Harry sighed with relief, having just finished his letter to Hermione. Her concerns had mainly been the same as Ron's, although there had been a few more lines about how she wanted him to stay out of trouble, and a reminder to phone her if he wanted to talk and that she'd try and call a few times once Harry gave her the go ahead. Thankfully she was much more phone savvy than Ron, but after reading that, somehow it had made it easier for Harry to tell her where he was. All he really had to do was start with the fact that his current telephone number had changed. He'd even thrown in the phone number for the guest phone here, so she could talk with him. Richard assured it was protected with so many enchantments that it couldn't be tapped. That was the plus of magically compatible telephones. Very difficult to listen in on. So he'd finished his reply to her, and he only felt a little anxious over it, which was good.
Harry looked up from the breakfast table where he had been writing. He'd found it easier to reply out in the rest of the ward, rather than his room. It felt a little less like he was the only one who was in this situation. Plenty of good people had gone through a rough patch and were here like him.
Across the dining hall Harry could see Snape cloistered in his usual corner. So far it didn't seem like Daisy had shown. Although, as far as Harry could remember, Daisy wasn't too regular about showing up at breakfast. He wondered if she was one of those people who felt a little sick in the morning. Harry used to be like that before he went to Hogwarts and got used to eating a morning meal. For first year he only ate breakfast because he needed something to do while Ron shovelled down food - it was only after forcing himself to do it that he started to feel like breakfast was a good idea. Without Daisy, Snape sat all alone. He seemed to be staring so fiercely at his cup of tea that it was liable to burst into flames. A strange thought occurred to Harry. Maybe Snape had actually been looking forward to seeing Daisy.
Harry turned back to his breakfast plate and took a bite. As he did so one of the other patients let out a roar of indignation. Harry dropped his fork, terrified he'd offended someone somehow. Evidently it was not him that was the issue. The yelling patient Harry recognized slightly as the resident Auror. Everyone just called him The Auror, because he only hung around with one other guy and refused to talk to anyone else unless it was to bark out orders or something. The Auror wasn't having a good day, clearly. He threw his newspaper down so hard it knocked over a cup of orange juice. Healers were closing in already, ready to diffuse the situation. Harry caught Snape watching with mild interest, smirking at the Auror as though he was pleased his day was going so terribly. Harry wondered what the paper said, because whatever it had the Auror was now grumbling loudly, his words obscured by the foul slew of curses. The healers were on either side of the Auror immediately. Harry saw a healer wave his wand, and the Auror visibly calmed and was led away.
Then, as though reading the minds of everyone in the room, one of the teenage boys Harry hadn't talked with much yet (Harry suspected his name was Kyle) had been sitting nearby grabbed the crumpled paper that had been left behind. Kyle shook his head, wide eyed and shocked. Then, in a loud voice, speaking in a way that seemed to dismiss the Auror's behaviour as acceptable, Kyle said, "They've declared Sirius Black innocent."
The world broke. The newspaper was held for all to see and in black bold type the headline shattered the dining room silence.
Innocent Sirius Black is innocent declared innocent free to walk through those doors as a free man innocent -
Harry wasn't really sure how he got back to his room. He'd walked, he supposed, but he was in such a stupor he didn't care how. It wasn't something he cared about. All he could comprehend right now was that the shackles he knew so well - those shackles that held him to his ghosts and misdeeds, the shackles the others said he'd made for himself because they weren't really there and the key was his anytime he wanted it, those shackles - had clamped hard and fast on him. And they were pulling him down, deep.
I did this I did this he's gone he's gone no chance now too late -
So he had his back against the corner and that window in his room was bright and sunny and the Auror's indignation rang in his head, but it took on a new meaning. It was no longer shock, surprise, horror - no. It was a tirade aimed at him, an accusation, a pure nonstop stream of hate (make it stop, please someone, make it stop). The words were knives and they were white hot and terror-filled, just like Harry's insides, and the Auror's angry mouth was the one that had swallowed the key to the shackles and Harry would never get out and he'd only go deeper, further, darker down under to where he could never escape. Eternity for what he did. Life in prison - his own Azkaban. The shackles kept pulling, strapped to some sort of iron weight that was dragging him into a dark world where he couldn't breathe.
Sirius would be free but he's not free Sirius can never be free now because of me because of me because I did this I did this
You did this, Harry
Harry shut his eyes and rammed himself further into the corner because it was the only thing that felt solid as the layers of earth rose up around him, as the sun disappeared and the room went away and a fire off in the distance started to burn, a fire he knew was for him and only him and he could feel it already. It burned and it would never stop. Never.
He had to stop it but that was it, there was no way to do that.
Guilt - Guilt Monster he's come for me he's come for me he's come -
Severus had seen Potter flee the room the moment that the idiot teenager grabbed the paper and read it aloud. Potter had that strained look - the look that scared Severus. It was the look he had seen on his own face too many times, and notably, it had also been present on his face those weeks leading up to when he jumped. Jumped. It seemed forever ago - and he still wasn't sure if he was glad he had been caught. No matter, that wasn't what he was concerned about right now. He didn't want to think about that. But Potter had looked pretty stressed. The hollow cheeked, wide-eyed look of guilt had been a clear indicator of that. The healers hadn't noticed either as they were too busy dealing with the Auror. Only human, after all, and it wasn't like they had spent years observing the boy the way Severus had. Besides, Potter hadn't ran. He had simply walked, but Severus, having been (however much he hated to admit it) in a dark place not unlike the one Potter was probably in, had seen the stiff mechanical walk a mile away. It was a million times easier to see if you had done it yourself.
Severus really wished he could just leave Potter be, but there was this annoying little voice in the back of his head that sounded just like Lily. And Lily seemed to poke him out of his chair with a nonstop stream of "remember your promise". He owed it to her. He'd failed to keep spying to protect the kid, so it was only fair he looked out for him now in this godforsaken place. Didn't mean he wanted to, though.
So Severus left his half-finished mug of tea, thinking it was for the best (however dully he thought this) that Daisy didn't show after all.
He wasn't sure what he would find when he opened the door to his and Potter's room. So he was neither surprised nor expecting to see Potter wedged into the corner of their room. At first it seemed like the boy was crying, but a second glance revealed that there was more to it. There was blood.
There was blood on his arms, and Potter's fingernails were scrabbling almost in vain over his wrists. His nails had evidently been clipped, but even clipped fingernails could do some damage. Potter's brows were furrowed, and tears poured from his eyes. He looked so incredibly frustrated that Severus felt it himself. He knew that look (My fault my fault - Right Sev, you know that look it's yours isn't it isn't it -).
Yes. He knew that look. In that split second that Severus had stood in the doorway of the room, Potter had grown fed up with his blunted fingernails. He took his wrist, tears pouring down his face, and sunk his teeth into it, face screwed up and fury on his features. He made a slight whimpering noise as he did so, like a suppressed sob, as though he was biting down in order to stop something worse from happening. Severus unfroze, shutting the door because he knew Potter would never want the other patients to see this, then ran for him. He hit his knees (and it hurt but it didn't because he was too focused on Potter) and slid the last foot to come to rest before Potter.
"Hey, hey, stop that!" Severus said, panicking and not knowing what else to say as he reached for Potter's forearms and gently prised his right arm from his teeth.
Potter released his arm from his mouth in the same manner as someone who had been on the receiving end of an electric shock. He froze, his wide tearful eyes fixed on Snape. Potter seemed to cease breathing, shaking silently as Severus held his arms to keep him from hurting himself. The bite-mark was visible still on Potter's wrist, pale flesh and pink indentations. It must have hurt, and the scrapes now drawing blood around it probably did too, but Potter showed no indication he felt them.
Neither knew what to say, or do, but sat there, Severus on his knees and holding Potter's wrists, and Potter trembling and sickly looking.
Severus had no words, and hoped Potter would break the silence. It was at first unclear to him whether or not Potter would yell at him to get out, or do something different.
Potter's arms went slack, he bent his head low. To Severus' amazement, Potter gave in and cried.
Potter was crying. No. Sobbing.
Shit what do I do, Snape, come on! Oy, Professor, you are in here somewhere, so where are you - I need you!
What was he supposed to do? He wasn't cut out for this.
"I can go get, er, Richard," suggested Severus, aware of just how awkward this was with his hands still gripping Potter's forearms.
Potter shook with silent sobs.
"No - d-don't leave," the boy croaked.
"I-I'm scared!" Potter admitted after a moment, his voice hitching.
"You are scared?" Severus said faintly.
"Myself, you idiot," Potter snapped in a way that was so reminiscent of Severus' usual tone that he had the absurd desire to laugh. But he didn't.
"Oh," he settled for. "Oh."
"You can let go now," Potter said meekly. "I don't ... I can't ... I won't try anything with you around. I'm only bad when I'm alone."
"Right," said Severus sharply, "but before I let go, I will not hesitate to do this again if I have to. So you know."
"Thanks," muttered Potter. Strangely enough, he sounded grateful.
Slowly, Severus began to let go. Potter sniffled, and took his arms back. They were silent a minute.
"We have to get that blood cleaned up, before anything," muttered Severus, not sure what else to do. "Come here."
He held out a hand for Potter, standing up. Potter's eye welled up with tears. He looked confused, but he took the hand. Severus helped him up.
"Follow," he said curtly to Potter. Severus went over to the tiny bathroom, and grabbed one of the clean washcloths under the sink. He closed the lid to the toilet and pointed. "Sit."
Potter sat, and Severus got the washcloth damp, and added a little soap.
The blood was starting to run down Potter's arms, and there were spots on his jeans already.
"Arms," Severus asked, feeling a surge of control at last.
There you are, Professor. Good to see you. You can handle this.
Potter held out his arms, and Severus knelt before him, starting to wash away the blood with care. Potter stared at him like he'd never seen him before, and then to Severus' amazement, Potter let out a sob.
"Sorry, does that hurt?" Severus asked, letting his worry show, much to his chagrin. Why was it so much harder not to let emotions show here? Was it why he himself was here that was making being impartial so hard? Was it that his emotions hurt so much more now after he tried to ... tried.
"No-o," said Potter in a whisper.
"Alright, well, let me know if it stings too much," muttered Severus despite how stupid his statement felt as he continued to clean the self-inflicted cuts. Potter was quieter now, but it was obvious he was crying again.
Severus grabbed a clean, dry towel, and told Potter to hold that to the cuts on his arms for now. Keeping a close eye on the boy, he led him into the main room, and made him sit on one of the two small chairs that sat by the cramped table. Severus pushed his origami cranes aside, and looked at Potter.
"Why did you do that?" Potter asked hoarsely, unable to look at Severus. "The cuts are my fault. How come you didn't just ... find a healer?"
"Because you asked me to stay," said Severus, confused. Why was Potter acting like he didn't deserve anything? Wasn't Potter supposed to be an entitled brat?
Then again, Severus had also thought Potter had gotten here because someone overreacted. And look how that hypothesis had turned out. He was stunned after what he'd just witnessed. Potter was screwed up. He was screwed up good.
Although, considering what the kid had been through, Severus really couldn't call that a surprise.
"So, the newspaper, that was the trigger," Severus said slowly, not sure what to say and wracking his brains to recall what his Healer, Joseph had said. Joseph had been fixated on triggers lately. Things that brought back bad memories ... feelings. That sort of thing. No way the newspaper wasn't one for Potter. Look at the boy.
"Yeah," Potter said. His voice trembled as he did so, and his voice cracked again and he was crying, the words pouring out like he'd been holding them back all along. "R-Richard is going to be so dis- disappointed! H-He made me p-promise! I had a c-contract with him not to ... not to ... freak out. Or hurt myself. Whatever."
Potter took a deep breath, turning red after his outburst. He grabbed a tissue from the box on the little table and blew his nose noisily.
"Little steps, I guess?" said Severus, frowning and once again trying to channel Joseph. "You cannot be perfect all the time. At least that's what ... what ... my healer says."
They were silent a while.
"Potter," said Severus suddenly, a thought coming to him that he doubted a dunderhead of a teenager could come up with alone. "Black probably wouldn't have been declared innocent unless he'd died. You know that, right? The Dark Lord would never have come out in the open unless he absolutely had to. He was ready to wait a long time, so Wormtail would have stayed hiding too."
Potter shrugged. "I just ... I wish ..." Potter fell silent.
"I know," Severus said, eyes downcast. "Look, you know I hated Black, and ... you might not believe me, but I am sorry you had to lose him. There was no stopping him, though. You should have seen him, that night. I went back to headquarters to see if he was there. Once we got everyone together - and it was nearly impossible to get him to wait - I tried to make him stay. I admit by force ... and he tried to ..."
"What?" Potter asked. Severus shook his head at the memory.
"You know him, he tried to kill me, the bastard," said Severus casually, chuckling slightly to his own surprise. "Dumbledore gave him the verbal thrashing of his life, but he said it was worth killing a slimy git if it meant saving his godson."
Potter cracked a watery smile. "Yeah, that sounds like him."
"There was no stopping him. He was Black. He would have drank poison straight up for people he cared about." Severus resisted the urge to add, foolish prat to the end of his sentence.
"But I shouldn't have -"
Severus suddenly grew annoyed. He glared at Potter, as though he was trying to scare him into believing what he had to say.
"You did what you did because you are like him, Potter! Think a second! Your father and Black were the best of friends because they were so much alike. You have the same crazy protective streak as your father, and therefore of Black. You did what Black would do, so how then could he blame you when he did the same damned thing for you that very night? He also rushed in."
Potter looked at his lap, a stubborn look so familiar relief coursed through Severus. Thank goodness - here was an inkling of the Potter he knew.
"I know I have said before on many occasions that you rush in without thinking," continued Severus, feeling as though he needed to soften the words a little given Potter's state, "and that Black is guilty of the same thing. I suppose I should really say that people like you and Black, Potter, do think. Just ... differently. You decide in seconds that no price is too high for someone you care about. That really isn't pure rashness after all. Just a different perspective. It only seems stupid to people like me who cannot feel that connection. So you weren't being stupid. You were making the decision to risk everything to save him. Unfortunately all the information wasn't available to you, which I personally blame Dumbledore for."
Severus finished, Dumbledore's name coming off bitterly. He wasn't sure if Potter had heard the longing that he had accidentally infused in his words, either. The jealously he felt, the wish to have someone in his life he cared enough about to just say to hell with everything and jump through fire for. It had been a long time since then. Even his attachment to Lily - that had been one sided. Potter gave everything for Black, and vice versa. Severus just gave everything for someone who stopped being his friend when he was fifteen. It felt a little pathetic, sometimes. Maybe it was. Severus wasn't sure anymore. He wasn't even sure if failing Lily and failing as a spy had been the only reason to get him up on that tower. He wasn't sure now.
Potter fell silent, staring at his lap, thoughtful.
"It ... it was also partly my fault," Severus said quietly. "I should have been a better Occlumency teacher. I never learned it in a classroom. I just picked it up on my own."
Potter looked up sharply.
Severus looked away.
"Come on, Potter" he said to, standing up. "You have to get those cuts healed."
Thankfully, he didn't protest.
"Richard will find out," Potter said dismally, although he followed anyway.
"Well, hiding it will not get you anywhere, either," said Severus tiredly, thinking more of himself than anything. Thinking of all the years he thought about that tower and how many nights he'd spent staring into darkness only to realize he was looking in the mirror.
He always swore he would never jump. That fleeting thoughts like that were natural for everyone. Really, the words "I might be suicidal" had always just seemed too big to say, and why say them when it was only just a passing idea? But then the idea become something terrible. He wondered how long Potter had delayed saying "sometimes I hurt myself", and when blood and scars stopped being just ideas. Mostly, Severus wondered how many opportunities he'd had to spot Potter for what he was, the boy he was right now. Scared. Just scared.
And Severus was scared too, because as he walked side by side with Potter down the hall, silently accompanying him to see one of the healers even though the boy didn't ask - because he knew that Potter was too scared to go alone - he started to see that there was a huge crack in his view of Potter. Cuts and frightened tears didn't fit with the Potter he knew. Well, that was the point, wasn't it? This wasn't the Potter he knew. Then again, he wasn't the Professor Snape that Potter knew. Both of their images were cracked now.
That was just it. The cracks were there, and they would never go away, no matter how much either of them tried. Maybe it was time to let the image break. Let the cracks spread until it was just Severus and Harry, not Severus Snape - Spy, and Harry Potter - Boy who lived. Let it all break way until they were left with just two people. Messed up beyond belief, but real at last.