"Why?" The word came hard and sharp under the din of the lunchtime pub crowd, and Harry didn't want to guess whether it was disuse during his imprisonment, emotion over his unexpected release, or an after-effect of the snake's venom that made Snape's voice so raw and ragged.
His eyes though, were no different to what they had been; blazing with emotion Harry still couldn't name. He wanted to believe it wasn't hatred -- that at least some of that awful tangle of hurt and duty that had hung between them all through school had been an act, -- but that was a hope Harry kept to himself. Because if he never said it, he might never have to know it if he was wrong, if Snape really did hate him as much as he'd always seemed to do.
Harry gave a half-shrug, one he'd got quite good at in the weeks since he, Ron, and Hermione had rejoined Wizarding society. It usually worked when he didn't much want to answer someone, since people were almost always ready to take any excuse to believe what they wanted anyhow. With Snape, though, the eloquent shrug seemed to say exactly the wrong thing, and Harry found himself scrambling for actual words as he watched those black eyes sharpen and grow cold.
"It's hard to explain," he said, toying with the pint of bitter he'd bought, but didn't really want. He started when Snape plucked the glass from his hands and set it beside his own.
"Make the effort," the man said, and then, as though it pained him, "please."
"It... it felt like the right thing to do," Harry blurted, shocked into speaking frankly. Then he grimaced as Snape's scowl began to twist toward a sneer. "That didn't come out right. I didn't do it because I owed you, though we both know I do. And I didn't do it out of that stupid saving people thing, either." Harry snorted. "Last year kind of broke me of that habit."
"Then why?" Snape repeated, and this time the question didn't crack in his throat. "Why would you... waste half a dram of Felix Felices on my defense?" He tsked at Harry's shocked look. "I can smell it on your breath, as could any competent brewer within ten paces of you! Frankly, I would be surprised the Wizengamot allowed your testimony at all, were I under the delusion that there was even one competent brewer beside myself present at the trial." Harry blinked again, and Snape sighed. "What?"
"It's just..." Harry almost dared to let a smile out. "You didn't blame it on my being a celebrity." for once, he just managed not to add, though Snape's glower made him wonder if the man had guessed all the same.
"Foregone conclusion," he said, and pointedly took a sip of Harry's pint. "And you ought to wait a day more before you take alcohol, or any other depressants to which you might be inclined. And you ought also, to explain to me why you even HAD that potion, and did not think to use it the night Voldemort came to Hogwarts."
That last one was too much, Harry had to smile at it. But he decided to answer instead, the question his gut was telling him Snape really wanted answered when he'd accepted Harry's guiding arm from the Ministry courtroom, through the hordes of shocked spectators and gleefully scribbling reporters, to the shadowy booth at the back of The Leaky Cauldron. He met Snape's eye steady on, and said. "I reckon I did it for the same reason you saved me all those times."
Snape's flinch didn't make it past his eyes, but Harry saw it all the same, and he nodded before Snape could deny it. "For love."
"For..." Snape's face went white for a second as he stared. But then his eyes narrowed, and he pressed his lips in a furious line.
Harry raised both his hands, palm out. "No, wait a minute. I'm not mocking you, and I'm not saying I'm in love with you or anything, I'm saying I did it because my Mum loved you." He swallowed as the wrath building in Snape's wiry frame abruptly evaporated into shame. In a way, that was worse.
"You do not... just from glimpses." Snape took another drink, as though he couldn't breathe without it, eyes clenched, teeth bared as his throat worked. "You cannot-"
"She did," Harry insisted, barely restraining the urge to lay his hand over Snape's where it clenched on the tabletop. "How many times do you think I watched those memories of her you gave me, Severus?" the man's given name slipped out of Harry's mouth unbidden, and as though the potion were still nudging him along, his using it without permission seemed to prove his sincerity, rather than infuriate its owner. "How many times do you think I imagined that, when I was growing up without her? Imagining how her eyes would look? Imagining how she would smile when she felt that way? How her voice would sound?" He leaned across the scarred table, and whispered. "Do you think I would miss it when she looked just exactly like I always thought she would?"
Snape shook his head, not as though he meant to disagree, but as if he were shaking away the words themselves. "You saw what I wished you to see," he said, his voice hard and, Harry realized, desperate.
And there, again, was that fury he'd come to know. Harry smiled in greeting. "I know what memories look like when someone's trying to hide or change something. You showed me exactly what happened, and I know what I saw. You can deny it all you want, but if Lily Evans had been a Triwizarding champion, you would have been the one they drugged and hid under the lake."
"That still does not explain why you should-"
"Doesn't it?" Harry cut him off, realizing suddenly, that they just might be having their first ever civil conversation. "Doesn't it seem right to you that I should have stood up for someone she loved? Someone she would have stood up for herself, if she'd had the chance? And yes," he insisted as Snape began to shake his head, "I do think she would have done. I don't think I got my temper, or my stubbornness from my dad. Not from what folks have told me about the both of them, and not from what you've let me see; I think I got it from her. And even when I was furious at Ron, even when I thought we might never talk again, I would have stood up for him. I wouldn't have let him be sent to Azkaban for doing what he had to do."
And there, he had to stop, because Snape was staring at him. Not glaring, not snarling, not sneering. His face was still, unreadable as a sphinx, but his eyes flickered with something that Harry knew, through to his bones, was as new and strange to Snape as the budding sympathy was to Harry himself. "And I reckon that's what love really is, right?" he ventured after a moment. "When you still care about someone, no matter if they're being an utter berk, and they make you want to strangle them?"
At last, Snape looked away, and Harry thought he could just see a flush of colour under the shadow of his hair. "I... would not claim to know." But remembering the memory of that night Snape had gone begging to Dumbledore to save Lily's life, Harry figured he probably knew better than most.
"Well, maybe you could take my word on it," Harry ventured a smile. "Just this once?"
"Look, my mum died because of you. There's no denying that, but she also died because of me, and there's no denying that either. So it seems fitting, that's all. I think she'd have wanted it, and..." Harry examined his hands, and hoped he wasn't blushing as much as he thought he might be, "and by this morning, I wanted it as well. I want to learn why she could look at you that way when you would talk together. It's pretty obvious that she knew a different Severus Snape than I met back at Hogwarts, but after what I've learnt about your actions last year, I believe the boy she loved is still in there."
It had been too much, that last bit. Harry could see that stunned expression creeping across Snape's face again, and this time it was shading into disbelief. So he pushed back his chair with a sigh. "Just think about it, all right?" He tried to keep his tone light as he stood to go, not to let the pleading note creep in. Snape's expression was bemused when he looked up, rather than alarmed, so Harry supposed he'd managed it all right. "You know where to find me, I suppose-"
"Pot- Harry," They both had to pause at that, the sound of his name spoken by those lips without scorn. Snape quickly shook it off though, and fished a knut out of his pocket. "I am not... fond of Grimauld Place, you must know. And after all that has... that I have done, I will not presume upon a welcome at the Weasleys' home." He tapped the brass coin with his newly-returned wand, and proffered it on his flattened palm. "You think upon this though. Think upon who you know me to be, for I assure you the man you have come to know is very much real." He held up the coin, his gaze unwavering, his face thin and nervelessly pale, his hair just as needful of washing as ever. Every inch the homely face Harry had come to expect glowering over the High Table every meal at school, save that the glower was gone now, and uncertainty lay in its place. Uncertainty, and a rather desperate resolve. "Think on what you might find, should you seek to understand a man like me. Then, when you have thought, if your..." the thin lips quirked, "curiousity continues to outweigh your good sense, you may call on my home. For tea."
"All right," Harry smiled and reached for the portkey, "How much time?"
Amazingly, Snape actually let that opportunity for insult slide past, though Harry saw from his grimace that it cost him to do so. "As much as it takes..." And Harry had to grin, almost hearing the "you idiot!" conspicuously absent from the phrase.
"Next week then," Harry said, and pocketed the coin away from the rest of his change. He'd been thinking about whether he'd ever get the chance to really know Snape pretty much nonstop, ever since he'd heard the news that they'd found him comatose, but alive in the Shrieking Shack. So he figured the waiting period was probably more to let Snape get used to the idea than anything else. "I'll come round on Wednesday. Oh, and I can bring scones too. You like them, don't you?"
Stunned again, Snape nodded, so Harry did too, and waved as he turned toward the door. "See you then!" he called, and strode out into the suddenly brilliant day.