly wasn't sure about it, seeing how Harry hadn't been drooling about the man either or otherwise felt like having lost control completely.
Besides, they already knew he could resist the Imperius curse, so it wasn't even clear how he would react to a vampire's charm. Not that either of them wanted him to try this out.
Thankfully Professor Slughorn interrupted any further conspiracies the two could come up with by starting his lesson, so they were properly distracted.
Although Harry could have done without Slughorn pairing him up with Malfoy of all people to help him prepare his ingredients, noticing how he was having difficulties when trying to cut up some shrivelfigs after barely having managed to peel them without squashing them too much or dropping them. Bloody arm!
To his immense surprise, Malfoy actually did his job quite precisely and without complaining even once - although he did frown when he realised that shrivelfigs actually weren't part of the recipe they had been provided.
"Why am I cutting up shrivelfigs again? You do realise they're not in the recipe, right?" he asked quietly, though his tone thankfully lacked any kind of real bite.
Harry looked up from the recipe he had - sloppily, he had to admit, still writing with his offhand - put on the parchment in front of him after thinking about it for a bit.
"Well, they're not in the recipe from the book, but they're in my version," he answered, causing Malfoy to frown.
Harry sighed and grabbed a few porcupine quills to start crushing them. At least something he could do on his own, he couldn't easily break the pestle or the mortar even when applying too much pressure.
"Because I've actually learned some Potionmaking over the summer. And how blindly following the recipe won't teach us anything," he explained, trying his best not to make a face as he realised that he was quoting Snape of all people. But, animosity aside, the man had been quite helpful.
"Huh. Didn't expect to hear that from you of all people," Malfoy muttered, eyebrows raised, before quickly focussing back on the shrivelfig when Harry glared at him.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Come on Potter, you can't deny that your potion making skills sucked before. I guess it got better last year, but really!"
Harry rolled his eyes, but bit back a scathing remark about favouritism and greasy gits. After all, Malfoy was right anyway. It wasn't like Harry had really tried before last year.
"Well, I've changed my mind," he grumbled instead, causing Malfoy to look up at him in surprise again. Clearly he had been expecting an insult or something similar as well.
But before either of them could say something else, Professor Slughorn's voice was heard from the front.
"Is there a problem Mr. Potter? Mr. Malfoy?"
"No sir," both boys muttered, lowering their gazes again as they focussed back on the ingredients.
The other classes went by in a similar way then, with the teachers, luckily, being professional enough to just... not mention Harry's arm, giving him some pointers on how to improve his spellwork if necessary. For once, Harry was glad that Transfiguration was a lot of theory and the practical exercises in Herbology had nothing to do with fine motor skills. Besides, they were working in pairs usually anyway and Neville was wicked.
The time between classes and homework Harry spent practising both his wandwork and writing with his left hand and as such he was so busy that he only realised he had no idea if his weekly practicals with Tom would even still continue when he was already standing in the Chamber of Secrets on Wednesday, in front of the door to their usual training chamber.
Well... no time like the present to find it out.
Opening the door nervously Harry peered into the room... before letting out a relieved breath he hadn't even realised he had been holding when he caught sight of Tom, leaning against the wall on the right side, arms crossed.
He had seemed to be deep in thoughts for a moment, but he looked up almost immediately, probably having heard the door, and nodded at the Gryffindor.
"Hello, Harry," he greeted, his voice calm, although his expression seemed... dark. For a lack of a better word. "I have not been able to find a suitable cure yet, but I am working on a few things."
And although the news themselves sounded... well, if not outright positive than at least somewhat hopeful, Harry somehow didn't really feel reassured.
"Is there... something wrong with it?"
Pushing himself off the wall Tom walked closer to him, shaking his head.
"Not exactly. I am just not sure if any of these ideas will prove successful. So I do not want to raise your hopes too high. Just know that I am trying my best. As are probably half of Great Britain's Curse-Breakers - although they do not have my insight, despite me having shared all I could."
Harry nodded slowly, giving off a deep sigh. Well, at least someone was trying. That was all he could hope for, really.
"Thanks, then, I guess..."
Tom sighed softly, but did not comment further on the topic. Instead, he surprised Harry by talking about something completely different.
"How is your writing coming along?"
"It still sucks," he grumbled honestly. "But even worse than that, my spellcasting is atrocious!"
Of course Tom didn't look particularly surprised. Probably he had already thought of this days ago.
"Right. This is actually what I wanted to talk to you about anyway," he said, causing Harry to look at him in confusion. "Obviously we will have to pause your duelling training the way we did it up to now for some time, but that doesn't mean we will have to stop training altogether. If you're interested I can offer you some further tips and training how to cast with your offhand."
Harry stared at him in surprise.
"You can cast with both hands? Why?"
Tom smirked slightly.
"Well, being ambidextrous can take some of your opponents by surprise, really. Besides, it's an immense disadvantage in battle if your main hand gets incapacitated and you don't have an alternative." He grew serious again. "Originally I had planned to teach this to you at a later date, but it was in the curriculum."
Of course the other had built a curriculum of sorts for their weekly lessons. Damn, sometimes Tom was as bad as Hermione in regards to being prepared.
At that point of time Harry actually realised what Tom had offered.
"You... think I can learn to cast with my offhand? Properly, I mean?"
Tom smiled and drew his wand, holding it in his left hand.
"Of course. It does take a while to get used to, but once learned it is not something inherently difficult." He slashed through the air, conjuring a straw dummy in the corner of the room, before casting a volley of spells at it. All with his left hand, which Harry knew wasn't his favoured one.
When the dummy was thoroughly destroyed, he vanished it and summoned a new one before putting away his wand again.
"Now you try. I'll watch and give you some pointers wherever necessary. Believe me, it's doable, I have already coached other people through it."
And while Harry wasn't really sure if he could believe that - or if said coachings had... potentially been a bit more heavy on things like the Cruciatus, before? - he certainly saw no reason not to keep trying anyway. He had to learn this ridiculous skill sooner or later, so why not start now?
At least he found Tom an infinitely better teacher than Professor Williams - not that the man was bad either, Tom was just... more knowledgeable. Although perhaps Harry's judgement was a bit clouded by the fact that, for whatever reason, his heart just seemed to like beating a bit faster whenever Tom lightly grabbed his wrist to correct his hold.
It did help that Tom could actually show him what he meant though, being able to cast with his off-hand himself. Certainly something Professor Williams had not demonstrated at least.
One thing Harry could have done without though happened the weekend after his first week of being back in school - just after a horrible evening of sitting through another session of the 'Slug Club' that Tom had convinced him to go to despite all that had happened.
It was an owl, catching him as he was taking a walk around the lake to calm down a bit again.
A written apology from Dumbledore.
It was surprising enough that the letter had come by owl in the first place and not, as Harry had grown accustomed to, being delivered by a student.
But it was a two page long apology note, including a whole paragraph about how taking Harry to such a dangerous site had been a grievous mistake and Dumbledore understood that now, how he still never had intended for anyone to get hurt and only ever wanted Harry's best.
By the end it sounded almost as if he was apologising for something else entirely, but he was claiming full responsibility and his regret seemed genuine enough.
He also added a note about how he was now doing his best to use his influence to get more experienced healers and Curse-Breakers on Harry's case, explaining that he knew this all sounded very implausible after what had happened, but he would try his best to make it up again, in whatever way possible.
It did help that - despite Harry knowing that it was a horrible idea to ever use it for this - Dumbledore had actually included a small vial filled with Phoenix tears, together with a postscript note to use it freely and that he would not try to invite Harry to his office again, but that his doors were open should he ever need someone to talk to.
It was... touching, in a way, but also making Harry infinitely more suspicious. After all... he knew that Dumbledore needed him dead anyway. The horcrux inside of him was proof enough for that. So... just leaving him be - even aiding his recovery! - couldn't be Dumbledore's grand scheme after all... could it?
He would have to talk about this with Sirius later.
At least he had learned one thing through this horrible ordeal: It was never a bad idea to talk to people he trusted before just going off on some of his own conclusions. That much was more than clear by now. No hotheaded decisions anymore. If he could avoid it.
I don't really want to start all these author's not with a "Heyy, I'm still around!", but at the rate I'm updating this fic... oh dear.
I just keep stumbling into writer's blocks, real life issues and some stress in general, so I guess... the update speed of this fic is going to continue being erratic at best.
Just know I haven't given up on this, or you! I still sometimes see emails about people putting this story to their favourites / following it (and even the occasional review!) and it makes me very happy to see that even now there are people who like this story, who want to know how it continues... it does help in getting me to at least manage a new chapter piece by piece. So, thank you very much everyone! :)
In regards to this chapter, we finally got some real aftermath about how people react to his arm! Looks like it's not going to be easy for him at the moment...!
Not 100% sure how the next chapter will look like - probably a small timeskip is in order though, we're nearing Christmas after all! (It's the middle of November at the moment, in case anyone was wondering, with Harry having been cursed on Halloween) Let's see where it will go. :)