Chapter Eleven: Guardians Know Best
Harry skidded to a halt in front of Snape's office door about half a minute later, red in the face and heavily out of breath. He quickly removed the smears of ice cream from around his face, shouldered his bag, closed his eyes in prayer and lifted his fist to knock. The door burst open before his knuckles even touched the wood, and he was yanked inside with a yelp.
"What time, precisely, do you call this, Potter?"
"Nine?" Harry tried, weakly.
"Ten past, Potter, ten past! I said nine o' clock, and not a second late!" Snape sighed, rubbing his forehead. "Well, better late than never, I suppose. I also said my quarters, not my office, whilst we're on the subject of your blunders."
"Sorry," said Harry, apologetically. "I lost track of time."
"Mm," said Snape, leading Harry out of the office into his own lounge. "Do try to keep it next time, Potter." He took Harry's bag from him, then his school robes, putting them on the sofa in the corner. "Tie off," said Snape, simply, holding out a hand for it. "You need to be comfortable."
Harry gave him a rather wild, worried expression, before undoing his tie and handing it to Snape. "Um... comfortable for what, exactly?"
"Our lesson," said Snape. "The mind works best when happy and relaxed. We are starting with something relatively simple today, that will require memory of your occlumency classes. How to lie convincingly. Take a seat."
Feeling completely the opposite of relaxed, Harry sunk worriedly onto a rather worn and hard chair in the corner, sitting directly on the edge. Snape was messing around in the other room, and Harry could hear running water. For some reason, he was getting a strong sense of déjà vu.
Snape came back into the main room, with a large bowl of cold water, which he put down on a cabinet next to a large and very comfortable armchair next to the fire. He raised his eyebrows at Harry. "You don't have to sit in the corner; I don't bite. At least not in my leisure time."
Harry got up, and shuffled closer. Snape pushed on his shoulders and sat him down in the armchair. Harry got a moment's glimpse of looking up into Snape's dark eyes, sinking into the chair, the bowl of water at his side, and once again, he felt a surge of something uncomfortable. Snape didn't notice, or if he did, he wasn't showing any signs.
"Before we begin, your mind must be empty of all stress." Snape sat down in a chair in front of Harry, and studied him for a moment. "This is what the water is for, Potter. I'm about to use a technique on you known as Manipulative Tension Removal. MTR. It's a fairly simple procedure. I will enter your mind, and using manipulative mind techniques, will be able to turn your stress into heat energy, which will be expelled. If all goes well, the water will boil."
"So... I'm going to be cooked?"
"No, the heat will only escape through your fingers." Snape pulled his chair closer, and took Harry's hand, dipping it into the bowl of water. Harry felt an odd panic. He'd done this before. He was sure of it. When Snape reached out to grip his jaw, Harry knew he was about to do it, and he flinched involuntarily. Snape stopped, frowning at him.
Harry stared up into his magical guardian's face, and for a moment, he remembered that face with the crocodile teeth. He knew it must have showed in his face, because Snape frowned even more.
"Look... it's - "
Snape didn't interrupt, but the look on his face made Harry fall silent anyway. Snape had that way of just staring that made talking seem like a stupid thing to do. Harry subconsciously knew that Snape was getting into his mind, and his instincts said to block out the intruder, but something else said that he wanted Snape to help. There was silence for a moment or so, then Snape said, quietly, "Dreams again?"
"Yes, but... I... I don't know what they're about," said Harry. "I forgot everytime I wake up. Except... there's a face. In Grimmauld Place, with all the smoke. Professor, I wasn't hallucinating. There was a creature there, and it's been in my dreams with some other stuff. And I've seen it in other places. In glass, on the muggle news..." Harry was silent, looking up at his guardian, and a few moments passed before he asked, quietly, "Do you... do you know what they're about?"
Snape nodded. "A jumble of things that, to my knowledge, have never happened... though... Potter, how long have you been having these dreams?"
"Since about a week into the holidays," said Harry.
"Have they always been the same?"
"I don't even know what happens in them," said Harry. "E-except that face..."
Snape signed, and studied Harry closely for a few long moments. "I want you to start emptying your mind before you sleep. In fact..." He stood up, crossed to a cabinet, and took out what looked like a wine bottle filled with some lavendar, silky-looking liquid. "Dreamless Sleep Draft. A small sip before you sleep."
He handed it to Harry, who put it next to his chair carefully, before looking up at Snape. "Is it... Voldemort?"
Snape was silent for a moment. He wore the oddest expression on his face. "I have the feeling it isn't that simple. It never is, when you are involved. Now." He sat down again in front of Harry, and moved his hand back to the bowl of water. "Relax, Potter. If this is connected with the Dark Lord, it is even more important for you to learn what I have to teach you."
Harry was quiet, feeling as though he wanted some reassurance, even just a little. He glanced at Snape. Snape gave a soft amused huff.
"They are just dreams for now, Potter," he said. "With the Dreamless Sleep Draft, they will not even be that. Try to relax now. We have a lesson, if you had forgotten."
The almost soothing tone in Snape's voice was all the reassurance Harry needed. He sat back in his chair and made himself comfortable, trying to ignore the water lapping at his hand. It was the same hand that Umbridge had forced him to slice open night after night two years ago. Harry decided that one day, he would ask Snape and Peter if they knew about that, and if they did, why they never put a stop to it.
This time when Snape's cold, bony fingers curled around Harry's chin and tilted his head up, Harry didn't struggle. He looked calmly up into Snape's dark eyes, and Snape looked back. "This will be strange," the Potions master said, quietly. "Though you must trust me."
Harry gave a little nod, and Snape muttered something under his breath. The lights instantly dimmed, except for one candle on the far wall, giving off an eery blue glow. Snape was still staring intently at Harry, before Harry's vision started to blur out of focus. There was the oddest feeling between his eyes, as though somebody was pressing there gently with the pad of a thumb - before it gave way, and something sunk into his mind. His thoughts were suddenly awash, flooded with a calming, hazy sensation. His ears didn't even register the gasp that left his lips. He could feel the sections if his mind being separated, spread out and examined at length by a soothing sort of spirit, dipping here and there, checking and rechecking. It was incredible. Harry felt as though every single one of his problems was gone, placed in the hands of another. His fingers were oddly hot, the water rippling around them - before suddenly, heat started to pour from them, and the water bubbled angrily, boiling around his hand. Cold fingers curled around his wrist and pulled his hand out of the bowl just in time.
Bringing a surge of disappointment to Harry, the calm feeling and the spirit left his mind, bringing him back to reality. Snape sat in front of him, eyes glittering.
"What is?" said Harry, dimly, feeling suddenly relaxed and care-free. Snape handed him a towel, and he started to dry his hand off.
"Our minds seem to be compatible. No doubt we have the guardian bond to blame for that." Snape sat back in his chair, and curled his hand around a glass of red wine, lifting it to his lips. "Obviously, it will be a great help to your studies. I daresay you will learn easier than I did."
"Who taught you?" asked Harry, curiously.
"My grandfather," said Snape. He took another sip from his glass of wine. "I despised my father, my mother, my stepfather, then my stepfather's new wife after he got rid of my mother. The only members of my family that I could tolerate were Andralyn, Isabis, my aunt Morgana and my grandfather. Even then, I only liked Morgana because her dog enjoyed biting my father."
"So... your grandfather taught you all the occlumency and mind techniques?" said Harry.
Snape nodded. "My father's ancestry is full of the dark arts, and so I was taught it as well. My grandfather had a sensible mind though; he knew as many curses as my father, possibly more, but he never used them. He put his efforts into learning about the mind, and he passed the information onto me."
After a moment, Harry plucked up the courage to ask his next question. He still felt quite care-free and casual, and in normal circumstances, this conversation would have become very awkward very soon, though Harry quite wanted to know more.
"Um... Professor? How old were you when... when your father...?"
Snape, to Harry's great surprise, smiled. It was a very bitter and sinister smile indeed. "Thirteen. I returned home from Hogwarts, expecting to find him lounging on the sofa with an empty bottle of firewhiskey, though my mother announced rather casually over dinner that he had an unfortunate accident with a boiling charm. Then of course she married again, presented me with a half-sister and was promptly killed by her new husband." He frowned mildly, as though intrigued by the subject. "Such a horrible childhood I had. It's a wonder I'm not some bitter, twisted old goat with no social life. Ah, of course. I am."
"You're not old," said Harry, reassuringly.
Snape huffed. "Why, Potter? How old do you think I am?"
Harry thought back to the Snape family tree he found in the trunk at Grimmauld Place, and the birthdate. After a few quick calculations, he said, "Twenty-five."
"Twenty-five? I must have a stern word with my mirror. If I told you Potter that I left the Death Eaters fifteen years ago, and joined five years before that, how old will I have been when I joined?"
Harry thought about this, and smiled a little. "Five - I suppose not. So the date on your family tree was wrong."
Snape raised an eyebrow. "Mm?"
"I found your family tree... it was in a trunk at Grimmauld Place," Harry explained. "It had your birthdate on, it said you were born twenty-five years ago."
"Well, Potter, that's news to me."
"So how old are you, really?"
"So blunt and to the point..."
"Come on. You can tell me."
"As old as my tongue, slightly older than my teeth. Now, the lesson - "
"Potter, I - "
"If you're trying to - "
"Thirty-seven? Wait, hang on... two years ago, Lucius Malfoy was forty-one. So you're... forty-three?"
Snape snorted. "No. If you must know, I shall be forty this month. I was three years younger than Lucius."
"This month? Why? When's your birthday?"
"I fell for that one when Albus Dumbledore asked me. The next thing I knew, I found myself enduring a surprise party in the staffroom, trying to escape the clutches of Sarabi Sinistra. Believe me - I will never disclose my birthdate again. Now, the lesson." Putting an end to the conversation, Snape stood up, and crossed to a bookshelf in the corner. "How to lie convincingly. One of the most useful skills a wizard can possess." He started to sort through various thick books, sliding a few out, studying the covers. "During the medieval period, mediums, psychics, conjurors and court sorcerers were immensely popular. Muggles would pay vast amounts of money for simple tricks. Even today, I believe that seasides are infested by psychic mediums with ridiculous names like Esmerelda. Nine out of ten are muggles, fake, and are just good showmen. Though a select few are wizards and witches - skilled in occlumency, legilimency, dangerous mind techniques and lying well."
He finally found the book he was looking for, fairly thin with a glossy purple cover entitled, "How To Fiddle Muggles". He handed it to Harry, and stood behind his chair, one hand resting on the back, the other on Harry's shoulder. "Turn to page 18. There's a basic guide I wish for you to read."
Harry sat back into the chair, and opened up the book, flicking to page eighteen. A large picture of a wizard dressed as a genie greeted him, pointing to a blackboard with points to remember. Snape talked him through it as Harry read.
"Lying well is just as much psychology as mind techniques," he said. "The most important point is to believe in your lie, and accept it as true. Create an entire story based around your lie, so you are able to answer any further questions. Having further information will also reinforce your belief in it. For example, forgetting homework. We will presume that I would ever forgive not having homework at the correct lesson. If a student told me they had lost their homework, and I asked where, though they were slow to respond, I would know they were lying and would fling them into a detention. Though if they had an acceptable story, I would be more likely to forgive. Clear?"
Harry nodded, and moved onto the next point. Snape started to explain it, and the minutes rolled by, turning into half an hour, then a full hour. Harry definitely preferred learning from Snape when there was nobody else around to distract Snape and cause problems. Snape was actually a good teacher, and explained things well. Harry could tell that Snape would be far, far more successful if he was just a tutor, teaching small groups. Harry couldn't help but wonder why Snape had become a teacher at all. He asked this, as Snape finished an explanation about eye contact.
Snape raised an eyebrow at the question. "I ask myself the same thing at least five times per day."
"Seriously," said Harry.
Snape looked thoughtful for a moment, as though he was remembering back a long way, and his desire to teach had faded years ago. "A desire to give somebody better chances than I myself had. I joined the Hogwarts staff a few months after I had been caught by your father and turned in my Death Eater mask. At that time, I was under the mistaken impression that perhaps this could be a new start in life, and I could begin with a clean slate. Though Dumbledore still continued to treat me like a grouchy adolescent who always ruined the fun, and I knew that my life would never change. Eleven years of teaching students the same vile subject, and the slow realisation that I would be spending the rest of my life doing so, finally got to me and I stopped caring again."
"Why though?" asked Harry. "Why will you spend your life teaching Potions? Why would Dumbledore never let you have the Dark Arts job?"
Snape surveyed Harry silently. "Another of the headmaster's little secrets. When you have known him as long as I have, you come to realise that Albus never gives the entire truth, in the name of caring. He hid the prophecy from you for fifteen years. He hid Peter and I for even longer. It took me seven years to find out exactly why he would not allow me to take the position of the Dark Arts master, and even now, he refuses to tell me whether or not I am correct."
"Why?" asked Harry, quietly, in a hushed voice. "Is it... is it because it's jinxed?"
Snape smiled grimly. "Mm. It is, Potter. Terrible misfortune strikes every single Dark Arts teacher to last an entire year at this school."
"What about Professor Lupin though?" said Harry. "He's been here for three now."
"He lasted for one," said Snape. "And then, after a length absence, returned last year. This year will be his second consecutive year, which is why Madam Ivy has been brought into the school."
"So that they'll only get half the curse each," said Harry.
"No," said Snape. There was something odd in his eyes, like a cruel kind of pleasure. "Madam Ivy is here to replace Professor Lupin on short notice, should something... unfortunate happen."
Harry's mouth fell. "Dumbledore actually employed - "
Snape shook his head calmly. "Dumbledore claims to have brought her in to test whether two teachers sharing the post will be struck. Though every member of staff in this school knows the real reason that Ivy is here."
"So the job really is jinxed," Harry breathed. "But... how? Can't they just break it?"
"Curse breakers have tried, many times," said Snape. "None have been successful yet. However... it looks as though the curse is finally wearing off, though."
"Who placed the curse? When?" asked Harry.
Snape didn't answer at first. He just watched Harry silently for a moment, his long fingers steepled, clearly wondering whether to share his information with Harry.
"I won't say anything," said Harry, quickly.
"I know that," said Snape. "Though telling you part of what I have discovered would be specifically going against the wishes of some of the people involved... mm. I suppose not. I found out, after all." He sat back in his chair, and started on his story.
"A thousand years ago, the school was founded by Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin. As you know, Slytherin found the other three founders intolerable, and left Hogwarts, leaving the Chamber of Secrets to continue his work. Any wizard with half a brain would wonder why such a powerful sorcerer as Salazar Slytherin would leave a tunnel with a snake to carry on his legacy, especially as there was no guarantee of his family line surviving for long. Though Slytherin left another hidden danger in this school, that only began to take effect during your first year at Hogwarts.
A number of years after Slytherin left the school, a prophecy was made to him by one of the most talented seers of the age. He was told of the end of his family line. The prophecy made was that the 666th male descendant of Godric Gryffindor would aid the downfall of his blood line. Slytherin decided to do everything he could to prevent the fulfilment of the prophecy.
Realising fairly soon that killing every male descendant of Godric Gryffindor was futile and would inevitably not work, he decided upon a far more effective way of preventing his family's downfall, by concentrating on the 666th male descendant of Gryffindor. Of course, this would be years in the future, and nothing would keep him alive for long enough to deal with the problem directly. And so he made a curse.
Slytherin was a powerful wizard, but could not directly send a curse into the future to murder the heir of Gryffindor. Instead, he could tamper with the power of this wizard. Slytherin's curse was that when the 666th male descendant of Godric Gryffindor arrived at Hogwarts, terrible misfortune would strike the Defence Against The Dark Arts tutors, and all would be forced to leave within a year. The heir's education would be ruined, and Slytherin's line had a greater chance of living on. The curse on the Dark Arts professors will break the moment that Gryffindor's heir graduates - the end of this year."
Harry found himself sitting very still, with wide eyes. "So... Gryffindor's heir is in my year...? Who... who is it?"
Snape raised an eyebrow. "Can you not think of a family who have had many sons, and every single one has been placed in Gryffindor house without question? Even when some of those sons would have been far better in another house..."
Harry bit his lip. He thought that he knew exactly who Snape meant, though wasn't sure if he dared to mention who it was, just in case he was wrong. After a moment, he looked up at Snape and said, quietly, "It's Ron, isn't it?"
Snape nodded. "He has no idea that he is Gryffindor's heir. Molly and Arthur know, though they do not want their children to, especially Ron."
"How did you find all this out?" asked Harry, unable to hide the respect and awe in his voice.
"Early in my teaching, I decided to earn some extra money by translating ancient runes for Gringotts. For practice, I took out some books from the library and worked my way through them. As luck would have it, I stumbled upon the story of the prophecy and the curse, and decided to research further."
"So... Dumbledore won't give you the Dark Arts job, because of this curse... and he doesn't want you killed. He can't have you killed. Because of..."
"Because of you, Potter." Snape treated him with a hint of a smile. "I do note that Dumbledore happily handed Lupin the job, despite the risk of him being killed, which is a small condolence to my part." He picked up the next book on the table, but did not open it just yet. "I will ask you not to repeat any of what I have told you to Weasley. Think of the problems you have encountered because of your fame, and ask yourself whether you would ever wish that on your... friend." Snape said 'friend' as though he had sworn.
Harry sat and processed all of this for a moment, as Snape put away the books. It was hard to think that Ron Weasley, who had always been the plain one out of his brothers, and just "the kid who hangs around with Harry Potter", was in fact the heir of Godric Gryffindor. Part of him desperately wanted to tell Ron, but a bigger and much more assertive part said that Snape was right. After a few minutes, the comfortable silence was broken by Snape.
"And have you made a start on the Potions project yet, Potter?"
Harry looked up, and quickly nodded. "Oh yeah," he said, automatically.
"How many pages?"
Harry paused, and then said, in a falsely bright tone. "The potion I've chosen and why."
"And which one have you chosen?"
"Because... it... oh."
Snape made an amused little noise in the back of his throat, and pushing the last book into the shelf, he said, "You need more practice. It's late now, Potter. You should be heading back towards Gryffindor Tower."
Harry nodded, and got to his feet, picking up his bag and loose clothes from the corner. "When have I next got DMT with you?"
"Wednesday, at nine o' clock."
"Okay." Harry headed towards the door, and opened it carefully. He and Snape exchanged a few words of parting, then he stepped out, closing the door.
Harry wasn't sure what time it was, but it must be incredibly late. Everything was dark, cold, and eery. Hogwarts at night wasn't the most comforting place, quite far from it, and Harry's shoulders were subconsciously hunched as he stepped out of the dungeons. He had the oddest feeling of being watched. Passing through the entrance hall, he glanced up at the marble staircase and the corridors beyond. For a moment, he was sure he saw something move up there in the darkness. Probably one of the ghosts, he thought, trying to calm his paranoia.
Silently, he made his way through the dark corridors, up a few staircases, until at least he reached the landing where Gryffindor Tower was. The fat lady was sitting in her portrait as always, sewing what looked like a cushion.
"Late night, dear?" she asked him, kindly.
"Yeah," said Harry. "Really late."
"Password?" she said, putting down her cushion and smiling at him.
Though Harry hadn't even got the word out of his mouth when he stopped. Something had moved down the passage to his left, and he turned instinctively, reaching for his wand.
There was a large window at the end of the corridor, and the moon outside flooded the scene with pearly, ethereal light. Harry had turned just in time to catch the figure, and if he had been a moment late, he would have missed it. He saw a person walk past the window, swiftly and silently, dressed from head to foot in a long black cloak with a hood pulled over their face. Whoever it was swept out of sight, not making a sound. Harry took a step down the corridor, quite wanting to follow and see who it was creeping around the castle so late at night, but there was suddenly a cold, watery feeling in the middle of his back.
"Get into the tower, Harry," said a quiet voice. "I'll go and see."
"Peter?" Harry looked around behind him. The hand pushed insistantly in his back.
"Go on. I'll talk to you in the morning, get to bed." There was a drafty feeling on the backs of his knees, as Peter evidently made his way down the corridor after the figure in the cloak. Harry turned back to the fat lady, who was holding her cushion in one hand, her eyebrows raised.
"Unicorn horn," said Harry. The portrait swung open, and he clambered into the common room, closing the door behind him.
Ron was curled up in one of the chairs with a thick book open on his lap, wearing a deep frown. Hermione sat on the arm of the chair, evidently trying to teach him something, and getting nowhere.
"And that's why muggles started to try and burn witches," she said, neatly. "Okay with all that?"
"Yeah," said Ron, nodding, still frowning and rubbing his head. "My brain hurts though. Oh, hiya Harry."
"Hey Ron," said Harry. He went over to them, and sat down in the other armchair. He couldn't quite look at Ron the same. He glanced at the portrait of Godric Gryffindor above the fireplace, and then at Ron. Only the eyes had really passed on through the ages, and the coppery tones of Gryffindor's hair were diluted into Ron's vibrant red hair.
"What is it?" said Ron. "Snape's not been trying to cook you or mince you or anything, has he?"
Harry shook his head with a slight smile. "No, it's okay. I'm just tired, that's all." He considered asking Ron if he knew what had happened to Kainda, before he remembered why he and Kainda had been sitting in the corridor next to the kitchens, and his heart sunk a little. "Listen... Ron, about the Malfoy thing... you... you haven't told everybody, have you?"
"Not everybody," said Ron, quietly.
"Well... everybody in Gryffindor," said Ron. "And then anybody who heard it from the Gryffindors, and came asking me about. They went and told some other people. So most of the school probably knows by now." He shut his book, with a proud expression on his face. "That should teach the little half-breed a thing or two about being such a hypocrite."
Harry sat back in his chair, quietly. Ron had told everybody now, and there was nothing he could really do. Even though it made him feel guilty to think so, he was almost relieved that he didn't have Draco's reputation on his hands now. There was no point in nagging Ron. He yawned, and stretched, deciding he would deal with it all in the morning.
"I knew there had to be a reason he kept getting such good marks," said Ron, in a triumphant voice. "He's been charming the teachers, hasn't he? With those weird powers? Dancing for them, I bet. Whenever he wants an O in Potions, he just goes and dances in front of Snape. He's not smart at all. And that must be why Lucius Malfoy was so trusted in the ministry too. You don't need the imperius curse when you've got powers like that, do you?"
Harry and Hermione said nothing, though Ron carried on talking as if there were nodding vigorously at every one of his words.
"I mean, it all makes sense. That's why he puts so much emphasis on blood - because he's ashamed of his own. All those times he called you mudblood, Hermione, and look at him. He's not even human. He's just a half-breed. I mean, even those froggy people in the amazon - "
" - toad people, Ron," said Hermione.
"Yeah, them. Even they're classed as beings. Weird beings, yeah, but the veela are only seen as beings in Bulgaria, and while Malfoy's over here, he's nothing but an animal in my eyes. I'm not even going to look at him any more. What if he does his weird charmy thing on us?"
Harry, quite wanting an end to the conversation now, yawned and stretched. "Well, I'm tired. I'm going to get changed in the bathroom."
Hermione, who was already changed into her lilac pajamas under a dressing gown, nodded. "Alright. Night, Harry." She slid under the pile of blankets, and Ron got under too, reaching out and giving her a hug. Harry left them to it, and when he came back from the bathroom, they were both sleeping next to each other, Hermione's head on Ron's shoulder. He smiled a little, got under the mountain of blankets, and fell asleep fairly soon.
He was walking alongside Snape, down some dark corridor in one of the dungeons. Snape had one arm on his shoulder, and the other was playing with a golden Snitch, letting it go, then snatching it back quickly. There was something following them, he knew, though he didn't know how. Snape seemed to be talking in a language that made no sense at all, just clustered syllables, and the occasional low hiss. Every now and then, in front of the large window at the end of their corridor, a figure in a black cloak would simply walk past out of sight.
Snape's voice was melting into a language that Harry understood, not English, but Parseltongue. Harry looked up at him, and saw that he had two crocodile teeth inching over his bottom lip.
"This school hides many secrets," Snape hissed, softly. "More than Dumbledore knows. More than you know. More than the school itself knows. But I know."
"What do you know?" Harry asked, in Parseltongue, as another figure blew past up the corridor. Whatever it was following them was closer now.
"Slytherin's legacy lives on," Snape whispered. "Though the power to destroy it lies not in the sword, but in the mind."
"Voldemort?" said Harry. The creature behind them was very close now, so close that he could feel its footsteps on the floor. "Do you know what he's looking for?"
A pawed hand suddenly grasped Harry's other shoulders, and that odd accent was whispering in his ear. "Nobody knows, Harry. Nobody knows but me, you, and him. Your guardian won't know. And time's running out, Harry... look ahead..." Another figure walked past, though this time, turned to look at Harry and Snape. Their face was covered completely by a black cloth. "Time's running out, Harry. Time is running."
Harry's legs automatically started to run forwards, and Khepri was right at his side, hissing still in his ear. Behind him, he could hear Snape calling, telling him to stop, to come back. That figure ahead was still there, tensed and waiting for him. Harry started shouting, shouting out to Snape, begging for help, but Khepri was pushing him faster and faster until suddenly the hands of the figure closed on his shoulders, pulling him in, twisting his neck to the side, hissing with wild glee.
Harry screamed, and sat bolt upright. The duvet fell off him. He gasped and put his hands to his face - another dream. More nightmares. Though he could remember this one, as clearly as if it had all just happened. He realised there was somebody gripping his shoulders, and looking through his hands, still shaking, he saw Ron staring at him in alarm.
"Harry?" he said, worriedly.
"Nightmare..." said Harry, dully. "It's okay, I'm fine... just got a bit spooked..."
"A bit spooked?" repeated Ron. "Harry, you were screaming something about Snape helping you, then telling me to stop making you run. What were you dreaming about?"
Harry looked up at Ron, and decided he just didn't have the energy to invent a lie. He told Ron, all about seeing the figure in the corridor, then all about his dream. Hermione was sitting behind Ron, looking very pale, listening to all this in silence. When Harry finished his story, both of them were looking at him nervously.
"Harry..." said Hermione, quietly. "I think you should go to Dumbledore."
"I can't," said Harry. "He won't believe me. Nobody does, not even Lupin. They're just dreams, they don't mean anything..."
"But what if they do?" said Ron. "What if it's another thing from... from You-Know-Who? What if this is really important? I mean, Khepri says that You-Know-Who's looking for something. What if there's somebody out there who's got whatever it is? But they don't know You-Know-Who's after it, and if you just tell Dumbledore, Harry, then we'll sort it all out."
"Don't you think I'm sick of being called delusional?" said Harry. "Nobody wants to put up with my "crackpot" stories anymore. Honestly, guys... they're just nightmares."
He sat up, rubbing his eyes, and looking over his shoulder for his bag. When he spotted it, he clawed it over, unzipping it and taking out the Dreamless Sleep Draught. Hermione and Ron both made odd noises, as though they wanted to ask where this was from, though they said nothing. Harry uncorked it, and took a few sips. An odd feeling of calm instantly blessed over his mind, chasing away those last few worries. He remembered Snape's words before, about it all just being a dream. In the light of the common room, it was easier to reinforce those thoughts. He glanced at the portrait hole for a moment, wondering if he could go and see Snape. For some reason, the thought of just talking to him, seeing him, calmed Harry a little, as though he was a child after a nightmare, wanting a parent. It was an un-nerving thought. Snape would probably tear out his insides and make him into ingredients for the following day's Potions classes if Harry woke him up in the middle of the night.
"It's half past four now," said Ron. "I won't be able to get back to sleep. I'm going to stay up, if you don't want to go to sleep either Harry."
"I might just have a nap," said Harry. He settled back down into the heap of pillows, pulling the duvet back up. "Or stay up. I don't know. I feel weird." It was impossible to explain the empty, doubtful feeling that was swirling around inside his stomach. With a sigh, he closed his eyes and laid his head down in one of the cushions, deciding that if he had just one more dream, he would go and talk to Snape and Peter about it. In a few minutes, he was asleep again, and thankfully, Khepri stayed out of his thoughts this time.
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