Ron lay in bed, staring at the low ceiling in his room. His stomach burned from lack of sleep, and his face was lined with worry. His mother was crying downstairs, and the newspaper had been stuffed away out of sight. It had arrived shortly after Ron's call failed to reach anyone. He guessed he knew why now. He wished he'd stayed in bed longer. Not because he was upset he tried to call Harry and it had been a waste of time, but because he wished he didn't have to know what had been printed in the paper. He should have slept in. Then he could be oblivious, like Ginny, still sleeping upstairs.
Finally, he couldn't stand it any longer. He got up and he went downstairs, creeping into the kitchen.
"Mum?" he asked quietly, and she hastily wiped her eyes on her apron. She was in the middle of baking cookies. It was nine am.
That's what Mum did when everything went wrong. She baked.
"Yes, dear?" she said, turning around and giving him a watery smile.
"Can I visit Harry soon?" he asked. "I mean, can you talk to Dumbledore and see if I can?"
His mother nodded, her eyes welling up, but no words came from her lips. Then, to Ron's surprise she leaned forward and pulled him into a hug. She held him tightly to her, and Ron returned the embrace. His chin rested on her head now. He'd grown the past year. The acidic feeling in his stomach left for a moment, and he took a deep breath. She smelled like spices and flowers, just like always. He closed his eyes, and let her tell him that everything would be okay. He missed the days when he could fully believe that, but it was nice to hear it anyway.
He wondered how Harry got by, with nobody to tell him that.
Severus walked into the kitchen to make himself a cup of tea. He was taking a break from doing a potions themed crossword puzzle. Joseph had given him a whole book with them. Severus had acted fairly aloof upon the presentation of it, but in reality, he was quite pleased by it.
The kitchen appeared empty, until he heard a crunching noise.
"Potter, are you in here?" he asked, unnerved. As he spoke the crunching sound stopped abruptly.
Where is your wand when you need it ...
The noise had sounded as though it was coming from under the table. Hesitantly, Severus lowered himself down to peer beneath it. What he saw surprised him greatly. It also forced him to suppress a small laugh.
Potter was sitting up against one of the table legs, a knitted throw wrapped over his shoulders and a carrot in his grasp. On his lap sat a large book, which had diagrams of Quidditch pitches. Potter looked like an owl caught in a beam of wand light.
"Potter, what are you doing?" Severus asked, suppressing amusement with difficulty.
"Reading ... and eating," Potter said, frozen, the carrot hovering an inch from his mouth.
"Under the table."
"Why?" His question was not rude, but curious. Severus brushed some of his long hair out of his eyes, which had gotten in the way do to the angle he was bent over at.
"It's ... er ... it -" Potter stumbled over words.
Potter stared. "Yeah."
"Naturally," Severus said, nodding. "Carry on." He made to stand up, but Potter stopped him.
"Sir, wait -"
Severus bent over again, peering with scrutiny at Potter. "What now, Potter?"
"How ... how did you know that's what I meant?"
Severus felt his limbs stiffen, and for a moment, he and Potter just stared at each other.
Remember remember what Joseph said this is good this friendship relationship whatever you call it don't back away don't be a coward, give a little get a little come on Severus why are tables safe? One more thing to add to the argument to Dumbledore.
Despite the fact that he really wanted to flee the room at the thought of this question, Severus spoke.
"My parents used to fight a lot," Severus said, and it was like the words were coming from someone else's lips, someone else's heart and somehow he didn't feel the cold stone kitchen floor and the world around him seemed wrong and his heart was throbbing - stop it just stop it heart you're going to waste away before I can live you'll waste all your beats stop it - and Potter, for a moment, just stared. "My ... my father drank too. So, the table ..." Severus let his words drop off, and his eyes flickered around the room.
"Oh," Potter said, eyes downcast. "Sorry to hear."
Severus nodded - stop that heart stop it stop it slow down slow down but what about you Potter come on, ask him Severus just ask he won't tell you unless you ask you're seeing Dumbledore any day -
Then, the silence ended, and to Severus' amazement, it wasn't his voice that broke it. It was Potter's.
"My relatives," said Potter, his words so quiet Severus almost missed them, "they didn't like me underfoot when I was little."
Severus scowled. "Petunia hated having me around too. Called me a freak a lot."
Harry snorted bitterly. "Sounds like her."
Harry. Severus brushed his hair out of his eyes once more. And again, he could not help but ask who this boy was. How could you have thought you knew him, Snape?
"I imagine she is quite awful to live with," Severus said dismally, frowning. Potter had heard him, but he seemed to not wish to elaborate on that. After a moment, however, Potter spoke.
"Sir, you know how you said a while ago that you were friends with my mum?"
Severus' mouth was dry, so he could only nod.
"What was she like? You never really got a chance to answer last time I asked."
Severus looked up, catching Potter's eyes for a moment before looking away. "A lot like you, actually. She was noble, and brave. A little hot-headed. You come by it honestly, really."
Harry smiled. "Will you tell me some stories about her, sometime?"
Hand leaning on the table, his head just below the surface, he observed Potter for a moment. Sitting there, the book in his lap and blanket over his shoulders, wide green eyes behind glasses. It was the strangest expression he had seen on Potter's face in all the time he had known the boy. Or at least, he had never seen it directed toward him before. It took Severus a moment to realize that it was hope.
"Yes," Severus said, and he let himself smile slightly, something he wasn't in the habit of doing. Potters' response was silent, but the look on his face told it all, and for a second, Severus saw neither Lily nor James, but Harry. "I still have some old photos of her and I as children. I'll dig them out and show you when I can get them from Hogwarts."
Severus left Potter to resume reading under the table. He forgot his cup of tea altogether, as well as the crossword puzzle.
To Harry's surprise Professor Dumbledore slid out of the fire at quarter to two, ash in his beard. Harry looked up from the craft supplies he had strewn about the sitting room. Richard had left a box of supplies and books, and one of the books had instructions on how to make a Quidditch pitch and figurines, as well as spells on how to make the players fly and listen to commands.
"Ah, good to see you are keeping busy, my boy," Dumbledore said. "I received a letter from Molly the other day. She said that Ron would like to visit sometime, and as I was on my way over today, I thought I would check if you would like him to come by today."
"Yeah, that would be great," Harry said, putting the cap on the glue.
"Excellent; I shall confirm it with Molly then," said Dumbledore. Harry waited patiently while Dumbledore put his head through the fire. When he emerged, he beamed. "Young Mr Weasley will be over soon. Now, I have some business to attend to. You wouldn't happen to know where Severus is, would you?"
"Reading in the library, I think," Harry said, returning to gluing tiny bits of straw on the model of the Firebolt he was making.
Dumbledore's soft footsteps could be heard going upstairs. As they died down, the sound of the fire roaring met Harry's ears. For a moment, he was afraid to look up. How would Ron act? He hadn't written back since Harry sent the letter. What if he was angry, or disappointed, or thought Harry was weak?
"Hey," said Ron.
Harry looked up. Ron had his hands in his pocket, and his head ducked slightly. They stared at each other for a moment. Ron grinned, and then Harry felt his own smile emerge.
"Hey," said Harry.
"Sorry I didn't write back," muttered Ron, looking sheepish. "It's just ... nothing looked right on paper."
"You're forgiven," Harry said, shrugging, but not losing his smile.
For a moment, there was a silence.
"What are you making?" Ron asked.
"Sit down, and I'll show you," Harry said, rolling his eyes.
Grinning, Ron threw himself down on the sofa, and Harry proceeded to pull out the box of tiny Quidditch players he'd been making out of paper, little broomsticks of sticks and straw to go along. Ron seemed quite impressed, examining every inch of the players carefully.
"Richard's going to help me charm them so they fly too," said Harry. "Or I'll do it when I get to school. Depends when I get back to school."
"Who's Richard?" Ron asked curiously, examining a broom Harry had made.
Harry paused, fidgeting.
"Boyfriend?" Ron smirked, glancing sideways at Harry.
"Ron!" Harry spat. "I am not gay!"
Ron let out a peal of laughter, to Harry's amazement. "I know you're straight. I'm just being an arse."
Harry shook his head, but he couldn't help but laugh a bit. The joke set him at ease, somehow. "Nah ... he's a Mind Healer."
"Sounds like a cool guy," Ron said without missing a beat, still examining the broomstick. Harry paused for a moment, thinking.
"Yeah, anyone comes up with this stuff is awesome," Ron said, gesturing to spread of Quidditch figurines all across the coffee table.
"He is cool," Harry said. "I like him."
"Do projects help, with well, things?" Ron asked, although this time his words were hesitant.
"Keeps me distracted, I guess," Harry said with a shrug. "Makes things easier to have something to work on."
"Did you see the Prophet?" muttered Harry, crumpling a small bit of construction paper between his fingers until it was a tiny ball.
Ron scoffed. He proceed to call the Daily Prophet some exceedingly rude names, to Harry's delight. It was obvious he'd been waiting for Harry to bring it up so he could rant a little.
"Dumbledore's trying to figure out a law suit," said Harry.
"He better be." Ron looked mutinous, and Harry felt his chest warm slightly. "If he doesn't I'll find a way to sue their saggy -" Ron's words dropped off, like he was too annoyed to even continue.
Harry laughed. "Thanks, Ron."
"Trouble is, I'm not sure how much I want him to," Harry said. "I mean, wouldn't it create more trouble than it's worth?"
"Well, those bastards have to pay for what they did," Ron said. "How did it get out anyway? If you don't mind me asking?"
Harry was surprised there had been no word of Snape yet from Ron. He imagined that it must have been creating a lot of strain in Ron not to ask about that. Harry got the sense that Ron thought better to.
"Nah, I don't mind," said Harry, shaking his head. So he began, telling Ron all about the Auror, and his friends. How the dog didn't have to sign a confidentiality agreement, how technically the Auror hadn't told anyone about who was there, just invited people, which was perfectly legal under the agreement, as all people who came in had to sign agreements the bases were supposed to be covered in that respect. So for the moment he was untouchable. Even if he probably orchestrated it.
"So Snape said today that Dumbledore's trying to get a suit against the reporter who was in his animagus form," said Harry dismally. "Apparently he's unregistered, so that's a huge fine, right there. And if we convict him of using it for a crime, he might have to serve time somewhere. So if Dumbledore gets our testimonies and can get them so they're valid in court we might get him. Then if we can get him on that, we might be able to nail his friend too, who signed the agreement. Then through them, maybe, we can tie the Auror to it."
"But, you'll have to testify for that," Ron said, frowning.
"Yeah, except who's going to believe me - I was in a mental ward," Harry admitted.
"But you aren't crazy," Ron said, and the frankness with which he spoke reminded Harry just why Ron was his friend. "It's called stress. Doubt what you're going through means hallucinating, right?"
Harry frowned. "Yeah, no hallucinations."
"So what you saw has to be correct, and yes, it'll suck, but I think you should testify if it will help the case," said Ron. "Show everyone they can't mess with you. But it's your choice. I'll be behind you either way."
"Thanks," muttered Harry.
They fell silent a moment.
"What's living with Snape like?" Ron asked.
Harry rolled his eyes. "I knew you'd ask that."
"Sorry, just got to make sure he isn't messing with you," said Ron sheepishly.
"We get along, weirdly enough," said Harry. "He's actually good company sometimes."
Ron seemed to sense not to press the subject, although by the way Ron's mouth grew thin not unlike McGonagall's, Harry could tell Ron was having trouble processing the idea. Instead of continuing the subject, however, Ron fished around in his pocket for something. "Exploding snap?"
"Sure." Harry grinned. "Kitchen table's clear."
They were just finishing the first game (in which Harry had royally trounced Ron) when Snape came it, his nose in a book.
"Potter," he said amicably. "What is the cause of the racket?"
"Exploding snap, sir," said Ron, as Harry was in the middle of chewing one of the biscuits Dobby had brought by.
"Ah, a Weasley, I should have known," said Snape, setting his book off to the side. Harry had to shift his chair to catch the title. It said: A Wizard's Guide to Muggle Law. Where he got it, Harry had no idea. It definitely wasn't from the Black's library.
"I thought you were talking with Dumbledore," said Harry curiously, dealing another round of cards out.
"I am. However, for once he decided to listen to me and has his head in the fireplace at this current juncture, consulting someone. Of course in order to do that, first he had to pull his head out of his ar-" Snape glanced at Ron for a moment, frowned, then let his words drop off.
"You didn't hear that, Weasley," he said, snatching up his book and leaving the room with a glass of water.
"What the hell kind of discussion are they having?" Ron let out a laugh, seeming utterly giddy at the thought that Snape had nearly sworn in front of him.
"No idea," Harry said.
No ... no I forgot - what if he's telling Dumbledore - what if he's trying to tell him what he thinks is going on? Remember, you remember don't you, Harry? Snape and Daisy on the bench ages ago talking about it, talking about how Snape was worried, how he got it finally how the pieces clicked that everything wasn't okay at home for Harry how he'd been blinded to it before -
That's it that's why he's been trying so hard to talk with Dumbledore - they aren't talking the Auror suit they're talking about another kind of justice. No, no what will I say what will I say -
"Your turn, Harry," Ron said, oblivious to the cascade of fear that had flooded Harry's limbs and made his eye stop seeing the cards in front of him.
Ron won the second game of exploding snap, and after that he said he had best be getting home for supper. He said he'd come by another time if Harry wanted, and Harry said yes.
Ron left with a grin and a wave, his red hair standing out starkly in the green flames created by the floo powder.
Harry sat down on the sofa, staring at the little players on the Quidditch pitch, arranged with care and all in formation, like they were waiting for a game to start and the strategy to begin.
He lay back, staring at the cobwebby ceiling of Grimmauld place.
Harry really didn't know why, but he felt like he was falling. He wished he could understand why he sometimes felt like this, how out of nowhere it was like the world had decided to fall apart. He was glad Ron had come, but the good didn't cancel the bad that so suddenly welled up inside him.
Maybe it was the idea of what Snape was probably talking about with Dumbledore. Maybe it was being in this house, and knowing that the Black family tapestry was behind the gold and red wall mural that it had been disguised as by Richard. Maybe it was just the cracks built into Harry's foundation. Maybe he was just broken. Defective.
Was that it? Was he just defective? Was that why these fits of sadness fell on him with heavy drops, like a summer storm that came out of nowhere? Harry examined the scars on his arms, and he traced the angry red marks like they were maps that would lead him to an answer.
His skin burned and he wanted the pain and the blood and the way his arm burned fire red and his heart stopped hurting he wanted it and he hated how sick he was to want that because it wasn't something you should want and he could admit that now he could admit he needed to stop that he had a problem. Harry's heart was bursting and he couldn't think and he wondered if Dumbledore had finished his meeting with Snape or if he was still here but right now that didn't matter (what caused this, Richard said there were triggers but what brought this feeling on Harry didn't know, not yet). He needed distraction. He had to stop this feeling and there was no getting away from it but to get away from himself, from being alone to not alone, where someone could say I get it I know and Snape did get it sort of, he did he tried to kill himself after all (he really had, the paper said and did you see the way he reacted to that headline I've never seen him look like that -)
Harry wrapped his arms around his chest and he made himself get up from the sofa. He ran to the door, and he rubbed his eyes on his sleeve as he did so.
"Professor Snape?" he asked, the rooms sliding by as he searched. "Where are you?"
The fire burned inside, and Harry's eyes smarted, and rooms went by again and again. Then, at last, he saw the grey socked feet propped up in one of the side rooms, the library book stacked at by the armchair and the empty room without Dumbledore (the clock struck seven) and when Snape looked up from his book in surprise Harry felt the cool rain starting to lower the flames.
"Are you alright?" said Snape.
And maybe Snape saw it, the animal look in Harry's eyes, the arms crossed by his chest, the white fingertips, and the damp sleeves.
"You haven't hurt yourself, have you?"
The question was a surprise to Harry. Snape's words were quiet, not angry. Just there.
Harry shook his head, leaning against the door frame. Snape looked relieved.
"Well ... sit down. You're making me anxious." Snape's words were gruff, but Harry knew this was his way of saying it was going to be okay.
Snape pointed to the lumpy sofa, which was devoid of books. Harry threw himself onto it, curling up and putting his head on one of the worn-out pillows.
Snape looked up from his book again. "Did something happen?"
"No." Harry stared into the fire. "Just feel ... I dunno."
Snape sighed slightly, but it wasn't an exasperated sigh. It was more an appreciative sound, like he knew exactly what Harry meant.
To Harry's surprise, a soft weight hit him in the feet. Snape had thrown a frayed denim quilt at him, folded and thick.
Harry stared for a second, but Snape was reading again.
He grabbed the quilt and pulled it over himself. It was heavy, but comforting. He tangled his hands up in it, keeping them tightly in place, and drew in a deep, shuddering breath.
"Thanks," Harry said.
"Mhm," Snape replied.
They remained that way a long time, the quiet sound of Snape turning pages filling the room.