The Sugar Quill
Author: Jennifer  Story: Dream and Variations  Chapter: Default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

Disclaimer: All of this belongs to J.K. Rowling. I'm just borrowing it for a while.

A/N: Many thanks to Jeremy, who challenges me to write better.

Dream and Variations

Albus Dumbledore peered at the many arcane instruments in his office, looking for one in particular. "Ah," he murmured as he lit upon a small wooden object that looked a little like a telescope. As he tapped it gently with his wand, a puff of purple smoke appeared. "Harry Potter," he said quietly.

The smoke formed itself into the shape of a boy lying in bed, staring determinedly at the ceiling. As Dumbledore watched, the boy stifled a yawn and rubbed his eyes, as if trying to stay awake. "And last night?" asked Dumbledore.

The smoke shifted slightly. Now the boy was asleep, but uneasily. He thrashed about as if enmeshed in a horrible nightmare. His mouth formed the word "No!" as he woke, panting.

"It is as I suspected. Thank you." The smoke disappeared in a puff. Dumbledore replaced the telescope on its table under the empty portrait of Phineas Nigellus.

"Is he not sleeping?" asked the portrait of Dilys Derwent, former Headmistress and Healer. "It is quite understandable, but it is not healthy. Is there nothing you can do?"

Dumbledore sighed. "There is one thing, but it is not without consequences."

"But he must be suffering so! What consequences could outweigh helping him?" Dilys had become quite fond of Harry, particularly after he had saved Arthur Weasley's life last December.

"The problem is that the consequences are hard to measure. I can perform a spell that will give Harry a night of dreamless sleep, but instead, others will dream about him tonight. They will be intense dreams, not easily forgotten, and they may affect how the dreamers act in the future... for better or for worse. The dreams will focus what the dreamer thinks or feels about Harry. The dreams may inspire someone to help him rather than stand aside -- or to fight him to the death. I cannot choose who will dream, or what they will see. Do you still think that I should help him?"

"Albus," said Dilys quietly, "you cannot always protect him. Those that will hate him after they dream already hate him now, and there is nothing that you can do to change that. Harry will prevail against Lord Voldemort, or he will die trying. In any event, should you not do what you can to make his life more bearable?"

Dumbledore considered her words. He had made many mistakes when it came to Harry, and was reluctant to do any more harm. But Dilys did have a point. Harry had burdens to bear, and lack of sleep would not make them any lighter.

Dumbledore sighed. "So be it. I will cast the spell, and what will come of it will come."

***

Dumbledore was the first that night to dream about Harry. In his dream, he was flying above Hogwarts. No, he had much experience with flying -- on broomsticks, with Fawkes, and on Hagrid's thestrals -- and this was different. It was more like floating. At first he stopped to enjoy the sensation, but he had recognized the dream for what it was and willed himself to float down, closer to the ground, where he could see something happening.

He saw Harry and Lord Voldemort. Dumbledore knew that this must be their final confrontation, that by the end of the encounter, one of the two would be dead. He looked around to see who else was there. He saw many Death Eaters as well as members of the Order of the Phoenix. He spotted Hermione Granger's unruly hair, and several red heads that could only belong to Weasleys. He saw professors and students, and was pleased to see representatives of all four houses. All of them fighting valiantly at Harry's side.

But he did not see himself.

He looked and looked, but saw no glint of his own silver beard. "I should be there," he thought, "I would not leave him to face this alone." But then it occurred to him that Harry was not alone. He was surrounded by people who were willing to give their lives to protect him and the rest of the wizarding world. Harry was not alone, and never would be. He inspired people. "He even inspired an old codger like me," thought Dumbledore with a smile.

Before he could see the end of the battle, Dumbledore woke, unsettled but hopeful. "So that is how it will be," he thought, "Harry will not stand alone, but he will stand without me. I must teach him while I still can, and I must hide nothing from him, for he is already stronger than I thought." And then he slept again, more peacefully than before.

***

Draco Malfoy glowered at the Gryffindor table across the red- and gold-bedecked Great Hall. It was yet another Leaving Feast in which that wretched Potter and his cronies had won the House Cup because of some after-hours escapade that the idiot Dumbledore thought would save the planet. If Draco had tried even half of what Potter did, he would be on the train home. But not precious Potter. He was praised for breaking the rules. No wonder he was such an arrogant bastard.

Draco picked at the remains of the quail on his plate, smoldering with anger. He was not looking forward to arriving at Malfoy Manor the next day, to be smothered by his mother's attention and coolly lectured by his father about how he had allowed the Mudblood to achieve higher marks again.

The dream shifted. Draco was walking along an unfamiliar street full of cookie-cutter houses with perfectly manicured lawns. He wandered aimlessly, scowling at the middle- class banality of it all. Some stupid Muggle was actually mowing the lawn as though he were a house-elf. Draco was certain he had never been in a neighborhood like this before.

He found himself in front of a house whose only distinguishing characteristic was the elaborately detailed brass number 4 next to the door. He wondered briefly why he was in such a place, then heard a familiar sneer from behind him.

"Malfoy. What are you doing here? Spying for your father, I'll bet."

Draco worked hard to stifle a laugh, but he couldn't hold back what he was thinking. "Potter? Is this where you live? With your filthy Muggle family? Ha! What a joke. I bet you're not quite the famous Harry Potter in this neighborhood."

"Watch what you say, Malfoy. My family doesn't concern you." There was a cold edge to Harry's voice that made Draco pause for a moment, the laugh dying on his lips. Draco had always heard that Potter hated his Muggle relatives, but here he was defending them. What was wrong? Before he could think of a sufficiently scathing comment, he heard muttering in the bushes between Potter's Muggle relatives' house and the neighbors'.

And then the world exploded as hundreds of green sparks flew into the sky above Potter's house. Draco knew it immediately, of course. He had seen it at the World Cup two years earlier, and even then it had filled him with a cold dread that he had never known before. Dread that he had fought off with all of the strength he possessed. After all, he was a Malfoy. He would serve the Dark Lord himself once he left school. He should welcome it, not dread it. But dread it he did. This was the Dark Mark. And the Dark Mark meant death.

"I'll have you this time, Potter," snarled a low female voice. A hooded figure stepped from the bushes, aiming her wand at Potter. "It was so nice of you to come outside where I can reach you. It saves me the trouble of finding a way inside. Which I would have done eventually. I have wanted ever so much to return the favor." She raised her wand. "Crucio!" And Potter fell to the ground, twitching and screaming.

As much as Draco fancied himself a Dark wizard, he had never seen an Unforgivable Curse performed on a human before, and he was shocked. He had wished the Cruciatus Curse on Harry countless times, but somehow he wasn't enjoying the real thing as much as he had expected. Then suddenly, the screaming stopped.

The witch had seen Draco.

"Well, well, well. You've got a friend, Potter! Don't think I am finished with you, but I think I should get rid of him first, and then I can play with you as you so richly deserve, before we pay a visit to my Master." She aimed her wand at Draco and began, "Avada..."

Draco froze, entranced. He knew what the words meant, but was unable to do a thing to stop certain death. It was coming, at the hands of someone who should be his ally.

"STUPEFY!" It was Potter. Prostrate on the ground, still recovering from the Cruciatus Curse, he had managed to hit the hooded Death Eater with a stunning spell before she could finish the curse. "Get inside the house, you stupid git! She'll wake up in a second!"

Draco dove for the front door... then sat up in his bed with his heart pounding. No. He couldn't have just dreamt that. It could never happen. The two of them had hated each other from the first time they had met. There was no way that Potter would ever save Draco's life.

Was there?

***

Petunia Dursley returned to Privet Drive from a shopping expedition to find the Dark Mark shining green above her house. She didn't know that it was called the Dark Mark, but she knew by instinct what it was -- the symbol of the wizard who had killed her sister.

"Vernon! Dudley!" she screamed, running into the house and expecting to find her husband and son lying dead in the entryway. But there was only Harry, sitting on the bottom stair, his head hanging down, nearly touching his knees.

"You! What have you done? Where are Vernon and Dudley?"

Harry shrugged, not looking at her. Petunia ran past him, searching for her family, but there was no sign of Vernon or Dudley, dead or alive. She stormed back to the entryway. "What did you do? Why is that...that thing there?" He didn't answer.

Petunia looked a little more carefully at Harry. He seemed exhausted and frightened, and she softened a bit. There was something else there. Something almost like pity. The more she thought about it, the more she realized that it really was pity. This surprised her a little -- she only let herself feel contempt for Harry when she was awake. But after all, he was stuck with a family that wished he didn't exist. Not to mention that Dark wizard who was after him.

"What happened, Harry?" she asked in a soft voice -- almost, but not quite, a mother's voice.

"She came. Bellatrix. She was supposed to capture me and take me to Voldemort." His voice sounded dead.

"But you're supposed to be safe here. That's why you live here."

"I went outside. I needed some air. She was there. They must have found a way around Dumbledore's spells. I had to fight her. I just barely made it back inside."

"Well, you're safe now," she said, trying to sound as if she meant it. The green glint of the Dark Mark filtered through the window, illuminating her lie. Petunia had always known that Harry was in danger, but she had never given it much thought. She was usually very good at pushing all thoughts of magic out of her mind. When she did think about it, she generally worried about what the neighbors would say. But when the Dementors had attacked last summer, she had realized for the first time what it had meant to the Dursleys to take Harry in.

She had never wanted Harry; his eyes -- and his magic -- were too painful a reminder of Lily. But here he was, facing dangers Petunia could only imagine, and suddenly she wanted to do something for him.

"How about some ice cream?" She had never willingly offered him ice cream or any other treat before, and she expected him to jump at the opportunity. But as Harry continued to sit on the step without looking at her, Petunia began to realize just how heavy his burden was. This was her sister's son, her dead sister's son, and there was nothing she could do for him. She had offered the protection of her blood, and even that had failed somehow. The grief she never let herself feel for Lily welled up inside her as she sat silently next to Harry on the step.

Petunia woke from the dream, her face covered with tears. Tears for Lily and for Harry. She moved closer to Vernon, finding comfort in his bulk, and she slept again, though not soundly. She woke several more times, thinking she had heard Harry cry out in his sleep, wishing that she had the strength to go to him.

***

Hermione Granger was pacing the Gryffindor Common Room. It must have been very late because she was alone, and the fire had burned down to a pile of ash. She was carrying a large library book, marked in several places with bits of parchment covered in her small, neat handwriting. As she swiped distractedly at a lock of hair that kept getting in her eyes, she realized that she had been muttering to herself. She tried to stop, but couldn't help herself. "Why would you go? You know we would go with you. Both of us. And I found spells that could help you. All you needed to do was say something. If you manage to make it back here alive, I swear I'll kill you."

At a sudden sound from the stairs to the boys' dormitories, Hermione stopped and swung around to face Ron Weasley.

"Is he...?"

"Both the map and his Invisibility Cloak are gone. He must have left without us."

"But, Ron...he needs us. And I've done so much research that I know he could use. Why would he do this?"

"Probably afraid that he'd get us killed, like Sirius."

"But I couldn't bear it if something happened to him and we could have helped!"

"I know," said Ron, as Hermione collapsed against him in tears, "but there's nothing we can do now but wait."

They stood together, holding each other up, until they were startled by the portrait hole swinging open. "Harry...?" Hermione gasped, jumping away from Ron and running towards the opening. But instead of Harry, a very pale and grim-faced Professor McGonagall climbed into the Common Room.

"Miss Granger, Mr. Weasley," she said quietly, showing no surprise at finding them awake in the middle of the night. "Please sit down. I need to talk to you about... Mr. Potter."

"What happened? Did he find...? Is he...?" Hermione felt herself starting to spin out of control, wanting to know, but dreading the truth. Not until Ron took her hand was she able to take a deep breath and wait for Professor McGonagall to answer.

"He is alive... for the moment. He has been gravely injured, enough to kill most wizards. Potter is very strong and very lucky, but Madam Pomfrey does not know how long she will be able to keep him alive. She has called in a Healer from St. Mungo's who has experience in these matters. I think you two had better come with me."

The dream shifted, and Hermione was at dinner in the Great Hall with Ron and Harry. Harry was sitting silently, trying not to look at her or Ron, who was juggling silverware, trying to get his attention. Hermione could tell that something was wrong. "Harry, what is it? What happened?" she asked very quietly. Harry's head jerked up. He stared at Hermione with a look that was half terrified and half empty.

"Nothing. I'm fine." It was the same response he always gave, and, as always, Hermione knew it was a lie. But Harry didn't like to share his pain. Ron had dropped the spoons and fallen silent, his eyes darting back and forth between his two friends.

"You're not fine, and we know it. So just tell us what is going on. We can help."

"No! It doesn't involve you. It's none of your business."

"Harry, we're your best friends. If something is bothering you, it is our business."

"Not anymore. I'm not going to let anything happen to you, like... I need to deal with this on my own."

"We just want to help. Just tell us what it is, won't you?"

"NO! I said no! They're my family and I don't want you to..." Harry seemed to think he had said too much. He stopped abruptly, gathered his things, and tore out of the Great Hall.

"I'm going to the library," Hermione said to Ron. "Maybe I can find something that will help."

"What else? When in doubt, try the library, right?"

The next thing Hermione knew, she was in the hospital wing, looking down at Harry. He was so still that he looked dead. She couldn't even see his chest move with his breath. He was paler than he had ever been. Hermione's heart caught in her throat.

"Oh, Harry... Why didn't you tell us? We could have helped."

***

Severus Snape was sitting at a table full of people laughing at a joke. Severus scowled. The joke was not half as funny as the teller thought it was, but this was a celebration and everyone was inclined to laugh at even the worst joke. There was excellent food and Butterbeer (and Firewhiskey, if you knew who to ask) and everyone was in a good mood. This was a far cry from the parties of Snape's youth, celebrating Slytherin's victories in the House Cup. At those parties, everyone watched what they said. Parties, like everything else, were about political positioning.

The witch on Severus' right, whose face he couldn't quite make out, lifted a glass to his, yelling "Slainte!" He raised his glass and toasted the Irishwoman, a bit surprised at himself. "What am I doing?" he thought uncomfortably, as the wizard on his left lifted a glass and shouted "Cheers!" Just as Snape returned the toast, he was blinded by a burst of fireworks from the soup tureen in front of him. "Weasleys!" he thought exasperatedly, wiping chowder from his face. Was there no end to this wretched party?

Finally, Minerva McGonagall stood up to make a toast. Snape didn't understand why Dumbledore wasn't the one bringing order to the party, but he cheered McGonagall along with everyone else, despite his usual disdain for overt displays of enthusiasm. At least everyone would be quiet for a few minutes.

"Tonight we celebrate the defeat of Lord Voldemort. All of us in the Order have worked tirelessly in this effort, and I thank each and every one of you." Snape cheered with the others and internally sighed with relief. This was something to celebrate.

"I would like to take a moment now to recognize those people who gave their lives in the course of the war," McGonagall went on. Silence fell over the company. "Foremost among these is the great Albus Dumbledore, to whom we are all in debt."

Snape was stunned. Dumbledore gave his life?

After a moment, McGonagall continued. "Every member of the Order did what they could to bring about the fall of Voldemort. But there are a few people who particularly deserve our thanks. First, I would like to thank Severus Snape, who infiltrated the Death Eaters and gave us invaluable information."

At this the group went wild. Snape was grateful but a little abashed. His role as a double agent had been crucial in the war against Lord Voldemort, but he knew he hadn't done everything he could. Thinking of Potter's Occlumency lessons with him (as well as a few other things he preferred not to name, even to himself), he wasn't sure the praise was deserved. He sat perfectly still, hoping not to draw too much attention to himself, but still the others cheered. The witch on his right nudged him, whispering "Take a bow," and Snape stood up briefly and awkwardly to acknowledge the applause.

When the cheers died down, McGonagall spoke again, her voice taking on the warmth of pride. "And we all owe a debt to Harry Potter, whose courage and capacity for love defeated Voldemort in the end."

Snape, not entirely surprised by the announcement, stopped breathing as the world erupted around him. Except, that is, for the wizard on his left. He turned to look and saw that the wizard was none other than Harry Potter himself, his head bowed slightly, looking embarrassed by the attention. Was this really the same Potter he had thought so arrogant?

To his surprise, Snape felt himself lift his glass and cry out in praise.

***

In his dream, Remus Lupin relived a moment that he didn't know he still remembered.

There was a baby sitting on Remus' knee, a baby with intensely green eyes and a shock of black hair that seemed to stand on end. James and Sirius were there too. The three of them were trying to teach baby Harry how to say the word "marauder." This was quite ambitious as all he could say so far were "Mama," "Dada," and "bwoom." However, they felt that it was their duty to start training Harry early to follow in their footsteps, not only in Quidditch, but in trouble-making. It wasn't often that Lily would leave Harry alone with James, so they had to take their opportunities when they could. They had good reason to suspect that Lily would not approve.

Sirius kneeled on the floor at Remus's feet, staring intently at Harry. "Come on, Harry. You can do it. Muh-raw-der. Muh-raw-der."

"Muh!"

"Yes! Excellent! Now the rest. Muh-raw-der."

But Harry had tired of the game and grabbed for Sirius's nose instead.

Laughing, Sirius extricated himself from Harry's pudgy but surprisingly strong fist. "Whoa! That's quite a grip you've got there, Harry. Hey, Prongs, maybe we should train him as a Seeker, rather than a Chaser."

"Actually, I had thought of that. Usually he goes for my glasses. I guess I should consider myself lucky to have them if the alternative would be my nose. I would probably look like Snape by the time he grew up."

As Padfoot and Prongs discussed Harry's future career playing Quidditch for England, Harry turned around to face Remus and pulled himself up until he was staring into Remus' face. Hidden, for the moment, was James's mischievous sense of humor; now Harry was studying Remus with all seriousness, with an expression just like Lily's when she was reading a particularly difficult Charms text. This boy had all of the best of his parents' qualities. He was going to be someone special.

Suddenly, a sense of foreboding flooded Remus. He had never had a gift for Divination, and this was something he had never felt before, but it was powerful.

"Harry," he whispered, not knowing that it would be the last thing he said to the boy for twelve years, "whatever happens, remember that we all love you."

***

Ginny Weasley was also holding a dream baby. She was singing softly to him, rocking him to sleep. He was only a few days old, but already he had a patch of vivid red hair. She marveled at this. She hadn't known that babies could show family characteristics, or personalities, so soon. She stared at him, amazed by the tiny bundle of life. He was everything and nothing like she had expected.

"Ginny?" Harry asked from the doorway. Ginny wondered briefly how long he had been standing there, watching her. He could still make her feel self-conscious after all this time. Sometimes when she looked at him, she felt like she was back in her first year, sending that idiotic Valentine. But things were different now.

"Is he asleep yet? The others are wondering what happened to you. I think Fred and George have something planned. They've been whispering together in the corner."

"I'll be there in a few minutes. I just... He's just so small. And so perfect."

Harry came over to stand beside her and look at the baby.

"I'm glad he has red hair," she continued. "It makes him seem like a Weasley. You know, I used to hate having red hair. I hated how it made me stand out everywhere I went. But now I'm glad. It connects me to the rest of them, my family. Now it seems like a badge of honor. I'm glad he'll have that. He'll probably hate it too, but my family would do anything for each other."

"Or for me."

Ginny was surprised. "But, Harry, you're one of us. You always have been. Ever since the first time you came to the Burrow. Or maybe even since you asked Mum to help you get onto the platform at King's Cross."

Harry touched her hair briefly and kissed her gently on the forehead. He then bent over and did the same to the baby. At his father's touch, the baby's eyes opened. They were the same brilliant green as Harry's. Ginny was overcome with emotion. The tears threatened to spill from her eyes.

"Sleep now," Harry said to the child, and to Ginny's amazement, the baby closed his eyes. To Ginny, Harry whispered, "Come when you're ready. We'll be there for you when you are."

Ginny woke, cradling her pillow in her arms, filled with a warm glow, as if Harry were still with her. "Well," she said to herself wryly, "I guess I'm not as over that as I had thought."

***

Ron Weasley did not dream about Harry Potter; he dreamed that he was Harry Potter.

He found himself in a small, dark place. He sneezed from the dust. As his eyes grew accustomed to the darkness, he saw a door. He tried to open it, but it was locked from the outside. As he waited for someone to let him out, he felt something scuttle across his feet. "Oh God," he thought, "Let there not be spiders in here. Please, no spiders."

Just as he thought he would go crazy in the dark, the door swung open and a high-pitched voice said, "Move it, boy, it's time for you to make breakfast." He nearly leapt out of the cupboard (for now he saw that was what it was) and ran after the woman into the kitchen. He stood at the stove stirring the oatmeal. When he brought a bowl to the table for Uncle Vernon, a pudgy leg shot out and tripped him up, causing the oatmeal to go flying.

"Clumsy idiot! You ruined my tie! Be more careful or you won't eat for a week," shouted Vernon. Cousin Dudley smirked at Ron while Vernon wasn't looking.

The scene shifted to a corridor at Hogwarts. Ron could tell the students were nervous about something. They were traveling in large groups, muttering and shooting suspicious looks at each other. As he walked by, they seemed to shrink away from him, avoiding catching his eye. A first-year Ravenclaw dropped a box of Sugar Quills as he passed, but her friend grabbed her arm and dragged her away before she could pick them up. An older Hufflepuff clutched an amulet around his neck and ducked into an empty classroom.

Ron remembered this incident. He had tried to distract Harry by making some stupid joke. But there was no ignoring the looks and whispers that followed him. He slumped lower into his robes, wishing he was invisible.

The dream shifted again. Ron had no idea where he was, but the air was icy cold. He looked up and, to his horror, found himself facing a Dementor. Before he could move, he heard a scream. "Not Harry, not Harry, please not Harry!"

"Stand aside, you silly girl... stand aside, now..."

"Not Harry, please no, take me, kill me instead..."

Ron heard the words, heard the unfamiliar voice. He couldn't help thinking of his own mother. He had to stop that screaming. He tried to move, but his body felt like lead. As he fell to his knees, he felt bony hands grasping at his face...

Now he was alone in the Forbidden Forest. It was quiet -- almost too quiet, as if even the birds were holding their breath. He felt as if the trees were watching him, though he could not see far through the darkness. He started walking, hoping to find his way out without meeting any of the forest's denizens.

Ron jumped at a sudden slithering noise from up ahead. Though terrified, he was drawn forward, compelled to find out what it was. As he entered a clearing, he gasped -- something was drinking the blood of a dead unicorn. The thing looked up at him and his head was seared with pain unlike anything he had felt before, pain that was intentional, pain that was suffused with evil...

Now the pain filled his entire body. It was agony almost beyond endurance. When it stopped, he was in a graveyard, looking into the snake-like eyes of Lord Voldemort. "You have been taught how to duel? We bow to each other. Bow to death." He felt his back bend against his will. "Very good. And now you face me, like a man -- straight-backed and proud, the way your father died. And now, we duel..."

To Ron's relief, the scene changed to something much more pleasant. He was flying, playing Quidditch for Gryffindor. He filled his lungs with the clean air, and took a moment to enjoy soaring above the pitch. But as he turned, he saw the Grim, the giant black dog, the sign of death...

Now he was flying to the Ministry of Magic, but he could see the thestral below him and could feel the blood pulsing through its veins...

Now he was in the Department of Mysteries, watching a spell hit Sirius Black, watching him fall backwards through the tattered veil, watching him disappear...

Now he was in Dumbledore's office, asking, "So does that mean that... that one of us has got to kill the other one in the end?"

"Death," Ron thought, "so much death. How can he stand it? He lived all this and manages to go on?"

And with that thought, the barrage of images came to a sudden halt.

It took Ron a moment to catch his breath and realize that he was in the sitting room of the Burrow. All of the hands on the grandfather clock pointed to home, and the whole Weasley clan was gathered around the fire. Ron was slightly startled to see that he was badly losing a game of wizard chess to himself. Fred and George whispered together over a cauldron belching purple fumes, while his father and Ginny giggled over a Muggle magazine. Hermione was there too, reading a large book with very small print.

Ron was overwhelmed by peace and happiness and belonging. He realized that these were Harry's feelings when among the Weasleys. Instead of taking his family for granted as he usually did, he was basking in them, soaking up the warmth. He knew that he would remember this moment for a long time.

"Maybe that's how he survives," thought Ron, and fell back into a deep sleep.

***

Dawn broke warm and clear. Harry Potter woke up, well rested from his first night of dreamless sleep in many months. He didn't feel cheerful, exactly, but he felt stronger somehow. As he stretched, Hedwig returned from her hunting and hooted cheerily at him -- she seemed to notice a difference in him as well. Harry stood at the window, stroking Hedwig's feathers, watching the sky fill with light, believing he could face whatever would come.

//
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