After breakfast Harry sat in his bedroom, flipping through one of the children's books he had found in the trunk upstairs. The book was not overly interesting, and so interruption was welcome when he heard the surprising sound of Professor Dumbledore's voice downstairs.
"Harry, come down here," called Dumbledore.
Wondering what he wanted, Harry put down the book and rushed to the doorway, peering down the stairs. Dumbledore was standing at the base of them.
"Yes, sir?" he asked curiously.
"Come take a seat please, I have news."
The look on Dumbledore's face made Harry feel quite suddenly fearful, for Dumbledore looked far older than he normally did. Cautiously Harry went down the stairs, peering through the rails in the banister on his left and into the sitting room. He saw Snape sitting wearily in an armchair, his face in his hands.
Harry walked over to the sofa and pulled himself up onto it, shifting restlessly as Dumbledore took a seat on the sofa as well, looking grim.
"What is it?" asked Harry, almost afraid to speak.
Dumbledore looked as though he wished he did not have to say anything, but he opened his mouth and started to tell Harry, sounding sick.
"Last night, a group of Death Eaters showed up in Miss Granger's neighbourhood."
Harry shot up from his seat.
"She's not ... She isn't ..."
"She is alive, if that is what you mean. She was unhurt, physically. Unfortunately," Dumbledore's voice seemed to waver, and he swallowed deeply, "her parents were killed."
Harry let out a strangled cry, and fell back onto the sofa. Snape twitched at the sound, his face still in his hands.
"The Death Eaters came with the intention of killing Miss Granger, but she was out of the house at the time they came. Arthur Weasley was working late when he heard the news of the attack, and the location, and knowing it was their home, he went along."
Harry moaned, muttering to himself, "Of course, last summer he went to see the car Mr. Granger fixed up. They got talking at King's Cross last year. H-Hermione told me about how funny it was."
"And it was very lucky that they did talk," said Dumbledore gravely. "Without Arthur, Hermione would surely have been killed as well."
A soft cry escaped Harry's lips.
"This is all my fault! They wanted revenge for what we did at the Ministry!" Harry said.
"Potter, did you force Miss Granger to come along?" said Snape suddenly, jerking his head up from his hands, his face dry but twisted with sorrow and anger.
"No, I told her not to."
"Then it is not your fault, you stubborn boy! Miss Granger may be a hard headed Gryffindor, but beneath that hard head is a very clever mind. She knew all too well the dangers when she agreed to go. It is not your fault."
"Harry, Severus is right," said Dumbledore as Harry tried to recover from the shock of Snape's words. "If it is anyone's fault, it is mine. I should have thought to put magical protection on Miss Granger's home. I never considered that Voldemort would know its location. Instead, I was too caught up with what Voldemort going public might mean. It is my fault, Harry, and I am sorry."
"Tell that to Hermione!" Harry said suddenly, eyes filling with tears. Dumbledore's eyes too welled up, and Harry was furious, just as much as he had been with him when Sirius died. Dumbledore should not look so torn up like this. Not when Harry was angry with him.
Harry got to his feet and pushed past Dumbledore, trying to stop his tears from spilling over. He halted at the bottom of the stairs when Dumbledore spoke once more.
"Harry, I am not finished," he said, trying to be calming. "We must discuss the upcoming arrangement."
"I've heard enough!" he spat, pent up rage washing over him in great waves. "I'm so sick of you saying sorry! Sorry I didn't protect Hermione, sorry that Sirius died, sorry your parents are d-dead, sorry you watched C-Cedric murdered! Sorry, sorry, sorry, SORRY! ALL YOU EVER SAY IS SORRY!"
Clenching his hands so tight that his nails were digging into his palms, Harry ran all the way up the staircase, tripping on the top step and tumbling into the hall. He did not make a sound after this, and simply lay there in misery. After a moment Harry was amazed to hear Snape's voice carrying up from the stairs.
"Now look what you have done!" growled Snape. "And you say that I have no tact!"
"He has been having a hard enough time already without you straight out telling him that you did nothing, absolutely nothing to protect one of his best friends! Could you not have left that piece of information out? Before you bring her here, you had better give a damn good apology to Miss Granger, because she bloody well deserves it!"
The scuffle of someone getting to their feet drifted up to where Harry was, his face riddled with surprise at the news that Hermione was coming to stay with them. So that was what Dumbledore meant by ‘arrangement'.
"Stop that; I do not need your help," Harry heard Snape spit angrily. Immediately after he spoke the sound of Snape's limping gait could be heard. Harry froze, looking down as Snape stopped in passing the foot of the stairs and turned back to look at Dumbledore (who was out of Harry's sight) to add one more thing. "Send me a letter before you bring her. I will tell Potter the arrangement. There is no need to go up and try to talk to him. He has enough on his mind already."
Without noticing that his conversation was not private, Snape turned, continued past the stairs and stalked off into his room at the end of the hall, slamming his door.
Harry did not move for fear of being heard, but after a while the front door opened and closed. Quietly, Harry went downstairs to watch Dumbledore walking to the edge of the wards. The look on his Professor's face made Harry feel a bit guilty, for he looked a thousand years old. Maybe Harry should not have been so hard on him. Riddled with confusion, guilt, and grief, Harry's lungs seemed to want to burst.
The walls closed in on him, and when Dumbledore was indeed gone, he burst out through the screen door with a loud clatter and ran as fast as his legs could take him, out to seashore, not even considering that Snape had probably heard him. With no shoes on his feet he stumbled on rocks and through sand as he grew nearer to the grey, sad expanse before him. His feet splashed in the cold water as the tears poured down his face for Hermione, her parents, and even for Dumbledore who - despite his flaws- had looked so tortured at what had happened. Guilt consumed Harry, and his salty tears mixed with the ocean as he fell to his knees, the chilly waves in the shallows splashing up on him and soaking him to the bone. The dim morning light seeping through the clouds did little to warm him, but he didn't care.
It took so much effort, but with the cold slap of the waves he was able to bring his grief under control, and push it away as his thoughts drifted to Sirius, of whom any form of guilt reminded him of. He forced himself into the parasitic numbness that saved him from pain, driving himself into the well of nothingness within himself, dulling all feeling.
As waves rose and fell around him, Harry wished oddly that he might stay there forever, and simply become the sea ... melt into it, forget everything. And then a soft voice called him away from the sirens luring him into the deep, this one exhibiting even larger a pull on him, for such softness he had never heard in Professor Snape's voice.
"Potter," he said simply, standing on the little stone path at the edge of the sand, unable to go any further because of his bad leg and the unstable ground.
Harry looked up, the wind splashing him with sea spray. Snape was holding a towel in his left hand. He looked expectant.
Aching with grief, Harry tried to stand up, but lost the will to, and sunk back to his knees.
"It's hopeless," Harry said suddenly, looking out at the distant misty curtain descending into the sea from above. "Everything."
"Hope is only lost if you let it be," was the reply. A strong gust of wind, cool and damp pushed the sea inward toward Harry again, bringing the smell of rain. "Now come inside, before the storm starts."
Shivering, and expending more effort than Harry had ever thought it would take, he stood up, the numbing cold of the sea in his heart. His chilly toes picked up the sand as he walked, the first raindrops darkening splotches across the beach. He reached Snape, and looked up for a second into his dark eyes. They were sad. For one wild second, Harry thought oddly of Buttons' eyes. Dismissing the thought, Harry dropped his gaze to his feet, water dripping off of him and onto the stone path. He felt a towel draped clumsily around his shoulders, and he was prodded forward. Snape walked slowly behind him, keeping with Harry's pace, even as the raindrops fell around them, making the morning seem like night.
They went up the porch steps and through the screen door, entering the sitting room. Harry stopped moving when Snape did, staring outside at the downpour while Snape sat down on the small chair by the door and took his shoes off. In a moment, to his surprise, Snape got off the chair and took Harry's shoulder in his left hand, and guided him toward it instead. Too numb to really care, Harry sat down, and he stared off blankly at the wall as Snape did a surprising thing, and began to wipe the sand off Harry's cold feet, and warm them with his hands as well as he could.
Snape looked at Harry for a moment, who simply sat motionless, not responding, his mind lost in a numbing fog. Cold air blew in through the screen door, but Harry did not shiver. He felt colder inside. Snape seemed bothered by this cold air, for the house was damp and had lost its warmth. Leaving Harry on the chair, he closed the door over the screen, and then walked toward the fireplace. He bent around it, arranging logs and bits of crumpled up parchment he had retrieved from somewhere. Harry watched disinterestedly as Snape tried to light a match with his clumsy fingers. A slight pang of sorrow permeated the fog in Harry's mind, giving him a momentary spark of energy. He slid off the chair wearily, and walked over to the fireplace, shivering slightly as he went.
"I can do it," Harry muttered mechanically.
"But I can do it, and it isn't as though I have the brain of a four year old."
Snape looked up at Harry, at his sudden determination. His eyebrows went up in surprise, and with only the slightest hesitation, he handed Harry the matches. Watching him like a hawk, Snape stood back while Harry lit the match and poked it under the lean-to of wood, igniting the parchment. Harry started to blow on the flames. For a moment, they flared up, but were not catching easily. Snape bent down quickly, and also blew air into the fire. It caught some of the pieces of kindling, and as Harry added little pieces of wood beneath the lean-to the blaze grew warmer. His work done, Harry stood back.
"T-T-Told you," Harry said slowly through chattering teeth, inching closer to the fire to get warm as he dripped seawater on the braided rug.
"You did," was all Snape said before disappearing for a moment as Harry shivered and shook by the fire, warming his freezing hands.
Harry jumped when Snape's hand prodded his shoulder slightly upon his return.
"Here, get changed by the fire and try to get warm. I am going to make something hot to drink."
Harry turned around to see Snape retreating, eyes spying a little pile of clothes on the seat of the armchair before the fire, which Snape had left for him. The clothes must have dried overnight in the laundry room because of the cloudy skies. In his surprise Harry did not quite notice some of his numbness leaving him as he put on the t-shirt and jeans.
Harry was curled up with a knitted throw around his shoulders, sitting on the braided rug before the fire when Snape returned from the kitchen. He made two trips to bring the mugs and set them on the little side table by the armchair. He set one mug before Harry. It was hot chocolate. The other mug was tea, and this one was for Snape.
"Thanks, sir," said Harry gratefully.
"Warm yet?" Snape muttered a little gruffly, sitting directly behind Harry in the armchair.
Silence fell, and the only sound that punctuated the quiet was the occasional crackle of the fire and the gentle clatter of a mug being set down.
Harry finished his hot chocolate, and was pleasantly warm inside from it. The glowing warmth of the fire brought Harry back to Hogwarts, in the Gryffindor common room. It was extremely pleasant. Outside the wind had picked up and the rain came in thick sheets, pounding against the window panes, unable to get inside where the warmth was. Harry's eyes began to droop, and he barely registered Snape throwing another log on the fire. He heard the rustle of Snape sitting down in the armchair behind him. The heat of the fire intensified a little bit, and Harry moved back a foot to escape the heat. His back touched Snape's leg accidentally, and Harry inched forward just enough so that they were not touching. Tired from such an eventful morning, Harry's body was too young to take it, and he fell asleep sitting up. In his slumber he came to rest up against Snape's legs, lost in pleasant dreams. Harry was allowed to sleep, and unbeknownst to him at first, he was not the only one who did. For this was how they awoke at lunchtime, not a single nightmare having plagued either of them. Nobody spoke of what had happened, but Harry felt much better. He had an inkling that Snape did too.
That evening a letter came from Professor Dumbledore. Severus took it carefully from the beak of the tawny owl that had fluttered through the kitchen window while he and Potter were eating their dinner. He opened it at the table, and skimmed its contents. Potter looked curious, but much to Severus' surprise, he did not say a word.
"I am not sure if you are aware, as Dumbledore did not get a chance to say, but Miss Granger will be coming to stay here for the summer."
"Why here, sir?" Potter asked, although not in protest. "Why not the Burrow?"
"Dumbledore feels that this is the safest place for her, and that she can recover best here. He also wanted her to be with someone who can understand her situation."
"Me," said Potter bitterly, stirring his peas around.
Severus looked up, his stomach squirming.
"Actually, Potter, I think he may have been referring to me," he muttered, hoping rather foolishly that the boy would not question the basis of his vague statement.
"What? But my parents -"
"Yes, I realize you know what it is like to lose your parents as well. However, do you remember how you felt afterwards?" He paused to examine Potter's sheepish expression. "I thought not. Therefore, you know only some of what she is going through."
"What, and you know exactly how she's feeling, do you?" Potter said a little childishly, sounding annoyed as he put a spoonful of peas in his mouth.
"My parents both died when I was fifteen," Severus said quietly after a moment of silence. Although he did not mention that Potter was right to say that he did not know exactly how Miss Granger felt, because he had not been close to his father in the least. But Severus' mother had meant everything to him.
He looked up as Potter almost spat all of his peas out in shock. In any other situation it might have been funny to him, but not right then, and not during this sort of conversation.
"Sir I'm ... I didn't mean ..."
"It does not matter," said Severus, not letting on how much Potter's accusations had hurt. "Miss Granger will be coming at seven-thirty. Molly will be bringing her, as Dumbledore is busy."
Severus got up, taking his plate to the sink, which he filled with water and soap. Carefully he began to wash his dishes. Potter came up behind him and put his own plate and cutlery in the sink, and then grabbed the little stool in the kitchen to position by the sink. Potter stepped up onto it and took the soapy plate from Severus in silence and dried it. Though Severus would rather have eaten Knarl quills than admit it, the help was much appreciated.
"If Miss Granger is coming I would suggest that you have a quick look in the spare room to make sure it is clean, and take some sheets up there. I will lift them down from the shelf in the laundry room for you."
"Yes sir," Potter said. He looked puzzled for a moment before adding something. "How did you get up the stairs the other day? I thought you could not do them yet."
Severus wiped the last fork clean, and handed it to Potter.
"With a lot of effort," he said before adding the second part as an afterthought. "I am not completely sure how I did it either, to be honest."
"I ... I'm glad you did come up," said Potter, cheeks red. "I don't wake up easily from, well, nightmares."
Severus was amazed, and for a moment, he looked down at Potter. Unless he was mistaken, that was a thank you. Despite the fact that he normally did not speak of nightmares, he hesitantly opened his mouth.
"I do not either," was Severus' muttered reply as he turned around to limp out of the kitchen, escaping Potter before he could ask any questions. Just before he left, Severus caught sight of the stunned look on Potter's face. Severus wondered if the boy thought he had been alone in this. Perhaps he had said it out of the odd wish for Potter to know that he was not the only one to be woken in the dead of night by a long forgotten foe, remembered only when darkness fell.
As he walked into his bedroom, Severus thought of another young boy of not so long ago that had also been afraid to fall asleep. He stood pensively in front of the window, the sill propped up just enough to let the breeze flutter the open curtains. He watched as the rain collected on stones and the grass, flowing in streams and slowly trickling toward the sea, picking up dirt and sticks and washing them away. Far off he could see where the small droplets met with the ocean's rolling waves, grey, blue, and deep.
Severus sighed, brows furrowed with thought.
"What if I am wrong about Potter?" he muttered, breathing in the soft scent of rain. "What if we aren't so different?"