Harry sat on the porch steps, staring wearily out at the dull ocean, its merry sparkling gone thanks to the cloud cover. Off in the distance he could see thunderheads piling up. Despite the fact that it was only five-thirty it felt like late evening, for the sun was blocked out by the incoming clouds. Hermione had asked him a little while ago if he wanted to build a puzzle, but he had told her he wasn't in the mood. In fact, he hadn't much been in the mood to do anything since the night before. He had wet the bed again, this time after a terrible nightmare. It probably hadn't helped that he'd had such a stressful encounter with Great Aunt Isobel. However, the nightmare had not featured her at all, despite this. Instead, it was of the usual horrors. In this particular nightmare Sirius had only half-fallen into the veil and managed to hang onto the stone dias. He had been calling for help, but Harry had been too afraid to move. He had been terrified to go near the veil, and had watched, frozen to the spot as Sirius slowly slipped away.
He had woken up screaming, and Severus braved the stairs to come and see what the matter was. When he got there all that had met him was a wet bed and an empty room, but he had thought to look inside the cupboard again, which was exactly where Harry had fled. Harry had felt so guilty after the dream that he was almost sick to his stomach, between making a mess of his bed, waking everyone up, and Sirius. He tried to let himself cry, he really did, but at that moment the heavy feeling in his chest that had been absent for a while had returned, and since then had stayed long after Severus had coaxed him out of his hiding place. In fact he still felt a little bit sick to his stomach at the thought of it, and the prospect of supper seemed rather daunting.
The storm cloud in the distance seemed to shiver with energy, and Harry felt the breeze ruffle his hair from behind. The clouds were drawing in warm air. Harry sighed heavily. The storm still frightened him to some degree, but the weight in his chest seemed to bring him back to his previous self a fair bit. He didn't feel as childish, and he felt sort of silly as he thought of all that had happened. Yet, a part of him, faced by the return of his depression, wanted nothing more than to grab Buttons and crawl up on Severus' lap. But, however patient Severus had been lately, and even though he had relaxed enough to call Harry by his first name, and let Harry refer to him that way as well, it was something Harry did not dare try.
A small, childish voice spoke, however.
But Severus held you when you saw Sirius' boggart. Don't you remember? And what about when he first found you in the cupboard, and he let you sit with him?
Harry frowned, staring at his shoes. Yes, he thought, but his older mind, the one that had learned not to trust or hope, said, But he only did that because of your accidental magic. It would have brought down the house if you'd kept going that way. And he only held you in the cupboard because he was afraid of the same thing, that you would start doing accidental magic again.
Harry looked up from his feet and stared off at the horizon. The storm had gotten closer. Knowing that Severus wouldn't much like him to be out in bad weather, Harry numbly stood up. His body ached, and for a moment he almost fell back onto the steps in exhaustion. Harry took in a deep breath and took another step toward the house, and another. He walked slowly inside, through the empty sitting room, and stopped at the bottom of the stairs. He looked up them. Why did all this seem so difficult? His sluggish mind could not answer the question, but he grabbed a hold of the bars on the wood railing of the staircase, and slowly ascended, each step feeling like a mountain. At last he reached his room, and without even bothering to close his door he stumbled over to the bed. He crawled up onto it and threw the covers over his head. After a moment of hesitation, he reached his hand out of the nest of blankets and dragged Buttons toward him, those black button eyes greeting him with love despite the way that Harry felt. He held Buttons tightly to his chest, trying to ground himself to a world he did not feel a part of. For a moment he wondered if he really was here, or if somehow, his spirit - the life in him that was - had left for someplace better. He sighed heavily, and he left his mind go blank as the familiar bittersweet flavour of profound sadness washed over him. It hurt, and yet somehow, it felt oddly right. Harry supposed this was similar to the way adults felt about alcohol, something he had only tasted once out of curiosity when he was young and Uncle Vernon wasn't looking. He had gotten caught, and had been in a great deal of trouble, but he still remembered well the taste and feel of it in his mouth. It was sharp and bitter. His memory of alcohol made him think of depression, for he thought that the two things shared something rather significant in common, that thing being that after a while, you started to like how it burned.
Twenty minutes later. Harry heard Severus calling for he and Hermione to come downstairs for supper. He didn't move. It was about three minutes after this that he heard the footsteps on the stairs. By the slow, clunky sound of the steps Harry presumed it to be Severus. Harry scrunched his face up tightly.
"Harry?" said Severus' voice. It was soft, and Harry thought he could detect concern in his voice.
The steps came closer, and Harry felt Severus' weight settle on the side of the bed as he sat down. Harry remained where he was, lying with his back to Snape, the covers pulled over his head.
"Harry, it's time for supper," said Severus softly, his hand resting on Harry's back for a moment.
"I'm not hungry," Harry said, his voice muffled by the covers over his head.
"Were you sleeping?"
"No," Harry said before it occurred to him that Severus might leave him alone if he said he was napping.
"Will you look at me?" Severus asked, although not unkindly.
Harry tried for a moment to sit up, but settled back onto his side, back facing Severus still, the covers over his head.
"I feel heavy."
"Is that nightmare still bothering you?"
"Yes," whispered Harry.
"It was not your fault. He would have felt terrible had he stayed behind."
"I know," Harry said out of habit.
"No," Severus said, although not unkindly. "You do not. But you will."
Harry felt a hand rest on his back again. It was gentle, and when Severus spoke his voice was understanding.
"I can save you some food if you would like."
Harry did not answer, but Severus did not seem to have been waiting for one. He got up quietly, and strode to the door.
"Wait," Harry said, lifting the covers off his head. "I - I think maybe ... I'm a little hungry after all."
The warm smile that came from Severus surprised Harry, and after a moment he found the strength to get out of bed. And while his feet felt like lead, he walked slowly toward Severus as though he was cutting through thick fog. When Harry reached him he held out his left hand, and Harry took it. For a moment he leaned against Severus' leg.
"Thanks Sev'rus," he whispered.
Severus squeezed his hand silently, looking down at Harry with a strange expression on his face. Harry realized, to his surprise, that it was pride.
Together they went down the stairs and into the kitchen. Harry still felt a little bit numb, but less so, and he was able to eat some of the spaghetti that Dobby had brought. Neither Severus nor Hermione pushed him to talk, but kept the conversation light between themselves, and for this, Harry was glad.
After supper Harry stood at the screen door, watching through the screen as the storm approached. Severus was practising wand movements with his left hand, using a plain stick that Poppy had brought by earlier in the day. He seemed to be quite keen to get started doing magic, and Harry had learned at the supper table that Poppy thought he was almost ready to do simple charms again, which was why she gave him the practise wand (although he still had to do the muggle sewing cards, which Severus was annoyed about). Hermione was knitting a hat for an elf - which she informed Harry was for Dobby as a thank you for all the good meals he had put together for them, and the cleaning he had done. Harry thought it looked a little bit like a giant caterpillar, but he didn't say so because he knew Dobby would love it anyway.
It was now almost completely dark outside, for the great anvil-shaped clouds had grown even larger and now covered the whole sky. Lightning had started to streak across the sky. Harry watched, fearful, and yet unable to look away. It was perfectly calm, and the lightning up above was so frequent that each fork might have just been an extension of the first. Yet, there was no sound.
"Where's the thunder?" Harry asked in a hushed voice, a faint shiver breaking through his numbness and running down his spine. "There's so much lightning, but no sound. How come?"
"It could be heat lightning, perhaps, which is when lightning is too far away to be heard," said Hermione without her usual sensible tone, looking up from her knitting. She did so slowly, as though she was rather tired, the way she had seemed all day. Harry thought she might be a bit depressed as well. He smiled at her in thanks for answering his question, even though it was hard for him to do so.
"Probably," Harry told her, "but still, they don't really look far away."
Harry heard a shuffling behind him, and was surprised when Snape joined him at the screen. He too looked up into the sky.
"Those do seem close," he said with a frown. "Perhaps the lightning is simply too high up for us to hear."
"It makes me all shivery," Harry said, wrapping his arms around himself.
Just then, a gust of hot air blew through the screen, and the first roll of thunder could be heard.
"Ah, there it is," Severus commented upon hearing it. He looked down at Harry for a moment, and Harry looked up at him. In a voice too soft for Hermione to hear, he added, "Are you alright? Would you like me to close the door, and the blinds on the windows?"
"I'm okay," Harry said, but his mouth was dry, and the lightning was making him shake. Yet, somehow, he was drawn to it. "I ... I wanna watch."
"Alright," Severus said slowly. "If it gets too much, let me know."
Severus went back to his chair to continue practising wand movements with a surprising amount of zest (occasionally sending the practise wand flying into a couch cushion or clattering across the floor, all of his blunders dismissed and followed by a fresh attempt that mimicked the same eagerness as a first year). Harry rested his hands on the screen. A loud crack of thunder sounded overhead. It was extremely close, and the flash had been blinding. Harry wanted to close his eyes, but he forced himself to watch despite his fear. It gave him feeling. It made him feel alive.
Shortly after the thunder died away the first drops of rain started, and Harry watched as the flashes illuminated them in the darkness. The wind picked up as the rain pounded on the roof, and Harry watched as the trees waved in the wind. He edged to the left of the screen, and he stared out into the space to the right side of the cottage. A series of lightning flashes cast blinding light over the trees, making the branches seem to move in slow motion. Harry's eyes were drawn immediately to the far right, and what he saw made his breath catch in his throat.
Just barely illuminated by the intermittent flashes of lightning, the wind whipping its fur, was an enormous, shaggy black dog. It was staring straight at him, and before he even could consider that the wind was now whistling through the trees at an alarming pace, that the rain was coming down in icy sheets, that the lightning was dancing across the sky, he started toward it. Harry didn't even hear Severus calling his name as he pushed the screen door open and ran down the slippery porch steps and in the direction he had seen Padfoot.
Severus dropped the fake wand with a clatter, his heart seeming to have jumped up into his throat, his activity all but forgotten.
"Harry, come back here!" he called.
Hermione looked up in alarm, but Severus did pay any attention to that. He was out the door before she could gasp with shock, stumbling down the slick steps and out into the rushing wind, struggling to catch up with Harry.
"HARRY, COME BACK HERE!"
The thunder crashed in his ears and the lightning lit up the small figure sprinting across the sopping grass. For a second Severus thought that he saw the silhouette of an animal off in the distance, but he blinked and it was gone, Harry the only thing in sight.
Harry slipped and slid over the grass, the rain splattering on his small glasses and making it hard to see. His breaths came in gasps, his ears deaf to the cries for him to come back. He was at the edge of the house, and Padfoot was nowhere to be seen. He glanced all around, and for a moment, he became aware of the flashes overhead, and he felt his stomach clench with fear. Then he turned to his right. The tree that held the swing was waving in the wind, its black branches arching across a fiery, white sky. Beneath it was where Harry saw him. The great dog stood directly under the tree, watching, waiting.
Harry turned the corner, and ran along the side of the cottage, his eyes pinned on Padfoot.
Severus was running faster than he could remember running with his brace before, and his leg threatened to give out completely beneath him, but as Harry turned the corner he sped up despite this. His chest was heaving, his hair sticking to his face in the rain, his whole body shaking from the memories that came crashing down on him during ever roar of thunder, every flash of lightning. He caught sight of the tree, bending and twisting in the wind with the swing waving wildly, and the small form of Harry could be seen dashing toward it. What Harry was running for, Severus did not know, but it was clear he did not see what Severus did. Fear electrified Severus' senses, and he kept sprinting toward the tree, not far behind Harry. He could hear Hermione shouting at a distance, nowhere near close enough to either of them.
"GET AWAY FROM THE TREE!" Severus cried despite the fact that his voice was barely working.
But Harry halted beneath it, looking frantically around, as though he was looking for something ... and the trunk kept bending, its old, rotten centre ready to yield to the wind. Feet from the tree, Severus bit into his lip and tasted blood. His legs screamed as he increased his speed, hoping to the heavens that he wouldn't be too late.
The crack was like a gunshot.