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It was raining, and the windows were now a solid, shimmering gray when Harry woke up early the next morning. He felt very sick. When he put up his hand to slid his glasses on, he felt a horrible headache as well. He walked slowly out of his darkened room and went downstairs to join the Weasleys and Hermione for breakfast. He was shaking so badly that he had to hold on tightly to the railings to keep himself from falling down. When he was halfway down the stairs, Ginny saw him and ran to his side. Hermione and the rest of the Weasleys, with the exception of Mr. Weasley who had already gone to work, looked up and suddenly appeared worried. They hadn't seen Harry so weak in the knees, and it was starting to unnerve them, but Harry still managed to smile at them all when he reached the table and seated himself across from Ron and Hermione. Ginny sat beside him.

 

"Are you feeling well, Harry?" Hermione asked, surveying Harry closely with a look of concern visible through her eyes.

 

Harry rubbed his temple, frowning slightly, but he gave a curt nod and a smile to Hermione. "Yeah. I just have a headache. That's all."

 

"You must be starving, dear," said Mrs. Weasley, watching Harry anxiously. She handed him a plate of sausages and toasts which he took gratefully.

 

Harry looked at his plate in a daze. The pounding in his head was not helping him eat. He was slowly losing his appetite and feared that he might throw up if he took a bite, but he didn't want to disappoint Mrs. Weasley either for not eating. He glanced at them and saw all of them looking back at him expectantly.

 

"How are you guys?" he asked Ron and Hermione. He wanted to start a small conversation with them since they rarely talked about anything else anymore, and by the laughter he heard last night, something good must have happened.

 

"We're doing well, Harry," said Hermione brightly. "I'm actually staying here at the Burrow for the rest of the summer before term starts at Hogwarts. My parents let me after a few attempts at convincing them."

 

"That reminds me, Hermione. How are your parents?" Harry asked her. He remembered the last time Hermione had talked about them. She modified her parents' memories to have them believe that they were different people, and she moved them to Australia so Voldemort wouldn't be able to track them down and interrogate them about her or Harry.

 

"They're doing great, actually," she said eagerly. "I lifted the charm that bewitched their memories and brought them home straight away after the war. You have no idea how happy I am to have them back. I've missed them so much."

 

Harry smiled at her and she beamed.

 

"Are you really going back to Hogwarts to finish your term, dear?" Mrs. Weasley asked Hermione after drinking her cup of coffee.

 

"Yes, Mrs. Weasley. I wanted to take my N.E.W.T.s and properly graduate."

 

Mrs. Weasley beamed at Hermione, but she pursed her lips abruptly and looked sternly at Ron who choked in his drink when he saw her look.

 

"You should be doing the same thing, Ron!" she snapped at him.

 

"Why? We battled Voldemort and won." Ron reasoned out, a look of indignation on his face. "Wasn't that enough proof that we did well in school? We did, didn't we, Harry?"

 

Shifting his shoulders uncomfortably, Harry raised his eyebrows and grinned at Ron despite his headache. "Whatever you say, Ron."

 

"Oh, please!" Mrs. Weasley rolled her eyes at her son. "Don't give me that nonsense."

 

"And why should we?" Ron continued bitterly, ignoring her mother's glare. "Harry and I are gonna be Aurors in no time to round up some more Death Eaters, aren't we?" He looked at Harry whose grin had disappeared, and he now looked glumly at his untouched plate. Everyone noticed his sudden change of demeanour. They all knew what Harry was thinking, and it broke their hearts as well.

 

"Are you going to eat, Harry?" Mrs. Weasley asked, looking anxiously at Harry again.

 

"Huh?" Harry was startled. His vision blurred as his head continued to ache, and a gnawing sensation grew in the pit of his stomach. With difficulty, he said, "I'm sorry, Mrs. Weasley, but could I lie down for a bit?"

 

Mrs. Weasley eyed him worriedly. "Sure, dear."

 

Harry stood, swaying slightly and started walking. His vision swam around him. He almost lost control of his balance and would have hit the ground if Ron hadn't caught him on time.

 

"Woah," said Ron as he held him tightly in his arms. "Take it easy, mate."

 

"I'm sorry," he said apologetically. He felt weak and shivery. "I'm not feeling really good today."

 

"Yeah. I can see that."

 

Hermione and Ginny exchanged anxious glances.

 

"I think you should lie down in the sofa for now," Hermione said, following them from behind. "You're not in good condition to walk up the stairs anyway."

 

Ginny propped some pillows on the sofa and ran upstairs to get his blanket.

 

Ron helped Harry lie down. Harry kept his eyes closed. He felt dizzy when he opened them. Ginny came back and draped the blanket on top of him. She sat beside him while Ron and Hermione took the armchairs on each side of them. Mrs. Weasley stood in front of Harry and checked his temperature; he was burning up.

 

Harry moaned softly and opened his eyes.

 

"What is it, Harry?" Ginny asked while caressing his forehead.

 

"I think I'm gonna be sick," he said weakly. He brought his hand to his mouth and doubled over, throwing up and violently heaving out his stomach contents on the floor. Mrs. Weasley immediately cast a Scouring charm to get rid of it. There was not much since he barely ate his breakfast. His breathing quickened, and cold sweat started to break out. Everyone else in the room was anxious.

 

"Ginny, get me some lukewarm water and some towels," Mrs. Weasley ordered quickly while caressing Harry's back for comfort as he continued to dry heave.

 

Ginny came bearing the water and towels.

 

"Set it down on the table for me, Ginny," Mrs. Weasley instructed her. "And dip the towel in the water. Let it soak for a few minutes."

 

Ginny did as she was told and kept shooting worried glances at Harry whose sweat glistened while he heaved.

 

"Oh my goodness!" Mrs. Weasley exclaimed suddenly, bringing her hand to her lips.

 

Frightened, Ron asked, "Mum? What's wrong?"

 

Before she could say anything, all of them saw it. Harry was throwing up blood.

 

They all looked terrified at Harry. Harry didn't seem to notice what was happening though he began to moan in pain again, and his eyes watered. He stopped heaving and laid his head on the pillows, feeling extremely tired. Mrs. Weasley grabbed a towel and wiped Harry's mouth where blood was seeping through and running down his neck.

 

"Oh, Merlin…" Mrs. Weasley said under her breath, feeling very frustrated. "I can't take this," she said suddenly. "I'm getting a healing potion."

 

She stood up and disappeared into the kitchen. They all looked worried, but there was not much they could do but hope for Harry's sickness to stop.

 

Mrs. Weasley returned with a vial of healing potion. She knelt beside Harry and called out to him.

 

"Harry?" she said softly. "I brought you a healing potion."

 

Harry opened his eyes. He could barely see anything, but he felt the vial on his lips.

 

"Open your mouth, dear."

 

He obeyed weakly, and Mrs. Weasley poured the contents in. They waited with bated breath for the potion to take effect. Harry's breathing calmed, and his headache was gone the moment he gulped down the liquid. His temperature was slowly going back to normal as well. Mrs. Weasley cast a diagnostic spell, and everything seemed normal as it should be. She gave a deep sigh of relief. Ron, Hermione, and Ginny did the same.

 

"It's only a matter of time again before Harry's symptoms come back," Ginny said sadly in a low voice while watching Harry's exhausted form.

 

"Let me know right away if anything happens," Mrs. Weasley told the three teens who nodded, and she left.

 

They were all quiet. The shock was still evident on their faces, and the only thing they could do would be to standby and monitor Harry's condition. No one really knew when or at what time he would get sick again, and each time it came, it was worse than the last.

 

"Slughorn, where the hell are you?" Ron muttered in a whisper. He was getting nervous and scared. He went to the kitchen to grab some water for himself. Right at that moment, green flames erupted in the fireplace and Horace Slughorn stepped out, looking very exhausted and old as ever.

 

"Slughorn!" Ron exclaimed, bringing his cup of water down on the table. About time, he said to himself. Hermione rushed in when she heard her former professor's name.

 

"Good morning to you two." Slughorn greeted them. He was carrying something in his hand which Hermione surely thought was the book they were waiting for. "I'm sorry if it took me a while to get back to you, but not to worry now. I got a book here." He placed the book on the table, but before Ron and Hermione could so much as look at it, Ginny ran into the kitchen, looking frantic.

 

"It's Harry!" she said in a frightened tone. They followed her to the living room where Harry was gasping for air and rubbing his chest.

 

"That's not a good sign," Ginny said fretfully. "I had seen that before." She immediately knelt in front of him. Ron and Hermione were right behind her.

 

"Harry? Is it that burning feeling? Is it starting again?" Ginny asked in a panic, her voice quivering.

 

Harry looked at her and nodded. Panic and fear appeared visibly in his eyes.

 

"Ron, call your mum. Quickly!" Hermione said nervously.

 

Mrs. Weasley came rushing in the living room a minute later, looking breathless. Ron tailed behind her.

 

"What's happened?" she asked them anxiously while kneeling beside Ginny and facing Harry.

 

Before they could tell her, they saw Harry double over on the sofa again, burying his face in his pillows and drawing a sharp intake of breath. Mrs. Weasley took Harry's hands that were starting to curl into fists.

 

"Harry," she said soothingly. "Listen to my voice and stay with me, okay?"

 

Harry tried to nod his head, but screams started to come out of his mouth. Mrs. Weasley could feel Harry's hands on hers getting tighter as she continued to say soothing words of comfort. Slughorn and the others could only watch in horror as Harry battled the excruciating pain. Hermione and Ginny were on the verge of tears. Ron kept his head lowered to the ground. He couldn't bear to see his best friend suffer like this. Each scream pierced his insides, and he could only hope to Merlin or to anyone who would listen that Harry's suffering would stop.

 

Harry was crying from the pain. It was like a fire burning his insides. He could feel his skin as though it was being ripped slowly from his body, and knives were slicing every inch of his limbs. It was pain beyond anything he could imagine, and his screams were the only thing that could ease a little of what he was feeling. He sobbed into his pillow, wishing for it to stop, wishing for someone to make it stop. He couldn't take this kind of torture anymore.

 

"… It's going to be okay, Harry…" Mrs. Weasley continued to talk to him. Harry was finding it really difficult to concentrate on her voice. "It's alright, dear. Everything's going to be fine…" but Harry continued to scream and writhe and cry.

 

"Ron, could you please help me hold Harry down? He could hurt himself." Mrs. Weasley asked worriedly. She was having difficulty steadying Harry as he continued to thrash violently. Ron grabbed his feet and pinned them on one side of the sofa, but Harry could feel the pain even more if he stayed still. Harry tried to break free of the strong grip, but he couldn't. The pain was unbearable. He screamed in agony and cried as much as he could.

 

"It hurts!" he gave an anguished cry as he continued to writhe and sob harder. "Please… let it stop… please…"

 

They all looked miserable when they heard Harry's desperate cry for help. No one could do anything, and it was crushing their hearts to pieces. Ginny and Hermione could only call out Harry's name and throw words of comfort, but even that was not helping him at all.

 

"How long does he have to endure the pain?" Ron asked, looking at them all. "The way he's screaming right now, I don't think he can take it any longer."

 

"Hours," Ginny answered him. "I heard his muffled screams one night and went over to check. I don't know if it varies each time, but Harry said it was happening as much now than the last time, remember?"

 

"Why didn't you tell me right away, Ginny?" Mrs. Weasley asked, looking disappointedly at her daughter.

 

"I'm sorry, mum," she said in a small voice. "But Harry told me not to leave him. He was really scared."

 

"Can't we really do anything? A healing potion?" Ron asked desperately. He was already growing tired of pinning Harry down to the sofa, and Harry's screams were making him feel weak as well. He looked at Slughorn whose eyes were horrified at the sight before him.

 

"Professor?" he called out to him.

 

"He took a healing potion an hour ago and it's ill-advised to take another for at least five hours." Mrs. Weasley informed Slughorn. Her hands were already getting numb from Harry's grip. "What else can we do?"

 

"A – a Calming Draught probably could help," Slughorn suggested nervously. "It will not take the pain away but –"

 

Mrs. Weasley stood up suddenly. Hermione immediately held Harry's hands when Mrs. Weasley let go and quickly dashed towards her potions cabinet to rummage through the bottles. Mrs. Weasley knew she had kept some in store for emergencies. At the bottom shelf, she saw it and quickly grabbed the vial.

 

The blue liquid swirled around in its container when Mrs. Weasley came back to where Harry was lying.

 

"Harry?" she said softly. "I have a potion that you need to drink." But Harry couldn't really hear her from his pain and screams.

 

Slughorn helped her hold Harry steady as they tried to pour the liquid to his mouth. He gagged a little and had a hard time swallowing, but some liquid managed to pass down his throat.

 

Hermione felt Harry's grip slacken but his breathing was still heavy.

 

Harry jerked away when Mrs. Weasley tried to touch his shoulder. She gestured for Ron to let go of his feet now that he was calming down. It left Harry physically exhausted and emotionally drained, but they could still hear him whimpering. His limbs felt like lead. Mrs. Weasley tried to call his name, but he was too weak to respond and too tired to open his eyes.

 

Ron, Hermione, Ginny, and Slughorn were also in a weakened state as though they had been attacked by Dementors.

 

Mrs. Weasley placed the blanket again gently on top of Harry so as not to hurt him even more. She stood up and drew in a deep breath. Her energy had left her, and she looked as tired as the others. She made to go to the kitchen to get some water.

 

"I don't want to think about the number of times Harry has had to experience this," said Ron as chills ran down his spine. "If Harry has a high tolerance to pain, then what he was experiencing just now was probably the worst torture in hell."

 

They could only agree silently while they watched Harry trying to catch his breath. Mrs. Weasley returned with a cup of water for each of them. She cast another diagnostic spell at Harry; his fever was back.

 

"He's burning up again," Mrs. Weasley told the tense group. She wrung the soaked towel that Ginny brought earlier and placed it gently on Harry's forehead. She sat down in the armchair that Ron had vacated earlier and readjusted herself. She closed her eyes while from time to time she looked over at Harry on the sofa.

 

Silence fell on all of them for a moment as they assessed the situation. Harry's fever had been going haywire, and it was driving them crazy. As much as they wanted to get rid of his fever, it just wouldn't leave him alone. It was as though it had found its permanent residence in Harry's body and would leave only when it felt like it.

 

Harry felt really hot, and he couldn't stop himself from shaking and gasping for air. He could still feel his insides burning, but the feeling lacked that intensity which he had felt earlier. He took that as a relief, but he would still wince every now and then whenever he would move from where he was lying on. Eyes blurred with sweat, Harry opened them for only a fraction and saw hazy figures in front of him. I must have scared them, he thought to himself sadly.

 

He was terrified of what was happening to him earlier and couldn't stop his tears from falling as he tried to stay strong. He didn't want to think of what could happen next. He was scared - really scared that he might not make it next time. His friends were one of the reasons why he was willing to hold on to his life. He didn't want to leave, he couldn't, he mustn't, but he couldn't think anymore. His eyelids were becoming too heavy to lift. He felt the last of his strength leave him as he faded into unconsciousness.

 

Slughorn looked down at them all. He was leaning against the wall near the window. His arms were folded and his eyes were closed. The scene that took place a while ago was still fresh in his mind. "What have you done, Tom?" Slughorn cursed from under his breath. "Harry doesn't deserve this. He is only a teenager who should be doing teenage stuff and not live like this where his life is bound and destroyed."

 

"Professor," Hermione said in a low voice, looking up at Slughorn. "We may have to take a look at the book now while Harry's resting."

 

"Yes, of course," said Slughorn, straightening up. Ron, Hermione, and Ginny stood and followed him back to the kitchen.

 

"I went straight to the Headmaster's office the moment I left the Burrow yesterday," Slughorn informed them.

 

"Were you able to talk to Professor Dumbledore?" Hermione asked Slughorn quietly.

 

"I did. He was peering down at me in his portrait when I arrived," said Slughorn thoughtfully. "I'm sure he wasn't expecting to see me, but he somehow knew why..."

 

They all sat around the kitchen table.

 

"Dumbledore knew the purpose of your visit?" Ron asked with a raised eyebrows. "How is that even possible?"

 

"He must've suspected my urgency with a mind like his... it wouldn't be surprising."

 

"What did he say, Professor?" asked Ginny.

 

"Well... all I can say is... given the fact that I only came this morning... it took me a while to get rid of the protective enchantment that Dumbledore placed around the book."

 

Ron frowned. "Why is there an enchantment?"

 

"Isn't it obvious, Ron? Dumbledore wanted to make sure that no one else could take it," said Hermione keenly.

 

"I know that!" snapped Ron. "I was just wondering why he placed an enchantment if he knew that Slughorn would need it someday? Why didn't he just hand it in?"

 

They all glanced at Slughorn.

 

"I honestly never thought I would need it, Mr. Weasley," Slughorn admitted in a serious voice. "After learning from Dumbledore that Tom Riddle had successfully created Horcruxes, I regretted it to the point that I gave up trying to know more about it. Dumbledore, however, immediately began to search tirelessly of any connection regarding the subject. He sought my help but I had already abandoned the will to go on much further. He found this book and never told me. Instead, he placed an enchantment to hide and to protect it."

 

"Why did it take so long to get rid of the enchantment, Professor?" Ginny questioned.

 

Slughorn sighed sadly. "Because Dumbledore had passed on. It was the nature of the spell that was cast to stay unyielding. But let's not dwell more about it. The book is here now."

 

All of them turned their gazes at once in the middle of the table. The book was a large volume, bound in a textured, white pearlescent covering that gave a pleasant shimmer as the morning light hit it. The title Anima embossed in gold was right in its middle with silver wisp-like engravings surrounding most of the front and back cover.

 

"I haven't seen such an exquisite-looking book in my life," Hermione said in awe while delicately running her finger through it.

 

"What does Anima mean?" asked Ron, frowning.

 

"It's a Latin word for soul," Horace said simply. He looked at the front cover and secretly admired its design.

 

Ron stared at the engravings that stretched in different directions. "That looks creepy. If souls look like that, I don't think I would want one."

 

Hermione rolled her eyes at Ron and said, "It's only a representation of what souls would theoretically look like, Ron. Honestly!"

 

They sat around the table while gazing fixedly at the book. It looked out of place in the multi-coloured kitchen of the Burrow as far as Ginny could tell.

 

"Professor, why is the title in Latin?" Hermione asked curiously. "Is the whole book in Latin as well?"

 

"No. The texts inside are translated in old English," Slughorn informed them while opening the book. It looked so delicate with its paper turned yellow from old age, giving crisped sounds every time he flipped the page. "I don't really know for sure the origin of this book and why it was named in Latin. Regardless, based on what I've read so far, it was way older than the published Horcrux book." He laid the book back on the table.

 

"The soul's very existence allows magical forces to break apart one's soul for immortality, hence the name 'fragmented souls'," Slughorn continued. "If I remember correctly from Dumbledore, I believe this was the reason why a Horcrux book was created."

 

Ron grabbed the book and flipped through it as though looking for something. "Who wrote this? There was no listed author."

 

"The name doesn't matter, Ron," Ginny said. She snatched the book from his hand and put it back on the table. "It could be the cure that we need to find."

 

"Well, this better provide the answer that we're looking for. It's the only hope for Harry," said Ron as though he was ready to set the book on fire or tear it to pieces if it failed to provide the answer.

 

"Right," Hermione said as she gave a short nod.

 

Slughorn took the book again and started flicking through the pages until he had found what he was looking for. He pushed the book toward them and they read:

 

A soul touched by evil slowly incinerates its own existence until it ultimately ends. It would amount to a higher price to recondition the soul back if attempted. And if it should fail, in accordance with who may have tried, the cost will, therefore, be marked the same as the other.

 

"What?" asked Ron, completely lost. The way it was written was giving him the chills. "What does that mean, 'marked the same as the other'?"

 

Ginny's eyes widened. She couldn't seem to find her voice, not to respond to Ron, but to simply utter her shock and horror. She stared up into the grave face of Hermione and felt as though the ground beneath her were falling sharply away. It was only last night when they had talked about the possibility of completing a hard task to help Harry, and they had expected as much but -

 

Hermione was trembling slightly. With great difficulty, she looked up at them and quietly said, "To put it simply, if we fail to fix Harry's soul, we suffer the same fate as him."

 

 

To be continued...


A/N: My one-shot Draco Malfoy story called "Troubled Mind" is now posted. Do check it out!

Beta-read by KVeronicaP

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