Harry was exhausted by the end of the day. Between Ground Quidditch and meeting all those new people, and a lack of sleep from the night before, he felt dead on his feet both emotionally and physically. That, and he'd had another session with Richard, and with a few prompts he had started to talk about what life had been like at the Dursleys. Richard had said people coped with death in such different ways, and a lot of it had to do with where they came from and where they learned their coping skills. So he'd asked Harry about his family, and Harry couldn't believe how much it hurt to talk about growing up with the Dursleys. He had always sort of believed he didn't care about what his relatives thought, but after the hour with Richard, Harry had realized a few things he hadn't really paid attention to before. For example, he had unreasonably high standards for himself. He had always known he had trust issues, but not trusting had become normal. It wasn't though, and he had been taught growing up with the Dursleys that if he wanted something, he always had to do it himself, and making mistakes was never an option. Making mistakes meant you didn't get dinner for a few days.
Maybe that was why he couldn't forgive himself for Sirius. It was his fault though. It really was, and he had basically killed the only adult who had given a damn about him. Well, Remus cared about him, but not quite in the way Sirius had. He'd made a fatal mistake, and for mistakes there was no forgiveness. Just punishment.
Harry sighed, leaning against the wall outside his and Snape's room. He didn't want to go in there. Snape was probably inside, but there was a half-hour of quiet time before supper started at six, and Harry was exhausted. His eyes felt blurry, so quiet reading was out of the question. But he wasn't sure if he could face Snape, or anyone else for that matter, because he had cried a lot in the session with Richard. Harry had tried so hard not to, but he'd never, ever talked about what it was like at the Dursleys and it was like some sort of tidal wave came over him, and he couldn't keep himself together. The trouble was that he hadn't spoken of a lot of his life aloud because he had been convincing himself that if he didn't speak of it it wasn't really happening. That was just how it was. In difficult situations, it was easier not to talk about what was happening on a day to day basis. There was some sort of unspoken rule about it - and it was the same as when Umbridge had been ruling over the school. Sure, it was hell to live through, but you didn't talk about hell while you were in it. He saw this practise in others too during Umbridge's reign. The ones that had learned how to survive just didn't talk of the bad things while they were happening, because if you talked about them, they broke you.
That was Harry's way of going about it. The Dursleys, Umbridge, everything that was going wrong. Only until that world was far away could you stop to think about it all. The Dursleys, however, Harry had rarely ever stopped to think about, because as a kid if he thought about all the things they did, it got too hard to get out of bed every day. One day he just stopped reminding himself of what had happened, but earlier today he'd had to go back and think about all the things he'd refused to. And so he knew very well his eyes were puffy and he had shadows under them, and his face was blotchy from crying. He knew that he looked a mess, and he felt like only a breath of wind or a single insult might just bowl him over and break him into a million pieces.
But it was Snape or an entire room full of people he hardly knew. It was the devil he knew versus the devil he didn't, so he went in. After all that worrying, however, the empty room seemed almost like an insult. Snape wasn't there.
Look at you, all worked up for nothing.
Harry clenched his teeth together, then shut the door forcefully behind him. He relished in the way it made the window rattle. He leaned against the wall and sunk to the floor, resting his elbows on his knees and staring up at the dull grey ceiling.
"Pathetic," he muttered under his breath and shut his eyes.
Severus was sitting in his usual spot in the craft room. It was one of the only places he could stand being besides his room, which now had an unfortunate lump underfoot named Harry James Potter. Thus, with a stack of black craft paper beside him he folded paper cranes over and over and over. He had a pile of about fifteen when someone sat down beside him.
He looked up in shock. Everyone was terrified to sit near him. Nobody ever ate by him, and he did nothing to discourage this. The person he imagined would have the gall to sit near him would probably be a very frightening fellow indeed. But the person that sat here was a woman, wearing light pink robes and her blonde hair back in a ponytail with a pink ribbon.
"Anyone sitting here?" she said, gesturing to the chair beside him at the table. "Mind if I do?"
"Chair isn't taken. I don't mind."
"Why black paper?" she asked curiously as she sunk into the chair, set down a battered looking sketchbook, and pulled a pencil from behind her ear.
"I like it," said Severus slowly, through gritted teeth.
"I can tell," said the woman, gesturing to his black robes, which were slightly wrinkled. They were a more casual set, rather than the ones he wore to teach.
Strangely enough, she didn't say it like an insult. It just was.
"I'm Daisy, by the way," she said, her eyes sparkling as she smiled and the light caught them.
"Severus," he muttered back, looking away and continuing to fold cranes.
They worked in silence for a few moments, and Severus kept stealing glances at her.
"Why aren't you afraid of me?" he said at last, his words coming out with a suddenness that came across as awkward.
"Oh, I don't know," said Daisy with a shrug. "If Albus Dumbledore hired you as a teacher you can't be that dangerous, can you? And he's usually right about things."
"Sound logic," said Severus in genuine surprise.
"I thought so," Daisy said mildly as she meticulously erased a portion of the pine tree she was sketching. "Besides, some of the women are really very catty, and quite frankly, I'd rather risk being over here."
Daisy stared over at the group of other women, sitting around a table and chatting a distance away.
"Women," said Severus darkly, focusing so much on his paper crane he wasn't thinking about his words. "Beastly things."
The scratch of Daisy's pencil faded, and Severus looked up to see why. She had placed her furthest elbow on the table and had her hand on her chin, and was staring at him with an expression that denoted a mixture of amusement and exasperation.
"Not all of them," Severus said quickly, realizing his mistake. "Just ... some."
"No worries - I know what you mean," she said, clearly trying to suppress a smile as she went back to drawing.
In silence they continued, and the pile of cranes grew until Severus had around thirty, by which time he'd run out of paper. Daisy seemed to have finished her drawing of a pine tree, and she rubbed her eyes slightly. She glanced over at Severus' pile of cranes.
"Wow, you're fast at that," said Daisy in surprise. "You know, if you fold a thousand of those, there's a legend that says you can make a wish and it'll be granted."
"Yes, I think I heard that somewhere," said Severus, recalling a book Lily had once read and told him of. He glanced over at her pine tree. It was excellent. "Your pine tree turned out nice."
Despite the modest word choice, Daisy must have seen the admiration on his face, because she smiled and eased the piece of paper out of her sketchbook.
"Here, you can keep it," she said, pushing it over to him. "I've done at least twenty since I came. They're more fun to give away anyway, and the rooms are so plain here they could use a bit of decor. Well, besides those stupid charmed windows."
"Er, thanks," Severus said, shocked.
"Nice meeting you, Severus," she said, tucking her sketchbook under her arm and getting up.
He watched her walk out of the craft room until her pink pastel robes had fluttered round the door frame, still surprised she had had the nerve to talk to him. Severus rather wished he'd given her a few cranes in return for the picture. It really was well drawn.
Feeling slightly less dismal than before (and oddly light-headed, for some reason), Severus dragged the pile of cranes over to a paper box he had folded a while ago, the size of a large book, and put the lid on. He tucked it under his arm and made his way back to his room, Daisy's picture in his other hand. He knew just where to hang it.
Thinking that maybe things weren't quite so bad after all (though still bad, admittedly), Severus stared down at the picture he was holding, paying little attention to the hulking figure a few steps away.
He was given a nasty shock when the man rammed his shoulder into him, sending him flying, the box and picture included. The black paper cranes spilt across the floor, flightless and scattered haphazardly along the corridor. Severus ended up halfway slumped down the wall, his hair in his face and panting with the shock, trying to keep his breathing under control. He hadn't taken well to sudden movements or loud noises since being tortured, and sometimes it sent him into a panic. Severus didn't like to think of those times, and he was glad nobody had really been around when they had happened. He fought the feeling now, his head spinning with the sudden shock and his chest hurting.
"Traitor scum," said the man, much taller than Severus. He seemed to be in his mid-forties, and had numerous scars along his neck and face, some shallow and some deep. Severus thought he might have been an Auror once. The man glared at him, then scoffed at the paper cranes before grinding his heel into a few of them. He stared Severus down, then turned to leave. "Later, Snape."
The man spat his name like a curse, and Severus was unable to say a word. He just froze up. It was only for a few seconds, but by the time he came up with something to say back, the man had sauntered off to another man that had been waiting at the end of the corridor. The Auror's friend clapped him over the back and they walked around the corner.
Severus sunk down to the ground. He let out a wheezing breath. Nobody was in sight. His stomach felt hollow and empty. The trampled black cranes littered the area around him. After a moment, Severus swept them all up and dumped them back in the box, grabbing Daisy's picture and walking numbly into his room. He shut the door behind him, and slumped against it, exhausted.
Potter was lying in bed, hair even messier than usual and eyes puffy. He was staring blankly at the ceiling, paying no attention to Severus. Severus might have been surprised if he had any feeling left to be surprised with.
Severus threw his shoes off and his outer robe, not bothering to fold it and put it on the set of drawers for his clothing, and instead letting it fall to the floor. He set Daisy's picture on the bedside table, then dropped the box of paper cranes there as well. The box lid slid off and a few of the crumpled origami birds fell onto the floor between his bed and Potter's. Severus stared at them wearily for a second, with their bent wings and broken bills. Then fell into bed in his trousers and shirt, pulling the covers up to his chin, staring up at the ceiling like it was the only thing that existed.
"You too, sir?" said Potter hoarsely.
"Yeah," Severus replied in a low, hollow voice.
Then they were silent. Neither went to supper. Harry remained still, almost hoping someone would come and make him go. But nobody tried. Richard must have bailed him out, mentioning it was an upsetting session. Maybe that was why one of the healers came by with a little tray of crackers and fruit, which was left on the small table in their room. Snape had feigned sleeping.
So the food went untouched, and Harry wanted to yell at it. Scream at it. Find the healer that had left it and knock his block off. It was stupid, he knew, but he wanted to.
Make me go I dare you let me start a fight anything better than this tired numbness. Anything better than this ache, this knowledge I couldn't do anything to stop the stupid Dursleys from locking me in a fucking cupboard. Weakness weak.
This was how the night passed. Nearly sleepless, a fire in his gut. He must have slept a little though, for Harry awoke late in the morning to notice that Snape's bed was empty.
It was only as he was getting dressed for the day, roughly pulling threads off of his unwinding jumper that he thought back to how Snape had acted last night. Harry had been so caught up in himself he hadn't paused to think. Now that he was paying attention, he could not help but feel that the way his Professor had seemed last night was a convincing act, on Snape's part. Which made him wonder if Snape really was hiding from Voldemort. Because maybe ... he was hiding from something else too.
"Damn it all!" Harry swore as he tore a hole in his jumper after pulling the wrong thread, driving all thoughts of Snape from his mind.
He had a feeling today was going to be a difficult one.
"Hey, where were you at supper yesterday?" asked Steven as Harry at last joined him at the breakfast table. Steven appeared to have slept in a bit this morning, as the rest of the boys had already started up a card game in the sitting area not far away, done eating. Steven, who had just gotten a plate, was spreading inhuman amounts of peanut butter on his toast.
"Didn't feel like it," Harry said with a shrug, picking at his own toast. Not like anyone can make me go, anyway. Harry bit back this comment, swallowing his anger so as not to ruin his almost friendship with Steven. The last thing he needed was to blow up over something stupid and scare off the only person who was interested in talking to him. It wasn't as though he was angry at Steven. The trouble was that the shock of moving here had just started to wear off, leaving Harry stewing in his usual thoughts.
"Why not?" Steven asked.
Harry looked at him a moment, noting the look on Steven's face. It was one of understanding. It didn't judge.
"I got talking about my family with Richard yesterday," Harry said at last, albeit distastefully.
"Your family's not great either?" Steven said, setting his piece of toast down.
"No," Harry said, scoffing. "They kind of hate me. And not just the usual teenager stuff, like the I hate my life so my family must hate me thing."
"Sorry to hear," Steven said. "Dunno what your family's like exactly ... but at least for me, my parents are really controlling, so I get you on that level. I mean, they won't even let me go to Hogwarts, and made me do home-schooling instead. They were worried I'd ... well, make them look bad or something. It sucks, huh?"
"Yeah, whereas my relatives can't wait to be rid of me," muttered Harry dully. "They don't give a damn whether I live or die. You know, I could even tell they were disappointed that I actually was around to go to their place again last summer, because Dumbledore sent them a letter explaining how I almost got killed in the Triwizard Tournament. It kind of sounds crazy, but it is true."
"Rough," Steven said, grimacing.
"What did you mean by saying your family was worried you'd make them look bad by going to Hogwarts?" Harry said curiously, taking a bite of toast, some of his appetite returning with distraction, the hot bubbling in his chest lowering slightly with the conversation. "If you don't mind me asking."
Steven blushed slightly.
"I don't mind. They were worried I'd ... I dunno," Steven said, picking at his own toast now. "See, my family's pureblood, and purebloods have this thing where they have to fit in and do all the right things, and keep up the family name. And I'm not exactly normal, so ..."
"Seem okay to me," said Harry with a shrug.
"Yeah, but when I was a couple months away from going to Hogwarts I went to this summer camp for magical children," said Steven dismally. "And I met a boy there who was a lot like I was and we got talking ... and found out we were both different, and that we both ... well, sort of figured we liked ... boys."
He looked at Harry like he was waiting for him to leave the table.
"And your parents found out?" Harry said, the picture growing clearer. He was a little surprised, but he didn't show it. Steven seemed like just another one of the guys, so Harry would never have guessed. Harry had met a few people who were gay. Hogwarts did have a few, some really obvious, others just blending in like Steven. But come to think of it, none of them were purebloods as far as he knew. He wondered if they had similar problems as Steven.
"Yeah," said Steven, sounding relieved Harry hadn't missed a beat. "My father showed up to pick me up from camp, and he found me and Josh - that was the boy - holding hands. And my Dad ... he got sort of quiet and asked me why I was doing that. And because I was stupid I said it was because I liked Josh. My father didn't say a word, but when we got home asked if I meant that I liked Josh as a friend, and I told my Dad no, that I liked Josh the way he liked Mum. I was stupid. I should have known, but Dad got really mad and before I knew it I was going to be home schooled so they could watch me and try and ... and stamp it out of me."
Harry saw that Steven's eyes filled with tears and Harry felt his stomach clench. Stephen blinked them away, and Harry opened his dry mouth to speak.
"That's ... that's like my magic," Harry added in a low voice. "My Aunt and Uncle call me a freak. You know, for being able to do magic. And they spent years trying to make me stop being magical. I couldn't help it, though, right? But they still thought that I was a freak for it, and tried to stop me doing it."
"Didn't know your family was so much like mine," said Steven with a shaky smile.
"Yeah, who knew?" Harry said in a low voice. He smiled slightly at Steven too. "I guess that makes us friends, then."
"Friends," said Steven, a proper grin spreading across his features as he reached across the table to shake Harry's hand. Harry reached up too, but as he did so, his sleeve fell back, and Steven saw the scratches. His grin faded to seriousness, and Steven looked Harry in the eye. He nodded. The two shook hands.
"What's the poetry club like?" Harry asked Stephen curiously as they studied the bulletin board later in the day.
"Never been," said Stephen. "Words aren't my thing. Give me potions though, and I can really go places."
"Snape would probably like you then," Harry said, amused, looking around to make sure Snape wasn't nearby. "My roommate, that is. Snape's brilliant at potions. Downright evil teacher if you're not up to his standard though - don't tell him I said that - but definitely knows his stuff. I just wish I understood half of what he went on about. I think I'd make a better poet, honestly. We did creative writing in primary. It was fun."
"Go be a poet then," Stephen said with a shrug. "I get all the letters swapped around, so I think I might go help tend the herb garden. We can meet up with the rest of the guys for lunch or something."
"Herb garden?" Harry said, surprise.
"Yeah, didn't you know? They have a nice little courtyard that connects to Oak Tree and Willow Branch. They keep a garden in it, and twice a week they have a group go out and pick fresh basil, mint, and things for the kitchens. They also grow some of the tamer potions ingredients for the hospital too. They even have a pet goat that keeps the grass short, which is way cool."
"Um, think I'll stick to poetry," said Harry apologetically. "My relatives have made me do enough gardening to last a lifetime."
"Yeah, can't blame you," said Steven. "See you later, Harry." He waved after Harry as he went over to join the group quickly gathering in one of the corners of the room.
Harry stood there a moment, thinking. Snape wasn't anywhere to be seen. He had a distinct feeling that if there was any activity Snape would like, this was it. He checked his watch, noting that there was still five minutes before the gardening group left.
Shaking his head at himself, and wondering why he was doing this (because you wish someone would do this for you if there was an activity you might like, you effing martyr), he rushed off to his and Snape's room.
He found Snape lying on his bed, a book in hand that he was flipping through disinterestedly.
"Sir, they have a group of people going out to pick potion ingredients and herbs," Harry said, slightly out of breath. "They leave in five minutes. Thought you might want to know.'
"What do you want, company?" said Snape distastefully over the book, glaring fiercely.
"No, I'm going to do, er, poetry," Harry said weakly (Did you think he'd actually be pleased you told him, you moron?). "I just thought you might find the garden interesting."
"Poetry," Snape said, rolling his eyes. "Of course that is where you are going. Thank you for that useless piece of information regarding the herb garden, Potter. Now leave me alone."
"You don't need to bite my head off - I was just trying to make a suggestion!" Harry snapped back, clenching his fists tightly and biting his teeth into his cheek for a moment. "And you actually wonder why nobody wants to be around you?"
Harry turned on his heel and left. He was halfway down the corridor when he stopped dead in his tracks, finally registering the expression he'd seen on Snape's face before turning and storming off. Harry looked back just in time to see the door slam forcefully. The sound echoed through the corridor. It resonated hauntingly through Harry's mind, like a bell's last toll in an empty church. It made Harry feel strangely cold to the bone. And again he saw the reaction, the expression that shocked him to the core.
Snape's face had crumpled. Like he was going to cry (You lied to me Professor, you lied -).
That wasn't the Snape Harry knew. That wasn't Professor Snape at all. Snape would never do that normally. And if Snape had lied about being here only because he was in hiding (and after that reaction Harry was pretty sure he had now, or at least only said part of the reason) at last came the question of who this new Snape was (New, was he new? Had he always been there, this broken Professor, hiding like Harry's monsters did - like the little cuts on Harry's arms like the silent nights where Harry cried because nobody was there to hear him hidden from the world, hiding those moments, those secrets, those weaknesses from others so he could say they didn't exist - and Snape ... what of Snape was he really in hiding or was Snape hiding from himself too?). And how had this Snape ended up here? Somehow, in all of Harry's swirling thoughts, he didn't think it was simply because Snape was trying to stay hidden from Voldemort. No. The Snape Harry knew would have just yelled at him for what he said. Not fallen apart.
Harry felt sick, wishing he could take back those hateful words.
You're just like them horrible no good how could you how could you Harry how could you I would have thought you of all people would know better know better -
He had mostly thought Snape was just the same old, contemptuous Snape, that him being here was really just an elaborate way of minimizing his perceived threat to the enemy. Now, after seeing that reaction, he wished he had a Time Turner, because he never would have believed before this that Snape could look like that. Harry's vision fuzzed out for a moment, the world seeming far away to him and his body seeming to fall away.
Sick I feel sick sick to my stomach to my mind to my soul guilt there's no washing it away the monster that lives inside - the Guilt Monster remember that old friend remember him Guilt Monster he was there always always when you took extra bread at the table and you weren't s'posed to and when you got Hermione and Ron (oh god they're gonna write any day now and they don't know about this this place about me what will I do what can I say) and Neville and Ginny and Luna hurt at the Ministry and when you killed murdered brought to death the only one the only father you've ever the only one who ever wanted you as a son Sirius I'm sorry -
Professor I'm sorry I said that I can't control it I can't I -
"What have I done?" whispered Harry as he leaned against the corridor wall, staring at the inspirational sayings on the wall and begging them to answer him.
Severus stared at the ceiling, hoping its blankness would dull the thoughts that ran through his head. It didn't, and the same loop of poisonous thoughts pervaded his senses again and again in a tangled confusion, the reminder of all the words that had been said to him over the year by bullies, parents, students, the world, himself.
Not liked not liked and then you wonder why nobody wants to be around you be around be around you then you wonder why nobody loved you why nobody ever why nobody could love you. Mother did you ever love me Father I know you didn't but Mother did you ever ... did you ever ...
No purpose (not a spy) my make is obsolete obsolete no purpose no reason no one to love nobody to love me
Going down down
This me falling (Stop that, pansy boy)
Jumping this is me jumping three two one -
He blinked once, then rolled onto his side, unseeing eyes fixed on the enchanted window that wasn't really a window, just another illusion with its calm summer sun and waving grasses and trees - an illusion, so vivid, so bright and yet untouchable. Severus wanted to open it and feel the wind in his hair, bask in the sunshine, lie on the grass and wile away whole afternoons with nobody to disturb him. That window that he had found so easy to hate previously was suddenly an object of desire. He'd caught himself with a longing, a longing to go through it and simply exist. But it was only an illusion, forever out of his grasp, a reality that could only be present until he reached his hand out to lift the window sash. And then, when the flawless glass was pulled away, all there could ever be behind that window was the pale painted white of institutional bricks behind it. The beautiful window wasn't real (but what was real, was it real - was this real?). The grasses kept drifting lazily in the sun.
This is me falling
But in his heart he wondered ... how could you feel like you were falling when you'd already hit the ground?
The grasses kept dancing, and Severus, fury rising within him with all the suddenness of a summer storm, leaped out of bed and pulled the blinds around it so forcefully that they ripped and hung askew. He threw himself back into bed, the energy that had electrified his limbs melting into the mattress beneath him.
Harry didn't go to the poetry club. He went to the reading room. It was quiet. Nobody was in there at the moment, and Harry sunk down into one of the soft cushions. He fingered the cuts on his arms, now scabbed over. Fury welled up inside him, and he wrapped his arms around his legs and pushed his face into his knees, wishing desperately his nails hadn't been cut and he could dig them into his skin.
No. He wasn't supposed to do that.
But it hurt. His heart hurt.
It hurts it burns I want to bleed just let me bleed I hate this I hate myself what did I do I hurt someone again is that all I'm good for why did I have to why did I why -
STOP THIS MAKE IT STOP STOP STOP -
The fire was in his chest again. It raged, and burned, and fought to escape, and Harry was so angry
And the world was spinning out of control and he could feel his pulse going thump-a-thump, thrumming hard against his temple like some wild tribal drums before the war, before the slaughter, before he threw himself at the pain and the hatred and screamed "So what, let me have it!". That thumping ... could there be any way to get rid of it, that wild warning before he did something rash and dangerous (so Gryffindor so Gryffindor, and they praised it, they did but it wasn't bravery it was recklessness).
Snape you were right about me you were right I'm rash I'm dangerous I'm a danger to others to myself I need to be stopped someone stop me please please dear god someone stop me -
But that isn't how it works remember? Huh? That isn't how it works and you know it. No angels no saviours no mighty saviour from above to save me never. Always I had to do it myself. Always I was the one that fought. Always.
Always me only me and
that's all it can ever be -
Hah poetry club - not there but still poetic anyway...
Harry opened his eyes, fire in his veins. His vision was blurred, and he ran his finger along the burning half-healed scrapes on his arm. He worked what little he had left of his fingernail under the scab and eased it away from the skin, the red blooming from beneath it, a deadly flower against his pale skin.
He watched the small drop of blood run down the side of his arm, observing it like he was a scientist and someone's life depended on his observations, some cure that would fix everything.
And it felt like a cure. In some ways.
But not completely.
I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry -