For the rather unusual boy who presided at the otherwise unremarkable residence located at Number 4 Private Drive, summer meant a number of things. Primarily it meant life of utterly ordinary existence. Cut off entirely from magic and the extraordinary wizarding world within which it thrived. His wand, broom, and anything remotely unnatural locked in the cupboard under the stairs.
It meant total disconnection from his friends, witches and wizards in training, who held with the freakish and unnatural and therefor imperiously banned by his aunt and uncle. Hedwig, his pet owl, friend, and messenger sent to live elsewhere for the season.
It meant long hours outside. A list of chores and tasks to rival any detention a Hogwarts’ professor might think up. It meant coexisting with relatives who did not want him. It meant sleeping in a room locked on the outside. It meant living off rations. It meant drinking water from the outside hose.
It meant laying in the dirt, among the hedges, just to get a few moment of peace
Inside the house, his rather unpleasant aunt, Petunia Dursley, prattled and gossiped with the other rather unpleasant ladies of the neighborhood. Down the street, his enormously unpleasant, not to mention just plain enormous, cousin Dudley Dursley jeered at something alongside his friends. Their voices fading as they walked, hunting for prey.
Uncle Vernon was at work. The less said about him, the better.
Harry Potter took in a deep breath, released it as a dry breeze blew past. Small favors, he thought. Focus on the small favors. There were locks on his door and bars over his window, but there were good things too. Hedwig now resided at the Weasley’s. She would be happy and well fed and safe. He had friends eagerly waiting for him come the start of term. A stash of mixed sweets and pastries hidden under the floorboards had not yet been discovered. He had…
…he had not yet been killed off by Voldemort. So, there was that.
Sometimes the small favors were really hard to find.
Still Harry kept at it. He missed his friends. He missed magic. He missed Hogwarts. He missed Hedwig. The feeling of loss would overwhelm him if he let it. But it was only for now, Harry reminded himself. This was only for now. Fall term would be here before he knew it.
Hand to his forehead the boy wiped sweat away from his eyes. Not yet a week into summer break, and already it felt sweltering. Unseasonably so. It was enough to make his head ache.
But it was only for now, Harry repeated, this was not forever.
To date, there existed few individuals to whom one Severus Snape felt any sort of obligation. The list shrank remarkably when personal favorability factored into the equation. Narcissa Malfoy remained one such individual. Severus would accept summons from the Malfoy name alone, but the lady of the house held sway all on her own. Their friendship remained a quiet unspoken thing. Largely for political reasons, they were inclined to keep it as such. Kept scandal and the gossips away.
Narcissa greeted him upon his arrival. Her expression soft with relief, yet still pinched with worry.
“Let us skip the formalities and see what trouble Draco found for himself,” Severus suggested mildly, never one to let social protocol get in the way of practicality. By Narcissa’s nod, she seemed like minded and grateful.
Her son sat in a parlor, one of the smaller rooms within Malfoy Manor. Initial impressions left Severus curious, as there did not seem to be much wrong. Not visually. Narcissa, while not one to accept suffering gladly, would much prefer to keep family matters internal rather than bear the burden of being granted a favor.
“Professor,” the boy greeted amicably at Severus’ upturned brow.
“Professor?” Severus questioned coolly. “Are we not out of school, and am I not still your godfather?”
This earned him a genuine smile from Draco. Not large, but enough to reach his eyes. “Uncle,” Draco amended with a small nod.
“Better.” Severus settled into the chair situated next to Draco’s. Narcissa remained standing, hands loosely clasped before her. Severus remembered a young girl who would have been plucking fretfully at her necklace. He pushed the memory aside.
“Uncle, I am… I am uncertain how to begin.” Draco admitted, exhaustion now clear on his face. It clung to his sound of his voice, dragging it into the monotone. A kind of intonation professor’s nominally heard most often before, during, and just preceding final exams. Not during summer break.
“Fatigue,” Severus stated. He waited for a correction. None came.
The boy nodded.
“He rests to no relief,” added Narcissa. “Draco dear, show him your shin.”
The boy followed direction with no complaint. He pinched the fabric over his left knee, pulled and raised. Between his trouser hem and the border of the boy’s socks, Severus observed scaled skin. Red and ridged, the patch looked near bloody.
The answer to the question became immediately clear.
“Are you hallucinating?” Asked the wizard, perhaps a bit more harshly than intended.
Draco glared. “Have I spoken to house elves no one else can see? No.”
If still capable of sass, the boy was not very far gone. A positive sign, if not the answer Severus wanted.
“It need not be sentient creatures,” Severus explained, deadpan. “Bright lights, or small dark spots clouding your vision?”
“Oh. No. None of that.”
The positive sign he had been in search of.
“It is as you feared,” Severus announced plainly. “Whatever blight the students incubated at the end of term has entered your household, Madame Malfoy. Perhaps, Mister Malfoy, had you been more diligent in your studies and not gallivanting throughout the castle…?”
The boy scoffed in his typical fashion. “Excuse me professor, but I was not the one mucking about in the sewers with this year’s resident monster. And I expect perfectly acceptable marks.”
“Perfectly acceptable may earn you your OWLs but it will most certainly not grant you admittance into my advanced classes,” Severus responded in kind.
Draco near about sneered. Yes, he was not very far gone at all. Good.
“Madame Pomfrey must be appraised on the situation,” Severus again announced, before the boy could think up a remark to continue the dialogue. Timing was not dire, but time was not to be wasted frivolously. He stood, smoothing out the creases in his robes. “I will return early this evening.”
“Thank you, Severus.”
“Yes, godfather, thank you.” Draco said sincerely, his emotions evermore likely to switch between extremes at a moments notice. Another thing to keep an eye on, Severus worried. A trait inherited from his mother's side, unfortunately.
A trait he could worry about later. For now, he needed Madame Pomfrey.
With the feeling of upmost resignation, Harry dropped a bushel of bananas into the garbage bin. A shame, because they seemed perfectly ripe. The ideal shade of sunny yellow with not much bruising. Except the fruit flies appeared from somewhere and surely the strawberries had nothing to do with them. Those sat in the refrigerator.
No matter the reason, Harry no doubt would be blamed. For the flies, and for the fruit spoiling. An odd thing how in the wizarding world Harry was a praised savior of the masses, and in the muggle world he was a degenerate freak who used his powers to ruin fruit and his cousin’s diet.
Because obviously, he had complete control of both of those things. Never mind Dudley had always been overweight. No, his cousin habitually taking Harry’s servings had nothing at all to do with it.
Harry felt tired. And restless.
Garbage in tow he exited the house. He swatted lazily at the little black specks flying about as he went. They seemed to follow him everywhere. No matter how hard he tried, Harry couldn’t seem to land a hit on any of them. Almost as if they were ghosts.
Sickness adhered not to standard hours of operation. It was a hard fact Madame Poppy Pomfrey knew, and as the sole matron of a wizarding bordering school she knew it well. She had been at her profession for more years than she could stand to count. “Standard hours of operation” never applied. Such a thing failed to exist in her occupation.
It seemed a blight passed between the students at the end of term. The incubation period ended a week into the summer holiday. Now the students were home and symptomatic.
Over the course of the week letters from worried parents found their way to Hogwarts through one channel or another. Be it an owl to the student’s head of house, the headmaster, headmistress, or even Poppy herself.
Well, “worried” might be a stretch in a few cases. The situation hardly called for a howler, yet two sat amongst the pile. Outraged caretakers, baffled their charges caught ill while surrounded by a castle full of other children. Unfathomable.
Sometimes, Poppy really hated other adults. Idiots.
The symptoms were clear. Fatigue accompanied by a contradicting restless. A low grade fever was present more often than not. Left unchecked, a rash characterized by a scaled, ruddy texture sprouted. A few of the poor duckies already progressed to the point of visual disturbances. Dark spots and shadows primarily, if not an overall decline in picking out details.
Combined with the presence of a basilisk running unchecked through the castle’s pluming and halls all year the diagnosis was a foregone conclusion. Serpentine fever, or serpentine pox, and as the name suggested, it was an affliction brought on by prolonged exposure to feral, magical snakes.
Unimaginative nomenclature, but accurate.
“What are your thoughts, Poppy?” Madame Sprout inquired in the hesitant way that spoke of the question being asked more than once, but remained unacknowledged.
Poppy tapped a finger against the crook of her elbow. Deep in thought.
“As per the prevailing trend,” Poppy began slowly, struggling in communicating complex medical theories to those who thought they might understand despite their lack of education in the matter. As she often experienced when in a staff meeting.
Why they could not just take her blasted word for it. Honestly.
“As per the prevailing trend,” she began once more, “it is the pureblooded, or those raised in a purely magical environment that succumbed to this otherwise not muggle illness.”
“Not muggle” was poor professional terminology. Poppy gave not a single, solitary damn. “As such, most of those families will already have a family dedicated practitioner. If not, they will have access to private care. These will be patient-healer bonds forged over time and will most probably surpass anything I could offer outside of the most extreme circumstances.”
“Most extreme circumstances, Poppy? I am afraid I do not understand. What constitutes an extreme circumstance?” Minerva learned forward, her Scottish roots more pronounced with every word spoken.
“Symptom progression past a certain point. In this instance I would say past the point of debilitating visual disturbances, but ultimately that is to be decided by the patient, and the caretakers. Naturally.”
“Alright, but what after then?”
“I would highly suggest they be remitted into my care. Here. At Hogwarts.”
“And if their caretakers remit them to St. Mungo’s instead?” Asked Flitwich.
“It will amount to the same thing. As the student’s healer for the year’s majority I will be consulted.” And if not, a visit or two was all it took to inspire the fear of Godrick
himself into the hearts of the poor, dear idiot souls who dare keep Poppy out of the loop.
Though she need not say that. It was outside of their scope of professional understanding. Severus on the other hand was thinking it. Judging by his expression of smug triumph. As the primary provider of her apothecary, he knew of her profession better than most. Had witnessed more than most.
“Now I am the one who does not understand,” interrupted Flitwick just as the final silence entered a lull that almost always preceded dismissal. Blast that man. “Why not the muggleborns? I find myself still worrying for their health.”
“Ah,” interjected the Headmaster before Poppy could open her mouth and spew profanities. Unintentional slight or not, she had explained the concept to the charms professor before. “As I am to believe it, muggle healing is quite the marvel. They contrived a process that captures the essence of a chicken and turns it into a serum they then inject into themselves. Simply a wonder. It affords them all kind of protection against illness.”
Severus eyes were wide in indignant horror. Exasperated to the point of pain.
Poppy saw it only because she knew to look. It was an old bait the young man fell for every time.
“Is that not right, my dear boy?”
“To label such a statement as incorrect would be to redefine the word,” said Severus, irate. “But as we do not have the time to review muggle medicine or vaccinations it will have to stand.”
“More is the pity,” Dumbledore grieved quite unconvincingly, largely in part to the twinkle in his eyes along with a faint ghost of a grin. “Nevertheless, a letter will go out to all parents.”
The start of the second week of break found Harry on the back patio. Hunched over his glasses with a small tube of glue in one hand and a small roll of gaffer tape settled besides him on the cement. Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon had discovered the untimely demise of the bananas.
Head still ringing, Harry figured he could patch his glasses. Somehow. Maybe with more glue.
Not the best start to the morning.
Well, at the very worse, he could simply wait until the start of term at Hogwarts. He could fix them then. Perhaps Mr. or Mrs. Weasley would mend them, if he returned to the
Burrow at the end of summer.
The glasses would be fixed eventually.
By then the bruises would have faded too.
And in his blind state, desperately trying to reattach a busted arm to a pair of frames, is the story of how Harry entirely missed the barn owl flying overhead. Instead of the wizard in training, Aunt Petunia collected the letter off the front stoop. Not bothering to look at the line of address, she slipped it into the cupboard under the stairs, locked away with all the other freak things.
The Durley’s were a rather despicable bunch. It is hard to spin them any other way.
As far as school wide epidemics went, Poppy found this one rather tame. Nothing at all like the Dragon Pox outbreak of 1974, which had been a brief visit to one of the outer circles of Muggle Hell, as far as Poppy was concerned. Some horrors… need not be revisited.
Only twenty two cases so far. Not ideal, but a blessing considered the number of enrolled students.
Fifteen of that number were treated as anticipated. Wealthy or connected enough to garner access to private care, or a family dedicated practitioner. Those with means to afford private care did not suffer incompetence. Not where their children or their vaults were concerned. And so the matron contented herself with the situation.
Another three were within Hogwarts’ walls, confined to the ward.
The staff of St. Mungo’s were very well acquainted with one Poppy Pomfrey, Matron of Hogwarts. A single impromptu visit ought to be enough to rekindle a reminder of consequences in concern to failure. If not, well… that could easily be remedied.
The situation seemed well in hand.
Lucius Malfoy paced the length of the grand fireplace with the usual brand of emotional fervor Severus always found rather intolerable. A wasteful, unproductive outlet for energy as he ever saw. And Severus worked with children. Hundreds of children.
“Come now, Husband,” Narcissa beckoned from the chaise, seated primly as proper for a noble lady. “It won’t do Draco any good to wear the carpet.”
Nor did the audience appreciate watching the nauseating spectacle, but Severus supposed some things must be kept to oneself for propriety’s and appearance's sake. Pity.
Lucius acted as any patriarch of a noble family might and completely ignored the arguments of those around him. “Madam Pomphrey reported acceptable progress of her patients. Draco is following the same treatment regiment, so why is my heir faring worse?” The man seethed and paced, and Severus fought to keep his own temper.
How such a selected view of the facts would do any good would be any fool’s guess.
“Acceptable progress of the majority does not equate acceptable progress for the individual,” Severus reminded with what he hoped Lucius received as emotionless statement of facts and not the biting condescension he so wished to deliver. “Your son is by no means the only child showing a progression of symptoms.”
“Progression of symptoms” synonymous for the more accurate “progression of disease” and chosen because such an honest statement would most likely send the master of the house into a fit of rage. As fun as a duel might be, Severus doubted he would find much challenge in besting the emotionally compromised. Nor did he find he had much patience.
“They are not my son.”
Spare the sentiment, Severus pleaded to whichever higher power might be within hearing.
“No,” Narcissa agreed easily. “However unique our son might be to us, he is hardly unique in this situation. There are others not responding to treatment. The Greengrass girls, and the Longbottom boy from what Severus shared.”
This quelled Lucius to a small degree, enough for the man to stop the infernal pacing.
Narcissa and Severus remained silent. They each shared an agreed endgame for this conversation, the final resolution to the problem. However, the master of the house had to arrive to that conclusion himself… or be drawn to it with such finesse to never realize he had been led at all.
“And what did those families propose be done?”
“You might consider,” Severus said cautiously, “remitting Draco to the care of Hogwarts.”
Back amongst the front hedges, Harry sat. Evening began settling into night, street lights blinked on in earnest as the insects geared up for a buzzing night. The Dursley’s sat in front of the television. Uncle Vernon and Dudley jeered in turn to some program.
“Honestly, you two,” Aunt Petunia tutted in jest.
By the glow of lamplight, Harry focused on his shin. The skin there had begun flaking some days before. Harry had figured it a sun burn. Though how he got burned through denim, he had no clue. Picking at it now, Harry was able to peel off a large translucent patch of it. No thicker than a single layer, and about the area of his palm. Almost like a sun burn. Only… scaly.
The skin under seemed colored, almost bruised. Yellows, browns, and greens all that same sickly hue.
“Well,” the boy thought, “this cannot possibly be good.”
An owl roosted on the perch near the headmistress’ desk. A barn bird with long brown feathers framed tawny, speckled white. It slept in peace, eyes squeezed shut. A scroll tied to its leg.
Minerva greeted the messenger with a soft coo, and urged the poor, tired thing back to rest.
Letter in hand she sat at her desk. Correspondence from a parent, one of the very many of late. Answering was a simple matter of scrawling rote memorization. She decided to wait until morning. Her eyes were strained and the poor bird needed a kip anyway.
Lacking the energy to rise from her seat, Minerva sank back.
Her gaze drifted back towards the owl.
Speckled white. Now why did that seem so familiar? The answer remained just out of reach. On the tip of her tongue, almost as if she were forgetting a piece of common knowledge.
She felt the beginnings of a bad hunch.
Through the liberal use of partitions, the Greengrass family managed to make a niche of their own within the large confines of the hospital wing. Daphne and Astoria each had a bed of their own. Quilts from home kept their legs warm. Poppy also spied pillows not standard issue for her ward.
Their father reclined on the bed with his youngest. An artfully illustrated volume of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them sat open between them. He read no louder than a murmur. Astoria’s eyes were naught but slits, the body craving sleep while the mind fought on for a few seconds longer.
Her sister, on the other bed, had given up the ghost for sleep quite some time ago.
Daphne’s eyes were smudged by dark bruises underneath. A state she worked herself into trying to care for her sister while the two were in the sole care their mother. The girl’s grandfather sat with Daphne, keeping a more traditional bedside vigil. Seated in a chair, his hand and mind occupied by a folded up copy of The Prophet. His other hand folded gently around that of his grandchild’s.
They made quite the family picture. It was for that sake, and that of her patients, that she left alone Greengrass senior’s pipe tobacco.
Not only the pipe tobacco but also his rather tactless comments about his daughter-in-law and her side of the family. As true as they might have been, such matters were not properly discussed in their current environment.
Certainly not when his son was still married to the girls’ mother.
For the moment though, Poppy had a small measure of peace. No immanent needs to address. Every patient stable and on the mend. Well… save all but one.
The Longbottom brigade need dealing with.
For starters their numbers were too great. This was a hospital wing, not a parlor. Neville certainly took no comfort in their obtrusive number, the boy receded into himself as time wore on. Poppy had only ever had a handful of patients who benefited from large company. Neville was not one of them.
Then there was the Longbottom matriarch.
If Poppy heard that woman’s diatribe about the strength of the Longbottom bloodline, and the great disappointment that Neville gleaned no benefit from his pureblood ancestry, one more time she would break that pureblood woman’s wand. Preferably over that ridiculous hat she wore.
“Auntie,” one of the Longbottom men chided, “it is hardly the boy’s fault. We are not the only family here with a child who fell prey to the basilisk’s dark essence.”
At that the matron closed her ears. The entirely of the ward could recite this tired argument.
And she for one had enough.
“Alright, the lot of you, out.” Poppy stormed into the nexus of the family. In full healer mode, ready to fight. “I have been more than generous in my warnings about the importance of peace in my ward. Go on now, you will receive an owl when you may return.”
The family stared at her in muted silence.
“Have I not made myself perfectly clear?”
Madame Longbottom found her voice first. “Now listen here-”
“The last I checked, Madame, I was the matron of the ward. You are not entitled to entrance; you are granted it. Your welcome has quite worn out. The only question that remains is will you leave peacefully, or shall we see if the suits of armor still answer the matron’s call?”
The startled group began to herd towards the door. Insulted, surely, but unsure enough not to challenge the matron’s authority.
A quiet pair hung back. Hidden by a partition as the bulk of the Longbottom family marched out. The pair of them were each a cousin to the boy, though from different sides of Neville’s heritage. Though it was anyone’s guess given how convoluted pureblood family trees grew.
“Please,” the woman asked. “We only wish to sit with him. Quietly.”
“Very quietly,” the man added solemnly. But Poppy could spy the ghost of a messer’s smile.
“The quietest,” agreed the woman. A small smile of her own as she peeked around the partition and winked at her nephew. The man turned to the boy as well and pulled a face.
Neville huffed a laugh. Rolling his eyes in a manner that could only indicate long familiarity with the antics of these two. Poppy had already made her decision when she spied them stealing away out of the corner of her eye.
Still, it was a comfort to see Neville smile. Poppy gave her permission with a nod.
The woman stepped forward and gently clasped the matron’s hands with her own. “Thank you,” she said, all hints of humor gone. Her eyes flickered to the doors, where her family had left. The unspoken message made clear. “Thank you.”
The man nodded deeply. Without drawling the moment out, the pair returned to Neville’s side.
Contrary to Dursley belief, the chores did eventually peter out. Aunt Petunia must have realized this to some small degree for how often she banished Harry from her home. More likely she simply wanted him gone. If she couldn’t be rid of him for good, a day here or there would just have to do. Out of sight out of mind. Couldn’t have the book club getting curious and asking questions.
These were the days Harry usually spent at the abandoned children’s playground. Broken swings, a rusted slide and monkey bars that would sooner to give a child tetanus than a good time were about the only attractions. Fun for all, that.
Of course, “Big D” and his gang knew to find him there.
Already sporting a bruised eye, broken glasses, and the oddest rash known to man, Harry did not much feeling like dealing with his stupid cousin and his even dumber posse.
And so, Harry Potter could be found sunning himself in the back garden of his old grammar school.
He did not want to think of the repercussions if he were to be found. It had to look all kinds of sketchy: a scraggly, bruised teenager hanging around an empty building. Then again, Dudders and his gang roamed free, and he had yet to be escorted home. That lot looked up to no good on principle alone.
With a groan, the boy rolled onto his back. Swiping away stuck pea gravel from his face.
The gravel was not ideal. The heat of the sun made it all worth it. The stones were hot, and not a cloud in the sky to provide any coverage whatsoever. It was blissful.
In the back of his mind, the part worried about dehydration, sun stroke, and skin cancer raised a small riot. This was not normal, or healthful even. Probably. Considering how only a few days prior he was complaining about the very heat he was now deliberately seeking out.
Ah, well. At least he stopped sweating so much. He was probably just acclimating.
Charlie Weasley did not visit home often. This was not a testament to his family, but rather his work. One did not look after dragons, only to pick up and leave at a moment’s fancy. They were fickle creatures. Prone to mistrust and, Charlie believed, deep thoughts of paranoia.
Call it a hunch. They were treasure hoarders after all.
Visits home revolved around mating seasons. Tensions ran high and the dragons were pissed off and spewing fire at each other, never mind the fragile, curious human caretakers. Leaves of absence were actually encouraged. Considering the poor sod who stayed got taken hostage by a dragon, and that story was too odd to rightfully account.
At any rate, the planets aligned and the dragons were taking another crack at the crazy, stupid thing called love, nearly setting fire to the desert in their attempts. And so, Charlie got to spend his summer at the Burrow.
Exactly where he felt needed. An older brother ought to be there for his sister after she spent the school year possessed by a visage of The Dark Lord. Seemed only right.
Ginny, upon first inspection, had been understandably withdrawn. Quieter than he remembered. Paler. About a week into break she took to a fever. A small one that left her tired and restless. Itchy for activity and not a whole lot of energy to do much of anything really.
It had been Percy’s idea. A visit to the property lake. Capitalized on by the twins, who had ideas of flying over the water and falling in. Charlie brought food. Percy brought books. Ron the blankets. Bill carried their sister pick-a-back.
They had spent the day lazing about. Created general harmless chaos as they saw fit. By late afternoon Ginny tackled Fred into the lake.
By day’s end she had been near back to her old self.
They now sat square in the mid of the second week. Four in the morning, Tuesday, and Charlie was drinking tea, mourning the loss of anything resembling a sleep schedule, and owl watching. Well, watching one owl in particular.
She seemed… stressed.
Talons picking at the wood of her perch. Shifting her weight from foot to foot.
Without preamble one of the twins stumbled out of the cellar, nearly colliding with the door in the attempt to shove the blasted stuck thing open. Wafts of smoke trailed after him.
“Second eldest,” the twin greeted, after a moments pause.
“Fifth eldest,” Charlie replied.
George helped himself to the kettle. Plopped into the seat across from his older brother and let his head fall to the table with a small thunk. Charlie ruffled George’s already messed hair.
“Brewing trouble, more like,” George grumbled. “Nettle is not our friend.”
Charlie snorted. “Is that why you moved shop to the cellar?”
George made a noncommittal noise.
“Shouldn’t you be helping Fred?”
“He’s currently burning an effigy, so to speak. Lots of swears. Very angry.”
They lapsed into companionable silence. George managed to drink his tea with his head mostly still on the table, a feat Hogwarts students do not typically master until their fifth year OWL preparations. Charlie drained the dredges of his own cup. Lazily summoned the kettle over.
Hedwig scratch at her perch. Talons digging in until the wood creaked.
“I don’t like that,” George murmured. Turned his head to get a better look at the bird.
“She’s not normally like this?”
“No. She’s always been intense, but in a calm way. Like Harry is hers and she’s daring you to try something.” George kneaded his eyes. “I dunno, not spoiling for a fight, but ready for one. Am I making sense? Whatever. She doesn’t usually spend so much time in the kitchen. We used to hardly ever see her at all.”
“Not knowing any better, I’d day she’s upset.”
George let out a jaw popping yawn. Tilted his head back around to get a clearer view of Charlie’s face. In turn, Charlie received a clearer view of George’s expression. Or rather, the careful lack of one.
“Reckon Harry is okay?”
“Dunno,” George grumbled. Liar. He pressed his lips tightly together, as if a secret might burst out all on its own. Jaws clenched tight.
The twins could keep confidence with the best of them. No Unbreakable Vows necessary. There would be no prying, or tricking, or cajoling a single solitary word out of either Fred or George. At only seven years of age they went through a phase were they existed only to say “I do not recall” and “I require legal counsel.”
Charlie suspected they never actually grew out of that stage. Simply learned the more advanced tactics of evasion, omission, speaking in stereo, and the ever confusing double negative.
George twirled a tea cup around by the handle.
Hedwig scratched her perch.
The master of Malfoy Manor left for business. A week’s trip, no longer. The family followed proper social conduct and said their goodbyes at the fireplace. Well wishes, and small instructions passed between the three. When the wizard left in a burst of flames, his son visibly sagged.
Draco dropped into the nearest chair. Head in hands. Tired despite restricted activity.
The skin affliction had grown worse. It now nearly covered every boney prominence. His shins, wrists, elbows, collar bone, and he could feel it creeping along his jaw. Not only that, Draco craved heat. Sunned himself like some lazy cat and chilled without layers. All he wanted was to sleep.
“Mother,” Draco said. He breathed in through his nose, and out through his mouth. Calm. Just stay calm.
“Draco,” she responded. Walked towards her son, to rest a hand on his shoulder.
In through his nose. Out through his mouth. Yet the calm receded. “Mum,” and this time his voice did crack, because how in Merlin’s name was he supposed to do this? Any of this? He felt his mother’s hand brush against his hair.
Okay. Just out with it.
“Mum, I think my vision is going.”
At half past ten, Charlie Weasley was woken rather rudely.
Jumping on the bed had been banned in the Burrow in the early 80s. Not only jumping on the bed, but jumping onto the bed. Really, any form of acrobatics were strictly prohibited near any single piece of spring form furniture. And windows.
Combining the three was tantamount to earning oneself an early grave. By decree of their mother.
Of course, as always, the high probability of imminent death did not seem to concern the twins.
The noise of bare feet slapping against the hardwood woke Charlie enough, gave enough warning, for him to brace for the impact. Turned out not as bad as previous experiences. Though it had never been the jostling into the air so much as what typically followed that put him on edge.
Which turned out to be nothing. Bracketed by his younger brothers, Charlie decided the better part of valor lay in playing opossum. The twins in all likelihood had not yet been to bed themselves. Their eyes would be fever bright, their smiles manic, and their extremities trembling from the desperate need for rest.
What was to follow would only bring about a headache. Charlie could already feel it coming on.
“Honestly,” one twin sighed, aggrieved. “We know you’re awake.”
“Yeah. You’re just being rude.”
“I dunno what you mean” Charlie denied, blankets still over his head. “I am quite asleep.”
“Honestly, you call yourself our brother,” they proclaimed in stereo.
“If you are going to lie, we’d appreciate a full effort.”
Charlie wrestled with the covers. Freed his head for the sake of fresh air at the very painful expense of his eyes. Bright morning light seared straight into his retinas. Bloody Hell. “Given I only just fell asleep a few hours ago,” he scrubbed at his face and fell back against the pillow. “This is as full an effort the two of you are likely to get.”
The twins made a show of consideration. They deliberated the possibility of a full pardon over his head, discussing him as if he were not present. Charlie let them. Without interruption, they exercised their innate drive to bother and once that was sated they would get to actual business.
Waited some more. Possibly dozed back off for a bit.
“We saw the letter sent from Hogwarts,” one admitted after a stretch of quiet, the interruption of which roused him back from his rest. “You know, about the sickness goin’ about.”
Not exactly an omission of guilt, that. They all knew about the letter, even if not all bothered reading it. Mum hadn’t seemed overly worried about the news within, perhaps fretted for a small while until she got a look at the pile of shoes besides the door. She had blown a gasket and wisely they had all scattered. The letter forgotten.
“The thing is… Harry’s relatives aren’t very keen on magic.”
“More likely to burn post brought by owl than they are to read it, I’d wager.”
Rubbing at his eyes, Charlie’s brain put the pieces together. “And Hedwig is here,” he murmured. “She is here and not with him.” No way to contact any of them, should he need to.
And downstairs, Hedwig was using her perch as a veritable worry stone.
“We want to steal him,” George said all in one go.
“Again. We want to steal him again.” Clarified Fred. “I think we’re getting rather good at it.”
A terrible idea. A terrible idea so terrible only the likes of Fred and George could pull it off, by the sheer will of nerve alone. Worse over, they were already half gone on the notion. Charlie could tell. No counter argument, no line of logic, existed to curtail this excursion. They were not asking permission; they were announcing their intention to seek forgiveness should they get caught.
“Forty-nine hours,” Charlie very carefully did not ask. Asking meant conceding to another’s authority.
“We leave tonight,” said Fred.
“Seventy-two hours, and I don’t tell Mum to check the cellar.”
A moment of pause and then…
“We’ve been had, Forge.”
Severus sat by his godson’s bedside. Two of his long pale fingers pressed into the boy’s left wrist, counting the pulse as the seconds of his pocket watch ticked ever closer towards midday. “Foolish, child,” he scolded quietly, unhappy with the findings. He moved those fingers to the underside of the boy’s jaw.
The skin there felt coarse. His scowl deepened. He focused on the pulse.
Draco remained silent.
While the child had indeed taken after his mother with her blond hair and fair skin, his current coloring could be better described more bloodless than fair. The dark blue of his veins webbed visibly under the translucent skin, obscured only as they ran underneath the dark bruising and blistering patches of rash. His gums had near lost all their pink, as did the skin behind his eyelids.
“Nausea, difficulty eating?” Severus asked.
“How does it feel after you eat? Describe it.”
The boy stared blankly at the ceiling for a moment. His fingers twitched against the coverlet, almost similar to that of a thoughtful tap. “Heavy, like a stone.” His fingers twitched again. “Started two days ago, about.”
“And your vision?”
“Turned blurry yesterday. Started at the edges. I did not mention it because I thought I was tired.”
Severus thinned his lips upon hearing the half-truth and identifying it for what it was: misdirection, a lie. Yes, the boy had not said a thing. Indeed if he felt nearly as tired as he looked, if the dark smudges under his eyes were any evidence to go by, then exhausted would be a good word and causation. However, Draco had not mentioned the vision loss due to the very real threat of his father.
Having grown in a muggle ruled household, Severus could only guess the struggles of being raised within a highborn, pureblooded family such as the Malfoys. Enemies at every turn. Politics steeped into every action and reaction.
Sentient portraits on the walls, house elves first and foremost obligated to the head of the house. Information shared was information shared. Once spoken aloud there would be no possible way of controlling which ears heard what and when. Pureblooded children in such houses learned the value of information much sooner than their peers, usually displayed in their secret keeping.
Draco had no portraits on his walls. Why he kept his own council on this very real danger, Severus could only guess. He was not raised in a pureblood manor. How did, however, know a thing or two about having a volatile father. Wanting to protect your mother from a reaction caused by yourself. Though Narcissa Malfoy proved more than capable of taking care of herself and her charge. This was the height of childish naiveté.
“Foolish,” Severus chided again, though with no real heat to his words. His hand drifted back down to Draco’s wrist. He did not press near as hard as he had earlier.
The boy only closed his eyes and sank further into the pillows.
Using his free hand, Severus pulled out two vials from the pockets of his robes. Both filled with liquid, one a non-too enticing taupe color, the other with a deep amber. “These two you will drink now,” with a practice pressed of a thumb, the cork fell free of the taupe potion. “Something to help keep the second one down,” he passed it over.
Rather than untangle their hands, Draco reached over with his free hand. He downed the potion as he had been taught, all in one go. An exchange of vials and he did the same with the second.
The boy sputtered. Coughed and hacked, free hand pressed against his mouth.
“Burns,” was all he managed between sputtering hacks of cough.
“Vasodilator,” Severus explained. “It will help get the blood back to your limbs. An acquired taste, as most adults will tell you. Now keep still, I can’t keep track of your pulse with you flailing about.”
“Underhanded,” Draco rasped out. “Deceitful. Treacherous.”
Draco settled. His breath even out and as Severus’ pocket watch tick tick ticked, the hour hand not far from the top of its climb, the boy fully relaxed. The potion’s taking their hold.
“When,” Draco asked again, not much above a whisper.
Severus folded the pocket watched and secured it back within his robes. His hand remained on the boney wrist, bruised and cracked as the skin may have been.
“Tomorrow morning. Tonight if I am particularly unconvinced.”
Draco nodded his understanding. Soon he would be in Hogwarts.
When the rash started in on his arms, was when Harry considered he might actually be in trouble. For whatever reason, Harry strongly suspected magic, the overall ugliness of the scales and bruising contained itself first to his feet and grew upwards at a snail’s pace.
For all he looked like he lost a fight with a tangle of poison ivy and beaten by garden gnomes for the shame, Harry figured the whole “out of sight, out of mind” adage applied to the situation. Clothing covered the worst of it. How bad could it be, really? So long as the Dursley’s had no incentive to get involved the situation fell directly under the category of “manageable.”
Now the skin on his wrist, the right one, had started to peel.
This had begun to feel less manageable.
He could probably obscure the rash with dirt from the garden. Take a shower and head right to his room at the end of the day, no one would question it. The Dursley’s hardly noticed him as it were.
Aunt Petunia had a tube of cream. Used it when the family got splotches of winter time psoriasis. He knew what the tube looked like, even if he had no clue what was in it, how it worked, or even what psoriasis looked like. No harm done in trying, so long as they did not catch him with it.
Harry deliberately fell from his crouch onto his backside, careful not to crush any of the flowers.
He felt downright ill, when he really got to the quick it. Nauseated and shaky, feverish and sweating, cold and shivering, and no appetite whatsoever to speak of. His head hurt, body ached, and really he wished the ground would open up and shallow him whole already.
But if he could get out of bed, if he could still walk, then he could very well still weed the garden.
The trick, Charlie knew, the trick was not to run all the way to the bed. That was the one fatal flaw the twins had made. Running was noisy and took away the element of surprise. No, the trick was either to stand directly next to the bed and jump onto it, or-- or get a long running start from a distance, slide across freshly polished hardwood with clean wool socks, and sort of dive bomb your way next to the unsuspecting victim.
Method the first promised immediate gratification, while lacking acceleration. Method the second required more prep, but felt much, much more gratifying. Though, unfortunately, the work needed to be done by hand. Polishing by magic was too efficient. To get up into the recklessly dangerous speeds, one needed to over-wax to the point where mere walking became a hazard.
Charlie never was one to shy away from a bit of elbow grease. And Bill… Well, Bill would gladly sleep the afternoon hours of twelve to three away if given half a chance. As he had been this past week.
Really, the eldest of seven ought to know better.
Bill brought this upon himself, Charlie thought gleefully as he all but flew to his destination. A veritable blur of motion gliding across the fleshly polished wood of this one particular hall that so happened to end at Bill’s doorway.
Bill’s open doorway.
Charlie soared through the air, manically wondering if this is how hippogriffs felt before landing like a Bludger on Bill’s mattress. The victim bounced a good half meter into the air.
“Die,” Bill croaked out after the shock of impact from the abrupt landing faded. His voice the rough rasp of those still well asleep. “Die in a fire. At your earliest convenience, you complete and utter berk.”
Charlie cackled. A smug, ugly, self-congratulatory cackle. “Such a vulgar thing to say to your brother who works with dragons,” he scolded when he had breath to do so. “One day that could very well happen, then how’d you feel?”
“I will remember this moment and I will feel glad.” Bill hissed.
Oh, Bill. Sweet, easy going, nurturing, charismatic Bill. If only people knew the grouch residing deep down within. Charlie made an effort to savor the moment. Much like a solar eclipse, or a sunrise rainbow, Angry Bill only ever made an appearance under the rarest and most exacting of conditions.
“You would mourn,” Charlie corrected. “You would be unmoored in a sea grief.”
And much like that eclipse or rainbow, gone entirely too soon. Charlie grumbled an angry noise of retort, favoring a lazy stretch over enunciation. A pity.
“Mum lifted the moratorium then?”
“Hmmm, no.” Charlie hummed out. “The twins started it. Nostalgia took over from there.”
“Merlin, why?” Bill groused rhetorically. “How am I ever going to convince Mum and Dad to let you lot come visit Egypt when their second oldest is just as bad as the ones still in school?” He shifted, clumsy jerking movements to turn so as to better glare at his brother.
“The better question: how are you going to convince them to let you pay for it? You know how they are about accepting money from us.”
“I’ve an idea. Plausible deniably, don’t ask questions.”
Charlie sank further into the bed, deciding to let that scheme alone. Looking up at the ceiling, he could still make the constellations and comets charmed onto the timber, faded now after so many years. He and Bill used to take refuge in this very same room while the combined terror toddler forces that were Percy and the twins engaged their parents in bedtime siege warfare.
“So, you might be wondering why I gathered us here this lovely, sunny afternoon.”
Outside rain pelted the windows.
“The thought did occur to me after the murderous rage passed.”
“I am in need of an adult.”
“You are an adult.”
Best to jump right into it then. “In less than sixty eight hours the twins are pulling a heist to steal Harry… again.” A terrifying thought all on its own, seeing how last time they took a flying car which was now sentient and going feral in the Forbidden Forest. Not that the two were directly related, however it did speak to the twins’ talent of far reaching collateral damage. “And considering their logic, evidence and argument, I’m not entirely sure I would stop them.”
“Right,” and with no further delay, Bill rolled out of bed. He landed rather gracelessly on two feet, hand grasping the nearby chest of drawers for support. Grabbing his waistcoat and jacket, Bill spelled the garments pressed before tugging them on.
Bleary eyed and finger combing his hair into order Bill looked to Charlie, “Let’s go.”
The eldest Weasley child marched out of his room only to stumble on the fleshly waxed hardwood in the hall. He crashed into a wall. “Where are we going?” Charlie asked as his brother reeled off a litany of truly impressive swears.
“Ginny first. Hogwarts second.” Bill regained composure and slid his way toward the staircase. “But most importantly, we need to get the Muggle Hell out of here before Mum discovers this floor.”
“Oh, I would not worry too much on that, First Born.” Charlie laughed as he took after his brother, sliding merrily down the hall. “I would not worry about that at all.”
Something furry brushed against his hand.
Harry’s hindbrain rousted to life. It immediately added unknown, sentient furry creatures to the list of things Harry should worry about but wasn’t. Right up there next to sun stroke, skin cancer, prolonged fevers, dehydration, and a rash that apparently was not psoriasis, if a certain skin cream’s ineffectiveness was at all anything to go by.
The creature patted his hand with the velvety underside of its paw. Meowed demandingly.
Cats. Blegh. Why?
He had been asleep. Not peacefully or comfortably, but asleep. Crammed in the narrow unusable space between the back of the garden shed and the wooden slats of the privacy fence because surely by now Dudders was far too round to reach anything here.
Aunt Petunia would never look here either, because of all the beetles. And the fertilizer smell.
So naturally, a cat would come bother him.
A persistence one too. Creating chatter with all kinds of noises he had no clue a cat could make, batting at his hand repetitively. It was the noises that did him in. Aunt Petunia would never venture back here on her own, however the threat of feral strays would definitely serve as incentive to investigate despite the bugs. She would find him. Then he would really be in for it.
Stuck somewhere between wanting to pass out and puke, Harry woke. He struggled into a sitting position, whacked his knee against the wooden fence slats as he decided if wearing his glasses would help with the dizziness or not.
The cat sat by his side. Moving only to allow space as he shifted position.
Absentmindedly Harry reached out, to give the thing a scratch on the head. That usually was their endgame. A quick pet, they would purr and then prance away like he never existed.
Not with this cat.
This cat suffered his touch for all of a second before dodging away. Meowing as if angry. Confused Harry tried again to the exact same result. It sat there, a vague, dark blobby cat shape. And even though he could not make out its eyes without his glasses, Harry felt the distinct impression that the creature was staring at him in judgement, and found him wanting.
Too tired and too sick to care. Harry rubbed at his eyes. He felt overheated.
He did not have the time for cats who were not acting like cats.
Harry stopped mid motion.
Oh no. No. Nonononono.
Holding his busted glasses to his face like the opera spectacles they definitely were not, the stray came into clearer view. A tabby with dark colors. Posture held tall, chin in the air, eyeing him sternly.
“Professor?” Harry croaked out.
The tabby nodded. A single downward tilt of its head and back up. Very deliberate.
Mortified, Harry tried his utmost to hide his face behind his hands. He had just tried to pet his teacher. A teacher who also happened to be the head of his house and, not to mention, the deputy headmistress. And he had petted her. Behind the ear. Merlin.
“In my defense,” he eked out. “In the muggle world, cats are usually just cats.”
He did not know what the cat did in response because he could not stand to look.
Shame. Humiliation. Dishonor.
When he could stand to look, the cat remained in the same spot. Sitting patiently. Looking expectant.
“So, uh,” Harry looked around nervously. Entirely unsure how to speak to one’s professor when they were in animal form. “What brings you here? Not that you’re unwelcomed. Well, I mean, my relatives probably wouldn’t agree, but I guess that’s why you’re a cat? Not that they are fond of cats either. I mean, uhh…”
He trailed off. Sending off a plea for Zeus, God of thunder, to smite him where he sat.
McGonagall the Cat rose from her seated position to sit next to her student. She raised one paw and patted the scaly patch of rash on his arm. Not quite as hidden by topsoil as he had hoped.
It had grown overnight. Despite the lotion he lifted from the Dursley’s medicine cabinet.
“Oh, that? It’s kind of all over. Started on my legs actually.” He thought for a moment. Because if she came here about that, then maybe that was the solution to his whole problem. “If it something going around? Do others have it?”
Cat McGonagall nodded.
“So that’s good right? Means there’s something for it?”
Another nod. Slower this time. McGonagall kneaded her front to paws into the dirt. Agitation.
“Right.” He rubbed at his eyes again. They hurt and he half didn’t want to bother with his glasses. “It’s not as simple as simply taking a potion?” He didn’t look at the tabby. Certain he knew the answer.
Leaving required getting the Dursley’s involved. It seemed the situation had tipped into the “decidedly not manageable” category after all. They hardly tolerated Harry as it were. And that was with him doing everything he could to keep out of sight and, by extension, out of mind.
“They don’t know. I haven’t told them,” Harry said, looking at his knees. “They can’t know. If they start thinking I’m bringing back stuff that might make them sick they won’t let me back.”
He chanced a look them. Cat McGonagall hadn’t moved. Kept staring.
“Just make it seem like I have to go back to Hogwart’s. Summer lessons or something. You can’t make it seem like a good thing, because they might not let me go to then either. Make it sound mandatory and boring. That I’ll have an awful time and hate every minute of it.”
It sort of occurred to him that he was giving instructions to his teacher. But, well, given that she was currently a cat and unable to talk… They would have to get over it.
The tabby stood. However she did not walk away. She looked at him, and flicked her tail.
“All my stuff is packed. In the cupboard under the stairs. So I’m ready to go whenever.”
The cat didn’t move. Harry began to feel worried.
“I speak snake. Not tabby. I have no clue what else to say.”
The tabby walked away.
Harry considered maybe, just maybe… he hallucinated the whole encounter.
The brooms were not in the shed. Dad’s muggle emporium of a garage was locked.
The twins had a bad feeling.
“If you fail to show up at any meal,” Ginny’s voice floated down from the stairs. “I’m to tell mum about a funny smell coming from the cellar. Maybe mention smoke. Along with the nightly disappearance of a certain pair of identical brothers.”
Twin eyes looked up in tandem to see their sister through the rods of the banister. She sat on a middle step, a wand twirling in her fingers. A wand that was most certainly not hers.
“Oh, this?” She asked when she saw their attention waver from her. “This would be Charlie’s. He accidentally left it behind. How silly of him. Why between using his wand and all the legal adults around, I could get away with a stunner or five. Easy. How careless to leave it in the reach of a young, eager witch. With too little training to really know what she’s doing.”
The brothers went tense. Thin lipped and narrow eyed.
“Who knows what might accidentally happen. Especially to any bystanders. Bystanders who might be going back on their word and try something stupid.” Their sister's grin turned wolfish. “Not that I’m bothered. You see, I’m feeling a little under the weather.”
“Is that so?”
Ginny looked the pair of them dead on and coughed. A dry, unconvincing liar’s cough.
“The most unfortunate,” Ginny agreed before Fred could chime in. “Back on great-great grandmum’s tonic for me. Every hour. On the hour. Just in case. What with everything going ‘round and all.”
Fred and George stared.
“Mum’s keeping a very close eye on me. You know how she worries.”
“Prone to worrying, our mother is.”
“She won’t stand for us to be sick and not under her eye.” The youngest Weasley stood and all but bounced down the stairs. Smiling, “I am glad we understand each other, brothers.” She coughed again. Twice. Louder than last time.
“Ginny dearest, is that you?” Their mother called from the kitchen.
“See you at dinner. Ta.” With a spin on her heel, she pranced away.
The twins were thwarted. It now seemed they would have to wait out the remaining time to steal Harry after all.
With Severus acting as primary for young Draco Malfoy’s care, little to no work at all was required on Poppy’s part of getting the boy settled in the Hogwart’s infirmary. She simply made her presence known. Offered services and tended to the others when politely refused.
The boy and his mother were squared away within the half hour.
Her small seed of concern would have sprouted fully into worry at the mere sight of the young Malfoy, had Severus not kept conference with Poppy throughout Draco’s treatment. His case was advanced. Far surpassing Longbottom or the Greengrass girls. Diligent work would be required for his symptoms to ease to the point of regression.
“I take it Madame Malfoy is not the problem,” Poppy murmured to Severus as they conferred in her office, arranging vials in order of scheduled need.
“Indeed she is not,” was all Severus said. All Poppy needed.
Molly spied the waxed floor before she reached the landing.
The polish put on much too unevenly to be done by a wand, not that many of her children could legally do such a thing. Far too much wax centered on the inner tread, nearly nothing on the outer perimeter.
At one end of the hall Bill’s open door, on the other end…
A pair of boots, nearly hidden in a closet. The heel and laces of one kept the door from fully closing.
Molly summoned the boots.
Harry scampered up the stairs. Leaving McGonagall in the company of his relatives as she addressed them in full witch’s garb, looking down her nose at their scorn.
“Fascinating approach,” the Deputy Headmistress said rather dryly. “Keeping a student’s study materials locked away for the summer. Forgive my ignorance, as I cannot claim to know how Muggle families school their children, but at Hogwarts we fully encourage the children to read their textbooks.”
Harry scampered faster.
A feeling settled in his chest, something fierce and sunny. And while Harry could not name the feeling, he knew that if he were Dumbledore, in the moment, he would offer Professor McGonagall a full bag of lemon drops. Instead of the usual fare of a single piece.
They would have to travel by train, Minerva decided.
From the Dursley’s the Headmistress and her charge made the short walk down the row to Arabella Fig’s home with relative ease. The squib graciously allowed the pair use of her fireplace. The Floo trip to the Leaky Cauldron on the other hand had left Mister Potter a shaking mess.
Minerva secured them each a room for the night with no definite plans for further travel.
Harry bedded down for the night without questions.
No inquiries about dinner, where they were going, or when. Simply entered the room Minerva pointed out, bid her an absent minded good night and preceded to fall onto the bed. Minerva did what she could. Spelled off the boy’s horribly worn footwear and properly shut the door, as the boy obviously had no presence of mind to do either. Then she went to her own room.
Being an educator was the most rewarding and frustrating position. It meant caring wholeheartedly for her students, yet simultaneously crippled in showing that affection. There existed boundaries one simply did not cross.
Minerva pushed the troubles of propriety aside.
They would have to travel by land, she decided more confidently. Floo or side along apparition must be left for emergencies only, Harry simply was not up for the associated turbulence. They would take the Knight Bus to King’s Cross. The train would take them to Hogsmeade. Minerva could secure a carriage to take them to the castle.
Plan set, Minerva pulled out parchment.
“And just where have the two of you been,” Molly Weasley demanded of her two eldest not a minute after they stepped out of the fireplace. “No word to me or your father. I was worried.”
Bill armed himself with his most assuring smile and stepped forward to hug their mother.
“Was only a social call,” Charlie said. “Went on a bit longer than we expected.”
“Oh, well a bit of warning next time dears. Supper should be ready soon, if you wouldn’t mind bringing your brother’s in from the garden.”
“The garden? “ Bill questioned. None of them willingly visited to the garden.
“I meant it when I said, no more jumping on the furniture. Unbelievable the pair of them.” Their mum huffed. A flurry of movement towards the kitchen. “I found a waxed floor, their boots at one end of the hallway, and Bill dear, your bed an outright mess. Don’t worry, I made them straighten it. I cannot imagine what got into them. The utter disrespect. Unimaginable.”
Bill turned towards Charlie. The dragon tamer smothered his triumphant smile by pressing his lips into a thin line, but it did nothing to hide the manic gleam in his eyes.
You didn’t, Bill asked with his eyes.
Charlie smiled. All teeth.
“You know,” Charlie called from the fence, “if you hadn’t gone sneaking, Ginny never would have sent mum upstairs.”
Fred and George glared up from their work. One part squinting from facing the evening sun, but mostly out of anger. Deep, dark, anger. Brotherly ire.
“Also, dinner is ready.”
In tandem, they rose, dropped their trowels, and marched toward the burrow. Silent.
“Hmmm,” Charlie frowned. “Hey, Bill.”
“Remember how I said not to worry?”
“I do recall hearing that, right before I slammed into a wall. Earlier this afternoon, if memory serves.”
“… We might need to start worrying.”
“Picked up on that, did you?”
The Malfoy couple were cloistered at their son’s bedside, Severus in their company. A frigid, tense silence filled the air between them as Draco rested with closed eyes. Poppy doubted the boy actually slept. She knew acting when she saw it. Though in this case she would not say a word about it.
Malfoy senior had yet to give cause for immediate banishment from her ward. As such, the man could visit as he pleased. Despite Poppy’s own personal distaste and instinct, until more concrete evidence presented itself.
Severus would keep that particular situation in hand, if not Poppy would certainly step in. At the moment she had a slightly more pressing matter. A letter delivered by owl.
Another patient discovered. Minerva’s letter gave only a brief description of observed symptoms, and the complications directly following their experience by magical travel. The information a double edge sword. More knowledge only helped, it allowed her to use the time and specifics to adequately prepare. However, given the disease already past its initial manifestation period weeks ago, the Matron could easily hazard a guess as to the patient’s condition without the details.
Additionally it did not help knowing that out in the world, a child needed her care and she could not render it. Not only that, but the patient, and the professor were still a full day’s travel away. At the very least.
They would be arriving from Muggle London. Meaning the child in question would have been without treatment this entire time. A pretty picture, the information did not paint.
Her stress compounded.
After he drifted away from the Malfoy enclosure, Poppy appraised Severus of the situation.
“Unnamed,” the Matron waved a hand in a gesture of futility.
“Any news of the guardians?”
Poppy shook her head.
“Idiots,” he inferred. Poppy did not correct him.
Harry Potter of Number 4 Private Drive, student of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, was currently riding the underground. In the left pocket of his denims, he carried his school trunk and an unoccupied owl cage. Both shrunken down in size, thankfully, by magic. Very convenient that.
And in his arms, Harry carried a cat.
A cat that was also, for the vast majority of the year, his Transfiguration Professor. Not to mention the Deputy Headmistress of Hogwarts, as well as the Head of his house. Very awkward. On all accounts.
How this state of affairs came to be, Harry was not entirely sure. All he could really remember was discussing means of transportation to Hogwarts early that very same morning, when his Professor was still very much human. She had described the wizarding version of a bus.
A magically enhanced means of transportation that shuttled passengers throughout London in half the time, without the fuss and bother of adhering to silly things such as muggle traffic patterns, as well as most of their stop lights. It sounded, all in all, like a death trap of terror.
And Harry… Harry protested so vehemently he might have blacked out just a tad.
“The tube,” he had begged, feeling green. “Please, Professor. Let’s take the tube.”
And here they were. Gently swaying along with the morning commuters.
Why McGonagall turned into a cat for the trip? Either had something to do with lack of Muggle fare for two persons, or her being a witch and very much dressed like it. Both probably.
Harry thought it more and more likely he was experiencing a prolonged fever dream.
Because he was not an idiot, Charlie decided to make a tactful retreat and spent the night at a friend’s flat. He slept on a lumpy, foul smelling fainting couch. Woke up to a Kneazle sitting on his face. Something or other skittering in the walls. The facets only pour ice cold water. The overall loss of dignity, comfort, and general amenities made up for the lack of identical twins hungry for retribution.
The twins may be younger, but were so much more creative. And Charlie wanted to sleep. He wanted to sleep and wake up with all parts of him their original colors.
“Yer family’s so feckin’ weird,” the friend grumbled into her third cup pf tea.
“I think it may be in the blood,” Charlie supposed.
“Get,” she waved toward to the hearth, “before it catches.”
Charlie stepped through the fire. Exchanging the grumpy face of a dear friend for the smug smirk of an older brother. Bill sat in the family room. Overturning his book at the sight of Charlie. “Rather convenient last minute social call,” he called, watching as Charlie spelled away soot.
Charlie paused mid-motion to shoot Bill a dubious look.
After a moment’s passing, Bill laughed. “Alright, alright. I also made myself scarce. Mum is upset with the both of us, however,” out of the book he brandished a piece of tri-folded parchment, “I did receive this not long after breakfast.”
Looking far less triumphant than he did not only a second ago, Bill nodded. “It seems the twins were right to worry after all. She’s taking Harry to Hogwarts.”
“Any word on how bad?”
“No specifics, no.”
Charlie scrubbed at his face. Bad enough to be pulled into Hogwarts was, well, bad enough to be pulled into Hogwarts. Madame Pomphrey hardly coddled. Not to mention Professor McGonagall stood a staunch pillar of tough love if there ever were one. Her thinking Harry needed medical care carried weight. A heavy weight.
Voicing any sort of optimism would be a waste of words. Charlie had seen how bad off Ginny had been at the end of term, what it took to get her out of it. By now they were weeks into summer holiday.
Harry didn’t have what Ginny had. All Harry had were relatives who ignored him.
It wouldn’t do to dwell, Charlie decided. He and Bill, they’d done the right thing. They got Harry help. Even though Charlie didn’t feel much better telling himself that. By the looks on Bills face, his brother felt just as miserable about the situation.
“So,” Charlie drawled, pulling his brother’s attention. “Told the twins yet?”
It got a small ghost of a smile in return. “No, no. You know it’s always best to negotiate a treaty with a partner, especially anything involving the two of them.” Charlie shuttered as if chilled. “Remember the Equinox Without a Name?”
“Well, c’mon then. If we get them now, we can catch them just before they crash for the afternoon. Their sleep deprivation might mean better terms for us.”
Just once, Harry wished he could visit the infirmary without a whole lot of fuss and bother. As the result of a more mundane accident. No more Dark Lord Murder Plots, or arms broken by Bludgers and then deboned by a barmy professor, no giant snakes, no feral cars, murderous trees, or three headed dogs. No more. A lot of his friends seem to be afflicted by boils at one point or another, why not him?
Though today Harry spent far more time vomiting in public than he ever spent vomiting in the entirety of his life. As such, he tried not to waste the energy on pointless wishes. If there ever existed a time for fuss and bother, he supposed now would be it.
As the vomiting quickly became nothing more than dry heaves, Harry couldn’t help but think of boils fondly. Sure they were ugly. Unsightly, and painful, but they could not be more painful then crouching in a public toilet, overheating and aching, as his body insisted on expelling an organ that was pretty much already empty.
Never mind boils. Dark Lord Murder Plots were looking more appealing.
Harry could not remember having ever been so violently ill. Well, hardly. He had a few vague memories. Brief flashes of abject misery, the intensity of which rivaled only by the flare of bitter longing as an equally unwell Dudley got the sofa, dotting attention, and gold fish crackers. Aunt Petunia would sweep her son’s hair away from his forehead. Harry would watch from the cracks along the cupboard door, imitate the gesture on himself and pretended as hard as he could.
Currently as he lay curled long the bench seating of a train compartment, ice cold hands curled against his chest and numb feet jammed between the edges of two seat cushions, Harry let his mind wander. Between cupboards under the stairs, public toilets, ally trashcans he idly wondered how McGonagall, seated straight across, could ever look at him the same way again.
He would be embarrassed, but he had tried to pet her just the day before. So. Consider that ship sailed.
The train jostled almost rhythmically. Motion he never really registered during previous trips to Hogwarts and deeply wished would now go away. Every bump translated perfectly. Straight to his aching joints, chilling extremities and roiling stomach.
His mind detached. Without the anchor it wandered. Back to the cupboard. Further than the cupboard, back to when he was small. He squeezed his eyes and almost saw shooting stars, inky black across a white sky. Warm dark fur, long enough to get his tiny fingers tangled in, and when the beast growled Harry could feel it hum through his chest.
“What happened to the dog?” Harry croaked out, only half aware he spoke.
“Excuse me, Mr. Potter?” McGonagall looked at him the same why she had since yesterday. That sort of pinched expression, eyes narrowed, like she had not yet decided how many house points to take. Weighing in her mind the full extent of his trouble.
“My parents had a dog didn’t they?”
His professor’s eyes turned owlish. “Um, no, Mr. Potter. No dog I am aware of.” She hesitated, fingers curling around the stack of tri-folded parchments.
“I believe your mother had a cat.”
“A black cat?”
“No, orange. If memory serves.”
That didn’t sound right. Harry tangled his fingers in a tuft of his hair. Aggressively and with no grace of movement he tugged it out of the way, thinking of the picture in his head that clearly included a large black furry animal. It seemed so real.
“Mr. Potter, perhaps you should get some rest.”
But resting was far easier said than done. By the time Harry and the deputy headmistress departed from the train he felt drained, depleted, and too weary to curl on yet another bench seat within the Thestral drawn carriage. Instead he sat, wilted against the jostling wall. Somewhere in the exhausted grey thoughts he pondered yet again of fever dreams and their average duration.
“Nearly there, Mr. Potter. Nearly there,” McGonagall reassured. She sounded far more maternal than he ever heard before in the past two school years. Part of him knew he should appreciated it. Another part allocated that tone of voice to the Be Concerned About Things part of his brain that flagged the concern as an indication for just how deeply he had gotten himself in trouble this time.
It brought up the instances of skin rash, sun burn, cats not acting like cats, with a large neon sign reading “See, proof you should listen to me!” Instead Harry stared at his professor in confusion. Because cats.
“Weren’t you a cat earlier?”
The question did undeniably complicated things to McGonagall’s face. There were emotions playing out. Harry, as detached as he felt, made no attempt at reading them. Merely he felt more confusion.
“We’ll be there soon, Harry.” She reiterated again, dodging the question.
Soon came with the blink of an eye. Harry closed his eyes to rub out the grit, when he opened them the gloomy carriage interior had gone and been replaced by the dim interior of the Hogwarts atrium. He was standing, walking actually.
He stopped. Spell bound at the sight of his trainers on tile. Only a moment ago they were on a carriage floor. Scary thing was, he remembered none of the in-between.
“Mr. Potter?” McGonagall inquired. She stood to his left, bracing his arm with one hand in his, the other grasping his elbow.
A question needed asking. Exactly what, Harry struggled to figure out.
Manners dictated he answer. Except then he noticed his other arm being held in much the same manner as his right. He followed the pale white hand up along the sleeve of a black robe to a ghostly pale face framed by hair as dark as the robes.
Glasses well and truly buggered, the details of the expression were lost on Harry; however, they weren’t necessary. The conclusion somewhat forgone. Robes that black plus skin that white could only equal the sum total of one particular Hogwarts professor.
“Mister Potter.” There was no mistaking the dry tone. The excessive elongation of vowels. Harry blanched. “Is there a problem?” No mistaking that derision either.
It seemed like a trick question. An obvious one. Therefore, Harry didn’t trust it. He couldn’t just say yes, either though. “Er, well, sorry,” he struggled. “It’s just… have you been with us the entire time?”
“I met your carriage when it arrived, if that answers your question.” The potions professor tugged Harry along into continuing forward. A shuffling pace. Where ever they were going, hopefully they weren’t expected any time soon.
“You very nearly sound disappointed. Don’t tell me your regard towards me has changed so drastically over these past few weeks as to want my company.”
Harry snorted. Fully aware of the headmistress’s disapproval and Snape’s disapproval, both of which somehow made everything funnier. “No, it’s just… Professor McGonagall was a cat earlier? I think? But she won’t admit it. If you had been there, I could ask you. You would answer.”
“So certain I would tell the truth, are you?”
“Well, no actually. Though if you did say yes, then fantastic, I’m not hallucinating. Except, let’s face it, you wouldn’t just disagree. You’d disagree and then make some comment about my unusual lack of intelligence. So, I’d be hallucinating, yes, but really… how bad can hallucinating be if my hallucinations was acting normally.”
Professor McGonagall made a complicated noise.
“So either way,” Harry surmised, feeling proud of his logic. “It’s reassuring.”
The complicated noise continued.
“Quite alright over there Minerva?” Snape asked dryly.
They continued on. Small shuffling steps onward. Harry not able to see the simply framed door until they were right upon it. The whereabouts of his glasses remained unknown and Harry found he didn’t much care. At the moment he cared more about the door, it looked in many ways similar to the doors leading to the infirmary. Dark wood, near as dark as the hardware, rounded to a curved peak at the top with simple details decorating the face.
“Where are we going?”
The answer came with the clipped patience that so often accompanied an answer given more than several times over. “The Hospital Wing, Mr. Potter.”
“Er, isn’t that several levels up?”
“If a wizarding castle is capable of moving its staircases,” Snape’s grip tightened on Harry’s elbow, “do you not think it capable of reconfiguring the location of its entryways? Especially for a wing as important as the infirmary?”
“Dunno,” Harry responded, tired, “what year do we cover magical architecture?”
Professor McGonagall sighed. “A History of Hogwarts, Mr. Potter.” And damn if that book didn’t come back to haunt him time and time again.
She directed him nearer to the door, untangling her hand from his clammy palm and reaching for the iron wrought handle. The door smoothly swung open revealing, indeed, the hospital wing. The low candle light spilling out distracted Harry from his dark thoughts on required but not mandatory readings. He made out blurry shapes within. Attributed the stationary objects as furniture, the few mobile as people. Then he remembered magic was a thing, buggered it all and promptly gave up.
For all he knew, some of those people shaped things could be suits of armor. Or broomsticks. Those moved on their own too. Attacked students even. Dark Lords prevailing, at any rate.
“Come along, Mr. Potter,” McGonagall continued ushering when Harry hesitated just before the threshold. She tugged on his arm the slightest bit.
And it seemed to Harry an absolutely terrible idea.
Right up there with the spiraling insanity of the Floor Network and a renegade Wizarding Bus. Not to mention the dark void that was the entrance into Platform 9 ¾. Each left him feeling worse than the last.
Except, well… he could not exactly climb stairs in this state. He doubted anyone would let him sleep in the Great Hall, camping out on a bench under the starry ceiling. As much as the idea appealed to him, Snape undoubtedly would have a few thoughts on that idea. Not to mention an arsenal of scathing vocabulary and a multitude of ways he had to explain to Harry what an idiotic idea that was in the history of idiotic ideas.
Resigned, Harry puttered along.
Made it passed the boundary, experienced about thirty seconds of thinking
“This might not be so bad” when that weird light headed thing happened. Where the shadows got darker and the lights brighter, everything from the shoulders down felt disconnected and the room jerked to the right as the furniture spun to the left and, yup.
He passed out. Par for the course really.