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 2

By Salix


Noon, Day 2


Harry woke up exactly twelve hours later in the infirmary; he would know that smell anywhere. Before his breathing changed, before he opened his eyes, he tried figure out in what way he was damaged. His face and palms of his hands burned like they'd been eaten away by acid, and were bandaged. The next fully conscious breath he took hurt so much it brought tears to his eyes, and he would have whimpered if his throat didn't feel as if he would never talk again. His head throbbed, and his body hurt everywhere, but a general ache, not any specific pain. He realized the foot of the bed was sunken; someone was sitting on it.

Harry slowly opened his eyes, relatively sure who would be there. Snape's fuzzy image slowly came into as much focus as was possible without his glasses. Apparently not a dreamless sleep after all, Harry thought wryly.

Unfortunately, his involuntary scowl at this thought hurt his face, which made him wince, which hurt his face even more, which made him start to groan, which hurt his throat so much he almost blacked out from the pain. He felt his glasses being carefully placed on his face, and when he opened his eyes to glare in outrage at Snape he was surprised to see the older man looking haggard and... contrite? Worried, at any rate.

"I'm so sorry, Harry," Snape whispered. "I don't understand why it didn't work, but I'm so sorry I made you take it." He turned around to the nightstand, clearing his throat, and came back with a goblet. "You screamed until your throat bled. Now that you're awake, you can swallow this, though, and it should help. I hope," he added with an uncertainty Harry had never heard in the Potions Master's voice before. Think about that later, he thought, as Snape brought the glass to his lips and he opened his mouth to drink. The liquid flowed over his throat and cooled it, soothed it like a thin layer of cold silvery honey, and although he swallowed it, it stayed on his throat, easing the pain.

"What happened?" Harry managed to whisper, just barely louder than a breath, the words still rasping his throat. As Snape started to answer, the doors were flung open and Madam Pomfrey and Albus Dumbledore burst in.

"Oh good, he's awake now," exclaimed Madam Pomfrey as she rushed over to him. With flick of her wand, the bandages on his hands and face disappeared, and she applied more of a sticky green salve before conjuring fresh bandages. "Has he taken the potion for his throat, Severus?" she asked. Snape nodded, looking at his hands folded neatly in his lap. "You might want to make him another one for later," she suggested, "He can take it after he gets some... er... rest," she finished awkwardly. Snape nodded; Harry tried to smile a little to thank her; and Dumbledore said, "Thank you, Poppy," in that way of his that was clearly a polite dismissal. As she left, Dumbledore pulled a chair up to the bed and asked Snape, "Have you told him yet?"

"No, he just woke up," Snape replied quietly. "I gave him the potion. He asked what happened. You came in before I had a chance to answer." Harry had never heard him sound so cowed.

Dumbledore too seemed a bit surprised at Snape's tone, but he continued after a moment, turning to Harry, "Well, my boy, you've had us all worried once again. It seems Severus gave you a twelve-hour dreamless sleeping draught. Which promptly knocked you out for twelve hours. Unfortunately, the dreamless part seems to have not worked for some reason." He reached over and patted Snape's hands, "I doubt you could have made an error with the potion, Severus. I suspect there's more to this than a simple mistake."

Turning back to Harry, he continued, "About an hour after Severus escorted you to your quarters, you began screaming so loudly that the echoes from the dungeon roused almost the whole castle. By the time we got into your rooms, you had also hurt your face and hands rather badly with your fingernails. Since you were asleep and not responding in the usual way to a magical potion, we were hesitant to give you any other potion. You were struggling so much you might have choked on it anyway." Dumbledore paused.

"We couldn't wake you up. The only thing we could think of to do to stop your dreams was cast a temporary memory charm to make you forget everything about yourself. I apologize, Harry; memory charms are Dark Magic, but it was an emergency and seemed to be the only way to stop you from hurting yourself further." An increasingly anxious look crept across the old man's face. "It was only temporary; I presume it's worn off now that you're awake? You know who you are and where you are?"

Harry thought for a moment. Of course he knew who he was; Harry Potter, infamous and miserable Boy Who Lived. He was at Hogwarts. He even remembered drinking the sleeping potion in Snape's rooms. He nodded, holding Dumbledore's eyes. The old man smiled. "Good. You can, er, rest for a bit longer, and you should be as good as new by tomorrow." He got up and walked out of the room, turning at the door to add as he walked out, "And Severus, no one thinks you made a mistake on the potion. While not impossible, that option is so unlikely as to not be worth considering. This was not your fault."

Snape shook his head as the door closed. "I am sorry, Harry," he said again. It was not lost on either of them that Snape apologizing was a highly rare occurrence. He continued, "I'm sorry about the potion, I'm sorry about pressuring you to take it, I'm sorry I didn't get to your rooms fast enough to stop you from hurting yourself. And... despite Albus' purposeful use of the plural 'we', I am the only one who knew a temporary memory charm. I cast it."

Harry was puzzled; the charm had stopped his apparently horrific dreams, so why was it such a big deal? Snape again surprised Harry by seeming to read his thoughts, "Memory charms, while not technically among the Unforgivable Curses, are just this side of Imperius. To tamper with another person's memory is... quite dangerous, as well as highly unethical. Something could have gone wrong; you could have forgotten everything. Permanently. We were so worried that nothing magical was going to work properly on you," he finished, covering his face with his hands.

Harry was so taken aback by the distress in the man's expression that all he could do was blink for a moment. Snape looked like he'd spent hours agonizing, and Harry rightly guessed that he had blamed himself for everything. He started to whisper an acceptance of Snape's apology, but thought better of it and carefully reached out a bandaged hand to cover the other man's instead, as he managed a slight upturned corned of his mouth that would have been a smile if it hadn't hurt so unbearably.

"Yes, don't speak," said Snape. "Wait until after the next dose, give the flesh some time to heal. Now I suppose you won't want to actually sleep," he said, some if his usual sarcasm creeping back, "so perhaps I'll fetch you something to read?" Harry nodded his agreement as Snape got up. He returned after a short while with some magazines and newspapers and several thick, dusty books.

"I hope you won't mind if I stay here?" Snape inquired hesitantly. "I thought I might look through some books and start trying to figure out what's going on. Of course, if you'd rather, I can do this elsewhere." Harry was somewhat surprised to find himself nodding and gesturing at the chair for Snape to stay.


3 PM, Day 2


Odd, Harry thought a few hours later, "International Quidditch Monthly" open in his lap. I actually don't mind that he's here. In fact, I'd rather he be here than be alone. I'm not... he fumbled for a few moments, trying to pin down his feelings: afraid. With him here. Afraid of falling asleep. Of dreaming.

I was so angry with him this afternoon. No, yesterday afternoon, he remembered; he had been out for half a day. I wasn't really angry with him, though. Just so tired.

And embarrassed, he admitted. Embarrassed that someone found out, and that it had to be Snape, of all people.

But why is he here? Why is he getting involved in this? Why does he act like he... cares? No one cares about me. I've saved the wizarding world; my duties are finished. Now I can just disappear and no one would even notice.

Harry closed his eyes. God, this train of thought was so exhausting, so familiar. Never any variation, just feelings of overwhelming futility, loneliness, isolation. Why did he even bother to continue existing? Why hadn't he jumped from the top of the Astronomy Tower by now? He'd thought about it often enough, almost daily in fact. His entire life had been focused on defeating Voldemort and cleaning up the residual mess the Death Eaters had made of the world. Finally the good guys had won, but there was no real sense of lasting victory for Harry. What was he supposed to do with his life now? A life alone, he reminded himself. Never forget that you'll be forever alone.

He was too weak to resist the waves of self-pity that washed over him, the helplessness and melancholy. Alone. No friends. No one who really cares about me as anything beyond a savior or an icon. A symbol of the Light overcoming the Dark, of survival. No one really sees me as a person. Certainly no one... loves... me. Ever.

And no one ever will. How could they? I'm not a real person to anyone, just a focal point for everyone's hopes. I'm completely worthless.

My entire life was defined as fighting Voldemort. And now that's over. I'm nothing. How could anyone want that?

And even if someone did want me, could want me, they'd be a target for whoever decides to come after me next. It's better this way, he tried to convince himself. Then no one will get hurt and die. Because then I'd be even more alone. He didn't really notice as a tear of misery slid out from under his eyelid to the bandage on his cheek.

Snape noticed, however. He slammed the heavy book he was reading closed, purposefully turning away from Harry so that he could recover from whatever obviously anguished thoughts he was having. "It's time for more of that potion for your throat," he said, bringing the glass to him. "Then I have some questions for you, if you're up to them. I've come across a few possibilities, but I need more information from you to narrow them down."

Harry drank the potion slowly, enjoying the cool soothing feeling. He tentatively cleared his throat, making small noises, testing to see if it hurt. Not so much. "What do you need to know?" he asked quietly, "And can I take off these bandages yet?"

"I don't see why not," Snape replied, waving his wand as the bandages disappeared from Harry's face and hands. The skin was still red and tender looking, but otherwise mostly healed. "I trust you'll leave your skin alone and not try to use any glamour spells? You know that will just make it take longer to heal."

Harry sighed. "I just-- It's not that I'm vain," he blurted. "I just, well, got really tired of everyone asking if I was ok all of the time. If I was sleeping well. Why I wasn't sleeping well. I just... didn't want to attract so much attention to it," he finished lamely.

"I'm sorry to say, but attention has been attracted," Snape said dryly. "I can't believe you've gone on for so long without coming to anyone for help. What were you thinking? You can't possibly have been in a fit state of mind for most of the battles with Voldemort or his followers. When did all of this start?"

"I wasn't that careless," retorted Harry, green eyes flashing angrily. "I've had nothing but nightmares for years, but it's only been the last few months that I've also felt tired all the time. Like... even though I'm sleeping, I'm not... resting at all. And we won the battles anyway, so what difference does it make?"

"Fine." Snape took a deep breath and continued, "Let's try to focus on one thing at a time. You say you've had nightmares for years - when did they begin? When exactly did they get worse?"

Harry closed his eyes, trying to remember. "I guess it would have been in my fifth year of school... I mean, I'd always had nightmares, and the summer after Voldemort returned and Cedric died... I had a lot of them. But sometime my fifth year, they changed, somehow. Got worse. I always woke up screaming, or with my friends shaking me awake. Until I started putting up Silencing Charms every night." He snorted, a brief, bitter smirk crossing his face.

"And not for the same reasons as the other boys. Anyway. Recently... they got a lot worse after I killed Lucius Malfoy. So, that would be about five months ago. That's the last time I remember not feeling achingly tired. And..." he hesitated a moment, "that's when I started having to use the glamour spell every day to conceal how tired I looked, instead of just occasionally."

Snape listened to this recital as if he had expected to hear it. Most of the facts pointed to one solution. "It sounds if someone planted a curse in your subconscious. But that still doesn't explain why the Dreamless Sleep potion didn't work." He hesitated a moment, and then asked quickly, "Harry, what are your dreams about? I know that's a quite personal question, but I think the answer is in the content or nature of the dreams themselves." Snape paused again, then added, "Of course you can rely upon my discretion."

Harry nodded. "Of course. I trust you," he said slowly. He seemed just as surprised as Snape to hear the words come out his mouth. "I dream about..." He paused. "They're mostly dreams of..." and choked. Deep breath. Just spit it out. Come on, relax. Remember... Frustrated, he started over, "My nightmares are about..." and trailed off again in confusion.

"Gods, I'm trying! I just... can't get the words out. I can't..." He made an exasperated noise. "It's like the harder I try to put it into words, the more I forget what they're about." He raised his eyes in frustrated confusion to Snape, who held his gaze for a long moment, assessing.

"The harder you try to voice your dreams, the more you are unable to speak, and you forget what they're about?" he asked carefully. Harry nodded. "Have you ever tried to tell anyone about your dreams before?"

Harry thought for a moment, and nodded again. "Once. In school. Ron." He considered the memory: Ron waking him up, shaking him, face pale with concern, asking Harry what he was dreaming. He hadn't been able to tell him. "The same thing happened," he said aloud.

"Definitely a curse then," Snape said with some satisfaction. "Probably with a secrecy or shame component to make you unable to tell anyone about it." He sighed. "What are you going to do now, Harry? You have to sleep sometime. Do you think you can?"

Misery returned to Harry's expression. He was so tired, more so than usual. His body hurt, his skin hurt, his eyes and throat still felt somewhat raw. "I know you're right," he said in a very small voice. "But... I'm scared," he admitted. "Sometimes, once the sun is up, I can sleep some, but..." He looked down at the scratches healing on his hands and whispered, "I'm really scared." The difficulty in speaking, the amount it cost his pride to admit this, was written all over his face. He seemed to be trying to force himself to say something more when Snape gently interrupted.

"Would you like me to stay with you? I'll wake you up if you become restless. I can read just as comfortably in your room as in the library."

Harry sighed with relief at not having had to ask. "Yes. Please." He said, so grateful it almost hurt. He acts like he knows what I'm thinking, Harry thought. Am I that transparent? Or does he just know me so well? I've known him my whole life, practically, but now... today... everything just feels different. Comfortable.

It's nice. He acts like... Harry swallowed. He acts like he likes taking care of me. Like he worries about me. Like he actually likes me, maybe?

He turned this idea over in his head a few times. Likes me. As a person. And... the words slowly came together, it feels nice. I like him.

I like him? I like Snape?

Hm... I do. He's really been quite helpful, once we started working on the same side. He's been looking after me since I was a kid. And... I like it. I feel safe with him. I trust him.

Madame Pomfrey's appearance interrupted his meandering thoughts to perform some more healing spells on Harry's face and hands, and released him into Snape's care with orders to get some sleep, somehow. The two men walked down the corridors, to the dungeons and to Harry's chambers.

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