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Don't Look Back by TenthWeasley
Chapter 1: Mirror, Mirror
4 July 2000
People had started to flock to the center of the village even earlier than normal on Tuesday, the day of the last round of that year’s Devil’s Duel. Even the clanking of chains and the shuffling of feet, both sounds having come from the direction of the Grotta, had started a full hour earlier than Claudius Ptolemy had remembered from each of the four previous Tuesdays. He couldn’t blame them, any of them; he himself had slept fitfully last night, at best. Not since the circumstances surrounding the Duel two years previously had the town been as remotely anxious about the competitors, and before that – well, he couldn’t really remember when.
A warm breeze whistled through the stands, which were fit to bursting now, and snapped the green-and-gold bunting with whiplike cracks. He didn’t like that he could hear it; that meant that the stands themselves were deadly silent. Claudius raised a hand and wiped a bit of sweat from his brow, though he couldn’t tell whether it was from the heat, or from the fact that he knew that one of the two men in front of him wouldn’t be coming back.
Every year, he tried to act unfazed. Every year, it sobered him more than he liked to admit. But he had an audience; his duty was to them.
“This year, the rounds of the Devil’s Duel will take place in mirrors. Mirror realities: Real places, real time, but in a Cliodna’s Clock that will seem parallel to the one you’re standing in now.”
Claudius opened his eyes and turned them eastward. This year’s stands had been brand-new, the entirety of the previous year’s Duel having taken place on the beaches of Cliodna’s Clock, with the spectators watching from private watercraft. A large mirror had been built into it, and it now reflected the sun setting in the west in brilliant shades of scarlet and gold and violet. He had watched the numbers diminish every week inside that mirror, the screen through which the rest of the village had watched every round thus far. The first one had taken place inside a parallel of the woods on the outskirts of Cliodna’s Clock; oddly enough, last week they had competed within a mirror image of Odo’s pub, which had been a bit interesting, to say the least.
There was a restless shuffle from those clustered in the stands now, and he could feel them all watching him, waiting for him to make his move. He raised his wand to the base of his throat, settling the tip just under his jaw, and muttered, “Sonorous.”
The competitors stepped forward from the shadow of the stands; Claudius cast his gaze backward briefly. Cliodna, eyes ever shadowed by her balaclava, nodded once, giving him a grim little smile that contained no traces of humor.
“Ladies and gentlemen!” Claudius’s voice rumbled through the stands; the mirror at the opposite end trembled in its frame. “This is it – the last Tuesday of the Devil’s Duel!”
Cedric Diggory squinted up through the stands, trying to catch a glimpse of any familiar face – just one. He wished he had thought to ask where his mother and father were sitting, but in any case, it was much too late for that now. For some reason, the features of all the villagers ranged along the seats had been turned into one solid blur by the sun behind him, or the odd glint it made off the giant mirror at the other end.
His stomach was roiling with nerves; he thought that it would probably be a miracle if he didn’t empty its contents onto the ground beneath his feet, sloping gently down toward the center like a giant basin. He didn’t know why it did that, come to think of it; probably something to do with the acoustics, so Cliodna’s Clock could hear the voice of Claudius Ptolemy in even more prim, perfect clarity than his Sonorous Charm already offered.
Frankly, he was quite surprised they had let him enter the Devil’s Duel again. The Daily Departed had had a field day when he and Amos and Portia had returned once again to the village, with absolutely no indication of where they had gone. And they were continuing to keep their mouths shut, too, which no doubt irritated many of the village citizens. But fair was fair – and in any case, there had been no one to take his place.
He just had to make sure he won it. He had come too far to throw the competition now, because throwing it at this stage meant a lot more than wandering back home with your tail between your legs. He wasn’t about to make his parents watch him die a second time.
He jerked his mind back to Claudius now, as he had begun speaking, his face plastered into a wide, self-satisfied grin. Git, Cedric thought idly.
“Competitors, approach the mirror,” he said, and Cedric lifted his chin in a show of bold bravery he absolutely and completely did not feel. The sun was warm on his cheeks as marched to stand in front of the huge mirror; he couldn’t see his reflection in it, though he was sure it would have dwarfed him completely. His opponent stood a little ways behind him and to the right, just out of his line of peripheral vision.
“This round will be like the others in many ways,” Claudius was saying now. Cedric glanced back at him over his left shoulder; he had stayed where he was, turning slowly on the spot as he talked to the villagers, as though he had made it his mission to speak to each of them in turn.
There was a hiss from the section where the Grotta prisoners were sitting, but everyone ignored it, as always. “There will, of course, be a change in location…” He made a broad, sweeping gesture in the direction of the mirror, and as one, everyone’s heads turned toward it, Cedric’s included.
But something was off: This was normally the point when the mirror shimmered, when a bit of Cliodna’s Clock – the woods, the pub, the beach – faded into existence, as though the mirror were water that was returning to normal after rippling. Instead the stands remained where they were, as solid-looking as ever.
And then he saw it: There were no people in the reflected stands. Which meant…
“You will duel inside this very stadium,” Claudius was saying proudly; there was a murmuring among the seats, general approval evident in the rising and falling voices as they realized, as Cedric had, what the unchanged image meant. “Your task is simple: Be the first to read aloud the words on the slip of paper in the middle of the pit.”
Claudius flicked his wand at the mirror, and a different image wavered into view. Two scraps of parchment lay fluttering on a small table that now stood in the middle of the depression in the ground, which had filled with water, though the ground around his feet in the real world – this world – was dry as bone.
He frowned. This is too easy, he thought, but didn’t dare say it aloud. He had come too far to be seen as a coward now, not when his opponent was probably evaluating his weaknesses already, trying to make sense of them… He wanted those twenty-four hours on Earth too badly to give them up now by underestimating the challenge before him.
“All spells are fair game – except, as always, anything Unforgivable.” Claudius was still talking, shooting his audience wide, dazzling smiles; Cedric had to remind himself to listen for what must have been the hundredth time, just since entering the stadium. “Just be the first to read your parchment – and don’t get slowed down by the interference.” He looked back and forth between Cedric and the man standing just behind him, the man Cedric would be competing against. “Are you ready?”
What interference did he mean?
Cedric whipped his head back around in the direction of the stands –
The faces were a blur, and they could be the last sight he’d ever catch of Cliodna’s Clock –
He turned back towards the empty stadium, towards the table and the parchment and the water-filled pit and whatever bloody interference meant –
And before Cedric could make a move, Severus Snape was already running through the mirror.
The mirror displaced you when you ran through it; you never ended up where it looked like you were running. Severus knew this, had prepared himself for it with the four previous rounds of the Devil’s Duel, and yet it was still a slight jolt to his system, ending up on the bottommost row of the north-facing stadium seats. He wavered for a bit, nearly pitching headfirst off them, and yanked his wand out of an inner pocket of his robes on instinct.
All was calm.
Everything looked as it had, standing in front of the mirror, back in Cliodna’s Clock – he had quickly learned not to think of these reflected places as being part of the village. That was what Gellert Grindelwald had done, and that was what had gotten him subsequently eliminated out of the first round. He had to stay focused, he had to get to the parchment, and he had to stop the Diggory boy from getting there first.
As though thinking about him had conjured him out of thin air, Cedric Diggory appeared on the stands opposite where Severus stood. He was less steady on his feet, and slipped, one knee collapsing under him and making a loud sound on the wood of the bench. Severus smirked. This will be easy. He took a step off the bench.
There was a loud sucking sound from the shallow pit in the middle of the stadium, as soon as his foot hit the rough, rocky ground. He stumbled back in alarm, watching the surface of the water tremble, as though the ground itself were shaking. Interference, he thought, striding intentionally once more for the edge of the pool. Something wavered at the very edge, a boulder or a –
Or a human head.
Cedric, who had gotten his feet under him at last, watched as Professor Snape (it was hard to think of him as anything else, despite the fact that, for all intents and purposes, they were equal here) stopped walking for a second time. His eyes were trained on the edge of the water-filled depression, his wand clutched tightly in his hand.
Then he, too, heard the sucking sound; his eyes traveled downwards, his stomach feeling as though it had dropped out the bottoms of his feet. His own wand was still in the back pocket of his jeans, all but forgotten as his eyes slowly made sense of exactly what had made Professor Snape come screaming to such an abrupt halt.
In the course of his studies, he had only come across a mention of them once; that description had not been graced with a picture. He could see why now. Cedric didn’t think there was a soul alive who would be willing take a picture of an Inferius, or indeed, who could survive long enough to take one.
It was this less-than-comforting thought that was pounding its small, insistent fists against his head as the Inferi emerged from the lake, their clothes and the long, ratted tangles of dead hair on their scalps dripping with water from the thin pond. He scraped his wand from the pocket of his jeans at last, running a fevered hand through his hair and trying desperately to think of the one instance he’d heard of Inferi before. What were you supposed to do when you came across one?
“Expelliarmus!” he roared, pointing his wand at the creature in front of him and knowing, even as he did so, that it wasn’t going to work. The animated corpse closest to him caught the brunt of the spell; it staggered and pitched to the ground, its fingers digging into the dirt, but those behind it plowed on as though nothing had happened. There was no emotion, no pain – nothing behind their pearl-like eyes.
He did the only thing he could think of – he turned and ran for the stands, parchment in the middle of the lake all but forgotten.
The Inferi on Severus’s side of the pond were behaving similarly, and he was having about as much luck as the Diggory boy at holding them off. Without uttering a single word, he slashed his wand across the air in front of him, lips pressed firmly together, and a jet of purple light flashed between them. The Inferius crumbled, and with a small puff of air, vanished altogether.
The corpse behind the one Severus had just slain opened its mouth, and a small gush of water issued forth; he fought back a massive wave of nausea and revulsion. But as he raised his wand, prepared to vanquish it just as he had its fellows, a rough, sandpaper-like whisper emerged from its throat.
He looked up, and did a double take, stumbling backwards so fast that he nearly tripped over the hem of his robes. Severus’s wand slipped from his fingers, rolling a few feet to stop dangerously near the shore of the miniature pond, but he barely noticed it.
These were no ordinary Inferi – and he felt a flush of rage at the same time as a burst of realization at just what interference truly meant. These weren’t obstacles so much as they were mind games.
Cedric could no longer hear the slight splashes and liquid noises from where he had found a place to escape the Inferi, though he could see them still, peering out from where he was crouched behind a section of stands halfway up the arena. He sank to the floor, breathing heavily, and trying to will his mind to think of something.
He could handle this. Hadn’t he faced this sort of stuff in the Triwizard Maze, after all? It was true that nothing in the maze had been quite so… creepy. There wasn’t anything you could compare to seeing walking dead, after all – but he could do this. It just took one spell, that was all…
Cedric squeezed his eyes shut, trying to think, but his brain seemed to have gone fuzzy. He swore under his breath and dropped to a sitting position. Perhaps he could let Professor Snape handle all the Inferi, and while they were busy with him, he, Cedric, could get to the table… but even as he thought it, he knew how cowardly it sounded. He’d never win that way.
There was, quite suddenly, a horrible scraping noise, flesh on wood, and Cedric’s eyes jerked open, knowing the worst even before he did. The odor of stagnant water mingled with something else he didn’t want to name, and then he saw them, down on a lower section of stands: The Inferi were smarter than he had given them credit for. They were dragging themselves up the stairs, looking for him…
He didn’t stop to think anymore; his brain had already proved itself fallible enough in this round. He yanked himself to his feet, scrambling for his wand as it tipped precariously on the edge of the footboard where he’d been sitting, and whirled around.
His heart plummeted; his mouth had suddenly gone very dry. The Inferi had crept up with frightening speed. Cedric trained his wand at it, trying to pretend his wand arm wasn’t shaking as badly as it was; for some stupid reason, the only thing that was coming to mind at the moment was the Bubble-Head Charm, and he didn’t really think these living dead people had any trouble with breathing under water.
The word popped from his mouth before he could stop it. “Dad?” he croaked; the world tilted violently, and he stumbled for balance, though even as he did so, Cedric could tell that it was all in his head, really.
Amos Diggory couldn’t be an Inferius, because he was watching his son compete, back in Cliodna’s Clock, on the other side of the giant mirror… He could not be here, dripping water, lunging forward beyond his own volition, because that volition was no longer alive.
Amos jerked when Cedric said the word “Dad”, but nothing else happened. Behind his father (except it wasn’t his father, it wasn’t, he had to keep telling himself that) a second Inferius was scaling the rough wooden planks that made of the steps of the stadium. Even through the slight touches of death on her person – mottled skin, blank eyes – he could tell exactly who she was supposed to be, too. Cho Chang’s name formed on his lips, but no sound came out.
Interference. Now he understood.
“CONFRINGO!” Cedric roared – it was the first spell to come to mind. He didn’t even aim his wand correctly, and so plummeted downward as his wand, limp by his side, blasted into action. The planks of the stadium crumbled to his feet, little more than dust, and he smacked his arm against one of the supports as he fell.
Severus looked up at the immense crashing sound that had come from Diggory’s side of the arena, but he couldn’t pay much attention to it. He had realized just what he was battling: His father was no more merciful in death here than he had been back on Spinner’s End, for the brief time he had lived there at all.
Tobias Snape reached a hand for his son’s forearm, and Severus sidestepped it, bringing his wand down hard and reeling from the bright pops of light that shot from the end of it. Avery, one of his old classmates from Hogwarts, fell back as Tobias stumbled into him.
They were all his friends and family, the Inferi; Severus could see now what Claudius had meant earlier, and why the task was much harder than it had appeared on the surface. His dark eyes flicked over to the table in the middle of the miniature pond; it seemed so far away now. If he could clear a path through the Inferi just long enough to reach the island, dry land in the middle of the corpse-infested water, then he could do it…
Cedric scrambled to his feet, more wood splintering over his head, raining down small pieces that stuck fast in his hair and his jumper. He shook himself free, nearly slipping on a loose board, and leaped onto one of the raised benches where Duel spectators would be sitting, in a parallel reality. And he did what Claudius had said, what he had always said: He began to run.
His feet slapped against the wood, and he could hear the uneven, sloppy rhythm of feet behind him. Cedric didn’t dare turn around to see if it was his imagination or not; half-turning, still running, he threw another Blasting Curse behind him.
The air exploded. He felt himself somersaulting in air, the firm, sturdy wood beneath his trainers lost, and heard the sharp, cracking explosion that meant the stands were collapsing behind him. Cedric’s head smacked something hard; bright stars swam at the corners of his eyes, and he fought for consciousness –
The ground rushed to meet him. He didn’t want to know how far he’d fallen, how long he’d taken to get there, but that was definitely grass under his head. Cedric rolled over onto his stomach, and clenched his right fist; his fingers closed around the wood of his wand, and he nearly fainted again, this time with relief.
Severus was ankle-deep in the water of the pond, and looked up as another Blasting Curse, much larger than the first one, tore through the air, almost as though ripping it in two. Diggory flew through the air, as though he weighed nothing at all, a tiny birdlike silhouette. Severus smirked, though he knew he shouldn’t have, and it was at that moment that something caught hold of his robes.
It didn’t take long, that diversion of his attention, but it had been enough.
With a hard yank, Severus’s foot skidded out from under him, and he fell to his knees in the shallow water with a dull, heart-sinking splash. Yet another Inferius peered up at him from beneath the water, rising as slowly as it possibly could, peering up at him with luminescent eyes through lank, damp red hair –
“No,” Severus moaned, scrambling desperately for his wand and already knowing he wouldn’t be able to use it. Not against her. In a distant corner of his mind, one still clinging to reason, he knew this wasn’t really Lily Potter, but his emotions had ruled his life for too long, where she was concerned.
“Your eyes, Lily,” he whispered. He reached out a hand towards the Inferius. “What have they done to your eyes?”
Across the water, Cedric’s vision was swimming; he shook his head slightly, trying to clear the lights from the edge; they still clustered there, lingering from the hard blow he’d taken to the head. His eyes fixed on a dark form across the sunken pool, sitting at the edge of the water. There was no sign of Amos or Cho, or any of his own personal Inferi.
Sucking in great gasps of air and trying to regain the breath that had been knocked from him, he scrambled to his feet, boosting himself into a standing position with his knees and wood-scraped palms. Professor Snape didn’t move. He scrabbled to the edge of the pond and pointed his wand at the water.
“Forus!” From the depths of the water, as though they’d been waiting there all along, wooden planks rose to the surface, lashing themselves together of their own accord with thick black ropes.
Severus watched Diggory conjure his bridge, the boy’s own Inferi nowhere to be seen; the Blasting Curse had worked, however temporarily, and he didn’t need to hold them indefinitely. If he got to the parchment first, then it was over, it was all over…
He turned his eyes back to Lily. He had made his choice.
Cedric hopped from the bridge onto the island, the table within reaching distance now. He turned his eyes again to his old Potions professor, crumpled at the edge of the water-filled indent, and hesitated.
A slapping sound from behind him ricocheted through the air; his Inferi were back, swimming through the pool, apparently much less shallow than it had appeared at the first. Bloated fingers grasped at the bridge’s edge, and a corpse rolled onto the bridge.
“Don’t look back!” Cedric whipped his head back around in the other direction, so fast the little stars at the corners of his eyes flared up again; he staggered, nearly splashing into the pond. Professor Snape was staring at him; their eyes met for a brief instant.
Cedric launched himself at the table without thinking, his hand outstretched – closed it on smooth parchment – and he almost laughed at the bitter taste of the word on the paper.
The world went black.
Claudius was already on the other side of the mirror when Cedric Diggory and Severus Snape emerged back through it, both without a scratch on them – the mirror was kind that way, fixing up whatever injuries you sustained while inside it. Portia Diggory reached out a thin, fragile arm as soon as she could get through and clutched her son to her, fighting tears. Claudius couldn’t tell whether she was happy that Cedric had won, or horrified at the sight of her husband as an animated corpse. A bit of both – that was likely.
Nobody stepped towards Severus. He stood alone, erect and cold, looking at the villagers swarming about him in the frenzied excitement that always pervaded the end to another year’s Devil’s Duel. His gaze caught the announcer’s own, and the disgust he found there was nearly staggering.
“Ladies and gentlemen, our grand champion!” Claudius screamed, unnerved all the same by that look. “Mr. Cedric Diggory!” He grappled through the crowd until he found Cedric’s arm and hoisted it high above the boy’s head, and Portia burst into a round of fresh sobs. On the fringe of the group stood Amos, looking very much as though he didn’t know whether he was allowed to congratulate his son, as it had appeared as though he’d just tried to murder him.
Claudius stepped closer to Severus. “And, as is custom,” he rattled off, knowing the small formalities by heart, “Mr. Severus Snape will have twenty-four –“
“I don’t want it.”
Where before there had been joyous chaos, there was now silence; it was eerie, how quickly it had descended on those assembled. Claudius was speechless for a moment; this had never happened before, not in the history of the Devil’s Duel. No one had ever refused to prolong the Vanishing.
“Your good-byes –“ the announcer stammered, but Severus cut him off again, coldly.
“I have none to make.”
There was another flustered silence; Cedric was looking at his old professor as though he might be making a joke, though it couldn’t have been more obvious that he wasn’t. The boy’s gray eyes swiveled back to Claudius.
“I – well –“ He turned, and Severus watched him, searching for Cliodna. She, too, stood on the fringes, opposite Amos Diggory. She gave a short, perfunctory nod of her head. Claudius turned back to Severus, unnerved, and stepped back, allowing her through.
She pointed her wand at him, and just before her lips formed the incantation, Severus found Lily in the crowd. He was relieved to see that her eyes were green again.
And he was gone.
As soon as Cedric had had his twenty-four hours on Earth, the Diggorys had disappeared again. People talked about their reappearance, and subsequent disappearance, for months afterward. Dilys Derwent was of the very staunch opinion that he had come back to prove himself worthy of the Duel, as he had been unable to do in the maze while living, and her theory was the most popular amongst those who gathered at Odo’s to discuss it.
No one felt truly comfortable talking about the other one. And as time passed – if time ever passed as normal in Cliodna’s Clock – Severus Snape gradually faded from the minds of those left behind, save the owner of one pair of very green eyes, and the second man to ever fall in love with them.
A/N: Well, as you have probably guessed by now, this is fan fic of a fan fic -- a story set in the magical universe spun by my very dear friend Sarah, better known as Toujours Padfoot, in her incredibly successful novel, Run. This story is meant to take place two years afters its events, but I don't pretend to have done things nearly as brilliantly as she did. I hope you have a very merry Christmas, Sarah! Thank you so much for being my number-one fan, support system, and mutual lover of all things manchild; I don't like to think of where I'd be without you. I love you!