Harry stumbled up the stairs away from the insanity that was double Potions with Snape and turned up the marble staircase towards double McGonagall and lunch. The strap of his bookbag bit heavily into his right shoulder, but Harry was past caring. The pain helped to keep him awake, stopping the edges of the surrounding reality from blurring into a film-like quality, but just barely. It was a film-noir in Harry's opinion.
He was barely seventeen and the target that had been painted over his heart at fifteen months of age had only succeeded in enlarging the gold over the last two years.
Harry held onto the banister and hauled himself up the stairs two at a time, counting automatically; the way he was doing everything this week.
Six, eight, ten, twelve… Seeing the numbers in his mind's eye as a series of flash cards. Twenty-eight, thirty, thirty-two… He kept going; the strap tugged at his newly mended ligaments with each weary step up. Forty-four, forty-six… There were times when he wasn't sure if it was him that was moving or whether the stairs were moving under him and he was stationary. Nothing felt quite real. Textures were wrong, tastes had faded into the background but conversely, smells were stronger.
Reach, step, haul endlessly up these cold stone steps.
"Harry? Harry!" A sharp huff. "Honestly!" A hand plucked at the sleeve of his robe but he jerked the fabric roughly away and continued climbing.
"This is ridiculous! He's half asleep on his feet!"
Hermione Harry thought, still watching his feet ascend his own private Everest until hands on either side caught him and conflicting scents assailed his sense of smell.
"Harry, stop. You're here." His foot came down hard. Where had the steps gone? He stared down in bemusement at the stone under his feet. It's got little sparkly bits in it. Odd. Never saw that before.
The head of untameable black hair came up; the brain cradled within the skull too befuddled to register surprise or say vaguely that he thought it ought to be a couple more flights yet. Maybe he'd counted wrong
Hermione Granger bit her lip and frowned anxiously at one of her best friends. It was patently obvious from his ashy complexion and red-rimmed eyes that Harry had not slept again last night. That made it the fourth night in a row this week. The situation was untenable and couldn't be allowed to continue. She wouldn't let it continue.
Harry had been his usual tight-lipped self when asked how long this had been going on and Hermione had surpassed her tolerance level. If Harry wouldn't be reasonable about this, she'd speak to Professor McGonagall herself and consequences be damned! She'd take a leaf out of Ginny's book and fight with Harry if she must!
"Hermione? Hems! Look at his hand!"
Hermione pulled herself back into the moment and stared where Parvati was pointing. Harry's right hand, dangling uselessly at his side, resembled a bunch of over-ripe bananas – so mottled and dusky as to appear black in the poorly lit corridor.
"Let's get that bag off his shoulder," Hermione commanded, making an instant decision. This proved to be easier said than done.
"Hell fire!" Parvati said as she tried to heft it up. "What's he got in here? A baby dragon?" It took the combined efforts of both girls to ease the strap from Harry's shoulder and set it down with only a slight bump. Hermione got down on one knee, lifted the cracked leather flap of her fellow Gryffindor's bag and peered inside.
"Potion texts," she announced. The name of the previous owner caught her eye, S Black. The 'Black' had been crossed through and 'Padfoot' superscribed at some later date in rainbow flashing ink. With a sudden loss of visual acuity, Hermione dropped the flap and stood up, blinking hard.
Harry was leaning with his back against the wall and feet braced forward. He was staring into the middle distance with all the attention of a recent recipient of a powerful 'Obliviate' charm.
Parvati waved her hand in front of Harry's eyes but she couldn't elicit any response. She pushed his slack jaw closed and giggled. "Someone should tell him!" Hermione gave her The Look. "He needs a shave!"
Parvati's fingertips roamed lightly over Harry's jawline, her cheeks becoming duskier. She had just reached the angle of his jaw when Hermione cleared her throat and Parvati dropped her hand as well as her dark gaze guiltily.
"Sorry, Harry," she murmured. Harry gave no indication he was even aware he had been spoken to. "At least his hand looks a more normal colour," Parvati continued with unusual briskness, holding his wrist up to exhibit said appendage for Hermione's inspection.
Hermione took one look and, with a muffled expression of considerable indelicacy that would certainly have drawn admiring looks from Ron, glanced up and down the corridor before drawing her wand.
Parvati moved to shield her dorm mate from casual scrutiny while the brunette stretched up on tip toe the better to touch her wand to the back of Harry's shoulder.
"Ligamentum redintegra!" she whispered. A soft golden light flowed from her wand tip into Harry's back and he let out a noise of relief.
"Harry, you can't go on like this!" Hermione began, determined to do something about his condition that very minute. "You're suffering from sleep deprivation – I've read all about it– " (Harry managed a faint lop-sided smile.) "–And you'll be having hallucinations next! You're unable to concentrate, your reaction time is slower than a Streeler–"
"Hermione," Harry began only for Parvati to sigh gustily.
"Here we go! What d'you bet me that his next words are 'I'm fine'?"
Hermione pursed her lips. "Well, I didn't need an OWL in Divination to come to that conclusion," she muttered tersely. Parvati shook her head over Harry's obstinacy. Hermione turned Harry's face to meet her own. "Either you speak to Professor McGonagall, or I will!"
But Harry let this assurance pass through him and both young women watched in despair as his stoical spirit slipped away down through the cracks to some place deep inside where they could not reach.
"Can't you slip him some of that potion?" Parvati murmured, her expression betraying her level of concern about Harry's mental and physical state.
Hermione shook her head, sending her bushy hair free from its restraint. This topic must have been under discussion on at least one previous occasion since Hermione understood immediately what her dorm mate meant by 'that potion'.
"No. That's the last thing he needs! ‘Vita Vigilans’? He'd be on 'fast forward' for hours and even more exhausted at the end of it." She pulled her mouth into a dour expression more normally seen on Ron's face. "He needs at least eight hours of uninterrupted, peaceful sleep."
"Why doesn't Madame Pomfrey just make him take the Dreamless Sleep stuff?" Parvati asked, surveying the tall Gryffindor who was loosing the unequal struggle to keep his drooping eyelids open.
"Because of his age. You know what sorts of behaviour the potion elicits after two sequential doses," Hermione said firmly, closing the door on that possibility.
Parvati let go one of her most vacuous giggles and covered her mouth at the Prefect's emulation of Professor McGonagall's most thin-lipped stare. "I can think of a handful of girls who'd be quite happy to keep him occupied until the effect wore off!"
For a whole second Hermione looked interested, then she ruthlessly suppressed the desire to know any more. "Mmm… I'm not saying some affection wouldn't do him the world of good, but he'd die of embarrassment when he came back to his senses –and do I even have to mention that he'd be furious? You've seen what Harry's like when he loses his temper. (Parvati shivered) Would you care to try explaining to him that we did it for his own good?"
Parvati shivered again. "No, I'd leave it to Ginny Weasley," she whispered. "Some Gryffindor I am." Hermione relaxed and then her whole manner altered. She dropped back to her knees to rifle urgently in the ancient bookbag at their feet, muttering characteristically.
"Harry!" she demanded, looking up at him from the floor. "Where are your Transfiguration books? And your essay?"
When Harry showed no signs of having heard the shrill question, much less of responding to it, Parvati gave him a gentle nudge.
Harry's head snapped up. "Six drachms, P'fessor."
"Good Gryffindor!" Parvati muttered. "Harry!" When she received no response either, she emulated Hermione and turned his head to hers. "Where. Is. Your. Transfiguration. Essay?" she said slowly and clearly. She might as well have been speaking to someone with no English. Harry simply returned her enquiring gaze blankly. "He was in the Library last night until Madame Pince threw him out," she volunteered, meeting Hermione's concerned eyes.
Hermione leaped up. "I'll go and check. You keep an eye on him."
Unfortunately for Parvati, no sooner had Hermione rounded the end of the corridor than the Indian witch discovered an urgent need for the lavatory. She jiggled about in increasing discomfort until the imminent threat of doing something childish over-rode any other consideration.
She glanced up at Harry but he was still away with the fairies. "I'll only be a sec, Harry… Don't. Move!" she said firmly and made her way as quickly as possible down the corridor in the opposite direction to that taken by Hermione.
Left alone, Harry responded to the first question he'd been asked. "S'on my bedside table. Damn."
When Parvati hurried back, the door to Professor McGonagall's classroom was no longer adorned by the somnolent figure of the last male Potter. With a sick sinking feeling, Parvati checked the nooks in case Harry had decided to perch in one of them and even opened the classroom door to peep inside but it was clear that Harry had indeed wandered off.
Parvati wailed softly. "Ohh! Hermione's going to be so stressy with me over this!"
Harry had climbed up to Gryffindor Tower and now faced the Portrait Guardian.
"No flamin' idea," he said shortly.
The Fat Lady sniffed. "Most unsuitable! I will insist that it's changed at lunch time!" she grumbled whilst swinging open.
Harry clambered through the hole and managed to hit the top of his head again. Too tired to swear he haule