CHAPTER 17

**AUTHOR'S NOTE: Trigger warning! This chapter includes slight mention of childhood sexual abuse.

For once their roles were reversed, and it was Snape who slept and Lily who watched over him. When his eyes finally fluttered open, it was to the heavenly sight of Lily's beautiful face. She must have turned over while he slumbered, tucking her lithe hands beneath her chin as she watched him. Her emerald eyes were fathomless, but they smiled as Snape drank her in like a parched man in the desert heat.

"Hello," she whispered, reaching to caress his cheek. His only answer was a long, gentle kiss to the pads of her willowy fingers. Snape closed his eyes in utter tranquility as her palm cupped his jaw and her thumb stroked the stubble there.

"How long was I out?" he asked eventually, refusing to break the enchantment by opening his eyes.

"Only an hour or so," she responded. But then the bewitching movement of her hand paused, and she was quiet for a long moment before murmuring, "Would you like to talk about it?"

His eyes opened slowly, only to find her staring at him intently. "What?" he asked blankly, confused by what she meant.

"Would you like to talk about whatever caused…" She blushed prettily, but her eyes never left his as she motioned between them with a shy smile. "Whatever caused this?"

"I… What do you mean?" Snape asked, completely baffled now.

She gazed at him for a long moment that felt like eternity, her eyes flicking back and forth between his own as if trying to catch one in a lie. Her brows drew together, furrowing in dawning comprehension, and she rose suddenly from beside him as she sat with the sheet pressed against her naked breasts.

"You really don't know, do you?" she whispered, the question directed more to herself than to him. There was an emotion swimming in her eyes that Snape had difficulty putting a name to.

Pity? Sympathy, perhaps? No, that wasn't it.

And then it hit him.

The look was one of understanding.

"Severus," she murmured, gazing down at him with nothing but love and acceptance as she ran her fingers through his hair. "I think you are suffering from PTSD."

"PTSD," he repeated blankly. "And… what exactly is…?"

"It stands for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It's a type of mental crisis that afflicts many who have lived through unspeakable horrors."

He jolted upright, staring at her in inexplicable anger, and he felt his shields attempting to slide protectively into place. "You…" His voice rose in volume as her allegation settled in. "Are you accusing me of being mentally disturbed?"

"No, love," she murmured softly, completely unaffected by his defensive tone. "I'm not accusing you of anything. I simply believe that after all you've suffered, your mind has found a way to compartmentalize the emotional pain and lock it away." She paused, and the stiffness in his shoulders began to loosen. "However, the problem with emotional pain is that it refuses to be shut up in some dark cupboard. It will seep through the cracks and force its way through, compelling you to acknowledge its existence." She paused again before adding, "I believe it's why you cut yourself." Drawing her fingertip along one of his purplish scars, she stared intently at the raised, patterned trails they made along his skin. "Severus… Have you ever spoken to someone about what your father did to you?"

He went very still, the blood in his veins suddenly freezing in place.

"Why would I do that?" He asked, his tone icy. "Those were the worst years of my life. Why in bloody hell would I want to relive them?"

"That pain inside you is a festering wound that won't ever heal until its lanced and drained, my love."

Snape sat up, his eyes full of anger and confusion as he glared at her for a long moment. She never looked away.

Finally breaking the tense silence, he hissed, "Why are you doing this?"

"Because I know you'll never truly be happy if your past continues to haunt you." She reached out to lay a gentle hand upon his arm, but he swatted her away as he jumped to his feet.

"Never be happy?" he spat. "I thought we were happy! We're a family, for Christ sake! My past no longer controls me! I look only to the future now, and I do what I must to keep my family safe!"

"If you look only to the future, why was there a knife on the floor of the antechamber of the Great Hall when I came for you tonight?" Lily calmly asked.

With a wild yell Snape grasped her roughly by the arms and wrenched her to her feet.

"What do you want from me?!" he roared, shaking her like a rag doll. "You want to hear about how my father started touching me when I was four? How he gave me 'lessons' on the proper way to pleasure him? The man started raping me when I was nine-years-old! You want details on how he'd sneak into my room late at night and force himself inside me until I bled for days afterward? How my mother knew the truth but was too weak and terrified to stop him? Why in God's name would I want to talk about that?! Why would I want to infect you with such vileness?!"

A dam within him shattered, and he spun away from her as an agonized cry was torn from deep inside him. Doubling over, he grasped the roots of his hair and repeatedly tugged on his scalp, his knees giving way beneath him as the truth of his emotional pain washed over him. Visions of his horrific childhood pervaded his mind, drowning him in sorrow. He squeezed his eyes shut, but the tears continued to leak from beneath his lashes and course warmly down his cheeks, dripping from his chin onto his naked chest. Covering his face with his hands, he nearly jumped from his skin when he felt a soft touch against his shoulder.

"Don't!" Snape cried, pulling away in an instinctual attempt to protect himself. However, as he stared at Lily with panicked eyes, her tearful emerald gaze was so full of empathy that he flung himself around her middle, grasping her small frame like a lifeline. Her naked belly was soon wet beneath his tears, and she ran her fingers through his hair before sinking down beside him. Cradling him tightly, she rocked them both as he buried his face in the crook of her neck and wept.

Gut-wrenching, ugly sobs were torn from his chest, until finally… finally… his soul felt completely drained.

Lily held him through every horrid moment.

When the tears finally began to ebb, Snape felt like a sponge that had been wrung out too harshly by the hands of an infuriated giant.

Self-conscious, he gently disengaged from Lily's embrace and scrubbed his face with his calloused hands. His eyes were gritty and swollen, but he turned his reddened gaze to her nonetheless. They stared at each other for a long moment.

"Aren't you glad you gave up your life to come here and be with me?" he scowled in a self-mocking, deprecating tone.

"You're the only one I want to be with, Severus," she murmured solemnly.

"Still? Even… even after all this?"

"Always."

Snape's heart swelled at the look of love that blazed from her eyes, and the warmth emanating from within him melted his embarrassment away. Feeling unworthy of this remarkable woman, he leaned in to cup her face and drew her in for a gentle kiss.

"Do you feel a little better?" she asked after a moment, covering the hand cupping her cheek with her own.

Snape wasn't sure how to answer that. "I feel… raw," he admitted. "But I suppose it's better than the fear I've lived with for so long. Will it…" he cleared his throat and tried again. "Is it always so difficult, to…?" He couldn't seem to find the words, so he let them die helplessly upon his lips.

But in typical fashion, Lily seemed to understand what he couldn't say. She took a minute to think about her answer, choosing her words with care.

"I've stitched many wounds in my lifetime, before I knew I was a witch. Often the stitching was more painful than the wound itself. But… when the skin was strong enough to hold together, the stitches were removed, and a scar remained in their place. The scar was perhaps not the prettiest of features…" Her voice drifted off, and her fingertips traced the ragged marks on his chest, above his heart. "But to me, scars have always told a story of survival. They become an unequivocal part of who you are. And unlike an open wound, a scar will no longer hurt when touched. It can be poked and prodded, but it will no longer bleed.

"I think your past is like an open wound, Sev. The pain has festered after being ignored for so long. But now that the poison has been released, we can stitch it up and wait for a scar to form."

"And how do we do that?"

She thought about her answer, then slowly explained, "An American psychologist came to a conference at the muggle hospital I worked for. She spoke about techniques used for calming and treating patients who were victims of trauma – including those who suffered from PTSD. Unlike most therapy being practiced today, her belief was that there was no need for the victims to discuss the details of what happened. Instead she thought it best to… guide them through the physical sensations that arose in their bodies as they remembered the trauma. For some patients, those sensations materialized as a chest-crushing sadness, and they felt like they couldn't breathe. For others it was a fear so intense they felt as though their bodies were trapped in a block of ice, and they couldn't move. She felt that it was only by easing the physical symptoms that the survivors could finally let go."

"So, deal with the outcome instead of focusing on the trauma itself?" Snape brooded.

"In essence. She believed that traditional talk therapy only served to retraumatize the victims. But by learning how to overcome the results of the past, the patient was able to better handle the future, and they could finally move on." A faraway look came over her features and she paused for a long moment, deep in thought. "Many of my colleagues thought her techniques were a bit… new age. I believe 'woo-woo' was the term they used," she admitted with a chuckle, and Snape couldn't help a grudging smile. But Lily's face sobered as she continued, "Now, thinking back on it… I can't help but wonder if she was a witch. Knowing what I know now, her methods seem more suited to something you'd see here – in this world."

"Like what?" Snape asked, unable to hide his interest.

"One of her techniques included creating an energy grid within the body. Another was a grounding exercise where the patient was supposed to imagine filtering clean, powerful energy from the earth's core up into themselves, then expelling the bad energy back down. She even talked about the patients using a 'power animal' to protect them from the fear that the trauma created within them. Remembering it now, I can't help being reminded of –"

"A patronus," Snape interjected, at once fascinated and, unbelievably, eager to learn more. Perhaps there is a way for me to get through this, once and for all!

She graced him with a warm smile. "And after everything you told me about Harry, with his nightmare, I think…" Her voice suddenly trailed off as a look of dawning horror came over her features. "Oh God – Harry!" She jumped to her feet and hurried over to where her robe lay discarded in a puddle on the stone floor. Rummaging through the fold and pockets as she put it on, she withdrew a plain wooden box that Snape immediately recognized. "I grabbed this while I was in your office. I told Harry that I'd have you write the moment I found you, to let him know that you were alright," Lily explained as she hurried back to Snape's side. As she handed it to him, he could tell by the tone of her voice that she felt awful when she murmured, "I can't believe I forgot!"

"Don't feel guilty," he insisted firmly. "I don't know what I would have done without you tonight." She gave him a grateful smile, his words seeming to ease some of her burden.

As he gazed down at the box in his hands, Snape noticed that the rune carved into the top was gently glowing. He looked up to ask Lily if he could use her writing desk, only to find her summoning his robe. She eased it onto his shoulders before bending down to kiss his temple and murmuring, "Take as long as you need."

Snape went to the desk before the large window, taking a moment to gaze reverently at the moon reflecting off the still waters of the lake below. Murmuring the incantation to open the box, he saw a small bit of parchment with a single tense question sitting within:

"Are you alright?"

He gave a heavy sigh, regretful that his son would be forced to add this onto his already overburdened pile of worries. Thankful that the pain potions were still under effect, he hoped his son would notice that his writing was firm and fluid, and would be comforted by that fact. Taking a fresh sheaf of parchment, he dipped his quill and wrote:

"Yes, I'm fine. I apologize if my sudden disappearance worried you. It's late and at this hour, I'm sure you must be sleeping. I will explain everything tomorrow. Sleep well."

Folding the parchment to fit within box, he murmured the incantation and sent it through. However, he was surprised as he rose from the desk only a minute later when the lid began to glow once more. He slowly lowered himself back into the heavy wooden chair.

"I was too worried to sleep until I knew you were ok. And… I feel really guilty about what happened between us earlier. I'm sorry. I honestly don't know what my problem is. I think there might be something wrong with me. W

ere you with Moldy-Voldy? Why did he call you during school hours? He didn't… torture you or anything, did he?"

Snape chuckled at his son's choice of nicknames for the Dark Lord, but the smile disappeared as he ran a heavy hand over his face. He wished for the millionth time that he had the power to take this heavy burden from Harry and give him the childhood he deserved. Sighing, he took his time in replying, making sure that his words could not be misconstrued.

"Harry, I don't want you worrying about me. This is a vital year for you that will determine the rest of your future. I want your word that you will focus strictly on studying with the headmaster, as well as earning your NEWTs in the classes required to become an Auror. That is what's important.

"In answer to your question – yes, I was called upon by the Dark Lord. Unfortunately, I believe this will be a common occurrence this year, as he is insistent in being very involved with my new curriculum. Potions was always the safer choice of subject, as the Dark Lord had very little interest in it. However, since I am now the DADA instructor, he knows that he can wield more control over the students and the position they take regarding acceptance of the Dark Arts. As such, I believe that he will call on me often. He knows better than to summon me when I am teaching, but you may notice that I am missing from dinner on a semi-regular basis. It is to be expected. I have been a spy for a very long time, Harry. I know what I'm doing. Do not fret over it."

He paused, considering his recent conversation with Lily.

"As for what happened earlier, there is no apology necessary. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with you. However, I do wish to speak with you on the matter. I'd also like to hear about your meeting with Professor Dumbledore. Be your obnoxious Gryffindor self in class tomorrow, and make sure you do something to earn yourself a nice, long detention."

He paused once more, turning in his chair to face Lily, who was quietly reading in bed.

"Do you happen to have any Dreamless Sleep?" he asked.

"Yes, I'll fetch it." She hurried from the bed into the attached bathroom suite, and came back a moment later carrying a small vile of the glowing lavender potion. "Is everything alright?" she asked with motherly concern as she handed it over.

"Just a precaution," he was quick to reassure her. Turning back to his correspondence, he continued:

"It's almost midnight, and I know you have been plagued with nightmares of late. Drink half of this Dreamless Sleep now so that you can rest unencumbered for the remainder of the evening, and not wake overly groggy. Save the other half, in case you need it another evening.

"Goodnight, Harry. I look forward to seeing what creative scheme you come up with to earn my wrath and get detention. I love you."

Harry's second reply was a little slower in coming, and there was a suspicious wet spot smudging the corner.

"Thanks, Dad. I love you, too."

He found Lily gazing at him with a soft look when he turned around once more. She smiled after a moment, and even after all that had happened that evening, Snape found himself smiling back. Rising from the chair, he came to sit beside her on the bed, propping himself against the headboard and taking her easily into his arms as she set aside her book and curled against his chest.

"I'm proud of you, Sev," she murmured after a long, comfortable silence.

Severus simply grunted in reply. But he had to admit, he felt more at peace with his past than he had in a long time – perhaps ever. However, he knew the demons from his childhood were not completely silenced, and that there was still a long, challenging road ahead of him. But he was determined. And even more so, he refused to allow what happened to him happen to his son. Snape would do anything to protect Harry from the lifetime of pain he himself had had to endure.

It was then that a unexpected thought occurred to him. My Occlumency shields seem to be most affected by flashbacks and memories. Perhaps it is the same with Harry! Could this be the key to why his shields have stopped working?!

"Can you meet with us tomorrow after last period, before dinner?" He asked into the silence. Lily started in his arms, and he suspected she has been dozing.

"Us?" she asked sleepily.

"Harry and I."

Suddenly awake, Lily raised herself on her elbow. Her emerald eyes were wide with surprise as she stared at him. "You want me to show you some therapeutic techniques?"

"Mmm," was all he could bring himself to say, suddenly feeling very vulnerable, and loathe as he was to admit it, even a little scared.

A joyful look crossed her face a moment before she placed a gentle, understanding kiss upon his lips. "Of course, my love. I'll be there."

Running his long fingers through her tousled hair, Snape kissed her fully, grateful yet again for the extraordinary miracle that was her love. He parted from her regretfully before he could get too carried away. "I have to go see Dumbledore," he murmured apologetically. "Tell him about the Malfoys. Did Draco say anything about who attacked him? Or why?"

"He was nervous at first and refused to admit what really happened. I had to read an entire chapter in the Pendle Witches' Medieval Healing Tome, pretending to ignore him for almost twenty minutes, before he started to relax. Even then, all he would say was that they wanted to show him, 'Who was boss.' He wouldn't tell me why, but…" Her voice died sadly away.

"What?"

"He seems… lost. Like everything he thought he knew, he's not so certain of anymore."

Snape sighed, running a blessedly pain-free hand through his hair. "As always, your observations are quite astute. Draco's parents are being held hostage by the Dark Lord – I'm still unsure if they'll survive. And even with the horrors he's expected to perform, Draco probably thought that coming back to Hogwarts would be a better alternative than being at home." Snape scowled darkly at the blackened window. "I am sure that he has been thoroughly disabused of that notion after this evening."

"Poor Draco," Lily murmured empathetically. "I can't imagine what he must be going through. And he seems so alone – no one even came to the infirmary with him."

Snape sighed in weary frustration once more, and was unable to help a bitter, mirthless chuckle. "It's a shame that he and Harry are such rivals. The boys have more in common than they realize."

"They still might come to their senses," Lily teased with a Dumbledore-esque twinkle before shrugging nonchalantly. "After all, I couldn't stand you when we first met." She burst out laughing at Snape's black glare.

At the sound of her tinkering laughter, the corner of Snape's mouth twitched as he leaned in for one last kiss. "Minx," he growled playfully against her lips before pulling away and rising. "Get some sleep."

"You too, my love."

"As they say, there is no rest for the wicked," he murmured cynically as he scooped up his hated Death Eater robes.

"Good thing you're not wicked, then," Lily replied with a wink.

He gave her a huffy, grudging look, but couldn't help the small lift of his lips before he turned to the door and slipped quietly through it.

Using the floo to go straight to his rooms, he took only long enough to toss the foul Death Eater robes across the sitting room before he arrived, spinning, into Dumbledore's office.

"Severus," the man greeted warmly. But as he nodded at the headmaster, the emotional events of the evening washed over Snape all at once. Finding himself suddenly exhausted, he wanted nothing more than to get this over with, so that he could collapse into his bed for the last few hours before dawn.

"The Malfoy boy is in danger," he said without preamble.

The headmaster immediately sobered. "What has happened?"

"The Dark Lord discovered a letter that Lucius had written to his son. I don't know what it included, but I'm assuming there was nothing too obvious regarding the boy's mission, or Lucius would be dead."

"Do you think Draco initiated the contact?"

Snape took a moment to consider, and he lowered himself slowly into the chair before the headmaster's massive desk. "I don't believe so," he finally concluded. "The Dark Lord has done well at distancing them – they have even been assigned spots on opposite sides of the room during meetings, to ensure they cannot communicate. I am under the impression that Lucius was warned to have no interaction with him, even over the summer. The boy seems… very much alone."

Dumbledore steepled his fingers beneath his chin as he gazed mournfully out the darkened windows. "It is regretful, but for the best, I think. The family is in enough danger, living in the Devil's den as they are. I feel that any contact between the Malfoys would only give Tom the excuse he needs to destroy them."

"The Dark Lord wanted me to pass a message on to the boy," Snape continued.

"Oh?"

"He was insistent on reminding young Mr. Malfoy that he is watching."

The headmaster gave a bone-weary sigh, seeming to deflate and suddenly looking every bit of his very significant age. He gazed imploringly – desperately – across at Snape. "We need a plan, Severus. Some way to take Tom's notice off the Malfoy family, while also buying us time to instruct Harry."

"What would you have me do?" Snape sneered. "Allow Draco to openly attack you in the hallways?"

"Perhaps." Snape made a low growl of irritated skepticism, but the headmaster continued, "I see no reason not to allow the boy the illusion of success – especially if it affords Draco and his family the protection of an overlord who is satisfied with his servant's progress."

"Draco is not meant to succeed. This entire charade is simply a way for the Dark Lord to draw out the torture he enjoys inflicting on those of us he claims to have, 'failed him.'"

"I am aware of the stark reality of the situation, Severus. But how do you suppose Tom would respond if the Malfoy boy was seen to be close to succeeding in his seemingly impossible mission?"

Snape's glittering eyes narrowed on his mentor as he examined the headmaster for a long, silent moment. He was not an easy man to surprise, but Snape still found himself astonished at how easily Dumbledore could contemplate his own demise.

He sighed, running a hand through his hair as he finally relented, "He would reduce the constant abuse in hopes of encouraging Draco's victory – at least for a while."

"Indeed. And in so doing, he would inadvertently give us more time to guide and prepare Harry."

Snape sighed once more, choosing not to reiterate the fact that the headmaster's plan left a heavy weight of unease in the pit of his stomach. He knew there was no talking the man out of one of his hairbrained ideas, especially once he'd so firmly set his sights on it.

So instead he asked, "What of my son, Albus? How was Harry's… lesson… this evening?"

It was Dumbledore's turn to sigh. "The boy was subdued. I'm assuming he knew of your departure?" Snape nodded, knowing that Lily had seen Harry only minutes before his meeting with the headmaster. "I thought as much. Still… he seemed to comprehend the gravity of the situation, even if he didn't yet fully grasp its importance. Knowing how worried he must have been about you, as well as the fact that he was able to compartmentalize that fear to learn what he came here for… I'd call this evening a success."

A strange mixture of approval and apprehension slithered through Snape's insides. He was extremely proud of his son for accepting the responsibility that by rights should never have been placed on his young shoulders. But at the same time, he felt a sudden terror at how very precarious the situation was, and he offered up a silent prayer to the Almighty that Harry would survive it.