Disclaimer: The world of Harry Potter and all who reside therein belong to the woman whose name is on the side of the books: J.K. Rowling. And certainly not to me.
Title: A Late Night Stroll
Author: Aeryn Alexander
Summary: Ron goes for a walk one night, only to run into the potions' master, and finds that it is sometimes necessary to aid the enemy. Or is Weasley simply in need of a little perspective?
Rating: PG (for a little language and drama)
Genre: Angst/General
Year: 7th
Author's Note: This is a one-shot, plot bunny fic in the same vein as "Making Peace" (shameless plug), but not chaptered out. It is loosely inspired by the WIKTT Angstier-than-thou challenge, but it involves no romance and the main charcters are Ron Weasley and Severus Snape. There is no slash unless the reader tries really, really hard to imagine it. Please read and review!


A Late Night Stroll

A. Alexander

The castle halls were deserted and almost pin-drop quiet as Ron Weasley, hidden beneath a borrowed invisibility cloak, wandered through the corridors. He was restless and had decided to go for a short walk. And he needed some time alone. Gryffindor Tower was wonderful, and he loved his friends dearly, but sometimes he just wanted a little space to breathe and a little peace and quiet. He wondered if he were developing a latent Percy complex. But then, just about everyone needed time to think, to walk, to listen to their own thoughts. Harry had time on his broom. Hermione had a smug corner in the library. Sometimes, when Ron could get it, he had the castle halls at night.

That particular night young Mister Weasley found himself wandering the corridors between the library and the Slytherin dungeons. His feet carried him where they would as he crept past prefects and wandered as often as not aimlessly through the castle. Harry had suggested, just before he loaned out the cloak, that Ron enjoyed the thrill of rule-breaking. He had answered with a slight grin, but truthfully, breaking curfew no longer excited him. Of course, when he heard shuffling footsteps coming toward him from within the lower halls of the dungeons, his heart did pound briefly. Ron stood stalk still, almost holding his breath, as he waited to see who it was.

When the person to whom those shuffling steps belonged rounded the corner, Ron almost had the urge to creep away as quickly as possible. It was Professor Snape, the greasy git himself. But something held Ron there. Something caught and held his attention and piqued his curiosity. The professor was walking very slowly with none of his usual malevolent grace and swiftness. He had one hand on the wall, almost seeming to feel his way along it as he walked or to be using it for support. And something was definitely wrong with his other arm. It was dangling uselessly at his side. Ron squinted through the material of the cloak and noticed that Snape's eyes seemed unfocused. The potions' master stumbled slightly.

"It can't be? Can it?" Ron wondered silently, nervously.

His heart hammered as he realized that Snape appeared to be blind.

For the barest instant Ron felt just a little smug, imagining that Snape had found himself on the wrong end of a potion accident. That would teach him to tease Neville. Then he felt a slight chill that he desperately fought to keep down.

"What if he's been permanently blinded?"

Ron was almost certain that Snape could not see. Mostly it was the expression on his face and his movements that made him believe that. But Ron wanted to be certain, so he slipped the invisibility cloak off. Snape was looking almost straight at him and did not acknowledge his presence. If the professor had seen him, he would be taking points from Gryffindor house and screaming bloody murder.

Then Ron heard the sound of voices a good way off down the dungeon corridor. Snape appeared to hear them too and began to move faster, continuing to use the wall for guidance. He was only a few meters away from Ron when he stuck his hand out into thin air, the opening of a side passage, and fell heavily to the floor. And there he lay as though stunned.

"He can't be far." said an unfamiliar voice. Ron could tell that it had been magically modified. Hoarse and unpleasant laughter followed.

"We'll finish that traitor yet." said a second altered voice.

Ron looked down at the potions' master and did the only thing that he could do in that situation. He dove on top of Snape, pulling the invisibility cloak over them both.

Snape began to try and fight him off, but Ron hissed in his ear, "It's Ron Weasley, Professor. You've got to keep quiet and still. I've got Harry's cloak over us."

Severus Snape knew what was good for him and stopped struggling. He clutched his wounded arm, his left, to his chest as though it caused him great pain, and did not make a sound. He knew the voice in his ear and could think of no other alternative except to trust the Gryffindor. His fate was in the hands of someone whom he knew only too well considered him an enemy. It made him sweat.

Ron did not like it one bit. The professor was one of his least favorite people in all of existence. But he knew how valuable Snape had been as a spy and that whoever was coming down that hall probably planned to kill him. He could smell, above the scent of potions' ingredients that always lingered upon Snape, that of fear-induced sweat. He had been blinded and perhaps tortured. Ron knew as well as anyone how hated Snape was among the student population and thought that he had earned that hatred. That was one thing. This was another entirely. But how he hated this position!

The sound of heavy, almost marching feet, caused Ron to turn his head slightly. Three students in black robes with wands drawn were fast approaching. Ron held his breath, trying to get a look at their faces. They could not be seen beneath the hoods of their dark cloaks. He was almost glad.

Snape cowered slightly as they passed, hearing their feet upon the stone and the swish of their garments. Ron held him still and could feel him tremble. Greasy hair touched his cheek. He brushed it away with a rising feeling of nausea.

The footsteps retreated. Ron relaxed and moved slightly away from Snape.

"Professor, are you seriously injured?" he asked in a low voice, careful to keep the cloak over both of them.

"I can't see." he said, swallowing with some difficulty. "And my left arm ... I think it has been broken."

Ron took a deep breath and said, "Then I need to get you to the hospital wing."


"The cloak can conceal us. You'll just have to ... to trust me."

Snape looked toward him with a blank, staring gaze and said, "I suppose I must."

Why was Ron helping him? The red-headed seventeen-year-old was asking himself the very same thing. He supposed that it was because it would have been wrong to leave Snape to fend for himself, to allow a trio of Slytherins to catch and murder him in cold blood. Ron made his excuses over and over again as he helped the professor to his feet.

Snape latched onto Ron's shoulder with a rather tight grip that made the young man wince. Ron adjusted his grip for him, hoping that he would take the hint, and began to walk forward slowly. Snape moved very deliberately and tentatively.

"Professor, may I ask what happened tonight?" questioned Ron quietly as they shuffled through the corridor.

"I was ... ambushed and attacked in my office."

Ron had half expected him not to answer or to attempt to box his ears. Instead Snape had given a concise, yet relatively civil reply to his inquiry.

"By whom?"

"I never saw."

"And you escaped from them?"

"Barely. I would not have made it far without ..." and he fell silent.

Ron rolled his eyes. He wanted no gratitude from Snape. He had not expected any. Hell would freeze over on the day that a Slytherin gave a Gryffindor any thanks. It wasn't important, but it was true.

"You were lucky then." said Ron.

"Possibly." said Snape, although he didn't sound as though he meant it.

As they approached the stairs leading upward toward the hospital wing, Ron paused and made something of a face. He was going to have to help Snape up the stairs, which meant that he had no alternative, but to touch the greasy potions' master again.

"Give me your hand." said Ron, feeling his face redden.


"So you don't fall up the stairs and crack your head." said Ron shortly.

Snape refused to release the shoulder of his guide and extended the hand that was attached to the broken arm. Ron took it and began sidling up the stairs, watching Snape's feet as he did so. His hand was cold and not sweaty or slimy as he had imagined. His skin was almost dry to the touch.

"Good." commented Ron quietly as Snape's feet began to find a rhythm to the even stairs. "Last one." he warned.

"Where are we now?" asked the professor, letting go of Ron's hand and holding his arm against his chest again.

"Almost to the infirmary." he assured Snape, leading him forward again.

When they reached the doors to the hospital wing, Ron removed the invisibility cloak and tucked it away before leading Snape into the infirmary.

The hospital wing was vacant, which was very fortunate and moderately unusual, but Ron was very relieved. If anyone had seen him guiding the greasy professor into the wing, he would have been mortified.

Ron led Snape to the nearest empty bed and helped him onto it. Severus released the young man's shoulder and grasped the edge of the bed with his uninjured hand. He obviously had no intention of lying down.

"Let me go fetch Madam Pomfrey." said Ron quietly.

Snape nodded without making a sound. Ron noticed that he seemed rather pale.

"I will be right back." he promised before making his way toward offices and rooms of the school mediwitch.

Ron rang the bell, the usual way of signaling Pomfrey that she had patients if she was in her apartment, and waited. He had no idea how he was going to explain the situation.

"Mister Weasley?" she questioned after opening the door. It was obvious that she had been asleep and dressed very quickly.

"Sorry to bother you, but Snape ... Professor Snape, I mean, has been hurt." Ron told her.

Her eyes widened in surprise.


"I think some of his students got a hold of him. He's been ... blinded." he informed the anxious mediwitch as they both began walking back to the main portion of the wing.

Snape was sitting exactly as Ron had left him when Poppy and he walked up to the hospital bed. Snape flinched away from her sharply as she touched his injured arm.

"It's only Poppy, dear." she said soothingly.

"It's only broken, or didn't Weasley mention it." said Snape with a sneer that didn't quite seem up to par.

"No, I think your blindness drove it right out of his head." she replied. "How did this happen?"

"I was attacked in my office."

Pomfrey could not bite back the gasp that escaped her lips.

"And, no, I didn't see the culprits. They were too quick for me." he added.

"Did you catch the incantation they used?"


"It's very important, Severus, so are you sure?"

"I am blind, Poppy, not suddenly stupid and not ten years old. I am quite certain that I did not hear it." he snapped, becoming agitated.

Ron, who was staying well out of the way, fought the urge to tell Snape to be civil to the school nurse.

Madam Pomfrey on the other hand merely put a gentle hand on her patient's shoulder and said, "Calm down, Severus. You are safe now, and I will consult my books .."

"Wait a minute. You mean you can't just fix it right now?" Ron interrupted.

"The human eye is a very delicate thing, not to be trifled with, Mister Weasley." said Poppy. "As I was saying, I will consult my books and the headmaster. It has been quite a while since someone has been blinded without knowing the proper incantation that caused the condition." she said to Snape.

"You don't need to involve Albus."

"Of course, I do. He would never forgive me if I didn't inform him at the very least, especially with that business just last December ..."

Ron winced and rubbed his eyes at the unpleasant memory.

Harry had awakened one night during the winter holiday screaming. Gryffindor Tower had been empty except for Harry, Hermione, and himself. It had been very frightening, seeing his best friend clutch at his scar as he fell from the bed and onto the floor with an audible thud. Hermione had come from the girls' dormitory in only moments. His cries were that loud. Ron had held Harry in his arms as he wailed in anguish. It was almost like watching someone under the influence of the Cruciatus curse.

"Tell us what's happened, Harry." Hermione pleaded as they piled pillows and cushions under him once the screaming had ended. The floor was so hard, but they couldn't move Harry back to his bed. Hermione didn't think it was safe.

"Voldemort knows." Harry whispered.

"Knows? Knows what?" asked Ron.

"That Professor Snape is a spy for our side. He's cursing him. I think ... he's going to kill him."

And with that Harry began screaming and convulsing again.

"Go get McGonagall or the headmaster, Hermione. Tell them what Harry just said." Ron had instructed. It was his duty to remain with his friend.

Harry had writhed in agony for a long time that night. Ron stayed with him. Hermione returned with Professor McGonagall. She looked very pale as she watched Harry. They could do nothing. They could only wait and reassure Harry between bouts of the curse.

"Why is this happening?" Hermione had asked their teary-eyed head of house.

"I don't know. Perhaps Voldemort is thinking of Harry while he is doing ... this to poor Severus." she said helplessly, dabbing her eyes with a handkerchief.

They had been idle, though it was not an idleness of their own choosing. Dumbledore and a handful of Aurors were not. They had returned to the castle in the early hours of dawn with one potions' professor who continued to live. But the state of his mind Harry knew and confided in his two friends was not so good.

They had crept secretly into the hospital wing the next night, all three of them beneath the invisibility cloak. It was a tighter fit these days as Harry and Ron were both turning into strapping young men, who had the unfortunate habit of treading upon smaller Hermione's feet as they walked.

Severus Snape was lying on a hospital bed near the rear of the ward, hidden by a small privacy screen. Hermione gave a muted sort of gasp when she saw him, and even Ron could not pretend to be unmoved by the sight of him, though he gave it a good try. Snape was bound to the bed by a pair of cords at his wrists. Harry flung the invisibility cloak aside and moved to untie them, stopping only when he saw that they barely touched his skin. They were magical cords, after all, and as he stooped closer, he realized that they gave off a wholesome, calming scent not unlike juniper bushes in bloom. It was actually quite humane. Both Ron and Hermione had breathed a small sigh of relief.

Then Snape had opened his coal black eyes and looked at them one by one.

"I there should ... was? Was the day? There can't." he mumbled incoherently at them.

It was frightening to listen to his low, nonsensical mumblings, though his voice was almost musical. No malice. No harshness. Just Snape rambling nonsense for several long minutes until Hermione plucked up her courage and stepped closer to the bed.

"Hush, professor. You should be resting." she said, touching his hand lightly. There were bright tears in her eyes.

He looked up at her with a forlorn, lost expression and said, "Let me die. Please, let me die."

Hermione had burst into tears, and Ron had tried to comfort her.

"He doesn't know what he's saying." he said, holding his friend close as she wept.

Harry had lingered near the bed, firmly convinced by the events of the last twenty-four hours that the side of light and good had had no greater champion, none more willing to sacrifice themselves, than Severus Snape.

"You don't want to die. You still have work to do. We still need you." Harry told him.

"James Potter?" he mumbled.

"No, it's Harry."

"I don't understand."

"You need to rest, sir. You need to get your strength back." said Harry forcefully. "Or he is going to come and do this to all of us." he added in a lower voice.

Ron was looking at the professor when Harry said that and saw a change in his eyes, like the first spark of a lamp being lit or a match being struck.

"I ... will ... try." said Snape, though it required much effort. His heavy eyelids began to droop. In a moment slumber had claimed him.

The trio had slipped back to their Tower, and by the end of the holiday, everything was back to normal, including Snape, who tried to act as though nothing had changed. Harry and Ron were certain that their visit had been forgotten.

"Weasley? Are you suddenly deaf as a post?" asked Pomfrey irritably as Ron snapped out of his reverie. She had been saying something to him, but he had not heard.

"Sorry." he mumbled.

"I said that you should help Professor Snape into hospital robes while I am gone. Please do so." she ordered before turning on her heel and striding away.

Ron could not believe what he had just heard. He turned scarlet as he looked at Snape, who looked very sour indeed, and the folded robes on the end of the bed. This could not be happening.

"Right." said Ron absently.

"I have been dressing myself for many years. I don't think I will require your assistance." said Snape, slipping from the bed and feeling around for the robes.

"She fixed your arm then?" Ron questioned, stepping closer to the bed and moving the robes so that Snape could find them.

"No, Madam Pomfrey thought it best not to cast any additional spells on me until after my eyes have been properly attended to." said Snape stiffly.

"Then you are going to need some help." said Ron, picking up the robes and taking Snape by the elbow of his uninjured arm.

"I assure you ..."

"That Madam Pomfrey will be very angry if you're not changed when she gets back." interjected Ron unhappily. It was at this point that he firmly decided never to go for an after hours stroll again.

Ron led him to the back of the ward and pulled one of the privacy screens while Snape wrestled with his robes. There was a look of cold and quiet anger on his face. Or was it frustration and perhaps pain? Ron could tell that Snape was trying to keep a tight reign on whatever he was feeling. Given the temperament of the professor, Ron was glad of it. He had been on the receiving end of Snape's foul temper too often.

Ron set the robes aside and reached to help Snape out of his, being as careful as he could be of the broken arm. Snape relented and accepted the assistance. Ron folded the heavy, voluminous garment and hung it over the back of a chair. Snape was trying to unbutton his shirt with one hand, which Ron could see was plainly trembling, and not having much luck. His broken arm was quite useless.

Ron waited until Snape gave up to begin unbuttoning the black shirt. He thought about using magic, but he couldn't come up with the proper charm for such delicate work. The twins, he realized, would probably have known it off the top of their heads. They had once used a spell to yank his shirt off in front of Hermione as a prank.

But Ron had to do it the old fashioned way, one button at a time. Snape, even though he could not see, was trying not to look at him, which Ron found rather weird. He was staring off into a remote corner and standing very rigidly. Of course, anything was better than having those dark eyes looking vacantly down at him, judging him and finding him wanting. Anything was better than that, Ron decided as he slipped the shirt from Snape's shoulders and gently drew the broken appendage from the sleeve.

The Dark Mark was gone. Ron wondered vaguely when that had happened. Harry had told him years ago that it was there, but Snape's left arm, though bruised and discolored, bore no such mark of evil. Had it been there that night months earlier? He had not noticed. Perhaps it had been forcibly removed then.

Snape shook violently for a moment as Ron released the arm. His face contorted slightly.

"Are you all right?" Ron asked instinctively. He flushed a dull scarlet as he realized how concerned he had sounded. "I'm not worried." he told himself silently, giving himself a fierce mental kick.

"It isn't your concern."

"Bugger!" Ron muttered under his breath. "If you pass out, it is. Madam Pomfrey will have my skin for it." he shot back.

"It is just a lingering ... side effect."

Ron's heart hammered slightly and he spoke without thinking, "From the Cruciatus curse, isn't it? Professor, you should have said something, especially after the last time ..."

"How do you know about that?" asked Snape sharply.

Ron chose to remain silent.

"Does everyone know?" Snape questioned, blindly reaching toward Ron, who took a step backward. "Tell me or I'll take twenty points from your house for your impertinence." he threatened.

"Not everyone. Just Harry, Hermione, and me." said Ron, relenting, but not because of the threat. He wasn't certain why he told Snape. Perhaps to shut him up or perhaps because he wanted him to know.


"We came to see you the night after ... Harry insisted. He had to know if you were all right. He somehow saw what You-Know-Who was doing to you, the Cruciatus and all, because of his scar and he felt it too." Ron explained awkwardly.

"I don't understand." said Snape with a blank look on his face.

"And you probably don't remember either."

"I have been informed that I was out of my mind for nearly twenty-four hours. Then I ... miraculously snapped out of it." he said impassively.

"Harry said some things to you. It was weird. I don't know how to describe it. He spoke, and you listened."

Snape was silent for a moment. He did not know what to say. His three least favorite students had come to visit him. And one of them had brought him back from the very brink of utter and complete madness. It was a strange tale, but he found himself believing it.

"Professor, we really should get you changed." Ron prodded after a protracted silence.

Snape reached and began to unbutton his trousers. His hand was shaking too much. He hated to admit it, but his body could not handle the curse so well anymore. The years of peace had lowered his level of endurance and tolerance as had the extended torture from the months before. He felt weak and pathetic.

Ron reached to help him, feeling more uncomfortable than he ever had in his life. He had sometimes helped Fred and George out of their Quidditch things following a tough match, but they were his brothers. He had helped to take care of Harry before, but he was Ron's best friend. And this was Snape.

As his hands brushed against that of the potions' professor, Snape jerked away from him with surprising speed.

"Don't!" he said sharply.

"I am only trying to help. I swear by my honor as a Gryffindor that I'm not trying to grope you or anything." said Ron, turning a very vivid shade of pink.

Snape's lip curled slightly at the mention of Gryffindor honor, but he nodded silently and allowed Ron to unbutton the garment and to help him out of the trousers.

"Black silk boxers." Ron noted absently as he reached for the hospital robes. "Who would have guessed?"

Ron helped him into the robes and tied them closed for him before guiding him back to the hospital bed where Madam Pomfrey had been treating him. Snape climbed onto the bed.

"Lie down, professor." said Ron, trying to coax him into a prone position.

"Why should I?"

"Because you need to rest. Madam Pomfrey will be back any minute, and she will make a fuss if you ..."

"All right." agreed Snape with a bit of a snarl.

Ron was about to say something about that snarl when he heard the echoing sound of footsteps coming from the offices. He started to go for his wand, but he heard a familiar voice.

"Don't fret, Poppy. I know you'll manage to think of something. You always do." said the optimistic voice of the headmaster.

Ron relaxed as they came into view. The mediwitch looked worried, but Dumbledore seemed unusually perky for so late at night.

"I see you managed him. Good work, Mister Weasley." said Poppy curtly.

"He's been put under the Cruciatus again." Ron blurted out.

"I suspected as much, but whoever did it was hardly an expert." she replied.

"I concur." said Snape rather sulkily. Ron had the feeling that Snape would not have mentioned the curse himself, despite its noticeable effects on him.

Dumbledore stepped closer to Snape' bedside and looked over his half-moon spectacles at Severus. Snape shifted and blinked almost as though he could feel the piercing gaze upon him. Ron, standing at the end of the hospital bed, watched curiously as Dumbledore reached toward Snape.

"May I, Severus?" he asked gently.

"Of course." Snape replied. He did not question what the headmaster would do. His trust in Dumbledore was complete and unquestioning, and not without good reason.

Dumbledore examine his eyes closely and asked, "Does it hurt, Severus?"

"No." he answered.

"Did it hurt when they cast the spell?" Albus questioned, carefully touching the area around his eyes, possibly checking to see if they were swollen or tender to the touch. "You should answer honestly." he added.

"Only for a moment."

"I think we need to consult Professor Flitwick before we attempt anything. This might not be a curse at all. It could just be a simple charm or perhaps a hex." Dumbledore suggested to Pomfrey, patting Severus on the shoulder in a comforting manner. Severus heard something frightening in his voice: doubt.

"And in the meantime?" she questioned.

"These things cannot be rushed or forced." said the headmaster.

"Of course not." she agreed.

"We will adjourn to your office again. I am certain that Mister Weasley can look after Severus for the moment."

"Yes, sir." Ron agreed, trying not to sound unwilling or unhappy about the suggestion.

After their footsteps had retreated, Severus said, "I will never be able to see again." His voice was flat and strangled. There was a note of both fatalism and panic in it.

"Don't say that, professor." said Ron hastily. He blushed again. He didn't care what happened to the slimy bastard. Or did he?

"Bring me my wand, Weasley. It is in my robes, for all the good that did me tonight." Snape ordered, starting to sit up in bed.

"Your wand? What for?" he asked with some alarm in his voice.

"Never mind that. It isn't important. Just bring it to me ..."

"No, professor, I won't. You don't need to be doing any magic right now." said Ron, attempting to push the professor by the shoulders back into a reclined position. "He's going mad!" Ron thought, urgently wondering what he should do.

Snape took a wild swing at Ron, barely grazing his chest. A second erratic punch connected, but the professor was too weak to deter Ron, who merely took a deep breath and wrapped his sturdy arms around the professor, pinning his arms between them and restraining him quite neatly. Severus tried to twist any from him, but it was a futile effort.

"Let me go!" he hissed dangerously.

"Not until you're in your right mind again." Ron shot back, gritting his teeth.

"Fifty points from Gryffindor for ... for insolence and ..."

"Take the whole bloody lot! I'm not going to let you hurt yourself or something because you're mad and afraid right now." he said, raising his voice to speak over the professor.

Those words did the trick. Snape ceased struggling. Ron adjusted his grip slightly, wondering if this were the calm before the storm. He could not see the expression on Snape's face as he rested his head against the young Gryffindor's shoulder. The coldness of his cheek made Ron shiver as he felt it against his neck. Snape trembled. He realized that Snape was beginning to cry.

"I wish they had finished what they started." Snape whispered brokenly.

Ron closed his eyes for a moment, remembering something that had happened when he was very little ...

Charlie had fallen from his broom somehow while playing Quidditch in the yard with Bill and Percy during the first weeks of summer one year. He had been flying very high and hit the ground with an unimaginably sickening crunch. Ron remembered screaming and starting to cry as he watched from his play pen near the house. George and Fred had been providing a running commentary on the game. Fred had yelled too. George just got this look on his face, like he was going to faint or be sick or something. Bill, home for a vacation with his family, and Percy, who was just barely old enough to ride a broom, had seemed to hang suspended in the air as they looked down at Charlie, who was in his fourth year at Hogwarts, crumpled on the ground.

Ron could never quite remember what happened next. It was so confusing. Percy and Bill had landed to check on their brother while the twins, ran inside to get their mother. He watched his older brothers as they huddled over Charlie. Percy was crying. Percy never cried. Bill was a pale color as he knelt on the grass. Ron had not understood what was going on very well.

There had been a lot of crying and a lot of screaming, when Fred returned with their mother. George, he later assumed, was being sick inside the house. Molly Weasley had carefully levitated her second son into the Burrow while Bill went to fetch someone. Percy had taken Ron inside too and shut him up in the room he shared with the twins. George was already inside. Percy told George to stay there and see about Ron. They were both crying. Then Percy had gone to help his mother and Fred, who joined his twin and his younger brother only a few minutes later. He was carrying his little sister Ginny in his arms.

"Charlie's going to die." Fred had told them in a flat voice. "Mum is trying to do something, but with only Percy to help ..."

"Charlie can't die." said George.

"Yeah." Ron echoed. "He can't."

"We've got to stay here and be quiet." Fred reminded them, holding Ginny on his knee.

And they had, for what felt like hours. Then they heard the sound of three sharp pops downstairs, the sound of people apparating into the house.

"Molly?" yelled their father. Fred and George exchanged looks as they heard the note of fear in his voice.

Ron had been lying quietly on his bed and sat up.

"In here, Arthur, hurry!" they heard their mother call from Charlie's room.

Loud and hurried footsteps ran up the stairs.

"Don't worry, Molly. I've brought the doctor." Arthur said just loudly enough to be heard.

Ron watched the twins strain to hear, but none of them could hear anything more. A few minutes later the door opened and Percy walked in. He closed the door and sat down heavily between the twins' beds and hid his face in his hands.

"Is Charlie all right?" asked Ron.

"Don't ask me that. Don't talk to me." said Percy in a muffled voice.

"Perce?" questioned Fred, who had passed sleeping Ginny to his brother some time earlier.

"Shut up, shut up, shut up." he told them, rocking back and forth.

"He's dead." whispered George.

"He isn't." said Fred stubbornly.

"Shut up, shut up, shut up." said Percy again, stopping his ears.

It was almost dark outside when their father came into the bedroom. He looked strained and teary-eyed, but he was smiling. The children, even Percy, looked at him expectantly.

"Your brother is going to be all right." Arthur told them slowly. "He is going to need a lot of rest and care for the next few weeks, maybe months."

"Can we see him?" asked Ron, climbing down from his bed.

"Not just yet. The doctor and your mother are still with him. Bill is cooking dinner. I want all of you to go downstairs, get something to eat, and mind your brother." Arthur told them sternly.

"What about Ginny? She needs her bottle." said Percy, who always tried to be so grown-up for his tender years.

"I'll take her." said their father.

As they filed out of the bedroom and out the door, he squeezed their shoulders one by one, almost as though he were counting them and counting his blessings.

Days had passed. They still weren't allowed to see Charlie. Only Bill was allowed into his bedroom. Or maybe Bill was the only one old enough and stubborn enough to ignore Charlie's wishes and their parents' orders.

One afternoon while all of his other brothers were outside and Ginny was in her crib, Ron had sneaked back into the house and upstairs, determined to see Charlie because he missed him. The door to his brother's bedroom was slightly ajar. He could hear his mum and Charlie talking.

"I'll never be able to play Quidditch again. I might never even walk again, much less ride a broom." he heard Charlie say as he peered surreptitiously into the room.

"Charles Edmund Weasley! Don't you dare talk like that!" Molly said sharply. Ron backed away from the door slightly, but continued to watch and listen.

"I wish I had died in that accident." said Charlie in a strangled voice. He was holding back tears.

Ron watched as his mother gathered Charlie silently into her arms and held him. She didn't yell again. She didn't need to. Charlie cried for a long time.

"You're stronger than this, Charlie." Molly finally told him. "You won't let something like this stop you. And you heard what the doctor said ..."

"Yes, mum." he said. "But ... but what if ..."

"Charles." she said warningly.

"I'm sorry."

"I know." said Molly, gently helping him back into a prone position and tucking the blankets around him. "Just ... give it some time, Charlie."

It had taken a summer of intense and rigorous exercise and conditioning for Charlie to be able to walk again, but he had an incredibly amount of determination and his strong-willed mother and five energetic brothers to help him. When school started in the autumn, Charlie was able to mount a broom again. Three years later he was captain of the Quidditch team and instrumental in Gryffindor winning the House Cup. No one mentioned the accident again.

Snape struggled slightly again, jarring Ron from his early childhood memory, one upon which he had not thought in many years. Ron patted his back and tried to think of something to say.

"What would Harry say to him?" Ron wondered.

"Mister Weasley ... please ... my wand." said Snape between what sounded like raw, gut-wrenching sobs.

"You are not still going on about that!" said Ron not knowing what else to say.

"They will be coming for me again ... and I can't fight them like this."

"I don't believe that. You managed well enough tonight, didn't you? Three to one against you, and you're still here, aren't you?"

"Mere chance."

"Well, they won't be coming for you here."

"Perhaps not."

"And if they do, they will find that the odds have evened a bit." he said. "Now, if I let go of you, you won't try anything." said Ron. It was not really a question.

"I won't." said Snape.

Ron released him and gently pushed him back into a prone position against the pillow. He looked terrible. Ron wiped the tears from his face, lightly running his thumb over Snape's closed eyelids. It only helped a little bit.

"Professor, I honestly don't believe you'll be like this long. There must be a counter-spell. There is always a counter-spell." Ron told him, sitting down on the edge of the bed.

"There isn't always a counter-spell, Mister Weasley, especially when you don't know what spell was cast in the first place."

At least Snape was beginning to sound like himself again. The meltdown was apparently coming to an end. Ron was more than a little relieved.

"Professor Snape, you should have more faith in the other professors, in your colleagues."

"They have more to worry about than me."

"Well, yeah, but ..." and Ron tried to remember what it was that Harry had told Snape months earlier, the thing that had brought him back from the brink, "we are all going to need you when the time comes. So it is in everyone's best interests that they patch you up again. You're an important part of this castle's defenses just the same as they are."

Snape could hardly believe what he was hearing. Even Weasley thought he was still useful somehow? That he could still serve after losing his position among the Death Eaters. It was almost unimaginable.

Severus slowly opened his eyes and turned toward Ron. The astonishment was difficult to conceal. Then the professor slowly blinked. He blinked a second time, finding yet another cause for astonishment and disbelief. A look of profound relief crept across his features.

"I think I can see you. Everything is blurry, but ... I can see." said Snape incredulously.

Ron grinned widely and said, "Now, you see, it must be wearing off on its own or something."

Snape nodded as his vision began to clear. More tears trickled down his cheeks. He had never once considered himself a lucky man. His had always considered his future to be bleak and his prospects unpleasant, having long ago limited them to either Azkaban for his misdeeds or to death for his role as a spy. That night he had hit absolute rock bottom after a long and unpleasant slide that had begun in December. And then he had opened his eyes, or perhaps the red-headed Gryffindor had done so, and Snape found himself feeling incredibly fortunate.

"Mister Weasley, I would ask for your discretion regarding my earlier fit of insanity, which seems to have passed." he said.

"What? I don't remember any fit, professor." said Ron innocently.

Snape looked at him for a moment, almost expecting blackmail of some sort. If Weasley had been a Slytherin ... The potions' master almost laughed. A Slytherin, no matter their allegiances, would not have helped him at all tonight.

"Thank you." said Snape. Difficult words, for him at least.

Things would be different between them. The war against Voldemort was still on and no one was guaranteed a tomorrow, but Snape knew that he would no longer have need or cause to torment the Gryffindor trio. And Ron and Snape both secretly hoped that they could enjoy a truce, uneasy or otherwise, for the rest of their time at Hogwarts.

Meanwhile in the corridor leading to the hospital offices and Madam Pomfrey's quarters, Albus and Poppy both chuckled quietly.

"Tears, Albus?" she questioned.

"Naturally, Poppy. Not quite the same healing properties that muggles sometimes attribute to them, but I suppose you can see the parallel." he replied.

"And not at all forced."

"Severus needed that for more than his eyes. Do you know how often he has complained of his own uselessness since it was discovered that he was a spy?"

"Many times?"

"Oh, yes, Poppy, very many times. I don't know if young Weasley's words had a deep enough impact upon him, but they seemed rather heartfelt coming from one of the boys who considered Snape something of a personal nemesis, and vice versa, I'm sure."

"I will want to keep him here under observation ..."

"By all means, please do so. None of this affair should be taken lightly, and Severus will be safest here for the moment." agreed Dumbledore.

"How did you know that young Weasley would be able to both handle him and ..."

"You may not have noticed, but I can be quite intuitive from time to time." he chuckled softly.


"Any of them would have sufficed, but Ronald Weasley is rather peculiar in that he tries very hard to put on a bold face while having a rather big heart."

"Any of who?" she asked in exasperation.

"Potter, Granger, or him. They were all in here the night after Severus went through his ordeal. I happened to be passing this way and overheard them ..."

"You should have informed me. I made in abundantly clear that he was to be left in peace."

"It was not what you would think. You never wondered how he went from raving madness to recovering his sanity over night?"

Poppy flushed slightly and said, "When something like that happens, I often find it best not to question it."

"Well, now you know the answer. Some of our young people can work miracles after a fashion, though there is no use denying our young colleague's own strength, even if he falters from time to time."

"And maybe one of us ought to send one of those young miracle-workers back to bed. He has classes tomorrow."

"His first class will be canceled, I imagine, but I see your point. I will send him back to bed. You should perhaps see about that broken arm and so forth."

"That was my intention." said Madam Pomfrey crisply.

The End