(Please note that parts of this story won't mean much unless you have some knowledge of the Dungeons and Dragons universe [I've also got a 2nd edition slant on this] and/or have read the Dragonlance books).
(I'm going to post a list of terminology on my profile if you are unsure of anything).
Harry urged his horse forwards. The land was beginning to darken with the setting sun and the forest on his right appeared more and more sinister with each step. Harry could swear things were moving between the spindly trees.
In front of him a castle slowly came into view. Harry prayed that it was the one he was looking for. He'd already made three mistakes. The last Lord had actually drawn his sword on Harry!
Even if it wasn't the correct castle, Harry hoped he could beg a night's rest within its walls. Just sleeping in the stables would be a luxury compared to kipping on the hard ground.
The sun had fully set by the time Harry reached the castle gates. Howling could be heard in the nearby forest. Werewolves? Harry's overactive imagination asked. He snorted as he dismounted and knocked on the huge wooden gate. Werewolves indeed. You haven't heard a Werewolf before, so stop making up Kender tales!
The gates creaked open, without anyone near that Harry could see. Not that this was much new, his apprentice tower was full of magical conveniences. Harry tied his horse to a nearby tree in the courtyard. It was blackened and twisted, but Harry could see nothing else to stop his horse from bolting the minute he entered the building. The chestnut-brown beast was whinnying nervously, obviously able to sense something more than Harry.
The young Mage cautiously crept forwards; the smaller set of doors to the interior had swung open when he had tied his horse. The emptiness of the place was making Harry's hair stand on end.
"If everything's silent, that means there's a trap ready to be sprung." One of Bill's 'adventurer's tips' ran through Harry's mind at that moment. Perhaps this was a trap... and Harry was walking right into it!
With hands steady from rigorous discipline, Harry dipped his hand into a pouch and pulled out a small piece of gum arabic with an eyelash encased within it. He rolled it between his fingers and muttered words of magic. A second later Harry had become completely invisible to any watching eyes. Soft footfalls down the corridor were the only sign that he was venturing further into the dark castle.
The corridor ended some hundred yards later, cut off by a pair of smaller – but much more nicely engraved – doors than the ones outside. One of the doors was slightly ajar, Harry held his breath as he squeezed through, attempting to keep them as still as possible.
He found himself in a large throne room. The red rugs beneath Harry's feet had decayed and more than one blood stain darkened them further in the gloomy light. The tapestries on the walls had suffered a similar fate, hanging in tatters and blackened by the soot the numerous torch filled sconces had emitted. Despite the many torches, there was a bone-deep chill in the room, and the dais refused to be illuminated.
Harry crept towards the centre, running his memorised spells through his head. His hands remained still near his pouches, ready to plunge in and pull out whatever spell component he would need.
"Now." A command rang out through the hall. It echoed all around Harry, confusing him as to the direction it had come from.
A handful of skeletons appeared from the dark encasing the dais, each holding a rusty scimitar. Harry's heart skipped a beat, but I haven't got a Cleric to Turn them! He mentally slapped himself, Idiot, you're a Mage.
Harry's moment of hesitation cost him. One of the skeletons took a swipe at Harry and hit his arm. It was only a shallow cut, but every drop of blood counted here. Harry raised his hands, spread his fingers and shouted a word of magic. A sheet of flame burst from his fingertips and made the Undead crumble into a pile of dust.
Harry took a shaky step back. His invisibility spell had stopped working, not that it worked against Undead in the first place. He didn't have many spells left for today, and certainly none that would be as effective against multiple foes.
Harry took a calming breath and walked around the pile of bone. He approached the dais, sweating with the sheer terror that was coursing through him. What looked like an old suit of armour rested on the throne.
"State your business." The same voice that had given the command before spoke again.
"I'm here by order of Albus Dumbledore to deliver a message to Lord Snape." Harry spoke, surprisingly clearly for how he felt.
"Er..." Harry licked his lips nervously, "I'm supposed to deliver it straight to Lord Snape."
The suit of armour turned its head; two glowing red eyes looked straight at Harry through the gap in the helmet.
Harry's mouth went dry. He mouthed uselessly, staring at the Death Knight in horror. This is why no one wanted to run this errand; you should've paid more attention in history lessons.
Lord Snape stood up and walked to Harry, who was frozen to the spot. Even without the added height of the dais, Lord Snape still towered over the young Mage.
"Speak." He ordered.
Harry gave a surprised squeak, coughed, and spoke in a slightly higher voice than normal. "Albus Dumbledore wishes to know if you are planning on joining the Lich Voldemort. He hopes that you will either aid us, or ignore the war completely. Whatever your decision, for good or for ill, he wishes for an answer."
Snape gave a noise which could pass for a snort. "If he wanted that answer he would have asked me already." The red glow thinned – he was narrowing his eyes. "You're a Potter, aren't you?"
Harry nodded nervously. "Yes sir, I'm Harry Potter."
What that had to do with anything, Harry had no idea. When – no if – I get back, I'm going to read every single history book Hogwarts tower has to offer. Harry vowed.
"This is the third time Voldemort has come to power." Snape spoke, startling Harry. "The first time I followed him, then we both lost our mortality. The second time, I stood against him, but I have yet to be rewarded for that."
Harry didn't speak, not knowing if anything he said would matter or not. For a long time, Snape simply stared at Harry.
"Very well." Lord Snape spoke at long last. "Let us go."
"Wh-what?" Harry gasped, confused as to what was happening.
"I have my answer," Snape replied, striding out of the room, Harry stumbling along behind him. "But I will deliver it to Albus myself."
Harry hadn't predicted this turn of events at all. He had to practically run to keep up with the Death Knight's long strides. Dumbledore had warned him that it may take some time before Snape decided on his course of action, so Harry was completely unprepared for travelling again. He'd pushed himself and his horse to their limits to find the correct castle today.
The moon was full in the sky, casting yellow light over the grounds. Snape looked to his right and gave a sharp command.
Harry followed his gaze and was almost sick. There, around the remains of his horse, were three Ghouls, covered in blood and gore. They gave Snape a baleful glare at depriving them from their meal, but they left anyway.
"You thought it wise to leave fresh meat unguarded in Spinner's Keep?" Snape asked, sounding – to Harry's horror – amused.
"I... I didn't think." Harry muttered.
Snape turned and walked around the wall some way. Harry followed dejectedly. They came across a stable, decrepit and filthy, but a stable none the less. Harry's eyes widened in horror as his gaze fell on the only creature in there.
"That's..." Harry couldn't continue.
"A Nightmare, yes." Snape finished for him. Undeterred by the flames lapping at the horse's hooves and nostrils, Snape pulled a saddle and bridle off the wall and fitted them to the Nightmare.
Once Snape was mounted, he held out a hand to Harry. Harry backed away and into the wall.
"It would be death to stay within these walls once I have departed," Snape said, "And I doubt you can survive the Werewolves in the forest for long."
So there were Werewolves.
"But that'll..." Harry protested, "It'll burn me."
"Nonsense," Snape told him sharply, "If I wanted you dead, you'd already be dead. What would be the point in burning you now?"
Still unconvinced, Harry moved forwards slowly. He could feel the heat coming off the Nightmare, and the sharp teeth were making him really worried. Snape made a noise of exasperation and Harry grabbed the offered gauntlet before Snape ordered his horse to eat Harry.
Snape swung Harry up in front of him. Harry shivered from the icy touch of the Undead warrior behind him. Snape urged the horse out of the stable and onto the road.
They rode until daybreak. Snape went hunting while Harry hung about, feeling useless. Snape had told him that making a fire would insult the Nightmare, and he threatened to drag Harry along by his ankles if the Mage lost them their ride.
Snape returned within an hour, pulling along a dead deer. Harry carved a sizable chunk off and spent the next hour trying to convince the Nightmare to let him cook it.
Harry curled up underneath his blanket, trying to sleep, while Snape took watch.
"Is something keeping you from sleeping?" Snape asked once Harry had tossed and turned for an hour. "You don't have to sleep so close to the Nightmare if you wish."
"Just thinking things over." Harry mumbled.
"In my experience, it is never a good idea for Mages to think outside of their spells." Snape said.
Harry looked up at him and propped himself up on his elbows. "You mean like Voldemort?"
Snape's gaze snapped to Harry, who managed to not look away.
"Exactly." Snape said after a long moment.
Harry took time to actually look at the warrior. The armour that encased him from head to foot had been blackened and scratched heavily. A highly polished broadsword was held in a scabbard on his left side and a heavy mace hung on the right. His cloak would have fallen to his ankles, had it not been so tattered.
"Would you like a story to send you off to sleep?" Snape asked, sounding amused. "I would prefer that you didn't sleep in the saddle, it makes more work for me."
"I'm not a child." Harry complained, though he wouldn't mind hearing a story. Bill had always told the best stories.
"Once upon a time," Snape started, he waited for Harry to protest, but the Mage was silent, so Snape continued, "There was a young Human Ranger. He knew his way around a sword and a bow, but he wasn't anything exceptional. One day, he came across a beautiful Elf maiden. She had long red hair and the brightest pair of green eyes the Ranger had ever seen. The two fell in love but it was not to be a happy life for either of them. A Necromancer, by the name of Voldemort, had risen to power, and was determined to put an end to every race except Human. He saw the rest as inferior to Human-kind.
"Never mind his reasoning, all that matters is that you know that both the Ranger and the Elf were in danger. Seeking help, they ran to the Order of the Phoenix, a group of Paladins sworn to protect the land from evil. The Ranger took lessons from the Order to improve his fighting skills, while the Elf joined them in prayer. She found that the Gods allowed her the ability to heal, and she helped the sick. The two continued to be in love and soon the Elf gave birth to a baby boy.
"Now, as you understand it, the Elf was very fair, she had a number of admirers in the court, but she was faithful to the Ranger. One of the Paladins gave up trying to woo her the traditional way and turned his back on his vows and the Order, and made his way to confront Voldemort. The Necromancer struck him a deal, if the Paladin could let the Necromancer inside the Order Headquarters, he would spare the Elf for the Paladin to have.
"The Paladin agreed.
"On the day you now know as The First Downfall, Voldemort entered the Headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix and laid waste to the occupants. The Paladin was at his side. He cut down his old friends without mercy. When Voldemort happened across the Elf and her husband and child, he killed the Ranger and turned a spell on the Elf. She begged the Paladin to save her child, even as the flames consumed her, but he did nothing. The child looked too much like his father for the Paladin to sympathise with him.
"She cursed Voldemort and the Paladin with her dying breath. The place collapsed, though the child was saved by means of a summoning spell, cast by a young Albus Dumbledore. The Paladin and Voldemort were buried, though Voldemort had taken many precautions and was able to rise as a Lich soon after."
There was quiet, even the Nightmare's snores had subsided.
"That's a very sad story." Harry said quietly, not wanting to disturb the peace.
"For who?" Snape asked. "The Elf and the Ranger had happiness for a few years, which is more than some manage in a lifetime. The child got to live and was raised by Albus Dumbledore. Voldemort continued his reign of death and destruction. The story may involve death, but nothing ends without that."
"I suppose," Harry said. "The Paladin?"
Snape didn't answer for a long time. Harry had almost drifted off to sleep when the Death Knight spoke.
"He has been given a chance to do the right thing. Maybe then, he will find peace."