As before, all standard disclaimers apply. Not mine and no money passing hands.
Of Dreams, Delusions, and Demons
When In Doubt, Tea!
The piercing scream woke the entire house and it was immeditately clear that the cry did not come from that wretched protrait. Enraged at being so impudently awakened, Madame Black spewed forth angry invective muffled by the heavy curtain pulled shut in front of the painting. The scream died leaving only the painting's bitter recriminations which were soon joined by pattering footsteps and thudding doors.
Molly and Arthur were first to reach the door but Ron and Harry were right there as the adults rushed inside. Arthur coaxed dim light from the wall sconces as he crossed the threshold; the boys followed though not without some trepidation. The blankets surged weakly against the restraint provided by Mr and Mrs Weasley along with an incoherent flood of desperate sounds. As the blankets fell aside revealing the dark hair and pale face of Severus Snape, the meaningless sounds, no longer muffled, became distressed and meaningless words. Mrs Weasley answered the desperate nonesense soothingly, with a voice that solicited calm. But it was not certain whether that or simple exhaustion stilled the Potions Master's struggles.
"He's fevered," Arthur muttered as he straightened from holding the pallid man down. He sat on the edge of the bed.
Molly nodded. "Poppy said to expect that. Muggle poisons." This last was spoken with as much of a sneer as anyone had ever heard issue from the normally sweet-voiced mother.
"They meant well."
There was no reply to that. Molly fussed with the twisted blankets and weakly trembling form beneath them until her angry frown melted into one of concern. "Much too hot," she murmured.
"Stillborn." Snape whispered with certainty. "Orange mountain tickles the sea."
Ron giggled until Harry's elbow poked him sharply in the side.
"Yes, dear." Molly replied as if the feverish man had made sense; it did seem to satisfy him. Snape's eyes closed and his ragged breathing calmed.
"Is he asleep Mrs Weasley?" Harry asked, his voice shaking. He had yet to recover from the surge of adrenalin from being so abruptly awakened. "Will he be all right?" True, there was no affection shared between Harry and Snape, but he was curious, and the question was instinctive.
"Arthur, Poppy left some 'Fever-Down.'"
"I know where it is, love." He rose and swept Ron and Harry out of the room with him, "Come on, lads. Back to bed."
"What happened? Will he be all right?" Harry insisted even as Mr. Weasley firmly guided the boys towards their bedroom.
"I'm afraid I don't know the answer to either of those questions, Harry. Stroke of luck he was found at all."
"In a Muggle hospital, yet," Ron urged as subtly as he knew how.
"Voldemort wouldn't have had that!" Harry, as usual, was blind to both father and son flinching at his casual use of the name. "Would he have?"
"Now is not the time to discuss this. Back to bed with you," Arthur called as he hurried into the room he and Molly were using. Both boys, he was fleetingly pleased to note, had obeyed and were no longer loitering about the hall when he returned. By the time he got back to Molly, he found his wife had Transfigured a bowl of cool water and washrag -- from what he couldn't tell -- and was smoothing it against the Severus' brow. Her gentle comfort was one of the things that had first moved Arthur when he had finally deigned to notice girls as something other than variations of his sisters to be teased or ignored. "Molly?"
She turned her head and looked up at him and despite the years and seven children, she saw her Arthur fall in love all over again. But then, he did that on nearly a daily basis. She smiled despite the incongruence of that sweetness during this time of trouble. "Give it here, then, love. Hold him up for me." She uncorked the vial while her husband maneuvered an arm beneath Professor Snape's unresisting shoulders and head. "Four drops should do for an adult." She gently tapped the professor's cheek to awaken him. His eyes opened. "This will help you feel better." Even if he didn't understand her words, her tone would surely convince him.
But once those dark eyes lit upon the vial in her hand, the man was anything but compliant. He moaned and tried to pull away even though there was no "away." He clamped his mouth firmly shut and turned his head away.
"Oh dear." Molly sat back and shook her head. "I won't force him. Clearly he's had too much of that."
"Perhaps he'll take it in some tea?"
"A weak tea, not too hot. I'll put up the kettle and make us a pot as well. I daresay it is going to be a long night."
Arthur gave a small smile. "Well, so it was with Fred. Remember that? Couldn't keep anything down poor lad, including the 'Fever-Down.'"
"Thank heavens that's one thing the twins don't share!" Molly hurried off to the kitchen.
Arthur took her place, re-moistening the washrag and applying it to the hot face that was now more flushed than pallid. "Well, Professor, I wish you could tell us what you've been about these past few months. School starts in a fortnight. I don't think you will be ready." He stared thoughtfully at the man lying before him.
A terse whisper answered, but there was no sense to the sounds that came from Snape's mouth. If they were words, they certainly weren't in any language Arthur knew. With a somewhat frustrated sigh at not being able to do more, he merely removed the rag then ran it over Snape's face and wrists. His eyes widened at the scars there. He winced at the Dark Mark on the left forearm. How could anyone live with that? How could anyone voluntarily give themselves to that?! The shock was not nearly so great as that night in Hogwarts' hospital wing after the fatal Tri-Wizard Tournament when Snape had first revealed the Dark Mark. Nonetheless, he shuddered at seeing the brand again.
A quiet knock at the door interrupted his ruminations. Not Molly, she wouldn't have knocked. "Yes?"
"Come in. How did it go?" Arthur looked back at the younger wizard.
"We're almost done putting up the new wards at Hogwarts. Yours is secure; not even Moody could break through it."
Arthur merely smiled. "Not just mine. Something Molly and I put together. The experience of parenthood, you know."
"And love." Arthur blushed at the comment. Lupin strolled over to the bedside and peered down. "Not good," he murmured.
Arthur merely frowned in response. Severus gasped something quiet and incohrerent.
Molly's return seemed long delayed and Arthur was about to go see what was keeping her when she swept through the half open doorway, vibrant, a tray with teapot, cups and saucers in her hands. "Remus! I thought I heard you come in. Are you all right, dear?" She set the tray down on the bedside table. There were, indeed, four cups and saucers stacked on the tray. "You look a bit peaked." Her voice was relaxed and casual, but her actions -- preparing a cup of tea weakened with water and spiked by several drops of the fever reducing potion -- was brisk and all business.
"Tea would be welcome," Remus admitted.
"And then a bite to eat, I think. You are much too thin." She settled down on the chair pulled up alongside the bed and nodded to her husband. Remus Transfigured some towels into pillows and they stuffed these behind Severus' shoulders. "Now then. Tea. Come along, Severus, I know you must be thirsty. It's just tea and it's not so very hot..." She cajoled and wheedled and prodded until she managed to get half of the mixture into him. He resisted then, shutting his jaw tightly and turning his head away. At that, she gave in and sat back. "Well. Perhaps if we have ours it will convince him to take more."
"I don't think he'd even notice," Remus shook his head. "I think he simply isn't thirsty any more."
Arthur reached out for the cup in Molly's hands. "I'll take over -- you have your tea, love. And Remus can tell us news of the Burrow, if there is any."
Husband and wife traded places and Molly poured tea for Remus and herself. The younger wizard added a dollop of milk and some honey and was still stirring as his expression became even more unhappy. "I'm afraid it doesn't look good. The newer additions you put in are completely irreparable..."
What meaning this? What? Where? Who?
Grey. Grey things. Moving. Moving grey things.
Yes. No. The pain was constant now. Constant and distant. These were not the the ones who tortured. What were these grey moving things, then?