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harry potter fanfiction

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The Upper Deep

Reality is the stuff of dreams. Or possibly the stuff of poison.

Snape/Harry  |  R  |  6,933 words  |  January 2007
warnings: AU

i.

He was floating, maybe, or flying. He was in a part of Hogwarts he'd never seen before, even higher than the Astronomy Tower, haunting the halls. Even Peeves never ventured up here, and he wasn't sure how he'd even found it. Round and round he went, twisting through passageways and corridors and locked rooms that should have presented more of a problem. He wasn't sure what he was looking for, but he knew where it was. He'd know when he found it.

And -- there! He felt a twinge of guilt at disobeying Dumbledore, but it was gone as quickly as it came. He circled the room before darting forwards, almost an attack, and then he stood in front of the Mirror of Erised. His family shimmered into view; he recognized his mother's red hair, the green eyes she'd given him. His father stood off to the side, his hand on her shoulder, beaming proudly at his son.

"Mum," Harry whispered, and reached for the mirror. His mother smiled and held out her hand. Harry reached for it.

"Yes, Harry, I'm here. It's all right."

Harry's hand made contact with what should have been glass. It wasn't, before he could figure out what it was, everything went blank. He thought his eyes were open, but there was only blinding white all around him. There were voices to the left, low and concerned. He recognized the tones, if not the voices, from the times he'd woken up in the infirmary. He tried to say something, to let them know he was awake, but he couldn't speak.

"But he just--"

"I know, but it's happened before. We oughtn't get our hopes up."

"But that's what hope is for."

"James--"

James?

Harry thrashed in his bed, trying to draw their attention. He picked a spot in the white that seemed a bit gray and stared. Slowly, slowly, shapes swam into focus. He blinked. Everything was fuzzy without his glasses, but that looked like...

"Dad?"

"Harry?" His father lurched towards the bed and pulled Harry up, crushing him to his chest. Harry hung on for dear life.

"Lily!" James yelled, his voice hoarse. "Lily, he's awake!"

Harry saw a flash of red and then felt another pair of arms go around him. She smelled soft, like talc and lavender, like mother, and Harry realized he was crying. They were all crying. The hug went on for ages, and then his father finally drew back.

"I'll get the doctor," he said. He looked at Harry pleadingly. "Don't-- just don't. Lily..."

"Go," she said, arms still around Harry. James pressed a quick kiss to Harry's forehead and bolted out of sight. Harry looked up at his mother, drank in the sight of her.

"How-- what's happened?" he asked. "Am I-- am I dead?" He looked around, but couldn't see much. It was a sterile hospital room, white and impersonal. He eyed the restraints on the bed and looked uncertainly at his mother.

"Oh, no, Harry, no," she said, pulling him close and rocking him back and forth. She was soft, comfortable, and Harry held on tight. "No, you're not dead."

"But Voldemort--"

"Don't," she said, clutching him tighter. "Please don't talk about it." She sounded more like Aunt Petunia in that moment than Harry was comfortable with, and he drew back, looking up at her suspiciously.

"Why not?" he demanded. "Voldemort murdered you!"

His mother pulled further away from him and closed her eyes. Another tear rolled down her cheek, and Harry studied her. She was older than he'd expected, and she looked exhausted. When she opened her eyes again, they were bright with love and pity. She reached out and laid her palm against his cheek.

"Oh, Harry," she said. "Where have you been?"

"Been?" he asked, confused.

"Yes, 'been,'" Snape snapped, obviously irritated. "You were supposed to be back hours ago. I have classes to teach in the morning."

Harry pushed the heavy door shut behind him and trudged into Snape's quarters, stopping in the entrance hall to kick his shoes off. "That's not fair," he said, glaring at Snape, who was leaning against the wall with his arms crossed. "No one asked you to wait up."

Harry took his coat off and was about to hang it up when he caught sight of himself in the hall mirror. He frowned at his reflection, something tugging at the corner of his memory. It was the wrong mirror, somehow, and he suddenly wasn't sure where he'd been or what was happening.

"I was--"

"I'm not interested."

Harry trudged into the living room and stopped to look around at the familiar bookshelves, the tatty rug in front of the fireplace, Snape's liquor cabinet. He still wasn't sure how he got there, and it was hurting his head. He dropped onto the battered sofa and rubbed his temples. "But-- my father--"

"Don't you dare mention him to me," Snape snarled, going into the bedroom and slamming the door behind him.

Harry stared after him, shaking his head. "What am I doing here?"

"You're sick, Harry," his father said gently. "This is Dr. Pomfrey. She's been trying to help you."

Pomfrey was the same mediwitch he'd known for years, but she was dressed in a Muggle doctor's coat and there was no spark of magic in her eyes. Instead, there was the same look of pity and sorrow his parents had. Harry was beginning to get annoyed.

"Tell me what's wrong," he said. "What's happened? Where's Se-- Snape?"

The adults exchanged meaningful looks, and then Pomfrey stepped forwards.

"Like your father said, Harry, you're very sick," she said. "You've been hallucinating, making things up. All this about magic wands and evil wizards... I'm sorry, Harry, but none of it's real. It's a very elaborate network of delusions you've built for yourself."

"You're lying," Harry said automatically, trying to buy himself some time to think.

"No, Harry," his mother said. "I know it seems difficult to believe, but it's the truth." She reached out and took his hand. "I'm right here, aren't I? Your father and I are quite alive. We haven't been killed. There was never any war."

Could that be true? Harry wanted it to be true. Peace. His parents. Living a normal life. But -- no. Harry shook his head.

"No?" Snape said, his voice low and dangerous. "Are you refusing me?" He trailed a long finger down Harry's spine, and Harry shivered.

"Er. No?" He winced as Snape's fingers dug painfully into his hips. "I'm sorry! I just-- I'm not feeling very well." He untangled one hand from the sheets and rubbed his scar.

"Do you need to see Pomfrey?" Severus asked, drawing back.

"No! I just-- can I ask you something?"

"Something else, you mean?"

"What?"

A sigh. "What is it?"

Harry looked over his shoulder at Snape, who was standing at the foot of the bed languidly stroking his cock. "Er. Are you real?" Harry flushed. It sounded ridiculous, and judging by Snape's climbing eyebrow, he thought so, too. "I mean-- I'm having visions. Not You-Know-Who visions or anything, but of-- er, other things. My parents, telling me they're alive and all this--" He gestured around the bedroom. "--is made up. A hallucination, they said. A delusion."

Snape snorted disbelievingly. "Don't be absurd, Potter. If you were hallucinating, I should think even you would have enough sense to hallucinate yourself into someplace rather less hellish."

"The bedroom's not hellish," Harry said. "But I... I liked what they said. I think there's something wrong with me."

"The list, Potter, is infinite. Be quiet."

Severus' lips cut off Harry's protest, and then there was nothing else to say as Snape pounded into him. Harry worked his own cock desperately, never wanting it to end, ending it far too quickly. Snape came with a low groan and then rolled off the bed, never much for post-coital cuddling. Harry watched as he turned and headed for the loo.

"Where are you going?"

"Going? Harry... we're not going anywhere. And you haven't been anywhere in, well, in a very long time."

Harry covered his ears. "No!" he yelled, curling in a corner of the bed. "I don't believe you!" He could almost feel the ache of the Cruciatus in his bones, and he was sure he never could have made up such horrors.

"Harry, please," his mother said, pulling him back into her arms. "Please listen. The world, this wizarding world you believe in, it sounds like a terrible place. Wouldn't you rather stay here, with us? With your parents? A quiet life with people who love you? We do love you, Harry, very much. We want you to come back."

"Yes, Harry," his father echoed. "Stay with us. Come home."

Home. He hadn't had a home before, not really. A world without Voldemort, without Death Eaters, without the bodies of his friends being dumped at the gates of Hogwarts.

"What do I have to do?"

His parents offered him tremulous smiles and looked at Pomfrey, who approached the bed. "There's medicine, Harry, medicine you have to take. We've tried before, but it didn't seem to work. This is new medicine -- it should keep you lucid. It won't be easy. You'll have to take it every day, and you'll need to talk to someone regularly, but if you try, if you really fight, you can stay here."

"I don't want to stay here," he said. "I want to go home."

"Oh, of course you can go home! We'll have to watch you for a little while, and make sure you're doing all right, but of course you can go home. I meant 'here' as in, this world. Not--" She looked at her notes. "--Hogwarts."

"Oh," he said. "Might I visit sometime? Ron and Hermione--"

"I'm afraid not," she said. "Ron and Hermione are just aspects of you, Harry, personalities you made up to help you deal with the problems you were having."

"Problems? What problems?"

His parents exchanged the look that meant there was some secret they didn't want to tell him. He knew that look, and didn't want to put up with it from his parents.

"What happened to me?"

His father looked at him briefly, and then out the window, his eyes unfocused. "You had a brother," his father said, the words clipped as if he very much did not want to discuss it. "A twin. He was killed when you were eleven years old. You blamed yourself, even though it wasn't... you wouldn't have been able to save him, Harry."

"It was just one of those things," his mother said. Her voice was strong, but there was sadness in her eyes. Harry tried to remember, but he had no memories of any brother. "You were both attacked, and you were so young. You couldn't save him."

"And I've been here since then?"

"Yes," Pomfrey said. "Saving the world you created."

"But it'll be all right, Harry," his father said. The dullness had left his eyes, and they were shining a little too brightly. "You'll be fine here. You'll make new friends. You won't need Ron and Hermione anymore."

All the breath went out of his lungs in a rush. It sounded reasonable, he supposed; a world without Voldemort made sense. But a world without Voldemort was a world without Dumbledore. Without his friends. Without magic. Without Severus.

"But--"

"But nothing, Potter," Snape snapped. "What on earth have you got yourself into?"

"What?" Harry shook his head to try to clear it. He was curled up at Snape's feet, head resting in his lap. Snape was stiff-backed in the chair, probably resisting the urge to send Harry sprawling on his arse.

"Pay attention!" Snape tapped him on the head, a bit harder than was necessary.

"Sorry," Harry said. "You were saying?"

"I was saying that you've been poisoned."

"Poisoned?"

"Yes, presumably by someone working for the Dark Lord. It's quite sophisticated. It affects your brain, such as it is. Makes you question reality. I'll spare you the details, as they'd be lost on you anyway."

Poisoned. Harry added it to the list of things Voldemort had done to him, and he was suddenly exhausted. The war had been dragging on for years, and there was no end in sight. He wasn't sure how much longer he could handle it. Any of it. He rubbed at his scar. "So that's what's causing these visions?"

"I'd imagine so," Severus said. "How often do they occur?"

"I don't know," Harry said, snuggling closer and wrapping his arms around one of Snape's legs. "I can't... my sense of time is off. They said it's been a while."

"Well, as they're not real, Potter, it's not as if you can believe anything they say."

"They say the same thing about you, you know."

"Ah," Snape said, reaching into his robes and withdrawing his cock. Harry scrambled to his knees as Snape stroked himself to hardness, and then Harry leaned over and swallowed as much as he could. At least this was something he could feel. Snape's hands tightened in Harry's hair. "If this is a hallucination, Potter, you've a dirtier mind than I'd credited."

"'s your fault," he mumbled around his mouthful of cock.

"What's my fault?" His father looked worried.

"Bad timing," Harry said, frustrated. He rubbed at his scar. "Where'd this come from, then?" he asked. "Voldemort didn't give it to me?"

"A car accident, Harry. You were 13 months old."

"That's what Aunt Petunia said."

"You don't have an Aunt Petunia." Harry tried to think about that, but couldn't even begin to process the implications.

"I... Where's Severus?"

"Who's Severus?"

"My...er." He stopped short, not sure how to answer the question or describe their relationship. "Snape."

"Ah. I'm sorry, Harry, but he's not real, either." Hearing that Severus wasn't real was a lot like talking to Severus -- that quick punch in the gut, the sting of words that were neither true nor untrue so much as they were uncomfortable. Harry took a deep breath and tried to move on.

"Where's Mum?"

"She went home for a while, but she'll be back. She needed to get some sleep. These chairs aren't very comfortable." His father nodded towards the chair in the corner and rubbed at the back of his neck. "I think my neck is permanently cramped," he said, offering Harry a weak grin.

"How long do I have to stay here? When can I go home?"

His father leaned forwards, all too eager. "You want to come home?"

"Sometimes, yeah. I'm tired of fighting."

"The doctors say you can leave after you've gone one week with no visions."

"What's the longest I've gone so far?"

His father got that annoying pitying look again. "About ten minutes. But that's better than no minutes, which is where we were a few weeks ago."

"Oh," Harry said. "But... what happens to Hogwarts when I go?"

"What are you on about now, Potter?" Snape asked, though it didn't sound like he actually wanted to hear about it. "You don't go anywhere."

Harry shook his head, trying to clear it. "When I have my visions," he said. "Time. It doesn't work. The last thing I remember is a blowjob."

"It must have been an uncommonly good blowjob," Snape said.

"That's what you tell me," Harry agreed, grinning.

"Brat."

"We were interrupted."

"Do you doubt my willingness to hex anyone who interrupted us?"

"So I've never gone anywhere? I've always been right here?"

"Harry, your mother's already answered that question. You're not going anywhere."

"That's not what I meant!" This was getting ridiculous. "I thought you were going to give me medicine," he said, looking around for Madam -- no, Doctor Pomfrey. He was so tired.

"We have been," his mother said, sitting on the edge of the bed and taking his hand. "It's helping, a bit. But you're not helping yourself. You slip back and forth all the time. You need to fight it, Harry. Please."

She squeezed his hand. It was impossible to say no to his mother. "All right," he said, missing Severus already. But if he had a family, a real family...

"I'm afraid 'all right' is not good enough, Potter. You cannot give in to these illusions. You must not. You are needed here."

Harry didn't believe it. Dumbledore told him he was too valuable to participate in the war, and so he was locked up while his friends fought and died. The war had dragged on for years, and Harry'd had no part of it. "I'm not," he said, sighing. "No one lets me do anything. The only thing left is you, and it's not like you need me."

Snape was silent.

Harry waited, his frustration growing. "They said they could give me drugs to stop me coming here, you know."

"You are here, Potter. They can do no such thing."

"You didn't answer my question."

"I've done so already. I've said that you're needed. I've told you to stay."

"Yeah, you've told me. Ask me."

Snape was silent.

"Fine," Harry said.

"What's fine, Harry?" his mother asked.

"I'm staying," he said, and the love and joy in his mother's eyes almost erased the bitter taste in his mouth.

 

ii.

I don't understand the purpose of this journal. I am not -- have never been -- prone to sentimentality. I fear to become one of those pathetic old men you read about who have so scrupulously recorded their every move that they hadn't time to do anything else. Regardless, I seem to be at the mercy of my doctors.


These doctors insist that my entire life exists only in my imagination, that some sickness or other has infected my brain. I hardly know what to do with this information. I must be sick indeed to have imagined the things I imagined -- the usual atrocities associated with a lifetime of war, and then some. Whereas here there is nothing more terrifying than hospital food, which, while horrid, does not hold a candle to the terrors of my dreamworld.

Harry read the words and felt an immediate spark of kinship. He had no idea who'd written them, or how they'd ended up in his mailbox, but he wasn't about to question it. In the years he'd lived at Godric's Hollow, he hadn't met anyone with his illness, and the lack of understanding was something he felt keenly. Even outside the hospital, surrounded by people who loved him, he couldn't just be normal.

The journal entries came once a week, apparently scrawled over whatever was handy -- notebook pages, napkins, envelopes. They were never very explicit about the details of the visions, but Harry was sure his mysterious correspondent suffered from the same illness he did. And there was something else, too. The letters were packed with dry humor and sarcasm, and he almost thought -- but no. It wasn't possible. He hadn't been real. He'd been Harry's self-hatred made form -- the only reason to fall in love with someone who hated him, his doctors said, was because he hated himself. Harry no longer allowed himself to even think the name.

Occasionally, everything turns upside-down. This life is the dream, and that one the reality, and I know there is something I must do. There is someone I must speak to, someone I must bring home. And just as I am about to remember what it is, my thrice-damned doctors are back with their pills and their needles and I lose whatever is left of myself. They say there is no one to take custody of me, and that I'm not well enough to manage on my own. I suspect they're afraid of something, of what I might do if loosed upon the general population. Ridiculous, really. This version of myself could not harm -- well, perhaps I could harm a fly. But certainly not another human being. I can barely stand.


The entries were never dated, and as time went on, Harry began to worry about his anonymous correspondent. A note of desperation had crept into the words, and sometimes they sounded as if they were written by an entirely different person. But Harry wasn't sure what to do. He knew his illness made him paranoid, and if his friend was suffering from the same thing -- and Harry was almost certain he was -- it was impossible to know what was going on. The letters could be the ravings of a delusional paranoiac, or maybe Harry's own paranoia was causing him to see things that weren't there.

Today, after much badgering and threatening on my part, I was finally told that my doctors do not, in fact, have the slightest idea what's causing this illness. Indeed, there is no name for this illness, and I'm unable to say whether it's the illness that makes this seem suspect. Is it possible no one else has been where I am? I think -- no, I know differently. And yet I cannot say how I know the things I know. I've lost all sense of perspective. Either I'm mad, or everyone else is. Regardless, the doctors refuse to allow me to seek a second opinion, despite their admitted incompetency.


Harry hadn't told anyone about the journals -- not his parents, and not his doctors. He was afraid they might make them stop somehow, although he still didn't have the slightest idea who they were from, or why he was getting them.

And then one week they stopped on their own. Harry took to staring out the window, waiting for the post; when it brought no journals, he moped sullenly about the house. He spent weeks with a sick feeling of dread in his stomach; he just knew there was something very wrong.

"Harry!"

Harry shook himself and looked at his mother, who was hovering in the doorway to his room. Her voice had the tone that meant she'd said his name at least twice already. "Yeah?"

"Harry, what's wrong? You haven't been yourself lately."

"Myself?" Harry laughed bitterly. "I don't even know who I am. I had a whole life and that's gone, and I don't remember anything of this one."

She frowned. "But, Harry, that life you had -- it wasn't real. And it's not as if you were happy there, either. Must we have this discussion again? Can't we just concentrate on getting you better?"

"Why? So I can... what? I'm never going to be able to get a job or live on my own. What's the point?"

"I know it seems futile now, Harry, but it's really not. Your tutors say you're doing well, or you were until a few weeks ago. And you've not had any lapses since you've been home. There's no reason you're going be stuck here forever." She paused. "Although you know we'd be happy to have you."

Harry's shoulders drooped. "I know. I'm sorry, Mum. It's just... I do feel stuck, caught in some kind of loop. Maybe I should get out more. D'you think... Dad said he'd teach me to drive. If I learn, do you think I could go somewhere other than therapy?"

His mother was beautiful when she smiled, and it was a surprise every time. Deep down, Harry still thought of his parents as being dead, and his mother's smile was the only thing that could truly convince him otherwise, even if only for a second.

"Of course," she said. "That sounds brilliant. Remind him at dinner, and I'm sure he'll be glad to take you out." She turned to leave. "I love you, Harry. We both do."

"I know, Mum," he said. "Love you, too."

*

Help me.


It had been three months since the journals stopped arriving, and then just this, scribbled on the back of a business card and stuffed in an envelope. The envelope itself appeared to have been trampled by a wet elephant on its way to him; it was wet and smeared and crumpled, and it had been posted a month ago.

Harry ran to his room and started throwing clothes into a bag.

"Going somewhere?"

"Er." He looked at his father, leaning against the doorjamb, and thought fast. "I hope so. I wondered if I could borrow the car, go to London for the weekend. There's an exhibit at the V&A I really want to see, and this is the last weekend." He ran a hand through his hair, no more manageable in this reality than it had been in the other. "And... I don't know. I thought I might just wander around, play tourist for a bit. Might help clear my head. It's getting a bit jumbled up here." He tapped his temple.

His father shot him a suspicious look, and Harry blanked his mind instinctively before he caught himself.

"Where're you going to stay?"

Harry shrugged. "Youth hostel, I reckoned. Please? I'm twenty-six. I want to at least play at being normal. I've got the mobile; I'll call three times a day if you want."

His father looked at him a while longer and then sighed. "All right. No need to call three times a day. You're plenty old enough to go out on your own. I'm sorry if I... I just worry. That's all."

"I know," Harry said, smiling. "It's all right."

"But I am absolutely not loaning you the car for the weekend."

"Dad--"

"Trust me," his father said with a wry grin. "You do not want to be saddled with a car in London. We'll give you a ride to the train station."

*

Harry waved at his parents out the window of the train, trying to disguise the shaking of his hands. Adrenaline sang through his body, and as soon as his parents were out of sight, he pulled out the stack of maps he'd shoved into his bag. He didn't know if this madness was real or imagined, but he wasn't going to London.

 

iii.

Harry looked from the business card in his hand to the gate in front of him, at something of a loss. He'd ridden a train to Dundee and a bus to a small town called Berry Brow, and he'd walked to 3 Cold Hill Lane. He wasn't sure what he was expecting, but it hadn't been quite so imposing in his mind. The property, whatever it was, was surrounded by a large brick wall, and the only road in was currently blocked by a wrought-iron gate covered in ivy. If the road led to a building, it was too far back for Harry to see.

There wasn't any kind of buzzer, and there was no guard for him to speak to, not that Harry had any idea what he'd have said. "I'm here to rescue someone," didn't seem likely to get him very far. He ran a hand through his hair, kicked the gate, and toppled over when the thing actually slid open with a rusty groan.

Harry lay on the ground and looked at the gate. He'd watched a lot of movies since moving back in with his parents, and if he'd learned anything, it was that he probably shouldn't walk onto creepy, foggy private property by himself unless he wanted to be murdered. And he certainly shouldn't do it just as the sun was about to go down.

But then he looked at the business card again, at the words 'help me' scrawled desperately across the back. He stood up, took a deep breath, and slid through the gate. It slammed shut behind him.

"Fuck," he said. The inside of the gate was clear of ivy, and in the middle was a giant skull with a snake protruding from its gaping mouth. A cold dread settled in Harry's bones, and he closed his eyes, shook his head, and looked again. It was a normal iron gate, and Harry wasn't sure if that was better or worse. He rubbed at his scar and started down the path.

By the time he reached what he assumed was his destination, a two-storey brick building, square and old and almost entirely hidden under vines, Harry felt like he was about to jump out of his skin. It had taken almost half an hour, daylight dwindling the entire way, and with each crunch of his trainers on the gravel he fully expected something to jump out of the woods and attack him.

He stared at the front door of the building -- he couldn't bring himself to think of it as a house, because it was clear no one had lived there in quite some time -- and gathered up his courage. Feet heavy, he climbed the three steps to the front door and knocked. The door swung open, eerily silent on its obviously rusty hinges, and he swore under his breath. He was definitely going to get murdered. He picked a stick up off the ground, took a deep breath and stepped inside.

"Nice of you to join us, Mr. Potter."

The low, sibilant whisper filled the room, filled his head, and Harry froze, eyes darting around wildly. The only light in the place was coming from the doorway, and it was rapidly dwindling. The air was stale and thick with dust; from what Harry could see, it looked like one of those places where, a few hundred years ago, minor nobles lived, and now it was used as a museum and inn for vacationing Americans. He looked around, relaxing slightly when he didn't see anyone; he'd probably just been hearing things. When he first woke up, he'd heard voices all the time -- certainly he'd heard that one before.

A breeze wafted through the open door, kicking up dust, and Harry coughed, wincing as it echoed loudly through the old house. The wind seemed to change, slamming the door shut as it did, leaving Harry alone in the dark. He seriously considered leaving and coming back the next day, but he didn't know how much time his friend had. The letter had been sent a month ago, and from the looks of it, no one had been here in all that time. He yanked the door back open, trying to get some light, and then headed for the stairs.

He was halfway up when the door slammed shut again, and he froze, heart hammering in his chest. While he waited for his eyes to adjust to the darkness, he thought he heard whispers from somewhere upstairs, but he couldn't be sure they weren't just in his head. He held his stick out in front of him, like-- no. Treading as quietly as possible, he crept up the stairs. The whispers got louder, hovering just on the edge of his consciousness. "Trap," they warned, interspersed with cries of "help."

Just as he reached the top of the stairs, pain lanced through his scar, hot and sharp, and he fell to his knees with a harsh cry. The movement kicked up a thick cloud of dust that swirled around him and refused to settle. His head throbbed and his lungs burned and he was almost certain he wasn't making up the whispers. He pushed himself to his feet and peered through the dust.

He was looking down a dark, windowless corridor with a door just barely visible at the end. It looked like -- no. There had to be other doors, but he clutched his -- his stick all the more tightly as he made his way towards the door, dust cloud clinging.

The whispers subsided shortly before he reached the door, and Harry wasn't sure if he felt relief or concern. His head still ached, and the dust was making it difficult to breathe and see, and maybe he just couldn't hear the whispers over his heart slamming in his chest. He reached out a trembling hand and pushed the door open. The dust fell to the floor all at once, and he stepped inside.

The room was lighter somehow, everything a dark gray rather than the stark black of the rest of the place. The air was thick and stale, and the only thing in the room was a bed in the far corner. Harry couldn't tell whether there was someone in the bed or not, and he crept closer to find out.

He looked at the stick he held in front of him and shrugged. There was nothing to lose and no one to yell at him. "Lumos," he whispered. Laughter suddenly filled his head, but there was no more light than there had been before. He ground his teeth, shook his head and tried again. "Lumos!" The laughter stopped, the stick began to glow weakly, and Harry saw there was a man in the bed. He took a step closer.

It was-- it was Snape.

 

iv.

Harry threw caution to the wind and hurled himself at the bed, yelling Snape's name.

"There's no need for hysterics, Potter," Snape said, his words much harsher than his tone. Harry blinked and looked around. He was in the Hogwarts infirmary, and he was the one in the bed, not Snape. Severus was standing above him but didn't look very good; pale yellow skin stretched paper-thin and brittle over bones that were much too close to the surface. His eyes were sunk into his face, but they burned more brightly than ever.

"What? But-- you're not real," he whispered, back in the house and looking down at Snape. "I made you up." He could barely hear his own voice. "I made you up."

He reached down and grabbed Snape's graying hospital gown. "I..." He trailed off helplessly. He had no idea what was going on. "I missed you."

He started shaking Snape, trying to wake him up, but it didn't seem to be doing any good. "Dammit, Snape! Wake up!"

A gust of wind howled through the house, kicking up dust and slamming doors. The eerie gray light in the room flickered, and Harry had to close his eyes against the dust storm. He pressed his head into Snape's shoulder, breathed in the long-lost scent, and tried to hold on. It was more difficult than it should have been; the wind had picked up and was unnaturally strong. There was a low rumble, and the house began to shake.

"Potter!"

"What?! I'm awake, I'm awake!"

Snape's hands were wound tight in Harry's robes, white-knuckled and shaking. He looked furious. "Stop doing that," he snapped.

"Doing what?"

"Stop shaking me." Snape's voice was weak, but it was Snape's voice, and Harry almost sobbed in relief. He was awake. Harry wrapped his arms around Snape's too-thin frame and held on tight as the wind whipped around them.

"You have to wake up," he said, lips moving against Snape's neck, tasting stale sweat and fear. Something moved in the corner of his vision, and he tried to swallow his panic. They had to get out. "You have to--"

"HARRY POTTER!"

Instinct took over and he rolled off the bed and to his feet, brandishing his wand in front of him. The shadow moved and coalesced into a dark figure, and Harry was careful to keep himself between it -- whatever it was -- and Snape.

"Who are you?" he demanded, and the shadow laughed.

"You know who I am," it said, and Harry realized it was right. He knew that voice. It had haunted his nightmares for years, no matter which reality he was in. A knot of fear settled in his stomach.

"What are you doing here? What do you want?" he asked, tightening his grip on his wand, trying to figure out what he was going to do. This couldn't be happening. Voldemort couldn't have followed him here. Voldemort wasn't real.

"You know what I want," it said, the figure growing and stretching until it was that same skeletally thin figure he recognized from the other world. The one that didn't exist.

"You're not real."

There was more laughter from the shadows and the wind picked up again, tearing through the room, slamming the shutters open and closed. The figure raised its arm and yelled something, and Harry fell to the ground as his chest erupted with pain.

"Potter," Snape croaked from behind him. "Go home."

"Yes, Harry," the shadow said, gliding closer. "Go home." It raised its wand to throw another curse at Harry, but he rolled out of the way. He tried to bring up a shield, but he didn't quite remember how. He couldn't feel his magic.

"I am home," he insisted. "YOU'RE NOT REAL!" But the necrotic curse whizzing by his ear seemed real enough, and Harry didn't know what to believe.

"POTTER!" He was back at Hogwarts, where Snape was shaking him so hard he thought his bones might come loose.

"YOU'RE NOT REAL!" he screamed again, but it couldn't be true. Something had to be real. He pictured his parents, laughing early in the morning over their tea. He pictured Neville, skin shredded and peeling from his rotting corpse.

He rolled, dodging another curse, and ducked behind a trunk which hadn't been there before. The room had been empty.

"Do you think you can hide from me, Harry?" Voldemort's laughter filled the room, filled his head, and the dust began to swirl, clouding his lungs and his vision. He saw his mother sitting in the picture window of their house, reading. She looked up, eyes and hair shining, and smiled at him.

"I love you, Harry," she said. Harry kicked the trunk away and stood up. He glanced at the bed, at Severus, thought of the nights they'd spent tangled together in front of the fire. He thought of flying, of Quidditch, of Ron and Hermione on the Hogwarts lawn. He thought of D.A. meetings, of classes, of studying with Hermione, of lessons with Professor Lupin.

Harry's vision cleared in time for him to see that Voldemort was moving closer, and somehow his memories coalesced into a single word. "Riddikulus!" he shouted, raising his wand and picturing Voldemort in one of his dad's bright Hawaiian shirts. His mum had bought them as a joke, and was mortified when he actually wore them. Harry shook his head to clear the memories, and watched as Voldemort shuffled to a halt, changed, and then dissipated back into smoke and shadow.

The wind fell silent, and Harry turned to look at Snape, who seemed to have fallen back asleep. "Wake up," he demanded, knowing it wasn't going to work.

"No," Snape said, and Harry was the one in the bed, his worlds spinning. "No, Potter, you have to wake up. You are needed here."

Oh, Harry thought, the breath going out of his lungs. Nothing had changed. "Right," he muttered, the words bitter on his tongue. "I'm sure Dumbledore really--"

"Dumbledore is dead, Potter. The war is nearly lost."

"THERE IS NO WAR!" Harry yelled, wishing it were true, wishing he could believe it even if it weren't. Lightning flashed in the room, illuminating Snape's pallid frame. His hair had gone white, and he looked more a corpse than a man. Harry swore under his breath. "There's no war here, and I need you." His hands fisted in Snape's hospital gown.

"And I you," Snape said, his voice soft. He didn't look at Harry, but his hands loosened in Harry's robes. "Are you really willing to risk it?"

"Risk...?" He wasn't sure what Snape was talking about.

"Being wrong, Potter. Are you willing to condemn this entire world so you can faff about in Godric's Hollow? What have you been doing there?"

"I--" He'd forgotten what talking to Snape was like, the knife twisting in his gut. He hated it, but Snape was right; he couldn't risk it.

"Go back," said the Snape in the bed, his voice a hoarse whisper, barely audible even in the silence.

Harry's head was spinning, the two Snapes flickering in and out of his vision. He didn't know if he could go back, but he didn't think he could stay. If Voldemort had been a boggart, one illusion banished by magic which shouldn't exist, then maybe none of this should exist. He needed more time to think. He pushed himself up so he was straddling Snape on the bed. His legs were weak beneath him, and the room was flickering strangely in and out of focus. "How did you find me?"

"Poison." Both Snapes said it at the same time. Harry shook his head, trying to clear it. The shadow was closing in, taking over most of the room, but at least the wind was dying down.

"No, I remember I was poisoned. I meant--"

"No," Snape said, shaking his head. It looked like it took most of his strength. "Poisoned myself. Enough to come for you. To take you home. Go home, Potter."

Home.

Harry nodded, and curled up next to Snape on the bed as darkness overtook the room. When he opened his eyes again, he was in the Hogwarts infirmary. Snape was standing by the bed. He wasn't smiling, but his eyes were shining, and that was good enough for Harry. Harry grabbed his hand and started to smile, but the lights in the room flickered, thunder crashing outside, and for a brief second, it was his mother's hand he was holding.

Harry froze for a few long seconds and then took a deep breath before looking up at Severus.

"Take me home."

FIN.

Fluid 960 Grid System, created by Stephen Bau, based on the 960 Grid System by Nathan Smith. Released under the GPL/ MIT Licenses.