"I swear Harry, if I become an insomniac…"
"Honestly Ron… one night of no sleep will not make you an insomniac! A little tired-yes, really grumpy- certainly."
"He's already grumpy, Herm. Can you pass me another Sleepstopper Potion? I thought you said these last up to ten hours?"
"If I was a potions master they would… seeing as Snape would skin us before making us any, these only last two… and use them sparingly, or we'll run out of bat claws and fairy hairs. There isn't a Hogsmeade weekend coming up for over a month, and there is no way of telling what Snape will make us do… you know how he skips around the book! Do any of you want to be caught without supplies in his class?"
"Ever thought of simply sneaking out? We have the map."
"That's a last resort… we have to keep attention off ourselves as much as possible, people already asked me why I didn't eat any bread this week, oatmeal is really disgusting after having it for a week." The boys nodded knowingly, the week had not been fun. When Ron learned even bread was a no-no (along with most baked goods), he nearly flipped his lid. For dinner, Harry had shown them how to make his old favorite, though even that got boring after a while. He had often prepared a 'leftside' bowl at home, mixing leftover mashed potatoes, corn, green peas, and sometimes some bacon or small cuts of meat (which they couldn't do now). The creation was actually very tasty, especially when the vegetables were cooked right and they were mixed properly and heated thoroughly. He usually only ate it once in a while (the day after they had potatoes since Aunt Petunia always made too much and Dudley was forbidden to eat leftovers), but a week straight with no alterations made it unappetizingly dull. He was itching for a change.
"Think of it this way, at least you won't have to worry about nightmares tonight." Ron murmured encouragingly, "How are those going… by the way?"
"Nothing since I got to Hogwarts… that's what worries me."
"Why? I'd be happy to have some peace of mind."
"I'd rather be sure he wasn't planning anything. He was talking about some wired group with Wormtail in the last one I had, Asips or something. Said that he would have to question his dear Deatheaters…" Harry knitted his brow, that word wasn't right. Aspedis… Aspadis… "Aspidis."
"What?" inquired Ron.
"It's not Asips, it's Aspidis."
"Harry, that means Asp in Latin, you know, the African snake?" Hermione said, finally looking up from the book, "What did he say they were?"
"Said they were to be above the Death Eaters, born to kill, his serpents. I think he said something about them being the 'death heirs', his 'dogs of war', whatever that means… does he have to have names for everything?"
"Wonder what he calls Snape."
"No pet name?" Ron questioned sarcastically making Harry knit his brow.
"Well, he did call him something else once…" he stopped, trying to remember the name correctly. "Ammodytus, but he only did that the first time he came… in early July, I think. Said something like 'why did you not come, the one I once called my Ammodytus? Now the lowly stand in your place.' Real creepy if you know what I mean… Snape seemed scared out of his wits…and you know how often that happens."
"I gotta go."
"Library." Hermione answered, already halfway out of the portrait hole. The boys rolled their eyes. This was going to be a long Saturday... it was only ten, but boy did they feel tired.
"What do you think got into her this time?" said Ron.
"Two knuts she is looking up the complete meaning of the git's nickname."
"I don't take losing bets." He answered decisively, reaching for another dose of the potion. "Want some?"
"Nah, I would save that till later if I were you… candy and coffee will keep me for now," replied Harry.
"Coffee? Do they even serve coffee?"
"Yah, I hate the stuff, but boy does it wake you up. That way we save the potion and the ingredients." The other boy rolled his eyes.
"You know that stuff's addictive…"
"So is the potion." He countered, "didn't you hear the fuss Hermione made about it?" Harry asked, arching his brow.
"Coffee for two then, half a ton of sugar on the side."
"Want to join me on a stroll to the kitchens, or ought I bring that up, sir?" Harry countered mockingly.
"I'm coming… you sure the elves are alright with it though?"
"No, they make a huge commotion about the bad effects the stuff has on growing bodies." He answered truthfully, "but Dobby will do it after a bit."
"After we get replenish our strength, wanna fly a bit?"
"No Ron, I doubt falling from my broom would be a good idea right about now… I'm too tired to be sure I won't lose control."
"The fall would wake you up though…"
"And the contact with the ground would knock me out. If we mess up now we'll have to start the week all over again… I really want normal food for a change. Why does everything seem to have animal ingredients in them all of a sudden? Even candy?"
"Ya, at first I thought it would only be meat and stuff."
"Oh well. Tonight we start on our way. It all goes downhill from here. After tomorrow, all we really have to worry about it is practicing the transformations."
"And keeping the entire thing secret."
"I have a few ideas about that…"
By nightfall, all three were hard pressed to keep their eyes open. Hermione had insisted they wait till they see the first star in the sky, regardless how dark it got. Harry agreed, figuring they had play it safe… he really didn't want to do this again.
"So, what happens now?" Ron asked, saying what each one of them wanted to know.
"Not really sure Ron… the book said everyone is different."
"Well whoop-tee-doo! Now we are going into this blindly."
"Honestly Ron, Harry's right… everyone deals with the potion differently."
"The book does say that we will wake up some time Sunday… probably in the afternoon. As to what we experience while asleep is anyone's guess."
"We'll be fine Ron. We've all done a lot of research on this, the potion obviously was brewed right… seeing that the marauders used it… we really are safe."
"Here," Harry interrupted, handing them their vials, "We'll talk tomorrow."
"Night!"Dumbledore paced around his office. Voldemort had summoned Severus again. Only a week ago Severus had returned from their last meeting…
That day was truly dark. When Severus had told him what had transpired, what he had said… Albus could practically feel the years drain from his life. How close Severus had been to the truth that day! The mere thought of the bright young man who bore the hopes of the Wizarding World upon him standing as one of Voldemort's faithful Aspidis sent chills down his spine. He had heard so much about these children; damned at birth, forged of magic, strengthened by fire, and tested with steel. Perfect weapons of unwavering loyalty. The headmaster shook himself; Harry would never be loyal to Voldemort, NEVER. Thank Merlin Lily had passed on her stubbornness. The new information startled Remus as well; they had to re-think their reasons for not telling them. Part of him still wondered if it would not be wise to tell Severus. He was strong, proud, never allowed anyone to see his weaknesses; someone to care about would do him good, give him a reason to return alive, and perhaps actually turn to Dumbledore (and his Order) for some extra protection. If only he knew how important he was to them… information or no information. Dumbledore shook his head, truth be told Severus has become a sort of adopted son to him- Severus needed him, he was just too proud and stubborn to admit it. He needed someone, someone to care for him, someone who would take the time to crush the walls he built around him and see past the barren exterior. Even Albus could only do so much to sway the man. What Severus needed was…well…Harry. The boy had the uncanny ability to melt hearts and mend souls, no matter how hard, battered, and broken. Moreover, Harry himself was starved for love and acceptance, which made the old wizard wonder if the hardened seclusion was not a family trait. True, Harry was not as isolated as Severus was, but then again, he distinctly remembered young Mr. Snape constantly surrounded by Nott and Malfoy, wreaking havoc of some sort or another.
"We enter dark times, Fawkes…" He sighed, looking at his pocket watch. "Dark times indeed." The bright bird looked on, vibrant understanding in his eyes. Phoenixes were truly magnificent creatures, he mused, smiling slightly at his familiar. The bird always had a way of advising him; to this day, he had yet to be mistaken. His mind wandered on, vaguely aware of the constantly switching subjects. This was the way he wanted it. The farther he ventured from Severus and his current whereabouts the easier it was to pass the time. He would not return until morning, that much the old wizard knew, yet knowing does not always allow one to remain calm. ALL meetings ended with suffering, he knew that as well. How many times had he found his Severus near death's door in the morning? The evening if his 'Master' felt especially vicious. Dumbledore shook himself out of that thought path…worrying would only make the clock slow down and the fears burn brighter.No sooner had their heads hit the pillows that the three friends were fast asleep. All Harry could see was a faint red mist. Ever so slowly, the mist started to attract itself to him, swirling like a tornado. He stood there, unable to move, pressing his eyes to see beyond the spinning crimson haze. He could have sworn he spotted some movement just beyond, but at that exact moment the mist hit him full force. He was no longer trapped in the eye of the storm; instead, the substance was forcing itself into his mouth and nostrils. Unable to stop himself, Harry breathed in, sucking all of the mist into his lungs. The feeling was indescribable. Power. Raw power, as if he had discovered magic all over again. Looking at his hands, he found himself glowing faintly. Though it was the color of the mist, the glow also had little surges of black, pink, and grey reminding him of tiny zaps of Muggle electricity surging all around him.
His eyes darted from his forearm, another movement caught at the very edge of his peripheral vision. Normally he would have missed it, but years of looking for tiny golden balls and drilling of 'constant vigilance' made his sight keener than most. Snapping his head to find the origin of the movement, he noted he was surrounded in darkness. Cold, pitch-black darkness. No moon, no stars, no windows, no wand. He slowly looked around, his ears honed for any sound and his eyes searching the seemingly endless depths of blackness. He saw it again, this time catching a glimpse of a faint glow… eyes perhaps? A cat of some sort?
"Severus!" Dumbledore called, hastily coming to his side. Blood dripped from a gash above his eye, sticking to his hair as it fell down his cheek. His steps lacked their normal elegance, his body staggering every few footfalls. There was a pained look in the deep, dark eyes that expressed what the man would not allow his tears and voice to show. Damn his stubbornness! "Come Severus, let's get you to Poppy."
"No." The younger man said decisively, straining his voice. "Dungeon." Albus fitted the man's arm about his shoulder, beckoning him to lean on him. The man's stubborn pride gave way, his weight slightly shifting onto the headmaster. Instantly Albus knew he was suffering from the after-effects of the Cruciatus; the light spasms were unmistakable. What the boy needed now was some pain potion, a nice long bath and a well-deserved night's rest. If only he would allow Albus to cancel tomorrow's classes…hell, if only he accepted his standing invitation to join the Order.
"Contra" Albus said, stepping back to allow the snake statue to slither to the side. Normally, one entered through the plain door that led to Severus' living area, but this side entrance was closer. Why Severus had taken these as his quarters Albus could only guess. True, they were near the Slytherin dormitories, but honestly, there were better places. At least the inside was nice. As Albus figured, a goblet was ready on the table, filled with a dark-purple potion.
Severus winced as he sat, Albus instantly springing to his side. How he hated being babied over this way -- it simply did wonders for his image. Why people fretted over him he could never tell. All he really wanted was to drink the damned potion and go to sleep.
"I am fine Albus… honestly."
"I fear not Severus… though a report can wait until your strength returns. I do insist you take it easy however, you are in rather bad shape I fear." Albus admitted sternly, "Are you sure I cannot persuade you to see Poppy?" The Headmaster gained a negating grunt in reply, complete with a rather insufferable glare. True, it was rather weak compared to what the man normally produced, but he received the message clearly. "Fine. Goodnight, Severus. I do hope you feel better come morning…" The headmaster started to walk out slowly, shaking his head slightly. "Nox" he muttered, Severus already asleep on his bed.The scene blurred, fading into the same crimson fog that was there when he first appeared. The next thing he knew, he was back, safe in bed. Three in the morning and it didn't even take a nightmare… great! He moaned, holding his head as some dizziness set in. Something was off. Either someone lit a really big fire or it was way too bright for three in the morning.
"Damn." He muttered, realizing just how long he actually slept.
"Hey there… we were starting to wonder if you'd ever wake up… Ron said that if you didn't stir by five he'd call Pomfrey."
"Thanks Dean, you can call off the alarm. Is it really three?"
"Ya. Ron woke up an hour or so ago… how come you two slept so long, you were the first ones in bed."
"Long story… where's Ron?"
"Said he couldn't wait any longer, he went to catch a late lunch… something about being able to eat a horse raw…" Harry's stomach suddenly alerted Harry of its presence, making the said boy wince slightly.
"A raw horse doesn't sound half bad." He admitted, excusing himself to change. He was hungry…really, really hungry. A part of him wondered if it would be okay to simply go to the great hall the way he was now…
"Mornin' Harry!" Ron called from the hall, waving at his friend. "Sorry I didn't wait for ya."
"That's okay Ron; I'd hate to have been the cause of your hunger."
"Like you haven't been all week." The boy retorted playfully, "I thought I could not get enough steak when I got here… did you have the fog dream too?"
"Hermione and I talked a bit while you slept… she said it wasn't safe to wake you…"
"Ya, that's what the book said."
"Well, anyways, we both had the same dream, kinda… I saw a light gold mist with dark gold and grey surges once I breathed it in, Hermione had a light gold cloud, but she had blue and red surges."
Harry swore that the book did not have any light and dark gold colorings. He remembered that the colors were there to help one "Know Thyself" and the Oracle at Delphi so prophetically proclaimed to all that would as for its advice. And by knowing oneself, he assumed that he could find his animal form all the better. Swallowing a few more mouthfuls of anything and everything he could, Harry excused himself, practically rushing towards the dorms. He had seen a list somewhere in the huge book before, he hadn't really paid any heed to it, then, perhaps it would give him a clue with the colors.