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 5

By Salix

       

3 PM, Day 3

 

In Snape's sitting room, Harry curled up into a ball at one end of the sofa, clutching a pillow to his chest, looking thoroughly miserable. Snape handed him a handkerchief and sat next to him. Neither of them seemed to know where to begin; finally Snape said gently, "Tell me what you were afraid of, why you thought something might have happened to me."

Harry took a deep breath. "I was afraid you might be... gone," he said quietly and hesitantly. "I didn't see you all day after... this morning. And not at lunch. And then I went for a walk... out by the forest. And... and then I panicked. I thought you might be dead, too," he finished, just barely above a whisper.

"Why would what happened this morning make something bad happen to me?" asked Snape, confused.

"Because the only other time... anything happened with me, the next morning... he was gone." Harry opened his green eyes, full of agony and despair to look pleadingly into Snape's confusion. When he saw that the other man still wasn't fully understanding him, he filled in some of the blanks. "Malfoy. He was dead. And it was all my fault. I didn't mean to," he whispered as the tears started again. Snape drew him into his arms, waiting patiently for Harry to calm down until he could talk more.

"So the last time you were in bed with someone..." Snape prompted when he was more composed.

"No!" Harry interrupted vehemently. "Not in bed. Not anything like that. I've never..." his face turned crimson as his hands came up to cover it again. "I've never... done that."

"But then...?" Snape's question hung in the air between them. "'The last time anything happened' you said. The last time what happened?"

Harry's ears turned red and he fleetingly wondered if anyone's brain had ever melted with the heat of so much embarrassment. "The last time I ever... felt that way about anyone. Touched anyone," he mumbled into his hands.

"But... haven't you ever... been with anyone?" asked Snape delicately. "Or... even attracted to anyone?" he probed, not wanting to humiliate the boy further about his virginity.

Harry shook his head. "Once. Just once. One day in sixth year, Malfoy and I ran into each other in the hallway and started arguing about something. I was so furious. Next thing I knew, he lunged at me, and we fell to the floor, rolling around and trying to strangle each other. And then... something changed. It felt... good," he whispered. After a long pause he continued, "And... that night, I had a dream. Not a nightmare, not at first anyway. A... sex dream. About Draco. We were... Well. And then, in the dream, Voldemort came."

Harry closed his eyes; he heard Voldemort's cold laughter in his head again, and that eerie serpentine voice full of evil joy, sneering at him "Harry Potter! Have you forgotten that you are mine? No others for you; not now, not ever. Think you might fancy young Malfoy? Yes, he is lovely. But he isn't for you. No one is. Ever." The words had been followed by more of the maniacal laughter that echoed in his head every night and drove him nearly to madness.

"And then?" Snape prompted gently. "Voldemort appeared in your dream?"

"He took Draco away," Harry said simply. "And then when I woke up the next morning... he was gone. Draco was gone."

Snape remembered vividly the panic flooding the castle when the younger Malfoy had mysteriously disappeared from his bed, only to be found dead a few days later in the Forbidden Forest.

"He died," Harry said. "It was all my fault. I didn't-- I hadn't even really thought about him that way before that one day and that night's dream. But it was all my fault. Voldemort wouldn't have killed him if I hadn't wanted him. So I couldn't. I can't! I can't want anyone! They'll die!" he cried, an edge of panic rising in his voice. "He'll kill them all, and it will always be all my fault and I can't! I can't do this, I can't go on, I just-- There's no point-- I'm just so alone!" he choked, as he curled into a ball and dissolved into hysterical sobs.

Snape held him and rocked him gently. I'm getting awfully good at this reassuring thing, he thought. Gods. Who knew Harry blamed himself for Draco Malfoy's death? What kind of mind games did Voldemort play on the boy all those years? He's so tormented and guilty.

To think of Voldemort killing Draco just because Harry wanted him... Well, that is more reason than the evil bastard ever needed. I guess I wasn't the only one who knew Draco didn't want to follow in his father's footsteps. It made him expendable. Lucius didn't even seem to care, he remembered with a shiver.

But for Harry to blame himself, as if his desire was so toxic it could kill anyone he so much as wanted... My god. No wonder the boy withdrew from everyone those last few years of school. No wonder he's so scared to feel anything sexual... And the two boys didn't even do anything... Just a dream...

A dream? A sex dream about Malfoy. Then Voldemort came and took him away. In the dream and in reality. A real Voldemort visiting a dreaming Harry, to learn what he wants and take it away?

"Harry?" Snape asked gently, as Harry's crying eventually subsided. "What did Voldemort say to you in your dream when he took Malfoy away?"

Harry refused to meet his eyes as he choked a few times, and then sighed in resignation, shaking his head.

"Are all of your dreams about Voldemort?" Snape asked, changing tactics.

"All the bad ones."

"And do they all have a sexual aspect of some sort?"

"Most of them. From about fifth year on."

"Hmm... so as your sexuality awakened, somehow Voldemort began to invade your dreams in an active way, beyond your usual subconscious fears of him, yes?"

Harry nodded.

"Interesting," Snape mused aloud. "Sexual feelings are already rooted so deep in the subconscious... and already so fraught with intense feelings of secrecy and shame. Increase all of that since you're gay..."

Harry's ears turned pink as he squeaked and buried his head in Snape's shoulder. Snape was confused for a moment, startled out of his train of thought and tried to recall what he had just said. Realization dawned. "It's all right. I won't tell anyone, but it's nothing to be ashamed of. And... as I'm sure you've concluded from last night... so am I," he said with a slight smirk.

Harry nodded into his chest and mumbled something.

"What?"

After a few more mumbles, Harry gave up and sighed with a teary sob, "I'm just so bloody tired."

"Why don't you lie down and rest?" Snape said, pulling back. Harry's eyes grew wide with desperation and longing, but shook his head in the negative until Snape bodily pulled him up and started prodding him towards his bedroom. "Just lie down. I'll get you a wet flannel for your eyes, and I'll stay right here. You don't have to sleep. Just rest. You've been through a lot today."

Harry lay down on the bed and Snape settled in next to him, sitting against the headboard. "Why are you doing this? Why are you being so nice to me?" asked Harry quietly from under the cloth. Snape smiled and smoothed the hair off of his forehead. A long while later, when he was certain Harry was asleep, he whispered, "Because I care about you."

       

6 PM, Day 3

 

Severus sat beside Harry on the bed for several hours while the young man dozed, letting his thoughts come and go as they might.

Poor boy. Too many sorrows for one so young. Too heavy a burden. And to be so alone... Like me. But I chose it. Mostly. But I know what it is to be alone, to hide something inside you for fear of contaminating others with your poison. But I chose mine; I joined Voldemort voluntarily. Harry never chose this.

That curse... to stifle all feelings of sexuality, of affection, at just the time of their blossoming. At the time when a boy can't help it at all, so out of control. But he stayed in control... except once. And what a price to pay for it. Possibly even a higher price than Malfoy himself... He was so serene when we found him in the forest, Hagrid and I. Unmarked, not even a worried or surprised expression on his face. Just dead. Peaceful. Not even a person, just a pretty toy Harry wanted, stolen by Voldemort and broken simply to spite him. At least he wasn't tortured... I wonder if Lucius himself killed him...

Every thought, every lustful look or flicker of guilt-laden desire probably tore Harry apart. I can't imagine the control, of having to not only not act or speak on your desires, but to not even allow yourself to think or dream... in fear. Imagine the power that gave Voldemort. Imagine how lonely and empty Harry must have felt. Must still feel. To be so alone. Not just physically, but alone in his head as well. To always feel something so senseless was his fault. To be afraid to feel anything for anyone, least they become targets... To hate yourself for it. Feel unworthy of love.

He's such a passionate boy, though. Young man. So full of energy and anger and drive. Or he was. He did quiet down a lot, sober up over the years. I liked it at the time; thought he was maturing. He was just grieving though, building walls, refusing to feel anything deeply. No wonder he's so tired. Suppressing all those emotions must be exhausting. Is exhausting; I should know.

And he's been doing it for years. Having nightmares for years. Voldemort must have done something to him in his dreams... Something to trigger all of this guilt and shame and inability to talk about it. And paralyzing, overwhelming fear. Must have convinced Harry he's worthless. Not that he needed to, with those terrible Muggles who raised the boy... Or his own feelings of pointlessness now that his nemesis is dead. Who wouldn't feel worthless? I do. I have all year. Until I found Harry to take care of a few days ago. To help him. To protect. To cure. To love?

Don't go down that path. He may befriend you, but no one could love you. You're a spy, a Death Eater, duplicitous, weak, cold, cruel, and mean...

But Harry held me. Touched me. Why? How did it make him feel? Does he...? Will he do it again? Do I want him to? Oh yes. Gods, yes.

This is going to be terrifying. I could lose myself in this. In him. Could fall. Want it too much. Can't want it. Can't want it so much.

He's a boy. He's too young. I'm far too old for him...

But I understand him better than anyone probably could. I know him.

I miss his smiles. I miss his jokes. I want him back, better, healed. We have to get rid of this curse. I won't let Voldemort have him. I won't let him win. Won't let him take Harry away from me. Even in death that bastard seems to be winning. I won't let him. We have to figure out how this curse works, how all these pieces fit together...

Have to get Harry to take that potion again, only with him as the dreamer, and let me see what he can't tell me. I have to know how all of this began...

       

7 PM, Day 3

 

Harry woke up from a light doze, Snape still seated next to him, but asleep. Harry sat up, feeling refreshed and barely groggy at all. I'm getting used to this, waking up with Snape nearby. No, Severus, he smiled to himself, a shiver running through his body as he looked at Snape's face, relaxed in sleep. Porcelain skin, sharp cheekbones, velvety lashes, soft lips. Unconsciously, he moved closer, lightly touching Snape's lips with his fingertip. He started to lean in, wanting to kiss him, to feel those soft lips against his own, but drew back abruptly at the last minute to lay his head on Snape's shoulder instead.

What on earth are you doing? Just because you want to doesn't mean you should. Just because he said he was gay and knows you are doesn't mean he would ever want you like that. Why would he? He hated you as a student, then tolerated you in the war, and now wants to help you. He doesn't want you. Just because he didn't have a conniption when you said you were holding him this morning doesn't mean he liked it. You're pathetic!

Harry sighed with resignation, determined to just push it all away. The pain and fear and hope and desire. Just shove it down, forget about it. It's for the best anyway. Don't want him to get hurt, he thought as he forcibly removed himself from the bed.

Snape's eyes flew open as the bed was jostled by Harry's swift departure. He had felt him touch his lips, held his breath as he felt him move closer, fought to not sigh audibly as Harry instead rested his head against his shoulder.

Harry smiled at him from the chair beside the bed, embarrassed, and said the first thing he thought, which to his dismay was, "It's nice to wake up with you." Snape's eyebrows shot up, and Harry could feel the shocked expression mirrored on his own face as it began to redden.

After a moment of awkwardness, Snape cleared his throat, "Er. Yes. We should get to work. Figure out a plan. Do some research." Hide in books and potions, before you think too much about waking up with Harry.

       

9 PM, Day 3

 

They spent the rest of the evening researching in the library and going over "the facts" endlessly. Harry felt they were no closer to an answer than when Snape had awoken him in his chambers two nights ago. Snape hadn't commented, but did admit that they weren't going to get much farther without more information. Information which was locked away in Harry's mind. Harry could tell he was hesitant to mention it, so he brought up the dream-sharing potion idea himself, despite his own reluctance. It really did seem to be the only option. All else they had were lists of facts (the connection between Voldemort and Harry, dream visitations having real-life effects, the failure of the Dreamless Sleep potion, the "cure" of the Memory Charm, and the sexual component of the dreams). Some of the textbook cases were close, but nothing fit entirely.

They retired from the library to another night in the potions lab. They worked quietly together, chopping and stirring, each lost in his thoughts...

       

He acts like he can save me, but no one can ever save me from this. I've done what I was meant to do with my life. Why am I still alive? Why didn't I die? Why haven't I ended it by now, living so alone?

Why does he think he can just swoop in like some knight in shining armor (ok, black, non-shiny armor) and make all of this pain and fear go away? He can't fix me. And why would he even want to? Why is he doing all of this? How can someone so distant and cold my whole life suddenly be so warm and caring? What's going on? He can't actually feel anything for me. Why on earth would he; I'm so worthless. He doesn't want me physically; no one does or ever could, I'm so pristine and untouchable and terrified. Not to mention toxic; don't forget Malfoy...

Maybe he just wants something to do. Maybe he just wants some companionship. Yes, that must be it. I can give him that; keep all the nasty, evil, black feelings and desires to myself, and only give him the stuff that's ok. We'll be friends. He'll never know anything more about it. This problem, this curse, this project will be one thing, and my feelings about Severus will be something separate. I'll answer his questions, but... not give him anything he can't want. Stay in control.

It's going to be hard, trying to be just a friend, and be honest without talking about how I feel. I don't even want to think about the sex stuff... I wish I could go back to not feeling anything. This is just happening too fast.

Gods. This is going to tear me apart. But I'll do it, be friendly, keep all the other stuff locked deep inside, if that's what I have to do.

I'm scared to even think it in words, but... I wish he wanted me.

I wish... I could be capable of more.

       

He's so beautiful. Not like a model, not perfect, but just so... lovely. But so tormented. So exhausted. So obviously miserable and in need of saving. How can I be the only one to have ever noticed it, or the only one to ever want to help him? Maybe he just never let anyone else see, with his distance from everyone else and that ridiculous glamour spell.

I can't believe I'm the only one he's ever opened up to, the only one he lets see him like this. The one he trusts to help him. Why me? I'm honored, but... it's almost too much. Too much responsibility. Too much... emotion. I'm feeling things I haven't felt in... decades? If ever. Wanting to protect him, wanting to save him, wanting... him.

Gods, I want him. I'm twice his age, though. And even if he wanted me... it's just so terrifying. To feel.

To... love. Yes, love, no matter how reluctant I am to say or even think the word. There it is, love. I think I could love him.

He trusts me. I even think he wants me. But does he love me? Could he ever know me and still love me? His nasty old potions teacher, the sarcastic bastard who once hated him because of his father and only learned to tolerate him because Albus demanded it? Who thought he liked being famous and only noticed that he hated it after Voldemort returned?

And even if he could... wouldn't it be a bad idea? He's a virgin. Remember the utter gratitude and devotion given the first time you gave your body? The first time you were vulnerable that way. It's too much responsibility.

I don't deserve him. I'd hurt him at some point. I end up ruining everything I touch eventually...

Just like Harry thinks he does.

Maybe we're both wrong? Maybe...

       

Severus noticed suddenly that they had both been lost in their thoughts for some time, and the potions were almost complete. He cleared his throat and made an effort to keep any of the emotions he was feeling out of his voice. "It's time for the lashes and hairs, and then we'll be finished here."

Harry did Severus first, with a great deal more shaking of hands than the night before. Whatever he was thinking, it's really upset him, Severus silently observed.

Then it was his turn. It took an immense amount of control to not think about how good it felt to touch Harry, how soft his skin was, and when the involuntary tears from each lash pulling seemed more copious than the night before, Severus wondered if they were perhaps tears of a different sort. But Harry simply bowed his head without opening his eyes, and Severus ran his fingers through the short, dark curls and quickly pulled out two hairs. When Harry still didn't move, head bowed, eyes closed, looking defeated and hopeless, Severus pulled him into an embrace before he had a chance to talk himself out of it first. Harry relaxed into his arms, and for a moment Severus felt a sense of completion and peace so deeply he was awed.

In his arms, Harry felt so safe, so protected, so fulfilled... for a moment. Then his earlier thoughts came rushing back, and his frame stiffened with commingled despair and desire, and the effort to keep it all hidden deeply within.

Severus' moment of peace was shattered so abruptly that without even meaning to, he let go of the young man and his own hurt feelings gave old defenses new life, as his voice instinctively dripped acid sarcasm, "I can see this is going to be a relaxing night in my bed. Doesn't anyone ever touch you?" Harry's eyes widened as all the color drained out of his face, and he made a sudden movement as if to rush past Severus and out the door. Severus caught him by the arm, his temper fading away as the last syllable was uttered, suddenly scared of how much he might have damaged whatever this tentative thing between them was, and shelving the thought for later of how intense and quick were his successive feelings of peace/hurt/anger/fear.

The two men stood there, looking at each other, not knowing what to say. Finally Harry met Severus' eyes and bitterly answered the cruel question. "No. No one ever does touch me."

Something in Severus melted in the face of Harry's pain, and he wanted nothing more than to hold Harry so tightly he would forget all his past. Instead, he simply offered a small confession of his own. "No one often touches me, either. I suppose we're both a bit... awkward."

Harry seemed to accept this as an apology. They hovered for a moment, on the edge of a conversation neither of them was ready for, but both desperately wanted to have already over, about touching and feelings and their restrained past interactions...

Instead Harry cleared his throat and nodded towards the potions, "Are they ready yet? I'm tired." At Severus' nod, he continued, "Fine then, I'll meet you in your rooms in a few minutes."

       

As they drank their potions and got into the bed, the tension was almost unbearable. Harry was doing a commendable job of refusing to let himself think about anything at all, most especially how scared he was of the nightmares he was about to have, about letting Snape see them, about being in bed with Snape again, about his own confused feelings, about how strangely the other man was acting... As the list of forbidden topics grew and grew, he failed to notice that he was, in fact, thinking as he drifted off to sleep...

Snape was also trying valiantly to halt the activity of his brain, that most annoying chorus of internal voices. As he had more practice, he was more successful than the young man sharing his pillow at subduing them. However, his body decided to fill the void in his mind by announcing it's repressed desires; quiet mind, screaming body. Snape decided to call it a draw and fell asleep resigned to sexual frustration and hoping to somehow try to control himself enough to not molest the boy as he slept.

       

Harry dreamed...

He was in a small, dim room, lying on his back, surrounded by wooden slats. A woman's voice was making reassuring cooing noises as he looked up at her, but he could feel her fear. She was frightened; so he was also. He heard a loud crash and began to cry as the house shook. The woman screamed as someone came into the room, and tried to shield him. Then she was gone and the most evil voice he'd ever heard said strange words to him, sharp hateful words that hurt unbearably, and pain washed over him and he screamed and screamed as the world went dark...

His heart pounded as the shade drifted across the floor of the Forbidden Forest towards the unicorn. His feet were leaden, his throat closed. He couldn't run or move or scream for help, not that there was any help nearby. Then the shade turned and saw him. He was helpless to move as it advanced...

He watched with horror as Professor Quirrell unwrapped his turban to reveal a grotesque parody of a face on the back of his head. The moment where he stood paralyzed with fear lengthened and stretched endlessly as his horror grew with each heartbeat...

The images came faster: in the Chamber of Secrets under Hogwarts, a teenaged boy's voice teased and tormented him as his best friend's little sister lay dying. He was alone and helpless as pain ripped through his arm...

Cedric was killed before his eyes in a flash, and he could do nothing, too shocked with his own terror... He was bound to a gravestone, pierced with a knife, helpless to prevent the rebirth of the greatest evil he could imagine... Vomit rose in his throat as the greyish creature arose from the cauldron... He tried to run, but his ankle was broken and he fell...

Voldemort's quiet laughter rang in his head, as his voice whispered sensuously into his ear, "Have you forgotten that you are mine? No others for you, not now, not ever."

Voldemort loomed above him, giant against the night sky, and screamed curses of torture and death. Fireballs rained from the sky, and he heard screams all around him as the Death Eaters closed in. He could do nothing... In the distance, he heard a wolf-like howl and knew that Sirius was dead.

A cold, serpentine voice hissed at him, naming his worst fears and making them real. "You are alone and worthless. No one cares about you. They only see you as a knight in shining armor to save the world. And you will fail. You're not a real person. You cannot stop me! Crucio!"

Again and again, he stood facing his enemy, trembling with fear, alone, helpless, and full of despair. Paralyzed with fright, overcome with sickening dread, unable to do anything to help anyone else or even to save himself.

The dreams went on and on...

       

After what seemed like endless hours of dreaming, Harry finally woke, whimpering brokenly, held tightly in Snape's arms, as cool hands stroked his cheek and hair, and soft lips whispered into his neck that he was safe, it was all over, Voldemort was dead, and none of it was his fault. Exhausted, he fell asleep before the tears stopped leaking out his eyes, held secure and safe.


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