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Way Down in the Valley Tonight
by Edmondia Dantes

Disclaimer:  No, they don't belong to me.

AN:  Long time no see, eh?

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-Chapter Fifteen-

This fucking sucked.

Really really fucking sucked.

His head hurt - well,  that was an understatement - to be more accurate, it seemed as though Hagrid were tap-dancing drunkenly inside of his skull.  And his back hurt - though he wasn't quite sure why.  And his side hurt - when had the door frame gotten so bloody hard?!

And he was sleepy.  That would explain why there were twice as many stairs as usual, wouldn't it?

Why did the world hate him?

...oh, right.  His dark and sordid past, of course.  Silly him.

...and was he actually going the right way?

Snape paused in midstep and gave the entire hallway his fiercest glower.

Where the bloody FUCK had the hospital wing gone?!

* * *

"That snake is staring at me."

A slightly deranged grin was the only reply.

Sirius Black skipped down a few steps, warily watching the werewolf wend his wandering way down the grand staircase.

And the snake.

Or, rather... The Snake.  The Snake with the evil eyes and the evil stare and the evil... evilness.  It simply radiated evilness.  Evil like creepy certain ex-Marauders who needed to have their heads removed and then, ooh, then, he could set the body on fire, and then put it out again, and then set in on fire, and watch the pretty flames DANCE and SPARKLE and FLY and CRACKLE and -


"Ow!  Mooooooooooony!  That huuuuuuuuuuurts!"

Calm gray eyes looked back at him.  "Hiss."


* * *

He was awake, and it was morning.

It was awake, and he was mourning.

Harry nuzzled his face into his pillow - freshly fluffed, still tainted with the taste of his tears, still half-crumpled in his too-tight grip.

He yawned.

The darkness - was tired, and foreign exhaustion tugged at his senses, coaxing him back into sleep and safety and silence.

The nightmares were already afraid of his shadow - they would not return to face him.

Careful, awkward fingers rearranged the bedclothes before clamping down on the pillow again.

So sleepy...

He did not dream.

* * *

And when he woke again, blinking to clear the harsh light from his eyes, a puddle of emerald lay on the table at his bedside, muttering to itself.

Harry blinked.  Rapidly.  And the puddle moved, resolving itself into a beautiful snake that cocked its head and gave him a Look.

For a strange, bewildering moment, Harry wondered why he was wearing his glasses, and just what the snake was thinking as it stared him down.

"Sssso you're the one all the fussss issss about... don't look like much, do you?"

He blinked a bit more rapidly.

Beautiful shimmering scales rippled in the afternoon light as the snake undulated forward, lazy eyes curious and bright.  "There'ssss been all ssssortssss of trouble becausssse of you..."

He knew that.  He knew that, he knew that he KNEW that and it was aching and horrible and beautiful and broken and lovely and screaming and...

"Sssshut up, already.  Are you alwayssss like thissss?"

He bit his lip, hard enough to draw blood, and the snake jerked back a bit in surprise.  "Guessss not..."

Tangled black hair went flying as he shook his head, pale hands reaching up to clutch at his temples.  Hurt - pain - life, life, live live alive...

What he couldn't be now.  What he couldn't not be?  Everything was so bright and empty that it hurt to see the sun on the stones in the summer when all was to be safe and warm and shining...

Glinting silver on ebony shadow, swirling in mist-layered whispers, and all through the night, they wept for their lost souls...

Harry whimpered.

And the snake was silent.

* * *

Hospital wing, hospital wing... FINALLY!

He kicked open the door with unnecessary violence and stalked into the too-bright room.

Two sets of eyes swiveled his way - vibrant green gone dull with agony, and glimmering amber shot through with ochre.

Snape felt a cruel smirk curve his lips.

Perhaps the child held some promise, after all.

Around the boy's neck, hung like some grotesque jeweled collar, coiled a lovely serpent, emerald hued and flecked with gold beneath the sun, and in the quiet of the great healer's room, it seemed to bare its fangs in welcome.

* * *

Beauty and comfort and warm and hate and love and home and home...

His fingers reached for the comfort of the shadow that had betrayed him, even as he damned himself for his weakness, even as he screamed somewhere in denial.

They caught in endless folds of soft ebony, coiled around it desperately, and if he leaned over and closed his eyes, he could hear his heartbeat.  Someone like you shouldn't have a heart...

"I hate you," he whispered through cracked lips, the words barely more than a sibilant hiss.  "I hate you and me and everyone..."

"Of course you do," came the soft purr of a reply, warm and dark and velvet, "Of course you do..."

"You hurt me!" he snapped, just moving his head enough that he could spit the words without trouble.  "You told me you wouldn't and you hurt me!"

A moment of crystal quiet passed while a strong hand settled on his back.  Despite himself, he sighed and leaned against the touch, hungry for... what?  "...when did I ever say I wouldn't hurt you?"

"...you shouldn't have," he whispered, choosing not to answer, instead turning an accusation into a soft complaint.  "I trusted you."

"That was your decision, not mine."

He felt his fists clench, muscles tensing as he bristled.  "It's not right."

Maddeningly, it drew no reaction save for an elegantly raised brow.  And what do you hope to accomplish, child?  Aloud, however, the shadow said only, "Very few things are."  Endless darkness took on a deadly glint, and violence tossed moonlit waters.  "They can't understand that."

He flinched at the harsh judgment.  No understanding, but at least...  "...they left me a present," he whispered in a vain attempt to defend those absent from his side and from his heart, "They're trying..."

The snake raised its head curiously as one long finger stroked along the delicate ridge of its head, looking up at the man with lazy inquiry in its eyes.

"...I like thissss one..." and he wondered if he only imagined the shades of cruel fondness in its tone.

"What did it say?"

He blinked a bit in surprise, though he knew he should not be startled.  "He likes you," he whispered quietly, only flinching a little when the creature slithered off of his shoulder to coil around Snape's wrist, midnight rippling on shadowed silver.

"Does he?"  There was more than a hint of bleakness in the words, and he looked up to see those fathomless eyes as expressionless as ever.  "One must wonder why."

He looked away even as he resettled himself against the man, curling closer and hiding his eyes so he did not have to see that which he so readily embraced.  The devil you know...  "I don't know," the words came out more chilled and bitter than he intended, or had known, "I don't know anything."

A restrained chuckle rumbled through the slender form he sat curled against, warm and living and real even if nothing else was.  Even if nothing else could be.  Or was he crazy again?  Did it matter?

"Admission of one's ignorance is the first step to knowledge."  The words were absent, detached, and he knew his attention was split between himself and silence.

Then I must truly be a fool...  "Nobody knows anything."

A soft snort.  "How can you be sure?"

He found he could voice no reply that would suit him.

Somewhere above his head, he felt Snape exhale softly, soft breath stirring his unruly hair.  "Don't trust anyone... they'll only betray you in the end."

Anyone?  Then...  "You did."

He silken shadow brushed lightly over his cheek and willed himself not to tremble.  He had chosen, after all... he had chosen, and he had to believe, had to believe that he was right...

"I told you I would."

Dark lashes fluttered halfway shut.  You've lied, but not to me...  "...I let you."

Shimmering green flickered along his arm, curving and slipping, before the serpent settled into place around him.  And he could not look into his face, but felt the slight nod as Snape replied, "You did."

He licked his lips and tasted blood.  "I shouldn't have."

No, you shouldn't have.  Bleak amusement trickled in the softness of his voice.  "There is a difference between necessity and desire..."

"...I hate it."

"I know."  It wasn't quite sympathy or understanding - or was it?  He'd never be able to tell... and he would never divulge his secret.

"I hate it!"

He could feel the nod, crisp and efficient and never without purpose.  "Yes, you do."

His anger drained and left him with nothing but empty sorrow.  "Why won't it just STOP?!" he pleaded, and knew that there was no proper reply.

"...because it can't."  His voice was soft and haunted, and there were hidden secrets in the soft pressure of the hand at his side.

What have you done? he wondered, and looked through eyes that could no longer cloud with tears and saw salvation.

It was empty and broken and rotting in the barren bloodsoaked landscape of his mind.

Harry Potter closed his eyes and held on a bit tighter to reality - or at least what he could make of it.

"...ssssad children," came the quiet voice, "Ssssweet ssssad sssshadowssss..."

"You're happy about this," he hissed into the soft folds of his cloak, "You're glad that we're like this."

Golden eyes flickered in amusement.  "Of coursssse."

He was too exhausted to feel anger.  "Why?"

"Becausssse you belong to ussss."

Harry shivered.  And the slim arms that had idly curled around him pressed a bit tighter, and in the soft tangled darkness that made up two forfeited souls, those beautiful molten eyes shone like shattered dreams and forgotten innocence - false promises fallen into shadow.

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