Warnings: child abuse, depression, suicidal tendancies
Summary: Devoid of the will to live, Harry decides that it is simply time to end it all. Too bad for him that one of his professors had to come and screw it up.
Disclaimer: I do not own any of these characters. I am simply borrowing them; therefore, do not sue me.
Chapter 11: Mortar
Harry slept in late the next morning. Very late. By the time he stretched and rolled over, feeling marvellously well rested, he had noticed the very bright glow of the lamps. And Snape sitting eating what looked like lunch.
He scrambled to get up, clumsy in his haste, and earning more than one amused look from the potion's master. He supposed that providing entertainment value to others was better than being completely useless.
Walking up to the table in his pyjamas, Harry snagged a piece of toast and sat down in a chair with one leg tucked up under him. He munched half heartedly, eating slowly in tiny bites so that Snape wouldn't order him to have some more. He really couldn't stomach anything else, and knew he would probably just end up feeling sick anyway.
It was strange how he didn't feel quite as self conscious around his professor any more. He had become used to his presence and no longer felt intimidated by him the whole time. Just the times when Snape was actively trying. Which he didn't seem to that much. Harry supposed that he got bored of being so constantly menacing. He was still grouchy, but that was okay, in fact Harry liked this, as it meant no long conversations, no sympathetic 'trying to understand his pain'. Although if there ever was someone who would understand in the school, he supposed that only Snape had seen enough of the dark side of human nature to do so.
He finished the toast and started to rise from the table, but Snape motioned him back down. He knew what was coming next, could practically feel the questions rising in the man.
"Why didn't the potion work?"
Harry was not surprised that Snape's pride had made him wish to know how his work had not been faulty first before thinking about anything else. He just shrugged. It was becoming a habit, so much easier than digging up answers he didn't know himself.
Snape's eyebrows drew together. Harry watched their movements carefully as indicators of how much he could attempt to evade the questions and prevaricate before Snape became truly angry with him.
"Well if you would tell me why it didn't, then I could improve it so it would work." snapped Snape.
Harry made a mental note that avoiding this particular subject was obviously not possible, it touched too closely upon Snape's work. He weighed the consequences of telling the truth, against the fact that there was no lie he could tell that the man would accept. He looked up. Snape's had not removed his challenging gaze from Harry's face. Not good. He had to speak then.
"They aren't actually dreams." he admitted. "At least, I don't think that they are. And dreamless sleep has never worked on them, I brewed some myself." The eyebrows rose as if the very thought that Harry could make a potion correctly was in doubt. Harry rolled his eyes. He was good enough at potions when he tried. "Anyway, since I'm connected to Voldemort," he couldn't help the slight waver in his voice as he said that, "the potion cannot stop the nightmares, the visions." his voice had sunk down so low as to be barely audible, and Harry distantly registered that Snape had leaned forward to hear him.
The darkness from his dreams was before him once more, he heard the screams, the cries, the absolute despair. The nightmares always took place in absolute pitch black surroundings. He was completely isolated, hearing only the sound of his laboured breathing punctuated by the tortured screams of others in the distance. And he knew that they were real people, suffering. But he could never see them, he would twist around to the direction of the noise, and stumble that way. Then he would hear another, from a different source, and he would turn that way. And the screams would get gradually further away. And he would grow desperate, thinking that it was all real, and needing some contact. And then the whimpering would start, and the groaning. That was almost worse than the screaming. When he had wandered for so long that he had given up all hope, and could no longer walk, but fell to the ground, he would feel a presence behind him. He had a long moment to appreciate that he had failed, that everyone depending on him would die, would soon be screaming in the dark too. Then the crucios started. They didn't stop. They never stopped.
His head jerked up. He saw Snape's face in front of him. And there was light. So much light all around him. It took him a few seconds before he recognised where he was. And understood that the darkness, and not this place, was the dream.
He mumbled something, he wasn't sure what, and got up. Trudging over to the bathroom, the blackness kept flashing in front of his eyes. He locked the door behind him, moved to the sink. Filled the bowl with water, dunked his head in. Held it there for a moment too long, until his lungs were bursting and his vision began to fade to black in reality. Then he raised his head and took great gulps of air in, and collapsed to the floor, leaning against the wall.
He wasn't sure anymore whether the dreams weren't far more real to him than this place. He seemed to spend just as much time there now. And the darkness, true darkness, the kind that cannot be found simply by closing your eyes, was almost normal to him now. Almost comforting. He both loved and hated not being able to see what was going on around him, it protected him from the world but also made him feel alone. You could not have one without the other.
He stood again, and looked at his reflection in the mirror. But he was alone anyway, completely alone, always. He wished he still had his glasses so that he had the option of taking them off and not seeing the things around him. He would have liked that choice. A choice which had been taken from him by the headmaster. He knew that Dumbledore had meant well, but that didn't stop his current resentment. He hadn't been given a choice in being the wizarding world's hero either. He hated that.
Of course, when he did have a choice, he made the wrong one. He had a choice in taking the Triwizard cup. He had made Cedric take it too. He had killed Cedric.
His eyes were drawn to the razor lying on the shelf. Most wizards used magic, but Snape, it seemed, liked to do it the muggle way. The blade glistened in the light. He reached out and touched it with his fingertips. It felt cold. Felt wonderful against skin that burned with shame and disgust. He picked it up. Ran his fingers over the smooth metal. Then moved the flat of the blade in a line down his face, then down his arms. The coolness coming from it spread through him. It made the darkness go away. Or perhaps it was the opposite. But he no longer felt torn between two realities, two versions of himself anymore. There was just this. He stroked the tip of his thumb repeatedly over the edge of the razor. And was cut. He did not feel the pain, but rather an icy sensation flooding through his veins, calming the uncertainty and the fear within him. He took the blade away and watched as red welled in it's wake. Deep red. He stared at it. Then he looked up at the mirror again, to see if he looked more like himself rather than a murderer. He saw Snape.
He turned, the blade falling from nerveless fingers. Snape was standing in the doorway, watching. He had been watching. The coolness in Harry began to fade away and he felt the panic return at full strength. He had been discovered. He wasn't sure what the feeling of shame was for this time, but it scalded his body in it's intensity.
No, he thought. No, this cannot be.
Snape thought that Harry had been in the bathroom long enough. The boy had looked awful prior to fleeing. Though the link was not alarmed it had become strangely quiet. And he had not yet come back out. A suspicion began to grow in his mind. If it had been one of his Slytherins, he would have been sure. He strode swiftly to the door. It was locked. He should have thought of this possibility before, it was surprising that the boy had not tried anything sooner with such circumstances.
He pushed the door open slowly. Harry had his back to Severus, his hair soaked for some reason, and was staring down at his hands.
Snape was filled with fear. He should have known. But because it was Harry Potter, he had dismissed the idea of suicide. Prejudice once again. Harry, the boy here now, was obviously someone who was not a stranger to the idea.
He wasn't sure if he made a noise, or if Harry looked up of his own accord, but the boy saw Snape's reflection. He spun around, becoming deathly pale, and the razor blade clattered with an obscene amount of noise as it hit the floor. Harry's lips parted as though searching for something to say. And Severus was released from his frozen state.
He lunged forward as Harry backed off, and grabbed the boy's wrists, twisting them to reveal...unblemished skin. He glanced up at the boy's face, full of guilt, then to the blade. It had blood on it, though not much, which was now smeared over the tiles. He found the cut on Harry's thumb. Absolute relief flooded through him that the boy had not had time to go any further.
Harry tried desperately to wrench his wrists from Snape's grasp as he was dragged back out into the living room. Practically thrown onto the couch. Snape paced in front of him, muttering. Then sat, and looked at him with piercing eyes that saw too much. And spoke words that penetrated Harry's defences.
"I should have known. Were you in my house I would have guarded against it earlier. Obviously you have more in common with Slytherin than I suspected."
Harry would have been amused by this remarks irony at any other time, and astonished at what could nearly be considered a compliment from Snape, but at this moment he could not. He was aware only of the blood rushing through his brain and of Snape's voice talking.
"What made you cut?"
He couldn't answer that. How could he answer that?
"What made you cut, Harry? Was it that your relatives beat you, made you feel helpless? Was it that no one, not even your friends, ever knew you for anything but your fame, never loved you? Was it Voldemort, and the pressure put on you to defeat him? Was it Diggory?"
All excellent reasons. Snape knew so much. So much. There was no escape.
"Yes." A slight pause then, "No."
He couldn't bring himself to say anything else for a long time, and waited for Snape's tongue lashing to fall on him as he built up whatever small reserves of courage he had left. When nothing was said, he tore his gaze from his hands and looked at his professor. Snape was waiting. Not patiently, for his eyes glittered with unsaid words, but still in silence. Harry thought that perhaps this was what he was like to his own house, almost civil. Almost nice. Snape had said he would have expected suicide if Harry had been in Slytherin, did that mean that he had dealt with suicide cases before, in his own house.
"It was Cedric." the sound of his own voice speaking startled him. "But, not him, the guilt, the guilt because you are all going to die, and then it will be your screams I follow in the darkness. It was because of the darkness, because I don't know if that world isn't the real one anymore."
He literally couldn't speak another word. His throat had closed over. His stomach rolled. He told himself that he would stay in control. It scared him that just saying the words had made him feel physically sick.
Snape didn't seem to know how to react. Harry felt almost relieved that there was some part of him that the other man didn't understand. He didn't understand the darkness. He made a good guess though.
"Harry, tell me about the nightmares."
Nothing could be hidden from this man. Nothing. It was useless. It had been hard enough telling Snape what he had already, he didn't know if he could force any more words out. He croaked pathetically, the meaning beyond comprehension, even to himself.
A glass of water was handed to him. He took it gratefully and sipped it. His throat relaxed. But now that he was able to speak, he grew more nervous. The darkness crept in at the sides of his view. The trembling of his hand caused the water to spill and he looked down at it in shock. Someone's hand pried the glass out of his hand and removed it. He looked up. Snape. Snape was here. He was talking to him.
"It's black." he choked out. "Always so black, can't see anything. Can just hear the screaming. Sometimes I think I know who it is. Sometimes I hear echoes of Cedric. Sometimes I feel their pain. Then He comes, and He curses me. And all I ever know is the darkness."
Snape said nothing.
"And now, sometimes, I can see the darkness even when I'm here. And it makes me feel so alone."
There, he had said it. Had told all, as he had thought he never would. Now all he had to worry about was the man he had confided in. Trust was something he had little of, and he never thought that any of it would be invested in Snape. But Snape had the power to destroy him now, it would be so easy for him. Harry himself knew that the smallest of his own thoughts sent him into depression, so what could the harsh tongue of the potion's master do to him. And he had to stay strong. Had to.
"Harry, you really should talk to the Headmaster. He can help you." said Snape uncertainly.
Harry shook his head. Dumbledore wouldn't understand. And Dumbledore's illusions of him were not ones that he wanted to dispel. No, that he could not do, however much the Headmaster knew already was too much.
"I want to be on my own for a while." he whispered. Seeing Snape's suspicious gaze, "I wouldn't try to kill myself. It was an accident just now. But I wouldn't try to kill myself. Wouldn't that be selfish for the boy who lived. What irony!" he added with bitterness.
Snape seemed about to say something, but Harry grabbed a chair and headed out of the door. He closed it, and sat facing it. Which of course meant he wasn't really on his own after all.
"Hello, Harry." hissed the voice of the snake in welcome. "Serminysa is glad you have come.
Harry nodded, still too overwhelmed to talk much. The snake seemed more than happy to make up for his lack of words with her own.
"There is nothing interesting in the walls anymore. The talk of the insects wearies me, and those of my own kind I refuse to talk to. They do not understand, what it is that I deal with. They live safe in their dens and do not feel the loneliness, or feel the fear and pain that radiates from around me."
Harry had locked eyes with her as she spoke, feeling a depth of understanding there. Now she seemed to make a realisation.
"Your fear. Your pain. Little snake, why do you scream? Why do you hurt?"
"At night the darkness swallows me and I cannot breath." he answered at last. That was the best way to explain it. He began to feel more at ease, speaking in parseltongue helped to calm his emotions.
"I see." she hissed, "The man who lives here, he is sometimes swallowed by the darkness too. Though he does not scream as you do." She appeared to consider for a moment, then "Perhaps it is a bad den you have chosen, if the darkness in it harms you both so."
"Not that kind of darkness." said Harry, miserably.
She turned black eyes upon him. "I know."
They sat in comfortable silence for a while, Harry watching the twisting motions of her coils as they both thought.
"Serminysa thinks that to make the darkness go away you will have to find a light."
Harry was about to make a sarcastic comment when he saw her eyes were perfectly sincere. He subsided and listened.
"Find something which drives away the darkness. Have you never had lights?"
Harry thought. "Yes, my friends, my Godfather, my magic."
"And why has their light dimmed?"
"My friends do not know me, not really. They never see the darkness inside of me. And one of them in particular never got past my fame. My Godfather is never around. I haven't heard from him in so long. I'm worried about him. I think he might be... And my magic? My magic is no good to me, it could not defend me when I needed it, it brought me pain and grief. No, the lights are no longer strong enough to hold back the darkness."
The snake nodded. "Then you must find new ones. You will have to look hard, to find a source of light, down here in the dungeons. Do not let the darkness take you, or you will not be able to rise from it again."
She was a very wise snake, Harry thought, her words did not give him hope but rather taught him to look for it. He was not sure how to find it though.
"I have something for you. I have not met one worthy before, have not talked to someone in so long. But you came, and you talked to me, and you are strong." As though she heard the doubts in Harry's head she repeated "You are strong. Touch my tail."
Harry stared at her for a second before getting up and stroking a hand tentatively over her tail. Snakes cannot frown, but that doesn't mean that he didn't know that she meant to.
"No. Push your hand into it."
Harry was puzzled now, and curious. He thrust his hand forward. The painting did not rip, yet his hand went through it. The picture became translucent, and he saw there was a small cavity where his hand was.
"Now find what is hidden."
Harry moved his hand cautiously, exploring the boundaries of the space. His questing fingers came across a rounded object, and he brought it out. The painting was solid again. He was holding an egg, it just filled his palm. He looked up at the snake in wonder.
"You will take care of her." commanded Serminysa. "At least she may have some intelligent conversation. And maybe her glow will help light your darkness. Keep her warm."
Harry did not even have time to say thank you before the snake slithered out of the painting.
He went back inside, the egg in his pocket. Snape was on the couch, reading. He watched Harry's entrance. Harry imagined that the man was checking he had all of his limbs still attached and arteries untapped. Harry hated to disappoint the man. Oh well.
He went and sat on the rug in front of the fireplace, enjoying the heat that the magical flames produced, and waited for the egg to hatch. He had a feeling it would be soon.