“Harry!” he heard a distant voice call his name. “Harry, where are you?” It was Ron, and there was a trace of fear in his voice.
Harry stirred and opened his eyes. Towering trees blocked the sunlight above him, and all he could see were shadows and blackness. Under his body, sharp twigs and leaves poked at him. He pulled himself into a sitting position, but as soon as he did, he groaned in pain. Blood was trickling down from a wound in his right arm. Harry looked down and saw a tear covering the length from his shoulder all the way to his elbow. The flesh beneath was decaying. Harry flinched at the sight. He remembered quite well how it happened, and it didn’t make him feel any better.
“Harry!” He heard Hermione’s voice this time, along with the crackling of leaves as they came closer.
“Hermione! Ron! I’m over here!” he called out. With his left arm, he took up his wand, which was lying next to him, and shot red sparks into the sky. Soon, he heard the sound of running.
“Harry!” Ron’s freckled face came into view on Harry’s right. Behind him, Hermione was catching up.
“Harry.” Ron knelt down beside him, slightly breathless. “Wh – what happened to you?” he stuttered, looking at Harry’s bloody arm with surprise and terror on his face.
Hermione arrived, panting, and screamed when she took a look at Harry.
“I followed him...” explained Harry between breaths as beads of sweat ran down his face because of the pain. “It’s not a Slytherin...not a spy. H – he attacked me...”
“Let’s get you back to the castle,” said Ron shakily. “Get you to Madam Pomfrey...” He placed Harry’s left arm onto his shoulder and helped him get to his feet. “Can you walk?”
Ron and Hermione traced their steps back out of the Forbidden Forest. They walked on either side of Harry, making sure that the branches didn’t cut into his arm further. Tears were streaming down Hermione’s face.
“I never...never...should’ve suggested we split up...” she said through hiccups.
“Hermione, it’s not your fault,” said Harry weakly.
“I suggested splitting up,” insisted Hermione.
“It’s not your fault, Hermione,” sighed Ron. “None of us should have agreed to leave Harry by himself.
As they struggled over the last root of a gigantic tree, McGonagall’s admonishment reached their ears. “Granger and Weasley! I told you not to search for him by your -” She stopped when she saw Harry’s arm, now almost entirely covered in blood. She gasped and ran over to them. Alicia, her face ashen, followed closely behind.
“Potter, what happened to you?” asked McGonagall, her voice higher than usual.
“The person in the forest, professor,” explained Harry through clenched teeth. His arm hurt worse after moving around so much. “He attacked me.”
“Okay. Let’s get you to the infirmary.” Professor McGonagall conjured a stretcher and let Harry lie down. She trudged back to the castle leading the stretcher in from of her with her wand, and Hermione, Ron, and Alicia trailed along behind.
Once they were in the main hall, McGonagall told Alicia she may proceed to lunch and warned her not to tell anyone what really happened. Alicia agreed and walked toward the Great Hall. As most students were still in lunch, Hermione, Ron, Professor McGonagall, and Harry were able to make it through the empty halls without pestering (luckily, they didn’t meet Peeves or Filch either).
“Poppy!” Professor McGonagall called to Madame Pomfrey when they arrived at the infirmary.
Madame Pomfrey emerged from her office and started at the sight of Harry on the floating stretcher.
“Bring him to the bed,” she said without further questions. “It’s your arm?” She tore his sleeve apart to reveal his wound, and gasped in surprise and fright. McGonagall was also taken aback. She had expected a deep cut, not this. Harry’s arm no longer resembled one. The skin, flesh, and muscles were only a mass of bloodiness, and the deterioration was quickly spreading to his shoulder and lower arm. The whiteness of parts of the bones showed underneath. Ron and Hermione winced at the sight.
Madame Pomfrey stood up and walked quickly to the medicine cabinet in her office. A few seconds later, she came back by Harry’s bed, her arms loaded with bandages, cotton balls, a flask of red liquid, a bottle of some sort of green gel, and a dropper filled with something blue.
She sat down by Harry and said, “This will hurt some, dear, but it will be over in a minute.”
Harry nodded weakly. His arms were feeling as if they were on fire, and his eyes were watering with pain. He didn’t even dare take a look at what his arm resembled now.
Madam Pomfrey pulled Harry’s sleeve off and dabbed some of the red potion directly on his arm. Then, she applied the green gel. Harry immediately felt a cool sensation and a tingling feeling that reached the tips of his fingers. After they dried some, she wrapped the bandages around his arm. Next, Harry was asked to open his mouth. Madame Pomfrey put a drop of the blue liquid in his mouth. As soon as it landed on his tongue, Harry felt his entire body go on fire. His injured arm seemed as if a burning iron was pounding it, hard. Harry closed his eyes and clenched his teeth tightly.
“The pain will be over soon, dear,” soothed Madame Pomfrey. “I’m going to get some pajamas for you to change into.”
Harry felt her rise from the bed and heard her footsteps as she walked back to her office with McGonagall, shutting the door to a slit. The pain in Harry’s arm had subsided a little, and he opened his eyes and looked curiously towards the door.
“Why did they close it?” he wondered.
Soon, hushed whispers drifted out through the crack, and Harry caught a few words of what they were saying.
“...had not expected this...”
“...Corrosivo Curse...very rare...”
“...notify Albus at once...”
Harry saw Ron and Hermione exchange worried looks and then look at him. They must have heard the broken conversation too.
The door opened again. Professor McGonagall and Madame Pomfrey, with the promised pajamas in her arms, came out.
“Well, I’ll be going,” said McGonagall, her voice changing back to her usual strict tone. “Potter, recover soon. Weasley and Granger, I will be expecting you to bring him his homework. Do not attempt to complete them for him, Miss Granger, and do not try to persuade her to, Mr. Weasley. Potter has O.W.L.’s this year, and I want him to pass the test without your help.”
With that, McGonagall walked briskly out of the infirmary, probably to tell Dumbledore about Harry’s injuries. Before the door closed shut, Harry heard loud chatter in the halls. Lunch was probably over and students were going to their common rooms or outside to enjoy the last bit of warm sunshine before the bitterness of winter hit. Harry sighed. He wanted to be one of them – carefree, innocent, not lying in the infirmary bed with serious injuries at least once a year. He wondered how soon it would be before they found out he had landed himself in here again, and what they would think.
“Here you are, dear,” said Madame Pomfrey as she laid the pajamas on his bed. With a wave of her wand, hangings appeared around the bed. “Mr. Weasley can help you change. Is your arm better?”
Harry nodded. Madame Pomfrey really could work wonders. His arm no longer had a burning sensation and didn’t hurt very much either.
“Good. I’ll bring the three of you some lunch. You must be starved.”
“Thank you,” the three of them echoed as Madame Pomfrey bustled out of the infirmary.
Ron helped Harry get out of his bloodstained robes and into the fresh-smelling pajamas. When Harry was dressed again, Ron pulled the hangings back up to a patiently waiting Hermione.
“Does you arm still hurt?” asked Hermione. She wasn’t crying anymore, bur tears still lingered in her eyes.
“No, it’s much better now,” answered Harry.
“Do you need anything?” she asked.
Harry shook his head.
“Harry,” said Ron nervously, “What happened in the forest?”
Harry told them about following the cloaked figure. He also told them about the person’s ability to walk as if floating through the air at the speed of lightning.
“He can Sprihnte?” asked Hermione in amazement.
“Didn’t McGonagall tell us about that once?” said Ron. “It’s supposed to be a really advanced form of Transfiguration. But... Then, the person in the forest really can’t be a Slytherin. Plus the Corrosivo Curse... What happened after you saw him Spinte, or whatever?”
“Well,” said Harry. “I asked him who he was, but he wouldn’t answer at first. He just laughed, a really cold, chilling laugh. Then, he said, ‘You don’t want to know.’ The next thing I knew, he had attacked me.”
“So...was it You-Know-Who?” asked Ron.
“Voldemort, Ron,” said Harry while Ron cringed at the name. “Call him by his real name.
“If it was You-Know-, I mean, Voldemort...” said Hermione, whom the name came easier to because she had grown up with Muggle parents and without knowing the terror of the Dark Lord. “But how did he get into the Forbidden Forest unnoticed? Like Sirius said in the letter, he, or a Death Eater, shouldn’t be able to.”
Harry frowned. He’d just remembered something. “I don’t think it was Voldemort –” Ron winced “- because my scar didn’t hurt when I was near the cloaked figure,” he said. Harry frowned again. He felt strange saying this, because he thought he had said this before when something had happened, but he couldn’t remember when or exactly what had happened.
“But there’s Sna –” started Ron when the door to the infirmary suddenly opened.
“I have your lunches!” said Madame Pomfrey as she came in. She handed each of them a tray ladled with food. “If you need me, I’ll be in my office. And Harry, I’ll come check on your arm in an hour. Mr. Weasley and Miss Granger, you may stay with him until I come back.”
Harry, Ron, and Hermione nodded. Madame Pomfrey disappeared into her office, closing the door behind her.
After making sure she couldn’t hear them, they resumed their conversation in lowered voices.
“Like I was saying,” said Ron in a near whisper between bites of his chicken. “It could have been...(gulp)...Snape again.”
Hermione shook her head.
“Didn’t you think he was being controlled by the Imperius Curse just last week?” asked Ron defensively.
“I did, after reading Sirius’ letter,” explained Hermione. “Then, I went to Professor Fitz to ask her if she could tell me more about the Imperius Curse. I told her it was for a History of Magic report on evil curses invented since the beginning of magic.”
“You lied to a teacher?” said Ron incredulously, spitting mashed potatoes everywhere. He knew perfectly well that she had lied to teachers, and even stole from them (for a good cause, I assure you), before, but he couldn’t resist a chance to play around with her Miss Perfect title. “And I thought you didn’t like her.”
Hermione ignored him and continued, “Professor Fitz told me a lot of things, including that the effects of the curse will only last for a little over an hour. And all through double Potions, Professor Snape acts the same, strange way. So...maybe he has some other problems on his mind.”
“That makes sense...” said Harry.
“Then who attempted to kill Harry twice since school started?” asked Ron while pouring dressing on his salad.
Hermione frowned and took a bite of her chicken.
“There’s something strange about the Corrosivo Curse,” said Harry, thinking of the other part of the puzzle. “I mean Voldemort has never used it before. If he just learned how to perform it, then who did he learn it from? The whole world knows of his reputation. Who would teach him? The incantation wouldn’t be in any books, would it? If it is, then it wouldn’t be rare. Unless...the person in the forest was a Death Eater who knew the curse. But then, a Death Eater would surely share any of his powers with his master, and Voldemort –” Ron shuddered again “- has never used the curse before.”
“You’re right,” said Hermione, nodding her head. “I have to go to the library some time and find out more about this curse.”
“I still think Sirius is right about Snape,” said Ron stubbornly.
“But Dumbledore would know something if there’s something wrong with Snape,” said Hermione. “But I do agree with Sirius on one thing. You have to be more careful, Harry. What happened today...what if it happens again and things don’t go as well?”
Harry looked down at his food. He had pushed all thoughts about the fact that his life was in great danger to the back of his mind since the carriage incident. He wanted his time at Hogwarts to be normal for once.
“If you’re hinting that I need a bodyguard,” said Harry, “then forget it.”
“I don’t think that’s a very bad idea,” said Hermione.
“Oh, come on, Hermione!” said Ron. “How would you feel having somebody following you all day?”
“It would feel awkward for me to walk around school with someone tailing me,” said Harry. “It’s stupid.”
Hermione sighed. “Fine,” she said resignedly. “Then at least bring your wand wherever you go. And don’t go anywhere by yourself.”
“Even to the bathroom?” asked Harry jokingly.
“Harry!” said Hermione.
“Okay! Okay!” said Harry. “I won’t go anywhere alone and I’ll bring my wand wherever I go. Oh, Ron, by the way, why did you decide not to try out for Keeper? Weren’t you begging me to get you on the team the other day?”
Ron’s face turned crimson. He averted his eyes from Harry’s and mumbled something that sounded like, “Noreallyinrested.”
Harry, seeing that Ron wasn’t very comfortable in answering, felt embarrassed about asking. Thank goodness, Madame Pomfrey came out of her office at that moment.
“Hello, Mr. Potter. I’m going to change your bandages now,” she said. “And Miss Granger and Mr. Weasley, you will have to leave for today. My patient needs his rest. You may come back tomorrow for another hour or so.”
“Okay,” Ron and Hermione agreed.
They waited until after Harry had gotten through another surge of pain after taking the blue potion. Then, they said goodbye and left the room. As the door closed behind them, Harry suddenly felt a wave of loneliness. He had stayed in the infirmary alone before, but this time it seemed different. This one was at the top of the pile, and the feelings he had from the other stays all gushed up to this one. Harry felt all the anger, frustration, and loneliness from the other stays all at once, at that moment.
For the rest of the afternoon, Harry muddled away the time with thoughts of how much fun the others must be having. Gryffindor Tower must be crowded with people taking a look at one of Fred and George’s new inventions. Or maybe they were all outside, enjoying the last of the sunshine. But he, Harry, was alone in the infirmary. Harry stared at the walls, the curtains, the beds, the bed sheets, but there was nothing to take his mind off his lonesomeness.
At ten, after having eaten dinner and endured several more painful bandage changes, Harry was left completely by himself. Madame Pomfrey had retired to her room next door. Harry felt even worse than in the afternoon when Madame Pomfrey said goodnight and closed the door behind her. He realized he hated being in the infirmary alone while his friends were in their dorms. Ron was probably still awake, joking with Dean, Seamus, and Neville. Or maybe he and Hermione hadn’t gone to bed yet. Harry felt himself even missing losing to Ron in wizard chess.
“You’re being silly!” he told himself angrily. “Your friends were with you several hours ago! They only left because they weren’t allowed to stay! Why are you thinking so much?”
Harry calmed down some after scolding himself. But then, new thoughts popped into his mind. Why was he always the one who got injured anyway? Why did he always end up getting himself in stupid adventures, in which he always got hurt? Why is he always the so-called “hero”? And what kind of hero was he anyway? Cho probably doesn’t think he is, and neither does Cedric. Cedric’s face floated into his mind. “It’s all your damn fault, you bastard!” his image shouted. “Why did you make me get the Triwizard Cup with you? You tricked me!” “No!” Harry tried to shout. “You liar!” Cedric’s voice echoed in the darkness. Suddenly, Harry felt himself falling, falling through the darkness with bitter wind whipping at his face. He landed on a cold hard ground. Harry looked around. He was in that graveyard again, the same graveyard in which Voldemort had murdered Cedric Diggory. Everything was pitch black. Harry felt as if he was drowning in a dark pool. He looked around. Tall, gray, ominous stones loomed over him on all sides. He was all by himself. Suddenly, he noticed a pair of large eyes appear in front of him in the darkness, glowing bright red. They were snakelike and menacing, and were narrowed suspiciously as they stared at Harry. A low jeering voice said to him, “I want you dead, Harry Potter.”
Harry sat up quickly, and in his haste, he had opened the wound in his arm again. He groaned in pain, but was relieved to see that he was still in his bed in the infirmary. The graveyard was nowhere in sight.
“It was only a nightmare,” he assured himself.
Harry lied back down, but quickly sat up again. Something had clicked in his mind. He had heard that voice, the one in his dream, before. It was the same one he had heard in the forest and once some time before. But why couldn’t he remember when? It was the same thing as the scar. He felt it sounded familiar, but couldn’t remember when he had heard it. Harry pounded at his head with his left hand in annoyance.
“Does the voice belong to a Death Eater?” he wondered. He knew for sure now that the person in the forest wasn’t Voldemort, because Voldemort’s voice didn’t sound like this, it was more higher pitched. However, having a Death Eater come after him wasn’t a comforting thought either.
Harry lay awake for a very long time, but eventually, sleep overtook him. He dreamed again, but this time of Cho, a happy one, cheering for him while he played Quidditch. Her face shone proudly as she clapped delightedly at the Wronski Feint he had just performed. Her lone, black hair billowed in the wind. Harry looked at her with a smile on his face. But, as he looked, her black hair suddenly turned a brilliant red, her dark eyes turned hazel, and her yellow attire of Ravenclaw became the red of Gryffindor. And her face...Ginny?
Harry opened his eyes, startled.
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