Chapter Eighteen: Shattered
By lunch time the next day, the news of what had happened to Pansy had spread throughout the whole school. Where Gareth Jones had decided to stay silent, Pansy was keeping no secrets, and the moment her friends left the hospital wing the following morning, they started to circulate the news like a contagious disease. When enough people knew, Gareth Jones admitted that a similar thing had happened to him. He remembered crossing the entrance hall, stopping to decide which way it was to the kitchens, then something huge and black had simply grabbed him, there was a sharp pain in his neck, and he remembered no more. Pansy's tale was naturally a little more dramatic. She had been in the Slytherin common room on her own, drying her hair by the fire, when the portrait hole had simply swung open, and a figure in a black cloak that covered their face stepped in. The figure had grabbed her by the arm and tried to drag her out, though she kicked and struggled, until she was bitten on the neck and couldn't fight anymore. She actually remembered having somebody drinking her blood, before they simply swept away into the dungeons and left her there.
The whisper of vampires shivered through the school for the rest of the week. Nobody with any sense dared to go through the dungeons alone, except Snape, and so he was giving the job of searching the place for any evidence of the vampire. He brought back the dead, lifeless body of one of the school owls, drained of nearly all its blood. Probably a snack, he told them, conversationally, pointing out the various puncture marks in the poor owl's body, until McGonagall asked him to kindly not show it around the table when people were trying to eat their dinner. Neville was sick into his fish pie. Bucket the kitten insisted on trying to maul the dead owl, and consequently lost five points from the school, even though he wasn't a student.
To say that the weeks rolled by without incident would be a lie. The more accurate description would be that the following month and a half was so hectic, Harry's mind seemed to blank out most of it. His DMT lessons were becoming more and more demanding, and the only peace he seemed to get in life was during those quiet hours in Snape's office. While the rest of the school were terrified of going down into the dungeons unescorted, Harry found himself soothed by the atmosphere down there. He found a sort of sanctuary in the quiet of Snape's office, which seemed a million miles away from the chaos in the school. Almost every other day now, the Daily Prophet arrived into Hermione's lap carrying yet more news of Voldemort activity, either an attack on the wizarding community or another ransacked museum. Whatever Voldemort was looking for, he clearly wasn't going to rest until he had it. Perhaps it was a good thing he was so obsessed with finding whatever it was, because none of his attacks were devastating, and casualties were fortunately minimal. Harry could still have done without the constant reminder of Voldemort lurking out there in the world though.
Before Harry knew it, winter had descended over Hogwarts, icing the castle with a fine layer of powdery white snow. The security dragons had to be given a special potion with their drinking water to stop them trying to hibernate or build nests, and the NEWT Potions students were put in charge of making it. Harry had no idea how the dragons could actually drink it and survive. It hissed like acid and belched great purple clouds at random moments, covering the ceiling of the dungeons in great dripping lilac patches that rained down on their heads and bleached out all the colour. Only Draco and his silver-blonde mane went unaffected, but the rest of the class spent many long days walking around school with peroxide-blonde hair until they could dye it back to its original colour.
Though luckily enough for Harry and his friends, winter brought something else in its wake, something far more pleasant than dangerous potions. The Quidditch season would be starting in January, and Harry wanted to get ahead of all the other teams. Ron complained loudly when Harry woke him up every Saturday morning for Quidditch practice and coaching, protesting that he had homework or felt ill, though Harry was having none of it. Not being in the team made him even more determined for them to do well without him. They had found new members for the Quidditch team too. Harry's place as Chaser was taken by the Hufflepuff Hannah Abbot, and Kainda's position as a Beater was taken by Justin Finch-Fletchley. He wasn't the strongest Beater in the world, but he worked very well with Ernie, and it could have been a lot worse. Every Saturday, the whole team were out on the pitch practicing, as Harry watched and taught them new strategies. Kainda always sat in the stands, huddled in blankets and teasing Ron with a large flask of warm soup. Harry spent a lot of his time sitting next to her, talking to her to try and numb some of the painful memories she must be dealing with. He didn't know how he would feel if he could never ever play Quidditch again. Kainda was dealing with it though, and she never complained, though sometimes Harry caught the longing look in her eyes as she watched the others soaring over the stands.
Harry's work in lesson time wasn't quite so bad. He managed to get through all his first lot of projects fairly well, and even managed to do some extra work for bonus marks. It was his extra-curricular lessons that were quite a bit different. Harry quite liked DMT and the time he spent with Snape, though his lessons to kill were fast becoming something he dreaded. The things Lupin taught him weren't so bad, but every single curse was just another step closer to being made to kill something. Harry was not looking forward to it. The worst thing was that every time he wished he didn't have to learn it, he remembered that someday he would either be murdered or murderer. If he didn't learn, he would end up being the first option, which was not a good thing. When he mentioned his doubts to Lupin, Lupin gave him a kind, sympathetic smile, and said, simply, "You need to learn, Harry, before it's too late."
It was a Wednesday. Harry had woken up, dressed, and then gone down to breakfast in the Great Hall with Ron and Hermione. They sat down at their usual places, just as there was a whooshing sound over head and the post owls flooded into the halls.
"Morning," said Draco, passing plates of bacon and eggs across the table. "Sleep well?"
"Fine," said Harry.
Ron tucked into his breakfast eagerly. "I'm starving," he said, hungrily. "I didn't get any time for pudding last night. Do you think if I asked the house elves they'd do me some ice cream?"
"Probably not for breakfast," said Hermione, smiling slightly.
They was a flutter of wings and then a clatter of claws as a screech owl landed on the table in front of Draco, followed by a little barn owl that handed a newspaper to Hermione, received its payment from her, then flew off again. Draco's screech owl was sitting next to his plate and snapping up the bacon rinds Draco tossed it, as Hermione unrolled the paper and sighed.
"Another museum," she said. "A wizarding one this time, in France. Run by Gringotts. The goblins are furious. Egyptian section completely pillaged, again."
Kainda leant over Hermione's shoulder to glance at the article. "I bet every museum owner in the world's having a nervous breakdown about now. What do you think You-Know-Who's after anyway?"
Harry's fork slipped from his hand and clattered to the floor. He dipped under the table to retrieve it, listening to the others debate about what it was that the Dark Lord was looking for. When he emerged, hair all over his face, he made the mistake of glancing at the front page of the newspaper.
He choked, and for the second time in as many moments, his fork hit the floor.
"Harry? Are you alright?" said Hermione, turning to look at him.
Harry reached out with one hand, and touched the lower right corner of the main photograph. "There. That's him."
Frowning, Hermione studied the picture. In the corner he had pointed to was a smashed tapestry, the frame splintered in two and the material inside slightly ripped, though the design was still visible.
Hermione leant closer, her frown deepening. "What on earth is it?"
"I don't know," murmured Harry. "But that's him, that's Khepri. I'm sure of it."
"I've never seen one of those before," said Hermione. "Not in books or anything. And you've seen him? As in... in real life?"
Harry nodded numbly. Ron, who was sitting on Harry's left, had now leant in and was listening to the conversation. He peered at the picture.
"Weird," he said. "It looks more like an animal than a person. Maybe it's some sort of spirit? Like a guardian spirit or something. Protecting whatever it is that Voldemort's looking for."
"I hadn't thought of that," said Harry. "Maybe... I don't know what his link to it is though. He might be on Voldemort's side for all we know."
Ron shrugged. "Well, it's Egyptian, whatever it is. Write to Bill."
Harry turned quickly to look at him. "What?"
"Write to Bill," said Ron. "He'll know. He's spent most of his career out in Egypt, he can tell you anything about them, even the stuff you don't find in history books."
Harry felt a rush of excitement, and disbelief at how he hadn't thought of this first. Bill Weasley knew everything about the ancient Egyptian wizards, and he'd probably be able to tell Harry everything he wanted to know about Khepri. Maybe Bill also had some idea what Voldemort was looking for, if it was linked to Khepri.
He got up from the table, and slung his bag over his shoulder. "I'm going to go to the owlery and send him a letter," he said, quickly. "Kainda, if I'm late for Potions, can you tell Snape I'll explain later?"
She nodded, finishing off her spoonful of porridge, before calling after him, "Where are you going?"
"To sort all this out!" he called back, as he hurried out of the hall.
A few minutes later, he stepped into the cold owlery tower. As always, it was dark, and full of the rustle of feathers and the sound of wings swooping in and out through the open windows. Harry put his bag down on one of the empty perches, and sorted through it quickly for a scroll of parchment and a quill. As he did, Hedwig fluttered over, and sat next to him on the perch, watching him closely.
"Up for a long journey?" he asked.
She hooted dolefully, and nipped at his earlobe.
"Good," he said, as he scribbled. He racked his brain for everything he knew about Khepri, writing it down in a long list and including a very rough sketch at the bottom. When he was done, he rolled it up and tied it with a piece of string in his pocket. "I need you to take this to Bill Weasley in Egypt," he said, tying the letter carefully to her leg. "Please hurry. Don't leave until he's given you and answer, and make sure it's a good one, okay?"
She gave a reassuring hoot, nibbled affectionately on his earlobe again, then spread her wings and took off, flying gracefully out of the window and soaring away into the sky. Harry watched her go. Maybe this could mean an answer to all his questions about Khepri. He hoped that Bill could reply soon, before Khepri had a chance to come and pester him again.
The door creaked open behind him, and Hermione came in.
"I just sent it," said Harry, gesturing to the open window.
She nodded. "Good. You'd better hurry up, or you'll be late for Potions."
"What are you doing up here?" he asked, as he shouldered his bag again and brushed some straw off the bottom.
"Oh, I just need to use one of the school owls," said Hermione, reassuringly. "I'm cancelling my subscription to the Prophet, it's just a waste of money anyway."
"Alright. See you at break," Harry said, and he left, hurrying to Potions, hoping Snape wouldn't be too angry about his lateness.
"Start explaining then," Snape said, as the rest of the class left for their next lessons, and Harry was left behind, hurriedly ladling his potion sample into a jar.
"Miss Zabini arrived and told me very conspiratorially that you would explain your absence from my lesson when you finally showed up. Start explaining."
"I had to send a letter," said Harry, hurrying to wipe a few spills off the glass canister with a rag.
"Oh? And this gives you an instant Get Out Of Potions Free Card, does it?"
"It was an important letter."
Snape snorted. "And who was this letter addressed to?"
"Bill Weasley." Harry placed his potion hurriedly in the basket next to Snape's desk, then started to clean up. Professor Binns wouldn't notice his lateness, hopefully. He never noticed if they were even present. The man could probably spend two hours talking to an empty room and not realise.
"A problem I have," said Harry, vaguely.
"And this problem is...?"
"...something you don't believe me about."
"Ah, you're hallucinating again."
"I am not hallucinating," Harry snapped, more out of pain than anything, as he'd just splashed some of the hot draft on his hand. He stuck it under the cold water tap as Snape replied.
"Then this odd monster you claim to keep seeing. And how, may I ask, is Bill Weasley to help you with this?"
"He can tell me what it is."
Harry didn't know whether to frown or laugh. "It's real. You might think I was hallucinating, but I know it's real."
"Come here." Snape stood up, and Harry put down his rag for one moment, as the professor locked eyes with him. Harry looked back, fiercely, remembering everything he could about the two times he'd seen Khepri.
"I've actually met him, twice," said Harry. "And he's been in loads of my dreams, you know he has."
"The dreams I am not arguing with," said Snape. "Those I have seen for myself. Though I hate to break it to you, Potter, the only memories I'm getting out of you at the moment are you talking to empty air on two separate occasions."
"What?" said Harry, horror-struck. "No, that's wrong! He was there, I saw him! You mean you can't even see him in my memories?"
"Potter, try to look at this logically." Snape raised one eyebrow. "You claim to keep encountering some sort of magical being or beast, that nobody else can see or hear, and even your memories give evidence contrary to your claims."
"Ron and Hermione believe me," said Harry, almost sulkily. "They know I'm telling the truth. If they can believe me, why can't you? Wait... you remember on the night that Pansy was attacked?"
Snape frowned. "I do."
"I had to breach your wards to get in and save her," said Harry. "You must have known."
"And Khepri came in too. He was there with me. Did you feel another person breaching your wards?"
Snape's frown deepened. "Mm, I did. My first ward was breached six times that night."
"Six?" said Harry, staring.
"Earlier, it was breached by what I now know was most likely the vampire, but I mistakenly presumed was a student sneaking back to bed. The vampire then left. Next, once by you as you entered, again by you as you left, and a third time as Miss Parkinson was taken out, bringing the total to five, though I felt it breached six times."
"When was the sixth time?"
"Moments after you entered."
"How did you know it was me?"
"I can sense when you're near me, Potter. If you breach my wards, I know without a shadow of a doubt that it is you, though everybody else I cannot tell. The sixth breach was a second or so after you, though I never felt that person leave."
"He didn't need to go through it again," said Harry. "He can just vanish, into thin air. Sometimes he leaves smoke."
"Potter, you sound like a four-year-old describing an invisible friend," said Snape. He sighed. "Go to your next lesson, and we will discuss this during your DMT class tonight. Eight o' clock."
Harry picked up his bag, and left the classroom quickly. Snape had now given him something to think about. If the vampire had entered the dungeons, attacked Pansy, left, and not re-entered as Snape would have sensed it, then the vampire was either in some other part of the school, or had left into the grounds. Therefore, it was not lurking in the dungeons, as everybody thought.
Then where had the dead owl come from?
At ten minutes to eight, Harry left the Gryffindor common room and headed out to the dungeons. All day, the mystery of Snape's wards and the owl had been annoying him, and he had the feeling that Snape didn't know any more about it than him. Even Professor McGonagall had realised there was something wrong with him during Transfiguration, though she hadn't said anything. She gave him a beady look as he left, and asked him if he was alright, but that was that.
Harry stepped down the stone staircase into the dungeons. He wasn't sure, but for a moment, thought he heard whispering coming from behind him. He glanced over his shoulder. There was nothing there. Probably just Snape's wards, he thought. He heard a door open before him, and looked up to see Snape coming down the corridor towards him.
"Come on," he muttered. "Inside, quickly."
"Why?" said Harry.
Snape didn't answer until Harry had been swept into the professor's quarters, and the door had shut behind them. "I felt something breach my wards a few minutes ago, and thought it was you. Clearly, it wasn't. Better safe than sorry Potter."
"Can't the vampire get into your office?" said Harry, tentatively.
"It has a nasty shock coming, if it can," said Snape, without explaining what the nasty shock was, as he lead Harry through to his main room. To Harry's great surprise, a stuffed dummy was floating about a metre of the ground, looking very lopsided and limp.
"What on earth is that for? Vampire bait?"
"No," said Snape. He swatted the dummy's head, flicking it back upright. "This is for the lesson. I tried to use one of the house elves, but the damn things run too fast."
"I hope that was a joke," said Harry, sniffing.
"Mm. Now then, Potter. Moving things with the mind - telekinesis. With any luck, you should have destroyed this model by the end of the session."
After about fifteen minutes, Harry was severely doubting this. At first he'd tried to do it the Pure Arts way, by screwing up his eyes and trying to summon raw magic, but Snape told him off and fetched a pair of gloves. They would stop Harry's magic escaping, he explained, strapping them in place so that Harry could hardly move his fingers. They started trying again. By the time an hour passed, Harry had a very bad headache, and hadn't managed to do anything at all.
"A break, I think, before you kill something," said Snape. He snapped his fingers, and the limp dummy floated away to a corner, as the chairs retook their places. He sat Harry down in one of them, and fetched him a drink. "Not quite on form tonight, are we?"
Harry glared at him. Snape smirked.
"Calm down, Potter... some people naturally have problems with telekinesis. Psychic power is balanced over a whole range of skills. Some people are greatly skilled with legilimency, others with occlumency, some in telekinesis, others in pyromagic... we will simply have to find your strengths, and build on your weakness."
Harry massaged his temples wearily, taking a sip of the water Snape had handed him. "Maybe the whole mind control thing is my weakness," he muttered.
Snape laughed darkly. "Over my dead body, Potter. You will surprise yourself, and it might take months for you to find your natural talent, though it is there. Somewhere. You performed very well with the Manipulative Tension Removal, and creating heat. Fire control may be your speciality."
"Oh good. So when I'm facing Voldemort, I'm not going to be able to hurt him or control him, but I'll certainly be warm while I die. Brilliant. And that's only if you're there splitting my mind into bits, and there's nothing dangerous going on and I'm calm."
"Ah, the arrogance of youth, presuming that you know everything about a subject and therefore anything else cannot be done. Believe me, there are always things to learn, and every skill can be perfected. And it is not 'splitting your mind into bits'. Drink some more water."
Harry did so. He sat back in the armchair, feeling his headache gradually ebbing away, as Snape stood behind him and just watched him. When he was done, Snape took the glass away, and came back, sitting in front of Harry.
"I would like to try something, Potter."
"Mm?" said Harry, idly.
Snape pulled out a nearby drawer, rifled through it, then took out a long black candle. He placed it in front of Harry on the coffee table. Harry stared at him. Snape raised an eyebrow. "Try and light it. You may touch it with your fingers, and use your mind, though nothing else."
Harry glanced at the candle. He wondered how on earth he was supposed to go about lighting it, and was fast deciding he had no patience with Dangerous Mind Techniques at all.
"Do not be so petulent," Snape murmured, lazily. Harry mentally hit himself for leaving his mind open as usual.
"Alright. It's just hard." Harry sighed, and concentrated on the feeling of fire, making the candle light. Nothing happened. He frowned and tutted at it. "It's not going to work. Can't I just use Pure Arts?" He snapped his fingers, and the candle lit. "There. Easy."
Snape raised an eyebrow, glanced at the candle, and it went out. He then grasped Harry's hand, covering his fingers. "Light it again, Potter."
Harry thought hard, his fingers tensing, feeling raw magic swelling behind them, but with Snape blocking the flow, he couldn't do it.
"You see?" murmured Snape. "Pure Arts gets a lot of credit for being useful if you don't have a wand. And yet all it takes is a block in the way and you're completely and utterly helpless. Concentrate on the feeling of fire, and the power of your mind, and it will happen."
Harry frowned at the candle, with a sigh, trying to concentrate as hard as he could on what Snape told him to. He was focusing so intensely that he felt as though there was nothing in the world apart from that candle, and how badly he wanted it to light. But no matter how hard he tried, it just wouldn't come.
After several long minutes of silence, Harry sighed, and put his head in his hands. "I can't do this. I won't."
"You can, and you will," said Snape, darkly. "Concentrate."
"I'm trying!" said Harry. "It's not working!"
Snape sighed. He stood next to Harry, and carefully splayed his fingers down the sides of Harry's head. Harry felt a sort of buzz go through his skin. "You can, and you will," Snape repeated, "even if I have to do most of it for you. Concentrate, Potter."
Harry glanced at the candle, ready to start focusing and to really try his best. But he hadn't even registered it properly in his mind before there was a little flash, and it lit perfectly.
"There," said Snape. "Concentrate again, and do it for yourself this time."
Though when Harry looked back at the candle, without Snape's fingers on his head, he just couldn't do it. He screwed up all his mental power, desperately begging the candle to light again, but nothing happened. Snape made an odd noise low in his throat.
"I think you're trying too hard, Potter."
"What? How can I be trying too hard? When you're there, snapping at me to concentrate, and - "
"Quiet. There's already enough stress in here to strangle somebody, without you adding to it. Keep your thoughts light and calm, don't start twisting your face up. You are moving it with your mind, not your eyes or your anger."
"I'm not moving it at all," said Harry, angrily. He glared at the dummy in the corner, hating it for being so awkward. "It's not going to work."
"Rubbish, Potter," said Snape, reaching out and grasping Harry's shoulder. "You need to - "
There was suddenly a bang like a firework going off, and from the corner of the room came a shower of material and scraps of fabric. Harry found himself down on the floor behind the armchair before he knew what was happening, Snape grabbing the back of his neck to shield him. As the final slithers of material fell to the floor, spread over everywhere, and a piece of cotton stuffing came floating down from the ceiling, Snape said, "Mm. Intriguing."
They both looked out over the top of the chair. Only the dummy's head remained attached to the ceiling. The rest of it was scattered across Snape's quarters, some of it smouldering slightly. An old Hogwarts graduation photograph that had been hanging in the corner had a hole blasted in the middle, and all the students were flocking to the edges, trying to beat out their smoking hats.
"Oops," said Harry, quietly.
"No worries, Potter," said Snape, so calmly that Harry was shocked for a moment or so. The Potions master stood up, wafting the last smoke away with his hand, and inspecting the last remains of the dummy. "Impressive. If this was Lord Voldemort, you would have just saved the wizarding world. Unfortunately it isn't, and when you have to fight him, he shan't be hanging from my ceiling on a string. I also think we have encountered another problem."
"What's that?" said Harry, standing up, and picking a piece of burnt fabric off his shoulder.
"Your psychic power is only flowing when I am in contact with you," said Snape. "I believe the bond has another little surprise in store for us. Switch bookshelf."
Harry jumped as the back board of the highest shelf in Snape's book cabinet gave way, and all the books fell backwards into the hole revealed. There was a spitting noise, and another book shot out from the gap. Snape snatched it out of the air, and flipped it open. Harry registered a rather plain front cover entitled, "A Thorough Guide To Magical Guardian Bonds", before Snape started flicking through pages. The further he flicked, the longer the book seemed to become, until it was easily as deep as it was tall, and looked more like a tower of paper than a book.
"Mm... I really should have read the chapter on Dangerous Mind Techniques before starting the course with you, however..." He finally found the pages he was looking for, now holding a book that reminded Harry of an accordion. He read, silently, and made a very non-committal noise in the back of his throat. "Yes, I thought as much... the bond has made me absorb your psychic power, Harry. Only when I touch you is it transferred back, as well as some of my own. We're sharing, and I have to host it when you're not using it."
"So I'm only going to be able to use these powers if you're there," said Harry, dully.
"Mm," said Snape. "This gets more and more complex every single time I lay eyes on you... but we will be able to get around this. I'll need to spend some time practicing person-to-person apparating with you. I daresay on the first Hogsmeade weekend we can find a deserted field to practice in. Until then, we'll keep learning Dangerous Mind Techniques."
Snape put his hand almost mechanically on the back of Harry's head. "Candle then, Potter. And try not to have it explode - cotton stuffing I can handle, but not melting-hot wax."
The hours dwindled by. Telekinesis was still very hard, Harry found, even with a little of Snape's magic helping him. By the time eleven o' clock came, Harry had managed to make two objects move at once, but was having trouble keeping them in the air for too long.
"It's late, Potter, and you need your rest," said Snape. He took Harry's cloak from the wall and handed it to him. "All this will have exhausted your mind. Remember to take your Dreamless Sleep Draught and to empty your mind of emotion and thought. We don't want any accidents."
Harry pulled on his cloak, and Snape lead him to the door. Harry felt very tired. He couldn't wait to get back to Gryffindor Tower and just sleep away his mind's exhaustion. Snape could tell. He nipped Harry gently in the back of the neck to keep him awake until he was at least out of the room, and Harry grumbled at him, swatting his hand away.
Snape gave an amused huff, not a laugh, but getting there, as he opened the door for Harry. "Shall I escort you to Gryffindor Tower, to make sure I do not find you tomorrow morning lying on the dungeon stairs asleep?"
"No, I'll be fine," said Harry, with a slight smile. He was about to ask Snape what their next lesson would be like, when he realised that Potions master next to him had gone very, very still. He looked up, worriedly, and saw that Snape was staring down the corridor to their right. His dark eyes were suddenly wide with shock. Harry's head whipped around.
There was a black shadow at the very end of the corridor. Tensed and poised, it looked as though whatever it was was about to pounce. Harry froze on the spot.
It was the vampire.
All he could see was a fanged mouth, dripping blood, and the rest was hidden by a black robe, but just that sight seemed to paralyse Harry on the spot. He could do nothing but stare at the figure took a step closer. A horrible hissing noise was coming from under the black robes.
Harry's vocal chords gave way suddenly, and he screamed, one long, loud, high, terrified note, as he stumbled backwards to try and run. The vampire shrieked and then bolted forwards, running right at them, faster than anything Harry had ever seen in his life. It was too fast for him to draw his wand. He screamed again and instinctively turned away, drawing his arms up over his head to try and protect his neck, seeing the vampire lash out at Snape and fling him aside. Then fingers curled in Harry's hair and he screamed as there was a terrible pain in his throat, but next second, there was a furious snarl and a flurry of movement from beside him. The hands and teeth were torn off him, and terrified, he peered through the gap in his hands - and what he saw only made him more scared.
Snape had lunged at the vampire and was now grappling with it, blow for blow, but it was not a Snape that Harry had ever known. Great long twisted claws had grown from his fingertips, his mouth was open and revealing inch-long needle-sharp fangs, and his eyes were wide, glowering blood red and flaring furiously. Harry could only stare, transfixed by what he saw, as Snape and the vampire screamed and tore at each other's robes, faces, necks, fighting so viciously that blood was spattering everywhere. Harry's hands were shaking as he drew his wand, wanting to at least do something to help, but the two were so closely locked that he couldn't. He knew that there was just as much chance of hitting Snape if he tried a spell, and if Snape fell, he was completely on his own.
There was suddenly a high, keening screech and a ripping noise that sent waves of cold down Harry's spine. He backed away with a gasp, praying that Snape was still okay, but as he turned his head, he was just in time to see the vampire wheel around and go streaking off into the darkness, trailing black blood as it ran.
The silence was punctuated only by ragged gasps from Snape for a few long moments. Harry was still frozen to the wall, unable to move from fear, and he only came back to life as he saw Snape crumple to the floor. Harry dropped to his side, his hands shaking even more, and as he caught sight of Snape's face, he couldn't stop a gasp of fright and cold sickness leave his mouth. It wasn't just the wounds that made him so afraid of looking at Snape, and his injuries were truly horrific. His face was riddled with cuts and gashes, deep and weeping dark crimson blood, but more than that, Harry just found himself so scared by what was behind the wounds. Snape's mouth had fallen open from his panting, and those lethally sharp fangs were drenched in blood. Harry didn't know whether it was Snape's own, or the other vampire's.
He shuddered as Snape then opened his eyes, and looked up at Harry. His eyes were still blood red. They just scared Harry so much he wanted to get up and run, run all the way back to Gryffindor Tower and try to convince himself it was a nightmare, all just a horrible dream that would go away.
"Are you hurt?" Snape croaked, in a voice that was not his own. It was deep, more like a growl than Snape's usual hiss. It only helped to make Harry more and more scared of the man before him. It was as though this person - no, not a person, but a monster - was not Snape at all.
Harry just stared through his fingers at the man he had found himself warming to, feeling safe around, and he knew instantly that he would never, ever look at Snape the same again. He tried to say something, anything, but his mouth just wouldn't move. His eyes were fixed on those teeth. Those needles, soaked in dark blood, blood that was dripping back into Snape's mouth. Harry felt a wave of nausea.
"Harry," the vampire said again, in that low rasp. "Are you hurt?" He reached out and went to grasp Harry's shoulder, but Harry jumped backwards away from those claws, feeling very sick now.
"Don't," he choked. "Just. don't touch me."
Snape was still panting hard, and didn't have the breath or the strength to argue. He let his head fall forward, his body tensing as a few deep coughs racked through him. Harry winced. Monster, he couldn't stop thinking. Monster.
"Bring the matron," the vampire before him growled, breathily. "And warn her."
Harry longed to do that. He longed to just get up and run, run like he'd never run before, tell Madam Pomfrey and then just go hide in a dark corner somewhere. But he couldn't. He looked down at the bleeding, broken vampire before him, and at the same moment, those dark eyes flicked up to him. Snape's eyes looked back at him, and even though they were scarlet, Harry could see his magical guardian in there somewhere.
"I-. I can't," he quivered. "It m-might come back. I. I won't let it g-get you."
He reached out, and his hands shaking so violently that it was difficult to even move them at all. His instincts were screaming to just run, but his heart was fighting his fear, as he grasped hold of Snape's arm. Those claws were so close. Harry closed his eyes, and going against every fear he had ever had, he dragged Snape to his feet, stumbling slightly. Once Snape was up, he swayed dangerously forward. Harry bit his lip on a gasp of fear as Snape's fangs came horribly close to his neck, and the older male leant on him for support. If Snape wanted to bite him, he could, so easily.
Desperately trying to forget these things, Harry began to half-drag Snape towards the hospital wing. His eyes were closed, and he concentrated with all his might on the feel of Snape's sleeves under his hands, not the stench of blood near his face. This was definitely one of the hardest things he'd ever, ever done, and he had no desire to ever do it again. Snape's ragged breathing was still deep, in the voice of the vampire, and every breath seemed to just be urging Harry to drop him and run. What if the other vampire was still around somewhere? Harry knew he had no protection now, but at the same time, every time that he considered running, he grasped Snape's arms tighter and reminded himself that under the beast was a man, injured and in need of help.
Finally, after what seemed like hours, he reached the door of the hospital wing. Safety, help, at last. But then a doubt surfaced in Harry's mind. The memory of the look on Madam Pomfrey's face of the night when he brought Pansy in. He bit his lip. Snape would be the third victim he brought in. What would Madam Pomfrey say? It couldn't be a coincidence now.
He was suddenly torn from his thoughts as Snape's cold claws curled on the other side of his neck. He jolted so badly that Snape slipped a few inches, and Harry's acceptance seemed to give way in that second. He couldn't do this. It was just too much to take. Gryffindor bravery and courage was one thing, but the instinct to survive took over. He let Snape slide to the floor. Harry could hardly bare to even look at him now. Desperately wanting to do something, he looked around in panic. Could he run to Dumbledore's office? Fetch another teacher? No, the attacking vampire could still be around here, and by the time he got back, Snape might have been killed. Harry turned to stare at the doors of the hospital wing, his mind racing in panic.
He settled on the only thing he could possibly do. He lifted his fist and hammered on the doors of the hospital wing, as loud and urgent as he could.
Then to his eternal shame and guilt, he turned and ran, as fast as he could, leaving Snape lying outside the doors of the infirmary, just wanting to get away from the nightmare coming true before his eyes.
He didn't stop running until he was in the Gryffindor common room, in the light and the warmth. Everybody else was asleep. Harry staggered in, collapsed on the sofa, and covered his face, horrified by what he'd done. The blood from his bite was still running cold down his neck, but it didn't matter now. It was the least of his worries.
If Madam Pomfrey hadn't heard his knocks, then Snape was as good as dead. After all Snape had done for him. For a few wild moments, he considered going back, maybe waking Ron and Hermione to help him, or running to Dumbledore's office. It was too late for all that now. Now he was safe in the common room, he realised there were a million things he could have done. Why hadn't he just called for Peter? Or just ignored what Madam Pomfrey might say, and taken Snape in?
He let out a long shaky breath, and just sat back, his eyes tight shut.
"What have I done?" he whispered to the silence.
"Have you heard? There was another attack last night!"
"Oh, who on?"
"Nobody knows. But they say that Snape's in the hospital wing. Madam Pomfrey found him lying there in a heap really late last night, but he had fangs and red eyes and claws and everything. He's a vampire."
"It's the truth. Lucy told me, and she heard it from one of the portraits outside the hospital wing. And guess what? They say that Harry Potter's walking around school with a bite-mark on his neck."
"Do you think Snape attacked him?"
"I'm sure of it. I reckon Snape leapt on him, and tried to suck his blood, and I reckon that Potter gave him a few good jinxes and drove him off. Then he staggered to the hospital wing, and Madam Pomfrey found him."
"Has anybody asked Potter yet though? I mean, he'll know what happened, if he's wandering around with a bite. Why isn't he in the hospital wing too?"
"That's the thing, it's disguised. Got some sort of charm over it, though my mate Terry in Gryffindor says he walked into the common room this morning and found Granger trying to patch up Potter's neck. He's not saying anything though. Says he's got no idea what people are talking about."
"Oh come on, who's he kidding?"
"Yeah. Shhh, here he comes..."
Harry, who had been standing in the next aisle of books and listening to the conversation all along, passed the two Hufflepuff girls a very sharp glare before crossing over to sit with Hermione and Ron.
"You alright?" said Ron, in a concerned voice, as Harry sat down with a sigh.
"Yeah," said Harry, wearily. He reached up, touching the disguised bite on his neck, wishing it didn't feel so obvious.
"Maybe you should go to the hospital wing, Harry," Hermione said, kindly. Both of them were looking at him as though he was about to keel over and die on the floor.
He felt a cold flush at the suggestion, and shook his head adamantly. "No... I can't... he'll kill me..."
"You mean Snape?" said Ron.
Harry nodded. He scrunched up a fistful of his fringe wearily. "I just left him. I left him to die. He's going to hate me forever. What sort of a Gryffindor am I, if I don't even stand by the people who care for me?"
"Harry..." said Hermione. "What happened last night very rarely happens between two people. Snape will understand that. You did what you did because you were scared, and nobody can blame you for your natural emotions."
"But he risked his life for me," said Harry, painfully. "If he wasn't there, that vampire would have killed me, I know it. And now he's lying bleeding in the hospital wing, with everybody talking behind his back, and it's all my fault."
"It's not, mate," said Ron. He patted Harry's arm. "It's not your fault what happened. I mean, you didn't ask the vampire to attack both of you, did you? And you didn't ask Snape to defend you, huh? But the thing is that if it weren't for you, he'd be definitely dead now. You never know, dragging him to the hospital wing probably saved his life, Harry. If I were him, I'd be grateful."
Harry sighed. He knew that what Ron was saying made sense, but it didn't make him feel any better.
"Why don't you go and talk to him, Harry?" Hermione suggested, kindly.
Harry shook his head. "I can't. That's the only thing I definitely don't want to do. It's... neither of you saw him. You didn't see what he looked like when he was transformed. It was just scary." He sighed. The two Hufflepuffs were now watching them closely, and debating in whispers. He couldn't take much more of the staring. He stood up and picked up his bag. "I'm going to go for a walk, guys..."
"Dinner's starting soon," said Hermione. She got up, and quickly packed her books into her bag. "We can go and get seats at our regular table."
They left the library. The moment he was out of sight, he heard the two Hufflepuff girls start gossiping again. He quite wanted to go back and confront them, and Ron looked to be in the same state of mind, but Hermione shook her head and closed the doors behind her. "You'll only stir up more rumours," she said. "If Harry goes around picking fights, people are going to say that he's a vampire too. And Ron, you don't need any more problems after that Alrister thing, everybody's still giving me stick for that now."
Ron flushed the same colour as a tomato. "Yeah, well, that wasn't my fault..."
Harry smiled weakly at the memory, though it left his face very soon as he entered the Great Hall, everybody turned to look at him and the whispers started again. He pretended to be playing with his collar. His bite felt even more obvious now that everybody was staring at him. Hermione guided him over to their usual table, and he sat next to Kainda.
She'd been the first person he'd gone to after he left Gryffindor Tower that morning. He'd sat awake all night, fussing over the bite, wondering what on earth he was going to do the next morning, until Hermione woke up and prized the story out of him. After that, she'd cleaned up his bites for him, and upon waking up Ron had been told the full gruesome tale of the previous night. Harry let Hermione fuss over him for a while before he left, and found Kainda. She was concerned in that wonderful way that only she could ever be. They sat out in the courtyard, and she patted his shoulders, told him a lot of deep and thought-provoking things, shared a chocolate frog with him and he felt a little better. Ron and Draco were good friends, but they weren't exactly best people for advice, even if they did try very hard.
Kainda looked up at him as he sat down wearily, and handed him a plate of casserole. "Feeling alright?"
"No," he murmured, sadly. He ran his fingers over his bitemark. "It's really obvious, isn't it?"
"Not much," she said. "Don't worry about it, Harry. So what, they might be staring. They can't do you any harm, can they? If anybody asks, just say it's all a rumour, and they can't prove otherwise, can they?"
He smiled gratefully to her. "Thanks, Kai..."
"That's it," she said, smiling, and flicking a tuft of hair off his face. "Eat something, you'll feel better."
He picked up his knife and fork, and started to eat. Food made things feel a little better. As Ron and Draco started to discuss the Quidditch training program, Harry took a moment to appreciate the distraction. He was just relaxing and thinking of other things than his magical guardian, when suddenly, he realised that the hall was going oddly quiet.
He stopped eating, and turned around in his chair to see what the matter was. Albus Dumbledore was getting to his feet across the hall, raising his hands, and beckoning for silence. Harry was almost surprised; surely Dumbledore wasn't going to talk about the attacks? The headmaster rarely addressed them all about strange happenings at Hogwarts. All last year, he'd tried to convince everybody that the food was fine, and what a mistake that turned out to be. Harry wondered if what Dumbledore had to say would make things any different.
"If I may have a few moments of your time," the headmaster said, softly. "There is something I wish to say to you all."
Every face in the hall turned to look at him, and it was clear that every person was hoping for the same thing - for Dumbledore to admit that there was a vampire at work in the school. At Hogwarts, rumours were only rumours until Dumbledore deemed them true or false.
"Thankyou," he said calmly. "I have no doubt that any of you are unaware of the current situation that befalls our school, and I shall not patronise you all by acting otherwise. However, I hasten to add that no facts are 100% certain at this time, and other information may soon come to light. What we know is this: a dangerous being is at work in this school. Several people have already become victims, of what we believe is a vampire. As of yet, there is no proof, evidence or clue as to who is behind these attacks. We may be dealing with a vampire infestation, of an intruder into the school, or this may be an attack from the inside. One among our number may be the perpetrator, though as I have said, there is no proof to this. I will be most disappointed in all of you if I hear of any accusations or childish finger-pointing. This is no time for us to be divided."
Everybody swapped looks with their neighbours. Harry met Ron's eyes, and Ron murmured, "Snape..."
Harry nodded silently, feeling guilt prickling in his chest again. He expected Dumbledore to skip over the subject of Snape, and let the rumours stay as rumours - though to the surprise of everybody in the hall, he didn't.
"I must also mention a man whom all of you have been amazingly quick to judge, merely because of what he is," said Dumbledore calmly. "Professor Snape is indeed a vampire, yet - "
A babble of whispers and gasps broke out around the hall, washing across the whole room in a shiver. Dumbledore cleared his throat, and brought an end to the noise.
" - yet I shall say this in the clearest terms," he said, firmly. "There is no reliable evidence to convict anybody. Until that time, every person is as innocent or guilty as the next. Professor Snape is just as likely to be the attacker as I am."
There was another shared look. Absolutely everybody, even Harry, didn't think so somehow. The idea of Dumbledore floating around the school at night in a cloak biting people just didn't seem to glue for some reason.
"On another note," said Dumbledore. "There will be another security measure put in place for your safety. Nine o' clock at night, from this moment on, is lock-out time. You must all be in your dormitories before then - because from the instant the clock strikes nine, every single door and window within Hogwarts will lock shut, and they will not open until the following morning. If you are not safely in your dormitories then you shall be spending the night completely alone, wandering the corridors, whether you are student, staff or ghost. I beg you all to take this information very, very seriously, as you will only realise your foolishness when it is too late."
He inclined his head, just once, and then murmured, "Once you have finished eating, you may all return to your house common rooms. Sleep well."
He stood up, and left. Professor McGonagall glanced around the hall, then got up and followed him. Some of the other teachers did the same. Feeling the stares start to pool once more on the back of his neck, Harry got up without a word and left, leaving his friends calling behind him. He just wanted to get out. He hardly even noticed his feet as he went out into the grounds, found a place to sit by the lake, and curled up with his arms around his knees. A cold wind blew against his back and then rippled away across the water's surface. A single tentacle stretched out and licked the air before sliding away again into the depths.
Harry lost his track of time, as the darkness started to settle, and the castle before him started to light up with a thousand candles. He could see one of the security dragons stomping around near the greenhouses far off, and another one curled around one of the towers, asleep. Through the huge windows in the Astronomy Hall, Harry could see Norbert, Sly and their child, Kibbles II. Sly was curled at the end of the hall, watching, as the young dragon played with his father's tail. Harry couldn't remember them ever starting, but a few tears were soon welling in his eyes.
He felt as though something inside was angry with him. Disappointed. Demanding he go and do something, but Harry didn't know what it was he could do to make things different. Many times, he tried to open his thoughts, whispering in his head, "Severus...?", but there was never any answer. Getting cold, getting scared, getting lonely, Harry just sat and held his knees, letting the damp of his tears spread across his jeans. He'd never felt so alone before. Like something important was missing.
Until finally, a voice spoke from behind him. It wasn't Snape though.
He turned around, and sitting cross-legged behind him was none other than Albus Dumbledore. His beard was gleaming in the moonlight. Disappointment at it not being Snape washed through Harry in a wave, and he turned away, burying his head in his arms again.
"Hello, Professor..." he murmured. He glanced at his watch, and saw that it was half past eight. "I'm going back to my dormitory soon, I just wanted some air..."
"It's okay, Harry," said Dumbledore, quietly. "I won't ask you to go back there until you wish to..."
There was quiet for a few moments, where Harry tried to stem his tears, and Dumbledore shifted closer to sit next to him. The headmaster's eyes were fixed on the stars above, full of wonder.
"I wonder if there is anything you would like to talk about," Dumbledore said, softly, glancing over at Harry.
Harry was silent. He did want to talk, desperately, but about anything else than the guardian he'd deserted. Just the thought made another well of guilt bubble inside him. Dumbledore seemed to notice, and put a hand on Harry's shoulder, patting gently.
"He's not angry, Harry," said Dumbledore.
"Ron and Hermione have told me it already," said Harry, rubbing his eyes. "But I know he is... I... I can't even feel him anymore. It's gone, isn't it? The bond... I've killed it..."
Now that Harry had finally admitted to himself, and to somebody else, what his deepest fear was, the emotion seemed to flood through him. He closed his eyes against the pain. Dumbledore patted his shoulder again, and said, reassuringly, "Don't worry. There is no way to kill the bond you have, and you should never be afraid of that. All we have at the moment is a little psychological problem, between yourself and Severus, though you will have to sort that out yourselves. I just want you to know that fights between bond mates are always sorted out - if the guardian and their charge don't do it themselves, the bond will find a way. There is no need to be scared, Harry. Things will be fine."
Harry was quiet for a few moments. He desperately wanted to believe it, that he hadn't destroyed the bond he had with Snape, but it was so hard when he felt so alone. "Professor... do you think he'd let me go and see him?" he asked.
But when he glanced over his shoulder, Dumbledore was gone. Harry's battered subconscious took it as a no. Not sure whether he felt better or not, he got up, straightened his cloak, and headed off to the castle. As he passed the hospital wing, he paused, and tried again. "Severus?" he thought.
There was no reply.
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