To Sleep, per Chance to Dream
The small boy twitched. He had already kicked the covers down to the foot of the narrow bed. His legs were twisted in the adult sized T-shirt Eileen had given him to sleep in. It had been his father's, one of the few odds and ends Tobias had left behind. At ten, Severus was still small for his age. Not just slender - if his parents were anything to go by, he would always be skinny as a broom - but small, petite. For such a serious little boy, he was always desperate to grow up. It was almost as though his development delayed to spite him.
Severus screwed up his closed eyes, mouth opening and muttering loudly, though his words were illegible. The Muggle lamp on his bedside table flickered on and off. It had been unplugged the night before -- it always was these days, as a precaution. She didn't want him surging the grid again. Last time it took them two days to bring power back to the street.
Eileen leant over him to open the curtains, hoping the bright sunlight would wake him. He tended to lash out if touched, and his movements weren't always predictable -- she'd had more than her share of bruises to prove it. The road outside was dead quiet, as one might expect a sleepy London back street to be at eight on a Sunday morning. The glorious late Summer sun shone neatly off every other slate-tiled roof, but Eileen knew that theirs must be in darkness, the long finger-like shadow of the old mill ending neatly at their doorstep.
"Closed ... closed, locked ... No!"
The boy jerked awake from the sound of his own voice, and looked around the room for a few moments, remembering the real world and the safety of his own small room.
"Just a dream, love," Eileen said, as she sat at the foot of his bed. "Only another dream."
Severus sagged against her, and she dutifully wrapped her arms around him, landing a kiss on his straggly black hair. As ever, his moment of need, of emotional disturbance, did not last long. He pulled away from her and stood, dark eyes down-cast, as though embarrassed by his momentary weakness. Just like your father, Eileen thought.
And how very ironic it was, that Severus should so take after the man who abandoned him, who could not take the fits of magical energy that burst forth from the untrained child. She had tried to explain that it would be fixed. Well, not fixed. Channelled. It was a good sign, after all. He would be a powerful wizard, once he had learned to control himself. But after those first dreams, Tobias didn't want to know. He left them the house, such as it was, and they received monthly letters and cheques, such as they were. Perhaps it was for the best. Eileen knew it was no coincidence that Tobias came off worst from Severus' unguarded bursts of magic, nor that the boy had shown distinct improvement since his father had left.
Severus pulled the T-shirt over his head, his back to his mother, quite unabashed at his nakedness. Eileen averted her eyes. He was really getting a little old to be so unabashed. But then, she supposed, co-educating would put pay to that.
"Come on then," she said. Severus turned to her, face expressionless and eyes cold, in that unnervingly unemotional way some children had of looking at you. "The train goes at eleven, and we still have lots to pack."
Red eyes glowed in the dark. They seemed to light up the whole chamber. No, wait. Not one pair of red eyes, but hundreds of them, multiplying and surrounding him. Then there were other lights - there must be, for he could make out faces lining the walls. Pale as the full moon, they grinned down at him with hungry, sharp teeth.
"Say it louder, child," spoke a thin, high pitched voice.
"Clearly, so we all may hear!"
"I pledge myself to the cause of Pureblood wizardry; to the Dark Lord, who shall always uphold the needs of our community; and to the lessons of Salazar Slytherin, who is our highest teacher and mentor, our prime prophet in all things." He knew the words had come from him, but they sounded distant, somehow, like a memory. He knew that he had not said them clearly enough, that his new master would be displeased.
"Lucius, if you would," said that voice.
From the walls of hungry, savage faces, stepped forward a boy he knew. Yes, of course. Lucius was his friend, now. He shouldn't be afraid that in his ghostly hands he carried a glowing red iron, tipped with a skull and a twisting snake.
"Again, boy," that voice, those eyes commanded him.
Somehow, Severus began to stammer his pledged allegiance, even though he could not take his eyes off that glowing red coil, as it came agonisingly slowly towards him, to his bare outstretched arm. He tried to pull back, away from it, but found he was tied, that there was no escape, no hope of stopping the searing heat from burning his flesh.
A distant, squealing cackle assaulted his ears, mixing with his own screams as the iron was brought down on-
The world was bright again, with cool sunlight that spoke of chilly, bleak Winter. And Severus was wet. His hair was damp, plastered to his face, and cold water trickled down his nose onto the cotton sheets that covered him. He looked about, madly, at the alien room.
"Are you alright now? Say something, for crying out loud!"
Severus gazed up, open-mouthed, at the beautiful woman who stood over him, a small, empty glass tumbler in one hand. Narcissa. But why would Narcissa...?
Then it came flooding back: the trip to the Black family home for Christmas, and the reason for that trip. "Sorry. I have nightmares," Severus said softly, as he peeled back the cuff of his borrowed pyjamas, and confirmed to himself that the brand, at least, had been more than a dream.
"Well, hurry up. Breakfast has been prepared, and Aunt Black doesn't like to be kept waiting." She leant down a little closer to him, looking slightly irritated. "You're still not one of us, not to her. You need to make an effort, give her a good impression."
"I know," he said heavily, pushing the blankets down and rubbing a hand over his wet face. "I'm sorry, I'll be right there."
"Want to know a secret?" the child Lily asked him.
Severus sighed irritably, and looked around the classroom at the rows of teenagers staring in boredom at the board or the ceiling, or out the window. He really had no time for this, if he was going to teach them all to make a Wolfsbane potion. Lupin still couldn't light a decent flame under his cauldron.
"Go on, then, but it had better be good."
"It's not me you loved." She had that annoying little satisfied expression on her face. The one she always got when she knew the right answer and he didn't.
"Well," he replied, in his most disdainful tones. "I suppose you always knew best. Clevercloggs," he added for good measure, and smirked at the rest of the class, inviting them to join him in his disapproval of this naughty little girl.
"It won't help, you know," said the adult Lily who stood at his side. She wore her wedding dress, as she had the last time Severus saw her. She was beaming, then, dancing in bright sunlight, with flowers in her fiery red hair. Now it all looked tattered and burnt, and she only looked terribly sad. "You can be cross with whoever you like, but it's not going to make the slightest bit of difference."
Potter appeared behind her. Bloody Potter, even in a dream, ruining it all. Bastard. He leant down and kissed Lily's neck, making her giggle and swat at him.
"If you're going to be an arse, I can just wake up."
"You're right," James said, in an irritating show of condescension. Just like that night by the Whomping Willow. Always the sodding ... sod! "Lily, you should go. Severus and I have important work to do."
And Lily was gone. And everything else was black. And there was only them. They had never been alone together. "Thank Merlin," Severus told himself clearly. But then James was behind him, kissing his neck softly.
Severus opened his eyes to the dim light of the dungeons. His bed was large and empty, and stretched away from him in every direction. He reached out a hand to feel the edge, to grope on the bedside table for his wand and shut up the alarm that rang shrill in the silent, thick air. Severus sighed and ran a hand over his eyes. The third dream that week.
"James Potter," Severus said loudly to the empty room, hoping the man he addressed - wherever he may be - could hear him, "top marks. Lousy human being. Terrific ghost. Now bugger off!"
A single light shone down on them from above, reflecting off of the smooth surface of the table between them. There was a glass ashtray in the centre of the square table, like the one his mother used to use, with a cigarette burning in it. Albus leant forward and picked it up, flicking ash from the tip before lifting the butt to his lips. He sucked a deep drag from it, and let the smoke out long and slow through his nose.
"Those things will kill you, you know," Severus pointed out with a critically raised eyebrow.
"There's no point trying to make me feel guilty," Albus said, in an unusually superior voice. He flicked the remaining ash on the floor. "You're the one on trial here."
The younger man rubbed his arm self-consciously. The skin was bare, and he realised someone had removed his shirt - probably to make him feel inferior. "They can't prove anything. I'm completely beyond repute. I'm unrefutably reputable."
"That makes no sense," Albus told him.
"You're one to talk, old man."
Albus sighed and shook his head, stubbing out the cigarette in the ashtray. "You should show me a bit more respect, you know. You're in a lot of trouble. You've been a naughty boy. If it were up to me, there would be house points and detentions, and no more Quidditch!"
Severus was suddenly bashful. He crossed his arms over his chest, leaning back in his chair. He had been certain no one knew. He had been so careful, so discrete. "Who told you? It was Black, wasn't it?"
"Sirius died, and you know it. Tell me the truth, young man."
Severus looked down at the table and swallowed. When he looked back up - to confess it all, of course - Albus wasn't Albus. He was Potter. Scrawny and messy and infuriating. Naked and sexy and delectable.
"It was you, I suppose," Severus said, careful to keep his voice level, even as the boy leant forward and licked his lips lasciviously.
"What did I do now, Sir?" Potter asked. He was starting to crawl across the table now, which seemed much larger than it had a moment ago.
The older man leant back in his chair, both dreading and anticipating the moment the disturbingly developed brat would fall into his lap. "I'm not sure," he said eventually, "but whatever it was, I'm certain you deserve what's coming-"
There was a banging. They both looked across at the door. "What is it?" Severus asked, as Harry seemed to know far more about the goings on of this place than he did.
"Oh," he pouted prettily. "No fair!"
Severus' eyes shot open on the second knock, with a deep breath. He reached automatically for his wand, which lay, as per normal, on the bedside cabinet. He sat up. The room was still dark, and the hammering on the door persisted. "Severus!" a small, squeaky voice shouted, barely audible through the heavy oak. "Wake up, please wake up! The school is in danger!"
Severus swallowed, and stood. He gripped his wand tightly, and left the room to do his duty.
Well this was just bloody typical. One job. One tiny, insignificant little job. That was all Albus had given him. Find the brat, tell him he's dead meat, and leave quietly, retaining all bodily functions. Including life. So much for that!
It felt alright, the strange warmth and cold that kept flowing over him, like alternating water currents. It wasn't frightening or painful, like he had always thought it might be. It was peaceful, really, to know it was all over, and there was nothing left he could do. There was no point in worrying. It was over now.
Then the boy was over him, and he knew there was one last thing. He tried to reach out and grab him, but just didn't have the strength. It took all he had to open his eyes, and look at the boy - ruffled, thin, dirty, but still beautiful.
Releasing the memories was easy, really. The wisps of pearly white memory seeped out as naturally as the blood from his neck. They would explain everything. Well, almost everything. There were a few secrets that deserved to be kept to himself.
Severus made every effort to take that final breath, and form the words that came out, "Look at me."
Harry looked into his eyes. He didn't understand yet. Maybe he never would. Lily's eyes and James' face. There really wasn't a more beautiful view in the world to fall asleep to.
The mutters grew louder and louder. Then there was a soft, pleasure-filled moan. In spite of what one might think, from the headmasters' portraits, paintings didn't sleep. More's the pity.
Severus averted his gaze, he always did. But there was only so much to look at in a Gryffindor dormitory: red, gold, more red. It really got very tedious after the first week. The ends surely justified the means, as Potter assured him he was on the road to getting Severus's portrait into the headmaster's office. Until then, he would have to settle. But it was a deep indignity, spending his death listening to a disturbed teenager having a wet dream.
"Please..." Harry sighed.
"Hurry it up, boy," Severus said, though he knew it would make no difference. He'd had an unfortunate amount of experience in his month on Harry's wall.
"Mmmm, yes, Sir," Harry moaned.
Severus' portrait blinked. He looked around, but the room was quite clearly otherwise empty. Were he alive, Severus would quite undoubtedly have enjoyed the moment, for more than one reason. But Severus was most certainly and certifiably dead for the entirety of the foreseeable future. Therefore, when Harry called out his name in his sleep - which happened three times in total, as far as he heard - it could only be uncomfortable. And ironic.