Chapter One: Bad Dreams
It was dark, so dark. His wand had been taken away. He could hear, not so very far away, unpleasant sounds of human misery. Wails, groans, and once, terrifyingly, a scream that went on and on as though someone had walked into their worst nightmare and realized they would not wake up.
Despite himself, he found that his whole body was shaking uncontrollably with a fear that would not be stilled.
Worse: somebody was approaching...
Harry awoke with a yell, sweating and cold. The bedcovers were twisted around him, almost strangling him. He was panting desperately, and hung over the side of the bed trying not to vomit.
"Harry..." Ron said hoarsely, standing over him. His eyes were wide and scared. "Harry, mate, I'm going to get Mum...."
Harry tried to protest that he was OK, it was nothing, but too late: Ron had already dashed out of the bedroom they were sharing at the London headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix.
An hour later, Mrs Weasley was still fussing worriedly around him. Harry had been overruled. A coded message had been sent by the Floo Network, and Dumbledore was on his way.
"Look, I'm OK now, really," Harry tried to convince her. The ruckus had also roused the other occupants of number 12, Grimmauld Place. Not only Ron and Mrs Weasley, but also Ginny, Hermione, Fred and George were clustered around the kitchen table, clutching beakers of hot chocolate and gazing at Harry with anxious eyes. Mr Weasley and Lupin were out on jobs for the Order, or Harry had no doubt that they too would be sitting staring at him with just that look of mingled concern and fear.
"It wasn't him!" Harry said again. He could understand everybody's anxiety, he supposed. Last time Harry had experienced dreams from the inside of somebody else's head, it was because he and Lord Voldemort were beginning to share mind-space. While Harry had learned some useful information this way, it had also been incredibly dangerous, for Voldemort had learned how to manipulate the connection to his own advantage. And in consequence . . . Sirius . . . Sirius had died . . .
Harry sheered away from that most dreadful of memories. "It wasn't Voldemort!"
Most people winced at the sound of the dark wizard's name. Nobody seemed particularly disposed to believe Harry, or to say, well, everything's all right then, let's all get back to bed.
"It wasn't Voldemort!" Harry repeated. He hesitated, then scanned the faces at the table. A puzzled note entered his voice. "It was.... It was Snape . . . "
Dumbledore steepled his fingers together and closed his eyes. He did not say anything for a long moment. The expression on his face was difficult to read, but if Harry had been required to guess, he would have said what he saw was despair.
"Er... Professor?" Harry ventured. This was not the reaction he had expected.
"Albus!" broke in Mrs Weasley. "What does it mean. . . oh dear. . . look, you lot, get off back to bed . . . do we need to get hold of anyone else? Remus, perhaps, or Kingsley?"
The four youngest Weasleys, Hermione and Harry ignored Mrs Weasley's instructions and remained determinedly gathered around the table.
"I SAID BED!" Mrs Weasley directed a furious glance at them all.
Dumbledore shook his head, and sighed. "Let them stay. We found out to our cost that nothing good comes of keeping our young charges in ignorance. It merely opens the way for others to . . . deceive them."
Mrs Weasley did not look convinced, but evidently was not going to enter into dispute with Dumbledore over this one. She cast a particularly darkling glance at Ginny, who remained seated and returned her gaze blandly, but she did not say anything further on the subject.
"So, Albus, what is it?" she asked once more. "Is Harry . . . is Harry having visions of him again?"
Harry opened his mouth in exasperation to point out, yet again, that his dream had not been of Voldemort. Dumbledore, however, got there first.
"No, Molly. Not this time. From what Harry says, I fear something else entirely. Severus . . . I am worried, Molly, I fear very much that Severus . . .."
Mrs Weasley gasped, and turned white.
"Snape!" burst in Ron heatedly. "This is all about Snape! What does it mean, has he gone back at last to his real master! The git..."
Hermione frowned him down, and dug him hard in the ribs with her elbow. Her eyes were on Dumbledore, whose expression was turning to anger.
"I have told you all repeatedly," Dumbledore said sharply, "that I trust Severus Snape. You, I understand, do not like him as a teacher. That is irrelevant. Professor Snape has been undertaking difficult, dangerous work for the Order. You know this."
"Snape....Professor Snape, I mean .. .has been spying on Voldemort, hasn't he?" stammered Harry. "He's been pretending he is still a Death Eater?" (At this point, Ron snorted into his hands, then rapidly turned the noise into a cough.) "So what does it mean? Why am I suddenly dreaming that I'm Snape?"
Dumbledore closed his eyes once more, as if what he saw was too unpleasant to contemplate.
"I suspect," he said quietly, "from what you told me of your dream, that Professor Snape has been captured by Voldemort."
Harry paused a moment, but chose not to digest this information. "Yes, but why am I dreaming of him? What's going on?"
"It may well be, Harry, that the months you and he spent together last year, when he was attempting to teach you Occlumency so that you could block your thoughts and dreams from Voldemort, have forged a link between your mind and his. Normally, this link is too fragile and tenuous for you to intrude on each other. Now . . . what I fear is that Snape's mind has suddenly become wide open to you . . ."
"But that means -" Mrs Weasley interrupted, her face turning if anything paler. "If Snape's mind is open...You-know-who . . . Severus knows everything about us, about the Order. . . "
Dumbledore nodded. "This is so. At present, however, I suspect his mind is broadcasting so freely to Harry precisely because all his energies are going into blocking his true thoughts from Voldemort and his minions. But as you know, our deepest secrets are in any case protected by unbreakable charms. If his mind is breached to that extent, he will die..."
Moments of the dream returned to Harry. The terror. The dark. The utter certainty of intense pain and devastation to come. All of a sudden, Harry was overcome with an emotion he had not thought ever to feel. Fearful concern. On behalf of Severus Snape.