DISCLAIMER: Not mine! It's all J. K. Rowling's.

BETA READERS: GinnyW, Indigofeathers and Annie Talbot – thank you very much!

A/N: Chapter Twenty-seven! The book is found and they work on the counter-spell.


Chapter 27: Working Together

Severus had slept poorly. The few hours he'd devoted to his rest were disturbed by dreams of matters that still worried him this morning. He'd dreamed of his son, and the disjointed images he could piece together didn't leave his mind at ease. Severus was used to sleep-depriving pressure, but this was different in some way. He hadn't been this worried since the "Potter days".

Washed and in fresh black robes, he entered his living room and looked at the book-covered desk in the corner. Somehow he knew that going back to those texts was pointless. Scanning the room—all the books there—had the same effect. There was a weight on his mind telling him that the answer wasn't those books. They needed something that wouldn't be found in this room.

Maybe resorting to printed words was not the answer at all. Only….

The answer should be in a book somewhere, and that voice in his head sounded strangely like Granger's.

When had he started listening to what the woman said? It made a strange amount of sense, though, even if it was just a strong feeling of rightness that made it so. That same feeling told him that the precise book wasn't there.

Where, then? The library was the obvious choice, and Severus was glad that he would disagree with that womanly voice that had suggested it in his head this time around. He had a different idea as to where: the crime scene.

The answer would be found inside Gryffindor Tower. He didn't question why the Tower was important; he wasn't sure he understood it himself. What he did know was that he would be questioning a pair of Gryffindors as soon as he set eyes on them.

o0oOo0o

Nathan watched, in anxious anticipation, his father go through what he supposed were his morning rituals. The clock on the mantelpiece told him it was too early for breakfast in the Great Hall, and it also made Nathan wonder if his father was always up at such ungodly hour.

The way the man eyed the books on the desk told Nathan that this wasn't an ordinary morning for Professor Snape. Nathan wanted to believe that his father was up this early out of worry for him, and he was succeeding. It was infinitely easier to accept that his father cared for him after the previous night's events.

Would Professor Snape remember what passed between them? Would he find the book in Kevin's trunk? Maybe Nathan should go after a ghost, but even the idea of walking the whole castle in search of one willing to hear him out was dispiriting. It would probably take less time to wait until breakfast and see if his father would approach his friends.

Time passed in restless silence, with Nathan observing his father and unable to keep from reliving his meeting with the man's soul. He observed and compared the now with then, looking for signs that the caring soul was indeed inside the austere shell. On a second—or perhaps it was on a third or even a fourth look—the fog hiding Professor Snape's feelings didn't seem so dense. The eyes were more alive as they gazed at the fire, the gestures more human as he handled a cup of tea. Maybe it had always been this way, only Nathan had never noticed before.

Maybe.

Images Nathan had banned from his mind, of dreams he didn't have anymore were there, unbidden, brought back by his hopeful heart. He felt smaller, a child holding his father's hand while they walked to the playground. A hand Nathan would no longer remember closed into fists of white rage, but lightly stroking the leather of a book cover. He could feel the touch as if it was indeed on the skin of his own hand.

Maybe.

On the space shining its emptiness in the light of the fire—never warm enough—Nathan could see himself. He would join his father to read in the evenings, and when the printed words got jumbled, Nathan would lend his heat to his father's thighs by resting his head there. Soon the hand would be back, and Nathan could feel it already—a token of his meeting with freedom. Maybe he would relive that one day.

Maybe.

Even if the day wouldn't be today or tomorrow, Nathan felt like waiting again. The dreams could come back, no longer forbidden, and the next time he dreamed, Nathan would know it was real and possible.

Nathan's immediate wait ended with that promise when his father stood and reached for his black outer robes, preparing to leave his quarters. They would head for the Great Hall, and Nathan hoped his father would seek Kevin. Nathan no longer had desire or reason to stay away from material life anymore. More than ever, they needed the book.

o0oOo0o

Severus didn't mean to leave so early for breakfast, but waiting uselessly in his quarters wasn't helping to bring his son back. Idle time flooded his mind with thoughts, and the more he considered it, the more he felt sure of his resolve to look for answers in Gryffindor Tower. Lupin hadn't looked for him the day before, and that greatly annoyed Severus. The Defense professor had surely investigated his House, Severus knew, even if he hadn't felt obliged to enlighten him of his findings yet.

Unless Lupin had reported to Granger instead, though that was not any improvement. Because if he had, that meant Granger didn't see fit to share the intelligence with him. Would she use knowledge as means of revenge? Severus knew she could, although the possibility of that being the case now was deemed false by her own words that she wouldn't withhold information where Nathan's welfare was concerned.

Lupin was the moron, then.

Severus didn't need their help to get the information he needed. He could very well get his own answers from the boys. He was one of the first to arrive at the Great Hall and had the whole meal to wait for his sources. Only Hagrid occupied the Head Table when he took his customary seat and scanned the still mostly empty hall.

Biding his time would have been less trying without the undesirable company of his colleagues.

"Any change in Mr. Granger's condition, Severus?" Minerva asked.

"Were you informed of any change?" Severus returned the question, then sipped a small mouthful from the cup of coffee he intended to make last until the Gryffindors arrived.

"A simple no would have sufficed."

"Nothing has changed." Before Minerva could go on with her chattering, Severus added, "And no, Poppy can't move him to St. Mungo's."

"What does Hermione have to say on the matter?" Minerva asked.

"She won't agree with the transfer, either," Severus assured, frowning now.

"She can answer for herself, thank you," the very subject of their conversation intervened. Granger took the seat on his other side before adding, "If we don't find a way to wake Nathan up by the end of the day, I'll contact St. Mungo's myself."

"And risk his life in doing so. It's a very reasonable decision, especially coming from his own mother." He could taste his sarcastic words mingling with the bitter flavor of his coffee.

"Have you made any progress?"

The question unnerved him. Not only because it pointedly ignored his comment, but also because she already knew the answer. What could he have found out since they parted late last night?

He could see that her attitude hadn't improved much from the afternoon before. Since she'd started yelling at him for the simple reason of playing his part as Nathan's father, Granger had been trying to wound him with what she deemed witty words at every opportunity she got. Was she blaming him for what had happened? If that was the case, she was completely mistaken. If she was looking for a scapegoat for their son's illness, she should be blaming Lupin. That reminded him….

"Did Lupin report to you?" he asked her.

"Was he supposed to?"

"Worthless werewolf," he cursed.

"He found me in the library when I was collecting all that useless information yesterday."

Severus didn't appreciate her cheap sarcasm and let the feeling show through his eyes.

"He was very distressed by the fact of being unable to be of more help. He offered his apologies for letting Nathan come to harm when he was responsible for his protection, but I assured him that he wasn't the only one responsible. I wouldn't expect him to be watching Nathan all the time. There were others claiming to do so, nonetheless."

He showed only disdain for her open accusation. Severus wouldn't give her the pleasure of a scene in the Great Hall, but he also wouldn't let her get away with blaming him for what had happened.

"Gryffindors are famous for their irresponsibility," was his comment. He made sure she understood the threat woven in his words.

She had the gall to snort. "Whatever, Severus."

His attention was then on the students entering the hall, but from the corner of his eye, Severus could see Granger tipping her cup and taking hurried bites of whatever was on her plate. It didn't surprise him when she stood to leave, thankfully, exactly when his potential witnesses were crossing the threshold. When he stood as well, Granger misread his intention

"I don't need you to escort me."

He took the pleasure in snorting before leaving her behind without a glance back on his way to the Gryffindor Table. Once there, he paused only long enough to say, "Mr. Brown and Mr. Wood, a word in my office. You have fifteen minutes."

If any ghost had been paying attention to sleeping boys that day, it would have been witness to the huge grin that radiated enough love to be called an ethereal hug. Such a ghost might have even become curious enough to follow the trail of hope that oddly accompanied the Gryffindors into the dungeons that morning.

o0oOo0o

He held himself rigidly in his chair and watched the boys approach his desk with the caution that his steady gaze warranted.

"What exactly happened in that Tower?" Severus asked as soon as the Gryffindors stopped in front of him.

They looked sideways at one another, annoying Severus with their silent hesitation.

"I'm waiting," he urged.

"I don't know, sir," Woods answered.

"What about you, Mr. Brown?" Severus prompted. "Do you care to tell me what happened?"

"I don't know what happened, sir."

The boys flinched when Severus growled. "You'll tell me what happened, whether you want to or not, so I suggest you start talking."

"We really don't know, sir." Wood's voice took a pained tone. "When we went upstairs, Nathan was already in bed. I only found out that something was wrong in the morning."

"Weren't you together?" Severus wanted to know, startled that his son had been in bed earlier than his friends. Then Severus realized that he didn't know anything about his son's routine in the common room.

"Nathan went to bed earlier that night," Wood, again, answered.

"Why?" Severus demanded.

Silence.

"I asked why," Severus intoned gravely.

"He was upset, sir," Wood, once more, answered. Brown remained silent.

"Will I have to keep asking why, or are you going to tell me what happened before I lose my patience?"

Wood gulped; Brown remained silent, looking grave.

"Malfoy set him up, sir," Brown finally said. "He challenged Nathan to get inside the Restricted Section of the library, knowing that he would get in trouble if someone caught him there. The moment Nathan entered, Malfoy ran to fetch Madam Pince."

Severus narrowed his eyes. "But no one got caught, or I'd know of this stupidity by now," he pointed out, anger rising and making him want to yell detentions at that precise moment. How could Nathan have let himself be goaded by Devon yet again, after all the warnings he gave him—them? He felt like shaking both. Instead, he concentrated on the task at hand, glaring at the two boys he had in his presence. "What was the challenge?"

Brown fidgeted, but Wood answered, "Nathan had to bring a book, sir."

"What book?" Severus insisted.

Wood looked at Brown as if asking for support; Brown was looking everywhere but at the two other wizards in the room. Severus knew he'd reached the heart of things.

"Where is the book?" he asked.

Brown tensed and Wood stared intently at his feet.

"Mr. Brown, I want this book here NOW!"

Both boys jumped with that last loud command.

"Move!" he barked, and they were finally compliant, leaving in rushed steps with the promise of being back right away.

Snape banged his fist on the desktop, growling to let loose some of his anger. "Stupid, brainless brats!" he cursed between gritted teeth, promising himself that Devon Malfoy would not walk out unpunished this time.

He sighed. A book from the Restricted Section…. What was Nathan thinking? Until he saw what book it was, Severus couldn't be sure, but he was almost certain that what was cursing his son came from it. A Dark Arts book, most probably, and Severus could only hope it was something he'd be able to reverse.

He didn't want to think about what would happen if he couldn't.

Severus pinched the bridge of his nose, feeling a sadness he usually didn't let reign over his rage. He would probably understand the overwhelming regret taking hold of his feelings better if he could see the boy standing next to him, a hand hovering over his bowed head.

o0oOo0o

Andy and Kevin had come back with the Anima Codex, and the detention they'd earned for hiding it in the first place—accompanied by the loss of forty House points—had not been surprising, given the twisted lips and deep frown that had met them for the handover of the book. Surprising, however, was the look of apprehension his father bestowed the Dark Arts book now that the boys were gone. Nathan's own anxiety rose.

For a moment, Professor Snape only stared at the book on his desk, seemingly lost in thought, and his expression made Nathan see, once again, a glimpse of the soul he knew resided inside. His father's eyes were almost glazed, and Nathan longed to see what thoughts were passing through his mind, to understand why he felt like hugging and comforting the man beside him, reversing their roles this morning.

They were both startled by the sound of the door, opening to let his mother inside. She stopped when she saw them—no, just his father—in the room.

"I'm sorry, I assumed you would be in the classroom by now," she apologized for the unannounced invasion.

"As I should be," his father, back to his usual demeanor, said. He stood, gathering his things, and with them, the Anima Codex. When Nathan was sure Professor Snape would approach his mother with the news, he simply passed her by and exited, taking with him the only means to help her find a way to bring Nathan back.

"Hey!" Nathan protested. If he had classes to teach, Professor Snape should have left the book with his mother, at least for the morning.

His indignation did nothing to stop the scene unfolding before him, and Nathan was due for another morning outside of his body. He thought about looking for a ghost, but then gave up on the idea. What he needed was someone studying that book as soon as possible, and if Professor Snape had taken it, maybe that was what he planned to do. Leaving his unsuspecting mother with her useless tomes, Nathan headed for the Potions classroom, where hope currently resided.

o0oOo0o

"Five points, Mr. Riley," Severus said. He'd assigned the quickest potion a first-year could brew, and yet the dunderheads were making every unthinkable mistake and holding him back.

He'd brought the book with him, but hadn't dared to open it in a classroom full of students. This was the kind of text one should never take for granted. Such Dark texts should have never had reached his son's hands. Soul magic…. This couldn't be good.

If Severus were a lesser wizard, he would have admitted that this was worse than simply not good. A tampered soul….

Severus would not think about Dementors.

Severus would not think about the Dark Lord.

A shiver ran down his spine regardless of his will not to think of the past. He needed to get rid of the students, as he felt time was of the essence now more than before.

"You have twenty minutes to get the potion done and get out of my sight," he told the class, turning his back to them and starting towards his desk at the front.

"Twenty minutes? But that's not enough!"

Severus heard that protest and ground his teeth, spinning to meet his godson with a sneer on his face. "Five points from Slytherin, Mr. Malfoy," he said without even blinking, then added, "and a detention."

Devon's was not the only gasp in the room. "But, Un—"

"Another five points from Slytherin, Mr. Malfoy," Severus cut the boy before he could protest any further. After what he'd found out earlier, listening to his godson's voice without blaming him for what was happening to his son had become a challenge. Severus knew he wasn't guilty alone, but it didn't change the fact that he was guilty nonetheless.

Severus should have put a stop to this stupid childish rivalry sooner. Had he known that it would have come to this, he would have.

What was wrong with his son's soul…?

Time seemed to slow down when it should do the opposite. Severus went back to his desk, and as soon as his stipulated time was reached, he shooed the first-years from the classroom and prepared to leave immediately after them.

"Uncle Severus."

He growled. The boy fidgeted but stood his ground, waiting to be acknowledged.

"What?" Severus snapped, wanting nothing more than to get rid of the bothersome delay.

"Did you really mean it when you said detention?" his godson had the temerity to ask.

"Have you ever heard me say detention and not mean it?" Severus retorted, narrowing his eyes.

"Never…" Devon said, Slytherin instinct prompting him to belatedly add, "sir."

When Severus turned to leave again, the boy insisted, "But why?"

Severus glared from over his shoulder. "For being a selfish, spoiled brat and disobeying your godfather and, thus, putting my son's life at risk. And now I've had time to reconsider, you're in detention everyday from tonight until I see fit." He kept his gaze on the boy's face only long enough to see it lose all color, then turned and left.

o0oOo0o

If another boy, who was also in the room, could afford losing any color, he would have. Nathan gaped at the door his father had exited by, not believing his ethereal eyes and ears. Professor Snape had given Malfoy endless detentions? On his behalf, no less! A heart that couldn't be a real one threatened to jump out of his mouth.

A loud sniffle reminded Nathan that he wasn't alone in the classroom. He turned to see Malfoy scrubbing at his eyes with a hand, visibly to clear them of tears. Malfoy was crying.

"Who's crying now?" he goaded, knowing the blond couldn't hear him. "He's my father, not yours!"

Nathan thought he had the right to feel elated with the sight of his nemesis crying, but he didn't. He insisted, "How nice is it to hear how much of a disappointment you are?"

Again, no joy when the words were out. Nathan scowled at the sniffling boy and answered his own question: it was awful to hear that you were a disappointment. His mind took him to Harry, his godfather, and Nathan couldn't imagine how awful it would be to hear that from him; how awful it had been to hear that from his father….

Nathan decided to leave the room before he started feeling sorry for Malfoy. That would be too much.

o0oOo0o

Hermione was distracted from her quiet note-taking when Severus entered the laboratory. "I'm glad you're back. We need to start some potions right away," she told him.

"Forget it," he answered.

Hermione gaped, frowning then at his refusal. "You listen to me, Severus. If you—"

"His soul was tampered with," he announced and kept those dark eyes on her.

Many questions crossed her mind in the short period of a few seconds, but none found her voice. She stared speechless at Severus until her mouth moved and uttered a low, whispered, "Soul?"

"This was in his possession." He showed her a book. "So, if you'll excuse me, I need my lab."

She moved her eyes quickly from the book to Severus' face. "Give me that book, Severus."

"You'll have no use for it. The Dark Arts are—"

"Accio book!" Hermione said, and the book left Severus' hand and flew to hers. Before she could open it, though, Severus had his hands on it, holding it closed.

"Have you lost the few brain cells you had?" he growled. "Release the book this instant!"

"Let go, Severus."

If he thought he would take that book from her, he was very mistaken. A staring match ensued, until he sighed, still holding his side of the book.

"Fine, you don't have to leave while I examine it."

"If you think you can work around me, you don't know me at all."

"Granger, you can't simply open a Dark Arts book without examining it for curses and jinxes first, as you should know. What's addling Nathan—What the Hell!"

Severus let the book go, shaking his hand to dispel the ache Hermione knew he must be feeling from her nonverbal jinx. Without waiting for his offensive response—sure to follow—she opened the book. That seemed to make him stop his advance for only seconds before he tried to take the book away from her again.

"I'm still whole, Severus. I never perceived you as a coward, so stop acting like one," she admonished him, holding the book out of his reach.

"And your vast knowledge in the Dark Arts would have assured you that nothing would happen when you opened that book, I'm sure. Stop being a child and start thinking before you act, oh brave Gryffindor!" He sneered. "You'll end up in a bed next to Nathan—or worse, you'll take me there with you!"

Severus continued to watch her gravely, not seeming to have realized what he'd insinuated. Hermione blushed and averted her face, trying to hide her thoughts—a juvenile hope. In fact, he was right about her childish behavior, but that didn't exempt him of his share in this argument.

"When did you find this book?" she asked, trying to change the subject back to the task at hand. "And how did you know Nathan had it?"

"Lupin has no control over his Gryffindors or any knowledge of the goings on in their tower. Nathan took the book from the Restricted Section and was with it the night this all happened. His friends were hiding this small, insignificant piece of information." Severus exuded sarcasm, and Hermione knew by now that this was a defense mechanism he used with excellence.

Ignoring his unfounded accusations, she asked, "You said that his soul was tampered with. Do you know that for sure, or was it only a guess?" Hermione met his eyes again, implying that she would take sincerity and nothing else.

"I hope I'm wrong," Severus said, and Hermione bit at her lower lip.

"Severus…." Hermione tried, but she simply couldn't voice her fears, lest she made them true or had his confirmation.

"I know," he confirmed nonetheless, inflecting his voice in a warm way she hadn't heard before. "I think we've lost too much time arguing, already. Let me work on the book, Hermione."

Oh, the Slytherin bastard! "I think you should work on your persuasion skills instead, Severus; they're lacking. Calling me Hermione with that sultry voice of yours won't make me hand you the book and leave you free to hex me out of here." She blushed again, but this time she sustained what she hoped was a resolved stance and kept staring at him. When he didn't deny his manipulative strategy, she continued, "I think we're perfectly capable of working on the book together. We both want Nathan well, so I don't see why not."

Hermione saw his eyebrows come together, then saw nothing more as she turned her back on him and walked to a workbench, placing the opened book on it. She turned the pages, looking for the table of contents, and heard him approach, feeling him stand behind her.

"It seems you're determined to be deliberately reckless. I couldn't care less, although you should be thinking about Nathan when you do that."

"He's all I'm thinking about. You're breaking my concentration." It wasn't true, she hadn't started reading yet. Nevertheless, it made him hold his tongue, and when she finally started to read, her concentration was indeed broken by the sound of the stool rasping on the stone floor and his annoyed voice asking for space and access to the book. Hermione's mouth quirked at the corners, but she soon sobered at the gravity of the situation. Nathan's soul was…. She couldn't even think of the possibilities, so she abandoned her thoughts to rationality and studied the book with Severus.

A sigh none of them could hear was voiced to the room, and a boy who was only half there climbed onto the edge of the workbench to watch his stubborn parents work together.

o0oOo0o

Nathan paced in front of the workbench in his father's lab. His parents had gone through half of the book, discussing many aspects of it, but not the most important aspect yet. They still didn't know what was wrong with him, even though they had read the spell he'd used. Professor Snape had gone to the Great Hall, his mother was bent over the Anima Codex, and Nathan was lost for what to do next.

He was still pacing when a shiny spot of light caught the corner of his eyes. Nathan stopped abruptly.

"Mum?"

His mother turned to him at his call, and Nathan watched with odd satisfaction as she gasped and widened her eyes at the sight of him.

"Nathan!" She ran to embrace him tightly. "Nathan, my little Nathan," she murmured with her lips on the top of his head. "You're here. You're really here." She stepped away, moving only as far as an arm's length to look him from feet to head, turn him around, and hug him tight again. "In one piece, thank goodness! For one moment, I thought you might have been lost, split apart and taken from us."

Nathan answered the hug with as much enthusiasm, feeling her love and relief flow in gulfs of energy.

"But you haven't, right? You are whole, aren't you?" she asked, taking his head between her hands gently. She used her thumb to clear his cheek of the tears of happiness and relief that had escaped his eye. Nathan could only nod before being hugged tight again, never complaining. Since his unexpected meeting with his father's soul the night before, he'd been anticipating a meeting with his mother eagerly, even staying around and hoping that his parents' souls would feel his anxiety and would find a way to lead their bodies to rest and freedom.

"Why don't you go back to your body, then?" his mother asked him. A lump still constricted his throat, and his voice was choked by the energy of his tears. "Don't you want to?" she insisted, and her weak tone made Nathan cling to her more firmly. "Talk to me, honey," she pleaded.

"Mum…" he started, but couldn't go further.

"I'm here, sweetie. Mum is here." Her arms still wrapped around him meant more than any words. Nathan closed his eyes, remembering the night before, when his father had calmed him down before he was able to speak. A hand traveled from his back towards the top of his head, where it hovered, as if outlining something. "You're still connected to your body. Please, come back to me, baby."

"I want to," he said through his tears.

His mother held him gently by the arms, frowning at him at eye level. "Then why won't you? Did that book harm you in any way?" she asked urgently. "I can't live without you, Nathan. Please…."

"It's the spell," he told her. "I can't counter the spell."

The frown smoothed, and determination filled her eyes. "Mum is here to help you, honey. Do you know what spell it was?"

Feeling like a five-year-old and not caring, Nathan nodded and went about explaining what had happened to him. By the end of his narrative he felt like apologizing by every other sentence.

"I couldn't tell you because I didn't know how to make you listen to me. I'm sorry, Mum. I tried to explain to the ghosts, but they wouldn't understand."

"I'm sure you've tried," she soothed him, caressing his face as she did, and then placed a kiss on his forehead, pulling him to her chest again. "It's going to be all right. Your father and I will help you find your way back." Her quiet words and understanding calmed him more than anything else could because he believed her. Nathan knew his mother would do whatever was necessary to make everything all right again, and they had what they needed with them.

"You have the book now," he agreed, nodding and finding some strength to shift in her arms when the door opened to watch his father enter the room. Nathan stiffened when Professor Snape approached his mother's sleeping form. He pulled from her embrace and made to stop him. "No! Don't wake her up!"

"He won't," his mother assured him, holding Nathan by the hand.

Nathan let his mother pull him to her again when his father took a seat, letting her sleeping body be. He sighed, comforted, closing his eyes; a light hand caressed his hair, and he enjoyed the previously denied contact. Nathan could swear her hand was warm, even thought it was intangible.

They remained like that, involved in an intriguing silence. Nathan tilted his head back and found his mother watching the other in the room. Professor Snape sat across from her material form, and although he held the Anima Codex open in his hands, the only reading he could be doing was of Hermione's features.

"He's trying to find me," she explained.

Nathan looked up at her, confused. "You're right there."

"The outside that he can easily see, yes," she said softly, "but not the inside, and that's what he's trying to find." Hermione brushed Nathan's hair from his eyes and then looked at the professor again. "He's almost understanding… almost. Reason can be quite an obstacle when you're so used to its safety. Only time can teach the ways of the whole." She looked down at Nathan again. "He's almost understanding." She smiled, kissing his forehead again. The peace Nathan felt curved his lips, even though he didn't know why hearing those words was making him feel so. He was still smiling happily, content to forget everything else for the time being, when his mother decided to speak again.

"Now, it's time to work on that counter-spell you told me about, before I wake up. I don't know how long I'll sleep in such an uncomfortable position." His mother seemed pained to remind him that she would have to leave, and Nathan sighed.

They tried the counter-spell in many ways and languages, with different moves and immaterial wands, but not even his mother was able to restore him to rights. "Why isn't it working?" she muttered to herself.

Nathan didn't know, either. How could such a simple spell be so hard to counter? Frustrated, he moved away from his mother and closer to his father. Maybe he would know something they didn't try yet. Why couldn't he fall asleep as well?

"There must be something else to this spell that I'm missing," his mother said, approaching Professor Snape from his other side.

"Can't you make him fall asleep?" Nathan asked.

She extended a hand over his father's long raven hair, and for a brief moment, Professor Snape closed his eyes and tilted his head back as if leaning into her touch. A deep sigh escaped him, exposing his tiredness and maybe his longing to be with them. Nathan added his own contribution to his mother's efforts, or so it was what he'd intended by the hand he placed on his father's shoulder. His mother's smile told him he was helping.

His father's opened eyes told him he wasn't.

"I don't think he'll let himself go with me sleeping right there," his mother explained. She stroked Professor Snape's hair and forehead once, twice, Nathan watching the soothing movements until they stopped. He looked up and found them both looking at the sleeping form as it stirred. Nathan felt a pang in his chest, searching his mother's soul for any sign that she was disappearing from view.

She strayed from his father and simply pulled Nathan into her arms, apologizing with the gesture and the waves of sorrow he could feel with her hug. "We'll find what's wrong with the counter-spell. We won't rest until you're back with us." She let him go, and Nathan followed her with wet eyes, watching her sit in the chair with her body, bend over, whisper, "I love you," and blend in with herself.

"Nathan!" she said, waking up startled from what could only be the nightmare of leaving him.

"Mum…" Nathan sobbed.

o0oOo0o

The Bloody Baron entered the laboratory and hovered nearby. The times the ghost visited Severus were only when the Slytherin House was under impending destruction. He sighed and acknowledged his presence.

"What can I do for you, Baron?"

"I bring a message from your son, Professor."

"Nathan?" Granger asked, quickly abandoning everything she was doing and approaching the ghost.

The Baron dispensed a sideway glance to the woman while Severus braced himself for the message—if a ghost was bringing it, could it mean…? The Bloody Baron spoke to Severus again. "He can't wake up on his own because the counter-spell failed."

He couldn't wake up. The counter-spell failed. Severus heard a strangled sob.

"What is the spell we need to counter?" he asked, trying to keep his mind as rational as possible.

"Anima Libertas," the ghost provided.

Severus had already read about the spell in the book.

"We've read about it. It's in that book. I know I've read it," Granger babbled, rushing to the book with trembling hands and turning the pages carelessly. "Where is it? Where is IT?!"

Severus watched the despair of the woman with thoughts running through his mind. The counter-spell had failed.

"If I had questions to my son, would you be able to deliver them and come back with answers?" Severus inquired.

"He is here," the ghost told him.

Something floated in Severus' stomach, and he didn't know if the feeling was good or bad. Granger left the book again, asking urgently, "Nathan is here? Where?"

When it seemed that the Baron wouldn't answer, his grave voice said, "Right in front of you, madam."

Unbidden, Severus looked at the spot in front of the woman, expecting to see his boy there, awake, but the air was empty. He looked at Granger, a hand extended ahead, obviously expecting the same, and saw a tear slide down her face. The sensation in his stomach spread to his chest, and Severus felt constricted, making him fight to remain focused and rational.

"Ask him why the counter-spell failed," he addressed the ghost again.

"He doesn't know why; it simply failed to work, for him and for his sleeping mother."

"What sleeping mother?" Granger managed to ask in a weak voice.

The ghost only looked at her, clearly measuring, and then turned to Severus again. "She doesn't remember her dreams. Your son doesn't consider her responsible for her failure because it was agreed that you would keep looking for alternatives."

Granger gasped, but Severus didn't take his attention from the ghost. There was critical information in his words, and Severus had to be quick in his assessment of them. His twisted heart wouldn't let him slow down the process; he only realized that his son could be reached in sleep, within his dreams—flashes of images crossed from subconscious to conscious.

"Can he only be reached through dreams?" Severus wanted to know.

"He is locked in sleep." Severus expected more, but that was all that the ghost provided.

"I couldn't help him."

The pain in her words called them to Severus' attention. Granger stared in defeat at the spot the Baron had told them Nathan was. Her demeanor intensified the feelings in his chest, making him snap, "Get a grip, woman." She looked at him, then, and their eyes met—his holding hers in their strength. Granger heaved in a last stinging breath, squared her shoulders and cleaned her eyes and cheeks. She wasn't the best of sights, but she was Granger, at least.

"How will we help him?" she asked.

"Understanding all the implications of the spell and counter-spell, listing what could have gone wrong."

She nodded, retaking her place with the books and parchments, but not quite going back to work yet, probably still too disturbed by the surprising news the ghost, still hovering there, had brought.

"Do you have any other information for me, Baron?"

"Nothing relevant, Professor."

"And irrelevant?" Severus thought to ask.

"Don't fight sleep," the ghost offered, and it was what it sounded: advice. Severus inclined his head, accepting it before joining Granger and work to help Nathan.

o0oOo0o

"Thank you," Nathan said low and slowly while wiping at his eyes and cheeks in an imitation of his mother's previous gesture.

The Bloody Baron inclined his head, politely, before floating away. It was as though Nathan's mission had just been completed by the departure of the ghost, and he felt drained of energy, weak and tired. He walked in short steps to where his mother was and inclined his head on her shoulder, watching his father take the seat opposite them.

Silence prevailed. His mother was staring at the book, probably lost in thought. His father pinched his nose, his eyes closed.

"Have you found the spell?"

His mother remained silent at the quiet words of his father, moving her head up to look at him.

"Anima Libertas," Professor Snape instructed her.

Nathan took his head from his mother's shoulder when it rose and fell with the deep breath she took before reopening the book. While she turned the pages, Nathan observed his father's face; the brows slightly furrowed in what Nathan understood as a sign of determination, the mouth set in a rigid line. The sound of flipping parchment stopped, and his mother started to read from the book, filling the room with her sorrow-etched voice, which grew faulty as the words became Darker in content.

"It's a simple spell." His father's objectivity broke the over-emotive tone of his mother. "Why isn't the counter-spell effective?" he asked.

For long minutes, Nathan joined his mother in her silent contemplation of his father's words.

"He's only eleven," his mother said.

"He's twelve, and I don't think that's relevant," his father dismissed, and the fact that he'd corrected her over his age made Nathan relax his tense expression.

"He's a first-year, Severus. Of course it's relevant! How do you expect him to be able to counter this spell on his own, like this sodding book says he has to? He's only a child, and we're talking about Dark magic, Severus. Dark magic!" She waved the book, and then released it as if burned, making Nathan take a step back and look at his father, forgetting who he was pleading with for help to comfort his mother. To his surprise, the soul surfaced in the warm expression of his eyes for only a moment, but time enough to make Nathan plead again with his own eyes.

"Granger," the man called. His mother didn't seem to have listened. "Hermione," he called again, now using her given name. She focused on him. "It's not relevant," the man insisted. Nathan watched in anticipation his parents staring at one another, not knowing what they would do next.

"I'm sorry," his mother apologized, taking her seat again. Nathan sighed, relieved.

"He's not a fully trained wizard, but he performed the spell, so he should be able to perform the counter-spell," Professor Snape continued.

"What I'm trying to say is that he's a beginner in Charms. Only recently he's learned how to Levitate objects. The fact that he performed the spell correctly once doesn't mean he's mastered it," his mother insisted, and her calm took the sting Nathan felt with her lack of faith in his potential.

"Let's find out," his father told her, taking the discarded book and starting to the door, wand in hand.

Nathan went after his father, apprehensive, and was followed closely by his mother. "What are you going to do?" She asked what Nathan also wanted to know.

"I'll perform the spell, what else?"

"On whom?" she asked, mirroring the urgency Nathan felt. His father stopped by the door to his office, turning to stare at them—her—making the silence fill in for the answer.

And it did.

"No," his mother said, putting to words what Nathan couldn't, "you'll not cast the spell on yourself; I won't let you."

Nathan watched his father, wanting him to agree, but also wanting him to perform the spell and join him. It could go awfully wrong; it could lock his father outside his body as well. It would be bad, but Nathan wouldn't be alone anymore—his father's soul would be with him. It was bad; Nathan was a bad, selfish boy, but he couldn't help it. Not that he had any say in what his father would actually do, but he would be disappointed if his father yielded to his mother's will.

"Severus…" she pleaded, probably interpreting his expression as resolve. "I…. You can't—"

"I do, and I will."

"And if it doesn't work." His mother left his side and approached his father. "I will be without Nathan and you?"

Nathan didn't want his mother to be left alone, either. Selfishly, though, he thought she could always join them at his side of the world.


A/N: This is the first part of a chapter that became too big to be posted in one go. It means that I'll post the next chapter during the weekend. Cheers! :0)

Coming next… A conflict between the teacher and the father, and Nathan wakes up.