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AUTHORS NOTE: Written for the third HPFF Writer Duel all about Fred and George. Many thanks to Alpha3760 to whom I am indebited for the Nightmare idea.

The Stuff Nightmares Are Made Of.


It had been one of the single worst classes he had had the misfortune to teach. It put the years of cleaning up after Longbottom to shame; in fact it dwarfed even the most destructive lessons with Longbottom. Snape would gladly have taught several generations of the family, without his anti hex protection charms, than he would relive the horrors of that day. He would rather have sauntered up to the Dark Lord and declared his ever wavering allegiances before offering him a lemon sherbet in commiseration. It was a day that would haunt it forever. It was a day that was haunting him forever. Had he known at the time it would be only the first of many to follow he might have acted differently, but he had been shaken. Even that gave him cause to snarl angrily. Severus Snape, Potions Master of Hogwarts, most feared Professor for several generations was never shaken.

And now, as if taunting him, those same faces seemed to appear almost everywhere he went. He could barely move throughout the castle without catching a fleeting glimpse of one or another. Either or, it made absolutely no difference. They were as horrifying as each other with their persistent presence. They were inescapable. He was even starting to dread his lessons, and not just the ones with them in. The idea that their damn family had bred just to ensure his discomfort was becoming less and less far fetched, since barely a year went by that didn’t contain at least one of their vile offspring. Never had the school been so inundated with them, never had he been forced into such excessive quantities of their presence. Even outside the school he couldn’t escape, for those he managed to mercifully avoid during the day were thrust into his reluctant company by the Order. If the name of good truly required he work with such people he was more than ready to embrace the Dark side and all it stood for. At least there he could have murdered such an abomination all ready, instead of being forced to drink tea and biscuits. And a small, traitorous part of his mind continued to suggest that perhaps he deserved it for everything he had done, that perhaps this was his eternal punishment; Hell on earth. And that he had finally lost his mind no longer caused him anxiety. Given all he had to contend with he was surprised it had held out this long.

***


‘Hey Hermione, you had potions today, didn’t you?’ Fred called loudly across the crowded room, his voice managing to dwarf even the chatter of the lower years as it carried effortlessly to where Hermione was immersed in a book that counted as large even by her standards. ‘Did you notice anything funny about Snape?’ Hermione looked up scathingly, the endless interruptions were starting to get annoying.

‘No,’ she said coldly. ‘Why would I?’

‘I did,’ Ron piped up, throwing Hermione a look of disbelief as she rolled her eyes at him before returning to her book. ‘He was being really odd. Not nice exactly, but definitely less Snape…he was barely even bothered when Harry messed up our potion. I get the feeling he was avoiding us.’

‘Told you,’ both Fred and George rounded on Lee Jordan with identical smug grins.

‘So?’ Lee didn’t look happy at having his argument ended so abruptly and out of his favour. ‘Doesn’t prove anything?’

‘Prove what?’ Ron ditched his homework in a second, ignoring Hermione’s mutterings of ‘any excuse’ and jumping up to cross the room to join them.

‘You must have noticed,’ George sounded incredulous at the stupidity of his little brother, shaking his head with sympathy at his eternal plight against the forces of ignorance.

‘He’s been so tired recently.’

‘Barely shouted at anyone or scowled at all.’

‘So?’ Ron said impatiently, his foot tapping on the carpet.

‘So,’ the twins chimed together. ‘We reckon he’s not getting any sleep because he’s busy, if you know what I mean.’

‘Of course he’s busy,’ Ron declared indignantly, George’s last comment still fresh in his mind. ‘He’s a teacher.’

‘Yeah, but you don’t see McGonagall yawning over her breakfast,’ Fred nudged him painfully in the ribs, exchanging a conspiratorial grin with his brother.

‘We reckon he’s seeing someone.’

‘Seeing someone?’ Ron looked nonplussed, his brow creased in confusion.

‘You really are being dense today, aren’t you,’ Fred teased. ‘Seeing someone, you know, as in dating. Surely you must have at least heard of it,’ he glanced over at Hermione, an act that caused Ron to turn a deep shade of red all the way to his ears. ‘Or perhaps not. We reckon its Madam Hooch.’

‘Ew.’ Ron looked revolted, wrinkling his nose as though something smelt decidedly rotten and fixing them both with equally disgusted looks.

‘He was probably after tips on how to beat us in the next Quidditch match,’ George added with a wicked grin, ignoring the gagging sounds Ron had started to make.

‘Better ball handling.’ They broke off into fits of laughter as Ron turned as putrid shade of green.

‘The proper way to ride a broom,’ Hermione looked scornfully across the room as they leaned against each other for support, tears streaming down their freckled cheeks as Ron seemed to have lost the ability to breathe.

‘You shouldn’t spread things like that around,’ she said, raising her eyebrows at the collapsed pair.

‘It’s only Snape,’ George looked put out.

‘It was only Snape when you said he was secretly poisoning the Gryffindor table,’ Hermione continued pointedly, ignoring the pained sighs that were issuing around her. ‘It was only Snape when you claimed he fixed the class so you would fail,’ the sighs were growing in volume and intensity so that she could almost feel the air moving past her with every exhalation. ‘It was only Snape,’ she finished loudly, ‘when you tried to blame him for that fungus Mrs Norris found and took a liking too. When you told Filch he must have left it there because he was trying to carry too much, without a thought as to who might eat it and get really sick for over a week.’ The twins were laughing again, gasping painfully for breath as her scowl increased.

‘That was great,’ Fred finally managed to choke out. ‘When Filch went looking for him.’

‘I thought Snape was going to hex him for sure,’ George spluttered as Hermione’s disapproval became almost palpable.

‘Which is exactly why you shouldn’t spread such rumours,’ she said, her voice bearing a striking resemblance to their mother as she looked at them both sternly before turning sharply with an exclamation of defeat, leaving the twins chuckling helplessly behind her.

***


Snape woke suddenly, his whole body jerking upright as he gasped for breath. He was covered in a thin layer of sweat as his eyes flashed warily around the room, piercing the shadows before he threw off the sheets. Shivering in the coolness of the dungeons he reached for his robe, tying it tightly round his waist before making towards the bathroom.

The torches flared the second he entered, their light soft and welcoming as he padded towards the large sink in the corner. Sure enough the dark circles under his eyes were becoming more prominent, which was hardly surprising since he was sleeping less than an hour at a time. He splashed his face with cold water and the last remaining hints of drowsiness were instantly washed away.

It had been this way for almost two weeks now. The dreams, don’t deceive yourself, they’re bloody nightmares, had started unexpectedly and gotten gradually more and more intense as the words continued to echo in his head throughout the day. He had considered a dreamless sleep potion, but his own supplies were non-existent and his cupboard full of exotic ingredients was painfully bare of the few he would actually need. It had been an oversight on his part, a foolish one that he put down to his lack of sleep. It annoyed him though that his own proficiency was being threatened, his very nature changed by the damn images that haunted his sleep. But the only other choice was a visit to Madam Pomfrey, and she would want to know why. She would demand to know why, press him for more details than he was willing to give, more information than he was strictly comfortable sharing. The nightmares were his own, therefore he would deal with them privately.

Experience had told him that trying to sleep again would be an exercise in futility. Besides, the Headmaster had raved at him for years over the soothing qualities of tea, the foul brown liquid the man had drunk in excessive quantities for years now. However it was getting to the stage where Snape would gladly have swallowed a batch of Longbottoms latest atrocity had someone sworn it would allow him a full nights sleep. Marching intently across the room to his cupboard like a man on a mission he flung the doors open and pulled out a set of plain black robes. Middle of the night or not he knew the House Elves would have brought him anything he required, however the prospect of a gentle walk was appealing. He hoped not only would it help clear his head, but it would also remind his body of exactly how exhausted it was pretending not to be.

***


The corridor was deserted at this late hour of the evening. Practically deserted at any rate. Harry wasn’t the only one fond of midnight trips to otherwise inaccessible areas of the castle. Besides, the Weasley twins were hungry. Whilst they missed the comfort of the Marauders Map, they were perfectly capable of sneaking around undetected without it. In fact they had recently decided the Map had been holding them back. Stunting their naturally abilities, Fred had commented and George had heartily agreed. After all, if they couldn’t make a simple trip to the kitchens without the use of such a thing they were hardly worthy of the prankster title.

And at this moment the title was hanging in severe jeopardy.

‘Shush,’ Fred hissed desperately, pressing himself against the wall as the sound of footsteps approached.

‘Don’t be so paranoid,’ George muttered. ‘It’s probably just Harry again. Remember what happened last time, when you…’ he was cut off as Fred clamped a hand across his mouth, although he still continued to mumble incoherently. The footsteps echoed closer as the irate mutterings of a familiar voice drifted towards them.

‘Bloody hell, it’s Snape!’ Fred sounded panicked.

‘I thought you said he was elsewhere tonight,’ George whispered.

‘Shut up before he hears us.’

‘You can come out Potter.’ They both tensed at the voice, suppressing giggles as they watched the Potions Master from where they were hidden in the shadows. ‘Before you regret not doing so sooner.’ Fred made to move.

‘What are you doing,’ George hissed.

‘We can’t let Harry take the blame,’ Fred replied before stepping out into the dim torchlight, head hanging shamefully as he concentrated on the floor below him.

‘You’re not Potter,’ Snape sounded far too surprised as George joined his brother, his face a brief mask of shock before it became its usual impassive self.

‘No, Sir,’ they chimed together, and neither could miss the way Snape winced at their voices. They flashed each other a look of confusion, which only grew as Snape stepped backwards and away from them.

‘Get back to your rooms?’ he managed to choke out, his eyes wide as the twins made no move to leave.

‘Are you all right, Sir?’ George questioned carefully, taking a step forward to close the increasing gap. It was too much for the Potions Master however, as he took a deep breath.

‘Now!’ he bellowed, causing the twins to jump. ‘And don’t let me catch you out again else it will not bode well for you.’ The twins paused for only a moment, until it seemed obvious that instructions for detention and the rapid loss of points was not going to occur. Not questioning further they ran down the hallway, not stopping until they were far enough away to be sure they hadn’t been followed.

‘Jeez, what got into him?’ Fred muttered, panting for breath as George shrugged.

‘Probably got up on the wrong side of bed,’ Fred shook his head in disagreement.

‘Wouldn’t stop him revelling in detention. He didn’t even bother to take points, and we’re racing ahead of Slytherin. He could have reduced us to the realms of second place for the rest of the year.’ George looked thoughtful for a second, weighing up all the possibilities.

‘He didn’t seem himself, did he?’ he questioned as Fred shook his head in adamant agreement. ‘Almost scared of us,’ his eyes lit as it sunk in.

‘We might have just caught him off guard,’ Fred said, although his own doubt was blatantly self-evident. A huge grin had spread across his face. ‘You up for a trip around the dungeons?’

‘Why,’ George feigned disapproval, ‘that would be taking advantage. Who knows whom we might run into or what we might take it upon ourselves to curse? And with their Head of House otherwise indisposed, why, we could exceed even ourselves,’ he was walking towards the dungeons before he had finished speaking, his brother following closely behind.

***


Dumbledore was worried, and he wasn’t a man who took well to worrying. It ruined his meal. But there was definitely something wrong with his potions master, who had been looking more and more off these past few weeks. He had watched the scowl deepen and the dark circles grow more and more prominent. The glare was still present, but it lacked the force that made the first years squirm. And so he had summoned Snape to his office.

‘Is something wrong Severus?’ he questioned gently, pouring a soothing cup of tea and placing on the desk between them.

‘Nothing,’ Snape replied evasively, eyeing the cup as though he expected it to leap at his throat any second.

‘Has Voldemort being trying to contact you?’ Snape visibly jumped in his seat, his eyes widening.

‘What? No…’

‘I do fear for your safety. You did not return with the others, he may be testing you.’

‘I do not know what you are talking about,’ Snape cut the Headmaster off shortly.

‘You would not be the first he has visited through dreams. I know you are not sleeping.’ Snape did not bother questioning how he knew, but at least for once he was way off with what he believed to be wrong. In truth Snape would have taken a visit from the Dark Lord gladly and with open arms over what he was suffering.

‘It is not You-Know-Who,’ he said forcefully, hoping the subject would quickly be dropped. It was a foolish hope he knew, as Dumbledore stared straight at him, his face a mask of concern, his eyes a comforting soft blue.

‘Severus, tell me what it bothering you so,’ Dumbledore emplored as Snape sighed and began to relate the images that had tormented his dreams.

***


The room was large and garishly decorated. Across the ceiling a bright banner declared congratulations, although exactly what it was congratulating he couldn’t be sure, though it certainly wasn’t the decorators. Magical streamers hung from the ceiling, flashing between a thousand different colours that made his head spin as each one reflected the light from the roaring fire lit in the all ready sweltering room. The occasional balloon bobbed near him, just to be swatted away impatiently as he paced towards the only door and tugged on the handle just to find it locked.

He had barely taken a couple of steps backwards when the door swung inwards and a sea of red hair descended upon him, chatting and smiling and grasping his hand and pumping it up and down furiously as he glared despite his confusion. And he was being pushed back into the room, herded like a stray animal, as his protests were lost amidst the idle babble and giggling. Oh he despised giggling. It rang in his head and grated against his nerves.

‘My dearest Severus,’ a voice declared from behind him as he turned to face the round, beaming face of Molly Weasley. She had grabbed his hand before he could pull it away and dragged him bodily through the crowd that drifted out of his way like she was Moses parting the red sea, which seemed a most apt metaphor given the genetics of Weasley hair colour. She stopped in front of a pair of cribs he was sure had not been there earlier. It would have been hard to miss them with the large mobiles that spun over each one, the brooms and snitches spinning wildly as a tinny tune emitted. They seemed to amuse the occupants though, who stretched and tried to grab with tiny fingers. ‘You must be so proud.’

‘Proud?’ Snape muttered with confusion as he looked down on the small faces, their bright eyes and innocent smiles. The realisation was no better than his ignorance though, as he turned sharply. ‘These are mine?’

‘Of course,’ Mrs Weasley scolded gently, lifting one from its basket and placing it in his reluctant arms. ‘Aw, don’t you two look a picture. You have a way Severus, you really do,’ he scowled, not only because he had a small, smelly and decidedly Weasley child in his arms, but at the insinuation that he might actually be enjoying it.

The child decided to be sick.

He held it at arms length, wondering how such a creature could have spawned from him as a thin white trail worked its way slowly down the front of his robes. Where was the child’s mother when she was needed?

Mother.

The thought hit him like a brick. If he had Weasley children that meant that somewhere he also had a Weasley wife. He felt his stomach churn at both the thought and the smell that was beginning to grow from the drying vomit. Handing the child gracelessly back to it grandmother, Grandmother, oh god I am in some deep trouble here, he scanned the room for anyone remotely female until finally he spotted a head of long, red hair. He pushed through the crowds towards her, but for every step he took she seemed to move two further away. A hand placed itself on his shoulder, almost pulling him off his feet.

‘Oh Severus,’ Arthur boomed cheerfully, a small, white, plastic muggle artefact held out in front of him. ‘Have you seen these, they are quite fascinating. Plugs I believe they are called, for use of electricity.’ He smiled the smile of a maniac who has just stumbled across a room of very sharp objects. ‘They even have different types, and all these little pins come in so many shapes and sizes.’ I don’t care, he thought to himself, although the words that left his lips were quite different.

‘Why, how absolutely fascinating. Do they come in different colours too?’ He squinted at the betrayal of his own mouth, ignoring the smile that had grown as Arthur plunged on, words like ‘socket’ and ‘international differences’ passing straight over his head. The woman with the red hair was closer now; he could almost reach out and touch her, whisps of hair floating just out of reach of his fingers as Arthurs voice changed slightly.

‘Absolutely adorable aren’t they, you must be such a proud father,’ he felt his stomach turn again at the reminder as the whole room silenced around him, frozen in a moment as Arthur leant forward. ‘Reminds me of when mine were born. And who would have guessed they’d be the spitting image of Fred and George.’


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