Chapter Twenty-Two: Potions and Penitence
Harry was intensely curious, but didn't want to push Severus too much, especially considering the fragile possibility of Severus becoming more comfortable around Harry again the way he had briefly been when they were stranded together in the woods. Thinking about it objectively, Harry briefly wondered why he wanted Severus' friendship so much considering their shared past before the summertime could be called objectionable at best. But the large amount of insight he had gotten into Severus over just the past few days had been enough to pull him a good distance from his desolation over Cedric's death and the ending of his fourth school year... the ritual, and Voldemort's resurrection. Yes, typical Gryffindor, Harry thought. Forgets his miseries in the face of someone else who needs help.
Idly, Harry wondered what part of him was attributed as being Slytherinish enough- if there was such a word- that he was almost Sorted into that house. Then he realized it was likely due to his cunning and (occasional) restraint in dealing with the older wizard (not to mention others he'd encountered during his time at Hogwarts) as he watched Severus sort through his words. Finally Severus began to speak again.
"Part of what Voldemort did was in an effort to prevent my growing close to anyone, likely so that I wouldn't have curious friends on my heels when I suddenly and without reason took off in secret at Voldemort's summons... or so that someone wouldn't take too much interest in me. So that Voldemort would be the one to profit from ... whatever it is that we are a part of. Only it seems that both Voldemort and Dumbledore didn't think that the other half of this ... prophecy ... might be in the form of yourself. The Famous Harry Potter." Severus gave him a look which wasn't so much of a sneer as it was a dark smirk, and for once Harry was able to appreciate the offered irony enough to not be hurt or offended.
"So then, he altered your physical appearance," Harry hazarded, cautiously adding, "He might have even altered your behavior, too."
"Quite possible." The pensive stare across the Hospital Ward and out the opposite window lent Severus a slightly younger appearance, aided further from the more neutral tones to his voice which lacked its customary bite. "At first, the darkening of my hair seemed a natural process- a part of the changes undergone as I went through my teenage years. But I believe it all may be attributed to a potion that... my father developed and gave to me."
Harry couldn't help but repeat Severus words in his query, sitting forward a little on the bed he sat on and glancing at Severus' hair which had its customary appearance. "A potion? Did he tell you what it was for? Or did he..."
Lips pressed together into a brief and thin line, Severus replied, "He may have given it to me on the sly when I was home for the summer holidays. But upon my return to Hogwarts, he found a marvelously plausible reason for me to use it on my own. In fact, I've done so ever since then." Pausing a moment, Severus arched an eyebrow at Harry as though in wait for an exclamation of some sort from him. Harry wisely kept his mouth shut.
Centering his attention back upon the opposite window, Severus continued, "You might have guessed that I had undergone a large number of pranks in my years as a student, most of which were perpetrated by your father and his friends." To Harry's relief, Severus' voice and aura maintained its neutrality apart from remembered annoyance. "One of their more successful pranks which landed me in a good deal of trouble involved the use of the polyjuice potion." The irritation flared into anger, but only briefly as Severus muttered, "Using my own specialty of potions and a strand of my hair against me." Shaking his head, he added, "I determined that I wasn't about to be taken advantage of that way ever again. My father learned about it when Dumbledore performed an official inquiry, and so developed the potion for my use the next school year."
Dying of curiosity, it took Harry a good deal of effort not to ask what the prank had been; he knew it would push Severus in a direction he didn't want him to go. Instead, he just nodded to show his attentiveness and hoped Severus would continue.
Thankfully he did, after a pause for thought and a rather suspicious glance at the carafe of water on the table between them. Severus' voice was roughened by dryness, but he made no move to reach for a glass of water. "The potion was meant to be brushed into my hair after I had showered. My father indicated that it would protect my hair in my potions work, and that it would also prevent it from falling out casually, thus making it much more difficult for anyone to procure my hair for use in any sort of potion or experiment whatsoever. That is indeed what the potion did, but apparently that isn't the only thing that it did," he finished with a gesture at his sallow features.
"So then, that's the stuff I felt on your hair back in the shack? The stuff that changed the color of the cloth, but not my skin?" Harry was intrigued. "Makes sense to make the potion not react that way to skin if you don't want the color changing properties to be noticed."
"Very good, Potter," Severus muttered. "Perhaps I'll give you an assignment to theorize what ingredients were used in the potion from its symptoms and consistency. Merlin knows you could use the extra credit to improve your potions grade."
Harry wasn't entirely sure if he should smirk or not, so instead he asked, "Do you think Dumbledore will tell us everything?"
Severus' gaze lowered to the long fingers that he had calmly folded to rest upon his lap, but again Harry was somewhat relieved to see that the anger was somewhat diminished in Severus' aura. "The Headmaster gave his Oath, and that is something not taken lightly by any wizard. He didn't specify when he would speak of it, but the preparations he mentioned aren't ones that should take more than a day or two." For a moment, his carefully controlled voice contained an irritated tone to it as Severus added, "He has had near to twenty years to make his preparations if he indeed learned of this just after ... the incident in the Shrieking Shack."
Watching Severus' reactions, Harry reminded himself not to ask for Severus' take on that incident anytime in the near future. "Maybe after Dumbledore tells us about the background of this all we could return to your... device and see what it has to say? How long does it take to work?"
"It rather depends upon the complexity of what is found. When I have set it to check me over and there is nothing new for it to find, the results are a matter of mere minutes. With all of the recent changes, plus the addition of you to the scan, it will likely take a few days to a week. And at any rate," Severus continued without pause, "You will be staying here until you are released by Madame Pomphrey. My healing potion works well, but it is for general problems and also contains a good dose of several items which gives the drinker a burst of temporary energy. The final dose you took will be wearing off soon, and you'll likely be sleeping for the next day or two."
"Then so will you," Harry countered.
"I've had the benefit of a number of years of endurance training in my field and am older than you." Severus was firm on the account, but wasn't overly harsh about it as he was in past years, "I will not argue further with you on this. You don't have rooms of your own, and I do. You will recover here, and once the immediate danger has passed I will recover in my chambers while working out the next step."
"A good plan, Severus," Dumbledore's voice came from the door to the private section of the Hospital Ward. "It will give you time to read up on the prophecy." Pausing for a delicate moment, he added, "Not to mention what it was that I did, and what I believe Voldemort did to you. The spells were quite complex, and I haven't been able to work out how they managed your physical changes. I didn't see a sign of a spell on you that did that."
"It wasn't a spell," Severus muttered before once more explaining about his father's potion and what it was purportedly for.
Slowly shaking his head, his blue eyes again dimmed with regret, Dumbledore sighed, "Yet another time I failed you then, Severus." Sitting on a nearby chair, Dumbledore was looking older and tired more frequently than Harry wanted to see.
Silence dragged on for an uncomfortable time before Severus murmured, "Not everything is your fault... Albus. You could not control the Marauders short of the Imperius- although that would have been most pleasant- and you had to investigate the matter, notifying my father in the process."
"But doing so hurt you in the long run, Severus," Dumbledore maintained. Looking at Harry he sighed, "It hurt you both, and that is the one thing I do regret. I only hope that one day you will be able to forgive me."
Another pause as some of the repressed anger ebbed from Severus' aura to be replaced by a regret of his own. "... We shall see, Albus. In the meantime, if your preparations are complete I believe that Harry and I would like to hear about this prophecy we have become a part of."
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