Disclaimer: I do not own any of the Harry Potter series or any of its characters or plot.
AN: Lo there. Long time no see, very sorry, I beg forgiveness and all that. This is my first time writing a fic focused on abuse, and it's also my first time to write in present tense (I thought present tense would fit the story at first, but now I'm not so sure…) so just tolerate me and help me out here D: Also, this was meant to be a oneshot, but it kind of finished open-ended… Should I continue this or not?
Constructive criticism is always welcome.
Ron, Harry decides as he jumped down a moving staircase, was a dead man. Or at least a moron.
Why the git hadn't woken him up, Harry doesn't know—except that Harry had a nightmare last night, and he's got a feeling Ron had taken pity on him and let him sleep in just this once, because it isn't often that Harry manages to get back to sleep after a nightmare. And Harry does appreciate the sentiment, not to mention the extra sleep, but it doesn't change the fact that he has exactly two minutes and forty-eight seconds to get to Potions class, which is still five floors down.
He turns a corner at a run—too fast—he nearly sends a first year flying. He falls back on the floor, reeling. "Ow—oh, God, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to do that—"
"It's fine. I'm sorry." The words are all said in one breath, clipped and almost panicked. The kid's fallen down and is now scrabbling on the floor, grabbing at pieces of parchment Harry's knocked out of his hands. After a moment's hesitation, Harry kneels down to help, feeling horribly guilty now.
"I, er, lemme help you." As he gathers the fallen parchments, Harry slowly realized they were drawings. Sketches and ink drawings, incredibly detailed ones for an eleven year old, and fairly morbid too. "Here—"
He's moved too fast: the boy flinches back, hunching his shoulders and bowing his head. Shocked, Harry puts his hands up, his left still clutching the drawings. "Hey. I won't hurt you."
"Thank you." The kid fairly snatches his stuff out of Harry's hands, pulling them to his chest. His face is pale, black hair tangled as it falls to his shoulders. A Slytherin, too, Harry thought, glancing at the green and silver tie.
The boy looks spooked. Harry frowns. "Listen, I'm sorry. Are you all right?"
"Ye-Yeah, of course." The boy stands, meeting his gaze steadily enough and smoothing down his robes.
"Okay," Harry says carefully, not getting up from his kneeling position. "What's your name?"
Harry raises his eyebrows. Weird name. "Icarus—"
"No. I mean, most people call me Carey."
"Carey, then. Uh, are you sure nothing's wrong? 'Cause—"
"I'm okay, thank you." And before Harry can say a word, Carey has leaped around him and streaked past the corner, leaving Harry staring after him.
By the time Harry enters Snape's class, he is ten minutes late, and so loses Gryffindor twenty points and is promptly assigned a week of detention.
He finds himself resentful of Snape, but not regretful for his lateness.
Carey looks up from his Charms textbook, his face blanking into something unreadable. Harry Potter is smiling at him, looking nervous and almost—concerned? "Hello."
"Could I, ah, sit down?"
Well, it's not like Carey can just say no to the Boy Who Lived, can he? He nods, despite the fact that he chose the table at the very back of the library for a reason, and so Harry Potter slides soundlessly into the chair opposite him.
"Hey—that's really good," Potter says, nodding at the drawing Carey has been working on.
It is a portrait of Carey's house, a white and black mansion against a background of blue trees and gray sky. It looks especially menacing from the angle Carey's drawn it.
"Thank you," Carey says, pushing as much curtness into the words as he can, and pointedly bending over his parchment again after dipping his quill in bright blue ink.
Carey can feel Potter staring at him, but he keeps on with his sketch. Maybe Potter will leave if Carey just keeps on ignoring him. If he can show himself as unaffected, then most people will, for the most part, believe that he truly is, and leave him alone; this is Carey's first rule.
But after a minute, Potter just sighs softly and says, "'Kay," before taking out a textbook and repositioning himself more comfortably in his chair.
And then it is Carey who has to try to not look up in surprise.
On the fourth day in the library sitting across Potter, Carey cracks.
"Look," he says, "fine, I get it. What d'you want from me?" He is mortified to find that his voice is close to shaking, but no one has ever sat with him in the library before, and he neither expects anyone nor wants them to. Actually, he can't concentrate with a bloody Gryffindor across him.
Potter looks surprised, which is just annoying, now. "What do you mean?"
Carey wants to hex him, if he actually knew any good hexes. Professor Umbridge is useless in Defence class. "I meant, why're you suddenly sitting across me every afternoon? I'm a first year, so why would you want to—to even associate with me? And either way I don't want you keeping me company, so if you're mad at me for bumping into you"—though of course Potter bumped into him, but who knew what goes on in Potter's head—"then just tell me and leave me alone, not—"
"Whoa, hey!" Potter holds up his hands, looking faintly amused. Carey glares at him for all he is worth. "I, er, no, I'm not mad at you. You're the one who should—I mean—" Potter covers his face with his hands. "Carey, I'm sorry, okay? Again. I've been going about this all wrong."
Carey cocks his head. "Wrong?"
"Yes." Potter runs a hand through his messy hair, only making it stick up even more. "I was sort of—waiting for you to speak up first. To me."
"Speak up first? How was I supposed to—"
"I know that—look, it's not your fault." Potter looks extremely uncomfortable. Serves him right. "I just wanted—needed to know, really—are you all right?"
And Carey is startled by the older boy for about the tenth time this week. "Yeah," he says swiftly. "You bumped into me, not throw me down the stairs. I'm fine. Told you that already."
"And no one's… bullying you? Here at Hogwarts, or anything?"
Carey clenches his jaw, because Potter's stare is unnerving and the hairs on the back of his neck are standing up and who told Potter he had the liberty to play school counselor, anyway? "No. No one."
Potter exhales. It is a nervous exhale, Carey thinks, though it is trying very hard not to be. "What about at home, then?"
Carey tries to get his face to relax. "I'm safe at home," he says past the lump in his throat, but his hands are shaking beneath the table and all he can think is he knows he knows he knows how can he know. And then the fear turns into rage, and he snarls, "Who d'you think you are, anyway, a bloody Mind Healer? You don't know anything about me—you don't get to, to ask all these things just 'cause—"
"I know that—I'm not trying to torture you because I knocked into you, okay? But I just wanted to make sure—" The look in Potter's eyes shifts, turns into something serious, almost calculating. "I want to make sure you're okay. That you're not having any problems at Hogwarts, or at home, and that you're happy—"
That he's happy. Oh, Merlin, wow. "Why?"
"Well, because—" Potter actually looks stumped for half a moment. "It's the right thing to do, isn't it?"
Carey has to fight back a glare. Typical Gryffindor answer. Of course.
Potter sighs, sounding unbelievably gentle when he speaks. "Look, the way you... acted, when I ran into you, that day, the way you looked, you know... It sort of worries me. I'm not trying to embarrass you or blame you for anything—it just worries me."
Carey's jaw clenches. He knows he messed up; does Potter have to rub it in? "I was just startled. That's all."
"I know. You probably were, but all the same."
There is a beat of silence. Potter's still looking at him. Carey stares at the wooden table and the scattered parchment and all the books in which he has lost interest.
Carey drags his head up, trying to place as much dread in the action as possible. Potter has no right to even talk to him like this, like he actually has a right to Carey's home life, like he's figured out everything about him (which he practically has), like if Carey tells him anything it'll all be magically fixed, like that's possible—
"D'you want me to leave you alone?"
Potter seems to have noticed Carey's still steadily rising anger. Good for him. Carey puts on the haughtiest face he can muster. "Please do."
"Right. Again, I'm sorry, Carey." Potter's gaze is still calm and open and annoying in its honesty. He starts gathering up his things. "I know you're mad at me, but I'm still here if you need me, or you want to tell me anything, or just talk to me, or—just—I don't know, anything. All—all right?"
Carey almost says that the only thing he wants to tell Potter is to bugger off, but Potter's smile is quick and strangely understanding, and the lump in his throat seems to have grown into something the size of a small hill. By the time he feels like he can speak again, Potter's walked out of the library.
For the next few days, Harry concedes and doesn't go to the library at all. Carey seems relieved by this, and he seems fine whenever Harry watches him from afar—in fact, Carey Shard made the typical Slytherin even at eleven years old, quiet and collected.
This does not reassure Harry whatsoever. Slytherins are always best at hiding things, after all, and the way Carey had scrambled away from him when Harry had come too near keeps replaying in his head. He knows it might be nothing, of course, that some kids just scare really easily, and he's being paranoid, but really, he isn't willing to risk it.
So he tries to watch Carey without being obvious, wishing the kid didn't basically tell him to stay away, but then, he can hardly blame him. There really is no reason for him to want to be friends with an eleven-year-old—no good reason, anyway.
If he's being completely honest—which Harry isn't—he'd admit that Carey reminds him of himself.
But he does want to talk again to Carey Shard, and to know he is safe, and to be finally sure of that fact.
He just has no idea how to go about it.
Carey bolts up in bed, panting and sweaty, but quiet. Quiet. He has learned not to make a sound in the night, even when he has nightmares.
He has to draw back the bed curtains to breathe right. He cannot stay here, underground, where all the walls will close in on him and the light is too dim. He cannot stay here, he will only remember the attic and his father and his mother oh god his mother and the spells and after-tremors, making his hands quake like his body wasn't his anymore—
He cannot stay here.
He slips out of the dormitory and out of the common room and out of the dungeons and runs blindly. He cannot stay here. He cannot stay here. He has to run, run until he just lifts off the ground—
So he does, he runs up stairs and stairs and stairs because he hated basements, and dungeons were too close to that, and he doesn't want to go under, and he just looks for a room, any room where he can escape and stay still and breathe.
And when one asks, Hogwarts usually provides. Carey finds a doorknob on the highest floor and stumbles his way in.
The room is very bright, even though there are only three torches on the walls. There is a window on the left side which is streaming with sunlight, and he realizes it must be an illusion, just a picture of a window, because when he left his dorm room with only his cloak and his wand, it was 1:04 am.
That's all right, Carey decides, still trying to catch his breath. He sinks down to the floor. He can live with illusions, has lived with them most of his life.
Carey suppresses a groan and buries his head between his knees. He knows that voice, and he does not need it now. Right now he needs to calm down, and relearn how to breathe, and instead he can hear him, Harry Potter, walking towards him with quick, steady steps.
"Go—away," Carey shouts into his arms. If his voice hadn't shook so much, it might even be effective. But the memories are in front of his eyes, they are all he can see, they are all he is, and suddenly he feels like he cannot stay here either, cannot stay anywhere, cannot be anything but nothing—
"Carey!" Potter's hands are grasping his shoulders, crouched down in front of him, and while the grasp is gentle, Carey is not used to people touching him. His hands come up to push at Potter's chest, he has dropped his wand, he cannot break down when Potter is here, this enigma of a person, this Gryffindor who is being too nice, who knows too much, who still wants to know more—
"Carey, Carey, no—look, look at me, please. Carey. Carey, just look at me!" Potter lets go of his shoulders, then, and backs up. Carey wonders how many times Potter has said his name. Carey Carey Carey. At least no one calls him Icarus anymore… He refuses to be a myth.
"Look at me. Carey. Breathe."
They sit there, like that, for a long time. Potter shifts to sit beside him, not too near or too far from each other, and so they sit in silence.
Carey listens to his heartbeat, feels it slowly calm down again, and searches for something to say despite not wanting to say anything at all. Potter, on the other hand, seems almost comfortable, just waiting, staring out at the fake-summer window with his hands in his lap, clutching his wand loosely. Both of them are exhausted: Carey from running, from nightmares and flashbacks and his whole life, mostly; and Potter is exhausted because, Carey now realizes, he has been fighting. Training, judging from the simple dummy in one corner and the marks of magic all around it.
"What—" his throat is dry, so Carey clears it, "What are you doing here?" He should know better than to start a conversation, he knows, but the silence is stuffing his ears.
A corner of Potter's mouth lifts up. "Could ask you the same."
Carey tries not to scowl. "I asked first."
"Well, what's it look like, Carey? I'm trying to get better at Defense—"
"At past one in the morning?"
Potter's smile falls a little. "I couldn't sleep," he says, and Carey finally notices the shadows beneath those sharp, knowing eyes. "So, you? What happened?"
Carey looks down. His hands are shaking. They always do that. He tucks them beneath his knees so he doesn't have to see it. Potter says nothing.
"I had a nightmare," Carey says, when the silence has gotten too loud, and Potter gives him the tiniest of glances, somehow wary, somehow encouraging, somehow sorry all at the same time. It's all Potter's fault, really, Carey thinks defensively. After all, he's barely gotten a decent night's sleep since Potter asked him all those questions. Really, if he'd just left him alone…
"D'you—can you tell me what about?" Potter prompts him, and Carey wonders again if this is safe. If Potter is safe. "I'll never tell anyone else, at least without telling you first. Promise."
Carey bites at his cheek. His hands twist in his nightclothes, rumpling them. "It was about my father."
Potter's shoulders stiffen.
"He... He was, well... he was casting the C-Cruciatus. At, er, m-me."
Potter's hands are clenched tightly in his lap, so tight they shake from the tension. Carey feels strangely comforted by this. "The Cruciatus," Potter says, in the kind of calm voice that is trying very hard to be calm but is failing miserably. He has very sad, very green eyes, Carey thinks suddenly. Not the pitying kind of sad, either, just—sad. Sad and tired and angry.
Carey gulps. "He—it's not—" And once he tries, all the words are tumbling out, like an avalanche, like a flood, all stutters, and Carey cannot stop. "He only does it when I've displeased him, or when I've done something wrong, and it's not like—he's a very powerful man, my father, and his curses are—they're not like real Cruciatuses, they're just, well, he controls the hurt, you know, how much it hurts, and sometimes it's barely more than a Stinging hex, really, only I-I guess it lasts longer, and, I know he—Mother died while she was giving birth to me, so I know it's my—I know it's because of that."
He lapses into silence, then, more afraid than he has ever been, because he knows he's not supposed to tell. He just isn't.
He shakes. Potter is quiet too, speechless probably. In fact, he looks very pale and appears to be trying to compose himself. The silence is roaring at them.
Then, Potter says, in a firm, matter-of-fact voice: "It's not your fault."
Surprised, Carey looks at him. "I know."
"Everything your father did to you," Potter continues, and he looks desperate, shaken for some reason, "you're not responsible in any way, it is not your fault. What—what your father did—is... is inexcusable. He was the one wrong. Never you. Even the fact you mum died—that's not your fault. You—you've got to understand that."
"I—yeah," Carey says. He has heard all of this before, but it sounds different coming from Potter. Truer, somehow. "I know." He's not sure he's saying the truth.
Potter nods, in that fierce, Gryffindor way of his, and says, very seriously, "Thanks for, well, telling me, Carey—for, um, trusting me enough to tell me," which surprises Carey again, because he doesn't expect to be thanked.
He shifts away, suddenly. "Don't tell anyone else. You can't—"
"Of course. Not without your permission, anyway."
His heart is beating so hard Carey is surprised the ground doesn't shake with it. "I won't permit you to tell anyone."
"Okay. Not yet, at least. But we have to figure something out. Either way, you're not—you won't have to live with your father again. I swear. We'll find a way."
Yes, well. Carey still doubts this. "You… swear it?"
Potter smiles a little. He looks almost relieved. "Yeah, promise, Carey. I do so swear."
They do not sleep again, that night.
(Frankly, Harry doubts he will ever sleep again. Carey's small, sharp face swims in front of him whenever he closes his eyes.)
They sit in the Room of Requirement for hours and hours and hours, waiting until the light breaking into the window is no longer an illusion. It is an unspoken agreement that neither of them will probably get any sleep if they tried, anyway. Both of them are too tired to talk, right now, so they don't.
But Harry does admit to Carey that he had nightmares too, that that is why he is here, up destroying a dummy at odd hours, trying to remind himself of how to fight.
It's the first time he's ever really said anything about the night terrors. It was the graveyard again, tonight… He doesn't tell Carey about that. He's just glad he didn't wake Ron back in the dorm, who always tries his best to just be there for Harry, but who is also a deep sleeper, which is to Harry's advantage, because when Ron hears his nightmares he tries to talk about them.
When the clock (Harry's not sure when it appeared on the wall, but he thinks it's nice, that Hogwarts is watching out for them) chimes lightly, proclaiming "BREAKFAST!" in cheery letters, they both laugh a little, startled. It takes a short while to pull themselves together and step into the hallway. Harry tentatively grips Carey's shoulder, just for a second, and then they both go separate ways, because lions and snakes look strange together when they aren't fighting.
Hermione and Ron are both suspicious, asking why Harry was up even earlier than Hermione, and Harry knows he looks more tired than usual, but he brushes them both off. His mind whirls distractedly all through classes, trying to figure out what to do about Carey.
He's never had this kind of responsibility on him before, what's he supposed to do? But he promised. He promised…
When classes end, he's almost glad to get away from his friends and enter the library. He slumps into the seat across Carey, who raises his eyebrows, and Harry grins at him.
Then he sits up, and clears his throat, and decides they need to talk about this.
Hours later and well after dark, Harry stands in front of Snape's office door.
He really, really doesn't want to do this. It's not that he doesn't want Carey safe, but… well, it's Snape.
He stands there for longer than he has to, but eventually, he knocks.
Harry enters. Snape is bent over an essay—probably a P, judging from the revolted look on his face—and his sneer only grows as he catches sight of Harry.
"Your detentions are only for one week, Potter, and they ended yesterday. I didn't realize you were so inept as to not know the days in a week." Snape's lip curls.
Harry grits his teeth. "No—that's not why I came. Sir."
There is a short silence. "No? What then? I do not read minds, Potter, you'd do well to tell me or otherwise get out. I am busy and moreover, your presence is unwanted here."
Harry abruptly wishes he'd gone to Madam Pomfrey instead. When had Snape cared about any of his students, anyway?
"One of the first year Slytherins was abused at home," Harry blurts.
Snape's eyes widen until Harry thinks they will pop out of their sockets. Snape rises, steps up to Harry quicker than a snitch, pulls him up by his collar before Harry can get another word out.
"What did you say?"
Harry's heart beats faster; he can feel it in his throat. "I said one of your Slytherins was abu—"
"How dare you," Snape snarls, lips pulling back in a sneer, though he does drop Harry, black eyes burning holes in him. "I check on my House consistently for any kind of bullying or abuse in my Slytherin's lives, you ignorant fool, I have their full respect, how dare you even imply that I am ignorant of my students, that I am negligent, when I have been at this school for more than a decade, and I have done—"
"Not done enough," Harry says, feeling daring and angry and furious at Snape, for actually fucking making this about himself, for checking only the Slytherins for abuse, for Carey having to run through shifty staircases and dark hallways in the middle of the night. For Snape not noticing that, if he's so bloody close with his other students.
For any of the staff not noticing that.
And it's not just Carey's home life you're mad about, says a little voice in his head. Harry shuts it up, furious with himself now, too.
Snape looks positively apoplectic, speechless with fury. A vein is jumping in his jaw. Harry waits for the violent dismissal, the month-long detention, the fifty points deducted from his House. He tilts his chin up, cocks his head, knowing he must look as arrogant as Snape has always told him to be. He whispers, mentally, a sorry to Carey. He did try.
But instead, Snape barks at him: "Who?"
Harry stares. "I—what?"
Snape's mouth twists. "Don't waste my time, Potter. Who is the Slytherin you wish to tell me about?"
Harry lets his surprise show for only a moment. "Carey," he says at once, because Carey is Harry's priority, and he must remind himself so. "Icarus Shard, I mean. He's a first—"
"First year, yes, I am aware." Snape still looks unimpressed. Harry wants to punch him. "And how can you say, then, that young Mr. Shard is 'abused'? Mr. Shard comes from an esteemed pureblood family—"
"He told me!"
This was a mistake, Harry realizes suddenly. He was stupid for ever trusting Snape, whatever Carey thinks. He should have gone to Pomfrey or McGonagall or Dumbledore—anyone but Snape.
True to form, Snape raises a skeptical eyebrow and walks back to his desk. "I imagine he told you he had to do small chores or was disciplined when he has done something wrong, if he talked to you at all, something which you undoubtedly exaggerated in your mind, considering you have no comprehension of not being spoilt or pampered—"
"He told me his father casts the Cruciatus curse on him as punishment, but since you seem more interested in making this about me, sir, then I think I'll just leave, because you obviously won't be any help!"
He's shouting by the end of the sentence, but that doesn't matter, because he's done it. He can see he's done it, in the way Snape's face goes terrifyingly white, the way his hand grips his chair as if he would fall over otherwise. Snape is listening now, really listening.
"What did you say, Potter?"
Harry is tempted to say "You heard me," and stomp right out of the room. But he'll probably just end up going back anyway, because he needs to see this through and he knows it.
"Carey's father," Harry says then, and he can't help it, his voice is rising, steadily and steadily and louder and louder, "casts an Unforgivable on Carey to punish him at home. He told me last night after he had a nightmare and ran out of the dorm! And the only reason I told you and not a different professor is because Carey only trusts you, so—so I don't care what else you do, sir, but Carey had better not have to go back there, because I swore he wouldn't have to, and even if you don't do anything then I'll find a way myself—"
Snape looks down at Harry. "I said, Mr. Potter, I understand."
Harry stares back at him, crossing his arms. Understanding isn't enough.
Snape sighs, sits back down—there is something weary in that gesture, but Harry can't pinpoint what exactly—and pulls another essay in front of him. Harry can't believe this. Snape's pretending Harry's not even there.
Minutes tick by. Snape's quill makes red scratches on the parchment. Harry taps his left foot. I'm not leaving until you tell me if you're going to do anything about Carey, you great git, he thinks, and if you don't do anything at all, then so help me.
Finally, Snape clears his throat. Usually it would startle Harry, or at the very least worry him, but now it just sounds awkward, and Harry just feels impatient. "I will speak to Mr. Shard as soon as possible, Potter. You're dismissed." Snape sends him a strange, unreadable look, and he sighs again. "Rest assured he will not be going back to his father."
Ah. Well, Harry did wonder when that would happen.
Hermione walks quickly down one column of bookshelves, coming to a stop at Harry and Carey's table in less than a minute. If they weren't in a library, she might even be running.
"Hi, Hermione," says Harry brightly. Carey is eyeing her with rather a lot of suspicion.
Hermione glares at him for ten seconds. "What, were you—were you just sitting here in the back every time you went missing?"
"First of all, I am not just sitting, I'm reading. Second of all, no—sometimes I was in the Room of Requirement. And I haven't been missing—"
"You keep disappearing every afternoon saying you have something important to do. Don't think we haven't noticed, Harry—"
"Oh, well, it is important, Hermione, after all, I'm preparing for OWLs—"
"Since when have you cared this much for OWLs?" Hermione asks, surprised. Harry shoots her a wounded glance. "And, I mean, it's still months away, it doesn't make much sense to just—"
Harry laughs. "Don't look so worried, everyone still knows you'll come out on top of all of us—"
"I'm not worried!" Hermione glares at him again, then looks embarrassedly at Carey, who has been observing their conversation in silence. "Uh, hi, and, erm, you are?"
"Carey Shard. Hello."
Hermione gives Harry A Look, the one that says I'm keeping quiet because this isn't the time for it, but you're about to get the third degree real soon. Harry smiles innocently.
"Well," Hermione says, "I'm going back to Padma—she's the Ravenclaw I usually sit with in the library, you know, Parvati's twin—so I'll be near the front just in case. Nice to meet you, Carey."
Carey looks almost bewildered as Hermione expertly makes her way through the shelves to her own table, and when the boy turns back to his work, there is a confused tilt to his eyebrows.
Carey glances him, gives him one of those icy careless looks of his. It is in moments like this that Harry remembers that Carey was never meant to be the abused child he is; no, Carey was meant to be Icarus Shard, the young pureblood heir, the scion, the prince.
Things didn't quite turn out that way.
"Nothing," Carey says. His gaze flits in the direction Hermione went, oddly dismissive. "She's a Mudblood, though, isn't she?"
His hand twitches instinctively to his wand, a retort already on his tongue, a curse trying to push past his clenched teeth. Pureblood Slytherin bigot, his brain whispers. How many times have he and Ron had to defend Hermione against that name, against these kinds of beliefs? How many times has Hermione had to defend herself? How many times have he and Hermione had to defend Ron, for being a "blood-traitor"?
How many times. How many times. Too many to count.
Harry heaves in a deep breath. Swallows the insults, bites back the hexes.
"Don't call her that," he says.
Carey frowns. The glint of disgust in his eyes almost makes Harry recoil. "But it's true. She's not of pure blood, she shouldn't even be allowed to attend Hogwarts—"
Harry grits his teeth and tries to remember that these beliefs, these ideals are rooted in Wizarding history, splattered across the Hogwarts halls, that Carey has likely grown up hearing these same words until they started coming out of his own mouth—that many children do.
"Exactly what about Hermione," Harry says, unsurprised to find that his voice is shaking, "isn't—isn't good enough? She's the best goddamn witch in my year, Carey. No," he snaps when Carey opens his mouth. "No. Listen to me. When I had to compete in the Triwizard Tournament last year, it was Hermione who helped me. She researched the spells. She learned them before I did, and then she taught me. I cannot count on my fingers how many times I'd probably be dead without her."
Carey leans back in his chair. "Her parents are Muggles—"
"So what? What's it supposed to mean? All it means, Carey, is that she grew up in the Muggle world till she was eleven. And it doesn't make a lick of difference in the long run—people like to pretend it does, but it doesn't. There is nothing that a pureblood wizard can do that a Muggle-born can't! I don't care if Hermione's Muggle-born, Carey, why should anyone?"
"I—Muggles are the reason wizards have to hide our powers, they drove us into hiding—" But Carey only looks flustered now, as if his world is no longer something he can believe in.
"That was centuries and centuries ago," Harry says. "And even if—if it does happen now, don't you think it goes both ways? There are wizards who hate Muggles for no reason at all, just like—like there might be Muggles who hate magic for no reason. And vice versa. You can't generalize an entire race like that. It'll only bring war—it has brought war." That war has ruined my life, Harry almost adds.
Carey is silent. Both of them are, for a moment.
"My mother was Muggleborn," Harry murmured, and Carey's mouth opens with no words falling out. "And she still protected me just as well as my father did when Voldemort tried to kill me." A habitual flinch. Harry ignores it. "You can say what you like, Carey. Hermione—or any other Muggle-born—definitely doesn't need your approval. But you'd better not say it in front of me, Carey, because I won't stand for it."
Quietly, he gathers his books and leaves for the Gryffindor common room.
In the library, Carey slumps in his chair. He stays there well into the evening, thinking.
"So, Harry, are you planning to explain anything?"
Harry sighs. Looks at his two best friends, who were probably talking about him before he came into the common room. Sits down on the armchair across them.
"Yeah, all right, Hermione. You caught me out."
"So who's this Carey Shard Hermione's been telling me about again?" Ron asks. "I've never heard of him."
"He's a Slytherin first year I met a few days ago." Harry decides to keep his answers short and direct. Best thing to do in interrogations, after all.
"Right. And… you made friends with this kid… why?"
"You shouldn't judge him just because he's a Slytherin—
"He's probably judging us, though…"
Harry slides a little farther down his seat. God, he just wants to go to sleep and never wake up. The image of Carey calling Hermione a mudblood burns his eyes. It's not his fault. It's not. "Look, he's just had a hard time of it. I met him on my way to Potions, and I thought—"
"Harry, you've been distracted these past few days, okay?" Hermione interrupts. "You barely even talk to us, and you've been spending as much time as me in the library. And with Umbridge breathing down your neck even worse than Snape does—it's just worrying, is all. And now apparently you're friends with a first year Slytherin boy neither of us even know!"
"All right, All right, I—" Harry takes off his glasses and rubs his eyes. "Okay, I'll explain. But you can't tell anyone about this."
"Mate, when have we ever told anyone else one of our secrets?" Ron asks, and Harry smiles faintly.
"Never. I know. Thanks. But Carey… he was, er, abused, by his father at home."
Hermione gasps. Ron just looks shocked. "Oh… that's why—"
"Yes. And that's all I'm going to tell you. I ran into him once, and I thought something was weird about him, so I basically followed him around until he told me. As for me—I'm fine, okay? The reason I've been… not here with you guys—which I'm really sorry about—is, well, I want to help him, and I'm not exactly sure what I've been doing…"
Hermione nods. She looks almost surprised that it isn't anything worse. "Right. I… okay. I understand that this is, well, important to you—"
Something in Harry bristles. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing! Just that, I know you don't—I know your relatives aren't—"
"I'm not doing this because my home life isn't effing perfect, Hermione, if that's what you think," Harry says. "I'm doing this because I want Carey safe. Who the hell wouldn't help someone like that? This—this isn't some side effect of whatever the fuck the Dursleys did to me, it's just my choice—"
"I know," Hermione says quickly, the guilt splattered all over her face. Harry looks away from it. "I'm really sorry, Harry, that's not at all what I meant…"
Harry sighs. "Yeah, yeah, okay. Sorry. Didn't mean to blow up at you." Harry places his elbows on his knees and covers his face with his hands. Ron is frowning at the both of them, Harry can see.
"So… so who did you tell? Or will tell?"
"About Carey's father. Who—"
"Oh. Well, Snape."
"Snape?" Ron says suddenly. "Why Snape?"
"Well, Carey trusted hi—"
"But you could've just convinced him to let you tell anyone else! I mean, come on, Snape—how can you trust—"
Harry half groans, half laughs into his hands. It's going to be one of those long nights of conversation, he knows.
"Potter. Stay behind."
Those are dreaded words, Severus knows. He can almost hear the boy's inward groan, and Severus has to suppress a smirk as he sees Potter's jaw clench, fingers tightening around his bag. The boy says nothing, however, as the rest of the class trails out of the classroom. (Weasley and Granger, predictably, try to stay behind; Severus glares at them until they leave.)
He casts a privacy ward, then says, "I have spoken to Mr. Shard."
Potter's eyes widen in surprise. He somehow manages to look both relieved and suspicious. "Oh."
"He has undergone a full physical examination by Madam Pomfrey, and I am working to get him out of his father's hands and home as fast as possible. I've filed a case against him. There will likely be a trial, possibly sometime after the Christmas holidays—"
"What? But I thought—you said the Shards were a powerful family, what if we lose—"
"Do not interrupt me!" Severus says loudly, and Potter snaps his mouth shut, glaring at him. "Just what did you expect me to do, Potter?" he asks, ignoring how Potter had said we, including himself in Icarus Shard's fight at once. "Did you expect me to whisk him away and kidnap him just to keep him safe from his father? I will do this the right way, Potter, legally, and I most certainly will not lose."
Potter glares some more, and Severus glares right back until Potter sighs and drops his stare. "I—can't the Ministry detect Unforgivables? Why hasn't anyone found out about this before?"
"Even if the Ministry does track every Unforgivable being cast"—and considering the Dark Lord's many spies in the Ministry Severus doubted it—"the Shard family home is likely an old magical structure. Any Unforgivables would be lost in its magic and history." He waits until he sees Potter nod. "Any other questions, Potter?"
Potter eyes him strangely. "Why are you telling me all this?" he asks, before adding belatedly, "sir?"
Severus looks at him for a long moment. It's a good enough question, after all. He has no reason to inform Potter of any private details of Mr. Shard's life.
"You might be needed at the trial," he says finally. "You're a witness." He pauses. "Additionally, considering you're the first person Mr. Shard has ever told of his abuse, and that you were the one to inform me… I felt you deserved to be notified. My actions towards you when you initially tried to tell me were… unreasonable."
Don't screw up with my student, is what Severus means. Even if I have.
"I want to apologize."
"Hm?" Harry looks up, squinting. He still has three essays due tomorrow, but he can't stop thinking about what Snape has told him. The trial… You may have to testify…
Carey stands in front of him, looking the most uncomfortable Harry has ever seen him. Despite the tension between them, Harry still sits at the same library table he has always sat in since meeting Carey Shard.
"I thought about what you said yesterday, about Mud—Muggle-borns, and Muggles. And I suppose—I think—there's some truth to what you said." Carey clears his throat. Exhales. "I read up on it, and… no, there's not really any proof that purebloods are… superior to Muggle-borns, in fact, there are actually a few Muggle-borns who made big changes in history, and most Muggle-borns actually have a history of 'pure' wizard blood, generations back..."
Harry raises his eyebrows, eyes widening. He must have really struck a chord in the boy. "Really?"
The boy seems to relax somewhat, and he takes the seat opposite Harry. He nods. "So—well, I'm sorry, for saying… what I said, without thinking about what I was really saying. And I'm sorry for calling your friend a Mudblood."
Carey's hands are clutched together, no matter how apathetic he's trying to be. He's nervous, and Harry feels guiltier about that than he is willing to admit.
So Harry just nods. His anger at Carey had burnt out long ago, really. "'Kay. Thanks, Carey."
"What—that's it?" Carey asks. "You forgive me?"
"Well, I can't completely blame you for it, myself. I know you grew up... hearing that sort of thinking, so it's not exactly your choice, either." And Harry hopes Carey just drops the subject, because he doesn't want to think any more on that, on how many Slytherins grow up like that, or if anything the Dursleys said ever affected his thinking… He refuses to think any more on that.
To his relief, Carey nods, smiling faintly, and the two of them come to a wordless sort of understanding. "Thank you."
Harry smiles back, but then it's his turn to clear his throat. "By the way, Snape talked to me, earlier."
And then the air changes again, the tension returning just slightly, and Harry has to keep back a grimace. "And?" Carey says.
"Nothing, he just wanted me to know that he'd talked to you, and that you were gonna be safe." The part where Snape actually thanks and apologizes to Harry (in the most roundabout way) is irrelevant to Carey, so he doesn't mention it. Instead, he watches Carey's face carefully. "But did it go all right, though? For you?"
"Oh, well—yes. It… it wasn't comfortable, obviously, but it was mostly fine. Professor Snape even gave me a calming draught before he asked me any questions, so that probably helped."
Snape sounds almost decent, put like that, Harry thinks dryly. But he nods all the same, and says, "Good." He lets a minute or two pass in silence, as Carey pulls out his Transfiguration book and flips through it, and Harry tries to watch him discreetly—he feels too nettled to actually read his own books, to be honest.
Then he says, "So, there's going to be a trial."
He sees it when Carey's spine stiffens just by a fraction, when the short fingers grip just a little more tightly to the book. Slowly, the boy closes his textbook again.
"Yeah," Carey says, his lips pulling down, and he looks so much younger somehow, so much smaller. "I—it's the only way to get away from him, really. If it all works out, Professor Snape said I could either spend my summers at Hogwarts, or at some wizarding orphanage, or with the professor. I, uh, I think I'll probably stay with the professor, you know."
"Oh, okay. That's good," Harry says, although personally, he thinks spending a summer with Snape would be hell. "I'm just glad you won't have to stay with your father anymore."
Harry regrets saying this out loud as soon as he has said it out loud; Carey flushes, embarrassed. "Yeah. I know. Also—I'm really sorry, but Professor Snape said… you might have to testify—"
"Of course," Harry says swiftly, and Carey looks up. "It's no big deal, Carey. I'll testify if I have to."
"Right. Thanks." Carey is fiddling—picking—at the sleeve of his school robes, fidgeting, something Harry has never seen him do. Harry sighs.
The boy looks up. His eyes are wide.
Harry tries his best reassuring smile. "It'll be all right. You know? Even the trial."
"Who are you to say?" Carey says, sounding agitated. "My father could still win it, you don't know him. He'll—"
"Even if he does," Harry says, and it sounds like a vow, "We'll find another way to get you away from there. I'll make Snape find a way. I promised you, didn't I?"
Carey breathes. His eyes are still wide, but he's stopped fidgeting.