The sun rose in crystal clear skies the next morning, and Severus sat out on the porch with a mug of tea. He had risen with the sun today, which was not exactly unusual for him. The nightmares were getting worse. They were always the same. Always a tangled mess of the prophecy, Lily, being tortured by the Dark Lord, and his father. Not that it had ever been easy for Severus to sleep, and nowadays were no exception. He could remember waking his parents up screaming often as a child, although his nightmares had been plagued by different things then. He supposed he had always been prone to them, and yet for the longest time it had shocked him so badly when horrible things that happened during the day showed up in his dreams, especially when he was younger, before he learned to expect nightmares from nearly everything. Really, should it have been any surprise to him when he had first become a Death Eater, and immediately dreamt all of the horrible things he had seen in those first meetings over and over until they made him sick? He scoffed slightly, watching a flock of birds pecking along the beach. What bothered him most was that he still dreamt of that night sometimes.
His mug was empty, and for a while he made no move to refill it, choosing instead to watch the sun emerge from behind the sea. Only when it had emerged in a golden blaze did he stand up, wavering a little bit, and go inside to pour himself another cup. Despite it being summer, it was still a little bit chilly so early in the morning. Perhaps he would bring one of the knitted throws out with him.
As he crept to the kitchen, walking near the staircase as silently as he could he heard a stifled cry from upstairs. He paused, debating what to do, seeing as stairs were still tricky for him, despite Poppy having been coming for physical therapy daily for an hour or so (Severus found it quite mundane, for it was the same things over and over again. Stretch this, try and hold that in your hand, and so on until he was bored out of his mind). He heard another cry, and then a strangled shout.
"No!" came Potter's small, frightened voice from upstairs. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry!"
After a moment's hesitation, Severus called up the stairs loudly, "Potter, wake up!"
"No ... No! D-Don't let him take me!" was the answer. It was clear Potter was still dreaming.
"Great," muttered Severus to himself, backing into the sitting room for a moment to set his cup down on the nearest surface.
He stood at the base of the stairs once more, debating. Surely Potter would wake soon? He turned to look over to the kitchen, where the tea pot was still full.
"Mum! Help me, please!"
"Bloody hell," muttered Severus under his breath, reaching out to take the railing on the staircase,. "This was not how I wanted to tackle a proper staircase!"
"Well, it may not be Lily coming, but ..." Severus said with gritted teeth, planting his left foot on the staircase and heaving his right up. And that was only one stair. He looked up, and there were far too many for his liking. Nothing like the two steps onto the porch. Those were just fine. He was alright to do three or four, but after that, it was just too difficult. Yet, Potter's shouts seemed to electrify Severus' senses, and slowly, he ascended past the fourth stair. Both of his sweating hands gripped the handrail as well as they could, and his chest was heaving with the effort, but he was only halfway up.
"Right foot, come on Severus!" he spurred himself on, grunting as he strained to lift his right leg up to the next stair and Potter's shouts got more urgent.
"He's gonna kill me! He's gonna kill me Mummy!"
"Just three more ..."
A scream rent the air.
"Two more ..."
Severus teetered dangerously, but was able to tighten his left hand on the railing.
He grit his teeth as he tried to lift his right leg once more. "Damn it, one more stair Severus!"
With the most effort it had ever taken Severus, he reached the top of the stairs. Shaking and clammy, he rounded the corner into Potter's room. The door swung open without him touching it, though he did not register this, and he stumbled across the room to Potter's bed. The boy was trembling and thrashing about. Exhausted, Severus sunk onto the side of the bed and shook Potter's shoulder with his left hand.
"Wake up - come on Potter," he said frantically.
"M-MUMMY!" cried Potter again.
"WAKE UP FOR MERLIN'S SAKE!" shouted Severus, a combination of panic and adrenaline causing his voice to rise in volume.
Potter let out a sharp gasp and scrambled away from Severus, who was still sitting on the edge of the bed. Potter jammed his back against the corner made by the headboard and the wall, and sat there in as small a ball as possible. For a moment he sat breathing heavily, his hands over his mouth and eyes shut tightly. He made a slight gasping noise.
"Potter, are you alright? Potter?"
Potter did not move, and remained in the same position.
Severus was not sure how to continue, and his mind was fuzzy with fatigue from his efforts on the stairs. He glanced around the room, as though asking for someone to help him. His eyes caught sight of something furry at the end of the bed. He looked at it a moment longer and realized it was the stuffed lion. He looked to Potter, who had his hand over his mouth and eyes shut, desperately trying not to cry.
Gently, Severus picked up the lion. He looked at it for a moment, and then edged a little closer to Potter on the bed. With much care, he slid the lion up against Potter's shaking side, and retracted his hand quickly. Potter opened his eyes suddenly and took his hand off his trembling lips. He did not speak a word.
Severus searched for something to say. He was never good at saying things in moments like these. He knew that he failed his young Slytherins miserably in this department, no matter how much he tried. Severus felt that he was too much like his father to be comforting, but at least his Slytherins appreciated his effort. Potter ... well, he probably would judge him much more harshly. Now was not the time to be a coward, however, and Severus knew he had to say something. So he let the words come out of his mouth, staring into Potter's watering green eyes, trying desperately to speak in the way that Lily would have had she been here.
"You do not have to tell me about your nightmare right now, if you do not want to," he said, stammering a little. His courage grew when Potter looked relieved. "But you must not keep all of your pain inside. You need to express your emotions eventually, or talk about what is hurting you. I ... I will listen, if you ever feel like talking. Just ... find me."
And at that moment, Severus knew that for once, however awkwardly it had come out, what he had said had been the right thing, for he was quite sure Lily would have at least approved of what he had told her son. By the look on Potter's face, his words were surprising, but appreciated.
"Do you want me to stay with you?" muttered Severus, unsure of what to do.
Potter looked at him hesitantly, then shook his head, looking like he wanted to disappear.
Severus understood, and nodded. Shakily, and despite the fact that he did not want to move for the next century, Severus got up, hand gripping the headboard as he did so. Potter closed his eyes again, and one tear escaped them. Sensing that he should go, Severus turned around and moved across the room, his right leg dragging noisily as he fought the tremors that were wracking his fatigued body. When reached the door, he glanced back at Potter. He had taken the lion in his arms, and had his face buried in its mane. The button eyes of the lion looked up at Severus. He was amazed by those button eyes, for they told tales of a thousand sorrows. Perhaps it was imagined, however, and was simply Severus' own buried anguish reflected in the blackness of the buttons. He was unsure, and pondered this as he softly closed Potter's door. Only once it was closed did he sit down against the wall, panting, his legs no longer wanting to support him. He rested for about ten minutes, and then, still on the floor, he slid himself closer to the stairs. His feet were over the edge, and he reached up his left hand to take the wooden posts in the banister, and with his good leg out to stop himself from going too far, he slid down one stair at a time until he reached the bottom, like he used to do many years ago, back when he was a too small to walk down properly. He hoped Potter would not come down and find him lying at the foot of the stairs, shaking and trying to catch his breath.
It was some time before he got to his wobbling feet and moved the few steps into the sitting room to collapse on the sofa. He fell asleep the moment he hit the cushions, not bothering to take off his leg brace. He did not hear Potter come down, or feel the blanket that was clumsily dragged onto him, or notice that a pillow had been put beneath his head. But when he awoke later in the day by the sound of Dobby apparating into the house with their lunch, he knew exactly who it had been. Yet, for all the fatigue that still rested in his bones, he did not find he minded much.
Hermione walked leisurely but purposefully down the street, the sun setting fast. The twilit street stretched out before her as she walked from her home to the corner store, as her mother had sent her for a box of tea for the morning. The breeze fluttered her thick hair, cooling the back of her neck in the warmth of the night. The damp smell of a summer evening permeated the air, fresh and sweet as the air began to cool. The only sound besides the occasional car passing by was the soft slap of Hermione's sandals on the still warm pavement. As she turned onto a small sidewalk that led through the park, an owl swooped low over the trees, and Hermione smiled up at it, wondering for a few moments whether or not it was carrying post. It probably was not, for there were a great number of ordinary owls in Hermione's area, what with her house being just down the street from the park she was currently walking through. She always had to cut through it to get to the little store, but she wasn't bothered by this. Her neighbourhood was quite safe, thankfully. Yet, her father still worried about her going out at night alone. Luckily, Hermione's mother had so tactfully reminded him that their daughter was no ordinary girl. Even if she was underage, it was well known to her parents that it was within Hermione's rights to use magic in life threatening situations.
Hermione sighed a moment, her shoulders tensing. Her ability to protect herself had come into question a lot lately, although it was not her parents doubt in her abilities that caused this to be considered. After what happened at the Ministry of Magic there was no hiding from her parents that her world was on the verge of war. She could not conceal from them such a critical piece of news, especially not when she had been in the hospital wing for some time after the incident. Yet, despite all of this, she was not overly worried about her own livelihood. She was mostly worried about Harry's. He had not returned a single letter to her, and she was starting to fear that he was letting Sirius' death really get to him. A nagging feeling in her gut was telling her that there was a larger reason for why her letters were not being returned.
She was shaken from her suspicions by the bright lights coming from the corner store window up ahead. They seemed harsh to her eyes after the walk through the park. Hermione continued toward the door, and opened it. The hinges squeaked a little, and the buzz of the ‘open' sign filled the air. The clerk, a young girl a few years older than Hermione, stood chewing gum behind the counter. Not wishing to linger in the artificial brightness long, Hermione found her parents' preferred brand of tea and paid for it quickly, darting out of the corner store eagerly.
The sun had fallen almost completely now, making the trees in the park silhouettes against the sky, blocking the neighbourhood from view. Rather keen to get home, Hermione walked a little bit quicker, clutching the box of tea in its little paper bag. The park was darker now as she went through it, and a few bats swooped in and out of the trees. Glancing to her side as an owl gave a hoot from a tree nearby, Hermione made the turn out of the park, onto the street that her family lived on. Their house was right at the very end, and always stood so comfortingly as though greeting her whenever she returned. With a slight smile, and thinking that however much she loved Hogwarts, home was home, Hermione removed her gaze from the owl and looked up the street toward her house.
The tea fell from her grasp.