LL Chapter 5

A/N: Hang onto your wands, m’dears, you’re in for a bit of a ride. Anti-litigation charm in previous chapters.


“So…what did I call you?”

He couldn’t be…Did he remember, had he read her mind, or was he still that good at reading people?

Regardless, did she want to tell him the truth? God, help me, what do I say?

/

Hermione brought her eyes back up to meet the darkly amused ones of her former professor and took a slow breath in through her nose, out through her mouth. “That was so long ago. Does it really matter, now?”

He actually considered the question with narrowed eyes and his head knocked back a fraction of an inch, much to her surprise. After a moment, though, he quirked a twisted smirk. “Most likely not, but humor me. It was apparently good enough to warrant your trepidation, so consider me beyond curious.”

His baritone voice was nearly normal in its teasing tone. It was rather difficult to breathe in the face of it, understanding that he was requesting her to reveal the things that made her dislike him at one time, as well as knowing that to reveal what he was requesting had the ability to kill that teasing tone he was using with her now.

Looking for a way to draw out the conversation as well as answer the question, she threw in the evident, “Well…’Miss Granger’, obviously.”

He slowly closed his eyes and bunched his brow in impatience, then opened his eyes patronizingly, “Droll. But not enough to make you hesitate to tell me.”

How did he…was it just her, or was this somehow evolving into a game of sorts? “Well, you did call me…silly.” Lord, but it was growing difficult to keep a straight face.

He must have caught on, for he seemed to have the same affliction. “Interesting. Not what I would first think of.” His almost-warm look lead her on, gave her strength.

Perhaps he wouldn’t close up behind his facade if he knew what he’d called her. Perhaps if she treated it as a joke between them, it would be okay. Perhaps if delivered with a smile…”Insufferable Know-it-all.”

“Ah!” His mouth opened and his face cleared in triumph, but there was no malice…”At last, we come to the heart of it. And are you?” Was that…playfulness?

Was he really?

Was he playing with her? She quirked a bit of a smile but stopped herself.

She watched his expressions, marveled that her intuition seemed to be correct. He took the cue and played the part as if it were an endearment or a lark. She dumbfoundedly repeated the question back to him, “Am I?”

Oh, God, there went the Eyebrow. How could that be so much a part of someone that they never forgot it? She wondered what would be so much a part of herself?

He deepened the angle of his chin. Ah, to answer him. “Erm…well, it’s been said by more than you, so I suppose so.”

He tilted his head. “If it was said by more than myself, what makes me so memorable for saying it?”

Oh, it was childish, but the only thing she could think of to respond was said too fast and too tightly from between her teeth for him to hopefully make out clearly, “You started it.”

And of course, being the former teacher that he’d been, he seemed to hear and understand her perfectly. His lovely – lovely? Stop that! – lips quirked in amusement. “Pardon me? I couldn’t hear you.”

Liar. He’d heard her alright. His continued teasing made her stop and look at him. Really look at him. There was a smile playing at the corners of his mouth as if he were enjoying this. Was it because it was her or because she was human? Was he enjoying the camaraderie or was he enjoying watching her squirm? As she looked, with her fear and confusion surely written on every line of her face, his face blanked from its smirk. She felt herself lean forward and quietly inhale at the loss of expression from him, but quickly back away for fear of…well…so many things.

She brought up her hands to push back into the masses the tiny wisps of hair that were tickling her face. “You were the first.” She couldn’t look at him, wouldn’t, but she felt him look at her, hard, still, discerning. “To call me that, you were the first one.”

There. It was out. Done. That wasn’t so bad, Granger, now was it?

“Hmm.” Hmm? That was his response? Hmm– “Now that—I feel I should be somehow honored.”

Her head snapped up to catch his expression. Was he mocking her?

…No…

Before she could catch the summation of what he was truly showing her, he looked away, again to the stars, but this time, after a few moments, he closed his eyes.

Well. Did he mean that? What a turnabout, if so. The man who once claimed her cursed teeth looked no different than her normal appearance, the man that had constantly—constantly—jibed at her about her ability to answer every question in class was actually expressing pride in being the first to call her “Know-It-All”. Not only that, but he was under the impression that it was a joke between them.

God, what a lark. Impressions were everything, weren’t they?

She watched him, watched him breathe.

She didn’t know if it was alright to talk to him while he was sitting so still or not, but she could at least try. “Are—are you tired?” She tilted her head to try to see his face more fully.

His ear twitched. It was odd to see that, since it made her wonder how often it did that before when his hair covered it. He kept his eyes closed and simply stated, “No.”

Well, that wasn’t precisely a dismissal, “Ah…Hungry?”

He actually turned his head to look at her in confusion. “Not particularly.”

“Well, you should eat, regardless.” What. He knew she was the Know-it-all. Why not show him why?

He apparently thought along the same lines. “Hmph.” He looked to the plate sitting between them with a stasis charm glittering in a small bubble around it. “What is it?”

Her lips quirked at his sneer. “Chicken Salad.”

She canceled the stasis charm and lifted the plate up to him. He took one tentative sniff with his prodigious nose and glared from the dish to her as if she were offering him poison.

She looked down at the plate to see what was wrong, saw nothing, and looked back up at him. “Well, what are you used to eating?”

He sneered and pulled at the grass again, chucking the blades to the slight breeze. “Pheasant under glass.”

Smart-arse. “Severus. Seriously, now.” He did seem to pause at her use of his name, which made her feel slightly odd, but he simply snarked another dish name out into the evening.

“Beouf Bourguignon.”

She huffed in irritation. Perhaps the simplicity of the fare was offending him? “Fine, if you didn’t want it, you could have just said so.” She pulled the dish closer to herself and looked it over. A piece of lettuce with a few spoonfuls of salad plopped on top and crackers dropped haphazardly around the side of the plate surely didn’t look like fine dining, but honestly, what did he expect? She stared from the plate to him waiting for an explanation.

He finally looked back at her with the eyebrow. “In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m—not used to eating a great deal,” he flourished his hands to indicate his malnourished body.

More than Himself could use an eyebrow, and she showed him. “All the more reason for you to eat, now.”

“To be perfectly plain, I’m not sure I could digest something so rich in spices as that.” He actually pointed with a blade of grass.

She followed his dagger of grass and its direction to the plate she was holding. “Rich?” Chicken salad?

He sniffed again and looked as if he were offended. “You’ve not been deprived…you can’t smell them as I can. The oil, the salt, black pepper, eggs, the meat boiled in garlic, more salt…” He took another draft of air, carefully, glanced back at her, “and I think a hint of curry which is an amalgamation in and of itself. In point of fact: Rich…for someone like me.”

He could tell all of that from smelling…? “Oh,” Good Grief, what else could he smell with that nose? She set the plate down on the ground beside her, away from him, “What…what should I get for you then?”

Eying her, he slowly reached around her to the plate. She watched him in confusion as he picked up one of the crackers and retreated to bite down on it with a precise snap. When he noticed she was staring, he finished chewing, swallowed, and explained, “This will do.”

She propped a fist on her hip from her seated position. “You need more than that, surely.”

He nodded and ate the rest of the cracker in another bite. “Surely.” As he reached for another cracker, she rolled her eyes and slid the plate closer.

“Prat.” She softened the accusation with a smirk.

He snorted “Know-It-All” in return but the inhalation caused him to choke on a bit of cracker and cough. Hermione immediately conjured a glass and filled it with water, wand at the ready, but he just glared at her and kept coughing.

“Severus? Take a drink!” She pulled at one of his hands and pressed it around the glass. He capitulated and after taking a sip to stave off the coughing fit, he glared at her again.

“What.” Why would he glare at her now? What did she do?

He pointed to the glass. “Could you please refrain from showing off in front of me? It’s becoming rude.”

Rude? What? “Excuse me?” He thought she was being rude by conjuring a glass of water for him? “Fine, next time you’re choking I’ll just let you.” She felt her cheeks redden and sting with indignation.

He narrowed his eyes in defense. “A simple whack on the back would have sufficed. I thought it rather obvious I cannot perform magic.”

She snatched the glass of water out of his hand, sloshing it over his arm a bit and not apologizing for it. “Perhaps a whack on the back of your head…OH!” What he’d said finally registered. Oh shite, she was such an imbecile. “I’m…I’m so sorry. I’ll stop.” She actually felt guilty enough to hide her wand in her back pocket, out of sight. She couldn’t believe she’d been so insensitive. “Can you at least…feel it?”

He’d been staring at her as if she worked for the Quibbler. “What was that first bit?”

Nngh! What had she said? Something about hitting him on the head? “Nothing!” Redirect! Redirect! “The magic? Can you feel magic?”

He narrowed his eyes, obviously not wanting to drop the subject completely, but letting her, nonetheless. “No.”

Thank goodness, he let her redirect. She smiled weakly. “Nothing?”

He blinked, paused for effect, and deadpanned, “That’s what ‘no’ means.”

She turned her head away before she responded with a stuck-out tongue or a rolled set of eyes. The last thing she wanted right now was for him to see her as a child, and part of that meant resolving this issue of whether or not he still had his magic. What would be an easy way to prove he still had it? He could obviously see the spells she cast, but so could any Muggle. Wait! There was something nearby that not any Muggle could see and Severus was a participant in the secret! If he still had his magic—

Hermione looked back to him with a curling smile, “Would you care to prove that?”

He instantly looked suspicious. “Is my word not enough?” And offended.

She remembered his coaxing from before and repeated his words back to him. “Humor me.”

When she stood up, he watched her movements with uncertainty in his eyes, “How?”

“Come to the garden gate. No further. I just want to see if you see something.”

Holding out her hand to him in invitation, he merely looked at it before standing on his own, slowly, awkwardly. She raised her brows at his stubbornness, but turned to lead him to the gate, listening to the cold grass rustle and crackle under their footsteps. When they came up to the iron fence, she gripped the cross bars as before and pointed to the row of buildings across the street.

“There. Do you see Number Twelve?” She looked to him, searching for any signs of recognition. It might have been a risk to show him the former headquarters of the Order, but she rather thought the exterior wouldn’t be as traumatic as the interior.

“Yes. It’s a house. What’s remarkable about someone’s residence?” He glanced down at her, obviously growing disappointed.

She shook her head. “It’s secret-kept.” Taking another risk, she reached for his hand as it rested next to hers on the iron bars. “Don’t you see? If you had no magic at all, you wouldn’t be able to see it.”

The light growing in his eyes was both encouraging and disturbing. He seemed to be fighting something inside. “Whose secret?”

“Harry’s.” It wasn’t a lie, exactly. Anymore.

She was watching his expression so carefully for signs of panic, the shuttered hooding of his eyes threw her off. “You live with him?”

Blinking her eyes and her mouth, she fought to catch up with his logic. “Several of us do. The Order was no longer needed, so those of us that were left and so inclined decided to search for those lost in the war. Like you.” She didn’t think about tightening her grip on his hand as they both rested on the crossbars, but she did as she looked up at the house with its darkened windows and dirty brick. Harry wouldn’t let her spruce up the exterior. What was the point, he’d say. No one else could see it. But she saw it, and those they’d saved over the years had seen it and that had always meant something to her, that their purpose had something clean and well-pointed to cling to. She sighed and remembered the rest of what she wanted to tell Severus. “It’s a halfway house, of sorts.”

His hand rested beneath hers, a bit chilled, but she could feel the fine bones and tendons warming to her hand. He was obviously taking in what she had said and she wished she could express so much more, but how much would hurt him right now? How much was too much?

He stared at the house long enough for her to look from the house to their hands and up to him, wanting to know what he was thinking. Clenching his jaw with a bit of a desperate look in his eye, he ground out in a gravelly voice, “What Order?”

Ah. Trust Severus Snape to narrow down her entire explanation of two year’s worth of work into the two words that could quite possibly send him into another fit. Well, not on her bloody watch. “I think you’ve had enough excitement for one night, don’t you?”

He stepped a few inches closer and towered his shadow down on her from above, growling his question again, “What Order?”

She may be smaller than he was, and her heart might be racing at the proximity of him, but she wasn’t sorted into Gryffindor all those years ago for nothing. She jutted her chin out and up, “Not tonight.”

Apparently the fact that she hadn’t simply told him ‘no’ was enough to throw him off his stride. He blinked down at her, “Why not?”

Why not? Why not? She pulled his hand off the crossbar and cradled it in both of her own between them, showing him the red welts still evident from before. “Because earlier tonight you nearly tore your hands off at the mention of the reason the Order existed, that’s why not!” And perhaps she shouldn’t have growled that last little bit, but maybe it would get the point through.

He stared at their hands, his one and her two, a confused and slightly…scared?…expression danced across his face before he simply stated, “Ah.” Finally, he lifted his gaze to hers. She became acutely aware of holding his hand, wanting to pull it closer, wanting to breathe, but then he said, “That wasn’t why.”

It took her a moment to tear her mind out of the dark, deep depths of his eyes and back to the surface so she could stutter a breath and try to understand what he was saying, “Why what?”

He gestured with a small clenching motion of his hand in hers. “The…hands.” His head torqued an inch to the left as if to negate something, but there was no question spoken between them. “You’ve given me something to think about with the house…with magic.” He looked over his shoulder to Number Twelve.

She watched him watch the house as she tried to understand what he was saying. Her thumbs reflexively ran over his palm as she thought. If he hadn’t wanted to tear his hands off at the mention of Voldemort…”oh. Oh. Of course. Oh my God, I’m so stupid, of course.”

He had been trying to tear into the lack of magic inside his hands.

The very thought made her feel slightly ill.

As soon as her pained and empathetic eyes met his, that eyebrow went up.

Well, perhaps if it wasn’t really Harry that had upset him that much, then maybe it would be okay to take him inside Number Twelve. “Do you want to see inside?”

He snatched his hand away and stepped back into the shade of a hedge. “No.”

Well. That was a manifested fear if ever she saw one. The problem was, she was getting tired and there was no way she was going to sleep out here in the public park. Eying his closed body-language, she thought over her options. She could try and wake Ronald—Ha! She looked up at the third floor of their house. Fat Chance of getting that dead sleeper up!

Or she could try and tempt Severus with something that might make him want to make the trouble of the trip through an enclosed space. Hmm. That was obviously the more likely option, but what would be tempting enough? Briefly, her mind flit over another individual that had been afraid of four walls but trapped at Grimmauld Place: Sirius Black.

Harry’s godfather had worked rather hard on the rear garden, expanding it to maximum capacity within the double-wythe brick walls surrounding it. He even spent most nights in a hammock out there…Yes! That should do it. She smiled, “Even if it gets you to the rear garden where there’s a nice hammock you can sleep in?”

The idea apparently had merit with him at the slight spark of interest that danced across his face. He thought about it for a moment, then, “You can’t…Apparate…into the garden?”

“No. I can’t.” Really, she couldn’t. It was part of the Fidelius Charm. He should have remembered that, actually. She smiled apologetically.

He stared down at her from the shadows, doubtfully. “Let me think about it.”

There really wasn’t anything better she could do. She couldn’t give him what he wanted and to push him would make him flat out refuse. “Alright.”

So now she was left with nothing to do and nothing to focus on.

It was a moment before she actually noticed that the contrast of the darkness he’d closed around himself and the slightly lighter night she stood in allowed her to see the soft puffs of breath between them condense into little clouds and fade off into ether. They stood facing each other, breathing into the night, not really looking at each other, but not really acknowledging anything else, either. He inhaled, she shuddered an exhale and crossed her arms.

He leaned against the railing and she stared into the dark spot of him, unable to make out his expression or precise movement, and then he slid down the fence and sat, arms out on his knees. His feet were visible in the slight light available to her, finely arched toes curling in the spikes of grass.

She sighed and sat down against the fence next to him. What was she going to do with him? He was so close and yet growing ever farther from her…she arranged her legs to fold with her knees facing towards him and dropped her head back against the bars. When she rolled her head to try and see him, he was looking up again.

Her curiosity finally got the better of her. “What do you see?”

“Mm?” His response bobbed his Adam’s Apple, but nothing else moved.

She looked up to where his gaze was trained. “When you look up at the stars, what do you see?”

He sighed, brought a hand up to scrub his rough face, dropped his head to stare at his lap. “Eyes.”

Both her brows raised in confusion. Better to let him expand upon that if she wanted clarity.

She wasn’t to be disappointed.

“I see eyes.” He looked back up to the sky. His expression was haggard, haunted, but it wasn’t until he turned to look at her that she had to bite back a gasp at the pain his boring gaze caused her. “The stars remind me of one of the sets of eyes I saw in my…Safe Place. That was the mental place I would go to when they medicated me. The only thing that kept me, comforted me for the past two years were the Eyes in my Safe Place. And I can’t seem to get back.”

So many questions burned through her mind at this gift of an explanation from him: What did the Safe Place look like? What did he mean by the eyes? Whose eyes? Why did the medication induce it? Was the medication hallucinogenic? How would that affect his recovery? How would not getting back to that Safe Place affect his recovery?

That actually seemed the most important question to ask at the moment, “What do you mean, you can’t get back?”

He glanced at her and gestured with his hands. “Ever since my…attack…I’ve been trying to get back to my Safe Place, and I can’t.” His hands fisted. “I just…can’t. I’d only ever gotten there when they medicated me and I don’t know how to get there on my own.”

He sounded so angry…so lost. She wanted to help him so much and it was so much a part of her to solve any problem put before her. Her mind sifted through solutions to his problem and came to the most logical one, “Have you thought of trying meditation?”

He blinked and turned his head fully to her. “What?”

She smiled encouragingly to him, “I can show you a way to meditate that should take you to your safe place. I can’t guarantee it, but we could try.”

His mouth was open only a quarter of an inch, but he could have been gaping at her. He mumbled in astonishment as he stared at her. “Meditate. Of course, I should have been able to think of that.”

Hermione blushed, looked down and smirked, “Oh, I don’t know. You’ve had a bit to process today.”

She heard an answering smirk in his tone, “This is true.” He took a breath and exhaled. “Well, then, I’ll just get to it.”

Wait a minute! She had to get him to the rear garden first! “Oh, no. It’s not that easy. You’ll be completely vulnerable while you do that and it’s the middle of the night. I’m tired, Severus, and no one else is available to watch you.” She held up a hand and started ticking off points with her fingers, “Tonks has to watch Remus, we’ve both managed to tick Harry off and Ronald is completely out cold asleep. I need you safe and I need sleep. You need to come into the gardens in the back of the house. There you can meditate and I can sleep.” To top off her tirade, she made sure to give him her best scowl. Learned from him.

From his expression, it seemed he was torn between laughing at her and actually acceding to her request. Now came the hard part of getting him through the house quietly.

What would Mrs. Black think of their guest? Would she remember him? Revile him? Wake the household? Would she wake at all?

She stood up and exhaled. One thing at a time. Get Severus through the door. They’d worry about the portrait if she could get him inside. He stood up, almost immediately crowding her as she opened the gate. Odd. She would have thought he’d be rather recalcitrant, but…oh well.

/

His bare foot stepped first through the gate onto the cold concrete of the sidewalk and his first thought was how interesting the texture of the pavement was, but the longer he stood on it, the coarser it felt against his tender feet. Feet that had known only slick, waxed, marmoleum floors for the past few years. He shifted onto the spines of his feet, then to the heels, and from there onto the balls of his toes, trying to find the least painful way to walk on the pavement. Hermione walked ahead of him after checking for crossing traffic on the bricked-then-asphalted-over street.

He slipped his foot, toes first to test the texture, onto the asphalt and found the larger, rockier texture to be warmer, but a bit more difficult to traverse. He tried to find the exposed brick as he crossed the street.

Her face was scrunched in concern and some form of condemnation once he made it across the street and met her on the smooth slate steps of Number Twelve. He lifted his chin and stared down his nose at her, daring her to say anything at his lack of progress.

She said something else instead: “I need to get you some shoes. I should have already done that before making you walk across the street. My apologies.”

She looked absolutely livid, but from her words, she wasn’t angry at him, but more at herself. He simply stared at her. After a few moments, she glanced around, then up at the door and continued up the steps.

He followed.

As he stepped up the final step, he realized that this place was not new to him. This door had been seen before. It was not a good door to see. It held memories and pain, it held ridicule, it held obligation, and mountains of hurt. This door was calling to him, but to go inside would be to open a scabbed wound and scrape it raw again.

He dropped back a step, but Hermione reached down and grabbed his wrist. “C’mon. It’s just a door.”

Just a door? Was she insane?

Ha.

‘Was she insane’. Who was insane? He was afraid of a door!

And yet he was.

She was right, and perhaps getting through the door would be enough to show him that it was “just” a door. He took a deep breath and watched her unlock it with her wand, thumb the latch, and push the great, groaning, heavily-carved wooden mass into the dark yawning gape of fear behind it.

His breath caught in his lungs, hung there right behind his heart as he waited for something to happen.

She tugged on his wrist and he felt pulled, as if through water.

The vestibule was dark. He could hear her breath and his shifting the air. His sped up.

She spoke. “I’m sorry, I have to do magic in this house.”

He couldn’t have answered. He just watched her light her wand and a second set of doors opened in front of them.

The floor creaked under her foot and he shifted away. She held on and looked back at him. “We must be quiet. The portrait needs to stay asleep.”

His eyes moved to the large, shrouded painting that took up the front-facing wall, the place of honor. Snoring and muttering issued from behind the dark coverings and he looked back to Hermione. She offered a small smile.

He looked around the foyer as she started moving them slowly away towards a tiny hall. There wasn’t much to see, but there were so many echoes beating at his mind, his skin, his nerves…He got a quick impression of blots of furniture and a clock before they entered the hallway completely.

Completely.

“Speed up.”

She looked back at him. “What?”

He started shaking and he kept looking at the pale, textured, tin ceiling. The walls were too close. TOO CLOSE. “Get me out of here, this place is too small, please.” He pushed up against her, trying to make her go faster and thank God, thank Merlin, thank Dadga or Cerunnos or whomever the hell was listening that she did.

Dear God, was the hallway shrinking? He could swear the walls and the ceiling were bearing down on him, brushing up to his shoulders, the runner carpet trying to trip him up and drag him down just out of spite.

He held onto Hermione tighter.

Would this fucking hallway never end? He pulled her closer. “It’s getting further away, isn’t it?”

“What?”

“Don’t play with me!” He looked around them and both doorways were so far apart he couldn’t see them in the darkness. “The doors are getting farther away from us instead of getting closer! We’re stuck here!”

Stuck. He started to see little lightning flashes across his vision as his pulse heightened. Stuck. They were stuck in this never ending hallway inside this dark house with dark memories and dark echoes and he would slowly go even more insane than he already was and why the FUCK did the allow this woman to talk him into coming inside?

“Severus?”

He took a few paces back the way they came, but the darkness engulfed him. He panicked and turned back to her, her light. “Take me back. Take me back outside. Now.”

She held up both her hands. “We’re halfway there, Severus. You just have to trust me.”

He reached out and grabbed her upper arms. “You’re lying. You’re just saying that so I’ll be stuck here.”

She shook her head and stared at him. “No, why would I do that?”

“You don’t want me to go back to the Safe Place. You took me away from it, you don’t want me to go back!”

And she had the audacity to look offended! He rolled his eyes.

“Nonsense! I want you to be safe! Severus! Look at me!”

He did, but this time, this time he remembered. Brown Eyes! Hermione was Brown Eyes! “Brown Eyes…”

She smiled. “Yes, dearest, I have brown eyes.” Something clicked in that brain of hers, ” And you have eyes in your safe place, don’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Were my eyes in your safe place?”

“Yes.”

“Then wouldn’t it be logical that I would want you safe?”

He couldn’t answer her. Her logic was correct, but something was off…

“Tell me about the other eyes.”

How did she know, “Other eyes?”

“You told me the stars remind you of eyes. They couldn’t be mine, so I’m assuming there are others.”

“Potter’s.”

She looked curious. “Oh?”

“And someone like him.”

“Ah.”

That response was more than curious. It spoke of knowledge. “Do you know who that is?”

She smiled a sad smile. “Most likely, but we’ll save that for later when you’ve calmed down a bit.” She backed away from him and he dropped his grip on her arms. “Feeling better?”

He was surprised to nod ‘yes’.

She slipped her hand into his and pulled him down the corridor. It was only a few steps before he started to feel it close in upon him again, tighter and tighter, the wallpaper reaching for him, the sconces plucking at his clothes. He stubbed his toe on another bit of carpet runner and fell into the wall with a ‘thump’.

Somehow Hermione’s concern for him only made his nerves wind tighter. It felt as if the darkness behind him held a hand outstretched, ready to clamp down and rip him backwards, off into the fog of nightmare swirling around the edge of consciousness.

He edged up on her again, pushing her faster as his mind started screaming that the ceiling was just about to crush down behind him. Something cracked in the walls and he jumped, pushed her forward.

They reached the door together and flung it open but…

Shite.

Out of the Frying Pan…

They were in the Kitchen.

He knew this place. His mind quickly assimilated what reason he had for being in this room before and his entire body clenched in fear.

The hallway still twitched its claws at his back as the Kitchen sank its dark maws into his gut. There, at the head of the trestle table, stood the memory of a man, the Blue Eyes, and never did those Blue Eyes hurt so much as they did now!

There was pain…oh, such pain! Betrayal, but by whom? Did he betray this man? His heart wanted to climb out of his chest and die, pumping on the table in front of his mind’s manifestation.

He backed away from the table, shaking so hard he couldn’t see clearly. His head hit the corner of the door behind him and it slammed closed. The sound rippled through his ears and broke the ghost image of Blue Eyes like so much smoke. He cried out and closed his eyes, leaning back against the door and feeling his way to the hutch he knew would be beside it.

“Severus?”

He knew her voice didn’t belong in this memory, this thought-line, but she was there. It was wrong, this was wrong! He snatched up a mug from the hutch and hurled it blindly, “NO!” It shattered against the opposite wall.

She screamed, but it was a short-lived thing, surprise more than fear.

He sporadically shook his head. Why was he doing this? Tossing coffee cups wouldn’t get him outside, now would it? And he desperately needed to get out of here. NOW.

He scanned the room for the door he knew would take him out and finally found the frilly curtains hung there ages ago across the window panes in the dutch-door. He lunged.

The handle! Where was the fucking handle! “Granger get this goddamned door open for me right this fucking instant!” He clawed at the corners of the jamb, ripped the stupid frills down from their ridiculous cafe rod.

“Euf!” She actually elbowed him and hunkered under his right elbow to get to the door. He vainly tried to drag a breath into his body.

“I wouldn’t have had to do that if you’d just calm down!” She unlocked the door with her wand and pushed it open just as his breathing evened out.

Their position was such that they stumbled slightly at the change in angle but he immediately felt the calm, cool air on his face and took a deep breath. It wasn’t enough.

He needed to see them. He needed to see the stars. He pushed her down and nearly tripped over her as he ran down the porch steps and into the rear garden proper.

He was so intent on trying to find the sky through the overgrown tree branches and their millions of leaves that he stepped right into something very, very sharp. “Ouch!” The pain slammed his whirling mind to a halt with its only focus to relieve it.

“Serves you right, pushing me down like that.”

He looked up from inspecting his foot, behind him to Hermione as she descended the steps with an equally intent expression on her face. Was there anything he could possibly say to explain how he felt at that moment?

No.

He went back to pulling burrs from the sole of his foot. He hissed as the last one tugged at the delicate flesh at the arch.

“Come on, I’ll show you the path…which I would have done if you’d allowed me to, before.”

He grimaced at her and followed down the barely-visible stone path amongst browned ferns and leafy debris. Lifting his gaze to peer into the depths of the garden, he tried to make out what he could.

No much was visible through the tangle of vines and bushes.

This is a garden?”

“Hush. No one has the ability or time to take care of it, so Harry keeps a path clear to the hammock and that’s it. Of course, with you back…and if the boys’ last mission was successful, then we’ll have a bit more time on our hands. That will only leave one war victim on the missing persons list.”

She turned around on the path and seemed to smile at him in the dark. He blinked, perplexed. “Have you really been spending all your efforts of the past few years looking for people like me?”

She walked back to him. “Severus, you weren’t dead, you were missing. Things were happening, amazing things that shouldn’t have happened, right in front of our eyes and when we went back for you, you were gone. Wizards don’t disappear when they die, and we sure as hell weren’t going to let any loonies desecrate your body if we could help it.”

She still didn’t understand. He scrubbed his hair with his right hand. “No. No, I did. I did, I died. Why do you say I didn’t? I did, I did!”

His hand flew between them and she grabbed it. “I know you did! Dammit, I watched you! I cold-bloodedly watched you die and I relived that moment every night in my nightmares for months! I know that! But Tonks came back and Remus came back! You weren’t in the Shrieking Shack when we went back for you.”

“You…watched…”

Revulsion swept across her face. Was he that repulsive to her? “Nagini. Severus, you had been bitten by Nagini on the jugular. How were we supposed to save you?” He backed away, she followed. “You shoved those memories at us and demanded Harry to look at you, then asphixiated on your own blood. I watched you die, but here you are!” She pulled his hand tighter to her. “I don’t know how, but here youare! And so is Tonks and Remus! They think their child has wild magic that brought them back but now I’m not so sure. Why would Teddy bring you back, too?”

He was trying, valiantly, to follow her speech and there was so much to digest from it, the most important being, “They died, too?”

She threw her hands up and walked away down the path a few steps. “Oh, God, I need to sit down.” She turned back and pointed to him. “So do you. Come on. It’s not much farther.”

Slipping the hand she beckoned him with around his elbow, she escorted him around a bend to a pergola heavily overgrown with vines, some brown, some green, and beneath it, a white rope hammock.

“It’s…”

“I know. Harry comes out here to think every once in a while, but that’s about it.”

He looked around at the…lack of presence the place had. It…rather suited him. “No one else?”

“I tried, but I’m a terrible gardener. Plants are wonderful, but my hands are all brown thumbs for me.”

He looked down at her. “Hmm.”

“Yes, I know-it-all, but can’t do-it-all. Say what you will, but at least there’s the hammock. Here, I’ll hold it steady while you climb on.” She moved to do just that.

“Climb? I do not climb.”

Her smirk was challenge enough. “How do you know? You might have and just don’t remember.”

“Lovely, Miss Granger, but I would know if I did something so completely undignified as that.”

“Are we already back to formalities, Mister Snape?” She smiled sweetly and gestured to the hammock.

He ground his back teeth. “Just hold the blasted thing.”

“Right-o.”

As soon as he sat on the thing, it sank and dipped dramatically to one side. He eyed her suspiciously but she simply nodded encouragingly. He lifted one leg, then the other and scooted—He! Scooted!-into the center of the contraption.

She moved to the other side and started to do the same thing. “And just what do you think you’re doing?” He slipped his fingers through the ropes as the hammock swung dangerously to the side.

“Well you didn’t expect me to sleep on the ground, now did you?”

“I’d rather thought you’d go back inside.”

“And if you need something? How will you get help if you can’t even get in the door without breaking down into a gibbering mass?” She lay down facing him and propped her feet near his shoulder.

He sneered at that. “Thank you for pointing that out. Will you at least remove your shoes? They’re very pointy.”

“Certainly.” He had to grab onto the ropes again as the thing rocked violently. He barely noticed, but she did something with her wand before slipping her feet back up onto the swing.

“I thought I had asked you not to perform magic in front of me.”

“Well, I thought a Freshening Charm wouldn’t be remiss as I’ve been wearing leather shoes with nylon stockings for over fifteen hours now.”

He suddenly noticed his feet were up against her shoulder as well. He pulled them back, only to have her grab onto an ankle.

“Well, you’ve not been wearing shoes, now, have you?”

Her hand was hot on his skin. “No.” He stared at where it disappeared under the cuff of his pyjama bottoms. With a gentle tug, she coaxed his leg out straight. Could she tell he was blushing in the night?

“So, you don’t have to worry about foot sweat. In fact,” She leaned over and lightly sniffed.

His eyes flared and he yanked his foot, but she held firm. “This is highly undignified.”

“Not to mention surprising. I’m stronger than you now. And your foot smells like…Oh.”

She quickly let his foot go and smoothed the cuff down over his ankle, then tucked her hands between her thighs.

He blinked. “My foot smells like ‘Oh’?”

She grimaced. “Sorry. Your foot smells like grass. Which isn’t surprising as you were wallowing in it for most of the day.”

Wallowing? He’d not been…alright, perhaps at the beginning he might have been. He sneered. “Quite. So why do you seem surprised?”

She tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear. “You—um—nothing. Something from the year Professor Slughorn taught Potions. That’s all.”

The year that—she was upset that his feet smelled like grass? She looked at him again, “You should try to meditate.” At that, she settled her head back against the ropes and crossed her arms at her chest, wriggling her feet together under his arm. He lifted that arm in surprise, then put it back down so his armpit would keep her feet warm. It was his request that removed her footwear, after all.

He watched her face soften as she relaxed a bit and folded his hands across his abdomen. She looked so much younger than he felt. How old was he, anyway? That question had never crossed his mind these past two years. He simply…was.

And why did it seem to bother him that there was an age difference between them? What did it matter?

He swallowed the last bit of pertinent information she’d fed him: She had been one of the last people to see him alive.

No matter what she said, he knew he had died. That was something certain. A knowledge that could not be circumvented no matter how he tried to turn it or walk around it. The man that lay in this hammock should not be here.

So why was he? How?

He sought the sky, answers, peace, but there was none to be had. She slept on, oblivious.


A/N: Thank you so much to everyone who’s encouraged this fic! It’s starting to get rather personal, so please review and let me know what you think! :)

Just for fun, songs that inspired me while writing this chapter:

Kate Bush: Running up that Hill; This Woman’s Work

The Killers: Goodnight, Travel Well (This song *really* inspired Severus’ POV)

Danny Elfman: Wolf Suite Part One (The Wolfman Soundtrack); Main Titles (Sleepy Hollow Soundtrack)

Hans Zimmer/James Newton Howard: Watch the World Burn (Dark Knight Soundtrack)

Mychael Danna: Breach Soundtrack

Nathaniel Mechaly: Taken Soundtrack

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