River of Dreams

Disclaimer: Believe it or not, I don't own Harry Potter or any of the other characters from J.K. Rowlings books. And I'm a college student, so suing me wouldn't get you much besides a broken radio and a couple used textbooks the bookstore won't take back anyway.

This is just a snippet of something that popped into my head awhile back…it's actually intended to be the first part of a multi-chapter story, but I'm in the middle of another I need to finish first so I'm not sure when updates will come.

This takes place at the start of the fifth year, after GoF, and may incorporate elements from OotP but will not follow the plotline exactly.

Severus Snape moved quietly along the halls of Hogwarts, scouting for students out after hours. It had been a bad day, and he needed the stress relief. The Dark Lord had been in a mood last night, and classes today had not gone well. The intelligent place to be at this point would be in his quarters, but…well, the idea of closing his eyes to the dreams he knew would come was not particularly enticing, and there were limits to the amount of dreamless sleep potion he could use before it lost its effectiveness. He didn't expect many students out now, barely three days into the school year, but who knew. After all the Terrible Trio out of Gryffindor were back. It hadn't been long into their first year when they'd begun their flagrant rule-breaking. And the Weasley twins were often worse.

For once the house of the lion was quiet though, as were Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw, and he decided to take one last pass by the entrance to his own house before retiring for the night. At first it seemed as quiet as the rest, but then, as he watched, the panel swung open. He moved into the shadows as a small figure slipped through and took off down the hall, his head hanging. With a frown, Severus followed. If it had been a student from anywhere but Slytherin, Severus would have halted him immediately, taken points, and sent him back to his room with scorched ears, but he was a bit more tolerant towards his own.

The boy was a small blond with a mass of freckles, one of the first-years who'd been sorted a few days ago. He apparently knew exactly where he was heading, bypassing both the kitchens and the owlry stairs—likely destinations for a hungry or homesick child—and tugged open the door to the library. Torches, magicked to keep them from accidentally setting one of the books on fire of course, still burned, illuminating the room even through the night. Severus slipped into the room behind him before the door could latch shut, dark clothing making him just another shadow. The boy headed for one of the larger reading couches. And then yelped, falling backwards to the floor.

"Oh—I'm sorry! Are you all right?"

The boy stared up, lip beginning to tremble. "Wh-who are you? What are you?"

Severus, on the other hand, hadn't had any difficulty identifying the voice. Besides which, as far as he knew there was only one student in the school who had an invisibility cloak. What had possessed the headmaster to give it to the boy he still didn't know. Mr. Potter, out after curfew already? Well, I suppose you've spent the last four years proving that rules were made for you to break, why change the habit now? He dropped back farther into the shadows, curious how this would play out.

"Hey, shh. Did I hurt you?" Potter's voice was now coming from closer to the ground, very close to the younger boy's head and tears began to fall from the boy's eyes.

Take the cloak off you bloody idiot, Snape thought in irritation. Couldn't the little moron see he was frightening the child?

"Wh-what are you? Are you a ghost? I thought ghosts couldn't hit people."

"Am I…oh, no!" Potter's head appeared, and a moment later he unlaced the cloth and placed a small bundle on the seat beside him. "I'm sorry; I didn't mean to scare you. I'm not a ghost. I'm a student here like you. This is an invisibility cloak." He reached out, helping the boy to his feet. "Are you okay? Did you hurt yourself when you fell?"

"N-no. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to run into you."

Potter shook his head. "I was the one who was invisible—my own fault for not watching where I was going. Oh, um, I'm Harry." He offered his hand.

"Micah." He stopped rubbing the back of his hand across his eyes long enough to shake the older boy's hand. "It's nice to meet you."

"Is something wrong, Micah? It's kind of late to be out of your rooms."

Severus rolled his eyes. You're a fine one to talk. At least you managed to acknowledge that you were at fault for something; it would be just like you to blame the boy for getting in your way. His memory had been jogged when the boy introduced himself. Micah Donovan. Nothing particularly special about him that had made him stand out during the Slytherins' introductory speech…he'd been a little timid, but that was to be expected on a student's first night at the school. His father had been in Ravenclaw and his mother a Slytherin a few years younger than Severus, if the potions master remembered correctly. They didn't have the wealth or influence to move in the circles of power the older families did, but they were respected in their own right.

"I…it's nothing." Micah ducked his head, swiping at his eyes again. "It's not important."

"Must be pretty important for you to come down here." The teenager reached out to put an arm around the boy's shoulders. "And you look kind of upset. You can tell me, if you want. It might make you feel better—maybe I can help?"

"I don't think so. I don't think anyone can. Unless…I need to find something that will make someone forget."

Snape could think of a half a dozen possibilities offhand, the most obvious being 'obliviate', but if the teenager was stupid enough to mention any of them to the child he'd have to get involved. The last thing anyone needed was an untrained first-year running around removing portions of people's memories.

"Maybe you could tell me what happened from the beginning? That might help a little."

I do think that is the most sensible suggestion I've ever heard from him, Severus thought, shifting to make himself a bit more comfortable in his corner.

"Can you…can you keep a secret?"

Potter sighed. "Is anyone dying?"


"Is there a chance anyone could die?"

Well, at least the boy had developed some sense of self-preservation since the end of the preceding school year. It was rather humorous, actually. Unfortunately, it appeared to be upsetting Micah, and while Severus found the situation—Gryffindor's Golden Boy trying to comfort a little Slytherin—amusing enough that he didn't want to interrupt, but he didn't want a hysterical child on his hands either.

"Is there a chance…what?"

Potter managed to figure out his mistake and smiled down at the younger boy. "Never mind. I'm sorry. I've had a couple bad nights."

So the wonder-child has bad dreams, hmm?

"It's not…it's my cousin. Her name's Lily."

"That's a pretty name. Does she go to school here?"

"Yeah. She just started too…they weren't going to let her since she's almost too little—she skipped a whole year in primary school—but she's real smart. She's my best friend in the whole world. We wanted to be in the same house but she got sorted into Ravenclaw instead. She's really, really smart. We were still going to spend all our free time together, but…but now she's…she won't even…" he began to sniffle again and went back to rubbing at his eyes.

Lily…Lillian Stevens, I suppose, Severus decided after a moment. She's the one there was the fuss about admitting early. Honestly, the things people will argue about…if she can do the work, who cares how old she is? Pomfrey had been the main objector, some nonsense about the girl's emotional development. But in the end the she had been invited…in fact she must have been in his Ravenclaw-Hufflepuff potions class this morning. Mostly a hopeless lot, he mused, but at least half of them are too agreeable to argue with me and the other half are smart enough not to try. Too bad the older Griffyndors are determined to make up for them. Fifth-year potions for Slytherins and Gryffindors had been immediately before the first year class...between Longbottom's exploding cauldron—and there was nothing in a calming drought should even have been mildly volatile—and Potter's stares when he thought he wasn't being watched, Severus had been in a decidedly bad mood when the lot of them had finally left. Too bad Granger insists on partnering with the Weasley boy. On her own she's competent enough to make a tolerable calming potion. And after the mess Longbottom created today I'd have been willing to test it on myself.

"She won't what?" Potter asked, pulling Micah back to sit on the couch and Severus's concentration back to the conversation. "Is she okay?"

"Y-yeah…no…I don't—I don't know, she won't talk to me! She hates me. And it's all because of him. He said he was okay—he said we could t-talk to him! I told her it would be okay and I promised a-and she trusted me cause we're best friends and then he went—he went and he said it—and now she thinks…she thinks I was being m-mean on p-p-purpose and I tricked her and she cried and—and she…she h-hates me!"

His voice had been steadily rising in pitch as tears returned, and by the end he was barely managing to choke out words. Not that said words made all that much sense, anyway. Apparently Severus wasn't the only one that felt that way, because Potter switched to rubbing Micah's back and muttering calming nonsense until the child stopped trying to speak. Severus didn't particularly want to interrupt their conversation at this point. Dealing with crying children had never been his forte. After his first year as head of Slytherin House he'd gotten into the habit of selecting one or two prefects that could handle tears of homesickness and that was that.

"Shh, it'll be okay. You'll see. Stop sniffling now…that's right…" Potter dug around in his robes for a moment and pulled out a rumpled square of cloth. "Here, wipe your eyes. Calm down. We'll figure something out."

Micah scrubbed at his face with the proffered handkerchief. "'m sorry."

"Nothing to be sorry for. Have a sip of this." He offered the younger boy a sip of something from a flask at his waist.

Don't tell me the Golden Boy is already an alcoholic, Severus thought in surprise when he saw the vessel. The war has barely begun.

"What is it?"

At least he's smart enough—or Slytherin enough—to ask before accepting something blindly.

"Just hot chocolate. Mrs. Weasley—my friend's mum—sends him a special mix, and he always shares with me. It's nice to have when I'm reading. Have a sip."

Micah took it hesitantly, passing the handkerchief back. "Thanks."

"You're welcome. Now, one more time, from the beginning. Just take it nice and slow. Why is Lily upset with you?"

"She thinks I l-lied to her on purpose. And I didn't, honest, he said—"

"I believe you," Potter interrupted quickly, before the boy could resume his hysterics. "But what does she think you lied to her about?"

"Well, see, she got put in Ravenclaw, so we don't have all of the same classes. She doesn't really know anyone else here and like I said, she's a little littler so when we're separated she gets kind of n-nervous sometimes." He looked up at the older boy. "She's really brave, honest, but..."

"Of course she is. Being nervous is normal. I was pretty scared when I first got here, and I met a couple of the people in my house on the train."

"None of your friends came your year?"

That's the last thing we need here…more people in Potter's clique. The three of them are bad enough, especially since they insist on including that hopeless little oaf Longbottom half the time. Fortunately muggleborns weren't particularly common, and none of the ones currently in the fifth year had lived anywhere near Potter.

"I didn't really have any friends before I came here. It's kind of complicated. So what happened when she got nervous?"

"Well, she was a little scared about her class today because she'd heard he was pretty mean, but he talked to us after we got sorted—he's my head of house—and he said we could talk to him and he seemed all right. A little scary, but not too bad. So I told her it would be okay. And then sh-she got to class, and he called her stupid and said she couldn't do anything right! That's not true! She's smart and special and—"

Potter began to rub the boy's back again, cutting him off before he could start crying a third time. "Of course she is. I…Lily had Potions today, didn't she? You're in Slytherin?"

"Y-yeah. How'd you know?"

At that point, Severus realized that both boys wore rather nondescript pajamas, nothing with their house colors in them. Donovan because his parents wouldn't have known what colors to send just yet and Potter…well, who knew why he was wearing such oversized and rather ragged garments. Who knows why that boy does anything he does, unless it's for the sole purpose of irritating others.

"Snape—Professor Snape—he's sometimes…he's not always very nice to people who aren't in his house. Have you had Potions yet?"

"Uh-uh. I have it tomorrow. We're with Gryffindor."

"Well, you'll see what I mean then. But I don't think he meant that your cousin in particular was stupid. After all, two hours isn't much time to get to know someone. And…he might not have been in a very good mood when he got to that class anyway."

Severus almost gave himself away with a derisive snort. Apparently the fifth-year class had been aware that he'd been annoyed. Not that they would ever do something useful to help alleviate the problem, like maybe pay attention and do their work correctly for once.

"But that's what he said to her—he made her cry! And she thinks I lied to her and told her he wasn't mean to trick her because one of the other people in her house told her Slytherins do that, and now she's mad and won't talk to me. She wouldn't even come play chess after classes!"

The look on Potter's face was a study. Frankly, Snape was surprised the boy hadn't taken the opportunity to tear into his character and the unfairness of it all. He'd clearly had an urge to, but had held himself back. I wonder what this is about.

"You can't—tell her not to take everything Professor Snape says to heart, okay? Trust me, he's been calling me an idiot since the first day of school. I mean, I know I'm nothing special, but I'm not a complete waste of space either. And a friend of mine who does do everything just about perfectly gets called names too."

Both you and the Granger brat need to be taken down a few pegs—your heads are swelled more than enough as it is. And you haven't even got the justification she does. I may not particularly care for her, but at least no one can claim she's a slow learner. Honestly—saying he was nothing special when anyone could see how he manipulated the rest of the school. All of the school that would let him, at any rate.

"But why…why would he do that? I don't understand."

"Honestly, neither do I. But you know, I have a game I used to play at home when my—when people called me names. I could teach it to you, and you could show her, and maybe if she played it in class she might feel better."

"You think?"

"Well, it can't hurt. But tell her she'll have to be careful if she wants to play it with Snape, he's a lot smarter than the people I played with." He grinned suddenly. "Although, to be perfectly fair, Trevor is smarter that the ones I played it with, so that's probably not a very good comparison."

"Who's Trevor? You don't sound like you like him very much."

I don't like him very much, Severus observed. The creature had been banned from the dungeons on penalty of becoming an ingredient in skele-grow after he knocked an entire vial of Gribbits' blood off the counter in class Longbottom's second year. It would, of course, have been the single most expensive ingredient anyone below fourth year is allowed anywhere near. That child is a menace.

"It's not like that. I don't mind him or anything. He's my friend Neville's toad."

"Oh." The little boy giggled. "You think a toad is smarter than people?"

"One time I tied Dudley's shoelaces together after he and a couple of his friends knocked me around on the playground, and he got up and fell back down three times before he figured out what the problem was."

That drew a somewhat louder giggle. "That is pretty stupid. But I don't think tying Professor Snape's shoelaces together is a very good idea."

Very definitely not. And if I ever find out you've even tried, Potter, so help me I'll kill you myself and save the Dark Lord the trouble.

"No, no, definitely don't try that! Besides, I think he wears boots. I just meant the people I've played with before were very, very dumb, so she'll have to be more careful than I was if she wants to play with him. There're a couple different ones you can do…the counting one is the easiest. You just keep count of how many times someone repeats a particular insult. See what you can get him up too. I think his record is calling Neville an oaf four times in one hour last year. And I've been called a brat six times, although the six times were in one day not just in class. I think he was upset then, though. Usually he's pretty creative."

"That doesn't sound like very much fun."

"It is, kind of, though. Or distracting, anyway. See which insults get used for which people. And you could use it as part of another game…I made a limit, ten or twenty I think, and after my u—after I got called a particular name that number of times, I had to go learn how to say the word in a new language. I could say the word 'freak' in sixteen languages besides English before I had to stop. The school library didn't have any more dictionaries. I used to try and say it back to him, somehow, after I'd learned it, but I don't think she should try that with Snape."

"She might like that. She likes to learn new things. Why did people call you a freak though?"

"I was raised by muggles who don't know anything about the Wizarding world and don't like magic very much. And sometimes funny things happen around me…in primary school I ended up on the roof one time when some of the other kids were chasing me, and at the zoo on my cousin's eleventh birthday I got him stuck in a snake cage while the snake left for Brazil. Well…that was actually kind of funny, even though I didn't mean for it to happen. And I blew up my aunt last summer—not the exploding kind of blow up, the inflate like a balloon kind—and she sort of floated away. Anyway, the big thing with bullies is not to let them know they bother you. I'm not really very good at that—Sn—Professor Snape is really good at pushing my buttons."

I do what?

"He does what?"

"Oh, sorry, it's a muggle saying. It just means he knows how to get me upset. Tell your cousin to try and stay calm and not let him get to her, and I bet she'll be fine. And tell her the language game, although I suggest she sets it to a limit lower than ten if she wants to learn any new words. Like I said, he can get pretty creative."

"I'll tell her if she'll talk to me," Micah replied.

"By now I bet a bunch of the others in her house have told her what Snape is like. Not everyone thinks all Slytherin's are bad, and since you two are friends I'm sure she'll understand you weren't trying to trick her as soon as she has time to think about it. If you like, I'll talk to a couple of my friends in Ravenclaw tomorrow, just to make sure. Okay?"

"Okay. Thank y—" a yawn cut off his words.

"Tempus." Potter frowned at whatever the spell revealed. "It's getting late, and I've got class early tomorrow morning. How about we head back to our Houses and try and get some sleep?"

"Yeah, okay. Can we meet tomorrow, maybe? You could come over and play chess with me?"

"I don't think that's a very good idea."

"But…why not?"

Don't want to be seen in public with a Slytherin, Potter? Only to be expected, I suppose. Although he was curious how he was going to explain the situation to the child.

"I like you, but some of the others in your house—including Professor Snape—don't like me very much. It's probably better for you if they don't see us talking together."

"I don't care what he thinks if he's going to be nasty to Lily just 'cause she's not in his house!" came the indignant reply.

"Making an enemy of the head of your house—or of Professor Snape—isn't a very good idea, I don't think. And you don't want your housemates angry with you either. Tell you what, do you have an owl?"

"Mm-hmm. A barn owl. His name is Cobra."

"Well, if you want to send a message to me, you tell him to pass it along to Hedwig—she's mine, and I think the only snowy owl in the owlry right now—and she'll give it to me. Maybe once Madame Hooch authorizes your class to use the school's brooms, we could go flying? Or we could try meeting down here again, but with Filch and Mrs. Norris roaming the halls that's not always very safe."

"I'd like to go flying. Dad showed me how last summer. Can Lily maybe come too?"

"Sure, she could come." Potter stood, slipping his cloak on. "Come on, I'll help you sneak back to Slytherin before I head for my house." He motioned to the younger boy, indicating for him to come under the cloak and a moment later both were invisible. The only clue Severus had to their whereabouts was the main library door that swung open and almost-silent footfalls across the stone.

Well, that was interesting. He gave himself a few minutes after the students had passed before stepping out of the shadows. He should really catch up with Potter before he made it safely back into Gryffindor and take points. Although…this once—once—the prat did something useful. If I catch him out of his quarters after hours again, I'll be sure to take twice as many. He would settle for that. It wasn't as if he'd never have the opportunity to take points again.

I didn't realize I'd made one of them cry…. Absently he stepped over to reshelve the book Potter had been carrying when he'd bumped into Donovan. It had fallen to the floor and he hadn't bothered to retrieve it. Severus had taken to doing a 'first-year interrogation' of his new students, asking them detailed questions out of the reading, after it had gone so well with Mr. Potter. It had turned out to be an excellent way to command their attention. But perhaps he'd been in more of a mood than usual today—Potter and Longbottom certainly didn't help—and perhaps moving on to another student when the little one in the front row had known the answer to the first question instead of pelting her with more that even Granger wouldn't have known the answer to in her first year would have been wise. As much as he didn't particularly care for children, he didn't believe in driving them to tears. Not normally, anyway, there have been cases where it was sorely tempting.

His attention turned to the book he held. Hm. Andemata's Theories on Herpetological Communes: An In-Depth Case Study? Interesting light reading, Potter. He started to put the book back on its shelf and then decided to take it with him and see if he could figure out what the boy had been up to. A quick casting of Tempus revealed just how late it was, and he turned with a whirl of his cloak toward the door. Perhaps he was now tired enough to sleep through the dreams without the aid of a potion. Tomorrow will be better.