Having gone to be earlier Harry awoke before Snape, and sat at the breakfast table with a bowl of hot porridge Dobby had left for him. He read his letter from Ron. He sounded pretty choked up after hearing what happened to Hermione. Ron had also continued to remain covertly sympathetic to Harry's problem (he could only say vague things because it wasn't to be discussed through the mail), which Harry had let Mrs. Weasley inform him of. It was inevitable that the Weasleys find out what happened to him, so he told her to simply go ahead, but leave out exactly why he had been turned into a little kid. Ron cursed Dumbledore a few times in his letter, which made Harry feel rather cheerful.
All in all, it was shaping up to be an alright morning, considering. Except for one thing. Hermione had still not gotten out of bed, and Harry knew from living in the same school as her that she was an early riser.
"Do you think I should go knock on her door?" asked Harry when Snape stumbled in to pour himself cup of coffee, blinking in the morning light.
Harry's lip twitched with amusement despite the grim situation. It seemed as though Snape had relaxed a little bit, seeing as he had thrown a blue and grey dressing gown over his nightshirt. Harry too was wearing pyjamas. He would get dressed a little later.
Snape rubbed his eyes and sunk into the chair opposite Harry in his usual morning routine.
"Miss Granger is probably exhausted, Potter," said Snape, sounding exhausted himself.
"But she's normally up so early," Harry muttered.
"Given the circumstances, I would not worry about her sleeping in a little. In fact, it will be good for her. If she is not up by one, then I give you my permission to make sure she is alright. Now let me eat my porridge in peace."
"Yes, sir," Harry said, not bothered by Snape's comment, as it lacked the usual spite. Harry figured that this had to be because it was early in the morning.
A few minutes passed with them eating in silence, and then Snape perked up slightly.
"I just remembered," said Snape. "Molly left us a charmed quill, mostly for you to use, of course. I assume you want to respond to that letter of yours without having to rewrite your reply so many times to make it legible?"
"Yeah," said Harry excitedly as Snape got up and rummaged around in the kitchen drawer.
"It works like a quick quotes quill, only it is not designed for reporting," said Snape, setting it before Harry. "It's self-inking as well. I do not think Molly trusts you around an ink pot, you know. I think she fears you will knock it over." Harry scoffed before Snape continued. "She may have a point, but if we should not trust anyone with ink, it is me," he added rather absent-mindedly, rolling his eyes.
"Well, your comments on essays are rather frightful," Harry said before he could stop himself.
Snape looked at him in amazement for a second, and then to Harry's surprise, he smirked.
"You would know that, given your essays," jabbed Snape lightly.
"Yeah, well, I was never allowed to do well in school before so I‘ve missed out on a lot of practise," Harry said without thinking, dismissing the comment with a shrug.
"What did you say?" asked Snape, setting down his coffee abruptly.
Harry groaned inwardly, cursing himself and wondering why on earth he would let that slip now. He hadn't even registered what he had said until Snape noticed something wrong with it.
"Nothing," he muttered into his porridge.
"No, it is not nothing," said Snape. "What do you mean you weren't allowed to do well in school before? Before going to Hogwarts, you mean?"
With a sigh, Harry spoke. "I just meant that people picked on me for getting good marks." It was the truth, just not all of it. Dudley would beat him up if he scored better on a test, and Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon would make his life hell.
"I do not think that is exactly what you meant, Potter," Snape said, scrutinizing him. "There are just as many students at Hogwarts that mock others who are clever. I think you're too stubborn to let them stop you from getting good marks."
Harry jumped when Crookshanks made himself heard under the table. He had forgotten he had come with Hermione.
Snape seemed momentarily distracted.
"I suppose someone should feed you," said Snape, staring at Crookshanks' squashed face.
Harry was immensely relieved at the change of topic, and it must have showed on his face.
"Do not think we are done talking about this," Snape told him sternly. "We will discuss it again."
When Snape wasn't looking Harry stuck his tongue out at him, but caught himself quickly, mortified at what he had done. Ashamed, Harry played with the rest of his porridge while Snape set out a bowl of Crookshanks' cat food. Snape watched with uncharacteristic amusement as Crookshanks devoured the food with relish.
"That is the ugliest cat I've ever seen," he muttered to himself, although it was clear to Harry that Snape found this rather funny. "He has to be part Kneezle."
"Kneezle?" Harry asked.
"It's a magical creature," Snape replied. "Very smart. Of course, they look like they got hit in the face with a frying pan, but some people think that's endearing, or so I've been told."
Harry snorted, laughing a little.
"Huh, if people think a flat face looks so endearing, maybe I shouldn't have ducked the last time Aunt Petunia took a swing at me in the kitchen with her pan."
Snape barely caught himself from spitting his coffee across the table.
Harry's eyes went wide, and he was pretty sure he felt his heart stop. He had thought it, but had it come out of his mouth too? The look on Snape's face told him it did, and as his heart resumed beating with a steady throb, throb, he wondered how on earth he had slipped up that badly, twice in one conversation. He had learned the art of secrecy very thoroughly, over the years. It was then that it hit Harry. That was it, wasn't it? He had learned to stay quiet. But when he was young, he did not have as much of a filter in place, and would say whatever he was thinking. The childish part of his brain had forgotten that. Great, he thought, thinking that this was the last thing he needed.
Snape wiped his mouth, having dribbled a little bit of coffee after his very near spraying of the table. He was too shocked to be embarrassed, however.
"She what?" he asked hoarsely.
"Oh, nothing, just ... she was, you know ... cooking?" Harry said, stringing together whatever words he could find in his panicked brain.
"I highly doubt that she was that careless with pans," Snape said in a low voice, scrutinizing Harry.
"She had something on her mind, and thought I was in the other room," said Harry quickly. He squirmed slightly in his seat. "Erm ... gotta go."
He got up from his seat and dashed to the bathroom, glad for an excuse to leave despite the fact it usually embarrassed him how little warning he had when he realized he had to go.
"Do not think this conversation is over Potter!" called Snape.
While the boy was in the bathroom, Severus' mind rushed with the recollection of what Potter had said. Surely there was something more going on with Potter's home life? Petunia had been no angel. However much he hated to admit it, alarm bells were going off within him. Severus had seen too many abused households being the Head of Slytherin. That, and his had not been the happiest either.
But Potter's family spoiled him, didn't they? Yet, at the thought of this Severus could not help but think of the night that Harry had had the accident before seeing the boggart, and how he had hidden when he had knocked over the chair. Sure, the boy had been embarrassed, but the speed the boy had had was impressive. Severus had heard the bang of what he supposed must have been the wardrobe shutting within seconds of the chair falling. He had yet to even get out of bed at that point. What child was that afraid of being discovered? More importantly, where did that fear come from?
He could hear Potter fleeing up the stairs after the toilet flushed, and he made no move to stop him. The boy could run if he wanted, but if Severus kept his ear to the ground, he would learn a great deal more. It was a rule Severus learned long ago, that secrets had a way of coming out when people lived under the same roof. And Potter had just proved that.
Hermione still had not gotten up by one. She was awake, and Harry knew it. He had been avoiding Snape all day, since he had let himself slip up at breakfast, and given Snape the impression that all was not as it seemed at the Dursleys'.
"Come on, Hermione," Harry said softly as she lay in bed, facing the wall, her back to Harry. "You have to get up and eat something."
"I'm fine Harry," she said. "I am just tired, and I'm not hungry."
"I know you're trying to help Harry, but I just want to rest a while. Please, can you just go?"
Her voice was brittle, and he knew not to push her. Hermione was as stubborn as him sometimes. So he left her and went to his own room, not knowing what else to do. She was doing exactly as he did when he was hurt, and Harry had never had anyone try to help him, so he did not know how to help her. It hurt him deeply to leave Hermione be, knowing she was in misery. What could he do? He saw her as the sister he had never had, and he wished with all his heart he knew how to make her feel better, like she had done for him on many occasions. But some things not even Hermione could heal. Harry knew that, and he feared that she would not be able to fix the tangled mess inside her. He knew she must be terrified, just sick to the heart. But lying in bed wouldn't fix that. He had no way of communicating this, however. He frowned, and continued to shift around the haphazard arrangement of puzzle pieces on the floor in his room, trying to make them fit, not knowing where any went.
Restless, Harry went downstairs to grab a sandwich, bringing it upstairs with him hastily, glad not to have met Snape. He ate half for a late lunch, and he brought Hermione the other half, for he thought it was probably all she could manage. She did not look at him when he came in, and he left the plate on the side table. Nothing in the room was unpacked. It didn't look homey, even though Harry had tried so hard to make it that way before she had come. The sea lavender on the window sill was wilting. He closed the door softly behind him, looking at its blankness. It was then that he knew what he would do.
Harry grabbed his crayons from the drawer in his room, and a stack of paper. He picked a whole bunch of nice colours, and set to work. He added yellow, orange, pink, and bright blue. In big, bold letters, with his shaky writing, he wrote out ‘Hermione's Room'. After an hour of work, it was as good as he could make it. It had a rainbow of colours, with big polka dots. It was a little bit blinding, but Harry wanted Hermione to see it when she finally came out. He grabbed a piece of tape he had sneaked downstairs to grab, and he put it on the door, just waiting for Hermione to see when she came out for dinner.
Except, she did not. She remained in her room. Harry didn't know what to do. He told her dinner was ready, but she had not said a thing, and he had left, at a loss.
He sat down at the table, picking at his shepherd's pie, avoiding Snape's gaze. He was waiting for Snape to start questioning him about what he had said earlier, but he did not. It confused Harry, but it was just as well. Harry knew what he had to ask.
"Sir?" Harry asked in a whisper. "I can't get Hermione to come out of her room."
"I cannot blame her for staying there," he said casually. "She's been through a great deal."
"But she won't eat either," Harry said. "I brought her a sandwich and she didn't touch it. She needs to eat something."
"Yes, she does," said Snape patiently. "But we cannot force her to."
"Can ... can you go talk to her?" Harry whispered. "I mean, I know stairs are still pretty hard for you, but ... I can't get her to come down. I'm s-scared she'll end up like me! All I did was stay in bed, and now I'm like this!"
Snape looked at Harry, whose eyes were full of tears.
"It's gotten easier," said Snape slowly. "I should be able to manage."
Snape ate his last few bites of shepherd's pie then stood up.
"You keep eating," commanded Snape as Harry made to follow. So he did, watching Snape go out of the kitchen, and out of sight. Silently, Harry wished him good luck.
Severus was surprised that Potter asked him to do this. Although, he had been planning on paying Granger a visit anyway, not that he would tell Potter that. Before he went upstairs, he went into the laundry room. Recently, a few Aurors had returned to his home to retrieve a few things. What he wished to keep could fit in just four boxes, which were stacked in a dim corner. They were almost all books. He rummaged around in the smallest box, looking for a green hardcover book with peeling letters on it. He dusted it off, and went toward the stairs.
He had practised once with Poppy in going up the stairs, the last day she had been there. He did not so much mind going down, but going up daunted him more than he could admit. It would be difficult, but when had difficulty ever stopped him from doing something?
After much struggle, and resting twice, he reached the top at last. It had been slightly easier than the last time he had gone up them with Poppy. Not much, but still, it was an improvement. He made a beeline for Miss Granger's door. Severus saw upon the weathered wood a sign that said ‘Hermione's Room', printed in crayon. For a second, he smiled, thinking of the little boy downstairs carefully making the sign. Clearly, Potter was trying to make this place home. Severus felt a cold sort of sadness fall over him again. This place, he knew, could never be like the home that Miss Granger left. But that did not mean they should not try to make it close, and Severus was not going to be a cold-hearted bastard in this situation, unlike what the students thought him as.
"Miss Granger?" he called, tapping on the door softly. "May I come in?"
There was a lengthy pause, and finally a tired voice called out tiredly, "yes."
So Severus turned the handle and stepped into the room. There was a trunk in the corner, and it had not been unpacked.
Miss Granger was lying on the bed, the covers scrunched up at the end of it. She was wearing a baggy t-shirt and a pair of flannel pyjama bottoms with butterflies on them, and only one sock was on her foot, the other nowhere to be found. Her hair was uncombed, and she had shadows under her eyes.
Feeling awkward, Severus took a seat at the chair by the bed, which he supposed Harry had left. He told himself that it was just another student, just like his Slytherins and all the times he had had to drag heart-broken students from their beds, often suffering from bad break-ups. This kind of heartbreak was different, however, and it scared Severus as he looked at the girl's face, for he saw so much of himself after his parents had died.
"Miss Granger," he began, trying to think of what he would have needed to hear so many years ago, "this is not your fault."
It sounded lame, even to his ears.
Miss Granger did not look at him, and continued to stare at the ceiling.
"I am sorry for all that you have had to go through, these past few days," he muttered, his hand tracing the spine of the book in his lap. "Very few understand what it's like, to lose both parents so young. Even Potter doesn't properly understand, in some ways, as he does not even remember them enough to fully know how you feel."
"And you do?" muttered Miss Granger, her voice hoarse from disuse. The question was not accusing. It was not curious. It just was.
"Yes," Severus forced himself to say.
"How old were you?" whispered Miss Granger after a pause, eyes flicking to look at Severus for the first time.
"Fifteen," he muttered.
"Sorry to hear," she said quietly, her voice trembling slightly.
"They were driving home from a wedding in the summer. My father was drunk, as always. It was a head on collision. Both died on impact."
"I didn't ask how," Miss Granger said, seeming for the first time to show some emotion. In this case it was confusion that he would reveal such a piece of information.
"But you were wondering," said Severus quietly, and Miss Granger's eyes flickered to his, and he knew he had been right. He continued, after a moment. "If you wish to talk about something, anything, my room is downstairs. Potter's supposed to be in bed by eight-thirty, if you do not want him hearing."
Miss Granger gave a little twitch of her head, which Severus took for as a sign of understanding.
"I brought you something," Severus told her quietly, looking down at the green covered book in his hands. "Perhaps it might help you escape from your head, if just for a little while."
"What's it called?"
"Did I catch a hint of enthusiasm?" said Severus, letting his lips quirk into a smile as he flashed her the title. "Anne of Green Gables. A Canadian book. I think you might like it, if, of course, you haven't already read it."
He set the book on the side table, and then stood up.
"You know, Miss Granger, while at times it may feel like it," he said, "you are never alone. Do not let yourself fall into that trap, as I did for so many years.
"Now, before I leave, you should know that I am not going to badger you come downstairs, come to meals, look presentable, or even shower. Instead I am going to give you a few days to pull yourself together. You can sit up here, stay in bed, read, cry, stare out the window for hours ... whatever you need to do. But I will say this: in time you must get up again. You will never feel any better unless you do, and no amount of me pushing you can get you to make the choice to go on with life."
He turned on his heel, and limped to the door. He turned slightly when he heard a slight whisper.
"Thank you, Professor," muttered Miss Granger, her eyes full of tears.
Severus nodded slightly, and knowing that he had said the right thing, he ventured out of the room, closed the door behind him, and began the long and arduous process of going down the stairs. But this time, it was filled with the relief of knowing that he might have actually done something right.
Potter was waiting in the kitchen when he got down there, shaking and tired from a journey that had felt like it spanned oceans.
"Is she coming down?" Potter asked hopefully.
"No," said Severus.
"Potter, I know that you are trying to help her," he said slowly in response, patiently, even, "but you are not to bother Miss Granger for the next few days. You may visit occasionally, if she allows. I have spoken to her, and it is clear to me that she needs time. Time is sometimes the only thing that can aid in healing, and it is unfair for us to interrupt that process. She will come down here eventually, when she is ready. But for now, we cannot force her to do anything. Am I clear?"
"Yes sir," muttered Potter.
"Good. Now help me with the dishes."
Potter got up, and the two of them put their plates and cutlery in the sink, silence falling over them. They cleaned the dishes in silence. Severus washed, and Potter dried.
"Is Hermione going to be alright?"
Severus looked at the small boy standing on the stool beside him, steadily drying a cup, his eyes wide with worry. The question had been hesitant, and it made Potter sound young, like the little boy he was supposed to be.
"She will be," was his answer to the boy.
"Promise?" Potter whispered, biting his lip after he said it, as though he wished he had not let the word slip out.
"I promise," said Severus, drying his hands, thinking deeply. "Go outside and play. I'll finish the dishes."
"Go on," Severus said, and he almost smiled at the way Potter's face lit up as he bounded off the stool.
"Thanks, sir!" the boy called as he hurried from the kitchen.
The sound of the screen door opening and closing echoed through the house, and Severus finished the dishes in silence, thinking. Potter was different now, somehow. The boy seemed more respectful, and yet ... more innocent. Perhaps it had been some of the things Potter had said to Severus, the things that made him wonder what the boy's home life really was like. Potter's slip-up, when he said that he had not been allowed to do well in school had set in motion a number of feelings within Severus. The statement made a part of Severus cringe with worry, and filled the rest of him with hesitant wonder. There were a few incidents in which Potter had betrayed himself, in both words and actions. It was as though the walls were slowly starting to come down, and Severus had the feeling that Potter was trying his very best not to let them. And through these cracks that were slowly appearing, Potter was looking even more desperately for someone, anyone, to save him.
A thought flitted across Severus' mind, at first seeming crazy, but then, making more sense. Was it possible that Potter had never wanted to play the hero, and he was only doing for others what he wished they would do for him? Could it have been all along that the Boy Who Lived wanted nothing more than someone to come and save him from darkness instead?
Severus glanced out the window at the tall tree a ways from the cottage, where a swing hung from its strong branches. Potter was sitting on the worn seat, his arms wrapped around the ropes as he gently rocked back and forth, his eyes closed.
He did not seem like a Potter anymore.