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Leo Inter Serpentes: Seventh Year

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Harry gave another gigantic yawn. “I don't see why we can't bring coffee into the barn,” he grumbled.

“I know you're not nearly idiotic enough to bring beverages into a potions laboratory,” Severus replied.

They were in the barn, where Harry was milking some of Ladon's venom for Severus, who was brewing some Polyjuice that Moody had asked for. They had returned home from Hogwarts a few days earlier, and last night had been the first in that time that neither of them had taken Dreamless Sleep. Harry had been plagued with nightmares all night: visions of himself or Severus being dragged to their watery graves by an army of Inferi merged with visions of Dumbledore bleeding to death while Sirius was killed over and over again in magical explosions.

As bad as those dreams were, the worst were those that featured Gaius Gibbon. While in reality the spell with which Harry had killed him had done so quickly, in Harry's nightmares, Gibbon's death became a torturously long affair. Litres upon litres of blood had swept through Harry's dreams, until he'd drowned in it, choking on the coppery stuff. Sometimes Gibbon crawled towards him, holding his organs in with one hand, begging through bloodied lips to be spared, for Harry to heal him.

Each time he had woken up in a panicked sweat, Harry had made sure to make his Occlumency shield as strong as he could before going back to sleep, but it hadn't helped. He had finally given up on sleep just before dawn. When he had stumbled downstairs, he had found Severus already up and nursing a cup of coffee in the kitchen.

In the cold light of early morning, his hands wrapped around a hot mug of coffee, Harry was finally able to drive Gibbon from his mind, if only for a little while. It was easier during the day. Occlumency kept the worst of his guilt away until he was able to distract himself into thinking about something – anything – else, giving himself a brief reprieve before Gibbon began forcing his way back into his thoughts once more.

“It'll be your fault if I fall asleep in the belladonna roots and die,” Harry said now.

“I would very impressed if you managed to fall asleep in the belladonna roots, considering they're currently on a shelf ten metres behind you and half a metre above you,” Severus replied.

Not wanting to concede the point, Harry leaned over the bench under the pretence of checking on Ladon's progress. Even though he had been milked for his venom dozens of times, Ladon still couldn't manage to extract his fangs from the milking jar without assistance.

Sure enough, it wasn't long before Ladon wriggled, then slumped in defeat. “Help, please.”

Harry unhooked Ladon and set him down on the bench. “Alright?

Yes. I'll be out in the garden,” said Ladon, slithering over the side of the bench.

Where else would you be?” Harry called after him.

There's this human boy I sometimes spend a bit of time with,” Ladon shot back, before winding out the open door.

Harry chuckled and turned back to the workbench. “So how long do you reckon these nightmares will last?”

Severus sighed. “I imagine it will be another night or two before they lessen enough for your Occlumency to be effective against them.”

“That's not too bad, I guess,” Harry said.

“Once you find your Occlumency beginning to have some effect, I want you to try to control your dreams. I know it sounds difficult, but if you can remember whilst dreaming that you know how to fight Inferi, you may find that your dream self is able to do so, too,” said Severus.

“It's not the Inferi that's waking me up, although those nightmares aren't exactly pleasant,” said Harry.

“Albus?”

“Gibbon.”

Harry fussed around with decanting Ladon's venom so he wouldn't have to meet Severus' eyes. He didn't know what he'd see in them – censure, disgust, even pity – but he knew he didn't want to see it.

“Harry, perhaps you -”

“I'm fine. I'm just tired, that's all.”

He stopped speaking at the sound of crunching gravel outside. Without a word, both Harry and Severus drew their wands and moved to the door, which was still ajar. Seconds later, it was pushed fully open with a crash and Draco burst in.

“He's awake!”

Harry didn't need to ask who “he” was. “When?”

“Mother told us just now. I came straight here, and Kingsley's gone to fetch Theo from Blaise's house. They'll meet us as St Mungo's. Let's go!”

Harry turned to Severus. “I can go, can't I?”

Severus nodded. “Send me a Patronus if you need me. Don't wander off on your own, and don't leave the hospital.”

“I will – I mean, I won't – I mean – bye!” Harry cried, then took off with Draco at his heels.

They dashed through the garden and into the house, where Harry found green flames dying out in the fireplace. He grabbed the Floo powder off the mantle and threw a handful in, making the fire roar back to life. Taking Draco's hand, he stepped into the fireplace.

“St Mungo's!”

They spun through the Floo, countless grates flashing past their eyes until they slowed and finally stopped. Still holding onto Draco's hand, Harry barely stumbled when they walked out into the St Mungo's waiting room. It was just as crowded as it had been the first time Harry had visited, with patients sitting in chairs around the room, while green-robed Healers walked among them, triaging the new arrivals. Ignoring the usual stares and whispers he always attracted, Harry and Draco hurried up to the reception desk.

“We're here to see Sirius Black,” said Draco.

The blonde witch sitting behind the desk looked up with a sigh from her crossword. “Sirius Black?” she asked. She pulled a large book towards her and ran her finger down a list of names. “Fourth floor, last room on the left.”

With that, she went back to her crossword, leaving the boys to make their way upstairs.

“I do remember where Sirius' room is, Draco, I was here not too long ago” said Harry, once they were in the stairwell.

“He's been moved,” said Draco. “Mother paid for him to be given a private room.”

Harry hadn't known that St Mungo's had private rooms, but he wasn't at all surprised that Narcissa had paid for Sirius to be moved into one.

“I wish she could've gotten him moved to a different floor completely,” Draco continued.

“What's wrong with the fourth floor? Too many stairs?” Harry joked.

Draco glared at him. “The Janus Thickey ward is on the fourth floor.”

“What's so bad about that?” asked Harry.

“It's where Neville's parents live!” Draco hissed.

“Oh. Oh, shit,” said Harry, cottoning on.

“Now he gets it,” Draco grumbled.

“Well, how bad can it be?” Harry asked reasonably.

“What if Neville comes to visit them and I run into him?” asked Draco.

“He doesn't blame you for what happened to them, does he?” asked Harry.

Draco shook his head. “Of course he doesn't, it's Neville. But I still don't think he'd appreciate coming in to visit his parents and running into relatives of the people who put them in here!”

Harry took Draco's hand and linked their fingers together. “I think you're worrying over nothing. Even if Neville was here at the same time, he's not going yell at you or anything. But if you want, just ask me and I'll come with you if you need to go near the ward.”

“Thank you,” Draco said quietly.

They climbed the rest of the stairs in silence, quickly reaching the fourth floor. The corridor into which they walked was far less frantic than it had been when Sirius had first been admitted. Two Healers were bent over a clipboard, quietly discussing a patient's treatment, and a cleaner was whistling as he spelled the dust off a picture frame on the wall.

Draco's grip on Harry's hand tightened when they walked past a set of double doors under a sign saying Janus Thickey Ward. They were thankfully closed, with only small, high set windows looking into the rooms beyond.

Harry and Draco hurried on to reach the last door on the left, which was wide open. Harry beamed as he stepped inside the room, where Sirius was propped up in the single bed. The bandages had been removed from his ears, and he had his head bent over to read some parchment that lay in his lap. He didn't look up at the arrival of his new visitors, but Narcissa, sitting on his left, rose to her feet at once.

“Boys, there's something -”

“Sirius!” Harry cried.

Sirius must have been engrossed in whatever he was reading, for he didn't look up until Remus, who was sitting on his right, tapped his hand and then pointed to Harry.

Sirius raised his head and smiled when he saw who had arrived. “That was quick,” he said loudly.

Harry squeezed past Remus so he could hug Sirius. He clutched him tightly, utterly relieved that he had finally regained consciousness. When he finally straightened up, he stepped back so that Draco could also hug Sirius.

“How are you feeling?” asked Harry.

Busy hugging Draco, Sirius didn't reply. Next to Harry, Remus pulled the parchment over to himself and scribbled on it. When Sirius let go of Draco, Remus slid the parchment back over to him. Sirius read it quickly, then shrugged.

“All parts accounted for,” he said, in that same loud voice, “except for bits of my ears. I've gone deaf.”

Harry's smile died. “Deaf?”

Sirius must have either read Harry's lips, or guessed what he had asked, because he nodded. “I've got mixed hearing loss: conductive hearing loss from the force of the explosion, and sens – senso – some other type of hearing loss from the spell damage. Normally, conductive hearing loss can be cured by regrowing the ear bones that were damaged, but, well... the spell damage means that's not happening for me.”

“Holy fuck,” Draco whispered.

Sirius saw the looks on the boys' face and forced a smile. “Hey, now, it's not that bad. The Healers told me that I have around five percent of my hearing, give or take. So there's a chance that I might be able to hear a little in my Animagus form, since dogs have much better hearing than humans. My balance might also be affected, but they haven't let me get out of bed yet.” He paused to read what Remus had written, then rolled his eyes. “Yes, I'll be a good little boy and do exactly what the Healers tell me to do.”

“And there's nothing they can do to fix it?” Harry asked.

Remus scribbled out his question for Sirius, who shook his head. “Ear bones are too fiddly and delicate for them to recreate properly, even without the spell damage. There's nothing more anyone can do.”

At this, Draco frowned and took the parchment. He wrote on it quickly, then gave it back to Sirius.

“'Sod that, we're all learning sign language',” Sirius read, then gave his bark-like laugh. “Easier said than done, Draco, but I appreciate the sentiment.”

Just then, Kingsley and Theo hurried into the room. Harry watched as Sirius explained everything all over again, painstakingly helped by Remus' written translations. Though he knew Sirius would hate it, Harry was filled with pity: pity that he had to explain his diagnosis over and over; pity that each explanation took so long to complete; pity that this had happened to him at all.

When Theo and Kingsley were finally caught up, Harry wrote some of his own questions down for Sirius.

“I'll be in for a few more days, maybe up to a week,” Sirius said, making a face. “They want to make absolutely sure that I don't have any other lingering spell damage, and that I haven't suffered any brain damage.” When Harry's eyes widened in alarm, Sirius waved his hands. “It's just routine, Harry. They're pretty sure that I'm otherwise fine. As for what potions I'm on, well, I couldn't tell you. I wasn't really listening, you see.”

Draco and Remus managed weak laughs at that, and Kingsley cracked a smile.

“There's a list of his potions on his chart, over there,” Narcissa told Harry.

He picked up the chart from the foot of the bed and frowned as he tried to make sense of it. He'd never read a medical chart before, and it took him a bit for the layout to become clear to him. His eyebrows shot up when he read the list of potions Sirius was taking.

“Sirius, these are some pretty heavy potions,” Harry said, running his finger down the list of them.

“What'd he say?”

Harry's cheeks heated at Sirius' question. How stupid could he be, to say something out loud to someone no longer capable of hearing him? His thoughtlessness had probably just further reinforced Sirius' loss to him.

“Sorry – er...”

“What do you want to tell him?” asked Remus.

Harry ran a hand through his hair. “Er, that these are pretty serious potions. Did they explain the side effects to you?”

Sirius read the question as Remus wrote it, then shrugged. “I'll get tired easily for a while, and might have some minor short term memory loss. But that should all clear up once I get off the potions, right?”

Harry nodded. “You'll be on them for quite some time, though, judging by these dosages... although you don't need any more Skele-Gro, at least – oh, and they've already lowered the dosage of your pain reliever...”

“So what's your prognosis, Healer Potter? Will I live?” asked Sirius with a grin.

Harry grinned back. “Yeah,” he said, belatedly making sure to nod his head as well.

“Brilliant,” said Sirius, then yawned. “Thank you all for coming to visit me.”

There was a chorus of “well, of course”, and “we've been so worried”. Sirius didn't hear them – couldn't hear them – but he clearly got the gist of what everyone was saying. He gave another yawn, and settled himself back down in the bed.

“And you, Harry. Thank you... for saving me... 'ppreciate it...” he slurred, before falling asleep.

“He really does get tired easily,” said Theo.

“So would you, if you were taking what he is,” said Harry.

“He seems to be taking it surprisingly well,” Draco said, looking to his mother for confirmation.

To Harry's astonishment, Narcissa burst into tears. Stricken, Draco immediately pulled her into a hug. Harry watched awkwardly, feeling a little confused, until Narcissa eventually drew away.

“Mother -”

“It's not your fault, darling,” said Narcissa. She conjured a handkerchief to dab at her eyes, then smiled at Draco. “He's putting on a brave face now, but he broke down earlier, after the Healers gave him their prognosis. He wouldn't let me send my Patronus until he'd gotten himself composed. He didn't want any of you kids to see him that upset.”

“Why not? It's not like we would've made fun of him or anything,” said Draco.

“I know that, darling. He just didn't want to upset you anymore than he had to, that's all,” said Narcissa.

Harry frowned. “Why are you telling us, then? If he doesn't want us to know?”

“Because I want you to be prepared in case Sirius acts a little... odd,” said Narcissa. “I confess I don't know how he's feeling right now. It could be that he has indeed accepted what has happened to him, and is ready to move on with his life. I sincerely hope that that's the case. But if it isn't, if he is just putting on a brave face, as I fear he is, I want you to be prepared for him being rather emotional.”

“Emotional?” asked Draco.

“He might lash out, or become distressed over minor things that normally wouldn't have phased him. Just do your best not to take it to heart,” said Remus.

“No matter what he might say, none of this is – or will be – your fault, alright?” said Narcissa.

All three boys nodded, though it didn't escape Harry's notice that her gaze lingered on him more than on either Draco or Theo. He tried not to let that rankle. After all, Severus had had to speak to Harry in the past about blaming himself for things outside of his control. It wouldn't have surprised Harry if Severus had spoken to Narcissa about that.

As it happened, Harry didn't blame himself for Sirius' injuries. The ambush hadn't been intended for Harry, and Sirius had voluntarily rushed into the battle. He'd even told Harry to get out of there, away from Greyback.

Oh, yes. Harry knew exactly who to blame for this. If he ever encountered Greyback again... Well. There'd be some payback – for both Sirius and Remus.

“So what do we do now?” Theo asked.

Remus shrugged. “You can hang around here until he wakes up again, whenever that is. But I'm sure Sirius wouldn't mind if you went home if you get bored.”

“I'll stay,” Harry said at once. “I just better let Dad know.”

“I'm going shopping,” said Draco.

Everyone frowned at him, even Narcissa. “Shopping, darling? Can't it wait?” she asked.

“No, it can't. We can't very well keep writing down everything we want to say to Sirius, so I need to find books on British Sign Language as soon as possible,” said Draco. “I've never learnt a non-verbal language before – who knows how long it might take?”

“Would Flourish and Blotts even have books on sign language?” Theo asked doubtfully.

“Probably not, no... I've certainly never noticed any in their language section... I'll just have to go to a Muggle shop, then,” said Draco.

“I'll come,” said Theo, predictably unable to resist a bookshop.

“I'll come too. I just need to...” Kingsley ran his wand over himself, transfiguring his robes into a Muggle jacket. He smiled at Draco and Theo, who were both wearing Muggle clothes. “Let's go.”

The three of them said their goodbyes and walked out together, leaving Harry, Remus and Narcissa alone with the unconscious Sirius. Somehow, he looked completely different than he had whilst in a coma. More present, more alive. It reassured Harry as he sat down next to Remus. Things had gotten a bit dicey there, for a while, but it was all going to be okay.

Cheered, Harry easily cast his Patronus. “For Severus Snape. Looks like I'll be here a while, but I'll be home for dinner at the latest.”

His fawn bounded out of the room and faded away. Putting his wand back in his pocket, Harry settled down in the chair next to Remus.

“How are you holding up?” he asked.

“I'm tired, but fine, thanks for asking,” Remus said, giving a weary smile. “We're in for a bit of an adjustment period, but we can worry about that later. Mostly I'm just relieved that he's awake.”

He began to neaten up the pile of parchment littering the bed. Harry frowned in thought.

“I know the Healers have said that there's nothing they can do, but has anyone thought about hearing aids?” he asked.

“What are hearing aids?” asked Narcissa.

“Muggle devices,” said Harry. He paused as he tried to think of the easiest way to describe them. “Er, you know my Walkman, how I put the earphones into my ears? Well, hearing aids are kind of like that, I think.”

Narcissa leaned forward. “How do they work?”

Harry blinked. “Er... I'm not entirely sure... I assume they'd run on batteries... I think they sort of amplify sounds?”

“But they don't rely on transmutations?” she asked.

“Huh?”

“Transmissions,” said Remus.

“Yes, those,” Narcissa said, waving a hand.

“Oh. Er, I don't think so. Does that matter?” asked Harry.

Narcissa nodded. “Any Muggle devices that require transmissions won't work in a heavily magical location like Grimmauld Place. Why do you think Draco can only watch movies on video, not on live television?”

“I've never given it much thought, to be honest,” said Harry.

“There's too much magic in the house for any transmissions to get through. Your place doesn't have that problem, since it was a Muggle house to begin with,” said Remus.

“Even though we've increased all the wards and stuff?” asked Harry.

Narcissa smiled. “If you're interested, I'm sure Theo would be only too happy to give you a more detailed explanation than I can.”

“I'll bet he would,” said Harry. “But that wouldn't affect hearing aids, would it?”

“I don't think so, no, but like Narcissa said, Theo would probably be the better person to ask, given his interest in Muggle technology,” said Remus.

“Even assuming that they could work, it would difficult to arrange,” said Narcissa. “I doubt any Healers here could help us, which would leave Muggle doctors.”

“What's wrong with that?” asked Harry.

“While I'm sure that Muggle doctors are perfectly equipped to deal with Muggle injuries and illnesses, Sirius' injuries were caused by a magical explosion. How exactly would you explain that to someone trying to treat him?” asked Narcissa.

“Good point,” Harry said, slumping a bit. “Maybe there's a Muggle-born Healer here who could help us? Someone with knowledge of Muggle medical treatment?”

Remus shrugged. “You could ask, but I don't like your chances. The Healers don't usually mix magical and non-magical treatments.”

Harry frowned as he thought about this. Whenever he'd been treated by Pomfrey, she'd only used spells and potions to heal him. Even Severus, a half-blood who used electricity at home and who took Harry to a Muggle optometrist, had a bathroom cabinet that held only potions, not Muggle pills. They didn't even have adhesive bandages, since a quick Healing Charm could repair minor cuts and abrasions.

“Yeah, I'll do that,” Harry said, standing up. “Who do I ask for?”

Narcissa and Remus shared an amused glance. “Healer Hammond,” Remus said. “She's in charge of Sirius' treatment.”

“Right, thanks,” Harry said, then paused as he remembered something. “Er, Dad told me not to wander off alone...”

“Naturally,” said Narcissa, getting to her feet. “I need to stretch my legs anyway. Will you be alright, Remus?”

Remus nodded. “I think I'll be safe in a hospital room, Narcissa,” he said drily.

Narcissa just gave him a small smile, then guided Harry out of the room. “Ten Galleons says he's asleep by the time we get back,” she said quietly. “He's exhausted, poor thing. And the full moon's coming up...”

“Do you think Sirius will be home by then?” asked Harry.

Narcissa sighed. “Hopefully. Though I've no idea if Sirius would even be up for transforming into his canine self...”

“Well, if he isn't, I'm happy to come over and keep Remus company,” Harry offered.

Narcissa smiled at him. “That's very kind of you, Harry. One of us would have done it, but I'm sure Remus would welcome your company if you were to come over. Now, let's go track down this Healer.”

********


It wasn't until visiting hours finished at eight o'clock that Harry left St Mungo's. Instead of taking the Floo home, Kingsley suggested they leave by the front entrance, so that if Harry ever needed to Apparate there in an emergency, he would know where to go. Kingsley led him through the waiting room, to the far wall, and stepped straight through it, just like the barrier to platform 9 ¾.

Harry followed, feeling as though he had walked through a waterfall, only to emerge completely dry. He jerked with surprise when he found himself standing on a busy Muggle street. After the decidedly magical waiting room he had just walked through – one patient had been floating along the ceiling, chirping like a bird – the rush of cars and buses was rather unexpected. He turned around in time to see Draco and Narcissa step out of what appeared to be the front window of a Muggle department store. Harry took a step back to see a faded sign above the window that read “Purge & Dowse Ltd”. Cardboard signs that read “Closed for Refurbishment” were stuck to the inside of the glass. All the mannequins posed in the display were run down, and were wearing decidedly out-dated clothes.

“You can Apparate right here, if you need to,” Kingsley said quietly. “The footpath directly in front of this building is covered by a number of enchantments. Muggles can see the store front, but will have no curiosity over its permanent state of closure, and they won't realise if someone suddenly appears out of thin air right in front of them. Likewise, they won't notice you Disapparate, either.”

“How do you get in?” Harry asked, as Theo and then Remus stepped out of the window.

“Just talk to the mannequin,” Kingsley said, pointing to one dressed in an ugly, bright green pinafore. “Once it acknowledges you, you can walk through the glass.”

Harry nodded. “Thank you.”

“We can't have you relying on the Floo to get here in an emergency,” said Kingsley. “Just remember that only the footpath in front of the building is protected. Even a millimetre past the edge of the building, or onto the road, and any passing Muggles could see you.”

“Do you want to come over for dinner?” asked Draco.

Harry shook his head. “I told Dad I'd come home to eat. I'm already late enough as it is. But I'll keep my mirror on me if you want to talk in a few hours.”

Draco brightened. “We can practice our signing.”

“Definitely,” said Harry.

He couldn't help glancing around at the passing Muggles before he Disapparated. He landed in the field in front of his house, in the patch of grass covered by the Fidelius Charm, then hurried through the gate, deftly batting away the vine with which the Venomous Tentacula stretched out to grab him as he passed by.

“Just for that, I'm going to prune you tomorrow,” he scolded it.

Now that he thought about it, many of the other plants were looking a bit neglected, too. Since returning home, Harry and Severus had spent most of their time either researching in the lounge, or brewing in the barn. It would be a nice change to spend a bit of time outdoors, Harry thought to himself.

He let himself into the house and looked around nervously for Severus, who he found reading in his usual chair. Hedwig was perched on the back of it, in the last stages of her pre-hunt clean, and Ladon was curled in Severus' lap. All three of them looked up at Harry's entrance.

“Sorry I'm late,” Harry said.

Severus just shrugged. “I know that visiting hours run until eight. I didn't expect you to be back any earlier. You had a good quarter of an hour before I began to worry.”

“Oh, right. Good,” said Harry.

He walked over to pat Hedwig when she finished cleaning herself. She leaned into his touch, and gave him an affectionate nip when he leaned down to pick up Ladon.

“Happy hunting,” Harry said, as Ladon settled himself around his shoulders.

Hedwig cooed, adjusted a feather that Harry must have brushed askew, then stretched her wings and took off for the open window. Once she was gone, Severus snapped his book shut and stood up.

“Let's eat before I have to renew the Warming Charm again.”

Harry walked into the kitchen and stopped when he saw the table. “You got fish and chips?”

“I didn't know if you would be commiserating or celebrating, but either way, I thought you would appreciate fish and chips,” said Severus.

“I do,” Harry said, “but I thought the shop shuts at seven.”

“I made sure to get there before that,” said Severus, taking his seat.

Harry sat down slowly when he realised that Severus had spent the last hour refreshing the Warming Charm on the food, just for Harry. “Thank you,” he said.

“You're welcome,” Severus said, then cleared his throat. “Am I to assume from your good mood that Black is to make a full recovery?”

“Dad, it's fine. You don't have to pretend to care about him,” said Harry.

Severus ripped open the paper covering the food. “I'm not. I don't care about him for his sake, but for yours. So how is he?”

Harry poured vinegar over the chips, smiling when Ladon pulled his head back in disgust. “He's lost his hearing. Well, they say he's got about five percent left, which is basically the same thing, although they reckon he might be able to hear things in his Animagus form.”

“You don't seem to be that upset over this,” Severus said, peering at him.

Harry shrugged. “Well, he was pretty cheerful about it. Narcissa said he might get upset or angry later on, though.”

“Yes, I imagine that there will be quite a lengthy adjustment period,” Severus mused.

Harry nodded. “For now, though, we're all learning British Sign Language. Draco bought a book today, so we spent most of the afternoon learning some basic signs.”

“There's nothing they can do to restore his hearing?” Severus asked with a frown.

Harry huffed. “No. No magical fixes, and none of the Healers even wanted to look into Muggle solutions like hearing aids. And that was with me throwing my name around and Narcissa offering bribes!”

“Would you really want someone who has no idea what they're doing messing around with your godfather's head?” Severus asked.

Harry scowled down at the food. “No... It's just so stupid! Surely it'd be good for them to learn both magical and Muggle medicine? I'm sure there are plenty of things that magic or potions couldn't fix, but Muggles can. I mean, look at Moody's leg, for a start. It's literally made out of sodding wood! Muggles have much better prosthetic limbs.”

“It does seem to be an area begging for further exploration,” Severus agreed.

“That's an understatement,” Harry said, angrily pulling apart a piece of battered cod.

Severus bit into a potato fritter and frowned in thought. “If you care so deeply about the matter, why don't you look into doing something about it yourself?”

Harry swallowed his cod in surprise. “What? Me?”

“I'm not speaking to Ladon,” Severus said mildly.

“I can't.”

“Why not?”

“Er, well, there's Voldemort, for a start.”

“And afterwards?”

I might not have an afterwards, Harry thought. “I haven't really thought about it,” he said out loud.

“Well, you should. A couple of years ago you said that you wanted to be a teacher, but you haven't mentioned that for some time. And you've displayed quite an interest in the medical texts when we've been researching, not to mention considerate skill with healing magic,” said Severus.

“Yeah...” Harry said, biting into a chip.

“Or if a career as a Healer doesn't appeal, there's always Quidditch? I don't need to tell you how skilled you are as a Seeker, and you acquitted yourself admirably as Captain last season. You would be successful as either a player or as a coach,” Severus pressed.

Harry shut his eyes to an image of a life in which his only worries were dodging Bludgers and catching the Snitch before his opponent could. “I haven't thought about it,” he said, harsher than before.

He opened his eyes to see Severus had narrowed his own. “Harry -”

“Sorry,” Harry said irritably, then sighed, and spoke in a calmer voice. “Sorry. I just – I just can't really think about afterwards right now. Not – not when...”

“Not when you think you won't survive the war,” Severus said bluntly.

Harry let out a bitter laugh. “Can you blame me?”

“No,” Severus said slowly, “but I will ask you to stop thinking that way, if you can. There are more than a few people who would very much like to see you survive, and have in fact been working on achieving that outcome.”

Harry ran a hand through his hair. “Yeah, I know that. I do. And it's not that I don't appreciate everything that everyone's doing, because I do. I really, really do. It's just... it's a little hard to believe that it'll all work out for us, sometimes.”

“I know. You just have to try to think positively,” said Severus.

Harry couldn't help laughing at Severus, of all people, telling him to think positively. He looked across the table to see that Severus had a wry smile on his face, too. “Yeah, okay. I'll try.”

“Good,” said Severus. “Now, then. Show me what you've learned today.”

Harry blinked before he remembered what they'd been talking about before the conversation had turned morbid. “Right, yeah... so here's how you sign 'thank you'...”