The night was dark and still, with only a handful of stars gleaming in the ebony sky. A determined firefly beat against a dirty window on an old London apartment. Again and again, like determined fire, it thudded against the gloomy glass. Emboldened by the mistaken belief that its own reflection was a susceptible mate, it continued in its fruitless task. Behind that very window, eclipsed by ancient magic, sat six children and a tattered looking man. They were gathered in a crowded sitting room, their eyes hazily fixed on a fire.
A heavy silence hung in the room, the only sound the growling of the fire. Each person sat stony-faced and somber around the fire-light. Two twin boys laid on a worn sofa, looking anything but relaxed. A red-haired girl sat cross-legged on the floor near their feet, anxiously tearing at a loose thread from her sweater. Directly across from the red-haired girl sat a girl with frizzy hair. Peering up at the clock, she excused herself quietly and tiptoed out of the room.
Close to the fire a freckled boy with a long thin nose prodded a burnt out log with an iron rod. With each furious stab at the wood a swarm of crimson embers swirled upwards into the air. Beside him sat his be-speckled friend with a curious scar on his forehead. He remained transfixed by the fire, carefully supervising his friend's work.
To their left sat a middle aged man in an armchair. The man seemed most somber of all. His grey eyes appeared tortured, and he nervously rubbed his forehead. At that moment, the grandfather clock chimed one o'clock in the morning.
"You lot should be getting some rest now." He said gravely.
The red-haired children did not acknowledge the older man's comment. Tonight, sleep was out of the question.
The be-speckled boy stirred. He lifted his glasses to rub a weary eye and muttered about wanting some water. He lifted himself from the ground and exited the room, heading towards the kitchen a short way down the hall.
Each step he took on the rotten wooden floor released a deep, moaning creek. The floorboard's chorus echoed in the narrow hallway and deepened to a sound akin to the cracking of bones. The light from low-hanging candles sent out whispy shadows, waving all the more ominously as Harry whisked by. Threads of dark and light clashed and ebbed, engaged in white-hot battle.
Harry shuddered. He could not help the immense feelings of guilt and anxiety pounding through his mind. The Order was out fighting to protect him and all the other innocents, while Harry sat tucked away in a safe house. Although he was afraid – very afraid – he wanted to help the Order. Why should these people go out to fight, perhaps even die, without him fighting alongside them? He deeply feared that by morning light, the Order would be a few members short.
He could lose Lupin, the best teacher he ever had, and one of the strongest men he knew in the face of prejudice.
Or he could lose Tonks, a kindhearted woman who added a touch of color into his grey world.
Or he could lose Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, the nearest people he had to real, loving parents. They were the parents of his best friend, of lovely Ginny, mischievous twins, and clever older boys out tackling the world. If Molly and Arthur were lost, things would never be the same. Harry had lost his own parents years ago. He would never wish his loss on anyone.
Harry entered the kitchen and poured himself a tall glass of cool water. He suppressed pangs of hunger, as dinner had not been served that evening. He was in no mood to eat, nor to sleep. All he could do was wait for the others to return and hold onto the glimmer of hope that they would, indeed, return.
As Harry sipped the water he heard the sound of approaching foot steps. Once more the floor boards groaned and cracked, until a melancholy Hermione appeared in the dim light. She approached Harry silently. In her arms rested a pair of neatly folded robes.
"I knicked these from Sirius's room. They'll fit after Fred has changed."
"And the potion?" He whispered.
"Complete. It should do fine. It's all bottled in my room."
The boy nodded slowly and looked his friend in the eyes.
Her big, brown eyes seemed watery, as though she had been crying. She quickly avoided his gaze and sniffled softly.
"We ought to do it soon. The potion loses potency after 72 hours."
"And we have err – how many more days?"
"Fantastic." Harry muttered. He drained his glass and the two moved towards the hall.
"And err – Harry?"
Harry glanced sideways at his companion.
"I think they'll need some dreamless draught tonight. I would go ask, you know, myself but he's still rather livid about the wolfsbane incident. Maybe you could…?"
She never finished the sentence.
"Yeah, I'll ask him." Harry replied grimacing. He was doubtful that anyone would be sleeping, much less be in need of dreamless draught.
Hermione stared at him with consoling eyes.
"You never told us what he said to you." She replied carefully.
Harry stiffened up, but said nothing.
He shrugged. "Maybe later. I'll be right back." He said tersely.
"Just don't worry about me, Hermione. I'll be alright. Just go keep Ron company. He needs it more than I do."
He left Hermione behind in the darkness. His encounter with Snape hadn't been terrible, but it had been much too uncomfortably personal. It wasn't easy hearing stories about your long-lost mother from your arch enemy. He could not express emotion in front of that man, he felt it would be seen as weakness and future fodder for Snape's bullying. But what bothered him most was that although Snape had told him plenty about Lily, he never specified his relationship with her. Harry knew from Sirius that they had been childhood friends, but how close were they? Sure, Lupin and Sirius had befriended her. He knew their relationship with Lily had been completely platonic, as she had been with his dad.
However, before Lily and James started dating, she had been close to him. Harry could not help but fear that something deeper had gone on between them, and this thought made every inch of his skin prickle. He had no evidence to suspect…but then again, Sirius and Lupin never told him about Snape and Lily's friendship until very recently. In fact, no one had. Not Hagrid, not Dumbledore, nor did Snape until confronted. Perhaps they were hiding something from Harry which he ought not know….
Harry knew all too well that he must trust the adults around him, but considering the current succession of events, there was a great deal being kept from him. He felt that he was being left in the dark to put these puzzles together by himself, and it was the most awful feeling he ever did know.
On his way up the stairs, Harry spotted his quarry. He had been startled by the slim, dark figure peering intently out a tiny window. His back to Harry, the figure did not acknowledge his presence. Harry said nothing at first, unsure how to enter conversation with this particular person.
"Professor?" He asked politely.
The figure did not answer.
"Professor Snape?" He asked again.
The figure cocked his head to the side, his face obscured by curtains of dark hair.
"I heard you the first time, Potter. What is it you want?"
"Then maybe you should have said so." Thought Harry.
"We wondered if you had any dreamless draught available."
Harry answered. Without thinking, he quickly added,
"Um, is there any news about…?"
"At present moment, I am awaiting a pertinent update from Dumbledore. I possess a few vials in my nightstand. You may retrieve them yourself. My door is open." Snape said slowly.
Harry was surprised. This was a rather odd moment of trust.
"And I trust that you will not touch that which doesn't concern you." The dark man drawled out.
Ahh, there it is. Harry thought.
"Do I make myself clear?"
"Perfectly, Professor." Harry said respectfully. The man did not speak further, nor did he turn to face the boy. Seeing that the conversation was over, Harry continued on his way to fetch the draught.
After a brief walk down the hall, and up one small flight of stairs, he entered his Professor's room. Guided by his own wand light, Harry began gingerly searching for the vials.
If Snape's decorating was eerie in sunlight, it was even more so solely in wand light. Images of suffering and torture flashed in the darkness, unnerving Harry's reserve to remain in the room much longer. He lowered his wand and scanned the room, soon discovering a worn nightstand beside a neatly made bed.
Apparently, Snape wasn't sleeping tonight, either.
Harry opened the nightstand door and peered in. To his curiosity, he discovered multiple vials of a pale blue fluid. He picked one vial up and strained his eyes to read the handwritten label; Dreamless Draught. Judging by the number of vials – as well as the number of empty ones visible in the waste bucket – Harry surmised that Snape was no stranger to troubled dreams.
As he pocketed a handful of vials, Harry noticed a thick, black traveling cloak hanging off the edge of a chair.
"Well, we do need his robes for the plan." Thought Harry.
He took the robe, and then shifted through a draw or two to find additional clothing. He pulled out a pair of slacks and a black collared shirt. It felt extremely odd picking through Snape's wardrobe, he had certainly invaded the man's personal space more frequently than to his liking the past few days.
He left the room and placed the robes in his own room for later. He headed down the stairs, quickening his pace as his approached where Snape had been earlier. However, Snape had gone elsewhere.
Upon re-joining the others, he found his potions Professor standing in the center of the room with all weary eyes on him.
Sirius turned to Harry and gestured for him to sit down.
"Snape here has a report from Dumbledore. Now that we're all here, I trust now would be a good time to speak, Severus."
Snape eyed Harry suspiciously. Harry looked at him directly to try to sway his suspicion. After all, he had gone through his belongings despite being specifically told not to. It was best no to make his trespass any more obvious. Harry offered Snape a clueless face, at which he scowled. Then, apparently satisfied that Harry was innocent, he spoke.
"Professor Dumbledore has contacted me in regards to the recent emergency. The attack by the Death Eaters was short lived, apparently they had started a fire and disapparated. All are alive and unharmed. Well, Fletcher received some nasty burns – probably in the process of stealing something or other."
Snape paused a moment to stifle a malicious smirk which had been tugging at the ends of his mouth.
"The fire's been put out, but the Order won't be back until morning. When they have finished investigating, they will return."
The tenseness of the room dissipated. The children's fears were quashed, and now the pressing need for rest became imminent.
Harry offered the red-haired children the draught, which they all too glady took as they filed one by one out the door. Slowly, over the next few hours, the inhabitants of number 12 Grimmauld Place settled in for bed.
Sirius fidgeted in his sleep.
Disturbing dreams of descending dementors, demeanted and dark, disquieted him. One swooped near his face, the unforgettable smell of rotten flesh tingled his nostrils.
The dream shifted. He was a child, back at school, his best friend walking beside him in the corridor. James told him about some magnificent Quidditch match Sirius had apparently missed. For some reason, he could not recall where he had been. He never missed a match.
"Remind me, where was I when all that happened? Detention? I've had too many to count."
Suddenly, his mate's face went cold and twisted.
"Detention? No, you were with McGonagall and Dumbledore."
Sirius was confused. The corridor grew darker, and drops of icy water dripped from the ceiling onto Sirius's neck, chilling him.
"I don't understand. Was I in trouble?" Sirius asked apprehensively.
James' face morphed out of recognition, his features becoming demon like. In a cold, high voice he shouted at Sirius:
"You killed Snivellus, remember?" The shout rang out in the empty hall, echoing for a long minute.
Sirius flushed red, blood rushing into his cheeks.
"No! What are you talking about!" He yelled in horror.
But he was no longer talking to his friend James. The figure before him was becoming something far more sinister. A wicked looking woman with matted black hair and blurry grey eyes smirked at him.
"You've made your father and I so proud, killing off that half-blood."
Sirius was repulsed, he tried to move backwards but found his back against a hard stone wall. The woman grew nearer, her face inches from his own.
"So proud, so proud, so proud…" She cackled.
Sirius screamed. He put is hands up to push her back from him. To his immediate horror, his hands were stained with dark red-dried blood. In a flash, the figure he was pushing morphed one final time. Black eyes and greasy hair plastered with blood flashed before him.
Sirius lurched upwards from his bed, awake.
Snape laid beneath his covers, fully awake. He ached for sleep, but he had far too much on his mind. The Death Eaters were becoming more and more active each passing day. Keeping his eye on their wicked endeavors was becoming more treacherous, for him and for everyone else.
He was not well liked or trusted among the Dark Lord's followers. During the first war, most considered him a talented young man, but otherwise paid him little attention. He did not stand out, and most didn't know who he was.
That all changed with the prophecy. He was the one, the darkly glamorous informer who appeared to have handed the Dark Lord his key to triumph. The Dark Lord noticed him, and consequently, so did all the rest. He had been respected then as a dedicated follower, and had been given congratulations for his nefarious act.
But now, all was very different. He had worked alongside Dumbledore for years, and the others knew it. To the others, he was one who had crossed enemy lines all too much to be trusted. The Dark Lord trusted him, but the Dark Lord's trust meant less and less to each Death Eater. Why should he, a potential traitor and most probable turncoat, be so respected by the Dark Lord? He, who chose a comfortable job over prison be the favorite? He knew multiple individuals whispered behind his back, Malfoy kept him well informed and defended him. For this, at least this, he could be thankful for Lucius Malfoy.
He lacked the Death Eaters trust and was thus vulnerable. Little stopped the others from causing him harm. As long as he was useful to the Dark Lord, he could not be touched. But the moment he faltered he would be doomed.
He blamed himself for the disaster at the Ministry. Rumors had been flying amongst the Death Eaters about a new mission to destroy the Ministry's crucial records on Voldemort and his followers. All that useful information and intelligence had been destroyed but a few hours before. If only he could have pried deeper, followed more leads. Worst of all, he could not even help to right the disaster. He had to stay behind, while the others faced uncertain danger. It made him feel like a bloody coward.
Snape groaned and sat up. He looked forward to the end of this week, so he could go home for a week or so before school started. Lately, he had been pondering Dumbledore's empty threat. He was too useful to be removed from the Order, certainly Dumbledore couldn't replace him so easily?
"No, absolutely not." He thought.
But the man was outraged with him. The patronus he had been greeted by earlier conveyed its message without the usual, trusting tone of voice. Snape understood his anger. It was incredibly embarrassing that the man you were vouching wasn't evil anymore started a bloody fist-fight with the beloved god-father of famous Harry Potter.
The worst part of it was that it was all over nothing. A dragon fart, a god damn dragon fart. He should have just brushed himself off and reserved to get even some other time. Who really gave a shit what the Order thought of him? They all hated him anyway, and no matter what they always would.
But of course, he had to regain his self-respect by pumbling Black, the golden guy of the Order. At least the fight had been broken up – otherwise, he didn't stand a chance in a fist-fight with a man one foot bigger than him.
"Enough." Snape thought. "No more pathetic self pity."
But this was his flaw, and as far as proficiency in flaws go, he was great at it.
Feeling evermore restless, he reached into his pillow case. He'd been keeping it here when he need peace at night. It gave him hope that he wasn't doing so badly, at least now anyway. There had been at least one person who believed in him. Someone who cared, who didn't judge. Although he had lost her long ago to his own arrogant mistakes, her memory remained his strength.
He reached for it, but couldn't seem to find it. He checked the second pillow case. Nothing. He shook both upside down, removed the case, looked under the bed….nothing, still.
A terrible, nightmarish idea occurred to him. One other person had been in this very room but hours before… one other person with good reason to take what he had…one other person who was, after a recent encounter, bound to put two and two together.
Now, he started to really panic.
Now, he started to get angry.
Now, he knew he could never trust that no good, snooping, arrogant boy.
Eyes wide open, and mind ablaze with rage, Snape's one true nightmare began.