Harry jerked up with a gasp, heart thudding hard in his chest, a name still on his lips. He was about to yell it out, but it was becoming clearer to him with each passing second that he was no longer in the graveyard.
He was in a bedroom. Not his bedroom at Privet. The moonlight patterns were all wrong for that. No, he remembered slowly, as he groped the bedside table for his glasses, he was at Snape’s house.
Good thing he hadn’t screamed out. He could only imagine how irate the man would be to wake to Harry’s screams over a nightmare.
Harry rubbed his hands up and down his arms a few times, squeezing his eyes back shut. He needed to ground himself. Needed to push all those terrible images back away, far from his conscious thoughts. Needed to stop seeing Cedric lying there, still, his eyes wide and staring at nothing….
Harry abruptly pushed himself up from his bed. Snape had said he wasn’t confined to his room, right? Well, he needed a walk, and a bit of fresh air.
And apart from that, he still had his album to retrieve.
Decided, Harry pulled one of his new jumpers from the wardrobe in the room (where Snape had insisted he properly store his new belongings, rather than stuffing them “pell-mell into that shabby excuse of a trunk you have”). Harry had been mildly annoyed at the insinuation there, but had managed to keep himself from rising to the bait. After all, Snape seemed to think Harry was loaded with galleons, so clearly it wasn’t a jab at him being poor. And the damned thing was still sturdy and functional, if a bit scuffed. So he’d let the comment pass.
Now he slipped carefully from the room, making sure to close the door softly behind him. He half-expected to find Snape sitting up again, waiting, it seemed, for Harry to try to retrieve his most valued possession.
But it was dark and quiet downstairs, the same as the night he’d snuck down to have a wash. The fire was banked, but by its ashes he could see well enough to navigate the parlor.
Harry breathed a small sigh of relief and scurried through the downstairs rooms, weaving deftly through the dark kitchen and straight out into the yard. The ground was wet with pre-morning dew, and unpleasantly chilled against his bare feet, but he shrugged off the sensation, instead darting straight for the shed, where he began rifling through the stacked debris, praying to the heavens that nothing had happened, that the album was still intact.
It was a few moments of desperate shuffling before his fingers brushed against the corners of the book. By then he nearly had a headache from the musty air of the shed, and his heart was hammering so loudly in his ears that it drowned out everything else. He freed it from beneath a half-rotted, nail-laced board, brushing aside the dirty, torn tarp that had concealed it from sight, and immediately cradled the whole thing to his chest.
Harry took a deep, shaky breath, and realized in that moment just how much he’d been worried about his album. It felt as if his lungs had been pinned in places, and someone had finally pulled those pins out enough that he could breathe properly. He drew in another deep, calming breath, relishing the sensation of his chest fully expanding and collapsing.
Now to just get it up to his room. Hedwig hadn’t returned just yet, but she would be back soon, he knew. He would have to find something to wrap the album in, perhaps some spare parcel paper—ha, as if Snape would have any of that lying around. As if the unpleasant, bitter Potions Master had anyone he would send packages to.
Yes, Harry decided, he would have to make do with something else. If he wasn’t so concerned about Snape setting him up, he’d just Transfigure a bit of paper from something he wouldn’t miss—one of his old socks, maybe, since he now had a whole drawerful of them in his room.
Guest room, he corrected himself. In Snape’s guest room.
He would figure something out. He always did. Maybe Hedwig would take it in one of Dudley’s ratty old jumpers….
Harry wasted no time in slipping back into the house. He found himself once again thinking just how grateful he was that he’d been raised in the Dursley house, and so knew how to move around stealthily in the dead of night. He briefly thought about snagging a late-night snack when passing through the kitchen, just for old time’s sake.
Not that he needed that any more. Snape fed him well. And if Harry didn’t know better, he would have sworn that Snape was doing his best to make foods that Harry liked, though he wasn’t sure how the man would possibly know what Harry preferred. Beef barley soup and kidney pie, and bangers and mash one night….
Coincidence, he decided, though that was harder to believe since Snape had inquired about his preferences.
Once he’d made it back up to his room, Harry buried his album at the bottom of his trunk once more. Then he settled back into his favorite spot on the floor.
His heart was still hammering, and he knew from that alone that he wouldn’t be falling back asleep anytime soon.
That was fine. It was peaceful, in a way, to stare out at the half-moon and stars over the rooftops and search for a swooping, black form. Maybe Hedwig would be back before the morning. Maybe she could keep him company.
Harry jerked his head up at the sound of his name, startled, and managed to wrench a muscle in the process. He tried to surreptitiously reach a hand up to rub at his neck as he turned his attention to Snape.
Snape was staring at him over the top of the Prophet, one eyebrow arched at him. “Are you going to eat your breakfast? Or merely fall asleep in it?”
Harry flushed and turned away from the man, feeling the heat prickle all the way down to his collar. He’d been drifting a bit, sure, but what the hell did that matter to Snape? This, he thought, was why he needed to be more careful in choosing when to come downstairs.
He’d risen early, as usual, hoping to avoid the man altogether. Well, maybe risen was a bit of a stretch, since he’d ended up lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, for the earliest hours of the morning. He’d gotten up, though, before the sun. Usually Snape was still sound asleep.
Yet the man had been waiting for him downstairs, coffee in one hand and the Prophet folded on the table before him, his dark eyes flickering over the front-page story. He’d nodded his head at the stove and announced to Harry there was porridge before going back to his silent reading.
Harry couldn’t think of a reply to Snape, so instead he snatched up his spoon and started shoveling down bites. The sooner he finished, the sooner he could retreat upstairs.
Snape seemed displeased at Harry’s lack of response—which was good by Harry. That frown told Harry that he’d made the right decision not to respond. The more he irked Snape, the better, as far as he was concerned. Best to keep reminding himself, too, that they were enemies, and would go back to the old antagonism, likely, as soon as the summer ended.
And Snape knew things, now, about Harry….
Harry shook his head slightly to himself. No sense in tormenting himself with those thoughts. Snape would do what he would with that information, wouldn’t he? Harry would just have to learn to cope with it.
A surge of irritation passed through him as his attention caught on the title of the Prophet’s first article. “BOY WHO LIVED BOY WHO LIES?” blared across the top in flashing letters. No wonder Snape was enjoying the paper. Having the whole wizarding world turn on the famous Harry Potter? It was a wonder Snape wasn’t rubbing it in more.
Well, he reminded himself, the man had been mostly decent for a while now. Even if that was still hard to believe.
Harry scraped his bowl clean, thinking he would give Snape no further reason to keep him down here. On cue, he felt the Sticking Hex release. He hurried to dump his bowl in the sink (since Snape wouldn’t let him wash it himself for whatever reason), and nearly managed to skirt out of the kitchen, but Snape’s summons caught him before he could get that far.
“A moment, Potter.”
Harry turned, schooling his features as best he could. “Sir?” he inquired blandly.
“I have a short meeting this afternoon with the headmaster. Black, Lupin, and Mrs. Weasley will be present as well. Do you have anything you wished to deliver to them?”
Harry blanched. “My owl’s here now—”
“I am aware,” Snape snapped.
Harry felt his chest tighten even further as the reason for that irritation hit him. Hedwig had returned early that morning. She’d been mostly quiet, but she’d hooted and cooed a bit, hadn’t she? And rattled her cage when she’d settled back into it. So of course it wasn’t coincidence that Snape was up this early.
“Look, sir, I—she didn’t mean to disturb you when she came back. I’m sorry—”
That did nothing to quell the man’s agitation. If anything, it only made it worse. Much worse. “She’s an owl, Potter! Intelligent though she may be, I highly doubt she can be taught to keep entirely silent—”
“No,” Harry cut in, his hands clutching automatically at the hem of his shirt. “But listen, I’ll work on training her, okay? I swear, I’ll work with her every day. And… and maybe you could cast a Silencing Charm, too, just in case? Just—just please don’t send her away—”
“I am not going to send the blasted bird away!” Snape burst out, slamming his coffee cup down onto the table. “And if you had two brain cells to keep one another company, you would realize as much!” And then, seemingly ashamed that he’d lost control of himself, Snape recomposed himself. He folded his hands in his lap and chose a point on the wall far to the left of Harry to stare at. “If you have replies for me to deliver, bring them to me at lunch.”
Harry winced. Snape had been cooking a lot of meals lately, lunch included, which was really odd. Not to mention uncomfortable for Harry, since he had to share all of them with the man. “I—I can make a sandwich for myself today, you know. You don’t have to do anything elaborate—”
“Do not presume to tell me how to provide for you.” Snape’s tone was cold through and through.
Harry decided that he would sleep through breakfast the next morning, and make himself as scarce as humanly possible in between meals, even if that meant hiding in the shed in the yard for the rest of the day.
Maybe, in between making himself scarce, he could scrounge up some paper so that he could send out his album, just in case Snape remembered his threats the next time Harry got under his skin.
Snape didn’t trust him. The thought had been on his mind all morning, ever since he’d awoken sometime around four in the morning, panting once again, only to hear his door crack just minutes later. He’d very carefully shifted his gaze over to find Snape looming in the doorway, his face obscured by the light flooding in from the hallway. He’d stayed there for a few moments, watching.
Harry had closed his eyes, but he’d felt the man’s gaze lingering. Likely he’d been trying to reassure himself that his little felon wasn’t doing anything suspicious.
Eventually he’d left. And Harry had laid there, seething quietly, trying to fall asleep but too angry and tense to do so. He’d managed to drift off a few more times, but always into an uneasy sleep. Finally, sometime around midmorning, he decided to get up.
Snape would be up, he knew. Probably taking breakfast, sipping his coffee and pretending that nothing was wrong, that he didn’t secretly believe that Harry was up to no good, plotting in the dead of night.
He could already feel the tension building between his shoulder blades. God, he wished he could just go back to the Dursleys. He wished that Snape didn’t have some weird vendetta against him that included holding him hostage here and assuming his guardianship, even though Harry hadn’t actually done anything wrong. For God’s sake, he’d been cleared in the Muggle courts and he’d privately given testimony to the man under Veritaserum! What more did he want?
And then last night… the thought of being so mistrusted that he wasn’t permitted to simply go to bed, the thought that Snape was checking in on him regularly… that made his blood boil. He’d endured Snape’s insults and open hostility back when he’d been accused of burgling old Mrs. Applewhite’s home, and without once trying to make a break for it. He wasn’t stupid. Why couldn’t Snape get that?
Oh, because he still didn’t trust a Potter further than he could throw him. And that in spite of everything Harry had endured this summer, in spite of the fact that he’d yet to do anything truly brainless or deserving of reproach.
Well, there was nothing for it. So what if he’d thought, for just a few moments there, that the man could be decent? That maybe the professor had gotten over a little bit of his suspicion for Harry Bloody Potter? Clearly he hadn’t. Clearly he still believed that his little criminal would do something stupid in the middle of the night, even though Harry knew full well that a homicidal dark wizard was after him, just waiting for him to make a dumb mistake.
Well, he wasn’t going to stand for this, was he? No, he was going to give Snape a piece of his mind. He drew himself up straight and marched into the kitchen, where Snape was already seated at the table, sipping from his coffee, the Daily Prophet spread out before him. He glanced up as Harry entered, gave a short nod of acknowledgment, then resumed his perusal of the periodical.
Harry slammed himself down into his chair with a great deal more force than was strictly necessary. Snape’s eyes flickered up momentarily, cool and calculating, then back down; the man was deliberately choosing to ignore Harry’s mood.
And that irked Harry more than anything. A barbed insult he could reply to in kind. But this maddening silence? He’d come across as an utter lunatic if he just started railing at Snape.
So Harry sucked in a deep breath, and stated as evenly as he could manage, “I’m really not so stupid as to try running off in the middle of the night, you know.”
Snape’s eyes flickered back up again, this time wide with surprise. His brow had disappeared up his forehead. But he remained calm as ever when he replied. “I should hope not.” And he let things hang there, his unspoken question echoing in the silence between them.
As if Harry had to explain himself. “Well, you were checking last night,” he snapped impatiently, “and I just thought that you should know that, regardless of how stupid you think I am, I am not dumb enough to just blindly run off into the night. Not after what I saw last spring.”
Snape blinked once. Twice. “You were awake then?” he finally asked, his tone too bland to be natural.
“Yeah, I was awake,” Harry spat, “so don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about. You don’t need to do nightly bed checks to make sure your delinquent isn’t trying to slip away—“
“Merlin, Potter, I wasn’t doing a bed check,” Snape cut in, exasperated. “I do know you have better sense than to just leave in the middle of the night for whatever reason. And besides, you still have your ring. I have better ways of keeping track of you than physically verifying your presence. So wherever you got that blasted idea—“
“Right, so you just happened by my room, and the door just happened to swing open, and you just happened to look in—“
“You idiot boy, I never said I wasn’t checking on you! But not to ascertain that you hadn’t run off! I do trust you not to pull such a stunt—“
“Ha,” Harry cut him off, “you don’t trust me at all. You were checking on me, which means that you suspected I was up to something, even though I was just lying there, even though I’ve done everything you’ve asked since we got here, and done my best to stay the hell out of your way and—“
“Damn it, Harry,” Snape hissed, his hand coming down hard on the table, “I didn’t think you were up to something. I was checking to see if you were well and settled for the night, nothing more! Do I need to swear that before the entire Wizengamot?”
That took the wind right out of Harry’s sails. He couldn’t doubt the man, who looked so very offended that he’d been accused of—well, of thinking the worst of Harry. Which he always did, without fail. It didn’t sound like he was lying about just looking in on Harry, but Harry knew better than that. Snape looking in on him… it was too parental.
And why the hell would the man bother? Harry had kept to himself, after all, and the man had ceased berating and insulting him at every turn. They were civil to each other. Why disrupt their routine now? It wasn’t like Harry was acting strangely, or doing anything that merited closer scrutiny.
“If you don’t have a problem, then you don’t need to come looking in after me. And if you do have a problem, you can ask me directly about it. I don’t care if you have to put me back under Veritaserum so you’ll trust my answers. I’m not plotting anything, I’m not going to sneak off, and I’m not mental, so you can just back off.”
Harry saw Snape’s hands clench into fists, and that was how he knew he’d struck a nerve. The man’s nostrils flared as he drew in a deep breath, then began sharply, “I am your guardian. It is my responsibility to look after your well-being—every aspect of it. If I feel I need to check in on you from time to time—“
“I’m fine,” Harry broke in angrily. “Not that it should even matter to you! All you signed up for was feeding me and keeping a roof over my head. That’s it, so just—just back off with the other stuff.”
Snape pushed himself violently to his feet. “One, I do not hate you—“
“Loathe me, then. Whatever.” Harry stood too, intent on not giving up an inch.
“I do not loathe you—“
“Right.” Harry barked out a laugh. “Dislike me intensely. Can’t stand me. Whatever. Look, I’ve been doing my best to make myself scarce since you insist on keeping me here. Maybe I’ve been too quiet for your comfort, but I’m not plotting anything, just like I wasn’t before when you thought I was being too polite. If you’re so damned paranoid about it, send me away—“
“I have already told you that I do not suspect you of—of plotting,” Snape cut in. “And I am not sending you away. We have been over this. Much as you might like to go to the Weasleys—“
“The danger. Right. And same thing with Hermione’s folks. Neville’s gran is getting on in her years and can’t handle another child running amuck in her home. Which leaves… let’s see, you or… hm, my actual relatives—“
“The very relatives who allowed your cousin to frame you for a felony, then refused to aid you once you’d been arrested, though they knew very well that your life was in danger. And that’s not mentioning the rest of your treatment at their hands. You will not be going back to them, ever, blood wards be damned, so cease belaboring the point. Perhaps this is not your ideal situation—“
“Yes, I know, it’s not yours either, and you’re the one being burdened, not me, and I should be grateful that I have somewhere to go at all. I get it, and I am grateful, but I just—look. I think I deserve a little trust, yeah? I’m already wearing this”—Harry pointed to the ring—“and I haven’t done a damned thing wrong yet. So if you would stop treating me like a criminal, since we’ve already established that I’m actually not one—“
“I am not treating you like a criminal! Merlin’s beard, boy, peeking into your room does not imply that I suspect you’re breaking the law in the dead of night! You’ve seemed tired of late, and I wanted to make certain you weren’t thrashing around in your sleep. I was not planning to launch a grand inquisition into your nocturnal activities.” Snape folded his arms tightly over his chest, his lips pursing in to a tight frown. “And that begs the question. So. Have you been sleeping well?”
“None of your sodding business,” Harry snapped, before he could stop himself.
Snape winced slightly, but surprisingly did not immediately tear into him for his utter lack of respect. “I beg to differ. You are currently my ward. We have been over this, too. Your wellbeing—“
“I’m well. There’s nothing more to be said. Unless I’ve been disturbing you, in which case I’ll put up a Silencing Charm—“
“You’ve been having nightmares?” Snape broke in, his tone strangely sharp, almost alarmed. “When did this start?”
Shit. Harry cursed himself for ever opening his mouth. “Like I said, none of your business. And even if it were, it’s not like they’re that bad—“
“It’s obvious these must be fairly violent nightmares if you run the risk of waking me!” Snape growled. “Not to mention the fact that they’ve been a source of insomnia—“
“Well, I’m nearly fifteen, not five, so I don’t need help dealing with them. If I’m not bothering you, you have no reason to complain—“
“I’m not complaining, you daft boy, I’m trying to help, though I don’t know how I can be expected to when you cannot even admit to these problems!”
That was the last straw for Harry. He pushed himself to his feet as well, aware too late that the Sticking Charm had taken hold and that his chair was still firmly attached to his backside. “I don’t expect you to help! I don’t need anything from you, and I don’t understand why you think otherwise! I’m sure you have better things to do than worry after Harry Bloody Potter. I don’t need my mealtimes regulated, I don’t need you to help with nightmares—I have to stay here, fine! But don’t think that letting me live here means you have to act like—like—“
“Like a guardian?” Snape provided evenly, seemingly having regained his composure. “Sit down,” he added as an afterthought, “before you topple over.”
“You could just release the spell,” Harry suggested caustically.
Surprisingly, Snape complied, withdrawing his wand and twirling it in a complex little pattern. The chair immediately clattered to the floor. Then, too calmly, Snape said, “Please sit down.”
After a moment’s hesitation, Harry complied. It was too compelling, hearing Snape use the word please in a non-sarcastic manner. That, and considering his outburst earlier, which Snape had yet to reprimand him for… well, Harry figured it was just best to quit while he was behind.
Not that he was ever anything but behind, per se, with Snape.
And then Snape continued to shatter all expectations. “Thank you,” he said quietly, settling back into his own chair. And then he just watched Harry, his eyes far too intense for comfort.
Harry didn’t know what to do. He was dying to just walk out, maybe retreat to his room and stay there until things started to make sense again. But he didn’t think that wise. He and Snape had been managing a relatively peaceful coexistence lately, and he didn’t really want to upset that by ignoring a politely phrased request.
But God, he wished the man would just say whatever it was he was going to say.
“I think we are in dire need of a frank discussion,” Snape announced at last.
Harry desperately wanted to retort that their little exchange just moments ago had been pretty damned frank, but he restrained himself. Instead, he asked as respectfully as he could currently manage, “About what, sir?”
Snape heaved a sigh and scrubbed a hand over his face. “About our… rapport, if you will. We cannot continue like this—and no, before you suggest it, I am not sending you away. That topic is closed—permanently—and I beg you not to bring it up again.”
Well. That was not what Harry had been expecting. Your utter lack of respect for me, perhaps. Your insupportable sulking, too. Or any other number of invented and embellished faults. Your pathetic attempts to pretend to be well-behaved and civilized, now, that sounded more like Snape. But something as mild as—what had Snape said, their rapport?
“I think we’ve been getting on fine, sir,” Harry offered. Because, really, they had, all things considered. Perhaps Harry had worded his objections to Snape’s monitoring a little strongly this morning, but apart from that the Potions Master hadn’t blown up on him or attempted to punish him in ages. Since well before the trial, in fact.
“Really.” Those two syllables dripped sarcasm. “Even though you seem to be under too many misapprehensions to count. Not to mention the fact that you have been hiding from me—thank you for confirming that suspicion, by the way. Yet we get on fine.”
“Well enough,” Harry muttered. “And I wasn’t hiding. Hiding implies fear, and I’m not afraid of you. I was just keeping out of your way.”
Harry expected some kind of indignant retort to that, something along the lines of, you should fear me, Potter, seeing as I could hex you into oblivion.
Snape pinched the bridge of his nose. “You don’t fear me. Well. At least we have that going for us.”
“Look, sir, if you have a problem with me—“
“I don’t, Harry. That’s not what this is about.”
Harry winced. “Don’t call me that.”
Snape just blinked in response to that. “What? Harry?”
“Yeah. Just—don’t. I don’t know what you’re trying to do—“
“It is your name, is it not?” Snape inquired coolly, his words enunciated just slowly enough to be insulting.
“Yeah, but—look. That’s what people who like me call me.”
“Ah.” Snape folded his arms back over his chest and leaned back slightly. “Another point that needs clarification. But for the moment, I fail to see the issue—“
“You’re my professor! And nothing more, even if you’re my temporary guardian—emphasis on temporary. You don’t even know me. It’s—it’s like if I went around calling you Severus—“
That about floored Harry. In fact, he was utterly convinced at first that he had entirely misheard the man. “Excuse me?”
“I said that you may use my given name, if you wish. We are not in school, and it would… behoove us, I think, if we dispensed with the formalities, titles and honorifics included.”
Harry just stared at the man, searching for a twitch or the arch of an eyebrow, or anything to indicate that this was nothing more than razor-sharp sarcasm cleverly concealed behind a calm façade. But Snape stared straight back, unfazed and entirely unyielding.
“I—“ Harry swallowed. “You don’t really want me to call you that. You’re just saying it so—“
“So that I feel better about using your given name against your express wishes?” Snape provided too smoothly. “Yes, I am one to waste breath on efforts to keep the peace. I’ve tried to pacify and placate you at every turn, haven’t I? Fortunate for you that I have been so very accommodating.”
Harry huffed out an impatient breath. “You don’t seriously want me to call you Severus—“
“I do. But I know that there is little I can say to convince you of the matter, so we shall have to leave it there. Besides, we have more important things to address. Your belief that I hate you, for one.”
Harry opened his mouth to reply to that, but Snape held up a finger, rose to his feet, and flicked his wrist in what Harry now recognized as a particularly accomplished wandless, wordless Summoning Spell. A book came zooming in from the library and into Snape’s outstretched hand.
He tossed the thick, dusty volume down onto the table before Harry. It landed hard, sending small puffs of whirling dust motes outward from its pages as it landed.
“What’s this?” Harry demanded, touching the cover cautiously.
“A thesaurus, to aid you when I clarify this point. I do not hate you, I do not loathe you, I do not dislike you. I do not abhor, despise, disdain, or disapprove of you. I do not find you intolerable, irritating, irksome, bothersome, insufferable, obnoxious, or horrid. If I’ve missed something, please, look it up in that”—he gestured loosely to the thesaurus—“so that I might provide further clarification.” Snape paused a moment there, his glittering obsidian eyes locked on Harry. When Harry said nothing, he continued in a low, gravelly voice, “Do you think that everything I’ve learned about you over these past weeks has been locked away in my mind? Do you truly believe me so petty and spiteful as to ignore the piles of evidence before my very eyes that I have been hopelessly wrong in my assessment of you?”
Harry didn’t know what to make of that. So he stayed quiet, waiting, not wanting to provoke the man.
“Well?” Snape demanded sharply. Clearly it had not been a rhetorical question.
So Harry answered honestly, and he could not keep the resentment out of his tone. “I wouldn’t know, sir. I don’t presume to know how you think.”
“Oh?” Snape countered, his own tone growing severe. “On the contrary. You seem perfectly content believing you know what I think of you—“
“Based on the evidence of past experience!” Harry broke in angrily. “You hated me from the moment you set eyes on me, and you’ve been nothing short of awful ever since.”
“Yes,” Snape agreed levelly. Once again, the man’s words managed to knock Harry entirely off balance. “I admit my past conduct has left something to be desired. It was wrong and unconscionable of me to exorcise old grudges on you. But the emphasis, Harry, is that this behavior is past.”
“Oh, is it?” Harry demanded frostily. “And that makes it all better, I suppose—“
“No, it certainly does not. You have every right to be angry with me, to mistrust me—that I freely admit. However, it does not mean that I will allow you to continue avoiding the issue. If you wish to rail at me, fine. Please do so. But hiding in your room—“
“Yes, hiding,” Snape hissed. “Perhaps not from me, but from your own anger and hurt—“
“I am not hurt, for God’s sake. And yeah, sure, I’m good and ticked that everything has turned out as it has, but I’m not stupid enough to go screaming about it—“
“It is not healthy to internalize your rage. You’ve been repressing it entirely as of late—“
“Because I don’t fancy another screaming match with you, do I? And if you’re so concerned, I’ll just go yell into a pillow, all right? Now….” Harry started to rise from his seat.
“Sit,” the Potions Master snapped. “We are far from finished.”
Harry slammed himself back down, knowing that he likely came off as sulky and childish. But he didn’t care at this point. He was sick of this—whatever it was. Snape trying to play psychologist. Yeah, that was it. Snape trying to shrink his head, though God knew why the man was bothering. “What?” Harry growled. “Am I forbidden from staying in my room now?”
“No,” Snape replied curtly, the single word taut. “I am not of a mind to forbid you from anything.”
“Except from skipping meals,” Harry grumbled.
“That,” Snape pronounced coldly, “is a matter of your health. I will not compromise on that point. You will take three balanced meals a day, and that is the end of the discussion. What you do with your free time, however, that I will not dictate. You are fifteen, not five, as you’ve already pointed out.”
Harry huffed out a great breath of air. “Fine. But you don’t need to resort to that stupid charm—“
“It has no effect on you unless you refuse to eat,” Snape cut in smoothly. “Prove to me that you are taking your eating habits seriously and I will consider relenting. Until then, I will use any means at my disposal to keep you from becoming any more underweight.”
“Fine,” Harry repeated, this time more emphatically. “Was that all?”
“You are upset with me,” Snape stated plainly, ignoring Harry’s question.
Harry just stared at the man, trying to decide if he could somehow avoid the lecture that was sure to follow. “I’ll work on it,” he grumbled. “I just need some time to myself—“
“You misunderstand me. I am not trying to reprimand you, Harry. What, specifically, have I done to anger you?”
Ha. Harry knew that trick. Vernon liked it too. Every once in while he would come across as all reasonable and charitable. What is it, boy? Is something wrong? Tell me about it. Harry had been dense enough to fall for it at first. He would complain about his chores and his aches and pains, and expect nodding and sympathy and apologies.
The concern was the bait for the trap, though, and Harry would walk right into it before it would close all around him. Then Vernon would begin explaining his disappointment that Harry was so very ungrateful, and had no work ethic, etc. Harry’s complaints would be twisted around until he was made into the spoilt little brat who couldn’t be bothered to help out with the upkeep of the household, who expected to be coddled at every turn, and so on. And Harry would end up feeling twice as miserable by the end of it.
So Harry answered blandly, “Nothing, sir. I’ll work on controlling my temper—“
That set Snape off. “Do not,” he growled, his tone dropping low, “dismiss me like that. An answer, Potter.”
“Nothing, sir,” Harry repeated dully. “The trial had me on edge, and I—“
Snape slammed a hand down onto the table. The loud thwack sent Harry cowering back in his chair, his muscles taut and his heart hammering. “Merlin’s sake!” the man hissed. “Why are you lying to me? Stop fighting me and give me a straight answer!”
Harry had to swallow hard and sit on his hands slightly before he could answer. Even with his weight bearing down on them, his hands still felt as though they were trembling. “Sorry, sir,” he stammered, wishing his voice didn’t sound so pathetic. “ ‘M just upset you won’t let me go home. Sorry.”
Snape just stared at him, eyes wide with disbelief, for a few seconds. When he spoke, his voice was quiet and perfectly level. He sounded as if he were speaking to a wounded animal, trying to coax it from its hiding place. “You know that I will not hurt you, don’t you, Harry?”
Harry swallowed again before managing to force out, “Don’t call me that.”
Snape’s breath came out in a great, irritated whoosh. “I won’t hurt you,” he said solemnly, ignoring Harry’s comment entirely. “I won’t. And I am specifically asking you to tell me why you are angry. I want to hear it. I will not get upset regardless of what you say, even if I disagree with you. So please tell me.”
“Sir, I really don’t want to—“
“Tell me.” More forceful this time.
“There’s nothing to say!” Harry cried, panicking. God, Snape was going to force him to get himself into trouble, and then he would really go off. And Snape was a wizard with a whole arsenal of nasty curses at his disposal, and even if Harry had his wand now, he knew that he couldn’t fend off a fully-trained, fully-competent wizard like Snape for very long.
“There is plenty to say, I’d wager! Merlin, I know I’ve treated you with nothing but contempt ever since you came here, even though you were merely a victim of circumstance! I’ve tried to do better since then, but that, of course, can in no way make up for past wrongs. So speak. Let us get a full accounting of where you and I stand.”
Harry could not believe that Snape had as much as admitted that he’d been wrong twice now. Nor that he was practically demanding that Harry throw a bunch of accusations at him. None of it seemed possible.
He still knew better than to open his mouth. It would only get him into trouble, even if Snape was inviting it. It was like when Dudley used to offer to let Harry get in his “free shot”, claiming that it was only right after all the times that he’d picked on Harry.
Harry had caught onto that game quickly. It only took being locked in the cupboard for a week for daring to raise a hand to precious Diddykins before he vowed to never take anything for free from anyone, ever. Not from people who hated him, at least.
“I’d rather not, sir,” Harry said as politely as possible.
“Well, I am not giving you a choice!” Snape fired back, his voice sharp. Then he seemingly reined in his temper once more. “One thing. Tell me one thing I have done to upset you.”
“Veritaserum,” Harry blurted out before he could stop himself. Then he braced himself for the nasty retort, that he’d not been forced, that it had been offered to him and that he had willingly downed it. And then Harry wouldn’t be able to hold himself in check, would he? Because that had been one of the single most miserable experiences of his life. Which was saying a lot, considering all the things he had experienced in his short life.
“Veritaserum,” Snape repeated calmly. “What about the Veritaserum?”
“What do you think?” Harry cried. He knew full well that he was throwing caution to the wind, but he didn’t care. The nerve of the man, to ask what about subjecting him to truth serum and interrogating him about his darkest secrets had been wrong. “I agreed to it so you could ask me about the burglary, not—not anything else. But you didn’t care, did you? Oh, no, the opportunity to humiliate Harry Potter was too great to pass up. You wouldn’t let me leave, even after I asked… but I suppose that’s what I get, eh? No, don’t tell me. If I’m stupid enough to agree to it in the first place, I deserve to have my every last shred of privacy violated, right? Well, now at least you have plenty to laugh at, you and your Slytherins. As if you never had enough before. But I can hear it now, all the cracks about Harry Potter, kicked around by mere Muggles, such a poor wizard that he couldn’t even keep his relatives from treating him like their personal House Elf—“
“Oh, yes,” Snape interrupted, the tone of his voice positively glacial. “We do enjoy a good laugh about child abuse, depraved as we are. We find it simply hilarious—“
“I wasn’t abused!” Harry shouted, rising yet again from his seat. His whole body was trembling with rage. How dare the man sit there and pretend he was offended when he had dragged all that information out of Harry, as if he had any right to do such a thing.
“Oh?” Snape snarled, rising in kind and stalking around the side of the table to tower over Harry. “What would you call it, then? Would you say that to a friend who told you they spent their childhood begging for scraps and being framed for crimes and hoping that a sibling didn’t progress as far as breaking bones? Oh, but he did, didn’t he? Really, did you expect I wouldn’t be able to find out? Yes, would you tell Mr. Weasley that it wasn’t abuse since the adults were not in fact the ones physically beating him, only a brother?”
“Oh, do tell, Potter. It’s different how?”
“It doesn’t matter, it just is! And it’s done now, so—“
“Yes,” Snape hissed, “sound logic, that. It just is. And such an experience could not possibly have lasting repercussions, of course, so certainly we should just ignore the fact that you have been severely mistreated for the past decade and a half. You have no idea—“
“Like you even care—“
“Of course I do!” Snape spat, the tone of his voice frightening enough to cause Harry to stumble back a few steps.
“Look,” Harry stammered uncertainly, keeping his eyes from Snape’s face. He didn’t like the fury that had suddenly contorted that expression. Not that the sight of the man’s heaving chest was much better. “I’m not going to embarrass you or anything, all right? I’m not mentally unstable or anything. It’s done, and you won’t even let me go back to them, so I don’t see any point in dwelling on it. And it wasn’t even that bad, all right? Plenty have it worse—“
“Just because other victims have suffered more does not mean that what you have been through is trivial,” Snape began calmly. Harry could see that the man’s hands were still clenched at his sides, though, so he decided not to put too much stock in his sudden change in tone.
Harry drew in a deep breath. He needed to get himself under control, before he pushed Snape over the edge and got himself into real trouble. “I’m not a victim of—of anything. Maybe I’ve had it worse off than others, but that’s just the way things are. I survived it. So just stop calling it that, because it wasn’t even close.”
“Not putting a name to it does not change what it was. And you are a victim of—“
“I’m not, and I don’t know why in the hell you keep insisting that I am! And that’s beside the point, anyway!” Harry added angrily, suddenly realizing he’d been derailed. “You had no right to ask me about any of that—“
“I had every right,” Snape bit out, his eyes flashing angrily. “I regret that it came to truth serum, but you never would have told me half as much as you did—“
“You had no right!” Harry shouted over top of Snape, his hand tightening over his wand as he spoke. But Merlin, he wanted to hex the man into oblivion. To even suggest that what he’d done was justified somehow…. “I never agreed to answer questions about them! You said—you said you would ask about the burglary, nothing else. You lied to me, just so you could satisfy your curiosity! If I didn’t want to talk about it, that was my choice, and you took it away from me! And for nothing, too. Just to learn all the nasty details about Harry Potter’s home life. Well, now you have them, all the answers about how wonderful it is to be me. As if anything could be worse than being falsely accused, then landed here with you—no, you had to make sure that I felt as humiliated and unhappy as possible.” Harry turned violently from Snape.
He couldn’t do this. He needed space. He needed to breathe.
“It was not my intention to humiliate you—“
“Well, you did a bang-up job anyway,” Harry growled. He made to storm out of the room, but a restraining hand on his shoulder held him back.
Those words managed to freeze Harry in his tracks. He whipped around to face Snape, to see if the man was still scowling and sour, a sure sign that Harry had only dreamed up those words.
Snape was staring at Harry, his expression too smooth, his dark eyes intense with some unnamed, unidentifiable emotion. “I apologize that I did not believe you. I apologize that I have allowed myself to be so blinded for these past few years. I apologize for failing to admit my faults much sooner. And I apologize for some of the inexcusably cruel things I have said and done.
“But Harry, I will not apologize for asking those questions. They needed to be answered. Somebody needed to know how bad things have been. More than that, somebody needed to step in and take care of things long ago, and Albus and I and many others have failed you in that respect. Too, I am sorry for that. But I will not apologize for asking about your home life.”
Harry tried to twist out of Snape’s grip, but the man had ahold of him too tightly. “Don’t call me Harry—“
“It is your name, and I will use it.”
“Of course you will! Because God forbid you should actually care what I want—“
“You’re right on that account,” Snape informed him, his voice low and steady. “I don’t give a damn about what you want. I will give you what you need, always.”
Harry redoubled his efforts to get away. He needed out now. The air was too thick; it was choking him. And his stomach… it felt as though he’d swallowed a plateful of Hagrid’s rock cakes. “You don’t know the first thing about what I need—“
“I know that the last thing that you need is to go on pretending that everything is fine, that you haven’t been affected. The wounds run deep, and if you leave them, if you pretend they do not exist, they will fester.”
“For the last time, I’m not hurt, I’m not wounded, I’m not unstable! You decided to ask those damned questions, and if you don’t like the answers, well, just deal with it! So I’m not pampered and spoiled at home like you always thought. Accept it, okay? And stop trying to turn me into some weak, bullied, helpless little orphan who’s been wounded, because I’m not—“
“Why do you think I asked those questions?” Snape cut in suddenly, his voice sharp again.
“You thought the Veritaserum was going to make me spill about how great and wonderful I had it at home, so you could prove that—that my cowed little orphan act was all a lie, and that I was desperate for attention—“
“Merlin preserve me. You believe I asked such specific questions while fishing for general information about your home life? Truly?”
Harry tried to recall what Snape actually had asked him. He’d done his best ever since then to pretend that night had never happened, so it wasn’t much of a surprise to him when he could scarcely recall a single detail. “Well, you thought I was putting on a cowed little orphan act to get attention—“
“For the first two days!” Snape interjected angrily. “You think it wasn’t apparent to me after that, after your refusal to eat and those comments about how a few days without food was nothing—you think that did not raise any alarm bells? Do you think me dense, Potter?”
“When it comes to me?” Harry countered, feeling just as angry. “Yes, I do. But I don’t care. At all. I don’t care that you thought I was spoiled, or that I would rob an old woman for no reason. I don’t care if you think I’m arrogant and stupid and clueless. And I don’t care if you changed your mind, either. Your opinion means nothing. So just—just keep it to yourself, so we can get through the summer—“
“This isn’t about something as trivial as my opinion of you,” Snape hissed, his hand tightening further on Harry’s shoulder. “Though you should know that it has changed drastically. I took advantage, as you say, for the sole purpose of determining how bad things have been for you. I should not have relied exclusively on Veritaserum to find the unvarnished truth, that I readily admit, but given our relationship, and your distinct lack of trusted adults—“
“I have Sirius!”
“So you will tell your godfather about all of this?” There was a tangle of emotions in that question that Harry couldn’t quite identify. Something about the phrasing and tone—breathy, too quick, too sharp—made his gut twist uncomfortably.
Harry looked away. “No. I’m not speaking to him.”
“Foolish, but not the focus of today’s discussion.” Snape released him. “The point that you need to understand is that I had no intentions of humiliating you when I asked those questions. And if you found it difficult to speak about your experiences with your relatives, I apologize. But there is nothing to feel humiliated about, you understand—“
“Oh no?” Harry growled, wishing desperately that his gaze alone could burn the man. “You’re going to tell me that you don’t find it at all funny that they treated me like a House Elf all my life? That the great Harry Potter grew up in a little cupboard, helpless against a bunch of magicless Muggles? It must have been great for you, finding out that I’m as weak you always thought I was—“
“You are not weak,” Snape cut him off, his words ringing like steel. “Nor have I ever believed that to be one of your faults. And as for the thought of deriving any pleasure from what you have suffered—“
“I don’t need your pity, either,” Harry snarled. “And I don’t even believe in it. I—I don’t know what your game is, but—“
“Ah. I’m inhuman. Or so thoroughly twisted that I am incapable of the slightest bit of compassion or remorse, or, Merlin forbid, empathy.”
Snape spoke calmly, the words mild. But they struck Harry har all the same, because he did see what he’d been doing. He’d built Snape in his mind into some kind of demon who lived to torment him.
Not that he hadn’t fulfilled that role in the past, and then some.
Maybe it was a bit much to believe that Snape was—well, so twisted, as he’d put it, that he really would only find pleasure in the thought of Harry suffering. And the man had admitted multiple times now that he’d been wrong about Harry, that his opinion had shifted. Drastically, he’d said.
But it boiled down to trust, and for Snape, who’d been such a source of misery, Harry had none. So when the Potions Master said that he only had Harry’s best interests in mind, well…. Harry was more inclined to assume that there was an ulterior motive, or some deep game involved. That Snape might be setting him up, even, as his relatives had done, all the better to break him later.
“I don’t want your compassion or your empathy,” Harry mumbled petulantly. “I already said that. I just want to be left alone—“
“And I have already said that I care nothing for what you want, only for what you need. And what you need is stability and support, whether you can admit it or not. And if you are to have either, we need to have some amount of trust between us.”
“Well, I don’t trust you at all,” Harry announced. “So—“
“So,” Snape interrupted smoothly, “I would like you to tell me why, so that we can determine how I can make amends, so that we might move past this. Yes?”
He snorted. “If you don’t know why, then I can’t help you.”
Snape rubbed a hand over his eyes. “Very well, let me take an educated guess. I have treated you abominably over the years because I made baseless assumptions about you. More recently, I assumed you guilty of a crime that you did not commit, punished you for that crime, and then took advantage of your imbibition of truth serum in order to gain answers about personal, private matters that you did not wish to disclose. Have I missed anything?”
“You’re forcing me to stay here,” Harry grumbled, “even though you have no right, just because you feel guilty now about all that stuff. You think you’re doing me a favor, saving me from my horrible relatives, but I’m not some useless child. I can handle them—”
“It’s not a matter of what you can handle, or what you can survive,” Snape interjected quietly, his voice low and fervent. “It is a matter of what you should not have to endure. But yes, you are right—I’ve made living arrangements for you and assumed guardianship without consulting you.” Snape paused for a moment, seemingly to swallow thickly—probably the bitter taste of crow, considering his next words. “I… I am sorry for my failings in this. I did not ask for your version of events before I punished you. I am responsible for the depth of your mistrust. And therefore it is my fault, too, that you had to be tricked into taking truth serum—”
“Ha,” Harry barked. “You didn’t trick me. You said, ‘here, Potter, I want answers about the burglary. Drink up if you want me to believe you.’ Pretty straightforward, if you ask me—”
“I goaded you. You have consistently harmed yourself ever since I’ve brought you here in order to prove me wrong. I declared I didn’t believe you could do without a meal, and you responded by starving yourself for three days. I declared that you were lazy and useless and you worked your fingers to the bone on your projects, going above and beyond what I, or anyone, could expect from someone your age.
“You hated me and would not open up, I knew, if I simply approached you. I knew that something was deeply wrong. I knew that if I offered you the Veritaserum, you would jump at the chance to definitively prove that you were innocent—”
“For God’s sake,” Harry spat, “you didn’t think I was innocent! Don’t pretend that you knew all along, because you damned well did not—”
“I suspected that you were coerced to some degree,” Snape clarified, running a hand through his hair as he spoke. “I suspected that things were not so cut and dry, and that you would have a case for lesser charges, or for things being dropped entirely. I did not anticipate such a degree of incompetence in those worthless Muggles, nor your cousin’s utter depravity to be such that he would baldly commit a crime and declare you the actual culprit.”
“It still wasn’t right, using it like you did,” Harry growled.
Snape turned slightly toward the kitchen, so that his gaze was hidden. “Perhaps. But it was the only way to find out the truth about your relatives.”
Harry scoffed. “Right, how would you know? You barely know me—”
“I know myself, though.” Snape turned further, so that he was angled away from Harry, and drew his arms tightly over his chest. His voice grew even softer then, so that Harry could only just catch the words. “And at your age, having suffered what we have suffered, trust is not something we offer readily. And the trust to speak of those things… it would take more than a lifetime for anyone to earn it. At your age, in your position… nothing short of Veritaserum would have gotten me speaking about my own home life.”
Harry just stared for a moment. No. Snape was—he was lying. Trying to make Harry feel like he had something on Snape too, when it was all just lies. Because Snape would never just—just admit that he had something in common with Harry Potter, let alone something this… unsavory.
“I told myself it wasn’t abuse, you know,” Snape continued quietly, his gaze still averted. “Just like you. Never mind that I had physical scars that said otherwise. Still have them, in fact.” At this, Snape turned back to Harry, and there was something about the exhaustion etched into the lines of his face that stopped Harry’s caustic remark in his throat. “I told myself it was my own fault for not defending myself against my worthless, drunk Muggle father. I told myself that I could have stopped it, but I’d been too weak.”
Harry’s lips worked at sounds, but he couldn’t form coherent words. Snape was lying, right? Still lying. He was just toying with Harry’s mind.
“I wouldn’t have admitted it at the time,” Snape said, “but in hindsight I would have given anything for someone to step in. I would have been resentful, I know. I never would have trusted their intentions because I’d learned early on not to rely on adults. I imagine it is the same for you, only doubly so because we have started out at odds, with an extreme deficit of trust and goodwill.”
“So I’ll thank you later, is that it?” Harry whipped out.
Snape’s lips twisted in a bitter smile. “Oh, I doubt it. I know that trust and hatred are not mutually exclusive, and I fully expect you’ll hate me for a good while yet. Not that you are not fully justified.” Snape sighed. “But I need you to trust that I will act in your best interests. That I understand now—to some extent—what you have suffered, and will make every effort to mitigate that damage. That I have every intention of fulfilling my role as guardian, that your needs will be met, that you are safe here.”
Harry folded his arms over his chest and scowled down at the floor. He didn’t like this. Snape was—well, giving Harry permission to hate him. Was saying that it was fully justified. Snape didn’t say things like that. And then all that other crap—best interests and all that. He still didn’t know what Snape was getting at. “Listen, I know you’re going to feed me and let me sleep in a bed and all that stuff, all right? And I’m pretty positive that if you were going to hand me over to Vol—to him—you’d have done it by now. All that other stuff, like watching me sleep and all—you don’t have to bother with it. I don’t need it. So let’s leave it at that.”
“You trust me to see to your basic needs, and to protect you,” Snape summarized, a slight question in his tone.
“But not to see to your emotional needs—”
“I don’t have emotional needs!”
A pause. Then Snape spoke quietly, “We all have emotional needs, Harry.”
“Sure. And I’m sure you’ll enjoy detailing all of mine to your little snakes. No offense, sir, but I’m not so stupid as to literally hand you weapons to use against me.”
“Why is it,” Snape demanded, his tone regaining something of an edge, “that you believe I would be so vile as to do such a thing? I have been less than fair, I know, but never have I come even close to doing what you are suggesting—”
“You hate me,” Harry cut in angrily. “I don’t care what you say or how much you insist you don’t. You do, or you will just as soon as you’ve gotten over feeling sorry for me. You’ll think up some justification, or decide I was playing you for sympathy all along. And I’m not going to pretend otherwise.”
“Are you going to tell your little Gryffindor cronies all about my abusive father?” Snape inquired sharply, his tone turning frosty.
Harry blanched. That was an unexpected turn. “N-no, sir, I—”
They wouldn’t believe me. No, that was stupid. Of course they would. I don’t believe your father was abusive. But that would be calling Snape a liar to his face, wouldn’t it? And… well… Snape didn’t actually lie much. Even when making his promise about the questions he’d asked while Harry was under Veritaserum he hadn’t told an outright lie, as he’d pointed out. He’d just given an ambiguous answer. And he liked to insist on that point, as if it really mattered.
But why in the hell had he admitted anything about his father to Harry? And with no provocation, too?
No. That was too much to think about just now.
Harry knew he wouldn’t say a word about Snape’s father, even if he hated the man and wanted to see him suffer the way he’d made Harry suffer. Talking about a thing like that, using it as a weapon….
“Because it’s just… wrong… to do that,” he explained in a near-whisper.
“Ah, so the sainted Gryffindor can have a stellar moral compass, but someone such as myself must have no compunctions about using such information against his student and ward.”
Harry flushed. “You love humiliating me. What, I’m supposed to believe that you’ve suddenly developed boundaries? Oh, but wait, you suddenly don’t hate me for no apparent reason—”
“I never knew you well enough to hate you.”
“Hah.” Harry dug his nails into the flesh of his palm. “It sure seemed like you did. I’d hate to see how you’d treat someone you do know well enough to hate. Cruciatus on sight? Or maybe you go straight for Avada Kedavra—”
“I don’t deny that I treated you unacceptably,” Snape ground out, cutting him off. “I’ve said that I was wrong. I’ve apologized. I do not intend to repeat the mistake. Shall I offer up a pound of flesh as well?”
Harry glared at the man and shifted a bit closer to the opposite wall. His nails were still biting into his skin, the dull pain the only thing keeping him from tumbling over the edge into completely unhinged screaming and cursing. “Saying sorry doesn’t magically make it better—”
“As I have already acknowledged,” Snape interrupted, the agitation in his tone rising. “I am not asking you to forgive me, nor am I expecting it. I am only asking you to believe that I have a shred of basic human decency.”
Harry watched Snape warily for a moment, studying the outraged lines of his face, the stiffness of his posture. He knew the man wasn’t evil, per se. Not totally, at least. He knew that Snape reported to Dumbledore, and that he was resuming his place amongst the Death Eaters to spy, even at the risk of his own life. Too, he knew that Snape had saved him on more than one occasion, and once at risk of great bodily harm—because yes, in retrospect, Harry could acknowledge that Snape had placed himself between Harry and a fully-grown, mindless werewolf. And that after Harry, Hermione, and Ron had hexed him.
So could he trust that the man’s sense of duty and right and wrong extended to this? Though he’d never seemed bothered before when he’d mercilessly hounded Harry for any number of his invented flaws. He’d been a vicious, unrepentant bully. So what was to say that this fodder for taunts and snide remarks would be off limits?
And why not assume the worst? Why not prepare himself for the knowledge to become public, to be splashed across the Prophet and every other wizarding publication in existence? Optimism only led to bitter disappointment and endless frustration. Harry knew that from experience.
“I’m not going to believe for a second that you want to help me.” Harry shoved off of the wall and turned to head up the stairs, suddenly feeling as though he couldn’t take another moment of Snape’s company.
Funny how much power Snape seemed to gain over him just by switching to his given name. Harry felt himself freezing and then, involuntarily, turning back to face his professor.
Snape’s black eyes bored into him, blazing with some intense purpose. The force of that look made his stomach quiver slightly. “I will help you. Whether you can believe it or not, whether you wish it or not, whether you accept it or not, I will do all I can for you.”
“Just leave me alone.” And with that Harry strode out, intent on locking himself in his room. He wasn’t fleeing, he told himself, just reestablishing distance. Just giving himself time to think.
Those words lingered with him, though. The sincerity that he imagined there. The confidence. The absolute lack of malice. Harry didn’t want to believe it at all. Snape was just playing some twisted game with him.
But things were not adding up. Snape’s apologies, the ones he’d brushed off, those came floating back to him and refused to leave. Snape wouldn’t bother apologizing, Harry knew, unless he meant it. And the man couldn’t possibly be setting up some elaborate scheme to gain Harry’s trust, then shatter him by pushing him away and scorning him. Though Harry wished he could keep believing that the Potions Master was that twisted and nefarious.
There were too many little things, too, things he desperately wished to discount but no longer could ignore.
Especially after the Veritaserum, which he was beginning to realize marked the beginning of Snape’s drastic change in behavior. Harry recalled waking up the morning after that awful night, and not on the floor. He’d justified it at the time, thinking he’d done it for himself. That his powers had been protecting him as they’d always done. But now….
After everything, of course he couldn’t continue to believe that he’d magicked himself into bed, summoned bed linens from the armoire, changed his own clothes into pajamas, removed his own glasses…. Accidental magic was not that delicate. Snape….
God. Snape had picked him up off the floor and made up his bed, then tucked him in, hadn’t he? Snape had been checking in on him last night to see that he was sleeping well. Snape had started fixing up parts of the house to make Harry more comfortable.
Harry curled up by the window in his favorite spot, where the bed sheltered him from the doorway behind him. Chin rested against his knees, arms wrapped tightly over the front of his folded legs to keep them in place, he desperately tried to think.
He wanted things to go back to normal. Sure, that was worse, he knew. Snape was, for the moment, treating him infinitely better than the Dursleys ever would. But he’d never felt this out-of-sorts with the Dursleys. He’d always known where he stood with them.
Here…. Snape said he was done being an utter arse to Harry, but if he changed his mind in the middle of the night there was nothing to stop him from returning to old habits. And that would shatter Harry.
Snape was calling him Harry now. Mostly. He hated that. He hated even more the way the man had offhandedly suggested that Harry call him Severus, as if dear old Severus wouldn’t flay him alive for actually making such a presumption. Harry couldn’t imagine what had possessed the man to say something so ludicrous in the first place.
A knock startled Harry from his whirling thoughts. The door behind him cracked open slightly. Harry twisted around to see what Snape could possibly want now.
Peering over the top of the bed, he saw that the man in question had stuck his head into the room. His dark eyes roved over the space until they met Harry’s. His mouth tightened, but he did not say anything about Harry’s position. Instead, he said quietly, “I brought your breakfast. I trust you remember our agreement?”
Three meals a day, to Snape’s satisfaction, or the man would “take matters into his own hands”. Harry was highly unlikely to forget that particular threat.
But that wasn’t the most salient thing in Harry’s mind. He was much more interested in analyzing what the man was doing up here now.
Snape was letting him eat up here. Wasn’t insisting he go back downstairs and sit at the table where he could be stuck to his chair like some delinquent child, where he would be under Snape’s unrelenting scrutiny.
“Yeah… yes, sir.”
Snape pushed the door the rest of the way open and entered—though no more than a few feet or so, Harry noted. He was carrying a tray laden with the aforementioned breakfast, and a decent assortment it was. Apparently Snape had cooked eggs and bacon….
Wordlessly, he settled the tray onto Harry’s desk. Or rather, the desk Harry was using.
“I really do prefer that you call me Severus.” The comment was quiet, almost bland, and as soon as he’d uttered it Snape was retreating once more. Giving Harry space? It felt like it, certainly. But since when was Snape considerate?
Harry flinched slightly as the latching of the door behind Snape coincided with his realization of the answer to that question. Since that night, he thought. Since that awful night of too many questions. At first Harry had thought it was just pity, but Snape never looked at him that way. No secretive sad looks, no shaking his head, no coddling.
He just… was civil. Respectful, even. Vigilant, too, when it came to his basic obligations to Harry. Automatically, Harry touched a hand to the new fabric of his long-sleeved t-shirt.
Snape had endured clothes shopping for Harry’s sake. God, his own blood relatives had never done as much. Had never even recognized that Harry’s desire to have decent clothing, even purchased at his own expense, was worth any kind of consideration. Hell, it wasn’t as if they’d ever bothered to take him to get his school supplies, even. Not even when he was in primary, for God’s sake.
But Snape had insisted that it all be purchased and accounted for early. Had promised, too, that Harry could accompany his friends later in the summer, that their trip did not preclude outings with Hermione and Ron. Had acted as if forbidding Harry to go on such an excursion hadn’t even crossed his mind.
Most prominent in his mind now, though, was the last bit of personal information that Snape had disclosed. Saying that he knew what it was to—well, to be hated by family. To be hurt by them, even. The confession that Snape had thought it necessary to use truth serum because of his own experience of reluctance to speak about his home life. That Harry had initially shoved aside as a lie, or a manipulation, but now whenever he tried to disregard it the whole thought came roaring back.
Harry could bring himself to think of Snape and trust in the same sentence. Yet… yet Snape had trusted him enough to share something of his childhood, no promises extracted from Harry about never telling another soul. For all he knew, Harry would spread the rumor around Gryffindor Tower the instant he returned in the fall.
Not that Harry would. It was just as he’d told Snape: the very thought of it was wrong and made his stomach twist something awful.
Snape didn’t hate him. He trusted Harry enough to share that intensely personal tidbit. He wanted Harry to call him Severus. The man had promised to take care of Harry. Had said that he didn’t care if Harry hated him, that he expected it, that he only needed Harry to trust that he wouldn’t be mistreated here.
Harry hugged his arms around his legs and buried his head against his knees. It was too much, all of it. He felt like he was in freefall with no end in sight. Like he was just waiting to smash to bits against the ground. Too many questions, too few answers, and no one but Snape to guide him.
Well, apart from Ron and Hermione. But they were just kids, Harry was quickly realizing, all of them. For all they’d been through, they couldn’t help him stare down what lay ahead. Finding a new guardian, figuring out how to deal with a wizarding world that had decided every other word out of his mouth was a falsehood. Voldemort lurking out there, gathering strength and followers with every passing day. Feeling alone and hunted and so damned guilty that he could hardly stand it some days.
Harry swallowed thickly before scrabbling over to his trunk to dig out his album, glad that he hadn’t sent it off just yet.