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To Trust

Chapter Text

A small, black haired boy sat cross-legged at the end of a silent, dark alleyway dimly lit by a few ancient street lamps. He rolled a small object from one hand to the other, which were mostly obscured by the overlong sleeves of his dark-colored jacket. The rest of his body remained perfectly still, green eyes glowing strangely in the moonlight, staring straight ahead unblinkingly. To an onlooker, had there been one, he may have appeared almost statuesque, only the slow, deliberate movement of his hands proving otherwise.

The silence was suddenly broken by a muted clicking sound, after which one streetlamp promptly blew out. This was not a strange occurrence; the streetlamps were long past their prime. The boy immediately stiffened, however, his eyes darting rapidly from left to right. There was another click, and a second lamp blew out. The boy tensed, if possible, even further, and he rose swiftly from his seated position. His gaze settled upon something at the other end of the narrow alleyway, which gradually made itself known to be a tall, thin figure swathed in robes, which fluttered slightly in the gentle breeze of the cool summer’s night.

The figure raised a long arm, pressing down on a small object clutched in its hand, and the third and final streetlamp went out, leaving the alleyway in near complete darkness. A long, thin, sticklike object was then drawn and flicked, and a bright ball of light appeared at its tip. The sudden brightness revealed the figure’s face to be one of an elderly man with a wrinkled, grandfatherly face sporting small, half-moon shaped glasses. The eyes behind them were a clear, twinkling bright blue, and they were focused upon the small, black-haired boy at the other end of the alley.

The expression on the man’s face seemed wistful, as though he was reminiscing over an occurrence long past. "Déjà vu,” he mumbled to himself, then appeared to pull himself back to the present. After gazing searchingly at the small boy for a few moments, the elderly man smiled. 

“Ah… Harry,” he said softly, drawing closer to the boy, the confidence in his gait belying his years.

The boy remained where he was, fingering something in the pocket of his worn jeans, tense as a coiled spring.

The elderly man spoke again. “I’ve been looking for you for quite a few days, Harry. I’m glad to find you safe.”

The boy twitched slightly, but said nothing, apparently content to stare piercingly at the man.

“This is quite an unsafe area,” the man continued, clearly unperturbed by the boy’s silence. “It is quite fortunate that you have not come to harm.”

Again, the boy did not respond, but he took a small step backwards.

The elderly man lost his smile, replaced by a sorrowful expression. “I’m terribly sorry about your relatives, Harry,” he said gently. “To lose the ones we love is painful beyond words.”

A strange expression crossed the boy’s face fleetingly before returning to a determined blankness. He then finally spoke.

“Who are you, and what do you want from me?”

The man looked sad, and, if possible, even older than he had before.

“Why, Harry,” he said, “with your family gone, you surely need a place to stay. After all, it will be nearly three months until you begin your schooling. I have therefore made arrangements for you to reside in the home of a trusted colleague of mine until that time.”

“You didn’t answer the first part of my question.”

“Ah, alas, you are correct. In my old age, my thoughts tend to wander, often down strange paths.” The man smiled again, as though attempting to make the boy feel more at ease. The boy looked unamused, however, and continued to stare at the man, patiently awaiting his answer.

“I am Professor Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts.”

The boy raised his eyebrows, clearly unsatisfied with the answer. “What’s that got to do with me?”

The elderly man looked surprised. “Surely you have heard of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Harry. Did your relatives not inform you of its existence?”

The boy’s eyes narrowed slightly, and one could almost hear the mechanics of his mind whirring at top speed. He remained silent, however, his stare intensifying.

The man sighed. “Clearly not. I admit I did not foresee that occurrence, for all my supposed omniscience.” The man seemed to be talking more to himself than the boy, who continued to gaze unblinkingly at him.

“Did you aunt tell you nothing of your heritage, child?”

A flash of understanding crossed the boy’s face. “If you’re talking about me being magical, I’m aware of that.”

The man looked relieved. “I suppose she simply preferred not to discuss the matter with you at length?”

“You could say that.” The boy’s answer was somewhat sharp, a hint of irony flavoring his tone.

“Well, Harry,” said the man. “Hogwarts is a school which houses many children like you, where they learn to develop and control their magical powers. If I’m not mistaken, you should be receiving your letter of acceptance within the next two months. You will be turning eleven this July, as I recall?”

The boy nodded slowly.

“I’m glad we cleared that up, then.” He dug his hand into his pocket, pulling out a handful of small, yellow sweets. “Lemon drop? I have found them to be quite tasty, and rather soothing as well.” The man sucked on one slowly, momentarily gazing off into the distance. “Forgive an old man’s ramblings, but they say the sense of smell serves as a powerful connection to one’s emotions. As taste is closely related to the sense of smell, it is unsurprising that food can be such a comfort. ”

The boy shook his head, eyes tracking every one of the man’s movements

“No? Ah, well, all the more for me, I suppose,” he said, popping another into his mouth.

“Now, back to the matter at hand. I do tend to ramble,” he continued. “Why did you leave your relatives’ home upon their deaths, Harry? It seems a rather rash thing to do.”

“I didn't.”

“You did not run away from home?” Dumbledore asked, seemingly puzzled. “Then how did you come to be in London, child?”

This time, the boy did not answer, his gaze darting away.

“Did someone bring you here?” Dumbledore asked. “There were no signs…” his voice trailed off.

The boy tensed, his arms drawn unconsciously over his chest.

“What’s it to you?”

Dumbledore sighed. “Very well,” he said, “I suppose I will leave it for now. Will you consent to join me, Harry, so I can escort you to your new home?”

The boy looked, for a moment, slightly amused, though there was little true mirth in his expression. “They say you shouldn’t take rides with strangers, especially the ones who offer you candy.”

Dumbledore chuckled. “You are correct, Harry, your caution is most admirable. Am I truly a stranger, though?”

“Yes.”

Dumbledore, though saddened, did not seem unduly surprised by his response.

“I knew your parents quite well, Harry, and they entrusted me with your safety should anything prevent them from doing so themselves.”

The boy's expression shifted, then, into what could only be described as pained, though muted, as though it had not been given the space to be fully realized. It made him appear smaller, somehow, as though he'd shrunk in on himself despite not moving a muscle.

That change was not lost on the older man, whose mouth twisted slightly, as though he'd tasted something bitter. “Your parents loved you dearly, Harry, and all they wanted for you is to live a long, happy life.”

The boy drew in a breath as though to speak, but he then closed his mouth, pressing his lips together.

Dumbledore studied the boy for a moment, a sad, yet fond look on his face. “You do so remind me of your mother, Harry. You have her eyes, but I’m sure you knew that.”

The boy’s hands clenched, and his eyes darted, unsure of where to land their gaze. He then seemed to school his emotions, settling for a mask of indifference.

Dumbledore did not appear fooled, but he said no more on the topic.

“Would you join me, Harry? I assure you, your mother was quite the formidable witch, and should you come to any harm in my hands, she would no doubt find a way to render me bound and unconscious, alive or not.”

Dumbledore waited patiently, as the boy appeared to undergo a brief debate in his mind. He seemed to come to a conclusion, and took a careful step towards the older man. Dumbledore, pleased, held out his right arm. “You will want to grasp my arm, Harry, as we will be utilizing a method of travel known as Apparition.”

The boy slowly reached out a hand, hesitantly wrapping his fingers around the man’s forearm.

“Brace yourself, child. The trip may be… unsettling.”

The old man and the black-haired boy then promptly vanished with a faint pop.

Chapter Text

Harry tried not to retch when he and Dumbledore landed, for once thankful that he hadn’t eaten since yesterday.

“All right, Harry?” asked Dumbledore, brushing off some imaginary dust from his cloak. “The sensation can be quite disconcerting.”

Harry nodded jerkily.

“Very well, then, if you would just follow me…”

Harry’s mind was racing, struggling to accommodate the recent influx of information he had received. A school of magic? People looking for him? The Dursleys dead?

Harry couldn’t quite say what had possessed him to come here, when every bone in his body had been screaming at him to flee the moment that odd man had appeared. Who in their right mind would willingly take off with some creepy old man who claimed to know their parents? No one, that’s who. Even if the man had been telling the truth, that Harry’s parents had entrusted him with his safety, this Dumbledore character hadn’t exactly been doing a bang-up job of it, had he?

Sure, show up when the Dursleys drop dead, never mind that I haven’t set foot in their house since forever.

The idea that their deaths would hurt him was laughable. Clearly, this man knew nothing.

But despite all that, something told Harry that Dumbledore meant him no harm, or at least no immediate harm. Harry did have good instincts; indeed, they had saved his life more than once, and right now, said instincts were telling him to go with this man.

And a magical school?

I knew I had powers, but there are that many others like me? It sounds like there’s a whole community of magical people; there would have to be if there’s a school.

Harry wasn’t stupid; he knew he couldn’t be the only person with powers, but an established community, that was something else. But why had he been completely cut off from this community? Why show up now?

Harry bit back a snort as he recalled one of Dumbledore’s questions. Did your aunt tell you nothing of your heritage?

Petunia telling him anything beyond his chores for the day? Bloody unlikely.

Harry shook off the thought in favor of scanning his surroundings.

They were walking down a dark, unassuming road, with a few widespread, modest, but well-kept houses. Harry did not let down his guard, though; he knew that they were not in this particular location for nothing. There had to be something different about this place, or they would not be here.

Sure enough, Harry finally caught a glimpse of something odd in the distance. It was a slight glow, a shimmering mist, which appeared to surround a vast, empty area of land at the end of the road. As he and Dumbledore drew gradually closer, Harry got the sense that only they could see it, though he could not say how he knew.

When they reached the edge of the mist, Harry hesitated, glancing at Dumbledore briefly before looking away.

For all I know, this is some noxious gas that will knock me out or kill me soon as I come in contact with it.

In answer to Harry’s unasked question, Dumbledore spoke. "This energy is composed of a variety of protective spells which prevent outsiders from accessing or even locating this area.”

That must be why he’s brought me here, because of the protection, Harry thought. Something tells me that whoever who lives here suffers from a moderate to severe case of paranoia. Unless they're in hiding… but then why would it be safe for me to be here? Unless I’m not really meant to be kept safe..

Harry watched carefully as Dumbledore drew the sticklike object from the sleeve of his robes and waved it over the mist in a complex series of motions before turning to Harry. “I will need you to submerge your hand so that the magic may recognize you and allow you to pass.”

Sure, I’ll just stick my hand into some unknown substance and see what happens. That would be rule number one of what not to do. Or rule number two, I should say, as I’ve already broken rule number one, which is to take off with candy-toting strangers who wave sticks around.

Dumbledore seemed to take note of Harry’s doubtful expression and smiled slightly, immersing his own hand into the mist. Reassured, if only somewhat, Harry stuck his hand into the mist, half-braced for severe pain, and was relieved to feel only a faint tingling.

“Very well, Harry, that will do,” said Dumbledore. “You may now step through.”

Harry waited until Dumbledore had passed through before doing so himself. He then did a double-take, shut his eyes tightly, then looked again. What had recently been a large, barren piece of land had transformed into a large, well-maintained property surrounding a moderately-sized house of gray stone. As he followed Dumbledore down the narrow walkway leading toward the house, which was lined with trees and odd-looking plants, Harry looked further, and realized that the surrounding land seemed to extend indefinitely, with no apparent end in sight.

This makes no sense, how can magic be this unlimited? It would completely upset the rules of nature, the balance of the universe, the entire existence of-

Why even bother?

As they drew closer to the entrance of the home, the beginnings of anxiety began creeping into Harry's chest, growing steadily more intrusive as they reached the entrance. Dumbledore knocked twice on the door, and it almost immediately opened. Harry carefully controlled his breathing.

A tall, lithe man clothed in dark robes appeared in the doorway. His face was long, angular, and pale, as though he rarely ventured outdoors. He had lank black hair with a greasy sheen that brushed his shoulders, and a long, hooked nose. Yet his eyes were his most disconcerting feature. They were deep-set, and so dark that the pupils could barely be distinguished. The truly notable aspect of them, however, was their almost magnetic quality; Harry felt compelled to stare into them, and, once he did, was hard-pressed to tear away his gaze.

He doesn’t like me.

It wasn’t hard to tell; dislike and irritation seemed to radiate from the man in waves.

Dumbledore cleared his throat, and the man finally looked away.

“Thank you, Severus, for accommodating us at this late hour, and with such short notice, I might add.”

The man twitched slightly, but other than that, made no acknowledgement of Dumbledore’s statement. Dumbledore seemed unbothered, as though he was long accustomed to such treatment, and turned towards Harry. “Harry, this is Professor Severus Snape. He is the much respected potions master of Hogwarts, and the head of Slytherin House as well.”

Slytherin? Am I supposed to know what that means...

“Severus has graciously acquiesced to having you here for the next few months until you begin school. I’m sure you will be most pleased with the accommodations.”

Well, that’s not saying much; any accommodation is a step-up for me.

Harry nodded to the Snape person, and the man responded with a twitch of the shoulder.

“There are a few matters I wish to discuss with you, Severus, so if you would…”

Snape extended an arm in an exaggerated, somewhat mocking motion, and Harry followed Dumbledore through the doorway.

He glanced around. They had just entered a modest sitting room with a couple of navy colored couches, and a small table at its center piled with books. The room was dimly lit; there was a fireplace at the far end of the room with a few dying embers, and a lamp attached to the wall glowed faintly. The floor was made of dark wood, and bookshelves composed of similar material lined the walls.

Harry looked up as Dumbledore spoke again. “If you wouldn’t mind, Harry, Severus and I have some things to discuss, so if you would remain in here, we shall return shortly.”

Without looking at Harry, Snape pointed to one of the couches, then immediately swept from the room with a swish of his black robes. Dumbledore smiled at Harry, and, with a sigh, followed Snape at a more sedate pace.

Harry waited until he heard the click of a door being closed, then crept soundlessly toward the room the men had entered and pressed his ear to the door.

“Severus,” Dumbledore was saying, “I am well aware of your feelings on this matter, and I assure you, if there was any other way-”

“Yes, I am quite aware that there are no other options,” Snape hissed furiously. “I would never have entertained the thought of agreeing otherwise.”

Not too pleased with this arrangement, is he? Dumbledore must’ve made him. What hold does he have over this Snape person, anyway? I suppose I am here because of those protections, then. Funnily enough, I don’t find that very comforting.

“If you would just keep an open mind, Severus, I’ve no doubt that you will find-”

“Enough, Albus, I have agreed. I will do my part. Just do not expect me to break out in paroxysms of ecstasy...”

Harry drew back from the door and retuned to the sitting room, seating himself carefully on a couch. This situation was appearing to worsen by the moment. What had he gotten himself into? Good instincts or not, his presence being forced upon a rather forbidding looking man who had no interest in taking him in, and clearly had something against him, besides.

Not one of my more brilliant moves. This man can do whatever he wants to me, as long as he doesn’t seriously injure or kill me. What was I thinking? I wasn’t. Or maybe I was hoping that this would improve things somehow. Connections to my parents and all that. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Stop hoping for pathetic things you know you’ll never get. It’s weak. Weakness gets you dead.

With some effort, Harry pushed the thoughts back. This wasn’t helping. He needed an out; there was no way he could stay here. He considered running, but he doubted that he would get very far. He probably would have to leave the same way he came in, with a wand and some magic spell, which was obviously beyond his capabilities. Anyway, Dumbledore would just find him again and tighten the protections.

Now that he thought about it, Dumbledore could have easily forced him to come here if he hadn’t agreed. It was just smarter to make him think he had a choice.

No, running would be a senseless move. He would have to simply wait and feel out the situation before figuring out his next step.

Harry heard the door open, and he immediately stood, muscles tensed.

“Well, Harry,” Dumbledore said serenely, “I have intruded upon Severus’ hospitality for quite long enough, so this is where I take my leave.”

He extended a hand toward Harry, who suppressed a flinch and clasped Dumbledore’s hand before drawing back as quickly as he could without appearing rude.

“I may return here at some point in the summer, but if I do not, I will see you in school come September.”

Harry nodded to Dumbledore, and watched as he strode soundlessly out the door, closing it softly behind him.

Inhaling slowly, Harry then turned to face Snape. He was met with a sneering expression of hostility.

I wonder how many more days I have to live-

"Potter,” Snape spat, “as I will be enjoying the dubious pleasure of your company for the foreseeable future, allow me to make a few things quite plain.”

Harry swallowed, unable to suppress the sensation of dread that was spreading throughout his body, making his hands feel sweaty and his eyes uncomfortably dry. He directed his gaze towards the bridge of Snape’s nose, so he would not have to see the man’s eyes.

“I am a solitary man. I am quite unaccustomed to and disinterested in having infantile brats run amok in my home. I expect strict obedience and exemplary behavior. I will not tolerate running, shouting, whining, or rudeness of any kind. You will keep your possessions where they belong, and if I discover anything of yours that is not where it should be, you will not see it again.”

Snape abruptly swept from the room, and Harry hurried after him. When they reached the end of the darkened hallway, Snape paused next to a door. “This, Potter, is the entrance to my potions laboratory,” Snape said. “It is entirely off-limits to you. Though I’ve no doubt that the Boy-Who-Lived feels entitled to go wherever he may please and fancies himself fully qualified to cope with all things magical, if you venture past this door, the consequences may have you wishing for death.”

Well, that sounds promising. And who the bloody hell is the Boy-Who-Lived?

Harry stumbled after Snape as he swept down the hall and up the stairs. The man opened a door and pointed him inside.

“Now, it is currently a quarter past one in the morning.” Snape folded his arms. “Professor Dumbledore has taken the liberty of arranging provisions for you, as it seems you deem it beneath you to keep track of your own belongings.”

Sure, that’s right. I've somehow managed to misplace all my belongings…

“There is an en suite bathroom in this room. I suggest you bathe.” Harry held himself very still as Snape’s eyes raked over him, the man’s lip curling in disgust, “and change into those.” He pointed to a pile of neatly stacked clothing on the bed.

“I will expect you in the kitchen for breakfast at half-past eight. Do not keep me waiting.” With that said, Snape swept out of the room and slammed the door behind him.

Did I offend this bloke in another lifetime? This is really, really not good.

Harry felt his heart rate speed up, and he struggled to control his breathing. He had been in this situation before; he had run from it, chosen to live in constant discomfort and danger rather than remain at the mercy of people who despised his existence, and now, as a result of his stupidity, he was right back where he started. To make things worse, something told Harry that it would not be nearly as easy to get away this time.

This guy’s a wizard; he’ll be ten steps ahead of me. He probably knows every trick in the book. No, stop. Hyperventilation is an incredibly lame way to die. Breathe.

Harry, with some effort, managed to calm himself enough to think rationally. Figuring that he may as well take advantage of the situation, he found a pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt on the bed, and entered the bathroom.

He blinked. Harry had not been in a proper bathroom in months. It was small, but pristine, lined with pale gray tile, and he wasted no time in procuring the necessary toiletries before turning on the shower.

Harry basked in the sensation of warm water washing away layers of accumulated dirt and blood from his body, ignoring the sting of water spraying against his many scrapes. He could not remember the last time he had taken a shower; in recent times, the extent of his bathing habits had been a quick scrubbing down in a nearby public bathroom. He scrubbed his hair viciously, rubbing out the caked dirt and blood.

When Harry finished his shower, he felt almost human, and he quickly dried off and dressed.

I could get used to this. A shower, clean clothes, an actual bed. If I can just get Snape to forget my existence, I’ll be set.

Infinitely more relaxed, Harry retrieved his penknife from the pocket of his discarded trousers, slipped it under his pillow, and settled into the bed, wrapping himself in the thick blanket. Suddenly exhausted, he fell asleep.

 

Chapter Text

Harry awoke abruptly the next morning, and he was out of bed and halfway across the room before he remembered where he was.

As his heart rate gradually slowed to a normal pace, Harry looked around and noticed a clock on the wall, which dictated the time to be nearly eight. He was surprised that he’d slept undisturbed. He rarely slept for more than three or four hours at a stretch, and he’d just slept a solid six hours.

I suppose it was the shower, and the warm bed, and the blanket, and the closed door, and the clean clothes…

Harry luxuriated in the use of the bathroom, then found some clothes in the pile that Dumbledore had supposedly provided. Harry wondered where Dumbledore had procured them from, and why he had even bothered.

Maybe he’ll hold this over me somehow, maybe they’ve been tampered with, laced with poison or-

He rolled his eyes. It wasn’t as though these people were short of murder methods, and murder-by-clothing would have to be one the more ridiculous ones they could think of. 

Dressed, for once in clean, well-fitting clothing, Harry slipped his penknife into the pocket of his new jeans before making his way downstairs. He tried not to think about what Snape would do if he found out about it. The man would probably assume he was planning on slashing the couches apart. Or murdering him in his sleep.

Shaking off the thought, Harry chewed his bottom lip, trying to walk down the stairs as soundlessly as possible. Snape had told him to come to breakfast, but did that mean he’d actually be allowed to eat? He had to almost physically push back the remembered agony of days without meals, forced to cook for and serve the Dursleys, inhaling the succulent scents through the vents on the locked door of his cupboard-

Harry winced when the bottom stair creaked, fighting the anxiety that began to take hold. It would have been easier not to be fed at all than to be told to come to breakfast and have it snatched away. But Snape certainly hadn’t given him a say in the matter. 

After trying a few doors, (Snape hadn’t exactly given him the grand tour), Harry found the kitchen. It was small and, like the rest of the house, dimly lit, but there were delicious smells wafting from the circular table in the center of the room where Snape was seated, face hidden behind a newspaper, which, Harry noticed, was hovering in midair, unsupported. Harry walked cautiously towards the table and sat opposite Snape.

He felt acutely uncomfortable as he sat, unwilling to serve himself, but unable to ignore the hunger. The table was set with plates of food and a pitcher of milk, all fresher than any food Harry had had access to in recent memory.

“The food is not here for decoration.” He jumped slightly when Snape spoke. “Is the food not to your liking? Is the Boy-Who-Lived accustomed to gourmet feasts?” Snape's face was still obscured by his paper, but it wasn’t very hard to picture the look on his face.

Harry did not hesitate; he hastily filled his plate, and it was all he could do not to inhale the whole lot at once.

Pace yourself. If you spew all over the floor, you’ll never see the light of day again.

So Harry ate slowly, choosing to savor the burst of flavor that filled his mouth. Warm toast dripping with butter. Hot, flavorful eggs, and fresh fruit. Cold, sweet milk sliding refreshingly down his throat. Harry had never eaten such good food as far back as he could remember. The best he could usually get was old leftovers from the trash outside various restaurants, and the occasional candy bar he nicked from the drugstore. And back at the Dursleys, Harry had been lucky if he got-

Stop. Thinking. About. Them.

Harry tried valiantly to clear his plate, but midway through, he had to admit defeat; if he ate another bite, he doubted he would be able to keep it down.

Snape abruptly set down his newspaper with a wave of his hand, directing the full force of his glare at Harry. Harry stared back, fiddling with his fingers nervously under the table.

“Potter,” he said irritably. “I will be spending the majority of the day in my potions laboratory, as I do most days. As I previously articulated, you are not permitted to be anywhere in its vicinity.

Are you repeating that for your health? 

Harry couldn’t say anything, not at risk of his imminent demise, but Snape couldn’t stop him from thinking. He set his jaw, refusing to avert his gaze.

“Therefore, you have a few options. You are permitted to make use of the library, which is located down the hall to the left.”

Harry perked up slightly at that. A library?  

This changes things! Books. Must read books. Must figure out what the bloody hell is going on here. 

“Additionally, you are permitted on the grounds, provided that you are indoors before dark. As said grounds are protected by powerful spells surrounding all sides, I strongly suggest you refrain from attempting to bypass them.” He gave Harry a look that threatened a painful death if he dared to try.

“Furthermore, while it is no concern of mine at which hour you opt to retire,” Snape said with a derisive look, “you will be in your bedroom by half-past eleven. I will not have you traipsing throughout my house at all hours of the night.” He paused for a moment, dark eyes boring into Harry’s face like daggers. “Am I understood?” 

Harry nodded. This was better than he had expected. It really seemed as though Snape was intent on ignoring his existence, which suited Harry perfectly.

Snape spoke again, his caustic tone cutting through the air. “Lunch will be at one, and dinner at six. Far be it from me to care if you choose not to attend. However, I will not tolerate you wreaking havoc in my kitchen should you feel a sudden urge to satiate yourself later on, so I do suggest you show up.”

Harry nodded again.

“I will be alerted if you get into any trouble, so I strongly suggest you stay out of it, as I will be most displeased should my work be interrupted. You have been warned. Is that perfectly clear?” Snape looked positively ferocious.

“Yes, sir.”

“Get out of my sight.”

Harry immediately rose, carrying his plate towards the sink.

“Leave it,” Snape snapped.

Harry jerked slightly, then shrugged and set his plate back down on the table. He made his way to the door, pausing before he exited. He had been fed, after all.

“Thank you.”

Snape grunted, hidden once more behind the paper.

Harry then left the kitchen in search of the library, immensely relieved to be out of Snape’s company. He found it more easily than he had the kitchen, and his spirits could not help but lift when he opened the door. The room was large; much larger than it should have been, considering the layout of the house. Rows of bookshelves crammed with copious volumes filled the room, reaching nearly to the ceiling. There was a corner occupied by some comfortable looking armchairs and small tables supplied with writing materials.

Harry had, in fact, taken refuge in public libraries on many occasions, both when he’d lived with the Dursleys and after he had run away. Harry liked the calming atmosphere, the quiet, the knowledge, and the almost magical spark he felt in the air. Libraries had always been his sanctuary. 

Harry had had few friends in his life. He much preferred books. Books were predictable, helpful, and often funny. They couldn’t hurt him, not like people did. But it was something more that drew him. It was the escape they provided, the one place where Harry could forget everything, could forget who and where he was, could stop being Harry altogether. They were proof that maybe one day things would be different, that maybe he could be happy; perhaps he did actually experience a level of happiness as he read, despite that fact that he knew it wasn’t real, and, sooner or later, he would have to face reality and all the pain that came with it.

Harry wasted no time in gathering as many books as he could, and he soon had a tall pile of books stacked on one of the tables. He settled into the armchair beside it, and opened the first book in reach.

 

Three hours later, Harry’s head was spinning. Rubbing his stinging eyes, he attempted to sort through all of his recently acquired information. Apparently, according to The Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts, he was the Boy-Who-Lived. Apparently, his parents had not died in a car crash (not that he’d really believed that), but they had been murdered by some sociopathic maniac called Voldemort during the first wizarding war of Britain. Then he’d tried to kill Harry, but for some reason had not succeeded, and ended up, to use the phrase, impaled upon his own sword. Thus Harry was named the Boy-Who-Lived, and celebrated all across the wizarding world.

Harry felt strange. Though he’d suspected that his parents’ deaths had been magically related in some way, he’d never imagined something like this.

How could this be possible? I’m famous? No wonder Snape thinks I’m some sort of narcissistic terror. But I was only a baby when it happened. It was probably something my parents did. 

Harry also noticed that none of the books actually explained what had happened to Voldemort. Terms such as ‘vanquished’, ‘defeated’, ‘conquered’, and ‘vanished’ were used, but never the word ‘dead’.

Maybe he didn’t die. What happened to him, then? Where has he been?

Then it hit him. This must be why he needed protection. Voldemort was still alive and wanted revenge on Harry for defeating him. And maybe…

Maybe he thinks I could do it again. Maybe everyone thinks I could do it again.

Well, at least the Boy-Who-Lived mystery had been cleared up, though, admittedly, it only made Harry feel worse. 

About Hogwarts, on the other hand, Harry was intrigued. The school had been around for thousands of years, and it was considered to be one of the most elite schools of magic there was, or, at least, that was what Hogwarts, a History had said. He had ascertained what Dumbledore had meant by Slytherin as well. Apparently, students were sorted into four houses, all with unique traits, Slytherin being one of them.

Harry had to raise his eyebrows at the notion of Snape being a head of house. He didn’t exactly seem like the nurturing type.   

Beginning to feel restless, Harry closed the book over a bit of parchment so he wouldn’t lose his place, and got up, wincing at the ache in his limbs from sitting in the same position for hours. He hurried out of the library and towards the front door as quickly as he could without running. It was a warm day, somewhat cloudy, and a slight breeze ruffled his hair. Feeling a sudden burst of energy, Harry ran as fast as he could, enjoying the sensation of running for its own sake. Finally out of breath, Harry stopped beside a sprawling tree and sat down underneath it, breathing hard, hands wrapped around his knees.

What was the point of it all? Harry had spent the past ten years uncared for, hungry, scared and utterly, utterly alone. He did not feel like a kid, he’d never been one, really; he’d never had the chance to enjoy any semblance of childhood. His innocence had been torn away from him before he’d learned to talk.

And all this time, I was the famous savior of the wizarding world. It was here the whole time. I didn’t have to suffer, but I did anyway. The wizards left me to rot.

Not liking the direction in which his thoughts were going, Harry impatiently pushed them aside and got to his feet. It was probably nearly time for lunch, anyway. He headed back towards the house and into the kitchen, where Snape was, once again, seated at the table, concealed behind a newspaper.

Harry sat, and, this time, did not hesitate to help himself. Harry tried to pace himself, to chew slowly, but the food was just so good. Less than halfway through, Harry began to feel uncomfortably full. He reluctantly laid down his fork and took a long draught of water.

Bad idea.

Harry felt an intense nausea rise up in his chest, and before he could so much as blink, he vomited all over the floor.

I am dead. He’ll murder me, slowly and painfully. Why did I have to eat so fast? You complete. Utter. Idiot. He’ll never let you eat again, he’ll-

“Potter.”

The sharp voice snapped Harry out of his panicked trance. He realized he was sitting frozen in position, eyes squeezed shut. He opened them slowly to find Snape peering at him oddly.

“Are you quite well?” Snape asked, sounding annoyed.

Harry exhaled carefully, grimacing at the sour taste in his mouth, and nodded, reaching for some napkins.

“Stop.”

Harry immediately dropped the napkins. Snape then waved his wand in an exasperated motion, and the mess vanished.

“Are you well, Potter?” Snape asked again in a neutral, if slightly terse, tone.

“I- I’m fine-”

Harry started as Snape handed him a glass of water.

Do attempt to drink more slowly, and we may be fortunate enough to avoid a repeat of such histrionics.”

Harry stared as the glass of water in his hand as though he’d never seen one before. His fingers were clenched so tightly around it that the veins on the back of his hand popped out.

Snape cleared his throat, and Harry pushed the glass to his lips in favor of dropping it on the floor. He drank slowly, the water soothing his burning throat, and noticed Snape looking at him appraisingly. Harry stared back waiting for… something. But Snape said nothing, eventually looking away and turning back toward his food.

He’s unpredictable. Unpredictable is bad. He was supposed to be angry.

He needed to get out of here.

Harry got up slowly, his eyes on Snape, half-expecting the man to refuse to let him leave. But Snape simply jerked his head and went back to his newspaper.

Harry opened his mouth, and he had to swallow several times to ease the constriction in his throat. “Th-thank you, sir.”

Snape eyed him again, brow furrowed, then closed his eyes for a moment. “Do refrain from strenuous activities, if you will. We do not need a reenactment of today’s episode." The man’s tone was oddly bereft of its usual venom.

Harry nodded shakily and left the kitchen.

He didn’t know what to think. No one had ever tolerated his illnesses; he’d been locked away, denied treatment, and punished for daring to be ill, and Harry had learned long ago to suck it up and ignore it. Later, in the streets, that ability had served him well, as pain and discomfort had never prevented him from doing what needed to be done. Snape’s actions were foreign to him, and Harry did not know how to respond.

Caught up in his thoughts, Harry had barely noticed that he was now facing the door to the library. He returned to his chair, desperately eager to return to the comfortable familiarity of his books.

Before long, however, dinnertime crept up on him, and as much as Harry wanted to avoid facing the man after his… episode, it was only inevitable.

Harry entered the kitchen, where Snape was, once again seated, though his newspaper was resting on the table instead of hiding his face. Thinking that this could mean nothing good, Harry cautiously sat down and noticed that, though Snape’s plate contained what appeared to be a steak, there was lighter fare set in front of Harry’s plate; toast, vegetables, and some sort of soup.

Had Snape had this prepared especially for Harry?

He wasted no time in filling his plate, and he glanced up briefly at the man before looking away and murmuring, “Thank you, sir.”

“Do not thank me,” Snape said sharply. “I merely wished to avoid having my dinner spoiled by the scent of bile.”

Harry’s chest tightened, and his heart began pounding in his ears. The fork clutched in his fist rattled faintly against the plate as his hand trembled, and he chanced a quick glance at Snape, pushing back against his seat and setting his feet on the floor, as though poised for flight.

A strange expression crossed Snape’s face. He opened his mouth slightly, as if to say something, but then closed it again, starting on his food. Harry followed his cue and began to eat, careful to chew slowly, his shoulders gradually relaxing.

What the bloody hell is happening? Why is he being nice?

Harry knew Snape had only given him different food because he didn’t want to deal with a repeat of lunchtime, but he could have more easily avoided it by simply not allowing Harry to attend meals at all. Harry could not wrap his head around it, so he tried not to think about it in favor of focusing on his meal.

Later, in bed, Harry clutched his penknife in his fist, his grip so tight it hurt. He knew this was too good to be true. There was no way that he could be well-fed, have the freedom to roam around the house and grounds, and be pretty much left alone while in the home of an adult who hated him. Harry knew that the other shoe would drop; the question simply was, when?

***

A large, beefy man is shoving him against a wall, fingers pressing down on his windpipe… burden… better off dead…

There's blood streaking down from his collarbone, soaking his shirt... the glint of a blade...

A glass slips from his hands, but before it hits the floor, it floats upwards back into his grip… He is yanked backwards and knocked to the ground… A heavy foot stomps down on his chest… Abnormality… Freakishness… 

Harry awoke with a gasp. He trembled violently as he fumbled about wildly for his penknife, curling into a fetal position.

Apparently, the respite he’d had from his nightmares the night before had not been destined to last. Big surprise there.

Harry hated the nighttime. During the day, it was easy to forget, to pretend that nothing had ever happened, to feel nothing at all. But at night, all the feelings and memories came back to haunt him, to taunt him, reminding him of his weakness, that he couldn’t rid himself of the feelings for good. Nighttime was when Harry felt the pain, the fear, the anger, and the knowledge that no one wanted him. And Harry hated himself for caring at all.

Stop being so bloody weak.

Harry suppressed a groan when he checked the clock, realizing that it was only four in the morning. He couldn’t leave the room now; Snape would not approve of him, to use his words, traipsing throughout his house at all hours of the night. So Harry tried to settle down, but he could practically feel the adrenaline coursing through his body, making his heart pound and his breaths short. He tried to think of other things, like the books he’d read, but no matter how hard he tried, he could not rid his mind of the images drifting menacingly across it. So Harry sat on the floor and amused himself by making his penknife float in midair, imagining painful deaths for everyone he hated.

I wonder how the Dursleys died. Dumbledore didn’t say. Because he thought I already knew. Hope it was painful. I hope Hell actually does exist so they’ll continue to suffer for eternity. I hate them. Hate them hate them hate them HATE THEM.

“I hate them,” Harry said aloud.

The penknife dropped back onto the bed. The use of magic had tired him, exhausting him of the anger, and his emotions ebbed, retreating into the back of his mind, where they would remain, hidden and unnoticed, until he slept again.

By half-past six, Harry was dressed and down in the library in search of more books. Now that he had acquired a decent understanding of the workings of the magical community, he needed to learn about the workings of magic itself. Finally, Harry spotted a book that had potential near the top of the bookshelf.

Does Snape not want me to read it or something? Maybe it’s dangerous to know; maybe it’ll make me dangerous- 

Harry considered dragging a chair over, but it didn’t seem high enough. Too bad. Harry wanted the book, and he was going to get it, one way or another. Glancing around once, Harry focused carefully, and slowly, the book slid off its shelf and floated downward, toward him. He was startled, however, when his feet began to leave the ground, floating up towards the shelf.

In his surprise, Harry lost his focus and went crashing to the floor, the book bouncing off his shoulder before hitting the ground. Testing his limbs carefully, Harry judged them to be only bruised, so he limped over to his chair, book in hand.

Accidental magic explains all the weird stuff I do,"  Harry thought, after finishing a chapter that discussed exactly that, "but it did stop being accidental after a while, except when I was really angry. The book doesn’t say much about that. The stuff I do does generally seem to require a wand. Better keep it to myself, then. But a wand can be a weakness. What if it breaks, or if someone steals it? Is a wizard completely powerless, then? But the magic is inside a person, not a wand, so why is it even necessary? Why can't magic be channeled through a hand as easily?

Darn it, breakfast.

Harry hurried to the kitchen, despite the residual ache in his leg. He did want to eat, after all, and Snape would undoubtedly be extremely irritated if he came late.

He entered the kitchen and was surprised to find Snape look up as he entered, newspaper nowhere in sight. 

“Good of you to show up, Potter,” Snape said acerbically.

Harry said nothing, right hand clenched around the penknife in his pocket.

“Now, as the Hogwarts elves have been delivering meals since your arrival, it has been decided that I must take note of your apparently delicate dietary needs so they can be informed.” Snape looked as though he would rather be doing anything but.

He’s asking me about my dietary needs? Next, he’ll be asking me how my day went. What am I supposed to say? That my previous eating habit consisted of a few scraps when I could find them?

“Well?” Snape bit out.

“Er… I…” Harry’s voice trailed off. 

“Has your rudimentary grasp of the English language suddenly forsaken you?” Snape definitely sounded angry, now.

No. No, what do I say? Stop panicking, you idiot. It’s not helping. Just say something. Anything.

“I don’t know.”

Snape gave him a look that was positively withering. “You don’t know?”

I did just say that.

The fear Harry had been feeling slowly began to give way to annoyance. What did Snape want from him, anyway?

“I don’t know what my dietary needs are,” Harry said flatly. What else could he say?

Snape was looking at Harry calculatingly. Harry stared back, waiting for Snape to speak. Finally, he did, his face becoming a cold, uncaring mask. “Very well, you will continue to consume the food that has been previously delivered for you by the elves. Sit.”

Harry sat and filled his plate with the meal that had been delivered by the so-called elves.

“What do you mean by elves, sir?” Harry asked in a carefully neutral tone. He held his breath. Maybe he should have finished reading Hogwarts, A History before asking.

Snape looked somewhat irritated at being interrupted, but he answered. “They are house elves; creatures that are wired to serve wizards in ways such as cooking and housekeeping. There is a large number of them working at Hogwarts. As I myself have little time nor inclination to cook, Professor Dumbledore has insisted on having elves deliver meals since your arrival.” The man inhaled sharply. “Have I satisfied your curiosity?” 

“Yes, sir.”

As soon as Harry finished his meal, he left the kitchen quickly; it was obvious that Snape felt that he’d had enough of Harry for one day. As per usual, Harry curled up in his armchair in the library.

The rest of the week progressed similarly. Harry would wake from a nightmare, remain in his room until six, then relocate to the library, where he gradually expanded his knowledge of the magical world. He was at a disadvantage, after all, growing up so isolated, and he needed to make up for it now.

Often feeling restless due to the extensive amount of time he spent indoors, Harry regularly ran on the grounds every day, often more than once. He’d discovered that, in close proximity to the mist of protective spells, he was pushed back by a magnetic-like force, preventing him from passing it. Though Harry wasn’t surprised, it did make him uneasy that he wouldn’t be able to easily escape if he needed to. And he would need to, eventually, when Snape finally lost it, although, aside from meals, Harry rarely saw the man at all. It appeared that he really did spend the majority of the day in his lab, likely brewing substances that Harry couldn’t begin to understand.

Snape was an anomaly. He clearly disliked Harry and did not want him around at all, yet the man did not go out of his way to make Harry’s life miserable; if anything, he did the opposite. He allowed Harry to eat, gave him a bedroom, and never stood within grabbing distance of him. Why? It wasn’t as if anyone would find out if Snape did hurt him, and even if someone did find out, why would they care? No one ever had before.

Ensconced in the library after dinner, Harry’s focus kept drifting away from his book.

Maybe this is a part of some master plan, my being here. Maybe it has something to do with the Boy-Who-Lived thing. But what is the plan? What is being accomplished? Dumbledore probably knows. He seems the type; all-knowing and everything. And the books say that Voldemort feared him, so he must be really powerful. Or maybe he knew something no one else did. Or both, probably.

Giving up, Harry closed the book. It was nearly eleven-thirty. Though reluctant to subject himself to the nightmares that were sure to come, Harry went upstairs anyway. When he weighed his options, he concluded that a known evil, his nightmares, were safer and more easily dealt with than the unknown evil, which was Snape’s potential reaction if he didn’t go upstairs.

Not three hours later, Harry awoke, choking back a scream. He trembled uncontrollably, hitting his head repeatedly against the headboard in an attempt to distract himself. It didn’t work.

 

Chapter Text

Severus Snape was perplexed- no, he was perturbed. Perplexity was not a feeling Severus would ever claim to have experienced. He would not have survived his years as a spy if he succumbed to the most plebian of sensations.

It was the boy. The child was behaving nothing like Severus had anticipated, and it irritated him to no end. 

Severus had been expecting James bloody Potter reincarnated, and he had been most displeased when Albus had informed him of the necessity of his housing the brat. He thought back with distaste of the night, scarcely a week prior, when Albus had called.

“Severus,” Albus’ head in the fireplace had said. “Would you be so kind as to invite me through? There is a rather urgent matter I wish to discuss with you.”

Severus had agreed without much care; Albus’ company was one of the few which he could occasionally tolerate. The old man generally knew his limits where they concerned Severus; he rarely outstayed his welcome, and he did not call unless there was a reason. Although Severus would never have admitted it to anyone, he did not particularly mind Albus’ company, even if the old man did have a most inane obsession with sweets and muggle philosophy.

“Severus,” Albus had said placidly, brushing soot off of his, in Severus’ opinion, ridiculously colored cloak of deep purple. “I trust you are well?”

“Yes, thank you, Albus,” Severus had responded brusquely, gesturing toward a seat. “I have potions to attend to, so if you would proceed with your oration, fascinating as it surely will be, I would be most grateful.”

Albus had given Severus that twinkling look that so vexed him, but thankfully, did proceed.

“It is Harry Potter.”

Severus’ teeth had clenched, his hands in fists. “What about him?” 

“The boy’s relatives have been recently deceased, and he was located in London not two hours ago.”

Severus had had an awful feeling that he knew exactly where this was going. He played clueless, however, in an attempt to put off the moment when he’d be forced to accept the inevitable.

“And?” He'd raised his eyebrows in mock-politeness.

Albus had sighed slightly, as though bracing himself, and continued. “As it will be nearly three months until the boy begins school, he requires a temporary place of residence.”

“Oh?” Severus had replied, his courteous tone belying the raging anger bubbling beneath his chest. “Whatever do you have in mind? I presume Hogwarts itself is not an option?”

Albus had looked as though he knew quite well what Severus was thinking.

“You know, Severus, that I would not ask this of you were there any other possible arrangements. Believe me, I had thoroughly exhausted every resource of mine before coming here.”

In two hours?  Severus had thought resentfully. But he'd known it was true. The situation with the boy’s protection was precarious. The deaths of his relatives posed a definite problem. Nonetheless, Severus could barely contain the fury.

A Potter? In my home? That bastard continues to torment me, long after his demise.

Albus had spoken again. “There are few locations concealed by such powerful and intricate protections as yours, and none owned by an individual aware of the boy’s unique-”

“I am well aware of all that which you say,” Severus had bit out through clenched teeth, cutting Albus off. “Do what you must. Fetch the boy. Bring him here. I presume you trust that he will be sent to Hogwarts come September, alive and intact.”

“Severus…”

“Go. Just go.”

Albus had paused beside the door and looked toward Severus.

“I thank you, Severus.”

“Do not thank me.”

Albus still had not left.

“You are a far better man than you believe.”

Before Severus could respond, Albus had gone.

Severus had taken advantage of that moment to hurl a glass against the wall. He'd watched as it shattered, shards scattering across the polished wood floor. Just as life as he had previously known it. Shattered. Altered. Overturned. And not for the better.

Yes, Severus had been furious, and well-prepared to put the boy in his place, arrogant and unruly as he would undoubtedly be, as the spawn of James Potter, and as the bloody Boy-Who-Lived.

And then the boy, with those blasted green eyes and untidy Potter hair, had the audacity to utterly shatter Severus’ expectations, just like that cursed glass he’d flung at the wall.

The child barely spoke; most of what he said consisted of variations of “yes, sir”, “no, sir”, and “thank you, sir”.

The boy had thanked him, after every meal, as though Severus was doing him a favor. As much as Severus despised all things Potter, he would not stoop so low as to deny a child food. Yet the boy had seemed almost surprised, as though that was what he’d expected.

And the child was minuscule, considerably smaller than he should have been, as he appeared to be closer to eight or nine years than nearly eleven. The boy’s eating habits were also strange; they were more apt of a younger child than a boy his age.

And when the child had vomited, Severus had been braced for a tantrum, tears, and regression to the age of a toddler, as most children saw fit to do when ill. But instead, the boy had seemed momentarily frozen, as though he’d transgressed a cardinal sin, and then proceeded to try and clear up his mess. In Severus’ vast experience with immature preteen brats, the boy’s behavior was unusual.

And not just in his eating habits. The boy spent an inordinate amount of time in the library, poring over piles of books, only occasionally venturing outdoors to burn off energy as a normal child might.

Severus had felt a perverse sort of pleasure when informing the brat of his options. After all, what child would be satisfied with spending time in a library, with no playmates, broomsticks, or other such entertainment? But the boy did not appear bothered in the slightest, and he had proceeded to make use of the library at the first opportunity he’d had.

How did the boy turn out this way? Snape wondered, as he stirred six times clockwise to neutralize the excess acid of the armadillo bile. He hardly behaves as a child, let alone as the spawn of James Potter known throughout the world as the Boy-Who-Lived.

At first, Severus had been certain that the boy’s silence was a sign of mischief. Clearly, he’d thought, the boy was involved in some devious plot to further disrupt Severus Snape’s ordered life, even more so than he’d already done by arriving in Severus’ home to begin with.

However, as the days passed, the boy continued to disprove Severus’ carefully laid theories and understandings. He arrived promptly for meals, ate politely, did not venture near the potions lab, and retired to his bedroom by half-past eleven every night without fail. He obeyed the rules, and Potters did not obey rules. This child simply defied nature, went against his heritage. The fact that the boy had known his parents for less than two years of his life seemed inconsequential. The Potter genes were prevalent. And the blasted boy was defying them.

Severus cursed as his potion began smoking slightly, and he stirred once, this time counterclockwise. If the potion’s pH levels fell below four, the entire brew would be rendered useless. Severus waved his wand over the potion, then exhaled. The levels were hovering slightly above four point three, which was manageable. He added a touch of wheatgrass, just to be on the safe side. The smoking subsided.

On a purely objective note, thought Severus, it is fortunate that my home does provide the necessary protection.

He scowled. The complex protections of his home had most certainly not been erected with the boy in mind.

During his stint as a spy near the end of the war, Severus had needed a sanctuary, a place to hold meetings with Dumbledore, to brew potions for the Order, to strengthen his Occlumency. And he needed a place where no one would find him.

So, with Albus’ assistance, he had acquired the home and property in which he now resided, and protective spells nearly as powerful as the Fidelius Charm had been erected, concealing its existence from even the Dark Lord himself. His fellow Death Eaters, most of the Order, and the Dark Lord had only known of Spinner’s End, his previous home.

Although the protections were no longer strictly necessary, Severus had little desire to see others during the summer, his brief time free of dunderheaded brats and adults alike. And the place belonged solely to him. Until now.

Now, he was required to house a child; the son of James Potter, no less. And to make things worse, he couldn’t vent his frustration on the boy, as the boy did nothing to provoke him or raise his ire in any way.

And Severus couldn’t blame Albus either, no matter how much he wished to. He’d known from the start, from the day the Dark Lord had fallen, of the danger concerning the boy. Of the danger he himself had wrought...

Severus had been slumped over in a chair in Dumbledore’s office. He was exhausted beyond measure, his emotions frayed and scattered. The Dark Lord had been defeated, but Lily was gone. All because of him. And her son, sired by his childhood enemy, had been the one to end the war.

Severus was free, but for what reason? He had nothing left to live for. But he was free, and Albus was seated behind his desk, facing him, not saying a word.

He’d not known whether to laugh or cry, to rejoice or grieve, so he settled for blankness.

Much easier. Safer

Albus had then spoken.

“I am sorry, Severus, I cannot convey to you how much-”  

“Say nothing,” Severus had croaked. “It does not matter.”

“Oh, Severus, but it does. What you are feeling-”

“Speak not of my feelings,” Severus had said coldly. “Just tell me what has happened, what must be done.”

Thankfully, Albus had respected his wishes, and continued. “Voldemort, acting upon the prophecy, went after Harry Potter, whom he concluded was the child it spoke of. As you know, it led to his downfall.”

“What of the prophecy?” Snape had asked, numbly.

Albus had waved a hand. “I view it as simply a possible future, in a metaphorical fashion, perhaps, as most prophecies tend to be. One cannot hope to determine its true meaning.”

“But the Dark Lord did not view it in that manner.”

“No, Severus, he did not. He chose to view it as an inevitability, as fate, leading to his ultimate downfall.”

“When the Dark Lord rises again, he will want the boy,” Severus had said slowly.

“Indeed.” Albus had nodded, a somber expression on his face. “And many of the Death Eaters who roam free will likely wish to exact revenge upon the boy.”

“Indeed,” Severus had murmured. “Although the boy did not do them a disservice by freeing them of the Dark Lord’s reign…”

“I have therefore placed the boy with his muggle relatives, his last remaining family.”

“Muggles?” Severus had spat. “In what way might muggles be capable of protecting the boy?”

“Lily’s sacrifice provided the boy with protection, which resides in her blood, the blood of her sister. You know the magic of which I speak.”

Severus had nodded sharply. Yes, he did know. And he also knew that Lily was gone.

Severus chopped his valerian roots aggressively, carving faint lines into the table. He’d brought this upon himself, all of it. He’d signed Lily’s death warrant, he’d placed the boy in the danger he now faced. And he now had to see the boy every day, see those green eyes that seemed to stare into his very soul, reminding Severus of his failure. Reminding Severus of who the boy’s parents had been, and the reason for which he no longer had them.

But the child was so small, so quiet, so controlled. He acted nothing like either of his parents, for bad, or for good.

Perhaps he is grieving , Severus realized, stirring in the roots. He did just lose his family, after all. Perhaps that is what causes him to be so silent. So… unchildlike.

He did know firsthand, after all, what loss could do to a child.

Severus shook off his thoughts. He did not care, one way or another, what the boy may or may not be feeling. His job was solely to ensure the boy’s protection until he began school. Nothing more, especially not for a Potter.

He returned his full focus to the potion, which was now at its most precarious stage. Lowering the flame slightly, he stirred three times, then positioned a flask of lobalug venom directly over the cauldron. If he was off by so much as a drop…

Severus suddenly felt a disturbing vibration from the ceiling, and the faint sound of shattering glass.

The disturbance caused Severus’ hand to jerk, landing far too much of the venom into the potion. The entire brew curdled into a pitiful looking glob at the bottom of the cauldron.

He swore.

The boy-

He ran.

Chapter Text

Harry was frustrated.

He’d read through every book he could find that might possibly contain information about his defeat of Voldemort, hoping to discover how it could have been feasible. However, all that any of the books offered were variants of pretty much the same thing.

At the height of his powers, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named was intent on hunting down and murdering the Potters for reasons unknown. The Potters, who were well-respected, powerful wizards deeply involved in the uprising against He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, were not easy targets; they were known to have successfully evaded Him and many of his followers, known as Death Eaters, on more than one occasion. Nonetheless, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named eventually tracked down the Potters, and on the thirty-first of October, 1981, He proceeded to kill them. Upon the deaths of James and Lily Potter, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named attempted to murder their son, Harry James Potter, who was fifteen months old at that time. For unexplained and unprecedented reasons, the attempted Killing Curse failed to kill the child, and, instead, rebounded upon He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, thereby vanquishing Him. The child was left with a lightning-bolt shaped scar on his forehead, where the curse had made contact. This incident marked the end of the eleven year civil war among the British wizarding citizens.

That was it. None of the books explained how Harry had survived; none of them even offered any possible explanations or hypotheses. Nor did the books provide information on what exactly had happened to Voldemort.

Harry skimmed yet another book half-heartedly, not at all expecting to discover any new information.

Thus, the book read, October thirty-first, 1981, marked the end of the war, pronouncing Harry James Potter as the Boy-Who-Lived. Upon his defeat of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named-

There’s more? Harry read on eagerly.

Upon his defeat of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, Harry Potter was placed into the temporary custody of Albus P.W.B. Dumbledore, renowned defeater of Grindelwald (1945), and the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry (1956 - present). He was said to have placed the Boy-Who-Lived with his muggle relations, his last remaining family. The precise location is unknown.

Harry read the passage. Then read it again. And again. He felt an odd ringing in his ears.

It was Dumbledore. Dumbledore had dumped him at the Dursleys and left him there. Dumbledore was the reason for everything; the reason he’d suffered, the reason he couldn’t sleep through the night without wanting to end it all.

Dumbledore had left him there, and had only shown up when the Dursleys had died. And then he’d proceeded to dump him in the home of yet another person who didn’t want him.

A terrifying realization slowly began to dawn on Harry.

I’m being used.

This is no mistake on Dumbledore’s part, he’s doing this deliberately. This is a plot. He’s trying to mold me, to turn me into something by putting me through all this. He wants me not to have anyone, to hurt, to suffer, so that I’ll run into his arms when he “rescues” me, and do whatever he wants.

It’s all because of him. Everything. All of it.

A fury such that Harry had never felt ripped through him. He felt it in his chest, his lungs, his very heart. He had never felt such anger, such all-encompassing fury that possessed a life of its own.

The anger expanded within him, and his body could no longer contain it. It burst out of him in a terrific surge of uncontrollable magic.

The room seemed to explode before him. The windows shattered, and countless, tiny shards of glass scattered across the room. Hundreds of books flew off their shelves, landing in every corner of the room, piled haphazardly. The bookshelves themselves, every last one, crashed to the floor with a deafening thud, the entire room shuddering. The chairs and tables overturned, ink splattering everywhere.

Harry stood amidst the wreckage, unharmed, staring impassively through glazed eyes. The raging anger had left him with the magic, leaving him quite numb, and more exhausted than he’d ever been. He closed his eyes, breathing deeply, unmoving.

“Potter!”

Harry sensed Snape’s voice rather than heard it. He turned slowly to meet the man's livid gaze.

“What is the meaning of this?”

Snape was standing in the doorway, positively frothing at the mouth.

Harry did not even try to respond. What could he say? He didn’t think he’d be able to speak; he could not even muster up the energy to be afraid of what he knew was sure to come.

There was a brief moment of silence, during which Snape seemed to be awaiting his reply. Harry continued to say nothing, staring at a point on the wall behind Snape.

Suddenly, Snape moved. He was striding towards Harry, much too quickly, and before Harry could react, he was grabbed by the upper arms and hoisted into the air.

Harry dangled for a moment before his exhausted and overwrought brain caught up with his senses.

No no no no no no. He’s going to kill me. Can’t move. Can’t get away. Running makes things worse. Go! Leave, go somewhere else, get out of here. Now!

And Harry did.

His consciousness retreated to a place in the deepest recesses of his mind, where he was safe, where nothing could hurt him. He vaguely sensed that Snape was yelling at him, but all he heard was a faint buzzing in his ears. He felt, detachedly, a pressure on his upper arms, where Snape was gripping him tightly, shaking him.

But it didn’t matter. Nothing mattered here, where he was alone, free, far from any threat.

Harry came back to himself abruptly as he was dropped to the ground quite suddenly. He looked up to see Snape staring at him with a frozen expression on his face that Harry could not place. He didn’t try.

Harry moved his arms, and flinched as a sharp pain shot through his right shoulder.

Oh, a dislocation. That can be dealt with.

Harry gritted his teeth, then shoved his shoulder back into place in one forceful movement.

Snape was still staring at him, even more strangely this time, and much more intensely.

Harry’s well-honed instincts, and finally, the fear, began to pervade his senses.

Why am I still here? Get the hell out of here, you idiot, before he really hurts you.

Harry bolted.

***

Severus stood still, overcome by an emotion akin to shock, staring at the spot the boy had just vacated. He could tell, by the distant pounding of the stairs, that the boy had not attempted to run away, he’d just retreated to his bedroom.

What have I done?

He had, in a startling fit of rage, manhandled the boy roughly enough to dislocate his shoulder, and he’d likely left bruises on the boy’s arms as well.

Severus had never, in any sense of the word, liked children, but he’d never laid a finger on any one of them, let alone done them physical harm

Until now.

When he’d rushed into the library in response to his alarms, he’d seen red.

This home was the one place where Severus had been free. Free of his father, free of the Dark Lord, and free of his childhood tormentors.

He’d painstakingly rebuilt his life around this home, and that could never be taken from him.

But then, he’d entered the library to find it in a severe state of disarray, the damage caused by none other than the spawn of James Potter. James Potter had come back to torment him, to wreak havoc upon his life, to destroy all that he held dear. And Potter had simply stood there, refusing to explain, staring at him insolently.

And Severus had utterly lost his composure, and proceeded to manhandle the child.

And a child he was, Severus had realized in the midst of his rage. The child had hung like a ragdoll in Severus’ unforgiving hands as he was roughly shaken, slight weight barely registering, his scrawny arms trapped within Severus’ painfully tight grip.

Severus had been too blinded by rage to process the boy’s initial reaction, but by the time he’d come to his senses, the child had looked… blank, lost, as though he’d all but vacated his body.

He’d then, in the shock of realizing his actions, abruptly dropped the boy, and he had been horrified to hear a popping sound. He’d dislocated the boy’s shoulder.

He’d hurt a child. Not James Potter reincarnated, not a person of equal stature and strength, but a child, and a small, underfed one at that.

And then, the boy had promptly shoved his shoulder back into place with an air of practiced ease, as though it was something he did every day.

A lifetime of Occlumency training, years of serving the Dark Lord, months of spying, and I could not control my emotions towards a child.

Severus was seriously questioning the view he’d held of himself all these years. He’d sworn to himself, after growing up with a violent father, and upon witnessing the Dark Lord and Death Eaters alike torture children without a thought, that he would never physically harm a child. While children were irritating, dense, and immature, they were defenseless in the face of a fully-grown adult. And Severus was well acquainted with the feeling of powerlessness.

Yet he’d abandoned all his principles in a moment of uncontrollable rage and utter idiocy. No matter what the child had done, Severus’ actions were indefensible.

He waved his wand jerkily, restoring the bookshelves, restacking the books, repairing the windows.

Another wave of self-recrimination engulfed him. He’d hurt a child in response to a deed that was so easily reversed? If the boy had destroyed his entire home beyond repair, then perhaps, somehow, his actions, if not excusable, could have been explained.

But no. Within five minutes, the mess had been entirely sorted out.

It was time that he seriously rethought his views of and actions towards the child residing in his home, the son of James Potter or not. He would have to speak with the boy, difficult though it might be.

Best to wait until morning, Severus thought. It is already quite late, and the boy will undoubtedly be disinclined toward my presence.

Severus knew that he was simply putting off the moment when he’d have to explain his actions to the boy, but then, there was some logic to his rationalization. They’d both be well-served by a good night’s sleep. Then, come morning, he’d attempt to set things right.

Upon clearing up the mess of his failed potion, and ascertaining that the boy was indeed in his bedroom, Severus settled into bed. Yet sleep evaded him as unwanted memories pervaded his mind. Recollections of his childhood, of his time in the Dark Lord’s service, of the tortured screams of young children… all with a backdrop of emerald green, of Lily’s eyes… the child’s eyes…

His thoughts were shattered by a scream.

***

Harry sat bolt upright in his bed, a scream tearing at his throat.

This nightmare had been a particularly vicious one, no doubt prompted by the night’s earlier events. That explained why he had screamed aloud, though he hadn’t done so in years. Uncle Vernon had hated being woken, and, later, on the streets, any noise would have drawn unwanted attention.

You’re okay, you’re okay, they can’t get you, just a dream, not real- No! It is real. He’s gonna come back and finish the job-

Harry immediately jumped out of his bed, backing toward the wall. He’d heard footsteps, and they were growing steadily louder as they neared his bedroom.

He scarcely breathed as the door opened, his heart beating like a drum. The door creaked open, and he drew his arms around himself protectively as Snape walked in. He reached into his pocket, finding it distressingly empty. Cursing his exhaustion-worn instincts, he realized he’d neglected to retrieve his penknife from under his pillow. He trembled.

“Calm yourself, Mr. Potter, I have no intention of harming you,” Snape said, standing by the doorway.

Harry raised his eyebrows at that, but did not relax his stance.

I suppose you’re here to invite me to tea.

Snape spoke again, in the same odd tone, lacking its usual venom. “I heard a scream.” Snape paused a moment. “A nightmare?”

Harry didn’t answer, but Snape appeared to interpret his silence as an affirmative answer.

“I’m sorry for waking you,” Harry whispered.

Actually, Harry wasn’t sorry at all, but Uncle Vernon had liked apologies; they had often tended to lessen the severity of what was to come.

“You did not wake me, but, had you done so, I would not be inclined to harbor anger toward you; you could hardly have prevented it.”

Harry's fear receded slightly in the face of a rising sense of irritation. Snape’s moods shifted at the drop of a hat; one minute, he looked about ready to strangle Harry to death, the next, he was asking about Harry’s nightmare. The vacillation was seriously unnerving.

The irritation, the exhaustion, and the fact that Harry’s inhibitions tended to lessen when woken from a nightmare loosened his tongue.

“Didn’t stop you before.”

Snape raised his eyebrows at that. “Would you care to elaborate?”

Harry paused for a moment. 

“In the library.”

Snape looked at him, eyes slightly narrowed. “I’m afraid I don’t quite follow.”

Now beyond the point of caring, Harry elaborated. “I was angry. When I get angry, things happen.”

Harry held his breath; he was certain that Snape’s wrath would now be unleashed. Perhaps that had been Harry’s intention, to provoke Snape into just getting on with it, instead of playing this unsettling guessing game.

He was therefore surprised to see Snape sigh and close his eyes for a moment. “Mr. Potter, I… wish to apologize, now even more so upon your recent revelation.”

He wishes to what? Since when do adults apologize? Since when does anybody apologize?

Snape took a step forward, and Harry took a step back. Snape held out his palms. “I will not hurt you again. I will not touch you without your agreement. I merely wish to explain, and for you to listen.”

Harry said nothing, at a complete loss of how to respond. He just waited, arms clutched around himself, back against the wall.

Snape, still standing near the doorway, spoke. “Mr. Potter, had you, knowingly and willingly, destroyed my entire house, my earlier actions toward you would have been entirely inappropriate. Even more so, considering that you did not purposefully caused the damage, and that it was easily reversible.”

Since when does intention matter? Adults beat up kids to vent anger and show them who’s in charge. And he didn’t even hurt me that badly.

Snape seemed to notice his confusion, though Harry could not understand how, as he was sure he’d kept his face blank.

“I understand that I’ve given you little reason to trust my word. However, I will say that you can be assured that I will not harm you again. Perhaps a time will come that you will believe me.”

Harry couldn’t even mask his expression at this point; he simply stared at Snape, eyebrows at his hairline.

There is no way he meant any of that. Impossible. This is part of the plot. He’ll try to gain my trust, then somehow, something will be accomplished, and Dumbledore will be happy.

“I don’t believe you.” Harry said flatly.

Snape just exhaled slightly. “I do not expect you to. I simply wish to convey that it will not happen again. Eventually, you will come to see that I do not lie.” Snape’s eyes had not left Harry as he spoke.

Harry stared back, studying Snape’s face in search of any indication that he was lying. Harry was sure Snape was, but he was usually able to judge a person’s sincerity by their tone or expression, a skill he’d developed out of necessity. However, he could not detect anything in Snape’s expression. Nothing. Not even a twitch, a blink, or a movement.

Either he’s a better liar than I’ve ever met, or he’s not lying. I’ll go with the exceptionally good liar theory.

There was a long moment in which Harry and Snape simply stared at each other without speaking. Eventually, Snape broke the silence.

“It appears that you are not going to ask, but you may likely wonder why I had done what I did if I claim to be loath to harm you.” Snape paused.

I don’t wonder why you would want to hurt me, I wonder why you wouldn’t.

Snape spoke again, in a somewhat halting tone of voice. “I admit that I had been harboring unwarranted negative sentiments toward you, based on erroneous assumptions. It has become clear to me, upon the day’s events, that I was wrong in doing so. As such, my earlier actions will not, in any form, occur again.”

Did he just explain himself to me? Why would he have even needed a reason to hurt me in the first place? 

Snape seemed to be awaiting a response, so Harry forced himself to meet the man's eyes and nodded his head.

Snape studied him again. Harry wished he would go away; the man was entirely too confusing.

“Very well, Mr. Potter,” said Snape. “I will leave it at that. If you should experience any difficulty in awakening later this morning, I will not be averse to postponing breakfast.”

Snape finally left.

Harry exhaled slowly and forced his limbs to relax before climbing back into bed. He did not fall back asleep for a long while.

***

Severus returned to bed, his mind racing. While he thought he’d gotten his point across well enough, the child’s reactions were… odd.

He is clearly terrified of me.

Severus felt a stab of guilt in his chest. He’d terrified the boy to the point of driving him to nightmares?

There is something more here. The boy seemed entirely too surprised at my apology, and his protective instincts are quite well-developed. Not to mention his generally odd behaviors. The boy’s fear clearly stems from a deeper place. I do have my suspicions.

Snape felt another jolt when he realized that he’d neglected to tend to the child’s injuries.

Somehow, when it comes to this child, I seem to abandon all rational thought. That must change.

Severus had not been a spy for nothing; he would discover what it was that plagued the child. And, perhaps, do right by him.

Chapter Text

Harry awoke abruptly the next morning, surprised that he’d actually gotten back to sleep. The previous night’s events came rushing back to him.

Discovering Dumbledore’s plot. The incident in the library. Snape blowing up, and, later, apologizing for it.

Why? What could he gain from doing that? He wouldn’t get in trouble; isn’t that exactly what Dumbledore wanted in the first place, for him to make me miserable? So what would Snape gain from pretending to be nice?

Harry stretched, then drew his right arm close to his chest at the lingering ache in his shoulder. Clenching his teeth, he dressed, studiously ignoring the pain. Technically, there was no more danger in being in Snape’s company than there had already been. Snape could do what he pleased, and Harry would not be able to escape, at least not until he figured out how to break through the spells.

Shoving his penknife into his pocket, Harry made his way to the kitchen.

Snape was seated in his usual place at the table, but there was no newspaper in sight. He nodded to Harry, gesturing toward the food. Harry ate carefully, on his guard, knowing that Snape would speak eventually.

And he did.

“It has occurred to me, Mr. Potter, that I have not assessed you for lasting injuries you may have received at my hands,” Snape said in an inscrutable tone of voice, though Harry thought he glimpsed a glimmer of remorse in the man’s eyes.

He’s just faking it.

Snape was looking at Harry, waiting for something.

Oh.

“I’m fine, sir. There’s no need.”

That is the last thing I need. 

“While your forbearance is commendable, I cannot in good conscience leave your shoulder unchecked, considering that you treated it yourself.” 

Harry felt his heartbeat speed up.

Not good. I don’t want him near me. I don’t want anyone near me. Ever again.

He shook his head quickly. “It feels fine, I don't need-”

“I am afraid I must disagree with you.”

Harry wanted to smash his head against the table.

“If your shoulder has sustained untreated damage, it is likely to grow more painful, and it may possibly result in long-term damage.”

Harry shook his head again, trying valiantly to control his anxiety. “No, thank you, sir. I don’t-”

Snape held up a hand, silencing Harry, and he stiffened, his eyes following Snape’s movements. The man lowered his hand, looking somewhat agitated. He took a deep breath, as though gathering the last vestiges of his patience.

“Mr. Potter, I am aware that you do not feel you require it, but it is necessary for the damage to be attended to. I would much prefer that you allow me to do so. However, should you continue to refuse assistance, I will have little choice but to insist.”

Harry wanted to run, as fast and far as he could, ‘til he was back on the streets, alone and in control.

I have no choice now. When I don’t comply, it hurts more. And I’ve no doubt that he could force me. It’ll happen no matter what I do.

Harry's hands began to tremble, and he didn't bother trying to conceal them. He nodded once, tersely, avoiding Snape's gaze.

“Mr. Potter.”

Harry looked up through his fringe.

“I will reiterate, as it appears you require me to do so, that I will not harm you in any way. I intend to repair the damage, not to exacerbate it,” Snape said, in a tone that was clearly meant to be reassuring.

Harry glared at Snape; there was no reason not to now. Snape would do what he wished, but Harry wasn’t going to be pleasant about it. Clearly, being pleasant hadn’t worked thus far. Snape, contrary to Harry’s expectations, did not chastise Harry for his rudeness. He simply shook his head slightly, a crease between his eyes.

“Thank you. If you are quite done with your food, please follow me.”

Harry nodded, and they both rose from their seats, Snape waving his wand to clear the table. He followed Snape into the sitting room, and, as per instruction, sat down on the couch, while Snape conjured a chair, swiveling it around to face Harry. Harry sat back at far as he could, his hands in fists, far too agitated to contemplate the magic Snape had just performed.

Snape sighed.

“Mr. Potter, I will require you to remove your shirt so I can properly assess the damage."

It took a monumental effort for Harry to unclench his muscles enough to move them. Forcing his fingers to cease their trembling, Harry pulled his shirt over his head, shivering slightly as he felt cool air breeze across his chest.

Snape’s reaction was odd. Instead of reaching toward him, Snape’s eyes traveled down Harry’s torso, pausing first at Harry’s swollen shoulder, and then at the bruising around his upper arms, his eyes lingering there for a moment. The man's gaze then shifted to the spot on his chest, just below the collarbone, where he’d been knifed a while back. At least Harry had managed to nick the penknife after that fight. Then Snape’s eyes moved toward the misshapen rib on his left side, which had never quite healed. And at all the more recent scrapes and bruises in various stages of healing.

Harry drew his arms around himself, but that just drew Snape’s attention toward the burn scars near his elbows, from when he’d been shoved into the stove.

What is he doing ? Just get on with it.

Harry looked at Snape, and studied the strange expression on his face. It was fierce, and angry, but Harry did not think that the anger was directed at him. The man was silent for another moment, his gaze traveling to Harry’s face. Harry avoided his eyes, staring resolutely at Snape’s hands, which had yet to reach toward him.

“Are your nightmares a regular occurrence?” Snape asked quietly.

What? Damn his observance! Only he would make that connection. Why is he asking? What does he care?

Harry remained stubbornly silent. Snape could poke and prod ‘til the cows came home, but Harry was not going to make this easy for him. The man studied him for another long moment before straightening in his seat and drawing his wand. Harry immediately tensed, and it was all he could do not to run for the door.

Snape studied him through narrowed eyes. “Mr. Potter, I wish to simply cast a diagnostic spell to determine the state of your shoulder, nothing more. You will not feel anything.”

Harry’s breathing only quickened at that, and he glanced quickly around the room, looking for an escape route.

“While your wariness would be prudent were I likely to pose harm, I only intend to help you.”

That’s what they all say.

Fear was beginning to overtake Harry’s senses.

You’re a liar. Stupid git. That’s it.

All logical thought seemed to abandon Harry, and he immediately ran for the door. It closed in his face, lock clicking shut. Harry just stopped and simply stared at the door, his chest heaving.

“Potter.”

Harry turned slowly to find Snape in the same position he had been, albeit with a less neutral expression on his face.

“To me. Now,” Snape said in a frighteningly soft tone, his black eyes boring into Harry.

This is it, then. No more games.

Harry smoothed his features into blankness, and walked back toward the couch, feeling as though he was walking toward the electric chair.

He sat and looked at Snape, waiting.

After a pause, Snape raised his wand, and it was only through sheer force of will that Harry did not cringe. But when Snape waved his wand, Harry felt nothing; his shoulder simply glowed red for a moment, then stopped.

“That was all. Was that truly worth your previous display?” Snape asked, in what Harry thought was a condescending tone of voice.

Screw you.

Harry did not appreciate being talked down to. He had no reason to believe that Snape wasn’t going to hurt him.

“Yes,” Harry said in a hard voice.

Let’s see how nice he is now, after that.

However, Snape just looked at Harry with an inscrutable expression on his face.

“It is unfortunate that you feel that way, Mr. Potter.”

It is unfortunate that I have to sit here with my shirt off while you wave your wand in my face.

“Now, back to the matter at hand,” Snape said, in a more businesslike tone of voice. “While your shoulder was indeed relocated correctly, it was done so rather roughly, which has exacerbated the swelling and stiffness you are currently experiencing. Therefore…” Snape pulled a bottle of a bright blue liquid out of his robes. “This will ease the swelling.”

He handed the potion to Harry, but Harry didn’t take it; he just looked at Snape with raised eyebrows.

You expect me to drink that willingly? Looks like poison to me. You’ll have to force it down my throat, I’m not dying on your terms.

Snape looked irritated.

“Would it help if I first sampled the potion, so you can be assured that I have no intention of poisoning you?”

“Perhaps, sir, it is only lethal in large quantities,” Harry said tersely.

At this point, Snape appeared slightly amused. He flicked his wand, and Harry jerked back, but nothing happened. Not to him at least, because a moment later, a book flew into Snape’s hand. He rapidly flipped through its pages and handed it to Harry.

“This is the recipe for the potion, and it is pictured here.” Snape pointed.

Harry glanced down at the book to see an image of a blue potion identical to the one in Snape’s hand, titled Anti-Inflammatory Potion. He skimmed through the ingredients, finding nothing that appeared sinister. But what did he know? Just because it didn't contain Deadly Nightshade didn't mean it was safe to consume...

“As I do not doubt you are aware, considering the apparently extensive research you have seen fit to engage in, if a potion is altered in any significant way, it will no longer appear as it was intended to."

Nice try. You almost got me there.

“You're a potions master, sir. I'm sure that you of all people would be able to get around that.”

Snape smirked slightly. “While you flatter me with your most generous assessment of my skills, even I am not capable of such a feat.”

So you say.

Harry continued to stare at Snape, refusing to accept the potion.

Snape was appearing less amused, and rapidly more irritated. “You are being irrational, Potter.”

No, just reasonably cautious.

Snape looked angry, now. “You will drink it. Now.”

Harry shook his head, scooting backwards.

No, you’ll have to force me. I’m not an idiot.

Snape rose from his seat, towering over Harry.

Oh, god, here it comes.

Harry dug his head into his knees, wrapping his arm around them tightly as he waited for Snape to grab him. But nothing happened. A minute passed. Then another. Harry heard Snape sit down, and he peeked through his fingers.

“Mr. Potter,” Snape said in a low voice. “I did not intend to frighten you.” Snape’s eyes were slightly narrowed, though his face was inscrutable as ever.

I am not frightened.

Harry slowly untangled himself and lifted his chin. Snape looked tense, but no longer angry.

“If you were to assist me in brewing the potion you require, would you be amenable to consuming it?”

Harry studied Snape face, not quite believing his offer. But, odd as it was, Snape appeared sincere in his statement.

I can do that. I guess he really doesn’t want to poison me. Otherwise he would have forced me. Maybe he’s come up with another plan.

“Yes, sir.”

“Very well. You will accompany me to my potions laboratory immediately following lunch. You may go.”

Snape flicked his wand, and the door opened.

Harry pulled his shirt on and left the room as quickly as he could without running. Instead of going to the library, Harry retreated to the grounds, and he ran as far as he could from the house. He stopped by his favorite tree and scrambled up its branches, hardly noticing the pain in his shoulder, until he was almost completely concealed by large, dark green leaves.

Why did Snape have to start noticing him now? Everything had been fine before, when he and Snape had simply left each other alone. But for some reason, now Snape insisted on asking questions, and he would not stop poking around where he was not wanted. None of it made sense to Harry, and he longed for the first few days he’d been here, when he’d barely had to look at Snape.

I don’t get it. He clearly does want to give me healing potions, because he’s going to the trouble of letting me help brew them. If he wanted to poison me, he wouldn’t do that. So why, then?

The only plausible explanation Harry could come up with was that Snape really was sorry for hurting him. But that made no sense.

Maybe he just doesn’t want Dumbledore to find out.

But that made no sense either.

According to my theory, Dumbledore wants me to be miserable here, and anywhere I live before Hogwarts. Unfortunately for him, I figured out his plan.

Nothing was adding up, and Harry hated it. He always knew what was going on, or at least had some idea, but now, he was coming up blank, and that was not okay.

After an undetermined length of time, Harry figured, by the position of the sun, that it was about time for lunch. He hopped off the tree branch and hurried inside, and found that he was not far wrong. Without looking at Snape, Harry sat at the kitchen table and filled his plate, eating in silence.

“Did those relatives of yours see fit to feed you regularly?” Snape asked suddenly.

Damn, more questions?

“I wonder why you’d ask that, sir.”

Snape narrowed his eyes. “Judging by your physical state, I could only conclude that, at the very least, the muggles did little to ensure your well-being.”

If I lie, it means I care about the truth, which I don’t, but I’m not about to spill my guts, either.

“One might come to many conclusions to explain my eating habits, so I wonder why you choose that one.”

That’s right, just be polite and clueless.

“Have you any others?” Snape asked sardonically.

Harry suppressed the glare that he sorely desired to direct at Snape. “None that I wish to share with you."

Stop talking to me!

To Harry’s annoyance, Snape just raised a patronizing eyebrow.

“I do hope you are aware that you have just answered my question.”

“Why do you suppose that, sir?”

“Your response was simply a somewhat more polite and elaborate way of informing me that it is none of my business.”

Well, it isn’t.

“Therefore,” Snape continued, “it is clear to me that I was correct in assuming what I did, as avoiding my question is rather a manner of providing me with an affirmative answer.”

Harry wanted to growl. Why couldn’t Snape just shut up and mind his own stupid business?

“Assume what you will,” Harry replied in a deliberately calm tone, and he looked down towards his food, indicating that he was done with this conversation.

Thankfully, Snape said nothing more, and silence ensued for the next ten minutes.

Harry ate slowly, in an attempt to postpone the moment where he’d have to accompany Snape to the potions lab. Although he was interested in brewing, it was not worth being in the company of Snape for any longer than he had to be. He swirled his food around his plate with a fork until it all combined into an unappealing brown mush.

“Mr. Potter, judging by the activity you are currently engaged in, it is clear to me that you have quite finished.” Snape abruptly rose and moved toward the door, flicking his wand to clear the table.

Harry groaned inwardly, but he stood and followed Snape down the hall. Harry hesitated when they reached the door of the lab. What if this was a test? Maybe Snape wanted to see if Harry would still follow the rule about staying out of the lab.

Typically, Snape correctly deduced the reason behind Harry’s hesitation. “I am aware that I informed you in rather strong terms that you are not to enter my laboratory. However, the rule no longer stands if I accompany you."

Harry nodded, looking away, and Snape waved his wand to open the door. Harry followed Snape down a steep flight of stairs and into a large, dark room. Harry tried to force back his apprehension.

Get a grip. He doesn’t have to bring you down here to do anything, he could just as well do it upstairs.

Annoyingly, Snape, once again, took note of his anxiety.

“You would do well to relax. It is not my intention to dismember you for use of potions ingredients, as very few potions require human body parts,” Snape said dryly.

Harry almost snorted, but oddly, Snape’s comment did relax him slightly.

Snape waved his wand again, and some lamps attached to the wall lit, revealing the room to be occupied by tables holding cauldrons of various materials and sizes. There were a few bookshelves containing potions volumes, and there were shelves filled with countless bottled potions and odd looking ingredients.

Despite himself, Harry looked around with interest. Now, somewhat less anxious, he was actually quite looking forward to attempting a potion, after reading so much about them. Harry looked up quickly as Snape walked over, carrying the same book he’d shown to Harry upstairs, open to the anti-inflammatory potion recipe.

“As this is a rather advanced potion, you will primarily observe its making, only adding to it as I say. Is that understood?” Snape said severely.

Harry nodded.

“Follow me.”

Harry followed Snape to a narrow door, which turned out to be an ingredients cupboard.

“I will name ingredients, and you will retrieve them for me. Are you amenable?” Snape asked.

“Yes, sir.”

Snape began to call out ingredients, and Harry found them quickly, handing them to Snape.

He’s actually serious about this. He’s having me get the ingredients so I’ll know for sure that he isn’t adding anything.

When all the ingredients had been collected, Harry followed Snape to a table set with a large, black cauldron with a low flame lit beneath it.

“Now, I will first add the syrup of hellebore, as stated here. You will measure out two quarter pints of boswellin…”

Harry gradually began to relax, more so as the potion progressed. Snape followed the instructions of the book precisely, even though Harry was sure Snape could make the potion without it. He allowed Harry to measure out and occasionally add ingredients, and, toward the end, he permitted Harry to stir.

Harry was fascinated. This was nothing like chemistry class, as Harry had thought it would be. Each ingredient caused the potion to change drastically, often in entirely unexpected ways, and even the stirring affected the potion significantly, in ways such as thickening it, or changing the color and texture.

So great was Harry’s interest that he was almost okay with Snape's presence. He did keep Snape in view at all times, but his fear of Snape lashing out faded as time passed.

After roughly forty-five minutes, the potion was nearly complete.

“While the potions simmers, I will allow you to attempt a potion used for superficial injuries, as it is far less advanced.” Snape handed Harry the recipe, and Harry went back to the cupboard to assemble the ingredients, occasionally looking back at Snape to make sure he didn’t add anything to the first potion.

Harry turned his cauldron to face Snape, and carefully began, double-checking every instruction, while Snape occasionally voiced corrections. The potion was pretty simple, and after a short while, it was complete. Snape came over to inspect it.

“Quite adequate for a first attempt, Mr. Potter, just be sure to stir more forcefully in the future.”

Did he just give me a compliment? Maybe he just wants me to think the potion is fine, but it’s really all wrong and- No, it looks like it’s supposed to.

Harry nodded to Snape, unsure of how to respond, and Snape bottled both potions. He beckoned toward Harry.

“Follow me.”

Harry tensed again, but followed Snape to a door, which led to a small side room stocked with more bottled potions. He pointed Harry toward a wooden chair beside the wall and handed Harry the bottle of anti-inflammatory potion.

“I assume that you now trust this is not poison?” Snape asked sharply.

Harry nodded quickly. He didn’t understand why Snape felt it so vital that he take the potion, but as it was clearly not poisonous, he drained the bottle. Almost immediately, he felt tension leave his right shoulder, and he could almost feel the swelling diminish. Harry felt a tightness in his chest, but, this time, it was not from fear. When had anybody ever gone to such lengths to heal his injuries? When had anyone even cared at all? Harry did not trust Snape’s motives, but he could not come up with any logical explanation for his actions.

“Thank you,” Harry whispered.

Snape frowned, that fierce expression crossing his face yet again

“Do not thank me for treating an injury that I myself caused.”

But I don’t think he even dislocated my shoulder on purpose. What the hell is going on? He hasn’t said one mean thing the whole time we were down here.

Snape spoke again. “As for the bruise balm, I presume you would prefer to apply it on your own?”

Harry nodded quickly, relieved.

“As for your… older injuries, such as your poorly healed rib and the scarring, they are beyond my capabilities to heal sufficiently. Therefore, they will be tended to by the school nurse at the start of term.” He gave Harry a look that clearly indicated that there would be no getting out of this.

Yeah, later is good. I can wait, possibly forever.

Snape then handed Harry the potion he’d made himself, which had taken on a hue of pale green.

“You may go. However, should you neglect to apply the balm, and I assure you, I will know if you have, I will apply it myself,” he said austerely.

No way are you doing that.

Harry gave Snape a look that communicated his thoughts. Snape just looked back, saying with his eyes that if Harry wanted to avoid it, he’d better apply the potion.

Without a word, Snape handed Harry the potions book he’d been using, and Harry nodded his thanks. He quickly climbed the stairs and curled up in the library, opening the book so that he didn't have to think about how none of this made any sense at all.

Chapter Text

Uncle Vernon pins Harry against the wall by his throat. A purple vein in his neck bulges as he leans closer until his face is mere inches away. 

“I won’t have this under my roof!” 

Harry struggles under his grip, and Vernon presses harder, forcing Harry to hold still lest his airway be cut off completely. Harry feels the man’s meaty hand tremble slightly over his throat, and, for a moment, Harry detects a hint of fear in his eyes. 

Do you hear me, boy?” Vernon releases Harry’s neck only to grab him by the shoulders and shake him so forcefully that the back of his head thumps painfully against the wall.

“Answer me!”

“Y-yes, sir,” Harry chokes out. Uncle Vernon throws him a vicious glare before knocking him to the floor...

...Harry is huddled against the shed behind the strip of townhouses, his hand pressed over the bleeding cut under his collarbone. If those guys find him again…

...Dark, beady eyes are trained on him, staring like they have all night, and it’s dark and no one’s around, but not that it would matter if anyone was, because what happens to him doesn’t matter...

A hand suddenly grips his shoulder.

Harry gasped, and dug his knee hard into the chest of his attacker. He clawed at the hand on his shoulder, rolling away and crashing to the floor. He searched his pockets for his penknife, but he came up empty.

He slowly opened his eyes. He wasn’t on the streets, he was sprawled in his bedroom at Snape’s house, who was standing beside Harry’s bed, looking somewhat disheveled. Harry couldn’t move a muscle. He’d just attacked Snape. This had to be the point at which he’d pushed the man too far, and now he’d really let Harry have it, and he’d have a right to-

“Mr. Potter-”

“I’m sorry, sir,” Harry interrupted, gasping. “I didn’t- I thought-”

“Calm yourself, Mr. Potter. I do not hold you responsible for your actions just now, as you were quite unaware of your surroundings,” Snape said, voice lacking venom entirely.

Harry swallowed, still feeling frozen in place. “D-did I wake you?” he asked hoarsely.

“No. I was passing your bedroom, en route to my own, and I detected movement. Another nightmare, I presume?”

Why does he keep asking about this? Maybe if I answer he’ll stay not angry. But I don’t want to.

Harry settled for a jerk of his shoulder.

“A vocal response, if you please.”

I should really do what he says right now. He has every right to be furious.

“I… I’d rather not talk about it.”

“Very well.” Snape backed away from the bed, and Harry climbed back into it, eyeing Snape warily.

Snape was just watching him, and Harry shifted uncomfortably, avoiding eye contact. He was almost thankful when Snape spoke.

“Mr. Potter, there do exist magical means of managing sleep disturbances.”

Harry looked up. “Do you mean a potion, like dreamless sleep?” he asked, remembering what he had read Snape’s potions book.

Snape shook his head. “Dreamless sleep is not recommended for long-term use due to its potentially addictive qualities.” He folded his arms. “I was speaking of a branch of mind magic, known as Occlumency."

Occlumency? I haven’t found any books on that.

As always, Snape seemed to read his thoughts. “You would not have found any volumes on the topic, as I own very few, none of which are stored in the library. Furthermore, mind magic of any sort is not a skill that can be learned from books; rather, it must be practiced.”

Mind magic?

“Occlumency is, primarily, the art of guarding one’s mind against intrusion.”

Intrusion? Can wizards break into minds? Can he? What if he’s read mine?

“Can wizards-” Harry broke off.

“Yes,” Snape responded shrewdly. “Some wizards do possess the capability to access the minds of others, though it is a rare skill, known as Legilimency.”

Snape paused for a moment.

“I am proficient in both arts.”

Oh no, he can.

Snape smirked slightly. “I assure you, I have not attempted to access your mind; you would certainly know if I had.”

Harry let out a breath, but he still needed to know…

“How is Legilimency performed, sir?” Harry asked, half-expecting Snape to refuse to answer.

“To perform Legilimency, one must maintain eye contact with the individual on whom he intends to perform it,” said Snape, surprisingly forthright. “Even then, one can only detect surface thoughts and emotions. For instance, I, while maintaining eye contact with another, am always aware if I am being lied to, unless, of course, the individual is a competent Occlumens himself.”

He’s like a human lie detector. Better make sure not to look at him the next time I lie.

“How can Occlumency help with- with sleep?” It was a bit ridiculous that he couldn't actually say the word nightmare out loud. As if he hadn't just completely humiliated himself in front of Snape while in the midst of a particularly awful one. He set his jaw and forced himself to look up when Snape spoke.

“The first step towards guarding one’s mind is to clear it, which certainly assists in preventing nightmares.”

Snape paused for a moment.

“If you would like, I am willing to assist you in clearing your mind.”

Whatever Snape's motives were, this offer, if it worked, was too beneficial to turn down. If the nightmares stopped, he would stop being weak and he would never have to remember any of it. But would Snape somehow gain easier access into his mind if he helped him?

“How would you teach me?” Harry asked.

Snape looked as though he understood Harry’s hesitation. He pulled out his wand and set it on the dresser behind him before Harry had a chance to tense up.

“I will simply provide you with verbal instructions in the methods of clearing your mind, nothing more.”

Harry considered it. What could it hurt?

He nodded his head.

Snape shifted his stance, and, in that moment, Harry could picture him standing in front of a classroom full of deadly silent students, each too cowed to so much as breathe too loudly.

“The first step in clearing your mind, which has proven effective for most individuals, is to envision a place in which you feel safe and calm. It may be a place you have actually been, or simply an imaginative figment. Allow the memory to conquest the mind entirely, emptying it of all other thoughts.”

Snape was standing far enough away from the bed that Harry's need to keep track of the man's movements did not overtake his ability to think.

A safe place? Nowhere on the streets, definitely not. Nothing at the Dursleys. A library?

At first, Harry thought it might work, but he found that he concentrated on the knowledge he had gained there instead of the comfort it brought him. That just brought him back to his discovery about Dumbledore, and the subsequent anger.

Suddenly, it came to Harry; he could’ve hit himself for not thinking of it sooner. A memory, growing gradually clearer, blossomed in his mind. A small, warm space, far away, with a quiet, yet comforting presence beside him…

 

Harry was eight, and he was pulling weeds in the garden of number four, Privet Drive. The sun beat down uncomfortably on the back of his neck, and the sound of children enjoying their Saturday afternoon echoed behind him.

He hated hated hated this. He hated being at the mercy of the Dursleys, who, if they thought they could get away with it, would probably drown him like one of Aunt Marge’s dogs. He hated that Dudley got everyone and he got nothing. He hated that he couldn’t control this strange power he had, and all it did was make the Dursleys hate him more, and even fear him, and that all he had to show for it was a mass of bruising on his abdomen, which throbbed horribly every time he moved.

Lately, Vernon had taken to coming at him from behind and yanking him by the hair, for no reason at all. The man’s behavior had shifted recently from a more distant disdain to an active and growing fury which he never failed to unleash on Harry. And Harry knew why. The powers that had started making themselves known early in his life seemed to have grown in the past year, often exploding out of him unpredictably and uncontrollably. And Harry could do nothing to stop it.

Harry yanked out another weed, his shoulders jerking as the breeze caused some fallen leaves to rustle. Every sound seemed amplified, and his shoulders ached from their constant hunching, but he couldn’t relax them no matter how hard he tried. His hands trembled, and a handful of weeds fell from his slackened grip.

That did it.

Glancing around quickly, Harry got up and ran as fast as he could from the house. He knew he’d catch hell for this later, but right now, that didn’t matter. He just needed to get away.

He alternated between running and jogging until he was a good distance away from the neighborhood, at which point he gradually slowed his pace, glancing around cautiously. This area did not look familiar; the gutters were piled with litter, the houses were run-down, and the lawns unkempt, a far cry from the orderliness and precision of Privet Drive. He was strolling now, a good deal calmer, kicking small pebbles as he walked.

“Hey, you!” a voice called out suddenly.

Harry jumped, quickly swiveling around toward the source of the noise. He relaxed minutely when he saw that it was only a kid, a young girl, who was jogging lightly toward him. She drew closer, and Harry watched her warily. Harry guessed that she was around his age, so, although she was a bit taller, he didn’t judge her to be much of a threat.

“You looking for something?” the girl asked brusquely, brushing a mass of tangled brown hair out of her face. Her clothes were pretty unkempt, much like Harry’s, and when she spoke, Harry could see that she was missing a front tooth.

“Who says I’m looking for anything?” Harry said defensively.

The girl looked more closely at him. “Sometimes, I look for things too,” she said, her head cocked to the side. “I like to find places where no one will find me. A place where I’m in charge.”

Harry something in her voice made Harry look at her more closely, meeting her eyes. They were wide and blue-gray, and stood out strikingly against her tan skin. Their haunted quality reminded Harry of himself. 

Then, Harry realized, she knew. She was like him, she felt like he did. She knew how it felt to be worthless and unlovable and alone. And Harry could tell that she saw that in him, too.

She held out a small hand. “I’m Jade.”

Harry slowly grasped her hand. “Harry,” he whispered.

They looked at each other for a long moment.

“I know a place,” she said in a low voice. Harry nodded. Without releasing his hand, she ran down the street, pulling Harry along.

After a while, they reached a forest-like area. She led him through the trees, deeper and deeper, then stopped. She pointed. Harry looked up and saw what appeared to be a treehouse, though it looked as though it had been built a hundred years ago. She scampered up the tree, Harry at her heels, and they crawled inside.

Harry looked around warily. The space was small, and the wood old, but it was thick and sturdy, and the little makeshift room felt warm. Jade sat with her back against the wall, and Harry mimicked her movement. His breathing inexplicably slowed, and the fear and tension of the day seemed less significant. Neither of them spoke, but Jade’s presence felt calming. Harry knew she understood, and with her, inside this small, wooden sanctuary, he didn’t have to hide.

Harry came back to the treehouse with Jade quite a few times over the following months. They never talked about it, but Harry knew she had it bad where she lived, and she knew that of him. Jade was the first person he’d ever met who knew him and smiled at him anyway. She accepted him, and she seemed to need Harry just as much as he needed her.

Having Jade made it easier for Harry to cope, even though Vernon’s rage only seemed to grow. Harry had never seen Jade injured, and he wasn’t quite sure what went on in her home, but she never spoke of it. Neither of them did, really; just being near each other in the small, wooden treehouse was enough.

One day, when Harry was already nine, he couldn’t find Jade. He eventually found out that she’d been sent to live with her mum, though he had no idea where. Harry was happy that she’d gotten out of her hell-hole, he really was, but now, he was alone again. The loss of Jade’s company had been one of the last straws that had pushed him to finally run from the Dursleys.

 

Harry let the memory of sitting with Jade in the tree house wash over him as he leaned back into his pillows. He felt little fear or suspicion, despite Snape’s presence in the room. Harry vaguely heard him murmuring instructions, to let the memory engulf him, to think of nothing else.

It was much easier to do than Harry had expected

“Thank you, sir,” he murmured drowsily.

He didn’t fall asleep until Snape had left the room, though.

***

Harry opened his eyes, slowly for once. While he had dreamed last night, he could only recall vaguely unpleasant scenes.

Apparently the Occlumency stuff had worked. 

Harry wasn’t sure what to think. Snape had really done him a good turn, here, conspiracy or not. Was he really just trying to be helpful? Did he actually… care?

No. He can’t care. Even if he does it won’t last. It’s better to never have something than to have it and lose it.

But was it, though? While it had hurt immensely when Jade had left, it was still a comfort to know that someone had once been there for him. At any rate, the memory of her and the treehouse had helped with his nightmares.

She didn’t mean to leave me. Did my parents mean to leave me?

Harry brushed off those thoughts like an irksome fly. He was treading in dangerous waters, thinking that way. Better not to feel. He hadn’t thought about Jade in ages, it had been easier to just push the memories away. Thinking about her last night had brought it all back.

You’re never going to see her again, so quit harping on it.

A bit later, Harry entered the kitchen and sat in his usual place. Snape looked up when he entered.

“I trust you slept well, Mr. Potter?” he enquired.

He really did help me out. Why did he do it? Why bother?

Snape raised his eyebrows, waiting.

“Thank you for last night,” Harry said quietly, feeling awkward. Snape tilted his head slightly.

“It was no trouble. I am pleased to hear that it was of some use to you.”

Why did he do it?

“Why?”

Did I really just ask that?

“Why am I pleased to hear that the Occlumency was of use, or why did I teach it to you?” Snape asked, the very picture of perplexed. Harry was pretty sure Snape knew what he meant, but he just wanted Harry, for whatever reason, to vocalize his question.

Harry bit the inside of his cheek. “Why did you help me?” he mumbled.

Snape was looking at him calculatingly. Harry avoided his eyes. He wasn’t going to take any chances, now that he knew Snape was a Legilimens.

“As you are, presently, a child under my care, it is my duty to ensure your well-being.” Snape paused. “I had been neglecting that thus far, an oversight on my part.”

Harry narrowed his eyes. “But… it’s not as though I was hurt or anything,” he responded cautiously.

Snape gave him a sharp look. “One’s well-being encompasses more than just physical health.”

What’s that supposed to mean?

“Is that truly such a novel concept?” Snape asked, watching Harry carefully.

Harry shrugged.

“Did your relative care nothing for you?”

No, we are not going there.

Harry shrugged again.

“Again, I would appreciate a vocal response, Mr. Potter,” Snape said sharply.

Why does it matter?

Snape was still waiting for his answer.

“Does it really matter, sir? They’re dead.” Harry said, in a deliberately dispassionate tone.

Snape didn’t speak for a moment, and Harry forced himself not to look away.

“It very well might.”

Snape said nothing more after that, though he glanced at Harry intermittently throughout the meal. By the time he was done, Harry was more than ready to leave. He hastened to the library, all but burying himself in books in an attempt to distract himself from all the irritating thoughts.

***

Later, on his way to the kitchen for lunch, Harry cast about for something to say to Snape, so he could avoid a repeat of that morning’s conversation.

When he sat down, Snape was studying him again, so he opened his mouth, then closed it again.

Just ask the question. If he didn’t get mad when you kicked him last night, he won’t get mad from a question.

“Sir, can I ask a question?” Harry asked tentatively.

“Certainly you may,” said Snape, one eyebrow raised.

“Does magic follow the laws of physics?”

Snape’s forehead creased slightly. “Interesting question. While most wizards opt to remain ignorant of the natural sciences,” he said, “according to my observations, it does. Have you any particular examples in mind?”

“The Hover Charm. How can something resist gravity?”

“Well, Mr. Potter, can you think of any muggle objects that appear to defy gravity in a similar fashion?”

Harry thought for a moment. Airplanes? No, they didn’t just hover, they relied on a forward force as well as lift, and they were also designed to use air pressure to their advantage. The Hover Charm allowed an object of any shape to float, without necessarily moving. Then it came to him.

“Balloons?”

Snape nodded at Harry, an odd expression on his face. “Indeed. And are you aware of what allows balloons to hover in the air?”

Harry nodded. “The warm air in the balloon is less dense than the surrounding cooler air.”

“Correct. The Hover Charm alters the state of the molecules of the object at which it is directed, causing them to behave in much the same way.”

“It heats them up?”

“In a sense, though the temperature of the object does not physically change. Instead, the molecules of both the object and the surrounding atmosphere are manipulated to behave as though the object has been heated to the point where its density is less than that of room-temperature air.”

So magic doesn’t defy science, it just sort of manipulates it.

“Why don’t wizards learn about this?”

Snape titled his head. “Most wizards do not bother themselves to expand their knowledge in this area, as they tend to view it as quite unnecessary.”

I guess they would, because everything comes so easily without it. But if they knew more…

“If wizards did learn about it, wouldn’t they be able to create more spells?”

Snape had an unreadable expression on his face.

“They would. However, it is the best interest of both wizards and muggles alike that they remain largely ignorant. Can you think why?”

Harry deliberated for a moment.

“They’d have too much power?”

Snape gave Harry an odd look before slowly inclining his head.

They both finished their meal in silence.

Chapter Text

Harry could scarcely believe that he’d been living with Snape for nearly a month and nothing terrible had happened.

Snape had continued to assist Harry with clearing his mind after that first night, but eventually, he’d been able to do it himself. Although the nightmares had by no means abated, they had lessened to a degree.

Yet Snape persisted in subtly probing Harry for answers about his relatives, and Harry avoided the questions every time. Snape wasn’t letting up, however, and it put Harry increasingly on edge. Even so, Harry found, against his better judgment, that he didn’t really mind the man when he wasn’t asking questions. Snape had begun to allow Harry regular access to the lab with supervision, which Harry definitely appreciated. He was picking up brewing skills at a steady pace, and Snape, sometimes, seemed almost pleased with his progress. All in all, Snape was being decent, and Harry could not think of any ulterior motive he might have to do so.

Maybe this is how people are supposed to act, Harry thought, his legs swinging from the tree branch he was perched upon. Snape had instructed Harry to get some fresh air before joining him in the lab because he’d had "little interest in reassembling his laboratory upon its demolition by hyperactive children". 

He’s acting like… I don’t know. It’s like he doesn’t mind my being here.

That thought somehow bothered Harry. Was this how normal people lived? Three meals a day, nothing to worry about except keeping their things organized, with an adult who didn't-

Just stop. What’s the point? Don’t get used to this. After school starts he won’t take me back, or Dumbledore will send me somewhere else when he realizes that Snape’s all right.

The thought of Dumbledore brought back a wave of fury; an echo of the rush of emotion he’d felt in the library that day. Harry shoved it away forcefully.

Just get used to the fact that nothing will ever be easy. This can’t last. Either Snape will blow up eventually, or you’ll get kicked out.

He kicked the branch, hard.

Damn Dumbledore, damn him for leaving me with… them.

He needed to stop thinking about this; he hadn’t survived this long by dwelling on what couldn’t be changed. As a distraction, Harry wrapped his legs around the tree branch and allowed himself to dangle upside down, his torso swaying. The rush of blood to his brain seemed to shove the unwanted thoughts out of the way, sweeping them away as a rushing stream might. He hung there for a while, ignoring the pounding of his head.

“Potter!”

Harry started violently, his legs nearly losing their grip on the branch. He began to slip backwards, and just managed to grab hold of the branch with his hands. Panting slightly from his near-fall, he pulled himself back up into a sitting position, and he looked down to see the intimidating figure of Snape, who was glaring irately up at him.

“What was the meaning of that idiotic display?” Snape asked furiously.

Harry froze.

What did I do wrong? Does he think I would break the branch or something?

“I require an answer, Potter, or do you deem it too much trouble?” Snape bit out.

What do I say? What does he want?

“I felt like it,” Harry heard himself say, feeling oddly detached from the fear that was only making itself known in the form of his shoulders tightening and his breaths quickening. Snape couldn’t get to him up here, anyway.

“You Felt. Like it,” Snape hissed. There was a short pause.

“Get down. Now.”

No! no no no. This is it. I dunno why he’s mad, but he’ll give it to me now. I’m not letting this happen again.

“No,” Harry said, in what he hoped was a steady tone.

Snape's expression grew even more fearsome. “Did you just tell me no, Potter?”

Harry clenched his jaw so tightly it hurt.

“If you do not come down immediately, you will most certainly regret it.”

Harry didn’t move.

I won’t like the consequences whether I go down or not. At least I’m out of range here.

Then Snape drew his wand.

The previously slow-building fear burst to the forefront of Harry's mind, and with it, his magic. Reflexively, he shot out his palms, releasing a surge of energy that threw Snape backwards a good ten feet. Harry immediately jumped down from his branch, landing painfully on his ankle in his haste. He was pretty sure he felt a bone snap, but, at the moment, it didn’t matter. He sprinted away from Snape as quickly as he could, the adrenaline masking the pain in his ankle. He ran until he hit the protective spells surrounding the property.

In his frustration, he pounded at the barrier with his fists, and he was shoved abruptly backwards by an unseen force. Without pausing, Harry turned to the side and simply ran along the mist instead, until the exhaustion and pain began to catch up with him. His ankle now throbbing abominably, he slowed to a stop and dropped to the ground. Harry sat there, injured left ankle splayed out in front of him, his arms wrapped around his right knee.

When he finds me, I’m dead! Dead dead dead dead- Stop the stupid shaking. Stop being scared. Stop being weak.

All too soon, as Harry knew would happen, a shadow descended over him. He raised his head with an almost agonizing slowness, his eyes stopping somewhere around Snape's torso.

“Mr. Potter,” Snape said stiffly.

“I’m sorry,” Harry breathed. Apologies usually helped, didn’t they? Snape closed his eyes, inhaling, then looked down at Harry.

“Stand up.”

Harry attempted to stand, trying to lay as little weight on his left foot as possible. Being as exhausted as he was, however, he swayed, inadvertently landing pressure on his injured ankle. He crumpled back to the ground with a barely concealed gasp. Though he tried not not to show his pain, he couldn’t help biting down on his lower lip, letting out an almost inaudible groan.

“You have injured yourself,” Snape said in an inscrutable tone of voice, stating more than asking.

Harry didn’t answer. What was he supposed to say?

Snape abruptly leaned down towards Harry, who stiffened, his fists clenching in expectation of what he knew was sure to come. But, instead, Snape wrapped one arm around Harry’s upper back, and the other beneath his knees, lifting him up as though he was a toddler. Harry struggled wildly in Snape's grip as he was carried towards the house, certain he was about to be dropped, or thrown, or worse.

“Remain still, or I will immobilize you,” Snape growled.

Harry immediately froze. He had no doubt that Snape would follow through on his threat.

He’s… carrying me. Why on earth would he do that?

Snape entered the house and walked to the sitting room, depositing Harry carefully on the couch. He looked Harry in the eye. “I will tend to your injury, Mr. Potter, and you will not fight me on this.”

Harry nodded; he was exhausted, and he couldn’t run if he tried. Harry watched as Snape carefully stretched out Harry’s left leg across his lap, waving his wand over the injured ankle.

“Your ankle has been broken in two places, and the injury has undoubtedly been aggravated by your foolhardy flight.” His black eyes bored into Harry, a severe expression on his face. Harry deliberately avoided his gaze. Snape pointed his wand at Harry’s foot, removing his shoe and sock, and Harry stared with detached interest at his ankle, which was reddened and swollen, resting at an unnatural angle.

“I will perform a charm that will set the bones,” Snape said in a businesslike manner. “You will experience an odd sensation.”

Snape waved his wand, and Harry suppressed a shudder as he felt his bones shift back into place. It didn’t quite hurt, but felt strange and uncomfortable, and he held his breath until the sensation faded, leaving his ankle aching. Snape flicked his wand again, wrapping Harry’s ankle and foot in bandages, which he then placed on a rapidly conjured footstool.

The job done, Snape focused his gaze on Harry, one eyebrow raised.

“I’m sorry,” Harry whispered, unsure of what else to say. Snape had just healed his injury, as though Harry had not just thrown him ten feet across the ground.

“For what, precisely?” Snape asked curtly. Was this Snape’s idea of a game?

“For using magic on you, sir.”

Snape just shook his head, forehead slightly creased.

“No, Mr. Potter, it is clear that you simply reacted out of fear, as I drew my wand and did not warn you. I was simply planning on levitating you to the ground, but I should not have attempted so in the manner that I did. That is not why I am displeased.”

Harry did not know what the man wanted from him. He ventured another guess. “For running away?”

Snape just shook his head again, looking exasperated. “While you most certainly should not have run on an injured ankle, it is clear that that too, was simply a fear response. When the situation dictates so, it is a useful attribute to react both quickly and through pain. While it is important that you know that I do not pose such danger, I cannot blame you for believing so.”

What the bloody…? So what is he mad about?

Snape looked profoundly irritated. “I will spell it out for you, Potter, as it seems you require me to do so,” he said dryly. “The reason for my displeasure was your reckless behavior in the tree.”

Harry stared at the man, feeling at an absolute loss. “Why?”

Snape looked as though he was trying valiantly to alleviate his frustration. “Had you fallen from the ridiculous position you saw fit to assume, you might have broken your neck,” he hissed, leaning forward slightly.

Harry leaned back, a bit unnerved. Snape was angry because he, Harry, could have been hurt?

“Why would that matter to you?”

Snape looked ready to throw something. “For the love of…” he muttered. He let out another frustrated sigh. “Mr. Potter,” the man continued, speaking slowly and intensely. “It has become increasingly apparent to me that there has not been an adult in your life who has seen fit to ensure your welfare.”

Harry stared at his knees.

“That has changed. I am currently responsible for your welfare, and under my care, you will not behave in a manner that puts yourself at risk.”

Snape seemed to be waiting for something.

“Er… I won’t do it again?” Harry tried, glancing up.

The man just looked tired, now. “You most certainly will not. If you do attempt such a foolhardy stunt again, you will not like the consequences.”

Okay. So if I do something that might cause me harm, he’ll hit me? Where’s the logic in that?

Apparently, Harry's thoughts were showing more plainly on his face then he realized, because Snape seemed to recognize Harry’s confusion for what it was. “I will reiterate, Mr. Potter, that I will not ever raise a hand or wand to you with intent to cause you harm.”

Harry looked down again, biting on the inside of his lip.

“As it is, I will overlook today’s idiotic behavior. You will keep as little weight on that ankle as possible, and it should be properly healed by the morning. Do not go outside; I will escort you to the library if you wish.”

Harry nodded cautiously, allowing Snape to pull him up and help him to the library. He felt a bit ridiculous; it wasn’t as though he’d never walked off an injury before. He couldn’t even count the amount of broken bones he’d had in his lifetime. It was all entirely unnecessary, but he allowed Snape to assist him, for fear of angering him further.

Later, at dinner, to where Snape had, thankfully, allowed Harry to walk unassisted, Harry was praying to whatever higher power might exist for Snape not to question him.

No such luck.

“For exactly how long have you been consciously utilizing magic, Mr. Potter?”

That’s not such a bad question. Nothing about the Dursleys, at least. 

“Consciously, sir?”

Snape gave Harry a discerning look. “Mr. Potter, episodes of accidental magic do not occur in the direct manner in which you did; generally, it is quite difficult to detect the source.”

Really? Well, I can’t lie my way out of this, he’ll know in a second.

“A few years,” Harry answered carefully.

Snape raised his eyebrows. “At exactly what age did it start?”

Harry paused. It was hard to say. He’d begun to notice a pattern of odd things happening around him when he’d been really young, no older than four or five, and it hadn’t taken long to realize that those odd things made the Dursleys hate him. But the directed, often explosive magic? He hadn’t always meant to do it, but with Vernon’s increased outbursts, it had been hard not to use it to defend himself.

“I would say at around eight,” Harry answered. Snape was looking at him oddly. “Is that a problem?”

“Not at all. It is simply quite unusual for one as young as that to gain control of their magic.”

Harry suppressed a grimace. So he was abnormal even for wizards? Wonderful.

“What prompted you to attempt to gain control?”

Great, back to this.

Harry shrugged.

“A verbal answer, Potter,” Snape said sharply.

“I don’t know, sir.”

Snape looked highly skeptical, but, thankfully, said no more.

***

The following day, Harry had just joined Snape in the lab, and he was skimming through the ingredients for the potion he’d been instructed to brew.

A standard size 3 brass cauldron is required.. . Harry glanced around. Most of the cauldrons he could see were pewter, and the only brass cauldron was a size two.

“Sir,” Harry called out tentatively. “This potion requires a size three brass cauldron. I don’t see any.”

“There are spares in the storage closet,” Snape responded without looking up, pointing towards the stairs.

“Yes, sir.”

Harry walked towards the stairs, and opened a small door beneath them.

He froze.

The cupboard under the stairs.

Suddenly, Harry was no longer in Snape’s potions lab…

He was in the cupboard, trembling all over. He felt simultaneously hot and cold. His breaths were coming in short, shallow gasps, and it seemed as though the room was engulfed in a thick fog. His throat ached abominably with the effort not to cough. Petunia hated the sound of it.

He distantly heard the cupboard door open, and Petunia’s shrill voice yelling at him to do something; perhaps tend to the garden, clean the bathroom, wash the floors… Harry didn’t respond.

He felt himself being shaken. He looked up at Aunt Petunia, and thought he caught a strange expression cross her face fleetingly. Something akin to… guilt? The look on her face was then rapidly replaced by a sneer of disgust. She dropped a bottle of water beside him and left.

Harry curled up into a tight ball, biting down hard on his fist as he felt a wave of sickness crash over him, flinging himself to the side just in time to avoid vomiting on his blanket. He wiped his mouth with his sleeve and gulped down some water.

As he lay there, alone in the dark cupboard, beside a pool of his own sick, his entire body shivering, he felt the first beginnings of emptiness, when he realized that a bottle of water was the closest thing to love he would ever receive.

Harry felt something cold splash suddenly on his face. He jumped, then looked around. He wasn’t in his cupboard, he was in Snape’s potions lab, and the man was standing in front of him, looking at him with an expression Harry couldn’t read. Snape drew slightly closer to him, and Harry immediately backed away. Snape stopped, and stepped a few paces backwards.

Harry glanced at the open door of the cupboard, then back at the room, and then at Snape.

He could feel himself trembling, but the vivid images were fading away, slowly. He stared at the cauldrons piled in the cupboard, in an attempt to ensure that it hadn’t been real. To assure himself that he wouldn’t be thrown back in there to rot as soon as he did something wrong. Snape wouldn’t do that. Would he? Maybe if Harry really, really messed up, he’d-

“Mr. Potter, are you quite all right?” Snape’s voice was quiet, hesitant, even. Harry nodded jerkily, without looking at him.

The man was silent for a moment, before the expression on his face seemed to clear, and he gestured towards Harry. “Come,” he said in a low tone, though it had lost its hesitance. Harry straightened his shoulders and followed Snape to a small room that adjoined the lab, where the man transfigured a wooden chair into a softer, padded seat. Harry sank into it, hunching in on himself.

“A calming drought, perhaps?”

Harry shook his head quickly. Snape nodded once, and remained blessedly silent for the next few moments.

“Mr. Potter, might I ask what brought that on?” Snape then asked that same low tone. Harry was quiet for a moment. Had it been a flashback? That had never happened before, though, admittedly, the last time Harry had been in the vicinity of a cupboard like that, he’d actually been shoved into it.

“I don’t know,” was all Harry could think to respond. Snape looked skeptical. “Are you quite sure you do not?”

He stared resolutely at the floor and shook his head.

Let it go. Please.

“Very well, Mr. Potter.”

They both remained in silence, Harry seated rigidly on the chair, Snape standing, facing him, a few feet away.

Eventually, Snape spoke. “Would you prefer to remain here, or would you like to continue with your potion?”

Yes. A distraction.

“I’d like to continue.”

Snape inclined his head, gesturing for Harry to follow him out of the room. He then walked over the cupboard, retrieving the required cauldron.

“Why not just summon it?” Harry asked, feeling as though his mouth had formed the words of its own volition.

“Anti-summoning spells. Such a precaution is necessary in a potions lab, considering the myriad potential explosives in the room.”

Snape set up Harry’s cauldron for him, and Harry began to brew, slowly calming with the repetitive actions. He noticed Snape intermittently glancing at him, and then at the cupboard, and back again.

***

Harry woke up suddenly, gasping for breath.

Stupid Occlumency didn’t work.

He wanted to tear his hair out, throw something, rip something apart, anything to distract himself from the memories. He settled for, once again, hitting the back of his head against the headboard, over and over again, hard.

Suddenly, he felt the impact buffered by a relatively soft surface. He flitted his eyes to the side. Snape had come in without Harry noticing, and he’d caught Harry’s head in his hand, preventing him from hitting it again. Harry stared at Snape, but didn’t move. Snape looked back, his gaze oddly… softer than usual. He didn’t move his hand.

The touch felt unfamiliar, but not in a way that made Harry want to escape it. They both remained in that position for a few moments, with the back of Harry’s head resting in Snape’s large, calloused hand. Inexplicably, Harry’s breathing steadied, and his heart rate slowed to a calm, even pace.

Harry felt Snape’s fingers card through his hair gently before he let go.

Chapter Text

Severus was sequestered in his office, composing his next letter in response to the foreign potioneer with whom he was involved in an extended correspondence. Though Severus much preferred to work alone, this particular potioneer possessed knowledge that rivaled Severus’ own, so the woman was too beneficial a resource to discount. Even if her methods tended towards experimental to the point of recklessness, at times.

Severus re-inked his quill.

I wish to express my appreciation for your timely response concerning my query regarding the enhancement of the Adrenaline Draught, he wrote.  

The contents of your previous missive have been most illuminating; particularly the information provided on the myriad beneficial effects of foxglove roots used in absorbable potions. Might I suggest, however, that although foxglove roots added in modest amounts to this particular draught would indeed increase the potion’s longevity as well improve its consistency, it is likely that, due to its alkaline quality…

To his annoyance, Severus found that his thoughts persisted in wandering toward other matters; namely, the boy. It had been quite surprising to find that the boy possessed an aptitude for brewing. The child had a degree of patience and an eye for detail that few in his age group could rival.

The boy is quite intelligent. I never imagined I would think as much of a Potter.

But Severus had not been thinking of the child as his father for quite a while. Loath as he was to admit it, the child’s company was not wholly unwelcome. In fact, Severus did enjoy the verbal sparring he and the boy engaged in; it was interesting to contemplate the extent of the child’s ingenuity.

But it was not just the boy’s intelligence that had Severus wondering.

What has that boy seen in his short life?

Indeed, the child was proving to be considerably more complicated than he ever would have foreseen.

Nightmares? Flashbacks? The boy has clearly been traumatized. Abuse, unfortunately, is all too probable.

It had been a few days since the boy’s episode in the potions laboratory, but Severus could not put it out of his mind. The deadened look he’d seen on the child’s face was not easily forgotten. It was not an expression he would ever think to associate with a child. It was the look of a grown man who had long despaired of any hope of salvation.

The child needs more- deserves more- than I can provide for him. I am not equipped to deal with a young trauma victim. My mere presence bears the capacity to terrify adolescents into submission. How can I provide such a child with the safe environment he so desperately requires?

Severus had endeavored to draw the boy out on many occasions, attempting to gain an inkling of what the boy had gone through, but the child was, quite understandably, resistant to his overtures.

I am not the person for this job.

But who was, really?   

Severus was pulled out of his thoughts when a Patronus in the form of a phoenix appeared before him.

Would you be so kind as to avail your home to my presence at eight o’clock this evening? I wish to discuss with you several matters regarding your upcoming NEWT level class,” Dumbledore’s voice spoke from the Patronus. Sighing, Severus gave his consent, and the Patronus vanished.

Upcoming NEWT classes, my foot. He wishes to ascertain that I’ve not yet throttled the boy.

Severus rolled his eyes as he signed his letter and sent it off with a wave of his wand before climbing the stairs to the kitchen, finding the prepared lunch from the elves arranged on the table as usual. He sat, and, like clockwork, the boy entered the kitchen and sat in his usual place, avoiding Severus’ eyes. For a few moments, all that could be heard was the clinking of silverware.

Severus cleared his throat. The child looked up warily, and Severus could detect the anxiety hidden beneath the blank mask the boy so often hid behind.

“Professor Dumbledore will be paying a visit at eight o’clock this evening. I felt it prudent that you be informed, as I’ve no doubt he’d like to speak with you.”

Severus saw the boy’s face turn stony upon his mention of Dumbledore. Severus narrowed his eyes.

“Do you find that objectionable, Mr. Potter?”

The boy looked up, and for a moment, Severus could see unmistakable fear, and, interestingly, rage, before the mask was back in place.

“No, sir. May I go?” the boy asked in a flat tone.

Severus frowned. “You’ve eaten very little.”

The boy’s face tightened. “I’m done.”

Severus paused for a moment. Clearly, the boy was nearing the end of his rope, however masterfully he was hiding it.

“Very well.”

The boy left the room as quickly as he could without running, and, by the sound of it, went outside.

The boy did not appear to be particularly disinclined toward Albus’ presence when he first arrived. He has more reason to dislike me than the headmaster. What has changed?

***

Harry tried to force back the anger burning inside of him as he sat on the branch of his tree, upright this time. The nerve Dumbledore had, showing up here. Harry doubted he’d be able to remain civil toward the man when he arrived.

He’s really coming to see if his plan is working. And when he finds out it’s not, he’ll take me away. Unless Snape really is part of the plot…

But the more time Harry spent around the man, the less likely it seemed. Snape really did seem to, dare he say it, care, at least, sometimes.

Maybe he won’t let Dumbledore take me away…Yeah, right. You’re an idiot. Of course he will. He might be decent, but he doesn’t want me here. He’ll be glad to get rid of me.

And it occurred to Harry, just then, that he didn’t want to go. He liked living here. He liked the food, the books, and brewing potions. He even liked the fact that Snape helped him with his nightmares, loath as he was to admit it. And even when the man was angry, he had never hurt Harry, aside from that time in the library. And even then, he hadn’t really done it deliberately.

Just let Dumbledore try to take me…

But Harry knew, despite his own magical abilities, that Dumbledore was far more powerful than he, and if Dumbledore wanted something, he would get it, no matter what Harry had to say about it.

In the end, I’m powerless. Dumbledore controls everything. He’s got the entire magical population of Britain in his pocket, according to the books, anyway. Next to him, I  haven't got a chance. I'm helpless.

In a moment of defiance, Harry slid off the branch until he was hanging by his hands, then let go and dropped several feet to the ground. He landed painlessly, despite his hands and knees taking the brunt of the fall. His magic must have played a hand in that, though Harry wasn’t particularly inclined to examine that possibility in that moment.

Read books. Now. Must stop thinking.

Harry hastened to the library, grabbing hold of the book he was in the middle of, almost frantically.

Hmm… The five exceptions to Gamp’s Law of Elemental Transfiguration… Limits. That’s what hopped-up, oh so powerful, conceited bastards who don’t know how to mind their own stupid business need.

Harry read on, the topic providing a brief distraction.

Exceptions of transfiguration…

Food can’t be created from nothing or transfigured from any random object. Guess that makes sense, it would be too easy otherwise. Same with money. I guess nothing of real value can be created with magic. So even if someone did create food, it wouldn’t really sustain them. Water can be conjured, but water is really part of the atmosphere, so the magic just changes the state of it. So you can basically transfigure something into something else of equal value, but that’s about it. So here’s more proof that magic works with physics; nothing is created or destroyed, just altered. Even when things are conjured, it looks like molecules are brought together, not created out of nothing.

This stuff really was fascinating.

Better get a wand before I test it out. Who knows what might happen, otherwise. How will I get a wand, anyway? Maybe Snape will take me to get it. I swear, I’m not going anywhere with Dumbledore.

The anger was back, now.

***

The boy showed up for dinner, promptly as always, but, again, picked at his food. Severus watched out of the corner of his eye, somewhat distastefully, as the boy pushed his food around his plate.

“As you ate little at lunch, surely you have regained some appetite?” Severus asked the boy after a few moments of witnessing the mutilation of perfectly good food.

The boy finally looked up then, and Severus was met again with the rage he'd seen earlier on the boy's face before his expression cleared into a mask of cool indifference.

“I suppose I haven’t, sir,” the boy answered, the very picture of politeness.

I cannot overlook this any longer. But I cannot force him to eat, either. Most likely, he will fail to understand why it is of my concern.

Severus set his jaw. “Nonetheless, food is a requirement, and I will ask that you attempt to consume an acceptable portion.”

The boy looked at him again, a hard expression on his face. “I prefer not to, sir.”

How dare the boy defy me-! Do not lose your calm. The child does not respond positively to anger, as you well know.

Severus took a moment to regain control, then spoke again. “That was not a request, Mr. Potter.”

“It sounded like one,” the boy replied in a clipped tone.

Severus clenched a fist, but his expression remained much the same. “Allow me to rephrase. You will consume adequate serving of the meal set before you.”

The boy was now unsuccessfully attempting to hide his anger. “And if I don’t?” he bit out.

Damn, I was hoping it would not come to this. What am I to do? Sweet Merlin, I am not qualified to care for children in this capacity, especially not traumatized, underweight children who cannot do with another missed meal.

Severus took several deep breaths.

“What is troubling you?”

The boy looked momentarily unsettled, as Severus knew he would, before schooling his expression.

“Nothing,” the boy replied flatly.

“Oh?” Severus raised an eyebrow. “I beg to differ. It is quite clear to me that Professor Dumbledore’s coming visit has upset you in some way.”

To his credit, the child did not attempt to deny it; it seemed he knew when he had been cornered. He shifted his eyes away, not speaking.

“Would you care to expound upon your apparent aversion toward the headmaster?” Severus asked.

The boy was silent for a moment.

“No, sir.”

“That is not an acceptable answer.”

“Then I don't have one.”

I cannot win, Severus realized. Short of Legilimency, which is certainly not an option here, I cannot insist he enlighten me, nor can I force-feed the boy.

“I will not insist you provide me with an explanation. However, you will not leave this table until you have eaten. The choice is yours.”

Severus watched the boy carefully. His careful control had clearly slipped from his grasp, once again, and Severus could very near hear the boy's teeth grind together as he struggled to contain himself. The boy's shoulders were taut, drawn up around his neck, and his eyes were wide and seemingly unable to settle on anything in particular as they darted back and forth. After a moment, the boy lifted his fork and, with a sullen air, shoved a few bites of food in his mouth. Severus did not comment on the boy’s lack of manners. At least he had obeyed.

In truth, his defiant attitude is not a bad thing. It shows that he does not fear me quite so much. Perhaps I have done something right.

One the boy had consumed about half of the food on his plate, he set down his fork. “May I be excused?’ he asked monotonously. 

Severus nodded his acquiescence. “You may, though I will expect your presence in the sitting room at eight.”

The boy nodded, then hurried off in the direction of the library.

***

At precisely eight o’clock, Albus emerged from the fireplace, dusting ash from his mercifully navy robes.

“Ah, Severus, how good of you to have me,” said Albus, in far too cheerful a tone.

“Do have a seat, Albus,” said Severus stiffly.

This will not go well.

He tried to warn Albus with his eyes, and the irritating twinkle in Albus’ eyes appeared to dim ever so slightly. Other than that, however, he gave no indication that he had understood. The boy entered the room just then, and Severus pointed toward the seat opposite the couch on which Albus was seated. The boy kept his head down as he sat, his hands in fists.

There was a long and unbearably tense moment of silence before Albus broke it.

“Harry, it is good to see you again,” Albus said amicably. The boy jerked his head slightly but did not respond. Albus chose not to take the hint. “How have you and Severus been faring?”

The boy still refused to speak; the expression on his face was stony, and he was staring blankly at the wall behind Albus.

“Mr. Potter, it is customary to treat guests with a modicum of courtesy. Do provide Professor Dumbledore with a response,” Severus said sharply.

The boy’s eyes glanced toward him for a moment, then he looked at Albus. “Adequately, sir,” the boy said shortly.

“Good to hear, good to hear,” said Albus, paying no heed to the boy’s rudeness. He seemed to understand that the child would not be saying anymore, however, and he rose.  

“Severus, I would like to discuss your coming NEWT class, as I mentioned…”

Severus inclined his head and rose as well. He looked down at the boy, who remained seated in the same rigid position.

“We will return shortly, Mr. Potter, so it is best you remain here. You may peruse the books on the shelves if you wish.”

The boy nodded, and Severus left the room with Albus and they entered Severus’ office.

“How has Harry been doing, Severus?”

At least he’s no longer hiding behind the pretext of discussing my NEWT classes. That is something.

“Adequately, to quote the boy,” replied Severus dryly.

“The two of you have been getting along, I trust?” Albus’ eyes twinkled.

“Well enough, I suppose,” Severus admitted grudgingly. “The boy is most unlike his father.”

Instead of twinkling, Albus looked suddenly serious. “Have you drawn any conclusions as to explain the boy’s behavior?”

“The boy is reticent,” Severus said slowly. “He says very little, and any conclusions I may have drawn have been gleaned primarily from what he hasn’t said.”

Albus tilted his head slightly, raising his eyebrows in question.

“The boy suffers from recurring nightmares,” said Severus. “Of a rather intense nature, I might add.”

Albus sighed. “Have you…?”

“I have provided the boy with instructions of the rudimentary aspects of Occlumency. It is not just his nightmares, however. The boy had clearly been traumatized in some manner, though I cannot be certain as to how.”

Dumbledore closed his eyes, looking defeated. “I suspected as much when I first met the boy. He is not a child, really. It is clear that he has seen far too much. The look in his eyes…”

Severus’ eyes narrowed. “It is clear that the muggles, at the very least, were not fit guardians for the boy.”

If he knew and did nothing…

Albus looked as pained as Severus had ever seen him. “I did not know, Severus. Undoubtedly, the child’s experiences resulted from extreme negligence on my part, I readily admit.”

Severus’ nostrils flared.

“I was trying to protect him.” Albus spoke in barely more than a whisper.

And that worked out admirably, did it not?

But he knew it was true. Albus had been attempting to protect the boy, as badly as it had turned out. If Severus thought about it, he was just as much to blame as Albus.

I knew the boy was sent to the muggles. I also knew Petunia Evans, who clearly feared magic and despised those who practiced it. The jealousy, coupled with the fear, would not have endeared her to the boy. I should have known.

***

Harry sat stiffly on his chair, shredding a blank piece of parchment he’d procured from the library earlier. He didn’t bother to eavesdrop on Snape and Dumbledore this time. He knew what was going on.

Dumbledore’s taking me away. Right now, he’s giving Snape the whole rundown about why it’s necessary. Dunno if Snape knows the real truth or not.

Despite the fact that, in a few moments, it would no longer matter, Harry hoped that Snape did not.

I hate Dumbledore. I hate him worse than the Dursleys. I hate him more than Jade’s stepdad. When I know more magic, he’ll never know what hit him.

Harry shoved the handful of shredded parchment into his pocket. He really wanted to toss them on the floor, but that would be an idiotic move, as angry as he was. He kicked the leg of his chair, hard, but all that accomplished was to send a shooting pain up his foot. It also made him even angrier, and it was all he could do to tamp down on his emotions when some of the books on the shelves started thumping against one another. He breathed slowly and deliberately through his nose, forcing himself to calm enough for the books to stop moving.

A few moments later, Snape and Dumbledore walked back in. Harry immediately stood; he wasn’t going to go without a fight. He carefully tracked the movements of both men with his eyes, his body poised for flight. Dumbledore turned toward Harry, and he braced himself.

Dumbledore smiled, his blue eyes twinkling. It was funny how benign those eyes had seemed when Harry had first met Dumbledore.

He’s evil.

“Harry, it is so good to see that you and Severus have been getting along.”

What?

Dumbledore walked closer, holding out a hand. Harry stumbled backward.

Yeah, sure he wants to shake my hand. It’s just a ploy to drag me off somewhere. Oldest trick in the book.

Harry kept his eyes on Dumbledore, refusing to take the proffered hand. He could not read the man’s expression, but, inexplicably, Dumbledore dropped his hand and walked toward the fireplace.

“Thank you very much for your hospitality, Severus. I will be taking my leave now.”

He smiled at Harry again, and Harry glared back. Dumbledore scooped up a handful of the powder by the fireplace, Floo Powder, as Harry recalled, tossed it into the fire, and vanished in a flash of green flame.

“Mr. Potter.”

Harry turned quickly. Snape was still standing there, and he did not look pleased.

“Would you care to explain your behavior?” Snape asked sharply.

Harry did not pretend to misunderstand. But what could he say? He opened his mouth, then closed it again, shaking his head slightly.

Snape's expression softened minutely. “I assure you, there is nothing to fear from Professor Dumbledore.”

Am I giving off that impression? Not good.

Harry straightened his shoulders. “I don’t fear him. I just don’t like him.”

Snape looked disbelieving, but he didn’t voice his thoughts on that matter, whatever they were. Instead, he shifted his stance slightly, folding his arms, and Harry could clearly read the disapproval on his face. He looked away. He didn't like the feeling that look was giving him, and he couldn't begin to understand why.

“Whatever your feelings are," Snape said. "Professor Dumbledore is your elder, and your future headmaster. You are therefore obligated to be respectful.”

Harry nodded shortly. It wasn’t as though he could tell Snape the truth. And he was just confused, now. Had he miscalculated? Maybe Dumbledore had an entirely different plan, or maybe he was just luring Harry into a false sense of security. Or maybe…

Harry jumped slightly when Snape cleared his throat. He looked up to see Snape peering at him oddly.

“A verbal response, Mr. Potter.”

Oh, right. He has this thing about verbal answers…

“Yes, sir.”

Snape spoke again. “When you begin your schooling, there may very well be professors with whom you feel you cannot contend. Nonetheless, if you wish to avoid loss of house points or detention, you will be required to show respect.”

I show teachers respect because I want to avoid unnecessary trouble. I don’t need to give adults a reason to be angry at me. But Dumbledore already has it out for me, so why should I bother?

“Yes, sir.”

The anger was gone now. Harry felt tired. Drained. Empty.

It was safer that way.

It was safer this way. It was safer in the darkened stall of the men’s lavatory at a public library, armed with nothing but the clothes on his back and a wad of cash in his pocket. It was safer because the custodian hadn’t locked the lavatory door after he’d shut the lights at closing time, while Harry held his breath and could do nothing but keep his feet out of view from the gap between the stall door and the floor. It was safer because he could get out if he wanted to, and he could drink from the sink faucet if he needed to. It was safer because there was a vending machine in the lobby, and he had cash. It was safer because even if someone found him in the morning, the worst they’d probably do was toss him out.

On his first day on his own, at nine years and eleven months of age, Harry had never felt safer in his life.

Chapter Text

Harry pushed his food around his plate discreetly. It was funny how quickly the novelty of three meals a day had worn off. Just over a month of regular meals, and food was almost routine. He simply had no appetite. He felt restless, and his mind was racing with thoughts he could have done without. Harry forced himself to eat a bit, anyway, so Snape wouldn’t harp on his eating habits yet again.

Thankfully, it seemed Snape was ignoring him, for once, otherwise occupied with a letter he appeared to be in the midst of composing, and he too wasn’t eating much.

Hypocrite.

Not that Harry minded. He wanted to be left alone; the thoughts whirling around his brain would have undoubtedly made it far too difficult for him to speak.

Snape set down his fork, and Harry mimicked him, relieved.

“Will you be joining me in the laboratory today, Mr. Potter?” asked Snape, scratching out something with his quill.

Harry though for a moment. He would’ve liked to, but the way he was feeling right now, he’d most likely end up exploding something.

I need to get out of here.

“No thank you, sir. I- I’d rather go outside.”

“As you wish.” Snape nodded to Harry and strode out of the room, flicking his wand behind him to clear away the dishes.

Harry went outside and started walking aimlessly, more in an effort to escape than to reach a destination. But from what he was escaping, he wasn’t sure.

Why am I… feeling so much? I never did before.

It was true. It had been so easy not to care about anything when he’d lived on the streets; he had been more focused on survival. But now, the confusion he felt about Snape’s civil treatment of him, combined with his fury at Dumbledore, was proving to be difficult to process. There was fear there, too, that Snape would start hating him again, or would leave or throw him out. And that led to more fury at Dumbledore, who was the real reason Harry had cause to fear being taken away in the first place.

It was too much. The anger, the hatred, and the fear that Dumbledore would take Harry away to set the next scene in Harry’s miserable life. And when he thought too hard about the scenes past… all masterfully assembled into a word perfect cabaret, thanks to the tireless efforts of its producer… I give you, Albus Dumbledore! And let’s not forget to mention our star… but wait, he mustn’t be made aware… It is for his own good, after all. For the good of all the wizarding world…  

Harry wanted to scream, but at the same time, he wanted to curl up somewhere and press his hands over his ears until every last thought was drowned out by the sound of his own heartbeat.

Without another pause, he ran as fast as he could around the grounds. He ran, and kept running even when his muscles began to complain bitterly. He continued even when he had no breath left, and he only stopped when his legs gave out entirely. Harry sat where he’d fallen, surrounded by warm grass and fallen leaves, catching his breath. That had helped a bit. He felt drained, his muscles slack, and the flurry of emotion had diminished.

So, apparently I miscalculated. I thought Dumbledore would take me away when he found that Snape was all right, but he didn’t. So what’s his next move? I can’t really detect a pattern. He left me with the Dursleys, and he must have known about everything that went on there. But if he didn’t want me to have anyone at all so I’d only trust him, why didn’t he prevent me from seeing Jade? Maybe he didn’t know about her? Wait, maybe he caused her to leave… But that doesn’t really fit, considering the circumstances. He can’t be in control of the normal world, too. It didn’t seem that he knew I lived on the streets, from the way he was talking when he found me. So that would imply that he wasn’t keeping such close tabs on me… but that doesn’t fit if he’s trying to control everything. None of this makes sense.

 

Later, when Harry sat down to dinner, he filled his plate, finding himself hungry for a change. It seemed that his earlier sprint was just catching up with him now. 

“Mr. Potter.”

Harry tensed, and looked up through the strands of hair that had fallen over his eyes.

Snape had an odd expression on his face, and he paused for a moment before speaking. “Might I inquire as to which subjects do you anticipate enjoying upon your start at Hogwarts?”

Harry stared at the man for a moment, taken aback. For lack of a better option, he answered. “I expect I’ll enjoy potions.”

Snape nodded. “Indeed. It seems you possess an aptitude for the subject.” 

He just gave me an outright compliment. Any moment now, a green pig will fly into the room on golden wings. Wait… are there magical flying pigs?   

“Did you perhaps enjoy chemistry in your previous institute of learning, Mr. Potter?” Snape’s voice jerked Harry out of his musings.

Institute of learning? Harry had to hold back a snort.

“I- I suppose.”

Snape seemed to be studying him carefully, too much so, and it took some effort for Harry not to avert his eyes completely.

“Were you informed of your magical abilities by your previous guardians, or did you simply discover them unaided?”

Of course. I should have realized. He was just trying to find an opening to question me about them. I can’t lie, though, he’ll know. But anyway, what does it matter if I say the truth? Who cares? He won’t use it against me, I don’t think. 

“They never told me.”

Harry bit the inside of his cheek, flitting his eyes away.

“I think they were afraid of it.”

Why did I say that?

Snape’s forehead wrinkled. “It is a common human tendency to fear that which one does not understand, or cannot control.”

At that, Harry looked up at Snape’s face. There was a strange glimmer in his dark eyes. Of understanding?

He knows. He probably had a non-magical parent or something who hated him for his magic.

Harry did not know how he knew that, but judging by the look in Snape’s eyes, he knew it was true.

Snape was staring at him again. “You realize, Mr. Potter,” he said slowly, “that the irrational views of others dictate nothing of your intrinsic value.”

It was all Harry could do not to gape at Snape.

***

Harry was in the library, but he could not have repeated a word of what he’d read.

The irrational views of others dictate nothing of your intrinsic value…

Was Snape, in his own, subtle way, trying to tell Harry that he was worth something? Did Snape really think that of Harry, or did he want Harry to believe that of himself? Maybe he was just trying to make Harry think it was true, but then later… no. At this point, Harry truly did not believe that Snape was trying to trick him. Snape had no reason to lie about that sort of thing, anyway. Harry may not have known the man for very long, but he knew him well enough to know that Snape was not the sort of person to spout comforting lies, or to offer false compliments or platitudes.

But what does it bloody matter if I have value as a person, or if Snape thinks I do, or wants me to believe I do? It doesn’t change anything. How would he even know that I’m worth something? I bet if he really knew me, he wouldn’t think so. He doesn’t know… And anyway, considering that I’m the so-called Boy-Who-Lived, and that Dumbledore’s a control freak, I’ll never be left alone. At least on the streets I was in charge. I’m destined for misery. It’s a fact. Self-worth or whatever makes no difference when nothing else is worth it.

Harry slammed his book shut with unwarranted force and headed to his bedroom. He was feeling nearly as tense as he had outside, before he’d gone for that run. In short, angry motions, Harry undressed and went into the shower, turning the tap to the highest temperature. He stood under the stream of water, feeling it scalding his back and scalp. It hurt, but it was a good kind of pain. It was from an outside source that he could turn off if he wanted to. But he didn’t want to. The water felt good, as though its heat was washing away some of his raging emotions, absorbing the heat of his rage into its own.

After a long while, Harry exited the shower and toweled off, the cloth aggravating his reddened, tender skin. He wrapped the towel around his waist, still feeling anxious and on edge, though the fury had left him. He stared into the bathroom mirror, his tired, flushed face staring back at him.

They say what’s on the outside mirrors what’s inside. Is there something wrong with me on the outside that would explain everything that’s gone wrong? Was everyone justified in doing what they did because I deserved it?

Harry examined his face carefully; he’d never really taken the time to look at himself properly before. Thick black hair, messy, but otherwise ordinary. Almond-shaped green eyes, the color unusual, but not abnormal. His face appeared drawn and slightly pale, and his eyes were shadowed, but wasn’t that how most people looked when they were tired? His skin wasn’t green, he had ten fingers and toes, and his facial features were all properly positioned.

If how I look doesn’t say anything, it must be something so deep inside me that’s gone bad that it can’t be seen… Snape said that the views of others don’t define my value. But if that’s the case, then why is it that almost everyone sees something wrong with me? The Dursleys, all the neighbors, the kids in school, the people on the street… But Jade didn’t think I was bad…

Harry clenched his eyes shut as though the thoughts would fade away with his vision. Jade was gone, so it didn’t matter. That only left Snape. And Snape was a mystery who made no sense at all.

He turned away from the mirror, feeling a pit growing in his stomach, and his hands trembled slightly as he pulled on his pajamas . He left the bathroom and climbed into bed, shoving his penknife under his pillow as he curled up beneath his blankets. He attempted to calm himself, to think of and care about nothing, the way he used to, but it just wasn't working. His mind was racing, and he could almost hear the beat of his heart.

Find your safe place…

Harry’s thoughts immediately went to Jade. Memories involving her were the only ones that felt safe…

Harry was in the treehouse, waiting for her. He knew she would be there. Sure enough, he heard the rustling of leaves and a faint scraping sound, and Jade soon entered the treehouse. Her eyes were red, and her face was streaked with tears.

Jade never cried.

“You’re crying,” Harry said, feeling a bit out of his depth. Jade rolled her eyes, and Harry was relieved to see that she was still her normal self.

“You have a black eye,” she said in the same flat tone Harry had used. Harry smiled a bit, as if to say, touché.

He looked at Jade expectantly, though he knew better than to ask her straight out what was wrong.

She wiped her face with her sleeve. “I hate him,” she said in a low voice. Harry nodded. He could guess the rest.

Jade shrugged off her backpack, which she often carried with her, though Harry noticed that it was bulkier than usual.

“What’s in the bag?” he asked. 

Jade smiled faintly. “Stuff.”

She first pulled out a water bottle and a brown paper bag and handed it to Harry. Harry nodded his thanks, gulping down some water. For some time now, Jade had taken to bringing Harry food and drinks, as she knew he was never given much of it. At least her bastard of a stepdad didn’t care what she ate.

“What else is in the bag?” Harry asked, once he finished wolfing down the food she’d brought him. Jade pulled out some pens and a pad of paper from her backpack, ripping off the topmost sheet, and handing it to Harry. She grabbed a pen and leaned over the pad, penning out an image with such force that she nearly poked a hole through the paper.

“Draw whoever you hate,” Jade said, without looking up.

Harry gave her an odd look. “What am I gonna do with it? Frame it and hang it on my wall?”

Jade chuckled, pulling a small object from her bag. A lighter.

Harry stared, a slow smile appearing on his face as he realized what she meant for them to do.

“Where did you get that?” Harry breathed, slightly awed.

“Nicked it from Ed’s desk.”

She bent her head back over her paper, shoving a pen toward Harry. He poised it over his paper, thought for a moment, then began to draw. A short while later, when they were done, Jade grasped the lighter and made as if to set the paper alight.

“Wait!” Harry called out, a bit frantically. “You’ll set the whole treehouse on fire.”

Jade pulled out another water bottle. “We can put it out before it spreads,” she said, as though it were obvious, a slightly manic look in her eyes.

“Still,” Harry said. “It’s better if we do it outside.”

Jade nodded in agreement, her expression clearing a bit. “I should've thought of that. Guess I was a bit too…” she trailed off. 

They climbed down the tree and cleared a small area of the woods from fallen leaves and branches. Carefully, they both set their papers down. Jade pressed her thumb down on the lighter, and a small flame rose out of it. She then held it against the eerily detailed drawing of the face she so hated, watching as the flame slowly began to spread. She then handed the lighter to Harry.

They both watched with grim satisfaction as the flames consumed the faces of their tormentors.

Harry drifted off into an uneasy sleep. His dreams seemed engulfed in burning reddish flames, images rising in and out of them. Jade. Snape. Dumbledore...

***

Harry awoke abruptly, a bit after six. His dreams, while unlike his usual nightmares, had unnerved him. The flames had seemed so real that he felt hot thinking about them. Harry then realized he was sweating rather profusely.

Odd. It’s like the fire was real…

Harry took a cold shower, and the irony of his actions wasn’t lost on him. A scalding shower last night to absorb the raging heat he’d felt inside, and now a cold shower to wash away the heat on the outside…

Fire’s an interesting element, Harry mused, his thoughts somewhat fragmented. Destructive. But could the earth manage without it? Probably not. Fire can destroy, but it can purify things, too. If it doesn’t first destroy them. Some things are beyond cleansing, anyhow. Some things are better off destroyed.

Dry and dressed, Harry made his way downstairs. It was too early for breakfast, so he went to the library. He didn’t feel like eating, anyway. He settled in his favorite armchair, not even bothering to open a book. He stared at the wall. He felt a bit… vacant. Exhausted. As though he’d been running miles and miles and just couldn’t go on anymore. There was a faint ache in his chest, and Harry felt hard-pressed to even twitch a finger.

Get a hold of yourself. Pull it together. You have to be prepared, don’t sit here like a useless lump.

But for all his self-admonitions, Harry just couldn’t bring himself to care. After a while of staring, Harry rose and walked toward the tall windows of the library, almost unaware of what he was doing. He then realized what had drawn him to it.

It’s raining.

It was storming, actually, and Harry could hear occasional rolls of thunder booming in the distance. The sound of raindrops hitting the ground felt soothing. Almost transfixed, Harry left the library and walked through the front door. He felt large droplets land heavily on his head, his shoulders, his face as he stood in place for a while, his body soon becoming entirely soaked.

The rain is putting out the fire… But is it too late? Has it already been destroyed?

Harry walked toward his tree and sat beneath it, his arms wrapped around his knees. The leaves of the tree somewhat muted the steady assault of water.

Water. It’s the opposite of fire. But the same, in some ways. It can burn, too. And destroy. And purify. But not me…

Harry felt raindrops streaming down his face, almost like tears. But they weren’t tears. Harry couldn’t cry, he hadn’t done so in years, not since the day he’d realized the extent of its futility. He sat under the tree a while longer, until he heard rustling. He looked up. Snape was walking towards him, his billowing cloak growing steadily damper.

“Mr. Potter.”

Harry relaxed slightly. Snape didn’t sound particularly angry.

“Come.”

Harry considered it for a moment, then rose. Snape, almost hesitantly, laid a hand on Harry’s shoulder to lead him toward the house. Harry shrunk away from the touch. It wasn’t that he was afraid, exactly; he’d known for some time now that Snape’s touch wasn’t dangerous. If anything, it made Harry feel warm inside, as though he was being ensconced in a thick blanket. But Harry could not accept that sort of comfort. Not now.

When they walked through the front door, Snape waved his wand around himself, drying his robes.

“You as well?”

Harry shrugged.

For once, Snape didn’t request a verbal answer. He waved his wand around Harry, whose clothes felt abruptly dry and warm. It made his throat ache. Harry swallowed, trying to rid himself of the sensation. It didn’t help.

“Breakfast, Mr. Potter.” Snape swept toward the kitchen, and Harry followed him. They both sat down to eat, and silence ensued for the next few moments.

“Mr. Potter,” Snape said suddenly. “Do you enjoy a thorough soaking while fully clothed?”

Harry stiffened. “I like rain,” he responded defensively.

Snape nodded, his eyes on Harry. “Have you been made aware of the potential hazard of positioning oneself beneath a tree in the midst of a thunderstorm?”

Harry raised his eyebrows.

Seriously?

“Is that really likely?”

Snape pressed his palms down on the table. “It is unwise to place oneself in a position where they may come to harm, regardless of the likelihood of a dangerous event occurring.”

That depends…

Harry, however, said what he figured Snape wanted to hear.

“I’ll exercise caution during future thunderstorms, sir.”

Snape inclined his head, his lips twitching ever so slightly. “Join me in the laboratory after lunch.”

***

While stirring his potion, a Swelling Solution, this time, Harry stared into the thick, yet oddly translucent substance. He could see his reflection staring back at him, looking as blank and tired as he felt.

Stir six times clockwise…

Harry watched his reflection distorting as he stirred. It seemed eerie, now, but he couldn’t tear away his gaze.

Allow potion to simmer on a low flame for four minutes…

While he waited, a realization slowly began to dawn on him, while Dumbledore’s face drifted across his consciousness.

Slowly, steadily, as though a magnetic force compelled his movements, Harry reached a hand into his pocket to finger a small, metal object. He could almost see the glint of his sharp, ever-faithful penknife. A sudden sense of calm washed over him.

 

Chapter Text

Abnormal… Worthless… Useless…

No… no…

...knock your bloody teeth out… I’ll have none of your freakishness in my home… Needs to stay locked in like a rabid animal…

No… Stop…

That little girl? What was ‘er name, some sorta color? Oh, she left ‘ere a few days back, or, weeks, was it? Went to live with ‘er mum…

Please…

You think you have anywhere to run, boy? Think you’d be out here alone if there was anyone who cared to look for you?

“Mr. Potter!”

“Stop…”

A hand is shaking his shoulder…

“Stop… Get off… No!”

Harry jerked awake, gasping for air, to see Snape hovering over him. Harry’s breathing slowed a bit, but he turned his head away, squeezing his eyes shut and biting down hard enough on his lip to taste blood.

Weak, pitiful... Why does he have to see me like this?

Harry’s eyes shot open again when Snape’s hand settled on his shoulder, and he very nearly flinched away before his body managed to remember that it wasn’t under attack. He lay there silently, then stiffened in surprise when Snape reached out with his other hand, slowly, to prise Harry’s lower lip from between his teeth. He allowed it, a bit bemusedly, feeling oddly calmed by the gesture.

“Did you attempt to clear your mind before bed?” Snape’s tone wasn’t accusing.

Harry shuddered, closing his eyes. “Didn’t help.”

I’m so pathetic.

“That is not an uncommon occurrence.”

Harry looked up again. Snape was standing in the same position, his hand still resting on Harry’s shoulder, an unreadable expression on his face. “Would you perhaps like some assistance?”

No. I should be able to do it myself. Makes me weak if I need help. I am weak. Pathetic. Useless. Vernon was right about that.

“Mr. Potter?”

“N-no, no thank you, sir.”

Snape, for a moment, looked as though he wanted to object. He just sighed, however, and stepped back. “Very well. Do not hesitate to seek out my assistance, should you need it.”

Harry nodded, and Snape, after another long, contemplative look, turned and swept from the room. Harry felt an odd sense of loss as he watched Snape go. He shoved his hand under his pillow to clench a fist around the handle of his penknife. His hand trembled.

***

I wonder what it would be like, Harry thought idly, leaning back into his armchair, if I didn’t have to deal with any of this anymore.

What would it be like not to feel anything, not to worry about anything, not to care? An existence without pain or fear, simply cool blankness.

What about the opposite? Like happiness or pleasure?

But that was out of reach for him, he just knew.

I never asked to be born. I never asked for any of this. Yet people seem to think that they can do whatever they want with me, like I’m their personal property. It’s never going to end. If it’s not the Dursleys, it’s Dumbledore. And even if I got away from him, someone else would just take over. If they won’t go away, I’ll have to.

Harry glanced up absently, his eyes flitting towards the clock on the wall, and he noticed that it was already five minutes past lunchtime. He didn’t care.

I’m not hungry, and no one can make me eat. No one. I can do whatever I please.

Harry hunched back further into his seat, trying to focus on the book he’d had resting on his lap for the past hour and a half.

Nonverbal spells require not only an advanced level of magical power and prowess, but a strong focus and understanding of the workings of the spell being cast is vital for success as well. It is for that reason that nonverbal spells are generally not attempted until the start of NEWT level-

“Mr. Potter.”

Harry purposefully kept his head down, his eyes trained on the next passage.

-NEWT level studies. It has been found that those who are practiced in mind magics, or, as discovered in a recent study published in the Middle East Journal of Magical Arts and Sciences (Brailovsky & Mizrahi, 1988), learned in the musical arts-

“You will look at me when I speak to you, Potter,” Snape said sharply.

Harry stiffened, then looked up reluctantly. “Yes, sir?” he asked in a flat tone.

Snape looked as though he was searching himself for the last vestiges of patience he possessed. “It is nearly ten minutes past lunchtime. I am quite certain you are aware.”

“I’m not hungry.”

 Snape’s face tightened. “Nonetheless, you will eat. Come.”

“I’d rather not, sir,” Harry replied, eyes on Snape’s left shoulder. He started slightly when he saw the shoulder tighten, and he looked towards Snape’s face.

“Have I given you the impression that that was a request?” he asked, in a slightly dangerous tone.

Why can’t he just let me be?

“You told me once, sir,” Harry said through gritted teeth, “that you don’t care whether or not I attend meals.”

Snape looked exceedingly frustrated, his breaths coming out in short, deliberate bursts. “I have indeed told you that. However, I have also stated that I regret my initial negligence and intend to rectify it.”

“I don’t feel like eating. You can’t force me.”

“I believe you will find that I can.”

“Do you plan to shove food down my-"

“Watch yourself, Potter. You are treading on thin ice.”

Harry knew that he was crossing a line, and every ounce of reason he possessed was screaming at him to shut the hell up, but he didn’t care. He was far too angry. How dare these people abandon him for years, only to show up and try to control him as soon as it was convenient for them?

Harry pressed his lips together, glaring at Snape, refusing to move from his chair.

“Mr. Potter,” Snape said, in a voice that was very nearly a hiss. “Should you continue to disobey me, you will find that it is well within my capabilities to bar you from the library.”

Harry was almost shaking with a fury that was entirely disproportionate to the situation. Snape had every right to refuse him access to the library; he owned it, after all. But the logical side of his brain was growing fainter, and his anger was rising so rapidly that he felt his fingers tingling with magic. With difficulty, Harry managed to reign in his anger just enough to refrain from destroying the library a second time. He looked up slowly to meet Snape’s gaze, the man’s face tight with irritation.

“Have we reached an understanding, Mr. Potter?”

Condescending git.

Harry rose without looking at Snape, angry and humiliated, and followed the man out of the room in silence. Before they reached the kitchen, Snape paused, turning to face Harry.

He tensed, holding his breath.

“In the future, I will not be quite so tolerant of your rudeness. You would do well to keep that in mind, or you just may find yourself spending the afternoon scrubbing cauldrons,” Snape said tersely.

Harry nodded shortly, beginning to feel a bit idiotic. He had gotten into an argument because Snape wanted him to eat? Considering that he’d spent most of his life scrounging for food, his behavior had been downright irrational.

He sat in his usual place, piling whatever food was nearest on his plate, looking everywhere but at Snape.

I’m being ungrateful. He’s giving me food and everything, and I just… He should throw me out.

At that thought, Harry felt a bit panicky. He’d end up entirely under the control of Dumbledore if that happened. 

I have to apologize.

Harry looked up hesitantly. “Sir?” he asked in a tentative whisper.

“Yes?” Snape asked in a neutral, if short, tone.

He doesn’t sound too angry… Or maybe he is and is just pretending not to be…

“I… er- I’m…” Harry’s voice trailed off, and he bit his lip and turned his head.

I’m sorry for being a rude, ungrateful little-

“Is there something you wish to say?” Snape asked impatiently.

Harry meant to say sorry, but what came out of his mouth, in an almost inaudible tone, was, “please don’t send me away.”

Snape raised his eyebrows. “Pardon? I didn't quite catch that.”

God, I sound pathetic.

“I- I’m sorry for… please don’t kick me out,” Harry said, only slightly more loudly, hating how his voice was shaking.

Snape exhaled slowly, closing his eyes for a brief moment. He opened them to look at Harry, who was looking back at him with what he knew was poorly concealed trepidation.

“You will not be sent away, Mr. Potter. You will remain here for as long as necessary. However, should you continue to refuse to communicate-”

Harry felt his breath catch in his chest. So that was the way it was. He was welcome here only if he complied with the rules. If not, he was out. And he didn’t even know all the rules. Classic. He’d end up breaking them beyond repair at some point, and then he’d be at the mercy of Dumbledore.

He did not want to hear any more. He let his fork drop onto his plate and dashed out of the room and out of the house as quickly as he could.

Had Harry only remained for a few moments longer, he would have heard the rest of Snape’s statement: “-your time here will be less than enjoyable for both of us.” And perhaps, had Harry not run away, he would have felt Snape’s hand brush his shoulder lightly, telling him that his presence in his home was more than welcome, even if he did insist on defying rules put in place for his own benefit.

But he heard none of it.

Harry scampered up his tree, feeling both guilty and betrayed. Snape didn’t want him. But it was his own fault for not being good enough. He was never good enough. Not for anyone.

I was for Jade… I hate her! I hate her for leaving. She never even said goodbye. So maybe she didn’t care after all.

Harry’s hand reached into his pocket of its own accord and pulled out his penknife. He stared into the blade, his reflection staring back at him, distorted by the shape of the knife. He moved it away quickly, into the path of a ray of sunlight. The blade glinted oddly.

Why is it sunny? I want rain… Rain makes everything go away… But so can this.

Harry felt the familiar calmness wash over him as he ran a finger carefully across the sharp edge of the blade.

No one would care if I did it. Snape wouldn’t care, and it would serve Dumbledore right. And the wizarding world would have to find a shiny new Boy-Who-Lived. Maybe next time they’ll pick one who isn’t damaged goods… Stupid Jade. She didn’t need me, so I don’t need her. It wouldn’t matter to her, either.

Harry scraped the blade across a tree branch, carving in his initials in several rough motions. H.J.P.

There. He’d left his mark on the one safe place nature offered. A tree. The trees would remember him, even if he was gone. Perhaps the trees would miss him when no humans would.

Harry thought he heard the front door of the house open, although, the tree being a considerable distance from it, he couldn’t be sure. He looked toward the house, and saw Snape standing at the entrance. Harry could not make out his expression, but he looked back blankly, surreptitiously sliding the penknife into his pocket.

After a few moments, Snape turned and re-entered the house. Harry thought he would’ve felt relieved, but he didn’t. He just felt a brief flash of an unidentifiable, but painful emotion, and then… nothing.

***

Harry floated through the rest of the day like a ghost. He showed up for dinner, dutifully clearing his plate, all the while refusing to look at Snape. He sat in the library, staring at the same spot on the page, but for how long, he didn’t know.

He lay in bed, flashes of terror and fury engulfing his senses, so much so that he scarcely slept. Even if he had been able to sleep, he knew it would not offer him any respite. All Harry had was his penknife, which, to him, was the one thing that kept him grounded in reality, reminding him that there was a way out. Otherwise, he didn’t know where he would be.

***

Harry awoke the next morning scarcely an hour after he’d finally drifted off. His eyes were gritty, and he felt sluggish and disoriented. A quick shower woke him up some, but he still felt exhausted.

Better than the nightmares, Harry thought darkly, rubbing at his eyes. But I shouldn’t be so tired; it isn’t the first time I couldn’t get to sleep.

When Harry further examined the situation, he realized that the cause of his exhaustion wasn’t solely sleep deprivation.

I’m just tired of… everything.

Harry dragged himself downstairs to the kitchen, stumbling a bit on the way. He sat down, barely noticing what he was serving himself, and, once again, avoiding Snape’s gaze. He lifted his fork, which felt abnormally heavy, and the food on his plate appeared distinctly unappetizing.

“Did you not sleep well last night, Mr. Potter?” Harry heard Snape ask.

He shrugged listlessly, picking at his food.

“Did you experience nightmares?”

Harry looked up at that. Why did Snape keep having to ask him questions like that? What was he, a five year old who woke up crying every night? And why did Snape even have to know about them at all?

“No. Stop asking me questions,” Harry bit out through gritted teeth. No one had the right to know anything. Why couldn’t they all just leave him alone? He wanted to kick something. Hard.

What’s to stop me? I have nothing to lose, anyway.

Harry rammed his foot into the table leg, causing it to shake violently, and he watched with satisfaction as a glass of water crashed to the floor and shattered, its contents splattering everywhere. In another wave of recklessness, he swung out an arm and knocked his plate to the floor, and shards of china and bits of food joined the mess on the floor.

The satisfied feeling left him quite abruptly when he heard a distinct clearing of a throat.

“Mr. Potter,” Harry looked up slowly at the icy tone, his insides all but curdling with dread. Snape looked unmistakably angry, his eyes narrowed to slits and his knuckles white with how tightly they were clenching the edge of the table. “Can you provide for me any sort of explanation for your actions?” 

Harry looked down, shaking his head slightly. He had no explanation; he didn’t have the faintest clue as to why he’d just done what he did.

Harry heard Snape take several deep, controlled breaths. “Look at me.”

He looked up, blanking his face. He didn’t care what happened next. He didn’t.

“I understand,” Snape said in a tone of deliberate calm, “that your judgment at present may be clouded as a result of a sleepless night. However, that does not give you leave to behave as a young child in the midst of a temper tantrum.”

I don’t care what he says. I don’t care about anything. I don’t care. I don’t care.

“Have you anything to say?”

Harry shook his head faintly, struggling to refrain from looking away. Oddly, Snape didn’t look quite so angry anymore. The man’s hands were no longer clenching the table, and his eyes were narrowed, no longer with fury, but with something else that Harry couldn't read. Snape man rose from his seat, clearing the table and the mess on the floor with a quick wave of his wand.

“Follow me.”

It did not cross Harry’s mind to disobey, yet his feet felt as though they were made of lead as followed Snape out of the kitchen, and he couldn’t quite draw a full breath. He’d finally done it this time. He’d crossed the line, he’d pushed too far, and now he’d finally get what was coming to him, and he had no one to blame but himself.

He’d forgotten what this was like. In a way, a year on his own had softened him. Sure, he’d been on the wrong end of a fist and a knife, and he’d spent nights unable to bring himself to close his eyes for fear of that man who kept looking at him with this weird sort of glint in his eyes, and he’d been cold and wet and injured more times than he could count, but he’d still been free. He’d been free of the utter helplessness and dread that accompanied the knowledge that he’d angered the person who had full control over every aspect of his life, and that there was no way to escape the consequences for his real or perceived misdeeds.

Harry followed Snape into a room had never been in before; he’d only stood outside it while eavesdropping on Dumbledore and Snape the day he’d first arrived. It turned out to be a small study, with a wide desk piled with books and parchment, a couple of wooden chairs, and several ever-present bookshelves.

“Mr. Potter.” Harry slowly lifted his head, pressing his lips together and clenching his fists to stop his hands from shaking.

“Stand in that corner of the room.” Snape pointed, “and remain there until further notice. I will be at my desk.”

Er… Sorry? Did he just send me to a corner ? What the bloody hell is that supposed to mean?

“I’m- I- I don’t know what you mean,” Harry finally replied, feeling at a complete loss.

Snape raised his eyebrows. “I believe my instructions were quite clear. You are clearly incapable of behaving in a manner befitting your age at present, so you will spend some time in the corner, contemplating your actions.”

Snape stood, there, waiting, while Harry walked slowly to the corner he’d been directed to, leaning against the wall when he reached it.

What’s the point of this? What is he trying to say, or do, or whatever…?

“Turn around, Mr. Potter.”

Harry gave Snape a confused look. Snape looked irritated. “Face the wall, and contemplate your behavior.”

Harry remained where he was, frozen in place.

“Do as I say.”

Harry felt uncontrollable terror begin to take hold of him. Turn around? He couldn’t. He’d be facing away from the door, and he wouldn’t be able to see… He wouldn’t know if...

No. Nononono. I’m not turning around. He can’t make me, I need to see. I won’t. I can’t.

“Mr. Potter. Turn. Now” Snape definitely sounded angry now, and he looked it, too.

Harry couldn't breath. He couldn't even move, though his eyes darted back and forth in search for escape routes that he wouldn't be able to take.

No. Don’t make me.

Harry gasped and pressed back into the wall as Snape started moving toward him. In that moment, Snape’s figure began to grow hazy, and Harry wasn’t quite sure where he was. All he knew was that there was an imposing figure moving toward him and he couldn’t escape. But then, the figure abruptly stopped moving and began to back away.

Harry took that opportunity to move. He dashed out of the room at lightning speed, running up the stairs to his bedroom.

Need to hide. Need to hide where no one can get me.

The door of his room slammed with the force of Harry's tangible fear as he dashed through it. He grabbed his blanket and curled up with it under his bed, penknife clutched to his chest. As he lay there, his breathing gradually steadied.

Snape wouldn’t’ve done anything, why did I freak out like a lunatic?

How the hell do you know he wouldn’t do anything?

He just wouldn’t.

But Dumbledore can get in, and I couldn’t see the door…

Harry shuddered, curling up into a tighter ball. Snape definitely wouldn’t want him to stay, now. Harry had been rude and disrespectful twice today, and then he’d freaked out and run away, just because Snape had sent him to a corner. Even a two-year-old would have been capable of doing that.

I’m not afraid. I don’t need to hide here like a hunted animal.

Harry crawled out from under the bed and climbed into it, feeling exhausted despite having awoken so recently.

***

As Harry lay in the midst of a deep, yet fitful sleep, Severus stood beside his bed, watching.

“What am I to do with you?” he said in a low tone. “You will not communicate your needs; I doubt you even know what they are.”

Severus reached out and brushed his fingers lightly through the child’s hair, careful not to wake him.

“I cannot discipline you, nor can I even raise my voice without you believing that I might harm you.”

Harry moaned in his sleep slightly, his forehead crinkling in agitation.

“I cannot help you if you will not let me,” Severus murmured. “As it is, I fear that I am only worsening a difficult situation.”

With a heavy sigh, Severus turned and left the room.

***

The next few days melded into one another, time passing painfully slowly, yet far too rapidly. It felt as though Harry was moving through a thick, gray fog, unable to differentiate between what was really happening and what was running through his mind.

Sometimes, Harry felt nothing at all, and he moved through his daily routines automatically, yet he experienced none of it.

At other times, fury and fear overtook him, leaving him wanting nothing more than to hurt those who had hurt him. He could only imagine, though.

There were times, too, when Harry felt an undefinable, yet unbearable pain engulf him, a pain that had no cure nor treatment. It was inside him, yet it surrounded him as well, leaving him defenseless and hopeless.

Sleep offered no escape. Images of the past combined with fears of his future haunted his dreams whenever he did manage to sleep.

His penknife, secured in his pocket, day and night, was what kept him going. It was the way out, the only way. It reminded him that he wasn’t truly trapped, and he could escape if he really needed to.

It was the only thing that felt real.

***

“Mr. Potter.”

Harry didn’t answer; he hadn’t even registered the question. He was somewhere else, far away.

“Mr. Potter.” The sharper tone alerted Harry of the speaker’s presence.

“Yes, sir?”

“You do not look well.”

“I’m fine.”

“You are most certainly not.”

“I am.”

“Cease with the fabrications.”

“I’m not lying.”

I’m not! I’m completely fine. I’ve never been more fine. Absolutely, perfectly, one-hundred perfect fine. Fine. Fine. FINE!

He bolted, ignoring Snape’s voice calling after him.

***

Harry lay rigid in his bed, nearly paralyzed with fear. He had not been dreaming; he could not even match the emotion with an image or a memory. He just felt fear. He was fear. And pain, and anguish, and fury.

Harry rose slowly and walked, as though in a daze, toward the bathroom, his fist clenched around a small object in his pocket.

He entered the bathroom, suddenly imbued with a sense of purpose. He pulled his penknife out of his pocket and carefully laid it on the counter beside the sink. He then lifted the gray bath rug off the floor and hung it over the towel rack, taking care to smooth out any creases.

He sat on the closed toilet lid, and slowly reached for the penknife, flicking it open and grasping it firmly in his right hand.

He dragged the knife through the air, toward the waiting, willing target in the form of a narrow vein in his left wrist.

Chapter Text

Severus awoke quite suddenly, feeling a vague sense of foreboding. Long-trained reflexes had him immediately out of bed, wand in hand. It was then when he noticed a faint ringing in his ears. A ringing only he could detect, because it was a charm of his own making to monitor the boy’s well-being and alarm him if necessary.

But the charm was acting oddly. It would not have woken him on its own as it should have; he doubted he would have woken at all if not for the distinct sense of unease he was experiencing.  

Severus did not pause to contemplate the matter. He swept rapidly towards the boy’s bedroom, prepared for the worst. 

The boy was not in his bed. His gaze traveled rapidly across the room, and he noticed a thin line of light protruding from the narrow gap between the floor and the bathroom door. He didn’t bother to knock; he twisted the doorknob, finding it unlocked, and swung open the door.

The first thing he noticed was the bare bathroom floor tiles, spotted with droplets of a dark, wet substance. The rug had been hung, ever so carefully, over the towel rack. At the same time, a faint, metallic scent, only obvious to him due to his spying experience, engulfed his senses.

It was then, within a second of his entrance into the room, that he took in the entire scene.

The boy was seated on the closed toilet lid, his head tilted downward, eyes gazing unseeingly, face deathly pale. A small blade hung limply from the boy’s right fist, and his left hand, palm face-up, was resting on his thigh. And there was blood.

With a jolt of horror, Severus understood what had happened.

Do not make any sudden movements.

“Mr. Potter, drop the knife,” he said, keeping his voice low and smooth.

The boy did not look up, but he let it fall to the floor with a faint clatter.

“Thank you. Stretch out your arm.”

The child looked up then, his gaze no longer blank. He looked tortured, now, his eyes awash with a greater agony than Severus had thought possible for a child as young as he.

“Can’t you leave me here?” the boy asked. His voice emerged as a hoarse whisper.

Dear Merlin. Put the right words in my mouth.

“No. You can stretch out your arm for me willingly, or I will do it for you.”

Severus paused, standing carefully still as the boy slowly stretched out his left arm, displaying the deep, bleeding gash across his wrist.

Without wasting a moment, Severus waved his wand in several intricate motions, cleaning the wound and knitting it carefully, while surreptitiously performing a quick scan to detect any other injuries. Once confident that the wound was properly healed, and that the child was free of further injury, Severus reached out slowly to tuck his fingers beneath the boy’s chin to lift his head. The boy didn’t resist; the glassy quality of his eyes suggested that he wasn’t fully processing any of the events occurring at present, and when Severus met his gaze, the normally vibrant, intelligent green eyes seemed dulled and vacant. He appeared even smaller than usual, as though the life force that had held him upright had abandoned him. Or perhaps, the child had abandoned it.

Severus forced himself to focus on the most immediate concern. The boy did not appear to have lost a great deal of blood, but the bleeding hadn’t ebbed, and the child looked moments away from collapse. He shifted his grip from the boy’s wrist to his upper arm in preparation to lead him out of the room.

“You require several potions. Come.”

Without pausing for a response, Severus gently tugged on the child’s arm, pulling him to stand. But when the boy rose, his knees buckled, and his eyes rolled backwards into a faint. Severus cursed, catching the boy before he hit the ground and scooping him up. 

He walked down two flights of stairs to his laboratory, refusing to allow himself to think too hard. He could worry later. He could admonish himself for his neglect of the boy’s needs later. Right now, he needed to focus his undivided attention on an ill, injured child.

Shifting the boy carefully in his arms, Severus entered the small room adjoining his lab and conjured a cot, then set the boy down on it gingerly. After determining that the boy’s vital signs were stable, Severus took several deep breaths.

Blood replenisher, iron supplement draught, nerve regenerator, if necessary.

Within moments, Severus was by the boy’s side, potions in hand. He then loosened the unconscious child’s jaws, pouring potions into his open mouth, and stroking the throat to prompt the child’s swallow reflex. Once the potions were administered, Severus leaned against the wall outside the small room, refusing to allow himself to sit. How could he have missed this? 

I didn’t think to look through his belongings. I didn’t know he had any belongings of his own. But that is no excuse; a child under my care was in possession of such a lethal object, and I overlooked it entirely. And why did the monitoring spells fail to work efficiently…? Of course, because they were not meant to detect harm the boy deliberately inflicted upon himself. It failed to occur to me to keep that in mind when I set the monitors. The sole reason I detected anything at all was because the child would have died had I waited too long.

He had failed. He had utterly, irrevocably failed to do the one job that he’d been entrusted with, the one task he’d sworn to undertake, not only to atone for past mistakes, but because he’d wanted to. He’d wanted to fix what had nearly broken this young boy in his care, this child that had surprised him at every turn and provoked emotions that he’d long thought buried too deeply to retrieve.

Simply put, he’d come to care for the child. He wanted this child to trust him and feel safe in his presence, though Merlin only knew how he could begin to build that trust when Severus had never given his own to anyone else. He could not undo it, this need that had grown so rapidly in him to give whatever he had to this boy, despite whatever pain would come his way upon allowing the boy to breach his own defenses. The sheer horror he’d experienced when he’d realized what the child had felt compelled to do…

Harry was no longer just a boy Severus had grudgingly taken in. He was his responsibility, his ward, and he would not shirk his duties. He was in far too deep, now, and there was no going back. Nor did he want to.

***

Harry opened his eyes and immediately closed them tightly against the light. His fists clenched around what felt like cotton, and the sensation of it had him opening his eyes again, his heart thudding frantically as he glanced around rapidly, unsure of where he was and how he’d gotten there. His eyes caught on a dark figure in his periphery, and he could not contain the panicked gasp that escaped his lungs. He’d taken to sleeping in the grassy, partially concealed area near the homeless shelter, because he couldn’t bring himself to actually sleep inside it for fear of someone sending him back to the Dursleys, but that strange man who slept nearby kept looking at him with that odd glint in his eye, and he never bothered to look away when Harry noticed him staring. Had that man taken him somewhere? What did he want? Would he-

Harry cringed back and wrapped his arms around his chest when the dark figure approached him. He sat up abruptly, then froze when a hand settled on his shoulder, blinking several times until the figure came into full focus.

Snape.

Recent events made their way steadily back into Harry’s awareness. He glanced around the room slowly and found that he was lying on a cot in the room that adjoined Snape’s potions lab. 

“Lie back.”

Harry jumped at the sound of Snape’s voice, his shoulders momentarily hunching against his ears before he let them drop, and he allowed Snape to push him backwards against the pillow.

“Do not sit up, I will raise the back of the cot.”

Snape flicked his wand, and Harry felt the upper half of his cot push upward so he was propped up into a half-lying, half-sitting position. Snape then proffered a glass bottle seemingly out of nowhere filled with a watery, dark brown substance and handed it over.

“Blood replenisher. I gave some to you earlier, but you require a second dose.”

Harry obediently swallowed the potion, grimacing at its metallic taste. Once Harry had drained the bottle, Snape handed him a glass of water, which Harry gulped down gratefully. He hadn’t realized how thirsty he’d been. 

Snape handed him another potion, pale yellow, this time. “For weakness and vertigo.”

Harry swallowed the unpleasantly slimy, but thankfully tasteless brew, and a dizziness and weakness he hadn’t even noticed he was experiencing ebbed away, leaving him feeling clear-headed and energized.

No, I don’t want to feel like this. I was almost there. And then he had to show up.

But did he really not want it? Snape’s ministrations, and his matter-of-fact approach in dealing with the situation that Harry had created and the inconvenience he’d caused made Harry feel something different. Something other than the unrelenting fury and dread that had been consuming him for ages.

He must really not want me to die... Get a grip, he’d be in trouble if I died on his watch. That’s why he’s doing this.

That thought made Harry feel calmer, somehow. The lack of conflict was easier to cope with. Snape wordlessly handed him another glass of water, watching as Harry drained it slowly. 

After a few moments of silence, Snape cleared his throat. “I trust you are now feeling well enough to walk?”

Harry nodded, his eyes on his fingernails, as he rose carefully out of the cot into a standing position. He did feel okay. Physically, at least.

I don’t want to feel okay. I don’t want to feel anything.

“You will join me in the sitting room, and we will discuss this,” Snape said in a tone Harry couldn’t decipher.

He allowed Snape to lead him out of the lab and up the stairs to the sitting room, where he was guided to sit on the couch, and Snape, instead of sitting across from him, sat down directly beside him. Harry hunched his shoulders, but that did not prevent Snape from gripping them firmly, turning Harry to face him.

“Look at me.”

Harry swallowed, staring resolutely at his lap, unable to lift his head even if he’d wanted to look away from the familiar, predictable wood of the floor towards whatever expression Snape had on his face.

“Harry.”

The use of his first name startled Harry enough to jerk him out of his frozen sort of trance, and he looked up to meet Snape’s eyes.

“Can you explain?” It wasn’t a demand. Harry could see on the man’s face and hear in his voice that it was no more than a question that he desired the answer to.

Could Harry explain?

Harry opened his mouth, then closed it again. He couldn’t speak. He was, just as the first time he’d met the man, trapped in Snape’s dark, magnetic gaze, but it was different this time. There was anger there, perhaps, if Harry looked hard enough, but there was also concern. Warmth. And… something else.

No adult had ever looked at him that way. Ever. He’d only ever seen scorn, fury, hatred, and disgust in the eyes of all those who’d been meant to care for him. Snape’s gaze was new.  Singular. And Harry couldn’t bear it.

He felt a pressure behind his eyes, and a stinging in their corners.

No. no crying-

But Harry couldn’t stop it. Years of pent up pain, fear, and anguish burst forth from him in a torrent of tears. Harry pulled himself out of Snape’s grip, hiding his face in his hands, elbows digging into his thighs. His entire body shook with the force of his sobs, and with the effort it took to keep them quiet.

After a moment, Harry felt something. An arm was reaching carefully across his shoulder blades, coming to rest on the outside of his upper arm, pulling him close. Harry fought it for a moment, but then gave in, collapsing against Snape’s side.

They both remained in that position for an undetermined length of time, with Snape’s arm holding Harry firmly against his side, while Harry sobbed near-silently, his face still hidden in his tear-soaked hands.

Snape did not speak, for which Harry was grateful. He did not tell Harry to stop crying. He didn’t scorn him for it, nor did he attempt to end the tears by means of comforting words. He just sat with Harry, holding him, allowing him to let out his tears.

Eventually, Harry’s tears ebbed, and he pulled against Snape’s grip. The man released him, giving Harry a few moments to collect himself. Harry wiped his face with his sleeve, too drained to feel embarrassed, as much as he knew he should. Though exhausted, Harry felt as though he’d been relieved of a weight he’d been carrying for years. Had it been the tears, or the subsequent comfort that had relieved him of it? 

Harry looked up when he felt hands on his shoulders. He met Snape’s gaze unflinchingly.

“Why, Harry?” Snape’s voice was low, almost a whisper, and his eyes did not leave Harry’s, they did not even blink, as though the answer to his question was all that mattered.

I have to answer, I owe him that much.  

Why had he done it, and what had driven him to do it now, while his life had been better these past few weeks than it had ever been before?

The answer came to him.

“I was t-trying-” Harry’s voice emerged as a rasp. He cleared his throat, which felt as though it was coated in sawdust.

“I was trying too hard to s-survive to realize that I- I-”

That I didn’t want to.

Harry bit his lip and tried to look away, but Snape grasped his chin, holding his head in place. Harry looked carefully at the man, whose face was lined with tension, and his eyes seemed shadowed with something more than the current predicament. Something old.

“I know, Harry,” Snape said in a low voice, his eyes fully fixed upon Harry’s. “I know that the pain can become so great that you cease to feel anything at all. It chokes you, it binds you, until you lose yourself entirely to its clutches. Until the pain is all you know, and you cannot separate yourself from it.”

Harry inhaled sharply at those words. He stared at Snape, and that was when he knew. Snape did know. Snape understood what he’d felt, and what had driven him to such desperate actions. Snape wasn’t angry, he understood. Because he’d been there, too.

“You- you do know,” Harry whispered.

Snape nodded once, slowly, reaching out a hand to grasp Harry’s. 

“As much as it feels as though you are, you are not alone,” said Snape, his gaze fixed, focused, and his voice projecting utter conviction.

I should be. I don’t need anyone. I can’t depend on anyone. I should be able to be alone.

Snape seemed to know where Harry’s thoughts were going.

“You cannot be strong all the time, Harry. Nor should you have to be. You can let others in. Allow them to hold you up when you can do so no longer.”

Harry stared at the man, not blinking even when his eyes started to burn. The words Snape had spoken sounded almost like another language, words too foreign for him to translate into one he understood. But the man’s voice required no interpretation. It spoke of so many things Harry did not need to translate. It spoke of certainty, of understanding, and of hard-earned knowledge that might never be shared in words but conveyed in every way besides. It was a voice that Harry could not disbelieve.

“Harry.”

Harry looked up at Snape’s voice, straight into his eyes. Snape’s hands were on his shoulders again. They felt warm.

“Will you let me, Harry? Will you let me be that person?”

Harry did not look away from Snape’s eyes. Eyes that could hold secrets, carry burdens that no one else could. They were eyes that would not fail him.

Slowly, his gaze never leaving Snape’s, Harry nodded.

Chapter Text

Snape’s hand was warm on Harry’s shoulder as he led him upstairs. Harry didn’t try to shake it off; he didn’t want to. In truth, he felt as if that hand was the one anchor holding him upright.

He’s right, I really can’t do it myself. How pathetic can I get? Now he thinks I’m some mental case that needs counseling, and I just cried all over him like a baby-

“Harry.” Snape’s deep voice cut into Harry’s internal tirade. Harry looked up to see Snape’s face, laced with what he’d come to understand was concern. Snape never really displayed much in the way of facial expression, but now, it wasn’t quite so hard to decipher. Harry grimaced, looking away. He didn’t want pity.

Harry set his gaze resolutely forward as Snape escorted him into his bedroom, directing him to sit on the bed.

“Please wait here for a moment – do not leave the room – and I will return momentarily,” Snape said in a level tone.

Harry nodded and stared at his hands, which were folded neatly on his lap. There was a silent pause, where Snape seemed to want to say more, but he then simply turned and left the room, closing the door behind him halfway.

Harry examined the inside of his wrist. All that remained of the… incision was a faint white line. Yes, that sounded good. Incision. A detached, formal way of expressing what he’d really done. He was not out of control. His actions had been planned, calculated, and if not for Snape…

But is that really true? I made it easy for him to stop me. I left the door unlocked, and the light on, and I didn’t even fight him when he started healing it. True, he could’ve done it anyway, but still, it’s like I wanted him to find out. Did I?

Harry looked up as Snape re-entered the room. He was holding a small glass bottle filled with a thick, deep purple substance.

“Dreamless sleep,” Snape said quietly. “Normally, I would not encourage its use; however, I believe this is a time where an exception can be made.” He handed the bottle to Harry, who took it while avoiding Snape’s gaze.”

He thinks I’m a basket-case that needs to be drugged. And he’s right.

Harry crawled under his covers, and, without further hesitation, removed the cork and drained the bottle, almost immediately beginning to feel its effects.

It’s interesting how quickly potions take effect. Not like normal medicine , Harry thought drowsily as he flopped back into his pillows, barely noticing Snape pulling the empty bottle out of his hand. Through drooping eyelids and rapidly clouding vision, he could just make out the hazy image of Snape, now seated on a chair near the wall.

He didn’t leave… was Harry’s last vague thought before he drifted off.

***

Harry awoke slowly the next morning, feeling a bit groggy. He squinted at the clock, rubbing his eyes, finding it to be nearly half-past ten.

I never sleep this late. Must be the potion. Or being awake for half the night.

A bit unsteadily, Harry made his way to the bathroom. He blinked when he saw the spotless floor, rug restored to its proper place.

Snape must’ve cleaned up while I was asleep… my penknife!

Harry searched the floor frantically, and then the rest of the room, even the shower, but it wasn’t there.

Snape , Harry realized. He took it.

Harry calmed slightly. Snape probably hadn’t wanted to leave it lying around. He’d give it back, he had to.

I’ll ask him, first thing.

Harry exited his room, walking towards the stairs, and he stopped in his tracks when he heard Snape’s voice.

“Mr. Potter.”

Harry turned quickly to see Snape approaching from the other end of the hallway. Harry felt suddenly awkward. After all that had transpired the night before, it was difficult to look the man in the eye.

I need the penknife. Just get a grip and ask him.

Harry took a deep breath and peered up at Snape, who was looking down at him, his face unreadable.

“Uh, sir?” Harry’s voice came out hoarse. He cleared his throat. “Do you have my… er...?” He made a vague motion with his hand, unable to finish his sentence. Not after what had happened.

Snape inclined his head. “I do.” He pulled it out of his robes. “However-“

Disregarding whatever Snape was about to say, Harry reached out for it, but the man shook his head, holding the knife close to his chest. “Harry, I’m sure you understand why I cannot give this back to you at the present time.”

Harry bit his lip. Yes, he understood, but he needed it. It was the only weapon he had, the only thing he really had of his own.

I don’t care. I need it. He has no right to take it from me.

Good. Now Harry felt appropriately angry. It was so much easier than the tangle of overwhelming emotions he’d been grappling with up until now. The fear, the unpleasant ache in his chest, and the consistent, troubling sense that he was moments away from crying again all faded away in the face of his frustration. 

“Sir, I need it. Please.” Harry refused to sound desperate, or to beg. He’d said his piece, and he’d even said please. He wasn’t begging.

Harry saw a glimmer of something like sympathy in Snape’s eyes, but the man shook his head again. “I do understand why you feel you require it, but it would be entirely remiss of me to allow you to be in possession of such an object at this time.”

“Please, sir, I won’t do… that again. I just really need it.” Harry hated the pleading tone that had crept into his voice. But, damn it, he needed the penknife.

Snape exhaled slowly, and Harry could see his jaw tighten. “It is not my intention to permanently confiscate the blade from you. It will be returned to you when we both feel that you can handle it responsibly.”

Oh. So he wasn’t keeping it for good. But how long would it take for Snape to believe that Harry could be responsible? Years, probably.

I need it now. Give it back.

“But I-”

“Do you truly believe yourself to be in danger here?” Snape cut in.

Harry thought for a moment.

Only when Dumbledore’s here. Otherwise… I don’t know. Anything can happen, I need to be prepared.

Snape seemed to take Harry’s silence as an affirmation.

“Harry, you are entirely secure here. No one who wishes you harm has the ability to pass through my wards. I, and I alone, determine who may or may not enter the property.”

He lets Dumbledore in whenever he pleases. But clearly, Snape trusts him, though I can’t imagine why.

“Mr. Potter?”

Harry looked up, chewing his lip. “I just…” he mumbled, his voice trailing off.

Snape raised his eyebrows, waiting for Harry to continue, but when he did not, Snape blew out a breath. “Do you by now trust that I do not mean you harm?” 

Yes, Harry realized, I do trust that he won’t harm me.

“Y-yes, sir.”

Snape looked slightly relieved. “I will say this: if anyone who steps on to this property, or any person at all, for that matter, attempts anything untoward, I will personally ensure that said individual exists solely to regret it.” He reached out and cupped Harry’s chin in his hand to tilt up his face in the same manner he had the previous night. “You are under my protection, and I do not shirk my duties. Ever.”

Harry stared back at Snape, wide eyed. Apparently satisfied that he’d gotten Harry’s attention, the man continued. “At the present time, my duties include protecting you from yourself.”

The urge to cry resurfaced once more, but Harry shoved it back fiercely, pulling out of Snape’s grip and turning his face away.

He cares. He really does. I don’t know why, but he does.

“Am I understood?” Snape said in a stern tone, turning Harry by the shoulders once more to face him.

“Yes, sir,” Harry whispered.

Snape was silent for a moment, regarding Harry carefully. “Good. Come join me for breakfast.” He turned and walked down the stairs toward the kitchen, Harry following several paces behind.

“You didn’t eat yet?” Harry asked tentatively as they sat at the table.

“I have not yet had the chance.”

Because of Harry, probably. Because he was weak and couldn’t keep it together and-

“Mr. Potter,” Snape’s smooth voice cut in. “Do you plan on eating at any point in the foreseeable future?”

Harry nodded, head down, and proceeded to fill his plate, barely noticing what he was serving himself.

He probably thinks I’m an immature nutcase. I cried all over him. I let him hug me, like a needy little… Now he definitely won’t want to deal with me anymore. I completely lost it, I let myself go too much. That’s not okay. It’s weakness. I’m weak. A weak little baby.

Harry gripped his fork with unnecessary force, all but smashing his food into a pulp with the prongs.

“Harry.”

Harry looked up reluctantly to focus on Snape’s shirt collar.

“Do you believe, upon the day’s previous events, that I am inclined towards judging you in an unfavorable light?”

Yeah, that sounds about right.

Snape, of course, knew what Harry was thinking. He lowered his head slightly to meet Harry’s gaze. “You are laboring under a misapprehension. I am in no way judging you, nor has my assessment of you been in any way negatively impacted by your actions.”

“Why not?” Harry burst out, then almost immediately froze. He could have kicked himself. What had he been thinking, yelling at Snape again?

“Harry.”

Harry flinched at the man’s tone and the inexplicable absence of anger in it, feeling undone. He watched Snape anxiously, who’d opened his mouth to speak again.

“Only the simple-minded and ignorant would dare judge another for their methods of coping with pain,” Snape said harshly.

Harry stared.

“Considering the suffering I’ve no doubt you have undergone, I am more inclined toward admiration of your forbearance than judgment of your attempt to… escape.”

Harry couldn’t help it; his jaw dropped.

Good,” Snape said softly. “I have your attention.” He pressed his palms flat on the table and leaned closer. “I am well-acquainted with the emotions that may lead to the drastic measures you have felt it necessary to turn to." 

Harry clenched his fists on his lap, unable to look away even if he wanted to.

"The knowledge that I possess puts me in a position to provide you with the help you need, if you would but allow me.” Snape’s tone had grown sharper, and steadily louder, and his face was mere inches away from Harry’s.

“I…” Harry whispered. His eyes were darting rapidly left to right, his instincts screaming danger. He ignored those feelings. Snape wasn’t lying; this was for real. Snape wanted to help, Snape cared, for whatever unfathomable reason he had.

Snape reached out a hand to cover Harry’s, which was now resting on the table, slackened. “You need not say anything,” he said quietly. He let go of Harry’s hand and rose from his seat. “I prefer not to leave you alone, at present, so join me in my office while I work. I have books stored there that will undoubtedly pique your interest.”

Snape flicked his wand to clear the table and swept out of the room. Harry followed him into his office, where the man conjured an armchair not unlike the one Harry often used in the library. Snape then sat at his desk, beginning his work, for which Harry was grateful. It seemed that Snape knew that he needed his space. Once he selected a few books that looked interesting and curled up in the chair, Harry felt almost calm. However odd it was, he felt safe here with Snape.

Safe enough, apparently, to begin nodding off after an hour or so of reading. A few times, Harry managed to snap himself back to awareness after feeling his head slowly tilting to the side of its own volition and his eyes drooping. He could only fight it off for so long, though, and he eventually fell asleep completely.

And he dreamed.

It feels familiar, as though he’s been here before but forgot, or buried the memory away. He is in his cupboard, in bed, but he’s hovering above it, ever so slightly.

“Harry…” a voice whispers. It sounds distant, but not as though it’s far away. It’s close, so very close, but he can’t quite reach it.

He blinks his eyes open several times, and when he squints, he can just make out the visage of a young woman with a shock of red hair. He can’t say for sure, but it looks like she’s smiling. A smile that’s for him, and him alone.

And then there’s a flash of blinding green light, and a scream, a terrible, agonized scream that carries many layers of meaning, more words within it than if they had been spoken. He feels an awful, searing ache in his chest, not physical, but so much worse. Because he knows what it means, that green light, that scream. He knows it means the indescribable loss of something so very primal, so very needed, that he just might fade away in its absence.

But then he feels something else, something powerful enough to briefly overshadow the unbearable ache inside of him. It is fierce, it is warm, and it is older than time. He can see it plainly before him; as the red-haired woman steps into the path of that light, the horrid green light, she leaves something behind. It is her pain, and her sorrow, but it is also certainty. Certainty in her choice to walk forward instead of back, to throw herself into the light, because it is for her son. She will do everything for him, give everything to him, she will watch the world burn to ashes if it means he will live, and be happy, even if she will not. It is love, and it keeps him alive.

Harry woke quite suddenly at the sensation of a gust of cold wind brushing his face. His eyes shot open, but, oddly enough, he wasn’t alarmed. He squinted at Snape, who was standing several feet away and holding his wand loosely at his side.

“I thought it best to wake you, or you might find it difficult to sleep tonight.”

Harry blinked several times, his vision oddly blurred. When he reached up to rub at his eyes, his hand came away wet. He stared at it for a moment. Had he been crying in his sleep? He tried to wipe away the residual tears with his sleeve surreptitiously, but there was no way Snape hadn’t noticed.

He straightened in his seat, clearing his throat, and chanced a glance at Snape. The man was staring at him, but he made no move to comment.

“Did you just cast a spell on me?” Harry asked quickly, hoping he didn’t look as disconcerted as he felt.

The man nodded, storing his wand in his robes. “It was a modified version of the Ventus Spell, which is designed to produce a powerful gust of wind. I thought it the most efficient way to wake you.”

Harry nodded, blinking away the last vestiges of sleep from his eyes. “Is it- is it time for lunch?” he asked.

“Just about,” Snape said.

As Harry trailed behind Snape to the kitchen for lunch, he cast around, a bit desperately, for another question to ask, in the hopes of putting off the imminent conversation he knew he’d have to have with the man at some point.

“How do broomsticks work, sir?” Harry asked, after swallowing a bite of food. He’d just spent the last several hours engrossed in a book about magical sports, and he had been wondering.

Snape’s lips twitched slightly, as though he knew what Harry’s game was but was willing to play along. “I suppose you are asking how broomsticks function in terms of physics?” 

Harry nodded.

“Well, have you drawn any conclusions on your own, Mr. Potter?”

Harry narrowed his eyes in thought. He’d considered the functionality of airplanes, originally, but just as they hadn’t explained the Hover charm, they didn’t explain brooms, either.

No, brooms move differently, and they’re built differently, too.

Harry frowned, shaking his head. 

Snape leaned forward slightly. “I would say that broomsticks move in a manner most similar to rockets.”

Harry furrowed his brow. How did that make sense? Rockets only ever moved at high speeds, unlike brooms, which could apparently move at varying speeds, as well as hover in the air, unmoving. He chewed his lip.

“I presume you are aware of the mechanics of rockets?”

Harry tilted his head. “Maybe a little.”

“Explain what you know.”

“I know that rockets are propelled by, er, high-pressure gas, I think,” Harry said, straightening his back.

Snape inclined his head. “Correct. It is my understanding that rockets move by Newton’s third law of equal and opposite reactions. The rocket engine forces high-pressure gas in one direction, causing the rocket to accelerate in the other direction.”

Harry nodded.

“Broomsticks work in much the same way. The magic stored within the broom is released through its bristles, which expand outward similarly to a rocket. The released energy therefore propels the broom forward.”

“How is the magic stored in the broom? Is there a spell?” Harry asked.

Snape cocked his head slightly, looking thoughtful. “Broomsticks designed for flight cannot be made by just anyone. The development of broomsticks requires extensive knowledge and skill."

“Do you know how?” Harry asked.

“Are you perhaps interested in pursuing a career in broomstick development, Mr. Potter?” asked Snape, looking a bit amused. By Snape’s standards, anyway.

Harry shrugged. “I don’t know, I was just curious.”

Snape quirked his lips. “I do not possess extensive knowledge on the subject, nor do I own many books on the topic, however, perhaps we can procure one for your use.”

Harry felt his breath catch in his chest. He swallowed hard, looking down. “Thank you.”

Snape cleared his throat, and Harry looked up again. Snape seemed to be on the verge of speaking; weighing his words, perhaps. “Would you…,” the man began, “perhaps like to gain some practical experience in that area?”

“You- you have a broom, sir?” Harry asked, holding his breath.

Snape inclined his head. “Indeed I do. Would you like to try it for yourself?”

That would be the coolest thing ever. Would he really let me?

Several memories rose, unbidden, of offers made available, only to scorn Harry for his gullibility in believing that they were genuine…

You want dinner? Well, you won’t be getting any.

Would you like to be let out of the cupboard? Too bad.

Harry shoved the memories away forcefully. Snape wasn’t like that. Snape had never said anything he hadn’t meant, for good or for bad. Not to Harry. 

Harry looked at Snape, who was awaiting his response, though his expression was unreadable.

“I would like that, sir.”

Snape waved his wand, and Harry couldn’t help jumping when a broomstick zoomed through the doorway into the man’s hand.

“Very well,” he said briskly. “If you will join me outdoors…”

Harry followed Snape outside, then took the broom from Snape’s proffered hand. He examined it, turning it in his hand delicately.

“I’m afraid my broomstick is rather timeworn,” Snape said gruffly. “Most children today tend to hanker after the latest models.”

There are models of broomsticks? That’s just… strange.

Harry turned toward Snape. “How do I…?”

Snape waved a hand. “I suggest you simply do what comes naturally. I suspect you will have no trouble.” Snape’s voice sounded a bit hard, and Harry chewed his lip nervously. Snape seemed to notice this and gave Harry a gentle pat on the back.

“Go.”

Do what comes naturally. Okaaay.

Harry swung a leg over the broom, pushed off from the ground, and shot up into the air at an alarming speed.

This. Is. Amazing.

As Harry zoomed through the air, he felt a jolt of pure joy rip through him. He had never felt such an emotion before. This was different; an entirely indescribable experience. He didn’t have to think, or to try. It felt as though he and the broom had become one, and he flew as though he’d been born to do so.

A wide grin blossomed across his face, his facial muscles feeling oddly tight from lack of use. He laughed; a loud, joyous sound that he’d never heard come from his own mouth.

Harry dived, rose, twisted and turned, flying through rays of sunlight that peeked through wide, fluffy clouds.

He felt as though everything that had been wrong with his life, wrong with him, had been left behind on the ground far below. He wasn’t the unwanted burden passed around and shoved away. He was just Harry, a wizard boy flying through the air with an ability that was his birthright.

Up here, nothing mattered at all except him and the broom. Here, he was strong and capable, far from anything or anyone that meant to hurt him. Zooming through the air, magic crackling around him, Harry was unencumbered. He was free, if just for now.

Chapter Text

Severus felt somewhat conflicted as he watched Harry take off. He’d been hesitant to allow the child to fly, and not least because of his recent suicide attempt. Yet that hadn’t been enough to stop him from giving the child this one good thing among all the mistakes he’d made with the boy. Even if seeing him fly reminded Severus of James Potter, in all his glory, zooming across the Quidditch field as if he owned the place.

But the child was not James Potter. Yes, he looked uncannily like his late father, and he’d clearly inherited his skill on a broomstick as well, but he was Harry, a boy who hadn’t let himself be broken, no matter how close he’d come. A child with a keen mind and wit that often took Severus by surprise.

His eyes were following the child carefully, wand at the ready lest the child attempt a dangerous maneuver, yet a distant noise still managed to startled him. After a moment, he realized what it was.

The child was laughing.

Severus felt a rush of warmth in his chest upon hearing it. His actions alone had given the boy a chance to really be a child , if just for a short while. In that moment, any lingering unpleasant thoughts relating to James Potter melted away. The child was happy, and if flying gave him such joy, Severus would not hesitate to allow the child flying time whenever he wished it.

Severus watched Harry fly for another long while, a faint smile hovering upon his lips.

Eventually, the boy landed, far too forcefully, in Severus’ opinion, and he was about to say as much when he saw the child’s face. Harry was smiling; grinning, really, his eyes sparkling, cheeks flushed, and hair windswept. He handed the broomstick to Severus, with the all too rare smile lighting up his face.

“Thank you, sir,” said Harry breathlessly, brushing his tousled hair out of his eyes.

Severus quirked his lips at the child, which had Harry smiling shyly back. “I take it that you have enjoyed that, Mr. Potter?” said Severus, his gruff tone hiding his discomfort at the child’s obvious gratitude.

Harry nodded rapidly; the child-like gesture heartening Severus more than he cared to admit.

“Yes, sir. It was… incredible.”

“I am glad to hear it; you certainly took to it quite well.”

The boy looked down, clearly uncomfortable with the praise, but still smiling, nonetheless. Severus motioned toward Harry to follow him, and he led the way inside, broomstick in hand. He noticed Harry looking on a bit wistfully as he stored the broomstick in its cupboard, and he turned to face the child in preparation to rectify that.

“You will be allowed to make use of the broom again; there is no reason why you should not be.”

The boy stared, with a more open expression of surprise than Severus had seen on his face before. “R-really, sir?” 

Severus raised his eyebrows at the boy. “Certainly. I did not make that offer for my health. I rarely fly, so for all intents and purposes, the broom is yours to use.”

Harry swallowed, looking overwhelmed and bit wary. He opened his mouth, then closed it again, as though unsure of what to say.

He fears that I may demand something of him in return, Severus realized, feeling a surge of fury at those who had damaged the child so. He was sure not to let his feelings show as not to alarm the boy.

“It causes me no trouble to grant you use of the broom. All I expect of you is to exercise caution– in all your behaviors,” he said pointedly. He felt heartless when the boy flushed and looked away at his statement.

It had to be said. Regardless of a short respite, the boy is still struggling greatly.

“Yes, sir,” Harry mumbled.

“Good,” said Severus. “Come join me in the lab before lunch, if you would.”

Severus set the boy to brew an altered version of the Calming Draught, which was designed to produce a more subtle calming effect than the original formulation and was simpler to brew, keeping a sharp eye on him all the while.

I will have to speak with him later. It will upset him, surely, to discuss his past, but it is necessary. I simply must be sure to question him in the correct manner. I may lose him all together if I push too hard.

***

I can’t believe he did that for me, Harry thought as he mashed his beetle eyes. He knew I’d like flying, and I didn’t even have to ask. He just gave it to me for free. He gives me everything for free. And he teaches me potions just because he knows I enjoy it, even though it’s probably an inconvenience for him.

Harry wondered if potions were invented regularly, and if Snape had ever done it.

Just ask him, no reason not to. He's answered my questions before.

Harry looked up from his beetle eyes toward Snape discreetly. It seemed that the man had paused to allow his potion to simmer, and was brushing a stray clump of hair out of his face.

“Sir?” Harry asked tentatively.

 Snape looked up, eyebrows raised. “Yes?”

“Have you ever invented any potions?”

“Certainly.”

“What have you invented? When did you start? How-”

Snape let out a huff of breath that sounded suspiciously like a chuckle. “I began experimenting in my youth,” he began, looking a bit amused, as though in reminiscence of past events.

“What did you invent, then, sir?”

“I was a rather… vengeful young man, so I set out to exact revenge upon certain individuals who I felt had wronged me. I therefore created a potion meant to induce uncontrollable laughter in the drinker."

Harry bit back a laugh. “Did it work?”

“Seeing that it landed six individuals in the hospital wing, I do believe it did.”

Harry’s lips twitched. “Any others?”

Snape looked thoughtful. “I do recall one other, meant to induce severe indigestion.”

“I assume that worked as well, sir?” Harry asked, unable to force back a grin at the thought of what that might entail.

Snape smirked. “I was rather fortunate not to be implicated, considering the fallout.”

He’s way too good at this to just teach…

“You do more than teach potions, don’t you?”

“Astute observation, Mr. Potter.”

Was that a yes?

Harry looked at Snape inquiringly. “Do you develop potions now?”

Snape nodded, an intent expression on his face. “For many years I have been in correspondence with several potioneers like myself, developing new or improving existing brews.”

That is such a cool job. I wonder why he teaches… That’s probably too personal, I can’t ask.

“What sort of potions have you worked on?”

Snape paused as he took a moment to raise the flame beneath his cauldron. “Recently, I have been in correspondence with a colleague to develop what we’ve named the Adrenaline Draught, designed to aid in combating severe allergic reactions, particularly in children.” He paused fiddling with the temperature. “Additionally, for the greater part of six years, I and several others have been involved in extensive research on the development of the Wolfsbane Potion, which has been perfected only very recently.”

“What’s the Wolfsbane Potion?” Harry asked interestedly.

Snape finished stabilizing the heat and looked up again. “You are aware that werewolves do indeed exist?”

Harry nodded; in fact, he’d been quite interested to learn that many mythical creatures he had heard of, growing up, did exist.

“The Wolfsbane Potion allows the drinker to keep their human mind upon the transformation.”

“How does it work? In the brain, I mean.”

Snape looked a bit surprised at the question. He studied Harry carefully for a moment, his gaze unusually soft. Harry lowered his eyes, unsure of what was expected of him. He was relieved when Snape spoke again.

“Werewolves, at the time they are bitten, rapidly develop an entirely animalistic area of their brains, which is brought to the forefront at the time of transformation, and, on a lesser scale, when the subject loses control of their emotions while in human form.”

Harry nodded, forgetting entirely about his potion, which was due to be stirred again.

“The Wolfsbane Potion, as a result of the interaction of its various ingredients, primarily inhibits the sympathetic nervous system. You are aware of its mechanics, Mr. Potter?”

Harry nodded. In primary school, he’d once snuck over to the neighboring high school to hide from Dudley and his gang, and he’d found an anatomy textbook in the deserted science classroom. He’d read that a hormone called adrenaline activated the fight or flight reaction in response to perceived danger, and in that moment, a person was driven by pure instinct. Animal instinct.

Incidentally, it had explained quite a bit about why Harry often felt strangely panicky at seemingly random times.

“Mr. Potter, your potion,” Snape warned.

Harry looked up quickly; he’d left it simmering for far too long, so it was bubbling madly, and the color had darkened considerably. He quickly turned off the flame, stirring rapidly. Once the bubbling had slowed, Harry looked up nervously at Snape. Was he annoyed that Harry had messed up?

Snape seemed quite unconcerned. “A handful of mint leaves will suffice as a cooling agent.”

Harry nodded quickly, obeying, and he was relieved to see that the potion paled and thickened slightly, as it was meant to.

“Bottle the potion, Mr. Potter. I believe we can continue our conversation upstairs. It’s time for lunch.”

Harry did so, then followed Snape upstairs to the kitchen for lunch. Once seated, Harry looked up, eager to continue their conversation. Snape swallowed a bite of food.

“Ah, yes. We were discussing the impact of the Wolfsbane potion on the sympathetic nervous system.” Snape paused to take a swallow of water from his glass. “A chemical messenger, acetylcholine, stimulates the release of adrenaline and noradrenaline. You are aware of what those are?”

“Yes, sir. They’re the fight or flight hormones.”

“Correct. The Wolfsbane potion inhibits the release of acetylcholine, thereby preventing the release of said hormones, which, in turn, inhibits the sympathetic nervous system. You understand why such a process would allow a werewolf to retain their human mind?”

Harry chewed his lip. “I suppose the sympathetic nervous system is very active during transformations, and the new area of their brain is… activated?

“Very good.” 

A thought occurred to Harry just then. “What would happen if a, er, non-werewolf took the potion?”

Snape raised his eyebrows. “A purely hypothetical query, I hope?”

Harry nodded quickly, suppressing a smile.

“Should a non-lycanthrope ingest even a small amount of the Wolfsbane potion, it would send them into a deep coma from which they may never wake, and would certainly permanently damage their nervous system, even if they did.”

I guess that would happen because the potion needs to be really powerful in order to overcome the wolf brain, so a human brain would be completely overwhelmed by it…

“Have you worked on any other potions, sir?” Harry asked.

“As you have not yet begun to eat, I believe we can continue this conversation at a later point in time.”

Harry nodded reluctantly, realizing that he hadn’t yet even served himself. He ate quickly, all the while itching to go to the library to research more on the topic they’d been discussing.

***

The rest of the day continued at a surprisingly calming pace. Harry spent some more time in the lab, discussing Snape’s potions work, though Harry took care to pay more attention to his potion while doing so.

Later on, Harry joined Snape in his office to read for a while, as Snape did not want to leave Harry on his own. Harry didn’t object, though it made him feel like an invalid. He continually reminded himself not to feel resentful of the arrangement.

I did it to myself, Harry told himself firmly. It’s not as though he wants me underfoot at all hours of the day, he’s just doing what he has to. I have no right to complain.

Despite his inner tirade, Harry couldn’t help shifting in his seat, feeling crowded and irritated. It was hard to relax with a book when shut in a small room with another person, even if it was Snape. Every sound seemed amplified, as it often did when Harry felt anxious. The scratching of Snape’s quill sounded like nails raking down a blackboard, and even the ticking of the clock on the wall felt jarring.

Harry ground his teeth and loosened his grip on his book, allowing it to fall unceremoniously to the floor. He winced at the sound.

Snape looked up at the noise, one eyebrow raised.

“Sorry, sir,” Harry said quickly. “I didn’t mean to-”

“I take it you’ve had enough, Mr. Potter?” Snape interjected, not seeming particularly annoyed.

Harry nodded, unconsciously rubbing at his eyes.

“I think it’s time you prepared for bed. I had not noticed the time.”

Harry immediately tensed at that.

I can’t go to bed. I’ll have nightmares. I don’t want to sleep, I don’t want to think.

“Harry.”

Harry looked up, noticing that he’d clutched his arms around his chest, and was rocking back and forth in his chair slightly. He stopped moving, feeling foolish.

“You cannot take a potion tonight,” Snape said slowly. “However, I will assist you with clearing your mind.

He cleared off his desk with a quick wave of his wand, rising from his seat. “Come.”

Harry rose jerkily from his seat, picking up the book he’d dropped and storing it on its shelf. He then followed Snape upstairs, feeling an odd sense of déjà vu. At least Snape wasn’t half-carrying him upstairs this time.

When they reached Harry’s room, Snape sat on the chair near the wall, while Harry gathered up his pajamas to change in the bathroom. He emerged a few moments later, teeth brushed and pajama-clad. He climbed into bed, any residual good feelings from the surprisingly enjoyable day he’d had quickly evaporating.

Harry hunched a little when Snape walked over. He wasn’t a little kid; he didn’t need to be put to bed. Even when he had been a toddler no one had ever put him to bed. Snape seemed to disregard Harry’s embarrassment and pushed him back into his pillows.

“There is no shame in accepting help, Harry,” said Snape quietly, backing up a few feet.

Harry looked down, a tight feeling in his throat.

Why do I keep feeling like I want to cry? I don’t.

Harry felt Snape draw a bit closer, reaching out a hand to rest on the back of his head. He leaned unconsciously into the touch, flitting his eyes away when he felt them burn. Taking a slow, deep breath, Harry managed to shove back the tears that had been welling up in his eyes. Snape didn’t comment, for which Harry was grateful. Instead, he spoke in a whisper, talking Harry through the process of clearing his mind.

Slowly, Harry’s recent stressors began to fade away into the back of his mind, and all he was aware of was Snape’s low, soothing voice, and the gentle, calming sensation of Snape’s hand on his head.

Harry drifted off into a deep, untroubled sleep.

***

It was some time after breakfast the following day, and Harry was curled on his chair with a thick book. He’d been pleasantly surprised to find that, today, Snape had allowed him to be in the library unsupervised.

Though he probably has monitoring spells and stuff on me, just in case I…

Harry forced back his irritation at being treated like a child.

I don’t want to think about that.

Harry had only read a few more pages when he heard the library door open. He looked up quickly to see Snape standing by the doorway.

“Am I late for lunch?” Harry asked, glancing up at the clock. Snape shook his head, moving closer.

“No, lunch is not for a while yet. I would simply like to speak with you.”

Harry felt his stomach lurch. This was it. Snape was going to ask him all the questions he couldn’t answer, and then he’d have to remember everything. And the worst part was, he couldn’t object.

“Yes, sir,” Harry mumbled, setting down his book and rising to follow Snape out of the room. They entered the sitting room, and Snape pointed Harry toward the couch while he drew up a chair to sit facing Harry. Harry pushed back into the cushions, hunching his shoulders and unconsciously picking at the skin around his cuticles. He jumped slightly when he felt Snape gently pry his fingers apart. He looked up.

“This is not an interrogation, Harry.”

Harry nodded, attempting in vain to relax his shoulders.

“I am aware that you would prefer not to speak,” Snape said in a low voice. “But we must.” The man released Harry’s fingers and leaned back into his chair.

Harry nodded, biting down on his lip.

I don’t wanna talk, I don’t wanna talk, I don’t-

“Harry.”

“Yes, sir?”

“It is not my intention to cause you discomfort. I will only be asking you what I believe is vital for me to be aware of. If you feel you cannot answer, I will not insist you do so.”

Harry’s stomach unclenched a little. So he wouldn’t have to fight to keep certain things to himself. Snape wouldn’t insist. But he would try to give the man at least something. He owed that much to him.

“Okay,” Harry said in a slightly wavering voice. “I-I’ll try…”

“That is all I ask,” said Snape quietly. Snape leaned forward in his seat slightly, and Harry forced himself not to shrink back.

“Prior to your arrival here, you resided with your aunt, uncle, and cousin?”

Harry jerked his head in semblance of a nod, eyes on his lap.

If you don’t count my year long jaunt in the streets…

“How would you describe your relationship with them?”

“Not very well.”

“Why is that?”

Harry shrugged.

‘Cause they hated my guts and wanted me dead?

“We just didn’t like each other.”

Snape seemed to want to ask more about that, but he let it go, at least, for now. “Can you describe your late uncle for me?”

Harry tensed at that. “Large. And loud,” was all he opted to say. 

Snape nodded, his face inscrutable. “Did he take charge of discipline in the home?” 

Harry tensed even further, his breaths quickening.

I don’t want to answer that. But I have to say something.

“Yes,” Harry answered shortly.

“Harry.” Harry shifted his gaze from his fingernails to Snape’s face. “Can you try to expound upon that?” Snape asked quietly.

“Do the details really matter?” Harry asked tersely.

“They do. As I am in a position of authority over you, it is absolutely vital that I know how you have been treated in the past, so I can avoid erring in my interactions with you. I fear I have already done so out of ignorance.”

Harry took a deep, shuddering breath. Could he say anything to Snape? It wasn’t as though Vernon’s questionable methods of discipline would give the man any ideas. It was clear that Snape didn’t want to hurt him.

It’s obvious he knows, or suspects, that Vernon liked to push me around. It won’t change anything if I tell.

“Harry?” Snape pressed.

“He… when I messed up, he...” Harry mumbled, the last part of his sentence entirely incoherent.

“Would you care to repeat that, Mr. Potter?” Snape asked, the epitome of patience.

No, I would not care to repeat that, actually…

Harry felt himself growing unaccountably angry, and he forced himself not to snap at the man.

He doesn’t deserve that from me.

“He hit me,” Harry muttered, unable to conceal his frustration. Snape closed eyes, sighing heavily, but he did not seem surprised by Harry’s grudging revelation.

“Do you fear that I will do the same to you?” Snape asked, his face unreadable again.

Harry shook his head. “No. Not really.” Not when he was thinking rationally, at least. When his instincts took over, it was hard to distinguish the man he knew Snape to be from the general image of an imposing, adult male that had been built up in his mind ever since the first time Vernon had taken a swing at him.

There was a momentary pause, where Snape seemed to be weighing his words. He inhaled slowly to speak again. “For the incident that occurred in the library shortly after your arrival, I feel I have not apologized enough,” said Snape, leaning closer to Harry with his hands on his knees. “Under any circumstance, my behavior was reprehensible, but in light of what you have just confirmed for me, I cannot…” Snape’s voice trailed off.

“It’s all right, sir,” Harry mumbled.

Snape shook his head. “No, it most certainly is not. I can assure you, however, that it will not happen again.”

Harry nodded, chewing on his lip.

There was a brief, though tense pause before Snape spoke again. “You say you do not fear me, but considering the incident when I ordered you to face the wall…”

Harry cringed. Stupid stupid stupid. Why did I have to go and act all weird?

“Harry?” Harry looked up, realizing that he’d failed to register the rest of Snape’s question. He knew what the man was asking, though.

“It wasn’t you,” Harry whispered. Snape simply looked on patiently, eyebrows raised, compelling Harry to continue.

“I- it- I just don’t like when I can’t see who’s in the room. I thought you were… someone else.”

Brilliant. How eloquent. I’m sure that explains everything.

Harry was relieved to see Snape nod in understanding.

“I… I regret forcing you into a situation which frightened you,” said Snape, his dark eyes boring into Harry’s, willing him to take his words as truth.

Harry wanted to be angry at that comment. He wanted to valiantly deny that he had been afraid, that he had ever even been acquainted with the feeling.

But it was a lie.

He had been terrified. His whole life, really, he had been afraid; fear was the only emotion Harry hadn’t learned to shut away.

“I don’t think you would do what he- what he did. I just wasn’t thinking straight,” Harry said quietly.

Snape nodded slowly. “That is relieving to hear. However, I would prefer to avoid causing such reactions in the future, you understand.”

“Yes, sir.”

Snape leaned back into his chair, steepling his fingers. “Did your aunt ever intervene on your behalf?”

Harry swallowed, and he folded his arms over his chest. He felt as though the room had dropped several degrees. Uncle Vernon had been far more threatening than Petunia, at least, objectively. But Vernon had always been withholding of affection, even with Dudley to some degree. But Petunia had not been. Not with Dudley, with whom she showered with affection, and towards whom her gaze was never anything but adoring. But then she’d shift her gaze to Harry, and her face would transform instantly from loving to disgusted. And it made Harry feel far, far colder than in response to anything Vernon had ever done. It felt like despair.

“Harry?”

Harry shook his head fiercely, his hands trembling. “I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”

Harry felt Snape’s eyes on him as he tensed further, eyes trained on his knees.

“You may go.”

Harry fled to his room to curl up under his bed.

Wishing for his penknife.

Wishing for oblivion.

Chapter Text

Harry and Snape were at the breakfast table when their companionable silence was broken by a loud pop, and a large, reddish-brown owl materialized with an envelope tied to its leg. Harry could do nothing but stare.

“Ah, that must be your Hogwarts acceptance letter,” said Snape, setting down his fork. He reached out to untie the letter from the owl’s leg, which then promptly vanished with another pop.

A rush of anxious excitement rose up in Harry’s chest. He was really going to Hogwarts! At first, it had seemed like a fantastical sort of dream, and later on, when he’d decided to… well, he’d convinced himself that he didn’t want to go, anyway. But now he did.

“Why did the owl appear like that?” Harry asked, reaching for the letter from Snape's proffered hand.

“The enchantments surrounding the property prevents owls from flying in. Professor Dumbledore is aware of that, so it seems he made other arrangements.”

Harry nodded his understanding as he carefully opened the envelope, feeling a brief jolt of anger that arose at the mention of Dumbledore. He shoved the feeling aside as he eagerly unfolded the letter.

 

HOGWARTS SCHOOL of WITCHCRAFT and WIZARDRY

 

Headmaster: Albus Dumbledore

(Order of Merlin, First Class, Grand Sorc., Chf. Warlock,

Supreme Mugwump, International Confed. of Wizards)

Dear Mr. Potter,

We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Please find enclosed a list of all necessary books and equipment.

Term begins on 1 September. We await your owl by no later than 31 July.

Yours sincerely,

Minerva McGonagall, Deputy Headmistress  

 

Harry scanned the supply list with wide eyes. Robes, cauldron, wand… This was insane. And completely amazing. He read through the acceptance letter again, turning the thick, yellowish parchment in his hands.

Parchment… what century are these people living in…?

A thought suddenly occurred to Harry, and it felt as though a bucket of ice-cold water had been dumped on his head.

How was he supposed to pay for all of this?

That's it, then. I can’t go. I can’t pay for supplies, not to mention tuition, which is probably really expensive.

What had he expected? What had Snape expected? Why would he act as though Harry attending Hogwarts was a given when the man had to know that Harry had no money of his own. It wasn’t as though Snape was going to cover the expense...

Harry swallowed. “I don’t have any money, sir,” he said quietly.

There was a slight pause.

“Mr. Potter.”

Harry looked up to see Snape peering at him oddly.

“Surely, you…” Snape’s voice trailed off. Nonplussed, Harry waited for Snape to continue, confusion temporarily overcoming the bitter disappointment that he couldn't quite shove away.

Snape cleared his throat. “Harry, you have inherited a considerable sum of money from your father, who was descended from a long line of well-to-do wizards.”

Harry stared.

“That can’t be,” he said flatly.

“I assure you, I am not mistaken.”

Something in Snape’s voice convinced Harry that it was true. The man had never lied to him, at least as far as he knew, and, in any case, why would Snape lie about this? Harry stared at a discolored spot on the wall, his lips pressed together firmly. He had money. He was actually rich. He’d been told all his life what a financial burden he was, and that everything he was given was far more than he deserved, while he’d had piles of money waiting for him somewhere .

I could’ve bought my own house. I could’ve done anything. Gone anywhere. I could’ve gotten Jade and me out of hell. All of that… for nothing.

“Harry?” Snape cut into Harry’s internal diatribe, eyebrows raised in askance.

“It’s nothing,” Harry muttered. “I just… I never knew I had money.”

Snape nodded in understanding. “I imagine it must be something of a shock.”

Snape's matter-of-fact tone was enough to quell Harry’s sudden emotional upheaval, if not subdue it completely.

Fine. So I was rich all this time and I didn’t know. Get over it, at least I have a way to pay for school. It’s a good thing.

“Do wizards have banks? Harry asked quickly.

Snape nodded. “Yes, the largest one by far is called Gringotts, which is run by Goblins.”

Goblins?

What in the…?

“I gather that you are surprised to learn of that?” Snape said, looking amused.

Harry opened his mouth, then closed it, shrugging. I don’t know why I still get surprised by things like this.

Snape studied him for a moment. “If you are amenable, I will escort you to Diagon Alley, the nearest wizarding… shopping area, as muggles would refer to it, later this week.”

Harry nodded. “Yes, sir. Thank you.”

“It is no trouble,” said Snape, waving a dismissive hand as he cleared the table with the wand in his other.

“Now, go fetch the broomstick.”

Harry’s eyes widened, momentarily forgetting his upset. “R-really, sir?”

“Did I not tell you that you may fly again?” said Snape, exasperated.

“Y-yes, sir. I just didn’t…” Harry trailed off.

Snape closed his eyes briefly. “You did not believe me.” The man rose from his seat briskly, brushing some imaginary crumbs from his robes as he strode towards the door.

“For Merlin’s sake, don’t dawdle.”

Harry jumped slightly, then hurriedly fetched the broom and followed Snape outside.

***

It’s strange how differently I feel while I’m flying, Harry thought, curled up in the library sometime later. And as soon as I land, it’s back to normal. The bad normal. If I could just live my whole life flying I would be fine. But no, I have to stay down here and put up with everything.

Harry groaned in agitation as he closed his book. He couldn’t sit here anymore. He didn’t want to do anything, really, except fly. But Snape had made it quite clear that he wasn’t allowed to fly without supervision, and the man was obviously too busy to supervise him.

If I could just grab the broom and… No way. He’d kill me. Or, at least, never let me fly again.

Harry stood up abruptly and made for the door. If he sat here for one moment longer he might just pull his hair out.

I’ll go outside, then. He never said I couldn’t.

But, of course, as soon as he reached the doorway, he heard footsteps. Harry turned quickly to see Snape striding toward him.

Is he angry? How did he even know… The stupid monitors, that’s how. Why isn’t he saying anything?

“I just wanted to go outside, sir,” Harry said, careful to keep his frustration out of his voice. He forced himself to maintain eye contact, refusing to avert his gaze as Snape stared at him as though he were an interesting breed of beetle that he’d just procured for use in one of his more obscure potions.

“Perhaps you’d like to join me for a stroll, Mr. Potter.” Snape finally said.

Well, that took the winds right out of Harry’s sails. Join him for a stroll?

“Er… all right.”

“Good,” Snape nodded, opening the door, and Harry followed him, a bit bemusedly.

The air had cooled significantly since Harry’s flying session earlier in the day, and a breeze tousled Harry’s hair, a sensation that felt oddly soothing. Harry walked alongside Snape in silence for several moments, allowing the fresh air to calm him. It wasn’t like flying, but it was definitely preferable to being shut inside.

I’m taking a stroll with Snape. That’s extremely normal. Snape is absolutely a person I’d picture as a stroll-taker.

“Harry?” said Snape, pausing where he stood.

Harry looked up warily. “Yes, sir?”

Snape inhaled, straightening the cuffs of his sleeve. “I do understand that it is very difficult for you to speak with me about topics concerning your history.”

Harry clenched his fists, staring at the ground. So this was why they were taking a so-called stroll. It should have been obvious.

“Therefore,” Snape continued, tapping Harry’s shoulder to make him look up. “I propose to offer you an incentive, so to speak.”

An incentive? Well, that was interesting.

“I will make time in my schedule to supervise your flying more frequently, if you make a reasonable effort to answer my questions.”

Harry narrowed his eyes. “How frequently, sir?”

Snape’s eyes glimmered with amusement. “That would depend on how many questions are answered.”

Harry thought for a moment.

This could be worth it. I’m losing my mind, staying inside. But…

“What if I can’t answer certain questions?”

“Then I will attempt to steer the topic in a direction in which you feel more comfortable,” Snape replied smoothly. “I will still allow you flying time even if you cannot answer any, as I said I would do originally. Yet if you do answer my questions, you will simply have more flying time.”

“And if I say no?” Harry asked daringly. He needed to know all sides of this negotiation. It was only good business.

Snape’s lips twitched. “I would not force you to do so. However, I would be unable to allow you your independence for an extended period of time, as I would have no way of knowing how you are faring.”

This isn’t really a deal. It’s more of a reward system. If I agree, I get more flying time. If I don’t, I won’t be allowed anywhere alone. I suppose he doesn’t have to offer a reward, but he’s trying to make it easier for me. Nice of him, I suppose.

“I’ll accept, sir,” Harry said finally.

Snape inclined his head. “Very well.” He drew in a breath. “Now, if you make an effort at present, I will supervise your flying after dinner.”

“Yes, sir,” Harry said, chewing on his lip.

Just deal with it. It’s just questions, it’s just talking. It can’t hurt me.

Yet he could not prevent the cold fear from gripping at his chest.

It’ll go away when I fly. It’s fine.

Harry squared his shoulders. He could handle it. He wasn’t scared.

He looked up when Snape cleared his throat. “I will reiterate; this is not an interrogation. If you feel uncomfortable, I will not push you.”

“Yes, sir,” Harry muttered.

He walked alongside Snape reluctantly for several moments more, bracing himself for the coming onslaught.

“Can you describe for me your relationship with your late aunt?” Snape asked in a low voice, slowing his pace slightly.

Harry swallowed thickly.  “Nonexistent,” he said stiffly.

“How so?”

“We ignored each other unless she was giving me an order.”

‘Such as…?”

“Chores.”

“What sort of chores did she have you do?”

“Cooking, cleaning, garden work. Stuff like that.” Harry kicked a stray rock, watching as it rolled steadily down the slight incline of the walkway. Interesting. He wouldn’t have noticed the incline at all otherwise.

“How much time was your day spent on performing chores, on average?”

Harry jerked his head up. “Dunno. A while.”

Snape paused in his questioning for a moment, while Harry exhaled slowly, trying to ease the tension in his shoulders. His muscles immediately tensed again when Snape spoke.

“What of… recreation? Did you spend time with other children of your age?”

Harry was eternally grateful that he was walking beside Snape instead of sitting across from him. This way, the man could not see his expression.

“I didn’t get on with the kids at school.”

I’m not talking about Jade.

“No? Why is that?”

“They thought I was strange.”

If Dudley hadn’t already scared them off...

“Why do you believe that they thought you strange?”

“Because I wasn’t like them.”

“How so?”

“Dunno. I didn’t talk much in school.”

“Your linguistic abilities were too advanced for them to comprehend, perhaps?” 

Harry sort of smiled. “Something like that.”

“Is that all?”

Harry chewed on the inside of his lower lip. This wasn’t even the hard stuff to talk about, it was just… embarrassing. He forced himself to say something anyway. The more he spoke about the easy things, the more leeway he’d have to avoid talking about everything else.

“I just… I don’t know how to talk to people. I never know what to say.”

“That is understandable,” Snape said after a moment.

Was it? Harry shrugged listlessly. “I didn’t care. And I still don’t.”

“You had a cousin your age, did you not?”

Harry nodded jerkily.  “We didn’t get on either.”

There was a momentary pause, where Snape seemed to be weighing his words. Harry walked on in silence, kicking at more stones that came across his path.

“Was your cousin given chores as well?” Snape asked, smoothing the front of his cloak, which had been blown astray by the breeze.

Harry snorted.

Dudley, chores? That’s a good one.

“No,” he said flatly, masking the odd feeling that was rising up in his chest.

Dudley’s dead. He was ten, and he died. He didn’t deserve to die. But I don’t feel particularly bad, either. Does that make me a bad person, for not caring?

“Harry?” Snape prompted.

“He’s dead,” Harry whispered, without meaning to.

Snape sighed, then made a stifled movement, as though he was going to grasp Harry’s shoulder but thought better of it. Good. He didn’t deserve comfort, not when he didn’t care that a kid he’d known had died.

“He’s dead, and I don’t even care,” he bit out, his voice purposefully cold, but not quite hiding the tremor beneath it. Harry forced himself to look up. Snape’s expression was unreadable, but his eyes were focused upon Harry’s steadily, not seeming disgusted by Harry’s revelation.

Snape stopped where he stood, reaching out slowly to grip Harry’s shoulder, keeping him in place. Harry didn’t resist. “You did not have a positive relationship with him, nor with any of your relatives. Your response is in no way unusual,” he said firmly.

Harry shrugged, looking away. “Are we done?” he whispered, feeling spent.

“If you wish,” Snape replied, turning to walk back towards the house. Harry followed, relieved.

“Dinner is in an hour. I will supervise your flying after.”

“Yes, sir.”

***

Harry sat in the library, attempting to piece together his thoughts. The scattered, confused, irritating thoughts that had been plaguing him since yesterday, when Snape had to go and bring up the Dursleys.

Do I care at all that he died? If I didn’t, I wouldn’t even be thinking about it. Proof is, I’m not thinking about Vernon, ‘cause I’m glad he’s dead. That way, I’m safe.  From him, at least. Petunia… I don’t know. She probably wouldn’t have cared if I died. But Dudley was just a kid, even if he was an enormous prat. He didn’t really do anything to me.

Harry rubbed his eyes, worn out. A thought suddenly occurred to him.

He was my age and he died. I was supposed to die. He had everything he wanted. Parents who loved him. Money, toys. Friends. It would have been worth it for him to live. Not me, though. So why did I live, while he died?

But had Dudley really had everything he wanted?

Harry thought back…

Harry was nine.

It was another hot afternoon, and Harry had been ordered to paint the garden fence, never mind that he’d done it just four days ago. He figured Petunia just wanted him out of the house. He didn’t mind. It was always better to be outside, even in the heat of the day.

Harry shifted slightly when he heard the familiar shuffle of Dudley’s heavy tread. He braced himself for an onslaught of juvenile insults. But, instead, he heard a sniffle.

Dudley was crying. Real tears, this time, not one of the fake tantrums he threw almost daily. Harry shrugged to himself, and continued with his work. This Dudley was no threat, but, somehow, he was more difficult to ignore.

“You’re lucky, you know.”

Harry turned his head quickly at that. Lucky? Him? That was rich, coming from Dudley.

“Have you been sniffing glue?” Harry asked, eyebrows raised.

Dudley lifted his head, bloodshot eyes glistening with tears. Harry’s comment seemed to fly over his head.

“Dad doesn’t care what you do. For me, I have to… I dunno, do everything he does, or else he’ll hate me, too.”

“He wouldn’t do to you what he does to me,” Harry told him flatly.

Dudley squinted at him. “Maybe he would. He doesn’t like you, so he hits you, so if he didn’t like me, he’d hit me too.”

Harry rolled his eyes inwardly at Dudley’s logic. “But you’re his kid. It’s different,” he responded impatiently, turning back to the fence.

“That doesn’t matter. There are already things he wouldn’t- wouldn’t like about me, if he knew. And he’d try to s-squash it out of me, like he does you.”

Harry stared at Dudley. Trouble in paradise? Who knew?

“How does that make me lucky?” Harry asked, honestly wanting to know.

At that moment, Dudley’s small, blue eyes seemed to harden with a rarely seen spark of maturity.

“Because you know what to expect.”

As Harry mulled that over, the screen door banged open, and both he and Dudley jumped.

“Get back to that painting, boy!” Vernon bellowed. “If you don’t have that done in an hour… Dudley, what are you doing over there?”

Harry turned quickly back to the fence, and Dudley shoved him to the ground, paint splattering everywhere.

Harry closed his eyes. He didn’t want to think about it. Eyes still squeezed shut, he grabbed blindly at the nearest book from the pile on the table, which turned out to be a volume on magical creatures. He flipped it open randomly, needing to focus his thoughts on something else. He skimmed through the pages quickly.

Boggarts. Odd creatures. How is it possible that they can detect what a person’s worst fear is?

What was the purpose of such a creature? Did it really do any good for anyone to face their worst fear if it wasn’t even real?

What would a boggart turn into for me? And how can it know what my worst fear is when I’m not even sure myself.

What was his worst fear? There were many things that could qualify, but did one stand out above the others?

Do I even want to know?

I wonder what it would have turned into for Dudley… Probably Vernon hating him like he hated me… wanting to hurt him like… Stop. Just stop.

Harry shut the book with a loud snap, his mood rapidly plummeting.

I can’t do this. I can’t.

Harry curled up into a tight ball, palms pressed against his face. His heart beat sporadically as he rocked back and forth. He could feel himself shaking.

No. No. I need…

Clenching his hands into fists to stop them from trembling, Harry stood up, slipping outdoors as silently as he could. It was drizzling lightly, and the damp grass flattened beneath his feet as he walked. Uncurling his fingers to collect the raindrops, Harry paused where he stood. 

He searched the ground for some small object, anything, and spotted a few stray rocks. Leaning down, he grabbed the smallest one and set it down on the ground apart from the others. He focused carefully on it, as though trying to physically shove his stress straight into it. Only intending to make it hover in the air, he jerked back in shock when the stone, after rising a few inches into the air, shattered entirely.

I just shattered a stone. I must’ve been more stressed than I thought. Okay. That works too, I guess. Now, let’s see if I can do that again.

Harry focused whatever energy he had remaining on another stone, but instead, sent it flying into a nearby tree. He watched with interest as it bounced off the trunk and landed, partially concealed, into the wet grass.

Harry jumped and spun around when the door banged open. Snape exited the house, face tight, as though expecting the worst.

Monitors. Stupid things. What good are they if they can’t tell the difference between a knife and a rock?

Harry watched warily as Snape took in the scene, eyes traveling from Harry, who was breathing hard, to the shattered bits of stone scattered across the grass. The lines on the man’s face loosened slightly.

Harry then noticed that Snape was clutching a cauldron stirrer, pale gray potion residue dripping from it.

Snape sighed with exasperation.

“Come with me, I need a good hour to complete this potion without the threat of my imminent demise by heart failure.”

Chapter Text

Harry stared skeptically into the jar of white powder that Snape had handed him. He was supposed to toss this powder into the fire and stand in it? As if there was nothing life-threatening about that?

“I assure you, Mr. Potter,” Snape said, sounding impatient. “The Floo Network is one of the most mainstream magical methods of travel in existence. You have nothing to be concerned about.”

Harry just looked up at Snape warily, refusing to take a step closer to the ominous looking flames. Sure, he’d read about the Floo, but actually using it was an entirely different story. Though he had seen Dumbledore use it, he wouldn’t put it past the man to have orchestrated the entire event for some incomprehensible reason.

Death by fire is probably the worst way.

Harry swallowed hard, glaring at the fire distrustfully. 

“If I use it first, will you trust its safety?” Snape offered, albeit exasperatedly. He didn't seem angry, though, which was enough for Harry to slowly exhale, then nod, thrusting the jar in the man's direction. Snape grasped it, plucking a pinch of powder from the jar before setting it back on the mantel. He then tossed the powder into the fire, which immediately turned bright green, and Harry backed up slightly as Snape stepped into the fireplace.

“Diagon Alley,” the man said clearly, and he disappeared in a flash of green flame.

Okay. He didn’t burn up, apparently. So I just do what he did. Right. This is insane.

Harry shrugged, then pinched a bit of Floo powder from the jar. He tossed it into the flames, which had since returned to their normal state, and they glowed green yet again.

Here goes nothing.

Harry took a deep breath, then stuck the toe of his shoe into the fire. When it didn’t appear to be consumed, he stepped into the fireplace, half-braced for unbearable heat and horrible pain. He was pleasantly surprised to find that the flames felt like little more than a warm breeze.

I won’t even bother to try and figure out how this makes any sort of sense…

Harry opened his mouth to state his destination and accidentally knocked his heel against one of the burning logs. He abruptly inhaled a mouthful of ash.

“D-diag-on All-ey,” Harry choked out, his lungs desperately attempting to expel the ash.

I’m screwed, was Harry’s last thought as he was whisked away into a blur of flame and bricks.

***

Harry coughed violently as he rolled out of the fireplace, landing flat on his face in a strange, darkened room. There was no sign of Snape. He pulled himself slowly to his feet, trying to shake off the dizziness and nausea. He swallowed back the rising anxiety.

Look at this logically. Obviously, I didn’t say Diagon Alley clearly enough, which is why I’m not there, but what I said sounded mostly like it, so I’m probably somewhere nearby.

Harry studied his surroundings carefully; it appeared that he had landed in some sort of antique shop. There were odd-looking devices displayed on dusty shelves and tables, and though the room was still and quiet, Harry could sense the subtle magical influences at play. He felt a bit tempted to fiddle with some of the objects, but he abstained.

Yeah, brilliant idea, go touch creepy magical devices and see what happens. Best possible way to get myself turned into a toad...

Harry inhaled sharply when he heard the door of the shop open with a ring. He backed carefully toward the far corner of the room, concealing himself behind some very tall stacks of untitled books, holding his breath.

“Ah, Lucius…” Harry heard a gravelly, hoarse voice say.

I didn’t know wizards smoked, too… And Lucius? Did I just walk into a Shakespearean novel?

“A pleasure…” There was a faint rustle, which Harry assumed was the sound of sleeves brushing together as the men shook hands.

“I have come to see about acquiring the final products of my collection, if I may, Mr. Burke?” said a high, aristocratic voice.

“I believe that can be arranged…”

Harry heard footsteps growing steadily louder, and he pushed back more firmly into his corner.

“Touch nothing, Draco,” the aristocratic man, Lucius, said sharply.

Harry heard the faint tread of lightweight footsteps, and he realized that he was not the only child in the room. Unable to help himself, he shifted over slightly as to partially unblock his view, and he saw the backs of two men leaning over something on the desk in front of them, one slight and dark-haired, the other tall and thin with long, white-blond hair. A similarly blond-haired boy who looked to be about Harry’s age was examining a rather garish piece of jewelry with his hands clasped behind his back, a sullen expression on his face.

I suppose he’s Draco, the aristocrat’s son. What sort of name is that? Were his parents intentionally trying to make him the target of ridicule?

The boy suddenly looked up, and Harry could only stand there, frozen in place, when their eyes met.

***

Severus stepped neatly out of the fireplace of the Leaky Cauldron, brushing soot off his robes. Ignoring the other occupants of the pub, he stepped to the side, waiting for Harry to come through.

As his wait crept slowly from two minutes to three, then five, it became increasingly obvious that he’d made a profoundly imbecilic error in judgement in assuming the boy would successfully manage his first Floo trip on his own.

Considering his maturity, it is so easy to forget how inexperienced he is with the wizarding world. I cannot afford to make such mistakes… I must examine the monitors to locate the boy, though they will likely prove to be useless, as they were not designed to function in locations outside of the property, due to my utter idiocy…

Severus waved his wand in a sequence of complex motions, his fears proving to be correct. He could not locate the child from where he was.

The monitors are tied to the property; I must return there to adjust them…

Seeing that it was his only viable option, Severus shoved a knut into the slot near the jar of Floo powder, grabbed a pinch, and was spinning through chimneys within seconds, all the while cursing the time he’d wasted, as well as the anti-Apparition wards on his home which preventing him from arriving faster.

How could he have let the boy out of his sight? He was well aware of the risks, and he knew, quite acutely, what the boy was going through. The child could run into anything, he could get snatched off the streets, even run away. The boy was far too clever for his own good, and a danger to himself…

***

Harry stared into the boy, Draco’s, gray eyes, unsure if he should remain where he was, run, or throw something. The blond-haired boy’s eyes darted toward the adults, then back to Harry.

“Draco,” Lucius suddenly called out. Draco jumped, turning quickly to face the other end of the room.

“Yes, father?” he drawled, the very picture of well-bred propriety.

“Mr. Burke and I will be going to the store room for several moments. Can I trust you to remain here alone?” Lucius asked sternly.

“Yes, father.”

Harry heard the two men’s footsteps growing faint, and the boy turned back to face Harry’s corner.

“One would think I had planned for that,” Draco muttered, shifting away some of the books concealing Harry.

What am I so afraid of? He’s just a kid, like me. He isn’t even much bigger than me.

Harry stepped out from behind the stacks of books, forcing an indifferent expression on his face.

“And who might you be?” the boy asked, with the air of a person well-accustomed to receiving answers.

Harry set his jaw. “What’s it to you?”

“My father practically owns this shop,” Draco huffed. “Having the place infested with street urchins does nothing for business.”

Harry knew he was supposed to be affronted, but he just felt amused. “Did your dad feed you that line, or do you come up with pretentious one-liners on demand?”

Harry hadn’t known a face could change colors so quickly. The boy’s pale face darkened red with anger at a speed akin to a traffic light. “Do you know who I am? ” the boy asked with a poor attempt at snobbery, nose in the air.

Harry just raised his eyebrows, his facial expression speaking for itself.

“I suppose that’s unsurprising,” Draco sniffed, “considering your obviously uncultured upbringing. One cannot expect those of lesser status to be well-versed in the names and faces of higher society.”

Harry couldn’t help it; he snorted.

“Is something funny? ” Draco sniped.

Harry rolled his eyes. “The fact that you seem to be under the impression that you represent this so-called higher society, perhaps?”

Draco squared his shoulders. “Well, I imagine you wouldn’t qualify for acceptance to Hogwarts, but if you did, you’d see the influence the Malfoy name carries at the most prestigious school of magic in Great Britain.”

He’d have to go to school with this prat? Fantastic.

Harry couldn’t help but shoot back. “Generally speaking, people who carry influence don’t need to talk about it so much.”

Draco sniffed again, though he couldn’t quite pull off the sophisticated pose he was angling for. “Well, my father is a senior member of the Board of Education, and what with Professor Severus Snape being a close family friend and mentor, I’m guaranteed preferential treatment… ”

Harry physically held back a jerk of surprise. Severus, as in Snape? This absolute twit knew him? Had a relationship with him?

It took Harry a moment to identify the feeling rising in his chest. Betrayal. And jealousy.

Why would I feel that way? It’s not like Snape is my... He’s just… well, I don’t know what he is to me, but I trust him enough to tell him things I never told anyone.

“Hey, are you even listening to me?” Draco demanded.

Harry quickly regained his composure, complete with a disdainful raise of his eyebrow. “I wouldn’t know. Perhaps your voice shares the effects of a mild sedative.”

For a moment, Draco looked stumped.

Does he not know what a sedative is? I win.

Draco took a haughty breath, but before he could respond, both he and Harry froze when they heard the approaching footsteps of the adults. Without pausing for a breath, Harry was out the door before Draco could so much as blink.

***

Back in the sitting room beside the fireplace, Severus’ eyes were squeezed tightly shut in concentration as he incanted. The focus and exertion it took to readjust these particular monitors when unable to locate the subject was notoriously draining.

Finally, beads of sweat running down his face, the job was done.

Harry was in Knockturn Alley, though he could not determine the exact location.

Wonderful. Of all places to end up… The very dredges of society, predators...

Severus sprinted across the grounds and through the enchantments surrounding his property. He Disapparated, half-convinced that his trip was sped up by his utter panic.

***

Harry stumbled out into the street, his eyes darting warily back and forth. It was very dimly lit by the occasional gas lamp set outside deserted storefronts, the darkness only adding to the grimy, sinister feel of the area. Harry had the impression that there was something heavy, almost palpable, in the air that sucked away most of the light that the lamps did emit. The familiar, well-earned street instincts began to take over as he glanced around carefully for potential threats, his senses on overdrive.

Well, I guess the next step is to find my way to Diagon Alley, which hopefully isn’t too far…

For whatever reason, Harry did not feel nearly as anxious as he would have expected to be.

This is the first time I’ve been on my own since I got to Snape’s house…

Despite the foreboding surroundings, Harry had missed his independence. Being told when to eat and not to dangle from tree branches, talking about his feelings… that was pretty foreign to him. But this, navigating the streets and keeping out of sight, was right up his alley. He didn’t need anyone to protect him, didn’t need Snape…       

He walked down the darkened street, scarcely breathing, keeping to corners and trash bins in an effort to conceal himself. At the same time, Harry felt quite calm. He was in control, here. He walked on silently, looking around interestedly, if cautiously.

He stiffened when his eyes caught on a suspicious-looking person of indeterminate gender leaning against a wall. The person flashed their teeth at him, and Harry reached reflexively into his pocket for his penknife.

  Bloody. Hell.

The realization of the absence of his penknife slapped Harry squarely in the face. This was not his turf; this was the magical world, where a knife, even if he had it, would offer little protection against an experienced wizard.

Harry shoved away the growing fear, forcing himself to breathe evenly.

You’ve lived through much worse than this. Just find a way out of here and keep out of sight. You’ll be fine.

He’d been moving for barely a few more moments when his reassurances were proven false. Something grabbed onto his sleeve quite suddenly, and he jerked back, swinging around to find what appeared to be an old woman clutching his sleeve with a surprisingly powerful grip. Her face was deathly pale, and her eyes, which glowed unnaturally bright, were partially concealed by a thick curtain of dark gray hair.

“Lost, are you, child?” the woman croaked, her cracked lips twisted into a perverse sort of smile. Harry tried to wrench his arm out of her grasp, but the woman was stronger than she appeared.

“I’m fine, thank you,” said Harry, taking small comfort in the fact that his voice remained steady.

Show no fear, show no fear-

“Nonsense,” the woman crowed. “I’ll show you just where you need to go.”

She yanked Harry’s arm, pulling him along the road. The adrenaline kicked in then; Harry clawed wildly at her hand, and a surge of heat rushed from his fingertips, forcing the woman to release him with a shriek of pain and anger. Without pausing for a further reaction on her part, Harry bolted in the opposite direction, glancing behind him to see if she was following. It was for that reason that Harry didn’t notice the huge, hulking figure blocking his path until he ran straight into it and was sent flying backwards onto the pavement.

“What’r ya doin' down here, boy?”

Harry looked up quickly, gasping for breath, to see a giant of a man, face half-concealed with bushy, wiry black hair and beard. The man would have been frightening if not for the warmth of his beetle-black eyes and quizzical smile. 

“Can ya talk?” the giant asked. The question might have been offensive, if not for the sincerity of the man’s tone.

Harry exhaled, his breath coming out in a slight laugh of relief. “Yeah, I was just l-lost. Floo powder…”

The man gave a nod of understanding. “Firs’ time, eh? Here, lemme help you.” Without waiting for a response, the giant leaned down to pull Harry up. He actually felt his feet leave the ground until the man set him down.

“So, were ya tryin’ ter get to Diagon?”

Harry nodded, brushing soot from his shirt.

“I can help yeh with tha’. Who’r yeh with?”

“Er… I was with Professor Snape…”

Who says he even knows who Snape is, anyway?

But it seemed he did.

“Ah, P’rfess’r Snape? Clever man, he is. C’mon, can’ be too hard ter track ‘im down.”

The giant gripped Harry’s upper arm to lead him down the road, and Harry didn’t resist. There was something about this man that seemed trustworthy. Familiar, even, as though Harry had known him once, and forgotten.

“I’m Hagrid, by th’ way. Groundskeeper at Hogwarts.” He said that last bit in a proud tone. “What’s yer name?”

“Harry,” he said quietly, brushing soot off his face with his free hand. The giant, Hagrid, stopped suddenly, releasing Harry’s arm to look him in the eye.

“Harry?” Hagrid whispered. He stared into Harry’s eyes for a moment, his own eyes welling up with tears.

Without warning, he yanked Harry into a bone-crushing hug. Harry gasped in surprise, attempting weakly to pull himself away. But he was helpless to free himself from the grip of this huge, soft, giant who was currently clutching him desperately, his chest heaving with great, gulping sobs. Finally, Hagrid released him, and Harry staggered backwards, rubbing his arms and breathing hard. He looked up to see Hagrid looking at him fondly, black eyes still wet with tears.

“Las’ time I saw yeh, you were jus’ a baby,” Hagrid said in a thick voice, fishing out an oversized handkerchief from a pocket his his enormous overcoat. “You look jus’ like yer dad, an’ you got yer mum’s eyes. Lovely, she was. And both yer parents, such good people…” He paused to blow his nose loudly. “Tiny little thing, yeh were. Fit in the palm o’ my hand…”

Hagrid continued his ramble as he led Harry down the narrow road, passing by rickety sign nailed to a wall which indicated that the area was called Knockturn Alley.

“So, how did yeh end up with P’rfessor Snape, Harry? He pick yeh up from yer relatives?”

Harry tensed at that. “Er… I... I live with him now.”

Hagrid peered down at Harry, an open look of surprise on his face. “Really? How’d tha’ happen?”

Harry shrugged, not really in the mood to discuss the details. Thankfully, Hagrid let it go, continuing to ramble on about the grandness of Hogwarts.

“Great place, Hogwarts is. Loved my time there…”

Harry noticed that the road was gradually widening and brightening; it seemed that they’d finally reached the exit. He then spotted a familiar figure in dark robes moving swiftly in their direction.

***

Severus stepped through the crumbling archway of Knockturn Alley, quickening his stride as his eyes gradually adjusted to the unlit dankness of the alley. Through narrowed eyes, Severus noticed a large, hulking shadow moving toward him, gradually making itself known to be a quite familiar individual.

Hagrid.

He knows the alley well, he may be of some help.

“Hagrid,” said Severus tersely when he was near enough. “Have you-” he stopped when his eyes landed on Harry, small and insignificant, partially hidden behind Hagrid’s huge figure. 

Oh, thank Merlin.

Scanning the child rapidly with his eyes for injury, Severus pulled Harry toward him by the shoulder. “You are unharmed?” he said tensely.

The child nodded, eyes on the ground.

Hand still gripping Harry’s shoulder tightly, Severus glanced back up at Hagrid, who was overlooking the scene with a somewhat bemused, though fond expression.

“Thank you, Hagrid, you have been most helpful,” Severus said, wiping all traces of concern from his face. His hands still felt shaky with the aftermath of his worry

“Arr, it’s no trouble. Bes’ keep a close eye on young Harry, here,” Hagrid replied jovially.

Though he knew Hagrid meant nothing by it, Severus felt both guilty and affronted at the insinuation that he was not properly looking after the boy.

Well, I haven’t been doing a particularly good job, have I? Considering what the boy has gotten up to since coming into my care…

“I most certainly intend to,” Severus said sharply. “We’d best be on our way.” Still gripping Harry’s shoulder tightly, he turned away to lead him down the alley.

“See yeh at Hogwarts, then, Harry, Severus,” Hagrid called from behind. Severus nodded without looking back.

For a few long moments, Severus walked alongside the child in silence, his hand still gripping the child’s shoulder. It was only when the boy attempted to tug himself out of Severus’ grip when he realized just how tightly he’d been clutching the boy.

Severus immediately released Harry, wanting to kick himself.

You must be careful with the boy. You cannot be taking your anger at your own negligence out on him.

Severus sighed, looking down at the boy. Harry looked odd; not particularly frightened or anxious, just… more reserved in Severus’ presence that he’d been in quite a while

Perhaps he did run into trouble, Severus realized with a jolt.

“Did anything untoward occur in the alley, Harry?”

“No, sir,” Harry said quietly, looking at the ground.

“You are absolutely sure?” Severus asked, frowning.

“Yes, sir. Nothing happened. I was just trying to find my way out when I ran into Hagrid.”

Severus frowned again, but he said no more.

Chapter Text

Harry’s eyes widened as he and Snape stepped into the bright, bustling Diagon Alley, a far cry from the dimly lit, dusty roads of Knockturn Alley. He’d never imagined that a place could look so… magical.

The scene really did look like something out of a fairy tale.

There were crowds of witches and wizards clad in various hues of robes, some plain and dark like Snape wore his, and others with embellishments such as wide lapels, lace, and brightly colored stitching. Some wore what Harry would have considered normal clothing if not for the fact that they were several decades (or centuries) out of date, though Harry did spot the occasional person wearing jeans.

“Come along,” said Snape, prodding Harry’s arm to get him moving from where he had paused in wonder by the arched entrance.

Harry quickened his stride, his eyes darting back and forth in a desperate attempt to take everything in. He could see shops with names like Magical Menagerie, Slug and Jigger’s Apothecary, Potage’s Cauldron Shop, Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions… He did notice that, despite the crowd, the eyes of every person that walked by seemed to slide right over him and Snape, as though they were invisible or, perhaps, an uninteresting part of the scenery. Had Snape cast some sort of spell? Harry was about to ask when they reached the outside of a very tall, regal-looking white building.

“This is Gringotts,” Snape said as he led Harry up the marble staircase to the wide, imposing doors, which swung open at the touch of Snape’s wand tip. Aside from the clearly non-human tellers, there was nothing particularly odd about the place, though it was considerably grander than Harry would have imagined a bank to be.

Goblins. That’s what they are, thought Harry, recalling the conversation he and Snape had had about the bank.

As they neared the counters, Snape fished a small, metal object from his pocket and handed it to Harry. “Your key,” he said in a low voice. “It has been kept safe for you until now, though I imagine you’d prefer to keep hold of it hereafter?”

Dumbledore probably had it, Harry thought with an inward frown. But he simply nodded his thanks as he accepted the key. Then a sudden thought occurred to him.

“Has anyone been able to access my account?” he asked suspiciously.

“No. No one but the legal owner is allowed access.”

Harry breathed a sigh of relief.

They approached the counters, which reached above Harry’s eye level, and he felt very small as a severe-looking goblin peered down at him. He squared his shoulders, refusing to display timidity.

“Mr. Harry Potter would like to make a withdrawal,” Snape said smoothly. The goblin leaned in closer, his shiny, black eyes digging into Harry with an unnerving focus.

“Key, please,” the goblin finally said in a gravelly voice. Harry set it on the counter, standing on the balls of his feet to reach it.

The goblin pronounced it satisfactory, and, not five minutes later, Harry, Snape, and a different goblin had ridden the dizzying cart ride down to Harry’s vault and emerged in front of a thick, metal door, which the goblin unlocked with Harry’s key.

Harry stared.

He had never, in his wildest daydreams, imagined that he’d have such a large amount of money in his possession. There were mounds of gold, silver, and bronze coins stacked nearly to the ceiling, so much so that it didn’t even seem real.

All this is… mine? It was just sitting here all this time...

Harry felt Snape press a small, velvet pouch into his hand, but he made no move to fill it. He continued to gape, transfixed, at the immense sum of money piled before him, entirely overwhelmed.

How much is this worth? Does this mean I never have to work for money? Or is wizard gold worth less? What do I do with all of this? 

“Mr. Potter?”

Harry looked up quickly, and Snape seemed to pick up on Harry’s utter confusion. He moved to assist Harry in filling the pouch, which seemed to be capable of holding far more coins than its size suggested, explaining the wizarding monetary system in clear terms as he did.

Apparently, the gold was worth quite a bit.

***

A short while later, Harry and Snape exited the bank, and Harry couldn’t help patting his pocket every few moments to remind himself that the money was real. An image of a pale, aristocratic boy rose in his mind as he did so, and Harry forced back a scowl.

I bet Draco never had to think about such things… He has everything, why does he get to have Snape too?

“Is there a problem, Mr. Potter?” Snape cut into his thoughts.

Harry shook his head, avoiding Snape’s eyes. There was a slight pause.

“Are you absolutely certain that you did not encounter any trouble?” Snape pressed, a tinge of urgency lacing his tone.

“Yes, sir,” Harry said tonelessly.

Harry heard the man sigh, and he flailed a bit when Snape’s hand wrapped around his upper arm and pulled him to the side of the cobblestone road.

“Look at me.”

Harry obeyed reluctantly, not a little apprehensive at Snape’s irritated tone. The man’s face was tight, and he immediately trapped Harry within his dark, assessing gaze. “Due to your record of being less than honest with me about matters concerning your well-being, I am having a very difficult time believing that nothing occurred in that alley.”

Harry opened his mouth to deny it, but Snape held up a finger, silencing him. “I suggest that you think over your response carefully,” he said in a near whisper, his gaze sharp and direct, leaving Harry no room to avoid it. “I will not tolerate lies. Not about this.”

Harry stiffened slightly, but he refused to shrink back.

Why is he pushing this? He doesn’t care. As soon as school starts, I’ll just be another student to him, and he’ll only care about Draco .

“Harry,” Snape said warningly.

Harry sucked in an annoyed breath. “Nothing happened.”

Snape leaned down so his face was inches from Harry’s. Harry tried to step back, but Snape held him in place by the shoulders. “I may be an expert Legilimens, but I do not have to access your mind to know that you are not being honest with me.”

Harry remained silent, and Snape continued to hold him in place, his gaze unwavering.

He’s seriously not going to let this go. And he’s invading my personal space.

Interesting that Harry found it more irritating than threatening.

“Fine!” Harry bit out, yanking himself out of Snape’s grasp. Snape allowed it, waiting patiently for him to continue.

“I ran into this kid, Draco.” Harry paused for a moment, reluctant to continue. Snape raised an eyebrow in warning.

“He’s just a- a conceited jerk, and he said you’re his mentor,” Harry muttered, feeling idiotic that such a minor thing could upset him.

Snape closed his eyes for a moment, releasing his grip on Harry’s shoulders. “Come with me.”

Harry squinted confusedly as Snape turned and led the way down the road, expertly weaving his way through the hordes of people. They eventually stopped in front of... Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour.  

An ice cream parlour? 

Snape sat at an empty table in the outdoor seating area, pointing to the chair opposite him. Harry sat, peering around apprehensively.

Snape swiveled a menu around to face Harry. “Choose your preference.”

Harry stared at the menu of the various ice cream flavors, entirely at a loss. There were familiar flavors such as chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry, but the menu also boasted flavors such as Butterbeer, whatever that was, Licorice, Earl Gray and Lavender… How was he supposed to choose? What did any of this even taste like-

“Harry?”

Harry looked up, then immediately looked away, ashamed that he couldn’t handle a task as simple as selecting a flavor of ice cream.

“I- I don’t know what to choose,” he mumbled, flitting his eyes up briefly before lowering them again to stare at the menu.

Snape looked at him carefully for a moment, then plucked the menu from his hands. “I would recommend the Dulce de Leche; it has long been a favorite of mine.”

Harry nodded, relieved, and Snape tapped the menu with his wand twice. “The order is transferred to the kitchen,” Snape said in response to Harry’s questioning look.

Harry nodded again, feeling awkward.

I’m sitting with Snape at an ice cream parlour. This is just strange…

“So, you have enjoyed the dubious pleasure of Draco Malfoy’s company, I take it?”

Dubious is one word for it...

“Yes.”

Snape leaned forward in his seat, clasping his hands together with his elbows resting on the table. “He has been raised in a wealthy, privileged home, which has lent itself to engendering within him a sense of entitlement.”

“Damn right it has,” Harry muttered under his breath.

Snape raised an eyebrow.

Did I just say that out loud?

“Sorry,” Harry whispered.

Snape inclined his head, shifting in his seat slightly. “I am… acquainted with the Malfoys, and their son, by proxy.”

And you care more about him…

“However,” Snape continued, raising his voice as if sensing the turn of Harry’s thoughts. “Draco has a tendency to exaggerate. I have tutored him on several occasions, yes, but I have no intention of providing him with preferential treatment in school, as he undoubtedly implied. ”

Harry looked down, chewing his lip uncomfortably.

“Your orders, gentlemen.”

Harry looked up to see a waiter with their ice cream orders hovering in the air in front of him. Snape thanked the waiter and paid him, at which point the ice creams settled neatly on the table.

Harry stared at his ice cream, a sense of fear suddenly overtaking him…

He was six years old, and he’d been watching enviously for days as Dudley scarfed down pints of the ice cream Aunt Petunia had stocked up on for the summer.

“We must keep our Diddykins hydrated,” she’d said dotingly. She had also made no secret of the fact that ice cream was too good for freaky, ungrateful little whelps.

Harry had already known by then that he was freaky and ungrateful, but that did not prevent his mouth from watering nor his stomach from rumbling as he watched Dudley eat, the sweet, melting treat dripping down his cousin’s pudgy chin.

Maybe if I’m really, really good, I’ll get to have some, too , Harry’s young, still fairly innocent mind reasoned.

So he tried. He did everything he was told immediately, without dawdling or complaints. He even went to his cupboard early to keep out of the way, and he got up extra early to prepare breakfast.

But no one seemed to notice, and day after hot summer’s day, Harry was forced to watch Dudley enjoying the ice cream, the envy and longing almost too much to bear. Harry was lucky if he was given a drink of water after a long day doing chores in the sun.

And one day, it got to be too much.

It was the hottest day of the year; Harry had known that from overhearing the man on the weather channel saying so before Dudley had waddled in and demanded that Vernon change the channel.

It hadn’t prevented Aunt Petunia from putting Harry to work as usual. She had also neglected to feed him that morning, and he was forced to tend to the garden and mow the lawn despite the suffocating heat, his attempts to ignore his crippling thirst proving futile as he repeatedly wiped sweat from his forehead and squeezed his eyes shut to combat the dizziness.

So, that night, Harry had snuck out of his cupboard, which, somehow, had unlocked of its own accord, and crept toward the kitchen, certain that at an hour as late as this, the Dursleys would be fast asleep.

He stood on tiptoe to open the freezer, straining to grab hold of the ice cream carton, which was stored on one of the higher shelves. So close, yet so tantalizingly out of reach.

At the time, Harry had figured that it was because he’d wished for it so hard that it happened.

The carton of chocolate ice cream floated off of its shelf and fell slowly through the air into his open, waiting hands.

Harry stared in awe and wonder, and his hands trembled as he eased off the lid. He dipped his finger into the frozen treat, eyes wide with excitement, when…

“Boy!”

Harry had never really remembered what happened next.

“Harry?”

Harry swallowed, then looked up at Snape’s concerned face, forcing his hands to remain still. He tried to say something, but his throat felt too dry.

Stop being so pathetic. He’s not like them.

“Ice cream tends to melt if left to its own devices for too long.”

Harry lifted his spoon, but he couldn’t bring himself to use it.

“What is it, Harry?”

Harry couldn’t speak, and though ashamed by the show of weakness, he lowered his head into his hands. At least he wouldn't have to see the look on Snape's face. Pitying, annoyed... or worse. But Snape reached out to pull his hands away from his face, which Harry allowed more out of surprise than anything else. The man then picked up Harry’s spoon, scooped up some ice cream, and handed it back. Snape then took a bite of his own ice cream with a casual air.

That was what brought Harry back to the present.

Snape? Eating ice cream? 

Harry took a tentative bite, and was immediately deluged in the pleasure of something he’d never had but always wanted. He couldn’t say for certain, but he was inclined to assume that ice cream from non-magical shops did not include tiny little balls of caramel that burst in his mouth at every bite.

After scraping the last bits of ice cream from the edges of his bowl, Harry set down his spoon and glanced up to find Snape looking at him contemplatively. “I was never allowed ice cream,” Harry, oddly, felt compelled to say.

“Oh?”

“I was never allowed much of anything, really.”

Snape was silent for a moment.

“I imagine that must have been difficult, watching other children receive that which you did not,” Snape said in a low voice.

Harry bit his lip. “I tried to sneak some ice cream, once.”

“That endeavor did not end well, I gather?”

Harry paused.

“I don’t remember,” he whispered.

Snape looked at Harry, his expression twisted into something that Harry could not begin to unravel. He then reached out his hand slowly to cover Harry’s. “Despite what your prior experiences may have taught you, Harry, you are entitled to the basic comforts that all children are given.”

Harry nodded, his throat dry again. Lowering his eyes, he stared into the melted remains of his ice cream.

He then felt Snape’s hand leave his and grasp his chin, forcing Harry to meet his eyes. “Regardless of my familiarity with Draco, you, not he, are my first priority,” said Snape intently.  “That will not change once school begins.”

“Yes, sir,” Harry whispered.

Snape released Harry’s chin, then cleared his throat. “As it seems we are done here, do you have any preference as to where we should go first?” 

“My wand,” Harry immediately replied.

Snape nodded his acquiescence, and they both rose from their seats and made their way down the road.  Before long, they reached a small shop with peeling gold letters on the door that indicated its name to be Ollivanders: Makers of Fine Wands Since 382 BC . Snape pushed opened the door, and a faint ring reverberated from somewhere above their heads

Though it was empty, dim, and somewhat dusty, the room all but pulsated with magical energy. Harry shivered slightly.

“Good afternoon,” a soft voice suddenly spoke. Harry turned his head quickly to see a small, thin man with wispy, silver hair. His wide, pale eyes, which matched his hair, seemed to stare straight through Harry, as though the man could decipher his innermost thoughts just by looking. Harry nodded back, resisting the impulse to lower his eyes. He heard the rustle of Snape’s robes as he leaned against the wall.

“Harry Potter. I've been expecting you,” the man said in a whispery voice.

How does he know my name? I didn’t think people knew how I looked; no one else recognized me… but that might have been because of Snape’s spell...

Harry stiffened as the man drew closer, the intense, silver gaze unnerving him.

“You remind me of another young man I once knew,” the man whispered. “So much potential…”

There was a pause, while Harry and Ollivander continued to stare at one another.

“Those with the potential to do great things, too, possess the ability to do great harm.”

Harry furrowed his brow slightly, unnerved.

This man knows things, Harry realized. He knows about people, he understands them. I suppose that comes with being a wandmaker, because wands relate to people’s personalities. That's what it said in that book, anyway… 

Harry wished the man would look away.

“Well, to business,” Ollivander finally said. He gestured for Harry to follow him to the counter, summoning an ordinary-looking tape measure with a flip of his wrist.

“Wand arm?”

“Er… right.”

Ollivander flicked his wand, setting the tape measure to action while he pilfered through the boxes.

Why exactly does the distance between my eyes matter for a wand?, Harry wondered, bemused, as the tape measure continued its work.

Ollivander returned shortly, his arms piled with long, narrow boxes. He set them down on the counter, banished the tape measure, and began sorting through the boxes, eventually pulling out a thin, light brown wand.

“Hazelwood and unicorn hair, nine and a quarter inches,” said Ollivander, pressing the wand into Harry’s hand. Harry closed his fingers around it, unsure of what to do.

“Go on, give it a wave,” said Ollivander impatiently.

Harry did as he said, but the wand was snatched out of his hand within seconds. The pattern repeated itself until the counter was piled with wands of varying color and sizes, and empty boxes were strewn all over the floor. The odd thing was that the more wands Harry attempted, the more pleased Ollivander seemed to become.

“Ah, tricky customer,” he said, all but rubbing his palms together in glee.

Perhaps he enjoyed the challenge of it.

He rummaged through the shelves near the back of the store, then slid out one box carefully. “Perhaps… though, would it be wise…?” Harry heard the man mutter to himself. Ollivander walked over, and yet another wand was pressed into his hand.

“Holly and phoenix feather, eleven inches. Go on…”

Harry gripped the handle tightly, lifting the wand to shoulder height, and a sudden feeling of warmth rose up his arm, seeming to shoot directly into his heart. He brought the wand down quickly with a gasp, and staggered, just managing to keep his feet, when intensely bright silver and gold sparks exploded from the wand’s tip.

Ollivander hurried over, the very picture of delight, waving his hands to restore the rejected wands back to their respective places on the shelves.

‘A powerful wizard you are, indeed, Mr. Potter.” The man drew closer, meeting Harry’s eyes. Harry stared back, still clutching the wand, liking the feeling it gave him. It seemed as though Ollivander wanted to say more, or perhaps he was searching for something, because his eyes seemed to shutter after several moments, and he turned away to ring up Harry’s purchase.

Harry soon exited the shop alongside Snape, and they were quiet for a while, as Harry mulled over what Ollivander had said. Great potential? The potential to do great harm? What did that mean? Who was the other young man Ollivander had mentioned…?

“Perhaps you’d like to collect your textbooks?” Snape eventually said, cutting into Harry’s thoughts. Harry nodded his acquiescence, and they continued their leisurely walk down the cobblestone road. “And you’ll require new shoes at the very least-”

Harry looked up at Snape, startled. “New shoes?”

The man glanced down at his scuffed trainers with a derisive look. “Merlin only knows how long you’ve been wearing those, and they’re certainly unfit for cold weather.” He paused, furrowing his brow. “I imagine you’ll also need an assortment of winter clothes. The provisions Albus provided when you first came to my home will not extend that far...”

Harry glanced down at his shoes. Sure, he’d had them for years, but they’d held up all right. Now that he thought about it, it didn’t quite make sense that they still fit him after all this time. And that the soles hadn’t completely worn away.

Magic. Obviously.

Harry was pulled out of his musings when they reached a bookstore; Flourish and Blotts.

Now we’re talking, Harry thought with an internal grin, rushing over to pull open the door ahead of Snape and entered the crowded, bustling shop. It wasn’t very large, but bookshelves had been crammed into every possible (and impossible) spot, separated into multiple sections, and Harry could not decide which he wanted to explore first. The sections titled Potions, Charms, Transfiguration, and the like were unsurprising, but Broomology, Enchanted Artifacts, and Muggle Social and Antisocial Habits gave him pause. There was even a fiction section, and it hadn’t even occurred to him that there might be a market for fiction in the wizarding world.

Harry glanced up when Snape pressed the booklist into his hands. “We’ll gather your schoolbooks first, and afterwards you may peruse the shop to your heart’s content.”

Harry grinned a bit at Snape’s darkly teasing tone and hurried over to the Potions section to find Magical Drafts and Potions by Arsenius Jigger.

More than an hour had passed by the time they paid for Harry’s books and left the store. Though he didn’t need to buy a new cauldron as Snape had so many spares, he still needed a telescope, not to mention robes...

“Harry!”

Harry swiveled around at the familiar voice to see Hagrid standing in front of Eyelop’s Owl Emporium, holding a snowy owl in a cage.

“I r’membered yer birthday’s comin’ up, and I figur’d you’d need ‘n owl, fer sending post, an’ all that…”

Harry stared at Hagrid, his mouth slightly open. Hagrid had bought this for him? For him? He tilted his head at the owl, the real, live owl, which was blinking its (his? her?) amber eyes at him in an oddly knowing manner.

“Harry,” Snape said in a low tone. “It is polite to accept a gift when offered.”

Harry gave a slight jolt, flushing, and stepped closer to Hagrid, who was holding the cage out to him with a tentative smile.

“Th-thank you,” Harry said in a slightly shaky voice. “You- you didn’t have to-”

“‘Course I did,” Hagrid said as Harry took the cage from him. “It’s yer birthday, it’d be a crime not to!”

Harry poked his fingers through the bars of the cage and stroked the owls head carefully. It gave him a sort of… haughty look, as though she was tolerating his administrations for now but may later redact her permission.

“She’s a clever old girl,” Hagrid said, patting the owl’s head through the bars with his enormous finger. “One o’ the most r’liable sorts.”

So she was a girl.

“What does she eat?”

“She’ll get most o’ her food from hunting, but you can get treats fer her at the shop.”

Hagrid reached over to ruffle Harry’s hair, his touch surprisingly gentle for how incredibly large he was.

“You take good care o’ her, and she’s as loyal as they come.”

“Thank you,” Harry said again, still not quite believing that he’d been given such a gift. He glanced up at Snape, who was surveying the scene with a nonchalant air, and he gave Harry a faint nod.

Hagrid trudged away after another ruffle of Harry’s hair, and Harry followed Snape towards their next destination, his brand new owl in tow.

Chapter Text

As Harry brushed his hand through Hedwig’s soft, white feathers, his lips turned upward against his will. 

He’d named his owl after Hedwig of Silesia, the Patron Saint of Orphans. So sue him.

“You know, it’s weird, living with Snape,” Harry murmured to her, moving over to the window seat in his bedroom with Hedwig perched on his shoulder. “Once I left Privet Drive, I thought I wouldn’t want to have anyone in charge of me again.” Harry paused to settle further into the seat, transferring Hedwig to his lap. “But with Snape, I… sort of like it.”

“He… he’s almost like a...” his voice trailed off.

Hedwig blinked at him, tilting her head in a contemplative manner. How much of what he said did she truly understand? Harry would have liked to think she understood most of it. It was a comforting thought to believe that he could tell her anything at all, and she’d never be able to use it against him.

“You had parents once, didn’t you?” Harry asked softly, stroking the feathers on her head. Hedwig hooted softly, hopping up to nip Harry’s ear. Harry rested his head against hers for a moment.

“I’m going soft,” Harry muttered to himself.

Noticing the time, Harry rose carefully and made his way downstairs for breakfast, Hedwig still perched on his shoulder.

“You’ve become inseparable, I see,” drawled Snape as Harry entered the kitchen. Harry shrugged with his free shoulder, giving Snape a half-smile, and Hedwig fluttered away and through the open window.

Harry sat down, reaching for the fruit bowl, and he noticed a long, thin package propped against the table beside his chair.

“Uh, sir?” Harry asked tentatively, looking up.

“It is your eleventh birthday today, is it not?”

Oh, right, it is.

For obvious reasons, Harry had never set much store by birthdays. 

“You didn’t have to get me anything,” Harry mumbled, looking down at his plate.

“I am aware of that,” Snape said, lifting his teacup with two fingers to take a sip.

Harry chewed on his lip, staring at the package. He swallowed. Why was this so difficult? Maybe because he’d made a firm decision to stop caring that he never received presents on his birthday when Dudley had been given piles of gifts for every minor occasion. And maybe because that stupid, illogical side of his brain feared that the gift would be snatched away as soon as he indicated that he wanted it.

Get a grip. Snape isn’t like that.

He knew that, he knew it, but what if-

“Go on, open it if you wish,” Snape prompted.

Harry glanced up cautiously and met the man’s eyes. Calm, nonchalant, almost uncaring as to whether Harry would accept the gift or not. That made things easier, somehow.

Harry pulled the package closer and carefully unwrapped the brown paper, then opened the box inside. It was a broomstick. It was the broomstick that he’d been using, but it had been polished to perfection and its bristles had been straightened and untangled so that it looked brand-new

Harry stared at it in shock, then looked up again, wide-eyed, at Snape.

The man’s face was unreadable, but there was an unmistakable warmth in his eyes. “First years are not allowed their own broomsticks. However, I am permitted to keep it for you while school is in session, granting you permission to make use of it when I see fit.”

Harry inhaled, finally regaining control of his vocal chords. “Sir, I-I… thank you.”

Snape gave him a small, fleeting smile, then immediately schooled his face back into its normal, unreadable state. “Eat first, then feel free to give it a test run. Some of its features have been updated.”

A short while later, Harry was zooming through the air, Hedwig flying alongside him.

***

“So… I gather you preferred to remain outdoors while living with your relatives?”

“Yes.” The child paused, unconsciously picking at the bark of the tree behind him and chewing his lower lip. Severus wanted to pull it out of his teeth. 

“I always feel more… more relaxed outside,” Harry said quietly.

If the child was as mistreated as I have been led to believe, the outdoors would certainly provide a sense of safety for him. Merlin knows I felt the same way.

“You are not alone in that sentiment,” Severus said.

“Yeah, I know.” The child looked wistful for a moment, then seemed to pull himself back into the present.

“I slept in a cupboard,” Harry said suddenly.

Severus’ eyebrows shot to his hairline.

Merlin’s graying beard.

“Did you?”

Slowly, Harry nodded.

“It was the cupboard under the stairs. They- they didn’t like to waste space on me.”

A cupboard under the stairs… That explains his reaction to my storage cupboard. Merlin… How can I possibly respond to that?

Severus studied the boy carefully. Harry’s eyes looked cold, in that moment, almost deadened, as though he had tried so hard to deny all feelings associated with that particular experience that the emotions had bypassed cold and became almost too numb to bear.

“That day, in the laboratory, when I told you to fetch a spare cauldron…” Severus began. “The cupboard must have brought up some difficult recollections for you.”

The boy’s face paled, then, and his eyes took on a glassy sort of sheen. His mouth contorted, and, for a moment, Severus thought he might flee. But the child then seemed to calm, his shoulders dropping and his breaths slowing to a normal pace, though his face remained pale, and he seemed tired. The sort of tired that came with time, with pain, and fruitless struggle, rarely seen in one so young.

“It doesn’t matter anymore, what happened there,” Harry said flatly.

“Harry-” 

The boy shook his head. Upon closer look, Harry was visibly holding himself still, and it was apparent that he was working to prevent his lower lip from quivering. Severus took pity on the child, and he was about to excuse him from the conversation when the boy visibly relaxed. It was as though he had flicked a switch, shutting down all emotions regarding the topic they had been discussing, so rapidly it was unnerving.

Harry turned his head to look towards the edges of the property. “Why do you live here, with so many protections?”

Severus blinked.

Well. That is a somewhat drastic change of topic… Though we were discussing the outdoors, and the cupboard he mentioned is surely one of the reasons for his preference of them. But, of all the questions he could have asked, how can I provide him with an honest answer for this one, considering the nature of the truth? And how can I not, considering what I have asked of him to reveal about himself?

Severus blew out a slow, controlled breath. “It became necessary during the last war for me to reside in a protected area, considering my role in it.” He paused, knowing that it was not enough, and that the boy was bound to probe further.

“What was your role?”

Severus closed his eyes for a moment.

He should not be burdened with the knowledge of my tainted past. It may erode his sense of safety, and it will likely frighten him. Yet I cannot hide this from him, not now, when his trust is still so fragile.

Severus opened his eyes to look directly at Harry. “I served as a spy in the war, acting as a servant of the Dark Lord whilst relaying all information that I received to the Order of the Phoenix, which was a secret society working to overthrow him.”

The boy tilted his head, his forehead furrowed. “How- how were you able to do that? Why were you the one to do that? How did Voldemort not figure it out?”

Severus had to actively restrain himself from flinching at the mention of his old master and nemesis’ name, and at what the child had figured out.

He is far too clever for an eleven year old. I cannot lie to him. It will be better in the long run if he learns the truth now.

That did not prevent him from feeling a profound sense of imminent loss as he opened his mouth to speak. “I was a very angry, misguided young man, and I was led to believe that a life in the service of the Dark Lord would provide me with opportunities that I would not otherwise be given.”

Severus paused for a moment, both to gather his thoughts, and to monitor the child’s expression. It was impressively unreadable, which Severus took as a good omen. The boy was not recoiling in horror or disgust, after all.

I am not being entirely honest with him. I cannot be. If he knew that I indirectly caused his parents’ deaths, I would lose whatever trust I have earned from him. And where would that leave him?

“I spent a brief period of time in the service of the Dark Lord,” he continued, “during which I realized the error of my ways, and I offered my services to the Order of the Phoenix. I was provided with this home, as the Dark Lord and his followers knew the location of my previous place of residence.”

Severus had been focusing his gaze slightly to the left of the boy’s face while he spoke. He shifted his eyes back to meet Harry’s, both pained and resigned.

***

Harry listened carefully while Snape spoke, noticing that the man seemed unable to meet his eyes.

He’s ashamed, Harry realized. He expects me to hate him for it. But how can I, considering…?

The man stopped speaking, and met Harry’s eyes squarely. He seemed to be steeled for something.

“I… I think everyone's done things they wish they hadn’t,” Harry said haltingly.

He must have had it bad, like me, to do what he did. Does that make me normal, or both of us strange?

Snape was looking at Harry with a rare glimmer of incredulity in his eyes. “You are wiser than many decades your senior.”

Harry shook his head violently.

No. I’m not. It’s only because I did something worse than they did.

Snape narrowed his eyes. “You disagree?”

Harry thought back, recalling a flash of fear and rage, and a great surge of energy. Vernon had been sent flying through the air, crashing into the wall on the opposite side of the room, his head smashing into it with a sickening crack.

He’d thought he’d killed him, until Vernon let out a horrible, strangled moan, a sound that had plagued one too many nightmares.

Harry had left for good after that incident. He’d packed his meager belongings as quickly as he could, Aunt Petunia’s shrill screams and Vernon’s agonized groans pressing into his eardrums, invading his senses like a poison that he’d never quite been able to expel.

He’d run for the door, stumbling in his haste, but before passing the threshold, he’d felt Aunt Petunia’s bony fingers grip his shoulder. He had turned, poised for a fight, but she’d simply pressed a wad of notes into his hand and nudged him out the door.

The last thing he’d seen was Aunt Petunia mouthing two words; I’m sorry.

“Harry?”

Harry blinked, shaking his head as though to ward off a fly.

“I- I hurt someone, really bad, once.”

Snape opened his mouth, but Harry cut in.

“I think I could have killed him,” he whispered, wrapping his arms around his torso. He kept his eyes on the ground, staring resolutely at the grass. It always grew back, even when it was ripped out. But not during droughts because, resilient as it might be, it still needed water to thrive. It still needed something outside of itself to continue living. It was not self-sustaining, but was anything?

A hand gripped Harry’s chin and tilted it upwards, the touch familiar enough not to startle him. Snape’s eyes looked gentle; he didn’t seem at all disturbed. In contrast, it seemed he understood what Harry was feeling even more intimately than Harry did himself.

Because he did the same thing, obviously.

At that thought, Harry felt his muscles slacken in relief. He hadn’t realized how tightly he was holding himself.

He gets it. He understands what it feels like, because he’s been there…

When Harry felt an arm wrap around his shoulder blades, he realized that he’d been unintentionally leaning against Snape. Embarrassed, he tried to pull himself upright, but Snape held on to him more tightly.

“It’s all right,” the man said quietly.

Harry took a few deep breaths, and stayed.

Snape did not speak for a few moments, and Harry was grateful for it, for those moments of space and quiet to compose himself.

“I left that day,” Harry said suddenly, this time successfully prying himself out of Snape’s grip and backing up a step.

It doesn’t matter anymore at this point, does it? What’s the use of keeping it all to myself?

Snape furrowed his eyebrows. “Oh?”

“I saw him on the floor and I ran. I never went back.”

Snape stared at him for a moment. “Just… how long ago did that occur?” 

Harry chewed on his lip. “Er… about a year ago.”

Snape stiffened, his eyes narrowing, and Harry took an unconscious step back, digging his fists into his pockets. Snape seemed to notice Harry’s reaction and his demeanor visibly calmed.

“Do you mean to tell me,” Snape said in a controlled voice, “that you were living on your own for a year before arriving here?”

Oh, that’s what he’s upset about...

Harry felt that still unfamiliar, warm feeling wrapping around him like the blanket he’d always wished for on cold nights. Snape cared. About him. He shifted his eyes downward.

“Er… yeah?”

“And you lived… where?” the man asked tersely.

“In London. On the streets, in libraries… places like that.” Harry shrugged.

Snape took several deep breaths.

“Look at me, Harry.”

Harry looked up anxiously.

“You understand that such a thing will not be permitted to occur again under any circumstance?”

Harry jerked his head in semblance of a nod, his mouth dry.

Snape leaned down, his dark eyes catching Harry’s. “You will never again be forced into such a position. Do you understand me?”

Harry took a shaky breath, willing himself not to release the tears that were stinging the corners of his eyes.

Snape took Harry’s hand and gripped it firmly.

“Do you?”

Harry nodded.

***

Severus swore under his breath as his latest adjustment to his painstakingly constructed monitors wavered, then fizzled out like a dying flame. It was for good reason that he hadn’t pursued protective warding and enchantments as his profession of choice. Unlike potions, which always behaved as intended, assuming one knew what they were doing, spells such as these tended to develop, well, perhaps not a mind of their own, but a certain humanlike stubbornness. They were notoriously unpredictable, and they required constant maintenance just to remain stable, not to speak of the effort it required to adjust them. 

And they certainly required adjustment, what with the boy’s unintended romp through Knockturn Alley.

With a growl of frustration, Severus dropped his wand onto his desk. He was physically drained, and he’d accomplished very little of what he’d set out to do. Despite his previous adjustment he’d made to track down the boy in Knockturn Alley, the enchantments had mostly reverted to their previous state; they only monitored the boy while he was on the property, though they would be simpler to temporarily adjust in the future, if necessary. That would have to do for now. 

Severus leaned back into his seat. It was well past midnight, and though he’d hoped to complete the second draft of his proposal for the changes in the latest formulation of the Adrenaline Draught, he had little energy remaining to invest in such a task. Even more, his thoughts kept drifting to what the boy had just revealed to him.

The child had been living on the streets of London, left to fend for himself, alone and uncared for as a stray dog. How did this escape our notice? Where was Albus? Where was I?

Severus rubbed his tired, aching eyes, inadvertently knocking over an inkwell with his elbow. Muttering oaths under his breath, he rightened it with a flick of his wand.

It is frankly miraculous that the boy is still alive and functional.

Severus shuddered to think of the horrors the boy may have been subjected to as a homeless child. And the fact that the boy had preferred to be in that position than live one more day with his relatives… The fact that his accidental magic had flared up powerfully enough to potentially kill someone, his uncle, perhaps, though it seemed that the man had managed to live. 

More's the pity...

Calling it a night, Severus cleared his desk and slowly made his way upstairs, deep in thought.

I am not providing him with what he needs, nor am I capable of it. There are not nearly enough people in the wizarding community trained in child psychology... I do not want the child to end up like me.

Severus settled into bed, clearing his mind with a bit more difficulty than usual.

Albus has a hell of a lot to answer for…

***

Harry woke up feeling groggy. As he rubbed the last vestiges of sleep out of his eyes, a thought niggled in the back of his mind. He had been having odd dreams that night, though he couldn’t quite recall their exact nature.

I was dreaming about something to do with Dudley, maybe all the Dursleys…

Harry thought harder, still curled up in his bed instead of immediately rising as he usually did.

Then it hit him.

I don’t know how they died.

How had he not thought of this earlier? Dumbledore had seemed to assume that Harry had already known they were dead when he found him in London, and, obviously, Harry wasn’t going to disabuse him of that notion.

Admittedly, he’d not had much time to think about it as he’d been whisked away to live with Snape within moments of that conversation, but still…

Why should it matter to me, anyway? It’s not like they cared if I lived or not.

But it did matter. Maybe, if he knew, it would give him a sense of closure so he wouldn’t have to think about them anymore.

And Dudley was just a kid…

A short while later, Harry found himself out on the grounds in the pale yellow glow of early morning. He meandered over to his tree, his shoes making faint squelching sounds as he walked across the dewy grass.

What could have caused their deaths? An accident? Did someone do it deliberately? Or it may have been wizards…

Harry nearly kicked a tree trunk in frustration.

I really, really need to know. It’s not as if I could ask Dumbledore. He’d probably lie, anyway. Hell, maybe he was even involved… no. That’s pretty unlikely. He left me there in the first place, so he’d want them alive. No, I can’t ask anyone, I need to find out myself so I’ll know for sure…

Harry glanced towards the edge of the property, not really seeing it, when the faint blur of the protective enchantments caught his gaze. He narrowed his eyes in thought, a vague idea gradually gaining clarity in his mind.

Chapter Text

The classification of spells and enchantments as wizard-made creations has long been debated. Though spells themselves have been formulated and activated by wizards, the energy put to use is drawn from the natural forces of the universe. An important argument against spells being entirely nature-based is the fact that all spells, without exception, contain flaws, or ‘holes’. It has been widely agreed upon that humankind is incapable of creating a flawless form; thus the imperfection of spells proves their inorganic nature.

The aforementioned argument poses the question of how such flaws are detected. A study performed by Orchard Jennings of Australia (1949 - present) provided the data to develop her widely acclaimed theory, the Magical Flaw Theory, which states that the variations of magical flaws can be divided into three types: (1) the irregular vibrations of active spells used in combat, transfiguration, and charms, (2) the fractures along the foundation of static enchantments such as protective warding-

“Wards. There we go,” Harry muttered to himself, skimming through the next few paragraphs until he reached the relevant section.

...faint cracks upon static protective enchantments can be detected. Should the warding have been erected by a novice, the fractures will be relatively simple to perceive; an individual positioned within six and a half feet of the enchantment will detect a shimmering wave traveling in a vertical direction on several points upon the length of the enchantment. If the enchantments were constructed by a trained professional, one must position themselves within seven inches of the enchantment, and said individual may then detect an area that glows comparatively brighter than the remainder of the enchantment.

To one residing within the wards, he continued to read, breaking through the flawed area is fairly simple once detected, though there is no single method; techniques vary according to an individual’s particular strengths…The use of a wand is not strictly necessary…

Harry smiled slightly as he closed the book and stuffed it back onto its shelf. Breaking through enchantments, that sounded like an endeavor he could probably manage. It took mainly focused magical strength and relatively little practical knowledge, which suited him perfectly.

I just have to find a way to do it without Snape noticing…

***

Harry picked at his food distractedly, his mind racing with the possibilities of bringing his plan to fruition. He tried to school his face into nonchalance when he noticed Snape looking at him oddly.

I don’t want to look like I’m plotting something. The man can read minds…

Harry waited nervously for Snape to speak, convinced that, somehow, the man had discovered the nature of his most recent research topic. But Snape did not speak; he studied Harry for a few moments more, then abruptly returned to his meal.

Harry continued eating in silence, anxious to finish so he could return to the library. He felt Snape’s gaze burning into the top of his head yet again, and he deliberately focused his eyes on his plate.

How am I going to stay out of his sight long enough to break through the spells? He’s watching me more carefully than usual. But how can he know…? He said he wouldn’t read my mind, plus I would know it, even if he did.

Harry gave a mental shrug and set down his fork, wiping his mouth surreptitiously with his napkin.

Snape cleared his throat, and Harry’s head shot up.

“Harry,” Snape began, then paused, seeming almost hesitant for a moment before his face smoothed over with resolve. 

Harry’s breath caught in his chest.

It must be something bad. Why else would he act like this? He’s kicking me out for sure. He doesn’t want me here anymore, he-

“There is a matter I wish to discuss with you that is of a rather delicate nature,” Snape said carefully.

Harry was taken aback.

What’s that supposed to mean?

“Er… okay?” Harry replied, frowning.

Snape was silent for a moment.

“I understand that it may be an uncomfortable topic for you,” Snape said in a low voice, “but it is important… no, vital, that you attempt to be honest with me.”

Harry furrowed his brow.

“I would suggest we take this conversation outside, but…” The distant rumbling of thunder was enough to lay that idea to rest.

“We could just stay here,” Harry muttered, wanting more than anything to get back to his books.

“Very well.”

Snape waved away the dishes and set steaming mugs of tea in their place within moments.

“I am going to get straight to the point, because this is not a matter to be taken lightly.”

Harry tensed, gripping his mug with both hands as if it stood to offer him some comfort, though the heat radiating from the porcelain did nothing to calm him.

“Has anyone ever touched you in any way that made you feel uncomfortable, or unsafe, in any manner?” Snape said clearly, his eyes focused upon Harry unblinkingly. 

Harry felt an uncomfortable heat rise up in his face. Did Snape really think-  Harry shook his head roughly, staring at his lap. 

“Nothing like that ever happened. I swear.” He forced himself to meet Snape’s eyes. “My uncle only ever hit me, nothing- nothing like-” 

Snape leaned forward, his forehead creased. “I am not just speaking of your uncle. A formerly homeless child such as yourself is a likely target for-”

“No.” And it was true, at least in the way Snape was implying. Those times he preferred not to think about when that man with the strange eyes had stared at him were not relevant, even if he’d only managed to escape worse than the leering was because he’d left, and landed himself in a dark alleyway only to be whisked away by Dumbledore.

But Jade. Jade. He hadn’t understood, he hadn’t understood until she was long gone and hopefully safe while he shivered under a tree with a threadbare blanket he’d pulled out of a bin and watched that man stare, and then he’d realized what it meant.

“No,” he said again, folding his arms across his chest and lifting his head.

“Are you certain?” The man’s tone was laced with urgency, and an undercurrent of something dangerous, but not to Harry. It was dangerous to someone who might have hurt him.

And that was almost enough to quell the endless fear he’d felt that still hovered over his every waking moment, even though the danger had passed and it made no sense to still be so afraid. And it did dull the sensation. Just a little.

***

Harry stood at the edge of the grounds later that day, squinting at the misty enchantments surrounding them. The rain had stopped a while ago, and the setting sun was just at a point where it beamed directly into his face, making it difficult to focus. He shifted his position slightly, shoes squelching in the wet grass, and he tilted his head until he was able to make them out without too much difficulty.

Okay… I need to spot an area that glows more brightly…

Twenty minutes passed, and Harry had not yet been able to spot a single flaw.

Of course, I had to get stuck with a bunch of professionals putting these together. They’re standing in the way of scientific experimentation…

Sure, scientific experimentation, that was exactly what he was doing.

Though I suppose I could use that as my excuse if I get caught…

Harry searched for a while longer, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to see as the sky darkened. He huffed in frustration.

This would be so much easier if I could just Floo to Surrey…

Not that it hadn’t occurred to him before. Harry was quite certain, however, that there were no fireplaces in Surrey that were connected to the Floo network, and even if there were, it definitely wasn’t worth the risk. He’d have to try again tomorrow.

Despite the early hour, Harry readied himself for bed and clutched his blankets tightly.

Why do I feel so… so…?

Vulnerable. That was what it was. He was feeling more wound up in this room than he had since the first week or so that he’d been there. It was easier during the day, when he had something to focus on. But the nighttime always came, to remind him that this could all be fleeting. That nothing in his life was truly secure. His ground was always shaky, and he had to tread carefully all the time, just in case it cracked beneath his feet and pulled him under.

He wanted his penknife. Maybe he wouldn’t use it, but just knowing that he could, if things got bad again, might be enough to help him fall asleep.

Harry pressed his lips together and opened a book at random. He read for a while, though his eyes shifted in and out of focus as he struggled to ignore the unpleasant thoughts that insisted on plaguing him.

Eventually, he could keep his eyes open no longer, and the book slipped from his slackened grip as he drifted off into a fitful sleep.

Not for long, however…

Harry let out an agonized scream and sat bolt upright in his bed, his chest heaving heavily. He dug his nails into his palms as he gradually blinked his way back into awareness, struggling to make out the dim image of his bedroom. His room. In Snape’s house.

Damn it, I screamed again.

Harry realized he was shivering uncontrollably, and he was too overwrought to do anything but let it continue.

Snape must have heard me.

Harry took a shuddering breath, feeling his eyes well up with tears.

I want him to come. I want him- What the hell? No you don’t. You don’t want him to come, you don’t want him to see you like this. You don’t want him to pity you, to see how weak you are...

But he couldn’t relax. He could almost feel Uncle Vernon’s meaty hands around his throat, Petunia’s cold, papery hands dragging him along by the ear. Her disgust, Vernon’s fury, and the utter indifference from both of them. They weren’t like Snape’s hands, which were warm and never hurt, and felt as though they would protect him from anything and would maim anyone that tried to harm him.

Harry felt a tear drop from his eye and down to his lip, where he could taste the salty wetness that was his pain and fear and fury, and then another tear fell, and then another, and he couldn’t do a thing to stop it, and he couldn’t even bring himself to care, when all he wanted was-

“Harry?”

And Snape was there.

Harry looked up at Snape through blurred eyes to see the man’s face, wrought with concern . The sight just made him cry harder.

Snape walked over slowly to sit on Harry’s bed beside him. He then reached out and pulled Harry close, and Harry was too tired to pull away, too afraid, too cold, and he breathed deeply, hiding his face in the man’s dressing gown.

Snape rubbed Harry’s back in a soothing motion, and his other hand held Harry’s head pressed into his chest. Harry breathed in the scent of Snape, the scent of safety, and he gradually calmed. He didn’t want to leave the embrace, not yet, so he remained where he was, his eyes closed, breathing slowly.

Finally, Harry pulled away. Snape let him go, but he did not rise from the bed, and Harry was grateful. He kept his eyes trained on his lap as he pulled his blanket over it.

“That must have been a particularly distressing nightmare,” Snape said quietly.

Harry clenched his fists around his blanket.

They were both still and quiet for a moment, until Snape reached out to lay a hand on Harry’s shoulder. He didn’t say anything, but he didn’t have to, because Harry heard him anyway. Snape was telling him that he could speak, that he could tell, that maybe it would loosen the nauseating tightness in his chest, just a little, to open his mouth and let the words pour out.

Harry took a shuddering breath. “They were s-scared of me.” He clenched his fists, feeling uneven nails dig into his palms. “Vernon, especially.” Working his jaw, Harry forced himself to continue, knowing with an unnerving clarity that it had to be said, that he needed to let the words out before they poisoned him even further. “He- it was only -only when my magic got stronger that he- he-”

Harry rolled back his shoulders, straightening his back because it wasn't he that should be hunched over in shame. “He kept hitting and hitting like he thought it’d make my magic go away, but it just made it even worse, even stronger, and he just didn’t stop. I thought he- he’d kill me- He didn’t think that I- I was a person-

Harry cleared his throat. “They- they hated me, n-no matter what I did,” he whispered. “They said I was a f-freak, that I s-should be dead. That I- that I deserved- Harry couldn’t go on, but he didn’t need to. Snape gripped his hands tightly into his own, knowing exactly what Harry needed, that he didn’t want to be held like he had before, but he just needed a reminder that Snape was there.

***

You will make an appearance in my home at precisely half-past nine this morning, or you will no longer have a potions master.

With a final wave of his wand, Severus sent his Patronus bearing the message on its way. 

How could Albus have allowed this to happen? Severus fumed, pacing the floors of the upstairs hallway. The sun had barely risen, but Severus wanted to remain in close proximity to Harry, loath for him to awaken alone after all that had transpired during the night.

I’m having difficulty believing that this was all an innocent mistake on Albus’ part. What was the fool thinking?

Severus barely restrained himself from pounding a fist into the wall.

Save it for Albus.

A Patronus in the form of a phoenix appeared, then, bearing Albus’ affirmative reply. Severus had not expected any less; Albus knew him well enough to know what constituted an emergency.

***

Harry kept his head down during breakfast to avoid looking Snape in the eye. After last night, he was not quite sure where he stood with the man.

“Harry.”

He forced himself to look up.

“Professor Dumbledore will be arriving here shortly- you need not speak with him,” Snape interjected when Harry inhaled sharply. “I simply thought you would rather be forewarned.”

Harry nodded, looking down.

Why is he coming this time? I can’t deal with that man anymore.

Harry forcibly shifted his thoughts away from Dumbledore, and towards his plan involving the wards, or rather, the lack of progress on that front.

Maybe I can work on it more while they’re talking.

“Can I go?” Harry asked abruptly, setting down his fork.

Snape nodded his consent, and Harry sped to the library in search of more books that might assist him in his mission.

Oh… This was why I couldn’t find the flaws, Harry realized as he read a passage of the book he’d selected. I was looking for them at sunset, and they’re hard to see when it starts to get dark…

Deeply engrossed in his reading, he was startled to hear the door of the library open.

“Professor Dumbledore had arrived,” Snape said, standing at the doorway. “He and I will be in my study. If you require assistance of any sort, do not hesitate to knock.”

“Yes, sir,” Harry muttered, hiding his anticipation. This was it. As soon as Snape and Dumbledore got talking, he could put his plan into action.

A few moments after Snape exited the room, Harry snuck quietly to the door. Pushing it opened carefully, hearing faint murmurings growing steadily quieter as the men walked toward Snape’s study. He then heard a click.

I hope Hedwig won’t hate me for this, Harry thought as he made his way across the grounds. 

Why am I worrying about Hedwig? Snape’s reaction is what I should be worried about…

Harry shoved that thought away. He needed to do this. He needed to know what had happened to the Dursleys so he could forget about them and everything that had happened. Otherwise, it would mean that Vernon had won. He may have not managed to beat the magic out of Harry, but the memory of him and all that he had done would be burned into Harry’s mind permanently if he didn’t find a way to let it go.

Harry reached the warding and scanned the enchantments carefully, positioned within what he judged to be seven inches of them.

At last, he spotted it. The faint, shimmering flaw in the spell.

***

As soon as the door of his study clicked shut, Severus waved his wand to muffle any sounds coming from the room. 

“So, Severus, I take it there is something of a serious manner you wish to discuss with me?”

Dumbledore, to his credit, was not smiling or twinkling. He obviously knew a dire situation when he saw one.

If he so much as twitches a lip, I will not be responsible for my actions.

Severus took a few calming breaths, intent upon confronting Albus in as rational a manner as he could manage. “Tell me, Albus, exactly how closely were you keeping tabs on the child whilst he was in the dubious care of his aunt and uncle?” 

Albus closed his eyes. “I am aware that he was not treated well there; it is not difficult to tell, the boy being the way he is.”

Albus paused, looking tired. Severus felt no compassion; he merely tapped a foot in his impatience for Albus to continue.

“I felt that it would engender resentment if I made personal appearances, so I had Arabella Figg situated in the area to keep an eye on the boy.”

Severus raised an eyebrow.

“Clearly, she did not do quite as well a job as I had hoped,” Albus said quietly, fingering a loose string on his dark green robes. “I wish I had done things differently. It was a difficult situation for all involved.”

Severus took another breath, willing himself not to explode. “Clearly, Albus, your best did not come close to being acceptable,” he bit out.

Albus closed his eyes again. “I know. The boy is one of many to have paid the price for my mistakes.”

Severus gritted his teeth. “That would be the least of it,” he all but growled.

Albus opened his eyes. “But Harry… he is such a bright, talented child, despite what he has had to face in his short life. He is… remarkable.

“So, clearly, his abilities nullify the wrongs that have been done to him?”

Albus tilted his head to the side. “Certainly not. Yet the past can hardly be undone-”

Severus had it. He leaned forward so his face was inches from Albus’.

“Are you aware,” he said in a low, dangerous tone, “that the child opted to live on the streets of London for a year rather than reside in the home of those monsters any longer?”

Albus’ eyes widened in horrified understanding, and Severus was perversely satisfied to see the color drain out of Albus’ face. “You- you are certain?” The man’s shoulders sagged, and he seemed to have aged decades in only seconds.

“No.” Severus sneered. “It is a likened pastime of mine to fabricate delightful tales of this nature- Yes, I am certain.”

Albus was silent for a long moment, a moment that felt as though it were suspended in time. He raised a faintly shaking hand to his mouth and stepped backwards so his back was leaning against the wall, looking every year of his age and then some.

“I did not know, Severus,” he croaked. “Truly, I didn’t. Had there been any indication, any at all, I would have taken the child in myself. I…” he couldn’t go on. His eyes glittered with what could only be tears, but they did not fall; it seemed that he had not given himself the right to allow it.

Severus inhaled. “I believe you,” he said slowly. “However, it is not me you need to convince.”

Albus nodded, straightening up. “I must make things right by the boy. I will speak with him-”

“No,” Severus said sharply. “It is clear to me that you have long given up your right to assume an authoritative role in Harry’s life, other than as his headmaster.”

He paused while Albus took that in, and watched as the man nodded, the motion firm, decided, yet fraught with something like loss.

“You will speak with the boy only if he is willing, and I will remain present during any interaction you might have with him.”

Albus inclined his head. “Of course.”

“I want full guardianship of the boy.”

Severus was at first shocked to hear those words come from his mouth, but after a moment, he fully agreed with the statement. He had been seeing Harry as his own for a while; legal papers would only solidify the relationship and allow him to be there for Harry on a more consistent basis.

Albus looked at him for a long moment.

“It shall be done.”

“Only upon his agreement, of course, “Severus said firmly. “I-”

Severus stopped. He could hear a faint ringing in his ears, and a low, deep rumbling from somewhere beneath his feet.

“The boy has left the property.”

Chapter Text

A few months prior...

Vernon Dursley blew out a last puff of smoke before tapping out his cigarette in the ashtray. Petunia hated that he’d taken up smoking, and she hated it even more when he smoked inside the house, but he’d left a window open, hadn’t he? And who was she to begrudge him this one small comfort, what with the incessant migraines he’d been experiencing after her mongrel of a nephew had used his freakish powers to throw him into a wall headfirst?

At least the little bastard was gone, probably off to torment some other poor sod who was just trying to scrape out a living for his family. And he had Dudley to think about, though he really had to get that boy on track; he was far too invested in his girly little art class and skipping out on rugby practice. After all he’d done to get that boy on the team? More than a few pounds had exchanged hands for it, and this was how his son repaid him?

Vernon pressed his palms onto the kitchen table and heaved himself to his feet with a groan, his lower back protesting the movement. He trudged towards the stairs, tossing his cigarette butt into the cupboard as he passed. Petunia never cleaned in there, anyway.

 

Current day:

Harry walked down the streets of the eerily silent neighborhood as quickly as he could without running. He didn’t want to draw any more attention to himself than necessary, just in case someone happened to poke their head out of the window.

I should have nicked the broomstick when I had the chance…

That wouldn’t have been an option, anyway. It wasn’t as though he could turn invisible too. But what were the chances he’d be able to hitch a ride to any place at all, let alone in the direction of Surrey, or London, from where he’d easily be able to make his way?

This neighborhood was as close to rural as it was possible to be without any actual farmland. 

How stupid could I be?

What exactly had he been expecting? That a ride would be waiting for him right outside the door? He’d been so focused on breaking through the enchantments that he’d failed to take into account that this wouldn’t be as simple as when he’d fled from Surrey, or when he’d made his way across London. There was nothing here at all. Not even a lone straggler passing by.

Maybe he should just go back before Snape realized he was gone. He’d go about his day and take some time to reassess the situation, to reformulate his plan so he’d be better prepared next time-

Do you really think Snape hasn’t already figured it out?

It was actually surprising that Snape hadn’t found him yet. The man would be furious, and he’d be justified. Maybe this was what would push Snape to get rid of him, or maybe he’d finally realize how worthless Harry really was, and he’d-

I can’t go back, I can’t go back. He’ll hate me he’ll hurt me he’ll kill me

He had to get away, he had to run, before Uncle Vernon caught up with him and made good on his threat to send him six feet under the ground, where he belonged-

No. No no no. This can’t happen again I won’t let this happen I have to get out I have to go I have to GO

And, suddenly, he did.

Harry blinked. 

He was standing on the roof of a building, looking down at a busy, bustling road. A very familiar road, because he’d walked across it countless times.

And he recognized this roof, because he’d been here too. The roof of the closest thing he’d found to home after leaving the Dursleys. This was his library.

Harry took a long, deep breath, his entire body sagging with relief. He’d done it. He’d actually done it. The hard part was over; he’d made it to London, where he could make his way around by muscle memory alone.

In the sunny heat of August, Harry did not feel particularly threatened as he weaved his way through the crowds, despite the altercations and violence he had witnessed and occasionally been the victim of in this city. That had mostly happened during the night, anyway, and not so much in this area, so he wasn’t too bothered by the absence of his penknife, which he hadn’t dared attempt to sneak back from wherever Snape had stored it.

He made his way to the train station, which wasn’t far, and he kept his head down and hands shoved into his pockets. No one gave him a second glance.

Boarding the train wasn’t difficult; he’d done it before. All he had to do was sneak on behind an older couple, looking as young and innocent as possible, and dart ahead when the train guard’s head was turned. Adults rarely paid attention to anything below shoulder height.

And isn’t that convenient, Harry thought sourly as he slipped into an empty seat, considering that I’ll probably never get any taller.

Harry shifted closer to the window to peer out of the grimy glass.

It would have been nice to fly… if not for the fact that the cops would have probably shot me down, thinking I was some sort of alien invasion…

Harry rolled his eyes inwardly, dragging the back of his hand across his forehead to wipe away the sweat that had accumulated during his walk through London. It was certainly one of the hottest days of the summer so far.

The train continued on its way, rumbling slightly at some moments, which caused the woman seated beside him to inadvertently jab her elbow into Harry’s upper arm.

“Oh, I’m terribly sorry, dear,” the woman apologized.

“It’s fine.” He shrugged

The women looked at him for a moment through dark eyes surrounded by the soft wrinkles of age. Her hair was gray and curly, and she was clad in a flowered housedress, posing a distinctly unintimidating figure. Harry relaxed minutely.

“Are you traveling alone?” the woman asked.

Harry chewed his lip for a moment. “Er, yeah, I’m visiting some… relatives.”

The woman smiled. “Well, that’s lovely. I’m on my way to see family as well.”

Harry nodded faintly, pressing his palms into his knees.

“You know,” the woman said thoughtfully, “people put too much stock in blood.” She leaned closer. “It is often whom we choose to share our lives with that are the most important.”

Harry closed his eyes for a moment. “Yeah,” he said hoarsely.

They were silent for the remainder of the ride. When the train came to its first stop, the woman straightened up. “This is where I get off.” She rose from her seat, gathering her bags. As she walked towards the exit of the train, she turned her head back toward Harry.

“Keep your family close,” she whispered.

With that, she stepped off the train. Harry watched her go, and as the train began to pick up speed, he could see that she was headed towards the cemetery across the street.

Keep your family close… the people we choose…

Harry didn’t have a family, and the only person he’d ever “chosen”, Jade, had left him without a goodbye. Abruptly, the image of a tall, dark-haired man who’d held him during the night invaded his mind.

Harry shoved it away.

He’s not my family. He’s just been nice to me because he’s a decent person and he feels sorry for me. Maybe he doesn’t mind me living with him, but it’s not like he really wants me there.

It didn’t matter how badly Harry wanted differently.

This was no time to get sentimental. He had a mission to accomplish, and the train would be arriving at his stop at any moment. 

As Harry disembarked, his eyes darted in all directions. The familiarity of the area was disconcerting, and a sudden chill shot through his chest, in sharp contrast to the heat outside. He studiously ignored it. The train had stopped just a few streets away from the local shopping center in Surrey, so Harry soon arrived at his first destination, the supermarket, which usually carried back editions of the local paper.

Trying to appear as inconspicuous as possible, Harry ruffled through the rack of newspapers positioned near the entrance.

I’d probably need to look through June’s edition, in the obituary section or something… or maybe May…

He scanned June’s edition with little luck; there were no articles about any deaths, and the only people mentioned in the obituary section were an eighty-three-year-old man who had died of congestive heart failure, and another man who apparently…

Why am I even reading this? Just check May’s edition.

He skimmed the paper carefully, blinking rapidly as the tiny, inked letters blurred intermittently. And then he spotted it.

The deaths of Vernon Dursley, 35, and Petunia Dursley, 33, were confirmed on May 30th. According to police reports, a fire broke out in their Little Whinging home between the hours of three and four a.m.. It was discovered that a lit cigarette had been discarded in a cupboard beneath the stairs, which had made contact with an ammonia-based cleaning fluid. The son of the victims, age 10, who had not been in the home at the time, has been taken into the custody of a relative.

Harry blinked, and read it again. And again.

Whatever Harry had been expecting to discover, that was certainly not it. The Dursleys hadn’t been attacked by an axe murderer, nor had they been accosted by dark wizards. They had simply died as a result of their own stupidity.

Well, that was certainly anticlimactic…But Dudley didn’t die. He’s alive, probably living with Aunt Marge.

As much as Dudley had bullied and tormented him, Harry felt sorry for him. And after that conversation he’d had with Dudley about Uncle Vernon’s expectations, Harry hadn’t been as bothered by the bullying. It had been so easy to see through Dudley’s exterior to the insecure child beneath.

And now his parents are dead, just like mine. Aunt Marge probably isn’t a very good guardian for him. I mean, she drowned one of her dogs when it was ill…

Harry replaced the newspaper carefully and exited the store, leaning against the window outside. He hadn’t anticipated that it would be this easy. But here he was in Surrey, early afternoon on one of the hottest days of the year, unsure of what to do next.

Letting his feet guide him, Harry strolled down the familiar roads that he’d frequented throughout his childhood. It felt strange to be there. It hadn’t been all that long, really, but it felt like a lifetime ago the last time he’d been here, when he’d run, armed with a handful of cash and nothing much to lose.

Harry blinked, and he realized that he’d reached Little Whinging.

There were very few people outdoors, undoubtedly due to the heatwave, and although that suited Harry just fine, it felt eerie.

He reached Privet Drive and walked slowly towards the other end of the road where number four was located. It was almost completely silent; all Harry could hear was the faint rustle of leaves from the almost nonexistent breeze, a distant chirping of birds, and the tread of his own footsteps. He kept his head down, watching his feet move steadily.

Left. Right. Left. Right.

He idly kicked a stone that stood in his path, watching as it rolled away and slipped through the bars of the gutter, vanishing into obscurity. His feet stopped moving before he fully registered that they should, and he stood still, slowly raising his head to face the house that had never been his home. 

There was yellow construction tape surrounding the property, and a sign with the words ‘Condemned Building’ had been stuck into the dirt. What was left of the lawn was cracked and yellow, and what remained of the house itself was a skeleton of what it had once been. The bricks that hadn’t yet been knocked down were scorched and crumbled, and through what had previously been windows but were now just gaps with the remains of the shattered glass still attached to the sides, Harry could see that the house had been emptied, scooped out like the inside of a clam. Although it seemed to be in the midst of rebuilding, not much progress had been made.

No one was around to stop him, so Harry took that as permission to step over the yellow tape.

He shivered. Though the immaculately kept garden was no longer, Harry could still see himself, clear as day, spending hours upon hours pruning it to perfection, the sun beating down on the back of his neck. Glancing to his left, he noticed that he was standing just a few feet away from where Uncle Vernon had come up behind him once and shoved him face first into the fence. Harry could recall feeling dizzy for the next two days.

Suddenly, Harry remembered something.

Could it still be there…?

There was something he had left behind when he’d run away, something important that he hadn’t had the chance to grab as he ran from the house. But it had long since been forgotten, or, perhaps, pushed to the back of his mind where he would not have to think about what he had lost. It had most likely been burned away along with the rest of the contents of the house, but he still had to check.

He needed to go inside.

Harry wiped his forehead with the back of his hand and stepped forward, nearing the entrance. The door had either been removed or burned away entirely, so Harry shut his eyes tightly and stepped through, opening them slowly when he passed the threshold.

The place was unrecognizable. Every last piece of evidence that the Dursleys had resided here had been eradicated, but Harry could still make out the faint remains of what had once existed.

The fireplace now consisted of crumbled brick and ash, but Harry could almost see the designs that had been carved into the wall beside it. He shuddered, turning away.

There was nothing left of the kitchen; like the rest of the house, the floor was grayish, scattered with pebbles and debris, remnants of what once had been small parts of what had made the house a home to those who lived in it. But not to him.

Harry walked towards the staircase, which was now nothing more than stacks of burnt wood, and beneath it…

The cupboard. Or lack thereof.

Judging by the cracks in the surrounding patch of wall, there had clearly been an explosion inside, and the entire interior had been demolished.

His feet moving of their own volition, Harry stepped directly into the remains of his cupboard. To a stranger, it was just a crumbled mound of wood and concrete, but Harry could still see the outline of it. His breaths grew short and sporadic. He tried to even out his breathing by taking deeper breaths, but he ended up inhaling the thick dust that seemed to cover much of the surface of his surroundings. He choked, and was soon caught in the throes of a coughing fit.

Okay, just calm down before you hack up a lung.

Harry’s coughing fit eventually eased, and he wiped his streaming eyes with his sleeve, forcing himself to breathe slowly. He lowered himself onto his knees, ignoring the sting of pebbles pressing into them as he did so. He then shifted some of the crumbled stone from a particular patch of the floor, feeling around for that one spot…

His hand tripped into the edge of a slight incline in the floor, where the concrete had been somehow dug away long before the Dursleys had lived there. When the cupboard had been intact, there had been a loose floorboard concealing it that Harry had discovered when he’d been really young. Now the board was gone, but the opening was still there.

His heart beating rapidly against his ribcage, Harry tentatively dug his hand into it, fumbling around for…

His hand brushed against a small, wooden box. He gave a faint gasp and closed his fingers around it.

How is it still intact? It’s wood, it should have burned away.

Harry pulled it out and cupped the box in his hands. It was small and nondescript, and there was a small, metal latch that held it closed. Upon further look, Harry noticed a faint glow encasing it, and when he pressed his fingers more tightly into the wood, he could feel the slight vibration of magic.

So that’s why it didn’t burn.

Harry hugged the box closely to his chest, his hands trembling slightly. He hadn’t had the chance to take it with him when he’d left, and he had never expected to get it back. It was best that he had left it here, anyway, because it wouldn’t have lasted two days on the streets. But here it was, intact, as though it had been waiting for him all this time. His fingers twitched with the temptation to open it, but he didn’t want the contents tainted by the memories of the house. He rose to his feet, not bothering to brush the dust from his trousers. Directing his gaze straight ahead, he exited the house, kicking aside the debris that blocked his way.

Harry walked down the street away from Number Four, his box still pressed against his chest. The heat of the day had lessened slightly, but it did not prevent the sweat from gathering on his forehead and dripping into his eyes.

He didn’t bother to wipe it away.

Harry walked slowly, clutching his box so tightly that his hands were beginning to grow numb. Distracted, he failed to notice the tree stump obstructing his path until he tripped over it, landing painfully on his knees and forearms.

“Damn,” Harry muttered, his eyes watering in pain. At least his box hadn’t hit the ground. He sat up gingerly, shaking out his limbs to test for injury. Nothing seemed too badly damaged, so he pressed a palm to the floor to push himself to his feet. He swayed alarmingly when he stood, so he sat down quickly on the offending tree stump to rest for a moment.

Tree stump… tree.

Harry sat up straight. He knew where he needed to go.

He rose carefully and walked for a while longer, simultaneously dazed and hyper-aware of his surroundings, until he felt his breath catch in his chest. He had been right here, at this very corner, when he met Jade for the first time. He stood very still, seeing her in every movement and hearing her in every sound. But she wasn’t there. She was gone, she had left him, and she was never coming back.

I should be happy for her that she got away.

Harry was happy for her. He wouldn’t wish what they had both gone through on anyone, and she deserved to be safe and happy.

Despite all that, Harry still felt the urge to cry. He missed her, was it asking too much to be able to see the only person that had ever provided him with the tiniest shred of happiness? He clutched his box more tightly. At least he hadn’t lost that, too.

Harry bit the inside of his mouth harshly and continued down the route that he and Jade had taken so many times before. This was the route to safety, or it had been once. It didn’t feel the same now, without her.

Or is it because it’s not the only safe place anymore?

Harry shrugged that thought away, and before he knew it, he was entering the familiar wooded area. He kept his eyes trained on the ground as he walked, his feet dragging slightly.

Why am I so tired?

Harry had to fight the urge to take a rest under one of the passing trees. He could rest to his heart’s content once he reached the treehouse.

And there it was, right before him.

Tucking his box under an arm, he made his way up the tree. The climb was more difficult than he remembered, most likely due to his exhaustion. But he reached the top and heaved himself through the entrance, and he was immediately assaulted by memories.

Laughing at one of her anecdotes…

Just being able to talk and know he was being heard…

The scent of the food she had always brought for him…

Taking Jade’s hand when she pretended she wasn’t crying, letting Jade sit close beside him when he pretended he wasn’t afraid...

Harry sat with his back pressed against the wooden wall with his legs folded. Then he finally opened the box. Exhaling upon finding that everything was intact and that nothing was missing, he pulled out a worn paper and unfolded it.

It was a picture Jade had drawn for him. She had been artistically talented, and, unbeknownst to him, she had done a sketch of his face and later given it to him.

Harry remembered that he had been momentarily speechless, as he had never before received a gift. She had flushed uncomfortably at his gratitude, but Harry could see a small smile coaxing at the corners of her mouth.

What was most interesting about her sketch was the expression on his face. It was almost happy.

Harry re-folded the picture carefully and set it aside, pulling out a small, plastic toy soldier from the box. Not long before he had left the Dursleys for good, he had slipped into his cupboard one evening to find it on his bed. He had known right away that Dudley had put it there. That wasn’t enough to make Harry like Dudley or forgive what he had done in the past, but Harry had appreciated the gesture. Though a toy soldier fixed nothing, it was still one positive thing he could cling to. 

There was also a stone he had made glow when he first began to experiment with his magic, and there was a bit of toffee that never seemed to grow stale, which he had received at school for getting a top mark on a test.

And there was another folded paper. It was a list he had written when he was really young, back when he'd still believed that if he tried hard enough, he could get what he wanted.

It read:

Be really, really good so Aunt Petunia will like me.

Taste every ice cream flavor in the world.

Make a friend.

Find a dad.

At that, Harry couldn’t go on. He shoved everything back into the box and set it aside, hugging his knees to his chest and pressing his face into his arms. He dug his fingernails into his legs and squeezed his eyes shut tightly.

He had gotten what he wanted, or at least some of it, and he had lost it all. He’d made a friend who had left him, and Snape…

Snape didn’t want him, and even if he did, Harry had certainly given it all up by running away like this.

Stupid, stupid, stupid… I lose everything, and this time it’s my fault.

Harry sniffed, tears stinging at his eyes, and he forced them back before he broke into full-out sobs. Feeling incredibly drained, he curled up on the floor and rested his head in his arms.

He lay there for a while, drifting between sleep and wakefulness. He was not quite aware of the time passing; all he knew was the familiar scent of the treehouse that had lulled him into a state of relaxation.

He was so tired…

A sudden rustling of the leaves outside jerked Harry out of his trance, rendering him wide-awake and alert.

Breathing carefully, he shifted over to peek out of the entrance, and for one heart-stopping moment, he was convinced that it was Jade.

But it wasn’t. He froze.

It was Snape, and the expression on his face was more irate than Harry had ever seen it.

And that was saying something.

Chapter Text

What was this imbecilic child thinkingSeverus fumed internally as he led Harry down the walkway toward the house, his grip tight on the boy’s shoulder.

Of all the idiotic escapades…

When they reached the sitting room, Severus had to restrain himself from positively shoving the boy onto the couch seat. Once they were both seated, Severus leaned toward the boy, prepared for an interrogation concerning what on Merlin’s good earth had possessed him to do such a thing, but Harry’s pale face gave him pause. The child’s face was slick with sweat, eyes glazed and unfocused, and his hands were trembling lightly.

He is dehydrated, Severus realized with a jolt of guilt. He’s been running about all day in this heat, and the foolish child most likely did not think to have a drink.

He flicked his wand sharply, feeling another stab of guilt at the boy’s flinch, though, by Merlin, he should be nervous, and a glass of water appeared, hovering in the tension-thick air between them. He handed the glass to Harry, who stared at him with a dazed sort of shock.

“Drink,” Severus said gruffly. “We are in the midst of a heatwave.”

Of all days the boy would have chosen to do this, it would be on a day like this.

Severus watched the boy gulp down the water frantically and then promptly lean over to vomit on the floor.

Clearly, he is worse off than I thought.

Severus waved away the mess and walked over to the boy, who immediately cringed, muttering “Sorry, sorry…”

Severus took several deep breaths.

“You are suffering from dehydration. I am going to carry you upstairs so you can recover, and we will discuss this little escapade of yours in the morning.”

Clearly too exhausted to argue, Harry slumped over and allowed Severus to lift him from the couch. As he did, a small, wooden box that he hadn’t noticed the boy was carrying slipped from his grip onto the floor.

Harry tensed. “The box,” he said hoarsely. “I need the box.” The child was growing more and more frantic, struggling in Severus’ grip as though to escape it.

Severus merely tightened his hold on the boy and summoned the box. With a surreptitious flick of his wand, he ascertained that it contained nothing dangerous, so he handed it to the boy, who grabbed hold of it and clutched it against himself like a lifeline.

The child calmed, then, and his eyes fluttered open and closed intermittently as Severus continued to carry him upstairs. Severus felt some of the anger fade at the sight. The boy looked so small.

It’s best that we discuss this in the morning, in any case. I need to cool down.

Severus entered Harry’s bedroom and lowered him onto his bed, propping his head up on some pillows. He quickly summoned a hydration potion and handed it to the boy, warning him to sip slowly. It was then that Harry’s owl flew from where she had been perched silently atop the wardrobe to land lightly on his chest. The boy dropped the box onto the mattress beside him and wrapped his free arm around the owl, stroking her feathers.

After draining the bottle, Harry looked up at Severus through hazy eyes. “Why are you doing this?” he whispered, letting go of the empty bottle and drawing his other arm around the owl.

Severus looked down at him, unsure of how to respond.

He does not understand the concept of a person truly caring for him regardless of his actions. According to his perception, in light of his misbehavior, he should not be provided with his most basic needs.

Severus opened his mouth to speak when he realized that the boy had drifted off, the owl still perched atop his chest. Shaking his head, Severus exited the room, his anger quite dissipated.

***

Harry picked at his food the following morning, his shoulders tight with anxiety. Snape had not yet said a word to him other than “eat”, but Harry knew good and well that he was in for it. He had never angered Snape to this extent; the worst thing he had done before this was kick the table, or maybe hang upside down from the tree. His little trip the previous day qualified as misbehavior on an entirely different level, and, quite frankly, Harry was surprised that Snape hadn’t thrown him out by now. Or, perhaps not, considering the manner in which the man had taken care of him last night.

Why? Why did he do that when he was so angry? I guess he can’t punish me if I’m unconscious…

Harry let his fork slip from his fingers to land on his plate with a clatter. Snape stood up abruptly, causing Harry to jerk back slightly in surprise. Without speaking, the man beckoned toward Harry to follow him, who did so immediately, loath to anger the man even more than he already had.

They reached the sitting room, and Snape pointed Harry towards the couch and seated himself opposite him. Harry sat there silently for several moments, his eyes on his lap and his hands clasped together.

Why isn’t he talking?

Simultaneously frustrated and uncomfortable, Harry peered up at Snape hesitantly, who was looking back at him with an infuriatingly blank expression.

Finally, Harry could no longer take it.

“I’m sorry,” he said quietly.

Snape was silent for another long moment.

“You’re sorry,” he said flatly.

“What else am I supposed to say?”

Snape raised an eyebrow. “If you can provide for me a semblance of a reasonable motive for you to traipse across the country unsupervised , I would be more than delighted to hear it,” he said, his tone growing more caustic.

Harry looked down.

“Do not look away from me.”

Harry’s head shot up, eyes wide. “I just- there was…”

“Yes?” Snape bit out, his voice trembling ever so slightly with the effort of keeping his temper.

“There were things I needed to do,” Harry said, knowing that his explanation would do nothing to curb Snape’s anger.

“There were things you needed to do.”

Harry remained silent.

“And what, pray tell, could possibly be so vital that you felt the need to break through the protective enchantments surrounding this property meant to keep you safe? Did you not think to ask me to escort you if it was so important to you?” Snape paused for a breath. “Harry, have I not done enough to prove to you that I am sufficiently trustworthy to ask for assistance?” The man sounded almost pained at that point.

Harry’s eyes darted away, the beginnings of guilt creeping into his chest. He’d known Snape would be angry, but worried? Hurt? He hadn’t really considered that.

Harry drew a shuddering breath, but when he opened his mouth to speak, nothing came out. What could he say?

Snape looked moments away from exploding. “Have you any idea of what might have happened? Did you think I envisioned finding you safe and intact in a bloody tree house?”

Harry bit down hard on his lip, digging his nails into his palms.

“For the love of Merlin, Harry, answer me!” Snape said, clutching the armrests of his chair so tightly his forearms trembled.

Harry would have thought he’d be more afraid, seeing Snape act this way. And he was frightened, but that emotion was overshadowed by the burning shame that was engulfing his insides. He really hadn’t considered how his actions would affect Snape, and after all the man had done for him…

I don’t deserve any of it.

“I’m sorry,” Harry said, his voice cracking. “I wasn’t – I didn’t think that-”

“You didn’t think that I would care,” Snape said quietly. The man’s face was no longer tight with anger; it was tired, now, edged with lines of frustration and anxiety.

Snape exhaled heavily, slumping slightly in his chair, while Harry sat taut, his back ramrod straight.

“Now,” Snape said, straightening up again, “your punishment.”

Harry held himself very still, knowing that he deserved whatever was coming to him.

“As, evidently, you cannot be left to your own devices for more than a moment at a time, you will remain within my sight at all times unless I indicate otherwise, aside from when you are in your bedroom or the restroom.”

Harry winced slightly at that, but he did not say a word.

Snape continued smoothly. “If I am in my laboratory, you will be as well. If it suits me to remain in my office for the better part of the afternoon, so will you. You will not set foot on the grounds without my accompaniment, and you will not use the library unless I am with you.”

He paused to level his gaze at Harry, who attempted to keep his expression blank, hard as it might be. He deserved much worse than this; he had no right to complain or feel upset.

“Furthermore,” Snape went on, “you are banned from flying for the foreseeable future, and your extended time spent in my presence will not be wholly enjoyable.”

Harry bit his lip, waiting for Snape to elaborate. When he did not, Harry asked hesitantly, “Meaning?”

“Meaning that you will not be brewing fascinating and challenging potions alongside me. You will be set menial tasks to complete while I am brewing, as well as in my office.”

Harry nodded minutely.

“Have I made myself perfectly clear?” Snape asked sternly, his eyes boring into Harry’s.

He nodded again.

“A verbal response, if you would.”

“Y-yes, sir.”

***

The remainder of the day was just as tedious as Harry had expected. He spent the bulk of the afternoon in the lab with Snape, sorting beetle eyes of varying sizes into piles followed by the distinctly unpleasant task of squeezing out flobberworm innards, for which, thankfully, he had been provided with gloves. It was boring and repetitive, just as Snape had promised, but that was all. It didn’t really feel like a punishment. It wasn’t painful or particularly difficult; it seemed like nothing more than a chore.

He deserved much worse than this for upsetting Snape so badly.

Maybe he’s just making me wait for the real punishment…

No, that couldn’t be it. Snape wasn’t like that. He wouldn’t hurt Harry, he knew that, but the pressure of guilt weighing on him was almost worse.

That was why Harry couldn’t look Snape in the eye as they sat down for dinner, which, again, Snape was providing for him even though he didn’t deserve it.

“Perhaps you’d like to share with me the details of yesterday’s little excursion,” Snape stated more than asked.

Harry looked up, chewing his lip. Snape waited, one eyebrow raised.

“I... er… I went to London, and then Surrey.” 

Snape narrowed his eyes at him. “How on earth did you manage that?” He sounded more incredulous than angry.

Harry swallowed. “After I b-broke through the spells, I wasn’t sure how I’d - how I’d get there, but then I just appeared in London…”

“Accidental magic,” Snape murmured. 

Harry peeked up at the man, who abruptly straightened and focused his gaze upon Harry. “And what was the reason for this… expedition?”

Biting down hard on his lip, Harry dropped his gaze, staring at the food on his plate that was becoming less appetizing by the moment. “I needed to know how they died,” he said in a low voice, his shoulders tensing and his eyes darting upward against his will.

Snape exhaled slowly, closing his eyes. He looked exhausted, which made Harry feel even worse.

“And you did not think to ask me to obtain that information for you?”

Harry had no answer.

Snape said no more after that, turning back to his food to continue his meal in silence. Strangely, Harry felt even more anxious despite having escaped further questioning.

He’s so angry he won’t even talk to me. He hates me.

Harry felt a lump grow in his throat, and he gripped his fork tightly with the effort of keeping his face impassive.

Snape sent Harry up to his room after dinner, allowing him to take a few books along. He clutched at Hedwig desperately as he sat on his bed with his back against the headboard, his eyes occasionally flicking towards the box on his bedside table. After staring at the same paragraph in a book of which he couldn’t even recall the title, he gave up and crawled under his covers.

***

“You thought I cared for you, Potter?” Snape said derisively. “I never wanted you, but Dumbledore insisted.”

Snape’s pale, angular face morphed into the lined, blue-eyed visage of Dumbledore, who drew more closely to Harry.

“Come with me, Harry,” he said in that deceptively kind voice. “I hoped that Severus would learn to tolerate you, but it seems I was mistaken.”

He gave Harry a disappointed frown, then faded away, replaced by Vernon, whose face was twisted into a snarl.

“No one could ever love you, boy.”

He reached for Harry, who stumbled backwards, his hands covering his face

Harry awoke, gasping for breath but mercifully silent. He gripped his blanket with trembling fingers, his heart beating frantically.

Just a dream just a dream just a dream…

Harry scrubbed his watery eyes furiously, biting his lip so hard he could taste blood.

Just a dream just a dream just a dream… But Snape still hates me.

***

As Harry walked down to the kitchen a few sleepless hours later, he ran through his plan once more. He was well aware that it was an act of desperation, but desperate times called for desperate measures.

Halfway through breakfast, during which, again, Snape barely spoke. Harry asked quietly to be excused to use the bathroom. Snape nodded his consent, and Harry slipped out of the room and snuck out the front door to sit under his tree.

This was probably one of the stupidest things he had ever done, which was why it would work. Snape would be furious enough to give Harry a real punishment, and then Harry would stop feeling so guilty and Snape wouldn’t be quite as angry.

Sure enough, Snape was stalking toward him moments later, his face white with fury. Harry disregarded his every instinct that was screaming at him to run for his life and remained where he was. He held perfectly still as Snape leaned down to grip his arm tightly and yank him to his feet.

Here it comes.

But it didn’t. Snape just pulled him through the doorway and into the office, where he was deposited into a straight-backed chair next to the wall.

“Just… stay there,” Snape said tersely, pulling out some fresh parchment.

Harry sat there for what felt like hours, watching Snape scribble on the parchment and swinging his legs idly. He was bored stiff, but, again, that was all.

What’s it going to take to make him angry enough to hit me and get it over with? Harry wondered, frustrated. Maybe a repeat offense?

Harry was fraught enough to do anything to assuage the guilt and tension between him and Snape.

I just want it to be normal again.

So, when Snape left to use the restroom himself, plying Harry with strict instruction to remain where he was, Harry slipped out the front door again silently to sit under the same tree.

The wait for Snape to come find him felt longer than it had the last time. The back of his shirt scraped lightly against the bark of the tree as he shifted, folding his legs underneath him. He yanked out a few blades of grass and peeled them into strips, letting them fall back to the ground once bored with the activity.

He can’t have been in the bathroom this long…

He waited for a while longer, and he was seconds away from just giving up and going back inside when he heard the front door open.

Harry trembled as Snape walked toward him.

You asked for this, you wanted it, so stop being scared and take what’s coming to you.

But when the man reached him, he didn’t lean down or lift a hand to strike him. He just stood there for a moment, looking down at Harry.

“I know what you are doing, Harry,” he said quietly.

Startled, Harry jerked his head up, staring, before dropping his eyes back to his lap, still littered with stray blades of grass.

Snape knelt down on one knee. “I will never hit you.” He paused, reaching over slowly to tilt Harry’s face upward. “There is nothing you can do to change that.”

Harry tried to shift away, but Snape held his head in place.

How did he know?

“I want you to repeat to me what I just said to you,” Snape said quietly.

Harry gave him an odd look.

Snape sighed. “I am well aware that you do not view your restrictions as a proper punishment, but, I assure you, most children would. Striking or otherwise harming a child in any manner is reprehensible.”

Harry averted his eyes.

Snape sighed again, letting go of Harry’s chin. “Tell me, Harry, what do you believe the purpose of a punishment is?”

Is that a trick question?

“Harry?”

“To show who’s in control,” Harry said with an undertone of bitterness.

Snape’s face was unreadable. “And you believe the best way to accomplish that is…?”

Harry didn’t hesitate this time. “Hitting.”

“Look at me, Harry.”

Harry flicked his eyes toward him.

“That is where you are wrong,” Snape said.

Harry shook his head slightly.

I’m not wrong.

“I know that has been your experience in the past,” Snape said. “But do you honestly believe that the behaviors of your previous guardians were rational?”

Harry swallowed. “I don’t-” he paused, recalling the enraged gleam he’d often seen in Vernon’s eyes, and the overwhelming fury that he unleashed onto Harry, often for no visible reason at all. He compared that to Snape’s controlled anger, only sparked to life when Harry risked his safety, and the acts of kindness offered even at his most irate. He could see the warmth in Snape’s eyes even at this very moment.

“No,” Harry said in a low voice.

Snape looked faintly relieved. “Now that we have established that your late guardians’ views on punishment were entirely faulty, I will attempt to explain what the purpose of your current punishment is.”

Harry shifted uncomfortably.

“The purpose is to deter future similar behaviors, not to establish control. It is an attempt to prevent repeat occurrences of dangerous and irresponsible behaviors as was recently displayed.”

Harry gave him a skeptical look. “But wouldn’t hitting be a better deterrent?” he asked stiffly.

Snape’s lips tightened. “Absolutely not. Perhaps it would be in the short-term, but ultimately, it only trains a child to fear adults, thereby halting the development of trust between them.”

Snape leaned closer to Harry, still kneeling on one knee.

“What is most important at this time is for you to trust me. I am quite certain this entire debacle would not have occurred had you done so.”

Harry was silent.

Snape shifted so he was now resting on both knees. “Perhaps, one day, you will learn that I care only for you and your well-being, and that I will do everything in my power to maintain it.”

“But… you’re still angry,” Harry whispered, pressing his back into the tree trunk. “You hate- you don’t want-”

“Stand up,” Snape said abruptly, rising to his feet.

Harry immediately stood, his breaths quickening.

“Come here,” Snape said, beckoning.

Harry walked toward him slowly, confused and half-terrified that he had managed to push Snape to the edge.

But no. Snape gripped Harry’s shoulder and pulled him against his chest, wrapping his arms around him.

Harry froze in shock, and it took him several moments to realize that he was being hugged. Snape’s hands were warm against his back, firm, yet not so tight that Harry couldn’t pull away if he wanted to. He was holding Harry against him as though he hadn’t been doing everything he could to anger the man, as if none of that mattered, and Harry couldn’t understand. But, right then, he didn’t bother to try. He gradually relaxed into the embrace, latching his fists onto Snape’s robes and carefully resting his head against the man’s chest. He could feel Snape’s heart beating steadily against his ear.

“Do you understand now?” Snape murmured.

Harry drew in a sharp breath, his head still pressed into Snape’s chest.

“I will never hurt you, Harry,” he said firmly. He took Harry by the shoulders and pushed him back slightly so he was looking into his eyes.

“I want you to say it.”

Harry felt his lips tremble slightly. He opened his mouth, then closed it again.

“Go on.”

“You- you won’t hurt me,” Harry said shakily, biting down on his lower lip. Snape was looking at him with such overwhelming compassion that Harry felt an intense urge to avert his eyes. But, somehow, he couldn’t look away.

“Say it again.”

Harry took a long breath. “You won’t hurt me.”

The grip on his shoulders tightened. “That’s right.” Snape drew Harry back into his arms.

Harry released a shuddering breath, feeling as though a heavy weight had been lifted from his shoulders. Yes, he was in trouble. Yes, Snape wasn’t his father and never would be. And maybe he was only caring for Harry out of obligation, but in the end, Harry was being cared for by a person who was good to him, who didn’t hurt him, and who was kind to him no matter how angry he was.

Perhaps this was what Harry had been missing all this time.

Chapter Text

The moment Albus passed the threshold of Severus’ office, Severus sealed the door quickly and silenced the surrounding area.

Harry was safely occupied in the library, and considering the extent of the tracking charms on both the child and every entrance of the house, Severus would be immediately notified in the unlikely event that the boy attempted to leave.

If the child dared to be so foolish, Severus thought wryly as he sat across from Albus, who was settling into the large, purple armchair he so often conjured. Severus focused upon the older man’s bright-blue, alert gaze.

“Regarding my pending guardianship of Harry,” Severus said, steepling his hands. “Assuming it will come to fruition…”

“I do not foresee any significant difficulties,” Albus said confidently. “The eyes and ears I have in the Ministry should successfully override any concerns regarding your less-than-stellar background.”

Severus nodded. He had not expected any less.

“You will wish to speak with Harry first, I presume?” Albus inquired.

“Indeed.”

Albus clasped his hands together. “I had hoped,” he began, “that you might make an attempt to convince the child to speak with me as well.”

“I will inform him of your request,” Severus said slowly. “However, the decision will be left entirely in his hands.”

“Of course.”

Neither of them spoke for several moments.

“What of my position, Albus?” Severus asked, his words a harsh splicing of the contemplative silence.

Albus didn’t reply, the very picture of nonplussed, as though he didn’t understand the source of Severus’ concern. 

“I am a Death Eater,” Severus bit out. “Rather, I will play the part of one upon the Dark Lord’s return. Harry will be put at risk, and I will not have it.”

Albus gave him a steady nod, but he did not speak. Severus ground his teeth.

“Is it not obvious to you how the Dark Lord will view the situation?” Severus didn’t pause for an answer. “He will either distrust me, which will undoubtedly result in my death, or he will expect me to use the child for his ends.” His shoulders tightened at the thought. “I will sooner flee the wizarding world with Harry than put him in harm’s way.”

Severus stopped, his breaths short and angered. He’d long since grappled with the regret for his poor choices and had resigned himself to the fate he’d brought upon himself, but this was no longer about him. Years-old misdeeds had led him to this very moment, right on the edge of forever altering his life in a way he’d sworn he never would. He would never marry nor sire a child, would never open himself up to the pain it would undoubtedly bring him, and his solitary existence well served him and his inevitable end. How ironic that the very fate he’d wrought had landed a young boy in his arms, a child whom he could no sooner let go than saw off his own leg.

Finally, Albus spoke. “I foresaw that occurrence the very moment I found Harry in London.”

Severus then said the most inane thing he had spoken since his early years at Hogwarts. Or, rather, since the day he had verbally accepted the Dark Mark from the psychopath to whom he was eternally bound. 

“Pardon?”

Albus continued, “I did not make the decision to place Harry in your care lightly. I anticipated that you might form a bond with him, and even if you did not, your relationship with him would still be closer than that of a school teacher.”

Severus raised an eyebrow. “Then why was he placed in my care?”

“There was no other option,” said Albus, his expression infuriatingly placid. “I knew it the moment I sensed the collapse of the blood protections on Privet Drive. Admittedly, I am still unsure of the reason they remained intact despite Harry having left the home long before the demise of his relatives…” His eyes narrowed slightly in thought.

“What do you expect of me, Albus?” Severus cut it. “I will not see Harry put at risk of being harmed any more than he already has been.”

“Nor will I, which is why I insist he remain in your care.”

“Then what of my position?” Severus reiterated, frustrated beyond belief.

“Severus,” Albus said softly. “I have long been prepared for the eventuality that you would be unable to reprise your role as a spy.”

“If not I, then who else?”

“I’d rather not speak of it just yet, but rest assured that I view your role as Harry’s guardian to be far more vital than your eventual spying position.”

Severus stared. He could do nothing else.

“Why, you ask?” Albus continued. “Certainly, your skills and temperament are better suited to spying than parenting.”

“Obviously-”

“Because Harry is thriving in your care, Severus. He positively glows with it.”

Severus froze for a moment before huffing out a ragged breath. “If you knew of the mistakes I have made with him-”

“Yet he trusts you, far more than I thought possible when I first met him,” Albus interjected. “When I found Harry in London, he was so consumed by pain and rage that his aura was tainted with it.”

Severus closed his eyes.

“Your care for him has eased much of that pain. No, he is not free of it all,” Albus said quickly when Severus made to interrupt. “He may never be. But he glows. I see it even when the boy glares at me with distrust.”

Albus fixed Severus with a gaze so bright, so fiercely proud, that Severus had to avert his eyes lest they be positively burned by the sheer intensity of it.

“Harry needs you,” Albus said. “And it is high time that the child gets what he needs.”

***

Snape was letting Harry brew this time instead of scrubbing cauldrons and sorting ingredients. It had been some time since he’d done so, and he was enjoying the calming focus that came with the activity.

Stir in four ounces of powdered ivory…

Harry stirred steadily, feeling more relaxed than he had in quite a while. He set the potion to simmer and turned to his chopping board to slice the dandelion roots.

“Harry?”

Harry raised his head.

“Professor Dumbledore wishes to speak with you. I am not insisting you do so,” Snape said when Harry stiffened. “However, I will remain in the room for the duration of the meeting should you accept his request.”

“Why does he want to speak with me?” Harry asked, tense.

He’s taking me away. Snape’s giving me back. No. Nonono.

“Harry?”

Harry jumped wildly when Snape touched his shoulder, and the man drew his hand back sharply, then quickly set both their potions on stasis. Not all potions could be put in that state; the spell interacted badly with a number of formulations, but it occurred to Harry that Snape must have intended for them to brew less volatile potions for the purpose of this conversation.

“What is troubling you?” Snape asked, standing a few feet away and looking somewhat troubled himself. Harry felt a bit guilty for jumping at Snape’s touch. It wasn’t him Harry was frightened of.

Harry swallowed, unsure of what to say, or, rather, how to say it in a way that didn’t make him sound like a nutter. He folded his arms across his chest and scuffed the floor with the toe of his shoe.

Snape sighed.

I’m sorry. I’m sorry I’m always causing trouble.

“Harry, I only ask because I wish to help you.”

Snape’s words struck a chord in Harry, helping him find his voice.

“I’m afraid that he’ll take me away,” Harry said in a voice that was almost a whisper.

Snape furrowed his brow. “Why would you presume such a thing?”

Harry bit his lip, twitching his shoulder.

“Professor Dumbledore has absolutely no conceivable reason to remove you from my home,” Snape said. “It was he who brought you here, was it not?”

Harry’s eyes shifted from the floor, towards the general direction of Snape’s face, then back again.

Just tell him, it’s better if he knows, he might be able to prevent it.

“He only brought me here because you didn’t want me,” Harry started. Snape looked even more troubled at that and opened his mouth to speak, but Harry went on. “He left me with the Dursleys and they hated me, and when they died he brought me here because you hated me, and now that you don’t any longer, he’ll give me to someone who does.” Harry said that all in one breath, eyes on the ground and fists clenched.

He chanced a glance up at Snape, who had a frozen expression on his face. “Harry, that is entirely untrue.”

Harry raised his eyebrows skeptically. “Then what is he trying to do? What’s his game?”

“Why do you presume that he is, to utilize your term, ‘playing games’?” Snape asked.

“He left me with them!” Harry said hotly. “I know, it said in a book I read. Who just dumps a kid somewhere and never checks up on them? He had to have known what they did to me.”

Snape was silent for a moment.

“I don’t know why Albus did not keep a closer eye on you, and I certainly do not understand how he could have missed the fact that you spent months living on the streets of London,” He took a step closer to Harry. “But I can say with absolute certainty that he did not intend for you to be hurt.”

Harry shrugged, entirely disbelieving.

“Speak with Professor Dumbledore, Harry. Indeed, I would as well like to know what the old man was thinking.”

***

So there they were, just two hours later, Harry and Dumbledore seated across from each other while Snape stood to the side, several paces away.

Dumbledore had not attempted to exchange any pleasantries when he walked in; he simply gave Harry a small smile, who stared back at him, stone-faced, and seated himself on a couch.

Harry was the first to break the silence.

“What do you want from me?” Harry asked in a hard voice and with an unwavering gaze. “I can’t give it to you.”

Dumbledore looked perplexed, but Harry didn’t buy it for a second.

“I just want you to be safe, Harry. That’s all I’ve ever wanted for you.”

Harry laughed humorlessly. “Safe? I almost died, I wanted to die.” His voice grew louder and more biting. “ Voldemort would have taken better care of me than they did.”

Dumbledore looked as though he might cry. “Harry, I honestly had no idea. Had I had an inkling of your treatment in that house, you would have been immediately removed-”

“And shipped off to another person who hated me? That’s what you did, isn’t it?” Harry interrupted. He worked his jaw. “Professor Snape didn’t want me; he hated me at first. I suppose you win points for him not taking pleasure in torturing me.” Harry heaved a breath. “He ended up being good to me, so are you now going to find someone new?”

Harry was shaking, but he was no longer frightened. 

“Harry,” Dumbledore said in a quiet voice. “I truly, truly, did not know.”

“How could you not know? Aren’t you supposed to be the greatest wizard in the country or something?”

Dumbledore shook his head slightly. “Power does not immunize one from mistakes.”

“So this was all a mistake ?”

“I am only human, Harry.”

“Human? I’m also human, and human five-year-olds shouldn’t be starved and thrown down the stairs. Human nine-year-olds shouldn’t have their ribs cracked and-” Harry’s voice grew quiet. “I guess the Boy-Who-Lived is an exception.”

“Harry-”

“Why? Why did you leave me with them? Was it because I’m special ? Because I vanished Voldemort? So I’m not like any other kid who needs parents and food and-” Harry’s voice cracked on that last sentence, and he could feel a lump forming in his throat.

No. I am not going to start crying right now.

With some effort, he pulled himself together, but he was done talking.

“Harry,” Dumbledore tried again. When Harry didn’t cut in, he continued, gazing earnestly at him. “I have no excuse. I cannot begin to offer you a reasonable explanation for my gross negligence of your well-being. Something so very precious was entrusted to me, and I did not live up my responsibility.”

Harry didn’t say a word.

“I placed you with your relatives because the manner in which your mother died left a most powerful magical protection behind. In her blood, and in yours. And, by extension, the blood of her sister’s.”

Harry drew back, thrown off by the unexpected direction the discussion had taken.

“While you called your aunt’s home yours, you remained protected from any outside forces that wished you harm. I neglected to recognize the forces within that harmed you more greatly than I could have imagined.”

Harry stared at his knees.

“I have yet to determine why the protections on that home held even with you gone from it. And how your whereabouts remained hidden from me for so long. I have my theories… but no matter.” Dumbledore closed his eyes for a long moment, and it made him seem almost frail. The moment passed when he opened his eyes again and straightened his shoulders, meeting Harry’s eyes unwaveringly.

“I am not asking for your forgiveness,” Dumbledore said. “I am not asking for your trust. All I ask is that you do not fear that I will steal your happiness from you.” The way I have done in the past. He did not say the words aloud, but they hovered in the air, as apparent as if he had shouted them.

Harry stared at the floor. If he squinted, he could just make out his reflection in the polished wood.

So this was what his whole life came down to. A mistake brought about amid the shaky and confusing aftermath of a war. He was left where he would be kept safe, set aside like an expensive jewel might be stored away. Except it hadn’t quite worked out, and he was only alive as a result of luck, a friend, and a bit of magic. There had been no purpose for his suffering, and although it should have made Harry feel better, he wasn’t sure if it did.

Dumbledore did not seem surprised at his lack of a response. He rose from his seat, and Harry looked up.

“Your parents would be so proud if they could see you now, Harry.”

He’s saying that? After everything I just yelled at him?

Dumbledore gave Harry a sad smile, which he did not return, then walked over to Snape and wordlessly handed him a sealed scroll of parchment. The two men stared at one another for several moments, seeming to communicate wordlessly.

The silver-haired man then turned and swept toward the fireplace, his teal-colored robes flowing out behind him. When he finally vanished in a flash of flames, Harry slumped in his seat, covering his face with his hands.

“Harry-” Snape started, moving closer. Harry shook his head slightly, indicating that he needed a moment.

Okay, okay, he’s gone, he’s not taking me away. Get it together.

Harry lifted his head, face mercifully dry. Snape was watching him steadily, still clutching the scroll of parchment Dumbledore had given him.

“How long have you been under the impression that Albus wished you harm?” he asked.

“A while.” Harry recalled the moment in the library when he had discovered Dumbledore’s actions, the anger growing so intense that he had overturned the room.

“It was the day I blew up the library.”

“Ah,” Snape said, understanding dawning. “That would certainly explain that day’s occurrence.”

He was quiet for a moment.

“Are you sufficiently reassured that he does not intend to harm you?”

Harry shrugged. He didn’t trust Dumbledore by any stretch, but the man had seemed sincere in his statements and apologies. He could feel Snape’s eyes on him, watchful, waiting for the answer Harry didn’t know how to give. 

“It is unfortunate that you’ve been so fearful of Albus for this long,” Snape said. I wish you had told me, remained unstated.

Harry wished he had, too.

***

Harry watched apprehensively as Snape set a heavy textbook, a roll of parchment, a quill, and an inkwell in front of him where he was seated at a small desk in Snape’s office.

Right. He was still being grounded, though, thankfully, he was now allowed freedom of movement within the confines of the house.

“Turn to chapter nine and copy.” Snape settled at his own desk.

Harry opened the book and flipped the pages.

Chapter Nine: The Dangers of Meddling with Unfamiliar Enchantments... oh.

Harry unrolled the parchment and lifted his quill. He paused.

How do I write with this?

Right. He had never written with a quill. What was the point, anyway? Pens had been invented for a reason. Shrugging, Harry dipped the quill’s tip into the inkwell and set it over his parchment, and ink immediately began dripping from the quill. He set the quill to the parchment, promptly poking a hole through it. He clenched his teeth in frustration.

“I should be hearing the scratching of a quill, Harry.”

Harry muttered under his breath.

“Harry,” Snape said in a warning tone.

“I don’t know how,” Harry said, frustrated.

Snape raised his head. “My apologies. I had forgotten.” He rose and walked over to Harry’s desk. “May I?” he asked, his right hand hovering over Harry’s.

Harry nodded, and Snape set Harry’s fingers to grip the quill properly. One Harry had successfully written a shaky line of text with the quill, Snape stepped back and snatched up the textbook.

“Just practice the alphabet for now.”

Snape left him to it, and it did not take Harry very long to become accustomed to using a quill. Although his writing was slower and messier than it was with a pen, Harry was reasonably satisfied with his progress.

Snape looked over his work and then nodded approvingly at him. “Well done. You do catch on quickly.”

Harry flushed, his lips twitching into a small smile.

Snape looked at him oddly for several moments.

“Harry-” He paused, seeming unsure of how to phrase his next words.

“There is a matter of import I wish to discuss with you, if you would join me in the sitting room.”

Harry felt immediately anxious, and he fought to quell his nerves as he followed Snape out of the room.

Calm down, he’s not sending you away. We’ve been over this…

If anything, it seemed that Snape was the nervous one. Not that the man made it obvious, but he was holding himself more stiffly than usual, and when he sat across from Harry in his usual seat, his facial expression appeared a bit too controlled.

The man leaned forward slightly. “When the school year begins, you will obviously no longer be living with me or under my direct supervision.”

Harry stiffened. Snape was voicing the thoughts he had been pushing to the back of his mind for a while now. One he started school, Snape wouldn’t be there. And he wouldn’t necessarily end up being Harry’s head of house, so he would have no responsibility for him at all.

Where will I go next summer and during holidays?

“Harry?”

Harry focused on Snape, breathing carefully.

“That, however, is not to my liking.”

Harry’s eyes widened the tiniest bit.

“You are very much in need of an adult, other than teachers, to take responsibility for you and your well-being.”

Harry felt a jolt in his chest.

“Are you with me, Harry?”

Harry nodded quickly.

“Over the past months, I have become quite accustomed to your company, and-” he paused, his expression growing rather guarded and discomfited. “I had hoped...” Snape’s jaw clenched. “You are in need of a proper guardian, Harry, and with your consent, I would like to take on that role.”

Harry couldn’t talk. He could scarcely breathe.

He wants me? He wants to be my guardian?

“Of course, if you would prefer another arrangement…” Snape began stiffly.

Harry shook his head frantically and tried to speak, but he seemed to have temporarily lost the ability. He sat there, frozen, terrified that if he didn’t say something, Snape would rescind on his offer.

There was only one thing he could do.

He rose from his seat and walked slowly over to Snape to stand before him. Reaching forward hesitantly, he wrapped his fingers tightly around the man’s wrist with a shaky hand.

“Yes,” he finally whispered.

Harry saw a shadow of a true smile cross Snape’s face.

He wants me.

Snape’s hand wrapped around his own, a firm and familiar grip that seemed to encase Harry’s instinctively. As though it belonged there.

He looked up to meet the man’s dark gaze, and he was met with the familiar warmth he knew would be there.

And he could feel the beginnings of trust stirring in his chest that it was there to stay.

Chapter Text

There were few things in the world more aggravating than lying in bed for hours on end, waiting fruitlessly for sleep to come.

Harry let out an irritated grunt as he rolled over onto his other side to get a glimpse of the clock. Three-forty-seven. Fantastic.

He’d been in bed since eleven. Eleven.

At that, Harry gave up on sleep and dragged himself to his feet, making his way to the door as soundlessly as possible. The hinges squeaked as he pulled it open, and Harry cringed, holding his breath as he padded across the hall. He glanced at the door to Snape’s bedroom, which was firmly shut, before tiptoeing down the stairs. 

He doubted Snape would be very pleased to find him out of bed at this hour. Not that the man would do anything too terrible, but Harry didn’t have any interest in angering him if he could help it.

Once in the sitting room, Harry scanned the bookshelves half-heartedly for something to read and his eyes caught on something partially concealed behind a series of thick books with strange symbols on the spines. He shifted the heavy tomes to find… a radio?

Harry lifted it carefully off the shelf and settled on the couch, turning the small, old-fashioned device in his hands. It was light brown around the edges, with a long antenna sticking out from the back. He squinted at the small, unlabeled knobs and switches, turning and flicking them at random, then flinched wildly when a song that he'd never heard before blasted out of the speakers at top volume.

Damn it damn it damn it.

Harry frantically twisted knobs and flicked switches, heaving a sigh of relief when he finally found the off switch. His relief was short-lived, however, when he heard rapid footsteps thumping down the stairs and Snape rushed in, a thunderous expression on his face.

And Harry couldn’t breathe.

He’s angry he’s angry I broke the rules he-

“Harry?”

Harry opened one eye, then the other, to find Snape, clad in a black dressing gown and untied boots, peering at him with a far less irate expression on his face.

“S-sorry, sorry, sir. It was an accident, I-I didn’t mean-”

“Harry, take a breath.”

Harry snapped his mouth shut, inhaling through his nose, and his heart rate steadily began to slow to a normal pace. Snape walked over to the couch and sat beside him. He hunched his shoulders.

“I must say, I feared the worst,” Snape said wryly. 

Harry’s shoulders uncurled the tiniest bit. “What- what d’you mean?”

Snape’s lips quirked. “I expected a break-in, at the very least.”

“Oh.” Harry blew out a breath. “Sorry. It was just- just this.” He shifted the radio on his lap. “I turned it on and it…”

Harry turned his head, startled, when Snape let out a chuckle. The man plucked the radio off of Harry’s lap, fiddled with a knob, then turned it back on. The music started up again at a lower volume. He handed it back to Harry.

“What are you doing out of bed?”

Harry tensed at that, but the man didn’t sound angry, nor did he look it.

“Couldn’t sleep.” At Snape’s questioning look, he elaborated. “Not- not nightmares or anything. Just restless.”

Snape inclined his head, but said nothing. He leaned back into his seat, adjusting the lapel of his robe.

Why isn’t he angry? Is he angry but just pretending not to be?

Harry couldn’t take it anymore. “Am I in trouble?” he forced out.

Snape gave him an odd look. “Why would you think so?”

Harry furrowed his brow. “Er… because I’m out of bed and I woke you up?”

Snape blew out a long breath. “No, Harry, you’re not in trouble.”

Harry bit his lip. What were the rules, then? Hadn’t the man told him, ages ago, that he was to stay in his room overnight?

It was like Snape could read his mind. Well, actually, he could, but Harry knew he wasn’t really doing it.

“If you find it difficult to sleep, you’re perfectly within your rights to wander about the house. I have found cause to do the same, on occasion.”

Harry blinked. Really?

“And I would hardly punish you for waking me.”

Embarrassingly, Harry felt a prickling heat build at the corners of his eyes, and he was too tired to do anything but squeeze his eyes shut and press his hands into them. After a moment, Snape’s arm settled around his shoulders and pulled him close.

Sometimes, the man was so kind to him it was almost too much to bear.

“I’m sorry,” Harry mumbled, his voice muffled by the hands still pressed over his face.

“Don’t be.”

Harry sniffled, and with a few long breaths, he managed to pull himself together. A small, weak part of him wanted to cling to the man’s robes and hide his face in them, but he couldn’t do that. He dropped his hands and leaned into Snape’s side for several more moments before pulling away. The man’s arm tightened around his shoulders briefly before letting go.

“Do you have an interest in music?” Snape asked, his low, deep voice somehow more soothing than it had any right to be.

Harry shrugged. “I don’t know. I’ve never really…” He glanced at the radio. “I did like that song though.”

“You may use it anytime you wish.” Snape smirked. “Though preferably at a lower volume.”

Harry huffed a laugh.

How old is this thing, anyway? How long has he had it?

Harry chewed on his lip for a moment. “Sir?”

Snape turned to him, raising an eyebrow.

“Where did you grow up?”

Snape looked rather startled at the question. “A town in the Midlands. Called Cokeworth,” he said. He took a breath, as if he was going to say more, but he did not.

Neither of them spoke for several moments.

“Can I- can I ask another question?” Harry asked tentatively.

“Certainly.”

“Are you parents wizards?”

Snape did not answer immediately. 

“My mother was a witch, and my father a muggle,” he said, in a tone that Harry could not quite decipher.

Guess they’re not alive anymore.

“Did your mother go to Hogwarts?”

“She did,” Snape said quietly. “She was in Slytherin House, as was I.” The man straightened abruptly, turning to meet Harry’s gaze. “I attended school with your parents.”

Harry’s eyes widened. “You- you knew my parents?”

Snape inclined his head. “I was once friends with your mother.”

Harry had stopped asking questions about his parents after Petunia had slapped him across the face and told him not to ask again. He’d buried the desire to know more so deeply that he wasn’t even sure he wanted it anymore. But there Snape was, offering information freely, when he hadn’t even asked.

“Was she- were they in Slytherin too?” was the first thing Harry could think to ask next.

Snape gave a strange sort of half-smile. “No. Your parents were both in Gryffindor.”

“What did they look like?” The question emerged of its own volition. But not surprisingly. Dudley had been so obviously his parents’ child, but Harry? He’d looked nothing like any of them, a fact that Petunia and Vernon did not hesitate to comment upon, especially in front of guests, to make it plain to all and sundry that Harry was no family of theirs.

Snape let out a slow breath. “Your mother had red hair,” he said. “And you’ve inherited her eye shape and color.”

For a brief moment, Harry felt as though he might cry again. Because he’d known. He’d dreamed of a red-haired woman, speaking softly, smiling, and then vanishing in a burst of green light. It was his mother, he knew. And he had something of hers to prove it, showing plainly on his face.

“You look very like your father as well.”

Harry looked up at that. Snape’s face was hard to read, and he was holding himself very stiffly. But his gaze was open, steady, waiting and willing to answer any more questions Harry might throw at him.

Instead, Harry smiled. It spread, unbidden, across his face, and he did nothing to temper it. Snape did not smile back, but his facial expression softened, and he reached over to wrap his hand around Harry’s forearm.

“You may always ask.”

Harry swallowed. “Thank you.”

Snape let go of his arm and leaned forward slightly, his palms resting on his knees. “I do not have any photos of your parents in my possession, but perhaps we can procure them for you from some of the faculty members at Hogwarts.”

Harry let out a faint gasp. He had never even considered…

“Yes, please,” he said fervently, his heart thumping in his ears at the possibility .

Snape laid a hand on his back briefly before withdrawing, and they both leaned back into the couch and sat there quietly for a while, until Harry’s yawn broke the silence. 

“It’s time you returned to bed,” Snape said, straightening up. 

“Yes, sir.” He could probably manage it, now.

Snape rose from his seat, and, after a moment’s hesitation, he took Harry’s hand and guided him to his feet. Before moving towards the stairs, he tilted his head down to catch Harry’s eye.

“You may call me Severus if you wish.”

Harry blinked several times, then nodded, smiling faintly at the floor, and allowed the man to lead him upstairs by the hand.

***

It was well past ten o’clock when Harry woke up the next morning. He might have slept even longer if not for Hedwig hooting in his ear.

“‘M up,” he mumbled, rubbing at his gritty eyes with one hand and stroking Hedwig’s feathers with the other. A quick shower perked him up a bit more, and he felt reasonably awake by the time he made his way to the kitchen.

“Good morning.”

Harry was surprised to see Snape in the kitchen at this hour; he’d expected the man to be well into his brewing by now. Though, perhaps he’d slept in too…

“The food will not keep forever,” Snape cut into Harry’s thoughts, his tone dryly amused.

Harry let out an embarrassed huff and sat in his seat, dragging the plate of eggs closer. They were always cooked with onions, and Harry had found that he quite liked the taste. 

Neither of them spoke for a while, the clinking of utensils the only sound that permeated the peaceful quiet in the room. 

“Harry?” Snape’s voice cut into the silence.

“Yes, sir- Severus-” Harry cleared his throat. “Sorry… I- it’s hard to-” he broke off, his face heating. 

Snape looked quite unconcerned. “In your own time,” he said, reaching for the teapot to fill his cup. He set the pot back onto the table and fixed Harry with his contemplative gaze.

“It’s only just occurred to me to inquire — have you been to see your parents’ graves?” 

His parents’ graves?

It had never crossed Harry’s mind, not once, that such a thing even existed. The only reason he’d even known his parents’ names was a few passing comments uttered by Petunia, only several times in the near decade he’d lived with her.

“N-no,” Harry managed to say. 

“Would you like to?” Snape asked, still looking at Harry with a rather unsettling focus.

Would he like to visit his parents’ graves? Why was it so hard a question?

“You- you know where they are?” Harry asked, his voice emerging hoarsely.

Snape nodded. “I went to see your mother’s grave several years ago. Your father is buried alongside her.”

Harry swallowed thickly. Inhaled. His throat caught on the breath, and he managed to stave off a choke with a long sip of water.

“Can you take me there?” he whispered, not trusting his voice to remain steady if he spoke any louder.

“Any time you wish.”

Harry bit down on the inside of his cheek. Any time? Whenever he wanted? He took a deep, fortifying breath. “Can we- can we go today?”

Because, suddenly, there was nothing more he needed than this. To see proof that they’d existed, that he’d come from somewhere and had not emerged into existence in a cupboard and left there because he deserved no better.

Please. ” Harry’s hands were shaking.

“Harry.” Snape’s hand covered his own, clenched in a fist on the table, and the man’s other hand tucked under his chin so he could meet his eyes head on. “Of course we can.”

And they did, just moments later, with the breakfast dishes cleared and coats donned to combat the unseasonable chill of the day. Harry followed Snape’s brisk walk to the edge of the property, where the man waved his wand in a series of sharp motions to allow them to pass through the enchantments.

Before they stepped through, Snape paused to tap his wand on his own head, then, suddenly, he vanished. Well, not quite vanished; Harry could feel the man’s hand on his shoulder, and when Snape shifted, he could detect movement. It was like camouflage. 

“I have just performed a Disillusionment Charm so that muggles in the vicinity will not see us Apparate.” He then tapped Harry’s head with his wand, who flinched slightly at the sensation of what felt like raw eggs dripping down from his head and over his body.

“Wow,” Harry breathed, staring down at his near-invisible body.

“Take my hand,” Snape murmured, reaching out so his fingers brushed Harry’s sleeve.

Harry gripped the man’s hand tightly.

And suddenly they were standing in front of a gate-enclosed graveyard. Harry nearly fell to his knees at the dizzying sensation their Apparition had caused, but Snape caught him by the shoulders. He barely noticed either occurrence in the face of what stood before him. The graveyard in which his parents were buried.

Harry scarcely registered Snape removing the Disillusionment Charms. Swallowing hard, he followed Snape down the rows of tombstones, his gaze set straight ahead. He shivered, though he wasn’t quite sure if it was due to the chilly, overcast weather, or something more. Something intangible.

He nearly walked into Snape when the man stopped short in front of a large tombstone of white marble. The man then stepped to the side, and with a hand on Harry’s back, he gently pushed him forward.

 

  JAMES POTTER                 LILY EVANS POTTER 

 BORN 27 MARCH 1960       BORN 30 JANUARY 1960 

DIED 31 OCTOBER 1981     DIED 31 OCTOBER 1981

 'The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.'

 

Harry could not begin to imagine what those last words might mean, but he didn’t care. Because his parents were here, right here… no, they weren’t here. Their remains were buried deeply beneath the gravestone that named them, their lives, and their deaths, yet they were gone, and they would never come back. But this proved they had once been here, had once been his, had lives and families and desires and hopes, and all that was left of them was the blood that ran through his veins.

Harry shivered again, his teeth rattling with it, and Snape, who he’d almost forgotten was there, laid a careful hand on his shoulder.

“They loved you very much.”

Harry pressed his lips together. They must have, or they would not have died for him. His mother would not have stepped forward to take the green light meant for him if she had not loved him. And his father must have loved him too, though he could not remember anything of him.

He stood there for a while longer; minutes, hours, he could not have said. Eventually, he took a step back and turned to Snape, who was standing quite close, and very still. The man’s dark eyes seemed shadowed, and the lines around his eyes were more pronounced. When Harry's eyes met his, his face contorted, just slightly, in a way Harry might not have noticed had he not spent the past few months in the man's presence. But then Snape's face smoothed over, and his eyes gentled, softening in a way that gave Harry the courage to pull away, to move forward and leave the remains of his parents behind. He could always come back.

Harry straightened his shoulders. “I’m ready to go.”

***

“Walk with me.”

Harry glanced up from his book to find Snape standing at the door of the library. A frisson of anxiety fluttered through his stomach, though the thought of taking a walk with the man was not quite so ominous as it once had been.

The outdoor air held the fresh scent of a recent rainfall. Weak rays of sunlight were beginning to peek out from receding clouds, and the damp grass squelched beneath their feet as they walked.

Snape cleared his throat. “In light of the fact that your school term begins in several days, there is a matter of importance we must discuss.”

Harry couldn’t help tensing up at that statement. Damn it, he knew Snape wasn’t going to abandon him once school started; the man had explicitly told him as much, but his feelings did not seem to want to acknowledge that fact. He was glad they were walking side-by-side and not facing one another at the table. Snape wouldn’t be able to read him as easily and know how hard it still was for Harry to trust what they had, despite the man demonstrating time and again that he was trustworthy, and that he wasn’t going anywhere. The scroll on which Harry had signed his name in careful handwriting, right beneath Snape’s, was testament to that.

“I am speaking of your attempt to end your life.”

That brought Harry up short, and he couldn’t help flinching, his feet rooting him in place. When put so plainly like that…

Snape stopped as well, and he moved to stand directly facing Harry, who dragged his head up to meet the man’s gaze reluctantly.

“Were you any other student,” Snape began, “I would not hesitate to inform the faculty of your situation so that they could keep an eye on you when I cannot. I will not,” he added swiftly at Harry’s panicked look. “Yet I must be assured that you will come to me if you at any time experience an urge to repeat your attempt.”

Harry shoved his hands into his pockets, clenching his jaw tightly. His gaze traveled away from Snape’s eyes to his collar. White, and impeccably starched.

“I don’t care whether I’m teaching a class, sleeping, or accepting an Order of bloody Merlin,” Snape said sharply, startling Harry into looking at his face again. “You will come find me if you experience even the slightest inclination to harm yourself. Do you understand me?”

Harry took a shaky breath. “Yes, sir,” he rasped.

Snape regarded him for several more moments, and Harry felt frozen, caught in his gaze.

“I will, however, be required to inform the school mediwitch, with whom you will visit within the first two weeks of term.”

“No!”

Harry stumbled backwards, his fingers curling into fists, feeling utterly betrayed.

He can’t he can’t he has no right!

“Harry, I understand that it is a very personal matter, but this is non-negotiable. I am absolutely required-”

Harry glared up at the man. “You’re not! You don’t have to tell her, no one would know-”

“And that is precisely why I must,” Snape cut in, fixing Harry with a stern look.

“I don’t need-”

“Silence.” Snape’s tone was so curt that Harry shut his mouth, staring. “Listen to me, and do not interrupt.” The man’s expression was fierce. He stepped closer and pressed his hands onto Harry’s hunched shoulders, crouching down so that he was at eye-level.

“Your life,” he said in a voice so low it was almost a hiss, “is not to be trifled with.” His hands faintly shook on Harry’s shoulders.

“I will do everything, everything in my power to ensure your continued survival. Even if you may despise me for it.”

Harry opened his mouth to speak, but only air emerged. The man was staring at him with a gaze so fervent, so intensely honest, that Harry could do nothing but nod.

Snape held his gaze for several more moments, then inclined his head and straightened up, as though he’d been looking for something and found it somewhere on Harry’s face. He rested a hand on Harry’s back to propel him forward, and they continued their walk down the grassy lawn.

“Do I really have to see the mediwitch, though?” Harry eventually asked, more resigned than anything else. “I’m not ill or anything...”

“You do,” Snape said without slowing his stride. “And you are not being singled out. All students in my House who cannot provide extensive documentation of their medical histories are required to visit the hospital wing for an examination.”

“I might not even be in your House,” Harry muttered, staring sullenly at the ground.

“I am your guardian, Harry, so you will at the very minimum receive the same level of care that is given to my students, regardless of your placement.”

“Oh,” Harry said softly. He didn’t know why that statement made this any easier to bear, but, somehow, it did.

“Additionally,” Snape said, striding forward. “Madam Pomfrey may be able to provide a recommendation for a professional who specializes in treating emotional issues such that you have been experiencing. I’m afraid that it may be beyond either of our purviews to address long term-”

“No!” Harry exclaimed, stopping in his tracks, panicked. “I’m not going to speak to a stranger -”

Snape stood still, pinching the bridge of his nose. “I’m not going to force you. I do not believe such a thing can be forced.”

Harry deflated at that. “I won’t do it,” he said roughly, digging the toe of his shoe into the damp dirt beneath the grass.

Snape sighed from over his head. “As I said, I will not compel you to do so. Yet it may be something to revisit at a later point in time.”

Harry nodded, if only to put an end to the discussion. There was no way he would ever spill his guts to a stranger. Never in a million years.

“Returning to my earlier point,” Snape said. “Do you understand the necessity of the precautions we must take while you are at school?”

Harry lifted his chin and met the man’s gaze. “Yes, sir.”

“Can you verbalize your understanding?” 

How was he supposed to answer that? He had to, because Snape was looking at him expectantly, and because he’d felt the way the man’s hands trembled on his shoulders as he spoke of the importance of Harry’s life. His unwavering belief that it was something that mattered.

“Because… because you don’t want me to die.”

Snape closed his eyes. “Correct. If a colossal understatement of the matter.” He opened his eyes again. “You will live to see adulthood. You will do so for your parents, who gave their lives for yours, and you will do so because I will not allow otherwise. You will fight harder than is fair for anyone to ask of you.” He heaved a breath, reaching over to grip Harry’s shoulders once again. “You will fight until you want to.”

Harry would do as Snape asked. He would try, with everything he had. Because he understood why. Because he had reasons to live.

Chapter Text

Harry awoke early on the first of September, feeling as though he’d swallowed a butterfly in his sleep the way his stomach was swooping. He lay still for a while, breathing in the cool air that felt perpetually fresh.

He was leaving for Hogwarts today, and it felt far more daunting than he had imagined it would. Compared to everything else he’d been through, beginning his magical education shouldn’t have fazed him. Yet Harry had grown to feel so comfortable in Snape’s home, more safe than he had ever felt in his life, and a part of him feared that once he left what had become his sanctuary, he would never get it back.

Get a grip, Harry told himself firmly. Snape is your guardian, you live here now.

Harry still couldn’t quite quell the pit of anxiety in his stomach.

Unable to lie still for a moment longer, Harry got out of bed and dressed, pausing to double-check his luggage that he’d packed the previous night before making his way downstairs to the kitchen, where Snape greeted him with a nod. He settled in his chair and attempted to eat, but found that he could barely swallow, and instead stirred the food around his plate idly and watched with morbid fascination as the bright yellow hue of his eggs mixed in with his baked beans and gradually morphed into a brownish, sludgy substance.

“Nervous?” Snape asked, an eyebrow raised at Harry’s antics.

“A bit,” Harry admitted, his grip on his fork tightening as he stabbed it repeatedly into the glob on his plate.

“There’s no need to worry,” Snape said calmly, buttering his toast.

“Tell that to my sympathetic nervous system,” Harry muttered.

Snape’s lip turned up at one side. “I’m certain your sympathetic nervous system will learn its place before long.”

Harry blew out a breath. Wouldn’t that be nice.

“How are we getting to the station?” Harry asked in an attempt to change the subject. Snape went along with it.

“Apparition would be the most convenient method.”

Harry winced. “Does it get any less uncomfortable?” It certainly hadn’t felt that way the last time he’d done it.

“The first few times are generally the worst. The sensation improves overtime.”

“How?” Harry asked skeptically.

“There are pathways in your brain that must be formed as your body grows accustomed to Apparition. Once they are in place it will feel more natural to you.”

Harry supposed that was a good enough answer.

“What about Hedwig?”

"Animals are generally unaffected by the sensations of Apparition.”

“Why's that?” Harry asked, frowning.

“The discomfort stems from the brain’s reaction to the displacement, and the human brain is decidedly more complex than that of an animal.”

“But isn’t there a chance we could Apparate right on top of someone since it’s a crowded area?” Now, that was an image Harry wouldn’t be able to get out of his head very easily.

“There is an allotted area for Apparition that muggles cannot access.”

“Oh.”

Harry was quiet for a moment, and a thought suddenly occurred to him. “What happens if a person Apparates while drunk?” 

Snape lips twitched, and his face took on an expression that Harry had grown to recognize as amused. “Well, Apparition is a delicate process at the best of times, requiring a considerable level of focus, and if one in not in full control of their mental faculties, they may likely splinch themselves, or worse.”

Oh, splinching. Harry had read a bit about that.

“So, I do suggest that when you acquire your own Apparition license you avoid such undertakings.”

Harry bit back a grin. 

Snape raised an eyebrow. “You believe that is a laughing matter, do you?”

Harry shook his head, trying hard not to laugh.

Snape pursed his lips. “Speaking as your guardian,” he said, “if you ever attempt an endeavor so foolhardy, you will be scrubbing cauldrons in my laboratory until you turn thirty.”

Harry couldn’t hold it back anymore; he chuckled, then pressed his lips together, but he couldn’t stop his shoulders from shaking with silent laughter.

Snape maintained his stern expression for a moment longer, then relaxed, rolling his eyes. “The things you children find amusing…” he murmured, refilling his teacup. He eyed the mess on Harry’s plate, his lip curling in disgust. “Are you intending to eat any more? That is repulsive.”

Harry wasn’t sure why he found the man’s words so funny, but he laughed again, dropping his fork onto the table. Snape shook his head in defeat and cleared away Harry’s plate with a wave of his wand.

The remainder of the morning seemed to fly by, and it felt as though it was only moments later when Snape summoned Harry’s luggage from his bedroom and dropped it off by the front door.

Harry insisted on fetching Hedwig on his own rather than having her magically summoned, not wanting to frighten her. Climbing the stairs two at a time, he reached his bedroom quickly and grabbed hold of Hedwig’s cage, from where she hooted softly at him. He glanced around his room one last time before hurrying downstairs.

“Ready?” Snape asked, one hand lifting Harry’s trunk while the other fumbled in the pocket of his overcoat, briefly pausing to adjust the shoulder pad when it slid off his shoulder. Harry nodded, trying not to stare at the man’s dark grey button-up shirt and black slacks. The lack of robes made Snape appear startlingly different; while Harry no longer found him quite so intimidating, the long, black robes and high collars always made the man seem untouchable. Unbreakable. As though a mere glare would send the most dangerous of people scurrying away.

But now, he just looked… human. Normal, almost. And, just then, it occurred to Harry that Snape really wasn’t very old at all. 

Harry hooked his backpack more securely over his shoulder and made to follow Snape out the door, but before they stepped outside, Snape held him back by the shoulder and handed him a small, black pouch.

“Money for the train ride,” Snape said, his face unreadable. “I daresay you will want to sample the abundance of sweets available for purchase.”

“Thanks,” Harry said, taking the pouch with his free hand. “I’ll pay you back when I-”

“You most certainly will not ,” Snape said sharply.

Harry looked up at him, eyebrows furrowed. “But I have money-”

Snape sighed, setting down Harry’s trunk. “Harry, as your guardian, it is my duty to provide for you in all matters.”

Harry frowned. “But I have loads of money in the bank.”

“And that money is to remain there to be used when you come of age, or for personal purchases that you will be allowed to make upon request.”

“That’s not what you said when we went to Diagon Alley,” Harry said, annoyed.

“I was not your legal guardian at the time.” Snape lifted Harry’s trunk off the ground, easily enough that Harry suspected he’d done some sort of spell to make it weightless. The Feather-Light Charm, that’s what it must have been. “I am now, and I will be providing for you. There is no discussion.”

Harry frowned again, but the man turned before he could respond and led the way down the path away from the house, waving his wand to allow them to pass through the protective enchantments. Harry shoved the pouch into his pocket as he followed, unsure of why he felt so… strange about it, but he refrained from further protest and walked through the shimmering mist that surrounded the property.

“Brace yourself,” Snape warned, grabbing hold of Harry’s hand.

Harry squeezed his eyes shut and hugged Hedwig’s cage close to his chest, preparing himself for the dizzying sensation of Apparition.

It wasn’t quite as bad as the last time, but that did not prevent him from staggering when they landed, and had Snape not held him steady, he would have certainly fallen flat on his face. Upon regaining his balance, Harry pulled away and looked around. As Snape had mentioned, they were in a very large, closed room with bare walls, where several other people were popping into existence not far from where they stood.

Still carrying Harry’s trunk, Snape led the way out of the room and onto the bustling station. He grabbed hold of a nearby trolley and set down Harry’s trunk, pushing it along until he paused several yards away from the platform barrier.

“I prefer not to enter the platform; I do not wish to deal with the reactions of terrified children and subsequently angered parents.”

Harry grinned. “Yeah, I supposed you’d want to avoid that.”

Snape hesitated for a moment, looking at Harry with an odd expression on his face. He made an aborted arm movement, then settled for squeezing Harry’s forearm briefly and urged him forward with a pat on the back.

“I will see you at the feast.”

Harry nodded, and, taking a deep breath, he set Hedwig’s cage on top of the trolley and pushed it toward the barrier between platforms nine and ten. He ran through it without any difficulties, but was nonetheless quite awed by the rapid alteration of his surroundings. The area was crowded with witches and wizards, dressed in normal clothing and robes alike, and amidst them all was a huge, red steam engine puffing smoke, with the words Hogwarts Express plastered across its side.

Thanks to Snape’s charm, he easily stored his trunk, adjusted Hedwig's cage more firmly in his grip, then stepped through a nearby door into the interior of the train. He cringed slightly at the noise and crowds surrounding him; it had been crowded outside as well, but it felt more suffocating inside the train. He weaved his way down the aisle through throngs of chattering students, most of them taller and older than he was, keeping his head down and Hedwig’s cage held closely to his chest.

Eventually, Harry spotted an empty compartment and slipped inside, sliding the door shut behind him. He took a moment to breathe, grateful for the glass barrier separating him from the noise and crowds, then scanned the room, spotting a storage rack near the ceiling. He hopped onto the nearest seat to set Hedwig down, then sat down, shrugging off his backpack, and fished through it to find the book he had packed. After roughly ten minutes, the train began to move, and Harry’s stomach jumped with an unsettling mix of excitement and anxiety.

Unable to concentrate on his reading, he watched the passing scenery through the window for a while, the urban-esque surroundings of London gradually shifting into vast, empty fields. He turned back to his book. 

Harry’s renewed attempt at reading was suddenly interrupted by a loud croak. He glanced around for the source of the noise to find a rather large toad squashed into a corner of his compartment.

I didn’t expect that someone would actually bring a toad as a pet... wizards are weird.

The train vibrated slightly as it began its ascent up a hill, and the toad, startled, hopped out of its corner and toward the door.

“Oh, no you don’t,” Harry muttered, setting aside his book and sliding out of his seat. He snatched the toad up before it could escape and sat back down with the creature firmly cupped in his hands. It croaked again.

He managed to secure the toad in one hand and return to his reading, but he was soon interrupted once again.

“Has anyone seen a toad?” Harry heard a loud voice say as the door of his compartment was pushed open. “Neville’s lost one.”

Harry’s head shot up as a bushy-haired girl stepped into his compartment, followed by a nervous-looking, round-faced boy.

Wordlessly, he held up the irksome toad.

The boy gasped in relief and rushed forward to take it. “Thank you so much,” he said earnestly. “He’s so hard to keep track of.”

“Why did you bring a toad in the first place?” Harry asked, before realizing that the question may have been a bit rude.

The boy, Neville, didn’t seem insulted. “I got him as a gift,” he said, his face going a bit pink.

Harry nodded his understanding and shifted awkwardly in his seat.

Thankfully, the girl seemed to feel that she had gone long enough without speaking. “What’s that you’re reading?” she asked interestedly, stepping forward to peer at the book in Harry’s hand. He tensed, pulling it towards his chest.

Calm down. She’s not trying to steal anything from you.

He forced his shoulders to loosen and held out the book towards her. She looked at him oddly for a moment, then took the book with a small smile.

“I’m Hermione Granger, by the way,” she said, skimming through the text.

“Harry Potter,” he mumbled.

Both Neville and Hermione looked up.

Oops. I forgot about that.

“You’re Harry Potter?” she gasped. “Wow, I’ve read all about you.”

“So did I,” Harry said dryly.

“You’re smaller than I expected,” she said matter-of-factly, sitting down beside him.

Harry raised his eyebrows, a bit offended. Sure, he was small, but did she have to point it out? It wasn’t as though she was particularly big either...

Hermione went a bit red.

“You can, er, sit down,” he said to Neville, who was standing awkwardly in the middle of the compartment, clutching his toad to his chest.

“If you’re sure that’s all right…”

Harry wasn’t quite sure what to say next, but Hermione seemed to have no objection to taking charge of the conversation. She prattled on about all the books she’d read and the classes she expected to enjoy, apparently under the impression that fourth year level spellbooks were required reading materials. 

“I’m muggleborn, you know,” she said. “My parents are quite confused by all of this, really. But it’s so exciting, I never imagined I would be able to attend such a school. It’s one of the best magical schools there are, at least in Europe.”

“My family wasn’t sure I’d be able to come,” Neville said, staring at his lap. “Took ages for me to do anything magical.”

“Both of your parents are magical?” Hermione asked.

“I was raised by my Gran, who’s a witch,” Neville said quietly. “Not that it gives me much of an advantage.”

Harry wondered what had happened to his parents, but said nothing.

“I’m sure you’ll be fine,” Hermione said soothingly. “I had to spend all summer reading just to catch up on all the information that probably comes naturally to you.”

Neville shook his head slightly, looking bemused. Harry could see why. Hermione was probably better informed than the majority of students in their year, wizard-raised or not.

“What about you, Harry?” Hermione asked, turning her gaze back to him. “What’s your family like?

Harry suppressed a flinch. He’d been hoping they’d move on from the topic. How could he possibly answer that question? 

“Fine,” he said, staring at the wall behind Hermione. She waited for him to elaborate, long enough for the silence to grow awkward, then, thankfully, she changed the subject.

“I’m hoping to be sorted into Gryffindor,” Hermione said, bouncing in her seat a little. “Dumbledore himself was sorted there, did you know?”

Harry stiffened.

“Though I wouldn’t mind being sorted into Ravenclaw, either.”

Neville looked a bit glum. “I’ll probably be in Hufflepuff."

“What’s wrong with Hufflepuff?” Hermione asked, looking put out, as though upset that there might be something she didn’t know.

“Well, Gran expects me to be in Gryffindor, like my dad, but I doubt I will be. Hufflepuff is where everyone says all the leftovers go.”

“Oh, I’m sure that’s not true,” said Hermione. “All the Houses have their good qualities.”

What if I’m in Hufflepuff? Harry thought. What would Snape think…?

Harry shook off the thought. If he was sorted there, there wasn’t much he could do about it now.

“Anything off the trolley, dears?”

A plump woman pushing a trolley stacked with sweets had just stopped by their compartment. Hermione straightened, looking intrigued.

Harry remembered the pouch of coins Snape had lent — no — given him.

Better use it, or it will seem like I’m ungrateful.

Neville shook his head, muttering about his Gran not wanting him to have too many sweets.

Between Harry and Hermione, they managed to purchase a bit of nearly every sweet offered, and they and Neville spent an enjoyable half-hour tasting them all. Well, aside from when Harry nearly choked on a petrol flavored bean.

“Ooh,” Hermione nearly squealed. “A Paracelsus card!”

“Who?” Neville asked.

“He’s one of the first known alchemists. He invented the-”

A loud clearing of the throat cut her off. Harry looked up to see a pale, blond-haired boy standing at the entrance to their compartment with a strikingly familiar face.

Draco Malfoy.

He was flanked by two large, blank-faced boys who stood on either side of him as though they were bodyguards.

“So, it’s you,” Draco said, looking straight at Harry. “You’re Harry Potter.”

Harry raised his eyebrows. “So?”

Draco looked taken-aback and haughty at the same time. “I never would have expected it.”

“What were you expecting?”

Draco’s lips tightened. “I wouldn’t have expected the Boy-Who-Lived to be mucking about in Knockturn Alley like a street urchin.”

Harry stiffened. Malfoy knew nothing about street kids. And it hadn’t been his fault he’d been covered in soot at the time.

Malfoy paused to look down his rather pointy nose at Hermione and Neville. “I expect you’ll develop a stronger sense of class if you join us in our compartment instead of consorting with the likes of… them.”

Harry felt hot anger surge up inside him, and it was all he could do to force it back before he caused an explosion. Perhaps they weren’t friends, but Hermione and Neville had both been perfectly willing to interact with him and hadn’t looked at him as though he were a bit of dirt at the bottom of their shoes. Something that Harry had been worried about happening once he began school.

How dare Draco Malfoy degrade them and claim that he was better friendship material, when it was clear that he was only interested in Harry now that he knew he was famous?

Harry rose from his seat and walked towards Malfoy with slow, deliberate steps. “Go away,” he said in a hard voice.

The two large boys stepped forward, leaning in intimidatingly. Harry’s heart began to thump loudly in his ears, and he snuck a hand into his pocket, only to remember that he didn’t have his penknife. Only his wand, and he didn’t even know how to use it yet.

Doing his best to conceal his steadily building anxiety, Harry refused to back away.

“Potter, you’re making a mistake-”

“I disagree,” Harry responded, his voice growing cold.

Malfoy sneered. “You associate with riffraff like those two, it’ll rub off on you, and you can forget about-”

“Get out.”

Malfoy’s face tinged pink, and he threw Harry a nasty look before turning on his heel and stalking out of the compartment, his large companions lumbering behind him.

Harry let out a breath and sunk back into his seat. He didn’t want to look at either of his seat-mates. Would they still want to sit with him after that? Stupid Malfoy.

“Harry?” said Neville quietly.

Harry met his eyes.

“Thanks for sticking up for us. You didn’t have to.”

Harry stared at him. Neville was thanking him?

“Malfoy’s a jerk,” Harry muttered.

“Oh, was that a Malfoy ?” Hermione asked, clearly not too bothered by what had just happened. “I think I read that name somewhere, though I can’t remember the context-”

“They’re an old, pureblood family,” said Neville. “They have a lot of power.”

“I suppose money would do that,” Harry said.

“Yeah, but it’s the pureblood, too.”

“It seems quite odd that some wizards are so fixated on bloodlines,” Hermione said thoughtfully. “I mean, if you have magic, you have magic. Unless the genetics strengthen it…”

“I don’t think so,” Harry said, perking up a bit. “Magic seems to be a dominant trait, seeing as most people with only one magical parent have magic as well.” That was what the books said, anyway.

“But maybe it’s an incomplete dominance inheritance pattern,” Hermione said, her brown eyes bright with the thrill of new knowledge. “That would mean that if one parent is a muggle and the other is a wizard, then the child would have weaker magic than if both parents were wizards.”

“But then how would you explain muggleborns, like you?”

“That would bring us back to dominant versus recessive genes.”

“In that case, both your parents would have to carry a gene for magic but not actually have it…”

Neville stared at both of them with his mouth slightly agape.

“Oh, sorry Neville,” said Hermione, noticing his expression. “This is all just so fascinating.

Harry had to agree.

“We should probably get changed,” Hermione said, peering out the window. “I expect we’ll be there soon.”

Harry muttered something about changing in the lavatory and grabbed his backpack. Hermione followed him out of the compartment, leaving Neville to change while they found their respective bathrooms. Harry exited shortly, just as an announcement echoed throughout the train that they would be arriving in ten minutes’ time, and that their luggage and caged pets would be handled for them. 

Neville caught up with him as the train shuddered to a stop. Hermione seemed to have made her way off the train alone, so he and Neville, who had a firm grip on his toad, disembarked along with the swarm of robe-clad students.

Harry shivered slightly in the evening air.

“Firs’ years, firs’ years, this way,” Harry heard a familiar voice call. He joined the crowd of students making their hesitant way towards the huge, bearded figure of Hagrid, who led them towards the edge of the lake, where an assortment of small, wooden boats waited.

“No more ‘n four to a boat…”

Harry made his way to the nearest one and perched stiffly on a seat. He had lost Neville in the shuffle, so several unfamiliar people joined him. They exchanged nervous nods, but didn’t take the time to chat.

Harry gripped the sides of the boat as it began to move.

This was it.

Chapter Text

Harry stared, wide-eyed, as he and the other first years were led through the Great Hall. The place was huge. It was lit by thousands of floating candles, all hovering above four extremely long tables set for what looked like hundreds, which were occupied by robe-clad students of varying ages. Silvery ghosts were scattered here and there among them, some sitting on the benches, others hovering above.

Harry tensed his shoulders, looking anywhere but at the older students, whose eyes were all fixed upon the group of new arrivals. He glanced up at the ceiling, or what seemed to be the lack of one, as it appeared dark and starry just like the sky outside.

Oh, right, Hogwarts, a History had mentioned something about it being bewitched to look that way. Somewhere behind him, Hermione was muttering about the enchantments she thought were used to create the effect.

Professor McGonagall, the stern-faced woman who had met them in the entrance hall and was currently leading them across the Great Hall, stopped before the podium that held the staff table, where a wooden stool was situated at the very front with an old, faded hat placed on top.

There was a long, silent pause, then a rip near the brim of the hat opened, and the hat began to sing.

"Oh you may not think I'm pretty,

But don't judge on what you see,

I'll eat myself if you can find

A smarter hat than me.”

What. The. Hell.

Of all the strange and incredible things Harry had seen and done since he’d come to live with Snape, this had to be one of the oddest things to happen so far. A singing hat? Really? Harry had to bite down hard on his lips to keep from laughing at the utter absurdity of it.

“You might belong in Gryffindor, 

Where dwell the brave at heart…”

Gryffindor. That was where his parents had been. If Harry had been raised by them, would he be sure to be sorted into Gryffindor? It was hard to say, because, right now, Harry felt the furthest thing from brave.

“You might belong in Hufflepuff, 

Where they are just and loyal…”

Neville had said that was where all the leftovers went. But that didn’t seem right. How could there be such a thing as a leftover person? In the storybooks, it was always the ones forgotten, left behind, disregarded, who rose out of the ashes... And, either way, at least if someone was sorted into Hufflepuff they knew they had a place here. What if he sat on that stool with the Hat on his head for hours and hours until Dumbledore decided that he didn’t belong at Hogwarts after all and threw him out? What would Snape say? Would he still want Harry if that happened?

“Or yet in wise old Ravenclaw, 

If you’ve a ready mind…”

Was Ravenclaw the House for smart people? Harry hadn’t heard much about that House one way or another, although Hermione had said she wouldn’t mind being sorted there. But she’d really wanted Gryffindor…

“Or perhaps in Slytherin

You'll make your real friends…”

Snape had been in Slytherin. Did he want Harry to be sorted there, too? What if he wasn’t? Snape wouldn’t be angry, Harry knew that, but would he be… disappointed?

“So put me on! Don't be afraid!

And don't get in a flap!

You're in safe hands (though I have none)

For I'm a Thinking Cap!”

Finally, the song ended, and the entire Hall burst out into applause. God, it was loud. Harry valiantly refrained from pressing his hands over his ears.

When the applause died down, McGonagall spoke. “When your name is called,” she said crisply, “you will put on the Hat and take a seat on the stool. The Hat will determine which House you belong in.”

Harry took that moment to chance a glance at the other first year students, who all appeared to be simultaneously frozen in place.

“Abbott, Hannah.”

And so it began. 

Harry surreptitiously studied the staff table as the Sorting Ceremony progressed. There was Dumbledore, of course, seated at the very center of the table. Harry avoided looking at him. There was a vacant seat beside him, which Harry guessed belonged to McGonagall, and on his other side was a tiny, bearded man who looked to be sitting atop a pile of cushions. Hagrid was seated several chairs over, looking even larger than usual between an old, grizzled man who appeared to be missing an arm, and a rotund, kind-faced woman who had what looked like twigs stuck in her cropped, grey hair. Snape was seated a few places away from Dumbledore on the other side of the table beside a nervous-looking man who wore a large, purple turban, looking severe and rather bored at the same time.

Harry returned his focus to the Sorting when Hermione’s name was called, and he watched carefully as she hastened over to the stool. It was after several minutes, longer than any of the other Sortings had been so far, when the Hat called out Gryffindor. 

Not long after, Neville was sorted into Gryffindor as well (though he took a while too), and Harry, while glad for him, felt nervous. There was no guarantee that he’d be sorted alongside Neville and Hermione, and what if they were the only people who’d want to talk to him?

“Malfoy, Draco.”

Harry looked up quickly as Malfoy sauntered over to the stool and was sorted into Slytherin as soon as the Hat brushed his head. Malfoy strutted over to the Slytherin table with a smug grin on his face, and Harry had to suppress the urge to roll his eyes.

Several more names were called, then finally…

“Potter, Harry.”

When Harry stepped forward, the hall immediately began to echo with whispers. Oh, right, he was famous.

Brilliant.

Harry kept his eyes trained on the ground as he approached the stool, and he was actually relieved when the Hat slipped down over his eyes. At least he didn’t have to see the stares.

“Interesting,” an odd-sounding voice spoke in his head. Harry nearly jumped, and he clutched the edges of the stool in his fists. “Very interesting.” The bloody thing could read his mind? It was all Harry could do not to rip the Hat off his head and run for the lake. He could learn to breathe underwater and live amongst the merpeople...

“Quite intelligent, I see,” the Hat said in a voice so smugly all-knowing that Harry had the urge to shove it into a shredder. “Some anger there too, I wager.” Harry groaned inwardly.  

“Rather cunning as well, when the need arises. You trust very few, yet supremely loyal to and protective of those that you do. Above all, a survivor...”

The Hat paused.

Get it off.

“Plenty of courage... You do not wish to fight, to confront, yet you do so when you feel you must, without hesitation.”

Stupid hat.

“So you want to be sorted into Slytherin, eh?”

What? I never said that!

“You wish to prove yourself. To prove to your guardian that you are worthy of his regard.”

With the truth of the matter plainly spoken, Harry had to restrain himself from hunching his shoulders. And setting the bloody Hat on fire.

“You would do well in Slytherin, that cannot be disputed.”

Harry’s heart jumped a little.

“Yet, I wonder…”

What the bloody hell is it this time? Can I just get sorted and move on?”

“I have sorted thousands of children over the years, many of whom did not make my task an easy one. You are no exception.”

Trust Harry’s case to be a difficult one.

“You would certainly fit well into Slytherin,” the Hat continued. “You could be great… truly... Yet, greatness holds many meanings, many faces. Power, fortune… you do not long for either.”

How does this even work? How can a hat be sentient? Does it have a mind of its own, or was it pre-programmed to use all possible combinations of words-

“You thirst for knowledge, and the freedom to pursue it. The strength to fight for it. The peace to cultivate it.”

The Hat paused for a moment, as though to let the words sink in.

What does that even mean? Is there actually a person behind this hat who’s reading my mind?

“And that may be where your greatness truly lies.”

Harry could only picture the rip in the brim of the Hat opening wide as it bellowed out his placement.

“Ravenclaw!”

For several moments, there was utter silence. Then, as Harry made his way towards the Ravenclaw table, one unidentifiable person began to clap, and gradually, others followed suit, and the muted applause grew louder and louder until it was positively deafening. 

Studiously avoiding eye contact, Harry found a seat at the table, where he was greeted with many shakes of the hand and pats on the shoulder. He held himself stiff, wanting nothing more than to run out of the Hall and bury himself somewhere. Mercifully, once the Sorting resumed, most people’s attention was pulled away from him, though many still continued shooting glances and muttering amongst themselves.

Finally, Zabini, Blaise was sorted, and after the applause from the Slytherin table died down, Dumbledore rose from his seat. Regardless of what Harry thought of the man, he had to admit that Dumbledore was quite skilled at commanding the attention of a room.

"Welcome, welcome to all our new students!" he said jovially, spreading his arms wide. "And welcome back to all those returning. Before we begin our glorious feast, I would like to say a few words: Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!”

Dumbledore clapped his hands once, and before Harry could begin to decipher the apparent nonsense that the man had just uttered, the dozens of golden serving platters on the table suddenly filled with food, and the hall began to echo with chatter.

Harry sat perfectly still, his arms pulled in close to his sides. The first years beside him, a dark-skinned girl with short hair whose name Harry recalled from the Sorting to be Lisa Turpin, and a pale, brown-haired boy almost as small as Harry whose name he couldn’t place but whom he could vaguely remember sharing the boat with, were sitting far too close, their elbows brushing into his arms as they filled their plates.

Despite the distraction of food, Harry could still feel the stares of a hundred pairs of eyes on him, and it was enough to put him off the delectable offerings set in front of him. He wished he could tap his wand on top of his head to make himself disappear like when Snape had cast the Disillusionment Charm. Maybe he could learn it. It would be dead useful to be able to vanish at will...

Harry chanced a glance up at the high table, towards Snape, whose face was turned to the man with the purple turban. Suddenly, a sharp, piercing pain shot through Harry’s forehead, disappearing as quickly as it had come. Snape chose that moment to catch his eye, the man’s expression twisting in what Harry recognized as concern. Harry blinked rapidly with the aftershock of that odd pain, but he felt slightly calmed when the man’s lip twitched minutely. A hint of a smile.

Harry let out a slow breath and reached for the nearest platter.

He focused studiously on his plate, piled with food that he had yet to make a dent in. But how was he supposed to eat with so many people around, even if they hadn’t been staring at him like he was a zoo exhibit? In that moment, he wished he were in Snape’s kitchen, eating in comfortable silence while the man scribbled on a scroll of parchment with one hand while eating absentmindedly with the other.

But he wasn’t there. He was here, and he had to get it together before these hundreds of strangers caught a whiff of weakness in him. 

Harry rolled back his shoulders and forced himself to take a bite of his shepherd’s pie. He would have been able to better appreciate how tasty it was if his stomach wasn’t churning. He swallowed thickly, the food sticking in his throat, and he took a sip from his water glass to wash it down.

A distinct clearing of the throat had him glancing up to meet the gaze of a long-haired girl with warm brown skin sitting across from him. She smiled hesitantly. “I think you’re the only person I haven’t introduced myself to,” she said, her smile turning wry. “I’m Padma Patil.”

Harry reached out to shake her proffered hand, praying that his hand wasn’t noticeably clammy. 

“I’m Harry Potter,” he said, uncomfortably aware that she probably already knew that.

“Did you not want to be in Ravenclaw?” she asked, furrowing her brow. “I’m asking because you don’t seem that excited.”

Harry drew back a little. Was his discomfort that obvious? “I don’t mind being in Ravenclaw,” he said, slightly defensively.

Padma shrugged, her face a bit downcast. “My twin sister Parvati was sorted into Gryffindor. We’ve always done everything together, so it’s weird to be apart now.”

Harry wasn’t sure how to respond. “I’m sorry,” he offered, scooping up another bit of shepherd’s pie just for something to do.

“I suppose we’ll have to get used to it,” she said, a little too brightly.

Harry searched, a bit frantically, for something to say. None of the students around him seemed to be struggling in the talking department; the loud conversations, laughter, and friendly shoves occurring among them were testament to that. Was he about to become an outcast here too?

Why should I care about that? What does it matter if a bunch of strangers don’t like me?

For whatever reason, Harry did care, if the uncomfortable tightness of his throat was any indication.

When Padma turned away to speak to the bespectacled, blond-haired boy beside her, Harry began mashing the remainder of his shepherd’s pie into a pulp, and he nearly dropped his fork when the boy Padma was talking to turned in his direction.

“Hey, I’m Anthony Goldstein,” the boy said, stretching out his hand and fairly bouncing in his seat. 

Harry let out a huff of breath and shook the boy’s hand. “Harry Potter.”

“I know,” the boy, Anthony, said with a grin.

Harry flushed, letting go of the boy’s hand and grabbing onto his water glass.

“I’m really glad I’m in Ravenclaw,” Anthony said, wriggling in his seat. “My mum was in Ravenclaw, and she says it’s the best House.” He grinned widely, and Harry could not think what he was so pleased about. “Well, she used to, but then my sister was sorted into Hufflepuff so now she says all the Houses are the best House. Hey, Dalia!” he suddenly yelled, twisting around to wave his hand towards the Hufflepuff table. A dark-haired girl, who Harry would not have guessed was a relative of Anthony’s, waved back, looking simultaneously put-upon and fond.

“She looks like my mum and I look like my dad. People always ask if one of us was adopted.” He sipped his drink, sputtering a bit as he gulped it down too quickly.

“What House was your dad in?” Padma asked, reaching for her glass of an intensely orange liquid.

Anthony tapped his fork against his equally orange glass in a rapid, repetitive motion, as if he didn’t realize he was doing it. “He’s a Squib. But he’s American so he wouldn’t have gone to Hogwarts anyway.” He turned to Padma. “What about your parents?”

Padma perked up. “My parents are from India, so they went to school there. We moved to England when Parvati and I were babies.” 

Anthony leaned forward. “Where’s the school in India? Is there more than one? Do you visit-?

Padma gave a slight laugh. “The school’s in a small wizarding town called Kalale. There’s another school in the north. And, yes, we go every summer to see our grandparents.”

Harry focused back upon his food and let the conversation wash over him, relieved that the attention was off of him, yet oddly frustrated. He would never be able to converse that easily, that freely…

“Is it true you live with Muggles?”

Harry jerked his head up at Anthony’s question, feeling suddenly cold. He forced himself to respond. “I- I used to.”

“Used to? What about now?” Anthony’s blue eyes were wide, guileless, and it was only the distinct lack of judgement that put Harry at ease enough to speak.

“They… um- they-” hated me hurt me died in a fire “-couldn’t keep me anymore, so now I live with- with a wizard.” 

Anthony seemed to accept that without much contemplation and abruptly changed the subject. “Why are you drinking water when you could be drinking all of this ?” He gestured at the various pitchers on the table.

Harry blinked. “Oh. I... er, I don’t know…”

“Try this.” Without waiting for a response, Anthony grabbed a pitcher of the orange liquid he and Padma were drinking and poured it into Harry’s mostly empty glass. “It’s pumpkin juice. It’s the best! Mum hardly ever lets us have it at home because she says the sugar makes us hyperactive. Especially me.” He bounced again, as if to prove the point.

More bemused than anything, Harry took a cautious sip. It wasn’t half bad, if a bit too cloyingly sweet.

“Lisa, have you had any of this?” Anthony said to the girl next to Harry, pointing to the pitcher of pumpkin juice. What was with this kid and pumpkin juice?”

The girl glanced up, looking a bit startled, before a slow smile spread across her face. “Can’t. I’m allergic to pumpkins.”

Anthony’s eyes nearly bugged out of his head. “Allergic to pumpkins ? How do you even live ?” He looked utterly distraught, but his expression faded into confusion when Lisa burst into giggles. 

“I’m joking,” she said, still giggling.

Anthony burst out into peals of laughter, clutching his stomach and gasping for air. The sight of it was so comical that Harry couldn’t hold in a snort. Then Padma started to laugh, and soon, Harry’s shoulders were shaking in an effort to suppress his own laughs, and Anthony looked moments away from passing out due to lack of air, his glasses dangling precariously from one ear.

“What is wrong with all of you?” said the boy sitting on Harry’s other side.

“Pumpkin juice, Terry,” Padma said, wiping her eyes. “Pumpkin juice is what’s wrong with us.”

Things no longer felt quite so daunting.

Chapter Text

Harry couldn’t sleep.

It wasn’t for lack of exhaustion. By the end of the feast he’d felt about ready to drop, though he briefly jerked awake to watch in tired bemusement as Dumbledore and a pair of redheaded twins at the Gryffindor table led the school in singing the most inane song he’d ever heard in his life. He and the other first years were then faced with a long trek up to Ravenclaw Tower, guided by prefects Penelope Clearwater, a tall girl with long, curly hair, and Robert Hilliard, even taller, with broad shoulders and an easy smile.

Penelope had rapped the bronze, eagle-shaped knocker against the door when they arrived, and then had to answer a riddle posed by the eagle in order to pass through. They’d have to do that every time, apparently. They could enter via a pattern of knocks in case of an emergency, but it would only work if the eagle judged the situation to be satisfactorily desperate.

Harry, and the rest of the first years, by the look of them, had only been able to vaguely appreciate the large, airy common room draped with blue and bronze silks, tired as they were. Prefect Robert Hilliard had promptly led the first year boys up to their dormitory, which was also liberally draped in blue and bronze and set with five four-poster beds.

Harry had been relieved to find his suitcase placed in front of the bed closest to the wall opposite the door, the most secure spot, in his estimation, though he was significantly less enthused about changing into his pajamas in front of the other boys, who all seemed to be doing so without much thought. Thankfully, there was an adjoining bathroom with stalls for him to change in.

He’d learned that, other than Anthony Goldstein and Terry Boot, he was sharing a dorm with Michael Corner, a soft-spoken boy with dark curls that reached his shoulders, and Stephen Cornfoot, long and lanky, with, oddly enough, blue hair, though Harry was sure he’d seen the boy earlier with sandy hair. They’d all exchanged brief greetings before dropping into their beds, and the room was soon quiet save for snores, snuffles, and occasional mutters from Anthony, who apparently talked in his sleep.

But Harry was wide awake. It was just… too quiet, and too loud at the same time. It had been louder when he’d slept outdoors all those times when he couldn’t find indoor shelter, but he hadn’t really been aiming for sleep back then. But now, he was in a warm room, on a comfortable bed, and every noise had him flinching.

He lay awake for what felt like hours. At Snape’s house he might have gotten out of bed by now, but where was he supposed to go? Was it against the rules to go to the common room at this hour? He’d have to find out, but he wasn’t going to take any chances.

Eventually, Harry did drop off, but it felt like he’d only slept for moments when he was awakened by the chattering of his roommates. He pulled open his silky, blue bed curtains and jolted back in surprise when he found Anthony standing inches away from him.

“Good, you’re awake!” Anthony said brightly. “I was just going to wake you because we’re all going down to breakfast together so at least if we get lost we’ll get lost together.” He said that all in one breath, bouncing in the balls of his feet.

“You’re way too cheerful for this early in the morning,” Terry remarked from two beds over as he pulled on his socks.

You’re just grouchy,” Anthony said with a mock scowl, the effect rather dampened by him spinning in a circle on his heels.

Harry managed to drag himself out of bed and quickly got changed in the bathroom. He’d have to shower later, because they were all probably waiting for him and would hate him because he made them late…

I don’t care if they hate me.

Harry lifted his chin as he exited the bathroom. Just let them try messing with him, he’d show them...

But no one said anything. Michael was still gathering his books together, and Stephen was standing in front of a mirror that hovered in the air, combing his now fire-engine red hair. 

Does he use some sort of magical dye? 

Harry wasn’t going to ask.

Several minutes later, during which time Anthony had been pacing impatiently in circles, they all staggered out of the dormitory.

The common room was pretty full. A number of older students were lounging about, sipping coffee and tea and nibbling on pastries that were set out on a platter on one of the tables. Two girls were sitting together on a squashy blue couch poring over the thickest book Harry had ever seen in his life, and one of them, judging by the silver and green scarf draped over her shoulders and the prefect badge with a snake embossed on it, was a Slytherin.

So students from other Houses were allowed in? Maybe he could go visit Hermione and Neville, if they still wanted to have anything to do with him now that he was in a different House…

He stared resolutely at the floor as several of the students glanced over at him. Because he was famous. Which was stupid and he wanted it to stop.

When they reached the exit, they were met by the first year girls and, unexpectedly, Penelope Clearwater. Robert Hilliard, the other prefect, appeared to be in the midst of breaking up a heated argument between two boys, one of them still pajama-clad.

“He turned all my clothes Gryffindor colors!” the pajama-clad boy was exclaiming. He drew his wand and attempted to point it at the other boy’s face, but Robert caught his wrist.

“I did no such thing,” the boy snapped back. “It’s not my fault you secretly wish you were a Gryffindor so you can spend more time snogging your boyfriend-”

Penelope glanced briefly at the scene before turning back, rolling her eyes. “I’m to escort you to the Great Hall,” she said crisply. “Do pay attention so you’ll be able to find your own way in the future.”

Anthony, who’d apparently been excited at the prospect of getting lost, looked rather disappointed, but he rallied, bounding ahead to the front of the group.

How does he have so much energy? Is he on something?

Harry blew out a breath, which turned into a yawn, and he trailed slightly behind the group, ending up alongside one of the first year girls, who also seemed tired, and was tying her long, sleek black hair into a ponytail.

“I’m Su Li,” the girl said to Harry in a slightly hoarse voice, dropping her hands from her hair.

“Harry.” He nodded at her.

Su smiled, but, thankfully, didn’t seem in the mood to talk, and they both quickened their stride to catch up with Penelope.

Once seated in the Great Hall, a little apart from the others, Harry picked at his food. There was a platter of the fried eggs with onions that he loved, but he couldn’t bring himself to take a bite. It wasn’t just because of his sleepless night; a nauseating anxiety was beginning to rise in his gut, and the mere thought of ingesting anything made his stomach churn.

What if I’m bad at all my classes? What if I fail? What if I’m stupid at magic? 

Harry grabbed onto what looked like a pot of black coffee and poured it into his cup, hoping it would wake him up some. He’d never had coffee, and, after nearly spitting out his first mouthful, he might have been better off staying that way. He forced himself to finish it anyway, because the last thing he wanted was to fall asleep in the middle of class on his first day.

Purposefully keeping his head down and ignoring the other students, Harry managed to scarf down an apple and half a piece of toast, and he was about to get up to go… where, exactly? when a cheerful-faced, bearded man that was even shorter than Harry appeared just behind him.

“First years, welcome!” the man said with a wide smile. “I’m your Head of House, Professor Flitwick!”

Great, another Ravenclaw who was disgustingly cheerful in the morning.

“Good morning, Professor Flitwick,” Anthony, Padma, and one of the first year girls Harry hadn’t spoken to replied, while the others just murmured in response. Harry kept his head down.

“I’m looking forward to getting to know you all this year, but to reach that point, you’ll all need your class schedules!”

He handed out scrolls of parchment to each of them, and Harry scanned it quickly. It was a Monday today, and it seemed they had Charms with Professor Flitwick first thing, followed by History of Magic, and then double Herbology. 

Potions class wasn’t until Wednesday.

Harry glanced up at the high table. He didn’t see Snape anywhere.

Biting down on his lip, Harry rolled up his schedule and shoved it into his bag before getting up. If he was to find the Charms classroom in time, he’d better start now. It was always preferable to be early. Always better to be prepared, to familiarize himself with his surroundings just in case he needed to make a quick escape. 

His eyes firmly trained on the ground and hands shoved into the deep pockets of his robes, Harry made for the door. Still staring at the floor, he nearly walked into a tall figure who caught him by the shoulders, and he flinched wildly, his head jerking up to find… Snape.

The man was looking down at him with an odd expression on his face, forehead furrowed, as though he were trying to decipher a foreign text.

“I was just coming to fetch you,” said Snape, still looking at him oddly.

“You- you were?” Harry stammered, feeling off-balance.

“I did say you were to come find me if you ever had need of me, did I not? You’ll need to know where my office is.”

Harry nodded, and something in his chest loosened.

“I will show you to my office, and after that I’ll escort you to your first class. Charms, I believe?”

He knows my schedule?

Harry shoved away the thought. The man probably knew all his students’ schedules; Harry wasn’t special.

Harry followed Snape through the entrance hall and down several winding flights of stairs into what appeared to be the dungeons. A group of older Slytherin students began approaching from the other end of the corridor, and he curled in on himself a little more and shifted so that he was concealed behind Snape.

“Morning, Professor,” several of the students chorused as they passed. One of them eyed Harry curiously, but Harry kept his eyes straight ahead.

Snape nodded sharply at them, then quickened his stride, and Harry nearly tripped over the hem of his robes in his attempt to match the man’s pace. Finally, they reached a doorway to what was undoubtedly the Potions classroom. Harry glanced around interestedly. It was significantly larger than Snape’s laboratory at home, with roughly twenty small tables, and the walls were lined with shelves of what looked like pickled animals in jars. 

Harry hurried to catch up with Snape when he realized he’d paused to stare, and they stopped in front of a door at the far end of the room.

“This is my office,” Snape said as he pushed the door open. “I can often be found here when I am not teaching.” 

The room was small and dimly lit by a few gas lamps near the ceiling, and it was slightly warmer than the drafty classroom despite the empty fireplace. The walls were also lined with shelves, some filled with books and others with jars of unidentifiable substances. There was a large desk and chair directly in front of a particularly large bookshelf, and there were several smaller, wooden chairs facing it.

Where does he keep all his things?

Harry’s question was answered when Snape leveled his wand at the bookshelf behind the desk, which abruptly shifted to the side to reveal another door.

“These are my personal quarters,” Snape said, beckoning to Harry. “Please place your palm on the door.”

Harry did so, and Snape waved his wand again. The door swung open.

“My office door will open in response to your knock,” Snape said, pushing Harry forward by the shoulder. “So if you wish to see me, you may enter at any time. You’ll be able to enter my quarters by first pointing your wand at the bookshelf, then pressing your palm to the door, as you just did.”

Harry nodded and stepped over the threshold into what looked like a small apartment. It consisted of a modest-sized room containing a green-grey couch, a round, wooden table, and chairs, as well as a kitchen area and several doors, one of which must have led to a bedroom.

He turned back to Snape, unsure of what was expected of him, to find the man studying him through narrowed eyes. “You don’t quite seem yourself.”

Didn’t he? Harry couldn’t quite understand what the man meant. What was “himself” normally like? He might have been feeling a little off-kilter, being here, but was it that obvious?

“I’m okay,” Harry said, glancing away. “Just a bit tired.”

Snape stared at him for another moment before speaking. "Have you settled into your dormitory?”

Harry nodded.

“Is all copacetic among your housemates?”

“Yes, sir.” Harry winced internally. Was he supposed to call him Severus? 

The man didn’t comment on it. “Please do inform me if you experience any difficulties, or if there is anything you require.”

“I will.” At least he’d left off the ‘sir’.

There was a long pause, and Harry slid his hands into his pockets, clenching his fists around the fabric. He lifted his head when Snape spoke.

“Very well. I will escort you to the Charms classroom.”

Their walk to the Charms classroom was silent. Harry kept his eyes down, not wanting to glance up and confirm his suspicion that every person that passed by was staring at him. When they reached the classroom, which was, thankfully, still empty, Harry looked up at Snape, managing to offer up a smile. “Thanks.”

After a brief pause, Snape reached over to squeeze his shoulder before turning to go. 

Just moments later, before Harry had managed to find a seat, he was joined by the other Ravenclaws, and he soon found himself seated between an ever excitable Anthony, who had managed to figure out how to make multicolored sparks fly out of his wand, and Su Li, the girl he’d spoken to briefly in the morning before breakfast. It seemed that they weren’t sharing this class with students from the other houses.

“Good morning!”

Harry started when Professor Flitwick appeared on top of the teacher’s desk, seemingly out of nowhere. Had he Apparated? Harry hadn’t heard the telltale pop… and Hogwarts, a History had said that Apparition wasn’t possible within Hogwarts...

“I’m just thrilled to be teaching the first class of the year to my new Ravenclaws- oh, very nice, Mr. Goldstein!” Flitwick clapped his hands, beaming, when Anthony let out another shower of sparks from his wand. “Five points to Ravenclaw!” Anthony grinned widely, bouncing in his seat.

“You’ve been reading ahead, have you?”

“Just this part, ‘cause I really wanted to make sparks.”

Why didn’t I do that?

Harry had read through most of his school books already, but he hadn’t tried to make anything work with his wand yet. Snape had warned him against messing with his wand untrained, but he’d been awake all night, he should’ve-

Harry was shaken out of his thoughts when Professor Flitwick began to demonstrate the wand movement, which did not require an incantation, to make sparks fly out of his wand.

And… to Harry’s delight, he did it on his second try, the third person to do so after Anthony and Lisa, who was seated in front of him and currently showering herself with blue and purple sparks.

“Well done, Mr. Potter! Five points to Ravenclaw.” Harry couldn’t help but grin at his gold and silver sparks, and he barely flinched when Professor Flitwick clapped him on the shoulder.

How does this even work, though? Is it also physics, like the Hover Charm?

Maybe he could ask Snape… or Flitwick, who was right there. But the tiny professor was busy helping Michael Corner with his wand grip.

The rest of the surprisingly enjoyable class flew by, and Flitwick set them homework to read the first chapter of their textbook before the next class, as well as to continue practicing the spell. Everyone had managed to do it by the end of the class, even Michael, who struggled with keeping his hand steady.

Their next class, History of Magic, was a real letdown after their entertaining first class. Professor Binns, who just happened to be a ghost, spoke in a dry, monotonous voice that would have lulled Harry to sleep even if he’d been talking about something actually interesting, like physics, or potions, or basically anything other than some goblin war that had taken place in the 1400s. As such, Harry did find himself nodding off fifteen minutes into the lesson, jerking awake every so often in an attempt to take some notes, though he gave up on that endeavor pretty quickly when he found that his ink was smudging too badly to read what he’d written. It was all in the textbook anyway, wasn’t it? Lisa and Terry seemed to be managing all right, but everyone else was drifting, and Anthony had taken to jogging laps around the classroom when it became obvious that Binns didn’t seem to notice or care one way or another.

Lunch hour followed History of Magic, and Harry was beginning to feel rather nauseous. He hadn’t eaten much for breakfast, and the black coffee seemed to be catching up with him; he felt oddly jittery, and sounds seemed strangely amplified.

“You all right, Harry?” Anthony asked with his mouth full, sliding along the bench to sit closer.

Harry started, squinting at Anthony in surprise. “I- I’m okay,” he was startled into saying. He took a quick bite of the pasta he’d dumped on his plate.

“History was dead boring, wasn’t it?” Anthony swallowed another bite. “Thought I’d fall asleep.”

“I almost did,” Harry mumbled. He cut one of the pieces of pasta in half with his fork. Maybe it would be more appetizing if he added a sauce to it. The thought just made him feel more queasy. No more coffee for him.

“You can come sit with the rest of us, you know,” Anthony said, licking tomato sauce off his lips. Harry glanced over to the rest of the first years who were sitting a short distance away.

Harry’s shoulders tightened, though he couldn’t have said why, and it took a surprising amount of effort for him to follow Anthony to a seat closer to the other students. Every bone in his body wanted to remain where he was, alone, with space around him, and no one looking at him. Why was this so hard? No one had been mean to him, and his classmates didn’t seem nearly as enamored with his status as the Boy-Who-Lived as the other students. Perhaps because they’d actually spoken to him and realized that he was nothing special. That thought did calm him enough to allow him to finish his meal, just before Robert showed up to escort them to their next class.

Herbology, taught by Professor Sprout, the witch Harry had seen at the feast with twigs in her hair, was shared with the Slytherins. Harry wouldn’t have minded if Malfoy wasn’t in that House, glaring daggers at Harry during the entire length of Professor Sprout’s introduction.

They were soon set to begin pruning small, potted plants that would have appeared to be utterly mundane if not for the way the leaves occasionally wriggled.

This was something Harry could do. He’d been forced to garden for the Dursleys for years, and it was one chore Harry had never minded. For one thing, it had allowed him to be outdoors, and there was something soothing about the predictable nature of working with plants. They thrived when watered and fed sunlight, and withered when deprived of those things. How many times had Harry wished that he could survive on sunlight alone as he watered Petunia’s flower bed, struggling to ignore the empty, gnawing ache of his stomach... Now, Harry’s stomach wasn’t empty, and his plant seemed to be responding to his ministrations with alacrity.

Of course, that peace had to be snatched away when Malfoy sidled up next to him.

“A Potter in Ravenclaw,” he said snidely, tugging forcefully on one of the leaves of his own plant. It abruptly shriveled, fading from green to a sickly yellow.

Harry kept his mouth firmly shut, shifting away slightly and smoothing out the earth around his plant.

“I’m sure the entire wizarding world expected you to be in Gryffindor. How disappointed they all must be.”

Harry bit down hard on the inside of his cheek. He wasn’t going to play this game; he knew how it ended. The other boy would push and push until Harry finally snapped and got blamed for it. A decade of growing up alongside Dudley had taught him that much. And Snape liked Malfoy, had known him longer, and would probably believe him over Harry…

Harry shifted over further so that he was standing closer to Padma.

“How did you make your plant look so green?” she asked, leaning towards him.

Harry furrowed his brow, noticing how bright a shade of green his leaves were compared to hers. And how Malfoy’s entire plant had turned a withered yellowish-brown.

“Oh… er… I’m not sure,” Harry said hesitantly. “I- I’ve worked a bit with plants before, and I just sort of…” He smoothed a hand over a leaf that was sagging slightly, and it perked up immediately.”

Padma brightened. “Looks like it just needs a gentle touch. Thanks, Harry!”

Harry stared at her, startled. What had he done?

“Should’ve been a bloody Hufflepuff,” Malfoy muttered. He swung around, nose in the air, to make his way back to his lumbering bodyguards, accidentally-on-purpose ramming his elbow into Harry’s side in the process.

Harry bit back a grunt of pain, forcing himself to remain still and keep his face impassive.

Never show them your pain. Never let them know they’ve gotten to you. 

These were hard-earned lessons, and Harry would do well not to forget them, not to let down his guard just because he had a warm place to sleep and regular access to food.

Professor Sprout circled around near the end of class to have a look at each of their plants. She beamed when she reached Harry, nodding in approval at the lively state of his plant; every one of the leaves wriggled excitedly, and one of them curled around Harry’s finger when he touched it.

Padma had also done well, and she sent him a grateful smile after Professor Sprout awarded her full marks as well.

Harry still didn’t know what he’d done to make her so happy.

They had a good couple of hours free before dinner once Sprout dismissed them, and Harry stood awkwardly at the entrance of the greenhouse, watching as the other Ravenclaws broke off into smaller groups and wandered away. Anthony had spotted his older sister walking towards another greenhouse and sprinted off to catch up with her, and Padma was walking with one of the first year girls; Mandy, if Harry remembered her name correctly.

He shuffled forward a few steps, then nearly jumped out of his skin when he felt a tap on his shoulder, spinning around to find Su standing there, looking slightly taken aback at Harry’s reaction.

She thinks I’m crazy. They all think I’m crazy, and they’re right. I’m not normal, there’s something wrong with me. 

“-go to the library with me?”

Harry managed to shrug off his increasingly morose thoughts in time to catch the tail end of Su’s sentence.

Library?

“Oh… er… d’you… do you know where it is?” Harry managed to respond semi-coherently.

“No, but I heard those two sixth years saying they were going there, so I figured we can follow them.” She pointed towards two girls standing a little ways away, apparently in deep conversation, one Ravenclaw and the other Slytherin.

“How do you know they’re sixth years?” Not that it mattered.

“Heard them talking about O.W.L results.”

Fair enough.

Harry and Su exchanged a quick glance, then waited for the girls to start walking, holding off until they were a good distance away before following. The walk across the grounds and through the castle was long, and it was a miracle that they managed to keep the girls in view the whole time. Harry kept a careful eye on his surroundings in order to commit the path to memory. If there was anything he needed to remember, it was this. 

They entered the library, and suddenly, the stress of the day melted away like it had never been there.

“Wow,” Su said in quiet wonder. 

In that moment, he was home.

Chapter Text

Harry managed to jerk his head up just before dropping it straight into his plate of eggs and toast.

Another sleepless night. How surprising.

But they had flying lessons today, and Harry couldn’t say the prospect didn’t excite him. Maybe they’d learn techniques to fly faster, or to perform interesting tricks and maneuvers. There was only so much he could glean from a book about it.

“Dad took me to see the Quidditch World Cup last year,” Stephen was saying from a few seats away. “But he was right put out that Scotland didn’t win.”

The Quidditch World Cup. Harry had read about that in Quidditch Through the Ages. It wasn’t the same as actually seeing it, though.

“They almost had it, though,” Su piped up. “They were up in points until Hector Lamont lost the snitch.”

Who’s Hector Lamont?

Harry’s stomach dropped, and some of his excitement faded. He didn’t know anything. He’d never seen a game, he didn’t even know who any of the famous players were. He was probably a terrible flier compared to the rest, who’d grown up discussing Quidditch like Vernon had talked about rugby and football. Not that he knew much about those sports, either.

Harry let his fork drop onto his plate from slackened fingers and swallowed thickly. He just wanted to go back to bed. Instead, he hurried after his classmates towards the Quidditch Pitch, where they were met by the Hufflepuffs and about twenty broomsticks lined on the ground. The Hufflepuffs seemed like a nice enough bunch, but more than a few of them kept stealing glances at him and looking away when they realized he’d noticed.

Don’t they have anything more interesting to gape at?

It made him want to jump onto the worn broomstick with tangled bristles at his feet and fly away. But he didn’t dare, not with the rumors they’d heard about Madam Hooch expelling students for putting so much as a toe out of line.

“I’m quite a good flier,” one of the Hufflepuff boys said, puffing out his chest a bit. “Mother started teaching me to fly when I was a toddler. She says it’s a vital skill for any wizard worth their salt.” He toed the bristles of one of the brooms, grimacing. “The broom I have at home is in far better condition than this one, I must say.”

“Seems a bit unfair that you’ve had all that practice while I didn’t even know Quidditch existed until this summer,” another boy said, staring at the broomsticks on the ground with an uncertain expression on his face.

Harry glanced at the boy out of the corner of his eye. So he wasn’t the only one here who hadn’t grown up with magic. To be fair, he hadn’t gotten around to speaking with all of his housemates yet, and some of them could easily have been Muggleborn as well. How was he supposed to ask that sort of question, anyway? He didn’t appreciate people asking about his upbringing, so why would he go and do that to someone else?

“Don’t worry, Justin,” a blond-haired Hufflepuff girl said, jerking Harry out of his thoughts. “It’s not as hard as it looks. You just have to-”

She abruptly closed her mouth when Madam Hooch, a tall, grey-haired woman with startlingly yellow eyes, marched towards them at a rapid speed. “What are you all waiting for?” she barked. “Each of you stand by a broomstick. Don’t dawdle.”

They all hurried to do as she said, and Harry managed to snag the spot at the end of the row so he didn’t have to be sandwiched between two people.

“Stick your wand arm over the broom and say ‘up’,” Madam Hooch ordered, and Harry was relieved when his broom immediately jumped into his hand. Several of the others did too, in the cases of Su and Stephen, as well as the blond Hufflepuff girl and the boy who had boasted earlier about his skills, but everyone else had a bit of a harder time. Anthony’s broom kept falling back to the ground before it reached his hand, and he had a pained look on his face, jaw clenched and shoulders tensed. Padma managed it after a few tries when she switched to her left hand, but a lot of the other brooms remained stubbornly on the ground.

Madam Hooch circled around, providing pointers, adjusting arms and shoulders, and, somehow, everyone had their brooms in their hands after a short while. She then demonstrated how to mount their brooms, which Harry had done instinctively the first time he’d flown, but it didn’t seem to come quite as naturally to many of the others. The boy who had been boasting earlier, Ernie, flushed darkly when Madam Hooch had to correct his grip, but he took the criticism in stride and focused intently on getting it right. He wasn’t a Hufflepuff for nothing, it seemed.

They were then instructed to kick off from the ground and rise up a few feet. Harry was sorely tempted to fly far higher than that, but the last thing he needed was a detention. Or expulsion. Where would he even go if he was expelled? 

“Cornfoot, come back down at once,” Hooch shouted. Stephen seemed not to have shared Harry’s qualms about getting into trouble, and had shot off the grown and started zooming around in circles above their heads. He flew back down, looking put out.

“There’ll be time for that a bit later,” Hooch said, not nearly as angry as Harry had thought she’d be. 

“Yes, ma’am,” Stephen said, frowning, his previously pink hair turning a dull brown.

Harry dropped back to the ground and stepped closer to Stephen. “How are you doing that with your hair?” he asked, curiosity overtaking his hesitance. 

Stephen grinned, his hair turning purple. “I’m a Metamorphmagus.” His nose abruptly grew long and thin, not unlike Pinocchio in the cartoons Dudley had used to watch.

“What’s that?” Harry asked, staring. He hadn’t read anything about that in Snape’s library...

Stephen’s nose returned to normal. “It’s an ability some people are born with to change their appearance at will.” He said that in a practiced manner, as though he’d repeated it many times in his life. “And my hair changes with my mood, so I’m not even doing it on purpose most of the time.”

Wow. How does that even work?

“Can people learn to be one?” Harry asked, flushing, when he realized he was staring. 

Stephen shrugged. “Don’t think so. Most wizards have to use wands to change their appearance.”

They both jumped to attention when Madam Hooch announced that they were now going to learn how to make smooth turns while in the air. Finally, finally they were given free rein to fly higher than a few feet off the ground, and Harry did not hesitate this time. It felt so right , being up here, level with the trees, not having to think, or even try.

To Harry’s disappointment, the lesson ended a short while later, and Richard showed up to escort them to their next class. “Pay attention,” he reminded them as he led the way across the grounds and down several corridors. “You’ll be expected to find your own way starting next week, and we don’t want points lost for Ravenclaw due to tardiness.”

What’s the deal with points, anyway? Harry wondered as he trailed behind Stephen, whose taller figure blocked most of his view. Is it just a sort of social pressure not to lose points so people won’t hate us? Well, that would be stupid, but it would be even stupider to try messing with the system this early on.

Richard left them at the entrance to the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, and Harry was glancing around for the most secure spot in the room, when-

“Harry!”

Harry swung around to see Hermione hurrying in his direction, with Neville following at a more sedate pace. She grabbed hold of his hands before he could think to pull away.

“How are you? How’s Ravenclaw? I was a bit disappointed that you weren’t sorted into Gryffindor, I think most people thought you would be, but Ravenclaw is great, too! Aren’t the classes just wonderful? We had Transfiguration yesterday, and Charms just now, and I can’t decide which one is my favorite. I’m quite looking forward to this class as well, and I imagine Potions will be fascinating...”

Harry stood there, a bit overwhelmed at the barrage of words being thrown at him, but more than that, he felt relieved. She was still talking to him. She still seemed to like him. 

Neville threw him a shy smile, and Harry couldn’t help but smile back, some of the anxiety of the past couple of days receding slightly.

“Are you really Harry Potter?”

Harry jolted, pulling his hands out of Hermione’s grasp and turning to meet the gaze of a tall, red-haired boy who was staring at him unabashedly.

“Yes,” Harry muttered.

“Can I see your scar?” The boy’s eyes were wide, and he was looking at Harry like he was some sort of fascinating, otherworldly creature.

Harry narrowed his eyes, folding his arms across his chest.

What kind of bloody question is that?

Now the other Gryffindor boys were staring at him too.

Harry abruptly turned away and hurried to the back of the classroom, slipping into a seat next to Su. She had never asked to see his stupid scar. 

“That was rude, Ron,” Harry heard Hermione say.

“Mind your own business, Granger...”

Neville slid into the seat beside him just as Professor Quirrell entered the classroom. Hermione had taken the seat in the front row, which Harry imagined she did in most classes, and Anthony was just in front of him, and he seemed rather subdued. For Anthony’s standards, at least. Perhaps because the flying lesson hadn’t gone so well for him. Stephen’s hair was now multicolored. How was that even biologically possible ?

The class turned out to be a bit of a letdown. Quirrell had a terrible stutter, and he often trailed off in the middle of his sentences, his eyes glazing over, staring off into the distance at something only he could see. Even worse, Harry’s head began to ache abominably, the pain centering around his forehead, and it didn’t abate until he left the classroom.

They had a long break before lunch, so Harry managed to slip outside unnoticed, desperate for some fresh air. And silence. Sweet silence.

He walked for a while, strolled, really, with no particular destination in mind other than to get away from everyone for a while. He wasn’t even sure why he wanted to. But the weather was pleasant, and he’d walked far enough from the castle to have found a decent measure of solitude. And, finally, he felt like he could breathe.

He wished he could fly, for real, this time. Snape had his broomstick stashed away somewhere, and he supposed he could ask, but something was holding him back. 

I don’t want to bother him. He has other students to deal with. All his Slytherins. Malfoy… And I’m not even in Slytherin...

Harry clenched his jaw so tightly it made his still aching head hurt even more. He couldn’t afford to feel like this. It was making him weak, this… this attachment he had to Snape. The man had been so kind to him, he’d promised he’d be there for him, and Harry wouldn’t insult him by disbelieving that, but it didn’t mean Snape wanted some kid clinging to his robes when he had so many other responsibilities. And maybe he’d stop wanting Harry around if he was too much of a burden…

Harry spotted a tree a little ways away and started moving towards it when a hand suddenly landed on his shoulder, holding him in place. He flailed wildly, spinning around to find the enormous form of Hagrid, who had somehow managed to catch Harry unawares despite his size, looking down at him with a quizzical expression on his face and holding what looked like an entire tree trunk on his shoulder with one hand. 

“Didn' mean ter scare yeh,” said Hagrid. “Jus’ wanted ter keep yeh away from the Whompin’ Willow over there. Tree gets pretty spooked sometimes.”

Harry turned back to the tree, squinting. It looked pretty normal to him, but then, a lot of other things in the wizarding world looked normal and turned out to be murderous, so what did he know?

“How abou' a spot o' tea?” Hagrid asked, hefting the tree trunk more securely over his shoulder. “Bin meaning ter invite yeh. Unless yeh got class…”

Harry shook his head. “Er… no- I- I mean, I don’t have class...”

Hagrid grinned widely. "Follow me, then. Jus’ gotta drop this off beside me hut ter chop fer firewood…”

Harry followed Hagrid across the grounds, towards the forest he could see in the distance, and they soon reached a small, wooden house surrounded by overgrown shrubbery and plants that Harry had never seen before. Hagrid dropped the tree branch on the ground with an earthshaking thud and trudged towards the door. 

“C’mon in.”

Harry followed Hagrid into the hut and glanced around. It had only one room, with hams and pheasants hanging from the ceiling, a kettle boiling over an open fire, and a large, black boarhound sleeping on an enormous, Hagrid-sized bed with a patchwork quilt on it.

“Sit down, I’ll make us some tea.”

Harry hefted himself up onto an enormous chair by a round, rickety table while Hagrid poured tea from the kettle into teacups and set a few rock cakes onto a plate. The tea wasn’t bad, but Harry very nearly cracked a tooth trying to bite into a cake. He set it gingerly back onto his plate and took another sip of his sweetened tea.

“How's your firs' week goin'?” Hagrid asked as he chewed his rock cake. He didn’t seem to be having any trouble eating it.

Harry swallowed a sip of tea. “All right,” he said with a shrug. 

“Jus’ all righ’?” Hagrid asked, his eyes crinkling in a smile. “I remember me time bein' much more 'n all righ'.”

Harry bit his lip. “I guess… it’s just- just a lot to get used to.” He took a hasty sip of tea, and it burned his throat a bit on the way down.

Hagrid reached over and patted Harry’s shoulder gently with two fingers. “Don' yeh worry,” he said. “Beginnings are always hard, it'll get easier.”

The previously sleeping dog chose that moment to bound over and start slobbering all over Harry’s robes.

“Back, Fang!” Hagrid pulled on the nape of the dog’s neck. “Sorry ‘bout ‘im. Loves new people, he does, but no manners…”

Harry reached over to tentatively scratch Fang behind the ears. “It’s okay. I don’t mind.” He stroked his hand through the dog’s fur, finding the motion oddly soothing even though the dog was the one being petted.

He and Hagrid chatted a bit more, or, rather, Hagrid prattled on with Harry only occasionally interjecting with one or two-word responses, but he couldn’t say he minded. Hagrid didn’t seem at all perturbed by Harry’s reticence, which was a relief, and the cabin was warm without being too stifling. Fang seemed to have established Harry as his new favorite person, and despite having rarely been exposed to pets of any kind, Harry imagined he might like a dog of his own someday. Not that Hedwig wasn’t the best animal he could have asked for, but why limit himself to just one?

Harry left a little while later, feeling surprisingly better. And Hagrid’s tea must have been caffeinated, because he felt more energetic than he had all morning. He quickened his step, shivering a bit as he made his way across the grounds towards the castle. The wind had picked up while he was indoors, and he drew the front of his robes closer, for once grateful for their length.

“Harry!”

Harry stumbled backwards slightly, nearly tripping on the hem of his robes, as Anthony, followed by Padma and Lisa, hurried towards him. He forced himself to straighten up, not to shrink back or poise for a fight because they weren’t here to attack him, damn it! What was wrong with his brain?

“We’re going exploring, want to come?” Anthony asked, hopping from one foot to the other.

“Exploring where?”

“We dunno, do we? That’s the fun of it.”

Lisa shot him a wry glance. “Best just go along with it. I’ve also been kidnapped.”

Harry snorted, his shoulders relaxing. Why not? It wasn’t as though he had anything better to do.

“Stop pretending you don’t all want to do this,” Anthony said, rolling his eyes. “How will we ever know where anything is if we don’t explore? And there are probably tons of secret passages, all castles have them…”

They made their way back towards the castle and into the entrance hall, hopping onto a staircase that none of them had yet approached. Midway up the stairs, the staircase abruptly moved sideways, and Harry just managed to keep his feet by grabbing onto the railing.

“Cool,” Anthony breathed.

Lisa sat herself down on one of the steps, crossing her legs out in front of her. “Might as well enjoy the ride,” she said with a resigned air. 

Padma chuckled, though she hung onto the railing with a tight grip.

Finally, the staircase came to a stop, and they all darted up the stairs just in case it started moving again. The corridor they found themselves in was deserted and eerily silent, so much so that Harry found himself breathing shallowly in an attempt to remain as quiet as possible. He couldn’t think why, exactly, but it seemed that his companions shared in his impressions.

It was quite a long corridor, with old, rusted suits of armor lining the walls and no doors that Harry could see. 

Bit of a boring place to explore...

He should have known better than to let that thought cross his mind. The sound of a set of shuffling footsteps, quite different from the treads of his companions, began to make its way into his awareness, growing steadily louder, the uneven, heavy tread enough of an indication that it was not another student approaching.

Padma grabbed onto his sleeve. “I think this is the forbidden corridor,” she hissed. “We’re not supposed to be here.”

Forbidden corridor? Harry could vaguely recall Dumbledore mentioning something about third-floor corridors and painful deaths, but he’d written that off as just another one of the man’s ridiculous ramblings.

“Sniff them out, my sweet, we’re getting closer.”

Anthony gasped. “It’s Filch!” he stage-whispered.

Harry and the others didn’t need any more prompting; they’d overheard enough talk from the older students. They turned heel and ran as fast as they could in the other direction, and Harry forced himself not to glance back. Filch wouldn’t be able to report them if he didn’t see their faces, right?

Hearts thumping, breathless, and red-faced, they’d managed to find themselves in the Owlery at the top of the West Tower. It was a circular stone room with wide windows that had no glass, making the room rather cold and drafty. The floor was strewn with straw and droppings, and the high-ceiling echoed with hoots and the rustle of owls fluttering to and fro.

Harry darted forward when he spotted Hedwig perched high up near the domed ceiling. She fluttered down to land on his shoulder and nipped his ear.

“Here, Coco,” Lisa called softly, and a spotted eagle-owl hopped off its perch and flew over to her.

There was a long stretch of quiet, broken only by heavy breathing that gradually slowed.

“Well, that was fun,” Anthony said matter-of-factly. “You should all thank me.”

Lisa gave him an incredulous look, and Padma thumped the back of her head against the wall, only to shriek and jump forward when the edge of her plait got dunked into a streak of bird dropping that had dripped down the wall.

Anthony chortled, and Padma ran forward and swung her braid right into his face. The squeal Anthony let out put all the owls to shame.

Harry supposed their trip wasn’t a complete waste. 

***

“If you could have any superpower, what would it be?”

Harry looked up from the book he’d managed to smuggle out of the school library and to the treehouse where he and Jade were currently situated.

“I’d have super-strength,” Jade said before he could respond, her pale eyes bright, contrasting even more sharply than usual against her tan skin. “If anyone came near me, I’d send them flying back with one finger.” She bared her teeth. “No one would ever mess with me after that.”

Harry furrowed his brow. The thing was, he could do strange things, unnatural things, could make things float towards him and push people away, but only sometimes, and not always when he wanted to. But there were so many things he couldn’t do.

“I’d fly,” Harry said, decided. “I’d be able to go anywhere, as fast as I want.”

Jade leaned forward. “Like an airplane, or more like a bird, with wings and everything?”

“A bird.” The answer was easy. He’d grow wings and fly like a bird, any bird. Maybe a raven, or an eagle — a golden eagle, which was one of the fastest kinds. He’d fly far, far away from here, and he’d always find food, and he could live in trees. And he’d be free.

Chapter Text

Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.

Harry ground his teeth together, his jaw aching from how hard he’d been clenching it.

Terry’s stupid watch would not stop ticking, and it had gotten to a point where it was the only thing Harry could hear. It was louder than his own damn thoughts.

Harry had been exhausted when he’d collapsed into bed after Astronomy, and he’d actually managed a few hours of sleep, only to jerk awake just before Vernon grabbed him around the throat and-

No. He squeezed his eyes shut as though it would somehow block out the memory, willing it to fade out of his consciousness, to clear his mind the way Snape had taught him, but it was bloody hard to do with that stupid watch ticking in the background.

Harry dragged himself out of bed at five, figuring that he might as well take the opportunity to shower in peace. He then made his way down to the common room, finding it deserted save for one girl with an unkempt mane of curls obscuring her face who appeared to have passed out on a couch in the middle of her homework, if the stacks of books and rolls of parchment on the couch and floor next to her were any indication. Dropping onto the nearest armchair, Harry amused himself for the next while by making a stray quill on the table next to him flutter in midair. Why did wizards need wands, anyway? Were only simple things possible without one? Did wands allow people to conserve energy, or perform spells with more finesse? He’d have to look that up.

He lost his grip on the quill when the sleeping girl awoke with a gasp.

“Bloody hell,” she moaned, rolling off the couch and onto the floor with a thump. She staggered to her feet and flicked her wand irritably to make her books and parchment follow her as she trudged towards the stairs to the girls’ dormitory, muttering swears that even Dudley would have been told off for saying out loud.

As if on cue, students slowly began making their way to the common room, and Harry sighed irritably, his peaceful morning clearly at its end. He retrieved his bag from the lower shelf of his bedside table and made his way to breakfast alone.

They had double Transfiguration first thing, which, according to Anthony’s older sister, was one of the most demanding classes. Not to mention that they had Potions after lunch, and if there was any class Harry needed to excel at, it was Potions. 

He managed not to flinch when Anthony slid down the bench to sit beside him and pulled on his arm. “Harry, Penelope's taking us to Transfiguration now. Dalia said McGonagall is really strict, so we can’t be late or else we’ll get detention…”

Rubbing his eyes, Harry stumbled after Anthony and the other first years towards the Transfiguration classroom. He found himself a seat in the back corner of the classroom and flipped through the pages of A Beginner’s Guide to Transfiguration. He couldn’t fail at this class, he just couldn’t. Charms and Herbology had gone well (History of Magic and Defense Against the Dark Arts hardly counted), and if he didn’t succeed in this-

Harry jolted back in his seat when the cat that had been sitting atop the teacher’s desk leapt off of it and morphed into Professor McGonagall.

“How did you do that?” Anthony exclaimed from a few seats away. “Are you a- a-, what’s the word? Ani- anima-”

“The term is Animagus,” Professor McGonagall said crisply, smoothing the front of her deep burgundy robes.

“Are you going to teach us that?” Anthony asked excitedly. “I want to be a dinosaur.”

Harry bit down on his lip to keep from laughing, and he heard a faint, quickly smothered titter from the other side of the classroom.

McGonagall pursed her lips. “The process of becoming an Animagus involved several disciplines of highly advanced Transfiguration, none of which you will be studying in your first year-”

“But what about second year?” Anthony interrupted.

McGonagall narrowed her eyes at him. “Do not interrupt again, or I will take points.”

Anthony went silent, and though Harry couldn’t see his face from where he was sitting, he appeared to have shrunken in on himself. 

“Transfiguration is among the most complex and dangerous magic you will study during your time at Hogwarts,” said McGonagall, taking a moment to fix them all with a stern gaze. “Anyone messing around in my class will leave and not come back. You have been warned.”

She’s not kidding.

This was one teacher Harry wouldn’t dare to get on the bad side of. 

He rolled back his shoulders and inked his quill in preparation to take notes on the lecture she immediately began to deliver. However, the speed at which she spoke coupled with Harry’s relative lack of experience in writing with a quill made the task quite difficult. Ink kept splattering everywhere, and more than half of his words were smudged to the point that they were unreadable. His hand shook slightly. How was he going to succeed in this class, in any class, if he couldn’t do something as simple as note-taking? He forged on, and even tried switching to his left hand when his right began to cramp, but that just made his writing entirely illegible and smeared ink all across the parchment. 

Screw this, I’m using a pencil next time.

Hopefully no one would stop him.

At long last, McGonagall ended the lecture, drawing her wand and waving it in a wide arch. Abruptly, small, wooden matches appeared on each of their desks, and they were instructed to attempt to turn them into needles.

It wasn’t nearly as easy as it sounded.

A half hour later, Harry was glaring at the stubbornly wooden match on his desk. He’d done everything right. He’d said the incantation perfectly, flicked his wand in the exact motion they’d been instructed, and nothing. It didn’t help that he could barely focus with all the noise his classmates insisted on making. And he was so tired.

“Mr. Goldstein, I have repeatedly instructed you to remain seated. Five points from Ravenclaw.”

Harry glanced over at Anthony, who dropped back into his seat with his head down. He hadn’t either managed to make a difference to his match. 

By the end of the class, both Lisa and Stephen (whose hair was a vivid pink today) had succeeded in transfiguring their matches and were awarded five points each, and the rest of the class was instructed to continue practicing. They were also set to read several chapters of their textbook and write a ten-inch essay on the elementary principles of Transfiguration.

How did they do it? Why couldn’t I do it? What’s wrong with me?

Harry set his jaw as he packed away his things, gingerly rolling up his parchment and hoping the ink was dry enough not to smudge even more. He didn’t care. He didn’t.

Rubbing his itchy eyes with the heels of his hands and trying to avoid getting ink on his face, Harry meandered out of the classroom, grateful that they had the rest of the morning off. 

I should go to the library and figure out how to make a needle. Maybe there are books that can help.

That thought calmed Harry, if only a little. He had to get this right, and maybe a different book would offer some tips that their textbook didn’t. He began to make his way towards the library, shifting his bag onto his other shoulder.

“Potter!”

Harry started, nearly dropping his bag when none other than Draco Malfoy and his bodyguards approached from the other end of the otherwise deserted corridor.

Of bloody course. 

Getting into it with Malfoy was the last thing he wanted right now. If this were the streets, it would have been different; Harry had learned quickly that turning the other cheek was only an invitation for future altercations. Best fight back and let them know he wouldn’t take it lying down. And maybe he’d manage to nick a penknife in the process. A penknife that Snape still wouldn’t give back, because apparently Harry couldn’t be trusted not to off himself.

But this was different. He was at school, and there were teachers everywhere, and Snape liked Malfoy. He’d known the prat all his life, and Harry was just an interloper, the unwanted orphan that Snape had taken in out of the goodness of his heart and still tolerated because Harry hadn’t done anything unforgivable yet. The best Harry could do was stay far away from Malfoy if only to avoid Snape’s inevitable anger if they got in a fight. He knew how this would play out, and it would not be in Harry’s favor. The wanted child was always trusted, always believed, not the runty orphan kid who was always up to no good. 

Malfoy smirked, blocking Harry’s path forward. “Going at it alone, are you?” When Harry didn’t reply, he drew himself up haughtily. “It doesn’t surprise me at all that you can’t manage to make any acquaintances. I imagine they’d be quite put off by the stench of unwashed street urchin. Ravenclaws can be so prim.”

Harry bristled internally. He had friends! Or, at least, people who associated with him. Hermione and Neville had come to talk to him and they weren’t even in his House. He was alone because he wanted to be. He wasn’t going to take that from this ponce.

“Funny you say that, since the only people that can stand to be in your presence were obviously ordered to.” Harry side-eyed Crabbe and Goyle, who both cracked their knuckles threateningly but did not seem to have registered what he’d just said. “Did your daddy tell them to be friends with you?”

The mocking grin slid off Malfoy’s face, replaced by a sneer, and he opened his mouth, but Harry cut in, tired more than anything. “What’s your issue with me, anyway? You’re the last person I wanted to talk to, yet here you are, flapping your jaws at me.”

Malfoy stepped even closer, and he had enough inches on Harry to stare down his nose. “You think you’re so special, do you? You think you’re better than me? You’re just a half-blood street rat who doesn’t even belong here.”

Harry’s fist clenched around the handle of his wand that he barely knew how to use. He wanted so badly to just smash his fist into the smug, rat-faced jerk’s nose, but he wasn’t that stupid. Not with the two huge boys flanking Malfoy on both sides.

Instead, he forced his face into blankness and took a deliberate step forward. “Get out of my way,” he snapped. “And consider brushing your teeth before you breathe into people’s faces.”

Malfoy flushed darkly and drew his wand. “How dare you?”

Harry pulled out his wand and pointed it back, but he was abruptly shoved to the ground by one of the bodyguards. Malfoy glared down at him for a moment, then marched away, Crabbe and Goyle trailing behind him.

Harry sat on the ground for a long while, waiting for his breathing to return to normal.

Screw this. Screw all of this.

He staggered to his feet and stomped off in the opposite direction, towards Ravenclaw Tower. Maybe he’d be able to sleep in the empty dormitory, and, just for a little while, he wouldn’t have to think.

Thank goodness for small mercies; he arrived at the entrance to Ravenclaw Tower just after an older student had answered the riddle, something about higher powers and free will as a state of mind, and he managed to slip through the door before it closed.

No one gave him a second glance when he entered the common room, and his dorm was mercifully silent when he stumbled in and fell asleep as soon as he dropped onto his bed, fully clothed.

***

Harry awoke quite suddenly and sat up straight. 

Where am I? How did I get here-

Right. He’d come back to get some sleep before Potions. He glanced up at the clock, and felt as though his blood had turned to icy water.

He was late. Extremely late. He’d slept through lunch, and Potions class was nearly over by now.

He shot out of bed, grabbed his bag, and ran.

I can’t go to Potions. I can’t. I’m late, and everyone will stare at me, and Snape will be angry-

He kept running and running, and he didn’t even know where he was going. He ran through a door and heard a voice shouting behind him, but he didn’t know who it was nor did he care. The space around him was blurred and hazy, but a small corner concealed by bookshelves drew his focus enough for him to seek refuge in it. Curling in on himself, Harry dug his forehead into his knees, holding himself tightly in the hopes that it might stop the shaking. It didn’t, though, and his breaths were growing shallow and increasingly painful. He couldn’t breathe he couldn’t breath-

Vaguely, he could hear footsteps moving towards him, and he pressed his back into the wall, his vertebrae digging painfully against the stone, and covered his face with his hands. A pained gasp emerged from his lips when a pair of hands gripped his wrists, gently but firmly pulling his palms away from his face.

“Breathe, Harry,” Snape said quietly.

Harry shook his head violently, his eyes squeezed shut. 

Snape continued to murmur words that Harry couldn't quite process, but the cadence of his voice seemed to drown out any other sounds. Harry found himself calming, slowly, the pressure of Snape's hands around his wrists feeling grounding more than confining. His breaths gradually evened out and deepened, and he no longer felt as though his lungs were being squeezed by an invisible fist. 

“Come along,” said Snape, urging Harry up. Harry pulled his wrists out of Snape’s grip, embarrassed by his episode, and he kept his head down as he was led out of the library.

He soon found himself seated on the couch in Snape’s living quarters with a steaming cup of tea in his hand. The couch dipped slightly, and he flitted his eyes to the side as Snape settled into the seat beside him.

“I was concerned when you did not turn up for my class.” Snape didn’t sound angry so much as… curious, oddly enough.

Harry swallowed, feeling a flush of shame spread across his face. “I- I fell asleep,” he whispered, clutching onto his teacup like a lifeline.

“Did you not sleep well last night?”

Harry bit down hard on his lip when it began to tremble. Why was it trembling? He wasn’t going to cry because of a few sleepless nights. It would have been so much easier if Snape was angry with him, instead of sitting there, giving him tea and asking calm questions.

“I- it’s hard to sleep,” Harry managed to say in a reasonably steady voice.

“Why is that?”

“There’s… there’s so much noise, but it’s also really quiet, and I keep feeling like I have to- to get away or else- or else…” Harry trailed off. He didn’t even know what he was trying to say.

“Would you say it’s primarily the background noise emitting from your dorm-mates that is keeping you from sleeping?”

Harry chewed his lip. Was that it? It had been the stupid watch last night, and it was always hard to tune out the snores and rustling and, well, breathing that came at him from all sides...

“I- I think so.”

“Well." Snape straightened up. “That can be easily dealt with.”

“How?” It couldn’t be that easy, could it? He was doomed, destined for a year of sleepless nights until summer, when hopefully he’d be able to sleep alone again-

“I will provide you with charmed earplugs, which will filter out unwanted noise while still allowing certain sounds to penetrate so that you won’t sleep through an emergency.”

Harry blinked. Earplugs? Was that all he needed? A long, slow breath whooshed out of him, and he let himself sink more fully into the couch cushions. It hadn’t crossed his mind that there would be an actual solution for this.

“Can you explain how you ended up in the state I found you in at the library?”

Harry stiffened, pressing his palms into his knees. “How did you know I was there?”

“Irma — Madam Pince to you — spotted you and alerted your Head of House, who, in turn, informed me.”

“He knows that you’re- that you’re my guardian?”

“Certainly. He is made aware of the guardians of every one of his students. In your case, word has spread to most of the faculty, considering that I am a member of it.”

Harry wasn’t sure why he’d had the sense that Snape’s guardianship over him was supposed to be a secret, but, clearly, it wasn’t, if the man’s colleagues knew about it. Still, he didn’t need the entire student body knowing. That would just lead to questions, and assumptions, and idiots asking him why he lived with Snape instead of his family...

“Now, returning to my earlier question…”

Harry looked up reluctantly. 

“What do you believe triggered your panic attack?”

He’d had a panic attack. Because he was crazy, and unstable, and why was Snape still wasting his time…?

“Harry?” Snape prompted.

Harry chewed his lip for a moment. “I don’t know. It was all just… I thought you’d be angry that I wasn’t in class, and that I’d fail at everything- and there’s- there’s so many people-

“Didn’t I tell you to contact me if you had need of me?”

“I wasn’t… it wasn’t… I wasn’t trying to hurt myself.”

Snape sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. “I should have spoken more plainly.” He leveled his gaze at Harry. “You are to contact me if you need me for any reason. ” He studied Harry with a look he often directed at a complex potions formulation. “I was attempting to give you… space. A grave error on my part.”

Give me space? What does that even mean?

“Space seems to be the very last thing you need from me.” Snape cleared his throat. “You will meet with me every second day at the least, so that I can rest assured that you are not running yourself into the ground and concealing your troubles.” His gaze turned a bit frosty. “Have I managed to hammer the point through your thick skull?”

Harry shrugged, not bothered by the man’s sharp words so much as confused. What were the parameters for “having need of him”? 

Does he expect me to ring him up every time I stub my toe? That would get old really fast. He’d get tired of me...

Snape closed his eyes, the lines around his eyes growing more pronounced. He was silent for a while, so long that the ever-present anxiety bubbling beneath the surface began to take hold. They hadn’t even begun to address Harry’s wrongdoing. 

Better just get it over with. He’ll probably just make me scrub cauldrons or something.

Harry studiously ignored the old, yet visceral fear of the man doing something worse, something that hurt , which was stupid because when had Snape ever done that? Even when the man had been furious with him he hadn’t done it, and he barely seemed angry now. It made no sense to feel this way, yet the racing of his heart and quickening of his breaths seemed to indicate otherwise. And he couldn’t stand it, sitting here silently, waiting...

”Aren’t you going to punish me?” Harry blurted.

Snape’s eyes shot open. “What purpose would that serve?”

Harry furrowed his brow. What kind of question was that? “I missed your class.”

Snape folded his arms. “And we shall prevent future occurrences of that nature by enabling you to sleep at night so that you may stay awake long enough during the day to attend your classes.”

Harry stared. Snape seemed displeased, and there was no way that had nothing to do with Harry, but it didn’t seem directed at Harry, precisely. What was it, then? The man was so infuriatingly difficult to read.

Snape’s expression smoothed over, then, and he straightened up. “I do have essay grading to do-  and just where do you think you’re going?”

Harry froze in the process of grabbing his bag, glancing up confusedly to meet Snape’s exasperated face.

“You said you have to work,” Harry said in a small voice.

“And I’m certain you have schoolwork to attend to as well, which does not require you to remove yourself from my presence in order to do so.”

He wants me to stay…

Harry’s entire body seemed to sag at that realization, the tension draining from his shoulders, and he slumped back into the couch. Snape looked at him appraisingly for a moment before nodding once and moving back to his desk and conjuring another chair facing the opposite side of the desk for Harry to sit on.

For a while, the room was silent aside from the scratching of Snape’s quill and the rustling of pages as Harry read through chapter two of A History of Magic. Best get that one out of the way.

When he got started on his essay, things took a turn for the worse. His writing was slightly more legible than his notes, written when he had to keep up with the speed of classroom lectures, but his parchment was absolutely smudged with ink.

“Struggling with the quill?”

Harry glanced up at Snape, his face heating. Why couldn’t he get anything right? Why was he so stupid?

His feelings must have been showing on his face, because Snape said, “Harry, you’ve been writing with quills for a mere fortnight. Some difficulty is to be expected.”

Harry relaxed slightly at that, but his mouth turned down into a frown. “Why can’t I just write with a pen?”

“For classroom notes, you may-”

That was a relief.

“-but you are expected to use a quill for essays and exams.” Snape beckoned to Harry, who timidly approached the man’s side of the desk and sat in a newly conjured chair beside him. Snape summoned Harry’s quill, ink, and parchment, which landed neatly on the desk in front of him, then pointed his wand at Harry’s inkwell and waved it in a tight circle, muttering, "siccum en contacto".

Harry inked his quill and wrote another line across the parchment, nearly dropping the quill in surprise when the ink didn’t smudge at all, instead drying as soon as it hit the parchment. 

“I’ll teach you that spell once I’ve finished grading. It will only last twenty-four hours, so you’ll have to perform it each morning.”

“Th-thank you, sir.”

Snape leveled his gaze at him. “Severus, Harry. Even at school.”

“Even in class?” Harry asked with a slight smirk.

Snape — Severus rolled his eyes, only a twitch of the lips displaying his amusement. “Do use your common sense.”

They were silent for another long while, until Harry’s hand began to cramp and he had to set his quill down. His eyes darted towards the essay Snape was grading. By the name scrawled at the top, it belonged to one of the first year Slytherin students.

“Something on your mind?” Snape asked, turning his head towards Harry and sliding the essay out of view.

Harry took a deep breath in preparation to ask the question that had been niggling at him for days. “Are you disappointed? That I’m not in Slytherin?”

Severus gave Harry an odd look. “Certainly not. I was not remotely surprised at your placement.”

Harry drew back a little. “No?”

Snape half-smiled. “You consume information like a starving man does food.”

“But… you’re brilliant, and you’re a Slytherin.”

Snape’s lips turned up in a smirk. “I am intelligent, yes,” he said, still looking amused, though Harry could not think why. “But, to me, knowledge is a means to an end.”

“What do you mean?”

“I seek information as a means to achieve my goals, be it to become the youngest potioneer in England to be internationally published, or to prove myself worthy of respect from my peers...” His voice trailed off, and something in his eyes went distant for a moment before focusing back upon Harry.

“Yet, for you, it’s in the knowing.

Snape paused, looking at Harry with an expression that could only be described as fond. “It is a quality in you that I quite admire.”

A warm flush rose on Harry’s cheeks, and he didn’t attempt to hide it.

Snape admired him. Harry slept easy that night.

Chapter Text

Harry bit back a groan, squeezing his eyes shut against the pain in his forehead. Was he allergic to something in the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom? What else could explain the headaches that always started up the moment he entered the room and abated the moment he left? 

Harry forced himself to straighten up when Quirrell turned back from the blackboard.

“T-t-today we shall be p-practicing the Kn-Kn-Knockback Jinx.”

That sounded promising. At least they’d be finally learning something useful in the class.

Quirrell stuttered his way through a demonstration of the spell with the help of a hastily conjured dummy, then instructed them to pair up, waving away the desks to give them space.

It was a good thing the room was large, being that they shared the class with the Gryffindors. Hermione shot him a quick smile before pairing off with Neville, and the room was soon echoing with loud chatter, laughter, and cries of “Flipendo”.

Harry found himself paired with Terry, who grinned slyly at him as they faced each other and drew their wands.

“I’ll go first,” Terry decided, pausing before raising his wand as though waiting for Harry to object. Harry said nothing, holding himself very still.

The first spell Terry shot at him didn’t quite hit the mark; Harry felt a strange sort of vibration rush over him when the spell connected, and he wobbled a bit but managed to keep his feet.

“Why isn’t it working?” Terry asked, frustrated

Harry shrugged. “Try it again,” he suggested, watching carefully as Terry performed the wand movement and spoke the incantation. 

The jinx hit him again, this time slightly more powerfully, causing him to stumble backwards and trip over his feet, landing hard on the ground. 

Terry grinned, hopping from one foot to the other. “Now you try.”

Harry jumped to his feet, drawing his wand and carefully waving it in the exact motion they’d been instructed, yet… the spell seemed to fizzle out just as it made contact with Terry’s chest.

Harry frowned. What had he done wrong? He’d done it exactly as instructed, he knew he had, and the frustration only built when one of the Gryffindors several feet away went sprawling to the ground in response to a well-cast jinx.

I’m not stupid. I’m not. I’m not.

Harry ground his teeth at the sight of Terry smirking at him, spreading his arms wide, mockingly, Harry thought, and he waved his wand again, yelling out the incantation.

And he nearly dropped his wand in surprise when Terry went flying backwards so forcefully that his feet actually left the ground. The boy dropped to the floor just before smacking into the wall and lay there for a moment, looking dazed.

“W-w-well done, Mr. P-Potter.”

Harry swung around at Quirrell’s voice, his headache suddenly returning with a vengeance. The professor was staring down at him with an odd expression on his face, and something about it made Harry want to shiver, though he couldn’t have said what.

Harry just nodded, then turned back to see Terry struggling to his feet, and he approached hesitantly, offering a hand.

“Are you all right?” Harry asked, his heart still thumping rapidly. Had he made Terry hate him? How could he share a dorm with someone who hated him? He’d never be able to sleep again.

“I’m fine,” Terry said, smiling wryly and rubbing his shoulder. “Good jinx.”

They practiced for a while longer, and though achy and bruised by the end of the class, Harry finally felt like he’d gotten something right. 

This was what it was like to be a wizard.

He did his level best to ignore the prickling feeling on the back of his neck as he left the classroom.

***

“Are you sure this is allowed?”

Lisa peered around skeptically as she, Harry, and Padma approached the portrait of the Fat Lady.

“Sure it is,” Padma said confidently. “I’ve been here before to see my sister. She gave me the password.”

Harry turned his head. “So she’s the one who’d get in trouble?”

Padma wrinkled her nose. “She won’t get in trouble. As far as I know there’s no rule against it. You’ve both read everything, you’d know if there was.”

Harry shrugged. Just because he’d read a lot didn’t mean he remembered it all… 

“Well, if we get in trouble I’m blaming you,” said Lisa. “I have better things to do than sit through an interrogation from Filch.”

“Wish I could’ve brought Anthony,” Padma groused. “He’d be a lot more enthusiastic than either of you.”

“Good to know I’m just your backup plan,” Lisa said, rolling her eyes. Her faint smirk indicated that she couldn’t have cared less. 

Padma looked abashed anyway. “I didn’t mean- you know I-”

Lisa shrugged. “I know what you meant. Where is Anthony, anyway?”

“Detention,” Padma said, frowning. “With McGonagall.”

Harry grimaced. Anthony had been given detention during their second Transfiguration class on Friday for not remaining in his seat, talking, fidgeting, whatever it was. But then he’d forgotten to show up, distracted by an impromptu musical performance in the common room, cheered on by Professor Flitwick, and had been given two detentions to make up for it.

“Caput Draconis,” Padma said to the Fat Lady when they reached the portrait. The lady just stared down at them haughtily for a moment before turning away.

“Guess they must have changed it.”

“What a surprise,” Lisa muttered, scuffing the floor with her shoe. 

“How was I supposed to know-”

“Well well well, what do we have here? Why would a gaggle of little Ravenclaws be congregating around the sacred Gryffindor portrait hole?”

All three of them swung around to find a pair of grinning, red-headed twins ambling towards them. Harry clutched the handle of the wand in his pocket, just in case. At least he knew the Knockback Jinx now. 

Padma lifted her chin. “I just want to visit my sister. Not a crime, is it?”

The twins studied her for a moment. “You’ve got a twin in Gryffindor, don’t you?” one of them asked. “I seem to recall another scrawny little firstie that looks uncannily like you.”

Padma nodded, eyeing them warily.

The boy glanced at his twin, then back at Padma. “From one twin to another, we couldn’t possibly keep you from your dear womb-sharer.”

The other twin pressed a hand over his heart. “Why, had I been forcibly separated from my dear George on the whims of a hat, I’d be left utterly bereft.”

“Devastated-”

“Heartbroken-”

“Just tell us the password, will you?” Lisa cut in.

“If the lady demands it…” The boy stepped forward. “Pig snout.” The portrait swung open, and he bowed elaborately. “After you, ma’ams and good sir.”

Padma barreled through the entrance, and Lisa followed after a moment of hesitation. Harry hung back, though. These two were notorious for their pranks, and he knew better than to expose his back to them.

He jumped when one of them swung an arm around his shoulders. “Young Harry, I don’t believe we’ve had the pleasure.”

Harry scowled at him. “Not sure pleasure’s the word for it.” He tried to pull away, but the boy hung on.

The other boy chuckled. “Looky here, Fred, we’ve got a spitfire on our hands.”

Harry pulled against Fred’s grip more insistently, and, thankfully, he was released.

“Just tell us one thing.” Harry braced himself, certain they were about to ask any number of questions he didn’t want to answer. How did he defeat Voldemort? Did he remember his parents? What were his relatives like?

“Does Snape wear bunny slippers?”

Harry couldn’t help gaping.

How do they know I live with him?

“State secret, huh?” George ruffled Harry’s hair. “No matter. I suppose we’ll have to investigate on our own.”

With that, they both climbed through the portrait hole, and Harry followed several paces behind. Were all Gryffindors this insane, or was it just a Weasley thing?

When Harry entered the Gryffindor common room, he nearly turned tail and returned whence he came. It was just so…. loud. The room itself seemed cozy enough, full of squashy armchairs and decorated in deep red and gold tones. It was in a tower just like Ravenclaw, but it lacked its airiness in favor of a warmer atmosphere; the ceiling was lower and the windows far smaller. But the noise

There was a rowdy game of Exploding Snap taking place in one corner and a game of Gobstones in another, both of which seemed to include far more people than was necessary. The Ravenclaw common room did get boisterous on occasion, but there was rarely this much going on at once. There were two boys wrestling on the floor, shouting and laughing in equal turn, and no one seemed at all fazed by it.

Well, one of the prefects did.

“Hopper, Pritchard, stop this at once!” a red-haired boy with horn-rimmed glasses snapped at them, yanking on the back of one of their collars. Another Weasley? 

Harry turned away from the scene, glancing around warily. Thankfully, no one seemed to notice him. The twins had disappeared somewhere, Padma was with her sister and another Gryffindor girl, sitting so close that Harry couldn't easily determine which was Padma, and Lisa had struck up a conversation with Hermione. He made to approach them, but paused in his tracks. Who said they wanted him to interrupt? He spotted an empty couch a few feet away and sat at the very edge, staring into into the crackling fire burning in the fireplace just across from him, long enough for tiny flames to start floating across his field of vision.

He jolted when the couch dipped beside him, turning his head so fast he felt a crick in his neck. It was Ron Weasley.

“Hey, Harry,” the boy said with a hesitant grin. “What’re you doing here?”

Harry chewed his lip. “Er… just wanted to see the common room.”

Ron grinned a little more widely, then glanced around before turning back to Harry. “Listen, I… I just wanted to make sure that you weren’t… er- mad at me.”

“Why would I be?”

Ron flushed. “You seemed a bit… upset when we were talking in Defense Against the Dark Arts that time. Just wanted to make sure we were okay.”

Harry shrugged. “I’m not angry.”

Ron grinned widely. “Cool.” He leaned forward eagerly, and Harry tilted his head back, a bit unnerved. “So what’s it like?”

“What’s what like?”

“Being famous. It must be wicked.”

“Not really.”

“Do you remember it?” He lowered his voice conspiratorially. “When you defeated You-Know-Who?”

“I was one year old,” Harry said flatly. “I don’t know how it happened.”

Ron looked a bit put out. “So, nothing at all?”

Did I stutter?

Harry just shook his head.

“So, what’s it like living with Muggles?”

Harry suppressed a flinch, holding himself very still. “Nothing much to say.”

Ron’s forehead creased. “You don’t say much, do you?”

Harry’s shoulders tensed, curling inward towards his ears, and he turned his head, relieved, when he heard someone call his name. 

“Harry!” Hermione was waving at him, still sitting with Lisa. She beckoned for him to join them, and Harry hopped to his feet, freezing in place when Ron spoke again.

“Why are you hanging around with her?”

Harry turned around. “Why not?”

“‘Cause she’s a boring swot.”

Harry narrowed his eyes. “You say that like it’s a bad thing.”

“But…” Ron trailed off, then finally turned away, muttering something under his breath,

Harry hurried over to sit next to Hermione, hunching in on himself.

“Harry, we were just talking about Muddlemink’s Law of Heat Reversion that we learned in Transfiguration.” Her gaze was bright and open. “You know, how warmer climates can cause transfigured objects to revert to their original state over time? ”

Harry nodded, loosening his shoulders. “Yeah. I was wondering if it would be harder to perform the initial transfiguration in warm climates, or would it just not last as long?”

“I think the Law might only apply to materials that can be naturally warped by heat, like wood,” Lisa interjected. “My dad’s grandparents were from the Caribbean, where it’s really warm, and they lived in a transfigured stone house for years-”

“But I was also thinking- hi, Neville,” Hermione broke off when Neville collapsed beside her. “Are you all right?”

Neville grimaced, his face pale. “I was just in detention. Snape hates me.”

Harry glanced up sharply. “What happened?”

“I’m terrible at potions,” he said in a quavering voice. “I messed up really bad in class and he was so angry.” Neville shuddered. “I had to dissect Flobberworms for hours.”

Harry wasn’t sure why he felt so… uncomfortable. It wasn’t his business what went on in the Gryffindors’ classes. Maybe it was because Snape was more than just Harry’s professor... Harry would have liked to think Snape was a fair teacher who only gave detentions to students who deserved it, for messing around and ignoring instructions… but Neville? Harry couldn’t imagine him deliberately causing trouble. He was like Anthony in this way, getting into trouble despite his best efforts. And punishments for things that just… happened never made anything better. 

Neville seemed to cheer up after a little while, and after a pleasant hour or so of conversation, Harry and his housemates left in time to return to their own tower for curfew and get ready for their Tuesday night (or, technically, Wednesday morning) Astronomy class. While Harry couldn’t say it was his favorite class, staring up at the moonlit skies at an hour far past bedtime wasn’t an unpleasant way to end the day. 

***

The next morning, at breakfast, Hedwig fluttered towards Harry and landed on his shoulder, sticking out her leg for him to take a small scroll attached to it.

Who would be sending me a letter?

Harry fed Hedwig the last of his toast as he unscrolled the parchment with one hand.

Harry, it read. 

I would like to cordially invite you for a chat in my office this evening. At whatever time is convenient for you, you will find the entrance to my office on the second floor, just behind a lovely gargoyle statue. Oh, and Sugar Quills. 

Yours most sincerely, 

Prof. Albus Dumbledore.

“You look like you’re about to murder someone.”

Harry jumped, glancing up at Anthony’s voice.

“D’you have a place to hide the body?” Lisa asked casually, cutting her fried egg in half with the side of her fork. “I’d say toss it in the lake, but you’d have to dismember it first.”

Anthony took a swig of pumpkin juice. “But what if the Giant Squid tosses out the pieces?”

“The Squid would eat them.”

Harry groaned. “I’m not planning on murdering anyone.” He shot a glare at each of their stupid grinning faces in turn. “Yet.”

He turned his head when Su, of all people, snickered over her porridge. “You too?” he muttered. She smiled sweetly at him. 

Padma chose that moment to slide into the seat right beside him, slightly out of breath. “Who’s Harry going to murder?”

Harry rolled his eyes skyward and got to his feet, his lips twitching of their own accord as he made his way to the exit.

“He’s always so grouchy in the morning,” he heard Anthony lament from behind him.

Harry couldn’t quite understand the strange feeling taking hold of him. They’d been making fun of him, laughing at his expense, but it hadn’t been… bad. It hadn’t made him feel small and horrible and worthless like all those times Dudley and his gang had jeered at him, or when Petunia had ranted about his messy hair and general scruffiness. Or when Vernon had-

Harry shrugged off the thought. The teasing, though. It had been… almost friendly?

He wasn’t sure what to make of it.

The day passed uneventfully. They had Transfiguration again, during which Harry finally managed to transfigure his match into a needle, earning him a nod and two points to Ravenclaw from McGonagall. It had taken all the focus he could muster to perform the spell, to force his intent upon the sliver of wood to transform into metal, to block out all of the surrounding noise and commotion, but he’d done it.

Malfoy and his cronies were nowhere to be found, and the weather was still mild enough to allow for a quiet, uninterrupted walk by the grounds near to Hagrid’s hut, where it was mostly deserted, and Harry felt properly clearheaded for the first time in days.

Later, he spent a pleasant hour before dinner in a quiet corner of the library reading about the development of the earliest spells. He’d intended to work on his Transfiguration homework, his hardest class by far, but the book he’d found was just too interesting to ignore. It seemed that spells weren’t created so much as discovered, and it was more a matter of determining the wand movements that would best manipulate or redirect the surrounding molecules. The incantation itself was secondary, since most spells could really be performed nonverbally; the incantation was designed to assist with focus and intent, but once a spell was properly mastered, it was no longer necessary in most cases...

All the while, the small scroll from Dumbledore all but burned a hole in his pocket. A part of him was tempted to ignore it. What right did Dumbledore have to demand a meeting?  But it wasn’t really a demand, though. It was just an invitation.

Eventually, Harry’s curiosity grew to the point where he managed to brush off his misgivings and made his way to the second floor. He easily spotted a large and rather ugly gargoyle statue and stared down at it.

“Er… can you let me through?” he asked, feeling ridiculous. It didn’t budge.

Classic. He invites me for a meeting and can’t be bothered to let me in…

Harry then remembered Dumbledore’s seemingly random comment about Sugar Quills. Trust Dumbledore to be cryptic.

“Sugar Quills,” he said in a resigned tone. The gargoyle statue sprang to life and moved to the side, allowing Harry to enter a tall, circular stairwell containing a spiral staircase that began to rise when Harry stepped on. It was a bit like an escalator. If escalators were made of stone and led to the offices of an old, bearded men who liked to set ridiculous passwords just to mess with people.

The stairway stopped just in front of a large, oak door with a brass knocker in the shape of a griffin. Harry hesitated for a moment, then rapped the knocker against the door, and it swung open immediately, revealing a large, circular room. It was filled with spindle-legged tables containing odd instruments, many of which were puffing smoke or emitting strange noises, and the walls were covered in what seemed like hundreds of moving portraits, many of them asleep. 

Harry’s eyes caught on what was the most beautiful bird he’d ever seen in his life, perched just behind the door. It was very large, covered in crimson feathers and had a long, golden tail and an equally golden beak. The bird’s black eyes met his, seeming to stare straight through him, and without quite planning it, Harry approached the bird and ran his hand over the soft feathers.

“Fawkes seems quite taken with you.”

Harry let out a gasp and spun around to find Dumbledore seated behind an ornate desk with clawed legs, smiling placidly.

How did he…

There was no way the man had been sitting there all this time. Harry would have noticed.

Squaring his shoulders, Harry approached the desk to stand behind a large, padded chair.

“What kind of bird is it?” he asked, his fingers latching onto the back of the chair.

Dumbledore smiled. “Fawkes is a phoenix. Fascinating creatures, and quite rare as well. I am quite blessed to have been chosen by him.

Chosen by him? 

Harry didn’t ask. He’d read up on his own.

“Please, have a seat.” After a pause, Harry pulled out the chair to sit at the very edge of it.

“Would you like a lemon drop? Or, perhaps, a Sugar Quill? I’ve also just discovered a most delightful Muggle sweet, Acid Drops, which far outstrip our own Acid Pops, in my opinion, as they don’t burn a hole through one’s tongue and boast a pleasantly tangy flavor... perhaps you’ve sampled them?”

Harry shook his head.

“Ah, well, no time like the present.” He pushed the bowl of sweets towards Harry. Harry folded his hands pointedly on his lap. Dumbledore just smiled, leaving the bowl where it was.

“How has your first year been treating you so far?”

“Fine,” Harry muttered, resisting the urge to swing his legs. 

“I’ve received nothing but glowing reports from all of your professors.” Dumbledore popped a sweet in his mouth. “Of course, your parents were both excellent students themselves, so it stands to reason…”

Harry hated the flush that was creeping across his face.

“And you’re very well-liked by your peers as well. Crossing the bounds of House-only affiliations.” He winked, and Harry was certain that Dumbledore knew he’d been to Gryffindor Tower earlier.

That wasn’t true, anyway. He supposed most people didn’t dislike him, but it’s not like they cared if he was there or not. He stared resolutely at the bowls of sweets on Dumbledore’s desk. He’d rarely had sweets in his life. Certainly never at the Dursleys, though he’d had a few (mostly stolen) sweets when he’d lived in London. And then on the train… But he wasn’t going to eat anything Dumbledore offered him. 

“Well, I imagine you’re quite curious to know why I invited you?”

Harry lifted his head. He was curious, but Dumbledore didn’t need to know that. He settled for staring, and Dumbledore produced a shapeless package from what Harry assumed was some sort of magical black hole. He placed it on the desk in front of Harry, who made no move to take it.

“I had planned to give this to you for Christmas, but then, it’s not truly mine to give.”

Harry narrowed his eyes. Couldn’t the man just speak plain English for once?

“Your father left this in my possession shortly before his death, and it is rightfully yours. I see no reason to keep it from you any longer.”

Harry clenched his fists on his lap to refrain from grabbing hold of the package. “What is it?”

Dumbledore’s eyes twinkled. “Why not open it and see for yourself?”

Throwing caution to the wind, Harry gingerly lifted the package off the desk and unwrapped it to find some sort of silvery material that felt almost like water running through his fingers. He still didn’t have the foggiest idea what it was.

He glanced up at Dumbledore, whose eyes crinkled in a smile. “That, Harry, is an invisibility cloak.” He eyed it for a moment. “Quite a singular object…”

Harry swallowed hard. “Why did my father leave it to you? Did he know he was going to…”

Dumbledore looked very tired, suddenly. “Alas, he did not. I had requested his permission to borrow it for a time, and I had not yet returned it to him when the events of that fateful day came to pass.”

Harry stared at the cloak for a long moment, running his hand over it.

“How did my father get it?” he finally asked, not looking up.

There was a long pause.

“It was passed down his family line, from parent to child, for many generations,” Dumbledore said.

And I’m the last one.

And if he had a child one day, he’d pass it on to them.

Harry knew he should probably say thank you, but he couldn’t bring himself to form the words. He looked up at Dumbledore again, who still seemed tired. A bit sad, even, but Harry wasn’t going to trouble himself to figure out why.

“Well, I’m sure Severus will soon be expecting you,” the man said, a twinkle returning to his eyes.

How does he always know everything?

Harry stood up, more than ready to remove himself from the infuriating man’s presence, but he paused to stare very deliberately at Dumbledore, then reached for the bowl of Acid Drops, grabbed a handful, and shoved it in his pocket.

He could hear Dumbledore chortling all the way down the spiral staircase.

Chapter Text

Harry glared sullenly at the floor, kicking at the metal legs of the hospital bed he was sitting on.

I don’t want to be here, I don’t want to be here, I don’t want to be here…

But he didn’t have much choice.

As soon as Snape had announced that Harry would be visiting Madam Pomfrey promptly for a long-overdue check-up and had given him that look, Harry knew there was no getting out of it.

That didn’t mean he had to be happy about it.

And to make matters worse, Snape and Pomfrey had sequestered themselves in a corner of the room and were muttering to each other, the Healer stealing glances at Harry every few moments.

If they’re going to talk about me, they should at least have the decency to do it to my face.

Harry kicked the leg again, grinding his teeth in frustration.

He’s definitely telling her that I tried to-

No. He wasn’t going to think about that. Why did she need to know about it, anyway? It was none of her business. It was no one’s business. The only reason it was Snape’s business was because the man had found him bleeding out in the bathroom. And he hadn’t tried it again, had he? He hadn’t even asked for his penknife back. There was nothing to talk about.

I swear, if they don’t stop muttering, I’ll-

Harry straightened up. It appeared that his demand had been answered, and Madam Pomfrey was striding towards him while Snape hovered near the wall. Harry had scowled a bit when Snape had mentioned he would be staying, grumbling that he didn’t need his check-up supervised like a five-year-old. But, evidently, none of Harry’s preferences were being taken into consideration just now.

When Madam Pomfrey reached him, she handed him a neatly folded, blue hospital gown. “Please change into this. I’ll draw up the curtains if you’d like.” She motioned for him to stand.

Harry tensed, feeling frozen in place, and decidedly uninclined to move.

Pomfrey gave him a bit of a hard look, and after a moment of what felt like a battle of wills that Harry was doomed to lose, he broke eye contact and slid off the bed, folding his arms across his chest as she conjured a set of curtains around his bed.

“Come on, now,” she said when Harry made no move to get behind the curtain.

“Can’t- can’t you just do… whatever you need to do with my regular clothes on?” Harry hated the pleading tone of his voice, but he really, really didn’t feel like changing out of his clothes.

Madam Pomfrey’s face softened slightly. “I’m afraid not.”

“Why?” Harry asked tersely, utilizing what felt like every last vestige of his self-control not to snap at the woman.

Pomfrey raised an eyebrow at him. “The scans I’ll be performing will not be entirely effective through clothing of standard thickness.”

Harry couldn’t think of a way around that, but he didn’t move.

Pomfrey sighed. “The quicker you get changed, the sooner we’ll be done here.”

Harry knew then that he wasn’t going to win. Setting his jaw, he slid behind the curtain and changed, thankful that, at the very least, this gown didn’t open at the back.

“Thank you, Mr. Potter,” she said calmly when he emerged, vanishing the curtains with a quick wave of her wand.

“Now, lie back on the bed for me, arms at your side.”

Harry did his best to do as she asked, but he couldn’t prevent the faint trembling of his limbs and the involuntary clenching of his fists as he lay tensely on the narrow hospital bed.

Madam Pomfrey sighed again. “Please do try to relax. I will only be using my wand; I will not be touching you.”

Harry tried, he really did, wishing more than anything that he could just be normal for once in his bloody life and sit through a medical examination without dissolving into baseless panic, but when she stepped forward, wand in hand, Harry flinched back and rose to a sitting position, his arms wrapped around his chest.

“Mr. Potter-”

When she moved closer, Harry couldn’t help himself; he darted out of the bed and pressed himself into the wall behind it.

I can’t do this. I can’t. Why won’t they just let it go?

Harry quickly turned his face away when Snape began walking towards him.

I don’t need a lecture right now. Leave me the hell alone.

When Snape approached, Harry’s head turned towards him despite his best efforts. Forcing a blank expression on his face, he looked at the man impassively, only the tightness in his shoulders giving any indication of his anxiety.

“Harry,” Snape said in a low voice. “I would not be insisting on this visit were it not in your best interests.”

Harry bit down on the inside of his cheek, averting his eyes.

It’s in my best interests to be left alone.

“Harry," Snape said again.

Harry met the man’s eyes again, his eyes narrowed and shoulders rigid in stubborn defiance.

Snape let out a breath, then, unexpectedly, knelt onto one knee so that his face was level with Harry’s.

“Step a bit closer,” Snape said, not taking his eyes off Harry.

Harry did so hesitantly, his eyebrows furrowing slightly when the man lifted a hand to brush his hair away from his own neck, revealing an unsightly mass of scar tissue. Harry’s eyes widened involuntarily at the sight. The scarring was a deep, painful-looking red, and the skin was puckered and distorted; the disfiguration stretched from the side of Snape’s neck and continued towards the back. Snape then pulled on his collar slightly so Harry could see where the scarring extended towards his shoulder.

Harry forced his gaze away from the sight and met Snape’s eyes. “What happened?”

“I obtained this injury when I was young, and, much like yourself, I preferred not to seek help.” Snape paused for a moment, studying Harry with an unnerving focus. “As a result of my refusal of medical attention, I no longer have full mobility in the area of the injury. That could have easily been avoided had I received the care I required.”

There was a long pause. The man’s eyes continued to bore into Harry’s, his face unreadable save for his eyes. Or, perhaps, Harry had simply learned to read them, because he could see, plain as day, what they spoke of. Honesty. Determination. A desire to protect. To protect him . Harry dropped his eyes, then, and Snape rose to his feet, pulling Harry towards the hospital bed with gentle pressure.

Harry allowed it.

He lay back in the bed once more, squeezing his eyes shut as Madam Pomfrey leaned over him, more to avoid seeing the pitying look in her eyes than anything else.

She began her scan, or whatever it was she was doing, during which Harry felt nothing but a slight tingling throughout his body. When the feeling faded, Harry opened his eyes to see her jotting down something on a piece of parchment that hovered in the air in front of her. 

“He should have been brought to me months ago,” Madam Pomfrey said sharply, narrowing her eyes at Snape. 

Snape folded his arms. “I did not detect any pressing issues when he first came into my care.”

“You’re not a medical professional,” she snapped. “We’re extremely lucky that there is minimal long-term damage, considering the child’s medical history.”

For a moment, Snape looked as though he were going to respond angrily, but then his shoulders dropped and his facial expression shifted. “That was… remiss of me.”

Madam Pomfrey gave him a long look, and, to his credit, Snape returned it with a level gaze of his own. She then turned back to face Harry, a deep crease between her eyes.

“Have you had your appendix removed at any point in the last few years?”

“Er… no.” Bit of a strange question.

“Can you recall any instances where you experienced physical symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain, particularly on your lower-right side?”

Harry thought back. He hadn’t been ill many times in his life, and he supposed his magic had played a part in that, but there had been that one time…

“I- I think I did have symptoms like that once, but it got better after a few days.” Despite the Dursleys’ best efforts. Aunt Petunia had shoved him into his cupboard after the first bout of vomiting and thrown a water bottle in after him. Had that been appendicitis? Why hadn’t it gotten even worse?

He glanced up when Madam Pomfrey spoke. “I suspect that your magic vanished your appendix, which would only have occurred had it been left untreated to the point where it was moments away from rupturing.”

Snape inhaled sharply at that, and Harry flitted his eyes towards him briefly to see the man’s face tight with fury, and the parts of his hands that were not obscured by the sleeves of his robes were clenched so tightly they were stark white.

“Disgraceful,” Madam Pomfrey muttered, jotting something down on her parchment. When she looked up, her appalled expression had smoothed over, though her eyes were still narrowed. “My scans also indicate that you’ve had multiple broken bones in the past, though most of them appear to have set and healed correctly, other than a rib and two knuckles in your right hand.”

Really? I never noticed that…

“How did you come by the injuries in your hand?” she asked, rolling up the parchment she had been writing on.

“Why does it matter?” Harry asked in what he hoped was a calm, indifferent manner.

“It is important that I am aware of the nature of the injury if I am to properly reset the bones.”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” Harry snapped.

“Harry,” Snape said in a warning tone.

Harry bit back a groan.

It’s none of their stupid business.

“I rammed my fist into somebody’s face,” Harry said through gritted teeth.

Madam Pomfrey pursed her lips. “And the rib?”

Harry sucked in a shaky breath.

She’s not going to let this go.

“I- someone stepped on me,” Harry answered, nearly inaudibly. Yeah, Vernon, when he was nine. He couldn’t even remember what had set Vernon off that time. Probably his existence, with a side of scotch.

The room was so silent that Harry could hear Snape’s harsh breathing. He kept his eyes firmly trained on his lap.

“Additionally,” she continued, “I’ve detected repeated dislocations of your right shoulder, which has resulted in chronic joint instability.”

Harry didn’t lift his head, but he heard Snape’s footsteps draw closer.

“I’m afraid I bear a degree of responsibility for that.” The man’s tone was flat.

“Oh, do you?” Madam Pomfrey’s voice was soft. Dangerous. “And how, pray tell, did that come to be?”

Snape let out a harsh breath. “I have no excuse. I manhandled the boy in a moment of anger, which resulted in a dislocation.”

There was then a silence so long and stifling that Harry couldn’t help looking up to see that Pomfrey had her wand pointed at Snape’s face, who was standing very still, making no move to defend himself. A jolt of fear shot through Harry’s chest. Was she going to attack him? Kill him? 

“He- he didn’t do it on purpose,” Harry forced out, clutching the bed sheets in his fists. He must have already had joint instability before Snape had grabbed him that day. He probably would have been fine if his shoulder hadn’t already been dislocated so many times before...

Snape turned his head to glare at Harry. “Do not defend me.”

Harry hunched his shoulders.

Pomfrey lowered her wand a fraction. “If you ever lay a finger on this child again,” she hissed. “They will never find your body.” 

Snape did not flinch. “I would not stop you,” he said in a low voice. She stared at him for another long moment before finally stepping back, her expression smooth and professional once more. Harry let out a quick sigh of relief.

“He does show signs of malnourishment, though you seem to have done well in combating that.”

Snape inclined his head, and Madam Pomfrey turned back to Harry. “If you continue to eat balanced meals, I don’t expect you’ll need additional treatment.” Her gaze turned stern. “However, if you make a habit of missing meals or filling up on desserts, you will most certainly find yourself back here and set on a strict potions regimen to supplement your diet.”

Harry’s face heated. Did she think he was a toddler? 

“I know how to feed myself,” he muttered. Snape shot him a warning look, but Harry just glared back. How much more of this was he expected to take? The desperate turn his thoughts had taken must have been showing on his face, because the man’s gaze softened slightly. He turned away when Madam Pomfrey began to speak again.

“You’ll be required to take a bone-strengthening potion once daily for three weeks, at which point I’ll reset your rib and the bones in your hand. The formulation will be altered slightly to strengthen your shoulder joint as well. You should not experience any notable side-effects at your age, but if you experience any bone or joint aches, please notify me immediately.”

Harry nodded, sitting up straighter. They seemed to be nearly done, so he might as well end with as much dignity as he could muster.

“Just a quick eye exam, Potter, and you’ll be free to go,” she said briskly.

Harry expected her to pull out an eye chart like the ones he had seen in preschool, but instead, she simply told him to open his eyes as widely as possible while she performed several spells. Harry watched her wave her wand in complex patterns with vague interest, until he noticed her frown.

“Have you ever experienced difficulty with your vision?”

Had he? “Er… maybe when I was really young. But I think it went away.”

She frowned again.

“What?” he asked urgently, gripping the bedsheets.

“Not to worry,” she said. “I was simply…” she trailed off, but Harry thought he heard her mutter something about ‘those despicable muggles’.

“The issue here is,” she began, “that you have a moderately severe case of myopia that was clearly left unattended. Your vision went unaddressed for so long that your magic began to compensate for it, which is why you eventually noticed an improvement.”

“However,” she continued, when Harry opened his mouth to interrupt, “that is not a healthy long-term solution; indeed, it should not have gone on nearly as long as it did.”

“What’s the problem, exactly?”

“What is happening to your vision is similar to that of a drug dependence,” Snape’s deep voice cut in. “As time passes, your vision will require increasingly more magic to function, draining you of much-needed magical reserves.”

Harry drew in a sharp, panicked breath.

“This is nothing that cannot be fixed,” Madam Pomfrey soothed. “You will simply need to be fitted for corrective lenses, and, over time, your magic will cease to compensate for your poor vision as the lenses do their work.”

***

Harry glanced around interestedly, jogging a bit to keep up with Snape’s long-legged stride. Hogsmeade was calmer and quieter than Diagon Alley had been, but the place seeped with magic just as intensely.

“You’ll be allowed occasional outings here once you reach your third year,” Snape said when he noticed Harry’s interest.

Harry tore his gaze away from the nearest shop, which seemed to sell nothing but a wide variety of quills, and hurried to catch up with his guardian.

“Here we are.”

A faint ring echoed throughout the room when Snape pushed open the door of the small shop, which had several pairs of glasses on display behind the front window. Harry managed a quick glance around the room, which appeared remarkably similar to any Muggle optometrist’s office, before a slight, olive-skinned woman with dark hair tied in a knot in the back of her head emerged from a door near the back.

“Severus,” she greeted with a smile. “How nice to see you.” 

Snape nodded back. “Thank you for taking us here. I am aware that you prefer to see clients in London.”

“It’s no trouble at all.”

The woman looked down at Harry, her eyes crinkling in a smile. “What’s your name?” 

“Harry Potter,” he muttered. 

Thankfully, she didn’t react to Harry’s name in any noticeable way, and, after a brief moment of hesitation, Harry reached out to shake her proffered hand.

The woman then turned towards Snape, who quickly explained the situation.

“Desmond will have to examine him first; this is an unusual case,” she said, her brow furrowing. “He’ll be here shortly. Please, sit.”

She pointed to several padded chairs lined against the wall before turning to leave the room.

Oddly, as the woman walked away, a weird sense of deja vu washed over Harry, then immediately receded before he could fully register the feeling. What had that been about?

“How do you know her?” Harry asked as he settled into a seat beside Snape. 

“I was introduced via a mutual acquaintance — a fellow potioneer, and I have been providing potions for this business since its initiation, several of my own design.”

“Why would an optometrist use potions for?” Harry asked.

Snape tilted his head. “The wizarding term is vision healer, and, generally, they do not rely upon potions, other than a simple formulation to induce pupil dilation. However, Dr. Levy has a doctorate in Muggle Neuro-ophthalmology, and she and her colleague, Healer Warren, the attending vision healer, have conducted several successful trials in the treatment of conditions that are quite rare in the wizarding world, hence the need for specialized potions and non-magical disciplines.”

Harry straightened, his interest piqued. “Why did she study a Muggle subject?”

“Dr. Levy is a squib. Her partner handles the magical end of their practice, while she takes charge of the research.”

Harry furrowed his brow. “Do a lot of wizards come here?”

Snape shook his head. “Practices such as these are viewed with a high degree of skepticism, as wizards tend to scoff at the notion that Muggle sciences may provide something that magic cannot.”

“So what do wizards who have… er... my problem do about it?”

“There are other treatment methods, but I and Madam Pomfrey agree that the charms provided by this practice, while experimental, are superior to the generally accepted methods, particularly for a child of your age. Dr. Levy’s magical family background has lent her research to being quite singular; despite her own lack of magical ability; she was able to approach it with both a magical and non-magical perspective.”

They both looked up when a young-looking man who Harry assumed was the Healer, or Desmond, as Dr. Levy had referred to him, entered the room.

“Please follow me,” he said in a brisk, no-nonsense tone. Harry stood up, his anxiety making his movements jerky, and he hurried after the man. He refused to look back at Snape, who had begun reading some sort of medical journal, because he was not a little kid, and he didn’t need Snape to escort him everywhere.

Desmond pointed him to an examination chair, and Harry slid into it before he tripped over his own feet. He leaned back into the seat stiffly and followed the man’s instructions to open his eyes, close his eyes, blink once, twice, three times, fighting for all he was worth not to jump out of the seat. The hospital wing was one thing, but there was no way he could let himself embarrass Snape in front of his associates by scurrying away and hiding like a frightened rabbit. Maybe that was what his Animagus form would be. A tiny, scruffy, terrified rabbit that would live and die in the pet shop because no one would choose him.

Finally, Desmond stepped away to jot down some notes, and Harry willed his painfully tightened muscles to relax. He was fine, everything was fine. Fine. Fine. Fine.

He couldn’t help jumping when the man addressed him again. “You're done here. You may now pick out your frames, and then return them to me for the application of your required charms.”

“How do they work?” Harry asked before he lost his nerve, sliding out of the seat.

Desmond glanced back at him as he led the way out of the room. “We use several specialized charms that are designed to coax your magic away from your vision. Simply put, the charms create the illusion that your eye shape has taken on a normal form, rather than the longer shape myopic eyes have. You’ll return in several months to reassess, at which point we will either adjust the charms or remove them altogether.”

At least Harry hadn’t been yelled at for asking…

Snape looked up from his journal when they re-entered the room. “I presume he is ready to select frames?” he asked Desmond. The man nodded sharply before moving to the front desk, and Harry followed Snape over to the displays that lined the walls.

How am I supposed to choose…

There were just so many options, and he couldn’t tell if some were more expensive than others. Was Snape paying for them? Probably, considering that the man had explicitly told Harry he would be providing for all his needs, but this wasn’t a normal need. Most kids didn’t need glasses with specialized charms that probably cost even more…

He glanced over at Snape helplessly, who swept over to the opposite wall. “Try a few pairs from this selection; they are marketed to your age range.” Harry hurried over and grabbed a pair at random, shoving them on his face and peering into the adjacent mirror. They made him look like a scuba diver.

“Those frames do not suit you,” Snape said, reaching for another pair with gold wire frames.

“Is- er… is that one more expensive?” Harry asked timidly.

Snape’s lips thinned. “Do not concern yourself with the cost.”

“But-”

“Pick your damn frames, Harry,” the man snapped. 

Harry couldn’t help flinching, and Snape seemed to deflate, pinching the bridge of his nose. “It is well within my financial means to purchase any pair you choose,” he said in a more controlled tone. “So, please, focus on the task at hand and do not question my ability to provide for you.”

Damn it. He’d offended Snape. He’d just been trying to be polite, to make sure Snape didn’t spend too much on him, but he’d only make things worse...

Harry removed the first pair and tried on the one Snape had selected. It didn’t look bad at all. The frames had rounded edges, giving them a shape somewhere between oval and rectangular. They certainly would take some getting used to, but at least he no longer looked like a scuba diver.

Harry glanced up hesitantly. “This one’s good.”

Snape studied him for a moment. “Are you certain? There are a number of other options.”

Harry shrugged. What difference did it make? He looked like a normal person in these glasses; what did he care if another pair had a slightly different shape or color?

“Very well. You will have the opportunity to choose another frame if you wish when we return for your follow-up appointment.” Snape held out a hand, and it took Harry a moment to remember that he was supposed to take off the glasses so they could be adjusted and paid for.

As if on cue, Dr. Levy entered the room. “Have you selected your frames?” she asked, tucking a very normal-looking clipboard under her arm.

Snape handed them over, and Harry glanced at her retreating form out of the corner of his eye, trying not to be too obvious about it. There was something familiar about her, as though he’d seen her before, but he hadn’t. When would he have ever crossed paths with her? Strange.

A short while later, Harry was staring at the mirror through his new glasses. 

“Nothing seems different,” he said, glancing over at Snape.

“That’s to be expected,” Desmond said from behind the counter. “Your magic will begin to recede from your eyes within three days, so you will find it necessary to wear your glasses at all times once you reach that point. Be sure to wear them full time until then, regardless of whether you feel it necessary.”

Harry hung back awkwardly as Snape arranged the payment, shuffling from one foot to another. Was Snape still annoyed at him? Clearly, not enough to stop the man from buying the glasses…

He started when Snape turned abruptly and hurried to follow the man out of the shop. Digging his hands into his pocket, he stared straight ahead, trying to get used to the weight of the glasses perched on his nose. 

Snape cleared his throat, and Harry glanced up. “I did not intend to snap at you earlier,” the man said without slowing his stride. “I find myself quite infuriated by the thought that you have never had the opportunity to take basic medical care for granted.”

Snape stopped walking, then, and he turned to meet Harry’s gaze. “I am not, however, upset with you, you understand?”

Harry bit his lip, then nodded, though he wasn’t sure he did.

Snape reached out to squeeze his shoulder, where his hand remained for the length of their walk back to the castle grounds.

Chapter Text

“Well done, Harry,” said Mrs. Perkins when she handed back Harry’s spelling test. Her smile softened the stern lines on her face, and, for a moment, Harry could imagine that he was normal and she was just a teacher who liked him because he’d done well on a test.

He took his test paper from her outstretched hand, his eyes darting towards her briefly before landing back on the paper. Perfect marks. Not that it meant much of anything. Of course he knew how to spell words like ‘conversation’ and ‘expression’. 

He allowed himself to breathe when Mrs. Perkins walked away, though he sort of wished she’d stay a bit longer. It was nice when she smiled at him.

No. It wasn’t nice. Because she’d stop smiling. He’d do something bad to make her stop smiling, and then she’d be angry and hate him. Despise him. He’d learned the word ‘despise’ in a book he’d read two weeks ago. It was like the word despicable, which he’d already known because Aunt Petunia always said it. But if the word despicable meant something that should be despised, why wasn’t the word ‘despisable’?

Harry copied down the new spelling words for next week into his notebook. The letters came out messy because his hand was shaking. It did that sometimes.

 

“Sorry,” Su said, flinching as their potion bubbled ominously in response to the extra horklump juice her shaky hand had accidentally added to it.

Harry bit back a frustrated groan. He’d agreed to pair up with Su because he thought she was good at potions. She always knew the answers to the questions Snape threw at them at the start of class, but this was the third time today that she’d messed up their potion. It wasn’t unsalvageable yet, but constantly scrambling to compensate for errors sucked all the fun out of brewing.

“It’s fine,” Harry muttered, grabbing the stirring rod. He might be able to fix this with several rounds of rapid stirring. “Can you lower the flame?”

Su scrambled to comply, her hand so shaky Harry could almost feel their table vibrating, and she let out a little gasp and stepped backwards as Snape approached their table. Harry held himself still as Snape eyed their work, sighing with relief when the man gave a slight nod before moving on.

“We just need to add the lionfish spines, and then it has to boil, do you have…” Harry trailed off when he realized that she was frozen in place and clearly not processing anything he was saying.

“Er…”

Is she having some sort of attack?

Harry was at a loss for what to do, and he was considering waving a hand in her face when she seemed to jerk out of her trance.

“Sorry,” she said again, brushing her hair out of her eyes. “I- I guess I’m just tired.” She took a sharp breath and moved closer to the desk. “We need to add the lionfish spines now, right?”

Harry nodded shortly. He had just said that. But obviously something was up with her, and he was certainly in no position to judge that sort of thing. 

Su thankfully added the correct number of lionfish spines and raised the flame to allow the potion to boil, and Harry let out a long breath, relieved that the bulk of the work was done.

They both swung around, startled, at the sound of a small explosion behind them.

“Detention, Goldstein,” Snape snapped as he vanished the potion residue that had splattered all over Anthony’s table. “I have repeatedly warned you to pay attention , yet you seem to believe you are qualified to develop your own formulations.”

“But I didn’t-”

“Are you angling for a week’s worth? I do have a large collection of cauldrons in need of scrubbing…”

“No, sir. Sorry.” Anthony hung his head, the tips of his ears a flaming red, while the remains of his ruined potion puffed a rancid-smelling bluish smoke. The Hufflepuff girl who he’d paired up with when they both discovered, loudly and excitedly, that they were from the same city in the Northwest, was making a decent effort at cleaning up their workspace, while Anthony stood still, his shoulders hunched uncharacteristically, staring at the floor.

Harry winced. This was the second time in the past week that Anthony had been given detention, the first from McGonagall, who’d, once again, had him writing lines for an hour when she got fed up with his fidgeting. Sure, Anthony could be a bit disruptive at times, but he never did it intentionally. It often seemed as though he couldn’t help himself, and what good were detentions when he wasn’t doing it on purpose? 

Really, it wasn’t all that different from Harry having been punished for his accidental magic growing up, though, admittedly, writing lines and scrubbing cauldrons weren’t like being hit and locked up.

Even so, Harry found that he couldn’t quite meet his guardian’s eye when he approached the desk to hand in his and Su’s potion sample. He could feel Snape’s eyes on him, but he turned away and gathered up his things alongside Su, who still seemed on edge.

Grateful they were free until after lunch, Harry stepped through the doors of the entrance hall for some much-needed fresh air. 

“Nice glasses, Potter.”

Of course Malfoy had to seek him out when all he wanted was a bit of time alone. Harry quickened his stride in the hopes that Malfoy would get bored, but the boy only matched his pace. Harry finally turned to face him, on edge with the sensation of being followed.

Malfoy wasn’t with Crabbe and Goyle this time; he was accompanied by a small, pale girl with chin-length black hair and a scowl on her face, and a dark-skinned boy who, thankfully, lacked the girth of Malfoy’s usual bodyguards but towered over Harry by a good few inches.

Harry rolled back his shoulders and blanked his face. What could they do to him here, outside, with so many other students walking by?

“I suppose vision is just one of the many things you’re lacking in, eh?” Malfoy said, smirking.

The girl snickered, though the tall boy threw Malfoy an unimpressed look.

Harry rolled his eyes. “Yeah, I’ve got glasses. Do you want to alert the press?”

“I’m sure you’d love that, Potter,” Malfoy shot back with a scowl.

“Nothing would thrill me more,” Harry muttered. “I’ve got somewhere to be, so why don't you prance off to whatever it is you do when you’re not obsessing over my fashion choices.”

Ha! That certainly got a response from the prat, though, briefly, Malfoy’s taller companion looked as though he were going to laugh. Malfoy lunged forward, and, of all things, snatched Harry’s glasses off his face and tossed them to the ground, stomping down on them with his foot.

Furious, Harry shoved Malfoy by the shoulders hard enough to send him to the ground. 

And he calls me uncultured? Harry fumed, kneeling down to collect what was left of his glasses.

“I’ll have you expelled for this, Potter! My father…”

Harry ignored the rest of Malfoy’s diatribe as he examined the damage to his glasses. They weren’t quite as bad off as he’d feared; they were still in one piece, but both lenses had long cracks marring the surface, and one of the earpieces was dangling dangerously from the hinge.

Damn it. What am I supposed to do? I can’t tell Snape. He just bought them for me, he’ll think I’m irresponsible…

Harry shot to his feet when Malfoy’s shadow loomed over him and was clenching his fists in preparation for an all-out brawl when the taller boy yanked Malfoy back by the arm.

“What’s your problem?” the boy snapped.

Malfoy glared at him, outraged. “Potter shoved me!”

“And you broke his glasses,” the boy said flatly. At that, he turned to walk away.

“Better watch it, Zabini,” Malfoy called after him. “You might just get re-sorted into Hufflepuff at this rate.” He turned to the girl, who had been standing back silently for the duration. “Can you believe that ponce, Pansy?”

The girl, Pansy, shrugged at him with a bit of a dead look in her eyes. “This is boring. At least Longbottom cried. Potter’s not doing anything .” She left too.

Harry took that as his cue to hurry back to the castle, hoping he might find a way to repair his glasses.

“Professor Snape will hear about this!” Malfoy yelled, though, thankfully, he did not follow.

If that was the case, Harry had better fix his glasses as soon as possible; he didn’t need to give Snape more than one reason to be angry with him. He shoved down the burgeoning fear at the thought and made his way to the library. He’d skimmed over the Mending Charm in his textbook earlier in the week; hopefully it wouldn’t be too hard to learn.

He soon settled at a quiet table near the back of the library and got to learning the theory. It didn’t seem terribly difficult, though it was a bit more complex than any of the charms they’d learned so far.

“Harry!”

Harry lifted his head, squinting, to see Hermione hurrying towards him. Even after just a few days with his glasses his vision had already begun to adjust to the change. He really had to get these things fixed. He shifted over to give Hermione space on the bench beside him.

“What are you working on?” she asked, pulling out her Potions textbook.

“Learning Reparo."

“Oh, I’ve been planning to learn that too! It’s not until chapter eight, though…”

Wordlessly, Harry held up his glasses, and Hermione’s forehead creased. She shut her textbook with a determined snap and shifted Harry’s book to the center of the table. “Well, we can’t have that,” she said, eyeing Harry’s glasses. “Maybe it’ll go faster if we learn it together.”

An unexpected warmth began to fill Harry’s chest as they practiced the spell together. Hermione hadn’t even been intending to do this today, but she’d changed her plans for him. Or for his broken glasses, at least.

“Reparo!” Harry pointed his wand at his glasses for the fifth time. The spell managed to repair one of the lenses, this time, though the other one remained stubbornly cracked.

“That should have worked,” Hermione murmured, running her finger along the lines of text. “Wait, it says here in the footnotes that it helps to turn your wrist to the left. Unless you’re left-handed, and then you’d have to turn it to the right.” She lifted her head from the book. “It must be so confusing to learn casting if you’re left-handed, since most of the teachers are right-handed.”

Harry tilted his head. “I wonder if spells come out differently for left-handed people. And what if they’re ambidextrous? That could be an advantage. Maybe they can use two wands at once...”

Maybe he should learn to cast ambidextrously...

Refocusing on the task at hand, Harry turned his wrist to cast the spell once more, and, to his delight, it worked.

Hermione beamed, then promptly tore a page of the textbook and repaired it.

“Now that we’ve got this working, I really must finish my Potions essay. Have you done it?” she asked, opening the textbook.

“The one about the invigorative properties of acidic plants from last week? Yeah.”

“I’ve heard you’re quite good at potions,” said Hermione. “Maybe you’ll have some suggestions for me to improve my essay.”

Harry looked down, trying to ignore the heat rising on his face. “I- I’ve had a bit of practice…”

“It must take ages to become truly proficient, though.” She sucked absentmindedly at the end of her quill. “Potions are fascinating, but I can’t say it’s the most enjoyable class.”

Harry shot her a questioning look, and she smiled a bit grimly. 

“We share it with the Slytherins, and a few of them find no end of opportunities to goad us. And Professor Snape doesn’t do much about it.”

Obviously Malfoy’s the one causing problems, and Snape likes him...

“Malfoy’s the one who broke my glasses,” Harry blurted.

Hermione drew back, outraged. “You should absolutely report him!” she exclaimed. “He can’t get away with damaging others’ property.”

“It’s my word against his,” Harry said with a frown. “That doesn’t usually turn out well for me.” He ran a finger across the frame of his glasses. “And I don’t have any proof now that these are fixed.”

Hermione frowned. “I’m sure if you speak to Professor Flitwick he’ll believe you.”

Maybe, but that would just get back to Snape…

“It’s kind of a moot point now.” Harry pushed his glasses further up the bridge of his nose.

“Still,” Hermione protested. “It’s just not right.”

Lots of things weren’t right, but they still happened. The best Harry could do was learn to live with it. 

“How- how’s Neville?” Harry asked in the hopes of changing the subject.

“He’s all right.” Hermione let out a sigh. “But he’s had some problems with a few of the Slytherins, and I think the other Gryffindor boys sort of exclude him.”

Harry narrowed his eyes. “Are they bullying him?” It was one thing for Malfoy to do it, but the boys in his dorm, too?

Hermione shook her head. “I don’t think so. It doesn’t seem like they’re trying to be mean, it’s just…” She bit her lip.

“Neither of us really fit in, you know,” she said more quietly. “Neville’s rather shy, and none of the others enjoy books and learning like I do, though I think Neville might if he didn’t assume he was going to fail.” She frowned. “The other girls are already friends with each other, and there’s no room for me.” She averted her eyes, downcast, and Harry wished he knew what to say.

Hermione straightened up abruptly. “Anyway, would you give me some pointers on my essay?” She pushed her parchment towards him. “I am really more inclined to spellwork rather over brewing, and I want it to be perfect.”

Harry skimmed over the essay she’d written. Her writing was tiny, so it was a good thing his glasses were back in working order.

“It already is perfect,” he said, smiling wryly. “And your handwriting is much better than mine.”

Hermione smiled, her cheeks turning pink. “I practiced all summer.”

Harry wished he’d thought of that. It hadn’t even occurred to him that it would be hard to learn before Snape had dumped a quill and parchment in front of him that time, and, by then, the start of term had been just a week or so away.

They returned their focus to their homework, though Harry’s thoughts kept drifting to what Hermione had said about Neville. Not only were the Slytherins bullying him, but Snape had given him detention as well, and the man didn’t seem to be making any effort to take his Slytherins in hand. He could recall quite vividly how intimidating Snape had seemed when Harry had first met him, and how he’d made no secret of his dislike of Harry. Harry had been used to tuning out that sort of vitriol from people, but Neville? He didn’t seem all that capable of defending himself, and apparently Malfoy had picked up on that as well.

It was so unfair.

Harry and Hermione soon left the library for their respective classes; History of Magic, for Harry, though he was quite looking forward to Charms after that, their final class of the day, when they would be learning the Fire-Making Charm. It seemed dead useful.

“The incantation is Incendio,” Professor Flitwick explained in his high, squeaky voice. “Now, you’ll want to wave your wand in a tight arc to land directly in front of the object or location at which you want to cast the charm. Take care to aim properly, or you may just end up burning more than you bargained for…”

Predictably, Anthony was the first to get it, his natural talent for charms never failing him. Harry couldn’t bring himself to begrudge him that, especially since he was one of the first people to get it after Anthony.

“Good job once again, Mr. Potter!” Flitwick said, beaming, as he examined the ashy remains of Harry’s parchment. The professor then waved his wand to produce a wooden block. “It’ll be a bit more challenging to set a thick, solid object alight, so be sure to maintain your focus.” He patted Harry’s shoulder briefly before moving on, and Harry couldn’t help tensing, just a little, at the unexpected contact. He stared resolutely at the wooden block on his desk, feeling the professor’s gaze lingering on him. Maybe if he stayed very still the man would be convinced that he’d somehow imagined Harry flinching like a nutter.

It was hard to regain his focus after that. He couldn’t quite manage to get the block to catch on, the fire flickering out before it could properly spread, while both Anthony and Lisa had graduated to setting small bonfires.

I’m not stupid. I’m not, I’m not.

Harry got to his feet, kicking his chair back so hard it toppled over. He sliced his wand roughly through the air and spoke the incantation, then jumped back in shock when his entire desk exploded into flames

The entire class went quiet as they turned to find the source of the noise. Harry’s face grew hot, and he stared at the floor, his wand dangling limply from his hand. He thought of the Invisibility Cloak he had stuffed in his trunk after Dumbledore had given it to him, unsure of whether he could trust that it was what the man had claimed it to be. It would be worth taking the risk right now, just to avoid the staring.

“Well,” Flitwick said as he put out the fire with a deft wave of his wand and repaired the desk. “Your spell certainly did not lack power, though we are looking for precision, in this case.”

He conjured a stack of wood for Harry to work with, and, thankfully, his classmates turned back to their own work. Yet Harry couldn’t bring himself to even try casting the spell again.

What was wrong with him?

They were dismissed a short while later, though Flitwick called Harry back before he could leave. Harry forced himself to keep his head straight as he stood in front of Flitwick’s desk, which the professor was sitting on top of.

“I’m sorry, sir,” Harry said, stumbling over the words, in the hopes of getting the conversation done with. 

“Oh, I haven’t called you here for disciplinary action, Mr. Potter,” Flitwick said with a smile. 

Harry bit his lip, breaking eye contact to stare at the floor.

“You seemed quite upset, earlier, and I always say a calm attitude is paramount for proper spellwork.”

“I’ll do better,” Harry mumbled, scuffing the floor with his shoe.

“You misunderstand me.” Harry looked up at that. “I simply wish to inquire if you are experiencing any difficulties outside of class, and to convey that, as your Head of House, my door is always open to you.”

Harry opened his mouth, then closed it. There wasn’t really anything wrong, was there? He just felt so angry sometimes when his spells didn’t work that the magic seemed to explode right out of him. It had happened in Defense Against the Dark Arts, too.

“I’m fine,” was all he opted to say. 

Professor Flitwick eyed him for a long moment before inclining his head. “Very well, you may go.” He shifted sideways on the desk to point at a door in the far corner of the room. “My office is just over there if you ever wish to talk.”

Harry nodded and left the room as quickly as he could, slightly unnerved, and made his way to the Great Hall for dinner. Dinner was available for three hours, longer than breakfast and lunch, so it was usually a bit less crowded. Harry settled into his meal, actually feeling hungry despite the stressful day he’d had. 

“Hey, Harry?”

Harry lifted his head from his plate of chicken and roast potatoes.

“Su and I are going to watch Quidditch tryouts after dinner, want to come?" Stephen asked with his mouth full.

Harry froze for a moment. Was he supposed to say yes? Was Stephen just asking him to be polite? Maybe he didn’t really want him there-

“Er… Harry?”

Harry jerked himself out of his thought-spiral. “Sure,” he said quickly, grabbing onto his water glass.

Stephen grinned, his hair turning bright pink. “Great. Su said she’d meet me at the pitch in ten minutes.”

Harry dropped his fork, wincing a little when it landed with a loud clinking sound. “I’m done eating.”

“What position would you try out for?” Stephen asked as they made their way towards the pitch.

Harry’s shoulders tensed. “I- I’m not sure. Never played.”

Stephen turned his head, surprised. “Really? You’re such a good flier I thought for sure you had.”

Harry flushed. “I’ve flown before, just never played Quidditch.”

“Well, I’d go for Chaser.” At least Harry knew what that was from reading Quidditch Through the Ages. “I think it-” Stephen broke off when Su caught up with them.

“Hi, Su, we were just talking about what positions we’d play. What’s yours?”

“Beater,” Su said.

Seriously?

“Seriously?” Stephen echoed Harry’s thoughts. “But you’re… er…”

“Small?” Su said with a bit of a smirk on her face. “That’s kind of the point. No one would suspect I can swing a bat.”

Harry certainly couldn’t argue that. He eyed Su for a moment, remembering how she’d been during Potions, but she seemed fine. Maybe she’d just been having a bad day.

They arrived at the Quidditch Pitch and found seats on the stands, where a sparse crowd of students, mostly Ravenclaws, had gathered to watch.

A significantly larger crowd of students were lined up on the pitch, where a short, yet broad-shouldered girl who looked as though she could lay someone out with a swift punch to the jaw seemed to be holding counsel. Obviously the Quidditch captain.

“Listen up,” she barked. The crowd quieted instantly. “Unfortunately, our trials had to be pushed back a week on account of… never you mind.” She rolled back her shoulders. “All you need to know is that the other Houses have already begun training, so we’ve no time to waste.” She squared her shoulders. “If you’re here to try for Keeper or Seeker, you may as well clear off, because we’re covered in that department.” She held up a hand when a few students protested. “You’d have known that if you’d bothered to read the notice past the header.” She drew herself up a little. “And there’s just one opening for Chaser, since we’ve already got me and Davies.” She jerked her head to the boy standing to her right.

A handful of hopefuls left the pitch, some more graciously than others, and the tryouts began. Harry watched carefully as the captain, Pearson, ordered each student, one by one, to demonstrate their skills by attempting to throw a large, red ball through one of three hoops, guarded by what must have been the Keeper. A fourth-year girl snagged the Chaser position, and, later, after a number of people attempted to demonstrate their Beating abilities by swinging black bats against two balls that seemed set on knocking people from their brooms, two boys won the positions.

As soon as the pitch was clear, Harry, Stephen, and Su all exchanged a quick glance before running for the discarded school brooms that had been left behind, and they were soon up in the air, speeding and laughing and leaving their troubles on the ground far below.

Maybe this was what it was like to be normal.

Chapter Text

“If there exists a being which is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent, what does that being lack?”

Harry stared at the bronze eagle in consternation. What kind of question was that? By definition, that sort of being lacked nothing. It was limitless.

Bloody hell, I just want to get another damn quill.

He’d managed to snap the last one he’d had on hand and had been forced to trudge all the way back to Ravenclaw tower for a new one during his break between classes. He’d thought he had more in his bag, but he had a habit of pressing down too hard when writing and had apparently broken all of them. Ugh. if only they’d been given the option to write essays with pencils instead of torturing themselves with glorified feathers-

Wait. Options. Choice…

“Choice!” Harry exclaimed. “The being lacks choice.”

The door swung open, and Harry couldn’t help grinning at his success. He’d figured out the answer pretty quickly this time, too.

He hurried up the stairs to his dorm, panting with the exertion of having rushed his way there, but he froze by the entrance when he saw Anthony sitting on the edge of his bed with a half-packed duffle bag at his feet. And tears on his face.

“Er…”

Anthony’s head shot up, and he hastily swiped his hand over his cheeks.

“I… I didn’t think anyone would be coming up here.”

Harry frowned, eyeing the bag at Anthony’s feet. “Why do you have a bag packed?”

Anthony blinked, then shook his head slightly as though to ward off a fly. “Oh, that? I just got back. I went home for Yom Kippur.”

“What’s that?” Harry asked. He had noticed the conspicuous absence of Anthony recently. It was surprising that Anthony hadn’t told anyone he was leaving, though his current state suggested that perhaps he’d been eager to slip away.

“Jewish Day of Repentance.”

Anthony went quiet again, the silence only broken by the occasional sniffle.

“Er… are you okay?” Harry asked hesitantly. “Did something happen at- at home, or-”

Anthony shook his head. “No. No, it was fine. I mean, it was kind of boring, being at Synagogue all day, but…” He swallowed, staring at his lap.

Harry took a breath, then walked over to his own bed to sit across from Anthony. And waited.

Anthony finally looked up through teary eyes. “I just... I didn't expect it to be so hard. At school, I mean. Dad homeschooled us before Hogwarts, and it was never like this. He mostly let me do things the way I wanted, as long as I learned." He sniffled, then yanked off his glasses with unwarranted force so he could wipe his eyes. “It’s so hard to concentrate, ‘specially in Transfiguration and Potions because the- the details matter so much, and-”

Anthony broke off, swallowing audibly.

"I'm trying,” he said in a low voice. “I'm trying really hard, but I just can't be the way they want me to."

Harry leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. "It's unfair," he said quietly. "It's not right that they're getting angry instead of trying to help."

Anthony hiccupped. "How could they help? It's like I'm just... like there's something wrong with me."

Harry understood that feeling all too well; the sense that he wasn’t quite right, the awful, hopeless dread that he'd never be normal, was ever-present in the back of his mind.

"I don't know," Harry said, biting his lip. "But there has to be something."

Anthony shrugged, unconsoled, fiddling with his glasses.

Harry forced himself to uncurl his shoulders, straightening his back as though it would help him find the courage to say the next words. Because he could. He could say it to Anthony. "I- I know how it feels to be... to be punished for things you can't control."

Anthony furrowed his brow. "But you're great in classes."

"I'm not talking about school." Harry stared at his lap.

"At home, then?" Harry glanced up, against his better judgement, to see Anthony watching him shrewdly. He gave a very slight nod.

"Is that... is that why you don't live with your Muggle family anymore?"

How did he know? 

Anthony might have been flighty, but he was quite perceptive where it counted.

Harry swallowed. "Well... they- they died, but I left before that. Because they..."

"What did they do?"

Harry’s jaw felt frozen. He blinked several times, trying to clear away the odd blurriness that had come over his vision. The words felt stuck somewhere deep in his chest, aching like a broken rib.

“They hurt you, didn’t they?”

A few shallow breaths relieved the ache in Harry’s chest. “Yes.” 

Yes. They’d hurt him, for things he couldn’t control. Even if he had been able to control it, they still shouldn’t have hurt him like that. Harry knew that much, now.

Thankfully, Anthony didn’t press for more detail, but he had a fierce look about him, and he was eyeing Harry in a way that made him feel… seen. A little too seen for his liking.

“Have you tried talking to Professor Flitwick?” Harry asked, returning to the topic at hand. This was about Anthony, not him. “He seems… well… not too scary.” He gave a slight smile. “And you’re definitely his favorite.”

“Oh, I am not,” Anthony protested, though he couldn’t prevent the smile from spreading across his face. He put his glasses back on and took several deep breaths.

“Are you coming to class?” Harry asked, getting to his knees to rummage through his trunk for a new quill.

“When is it?”

Harry glanced at the wall clock. “In about twenty minutes.”

“I suppose,” Anthony said with a sigh. “I’ve missed enough class as it is. I was supposed to come back before the weekend, but…” He trailed off, looking a bit wistful. For home?

They managed to make it to History of Magic just in time, though they really needn’t have rushed; it wasn’t as though Binns would have noticed. He didn’t even remember to collect the essays he’d assigned to them.

Harry, who’d long since given up on taking notes in this class, practiced with his quill, gratified to find that his writing was growing smoother and more legible. It also served as a good distraction; Binn’s classes were rife with opportunity for his mind to wander down paths he preferred not to take. He’d better bring something interesting to read next time.

Anthony had dropped into the seat beside Harry, slouching, with his legs splayed out in front of him, not even bothering to pull out his parchment. He stayed uncharacteristically still, picking at his fingernails and staring blankly at a corner of the classroom.

When the lesson ended, Padma bounded over to Anthony, who seemed to perk up, and they wandered off for their break. Padma said something Harry couldn’t hear that made Anthony chuckle, though perhaps not with the same level of exuberance he normally expressed.

Harry felt a bit relieved. He was no good at cheering people up, and Padma had the sort of personality that lightened the atmosphere just by her being there. That was what Anthony needed, not Harry, with his dark thoughts and constant anxiety buzzing beneath his skin…

 

“I can remember some things from before,” said Jade, lying on her back in the treehouse with her hands folded behind her head. Harry didn’t have to ask what ‘before’ meant. “I was little, with my mum, I think. She would hold me at night before I went to bed. And she’d sing this song, but I can’t remember the words.” She hummed for a moment, a slow, lilting tune that abruptly faded out when she seemed to lose her hold on the memory of it.

Harry frowned. “I don’t remember anything.” Well, sometimes he dreamed about a red-haired woman who smiled at him, but they were just dreams.

“Maybe you do,” said Jade, her eyes focused on the ceiling. “It could be that the memories are just locked up in your head.”

“Maybe.”

What good were they, though, if they could never be retrieved?

Jade sat up. “You could pretend.” Her eyes brightened a little. “You can make something up and pretend it’s real.”

Harry squinted at her. “But it wouldn’t be real.”

“It would be real while you imagined it. Just for a few minutes, it would be real.” She smiled in a way that Harry could never quite understand. It was as if she pretended so hard to be happy that she actually was. 

Harry couldn’t pretend. He’d never been good at that. Sure, he could get lost in a book he was reading and imagine all the people and all the places, but he’d know the whole time exactly where he was.

***

Later, at lunch, Hedwig fluttered over to deliver another little scroll tied to her leg, then proceeded to dip her beak into Harry’s juice.

Harry,

Please come see me after dinner.

SS

Harry’s stomach dropped. He’d just seen Snape last night, and they normally met every second day.

Malfoy must have ratted about me shoving him.

Harry felt strangely detached as he lay his fork down, appetite gone. This was par for the course, wasn’t it? Him being blamed. It wasn’t anything to get upset about, really. It was just the story of his life.

He stood up abruptly, hooking his bag more securely over his shoulder, and made his way to the library. He settled at an empty table and retrieved his Charms textbook to get started on the essay Flitwick had assigned that morning. Before setting his quill to parchment, he paused when he spotted the entrance to the restricted section out of the corner of his eye.

If they really want to keep students away they would just keep the entrance out of sight.

Honestly, though, it was as if they were practically daring students to sneak in. The sort of books they might have stored in there...

Harry forced himself to refocus and managed to make a decent effort at his essay about the categorizations of charms, his handwriting mercifully legible due to the drying charm Snape had taught him. He read through it once more to catch any mistakes.

Charms are defined as spells which add certain properties to people or objects, he’d written. For example, the Color-Change Charm causes an object to flash different colors, and the Somnus Charm causes a person to fall asleep for a short period of time. Simpler charms generally last fewer than twenty-four hours, but more complex charms can last indefinitely, though they are liable to break if the properties of the object they have been cast on change in any significant way-

Harry nearly dropped his quill. His glasses! Had the charms on his glasses been broken when Malfoy stomped on them?  

It was just as well he was going to see Snape later. He’d have to bring it up; Harry wasn’t stupid enough to risk damaging his vision, and the man did seem quite intent on ensuring that Harry had sufficient medical care. He’d take whatever punishment was coming to him, be it for fighting with Malfoy or getting his glasses broken. It couldn’t be worse than going blind.

Harry packed up his things and made for the door. Distracted as he was, he didn’t even notice Su emerging from a different corner of the library until he nearly bumped shoulders with her at the exit. She gave him a brief smile, and they made their silent way to the greenhouses for Herbology.

He spotted Malfoy’s white-blond hair even before entering the greenhouse, and he made sure to situate himself as far as possible, sliding into a spot between Lisa and Su in the hopes of deterring the boy from approaching.

He could feel the prat’s eyes on him throughout the entire length of the lesson, but it was easy enough to ignore him as he focused on extracting the oils of his Tormentil plant. It was the first time they’d been instructed to use a spell in this class, the Steam Production Charm, to aid in the steam distillation method. It was quite an interesting process, actually. They first had to soak and crush the plant leaves by hand (since a miscast spell could easily ruin the delicate plant) and place them in a glass jar, which was covered with a lid that extended into a long, winding tube connecting to a small vial at the end of it. They then had to perform the charm, vapor frugibus, on the leaves, which would heat them to the point where the oil sacs would burst open and rise up with the steam to flow through the tube. The tube itself was pre-charmed to transform the steam back into liquid, which would drip into the vial. The most interesting part was to watch as the oil from the plant would rise to the top of the liquid, and the liquid would slowly vanish, leaving the oil behind. If extracted properly, the oil could be used in medicinal potions as a digestive agent.

“My mum does this with lavender,” Lisa said as she crushed her second batch of leaves. “She puts some of the oil on her pillowcase. Says it helps her sleep.”

“Is that a psychological thing?” Harry asked, watching as the oil from his leaves flowed through the tube. 

“If it works, does it matter if it’s psychological or not?” 

“You have to believe it will work in order for it to work, don’t you?” Harry unscrewed the vial from the end of the tube and corked it.

Lisa pulled out her wand, murmuring the incantation to steam her plant. “I suppose. Otherwise, you’ll just lie in bed, staring at the ceiling, thinking over and over again how stupid it is, and that it couldn’t possibly help.” She rested her forearms on the table as her plant steamed.

Harry grabbed hold of his next batch of leaves and had to actively refrain from crushing them with unwarranted force lest he ruin his next batch. He’d never been good at believing. He could never convince himself that the world was anything different than what he could see. Even after discovering the magical world he still couldn’t bring himself to believe in things beyond his reality. That was part of the reason why it was best to know things. The more he knew, the less there was to believe. The less reason he had to wish he could. If he knew everything, he’d never have to wonder, because he’d always know the answer. If he knew it all, the ground would stop feeling so shaky. He might have told the bronze eagle this morning that to know everything was to lack choice, but Harry figured it was a pretty good deal.

“If you mix lavender oil with crushed Valerian, it does work as a proper sleep-aid,” Su piped up, staring slightly crossed-eyed at the vial she was holding inches away from her face. “No belief required.”

***

“Are you experiencing any side effects from your bone-strengthening potion?”

The question was so unexpected, so unrelated to what Harry was certain he’d been called in for that the bubbling frustration momentarily ebbed.

“No.”

“Good. Is your vision clear?”

It was for the moment, though Harry still had no way of knowing if the charms had been messed up when the glasses had been stomped on. “Y-yes, sir.” Was he supposed to call the man Severus at a time like this? 

Snape didn’t comment on it. He studied Harry for a while, who fidgeted uncomfortably at the edge of the couch. Figuring he might as well get ahead of… whatever this was, he straightened up and met the man’s eyes. “But… um… can you- are you able to check if the charms are still working?” He lowered his eyes to somewhere around Snape’s chin.

“Is there a particular reason you suspect they might not be?”

Harry bit his lip and dropped his gaze to his lap. “My glasses got broken,” he mumbled.

“Your glasses got broken.” Snape’s voice held no inflection, no hint of what he might be thinking. “When did this occur?”

“Last week.” Harry lifted his chin. “I fixed it with Reparo so I thought it would be fine, but- but maybe…”

Snape’s blank expression shifted, then, into something Harry couldn’t quite read. “Hand them over.”

Harry yanked off his glasses with fumbling fingers and handed them to Snape, who pulled out his wand and began murmuring spells in too low a tone for Harry to distinguish. He handed them back to Harry.

“The charms have held; they would not have been disrupted by the glasses breaking via physical means. I have, however, cast a charm to prevent them from breaking in the future. An oversight…” Snape furrowed his brow. “I should have cast those spells immediately upon purchase. I saw no reason to pay the extra fee for a spell I could well perform myself, yet it seems to have slipped my mind.”

He’s not mad?

He didn’t look angry, but the intensity of his gaze was unsettling when he set his eyes on Harry. “I don’t suppose you’d like to tell me how, exactly, your glasses got stepped on?”

Harry jerked his head up, staring. “How do you know?”

“My charms indicated as much.”

“Which charms?” Harry asked, his trepidation fading a little in the face of his interest. “Are they very difficult to learn? Is there a book?”

Snape summoned a book from one of the shelves across the room. “It is a diagnostics charm used for inanimate objects. It is delineated in-” he scanned the table of contents “-chapter eighteen, though you will lack the theoretical knowledge to learn it properly at this juncture...”

Harry took hold of the book eagerly. “Thank you.”

Snape inclined his head sharply. “Returning to the matter at hand.” Harry tensed; his attempt to change the subject had clearly failed. “How did your glasses end up in such a state?”

Harry was quiet for a moment. Could he tell the truth? If Snape believed him, then Harry wouldn’t look like an irresponsible child who couldn’t keep his possessions in good condition. But Malfoy had done it, and why would Snape believe Harry over a boy he’d known for so much longer? No one ever believed Harry, anyway. Not when other children were involved. Back in primary, all Dudley had had to do was point a finger at Harry for him to be blamed for something he hadn’t even known had occurred. And, soon, many of his classmates had followed Dudley’s lead, in not only shoving him around, but pinning the blame on him to avoid getting in trouble. No. He couldn’t tell. And Snape hadn’t even mentioned Malfoy accusing Harry of shoving him. 

Harry swallowed, forcing himself to meet Snape’s eyes. “I- I was running outside and they fell off.”

Snape didn’t immediately reply.

“Did they,” he said flatly, clearly indicating that he didn’t believe a word of it. Not that Harry should have expected him to, the man being a Legilimens. Snape narrowed his eyes, jaw tightening minutely, staring at Harry, just staring, as though he was trying to glean the information Harry couldn’t give him, like he was trying to read Harry’s mind… was he?

He said I’d know if he was doing that, don’t be paranoid.

Harry forced down the panicked breath at the thought.

“You did well performing the Mending Charm,” Snape said abruptly.

Harry stared at him, startled, his breath releasing in a long whoosh. “I… I learned it from my Charms textbook. With Hermione.”

“A commendable effort.”

Harry flushed, pressing himself into the back of his seat. What was going on? Why wasn’t Snape mentioning anything about the fight he’d had with Malfoy. Could it be possible that the boy hadn’t mentioned it? 

Maybe he knows Snape can tell if people are lying.

But would it really be lying if Malfoy mentioned that Harry had shoved him and simply omitted the part about crushing his glasses?

“Is something the matter?”

Harry was startled into meeting Snape’s eyes. “No,” he said, feeling a bit drained. “Nothing’s wrong.”

“Harry.” Harry started as Snape twisted in his seat so he was facing Harry directly. “Need I remind you of the agreement we made, that you would inform me immediately if you were struggling in any way pertaining to-”

Harry shook his head rapidly in denial. “I’m not, I swear,” he said roughly. So he’d had a bad time of it during the summer, that didn’t make him a nutter that would off himself at the first sign of trouble.

“I’m not,” he said again, more quietly. He wrapped his arms over his torso and dug himself a little further into the couch cushions. His eyes were level with Snape’s hands, which moved towards him before abruptly stopping in their tracks. Harry peeked up at the man, then, who looked a bit... strained, if that was the word for it.

It made Harry feel even worse. His throat tightened unpleasantly, and he tried to swallow against it, his mouth dry.

But then, Snape’s hand did reach forward to rest on top of Harry’s head, stroking back the unruly tufts of hair that fell over his forehead.

The tightness eased, though not completely, and a small, yet insistent part of him wanted to lean in closer, and wanted Snape’s hand to stay right where it was, stroking his hair back, even though the hair was already out of his face.

And it did stay there, just for a little longer, because, somehow, Snape knew what Harry couldn’t ask for, and he was giving it anyway. Even though it was hard to believe it would be there forever, Harry would take what he could get.

Chapter Text

Harry sat cross-legged on his bed with the curtains drawn, smoothing his hand over the silvery, impossibly smooth texture of his Invisibility Cloak. It was almost hypnotizing, the feel of it, and the way it seemed to call to him, practically compelling him to put it on.

What was the worst that could happen, really?

Death, dismemberment, mind control…

Stupid question.

But he wanted to be invisible so badly. The Disillusionment Charm was NEWT level, which meant he couldn’t even conceive of attempting it for at least another year or two. If anyone thought he’d actually wait until sixth year, they were delusional. But he wasn’t delusional either, and he’d done enough reading (and Flitwick had done enough lecturing) about the potential dangers of miscast charms to know he needed to get a better handle on his magic first.

But, with this, he wouldn’t have to wait. He could wander around, unseen and unhindered by others, even past curfew. He could go anywhere he wanted, and if he kept it on hand, he could make the quickest escape possible by simply… disappearing. Harry squeezed his eyes shut, willing his hands to move, and the next thing he knew, the Cloak was over his head and he was staring down at the empty space where his hands used to be. 

Wicked.

Harry had to suppress the urge to laugh out loud, loath to wake his roommates from their Sunday morning lie-in. If anyone found out about this, it would completely defeat the purpose.

Holding his breath, Harry carefully pulled his curtains open and crept out of bed, taking a moment to lift the Cloak a bit so he could slide his feet into his shoes before padding to the door.

The common room was quiet. There were a few people here and there, some reading or doing homework, others dozing on couches, and one girl with a mane of wild hair was huddled in a corner, muttering under her breath as she jabbed her wand repeatedly at something Harry couldn’t see.

He crept closer to the door, and his stomach dropped when he nearly tripped over a pair of legs sticking out from under a claw-footed couch. A boy, apparently fast asleep under a couch. Was that two pairs of legs? Oh, a boy and a girl asleep under the couch.

Harry flushed at the implications of that and scampered towards the exit, heaving a sigh of relief when it closed behind him. 

Now what?

Restricted section? There probably won’t be many people there at this hour, and Pince hears everything. I should wait until later. I’ve got all day…

Maybe he could sneak into the Hufflepuff or Slytherin common rooms, just to see. Where were they, anyway? He knew Slytherin was in the dungeons, but what about Hufflepuff? Did they have passwords like Gryffindor, or riddles like Ravenclaw? Maybe they had entirely different entry requirements. He’d probably have to remove the Cloak to get in, anyway. Scratch that.

Harry ended up wandering with no particular destination in mind, following winding corridors and staircases, all deserted, and he was considering removing the Cloak when he heard voices growing steadily louder behind him. He tensed, inching closer to the wall and turning his head towards the source of the noise. It was easy to tell who it was, even from a distance; who else could a pair of steadily approaching redheads muttering conspiratorially to one another possibly be? As they drew closer, Harry could see that they were examining what appeared to be a well-used scroll of parchment. 

“Filch is prowling on the fifth floor, and Mrs. Norris is near the kitchens,” one of the twins said. “Merlin’s saggy earlobes, a little Hufflepuff is petting her!”

The other twin mimed vomiting, but a thoughtful expression crossed his face. “That’s actually quite clever. She’s getting Mrs. Norris on her side…”

“Why didn’t we do that?” they said in unison.

Harry held his breath as they passed by, but, thankfully, they were too engrossed in whatever they were looking at to sense him.

Is that a map? It must be, but how could they know where people are? If they do, it’s a good thing they were looking at Mrs. Norris, or they might have known I’m here. Or would the Invisibility Cloak hide me on the map?

“Is ickle Ronniekins sleeping with Peter again?” Harry heard one of them say.

The other guffawed. “I’m telling you, there’s a glitch. I went to check last time I saw this, and he was definitely alone...” Their voices faded out as they walked away, and Harry turned to go in the opposite direction.

Maybe the library will be fuller by now so Madam Pince won’t hear me…

It wasn’t full, precisely, when Harry arrived, but there were enough students in there to pull focus as he crept soundlessly towards the restricted section at the back of the library. He glanced behind him to ensure that Madam Pince wasn't looking his way, then, very carefully, he stepped over the rope separating the section from the rest of the library. Honestly, this was just too easy. If they truly wanted to keep students out they’d make it harder to sneak in...

Glancing around the small space, Harry couldn’t detect anything particularly… forbidding about the place. He half-expected something to jump at him from the shadows, then scoffed at himself for being ridiculous. There couldn’t be anything too horrible, otherwise it wouldn’t be kept in the library at all. Not with how ridiculously easy it was to get in.

Harry scowled. That must mean there couldn’t be anything terribly interesting, either.

He scanned his eyes over the spines of the books, spotting several with peeling, faded letters spelling words he couldn’t understand. He spotted another that had no title at all. Now, that was interesting. He approached the bookshelf and pulled it out gingerly, crouching down to slide it beneath the Cloak. Moving over to the wall, Harry leaned his back against it and opened the book. He flipped through the pages, finding that the words were handwritten in a flowery script that was difficult to read. Was this a manuscript? Judging by the yellowed pages, it must have been written a long time ago, though he couldn’t find any specific dates. 

Tucking the book under his arm for later examination, Harry continued his search through the shelved, then noticed one titled Potions That Should Never Have Been Invented.  Well, he’d have to take that one, no question. 

Figuring two books were enough for now, Harry crept out of the restricted lesson and left the library unhindered. 

Success.

***

The week proceeded uneventfully, and at the tail end of it, Harry was scowling at the teacup he was attempting to transfigure. They were working on the Switching Spell, which was performed on two objects to transfigure one into the other. From the sound of it. Anthony was having an even worse time of it.

“Concentrate, Mr. Goldstein. You will only continue to scorch your desk if you allow yourself to be distracted by the goings-on in the classroom.”

At least she wasn’t giving him detention. Harry scowled anyway, jabbing his wand uselessly into the ball of yarn his teacup was supposed to look like. Did McGonagall think Anthony was choosing to be distracted?

“What did that ball of yarn ever do to you?” Su asked from the next seat over. 

Harry blew out a breath. “It won’t do what I say.”

Su chuckled. “That’s because you’re getting so angry at it.”

“I can’t exactly be calm, can I?” Harry said, clenching his jaw. “It’s too loud, and there are too many people.” He eyed Su. “Doesn’t it bother you?”

She shrugged. “Not so much. I just sort of tune it out.”

If only it were that easy. 

Harry was the first to leave the classroom when they were dismissed, and he was still scowling when he made his way to Defense Against the Dark Arts. Maybe they’d get to learn a new spell…

No such luck. Harry bit back a groan as Quirrell paced in front of the room, stuttering about how best to ward off vampires. The pain in his head was back in full force, but at least if they’d had a practical lesson he could have ignored it a bit better. Nothing for it, though. Today was all lecture.

Harry pressed his hand over his forehead in an attempt to ease the pain. Oddly, it seemed that the pain was emanating directly from his scar, not from the general area of his forehead as he’d initially thought.

“All right, Harry?” Neville whispered from the seat next to him. 

Harry forced his face to smooth over and nodded. He was fine. It was just a headache, after all.

Quirrell turned towards the blackboard and the pain surged once more. Harry bit down on his lip, hard enough to taste blood. What was going on ?

“D’you need the hospital wing?” Neville whispered again, leaning in closer. “You really don’t look well.”

Harry grimaced. That was the last thing he needed. He forced himself to smile at Neville, who was only trying to help, as irritating as it was. “It’s fine,” he said through gritted teeth. “I get headaches sometimes. It’ll go away.”

Neville let it go, thankfully, though he did glance over at Harry several more times during the lesson.

Once it ended, Harry scrambled outside, desperate for some fresh air. His headache was fading quickly, and a few deep breaths of the brisk autumn air felt like a remedy, easing the tension in his neck and shoulders almost as though he’d swallowed a potion. He closed his eyes, spreading out his arms a little as he walked further across the grounds. He opened them again and spotted the huge form of Hagrid in the distance, near the Forbidden Forest. 

I wonder if he’s lonely. 

Hagrid always seemed to be on his own, just him and Fang, though it was hard to say if the man minded. He did seem content, and perhaps that was why he was so unthreatening, despite his size. 

Harry rolled his shoulders back and quickened his stride in the direction of Hagrid, breaking out into a full run. It felt so good to run.

“Harry!” Hagrid greeted with a wide smile when Harry caught up with him, panting. “Good ter see yeh.”

Harry grinned. “Hey, Hagrid.” He patted Fang’s head when the dog bounded over to slobber on his robes.

Hagrid studied him for a moment. “Why don' yeh come over? I’ve got summat I wan' ter show yeh.”

Harry followed Hagrid towards his hut with Fang at his heels, and he soon found himself plied with tea while Hagrid rummaged through a pile on a shelf near the fireplace.

“Ah, ‘ere it is.”

Hagrid approached the table in two steps and set what appeared to be a dark red, leather-bound book in front of Harry.

“Go on, open it.”

Harry opened the book, and his breath caught in his chest when he saw the moving image of a man with black hair and glasses, arm wrapped around the shoulders of a woman with long, red hair. They’d occasionally look away from the camera and stare at each other with adoring gazes.

My parents.

He stared up at Hagrid, speechless, and the man smiled back, a bit tentatively.

“Pr’fessor Snape told me yeh didn' have any photos o' your parents, an' I thought, well tha's a crime!”

Harry swallowed hard, smoothing his hand over the photo. He flipped the page and found what looked to be a wedding picture, with his mother in a flowing, white dress, and his father with a rose at his lapel. A dark-haired, laughing man was standing beside his father, and a small woman with a wide smile and tears in her eyes stood beside his mother, holding her hand.

Harry’s mouth trembled a bit as he turned the pages. There was one with his mother cradling a newborn, gazing down with an enraptured expression on her face. Another with his father, holding the baby above his head, a joyful smile on his face.

“Thought at firs' I’d give it ter yeh at Christmas, but then I figured, why wait?”

Harry looked up at Hagrid, opening his mouth, but he couldn’t seem to form any words. How could a simple thank you be enough to express what this meant? Hagrid understood, though.

Harry carried around the album for the rest of the day, and it was still safely tucked in his bag when he made his way to Snape’s quarters. He sat on the opposite side of Snape’s desk and pulled out his Defense textbook to work on the latest essay they’d been assigned.

“I understand that you’ve shown yourself to be quite adept at Defense Against the Dark Arts,” Snape said, glancing up from the parchment he was scribbling on.

Harry blinked. “Who said that?”

“Do you think me incapable of simply… knowing?” Snape smirked a bit, and Harry huffed a laugh.

“I wouldn’t presume otherwise.” Harry’s smile faded a little. “But we didn’t even do anything today. Just lecture.” Not to mention that he hadn’t been able to absorb anything with the way his head had been throbbing. 

Snape jotted out what was undoubtedly a scathing evaluation of some poor student’s ability to form a coherent sentence.

“And I’m no good at Transfiguration,” Harry said, scowling. 

Snape looked up. “Your marks seem to indicate otherwise.”

“It takes me so long to get the spells right.”

“You cannot expect every discipline to come easily to you.”

“But-”

Snape shut him up with a stern look. “It says nothing of your intellectual ability if some classes require you to expend more effort than others.” He shifted the stack of parchment on his desk. “You have proven yourself to be an intelligent and capable young wizard, and your current line of thought will only hinder your further improvement.”

Harry let out a long breath, his face heating a little. It was hard to believe it, sometimes, when Snape said things like that. But the man was nothing if not straightforward in these matters.

“I bet you were good at all your classes,” said Harry, absently flipping the pages of his textbook.

Snape’s lips twitched. “Not all. I struggled quite a bit with Herbology and refused to take the class seriously as a result. A choice I very much regretted once I began pursuing my chosen profession, which is closely tied to Herbology.”

“Really? Why was it so hard for you?”

“I did not have the patience nor intuition to work with magical herbs and fungi. I preferred disciplines that produced predictable and visible results, and magical plants can be quite temperamental, especially when they sense discomfort in their handler. For the same reason, I did not excel at Ancient Runes, either, and did not sit for my NEWT in that subject.”

“What’s Ancient Ruins?”

Harry could vaguely recall reading something about it, though he didn’t have much of an idea of what it was beyond odd symbols.

Snape glanced up from his parchment. “It is the study of ancient runic scripts of magic, and is largely theoretical for all but the most proficient in the subject.”

“Why were you bad at it?”

The side of Snape’s mouth lifted in a wry smile. “For the same reason I disliked Herbology; I lacked the patience.”

They were quiet for a while after that. Harry finished his essay, and gnawed on the back of a quill as he read through a chapter in preparation for the upcoming Transfiguration lesson. It wasn’t as though he didn’t understand what he was reading; the theory was clear enough, if a bit long-winded, but it was so hard to put into practice. To push his intent, or whatever the hell it was, onto the object he was meant to be transfiguring. 

“Perhaps you’d like to chew on something resembling an ingestible?”

Harry glanced up at Snape’s dry tone, then accepted the plate of biscuits Snape had pushed onto his side of the desk. They were quite tasty, and somehow he’d managed to clear the plate without realizing it, only noticing when he reached for another biscuit and found it empty.

“Have you been eating?”

Harry jerked his head up, the sharpness of the man’s voice setting him on edge. “Yes! I ate breakfast and…” Damn it. He’d skipped lunch. He hadn’t done it on purpose; he’d gone outside to clear his head, and then went to Hagrid’s and was distracted by the photographs. 

“I… I missed lunch,” Harry mumbled, eyeing Snape carefully. “I forgot about it.”

He tried not to quail at the man’s narrow-eyed look. “That cannot continue, Harry. You heard Madam Pomfrey’s orders quite plainly.”

Harry kicked the leg of the desk. Ugh. He wasn’t a baby. He jumped slightly at a sudden popping noise, and a plate of sandwiches, along with a goblet of water, appeared on the desk in front of him.

What’s wrong with you? Why are you getting annoyed at him trying to feed you? The Dursleys spent a decade trying not to feed you. Stop being ungrateful.

“Thank you,” Harry said hoarsely, reaching for a sandwich. He made short work of it, then drained the water, glancing up at Snape when he was done. 

“Would you like anything else?” the man asked, eyeing the remaining sandwiches.

Harry shook his head, his face feeling a little warm. Snape did so many nice things for him, the least he could do was try to obey and eat when he was supposed to. And Hagrid had said that he’d put the album together because Snape had mentioned that Harry had no photos.

He paused for a moment, then reached into his bag at his feet to pull out the album. “Hagrid gave me this,” Harry said, pushing it towards Snape.

With a furrow of his brow, Snape opened it. “Ah,” he said softly. “I had mentioned that you were in need of photographs.

“Thank you,” Harry said in a quiet voice. “It- it’s… I never knew how they looked, not really.”

Snape lifted his eyes from the photos. “Your late aunt never…?”

Harry shook his head.

Snape let out a sigh, then reached over to squeeze Harry’s hand, which was resting slackened on the desk.

Harry left a short while later, walking at a leisurely pace, perhaps more slowly than he should have, considering the time, but what was the worst that could happen? He had his Invisibility Cloak stuffed in his pocket; he might as well take a detour. If he got back late he could take off the Cloak just to answer the riddle and then put it back on so no one would see him enter…

He found himself walking down the deserted corridor that led to the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, and his shoulders tensed as he drew closer. In anticipation of pain, he realized, because it always hurt when he went in there.

Harry paused outside the half-open door of the classroom when he heard an odd rattling sound emanating from within. Curiosity overtaking his urge to get as far away from the classroom as possible, he peeked inside. There was nothing he could see, at first, so he pulled the door open fully and stepped over the threshold.

“Out of bed, Mr. Potter?”

Harry flailed, stumbling backwards as Snape stalked towards him, robes billowing behind him as though he were walking against the wind.

Damn it, I really got him angry this time.

Harry hunched his shoulders as the man drew closer. “I-I’m sorry, sir, I didn’t mean to-”

“I do not want to hear your excuses.”

Harry snapped his mouth shut, and Snape stopped several paces away, staring at Harry with a flat expression on his face, lip curled in the faintest of sneers. “For just how long,” he began in a voice colder than Harry had heard from him since the day they’d met, “do you expect me to put up with your misbehavior?”

He stepped closer, and Harry’s feet may as well have been welded to the floor, and his lungs encased in metal. “With your incessant need for reassurance? For approval? For a parent?” The man’s sneer grew more pronounced. “You’re a fool, Potter, for ever believing you could possibly deserve such a presence in your life, least of all from me.”

He leaned over Harry, close enough that Harry could feel his sour breath heating his face.

Get away, go, run…

But he couldn’t. He couldn’t run, he couldn’t move, because it wouldn’t matter anyway, if Snape murdered him this time. What did he have left, really?

Please…

Snape raised an arm, poised to strike, and Harry cringed, wrapping his arms over his chest, waiting… because he’d known all along that it would come to this. 

“Riddikulus!”

Harry spun around to find Professor Sprout with her wand outstretched and a grim look on her face. He jerked his head back to see Snape gone, instead catching a brief glimpse of a ghostlike woman with an amused grin on her face before she faded away.

He turned back to Professor Spout, who smiled kindly, and a little too knowingly for his taste. “Are you all right? You’ve had a bit of a shock.”

Harry just stared at her, still feeling frozen, and she approached, then, reaching over to take his hand, which he realized was trembling. The rest of him started shaking at that realization, light tremors that made his teeth chatter.

“Deep breaths, that’s a good lad...” Harry managed to get his breath back, grounded only by the calloused fingers gripping his hand. Nothing else was touching him, so that was good. The hand was warm and large, bigger than Aunt Petunia’s, and gentler too, not latching onto his hair or shoving him bodily into too-cold bathwater. She was calling him a good lad, which was a weird thing to say, though it certainly wasn’t the worst thing he’d ever been called.

“Why don’t you join me for a spot of tea?”

Harry was too startled to decline. A few wand waves later, he was sitting across from Professor Sprout at a table she’d conjured, nursing a steaming cup of tea.

“Oolong tea has always helped calm my nerves,” Sprout said, taking a sip. “Perhaps because I associate it with home.” She smiled. “It was the only tea my father could stand the scent of.”

Harry didn’t know how to respond, so he took a sip from his own cup, swallowing a little too quickly. It burned on the way down, but he didn’t mind. It was a decent enough distraction.

“Curious creatures, Boggarts,” said Professor Sprout. “I remember my first encounter.” Her eyes took on a faraway gleam. “I was very young, younger than yourself. I was raised on a farm, just my father and I.” She sipped her tea. “Boggarts favor dark, enclosed spaces, which are hard to come by on farms, but there was one that took residence in our toolshed.”

“I went to retrieve something, I don’t recall what it was, and suddenly the shed was filled with a hoard of rabid bears attacking my favorite dog.”

She smiled reminiscently. “I’d heard stories of wild bears in those parts, and I had grown fearful of my beloved animals being attacked.”

Harry wasn’t sure what his fear would have been before Hogwarts, before he’d met Snape. Vernon? But he’d faced that fear so often it had become predictable. He’d just assumed it was going to happen, and it usually did. Was that still fear?

“Fear is an interesting phenomenon,” she remarked. “It comes in many forms.”

Interesting phenomenon? That’s the last way I’d think to describe it...

“Some fear events that have already occurred, others fear future possibilities. And many of those fears may indeed come to pass. Take myself, for example. When I am faced with a Boggart now, I witness the death of a loved one.”

Had the woman Harry had glimpsed been the person Professor Sprout loved? Why had she been smiling? From what Harry had read, the way to get rid of a Boggart was to make it funny. Perhaps that had been Professor Sprout’s way of defeating the boggart. Laughing in the face of death. 

“But what you witnessed, child, I can assure you that it will never happen. I’ve been around for a long time,” she smiled wryly, “and I know the look of a person who loves someone.”

Harry’s breath caught in his chest. “He- he doesn’t-”

“Perhaps he has not said it in so many words,” Professor Sprout interjected. “But I loosely quote a clergyman of several centuries past, who once wrote that, 'Their work and scope may be the real language of their hearts and actions, which speak much louder than words.' "

Harry raised his eyes to meet Professor Sprout’s gaze. For all that her eyes were steel-grey, they were very warm, but, more than that, they were honest. They held no guile, no secondary motives shimmering beneath the surface, waiting to pounce. 

“I do suggest you tell your Professor Snape what you’ve seen. I’m certain he can do much to reassure you…”

Harry shook his head rapidly. He couldn’t do that. He didn’t need Snape to know the dark thoughts that ran through his head, that this would all be snatched away from him as quickly as it had come. And, more than that, he didn’t want the man to know the doubts he still had, despite how much he’d done for him.

“Please don’t tell him,” Harry said in a small voice.

Professor Sprout smiled. “I would not. It is yours to tell, in your own time.”

She walked him to Ravenclaw Tower, chattering quietly with no expectation that he would respond. He fell asleep right away, drained, though his sleep was fractured by unpleasant dreams of Snape’s sneering face, Petunia’s disgust, Vernon’s rage... not quite of the intensity that would shake him from his slumber, but enough for him to awaken the next morning feeling as though he’d barely slept at all.

When he went down to Snape’s quarters for their next few evening meetings, he opened his mouth several times, only when the man wasn’t looking to see him do it, thinking maybe he could tell him what had happened, and that he’d tell Harry it wasn’t real, would never be real, that he didn’t really think Harry was disobedient, needy, desperate for a parent… But Harry couldn’t say it. He couldn’t say it, just in case the man didn’t answer right away. The brief pause he’d take before speaking would say it all, that Snape didn’t really want to deal with Harry but would do it anyway, because he was decent, because he’d promised.

So Harry kept quiet and worked on his essays, practiced his spells, and closed his eyes, just for a moment, when Snape touched his hand to adjust his grip on his wand or quill, when he’d squeeze Harry’s shoulder before he left for the night, when his eyes would crinkle in a smile he wouldn’t allow to show on his face. Harry closed his eyes, drank it in, and willed it to be enough.

Chapter Text

Harry jerked awake with a gasp, his heart thudding heavily in his chest.

Stupid nightmares.

He yanked open his curtains with unwarranted force and glanced at the wall clock. After three. Gritting his teeth, Harry slid out of bed and padded downstairs to the common room with his blanket wrapped around his shoulder and settled into what had become his favorite armchair next to the ever-burning fire.

What had prompted that particular nightmare? It hadn't been like the ones he still got sometimes, about Vernon and Petunia, knife fights and locked doors, or even the ones where Snape finally got rid of him and threw him at the mercy of Dumbledore, who Harry still didn’t quite know what to think about.

The dream had started off pleasant. He’d seen his mum, with her red hair and smile, but then her face had frozen over in fear at the sound of a high, cold laugh.

Was it because Halloween was tomorrow?

Harry clenched his jaw, wrapping his blanket more tightly around himself. He stared into the fire, the flicker of it creating dancing shadows across the silks that lined the walls. How was it already Halloween? Not that he had any particular memories associated with it; he’d always been shoved into his cupboard before Vernon and Petunia had taken Dudley out for trick-or-treating. Dudley had taunted Harry for weeks with his costumes and his sweets and all the fun he’d have, but Harry had never been jealous. The day had always felt weird to him.

The next thing Harry knew, he was awakened by the sound of voices and footsteps, and he opened his eyes to see sunlight streaming through the tall, arched windows.

Huh. At least he’d managed to sleep.

“Were you down here all night?” Harry jumped slightly when Su materialized right in front of him, then scoffed at his mental terminology. She hadn’t materialized, she’d just walked over, and Harry had been too out of it to notice.

He gave her a sheepish smile. “Bit of an accident, really.”

“I’ll wait for you if you want,” she said, her voice a little tentative. Perhaps that was why Harry found Su, of all his housemates, to be the easiest to talk to. She understood how overwhelming simple things like talking to people could be. And she never really expected him to know the right thing to say. Or to talk at all, which was why it was somehow easier to do.

“Thanks,” he said, getting to his feet and rolling his blanket under his arm. “I’ll be quick.”

Most of his roommates were gone by the time he arrived in his dorm, save for Michael, who always took a bit longer in the morning. 

“Hate Halloween,” Harry heard Michael grouse under his breath as he buttoned his shirt.

“Do you?” Harry couldn’t help but ask, fishing for his clothing.

Michael glanced over. “It’s just… stupid. My brothers used to drag me out at night to go collecting, and it was creepy. I could go buy sweets at the shops if I wanted to.”

Well, at least one other person was halfway sane around here.

Michael didn’t seem to be in any particular rush, so Harry was dressed and out the door before the other boy had put on his shoes, and he found Su waiting by the exit.

The day passed uneventfully, for the most part, other than the excited chatter about the upcoming Halloween feast and the telling scent of baking pumpkins wafting through the corridors. Anthony looked as though he’d been transported into heaven, but it only made Harry more determined to avoid the feast altogether.

Potions was a nice distraction from the incessant babbling about Halloween. Snape immediately put a stop to the chatter with a single, icy glare and set them to brewing the Sensory Enhancement Draft. It was more involved than any potion they’d previously attempted, with a number of finicky requirements, such as raising the heat by a single degree at a specific stage and then immediately lowering it, and adding the billywig wings one by one with exactly two seconds in between. Harry found it calming, but the majority of his classmates seemed to feel otherwise, muttering and groaning and frequently yelping at their partner to stop stirring so quickly or the classroom would probably explode, and what kind of bloody potion was this?

Harry was pretty sure Snape had deliberately arranged to assign this potion today just to mess with them. He was petty like that.

He snorted out loud, his shoulders shaking in the effort not to burst out laughing.

“What’s up with you?” Su asked, her lips quirking. He was partnered with her, as usual, and he definitely didn’t regret it. She still tended to freeze up whenever Snape approached, but the man had taken to prowling on the other side of the classroom as of late, and she was meticulous and organized to the degree that Harry could fully rely on her to carry her weight.

“I was just thinking that Snape probably arranged for everyone in the school to brew the most annoyingly complex potions today,” Harry said under his breath, carefully studying the slowly changing color of the smoke billowing out of their potion. They’d have to add the salamander blood when the color tinted purple.

Su snickered. “I’m sure you can confirm your suspicion with him yourself.”

Harry drew back slightly. How did she know Snape was his… his...

“Come on, Harry,” she said, rolling her eyes. “You really think I haven’t noticed?”

His face feeling hot, Harry reached for the vial of salamander blood and carefully added three drops. “Does everyone know?”

Su shrugged. “Don’t know.” She retrieved the silver stirring rod, because, of course, the salamander blood would cause the regular iron stirring rod to rust when interacting with billywig wings at this stage in the potion. “Why’s it such a big secret, anyway?”

Harry bit his lip. “It’s not. It’s just- it’s no one else’s business. And people ask stupid questions.”

They were quiet for a while after that as they focused carefully on the next stage of their potion. Su held her breath when Snape walked past them, though her hand remained steady when the man didn’t even glance their way.

“Why are you afraid of him?” Harry regretted the question as soon as it left his mouth. Why had he asked that? With the way Su’s shoulders tensed in response, it had been a very stupid thing to bring up. Hadn’t he just complained to her about people asking thoughtless questions?

She didn’t give an answer, and Harry didn’t press.

As soon as the final class of the day was over, Harry beelined for Ravenclaw Tower, figuring he’d take the opportunity to read the latest book he’d stolen from the restricted section in privacy. And he still had that manuscript to wade through, though the handwriting was so difficult to read that he’d put it off.

“Aren’t you coming, Harry?”

Damn it.

Harry lifted his head from the book and yanked back his curtains, straightening up from where he was slumped rather uncomfortably against the headboard of his bed to find Anthony bounding into the room, slightly out of breath.

“Su said you were probably brooding up here, and she said to tell you that-” Anthony affected a Scottish accent and a slightly higher voice that actually wasn’t a bad impression of Su. “If I can manage to drag myself down to the Great Hall full of annoying, squealing idiots, you can too.”

Damn you, Su.

Harry snorted despite himself, but he pressed his lips together to avoid smiling. “It’s not like I signed a contract,” he said. “I don’t want to go.”

Anthony’s smile faded. “You all right?” 

“I’m fine, really,” Harry replied with a forced grin to assuage Anthony’s concerns.

“But it’s the Halloween feast. There’s food. There’s pumpkin flavored food,” Anthony said as though it trumped all arguments.

“I know,” Harry said tiredly. “I’m just not one for parties.”

“Neither is half of Ravenclaw,” said Anthony, rolling his eyes. “But they’re all going.” He hopped onto one foot, teetering for a moment before setting his other foot back on the floor. 

“And I’m going,” he added as an afterthought. “And I don’t even celebrate Halloween.”

“Is there a Jewish Halloween?”

“Yeah.” Anthony grinned. “Purim, ‘cept it lasts all day and there’s alcohol involved.”

That sounded positively terrifying.

“I just need some quiet,” Harry said, trying hard to keep his voice calm. Anthony was only being nice; it wouldn’t be fair to snap at him.

Anthony sighed.

“Fine,” he acquiesced, “but if you’re still moping when I come back, me ‘n Padma will follow you around all week. You won’t be alone for a minute.” The glint in Anthony’s eyes was nothing short of evil.

“I’m fine, Anthony, just go, or all the pumpkins will be gone.”

Harry exhaled slowly when Anthony darted out of the room, horrified at the prospect of missing out on pumpkins. He did appreciate Anthony’s concern, he really did, and, quite frankly, Harry was still amazed at how many people seemed to notice if he was around.

But it was hard to care about that right now. Why did he feel so weird…?

Harry could have slapped himself when the obvious answer came to him. It was October thirty-first. The anniversary of his parents’ deaths. He couldn’t just go to the feast, shovel down heaps of food, and have fun with all the others, while on this very day, his parents had died for him. 

That explains the nightmare. That laugh… Was that Voldemort?

Harry shivered. Voldemort had murdered his mum, and his dad too, though he couldn’t remember that part at all. Voldemort had tried to murder him,  but failed for some reason, and now Harry was alive, and his parents were dead.

The most he could do was not celebrate, not feel happy, even if he couldn’t feel anything else.

Harry turned back to his book, but he found himself reading the same few sentences repeatedly as his mind continued to wander, so he slammed the book shut and abruptly rose from his bed.

He needed a change of scenery.

Harry walked down to the common room, which was empty aside from one upper-year boy who was scribbling on a piece of parchment. He glanced up briefly when Harry entered, but turned back to his work without acknowledgement. He exited Ravenclaw Tower and walked slowly down the corridor with no particular destination in mind.

What were my parents like? How different would my life have been if they hadn’t died? Would they have loved me if they never died, and raised me instead of the Dursleys?

The Dursleys had raised him, and they sure hadn’t loved him. It wasn’t as though they weren’t capable of it; they had obviously loved Dudley.

Had they, though?

Harry hadn’t forgotten about the time Dudley had confided in Harry his fear that he wouldn’t be loved if he was anything other than what his parents wanted him to be. Sure, Dudley had been given everything he’d asked for, and then some. He had been hugged and kissed freely, by Petunia, at least, and he’d never heard his parents utter a single negative thing to him.

But what if Dudley’s fears had basis? 

What if he had been more like Harry?

But he was their kid. Parents love their kids. I’m not really anyone’s kid.

He shoved the thought away. What was the point of thinking about it?

You’re a fool, Potter, for ever believing you could possibly deserve such a presence in your life, least of all from me.

Harry squeezed his eyes closed, willing his stupid brain to shut up for once. That hadn’t even been real, so why did he keep thinking about it?

A sudden crackling noise emerged from the loudspeaker, jerking Harry out of his thoughts. Or, rather, what passed for a loudspeaker in the wizarding world.

“There has been a report of a troll set loose in the dungeons. All students are to return to their dormitories at once, accompanied by a prefect.” There was another crackle, then a voice that sounded like Snape said, “Slytherin students, remain in the Great Hall until further notice.”

What kind of school was this?

Oddly indifferent to the potential danger of a rogue troll, Harry continued walking, though he quickened his stride towards the Great Hall in the vague hope that he’d meet the rest of his House along the way.

How could a troll get in? Did it come from the Forbidden Forest? Do trolls even live in the forest? Or did someone-

Harry’s thoughts were pierced by a sudden scream.

He froze.

The person, who Harry was reasonably certain was a girl, screamed again, the sound even louder and more terrified than before. He followed the sound as best he could, and soon found himself at the entrance of a girls’ lavatory. Without hesitating, he pulled open the door, peered inside, and his heart dropped.

Hermione was pressed against the wall, face deathly pale, and her mouth open in a silent scream, while an enormous troll lumbered around the room with a long, thick wooden club dangling from its huge, lumpy hand. Its skin was a dull grey, legs as bulky as tree trunks, and its head disproportionately small. The smell emanating from it was so awful Harry had to suppress the urge to gag.

He caught Hermione’s eye, and she shook her head frantically, mouthing, “Go, go!”

Harry didn’t move, his heart pounding so hard it hurt. It was then that the troll finally noticed Hermione. It stood motionless for a moment, then began to stomp towards her, the room shuddering with the force of its footsteps.

No.

Harry darted into the room, wand in hand, wishing desperately that he knew more magic. The troll seemed to sense Harry’s arrival and turned toward him, swinging its club clumsily. Harry dove out of the way, landing painfully in a pile of splintered wood. He jumped back up and ran toward Hermione, who grabbed his arm in a vice-like grip.

The troll gave a deafening roar.

Hermione gasped, pressing her hands over her ears, and Harry flinched so badly that he slammed his head into the wall behind him.

He was utterly at a loss.

This is the end. What are we supposed to do? How the bloody hell could this be allowed to happen in a school?

The troll lumbered toward them again, the club raised over its head. This time, Hermione was quicker. She grabbed Harry by the shoulders and shoved him towards the door, but she wasn’t quite fast enough to avoid the swing of the club, which slammed into her arm with a sickening crack.

She screamed in pain, dropping to the ground, her face screwing up in agony.

That was it.

Harry jumped up and grabbed the largest piece of wood he could find, chucking it in the direction of the troll’s head, but it seemed to have no other effect than to remind the troll of Harry’s presence. It swung its club towards Harry again, who threw himself out of the way.

“Incendio!” he yelled, and a flame shot out of his wand and made contact with the troll’s leg.

It howled in pain, but the flame didn’t stop it from stomping even closer to Harry, the club poised for attack. Apparently, trolls did not have very sensitive nerve endings.

“Flipendo!” “Bombarda!” “Locomotor Mortis!”

Harry tried every spell he could think of, but the troll seemed to brush them all off like flies. Lowering his wand, Harry stood pressed into the wall, frozen.

I’m going to die, We’re both going to die. I couldn’t save her. I couldn’t save myself this time.

Suddenly, for a reason Harry could not immediately determine, the troll was shoved back several feet.

He turned to see Hermione on her feet, swaying dangerously, her good arm stretched out in front of her and wand nowhere in sight.

His relief was short-lived, however, when the troll pulled itself up and stomped toward Hermione, who stumbled backwards onto the ground.

No. She’s not going to die for me.

A terrible sort of anger and fear rose up in Harry’s chest, so much so that he felt as though his rib cage would crack with the force of it. A rush of magic burst from him, sending the troll flying through the air and smacking its head into the wall. It landed on the floor, unmoving.

Harry’s knees gave out. 

“Is it dead?” Hermione asked thickly. Harry opened his mouth, but the answer became clear when the troll began to stir, then rightened itself and slowly got to its feet.

Harry fumbled for his wand, but he could barely lift himself into a sitting position with how exhausted he was, and Hermione seemed no better. She was clutching her broken arm against her chest, her face ashen and absolutely hopeless.

They were going to die.

Then, the door opened, and a sudden pair of footsteps approached from behind them. “Wingardium Leviosa!”

The club levitated out of the troll’s hand to land on top of its head with a loud crunch. The troll collapsed to the ground once more.

What the hell…

Harry managed to shift himself around to see Ron Weasley standing by the doorway with his wand outstretched, his face white beneath his freckles, looking vaguely ill.

“Ron?” Hermione croaked.

Ron opened his mouth, then snapped it shut and darted out of the way when a hoard of teachers, namely, McGonagall, Sprout, Flitwick, Quirrell, and Snape rushed into the room.

“Nice of them to show up now,” Hermione muttered, the sarcasm somewhat lost in the way her voice cracked.

Harry laughed silently, more at the insanity of the situation than at her comment.

He looked up quickly when a shadow swept over him. Snape.

The man knelt down and gripped Harry’s chin in his hands. Harry just stared, unable to speak. He blinked several times, then relaxed minutely and allowed Snape to lift him off the ground.

Everything went dark.

***

Harry awoke in a darkened room on an unfamiliar bed. He pushed himself up onto his elbows, blinking the sleep out of his eyes as he strained to figure out where he was. Tall windows, rows of narrow beds… the hospital wing.

He fumbled for his glasses, finding them on the bedside table, and nearly knocked over a water glass in the process when he grabbed hold of them. The room came into full focus, and it was then that he noticed Hermione asleep on the bed next to him, and Ron Weasley sitting on a chair beside her.

“What…”

Ron straightened up, turning to face Harry, his eyes wide and owlish in the moonlight pouring in from the windows.

“Are you, er… feeling okay?” Ron asked in a low voice.

Harry jerked his head in a semblance of a nod. “Is she okay? It hurt his throat a bit to talk, and a sip from the water glass helped a bit.

“Think so,” Ron whispered. He stared at Hermione for a moment with a pained look on his face.

Harry took another sip of water, then set the glass down, licking his lips. “That was, er… that was clever, what you did with the troll. Thought we were done for.”

Surprisingly, Ron flinched at that. “It… it was my fault you were in there in the first place.”

Harry raised his eyebrows. “What do you mean?”

Ron grimaced, his eyes darting to his lap. “I said some… things… that upset her, and I heard the girls saying she was crying in the bathroom.” He chewed his lip. “When the troll got in, I realized she’d probably still be in there, and that… that it was because of me.” He glanced back towards Hermione. “I was- I was just really annoyed with her. I never wanted her to get hurt.”

Harry shifted uncomfortably, reaching for his water glass for something to hold on to.

“What time is it?” Harry blurted.

Ron glanced at his watch. “Half-three.”

“You’ve been here all this time?” It must have been early evening when he and Hermione had been brought in.

Ron nodded. “Pomfrey tried to kick me out, but I didn’t… I didn’t want Hermione to wake up alone…” Ron ended in a mumble. “Dumbledore asked her to let me stay.”

“Dumbledore was here?”

“He was when I got here, but he left right after.”

Where was he when the troll got in?

“What’s going on with Snape, anyway?” Ron asked. “He’s been prowling in and out for hours, just to stand next to your bed and stare, looking like he wanted to murder someone. And I think he was yelling at Dumbledore at one point, but they were using some sort of silencing charm so I couldn't hear.”

“Really?” How close to death had Harry been, anyway?

Ron nodded. “Dunno what he has to do with any of this.”

Harry glanced away. “He.. er- he… looks after me.”

Ron looked surprised. “Really? I suppose he must like Ravenclaws a bit better than us, seeing as you’re the smart House.” He furrowed his brow. “Though he doesn’t seem to like Hermione any better than the rest of us, and she’s bloody brilliant.” 

Harry’s lips twitched. “He doesn’t like much of anyone.”

Ron snorted. “Seems that way.” He tilted his head back against the top of his chair, letting out a long sigh. “Ten galleons says my mum will send me a Howler tomorrow.”

“What’s a Howler?”

Ron lifted his head, frowning. “It’s a letter that screams in your face and then burns up.” He brightened a little. “Fred and George thought it was wicked, though, what I did to the troll. Worth it.”

“Why would your mum be angry?” Harry asked, confused.

“‘Cause I could have died, obviously.”

Oh... 

Now that Harry thought about it, Snape was probably furious with him. But, as Ron had said, it was worth it.

“It was pretty wicked,” Harry said, decidedly disregarding the memory of how terrified he’d been, how Hermione had screamed in pain… It had all turned out fine, hadn’t it? No reason to ruminate on it.

Ron smiled tentatively, and Harry returned it, feeling as though something had settled between them. 

He supposed there were some things you just couldn’t share without liking each other, and facing down a great ugly troll had to be at least in the top ten.

Chapter Text

“What. Were. You. Thinking?"

Harry and Hermione had been released from the hospital wing earlier that day, after far too long, in Harry’s opinion. There had been no real reason to keep them there; Madam Pomfrey had fixed Hermione’s arm in half a minute, and nothing had been particularly wrong with Harry, he’d just, according to Snape, “exhausted himself to the point of unconsciousness, you imbecilic child”, and all he’d needed was a bit of Bruise Balm and Pepperup Potion. Nonetheless, Madam Pomfrey had insisted on keeping them there for observation in case one of them lost their marbles, or something like that. One glance at Snape’s stony expression kept Harry from arguing, although Hermione had muttered under her breath all morning about the classes she was missing. 

Harry was now in Snape’s quarters, being hounded for his “utter idiocy.” He’d almost have preferred to stay in the hospital wing.

What was he thinking, Snape asked? 

Well, obviously, I was thinking I didn’t want Hermione to die. Is that so bloody hard to understand?

“To begin, why were you not at the feast?” Snape asked in a slightly more modulated tone, though the tightness of his jaw belied the fact that he was moments away from shouting.

Harry picked at the skin around his nails.

“My parents died on Halloween,” he said, his eyes briefly darting upward. “It felt wrong.”

Snape visibly deflated.

“It is so difficult to chastise you, however much it is deserved, when you say such things,” he said tiredly.

Harry shrugged. He didn’t deserve sympathy.

“I didn’t even feel anything,” he said flatly. “I figured I at least owed it to them not to enjoy myself.”

There was a heavy moment of silence.

Snape inhaled, as though he meant to say something and thought better of it. He studied Harry for a long, uncomfortable moment before speaking again. “So, you chose not to attend the feast, which is understandable, though I do wish…”

He paused.

“However,” he continued sharply, his features tightening. “Once you heard the announcement over the loudspeaker, why did you not immediately head towards your dormitory?”

Harry looked away.

“Harry…” Snape said in a warning tone.

“I had to help Hermione. I heard her scream, I couldn’t just leave her.”

“And you did not think to summon a faculty member?”

“It would have been too late!”

“Perhaps so, but you realize that the odds dictated that you and Miss Granger both would have died.” Snape’s face tightened. “You are extremely lucky.”

Harry let out a breath. “I know, but I had to-”

“You did not have to, you chose to.”

“I did have to, at least if I-” Harry broke off, looking away.

“Yes?”

“I just didn’t want another person I cared about to die.”

Silence.

More silence.

Is he going to say anything?

Snape finally heaved a breath. “Did it not occur to you how close I came to losing someone I care about?”

Harry froze, the blood draining from his face. He stared at his hands, his chest tightening inexplicably. Then, to his horror, his eyes began to water.

“For just how long do you expect me to put up with your misbehavior? With your incessant need for reassurance? For approval? For a parent?”

Harry squeezed his eyes shut. It had just been a stupid Boggart; it hadn’t been real, it had just been his messed up brain making his life more difficult than it had to be.

“What you witnessed, child, I can assure you that it will never happen. I’ve been around for a long time, and I know the look of a person who loves someone.”

But that wasn’t true either, it wasn’t. Sprout had just said that to reassure him. And even if she’d believed what she was saying, that didn’t make it true. Didn’t make it real.

“Harry. Look at me.”

Harry shook his head, keeping his face down and his eyes shut tight. His hands trembled lightly, and the awful tightening of his chest only worsened.

“Look. At. Me.”

Harry shook his head again, more frantically. He couldn’t bear it.

He doesn’t care. Not the way I want him to. I’m not his… 

Harry’s chest started heaving, and the trembling in his limbs grew more pronounced. Before he’d fully realized it, he was on his feet and sprinting for the door.

Snape let him go.

***

Rumors of the troll incident abounded, though few of them came close to the truth. The stories ranged from the troll having been a hoax to keep the students out of the way for the professors to throw their annual disco rave to there having been an army of magical creatures stampeding through the dungeons, each more ludicrous than the last. Harry wasn’t sure what Hermione and Ron had said about the incident, but he certainly wasn’t going to say anything.

He managed to avoid his curious housemates so far, most of whom had noticed his conspicuous absence. Since they only had morning classes on Fridays, which he’d missed while in the hospital wing, he had the weekend to avoid company. It was easy enough to disappear under his Invisibility Cloak and slip outside to read under the shade of a tree.

He had to emerge for food eventually, though (Madam Pomfrey’s threats ringing in his ears), and his luck ran out when he was dragged off by Anthony and Su the moment he swallowed his last bite at dinner.

“Well? Spill it.”

Harry glared at both of them, rather irritated at being cornered against a wall in the courtyard.

Su just raised her eyebrows, and Anthony tilted back on his heels.

Harry folded his arms. He wasn’t entirely sure why he was so reluctant to tell them. Maybe it was just the principle of things at this point.

Anthony was the first to break the silence. “Just tell us, Harry! Please please please?” He stared at Harry imploringly with wide eyes, made even wider by the convex lenses of his glasses, and Su let out an undignified snort.

Harry groaned, thumping his head against the stone wall behind him. “Fine. You’re never going to shut up otherwise, are you?”

Anthony gave a toothy grin. “Nope.”

Their jaws steadily dropped as Harry outlined what had happened.

“You are absolutely mental.

Harry narrowed his eyes at Su. “I didn’t know the troll was in there, I just heard screaming. What was I supposed to do?”

“Get a teacher, maybe?” Anthony felt the need to interject.

“You sound just like Snape.”

Anthony fluffed his cloak so that it billowed out behind him. “Well, Potter, if you possessed a modicum of sense, it might have crossed your minuscule mind-”

“Shut up, ” Harry cut in, laughing.

The air was rapidly growing colder as the sun set, so they ambled their way back to Ravenclaw Tower to escape the chill. When they reached the entrance, Anthony jumped forward to rap the knocker against the door.

“Name a vibration grown in woods, which magic can only amplify, yet not produce, for it begs the hand of a living being.”

They were all silent for several moments.

A vibration magic couldn’t produce? Seeing that spells drew from the magical energy of a human, didn’t all magic require a human touch? Unless the eagle meant a physical touch, which magic didn’t always need. Did all magic even need a person involved at all? Did magic ever just emerge from the ground, or the atmosphere? Grown in woods…

“Music.”

The door opened at Su’s voice.

Huh. I wouldn’t have thought of that answer.

Harry spent the rest of the evening trying to read five different books and barely making headway on any of them. Eventually, his roommates made their way into the room, and Harry put away his books in favor of sampling the rather large selection of Halloween sweets Michael had received from home and tossed around the room like confetti, muttering about his crazy brothers, both of whom had already graduated Hogwarts. It was a pleasant enough way to end the day, even if the sugar made it rather difficult to fall asleep. When he finally did, his brain produced one of the strangest dreams he'd had in a long time, in which he found himself engaged in a conversation with a troll. It wasn't a bad sort, really, and lamented its difficulties in finding companionship in the forest. Perhaps there was something to the oft proclaimed adage of not having too many sweets before bed.

***

The next morning, Sunday, Snape caught Harry by the arm as he made to slip out of the Great Hall after breakfast.

Harry didn’t resist; he didn’t even try to yank his arm out of the grip Snape had on it. He was soon seated across from the man in his office, clutching the edges of the chair in his fists.

“Did you assume that our unfinished conversation had slipped my mind?” Snape asked in an even tone.

“No,” Harry muttered, staring at a scratch mark on the desk.

“Well, it heartens me to hear that your perception of character has not been compromised.”

Harry looked up with a scowl. Did Snape think he’d been concussed?

Snape raised an eyebrow. “You were upset by a comment I made, and I would like you to tell me why.”

He’d said that so abruptly that Harry stared, utterly caught off guard.

“I will not speak around the topic any longer, Harry,” Snape said with a sigh. “Answer the question.”

Harry’s jaw tightened. “What happened to your perception of character, sir? Don’t you already know?”

Harry knew he was crossing a line with his rudeness, but oddly, Snape seemed almost amused by his comment.

“Oh, I am quite certain that I do,” Snape replied. “I simply wonder if you do yourself.”

“I’m not an idiot,” Harry snapped, narrowing his eyes.

“I did not say that.”

“May as well have-”

“No,” the man said sharply. “You are far from an idiot. You simply have no concept of what it means to be cared for.”

Harry cringed, crossing his arms over his chest.

“I stated that I care for you, and you fled.”

“I-” Harry broke off, unsure of what he’d meant to say.

“Tell me why.”

Harry stared at his lap.

“Tell me, or you will sit here for the remainder of the day until you do.”

Harry looked up, eyes blazing. “Why?” he all but shouted.

Snape looked unperturbed.

“Why do I insist that you answer, or why do I care for you?”

That question gave Harry pause.

“I dunno,” he whispered, his eyes darting back and forth in avoidance of the man's eyes.

“Why do you care about your friend Miss Granger? So much so that you would risk your life for her?”

“I- because I like her,” Harry responded, confused at the turn of the conversation. “She’s nice to me, she doesn’t think that I- she’s- I just, I just do.”

“It is inconceivable that someone might feel the same way towards you?”

Harry couldn’t pull away from Snape’s gaze if he tried. The man leaned forward so his face was inches away from Harry’s.

“Harry. I care more for you than any other student in this school," he said harshly. "Rather, more than any other child on this cursed earth.

Harry squeezed his eyes shut, actually pressing his hands over his ears.

“Stop! Stop saying that! Please, I can’t-”

Snape pulled Harry’s hands away from his ears, and he opened his eyes reflexively.

“You can’t do what?” Snape asked, his face far too close for comfort.

“I can’t listen to you say it,” Harry said in a hoarse whisper. “So just stop.”

Snape’s face was calm. “Why can’t you?”

Harry dropped his eyes, pulling his head back. “Because you’ll leave.” He hadn’t meant to say that, but the words seemed to emerge of their own accord.

“I will not.

Harry shook his head frantically in denial. Snape stood suddenly and walked around to the other side of the desk, reaching over to cup Harry’s face in his hands. Harry was frozen, caught in the man’s magnetic gaze, like dark tunnels he could get lost in, except that they were warm, and felt inexplicably safe.

“You will understand, Harry,” Snape said quietly. “I will make it my business to ensure that you do.”

Harry’s throat felt closed off, his chest so tight he couldn’t draw a full breath.

“Is. That. Clear?”

Harry just blinked, his face still caught in the man’s hands. Snape stared at him for one moment longer, then released him.

“You may go if you wish.”

Harry exhaled, then rose from his seat shakily, holding onto the armrests in case his knees buckled. He looked up at the man once more, struggling to find the words to explain what he was feeling.

“I’m sorry,” he said in a faint whisper.

I’m sorry I can’t say anything more… I’m sorry I can’t say it back… I’m sorry I’m so ungrateful…

Snape gave a short nod, and Harry turned to go, but just as he reached the door, Snape spoke once more.

“Harry?”

He turned his head.

“Detention with me for the rest of the week for your utterly foolish stunt.”

Harry’s mouth dropped open in consternation.

Snape raised his eyebrows.

“Yes, sir.”

Strangely, Harry felt more like himself after that exchange.

***

“Mr. Goldstein-”

Harry jerked his head up from the pair of shoes he was attempting to transfigure. Was McGonagall about to give Anthony detention again? Hadn’t she ever heard that the definition of insanity was attempting the same thing over and expecting a different result? How many detentions had she given Anthony? How many of them had helped him? Zero.

Before she could even finish her sentence, Anthony slumped over in his seat with his head down, setting his wand on his desk and folding his arms. McGonagall studied him for a moment, a brief flash of… something… crossing her face before she sighed and walked away. Well, that was an improvement. Still, couldn’t she do anything to help?

Harry didn’t realize he was glaring at her until his wand, clutched tightly in his fist, began smoking. He forced himself to loosen his grip, swiveling the handle between his fingers. Transfiguration was challenging enough when he was in a calm state of mind; he’d learned that an unwavering focus and ability to fully visualize the projected end result of the transfiguration was crucial for success, though why the textbook hadn’t come out and said that was a mystery to him. He always did better when practicing on his own, outside of class, when there were fewer distractions.

It was no wonder Anthony struggled so much, considering how jumpy and easily distracted he tended to be. Why was no one helping him?

At the end of class, Harry hovered by the doorway, briefly considering asking Anthony if he wanted to join him outside. But Anthony seemed to have brushed off the incident, his face bright and cheerful once more, and he walked off with Padma to go do whatever it was that people who actually liked people did.

Harry shrugged, making his way outside on his own. He’d found a usually deserted area near the Quidditch Pitch that was surrounded by trees, which was the perfect place for him to practice spells undisturbed. 

He pointed his wand at a thin, low-hanging tree branch. “Diffindo.”

The branch split in half and fell into a pile of dry leaves. Perfect. It was technically a second-year spell, but as far as Harry knew there was no rule against it. He slipped his wand back into his pocket and made the leaves float into the air, the colors swirling together in the wind. It was spells like this that didn’t seem to need a wand, less precise spells, unlike the unlocking charm or color-change charm, and anything involving Transfiguration. For now, at least. Maybe one day he’d be able to do it all without a wand…

Harry took a long, fortifying breath, then approached the tree and jumped up to catch the nearest branch, swinging onto it and scrambling up until he was near the top. He could see a Quidditch practice session from there; Gryffindor, by the color of the robes. He leaned back until he was lying lengthwise on the thick branch, and he couldn’t help smiling a little. It felt a little like home, up here, and he was far enough from the ground below to leave some of his less pleasant thoughts behind.

***

“This is your detention, Harry, not recreation. Do focus on your task.”

Harry’s lips turned down into a frown as he grabbed onto the next handful of frog brains in the large pile that needed squeezing. It was only his third detention, but it felt as though his entire life revolved around his detentions at seven o’clock each evening, for which he was expected in the Potions classroom, no exceptions.

Only two more after this, Harry tried to console himself. He scowled. He wanted out now.

But then, the memory of Snape’s stark white face flashed across his mind to remind him that he'd nearly given the man a heart attack. But what had he been expected to do? Leave Hermione to die?

“Harry,” Snape snapped from his desk without looking up. “Don’t make me tell you again.”

“Yes, sir,” Harry muttered, getting back to it. The man sighed, though Harry wasn’t sure what he’d done this time to annoy him.

Harry tried to focus on his assigned task, which was more tedious than difficult, and he did manage to reach a point where his hands moved on autopilot. But that only gave him more opportunity to think.

This is so stupid. All the professors are stupid for thinking detentions will solve anything. Sure, give Anthony detention for being Anthony, that’ll fix things. Give Neville detentions for being bad at potions, that will make him better. And why should I get in trouble? Am I supposed to regret not letting Hermione die?

“You just love handing out detentions, don’t you?”

“I beg your pardon?” Snape’s tone of voice indicated that he was doing anything but begging, and if Harry had any sense, he’d stop talking immediately.

Harry almost regretted opening his mouth; he hadn’t even planned it. Yet, almost being the operative word, he wasn’t interested in backtracking. He tossed his latest handful of frog brains on the table, perversely satisfied that some of them bounced onto the floor, and glared at Snape.

“What’s the point of this?” Harry snapped. “Are you expecting me to be sorry?”

Snape’s eyes narrowed. “I am expecting you to put a modicum of thought into your actions and their consequences.”

“I did think about the consequences!” Harry exclaimed. “The consequence was Hermione dying!”

Snape pressed his palms onto his desk and pushed himself to a standing position. “The consequences could well have included you dying, you foolish child!”

Harry dropped his gaze, hating that those words were able to quell the anger in the face of something like guilt.

No. I don’t feel bad.

“Detentions don’t even make any sense,” he muttered, still unable to meet his guardian’s eyes. “And not just for me.”

“Not just for you,” Snape repeated, his lips tightening. A telling sign of the man’s growing irritation.

Harry raised his eyes. “It’s not Anthony’s fault that he’s so restless, why do you think detention is going to change that?”

Snape raised a hand to quiet him, but Harry ignored it.

“And how is Neville supposed to get any better at potions with you breathing down his neck-”

“Enough!”

Harry clenched his jaw, glaring mutinously.

“I do not need an eleven-year-old schoolboy to dictate to me how to manage my classroom.” Snape didn’t shout, but his tone was so cold it felt dangerous. “Now, you will return to your task and be grateful I am not assigning you another week’s worth of detentions for your disrespect.” He sat down. “As it is, you have extended this evening’s detention for an additional hour.”

Harry kept his mouth firmly shut for the remainder of his detention. He hated having to acknowledge the fact that he’d gotten off easy for the things he’d said; any other student would have probably been threatened with expulsion. Still, letting go of the anger would feel like giving in. And he wasn’t going to give in. Not when he knew the truth. That Snape wouldn’t always be so forgiving.

***

The following day, Harry left the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom for the library, accompanied by Hermione and Su. The two conversed quietly while Harry trailed slightly behind them. The pain in his forehead was slowly receding, though the throb was still steady enough to be distracting. So distracting that he failed to notice Malfoy approaching until he was inches away, blocking their path.

“And I was thinking you couldn’t possibly sink any lower, Potter, yet here you are, associating with mudblood scum.”

What’s a mudblood?

Hermione seemed similarly nonplussed, though it certainly hadn’t gone over her head that she’d been insulted. Su, however, stiffened, her face darkening with anger.

She stepped forward, ignoring Malfoy’s bodyguards, and whipped out her wand to point it at Malfoy’s face.

“Say it again,” she said in a tone colder than Harry had ever heard. “Say it again, and I’ll make sure it’s the last thing you ever say.”

Malfoy looked momentarily alarmed, but he forced a smirk on his face and stepped back a few feet. “I can’t say I’m surprised that you have a stake in this, Li, what with your mother debasing herself to marry a filthy Muggle and producing you -” 

Hermione grabbed onto Su’s wand arm and shoved it down just as she inhaled, undoubtedly prepared to hex Malfoy into oblivion. “Don’t, Su, you’ll get into trouble.”

Malfoy folded his arms, smirking. “That’s right, Li, you wouldn’t want to get in trouble.”

Hermione pulled Su along by the arm, but Harry’s feet felt rooted in place, his fists clenched so tightly his nails were digging painfully into his palms. Malfoy met his eyes, then, and he had an odd expression on his face. Cautious, as though he were waiting for Harry to do something.

And, oh, how he wanted to. His fury was thrumming just beneath the surface, ready to make its way out of him, wand be damned. But he had to control it, he had to. But judging by the way Malfoy was staring at him, wide-eyed, and backing away slowly, the magic was somehow making its way free, and he had to calm down before he exploded-

Malfoy turned tail and ran, and the furious magic ebbed away, leaving Harry standing alone in the corridor.

Chapter Text

Apparently, the word mudblood was a slur used against people who had non-magical parents. Like Hermione, who sought knowledge with a burning intensity that was almost tangible, firmly believing that she would change the world someday. Like Harry’s housemate, Morag MacDougal, who shared his preference for pencils over quills and loved Muggle science fiction — she’d even lent Harry her copy of Lord of the Rings, which he’d started years ago but had never been able to finish on account of Dudley trying to flush it down the toilet and blaming Harry when the toilet flooded. Like Justin Finch-Fletchley in Hufflepuff, who was a real decent sort and had worked so hard in flying lessons even though he disliked heights. And Su’s father, a Muggle, who sent her favorite chocolates every week and always made her smile with his letters. 

Like his mother.

His mother, who had thrown herself in the way of a Killing Curse to protect him, to make sure he lived. Who was probably the reason why he’d survived the Killing Curse, though he could not begin to imagine how. 

And Malfoy was calling them dirt.

A sudden shattering sound jerked Harry out of his thoughts, and he realized that he’d inadvertently shattered the teacup he was supposed to be transfiguring. Biting back a groan, he fixed it with a quick Reparo. He wasn’t nearly focused enough to deal with Transfiguration today.

At least it was Friday. He had his final detention with Snape after dinner, but then he’d have two glorious days of freedom from classes and professors and people telling him what to do.

Harry managed to make a passable effort at reshaping the handle of his teacup, and they were soon dismissed.

Detention was not fun. The air in the room was decidedly frosty; Snape had been in a sour mood all week, snapping at everyone in the classroom for trivial mistakes, and Harry thought he’d glimpsed him walking with a bit of a limp. He wasn’t going to ask, though, disinclined to provoke the man even more than he already had, and they hadn’t really resolved their argument from earlier in the week…

Harry reached for the next cauldron he’d been assigned to scrub (without magic, though he was tempted to try out the Scouring Charm. It was a fourth-year spell, sure, but it seemed quite useful to have on hand), nearly knocking it over when Snape rose from his seat and limped over to one of the bookshelves, the anti-summoning spells in the classroom requiring him to do so. “Bloody Cerberus,” the man growled under his breath. 

Cerberus? Three-headed dog? Or is that supposed to be some sort of wizard swear?

Harry lowered his head and resumed scrubbing, chewing on his lower lip. 

When Snape dismissed him, Harry was oddly reluctant to leave. Why was that? He’d been waiting all week for his stupid detentions to end, and now that they had, he found himself lingering by the doorway, glancing intermittently at Snape, who was hunched over a stack of parchment, his shoulders stiff and lines tight around his mouth.

Is he angry with me?

Harry opened his mouth, but he couldn’t seem to form any words. He couldn’t bring himself to walk through the door, either, and he was stuck in some sort of limbo where he couldn’t figure out what he was supposed to do next.

“Is there something you need?”

Harry flinched a little. Snape didn’t sound angry, or even annoyed, but how was he supposed to answer that question? He didn’t have any idea what he needed. Harry swallowed, shaking his head, then left the room without meeting the man’s eyes.

***

Harry spent most of Saturday hiding out in the library. He just didn’t feel like talking, and that was most easily avoided by sequestering himself in a quiet corner with his nose in a book about catastrophic self-transfiguration mishaps. He may have skipped lunch, but it’s not like Snape would even notice, as preoccupied as he’d seemed lately.

It was mid-afternoon by the time he started feeling restless, so he returned his book to its shelf and wandered out of the library and along the corridor that would eventually lead him to the entrance hall. Maybe he’d go outside. It would be nice to fly… would he be able to get ahold of a school broom? He couldn’t go and ask Snape for his broom, not now...

“Watch where you’re going, Potter!”

Harry jerked his head up at Malfoy’s voice, biting back a growl of frustration.

“I didn’t even touch you,” he snapped. It was more likely that Malfoy had stepped directly in his path just to start something. Interestingly, the boy was alone.

Malfoy pointed his nose in the air, though if he was aiming for haughty, he wasn’t quite managing it. “Poor breeding is what it is,” he said with a sniff. “Can’t even be bothered to lift your head when walking. Skulking around like the street rat you are.”

Again with the street rat?

Harry rolled his eyes and tried to push past Malfoy, but the boy’s next words stopped him in his tracks. 

“I suppose bad blood just can’t be compensated for.”

Harry stared at him, his shoulders rising and pulling in close to his neck. “What the hell are you implying?” Years of Vernon and Petunia commenting on Harry’s parentage and appearance, Aunt Marge comparing Harry to the dogs she’d put down. Bad blood will out-

Malfoy smirked. “I’m implying that your mother was a filthy mudblood who’s better off-”

Harry wasn’t quite sure what happened next, but Malfoy was clutching his jaw and squealing like a stuck pig, and Harry’s knuckles were throbbing. A fist was flying towards his face-

It hurts to get hit but he doesn’t care, because now he can fight back. His attacker can’t lock him away and refuse him meals and isn’t many times his size, but is just a kid like him.

Malfoy fumbled for his wand (the boy fumbles in his pocket, pulls out a penknife and slices it wildly through the air) but it slipped from his fingers when Harry brought down his forearm in a slicing motion to land on Malfoy’s wrist. He took the opportunity to hook his ankle around Malfoy to try to knock him over, and they both tumbled to the floor.

And then they were rolling on the ground, throwing wild punches without knowing nor caring where they landed. Harry coughed, nearly gagging when Malfoy managed to land a glancing blow against his throat (Harry lets out a bitten-off scream when the blade slices through the skin over his collarbone) but he got his breath back and wrestled Malfoy to the floor and managed to regain the upper hand, pushing the other boy down onto his back by his shoulders. Malfoy snarled, struggling against the grip, raking his nails against Harry’s forearms (blood is dripping down from his collarbone and soaking his shirt, but Harry barely feels it. A strange sort of focus takes hold of him, and he fights for all he’s worth, until the other boy is panting on the ground and Harry stands over him, clutching the penknife in his sweaty, blood-soaked hand. The boy’s eyes widen with fear; it’s the first time he looks anything but angry and vengeful, and he’s expecting Harry to finish him off. But Harry isn’t angry anymore. The boy on the ground is no longer a threat, but another desperate, frightened person, and the only difference between them is who holds the knife)

Harry suddenly felt himself being yanked backwards by the scruff of his neck, and Malfoy struggled into a sitting position, snarling and spitting and yelling a bunch of meaningless words.

“Fighting in the corridor, eh?” Harry struggled fruitlessly against the grip on his collar, turning his head as best he could to find Filch looking positively gleeful. “Detention for the rest of term, I’d say, if not suspension...”

The corridor was no longer empty; a number of students seemed to have approached while he’d been fighting, though Harry didn’t know if they’d come because they heard the shouts or if they were coming this way anyway.

“Pity they let the old punishments die out… perhaps they’ll let me bring out the whips this time…”

Harry flailed, pulling so hard against the grip that he nearly choked with the pressure of his shirt collar pressing into his windpipe.

Let me go let me go let me go

Filch was going to kill him. Vernon wasn’t going to hold back this time, he was going to crush Harry beneath his enormous shoe until he was too broken to put himself back together-

“I will take it from here.”

Harry froze at the sound, relaxing in spite of himself at the familiar cadence of it, and twisted around, the grip on his collar gone, to see Snape standing inches away with an unreadable expression on his face.

“But I-”

“I said I will take it from here.” Snape glared ferociously at Filch until the man broke eye contact and ambled away, muttering to himself, with Mrs. Norris at his heels.

Malfoy struggled to his feet, wincing and groaning, and he limped closer to Snape. It was clear he was exaggerating the limp; he couldn’t even manage to keep it consistent. “Potter attacked me!” he exclaimed. “He should be expelled! He could have killed me!”

Harry didn’t bother to protest, and he couldn’t help flinching when Snape’s hand latched onto his upper arm and pulled him to his feet.

“Mr. Potter, you are coming with me,” he said, too calmly, though his face hardened when Malfoy sniggered.

“I’ll deal with you later.” 

Well, that shut Malfoy up.

Harry said nothing as Snape led him down the corridor and towards the dungeons. His feet seemed to move of their own accord, and he as though he were somehow hovering above himself like a ghost, watching the events as they unfolded.

Soon, he was standing in front of Snape’s desk, and he snapped back to himself quite suddenly, along with a rush of anger and fear. 

“Well?” Snape finally snapped.

Harry clenched his jaw. “Well, what?”

Snape’s lips thinned. “Watch your tone.”

You watch your tone,” Harry snapped back, and he was gratified by the way Snape’s face paled with anger. Good. Let him be angry. Let him feel a fraction of the fury that was rapidly building up in Harry’s chest to the point that the books on the shelf behind Snape’s desk were knocking against each other.

He still stumbled back when Snape slammed his palms on the desk. “Do not speak to me that way!”

“Why shouldn’t I?” Harry said furiously. “It doesn’t bloody matter what I say, does it?” Snape’s eyes were narrowed, his lips nearly white, but Harry was too far gone to stop. “What does it matter to you that Malfoy’s the one who’s always coming after me? He started everything. But you don’t care, do you? Because Draco bloody Malfoy can do whatever he wants. He can shove me around and break my glasses and-”

“Mr. Malfoy broke your glasses?”

Harry’s rage was momentarily stymied by the question, but not for long. “Like you care,” he snarled. “Malfoy can get away with anything, he can destroy people’s property and throw around slurs, but the moment I throw a punch, I’m the one who gets in trouble!”

“Mr. Malfoy with be dealt with-”

“Sure. He’ll get a pat on the back and a warning not to make a scene.” Harry swallowed hard. “Well, I don’t care what you do. Yell at me, put me in detention for the rest of my life, lock me up, hit me.” He stared at Snape, his lips stretching into a mockery of a smile. “Not like it’s anything I’m not used to. I’m the perfect scapegoat. The orphan kid that no one cares about.”

Snape stared back at him, but, oddly, he didn’t look nearly as furious as he had earlier. He was too calm, too controlled, and Harry hated it.

So much so, that the bookshelf right behind Snape began shaking dangerously, and the man just managed to jump out of the way before it toppled over onto his desk with a deafening crash.

He met Harry’s eyes again, angry once more. "Control yourself, Mr. Potter!”

“No!” Harry screamed, the words tearing their way through his throat. Several of the jars on the shelves lining the walls exploded. “I won’t. I’m done controlling myself. I’ve been controlling myself my whole bloody life!”

He stomped over to Snape, so close he was nearly touching, and shoved the man forward with his hands. Or tried to, as Snape barely swayed, and just stared down at Harry with an infuriating blank gaze.

Harry swung out his fist, his knuckles making impact with Snape’s upper arm. “What’s it going to take to make you hit me, huh?” He threw another wild punch, and then another, and he flailed when Snape deftly caught both of Harry’s wrists in his much larger hands.

Harry stared at Snape in disbelief. The man didn’t even look angry; he was just staring down at Harry with a contemplative expression on his face.

“What’s it going to take?” Harry yelled, pulling fruitlessly at the tight grip Snape had on his wrists. “You won’t even hit me back!”

Snape was silent for a while, long enough for the overwhelming fury to begin to fade away, making way for the realization of what Harry had just done. 

“What do you believe I see when I look at you?” Snape asked, in a voice so soft it seemed eerie. "A fully grown man of equal stature, whom I would not hesitate to retaliate against with the full force of my strength?"

Harry stared at him, his wrists limp within Snape’s grip.

“I see a child,” the man said without waiting for an answer. “I see a child who is angry and has ample reason to be. I see a child who is frightened, because years of mistreatment have taught him to be. I see a child who should know better than to physically provoke a man more than twice his size, yet I am also heartened to see a child who provoked me knowing, deep down, that I would not truly hurt him.”

Snape went quiet, then, still holding Harry’s wrists, staring down at him with an expression that was hard to read, but not angry. Not furious like he should have been, not even gripping him tightly enough to hurt.

The man suddenly released one of Harry’s wrists to pull out his wand, and Harry couldn’t help cringing, but he simply waved it over the room to restore the bookshelf and its contents, and to vanish the shattered jars and vials that littered the floor. Snape released Harry’s other wrist, which fell limply to his side, and stepped back a few paces.

Harry stood still for several moments, breathing very carefully. 

What the bloody hell just happened?

What on earth had possessed him to provoke Snape to such a degree, to physically attack the man, practically begging him to hit back?

There’s something certifiably wrong with me.

He was off his rocker; that had to be it.

Harry registered a growing ache in his shoulders, which were clenched so tightly it was like they were made of stone, but he didn’t loosen them to relieve the pain, he didn’t deserve for it to go away, because he was horrible, he was awful and stupid and couldn’t get anything right, and right now Snape was probably rethinking his decision to take Harry on as his… his pseudo-child, who would never be anyone’s real child, because he didn’t bloody deserve it.

Harry started when a wet droplet fell to his collar, and he realized he was crying. Tears were streaming steadily from his eyes and dripping down his cheeks, his vision growing blurry, and he reached under his glasses to swipe the tears away. He pressed his lips together, inhaling through his nose, yet he couldn’t stop a sob from escaping, and suddenly he was shaking and sobbing and he couldn’t keep it quiet. He cried so hard his chest hurt, his throat hurt, everything hurt, everything was wrong and wouldn’t ever be right.

Then rapid footsteps were approaching, and hands were sliding beneath his shoulders to pull him close.

His sobs grew more forceful when Snape’s hands began to smooth over his back and through his hair. “I’m sorry,” he forced out through his tears. “I’m sorry I’m sorry-”

“Shh.” Snape’s hand was gentle on the back of Harry’s head, and he fell quiet, his shoulders trembling and tears streaking down his face against Snape’s robes.

Finally, Harry’s sobs faded into hiccups, and Snape released him. He tried to ignore the weird feeling of loss that came with it, but then the man took his hand, leading him into the familiar living quarters and to the sink, where Snape let go of his hand and pried his glasses off his face. “Wash up and come sit down.” 

Harry turned on the tap and squeezed out some of the lavender soap that was always on hand. He scrubbed his face vigorously, washing away the evidence of… whatever had just happened. A soft washcloth seemed to appear out of nowhere, which Harry grabbed onto to rub his face dry, then set it down on the counter and moved over to the couch, sitting beside Snape without meeting his eyes. He took the glass of water that the man handed to him and quaffed it, only realizing then how dry his throat was. Snape refilled it with a quiet Aguamenti, and Harry drank the second glass more slowly, swishing it through his mouth to clear away the unpleasant taste his bout of crying had left behind.

Snape pressed Harry’s glasses into his hand, and he shoved them onto his face, blinking as the room came into full focus.

“Tea?” Snape asked mildly. 

He’s offering me tea after… after what I just…

He stared at the man, incredulous. “I don’t deserve-”

“You deserve everything,” Snape said forcefully, leaning in so close that his nose practically touched Harry’s. “No matter what you do, you will always deserve care. And I will say it until my dying breath; I will not hurt you, no matter how hard you push me.”

Harry bit his lip hard, staring at the empty glass in his hand. His hand had been stomped on by Dudley once, and another time it had been crushed by the door of his cupboard. On both occasions his hand had healed overnight. More than once, Vernon had backhanded him hard enough to send blood spurting out of his nose, and several times he’d been shoved face-first against walls, doors, floors… Slapped. Kicked. Thrown. And he’d healed on his own, most times, like a character in one of Dudley’s video games that reset to perfect condition at the start of each round. What did it matter how much it had hurt all of those times? He’d never stayed hurt. Why did it still hurt him, deep inside, in a way that felt different than the pain of a slap or a kick? And why was he trying so hard to get hit again? Because it would hurt less than the fear of it? The memory of it? Yet, his guardian still wouldn’t do it. He didn’t even want to do it. Even though Harry kept annoying him, and provoking him, and making his life difficult...

“You never asked for this,” Harry muttered, swiveling the glass between his palms.

Snape huffed irritably and plucked the glass out of Harry’s hand, startling him into looking up. “Have you forgotten that I quite literally asked for your consent to become your guardian?”

“But you didn’t sign up for-”

Snape put his hands on the sides of Harry’s face and turned him to meet his eyes, not letting go even when Harry flinched in surprise. “I did. I took you on with the full knowledge of what you’d been through, and how your trauma might manifest.” Harry’s eyes darted away, and he pulled back from Snape’s grip. Trauma. The word was big. Heavy. And he knew what it meant for him; that he’d been damaged, perhaps beyond repair.

“I wanted to do it, Harry, and I have never stopped wanting it. Not once.”

Harry stared back at him, searching, testing for any display of insincerity, any uncertainty, but he found none.

“I took you on, and you are mine. Nothing you do will compel me to let you go, so, I beg you not to waste your efforts on so fruitless an endeavor.”

Harry felt so tired, suddenly, as though every last bit of energy had drained away with the man’s words, along with the residual anxiety and anger that had been raging beneath the surface. He shifted closer to Severus, just slightly, and dropped his head onto the man’s shoulder. Severus rested a hand on the side of Harry’s head to hold him more securely. And Harry breathed. 

Chapter Text

The first thing Harry noticed when he awoke was the distinctive scent of ink. He blinked his eyes open, and the room came into a blurry sort of focus. Where were his glasses?

The surface beneath his head shifted slightly, and Harry straightened up, squinting confusedly, to realize his head had been resting on Severus’ shoulder, who was sitting right beside him, writing on a long piece of parchment that hovered in the air as though it were set upon an invisible desk. Severus set down his quill and turned towards Harry, reaching over to slide Harry’s glasses onto his face.

“H-how long was I asleep?” Harry asked, his voice a bit slurred.

“Just under two hours,” Severus said in a low voice. “It’s near dinnertime.”

Harry’s face heated. He’d fallen asleep on Snape, after nearly blowing up the man’s office and throwing punches? For two hours? And the man hadn’t even moved him; he’d just stayed there the whole time instead of shoving Harry off like he should have.

“Sorry,” Harry muttered, hunching his shoulders.

“I can’t imagine what for,” Severus said in a dry tone, banishing the quill and parchment to his desk. “The cardinal sin of falling asleep?”

Harry huffed a laugh, relaxing in spite of himself.

“Would you like to have dinner here, or in the Great Hall?”

Harry bit his lip. He had little interest in leaving this small, quiet space and attempting to shovel down food he barely had the stomach for while surrounded by hundreds of chattering students. But he’d taken up so much of the man’s time already…

“You’ll eat down here,” Snape said, his tone brooking no argument.

Harry nodded at his lap.

Soon, they were seated at the small, round table, laid out with food sent in from the kitchens. Harry couldn’t bring himself to eat much; he mostly shifted his food around his place with his fork, occasionally lifting it to take a half-hearted bite.

“I would appreciate,” Snape began quietly, “if you would delineate for me what exactly has occurred between yourself and Mr. Malfoy.”

Harry set down his fork, appetite gone. “Why do you want to know?”

Severus gave Harry a sharp look. “Do you expect me to disbelieve your version of events?”

Harry took a gulp of water to avoid answering the question.

“Harry,” Severus said, sighing. “I am quite adept at detecting if I am being lied to. And I am not blind to precisely who Mr. Malfoy is.”

“No one ever believes me,” Harry said, nearly inaudibly.

“I will.”

Would he? 

He believed me about the Dursleys. No one else ever has…

Not that Harry had tried to tell many people. There had been a time in early primary when a teacher had asked him about the bruises on his arms, which he’d received from Vernon grabbing him too hard, and, like an idiot, Harry had told the truth. That had only landed him more bruises when Vernon found out. Petunia had yanked him by the hair and hissed in his face that he should be grateful for the roof over his head, and how dare he run around telling tales…

Snape won’t do that. 

But being hit wasn’t what he was afraid of right now. It was the look the man would give him when he didn’t believe what Harry said, or thought he was exaggerating.

I don’t care what he thinks…

But he did. He really, really did.

Harry met the man’s eyes.

“I don’t know what Malfoy’s problem is with me,” he said, the words emerging with a long exhale. Once he’d started talking, it felt as though he’d been waiting for the moment to let it all out, and even if he wasn’t believed, it would be worth it just to say it aloud. “There was that time we met in Knockturn Alley, when he didn’t know who I was and thought that I was- that I was homeless.” Harry took another gulp of water. “Then he found me on the train when he realized who I was, and- and insulted Hermione and Neville.”

Harry chanced a glance at Snape, who seemed to dislike Gryffindors on principle and had given Neville so many detentions. The man’s face was calm, though.

“He was pissed that I told him to go away, and then he kept coming at me, shoving me, calling me a street rat, and- and calling my friends mudbloods-”

Snape inhaled sharply at that.

“And he just pulled my glasses off my face and stepped on them. I don’t even know why.” Harry clenched his jaw. “I didn’t start anything! I didn’t want anything to do with him  but he wouldn’t leave me alone.”

Snape inclined his head. “And what led to your recent bout of fisticuffs?”

Harry stared at his plate. “He insulted my mother,” he mumbled.

“Pardon?”

Lifting his head, Harry set his jaw, glaring. “He insulted my mother, okay?” He bunched his fists on his lap. “And I’m not sorry I hit him; I don’t care how many detentions I get!”

Snape’s face was infuriatingly unreadable, but he didn’t seem angry. Harry would have almost preferred that he was, just to give him an excuse to yell some more.

“He has a mother, and mine is dead.” Harry clenched his jaw to stop his lips from trembling. “He has everything, and somehow he still thinks he deserves more. That he has a right to use my dead parents as- as-”

Harry snapped his mouth shut, slamming his water glass onto the table and glaring at it as though his eyes could make it shatter.

“Mr. Malfoy will never again instigate trouble without consequence.”

Harry looked up, chewing his lip. “He’s going to say that I started everything, and- and…” he trailed off when Snape lifted his hand to silence him.

“I have no reason to disbelieve your version of events.” His lips tightened. “And I will most certainly be taking Mr. Malfoy to task for damaging your glasses, as well as his abominable language.” 

Harry hunched his shoulders, his eyes darting away. He’d believe that when he saw it.

“Am I going to get in trouble?”

Snape let out a breath. “Physical fighting cannot be overlooked, and your altercation was witnessed by a number of people, so you will both serve detention.”

Harry grimaced, but he didn’t argue. 

“I will arrange for Professor Flitwick to oversee your detention.”

Harry’s eyes shot up. “Why not you?”

Severus closed his eyes for a moment. “I find myself unable to address this situation with an appropriate degree of impartiality.”

Harry’s chest tightened. “Because you know Malfoy-”

“Because of you, you ridiculous boy,” Snape said sharply, his palms coming down flat on the table. “Because you are my child, and I fear that I will be unable to oversee both your and Mr. Malfoy’s detention without unfairly impressing upon Draco my… displeasure for his laying hands upon you.” Snape lifted his glass to take a sip, then set it carefully back upon the table. “You will therefore serve your detention with your Head of House, and Mr. Malfoy with Filch.”

A shocked breath forced its way out of Harry’s lungs. “That- that doesn’t seem so impartial,” he mumbled, staring at the table, unable to meet his guardian’s eyes after what he’d said. Calling Harry his child

Detention with Flitwick will be like an evening off compared to Filch.

“Ah, but my sense of morality only extends so far,” said Snape. He cleared his throat. “On that note, I believe I was… overzealous in my attempt to penalize you for the danger you found yourself in on Halloween.” He met Harry’s eyes, a rare hint of emotion showing on his face. “I was frightened, and my feelings expressed themselves in anger. You should not have served a week’s worth of detention for a situation that you did not deliberately place yourself in. It was far too much to expect you to flee, and to punish you for acting on instinct.”

Harry stared for so long his eyes stung. Severus was apologizing? 

“I assure you,” the man continued slowly. “Mr. Malfoy will be very reluctant to start trouble with you again after I am through with him.”

It was like the world had turned on its head. Harry was the one who was supposed to receive the harsher punishment. That was the way it had always been. It was all he’d ever known, and all he’d expected. But Snape was practically letting him off for throwing punches at Malfoy and at him. He’d even apologized. Flitwick was by far the most amicable professor at the school (even more so than Sprout, who, while very kind, allowed for no nonsense in her greenhouses), and Filch would be a nightmare…

“Is Filch er… is he really allowed to use the- the whip?” Harry asked in a near-whisper. As much as he wished Malfoy would disappear off the face of the planet, even he didn’t deserve that. Vernon hadn’t usually taken the time to swing a belt at Harry; he’d mostly slapped and kicked and tossed Harry around like a football, but the few times he had were burned into Harry’s memory, despite the fact that he’d never even broken skin. There’s been something so humiliating about it, how helpless it had made him feel, being pinned in place like that and forced to hold still and just take it. At least when he’d been thrown around he could make some sort of attempt at defending himself.

“No, Harry.”

Harry jerked his head up, drawing in a breath that made him feel lightheaded. Snape’s face was even paler than usual, his jaw tight and hands clenched in fists on the table.

“Corporal punishment was abolished by Professor Dumbledore when he became headmaster, some thirty years ago.”

Harry’s shoulders loosened slightly. “So before you were at Hogwarts?”

Snape inclined his head. “Harry-” he paused, his mouth contorting slightly. “Such forms of discipline will never be inflicted upon you, or any other student. Were anyone to even attempt it, the end of my wand would be the last thing they’d ever see.”

They continued their meal in silence, and Harry managed to make a decent effort at clearing his plate, chewing on autopilot while his mind raced in an attempt to wrap itself around the idea that he wasn’t in trouble. That Severus wasn’t angry with him, and wasn’t punishing him. He was letting Harry get away with misbehavior that, back with the Dursleys, would have landed him… Harry shoved away the thought. The hardest thing to grasp, however, wasn’t the fact of having escaped punishment, it was that… that he’d come first. Before Malfoy, before the school rules, before the expectations of appropriate behavior that did not include attacking one’s guardian with their fists. Apparently, Severus had let all of that slide, and just listened, and tried to make things better. Severus had stated, more than once, that Harry was his first priority, but Harry hadn’t quite believed it. But now, with the evidence staring him in the face, how could he not?

Harry spent a while after dinner working on his Transfiguration essay. He hadn’t brought his books with him, but Severus gave him a copy of A Beginner’s Guide to Transfiguration, as well as a quill and parchment.

“Return here tomorrow evening after your detention with Professor Flitwick,” Severus said as Harry rolled up his parchment and made for the door.

Harry glanced back anxiously. “Why?” 

“So that I can ascertain your continued good health.”

A smile snuck its way across Harry’s face. 

***

“Did you really break Malfoy’s nose?”

Harry rolled his eyes at Anthony, who’d spun around in his chair, having mastered the Softening Charm a good half-hour ago.

“Don’t believe everything you hear,” Su interjected before Harry could respond. “He obviously turned Malfoy into the toad he is and stepped on him.”

“My god, ” Harry groaned, punching his fist down onto the spongy surface of what had previously been a brick before he’d cast the spell. “Why does everybody know about this?”

Su smirked. “Don’t question the rumor mill.” She flicked her wand to send her spongy brick flying into Anthony’s face, who let out an indignant squawk and somehow managed to bounce it off of Harry’s head without even lifting his wand. 

Harry rolled his eyes again, then flicked his wand at Su’s desk, which promptly gave way under the weight of her books and collapsed in a pile of spongy wood and metal. Su turned Harry’s hair green, and Anthony laughed so hard his glasses fell off. Flitwick studiously ignored them, though he soon assigned them hunks of metal to work with to “keep them occupied”.

“Mr. Potter, please stay behind a moment,” Flitwick said after he dismissed them. Harry stiffened, waiting for the classroom to clear out before approaching the professor’s desk. Flitwick was sitting on a chair with extremely long legs, so his face was level with Harry’s

“You’ve been assigned detention with me this evening.”

“Yes, sir,” Harry muttered, eyes on the floor, though he lifted them when Flitwick cleared his throat. The man smiled encouragingly, which was strange, considering that Harry was in trouble. 

“I’ll see you back here at seven, after you’ve had your dinner.”

“Yes, sir,” Harry said again.

“Before you go…” Harry stopped in his path to the door and turned around to see Flitwick with an amused smile on his face. “Perhaps you’d like your hair set to rights?”

Harry’s face heated; he’d forgotten that his hair was still green.

“A simple finite incantatem should do the trick.”

Harry pointed his wand at his hair, tongue caught between his teeth, and muttered the incantation.

“Excellent!”

Harry couldn’t see his hair, but he’d take Flitwick’s word for it.

Harry left and made his reluctant way towards the History of Magic classroom. Honestly, though, it wasn’t like anyone would know if he skipped the class.

History of Magic could probably be interesting if it weren’t taught by a ghost who died a million years ago. Why do we need to know about goblin wars? Shouldn’t we know about wizard wars? And maybe the evolution of the wizarding community in Britain. That would be interesting to know… And what about communities in other countries? Shouldn’t we know about that?

Lost in thought, Harry failed to notice the foot of the suit of armor sticking out just far enough for him to trip over it and go tumbling to the ground, his bag popping open and his books scattering every which way. 

“Damn it,” Harry muttered. He shifted over carefully to the side, testing his limbs. His legs felt all right, so he pressed his hand to the floor to help push to his feet, then winced at the sudden, sharp pain in his wrist.

Just wonderful.

The moment was further improved when light, steady footsteps began to approach. Harry’s head shot up, and he flinched backwards, falling onto his elbows when he saw Blaise Zabini standing over him.

Harry fumbled for his wand, but the boy held out his palms in a gesture of peace.

“Need a hand?” Zabini reached out as though to help Harry to his feet. Harry stared at it as though it were a bomb about to go off.

The boy rolled his eyes. “Potter, seriously. If I wanted to curse you I’d have already done it.”

Harry scowled, ignoring Zabini’s hand, and managed to get to his feet under his own steam without putting pressure on his throbbing wrist. It probably wasn’t broken. Broken wrists hurt way worse than this.

He met Zabini’s eyes warily, and the boy stared steadily back.

“Listen, I…” Zabini swallowed, looking suddenly uncomfortable. “I wanted to… er…. I wanted to apologize. For what happened with Malfoy and everything.”

Harry stared, taken aback. “Why would you do that?”

Zabini averted his eyes, then. “That time when he broke your glasses, I only came with him because I was… because I was curious. About you. He kept saying he knew you. I didn’t know he would- he would do what he did.” Zabini clasped his hands in front of him, a red tinge rising on his cheeks. 

Harry studied him carefully, detecting no artifice in the boy’s words or demeanor. “Has your curiosity been sated, then?” he asked, defensive.

Zabini met his eyes again. “You’re just a regular person, aren’t you? You just want to live your life like the rest of us. And read books, probably, being a Ravenclaw and all.”

Harry glanced down at his scattered textbooks. And the three library books he’d taken out. And the new one he’d snuck from the restricted section. Zabini did have a point.

“Let me help you.” Without waiting for an answer, the boy knelt down to gather Harry’s books together. Harry got to his knees, but he wasn’t much help with one hand out of commission.

Once his books were safely stored in his bag, Zabini handed it over, then eyed Harry’s right hand, which hung limply at his side.”

“You should probably get to the hospital wing-” 

“I’m fine,” Harry muttered, hooking his bag over his shoulder. “Thanks for your help, I’ll just…” 

Zabini blocked his path. “Don’t be an idiot, that’s your wand arm.”

Harry glared, but he had to admit the boy wasn’t wrong. “Fine,” he said shortly. “I’ll get it taken care of.” He strode forward, but stopped in his tracks when Zabini matched his stride.

“Don’t you have somewhere to be?” Harry asked, annoyed. What was Zabini trying to do?

“I’m going with you. Unless you can cast with your left hand, you shouldn’t be wandering around alone like this.”

I really do need to learn to cast ambidextrously...

Harry rolled his eyes but made no further protestations, even when they reached the Hospital Wing and Zabini hung back instead of leaving. If the boy wanted to be late to whichever class he was supposed to be attending, who was Harry to argue?

Madam Pomfrey was treating him moments later, ranting under her breath about hazardous corridors and death traps. Once done with her ministrations, she paused to tilt up Harry’s face.

“You’re looking better,” she said briskly. “You’ve been eating well? No pain?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Harry mumbled, staring at his knees and feeling Zabini’s gaze pressing into the back of his head.

Mercifully, she ended her line of questioning. “Off you go, then.”

Harry hurried out of the hospital wing as quickly as he could, his face feeling hot. Zabini didn’t comment, thankfully, though he did glance at Harry thoughtfully as they made their way back.

Harry was beginning to feel a bit bad about how rude he’d been to Zabini. The boy had never actually done anything to him. And he’d only been trying to help.

“Thanks,” Harry said, glancing up without quite meeting the boy’s eye. It wasn’t hard; Zabini did have quite a few inches on him in height. Which was annoying, actually.

“See you around, then, Potter?”

“Sure. See you.”

Harry didn’t bother going to History of Magic; instead, he sequestered himself in a corner of the library and read about the witch who’d developed the Anti-Summoning Charm for wands. Madam Pince eyed him suspiciously as he passed, but, thankfully, the only school rules she seemed to care about were those that pertained to the proper care of library books.

He met his housemates in the Great Hall for lunch, none of whom seemed to have noticed his absence in History of Magic.

Except for Su, the prat. “Next time you skip class, take me with you,” she said under her breath. 

Harry let out a surprised chuckle. “Never knew you had it in you.”

Harry was tempted to skip Herbology too, decidedly uninterested in placing himself in the vicinity of Malfoy for any length of time, but he couldn’t afford to miss a double class. Surprisingly, though, Malfoy didn’t even glance his way. If anything, it seemed like the boy was deliberately avoiding meeting his eyes. 

A definite improvement.

***

Harry’s heart was thumping painfully in his chest as he stood outside the door of the Charms classroom. It wasn’t as though he were afraid of Professor Flitwick, but he hadn’t been in trouble with any teacher other than Snape, so how was he to know what Flitwick was like when he was angry?

Inhaling slowly, Harry pushed the door open and forced himself to enter the room. It was fine. He was fine.

“Right on time, Mr. Potter.”

Harry raised his eyes from the floor to see Flitwick seated at his desk with a stack of parchment set in front of him.

“Have a seat.” He pointed to one of the student desks in the front row.

Harry slid into the seat and sat at the very edge, unable to relax his shoulders.

Flitwick gave him a smile that seemed rather out of place, considering that he was in detention. “How has your week been treating you?”

Harry blinked rapidly. “Er… fine.” Odd question for a detention.

Flitwick inclined his head. “I am pleased to hear it. I, myself, have been having a splendid few days. During late fall of every third year, a most delightful fruit blooms in Northern Ireland, known as the Spanglefruit Blossom, and I have been indulging myself.”

Harry was nearly startled into laughing. A non-sequitur if there ever was one. He settled for nodding politely.

“Now, to business.”

Harry tensed again.

“I have found your essay writing to be quite excellent; well above average for your year level, so, as I’ve found the most effective detentions to be those that require students to engage in tasks both useful and educational, I would appreciate your assistance in grammar checking some essays for me.”

Harry’s jaw nearly dropped. Flitwick wanted him to grade essays? Why on earth did the man think Harry was qualified for that? He knew better than to argue, though, and he got to work reading through the stack of essays Flitwick had floated to his desk, with a well of red ink set at his side. It seemed that Flitwick had blurred out the names of the students to whom the essays belonged, and Harry amused himself trying to guess who the students were based on handwriting.

Some essays clearly had been written by students who had received extensive tutoring and calligraphy lessons, leaving Harry with nothing to correct (and not a little envious of the impeccable handwriting), though others were… less than stellar. One essay seemed to have more red ink than black by the time Harry was done correcting it, and he was just thankful that his own handwriting had improved enough to not completely embarrass himself.

The detention ended sooner than Harry would have expected, and he left the room feeling as though it had barely been a punishment. He headed down the hallway towards his dormitory, then turned on his heel when he remembered he was supposed to go to Severus’ quarters.

“Hospital wing, Harry?” Severus asked from his desk the moment Harry entered. Of course the man somehow knew about that, never mind that it had taken all of five minutes to get his wrist healed.

Harry dumped his bag on the floor. “Just a sprain.”

Severus raised his eyebrows. “And how did that happen?”

Harry sighed, dropping onto the seat on the other side of the desk. “I tripped. Over a suit of armour.” God, the man could be so overbearing. And there were lines of consternation around his eyes, though he couldn’t really fault anyone for this, could he? Not Harry, who hadn’t done anything wrong this time, and it wasn’t a person who’d hurt him.

Harry smiled slyly. “Do you want to go murder it? Take revenge on my behalf?”

Severus shook his head, exasperated. “Cheeky.” Harry could tell he was suppressing a smile, but, of course, the man couldn’t possibly let that be known.

“I am pleased to hear that you sought help of your own accord.”

“Well… it was my wand arm.” Harry wasn’t going to mention that Zabini had practically dragged him to the hospital wing.

“Your detention went well?”

Harry shrugged. “As well as detentions can go, I suppose. He had me help him grade essays.”

Severus snorted. “Although an excellent instructor of young children, Filius has abysmal disciplinary skills.”

“How awful,” Harry said, biting back a smirk.

Severus cuffed Harry on the back of the head, lightly enough that it was closer to a ruffle of his hair.

“Do your homework.”

Harry got to it.

Chapter Text

“He’s lying!”

Severus wanted to wring the fool boy’s neck, but he settled for clenching his fists under the desk. “Is he, now?”

Draco’s pale face was flushed, and he’s long since lost the composure he’d been trained in painstakingly by his parents. “Why do you believe him over me? You saw what he did, he could have taken my eye out!”

Severus raised one eyebrow deliberately. “And you consider yourself entirely blameless? A mere victim of circumstance?”

A mulish look came over the boy’s face. “I was defending myself against a rabid-” he snapped his mouth shut at the undoubtedly dangerous expression that crossed Severus’ face.

“I suggest you consider your next words very carefully,” Severus said in a near whisper, leaning over the desk so that Draco would not miss a word. “And should you continue to lie to me, your punishment will only increase in severity.”

Draco’s face reddened further, and he hunched back into his seat, folding his arms over his chest. “Is it because he’s the sainted Boy-Who-Lived? He’s not even in Slytherin, so why do you even care?”

“That,” Severus said through gritted teeth, “is none of your concern.” He took a long, fortifying breath. “I have heard all I need to. Both Mr. Potter and yourself participated equally in your… fistfight, so you will both serve detention. Mr. Filch will be expecting you tomorrow evening at seven in the trophy room.”

“That’s not fair!” Draco exclaimed. “Potter started it! He started everything-”

“He started everything, did he?” Severus cut in. “Did his glasses simply… crush themselves?”

Draco opened his mouth, then closed it, clearly having realized the futility of attempting to talk his way out of the blame for that particular misdeed. It only infuriated Severus further to see the boy’s non-verbal admission of guilt.

“What possessed your limited brain to purposefully damage another’s possession? A medically necessary possession required for daily functioning?”

“It’s just glasses,” Draco mumbled, his eyes darting away. “All it would have needed was a reparo-

“Are you truly so foolish as to believe that any and all objects can be repaired so easily?”

Draco swallowed hard, biting his lip. “I- I’ll pay for it, okay? My father-”

“I do not need your money, ” Severus hissed. The boy flinched, and Severus forced himself to breathe evenly, leaning back a few inches. “You will not approach Mr. Potter. You will not look at him, you will not so much as breathe in his direction, or you will find yourself serving another week’s worth of detentions in addition to the week you will already be serving with Mr. Filch, which will begin after your detention for fistfighting.”

Draco looked absolutely gobsmacked. “A- a week’s worth- you can’t, you can’t do that!”

“I believe you’ll find I can,” Severus said silkily. The rage was slowly fading in the face of a steadily building exhaustion. “Furthermore, if you are ever again caught using foul language-”

“What foul language?” Draco interjected loudly.

“You are most certainly aware of a term commonly used to deride muggleborns, which you have been using with some frequency.”

Draco stared. “But.. you’ve never cared before.”

“And that was a mistake.” Severus caught Draco’s eye, trapping him in his gaze. “You will refrain from continuing to use that word, or you will find yourself scrubbing cauldrons until it has vanished from your vocabulary.”

Finally, and mercifully so, Draco seemed to be at a loss for words.

“Dismissed.”

***

Winter had fallen upon the castle grounds in full force along with November. Harry shivered slightly as he and his friends walked towards the Quidditch Pitch, glad for the warm fabric of his cloak. The Ravenclaw stands were sparse, as most of their House wasn’t interested in attending the Gryffindor vs Slytherin game; he, Su, and Stephen were the only ones from their year bothering to go (Anthony had wrinkled his nose when invited, asserting that sitting in the stands was boring), and the Ravenclaw Quidditch team, as well as a few lone Quidditch enthusiasts, were the only others from their House.

“Over here!”

Harry turned to see someone waving at them from the Gryffindor stands; Ron, judging by the red hair.

They approached the crowded Gryffindor stands and squeezed into seats near the other first years. Harry flailed when Hermione unexpectedly threw her arms around him in a hug, but he patted her gingerly on the back and studiously ignored Su’s smirk.

The Slytherin stands were crowded as well, a sea of silver and green paraphernalia, and, to the left of them, Harry could see Severus sitting beside McGonagall in the teacher’s stands. McGonagall, rumored to be an avid Quidditch fan, was wearing a red and gold scarf, though Severus was in his customary black.

Madam Hooch blew her whistle, and the game began.

The players were very, very good. The Gryffindor Chasers were so in sync they may as well have been sharing the same brain, and the Beaters, Fred and George, probably did share a brain with how they always seemed to know where the other was at any given moment, and they swung their bats ferociously, never missing their targets. The Gryffindor seeker, a girl Harry didn’t know, flew higher than the rest, and seemed to be biding her time.

The Slytherin team was composed of only boys, all of them big and bulky save for their seeker, who was still considerably larger than the girl in Gryffindor. Odd, really, considering how little size seemed to matter in Quidditch, though perhaps the girth of the Slytherin Keeper helped block more of the goal posts… Their chasers seemed skilled as well, though not to the level of Gryffindor, from what Harry could tell.

“Aaaaaand, another score for Bell,” the commentator crowed. “First year on the team, but you’d never know it…”

The Gryffindor team was soon up by forty points, and the Slytherin team was growing aggressive. The Gryffindor Seeker nearly got knocked off her broom when Captain Marcus Flint barrelled into her, earning Gryffindor a penalty shot upon cries of outrage from the spectators and the commentator, Lee Jordan, whose commentating was unabashedly biased in favor of Gryffindor, though he was repeatedly yelled at by McGonagall to tone it down.

“Budge up there, move along.”

Harry turned his head to see Hagrid squeezing his way through the crowd.

“Good ter see yeh, Harry,” Hagrid said as he maneuvered his way into a seat. “Didn’ think mos’ Ravenclaws’d show up.”

“I’ve never seen a Quidditch match,” Harry replied, squinting at the Chaser who’d just caught the Quaffle.

Ron turned to stare incredulously at him. “You’ve never seen a…” he mouthed wordlessly, seemingly unable to comprehend the thought.

Harry rolled his eyes, though rather amused by Ron’s shock. “I grew up with Muggles, remember?”

“Oh, right…”

Hagrid reached over several people to pat Harry’s head. “Yer father was a fair player himself. Reckon you’ll be great too, when yer a bit older.”

Harry turned towards Hagrid. “Really? What position did he play?”

“Chaser, if I r’member right.”

“Slytherin scores!”

Well, that was a nice change of pace, though the Gryffindors didn’t seem to agree, most of them groaning loudly, with Lee Jordan leading the pack.

Slytherin gained some momentum after that, scoring several more times in quick succession. Keeper Oliver Wood looked like he was having a conniption, though he managed to block the next goal. Soon, they were nearly neck-in-neck, Gryffindor with eighty points and Slytherin with seventy, and, finally, it seemed that the Seekers were taking some action.

The Slytherin Seeker swooped towards the ground so rapidly that it looked as though he were going to crash, before he pulled up at the last minute. Had he seen the Snitch? It must have been gone by the time he reached the ground, because he zoomed back up in the air, narrowly avoiding a Bludger hit by one of the Weasley twins.

Slytherin scored another goal, met by moans by the Gryffindors, and, suddenly, Harry spotted a glint of gold fluttering just above Oliver Wood’s head. Neither of the Seekers seemed to have seen it, and it soon zipped away, though Harry was able to keep his eye on it. It had a really strange flight pattern, occasionally moving like a winged animal, and other times it seemed more mechanical, favoring short, robotic movements over the smoother, birdlike flight. Harry wasn’t sure how long he’d been watching the Snitch, incognizant of the rest of the game, when the Gryffindor Seeker managed to maneuver right between the Slytherin Beaters, a bludger missing her shoulder by a hair, and snatched the Snitch out of the path of the Quaffle soaring towards one of the hoops.

The Gryffindor stands exploded, and Harry nearly tumbled backwards out of his seat with the intensity of it. That had been an incredible catch, but he’d like to keep his limbs attached to his body, thank you very much.

Harry, Stephen, and Su managed to worm their way out of the cheering Gryffindor crowds and headed towards the castle, and the other two were soon in deep discussion about the finer points of the game, which Harry couldn’t contribute much to, especially since he’d been distracted by the Snitch for much of the time. Seeking did seem like the ideal position to play, despite the pressure to catch the Snitch at the right moment, and that it nearly always secured the team a win. It was a more independent position than the others, allowing the player to focus on their one goal rather than playing to the strengths of the rest of the team. Harry’s father had been a Chaser, but that didn’t mean he had to be. Or that he would be good at it. 

Harry was still ruminating over Seeking moves through dinner, and it occurred to him that he had yet to ask Severus for permission to use his broom. He could go right now and ask. Couldn’t he? The worst the man would do was say no, and he wouldn’t be angry at Harry for asking, otherwise he would have just left the broom at home…

Before Harry could lose his nerve, he set down his fork and made his way to the dungeons. He hadn’t seen Severus at dinner, so either the man had eaten earlier or taken dinner in his quarters. Or skipped dinner altogether, which would be pretty hypocritical of him, in Harry’s opinion.

Harry paused before knocking on the door to Severus’ office, his fist hovering in the air.

Stop being crazy. It’s normal to knock on a teacher’s office door even if they aren’t your guardian. And he wouldn’t… he wouldn’t get angry. He didn’t even get angry at me when I attacked him.

The door swung open at the touch of Harry’s knuckles, and he stepped through the doorway to find that Severus was indeed seated behind his desk, glancing up from his parchment at Harry’s entrance. The man gave Harry his sort of not-smile that meant he wasn’t displeased to see him, which emboldened Harry to draw closer and stand behind the chair in front of the desk, wrapping his arms around the back of it.

“Can I… er… c-can I have my broom?” At least he’d managed to get the words out, even if he sounded like an idiot.

Severus did smile then. “Inspired by today’s match?” His face soured the tiniest bit, likely at the thought of Slytherin’s defeat.

Harry grinned sheepishly. “I want to try Seeking moves.”

Severus closed his eyes for a moment. “Of course you’d be drawn to the most dangerous position in the game… one moment, I’ll fetch it for you.”

He returned with the broom a moment later, which Harry grabbed onto eagerly. “Thank you, si- Severus.”

The man eyed him for a moment. “Do refrain from causing yourself serious injury, if you will.”

Harry nodded and turned to go, but Severus caught him by the shoulder. “I mean it, Harry. If I find you have caused yourself a concussion, or worse, I may have to rethink allowing you to use a broom of this quality.”

Harry deflated slightly. “I’ll be careful, I promise.” Perhaps he’d have to refrain from attempting the stunt the Slytherin Seeker had done when he’d zoomed towards the ground and pulled up at the last moment. Another time.

The Quidditch Pitch was empty and dimly lit, the sun having set some time ago, and Harry wasted no time in taking off from the ground, emboldened by the relative privacy. Wow, he’d forgotten how smoothly his broom flew compared with the school brooms, how it responded to the merest hint of a touch or movement. He flipped upside down and tried flying backwards, decidedly disregarding the very Snape-like voice in his head telling him to fly upright like a respectable person. Respectability was boring, especially when, if he closed his eyes, he could almost believe he was flying unsupported, like the bird he’d once wanted to be.

***

There was something amiss with the Li girl. She was paired with Harry, as usual, and, just as she had done in all previous potions classes, she scarcely moved from her spot, glancing toward Severus frequently through wide, terrified eyes, then immediately looking away.

Severus was well-acquainted with the look of a child who was frightened of him. And not the expected fright of a new student in their first class with their fearsome Potions Master, though, admittedly, he had gone too far with the Longbottom boy. Harry had been right to criticise him on that front, loath as he was to fully acknowledge that fact aloud. As for the Goldstein boy, he’d have to rein in his temper and focus on correction over punishment. It was fortunate that Filius was well-equipped to handle the situation, even if it had taken prompting in the form of Severus’ casual comment. Considering Filius’ general demeanor, it was unsurprising that the man hadn’t noticed the issue on his own. Severus imagined that Filius had not been all that different from the Goldstein boy in his day; he often proclaimed that children learned best while active, and that expecting them to sit still and quietly was to temper their zest for learning. Of course, with disciplines such as Potions that would be a recipe for disaster. Would a modified version of the Adrenaline Draught do the Goldstein boy any good? Not Epinephrine, per se, but a mild central nervous system stimulant. He’d have to speak with Poppy...

Yet, with this girl, it was different. The fear was more visceral than even Harry’s had been when he’d first come into Severus’ care. He had made an effort to minimize his time spent hovering around her table, though he couldn’t leave the two to their own devices for any significant length of time. However talented they were for their age, they were still children, and prone to misjudgement.

He strode over to their table, decided. “Miss Li, see me after class,” he said as he glanced over their nearly-completed potion. For all her trembling, she and Harry had made a good effort (though Harry certainly could have done better had he not been distracted by his terrified classmate).

As predicted, she froze in place, staring at the desk, responding with a very slight nod. Harry’s brow was furrowed as he glanced back and forth between them.

Severus soon dismissed the class, though Harry was still standing with Li after the classroom had emptied out.

“Mr. Potter, you may go,” Severus said, and the girl shifted closer to Harry. Harry looked at Severus helplessly, and then back at the girl.

“Miss Li will be perfectly fine.”

Harry chewed his lip, shifting his feet for a moment, before nodding and making his way to the door. It swung closed behind him, although Severus had no doubt he was waiting outside for his friend.

It was quite astonishing that Harry possessed such a strong capacity for empathy, despite the horrifying circumstances of his childhood. Severus himself had reacted so very differently. He had lashed out, refusing to consider how his behavior might affect others, unable to comprehend pain beyond his own. Hating the world, hating himself… Harry, though, had not allowed his suffering to erode his own humanity. His ability to care, and his desire to do it.

Severus directed his attention upon the girl sitting stiffly on the chair facing his desk, whose eyes were focused firmly upon the folded hands on her lap. At first glance, she appeared perfectly still, but Severus detected a very faint but unmistakable trembling of her limbs.

“Miss Li,” Severus began, though he had not a single notion of what to say next.

The girl curled in on herself, clenching her fists so tightly she was surely digging cuts into her skin. She then whispered something so quietly that Severus strained to decipher what she’d said. “Please let me go.”

Severus’ stomach clenched. “I have no intention of harming you.”

The girl let out a sound that sounded like a scoff. She lifted her head slightly, though she did not meet his eyes. “I know what you are.”

Severus did not move nor allow even a minute shift in his facial expression.

How would she know of my past? Her mother told her, perhaps? There was no reason for her mother to have known… she was well before my time and not associated with the Order...

“You’re a Legilimens. I can tell. I can tell. I won’t- I won’t let you-”

Severus’ shoulders drew up in surprise. That was what she had been referring to? How would a child of her age be capable of detecting his ability? Most adults could not detect it… clearly, though, that was not the issue to focus on at present.

“Miss Li,” Severus said steadily. “You have no reason to be concerned.”

She didn’t look up.

“Do you fear that I may use such an ability against you?”

She did look up then, briefly, her eyes flashing at him before flitting away. “You’re all the same,” she said in a near-whisper. “You think- you think you have a right to people’s thoughts, that if- that if they can’t protect themselves, it’s their own fault…” Her voice faded away, along with her breath, and she was left gasping and trembling harder than she had before.

“Who has done such a thing to you?” Severus asked, ensuring that his voice emerged firmly enough that she might feel compelled to answer. Surprisingly, she did.

“My tutor,” she whispered, still refusing to meet his gaze. “He taught me reading and maths. For months, just because he could, he- he read my mind over and over again. Didn’t even pretend he had a reason for it.” She shuddered. “He’d- he’d look for per-personal things, private things-” She broke off.

Merlin above.

In his decade of teaching, Severus had not once come across a student who had been harmed in such a way. He had heard of similar cases, but to see a child trembling in front of him, having been abused so insidiously, was enough to provoke the near-homicidal rage that had fueled his days in service of the Dark Lord. Severus took care to maintain even breaths and a smooth expression, for his fury would do her no good.

“Were your parents made aware?”

She bit her lip. “At first he said he’d- he’d do it to my little brother if I told. I couldn’t let him…” The girl rolled back her shoulders and lifted her eyes, her gaze stopping at the bridge of Severus’ nose. “But my mother came home early once and- and saw him s-staring, and she figured it out, and- and fired him.”

There was little else the girl’s mother could have done. It would have been the man’s word against a child who would not have fully comprehended what had occurred, and Pensieve memories were not admissible in court, not without other sources of evidence… The justice system was woefully ill-equipped to handle crimes of Legilimency, considering their near-undetectable nature.

“I tr-tr-tried to learn Occlumency, but I- I couldn’t find books on it and no one could teach me-” 

“That can be rectified.”

The girl snapped her mouth shut, looking thunderstruck. As though the idea had never crossed her mind.

“There are several members of the faculty who are capable of instructing you in the rudiments of Occlumency, though you will not be able to engage in proper training until you are older.” It was highly risky to train a prepubescent child in more than the preliminary meditation methods in which Severus had instructed Harry, the brain still too elastic and underdeveloped to withstand the pressure of fighting off a Legilimens in practice. He would have to confirm that the girl’s parents had taken her for an examination by a mind healer…

“Who?” the girl asked, finally meeting his eyes.

“I, myself,” he said. “And there are female faculty members as well who can assist you.” The girl calmed a bit at that pronouncement, as predicted.

She nearly ran for the exit when he dismissed her, and the moment the door swung closed, Severus let out a long, tired sigh. At least the situation had been cleared up; he’d just have to speak with Minerva or Septima about mentoring the girl. And conduct an investigation into the Legilimens that had abused the girl. He could not be allowed to roam freely among the wizarding population; what if Harry were to run afoul of him? The Ministry could do little to ameliorate the situation. No, he would have to take it into his own hands. 

And speaking of taking things into his own hands, what was Albus thinking, allowing Quirrell to teach, not to mention storing the stone in a school full of children? There had been a dramatic shift in Quirrell’s demeanor since he’d returned from his ill-advised trip to Albania; he’d been a decent enough Muggle Studies instructor until that point. He may have been capable of continuing the subject, more so than teaching defensive magic to volatile children... For all his stuttering, the man seemed quite intent on stealing the stone, and had managed to lure a troll into the castle without notice. Did he imagine that stealing that infernal stone would restore him his faculties? Though Severus could not discount the rumors of the Dark Lord having fled to Albania after his defeat...

Somehow, Quirinius had managed to magically gain Occlumency skills overnight. Looking into his eyes was like staring at a stone wall. He’d have to find some other way to catch the man off guard, if only to get the barest hint of what he was playing at. Merlin knew the last time he’d tried, the man had just stuttered at him, twitching like a crazed kappa.

Of course, it was down to him to keep an eye on the situation, and get his leg mangled by Hagrid’s monster in the process, distracting him enough that he’d failed to notice that Harry was struggling, and being consistently bullied by the boy Severus had been wrangled into mentoring years ago, who had only grown more insufferable as Lucius and Narcissa insisted on catering to his every whim. There was hope for Draco yet, young as he was, but raising the boy into a contributing member of society could not be his responsibility. Not with Harry in the picture, who he’d already failed to keep a proper eye on and had practically forced into blowing up his office just to get him to pay attention. 

Severus pinched the bridge of his nose, fighting back a blossoming headache. He still had a stack of scribbles that passed for student essays to mark, and he had to fine-tune his latest article for the Potioneer’s Monthly. Not to mention maintain communication with Toussaint, the budding potioneer who had been developing his concept for automated dosages in medicinal potions. Though talented, the young man was just that; young, and inexperienced, and the later stages of the proposed formulation could turn lethally explosive if mishandled. He might have to personally supervise...

***

Su wasn’t talking, but Harry got the sense that the conversation she’d had with Snape hadn’t gone disastrously. He didn’t ask, despite his curiosity. If she wanted him to know, she’d tell him.

“I think I’ll grab a nap before dinner,” Su said, dragging her feet a little as they made their way out of the dungeons. “Sorry. I know we agreed to work on Transfiguration together…”

“It’s fine,” Harry said quickly. “D’you, er… want me to walk you to the Tower. Or…”

Su shook her head. “Thanks, but I’ll be fine.”

They parted ways at the entrance hall, Su walking in the direction of Ravenclaw Tower, while Harry made for the library. They were back to working with metals in Transfiguration, but it was nothing so simple as turning a match into a needle; they were expected to Transfigure a full set of cutlery from a roll of parchment. Harry had managed the spoon in class, but his forks had looked more like tiny spatulas, and the knives like sticks of metal. He always did better on his own, so he found a quiet corner in the library and set out a stack of parchment to work with.

An hour later, Harry dropped his forehead onto the table, exhausted. He’d made some progress with the fork, though it still wasn’t quite suitable for dining, but his knives weren’t working. He’d managed to create a handle of sorts, but it could no sooner cut anything than it could figure skate across his desk. Unless he charmed it to do that…

Harry swiveled the handle of the not-knife in his palms idly, yawning. Wednesday was always exhausting, with double Transfiguration in the morning and double Potions after lunch. Potions usually went well, at least, but it required nearly as much focus as Transfiguration did, plus extra awareness of his surroundings to avoid getting splattered by someone’s failed potion.

Harry dropped the knife onto the table with a clang, watching the light of the overhead gas lamp glinting off of it. Did someone have to light those lamps, or were they charmed to burn indefinitely? 

Harry drew his wand again and pointed it at his useless knife. Visualization was key, wasn’t it? Maybe it would be easier to do with a knife that was already half-transfigured. Harry closed his eyes, picturing the lamp light glinting off the metal. Shiny, smooth metal, without any scratches or rust marring the surface. Long, thin, sharp-edged…

Eyes still closed, Harry performed the spell, feeling a rush of warmth rush through his wand arm, and he knew it had worked before opening his eyes. And then he did, to see the sharp, gleaming metal on the table. But it wasn’t a dinner knife. 

Perched innocently upon the scuffed, wooden surface of the table was a near-perfect replica of his penknife.

Chapter Text

“I’ve a-already t-t-told you, Severus, I-I have no kn-kn-knowledge of what you are insinuating-”

“Do you think me a fool?” Severus hissed, stepping closer to the cowering man whom he’d cornered in the rarely-used third-floor corridor. There was no question as to where the blasted man had been heading.

“P-perhaps you are r-right, that s-s-someone may b-b-be attempting to s-steal the s-stone, b-but I don’t-”

Severus clenched his fists in favor of throttling the man. How infuriatingly arrogant to have made such a poor attempt to conceal his motivations, yet tremble and stutter and claim no knowledge, painting Severus as the unreasonable one... 

With a sneer of disgust, Severus let Quirrell go, though not without a warning that he was watching him, and strode off.

Damn the man. And damn Albus too, for putting Severus in this position. As if he had no other responsibilities. He had Harry to look after, which was a full-time job on its own; Harry was not a difficult child in the strictest sense, studious, clever, and mature for his age, but he seemed to attract trouble despite himself, and still struggled to understand that he wasn’t alone anymore, and had Severus to care for him. The boy would undoubtedly walk around on a broken leg for days before it would even occur to him to ask for help, and even then, he’d been telling himself that he didn’t deserve it. The thought made Severus grind his teeth, his fingers clenching around his wand, longing to exact revenge upon those who had hurt Harry so extensively. 

It is for the best that they are dead. I might have landed myself in Azkaban otherwise.

He could direct some of that fury at Albus, who had played his part in Harry’s suffering, though his anger had, well, not cooled, precisely, but had at least been given better direction when the headmaster had shared his working theory as to how the boy's situation had escaped notice for so long…

“Quite an excellent job you are doing, managing a school full of children,” Severus muttered under his breath, unable to take his eyes off of Harry, who was asleep in a hospital bed after battling a troll.

Albus sighed. “I admit, I did not foresee this occurrence, but I am no seer-”

“Yet you still allow Quirrell to remain in this school?” Severus turned away from Harry to pierce Albus with his stare. “We both know he is the culprit.”

Albus did not answer, his eyes settling on Harry and his face taking on an expression Severus could not quite interpret, but a chill ran down his spine.

“Have you managed to determine how the boy gave you the slip for a year while sleeping in the dirt and avoiding death by sheer luck?” Severus’ jaw tightened. “The number of times the boy has come close to death on your watch is simply astounding to me.” Perhaps he was being unfair; Albus was only human, but keeping Quirrell around, in the vicinity of Harry and hundreds of other underage students, was not a mistake on the man’s part. It was a deliberate action that Severus could scarcely abide. If there was any time to bring up Albus’ past mistakes, it was now, if only to shake the man into perhaps scouring that enormous brain of his to concoct a better method of keeping an eye on Quirrell.

Albus glanced back towards Severus, tilting his head. “It is difficult, if not impossible, to confirm my theory, seeing as the late Dursleys’ home was reduced to cinders, but I suspect Harry’s young cousin played an unwitting role in obscuring Harry’s absence from the home."

Severus raised a surprised eyebrow. “How so?”

Albus adjusted his glasses. “As you know, Harry was placed in the home of his aunt due to the protection that resides in his mother’s blood. By its very nature, the protection functions by tethering itself to a physical dwelling that is owned by an individual who carries Lily’s blood.”

Severus jerked his head impatiently. Yes, he was aware of that. Albus continued on, unbothered.

“By owned, I do not speak in legal terms, but in practical terms, meaning that the home was owned just as much by Dudley Dursley as it was by his parents.”

“I fail to see how that-”

“Ah, but so did I.” Albus caught Severus’ eye. “What has Harry told you of his relationship with his cousin?”

Severus narrowed his eyes. “He implied that they did not have a good relationship, which I took to indicate that the child followed his parents’ lead in tormenting Harry.”

Albus closed his eyes briefly, clasping his hands together. “However poor their relationship was, I believe there may have been a degree of connection, however small, between the boys.” He opened his eyes, letting out a breath. “It may not have been particularly positive nor strong, but it was enough for the magic to latch itself onto the blood Dudley Dursley himself carried, as a relation of Lily. The emotional bond they may have shared caused the protections to remain alive after Harry left, yet protected Dudley instead of Harry.”

“The protections still would have needed to retain an essence of Harry himself to-”

Albus held up a hand. “I agree. There is one missing factor. I believe that there must have been something, or someone, tethering Harry to that place. Perhaps an object or person he left behind and had a mind to return for someday.”

Severus furrowed his brow. “I could not think of any…” A sudden memory, the image of the boy peeking out of an ancient treehouse, flashed across his mind. Harry had been alone when Severus had found him, but had he always been? Perhaps the boy had once shared that space with another…

Yet, how did any of this explain how it could have escaped anyone’s notice that the boy had been consistently harmed in that home? Denied food, locked away, repeatedly struck… Severus could murder a man with the force of his fury at the thought of it. Harry, even smaller than he was now, being hit by a fully-grown adult, his eyes taking on that vacant look Severus had seen in Harry’s early days with him, locking himself away to protect himself from the pain, because it was the only way he could. And he wouldn’t have done it at first, he’d have been bewildered, terrified, unable to understand what he had done, and why he was being hurt…

Severus stared at his sleeping child, who looked even younger with his eyes closed. That Severus had stepped in now to care for him would never be enough. He could never erase what had happened to the child, no matter how hard he wished for it, that he could hold the child tightly and promise that he’d never be harmed again. Severus couldn’t even promise that. Not in the world they lived in, and not with who Harry was. 

***

The best thing about Fridays was that they only had morning classes. The worst thing about it was that they had Transfiguration and Defense Against the Dark Arts, although Transfiguration was proving to be far less of a headache than Defense, now that Harry was getting his bearings. He’d managed to demonstrate his conjuration of a full set of cutlery in one try, and McGonagall had given him ten points and no homework for the weekend.

She seemed a bit different, towards Anthony, in particular. She hadn’t yelled at him once this lesson, even when he’d accidentally kicked over his desk and splattered ink everywhere, and had instead straightened the desk, murmured something to him, and then adjusted his wand in his hand and reiterated the movements.

Harry returned his focus to his gleaming cutlery. His fork had somehow turned out perfectly, even though he hadn’t managed it while practicing. It seemed that his visualization technique had really done the trick, and he’d made some sort of breakthrough with the knife he’d conjured.

He’d stuffed the penknife in his box, along with the little toy soldiers and Jade’s drawings, which was stored out of sight at the bottom of his trunk, wrapped in the ratty jumper he’d been wearing when Dumbledore had plucked him off the streets and deposited him at Snape’s house. He hadn’t been able to bring himself to discard the jumper despite having purchased plenty of new clothes. It was fine to keep the penknife there. He wasn’t going to use it or carry it around, it was just a… souvenir. A symbol of his accomplishment in Transfiguration, which he couldn’t let others see in case they get the wrong idea. And he’d have it stashed away if he needed it for something. To defend himself.

When they arrived at the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, Harry was gratified to see that the desks had already been cleared away. Finally, a practical lesson. The headache started up, as usual, his scar burning so fiercely that his jaw remained perpetually clenched, which only led to a bigger headache, and he did his best to ignore it as Quirrell demonstrated the Jelly Legs Jinx.

He paired up with Su, who narrowed her eyes at his wince when the pain flared up. “Are you okay?”

“Fine,” he said through gritted teeth. That was a lie, but what difference did it make?

By the end of class, the pain was positively eye-watering. Harry stumbled out of the classroom and leaned against the wall outside, waiting for the pain to fade. While the pain centered around his scar did go away, his jaw and temples continued to throb. 

“Harry, are you all right?” Harry opened one eye to see Neville leaning over him much too closely. He couldn’t lean away because his back was against the wall, so he hunched his shoulders and closed his eyes. “'M fine.”

“I think you should see Madam Pomfrey,” Neville said softly, laying a hand on Harry’s shoulder.

Back. Off.

Harry yanked his shoulder out of Neville’s grasp and opened his eyes, glaring. “I said I’m fine.

Neville still didn’t go away. “I can walk you there if you-”

“Don’t touch me!” Harry yanked his arm back. “I didn’t ask for your help, so just go away .”

Neville flinched, his face crumpling, and he turned away. Harry hated himself.

I’m horrible. I’m the worst person and he should hate me forever.

Harry forced himself to move and wandered out of the corridor, desperate for somewhere quiet, without people or noise where he could just suffer alone in silence. The trek up to Ravenclaw Tower was more than he could bear, and the library would be full at this hour...

He could go to Severus’ quarters. It was closer than Ravenclaw Tower, and it didn’t matter if Severus was there or not. Decided, Harry forced himself to put one foot in front of the other until he reached the dungeons, and he collapsed face-forward onto the couch in Snape’s quarters and pressed his face into the cushions, groaning. His stupid head.

“Is there a reason you are doing an impression of a dying fish?” Severus asked casually from behind his desk.

Harry just grunted, lifting his head a little so he could pull off his glasses, which were digging uncomfortably into the bridge of his nose, then pushed his face back against the cushions. The pressure helped a little. Maybe.

He felt the couch dip, and he couldn’t help whimpering the tiniest bit when Severus hauled him up by the shoulders. “Headache?” 

Harry just squeezed his eyes shut, the pain so sharp it was starting to make him nauseous, and he slumped forward onto the closest available surface, which happened to be Severus’ shoulder.

The man didn’t shrug him off, instead stroking a hand through Harry’s hair and rubbing the nape of his neck, which felt nice, and seemed to siphon away some of the pain. But, of course, that couldn’t last, and Severus tilted Harry’s head back and pressed a vial against his lips.

Harry closed his eyes and turned his face away, the nausea surging back with some vengeance.

“Gonna- gonna throw up if I-”

“This potion contains anti-emetic properties. Drink.”

But Harry couldn’t bring himself to take it, the thought of swallowing an undoubtedly slimy and foul-tasting brew too much to bear. Another sharp pain sliced through his temples, and the nausea grew so overwhelming that he could do nothing but lean forward to vomit all over Severus’ robes.

Damn it.

Harry immediately curled into a ball in the corner of the couch and dug his face into his arms. He’d just thrown up all over Severus, and were those tears leaking out of his eyes? Harry hadn’t imagined he could humiliate himself any more in front of the man than he already had, but, apparently, he’d reached a new low. Severus was probably so annoyed with him…

“Evanesco,” Harry heard Severus murmur, and then the man’s hands wrapped around Harry’s wrists, gently enough not to make him flinch, and pulled them away from his face. Wordlessly, he handed the vial to Harry, who downed it without argument, then exhaled with relief when the pain in his head rapidly faded to a faint throb. Before he could even open his eyes, another vial was thrust into his hand. This potion had a pleasantly minty flavor, which cleared away the foul taste in his mouth and soothed his throat the moment he swallowed it.

With the pain gone, another rush of humiliation heated Harry’s face, and he stared at his lap, folding his arms over his stomach. He’d made such a nuisance of himself. If he’d just taken the potion when Severus had told him to, he could have avoided getting vomit and tears everywhere…

“I’m sor-”

“I swear to Merlin, if you finish that sentence I may tear my own hair out.”

Right. Severus didn’t want him to apologize. Because he had nothing to apologize for.  

Harry lifted his still-burning face to see Severus inches away, studying him carefully with a crease between his eyes. Without looking away, the man summoned a cloth and wet it with his wand, then caught the back of Harry’s head in his palm and began mopping at his sweaty, embarrassingly tear-streaked face. Harry felt so wrong-footed that he simply held still and let Severus do it, never mind that he wasn’t a baby and could have taken care of himself just fine.

“Are you ill?” Severus asked, narrowing his eyes. He set aside the cloth and rested the back of his hand against Harry’s forehead. 

What on earth is he doing? Harry wondered, slightly cross-eyed. Oh, Petunia had used to do this for Dudley sometimes, to check for fever… When Severus removed his hand, Harry fished for his glasses and slid them onto his face, the room coming back into full focus.

“I- I don’t think so,” Harry said, his voice a little thick. “Just a headache. Usually they go away when Defense is over, but this one kept going-”

“I beg your pardon?”

Belatedly, Harry realized how odd that must have sounded. He elaborated. “I get headaches whenever we have Defense Against the Dark Arts, but they usually go away when I leave the classroom.”

Severus’ face tightened. “Just how long has this been going on?”

“Er… since the beginning of the year…”

“And you did not think to mention this earlier?”

The man definitely looked displeased; angry, even, and Harry’s stomach flipped. “I- I- normally they go away and I just… forgot about them, I guess.” He swallowed, wrapping his arms over his chest.

Severus took several long, slow breaths, then muttered something that sounded suspiciously like ‘idiot child’ before eying Harry again. “Explain to me, in detail , the exact nature of these headaches.”

Harry took a breath. “Um… well, it always starts on my forehead, and sometimes it spreads, but when it does it feels more like a tension headache-” he winced a little when a phantom ache twinged at his temple. “At first I thought maybe I was allergic to something in the classroom because they only happen during that class, but I was there another- another time- and it didn’t happen then…” Yes, the other time he’d been there was when the Boggart had shown up, and, honestly, he would have much preferred a headache to that . Harry’s eyes darted away when he noticed Severus’ sharp look.

“Where exactly on your forehead does the pain start?”

Harry pushed his hair back and pressed his hand over his scar. “It- it’s always here.”

“The pain is emanating from your scar?”

“I- yes?” Harry said tentatively. “But why would an old scar hurt like that?”

Severus suddenly looked alarmed, but his face smoothed over so quickly Harry was almost convinced he’d imagined it. “Curse scars are known to be unpredictable.”

What’s that supposed to mean?

The man straightened up. “Until this matter is sorted, you will not be attending Defense Against the Dark Arts classes.”

Harry stiffened. “What? But I can’t miss class, I’ll fall behind, I’ll fail- ” He quieted when Severus held up a hand.

“Do not concern yourself. I will ensure that you receive proper schooling in that domain, one way or another.” Severus straightened up and folded his arms, catching Harry in a stern gaze. “I am sorely tempted to set you lines.”

“Why?” Harry asked, his chest tightening. What had he done?

Severus took a breath. “You must learn to inform me of matters such as this.”

“But I didn’t think it-”

“That is precisely the problem,” Severus cut in. “It doesn’t occur to you that there is anything to tell, or, indeed, anyone to confide in.”

Harry flushed, hunching his shoulders. “I- I know I can talk to you. I just didn’t think it was a big deal…”

“It is.” Severus’ face smoothed over. “And you will learn.”

“It’s not fair to make me write lines,” Harry said sullenly, folding his arms. “I didn’t know -”

“I will not penalize you. This time.”

Harry narrowed his eyes. “So the next time I don’t tell you when I stub my toe you’ll give me detention?”

“The next time you conceal potentially life-threatening information from me, I certainly will!”

“It wasn’t life threatening,” Harry scoffed.

“Are you now an expert on curse scars that result from failed Killing Curses?”

Harry opened his mouth, then snapped it shut. What could he say? Fine, he’d messed up, and now Severus was angry with him. He hadn’t even meant to do anything wrong! How was he supposed to know what Severus did and didn’t want to know? If he came running with everything, he’d be acting too needy, just like Boggart-Snape had said. That bloody Boggart, who might have not really been Snape but had done a good enough impression that it was really hard to separate from real-Snape, who was angry at him right now, though perhaps not as angry as the Boggart...

“Out with it.”

Harry jerked his head up at Severus’ voice, finding the man staring at him through narrowed eyes.

“Are you reading my mind?”

Severus sighed exasperatedly. “No, I am reading your face.”

Harry bit his lip, staring at his lap. Was this one of the things Severus wanted Harry to tell him about?

“Harry-”

“I saw a Boggart,” Harry forced out. “In the Defense classroom. Before Halloween.” He chanced a glance up at the man, whose lips tightened.

“What did you see, Harry?” he asked in a low tone.

Harry glanced away again. It was humiliating, really. He didn’t need Severus to know what a mess he was…

And I don’t need to know if I was right…

“Tell me,” Severus said sharply.

Harry looked up again. “It was you.” Severus’ face went white, and Harry scrambled to explain. “It was- it was things you were saying, not- not just you.”

The man’s face was unreadable, though still pale. “What did the Boggart say?”

Not ‘what did I say’, but the Boggart, because it hadn’t been him. It had simply been a manifestation of Harry’s worst fears, and the man had been nowhere near it at the time.

Harry took a shaky breath. “You were- it was saying that… that I was too- that I needed too much, and you didn’t want to be my- that I didn’t deserve to have…” he ended in a mumble, his voice trailing off, refusing to meet the man’s eyes.

Neither of them said a word for several moments that felt endless.

“Are you aware,” Severus cut into the silence, “that one’s Boggart form can change throughout their lifetime?”

Harry glanced up, startled at the question. “Y- yes, I guess so...”

“Why do you think that happens?”

Harry furrowed his brow. “Maybe... maybe because they overcome the fear?”

Severus inclined his head. “That is one cause for change, yes, but there is one other.” The man paused, wrapping one of his hands around the other and clenching his fingers. “One’s Boggart will change forms if another, greater fear overtakes the former one.”

Severus shifted a little closer. “As Boggarts favor dark, enclosed spaces, they tend to frequent the dungeons more than other locations in the Castle. I and my prefects therefore periodically check for Boggarts and remove them to prevent younger students from running afoul.” He paused, for longer than it took to draw in a breath. “Earlier this term, I found one in a room Slytherin students often use for a quiet area to study. And I discovered that its form had changed.”

Harry stared. “What was it?”

Severus closed his eyes briefly, then opened them again to catch Harry’s gaze. “It was your death.”

Flinching, Harry let out a gasp. The room suddenly felt cold where it had previously felt pleasantly cool, and he clutched his sleeves in his fists.

“The very fact that my greatest fear is your loss,” Severus began steadily, “means that you are not. A burden. To me.”

He gripped Harry’s shoulders. “I am not angry with you, and I do not wish to punish you. I worry for you, and I will take any actions necessary to protect you.”

Harry reached up and tentatively wrapped his fingers around Severus’ wrist. The man’s wrist was bony, jutting out sharply against Harry’s palm, but it was still too broad for Harry to close his hand around all the way.

“I’ll try not to die,” Harry whispered.

Severus’ arm twitched in Harry’s grip, and he let out a breathy sound somewhere between a sigh and a chuckle. 

“See that you do.”

He squeezed the back of Harry’s neck with his free hand and pulled Harry closer so that his forehead was resting against the man’s chest. Severus’ heart was beating very rapidly. Did that mean he was afraid?

Harry felt the man’s lips press against the top of his head. 

No one had ever done that before. And Harry had never felt safer in his life.