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Chapter 35: A Heavy Toll
A Heavy Toll
The Healers at St. Mungos were baffled, befuddled, and bewildered by the case of Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived. From all of their scans and diagnostic spellcasting, Harry should be awake and perfectly fine. There were no discernible injuries to his body, no head trauma, and his magical core was intact. Yet he remained in a coma-like slumber, dead to the world figuratively. They had whole teams of Healers specializing in Spell Damage and Potions Accidents and Curses examine him and not one could understand why the boy was not sitting up and talking with his friends and eating ice cream cones. They had written on his chart—Magical Malady Unknown—and withdrew for a group consultation.
Molly, Ron, and Ginny remained in the room, sitting at Harry's bedside, just watching and praying for a miracle. Molly had sent a frantic letter off to Severus, but so far hadn't gotten a response back. She was fearful that something had happened to the Potions Master, something that had to do with the monster at the school, the monster that they were supposed to destroy. What if the unthinkable had happened and the monster had destroyed them instead?
Irma had been kept busy for the past two days, monitoring Severus and Lena, both of whom had almost been drained beyond recall by the revenant. Normally, a battle in the Place Between Worlds would not have much effect on a person's corporeal self, but the revenant was no ordinary opponent, and draining a wizard's magical core did have an effect upon one's body.
Dumbledore was also seriously depleted, exhausted, and aged by the revenant's attack. Poppy gave him Magic Replenishers, Dreamless Sleep, and some Restorative potion and kept him in bed for two days. She provided the same potions for Severus and Lena, and also showed Irma how to dose them with a straw for liquids and give them a few potions by injection. Irma knew that once their bodies were restored to full strength, they would awaken from their magical sleep.
Lena regained consciousness first, her eyelids fluttering open and her inquisitive gaze looking everywhere. She coughed slightly and whispered, "Aunt Irma?" upon catching sight of her relative.
"Lena! Oh, dear sweet Lady have mercy! You're awake at last." Irma came and clasped her niece's hand, she would have hugged her, but feared she was too weak to be squeezed as hard as Irma wanted to. "How are you feeling?"
"I'm . . . a little tired, but otherwise I feel fine. Where's Severus? Is he all right?"
"He's still asleep. But he's on the mend," Irma reassured her. "Are you thirsty? Hungry?"
"Both. How long have I been sleeping?"
"Two days, dear." Irma said, then she clapped her hands and a house elf appeared. "Please bring me a tray with ice water, orange juice, infuse chicken broth, and crackers, Honey. Thank you."
As the elf popped out, Lena attempted to sit up. To her chagrin, she was as weak as a baby bird and could barely sit up. Irma had to prop her up with pillows. "I'm so weak. Is that normal after Traveling like I did?"
"Yes and no. Most first time Travelers do get exhausted, but you also were drained by a revenant, so it's even more pronounced. It will be a few days until you are fully recovered. Do you remember what happened in the astral?"
Lena nodded. She told the elder librarian what had gone on, and how guilty she felt leaving Severus alone. "I didn't want to, Aunt Irma. But I could feel myself growing weaker and I knew I'd just be in the way, I couldn't fight anymore. But even so, I feel wretched, like I should have stayed and not run like a coward. I know it's foolish for me to feel like that, what I did was the only logical thing to do. Still, it felt as though I was abandoning him, even though he ordered me to leave."
"You shouldn't, Lena. Severus knows that in war, sometimes sacrifices have to be made. And he chose to be the sacrifice."
Remembering the battle made her cold to her very bones. And the fear that came with it made her shiver uncontrollably. She had been ill prepared to face the revenant, despite her hours of study. Nothing she had read had prepared her for the sheer cruelty, cunning, and power of the spirit. It had almost finished her.
The tray popped in, and Irma placed it across her knees, helping her sit straighter. As Lena began to eat, she asked softly, "Do you know if the revenant was killed?"
Irma nodded. "I believe so. Not long after Severus returned, I felt something shift on the astral. It was as though a great darkness had been lifted. I think it is gone."
Lena breathed a sigh of relief. "That's good. Severus must have destroyed it." She began to slowly sip her broth and added a cracker to it. Though weak, she was ravenously hungry.
"I expect so, or else none of us would be sitting here now," Irma said. She eyed her niece in concern. "Try and eat more slowly, dear. You don't want it to come right back up."
Lena did as she was told, recognizing the wisdom in her aunt's words. She looked over at Severus while she ate, noting that he looked rather pale, more than usual, and that Skull was absent from his beside. Fearing the worst, she asked about the raven. "Aunt, where is Skullduggery?"
"Oh, he's out and about, you know that rascal. He needs to fly, he can't stay cooped up in one room forever, even if his master is injured. He'll be back soon, he never stays away for long." Irma chuckled.
"How is the Headmaster? I remember you coming to warn us, is he recovered too?"
"He is, as much as he can ever be from such an attack." Irma said gravely.
"What do you mean?"
"The revenant drained him to near death. That has an effect upon the body, Lena, especially in one so old as he is. Poppy hasn't admitted it yet, but I know from my studies that an attack like that can cause one to prematurely age. Albus has probably aged at least ten years, though it's hard to tell by looking at him."
Lena looked horrified. "You mean . . . he has lost years of his life?"
"Yes. Very probably."
"But . . . why haven't I? Or Severus?"
"For one thing, you are younger. For another, the damage you sustained was mostly to your spirit, not your physical body. That is the price you pay for battling one of the most powerful undead that ever walked. Fighting a revenant bears a heavy toll, no matter how powerful you are magically."
Lena nodded sadly. They had all known when they agreed to take on the revenant that the cost might be high. All of them were lucky to still be breathing. "Well, at least there's one good thing. None of the children were harmed by it because we got them all out in time."
As if to refute that statement, Severus cried out, "No! Not Harry!"
The two women jumped at the anguished cry.
Lena nearly spilled her broth all over herself. "Severus! Is he dreaming?"
Irma ran over to his bedside, he was thrashing about, his normally calm visage twisted in pain. She laid a hand on his shoulder and shook it gently. "Severus, wake up! Old friend, you are dreaming. Harry is safe at the Weasleys, remember?"
Severus shook his head, grimacing like one under the Cruciatus Curse. "No . . . Harry was there . . . in the Place Between Worlds . . ." he groaned. Then his eyes snapped open and met Irma's with a fierce lucid intensity. "It wasn't a dream, Irma. He was there."
"All right, Sev, I believe you," she said soothingly, trying not to agitate him. "Was he just an observer then?"
Severus snorted. "Since when is that meddlesome child ever 'just an observer', Irma? This is Harry Potter you're talking about, remember? The boy who leaps off a cliff before checking that he has a broom beneath him. No, he went right for the revenant's throat. Granted, he managed to get me away from the bloody thing before it killed me, but he promised me to stay away and not get involved and suddenly there he was."
"Gracious Gaia! He tried to fight the revenant? Was he injured?"
"I don't know. The last I saw before I lost consciousness was him cast a runic circle about it and Skull . . . Skull was fighting alongside him. Where is that blasted raven anyhow? Usually he would be here, warbling some ridiculous lullaby in my ear."
Just then the raven tapped with his beak on the door.
Irma gestured, and the door to Snape's quarters swung open to admit the black bird. "Skull, your favorite person's awake."
"Really? Elvis rose from the dead?" the raven shrieked. "Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!"
"Elvis?" Irma repeated. "No, it's Severus I'm talking about."
"Oh. Well, I'm glad he's back too. But I was sort of hoping . . ." the raven lamented. Then he flew down and perched on Severus' chest. "Sev! I'm so glad you're back! Thought you were going to sleep for a hundred years like Sleeping Beauty. Although in your case you'd have to be the Sleeping Prince and who would we find to give you the kiss of true love now that Lily's gone? Unless Miss Rosario would oblige?" the raven gave a wicked caw.
"Skullduggery!" Severus began, then he sighed, not up to his usual banter. "Do you know what happened with Harry? Is the revenant gone?"
Skull bobbed his head affirmatively. "Laid to rest forever. I helped Harry destroy the corrupt bugger. He's gone, like a bad dream upon waking. Harry killed him by using his head and his magic, including that he borrowed from the Codex. Then he went back to his body, or so I assume."
"I should have known. The power he knows not," Severus quoted softly. "Skull, would you please go to the Burrow and see how he is?"
"On my way, Captain!" the raven croaked an affirmative and then waited for Irma to open the door before flying off.
"I suppose Harry must be all right, or else Molly would have owled me," Severus mused. "Unless . . . has anyone checked my mailbox lately?"
All the professors had a mailbox mounted on the wall beside their offices so owls could deliver messages if they couldn't reach the professor in question.
"Why, no. I had forgotten about that . . ." Irma declared, chagrined. She called a school elf and asked him to bring anything in Professor Snape's mailbox to him.
The elf returned with a pile of mail and set it atop Snape's lap.
To his chagrin, he found he was too weak to sit up without assistance, and Irma made sure he was propped up by pillows and had a tray like Lena's before sorting through his mail. Severus ate while he sorted through potion catalogs and advertisements, a student's request to do extra credit, another student's homework assignment, and finally a creamy parchment with Molly's return address on it.
Severus tore open the envelope and read the missive. He swore angrily, half under his breath.
"Bad news?" asked Lena softly.
"You could say that. When Molly couldn't wake him for two days, she brought him to St. Mungos, but the doctors there seem to be incompetent jackasses, because none of them know how to bring Harry out of the coma he's in."
"Severus, that's not so surprising," Irma told him. "Most Healers don't know about Traveling sickness, since that's a rare malady, and Traveling as a talent has been mostly forgotten. We only know of it due to our research as Society members."
Severus heaved a long sigh. "True. I need to go there and inform them how to take care of him. But I can barely move out of this bed!" He looked extremely put out.
"Don't worry, Severus. I shall write out instructions on how to care for him, and Skull can deliver them for me."Irma soothed. "By the time they have started the regimen, you should be well enough to be up and about. Harry might even be stuck between worlds, and that Skull can help with."
Severus nodded grudgingly. He detested being sick, unable to help his ward, but there was little he could do save try and get better as soon as possible. He sipped his broth and drank the juice Irma had provided.
While he was doing that, Irma was writing rapidly with quill and ink on parchment, giving instructions on how to bring Harry out of the coma he'd been in.
Skullduggery returned, dismayed to find the Burrow empty, but he regained his spirits when Severus told him about Molly's letter. "Ah, that explains it! Of course I shall bring Irma's instructions to those noddleheaded Healers. Humph! Don't go ballistic, Sev, he did save your life, even if he broke all your rules doing it. Though I can't blame you for wanting to roast his behind over a fire."
Severus set down his empty glass and said icily, "He knows the consequences of his actions."
Skull took Irma's letter and flew off to the hospital with it. He would remain there in case Harry was still wandering the astral and needed a guide to show him the way back.
Severus looked over at Lena and asked, "How are you feeling, Lena?"
She gave him a commiserating grin. "About the same as a wrung out dishrag. Like you."
Severus made a face and nodded in agreement. Even though he hated being sick, at least he had someone to talk to while convalescing. She kept him from doing something idiotic, like getting up too soon and trying to run down the hallway before he had regained his strength. He was still terribly worried over Harry, but he was able to keep his emotions under wraps for now. But when he got his hands on that boy . . .
After receiving the instructions on how to care for Harry, a Traveler, in his current state, the Healers set to with a vengeance. They made certain he received certain potions and fed him broths infused with vitamin and minerals and a few other ingredients to maintain vitality and energy. They had specialized therapeutic Healers work with the sleeping boy, exercising his limbs instead of letting him just lie there like a limp doll that was no longer played with. The whole regimen was designed to stimulate Harry, and coax his spirit into waking up, now that his body was no longer exhausted.
Skullduggery monitored carefully what was going on, and noted that the boy's mental state was still in hibernation. Now the raven was no mind magus, but he was very intuitive, and he knew well Harry's penchant for guilt tripping himself when something went wrong. Though Harry had saved Severus in the Place Between Worlds, there was a part of himself that also blamed himself for not arriving sooner, before Severus had gotten hurt, a part that was fearful that Severus was dead. And thus Harry did what he always did when faced with guilt, he hid himself from it.
Skull knew this, and he set out to convince the boy to wake and face the consequences of his impulsive decision. He slipped into the astral, which Harry was still connected to, and quietly talked to the boy huddled in a shadowy corner of his own mind.
"Harry, it's time for you to come out. There is no need to hide anymore, you are safe and Severus is too. You saved all of us, bran-boy. The revenant is no more. Now come out, fledgling, and see the new world this has wrought. Come, Harry, and follow me home. Someone who loves you very much is waiting for you."
The boy lifted his head from his knees and looked at the raven. He did not speak, but arched an eyebrow in question, mimicking another wizard Skull knew well.
The raven cocked his head and cawed an affirmative. "Come and find out then."
Skullduggery swooped low and hovered in front of the boy, allowing him to grasp his shoulders and then the raven flew with his clinging passenger out of the shadows and into the light, back to awareness.
The eleven-year-old in the bed stirred, slowly moving an arm, a hand, a foot. The man in black beside the bed suddenly jerked upright, he had nodded off waiting for Harry to awaken. Despite Skull bringing Harry's conscious mind back to awareness, it had taken the better part of an hour to awaken fully, giving Severus time to dress and Floo over to the hospital. Though mostly recovered, Severus had discovered he had an annoying tendency to nod off when remaining still for more than fifteen minutes. He hoped that wretched side effect would disappear as he grew stronger.
Awake now, he studied his ward intently, a sigh of relief escaping his taut lips as he saw Harry begin to move. He waited with bated breath and was rewarded with Harry's eyes fluttering and then opening. The green eyes fixed on him and recognition flared in their depths.
Severus waited as Harry became fully awake, and the boy opened his mouth to speak . . . but started coughing instead for his throat was dry.
Severus gently slipped an arm about the boy's shoulders and sat him up, patting his back until the fit had subsided. "Easy now, son."
"Look, Mum! He's awake!" came Ron's voice from the opposite side of the room.
"I know, dear. Now hush!" Molly shushed her son, a smile beaming across her face. She was so relieved she was almost in tears.
But the two major players in this little drama hardly noticed their audience, they had eyes only for each other.
Harry quit coughing and drank sips of cool water from the glass Severus held to his lips. The water moistened his dry throat and finally he spoke. "Uncle Sev! It's really you!"
"Yes, Harry. I'm right here, waiting for you to wake up."
Severus could hardly contain the vast feelings of relief and joy that swept through him. His ward—no, his son—was finally awake! And seemingly unharmed by his ordeal. Not being able to find words to describe how grateful he felt, Severus instead wrapped Harry in a tight hug, nearly pulling the boy from the bed.
Harry's arms wound themselves about his guardian and he hugged Severus back. It felt so good to be held, to know that he was wanted, was loved. He buried his face in the familiar soft robes and basked in the joy of it.
The two remained that way for a long time.
Until Severus' normal self-control reasserted itself, after his initial assessment that yes, Harry was fine, if a bit weary. Out of danger, certainly, and therefore well enough for Severus to express his displeasure over Harry risking his life yet again.
Thunderclouds gathered in the black eyes, as the Potions Master allowed his anger to ride his features. He drew away from the boy, he could hardly scold while hugging, and said in an ominously silky tone, "Harry James Potter, what in hell were you thinking?"
Harry gulped. "Thinking, sir?"
"Or not thinking, as the case may be. Did we not have a discussion before you left school about staying out of trouble and letting me handle the revenant? Did you not promise me you would? Or was that merely a figment of my imagination?"
"No, sir, but . . . I had to come! You were in trouble . . . the Codex said so!"
"You break your word for a book?" Severus growled.
"No . . . for you. You were dying! It was killing you!" Harry shouted.
Across the room, Ron went pale as milk. Was Harry suicidal . . . shouting at Snape? Did he not know the rules? That when you were in trouble you never shouted at your guardian, you shut up and said things like yessir, nosir, and I'm sorry? That way said guardian wasn't tempted to chop you up and add you to his cauldron. Or flay the hide off you.
"Mind your tone, young man. I have told you before and I shall tell you again, you are not the savior of the whole bloody world. I sent you away to keep you safe, and yet I find you risking your neck again! When will you learn to do as you're told?"
"When you're not dying," Harry replied flippantly.
Severus glared at him. He counted to ten rapidly. "I'm going to overlook that remark because I know that even you couldn't be foolish enough to be cheeky with me when you're already in trouble up to your neck."
"I'm in trouble for saving your life?" Harry protested.
"No, you're in trouble for breaking your promise to me," Severus corrected firmly. "I nearly lost you . . . again. My heart nearly stopped when I looked up and saw you there. Everything I had done, and still it wasn't enough to keep you safe, and I was too weak to protect you. That was what mattered most, not killing the bloody revenant, but you. Do you not understand that, after all this time?"
He set his hands on Harry's shoulders and shook him sharply for emphasis.
Ron started to rise from his chair, thinking to distract Snape and prevent him from murdering Harry, but Molly grabbed him and pushed him down. "Ronald, dear, don't interfere. This is between Professor Snape and Harry."
"But Mum! He's going to kill Harry!"
"Nonsense, dear. Have I ever killed you over making stupid mistakes and risking your neck?"
"Well, no. But . . ."
"Trust Professor Snape, Ron. He will give Harry what he deserves, no more and no less. Now come along, let's give them some privacy." She led Ron away. She was almost positive that Harry was going to end up over his guardian's knees, and he didn't need an audience for that!
Tears welled in Harry's eyes and he said, "I could feel something was wrong and I couldn't just ignore it. Not after everything we'd been through. I just couldn't. I'm sorry for breaking my promise, I'm sorry for scaring you to death, but I'm not sorry I saved your life. Because that's what you do when you love somebody—you look out for them. You taught me that." Half-defiantly, he looked his guardian in the eye, and waited for the explosion.
It never came.
Instead the Potion Master's arms pulled his son into another hug and he murmured, "Harry, what am I going to do with you? You're going to kill me before I'm forty."
Harry pressed his face against Snape's shoulder. "No, I won't. Because you're too stubborn to die. Like me." He sniffled sharply. "Forgive me?"
Harry felt tears streak his face. He had feared Severus would never forgive him. But now he could lay that fear to rest. He swallowed hard. "Umm . . . so how much trouble am I in?"
"You're going to be scrubbing cauldrons and toilets for me for the rest of the term. I ought to ground you till you're twenty. And paddle your backside till you can't sit for a week."
Harry stiffened, sensing he was on dangerous ground. "Yes, Uncle Sev."
"However, you did save my life, so this is all you're going to get." He turned the boy sideways and smacked his bottom hard. "One." Another smack followed. "Two." Harry whimpered. Then another. "Three." He added one more, slightly harder than the last. "Four, for remembrance." It was finished. He turned his son around and hugged him. "I love you, now try and behave."
Harry clung to him and cried, but only a little. Because boys who defeated revenants didn't cry over a spanking, no matter how much it stung. Or if they did, it was only for awhile. He felt a hand carding his hair and he smiled through his tears. Everything was going to be all right.
Severus rubbed Harry's back, easing the sting in his hand as well as comforting his child. Next time, if there is a next time, he thought sourly, I'm using the paddle. Then he snorted silently to himself. What he had just done was all he could bring himself to do where Harry was concerned. And he was sure there would be a next time, given the fact that though the master was gone, the followers remained, and like a hydra, cutting off the main head did not guarantee the threat was over. They would be crying out for vengeance, but Severus would see that they were thwarted. Forever.
Harry spent several more days on bed rest before being released from the hospital. By then he was going crazy and about to climb the walls. The Healers were being extra cautious, or maybe that was due to his father glaring at them whenever they came and examined Harry. Either way, Harry was ready to dance a jig when they told him he could go home.
"When will the school reopen?" he asked Severus.
"When the Headmaster deems himself fit to run it again. Perhaps a couple of days from now."
Harry nodded. He could understand that. Dumbledore had been hurt terribly by the revenant and it took awhile to recover. He was still a bit shaky and tired himself. But the school was safe once more.
He had thanked Molly for having him over and apologized for giving her such a fright. But Molly had just hugged him and said she was glad he would be all right and he should never risk his neck like that again. Ron would be returning when the rest of the students did, but Harry would be going back now, with Severus. That suited him just fine, for he feared he would have nightmares and Severus was the best one to help him deal with those.
As he walked with Severus to the hospital's Floo Network, Harry felt as if he could finally breathe again. Voldemort was dead and everything would be back to normal soon. Wouldn't it?
Skull perched upon Harry's shoulder, singing, "We Are the Champions." Harry snickered at some of the looks they were getting. Skull took some getting used to. Harry caressed the rowdy bird and shook off the strange depression that gripped him. Everything was going to be fine, he reassured himself. Yet there was a little corner of his mind that doubted, just a little.
A/N: Yes, there is more to come, hope you all enjoyed this one!