Snape stumbles into Grimmauld Place one night not a week after Harry gets there and while he’s trying not to think about the hearing that’s upcoming, which might mean he’s expelled from Hogwarts. Snape at least provides something else to think about instead.
He collapses on the floor not far from the doorway, and so Harry’s the first one that finds him. There’s blood all over his robes and side, and Harry can see bone. He immediately yells for Kreacher, and maybe it’s because of the panic in his voice, but the elf actually shows up.
He stares at Snape for a second, then at Harry. “Filthy half-bloods be wanting Kreacher to do something?” he asks.
“If you help him—bring him healing potions or something—then I’ll make sure your head’s hung on the wall after you die!” Harry says desperately. It’s the only thing he can think of. He doesn’t even dare do magic with the hearing coming up. He falls to his knees beside Snape, trying to press his hands against the robes and hold back the blood.
Kreacher disappears just as the twins pound down the stairs. “We thought we heard something—”
“Bloody hell,” George adds, and since he’s of age, he at least manages to conjure a bandage and get it slapped over the mess that’s the open wound in Snape’s side. “What happened to him?”
Harry shakes his head and then moves around so that he can see Snape’s face. Snape’s lips are moving, and his face is contorted in a terrible way. Harry kneels down. If these are going to be Snape’s last words on earth, then he wants to hear them.
Snape manages to hiss at him, “Found out—as a spy. Dark Lord—took my blood. Performing a spell to find—” And he goes limp, his head rolling on the floor in a cascade of greasy hair.
Sirius arrives then, and there’s more yelling, and Harry barely makes everyone calm down enough to ask Sirius to send a Patronus to Dumbledore, because he thinks that Snape’s last words about blood need to be heard.
But he never imagines that they have anything to do with him. Why would they?
Harry stares at Dumbledore and Snape for long seconds after the words leave Dumbledore’s lips.
Then he swallows against the grainy dryness of his throat, and whispers, “You’re joking.”
“Alas, Harry, I am not.” Dumbledore places his hands over his eyes. It’s the tiredest Harry has ever seen him look. “Professor Snape hoped to take the secret to his grave, but with the blood that Voldemort now possesses, he will be able to track down any person who is linked to Professor Snape biologically. And that means that it is necessary to tell you.”
A second more passes, and then Harry is laughing hysterically, bent over his knees, gasping for breath. Something warm lands on his shoulder and he can hear Fawkes crooning in worry, but he can’t look up at the phoenix. He can’t attend to Dumbledore asking if he’s all right. He can’t think of anything but—
The fact that Snape and his mum slept together some night long ago, nine months before he was born. And his dad, that is James Potter, never knew. And he’s not a Potter, and he’s Snape’s son, and Snape always knew, and never treated him differently, and—
A charm hits him at the same moment as Snape snarls, “Potter!” Harry sits back up, a little calmed down, and says the first thing that comes into his head.
“You can’t call me that anymore, Snape.”
Snape says nothing, his mouth one long grim line across his face. Harry turns away from him and faces Dumbledore. “You could have just said Snape was caught spying and kept me under the blood protections that you say I’m under when I visit the Dursleys,” he says flatly. “You didn’t have to tell me anything. Can you Obliviate me now?”
“Harry,” Dumbledore sighs, sounding sad and pained. “You should face the truth of who you are.”
Fawkes pushes his beak against Harry’s cheek. Harry roughly shakes the phoenix off, and ignores the bird’s attempts to cry on him. He only has one more question to ask. “Does Sirius know?”
“You think I would trust Black with this? You are truly as stupid as I always thought you.”
Harry stands up and leaves the Headmaster’s office without looking back, even though he Flooed here and he knows he’ll need to wait for someone to Floo back or Apparate him to Grimmauld Place. His heart is pounding and his head is filled with a void and all he can think is that he’s lost. Everything. All things.
He has nothing.
Harry anticipated that, too, once he told Sirius that he was “Snivellus’s” son. He already has his things packed. He slings his bag over his shoulder, and slips the trunk that Tonks was kind enough to shrink for him into his pocket, and goes.
Sirius stops him before he even gets to the stairs, though. “I’ll be having the broom I gave you back. And the Cloak and the Map. Since you aren’t really a Marauder after all.”
Harry stops with his shoulders hunched in as much as he can make them. Then he turns and looks into Sirius’s eyes.
They’re wild with grief. Sirius doesn’t hate him, but Harry knows well enough that this is like losing James all over again, and now there’s nothing left in the world of Sirius’s best friend, and nothing will ever make it right again.
Harry is all too used to that feeling, himself.
“All right,” he says, head filled with dullness, and pulls out the trunk. Sirius resizes it so quickly that Harry almost drops it on his foot. Harry pulls out the Cloak and the Map and hands them over, along with the shrunken Firebolt, and Sirius almost snatches them. Then Sirius reaches for the photo album Hagrid gave him.
Sirius starts and glares at him. “Those pictures of James aren’t yours.”
“But my mum is still my mum, and you didn’t give it to me,” Harry retorts, sweeping hair from his face.
Sirius tracks the movement of Harry’s hand with his eyes and then begins laughing, nearly the way he laughed when Harry saw him for the first time in photographs on the front page of the Prophet. “What did they do to make you look so like James, huh? Snivellus doesn’t have that poor eyesight, or that hair. They cast the spells. Or Lily did. What are you going to look like when those spells break?”
It’s something Harry hasn’t thought about, and he staggers with the knowledge. But he’s still quick enough to slam the trunk’s lid when Sirius tries to scoop up the photo album again. It’s still not his.
“You’re not going to have the Potter vault, either,” Sirius taunts, stepping back, sucking his fingers that must smart from the trunk’s lid catching them. “Better get your daddy to buy them for you. You know, I never did think you were enough like James.”
“Well, as long as we’re voicing ugly thoughts,” Harry whispers, “I can’t believe that you ran after Peter when I was a baby and your godson, as far as you knew.”
Sirius staggers, his eyes wide and betrayed, and Harry turns and goes down to the Floo. No one knows he’s going to Hogwarts, but where else does he have to go? The Dursleys might take him back if Dumbledore goes with him, but not otherwise, and he can’t stay here.
He’s lost his godfather, too.
Dumbledore does talk to Sirius and try to persuade him to let Harry back into Grimmauld Place, but he fails. Harry knew he would. He sleeps by himself in the room that will belong to the Gryffindor fifth-year boys in September, and he practices magic by himself, and reads, and finishes up his summer assignments, and goes to the kitchens to spend time with Dobby when he absolutely can’t stand the loneliness anymore.
He sees Snape only once, when he’s coming out of the kitchens on the way back to Gryffindor Tower.
Harry freezes for a second, then just nods and starts to walk on. He can feel Snape’s eyes on him, knows what he’s probably seeing. It seems that Snape’s acknowledgement of their biological relationship is what was needed to break the spells concealing Harry’s features under James Potter’s. Harry has longer, straighter hair now, although it’s still black, and a longer nose. Otherwise, the changes to his chin and cheeks seem to mostly come from his mum.
“You need not think that you will ever live with me,” Snape tells his back as Harry walks past him. “You would need to be a much more accomplished young man.”
Harry glances back, and he thinks later that it’s his expression of complete surprise that makes Snape blink at him. “I never thought that,” Harry says.
He continues on his way up to Gryffindor Tower, bleakly amused. Why in the world would he want to live with Snape? He’s only actually desired to live with people who love him unconditionally.
He gave up on the blood family who wanted him to be a different person long ago. This is only another iteration of that.
Telling his friends turns out to be harder than Harry thought, because he was sure Sirius would have told them. But apparently Sirius just locked himself in his bedroom at Grimmauld Place for the rest of the summer and refused to come out, summoning Kreacher to give him meals. Harry has to listen to minutes of Hermione’s rambling indignation about that before he finally gives up and snaps, “I’m Snape’s son.”
They’re in a darkened corner of the Gryffindor common room with privacy spells woven around them, but Hermione still looks around frantically, as if sure that someone is spying on them. Then she swallows and says, “That’s—that’s why Sirius went mad.”
Harry shrugs, leaning back in the squashy chair he claimed earlier and staring at the ceiling. He almost wonders if he’s supposed to be here at all. Did the Sorting Hat want to put him in Slytherin because of his heritage?
It feels like a stupid thought, but no stupider than assuming he was supposed to belong in Gryffindor because of who he thought his parents were.
“Yeah, that’s it,” Harry says. “He couldn’t stand the fact that I’m not James Potter’s.”
“But how did it happen?” Ron asks, and then turns green as both Harry and Hermione look at him. “Never mind, I know that. I mean, why did it happen?”
Harry shakes his head. “I only got the bare facts from both Snape and Dumbledore—”
“Harry, call them Professor—”
“I’m bloody well not going to,” Harry snaps, turning to Hermione, whose eyes widen at once. “All they told me was that Snape and my mum slept together nine months before I was born. That’s all, Hermione. They were both here all summer, and Snape’s been found out by Voldemort—stop flinching, Ron!—so he could have told me all the truth he liked. But neither did. Dumbledore won’t even meet my eyes. So don’t tell me I should be respectful towards them.”
“But they should have told you,” Hermione says, looking fretful. “Professor Snape doesn’t want any sort of relationship with you?”
Harry shakes his head. His hair is getting annoyingly long, even if it’s also straight now and growing much faster than it did when it was short. Well, he has an idea about what to do concerning that. “He said that he only would if I was a much more accomplished young man.”
“I’m sorry, Harry.” Hermione lets her hand rest on his. “Um, I noticed—I noticed that Sirius had the Map…”
Harry nods. “He took back the Map and the Firebolt and the Cloak. Said that all of them belong to Potters, and I’m not one.”
Hermione stares at him. “But that’s not fair! Even if he was right about the Map, the Cloak doesn’t belong to him, either, and he gave you the Firebolt! He shouldn’t just be able to take that back!”
It makes Harry feel a soft warm flush in his cheeks to know that someone else is on his side, but he shakes his head. “He feels differently, and I did ask Dumbledore about getting my broom back, but he said that he can’t do it.” He looks over at Ron. “Sorry, mate, but I think I’m off the team this year.”
“Harry, you can’t, mate! You’re the best Seeker I ever saw!”
“I think a lot of that was the broom I had, though. I won’t be anything to look at on those ratty school brooms.”
Ron only shakes his head, refusing to believe something Harry thinks is just common sense. “At least come out and try one of the Cleansweeps before you decide that that’s true.”
Harry accepts, because he thinks that he has to, but then Hermione says, “I think what Sirius did was horrible, but can’t you just buy a new broom, Harry?”
This is the most difficult part. Harry fixes his eyes on the wall straight ahead of him and says, “Can’t. The Potter money isn’t mine, either.”
There’s utter silence for three seconds, and then Hermione flings her arms around him and sobs into his shoulder. Harry pets her hair. He would say that she’s more upset about this than he is, but honestly, he was pretty bloody upset earlier in the summer. He’s just had more time to get used to it.
Lying in his four-poster and staring up at the canopy, he’s had time to get used to lots of things, and turn thoughts over in his mind, and accept that, yeah, in lots of ways, he’s alone.
“But you have your books and your cauldron and new robes, mate,” Ron says, his brow wrinkling a little. “How did you get them?”
“Dumbledore went to Diagon Alley and bought them for me. He didn’t tell me, but I’m pretty sure he used his own money.”
Ron turns white and gives him the most sympathetic look Harry thinks he’s ever given him. Well, Ron knows what it’s like to live on charity, too. Hermione pulls back. “Then what’s going to happen next year, Harry?”
“I’ve got a few ideas,” Harry says casually, which is only the truth. But Hermione, if not Ron, would disapprove of the vast majority of those ideas, so he doesn’t say them. “I’ve got until next summer before I have to worry about buying more school supplies, anyway. And the tuition to Hogwarts was paid the year I was born, and they won’t refund it, so I don’t have to worry about that.”
“Surely Professor Dumbledore could talk to Sirius about giving you the vault back! It’s just unfair for him to have your money.”
Harry shakes his head. “Apparently my parents—I mean, James Potter had a will that said if something happened to me, then Sirius and Remus should get the money. I’m glad for Remus, he needs it.” He sinks back into the chair and stares at the wall again.
“But couldn’t Professor Dumbledore do something?”
Harry only shrugs. “I told you, Hermione, he didn’t look at me all summer. Something else must have happened. It’s like knowing that I’m Snape’s son upset him. Or upset his plans, maybe,” he adds, but in such a low mutter that he doesn’t think Hermione hears.
And that’s not just Harry’s impression. When Harry asked about the vault, Professor Dumbledore frowned and said that he was sorry, but that he was sure Harry would find some way to survive. And every time Harry tried to approach him to talk about what will happen to him after the end of this year, Dumbledore turns around and walks in the opposite direction.
Everything there was conditional, too, then. Dumbledore only liked him as long as he was the son of Gryffindors.
Better to know it than not know it.
At least it seems that something else he was afraid of, Hermione and Ron abandoning him when he told them the truth, isn’t coming true. They lift the privacy spells and play Exploding Snap, and then they go to bed, and honestly, this is the most normal Harry’s life has been for months and he’s going to defend it with all his strength.
“Potter, what have I told you about dicing your ingredients the correct way?”
Harry looks up. Snape is standing there scowling him, and Harry looks back at him and feels a kind of clarity he never did before.
All this time, he thought Snape hated him because he was James Potter’s son and James Potter saved Snape’s life, and because he looked like his father. But Snape knew that Harry was his son.
Snape didn’t hate him because of what Harry’s father did. Snape hated Harry because he’s a git, the end.
“Nothing, sir,” Harry says easily.
“What?” Snape glares at him. His eyes move critically over the top of Harry’s head, where Harry put his long-hair solution into practice this morning. Now his hair is incredibly short, cut to the tops of his ears, which means that no one can see how straight or shaggy it is or is “meant” to be.
“You didn’t tell me anything about dicing ingredients, because you never bloody explain anything,” Harry says softly, and revels in the silence that spreads throughout the classroom. “Sir.”
Snape only stares some more. Harry finds himself bracing for a physical response the way he would for a punch from Dudley, and then shakes his head and calms down. Snape isn’t going to do that to him. Use the Cruciatus Curse on him or poison him in his sleep, maybe, but not that.
It’s weird how much better that makes Harry feel.
“Twenty points from Gryffindor,” Snape whispers at last. “Detention with Mr. Filch at eight-o’clock every night of the week for the next two months.” And he turns and sweeps to the front of the classroom, where he starts berating Parvati and Lavender for the color of their potion.
Seamus is muttering something about how Harry is causing trouble for Gryffindor just like he’s causing trouble in the papers. Hermione is giving him a disappointed look. Harry just smiles down into his cauldron.
He doesn’t have to care with Snape thinks, not when he’s Snape’s unclaimed bastard. He’s free.
“Do you have an opinion on You-Know-Who’s supposed return, Mr. Potter?”
Harry stares straight into the eyes of their new Defense professor, who was present at his hearing, too—also known as, the last time Dumbledore spoke about him as if he was a human being.
Harry knows he should oppose her. He knows that he should jump up and proclaim Voldemort’s return and be the embodiment of all that’s Gryffindor and valiant. If nothing else, it would look pretty weird to be saying he doesn’t believe in Voldemort’s return now, when all summer the papers have been printing nothing else.
But Harry doesn’t want to. He has enough else to concentrate on, including the hostility from his fellow students and those papers and the fact that Sirius won’t answer his owls and Remus’s dithering attempts to make peace between his best friend and his no-longer-really-even-honorary-godson and marks and OWLS and Dumbledore ignoring him and what he’s going to do about money and accommodations for the summer and losing all sense of who he was. Honestly, he’s almost glad that Dumbledore chose Ron as prefect now.
He just says, “No, Professor Umbridge.” That’s even true, because she asked him if he had an opinion about Voldemort being back. Harry has knowledge, not an opinion.
A lot of people in the classroom stare at him. Harry thinks he can see Hermione frowning. Seamus makes a disgusted sound from behind him, but he doesn’t matter. What Harry enjoys most of all is Umbridge’s blinking and mouth movements that make it look like she’s sucking on a sweet.
“You don’t, Mr. Potter? But the papers seem to indicate otherwise.”
“Rita Skeeter is writing most of those articles, and she wanted an interview with me last year and I didn’t grant her one, Professor,” Harry says, shaking his head and trying to look as sad as possible. “So I think she might be acting out of a grudge more than anything else. She hasn’t tried to interview me this year to ask my opinions.”
Umbridge blinks some more, and then tells everyone to go back to reading their books.
Harry smiles faintly and concentrates on the book in front of him. He can tell from Hermione’s by now very definite frown that they’ll have words after class, but for now, he’s just glad something isn’t going end up being a big deal.
“Harry, how could you say that?”
Harry doesn’t look up from the Divination essay that he’s writing random speculations for. “Because I don’t care, Hermione.”
There’s a long, long pause. Harry finally looks up. They’re in the Room of Requirement that Dobby showed them, since the opinions in Gryffindor Tower sway back and forth on such a regular basis that Harry honestly can’t do homework there. Of course, the Room looks like a replica of the common room most of the time, so the only real difference is the size and the silence.
Hermione is giving him such a shocked, disappointed look that Harry sighs and lays the book aside. “I didn’t mean that I don’t care about defeating Voldemort.” Hermione still flinches when he says that, but she’s getting better. “I mean that I don’t care about making one bigoted professor believe me.”
“But Harry, if people hear you say that in her class, they’ll think—”
“They already think that, Hermione,” Ron interjects, looking up from his own homework. Harry hides a grin; even Trelawney probably won’t accept the doodles he can see on Ron’s parchment as real homework, unless Ron manages to pass them off as mystical symbols of some kind. “Seamus doesn’t believe Harry, and he’s lived with him for four years. Why should Harry have to go out of his way to convince some random idiots?”
“We have to keep hope alive,” Hermione says, but her voice wavers. She sits down on the overstuffed red chair nearest her and looks back and forth between the two of them. “She’s going to hurt our Defense education.”
Harry sighs. “Our Defense education is already shit, Hermione.” He ignores the hissed, “Language!” “I’m going to have to self-study just to make sure that I pass the OWLS.”
“What?” Harry asks, when Hermione trails off leadingly.
Hermione takes a deep breath. “I was thinking that we could make our own Defense study group. And you could lead it, Harry! Think about it! You know so much about magic, you’ve survived so many duels, you know how to cast a Patronus—”
Hermione stops again. At least this time she doesn’t look as crushed as she did before. Maybe she almost expected that. “Why, Harry?”
“I don’t want to.” Harry holds up his hand when Hermione opens her mouth, and at least she pauses to listen to him. “I don’t want to. I have enough else to deal with. And I’m sick of people treating me like a savior and then ignoring me the next instant, or deciding that I’m on Voldemort’s side or a delusional liar. And we’d get in trouble with Umbridge. You know what she’s like, going on and on about how there’s no need for practical spellwork. No. I’m going to live my own life for once.”
“But—you’re Harry Potter.”
“No, I’m not.”
Hermione blinks, and blinks again. Then she looks at her hands, and at Ron, who looks sympathetic but doesn’t say anything. “Someone has to do something,” she finally whispers.
“You know who could?” Harry asks, and Hermione looks at him. “Dumbledore. He could have hired someone for the Defense position before the Ministry could stuff Umbridge in there. He could speak up against Umbridge now. He could tell the papers that I’m not a liar, but he doesn’t. He doesn’t even speak to me now. I don’t know why. I asked him, and he turned around and walked the other way.”
There’s an even longer silence after that. Harry goes back to his essay.