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The Gift of Kindness

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Harry spends the rest of the class trying not to get noticed, not to get called on, and to take as many notes as possible. The Boil-Cure potion he makes isn’t as pretty and clear looking as the one Malfoy makes, but it’s at least not melted the cauldron. Harry is feeling very worried. Potions is going to be hard and it seems he has already made the professor angry. When class is over, Ron and he pack their bags as quickly as possible, but before they can leave, professor Snape blocks their path.

“You will stay behind Mr. Potter,” he drawls. He towers over Harry, looking extra imposing with his large nose, black hair, black robes, black eyes. His skin looks vaguely yellow in the awful light of the dungeons. Ron squeaks something and professor Snape replies to him, “that will not be necessary Mr. Weasley, you will see Mr. Potter after lunch.”

Harry can feel his eyes stinging, his shoulders pulling up to his ears. Why is he being singled out like this? He doesn’t think a lot of people in the class knew the answer to all the questions the professor asked. Hermione, probably, maybe Malfoy but then his parents could’ve helped him learn. When everyone has left, professor Snape closes the classroom door, and motions for Harry to follow him to a door at the far end of the classroom. It leads to an office lined with jars that Harry doesn’t dare look at, but they pass through quickly, to another door. When they step into a cosy sitting room, Harry can’t help but stare in awe. It’s wonderful, with a warm fire crackling, a large carpet in the middle of the stone floor, comfortable looking furniture and more books than Harry has ever seen outside of a library. Harry’s stomach hurts. Do professors at Hogwarts make students write lines? Will he be hit? 

“Please take a seat, Mr. Potter,” the professor says, motioning to one of the armchairs. He seems different in here, his posture more relaxed. Harry knows better than to assume that means anything, so he keeps his head down, and does as he was told.

Professor Snape walks through an arch off the side of the fireplace to what looks like it might be a small kitchen and calls back to Harry. “Do you like hot chocolate?” 

“I’m not sure, sir,” Harry answers honestly. The professor makes a huffing sound that has Harry scoot back on the chair, until his feet don’t touch the ground anymore. He looks at his muddy sneakers and prays silently that he won’t get yelled at for getting the beautiful carpet dirty. He’s contemplating the carpet’s intricate patterns when he senses the professor stepping back into the room. He looks up to see professor Snape has shed his teaching robes as well as his black buttoned robes and has rolled up the sleeves of the white shirt he wears underneath. He’s holding two steaming mugs and has taken off his shoes at some point. As he makes his way over, Harry considers asking if he should take off his shoes too. Which brings him back to the carpet.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” The professor asks, his tone suddenly gentle. Harry startles when he hears a clunk as a mug is set down on the side table next to the chair he’s sitting in. Professor Snape sits down on the carpet in front of Harry and crosses his legs. He’s exactly in Harry’s field of vision now and Harry thinks it might be rude to look away. So he takes in the professor’s gleaming hair, which reflects the light from the fire, his dark eyes, which seem warm and kind like this. He shuffles back further into the chair, out of striking range, in case the professor decides to punish him for not knowing anything about potions.

“I’m sorry for what I said during class, for the way I behaved,” professor Snape says, making Harry squirm again. What could he say to that? The professor sets his mug down next to him on the carpet, takes a little black band from his wrist, and ties his hair up in a bun. It makes him look younger, less strict.

“Will you allow me to explain?” He says, and Harry nods a little.

“Please answer my questions, I can’t read your mind,” the professor says, his tone polite and warm. Harry knows not to disregard an order, no matter the tone, so he quickly says: “Yes, sir.”

The professor looks startled, pinches the bridge of his nose briefly, then comes to some conclusion. He holds out his right hand, “allow me to start over.” 

Harry takes the hand, which is warm and dry and just a little calloused, and they shake briefly. “I’m Severus Snape, potions master. I teach Potions at Hogwarts. You may call me Severus while we’re here.”

“I’m Harry,” says Harry. Professor Snape, Severus, grins at him.

“Do you know how your parents died, Harry?”

Harry nods, wasn’t expecting this topic at all, then remembers he needs to talk. “Yes, Hagrid told me. Voldemort killed them.”

 Severus twitches and Harry starts to apologize for using the forbidden name, but Severus stops him by holding up his hand. “I’ll explain later why I won’t call him that, but you have every right to. If there’s something you want to know, you may ask anything. I can’t tell you I will know or be able to tell you, but please do ask.” 

Harry nods, then squeaks out an “alright”. Severus continues: “The Dark Lord disappeared the night he killed your parents, but he had a group of people that agreed with him, his followers.”

“Do you think he’ll be back?” Harry finds himself asking.

“Yes, I think he’s hiding while he regains his strength, I think he will come back and he will try to hurt you,” Severus nods, looking impossibly sad. “You’re safe here,” Severus promises, “but you cannot stay at Hogwarts forever.” Despite himself, Harry feels like he wants to comfort the man. He wants information more though, so he asks: “Are his followers hiding with him?” 

Severus looks at him curiously. Harry gets the strange impression that he asked a good question. “Perhaps some are. Most of his followers pretended they never had anything to do with him after he disappeared. The others went to prison. Those who couldn’t claim not being on his side often said they had been forced to join him.”

Harry hums, he hopes Severus will keep talking, but Severus is quiet for a long time. He remembers his hot chocolate and takes a sip. It’s delicious, still warm but no longer burning, rich and smooth. His eyes widen as he licks his lips clean. Severus notices and laughs softly, it’s a nice sound.

“Then there’s me,” Severus returns to his story, and his face looks sad again. “I was his follower, because I thought he could protect me and make me stronger. I realized quite soon that he would not protect me or make me stronger, that he was hurting people instead. Then I made a mistake, and it put your life in danger, as well as your parents’ lives. I went to professor Dumbledore to ask him for help, and he promised he would if I became a spy. Your parents died because of my mistake.”

Harry has to think about that for a moment. Severus was a follower of Voldemort, but he tried to protect his parents and spied for professor Dumbledore. He wants to know what the mistake was that Severus made, wonders what happened. He decides that it matters more right now if he’s safe.

“Are you happy he’s gone?” He ends up asking.

“Very much,” Severus says, looking at Harry, “but I’m afraid that he will come back. When he does, it would help us defeat him forever if I can be a spy again.”

“So you’re mean to me so that when he comes back, he will think you want to hurt me so you’re on his side?”

“Clever child,” Severus mutters and he nods. Harry decides that means he is safe. Severus didn’t mean for his parents to get killed and he didn’t want to be mean to Harry. “There are children at this school whose parents are followers of the Dark Lord, and they will tell their parents of how we get along if we don’t hide it. If he thinks we’re friends, he might even ask me to take you to him.”

“You want to be friends with me?” Harry asks. He’s only been at Hogwarts for a few days and he already has Hagrid, Ron, and now maybe Severus. Even if Severus has to be his friend in secret, that’s more friends than he’s ever had.

“If you would like that too, then yes.” Harry nods, and Severus smiles brightly at him. He has a nice smile that makes the corners of his eyes crinkle. Harry relaxes a little. Severus doesn’t want to hurt him, doesn’t look like he’s going to yell, and wants to be his friend.

“Professor Dumbledore asked me to make sure no one could ever get the impression that I would be able to take you to the Dark Lord, that it is completely obvious that you don’t trust me, that everyone considers us natural enemies.”

Harry gasps, “professor Dumbledore asked you to be mean to me?” Severus nods and Harry thinks on that for a minute. It makes sense, if it will help keep him safe, but he can’t imagine what it would be like if he didn’t know Severus didn’t actually dislike him. He feels very grateful that Severus is taking the time to explain. If Severus didn’t have a choice but to be mean during class, Harry can forgive him for the cramp in his stomach. The hot chocolate is fixing that anyway. 

“Why can’t you say Voldemort?” Harry asks.

“Because he gives all his followers a Mark,” Severus explains, and he stretches out his left arm so Harry can see the grey snake and skull. “It connects us to him, when he wants us to come, he calls us with it. If he wants to hurt us, he can, and when we say his name, it burns us.”

Harry takes a deep breath, then stretches out to carefully trace the snake. “It’s not as bad now that he is very weak,” Severus continues, shuffling closer so Harry can reach better, “when he is stronger the mark is darker, and the pain is worse.”

“I don’t mind touching you,” Harry finds himself thinking out loud, “I don’t normally like being touched or touching people.”

“I’m the same,” Severus says softly, and Harry pulls his hand back. “I mean, I don’t normally like it, but I don’t mind when you do.”

“Oh,” Harry says, touching the snake again. It seems to be looking at him so he tells the snake “you’re very pretty but you’re hurting my friend.”

Severus gasps, and Harry pulls his hand back again, squirming closer to the back of the chair. “Did I hurt you?”

“No, no,” Severus says, frozen in place, “you can speak to snakes?”

Harry nods, “I’ve only done it once before, at a zoo.”

“Maybe that should also be a secret, Harry. Only one other person can speak to snakes.”

“Him?” Harry doesn’t like having something in common with Voldemort at all. But Severus nods.

“Harry,” Severus says, his tone very serious, “we can be friends in here, but outside of these rooms, we need to pretend to hate each other. If you think you cannot do both, we can’t be friends.”

“I understand,” Harry says, it wouldn’t be the first time he kept something hidden from people, “I’d like to be your friend.”

“I’m very happy to hear that. Will you be able to keep everything we talked about today a secret?”

Harry thinks for a moment, spreading his hand on the tattoo on Severus’ arm. “What will I tell Ron?” 

“You can tell him I gave you detention and you had to write lines, if you want.”

Harry thinks on that, then nods. That would make sense. “When will we see each other? I’m having tea with Hagrid later today and I live with Ron.”

“My door is always open to you, and maybe when I give you detention because we fight in class, we can talk like this instead.”

Harry smiles, “that sounds nice.” He thinks for a moment. “If it’s a secret, maybe we should have a secret code.” He read a pirate book in class once where they had secret codes. Severus smiles again, slow, like they have a secret together.

“I think that’s a very good suggestion. Maybe we can say that when I call you arrogant, what I really mean is ‘I’m still your friend’.”

Harry smiles wider, he likes this, “maybe when I say you’re ugly what I really mean is I’m still your friend.”

“Pardon?” Severus’ eyes have narrowed a little. Harry tries to sit still but squirms in his seat. He pulls back his hand from Severus’ arm.

“I’ve heard people call you the ugly git or the dungeon bat,” Harry feels his cheeks heat. He knows what it’s like to be called names. “Obviously it’s not true, so it can be our code.”

“Obviously?”

“Yeah,” Harry says, at a loss for words, “like this.” He waves his hand at Severus sitting in front of him, “you look nice without all the black, and not so scary with your hair back.”

Severus leans back onto his hands and looks at Harry strangely.

“Did I say something wrong?” Harry asks, trying to read Severus’ expression. He’d rather not make his third friend angry.

“No,” Severus huffs, then smiles, “you said something kind, I suppose I’m not used to that.”

“Oh,” blushes Harry, “neither am I, I think. Maybe we can be kind for each other.” Severus looks like he might cry for an odd moment, but he nods and really that makes Harry very happy.

“Are you hungry at all?”

Harry thinks, he is but he doesn’t want to seem greedy. “It is lunch time.” He says instead.

Severus tilts his head and calls softly for someone called Daphne. A tiny creature appears, with huge round eyes and big floppy ears. “What can Daphne do?”

“I’ll have some stew and some bread please, if it’s not a bother. Harry, what do you feel like?”

“Anything’s fine,” Harry squeaks and Daphne gives him a look of such scepticism that Harry freezes. “I love the pie we had at the Welcoming Feast,” he finds himself saying, and Daphne nods before disappearing.

“Severus?”

“House elf, they run the kitchen and do the cleaning around the castle. Daphne is a friend, she keeps secrets well. If you’re in need you can call for her, she can appear anywhere in the castle, but don’t abuse it.”

Harry nods. A table filled with food suddenly appears between Severus and him, and he sinks down onto the floor, sitting on his knees to eat. Severus seems preoccupied with eating himself, so Harry doesn’t bother pretending he’s not hungry anymore. They talk about Harry’s first week of classes, his teachers, what was hard, what was easy.

“Harry,” Severus says before Harry leaves, “you mustn’t tell anyone about this. I’m sorry to ask it of you but you really shouldn’t.”

“I won’t,” Harry promises.

“When you’re around professor Dumbledore, try not to even think of me,” he says then, which is a strange thing to say. But Severus asked him to try, so Harry promises he will.

 

Time passes fast at Hogwarts. Harry loves the castle, loves the grounds, loves the corners and corridors and paintings and all the odd nooks. He loves the classes, loves his friends, loves the food.

His first detention with Severus happens the third week. In class Severus had called on Harry for questions that weren’t a part of the homework at all. Hermione seemed to know the answers but then she probably memorized the whole book before even getting to Hogwarts. Harry got angry with Severus and earned himself detention by calling him an ugly bat.

When he comes into the classroom on Saturday morning, Severus smiles happily at him.

“Good morning!” With a nod of his head he directs Harry into his office.

“Hey,” Harry isn’t sure if he’s forgiven, even if it was their code. He walks over carefully. Severus looks him up and down and Harry can feel his shoulders pull up.

“You did well,” Severus says gently. “Do you have a lot of work? I have to brew a potion and I could use an extra set of hands.”

Harry shakes his head. “Just an essay for Herbology for Monday but I have time. I’d like to help.”

The rest of the morning they talk about what Harry should write the essay on while Severus chops and stirs and Harry walks around the office fetching him jars and ingredients. Severus teaches him to go for the freshest ingredients, to get the nicest looking leaves for the best result. It’s really nice and Harry has a hard time pretending it wasn’t when he joins his classmates for lunch.

 

The morning of Halloween, Harry finds a tiny box with pumpkin shaped chocolates on his bed. There’s a note in there but it only says SS. They’re so delicious Harry only lets Ron have a couple. And only after Ron shows he’s a true friend by helping Harry hide from the third person that reminds him it’s exactly ten years since his parents died. As if it hadn’t been in the newspapers that morning. The whole day people cheerfully announce Harry’s parents are dead a decade whenever then can. Harry tries to thank Severus for the chocolate, but Severus pretends they weren’t from him.

The troll enters the dungeons, Harry and Ron go to find Hermione and they all become friends. Severus shouts and stomps but calls all three of them arrogant so Harry knows he’s acting. In his quarters, hands around a mug of hot chocolate, Severus is totally calm.

“Please,” he says, “don’t do that. Don’t fight things because you’re there, going for help is the most useful thing to do in most situations, bravery has nothing to do with luck.”

Harry nods. “I’m sorry I made you angry.”

“Harry,” Severus looks at him, he looks sad. “You’ve never once made me angry. You make me worried.”

“Don’t think anyone’s been worried for me before,” Harry mumbles.

“I know there is no greater truth than this,” Severus makes sure Harry is looking at him before continuing. “Your parents loved you with all that they were. They worried for you, and I don’t doubt they still do, wherever they may be now. Hagrid and Mr. Weasley, they worry for you. Knowing Mr. Weasley’s mother, she probably worries for you too. Professor Dumbledore and professor McGonagall worry for you.”

“That’s a lot of people,” Harry tries to smile at Severus. He knows it doesn’t look happy, but he is very grateful to have so many people care.

 

A week later, Severus gets bitten by the dog on the third-floor corridor but he won’t tell Harry why. It’s not for eleven-year-olds to know, he keeps saying, even after Harry helps him with the cream to heal faster. Severus is irritable for the rest of the day and when Harry asks why, Severus looks at him oddly.

“How’ve I been in a mood?”

“You’re cranky, you’re stomping and growling.”

“Oh,” Severus sighs, sinking down into the chair, “I suppose I’m worried for tomorrow, for your first match, and disappointed I won’t be able to go running while this wound heals.”

“You run?”

Severus nods, “I aim for three times a week.”

“That explains,” Harry sighs, letting himself drop back into the seat. He pulls his books onto his lap. Severus blinks at him, so he explains, “you walk really fast, you always take such big steps.”

It gets him his first smile of the day, “I’m also quite tall, Harry, even for an adult.”

“Everyone is taller than me,” Harry complains, “and also why does every spell have to be in Latin? Stupid Latins.”

“Hardly Latin,” Severus chuckles, “though many of the words we use for spells have roots in Latin. Have you ever heard of mythology?”

Harry shakes his head no.

“The Romans, who spoke Latin, had fascinating stories they told each other about their gods. Greeks did too. Their cultures were very interesting, I’ll see if I can find you a book. Maybe you won’t find them stupid then.”

 

The next day Harry plays his first match, his broom acts up and he searches the crowd for Severus. Severus already seems to be casting a counter curse, so he focuses on staying on. There’s a bit of a hassle, and his broom straightens itself. Harry catches the Snitch and they win the match. Hermione and Ron tell him Hermione saved him by setting fire to Severus’ cloak. That night Harry knocks on the door to Severus’ quarters.

“You don’t have to knock, you know,” Severus tells him, after he’s been let in. “Just walk in.” Severus is wearing weekend clothes. Slim black trousers and a long-sleeved tunic down to his thighs. Thin purple robes that reach the floor when he stands, tied with a belt. Rings and bracelets.

“But your privacy,” Harry frowns.

“I have other rooms for privacy, Harry, and if you just come in there’s less chance of someone spotting you in the corridor.”

“I’ve already told everyone that’ll listen that I suspect you and Quirrell of trying to steal something,” Harry flops down into the arm chair. “They’ll just think I’m trying to spy on you.” 

Severus chuckles and comes back from the kitchen with two steaming mugs. He gives one to Harry and takes his own seat.

“Thank you for today,” Harry tells him finally. “Saw you casting the counter curse.”

“You’re welcome,” Severus smiles, “you did very well.”

“Beat Slytherin,” Harry grins. 

“That you did.”

 

 

After three months of after dinner hot chocolate, yelling at each other in class, and talking or doing homework while Severus brews instead of detention, Harry rushes in right before curfew and closes the door behind him.

“Harry, isn’t it time for bed?” Severus asks from the chair he’s sitting in. He’s holding a very large book in his lap. Probably about Potions, Severus doesn’t seem to have any fun books with stories at all.

“Sorry,” Harry gasps, still panting a little from running all the way down. “I think Hermione is starting to figure out something.”

“What makes you think that?” Severus asks kindly, motioning for Harry to sit and getting up to make them hot chocolate. He’s told Harry that the hot chocolate will help him gain weight and grow better, but Harry would drink it even if it made him sick. Hot chocolate is the most delicious thing on the planet.

“She’s been asking about why you’re so mean to me when I’m so good at Potions, but now she asked why I don’t seem to mind detention with you especially since you tried to kill me during Quidditch.”

“Harry, if this is too hard for you, we can stop seeing each other like this.”

“No,” Harry cries, “you’re my friend! Besides, I don’t think anyone but Ron or Hermione knows me well enough to become suspicious.”

Severus nods, then steps into the kitchen. When he comes back out, he sits down on the carpet in front of Harry. He hasn’t done that since the first time they talked, so Harry sits up straight as he takes the hot chocolate.

“Harry,” he starts, “I trust your judgement. If you feel that we can trust Hermione and Ron and they wouldn’t tell anyone else, then I think we can.”

Harry thinks for a moment. Who would Hermione tell? She doesn’t have any other friends. Ron might tell his brothers or mother though.

“Just Hermione,” he decides. “Maybe we can tell Ron later, but I don’t think he suspects anything yet and he might tell his family.”

“That sounds good,” Severus nods. “Before we tell her though, you should know that the Dark Lord thought people like Hermione didn’t belong at Hogwarts.”

“Why? Because she’s black? Is that why he didn’t like my parents? Were they brown like me?” Harry says, even if he knows it irritates Severus when he asks too many questions in a row. It does now too, Severus looks cross.

“Not because she’s black, he didn’t like your parents for other reasons, your father was brown like you,” he answers. “Please remind me in a moment to ask you why you’ve never seen pictures of your parents. I will tell you the other thing first.”

Harry nods, drinking his hot chocolate to stop himself from asking more questions.

“It’s because Hermione’s parents are Muggles. Your mum’s parents were Muggles too. The Dark Lord thinks only wizards should be in charge, that Muggles are unimportant. That wizards and witches born from Muggles shouldn’t be allowed to come to Hogwarts.”

Harry struggles with that for a moment, Hermione is no less of a witch because her parents are Muggles. She’s been his friend since Halloween but he’s known for a while that she’s brilliant. Clearly, Voldemort was wrong.

“I have no idea what my parents look like, except everyone keeps saying that I look like them. My aunt and uncle told me they died in a car crash.”

“Your parents,” Severus says, looking very earnest, “died to protect you. It was wrong of your aunt and uncle to keep that information from you.”

It seems that Severus notices that talking about these things make him sad, because his tone changes completely when he says: “Does Petunia still look like a horse when she’s angry?”

Harry giggles at that, “she looks like a horse all the time!”

Severus laughs with him, it makes Harry feel warm and safe. “How do you know Petunia?”

“I grew up near your mum,” Severus answers, leaning forward a little, “we were friends before we even came to Hogwarts.”

“Until she died?” Harry asks, unable to help himself.

“Yes,” Severus nods, “although we were not so close at the end.” He seems sad, which makes sense. Harry would hate to stop seeing anyone he’s friends with now. He can tell by the way Severus asked about Petunia that he doesn’t like her and Harry feels less alone. It’s nice to have someone in the castle know something about Little Whinging. He hopes quietly that he’ll never have to go back, that he’ll be allowed to stay here or at least away from Petunia. He wouldn’t mind never seeing her again. Why did Severus and his mum stop being friends?

“When you were following Voldemort?”

“Before that even. We had a big fight when I called her something really nasty and our friendship never really recovered. It didn’t help that your dad and I didn’t get along.”

Harry nods thoughtfully. “But you tried to save them.”

“I did.” Severus looks very sad, so Harry places a hand on his shoulder. He hopes it’ll make him feel better and it seems to work because Severus sighs and smiles at him a little.

They finish their hot chocolate in silence and Severus walks Harry to a portrait with a secret passage to the seventh floor, so he can avoid bumping into Mrs. Norris. Or worse - Filch himself.

“I’ll tell Hermione tonight if she’s still in the common room, and otherwise tomorrow,” Harry promises.

“Alright,” Severus says, and he ruffles Harry’s hair. “Now off to bed with you.” 

Harry laughs, gives Severus a quick hug, and rushes off.