Chapter 18 — The Wheel of Anxiety
By Lady Alchymia
True to his word, Remus returned from Professor Dumbledore within ten minutes and gave Harry a slight, knowing nod. By this stage, Healer Dee had been joined by three new Healers. Armed with magnifying glasses, they were all over his scar and full of questions about his fit. Harry had well-reached the limit of his patience and flatly refused to say anything other than admitting it wasn’t the first time it had happened. The Healers kept pressing him for information anyway.
"I’m sorry," Remus said firmly, stepping forward, "but I don’t think Harry’s really up to answering a lot of questions right now."
Harry shot his guardian a grateful look. The three new Healers didn’t look nearly so pleased; he got the sense they’d been denied a great treat.
Alone again, Remus sat on a stool by Harry’s bed and talked him through the failure of the security charm: how Moody charmed all the walls and floors to safely â€˜swallow’ Harry as he passed; how Dung compiled the list of â€˜friendlies’; how Snape charmed Harry’s moodstone and set up the target room to receive it and him.
"But they didn’t think to mention the stupid thing to me," grumbled Harry, "or you."
"No," agreed Remus stiffly. "It seems Dung didn’t know that and asked Snape late on Monday night if he’d â€” what were his exact words â€” â€˜got off his fat arse and finished his bit yet?’. Snape declared that his part was already done and apparently left in something of a huff. Dung had his list from Dumbledore by that stage, and so, unbeknownst to either Moody or Snape, he went ahead and activated the charms."
"So, I was right!" Harry snapped, his silver eyes glittering. "Snape did this to me. Either he’s a complete incompetent with Summoning Charms, or he’s the traitor."
Remus nodded half-heartedly. "Let’s hold off on accusations for a moment. We think we may understand what went wrong. You know about the importance of the natural medium of a summoned object ...?"
Harry nodded impatiently. "You need a clear path. Even if it has to go around a few corners, as long as you have a free flight path, it won’t try to crash through a brick wall or anything."
"Well, yes, there’s that," Remus agreed, "but there’s also the concept of objects passing through whichever element is appropriate for their natural state: air, earth, fire, or water. The thing being summoned was your moodstone wristband," he held up the offending item as if Exhibit A, "which is just leather and stone, so the Summoning Charm was enhanced to ensure it would adopt the natural medium of any associated animating body connected to the wristband â€” which obviously in your case would be air ..."
"Yeah ..." said Harry cautiously.
"Well, you were in the bath, you see," said Remus, setting the moodstone aside. "At first we thought Snape didn’t account for situations when you might be sitting in or submerged in water. Of course, that was the first thing they checked, but it didn’t make any difference at all. It wasn’t until the early hours of this morning that Hestia came up with a possible scenario. Before you were pulled into the pipes, did you happen to be underwater?"
Harry blinked. "But you just said â€”"
"Just humour me, Harry, please. Were you underwater?"
"Well, yeah, I think so."
"And, er, I don’t suppose you were holding a fish at the time?"
Harry’s face grew hot.
"Maybe," he said slowly. Then the horrible truth dawned and, appalled, he railed, "I got dragged through a boiler because of a bath toy?!"
"Natural medium," Remus said, wincing apologetically. "The combination of you holding on to an animated mosaic fish as well as being underwater at the same time was enough to confuse the charms into thinking the wristband needed to travel by water to the Panic Room. To a Summoning Charm, humans aren’t any more important than any other animated entity."
Harry was still busy being appalled. His mouth opened and closed a few times but, as hard as he tried, he could think of no rebuttal to Remus’s logic. Traitor or not, even he had to concede that Snape couldn’t possibly have been relying on him being underwater and hanging onto a toy fish at the same time in order to spring a trap.
"Still sounds like a pretty ordinary spell," he said bitterly. "I bet Professor Flitwick could’ve made it foolproof."
"I imagine that’s true," Remus agreed fairly. Immensely frustrated, Harry still needed a target.
"So, who tripped the stupid charm, anyway?" he said testily. "Dung miss someone on his list? No, wait; let me guess: off pilfering pickled toads?"
Remus went very still. He seemed to be bracing himself for something.
"What?" Harry said, his frustration fading, replaced by Remus’s anxiety.
"Elizabeth," said Remus quietly â€” almost pleadingly. "She arrived on Sunday night, but she couldn’t reach anyone; we were all at the feast ..." Remus’s voice trailed off and he shrugged apologetically. "She was our â€˜Death Eater’ at Privet Drive, too. She ended up coming through a pre-existing portal from another hidden Black property. She had no idea â€” Harry, it was Elizabeth’s arrival that tripped the charm."
"Oh," Harry said, for want of anything more substantial to say. He could feel Remus’s emotions tearing him up inside him about Elizabeth â€” anguish, joy, fear â€” so many things, all mixed up together. "Did she really come just to see me â€” all the way from Canada?" he asked wonderingly, to which Remus nodded. "Erm, have you told her â€” does she know about Sirius?"
Remus’s careful mask slipped a little. "She found out last night ... they were very close."
"Was she ..." started Harry, "I mean, is she okay?"
Harry felt a rush of gratitude from his guardian.
"She will be. She stayed over at the house last night. How do you feel about her being there?"
Harry was unaccustomed to having his opinion asked about such things.
"Fine with me," he said, shrugging. "But why didn’t you tell me? About you and her being married, I mean."
Remus looked back at him blankly. "Me and ...? But you knew about that, didn’t you?"
"I didn’t even know Elizabeth existed until last week."
"But your aunt, she told you about Lizzie." When Harry shook his head, Remus frowned deeply. "But you’ve been writing to her …" he reminded him.
"I only wrote to the Werewolf Registry to learn about your potion â€” I had no idea she was mine."
Harry paused at his own odd but accurate choice of words, and a pleasantly warm feeling spread through his chest that had nothing to do with pain-killing potions. His godmother had come to see him â€” him.
"Harry, I’m sorry, truly," said Remus sincerely. "I never realised. I thought â€” well, this seems a bit daft now â€” I thought you avoided mentioning her to spare my feelings."
The smile budding on Harry’s face faded away.
"Oh," he said, "right. So … erm, are you divorced or ..."
Remus shook his head slightly. "Still married, actually. Fourteen years next Christmas."
"But she lives in Canada?" prompted Harry. Remus didn’t answer straight away; Harry could feel the turmoil within him. "Sorry, forget it; it’s none of my business."
"Hey," chided Remus, "of course you have a right to know what’s going on. It’s just ... well, Elizabeth did move to Canada after we broke up, but, to be honest, I’d rather not get into all the gory details right here and now."
Harry looked around his messed up room and nodded glumly.
"She’ll be along later, Hermione, too. The Healers said no visitors before lunch." Remus followed Harry's gaze around the room. "I guess Lord Voldemort didn’t get the memo."
Harry shook his head to try to clear it, to try to get back on topic. He didn’t know what to feel; his emotions kept bouncing all over the place.
"What about Voldemort?" he insisted, clutching now at straws. "What about him rewarding his servant?"
Remus grimaced and held up a copy of the Daily Prophet. Even without his glasses, Harry could make out the headline:
DEATH VIGIL FOR HARRY POTTER!
"You said Voldemort was surprised," Remus reminded him. "I daresay he believes Snape made an attempt on your life to please him."
"Is that what Snape’s telling him?" Harry spat indignantly; he could just imagine Snape’s revolting, gloating face.
"No. Professor Dumbledore is keeping Snape very close. The paper merely refers to â€˜a terrible accident’. Voldemort won’t want to risk Snape’s cover by contacting him for details."
Details? A sudden, horrible thought struck Harry: the bass player! Whoever hired the music box next would have a right laugh if Donaghan Tremlett blabbed, if they ever found out Harry Potter took a bath and ended up naked in a house-elf’s closet because he’d been sprung singing to a fish! All thoughts of Lord Voldemort fled Harry’s mind in the face of such peril â€” Draco Malfoy would be crowing all year! And Snape! Traitor or not, Harry had no desire to give him any more ammunition with which to humiliate him.
"Did you find the bass player?" he blurted. "Have you taken the music box back?"
Baffled by the change of subject, Remus said, "Harry, really, that’s the last thing you need to be worrying about. It’ll be fine; I’ll take it back tomorrow."
"Can I buy it?" Harry asked desperately. "My own money, of course."
"Buy it? Do you have any idea how much those things cost?"
Harry girded himself for combat. If there was ever a time to play up for sympathy, this was it. He threw in puppy-dog eyes, tugged at Remus’s sleeve, called him Moony â€” the works. He stopped short of calling him â€˜Dad’, though; he had a feeling that would be playing dirty after what he’d felt from his guardian the night before. He tried every argument he could think of, but his voice trailed off to nothing when he realised that Remus just wasn’t buying it.
"You want to tell me what this is really about?" Remus said.
Should’ve thrown in a â€˜Dad’, Harry thought irritably. He reluctantly came clean with the real reason he wanted to keep the box. Remus did an impressive job of keeping a straight face, but Harry could easily sense his relief and amusement.
"It’s not funny."
"Not at all," Remus agreed gravely.
Donna returned with a fresh breakfast tray, which Harry poked at with numb fingers. Remus kept nudging him to eat, reminding him that the sooner he regained his strength, the sooner he’d be able to leave. Harry tried some of the toast.
"It’s cold," he grumbled.
Remus re-heated the toast with a tap of his wand.
"You know," he offered conversationally, "I think it might be a good idea if we reset all the musicians’ memories before they go back to the hire shop." Harry’s eyes shot up. "For security reasons, of course," Remus added lightly, but his eyes twinkled as he poured Harry’s tea. "In fact, I must remember to chastise Mad-Eye for not thinking of it."
Still in his bathrobe and slippers, Remus was just about to go home to change when Healer Dee returned. Remus lingered, keeping one eye on the Healer and another on Harry, who had mouthed â€˜stay!’ to him. Wand in hand, Healer Dee circled the room, muttering incantations at the wall charts. Sure enough, when she returned to her patient, she was full of questions he didn’t want to answer.
"Harry, after your fit, you cried out You-Know-Who’s name ... was it â€” were you having some kind of flashback about him â€” a waking nightmare?"
Remus found something under his fingernails requiring his attention.
"Your body had such a visceral reaction," Healer Dee murmured, reaching out a hand to caress Harry’s forehead. "And your scar ... you were burning up. Whatever you experienced, it must have been very vivid ..."
"He’s hard to forget," said Harry.
"Of course he is," she said sympathetically. "If you like, I could arrange for a consultation with a Psycho-Healer," she offered helpfully.
Remus’s ears picked up with interest at that.
"No," Harry said coldly, and he would brook no more discussion on the topic. Perhaps sensing the end of Harry’s tether fast approaching, Remus quizzed the Healer about how long he would have to remain in hospital.
"It’s hard to say, Mr Lupin," she said. "This morning’s seizure certainly didn’t help. But even without that, Harry’s soul is slowing down his recovery, continuing to draw energy away from his body."
Harry’s face grew warm. "I can’t help it," he muttered under his breath.
"Of course not," Healer Dee said soothingly, "but it’s something we will need to monitor very carefully."
"How?" Harry asked dubiously. As far as he could tell, the Healers had no idea what he’d been up to.
"We monitor your life energies on your Wheel of Anxiety," Healer Dee was explaining. "Salts for the body, mercury for the intellect, sulphur for the soul."
"Anxiety?" Harry asked anxiously.
"Oh, it’s only called that because there is a lot of tension, a constant battle, really, over what consumes your life force," she said reassuringly. Harry didn’t feel particularly reassured. "We just need you to take it easy for a while," she urged him. "Give your soul a chance to settle down and your salts to build back up."
Harry was quick to point out he could rest best at home.
"I don’t think you realise how tenuous your recovery remains," Healer Dee said with a chastising smile. "Your soul's energy is right off the chart."
She summoned his Wheel of Anxiety chart from the wall to his lap to show him. As blurry as it was to him without his glasses, Harry could see she wasn’t speaking figuratively; hundreds of little golden sulphur symbols had completely filled the soul slice of the wheel and were floating in a glittering stream towards the ceiling. Conversely, the copper-coloured salt symbols under his body were pitifully low.
"What ... so I can feel a lot?" Harry joked nervously.
She opened her mouth as if to launch into a lengthy explanation then stopped herself.
"Yes, actually," she said simply. "Of course," she added, looking at the chart thoughtfully, "Leo’s do tend to be rather emotional."
On behalf of all Leos, Harry rather took offence at that. After casting a dirty look at Remus, who was trying not to smile, he squinted disapprovingly at the decent, but comparatively smaller stack of intellectual mercury symbols.
"We’re not idiots, you know," he grumbled under his breath.
Healer Dee looked surprised. "Oh, no, no, of course not. It doesn’t relate to your abilities but rather where your energy is focussed. And right now â€”"
Healer Dee broke off at the sound of a dove cooing from Harry’s lap.
"That wasn’t me," he said at once.
"No," she agreed, smiling with relief. "I just turned that on; it lets us know when your salts have improved. Can you see? Two sulphur symbols have transfigured over to salt."
Both Remus and Harry squinted to where the Healer was pointing, but it was just a bunch of glitter to Harry; he’d take her word for it.
"What noise does it make if it falls?" asked Remus.
The Healer’s smile stiffened. "The raven’s caw will alert us if Harry’s salts start falling again."
Harry suppressed a shudder, remembering the ravens pecking him to death in Cho’s nightmare. Why couldn’t he just have a machine that went ping like everyone else?
"Right," he said grimly, rubbing at his prickling scar, "so, apart from losing my mind, are there any other side effects I should know about?"
"Some," Healer Dee admitted, sending his wheel back to the wall. "With such abnormally high sulphur levels, you’re likely to suffer rapid mood swings, even hallucinations. If you find things are getting too much for you then you should let me know, or your guardians," she added with a nod to Remus, "and we can help smooth things over."
"He could probably use something now," Remus suggested.
Nodding wisely, Healer Dee said, "I’ll be right back."
Now convinced he was going quietly nuts, Harry struggled to cobble together what he’d been through since his heart stopped. It was all becoming something of a blur. He knew the Longbottoms were real, and Kreacher, and Lockhart, too, but Megaera wasn’t.
"Remus, do you know what â€˜pacta sunt servanda’ means? Is it a spell?"
"A spell?" Remus repeated blankly. "No, it just means agreements must be honoured."
Harry nodded distractedly. He must have heard it in class sometime ... maybe in Charms; Flitwick was always getting them to practice Latin phrases for new spells.
"You know that demon …" he started.
"Megaera?" prompted Remus. "Have you been having that nightmare again?"
"Kind of," Harry said uneasily. "What do you think it means?"
"She saved you from falling off your broom last time," Remus noted thoughtfully. "What did she do to you this time?"
"Nothing, really, she was just there, talking about justice."
"Justice ..." Remus mused, then repeated the word, mulling it over. "You said she was wearing referee robes last time, didn’t you? Maybe your subconscious is trying to tell you something: That justice may not have a pretty face? That achieving peace requires hard decisions â€” even violence, if all else fails?"
Harry said nothing; it felt like his guardian could see straight through him sometimes.
"Given everything you’ve been through, son," Remus noted soberly, "it’s hardly surprising you’d be preoccupied with finding justice. As are we all," he added bitterly beneath his breath.
Harry’s head fell back dejectedly. He didn’t even know what justice meant any more; he was never going to stop being an orphan, after all. He was certain of one thing, though: he could just bet that if Megaera were real, then she and Voldemort would get on like a house on fire.
With neither Remus nor Healer Dee showing any sign of letting him enjoy a good wallow, he accepted a thimbleful of magenta Euphoria Elixir. By the time Healer Dee left again, all thoughts of Kreacher and Megaera and Voldemort left with her, disappearing like popped bubbles, and a wonderfully warm and carefree sensation spread through Harry’s body, leaving him with an irresistible urge to hug someone. Remus wisely stepped back, revealing â€”
"Cho," Harry breathed blissfully.
Standing at the door in her volunteer robes and lime-green dragon-hide apron, Cho rushed forward to hug him. Remus looked on indulgently, then down at his ratty old bathrobe, and elected to Disapparate home to dress and get breakfast for â€˜the girls’.
"Healer Dee said I could visit for a little while," Cho said, stroking Harry’s hair. "How are you feeling?"
Harry stretched deliciously between the sheets.
"Amazing," he said blissfully. "She gave me this lovely little potion, just this big." Helpfully, he held up all of his thumbs and fingers to show her.
Chuckling softly, Cho reached for his fingers and kissed them.
"Is there anything you need," she asked, looking around searchingly, "books, magazines, anything?"
"Just you," he said dreamily.
This was, apparently, exactly what Cho wanted to hear. Moving closer again, they kissed. Harry relished the connection, drawing it out as long as he could. Birds twittered all around them; they could have been back in the Owlery at Hogwarts. Cho felt all soft and wonderful, and she smelled so good. Tipsy with euphoria, he shifted a little and patted his bed invitingly.
Cho cast a tentative look at the door. "I don’t know â€” the Healers …"
"Are off doing rounds," Harry said, tugging her close again. "C’mere."
Smiling softly, Cho carefully removed her crisp linen headdress. Climbing primly onto the bed in her long white robes, she cuddled into his chest. Harry marvelled at how easily she fit into the crook of his shoulder. Somewhere in the room, a dove cooed, transfiguring energy from Harry’s soul to his body. Not that his body was up to doing anything too interesting with that energy just at the moment. More birds twittered contentedly as Harry closed his eyes and kissed Cho’s forehead, all the petty quibbles and jealousies of the last weekend forgotten after the way she saved his skin. He could already feel the buzz of the short-lived Euphoria Elixir wearing off, leaving his head clearer but gloriously relaxed. Snuggling closer to his girl, he was dearly hoping they’d both fall asleep and that Cho would start dreaming about kissing him again. He’d really enjoyed that one (though he was careful to maintain a firm grip around her arms; he didn’t fancy getting another black eye).
It wasn’t long before he got half his wish; Cho was asleep. Then he fell asleep, too, and found himself hovering over his bed, impatient for her to start dreaming. While he was waiting, Healer Abercrombie came by to check on him. The male Healer didn’t seem the least bit bothered to see one of his volunteers cuddled next to a patient. He went straight to Harry’s Wheel of Anxiety, which was peacefully cooing, made some notes on his clipboard, checked Harry’s fingers and toes, made some more notes, and left again. Harry received a second visitor, but after staring at him and Cho for several long moments, Ginny turned on her heels and rushed from the room. Harry’s invisible soul drifted closer to Cho, so close he could count the freckles on her nose. He would have kissed her if he had any lips.
"Come on," he begged her, "start dreaming. Please?"
Concentrating hard on any stray thoughts she might have, he at last felt her mind stir. Vague colours faded in and out then a few random words. But it was all a lot of medical gobbledegook: names of potions and such.
"Come on, dream about Harry â€” Harry!"
At last, he heard his name. Following the thought into her mind, he saw himself walking in his pyjamas up the steps to the Owlery late at night. Cho stood below, half-hidden behind a limestone column, looking indecisive â€” and also wearing pyjamas. The dream-Harry disappeared into the twittering Owlery, but still Cho hesitated. Harry felt obliged to offer some encouragement.
"Come on, go get me! Up you go. Go on, it’ll be great. Seriously!"
Cho gave no sign of noticing his presence in her mind, but she did at last come out from behind her column. Unfortunately, she stepped straight into a dungeon laboratory where Severus Snape was droning on about Belladonna seeds. The purple seeds started swelling, bigger and bigger, until they squeezed all the students hard up against the walls, so hard they turned into little black paper dolls that slipped right under the dungeon door and floated outside and into the sunshine where they danced on the breeze.
"Cho, stop messing about!" Harry commanded with not a little exasperation. "You’ve got to find Harry, Harry Potter!"
But paper-doll Cho was busy playing in the clouds.
"Harry’s waiting for you in the Owlery," he reminded her, growing impatient. "Come on, come on! You need Harry!"
Although she didn’t seem to hear his words, she must have somehow felt his will, for a paper-doll Harry appeared, dancing in the clouds with her.
"Go to the Owlery â€” the Owlery!" Harry ordered Cho. He conjured a very clear image of the Owlery tower and helpfully added a flashing, pink-neon sign:
HARRY IS HERE!
The paper dolls formed a little chain and fluttered down towards the castle. The sky was darkening again; stars twinkled. Excellent, thought Harry with great satisfaction, though paper doll romance was not exactly what he had in mind. He really needed to get them back into their bodies â€” and surely the Room of Requirement would be more comfortable than the Owlery.
"Go to the Room of Requirement," Harry ordered Cho, and he started filling her mind with images of his plush four-poster.
The paper-dolls obediently flitted through the maze of castle corridors, hand in paper hand, then slipped under a door. In a blink, the dolls were gone and Cho and the dream-Harry were standing together in his bedroom at Grimmauld Place. Cho stretched her arms around his neck and kissed him tenderly. Harry felt everything Cho was feeling â€” which was just excellent â€” but they weren’t getting any closer to the bed.
"It’s incredibly comfortable," he assured her and added some extremely affectionate cushions, but dream-Harry was reciting some stupid sonnet and Cho would not be distracted.
Harry took a shot at trying to convince her she really didn’t need pyjamas to listen to poetry, but she wasn’t paying him the slightest bit of attention. Immensely frustrated, he conjured the sound of his DA whistle blowing. Cho winced at the whistle â€” which was encouraging â€” but her attention remained fixed on her poetry-spewing dream-Harry. Harry decided that possession was a lot easier with brain-damaged people! Then he had a sudden, brilliant thought; she wouldn't need clothes for a bath! He immediately conjured a memory of his own luxurious bathtub and filled it with bubbles, but that only seemed to upset her, so he stopped. Then she was kissing her dream-Harry again, urgently, almost desperately.
This is more like it, thought Harry, well-pleased. But what he really needed was to be inside dream-Harry’s head, taking charge of the situation and feeling Cho from the proper perspective â€” his. But to Harry’s mounting frustration, every time he tried to bend Cho’s will, she managed to resist him somehow, and he found himself ejected from her mind and bobbing around the ceiling of his hospital room. Thoroughly miffed, he was just heading back for his third attempt when the door opened and Donna came bustling into the room to collect his breakfast tray. She paused to smile fondly at the couple cuddled on the bed.
"DON’T YOU DARE!" Harry roared, unheard, into the ether, but Donna went right ahead and reached over and delicately tapped Cho’s shoulder.
Cho’s fist whipped out and the breakfast tray went flying, landing with a great clatter. Harry was suddenly back in his own head, waking up and swearing furiously.
"Oh, God, I’m sorry!" Cho cried, tumbling off the bed and landing hard on the floor.
"Healer Aber-combie’s on da foor," Donna said resentfully, pinching her nose.
Harry was incensed, but he could hardly explain why. He could, however, take some small comfort from Donna’s bloody nose: justice served! Apologising profusely to everyone, Cho scrambled around the floor wiping up runny eggs whilst Donna went cross-eyed fixing her own nose.
"Ah, that’s better," she said, inhaling deeply, her indefatigable cheeriness returning. "I’ll get a fresh tray." She took Harry’s tray from Cho, winked at them both, and said as she left, "Behave yourselves, okay?"
Looking flushed, Cho muttered, "I better get back to work."
"No, no, no!" Harry blurted, struggling to sit up. "I need to sleep with you!"
Cho blushed scarlet. "Sorry?"
Belatedly realising what he said, Harry decided a violent coughing fit was in order. Keeping one eye on the door, Cho poured him some water and clapped him on the back. Harry kept coughing until he’d come up with something to explain away his idiotic faux pas. He was coughing for quite some time.
"Sorry," he rasped, collapsing into his pillows and trying to laugh it off, "I don’t know why I said that â€” I can’t even move my toes." Both his coughing fit and his frustration at being woken up had produced real tears in his eyes, and he let his voice catch in his throat as he added thickly, "I need you, Cho. The last two days have been a complete nightmare."
Cho melted. She wrapped him in a tight hug, pressing her hot cheek against his. Harry smiled smugly over her shoulder. He was just thinking he’d gotten away with it, just thinking she’d come back to bed, when she drew back, looking anxious.
"Harry, the Healers say patients sometimes hear things â€” last night you said, â€˜no more ravens’. I â€” I had a dream with ravens. How did you know that? Were you reading my mind?" A note of panic crept into her voice. "Are you doing it now?"
Harry knew he wasn’t thinking quickly enough to put together a good solid lie, so he resorted to a few half-truths.
"It was the bath â€” it did something to me. I’m really sorry, but I just wanted to help you; you know, stopping the ravens, turning them into swans ..."
Cho gasped in shock. "You did that? Inside my mind? You â€” you possessed me?"
Harry winced at the word but did not deny it.
"What else did you do to me?" Cho whispered tremulously.
"Nothing!" he said at once, reddening. "I just saw some dreams. On the roof at my place … you know, er, kissing and stuff."
Shaken, Cho folded her arms across her chest, as if trying to protect herself. A horribly hot feeling was spreading across Harry’s skin. He knew exactly what it was like to have unwelcome intruders in your mind, intruders who forced you to do things against your will. Facing the girl for real, in flesh and blood, what seemed like a game not ten minutes earlier now seemed anything but. Panic tightened his chest. If she ever found out … If she ever told anyone! A raven’s caw pierced the air, making both Harry and Cho start.
"That wasn’t me," Harry said at once, "it’s my anxiety â€” I mean my wheel â€” chart â€” thingy. Healer Dee did it!"
"Healer Dee …" Fresh mortification swept over Cho and she paled. "Have you â€” did you tell anyone what you saw last night?"
"Of course not!" Harry said at once, horrified at the very thought.
"It’s just â€” it’s just that it’s personal, you know?" she said, blinking. "They â€” they don’t take candidates who can’t deal with â€” death."
"Trust me," Harry rasped, now finding his head spinning and his breath hard to come by, "I’m not telling anyone anything! It’s no one’s business but ours!"
A second raven’s caw sounded. Healer Dee was already rushing into the room. After clucking disapprovingly over Harry’s Wheel of Anxiety, she served him a tall dose of Strengthening Solution and left Cho in no doubt that visiting time was over.
"Five minutes, Miss Chang," she said sternly on her way out.
Harry begged Cho to come closer. She obliged but reluctantly.
"Cho, I’m so sorry I possessed you, believe me," he said, actually meaning it this time. "Honestly, I didn’t even know what was happening â€” not at first; I thought it was my own dream." Cho looked confused. "I had dreams about us on the roof, too," he admitted. "Can’t say I know much poetry, though." Briefly relieved, Cho was now looking mortified again. "Anyway," he said, pushing on, "that’s when I realised it was your dream, not mine, so I backed off."
Cho nodded tensely. "But then how did you see my nightmare with you and Cedric? That was later."
It was Harry’s turn to blush.
"Oh, right, well ... the bath wasn’t much fun," he admitted, rubbing his neck, "and your dreams were better than mine so I kind of, er ... went back."
"Back?" Cho shook her head in disbelief; she didn’t seem to know whether to feel flattered or humiliated.
"Cho, look, I know you can’t help what’s in your dreams, and I know I shouldn’t have been in your head at all ... but â€” well, something good came out of it, didn’t it? Your nightmare stopped, didn’t it?" he said hopefully.
Whilst Cho regarded him silently for a long few moments, Harry assembled his most dolefully innocent face.
"Is that why you did it?" she said in an odd voice. "To save me from my own dreams?"
Harry felt deeply stupid, now, reminded as he was of Hermione’s comment about him having a â€˜saving people’ thing.
"Well, yeah. Phoenix Song has helped me in the past â€” I thought it might help you."
"It did," she agreed softly. "It helped a lot." She chewed at her lip, thinking. "And it was just last night …"
The barest moment of hesitation from Harry betrayed the truth; Cho wasn’t a Ravenclaw for nothing.
"You did it again!" she declared indignantly.
Instantly red-faced, Harry knew full well he was in the wrong. The only viable option, of course, was to lash out, his mood changing tack quicker than a Snitch.
"I couldn’t help it! That rotten bath water’s still in me! And you were hardly helping!" he said, matching her indignation and raising it a notch. "You could’ve dreamt about sitting your NEWTs or something, but, no, you had to go and start snogging my socks off! And you’re lying right there in my arms â€” what am I supposed to â€” whoa! Hold on!" he cried in alarm, for Cho had whipped out her wand.
"You couldn’t help it," she repeated cynically. Raising her wand, she made the tip wriggle, writing something upon the air. Neon-pink letters materialised, spelling:
HARRY IS HERE!
Sprung, Harry held his breath. The CCU fell silent; even the wall charts stopped twittering.
"Okay, that was me," he conceded.
Her arms folded once more, her face inscrutable, Cho took her time deciding what to do with him. At last, she leaned across the bed, her wand tip pressing into his chest.
"If you ever pull a stunt like that again, Potter," she said with soft menace, "I’m going to start dreaming about Roger Davies."