The arms reached out and grabbed him from behind just as he tried to jump. It was rough, frantic, sharp, and so sudden that for a moment the world paused and took a breath. That moment was like a bell ringing out through the haze, temporarily clearing Severus' clouded, stirring thoughts. Shocked, Severus went limp, and in that second of time he felt the force from behind drag him roughly over the low railing and back into the center of the tower, away from the dizzying drop. The second of clarity was over, and with its departure, the confusion returned.
Who are you, you who comes in the middle of the night you who finds me here you who actually gives a damn enough to drag me from my fate. Why, why do you do this?
Severus went limp, and sunk to his knees, and the figure came around to face him, kneeling as well. The face was like a ghost in the dim night, coming to Severus out of a dream.
You! You who hold the dice and have rolled so many times knowing any second a die could fall so that I die and yet and yet and yet you haven't let it - why?
"Albus," croaked Severus, feeling as though his chest had a million little wires attached inside, and they were twisting and tightening and pulling his breath inward and closer until it was so twisted and compressed he couldn't breathe.
And Albus was crying.
"Severus, I'm sorry," Albus whispered, his hands on Severus' shoulders (His trembling shoulders. How long had he been shaking like that?). "I should have seen -"
No purpose no purpose Lily I failed even in this and why do I still yearn for the ledge and now Albus is disappointed and frightened (my fault my fault) and worried and maybe he cares about me after all but who am I to deserve it - he should have let me but he didn't he could never sentence people to death without remorse not even Tom Riddle and how have I forgotten that even when he knew Riddle was going bad he hoped he hoped he hoped but Tom had a purpose all his own at least he had one and do you have a purpose? No.
"Albus," Severus repeated, pleading, trying to find the words to make him understand when his head was spinning and his heart was pounding with dread and sickening fear. Dumbledore's grip on his shoulders tightened, and the words were not there despite how hard Severus tried. In that split second, he thought he would keep it together. Then, like the second of clarity with the arms pulling him back, this too shattered as quickly as it had come. The tears came, and he fell forward and Albus' arms were around him as he sobbed like he hadn't in years, like he'd wanted to for years, like he had the night Lily was taken from him because of his own sin. Breaking down like this was something he just didn't do, and it was at that moment when he realized how far from fine he felt, and even though he knew he wasn't fine he tried to act like it, tried to stop the tears because it was a weakness not to.
Weak, emotions are weak you shouldn't be showing them you shouldn't show anything ("Stop that Severus you pansy boy, no son of Tobias Snape's will be a crier - buck up or you'll be sorry) don't show anything at all ... and no, not loved no never loved never missed -
Yet, as each sob left him, somehow inside Severus the fog of the past few weeks lifted slightly and things grew clearer, and yet somehow they were also less clear. The thoughts were more coherent, but the frightening, powerful idea of the ledge, (and the letter opener and a hundred different poisons he knew how to make but would not take because he knew exactly how they stole each second and he'd suffered enough he'd been falling long enough why not fall, fall, fall at least this time he would land somewhere, broken, hurt, beyond repair like he felt - violent he knew but what did he have to lose he feared not the pain) that terrible, beautiful ledge was still imprinted on himself, and this was no passing idea. This idea he had flirted with for years. He just never acknowledged it until it came down on him like a thunder storm, all lightning and wind and rain and no way out.
"It will be alright, Severus," said Albus in his ear (and is that me making that noise that terrible noise, that tortured wail like a thousand storms at sea). "It will be alright. Let me help you. Let me find you a place to get better in, to rest in, to escape from all this. Please, Severus. Let me help."
Accept help from the man who held the dice live or die depends on how I roll the die ... but now he holds the dice again and this time ... this time he is rolling for me to live.
"Make it stop," Severus said in a voice that was strangled and sounded nothing like the one he knew, "Make it stop Albus." What will you give me in return? Severus could hear in his head despite the fact that Albus didn't speak and at last Severus had to shout, "I'll do anything, please!"
Harry lay in his bed, relishing the silence that the Dursleys left him with. It had been a few days since he had sent his letter off to Remus, and his life had momentarily improved for the day. The Dursleys had won free tickets to an evening performance of some play Harry had not heard of, and Dudley had moaned that he didn't want to go, but Aunt Petunia wanted very much to and so she dragged the other two with her, despite the fact that it was a terribly hot summer night to be sitting in a stuffy theatre. But, Aunt Petunia had always been one for dramatics, and thus found a play quite interesting. Not that Harry had a problem with this. Nobody to bother him. He was locked in his own stale smelling room, of course, but not envying the Dursleys in the least.
He was quite hot and so he collapsed onto his bed like a desert lizard in the shade. The heat was one of many reasons that it did not bother him that he did not have anywhere to go, or the permission to do so, for that matter. One thing that did bother him however was that he could not turn his thoughts off. In the silence of the house all he could focus on was the night that he had seen the vision of Sirius in the Department of Mysteries. It filled him with the desire to run, to run anywhere. It did not matter where he would end up - he just needed out of his own head. He attempted to clear his mind of all thoughts, just to fall asleep for a while, despite the fact that he knew he would probably end up in another nightmare. The change from the usual turmoil would be almost welcome however, and so he continued to let himself relax. After a while he did achieve sleep, but for once he did not suffer from any nightmares. Having been so sleep deprived as of late he simply fell into blackness, into such a deep slumber that he did not dream of much at all. That of course, was probably why he didn't hear the front door open, or the footsteps come up the stairs or the person knock then unlock his door and take a seat in his desk chair.
He awoke to find Remus Lupin sitting at his bedside. At first, he thought that it was another one of the dreams where Lupin interrogated him as to why he let Sirius die, and then he saw the finger that had reached out as though it wished to trace along the scabbed over cut on his arm. There were a few good scratches on his right, and he was thankful that he was wearing his shirt despite the heat, for Remus otherwise would have been able to see the ones on his chest. The cuts on his arm were his primary concern, and so most of his mind was thinking of a quick excuse for why they were there. This also was part of why he was not at the moment self-conscious of the fact that he had not had a shower in days and his hair was very greasy. Had he been awake enough to care, he wouldn't have been bothered much by this anyway, for a general apathy had fallen over him since the incident at the Ministry.
"How are you feeling?" asked Remus calmly. "I thought I would drop by anyway. I am sorry I did not have time to send you a letter."
"Couldn't you have knocked?" Harry asked, feeling a little bit anxious, waiting for Remus to start interrogating him. Harry tried to act like it was Remus' sudden arrival that was on his nerves. "You nearly gave me a heart attack. People don't usually just show up in my room, you know."
"I did knock Harry, but you were sleeping too deeply," he said. "I am sorry if I startled you. I was worried after you said you were sick in your letter - so I just came in. I apologize."
"Huh ... I guess I was really out." Harry didn't know what to say next, and so he simply waited, mind churning. Remus' wrinkles became more pronounced. He's worried. Great. Now look what you've done!
"What happened to your arm?"
What happened to my arm what happened to your arm come on Harry think ...
"Oh, those? I was trimming the rose garden the other day and Dudley pushed me into it," said Harry with an air of casualness, though his heart was beating frantically.
"So Dudley has been his usual self this summer then?" said Remus without a second thought. He felt that Remus might just have believed it. He relaxed a little bit.
"Well, yeah," Harry muttered. "Dudley's still Dudley."
This of course wasn't at all true, seeing as Harry wasn't even let out of his room these days to do chores, and therefore saw little of Dudley. For all he knew Dudley had gotten into reading and classical music (although he severely doubted that). He feared to tell Remus that he had not been out of his room however, for if Remus knew that then he would realize Harry couldn't possibly have been trimming roses.
"How have you been?" Harry asked quickly, hoping to get the conversation off of himself.
Remus looked a little bit weary at this statement, and replied, "Alright. Still missing Sirius, but then again, aren't we all? I've been busy though, so I haven't had too much time to dwell on it. Did a bit for the Order for a while. Then I managed to find a job again, so I haven't seen anyone for some time."
Missing Sirius - my fault my fault my fault look at all the pain you've caused ...
"That's great. Where are you working?" he replied, resisting the urge to pick at one of his scabs on his arm.
"A little bookshop just off Diagon Alley," said Lupin. "I do paperwork and keep the books. Plenty of mathematics and recording, but I rather like it anyway. My employer is very kind to me, considering my situation."
"Good," said Harry, trying to smile and sound happy for Remus, but it was hard to be happy for others when smiling seemed a chore.
"Enough about me, how have you been?"
Harry tried to conceal his distaste for the question.
"I've been keeping busy too, like I said in the letter," Harry muttered, pretending not to notice Remus glance around at the general messiness of the room and the old prophets lying unopened on the floor. His eyes flicked to Harry's greasy hair.
"Look Harry, I know things have been hard -" began Remus leaning forward slightly.
"Yeah, but I'm doing fine," interrupted Harry. "You just caught me on an off day. I was really sick when I last wrote you. Stomach flu. I just started to feel better this morning."
"That wasn't very kind of your Aunt and Uncle to lock you in here then if you haven't been feeling well. Your room was locked from the outside when I came in."
"Whatever. Aunt Petunia didn't want me wandering around the house and touching stuff with my germy hands if she couldn't follow me around with her disinfectant. She was worried everyone else would get sick too. She's a little bit germaphobic, really. This is the first time my room has been locked all summer." Harry was quite happy with how the lie sounded.
"Harry, how would you like to come to Hogwarts with me on Wednesday?" asked Remus a little suddenly. "I have some things that need to be done. It might be nice for you to get out of the house. Have a visit with Hagrid maybe. "
"I can't," said Harry abruptly, panicking.
"Why not?" Remus' question was not rude, but curious.
"Er ..." Oh god he's going to guess he's gonna figure it out he's looking at your arms he's gonna -
"Are you still mad at Dumbledore; is that it?"
"Yes! I don't want to see him," Harry spat, although it was only half the truth and he was mostly glad for an excuse not to go. He did not want to see Dumbledore, but it was not so much due to the fact that he was mad at him (while he was a little, he was more angry at himself than anything) but for the reason that he knew Dumbledore to be very meddlesome, and far too clever for his own good.
"That's fine Harry; you don't have to see him," Remus assured him. "You can spend the day with Hagrid. I myself need to meet with Albus, but you do not need to come for that. What do you say?"
Harry tried very hard not to let Remus see the war that was going on inside him. On one hand he did not want to come to Hogwarts lest he do run into Dumbledore, but he really did miss Hagrid. Hagrid knew a lot of how he was feeling, mostly. Hagrid's father died when he was young, and Sirius was the closest thing to a father Harry had ever known, so Hagrid would understand. And Hagrid had made lots of careless mistakes, and he managed to live with them, although Harry doubted they were ever as bad as his own. He was getting sick of his room too. Maybe it would be good, just for a day. What were the chances he would see Dumbledore anyway? Besides, I can always wear a long sleeved shirt. Nobody will know.
"Well, I am feeling better, so I guess so, but only if I don't have to see Dumbledore," said Harry slowly.
"Deal," said Remus. "I'll be here for you at eleven-thirty on Wednesday. I would suggest you mention it to your Aunt and Uncle."
"There is only one condition." Remus' voice had grown stern for a moment, and Harry began to worry. "And I am making it a condition because I care about you."
"Please have a shower," Remus said. Then, as though he hoped it might motivate Harry, he added, "I'm worried someone is going to think you're related to Snape, or something."
Harry made a face. God forbid he ever be like Snape. He brushed the thought away though, and he found he didn't mind so much because Remus hadn't said it to be mean.
"Alright, good seeing you Harry," Remus told him as he got up.
"Bye. See you Wednesday. Don't forget to lock my door. Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon will be upset if you don't."
Remus gave him a smile upon his departure, although his eyes still appeared a little sad and the overall effect just made him look ill. Harry flopped back down onto his bed. He let out a big sigh when he heard Remus leave the house. Perhaps Remus wouldn't think anything of the cuts, not that Harry minded this of course. He didn't really feel like explaining why he got so angry sometimes. Besides, they would probably think he was weak, and that he meant to hurt himself all the time. That was all there was to it. He didn't really mean to snap, but ever since the beginning of his fifth year he had had a bit of trouble controlling his anger, and after what happened in the Department of Mysteries it simply gotten worse. But really, it wasn't that bad. He would return to normal soon. He could stop getting mad any time he liked, or at least he told himself. But as night grew nearer and the sleepless hours slipped by, this excuse sounded feebler and feebler.
Albus stayed awake the whole night with Severus, awaiting the morning, sitting in the quarters behind the head office. Severus, looking pale and clammy lying on the sofa with his puffy eyes and shaking hands. Albus read aloud selections of stories but Severus hardly listened because Albus had suggested what his "anything" was, the thing he had to do for help. His anything: The Oak Tree Centre for Mental Health in Saint Mungo's Hospital - yes, the mental ward ("It's not a mental ward, Severus, it's a hospital where they treat people, not mental cases as you call them" said Albus. "There's a difference.") and Severus wasn't sure what to think about that one. But Dumbledore said they were the best of the best there, and were sworn to keep patient rosters a complete secret and the other patients all had to sign waivers so they could not reveal without permission who was staying there, a contract that was magically binding. It was safe there anyway, Dumbledore said, because it wasn't well known. You needed a referral from a healer that specialized in mental health to even hear about it - and that was only if they decided to send you there. This was different than the long term care, the hopeless cases. Those wards were somewhat open to others simply because it would be very lonely otherwise, but the Oak Tree Centre and the one for teens nearby were completely closed and hidden. It had to be kept that way, and had been operating in such a manner ever since the first Wizarding war. The trouble was that a lot of the people who suffered breakdowns at that time, or other ailments of the mind had something to do with the war, and had to be kept hidden. They were very good at that in St. Mungo's, and they'd kept their policy.
Besides, it was the best option, Albus said.
A strange kind of calm had come over Severus as Albus read the book aloud, the words washing over him even though he didn't bother to comprehend a single one. That calm came and went.
But why, why had Albus done this? Why had he saved him? Dumbledore could have fallen himself, reaching over the ledge like that. Had he panicked enough not to think to use his wand, or did he simply not have the time to pull it out? Why? Why why why why? Momentary panic.
That calm came back again, restored a few moments later. It wasn't a good kind of calm, entirely. It was a miserable, cold, numbing blanket over Severus's senses. He knew it well. He'd known it all his life, since he was a little boy under the table with his parents screaming at each other. It was that blank feeling of misery lying over his chest, and in his eyes until he felt a thousand years old. But it was safer, and now he hadn't the energy to move, and for a while the thoughts stopped, because the calm took away all thoughts. It left only heavy, dreary weight. It was the antithesis of the racing, panicking and despairing realization he had no purpose. Now, his eyelids felt heavy, but he was not tired. Weary, wanting to sink into blackness, but not tired.
The night passed like this, although it seemed like it never would end. It was the longest night of his life, and there reached a point where he couldn't cry anymore (He hadn't been able to stop for a long time even though Tobias reminded him that it was weak - well maybe I am weak what about that Dad?), and just lay there. Severus no longer felt the intensity of Albus' gaze, which had been watching over him every second, not leaving him alone no matter what, no matter where Severus went. He didn't go anywhere much anyway. To the window once or twice, the bathroom, back to the sofa. And Albus never left. Severus thought he was afraid to, since he found the letter opener tucked away in Severus' cloak pocket ("Empty your pockets - I have to ask - I care about you. Please Severus."), wrapped in a handkerchief to keep it from ripping the fabric around it. It had been there just because Severus had felt like carrying it around a few days back. He planned on different methods. The letter opener just held a slight appeal, and he hadn't had the heart to leave it on his desk. He wasn't ever going to use it. But Albus felt better if he didn't have it.
He closed his eyes. Cold. Numb. Weary.
Make it stop.