* * *
Way Down in the Valley Tonight
by Edmondia Dantes

Disclaimer: *sigh* Not mine, no money, no sue, I am BLOODY SICK of writing these things. Surprisingly, this is a swearword-free chapter! Erm... I think.

* * *
-Chapter Ten-

A blinding flash of light - ribbons of silvery gold shimmered softly in its wake.

Harry Potter blinked the stars out of his eyes. Pretty - but lovely things could be cruel. What was the phrase? Appearances can be deceiving? Yes, that was it. He frowned thoughtfully. His retinas hurt.

"Was that supposed to happen?" he blurted stupidly.

Annoyance slid down his skin. He supposed that counted as a sharply snarled yes. Stupid, he berated himself mentally, pay attention! Don't be an idiot like you've been before!

"So good of you to realize," Snape hissed, not bothering to look in his direction.

Harry didn't bother to hide his surprise, turning a slackjawed gaze up. And up. The odd thought that the potions professor was one of the tallest people he had ever seen popped into his head. Fascinating, really, how the man could just *loom* without even trying. Harry thought wistfully that it must be nice to be tall.

Snape glared at him until he turned his attention to the floor, feeling rather sheepish. He hadn't meant to stare - and were his thoughts even deserving of that intense scrutiny? He guessed Snape didn't enjoy people watching him - hell, he didn't seem to enjoy people period. Including, especially, himself.

The irony of it was delicious. Everyone wanted him - and the only person *he* wanted to be around desired nothing more than to have him wiped from existance.

He giggled, a high-pitched, cracking sound. That was fine with him - why not? After all, someone like him shouldn't be coddled. Not after what he had done.

A snort interrupted his confused brooding. "Are you still wallowing in self-pity? How like a Gryffindor," the words oozed sarcasm, "And how completely pointless. Yes, you killed someone. Get over it."

Harry looked up, feeling his jaw flop open. What the hell? Get over it? The slippery feeling of someone's life seeping into his clothing, the blankness of their dull-eyed stare, the disbelieving shock and disgust that churned in his gut and overwhelmed his senses?

He didn't realize he was hyperventilating until Snape threw a jar against the wall next to him.

Glass shattered, rained down surprisingly gently against the bare skin of his arms. Glittery, fragile, a thousand shards of incongrously harmful beauty.

Lookie, that was his brain.

He giggled again - but had the breath to do so.

* * *

Sirius Black glared through tear-blurred eyes at the wall.

Then at the ceiling.

Then at Remus, who was frowning over a blank sheet of parchment and idly tapping a Sugar Quill against his lip.

"Padfoot, I think I've got writer's block."

He glared at the dust motes that drifted past the windowsill. "Your writer's block can go fuck itself."

Remus didn't look up. "Physically impossible."

"Damn it," his voice cracked, "Damn it all."

Remus finally glanced his way, and he was almost startled at the wetness in his friend's eyes.

"Yes," Remus agreed quietly, not bothering to wipe away the tears, "Damn it all."

Sirius sniffled, suddenly struck by an odd thought and the urge to sneeze. "Ya know what?"

The werewolf blinked. "What?" he questioned tiredly.

"We're a couple of weepy old biddies who rant on for hours about their poor sweet little boy, and how horrid the world is these days."

Remus gave a mirthless laugh. "The world isn't horrid, Padfoot. Our life, however, is another matter."

Sirius rubbed a weary hand through his hair. "What's really sad, Moony, is that I think you're right."

A sad, sad smile was the only response.

* * *

"Kindly cease that inane giggling."

Snape's voice could cut through the most violent storm. Even one that was purely mental. How odd.

Harry choked down his next bout of hysterics as best as he could. But still - what a funny little world it was! It had all gone twisty and tilty and strange.

He was claustrophobic - was there a term for claustrophobia when it came to being afraid of people? No? Why not?

And now something was shifting around the Headmaster - oh, still in the Light, yes, but Harry was beginning to suspect that light could burn - sear into the skin and tear out unpleasant truths. The light had to be bright to defy the darkness, he supposed, had to drown everything out - blast away the colors, leaving nothing...

"Nothing but sterility and a mechanized life," Snape murmured absently, fiddling with yet another squidgy thing in a jar.

Harry glanced over, startled. Yes, of course! Because if all were bright or dark - if everything fell to one side, would life even exist?

Either side would take over completely, leech the infinite shades of grey into itself, and what would - could there be a point of living in such a world?

"It does give one pause, doesn't it?"

Harry wrapped his arms around his knees and stared at the floor. Grey stones - smooth, polished, worn from years of clattering school boots, occasionally marred where someone's cauldron had overflowed.

Odd, how even mundane items such as floors had their charms. Character.

He wondered why he'd never noticed before.

Inky black swirled at the edge of his vision, and he reached out just enough to brush along the edge of Snape's trailing robes.

Strange, yes, the world had gone peculiar, and he'd gone right along with it.

Amazing how disquieting the thought was. He wanted to be normal. But he didn't have a choice anymore. Perhaps he never did. Amazing, truth flowing through his mind like water.

Not a crystalline stream, either, but a river, filled with flashing silverfish and hidden dangers, but containing a serene beauty that was remarkably pure for all of its oddities.

Harry shook his head. Where had such thoughts come from?

Darkness drifted past his mind as Snape scowled at his cauldron.

Nah - it couldn't be.

Could it?

* * *

It was a pretty day. It had been a pretty day. Now that same prettiness was melting into evening, the sky flooding with violet and scarlet.

Gorgeous, yes, he had to admit that, but the volatile swirl of colors brought to mind the image of a bloody and bruised corpse lying in the gutter.

Pretty and morbid.

He almost smiled, but - but.

"Ron?" his mother poked her head into his room, but he was facing the other way, and didn't see the concern that wreathed her face.

The boy didn't stir, splayed out on his bed, chin resting on folded hands. "Yeah?" he answered after a long moment.

"Come to dinner. Hermione's just as anxious, you know, but at least she's waiting with the rest of the family downstairs."

Hermione.

She would know what to do. She would understand.

Ron rolled off of his bed and trailed slowly after his unusually subdued mother.

It hadn't been a good week, and he had the uneasy feeling it would only get worse.

Still, there was Hermione.

She would know what to do. Or at least she would sit and listen to him ramble, occasionally interrupting with a quiet-voiced observation, occasionally correcting his grammer.

Yes, she could help him. Or if they both went mad with grief and confusion and got choked by the inability to do anything worthwhile, well, at least he wouldn't be alone.

She looked up and managed a wavering smile as he wandered in.

He smiled uneasily back, shook his head in a negative response to her unvoiced question.

Over the past few days, dinnertime with the Weasley brood had been strangely quiet and solemn, even with the addition of their visitor.

God, this was awful.

* * *

He had to be mistaken.

He was mistaken.

Harry shook his head as hard as he could, trying to jar the strange notion that had been floating around the nether regions of his brain.

Don't think.

Look.

See.

Learn.

Harry took a deep breath and forced himself to focus. It was disquietingly difficult to do, but somehow he managed to calm himself.

Okay, breathe. Don't think, watch.

So he watched.

It really was amazing how Snape could move so noiselessly while he was whirling around, vials and jars flying from fingertip to countertop back over to be rapidly swirled and set down again.

Mesmerizing, almost, flashing and certain and swift and sure.

Harry wished *he* could be so certain. About anything. But wasn't he still a child? Wasn't he still learning?

Watching Snape gave him the uncomfortable feeling that even at a young age, Severus Snape had been no one to trifle with.

And such a cool, calm reaction to all this chaos. It was mind-boggling, even to his slightly deluded thinking. Harry blinked hard. Was he going mad?

...well, probably maybe perhaps yes.

Whatever. He wasn't alone.

Sudden tears stung his eyes.

No, never alone.

He was dragging them down with him, wasn't he? All of them! His fault - yes. And he had the nasty suspicion that such a crime would be a far greater sin than murder.

No! Don't think!

Harry swallowed down the lump in his throat. Hadn't he cried enough already? Enough - enough!

Learn to understand and accept. Who cared if he were mad?

Breathe.

Questions, or was he so afraid?

What did he want to know?

What did he need?

Go on, don't be afraid - he can save your soul, can't he? Why so shy, little one?

His head was swimming. Were such thoughts his own? He just didn't know anymore.

Snape had slowed, the frenetic pace of minutes before slowed to an almost langrous pace.

Why fear the darkness? The things that lurk in the dark all scuttle away in fear when one stays at the side of something fiercer.

Or is that place more perilous, when you cannot see whence the attack will come? Staying too close brings you even more into the grasp of a predator, be the embrace an innocent one or no. The claws and the threat still remain, crystal-bright as the sun, but when all you can see is the safety, you forget how swiftly they can turn on you.

Such knowledge, he was certain, could not have been his own.

Harry's head hurt.

* * *

Lord Voldemort was, at times, a very patient man.

This, fortunately for all concerned, was such a time.

But what, oh what could he do to celebrate such a glorious occasion? A sick grin crossed his face as he contemplated the future.

Not even a week away, and in his possession lay a filthy little tool, just the thing to play with. Voldemort let his grin melt into a satisfied smirk.

Severus always was a hard worker. He just hoped he would be done in time.

After all, it wasn't every day the Boy Who Lived turned fifteen, now was it?

* * *

AN: Er... right. Gonna find my way back to the plot eventually... really... it's just... well, what can you do when a story gets a mind of its own but sit there and write it?

Feedback?

On to Chapter Eleven
Back to Chapter Nine
Back to Miscellaneous Fanfic
Back to Fanfic
Back Home