Was this what it was like to be haunted?
“Stay with me.”
To have her voice following him?
"Stay with me."
She was alive.
He couldn’t bring himself to think of who else might not be.
He would break apart with the pain.
There was still a chance.
There had to be.
“Severus?” This time the voice was high and cold. A slight lilt of amusement along with the swish of robes on the bare floorboards. “There is work to be done.”
“Yes, my Lord,” said Snape, automatically, before following his master.
The heat spreading from the skull and serpent threatened to embrace him when a chill swept through the hallway as a shadow passed by the window. He stumbled back, as a rattle stirred memories that pierced him like shards of ice being driven through his body. He began to shake as the burning of another summons raced through him. Only there were no cracks of Apparition from his associates. But if the wards had held, how had the Dark Lord found a way in? The brand. Always tied to his master. Maybe there was no escape. No wards strong enough.
“Stay with me,” came her whisper through the darkness.
His head whipping around, he couldn’t see her. The Dark Lord appeared not to notice anything as he ascended the stairs. The stairs. The stairs of Rowan Cottage. Everything was wrong. No warmth anywhere. Every lamp and fire extinguished. The shadows passing by the windows leaving behind trails of frost. Even the moonlight hesitated to come in.
Snape followed in the Dark Lord’s wake. Steps he had taken hundreds of times. Maybe it was thousands. All he knew was that he had to follow.
There was no hesitation about the destination and the door to the nursery opened without being pushed. The Dark Lord went inside and Snape ran after him.
“Stay with me.” The plea was muffled by the door which almost slammed shut in his face.
He walked in to find fog seeping through tiny gaps in the sash windows. A distorted handprint had been left behind on the glass as it was dragged away. Shadows swept past and the ghastly grey light hesitating near the windows flickered. She was little more than bright colours and soft curves but he knew she was there.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” The Dark Lord sounded almost amused, glancing back at Snape before looking around the nursery. “Accio.” A stuffed dragon flew to his hands and he held it by one wing, watching it spin gently as it disappeared in a ball of blue flames. “I would have sent a gift.”
Snape made to answer but his hands flew to his throat.
The Dark Lord stalked across the room. His fingers beneath Snape’s chin, his red eyes searched for answers.
“What did you do, Severus?” asked the Dark Lord, almost crooning with delight. “What convinced you that you could hide this happiness from me?”
Snape’s heart was beating too hard. It was going to choke him.
He staggered back.
He hadn’t hidden them.
There wasn’t anything to hide them from.
They were meant to be safe.
“Stay with me.”
The Dark Lord spun around throwing Snape off balance and sending waves of nausea through him as his head darted up at the sound of babbling. Heat rushed through him and the room spun.
Snape could see Teddy standing in the cot behind Tonks. Could just make out his soft features and dark eyes which peered past her arm that stretched in front of him. Tufts of hair which lost their colour to the dimly lit room and a sleepsuit with a pattern that was little more than a jumble of shapes.
Holding the Elder Wand aloft, the Dark Lord paused like a dancer caught mid-turn. His chuckle fell into a sigh. “Who am I to deny you a gift?” He raised his arm further. “I think it very generous of me to give you a promise of no pain, don’t you agree?”
The green jet of light soared through the darkness. The brightness illuminating the room in such a way that for a moment Snape was reminded of the Muggle children’s books of fairytales his mother used to read to him. There shouldn’t have been enough time for the memory to linger while the curse closed in on its target. And still there was a handful of eternity where a small piece of him hoped that what was about to happen was no more real than the illustrations on yellowing pages of bedtime stories.
Then there was a scream. A sound which consumed him in a way the torture of the Cruciatus couldn’t hope to touch. Burning through his veins was the sight of the Avada Kedavra. Its green glow reaching out. Caressing her. Making her appear as if a creature of the underworld escaped from Death’s grasp.
Except she was about to be taken.
Time slowed, the fog shrank away from her like a servant sent scurrying, and he met her wide-eyed panic. He had done this to her. He had let the relationship carry on. He had convinced himself that he could keep her safe.
He heard the beginnings of a cry.
Of the confused toddler watching from his cot as his mother was about to be embraced by a curse. The toddler who saw his father and didn’t understand why he wouldn’t come closer.
Meaningless pleas for forgiveness threatened to suffocate Snape. A weight on his chest held him back. And existence disappeared except for the sound of his wife’s scream and his child’s cry.
He couldn’t speak but gasped for breath. Opening his eyes he saw Tonks sitting beside him where he lay, and he tried to speak again but only haggard sounds of agony escaped his lips. The weight lifted from his chest as she brought her hand up and stroked his face. His gaze darted around and he tried to move. A small cry, little more than a grouch forced him to turn his head so sharply that his neck seared with pain. Teddy was on Tonks’s lap, bleary eyed and leaning against her, his stuffed dragon clutched tight in his hand.
“Severus?” Tonks’s voice carried softly towards him. The fire crackled gently in the dimly lit bedroom and there was the pitter patter of rain against the windows. She held the back of her hand to his forehead. “You’ve had a fever, I think it’s—”
Snape staggered up from the bed and stumbled against the wall. His pyjamas stuck to his skin. For all the glow of light across Tonks and Teddy which came from the fire and the one lamp which had been lit, all he could see was green. Tonks stood up, carrying Teddy in her arms. The toddler rested his head on her shoulder and she rubbed his back.
“Teddy’s fever came down with potions a few hours ago,” she said, walking slowly towards Snape like he was an injured Hippogriff. “You refused to take anything but I think your fever’s broken.”
Snape swayed and thought he might fall. He spotted his wand on the chest of drawers and lurched towards it before storming out of the room with clumsy steps. Tonks called after him. He felt a coolness begin to sweep over him as he charged into Teddy’s room and found it empty. He tried to cast the spells to check the integrity of the wards and could barely muster sparks.
Her fingers brushed his back and he lurched away giving a panicked shout when his legs hit something hard. He turned and saw the large sofa which spanned the length of one wall. Before he could stop himself, he lost his balance and fell onto the deep velvet cushions. Tonks came over and sat beside him.
“Don’t touch me,” he croaked, jerking his arm from her when she reached out.
“Severus, you’re not well.”
“The Dark Lord, he was—you—Teddy—”
“Voldemort’s dead.” She moved her wand when Teddy tried to grab the length of rowan.
“Papa,” said Teddy, who was considerably more awake than he had been moments before. “Papa.” Teddy wobbled as he leant towards his father.
“I’m a Death Eater,” said Snape, sinking into the memory of burning. Of remembering how the Dark Mark faded as soon as Voldemort died, but showed no signs of leaving. Waves of regret began to wash over him. An ocean which was fuelled by his insomnia and being whipped into a frenzy by the dregs of his fever.
“And Teddy is a one–year–old who wants his papa,” said Tonks.
Teddy had managed to get one hand around Tonks’s wand and was leaning across her again to reach for Snape.
Snape shook his head and winced, his hand going to the back of his neck. Skin clammy and muscles aching. A haze still around Tonks and Teddy. All the nights awake wondering what he was doing to them. The nights wondering if he could keep them safe. Safe from what, he wasn’t always even sure. There was simply the panic he was putting them at risk, which burned through him like the brand on his arm used to. The dread slipping through his veins like poison in the dead of night.
There was a crashing sound and Snape bolted upright, only to double over and put his head in his hands, his wand falling to the floor. Teddy gave a shrieking laugh and Snape opened his eyes in time to see Tonks grabbing her wand and holding it out of Teddy’s reach while she held him close with her other arm.
Teddy continued to babble happily while Tonks repaired the shelf and the books flew back into place. Snape watched her smile grow until she gave a tired laugh, putting her wand out of Teddy’s reach then kissing his forehead.
The room was soaked in the warm glow from the well stoked fire. Fragments of light caught the silver and gold threads in the tapestry which hung on the wall above the cot. A gift on Teddy’s first birthday from Andromeda and Narcissa, the letter “E” intertwined with a snake while a badger lounged above.
While his chest heaved, Snape watched the snake which appeared almost to move in the flickering firelight, and slowly managed to grab hold of a memory: Tonks sitting on their bed and bouncing Teddy in her arms while he grouched. They were all meant to be having lunch with her parents. An owl. She had sent an owl to say Teddy was unwell, and that he was, too.
He could feel the queasiness fading, shards of pain easing from his head leaving strands of agony which didn’t seem to linger quite so deep.
He pushed his palms into his forehead and realised Teddy had gone quiet. Turning his head slowly, he met Tonks’s gaze as she watched him. She had sunk down, her head resting on the back of the sofa, Teddy on her lap and leaning against her with his eyes closed as he fed. One of her arms around Teddy, she reached out with the other, her fingers brushing Snape’s leg.
Small strokes of her fingertips against him, they were easier to focus on than the ticking of the clock, a softer rhythm to breathe to. His ribs ached. Merlin, how his ribs ached.
He found her hand and she intertwined her fingers with his. As though his body would break if he were any faster, he moved slowly to rest his head on the back of the sofa like she had. He met her gaze and her thumb brushed the back of his hand.
"Tell me," she said.
“You don’t need—”
“But you do.” She squeezed his hand.
His years of Occlumency had given him a degree of protection from nightmares. From her needing to know he suffered from them. But it wasn’t the first time he had found his defences dismantled. Wasn’t the first time she knew he needed help to extract the venom.
He stumbled through halting memories and flashes of imagery. Words and suffocating sensations warped by the shivers still racing through his body. And she didn’t take her eyes from him. It felt like hours though he knew it was probably little more than minutes before he had told her what he could stomach sharing, and they sat in silence, her thumb still brushing back and forth across the back of his hand from time to time.
Snape’s mouth pulled up in a small smile when his gaze drifted to Teddy who had finished feeding and was lying across Tonks without a care in the world. He watched Teddy’s steady breaths, the ease of sleep except for a small frown. Snape let go of Tonks’s hand and picked up the dragon which had been a gift from Draco and Hermione when Teddy was born. Snape’s grip fumbled and he had to pick up the dragon again before tucking it under Teddy’s arm. Teddy wriggled and grasped the dragon close but didn’t wake. Snape reached up and stroked Teddy’s cheek with his finger.
Tonks brought the back of her hand to Snape’s forehead.
“Yes?” he said, as she lowered her hand and intertwined her fingers with his.
She pressed her lips to Teddy’s head then sighed and looked back at Snape. “You had me worried.”
“Unlike his father, he took the potions.”
Snape arched an eyebrow.
“His dragon may have had some potions, too,” she admitted, smiling. “But you refused everything and I know it’s because you weren’t well and you weren’t thinking but your fever kept climbing.” She searched his eyes. “You were in agony and I couldn’t do anything.” Her voice caught and she looked around the room, her gaze drifting to the ceiling as she sniffed. “I had my hands full with Teddy most of time, but I sat with you when I could and I talked to you, but I—it was awful Severus.” She closed her eyes. “I’m sorry.” She drew in a deep breath and looked at him with shining eyes.
All of him aching, he moved across the sofa and put his arm around her shoulders. His back was still searing with pain but it was worth the quiet relief of her turning towards him. Her breaths came sharply against his neck and he stroked her arm as he rested his head against hers.
He felt her breaths become steadier, felt her relax a fraction.
“You need to sleep,” she said. “I don’t think what time you’ve had in bed could be called restful by many standards.”
“Haven’t been ill.”
He murmured her name. He could see the weariness etched across her, could see how she hadn't been metamorphosing in order to try and save her energy.
“Go and change into something which you haven’t spent the past few hours tossing and turning in,” she said, “and I’ll see if I can get Teddy settled in his cot. Then yes, sleep.”
He squeezed her shoulder and she leaned more heavily against him before nudging his leg and sitting up. After a couple of attempts, he managed to stand and left the room with her reassurances following him. He felt like he had fallen down stairs then done so again to ensure he had hurt everything possible. Knowing he didn’t have the strength to shower, he made do with washing his face and brushing his teeth before changing into clean pyjamas. His mouth felt like a desert and he rubbed the back of his neck. There were still the traces of the fever around him, the shadows of heat as he tried to remember what had happened. Leaning against the wall of the bathroom, with eyes closed, he tried to make his way through a glass of water. His body rebelled and he thought of how rattled Tonks had looked, the worry haunting her gaze as she took him in. More slow sips and he opened his eyes. There was the horrible sense that the world still wasn’t entirely stable and he held onto the sink when he put the glass down.
He went back through to the nursery and Tonks looked up when he came in. She was standing beside the cot where Teddy was sound asleep with his dragon clutched in his hands. Snape walked over and stood behind Tonks, his arms around her waist.
The mobile which turned slowly above the cot was a gift from Moody and Kingsley, a small solar system of different dark detectors which glowed only from the firelight and never threats.
“I’m not even going to try and convince you to sleep in our room,” she said.
He didn't know whether to thank her or apologise.
"When are you going to tell me which wards you want checked?" she asked, as he stroked her belly. Taking his hand, she led him to the middle of the room and took out her wand. "I could go through every protection that doesn't require you casting as well, but it would be quicker if you told me which ones are bothering you most."
Leaning closer, she pressed her lips to his jaw and he put his arm around her, slipping his hand beneath her top. She whispered his name and he admitted that there were two of the wards he wanted her to check.
Lights swirled around them like rivers of magic. Colours rushing up to them before flowing away. Swells racing through the door and down through the cracks of the floorboards. The fire flared for a moment and the window huffed up with the heat of Tonks’s magic and Snape held her closer when she leant against him. Not losing herself in the power she wielded but bringing it to heel and working with it until the room was quiet and dark but for the fire which burned gently. Teddy slept through everything. Snape wanted to take his wand and pick his way through every layer of protection on Rowan Cottage but knew he might manage one before he risked making mistakes. Tonks’s hand slipped under his sleeve and her fingers brushed his Dark Mark. Resting her head on his shoulder, he pressed his lips to her neck.
“You are feeling better, aren’t you,” she said, and he laughed before kissing her neck again. “Sleep.”
He murmured his agreement and she led him to the green velvet Chesterfield. Some months earlier they had moved Teddy’s cot from their room to the nursery. A few days later during Sunday lunch at the Manor, while Tonks, Andromeda and Narcissa were fussing over Teddy, Snape asked Ted and Lucius how they’d ever coped. He kept waking in the night and going through to the nursery to sit in the rocking chair and watch Teddy sleep. Later that day, the obnoxiously large sofa had been sent over by Lucius. It was the one which had been in Draco’s nursery and the one in which Narcissa had often found Lucius during long nights of early parenthood. Before dusk settled, an owl arrived with a large parcel from Andromeda and Ted. An old quilt of Tonks’s was inside, and while it wasn’t big enough for a bed, it was quite big enough for a sofa.
Tonks waited while Snape eased himself down on the sofa unable to stop the winces which fell from his lips. He saw his wand still on the floor and knew it would be safer there than anywhere else.
“Potions?” she ventured.
“Sleep.” He held out his hand and she came closer, her fingers intertwining with his. “You and sleep are far better than potions.”
She laughed and lay down, putting her wand beside his, and careful to avoid nudging him as she wriggled gently until she was pressed against him and he had his arms around her.
She pulled the old quilt up over them both and hesitated before turning around, cursing her pyjamas and kicking off her fluffy socks in the process. He stroked her cheek and searched her soft brown eyes.
“You scared me,” she said. She brought her fingers to his mouth before he could speak. “Don’t apologise, I just—I know that you’re still thinking about the wards, I know that you’re having nightmares even when you’re not ill, and I’m not going to try and convince you that we’re completely safe because—because I know that doesn’t really exist, and I hate that because I want to say nothing can hurt any of us and I can’t.”
Her fingers drifted down until her hand was over his heart.
He couldn’t make the world safe but he had all the world that mattered to him within the boundaries of their protected home. He could have a family who loved him, even if the nightmares never left him.
“Thank you,” he murmured. “Thank you.”
Her hand pressed against him then her lips were on his for a moment. “Sleep.” It was only because he knew her so well that he could hear the slight catch in her voice. “And you can thank me properly tomorrow.”
He laughed gently and held her close as she relaxed against him. He managed to stay awake long enough to know she was sound asleep before closing his eyes and drifting off to an easier sleep than the one he had not long woken from.