Ron Weasley sat in front of the muggle telephone in the garage. His father had set it up years ago. He'd wanted to send a letter, but it didn't feel right. It had been some time since he got Harry's, and he imagined it had taken a few days for the letter to get to him. His father had gotten it at the last meeting with the Order. Ron had wanted to write back for ages, but he just didn't know what to say.
Ron felt like a total scum. Why was he taking so long? He'd been standing here for ten minutes already.
Hermione had sent him a number in her last letter. It was early in the morning. The paper hadn't even arrived yet at the Burrow, and he really wasn't sure if Harry would be awake. He thought there was a good chance though. Harry was an early riser during the summer thanks to his awful relatives. He never had gotten into the habit of sleeping in. Ron hoped that this would be the case, today.
Ron yawned, tired. He had wanted to get to the telephone at a time when nobody would bother him. Fred and George didn't know where Harry was, nor did any of the others except his parents.
Come on ... don't be a coward ...
"Don't yell through the receiver this time, phones don't need you to be that loud," he muttered to himself. "Just be cool. He's your best friend still."
And that was the problem. Harry was his best friend, and Ron was terrified something he said would set Harry off. Ron knew he had a tendency to cause others pain. He'd ditched Harry all their fourth year just about, and it still sickened him thinking about it. He'd been so stupid, and so unreasonable. Sometimes he didn't quite know why he did things. And the worst thought of all, was the question that had been floating in his mind for some time - a terrible thought. What if he'd caused Harry's breakdown? What if it was his fault?
Ron sunk down on a milk crate, his face in his hands.
But he had to call. A letter would take too long now. He had to call.
It took all of his Gryffindor courage, but he got to his feet and picked up the phone. His fingers like lead, he dialled the number.
"Pick up, please pick up ..."
In the far reaches of the smoky ward, a telephone rang. It echoed eerily in the deserted hallway, no hand reaching for the phone to answer.
Morning came in a dizzy blur for Harry. He vaguely remembered Snape picking him up and carrying him. His pyjamas smelled like smoke still, and he couldn't figure out where he was.
Harry moved slightly, his head still hurting, but feeling much better than it had the previous night.
"Here, take this," said a voice.
"'Fessor Dumbledore?" muttered Harry, opening his eyes from where he lay.
"Yes - the potion is for your headache," said Dumbledore quietly. He looked sad. Harry did as he said, and he took the potion.
"Where's Snape?" Harry asked, confused and rummaging around for his glasses. Someone had taken them off.
"Your healers have agreed to come to you for sessions for the next little while," said Dumbledore. "He is with Joseph now. Richard will be here a little later to visit with you, Harry. I'm afraid he has a few other clients to see as well. The fire hit everyone quite hard."
Harry realized that Dumbledore was holding Harry's glasses out to him. Without his glasses, Harry could make out the depth of the wrinkles on his face, the sadness in his eyes. Everything else was blurry. He took his glasses from Dumbledore.
The smell of the building was familiar. Harry's heart sped up. He was almost afraid to put his glasses on. Dumbledore's face was a warning of what was to come, for the sadness and worry etched in his features was a sign that truly worried Harry.
Cautiously, he put them on.
An ancient tapestry came into view. The moth eaten carpets and sofa that Harry lay on sharpened.
Harry shut his eyes tightly.
"No," he whispered.
It was childish, but he wouldn't open his eyes. Tears ran down his cheeks.
"I am so sorry, Harry," said Dumbledore hoarsely, sounding like he was ready to cry too, to Harry's amazement. "It is the only place secure enough."
Harry rolled over and pressed his face into the pillow.
No, no, it can't be. Sirius ... Sirius ... just like you, look at me, trapped in this place trapped in this Hell why did you leave me how could I have done this to you I trapped you in death I trapped you - or did I free you is death an escape maybe but
That's not what I'm supposed to think about no don't - I'd never be serious just wondering is death an escape or is it a punishment ... which is it? Which is it Sirius I need to know I did this to you -
Severus felt like he hadn't slept in months, and the world seemed to move in reverse as Joseph flipped a page on his clipboard.
"The newspaper is going to come out with it," muttered Severus. "Everyone will know about me."
"And how will that change things?"
"It's going to change everything," Severus said, sinking down in the threadbare chair. "Dumbledore might not let me have my job back."
"Has he said anything about that?" said Joseph calmly.
"No," said Severus, "but I know he's thinking it. Parents won't want ... someone who ... someone like me to teach their children."
"Hmm. Just for a moment, Severus, I'd like you to think of a time when Dumbledore defended you instead. When it would have made more sense not to."
Bastard. Of course he knows that. Everyone knows that.
"H-He didn't have to even hire me, in the first place," Severus whispered, refusing to look at Joseph, because he could feel the edges of his eyes prickling. "But he did."
"I bet that made people talk."
"Put your trust back in him, and I think Dumbledore will surprise you," said Joseph. "He does not tend to care whether people talk or not. Oftentimes gossip is hateful and unwarranted anyway."
Joseph went silent, and Severus felt emotion well up inside him, like a column of hot magma pushing up against his throat.
"I could never trust people," said Severus. "Even as a child."
Severus picked at the sleeve of his dressing gown. He shrugged.
Joseph waited, patient.
"I'd listen to my parents yell every night," Severus explained suddenly. "And my father would yell at me every night when he got drunk. And then sometimes, he'd try to make up, and say that I meant something to him. The second I thought it was going to be okay, that he'd changed, he'd come home again and he'd ... he'd do the usual ... push me into walls and stuff. Tell me to get the fuck out of his way. Go get lost. You know."
"How did that feel?"
"Horrible," said Severus, breathless. "But ... you know what was worse?"
Severus rubbed his chin, feeling the stubble on it, trying to calm his racing heart. Trying to push away the feelings.
Don't feel don't show it never feel never -
"I ... I remember lying in bed when I was about ten," Severus said, his voice shaking, his legs feeling numb. "And ... and I just remember thinking I, I don't know, thinking that I wouldn't make it."
"Wouldn't make it - how so?"
"I just ... I don't know if I thought I would ... die, but I guess I kind of did," Severus said, trying to understand it, trying to understand those horrible nights lying awake in bed, the rare silence when his father was at the pub permeating the air. "I just, I got the sense I wouldn't live long. I didn't think I would be the one to do it, but I thought that somewhere, someday soon, something would happen to me. Maybe get hit by a car, or something. I - I don't know. But I could never picture it. I just ... it was like a sixth sense. A feeling. More than a feeling, it was a fact I just knew."
"And then you didn't die," said Joseph quietly.
"No ..." Severus said. "I didn't. You know ... sometimes it scares me, just how ... already dead I was, as a child, you know?"
"Sometimes ... sometimes as a little kid would wish I could fall asleep, and never wake up. I didn't think of it as dying, really, I just thought ... I wish I could fall into dreams. Live there forever, away from here. Or just close my eyes and see black and not think, like what happens at first when you sleep, before the dreams or nightmares.
"How fucked is that?" Severus said, hands in the pockets of his dressing gown, slouching in his chair and looking off into the distance. "It's ... it's f-fucked."
He rubbed his eyes with his sleeve.
"It was a natural reaction to a terrible environment," said Joseph. "But I'm so sorry you had to go through that. No child should have to feel that way."
Severus sniffled slightly.
"You know what?" Severus said. He paused, thinking.
"I think that's why I joined the Death Eaters," whispered Severus. "I didn't believe in The Dark Lord. Not really. I guess, maybe, I hoped that I just ... wouldn't make it. Well, a lot of it was that I was ... scared of my father, and Lucius Malfoy was one of the first people who sort of took me under their wing. He said I didn't have to put up with arseholes like my father - I told him once, a little about what it was like at my house. I was older then, sixteen. He sent me letters after he finished school. He was fifteen when I started, but he was like an older brother for a while. We visited sometimes in Hogsmeade. He'd come by when I got to go on school excursions there.
"And then when I started spying, I never thought I'd survive that either."
"So when you finished spying ..." Joseph began, pausing so that Severus might interject.
"Couldn't see any other end," muttered Severus.
Joseph nodded, his forehead creased, a troubled expression on his face. "That must have been a hard realization, that you'd been hoping all along to die."
"It was," Severus said, feeling oddly relieved to finally say it aloud. "I'd never stopped to think about it, really. Until I was in the hospital wing."
"Naturally, your survival would have brought those thoughts to mind. I am glad you have chosen to share them."
Silence fell for a minute, and Severus' head felt like a whirlpool of thoughts and emotions. Despair fell from above, and a question he'd spent so many nights asking himself forced its way from his mouth.
"How the hell do you recover from that, though?" Severus asked, his words bitter, dull sounding, "I've spent almost my entire life wishing I hadn't been born. Even as a child. How can you even ... how can you even being to ... I don't know ... go on?"
He shook his head.
"Find purpose," said Joseph. "The greatest challenge there is. Everyone needs a purpose, it's what we all strive for in the end. I think for you, a good piece of advice would be to live for others for a while. Once you have proved to yourself someone needs you, you can start to live for yourself as well. It worked for me, years ago."
"What?" Severus said, surprised.
"You heard me," Joseph said.
Severus looked at him, stunned. For the first time, the person in the chair became human, not just a Healer. It took him a moment to realize it, but the sensation growing in his chest was trust. That was one of the first personal comments Joseph had made. Severus found he liked him more for it.
"I can see you have been helping Potter out," said Joseph. "That's good. It will help, I think."
"It ... it is," said Severus. "I feel well, like you said, needed."
"I think you're the type who has to live for others first, too," said Joseph. "Keep working on that relationship in the next little while. You two have a great deal in common, I think. Is there anything else you need to discuss?"
Severus rubbed his eyes.
"I'm exhausted," he said.
"Alright," said Joseph. "I think we'll end there then. Contact me by fire if you need me. I will be here tomorrow as well."
Severus left soon after, deciding he might as well go see if Dumbledore was still around. Surprisingly enough, he was not. There was a note in the kitchen from Dumbledore, though, saying that he had gone to quickly meet with a few Order members to discuss round the clock guards for Grimmauld Place.
No surprises there ...
The clock struck eight AM. Severus was glad he had gotten a chance to talk with Joseph so early this morning. He hadn't been able to sleep much anyway.
Severus went into the sitting room to make sure Potter was still there. The boy was asleep Severus went over to the sofa. The pillow was damp, and there were tear tracks still on Potter's face. Perhaps it was his fatigued state, but the sight struck him harder than anything like it had before.
He sunk down to sit on the edge of the sofa, resting by Potter's side. Potter's hair was sticking up again. Hesitantly, Severus reached forward to flatten a strand of Potter's hair. Potter didn't move, and the hair didn't stay in place. Potter let out a small, weighty sigh, and Severus removed his hand quickly. Luckily, he did not wake up.
Severus remained there, sitting on the edge of the sofa next to the sleeping Potter. He looked around the room, taking in the horrible, dreary decor.
He sighed, and got up carefully. He fetched the blanket that had fallen on the floor, and covered Potter up.
"I wish I could do more ..." muttered Severus to himself. "But I guess we are stuck here."
As he did so, Severus heard the door open, and Dumbledore call out a hello. He left to go meet him, leaving Harry peacefully sleeping.
To his surprise, Dumbledore was already waiting in the kitchen for him. He mustn't have wasted any time, for he already had conjured a cup of coffee, which he pushed toward Severus. Severus took the cup and sunk down at the table.
"Albus?" Severus said, alarm going through his chest. "Is something wrong?"
"I am sorry, Severus," muttered Albus. "I tried."
It was only then that Severus saw the newspaper in his hand, rolled tightly. Dumbledore unrolled it and placed it on the table
POTTER AND SNAPE, MENTAL CASES!
Potter's breakdown and Severus Snape's attempted suicide revealed
Severus froze, his heart seemingly ceasing in beating.
Potter will know now.
Harry was jolted out of sleep by a clattering sound, like a dish being dropped. He shot up on the couch faster than he could process where the sound had come from, which in a moment, he came to realize had been the kitchen. He got up, put his glasses on, and left to go looking for the source.
The source was a coffee cup, which had fallen to the kitchen floor with a clatter, leaving a line of coffee on the floor. But that was not what drew Harry's eyes. Snape was at the table, his face buried in his arms. Dumbledore stood before the table, a newspaper spread out across it. Weak in the knees, Harry collapsed into the chair next to Snape.
"Harry, it's going to be alright," Dumbledore said quietly, but Harry could only stare at the headline. It diffused through his brain slowly, each word sinking in at a different time, jumbled and making no sense at first.
That's why you're here, sir, that's why you ...
No ... no, wait, Potter's breakdown ...
Breakdown Breakdown BREAKDOWN
Harry's head swam, and his eyes welled up, and his stomach clenched.
They know, they all know they know
The picture below the headline, of Harry and Snape, exhausted in the field with St. Mungo's and emergency workers all around. The picture, that picture. The picture that never should have been taken. The fire that never should have started, and only now did Harry realize it couldn't have been an accident, that this was planned. Snape had known last night. He'd known. That was why he had looked so sick ...
Harry looked at Dumbledore. He felt like he'd been crushed beneath a boot, like his heart had stopped and his body would shut down any second for the sheer disappointment.
You failed me. You were supposed to protect me ... you failed me
Harry's eyes welled up. But he didn't cry. Not yet.
The final crack to his fortress of the glass, the final blow that made him break down, came from Snape.
Snape started to cry. Muffled, heart wrenching sobs into his arms. And then Harry was crying too, and he didn't know how to stop. So there they sat, the two of them breaking to pieces like they'd done too many times before, Dumbledore watching over and stumbling for words, saying that he was going to do what he could to fix it. That it would all work out, that they would still be allowed back at Hogwarts when they were ready, their places waiting.
But none of it mattered, and Harry only cried harder, because he finally understood something else. The headline had finally made him understand he wasn't alone. Sure, he'd been very certain Snape wasn't just in hiding, but this was real now. The word suicide burned across his mind, and his heart ached not only for himself but for Snape.
They were in this together now, or maybe they had been from the start. It had all gotten confused to Harry, and he tried to think of how this was going to be okay, but he couldn't. He couldn't think of a single way to fix it, so he stopped trying to, just for a moment. He gave himself permission to just grieve. And right then, if just for one night, he would let himself fall apart in the kitchen with Snape, because if he had learned anything at Oak Tree, it was better to fall apart with someone else than to fall apart alone.