CHAPTER 18

For the second day in a row, Harry woke rested thanks to being dosed by a potion. The thought that he couldn't sleep without being drugged made him uneasy, although he pushed the feeling from his mind as the boys in the tower dressed and hurried down for a quick bite before classes.

He was quiet as the sixth year Gryffindors walked across the vegetable patch toward the greenhouses, and he found himself lagging behind the rest of the class. He didn't even notice Hermione slow her steps to walk beside him.

"You alright, Harry?" she asked, a perceptive look in her worried, narrowed eyes.

Harry was so wrapped up in his own thoughts that it took him a moment to realize she had addressed him. "Hmm? Oh, yeah. I'm fine."

"Are you sure?" his friend persisted. "You barely ate anything at breakfast."

He nodded as they moved into Greenhouse 4, grateful for the interruption in what was sure to be an unwanted conversation. Professor Sprout was already announcing directions for today's lesson as he and Hermione hurried to take their places.

Harry had a difficult time concentrating, which he quickly discovered was a major hazard when working with the violent Snargaluff stumps. Twice Hermione had been forced to heal him while Professor Sprout's back was turned, so that the teacher wouldn't mark him down for being careless.

Suddenly the thrashing wood whipped him hard enough across the face to knock his glasses off, causing an unintentional black eye. But the moment that the tentacle-like arm made impact with his face, memories of both Malfoy and Dudley flashed before him, wrenching a loud cry from deep in Harry's gut that was a lot more fearful than the situation warranted.

A sudden hush fell upon the glass-encased classroom.

"Potter, didn't I tell you to insert a gum shield and cast a plant-bind before attempting to wrangle the offshoot?" Professor Sprout asked irritably as she healed his swelling eye with a quick spell from across the greenhouse.

Even without his glasses, Harry could clearly see that every face was turned his way. His breath was still coming in nervous, terror-filled pants, and his face heated with humiliation. "Calm yourself," the professor barked in the same tone she'd use to reassure a frightened muggle-born first year. "The task is not that difficult. Now, back to work everyone."

"S-sorry professor," answered a trembling Harry as the others turned back to their Snargaluff stumps.

Harry's cheeks were burning in shame as he bent to pluck his glasses off the floor. As ashamed as he was to admit it, Harry continued to feel as powerless as when he'd lain beneath Malfoy and Dudley, unable to stop them from doing whatever they wanted to him. It made Harry feel like a victim all over again.

I was manipulated by those bastards! Abused, even almost…

Raped.

The last thought made his breath hitch as the blood roared in his ears.

Needing a moment to collect himself, he made a show of searching the dirt floor for his glasses, even though he could see their silhouette beneath the wooden workbench. But when he caught Hermione gazing down at him with a worried look, he quickly reached for his glasses and shoved them back onto his face, ignoring his friend as he stumbled to his feet and tried desperately to get back to work.

Charms and Transfiguration went just as badly. Even Ron seemed to figure out that something was wrong, and Harry had to clench his teeth to keep from snapping at his friends every time they shared an anxious glance when they thought Harry wasn't looking.

"I'm fine, I promise!" He swore as they sat at the Gryffindor table in the Great Hall for lunch. "It's just my –" he thought quickly, unwilling to admit to the truth. With a glance at the staff table, he was relieved that neither his father nor Dumbledore was there to witness the lie. Lowering his voice so as not to be overheard by any others, Harry murmured, "It's just my lesson with Dumbledore. I'm a little… unnerved by everything he told me about Voldemort, that's all."

"What did he tell you, mate?" asked Ron. "You didn't really say much last night."

True, thought Harry, knowing he had said the bare minimum so he could escape upstairs to his Vanishing Box and wait to know about his father's fate.

"He showed me a memory of Voldemort's mother."

"So weird, thinking You-Know-Who actually had a mother," Ron answered with wide eyes and a fried chicken leg halfway to his mouth. "For some reason I always thought of him as just… appearing." He shrugged and took a massive bite of the glistening white meat.

"That's probably the point, Ronald," Hermione sniffed, a note of disgust in her voice as she watched him eat. "It makes absolute sense to know as much about V-Voldemort as possible. How else would Harry discover his weaknesses?"

"I 'doe, 'Mionee," Ron chided through another mouthful of chicken, rolling his eyes as he washed it down with a large gulp of pumpkin juice before addressing Harry again. "So, what was so important about You-Know-Who's mother?"

"Well, she was abused by her family." Kind of like me, he thought uneasily. "When her father and brother were thrown into Azkaban for attacking a Ministry official, she escaped while she could. She was secretly infatuated with a rich muggle from the village, and I think she slipped him a love potion to get him to marry her. His name was Tom Riddle." Both friends gasped as the details began falling into place. "They were married for a while, I think. But Merope – that was her name – felt guilty for dosing him with the potion. She was madly in love with him, and thought that he loved her, too. When she got pregnant, she told him the truth."

"And he left her? Even though she was going to have his baby?" Ron asked, aghast.

Hermione gave him a knowing smirk. "Feeling sorry for Voldemort, are we?"

"What?! No! It's just sad, that's all," he mumbled. "Go on, Harry."

"Well, the reason Voldemort is so obsessed with blood status is because he was the real Heir of Slytherin. That's the reason he can speak Parseltongue, and why he's so obsessed with snakes."

"He's related to Slytherin?" Hermione asked in surprise.

"Yeah. When her husband left her, Merope had a few of Slytherin's heirlooms that she sold to make some money to live – a necklace and a ring, I think. Anyway, she must have died right after Voldemort was born, since he grew up in an orphanage. But the memory we watched didn't have any details about how it happened."

While Ron and Hermione launched into whispered theories of why Dumbledore showed him this particular memory, Harry sat silently contemplating his emotions. He had to admit that he felt a bit better after opening up to his friends, even if they hadn't discussed what was truly bothering him. But even as confused and complicated as his life was, he was very aware of how lucky he was to have Ron and Hermione in his life.

Nothing can ever make me forget the loneliness of not having friends… Or family.

As if hearing his thoughts, Hermione suddenly turned to him and murmured, "It's almost time for double Defense with Professor Snape. We'd better go." She smiled at the immediate easing of Harry's features, instinctively knowing the lightening of Harry's heart at mention of his father. As irritating as Hermione's perception could sometimes be, Harry really was grateful for it in moments like these.

Irritating… With a grin of anticipation as the three of them walked towards the DADA classroom, Harry remembered that he had been ordered to get detention.

What shall I do, I wonder?

Spying the back of a particularly nasty silvery-blonde head, Harry's insides went cold. But at the same moment, something else – something deep, dark, and in a dangerous rage – roared to life. I am NOT a victim! Harry thought icily, his fingers unintentionally fisting at his sides. I refuse to be cowed by that… that BASTARD!

Clenching his jaw hard enough to make his teeth crack, Harry remembered the feeling of helplessness that continued to spark in him every time he remembered the train. Even his subconscious was beginning to betray him by conjuring up that… that dream. Harry stumbled as a bolt of pure terror seemed to make his bones turn to jelly at the memory of that horrific nightmare. But his body's disloyalty only served to make his rage boil into epic proportions.

Harry acted without thinking.

"Hey Ron," he announced loud enough to get Malfoy's attention. His gaze never left the back of the slimy git's head as he continued, "How many Slytherins does it take to screw in a lightbulb?"

"A what?"

"Two. One to screw it in and another to threaten the poor bloke with his father's connection at the Ministry. Oh wait, I guess that's an empty threat these days, isn't it?" He saw Malfoy's shoulders stiffen at the remark, and for some reason the sight caused a thrill of delight in Harry's gut. The tables have turned, Malfoy, he thought viciously. Who's the victim now?

"What do you call a Slytherin with one brain cell?" he continued loudly.

"Ummm," Ron murmured in confusion.

"Gifted. What about a Slytherin with two brain cells?"

This time, with a worried glance at Malfoy, it was Hermione who answered. "Harry, what–?"

"Pregnant. Although with repulsive looking pug-nosed girls like Pansy Parkinson in their house, I don't see that happening anytime soon."

His last remark finally produced the reaction he'd been going for, and Malfoy spun around with a snarl. "Shut your ugly face, Potter!"

The terror of the past few days bubbled immediately to the surface as Harry stood face-to-face with his attacker. But something else rose fiercely to take its place, a rage the likes of which he'd never felt before, not even when Voldemort had possessed him at the Ministry last year. He felt a loathing for Malfoy so deep it was like fire in his veins. Harry wanted nothing more than an excuse to hit the bastard. He was ready for a fight – in fact, he longed for one – and he stepped defyingly into Malfoy's personal space to provoke it.

"Or what, Malfoy?" he challenged. "Are you going to call your Daddy on me? Or maybe your whore mother? I hear she and Voldemort have become rather close these days."

"Why you–!" Malfoy cried, and he launched himself at Harry, catching him around the middle and slamming him to the floor. The breath was knocked from Harry's chest in a whoosh, but Harry didn't care. Pummeling every inch of disgustingly pale skin that he could reach, Harry barely registered the noise and commotion of the combined Gryffindors and Slytherins jeering and catcalling above them. His knuckles caught Malfoy in the eye only moments before Malfoy's fist landed squarely across his jaw. Harry was so fueled by rage that he didn't notice the door to the DADA classroom fly open, or the sudden silence of the crowd around them as he and Malfoy rolled across the floor tearing at one another.

Suddenly he and Draco were forced magically apart, each flying in opposite directions to land hard against the stone walls of the corridor.

"What. In. Merlin's name. Is going on here?!" a dark voice hissed, and Snape came pounding down the hallway, stopping midway between the two angry teens. His dark eyes were livid with black fire, and he glared at the two disheveled students for long, silent moments. "How dare you…" he breathed after an unnerving inspection. Then in a voice loud enough to make the entire crowd jump he barked, "Mr. Malfoy! Hospital Wing – this instant!"

Spinning on his heel, his father charged Harry quickly enough to make him flinch, and his bravado of only moments ago poured out of him as quickly as water from a sieve.

"As for you, Potter," Snape growled in his silkiest, most menacing tone. "You are not welcome in my class after this little stunt. You are to wait for me in my office until I come to fetch you. From there we will visit the headmaster – where God willing you will be expelled from this school and thrown back to your filthy muggle relatives." Harry blanched at the words, feeling his face drain of color. Feeling suddenly dizzy, he visibly flinched as Snape raised his wand and something giant and white bounded from the tip and flew out of sight. Probably a Patronus message to Dumbledore, Harry thought miserably. His eyes flicked back up to meet his father's heated gaze, detecting nothing but pure rage. "My office and nowhere else. Do I make myself clear?"

Snape glared down at him for another long moment before spinning disgustedly away in a billow of black cloak. Storming back towards his classroom, he commanded to the crowd, "Inside. Now!" Every one of them jumped to obey – all except Ron and Hermione, who looked as stricken and confused as Harry felt, their eyes flicking back and forth between their professor and their friend. But before they could do anything, Snape barked, "Weasley! Granger! I said inside!"

As the heavy door to the DADA classroom slammed shut behind them, a heavy, suffocating silence pressed itself upon Harry. The axis of his entire world felt tilted as he clambered numbly to his feet, feeling as though he were watching someone make their way down to the dungeons. The implications of his father's words were too painful to contemplate, and so he focused on the soft buzzing that had taken up residence in his ears.

Placing his palm lightly against the heavy wooden door of his father's office, Harry wondered if this was the last time he'd ever do so. His stomach bottomed out at the thought, and he leaned his forehead against the cool wood for a long moment before finally pushing through the entrance. But when he did, he was startled by a warm voice colored with motherly concern.

"Harry? Oh Harry, what happened?"

"Lily?" Harry replied in shock. She was the lastperson he expected to see here. Before he could think better of it, he blurted, "What are you doing here?"

"I was in the Hospital Wing with Poppy when I received a Patronus message from Severus. He said you had been hurt," she murmured as she gently grasped his chin to examine his injured face. Harry hadn't even realized he was bleeding until that very moment. "What happened?" she asked again. "Does this have anything to do with Draco Malfoy? He arrived moments after the Patronus."

Harry's head was spinning. "I… Yes… D-dad called you?" She nodded. "But he wants to…" He swallowed painfully, refusing to think of being forced to go back with his aunt. "I think… he was so angry–"

A gentle hand on his cheek halted his confused, jumbled babble. "Yes, he's angry. But mainly he's worried, love." She ran the tips of her fingers through his fringe, and the loving motion had an immediate calming effect. "Tell me what happened."

Harry was suddenly deeply ashamed of the truth. "I… I don't know." But Lily's understanding, patient gaze was strangely compelling, and he found he couldn't lie to her. In disgrace he sighed, "That's not true. I picked a fight with Malfoy. It… Well, I…" Harry was mortified when his eyes filled with tears, and he swallowed back a burning lump in his throat. "Malfoy attacked me on the train, and it… I don't know why, but it… reminded me. And I… I've just been so"

Lily immediately understood what he couldn't seem to put into words. "Oh, Harry," she murmured, enveloping him in a warm, motherly embrace. "My sweet boy… It reminded you of this summer." She rocked him gently, rubbing her hand in soothing motions over his back. Harry felt safer than he had in a long time, as the hot tears leaked from his eyes and trickled onto her robes. "I'm sorry, Harry," she whispered, "I'm so sorry. I should have seen it sooner." She held him for a long time, comforting Harry in a way he desperately needed and allowing her calming warmth to seep into the very marrow of his bones.

Eventually Harry pulled away, embarrassed by his display of emotion.

"Now, none of that," Lily announced simply. "You're human, not a robot. And as much as Severus likes to pretend otherwise, it's unhealthy to have the emotional capacity of a brick wall. Ah, I see you trying to hide that smile – what did I just say about bottling up your emotions?" As Harry grinned abashedly under her inspection, Lily smiled fondly at him. "There. That's better. Now, let's heal you up, shall we?"

It was as Lily was healing the last of his scrapes that the office door opened, and Snape made his way calmly into the room before locking the door behind him.

Lily's imploring gaze met his father's steady black one, and for a long moment they stared at one another. Harry almost missed the imperceptible nod that Lily gave his father before she turned to Harry and squeezed his shoulder reassuringly. "Everything will be alright," she murmured, before sealing the promise with a soft kiss at his temple. And with that she made her way to the door leading into Snape's private quarters. "Stay here," she addressed them. "I'll be right back."

When she was gone, Snape crossed his arms and turned an unnervingly blank gaze toward Harry, who had a difficult time meeting the man's steady eye. An uncomfortable silence stretched out between them.

"P-professor, I–"

"Professor?" Snape murmured as he raised a sardonic brow.

Harry paused for another moment as his gaze dropped to his feet. "Well I… wasn't sure if I should still call you, 'Dad.'"

Snape seemed to deflate slightly as he released a heavy breath. "Harry…" He paused. "Son. Look at me." Harry gazed at him through his fringe, afraid to even hope, and Snape looked down at him silently for a long time before murmuring, "You should have been mine from the beginning. I would have–" The words abruptly ended. But his gaze never wavered, and Harry couldn't help thinking that he was speaking more to himself when he repeated, "You should have been mine."

Surprised by the fervent, possessive claim he heard in Snape's voice, Harry raised his chin. "I still want to be. Yours, I mean."

A small smile played at the corner of Snape's mouth. "That's good to hear, because I fear there's no going back now." Unfolding himself from his place against the door, he placed his hands on Harry's shoulders and stared down at him with intent, fathomless eyes. "You are my son, Harry – for better or worse. I cannot proclaim it publicly, not yet. But for now, it is enough to remind you, hourly if need be, until you recognize the truth of my words. You are my son. Nothing will ever change that fact." And like Lily before him, he enveloped Harry in a protective hug.

"But… you threatened to expel me," Harry muttered in confusion, his words muffled against the heavy folds of Snape's cloak. "You said… you said you wanted to give me back to my aunt."

Snape's arms tightened ever so slightly around Harry. "I am forced to say many things in my role as the Dark Lord's minion. Stop thinking with that soft Gryffindor heart of yours and start using the Slytherin brain that I know is lurking around in there. Consider our audience."

Harry closed his eyes as understanding clicked into place. "Slytherins…"

"Yes. Children of Death Eaters. Many of them seventh years, who will be forced to join their parents when their education is complete – future Death Eaters themselves. I couldn't reveal my worry without endangering us both."

Harry sighed. "You were so angry."

"Make no mistake – I'm still angry. There are matters at work far beyond your blockheaded teenage comprehension. Not only that, but you don't seem to be able to overlook this ridiculous boyhood grudge against Mr. Malfoy, even if it gets you killed." Snape gave a deep sigh, although he still did not release Harry from his embrace. "But its not your fault. Not entirely. Events have occurred in both our lives that were never… properly dealt with."

Harry wasn't sure what he meant, but in that moment, he didn't care. Although it felt childish to admit, he was far too happy being held. He excused himself this one time, considering that he had sixteen years of missed opportunity for parental affection to make up for.

"Wait," he said, suddenly pulling away and looking up at Snape in surprise. "You want to claim me as your son? Publicly?"

"I do," Snape agreed. But a note of uncertainty crept into his voice as he continued, "Unless you'd rather I didn't. I did not fully consider the publicity that would come with–"

"Are you kidding?!" Harry cried. "Of course I want you to! I've never had a family that was proud to call me their own. That – that would be brilliant!"

But Snape still seemed unsure, even after Harry's obvious excitement. "Harry… You understand that I will never be completely innocent in the eyes of some? Your name could be tarnished by linking it publicly to mine–"

"I don't care about that." Snape leveled a doubtful scowl his way. "I don't!" he cried. "If this stupid war has taught me anything, it's that life is too bloody short to worry about what other people think. They'll never understand the sacrifices you made, or the times you put yourself in danger just to keep others safe. So, to hell with them."

"Language," Snape replied with a barely concealed smile. But Harry's next words wiped the laughter immediately from his face.

"If it were up to me, I'd rather be known as Harry Snape than Harry Potter."

His father looked down at him in wide-eyed shock.

"You can't possibly mean that."

"I do. At least then I could proudly bear the surname of a man who's done more to watch over and protect me than anyone else ever has." His voice softened. "You've been a father to me for longer than James Potter ever was, even before everything that happened this summer. If he truly was as great a man as everyone claims he was, I think he'd understand and… even be grateful to you."

For the first time that Harry could ever remember, Snape seemed beyond words. A look of dazed tenderness loosened his father's normally tense features. It was a look that Harry knew he would spend the rest of his years determined to recreate. For it was in that moment that he realized Snape's life had been even more destitute of love, and for much longer than his own had.

Lily found them in the same silent state a moment later. Poking her head around the corner of the door, she smiled warmly at the two of them before saying, "Alright, it's ready."

Harry glanced curiously up at his father.

"What's ready? What are we doing?"

Snape sighed heavily as the dark glower he normally wore returned to his face. "Whatever it is, I can tell by that mischievous look that I'm not going to like it."

**AUTHOR'S NOTE: So, what does everyone think? Harry, for the first time in his life, became the aggressive bully in this chapter – although in his defense, it was only due to the various twisted emotions rampaging through his mind. How do you feel about it? Were Harry's actions understandable or inexcusable, no matter how damaged he is? Be sure to let me know! ^_-