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truth's like blood underneath your fingernails

Chapter Text

 

Harry hates coming off as callow, but he can't help the little gasp that makes its way out when they enter the Great Hall. It's everything he expected walking up that elaborate swirled stone staircase; whirling color and dripping shimmer and spiraling architecture, stretching from one end to the other. This is magic, this is fairytale, and Harry has to pull his shoulders in and remind himself to keep from gawking.

They're herded up near the front, and as the Sorting starts Harry can feel his insides winching tighter and tighter as each name is called. He still doesn't really understand what exactly is going on with all this sorting business, but he knows it's important, that whatever happens here will set his course in this new world.

He studies the Head Table cautiously, undeniably fascinated with these adults who act unlike any respectable adults he's ever known. Although that one… Harry focuses on a tall figure dressed in black, with a look on his face as sour as Uncle Vernon's, draped in a dark cloak and shrouded with a menacing aura that makes him ten times more intimidating.

He studies him a moment, wondering what in this enchanting place could possibly have put such a look on the man's face. Then the man's gaze meets his, and Harry shrinks back in his seat before he manages to steel himself. His eyes are blacker than Harry's ever seen, and some unspoken malice is swimming in their depths.

It unsettles him, and there's enough vitriol in that dark glower that the feeling of being in someone’s sights settle over him like a well worn jacket. His heart speeds, and his fingers curl, but he doesn't cower, doesn’t look away. He can’t help the feeling of relief though as the man's eyes move on.

Well. Another one to stay away from, then. Harry knows better than to question it. It's not so unusual for adults to hate him on sight so he shrugs it off and focuses back on the weasel-faced boy working his way up the front. Malfoy, Harry remembers - the one who'd been teasing the boy with the toad in the hall. He's sorted into Slytherin almost before the hat hits his head.

And then Professor McGonagall’s saying his name, and Harry bites his lip as he shuffles forward, ignoring the murmur going up from the tables as he settles himself uneasily on the stool.

The musty smell of old socks that wafts around him makes him wrinkle his nose as a crooked voice slithers into his ear.

"Well, well, what have we here then?"

Harry suppresses a shudder at the way the voices seemed to trickle down his spine, worming fingers into his skull. He wants nothing more than to reach up and wrench it off his head, but he doesn't. He clings stubbornly with white-knuckled hands to the edges of the stool, because if all the strangeness of the day hasn't stopped him so far, this stupid hat certainly won't.

"Lots of courage I see, a fair bit of cunning - but where to put you?"

Harry remains stubbornly silent, even in his head, as he feels the irritating prod against his mind.

"Slytherin would do well, help you on the path to greatness," the hat seems to be coaxing him, but for something that can read his mind, it sure doesn't seem to know him very well.

Harry doesn't want greatness. He doesn't need his name in lights and on everyone's lips. He wants meals, hot ones, whenever he wants, with people that he likes and that like him. Friends he can have adventures with, huddle under the blankets with at night and laugh with. People who might think… might think he's worth something.

And whatever he has to do to get that, he will. He's tolerated the Dursleys, he's outlasted his primary, and he'll get through the alarming unknowns of this new world, because if there is one thing Harry knows, it's that he is a survivor, and he's not giving up on what this place has given him - a hope, haunted and wary but still there, burning at the core of him. 

"Well then, I think it will be SLYTHERIN," the hate booms out the last word and Harry blinks a little to clear his vision as he looks out to a Great Hall that has descended into hushed silence. Disconcerted, he scoots off the stool, nearly tripping over one ragged pant leg as he shuffles toward the green-bannered table.

He can hear one solitary person in the crowd start a hearty clap, that's followed by a trickle more less enthusiastic ones, but he keeps his head down, doesn't look up.

He squeezes himself onto the end of one of the long benches far away from Malfoy, who is already surrounded by a group of admirers, and closer to a placidly cheerful first year who moves over a little to make room for him.

"Ready to eat then?" the firstie says, his voice quiet but amicable, clearly tuning out the rest of the Sorting going on in the background. "Bet you haven't seen a feast like this one – wait 'til you try the pumpkin juice!"

 

Harry is fuller than he can ever remember being as he obediently follows the gaggle of green-clad firsties down winding hallways until they're stopped in front of a stone wall. The mealy-faces older student who shepherded them together crosses his arms, and glares at them down his beaky nose.

As he gives them a password, Harry can't decide whether to giggle or snort, because it seems so juvenile, like he's part of some secret kids club, but it's also very cool, because he taps his wand against the stone and says the password and the door grinds open, just like that.

Harry lets himself trail at the back of the group, eyes widening as he takes it in - the glistening panorama that spans the back wall, a window in the water speckled with quivery fronds of seaweed and lazy, drifting fish.

"Now, then…"  The older boy starts blathering on about prefects and Head of Houses and some Professor Snape that Harry doesn't think he's met yet, but Harry's attention is helplessly drawn away.  The light casts an eerie glow over the room, whose only other light is a few flickering candles and the gently roaring fireplace. Students sprawl over green velvet couches, while others are congregated at tables, talking excitedly over books in low tones, and the gentle hum of conversation fills the room like a melody. It is completely and utterly unlike the harsh white lines and showy knick-knacks of the Dursley home, and Harry immediately loves it.

“… got it?" Harry snaps his head back around to realize he's missed most of the lecture the sour student guide has been giving, but nods along with the other before the crowd of kids dissipates and they wander in clumps toward the dorms.

Harry's dorm is all cozy furs and dark brown leather, and he’s surprised to see his small trunk sitting at the end of one of the beds. The other beds have trunks at the end of theirs, too, one of which is unfortunately Malfoy’s… the git.

It has his name engraved in elaborate gold letters on the front and lid. Harry manages to ignore the fact that he's sharing a room with that sneering prat that reminds him altogether too much of Dudley in favor of reveling in his newfound possessions.

He feels so grown up as he surveys his tidy little cluster of assorted belongings, in front of a smooth, simple, elegant bed with a spread like velvet and a pillow that's so fluffy and white, Harry has to fight an impulse to bury his face in it, and he feels a sudden, fierce possessiveness seize him. These things are special, after all. They're his, only ever belonged to him. 

It's worlds better than the Dursley's garden shed or the cupboard, but more than that, Harry thinks - and his heart feels strangely electric - it's home. Harry's never considered any place home before, but the word's snuck into his head before he can hardly blink, and it curls up and settles there in some lonely neglected space.

Harry's still thinking about it that night as he turns over and tries to shut his mind down for the millionth time. He can hear the other boys breathing, deep in sleep, but for Harry it won't come.

He slips quietly out from under the ridiculously feathery duvet, pads over to the half-covered window seat and settles himself on it, the stone cool against him. He's never belonged in anything as luxurious this, and he still feels a bit out of place.

I'll get used to it, he thinks. I will. He watches the strange assortment of sea creatures meandering past, the blue light shimmering over him and casting layers of shifting shadows on the smooth rock. It's silent in that way it only is in the early hours of the morning, with a cozy, blanketed hush over everything, and Harry feels safe.

He's not naive enough to believe it will stay that way, and he can't decide whether he's more excited or apprehensive about tomorrow. There's so many things that could go wrong, and they’re all playing on repeat in his head.

He can't help but hope this place might be more good than bad, though. He can't help but imagine himself with a new life, with this blank slate. He can't help but think that maybe, his life has finally taken a turn for the better.

  

It is late in the evening, but Severus Snape is finally ready to sit back in his chair beside a steaming cup and contemplate. Because Merlin's beard, is there a lot to contemplate. He finally lets himself feel the emotions churning mutedly inside him as he stares into the flames hissing in his hearth. Nothing that happened today is what he expected, and he is not prepared, not at all prepared, for a Potter in his house.

Snape can feel his upper lip pulling back of it's own volition and tries to relax the edges of his mouth. Of course the brat is a headache already.

Snape is going to have to deal with Minerva, possibly even the Headmaster, who somehow didn't blink an eye through the sorting. He's going to have to deal with his snakes…Merlin. Potter is one of his Snakes. The situation between the houses is rife with enough rivalries and rough play, without the much coveted eleven-year-old celebrity being sorted into the antagonized, hostile, outsider Slytherin.

For a moment, for just a moment, Snape feels a flash of resentment toward the boy for daring to be sorted into his house. Then it fades and he's left with his detestable common sense which sees fit to remind him it's hardly the fault of a small boy who – Snape lets his shoulders slump – could hardly choose where he was sorted into.

And then he straightens again in his chair, his eyes still lost in flame, his thoughts in his head. Snape is just going to have to deal with this like everything else, like he always has. He snorts. He's certainly had worse thrown at him.

He feels much better now that he's had time to really process the… problems Potter’s created. Not that he was expecting anything less. But he is, he admits to himself, curious, just a little.

How does Potter himself feel about the sorting? What will his reaction be? Snape was too wrapped up in his own shock to take much note - he can be excused for that, everyone was. But surely he isn't the only one who noticed that on the way up to the stool of the sorting hat, Potter's hands were trembling.

 

 

Chapter Text

Harry starts awake, nearly falling off the windowsill before he catches himself. Steadying himself with a breath, he moves gingerly to dangle his feet off the edge and then drops to the floor, wincing a little at the movement.

Sleeping wedged awkwardly sitting up has only piled on to the ache he already feels from Dudley's last beating, and the results of Uncle Vernon's last temper. He grits his jaw though, forcing himself to keep moving until the worst of it wear off.

It's early, he knows that, and the other boys are still fast asleep. He debates whether to crawl into his bed - he feels a tickle of glee at the thought of it - or start for the shower. He chews his lip for a moment, before deciding he's probably not going to be able to get back to sleep anyway.

Besides, he's not exactly sure how it works here at a boarding school, but he's not too keen strip down in front of his classmates until after his minor bruises and welts have healed. There’s no reason after all to start shouting his weaknesses out to people like Malfoy.

By the time he's taken a long, luxurious, non-timed shower, with hot water - and no one at all to shout at him about using too much - most of the other boys are stirring. Malfoy is prissily combing his hair in front of a mirror, and Harry snickers as he comes back into the room. Malfoy swivels, eyes narrowing when he sees Harry.

"How dare you spy on me, you-"

"Malfoy, we're sharing a dorm." Harry says, side-eying him as he turns to his trunk to get his school books out.

Malfoy sniffs.

"Unfortunate."

"For me, too," Harry mumbles, checking his schedule before carefully stacking the correct books. He's got a lot of questions swirling in his head, but damned if he's going to ask them of Malfoy. He glances at the other beds, and Malfoy must have seen him because he smiles, all teeth in a way that tries to be intimidating and instead just looks slightly deranged on his narrow face.

“Nott's already gone to breakfast, Potty. No one here to protect you."

Nott? Harry tilts his head in confusion, then shakes it off with a snort.

"As if I needed protection from you."

And then he remembers that he might just actually need protection at some point, and that he's got a bit of a stupid habit of provoking bullies that usually ends in a beating. He eyes dart over, but Malfoy just sneers, grabs his bag.

"I'd be careful about insulting a Malfoy, Potter, my father could crush you. Have fun finding your way to the Hall!"

Harry feels like sticking his tongue out after his retreating figure for a minute, but finally crosses his arms and waits a minute to make sure it doesn’t look like he’s tailing after the git. He straightens his robes, careful and proud, and makes one more attempt to pat down his hair (which doesn't help at all, it gets all springy when it's damp) before taking a breath and making his way into the Common Room.

Conversation is bubbling, shouts and laughs flying across the room as people come out and in. There's a morning buzz that belies the quiet, organized cheerfulness of last night and Harry eases around it towards the wall where the stone door is hidden. A shove from his side sends him stumbling to the side, but before he can fall a hand catches his shoulder.

"Whoa there, firstie! Sorry, didn't see you there, you're so small!"

It's an older girl, with reddish brown hair and dark eyes, and she gives Harry a solid pat on the back and makes to move away. Harry's reached out before he can think and touched the girl’s arm.

"Um-"

Almost startled by his own initiative he pulls away, but the girl’s attention has been caught, and her eyes are bright as she turns, bouncing a little on her toes with barely contained manic energy - rather a ridiculous amount of energy for this early, Harry thinks.

"I..I-" he stammers, then stops and starts again, trying to gather his dignity around him.

"I was wondering if you could point me toward the Great Hall?"

Harry remembers some of the twists and turns from last night, but there were so many, and the corridors eerily shadowed.

The older students nods, unbothered.

"Sure, little guy. Take a right first outta the Common Room - make sure you know the password to get back in, yeah? You can ask one of the other firsties if you need -  and then a left, right, up the stairs, left, follow the torches up to the main floor, and then it's straight past the hallway with that tapestry of Uldric the Insane, and you’re there!"

The directions are swimming in Harry's head, and he tries to organize them as they fly around.

"Thank you," he says gratefully, sure that the older girl is ready to move on. The student reaches over and ruffles Harry's hair with a smile. And then her hand freezes, and pulls back.

“You’re H…Harry Potter,” she says, face going still as she stares at his forehead.

Harry feels his breath hitch. He’s gotten used to everyone here knowing his name, but he's still not quite sure why they all react so differently.

The girl senses his uneasiness though, and recovers quickly.

"It's no problem. Archana Shetty.”

She introduces herself with an awkward little bow, then jitters towards the center of the room giving him a last distracted smile.

“If you have any other questions, let me know!"

Harry thinks he might hear a loud whispers involving his name from somewhere quite a ways behind them, but he ignores them and steps up to the wall, darting out as it slides open to let him through.

Harry gets lost, unsurprisingly, on his way to breakfast, and he's late. He has to make an entrance with whole tables of wide eyes following him, and then barely has enough time to grab enough to eat before he has to start out for classes.

The first is something called ‘Potions,’ and at least this time he can trail along behind his classmates. He stuff down the worry rising in his throat, hoping the rough start isn’t a portend.

 

It's spicy, dark and rich in a way that reminds Harry of the smell of Aunt Petunia's spice cupboard, and yet tantalizingly different, teasingly traced with some exotic element he can’t quite put his finger on. Some part of it sits in his nose like an aftertaste, thick and wet, pervasive and bitter in a way that makes him almost recoil, stopping him in his tracks.

Harry’s immediately fascinated. In the back of the room, there's an open, walk-in supply closet, multi-colored eccentric bottles and flasks lining the shelves, some murky and floating with unidentifiable bobbing things, some even luminescent. He tears his eyes away to realize he's standing alone - everyone else has taken seats.  

A shadow of movement by the door makes him hurry to find an empty chair but before he can take two steps someone's foot has hooked around his and yanked, sending his chest and face slammed into unyielding flagstone, palms scraping against it in a futile effort to halt his stumbled plunge. He grits his teeth and pushes up, snatching his bag and hauling himself to his feet. His breaths are heaving as he glares at the black robes and scarlet-gold insignias that he's closest to, spine tingling with adrenaline. A few are tittering, but mostly the room is silent, as if suspended for his reaction.

If they're looking for a fight, they've picked the wrong person. Harry's not stupid, and he is not going to start something on his first day here. Besides, between Dudley and gang and primary school, Harry's learned his lesson. Physical challenge rarely ends in anything but a worse beating for him.

And with magic thrown into the deal? Already the unfamiliar environment has him wrong-footed, and everyone here seems to know more than him. Hands turning white as they grip his bag and robes, he turns away to his way to the Slytherin side.

"Well, what have we here?"

The voice is smooth and cool, and Harry freezes, inching his neck into a tilt to see an imposing figure dressed all in black behind him. The teacher from the banquet. Harry curses himself for getting caught off guard - that doesn't happen very often, but it's seeming to happen more and more in this place.

The man steps closer, and Harry leans away.

"Couldn't wait until class started to begin your troublemaking? Is your need for attention so great that you would waste class time, my time, dealing with your juvenile antics?"

His tone is barbed and biting, and Harry can hear a few titters from both sides.

Harry's jaw tightens and his eyes focus on some point behind the teacher, a tactic that always seems to work best with his primary teachers. First day, Harry reminds himself. Don’t make any trouble.

The teacher straightens, dark eyes survey him up and down, catch on his mussed robes with distaste.

"Five points from-" the man pauses, then seems to recover. "Detention, Pot-" his mouth snaps shut again. Harry glances up at him, trying to figure out what's going on.

Jaw working angrily for a moment, the man finally spits out,”Potter, sit down!"

Harry gladly hurries toward the one empty seat, feeling a bit like the last person standing in a game of musical chairs, but the attention is moved on from him as the teacher glides up to the front of the classroom, robes snapping out behind him, and starts in on some dramatic introduction. As he nears the chair he hears a w hisper from his front left.

"Here, Potter."

He was going to sit there anyway of course but he's glad for the invitation, and he slides into place without even looking as friendly firstie from the feast last night amiably scoots his legs out of the way. Harry's bag plops to the floor, drooping sadly a little.

"That was rotten," the boy remarks in an easy whisper, folding his arms together.

Harry shrugs.

"I'm sure someone from Slytherin would have stepped in against the Gryffs if the Professor hadn't been right there, “ the boy continues, and then his hand goes up and Harry stiffens, but it stays out, suspended in offering.

"Blaise Zabini."

Harry eyes him, and then reaches out and shakes it quickly. 

"Thanks. Um - Harry. Potter. I mean, it's nice to meet you."

Harry risks a little smile, and Blaise grins back.

"An honor, I'm sure," Blaise mocks lightly back, with none of the sarcasm that Harry expects from those words.

"Well, Potter, since you seem to have so much to say, perhaps you wouldn't mind sharing with the class.”

The silky voice of the professor immediately wipes any remnant of the smile from his face, and it's so close to him. How does the man do that? He's had practice with Dudley's gang – he’s usually not that easy to sneak up on. Harry stares sharply into his eyes, determined not to be intimidated.

"No - I mean, yes. I'd...rather not."

"Then do us the courtesy, Potter, of not distracting people who actually have come here to learn and not to enforce their gigantic ego. And address me with respect – It's Professor or Sir."

Harry can feel his face flushing, and clenches his fists to tamp down his temper.

"Yes, sir,” He says shortly.

With one more piercing glare the man sweeps away, and Harry realizes that between his side talk with Blaise and his inner fuming, he's missed the whole welcome speech. Not that it was probably very welcoming, but there must have been something important in there that Harry missed, because everyone is pairing off and getting cauldrons and ingredients out while t he professor continues to eye everyone disdainfully.

"Boil cure potion is shockingly easy to make, which of course means that perhaps only three-quarters of you will turn it into a disastrous mess," he says haughtily, pacing weightily back and forth.

Thankfully there is some directions written out on the chalkboard, and Blaise somehow has things spread out on their desk before Harry can blink. He hands Harry some strange hard, dried pointed…are those teeth?

"Snake fangs," Blaise explains, handing him a large mortar and pestle. "Can you crush them? I'll weigh out the dried nettles."

Harry accepts the implements, finding that grinding and smashing is just right for his mood right now.

"Who is our teacher?" he asks quietly, careful to glance around first and make sure the man's not nearby.

"That's Professor Snape."

Harry nods like that means something but freezes at Blaises' casual next words.

"You know, our Head of House."

For just a moment, Harry feels his chest stop. And then he swallows something hard in his throat, and sucks in a breath.

"That…he's our Head of House?" he questions, his voice low and a bit hoarse. Blaise glances over at him, eyebrows raised in a way that's a little surprised, a little teasing, and a little genuinely confused.

"Well, yeah," he says, and Harry wants to shake him for being so cavalier about it. His pestle pauses in its pounding, but then he shifts, pulls himself up and lifts his head a little. He's not thinking about this. Not now. Focus…he needs to focus. He wants to learn.

He shoves his trembling insides together roughly, pinches his stomach in as if he could just suck everything back into place and it would stay there. He'll just have to careful. Not attract too much attention. Maybe it's like the Dursleys; if he acts compliant, maybe the man will just ignore him.

He feels something in him sinking as he glances at the man again. No. Not likely. Already the man's dark eyes have him pinned again from across the room.

Of all the crazy characters from the Welcome Feast to teach him, to be Head of House, it would have be him.

To be fair, it probably hadn't looked good when he had first come in, and Harry has been talking in class. He's just so used to being the delinquent shuffled to the back of class, the one who wasn’t even worth taking the time to call out. Most of his Primary teachers wouldn’t listen to him if he walked up and proposed to them while turning in his maths homework, unless they were especially keen on taking their frustrations out on someone that day. Although, Harry thinks dryly, him talking to other kids in class has never been an issue at all.

Well. At least he isn't going to have a problem being ignored here. This is suddenly much, much more attention than Harry is sure he can handle. But then he looks up, and Blaise is nudging his shoulder and giving him a genial little half-smile, and Harry takes a breath and remembers the fierce determination he felt under that sorting hat.

The other classes aren't so bad. He has magic. Things here aren’t so different. He can do this. He can.

"Head of House," he whispers to Blaise. "Is that-"

"Potter!" Snape spits out. Harry stills.

"Obviously you can't stand to work with others without diverting all attention away from the work and onto yourself.  Since you are so confident that you have no need to focus, you can work on your own."

He sends Harry to a single desk in the back corner, a flip of his wand moving a new cauldron and several flying bags of ingredients with him. Malfoy jeers at him outright as Harry takes his place, sending Blaise an apologetic look. After all, now Blaise is having to work alone, too. Harry feels his gut burn for a moment. It's not really a harsh punishment at all, but it isn't fair to punish Blaise, too, for something Harry started.

Good job, Harry, he thinks as the cauldron thumps in front of him. Way to get rid of the only friend you've made so far.

The rest of class is pretty much the disaster Harry worried it was going to be. It’s not just him the professor picks on though - it’s the Gryffindors too, and Harry wonders what his deal is with them. Snape does seemed to have a disgusting fondness for Malfoy of all people, although Harry can't think of a reason why.

He spared from the professor’s snide, biting comments part way through class when one of the Gryffindor’s cauldrons explodes and causes a trip to the hospital wing - and Harry feels a little guilty at how glad he is that Snape’s attention has been diverted from him. When the class is over, he’s ready to get out of there as fast as he can, but a hand catches him on the way out. He spins. It’s Blaise. Harry’s breath hitches.

“Blaise, I’m sorry-“ he starts stiffly, but Blaise interrupts, slinging his bag over his shoulder.

“You up for studying tonight, Potter?” he inquires, offhanded. "You c'n meet me at the far table in the Common Room.”

Every understanding inflection, every apology Harry was going to say sticks in his throat. He swallows.

“I-“

Damn it. He hadn’t expected this from the other boy at all, and now he's not sure how to react. This isn't what happens, this never happens, so why…?

Blaise just looks at him, lips parting in a toothy, good-natured grin, and then he takes off ahead of Harry.

“After dinner! Far table, Potter!” he calls back, and Harry stares after him, battling shock and something gentler, soft and fragile and warm curling in the bottom of his stomach.

He finds a wall to lean against and closes his eyes. This place - it does fit him. Like the wand in his hand and his trunk by his bed, and his hair being ruffled by that fifth or sixth year this morning. Tall light flooding through crystalled windows onto smooth stone, tables as long as room, and even the strange, watery green light of the Common Room. He can feel his heart sending out strings and attaching itself to the rhythm of life here, and he's thinking of letting it.

He laughs, suddenly, strangely, and it's strangled like someone coming up from water and taking their first breath.

He'll make it here. This place will be a home for him, yet. 

Chapter Text

"Malfoy, shut up!" Theodore Nott's voice is raising to an exasperated groan. "Nobody wants to hear you talk about flying, again!"

"Yeah," chips in Blaise. "If I hear one more word about how your brilliant maneuvers helped you narrowly escape getting chopped to pieces by that dangerous muggle helicopter, I'm leaving the common room to do a voluntary detention..with Filch."

Harry snorts, but doesn't say anything. They've already heard several long variations of that story, as well as pretty much every other time Malfoy had been on a broom since birth. Apparently, he is a natural. Practically raised on a broom. Pretty much right from his mother's womb. The thought makes Harry snicker again. 

"What're you laughing at, Potty?" Malfoy snips hatefully. Blaise frowns a little, still keeping himself relaxed, and Harry jumps in to reply before he can. 

"Shove off, Malfoy," Harry casually sits up a little from his lounging position on the sofa, "I'm just a bit skeptical, that's all." 

He is sick and tired of Malfoy talking about the upcoming class. His heart beat a little faster when he thinks about it - flying - but there's no reason Malfoy shouldn't be as good as he says, and Harry hates the thought of making a complete fool of himself on a broom and giving Malfoy something else to needle him about. As if you need a broom to make a fool of yourself, boy, scoffs something that sounds like his Aunt's voice and Harry shoves it from his mind, irritated. 

"Skeptical, Potty?" Malfoy narrows his eyes, scrutinizing him. "And how much experience do you have on a broom? Oh, wait, that's right - none."

Vincent Crabbe and Gregory Goyle, two rather large goons who've attached themselves to Malfoy recently, laugh loudly. 

"Raised by muggles, poor Potty," Malfoy sighs mockingly. "Ignorant about the superior ways of wizarding life-"

Harry's sitting up, rod straight now, and he can feel his fists clenching, and that red blush of temper on his face that comes so easily whenever his relatives are brought into conversation.

"I may be ignorant about a lot of wizarding life," Harry says cooly, "but I know people pretty well, and I think you'd be a stuck-up, two-faced, insufferable prat in either world." 

Even Nott takes a quick glance at Harry, and Malfoy's pale face is turning a red that rivals Harry's. To his side Goyle lets out a little growl, but Harry is pretty sure they won't start anything here in the common room. The prefects would be sure to call Professor Snape, and they don't have a death wish. He may be fond of Malfoy for reasons Harry still can't ponder out, but he won't put up with fighting in his common room. 

Malfoy sputters before hissing something about "you're going to regret that, Potty Potter," and swaggering away, Vince and Greg trailing after him. 

Harry sighs, falling loosely back into the sofa. He's working on trying tho relax around the other boys, the ones he doesn't think mean him any harm, and Blaise. Harry smiles fondly. He loves that he can just let go around them, he's just having a hard time reminding his body of it sometimes. Often it plain doesn't listen. Someone could be having an argument across the room that's nothing to do with them, but the loud, angry voices echo in the back of Harry's mind like drums, and he just can't force his muscles not to tense. 

Right now, though, things are great. Harry pretty much won that round - he's always been quick with his tongue, Malfoy's gone off in a huff, and now Blaise, Harry, and a rather neutral Nott are piled around each other, talking about classes and listening to the pleasant pop and hiss of flames from the fire place in comfortable silence. 

"I should work on that transfiguration essay," Nott drawls lazily. 

Blaise hums. "Weren't you going to ask Greengrass about helping you with that?"

Nott sniffs. "I could do it myself, you know. It's just that she has a  particular proclivity for transfiguration."

Blaise raises his eyebrows and makes a little unconvinced noise in the back of his throat. Nott eyes him warningly as he rises and slowly starts meandering toward the other side of the room, where, sure enough, Greengrass is next to Parkinson, Bainbridge and Bulstrode, scribbling over some parchment. Harry watches him sidle up and can hear his overly-casual, "What're you up to, Parkinson?" before he and Blaise turn away, grinning at each other.

Harry hasn't really met Daphne Greengrass, only seen her around, usually surrounded by Pansy Parkinson, Tabitha  Bainbridge,  and Millicent Bulstrode, who seem to head up the first year girls. Harry, quite unsure how one is supposed to act around girls, has avoided them altogether, but he has noticed Nott eying Daphne more than once in the Great Hall.  

"Hey, Harry-"

His first name hovers in the air hesitantly, and Harry tenses, shifting. 

"Yeah?"

Blaise is almost too offhand when he tosses Harry a book, and Harry catches it with both hands. 

"Saw that in the library…thought you might want to page through it."

Blaise leans back and throws his hands behind his head, half-closing his eyes, stretched and cat-like. Harry smiles a little before turning his attention to the volume in his hands. Great Wizarding Events of the Twentieth Century? Why is Blaise giving him this?

"Um, okay, Zabini. Thanks." He laughs a little, tucking it under his arm. 

"Try chapter twenty six," Blaise adds, peering at him lazily through lidded eyes. 

"Sure, em, ok. I will."

Do friends just give each other gifts like this? Granted, Blaise only rented it from the library for him, but...Harry will have to try and think of something he can do back. He's pretty sure that's how friends act. He just doesn't have much experience. He's grateful and a little startled that Blaise even thought of him outside of their interactions, and he promises himself to read through the chapter before bed tonight. 

"So, are you excited for flying class?"

Blaise shrugs.

"I guess. Mum hasn't let me fly a broom much, but I've been up a few times. A little nervous, I guess. You think Malfoy's  as good as he says?"

Harry shakes his head with a snort.

"Git." 

"Prat."

They smirk at each other companionably for a moment, before glum settles over Harry again. 

"We won't have to wait long to find out." 

Chapter Text

Harry is curled comfortably under his covers, and has just turned to chapter twenty-six, when his heart stops. One night in Godric's Hollow, proclaims the chapter title, and Harry can feel his hands clench around the book as he draws it closer, shivering, as his eyes drink the words in.

Nearly tearing the page with his eagerness as he turns it, he feels his throat clench because there is a picture - moving! - of a green-eyed woman tossing a mane of bright copper hair and flashing a secret smile, and a tall man with shining, boyish grin, Harry's crazy hair, and his arm wrapped around the other, and suddenly the words don't matter anymore. Harry can't draw his eyes away. Unconsciously, his fingers rise to trace the picture as the couple wiggle as close to each other as they can get, trading a proud look. James and Lily Potter, says the caption.

They look perfect, and happy, and his mother had red hair? He can feel himself trembling. Hagrid is right. He has his mother's eyes, exactly. He reaches up to clench his messy black locks in a fist. And his father's hair…feeling unsteady, dizzy almost, he slides off the bed and nearly runs into the empty loo, stares into the mirror nearly cross-eyed trying to examine his facial features, then stares deep into the green of his own eyes.

He walks in a wooden daze back to his bed before crawling in. He doesn't want to close the book, doesn't want to take his eyes away – doesn't want to lose them.

Before he's even able to think about, he's tearing the page from the book, and it comes with a crisp rip. Tossing the book away, he traces his finger over his mother's face hungrily, moves to his father, then back. He remembers when he first learned their names, a mistake of Aunt Petunia's when he was nearly five, and he's held them in his head ever since, keeping them tucked away somewhere in a special box where he draws them out and runs over them when he has quiet moments in his cupboard. But this…he never imagined…he…his face is stinging but there's no tears, nothing to blink away. His ears are hot and his heart is beating with almost painful thuds against his chest.

He stares at those figures, forcing his sluggish eyes to stay open, picture clutched in his sweaty fingers, memorizing the way his lips turn up and the way her eyes laugh without her mouth even moving, long, long after the last door bangs distantly shut in Slytherin house.

 

A green flash, and Harry is upright, flinging his covers away from him as if they're scorching, breathing hard. He closes his eyes, pinching them tight shut, and then opens them again, trying to blink away the confused images in his mind. Malfoy, of all people, and Snape, in his dream, and someone else, too…someone with a shrill, piercing laugh. He can't remember it all - he's trying not to, and his arms come around to hug himself as he stares blankly into the darkness.

He spots the beloved picture, which is still held between his fingers, and tucks it gently under his pillow. He hears a shuffle from another bed and freezes, hoping he didn't make a lot of noise before waking up. The shuffling stops, and Harry lets his head drop, bringing his knees up to his chest.

"Stupid," he whispers fiercely, and he doesn't even know whether he's referring to himself, the nightmares, or the fact that he can't really seem to get rid of them. His body twinges against the curled up position he's in, but Harry ignores it.

"Stupid, stupid…"

He sighs, falls back onto the bed on his side. The pillow against his face feels surreal, the curtains heavy on either side of his bed, and suddenly he can’t stay laying there another moment. Taking a breath, he pulls himself up again and pushes the curtains aside, resting his feet on the floor. He scrubs at his eyes, feels his breath hitch again as that green light flashes through his mind.

"Potter, what on earth…" mumbles an incredulous voice. Harry shrinks blindly from the darkness.

"Sorry, sorry, I-" he rasps. "It's nothing."

He peers out, feeling for the glasses on his bedside table, knowing that he recognizes that voice. A minute later, the annoyed, aloof face of Theodore Nott  is staring over at him, curtain parted.

"I'm sorry." Harry offers again, strained.

Nott's got a strange tint in his eye as he studies Harry for a moment, but finally rolls over and closes his eyes.

"Jus' go to sleep, Potter."

"Right," Harry says. "I'll-I'm just going to get some water."   

And then he flees the dorm room, bare feet pattering into the bathroom. Shutting the door quietly he slides down against it, leans his head back and groans.

He's not really sure where Nott stands in things. He's certainly not one of Malfoy's goons, but he hasn't made much of an effort with Harry, either - not that Harry expects that. He swallows. People have been friendly, neutral, snide or outright hostile, but almost no one's specifically wanted to spend time with him. Except, well, Blaise. It seems like Blaise just couldn't care less about what anyone else thinks, and nothing Harry has done so far has messed their tentative friendship up. But Nott – he hangs around them on and off, but Harry can never quite tell with him.

Now not only did Harry wake the poor boy up in the middle of the night, but he probably heard Harry waking up from his…dream. Harry's throat tightens. It's fine. He'll handle it. If it's all over the Common Room by tomorrow, he can take it. Think about something else, think about something else.

Flying. Flying tomorrow is going to be brilliant, Harry knows it, Malfoy or not. He's going to be in the sky, like he has wings, and there's going to be nothing but wind and blue… Harry relaxes and imagines himself up there, wondering and wondering what it's going to feel like to be released from the ground.

 

There's a loud squeak as the door is forced open, a squabble of voices and Harry jerks away as his dead weight is pushed by the door. He jumps to his feet, moving back and running his hands through his hair. Wincing, he realizes his glasses have fallen off in his hurry, and he scrambles over the floor for them.

"Lost something, Potter?" Malfoy's voice sneers above him, voice thick with disgust. "What in Merlin's name are you doing on the floor? Wiping it, maybe? That's the only things those ridiculous rags you're wearing are good for, really–“

Harry's hands close around his glasses and he grips them with white knuckles before jamming them onto his face. Goyle and Crabbe are suddenly behind Malfoy, and Harry backs against the wall. Quiet morning, Harry alone…this is a perfect opportunity for Malfoy, and sure enough, he's drawing his wand.

"Better poor and happy than rich and miserable," Harry spits out, knowing that he is neither.

"Let me help you with that, Potter."

There's a malicious smile on his face as he lifts the wand, and Harry braces, glaring, wishing he had his, because he's not going down without a fight.  

"Accio," Malfoy says triumphantly, and Harry's glasses go flying into Malfoy's waiting hands. Malfoy holds them up cackling. Well, fine, if that's the worst he's going to do. Harry stands stiffly as Malfoy waves them around tauntingly, his figure blurred.

"Oh, dear, Potty's face is quite empty without his famous spectacles," Malfoy says. "Shall we give him some decorations to match that hideous scar of his?"

Harry's eyes narrow, desperately trying to focus. Malfoy's got his glasses, his wand in his hand, and he's jeering… but he's hesitating. Harry can see it in the way he's angling his wand, not quite at Harry, as if he doesn't really want to hurt him.

It's different than Dudley, and Harry's standing there, stilled, not sure why he's not being beaten into the ground and slammed into shower stalls yet. Malfoy has him at wand point. Malfoy has him at wand point, helpless, and he's done nothing but steal his glasses and wave them around and taunt him like some excited primary kid. Although that doesn't mean he's not about to do more. Crabbe shoves forward and makes toward Harry, who flinches back until there's a voice from the door.

"Can't a bloke even get to the loo? What's this, then?"

His tone is even, but, as usual, he sounds just slightly annoyed. Theodore Nott.

Crabbe glances at Malfoy stupidly, and then backs away.

"Absolutely nothing, Teddy," Malfoy says lightly. "Just about to help Potter wash his face."

Harry holds in a shudder. The bathroom is a veritable playground of creative, nasty props, a bully's dream, and Harry would know. He’s had long, forced get togethers toilets, with shower heads and sinks, and the fragile, sharp cold of bathroom tile.

Malfoy tosses the spectacles on the ground, and Harry inches toward them, then snatches them from the ground, blushing. They're his only pair, and he's no way to get another. Aunt Petunia barely bothered to let him get these. He feels the frames bent just slightly, but presses his lips together as he shoves past Crabbe, Nott, Goyle, Malfoy, out into the dorm, and collapses, slumped into his bed, letting the curtains fall behind them.

He's so tired! He can't believe he fell asleep in the loo, of all places. He grabs his wand, wary of not having it now, and bolts up again. It's morning. Time to throw his clothes and his robes on, gather his books…his mind flashes suddenly, and he reaches under his pillow, clutching the folded up page for a minute. He takes one stolen glance at it before tucking it securely into his History of Magic textbook and feeling ridiculously better. It's safer there than in his dirty, holey pockets, but he'll still be able to carry it with him. And-today…today he's going to fly.

I'll make you proud, he promises the picture, fingers fondling it roughly before he pulls away and pressing the clean pages closed around it.

 

Malfoy scowls at Harry all through breakfast, probably sore about being interrupted by Nott this morning. The Slytherin table is alive with rumors about him, but Harry ignores them as he does pretty much everyday until he's leaving, and Malfoy bumps into him on his way out.

"Heard you had a rough night last night, Potty. Poor widdle Potter can't sleep without his mummy?" he heckles. "Awww," 

Several firsties nearby laugh, and Harry furiously starts forward, before barely managing to hold himself back. Crabbe, Goyle, Great Hall, he reminds himself through gritted teeth.

Fuming, Harry turns away and nearly runs straight into Nott. Malfoy, Goyle, and Crabbe are walking away, laughing, and he deflates.

"You told them didn't you?" Harry says quietly.

Nott eyes him disdainfully, still looking perpetually annoyed. "What are you going on about?"

"Why?" Harry crosses his arms. "I... just want to know."

Nott looks at him. His face turns scornful.

"I do have better things to discuss with people than Harry Potter's bizarre nighttime habits, you know," he says.

Harry let his breath out, and finds his voice is trembling now. "You..you didn't?" he chokes.

"I do actually have useful things to do with my time besides gossip. Studying, for example. With Daphne Greengrass." Nott smiles faintly, and Harry lets out a little breathless chuckle of disbelief.

"I really am sorry I woke you up last night.”

"Potter, I don't know what you're talking about."

With that, he breezes away.

 

Harry finds Blaise walking beside him to class, and feels a sudden urge to hug the other boy, but he's afraid of doing it wrong, and is that really a thing boys do, anyway? He's never seen Dudley or his gang do it, not that they're great examples of how one should act. He restrains himself, but finds his face splitting into the most warm, pleasant, and widest smile it's ever had. He catches the other boy's hand before jerking back.

"Blaise!"

Blaise grins at him.

"Thank you. For the book. I can't-I don't know how you knew, but I–I’ll–I just–“ Harry breathes it all out, not quite sure how to express-no one's ever done anything like this for him before, and he–

Blaise shrugs, gives him a little pondering look, and waves his gratitude away with a grin.

They walk to class, Blaise going on about McGonagall, their transfiguration teacher and Gryffindor Head of House. Harry likes her actually, a bit. She's stern, but more encouraging than Snape is, and she tends to be fair, even if she is more warm toward the Gyffindors. Flitwick is funny, and Madame Sprout is nice…Binns is utterly tedious and droning. Harry doesn't think he's ever been so out-of-his-mind bored in a class, ever. Which is too bad, because the subject would interest Harry otherwise. He hasn't met Madame Hooch yet, who's teaching their flying class this afternoon, but he has to admit, is he ever looking forward to it.

As it turns out, she's alright, too. She's got sharp, bright eyes and she seems to run things pretty tight, but Harry doesn't mind, because then there's a broom and he's clutching the smoothed wood between his hands.

"Grip like this," Hooch demonstrates, holding her own broom, and Harry squints, moving his fingers into the same position.

"That's not how my father told me to do it," Malfoy interrupts.

Hooch ambles over to him, face pinched with disapproval.

"Well, now that I've taught you the correct way, Mr. Malfoy, perhaps you can go home and teach him,” she suggests roguishly, and Harry hides a grin.

"And, kick off from the ground in three, two-"

Not everyone is having an easy time of it. Blaise is doing all right, but several of the other Slytherins aren’t. Pansy Parkinson's broom is wobbling beneath her, and Gregory Goyle hasn't even got his off the ground yet. Harry glances over at the Gyffindors. Some of them seem to be having trouble, too. In fact, there's one rather chunky boy with blondish hair and a sheen of sweat on his forehead who's - Harry's eyes widen, and his hands tighten around the broom under him. The boy is off before Madame Hooch has sounded the last number, shooting far higher in the air than they were instructed to go.

"Neville Longbottom, get back!" Madame Hooch shouts, but his broom is going straight up like a cork launched from a bottle, higher, higher - suddenly he gasps, and slips sideways off his broom, and the whole class grimaces when he thuds into the ground with a whine.

Madame Hooch hurries to him and inspects him a moment. 

"Broken wrist," she says shortly, then spins around.

"I'm taking him to the hospital wing, and don't any of you move until I get back! If I find one of you in the air, you'll be out of Hogwarts quicker than you can blink."

As soon as she and long bottom have hobbled off, a quiet murmur flows between the Gryffindor and Slytherin sides.

"Well, well, the house of the brave seems to be lacking a little skill and daring today," Malfoy sniggers, pushing his way to the head of the Slytherin crowd.

Harry feels an aggravated twinge. He doesn't mind Malfoy picking on him, he's used to it. But he wishes Malfoy would bloody well leave everybody else alone.

"What do you think, Parkinson?" Malfoy continues loudly. "Think big fat baby Longbottom lacked more skill, or bravery today?"

Parkinson, her ridiculously smooth hair shimmering dark in the sunlight, laughs sharply.

"Well, I don't know, Malfoy…that's a hard one!"

It's obvious they're putting on a show, and the Gryffindor lines are getting as crimson as their ties, while snickers float up from some of the Slytherins.

Harry frowns, and inches over toward Malfoy.

"Don't pick a fight, you prat," he says, voice low. "We'll get in trouble."

"Or they will!"

But Malfoy is back to making loud, taunting commentary, and Harry can see a lanky Gryffindor with bright red hair and a spray of freckles draw his wand.

That’s it. Harry shoves Malfoy hard, and glares. If he wants to pick a fight he can, but he's not going start some House war that's going to affect everything for the rest of the school year. They have a hard enough time with the Gryffs.

"Something to say, Potter?" Malfoy's pale eyes are burning silver fire, and Harry realizes maybe even more than showing off Malfoy is trying to make up for his hesitance this morning.

"I was just wondering if you practice provoking everyone around you on purpose, or if that's just another natural talent of yours,” Harry says lightly. "Although, considering Madame Hooch's comments this morning, we'd have to reevaluate just how many natural talents you actually have…"

He's hit him hard exactly where he knows to, and it's a bit of a low blow, but when is something between him and Malfoy not? Some of the Gryffs are staring, wide-eyed, but at least they've backed off, most of them throwing disgusted glances toward the other group and turning away, muttering something about slimy Slytherins being easy to incite. Hypocrites, Harry thinks.

Malfoy leans over to him, pointed face fierce, eyes flaring.

"I live in your dorm, Potter, are you sure you want to start this?"

It surprises him a little that Malfoy's giving Harry a bridge to back up, but Harry doesn't hesitate.

"I never started anything with you, Malfoy! I didn't have to! You started this, so just stick to your bloody little target and bugger off the Gryffs - they could cause real trouble, for all of us!"

Malfoy's eyebrows have shot up.

"Defending the poor little lions, now are, Potty?"

Then his face hardens.

"Ever the hero, Potter. You should learn early that heroes always get what's coming to them."

Harry's never been a hero, and that's not what he is now, but he picks up the taunt.

"And what's that, Malfoy? Everything? The gold, the girl, the kingdom? Because from what I've read of heroes, they're usually on the winning side."

"Oh?" Malfoy closes in with the air of predator on prey, his voice light and bladed and swirled with malice. "Because that's not what I hear about your parents, little orphan Harry. Heroes, apparently, but they didn't get much for it, did they?"

Harry hears a blank sort of roaring in his ears, and Malfoy's still talking.

"-Of course, you provided them with that golden opportunity, but I wonder if they wouldn't rather still be alive-"

Harry lunges for his school bag and the wand he tucked inside, being afraid it was going to fall out of his pocket while he flew, but Goyle is one step ahead of him, moving surprisingly fast for his bulky figure to grab Harry’s bag

Then Malfoy is suddenly in front of him. He tuts, smirking.

"Oh, dear, Potter."

Greg turns the school bag upside down and Harry's books and wand come tumbling out over each other, spraying onto the ground. Harry sucks in air with a gasp when he sees his History of Magic, and suddenly, that's all he can think about. Forget the wand, he needs that book. The book with his picture. He dives after it, and barely notices out of the corner of his eye that he's startled them; they obviously expected him to go after his wand. His fingers have barely brushed the book, though, before it's yanked away, and he can't breathe, he can't breathe.

Pulling himself from the ground, he's heaving.

"Give that back, Malfoy."

"What? This old textbook?"

Malfoy smiles, shimmying his broom under him, with the book in one hand. Of course he doesn't understand why it's so important, but he does understand that Harry wants it, badly. Malfoy's suddenly off the ground, floating smoothly up, his broom hovering. He's handling the broom with ease, and Harry feels a prick of disappointment that Malfoy seems to be almost as good as he said.

"Fine, Potter. You want your old book? Come and get it!"

Harry's shaking finger's are already grasping his broom. Without even thinking, his feet kick backward and he's thrusted upward, his robes flying out behind him, and he wobbles a little in air, and then shoots forward.

"Potter, you idiot!”

Harry barely register's Nott's voice from the stunned crowd below, and is faintly impressed that he's moved Theodore from his inscrutable mood, but he ignores it. He's flying, the air rushing through him, running through his hair, over his skin, and it's brilliant. His blood is pumping hard and fast as he soars, pulling his broomstick up a little to jerk it higher, higher, and there's a collective gasp from the students below.

Harry, however, is reveling in the sharpness of the sky and the fierceness ripping through him, his toes are curling in his too-large shoes, his hands gripping the stick like a lifeline. His head is cleared, and there is just one thought left in it: he's getting that picture.

He swivels mid air and finds himself level with Malfoy, who's looking at him with a face even paler than usual and a poor attempt at keeping his jaw shut.

"Give it over, Draco,” Harry says coldly.

Malfoy looks at him, then with a gleam of triumph says "Fine. Catch, Potter!"

And the book is sailing over them, then plummeting toward the ground in a free-fall.

No! Harry watches it, as if in slow motion, and he lets instinct carry him as he wraps himself around his broomstick until they are one, streaking fast and faster in a steep dive toward the ground, white wind whistling loud, nothing is moving but him and his broom and that falling book. The ground is rushing at him, but he has eyes for one thing only. He flings a hand out, fingertips stretching as if they could extend at their ends, and he puts whatever he has left into reaching those tumbling pages. Those tender tips feel something solid, and seconds later, he feels his feet skid against the ground. He's coming in fast, tries to stop, and suddenly he's tumbling to the ground, book crushed in his grip and cradled to his chest.

He can feel his side hit hard, maybe even scrape, and his elbows plow into the grass. There's dirt on his face and green in his hair, but he's whole, and his picture…rummaging frantically through the pages, he finds it tucked into the back, no worse for wear. He's a little shocked it didn't fall out while the book was pitched toward the ground, but there it is, and he feels a rush of relieved tears behind his eyes that he blinks away.

Shakily, he gets to his feet, gathers the book, snatches his broom up, and looks around into a rabble of staggered, dumbfounded faces. He's panting, and he bites his lip, trying to catch his breath.

"HARRY POTTER!"

There's a loud screech that makes him wince, and then his broom is plucked away. Harry steps back, bracing, he doesn't know what for, but it's Madame Hooch, and she's obviously seen something. Seen enough.

"Mr. Potter, did I or did I not instruct you specifically not to even get off the ground?"

"You did, but-"

"Mr. Malfoy!"

Malfoy's suddenly not very far too his side, looking disgruntled and defensive.

"You were off the ground, as well?"

Well, she must have gotten that from the Gryffindors, because there's no way she arrived early enough to see that, and Malfoy certainly wasn't confessing.

Malfoy must see there would be no use protesting, because he utters a petulant "yes".

"Go! Go stand over by the wall, boys. You will be dealt with shortly."

Harry slowly gathers his bag, picks his books up numbly and drops them in it, then carefully tucks his only slightly wind-battered History of Magic in and stumbles over the side of the castle, and only then does it start to sink in, and his heart is sinking with it. What has he done?

Chapter Text

Severus Snape is not at all happy to be interrupted in the middle of his morning by a wide-eyed, insistent firstie who will not be ignored, regardless of the fact that he looks more like a ghost than most of the actual resident ghosts do, squeaking insistently, “Madame Hooch wants you right away, sir!"

Severus sighs and rises, imposing, from the article he was in the middle of writing. Madam Hooch…ah, yes. The flying firsties. His Slytherins have their first lessons with her today. There's already heat in him building at the thought that they've caused some kind of scuffle that he's getting dragged out of his office in the middle of class preparations for, and his mind is simmering darkly with ways to make the parties responsible regret it.

He pauses though, mind struggling with the fact that it was apparently something serious enough to make Hooch summon him for. His Slytherins aren't generally troublemakers that way.

Although, Severus narrows his eyes, a certain recent member of his house is a prime suspect for such troublemaking. Unwilling to be ignorant any longer, he dismisses the tiny student, and then follows him out, jaw twitching. It's time to get to the bottom of this, and then find a way to…. ensure it doesn't happen again.

 

"I've summoned your Head of House, Mr. Potter, Mr. Malfoy. I will apprise him of the situation."

Harry's head is still sick and spinning, and he's barely on his feet, now that the adrenaline's wearing off. Oh, no. No. Snape is coming here, now. Oh, he's going to be furious. He hasn't had any reason so far to really punish Harry, and Harry just had to plop the opportunity right in his lap.

The possibilities are choking Harry, and he sinks against the wall of the castle while he waits. Draco is to his side, arms crossed sullenly, but he's the last thing on Harry's mind.

 

When the black figure swirls into view, steps behind one of the other Slytherin boys, Harry swallows and clenched his fists around the school bag he's clutching, trying to stop his trembling. He draws himself up and controls his breathing. He can handle it. He can handle anything except…

He gasps a little when Snape yanks his one of his arms, gripping a tender spot right above his elbow, but the man's eyes are glittering and dark and unfocused with an seething, spinning anger. Without loosening his grasp at all, Snape whips his head around to Malfoy.

"Mr. Malfoy, are you in any way physically compromised?" he bites out.

"No, sir." Malfoy says sourly. "It was really Potter's fault–“

"I will hear explanations - and you had better have a good one! - in my office, when I am finished, Mr. Malfoy. You may await me there!"

Malfoy turns tail and huffs away with a sulky toss of his head.

Snape drags him into the corridor, through hallways, and Harry is screaming inside, everything blurring, and he struggles only a little before going limp and just riding out the new waves of pain and panic.

Snape is hissing at him, heavy underneath his breath.

"You could be expelled for this, boy!"

No, not that. Anything but that.

"Sir-"

His lips feel strange and numb against each other. Harry knows he's probably overreacting just as much as his irrational Head of House, but the thought of being sent back to the Dursleys in shame, losing the only good thing in his life, never seeing his friends again…

"Sir please-"

He locks his jaw to keep back the wetness behind his eyes. Even the Dursleys haven't moved him to tears in years, and here he is fighting them for the second time today.

  

"You could be expelled for this, boy!"

He's lying, of course. One minor disobedience in class, however dangerous, will rarely get you expelled. Furthermore, Snape admits grudgingly, Potter didn't directly endanger other student's lives, and, more to the crux of the matter, Dumbledore simply wouldn't do it. He hadn't expelled anyone since Hagrid (even that had been forced upon him), much less someone with the renown of Harry Potter.

Every movement the Headmaster makes regarding him is going to be carefully followed, chewed and publicly analyzed, then analyzed again in the extreme. It's politics; Severus can understand that. And politics make it impossible for Potter to get more than a slap on the wrist.

Severus grinds his teeth at the thought of what the elder Potter managed to get away with, and is certain that this is only be exaggerated with his son. He can feel the pulse beneath the boy's wrists, fast and fragile as a bird's, but is more convinced than ever that if it takes scaring the boy at first to cut his rule-breaking off at the quick, to impress him of consequences… he can be excused for exaggerating a little, himself.

"Sir-"

Snape pays him no heed; they're almost to the Hospital Wing. He can hand the boy over to Pomfrey, and then…then Harry Potter is going with him back to his office, and he and Draco are getting a lecture with teeth like they're never imagined. First week! The first week of classes, and already they've forced his hand, publicly.

"Sir please-"

The boy almost sounds like he's about to break into a sob, and Severus glances at him sideways. The little rat is almost in tears, isn't he? Severus sneers, but loosens his clench on the boy's arm. He hadn't realized he was holding on so tight.

 

Severus marches into the Hospital Wing and right up to Poppy, flinging Potter at her.  

"The boy needs checked,” he snarls.

"What happened, Severus?" Poppy narrows her eyes, glancing from him, to Potter. 

"Woman, just do the examination!"

"Don't you snap at me, Severus Snape!"

As Poppy directs Potter to a bed, drawing her wand while still glaring back at him Severus pinches his nose.

"I apologize, Poppy. My patience has been sorely tried today."

Poppy relents, giving him a warning glance, and then turning to Potter, her tone mild.

"Not by Harry, surely? What has he done?"

"I didn't mean to!" Potter bursts in furiously. "He hasn't even heard my side, not that he would actually listen if I gave it-"

"That's enough, Potter!" Severus roars, and Potter hunches on the bed, suddenly white.

"This disgraceful example of human idiocy took off on a broom he didn't know how to handle in a stand-off with another student and barely landed with his head intact, over one of his measly textbooks!"

Potter's said head shoots up again.

"That's not true!" he protests, though his tone, still heated and resentful, is much subdued.

"Really, Potter, because an entire class of Slytherin and Gryffindor first years seemed to actually agree on that event when questioned by Madame Hooch! I have no idea how you reckless big-headed sorry excuse for a Slytherin landed in my house, but since you did you would do well to be aware of the fact that I do not hold with such hideous, appalling, and shameful behavior! Expulsion would be the least of what do you deserve, because if I had my way-"

"Severus!"

Poppy's voice jerks him from his verbal dressing down, and he stops, nearly panting with the exertion he's put into his words.

"May I speak with you here, Professor?"

She motions him over to her behind the curtain. He snaps his jaw shut and gives a curt nod. "Potter, let me assure you that if your sorry behind leaves that bed, the consequences, which are already heavy on your head, will be dire."

Satisfied the boy won't cause trouble, Severus ducks into the next room to face Poppy.

"Well?"

"Severus, there are some troubling things…"

 

"Are you trying to tell me that Harry Potter is..what, abused?" His tone drips with scorn and all the disbelief he is feeling, but Poppy's eyes turn to iron, and she steps forward, lips pressed tight in what he recognizes as her own fury, and shoves a piece of parchment into his hand.

"What else do you make of this, Severus Snape?"

Her tone is harsh, and jerks him out of his red haze, even as his eyes scan the parchment with a tapered gaze. His jaw is working, even as the words comes out, dazed.

"No. Potter…"

"Is one of your students! Your students, Professor, and in case you haven't noticed, he is terrified!"

"That's ridiculous." Severus says woodenly, feeling a bit like his brain decided to take a vacation from his body in order to try to process the words in front of him. Terrified? Potters didn't get terrified.

Poppy flares, whispers a furious disillusioning spell over them with her wand, and pulls back the curtain. "Is it, Severus?"

Snape shakes his head and looks, really looks, at the boy.

He's smaller than Severus thought he was before, dwarfed by the bed and the room. His shoulders are slumped, curled in on himself, and his arms are wrapped around his middle in a startling expression of vulnerability. His breaths are quick, his eyes are closed, and his face has such a look of hopeless resignation on it that Severus actually steps closer before he stops himself. And that's when he notices two fast, clear tears dripping down the boy's face and realized the boy is crying without making a single sound, the water smearing the tracks of dirt down his face.

Stepping back, he looks at Poppy, his rage from earlier diminishing so rapidly he can almost feel it hiss out of him like air from a balloon. He is not the kind to fill empty silences with words just for the sake of them, so he says nothing, but his head dips in acknowledgement. She sighs.

"I'd like to confirm my suspicions before we go any further, possibly get some information from him."

Snape nods sharply this time, settling his mask on again. "Right-"

"Severus," Poppy pins him with her steady eyes and he pauses. "You catch more bees with honey, you know."

"I am not a bee catcher, madame." Snape says. "And he is not a bee."

He steps back into the room, and with the soft sound of his shoes on the floors, Potter whips his head up, eyes clear and glassy. He dashes away the trace remains of his tears and glares at Severus, bright and green and daring him to say a word about them.

Severus crosses his arms over his chest.

"Take off your robes and shirt, Mr. Potter."

He can see the boy swallow, glance at Pomfrey as if to verify before dropping his head and slowly, slowly shrugging his school robe off, its silver Snake insignia flashing mockingly at Severus. He folds it and lays it carefully on the bed, then reaches up to loosen his tie, but his trembling fingers catch. Flushing, Potter brings both hands up and yanks at it, and Severus is barely able to keep his own itching fingers from pushing the boy's aside and sliding the tie off, but Potter finally gets it, and he lays it on his robes. Then the buttons on his shirt, the boy's breath hitching, but he presses his lips together and Severus can see him determine to hold it all in, to not show fear.

Severus is honestly shocked that the boy is cooperating - perhaps he did go a little overboard earlier… he shoves the irritating prod from his mind as the white school top is peeled off. Silently, the boy stands and faces him, looking suddenly even younger than before. His chest and arms are unbelievably scrawny in a way the baggy robes had covered, skin stretched thin across ribs, and Severus blinks to adjust to the sight.

Severely malnourished, the words off the diagnostic parchment startle through in his mind. There's an oozing, reddened scrape on the front of one of his ribs, presumably from when Potter skidded on his broom, and he's wincing as he moves his shoulder, though not seriously enough for it to be anything dire. More concerning are the bruises. Most are shrunk and faded, but there's enough of them for alarm, and Severus barely catches a grimace when he notices a deep one, still vivid, where he gripped Potter's upper arm.

"I'm ready, sir," the boy says, breathless, braced, shivering lightly.

"Ready for what, Mr. Potter?" His voice is soft when it comes out, not betraying a thing.

Potter swallows, his fingers curl inward before he shifts his arms and they fall open, deliberate and stiff by his side.

"For anything, sir. Anything - just don't expel me." Potter's voice goes impossibly faint. "I'll let you…just…the Headmaster doesn't need to know about this."

Severus can feel his features frozen, and they stay that way while his mind groans and grinds, trying to make sense of the boy's words. Oh this…this is far worse than Severus had imagined this situation  could go.

"Mr. Potter-" he says tightly, and that's all it takes for the eleven year old to crumble, and let out one quick, hoarse sob before he sucks it in again.

"Please," Potter steps forward, shoulders pulled back, chest bared, and it's a plea, it's some desperate kind of prayer, it's hard and it's anguished, like the boy has only ever asked for one thing in his life and this is it. Severus is taken back by the intensity of that one word, sinking further into his stony composure.

"Potter…this is not a punishment." Severus says slowly. He pauses while the boy's eyes narrow with confusion. "This is a health check. This is the Hospital Wing. Madame Pomfrey-" he motions to her, "is here to heal your…lingering scrapes."

Disconcertion is mounting in the boy's green fever-bright eyes, and he looks so unsure and lost for a moment - and then he says, "Oh."

Almost instinctively, it seems, his arms wrap around his waist again, and he turns shyly to Poppy.

"I'm all right, ma'am,"

But Severus can't breathe, because as the boy turned to face the mediwitch, he's exposed his back to Severus, and there are dull, barely raised, faint red welts in in short, narrow cuts on Potter's back, some curling around his sides. Like the skin got caught, and Severus knows instantly what implement was used to create those.

His throat is tight and burning but without moving his eyes from those ugly red licks, he manages to grate out, "Are all your injuries from today's activities, Mr. Potter?"

Potter jerks back toward him, barely managing to cover his startled expression with a more wary one.

"Sir?" He says, guarded.

"How hard is the question, Potter, are all your injuries from this broom incident?" Severus snaps, low and hard, before he can help himself.

Potter holds himself tight like a bow, and his eyes are darting from his Head of House to Pomfrey and back.

"Injuries? I…I don’t…”

"Your back, Potter!" Severus hisses. Potter straightens, green eyes blazing into Severus' with a look that's almost a glare.

"Those aren't injuries,” he says abruptly. He hesitates, then scoffs a little. "They're almost gone, anyway."

"And where did they come from, Potter?"

He presses unyielding, knowing, but wanting to hear those words out loud from Potter's lips and he's not even sure why. So it's more real to him? Just so hear the boy admit it? So he knows the boy can?

"From a belt, sir,” Potter bites out flatly.

Severus leans back in a moment that feels a bit like a triumph, and a bit like he's going to be sick.

"Are you often punished this way, Potter?"

"I hardly think you are the kind of person who would disapprove, Professor."

The words come out rudely, but the boy looks genuinely taken back, and he gives Severus a quick glance before looking away.

Severus doesn't overlook that the boy completely maneuvered out of his question, but he moves on.

“Your–" Severus searches his memory, and it only takes a moment. "Your aunt and uncle use such punishments?"

The boy's lips curl wryly and he says, "among other ones,” watching Severus' face. "Surely you're not unfamiliar with corporal punishment, sir."

Oh, no. Severus knows corporal punishment quite intimately. And he knows what people do under the guise of it when there is too much enthusiasm involved. Severus narrows his eyes.

"And have they also inflicted your various bruises?"

"What? - No!" Potter protests. "Mostly - thos're just…from some rough housing. Play. Neighborhood boys."

Severus leaves that one alone for now.

"Do you feel your various punishments are sufficient to your misdeeds, Mr. Potter?"

Severus can see the boy grit his teeth.

"Silence is not a sufficient answer, Mr. Potter!"

He scrutinizes Potter, and for a moment, the boy stares at him defiantly, but then he looks away, and the shoulders fall.

"Look, if you're just…I'm sure you have more creative ways to punish me than my relatives do, so you can come up with something on your own, and I-" he purses his lips. "I do promise I'll try to stay out of trouble, sir."

As much as that will help, says the dry, fatalistic shimmer in his raised eyes, and Severus wonders if it's because the boy expects he'll get in trouble again whether he tries to or not, or because he figures that Severus will punish him regardless if he gets in trouble.

"I'm sure you'll do your best, Potter." Severus must have sounded wry, because the boy tenses, but he continues.

"What other punishments do your deplorable relatives see fit to degrade you with?"

Potter looks up at him with puzzled eyes. "Oh, you know, sir..."

Severus barely restrains himself.

"Confinement to my - room. Missing meals, cuffs about the head, extra chores. That sort of thing."

The boy's eyes glimmer with something Severus can't quite put a finger on before Potter looks away.

"And the belt?" Severus prompts.

Potter flushes, still not meeting his eyes. "Only when I-when I'm really bad, sir. It's only once in a while."

His hand twists hard in the fabric of his pants.

"So my relatives don't like me. That's not a crime." Potter scowls pointedly at him. "They're a bit of bullies, is all. They're mostly talk."

"Mostly talk," Severus advances toward the boy, "does not leave you underweight from lack of food, Potter!"

"I'm not-"

"Mostly talk," Severus feels the bony shoulders tense under his fingers as he turns the boy and traces the welts, ”does not leave marks like that."

"That one was a long time in coming, sir."

Potter wrenches away, and steps back, eyes brittle, and then he sneers, actually sneers!

"I'm sure if you've got any other questions it, my relatives would be happy to enlighten you on effective punishments."

Severus finds himself studying the boy - again, for Merlin's sake! He acts like his punishments are no big deal, but gets cagey when questioned, and if he thinks Severus doesn't see straight through his ridiculous, arrogant little charade…his desperate, defensive front…

Severus wonders how far the boy would go with it. He wonders what it would take to break him right out of it.

"Perhaps I shall. Perhaps I shall call your dear uncle, Potter. We do, sometimes, leave the families to dish out appropriately  to their wayward wards…" Severus pauses as the blood seems to drain from Potter's face.

"On the other hand," Severus continues, watching casually. "Since he is 'all talk', apparently, it might be better that I deal with you."

The boy, still pale, goes rigid, and his voice is strained and barely loud enough to hear when he answers, "Yes, sir." Severus has the feeling that Potter's been waiting for this since his Head of House swept onto the practice field.

"And do you have anything to suggest, Potter?" Severus says.

Potter snorts, quiet and incredulous, but it doesn't escape his notice that the boy's breathing has sped.

"Well?" Severus' voice is silky.

Potter just glares at him with a mutinous look, silent and stiff.

And then he shifts, as if he's made some sort of decision, and his eleven-year-old face is stoic but viciously resolute.

"I said I'd take it, sir." Potter mutters finally. "As long as…as long as I get to stay."

He swallows and then, without another word, he moves with jerky steps to the wall, puts his arms up, palms pushed flat and his head bowed and braces against it, and Severus can see the skinny body trembling and Potter's eyes rested closed, and he inhales a sharp breath as Potter positions, with those welts and cuts and bruises still so fresh, marred on his pale back.

Severus feels his own face go pale.

"Potter, get back here!" he orders hoarsely, and the boy slowly lets his hands drop, but he doesn't turn around to face Severus.

Severus strides over to him, stops when he realizes the boy's still got his eyes squeezed tightly shut.

"I'm sorry," the boy utters, and without thinking, Severus lays a firm, gentle hand on his shoulder. The boy does swivel, then, and he’s shivering a little, the whites of his eyes showing.

"What do you want from me? I don't…I don't understand!"

Severus straightens severely, grabbing his hand back. "You certainly don't, Mr. Potter, if you imagine that I am able, much less willing, to use such despicable methods of chastisement."

"What else are you doing to do? You can't lock me in my dorm. I'm not really sure you're allowed to just stop feeding me, even if it was only for a few days. What are you going to do?" he repeats. "Have me clean, you, be satisfied with that? Take points?"

The boy chokes out a laugh.

Severus looks at him, coldly, his jaw setting just slightly. "Twenty points from–“ he forces the word out, "Slytherin, Potter."

The boy looks at him, eyes wide and startled, and Severus is done. He's done with this Hospital Wing, done with this conversation, done with the realizations and the numb shock and his world hitching and dropping, done with this strange, defiantly submissive Potter, and done with the image of that shivering, scarred torso stretched yielding against the wide, white wall.

"Poppy will tend to you. Come to my office when you are finished."

Then he turns and lets hasty steps carry him to his office, where he can safely try to process everything that's just happened. Of course nothing could be simple with Potter. A simple check-up for a few bruises at the Hospital Wing, that's all this was supposed to be, and now Severus is reeling, because Harry Potter…Harry Potter is abused. The boy doesn't even seem to realize it.

"I'm not really sure you're allowed to stop feeding me, even if it was only for a few days." "Severely malnourished." "From a belt, sir.” "Ready for what?" "For anything, sir.” ""I said I'd take it." "What else are you going to do?"

It’s all echoing in his head and Severus sighs, realizing he's made it to his quarters without even realizing it. He walks inside, resting his head against the wall. Potter's going to be in his office in minutes. Draco Malfoy is there now, waiting.

What are you going to do, Severus Snape?

Chapter Text

Harry's leaving the hospital wing, a canister of something called ‘bruise balm’ with a nasty smell that he's supposed to spread on every night tucked into his bag, and his bag clutched to himself like a lifeline.

He's still a bit stunned, and he sat there and let the Madame cluck her tongue and wave her wand and stuff a potion down his throat – is this what a doctor’s visit is like? – and he's got gauze taped over the wide, bloody surface scrape on his side, his shoulder muscles feel all warm and relaxed instead of painfully strained like they did earlier, and even his bruises feel much, much better after that first layer of cream.

He's not quite sure what to do with all this.

He's not quite sure what to do with Snape.

The man was just as angry as Harry thought he would be, dragging him through the corridors, harsh and scowling and snarling and furious. And then…

"This isn't a punishment, Potter, this is a health check.” "What else are you going to do, take points?" "Twenty points from Slytherin."

Harry had been so sure he knew what kind of adult Severus Snape was. Sure he knew what the man wanted, sure of where it all was headed, the odd questions and prodding. He had expected…he had expected...

He curls his arms around his hanging bag, shaking his head a little, as if he could just jumble everything into place.

"I don't understand–“ "You certainly don't, Mr. Potter, if you imagine I am able, much less willing, to use such methods of chastisement."

Had he misread him so badly? Snape was an adult. An adult who didn't like him, really didn't like him, seemed like had despised him right from day one. They hadn't interacted that much, but he seemed to relish tearing Harry to pieces in every way possible the few times they had. What made a man like that keep from taking a few shots at Harry when he had the wide-open chance?

Harry remembers the resigned defiance that prompted him to the hated position against the wall, remembers the grim anticipation, an iciness that seemed to shiver over his skin, remembers chanting to himself in his head it will be worth it, this'll be worth it if I get to stay, it's worth it, it's worth it. How his muscles locked rigid into place and his breath strained, and his eyes pulled tautly closed waiting for the first snap, the heat and the familiarity of the pain spreading across his already aching skin…but most of all, he remembers how it never came.

The man took points. The man took points, after Harry had mocked it incredulously as the light chastisement it was, much too light for Snape to use against him when he had better options, when he had Harry's gritted submission before him. When he had everything against Harry and something to hold over him.

And now it's relief, and it's dim apprehension and it's confusion and it's suspicion, it's hope flickering hushed in the back of his mind when he stands in front of the heavy iron-clasped door.

He's paused, leaned just barely against the wall, staring at the entrance and taking deep breaths, waiting for his wild insides to soothe and quiet like a tamed beast. They do, after a minute, as he pushes himself into focus, and he feels better; less fragile.

He's under no misconceptions about the upcoming hearing. Draco Malfoy is the House favored, and he'll spin some tale where it's all Harry's fault, and Harry will protest in vain and then take the fall. He knows how these things go.

But he shrugs it off as he curls his fingers into a fist and raises it let out two quick, quiet raps.

He doesn't think of Malfoy, and he doesn't think of Snape as he hears "enter!" in the man's smooth, unreadable voice. He thinks of Blaise, walking next to him on their way to classes this morning, laughing, and it's the thought of that easy laughter that makes him straighten as he lets the door swing open and walks over the threshold into Snape's workspace.

Draco's sitting, stilted, in his chair, and he throws Harry a dark look, all kinds of revenge promised by those icy gray eyes. Walking slowly over to the chair next to him, Harry pulls it out and sits down, landing with a hard, muffled thud.

"Potter,"

"Sir."

They acknowledge each other, and Harry feels his balance tip a little more, because he's never heard such a neutral tone in Snape's voice directed toward him, and that alone makes him guarded. The man doesn't even look at him really, shifts his eyes to Malfoy.

"Draco, I will see you at seven tonight precisely. You may go."

"But, sir!”

"Draco," Snape warns, and the one word stops Malfoy short, making him slump petulantly back into his chair. Harry wonders what Snape did before he was here to make Malfoy so compliant.

The other boy rises to his feet, gathering his robes, and gives Harry one superior, gloating smirk, before walking, in no hurry, towards the door.

"Mr. Malfoy."

Malfoy stops, peering back at his Head.

"Twenty points will be taken for disobeying a teacher."

Malfoy looks outraged for a moment, his jaw opening and shutting, and Harry keeps a similar look of disbelief from sprawling across his face.Twenty points! That's a lot for Snape to take from Malfoy, more than he's ever taken from– actually, no. Twenty points is the same amount he took from Harry. Harry feels a prick in his mind, wondering if it means something, but brushes it away. His nerves are too raw to deal with every blip of alarm and every question mark running through his head right now.

Malfoy's turned, drawing himself up, and he stomps out, the door slamming behind him. Harry controls his breathing, evenly, and this unknown is almost worse than anything else Snape could dish out. Maybe, maybe Snape was just waiting for the privacy of his office before… he sucks his breath in quietly.

The silence is sitting so hard in the room Harry feels like even a whisper might crack it open.

"So." Snape's word sounds ominous to Harry, and his teeth catch roughly on the edge of his lips. "You step in to defend the Gryffindors.”

He can feel Snape's gaze on him, can hear so many layers of tone and disgust, and he knew Malfoy would spin it around something like that.

"No, I–“ Harry's protest comes out almost squeaky, and he winces and tries again, before Snape leans forward toward him, brow low, and that's all it takes for Harry to snap his jaws shut.

"You goad Draco into the sky," Snape continues, still intimidatingly close, "and then chase after a schoolbook you clumsily dropped.”

Harry feels a flash of anger.

"That's not what happened–“ he snaps, before he can think better.

His Aunt Petunia always has gone on about his untamed tongue.

"And finally," Harry can see his jaw click, and he couldn’t read Snape at all earlier, but now the man is definitely angry, “you crash land, miraculously saving your miserable, measly text. Setting an abhorrent example for your fellow Snakes, displaying a disgusting lack of obedience toward those in rightful authority, and inconveniencing your entire class, House, and Head."

Harry twitches his head downward, trying to hide the hot anger that's starting to smolder in his face. He's not doing this. He knows the man won't hear him, he knows how this is going to end, he's only going to make it worse by–

"No defense, Potter? Nothing to say?" Snape's voice is dangerously soft.

“No sir," Harry mutters.

Snape's eyes are burning darkness now, relentless.

“Well?" he bites, "was it worth it, Potter? Did you save your precious text?"

"Yes."

Harry juts his chin out, eyes snapping.

The man finally, finally sits back, gaze tunneling on him shrewdly.

"Do you have said text?"

“Well– yes," Harry tries to cover how taken back he is by the question.

Snape's mouth curls briefly into an already familiar sneer.

"Since it seems worth disobeying rules put in place for your own safety and that of your classmates, Potter, perhaps I shall hold onto it for you until you learn the proper place of a book in the hierarchy of importance. I'll give you a hint; it's below safety."

Harry shrinks back a little, mind going still.

"Hand me the book, Potter,” Snape's voice is flat.

For a moment, all Harry can see is that one November day that Dudley tore his favorite schoolbook from him and ripped it to pieces while his gang held Harry pinned watching, and how much worse it would feel to give up that picture. His hands move toward the precious book, but instead of handing it over, he snatches it and hugs it to his belly, darting a glance at Snape.

The man's eyes narrow.

"Potter, the book."

"No." Harry's breath catches, and the word falls, almost involuntarily, from his lips.

Snape pushes his chair back and rises, towering over him, and Harry feels a flicker of panic. He can't explain, Snape won't care. He can't just hand it over, either, he'd never see his picture again, but the way things are going…

His mind is screaming at him, trapped. It's Snape, and it's expulsion, it everything on the line.

“I–I can't-" Harry stutters, cursing himself for the way it comes out, small and vulnerable.

"Now Potter!"

"No," Harry gasps, jolts to his feet.

He can feel his blood careening crazily through his system. He needs… he needs Snape predictable, and the man isn't cooperating! How's he supposed to have an idea how the man's going to react after the way he shattered Harry's expectations so violently in that Hospital Wing?

But there's no hospital matron here, nothing to hold Snape back. For one split second, there's just air spinning around him and terror, and Harry not even sure what he's afraid of. A thought nags at the back of his mind. It's not ideal, and he doesn't know…  but maybe if he can get Snape distracted, if he can goad the man into a livid rage, maybe Snape will whip him after all, maybe he'll be satisfied with that, maybe he'll forget about a little thing like Harry's book.

Harry swallows, pulse pounding in his throat. He doesn't have a good idea of how to do it, and he doesn't know if it will work – it could go so badly wrong, and he doesn't exactly want to get belted, anyway. But Harry's on the very fine edge of exhaustion, and he just wants to get the worst over with. Snape wouldn't do it earlier, and Harry's not quite sure why, but maybe, maybe, as much as the thought of it makes him wince, he can use it.

The man's already angry, but not nearly as much as he was when he dragged Harry from the lesson earlier, and Harry needs him at least that furious. His breathing shivers and speeds. Okay. Defiance. He can do this.

"I said no!" Harry dares, drawing himself up and deliberately mustering every ounce of belligerence he can to shove into his tone.

Snape steps close, intimidating and severe.

"You and I both know this isn't about the book, boy!" he hisses, and Harry stares at him in alarm. Could Snape know…?

"You just wanted a chance to show off your immodest flying skills in from of everyone! Just have to be the show-off, Potter, don't we, willfully and completely flaunting your insolence.”

That's it, attention off the book, onto Harry. He relaxes a little. No, Snape doesn't know. But he is getting more worked up. Time to turn up the heat. He doesn't have much ammo on Snape, what does he know? Ineptitude upsets him. Flaunting authority. Anyone who thinks they know anything. And Harry. Pretty much anything to do with Harry. This shouldn't be hard, right?

"I don't know about show-off, sir," Harry smirks a little. "Seems I'm not the one who has to always make a dramatic entrance into the classroom. Besides," he adds flippantly, "it's not like anyone got hurt."

"I'll show you get hurt, Potter!" Snape's arms snaps up, and Harry viciously steels himself against his automatic recoil, against ducking.

Damn it. Snape's not doing anything. Why's he paused? What's that look? His body, his eyes…he's straightened again, all dark and burning and threatening, with shades of ice in his eyes, but he's not raging, and he's got that calculating look on his face. Words tremble in Harry's throat.

Get angry. Get him angry, damn it!

"I'd like to see you try, sir,” Harry scoffs, light and quick and breathy.

The man backs away, and Harry can hardly feel his fingers anymore, they're wrapped so tightly around his book, and why is the man backing away?

And then Snape's hand darts away and whips out his wand, and…oh. Harry hadn't thought–he’d forgotten, and–

The eyes have calmed, black and unfathomable, and Snape raises his wand. Harry jerks sharply, panicked, throwing his hands up to block his face as he gasps, the book shielding his face.

Harry's braced himself for whatever insidious, hissing magic will shoot from the end of that dark wand, before he feels an unexpected tug. The next thing he knows, the book is ripped from his loosened grip by an unseen force.

With a cry, he leaps forward after it. Hands frantic, he nearly knocks it from it's trajectory, and the book spins, splitting open, pages heaving and fluttering, while Harry's momentum sends him forward hard into the ground, skidding onto knees and throwing out scraped palms. In the silence after the book snaps into Snape's hand, something quivers, drops down softly in the rippling air to land on the floor, and Harry feels ripped open.

He cowers there on the ground for a moment, staring at it, and Snape stares at it.

Harry swallows miserably, hid mind exhausted from the adrenaline and confused. His picture is sitting there, on the floor, and Snape is holding Harry's textbook. Harry knows when to admit defeat.

He doesn't even reach for his picture. His arms are heavy, and he heaves himself over, wanting nothing more than to curl into a ball. He scoots slowly over to the desk and slumps against the smooth wood, curling himself into it. He's fought hard today, he's fought up and down, but he's lost and he doesn't know what Snape is going to do, and he doesn't even feel scared or confused or wary, and he doesn't even feel defeated, he just feels dead, and he feels like his head is far too heavy to lift.

Pale, slender fingers grasp his picture and pick it up softly, and then there's a crinkle as it unfolds. Harry brings his knees up and stuffs his face into them, unwilling to see the gloating on Snape's face.

But there's no gloating, and there's no relishing words, and Harry peeks up. Snape's eyes have widened imperceptibly – he looks almost shocked, and then floored, and his arms tremble for a minute. Snape's eyes dart to Harry, who looks quickly back at the floor.

"Potter."

Snape's voice is almost a whisper, and he's staring at the picture, fumbles backward, unseeing, hands grasping for his chair, as he falls into it.

“You… this…"

The words drop into the air, hanging, and Harry's not quite sure what to do with them – not quite sure what Snape expects him to do with them, so he doesn't do anything. He just accepts them, quiet as they thump unwilling in the space between.

"Potter! Up here, now!"

Those words, he knows what to do with. Sort of. Except they seem to take a long time to fight all the way through to his brain.

Sluggishly, Harry rises, and he pulls back his chair, and sits, but he still has this strange instinct that wants him to coil into himself until he's as small as he feels, and then stuff himself…somewhere. A large pile of blankets. Under a bed with the dust particles clinging to his hair.

Snape has all the trumps cards, and Harry has nothing. He has nothing but his painful little shreds of determination, and they're littered, dragging, behind him somewhere. Harry has nothing but the stale scent of his cupboard and the bitterness of a contempt that tastes almost like blood, and a distant memory of love slipping around in the back of his mind.

Snape opens a little drawer in his desk and tucks the picture in to it, letting the book thump, forgotten, onto the top. The drawer closes with a snick.

"That's mine,” Harry meant to snap it, but the words came out all limp and pleading.

"That, Potter, unless I'm mistaken, is a page unjustifiably ripped from Great Wizarding Events of the Twentieth Century, probably a library copy?" The man succinctly enunciates the last two words.

A pause.

"Probably," Harry agrees.

The thought flits through him that this probably means harsher punishment, too, and he wonders when he stopped caring. Tendrils of resentment wiggle through the fog. But he's not going to apologize, he's not. Not for this, not for stealing a little piece of his parents to carry around.

He won't apologize, and he's not sorry.

"I expect," Snape's voice is even, "an explanation for this, Potter. Vandalizing a copy of a public library book. I want to know," Snape leans forward, "why."

"I wanted the picture." Harry says dully.

"Yes, that's quite obvious, Mr. Potter." Snape taps his finger on the edge of his desk and Harry's eyes follow it. Tap. Tap. "My question remains. Do you enjoy such acts of destruction? Why?"

"Why?" Harry echoes, incredulous. "I just wanted to see them."

The silence is startled and sharp.

"Speak plainly, Potter!" Snape bites after a moment.

Harry doesn't know what Snape wants, he's not sure he ever did.

He swallows.

"They're my parents!"

"Get ahold of yourself, Potter, I believe that's a well known fact.”

Harry's words are dazed, his eyelids feel thick when he blinks them.

"I just…I saw them, and once I knew… I couldn't just–I wanted to have. Something. To, you know, remember…"

Snape snarls, frustrated, and Harry trails off.

"What about your myriad of other pictures?"

Harry squints at him. Yep, he's aggravated. And something, somewhere in his brain, is screaming at him that this is a very bad thing. But he can't quite get a handle on just what Snape is talking about. He eyes the man.

"What other pictures?"

"Your pictures of your parents, Potter, don't try to-!"

But Harry gives a snort and shakes his head, and Snape stops.

"Are you telling me, Potter," he says, so very, very softly, "that this is the first picture that you've had of your parents?"

Harry nods. "Erm. Had. Seen. I didn't want to forget what they looked like.”

Like I forgot how they felt.

Sometimes he still dreams about being held.

"You'd never…known…what they looked like."

Snape's disbelief seems to be matching Harry's tranced state, and Harry feels a bit annoyed.

"Like Aunt Petunia would ever take time out of her day to show me pictures!" He laughed tiredly. "Of my parents? I'd be surprised if she hadn't burned them. I'd be surprised if she had any at all."

“Potter," Snape's head it tilted a little as he studies Harry, and Harry fights the urge not to laugh again. “Potter–"

"My mum had red hair. Did you know?" Harry says suddenly. "I already knew…Hagrid told me I have her eyes."

"Hagrid told you,” Snape says blankly, and then his jaw tightens.

And suddenly, Harry is just very, very tired. He's tired of being afraid and he's tired of waiting and he doesn't have the energy to hope or want, he just wants this over.

"Are you going to punish me now, please?" Harry says.

Harry is starting to hate that uncomprehending stare on the man's face. It looks slightly wrong.

"First I will assure you, again, Mr. Potter," Snape sounds annoyed. "That my punishments will not be in keeping with what your… relatives see fit to dole out."

Harry wasn't really expecting it to be, but he relaxes anyway, minutely, before panicking. "Not expulsion–“

"Potter!"

That shuts Harry up.

"You have detention with me for the next week. You will take the book back to Madame Pince and apologize, then pay for a replacement–“

"Does that mean I get to keep the picture?" Harry questions. "Because it makes sense, if I pay for the book, and then it becomes mine-"

"I am trying to give you consequences, Potter, and you will sit and be quiet and not interrupt me!"

"But, Sir–“

"Potter, I can assure you that I will be keeping an eye on your flying classes from now on, and the instant I see anything worth reporting, you and your school career will be the worse for it, I will give the details of your discipline at a later time, and right now I will thank you to get out of my office!"

"But I–“ Harry starts again.

"Potter, out."

Harry lets his head fall into his hands as he tries to gather himself, his fingers curled into hard, helpless fists. Still steaming, he yanks up from his chair, glares at the man, and whirls, ready to leave that stupid chair, that stupid desk, that stupid man behind him. The only thing he's not ready to leave is his picture, but he promises himself he'll figure it out. He'll get a plan together, break into that drawer sometime, steal it back. He will. Sometime. But right now… right now, he just wants to lay down.

 

 

He's back in the dorm and it's quiet and he heads for the bed but then there's a rustling in the closet.

Blaise backs out from it and swings around to face him.

"Found it– oh, hey, Potter."

Blaise scrunches his eyebrows mischievously.

"That was some stunt you pulled. How'd it go with the Head?"

"Blaise," Harry chokes a little on the other boy's name coming out, and Blaise looks at him sharply, and then sidles closer.

"Something happen?"

Harry turns away. "No. No, I just…I just need a minute."

"Looks like you need more than one, Potter,” and Blaise slips over to Harry bed and then falls back on the pillows, hands locked behind his head, all spread out, and Harry isn't sure what to do but he can't think, he doesn't want to make decisions right now. What is Blaise doing?

“Zabini–“

Blaise grins. "Ah, a minute ago it was Blaise, but now–“

"Blaise."

Harry takes a breath, and realizes distantly that this is the first time he's used the other boy's first name to his face. And then he falls onto the bed and shoves his face into his pillow. His head hurts. Snape is going to kill him, he's going to kill him, why hasn't Snape killed him already, and he needs that picture, he's going to murder him…

"Hey, I know the Professor's a pretty dark character, but if you ask me, going homicidal on a first year is probably a little below his aspirations.”

“What," says Harry blankly.

"You were muttering."

Why is Blaise still here? It's not that Harry doesn't want him here, he just doesn't understand what the boy's doing.

"Isn't it lunch time?"

Blaise stretches and slips off the bed. "Good point. Food will help you face your problems. Let's go."

"No, I meant," Harry pauses, bewildered. "I'm not really hungry, but if you haven't eaten, you should go."

"Is that a hint, Potter?" Blaise raises his eyebrows mockingly. "Don't you want me around?"

"No!" Harry says, words stumbling over each other. "I mean, yes, I do! It's…it's not a hint."

"Well, good, because I wouldn't have taken it,” Blaise says lightly, eyeing him as if he's insulted by the mere thought. "I'll tell you what, how's about I go down, sneak some snacks out for both of us and then we'll feast up here like kings."

"Is that allowed?"

"Not really,” Blaise says airily. "Neither is racing sixty feet into the air with no adult supervision in a show-down with another student."

"Point," Harry says ruefully.

Blaise flashes him a grin and strides smoothly from the room, and it gives Harry a chance to take stock of himself. He no longer feels like drowning himself in the darkness and warmth of those incredible fuzzy blankets for the rest of the year, which is good. And, Harry is surprised to notice, he actually feels a little better for talking with Blaise.

He's glad he left him alone a moment; but he's glad Blaise is coming back, too. In fact, laughing on that velvet green bed with Blaise, munching on whatever items Blaise will smuggle down to him, and talking about the day, sounds just like something Harry's always wished for.

Something he’s never pictured himself having.

When Blaise comes down though, he's not alone. Harry stifles his reaction because he's not quite sure what to do with seeing Theodore Nott standing next to Blaise.

"Harry!" Blaise starts unloading pastries and fruit from his bag.

Harry can't decide whether Nott looks more amused or irritated. He glares at Harry, then turns back to Blaise, who's slouched, fussing with his plunder.

"Blaise, what-"

"Oh c'mon, I got tired of watching you make goo goo eyes at Daphne Greengrass over the length of table, have I told you these treacle tarts are supreme?"

"I was not," Nott stutters, "making goo goo-"

He whirls to face Harry.

"I wasn't doing that,” he denies firmly, and Harry feels a smile creeping up his lips.

"And anyway," Nott snaps, "I don't see that this is really a better option, whatever…this is."

"Do you want to sit down?" Harry wants to ask, but he's tired, and everything seems just a little ridiculous right now, and it comes tumbling out of his mouth like, "Sit down."

"Don't tell me what to do, Potter." Nott says, and then blinks. He sits on the bed.

"What are you two doing up here?"

"Harry was just telling me how it went with Professor  Snape."

Nott's face darkens, as if he just remembered. "Of all the idiotic, irresponsible things to do, Potter! I can't believe you – you could have died!"

Nott sniffs.

"Well, I-I didn't get expelled." Harry's not quite sure why that's the most important thing to vocally affirm right now, but something tugging at his mind is insisting that it's a big deal. And also probably the only thing good that happened in the whole situation.

Oh, yeah, besides not getting whipped with a belt in the Hospital Wing, but Harry's not quite sure what to think about that yet.

"Oh, is that all you were worried about?" Blaise says.

Nott eyes Harry and lifts his brow dismissively.

"Don't be absurd, Potter. The Headmaster wouldn't expel you for flying your broom unsupervised! Even if it was against a teacher's orders."

Well, that's funny. Because Harry distinctly remembers being threatened with expulsion. His mouth flattens wryly. So adults lie. Big deal.

Besides, Nott could be wrong. Snape's a teacher, he would know the Headmaster personally, and he might know better than Nott. Or perhaps Harry could only get expelled with Snape's supportive influence.

Harry looks up again to find Blaise and Nott exchanging glances.

"Was that really your first time on a broom?" Blaise says casually, inquiring.

"Yes." Harry mumbles.

Nott looks grudging. "Not bad, Potter."

Harry looks up, wary. "You mean…you mean, I was good?"

Blaise laughs, light and warm. "You didn't think any ol' first year could pick up a broom and handle it like that? You're going to be brill at Quidditch next year. You practically gave Malfoy a run for his money!"

"Ugh, don't talk to me about Malfoy," Harry groans.

"Treacle tart." Blaise shoves the flaky thing into Harry's hand.

Harry absently bites into it, and then glances at it in surprise. Wow, that was good.

Nott crosses his arms. "I don't even know what I'm doing here."

"So what did the good Professor do?"

"Well, he, um-" Harry pauses, answers flying through his mind. He took Harry to the Hospital Wing? He got mad, he left, he took Harry's picture? "Detention. For a week, and, er-"

Snape, whipping out his wand, it's smooth, dark point aimed straight at him, shivering with power. "I'll show you 'get hurt', Potter!" "I'd like to see you try, sir." Harry crumpled on the floor next to the desk, and aching. Feeling his heart close as surely as that drawer did, with his picture inside, sinking, sinking…

"Points. He took twenty points each from me and Malfoy, I think."

"A full seven days of detention, though, in just your first week!" Blaise sympathizes.

Harry shrugs.

"I'll have to help you with homework."

Harry looks at Blaise sharply. "You…will?" 

"How else will you get it all done, ninny?" Blaise laughs.

"That's right, Zabini,” Nott drawls. "Insult the guy. He'll be sure to accept your generous offer."

Harry's lips curl up and break into a short, surprised laugh, and Blaise joins him, shaking Nott's commentary off.

"You know, Nott? You're just too uptight. Here, try one of these, they sure seemed to loosen Harry up–“ Blaise shoves a treacle tart at Nott, who breaks his expression to reel back with a shriek, but then Blaise is on him, shoving the tart into his mouth, and Harry is laughing gleefully, without even thinking about it as the poor pastry becomes scattered, sticky crumbles all over the bed. He watches, and he laughs, and he thinks, yeah. This is just as good as he could have imagined.

He doesn't dare jump into the fray too hard, after just getting all fixed up by Madame Pomphrey and with still tender bruises, but he does grab another treacle tart from the pile (Blaise must be fond of them, he really brought a ridiculous amount), and saunters over to the wrestling two, commenting with a impish grin. "I think maybe Blaise needs a taste of his own medicine."

He falls asleep that night with the thought of Snape and the visceral taste of fear a distant memory.

 

 

Severus Snape is not falling asleep so easily. He paces in the dimmed light of his office, back, forth. He knew two seconds after his eyes scanned that parchment paper in the Hospital Wing that Harry Potter was abused. An ugly word, and there was no other one for it. By the time he dealt with Draco, his patience was running short, and when Harry Potter sat down in that chair, all excuses and explanations and angry interruptions, the events at the Hospital Wing had gotten shoved from Snape's mind.

Perhaps they shouldn't have been. Because there's no denying the fact that Severus lost his temper with the boy. His temper's always been easily lit, and he's never apologized for it. He walks slowly over to his desk, and slides open a small drawer in the front. He thought he had it all figured out, thought he had a grip on exactly what happened in the sky that morning, and exactly what motivations were behind it. His hand grips a rumpled piece of paper that still smells like library book, fingers smoothing one edge.

And every time he thinks he has Potter pegged, the boy has to go do…something, that shatters his nice pre-planned reality.

"I wanted the picture."

He knows he threatened the boy - since when hasn't he enjoyed putting some well-earned fear into certain little delinquents? He knows he frightened him too, could see Potter's eyes go wide and his body go still as he flinched defensively away from Snape's wand, arms flying up to cover his face.

He was angry at the boy earlier, but he's not angry at him, now. Irritated, yes. Potter barely seems able to understand or answer a straight question, he's smart-mouthed, and –

"What other pictures?" "I didn't want to forget what they looked liked."

Severus skids his hand over the glossy bordered photo of James Potter and Lily. They looked happy. His fingers tighten.

"She had red hair, did you know?" The boy's eyes look achingly lost.

Merlin, as if he could ever forget. Severus leans over his desk, propped up on both arms, and squeezes his own eyes shut. And Hagrid had to tell the boy...

Tomorrow.

Tomorrow he'll go to Albus.

 

Chapter Text

It’s not very often that Severus Snape has to pause and steel himself to enter a place, gather his thoughts, prepare his mind. He’s usually consistent enough he doesn’t have to think about his movements, his facial tics. His spying may be years out of purpose, but habits like that, thought patterns like that, something sharpened into instinct - that doesn’t leave you.

Yet, with all the instincts at his beck, he’s standing inside the carved gold wings of a phoenix, feeling at a loss. Again. And sod it all, if it wasn’t Potter’s fault. Again!

He’s not sure where he’s standing, whether Dumbledore knows anything of what’s been happening, but his wager is that Dumbledore certainly doesn’t know the extent of it. The man would have done something, no doubt at all in Severus’ mind, if he did. Dumbledore may be doing his best so far to keep open minded and uninvolved, but if Severus knows anything about the man he knows Dumbledore would not consciously sanction approval for his Golden Boy to live with abusive relatives. Bitterness tinges Severus’ thoughts. He’ll tell the man. It will be Dumbledores’ responsibility to deal with it all after this, and the man will no doubt count it a privilege.

He moves forward, muttering about fire red phoenixes and dramatic entrances and having to sit in front of the Headmaster’s desk like some errant schoolboy. In the back of his mind though is still a long, blank sound where his plan of action should be. It leaves him feeling detestably wrong-footed as he steps into the inner sanctuary of Dumbledore’s office.

Dumbledore is sitting behind the desk - of course - over some papers. He looks up as if he’s expecting Severus, though, which makes Severus’ lips purse in irritation.

“Ah, Severus.”

“Headmaster.”

“Come, now, my boy.” The man motions to a seat in front of him, the barest hint of a smile baring his lips. “It’s only us, here.”

“Albus, then.” Severus concedes, taking a seat. Already, his insides are jittery with impatient for this to be over.

The Headmaster steeples his fingers, eyes backlit with a blue sparkle.

“Don’t tell me this is about the loo in the third - “

“No,”

“Ah.”

“Potter.” Severus bites snidely. Of course. Why does it seem like everything now is about Potter?

Albus’ face changes; understanding. He leans back a little, eyes on his Potions Master.

“I would hope, Severus, that at the least you would treat him as any of the other Slytherins in your house. No one could have predicted such a sorting, but -“

Severus is already shaking his head, voice tight. “This has nothing to do with Potter being in my house - Albus - “

Dumbledore is waiting, face curious and wary. It’s unsettling for something to leave Severus pausing for words. More often they come, hot and scathing and tumbling - but now, he’s not sure where to start. The bruises? The malnutrition? The belt welts?

“I’m sure you were informed of Potter’s catastrophe in flying class, his first,” Severus allows himself, feeling a wash of fresh indignation again at the sodding nerve of the boy. But when he glances up, Dumbledore’s eyes are warm with affection.

“A minor commotion.” He dismisses. His voice turns fond.  “Although I hear the boy’s got his father’s talent.”

Severus’ jaw tightens incrementally. He’s staying focused, he is. This isn’t about Potter and his bloody broom.

“Poppy examined the boy afterward, as a result of the scuffle.”

“Severus, I’m sure any injuries our Harry sustained -“

Severus growls. “What Poppy discovered in her examination, is that our Harry had multiple abrasions from his crash landing - ”

When he doesn’t say anything else, Albus speaks again.

“That is to be expected, Severus, but I fail to see -“

Severus’ voice is finally even, detached as he lists them off.  “As well - the boy had - contusions covering his body, perhaps a week old. Suspicious number of cuts and bruises, and was dangerously underweight.”

Albus’ blue, blue eyes are searching, trying to understand, not wanting to.

“Scarring, Albus.” Severus says stiffly, shoves away the images that are there, always right there, bony back, red welts, hitched shoulders, arms pinned upward like a sacrifice. “Scarring on his back, not badly, but - his relatives - it was obvious, his reactions when confronted…”

Severus pauses just a moment; for a moment, there’s silence like after you’ve dropped something in water and are watching the ripples dimple outward.

“No,” Albus drops the word faintly, shaded with grief and he looks for one minute, just as stricken as Severus thought he’d be. Quick, like an impulse, the desire to lessen the blow, to somehow soften the news, but it’s gone just as quickly, and when Albus speaks, his voice is low, grim and steely.

“Severus, are you sure of this?”

Severus stiffens, feeling a flash of resentment at the question, pictures still pushing at the back of his mind. Yes, he’s bloody sure.

“I of all people have no reason to concoct such a story, Albus, you know my feelings on Potter -“

“No, Severus, don’t take it so. I am only… the Dursley’s may not be the most warm people, perhaps not the most welcoming upbringing for the boy, but I was certain Petunia- “

“Petunia Ev-Dursley is spiteful.” Severus says contemptuously. “You underestimate her if you think her and her oaf of a husband incapable of such action.”

“Not uncapable, perhaps, but I had surely trusted unwilling.”

Severus sits, his back straight, arms folded in front of him.

“A miscalculation, obviously.”

“So it seems.” Albus ponders, slumping back.

Well. All in all, Severus has done his duty, and merlin’s beard, is he ready for it to be done. He prepares to rise.

“You will take care of the necessary changes to be made? I’m sure you’ll want to keep it under radar of the Ministry, if possible, quiet. The boy will need to be informed, but I had thought you might want to speak to him personally.”

“Changes, Severus?”

“Of course.” Severus grits in irritation. “Potter’s living arrangement.”

This is going to take longer than he thought if Albus wants to hash over all the details with him. He honestly doesn’t care where or who the boy goes to, as long as it’s not his deplorable - merlin, Petunia.

“Severus,” There’s regret in his voice, and it’s the look on his face when Severus glances up that stops Severus’ thoughts in their tracks. Is Albus… ? No. Not possible.

“Severus, there are blood protections–“

Severus tries to school his own face into something not quite so obvious as the disbelief he feels. He remembers this, briefly, a meeting of the Order after the - deaths, about a baby and muggles and cautionary preemptive protections, bound with powerful blood spells, a deeper magic only briefly touched on in the group. He remembers hearing it. He remembers exactly how much he didn’t care, the way the words fell dead and searing on his ears, how they seemed to float in and right out, exactly how much they didn’t matter in the shadow of the unimaginable loss that faced him, the chaos slowly descending on his life.

But this…this…how ironic, that he would be forced to fight for the boy now, be the boy’s advocate - to Dumbledore, of all people! Something rears up in him, screaming against the confines of the corner he’s being pushed into. He is not Potter’s defender, and how dare his hand be forced! Dumbledore is the hero, the one at the forefront, the one close to Potter, and while he knows enough of the man to know he’s a brilliant strategist and rarely predictable, the Headmaster is a Gryffindor. Noble impulses and all that rot. This is not how the man is supposed to react.

“It appears I haven’t made this clear.” Severus says, slow, abrupt, cold. “Headmaster, the boy’s been beaten. Deprived of food. A case of lawful neglect, probably more, if someone cared to actually ask the boy. Are you insinuating you’ll do nothing with this knowledge?”

“I’m sure if I talked to Petunia -“

Severus can’t help the snort that comes out. “Petunia, who dared to do all this - and she must have known you would discover it! Are you so confident in your ability to maneuver her? If you were successful in the first place, we would never be here.”

“There is more to this than just Harry, Severus,” Dumbledore is shaking his head, eyes dimming unfathomably. “The situation is delicate.”

He softens, gentle for a moment. “I know Harry. He won’t let this harden him.”

“Harden, perhaps not.” Severus says cooly. “Mark him for life? Mold him, in ways? He won’t be able to help it. If it escalates, it is not impossible the boy will end up damaged, physically, permanently - we have no way to know, just now, the extent to which Petunia is willing to go. It is possible, intentionally or not, that she could end up killing him. The boy is far too important a symbol -“ He pauses to sneer his disdain for good measure at the idea, “to let that happen.”

Dumbledore nods, weary. “Yes. Something…something will be done. I don’t know what, but I promise you, Severus.”

“I am not the one in need of your oaths, Headmaster.” Severus rises.

“Severus,” Dumbledore’s voice makes him pause on the way out. There’s nothing, nothing and then - so very, very quiet, “Take care of him for me, my boy.”

Severus makes no acknowledgement, only stills before sweeping out, because he’s not going to be Dumbledore’s stand-in, not going to be some kind of mentor figure to the arrogant little cretin, that’s Minerva’s jo - well. Dumbledore can still damn well take care of his own sodding Golden Boy. He’s sweeping down the corridors, footsteps stalking, robes whipping silky, thinking about Dumbledore’s reactions, and getting more and more irritated he does.

No one is acting how he expects them to in this scenario, and he’s tired of it. People are easy, tedious, predictable.

He still has the boy to deal with tonight, and a detention to supervise for Draco before that.

He is so over this day.

 

Harry's calculated everything just right.

At least, he thinks so. Not that he's trying to hide anything, but the thought of baring his back in a room full of classmates makes him shudder against the vulnerability of it. Not every face is friendly - Malfoy's been more of a prat than ever in the last few days since the flying incident. Harry's trying to be careful about saying and doing around him, but the other boy seems to need to pick a fight, and Harry will never back away from it, not after what Malfoy's done. Nearly all the first years have noticed now,and it's something like war in the air every time they walk in on each other, other mouths silent waiting for one of them to make the first pronged comment.

Harry is honestly tired of it, that constant, careless edginess that was all he ever knew at the Dursleys. He avoids Malfoy as much as he can, and hopes the crackling tension will at least fade in it's intensity as time goes on.

The dorm is quiet now, though. He’s waited, and he should have enough time before anyone comes back. The rooms are empty, and Harry tries hard to feel like he's not sneaking as he draws the small canister out from under his mattress and slips onto the bed, resisting the urge to draw those heavy curtains around him. But this is the one place he doesn't have to stash and hoard and hide - in fact, most of the other kids, and, well, some of the adults - are remarkably, flippantly generous about things.

Harry keeps his pinched, squeezed, pretty-much-empty tube of toothpaste and a brush he's had since he was nine in his trunk, because of the way it makes something mean and ashamed curl inside to see it sitting out on the counter in the loo next to the other boys' shiny plastic, full-bodied ones. But this, he fingers the jar, this he has. He hasn't used it until now - he forgot last night, thoughts tied up in knots around his first detention that evening.

Turns out Snape decided he was "unavailable" last night, so he scheduled Harry's first detention with Filch. Harry had felt a sliver of relief at not having to face Snape so soon, but Filch! Stringy gray hair and malice in his eyes, and Harry's never liked the man. He did it anyway, did very nasty little job that Filch piled on him, cackling and watching with pinpoint black eyes, and Harry had a thought he never could have predicted: even detentions with Snape might be better than this.

Tonight, he'll get to find out.

Malfoy had a detention already with Snape, just before dinner, so Harry's not expecting Snape to be in a stellar mood, and he knows he makes an awfully convenient target for the man.

He's fingering the jar, turning to pull up a corner of his shirt, when his eyes catch on the door, and it's sliding open. He freezes.

Why. Why is always Theodore Nott? Why can't it be easy-going, blow-it-off Blaise? Blaise would be able to make him feel lighter about this, would be able to brush it off. Harry could be sure it wouldn't matter, wouldn't change anything for Blaise, but Nott is stopped still and staring at him with uncomprehending dark eyes and Harry wants to melt straight back into the bed.

"Hey - Nott," Harry swallows.

"Potter." He takes an airy step, his voice blade light and casual. "What are you doing here?"

Harry snorts, his heart still racing.

"They're my dorms, too, Nott." Harry tries to sound amply crabby. His fingers slink awkwardly over the covers, trying to find a surreptitious spot to rest the tin still clutched in his fingers.

"What's that you have?" Nott's eyes are sharp, voice peeved.

Harry pauses. He knows he's not a convincing liar, and he has no idea how he's going to explain this bruise balm without compromising himself.

"It's mine," he says stiffly, defensively.

"I wasn't implying you stole it, gargoyle brain.” Nott’s eyebrows rise imperiously.

"I-it's just something-" Harry bites his lip, and curls his arms deliberately away from it.

"I'm testing a cream for Madame Pomfrey," he says finally, glaring at the other boy, daring him to challenge the lie.

He doesn't. He looks at Harry with narrowed eyes for a long, suspended moment. Then he turns and walks to the loo without a word. Harry can hear him ruffling around in something and then the water on as the door swings shut behind him. Harry curses silently. He's got to do it now, got to take the chance before the other boys all walk back in.

Glaring one last time at the elegant blank wood of the loo door, he turns away, swipes the cream from the bed. His shirt jerks over his head, and he winces just a little, shivering as cool fingers of air slide over his back.

He doesn't waste any time, scooping the cream - ugh, it really does smell nasty, and his nose wrinkles - but then he's rubbing it, warm and thick on his skin and it sort of melts into the bruises. He can feel it working already, and he lets his fingers fall for a moment, and breathes out, marveling. It’s just as poignant and powerful as he remembers from yesterday’s Hospital Wing - he definitely needs some of this to take back to the Dursleys. Arching a little, he twists his torso and arms trying to reach places on his back before giving up and slathering it over his side. Would that nurse - medic witch? - would she give him more if he asked? But it probably costs something. He could try to work for her some, maybe -

He could just take it.

But the thought jars him wrong, for some reason, and he can't remember the last time taking something he needed felt like stealing. He could ask about working for it first… but if that doesn't work, Blaise might have an idea of how to - no. He won't involve his friends in this. They might know the castle better, but Harry knows Blaise puts up with a lot already for the way he stands so easily by Harry's side every day. He doesn't ever talk about, but Harry knows what it's like to be on the receiving side, and he knows the looks.

Harry still doesn’t have a good grasp on the murky politics that seem to influence his house, but he does know that Blaise's family is in a position that means that nobody confronts Blaise outright; he's got too much weight for that, and he's using most of it to try and protect Harry, of all things. Harry snorts a little. No, he'll leave Blaise out of this, out of his trouble, as much as he can - because no matter what Harry does, he always seems to end up somewhere he'd never wish somebody he likes.

"I think you missed a spot."

Harry jerks, fingers fisting compulsively as he wrenches around.

It’s Nott, of course; hair freshly wet and that friendly arrogance hanging about him like clinging mist from a shower.

Harry’s so confused he can feel his bones locking into place as his brain clicks over and over, fruitlessly trying to direct him. He’s never dealt with anyone, adult or kid, ever knowing about…well, about this, not right out like this, never anything more than Harry hinting to see if anyone would notice, nothing other than the well-placed guesses of that one teacher so far back and nothing ever came of that… It’s like his mind is stuck blinking “error”, trying to guess the other boy’s next move. Will he even care at all? No one back at Privet drive certainly would. Blaise - he doesn’t know how Blaise would react, but it would be safe. Safer than Nott. Nott’s been amiable, but he’s so abstruse. He’s got all these sharp edges, some unexplainable darkness to his eyes sometimes, and he keeps himself so far above everyone, but he knows now, Nott knows -

Harry’s braced for sneers, visions of the other boy smashing the canister into Harry’s back or under his own feet, grinding it uselessly into the floor. All that happens is Nott’s tone, annoyed, expectant, and he says “Well?”, and Harry flinches, just a little, his eyes twitching upward. The boy’s hand is there, hovering in the air. It takes Harry a moment to realize what he wants, a split second of hesitation to decide.

Nott doesn't move, not a finger, there's just the sound of Harry's speeded breathing, and suddenly he realizes Nott came up toward him from behind and Nott's seen his back.

Harry flushes, and it's shame that finally prompts him to shove the bruise balm into Nott's waiting hands. He tenses miserably as he bares his back, looking away, because it’s no use pretending now. He’s been waiting for Nott to turn on him since the moment the boy peeked out from between his curtains that one nightmarish night, and he’s never understood why Nott hasn’t. The other boy has no reason to keep Harry’s secrets, but now, this will be the push over the edge, once he realizes what Harry really is. Will he tell Blaise? Will Blaise hate him, too?

Not that - anything but that. Harry’s never had anyone like him, no one like Blaise, before. If he loses that, he’s not sure -

Cool cream and soft fingers, and Harry startles, the unexpected touch making his breath catch. His eyes are wide when they fly over his shoulders, but Nott is looking away, not meeting his gaze, as he spread it thick and gentle, soothing the tenderized skin in patches on Harry’s back where Harry hadn't managed to reach.

It's over in a moment, and Harry hears the lid screw back on an it drops beside Harry.

"I know bruise balm when I see it, Potter. And it's not a new, untested product."

Harry's face is burning, burning, bewildered as he turns, but Nott isn't finished. The air around him cools with Nott's stare.

"If you're going to lie to your friends, at least do it well."

"I can't help it," Harry mutters, reaching for his shirt and pulling it back over his head, feeling a little more himself now that he’s fully clothed.

When he glances up, Nott's got an odd look on his face, lips tipping in a barely-smile and eyes prodding, curious. "No," He says as he meets Harry's gaze, still smiling faintly. "I don't think you can."

He turns as if to leave, and Harry gnaws his lip.

"Theodore!" He has to ask, he just - "You're not…you're not going to say anything."

Nott's lips curl, into something more like a sneer this time. "I've told you before, Potter. I have better things to do with my time than gossip about Harry Potter's private life.”

It’s not until Harry is walking to detention, going over and over it in his head, trying to understand, that something Nott said stops him in his dragging steps, realization slowly dawning. If you’re going to lie to your friends…Harry’s not sure if Nott realized what he was implying with that statement, but Harry honestly can’t find any other explanation for his behavior. Theodore Nott considers him his friend.

And Harry can’t help it if his steps are just a little bit lighter after that.

Chapter Text

The corridors are quiet as Harry hurries through them, torchlight glinting off stones and shadows in that fluttery, eery way they have, and Harry's paying just enough attention to notice the shuffle of footsteps meeting him as he comes around the corner. 

"Potter!" Malfoy snarls, startled. 

Harry straightens warily, eying the other boy. "I don't have time for this, Malfoy - detention, remember?" 

"I don't know if I reca-" Malfoy says silkily, eyes mocking. "Oh, wait, yes. A week's worth, wasn't it? Awfully long time…"

"Well, since you've already had yours, maybe you can tell me what to expect." Harry shoots back. "Have fun earlier, did you? Leave any cauldrons for me?" 

Malfoy reddens - not a good look on his pale features - but smirks. "Oh no. I've got it under the table that the Professor's got something much different planned for you.

"What's that, Malfoy?" Harry bites, feeling his jaw tighten. 

Malfoy shrugs, far too smug for Harry's comfort. "You better get going if you want to be alive to find out!"

Harry growls and shoulders past him, teeth gritted, only to hear a shout and feel his feet jerk as he tries to move forward again, stopped still at the top of the last flight of stairs. 

"Tut, tut, Harry-bear!" Harry hears Malfoy crow gleefully behind him. "Never turn your back on an armed opponent!" 

"I'll remember that!" Harry says, furiously trying to rip his shoes from the ground. Desperation is starting to tinge the edge of his tone, and he can't help it. "Let me go, Malfoy! I'll be late!" 

"Why, yes, Potter. You will." 

Frantically, Harry twists around as Malfoy walks backward down the corridor, snickering all the way.

"Malfoy!" He tries to sound threatening, but seconds later the boy's figure fades, and Harry's left alone in the corridor.

It's unlikely any one else will be coming along, this late at night, most people have settled down for some studying or last minute fun with friends before curfew starts in a few hours. He'll have to fend for himself, as always…muttering a curse, Harry finally remembers the wand he's carrying. Wizard, you idiot! You have magic - well, use it!  He draws it from his back pocket, but he's at a loss how to undo whatever spell is keeping his shoes glued to the floor. Unfamiliar words are shooting through his head as he tries to grasp one that might be helpful…wingardium leviosa, he's been practicing and he's pretty good at that one now…

"Nice one, Harry. You'll die here alone but at least you know how to lift a feather!" 

His irritated sigh is loud and makes the space seem even more empty. He closes his eyes. He just needs to keep a level head. He's got out of trouble before, think! What could he - oh. 

Idiot. Idiot!

Harry tugs a foot out of his shoe. It comes slowly, feeling weighted, like something sticky and stretchy is trying to hold it inside his trainers, but it comes. He gets one socked foot out and feels a thrill of relief, wasting no time working on the other. It takes even more effort coming out, and Harry centers his body in an attempt to get all the pulling power he can in his upright position. 

"Come on!" He grunts, and with one last, urgent tug, it's free - and suddenly, he's toppling, rolling, sharp pain on his back still oily with bruise balm, and his face slams into the wall at the bottom of the stairs. 

Well. At least he landed halfway upright. 

Gasping, dazed, he catches his breath slowly and he pushes himself up, hands gripping the wall until the hallway stops spinning. His cheek is throbbing, he's pretty sure there's a small cut somewhere on his forehead, and his nose feels like it just survived one of Dudley's head-on punches. He closes his eyes, trying to push down a wave of nausea. 

Ok. He can do this. Good as new, negative a pairs of shoes…his only pair of trainers. Damn, he'll have to find a way to get those - but later. Right now, he's got a detention to serve and a Snape to face. 

He sucks his breath in suddenly. Oh, he's - he's definitely going to be late. Curse Malfoy! 

Panting slightly, Harry pushes off the wall and stumbles forward, trying to ignore the fact that the world, quite unfairly, is still insisting on tilting just slightly off kilter. 

Snape's office is just around the corner, he's got to - detention tonight is going to be unpleasant enough, but if he's late? If he's late to his first detention with Snape? 

Harry sighs. Treat it like one of his evenings at the Dursleys. One of his harder evenings. 

He can picture himself faltering, facing his Aunt just inside the clean white door of Privet Drive #4, aching and feeling like a bruised piece of meat after a round with Dudley and gang, dirt under his nails, blood across his shirt sleeve where he carefully wiped his nose so it wouldn't drip…his aunt's cold, dismissive gaze, chores still unfinished and an evening ahead of -

Alright. This isn't helping. 

He bangs on the door - a little louder than he meant to. Whoops. The elegant iron fixtures, the soft, rich grain of the wood - he remembers it from the last time he stood in front of it, the way he'd studied it in silence, trying to work up his nerve. He's less nerves and more determination this time, and he lets the stubborn thudding in his chest firm him as Snape's voice calls sharply, "Come!"

Harry does, keeping his posture stuff. This is a mission, reconnaissance, and he won't let himself forget it. Malfoy, shoes - Dursleys - they're all behind him. Snape might think he's here for detention, but Harry has one purpose in this room right now, and he shakes his head, scolding himself. Stay focused! Hard to do while his head is still swimming, but isn't that just his luck?

Well, it's not like he hasn't done more before. 

Snape's keen, barbed observation will take much more effort to subvert than the doltish and dimwitted Dursleys, but Harry will stay low and take his chances, spy it out for the next time. Whatever it takes, however long, his parents will end up back where they belong, tucked in the chest pocket of his too-large flannel shirt, right next to Harry's heart. 

If he has that when he goes back to the Dursleys, he can make it through anything they thrown at him. Invincible with the knowledge that, somewhere, once upon a time, there were two people, with smiles like blue skies and hearts brave like sunshine, and once upon a time, they loved him. He feels warm every time he thinks of it, feels the thought curling quiet and content, humming inside him. That's enough, for him, for now. Just that...

"You're late, Potter." 

Harry's eyes dart toward the figure seated at the desk. The man isn't even looking at him, just scribbling on some papers, but his eyes have narrowed all the same. 

"It wasn't my fault," Harry mutters, fingers clenching into his sides.

"Speak clearly, Potter!"

Harry works at loosening his jaw, the words grinding out. "I said, I'm sorry, sir."

"You're an abominable liar, Potter, but you can trust you will be very sorry by the time I'm done wi-" Snape's head comes up and he stops abruptly. He rises tersely to his feet, towering, dark and imposing as ever. 

"What do you mean by coming in like this, Potter?" He hisses. 

He seems inordinately offended about something, and Harry looks down over his robes, scanning them for what could make Snape look so taken back. They're a bit ruffled, but seem to be in proper order. His….oh. Would Snape care that he came to detention without his trainers? Is Harry in socks so utterly revolting? It strikes him as funny and his lips twitch up before he wipes the thought from his mind and scrabbles for an answer, feeling his flash of humor replaced with tendrils of annoyed resentment. If Snape's favorite little prince would quite taking them…! But Snape will never accept that answer. Harry knows better than to complain - Snape won't believe him any more than his Aunt would, and then he'd be in double trouble for lying and whatever else Snape cooks up. He'll just have to take responsibility and brace himself for the tirade that follows. 

Ugh. Why can't this detention just be over?

"I…lost them. Sir."

"Lost what, Potter!" 

What it Snape's game? He must just like making Harry spell things out. Especially embarrassing things. 

"My shoes," Harry snaps. 

Snape's eyes flit to the tips of Harry's sock-toed feet, blinking, like he hadn't seen them before. His eyes harden, and he leans forward, although Harry notices he doesn't step out from behind the desk toward Harry. 

"If this is an attempt to gain pity or get out of your detention, Potter -"

"What? No," Harry protests. Why would Snape think that losing his shoes would get Harry out of detention? 

 Snape's dark eyes spear into him, and he straightens back up. Harry wishes Snape would sit at the desk. He looks so much less dramatic and severe when he's sitting down. 

"I would surely hope not." Snape says. "Because it won't get you anywhere."

His eyes go so still and cold Harry shivers, just a bit, whether from the look of them, or Malfoy's words that are suddenly ringing in his head. 

"He's got something special planned for you…"

"Go clean yourself up, Potter." Snape averts his gaze, sneering. "I'm going to have to spend the next hour looking at your face, and I'd prefer it to be worthy of manifesting the respect a Slytherin should show their Head."

Snape grasps his wand and gracefully summons a rag, which hurls right into Harry's shoulder. Brow knitting, Harry catches the rag from his shoulder and walks toward the tiny copper sink that Snape gestured him to, tucked against the wall right outside the entrance to…what looks a lot like the potions classroom closet, except bigger, and more counter space. 

Harry glimpses himself in the mirror above the sink and catches his breath. Oh. 

Well. He does look a bit like he got chased down by Dudley's thugs, doesn't he? Blood is oozing from the small cut he can barely feel on his forehead. Head wound. Looks worse than it is. But there's also a thin shadow, just turning into a bruise, right across his cheekbone where the side of his face hit the wall, or maybe a stair on the way down, Harry can't quite remember. And blood is flaking, just starting to dry, smeared across his upper lip, which he realizes is stinging, and under his nose. How could he have not noticed that he had a bloody nose? 

So. That's what Snape was disgusted about. 

With a little sigh, he turns the water on and uses the rag to scrub bluntly across his face. Maybe when he gets back to the dorm, that bruise balm stuff would work on his cheekbone, too? He winces when he brushes the rag against it harshly. 

Better. Maybe Snape can stand to look at him now. 

On the other hand, Harry snickers to himself, Snape can hardly stand to look at his face whether it's clean or not, so - 

"Is something amusing, Mr. Potter?" 

Yes. Harry straightens. "No, sir." 

Snape looks like he's trying to decide whether to press the issue of why Harry would come to detention with a bloody face and no shoes or leap to the easy, believable conclusion - that he did it simply to spite his Head. Ah, grown-up logic. 

"Sit." Snape points to the chair. 

Damn. 

Harry walks over and slowly lowers himself onto the stern wood seat, wondering when his actual punishment is going to start. 

Snape doesn't ask him about his face or his shoes. 

He doesn't ask him anything at all; he just stands there, glowering down at Harry like he's a potion that went bonkers for no reason.

Harry pushes down an urge to squirm and wishes the man would just speak.

"Draco has brought it to my attention that you've been preying on him. Picking fights." Snape says finally, eyes daring Harry to lie.

"Has he?" Harry says lightly, words dripping. "Well. Far be it from me to contradict Draco."

Snape, if possible, looks even more threatening, eyes hissing, body drawn tight and taut like he's keeping himself from lashing out and Harry swallows, shrinking back into the chair a little. Curse his mouth, always spilling stuff without his permission! It's just the Dursleys don't catch most of his insults and he hardly thinks about it, but Snape - he should be careful about pushing a man with so much power over him. Any more than he already has. Clever enough to find the most creative ways to hurt Harry, and dangerous enough to act on it in the ways that will make Harry most miserable - no, Harry has known from the beginning that this would not be a man he wants to provoke.

So much for that.

He suppresses a tired snigger and he's exhausted, suddenly, worn out of Snape's games. He slumps a little. Alright. He knows what Snape wants.

"Yeah, okay. Yes, sir. I've been picking on Draco, 'cause I think he's a stuck-up, spoiled twat who's even more used to getting his way than Dudley, and has only slightly more brains!"

"The truth, Potter," Snape says through his teeth, tone derisive. "And if you speak of another student like that again, you won't be happy with the consequences."

Harry's almost too caught up to notice it, the again - if he speaks like that again, like he's not going to be punished for what he's just said.

"The truth?" Ha. Would that he could, spit it all out in the man's sneering, scorning face. "You don't want the truth, sir."

 

"You don't want the truth, sir."

The boy's mouth twists as he says it, and he seems certain, more certain than Severus has ever seen him before. That alone makes him want to contradict it, wants to make him shake the boy with every inch of rage that he's stuffed down since Potter walked into the room, but he doesn't. He doesn't, because he realizes suddenly, with the harsh, instant feeling of someone who has abruptly noticed they're on the edge of a precipice, that he doesn't want the truth.

Ever since Potter walked into the room looking as careless and jaunty as a London street cat fresh out of a fight, he's wanted very much to believe that Potter came waltzing in like that on purpose simply to spite his face. And in fact, he's been rather annoyed with the part of him that's been holding out on him - or even worse, noting how confused the boy seemed when he pointed it out, spouting out about missing shoes like a complete nincompoop instead of using his "injuries" to try to get out of detention like he should be doing. Never mind the fact that they are probably his own fault.

You don't want the truth, sir.

He is getting closer and closer to realizing it; the truth is nowhere close to the picture that he's constructed, that he clings to.

You don't want the truth, sir.

No. He doesn't, does he?

Doesn't want the truth about the scars on Potter's back or his shadowed comments thrown out so flippantly in the Hospital Wing.

Doesn't want the truth about the confusion and resentment so prominent every time Severus questions him.

Doesn't want the truth about exactly what Potter thinks Severus might do to him every time he steels himself from flinching back - oh yes, Severus sees it.

Doesn't want the truth about why Potter is so scraggly looking and young and tired, with still enough spirit to fearlessly call out Draco Malfoy to his own godfather.

Doesn't want the truth about why Potter dragged himself into detention late tonight, bracing, face bloodied and limping just slightly, and expecting his House Head to take no notice of it.

Not to take notice, or not to care?

And when he looks at his face again, it's not a younger version of James Potter that he sees - the boy has just as many similarities to an certain young Slytherin outcast than to the golden Gryffindor prefect, and he doesn't even want the truth about that.

Well. Far be it from Severus to play into a Potter's expectations of him.

On the other hand, he can't quite bring himself to messy his hands with emotions any more than is absolutely necessary.

All the cruel, necessary replies springing to his lips about eleven-year-old boys claiming to have command of the truth, or that Potter wouldn't know truth if it hit him in his ridiculous excuse for a face, or does Potter really want to know the truth about things? Are just sitting there, reluctant to fall from his lips, quivering on the fringe of a comeback.

He hasn't missed the fact that the boy's eyes keep darting over to one of the tiny draws built into his desk. What…? 

Ah, yes. The picture. That is where he put it, isn't it? 

In the long silence, the boy is still looking at him, unperturbed, his eyes far too honest and green and - curse it all to hell -

Before Severus can think his actions thoroughly through, he's slid open a different, larger drawer - stacked under a mountain of his articles and research papers and a few student's essays on top, he draws it out from when he had it in his hands that morning after the sorting.

When he holds it out flat, the boy leans forward, face frozen like his world has stopped, and when he finally does speak, it’s not to Severus. 

“Mum,” he breathes, reaching out, his small, hesitant fingers shaking with restrained eagerness. He's melted, all soft edges and vulnerability, and looks so fragile in this moment, no trace of his earlier bravado and rebellion and hot glares.

Severus’ jaw tightens so hard and suddenly it twinges. 

Potter’s fingers are still in midair when they curl back, and Potter sucks in a breath, darting a look at Severus through his bashful fringe. 

“Can - I -“

“Don’t be a dolt, Potter!” Severus snaps, voice rough. “Would I have brought it out if I was adverse to your grubby hands touching it?”

Potter looks unsure for a moment, and obviously Severus is going to have to spell it out for the simple-headed nitwit. Steeling his features, he puts the picture down on the desk and slides it toward the boy, whose gaze follows it unequivocally, as if incapable of tearing his eyes away from it for a minute. The awe in them subtly erases wary lines that Severus had barely noted by the boy’s forehead and eyes, making his face look rounder and much more childlike, those eyes lit with a shy sort of unguarded wonder - merlin his eyes!

“Well, Potter? I will be happy to set it right back into my collection if you are too idle to move a finger to pick it up!”

“No!” Potter’s breathing quickens as he shoots out not one, but both hands and brings it to him, cradling it carefully in his palms. 

“No, sir. Please,” He says, staring at the moving picture like he could drink it, absorb right into his beating heart through his eyes. “Sir,” 

The boy is mumbling words dazedly, overwhelmed, bewildered, deeply grateful, still a bit leery, apparently at a loss for words, but still spitting them out anyways. 

“Shut up before I do something drastic, Potter.” 

The boy swallows his last word, inevitably a sir or a please, Severus doesn’t bother to decide which. 

“Yeah,” Potter whispers finally, still sounding breathless. 

“Do you need an invitation?” Severus says cooly, pulling some of his essays over and flicking imperiously at his quill pen.

“To what?” The boy questions, finally raising his gaze reluctantly from the picture. 

“To leave, Potter!” 

“Oh. No.” 

Severus is pretty sure both of them are ready to escape the room, which has filled with entirely too much emotion in the air for Severus to be comfortable, hanging like heavy, clingy clouds on a perfectly good day. 

The boy inevitably looks crushed, though, and Severus thinks it might be the first time he's ever seen that look on a student when he's offered to let them leave his office. Wilting, the boy puts the picture back on the desk, his fingers lingering on the edges of it like he can't stand to quite pull them away.

"Right," He says, dejected. "Right -"

"What are you doing?" Severus snaps.

Confusion. "I'm…leaving? Sir?"

Severus leans forward. "And take all of your possessions with you."

Potter glances around, then at his schoolbag. Idiot.

"All your possessions, Potter," Severus says, annunciating as clearly as he can while pushing the picture back into the fingers of the boy who never really let it go.

He can see the moment the boy's face changes, and he jerks his head up towards Severus, startlement in his eyes, and dawning understanding, and then, such a strong surge of emotion through those familiar orbs that Severus looks away, reluctant to even attempt to identify it. Potter slides the picture off the desk and slips it securely into the pocket of his jeans, under his robes. One hand stays there, resting over it gently.

"I believe you've been issued an offer to leave, Potter. I won't ask again."

Potter rises from his chair and starts for the door, the most foolish little grin sitting on his face, but when he gets to it, he turns, hesitating as if he remembered something.

“My detention, sir?” 

How grossly Gryffindor, reminding a Professor of a detention after he’s let you go. Cringe-worthy, really, but Severus can’t help the way his voice, while still stiff, softens just the littlest bit. 

“Detention served, Potter.”