Disclaimer: © 2005 harmony bites. All rights reserved. This work may not be archived, reproduced, or distributed in any format without prior written permission from the author. This is an amateur nonprofit work, and is not intended to infringe on copyrights held by J.K.Rowling or any other lawful holder.
Thanks to Djinn for her beta!
The Dream Catcher
It was nearing dawn when Severus Snape returned to what passed for home, shivering in his wet robes and grinding his teeth together to keep them from chattering. Slamming his body into the door to shut it against the rain, he slid down to the floor, clasping his bent knees and resting his head on his arms, letting his eyelids drift closed.He felt too weary even to cast a simple Drying or Warming Charm after a meeting of the Order followed by a summons from the Dark Lord. He was afraid he'd fall asleep as well if he got too comfortable, and after what he'd seen tonight: a bridge broken like a stick over a knee; a dozen cars swallowed by black water so quickly there wasn't even time for the Muggles to scream—red eyes glinting at him in triumph.
It's not like he ever could get warm anymore, anyway—not down to his feet and hands—let alone in this uncommonly chilly July. Not for years, now.
A rustling behind him reminded him this was no longer a refuge where he could afford to show any weakness—if it ever had been. He swung himself up and stomped his foot on a fast-retreating tail, producing a satisfying squeak.
"I smell a rat."
Before his eyes the mangy grey rodent morphed into an equally unimposing man with a right hand that gleamed silver. The Dark Lord's right hand man assigned to "assist" him: Peter Pettigrew. Pinned to the floor by Snape's foot on his coattails, Pettigrew rubbed his backside and warily squinted up at him.
"You're such a sweet sight to come home to," Snape said. He ground his foot into the dingy cloth of Pettigrew's blazer before lifting it away. "Do make yourself useful and get me some tea, Wormtail, or I'll skin you and transfigure you into a tea cosy."
"You wouldn't dare…"
"Try me," Snape said softly, pointing at the man with his wand.
His mouth quirked upwards as he saw Pettigrew scuttle backwards towards the kitchen, never daring to turn his back.
Snape dragged himself past the sitting room into his study and suppressed a sigh as he sagged into the shabby but well-padded chair by his desk. Anger had lent him strength, but as always its aftermath left him with more energy spent than he'd gained. His gaze settled on the headline of yesterday's Daily Prophet: "Emmeline Vance Slain by Death Eaters."
He savagely swept the paper off his desk and didn't begrudge the energy it took to kick it across the room. Although kicking Pettigrew across the room—even better, across the ocean—would have been so much more gratifying.
At the sound, Snape turned towards the fireplace to see Madam Pomfrey's head peering at him out of his hearth. Damn. He had forgotten to take himself off the Floo Network. They couldn't afford another screw-up like what happened with Vance.
"I'm not alone—"
"Severus, it's the Headmaster! His finger is burned black. I can't… it… won't heal... it's spreading!"
There was little that Poppy Pomfrey couldn't heal—and very little that could fluster her. Snape ran out of the house and into the shack that served as his home laboratory. He leaned against the shelves as he caught his breath, moving his gaze across his private stores of potions, trying to decide what he should bring with him. He quickly dosed himself with a long swallow of Pepperup Potion, not caring he'd pay later for the temporary boost in energy and alertness.
His gaze fell upon another vial whose contents shone a molten gold. It was a recent gift sent to him from Durmstrang's new Headmaster, who had been trying to woo him from Hogwarts. Liquid luck. He didn't make a habit of brewing, let alone taking, Felix Felicis. Snape never forgot all magic had its price, and he suspected every hour the potion produced of good luck was drawn against a lifetime account with compound interest. He hesitated, then grabbed the vial and unstoppered it. He measured a scant teaspoon and drank it down, making a moue of disgust at the cloying, honeyed taste.
Ingesting it himself wouldn't count against Dumbledore's store of luck, and Snape could use some in the next few hours to save the Headmaster. He was willing to draw upon his own dwindling account for that. Because if this was what he feared it could be… Trusting the intuitions flowing through him from the potion, he grabbed several vials and on impulse took his old potions text from his school days.
Snape cursed under his breath when he saw he had left the door to his study open—he saw a filled teacup at his desk. He wasn't sure where Pettigrew might have gone to and that made his heart pound even faster. He hoped Poppy had had enough sense to duck her head out of the fireplace when rat man had come in. He kicked the door closed, locked it with a charm, and warded the room for good measure before flinging green powder into the hearth and calling out, "Hogwarts hospital wing."
Fawkes was perched by Dumbledore's side, the phoenix's tears falling onto the old man's right hand. When Snape saw the hand, he had to swallow hard to keep from retching. The middle finger was charred black. On it was a heavy, gold ring with a large, cracked black stone, and radiating from the finger were streaks of bright red. The rest of the hand was covered with blisters. He'd seen this before—an entire arm black to the shoulder clutching a broken locket. His nose detected a lingering scent of ozone.
"What have you tried?" he asked Poppy.
He nodded his head as Poppy listed a mix of magical charms and potions and Muggle medicines. She said that Dumbledore had told her not to touch the ring before he passed out—Snape heaved a sigh of relief she had obeyed. He noted the blue tinge to the lips and fingernails, the pale skin clammy to the touch.
"Leave him to me for a while," Snape said.
"Go! He won't speak freely with you here."
And I don't want you watching me inflicting pain. He felt her trail her hand across his back in passing, in tacit support of what he had to do, and heard her walk briskly away.
His mouth set in a thin line as the body on the bed twitched and the blue eyes snapped open, Dumbledore's gaze on him bright with accusation for bringing him back to hellish pain. Welcome to my world.
"The ring's cursed, that's why not even Fawkes can heal you and why you told Poppy not to touch it," Snape said.
"Bloody brilliant statement of the obvious. Did you wake me for that or just to enjoy my company?" Dumbledore said.
Snape felt his mouth twist in a sour smile. Intense pain was like liquor. Masks slipped. In crucio veritas. It made Snape act less nasty. He couldn't put forth the effort. It made Dumbledore act less than nice.
The old man lifted his head with an effort, then put it back down with a sigh. "I don't know what has gotten into me. Forgive me, my boy."
"Do you know what curse the Dark Lord put on the Horcrux?"
Dumbledore went even paler, lips drawn into a grimace.
Snape waved at him in exasperation. "Oh, come, I doubt even the Dark Lord has the breadth of my knowledge of the Dark Arts—his interests are… narrower. I know what a Horcrux is, I know his ambitions, and I know that you and your pigheaded, glory-hound arrogance would cause you to go out alone seeking the Dark Lord's hedge on immortality. I'm just surprised you didn't send Potter to do it or at least take him with you. Now, again, do you know what curse he used?"
Dumbledore licked his lips repeatedly. Snape couldn't remember him ever before giving such clear expression of agitation. Snape let the silence build, hoping it would provoke Dumbledore to fill it.
"More than one Horcrux out there, I think."
"That's insane." But then we're talking about a madman. Snape pushed away all the thoughts that crowded in on that revelation. They didn't have the time for him to process the implications.
"We need to get Bill Weasley in here," Snape said.
"He's an expert Curse-Breaker—the best." And wouldn't he be shocked to hear me admit that? "I can't begin to heal this until we get that ring off."
Dumbledore tried to grip Snape's arm with his bad hand, only to drop it, hissing softly in pain.
"This can't go further than the two of us."
"And eventually Harry Potter, who'll share it with Miss Granger and Ronald Weasley, followed by Hagrid, then—"
"I believe Tom's diary was one Horcrux. Harry successfully destroyed that without injury. The curse on this one might be of different origin. This ring once belonged to Salazar Slytherin."
"Ah." Snape smoothed his voice down to a silken thread. "Rest now, Albus, rest. Dormeo." He passed a hand over Dumbledore's face and sighed to see the lines of tension and pain ease with the movement.
Ah, the sleep of the righteous and pure. He shook his head at wasting time in such idle thoughts.
Poppy stopped him at the threshold to the room. "Where are you going?"
"To do what I do best—brew a potion."
"The Headmaster doesn't have the hours that would take."
"I'm going to use a Time Turner. I couldn't afford to linger around here otherwise, and let my guest wonder what happened to me."
Supposedly, all the Time Turners had been destroyed at the Ministry last month, but he knew Dumbledore had held some back and put them in the Room of Requirement.
The Ministry forbade what he was about to do and would give him a one-way ticket to Azkaban if they ever found out. Not that he believed he'd escape that fate long if Dumbledore died. But what made magic Dark was its intent—and his intent was to heal. Of course there was the little matter of the djinn...
It didn't matter. He didn't have the luxury of the time or a qualified helper to research another solution to old magic that might go back to a founder—that was still potent enough to kill after being dormant for a millennium.
The base healing potion and the offering for the evocation ordinarily would need more blood than he could give himself, but he intended to ingest another potion that would make it just possible, even if it would drain him and his magic dangerously low.
By the time he reached the dungeons after retrieving the Time Turner, the effects of the Pepperup Potion were beginning to wear off. Given the luxury of a Time Turner, he was tempted to just try sleep, but living twice in the same time period took a toll on his no longer youthful body, and he doubted that would be restful. He drank down more Pepperup Potion and chased it with some Strengthening Potion, imagining Poppy's horrified expression if she knew. When he finally crashed, it would be spectacular.
He set out the vial of Blood-Replenishing Potion and went to work, feeling himself calm with the familiar routine of chopping herbs, crushing bicorn horn and fairy wings into a powder, and tossing item after item into the bubbling cauldron and stirring.
Hours later, his muscles were cramping and he had a monstrously throbbing headache, but he was ready to add the last ingredient. He felt a strange fascination as he cut his left wrist with a silver blade and watched the blood well up. He dangled his hand over the cauldron, allowing the blood drip inside—hopefully his blood was nothing a Dark Mark could pollute—and waited for the mixture to turn a deep purple. He felt a great peace settle over him as the blood flowed out of him, then a floating euphoria. So this is what it would be like? To let go?
He slumped over the cauldron and jerked himself upright, forcing himself to drink down the foul-tasting replenishing potion without gagging. He let more of his blood fill a small saucer, then bound the wound, which would have to be allowed to heal naturally.
Next, he drew a six-sided figure with a flick of his wand, placing the vial of purple liquid and saucer of blood in the centre. Then he drew a circle two feet away and stepped within. He closed his eyes, breathing in through his nostrils and out through his mouth, waiting for the stillness that told him he had ground and centred. He knew others who would make much more elaborate preparations for such dangerous ceremonial magic, but this was really all about focusing the will. As he uttered the invocation to the Lord and Lady, the Founders, the Quarters, and Watchtowers for protection against what he'd be summoning, he felt a buzzing sensation in his hands and running up his arms.
"Hear me, o djinn, Lokial, I conjure thee to appear in the hexagram forthwith. Come peaceably and in fair shape."
A spinning column of smoke appeared before him, forming into a dumpy figure of a woman in a torn and stained beige housecoat, grey unwashed hair hanging in a curtain about her long, pallid face. He could see bruising behind the clumsily-applied makeup on his mother's face. The image of her face, he corrected mentally.
"What do you want, dear boy?"
He swallowed convulsively. For you to not wear my dead mother's form, to begin with. But he didn't say that out loud. His luck—the liquid kind anyway—had long run out. He'd prepared that concoction at too dear a cost to give such a foolish answer, needed the entity's cooperation to complete the potion too badly. Spirits took answers literally when convenient. He had pre-formed his command carefully. "I charge thee to infuse the vial to produce the Draught of Blessing and Surcease."
The figure shifted. Now before him was a young woman with shining, dark red hair and glinting, green eyes in a white, floral-print sundress. His breath hitched as she stretched languidly before him, spreading her arms overhead and arching her back. Please, not her.
"What would you give, Love?" the image of lost love asked, the voice a sultry caress that sent shudders through him. "Hmm? The usual? Your soul, life, happiness, true love, youth, beauty, all your worldly goods?"
He shrugged and swallowed, trying to moisten his mouth enough to answer. His voice came out rawer than he'd have liked. "Etcetera, etcetera—the only problem being that I've either already given the above away or they're rubbish."
"How about your integrity? Your honour? Your loyalty?"
He could feel his face tighten, a muscle twitch in his cheek.
"Haven't lost quite everything yet, have you?" the entity said softly in a new voice.
He started at the next shape it had taken. A girl with all-too-familiar cascades of bushy brown hair and soft, fawn-coloured eyes. All that was needed was to have her hand waving wildly to be called on.
"No matter," the figure of the girl said. It bent down and, as its hand touched the vial, the liquid foamed and luminesced. With a commanding wave of an arm, the djinn sent it flying to Snape's hand. "My gift."
"Gift?" He cringed. Worser and worser. "How about the standard first-born child?"
With a wicked smile and snap of fingers, the spirit vanished. Dear Lord and Lady, I am so fucked. He hadn't given the spirit license to depart, which meant it had never been under his control in the first place. He'd pay later for this, and he feared the cost would be more than he could bear.
He worried that travelling back in time might hurt the potion's efficacy, but he didn't have a choice. If he went directly to the infirmary only to find Dumbledore dead, the laws of time guaranteed he couldn't change a thing. He could only borrow time this way, not reverse the consequences. He twisted the Time Turner and felt the telling sensation of vertigo as he turned back time. He watched the hands on the classroom clock on the wall spin backwards.
He started running as soon as the Time Turner released him. He sped down the corridors, cursing the inability to Apparate in Hogwarts and the limited Floos on the network within. He flattened himself against a wall as he saw his earlier self swooping down past him with a swish of billowing black robes. Merlin, I really do look like an overgrown bat. Taking the last steps to the hospital wing two at a time, he sagged in relief when he saw Poppy's expression as she stood by Dumbledore's bed. So there was still a chance. He held out the vial to her. "I suggest injecting it."
Snape leaned against the wall and closed his eyes as Poppy worked over Dumbledore. His lids flew open at the ping of the ring as it dropped to the floor from the blackened finger. When he saw the redness disappearing from Dumbledore's wrist and forearm, he almost sobbed with relief. Pathetic. I'm as bad as a house-elf.
But then he noted the hand remained a black, charred claw. A reprieve then, not a commutation. Some gift. Amputating the hand would not help in such a case, could be immediately fatal. But even if not a cure, stopping the progress of the curse gave them time, months and months of time, to work things out. Maybe a year.
Staggering away from Dumbledore's side, he flinched when he felt a hand at his elbow and an arm across his back holding him up. He felt exposed at the concern he saw in Poppy's eyes and looked away quickly. The matron was harder to fool than Dumbledore, even without Legilimency.
She was trying to draw him down to the nearest empty bed. "You must stay and rest here for a while."
He shrugged off her support—physical and otherwise. "That would be rude when I have company at home."
Undeterred, she traced the swollen circles under his eyes with a finger. He winced at even her feather-light touch.
"Then promise me you will sleep—and no more Dreamless Sleep Potion or Pepperup Potion."
"Not tonight." Then, taking in the bright light now streaming from the windows, he said, "Well, not today."
"Severus," she said sternly.
"I am not eleven years old, anymore."
He saw her face soften as if she was remembering when he was eleven, and that tore it. He curled his lip disdainfully. "Oh, for pity's sake, did you think I did this because I'm some kind of bloody hero seeking martyrdom? I only acted out of self-preservation. If the old man croaked, the entire Order would line up to stone me."
"And whose fault is that?" she said, her voice unbearably gentle.
His. Mine. The Dark Lord's. And with that happy thought, he forced himself to turn away and hold himself together long enough to Floo back to his house before Poppy hexed him into a sickbed. She'd done it before.
He was getting too old for this. An almost forty-year-old body didn't have the resources of twenty to fall back on. He wasn't a thrill jockey. He wasn't Gryffindor. (And it was alarming how hard it was to even summon the reflexive disdain at the thought—he was that tired). It occurred to him that Sirius would have probably loved this life, living on the edge, savouring playing the hero, and draining every bit of sympathy and female—and female—and female—and, occasionally, male—attention he could out of it. After a night like his, Sirius would go find someone to bed.
And yet, right now, all Snape wanted to do with a bed was collapse on it to sleep. With good dreams. Without waking up screaming. And that was as likely as lying on it with a desirable woman in his arms. He didn't need Arithmancy to calculate that likelihood in negative numbers.
He had the vague feeling he had forgotten something and was trying to focus his thoughts when he heard something fluttering against the window pane.
He opened the window and a small red-brown owl landed hard on his desk with a tremulous wail. He raised an eyebrow when he noted the bird's ear tufts. A screech owl. He unearthed a treat from the top desk drawer, and the bird dipped its beak daintily, picking the morsel from his hand.
"Now you, my friend, have come from far, far away. Asibika? Aradia's owl?"
The bird hooted agreement. Then, she promptly tucked her head in a wing and fell asleep right there.
Snape gently untied the scroll and small packet tied to the owl's leg and slid it out quietly so not to disturb the weary transatlantic traveller. Inside was a curious object that vaguely stirred a memory of something read in a book. Only a few millimetres across, a web of sinews dyed red stretched over a tear-drop-shaped frame of bent willow. Three black feathers hung from the strands.
As he had suspected, the scroll was from Professor Aradia Smith, Vice Principal of Salem Academy, in the States. She had been a classmate and fellow Slytherin, and periodically would write him to hold forth on how he should pull up roots and join her across the pond. She maintained that there wasn't any silly prejudice over there towards their House—that no one would care about his Death Eater past. He could start anew—like a snake shedding his skin, he supposed, but the notion held no attraction for him.
He couldn't ever articulate why to her, which was probably why Aradia never gave up, but he thought uprooted was exactly what he'd feel. He'd shrivel up and die. What little he loved, and all that he hated, was here in Britain. He imagined that if he told her that, she'd tell him to just bring some of his native soil with him like a vampire.
Surprisingly there was no passage this time mentioning how a new Defence Against the Dark Arts or Potions position had opened up at the Academy.
Dear Severus, I hope this finds you well. The news from home just seems to get more awful with every week.
I hope this finds you well. The news from home just seems to get more awful with every week.
So she had to admit Britain was still home even after two decades in America? He filed that away for a suitably taunting reply.
It seems like a nightmare that Tom Riddle is back again.
Aradia had to be the only witch or wizard in seven continents other than Albus Dumbledore who'd call the Dark Lord that.
I know that it's asking you too much to come here even for a visit—for a respite—or for you to take care of yourself, or allow anyone else to, but I hope you'll accept the enclosed gift as my attempt to help just a little. The Ojibwe wizards hold that a dream catcher will filter out bad dreams, which will stick in the web, while the hole in the middle will allow only good dreams to come through. If I can't convince you to change your reality, maybe at least I can send some sweet dreams your way. Your friend, Aradia.
The Ojibwe wizards hold that a dream catcher will filter out bad dreams, which will stick in the web, while the hole in the middle will allow only good dreams to come through. If I can't convince you to change your reality, maybe at least I can send some sweet dreams your way.
Your friend, Aradia.
It stood to reason that the only old classmate that would call him friend (and possibly mean it) was an ocean away and hadn't seen him in decades. Even a few months before, he would have subjected the object to a thorough examination that would have put his and Flitwick's testing of Potter's mysteriously gifted Firebolt for hexes and jinxes to shame. He knew better to trust anyone, let alone someone who'd dare call him friend. Let alone anyone who so aptly filled his need without his asking, Seer and Divination teacher or no.
But matters had been spinning out of control for over a year now—ever since he'd returned to the Dark Lord on Dumbledore's behalf. Pettigrew's very presence in his house spoke of how little he was trusted by the Dark Lord or his minions even a year after he had returned, submitting several times to "Tom's" oh so clever ideas of amusement. Amusement that only began with playful bouts of Crucio. He wasn't trusted much more by the members of the Order—actually, less—and was even less well liked.
With the stress he was under, the lack of restful sleep, it was only a matter of time before he made a fatal mistake. Fatal to him, rather than the unfortunate Miss Vance. People who resorted to Dreamless Sleep Potion too often slowly went mad—people needed their dreams. Even those who thought they had long given up on them. His deteriorating condition was stripping from him any sense of self-preservation. With Pettigrew as a companion, he didn't even have this summer as a respite from the pressures at Hogwarts.
He'd take the risk and use the dream catcher. Anything for the chance for one night of peaceful sleep. Before he was tempted to conjure up a djinn again just to grant that wish.
So he hung up the dream catcher at the window near his bed, and, for once, he was so exhausted from all that had happened since he'd last gone to his bed that he was asleep almost as fast as his head hit the pillow.
He awoke the next morning filled with a sense of well-being and peace he hadn't felt for years. The kind that comes from a good sleep, not just exhausted unconsciousness. He brushed his fingers on the dream catcher above him in gratitude. Even if, in the long-term, the return of his hope of and for survival was cruel. He found himself smiling into the mirror (thank Merlin, not a chatty wizard one) for once in his life without a trace of a sneer or inward sarcastic rejoinder to his good spirits.
He tried hard to recall any of his dreams, but they seemed to have disappeared with the morning light—he must have slept right through the day and night. Closing his eyes, he was able to summon one lingering image. Its identity shocked him. He knew it made sense he'd still be processing all he'd experienced recently. The forms a djinn chose to appear was often, in and of itself, not without significance. Aradia would even say a portent.
Still. Not a face that he'd think would inspire "sweet dreams." Not from him. I've obviously spent far too much time among those children if "Potter's brain trust" is invading my dreams.
He heard Pettigrew shuffling about in the next room and scowled. Pettigrew—whose lurking around was already responsible for a death—even if Snape had managed to take the credit with the Dark Lord and the blame among his peers in the Order.
Perhaps Miss Granger would allow him to borrow her cat? Maybe if he asked nicely? He snorted with more amusement than he thought he was capable of after the events of… just yesterday? If he was ever nice to Hermione Granger, she would probably drop dead of fright on the spot.
Snape fetched the robe from across the room with a flick of his wand and an unspoken Accio and left to see if he could find a way to make Pettigrew miserable. His back felt so good—and his head so clear—from the long, uninterrupted sleep without nightmares that he couldn't even bring himself to brush away a spider that had made a home in the center of the dream catcher's web. Humming tunelessly—a happy song, for once—Snape closed the door and started his day.
to be continued
A/N. This is my first attempt at a Harry Potter fanfic, so obviously, any feedback or corrections are appreciated.