The first crash of thunder came at one forty in the morning. Severus woke with a start. He sat up straight in bed with impressive speed because he had been sleeping on top of the covers due to the oppressive heat. For a second a flash of the cold dungeon at Malfoy Manor met his vision, but as quickly as it had come, Severus realized it was only a memory. Panting, Severus lay down again, taking a deep breath. The wind roared around the cottage. Just when things seemed to grow quiet again, a banging crash came from the sitting room.
Severus swore. He had forgotten to shut the heavy oak door over the screen door before going to bed.
He did up his leg brace as quickly as he could (which was not quick enough, in his opinion), and Severus strode out of his room. The lightning flashed outside, illuminating his path through the hall, the nearby flashes easily showing him the way. As he was passing the staircase a blinding flash of light threw the area into sharp relief, and at the same time an even louder crash of thunder shook the house.
Quite suddenly, there was a series of small thumps and Severus felt someone run into his legs. He stumbled and grabbed a hold of the wooden post where the staircase railing ended.
"Potter!" he said through gritted teeth.
"Sorry Professor," squeaked the boy. "I heard a scary noise."
The screen door banged loudly again, and Potter jumped.
"It's just the screen door," said Severus, continuing forward.
To his surprise he felt Potter's small hand grasp the leg of his pyjama trousers. He went forward, and Potter followed, still hanging onto him, much to Severus' surprise. He was about to tell the boy to stop it when he recalled an earlier conversation he had had with Potter, about how he had been left out during a storm. He closed his mouth, suddenly noticing how much the boy was shaking. Knowing that he had to shut the screen door, Severus ventured forth again, slowing up for the little boy clutching the leg of his pyjama trousers. Severus reached forward and took the wood frame of the door in his hand, and pushed it tightly shut. The breeze, hot and humid fluttered his hair, and for a moment he stared up at the turbulent clouds above, watching the lightning streak through them, entranced. He could hear the crashing of the sea a ways away, and he saw the white peaks of the waves when the lightning illuminated them. Another deafening crash of thunder shook the house, and Severus heard Potter cry out, and felt him press his face against his leg.
He took a hold of the big oak door and shut it over the screen. The sound of the storm dampened slightly, and the sound of another set of feet descending the staircase could be heard.
"Professor Snape?" called Miss Granger, standing halfway down the staircase and clutching the railing as she peered into the sitting room. "Is Harry down here?"
"Yes, he is with me," Severus told her, placing his hand gently on the top of Potter's messy hair to make sure. Potter's face was still hidden in his leg. "Would you mind lighting a few lamps?"
"Not at all, sir," said Granger, going down the rest of the staircase and then rummaging in a drawer by the sofa. She went over to the various magical lamps, and as she turned them up they lit themselves. As the lights flared to life the darkness was chased away, and Hermione glanced over to Severus.
"Harry, are you alright?" he asked quietly, not noticing Miss Granger's look of surprise that he had used Potters first name, because he did not really noticed it himself.
"I don't l-like storms," Potter said, sounding on the verge of tears, his words muffled from the fabric of Severus' pyjama trousers.
"I know," said Severus softly.
"Don't send me back to bed!"
"You won't?" Potter whispered, looking up at Severus, his eyes wide.
"What did I just say?" Severus asked quietly, but firmly.
Potter looked down at his feet. He let out a tiny sniffle and let go of Severus' leg.
"What would you suggest we do to pass the time?" asked Severus after a moment, knowing that he would never be allowed to sleep as long as the storm was raging around the house, between the racket and Potter, that was.
"We could ..."
"What?" Severus said when Potter faltered.
"I could get a book and read aloud," suggested Granger when Potter did not continue. "That used to help me when I was little and there was a storm."
If Severus could have, he would have given her a hundred points to Gryffindor, because Potter seemed to have been thinking exactly that. He reacted in surprise, but nodded vigorously at the suggestion.
"I think Molly mentioned that the story books are in the attic," said Severus slowly, thinking hard. Potter still was speechless, but he nodded in agreement with this statement.
"I will go and find them," said Granger with a little smile for Potter.
Harry scrunched himself up on the sofa, shutting his eyes tightly as the lightning flashed. Hermione had just gone up to the attic looking for a book, and he and Snape were sitting in silence.
"W-Why won't it go away?" Harry asked, rubbing his eyes, not caring how childish he sounded.
There was another flash of lightning, and Harry let out a little sob. The thunder followed.
"The lightning scares you most, doesn't it?" asked Snape curiously.
"Uh huh," Harry said.
"Most children are scared of the thunder. Why is it the lightning that you dislike?"
"It's all sudden, I guess," Harry whispered, looking up at Snape for a moment. He looked rather curious.
"Sudden like what?"
Harry squirmed under Snape's gaze.
"Sudden like ... like ..." Harry couldn't complete the sentence, and gasped when another bright flash zigzagged over the horizon, easily seen through the curtains on the window.
Harry felt himself shaking, and he could see in his mind the flash of green that haunted his dreams.
As another streak of white fire shot across the sky he couldn't keep the thought quiet anymore, and he looked Snape straight in the eye, fear making the words come out to fast.
"Like when Mummy died," he whispered, feeling the tears come pouring down his face, not realizing he was speaking like he really was four, because all he could think about was hearing her scream. Every time the lightning flashed. Every time a dementor got near. Every time his dreams turned sour.
Shaking, Harry stared at Snape, pleading silently for him to do something - anything. After a while he realized Snape was pale as a ghost.
"If I can make the lightning go away, will you feel better?" asked Snape after a moment of silence, his voice taking on a strange edge to it, like he was fighting something deep inside himself.
"Alright," said Snape slowly, and with utmost seriousness. "This is what we have to do. We need to build a fort."
"A strong fortress to keep the lightning away," he said.
Harry nodded, not sure he followed, but trusting that Snape knew what he was doing.
"Alright, stand up and help me get the cushions off the sofa," Snape said.
Curious, and rather amazed, Harry numbly got up and pulled the large cushions away. He then followed Snape over to the other side of the sofa, around the back. He watched as Snape propped the cushions up on their sides, so they created walls. Harry followed Snape into the kitchen, and helped him drag two tall chairs into the sitting room.
"We will put them so their backs are facing the sofa back," said Snape, arranging the chairs. "Next, we will get some sheets from the laundry room. The nice dark blue ones. Those should block out some of the light."
"Okay," Harry said, following Snape.
As they walked down the hall, there was another great flash of lightning. Harry jumped badly and sped ahead so he was beside Snape, his heart pounding as thought it was trying desperately to escape his chest. The thunder sounded, and even though he knew he would be embarrassed by it later, Harry grabbed Snape's hand.
Professor Snape looked down, and Harry looked quickly away. To his amazement, Snape's hand tightened around his, and he did not say a word.
Together the two carried the stacks of navy blue sheets into the sitting room, and set to work draping them over the backs of the sofa and chairs. Harry took the embroidered pillows from the armchair, and they propped these up against the sofa back inside the tent so they would have something comfortable to rest their backs against them. Upon Snape's encouragement, Harry then braved the stairs to go get the magical phoenix night light that resided there. Snape stood at the bottom of the stairs the whole time.
"Come on, Phoenix," Harry said to it, holding his hands out. Dumbledore had brought the night light when they first arrived here together. It was something of his invention, and Harry had watched as he had taken it from his pocket and instructed it to rest there on the wall. The Phoenix night light flapped its wings and then fluttered into Harry's hands. The magic of it astounded him, and Harry couldn't help but smile at it. Harry brought the phoenix down into the little fort, and it fluttered in and settled on the back of one of the chairs, lightning up the small area.
"There," said Snape, surveying their handiwork.
There was another flash of lightning, and Harry went into the fort. Snape followed, and the two of them sat down, resting against the sofa back.
"Better?" asked Snape, looking down at Harry.
"Yeah," Harry replied, much calmer now. The lightning was not so bright in here, and the phoenix light was calming. "You're really good at building forts."
"Well, I had help," said Snape, smirking.
"How did you think of it?" Harry said, rather amazed at his Professor's ingenuity.
"I built a lot of forts when I was young."
"What were you trying to keep away?" Harry blurted out. The question was quite innocent, but Snape looked shocked. Harry looked down at his feet for a moment. "Sorry," he muttered.
Harry was further amazed when Snape shook his head, and actually replied.
"My father," was the soft answer, and Harry looked up suddenly, studying Snape's face. His brows were furrowed, and he looked thoughtful. "I was trying to keep my father away."
"Why?" Harry whispered, eyes wide, almost afraid to know.
Snape sighed, a thoughtful look on his face. He opened his mouth a few times, as though to speak. After a few failed attempts, the words came out.
"He drank," he said finally. "A lot."
"I-I'm, sorry," Harry said, suddenly feeling his heart clench.
"It was a long time ago," muttered Snape, eyes downcast.
Harry closed his eyes tightly, trying to forget the sound of the storm. For a moment, he opened them again, and looked up at Snape, wanting to tell him that he understood. Snape was not the only one who had been scared for someone in his family to come home. Snape looked expectant, but Harry fell silent, afraid to speak. The sounds of Hermione coming down the stairs met their ears, and Harry looked at his feet.
"Oh, there you two are!" she said in amazement. "I am sorry it took me so long. The books were at the very bottom of a trunk in the attic. I had to do a fair bit of digging. May I come in?"
"Yes," Harry said to her softly.
"What a great fort," she said, looking up at the ceiling made from sheets.
"It's to keep the lightning away," Harry said to her. For a moment, Hermione looked over to Professor Snape when she thought Harry wasn't looking. Harry of course, could see her out of the corner of his eye, and he was surprised by the grateful expression she showed Snape.
"Which book would you like to hear, Harry?" Hermione said after a moment, making room so that Harry could move to sit beside her, so that Harry was in the middle, Professor Snape on his other side.
"You pick," he said.
After a moment Hermione began the story, her voice soft and clear, only occasionally drowned out by thunder.
Harry did not really listen, for all he could think of was Professor Snape as a little boy. Suddenly, that memory he had seen during Occlumency lessons, the one where Snape was a child and crying in the corner while his parents fought, made sense. Harry could almost picture a young Snape, trembling in a homemade fort not too different from this one, probably up in his bedroom while he heard the slamming of doors and raised voices down below, wondering if he was going to get it too. Perhaps it was because Harry had been in a situation not too different from that on many occasions, lying low in his cupboard or out in the garden as he waited, wondering when Uncle Vernon was going to find him after he'd done something freaky, something he couldn't help.
After some time Harry let his mind rest, and he watched the phoenix light. The storm was softer now, and Hermione had started the second book. Harry was getting a little bit sleepy, and so it was a bit of a surprise when Hermione fell silent, the second book finished.
She looked down at Harry.
"Thanks, Hermione," he whispered.
"I think the storm's almost over now," she said. "See, listen. Just rain."
Harry smiled hesitantly.
"Are you ready to go back to bed?"
A huge yawn came over Harry, and Hermione just smiled.
"Yeah, I thought so," she whispered, then lowered her voice even further as she continued. "Looks like Professor Snape is too."
Harry looked to his left, and he had to cover his mouth to stifle a giggle. Snape had fallen fast asleep, slumped up against the sofa back, his chin resting on his chest.
"Come on, Harry," she mouthed, crawling out of the fort and making way for him. Harry came out, and stood by watching as Hermione took one of the knitted throws sitting nearby and carefully settled it on Professor Snape. He let out a soft snore, and she froze, but he did not stir.
With one backward glance at Snape fast asleep, Harry took Hermione's offered hand and went up the dark stairs and let her help him to bed. He was exhausted, and now that the storm was gone the adrenaline had run out, and he was running on an empty tank.
"You know, ‘Mione," Harry said tiredly as she tucked the covers around him in the dimly lit room, his speech becoming childish with fatigue, "me an' Professor Snape aren't so different."
"Really," she said, kneeling by his bedside. "In what way?"
"His family wasn't so good to him either," Harry said, stifling a yawn. "Well, maybe his mummy was. But his daddy was scary an' my Uncle's scary, so I guess we're kinda alike."
"I think you should tell him that," said Hermione thoughtfully, her eyes seeming oddly bright. "Maybe you can tell Professor Snape some of your stories. Perhaps he'll share some of his too."
"Yeah," Harry said, letting Hermione settle Buttons beside him in the bed. "Yeah. Someday ... someday ‘m gonna tell him."
Then he closed his eyes, and to his surprise Hermione pressed her lips to his forehead. He was too tired to react, and fell into a deep sleep in an instant, before she even had the chance to turn the lights out. And in the morning when he vaguely remembered the night before, the memory brought to mind the look he had seen in Mrs. Weasleys' eyes when she saw him, for it was the same look that had been in Hermione's. It was an expression of love, the kind that a family has for each other. For a long time after that Harry stared up at the ceiling his room, the morning light shining on his bed, wondering if anyone had ever looked at Snape that way.