Severus glanced out his bedroom window briefly, making sure that Potter was not getting into any mischief. The boy was throwing a ball outside, running after it and then throwing it again. Severus could not help but be amused by this. It was quite clear that Potter was beginning to become even more childish, which of course, Dumbledore had guessed would happen. Molly had stopped by earlier in the day to ask how Miss Granger was doing, and Severus told her that he was letting Miss Granger be for the time being. Molly seemed rather worried about that, and had left after a short visit with Harry.
With a sigh, Severus continued to fold his laundry. He was honestly a little worried about Granger too. Scowling, he stooped to pick up the pair of socks he had dropped, and dusted them off a little. He put them in the folded pile after a bit of a struggle in getting them together, and glanced at his watch. It was quarter to one. Potter had come in for lunch a little while ago, and Severus was putting off having lunch himself. He had a few things to do, between his laundry slowly creeping up on him and his plans to organize the boxes of books that had been brought from Spinner's end.
Severus was stacking up a pile of trousers when he heard the creak of the bottom step of the stairs, much to his surprise. He felt relief wash over him, knowing that it could only be one person coming downstairs and treading down the hall and into the laundry room, for though his room door was closed he heard the squawk of the door hinges across the hall a moment later.
Relieved that Miss Granger had finally chosen to come down, Severus took a deep breath. The hardest part was over now. Just to make sure it had indeed been Miss Granger's footsteps, he glanced out the window once more to see if Potter was still out there. He was, and Severus had to hold back an unexpected laugh when he saw what Potter was doing. He was turning around and around in circles, making himself dizzy. Severus watched as he fell to the grass, landing on his bum and shaking his head to clear it, grinning. Potter looked toward the front of the cottage, and when he saw Severus standing at the window he waved suddenly, not seeming embarrassed in the least that he had been caught spinning around in circles. Surprised, Severus raised his hand, albeit a little hesitantly, and then watched as Potter picked up the ball and started to chase it again, his steps rather unsteady after spinning in circles.
"Silly boy," he muttered to himself, shaking his head as he sat back down on the edge of his bed.
A strangled cry made him leap up from the bed again, and terror shot through his limbs. It had not been Potter making that sound. It had been Miss Granger.
Severus swore under his breath, suddenly remembering that Miss Granger did not know of the boggart. Without thinking he snatched his wand out of the drawer by his bedside, threw open his bedroom door and entered the laundry room.
Miss Granger was sitting on the floor with her face on her knees, her arms wrapped around her legs. A laundry basket had been dropped beside her, spilling clothing across the wood floor. In front of Miss Granger Severus saw two figures lying upon the ground, cold and still. Understanding shot through Severus, and he cursed himself for not taking on the boggart earlier.
Miss Granger was sobbing and shaking. She glanced up again to see if the boggart was still there, and then hid her face. Severus stepped in front of her, and then the bodies had turned to only one, vivid red hair spilling across the floor like blood, green eyes staring blankly at Severus.
He heard Miss Granger gasp behind him, and he raised his wand with a shaking hand, which struggled to keep its grip. It was then that Severus remembered why the boggart still lived in the laundry room - how he could not get rid of it himself - how he had been too ashamed to ask someone else to do it. Now, his shortcomings had forced this situation on Miss Granger, and so despite the fact that he had been told not to use magic just yet, despite the fact that he knew it would difficult, Severus held his wand as steadily as he could and aimed it at the boggart. The spell he knew would require no movement of the wand, but aim was important.
"Riddikulus," Severus said sharply, trying not to look at Lily, lying dead on the floor.
"Riddikulus!" he cried again, but his arm was shaking too much, and he felt his stomach sink. How could he fail at this in front of a student? How could he be that useless? "Riddikulus! Damn it, Riddikulus!"
He heard Miss Granger stumble to her feet, and she raised her wand too. She was shaking like a leaf, and as she stepped forward, Lily became two bodies once more.
"R-RIDDICULUS!" she shrieked as tears poured down her face. There was a flash, and with a bang, the boggart was sent flying back into the wardrobe where Miss Granger had intended it to go.
She let out a muffled sob and sank to the floor. Feeling rather weak too, Severus sunk down against the opposite wall. He wanted to melt into the floor with embarrassment. How could he have failed like that?
"I'm sorry," he muttered, staring at the wand in his hand. "I should have been able to perform the spell."
Miss Granger shook her head. "Not your fault," she muttered through choked tears.
"Your parents?" muttered Severus.
Miss Granger nodded.
"Who was that ... that woman?" Miss Granger asked suddenly after a few moments of silence. "I think ... I've seen her before."
"I went to school with her," muttered Severus.
"Harry's mother," said Miss Granger immediately, a moment of clarity visible on her face. "Hagrid gave him a photo album. I've seen her in there."
"You always have been too clever for your own good," said Severus under his breath, knowing he would not pull a fast one on the girl in front of him, even though she was so distraught.
Severus knew exactly what she meant despite the vague question, but he did not particularly want to share the entire story of why he saw Lily lying dead on the floor.
"We were best friends when we were young," he settled for. "But do not tell Potter. I think he would take it badly."
"I won't," sniffled Granger.
They sat in silence for a moment, and in his head Severus cursed himself and his pride. He knew very well he should have asked Poppy or Molly to take care of the boggart, but both he and Potter knew to avoid it, and so he had put it off. Shame festered in his gut as he looked down at his wand in his left hand. He was brought from his thoughts by Miss Granger's voice.
"Why are t-they my boggart?" she asked, voice trembling and confused as she wiped her eyes on her sleeve. "How can s-something that's come to pass still be my greatest fear?"
"I do not fully understand that myself," said Severus honestly, the words coming slowly as considered each one. "In my case, it has been years since ... since Lily died, but I still see her, every time. You seeing your parents, I suppose, is the same sort of thing. My best guess is that it is partly the recollection of the feelings associated with the loss of someone you love, as well as what that means. In your case, I think you are seeing your parents as a reminder of just what their deaths have done to change your life, and that terrifies you."
"Why does her death scare you?" Hermione asked suddenly, looking intrigued. "I never knew that you were even friends."
"That is a matter I would rather not discuss," muttered Severus.
"Sorry," Miss Granger said a little sheepishly. "I just ... I ask questions about everything. Sometimes I don't pay attention to what kind."
"Curiosity is not a crime," said Severus, feeling like he was channelling Dumbledore, and hating every second of it.
They sat in silence for a moment, and then Severus stood up.
"Did you like the book?" he asked, not knowing what else to say.
"Yes, a lot," said Hermione gratefully, wiping her eyes. "I finished it last night. Strangely, it actually made me feel better."
"I thought it would," said Severus.
"It made me realize that I have to move on," muttered Granger. "I mean, if Anne had let herself be consumed by being left an orphan so young she would never have met so many wonderful people, or seen so many beautiful things."
"I did put some thought into what book I gave you, you know," said Severus quietly.
"Clearly," she muttered. "Thank you. It helped. It really did."
"You may keep it, if you would like."
"Really?" asked Miss Granger, astounded. "But, I -"
"No, really, keep it," he insisted. "To be honest, I have not got a place to put it anyway. My summer home is unsafe for me to return to, and I will not be teaching again this year, so unless you want the book it will be sitting and gathering dust in a box for a long time."
"Thank you," Miss Granger said gratefully, standing up as well. Hesitantly, she continued to speak. "I ... I'm sorry that you can't go home this summer."
"It was not much of a home anyway, really," admitted Severus. "I think I will miss Hogwarts more."
"What will you do all year?" asked Miss Granger as she stooped over to start gathering her fallen laundry, wiping her eyes on her sleeve. "I hope you will not take this badly, but I honestly cannot see you doing anything but teaching potions class."
"I have no idea what I will do," said Severus, shaking his head slightly at her comment to show he didn't mind. "To be perfectly honest ... I cannot really see myself doing anything else either, oddly enough. I am sure there are plenty worthwhile things I can accomplish without having to stop a bunch of dunderheads from blowing themselves up every other day, but as of yet I cannot think of any."
"I suppose brewing potions is out, isn't it?" Miss Granger frowned.
"Indeed," muttered Severus, feeling his stomach sink as he wandered over to the door. "Speaking of brewing, well, a rather different kind of brewing that is ... Dobby put together a nice soup for today's lunch, and he made sure to leave you some, which you can heat up if you are hungry."
Miss Granger looked pleased by this.
"Before I go," Severus said suddenly, finally working up the courage to speak it, "could you promise not to mention my boggart to Potter?"
"I won't say a word," said Miss Granger, steadily gazing over at him.
"I will be tidying up the sitting room ... if you need me," said Severus rather dully, thinking that it would be some time before Dobby came, and how Potter had left the place in a bit of a rumpus. "Merlin, cleaning makes me miss magic."
"I would help you with that," said Hermione in a low voice, gesturing to her wand, "but honestly, I am rubbish at cleaning spells. Don't tell Harry or Ron, though. They think I'm good at every spell ever invented."
Severus caught himself chuckling.
"Pity I am not teaching this year," he said to her. "I would have put a special section on cleaning cauldrons, just to even out the curve a little."
The last thing Severus saw before leaving the laundry room was the shocked and amused expression on Miss Granger's face at his joke.
Harry was all played out, and when he came inside he flopped down on the braided rug in front of the sofa. Snape, who was sitting on one end of the sofa, looked up from his book, but returned to it after a moment of consideration. Harry stared at Snape's socked feet a little ways away, panting slightly where he lay, his knees folded under himself and his chin resting on the soft rug. He looked around a little, wondering if this was how cats saw the world. To his amusement Crookshanks looked at him curiously for a moment, edging toward him and then leaping up to sit by Snape, who absent-mindedly reached down to stroke him.
Harry turned his head a little bit further to the right, now staring at the space under the sofa. Something shiny caught his eye, and he carefully reached his small fingers under the sofa. His hand came up with a marble. It was a light blue colour, with greenish glass swirled in the centre. It reminded him of something, and he sat up a little, resting on his knees as he stared into the depths of the glass. He felt a hot, sick feeling rise up in his stomach when he realized what it reminded him of, and he leaped to his feet. Harry ran to the door and flung it open. The marble in his hand he ran to the edge of the porch and tossed the marble as far as he could.
Feeling a hundred pounds heavier than he had been earlier, Harry stomped back into the house, closing the door behind him. Snape stared, but did not ask why Harry had done what he did. Even if he had, Harry probably would not have heard him as he stalked over to the sofa, his mind swirling. Not paying any attention to Snape he crawled up onto the middle cushion, wanting to be near Crookshanks. Harry curled up so that his head was resting by the cat, his nose pressing against the soft sofa back. He felt like crying when Crookshanks yowled and left. He scrunched himself tighter, trying to get the words of the prophecy to stop going through his head. He heard the rustle of Snape turning the page in his book.
A little while later, to his surprise, Harry felt a hand run through his hair gently.
"The cat moved," Harry mumbled tearfully, thinking Snape had mistaken him for Crookshanks because he was too absorbed in his book.
The hand paused, and then slowly removed itself from where it rested on his head.
"So he did," muttered Snape quietly.
Harry looked away from the back of the sofa. He looked up, and caught Snape looking down at him with a rather sad expression.
"Sir?" whispered Harry, suddenly exhausted.
"Can I stay here a while?"
So Harry pressed his nose against the sofa again, closing his eyes. He felt a little bit numb again, and it made him even more tired. His body had had enough, and his mind was tired of fighting. He was asleep in minutes.
When he awoke he found Hermione reading on the sofa as well, his small feet pressed against her side, his head resting near Snape's hand. Harry smiled sleepily at her, and despite the shadows under her eyes the smile she gave him was the most beautiful he had ever seen, because it was her way of saying, "I am going to be okay."