Severus lay in bed that night, listening to the sound of Potter's soft breathing coming from the other bed. The shadows from the window cast long, sinister shapes on the floor and walls. The gentle outline of the drawing taped to the wall met Severus' eyes. He'd only taped it there this evening. Before he and Daisy had said goodbye so that Daisy could go to one of her sessions, she'd run off to her room to grab another picture. She'd told him she was sorry the Auror had ripped up the other one, that she doubted Severus did anything to deserve that.
Traitor traitor traitor -
It was a beautiful picture. A single pine tree, raggedy, needle-less branches drawn by the edge of a deep, charcoal lake. It was a sad picture, but at the same time, it wasn't.
Severus caught himself sighing, and fell silent abruptly in the midst of it, thinking.
Daisy flower in the garden, running through puddles, smiling. Stirring coffee sadly at breakfast. Why ... why did you sit near me? Why did you have to sit near me? God, why?
Severus had actually made a friend, it seemed. What a strange thought that was. And amazingly, he'd actually had fun visiting with her, walking through the garden, coming back in rain-soaked, and shivering as they folded paper cranes in the craft room. He could still see her fingers, delicate and pale as they creased the blue paper, how the shadow of her blood vessels graced the back of her hands, pale blue and pink underneath that smooth skin. The ghost of life just beneath the surface. Ghosts. Severus knew ghosts. He knew ghosts better than anyone he knew. She felt like one now as he stared at the picture her warm hands must have drawn. At the moment though, he couldn't imagine them doing so.
He didn't understand what brought Daisy here. Why she was here. How she could seem so normal, for the most part. Most of the time she appeared to be fine. Then, there were mealtimes, when she seemed to retreat behind a veil and stare into coffee cups like they could be read. She was a mystery. Just like that pine tree, sitting out by the lake, and how every other picture that she'd pulled from her sketchbook and showed Severus when he asked was nearly identical. Always the same, but with little variations. Thicker branches, spindly branches. Moonlight, no moonlight. She said it calmed her, and he'd watched as she'd half-heartedly scribbled in the sketch pad over lunch while he tried to talk to her about books, but right then she seemed different. Different, for a few moments. But why, he couldn't tell. Still, she was good company anyway.
Severus took another glance at the picture on the wall. He'd had fun with Daisy today. He'd made a friend, hadn't he? Hadn't he decided that already? Making friends was supposed to make people happy, right?
Then why do I feel ... like this.
Cold. He just didn't understand it. The healers had looked at him with a smile when they saw him talking with someone, talking with Daisy. It was the kind of smile that comes when they start to think you're saved, and it made Severus feel sick. Was he really saved? No, no of course not, nothing nobody not anyone could save him. He couldn't be saved because his chest felt like a sack of straw. His heart, a lifeless piece of paper being creased and reshaped by frail, veined hands. But it could only ever be paper because that's what it had learned to be. Just paper, and nothing more, so the warmth that heated it only kept it out of the cold for a moment, because it had no way of making heat for itself. Severus tried. Severus tried so hard for a spark, some warmth, but nothing came.
I should be happy. Someone thinks I'm interesting. She's even ... even ... well, she's different. Good different. How come I feel nothing?
Severus got up out of bed, and sank down in the wooden chair nearby. The room was still, stuffy. Potter snuffled slightly in his sleep, and then fell silent again. The room might as well have been empty.
Empty empty empty -
He closed his eyes, and let his vision fall away. He didn't sleep, but he dreamed anyway of towers, and earth and marble and the name Prince and frail skin and paper cranes, and he spent the hours wondering when Daisy would admit she'd talked to the wrong man. When she'd walk away and leave only bare branches and charcoal behind.
The night went by this way, until he crawled into bed at last, and thankfully, slept.
Mornings were different. They were weird. Severus never really understood how you could wake up and it was like iron bands were torn from your chest and suddenly everything felt almost alright. Almost. So he felt okay, all of a sudden, and it seemed like it shouldn't have been real. But it was, and he knew it because after that second of pure, fresh air, a trickle of staleness tainted it. It was simple, just one thing. Dumbledore. Dumbledore was planning to visit this afternoon, and Severus hadn't had time to prepare what he'd wanted to say to him. He couldn't have that meeting. Not yet.
But Severus knew exactly how he was going to fix it. He was going to fix it. He didn't care anymore. The idea was there and it would make it very hard for Dumbledore to take part in a visit if Severus pulled it off. Severus knew that he shouldn't put his idea into action. He knew it would get him in trouble but right now he wanted nothing more than to do something against the rules. It was like a sharp, strong craving for a food he hadn't tasted in a very long time. This yearning, aching feeling had risen yesterday, and it had yet to cease. He'd ignored the call to mischief before in his life, but his time, he wasn't going to ignore it. Because he had a mission now. A purpose. A reason and a task he had to complete. Rules be damned. He'd done everything Dumbledore asked him since he came to work at Hogwarts, nearly everything. Now, it was time to do the opposite. It was time to wreak some havoc. Conduct anarchy and live, damn it. His stomach filled with a rebellious fire, and he was ready to fan the flames until everything burned.
Like a film reel memories flashed in the back of his mind. Bullies, hate, smashed whisky bottles, broken bones and walking like you thought the floor would break any second. Voldemort and Dark Marks and losing best friends and the tallest tower up up up the stairs and never planning to go down them again everything. Everything pressed in on the backs of his eyes like an explosion, all of it, the memory of being afraid to take a step or open his mouth, or do anything for god's sake lest it bring the world down again. Sit down. Be still. Be a good boy, or Daddy's going to be mad.
Fuck that. The fire was burning. The day was young. Severus had his plan, and he knew how he was going to bring it about. He would have to time it exactly right. The fuzzy confusion of the night before was gone, and now, his head was clear.
It was a simple prank, the idea he had in mind. It was mostly harmless, but somehow, it seemed like the solution to everything. Like a grand monument to show that he wasn't going to sit still like he was told while everyone tried to plan his life. Maybe it wasn't just that. Maybe it was some kind of strange desperation. A shout to the world in the hopes someone would look and see that he was still a mess inside, even though the Healers seemed to think they were saving him. Maybe it was just a way of saying to Joseph that he was scared to face Dumbledore but didn't know how say it. Joseph wasn't stupid. He'd see the connection, but Severus didn't care. Severus wasn't going to think about that kind of reasoning, however. He as just having a little fun, right? That's all he wanted.
Look at you, now, Sev. Been a good boy too long now, huh? Can't catch me now, Tobias you snake. Forget rules. Forget order.
Besides, why put up with order when everything was disordered inside, anyway?
Good. This was good.
Purpose. Purpose I have purpose - nothing left to lose and who cares if they catch me anyway.
Dumbledore can't own me I don't have to listen to him I don't have to not anymore not ever.
And his heart was beating. Beating harder and stronger than he'd felt it in a long time. And right now, plans in his head and the promise of something, anything but this mundane life he'd been forced into since the end of his spying duties, it felt good. It felt really good.
It had been a slow day for Harry. Late afternoon was approaching. After sending the letter to Ron yesterday, Harry had felt halfway anxious and halfway relieved. His stomach pinched a little even now when he thought of it, and he'd wanted to open Hermione's letter this morning. Well, sort of. He wasn't sure if he could do it right now, and then after spending an hour worrying he realized that he would be okay if he didn't touch the letter today. That he'd be just fine to open it tomorrow when he felt a little less worried over it. Maybe if he gave himself permission to take a break and come back to it when he was ready, his head would be clearer. Harry figured that had to be better than stressing over what he would say to Hermione all day. He had pitched the idea to Richard this morning, after visiting with him for a minute or two when they'd bumped into each other on their separate routes. Richard liked that idea. He'd said that it was a smart decision, a very mature one too, for it showed Harry understood that he had limits and needed to take a break sometimes.
Reminding himself again of their early morning conversation, Harry swirled some of the paint on his paper, feeling less guilty over not writing back soon as he thought of Richard's words. He looked up from the piece of paper, which had a messy combination of purple and orange slopped onto it. Stephen, opposite him, paused with his dripping green hand over top the painting. Harry fought yet another laugh, unable to believe that his friends were probably doing summer homework while he was sitting here and finger painting with someone who also happened to be sixteen. Stephen said they might as well have some fun with the painting, and everyone in Oak Tree was crazy anyway so why not finger paint?
Their laughter was cut off by the sound of an alarm, which wailed loudly and drowned out the noise in the craft room. Silence fell among the occupants of the room.
"What's that?" Harry asked over the alarm, feeling his stomach twist with the fear that someone had broken in. His carefully cultivated peace was shattered, and he looked around with apprehension, trying to see what the matter was.
"Attention everyone," said a voice over the loudspeaker in the ward, the wailing noise halting now that everyone's attention was focused, "the resident goat has escaped the courtyard -"
"There's a goat here?" Harry said with a laugh, relief flooding through him.
"Yeah," Stephen said. "Spells keep it off the herbs. I met it when we were gardening. Usually it's kept tied to some sort of picket pin so it can graze and keep the grass short. Maybe someone let it out?"
"- currently been trapped in the reading room. We ask that you please return to your rooms immediately while we herd it back into the courtyard. You may leave your activities without clearing them up, so long as you return to do so when we announce that you may. Thank you, and sorry for any inconvenience."
Harry looked at Stephen for a moment, and for a second they simply stared, before bursting into peals of laughter.
"S-See you Ste-Stephen," Harry said, trying to speak through his laughter as they filed out of the craft room, making sure to rinse their hands before they did so.
Stephen, face red with laughter, just waved breathlessly.
Harry looked around, wondering where Snape was. Although, considering his usual routine - which was either lie in bed, read in the room, and on rare occasions, leave - Harry was willing to bet he was already in the room. Of course, he had spent some time visiting with Daisy yesterday, oddly enough.
"Harry, my boy, how are you?" said a voice.
Harry, about to enter the men's hallway with the rest of the crowd, looked over to see Dumbledore standing in the mouth of the visitors' room.
"Professor, what are you doing here?" Harry asked, gritting his teeth slightly and ignoring the question.
"I was going to visit with Severus, but considering the fiasco they have going on, I think that plan is dashed. Could you tell him that I will send him a letter so we can reschedule? Also, I left a box of things for him at the front desk, tell him to get it, will you?"
"Erm, okay," Harry said, wondering if that was why Snape had been a bit grumpier off and on the past day or two. "Bye sir."
"Take care, Harry," said Dumbledore, and Harry had to resist the urge to make a face as he turned his back on Dumbledore, and went into the men's hallway, giving a lazy wave in Dumbledore's direction as he did so.
Harry wrenched the door open and went inside the room, shutting the door behind him a little louder than he'd intended. Snape was sitting in one of the wooden chairs in the room. Interestingly enough, his feet were propped up on the foot board of his bed and he was leaning on the back chair legs, looking amused for some reason.
"Guess who I ran into?" Harry said, gritting his teeth.
"Dumbledore?" he said almost cheerfully.
"Er, yeah," Harry said. "How did you know?"
"He said he was coming to visit. Did you talk to him?"
Snape moved his legs so Harry could get past to where his area was. He propped them back up and resumed balancing on the back chair legs like a teenager. Harry stared.
"Er, yeah," Harry continued, "he said he's sorry, but with the whole goat escaping thing he'll have to come back another day. He says he'll write so you two can arrange a different time to meet or something."
Snape nodded and chuckled darkly, fishing around in his robe pocket for something. He was wearing the same unnervingly cheerful expression that Harry had observed on him when he took house points for menial offences.
"That goat could not have picked a better time to escape from the garden," Harry said, making a face and sinking down on his own bed and leaning against the headboard, having kicked his shoes off. "The old coot probably would have wanted to see me too or something."
"Clever goat, indeed," said Snape, now chewing on whatever he'd pulled from his pocket. "Care for some mint?"
Harry stared at the bunch of freshly picked mint in Snape's outstretched hand. To Harry's amazement Snape was holding back laughter. Harry's eyes widened in shock.
"Professor ... did you -"
"Did I what?" Snape said, but he was smirking as he put the bundle of mint back in his pocket when Harry made no move for it.
"No way. You broke the rules? You!"
"Ten points from Slytherin, I suppose?" Snape said, letting his chair fall to its four legs with a sharp snap, a mock look of guilt on his face. He chewed the mint some more with a look that Harry could only describe as cocky.
"And you say I'm a rule-breaker!" Harry said, torn between amusement, shock, and respect.
"Only because you are," Snape said, rolling his eyes and pushing back on the chair again.
"I don't mean to get into trouble," muttered Harry.
"And neither did that goat, but look at all the trouble it's going to be in. What a shame."
Harry really couldn't stop himself from breaking into laughter. "You really are a hypocrite, you know. Everyone thinks you must have been the most rigid student ever when you went to Hogwarts."
"Did I ever say that I behaved while I was a student?"
"Well, not to me. You always said my father was such a troublemaker, though. Which ... was true."
"Very true," Snape said, eyes glazing over slightly. "Although ... I suppose it takes one to know one. Even if he was a prat."
"Who are you?" Harry asked, shaking his head.
"Finally realized that Professors have lives, did we?" Snape said scathingly, carefully selecting another piece of mint.
"We do have lives. And contrary to popular belief, Professors are quite capable of misbehaving. There, I said it. And nobody will ever believe you if you say what happened today, contract of confidentiality or no. Beautiful, isn't it?"
Harry just shook his head.
"You can't let a goat out every time Dumbledore comes to visit though," Harry said, amused. "They might get wise about it. And you say I have poor planning skills."
Snape's grin faded.
"Sorry," Harry muttered, looking downward. "Just thinking aloud."
"Well, I suppose I'll have to save the next time for a special occasion," Snape said airily, getting up out of the chair to grab his book on the side table. He opened the book and settled in to read, which Harry took as the signal that their conversation was over.
"Sir?" Harry said hesitantly.
"What do you want?" Snape peered over the top of the book, his brows furrowed.
"That was really cool." Harry grinned.
"Oh. Er ... thanks."
Snape lifted the book up again, and Harry thought he saw a slight smile disappear behind it. It wasn't anything like the one Snape got from taking points. This one was different. It took Harry a moment to decide how, but after some contemplation, he realized it was because this smile didn't set him on edge.