Grazhir :: Harry Potter :: Induction :: 11 :: Exam Anxiety

11 • Exam Anxiety

Severus spent the better part of March, and all of April, working diligently on the problem of bringing knowledge of soul magic to light without alerting either the Ministry or the Dark Lord to his actions. His cadre of spies and contacts were all involved to some degree, trying to track down any hint of books, scrolls, or anything related. Thus far, not even a whisper had come back in the normal reports. Every last one of them concerned only the activities of the Death Eaters and sympathizers.

As frustrating as Severus found that, he was compensated by the time he had with Haze. His weekends were brightened with the hours spent outside of the lessons in mental self defense, always initiated by Haze in his sideways manner, like a crab scrabbling across the sand.

Severus was amused by it. Haze was not, however, likely to cause any pain. He had not even yet asked for anything other than to be able to please Severus. Whether the boy cared or not about his own needs Severus could not tell. It was only clear that Haze was willing to continue as they had been.

With the NEWT exams looming on the horizon, Severus gave Haze more mock tests in all his subjects. Had anyone been aware of what he was doing, there might have been an accusation of favoritism; as Haze never mentioned the exact details of his lessons to Severus’s knowledge, it became a moot point.

His one concern during all this time was the sudden tendency of Haze to have accidents. It was as though the boy had become clumsy. One day he might trip and barely miss tumbling down a staircase, though no one had been nearby at the time. Another he might end up in the path of a hostile spell during a class.

Knowing this was completely uncharacteristic of the boy, Severus spoke of it several times to the headmaster, but in every case it seemed to be nothing more than coincidence. However, coincidence was not a part of Severus’s vocabulary, especially not when it came to a certain Harry Potter.

Since the boy was never seriously hurt, and indeed he was often only graced with bruises or a moment of embarrassment, no one was inclined to take the situation very seriously. Severus found the whole thing quite irritating, especially when he considered his own plans for Haze in the long run.

On another note, he had been starting to catch Haze staring at him at odd times. The boy’s expression was always neutral, so Severus did not trouble himself to ask what Haze was thinking on those occasions.

Instead, he took the time to set aside at least a half hour of each meeting to reinforce the suggestions that dealt with academia, memory retention, and associated subjects. He left the directives he’d established to the wedding bands on the boy’s hand, trusting that set-up to do the job adequately.

Sunday, 1 June 1997

“You’ve already been given the exams schedule. While I find it unfortunate that Potions will be your last exam, it will give you additional time that weekend to put in more time toward revision.” He paused and gave Haze a sharp look. “Have you come to any conclusions as to your future?”

“I have, sir.”

“Then let us hear them.” Severus reached over and grabbed his cup to take a sip of tea.

“I think,” the boy began, “I should like to do something that would always be new to some extent. Something more than just a faster broom or a new move. Something where I’d have to fail or succeed on my own merits, and something where I could help others, yet not necessarily have to bow down to the wishes of anyone but myself.”

“And this something is?”

“Why, a Potions Mastery, sir.”

Severus could not help but blink at this bland pronouncement. While the boy had long since admitted he’d wanted back into Potions so he could find out if he even liked he subject, and because Severus himself taught the class, did that logically progress into wanting to sit for the Mastery exams in it? Did Haze feel that way because of how his psyche had been bound up with his professor?

“Haze, go under.”

The boy obediently slipped into a trance. While Severus didn’t think the boy would lie to him while awake, he did think Haze might not tell the whole of the truth if it suited him.

“Haze, you told me a moment ago your reasons for wanting a Potions Mastery. Are those the only reasons for that decision?”

“Yes.”

“It has nothing to do with me?”

“Yes. No.” Confusion crinkled Haze’s brow for a moment. “Only to the extent that you were able to give me the opportunity to see if I truly enjoyed them. Under different circumstances, or with another professor, I might not have cared to find out, or I might have found out from the beginning.”

“So you’re saying that I have done nothing to push you into wanting to study them more deeply. Is that right?”

“Yes.”

“Very well. You’ve been a good boy to answer me, Haze. This is entirely your decision based on your experiences of the past year then, is that correct?”

“Yes.”

“Haze, wake up.”

“Is something wrong, sir?”

“No, nothing. You simply surprised me a little, that is all.”

“Besides, I bet I’d have far less trouble getting certain ingredients, sir,” Haze said impishly, then made a wicked little hissing noise.

Severus coughed and took another sip of his tea. “All right. I trust you’ve taken the time you’ve had to spare to adequately revise for the coming week?”

“Yes, sir. I plan to spend this evening with Charms, and then each evening this week for the next day’s exam. And of course this coming weekend on Potions.”

“Then as soon as I finish my tea, we shall begin with your Occlumency.”

Monday, 2 June 1997 — Friday, 20 June 1997

Deprived of the boy’s company again, Severus became more and more irritable. He saw Haze only at meals, and those instances were not enough to lighten his mood. The boy looked well enough, and had had no more of the accidents that had been plaguing him over the past several months.

He arrived each morning bright and awake as breakfast was served, even more alert than his two companions, and again at lunch looking quite relaxed. By dinner he would appear, a touch less alert, but no less enthusiastic about his meal, and would disappear up to his tower directly they were finished eating.

By the time the weekend arrived, Severus was devoutly wishing he could snatch the boy out of the hallway and haul him down to his quarters. It never once crossed his mind that he was being irrational about the whole thing, no more so than it had occurred to him on the previous occasions when the boy’s absence had badly affected him.

There was one remaining exam for Haze to take—the most important one in Severus’s mind. He took what the boy had said at face value and assumed he was even then tucked away in his tower diligently revising away.

By late Sunday afternoon Severus was feeling quite out of sorts and distracted. He chided himself for bothering to care whether or not the boy did well the next day and tried to distract himself with the ever-changing patterns of his fire, which failed him miserably.

He spent some time bemoaning the fact there was still two weeks of classes he’d need to teach, all of which were after the normal exams, which would contain students who thought of nothing more than the upcoming end of term and going home, and not on what was being taught.

He glanced over at the clock and heaved a sigh, then stood up and went through his room so he could wash up before dinner. He walked briskly to the Great Hall and seated himself at the end in his normal spot, and bestowed myriad glares and scowls on the populations which chattered so brightly at the tables below.

Haze was spotted in his usual seat, halfway up the Gryffindor table, flanked by his two friends. Making the mistake of letting his eyes linger a moment or two too long, Severus watched as Haze looked at him directly and gave a tiny smile, then turned away to respond to something the Weasley boy had said.

Severus snorted and stabbed his chicken viciously.

When he was free to go, Severus stalked off toward his quarters with the intention of taking a sleeping draught after a bath and going to bed early. He had been there perhaps ten minutes when a knock came at his door.

Grumbling and grousing he moved to open it, only to see a breathless Professor Flitwick waiting for him.

“Severus, Madam Pomfrey asks would you please gather up your strongest pain relieving potions and strengtheners and get up to the infirmary as quickly as possible,” the little man gasped out.

“What is it?”

“The Potter boy. Tumbled down three flights of stairs and—”

“Right,” Severus cut in. “I’ll be there directly.” Slamming the door rudely, he dashed into his lab and tossed a multitude of vials and phials into a bag and took off for the infirmary with unseemly haste.

When he arrived there were several people clustered around the boy’s bed, all gabbling like geese. Even as he drew closer Madam Pomfrey rushed in and pushed people away from the bed, giving Severus a clear view of Haze.

A very bloody Haze, that is. A Haze that appeared to be barely breathing.

Severus pushed forward to Madam Pomfrey’s side and dumped the bag at the foot of the bed, opening it with a practiced flick of his wrist.

“Good, you’re here.”

*

An hour later Severus stormed up the staircase to Albus’s office, not waiting for it to finish its rotation, and barged in without so much as a may I. He arrived to see the Granger girl standing in front of the headmaster’s desk and the Weasley boy slumped in a chair with a vacant expression.

“I know there was someone there!” Hermione wailed, flailing her arms helplessly. “I know there was! There was!”

“Did you happen to see exactly who it was?” asked Albus calmly, though his eyes were flat and dull.

“No! But—isn’t there some way I can prove it?”

Severus caught Albus’s eye for a moment, then jerked his chin toward the cabinet where the headmaster stored his pensieve.

“There may be a way,” intoned the headmaster gravely. “Yes, perhaps. Severus, if you would be so kind, would you please check the third cupboard on the left on the second level? I think you’ll find what is needed there.”

Severus nodded curtly and walked up the winding staircase outwardly calm, locating an unused pensieve that Albus had laying around, probably for when his current one became full. With it in hand he returned to the tableau below and deposited it on the desk.

“Miss Granger, I will need you to extract the memory for us. To do so you will need to concentrate on your memory of the incident and touch your wand to your temple. Focus on transferring that memory over and you will know when it is time to draw your wand away. Do not be alarmed at the sensations you may feel during the process. Please try to calm yourself and begin.”

After taking several deep breaths, the girl closed her eyes. A minute or so later she raised her wand to her temple and furrowed her brow. When the transfer was complete, she drew her wand away, pulling with it a long, silvery strand, which she placed into the waiting pensieve.

“Very good, Miss Granger. If you would please take a seat while we examine this?” His tone called for no argument on her part and she promptly sat down and began to wring her hands.

Severus exchanged a look with Albus, then both entered the memory. When they emerged they wore identical grim expressions.

“Mr Weasley,” said Albus, startling the boy out of his thoughts, “did you also notice that there was someone present during the incident?”

“Uh, yes, professor.”

“Then we will do the same with you.”

After viewing the boy’s version of events, the two professors were decided.

“The two of you may go, though I do not think it would be wise to storm the infirmary. Mr Potter was quite badly hurt and will not be awake for some time. Please return to your common room knowing that you will be informed the moment he may have visitors.”

The girl looked mulishly stubborn but complied, dragging the Weasley boy out behind her, much to Severus’s relief.

“So. . . .”

“I do not like it, Severus, but it must be done. This looks to be a deliberate attempt to kill Harry. Even if the Ministry is not inclined to see things my way, I do hold the power to expel them, even if I may not be able to get them properly dealt with. For the moment, say nothing to alarm them. You will, however, wish to conjure up some veritaserum so that we may question them. Once you have that, gather them up and bring them to your office. I will get Minerva.”

“Immediately.”

Albus nodded. Severus left to open his private stock of potions. He thought in passing that it was as well that the headmaster’s office wasn’t on a higher floor given the amount of running around he was being forced to that evening.

When he had secured the potion and re-locked his stash, he took himself off to the Slytherin common room and located the three in question.

“You will come with me. There’s a little matter of your exam results we need to discuss.” It was a safe a reason as any; they all had normal end-of-year tests, and he had often brought them in for discussions about them.

Leading the errant trio to his office, he ushered them in with a wave of his hand, noticing that Albus and Minerva were already present. He deftly secured the door behind him and divested the boys of their wands. Then he pulled out the truth serum.

*

The boys were incarcerated for the night in an unused, dirty, and damp room in the dungeons, sans wands and sans comforts. And Severus took a draught to finally get to sleep after visiting the infirmary again to make sure Haze was still all right.

Many of his bones had broken—including a fracture of the skull—and several of them had punctured the skin, providing a ghastly amount of blood. Still, Haze would live. The bones would mend and the scars be taken care of, though he would likely be unconscious for a week.

Scans showed that there was no damage to his brain, much to the relief of everyone concerned. But it was a delicate thing to not only mend the damage to his skeleton, but to soothe and heal the tissues that had been ripped and shredded as a result of his fall.

Severus woke late, unworried about classes, as he’d remembered to put a cancellation notice on his classroom door before drugging himself into oblivion. After bathing and dressing he called a house-elf to provide breakfast and stoically plowed through it.

By the time he reached Albus’s office, the trio of offenders had been retrieved from their impromptu cell and summarily dealt with. As Albus had suspected, the Minister was not of a mind to take their allegations or evidence seriously, especially as the boys were just that—boys. So Albus had done the only thing he could—expelled them.

So, Draco Malfoy, Gregory Goyle, and Vincent Crabbe had been hustled off the grounds as soon as possible. Their memories of the interrogation had been placed in the same pensieve as that used by Harry’s friends, and locked away in the headmaster’s office for a day when it might become of use.

There was a rather heated debate as to whether or not Harry should be returned to his muggle family’s keeping for the summer holiday. The blood protection was no small thing, but the general neglectfulness of his family was a serious consideration.

In the end, after much arguing, it was decided he would be returned, but that members of the Order would stop by on a daily basis to assure that the boy was not being harmed in any way, and that he was being properly fed, and he would be removed as soon as the headmaster was sure that the blood protection had been renewed for another year. As it was, there would be members on duty in the vicinity even as they had been in previous years, so it would be no trouble for someone to pop in daily, or even in the middle of the night if necessary.

Naturally, Haze missed his Potions NEWT. Another argument ensued over that, with the Ministry handing down the decision. Citing that a huge exception had already been made on the Potter boy’s behalf—having allowed him to take his NEWTs a year early—they could not make a further exception and allow him to take the Potions NEWT as soon as he had recovered. He would have to wait until the next regular session the following year.

Albus, for his part, did not protest very strongly. He wanted Harry within the walls of Hogwarts for the following year, and the ruling catered to that desire. Albus finally shut down all arguments by calling for a meeting of the Order to be held at the school, then shooed everyone out of his office.

Severus was glad to go. And through all this, Haze lay unconscious in an infirmary bed. Severus went up to check in with Madam Pomfrey—he had never felt comfortable calling her Poppy—and see how the boy was doing.

On his way out he spied Weasley and Granger lingering around the corner and promptly took an alternate route so as not to let himself be waylaid.

It was a week before Haze stirred himself awake; Severus was pleased to be there when it happened, and promptly measured out a dose of pain potion to be handed to the boy as soon as he was aware of his surroundings.

He watched as Haze rubbed his eyes and blinked furiously against the light, then finally reached over in an automatic gesture for his glasses. Once they were in place Severus held out a small cup and said, “Here.”

Haze blinked up at him for a moment, then took the potion, draining it swiftly but carefully. “Wha—?”

“You are, as you’ve no doubt surmised, in the infirmary. You have been unconscious for the better part of a week. However, you are healing up quite well and need fear no long-term repercussions from this latest adventure of yours.”

“Um . . . sir?”

Severus reached out and took the cup, placing it on the table at the end of the bed. “How do you feel?”

“Muzzy, sir. Stiff. And my head hurts.”

“That is to be expected. I will be right back.” Severus turned and located Madam Pomfrey, telling her to come do her usual tests and scans. When she finished fussing over the boy—up to and including fluffing Haze’s pillows and tucking him back under the covers—she bustled off to inform the headmaster.

Severus took the time alone to give Haze a faint smile that might be misconstrued as teetering on the edge of affection—were a person crazy or drunk. Footsteps had him blank all expression from his face as Pomfrey rounded the corner for another round of fussing.

“Is he well enough for visitors, then?”

“Yes, but not until after the headmaster has spoken with him.”

“Then I shall leave it in your capable hands.” He gave a slight nod to Haze and left.

When the final day of the term arrived, Haze did not take the train home. Severus saw him one last time before the boy was escorted by members of the Order back to his muggle family. The last thing he saw was a small, brave smile.