Well, this chapter was supposed to be a Christmas gift, and then New Year's gift, but I guess it ended up being a gift for Severus Snape's birthday? Oh well, enjoy.
Harry opened one bleary eye at the sound of a throat clearing. The Headmaster stood in the doorway; two breakfast trays hovered ahead of him, one of which floated over to his bedside table. As Dumbledore followed the second tray to the chair beside his bed, Harry slid his glasses onto his nose.
With his vision now clear, Harry could see that Dumbledore's eyes held a diminished twinkle, his face wan and the corners of his lips downturned. His voice seemed sad as he greeted Harry with a quiet, "Good morning, Harry. If you would be so good as to breakfast with me?"
Harry gently closed the book about Occlumency that he had fallen asleep reading and reached for his own tray. The movement tugged at the wounds on his wrist and made him hiss in pain.
Dumbledore waved a wrinkled hand toward the two potions vials in the corner of Harry's tray. "I recommend the pain potion before the blood replenisher," the Headmaster advised, noting Harry's reaction. "Professor Snape has graciously restocked all of Madam Pomfrey's stores this morning so they're both fresh."
Harry felt his face settle into a scowl at the mention of the Potion Master's name, although something in his stomach seemed slightly offset at the memory of the man's apology – or as close as Harry would ever get to one – the night before. Nevertheless, he gulped down both potions before staring down at the tray. It was piled high with warm food, most likely a sampling of all that the elves had made for breakfast that morning; he tasted bile at the smell of the eggs and bacon. Settling for something safe, he reached for the toast and nibbled on a corner.
"I apologize that I did not come down to see you last night. I understand that Professor Snape took a bit of time to explain our current course of action, so I will spare you the mundane details." The Headmaster paused to take a few bites of scrambled eggs before continuing. "Professor Snape will be along in a bit to begin your lessons for the day, although I expect that he will focus primarily on magical theory until your wounds have healed. This afternoon, I will introduce you to your mind healer for your first session."
Harry finished his slice of toast and pushed his tray away, no longer hungry. Dumbledore finished his own meal quickly, vanishing both trays with a snap of his thin fingers.
"Well, my dear boy, I'd best be going," the old man announced, standing up. "I'll be back after lunch, but Professor Snape will be along quite soon."
As Dumbledore swept out of the room, Madam Pomfrey stepped in, followed by a black-clad Snape. Madam Pomfrey bustled about his bed, casting diagnostic charms and starting to change the bandages on his wrists, which were spotted with red. Snape leaned against the doorframe, crossing his arms across his chest.
Harry glanced at him before looking down at his now-unbandaged forearms. Deep red gouges and shredded skin made him avert his eyes in shame. "Why are they still bleeding?"
Madam Pomfrey siphoned away the blood that had begun to bubble up in the wounds and conjured two rolls of gauze. "Attempted suicide is particularly difficult to treat, Mr. Potter. Your magic is . . . at war with itself, so to speak. It instinctively works to keep you alive when seriously injured, but it is also attuned to your will and your purpose-driven actions. When your magic is fighting to keep you alive but you no longer have the will to live and act accordingly, it is particularly taxing on your magical core, making it especially difficult to heal from self-inflicted injuries. Even if you weren't on a suicide watch of sorts, you would likely be in the Hospital Wing for a while." She finished the bandages with a flick of her wand, leaving Harry's wrists gauzy white once more. Putting one soft hand on his shoulder, she continued, "I know it's not easy, but the best way for you to heal is for you to want to stay here with us, Mr. Potter. Your magic needs to be able to help itself."
Harry stared at his newly bandaged hands as Madam Pomfrey left the room, leaving him alone with Snape. As the Potions Master moved from the door and took a seat in the chair next to his bed, Harry discreetly examined the man. Snape looked a bit worse for wear. His hair seemed greasier than normal, hanging in a lank curtain around his sallow face, and his eyes were ringed by dark circles. It looked like the man hadn't slept since – well, honestly, perhaps since Harry had escaped his quarters and slashed his wrists out in the woods.
"Why are you here?" Harry demanding, keeping his eyes fixed somewhere to the right of Snape's face. "You don't want to be here. I don't want you here. So why are you here?"
Snape scowled. "The Headmaster – "
"I don't care what Dumbledore said. I don't care what anyone said. You started all of this. If you hadn't – "
"I have an obligation, Potter. This goes beyond you and your wretched home life," Snape snapped, his tone icy and unyielding. "Do not feign understanding of my life or anyone else's."
Harry looked toward the door, which had been closed behind Madam Pomfrey. The first twinges of panic tugged at his chest; he felt trapped in this room with the man he hated most. "I don't want to speak to you."
Snape made a noise like he was going to argue, but Harry refused to turn around and look at the man's face. A book was dropped on the bed, and Harry pulled it onto his lap. Charms.
"Theory, then, if you are unwilling to listen. Read Chapter 13 about silencing charms."
Harry quietly sketched out a diagram of the wand movement, unable to truly practice the spell since Snape was still in possession of his wand. He scribbled out a few notes under the diagram, noting the importance of willpower in the spell. Willpower certainly wouldn't be an issue if he ever found himself with the opportunity to silence Snape. Or the Dursleys, he supposed. The two deserved to be grouped together, based on their treatment of children.
Around noon, a small, wrinkled house elf named Lolly popped into the room, levitating two lunch trays as Dumbledore had earlier that morning. "Lolly is providing lunch for Master Potions Master and Master Harry Potter. Dobby speaks highly of Master Harry Potter, so Lolly is bringing him extra pumpkin juice."
Harry flashed Lolly a watery smile as he accepted the lunch tray. The sight of the turkey sandwich and chips with a splash of vinegar made Harry's stomach churn, but he took a small sip of the pumpkin juice to appease the house elf. Perhaps later he could convince Dobby to get him out of this mess.
"What is the most important component of silencing charms?" Snape quizzed as he dug into his chips. Harry wrinkled his nose at the acidic tang of malt vinegar. "Eat, Potter."
Harry spitefully bit into a chip of his own. "Willpower to overcome the sound you're trying to silence."
Snape inclined his head. "I expect a foot of parchment on the uses and limitation of silencing charms for tomorrow. We will work on Potions until the Headmaster arrives. If you are done throwing a tantrum?"
The Potions Master launched into his lecture about Veritaserum, and Harry flipped to the chapter in his Potions book. He took a few small bites of his sandwich to appease – well, Madam Pomfrey more than anyone else.
". . . It is rather easy to spike one's pumpkin juice – " Snape pointedly looked at Harry's drink " – due to the potion's odorless and colorless appearance, water-like consistency, and undetectable taste. As such, its use is highly regulated by the Ministry and – "
A knock on the door interrupted them, and Harry folded the parchment with his notes and stuck them into his Potions book as Dumbledore entered the room with a petite woman wearing the lime green robes of St. Mungo's.
"Good afternoon, Harry, Severus." Dumbledore nodded to each of them with a smile and a twinkle. He gestured to the woman beside him. "This is Ashlynn Collins, Harry. She'll be your mind healer while you're recovering. As I'm sure Professor Snape has informed you, she has been sworn to secrecy on your case."
The mind healer pulled up another chair and took a seat. Healer Collins was a small, mousy woman with shoulder-length, curly brown hair and a kind smile. Harry had the feeling that he would like her if she weren't here to make him explain his feelings and his actions in the woods.
"Well, I'll take my leave," Dumbledore announced, brushing an invisible speck of dust from his violet robes and sweeping from the room. He closed the door behind him, leaving Harry, Ashlynn, and Snape alone in the room.
"It's nice to meet you, Harry. May I call you Harry?" Ashlynn began, smiling kindly at Harry.
"Are you saying that because I'm Harry Potter?" he snapped, although he didn't mean for his voice to take on the harsh edge that it did.
"I say that because you're another sad young man who I'd like to talk to, not because you're any sort of celebrity. I understand this was your second attempt in less than a fortnight?" she inquired, nodding toward Harry's bandaged wrists.
Harry nodded stiffly.
"I know you're all but locked in this room, but do you still have thoughts of hurting yourself? Has this been an ongoing thought?"
Harry shot a sideways glance at Snape, who was sitting stiffly in his wooden chair, looking as if he were trying to appear decidedly disinterested. "I won't talk if he's here."
"Headmaster Dumbledore has requested that Professor Snape sit in on all your sessions, so he'll have to stay," Ashlynn said, not unkindly. "Would it be easier to pretend that he's not here?"
"Then I won't talk," Harry ground out, crossing his arms across his chest and hissing at the sharp twinge in his wrists. Ashlynn exchanged a look with Snape, who dug a pain potion out of his robes and handed it to Harry.
"Please take the pain potion, Harry. You don't have to speak; we can sit here for the rest of the session if you don't feel comfortable talking yet."
"I don't," Harry replied tersely, gulping down the pain potion. His shoulders relaxed imperceptibly as the pain vanished from his forearms.
"We don't have to talk about the serious stuff, either. I hear you play Quidditch? What position do you play?"
"I'm a Seeker on the Gryffindor team," Harry whispered. "Or I was, at least. Umbridge banned me from Quidditch, so Ginny Weasley is Gryffindor's new Seeker. Even if I wasn't banned, I'm about to disappear for most of the term. They probably won't let me back on the team."
"I'm sorry to hear about the ban. I hear you joined the team your first year?" Harry had to give Ashlynn credit. She seemed genuinely interested in his answers, although she didn't seem like the type of girl who would be into Quidditch. She reminded him a bit of one of the Hufflepuff girls in his year – Hannah Abbott, maybe?
Harry smiled a little to himself at the memory of his first flying lesson and his fear that he would surely be expelled and returned to the Dursleys. "The youngest seeker in a century. There's something about sitting on a broom high above the pitch and watching the game below me. I feel free, I guess."
"Is it similar, perhaps, to feeling like a spectator in your own life? You have a role to play, of course, but so much of your life goes on without your influence."
Once again, Ashlynn's words were not unkind, but Harry snapped his mouth shut regardless. "I would appreciate it if you didn't make assumptions about my life. I like flying. That's all."
Ashlynn raised her hands in a show of innocence. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to overstep the boundaries of our conversation today. Shall we talk about something else? Your favorite school subject?"
At this, Snape snorted quietly, causing Harry to look at him in surprise. He had never heard the man make any noise other than one of disdain.
"Certainly not Potions," Snape told Ashlynn, a note of amusement in his voice.
Harry gave his own halfhearted grin. "Not Potions. I like Defense Against the Dark Arts, when the professor is decent, at least."
"A fitting subject for the times," Ashlynn mused. "You don't like your current professor?"
Harry grimaced. "Umbridge is awful. She only teaches us magical theory and expects us to do well on our OWLs. My friend Hermione says she's mad, but she always was the one that focused most on schoolwork, anyway."
"Ah, that's right. Your OWLs are this year. What classes are you taking?" Ashlynn pulled a small black notebook out of the pocket of her robes and wrote a few lines. "Oh, don't mind me. I'm just writing down a few things about you. . . . For my eyes only, of course."
Harry nodded warily, but listed off his classes. "I'm hoping to be an Auror one day, so I need NEWTs in Transfiguration, Charms, Herbology, Defense, and Potions." He glanced at Snape, daring the man to say something, but his Potions professor stayed silent.
"Excellent, excellent. I'm sure you'll make a brilliant Auror, Harry." Ashlynn took a few more notes and glanced at her watch. "Well, that's all the time we have for today. The Headmaster has asked me to come by Monday through Friday for now, so I'll be back tomorrow. It was a pleasure to meet you, Harry. Professor." She inclined her head to Snape and gave Harry a little smile on her way out.
When the mind healer had left and closed the door behind her, Snape spoke. "I know you don't want me here, Potter. I don't want to be here either. I would much rather hand you off to McGonagall or the Headmaster, but I cannot. I liked it better when I could keep my distance from you and despise your arrogance, but the Headmaster has forced us together. Potter, like it or not, I will be tutoring you and I will be sitting in on your sessions with Healer Collins. As such, I propose an agreement. If you will treat me with the respect that I – as your professor and elder – deserve, I will attempt to be . . . civil." Looking pained, Snape extended one pale, long-fingered hand toward Harry.
Harry stared at the hand hanging between them. "Could you – I don't know – disillusion yourself during the sessions?"
"I will be present to hear the details of your discussion regardless."
"I know, but – "
"And you understand that I have already seen much of what will be discussed when I was in your mind?"
"I know, but when you sit there scowling and staring at me like I'm a bug – less than a bug – I can't think of anything except – I don't know. The whole point of this is for me to figure out how to not want to die. It doesn't help when I can see you sitting there, hating me and wishing I was dead too – wishing I had succeeded – if not the first time, then the second time." Harry was nearly gasping for breath with the effort of putting his thoughts into words, and he locked watery eyes with Snape's black ones. Snape's face was surprised, his eyebrows raised and his mouth slightly open. Harry looked down at his hands.
Snape snapped his mouth shut with an audible click. His hand had returned to his side at some point during Harry's spiel. "Regardless of the history between us, I do not hate you, Potter, not anymore. And I most certainly do not want you dead. Do you understand?"
Harry furiously dashed away a tear from his cheek, the teardrop absorbing into the gauze around his wrist. He nodded, wiping away another tear.
"Do we have a deal, Potter?" Snape extended his hand toward him once again.
Harry steeled his nerves and leveled his gaze with Snape's. "If you're going to be civil, you ought to remember that my name is Harry. Sir," he added belatedly.
Harry had braced himself for Snape's wrath, but the man merely nodded in response. "Very well. If you will treat me with respect, I will try my best to be civil and I will attempt to use your given name. Do we have a deal, Harry?"
His name sounded wrong on the Potions Master's lips, but perhaps it was due to the absence of disdain in the man's voice. "Yes, sir." Harry whispered, extending one hand to shake Snape's. "I accept your deal."
Will the truce last?