Well, I'm back. I can't quite let go of this story, so I have decided to write a series of one-shots of the 'To Trust' universe instead, adding to it whenever the mood strikes. I hope you enjoy the little snippets I write, and that they live up to the tremendous praise and encouragement you all provided me with while 'To Trust' was still in progress.
1. To Belong by Abie
2. To Find by Abie
3. To Care by Abie
4. To Speak by Abie
Harry awoke early on September first, feeling as though a thousand butterflies were coating the lining of his stomach.
Doubtful that he’d be able to focus much on anything, Harry remained in bed for a while longer and breathed 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 should have been a walk in the park. 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 a sanctuary of sorts, he would never get it back.
Get a grip, Harry told himself firmly. Snape is your guardian, you live here now.
Harry couldn’t quite quell the pit of anxiety in his stomach, however.
Eventually, Harry rose from his bed and dressed, pausing to double-check his luggage before making his way downstairs.
He entered the kitchen, where Snape greeted him with a nod. He settled in his chair and attempted to eat, but instead stirred the food around his plate idly, watching with morbid fascination as the bright yellow hue of his eggs gradually shifted 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.
“You will be fine, Harry,” Snape said calmly.
“How are we getting to the station?” Harry asked in attempt to change the subject. Snape went along with it.
“Apparition would be the most convenient method.”
Snape frowned. “When have you ever… Ah. I suppose the headmaster escorted you here by means of Apparition.”
Harry nodded tensely.
“The first time is generally the worst, Harry. It won’t be quite as uncomfortable as you remember.”
“Why not?” Harry asked skeptically.
“There are pathways in your brain that had to be formed the first time you experienced Apparition. Now that they are in place, it will feel more natural to you.”
Harry supposed that was a good enough answer.
“What about Hedwig, sir?”
Snape tilted his head.
"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.”
That made sense.
“But won’t the, er, muggles notice us randomly popping into existence?”
“There is an allotted area for Apparition that muggles cannot access.”
Harry was quiet for a moment.
It’s pretty risky that Apparition messes with the brain. Unless wizards are born with different brain chemistries. Interesting…
“What happens if a person Apparates while drunk?” he asked.
Snape lips twitched, and his face took on the 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 is not in his, shall we say, right mind, he may likely splinch himself, or worse.”
Oh, splinching. Harry had read a bit about that.
“So I do suggest, when you acquire your own license, that 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 pressed his hands against his mouth the muffle the chuckles that were forcing their way out.
Snape maintained his stern expression for a moment, then relaxed, his face softening.
“The things you children find amusing…” he muttered, refilling his teacup.
They finished their breakfast, and the remainder of the morning seemed to fly by. 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, 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. Harry nodded, trying not to stare.
I could have sworn he was wearing robes just two minutes ago… magic, obviously. He obviously has to wear normal clothes if we’re going to King’s Cross.
Nonetheless, it was still rather odd to see Snape dressed in black trousers topped with a grey button-up shirt and black overcoat.
Snape beckoned toward Harry to follow him.
Harry grabbed hold of his backpack and shrugged it on, then made to step outside. Snape held him back by the shoulder and handed him a small, black pouch.
“Some money for the train ride,” Snape said, his face unreadable. “I daresay you will want to sample the abundance of sweets offered.”
“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 do have money-”
Snape sighed, setting down Harry’s trunk.
“Harry, as your guardian, it is my responsibility to provide for you, financial matters included.”
“But I have loads of money in the bank.”
“And that money is to remain there to be used once you come of age, Harry.” Snape responded, shaking his head slightly.
“You didn’t have any objections when we went to Diagon Alley,” Harry said, annoyed.
“I was not your guardian at the time.” Snape squeezed Harry’s shoulder. “I am now, and I will be providing for you. There is no discussion.”
Harry exhaled. Snape let go of his shoulder and pulled Harry tightly against his side.
“Brace yourself,” he warned, and Harry squeezed his eyes shut, preparing himself for the dizzying sensation of Apparition.
It wasn’t quite as bad as Harry remembered, but that did not prevent him from staggering when they landed. 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 large, closed room, where several other people were popping into existence not far from where they stood.
Still carrying Harry’s trunk, Snape led Harry out of the room and onto the bustling station. He grabbed on to a trolley and set down Harry’s trunk, pushing it along until he paused several yards away from the platform.
“I prefer not to enter the platform, I do not wish to deal with the reactions of terrified Hufflepuffs and subsequently angered parents.”
Harry grinned. “Yeah, I supposed you’d want to avoid that.”
Harry was surprised when Snape suddenly pulled him into a brief, one-armed hug. He leaned into it. Snape let go of him after a moment, urging him forward with a pat on the back.
“I will see you at the feast, Harry,” he said, his eyes warm.
Harry nodded, and, taking a deep breath, he turned and pushed his trolley 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.
Interesting that they’d use a steam engine. Is it magical?
Thanks to Snape’s feather-weight 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, 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 scanned the room quickly, noticing a rack set above the row of seats. He hopped onto the nearest seat to store Hedwig’s cage. then sat, shrugging off his backpack. He then pulled out a book, relieved that he had made it on to the train without any hassle. After roughly ten minutes, the train began to move. Harry felt a jolt of excitement mingle with the nervousness. It wasn’t the most settling combination of feelings.
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 reading was suddenly interrupted when he heard a croak. He jerked slightly and looked down at the floor.
There was a rather large toad squashed into a corner of his compartment, apparently quite content to remain where it was.
I didn’t expect that someone would actually bring a toad as a pet.
Harry figured he’d better keep an eye on it in case someone was looking for it. He bit back a chuckle at the gormless expression he imagined it would be sporting, if toads actually could form facial expressions.
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 jumping out of his seat. He snatched the toad up before it could escape.
Harry sat back down with the toad firmly cupped in his hands. It croaked again.
I didn’t expect be doing this on the train ride…
“Has anyone seen a toad?” Harry heard a loud, female voice say some moments later as the door of his compartment was pushed open. “Neville’s lost one.”
Harry looked up quickly to see a bushy-hair girl stepping into his compartment, followed by a nervous-looking, round-face boy.
Wordlessly, Harry held up the irksome toad.
The boy gasped in relief and rushed forward to take it.
“Thanks,” he said earnestly. “He’s so hard to keep track of.”
“Why would 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 pit 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 beside him. Harry tensed, his fingers clutched around the book tightly.
Calm down. She’s not trying to steal anything from you.
He forced his shoulders to loosen and held the book out to her. She looked at him oddly for a moment, then accepted the book with a small smile.
“Oh, I’m Hermione Granger, by the way,” she said, skimming through the text.
“Harry Potter,” he muttered.
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 much bigger than he was. Although, the fact that a girl was larger than him, especially after several months of his having regular meals, was something to be concerned with.
Hermione went a bit red.
“You can, er, sit down,” he said to Neville, who was standing awkwardly in the middle of the compartment, hands clutched around his evasive toad.
“If you’re sure that’s alright…”
Harry nodded, and Neville sat down on the seat across from him.
Harry wasn’t quite sure what to say next, but Hermione seemed to have no objection toward taking charge of the conversation. She prattled on about all the books she’d read and what classes she expected to enjoy, apparently under the impression that fourth year level spell books were required reading materials. Harry recalled much of the information from the books he’d read as well.
“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.”
“I only found out about Hogwarts recently, too,” Harry offered, feeling as though he should say something.
“Really?” Neville asked, seeming to have overcome his shyness. “I would have thought that you…” he stopped, looking uncomfortable.
“Because I’m Harry Potter, you mean?” Harry asked, not as annoyed as he would have expected to be. It was clear that Neville didn’t mean any harm.
Neville nodded, looking sheepish.
“I was, er, raised in the muggle world, so I didn’t know much of anything until this summer.”
Neville nodded, seeming to understand that Harry was reluctant to discuss the matter further.
“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 wizard-raised students in their year.
“I’m hoping to be sorted into Gryffindor,” Hermione said. “Dumbledore himself was sorted there, did you know?”
“Though Ravenclaw wouldn’t be bad, either.”
Neville looked a bit glum. “I’ll probably be in Hufflepuff,” he said, his mouth turned down in a frown.
“What’s wrong with Hufflepuff?” Harry asked. He hadn’t read anything about that…
“Well, my 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. Will Snape be disappointed…?
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 sample of nearly every sweet offered, and they and Neville spent an enjoyable half-hour tasting them all. Well, aside from when Harry nearly chocked on a petrol flavored bean.
“Ooh,” Hermione nearly squealed. “A Paracelsus card!”
“Who?” Harry 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…
He was flanked by two large, blank-faced boys who stood on either side of him as though they were bodyguards.
His father probably pays them…
“So it’s you,” Draco said, looking straight at Harry. “You’re Harry Potter.”
Harry raised his eyebrows. “Your point?”
Draco looked taken-aback and haughty at the same time.
“I never would have expected it.”
Harry stared. “What were you expecting?”
Draco’s lips tightened. “I wouldn’t have expected the Boy-Who-Lived to be mucking about in Knockturn Alley dressed as a street urchin.”
Harry stiffened. Malfoy knew nothing about street kids.
Malfoy paused to look down his rather pointy nose at Neville and Hermione.
“I expect you’ll gain a stronger sense of class if you join us in our comparted 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.
How dare he insult them?
Perhaps they weren’t friends yet, but Hermione and Neville had both readily accepted him and not 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, as it was clear that the boy was only interested in Harry for his fame?
Harry rose from his seat and walked with slow, deliberate steps towards the blond-haired boy.
“Leave.” Harry said in a hard voice.
The two large boys stepped forward, leaning in intimidatingly. Harry felt his heart rate speed up and snuck a hand into his pocket, only to remember that he didn’t have his dagger. Only his wand, and he couldn’t do much with it, yet.
I’ve got to get it back from Snape.
Covering up his anxiety, Harry refused to back away.
“Potter, you’re making a mistake-”
“I disagree,” Harry responded, his voice growing cold.
Malfoy sneered. “You consort with riffraff like those two, and it’ll rub off on you, and you can forget about-”
Malfoy’s face tinged pink for a moment, then cleared, and he gave Harry a nasty look before turning on his heeling 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 two 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 said. “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,” said Hermione 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 muggle-borns, 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,” said Hermione, peering out the window. “I expect we’ll be there soon.”
Harry muttered something about changing in the bathroom and grabbed his backpack. Hermione followed him out of the compartment, leaving Neville to change in the compartment while they found their respective bathrooms.
Harry exited shortly, trying not to trip over the fabric swimming around his legs.
These robes are really inconvenient.
He felt the train shudder to a stop, so he hastened to his compartment to grab Hedwig’s cage. Hermione had likely made her way off the train alone, so he and Neville, whose hands were tightly clutched around 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 turned to see a crowd of students making their hesitant way towards a huge, bearded figure. Harry relaxed in spite of himself.
“All righ’, Harry?” Hagrid called to him with a wave. Harry flushed slightly, but grinned back. Hagrid 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 and Hermione 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.
Harry stared, wide-eyed as he and the other first years were led through the great hall. The place was huge. There were four extremely long tables set for what seemed like hundreds, occupied by students of varying ages, all clad in black robes.
Harry tensed his shoulders, looking anywhere but at the older students who all seemed to be staring at the group of new arrivals. He then noticed the ceiling, or what seemed to be the lack of one, as it appeared dark and starry, just like the sky had been outside.
Oh, right, Hogwarts, a History had mentioned something about it being bewitched to look that way.
Harry heard Hermione muttering about what enchantments she thought were used to create that effect.
Professor McGonagall, the stern-faced woman who had met them in the entrance hall and explained the Sorting, finally stopped before the podium that held the staff table, where a small, wooden stool was placed with old, faded hat perched on top.
“When your name is called,” McGonagall said crisply. “You will put on the hat and take a seat on the stool. The hat will determine which house you belong in.”
All the first years seemed to be simultaneously frozen.
And so it began. Harry surreptitiously studied the staff table as the Sorting went on. 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.
Harry saw Hagrid several seats down, looking ever larger than usual seated beside a tiny, bearded, amiable-looking man. Snape was seated a few seats away from Dumbledore on the left side of the table, looking severe and rather bored at the same time.
Harry focused back upon the Sorting when he heard Hermione’s name being called, and he watched as she hastened over to the stool. It was after several moments that the hat called out Gryffindor.
Harry clapped as Hermione pulled off the hat and rushed to take a seat. She was clearly pleased with her placement.
Not long after, Neville was sorted into Gryffindor as well, and Harry, though happy for him, felt nervous. There was no guarantee that he’d be sorted alongside them, and what if Neville and Hermione were the only people that would want to be friends with him?
Harry looked up quickly as Malfoy sauntered over to the stool, and he was sorted into Slytherin when the hat had barely brushed his head.
Malfoy strutted over to the Slytherin table, and Harry had to suppress the urge to roll his eyes.
Several more names were called, then finally…
When Harry stepped forward, the hall immediately began to echo with whispers. Oh, right, he was famous.
Harry kept his eyes trained on the ground, and he was actually relieved when the hat slipped down over his eyes. At least he didn’t have to see the stares.
“Harry Potter,” an odd-sounded voice spoke in his head. Harry nearly jumped.
“Quite interesting,” the hat went on. 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 hills.
“Intelligent, I see. Very intelligent, “the Hat said it a voice so smugly all-knowing that Harry felt the urge to shove it into a shredder. “Some anger there too, I see.” Harry groaned inwardly.
“Quite cunning, as well, when the need arises. Reluctant to trust, yet supremely loyal to and protective of those that you do.”
The hat paused.
Get it off.
“Gryffindor would not be the best option.”
“If you say so…”
“While you are not lacking in bravery, you prefer to avoid confrontation, and you despise the limelight. Though you would rush to protect those that you love against all odds, so perhaps… but no.”
“Hufflepuff would not be an option, either. Members of that House are often trusting and open of heart, and quick to give their loyalty. Their mode of operation is foreign to you. Not to mention their tolerant and patient nature, which you lack most supremely.”
Good. Wait, I’m not tolerant? Well, not of idiots, and loud people, and irritating people, and… Okay, I’m not tolerant.
“You possess the cunning and quick wit of a Slytherin, and you hold yourself closed and apart from others. All very Slytherin qualities. You are slow to forgive, and the rage you harbor is cold and silent, much unlike the fire of a Gryffindor. You are suspicious, you trust very few, and you sense danger and discontent all around you, even where none exist.
So you’re saying I’m delusional, are you?
“You would certainly fit well into Slytherin,” the Hat continued, ignoring his comment, or rather, his thought. “However, you are not greatly ambitious. You do not long for power, other than that which serves to protect you and those you care for. You do not dream of great fortune or respect. You long for peace, solitude, and, deeply within you, love.”
I do not long for love. That’s pathetic.
“While Slytherin would certainly be a good fit, it would only serve to reinforce the tendencies you have developed out of necessity. Had you led a different life, you would not be quite so suspicious, or cunning, or mistrustful.
The hat paused for a moment, as though to let his words sink in.
What does that even mean? How does he know? It there a person behind this hat who’s reading my mind?
“You strive to gain knowledge, not for any reason other than to possess it,” the Hat continued. “You thirst for understanding and truth, and you are possessed of an unusual level of intelligence. Ravenclaw would help you develop your potential in a way that no other house can. There you will find peace, knowledge, and the companionship you crave, despite your claims to the contrary.”
Harry could only picture the rip in the brim of the Hat opening wide as it bellowed out his placement.
For a moment, there was utter silence.
They all probably expected me to be in Gryffindor. Pity, that.
As Harry made his way toward the Ravenclaw table, head held high, the muted applause gradually 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. Although he wanted to cringe, Harry couldn’t help but feel as though he had finally found his place. This was where he belonged.
Harry glared sullenly at the floor, idly kicking 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 Madame 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 nurse 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 bed again, grinding his teeth in frustration.
I swear, if they don’t stop muttering, I’ll-
Harry straightened. It appeared that his demand had been answered, and Madame Pomfrey was walking toward him quickly while Snape hovered near the wall. Harry had scowled a bit when Snape had mentioned he would be staying, muttering 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 Madame Pomfrey reached him, she handed him a neatly folded hospital gown.
“Please change into this, I’ll draw up the curtains if you’d like,” she said briskly.
Harry tensed, clenching his jaw.
Pomphrey motioned for him to stand, and he did so while she conjured a set of curtains around his bed.
“Come on now,” she said, as Harry made no move to get behind the curtain.
Harry huffed a breath.
“Can’t you just do… whatever you need to do with my regular clothes on? You have a wand.” Harry hated the pleading tone of his voice, but he really, really didn’t feel like changing out of his clothes.
Madame 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.
“The quicker you get changed, the sooner we’ll be done here.”
Harry knew then that he wasn’t going to win. Biting down on his lower lip, he slid behind the curtain and changed, though he was thankful that, at the very least, this gown didn’t open at the back.
“Thank you, Mr. Potter,” she said calmly when he emerged. She vanished the curtains with a quick wave of her wand.
“Now, lie back on the bed for me, arms at your side, legs straight out.”
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, Mr. Potter, I will only be using my wand; I will not be touching you.”
Harry tried, but when she stepped forward, wand in hand, Harry jerked back and rose to a sitting position, his arms folded across his chest.
When she stepped forward again, 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 leave it alone?
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.
Harry’s head turned towards Snape almost against his will. Forcing his face into blankness, he looked at the man impassively, only the tightness in his shoulders giving any indication of his anxiety.
“Harry,” said Snape 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 his stance rigid in stubborn defiance.
Snape sighed, then, unexpectedly, knelt down onto his knees 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.
“I obtained it when I was a child, and, much like yourself, I preferred not to seek help.”
Snape paused for a moment, his dark eyes shadowed.
“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 few moments of silence. The man’s eyes continued to bore into Harry’s, his face stern. But his eyes showed so much more. They spoke of past pain and anguish, yes, but more than anything, they showed the desire to protect Harry from suffering any more than he already had.
The man then 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 Madame Pomphrey leaned over him, more to avoid seeing the pitying look in her eyes than anything else.
Madame Pomphrey began the scans of his bones, during which he felt little other than a slight tingling. When the feeling faded, Harry opened his eyes to see her jotting down something on a piece of parchment that hovered in the air before her. He darted his eyes quickly to the side to see that Snape was still standing there silently.
“Well,” Madame Pomphrey began. “Though you’ve had quite a myriad of broken bones in the past, most of them seem 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.
Harry bit down on the inside of his cheek.
“Why does it matter?” he asked in what he hoped what a calm, indifferent manner.
“It is important than I’m am aware of the nature of the injury if I am to properly reset the bones.”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” Harry all but 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 someone’s face,” Harry said through gritted teeth.
Madame Pomphrey pursed her lips.
“And the rib?”
Harry drew in a shuddering breath.
She’s not going to let this go.
“I- someone stepped on me,” Harry answered, almost inaudibly.
Neither adult spoke. Harry kept his eyes firmly trained on his lap.
After a moment, Madame Pomfrey cleared her throat. Harry looked up.
“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 performed several spells. Harry watched her wave her wand in complex motions with vague interest, until he noticed her frown.
“Have you ever experienced difficulty with your vision, Mr. Potter?”
Harry thought back.
“Er… maybe when I was really young. But I stopped having problems when I was around seven.”
Harry felt his anxiety rise when she frowned again.
“What?” he asked urgently, gripping the bedclothes.
Pomphrey seemed to notice his fear.
“Not to worry, Potter, I was simply…” she trailed off, but Harry thought he heard her mutter something about ‘those despicable muggles’.
“The issue here is,” she began, “you are very near-sighted; however, your vision went untreated for so long that your magic began to compensate for it, which is why you eventually noticed an improvement.”
“However,” she continued, when Harry made to cut in, “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 breath.
“This is nothing that cannot be fixed,” Pomphrey soothed. “You will simply need to be fitted for corrective lenses, and, overtime, 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 placed 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 multicolored quills, and hurried to catch up with his guardian.
“Here we are.”
They had stopped at a small shop, several pairs of glasses on display behind the dusty front window.
A faint ring echoed throughout the room when Snape pushed open the door. Harry managed a quick glance around the room, which appeared remarkably similar to any muggle optometrist’s office, when a kind-faced woman entered the room.
“Severus,” she greeted with a smile. “How nice to see you again.”
“Ms. Renshaw,” Snape nodded back.
The woman looked down at Harry, her pale blue eyes crinkling in a smile. “What’s your name, dear?”
“Harry,” he muttered.
“I’m Bea,” the woman said. “Though no matter how many times I’ve asked Severus to call me that, he insists on maintaining formalities.”
Snape cleared his throat, and the woman turned back to him. Snape briefly explained the situation.
“I suppose Desmond will have to look him over first,” Bea said, her brow furrowing. “I’ll have my daughter fetch him. Please, do sit down in the meantime.”
She pointed to several chairs lined against the wall. Harry followed Snape and settled in a seat, picking at his fingernails.
“Jade, darling,” the woman called.
Harry felt a sudden jolt in his chest.
It can’t be…
Harry’s eyes widened in shock as a familiar figure with long brown hair stepped into the room.
She met his eyes, and the two stared at one another for a moment, then shot towards each other with nearly supernatural speed.
Harry clutched her like a lifeline as he breathed her in. His hands shook, and he could feel her body trembling against his. He was utterly incognizant of the other occupants in the room; he was scarcely aware of any other aspect of his life other than that he had found Jade.
His shoulder felt slightly damp, and he realized that Jade was crying. He soon felt tears prickling at his own eyes and forced them back. But when they finally broke apart, and Harry looked her full in the face, the face that had been his only source of comfort for so long, he broke down. His chest heaved with sobs, and he covered his face, embarrassed.
Jade drew her arms around him again.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” she whispered, her voice soothing him like soft cotton.
Harry pulled back at that.
“You left,” he said hoarsely. “You didn’t even say goodbye, I couldn’t-” Harry broke off, digging the heels of his hands into his eyes.
Jade pulled Harry’s hands away from his face.
“I tried, I swear,” she said earnestly, her hands clutching his. “But I didn’t know where you lived, and I even came back to Surrey with mum once, but no one there had ever heard of you. I wanted to find you, I really needed to see you, I-” Jade started breathing hard, her lower lip quivering.
Harry squeezed her hand.
The two looked at each other for another long moment, too overcome to speak.
She’s here. She’s actually here. Am I dreaming? I must be, things this good never happen in real life.
Harry looked down at their intertwined hands as if to confirm that she was there in the flesh.
Then he raised his head, breaking the silence.
“So, what happened?”
Jade drew in a shuddering breath, her blue eyes still shiny with tears
“Well, long story short,” she began hoarsely, “Ed got busted for drug dealing, so I went back to live with mum.”
Harry’s eyes widened slightly at the news, though his expression still darkened at the mention of that man.
“Why didn’t she have custody in the first place?” Harry asked.
Jade bit her lip.
“She… well, she was sick,” she said evasively.
Harry tilted his head.
Jade averted his eyes at the unasked question, and he let it go.
“But how did you end up here- wait- are you a witch?”
Jade chuckled, shaking her head.
“No, but apparently, you are.”
“Well, technically, I’m a wizard. But why are you here if you’re not magical?”
“Basically, mum’s a squib, I think it’s called,” she began, “and before she got… sick…, she studied optometry. Desmond, the wizard who works here, offered her a job because he’s some sort of medical researcher, and he wanted to work with non-magical doctors to help with his research, so mum says this is an experimental shop, sort of, and that man you were with-”
“Snape,” Harry supplied.
“Yeah, him, he works with Desmond and supplies a lot of potions.”
Harry took a moment to digest that.
“So where do you live?” he continued. “Where do you go to school? How are you- what-?”
Jade laughed. Harry was startled to see how genuine the joy in her laughter was. They were quiet again for another long moment. Then, without warning, Jade burst into tears. Harry did not hesitate to grab onto her again, clinging to the one person that had given him the will to live.
“That must be the Harry Jade’s talked about,” Bea said softly, as she and Severus moved discreetly to the other end of the room to give the children some privacy.
Severus watched the two children clinging to each other desperately, as though they had been given their first sip of water in days and could not stop drinking it in.
“Harry’s never mentioned her to me,” Severus said slowly.
I might have found her for him sooner.
“Jade didn’t mention him until she had been with me for nearly a year,” said Bea, in far too understanding a voice.
Severus looked at Bea more fully as her face twisted with what looked like guilt.
“She didn’t trust me” Bea said heavily. “Not after I had essentially abandoned her to my bastard of an ex-husband.”
Snape gave her an inquiring look.
“I let the drugs take me over. I blame no one but myself, though Ed did have me right where he wanted me.”
Once Bea had begun speaking, it seemed she was unable to stop, as though she had been holding back her words for years.
“My first husband had passed, and Jade was only a year old. I was vulnerable and alone, and Ed used that. I became an addict, and I was in no way a fit parent, I readily admit.”
She drew in a sharp breath.
“But they took my baby away from me and gave Ed custody, and it was only when his crimes came to light that I got her back.”
“I’m certain your daughter knows you did not give her up willingly,” Severus said carefully.
Bea smiled sadly.
“Perhaps, but it took her so very long to trust me again.”
Bea closed her eyes.
“I don’t know if she will ever fully forgive me. The horrors she has suffered-” She stopped speaking, unable to vocalize just what those horrors were.
“She does trust you now, you say?” Severus asked.
“Yes, I think I have proven to her that I am worthy of her trust, if not deserving of it.”
How did she do it? How does one gain the complete trust of a child so damaged? I fear I may never achieve that with Harry.
Somehow, Bea seemed to read his thoughts; it was apparent that she had worked out Harry’s situation, and Severus’ role in it.
“It takes time,” she said softly. “When Jade first came to me, she was in so much pain. She lashed out at me almost daily, got herself suspended from school for fighting with other children, and, several times, was physically aggressive toward a teacher.”
Well, it seems I have had it quite easy with Harry, in comparison.
Bea went on.
“With, time, she began to feel safer. I pulled her out of school and I now have her homeschooled. She studies mostly on her own; she’s quite motivated when she wants to be. I also have a tutor come in several times a week to supervise her progress.”
Bea gave a self-deprecating smile.
“The lord knows this old brain wouldn’t be much help in that area.”
Bea paused for a moment, rubbing a hand against her lined forehead.
“I have found that she trusts me more when I act as a parent to her and do not burden her with my guilt.”
Severus gave a slow nod, then turned back to focus upon Harry.
As he watched the way Harry clung to his friend, his face glowing, and his stance more relaxed than Severus had ever seen it, he knew all was not lost.
“Aren’t you coming, Harry?” Anthony Goldstein asked, pausing by the door of their dormitory.
Harry lifted his head from the book he was reading and straightened up from where he was slumped rather uncomfortably against the headboard of his bed.
“I don’t think so,” said Harry distractedly. “Go on without me.”
“You alright?” Anthony asked, tilting his head.
“I’m fine, really,” Harry replied with a quick grin to assuage Anthony’s concerns.
“But it’s the Halloween feast,” Anthony said as though it trumped all argument.
“I know,” Harry said. “I’m just not one for parties.”
“Neither is half of Ravenclaw House,” Anthony said, rolling his eyes. “But they’re all going.”
“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.
“Fine,” he acquiesced, “but if you’re still moping when I come back, I’ll sic my sister on you.”
Harry faked a shudder. Anthony’s sister, Bri, was a feisty fourth-year Hufflepuff who was notorious for taking younger students under her wing and mothering them half to death. She was also rumored to have made Marcus Flint cry once when she had intervened in his bullying of a second year.
“I’m fine, Anthony, just go.”
Harry exhaled slowly when Anthony left. He did appreciate Anthony’s concern, he really did, and, quite frankly, Harry was still amazed at how many people seemed to like him around here.
But none of that mattered right now, because 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. Against all odds, he was still alive today, and Harry couldn’t disregard that and run off to a Halloween feast as though nothing was different.
What else could he do? Visit his parents’ graves? Sob over a loss he scarcely felt connected to, having lost his parents so young?
The best he could do was not feel happy, even if he couldn’t feel anything else.
Harry leaned back and continued in his book from where he had left off. His mind continued to wander, however, so Harry 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 sixth year girl who was scribbling on a piece of parchment. She glanced up briefly when Harry entered, but turned back to her work without acknowledgement. Harry exited the Ravenclaw tower and walked slowly down the corridor, unsure of where he was headed.
He walked a while longer, lost in thought and unusually incognizant of his surroundings.
What were my parents like? How different would my life have been if they hadn’t died?
Did they love me?
Harry supposed they must have, or they wouldn’t have died for him.
But would they have still 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. Harry knew they were capable of loving; 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 his mum, at least, and he’d never heard his parents utter a single negative thing to him.
But what if Dudley’s fears had basis? Maybe his parents only loved him when he acted the way they wanted him to.
What if he had been more like Harry…?
But he was their kid. Parents love their kids. I’m not really anyone’s kid, so no one will ever love me in that way.
He shoved the thought away. What was the point of thinking about this?
Harry paused when he found himself in front of the library; it seemed his feet had taken him along a route he had walked many times before. He entered the room, ignoring Madame Pince’s suspicious glare, and wandered aimlessly down the aisles, glancing through the titles for a book that might hold his interest.
He then noticed from afar the locked door of the restricted section.
I really need to get a pass for that. Do they even let first years into the restricted section? Don’t they even realize that by calling it the restricted section, people are more likely to try to sneak in? It sounds like a Dumbledore thing to do, with his forbidden third floor corridors…
Harry was jerked from his thoughts by a sudden crackling noise emanating from the loudspeaker. 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.”
What kind of school was this?
Oddly indifferent to the potential danger of a rogue troll, Harry made for the door. He walked briskly 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.
The person, whom Harry was reasonably certain was female, screamed again, the sound even louder and more hysterical than before. He followed the sound as best he could, and soon found himself outside a girls’ bathroom.
He pulled open the door, peered inside, and felt his heart drop.
Hermione was pressed against the wall, face chalk-white, and her mouth open in a silent scream, while a troll lumbered around the room, a long, thick wooden club dangling from its huge, lumpy hand.
Harry 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 slowly stomp towards her.
Harry darted into the room, wand in hand, wishing desperately that he knew more magic. The troll sensed Harry’s arrival, and turned toward him, swinging its club. He 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 screamed, 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 do we get out of here? 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 forward. She was not quick enough, however, and there was a sickening crack as the troll’s club slammed into her arm.
She screamed in pain, dropping to the ground, her entire body trembling.
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. It seemed to have no other effect then to remind the troll of Harry’s presence. It swung its club towards Harry again, who threw himself out of the way.
He then had a sudden idea.
He stood up quickly and raised his wand.
“Incendio!” he yelled, and a flame shot out of his want and made contact with the troll’s leg.
It howled in pain, but it did not stop it from moving even closer to Harry, the club poised for attack. Apparently, trolls did not have very sensitive nerve endings.
Harry stood pressed into the wall, frozen.
I’m going to die, We’re both doing 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 hand outstretched.
Her wand was on the ground beside her.
Harry’s relief was short-lived, however, when the troll pulled itself up and stomped toward Hermione.
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.
“Is it dead?” he heard Hermione croak. Harry opened his mouth, but froze when a hoard of teachers, namely, McGonagall, Sprout, Flitwick, Quirrel, and Snape rushed into the room.
“Nice of them to show up now,” Harry heard Hermione mutter, 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.
“You are bleeding.”
Harry then realized that his nose was bleeding, as well as the palms of his hands. His entire body ached, actually.
Harry saw Hermione being carried out of the room on a stretcher, and he relaxed minutely, allowing Snape to lift him off the ground.
Everything went dark.
“What. Were. You. Thinking?”
Harry had spent a full day in the hospital wing. He and Hermione had both been treated for magical exhaustion on top of their injuries, and Hermione had been sent home for the week to recover from the ordeal
Harry was now in Snape’s quarters, being hounded for his, in the man’s words “utter idiocy.”
Harry bit his lip.
Snape looked as though he was several moments away from exploding. Harry tensed his shoulders and looked at the ground. Snape wasn’t going to listen to anything he said, not in this mood.
However, the man seemed to notice his train of thought, and visibly calmed himself. Taking a steadying breath, he spoke in a quieter tone.
“Well, to begin, why were you not at the feast?”
Harry picked at the skin around his nails.
“I- my parents died today,” he said in a low voice. “It felt wrong.”
Snape visibly deflated.
“It is so difficult to chastise you, however much it is deserved, when you say such things,” Snape said tiredly.
Harry shrugged. He didn’t deserve sympathy.
“I didn’t even feel anything,” Harry said harshly. “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 then spoke.
“So, you chose not to attend the feast, which is perfectly acceptable, though I do wish…”
He paused again.
“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, rapidly losing patience.
“I had to help Hermione. I heard her, 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. You are extremely lucky.”
“I know, but I had to…”
“You did not have to, you chose to.”
“I did have to, at least if I-” he broke off, looking away.
“I just didn’t want another person I cared about to die today.”
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 today?”
Harry froze, the blood draining from his face.
Harry stared at his hands, his chest tightening inexplicably. Then, to his horror, he felt his eyes begin to water. He squeezed them shut.
No, I will not cry. I won’t.
He couldn’t stop the few tears that escaped.
I’m so pathetic.
“Why did you say that?” Harry bit out, feeling inexplicably angry.
“Harry. Look at me.”
Harry shook his head, keeping his face down and his eye 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. What the man had said could not possibly be true.
Not the way I want it to be. I’m not his… he’ll never really. He doesn’t mean it. He can’t.
Harry’s chest started heaving, and the trembling in his limbs worsened. Without quite realizing it, he was on his feet and sprinting for the door.
Snape let him go.
“Harry, what the hell? Where have you been?”
Apparently, it was not his day.
He’d scrubbed his face clean and ran for his common room, hoping to escape to his dormitory unnoticed. But Anthony, as observant as ever, had grabbed Harry’s arm the moment he’d stepped into the common room.
Harry tried unsuccessfully to yank himself out of Anthony’s grip.
“Get off me,” he snapped.
Anthony’s face suddenly darkened with anger. It gave Harry pause, as it was uncharacteristic of Anthony’s generally open, friendly features.
“I covered for you,” he said in a low, angry tone. “Everyone was asking about you, and I knew you were in the hospital wing, but I didn’t say anything because I know you hate questions, and I was worried, and-.”
“Stop! I’m sorry, okay,” Harry said, unable to conceal the anguish in his tone. He knew his facial expressed was no better.
Anthony shut his mouth abruptly.
Harry bit his lip.
I’m an awful friend. Why does he stick around?
“I didn’t mean to scare you,” Harry said quietly, avoiding Anthony’s eyes.
“I’m sorry I yelled,” Anthony replied. “I just.”
“No,” Harry cut in. “You were right, I shouldn’t’ve…”
They were quiet for a moment.
“Well, I’ll forgive you if you tell me what happened,” Anthony said, suddenly mischievous.
Harry scowled, but complied, Anthony’s eyes growing steadily wider as Harry outlined the events that had occurred.
“You are absolutely mental.”
Harry narrowed his eyes. “I didn’t know the troll was in there, I just heard screaming. What was I supposed to do?”
“Uh, get a teacher, maybe.”
“You sound just like Snape.”
“Well, Potter, if you possessed a modicum of sense, it might have crossed your minuscule mind-”
“Shut up,” Harry cut in, laughing.
Harry felt on edge the moment he’d entered the potions classroom. He studiously avoided Snape’s gaze, focusing intently on his potion, no matter that he’d actually made this one before in Snape’s laboratory during the summer.
He placed his bottled potion on Snape’s desk once complete, and he’d almost reached the door, when-
“Mr. Potter, stay after.”
Harry groaned silently.
Once the classroom emptied of students, Harry approached the man’s desk reluctantly, chewing the inside of his cheek.
Harry followed Snape to a door in the back of the room that led to his office. Snape sat behind his desk, and Harry sat gingerly at the chair facing him.
“Did you assume that our unfinished conversation had slipped my mind?” Snape said evenly.
“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.
“I wasn’t concussed.”
Snape raised an eyebrow.
“You were upset by comment I made, and I would like you to tell me why.”
The man 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.
The guy just acts weirder every day…
“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 as 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.
The man 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. He then met Snape’s dark gaze, against his better judgement. There was that look again. That look that made Harry want to run, freeze, or cry at the unbearable feelings that the sight of it produced.
“Why do you care about your friend, Miss Granger, Harry? 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 to you 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. Or rather, 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-”
Harry felt Snape’s hands moving towards him and pulling his own hands away from his ears. He opened his eyes.
“You can’t do what?”
That unbearable look again.
“It can’t be true, what you’re saying,” Harry said in a hoarse whisper. “So stop saying it, before you hurt me worse.”
Snape’s face was unreadable. “How am I hurting you, Harry?”
“Because you’ll leave. You’ll stop caring, even if you do now.”
“I will not.”
The look in the man’s eyes was so very intense, so intent.
Harry shook his head frantically in denial. Snape cupped Harry’s face in his hands, halting the movement.
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 speak if he wanted to.
“Is. That. Cear.”
Harry gave a short nod, 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 and grabbed his bag from the floor. 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. Just as he reached the door, Snape spoke once more.
He turned his head.
“Detention with me for the rest of the week for your utterly foolish stunt.”
Harry’s mouth dropped open in his consternation.
Snape raised his eyebrows.
Strangely, Harry felt far more like himself after that exchange.
The first thing he noticed when he awoke was the harsh lighting that drilled into his eyes, forcing him to squeeze them shut against the burning.
The second thing he noticed was that although his body ached, he did not hurt nearly as much as he normally did upon awakening in an unfamiliar place with little memory of how he’d gotten there.
The third thing he noticed was that he was lying on a surface that was far softer than anything he had slept on in recent memory.
The fourth thing he noticed when he opened his eyes again was that there was a presence, a human presence, hovering nearby.
He sat bolt upright and let out an involuntary gasp at the sharp pain that shot across his abdomen. His breaths grew short and panicked when he tried to turn his head and found that he could not.
“Lie back on the bed, Potter.”
Harry froze, and his lungs seemed to freeze in response. He tried to draw in a breath and choked, gasping for air, his hands clutching uselessly at his throat.
He felt hands close over his wrists, and at that, he jerked himself backwards and screamed.
That helped him get his breath back, if nothing else. He opened his eyes wide and stared into the face of the man leaning over him, who held Harry’s wrists in a vice-like grip. The man was very pale, with dark, lank hair that hung to his shoulders, and a long, hooked nose. His eyes, however, were the most disconcerting. They seemed to stare straight through Harry’s eyes and into his very soul.
Harry tried to yank his wrists free, but the grip only tightened, and he struggled more frantically, albeit well-aware of the futility of his efforts to free himself from a man much larger than himself.
“Mr. Potter, be still.”
The voice was not loud, but that only made the dark tone seem more sinister.
Harry stilled, his heart thumping so heavily it was painful. He pulled weakly against the man’s grip.
“If I release you, will you remain put?”
Harry tried to nod and found that the movement, too, was obstructed.
The man glanced at his neck.
“I have temporarily put a localized bind on that area to prevent further damage to your spine.”
Harry could not prevent a slight widening of his eyes.
What the bloody hell happened? Who is this man?
“Potter,” the man’s sharp tone cut into his frenzied thoughts. “I have questions, and I expect immediate answers.”
Harry continued to stare. The man frowned back for a moment, then spoke.
“Are you aware, Potter, that a good many people have been searching for you for nearly five years?”
Harry didn’t speak.
“Well?” the man snapped.
Harry stared, feeling a growing sense of alarm as the man’s gaze grew steadily more incensed.
“You will respond this instant,” the man said icily, “or you will not like the consequences.”
Harry just lay there, very still, gradually pulling his awareness away from the situation and into his head. It almost worked, when his shoulders were grabbed and held in a tight, almost painful grip. Without realizing it, he was sitting upright again, reaching for his dagger, which was, alarmingly, not in his pocket. He had no pocket, because these were not his jeans.
Just kill me now.
The boy was sitting across from him at the dining table, as still and silent as he had been at every meal he had attended for the past two weeks. He had made an adequate recovery, though he was still painfully thin. And silent. Utterly silent.
It had not taken Severus long to realize that the boy was incapable of speaking, and that the cause was not at all physical. His vocal chords certainly functioned, which had become increasingly clear when Severus had been awoken on the second night of the boy’s stay…
Severus had not been sleeping long when he jerked awake to the sound of agonized screaming. He jumped out of bed, wand held out, and rushed to find the boy thrashing violently in his bed, blankets twisted around him, and his screams growing more hoarse and painful-sounding by the moment.
Severus grabbed the boy’s shoulders, which stiffened in his grasp, and the boy’s eyes flew open. Those vivid green eyes all but burned holes into Severus’ chest as they gradually regained awareness, and their haunted quality did not lessen. Those eyes alone, too big for the boy’s gaunt face, and too bright for his pale skin, held untold horrors that Severus could not begin to decipher.
Not when the boy would not speak
Not much had changed since then, Severus reflected as he stirred his coffee. Although, he could say with reasonable certainty that the boy responded to Severus waking him from his further nightmares with slightly less obvious fear.
He supposed it was an encouraging sign that the boy, on some level, had realized that Severus had no intention of harming him in those moments.
Nonetheless, it was rather demoralizing to watch the boy refuse to initiate any form of communication. He was certain the boy was not unintelligent; Severus could see the sharp gleam in his eyes beneath the wariness, the way the boy’s eyes scanned his surrounding, and how the boy had lurked at the doorway of the library.
Harry couldn’t sleep. Well, he had been sleeping before, but had woken up as usual. Although, thankfully, his nightmare hadn’t been of the variety that produced screams, it had been of the sort where Harry lay frozen and silent in horror, unable to move or even breathe.
Well, he could move now, and he was not going to lie there staring at the ceiling any longer.
He swung his feet out of bed and shoved them into the slippers that Snape had, for some reason, provided, and he grabbed his tattered sweatshirt from where he had hung it on the bedpost. He crept silently across the hallway and down the stairs, taking care to avoid the ones that creaked.
Harry had seen a radio on the bookshelf in the sitting room, peeking out from behind a stack of books and parchment on one of the lower shelves. If it worked properly, perhaps he could find some music, any music, to drown out the deafening silence that had leaked from his dream into his current reality.
After fiddling with the radio a bit, Harry was gratified to find that it was indeed functional, and, setting the volume at its lowest level, he flipped through the stations until he found one playing a familiar tune. Relaxing minutely, he raised the volume a notch and sat cross-legged on the floor with his hands wrapped around the small, slightly old-fashioned radio.
Hello, darkness, my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again…
His breaths slowed in time with the music, and for the first time in a long while, he felt peaceful.
And the vision that was planted in my brain, still remains, within the sound of silence…
A feeling that didn’t last long.
He heard the floor creak and jumped up, almost dropping the radio in his panic. Snape was standing in the doorway, because of course he would be.
Harry backed towards the wall, still clutching the radio, which continued to emit the song that he had found so comforting.
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light, that split the night, and touched the sound of silence…
“Calm yourself, Mr. Potter.”
Harry paused, pressing the radio into his chest so that it hurt, the edge of it digging into his ribcage.
“You needn’t sneak about in the night to make use of the radio, if it is something you enjoy,” Snape said evenly.
People talking without speaking, people hearing without listening...
Harry narrowed his eyes in confusion.
Does he mean that I shouldn’t leave my room at night, or is he giving me permission to use it?
All the while, the song progressed, undisturbed, its soft, haunting tune producing a strange ache in Harry’s chest.
Fools, said I, you do not know, silence like a cancer grows. Hear my words that I might teach you, take my arms that I might reach you...
“Have a seat, Potter,” Snape said after a pause, pointing at the sofa. Harry glanced towards it, then back at the man.
Harry obeyed, against his better judgement, watching warily as the man moved to sit beside him. He stiffened when the man reach towards him, but Snape only adjusted the volume, allowing the strains be heard more clearly.
But my words, like silent raindrops fell, and echoed in the wells of silence…
There had been a time before the fog, and the silence. There had been a time when Harry had always been armed with some sharp remark or observation to serve up. A time when his brain had never stopped moving. A time when he had been able to expel magic at his will.
He wasn’t sure what had caused that change. But his brain often froze up at the most inopportune moments, clouding his thoughts and instincts until it was too late. Even his vision seemed to fade in and out of focus.
That was what had led him here. He hadn’t reacted quickly enough and had managed to get himself beaten half to death, subsequently awakening in the home of the strange man. Of Snape. Who was confusing. Who had seemed to hate Harry, until he didn’t. Who had clearly wanted to hurt Harry, until he pulled his hands away.
This man made Harry want to speak. But, just as it had been for ages, when he opened his mouth and formed the words, he could not bring himself to say them.
He had become so utterly pathetic.
Well, at least my reflexes are as sharp as ever, he reflected sardonically, tightening his jaw at the way his hand trembled ever so slightly as he gripped a fork in his hand. He often felt as though he had aged prematurely.
Am I fifteen or seventy?
As if to emphasize the point, his arm gave an unexpected jerk, and his elbow bumped against his water glass, knocking it to the floor. Purposefully sealing his mind against the thought of how angry Snape must be, Harry reached for the broken pieces in the faint hope that the cup was somehow salvageable. But in doing so, a sharp shard sliced across his palm.
Startled, Harry dropped the glass and shot up straight in his chair. Snape was staring at him, his dark eyes turbulent, yet unreadable. But he did not seem angry. Nonetheless, Harry jumped when Snape rose abruptly.
“Come with me, Potter.”
Harry froze in alarm.
“Today, Potter,” Snape said irritably.
Harry clenched his shaking fists, feeling the squelch of blood more than he felt the pain of the gash in his palm.
The man sighed.
“I need to heal your hand, Potter,” he said evenly.
Harry calmed slightly, though he kept a wary eye on the man as he rose and followed him hesitantly to the sitting room.
He sat gingerly on the couch and Snape pulled up a chair to sit across from him. Harry scooted back into the couch cushion, hardening his gaze so he could meet the man’s eyes.
“Your hand, Potter.”
Harry lifted his injured hand and, achingly slowly, extended his arm towards Snape, watching as blood dripped from his palm onto the polished wooden floor.
Snape then gripped Harry’s wrist, extending his arm more fully. Harry winced in anticipation, and was rewarded with the sharp, familiar pain of his elbow being wrenched out of place.
Snape looked startled, or rather, a faint expression crossed his face which Harry concluded indicated as much, and he loosened his grip on Harry’s wrist.
“Does this happen often, Potter?” Snape asked in a low tone, catching his gaze.
Harry glanced at his injured arm, obliging the man with a slight nod.
I’m literally breaking into pieces. Just like that glass I knocked over.
Without warning, Harry burst into peals of laughter. He curled in on himself slightly, only Snape’s firm grip preventing Harry from instinctively pulling his arm against his torso.
Harry’s laughter slowly ebbed away, and he caught his breath. Snape was staring at him incredulously, though Harry noticed that the man had somehow sealed the wound in his palm during his bout of hysterics.
“Are you possessed of any semblance of sanity?” Snape said in a dry tone. Harry arched an eyebrow at the man, and shook his head.
The man actually smirked at that.
“Well then, I suppose this is the point at which I extend to you a formal invitation to join the official society of like individuals,” Snape said wryly.
“What has happened to this child?” Poppy muttered sharply, glancing toward the boy.
It had taken nearly an hour of explanations and veiled threats to persuade the boy to attend the hospital wing at Hogwarts, and yet another fifteen minutes to coax him onto a bed and convince him to remove his shirt.
Severus had been prepared to issue yet more threats when the boy point-blank refused to unclothe himself further, but something in Harry’s face has given him pause.
The boy’s normally wary, tense features had hardened into something that Severus knew he could grow to fear, given the chance. His pupils had dilated, breaths grown short and harsh, and the boy had growled. He had looked dangerous, almost feral, and the air around them had grown noticeably colder. The boy had risen from his hunched position on the bed, a magic-induced breeze ruffling through his dark hair ominously. He had then raised his fists, and Severus slowly reached for his wand, loathe to use it against the boy, yet reasonably convinced that the boy was capable of utter destruction in this moment.
But then, the breeze had stopped, the temperature had returned to normal, and the boy had slumped back into the bed, gasping for breath. He’d then looked up at Severus, his face haggard, and shaken his head once.
Poppy had judged that, at this point, her magical scans would have to suffice. The boy had cooperated upon that concession, allowing her to perform her scans without much fight.
The results were worrisome, to say the least.
Indeed, what had happened to the boy? Severus could not begin to guess, because the boy would not speak. He had long since determined that Legilimency would be out of the question, even if the boy’s physical and mental state weren’t compromised.
“Well, at the very least,” Poppy continued in a low tone. “You were correct to assume that his mutism has no physical cause.”
Severus inclined his head, unsurprised.
“I expect that he will eventually speak, although I cannot say what might induce it.”
Poppy then straightened, plastering a pleasant expression on her face that Severus knew would not fool the boy for a moment.
“Harry,” she said briskly, “I believe my scans might clear some things up for you, and hopefully we will see a marked improvement sooner rather than later.”
The boy raised his eyebrows.
“You have been experiencing problems with your vision, correct?”
The boy squinted at her, then nodded faintly.
“You are quite near-sighted, Harry, and you have quite a severe case of astigmatism on top of that.”
The boy’s eyes widened in understanding. His mouth opened slightly, but he then pressed his lips together quickly.
“What I suspect,” Poppy continued, “is that you experienced vision problems as a young child, which eventually seemed to clear itself up until relatively recently. Am I correct in assuming so?”
The boy nodded sharply, looking more focused than Severus had seen him do thus far.
“Your magic has been compensating for your vision, as it often does in cases such as this.”
The boy wrinkled his forehead, a million unspoken thoughts flashing through his eyes. Thoughts that Severus would not hear him say aloud.
“It has ceased to work efficiently,” Poppy went on, “because your eyes have developed a dependence on your magic to function, draining you of increasingly more magical reserves. This had likely resulted in blurred and double vision, difficulty focusing, headaches, and dizziness.”
The boy wore a startlingly open expression of dread, tempered with a hint of faint hope.
“This can be corrected,” Poppy said soothingly, and the boy relaxed minutely. “You will be fitted with corrective lenses, and, with time, your magic will cease to compensate for your poor vision.”
The boy swallowed, bunching the bed sheets in his fists.
“You are quite fortunate that we caught this now; had this issue been neglected for even two years more, the damage would have likely been irreversible.”
The boy closed his eyes, for all the world looking like an old man trapped in the body of a scrawny adolescent.
“That is not all, however,” she continued, unable to entirely mask the disturbed lilt in her tone.
The boy stared at her again, his bright green gaze appearing particularly arresting to Severus, in this moment.
“Your right kidney is entirely useless, your left functioning at sixty percent of normal capacity. Your liver is failing, and you experienced untreated appendicitis several years ago that resulted in a ruptured appendix.”
Both Severus and the boy gaped at her.
How could that possibly be?
Severus was utterly thrown. By all rights, the boy should have died a long time ago, in such a condition.
“A large portion of your magical and physical energy has been dedicated to keeping you alive, Harry,” Poppy said softly, drawing slightly closer to the boy. “It is clear to me that you are incredibly magically powerful to have remained alive this long.”
The boy stared at her, questions burning in his eyes, and Poppy instinctively seemed to hear the unvoiced words.
“This is the cause of your physical weakness, exhaustion, cognitive impairment, and deteriorated magical ability.”
The boy drew in a wheezing breath. Poppy made an aborted arm motion, as though she’d intended to reach for the boy but then thought better of it.
“We will solve this, Harry,” she said intently, sitting carefully on the foot of his bed
Harry’s eyes were burning.
Not for the usual reasons, though. Within two days of his visit to Madame Pomfrey, where she’d set him on a regiment of potions to correct his vision and organ damage, the changes had been evident.
His vision had begun to clear, although at first, he had just noticed a decrease in the dizziness he’d grown accustomed to. Then, the blurring grew less frequent, and, to his pleasure, he found that he could focus upon the pages of a book without the words fading into smudges and his head stabbing with the effort it took to focus.
Now he could read as much as he pleased, and the burning of his eyes were only due to the fact that he’d been reading so quickly, for so long, and forgetting to blink.
He stuck his fingers beneath the lenses of his new glasses and rubbed at his eyes.
He could actually read again.
And what he’d come to refer to as the fog – when his mind seemed to freeze up and fade into a greyish haze, sapping from him the drive to act, think, or even move, had been occurring far less frequently.
Suddenly, every sound seemed louder, every sight more colorful, and every sensation more vivid. He could scarcely move his eyes rapidly enough to absorb it all.
Not that every development was so pleasant.
As Snape did not hesitate to remind him, the regiment of potions he was taking was experimental, and there was no clear way of knowing precisely what the outcome would be, nor the exact side effects.
Not that Harry needed to be informed of them. As the potions he took daily encouraged his magic to recede from his organs and function as normal, his body began to take on the burden of his healing.
Some of the potions he took functioned to lessen the pain and weakness, but he certainly felt it. He felt perpetually nauseated, a sensation that Pomfrey had predicted and assured him would eventually pass. It made mealtimes uncomfortable, as he could barely stomach the food he was given, but Snape refused to compromise on this. He would not allow Harry to leave the table until he consumed what Snape considered a respectable quantity, snapping, when Harry tried to refuse, that “you are underfed enough as it is, and the potions I have expended a significant amount of time and effort into will be rendered useless if you refuse to eat, you senseless child.”
No one is forcing him to make the damn potions...
Harry rolled his eyes, this time at his own idiocy instead of Snape’s overbearingness. He was feeling more alive than he had in years. What was a bit of pain and nausea in comparison?
Oh, and the fact that I can barely make it up the stairs on my own...
Yes, it would likely pass, but it was pretty bloody inconvenient to have to rely on Snape to prevent him from crashing down the stairs and undoing all the work it had taken to heal him.
Speak of the devil, and he shall appear...
Snape had chosen that moment to walk into the library, and Harry most certainly did not flinch at the noise of his entrance.
Harry sighed internally, simultaneously irritated at the man and disgusted with himself.
How could I consider food to be an inconvenience? That’s completely irrational. I may actually be certifiably insane.
Harry closed his book and stood, pushing down on the armrests for support.
He scowled again, avoiding the man’s gaze as he gingerly made his way to the door. He did not want to see in Snape’s eyes what he was certain would be there.
Pity, as well as contempt at Harry’s weakness.
That’s what I am, isn’t it? Weak. I was too weak to stand up to the Dursleys, too weak to defend myself, too weak to stop the nightmares…
And he was too weak to even speak. He really wished he could, now. He wanted so much to just hear the sound of his voice, to know that he was able to speak, to make his mark upon the space he inhabited.
It was strange that he had run so far from the people that had locked him away, only to trap himself in a far more restrictive prison than they could ever have devised.
But he couldn’t speak, he just couldn’t.
And he hated himself for it.
As if to validate his point, Harry stumbled, nearly falling to the ground as a sharp pain laced through his abdomen. Snape caught him before he fell, pulling him up by his armpits and holding him upright as the pain slowly ebbed away.
This was standard practice, these days.
Doesn’t make it any better…
Harry flushed darkly and tensed his shoulders, attempting unsuccessfully to yank himself out of Snape’s grip.
“Enough with this idiocy,” Snape growled, tugging him into a more secure grip. Harry tried to pull away again, but Snape then turned him around by the shoulders to glower at him. Harry glared back.
“You are recovering from multiple organ failure, you idiotic child,” the man snapped.
Yeah, I know that, thanks, Harry thought mutinously. And I’m not a child.
He scowled back at Snape, who looked as though he wanted to say more, but then he straightened, pulling Harry along towards the kitchen and pushing him down onto a chair. His motions were far from rough, but there was a certain terseness to them, all the same.
Harry stared at his plate. And continued to do so for a good few moments as Snape settled into his own meal. He could feel the man’s eyes boring into the top of his head.
“Must you comport yourself as a petulant child?” Snape finally snapped after several uncomfortable moments.
Harry’s mouth twisted a bit, but he held himself still, his face down.
“Look at me,” the man said, the volume of his tone rising dangerously.
Harry looked up this time, feeling oddly reckless despite knowing what would undoubtedly happen if he continued to irritate the man.
“Well?” Snape said acidly.
Harry raised his eyebrows.
“Why will you not speak?”
Harry felt the fight draining out of him rapidly at that, although he made a valiant effort to mask it, forming the sneering expression he had often worn in the past, when he knew he had been beaten but refused to give his attacker the satisfaction of seeing his pain or fear.
Snape’s expression grew even more fearsome in response, his lips thinning. He leaned forward, palms flat on the table.
“I am trying to help you, damnit,” he hissed. “But you will not eat, you will not communicate your needs, and I cannot help you if you do not allow me to!” His voice had risen to a near-shout.
Harry held his position despite his every instinct that urged him to flee.
“I know you are capable, so why do you refuse?”
Harry felt searing anger rise in his chest, a curious feeling, one that he had not felt so intensely in quite a long time. He was on his feet more quickly than his mind could process, and he swung his arm out wildly, knocking most of the table’s contents to the floor with a deafening crash.
Through slightly hazy vision, Harry could see Snape moving toward him, face white with fury. But, instead of retreating, he charged towards the man, his fists flying and landing at every surface he could reach.
Harry didn’t know where he was anymore, who he was, or who the target of his fury was. His rage, which he had never known existed, had risen to the forefront of his being and burst forth from his chest. There was nothing he could do to restrain it. He could feel the energy, the magic, which had seemed to have long forsaken him, rushing out of him explosively.
It was only the familiar, shooting pain in his abdomen, courtesy of his healing organs, that pulled him sharply back to reality. As sensation returned to him, he found himself in a half-lying, half-seated position on the floor of the kitchen, his arms pinned tightly to his sides. And his back was resting against a warm surface.
He opened his eyes, drawing in a breath that turned into a choking gasp. He breathed more slowly, in through his nose and out through his mouth, just as Jade had once told him...
The grip on his arms shifted, loosening very slightly, although not enough to him give him the chance to pull away. Harry did try straightening up a bit, and in response, Snape did release his grip in order to shift over and face him.
The man looked distinctly disheveled; the sleeves of his robes were torn, Harry could see drying streaks of blood on his forehead and swelling on his lower jaw, and the room itself appeared as though a bomb had erupted.
I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry…
The boy had the unnerving ability to manipulate his facial features to appear as though he were utterly unconcerned.
Severus might have been fooled, were he not a master of such skills himself. To his eyes, the boy was clearly terrified and confused, though doing a commendable job of hiding those feelings.
Harry had fallen asleep on the couch not long after his outburst had subsided. Severus had covered the boy with a blanket and set up his bed in his office, not wanting to frighten the boy should he awaken to find Severus nearby, though loath to leave the boy unattended after all that had occurred.
Severus had managed to exit his office this morning quietly enough not to alert the boy of his movements, and he was hovering near the doorway, watching him.
Harry was upright on the couch, blanket around his shoulders, and the radio on his lap. It was emitting a soft, faint tune that Severus could not quite make out.
The boy was also clearly in a state of hopeless dread, as though he was certain of a coming calamity and powerless to halt it.
He is frightened of me, or what I might do.
There was no use waiting any longer. Severus cleared his throat, and, as expected, the boy stiffened, drawing in a shallow breath. Severus entered the room and sat directly across from the boy, and, although Harry’s face remained stony, his body tightened so much that it trembled faintly with the tension.
Severus studied the boy, deliberately remaining silent in the hopes that, perhaps, the boy might be provoked into communicating somehow.
How arrogant am I to believe that he will speak now, for me, if his mutism has been in effect for far longer than I’ve known him?
The boy was not going to speak, so there was no use prolonging it. It was only cruel.
“I have no intention of punishing you,” Severus finally said, eyeing the boy carefully. The boy’s blank expression shifted into one of open disbelief.
“You doubt my word?” Severus inquired in an even tone.
The boy’s mouth twisted, the cynical mistrust evident upon his face.
“What possible benefit would there be to penalizing you for last night’s occurrence?”
He asked the question knowing full well that the boy would not answer. Harry was displaying his response quite evidently in his utterly baffled expression, in any case.
It wasn’t hard to infer what confused the boy so.
“Do you believe that punishments are set by figures of authority as a form of revenge against their charges, perhaps?”
The boy actually let out a sound at that comment; a strangled sort of laugh that was entirely devoid of mirth.
Severus could feel his own icy rage growing as the boy’s reaction confirmed much of what he’d suspected. Of what he was fairly certain the boy had experienced, and had been subjected to. At the very least, he’d been in the care of people who had led him to believe that pain and punishment were synonymous, and that individuals of greater power and stature than he would not hesitate to use his weakness against him.
Whether it had been the boy’s erstwhile muggle guardians who had done so, or if other, unknown individuals were the culprits, he did not know. Or perhaps it had been both, considering that the muggles had died five years ago and he could not begin to infer where the boy had been since that time.
Either way, I am far out of my depth with this child. This boy, who is hardly a child, and seems as though he had lived through several lifetimes.
Severus could only hope that his next few steps would be the right ones, no matter that he felt utterly bereft of direction in helping the boy that sat before him.
Severus refocused upon the boy, who was still staring at him, green eyes hostile, and biting his lips so hard he was cutting into the skin.
“Whatever your understanding of punishment may or may not be,” Severus began, his tone deliberately severe, “it will not be occurring in any form.”
The boy appeared even more disturbed by that, if possible. His reaction was such that Severus may as well have stated the opposite.
Perhaps… he does not believe my words, and only wishes for me to proceed with what he fully anticipates.
Severus prayed to whatever deities existed that his next movement was the correct action to take. He reached out and gripped the boy’s upper arms firmly, frowning internally at the way his hands so easily wrapped around their circumference.
Surprisingly, Harry did not flinch. His face cleared of all expression once more, and his eyes grew frightfully empty, somewhat reminiscent of the vacant gazes Severus had seen in victims of the Dementor’s Kiss.
Severus clenched his jaw, and he tightened his grip and shook the boy firmly, with the precarious level of force it took to gain his attention and avoid exacerbating his healing injuries and illnesses.
Harry’s eyes widened, life rushing back into them, along with the terror Severus had been expecting. He recoiled backwards and squeezed his eyes shut, struggling desperately against the grip that Severus would not relinquish.
“Harry, look at me.”
The boy’s struggles grew more frantic, so much so that he was certainly causing himself pain.
“Look at me. Now!” Severus barked.
The boy’s eyes flew open, the terror in his eyes slicing through Severus in a way that felt almost physical.
“Calm yourself, and listen to me,” he said harshly
The boy’s struggles ceased, and were replaced by faint trembling and occasional twitches. Severus move more closely to the boy so that their knees nearly touched.
“Look at my hands, Harry.”
For a moment, the boy looked blank, but he then obeyed with a furrow of his brow, glancing down at where Severus gripped his upper arms.
“Now look back at me,” Severus said softly.
Harry looked back up at him.
“My hands are touching your arms, Harry, and that is all they are doing. My hands are not moving from that spot.”
Harry’s eyes widened, and he stared at Snape as though he had just made a little-known, yet monumental revelation.
Harry was abruptly awoken from the images his dreaming mind had chosen to grace him with on this night.
He drew in a panicked breath and opened his eyes to meet familiar, dark eyes. Snape’s hands were gripping his shoulders, as per usual when he woke the man with his shouts. He held Snape’s gaze as his breathing gradually slowed, finding the tunnel-like quality of the man’s eyes oddly soothing.
Harry inhaled slowly, peering downward towards his lap.
The man released his shoulders abruptly. Harry felt a hollow sort of chill in the absence of his grip. When Snape shifted as though to back out of the room, Harry’s hand, seemingly of its own accord, shot forward to grab the sleeve of the man’s black dressing gown.
Harry couldn’t hold back the embarrassed flush, but he did not, could not, pull his hand away. There was a pause, and Harry then felt Snape carefully wrap Harry’s fingers within his own. Harry slowly lifted his head, terrified, yet feeling an overwhelming sense of desperation.
The man’s expression was softer than Harry had ever seen it. The gaze was compassionate, for all Harry knew of that word.
He gave a full-bodied shudder, his breath hitching faintly. He closed his eyes against the man’s piercing gaze, but opened them again when he heard the rustling of the man’s sleeve as he slowly extended his other hand.
Harry watched, frozen, as the man, very slowly, reached towards Harry and cupped the back of Harry’s head in his palm.
Then, with gentle, yet firm pressure, he pulled Harry’s head toward him, resting Harry’s forehead again his shoulder.
Harry couldn’t help but gasp, unable to fight the instinct that had him jerking back.
“Hush,” the man whispered, his hand warm against Harry’s head, his other gently squeezing his fingers.
Harry stepped outside into the early morning sunlight, glancing over his shoulder furtively. Snape had never said he couldn’t go outside, but then, Harry had not realized until he’d awoken this morning that he had not set foot on the grounds surrounding Snape’s house since his arrival.
He was only now feeling the desperate urge to simply breathe in the fresh air. He kicked off his slippers by the doorway and stepped barefoot on to the lawn, dewy grass poking at his soles. He walked slowly, overwhelmed by the vividness of… everything. He could hear the birds chirping, he could even detect the disparity in the pitches of the sounds. The owl’s hoot low and melodious, the high, thin trill of another. Nature truly was a form of music, if less structured and wilder than that which humans produced.
Most wonderfully, however, Harry could see the pink-golden glow of the sunrise in perfect clarity.
Harry gazed towards the skyline, entranced. He’d forgotten than anything could look like this. He strode towards a tree that appeared suitable for climbing, and, after a moment’s hesitation, he scampered up the branches for a better view.
It had been a long time since Harry had been off the ground. The experience did not hold quite the same level of intrigue that it had when he’d been younger, but it felt peaceful, nonetheless.
He wasn’t quite sure what prompted him to reach for his dagger and carve his initials into the tree trunk. But as he formed the letters, he felt an odd lightness in his chest.
H.J.P. Harry James Potter.
My name is Harry Potter, and I am alive.
He was no longer the ghost of a boy who had haunted the city streets, invisible and immaterial to the masses that passed him by. Until he had grown so distant from his own self, engulfed in the fog that had overtaken his mind and vision, that nothing mattered much anymore. He simply existed, day after day, vaguely hoping than the next time he closed his eyes to rest would be the last.
He was real, and he had magic. He could make his mark on the world, now, and it would start with this rough carving of his name.
He could have remained up there for hours, if not for the tell-tale crushing of the dried leaves on the ground, indicating the arrival of Snape.
Harry clenched his jaw.
No, I’m not going to be afraid anymore.
Harry swiveled around so he was facing the direction where Snape stood on the ground below him.
The man was looking up at him, but he did not appear angry. Harry looked back cautiously, his anger deflating a bit.
“Come down for breakfast, Harry,” the man said calmly.
Harry hesitated, then dropped from the tree and landed neatly on his feet, knees slightly bent.
Snape let out a sharp breath.
“Potter,” he snapped.
Harry stared back defiantly. The man said nothing, however, and simply closed his eyes for a moment. He then took Harry’s shoulder, ignoring the tell-tale flinch, and led him swiftly to the house.
Harry felt rather stupid at the rate of his heartbeat as they entered the kitchen and took their seats.
Why am I still afraid? He didn’t hurt me even when I attacked him.
Harry let out a breath and filled his plate, relishing in his recently returned appetite. He glanced up vaguely towards the back of the newspaper that Snape was reading.
Rumors of occasional sightings of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named persist, despite the Minister’s assurances that…
Harry went pale.
“Harry Potter, or shall I say, the Boy-Who-Lived, we meet again,” a cold, hissing voice had uttered, the sound emerging from a small bundle in the mouse-like man’s arms.
“It seems you, too, have been graced with a moniker, although He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named evokes a certain level of… reverence that yours does not. Pity, that. You do have the makings of quite the fearsome wizard…”
He’d been fourteen at the time, and the mouse-like man that he’d noticed lurking nearby over the previous several days had appeared out of nowhere, grabbing his arm.
He then experienced the unsettling sensation of being sucked through a very narrow tube, and he opened his eyes to find himself in a graveyard standing before a tombstone that read the name Tom Riddle.
His memories of the following incidents had grown vague.
Bone of the father, unknowingly given…
His mind cringed away from the image his memory stirred up. The stench of rotted corpses, the strangely preserved skeleton…
Flesh of the servant, willingly sacrificed…
A dismembered limb, a piercing shriek of agony…
Blood of the enemy, forcibly taken…
He hadn’t screamed when the man cut his arm. He watched through empty eyes as his blood dribble sluggishly into the vial.
When the man had reached for the bundle and made to dump it into the cauldron, a dizzying rush of energy had rushed from Harry’s hands, which shot forward reflexively. The contents of the bundle had exploded into dust, leaving no trace of what had existed but a scream that had grown ever fainter until it faded entirely.
The mouse-like man had laid upon the ground, eyes vacant, blank, dead.
A hand on Harry’s arm pulled him back to reality, where he was met with a concerned, dark gaze.
Harry bit his lip, clenching his fists to stop the shaking.
“What is it?”
Harry drew in a breath, then opened his mouth, willing his voice to sound the words he wanted to say. But he couldn’t. He shifted in his seat, forcing back a frustrated growl.
“What happened, Harry?” Snape asked again, urgently, though clearly not expecting an answer. Harry squeezed his eyes shut, and, again, unsuccessfully attempted to speak. Nothing for it, though.
Harry awoke with a scream, the volume and intensity of it painful to his own ears. And Snape was in his room, holding his wrists, his gaze fierce. Harry stared into his eyes, and he felt an odd tug, of an almost physical sort, at his mind. He reared back frantically, and the pressure eased. But then he met the man’s eyes again and focused intently, pushing forward the memory, willing the man to understand, to see…
And Severus did see. He witnessed in full detail the events that had taken place in the graveyard, which explained a great deal, from the tingling he’d felt in his Mark, the whispers of sightings, and, perhaps, in part, what haunted the boy so.
But then he saw more.
He saw the boy, and a blade, and a shock of blood.
A light-haired man being thrown headfirst against a wall lined with decorative flowers.
The cramped interior of a darkened cupboard…
A large, red-faced man, snarling… A sickening snap of bones…
A streetlamp flickering out, and then another, and a vague glimpse of a tall, thin figure…
A drawing, a sketch of a face consumed by flames…
Haunted, blue-grey eyes that looked oddly familiar…
And Harry shoved him out, gasping for breath, hands over his face. When the boy lowered his hands and looked up, Severus felt a cowardly urge to avoid his gaze, certain he would be met with fear and loathing.
He was wrong.
Harry looked shocked and unsettled, certainly, but there was an odd gleam of hope that Severus could not fully comprehend.
“Harry,” Severus whispered harshly against the painful dryness in his throat. The boy reached out and grabbed his wrists, the grip so tight that Severus’ arms ached.
Severus did not move nor blink as the boy’s gaze pierced him. He kept his breaths short and shallow, caught in a rare moment when he truly did not know what to do. Then, the boy opened his mouth and breathed out a word so faint that Severus could scarcely make it out.
Severus gently dislodged the boy’s grip on his arms and conjured a chair beside the bed. He sat down, and reached forward to lay a hand atop the boy’s head.
Gradually, Harry relaxed and his breathing steadied. Severus did not move his hand, in part not to frighten the boy, loath to give him any cause, however brief, to fear the contact he so desperately needed. The other part was, simply, because Severus did not want to let go