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Way Down in the Valley Tonight
by Edmondia Dantes

Disclaimer: 8_8 You write one.

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-Chapter Eleven-

"You seem rather perplexed, Mr. Potter."

That was not a happy sound.

That was a 'fling yourself to the ground and grovel' sound.

Truth was a strange thing, wasn't it? It all made such beautiful, perfect sense that it became something warped and misshapen, but starkly wonderful all the same.

He thought of tired eyes and a heartbreaking (heartbroken?) smile.

I'm sorry, he whispered without words to one who could not hear. I'm so so sorry...

"Apologies never did anyone any good."

That was frightening, the darkness swirling on the edge of his conciousness, a restless ghost of emotion that eddied and drifted according to its own whims, completely heedless of the fragility of the shore it battered so carelessly against.

Harry didn't really understand it, nor did he have any desire to do so.

Shadows and smoke and silence.

Calming, soothing, a balm to ease the hurt of a mortal wound.

"Why don't they understand?" he whispered despondantly, his grief-filled eyes dropping to regard his loosely clasped hands. Grubby, teenaged-boy hands, nails gnawed to jagged edges, riddled with the scars of a thousand mishaps and spilled potions.

Snape paused for a long moment, steeped in shadow, seeming to suck away the dim illumination from the room. "They're in the Light," he said finally, silken voice made harsh with contempt, "they cannot. They fall into darkness, yes, but they're..." his lips curled in a disgusted sneer, "Clean."

Clean. No, that wasn't right - or was it?

"Sirius - he doesn't -" he choked and raised a small hand to swipe furiously at his eyes. He would not cry again! "He doesn't realize..."

The shadow sighed, his long hair briefly obscuring his expression as he shook his head. He glared only a little as he spat, "Black is a fool. None of them realize that death can be a gift."

Harry sniffled, raising his head to stare, confused, at his professor. "What do you mean?" he questioned, his voice catching.

The dark eyes that regarded him with an unnerving steadiness took on a haunted cast. "Don't you think, boy?" Snape questioned tiredly, "Voldemort's wrath is infinitely worse."

Harry shuddered, cringing back against the wall. Blood and crying and a twisted smile - he didn't want to see!

"You see?" Snape questioned silkily, dumping a jar full of wriggly things into the cauldron, "Some will never understand no matter what happens to them. Others live with it every day."

"People like us?" Harry asked, then flinched as the walls briefly glowed flourescent purple.

He snarled, snatching up a jar of what looked like powdered pig's toenails and sprinkling in a handful. "Presumption will get you killed. And we are not an us, Potter."

Harry bit his lip and rested his chin on his folded arms. "Why?"

The look Snape gave him was faintly amused. "I despise you."

Harry blinked. He knew that. He needed that. "That's not what I mean... I meant..." What had he meant? His mind had been clear before, but now was hazy with memories of flight and darkness and screaming.

Snape shrugged brusquely. "Why not?"

He had no answer to that.

* * *

Albus Dumbledore was reading a letter.

The authors stood quietly in his office, neither saying a word nor even blinking frequently.

It was not a happy letter. At this point in time, Albus Dumbledore was not a happy wizard. They went together well.

"Dear Miss Granger and Mr. Weasley - Harry Potter is currently residing within the safety of Hogwarts. While we are uncertain of the amount of mental trauma he has sustained, his physical condition is fine. He has strangely developed a very strong attachment to the professor who rescued him from the attacking Death Eaters. The Ministry, as is its wont, is covering the whole thing up, damn them and their descendants to the ninth circle of hell."

Albus Dumbledore glanced up from the official parchment to raise an eyebrow at the two wizards fidgeting in his office.

"A bit extremely worded, Sirius, but a sentiment I am sure our two young Gryffindors share."

Sirius nodded.

"Ahem. Where was I? Ah - We are uncertain of the duration of Mister Potter's current," he paused, "mental screwed-up-ed-ness. Another contribution of yours, Sirius?" he inquired gently.

Sirius shrugged and glanced covertly over at Lupin, who as usual looked like a paragon of innocence. Damn him too.

"And Snape's a bastard. Sorry, but we're all going a little crazy right now. Remus is - hmm. I commend your good thinking in scratching that out."

Remus shot Sirius a dirty look. Feeling very immature, Sirius blew him a raspberry.

Dumbledore set the letter down and gave them both a long look. They blushed and looked down at their boots.

Nothing like feeling like a twelve-year old in the midst of a crisis.

* * *

When the summons came, it was quick and sharp and exquisitely painful.

Bastard, bastard, bastard, bastard, Snape thought merrily to himself as he trudged along the hallways, tucking various pointy objects inside his voluminious robes just in case some random person tried to jump him and nick the oh-so-valuable little vial that was tucked protectively against his chest.

He kept up his litany of curses as he wound his way out of the castle.

Well, at least he was done.

And wasn't it a nice night for a little bit of chaos and carnage, the air fresh and sweet, just cool enough to be comfortable but not cold enough to chill?

Bastard!

* * *

He left.

He left he left he left he left he left!

Harry drew in a deep, shuddering breath.

He left.

But that was okay.

He would return.

He would come back and everything would be okay again.

Right?

Right?

Right?

Silence and the night may have been comforting, but they offered no answers.

* * *

"Dinner was nice," she commented into the silence.

"Yeah. You know my mom, great cook and all."

"Did you know," she began cautiously, "that you've been staring out of that window for the past forty-five minutes?"

Ron blinked, a little startled. "Um... no."

Hermione shook her head. "I didn't think so."

Ron shrugged.

"I also think you're making yourself sick with worry."

"And what if I am?"

Solemn chocolate eyes met dulled jade.

"Then we're both in trouble."

Ron laughed mirthlessly. "The entire world got in trouble when Harry vanished."

Hermione took a moment to absorb the statement. Then she smiled sadly at him, looking much older than she really was, and nodded slowly. "That's true. That's very, very true."

And there was nothing more to say.

* * *

Upstairs, downstairs, Gryffindor common room, great hall, Dumbledore's study, hospital wing... Lupin felt like he'd traversed the whole school twice.

But he finally found him by one of the stairwells, one that looked out over the Forbidden Forest and the front lawn of the castle.

Harry was curled up on a windowsill, an overlarge cloak draped over his shoulders that tumbled down to puddle on the floor.

"Harry?"

Silence.

"Harry, it's time for dinner. Come on, you know you have to eat."

Luminous eyes turned his way. He shook his head sharply and turned back to the window.

Lupin repressed a sigh. He knew why the boy was so distracted. "He'll be back soon enough. He's far too clever to be killed."

The reflection in the window flashed him a fleeting smile.

But that was all.

Dammit, Sirus, he muttered to the missing Marauder, this isn't bloody *working*!

Divide and conquer was beginning to look more like divide and be confused.

Whatever.

Remus' head hurt.

* * *

A tousled head poked its inquisitive way into her office. She frowned at it, and the owner of said body part. "Hey Minnie, got a minute?"

She blinked and set down her quill.

"Minnie?" she questioned archly.

"Yeah, well," he mumbled absently, waving a hand around in the air vaguely to illustrate his point.

"Sit down, Sirius."

He sat, folding his hands sheepishly in front of him, looking more like a chastised schoolboy than an escaped convict.

"Well?"

He took in a shaky breath.

"Moony says I need to talk about it. Not to him, 'cause we're drivin' each other even more loony. He keeps getting that weird, glowy, I-can-SO-eat-you-for-dinner look in his eyes. So I'm here to talk."

The delicate arch of an eyebrow was all the response he got.

"Er... about Harry. 'Cause I think otherwise I'll go nuts."

She frowned primly.

"Yeah, you *do* know what I mean."

Reluctantly, she nodded.

* * *

It was damnably cold in here.

Probably because Voldemort was in full evil overlord mode tonight. He only brought that out on special occasions. The feel of anticipation shivered in the air, clammy and damp, and settled uneasily over his skin.

"Ah, Severus. You never disappoint. Is all in readiness?"

He frowned thoughtfully at the slim bottle in his hand. "The effects will most likely be non-lethal, but some of the more delicate poisons may mix in an unknown fashion. On the whole, however, the potion is ready for testing."

"Excellent work as always," Voldemort murmured.

Severus shrugged, then repressed a shudder when the Dark Lord gave him a long, searching glance. It felt like the flesh was slowly being stripped from his bones - with a butter knife.

And just as quickly, he found himself ushered into a small, musty room, and looming over a large, quaking form, trembling with cold.

A child?

They would have him harm a mere child?

Snape snarled quietly under his breath - but he could not defy Voldemort right then. He settled for a smoldering glare that would have terrified a lesser man, but only made the Dark Lord smirk in satisfaction.

Bastard.

Then Wormtail scuttled forward (had the little idiot been hiding behind the door?) and flipped the boy -damn them, it's just a baby!- onto his back.

Piggish eyes squinted fearfully into the weak light, and a great shuddering breath caught spongily in bruised lungs.

Everything clicked into place beautifully.

How extraordinarily exquisite.

Perfect.

How lovely, how characteristic, how utterly malicious and terrible.

Severus gritted his teeth and forced down his panic.

Fuck!

* * *

Dudley Dursley looked up into the faces of his tormentors and let out a single, pathetic whimper.

His voice had gone hoarse from screaming hours before. He couldn't feel his legs - they had been shattered for what seemed like forever.

And it looked like it was only going to get worse.

* * *

Harry Potter wrapped the overly-large cloak a little bit tighter around his shoulders, suddenly chilled.

Something felt horribly wrong.

* * *

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