Chapter 4: An Intense Beige
Images, wild and untamed, swirled around him. His head pounded, his body ached. He’d wasted so much of his life trying to do the right thing and all it had done was blow up in his face.
It wasn’t fair. Some unseen force had manipulated him like a puppet on invisible strings – yanking him around until all the things he ever wanted – all the people he cared for – got torn away. Severus had finally come to the conclusion that Life was a cruel bitch. And if you were lucky, she let you die.
He thought… well, truthfully he hadn’t thought it through at all before taking the heavy risk of contacting the Order. He hadn’t counted on losing his home. He hadn’t expected anyone to sabotage Karkaroff’s project. He should have listened to the burning in his gut – the one that warned him that no matter how bad things were, they could always get worse.
As he hurled through the darkness, his thoughts drifted back to his dead parents in the morgue. At least no one could hurt his mother ever again. Perhaps dying wasn't so bad. He wondered what it would be like to splinch himself beyond all recognition. It was already hard to keep up his concentration through the pain.
It might not be so bad. All he had to do was let his thoughts scatter outward into the nothingness… it’s so easy… stop trying….
His mind began to lift away. The image of a girl he once knew swirled up from his memories, the one in the faded photograph tucked between the pages of his mother’s Potions book. He could barely recall placing it there, and yet that old familiar worry seeped back into him like it had never left, and he had to know. Had they gotten to her too?
They wanted her dead – because of her Muggle parents – because she’d been his friend. If they’d gotten his family, she was probably next. And so after his parents’ burial he'd gone to the place the Order didn’t think the Death Eaters could find. All he had to do was whisper her name and he was there.
He thought back to the copse of trees outside a quaint little cottage, crouching behind the bushes in the damp, cold morning of the new year, until he caught movement through the kitchen window.
When he'd seen her for the first time in years, she was more beautiful, more of a woman than she had been in the picture, but that was all. He no longer felt punched in the gut at the mere sight of her. The heartache, the longing – gone.
Through the light smattering of snow, he'd skirted the perimeter of the property, setting up detection charms and other defensive wards as he went. The people they were afraid of, the Death Eaters, wouldn’t be thrown by the wards that the Order had previously established. He had deftly maneuvered around them, just as the Death Eaters would likely do.
He remembered squelching a childish urge to throw a hex at the man who appeared next to her in the window. Hated him. No doubt the feeling was mutual. She might hate Severus too for the things he’d done, the explanations he couldn’t give her.
He’d sacrificed more than she would ever know. He’d chosen his family over her and still lost everything. He owed her nothing. But that didn’t mean she deserved to die.
Severus felt the last of his focus slipping. And what about him? Did he deserve to die when he still had a slim chance to take any one of those bastards down with him? He’d almost forgotten the plan…
Severus' mind snapped back to the present. He couldn't do it.
It took all of his strength to concentrate his thoughts back to a single point, the place he needed to be. His head pounded as the memory from three weeks ago faded and the ground came into focus. An intense blinding pain made the world spin again and he fell into the sunken glen.
The cold air blew around him, crisp and dry. Severus searched with his good arm in his satchel and found the vial, squinting at it to verify the yellow sludge. He shook it vigorously and in one fluid motion, flipped the plug and downed it.
“Eaugh!” His arm throbbed and he wrapped his cloak tighter around it, squeezing his eyes shut.
His fingers were tingling now – not in a good way. The pain had that odd prickling sensation that raised the hairs on the back of his neck.
He blinked to clear his vision. The world threatened to move again – he fought to keep it still – then swallowed the rest of the potion with a grimace.
Gone… his flat was gone. It had been going so well until that stupid… his brain thickened, having nothing left to hold onto.
The world had gone to hell and he was going down with it. He felt himself drifting, weightless through the haze until the throbbing returned. He dug through the satchel again. It was doubtful that anyone would come. The thought sank with him against the gnarled trunk.
Damned… doomed… dismal failure. Pick one. Hell, pick them all. If this was how it was going to be, he preferred to feel nothing.
Severus found one last vial - a purple one – and sipped at it. (These tasted so much better than the yellow ones.) His eyes flickered up as he propped up against the trunk, marveling at the branches above, split into a many-fingered hand, clawing at the tiny white lights above the canopy.
He heard a crack, then the rhythmic crunch of dry twigs. Closer… her form appeared, silhouetted in the moonlight, making her a dark-haired, perturbed and slightly disoriented spectre.
“Made me look the idiot when I couldn’t tell Dumbledore why my assignment had contacted him instead of me... what happened to you? You look half-dead!”
Cranky. Something gurgled inside him. “You came,” he half-laughed.
Her wide eyes… he almost wished she hadn’t come – that he could spare her from getting involved in his mess of a life.
“Why wouldn’t I? We had an arrangement.”
"Ah, yes. The arrangement." The gurgling stilled. He wasn't sure why that disappointed him.
"What happened to you?"
"I had some trouble... with the tests." The throb in his arm lessened, but wasn't dull enough. He took another swig from the vial.
"Things didn't go well, I take it?" Dorcas settled against a rock and pulled her cloak closer as the breeze picked up.
"It was a complete disaster." Severus downed the rest of the liquid and tossed the empty vial back into the satchel.
And then he got distracted - the distant hum of strange mechanical beasts washed into the background of a sudden chorus of crickets. Severus closed his eyes and listened to it all.
Down there in the valley beyond the trees the noisy Muggle contraptions busily assembled poles and cables - large metal beasts with darting appendages. He’d go down there when it was finished. And then the construction sounds were grinding to a halt, leaving the crickets to sing alone.
Must be getting late already.
Sitting with her now, in the dark, seemed vaguely familiar. His thoughts groped around until he recalled another time, back in school, when they'd shared a miserable silence...
It was too quiet. He hadn't heard her move.
His eyes shot open and then he saw her sitting there staring at him in the rustling shadows of the glen. He smiled weakly. “You shouldn’t be here.”
She wrinkled her nose. “What did you take? You smell like…”
The skyline shifted as the construction lights went out, plunging them into a deeper darkness. Only the half-moon and the stars remained.
"I took your advice. The elemental theory worked. But they blew up my place." His chest twinged as reality hit. "Blew it up. My place..."
She was right there, barely an arm’s length away. His thoughts became muddled again. “Your hair..." It would be soft, he imagined. Probably would slip right through his fingers…
She batted his hand away. "I meant what did you take for the pain?"
At least the potion was working. He couldn’t feel a damned thing. “I have fingers,” he acknowledged, showing them to her. Then his brows creased in concern. “Are you turning purple?” He reached out to her again
She waved his hand off again. "No, Severus. I’m fine. Your vision is off.”
“Karkaroff made me do it… the potion. Malfoy’s in on it somehow. Netterheim wouldn’t let me have the hood. And Avery… blew it up. My flat.”
There was no one left. He was alone. Always… He had to make her listen to him. “Meadowesss…” he hissed softly. “I need you…” He inhaled sharply.
"What is it?"
"No." He waved at her. "Closer."
Severus clumsily took hold and pulled her down to eye-level. “I need you to stay away from me.” He wheezed. “It’s too dangerous. They’re going to find you and I can’t…” He broke into a fit of coughing.
“You... and the Order. It's the only way to stop them, and I want them... stopped." His arm dropped, too exhausted to hang on any longer.
"Come on then." She stood up.
"Where are we going?" He frowned. She was suddenly too far away from him.
"Out of here. You need to get cleaned up. We'll talk later."
"You can't take me home."
"They blew it up."
"Let's go," she muttered, attempting to hoist him up by his good arm.
"I need to disappear," Severus mumbled, resisting her pull. "This is a good place. I'll be fine."
"You're not fine. You're bleeding."
Severus glanced quickly down at himself. He wanted to be sure he still had his arm. "Is it noticeable?"
"Your cloak is saturated." She pulled at him again.
Severus managed a smile. "You're a good person. To help me." He paused, considering, "You're too pretty to die.”
That was probably the stupidest thing he’d ever said and for some reason, he found it ridiculously funny. “Don't die." Severus rolled on the ground, giggling at himself. His euphoric fit grew and he started to laugh out loud, but his breath caught, ending up in a loud hack.
She gave up trying to pull him up. "Can you stand?"
"I think." He got to his feet and lurched to the side. "I don't feel so well."
"Try not to vomit until I get you over the sink." And before he could form another muddled thought, she grabbed him under his good arm and popped them both away.
"That was brilliant!" Avery whooped after he'd appeared next to a scowling Rosier on the hill above Severus’ neighborhood. Rosier surveyed the plumes of smoke and the yawning green skull in the valley below.
"That was stupid!" Wilkes growled, punching Avery in the arm. "Why didn't you listen to him?"
"Ow!" Avery whined, rubbing his arm. "Quit that! There was smoke. It was poisonous."
"It was burning metal, you idiot. If you had done what you were told, none of this would have happened." Wilkes glared, looking like he wanted to ignore his orders for once and snuff Avery like the cheap candle that he was. "Who cast the mark?" he asked.
"I did," Rosier answered. "The place was torched. Someone had to control the fire before the whole neighborhood went up." He didn’t get a rush from collecting notches on the hilt of his wand like Wilkes did or have a free pass like Avery. Someone had to be the responsible one.
Then, because the other two had started looking at him funny, he added mockingly, "You know how the Ministry prides itself on its efficiency."
Avery sneered. "A few more bodies aren’t going to make much difference. When did we start caring about collateral damage?"
"When we weren't ordered to kill anyone." Rosier shot back.
Wilkes ghost-punched at Rosier. "Great. Now we get him because of your sudden sense of morality." He motioned to the dark form coming up the hill.
Sometimes, Rosier was clever enough to cover for the short-sightedness of his friends. And sometimes it just wasn’t worth the trouble.
Rosier returned Wilkes’ glare. "No, we get him because of Avery. There’s going to be blame.”
Wilkes nodded in agreement. “And consequences.”
"Uh..." Avery stuttered as Lucius Malfoy appeared at the crest of the hill, looking severely displeased.
The two pointed at the goofy man with the stupid hair, who had begun to cower. Lucius opened his mouth and then closed it, frowning. He scanned the hillside and it was then that Rosier caught on that they had all forgotten something very important.
"Where is Snape?"
"We haven't seen him," Wilkes answered first.
"You left him there?" Lucius' voice rose. “You were sent to assist the man with his experiments. You burned down his flat, cast a Dark Mark and alerted the authorities. And you tell me that you don't know where he is?"
"I thought he'd come with us," Avery squeaked out.
"Does he know where you are?" Lucius asked in a dangerously measured tone.
"No. I th-think he was bleeding..." Avery stuttered.
Lucius gave Rosier a withering look. "You," he started, "should know better. Karkaroff is counting on this to work, which means we need Snape alive and we need him to succeed."
Rosier lowered his head. This wasn’t going to put him in the Dark Lord’s good graces.
"You," he started in on Wilkes, "were supposed to keep him in check."
Lucius pointed his wand at their idiot partner. "And you," he pushed the wand into Avery's chest as the man shrunk away from him, "are on probation from the last time you fu..." Lucius breathed in the last of his control, "fumbled your responsibilities."
"The Dark Lord is expecting a full report on this. I wouldn't leave out any of the details if I were you."
"There was..." Avery started up but was cut off by Lucius' hard stare. When Malfoy turned away, he pleaded to Wilkes and Rosier. "...and the..."
Wilkes' fist shut him up, landing squarely on his jaw.
Lucius shook his head, not turning back. "Sort this out elsewhere." And he led them away, muttering about 'children' and 'appropriate punishments'.
Early the next morning, Dorcas rushed her usual breakfast routine and practically ran out the door. She’d had a creepy feeling all night, and as a result hadn’t gotten much sleep.
Probably because there was a Death Eater in her spare room.
He looked harmless enough when she’d checked on him just before dawn, sprawled over the guest bed with his arm immobilized in a sea of pillows. Drugged up on pain potions and sleeping draught, he’d stay that way for at least another twelve hours.
And finally, she had the chance to go down to Knockturn Alley, but it wasn’t exactly as she had planned. Moody had convinced her to think twice about posing as a license inspector and so after some digging, she discovered that Rookwood, head of import authorizations, visited Borgin & Burkes’ several times a month. Mr. Burke was expecting him today, in fact. Dorcas would have almost given her right arm to go in his place, but he’d settled for a basket of fruit and an exchange of vacation days. She never used them anyway.
It was barely half-past her first cup of coffee when Dorcas tucked her folio under her arm and passed the Leaky Cauldron Inn, gateway to what used to be the bustling entrance to Diagon Alley. Mr. Ollivander waved to her as he finished polishing his new window pane in the morning haze. When a Death Eater patrol had challenged an outspoken critic right outside his wand shop, it had quickly turned into a nasty outdoor brawl.
Dorcas clearly remembered the file passing her desk as one of Josef’s unfinished reports. Since these sorts of things were almost commonplace now, the details were pretty much the same and she hadn’t fabricated much. She was still irked by the whole thing.
The sun was still hidden behind the clouds when she reached the crooked side street known as Knockturn Alley. Dorcas passed the Ice Cream Parlor and turned just before the Potions Shop, which sat on the corner of the two alleys, half in the light, half in the shadows. She tended to avoid the shadow people when she could, unless it was business. Except now she had one of them sleeping in her flat.
Moody was going to have her head over that if he ever found out. Probably would have a few choice words for her about taking Rookwood’s assignment too. If she was very lucky, he wouldn’t have to know about any of it.
Dorcas fought with the morning chill and pulled her cloak tighter. Most of the shop windows along the south side of the alley were boarded up and abandoned. One storefront caught her attention – the bright yellow awning was the only color on display, with a gaudy-looking hand-painted eye in the middle. She made a mental note to explore there later, as well as the remaining handful of other shops down this way. The rest had closed up over the last two years because of the war.
If this was where Karkaroff was spending his time, he had very few options.
She made her way to the end of the alley and opened a modest-looking door with few markings except the address. The bell sounded hollow in the early morning. Dorcas navigated through shelves of questionable artifacts and foul-smelling herbs, careful not to touch anything, to find the proprietor sitting behind the counter in the back.
“Mr. Burke, so good of you to see me. I trust you got my owl?”
When he saw her, he brushed the coins he’d been counting into a small sack and stowed it underneath the display case. Mr. Burke acted like he had a lot more to hide than mere coins. His shifty eyes landed judiciously on Dorcas. “Where’s Rookwood?”
“I explained to you in the message. He was called away on another assignment. I’m here to do the inspection on your new shipment.”
Mr. Burke didn’t look convinced by Dorcas’ story, but she came prepared. Rookwood had explained that the shop was granted several indulgences, so when twenty shrunken heads grinned at her from their packing crate, Dorcas said nothing and signed off on the permit that allowed for “no more than one dozen”.
The bell went off again and she heard the click of a cane through the aisle. An older man appeared and stood in the corner, sipping slowly from a steaming mug.
Burke looked up and seemed to recognize the man. “Filling in for Rookwood,” he said loudly, as he nodded to Dorcas. “You say you can get us anything he promised?” he asked her.
Well, that proved he’d read her message. But Dorcas didn’t like the louder-than-necessary voice or the “us” he threw in at the end.
That man in the corner seemed familiar somehow. And she smelled freshly-ground coffee.
“That’s right. I’m a fully qualified Inspections Agent,” she responded.
She didn’t like the way he raised his eyebrows at her either. The whole situation was setting her on edge.
Mr. Burke leaned close to her, squinting. “Meadowes, eh? Badge issue was two years ago. You’re not exactly new, are you?”
“No, just transferred from another department. The Ministry is swamped – we’re trying to maintain our level of timely and efficient service.”
She got a snort from the corner but had the sense not to turn around for a confrontation. Burke put on a grim smile and retrieved a scroll from under the service counter. “Rookwood promised he could get this permit authorized by tomorrow.”
She took it and read it over with two sets of eyes on her like hawks. It could be that this was some sort of test. “Certainly.” She didn’t want trouble this early. “I’ll bring it in straight away.”
She finished with the forms and tried not to look hasty with her exit. The man with the cane kept watch over his mug even as she closed the door.
When she got to the Ministry, it was still early. Dorcas got herself a second cup of coffee and brought Marlene her herbal tea. Rookwood wasn’t in yet, so she tracked down the permits herself.
With all the forms in front of her, she sat at her desk and sipped her coffee, contemplating the rushed permit. It was a request to deliver a large shipment of plate silver to a warehouse in the industrial district in London. Odd. But then Rookwood’s job was to regulate rare and unusual imports. More interesting though was the location of the delivery.
And then there was that man with the cane… Dorcas rummaged through her notes until she found what she was looking for and sat back in her chair. Of course. That’s why he seemed so familiar. That was Karkaroff.
This was the second reference that connected that warehouse to Karkaroff, but it wasn’t enough. Moody couldn’t issue a warrant to search the warehouse simply because a man of questionable repute was taking his coffee off in the corner of Borgin & Burke’s. If only it were that easy.
Dorcas scribbled the tidbits of information she’d gotten in her folio. Then she forced herself to start in on yesterday’s reports.
An hour later, Josef was hovering over her desk. "We need to talk."
She’d properly fixed his report again – against Marlene’s at-his-throat- advice. Now he was in her light, casting a shadow on her desk, making the last few lines of the quarterly figures difficult to read. Darn it, she was almost done.
"Dorcas, I really think we should talk."
She dipped her quill in the ink well, forcing herself not to flick the excess in his general direction. "You made it perfectly clear where we stood."
"Look," he said uncomfortably, "I don’t want to do this here. Can we go somewhere?"
"I didn't want to leave like this. They’re sending me away."
Dorcas looked up from her work in time to see a scowling Marlene pass by and it gave her just enough strength not to cave in. "I'm not going to pretend that I'm happy with you. Take care of yourself. I hope she's worth it."
“Meadowes!” Moody bellowed from down the hall. Josef looked up nervously.
Great timing. “Coming,” she called out to Moody, ignoring Josef’s retreating comments about whatever it was being “important” and getting back to her “later”.
She’d gotten over feeling stupid about trusting him, but it still hurt. Having him out of the office would be good for her.
Moody was pacing in his office when she got there. "Good. You're here. Close the door.” He looked at her impatiently. "Is there anything I need to know about?"
Besides her inability to grow a proper backbone and report her slacker ex for sloppy work? Actually, that would make her feel so much better…
"He doesn’t complete his forms properly. I’ve been covering for him and...” She couldn’t do it. He was leaving anyway. “It's over now, so no, nothing." She shook her head.
Moody gave her the eye and cleared his throat. "You missed last night’s briefing after the Dark Mark. I assume you have an explanation for that. "
"Sorry, yes. I had to meet with my contact. There’s more information on Karkaroff. It was important and I had to protect someone…”
“In the middle of the night?” His voice ate away at her confidence. “Alone? You’re supposed to help those people get out of the country, not put them and yourself in danger by being out while the Death Eaters are throwing up Dark Marks all over the place. What were you thinking?”
“Dumbledore made me do it.” It was all she had.
He huffed again but really couldn’t say much to that. “I’ll be impressed if you pull this one off… even more if you don’t get yourself killed doing it. You know we can’t protect you out there.”
“I know.” If Moody knew half of how she compiled her information for him, he’d have pulled her out of the field a year ago. “If there’s nothing else, I have reports to finish before tomorrow…” She hoped he was done with her for now.
Moody raised an eyebrow and she took that as a sign of permission to hurry back to her desk.
Dorcas appeared in her living room that night with her mind in a jumble. Dumbledore's instructions, to make contact and gather information, while not specific, probably didn't include sheltering a spy in her own home.
I was stupid. But he could have died and then the Order would have nothing.
The bookcases lining the walls made her living room look so much smaller than the decent sized room it actually was. The books were her treasures. Historical texts, arithmancy puzzles, logic, debate, thought provoking subjects that challenged her intellect. They had been her true companions when others had failed her. Never lied. Never left. Trusted authors to whom she could tell her deepest secrets, and if she listened, they spoke to her with their unwavering insights and timeless wisdom.
Not feeling very wise now, are you, she chided herself. She shook her head as her eyes drifted up the stairs to the guestroom. He's probably still asleep. The healing drought she'd managed to give him last night was the strongest she had.
She heard a sound in her kitchen. Clinking, rattling... didn't sound right. She drew her wand and stepped quietly around the corner and then bumped hard against the coffee table, rattling the lamp. She put her hand out to steady it.
The house suddenly went very still.
Her wand arm led through the open doorway to the kitchen. The sink area was clear so she stepped inside…
And then yelped as someone grabbed her wrist and shoved her against the pantry door, a wand pointing at her face.
"God, Meadowes. I didn't want it to be you." Severus' dark glassy eyes hardened, beads of sweat broke along his hairline. The bandaged arm holding fast to hers trembled from wrist to shoulder.
"Let me go!"
"I can’t let you kill me," he growled, his wand poised in her face. She saw the look of panic and confusion in his eyes.
"I'm not going to kill you," she seethed. "I live here, for Merlin's sake!"
He gritted his teeth, dropped his arm, and stumbled forward. His skin was hot against hers, and she felt wetness, not perspiration... The bandage on his arm was turning dark from underneath.
She swore and pushed him away, hard enough to get him upright. "Sit down. You opened your wound." He slumped back into the nearest chair, hair in his face and his bandage being soaked by more blood every second. The thick heady stench... it was the same smell that filled the morgue when they brought the bodies in from the field, covered in crisp white sheets. Her stomach lurched.
"You're supposed to be sleeping, not..." she got a chance to look around the kitchen and lost her words. Every inch of her counter space was taken up with cups, saucers, mugs, pots and pans. She didn't know that she owned this much equipment.
"What have you done to my kitchen?" she demanded. “It looks like a fifth year potions lab in here!”
"I gave you some last night."
"Oh no you don't," she muttered, getting on with the dirty work of removing the gauze. "You were hard enough to handle last night."
She stopped unwrapping the bandages when he winced.
"Sorry. Here." She poured him a shot of whiskey that he downed in one. She wordlessly poured another. He took that too. When she offered a third, he waved it away.
"You'd rather have me pissed than medicated?" But then a wave of nausea hit him and he gripped the table. "Potion," he choked through the pain.
"I don't think so."
"Different formula. Won't make me..."
He looked like death warmed over. She took pity on him and turned to the counter. "Alright, which one?" she asked, frustrated that she was so lost in her own kitchen. There were two saucepans on the stove, a large pot on the floor, covered with a dishtowel, and three mugs by the sink.
"In the kettle. Needs to be strained."
Dorcas couldn’t find the kettle among the mounds of nameless powders, neatly placed in rows of waxed paper squares all over the place. Then she spied her grandmother's porcelain teapot nestled among the clutter, appalled at the yellow steam that swirled from the spout.
She strained it into a cup and brought it to the table. "Are you sure this won't..."
He nodded desperately, reaching for the cup, looking like he was going to pass out.
Severus made a sour face as he downed a thin, burnt-orange colored liquid. Dorcas left him alone and busied herself with cleaning up the kitchen while his breathing slowed. She looked back after a few minutes and found him slumped back into the chair.
Dorcas closed her eyes and tried not to smell the blood. Then she snapped them back open. "Okay. Let's see it."
She pulled at the bandages again. The gauze was stubborn, sticking to the skin so she worked her fingers gently, careful to avoid causing any more discomfort. The closer she got to his bare skin, the more exposed she felt when she touched him. Her mind spun as she grasped for anything to fill the awkward silence.
"Here." Dorcas handed him another cup. This was completely insane, she thought to herself. I must be mental. He's dangerous, she reminded herself. Remember how quickly he turned on you?
Well why wouldn't he? Maybe he didn't trust her at all. Or maybe he was desperate and confused. Maybe...
"Are you going to tell me what really happened?" she finally asked, needing to say something.
"I was in the way."
She peeled away the last of the gauze and tried to imagine what kind of attack would cause this type of injury, a screaming rip of flesh and torn muscle that ran from the inside of his elbow to the outside of his shoulder.
The tear oozed into his scorched forearm, blackened from the wrist up. The edge of a tattoo escaped the burn marks on one side. She hadn’t seen it this close before - forced herself not to linger on it. He continued to watch as she siphoned the blood away and resealed the wound with whispers and gestures until all that was left was a swelling red line where the gash had been.
She reapplied salve to the burn and wrapped the arm loosely in fresh gauze. A wet rag and a few cleansing spells finished up the rest of him.
His eyes followed the movements of her hands... She turned away, escaping to the sink to wash up.
"You're not going to keep working on the project are you? I mean, you can't, right?" She wrung her hands under the cold water.
"I have to."
She thought about the state of her kitchen. Not here, she thought fiercely. "Then what? You're just going to let them use this thing you've created to murder countless innocent people?"
"I'm not a murderer.” He paused. “If I stop working on it, they'll get suspicious.”
She turned around from washing up one of the larger pots and looked at him hard. "Well, that’s what they’re going to do. Murder people with that potion. What are you going to do about it?”
He didn’t say anything to that. Didn’t even argue with her, which was worse. He just sat there, seemingly unaffected.
"Your arm is badly injured and your home was destroyed. Stop trying to act like nothing's wrong," she said.
"How do you expect me to act?" Severus looked at her. "This will heal and I'll get a new place. It's..." She thought he was about to say 'fine', but didn't. "I'll deal with it. Stop scowling already."
Without thinking, her hands continued working at the mess on the counter. Teacups rattled in their saucers as they glided back into their cabinets. A disturbing lump in her stomach threatened to make its way up her throat and she was suddenly back at the sink, trying not to throw up, breathless at the enormity of it all. The blood and the wound and him. She’d had enough.
The chair behind her scraped against the floor. She tried to ignore him when he flicked his wand, starting the next pot scrubbing, and handed her a freshly cleaned ladle.
“Sit down.” If he moved around too much, his wound would re-open and she wouldn’t be able to hold herself together long enough to fix it all over again.
He let out a breath next to her. “Am I that repulsive?”
“It’s the blood.” She stared at the suds swirling down the drain. And other things, she admitted to herself, but mostly the blood.