Chapter 32: If it was me
She couldn't remember how long they had been sitting on the floor, Severus' back against the wall, his head against her shoulder. She had stroked his still damp hair for what had seemed like an eternity, had let fragments and splinters of his past wash over her, uncensored, unordered and unjudged. In the beginning the urge to file them, to put them in the proper place according to her own timeline had been overwhelming. In the end the task of watching them alone, of taking all of it in had turned out to be almost more than she felt capable of.
When his breathing finally became steady again and the sobs subsided she gently coaxed him to his feet and onto her four-poster. There was a hesitant look in his dark eyes, yet he didn't protest as she softly pushed him onto the heavy red-golden down blanket. He didn't take off his cloak or strip off his shoes and for a moment she flinched involuntarily at the idea of the mud-sprinkled boots soiling her cosy nest. Then she shrugged the meaningless concern off like an uncomfortable garment, transfigured herself into a cat and jumped lightly onto the bed beside him. His exhaustion alone would probably have been enough to make him drop off into an uneasy sleep within minutes; the warm furry body pressed against his side and the comforting purring noise emitting from it turned minutes into seconds and shone a warm tabby light into the dreaded darkness.
He found himself in a room full of half empty shelves, turned-over boxes, knocked over trunks and shredded curtains. With a look of utter bewilderment he picked up a book that lay in front of his feet, the spine cracked, the binding severely battered. Carefully he let his long fingers run over the front, touched the pale blue letters that spelled out "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe". Clutching the book to his chest he advanced further into the chaotic room.
It looked like a bomb had exploded. Pieces of parchment and ordinary paper lay strewn all over the floor. A teddy bear, with one ear missing and one of his glass eyes teetering in a disturbing angle out of the fluffy eye socket by one tiny thread, swung on a chandelier made entirely of metal roses. A cauldron had been turned over, its contents spilled out; the floor was sticky with some indefinable oozy green liquid. Different sets of robes slouched on smashed chairs, showing neither dignity nor the slightest bit of style. Most of them were dark red or blue or green, not a single black one was to be seen.
Two white candles were still burning on a windowsill and lit the face of a shabby old puppet. The porcelain had turned a nasty yellow colour; the dark curls were matted and a finger on the left hand was missing. The yellow dress was as threadbare as the cotton body underneath.
Severus Snape touched the dark window with a reluctant finger. Releasing the filthy glass again he found soot covering his skin and a little ray of sunlight twittering into the room through the tiny hole in the dirt. With a little more conviction he used the palm of his hand to free more glass of its sticky cover and was rewarded by golden light seeping through the opening, warming his hands. Grabbing a piece of velvety red cloth from a nearby rocking chair he started to scrub frantically until sweat was pouring down his face. He didn't stop until the window was as clear as the outside sky again and sunlight filled every nook and cranny of the room.
The chaos inside was much more obvious now, yet at the same time less threatening. The destruction was on a much smaller level than at first assumed; things were basically in disorder, dented but not completely smashed. Little marks and imprints in the dust on the shelves indicated where the place of nearly every item had been. It would be relatively easy to put things back into place. Time consuming, yes. Tedious, for sure. But not impossibly hard.
Sighing he picked up a vase, took a quick look around and quickly found a fitting dent in the dust. As he put the cobalt blue container back in place a frown crept across his face. His eyes wandered through the room, resting on every little article and item for a moment, until he finally fixed his gaze on the window and the sunlight streaming inside.
Determinedly he took the vase of the shelf again, placed it carefully on the windowsill beside the puppet and seized another cloak, a dark violet one this time. Ignoring the dust flakes dancing around him, tickling his nose and making his eyes water, he started dusting off every surface in the room – shelves, books, toys, bottles, jars, picture frames, furniture.
It seemed to last for ages, this fight against the dirt and the grime. In the end, however, he was victorious, standing in the middle of a pile of unbelievably filthy rags which lay in the middle of a sparkling clean room.
As a satisfied little smile started to spread across his lips the garments disappeared. Tired yet determined he pulled off his long dark cloak as well as his black jacket, rolled up the sleeves of the white shirt underneath and took a deep breath. His black eyes scanned the scattered items as he slowly turned around in a full circle.
"I guess I should start with the framework", he told himself. His voice sounded calm and even.
He was not smiling when he set to work, arranging chairs, lining trunks up and pushing shelves back against walls. His whole body seemed to relax with the physical effort, though, the tension seeping out through his fingertips and disappearing into nothingness. By the time he had to face the much harder task of finding appropriate places for all the little bits and pieces he had opened the first three buttons of his shirt; his hair clung to his face in sweaty-wet strands and his face was covered with grey streaks here and there where he had wiped off the sweat with dusty fingers.
Minerva McGonagall heard her sleeping companion sigh and moved a little bit closer to the slightly twitching form. A long-fingered hand came to rest on her furry body and started stroking her reflexively. With a content sigh of her own she nuzzled her nose back under her tail and resumed the purring.
"He is in Hogwarts", Harry whispered to Hermione as he crawled under the covers. Ron had already rolled onto his side, facing against the wall, away from his sister and his friends in the other bed. Hermione gave Harry a startled look.
"How do you know?"
Wordlessly he pulled out the Marauders' Map from under his sweater and together they stared at the tiny spot labelled "Severus Snape" which was disturbingly close to another spot labelled "Minerva McGonagall". Both were located near the Gryffindor tower in Professor McGonagall's rooms. Neither of the spots was moving.
"How come nobody looked for him there?" Hermione whispered disbelievingly.
Harry rested his head against the wall behind him, fiddling with the pillow to make himself more comfortable.
"I guess they did look for him there, just at the wrong time. Maybe he got there after they had already left. Maybe he tried to avoid them deliberately."
He shrugged. As he kept on looking at the map he noticed Hermione's persistent stare.
"What?" he asked, a little surprised.
"What do you mean 'What'?" she hissed, throwing a nervous glance towards the other bed where Ron had stirred slightly and nearly pushed Ginny out and onto the floor. Muttering and kicking vaguely the young red-head fought her way back onto her part of the mattress.
"Why are you just sitting here, looking at that map? Shouldn't we be downstairs, telling the others where to find him? I mean, Remus and Tonks have been out all night looking for him. Professor Dumbledore is still out there, trying to …"
"And you really think it is a good idea, if they find him right now?" he interrupted her. "The man has been pushed very close to the edge tonight and somehow I have the feeling that he would prefer to be left alone right now."
Hermione wouldn't back down.
"Sure, but this is not about what he would prefer, Harry …"
"No, it never is, is it?" he cut her short, his voice ringing with an anger he couldn't really explain. One look towards the other bed confirmed what he already knew: he had woken the Weasleys. Ginny did her best to focus on him in spite of her heavy eyelids and Ron shot him a glance full of sleepy annoyance.
"People are trying to sleep here, you know", he grumbled.
Hermione had already untangled herself from the covers and was trying to find her shoes under the bed.
"We know where Snape his."
Her voice was muffled a little as she was halfway gone under the bed frame, groping for her second shoe.
"And Harry doesn't want to tell anyone."
Harry stared at the others defiantly. Ron was about to ask how Harry knew, but the piece of parchment, still sprawled on the bed covers, made that question superfluous. Ginny pushed herself up on one elbow and looked at Harry intently.
"Is he alright?"
Ginny nodded back. Then she turned around again, pulled the blanket over her ears and pointedly ignored the others. Ron looked at his sister's slumped form in disbelief.
"Are you mad? If we know, we have to tell someone!"
Hermione appeared from underneath the bed, dust covering her sweater and her pants. While jumping on one leg to wriggle her foot into the second shoe she nodded her head vigorously, endangering her balance.
"Ron is right, Harry. They need to know. They are really anxious. There is no need to make them worry unnecessarily."
Her hand was already on the door handle when Harry caught her wrist. There was an unusual fire in his eyes, a fire that had been awoken only last year, fuelled by the pains of realisation, of disappointment, of growing up.
"He is not alone, all right? He is with Professor McGonagall and I am pretty sure she knows how to take care of him. There have been too many eyes on him tonight and if it was me, I would not want to see anyone who was involved in what has happened here just a few hours ago. If it was me, I would want to be left in peace."
After every crisis he had somehow survived, after every obstacle he had overtaken, his friends had been there by his side, caring, worrying – and as much as he had appreciated their concern, he would much rather have been left alone for a while. When something mind-shattering happened to you, you just wanted time to come to terms with the new situation, with what lay behind you as well as with what lay ahead. Yes, if it was him, he would want to be left alone.
"But this is not about you, Harry", Hermione answered his previous sentence as much as his thoughts. Shaking off his hand she stormed into the hallway. He banged his head against the doorframe in frustration before he followed her.
The room seemed strange to him now. All his things were still there. He knew that. He had touched every single piece, cradled it in his hands thoughtfully for a moment, before finding an appropriate place. Some things he had had to rearrange a couple of times before he was content with the result, before everything fit, before everything made sense again.
He must have been working for hours, yet the angle of the sun hadn't changed. Golden rays of light still broke through the glass, casting shadows against the walls. Dust flakes were still dancing in momentary spotlights, seemingly enjoying the attention.
He was tired, so tired.
Yet he knew he wasn't done yet. He still needed covers, doors, some kind of protection. Cupboards would have been so much better than mere shelves, but he didn't have any. Part of his anxiousness returned has he scanned the room again, searching against better judgement for something he knew wasn't there. His heart skipped a beat as he caught the glimpse of something black and shiny behind one of the trunks. He knew it hadn't been there before, yet he didn't care. This was exactly what he needed, a dark, heavy curtain that would shield his precious belongings from prying eyes.
With trembling hands he started to wrap the dark material around the shelves' outer posts, securing it with a knot before pulling it across the open front.
None of his knots would hold longer than a few seconds. As soon as the weight of the cloth started pulling at them they gave way and his construction tumbled to the ground. With every new attempt he got a little more nervous. His hands started to shake. Sweat kept dripping into his eyes. Hectic red spots appeared on his pale cheeks.
Yet he tried again.
Until he finally gave up, slumping down onto the floor, onto the dark velvet.
He wanted to cry.
He wanted to shout.
But he was too tired and too exhausted to do it.
He had started to moan quietly, a look of despair on his pale face that tore at her heart. Quietly she snuggled even closer to his feverishly hot form and started licking his hands in the soothing and comforting way of a mother cat cleaning her kittens.