Disclaimer: Characters and places in this story, which appear in the Harry Potter novels, belong to JK Rowling, Bloomsbury, Warner Bros. and Scholastic. I don't make, or intend to make money out of them. They just wouldn't leave me alone.

Thank you: My Beloved Cindy Lou, Accompaniment from Trent and Ozzy. Unending Gratitude to Betas Kyohaku Celestiale Vespertina, Maruchina, Bettyblue, and Olivia Lupin - I couldn't have done it without you.

Author's Notes: Random lyrics shamelessly stolen from Nine Inch Nails' "Pretty Hate Machine." References to Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Rappachini's Daughter." Influenced more than I realized by two lovely fics, Accio Snape's "Something to Live For" and Cybele's "Le Lien des Beaux RÍves."

Archiving: Please ask.


Virulentus Somnium

Part 1

By Salix

       

4 AM Day 1

 

Harry woke up screaming, with someone shaking his arm. Waking screaming was normal; someone shaking him was extremely unusual.

"Potter, wake up!" demanded an irritated voice, somehow seeming both frustrated and worried simultaneously. A familiar voice. Harry's eyes struggled to open and he flinched as Snape's face swam into semi-focus.

"Wh-what?" Harry cleared his throat, sore from the last scream, and pulled up the sheets to cover his chest as he tried to sit up. "What is it? What's going on?"

Snape sat at the foot of Harry's bed, eyeing him with exasperation. "You appear to have had a nightmare," he replied dryly. Understatement of the century, he thought to himself.

Harry blinked rapidly, scrubbed his face with his hands for a moment, a final tremor passing through his body. "Um... Yeah," he muttered. "But... Why are you here? I mean, how?"

A furrow appeared in Snape's brow as he paused to consider an answer. Finally he settled on nodding at the doorway, where Filch and Mrs. Norris were hovering. "Filch heard you, on one of his rounds. I was nearby." Another pause. "It sounded as if... it was more than a dream," he finished ambiguously. "So I broke your locking spells. We came in. I woke you up." He paused for another long moment. "You may want to consider something stronger than a spell that can be broken with alohomora."

Harry shrugged, and scooted upright even more. "Usually I do," he answered. "Hooch, Trelawney, and I celebrated the term break a bit excessively last night at the Three Broomsticks." He yawned suddenly. "Usually I put up several layers of wards," then added before he thought better of it, "And silencing spells." Snape raised an eyebrow at that.

Harry failed to notice though, as his body finally started to really wake up, and make him aware of a raging headache descending with the wrath of Hungarian Horntail, his stomach churning with nausea, and an excruciatingly full bladder. "Excuse me," he gasped, trying to get out of bed, as the room tilted and swam in front of him. Snape jumped up from the bed, grabbed him by the shoulder, and propelled him to the bathroom. He shut the door as Harry began retching.

"I'll fetch you a hangover potion," Snape called out as he left the bedroom. Filch was still in the doorway, eyeing him suspiciously, clearly wondering why Snape was being so nice, now that it was clear Harry wasn't being disemboweled by a monster. Snape fixed him with a glare that could have frozen a first-year student's heart. "Why are you still here?" he scowled. Filch scowled back at him and left, trailing Mrs. Norris behind and muttering.

Snape's rooms were not far off, just a few corridors over. Harry's quarters had been chosen for him by Dumbledore when he began teaching, one of the few dungeon rooms with high windows that admitted some natural light. Not coincidentally, the dungeons were also the most well protected part of the castle, a combination of the architecture and layers and layers of spells from Slytherins throughout the ages. The passages never shifted, but they never needed to since they were purposefully identical passages laid out in mazes that only the knowledgeable could navigate. Snape had also often thought that it was no accident that Dumbledore had placed Harry's rooms so close to Snape's; in case of an emergency, Harry would be in close proximity to one of the three most powerful wizards in the castle.

Snape quickly retrieved a small bottle of potion from his private stores and returned to Harry's rooms. The door was shut, so he knocked, and got a wretched, "What?" groaned at him. Taking that as acquiescence, he entered. Harry now sat on the bed, wrapped in a dressing gown, face pale, hair still damp from what Snape surmised was a basin bath attempt to recover sobriety. He handed Harry the potion. "Drink it."

Harry hesitated a moment, then took the bottle and downed it in one gulp, clearly expecting it to taste foul. It didn't though; it was lemony. Another shudder passed through him, but this one seemed to take his headache and nausea with it as it left. His only ill feelings now were exhaustion and a sore throat, the usual after-effects of his nightmares. He sighed as he moved back on the bed and leaned against the headboard.

"Thank you," Harry said after a moment, suddenly realizing that Snape was still there, watching him. They looked at each other for a few minutes, until Harry looked away asking, "What?"

Snape sighed, slightly exasperated. "Potter... Harry..." he corrected himself; they were supposed to be on first names now that Harry was staff. Despite the years of their working together against Voldemort and the Death Eaters, and the last year or so as colleagues at Hogwarts, Snape still almost always called him Potter. Even though he usually thought of him as Harry. Snape filed that fact away to think about later. Harry still usually called the other staff by their last names as well. It had been awkward for everyone, shifting from a student role to staff in just a few months. And he was still so much younger than the rest of the staff, at just nineteen.

Snape cleared his throat and refocused. "You mentioned silencing spells... Do you often have nightmares?"

Harry flushed slightly, clearly embarrassed that he had let that slip earlier. Why was Snape asking? Sure, their old animosity had long been buried, as Harry grew up and as they worked together fighting the Dark Lord, but they were hardly close. Snape had never really asked him anything personal unless out of necessity. Harry scowled. Dreams were private. It had nothing to do with Snape. Which is why Harry was annoyed to hear himself saying, "Yes. Always," before he'd settled on how he wanted to answer the question.

Snape raised an eyebrow at this, and seemed to be digesting it for a few minutes. "Why didn't you ask me for a sleeping potion?" he finally inquired.

Harry sighed in exasperation, as humiliation and exhaustion combined. "What, every night? For the last gods-know-how many years?" he retorted bitterly, suddenly quite angry. "And why do you care anyway? I'm awake; I'm not sick, I'm not being attacked. You can go now. I'm sorry I forgot the silencing charm and you were woken up. It won't happen again." He glared at Snape, screaming inside his head, Just GO! Leave me alone!

Snape took no pains to hide his growing annoyance at Harry's rudeness as he snapped, "Fine, Potter," and left, robes swirling as he stalked out of Harry's rooms.

Harry lay down and tried to rest, waiting for the sun to rise. Sometimes, after the sun came up, he could sleep without dreaming. This was not one of those times.

       

Severus paced back and forth in his office. Ungrateful twit, he thought.

Oh, come now, a reasonable voice in his head argued, He had a nightmare as well as a hangover. You broke into his rooms and woke him up. How chipper would you have been in his place? It was so irritating when his rigorous self-honesty wouldn't allow him to snipe at others, even in his head.

He could have been more grateful. I was just trying to help him. He pondered that a moment.

And why is that? Why do you care if he has nightmares? Everyone has nightmares.

Not everyone has them every night. Apparently for years. Apparently bad enough to wake screaming often enough to regularly put up silencing charms...

I wonder how many years, when they started. And why has he never asked for sleeping potions? It was common enough for the other staff to ask him for them; there was no shame in it; everyone had trouble sleeping sometimes, especially in the eventful last few years.

Maybe he doesn't know that, the reasonable voice retorted. Who would have told him? And he's obviously seen enough of the hospital ward in his time here that he'd rather not ask Poppy for one; you know he avoids calling attention to himself unless he can't help it.

He growled in exasperation. So what, then? Drop it? Force sleeping potions on him? He doesn't even look tired or like he doesn't sleep well.

Doesn't he? the reasonable voice asked.

Hmm... Does he? He couldn't really remember. Severus made a mental note to look more closely the next time he saw Harry.

And what's with thinking of him as Harry and calling him Potter, anyway? asked the voice, changing tactics.

Oh, shut up, he snapped. It's just a habit from when he was student. It's hard to remember that he's not.

But he isn't. He hasn't been for a while now.

Harry had finished his seventh year at Hogwarts, after long years of increasingly frequent battles with the Dark Lord and various Death Eaters, while Voldemort gained strength and supporters and subtly infiltrated every aspect of the wizarding world, in Great Britain and abroad. After Harry graduated, Dumbledore had asked him to stay on at Hogwarts, under the premise of assisting coach the Quidditch teams and tutoring students in the Defense Against the Dark Arts classes. After the final battle when Voldemort was killed (finally, really, thoroughly dead and gone), Harry had been the target of the surviving Death Eaters, and had stayed at Hogwarts until they were all captured or killed. And now, six months later... he was simply at Hogwarts. Coaching and tutoring.

So he's not a student. And you've worked together for years against evil. But still... there's always been... something between us. Something... awkward. What? Severus thought about it a while, brows knitting as he turned the puzzle over in his mind.

I hated his father, but... How do I feel about him? I certainly don't hate him. Don't dislike him. Don't like him either, he added quickly.

No? asked the inner voice. If that's how you don't feel, then how do you feel?

I respect him, he grudgingly admitted. Harry is a good wizard, very innately powerful, and as he has matured, he's become very good at learning to control his power. He's brave, going up against Voldemort so many times, no matter how scared he was. Full of that irritating Gryffindor courage. Innovative, too; he always seems to come up with unique strategies perfect for the emergency at hand. He never gives up. He's loyal. He genuinely cares about people. He's admirable...

Severus caught himself in shock. I admire Harry? he gasped.

Yes, you do, said the annoyingly honest voice. What's more... he's not an unattractive young man.

Severus' knees buckled a bit and he lowered himself into a chair. I am not having that thought, he told himself sternly. Absolutely not. No.

He took a deep breath. Focus, man. So Harry has nightmares. And I would prefer he did not. There are several options: I can drop the subject entirely...

And fret, the internal voice interrupted.

OR, he continued sternly, I can corner him and try to make him talk. Maybe get him to take some potions. Or... I can try talking to Albus.

Severus considered that option for a while. Talking to Albus would mean revealing something quite personal about Harry to the other man, something Harry probably didn't want anyone to know about. But maybe Albus already knew, if the problem had been going on for several years. But then it would also reveal to Albus that Severus knew. That he was worried. Concerned. About Harry. Severus wasn't sure he wanted to investigate that thought. Particularly under Albus' unwavering gaze, which seemed to see into his innermost thoughts. Particularly with these admiring and attractive thoughts in his head.

He sighed. I'll just see how he looks at lunch, Severus decided. If he looks that bad... then I'll try talking to him. And see what happens after that.

       

Noon, Day 1

 

Why am I having this conversation? Harry thought to himself that afternoon. Snape had cornered him after lunch, scowling at him, Harry guessed for being so rude the night before. Harry had grudgingly thanked him for the hangover potion and apologized again for Filch having disturbed him.

"I was up and about anyway," Snape had answered.

"At four the morning?" Harry asked skeptically.

Snape had responded with an arched eyebrow, "Do you think you are the only one with troubled dreams, Potter?" in that biting way of his that made Harry's hair stand up on his arms. Thank the gods he wasn't in the man's classes anymore. Their relationship had gotten much better as the years passed, but he didn't enjoy reliving the memories of cringing under the Potions Master's sarcasm.

Which brought them to the present.

"Everyone has nightmares sometimes," Harry replied despondently. "I just never seem to have any other dreams," he continued petulantly before he could stop. Argh! What is with my mouth lately? Answering before I've thought about what I want to say. And to Snape, of all people. Damnit, I'm tired. I mean, the man isn't awful, but... he's hardly the most compassionate. And he isn't interested in me as a person anyway. No one is, he thought bitterly.

Snape raised an eyebrow, seemingly reading some of Harry's thoughts. He felt Snape peering closely at the circles under his eyes, which he hadn't been able to fully cover with his usual glamour spell. They were practically purple, and his eyes were so bloodshot they hurt and kept burning and watering. It wasn't so much that he was vain, just that he'd learned in his seventh year that the glamour spells worked and stopped the incessant questions about whether he was sleeping well.

"Just... leave me alone," Harry sighed, turning to walk out of the Great Hall. He was shocked when Snape grabbed him by the arm to hold him back, and further shocked at the rage that flooded through him as he snarled, "Get your hands off me, now!" He wrenched away from the other man, who looked almost comically taken aback at Harry's response. His few remaining shreds of self-control snapped as he rounded on Snape, eyes blazing, voice growing louder, "Don't you ever touch me! Stay away from me! My nightmares aren't your problem; it's not like you care anyway. Just leave me alone!" Harry turned and ran past him, out the hall, through the castle, and out onto the grounds, leaving a very stunned Snape behind, as well as more than a few puzzled observers.

"Anything you'd care to explain, Severus?" Albus' voice came from just behind Snape.

"No," Snape returned thoughtfully, "I have no idea what that was about," and he, too, left.

       

1 PM, Day 1

 

Leave me alone, leave me alone, alone, alone alone, pounded through Harry's head as his feet pounded down the hall. He ran and ran and ran, down the halls, out the door, across the icy grounds, towards the frozen lake. He wanted to run out the gates, through the village of Hogsmeade, out into the countryside, until he was lost in the wilds of the Scottish highlands. But his rage was overpowered by his exhaustion, and he stumbled and fell before he was even close to the Hogwarts gates. He crawled over to a nearby tree and sat leaning against it, trying to catch his breath.

Pathetic. Thank the gods the Death Eaters are all gone, or I'd be easy prey. What the bloody hell just happened?

He'd completely lost it, yelling at Snape, running away, creating a spectacle. Good thing it was the winter holidays and there were hardly any students around the castle. But the other staff had been nearby; Harry had felt them. If Dumbledore hadn't actually been there, he'd certainly be informed of it, and would probably be sending Harry one of his politely worded request/orders to come and have a little chat over some tea.

"Fuck," he whispered to himself. He couldn't even escape. Couldn't run away. Couldn't get away from all of it. He felt trapped suddenly, like he couldn't leave Hogwarts, like he'd been forbidden to leave. He took a deep breath and thought, No, more like can't leave because there's nowhere else to go. Who would take me in? I don't really have any friends, he thought, momentarily remembering Ron and Hermione.

Harry had been closest to them in school, but after his fourth year, when Cedric died and Voldemort returned, Harry had pulled away from them emotionally. After a summer alone with just the Dursley's and his own terror as company, he'd built strong walls to keep anyone from getting too close. He made himself too busy with school and Voldemort to open up to anyone. Too terrified. Too hurt by what he'd seen. Ron and Hermione had still been his friends, still his closest friends even, but... well, it wasn't the same. Harry wasn't the same. He wasn't willing to let them get hurt. So he pulled away and never filled the closeness he'd lost with anyone else.

He mentally flipped through the rest of his "friends"; he and Hagrid were still friendly of course, but Harry had learned early on that despite his good intentions, Hagrid couldn't keep a secret to save his life. Harry was hardly about to confide his innermost feelings to the giant, and then hear them blabbed all over the school.

Dumbledore... Well, he was like a father to Harry, but he wasn't someone you could really talk to about feelings. Harry had opened up some to Sirius, but he was one of the casualties of the final battles. Harry was eternally grateful to whatever fates there were that he hadn't been present to see that death, or he knew it would haunt him like the other deaths he'd seen. Pain and loss were difficult enough without the guilt of thinking there had to have been a way he could have prevented it.

No, there was no one. There hadn't really been anyone since the year of Voldemort's return. There would never be anyone. He would always be alone. Trapped in his now-pointless life.

A tear stung his cheek, and he realized it hurt because it was practically frozen. He was practically frozen. He'd better get up and go back inside. He cast a quick warming charm on his clothes, re-did the glamour spell to hide the circles under his eyes, hoping it would work better this time, and dragged himself back to the castle.

       

11 PM, Day 1

 

"Trying to freeze yourself again, Potter?" a quiet voice inquired from the doorway of the Astronomy Tower. Harry wasn't surprised, really; he knew Snape wouldn't let it drop. He hadn't really expected him to seek him out that same night, but he knew it would happen eventually.

"Why won't you just let it go, Snape?" Harry asked quietly. He was far too tired at this point to even try and think through what he said before he said it. Too tired for anger. Just too tired. Which was why he'd come up here. It was cold, and the stars were peaceful. The stars were all alone too, separated from each other by hundreds of light years, but they didn't seem lonely. When he looked at them, he could briefly not think about anything, and while that wasn't as good as actual sleep, it was a hell of a lot better than nightmares.

Snape sat down next to him, looking out the open window. Harry had learned over the years of working together that Snape didn't talk a lot, unless it was necessary. He wasn't much of one for small talk, just bitter sarcasm, stinging insight, and difficult questions. The very, very rare word that could be construed as praise. Unless there was a problem at hand, Snape tended to not say much of anything. Harry supposed that he and his dreams were now the problem at hand.

"May I start a fire?" Snape asked, surprising Harry. He shrugged his indifference as Snape pointed his wand at the fireplace.

Snape took a deep breath. "I won't 'just let it go' as you put it, because I'm concerned. Worried." He took another deep breath and continued carefully, "When you returned to the castle after your... walk... well, maybe you were too... overwrought to cast it properly, but the glamour spell you used completely failed."

Harry could feel his cheeks burn red. No one had ever found out about the glamour before, or if they had, they'd had the good manners to not mention it.

Snape continued more quickly, "You look like hell, Harry. You can't not sleep forever. You can't go through life having nightmares like that forever. I don't know how you could have gone on for so long, judging by the state of your eyes. Let me give you a sleeping draught. A dreamless one."

Harry closed his eyes, letting his cool eyelids soothe them; that was one reason why he liked to be cold. His hand slid under his glasses, pinching the bridge of his nose. "Fine. I'm too tired to argue. Someday though, you're going to tell me why. Not tonight. Tomorrow," he said, getting up.

Snape put out the fire and they walked together down to the Potion Master's rooms. Harry stood a polite distance away while Snape murmured his password, then entered his sitting room. Snape crossed to the office, heading towards locked cupboards, while Harry waited. He sank down into a chair by the fireplace, closing his eyes.

"Here," offered Snape, jerking Harry out of the first stirrings of sleep. "Drink this. It will give you about twelve hours of dreamless sleep." Harry hesitated a moment. "I promise. Dreamless. And if it works well, you can have more again for four more nights in a row without any ill effects."

A half-smile quirked Harry's mouth for a moment, as he raised the glass and drank deeply. "Thank you," he said as he got up and made for the door. He walked into the corridor, which started to swim a little; whether from his sleep deprived vision or the potion beginning to take effect, he wasn't sure. Snape appeared by his side, and wordlessly escorted Harry into his own quarters. "Thanks," Harry mumbled again, as Snape helped him off with his robe and shoes, and got him into bed. He was asleep before he heard the door close.


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