Harry screamed as the snapping sound of the tree shattering met his ears. Bits of bark and rotten wood flew through the air, and for a second all he knew was the roar of the wind and the cracking sounds of branches falling. Then, quite suddenly, a streak of black went across his vision and an arm had him around the middle and scooped him up. He shut his eyes tightly, hearing the creaking sound of the tree falling, and then before he knew it he was on the ground and the strong figure that had been carrying him was over top of him, clutching him tightly.
Harry heard another scream off in the distance, and it took him a moment to realize that it was Hermione. He blinked slightly as everything seemed to go still, the thunder and wind seeming to pause for a second that felt like forever. It was Severus who was lying on top of him. Harry recognized the black t-shirt that Severus had been wearing. The warmth of his chest over Harry was a stark contrast to the cold of the ground. His vision blurred by tears, Harry peered through a small window created between Severus' arm and side, and up above Harry could see leaves and snapped branches, lightning still dancing across the sky. Harry realized right then that he was crying, tears running down his cheeks, his wails lost in the thunder. His mind was blurred with fear, but he could hear Hermione fighting through the tree limbs to get to them. Severus was not moving.
For a moment, Harry feared the worst, and then the arm tightened around him, and a small moan rang through Harry's ears. Harry started to cry harder, and Severus stirred. He gripped Harry tightly, and his left hand secured itself around Harry. Harry felt Snape roll over and sit up. Harry was still clutched to Snape's chest, and he pressed his face into Severus' shirt, his cries muffled, hiding his eyes. Padfoot was nowhere to be seen.
Severus sat up, still holding Harry tightly to him with his left arm. There was debris from the fallen tree everywhere, and he could see the enormous trunk about five feet to his left, having fallen parallel to where they now sat. After a moment, his mind feeling numb with adrenaline, he managed to get to his feet amidst the tangle of sticks and leaves, his left arm holding Harry to his hip. His legs shook under him, but his slightly blurred vision focused, and he saw Hermione had fought her way to where they were. He glanced around the mess of fallen limbs, and it was then that he realized just how lucky they had been.
Besides the trunk being so close, a foot to his left was a thick tree limb, to his right another. Severus felt Harry lift his head from his shoulder for a second and look around. When he saw what Severus did he fell silent and pressed his eyes into Severus' neck.
"Are you alright?" Hermione called above the sound of the storm, her voice shaking.
"I - I think so," Severus said.
"I can take Harry, if you need," Hermione said as he fought his way out of the tangle of branches with care.
"I've got him," Severus told her, amazed as much as she seemed to be that he was able to carry Harry with his good arm.
Harry let out a tiny sob, and once everyone was free the three of them walked with care to the house, fighting the wind and rain. Hermione held the door open for Severus. He thanked her dizzily, and stepped into the sitting room, sinking onto the sofa immediately with Harry upon his lap, exhaustion having caught up to him.
Hermione shut the heavy wood door over the screen door, and grabbed a knitted throw from the armchair. She draped it over Harry and Severus.
"Thank you, Hermione," said Severus, amazed he was even able to speak.
"Shall ... Shall I go makes some tea?" she said, looking pale, but unable to sit still despite this. "To calm the nerves?"
"If you feel up to it."
She nodded, looking as though she welcomed the distraction. For a moment she paused to close the blinds in the living room, blocking out the lightning. She glanced fervently at Harry, then turned up the lamp and left for the kitchen, leaving Severus and Harry alone.
Harry shifted slightly so he was lying across Severus' lap, his cheek resting against his chest. He took in a shuddering breath and looked up at Severus. His mind was finally starting to work properly again, and now that it was, there was something that he didn't understand.
"W-Why did ... y-you do that?" he asked, his words coming out in shuddering gasps.
"Do what?" was the quiet reply.
"Run under the tree when it b-broke."
"It was going to fall on you," said Severus, looking puzzled.
"You ... you coulda d-died!"
"You almost died ‘cause of m-me. Why?"
"Because I care about you," Severus said slowly, his words almost sounding as though they were a surprise to himself.
"But ... what if you'd died?"
"If I managed to save you ... it would have been worth it."
Harry stared, a strange, warm feeling deep within him.
"You wouldn't have blamed me?"
"I saw Sirius," Harry said thickly as the tears started to fall, his mind suddenly flashing to the image of Padfoot under the tree. "I saw Padfoot. I chased him. That's why I went outside."
Harry expected Severus to tell him it was his imagination, but for some reason, Snape simply paled.
"Is that so," was Severus' reply.
"And ... a-and then y-you saved me," Harry said. "You coulda d-died!"
"It was a risk I was willing to take," Severus told him, emphasizing what he had essentially said earlier.
"And .... And S-Sirius was willing to t-take it t-too?" Harry asked suddenly, the realization hitting him hard.
"Yes. He was, and he did. It was a chance he would have taken again, gladly. Just ... just as I would be willing to take it again."
"I'm s-sorry, Sev'rus," Harry sobbed, clutching at Severus' shirt, unable to look into his eyes and thus burying his face in the fabric. "I'm soo sorrry. And S-Sirius ... I never m-meant for him t-to d-d-die!"
"I know," Severus replied heavily. "I forgive you. I ... I am sure that he would too."
The tears came faster, and Harry felt Snape's arm tighten around him as the sobs grew louder. It was as though a dam had finally broken, and once it had, Harry couldn't stop it. He cried for what had just happened, for what Severus had just done, for all the things he had hoped for when he found out Sirius was his Godfather, for all the dreams that had died when he was taken from him, for the guilt he had lived with for so long, and for the realization that it wasn't his fault. For the realization that he was loved. He cried until he didn't have any tears left, and all the while Severus spoke to him softly, telling him he would be alright. Until at last, his sobs softened, and his eyes grew dry, and he lay quietly on Severus' lap, kept warm by the knitted throw. The cup of tea Hermione had made Severus had grown cold beside him. Harry didn't remember her coming in to bring it to Severus.
Severus looked down at the little boy leaning into him, small fingers playing with the fabric of his black t-shirt. Harry looked content at last, thankfully. Though his eyes were puffy, he looked better now that he had accepted the handkerchief from Severus and blown his nose. He sniffled softly again.
Severus felt the relief growing inside himself, but his mind was not exactly at ease. He pondered what Harry had said, about having seen the animagus form of Black. He would ordinarily have dismissed the thought, but he had thought he had seen something too while running after Harry. Yes, it had been dark and disorienting in the storm, but Severus was almost positive he hadn't been seeing things. Either some animal had been loose earlier, he and Harry had had similar hallucinations, or ... perhaps ...
A rather silly thought occurred to him, and yet, he had trouble dismissing it. Was it possible that it had not been Black, but the Grim? They had so narrowly escaped being crushed that Severus feared it had been. He knew it was stupid to think such a thing, but a part of him could not help it. Yet, could it have been something besides the Grim, and could Black really have made a short appearance? Stranger things happened every day in the magical world, and was it not possible that he had led Harry under the tree so that Severus would save him, and help him see the truth he so desperately needed to understand, that it was not his fault? The tree had fallen in such a way that they hadn't been touched, and after seeing the mangled wreckage, Severus could scarcely believe that they had come out with only minor scratches. But would Black condone his long-time enemy keeping Harry safe? Severus frowned, and shook his head. Yet, he could not dismiss the thought, for perhaps now, if Black was out there somewhere, he could see how things had changed ... that Severus wasn't who he used to be. But had he? Had he truly changed? Severus thought so.
Of these things he pondered for a long time, nothing but the growl of thunder to interrupt his thoughts, until hesitantly Harry spoke.
"You are?" said Severus, relieved but unsurprised considering how little Harry ate at supper. "What would you like?"
"Grilled Cheese?" Harry asked hesitantly as he slid of Severus' lap and onto the ground, his fingers picking at the threads around the pockets of his overalls.
"I think I can make that," Severus replied, getting up from the sofa.
Harry smiled and slid his hand into Severus'. The warmth of the small hand in his was oddly comforting to Severus, and together they started to walk to the kitchen. For a moment, Severus was surprised at how slow Harry was walking. He slowed his pace so Harry could keep up.
His heart jumped into his throat when Harry's hand went limp in his. Severus tightened his grip as Harry fell to his knees, but his small hand slipped. Severus was at least able to slow his descent by doing this.
"Harry!" Severus said, alarmed as he looked down at the collapsed little boy.
Severus knelt down to where Harry was lying perfectly still. He felt his wrist, and luckily, there was a pulse, but Harry was deathly pale.
"HERMIONE!" Severus yelled in the direction of the stairs, "COME HERE!"
Hermione sprinted down into the sitting room in record speed, a book still dangling from one hand. When she saw Harry lying still upon the ground, Severus kneeling beside him, she gasped. The book slid from her fingers, and she paid no attention to it.
"I - I do not know, he just fainted," Severus told her with bewilderment. "Give me a hand and carry him up to his bed, will you? I'm going to get that enchanted sickle to signal Dumbledore and Poppy. He might just be changing back ... but I don't want to risk anything. He said he was hungry a moment earlier - it could be something else as well."
Hermione did as she was told and scooped Harry up into her arms. His head lolled on his chin, and his arm dangled lifelessly. It frightened Severus terribly, but he knew he couldn't afford to lose sight of what he had to do. He heard Crookshanks yowl as he came to investigate. The cat followed Hermione, watching intently as she carried Harry.
Severus travelled to his room as quickly as he could and wrenched open the drawer that he kept the sickle in. He did not see it immediately, but he supposed it must have slid under the single stack of parchment paper within the desk from opening and closing the drawer. He took the paper out of the drawer and shook the whole stack. He threw these onto his bed when nothing came out, and he stared in fear at the empty wooden drawer. His eyes caught sight of a crack in the back of it. He had not seen that there before. Had he noticed it, he never would have left the sickle here.
He swore and went to the bottom of the stairs.
"Hermione?" he called.
She poked her head out of Harry's door.
"I need you to do a summoning charm to get the sickle. I think it's fallen somewhere inside the desk inside my bedroom. I will sit with Harry in the meantime."
Hermione nodded and rushed down the stairs. Severus went up, and when he reached the top he entered Harry's room. He sat down on the chair Hermione had set down beside Harry's bed, and he stared at the little boy nestled under the covers, his glasses folded neatly on the top shelf that made up the headboard. He was so pale, lying there. Hermione had settled the stuffed lion next to him, and Crookshanks was curled up by the headboard, his yellow eyes pinned on Harry.
Severus glanced at the door, then back at Harry, and when he was sure nobody was looking he smoothed the covers slightly.
"Wake up, come on," he said, feeling Harry's forehead. It was strangely cool, with droplets of sweat.
After a moment, Hermione returned, looking ill.
"Severus?" she said in a low voice.
"Did you get it?"
"N-No," Hermione replied, twisting her hands. "I tried summoning it so many times, but it d-didn't come. I hoped it would make some noise at least, trying to get to me, but I've listened, and l-listened, and I can't hear it in the desk, or anywhere else downstairs. I think it must be lodged in that crack in the back somewhere so tightly it can't move. Either that ... or maybe Dobby accidentally swept it up when he was cleaning? Oh ... why now?"
She sunk down on the bed, putting her face in her hands, falling silent. Severus too could not think of anything to say for a moment. The wind battered the house and made it moan, the rolling thunder overhead louder upstairs than it had been in the sitting room.
"Hermione, have you ever done a Patronus charm?" Severus said slowly. "If you can conjure one, you can give the Patronus a message, which it can pass on extremely fast."
She looked up at him, her face devoid of tears, but worry etched in lines across her forehead.
"H-Harry taught us last year," she said quietly, a soft tremble running through her words. "But ... Severus, I've never been good at them. And now ... lately ... I just ... I don't think I can."
"I cannot do the wand movement," Severus admitted, his voice shaking slightly. "The swishing motion - it needs to be smooth and quick. I ... I have tried to conjure my Patronus a few times ... as a comfort. And my left hand just can't do it well enough. You are the only one here that has a chance. You must."
Hermione looked deep into Severus' eyes as he told her he could not conjure his Patronus, and for the first time since she had known him, she saw true fear in them. Even when they had encountered the boggart in the laundry room she had not seen this kind of fear in his eyes. It had been more so a look of disappointment upon his face when he could not tackle the boggart, but now, she knew he truly was afraid of what might happen should there be something truly wrong with Harry, and they were unable to help him.
The grief that weighed on her soul intensified for a moment when she thought of casting a Patronus. How could she possibly accomplish what she had only occasionally been able to do under good circumstances? Yet, looking down at Harry, and seeing the look on Severus' face, she knew she could not give up so easily.
"I can try," she said softly.
"I believe that you can do it," Severus told her firmly. "Please, for Harry."
Hermione closed her eyes, and concentrated on the memory she had always used for casting her Patronus - the memory of coming home for Christmas in her first year, and seeing her mother and father beaming on the platform, waving at her, her father's arm around her mother's shoulder.
"Expecto Patronum!" she gasped. For a second there was a flicker of light, but the pressure in her chest increased, and it died.
"Try again," Severus said urgently, glancing at Harry, whose breathing was so shallow it seemed as though he may have stopped if it were not for the occasional rise and fall of his chest. "I know you have it in you."
"Expecto Patronum!" she said after a moment of focus. "E-Expecto Patronum!"
This time there was no light at all.
"S-Severus, I can't!" she said, the tears flowing down her face at last. "E-Every t-time I think about them ... it starts out okay, and then ... all I can feel is emptiness. The only memories that have ever worked are w-with M-Mum and Dad in them."
"There has to be another memory, another thought that brings you happiness," Severus said urgently. "Think, Hermione!"
So Hermione closed her eyes, and she scanned though memories beginning from the time she could remember, until now. She spent a good couple of minutes thinking, pondering, until at last, she thought she had a memory that worked. For a moment, when she thought of it, some of the heaviness lifted, and that was when she knew that this memory stood a chance.
She let it fill her soul, she let her mind exist within it, and quietly, slowly, she raised her wand.
"Expecto Patronum," she whispered.
A silver otter burst from her wand in a flurry of sparks, swimming through the air around Hermione, its bright light filling the room. Hope expanded in her chest, and the otter grew brighter until its power was greater than any Patronus she had managed so far, for the sheer relief she felt at knowing it had worked fuelled the Patronus. Tears filled her eyes, but they were not tears of sorrow.
"Tell it what you want to say," Severus said. The relief was evident in the breathless way he spoke.
"Go to Dumbledore and Madam Pomfrey," she gasped to the otter now staring at her intently. "Tell them Harry is unconscious and Severus and I need them to come now, and that we think Harry might be turning back but we cannot be sure."
The otter nodded, and Hermione and Severus watched as it did a small flip in the air and sped through the glass of the window, and out into the dark night. Its silver light could be seen in the shimmering rain for only a moment before it had disappeared from view.
Hermione fell back on the end of the bed, her breaths coming quickly.
"I did it," she whispered dazedly. "I did it."
They were silent for a few moments, and the full force of the roaring wind and rain on the windowpane could be heard.
"That was a powerful Patronus," Severus said quietly after some time, sounding impressed. "What ... what was the memory, if you don't mind me asking?"
Hermione sat up with care. With a thoughtful look in her eyes she reached a hand out to trace the lines on the wooden posts at the end of the bed. After a moment, she answered.
"It ... it was here ... this place," she muttered. "Bell Point, I mean."
Severus looked thoughtful as she spoke, but this look was replaced with worry all too quickly as he continued to watch Harry, the gentle creases on his forehead visible.
They said no more after that, and simply sat and listened to the storm, watching Harry closely as they waited for Dumbledore to arrive, neither able to acknowledge the silent worry that had fallen over them.