Harry took the side hallways to get to Gryffindor tower, not wanting to meet anyone along the way. He could imagine how quickly news would spread once he was spotted, and didn’t want Ron and Hermione to hear it from anyone besides him.
It was only when he reached the portrait hole that he realized they might not be in the tower. It was, after all, a Saturday afternoon, and the weather hadn’t gotten too cold yet for October.
“Pixie Wings,” he muttered, his face tilted towards the floor.
“What? Speak up, I can’t hear you,” the Fat Lady huffed.
Harry looked up, grimacing when she gasped. “Well I’ll be! It’s—”
“Pixie Wings,” Harry said loudly, interrupting her exclamation.
“Alright,” she frowned, opening.
Harry stepped inside the Gryffindor Common Room and stood still as, for the second time that day, an entire room of people went silent at his entrance.
This time, however, there was no Snape to hold off the crowd, and everyone jumped to their feet at once, shouting.
“I can’t believe it!”
“We thought you were dead, mate!”
“What happened?? Where were you?”
Harry immediately turned to this last voice, the only one not shouting, met Hermione’s brown gaze.
He cleared his throat, mouth suddenly dry. “Hey, Hermione,” he croaked.
She stepped forward slowly, as if in a trance. Her eyes were quickly tearing up, and he wanted to look away, but couldn’t.
“What… why…” she cleared her throat. “Where were you?”
Aware of the crowd of listeners, he only said, “London.”
She looked him up and down. “You look awful.”
“Thanks,” he said wryly.
Suddenly, she threw her arms around him and buried her face in his shoulder. “We were so worried about you!” she sobbed.
Harry rubbed her back awkwardly, spitting out strands of bushy hair. “I’m sorry ‘Mione, really, I am.”
She pulled back, sniffing, then froze, staring at a spot behind his shoulder.
Harry turned to see Ron standing in the open portrait hole, clearly having just entered. He was panting. “Ginny found me… said Harry…” he trailed off.
“Hey, mate,” Harry said, smiling weakly.
Ron walked up to him, disbelief on his face. “Harry, is that really you?”
“Yeah, it’s me.”
“You… look terrible,” he said, breaking into a grin.
Harry grinned back, relieved. “Count on you two to tell it like it is.”
“No Harry, really,” Hermione said, tracing his jaw with her fingers. “You have a massive bruise.”
“I’ve got more than one,” Harry admitted easily. The others seemed to think this was a bigger deal than it was, but allowed him to change the subject to classes. Predictably, Hermione sighed.
“Oh, you have so much work to make up! Of course, I’ve been keeping a detailed list of all the assignments you’ve missed, and you can borrow my notes. I’ll draw up a study schedule so you can get it done as quickly as possible.”
“Leave off it, ‘Mione!” Ron said, grinning at Harry over her head. “He’s only just got back!”
She put her hands on her hips. “Harry’s got a lot of stuff to do, Ronald, and you can’t be distracting him.”
“Mental, this one,” Ron whispered as they followed her out of the common room, ignoring the stares of the still-watching crowd.
“I heard that!” Hermione called from up ahead.
Harry felt nearly giddy with happiness. Over the past two months, this had been what he’d missed more than anything else.
“Glad you’re back, Harry,” Ron said.
“Yeah,” Harry agreed. “Me too.”
The adjustment back to daily life was just as difficult as Harry had expected it to be, but not for the reasons he’d thought.
He’d known that his disappearance and reappearance would be a cause of a lot of gossip amidst the student body, but after a week, people seemed to accept that they wouldn’t learn any more than “London” about Harry’s whereabouts and moved on to other topics.
He told Ron and Hermione the whole story, of course. Both had been horrified to hear of what the Dursleys did, and Hermione had cried for fifteen minutes after he did a brief recounting of his time on the streets. While her face was buried in her hands, Harry had shown Ron the jagged scar on his forearm from the first knife fight he’d gotten into. He’d whistled quietly, shaking his head.
“I’m glad you’re alright, mate,” he’d said, absently patting Hermione’s shoulder.
Making up his late work was hard, but Hermione was really helpful. The study schedule she drew up meant that he was steadily chipping away at his missed assignments, and in two weeks, he’d read up on most of the material and started on the essays.
What he hadn’t counted on, however, was the jumpy instincts honed during his “stint on the streets”, as Ron called it. One time, one of Neville’s spells had backfired with a loud noise, and Harry had leapt to his feet, looking around wildly. Another time, Malfoy had tossed a pickled toad towards Harry’s cauldron, and Harry had batted it away with such speed and force that it slammed into the side of Pansy Parkinson’s table and exploded, leaving her covered in toad guts and screaming. His classmates had all noticed his twitchy behavior, and even his friends had taken to announcing their presence before touching him after Hermione tapped his shoulder from behind and he’d almost broken her nose.
It all came to head in the Dungeons on Friday. He’d been held after class by Snape, who had been returning some of the late essays Harry had finished and turned in. The halls were empty; it’d been the last class of the day, and everyone was eager to get outside for what was probably the last nice weekend of the year.
Harry was distracted, pondering Snape’s recent behavior changes when he’d been badly startled by a cough behind him. Without thinking, since the sound had reminded him of a strange old man that used to peer at him oddly in London whenever he passed by his alley, Harry pulled out his wand and shouted “Flipendo!”
It wasn’t until Ron was flung back and cracked his head against the wall that Harry realized who it was.
“Ron!” Harry cried, leaping to his friend’s side.
A thick trickle of blood was oozing down the boy’s temple, and Harry had a flashback to another boy with blood on his face. That time, Harry had been fighting for his life, but Ron was his best friend.
Shaking, Harry felt Ron’s head. A lump was rising where he’d smacked against the stone wall of the corridor, and his eyes were shut.
He must have been waiting for Harry to get out of Snape’s office.
If they hadn’t been so near, and Snape hadn’t just been so surprisingly patient, Harry would have never even thought of going to the man. Now, however, he ran to the classroom he’d just vacated.
He pounded on the closed door, trying to not panic. It flung open moments later, and Snape looked down at Harry.
“Please, sir,” he gasped, clutching his side. “It’s all my fault.”
“What is it?” Snape asked sharply.
“Ron,” Harry said.
Snape followed him down the hall and around the corner to where Ron still lay, unmoving.
“I didn’t know it was him,” Harry said, running a hand through his still-uncut hair.
“Then he won’t blame you for cursing him,” Snape said shortly, pulling out his wand and running a diagnostic over the unconscious boy. “He’s alright, just concussed.”
He conjured a stretcher and levitated Ron’s body onto it.
Harry walked alongside Snape all the way to the hospital wing, mentally blaming himself the whole way.
When Madame Pomfrey saw her patient, she turned to the two who brought him in.
Harry opened his mouth to explain, but Snape cut in first. “Mr. Weasley hit his head against a wall. No spell damage, just concussed.”
Madame Pomfrey nodded and went to fetch a potion.
“Mr Potter, if you would accompany me to my office.”
Casting one last mournful look at Ron, Harry followed Snape back the way they had come.
In the man’s office, Harry was instructed to sit in the uncomfortable visitor’s chair provided. Snape remained standing, leaning against the desk with his arms crossed, watching Harry contemplatively.
“I didn’t mean to,” Harry finally whispered, the silence becoming too much for him.
“I know,” Snape said.
Harry looked at him.
He didn’t know what to make of Snape anymore. Ever since the man had bought him food and clothes that day Harry was discovered, his behavior had changed. He was still snarky and irritable in class, but it seemed to Harry that his insults were less personal. No one else seemed to have noticed, so Harry kept quiet.
Snape had also been the teacher to take him to Diagon Alley. The professor really hadn’t said much of anything at all during the trip, which in itself was unusual, but he had given some good advice on good casual clothes to buy. Harry didn’t know much about wizard casual clothing, and still wasn’t sure why Snape would know anything, considering how Harry had never seen him in anything beside all-black dress robes, but he finally owned clothes that weren’t a uniform but still fit.
Snape shifted slightly, tilting his head. “You should tell someone what happened during those two months in London.”
“I told Ron and Hermione.”
“Good.” He cleared his throat, then said, “You know that you are safe here, correct?”
“Yeah, that’s why they have Dementors posted all around the school. ‘Cause its ‘safe’,” Harry said without thinking.
Snape didn’t take points, however. He only nodded. “True.”
Harry hated loud noises, but he was beginning to hate louder silences more.
Snape abruptly pulled out his desk chair and sat down. “When we go through something traumatic—”
“Sir, please don’t give me a pep talk.”
Snape raised his eyebrows slightly. “Do I look like Oliver Wood?”
Harry waved a hand in frustration. “Everyone’s told me the same thing. ‘You went through a difficult thing. It’s okay to get scared sometimes. Time will heal. You’ll be back to normal soon.’ I’m tired of hearing it.”
Snape pursed his lips. “Yes, I suppose you are. Don’t worry, that’s not what I was going to say.”
“Well, good,” Harry muttered, then blushed at how childish he sounded.
“I was going to remind you that your experiences shape you. You shouldn’t expect yourself to forget the lessons that life taught you. The instincts you developed in London aren’t necessarily a bad thing. Those two months taught you to be prepared for danger from any direction, to be ready for anything. While you are no longer on the streets, you are not, unfortunately, out of danger.” He gave a small, sardonic smile. “You’re Harry Potter. Danger seems to follow you wherever you go.”
“Thanks,” Harry muttered, twisting the hem of his T-shirt in his hands. “I feel so much better now.”
“What I am trying to tell you is that you shouldn’t be trying to return to your former complacency.”
“That instinct might keep you alive where nothing else will. What you do need to learn is control.”
“And how do I do that?” Harry asked, feeling exhausted.
Snape sighed. “I suppose it’s different for everyone.” He paused. “Many people who fought in the war went through the same thing you’re going through now. They had to learn how to adjust to the situation. It might behoove you to work with one of them. Remus Lupin, for example.”
Harry nodded slowly, mulling over what his professor had said. He lifted his gaze to meet Snape’s serious stare. “What about you?”
Snape was clearly taken aback, although he quickly smoothed over his expression. “Me, Potter?”
“Yeah. You fought in the war. Didn’t you?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Then why don’t you teach me? You were able to keep up with me in London after a lot of people would have gotten lost, and you never miss a thing in class.”
Snape seemed at a loss for words for a moment. Just when Harry thought he was going to give him detention for his insolence, Snape said slowly, “I will think about it.”
Well, that definitely wasn’t a yes, but Harry felt a spark of hope ignite in his chest anyways. “Thanks, sir.”
Snape nodded, then gestured to the door with his chin. “Now, get out of here. Everyone else is no doubt ignoring their homework and wasting time outdoors.”
Harry smiled and rose. “Yes, sir.”
As he left the office, Harry wondered whether things just might be starting to look up.