He was rarely alone.
Morning, noon and night, there was always someone at his bedside, or passing down the hallway.
“It’s for your own good,” Frances assured him one afternoon, after he shot her a glare when she walked inside, barely an hour since another Healer had ‘checked up’ on him.
“Really?” Harry asked sarcastically.
“And truly,” Frances shot back. “You might believe that you’re completely recovered but let me assure you that isn’t the case!” Harry looked downward, abashed, but Frances seemed genuinely angry and continued with her tirade. “Those,” she snapped, pointing at the stains on the bedsheet. “Do you know where they’re from?
Harry shook his head, his head still down.
“This morning, you fell asleep while eating breakfast,” she continued. “We took the food and tried to clean the sheet. A quick cleaning charm would have fixed it.”
She paused. Harry looked up.
“Another Healer, a trainee, pointed his wand at the sheet to clean up the spill. You went ballistic and struck out, giving him a black eye.”
Harry nodded, feeling tremendously guilty. “And the Healer?” he asked softly.
“Is fine,” Frances responded. “But has no wish to come anywhere near you again. And one can hardly blame him.”
“I suppose not,” Harry murmured.
Frances busied herself with potions, which Harry drank without protest; cleaned his sheets and gave him some battered books to keep him occupied.
“You talk a lot,” she said suddenly.
“While you’re asleep,” she elaborated.
“What do I say?” Harry asked.
“‘Voldemort’ mainly,” she answered.
Harry almost smiled. He was so accustomed to people’s use of ‘You-Know-Who’ that it was genuinely puzzling to hear see someone say Voldemort’s name as if it were nothing. Then again, he reasoned, at this point in time, Voldemort was little more than nothing. Not the most horrific Dark Lord of the ages. Just a school boy.
Harry nodded. “I see.”
“What does it mean?”
Harry shrugged a silent ‘I don’t know’, took the final vial of potion, and turned away.
The girl, to his unknown disappointment, didn’t visit him again, though he caught a brief glimpse of her one morning as she trailed sullenly behind a woman that could only be her mother. They shared the same pale skin, and thick, raven-coloured hair; so dark, it almost seemed blue in certain light. Her mother clicked her tongue impatiently as the girl hovered in the ward entrance, clearly not wanting to leave.
“Come on,” the woman hissed, grabbing the girl’s wrist to pull her away. “There’s nothing more we can do here, and you need to go back to school.”
The girl paused for another few moments and her attention was caught by Harry as he shifted in his bed. Her eyes narrowed when they fell on him and, for a second, he thought that she was angry at his silent interruption.
Instead, she granted him a small smile before brushing past her mother without a word.
“Oh, thank heavens you’re back!”
The breath was almost knocked from Minerva’s lungs as Pomona Sprout ran headlong into her at the front steps of Hogwarts. The shorter girl gave Minerva a final squeeze before letting go and taking her hand, dragging her inside. Minerva didn’t protest as Pomona led her into a disused classroom and sat her down.
“You’re not going to believe what has happened since you’ve been away,” Pomona said, anxiously.
“No?” Minerva responded. Her voice was harsher than usual, sarcastic, almost cruel. To her horror, Pomona started crying.
“I’m sorry about Robert, Minerva,” Pomona said through her tears. “But… but…”
“But, what?” Minerva asked, already sorry for her tone.
“The Chamber has been opened,” Pomona finished.
Minerva’s eyes widened. “The Chamber?” she repeated. “As in, the Chamber of Secrets?”
Pomona nodded, her bottom lip trembling. “There was a message left…”
The Chamber has been opened. Enemies of the Heir. Beware.
“…Beware,” Pomona finished.
Minerva blinked; her mind full of a paint-spattered wall.
“What do we have to do?” Minerva said, dismissing her thoughts as she stood up.
“Prefects and teachers have to do patrols,” Pomona answered. “We’re to use Patronuses to summon others should we need to. Dumbledore’s drawn up a roster.”
“Good, that’s good.”
Pomona looked ashamed as she followed Minerva into the hallway. “Min?” she called softly, as Minerva headed toward Gryffindor Tower. How is Robert?”
Minerva paused, closed her eyes for a moment. “Frances said she’ll owl me daily.”
Pomona nodded, then turned to go to the Hufflepuff common room. Minerva waited until her footsteps had faded before turning and running toward the second floor. Somehow, her feet knew where to take her and she stopped in front of the wall, her eyes wide. The words were huge, terrifying and somehow familiar. As if she had seen them before. A transparency layered over her vision in the form of this same hallway. There were students, children, behind her and they couldn’t see this.
“What are you doing here?”
She glanced sideways to find Tom Riddle standing next to her. She couldn’t say she was a huge fan of her Slytherin counterpart, but he was polite, which was far more than many of his fellow housemates could claim. Nonetheless, he unnerved her slightly.
“The same as you, I expect,” she said, returning her attention to the wall.
She ignored him as she gave the wall one final glance-over, before she turned towards the Gryffindor Tower.
“You’re pure-blood, aren’t you, Minerva?” Tom Riddle called as she neared the corner.
She didn’t slow down as she answered. “I don’t believe that’s any of your business, Tom.”
Minerva went into the Prefect’s bathroom that night. She just wanted to be alone, if she were honest with herself. She loved Pomona and Rolanda, she really did, but the constant whispers of ‘Slytherin’ and ‘enemies’ grated on her nerves soon enough. She turned on the taps and waited for the bath to fill before she stripped off her clothing and slipped into the water. Contrary to what her animagus form might suggest, Minerva loved water, and she spent several minutes spinning back and forth, to-and-fro until, excess energy dissipated, she floated on her back with her arms outstretched. Her worries about Robert, the Monster, everything seemed to subside as she let herself relax and she felt genuinely better when she finally dragged herself out and wrapped a towel around herself.
There was a vanity in the corner, containing toothbrushes and the like, and she walked through the steam-filled room where her attention was promptly caught by the mirror. She jumped back in fright, and looked both ways, every muscle in her body tense, poised to run.
Written in the glistening condensation on the mirror were the words: You must not be seen.
Minerva threw caution to the winds and spun around, threw on her dressing gown, and bolted out of the bathroom. She sprinted up the circular staircase, pushing her body as hard as it could, and arrived, out-of-breath, at the portrait of the Fat Lady.
“Not particularly appropriate,” the Fat Lady chided.
Minerva rolled her eyes. “Humbug.”
The portrait swung open and she kept her head down as she dashed to the girl’s dormitories and headed to the sixth-year quarters. It was empty of her classmates and she sat down on the bed, getting her breath back. As her heart-rate slowed down, so did some of her misgivings. It was a prank, she told herself; a horrid prank, but that was all. Now, back in her dormitory, she could see that.
Nodding, she reached out and grabbed her nightgown that she kept beneath her pillow. Her classmates still hadn’t returned and she drew the curtains around herself and settled into her bed.
She grabbed her textbook and settled down, wanting to finish the chapter before tomorrow’s lesson.
You must not be seen.
Senior Healers at Saint Mungos pressed him for details about what happened to him, but he feigned ignorance.
“I don’t know,” he said for the umpteenth time. “I can’t remember.”
Frances gave him a sceptical look, clearly not believing a word, as she checked over his healing injuries. His bruises were nearly all gone, leaving the burns to his back. Usually, such injuries would be easy to heal but these… time injuries could be healed only by that. Time. She placed a hand to his forehead, checking for any sign of a temperature and declared that he would be able to leave sooner rather than later.
“Your sister,” Harry said, breaking the silence that had developed. “She told me that her brother was in Saint Mungos. I presume that means he’s your brother, too?”
Frances tilted her head slightly to the side, and her lips pursed, displeased her sister had given out such information. “Yes,” she answered finally. “Robert. He’s an Auror and was injured in a battle with Grindelwald.”
Harry nodded. “I’m sorry to hear that.”
Frances didn’t respond, as if sensing that Harry wished to say more.
“Grindlewald,” Harry said softly. “How bad is it?”
Again, Frances didn’t speak. Instead, she flicked her wand and a newspaper flew from the outside room and into her out-stretched hand.
“See for yourself.”
Harry read with almost morbid fascination. The headline proclaimed, ‘Grindlewald strikes London!’ and showed the date to be January 21, 1942. He was certainly evil, Harry thought as he turned the pages. This was his third attack on London in the past year and the death toll was huge. At the last battle, he had fought against Dumbledore and it was duel almost to the death, both sustaining injuries that would kill a less-powerful wizard. Harry wondered if Dumbledore had to stay here for any length of time. Or if the Hogwarts Hospital Wing had been sufficient. Then he wondered why he wondered any of this.
Further into the newspaper, Harry saw that the Muggle World War II had overlapped with the wizarding war, and remembered history lessons from his time in Muggle school where the World War was discussed. Millions killed, he remembered reading. Death tolls unseen before.
Harry threw the newspaper onto the chair in the room in disgust and looked out the window, unsure what on earth he should be doing.
Harry was discharged the following day and presented with his wand. He felt a surge of relief flood through him, a warmth that spread right through his body as he slipped it into his back pocket.
“Thank you,” he said softly.
Frances nodded toward the robes that lay at the end of his bed. “The ones you were found in were unsalvageable,” she said gently. “We’ve brought you these. The bag contains what was in your pockets.”
Harry offered a faint smile. “Thank you.”
She shook her head, dismissing his thanks. “We’re here to help.”
It was cold outside when he left Saint Mungos, after a quick ‘goodbye’ to Montgomery and Frances. The latter gave him a kiss on his cheek and urged him to ‘keep out of trouble.’ He merely grinned, not wanting to lie. Harry kept his head down as he wove through the crowded footpath. This world was very different to the one he was used to; both Muggle and wizarding, and he took care to Transfigure his wizarding cloak into a Muggle coat so as not to arouse suspicion. He wandered through the streets of London for some time before deciding to go to one of the few places he knew.
The Leaky Cauldron.
Inside, it was blissfully warm, and he nodded towards the barman - a much-younger Tom - before heading to the small courtyard. A quick tap of his wand and he was inside Diagon Alley which, to his delight, appeared to be much the same. He found his way to a second-hand clothing shop and bought two sets of robes, then ducked into a small coffee shop on the corner. It was fascinating, watching people rush to-and-fro; some towing small children behind them while others held briefcases close to their chest.
A newspaper had been left on the table beside him, and he pulled it across. Grindlewald hadn’t struck again, to his relief, though he still took up a large portion of the publication. A small crowd of his followers had been caught and were in Azkaban awaiting trial. He glanced at the names, somehow unsurprised to see ‘Black’ among the captured.
Sirius had always said his family were a legion of Dark wizards.
Grimacing, he looked up again to find the sky growing dark as the sun fell in the west. It was beautiful to watch, but Harry rose to his feet and headed back to the Leaky Cauldron, hoping he had enough money to rent a room for the night.
The storm was horrific and the wind almost flattened her to the ground. Nonetheless, Minerva pressed forward. She could sense a figure behind her, but that merely spurred her to move faster, push herself harder. Finally, she glimpsed the edge of the cliff and allowed herself a second to glance over the edge. The waves were high, and hurled themselves back against the cliff face. There was absolutely no chance of surviving this fall.
It was perfect.
Behind her, the pounding footsteps grew closer, but she took a moment to turn her face upward, let the rain pound against her skin.
Or, rather, she dived. She extended her arms forward, one hand on top of the other, and felt her body cut through the water like a knife. The current captured her immediately, forcing her deeper into the water until she couldn’t see the sky anymore; the water was churning far too much. It felt oddly calm, blissful even, and she closed her eyes as she sank still further; made no attempt to try and fight.
This had to happen. There was no other choice.
A hand grabbed her wrist, their nails digging into her skin, and wrenched her upward.
The world turned black.
Minerva conjured a tiny sphere of light that she put into an old jar and placed it on her bedside table. The faint glow made her feel slightly safer. It was ridiculous, she knew that, only a dream, but she couldn’t bring herself to extinguish the tiny flame.
She fell back to sleep with the light still burning.
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