Severus swore heavily, brows furrowed. He was trying to tie his shoelace, but his fingers were not cooperating.
"Here, let me, Severus," said Poppy. "You have worked hard enough."
"No," Severus spat. "I'll get it myself."
Poppy sat, waiting patiently while Severus struggled with the laces.
"Albus wants to see you," said Poppy. "He has found a place where you can go into hiding until you have recovered."
Severus did not respond, but his face pinched even more with frustration as the bow slipped from beneath his clumsy fingers once again.
After a few more tries, Poppy silently bent down and tied them for him.
"Remember, it's not good for you to get so angry," she said to Severus calmly. He was panting, and had finally ceased swearing. His fists were clenched, or as much as they could be.
"I can do it myself, Poppy!" he said very loudly, the sheets on the nearby beds fluttering.
"No Severus, you can't," she said patiently, and the sheets fell limp again as he looked down at his feet, expression downcast. "Not yet. But you will be able to eventually, though not for a while. If you keep taking your potions, and doing those exercises I showed you, it will improve somewhat. Besides, do not expect to get anything completely right on the first try. It may take a few attempts before you have the strength and coordination to complete certain tasks."
Severus leaned back in his chair, his scowl relaxing a little bit.
"I know you are just trying to make things easier," he muttered, at last finding the right words. "I just ... I hate it when people try to help me."
"You're going to have to learn to accept a little bit of help until your dexterity has returned. It takes time to build skills and strength."
He did not respond, but continued to stare witheringly in the direction of his feet, as though the shoelaces were at fault for his predicament.
"Can I let Albus in now?"
"Yes," he muttered.
She strode over to the door, and Dumbledore entered when she opened it. Madam Pomfrey retreated into her office, and Dumbledore came over to where Severus was sitting and sat down in a chair opposite him.
"How are you?" inquired Dumbledore.
"Alive," said Severus. He didn't really feel like he could say anything else. He was not in the mood to discuss his feelings on his predicament.
"I am very grateful that you are," was Dumbledore's reply. "But now that you are in relatively good health, we must move forward. I fear for your safety, Severus."
"The castle is perfectly safe. He cannot reach me here."
"Ah, but he has breached these walls before, by some means or another. I want to move you to a secure location. We have one place, which was been built and warded for the Order of the Phoenix years ago. It is under the fidelus charm, like headquarters, and is much more fit to live in. While Grimmauld Place is secure, I do not believe it would be a good place for you to recover. Bell Point will be the place for you to do that."
Severus was mildly interested. "I suppose that sounds alright."
"Indeed. It is by the sea, and the air is nice and fresh. There is plenty of room for roaming, so you would not need to be indoors all the time. I think that space is a very important thing if we are going to properly rehabilitate you."
"You are certainly making it sound good," said Severus slowly, narrowing his eyes. "But tell me ... what is the catch? If there was not one you would not be talking the place up so much."
Dumbledore frowned slightly.
"Alright Severus, the catch is that you won't be the only one there. There has been a rather strange mishap, and like with you, I do not believe that Grimmauld Place would be a suitable choice for recovery in this case."
"What happened? Who is it?"
"I believe it is a case of Superessendam Magicis," said Dumbledore, choosing his words carefully. "You are familiar with it?"
"Yes, Survival Magic," said Severus automatically, intrigued "It's like an instinct, isn't it? You cannot do it knowingly."
"Exactly. In this case Superessendam Magicis was invoked in order to protect the mental wellbeing of the person, which is often the case. I believe that it will be helpful for you to understand the situation, if you are to be staying with whom I speak of."
"Who am I staying with?"
"I shall inform you after I explain the situation Severus," said Albus.
Severus had a bad feeling about this.
"After Superessendam Magicis was performed, it turned the unwitting caster into a child once more. He is now, physically, about four years old, although he still retains his older mind. The reason for this, I believe is due to his reaction to the loss of someone he cared for. As, from what I have learned from those who were living with him before the incident, he has not been dealing well with this, and has not been expressing any of his feelings over the matter, as well as blaming himself for the loss of whom he loved."
"So, in order for him to recover mentally, he had to enter a state in which it was easier to grieve, thus, he became a child."
"Well deducted," Albus said, impressed.
"Now who is it? Who am I staying with?" Severus asked, rather smug from Dumbledore's praise.
Harry sat in the sand as the water rushed up and down over the slightly rocky seashore. Gulls flew overhead and the afternoon sun flitted in and out of the clouds. The waves darkened the sand as they passed over the beach, leaving an imprint from where the water had flowed over it. As the moments passed on the sand grew lighter, only to be soaked again by another cold wave. Harry watched the pull of the ocean, rising and falling, falling and rising. It was never ending - eternal. He wished that people you loved could be that way - never die, always stay alive, just as the ocean was, dancing over the beach under the cry of the gulls.
The salty tang of the sea air filled Harry's lungs as he took a deep breath. He slid one of his hands into the sand and pulled up a handful of it, watching it fall, grain by grain by grain back onto the beach. There was a little tin shovel and pail beside him, but he ignored these. When Dumbledore had apparated Harry to Bell Point, he had gone up into the attic of the little cottage by the sea and pulled from an ancient looking trunk the pail and shovel. Harry hadn't had the heart to tell him he didn't play like a four year old, even if he looked like one, for Dumbledore had been quite convinced he had given Harry a wonderful treat. So he let Dumbledore depart to Hogwarts once more, thinking happily that he had found an enjoyable activity to occupy Harry's time until he returned later in the day with Professor Snape.
Over the crashing of the waves and the crying birds Harry heard the sounds of someone's feet sliding in the sand. In a moment someone else sat down beside him, and gently slid a small, well-worn Chudley Cannons baseball cap on his head. He did not have the willpower to protest.
"Wouldn't want you to get sunburned," said Mrs. Weasley with a sad little smile.
"Thank you," whispered Harry, although he did not want to wear a hat.
"Ron says hello," she said. "He promises he will write soon, and he told me to tell you that he wishes you could have come to the Burrow this summer."
"I wish I could have too," said Harry, hands stirring up the sand again.
"I know, dear," sighed Mrs. Weasley. She was silent for a moment before continuing. "This place is beautiful, though. It might be fun. There is even a nice swing hanging from a tree a ways from the cottage."
Harry didn't respond.
"I'm sorry about what happened, Harry, I really am," she said. "About Sirius too. Professor Dumbledore is as well."
"I bet Snape isn't," spat Harry, staring off into the distance at the swelling sea.
"I think you should go easy on Severus, Harry," said Mrs. Weasley. "We are all foolish when it comes to our enemies, and while I know he did awful things to Sirius, have you ever considered that he did such things because he has known little but cruelty all his life? He has by no means had an easy time on this earth."
"But he's still horrid," said Harry.
"He does not make it easy for others to like him, Harry, I know," said Mrs. Weasley patiently. "But please, when he arrives, treat him with respect. You don't have to like him in the least, but remember that he too has been through a very difficult ordeal in this last week. Just try to understand, if nothing else. I am sorry you must be here with him, but sometimes there is nothing to do but try and make the best of it."
"Is he really in that bad of shape? Dumbledore didn't say how bad he was hurt, except that he probably won't be teaching next year." Harry scowled. Selfishly he thought that surely Snape could have made along just fine on his own, somewhere away from him.
"Yes, he is in bad shape," said Mrs. Weasley. "Professor Snape has partial paralysis all along his right side. He may never be able to cast a spell with his right hand again, but we are hoping he will improve. His left hand, at least, has enough movement to cast spells with practise and training. Go easy on him. I know it is hard, but he is going through something just as trying as your situation. He has had to relearn a lot of things as of late."
"Oh," said Harry, feeling a little guilty.
"Please, promise me that you will give him a chance."
Harry looked up into her pleading, hopeful eyes.
"I will, Mrs. Weasley," he whispered. "I'll try. I promise."
"You're a good boy, Harry," she said, that sad smile on her face again as she patted him on the cheek before getting up.
"I'm going in to make some lunch," she said. "I'll call you when it is ready. And please, stay out of the water. I am afraid the current might be too strong for you if you go in alone."
"I won't go in," he said. "It's too cold, anyhow."
Looking relieved, she turned toward the cottage and began her way up the small dirt path between the grasses.
"Wait, Mrs. Weasley," Harry called suddenly to her, and she turned to look at him, her apron fluttering in the breeze, her red hair standing out starkly against the lightly coloured stone walls of the cottage. "Thank you for staying with me for a while."
"You're welcome dear," she said, the sadness in her smile disappearing for a moment or two. "I am just sorry I cannot stay longer."
She then turned away and went up onto the porch and through the door into the cottage, leaving Harry to keep stirring up the bits of beach around where he sat, extracting seashells from the warm sand.
Severus took a shaky step away from Dumbledore. He jerked his arm out of Dumbledore's grasp irritably.
"I can walk fine with the leg brace you know," he spat. "I'm not that bloody incompetent."
Dumbledore did not reply, but watched warily as Severus took a few more shaky steps, his right leg now holding with the new brace that Poppy had gotten made earlier.
Severus ignored Dumbledore's wary looks as he surveyed the seashore. They were standing on what was Bell Point, the sea shore slapping the stone outcrop they had landed on. Severus glanced to his right, where the rocky point turned to a sandy beach. Down the way he could see a small boy collecting pebbles and throwing them as far as he could. They made little splashes in the water, but up on the windy outcrop of the rock the sound of the splash was lost.
"Is that Potter?" asked Severus, amazed.
"Yes," said Dumbledore.
"Merlin, he's small," was his muttered reply.
"Yes, and you will do well to remember that. He may have much of his teenaged way of thinking left, but his mind functions in some ways like that of a child. He will not be as resilient, so do not treat him as you do in class. He has been through many trials as of late."
"Must you turn everything into a lecture?" said Severus wearily, trying to clasp his stiff hands behind his back as he stood on the rock, his hair whipping in the wind. "What kind of person do you think I am? I wouldn't hurt a four year old, even if he is Potter."
"Just be mindful of what you say, is all," said Dumbledore. "You have a tendency to be rude without meaning to be."
"I learned from the best," grumbled Severus, his brows furrowed. "Pity you never met my father. He was a charmer."
"Let us head to the cottage, and I will show you your room," said Dumbledore, ignoring Severus' bitter comments.
Slowly, they walked down from the rocky outcrop and onto the sloping, grassy hill that led to the cottage. It was a beautiful little place, Severus had to admit. Carefully he ascended the two steps onto the wide porch, his left hand clutching the rail by the steps. Dumbledore hovered nearby, ready to help at any moment. This irked Severus to no end.
Once on the porch he turned around to survey the view, just for a moment, his hands resting on the white painted railing that wrapped around the porch. Through two large trees they could see the seashore. Potter was still throwing rocks into the water, and as he bent down to pick another up, he turned toward the cottage. Potter stared curiously from under his faded orange hat, watching Severus, who was still standing sentinel on the porch. Severus made no move to acknowledge Potter, and he turned on his heel and limped into the house. Molly stood waiting, and she greeted him cheerfully.
"Your room is the one on ground floor," said Albus, leading him down a very short hall beside the sitting room and through a bedroom door. "Perhaps, once you have improved we might move you to the second bedroom upstairs so that you can continue to build strength doing the stairs."
Severus nodded, and sat heavily on the bed, which was soft and with feathers.
"I hope it will be comfortable for you here, Severus," said Molly rather hurriedly. "I'm sorry, but I must excuse myself to go check on the bread in the oven."
She turned on her heel and left for the kitchen, leaving Dumbledore and Severus alone, taking in the smells of fresh bread that perfumed the cottage.
Severus glanced morosely around the room. It was comfortable enough. The walls were painted a creamy yellow, and the window was propped open with a piece of driftwood. The fresh scent of the sea drifted into the room as well, the breeze fluttering the pale curtains slightly. There was a light brown braided rug on the floor.
"Molly will be here for much of the week, and then after that she will only be able to drop in every so often," said Dumbledore. "She has had to take a part-time job in Ottery-St. Catchpole so that her family can put away some money in case they must go into hiding in the next few years. But she will be around from time to time, and Poppy will be here every day for a little while to help you with your exercises, so she can assist the two of you with some things. After a week, if Molly thinks that leaving you and Harry to manage on your own is too much I will figure something out. For now, the plan is for Dobby the house elf drop meals off for you two when Molly is not here. If you have any requests, either tell him in person or write a list to leave for him."
"A list, Albus?" said Severus scathingly, jerking his right hand slightly.
"Oh dear," muttered Dumbledore. "I am so sorry."
"It does not matter."
Dumbledore glanced at his watch, the little planets and stars ticking away.
"I am afraid I must go soon," he said. "You will be alright here?"
"Do not hesitate to ask Molly for help, Severus, she is happy to do so," Dumbledore said. "I will be back to visit in a few days, so until then, good luck. But first, I must tell you that this cottage is not connected to the Floo network for the sake of hiding it, so if there is an emergency while Molly is away, grab a hold of this." He pulled a sickle from his pocket, and tapped it with his wand. It glowed blue briefly, and then returned to its normal colour. He pulled out two more sickles, and tapped these as well, muttering a different incantation. The sickles all glowed this time before returning to their ordinary colour. He handed Severus the first coin, then took the set of coins and put them in his pocket. "When you hold your sickle in your closed hand for more than thirty seconds, it will make my coin emit heat. I will carry one of the three coins everywhere with me, and I will come if it activates. When I receive the signal, I will tap the coin, causing yours to heat up. That way, you will know if I got your message. You may also contact Poppy in case someone is injured or the emergency does not require my attention, hence the third coin to hold. Hers will activate after only fifteen seconds. If it is a true emergency that requires my attention as well, keep the coin in your hand until it activates both signals, and we shall both come to your aid. Do you understand?"
"Yes," said Severus.
"Good," he said. "As I mentioned, because Poppy is overseeing your treatment, she shall come to Bell Point to help you with your exercises and bring your potions. She will probably be coming once a day for some time, although it will depend on the type of physical therapy you will be doing."
"Now, I believe that is all. Good luck."
Dumbledore smiled warmly, and then swept out of the door, his purple travelling cloak whipping out of sight.
With a sigh, Severus stared out the window. He closed his eyes for a moment, and let the breeze flutter through his hair. Opening his eyes once more, he looked around the room, at the soft yellow walls, and over to the vase of sea lavender sitting on the shelf. It was a beautiful place, but he could feel nothing but the chill in his heart. He sat down on the bed and with difficulty he swung his legs up as well. The bed was lower to the ground than most beds were. He thought perhaps that this was done to help him.
Severus stared up at the ceiling, sinking into the soft feather bed with its patchwork quilt. The front door closing announced Dumbledore's departure, and Severus closed his eyes, thinking of the sea, of its great, endless, open expanse as he tried to forget that he was trapped within his own body. Imprisoned within himself. And as he drifted off to sleep on the waves of the ocean within his mind, he wondered if Potter too was trapped by the injustices of the world. So tired, he did not even scoff at the thought.