Before the Dawn – Chapter 1

By jharad17

Disclaimer: Not mine now. Never was. Never will be. World without end.

Summary: Sequel to Walk the Shadows. After a horrific summer, Harry seems to be recovering from his ordeal, with the help of Snape and Lupin, as well as his friends, including, oddly enough, Draco Malfoy. But appearances can be deceiving.

If you haven't read Walk the Shadows, you'll be hopelessly lost, I'm afraid, in this story. Go forth now and do so . . . I'll wait.

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From the Journal of Harry James Potter

Thursday, Sep. 12, 3am

Nightmares have been bad the last couple nights.

Okay, maybe more than just a couple nights. Maybe ever since M/a/l/f/o/y Draco stopped by to say "Hi," or whatever it was that he wanted. The nightmares were worst that night, of course. Good thing I put up a silencing charm over my room so Snape could get some sleep. I forgot it last night, though.

He was kind of grouchy this morning.

And angry that I'd been Silencing, when I promised I wouldn't. But if he could see the bags under his eyes on mornings when I've kept him up. . . . He has too much work to do to stint on sleep. He puts so much effort into his lessons, for one thing. I never realized before how much planning has to go into it, into everything he does. He spends hours just making antidotes for the potions we make in his classes, so if something goes wrong, he has what he needs on hand immediately to counteract various spills, explosions and ingestions.

He also makes most of the potions for the Infirmary, so the school doesn't have to buy them, just the ingredients. Not to mention, until recently, his spying for the Order. At least he doesn't have to worry about that any more. No more having to face V/o/l/d/ Old Snake Face and be Crucio'd or whatever. No more trying to lie to that monster or grovel for him or any of it.

Anyway, he needs the sleep far more than I do. Besides, I can't have nightmares if I don't go to sleep. I can get by on an hour or two here and there. I'm sure of it.

Harry closed his journal and suppressed a yawn. Then another one, this one making his jaw crack. He pointed his wand at his head and murmured, "Excito Sursum."

A rush of adrenaline swept through him and he had to hold back a mad bout of laughter. He'd found the Excito spell in one of Snape's books that he'd borrowed. The spell was meant as a counter for the Somnambulus curse, but worked just as well, he supposed, as a way to stay awake when tired. The main side effect, as far as he could tell, was an initial feeling of giddiness, which wore off fairly quickly.

This was the fourth time he had used the spell, though only the second time tonight, and the giddiness fled after thirty seconds or so. That was far faster than any casting before, and even as Harry considered what that might mean, a headache replaced the sensation. He pressed a hand to his forehead, careful to avoid the lightning bolt scar. His scar had taken to tingling whenever he touched it, so he didn't touch it. It had been weeks since it had split his head in two with agonizing pain, weeks since those days he had faced Voldemort and had to put the pain in the cupboard in his mind in order to not go mad with it.

A few minutes later, the headache was gone.

Just a head rush, he decided. He took a book off the shelf in his room and sat propped up against the pillows on his bed to read. The book was one Hermione had given him, for his missed birthday. She had also given him the index supplement that she'd tried to send later, when his present had been returned the first time around, when he had been in Topsham, being tortured and blinded and raped.

Shaking his head to clear it of those memories, he concentrated on the text of the hefty tome from Hermione. The Noble Sport of Warlocks, by Quintius Umfraville, was quite good, and included several diagrams of a 17th century pitch. Of course, the book was originally published in 1620, so many of the rules and such of Quidditch had changed since then. But only in the specifics, and the number and variety of fouls. Most of the general rules and methods of scoring and so forth were the same as they'd been almost four hundred years ago.

The book was interesting enough to keep him awake through the remainder of the night.

Several hours later, when he heard Snape moving around down the hall, Harry put his reading away and went into the shower. After luxuriating in the flow of warm water for a while, Harry adjusted the temperature. With a judicious use of cool to cold water, he was able put on a semblance of being awake, without casting the Excito spell again. He didn't want Snape to see him being all tired and ask him how he slept. He needn't have worried, though, since by the time he made his way out to the sitting area and the nearby table where Harry took all his meals, and Snape took all the ones he could get away with, Snape was already standing back up and draining his teacup.

"Did you have anything to eat?" Harry asked him.

Snape shook his head distractedly as he reached the door and grabbed his teaching robes from the hook.

"You're not setting a very good example for me," Harry told him with a cheeky grin.

Snape merely lifted an eyebrow in return. "I assure you, I have had ample sustenance to maintain my good health."

"Uh huh." Harry slid into his chair at the table and called up breakfast. He wasn't all that hungry either, and so just stared at the toast and eggs and bacon that appeared, with no real intention of eating it.

"Which is not to say that you can do the same," Snape said, from far closer than the door, only a few paces behind him. "You will eat something."

Startled, Harry jumped; he couldn't help it. Throwing a glare over his shoulder, he said, "Yeah, the old 'do as I say and not as I do' gambit. I've heard that one before."

Snape's eyes narrowed, and he gave a long suffering sigh. Then, in three long strides, he was across the floor and near enough that he could have grabbed Harry if he chose. As Harry flinched out of the way, Snape reached out and snatched a triangle of toast from the plate in front of him. He tore off a bite, chewed swiftly, swallowed, and glared right back at Harry. "Satisfied?" he snarled.

The picture was so absurd, Harry couldn't not laugh. "Very much so, sir," he said though his chuckles. "Have a good morning."

"You, as well," Snape said, and glared at him again for good measure, even as he took another bite of toast as he headed back to the door. "We will be dueling after lunch. Do not be late."

"Oh. Yeah. Okay." He had forgotten they were to duel this afternoon. A cleared throat made Harry wince at his utterly craptastic manners. It was a wonder Snape let him get away with such disrespect as often as he did. Merlin knew Uncle Vernon never had. "Sorry. No, sir, I won't be late."

He glanced over his shoulder in time to see Snape nod once, his face already curtained by his black, greasy hair. And then, a moment later, he was gone, off to teach his dunderheads. Fourth years, this morning, Harry thought.

After Snape was gone, Harry drank some tea. He pushed the eggs around on his plate for a while, finally eating a couple bites, just so he wouldn't have to lie later if -- when -- Snape asked if he'd eaten. Of course, Snape would probably be all tricky and ask Dobby or something. Now that Snape wasn't sitting -- or standing -- over him and making him mind his manners, Harry propped his elbow on the table and rested his head on the heel of his hand. He really was very tired.

Covering a yawn with his other hand, Harry called the house elf -- not Dobby -- to take the dishes away, and went to set up his things for class. He had Transfiguration first today, and they were meant to be turning pots into pigs. Small pigs, Harry hoped. Professor McGonagall was supposed to send the pot he was meant to use with Hermione . . .

Ah, he thought as a knock sounded at the door, and there she is.

Even though he was expecting Hermione, Harry still drew his wand as he approached the door, unwilling to be incautious. But there were no Death Eaters beyond the door when he opened it, just Hermione, and her huge stack of books, upon to top of which was balanced an old, cast iron pot.

Harry leaped for it as it started to topple, and snagged it just as some of the books fell loose as well. Hermione juggled them for two seconds, three, before they fell with a resounding crash and splatter of old leather.

"Damnit!"

"Hermione!"

Her face was already turning pink. "What?" she asked innocently, as she crouched and started gathering up her books.

Harry set aside the pot and helped her. "Surprising language is all," he said with a shrug.

"I've said worse."

"But not in the middle of the hallway. In front of Professor Snape's door."

The red of her face turned magenta. She clapped one hand to her mouth. "Oh! You don't think--"

"He heard? Nah, he's already gone to class." Harry put the stack of books back in Hermione's arms.

Her sigh of relief brought a smile to Harry's lips. "Thanks, Harry," she said, and turned to go.

"Oh, wait a sec. I have an essay for you to turn in for me. For Professor McGonagall. If that's all right."

"Of course."

Hermione waited while Harry ran to his room to get his Transfiguration essay. And the one for Herbology, which he had almost forgotten. That class was a bit of a struggle, what with him not being able to do any of the class work in the dungeon apartment, but Harry was trying his best.

His Potions practicals, of course, he had to complete under Snape's watchful eye in the evenings after supper. The first time he had made a potion this way, just the two of them, Harry had nearly blown up Snape's private laboratory, he had been so nervous. But Snape had not screamed at him, nor called him three kinds of idiot, but just vanished the mess and left the room for a little while, and when he returned, and told Harry to start again, his voice was quiet, but not that desperate, deadly quiet Harry knew he could invoke without even trying.

That second time, Harry had managed to brew the thing properly -- though not as well as Hermione would have, obviously. But well enough for a passing mark. The next practical had gone much smoother, altogether, and Harry was starting to think he could get an honest handle on Potions, now that he didn't have to worry about Snape berating him in front of everyone all the time.

Back at the door, Harry handed over his assignments, and mentioned the one for Herbology, too.

Hermione tucked them away with a fair bit of book maneuvering. "Ron wanted me to ask if you'd come up to the Common Room some time soon."

Harry shrugged one shoulder, and his stomach flipped over. "I don't know, Hermione . . ."

"I told him not to push it, but he made me promise to ask."

"S'okay. Why doesn't he just come down and visit here?" Hermione gave him a long look, and Harry sighed. "He's letting Severus scare him off? Where's that Gryffindor courage?"

"The same--" Hermione cut herself off, but Harry knew what she had not said.

"Could be said of me, huh?" Harry felt his face heat, and he stepped back over the threshold of the apartment, back into the relative safety of his home. He knew he was being a git, and quite probably a coward, but he couldn't help it. The mere idea of leaving his dungeon home these days -- with all the students in the castle, half of them probably Death Eaters -- made him dizzy and more anxious than he had ever been in his life. "But I was almost sorted into Slytherin, so it makes sense for me. Slytherins are all about self-preservation, you know."

"Harry . . ." Hermione shrugged the weight of the books over to balance on her left arm so she could lift her right hand toward Harry, like she wanted to touch him or something. He moved back farther. "Harry, I'm worried about you. Ron and I both are. And Professor Lupin says you haven't been to see him either."

"You all know where I live."

"Yes," she agreed. "But you need to get out, too. Go outside, you know? Visit your friends, maybe eat in the Great Hall. Fly. When was the last time you went flying?"

Harry shrugged, but he knew exactly when it was. With Ron, the day before the students arrived, with Hermione watching their backs. It was the last day he had felt free to leave these rooms.

"But you love to fly!"

"I also love being not kidnapped. Being not tortured. Being alive and stuff," he growled.

"That's not fair," Hermione protested. "No one is going to kidnap you from Hogwarts."

Unlike from his aunt and uncle's home, was what she was probably thinking. But he'd been kidnapped from here, too. Half of his mouth curved up in a sardonic smile. "Too late. Someone already did. Weeks ago."

She gasped, eyes widening. "But, but--"

"I got better," Harry told her thickly. He didn't like to think about what had happened at the Ministry after Dumbledore -- or rather, Voldemort wearing a Dumbledore suit -- had told him lies about Ron, to get Harry to go along with him. He had been captured again, and nearly imprisoned in some "special cell" that Malfoy prepared for him, where he would have undoubtedly been tortured -- again. "Just had to make Lucius Malfoy a squib."

Another gasp. Wider eyes. "I heard a rumor, but . . ."

Harry took a breath that hurt a bit, going in. His stance was all casualness and uncaring, as if he wasn't sickened by the thought of so much power running through his own veins. Disgusted. Afraid. Like everyone was, or should be. Even if he killed Voldemort and wasn't killed by him, the Ministry would still want to put him down like a rabid dog. And they would be right to. "It's true. I sliced up his magical core into so many bits they couldn't repair it. Could have just killed him. Wanted to."

Hermione's face had gone gray, and she was shaking her head, as if he wasn't telling her the honest truth. Her voice was a hoarse whisper when she said, "What made you stop?"

Harry smiled without humor. "Severus did. He told me to stop, that I shouldn't have Malfoy's death on my hands. So tell that to Ron when he gets all snippy about the moral high ground. That Severus is a better man than I'll ever be."

With that, he closed the door in Hermione's face, and waited for the fallout.

TBC….

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A/N: Sorry it took so long to get this first chapter out. Life has been conspiring against me, of late. I should have a new one done in a week or so. In the meantime, please sample one of these cute little Snapey hugs, provided for your enjoyment. They are calorie free and the perfect late night treat.