Soft murmurs of undistinguished origins greeted the young man as he woke. As soon as he opened his eyes he snapped them closed again, the painfully bright light feeling like needles on his irises. Even in this state, seemingly endless previous awakenings told him exactly where he was- the hospital wing. Bright, white, and smelling of potions and cleaners. How did he end up here again? No midnight adventures, no accidents at Quidditch practice, no games yet, no spilt concoctions in Potions… What was it? Not knowing why he was here was probably the only thing worse than actually being here. Damn.
"Poppy, how is he?" Remus, he instantly recognized the now-familiar voice.
"Third bed on the left." Madame Pomfrey answered promptly, "Potter's condition still hasn't changed."
"Thank you, Poppy." The footsteps neared, passed, finally stopping one bed over. Curious, Harry strained his ears, catching the apparent conversation.
"The usual," came the strained reply. SNAPE? What the hell? Since when did Remus speak civilly with Snape of all people?
"'The Usual' does not land you in the hospital wing…"
"So I failed to consume my potions before Albus barged in this time…" Snape retorted; doing the best he could to sound like that was the only reason.
"Look, He hates when his servants disappoint him. Reporting 'no progress' makes Him grumpy and even you know He has not been in the best of moods lately…"
"You didn't tell him?"
"You think me an idiot?" The professor shot back, sending a chill down Harry's spine. He did not want to be in Remmy's shoes right now… "This is no place to speak of this, Lupin."
"Pomfrey left and the only other person here is Harry. Back on topic."
"First of all, there is no way I will let that monster come anywhere near the boy. Besides, how would I explain finding my son without immediately presenting him? Think, Lupin… That boy has enough on his mind already, I cannot put this on his shoulders as well. The boy is only fifteen for Merlin's sake!"
"You can't just not tell him…"
"Why? Why destroy his life again?"
"Because no truth is worth living a lie. Because you need him as much as he needs you. I know him, Severus; he hates when people tell him half-truths and lies because they think he is too young or fragile to handle it. If you don't tell him, he will hate you…"
"He still asleep?"
"No change yet, Poppy is starting to worry. You have to tell that overgrown snake about him though… how long will he let you search before his patience is drained and he kills you? Or worse, finds out you knew but kept it secret?"
"Thus I tell neither of them." The reply came calmly… too calmly.
"And when the charms wear off in a few months? He not only has to deal with the fact he's yours, he has to deal with the fact that his greasy git of a potions teacher, his father, got himself bloody killed!"
"You said being an Aspidis is in his blood either way. Not knowing can only hurt him; it will not prevent him from being one. From what you told me, he probably already is gaining his powers, how long until he can no longer call them flukes and figments of his imagination? How long until he is once again feared for being different? If he knows, at least he'll know he belongs somewhere…"
"In the ranks of the Dark Lord!" Snape interjected instantly.
"Not if you help him… do you honestly think he'd turn Dark on us after all the crap he went through? Think Snape; use that brain of yours for something more than an endless reference book of potions and curses!"
"Have you checked him, Lupin?" There was a slightly longer pause, probably brought on by the sudden shift of topic.
"I thought you'd want to do it. Besides, the illusions might conceal it anyway…" Harry could almost see Remus give the other man a shrug.
"Pity I did not know about it until now…" Silence emanated for a moment, the lack of distraction lulling Harry back to sleep. Snape had a son… that was quite an unexpected revelation; I bet Ron would like to know that...
"Go to sleep, I'll check on Harry before I leave."
"Check for the mark, Remus…"
"Why? We know the answer."
"Just do it…"
"Is this about the 'misplaced hope' crap again?"
"I simply prefer sad facts to whimsy dreams, Lupin."
"I'll never understand you, Sev."
"Do NOT call me Sev!"
"Well, forgive me Professor Severus Augustus Snape… how terribly rude of me."
"You… remembered that?"
"Go to sleep." By now, Harry was only half-awake, and quite willing to go to sleep. The conversation, while full of surprises, was supposed to be private and Harry had no business with Snape's son. He vaguely heard Remus enter through the drawn curtains, eyes still closed. He vaguely registered the slight pressure behind his left ear as Remus apparently tried to feel something there with his thumb. "Damn."
Harry's eyes shot open as if thunderstruck as soon as Remus was safely away. His own hand now reached behind his ear, ignoring the pain in his eyes. The room was excessively bright, but he couldn't think about that right now… he shuddered as he felt something he could have sworn was never there before. Two circles. He concluded, after feeling the anomaly. It felt like a scar really, not painful but slightly raised. That's what it felt like anyway, each ring joined to the other at one point, not cutting nor overlapping. Like a toppled figure eight he figured, trying in vain to dislodge a thought that frightened him above all else while more stray pieces of information he didn't realize he possessed bombarded his mind.
"… only other person here is Harry…"
"…he's only fifteen…"
"I know him better…No change yet…"
"Potter's condition still hasn't changed"
"…greasy git…father.. being an Aspidis is in his blood…think he'd turn dark …"
"…That's Latin for Asp…Egyptian snake…"
Hermione running off somewhere…
"…death heirs… dogs of war… unwavering loyalty…perfect…"
Voldemort announcing his gathering in Harry's dream…
Voldemort rising out of the cauldron…
"…wonder what he calls Snape…no nickname?"
"…Have you checked him… Check the mark… I simply prefer sad facts…"
The impostor's arm after the tournament…
"…dark mark … Death Eaters… binds forever…irremovable… eternal loyalty is…loyal servants…"
The image of Remus hunched over him while checking his ear…
Snape's expression right after the duel…
the fear in his eyes…
his expression when he had first spoken Parseltongue…
"…Thus I don't tell … Pity I did not know about it until now …You think I'm an idiot?…"
The sneer from class…
the snide remarks…
Green flash of light…
"NO!" He called out suddenly, not caring who heard him. His clothes were by his bed, the hospital gown soaked with cold sweat. Thank Merlin for little blessings!
He was dressed and out of the ward before he knew it, his broom racing into his hand. He didn't care how it got there, he didn't care who was watching. He wanted to puke, to cry, and to curse something into oblivion. These choices closed to him, whether through stubborn pride or lack of wand, he flew. Showing weakness was something he had learned not to do early in life. Crying only fueled Dudley's excitement, vomiting enraged Vernon and Petunia. During the summer, Harry often ran, not stopping until he collapsed on the pavement. Here, he could fly, exploiting it to ease his pain.
From the moment he touched off, the nausea left, his eyes dried and his mind focused to the point of total clarity. He flew like he had never flown before. This was not the pure speed, tight turns and extreme awareness he experienced while at practice; this was all about how close you could get without dying… the latter ignored more often than not. Tight twists, plummeting spirals, dead drops, he didn't care. All he looked for was the adrenalin rush that kept stray thoughts away.
Several people had gathered at the bottom of the pitch, looking up eagerly at the sky, brooms forgotten beside them. Following their gaze, Lupin saw a far-off figure doing wide loops on his broom. This would ordinarily not be cause for gaping like a goldfish, had the flyer not been standing up. Though obviously possible, such stunts were hard and extremely dangerous, usually taught (and performed) with a net above the ground and a harness binding the rider to his or her broom. It required impeccable balance, as any shifts would alter the path of the broom. Only a slight change of weight on the forward leg would send the broom into a dive or a steep climb.
"He's good!" Someone called, closely followed by, "Wish I was a Gryffindor!" Sudden realization hit him like a Bludger.
"HARRY! Down here NOW!" he called out, making the small audience scatter. He grabbed the boy roughly by the arm, practically dragging him back into the castle. The nauseous feeling returned the moment the boy's feet touched the ground, only amplified by his earlier stunts. Remus quickly banished the small mess that made up what used to be the contents of his stomach, giving him a quick look-over. "Hospital wing, now… no arguments." He loosened his grip, realizing too late the boy was not as willing to cooperate as he had seemed. As soon as he could, Harry reclaimed his arm, sprinting into the castle. The nausea was gone again, though the fugitive rush was nothing compared to his little flight. Without realizing it, he was in the passage into Honeydukes, only stopping when he passed the marker. The encircling root was what they used as the cut-off point, after which the person no-longer appeared on the map. No longer able to fly and not strong enough to run, his emotions took over at last, churning his stomach once more. The images, the words, the realizations flooded back as he slumped to the floor.Harry woke, curled in a fetal position, sore after the restless slumber on the rough tunnel floor. He did not even try to guess how long it had been since he had caught elusive sleep in his net of tears, but he did know he had to return. He started walking slowly, his legs unsteady at first, knowing full well he was too important to the Wizarding World to be allowed to mope in peace. Head down, he mechanically walked the path back to Gryffindor tower. Many nighttime adventures made the members of the 'Gryffindor Trio' capable of safely maneuvering the trail blindfolded. Then again, there are never people walking about at two in the morning
"Harry! Where were you… are…are you okay?"
"No." He answered her quickly, not bothering to apologize for bumping into her as he walked up the steps.
"Harry…" He really was not in a mood to talk right now.
"Leave. Me. Alone!" he called back. If she has a problem, let her sue me… He scowled mentally, slamming the dorm door. Or Snape, for that matter… The room was thankfully empty, far enough from the common room to keep the murmurs of concern inaudible inside. Mindlessly casting a silencing charm around his bed, Harry climbed in, allowing the tears to flow softly. His life kept flashing before his eyes, each memory bringing a flock of questions and emotions. Had it all been a lie? Had Snape known all along? Is that why he hated him so much? Did Remus know? Had his mom and d- and James? He stifled a sob, wiping his eyes with the nearest cloth he could find. If he was the son of Severus Snape, why did everyone say he looked like James bloody Potter! He threw a shoe at one of the posts, making a fulfilling thump in his ears. He pulled his knees into his chest, letting his head fall forward in defeat. His tears had dried, refusing to come again, though now he wished they would. Now nothing was there to distract him…part of him wanted to just roll over and die… his life wasn't real anyway, just some lie. He was just a lie. The savior of the forsaken Wizarding World, great defeater of Voldemort, the damned Boy-Who-Lived was but an illusion either designed to save his mother from ridicule, free Snape from an accidental burden, or a simply to give hope to the people. He didn't know which was most disturbing, though he figured the last unlikely, given his Dementor visions- unless they too were orchestrated by some damned puppeteer…
What was real? He wondered, not truly wanting to think of the actual implications the conclusions would bring. Oh what he wouldn't do for an overdose of dreamless sleep potion…