Happy Daft Day claucita! Recipient:claucita Title: To Plummet, Inverted Author:dracofiend Rating: R Warnings: None. Summary: Harry doesn't want to be in the war against Voldemort, but the only way out is to lose. Snape lets him.
Harry started awake to the fading rush of flames. He sat up straight, closing fingers into fists on the arms of the chair.
From the darkness, a white mask loomed.
Terror shrank his tongue as he stood, tense and intent on the soundless robes, swinging through shadows--on the sharply creased hood, jutting high to the roof. Harry took a step, watching the black grow blacker, the mask grow brighter.
He reached swiftly down, and pulled off his shirt.
Harry was waiting. He wouldn't sleep. Wouldn't dream.
He stayed on his feet in front of the fireplace, leaning elbows on stone, forehead on arms, swaying.
His lids had just sunk shut when the soft crackle-roar shot them wide. Harry sprang back, stumbling on the worn hearthrug, heart wild, hammering ribs, lungs, kidneys. He didn't stumble as he leapt forward, grabbing heavy swaths of sooty robes. They smelled of outside, and something burning.
"I'm here," Harry whispered, staring up at smooth curves and sallow chin. A pale hand rose--long-fingered, dirty. It pressed to the edge of the mask.
Harry's palm flew out. "Leave it."
The pale hand paused. Curled. Ashen lips beneath the mask curled. Harry's grip on the notched wrist slipped as the black hood brushed his ear.
"Quiet," breathed that voice, pulling out the last pins. Harry tipped himself forward to fold in half at the spine, but couldn't raise his arms to take down his trousers.
Snape did it for him.
Harry wedged himself into a corner, on his feet, watching the grate through the dark shapes of chairs. He listened, waiting, let his heartbeat fill the room, his throat. It pooled there, slow, slow--suspended--slow. He slid into a crouch on arched soles to quicken it.
The ache in his thighs had gone from pain to numb to pain again when the flash-flame came. Harry rose unsteadily, pulse shallow and fast, a stone skipping water.
The bone-white mask and high-carved hood advanced on him in wide silent strides and Harry's heart was skipping, still skipping--then cold fingers took his neck and Harry's heart plunged, racing for bottom, seeking and dodging that skeletal leer. Snape's fingers were quick and Harry struggled and clutched and pressed his face to that mask, smudged the cool surface with the damp of his breath, stared through blurred sight at his own yielding wrist. Snape shoved him high to the wall and punctured and punctured with eyes down not up, and Harry's head rested limp as he arched to give in.
A low grunt, a last snap of hems--Snape was crumpling against him. Snape's chest heaved, crushing his. Snape's eyes opened, into his.
Harry looked away. Lifted his gaze. He raised a hand, hesitating--then stroked it up the starch-stiff hood. The tip looked fine enough to pierce.
Snape released him before he could reach it, and Harry's toes touched the ground, gently.
Harry shifted under his sheet. "Yeah?"
"Do you--ever wonder what it'd be like to just..."
Harry listened to Ron breathe in the distant bed. Listened to himself.
"To just what?"
"To just--let them find us. To just stop."
Harry's veins curled inward. He forced his stomach to unseize.
"What do you mean?"
Silence. Then Ron inhaled--held it--blew out. "Sometimes it feels like it's never going to end. Or that it will end, soon, tomorrow, next week, something, and it's all going to--it'll all have been an enormous waste of time and we'll have been fighting and hiding and planning to win--but we won't win, because we can't. We can't. If we could've done we wouldn't still be here like this but we--" Ron stopped abruptly.
Harry didn't speak. He was swallowing at the thought of cool white, smooth to his cheek.
"What do you think it'll be like?" Ron asked quietly. "To...you know. Lose."
Harry's reply was sharp, and automatic. "We won't."
Ron's bed rustled. "Yeah," he exhaled. It rustled again. "Okay."
Harry turned onto his side, pulse drilling through to the bedsprings below, and started waiting.
He couldn't wait to be certain that Ron was asleep before easing from his mattress, barefoot, careful. Ready to choke. He crept to the door and Ron must've been sleeping because it creaked as he opened it, but there was no sound from behind. Harry slipped down the staircase--one two three, counting not to trip, five six seven, sweating in the chill, ten eleven twelve, almost at the end, the end, he knew how it would end, even though he'd fought, even though he'd tried--
Harry lost count on seventeen, stepped hard on eighteen, stumbled onto nineteen. The Death Eater was on twenty.
Harry wasn't ready so he gasped in relief--the end! wait fight--then a slab of cold hand thrust over his mouth, a ring of cold fingernails bit into his arm. Glittering eyes trapped him, moving gems in a gleaming mask. A robed arm came up and Harry was floating, in the air, past the last three steps to the corner where there was no dust left to disturb. Black robes closed in, the tall hood tilted down.
"I caught you off-guard," Snape hissed, jerking at Harry's trousers. "You should've cursed me on sight."
Yes, Harry thought as Snape's fingers splayed out. I know, he cried silently as Snape hoisted him up. His back scraped the wall. There was coarse wool and fleshy warmth and sudden weight and--
"Sorry!" The word shook from him when Snape stabbed in. It burst in his mind, burst, burst, burst into stars and Harry was gasping, stifling gasps as each nerve snapped. He was letting go, he was clinging hard, he was sorry, sorry, but he had no choice, there was nothing beyond disintegration, collapse, beneath a black hood and a white, white mask.
It went longer than before. He didn't notice the wet on his face until he stood again, shakily, with fire in his bowels and a rough sleeve, wool, brushing under his eyes.
"You know they nearly got Lee's squad today."
Ron's voice was bleak. Harry blinked in the grayness, then shifted his pillow.
"I know," Harry said softly. He hadn't known.
Ron let out a long exhale. He rearranged a limb, and his mattress groaned.
"It's not getting better, Harry."
Harry didn't move. He looked up at the ceiling, letting seconds tick by. How many could slip before he had to speak?
"It will," he said after four.
"Yeah, you had to think about that, didn't you?" Ron snorted immediately. Bitterly. "What makes you so sure?"
Harry wanted to twist, readjust his back, kick out with his legs. He did none of these, and kept his swallows silent.
"If it's so hopeless," Harry said lowly, "then why not just give up?"
"Right," Ron retorted with a humorless laugh. "I'll just go out there and let them curse me and be done with it. Good plan." He gave another sarcastic snort. A long minute passed.
"Some days--I think about it," Ron said very quietly. "But Mum and Dad...and Ginny and Charlie and Bill...and Percy..." Harry heard the whisper of sheets, the whisper of words. "Well, I can't leave them, can I?"
"No, you can't," Harry answered with his standard resolve. His heart turned in his chest.
Ron's springs sighed as he moved in his bed. "Yeah."
Harry poised his fingers at the edge of his sheet, and waited.
When he went down, he creaked no doors and tripped over no steps. He crouched in his corner until the green fire flared and out stepped the enemy, in broad strokes of black and a single white smear. It was the maker of release and Harry lunged out, pitching himself at familiar robes. Snape's arms caught him up, slid down to his sides, and Snape was speaking near his face in a hard clipped mutter as his cold hands tightened over each of Harry's wrists.
"Warn Minerva," moved the lips beneath the glimmering mask, and Harry's throat pulsed. "The Dark Lord's spies are to act within the hour--they will have vials, a potion I didn't prepare. I think it's airborne, to be used in conjunction with a spell he created--it seems to incorporate elements of the Imperius curse." The white mask withdrew. The cold hands did not. Harry stood hollow on the brink of surrender, not battle, not battle, that was for day and Ron and Hermione and the world--they needed his faith; they craved his charade.
Snape wanted it too.
Harry swallowed understanding and nodded his head. He would go back upstairs, slip into bed, and utter not one word of warning.
He started pulling away.
A sharp pain in each wrist jerked his chin high. "I expect you here tomorrow," Snape whispered, in violence.
The words made him jump and Harry twisted his neck, bruising jaw on warm jaw, eyes flooding with pain. A hand cupped his chin, light fingers pressed in, and the sting vanished as Snape vanished, in a slim column of flame.
Harry watched the ashes fade. Then he turned and swept from the room, to find McGonagall.
Harry slumped in his corner, arms strapped around his knees. He was emptied, exhausted from containing the attack. Voldemort's servants had not served well--but it didn't seem to matter because the Dark Lord lived, while Harry hunched over, waiting for reprieve.
When the fireplace lit, Harry didn't look up. He knew what it was to have death stepping near, in stark soundless lines of fluid dark and fixed white. The numbness, the prickle never went away--the heightened awareness of his last breath, his last breath, his last--now his last but not yet, not the last because he was yanked up by his arm, limp in the grip of a long-fingered hand.
He was pushed to the wall onto half-healed wounds. There was lightning in his side; there were the fingers at his hips--there was a stretched-back mouth and sudden hot skin. Harry didn't resist though Snape was not yet in when he clenched Harry's jaw, with stiff fingertips.
"Now," he rasped, forcing Harry's back higher, "you can fall."
Harry's mouth opened to let out a sound--then he fell, and he fell, and he fell with eyes tight, plunging away from perpetual life--and it hurt oh it tore but it was worth every throb, every cut-short breath to abandon defense. This was right, this was loss, this was only in dreams...Harry let himself loosen into barely one piece, while the Death Eater ripped at the seams that remained.
It went on and on until the Death Eater slowed--the Death Eater stopped. Harry slid to the floor on unfeeling feet. He opened damp eyes to see Snape's gaze, unnaturally dark behind the white mask, and realized he was standing because Snape held him straight. Harry blinked at the hood; Snape touched his neck.
It made Harry drop into Snape's disarrayed robes. He found himself hanging, without balance or thought. He found himself steady, with Snape's pulse at his ear.
Snape's arms secured him as their heartbeats slowed. When Snape relinquished him at last, Harry didn't fall.
"Sorry," Ron said.
Harry tugged at his pillow. "About what?"
"Being so depressed all the time. I know it doesn't help." Ron turned, propped himself on his elbows. "It's hard not to be. Sometimes."
Harry lay still. "It's all right." He could feel Ron looking at him, shoulders raised above the bed.
Metal springs groaned--Ron whumped back down.
"Saw Hermione last night," he said suddenly. "We talked a long time."
""What'd you talk about?" Harry asked, when Ron didn't go on.
Ron ruffled his sheets. "Lots of things. The war." He took in a breath, then sighed it out. "She says we'll manage." He stopped, as if waiting for Harry.
Harry gazed at the ceiling.
"You reckon she's right?" Ron finally asked.
Harry poised his fingers at the edge of his sheet. "Yeah," he said slowly, without looking at Ron. "Yeah. I think she is."