Way Down in the Valley Tonight - Chapter Two

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Way Down in the Valley Tonight
by Edmondia Dantes

Disclaimer: Not mine. Which is probably for the best, all things considered. Who knows what I might do to them? At any rate, don't sue me, 'cause I'm sure not making any money offa this baby.

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-Chapter Two-

Damn wards. Life would be so much easier if he were able to simply apparate to Hogwarts, but no, they were stuck hiking through the fields to get to the blasted castle.

Severus glared up at the thunderclouds. It had better not start raining. The day was growing darker, the clouds beginning to churn angrily in the slate-gray sky.

The fingers that were fisted in his shirt clasped a little bit tighter. Potter didn't like the dark.

* * *

It was very dark in this little corner.

He'd placed a painkilling charm on the child's shattered arm. Frankly, he would have preferred a potion, but he'd gotten out of the habit of carrying little vials of the stuff around after Voldemort's defeat. Severus frowned. Just another old habit he would have to pick up again.

Potter sat very quietly and very still, biting his lip, his eyes focused squarely on the dark wood grain of the table that was almost invisible in the dimness. He took a deep breath, closed his eyes, seeming to gather his courage, then fixed Severus with a murky gaze that he recognized from years of taking care of his Slytherins. Desperation, despair, a plea for salvation... he'd seen it all before. 'Can you save me?' Harry was begging, 'Can you make it all just go away?'

Severus shook his head with an inward sigh. He shouldn't trust so much. He'd learn soon enough, he supposed. He would just have to. It was amazing how quickly one adapted when one had no choice.

"Well?" he questioned in a soft tone he had cultivated years ago to relax jittery children.

It worked. Harry drew in a calming breath, visibly collected himself as best he could, and began.

"It didn't seem like anything would happen. They," he swallowed, blinking furiously for a moment, "the Dursleys usually wouldn't take me along, but it was supposed to be for a week, and the woman they usually leave me with wasn't home."

* * *

This visit was boring him to death. Not that he'd expected any different, mind you. The introductions had been short and to the point.

"Who's that behind you?" the young lady inquired politely, trying to peer over Vernon Dursley's massive shoulder.

Harry blinked several times in surprise as silence fell like a shroud over the gathering. Aunt Petunia shot him a venemous glance, as if it were his fault that he'd been noticed. Dudley made a face at him, and he just stepped forward and introduced himself politely.

"My name's Harry, ma'am."

She didn't offer her hand to shake, or even ask why he was there. She just smiled softly and murmured, "Pleasure to meet you, my dear." Something about her manner rang false, and it sent a shiver down his spine.

She was creepy.

It was a half an hour later, and the adults were chattering happily away over lunch. Harry sat in the corner and drummed his feet idly against the wooden slats of the stool he sat upon. He preferred to look out the window than to watch his relatives devour food he wasn't allowed to eat. It was overcast and cold out, unlikely weather for the middle of July.

Harry didn't like the way Miss Johnson kept shooting him covert looks. It was creepy, almost as if she were looking for something she wasn't quite sure of that he had the answer to. The air seemed to tremble with something hidden and secret that wreaked havoc with his senses. The faint scent of magic tickled the air, but it wasn't the safe warm tingle he associated with Hogwarts and his teachers. It was something slightly chillier and more... twisted. It reminded him vaguely of Professor Snape, for some reason. But even Snape, vile as he was, was still... warm. This got in his nose and made him want to sneeze.

Aunt Petunia was just winding up a long and highly syrupy tale about her sweet little Dudleykins when the oven burst into flame. Harry could taste the magic that swirled in the air, sour and sharp. Too much tension, too much anticipation, and then this. It was sloppy for an adult wizard to have sudden surges. But it certainly hadn't been him.

Dudley let out a very girly scream and ran out the kitchen door, nearly getting stuck in the frame. Petunia jumped into Vernon's lap and commenced wailing in distress, while the man himself took a shuffling leap backwards and fell out of his chair.

Miss Johnson giggled lightly, chirped, "So sorry! Just a moment!" and waved a hand at the smoldering mess.

It was immediately doused by the stream of water that had sprung from the end of the slender stick clasped in her right hand.

Harry slid off his stool and started edging towards the door. Running away seemed like a marvelous idea. Who the hell was she?

The marathon race to the door left him the last one in the room with the unknown witch. He flattened himself against the wall and stared at her warily.

Her pretty brown eyes slitted in annoyance as she turned towards him. "Idiot muggles. How did you live with them?"

Did. Not do. Harry fervently wished for something, anything, hell, even a frying pan would be useful right about now.

She shrugged idly. "No matter now! Is it?"

"Certainly not. If you'll excuse me..." Harry replied, focusing on the wand that was still aimed in his direction.

Miss Johnson stopped smiling. "I'm sorry, my boy, but no."

"Um, I really have to be going now," he continued, inching closer to the door.

She frowned. "No."

And the door slammed shut and vanished into the wall. Harry swallowed nervously, shifting forward on his toes. Run or jump her? Run or jump her?

The lady waved her wand and threw the table at him. He ducked with a startled yelp, and the table shattered against the wall, showering him in a rain of splinters.

Running was looking better and better. Harry remained crouched, eying the way she moved forward. Too smooth, too poised. She'd done this before. He swallowed nervously. Facing down a Death Eater when he was unarmed. Not the best situation he'd ever been in.

"Please don't squirm," she murmured lowly, "It'll just make things worse."

Harry squirmed anway. He squirmed even more when she hurled him against the refridgerator. He hit with a sickening crack he vaguely recognized as bone snapping, and slid down to slump on the floor. Tears welled in his eyes, and he bit back a gasp of pain as sharp agony lanced up his arm.

Miss Johnson raised her wand again.

Harry gritted his teeth, sprang forward, and slammed into her.

She gave a startled yelp and dropped her wand. The walls shimmered for a moment, and he realized she must have lost her concentration. Weird, but he saw a door, and without thinking ran through it.

The living room was also shimmering, and a knot of Dursleys was trying to get through the door.

Vernon slammed a meaty fist against the glimmering surface, a satisfied grin crossing his face when it splintered. He hit it again, and it opened. Almost in unison, all four of them raced out the door.

Then his uncle nearly trampled his potions professor.

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Severus had a headache.

"Idiots. They're all idiots," he snarled venemously.

Harry shrank back into the cushioned seat and looked damnably wounded. And hungry. Irritated, Severus shoved his plate at the child and waved a negligent hand when Harry seemed about to protest.

"Eat it. You're starving." And, after all, the child had just watched three successive murders. He was shaken up, though he was fighting to not show it. A pity he was a Gryffindor, really.

Those big green eyes flashed with gratitude, a strange expression coming from one of his students, and especially from the offspring of James Potter.

The story was about as hellishly bizarre as he'd begun to expect from the boy. He felt little pity for the late Dursleys, who really were (or had been) Potter's only family. He did feel a moment's pity for Harry, but it vanished in the face of his overwhelming irritation. Wasn't somebody supposed to be watching him, making sure he was safe when he was off on the summer holidays?

Idiots. If he could have strangled any one of them, he would have done so gleefully. Especially Fudge. Oh, how he could play with that one. Why hadn't Albus kept a closer eye on the boy?

The child kept sending him surreptitious glances over his food, almost looking ready to question, speak, or start crying. He waited patiently. The boy would ask for what he needed in time. They all did. Even if they never said a word.

* * *

Harry couldn't taste the sandwich. Bite, chew, swallow. Repeat. Everything had gone numb. He couldn't feel his arm, couldn't feel the seat, couldn't feel the table, just couldn't feel a damn thing. Was it daytime? Nighttime? He didn't know.

And the cool black gaze that was boring into him wasn't helping much. Snape was sitting there, lost in shadow, like an oversized panther watching its prey. It made him feel very small and frail. Harry hated feeling weak.

The door opened with a bang. It admitted a cheerful-looking man, who headed up to the waitress with a pleasant smile. Snape looked up suddenly, sliding an ebony gaze throughout the cafe, then focusing on the man. His expression hardened.

"Stay here, child," Snape hissed, almost inaudibly, rising to his feet fluidly. "And for all our sakes, don't say a word!"

Harry shrank back into the cloak, trying his best to be inconspicuous. What now?

But Snape had already moved on.

The man had stopped flirting with the waitress and was peering around the cafe with an inquisitive look on his face. Harry slouched even more. A prickly sensation ran down his spine. Had there been this many people in the cafe before? He didn't think so... At that precise moment, the man's gaze lit on Harry. Harry shrank back again. Something cold was in the air.

A wide grin split the man's face, and he hastened over to the dark corner. "Harry Potter, is it?" the man bellowed jubilantly. "Most excellent!"

This was bad. Harry shifted his weight. If only he had his wand! At least then he would be a little bit safer.

"I've been waiting my whole life to meet you!" That was a crock if Harry ever heard one. The guy was old enough to be his father.

"Terribly unfulfilling, isn't it?" a silky voice interrupted.

Harry cringed back reflexively. He knew that tone, the exact nuances of every syllable that were so feared by every student in the school and the familiar stomach-churning dread that came with Snape peering over his cauldron and shaking his head, saying only, "Well, well, Mister Potter..."

The man looked taken aback as Snape flowed out of the shadows, his lips twisted in a slight smile and his eyes so cold the temperature in the room seemed to plummet. Harry shivered and slid out of the booth nervously, taking a few steps back. People with designs on his life he could handle, but Snape positively oozed menace. He didn't want to be in the way.

"Well, the lad is quite famous, after all!" he said, trying to sound as cheerful as before but failing miserably in the face of the potion master's dark presence.

"Yes," Snape hissed, "so he is. And now that you've met him, you may leave."

The too-large smile remained fixed in place as the man said quite pleasantly, "I'm afraid that isn't possible."

Two men leaped up from nearby tables, wands outstretched.

"You see," the man continued, the pleasant smile never leaving his face, "I'm here to catch him."

Harry clenched a fist and took a step forward. No way in hell were they taking him without a fight.

The hand that landed firmly on his shoulder stopped him in his tracks. Snape flowed forward, discreetly tucking Harry behind him as he went. Even as he moved, Harry could see his steps melt into a silent kind of stalk that made the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end.

"I'm also afraid," Snape drawled dangerously, "that I cannot permit that, as much as I would like to."

And he folded his arms and stood still as an ebony statue as the three attacked.

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AN: *giggle* This is fun. ;p Next time: Fights! Death! Carnage! Shiny things!


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