Harry had been close to breaking down that evening, the night that everyone was finally out of the hospital wing after the fiasco at the Ministry. Hermione had asked him how he was. It was a simple question, but Harry had almost lost it right there in the middle of the Gryffindor common room, because he knew that this was her discreet way of asking how he was dealing with Sirius' death. It had taken every ounce of strength on Harry's part to say that he was getting by alright. The truth was, he was not. He was an utter wreck, and upon reflection, he almost wished that he could have broken down right there, in front of everyone, because even the embarrassment would have paled in comparison to how he felt inside now. Of course, the problem was that he knew very well that he had no right to cry, for Sirius went to the Ministry to save him in the end. It was for that reason that he was killed. If Harry had not have had that vision, Sirius would still be alive.
At first, Harry had tried to blame Snape, as his occlumency lessons had been useless, but after a while, even that proved difficult. Harry had begun to think that maybe those lessons would have been useful if he had just listened, and practised like he was told to. As well as this, however much he wanted to, Harry found no way to blame Dumbledore either, for he tried to prevent such tragedy by arranging the occlumency lessons. So, Harry was left with nobody to blame but himself, and no matter what the others said to him, all he could pay attention to was the holes in their arguments. It was for this reason, this guilt, that he promised himself he would not cry for Sirius, for he knew it to be selfish to cry out of want for someone he led to death.
This promise was one that Harry kept. In fact, he kept it surprisingly easily. Harry had noticed that his friends seemed surprised at how well he was taking Sirius' death, for they foolishly believed that his stoic demeanour meant that he had accepted what happened, and was moving past it. But that was alright. He did not tell them why he was so calm and composed. He didn't tell them how he closed his eyes so tightly at night that he could not possibly cry. He didn't tell them how easily the numbness fell over him, until his wish for his sense of feeling to disappear came true. And before his friends could begin to spring the topic of Sirius' death on him, summer was upon them. The joyful prospect of two whole months stretched before everyone but him, filled with warm evenings and late mornings, green trees and the beauty of the season.
Perhaps that was why he was almost happy to return to the Dursleys'. He did not have to appreciate the beauty that they saw in the world, for his was mostly colourless. Harry would not be bothered by questions from his friends, and nor from his relatives, for Mad-Eye had threatened the Dursleys, and Uncle Vernon dared not speak to him, let alone give him any chores to do. So he stayed in his room, the blinds down, the peach walls closing in on him. He only dragged himself out of his room long enough to nearly drown himself in the shower, or grab an apple from the kitchen. Both were really only out of habit, and neither of these habits lasted long; Harry would take one bite out of the apple, only to gag on the taste of food, and after a while even getting the energy to turn on the shower seemed impossible. So, in time he just gave up both, and stayed in his room, lying on his bed and staring coldly at the ceiling. He didn't think of Sirius, or anything besides the horrid colour of the walls. He was getting very good about thinking of nothing. It was of course, only then that that Harry realized he had finally learned to clear his mind. Oh well. He hadn't been bothered with visions in ages, and it was no wonder, what with the amount of time he spent staring at the walls. It was quite monotonous, but Harry wanted that. The colour peach could not possibly remind him of Sirius.
A week and a half into his stay at Privet Drive, however, something occurred that broke up the monotony. He hadn't really heard his bedroom door creak open, or maybe he did, but just didn't care. He was lying upon his bed, on his side and staring at a chip in the paint, not bothering to see who it was that had opened the door. Uncle Vernon was at work, so it could not possibly have been him. Dudley had gone to terrorize the neighbourhood with Piers. It was impossible not to hear Dudley and his gang leaving, what with the racket they made. Therefore, it could only have been Aunt Petunia. Under any other circumstances, Harry might have asked her what she wanted, but this time he didn't have the will to do so. He hoped she might think he was sleeping, even though his breathing wasn't deep enough, and his eyes stared blankly. If it weren't for the numbness that had settled in his chest, he might have been surprised as the squeaky mattress on his bed descended slightly with the weight of a person sitting on it.
"Harry," began Aunt Petunia, sounding awkward and out of place, "what happened?"
He did not bother to respond.
"It's just that ... this isn't like you," she muttered.
"How would you know?" Harry replied flatly, not bothering to look at her, still staring at the walls. Harry guessed she was probably biting her lip at his comment. She did that a lot.
"Is ... is there something you want to tell me?"
Harry hoped she would take a hint from the silence he gave her.
"Alright. I made some chicken soup. I'll bring you a bowl."
"I'm not sick."
"I know," she muttered after a rather uncomfortable pause. Silence fell once more between them.
Harry wondered why she hadn't moved yet. He was amazed when he felt her tense hand settle on his shoulder. It was meant to be comforting, but all it did was make Harry's muscles clench. She took her hand away quickly, and clearing her throat, she got up and left. The room was quiet for a little while, but after a moment or two soft steps across the floor announced her presence again, and with a light clink she set something on his desk. Aunt Petunia left after that, closing the door, and leaving Harry in peace. Only once he was sure she was gone did he roll over onto his other side.
He stared at the bowl of steaming homemade chicken soup upon the desk. There was a neat little stack of crackers next to it. After a moment of indecision, he reached for one, dipped it in the hot broth, and nibbled on it. He put it down quickly. It tasted like everything he had never had.
Cold. He was cold, despite the fact that steaming cauldrons had filled the dungeon room with a damp heat. Perhaps it was the shooting pain in his left arm, far more invasive than it normally was. He was on his knees in his lab, the pain threatening to take over as his heart filled with a poisonous chill. Severus Snape stood up shakily, taking advantage of the moment between the waves of pain. He stumbled over to the fire, and tossed a handful of floo powder into the flames, which he stumbled into once they had turned green.
"Headmaster's office!" he gasped, clutching his left arm, his palms breaking out in a cold sweat despite the warm flames licking his side.
He arrived in a whirl, barely keeping his feet as he emerged from the fire.
"Severus," exclaimed Dumbledore in surprise as he looked up from a pile of paperwork. "He is calling?"
Severus nodded, breathing heavily.
"It is not going to be good," he said, voice slurring in pain. "I have a terrible feeling about this one, Albus."
"Where will it be?"
Snape closed his eyes for a second, and amidst swirling blackness he got the vague outline of a large building. His senses were suddenly overwhelmed by a dusty sweet smell. He recognized it immediately. Sometimes, when Voldemort's call was stronger than usual, and you knew how, you could tap into the magic that was meant to take the wearer of the mark to the destination. This occasion was one of those, and Severus informed Dumbledore hastily of the place he believed he was being called to.
"Malfoy Manor," he gasped. "I'm sure of it."
"Good luck," said Dumbledore, his eyes betraying a hint of worry. "I shall wait for your return. Should I have your potions kit ready?"
Severus nodded, beads of sweat now forming on his forehead. He pitched another handful of floo powder into the fire, and threw himself into the flames. This time, when the fire roared to life, he appeared in a fireplace in the room off the Great Hall. He barrelled out of the doorway, past empty tables and out into the Entrance Hall. Out into the damp, starless night he ran, the sound of thunder rolling across the sky. Lightning lit the path down to the gates, and with a clatter he threw them open. They clashed together loudly behind him. The crack of Severus apparating was lost in another crashing roll from the sky.
When the gates of Malfoy Manor clanged shut behind him that old, familiar sense of terror rose inside him, the same sort of dread he had remembered feeling as a child when his father came home from the pub. Despite the fact that everything here felt so wrong ...despite the fact that the ground hurt more than he could say as he was cursed onto his back, he did not show an ounce of fear. It was the only thing left to do, for dignity was all he had ever had.
That night, storms rolled all across Britain. Lightning streaked the sky, and with every booming clap of thunder Number Four Privet Drive trembled from the very foundation. The cold bowl of soup rattled on the desk every time the walls shivered from the raging storm. Harry watched the flashes of lightning dance across the ceiling in his room. The house was stifling hot, and he lay on top of the covers, one hand resting on his bare stomach. He brushed his sweaty hair out of his eyes, thinking deeply. He couldn't make sense of how Aunt Petunia had treated him today. It was almost as though she had reached the point where she was actually starting to worry about him. In some, small part of him, he wished he could have told her what had happened, and how much pain he had hidden away within him. The thought of what he had done engulfed him once more, but again, knowing no other way of dealing with it, he squashed all of the pain far into the depths of his self, and all the feelings that came with the memory. It was better to be numb, he he told himself, even if he knew somewhere deep down that this was not true. But every day, a larger part of himself had started to believe that numbness was better. Perhaps that was what Aunt Petunia had started to see - that cold, blank expression on his face. She had seen him only a few times when he went across the hall to the bathroom, but clearly she had started to uncover the fact that something was very wrong. Harry wasn't willing to admit she was right, however. Maybe he wasn't happy like this, but the absence of feeling was better than pain.
He had so little will to react to anything that he didn't even jump when thunder exploded above the house, sounding exactly the same moment as the light reached the corners of his room. Aunt Petunia let out a terrified screech from across the hall, and light crept under Harry's door, probably coming from his Aunt and Uncle's room. In the spaces between the thunder Harry heard Uncle Vernon reassuring Aunt Petunia that they were going to be alright. The lights flickered and died as the power went out. Harry rolled over onto his side and closed his eyes. Now, despite the heat, he felt cold. He shut his eyes tightly, forcing his tears away.
For a second he was aware of the sudden tingling sensation in his fingers and toes, and then as it rushed up and took over him, a deep, almost tangible darkness descended upon his senses. Thunder crashed in his ears, but no light reached his eyes as he was plunged into a strange sort of nothingness, and he knew no more.
The floors of Malfoy Manor shook as thunder crashed and rain leaked down into one of the stone dungeons, creating tiny rivers to wash away the crusted blood on the stones. Flashes could be seen coming through the grates high up in the walls where the water was flowing in. Severus was lying on the damp, cold stone floor, but the chill could not take away pain that was left by a different kind of hot lightning that had streaked down his spine only moments earlier.
"CRUCIO!" screamed the Dark Lord yet again, descending on the traitor with a vengeance.
Severus had long ago lost count of how many times that curse had been screamed since he had arrived. The streak of hot fire from the sky and the light from Voldemort's wand crackled at the same time, and again, Severus' bones felt like they were splitting into sharp, fiery pieces. Though he had barely a voice left to do so, his yells reached such a height that they could be heard over the roar of the thunder and the rain. The curse was held, and held, until Severus wasn't sure of anything anymore, just the pain, and the sound of his voice rising above the tumult of the storm. The Dark Lord released, and Severus took in a deep gulp of burning air. His eyes were streaming, and every muscle in his body was twitching and spasming without his control. Drool had dribbled down the side of his face, and his body felt hot and cold at the same time. He was also semi aware of the fact that his robes were wet beneath his legs, and he knew from the warmth that it wasn't water. The Dark Lord yelled Crucio again before he had time to fully understand what had happened. The aching, ripping fire returned, and this time he succumbed to the dark, swirling blackness at the edge of his mind.
When Harry awoke, it was very early in the morning. He had fallen asleep with his glasses on, or at least he thought he had been asleep. He looked at the clock. It said that it was four thirty in the morning. The pale morning light was just starting to show through the curtains. He sat up, and then frowned, for his bed seemed different. He threw the covers off, which felt heavier than usual. He looked down at his legs. Funny, the bed was a lot bigger too, because he looked quite small in comparison to it. His glasses slipped off his face, and in his attempt to catch them he poked himself in the eye accidentally.
"Ouch!" he said angrily, as it watered badly. He frowned once more. His voice was different. For a second, he recalled the odd tingling he had felt the previous night. He wondered if he was sick. He decided to look in the mirror, to see if he looked pale at all. First, he picked up his glasses and held them on his face. He figured they must be broken from sleeping with them. Harry then slid off his bed, and was shocked by how high it was. He actually had to drop a little bit before his feet touched the ground. He gaped in shock when his pyjama trousers, and his pants slipped down around his ankles, leaving him wearing nothing. He hadn't worn a shirt to bed thanks to the heat. Feeling his face get hot, despite the fact that nobody was there, he hoisted his underpants back up, suddenly worried. Surely he hadn't lost that much weight from not eating? He threw this idea away however, for that would not explain why he was so much shorter than he had been last night. Heart pounding, and knowing that something was very wrong, he wrenched open his wardrobe and stared at himself in the mirror. What he saw made him open his mouth with shock. A little kid stared back at him. A kid that looked exactly like he had when he was four. He took a step back, stumbling and falling to the ground.
"Severus!" a voice hissed at him urgently. "Severus, wake up!"
A hand dabbed a wet flannel on his forehead. It made the cuts sting. He became vaguely aware of the damp smell of the cellar, and the underlying scent of blood and urine. Feeling as though it took all the strength in the world, Severus fought to open his puffy eyes. His vision blurred in and out of focus, but he could see enough to figure out whose face was above him.
"N'cis?" said his garbled voice, barely able to make a sound. He swallowed thickly, for his throat felt raw, and every breath stung.
"Yes, it's Narcissa," she said, choking on tears. "The Dark Lord is gone for a little while on business. I'm getting you out."
Severus closed his eyes, trying to stay conscious.
"Dotty, come over here," she said hurriedly.
He opened his bloodshot eyes once more, and took in the form of a small house elf with floppy ears. She was wringing her tea towel nervously.
"Take Severus to Hogwarts. The Headmaster might be busy, so take him to the gamekeeper, Hagrid. He rarely leaves."
"Yes, ma'am!" squeaked Dotty.
"Do this, and then you must stay at Hogwarts to work, just in case," Narcissa instructed. "It will not be safe for you to return after this, for you or I. You must never come back to Malfoy Manor, or admit to anyone that you worked here. You also shall pretend you have no knowledge of this night. I haven't any clothes to give you right now, but consider this your final act under the Malfoy name."
"Yes, ma'am," Dotty said again.
"N'cis," croaked Severus, trying to protest.
"I am going to obliviate myself of this," she hastily explained. "He cannot know how you escaped if I do not. You've been too good a friend to my family for me not to help you."
Then, she bent down and kissed him on the forehead, not minding the sweat, grime, and blood.
"You are so brave to do what you did. I wish I could stand up to him like that."
Severus' bloodshot eyes became watery, and his cracked lips tried to form a thank you, but she gently shushed him.
"Now go, Dotty!" Narcissa whispered anxiously.
The little house elf grabbed a hold of Severus' arm, and in a moment there was a crack and the dungeon room disappeared before Severus' eyes. The two reappeared a few feet from the front steps on Hagrid's hut. The grass was still cold and damp from last night's rain. Severus moaned slightly, the morning light creeping over the horizon and making him blink after the darkness of the dungeon. Severus felt very dizzy, and he was on the verge of passing out when Hagrid opened the door at the elf's knock. The words that the elf said to Hagrid sounded garbled in his ears, and he must of have blacked out for a few seconds, for the next thing he knew was that the elf was gone and Hagrid was picking him up. He let out a sharp cry at the sudden movement, which made his head ache and his body scream with a sick, burning pain. He gasped for air, fighting to keep his roiling stomach from turning over, gulping as the tears streamed down his face. He was too weak to stop them, and he hated himself for it, though his mind was too muddled to register why.
"Shh, you're okay," Hagrid said softly, but this only confused Severus, for he was having trouble making sense of the sounds that Hagrid's voice made. He could feel himself about to black out again as Hagrid cradled him in his arms and started to run up the hill to the castle. He threw up on Hagrid's moleskin overcoat halfway there, trying desperately to remain conscious. Then, the fight left him, and he descended into darkness again.
Light flooded his vision once more, and before him swam the face of Madam Pomfrey. She was pulling his tie off and unbuttoning the blood-stained white dress shirt that he wore under his robes. Pain throbbed in his temples, the aching and burning returning full force.
"Wha' thhell?" he said to her, voice slurring, trying to figure out what she was doing through the haze of his senses. It scared him that he could barely move, and he didn't understand where he was or how he got there. "Sop tha'!"
"Severus, I'm doing this so I can heal you," she said patiently as she continued with the buttons, though her voice was shaking.
It scared him that she was crying. Confused, he stared blankly, and then another wave of pain made him lose consciousness.
It was eight in the morning, and Uncle Vernon had gone to work. Dudley was not home, as he had stayed the night at Piers' house. Harry was grateful for this, for he knew that he was in big trouble. This wasn't something he could fix, and however much he was absolutely scared stiff to go downstairs and find Aunt Petunia, he knew that there was no other way he could write a letter to Dumbledore. He had tried to write a note with a quill, but he couldn't get the letters to form properly and he kept blotting the ink. He stamped his foot as he stared at the crumpled up pieces of paper in the waste-basket. He could write his name, sort of, but that was it. He might have been able to do it with a regular pen, or a pencil, but those were all kept in a cabinet drawer in the dining room, because that was where Uncle Vernon did paperwork and taxes. There was no way Harry would be able to sneak downstairs without Aunt Petunia hearing him, because she was always in the kitchen around this time doing the early morning scrub-down of the floors and counters. And Harry knew a problem like this could not wait. He didn't know how he had gotten this way, and if he could not fix it himself, he intended to find someone who could. He wondered if he somehow did some sort of accidental magic, although he really had no idea what had provoked that. But all he did know, was that he couldn't be a little kid if he was going to fight Voldemort. It was not safe for him to be in such a vulnerable form. So, he dug through his wardrobe for a t-shirt he could wear. He found one that wouldn't slip over his shoulders and threw it over his head. He felt stupid, because the shirt practically looked like a dress on him, but for the life of him he could not get his trousers or underpants to stay up. He felt exposed, but knew there was nothing that he could do to fix that without a good shrinking spell.
"Here goes," he muttered to himself, hating the pitch that his voice was at.
Then he reached up and turned the doorknob, standing on the tips of his toes. The door swung open, and using all the Gryffindor courage he possessed, he crept out of his room. He reached the end of the hall and stood at the top of the stairs. His eyes widened as he tried to recall if they had seemed this big the last time he was a little kid. Scowling, he grabbed onto the handrail and took the stairs one step at a time. Butterflies made his stomach do flip flops, and if it were not for the fact that he was so nervous, he might have realized that he didn't feel any of the cold numbness he had felt since Sirius died. He held his breath and tiptoed down the hallway at the bottom of the stairs and to the kitchen door. Feeling like he was going to be sick, Harry reached up to turn the handle, seeing the silhouette of Aunt Petunia through the glass in the door. She didn't seem to hear Harry come in, for he was very quiet.
"Aunt Petunia?" he squeaked, terrified.
She looked up for a second, not sure where the sound had come from.
"I d-did something accidentally with my magic - I swear I don't know how I did it, I wasn't even trying to do magic," Harry told her, just as she caught sight of him. She dropped her sponge and opened her mouth wide in a silent scream. "Dumbledore can fix it, I promise, but can you write him a letter for me that I can send with my owl? I haven't got the coordination to write."
"W-What ... what the ..."
Harry frowned. Clearly she wasn't going to snap out of it anytime soon. She sat down with a soft thump on the kitchen floor. He waited a good five minutes for her to speak.
"Come ... come here," she said dazedly at last.
Harry obeyed, and she very carefully reached out a hand. Her finger poked him in the shoulder.
"Oh no ... Oh no ..." Aunt Petunia said hoarsely upon determining he was solid. "I'm not crazy ... or maybe I am ... very, very crazy."
"I'm real," Harry assured her, trying to stay calm too. "I think I somehow did accidental magic, like that time I blew up Aunt Marge, only I made myself little again. Physically at least. I still have my older mind. I'm not sure really how it happened, or why."
"Thank God Vernon isn't home," she said rather squeakily as she chewed on one of her fingernails. Harry knew she must really be frightened if she was doing that. She'd always maintained that it was a disgusting habit, and scorned others for doing it.
"I know it must seem very strange, but please, can you just write me a letter to Dumbledore saying what happened? I ... I can't do it myself." Harry tried to stop his voice from shaking, but he found it very hard. He watched as Aunt Petunia took a few very deep breaths. She closed her eyes, and waved her hands a little in a slow, calming way, and then she opened her eyes once more.
"Okay," she said shakily. She stood up rather woozily, and went into the dining room. Harry followed her, and climbed up into the chair next to her as she took a pen and some paper. "Tell me what to say."
Harry took a deep breath. On the chair, he sat upon his knees so that he could watch her write
"Dear Professor Dumbledore," Harry began, watching as his Aunt's pristine cursive graced the page. It was slightly shakier than usual, however. "It's spelled D-U-M-B-L ..."
"I know how to spell it," she snapped. Harry stared at her quizzically, but she ploughed on before he could ask her any questions. "Well, what do you want to say next? Go on."
"Er, okay. Write this: I'm sorry to bother you, sir, but something weird happened this morning."
"I woke up, and I think that during the night I did some accidental magic." Harry paused, trying to remain calm as he waited for his aunt to finish the sentence. "Now, physically, I look like a little kid ... perhaps four or five years old. But I still think like myself."
"I don't know how to turn back, or why I got like this in the first place. Can you come and help me change back? I know this doesn't look like my writing, but I had to have my Aunt help me because I haven't got good coordination. Regards, Harry."
"Is that all?" Aunt Petunia said, now sounding a great deal calmer.
She folded up the letter and handed it to him, eyes wide.
"Terrifying ..." she muttered. "You look exactly like you did when you were a child. Do you think Dumbledore can fix it?"
Harry bit his lip. "I think so. He is very smart."
Aunt Petunia sat in the chair for a moment or so after, looking rather shocked, and not sure what to do.
"I'm going to look for some old clothes in the attic that will fit you," she said after a while. " I don't want anyone to see you like that, even one of your kind."
"Okay," Harry said, not at all surprised that she had commented on his awful attire. She gave him one more nervous glance, and then rushed out of the room, leaving Harry to go upstairs and send the letter to Dumbledore.
Not realizing he was doing it, he held his breath as he watched Hedwig fly away with the letter.
"What's going to happen to me?" he whispered to himself, his eyes welling up with tears. He blinked them away as Aunt Petunia knocked on his door, and came into the room carrying a worn out pair of overalls.
Severus stirred slightly. The light slipped through his eyelids, orange and red. He moved his tongue around in his mouth, exploring the feeling of it and tasting the awful flavor of morning mouth. Yet, he didn't think that it was morning, and if it was, he was struggling greatly to remember what he had been doing last night. He felt a little bit queasy, and his head ached, but he didn't think he had been drinking. He rarely drank, so he doubted this could have been a product of that.
With much difficulty, he opened his eyelids, which stuck slightly and were crusty. Weary, and still trying to escape the strange foggy and fatigued feeling that had settled over him, he observed the room. The sun was obviously going down, because it only ever came through the hospital wing windows in the evening. No, it definitely was not morning then. Slowly he began to emerge from the hazy state of his mind. He started to wiggle his fingers and toes. The fingers on his left hand moved fairly alright, though they were a bit stiff. He began to feel worried when he could barely move the fingers on his right hand, or his arm, which was beyond stiff. There were parts of his right arm that he could not feel at all, and for a moment he feared it was not there completely. With great effort, he moved his left hand over to feel his right. It was intact alright, but if it weren't for the fact that he had almost no voice left, he might have given a shout of surprise. He could feel his left hand touching his right arm, but his right arm couldn't feel his left hand. Panic rose in him like a poison, taking over his senses. Painfully, he heaved himself into a sitting position, regretting the speed of his adrenaline-induced actions for the spinning in his head. His stomach lurched a little, but he swallowed forcefully and looked around the hospital wing. There was nobody in sight, but he knew that Poppy would be in her office. Confused, and having trouble remembering all that happened the previous night, he threw off the covers and clumsily swung his legs around the side of the bed. With determination, he put his feet on the floor and pushed off, intending to go see Poppy and demand what was going on.
He soon found his stiff right arm could do very little. His legs were mostly alright, he thought. Of course, this illusion was shattered when tried to take a step. Severus was on his feet, but he tried to drag his right foot forward, to very poor results. He stumbled, and fell to the floor. He managed to cushion his fall slightly with his left arm, but his right could not reach up far enough to do that.
Scowling and wincing with pain, Severus lay there for a moment on his stomach, head spinning. The cool stones made him shiver a little bit, the hospital pyjamas doing little to keep him warm. He knew he had to get up, and could not stand the embarrassment of Poppy seeing him like this. A flashing image suddenly raced through his mind, of Voldemort, his wand raised. At last, he understood why he was here in the hospital wing. He moaned slightly as he finally remembered some of the hazy snippets of the previous night, when Poppy had been working on healing him. He hated appearing weak, even if he had just been very nearly tortured out of his mind. Despite this, Severus was grateful that she had already done a very large amount of healing on him, but clearly there was something more to this as well. Awkwardly, he rolled onto his back and managed to prop himself up with his left arm. He struggled to get to his feet, and this time he managed to take a step or two before falling, though his right leg was not supporting him nearly enough, or moving as well as he needed it to. He stumbled and managed to grab a hold of the edge of the bed, falling to his knees. They collided painfully with the stone floor. Panting, he rested his cheek on the bed clothes, his good arm grasping as much of the bed as possible as he tried to drag himself up again. He found he lacked the strength. He scrabbled at the sheets harder when he heard footsteps, panting slightly as he tried to get back into bed on his own. He didn't need help. He didn't want help.
"Oh, Severus," sighed Poppy. He hated the tone in her voice. He scowled deeply, something he knew Poppy did not miss. He couldn't help it, even if she was just trying look out for him. By the tone of her voice he felt that he was some sort of creature to be pitied. He felt her arms slide beneath his armpits and help to support him so he could climb weakly into the bed. "You never were one to lie still, were you?" she said rather sadly as he lay there breathing heavily.
"P-Poppy, wh - wh -" he croaked, voice crackling and raw. He was trying to voice the question as to why he was having such difficulty moving.
"Rest your voice for now, Severus," she warned him. "You have damaged your vocal cords. They will heal soon enough with a few more potions, but for now, you must be quiet. I know you must be confused, and wondering why you can't move your right arm or leg very well, and why you do not have full range of feeling."
Severus nodded, hanging onto her every word.
"You were under the Cruciatus Curse for longer than should be humanly possible. I am not sure how your mind has managed to remain in as such good a state as it is, as the areas of your brain that control cognitive thinking and speech have shown very little damage. I believe that your occlumency skills may have helped in the preservation of that, but you have, however sustained damage to your nerve endings, as well as some of the parts of your brain that control movement, which has led to partial paralysis in certain areas on your right side, and very minimal damage on the left. Luckily, we have potions that can treat you and will help restore a fair amount of movement. You may always walk with a limp, and I do not know how well you will be able to cast spells with your right hand, as your dexterity may be permanently affected. You may have to relearn to do many things with your left, but with extensive physiotherapy, we might be able to avoid you having to do that."
Severus made to open his mouth, shock riddling his features, but Poppy shushed him. He glared at her.
"I know, it is not a fun situation Severus, but we are trying as hard as we can," she said wearily. "I will see your treatment through, but I am consulting a specialist from St. Mungo's who is allied with the Order, and we will keep all of this a secret."
He tried to speak again. It only came out as a whisper, but Poppy seemed to take a hint that it was important. She lowered her ear close to his cracked lips in order to hear the name that he was uttering. She raised her head up again and responded .
"Albus received an urgent letter at dinner, but he will come to speak to you when he has dealt with that matter," Poppy responded once she understood what he was saying. "I have some potions for you to take, and you need to try and eat something with them. I will be back in a few minutes."
Severus watched her retreat wearily, and then closed his eyes, trying to digest the information. Every time he thought about what she said, he was pierced by the sensation that the ground had been pulled out from beneath him. Breathless, he opened his eyes and stared at the stone ceiling, trying to anchor himself as the world spun out of control, as his face finally reflected the fear within him. What was he going to do?