Where've you BEEN?" was Ron Weasley's question as soon as Harry entered the Gryffindor common room, looking a bit the worse for wear.
"Parvati said you got sick in Divinations," Hermione added in concern. They were sitting again on that damn couch together, Harry noticed crankily, and Neville was nowhere in sight.
"Too right, Seamus and I woke up and you were just gone!" Ron said. "Something I ate," Harry mumbled, and then sighed heavily. Really, he just wanted to go lie on his bed and bury himself in a textbook - not the Potions textbook - and try and forget this whole afternoon had ever happened. "I just ... I dunno. I felt really sick all of a sudden."
"You all right now?" asked George Weasley, never taking his eyes from the game of Exploding Snap he was playing with Fred. "Mind you, I thought something in the soup looked a bit off ... "
"That was 'cos you hexed it," grumbled Lee Jordan from his seat on the windowsill, eyes on an Arithmancy text. "Ssh!" George hissed, grinning like a heathen.
"Yeah, that might've been it," Harry said dispiritedly, eyeing the door up to his dormitory with longing. Even Fred and George couldn't cheer him up now. "Listen, I'm going to have a lie-down, all right? Crack a book or two while I'm at it."
"You look awfully pale," Hermione said, frowning. "You went to the hospital wing, of course?"
"Eh ... actually, I ... " Harry floundered for a bit. What were the odds they'd find out he was lying? Too high, with this lot, but he had to take the chance. "Yeah. Madam Pomfrey just told me to rest. Said I'd be all right."
"Well, that's good," Ginny Weasley popped up from the hearthrug where she lay studying her notes. "You won't be down for dinner, then?"
"Probably not," Harry said glumly, realising that to eat now would look suspicious. Damn, he was going to get hungry. "I'll just go study something. Sorry for worrying you."
"Just glad you're all right," Hermione murmured distractedly, eyes already veering back to her textbooks. Ron gave him another nod and then bent his head rather close down with hers.
Feeling his shoulders slumping under a weight greater than that of his bag, Harry went upstairs to his dormitory, and flopped down on his bed, heaving another mighty sigh. He told himself to relax and do what Dumbledore had instructed: study and forget about it. After all, if the headmaster didn't think his ... nightmare, or whatever, was any cause for concern, then maybe it wasn't. How terribly embarrassing, to go crying to the headmaster about a bad dream, and then drag Snape into it, of all people. Harry shuddered. He'd never be able to face the man again.
But he just couldn't get rid of this nagging -
Enough. He opened his bag, pulled out his Transfigurations text and notes, and determinedly began reviewing. He wasn't going to let some weird dream interfere with his marks. Especially since this particular exam was on Tuesday, and McGonagall was known to be a stickler for details.
... How long had he been at this, anyway? Harry rubbed at his eyes blearily. About half an hour ago he'd heard everybody trooping down to the Great Hall for dinner which he, of course, couldn't attend. (His stomach growled miserably.) So it couldn't be that late. But his eyelids felt like lead, and all his Transfigurations notes were starting to blur into each other.
It's got to be the strain, Harry told himself firmly. You've had a rough day. Just concentrate, Potter -
Thinking of being called "Potter" made him think of Snape now. No good.
Forcing his eyes open once again and holding back a yawn, Harry turned the page of his text. Something about beetles and chair-legs. It was quite fascinating, really, what magic could do these days ... terribly interesting ... just look at the illustrations, the way the beetle kept turning into a chair-leg and back again ...
Back and forth ... back and forth ...
Harry pitched forward into sleep without a murmur of protest, his book falling unnoticed to the floor.
Ashes and wind and blood. That was all there was in the world. They swirled around him in a terrible miasma, and he heard a voice whispering to him.
"You could have saved him. Now it's too late. It's too late for anything, now."
Harry clawed out at the shifting darkness, trying to push through it and see what lay behind. It was like the ashes were forming a curtain between him and something important. "Let me through," he begged, and almost choked as ashes blew into his mouth. Agh, foul, he tried to spit them out, and then they got into his ears and eyes -
What was that spell? "Airus purus!" It was useful, Flitwick had told them, for finding your way through a fog. But it hardly made a dent in the dark horror that surrounded Harry now. He tried other charms, but nothing worked. Was he going to be trapped here forever? Where was here?
The voice was whispering again, and it occurred to Harry that it was rather terribly familiar.
"It's too late. He's mine now. And these ashes are all you'll ever get of him."
Harry floundered for his wand, unable to see anything. He risked the ashes again as he cried out, "You - you better let him go! Stay away from him!"
"How dear," the voice mocked. "Brave lad. What can you possibly do to save him?"
"I'll warn him," Harry gagged, spitting out ash even as more blew past his lips. "I'll tell him you were here! I've stopped you," he paused to spit again, "b-before!"
"He won't believe you," Voldemort's voice whispered, "don't you know that? You're a foolish little boy ... but if it makes you feel better ... "
Suddenly the ash cleared completely from the air around him. Harry took a deep breath of relief, which quickly turned into a hacking cough. He was floating, high in the air, above that same clearing. Below him were those six terrible figures again, the Death Eaters, and there was Snape's body again, huddled on the ground. He could see, from this distance, Lucius Malfoy extend his wand, saw the body flop over and then begin to burn.
"It's too late," Voldemort hissed. "I punish traitors, Harry Potter."
"No," Harry whimpered, unable to take his eyes off the horrid scene below.
"Would you like to know what killed him? It was the Cruciatus curse, of course; nothing so merciful as Avada Kedavra for that traitorous scum. Terribly painful. Yes ... I enjoyed that ... and then I gave what was left to my Death Eaters to play with ... "
"NO!" Tearing his eyes away, Harry looked up and around the twinkling night sky for some source of the voice. He could hear Voldemort, but couldn't see him. Where was he? Was this even real? He could see trees, and stars, a fat full moon and not too far distant the twinkling lights of Hogsmeade -
Yes! That was where he'd seen this clearing before - it was just outside of Hogsmeade, they'd crossed through it last year while sneaking off to visit Sirius!
This wasn't real, it was his vision all over again. But now he knew where the meeting was, and he'd actually heard Lord Voldemort's voice: the two things Dumbledore and Snape had said were missing. He could tell them now, explain everything, and they'd have to believe.
Harry crowed jubilantly - and woke up.
He jolted into full wakefulness, still surrounded by his notes. One of his quills, which had fallen to the bed, had stained the sheets with several dark blotches. He barely noticed as he scrambled off the bed, pulled the curtains back -
It was full dark outside, and he could hear the soft snores of his other roommates. Judging by the wood he was sawing, Ron was out cold. How long had he slept? It had to be past midnight. He couldn't go to Dumbledore now.
And Dumbledore had said it wasn't his decision anyway.
Harry's mind quite firmly made itself up. He didn't give a troll's booger how late it was, he was going to go down and wake up that stupid git Snape and tell him, in no uncertain terms, that the Death Eaters were out to get him and he was not going to that meeting. Sneaking over to his trunk, Harry carefully lifted out his Invisibility Cloak and crept out of the dormitory, out of the tower, down to the dungeons.
A snide little voice in his head asked him what he'd do if he found Draco Malfoy down there. He shut it up at once.
Snape was an insufferable, pompous, posing, elitist, bloody-minded bastard of a prat, and if anything happened to him Harry would never forgive himself.
Another damned epiphany.
Snape took a deep breath as he stepped outside Hogwarts, accompanied only by another cloaked, shadowed figure.
"You're nervous, I suppose?" a soft, smooth voice asked him.
"Anticipation is a better word, I think," Snape said, trying to sound as casual as possible. It was quite ridiculous, really, but he couldn't seem to get Harry's warning out of his mind, nor the image of the boy's pale, desperate face. It was working at his composure like a termite at a piece of wood. "It has been far too long since I've laid eyes on our Lord."
"Yesss," Malfoy murmured as they made their silent way across the grounds, "almost fourteen years since you and Lord Voldemort have met face-to-face, Severus. A most momentous event for you, I'm sure."
"I see you understand."
"But naturally. When I first beheld him all those months ago, after such a long absence, I could hardly describe the joy I felt."
I'm sure it was enough to make you soil yourself, Snape thought, but of course said nothing of the kind aloud. Lucius had always been a slippery bastard, sliding in and out of trouble effortlessly, but even he must have been terrified at the idea of facing Voldemort.
How much more frightened, then, should Snape himself be ... ?
He tried to put the thought out of his head as he and Malfoy pulled their masks over their faces and mounted their broomsticks, hidden at the edge of the Forbidden Forest, well away from curious eyes. If he thought for one moment about the very real terror he felt, he'd never make it. Harry's vision, damn the boy, certainly wasn't making things any easier. He blinked, and hid his shudder.
A nightmare, not a vision. That was all. He had to believe it. Harry Potter was no Seer. Instead he allowed himself to focus on the treacherous tendril of warmth that would insist on snaking around inside him whenever he thought of Harry's angry concern. True, he'd brushed the boy off like a fly and surely hadn't endeared himself in the process, but even if it was only for a little while, Harry had cared. The thought gave him a kind of courage. If he thought of Harry Potter, and why he was doing this, he stood a chance of getting through this meeting with his sanity intact.
They flew carefully through the woods, sticking to the shadows, heading inexorably towards Hogsmeade. Snape had expressed surprise that the meeting was so near to Hogwarts, but Malfoy had merely said, "Do you think our Lord fears that ass Dumbledore, Severus?"
Snape supposed that was why they weren't Apparating. Seven powerful wizards Apparating in one place - not to mention the Dark Lord himself - might well draw the attention of a powerful wizard attuned to such things. Mightn't it? And Voldemort might not be afraid, but neither was he stupid.
They appeared to be the last ones to arrive, and Snape had one of the nastiest jolts of his life when he realised that all the other Death Eaters were present - and Voldemort was not. Just like in Harry's ... But Malfoy murmured, "He told us to await him tonight," and Snape forced himself to relax, insofar as was possible.
They all stood in a circle, which widened soundlessly to make room for Malfoy and Snape to stand in their accustomed places. Rejoining the ones he had once counted friends and compatriots, and who were now most assuredly his deadliest enemies, Snape felt a dizzying moment of déjà vu. Fourteen years? It felt like it had been yesterday when he last stood as a part of this group. Watching them, pretending to be part of them, always wondering if he would be discovered, if this would be the last night sky he'd ever stand under.
But there was one difference now: he was too old for this. If there were any justice in the world he'd be in his dungeon right now, thinking of nothing more distressing than examination questions, or studying some obscure text on arcane potions, or ... or anything but this.
Well, there was nothing for it. Keeping his hood pulled over his head, he turned his masked face toward the cool night sky, and picked a star to focus on, awaiting the moment of Voldemort's arrival.
Right, this was just unacceptable. This was the second door he'd stood outside in twenty-four hours, waiting in a fever of impatience for someone to answer him, and Harry was getting fed up. He knew Snape's personal quarters lay beyond his office, in one of the inner dungeons, but he ought to be able to hear Harry knocking on the office door. Unless he was really deeply asleep. And Harry didn't dare bang any louder, for fear Filch and Mrs. Norris would come to investigate. He looked up and down the dark, musty hallway. Nobody seemed to be coming. "Snape? I mean, Professor?" he hissed hoarsely, before resigning himself to the absurdity of it all. If Snape couldn't hear him knocking, he wasn't going to hear him whispering.
Maybe he was overreacting. If Snape was asleep, then he wasn't likely to be in great danger unless he tripped getting out of bed. And the longer Harry lingered in the hallway, the greater the risk of discovery, even with his Cloak.
Besides, if Snape was determined to continue with the "hateful bastard" routine, he wasn't likely to appreciate Harry's help, at least not right this minute. Harry doubted Snape would actually report him, but he probably wouldn't want to listen to any complicated explanations at this time of night. Or morning, anyway. How late - or early - was it? The moon had been heading for the horizon out of his window when he'd snuck out of the dormitory, so it had to be pretty close to ...
Harry froze in the act of knocking again, feeling his heart turn to something heavy and cold.
The moon was full tonight. Just as it had been in Harry's vision. And Snape wasn't answering the door. Which meant he was either asleep, or ...
Dear God. The meeting was tonight. Harry's feet were carrying him up the stairs two at a time before he realised what was happening, not really caring about the amount of noise he made, intent only on getting back to his room and the Firebolt. He knew where the clearing was, where Snape was. There was no time to raise an alarm, it'd be ages before he could explain properly. It was almost four in the morning, even now it might be too late - no, no, he didn't dare think about that -
He'd never cursed his lack of Apparating skills, or Hogwarts' prohibition of them, as much as he did that night. It seemed ages before he finally stumbled into the dormitory, keeping his Cloak wrapped tightly around him, trying to move quickly and quietly at the same time. He got his broom and his wand out of the trunk - his wand. For a paralyzing moment, his mind spun in dizzying circles. He'd seen Snape incinerated with this wand; did that mean he should leave it here? But then he'd have nothing to defend himself with. He wouldn't stand a chance against any of them.
He'd just have to hold onto it or die trying, that's all, Harry decided, sneaking over to the window and opening it. He mounted his broom and took off into the warming air. Almost frantic with haste, he flew in the shadows of the castle up to the Owlery, where he fished his quill and a ragged bit of parchment out of his pocket and scrabbled a nearly-illegible note, giving it to a very grumpy Hedwig.
"Get it to Dumbledore NOW," Harry gasped, "I can't, there's no time, I've got to go!"
And then, as Hedwig roused herself from her perch and flew off down the castle, Harry turned his broom towards Hogsmeade and a thinning, frightened hope.
Part 4 | Non Anime Fanfiction