Way Down in the Valley Tonight - Chapter Five * * *
Way Down in the Valley Tonight
by Edmondia Dantes

Disclaimer:  No own, no sue.

* * *
-Chapter Five-
 

Light, softsoft, trickling through his lashes to tease his body into wakefulness.

Morning?

His eyelids felt heavy.  He blinked drowsily, willing the world to focus.  It refused.

...glasses.

One hand fumbled blindly along the crisp white sheets, reached a bit farther, and closed on the frames.

Harry Potter rolled over and put on his glasses.

He blinked up at the high ceiling of the hospital wing.

Morning.

The light was the sun, streaming in through the grand windows.

Morning.  He was in his bed, wearing striped pajamas.

What happened?  Where was his protector?

He sat up with a gasp, throwing back his bedsheets and jumping out of bed only to slip on the stone floor and land hard on his rump.

"Graceful as a roaring drunk Hagrid, aren't you Potter?" a cool voice inquired.  Soft footfalls reached his side, and he looked up into pure darkness.

His shadow!

Harry staggered upright and flung his arms around the man.  He was here!

His savior made an exasperated sound and halfheartedly tried to pull away.  He snuggled in closer.  Reluctant, this one, and easily lost.  He'd have to keep close.

A deep, heartfelt sigh.  "Despite the obvious difficulty you have with ambulation, there is someone who wishes to see you.  Come on then."

With that he strode forward, heedless of the desperate grip around his middle.  Harry frowned, considering, and rewrapped himself around one ebony-clad arm.

Hmm.  Professor Snape sure knew a lot of curse words.

Harry bit his lip and curled just a bit tighter around him.  He'd known others with the same skill, and look what had happened to them.

"They didn't know what they were doing.  I do."

Harry blinked, startled.  How had he-?  He looked up, curious, but he couldn't read the expression on Snape's face at all.

* * *

Dumbledore was waiting for them.

Severus tried vainly to pry Harry off of him again as they slipped through the door, but it was futile.

He stood silently as the headmaster addressed Harry.  He seemed to be speaking through water, the words slurred and dreamy.  Severus knew he could hear him perfectly well, he was physically fine.  Except for his arm, which he could no longer feel.

If Potter was projecting all of this he would kill him.

Dumbledore pried the brat off of him (a miracle!) and offered him a chair as he shuffled the boy through a side door.

Snape collapsed gratefully into the soft cushions.

He seriously needed a nap.

* * *

Remus Lupin leaned against a wall.  It was a very chilly wall, he noticed, that of a side room off of Dumbledore's office.  No tapestries.  He watched quietly as Sirius Black paced.  And paced.  And paced some more.  Then turned around and started pacing the other way.  It was getting hypnotic.

"Padfoot?"

Silence, save for the steady tread of his feet.

"Padfoot."

Another circle.

"Sirius!"

The man finally jumped, turning an accusing gaze his way.  "What?" he snarled.

"You're getting me dizzy."

His vicious expression melted into something much more sulky.  "Sorry."

He was lying through his teeth, but Remus ignored it.  "I'm just as worried about him as you are.  Now sit."

"I don't want to."

"Then stand still."

To his credit, Sirius did try.  It was just the fact that he kept twitching, glancing at the door, and tapping his feet that ruined it.

Remus stifled an exasperated sigh.  Harry would come when he would.  Now if only Padfoot realized that working himself into a frenzy was ridiculous, all would be well.  "Sirius.  Relax."

Black sighed heavily, replying tersely, "I'm trying, Moony.  Okay?"

Remus walked over and rested a hand on his shoulder, noticing as he did the tension threaded tightly through his muscles.  "He's alive.  Be thankful for that."

"I am!" Sirius burst out in frustration, wrenching his arms out of Remus' grip and causing the werewolf to fade back a few paces.  "I'm overjoyed that he's okay!  Just..."

Lupin knew what was coming.  He folded his arms and waited patiently for the explosion.  It didn't take long.

"Why couldn't I have been there?  I'm his godfather, I'm supposed to protect him!" Sirius exclaimed, pounding a fist uselessly against the stone wall.

Remus sidled forward and plucked his friend's bruised hand away from the wall.  "We didn't know this could happen.  There was nothing anyone could have done."

"Snape did something," Sirius growled, turning a dark glower to the room at large.

Ah.  Salt in the wound, as it were.  "That was sheer coincidence, and you know it.  It's all for the best, anyway  Just imagine what could have happened if he hadn't run into Harry."

Sirius looked away, setting his jaw stubbornly.  After a long moment, he nodded, reluctantly conceding the point.  "But still... damn it, why the hell did it have to be Snape?" he spat the name as though it tasted foul.  "Of all the wizards in the world - for God's sake, he *hates* Harry!  His mental state's all fucked up, and I'll bet you anything Snape doesn't give a damn!  He's the absolute worst person to be dealing with Harry in his condition!"

Remus silently agreed, but aloud said only, "I know, Padfoot.  But that's the way it is, and there's nothing we can do about it."

Sirius drew in a long breath.  "Yeah.  I know too.  Just... aw, fuck it all."

"That's what I was thinking."

The smile that Sirius flashed his way was a pale imitation of his usual sparkling one.  There was no brightness in his clear eyes.

Remus frowned for a moment.  They hadn't even seen Harry yet.  And Dumbledore had been extremely vague about just what was wrong with him.   He had the sneaking suspicion that something very strange had occurred after all the chaos, but he was damned if he knew what it was.

The door opened at that moment.  It admitted a slim form, which slipped in and hesitated before turning back to look out the door.  After a moment, it nodded weakly to someone he couldn't see and closed the door with a trembling hand.

Sirius was across the room like a shot, coming to a screeching halt in front of his godson.

"Harry?"

Oh God, was that Harry?  Lupin followed Sirius' path, a knot settling in his stomach.

Striped pajamas, messy hair, far too tiny, and a blank look on his pale face.  He looked all right - sort of.  But still, there was something *wrong*.

"S... Sirius?  Professor Lupin?" he questioned childishly, turning an inquisitive gaze on them both.

"Harry... good God..." Black muttered, equally stunned.

He bit his lip, casting a glance at the doors behind him, before giving them a watery smile.

"Hi..." he said softly.

Sirius broke from his paralysis and swept forward, scooping his godson into a tight hug.  "Are you all right?" he questioned, but Harry visibly stiffened.  He said nothing, just stood very still as Sirius hugged him.

The large eyes that peered over Sirius' broad shoulder took on a frantic glaze that Lupin didn't like one bit.

What the hell was wrong with this boy?

* * *

His darkness - light drifted at the edges, probing, testing... it sliced through the comfort and grasped at him with burning fingers.

No please no!

But it only intruded more, lacing through the quiet blackness, illuminating what he didn't want to see.

Blank eyes staring, light dancing across lakes of crimson, broken dolls with limbs askew.  Laughter and broken glass and the taste of sawdust coating his mouth.

Harry closed his eyes as tightly as he could.  Stay away and let me be!

He tried to fight it, but it sank into his skin, flaring brilliantly.  It choked the air from his lungs - look what you've done! -

No no no!

But his desperate pleas were drowned in the light.  And even though he knew it loved him, even though the intent was pure, even through all of this it was killing him.

...please...

I'm losing me - this light is too strong - you're blinding me!

I love you, but let me go!

* * *

"Go away!"

Sirius and Lupin both gawked as Harry flung himself violently backwards.  He scrambled all the way to the wall, staring at them with an expression of horror on his face.

"...Harry?" Sirius managed, stepping cautiously forward, watching as he slid further along the wall, away from the door.

"Harry, what's the matter?" Lupin demanded, his heart in his throat.  That wail had been more jarring than a banshee's cry.  And to hear such a tortured sound from a mere child...

Tears glittered in his eyes.  "Please just go... you don't understand!  Please!"

"But - we can't.  For the love of God, what's the matter?" Sirius continued, panic creeping onto his face.

Harry shook his head violently, as if trying to banish an unpleasant image from his mind.  "Go away go away!  Please!  You have to!"

Lupin swallowed.  This was very, very wrong.

Sirius seemed to be thinking the same, inching forward as if to soothe the boy.  Harry kept scooting away, looking cornered and desperate.

Well.  There was only one thing to do.

He stepped up and grabbed Sirius' arm.  "C'mon, Padfoot."  Remus tugged hard, to no avail.  Sirius was frowning, a look of intense concentration and befuddlement on his face as he regarded his godson.

Harry gave a sniffling hiccup and slid down the wall, still looking terrified.  Good lord, he was so fragile, it looked like the slightest breeze would shatter him.

"Come.  On.  Padfoot." Remus repeated.  He tugged harder.  Sirius still didn't move.  Harry looked like he was either about to start sobbing or screaming, and Remus had a sneaking suspicion that the two of them weren't helping any.  So he gritted his teeth and pulled with all of his considerable strength.

Sirius kept staring at Harry even as Lupin dragged him bodily out the door.

He watched quietly as the boy shuddered visibly, wrapping his arms around his knees.  His dark head ducked down, and Remus could swear he had begun to shake, his slim frame wracked with violent sobs.

Then the door slammed shut, and they were suddenly standing in Minerva McGonagall's office.

She regarded their disheveled appearance for a quiet moment.

"You've seen Harry, then."

Lupin nodded for the both of them.

"Oh dear."

* * *

Severus glanced up, startled out of his light doze.  That *something* brushed feather-light against him, soft and clinging tightly.  Hell.

"That didn't go well," he murmured.

Dumbledore sighed.  "I thought that was the case.  I'm afraid, Severus, that this problem shall be more difficult to rectify than I had imagined."

Severus rolled his eyes.  "Do tell," he muttered.  "Is that all?"

"Yes.  You may leave, if you so choose."

Snape nodded and stalked over to the side doors.  He flung them open violently and vanished inside.

Dumbledore watched him go quietly, a worried expression creasing his face.

This did not bode well.

* * *

He didn't want to do this.

He would rather dance a tango with Lockhart than do this.

Life sucked.  Royally.

Severus sighed deeply and flung open the door.

Potter was there, leaning heavily against a wall, a miserable little figure who looked absolutely ridiculous in those stripes.

Harry looked up, his lower lip trembling.  He was crying again, sobbing so desperately that it looked painful.

Snape strode over, looming over the wide-eyed boy for a moment.

He really didn't want to do this.  But he was damned anyway.

Severus slid down the wall and sat next to the boy.  Harry immediately brightened and looped both arms around his middle.  He curled up against his side, his sobs quieting to soft sniffles.

Damn it all.

* * *

Safe.  Darkness covered everything.  Warm.

He must have dozed off, because when he opened his eyes again he was curled up on a velvety chair and staring the headmaster in the eyes.

Harry tried to slink back into the comforting darkness, but he couldn't, not with that clear gaze scorching his soul.

It hurt, sharplight talons raking down his self, digging into wounds that were already there.  It hurt so much...

But he couldn't run away, and Snape was nowhere in sight.

He was doomed, he just knew it, because they'd all hate him now - he'd done it, the unspeakable, he was at fault -

No!  Don't think!

* * *

Lupin sat quietly, stealing the occasional glance over at a worried-looking McGonagall.  Sirius, who had dubbed the meeting 'The Potter Problem', was absently gnawing on his thumbnail and staring at his godson.

The main player was curled up in an overstuffed chair and staring at the floor.  He looked as though he was trying to disappear into the fabric.

Snape finally showed up.  Lupin idly wondered where he'd been.  The potions master swept past Lupin and Black and settled with a graceful swirl of his cloak into one of the high chairs in front of Dumbledore's desk.

Half a moment later, Harry eased out of his chair, shuffled awkwardly over to his side, and plopped down on the floor next to Snape.  One pale hand reached up and latched instantly onto the trailing edge of Snape's midnight-black cloak.

Snape said nary a word.  Lupin gaped, trying to decide whether he should be amused or horrified.  But that was James Potter's son, hanging onto James Potter's worst enemy as if the man were a lifeline.

Beside him, Sirius choked.

Lupin was suddenly reminded of another child, a palefaced little slip of a Slytherin second-year, shaking from an encounter in the Forbidden Forest, holding herself very stiffly and far away from him as he ushered her up to the Headmaster's office.  Snape had met them there, and the aloof but upset look on her face had been replaced by an expression of utmost relief for a heartbeat before she'd darted forward and flung herself behind her Head of House.

God only knew why, but his Slytherins adored the man.

Now that was a disturbing thought.  Harry was a Gryffindor.

But Snape was tolerating his presence and the fact that he'd inched over so much as to be resting his head on the arm of Snape's chair, a bit of cloak wadded up to act almost as a pillow.

Lupin frowned, watching Snape drum his fingers idly against the velvet.  In a move so subtle he would have missed it had he not had exceptional eyesight, those long fingers brushed for a moment through the tangled mass of Harry's ebony hair.

The wild light in Harry's eyes dimmed down to a dull roar at the contact, his features softening.  He scooted forward a bit and wrapped both hands into the cloak, tugging at it until it almost spilled out of his lap.  Snape grimaced, but allowed it just the same.

If Lupin hadn't known better, he would have sworn Albus had seen it as well, and watched the two with an expression of grave concern.

But why would this upset Dumbledore?

* * *

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