Hi guys. I have resumed this story so if you came here because of an alert you received, I understand that you might need to go back and catch up on the story first. For those of you who are new to this, I hope you enjoyed the story so far. In the last chapter, Harry got a chance to speak to Severus after a rough night and it seems that both started to open up the slightest bit. After studying a Muggle book on Child Psychology, Severus had an idea how to help Harry sort out his issues and while he is eager to have a go, there is some talk with the Headmaster coming up first.
Please Come For Me - Chapter 18 – Taking Responsibility
Harry struggled to keep up with Severus' quick strides. He was hardly allowing him to take in the new surroundings… Harry had never seen such a forest, such a huge lake, and such a castle for that matter. If he had imagined Hogwarts to be something special, his hopes had not been disappointed.
'Where are we going?' Harry asked for the third time, causing Severus to look slightly bemused.
'I thought that was obvious.' Severus replied, gesturing towards the castle.
Harry looked slightly insulted.
'That's not what I meant. I was wondering whether we were going to meet someone there.'
Suddenly, Serverus understood Harry's repeated questions and regarded them in a different light.
Was the boy possibly even less intent on meeting the Headmaster than he already was?
Severus stopped, turned to Harry, and crouched until their eyes levelled. He put his hands on Harry's shoulders and waited until the boy looked him steadily in the eyes.
'Listen, Harry. I know that the last few days have been very hard for you and I understand that there are some persons you might not want to see at the moment. But it is important to speak to the Headmaster once, after all this is his school. Once we will be done, I have something very special to show to you.'
'Like a surprise?' Harry asked curiously.
With the tiniest smile, Severus nodded.
'That's unless you already know where we are heading?'
'To the Headmaster's Office,' Harry replied, but before Severus could reply, he noticed the grin on the boy's face.
Had he actually just been humorous?
'Trust me,' he finally said. 'The surprise I had in mind is much better.'
'You will see.'
Severus turned around and resumed his walk towards the castle with quick strides. He thought about the arrangements he had made and wondered if this was the right decision. Then he decided, that – at least until now – the advice he had taken from a book had never disappointed him and that he was on the right track.
Ten minutes later, two gargoyles, slightly bemused at Harry's bewildered expression, let the two visitors pass and Harry found himself in the most peculiar office he had ever seen in his life.
Actually, he had only seen the offices in his school, but of those he had seen a lot as Dudley had constantly managed to get him into trouble or at least make everybody believe that it was Harry to blame.
Yet, this was nothing to compare. Funny instruments, moving pictures, and on top of that a beautiful bird in the middle of the room…
A bit shielded from view, right behind his desk, stood Albus, a hesitant smile on his face.
'Hello, Harry. Severus.' He gave a polite nod.
While Severus returned the gesture, Harry only moved a step closer to his new guardian, as if to bring some space between himself and the Headmaster. This gesture did not go unnoticed by either of the men, one looking rather hurt, the other one quite content.
Deciding to break the awkward silence, Albus gestured towards two comfortable chairs in front of his desk.
'Please sit down, sit down. I believe there is something we have to discuss.'
With a worried expression, Harry looked at Severus, but his guardian just nodded curtly.
'It's okay, Harry. You have nothing to worry about. Remember, the surprise.'
This time it was Albus who looked bewildered.
How could Severus already know about the permanent arrangements Bathilda had suggested for him and Harry?
And what he could imagine even less was Severus speaking to Harry about this so openly.
Severus interrupted the Headmaster's inner monologue, maybe a bit more harshly than necessary.
'What it is you want to say, then?' he asked.
'Well, if you want to get to the point right away, Severus', Albus said, 'let me make this very short. You have been dealing admirably with this situation'
'Into which you brought me in the first place,' Severus stated coldly.
'And,' Albus tried to keep his calmness, 'it made me realise something I should have seen long before.'
Severus raised a brow ever so lightly.
'I had some... conversations... Things have changed. Harry cannot go back to his family and I am very heartbroken to say... Harry cannot go back to Dr Connor either.'
Albus glanced towards Harry who had been listening intently. Yet, to the Headmaster's surprise, the boy's expression did not convey any emotions.
There is so much those two boys have in common, he thought.
'I have already told him so,' Severus stated smugly. I have been honest, old man.
When Albus didn't reply, Severus cast a questioning look at him, that easily translated to 'So what?'
The headmaster continued.
'I have said that for now it would be best for Harry to stay with you. I realise that this was wrong.'
'Don't you dare...,' Severus started, alarmed by his own irritation.
'No… no!' Albus realized too late that he had left the wrong impression. With his hands in the air, he added: 'I did not intend to suggest removing Harry from… What I meant to say is that I think that it is high time to make the current arrangement more... permanent.'
There. He had said it. Now it was his turn to wait for a reaction.
Harry turned his head towards Severus, who in turn looked at the Headmaster with an unreadable expression.
Severus Snape as the permanent guardian of Harry Potter?
Angry at the headmaster that he had – yet again – made some decision over his head, and confused at the same time, he did the only thing that seemed sensible to him. He turned to Harry and asked
'What is it you want?'
The boy gulped, shocked to have been asked so straightforwardly for his opinion. A few seconds passed, then he shrugged his shoulders.
'Would you want to stay with me?'
Harry looked surprised. Clearly he had not expected to have a say in this matter after all.
He opened his mouth... and then shut it again.
Severus felt uncomfortable, two pairs of eyes resting on him.
Why is it always me who has to sort things out with this boy? he thought.
'Harry,' he then continued, some finality in his voice. 'If it is your wish, and considering the lack of alternatives, I would be willing to take care of you.'
You don't mind it, his inner voice exclaimed. Why can't you just let him know?
Shut up! Severus scolded his inner voice.
Harry started shifting in his chair, his feet dangling a bit above the ground. After a while, his gaze locked with Severus'.
'If you think that you can put up with me, I would like to stay. I guess,' Harry added carefully, searching for any reaction in his guardian's unreadable expression.
This was not the type of conversation Harry had expected. He had looked forward to his surprise and to seeing other children who were supposed to be like him. He had wanted to feel more normal, less like a freak. But this, he hadn't expected.
'Well,' Severus said, 'that's settled then. It is my turn to demand something of you, then,' he added coldly.
'What is it you require?'
'The Room of Requirement.'
Albus looked up in question, but Severus' mimic didn't betray a single thought. Yet it clearly communicated that no questions on this matter would be answered lest taken notice of.
Slowly, Albus nodded.
'It is all yours.'
With that, Severus rose from his chair, his little ward copying him instantly.
'You have said what you wanted to say. I wish to speak to Harry alone now.'
Severus turned around and walked away, the little shuffling noise trailing him reliably.
Albus had opened his mouth to add something, and then closed it again. Obviously there was no room in Severus' heart for any apologies, conversations or whatever he had thought of to make up for his errors.
x x x
Harry had followed Severus for several minutes now. He hadn't stopped or said anything and Harry started to wonder whether Severus had been genuinely happy with the Headmaster's suggestion. He seemed so... irritated.
After a while, Harry stopped. Noticing the lack of shuffling behind him, Severus halted and turned around.
'What is it, Harry?'
'Are you mad at me?' Harry's voice was barely a whisper.
'Why should I be mad at you?'
The boy seemed to ponder this for a while. Obviously he didn't want to make a mistake, yet he was clearly trying to say something important.
'Listen,' Harry started. 'I can understand that you couldn't say anything else when we were in the Headmaster's Office, but you don't have to...'
'No!' Severus interrupted.
'Look!' Severus pointed his index finger at Harry, causing him to retreat a few steps. 'This is exactly why I didn't know how to talk to you. You always seem to think that everything is your fault. But it is not. Nothing has been your fault. You are a child! Please, for once, act like a CHILD!'
He looked into sad green eyes, framed by a very pale face.
'I don't understand,' the boy hung his head miserably.
'Harry,' Severus said in what he considered to be a rather soft voice. 'I can speak for myself and if I had wanted to reject this agreement, I would have done so back at the Office. I know that this is difficult for you. After all, you have only been with me for a very short time. And obviously there are some things we will have to get used to. But if you are willing to try, so am I.'
With another sigh, Severus walked back to Harry and squatted next to him until their eyes levelled. Putting his hands on Harry's shoulders, he continued.
'It certainly won't be easy. And still the same rules apply when you are staying with me. But I promise you that you will be safe with me.'
Carefully, Harry shifted to one foot to the other.
'I will never beat you. I will never hurt you. And if I get upset and shout at you, there will probably be a good reason, although I will try not to.'
After a pause, he added
'You know what it is like to have these habits one simply cannot shake off easily, right?'
Now, Harry nodded empathically. Finally there was something he understood easily.
'So please, let us sort this out once and for all. Are you willing to stay with me? Permanently? This does not mean that you will not see your Aunt or cousin, or hopefully Dr Connor and his family, at some point, again. It simply means that I will be your guardian and responsible for your safety and well-being. And that I will ensure that you grow up in a healthy and safe environment.'
Like somebody should have done long ago.
Severus furrowed his brows. He wasn't trying to bond with the Potter boy. Well, Harry had only been in his life for such a short time. Yet there was something special about him. And you didn't abandon long-fostered habits easily, such as not showing any emotions...
Severus' inner monologue was interrupted by Harry who had met his gaze and nodded ever so lightly.
'But what if I mess this up again?' he added, again this sad notion to his voice.
'Harry,' Severus said sternly. 'There is nothing you could mess up. And nothing you could do wrong. But actually, there is something else I need you to do.'
Now the boy lifted his brows, looking curiously at his guardian, happy for something to do that ended this awkward situation.
'What do you want me to do?'
'There is a very special room in this castle,' Severus continued. 'It is beyond your keenest imagination, but it can be everything you need it to be.'
'And we will visit that?' Harry smiled genuinely. 'And I get to decide what I want it to be?'
'Well, not quite.' Severus interrupted, caught off guard by the sudden enthusiasm the boy showed. 'Maybe we will just get there and I will explain in due time.'
x x x
Petunia found herself seated opposite Bathilda again. In a way, she liked this woman. She was resolute and straightforward. With her, you knew where you were. Yet, she was disquieted by the talk to come.
When she stirred her tea for the thousandth time, Bathilda looked at her, a little impatient. With a sigh, Petunia started.
'I know you are right. And there is nothing I can do to excuse my behaviour. It always felt wrong, you have to believe me.'
'Why did you act like this in the first place, then?'
When Petunia opened her mouth again, Bathilda raised her hand.
'No, I want you to seriously think about this. I do not want to hear your well-rehearsed explanations or justifications, one could rather say. I want to hear what turned you into this person you have become.'
The words had hurt, but Petunia felt that she didn't deserve any better. Finally, she began to speak.
'It's my sister. Her special abilities. Powers I never had. I always wanted to be like her, seeing how our parents always treated her as someone special. They were so happy for her. And I was left out, nothing special at all.'
Bathilda looked at her for a while, contemplating. Then she asked
'But did your parents ever make you feel second-best?'
Before Petunia could answer, a guilty pang hit her. She knew that they hadn't. It had always been her, committing herself to so much pressure, expectations so high she could not fulfil.
'How does Harry come into play, then?'
'It is difficult…'
'I am sure I will catch up.'
'Well. Imagine what it was like. All the years I had experienced what it was like to be normal, without anything special at all. And compared to me there was my sister. First it was that school she was allowed to visit, then the friends she made. Imagine what it felt like to have her return home for the holidays, always new stories about what she was allowed to experience first-hand. How could I ever have competed with that?'
'But who made you compete?'
Again, there was a silence.
'We were always quite alike. Nothing could separate us, she would always rely on me. And then, all just became different. I never felt so betrayed in my entire life. She begun this new life, so many experiences that formed her expectations. It was like nothing could stop her.'
'You do realise that no everything was as glamorous as you put it?' Bathilda intervened slowly.
'Ha!' Petunia coughed. 'She got this awesome husband and my entire childhood I was left without any real friends, without anyone to rely on, never special enough for my parents. And when I finally met a man who genuinely seemed to care about me, I married him!'
'I loved Vernon because he took me for what I was. He never expected anything special. He just liked me the way I was. Finally, I thought I would have a little family of my own and let go of everything that had been withheld from me for so long.'
Petunia took a sip from her tea, then she continued.
'Then Dudley was born. I hadn't spoken to my sister besides the occasional Christmas or birthday cards, and then we had the boy heaped onto our doorstep.'
'You realise that this only happened because your sister and her husband were killed? Killed by the most powerful wizard that would then hunt down their only child?'
Petunia became aggravated now.
'Of course I know! But don't you think that I should have had a right to refuse? I was never allowed to be part of this world, and suddenly I had no say anymore?'
'And this,' Bathilda appeased, 'I can fully understand. But then why didn't you just refuse and got rid of Harry (at this Petunia squirmed) right away? Instead you agreed to keep him and what good it did him…'
Petunia clenched her fists, her knuckles white.
'I just didn't feel that I had the strength to refuse! You know Albus! All this talk about the blood wards and the necessity that it was Vernon and I who had to take the boy in. I was taken by surprise and before I realised, it was too late.'
'How come you couldn't just accept him for what he was?' Bathilda asked, carefully circling the point.
'He just reminded me so much of my sister, of all I had tried to forget. And when he started to show this freakish behaviour, I knew he'd be just like her. You couldn't expect that I would let Dudley make those experience I had to live through.'
'So, you thought making Harry feel as miserable as possible would do your son any good? Or you for that matter?'
That silenced Petunia.
No, she hadn't really felt any better, to be honest. But somehow, she had grown accustomed to her behaviour. At some point she had thought that by treating Harry unfairly, he would just hate her and not care about her insults anymore. But somehow, he had never been willing to do just that.
Showing more insight than felt right for Petunia, Bathilda nodded.
'Children do not hate easily. And I am sure neither did you. It must have been difficult, but certainly, your way of dealing with any hurt feelings hasn't been the best. For neither of you. And now, although I am sure that this wasn't the way you had planned it out, you finally got rid of Harry. I congratulate you to this.'
Bathilda hadn't meant for it to sound so cynical, yet she wasn't able to hold back some of the resentment she felt, despite all her understanding for the situation Petunia had been placed in.
'Just tell me one last thing,' Bathilda continued when Petunia didn't answer. 'Was it Vernon who joined in or how come he got this… attitude?'
Again, Petunia had to think for a while. Certainly, she would never admit that she had married the next-best guy that had shown any interest in her, only realising much later that not all was golden beneath the shiny surface.
'I guess sometimes it takes a while for some attitudes to show. Once Harry stepped into our life, I realised how opposed Vernon was to anything out of the ordinary. It reinforced my rejection and ultimately, things just developed the way they did.'
'How will you make up for it then?'
At this, Petunia glanced up in surprise.
'You mean Harry is coming back?'
'Well.' Bathilda sighed. 'No. He has been placed in somebody else's care. Yet, at some point I am sure, it would do you – and Harry – good to speak about what happened. Whenever you are ready for it, but more importantly, when he is ready for it. At some point he will have to voice his hurt. That is how people normally deal with trauma and hurt emotions and unless they do, they will never leave them behind.'
With that, Bathilda grabbed her tea cup and emptied it in one swallow.
It had become cold.
x x x