Author's note: Hello my lovelies! Sorry for the long wait, but Severus and Harry were not cooperating with me on this one. They just wanted to hug and make up, but Severus needed this one final push. As a treat for being so amazing and patient, this is the longest chapter I have ever written for you, topping my next longest one by close to 3000 words.
Let me know what you think! Anyone salty with Severus? Make sure to leave a review!
Harry froze and turned around slowly. Severus was approaching from the entrance to the dungeons and Draco was leaning against the wall, smirking. Harry observed his livid guardian and his brain seemed to be moving in both slow motion and hyperdrive, scrambling to come up with the appropriate response. As he stood there, he had a flashback to one of his first weeks with Severus and he had had a nightmare in which Severus had looked as angry as he possibly could be.
Well, I was wrong, Harry thought slowly as Severus stalked across the hall. He definitely could have been angrier.
Harry gulped as we watched Severus cross the hall, rooted to the spot. He knew he had really messed up this time. Carefully arranging his features into a blank mask, one that matched Severus´ own, Harry tried to figure out how he should react.
Although his guardian´s face wasn´t giving much away, he couldn´t hide the anger in his eyes and his stiff posture. Harry managed not to jump when Severus reached out and grabbed him by the ear. That wasn't out of the ordinary after all. Severus tended to be an ear grabber when Harry really ticked him off. Luckily the Entrance Hall was relatively empty so Harry managed to fight off the blush creeping up his cheeks. He wouldn't let Malfoy know he was embarrassed by this scene. The ferret´s smirk was big enough as it was.
Harry struggled to keep up with Severus' long strides, stumbling a bit on the stones of the dungeon floor. This caused his ear to tug sharply in Severus' grip and Harry instinctively raised his hand to rub it, but forced his hand to stop half way up. Severus glanced down at the movement and immediately released his grip.
"Thank you, sir,"
Severus' stiff nod was his only response so Harry remained quiet as Severus led him through his classroom and into his office, the door banging against the wall. Harry shrank back but dutifully followed Severus to the front of the room. His guardian stopped behind his desk for a moment, surveying the child in front of him.
"Did I hurt you?" Severus asked suddenly, gesturing vaguely to Harry's head.
"What? Oh-" Harry brought his hand to his ear and rubbed it absently. "No sir, not at all."
"Good." Severus nodded and looked relieved before his face turned serious again. "Where were you today?"
"Think before you answer child. Lying will not be tolerated."
Harry closed his mouth again and surveyed his guardian carefully. Could he get away with a lie? Probably not. Should he try anyways? The only evidence he had was Malfoy's word and everyone knew he was out to get Harry in trouble. He had better not risk it, Harry decided. Severus was seriously angry. He tried to hide it, but Harry could see it in his stiff posture and the cold fire in his eyes. At least he wasn't yelling yet. When he was mad, he usually got quiet, like now, but yelling came after if you made him mad enough.
Harry was brought out of his internal dilemma by a strange pressure behind his forehead. It was only there for a moment and then it was gone, as if Harry imagined it. He shook off the distraction and sucked in a deep breath, letting it out slowly.
"I- I snuck out to Hogsmeade sir." Harry murmured quietly, turning his gaze to the floor.
It was quiet for so long that Harry had to look up. He couldn't stand not knowing what was going on. Severus was pacing behind his desk, eyes were closed and he was pinching the bridge of his nose. After what felt like an eternity, but was probably just a few moments, Severus stopped at turned to Harry.
Harry gulped and steeled his nerves before responding. He already had made the decision to be honest so he might as well keep going.
"I don't have a good reason sir. I just really wanted to go so I uh, I did."
Severus' glare turned even icier and he seemed to be trying to calm himself down, but eventually the anger won over.
"ARE YOU SERIOUS CHILD?" He shouted, "YOU JUST WANTED TO? YOU DISOBEDIENT, DISRESPECTFUL, DUNDERHEAD! DID YOU STOP TO THINK FOR EVEN A MOMENT HOW WRONG THIS COULD HAVE -"
He was interrupted by the office door opening, Hermione and Ron rushed in looking like they ran all the way from the carriages.
"Draco's lying!" Ron panted.
Severus turned his glare at the new arrivals. Harry tried shaking his head, telling them not to bother, but they weren't looking at him.
"It's true!" Hermione added. "We overheard him say that he was going to try to get Harry in trouble by saying he was in Hogsmeade."
"It was just the two of us all day" Ron finished, gesturing between himself and Hermione.
Severus looked down at Harry, raising an eyebrow. Harry simply glared back. He wasn't going to be pit against his friends.
"Very well. 10 points from Gryffindor each for lying to a professor and trying to get another student in trouble. You are dismissed."
"You can't do that!"
"You just believe Malfoy because he's in your house!"
"Enough!" Severus snapped. "I advise you both leave now. If you hurry you can still get some lunch in the Great Hall."
Hermione turned to leave but Ron stood his ground, glaring.
"I'm not leaving so you can chop Harry up into potions ingredients."
"Ron it's fine"
"No! You could hear the git yelling from the hallway."
Harry could feel a fierce blush creeping up his cheeks. He wished the floor would swallow him up and that his friends hadn't heard him get in trouble. Had Malfoy been listening as well?
"I'm not leaving!"
"Ron, seriously, leave. My uncle used to whip me until I bled, I think I can handle a little yelling." Harry finally snapped, embarrassment fueling his anger.
Ron simply stared at him, mouth open, not knowing what to say. Harry spun around, shoved past Severus, and placed his hand on the wall that granted him access to Severus' private quarters. He stomped down the hall, not pausing to listen to what Severus was saying to his friends. When he got into the quarters, he considered locking himself in his room but he figured Severus wasn't done yelling at him. Instead, he slumped into one of the chairs, waiting for Severus to follow him.
Harry only had to wait for a few minutes before Severus stalked into the room. Surveying his guardian closely, Harry found himself wishing that he was less guarded. It was hard to tell what Severus was thinking or what he was going to do when he kept his face carefully blank of emotion. Leaning against the back of the armchair facing Harry, Severus was examining the child just as closely.
"You aren't a stupid child." He stated finally, an undercurrent of anger still in his voice but at least he wasn't yelling.
"No sir," Harry said uncertainly, the statement coming out more like a question.
"You aren't a stupid child, but for the life of me I can't figure out why you act so foolishly again and again. You run headfirst into dangerous situations without thinking anything through, you blatantly disobey the rules I set out for you, and you refuse to acknowledge the stupidity of your actions. Do you even realize how severe the consequences could have been for you today?" Severus' voice rose to nearly a shout again.
"Nothing happened!" Harry retorted hotly. "You are being unreasonable! I was there all morning and nothing happened. If you wouldn't have been a git and just let me go like everyone else none of this would have happened!"
"Hold your tongue young man!" Severus snapped before taking a deep breath to calm himself. "I have explained to you many times why I have chosen not to give you permission to go to Hogsmeade and I will not do so again. Just the fact that I told you no should be reason enough."
"Nothing even happened!"
"But it could have! Merlin knows how you managed to get past the dementors. Do you even realize what would have happened to you if they would have caught you sneaking out? They would have removed your soul Harry, the very essence of your being."
Harry couldn't look at his guardian anymore as guilt and fear twisted in his stomach, temporarily replacing his anger. He hadn't realized how truly horrible the creatures were, but it wasn't like he was in any risk. He had gone right under them, the dementors couldn't have caught him. Harry was surprised by the guilt that he had felt. He still felt indignant that he was being treated like a child and not allowed to go to the village, but seeing how truly worried Severus was about him caused guilt to well up.
"And dementors are just the beginning. What part of a dangerous convict on the loose and looking for you don't you understand? That was the reason in the first place that you weren't allowed to go. None of the teachers knew you were there and to keep an eye on you. We don't even know where Black is!"
"It was fine! There were aurors in the village and everything! I was perfectly safe."
"What do you mean there were aurors? What were they doing there?"
Averting his eyes once more, Harry scrambled for what to say. If Severus knew that Black had been spotted in the area he might actually kill Harry. And Harry had become rather fond of living.
"I- I don't know sir,"
"Don't lie to me child." Severus said silkily.
"I overheard some of the professors talking and…" Harry trailed off, glancing back up.
"And Sirius Black was spotted near the village. But it probably wasn't him anyways!"
Sinking back into his seat Harry looked up, waiting for the yelling to start again. It didn't come though, which just served to make him even more anxious. Instead, Harry watched as a series of emotions flitted across his guardian's face. The most expected emotion of anger was there but Harry was surprised to see fear there as well, and a fear so strong it made Harry's gut twist with guilt once again.
And then something strange happened. Severus took a few breaths, obviously trying to keep from yelling, and then his face went blank. It was like any emotion was wiped right off of it and his eyes became distant. Harry almost wished he would start yelling. He could deal with yelling, but this distant coldness was new and Harry didn't like it. He waited nervously for Severus to say something, anything.
"Go to your room," Severus said flatly after what seemed like an eternity.
"I can't deal with you right now child. Go to your room. Have you eaten anything for lunch?"
"I will send something for you. Now go."
Harry hesitantly stood up. Was this a trick? Uncle Vernon would sometimes send him to his cupboard and then beat him for walking away from him. But Harry mentally shook himself. Severus wouldn't do that to him and he wasn't going to hurt him. Still, Harry watched his guardian warily as he skirted around to the other side of the room, shutting his bedroom door firmly behind himself before flopping onto his bed.
Severus didn't do emotions, and he definitely didn't do strong emotions. So when Harry had told him that Black might have been near the village he wasn't prepared for the overwhelming fear he felt on the child's behalf. He didn't like feeling that way, which is where occlumency shields helped.
Usually occlumency was used to lock away memories from prying minds, but when you were as accomplished at the art as Severus was you could lock away whatever you wanted, including emotions. So that's what he did. He slammed his shields down so forcefully that he managed to shove all his emotions deep down, far enough that he didn't have to feel them. An unfortunate side effect was the cold detached feeling that now permeated through his mind.
It was better than yelling at the child or doing something he regretted, he reasoned with himself. So the shields stayed up with full force.
Severus stalked down the hall to his office, casting a quick charm to let him know if Harry left his room, and started pulling out ingredients for a pepper up potion. It wasn't nearly as difficult and time consuming as he would have wanted, but Poppy needed more for the infirmary so it would have to serve as a good enough distraction.
Hours slipped away while he worked but Severus hardly noticed in his numbed state. Every now and then his thoughts would return to what Harry had done and fear or anger would rise once more, but even these emotions were dull and he easily pushed them down again. He recognized, however faintly, that it wasn't wise to stay in this detached state for long, but he couldn't bear to lower his occlumency shields. So, he didn't. Instead, Severus focused on chopping, stirring, reducing, and decanting the potion in front of him. He had made enough for Poppy to get through the next two or three weeks, even with all the colds being passed around.
Rolling the tension out of his shoulders, Severus glanced at the clock on the wall. It was nearing dinner time and he should probably return to his quarters. He still wasn't ready to deal with Harry, he still didn't know what to think about the situation never mind how to deal with it, but it made him nervous to leave Harry on his own. There was a knocking on the front door to his quarters as he entered from the office and Severus looked out the window to the courtyard. With a groan he pulled open the door to admit the smiling headmaster.
"Severus, my boy!"
"Don't 'my boy' me, Albus!" Severus growled and allowed himself to feel some of the irritation that bubbled up at the sight of the man. "Why was I not made aware that Black was so close to the castle?"
"Now Severus," Albus' voice was gratingly gentle. "The individuals who needed to know first were informed. All of the professors in the village knew."
"Why the bloody hell would I care about them knowing? That maniac is after my- well he's after Harry! I should have been the first to know!"
"We weren't even sure if the threat was credible. Anyways, unless you have neglected to inform me, Harry didn't have permission to be in the village. He shouldn't have been in any danger."
"Not a credible threat? Merlin's beard Albus, there were Aurors there so don't lie to me about thinking it wasn't a credible threat. And as for Mr. Potter, that infuriating child managed to sneak out. Apparently your protections on this school aren't enough to keep one measly child inside, how is it supposed to keep out an accomplished wizard?"
Severus took a deep breath and steadied his shaking hands, pacing to try to expel some of his pent-up energy. He had let his occlumency shields slip so he took a moment to calm himself enough to return them to full force, reveling in the feeling of nothingness.
Before Albus could respond, a soft chime sounded throughout the room and Severus turned to see Harry standing in his open door.
"You put an alarm on my door?" Harry scowled but the look was marred by his red rimmed eyes. The child had obviously been crying.
"I was in my office brewing for a while. Perhaps if I thought I could trust you to do as you were told, I wouldn't have to resort to such measures."
Harry looked properly chagrined at this and lowered his gaze, sniffling.
"I needed to use the loo sir,"
"Quickly then. When you are done you will go to the Great Hall for dinner."
"And then back here afterwards?"
"I should think not. I will send for you when I am ready to deal with you." Severus said flatly.
"No arguments Mr. Potter."
Harry scurried towards the bathroom and Severus turned back towards a disapproving looking Albus.
"Don't even start you old codger. It's none of your concern how I choose to deal with my ward."
"Surely banishing him isn't the way to go."
"I won't discuss consequences with him until I am no longer angry."
"And just when are you going to work through your anger enough to talk with Harry? I believe there is more emotions than just anger that you are struggling with. Hiding behind occlumency shields isn't helping, my boy. Pushing Harry away so coldly isn't healthy for either of you."
"I believe I said it is none of your concern."
Severus scowled at the headmaster, but even that expression looked odd with the distant coldness in Severus' eyes. He strode to the door, opening it roughly, and gestured for the headmaster to leave.
Severus bit back a shudder as he drained the last of his firewhiskey from his glass and reached to pour himself another one. Occlumency shields couldn't keep the effects of alcohol from his mind and he knew he should probably stop before he drank himself into a stupor but he filled his glass anyways. With a glance at the clock he realized it would be dinner soon, not that it really mattered. He had skipped going to the Great Hall for both meals so far and he wasn't planning on going for this one.
Sometime throughout the night, Severus must have let his occlumency shields drop because for the first time in years Severus had nightmares. Most, but not all, featured Harry but try as he might he could not wake himself up from his deep slumber. Instead he had to watch as gruesome images flashed through his mind as he slept fitfully. Harry lying pale and lifeless on the floor. Harry reaching for him as Sirius Black held the boy back, wand digging into his throat. Lily screeching and laughing as the pair played tag on the playground near their homes. A gruesome scene as Black cackled over a bloody mess, only recognizable as Harry by his wand lying to the side. Lily's disgusted face turning away from him after he called her that vile word. Harry's cries from a far off, unreachable room as Black tortured him. The Potter house, smoldering and in ruins as Aurors guided sheet-covered stretchers from the mess, Severus watching from across the street under a disillusionment charm. A third white marble gravestone added beside James and Lily Potter's.
He had woken sometime in the early hours of the morning, the sun barely peeking through the windows in his living room. After returning his occlumency shields to full force, Severus had tried to distract himself by throwing himself into the making the wolfsbane potion but a near explosion had him grumbling and banishing the contents away. He was too distracted to safely brew. His shields may keep the emotions at bay, but the images from his nightmares still flashed up distractingly. He had tried to move on to grading papers, but after nearly covering three of them in red-inked snide comments, Severus gave up on that as well and sat himself down with his firewhiskey instead.
He did try to sort through his emotions like Albus had suggested, really he did, but he couldn't bear it. Instead, he tried to sort through the situation logically, emotion free. Harry had done a stupid thing. An incredibly stupid thing. Not only was it blatant disobedience but Harry hadn't even bothered to think through the decision like they had discussed on multiple occasions. Instead, like a dunderhead, he had rushed headfirst into a situation because he wanted to. That statement made Severus' blood boil. Unlike the child's other idiotic adventures in his years at Hogwarts where the boy had truly thought he was helping the situation, he had disobeyed Severus simply because he wanted to.
Beyond the blatant disobedience and stupidity that the child had displayed, Harry had also put himself in enormous danger. Severus didn't know how Harry had managed to slip past the dementors, especially with his reaction to him, but it was a miracle he hadn't been caught. Then there was the fact that no one knew he was there. Even if something relatively minor went wrong, none of the Professors knew to look out for him. Students were signed out of the castle when they left and signed back in when they returned. It was one way they kept track of everybody. Harry wasn't on the list, so no one would think to look for him in the village if something were to happen. Severus couldn't bring himself to think of what would have happened if Black had indeed been near the village and had gotten his hands on Harry. His nightmares were still too fresh to dwell on those thoughts.
I'm not equipped to deal with this, Severus mused. Potter was never supposed to be my responsibility. It's that old coot's fault for putting him with me. But that was just for the summer. The school term had started so why should I have to have the extra responsibility for the Potter boy.
Severus was brought sharply out of his musings by a knocking at the door. He studiously ignored it and took another sip from his glass. It was probably Albus looking to pester him again. The knocking came again though, this time more insistent.
"Severus Snape, I know you're in there. Open the bloody door."
Severus growled at the sound of Minerva shouting on the other side of the door. He took a large swig of firewhiskey before waving his wand to unlock the door. Minerva stepped through and surveyed him through narrowed eyes as she shut the door behind her.
"Still wallowing in self-pity, I see." She said primly before opening the curtains and letting light stream in with a swish of her wand.
Severus winced at the sudden brightness and bit back a growl.
"I am not wallowing."
"Hmm. What do you call this then?" She gestured vaguely in his direction.
"I am dealing with a situation."
Minerva clucked her tongue disapprovingly but didn't say anything for a few minutes. Instead, she made herself busy in the small kitchen and returned a few minutes later with two cups of tea and a plate of sandwiches, no doubt sent for from the kitchens. She placed the tray down on the coffee table in front of Severus and plucked his drink out of his hand, banishing it towards the kitchen. Finally, she took in the armchair across from Severus and looked at him over her cup of tea.
"Harry is not a situation to be dealt with. He is a child who made a mistake. So you need to be the adult, talk to him about it, punish him appropriately, and then move on with your life. You don't sit here drowning yourself in liquor."
"So Albus told you then?"
"No, Harry did. You missed his game today. He wasn't even sure if he should play so I told him unless you told him not to, to do it. He was so distracted and distraught that he didn't catch the snitch. That was the first time since he joined the team that he didn't catch the snitch, Severus. You need to talk to the lad. Get it out of the way. Not dealing with it is hurting you both."
"Why don't you? You are his head of house after all. Why should I deal with his misdeeds at school?"
"Because you are the boy's guardian Severus," Minerva said slowly, watching Severus carefully.
Severus merely huffed and reached for his tea, trying to hide his shaking hands. His occlumency shields were finally slipping, some emotions fighting to be felt.
"The old coot only gave me that role for the summer because there was nowhere else to put his golden boy. He's at school now, not my responsibility. Albus has time to find somewhere for him to stay over the hols, at Weasley's or Granger's even."
The words hurt even as they left his mouth. The idea of not having Harry as his ward anymore physically hurt, but he couldn't do this anymore. He just couldn't handle it.
"You know you don't mean that Severus."
"It's what's best."
"It is not," Minerva snapped. "Not for you and certainly not for the child. Sending Harry away now would destroy the both of you and you know it."
Severus had to put his cup of tea down, his hands shaking too much to hold it properly, and set his most powerful glare on his colleague. He could feel the pressure in his head and chest grow as the feelings of anger, fear, and grief that he had been pushing down clawed to the surface.
"Why is it so hard for you to admit you care for the boy?" Minerva continued softly.
"I just- I can't okay? I can't care for him."
"But why Severus? It's obvious you care for him deeply already."
"BECAUSE HE'S GOING TO DO SOMETHING STUPID AND GET HIMSELF KILLED!" Severus shouted, the dam of emotion finally bursting and he was consumed by it. He flushed as he felt tears gather in his eyes and swiped them away angrily.
He couldn't stand to look at his colleague at the moment and instead stood and paced in front of the fireplace, fingers pinching the bridge of his nose, trying to regain some semblance of control. Minerva, for her part, stayed quiet and allowed him space to work through his feelings.
"I can't- I couldn't handle that. Not again." Severus murmured finally.
He glanced up when Minerva remained quiet. She was looking at him with nothing but concern, for which he was thankful. He was fairly positive if she had any sort of pity in her eyes, he would have kicked her out right then and there. After a few moments she stood up and led Severus back to the couch. She handed him his tea and sat down gently beside him.
"Have you really not let anyone in since Lily?"
"What's the point? You let someone in, you care about them, then they leave you. It happened with my mother and Lily, and I can't have it happen with Potter. "
"Harry's not going anywhere."
"You can't say that," Severus whispered brokenly. "With his track record, he'll have tracked down Black by the end of the year. Bloody hell Minerva, he snuck past dementors and went to the village with Black nearby just because he wanted to."
"He made a mistake Severus. He's just a child. You can't live your whole life not letting yourself care about someone just because something might go wrong. That's a very lonely way to live. Anyways, it's not a matter of not caring about the boy. You already do, you just have to accept it."
"No buts. Accept that you care about him then be the grown up and talk to him. If not for your sake, then for his. He's got himself quite worked up about the whole thing."
"Fine then. I will send for him after dinner tomorrow."
"It's for the best Minerva. I am in no state to talk to him tonight. It'll have to be tomorrow."
"Very well then. Have your tea and something to eat. You look like crap Severus."
Severus scowled once more, but his heart wasn't in it. Minerva patted him on his shoulder and stood up to leave.
"Thank you, Minerva."
She merely nodded and shut the door behind herself, leaving Severus to his thoughts.
Harry's stomach twisted as he stood in the hallway between Severus' office and personal quarters, hands clutching the object behind his back so hard that his knuckles turned white. He stood still for a moment, gathering his nerves and listening to the noises from within the room. He could hear the fire crackling, papers shuffling, and the scratch of a quill. Severus still hadn't talked to him yet but at least he had shown up for meals today. Third years didn't have potions on Monday's so he couldn't gauge Severus' mood, but Ginny had told him at lunch that Snape was being a downright terror in class.
This news did nothing to quell Harry's anxiety and he had left the Great Hall before eating anything. He had wandered around the castle grounds instead, sneaking back to Gryffindor tower once classes resumed for the afternoon. He had stayed hidden behind the curtains of his bed for the remainder of the afternoon, trying to ignore all the intrusive thoughts trying to worm their way to the forefront of Harry's mind of what Severus was going to do to him. Finally he couldn't take it anymore and once the bell signaling the end of classes rang, Harry made his way down to the dungeons.
Taking a final deep breath to settle his nerves Harry shuffled forward, pausing just inside the entrance to the living room. Severus didn't even look up, instead scratching away at the pile of essays in front of him.
"I didn't expect to see you yet Mr. Potter."
Harry opened his mouth to speak but no sound came out. When Harry didn't reply, Severus looked up, face neutral, and raised an eyebrow at him. He took it as a good sign that his guardian wasn't yelling or angry or acting cold and distant. Harry shivered. Yeah, the coldness that had overcome Severus before he sent Harry to his room had definitely scared Harry the most. Swallowing against the lump in his throat, he tried again and found the words tumbling out all at once.
"I'm sorry sir. I- I know you didn't want me here and you told me to stay away b-but I just couldn't take it anymore. Please just get it over with. Just do it, I can't stand waiting any longer!"
Harry strode forward as he spoke, taking the leather belt he held behind his back and offering it towards Severus with a shaking hand. Severus took the object automatically and glanced down at it, visibly flinching once his mind processed what he was holding in his hands. Harry watched nervously as a look of revulsion flickered across Severus' face before it was replaced with a stony look.
"Please sir, just get it over with. I-I can handle it." Harry pleaded.
Severus heaved a sigh and his face softened slightly, although that could have been a trick of his imagination.
"Come here child." Severus gestured towards the armchair across from his own, eyes straying back to the belt that was still clenched in his hand.
Harry almost tripped over himself as he rushed to obey, his feet wanted to keep him rooted to the spot. He could hardly hear anything over the beat of his heart hammering in his chest and the rush of blood in his eardrums. He tried to take in a shaky breath as he lowered himself over the arm of the chair, ready to accept whatever beating Severus doled out, but it came out as a soft whimper. Harry saw a flash of movement out of the corner of his eye and buried his head between his arms, prepared for the first blow. The expected lash of the belt never came though, instead Harry found himself being lifted bodily to his feet by a hand on the back of his robes. He was dropped unceremoniously onto the chair and nervously lifted his eyes to his guardian who was looking a mixture of irritated and queasy. Harry glanced around surreptitiously, looking for the belt and relaxing slightly when he saw it discarded by the other chair.
"Merlin's beard child! What the bloody hell were you thinking?" Severus snapped, trying his best not to loom over the child. Harry curled up on the chair, wrapping his arms around his knees and watching Severus warily.
"You- you aren't going to whip me?" Harry asked in a small voice.
At this question, Severus took a few steps back, sinking into the couch and pinched the bridge of his nose. It was a long few seconds later that Severus finally opened his eyes and looked at his ward.
"Have I ever hurt you Harry?" Severus asked in a calm voice.
"No sir," Harry replied without hesitation.
"Have I ever threatened to beat you or harm you in any way?"
"Have I implied in any way that I would beat you for an infraction?"
"Then why in Merlin's name would you think I would whip you now? Why would you bring that thing down here to be punished with?"
Harry opened and closed his mouth a few times, too overcome with emotion to reply coherently. Relief so strong washed through him, creating a lump in his throat and bringing tears to his eyes. The relief mixed with the fear and guilt and hurt he had been feeling over the last few days and Harry couldn't stop it when the sobs started, wracking his body. He tried to force words out to explain but they came out as a babbling, incoherent mess, even to his own ears. Severus' gaze softened considerably and for the first time, he opened his arms to Harry.
"Come here, my child."
Harry didn't need to be told twice and launched himself from his seat and into Severus' arms, ignoring the fact that he managed to crash his shin on the table on the way over. Severus enclosed him in a hug, rubbing his back and murmuring in a soothing tone. Harry clenched his guardian's robes in his fists and buried his face in Severus' chest, soaking up as much comfort as he could as he sobbed, all of the stress from the past few days working its way out. Harry didn't even have a chance to feel embarrassed at his childish position, sitting on the Professor's lap.
Finally, Harry's sobs calmed enough for him to gain control of his breathing, though he didn't loosen his grip on his guardian's robes. Severus, for his part, didn't rush the child along either for which Harry was grateful. Harry simply sat there, a few stray tears making their way down, and reveled in the warmth and comfort Severus was giving him.
"Are you ready to talk yet?" Severus asked lowly.
Harry could feel the words rumble in Severus' chest as he rested his head against it. He didn't move for a moment, letting Severus' hand travel up and down his back comfortingly. Letting out a sigh he sat up and reluctantly shuffled back off of Severus' lap, tucking his feet under his guardian's legs, wanting to maintain some sort of contact.
"I thought we were past this fear of yours Harry. I'm sorry I didn't do more to assure you that I will never hurt you."
"I am! I do know that! Promise, sir." Harry rushed out. "I know- a big part of me anyways - knows that you would never hurt me intentionally."
"And the other part? The part that caused you to bring a belt down here with you?"
"I- I'm sorry sir. That was dumb of me."
"Stop child. It's not dumb if it's a fear you still have."
"I don't really. I don't know if I actually believed you would use it when I first came down. It's just that you were so mad at me and you hated me and I couldn't stand it. Uncle always seemed to be happier after he gave me a good beating so I thought maybe it would help." Harry trailed off before continuing in a voice so soft it was hard to hear. "I thought maybe I deserved it too. I was really bad."
Harry had been staring at his knees as he had rushed to explain and finally glanced up. Severus frowned and took a breath before responding.
"Harry, you daft child. When are you going to get it through your thick skull that you are a special and important child and never deserve to be treated the way your disgusting relatives treated you?"
"I know I'm bloody special!" Harry snapped, irritation bubbling up quick and hot. "Everybody keeps telling me but being the bloody boy who lived or youngest seeker in a century didn't stop me from getting my arse beat for the first 13 years of my life. As long as I can still do what I'm supposed to do, nobody cares."
"I'll assume your foul language was a mere slip due to your extreme distress and not an intentional use?" Severus drawled.
"Yes sir. Sorry sir," Harry sank into the cushions behind him and glared at his knees, trying not to offend Severus further. He did not want his mouth washed out again.
"But I suppose you are right." Severus continued thoughtfully.
""What?!" Harry yelped, glancing up. He knew he had just said it, but it hurt to hear Severus confirm his suspicions.
"Well of course." Severus confirmed, tapping his chin as if deep in thought. "I should have seen it sooner. Those dunderheads you hang around with all of the time, they are obviously only your friends because you are the saviour of the wizarding world, yes?"
"No! They like me for me. They are real friends. I'm pretty sure Ron hates the famous stuff and Hermione is basically like a sister to me."
"Oh? Not them then. But Professor Dumbledore of course! His soft spot for you is clearly just hero worship."
"Professor Dumbledore? He doesn't hero worship me! I'm just a kid!"
"Oh? Why does he act the way he does to you then?" Severus pressed.
"Well, I suppose he cares for me."
"Hmm, not him either then." Severus mused. "Well Professor McGonagall for sure! She wouldn't care for you one lick if it weren't for your ability to win Gryffindor the Quidditch Cup every year."
"Professor McGonagall was nice to me even before I joined the team! She cares about all of her students." Harry responded, trying to keep a straight face to match Severus' own. He could see what Severus was trying to do, but he didn't want to be cheered up. He was still upset.
"I suppose you are right there. Oliver Wood then, He only likes you because you are a brilliant seeker!"
"Well, I don't think you are wrong on that one sir," Harry finally cracked a grin. "I'm pretty sure Wood bases everybody's worth on how good they are at Quidditch."
"Aha! I knew I was right. So, there you go. Everybody just cares about your fame, and not about you at all, right?"
"No sir. But I know what you are trying to do. I know I have a bunch of people who really truly care about me."
"Yes, you do Harry, and that is part of what makes you so special. The fact that you went through years of abuse with those blasted muggles and still came out the other side as a kind, thoughtful individual who readily loves others and who can stir those feelings in others as well is remarkable. You are so important to so many people Harry, and for many reasons that are not your quidditch abilities or what happened to you as an infant."
Harry felt his cheeks flush and he averted his gaze once more as he mumbled his thanks. He wasn't used to others expounding how important he was to the people around him. It was quiet for a few minutes, Harry lost in his own thoughts and he assumed Severus was the same.
Finally Harry glanced up, needing to see what Severus was thinking. His guardian was obviously internally debating something, his uncertainty was written plainly across his face. He seemed to come to a decision though and Harry watched curiously as he drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly before speaking.
"Harry, I must apologize to you and explain a few things."
"What?" Harry blurted out, shocked. When he had come down to see Severus, the last thing he expected was an apology from the man.
"Of course. How can I expect you to trust me if I can't even admit to you when I was in the wrong? How I behaved over the last few days… well it's inexcusable and I hope you can forgive me."
"I- of course sir. I forgive you. If I wasn't such a rotten child none of this would have-"
"Enough child. You could have burnt down the entirety of Hogwarts and it wouldn't give me the excuse to treat you the way that I did. I did not handle the situation properly and for that I am deeply sorry."
"Really sir, it's alright. I- Well, I really messed up and you were really angry - rightfully so- and well, I'm glad you sent me away instead of punishing me then sir."
"I would never punish you in anger Harry. And while I appreciate your forgiveness, I was hoping you would also let me explain my actions?"
Harry merely nodded, curious as to what Severus had to say. No adult had ever apologized to him before, never mind tried to explain why they did what they did, and Harry didn't know how to react.
"Now as I said, my actions were inexcusable and I am not trying to make excuses now. I just want you to know why I reacted that way. You see, I grew up very similarly to you, but I did not turn out nearly so wonderful. I was always a strange child and had difficulty making friends. I dealt with my abuse by pushing down my emotions and teaching myself not to care about anything or anyone. I have cared about very few people in my life, and those that I did care for are gone. I only had one friend growing up, and I cared about her deeply."
Here, Severus trailed off, seemingly fighting to find the right words. Harry remained silent, watching his guardian and felt a pain in his chest at seeing him so distressed.
"I did something very stupid when we were teenagers and in my anger I called her a foul name. She never forgave me for it and I lost the person I cared for most in the world."
"Did you say sorry?" Harry asked quietly. "Ron and I have said some pretty mean stuff to each other but we always make up and say we are sorry later."
Severus laughed, but it was hollow and the sound spooked Harry.
"I tried, but it was too late. I don't blame her either. I wasn't exactly a nice person to many people other than her back then. I probably didn't deserve her forgiveness. My mother died a year later and my childhood friend a few years after that. In the span of a few years I had lost everyone I cared about."
Harry couldn't take the sad, lost, look on his guardian's face anymore and did the only thing he knew how to do in the situation. He shifted on the couch and wormed his way under Severus' arm, leaned against his side and wrapped his arms around his middle. He tried to convey the same comfort and warmth Severus always gave him whenever he allowed Harry to hug him. Severus froze for a moment before his own arms wrapped loosely around the child beside him.
"I vowed after that I wasn't going to care for anyone else. Life had taught me that the people you cared for were taken away and I wasn't strong enough to deal with that pain anymore."
"That seems like a rather lonely way to live, sir."
This elicited a chuckle from Severus and this time it didn't sound so forced. He raised his hand and ruffled Harry's already messy hair affectionately.
"You spend too much time with that Head of House of yours child. You are much too Gryffindor-ish already. She said something very similar to me just yesterday. I was quite set on living life this way. But then you came along and ruined all of my plans."
"Yes you, you cheeky brat. Against my best intentions, I seemed to have allowed myself to care about you, something I didn't even allow myself to admit, even to myself."
"Me sir? You actually care about me?"
Harry pushed back to look Severus in the face and scrutinized him for sincerity. Severus merely rolled his eyes and pulled Harry back so he was tucked underneath his arm once more.
"Yes, you silly child. I care for you very deeply. And then when I heard that you snuck away to the village I was so worried you would get hurt and angry that you disobeyed me-"
"Ron says that his parents yell the most when they are actually scared." Harry interrupted, still in shock over the revelation that Severus claimed to care about him.
"Yes, well, that seems to be the common reaction," Severus sniffed. "Anyways, I was scared for you and then you went and told me that Black was near the village and the threat was real enough to have Aurors on hand… The terror I felt, Harry, I can't even describe to you. The very real possibility that you could have died and been taken away from me- another person that I cared about gone- well, I have never been good at dealing with emotions so instead of dealing with them and being the adult in the situation, I used occlumency shields to push all the emotions away."
"Is that why you got all scary?"
"Yeah, you got all - I don't know… Cold I guess? It was like you weren't really even there anymore. It scared me." Harry admitted quietly, guilt and shame churning in his gut for how much pain he had actually caused his guardian. He was worried he might actually throw up, so he concentrated on calming his breathing again.
"I'm sorry. Merlin, I won't ever be able to tell you how sorry I am. I couldn't deal with coming to terms with how much I do in fact care for you along with the revelation that I could have lost someone else I cared for. That inability is completely my fault, and yet you are the one who most keenly felt the consequences for that. I'm not sure I can forgive myself for that. I didn't mean to scare you."
Harry mulled over the new information and while he wanted to be cross at Severus, he just couldn't. He had done much worse things than ignore Severus for a few days and Severus had always forgiven him. What kind of person would he be if he couldn't forgive Severus? He obviously hadn't done it to hurt Harry. Harry once again sat up and Severus let him go this time.
"Well you have to." Harry said simply.
"You have to forgive yourself. I forgive you and you should too."
"No!" Harry said vehemently. "You sent me away so you wouldn't do something dumb, and ignored me for a day. So what? I didn't really like it, but I'm sure you didn't like it when I snuck out either."
"It is! It is that simple. I care about you too Severus and I'm really sorry I messed up and made you so upset. I promise I'll never do something like that again."
Severus seemed to be fighting a smile at Harry's pronouncement. Harry didn't even bother hiding his. It felt weird to have someone actually care about him and who he realized he truly cared for as well. Sure, he had other people in his life who cared about him as Severus had pointed out earlier, but this was different. He supposed this is what it might be like to have a dad, or something close to it anyways.
"I should hope you wouldn't do something so idiotic again Mr. Potter. I am still most displeased with you."
"Can't you just say it's okay and we can move on?" Harry asked pitifully. He had hoped that perhaps Severus would forget about punishing him for his actions.
"I'm afraid not. You don't seem to grasp the seriousness of your actions"
"But I do, sir!" Harry insisted. "Honestly, I've been thinking a lot about it the past few days and I truly do feel awful. I didn't listen to you at all or respect your decision when you told me I couldn't go. Not only was that disobedient, it also didn't show a lot of respect for you as my guardian. Which I do, sir, I respect you a lot even if that didn't exactly show it. And I put not only myself in danger, but others too probably. Black murdered innocent muggles on the street just because they were there. I don't even want to think of what he would do to a bunch of kids that were around if Black saw me in the village and tried to get to me. I shouldn't have rushed to do the first thing that popped into my head and should have thought through the situation before rushing in. Maybe if I had done that, I wouldn't have gone and we could have had a nice afternoon together instead of me causing this huge mess."
"I believe that covers most of the lecture I was going to give you." Severus commented dryly. "I see you have given this matter some thought."
"I have sir. I feel really awful about it. I know I seriously messed up this time."
"Very well then. What do you think we should do about it?"
"You want me to come up with my own punishment sir?" Harry asked mulishly.
"I'm curious to see what you think your consequences should be. Merlin help you child if you mention that belt again. You'll be writing a four-foot-long essay about proper discipline methods in addition to whatever else I come up with for your behaviour."
Harry had to fight a smile at this but couldn't stop himself from rolling his eyes. His smile faded again as he began thinking.
"Well sir, what I did was really quite bad… Perhaps I shouldn't be allowed to play quidditch anymore."
"Hmmm that would be an appropriate punishment."
Harry kept his eyes trained on his hands clasped in his lap and fought off tears. This was nothing less than he deserved after all.
"Yes sir. Am I allowed to keep my broom or shall I bring it here?"
"I said that it would be an appropriate punishment Mr. Potter, not that that was the punishment I chose for you."
Harry's head whipped up so fast it almost made him dizzy. He examined his guardian carefully, not wanting to get his hopes up too high.
"Really sir?" He asked in a small voice.
"You may keep your quidditch privileges for now child."
Harry threw himself at his guardian and hugged him tight.
"Thank you, thank you, thank you!"
Severus patted his back before pushing him back gently again.
"But listen to me carefully Harry, any more disobedience like this again and I won't hesitate from pulling you from the team, understood?"
"Yes sir, crystal clear."
"Very well. You are grounded for two weeks. For a week starting Wednesday, all your free time will be spent in my office or in our quarters, including dinner. I will have tasks set out for you to complete during your free time. If I deem your behaviour acceptable during the first week, for the last week, you must come here straight after classes, but you may spend your breaks in the library if you so choose. I will discuss with Professor McGonagall you possibly using the floo in her office to come here to make it less suspicious. Are my expectations clear?"
"Yes sir. But why Wednesday and not tomorrow?"
Severus quirked an eyebrow and tried to look aloof, but Harry could see his expression soften.
"Tomorrow's the Halloween feast of course. I have too many duties as a professor to worry about monitoring you tomorrow. It is simply easiest to have you attend the feast."
Harry grinned and shook his head, recognizing the little mercy for what it was. Severus was disappointed in him, but not enough to forbid him from going to the feast with his friends. Harry folded himself back against Severus' side.
"I really am sorry." Harry said quietly after a few moments.
"You're welcome. You should probably get off to dinner."
"Can I stay here? We could order food up."
Severus agreed, but neither moved to get up from their position. Harry closed his eyes contentedly, the warmth he felt having more to do with knowing that he had someone who cared for him and his well-being than the fire that crackled merrily in front of him. Harry hardly even noticed when Severus flicked his wand, sending the old leather belt that was lying on the floor into the center of the fire, the flames leaping up to consume it.