Way Down in the Valley Tonight - Chapter Four

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

Disclaimer: Is there anyone dumb enough out there to think that I actually own these guys?

* * *
-Chapter Four-

Falling over his own feet was not something Harry Potter particularly cared to do. It was a pity he was doing it so much.

His knees trembled as he half-staggered his way up an enbankment he was sure hadn't been there before. Then again, he wasn't really sure of anything. How long had they been walking? He just didn't know. His head hurt and his stomach hurt and his arm hurt and his throat hurt and his legs were aching and... he blinked hard, trying to focus. Funny, where was the horizon? Was there a horizon? He shook his head, attempting to clear it, and his only reward was a lancing pain that shot through the base of his skull.

He gave a painful whimper and almost doubled over.

The relentless movement ceased, and he almost sobbed in relief, feeling his legs give out. Harry crumpled to the ground, curling in on himself protectively, fighting the urge to burst into tears.

"For the love of-! Potter...!"

Somebody was snarling at him to get up, keep moving, we're almost there, but he couldn't move, he just couldn't! He squeezed his eyes shut as hard as he could and tried to block out the noise, huddling back into the massive cloak that served as a shield from the outside elements. Outside was bad, outside got you killed.

He didn't even make a sound when he was plucked off the ground and cradled in the dark someone's arms like a baby. He just pressed his face into a warm surface and hoped against hope that nothing else would happen.

A sigh rumbled past his eardrums, and then they were up and moving again.

It was warm.

Harry retucked his arm across his chest and closed his eyes. Angry and dark and frightening, yes, but... blessedly, wonderfully safe. Just don't think.

Stay here, stay safe. All that matters now.

Here. Him. Safe. Good.

Don't think.

* * *

He wasn't shaking anymore. That at least seemed to be a good sign. But he was still too pale, too fragile, and just too damn *vulnerable* for him to do anything but make his best attempt at being *understanding*. Harry was obviously underweight, but at least it made him easy to carry.

Severus mumbled unpleasant things under his breath as he trudged along. The fact that the child had actually latched on like a leech to him just made everything... peachy. He'd already killed more people today than he had in the last fifteen years. And all because of this brat and the damn ministry that couldn't protect him. Albus should have paid more attention.

And regardless of what most people thought, he did not get into duels to the death on a regular basis. It had happened often enough, to be sure, but not on a regular basis. As a result, his legs, arms, back, and shoulders now ached. Lugging around the dead weight of a teenager wasn't helping any.

Still, it hadn't started raining. And it wasn't much farther now.

Now if Potter stopped treating him like an oversized teddy bear, life would be grand.

* * *

The doors were huge. They were five inches thick. They were solid wood, thickly laced with magic, and when irked could become quite violent.

Snape kicked them open hard enough that they banged twice against the walls.

And wonder of wonders, there stood Albus Dumbledore and Minerva McGonagall. Waiting. How kind of them, Severus sneered to himself, then blinked as Harry twitched.

No, not just twitched. Trembled from head to foot and gulped audibly. His grip tightened enough that Severus began to wonder if the child had cut off all the circulation in his arm.

Minerva's lips went white as she took them in. He guessed they looked rather like the walking dead. There was nary a trace of Dumbledore's good humor around the man. Oh, lord, this was *bad*.

He was carring Harry Potter around like a stuffed (and battered and partially drowned) cuddly toy. But what the hell. His dignity was already in tatters, as was part of his cloak. He could take himself and the brat to the hospital wing without their help.

So he did just that, sweeping by the two in grand form. If Potter hadn't been shaking like a leaf in a hurricane, it would have looked fabulous, as though Satan were feeling strangely magnimonious and had decided to lug around a dozing Antichrist.

Snape scowled to himself. Voldemort was going to be *pissed* about today.

Come to think of it, he wasn't too pleased himself.

* * *

They must have looked bad, because Madam Pomfrey opened the door and let out a bloodcurdling shriek. Snape blinked, nonplussed, as she goggled. Her professional demeanor snapped back into place immediately.

"Severus. I'm not going to ask what happened. What's broken?"

Then she tried to drag Harry away from him. That was her first mistake.

Harry gave a high-pitched shriek that echoed twice as loudly as hers had and buried his head forcefully back against Snape's chest. Snape almost dropped him in surprise and pain. His ribs had already been the victim of someone's right hook.

Pomfrey faded back a few steps, her mouth falling open. "Potter - good heavens, child..." Her brow furrowed for an instant as she regarded the boy. She bit her lip for a moment before speaking. "Severus, can you set him down?"

Snape glanced down at the head pressed flush to his robes. "I suppose," he replied drily, and eased the child's legs to the floor. Harry held remarkably still, his breathing jagged, but the instant his feet hit the floor he shifted his grip and plastered himself to Severus' side.

He still hadn't looked up.

Dumbledore chose that moment to stroll in, trailed by a worried McGonagall, her features pinched and tight. She marched over and stood before them, arms folded and eyes cold.

"What happened." It was not a question.

"That doesn't matter right now," Dumbledore interrupted, staring at Severus with a narrow-eyed gaze. "What matters now is taking care of these two. They have had a disagreeable day."

Severus almost relaxed. With Dumbledore here, everything would be fine. ...right?

Before he had a chance to muse on that, pain flared, bright and burning, down his arm. Harry suddenly whimpered. Snape snarled silently, though he knew it had been inevitable. He was a bit surprised it had taken this long. ...damn, that hurt. He swore quietly.

Leaving had never been so inconveniant before. But life went on, no matter what you did. He glanced up and met Dumbeldore's solemn eyes.

"I have to go," Snape hissed from behind clenched teeth.

The Headmaster nodded. "Then go, Severus. And be careful. Harry? Come on now."

The arms around his waist gripped harder. Harry finally pulled his head out of Severus' robes to stare at Dumbledore, his lower lip visibly trembling. He shook his head quickly, sliding slightly behind Severus, though his grip didn't falter.

An uneasy sensation began to prickle at his senses. Something was... different.

McGonagall's expression hardened. "Harry, he has to leave now." She stepped forward, placing a gentle hand on his shoulder. He flinched away from her touch, letting out a small whimper.

Snape grimaced, trying to wiggle out of the boy's vise-like grip. He was remarkably tenacious, clinging stubbornly to his side. The uneasy feeling grew.

She placed both hands on his slim shoulders and tugged. Harry squirmed, but didn't let go.

"Harry," she began patiently, "He cannot stay here, and Madam Pomfrey has to check your injuries. You're positively dripping..." she coaxed, sliding her hands under his armpits. She yanked suddenly, and the boy tottered for an instant, but pulled back and burrowed as far into Snape's cloak as he could.

Dear God, the child was actually afraid to let him go. The absurdity of the idea was enough to strike Severus dumb.

"Albus, could you please help me?" McGonagall snapped, annoyed.

Dumbledore glanced at the slim figure wrapped around his distressed spy. His lips thinned. "Certainly, Minerva. Now child, come here." And he *tugged*.

Harry was pulled backwards, his scrambling fingers closing only on air. "No!" he shrieked, and there was something, *something* there that kept reaching and trying-

Snape took the moment to vanish out the door, leaving McGonagall and Dumbledore to deal with the hysterical Boy Who Lived.

* * *

Madam Pomfrey held his arms while McGonagall shoved him into the nearest bed.

"Let go of me! Let go!" Harry screamed, his eyes huge and frightened, glowing like cracked jewels in his pale face.

"I'm sorry, Harry," McGonagall soothed, stroking back his messy bangs. He shied away from her hand again, looking terrified.

She shook her head helplessly. "Headmaster?"

Dumbledore looked very tired. "We shall leave him to the excellent skills of Madam Pomfrey. Hopefully she will be able to aid him."

Harry thrashed around again, whimpering as he slammed up against the magical restraints Pomfrey had been forced to bind around him.

"Mister Potter," Dumbledore said softly, meeting the boy's frantic gaze calmly, "Perhaps you'd like to rest now?"

Very much against his will, the boy's eyes fluttered shut.

"...was that necessary?" McGonagall questioned slowly, reaching out hesitantly to smooth back Harry's hair.

"I know he is one of your children, Minerva," Dumbledore answered lowly, "And I am sorry this had to happen."

She blinked away tears. "Yes, headmaster."

She did not fail to notice that he hadn't answered her question.

"Poppy - just do what you can."

Pomfrey bowed her head, frowning as the child twisted uncomfortably in his sleep. "Yes, headmaster."

* * *

Dark. Light. Light-dark. Grey sunshine. Clear clouds? Shadowy. Noise, soft, humming, soothing. Voice - soft, light. Not the one he wanted. Hard-edged and dark dark dark. Where had it gone?

"Are you awake?" somebody asked quietly.

Harry tried to open his eyes, but they were just so heavy... and did he want to? What was there to see, anyway? Light-dark? Maybe dark but quiet?

"You don't have to sit up, just say something."

"Mmmpphh?" was the best he could manage. His throat felt raw. Had he ever used it before? It cracked funny, came out warbly and strange. But dark- where was it?

"Are you in full command of your faculties, child?"

"Mmm..." If he could have yawned, he would have. But his mouth was cottony and dry and even his jaw ached. Hurt. Blanket hurt, thudding and plodding through his veins and oozing down his limbs.

"Let the boy sleep."

Sleep now? But - no! Where was he? Where *was* he? They couldn't make him sleep, they just couldn't, not until he knew -

"Sleep, Harry. You'll feel better soon."

But he didn't *want* to sleep, because he didn't know where -

Blackness.

* * *

Warm now, soft and warm, not thick but gentle and soft. Mother? No, gone, long cold and dead and dark. Other? Yes, warm and good-smelling, cool hands.

His lashes fluttered open.

Light. Everywhere. Too bright, too bright, too much of dazzling sun.

He threw a hand over his face and screamed.

Voice babbling. "It's all right now, I've drawn the curtains, open your eyes now child, that's a good lad..."

Did he dare?

He peeked through his fingers and saw a woman. He knew her, he knew - mediwitch. Healer's touch, soft and cool, but not right.

He lowered his arm and blinked up at her. Light softer, tinged with darkness and shade. Good, pretty, enveloping the harshness, cloaking everything into smoothness, hiding all the scars.

Harry Potter smiled softly.

Dark. Dark was safe.

He looked around, past the warmbright presence, but the room was empty. He looked harder, trying through the walls, but it was impossible. He frowned and *pushed*, stretched himself taut all through the mighty halls, but he couldn't find what he was looking for.

She'd never stopped talking, her voice babbling like water somewhere behind him. Perhaps she knew? He turned his attention back to her. "There's twelve dead, and three were Death Eaters. The Dark Mark above the cafe too, disgusting and-"

Bright and shining and gloriously grotesque, the product of a whispered word from his protector. Perverse, twisted, cool - not what he'd thought he wanted, not what he needed. But he looked down again, and though he couldn't see, he knew those eyes had narrowed, demanding and criticizing of his weakness. Understand or die, he knew, he knew understanding and he knew death better than he did life, didn't he? Yes, because he'd had a life in his hands and he had broken it, broken it with silver light, let it fall all over him, warm and thick and beautiful, burning his skin, because it hadn't been beautiful, it had been warped and sick and disgusting and he'd *hated* it because it was so vile and slimy and oozing. But there had been others, bright-eyed others, smiles and laughs and bravery, all gone so still and so shattered, all little china dolls. And still more, caricatures of true life, not beautiful but still important, like spilled salt tumbling from the table.

Shattering and screaming and light that burned, that shrieked and tore and cracked and made the air wail.

He was drowning in it, the rush and roar so loud behind his head, inside his head. He shook it hard and pressed his hands to it to stop the screaming, but it didn't stop, it wouldn't ever stop, and it was all because of him, it was all his fault, he knew it, he knew it!

* * *

Madam Pomfrey didn't know how Albus Dumbledore had gotten down to Harry Potter's bed within the second he started to scream. She could only be glad he was there.

"Harry, please! Be still!"

He quieted for a moment, seemingly confused. "Still? ...dead. No. No! I didn't mean to!" he wailed, "I didn't! I had to, I had to, he knows, he let me do it, I had to! I *had* to!"

Pomfrey reached out a hand, but he dove backwards into the pillows. "Don't touch me!" he howled, "Just *don't*!"

* * *

Stay away, stay away! Get back, go away, go away!

They could be hurt, yes, he'd touch them and poison them and they'd go away too, all lost in blood and grime and dirt. He couldn't do that, they were pure and strong and bright - everything that had once been, wasn't now, never would be again.

Scared.

They didn't know, they couldn't know, they kept trying to reach him, but they shouldn't, they shouldn't, they couldn't protect themselves against him because they didn't know they needed protection.

But who was going to protect *him*?

Where had his savior gone, the only one he could touch, the dark warm one, safe because he was the same, safe because he understood - where had he gone?

Away, cold, dead?

No! No no nononononononononononono...

But gone?

Empty-quiet, no shadow sweeping through the castle, no flame and liquid and shimmering shadow.

Where was he?

Where did he go?!

Where was he?!?

* * *

His small hands were fisted in the bedsheets, his breath was heavy and ragged, and sweat slicked his forehead and dampened his pajama top. How was she supposed to deal with this?

"Harry!"

He started at the sound of his name, turning a strange expression towards her. Wild and desperate and sharp as a whipcrack, his whole body shivering with tension. What was the *matter* with this child?

"Where is he?" he screamed suddenly, his voice raw and cracking. Harry gulped in another breath, gasping, "Where did he *go*?"

Madam Pomfrey tried to coax him back down again, but he pushed her away. "No! Don't touch me! Go away! Leave me alone!"

Dumbledore inched forward again. "Harry, please, we need you to relax."

Those wild green eyes latched onto him, desperation screaming out of every pore of the child's body.

"Please?" he whispered, suddenly quiet. "You have to know, you have to..."

He still looked imploring as Dumbledore put him to sleep.

Still, soft, tense.

Madam Pomfrey shook her head.

Poor boy.

* * *

Breaking and entering was illegal.

Interestingly enough, this had never stopped Severus Snape before, and it never would. So as soon as he apparated into Hogsmede, he broke into the nearest empty house.

It paid to be a Slytherin. They were the only ones who tended to carry around lockpicks. Wizards had all sorts of charms on their doors, but they usually overlooked the more mundane ways of commiting minor felonies. He found the floo powder easily, lit a fire, and was gone within three minutes.

The family would never notice he'd been there. He hoped he hadn't dripped blood on the carpet.

As soon as he tumbled out of the fireplace, Minerva seized him by the robes and started to haul him off to the hospital wing. She said not a word the entire time.

Dumbledore and Madam Pomfrey stood at the entrace, conversing quietly. Then they looked up and saw him.

Madam Pomfrey looked ready to throttle him, he thought with amused detachment as she zipped over and poked and prodded him incessantly with her wand.

"Just like Mister Potter," she began, "You've been doing things that you shouldn't. Why am I not surprised? Discretion, Severus. I would have thought you'd be a master of it. It means not doing foolish things that can result in missing limbs. You are aware of this, are you not?"

Feeling quite put out by the comparison to Harry, he rasped, "Poppy, I've had a rather bad day. Kindly quit jabbering and do your job."

"Only if you behave so I *can* do it," she snapped irritably.

* * *

Harry woke with a start, casting a panicked glance around the empty room, noticing only vaguely the moonlight that poured through the windows and rendered everything blank and sterile.

Some sound? Yes, but nothing sharp and cruel and deadly, no sounds of broken glass. He would have been able to tell. He shuddered. Able to tell so much...

"Severus, lie down!"

A thud, than an outraged reply.

"Do you mind, woman?!"

He was here! Stormy dark and irritation and silken anger, burning emerald. Here here here!

Harry staggered up out of the bed, trailing blankets as he stumbled across the cold floors. He was here but was he all right? Oh God, what if he was hurt? His stomach clamped at the thought.

He *has* to be okay.

Harry squinched his eyelids shut against the stinging that arose behind them as he staggered along.

He *must* be okay.

Somewhere deep inside, Harry wondered who, exactly, he was trying to convince.

* * *

Damn, damn, damn, damn, damn, damn, damn. Severus didn't even feel well enough to snarl at Poppy when she wrestled him into the hospital bed.

Her attention was abrubtly diverted by a soft shuffling sound coming somewhere from the other wing. Severus would have looked but for the splitting headache that was throbbing behind his temples.

"Mr. Potter!" Poppy gasped, "Get back into bed!"

The boy hovered at the doorway for a moment. Deathly pale, wide eyes made murky with tears, biting his lip so hard he was drawing blood, shaking and frail, about to topple over. Harry looked like his salvation had come, albeit in damaged packaging. He looked ready to burst into tears. That *something* tingled at his senses again, delicate and probing. Needy.

Severus had a sneaking suspicion that he was in deep shit. Potter stepped forward gingerly for all of two seconds before flinging himself headfirst across the room.

He winced as the boy crashed forcibly into him, wrapping slim arms tightly around his waist. His cracked ribs screamed in protest as the boy shifted closer, but he gritted his teeth and said nothing.

Madam Pomfrey stared at them, her dark eyes very wide as she took in the spectacle.

Snape just glowered at her.

Harry sniffled and buried his head against Snape's shoulder. He was crying silently, his whole body heaving with repressed sobs, and hanging onto the professor like a lifeline.

Why oh why did fate force him into these situations? It just wasn't fair.

But then despite all that had happened, Harry was only a child, and Severus had spent longer than he cared to recall acting in loco parentis for his own horde of unruly teenagers.

So really, he didn't have a choice.

* * *

Pain and dark and sweat and silver and green. Shadowy light, whispers of darkness coiled, neat and serpentine, around the flickering flame.

He was here and everything was going to be okay now, everything would be fine, everything would be back to normal, because he was here.

Everything would be all right now.

Harry didn't stop crying. He couldn't.

The man relaxed slightly, the tension draining from his obviously aching muscles. He didn't return the embrace - he just sat quietly, his breathing slow and even and utterly soothing.

Harry closed his eyes and dug his fingers further into the thick fabric. All right now.

Right now.

He was warm.

* * *

"Severus?"

He didn't look up. "What."

"Would you like me to move him?"

"Let him be," he sighed. "It's all right... but only for now."

Poppy shook her head, and regarded the boy solemnly. "I don't know if that child will ever be all right."

Severus shook his head as much as he dared, raising a slender hand to idly stroke the child's hair. "No one ever is."

"Speaking from experience?"

Snape said nothing.

* * *

AN: Next time: Stuff! Oh my, where did that mangy black mutt come from? Feedback?

Back to Ch. 3
Onward ho! To Chapter Five!
Back to Miscellaneous Fanfic
Back to Fanfic
Back Home