A/N: So the good news is I am actually not dead yet- the bad news is I am hella slow and it's not going to change soon.
Your reviews and patience (at this point it's more like faith lmao) are really appreciated :3
When Delirium forges Dependence
"We have to close the school."
Severus frowned at the weary finality in the headmaster's voice. Pessimism didn't suit the man at all.
"They say it was suicide."
"Does that make it any better?"
"As tragic as it is, suicide is far from unusual amongst young artists."
"Always the practical one," Dumbledore chuckled tiredly. "I was convinced you'd storm in here to rake me over the coals again."
That had been Severus' plan. But Dumbledore's own despondence had taken the wind out of his sails quite effectively.
"And I was convinced you'd shrug it off again."
The headmaster looked crushed. "It has gone that far has it? For you to think I would dismiss the death of one of my students."
Severus shifted uneasily, an action only Albus was capable of evoking from him. "There are competitive art schools who experience these types of situations quite frequently-…"
"Not Hogwarts," Dumbledore interrupted decisively. "Never Hogwarts."
"I doubt a complete shut-down will do us, or the students, any good. Maybe the end of year production…"
He trailed off as Dumbledore's face went ashen. "No it… it can't be."
Something about the wording struck Severus as odd. "What can't be? You just argued for closing the whole school!"
Dumbledore visibly pulled himself together, all traces of weakness gone. "We can't back down now."
"Headmaster, if we could just alleviate some of the stress-…"
"We will call for professional assistance," he continued. "Psychological counselling. They will know what to do. These children are stronger than they look."
"Or we could just stop what we both know is responsible for all of this!" Severus insisted. "Just look at the company who tried to do 'A Prophecy'! Five dancers dead, probably suicide but inconclusive, another dozen mad, a few hospitalized permanently-…"
"They did it wrong."
"It's a ballet. Apart from screwing up the dance there's nothing to do wrong!"
"And that Longbottom boy, we will need him," Dumbledore continued, apparently not hearing any of Snape's interjections. "Colin isn't going to recover fast enough."
"You agreed we would have to talk this through first! Albus, none of your decisions for that play are making sense!"
"Who is playing the Little Sister right now?" Dumbledore asked, still maddeningly ignoring him.
"Why?" Snape asked suspiciously.
"Harry is close friends with the Weasley boys, I heard they had a young girl as well. If she has half the genes her brothers have she will do just fine."
Snape sprung out of his chair in agitation. "Oh so now we are just randomly replacing our students? This is outrageous!"
"Don't you see how close we are?" Dumbledore beseeched him. "I can practically feel it."
Snape was used to deal with stress. He was used to controlling his anger in the face of incompetence. He was used to reign in his temper when confronted with impossible demands. But the level of frustration the headmaster was currently evoking in him, had been evoking since they had started rehearsals, was something Snape hadn't experienced before.
"What are you talking about?"
"This time… This time for sure we will beat him," Dumbledore said quietly, looking through the window where a gentle rain had begun to wet the glass.
"Beat who?" It came out slightly desperate, because Snape didn't want to know the answer.
The headmaster didn't look at him, his gaze still directed towards the window, his eyes fixed on something that wasn't there.
Harry didn't know how long he stood there, staring at the words. At one point his hand had reached out for the page, but he had withdrawn his arm before it made contact. Something in him was deadly afraid to touch the simple words.
I am Lord Voldemort.
It made sense, in a terrible way. All the things Tom always talked about; becoming the role, dedicating everything to a simple school production, insisting on finding the perfect cast.
What if he had gotten lost in the dance like Harry did, but had never found back? How much of it was real to Tom?
There had been something strange about the star pupil, Harry had sensed it from the very beginning. But there had also been an easy charm about him and an almost infuriatingly caring streak in his arrogant behaviour.
Harry had come to think of him as something close to a friend, despite their clashing personalities. A weird one, but still. And there was no denying that dancing with Tom was like nothing he'd experienced before. They just fit. And now…
He couldn't be trusted. How had he been so gullible before?
I'll be perfect. Wasn't that what Tom had said? But too much perfection… too much obsession… He was dangerous. How far was he willing to go? What if he had truly hurt people?
Harry needed to warn someone, now.
The voice made him jump. "T-Tom."
His own voice sounded weird, raspy. Why was he close to choking? He needed to be confident now.
He stared at Tom's calm expression. He seemed so normal. It made this so much worse.
Something akin to anger bubbled up inside of him. He suddenly realized what this all-encompassing crushing feeling was. Betrayal.
He hadn't known how much he had started to trust Tom. But he had been the only one to experience what Harry did, the only one who understood him when Harry himself thought he was going mad. He was supposed to be the one Harry could talk to, when the dance swallowed him. The one that believed in him, had seen something in their very first dance.
"Did you kill her?" Harry asked coldly. It was insane and wrong to ask, but right now he couldn't seem to think clearly.
Tom, who had been in the process of shutting the door, paused and stared at him uncomprehendingly. And oh how very well he could pull off that innocent look with a face like his. But Harry had seen those gently confused blue eyes bleed red several times already.
"Because I'm starting to think it's not me who gets sucked into the role. Why would you write something like that? Leave it open like that? Did you want me to find it? What do you mean you are Voldemort?!" he was shaking by now, willing himself not to scream mindlessly at the other.
"What are you talking about?"
Harry laughed derisively. "You can drop the innocent mask Tom. Honestly, you think I'd believe anything that comes out of your mouth after you've been conveniently absent and there's a dead girl in this school?!"
"A dead-…Who..? Wait, you think I killed someone?"
"She was one of Voldemort's first victims as well wasn't she? Found in the bathroom, just like her role! And that poor girl in act 2 - that was you as well wasn't it? I saw you, but you talked me out of it. Gods, you must think I'm so easy!"
Tom merely blinked at him. "Have you been dancing?"
He was asking it as if Harry was a relapsing drug addict.
"Stop deflecting, you all but confessed!"
"Did I now?" Tom's patient tone was gone, replaced with a sharp disdain. "And how exactly did that happen?"
Harry pointed furiously to Tom's table. "You wrote it down right the-..!"
He stopped as his eyes followed his own finger, landing on the inconspicuously empty surface of the desk.
His thoughts flipped over each other so fast they momentarily stood still. He approached the desk numbly, staring at the empty spot.
"I…But…It-It was right there! I…"
He rummaged through the piles of books and stacks of papers on the desk, but the small book was nowhere to be found, no matter how zealously he searched.
Tom watched him disapprovingly. "If you're done going through my personal belongings…"
"There was a diary here, I swear-…"
"A diary," Tom echoed and the disbelief in his voice cut Harry deeper than it should. "I don't even have one. And if I had, I certainly wouldn't let it lie around openly."
"What on earth happened here? I was gone from school and when I come back the building is deserted and you act like a lunatic."
"There… There was a dead girl found in the school. Myrtle Warren. And-and your name was right here, but rearranged and…and it spelled Voldemort and…"
Hearing it out loud just made it sound even crazier. Harry broke off, leaving them in uncomfortable silence.
"I see," Tom said flatly.
"Oh gods I'm going crazy aren't I?" Harry exclaimed dismayed. He let himself sink down next to his bed and put his head in his hands. "That's not normal, that's really really dangerous. I think… I think I need help." He laughed, dizzy with it all.
Tom now looked mildly concerned. "What about that is funny?"
"No, not funny. I'm just relieved," Harry explained, smiling softly despite the panic thrumming in his chest. "It's not you. It's me. It's not you."
"Well," Tom said, finally moving from his spot by the door. After a short pause of hesitation he carefully sank down on the floor next to Harry. "The teachers would probably tell you it's the pressure."
Harry bristled. "I'm not cracking due to-"
Harry felt like sobbing. First deranged accusations and now humiliating weakness, all in front of Tom Riddle of all people. And the other was just sitting there next to him, bloody understanding him. His friends, for all their awesomeness, would have dragged him to the hospital by now.
Another terrifying thought struck him and he turned to Tom rigidly. "What if it was me? What if I killed her? What if I hurt people?"
"I have to tell Dumbledore!"
He tried to scramble up, but Tom fiercely yanked him back down, which ended with his arm firmly around Harry that felt disturbingly close to an embrace.
"You are completely hysteric." Harry usually would have taken it as an insult, but right now Tom's cool rationality was a relief to his feverish thoughts. "Calm down."
For a long time they simply sat there on the ground. Harry tried to wriggle away once, but Tom only held him tighter and Harry felt absurdly relieved for it. It was embarrassing just how soothing his presence was.
"I think I'm completely unhinged, Tom," he whispered into the quiet after a while. "How will I keep myself together if I can't recognize reality anymore?"
"I'll tell you," Tom said simply. "I will tell you what is real."
Harry finally lifted his head and turned it slowly towards the other student.
He admired Tom. He hated Tom. He needed Tom. He liked Tom. There were probably tear tracks on his face right now. He was a mess. But Tom only smiled.
"Do you trust me, Harry?"
Breakfast was quiet. The only thing disrupting the silence were stifled sobs here and there.
The girls especially felt responsible. Myrtle didn't have many friends apparently.
While the tough curriculum erased most persistent bullying common to high schools, mean comments and deliberate exclusion could achieve the same results. Coupled with the fact that Myrtle's failing performances had recently forced her to repeat a year, it was believed that the absence of a stable group of friends to rely on had pushed her over the edge.
For the first time in the prestigious school history, a student seemed to have fallen completely through the cracks.
Dumbledore gave a short speech.
Harry barely listened, feeling numb. The world around him alternated between a blurry grey nothing and confusing bright colours.
Tom had sat down next to him this morning, as if they had taken their meals together since the beginning. He was listening to the headmaster intently and Harry didn't doubt the student would be able to repeat every word later on.
"He said students should vacate the dorms if possible, living with friends or relatives close by. I suppose he wants us to spend as little time as possible in the school," Tom said, and it was disconcerting how clearly Harry could perceive his words, when Dumbledore's had sounded like a barely comprehensible buzz.
"Where will you go?"
"I'll stay, I guess. Will you go live with the Weasleys?"
Harry shook his head. He couldn't possibly bother them again. And frankly he wasn't sure anymore whether it was safe for other people to be around him.
The students living at home started to arrive, none of them any happier.
And just like that Harry and the rest of the seventh division found themselves in their usual studio, expected to carry on.
As they waited for their lessons to begin, whispered rumours picked up at breakfast conveyed that while both the seventh and the sixth divisions seemed to be complete, the majority of the younger ones had not shown up.
While his classmates around him were busy discussing the grim news and its implications, Harry glanced at the clock and saw that someone else hadn't shown up yet. Their class should have started ten minutes ago, and Snape was nowhere to be seen.
"Has he ever…?"
"No, never," Tom answered immediately, watching the seconds tick by like Harry.
It took another five minutes for everyone in the room to notice Snape's unpunctuality and almost ten more before the man finally showed up. He wasn't alone, which only seemed to darken his mood.
The man behind him stood out in the crowd of dancers with their upright postures and a walk that often seemed closer to floating. Compared to them, the man's posture appeared almost slumped. His clothes were noticeably too wide for him, a fact accentuated by the tight clothes everyone else wore for dancing. His walk was slow and deliberate, something Harry had forgotten how it looked, surrounded by the ever-lasting hurried bustling about of students and teachers in Hogwarts.
He was quite obviously not a dancer. He had also somehow - and most likely undeservedly - drawn Snape's ire. A fact that didn't bother him at all apparently, judging by the small amused smile on his face as he watched the scowling man address the class.
"Students," Snape said irritated, gesturing to the man beside him. "This is Remus Lupin. He's here to crack open your skulls and pry through your personal affairs until you have a life-long headache from-…"
"Counselling," Lupin spoke up. "Discussions, talks, assistance with whatever might trouble you… Anything I can do to help, really."
Snape's scowl deepened. "Exactly what I've been saying."
"Not everyone has the same aversions as you, Severus," Remus replied calmly. "In fact I doubt anyone has as many aversions as you do. Maybe we should schedule a session for you? My offer extends to the faculty."
James and Sirius made impressed whistling noises from behind Harry.
"Or maybe, you could stop wasting everyone's time," Snape pressed out.
"As I understand it, your class is the one most involved in the end of year production and as seniors with an uncertain future ahead of themselves, the ones facing the most stress." Lupin pointedly turned away from Snape and addressed the class directly. "My office will be located right next to the Headmaster for the reminder of the year. Please don't hesitate to drop by, for whatever reason, or no reason at all, if you'd like."
His eyes swept over the students assembled in front of him and Harry could have sworn they lingered on him. He swallowed nervously.
The lesson after that was…an experience. Students certainly tried their best, finding some comfort in their routines, but everyone was distracted and spirits were low.
Curiously enough, Snape showed little to no desire to correct them. He stood in front of the class, watching them as usual, but his eyes were unfocused. For someone who could be described solely by his sneer and his piercing eyes, the absence of both made for a discomforting picture.
Their lethargic training was interrupted by the door banging open violently. Snape's habit of locking his classrooms during lessons must have been interrupted by Remus Lupin, and the usually stoic man winced just as badly as his students at the unexpected sound.
It took Harry a moment to understand that the shrieking and wailing flurry storming into their studio was a woman.
She basically threw herself at Draco, knocking over his partner in the process, her skinny arms clutching him tightly. The boy's face was completely closed-off, ignoring everyone's stares.
Snape was the first to recover. "Mrs Malfoy..?"
Harry's eyes widened. Draco's mother… Crazy, according to her family, believing most of the time that her son had died. Draco had confided in him despite the fact that her mental state was carefully kept from the world. What was she doing here?
The woman only sobbed harder.
"Narcissa," Snape tried again.
The woman sniffled and reluctantly turned away from Draco to glare at Snape. "You were supposed to keep him safe! You promised!"
Snape seemed unfazed, but watched her guardedly. "He is safe."
"He is not! How could you say that?" She was small and bony, but her fury made her appear larger as she stormed over to Snape.
"You promised!" She said again, stabbing her finger into his chest for emphasis and then apparently let go of the last of her inhibitions as she started to drum her fists on him repeatedly. "Whose side are you on?!"
There was something disturbing in watching Snape not fight back at all as she screamed at him incoherently.
"Draco, get your father," he ordered quietly and the blond student immediately bolted out of the room.
The rest of the class stood frozen, mutely watching the woman continue to beat their teacher in front of them. The steady calm with which Snape took it suggested he had experienced it before.
After a few moments she became limp and all but sagged against him, even her sobs abated.
Hearing about her from Draco was one thing, actually seeing it struck Harry to the core. This was what he had reminded Draco of? It was horrifying.
Suddenly her head snapped around, her eyes finding him and Harry forgot to breathe. He had expected insanity, but there was only sadness and pain in her eyes.
She took a step in his direction and Snape, looking up to see what had caught her attention, tried to hold her back but she slipped past his grip.
"Please save him," she whispered, approaching quickly now and Harry took an involuntary step back. "I don't care if everyone thinks I'm crazy, please."
"Narcissa," Snape warned, taking a few hesitant steps in their direction. "Get away from him."
Her fury returned instantly, like a light being switched on. One of her hands flew forward to grab Harry, the other gestured wildly to Snape. Her hands were ice-cold.
"Don't you know who he killed?" she shouted, her eyes imploring Harry to understand what her words obviously failed to convey. "Don't you know he betrayed everyone? You saw it with your own eyes! He can't be trusted!"
She seemed angry at Snape, not Harry, but the fact that she was screaming in his face did nothing to put him at ease.
He took another step back in an attempt to get away from her and before she could close the distance again, Tom was suddenly there, shielding him.
Narcissa recoiled sharply upon seeing him.
"So it's like that already? Then we have lost," she said, softly now. Her eyes darted from Tom to Harry and back again. Her face lost all of its previous animation and her shoulders sagged down. Silent tears filled her eyes as she fixed Tom. "You killed my son."
Harry chanced a glance at him, but Tom appeared unmoved.
Lucius Malfoy arrived, but his gentle persuasion fell on deaf ears. If anything, Narcissa did not seem to respond at all to her surroundings. In the end, he simply took her by the arm and steered her out of the room.
"No one leaves this room!" Snape barked, and rushed out after them.
The door shut behind them and the class erupted into frantic whispers.
"What the hell?"
"Was that Draco's mother? What happened to her?"
"Did you see Snape's face?"
"She said he killed someone."
"I wouldn't be surprised."
"Not going to lie, my parents almost didn't allow me to come back and now this."
"Are you okay?" The last one was directed at him and Harry looked up, seeing Tom staring at him.
"Am I okay?" Harry echoed incredulously. "Are you okay? She just accused you of killing her son and whatnot."
"Yes that seems to be a recurring problem."
"Oh. Oh," Harry said, remembering his own accusations guiltily. "I'm so sorry."
"I'm playing an evil mastermind, people have a hard time separating role and actor. It's nothing new, really."
He truly did seem completely unbothered by it. Harry had to remind himself that despite Tom's ambitions he had never seemed to need anyone's approval. He just knew he was that good. It would be arrogant, if it wasn't also infuriatingly true.
"You said that in order to do the role justice it's not enough to just follow the choreography, that you have to become them," Harry said cautiously. "How can you… how can you do it? Become him? Representing someone like Voldemort?"
When his character leaves a trail of insanity behind for anyone that comes close.
Tom looked at him closely and for a moment it seemed like he was going to answer earnestly.
Then he simply shrugged. "I guess I'm just that talented."
Harry couldn't help it, he laughed. "You are incorrigible."
"Don't worry, I happen to think very highly of your own talents," Tom said, giving him his most charming smile.
Harry narrowed his eyes. "Flattery won't get you anywhere."
"Are you sure? I tried threats before and it didn't seem to do the trick either."
Harry snorted. "Maybe I'm immune."
"Try harder then," Harry quipped.
Only the pause in their conversation and Tom's stare made him realize that perhaps he shouldn't have said that.
"Hmm. Maybe I will."
Harry's mouth felt suddenly dry.
The door to their studio opened again, this time only a crack. Still, agitated as they were everyone immediately noticed it and turned their heads.
The boy who entered flushed brightly at their collective scrutiny. There was an awkward silence as neither the boy nor the class seemed to know what was happening.
"I-…" the boy finally began, still half hidden by the door, his voice slightly squeaky from panic. "I'm N-Neville?"
He formulated is as a question, but obviously no one had a response for him.
"I'm here for the role of the Unchosen?" the boy continued, his eyes searching the room, probably noticing the lack of teacher or any kind of activity for that matter. Everyone was just standing around, even though this was supposed to be a class.
From somewhere several floors below them, a scream travelled through the halls of the school.
Neville gulped. "Is, uh, is this a bad time?"
A/N: And down down the rabbit hole we go...