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

Disclaimer:  Yeah, right.

AN:  Ugh.  Ugh.  Months of writer's block.  Then, out of the blue, an idea hits.  I race off to the computer, type up a nifty chapter - and the computer freezes.  I lose my nifty chapter and rail angrily against my computer.  I boot the damn thing back up and cry when I see that my nifty chapter is gone.  I write this short piece of crap and place it in the stead of the previously otherwise nifty chapter.

Excuse me whilst I go weep.

* * *
-Chapter Thirteen-

Here they were again, looking at each other like there was something they were supposed to say.

Unfortunately, no one seemed to know what exactly that was.

And that damnably familiar screaming kept wafting into the corridor despite the heavy door of the hospital wing.

Sirius Black and Remus Lupin sat huddled together against the wall, feeling very sorry for themselves and especially for a fourteen year old boy who had gone through more terrible things in the last week than most people ever would throughout the whole of their very lives.

Poor Harry.  Poor them.  Poor everyone.

Sirius banged his head on the wall.  "Life fucking SUCKS!" he howled in despair.

Lupin just stared at the floor and nodded.

* * *

He was thrashing less now.  Only the occasional quiver made its shuddering way down his rotund form.

Voldemort had long since left, bored with the repetitive screaming.  The boy didn't even know any interesting swearwords.

Of course, it was hard to scream at one's captors when blood kept bubbling up in one's  throat.  They'd forced him to breathe more than once.

Now the impassive observer was watching with strangely glittering eyes as the boy whimpered and twitched.

Elegant script flowed smoothly onto the parchment, an unconsciously flowing movement made graceful by years.  The peculiar shorthand - an odd mix of a schoolboy's shortenings peppered with obscure curling symbols - though applied with smooth preciision would be incomprehensible to any but he who wrote it.

Severus Snape was tired.

Hours upon hours of a teenage boy crying out in pained terror.  He had forgotten... had made himself forget about this.

And the boy... was still screaming.

* * *

"Hullo."

She hovered at the doorway for a moment, unsure.  "Hi."

Ron glanced over the edge of his mug at her, eyes murky in the dim light.  "Couldn't sleep?"

She let herself into the room, settling with a soft sigh into the age-soft cushions of an overstuffed chair.  "Who can?"

"..."

"..."

"Ever feel so helpless it makes you want to scream?"

He smiled bitterly.  "Every day."

She took in a deep breath.  "Well.  At least we're not alone..."

"Yeah."  She sure looked pretty in this dim light.

"He's got to be all right."

"We hope, you mean."

She bit her lip nervously.  "I don't think that's it.  I feel like... like..."

"Like something's just the littlest bit off, but you can't put your finger on it, and the not knowing is slowly driving you nutters?"

Hermione's eyes were the color of honey cocoa.  Funny how he'd never noticed that before.  "That's it exactly."

* * *

Silence seeped through the room like a living thing, settling down in the corners and curling around the solitary figure in the bed.

Harry Potter was quiet now, exhausted by the force of his own screaming, lost in a sleep he so desperately needed.

Madam Pomfrey made not a sound as she swept away the soiled bed linens, heedless of the sweat and tears that dripped from the corners as she crumpled it up and tossed it away.

* * *

No rest for the wicked, he thought dazedly as he tried to stay upright.  Voldemort kept getting damnably blurry.  His blood red eyes took on the oddest warbly shapes whenever Severus moved his head.  Hmm.  Looked rather like a villain from a Muggle horror film, their Dark Lord.  Red eyes and a chalk white face... really, that whole 'just-risen-from-the-dead' ensemble was so ten years ago.

Then again, he'd often been accused of being Dracula's long lost son, so who was he to judge?

"Severus?"

Dark eyes blinked rapidly as he tried to get the room to stop spinning and going hazy.  It was rather like peering into the depths of his classroom after Longbottom-the-socially-hazardous had destroyed another cauldron.  "Right!  Whoever's been turned into some great slavering beast equipped with poison tentacles of death, off to the hospital wing!  Everyone else, for the love of Merlin, go bathe and get the stink off!  And don't come back for class tomorrow, either!  But I want two rolls of parchment on precisely why it is such a bad idea to mix hazelnut and griffin hair.  You may use this as your example.  Research it, and try to figure out what managed to turn your head into a writhing mass of tentacles.  Yes, those are tentacles, not snakes, so don't go thinking you're the Medusa or any such nonsense.  Get!"

But somehow he doubted that was what Voldemort wanted him to say.  "My lord?"

"Are you tired, Severus?" Voldemort asked nonchalantly, who seemed to be following his wobbling from side to side with rather detached amusement.

"I believe sleep would be beneficial to me, my lord," he managed to respond without sounding completely sloshed.  Of course, he was lying through his teeth.

"We must get you off to bed, then," the Dark Lord oozed pleasantly, with menace underlining his words.

No, bed was bad, because bed meant sleep, and sleep meant the nightmares, and Dreamless Sleep potion was notoriously addictive.

"Yes, my lord."  He sketched an approximation of a bow as best he could.  The floor swirled alarmingly.  So he straightened up - and it was still swirling.

"Severus, the door is that way."

"Yes, my lord."

Thump.

"Severus," he repeated patiently, "I said that way."

"Yes, my lord."

* * *

The boy was quiet.  They knelt over him, tending his wounds so they wouldn't kill him, moving swiftly and silently, paying no heed to the whimpers of the child.

Dudley Dursley didn't know that.  He'd been unconscious since two in the morning.

The great grandfather clock solemnly tolled six o' clock.

* * *

The great one watched with amusement as his best spy (and best traitor, really) attempted to make his way out of the door.  He kept missing.

Between the old man and himself, Severus was running ragged.  And being both a perfectionist and a workaholic had its negative effects.  Though Voldemort preferred to reap the rewards of having such a man in his employ, he had learned early on that Severus required an odd touch.  The price of genius, was it not?

He let a semblance of a fond smile cross his face as the child finally made it out the door and down the hallway.

Perhaps he should give him this week off to perfect his newest lovely creation?  The lower ranks could cause wanton destruction with ease - no need for Severus' delicate toouch for tomorrow's attack.

No, he would let his little traitor sleep and fiddle with his poisons.  It would be best for all.

* * *

They were sound asleep when the owl came, and did not stir when it pecked inquiringly at their hair.

But the letter lay within the fingers of Ronald Weasley, and it was safe.

* * *

And two best friends sat on the parapets and watched the sun rise into a bloody sky.

* * *

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