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Way Down in the Valley Tonight
by Edmondia Dantes

Disclaimer:  Me no own, you no sue.

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-Chapter Six-

Forced stillness.  It shivered down his spine and tingled in his fingertips.

Professor Snape wasn't happy.

Quiet and irritated and comfortably sharp, but not happy.

Harry frowned to himself.  Was it because he'd -

No!

Remember the quiet silken darkness - it would save him again, it always did.  Save him before he lost himself.

* * *

That something kept brushing up against him for reassurance.  It tickled horribly.

Severus Snape switched his glare from Sirius Black down to Harry Potter.

The real question was, would the brat finally talk?  He'd been told about the screaming fits (and in the name of Slytherin wasn't it bloody wonderful that the child had been asking for *him* of all the damn wizards in the whole damn castle) and the crying and the hysteria.  And of course, that lovely instance with Lupin and Black - he didn't know what happened, but considering how tightly Potter had latched onto him, he could hazard a guess that it hadn't been too much fun.

So Harry Potter could scream and wail and cry with no trouble.

But could he actually say what was bothering him?

Those wide, luminous eyes watched him with a vaguely disquieting expression hidden in their shimmering depths.

Snape felt vaguely embarrassed by the whole thing.  The head of Slytherin House was now the savior of a damn Gryffindor.  His reputation would be shot to hell.

Evidently Dumbledore had tired of the chokingly thick silence that flooded the air, because he clapped his hands sharply, drawing the attention of the five adults in the room.  Potter blinked and looked over in his direction almost shyly.

"Well!  Perhaps now would be a good time for us to discover what transpired to bring us all to such a state.  Mister Potter?"

A very long pause.  "Y... yes?" Harry questioned tentatively, biting his lip and darting a quick, frightened look at all of them.

"Can you please tell us what happened?" Dumbledore asked kindly, his voice very gentle and soothing.

Those bright eyes squeezed shut. Harry shook his head vehemently, raising one trembling hand to his head, almost as if he were in pain. Severus stifled the urge to sigh as the other hand snaked surreptitiously around his leg.

This was humiliating. And the fact that Sirius Black kept snarling in his direction was just plain annoying. Remus Lupin, thankfully, kept poking the infernal man in the side and distracting him, interrupting the intense scrutiny Black layered on his godson, and Severus himself. His grumpy musings were interrupted by a soft, soothing voice.

"Harry?" Minerva had apparently decided coaxing was the best way to lower the child's defenses.

The ebony head shook harder, accompanied by a soft wail that sounded vaguely like, "Nononono don't think about it no no no..."

Dumbledore's eyes narrowed behind his glasses.  "Harry, please.  We know this is difficult, but we must know what happened."

Then why the hell weren't they asking him instead of a fourteen year old boy who'd just committed his first murder?

Minerva caught his eye and shook her head almost imperceptibly.  Oh.  Try to get the kid to open up, right.  Have him deal with his problem.    ...good lord, they should know better by now.  Coaxing and appealing to someone's better nature never worked.  They'd tried the same thing on him when he'd been a student, and it hadn't worked then, so why should it now?

Idiocy.  Ineffectual idiocy.

Severus thought longingly of the many joys of strangulation. This wasn't working, even that moron Black had noticed. There was a certain finesse required to make a teenager speak, several devastating techniques that could make any child bawl like a two-year-old. They should be applied with the utmost care. The somewhat gentle tone had worked before. It wouldn't now.

He leaned over the armrest and seized Harry Potter by the chin, forcing his head up so he could meet his eyes.  Harry squeaked and stared, sitting very still.  Severus leaned forward just enough to loom threateningly over the child.

"Potter," he hissed silkily, "Speak up."

Harry gulped.

"Now," he pressed insistantly, voice dark.

Harry cringed back, but the acquiescence was clear in his eyes.

Snape abrubtly sat back and folded his arms, glaring coldly down at the boy, who ran a nervous hand through his hair before retangling himself in Severus' cloak. Harry ducked his head down for a long moment, took a deep breath, and looked back up, eyes fixed firmly on Snape.

His glassy gaze didn't falter as he recounted what had happened in a purely mechanical manner.

* * *

Remus Lupin found himself gaping at Harry Potter.  He was quite certain he wasn't alone.  Minerva looked horrified, and Sirius looked like he was going to be ill.  Dumbledore's expression could have been carved of granite.

But for the love of anyone, of anything...

"We apparated into Hogsmede and walked back here.  Then we went to the hospital wing and Professor Snape left.  That's all."

The child's clear voice was just as flat and emotionless as it had been throughout the whole horrifying story. Even more disturbingly, he hadn't looked away from Snape once. For his part, Snape merely sat in silence, long fingers linked in a contemplative pose, his face completely expressionless.

There had been no flourishes, no emotion. Just a solemn, quiet tale narrated by a boy who had not once even so much as glanced at them.

God... Harry Potter, little Harry Potter - light of Lily and James' lives, and look what had happened to their precious little boy.  Curled up like some dark apostle at the feet of a Death Eater, a murderer at the age of fourteen, and something unholy gleaming unnaturally bright in his eyes.  Never mind that the Death Eater was supposedly reformed, the mere fact that Harry kept so close to his side was enough to make the hairs on the back of Lupin's neck prickle.

"...my God."  Minerva's soft exclaimation broke the horror-struck
silence.

Harry startled at the noise and twisted around, looking at the others for the first time.  His face was deathly pale, his white-knuckled fingers knotted deeply in Snape's cloak, his trembling lips compressed tightly enough that they seemed completely bloodless.  His eyes... Lupin recognized that look, he knew he wore it himself whenever the wolf in him stirred in pain - feral and wild.

"Harry?" Sirius whispered, rising out of his seat slowly.

Lupin caught his arm and eased him back down.  A repeat of this morning was the last thing they all needed.  Sirius went silently, remarkably without protest.  His expression was cloudy, pale and drawn.  Memories of his own torment - he could relate.

But Harry was frozen in quiet stillness, latched protectively onto Snape's cloak. The tense atmosphere seemed glassy, fragile and ready to shatter as soon as someone so much as breathed.

Dumbledore made himself conspicuous by his silence.

For a long moment, the air hung thick and syrupy with emotion.

"Well," a sharp voice dropped like lead through the heavy atmosphere, "You did ask him."

Dumbledore flashed a sharp glance over at Snape, who merely gave him an inscrutable look in return.  "Actually Severus, I believe it was your command that did the trick."

Snape blinked.  "Better than the alternative."

"What's the alternative?" Sirius grumbled. His expression was dark.

Black eyes slitted as they slid in his direction.  "Dead silence."

"Death would be agreeable," Sirius growled low in his throat, fingers sliding down to hover over his wand.

A half-second later, he and Snape were glaring across the room at each other, wands lifted in proper dueling position.

"For the love of Gryffindor-" McGonagall began, incensed.

"Padfoot, you're an idiot!" Remus exclaimed, slapping his forehead with his palm.

The room erupted in an irritated clamor. Beneath the din, no one heard a soft voice whisper, "Dead?" And no one saw nor heard it when Harry Potter closed his eyes, clenched his fists, and wailed almost inaudibly.

Sirius shoved an annoyed Lupin away. "What the fuck does he think-"

Lupin sighed, cracked his knuckles, and deftly hauled him back again. "Stop with the insults!" he hissed.

Black wriggled away. "The fuck I will!"

McGonagall jumped to her feet. "Language! In front of a student!" she snapped, casting an accusatory glance at the two Marauders. "Albus, tell these... gentlemen... to behave themselves!"

Dumbledore's placid expression never faltered. He was looking elsewhere.

McGongall, however, was not. She shot a cold glare at the three standing men, darting over in front of Snape to scowl briefly up at him. "Quiet down, both of you! How old-"

Sirius evaded Lupin's grasp again. "If this bastard does anything-"

Snape glared over McGonagall's head and snarled through gritted teeth, "This blind fool's incompetence knows no bounds! Kindly allow me to dismember him!"

"Severus!" she snapped, "You're no better than he is!"

He looked livid. "For the love of Merlin, woman, please refrain from comparing me to that rabid-"

Sirius had developed a violent twitch in his cheek. "Oh, so now I'm rabid, too, is that it? You slimy little-"

Snape rolled his eyes and snorted. "Please, Black, haven't we all heard these petty schoolboy insults before? One would have thought that your vocabulary was more expansive by now. Still, an uneducated boor like yourself-"

"You know, you're not helping!" Lupin growled, plunging back into the fray and yanking Black away from Snape.

"My sincerest apologies." The sarcasm positively dripped from the frigid words.

Black lunged for him again, halted only by Lupin's sudden tackle. He grunted in surprise as he slammed into the floor and futilely tried to twist away. "Moony, you traitor!" he snapped, trying to glare up at his companion.

Lupin was close to tearing his hair out with frustration. He smacked Black's head not-so-gently against the floor, growling angrily, "Will you two please sit down?!"

"You're sitting on me!" Black retorted.

McGonagall took that moment to shove Snape backwards towards his chair.

"I beg your-" he began, highly affronted, when yet another absurd happening presented itself.

Harry Potter gave a choked little cry, leapt to his feet, and flung both arms around Snape, burying his face in his shoulder.

"I should have expected as much," Snape snarled into the sudden, stunned silence.

Lupin rubbed a weary hand over his eyes. "...really."

* * *

Stop shouting, stop shouting!

Silence. Prickly, wounded silence.

He lifted his head from the soft folds of the robe (soft, soft, not sticky and rough with encrusted blood, soft soft like pillows and thickwarm blankets) and cracked open an eye.

NO!

Why are you all staring at me? Go away!

Don't hate me...

You don't hate me, do you?

Please?

"Harry?"

Gentlesad voice, blue eyes black hair, wanted to hurt protector but not him - loved him, cared for him -

Sirius? Black? Godfather.

...knew him.

Couldn't know him.

He pressed his hands over his ears because he didn't want to hear their whispers, their condemnation.

You don't know me now.

* * *

They watched him in his silence.

Lupin eased off of Sirius' back and tugged the unresisting Black into a sitting position next to him. McGonagall dropped back into a chair somewhere behind them.

...someone fix this, Remus pleaded silently. Futile hopes, that was all they were. But please...

Dumbledore's eyes were solemn as he broke the delicate stillness. "Severus, what do you think?"

...the Hell? Remus wondered, casting a glance over at Snape and his unwelcome burden. It hurt to see, made his stomach churn and acid burn his throat.

And if he felt like this, what about Sirius?

Snape glanced up moodily from his studied contemplation of Harry's hair. "At the very least, it would require a crowbar to remove the child from my person."

Harry slowly tilted his head back and blinked owlishly up at him, a slightly puzzled look on his face. But the expression was more trusting than anything he had given anyone else. And that stung. Viciously.

Snape scowled and rapped him harshly on the head. Harry just smiled wanly and - he did not just cuddle up to Severus Snape. He did *not*. But there it was. Thin arms wrapped around his waist and untrusting eyes peeking warily from their position where Harry pressed his head against Snape's chest. Stinging? Hardly. This felt like someone had hacked off a limb or two.

Snape seemed equally incredulous.  "And you're certainly welcome to try," he continued, his dark eyes just a bit wider than usual.

Sirius growled, though whether it was at the comment or the movement was uncertain.  Snape's mouth twisted, and he looked ready to fire off a biting response, or a particularly nasty hex.

Harry's stance stiffened. Dangerous territory. Well shit. Lupin sighed and sidled in between them.  "Boys?  Civilized?  Come on now, we worked on this.  Be nice."

"Nice," the two snarled in unison.

Dumbledore's quiet 'ahem' sent both of them back to their respective corners. He changed the subject abrubtly. "I was wondering, Severus, if perhaps you could inform us as to what Voldemort thinks of this situation?"

Snape slinked back into his chair, trailed by Harry, who somehow managed to curl up against his side despite the fact that the chair was nowhere big enough to accomodate them both. Remus was stuck again with the notion that he looked just like a porcelain doll.

"Did you know," Snape asked lazily, "That Lord Voldemort is at times a very grouchy person?"

Lupin felt his eyebrows raise to his hairline.

"Do tell," McGonagall remarked dryly.

Snape rolled his eyes and snorted.  "If you insist."

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