Disclaimer: I know this is hard to believe, but I don't actually own any of this.
Prequel: Harry Potter and the Accidental Horcrux, by me, the Imaginizer.
Posting Schedule: With Harry Potter and the Accidental Horcrux, I posted once a week, sometimes even twice. I don't think I can keep that up, for this story. I'd written pretty far ahead, in the beginning, but I'm starting to catch up with myself now, so I think I'm going to post every two weeks, to be on the safe side. I'm sorry about this, but I feel like if I want to keep up the quality and the chapter sizes, this is the way it has to be. Hopefully I haven't shattered anyone's dreams. Yeah, yeah, "don't flatter yourself, Imaginizer", I know.
So...I'll be seeing you all every second Sunday (sometimes more, but no promises).
Warnings: As this story covers the later years of Harry's adolescence, it covers more mature material than Harry Potter and the Accidental Horcrux did. Yes, people, I'm talking about sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Ok, ok, not quite. Well, kind of, actually. The warnings are as follows: abuse, offensive language (this story contains contains a foul-mouthed Burmese python), violence, sexually suggestive content (no explicit sex scenes), substance abuse, depictions of serious mental illness, and increasingly morally ambiguous protagonists.
Where we left off: It's June, 1994, and Harry's third year at Hogwarts has come to a close. He's about to be delivered into the custody of his godfather, Sirius Black, who will soon be discharged from the Janus Thickey ward of St Mungo's after having been in therapy for the six months following his trial. First, however, Harry must survive three weeks at Spinner's End, in the care of none other than his temporary guardian, Professor Severus Snape, whose hatred of Harry seems to have waned significantly over the years...but Harry has reasonable doubts about his Head of House's intentions, and has no idea what to expect.
In the meantime, Hermione is trying to put together a peer support group at Hogwarts, Theo has newfound aspirations to overthrow the Ministry of Magic with Harry, Draco has had a reality check, Remus has departed for Canada, and Professor Dumbledore is watching Harry more closely than ever.
Oh, and Harry has this strange memory of his dead mother visiting him in a black limbo-like world and helping him wake up the piece of Lord Voldemort's soul which resides inside his head.
In short, I have my work cut out for me.
Chapter 1: Severus Snape (Part 4)
The dinner table was silent, as it always was in the home of Severus Snape on Spinner's End; however, said silence was abnormally awkward, seeing as someone else was sharing in it.
Across from him sat a boy with messy black hair, somewhat overgrown and wildly swept this way and that, contrasting sharply with the unassuming, modest presence of the slightly rumpled grey button down and dark trousers he wore. Green – a bright emerald almost painfully jarring in its mesmerizing familiarity – eyes were hidden behind circular black spectacles, their eerie sheen muted by the shadow cast by the unruly black fringe hanging above, and they were blank and fixated on the plate in front of him. The expression reflected in the boy's green eyes was silent and generic, and they were just a little too distant to deny that their attentiveness was measured; but despite such an attempt at anonymity, their unusual hue served as a constant and potent testament to his silent guest's identity.
Harry James Potter.
It had been four days since he and Potter had arrived at his home on Spinner's End, and the boy had barely said a word since; in fact, now that he considered it, they had not exchanged more than a few stilted sentences since he partook in the perfunctory performance that was (semi)politely showing his guest where to sleep, eat, and mind his own business. After all, they had no need to speak, or barely interact at all; their days were primarily mutually exclusive, mechanical sets of instructions tuned to the ticking of the clock, their actions a slave to separate routines.
Every morning, the boy rose thirty minutes after he did, and would amble down the stairs another ten minutes later, just as he was finishing his breakfast. The boy would thank him for the modest portion he'd leave out for him – toast with blackberry jam, two poached eggs, and a quickly cooling pot of English Breakfast – and then he'd retreat to his laboratory, where he'd wordlessly perform the only activity that made his life a tolerable affair.
When he emerged to imbibe his midday meal the boy would still be at the kitchen table, oblivious to the time told by the noon sun, which would already be well into its traversal of the perpetually shrouded azure. He would be working diligently on his summer assignments - day one and two had been charms, day three and four were transfiguration – but would pack his parchment and books and writing utensils away when he arrived and offer to help make lunch. Together, they would construct sandwiches and soup – ham, cheese, and tomato, with a side of split pea – and eat in a stark silence only tempered by the sound of metal against unembellished white porcelain.
The first time they shared a meal, the boy had offered to do the dishes, and he didn't bother answering what had almost sounded like a request; he just charmed the dishes to do themselves. Seeing this, the boy's eyes had sparkled with muted excitement, and after a moment of admiring his spellwork he had asked for permission to go for a walk – a question he now repeated on a daily basis. Each day it was met by a curt nod. It was close to two hours later when he would hear the boy return and retreat to his bedroom for the next four hours. He would return to the kitchen at six thirty every evening, and after cooking whatever happened to come to mind - something bland containing potatoes, peas, and carrots - they'd eat dinner again in silence. Afterwards he would situate himself in the den and examine The Journal of Experimental Potions and Herbology with a cup of darjeeling in hand, and the boy would return to his bedroom without making a sound. He would not see him again until morning.
If he had thought that his summer research would at all be impeded by Potter's presence, he had been very wrong – most of the time, he forgot that Potter was even there, which was no difficult task. It was obvious that the boy was trying to make his presence as diminutive as possible, which he found himself grateful for...and concerned by. Yes, concern – he would admit it to no one but himself, but it was certainly present. The boy was his responsibility after all. A responsibility that he had failed in upholding until very recently.
He believed that he had good reason to be concerned, as well; it was odd that the boy was so docile, so unaffected after having been freed from his abusive relatives and promised the chance to live with his godfather, whom -
Ah yes, the godfather. Black. The very word, the very thought of the man made his stomach turn and a bitter taste invade his mouth, derailing his train of thought.
He refrained from choking on his food.
Sirius Black was a spoiled, imbecilic fool who carelessly squandered every advantage or privilege he was ever given (of which there were many) out of insolence and rebellion, and took pleasure in revelling in his own vices and misbehaviours. He had spent nearly his entire adult life as a prisoner deprived of any semblance of freedom, humane living conditions, or autonomy, and by extension, any experiences of responsibility or psychological development; as a child he was rash, narcissistic, and a trouble-maker through and through, and he doubted that Azkaban had facilitated much...improvement, were such a thing even possible. Indeed, there was no doubt in his mind that Harry Potter, in his mere 13 years, had managed to accumulate more maturity than Sirius Black ever would in a lifetime. Far be it from him to praise Potter, but even a witless fool could see that Lily's son was a far superior specimen of a human being, when compared to Black. Yet, Potter would soon be delivered into the man's custody, to be placed under the ex-convict's authority; indeed, everyone seemed to believe that, for some reason, Sirius Black had the capacity to care for a child, one who was already a far more sophisticated being than Black was probably capable of comprehending, let alone positively influencing. The problem, of course, being that Potter was in dire need of a positive influence.
Harry Potter was an abused child. He'd seen worse, of course, but the fact remained that even if the physical scars were few and fading, the emotional abuse and years of neglect had clearly had a profound effect on the boy, and would continue to plague him even as he traversed adolescence into adulthood.
He knew this all too well. And he still couldn't believe he never saw it.
The very first time he saw the boy, he saw only one thing – some creature in the form of a James Potter back from the dead, who had stolen his beloved Lily's eyes. Perhaps those eyes had been too distant; perhaps James Potter's face had been too rigid and cautious. Perhaps this child, a strange hybrid of his love and his nemesis, had been visibly different, set apart from his fellow first year Hogwarts students.
If he had been, he had ignored it.
Then he'd heard that the boy lived with his aunt – bitter, cold, ill-mannered Petunia Evans, Lily's jealous and spiteful sister. Lily rarely spoke of her after they started Hogwarts, but he knew that at some point during their adolescence, the two sisters had stopped speaking to one another altogether. That's why he was quite taken aback when he heard that Lily's son had gone to her. Again, though, he did not think much of it. Yes, Petunia 'Tuney' Evans had a strong disdain for 'freaks', but surely she'd gone on to regret her treatment of her sister after her death. Surely the woman thought taking care of her sister's son was a noble way to make up for years of anger and distance. Potter was fine, lavished by the finer things in life by his doting aunt, who saw him as an opportunity to do right by her estranged sister.
That's what he told himself, and he believed it at the time.
Then he'd noticed the first of the anomalies – he'd noticed how silent, even reclusive the boy was; how he never spoke unless spoken to, or looked at anyone unless the situation demanded it. Even so, it never really occurred to him that the boy might be abnormally shy, scared of rejection – arrogant, that was the first place his mind went. Proud and condescending and caught up in the belief that he was superior to his peers. This impression was only confirmed the more he witnessed his colleagues' startlingly good impressions of the boy, and how quick they were to cater to him in class, feeding his ego shamelessly. Clearly, like his father before him, the boy had the entire Hogwarts faculty in his pocket.
Even after he had heard the prefects' reports on the boy, he hadn't given it much more thought. Clearly all was not well, if the incredibly perceptive Hortense Rowland felt compelled to compare the boy to Avery, the psychologically troubled son of a former Death Eater; clearly something was out of place in the boy's head, and was prompting him to behave in an abnormal way. But still – like his father before him, he was already offending the other students, already pridefully dealing with conflicts on his own, already arrogantly placing himself above the level of his classmates. For sure, the instigator in all of these incidences was reportedly Draco Malfoy, but still – it takes two. Rowland claimed the boy was 'too fine' – but perhaps he was really fine. Perhaps the mask wasn't a mask, and the boy was just shallow in character.
So, he stored away the information for later consideration, but remained unworried.
Even Poppy's confrontation, her suggestions that the boy might have shown physical evidence of mistreatment or at least bullying, did little to sway his opinion, especially after speaking with the Headmaster, who had held what appeared to be a firm belief that everything was fine, and that if it was not, that fact would reveal itself in due time.
He had to agree. And that – that was his first misstep. The conviction that inaction was the correct action; that it would be best to leave well enough alone.
The conviction was solidified with time.
Potter's social standing improved from recluse to well-liked, even popular student, and he found his concern replaced by disdain. The boy was socially inept, but hid his shortcomings with well-practised manipulations, which easily endeared him to his teachers and classmates. It irritated him beyond belief that despite Potter's many psychological defects, he had friends and many friendly acquaintances and received excellent grades. Even he couldn't justify giving the boy poor marks.
Potter's dedication to Potions was astounding, given that he gave the boy no reasonable opportunity to enjoy the subject. He suspected that the boy wasn't really that interested in the curriculum itself – he was just intent on impressing him. Very intent. And were it any other student, he would have succeeded. The boy's dedication was impressive, and his performance in class was more than satisfactory. Still, that didn't stop him from embarrassing the boy and showing him utter dislike and disdain every time the opportunity presented itself. The boy, however, took it in stride, and was still fixated on winning his approval. He should have questioned why the boy was so unfazed by his contempt, constant verbal assaults, and generally negative reactions to everything he did.
But he didn't.
Over the following two years, his observations of Potter had yielded interesting results. Results that should have been more concerning than they were. Results that should have warranted more than regular complaints to the Headmaster about the boy's presumably ill character. He recognized a mask when he saw one, and Harry Potter wore several. Time had shown that the boy liked to be able to exert some degree of control over his surroundings, and he had proven himself an effective manipulator, so it made sense that he would put on masks for the world to see. Just another result of his arrogance and obsessiveness, or whatever combination of the above.
And that was it.
Clearly the boy wasn't normal. Clearly there was something off about him. But the boy was an orphan, raised by muggles, pointlessly famous, and the victim of two murder attempts by one of the darkest wizards to ever live. And even after all that, he seemed to manage himself just fine, so he really didn't have anything to worry about, right?
He should have known that it was never that simple.
He had been reluctant to believe it, but the evidence was undeniable – Harry Potter was innocent of many of the crimes of personality he convicted him of, and more shockingly, was a victim of neglect and abuse.
His social ineptness was a result of a lack of friends and positive social interactions throughout his childhood. Further investigation proved that not only was Potter disliked by his family; he was shunned by his neighbours, teachers, and classmates as well, who were all convinced that there was something wrong with him, that something in him had 'gone bad'.
His ability to create and don many masks came from the necessity of hiding who he was and what he could do, and keeping his weaknesses and vulnerabilities far from prying, untrustworthy eyes. They were further made a necessity because the boy had an underdeveloped sense of self, which he couldn't afford to make public.
His desire to carefully control and manipulate his interactions with others stemmed from the lack of control and freedom he felt in his own home, and his desperation for approval arose from the fact that no matter what he did, he was never able to glean more than hatred and disgust from his relatives.
It was all revoltingly familiar. The boy was him, twenty years ago. Unloved, unwanted, and thrust into a world unfamiliar and dangerous. At least he'd had Lily – Potter had had to start from scratch.
And if he reflected on it and forcibly freed himself of bias, he would have to admit that the boy had done well, and appeared to be handling himself satisfactorily even after the tumultuousness of the last few months. The boy didn't want to talk, which suited him just fine, but as he already noted...he did find himself concerned. Especially as Black's impending release date grew nearer and nearer.
Harry Potter needed consistency and calm. Harry Potter needed a firm but gentle hand to guide him through adolescence. Harry Potter needed...help, and he genuinely doubted that Black would be able to give him any of that. Everyone seemed to believe that their task ended with removing Potter from his abusive relatives, but Severus knew better. He was self aware enough to recognize that the damage inflicted on him during his childhood did not disappear – it had shaped who he was, and left scars that he still carried. He wasn't blind. He knew that the damage wasn't purely external, and that removing the cause didn't remove the damage itself. He knew that Potter would still suffer, and so far, no one seemed to acknowledge that.
No one except him.
Throughout his confession and the drama that followed, Potter refused to play the victim. But did no one really see past that? Surely if he covered up the abuse successfully for years, he could cover up the full extent of the harm it did.
If they did, no one was doing anything about it. Harry Potter had received no assessment from a mind-healer, no interference from the Ministry besides one superficial meeting with a social worker. He was due to be released into the custody of a man who could barely be trusted to take care of himself, and then the case would be closed. No one cared.
And for some reason...he found himself to be the only one concerned. He could scarcely believe it, but he was truly concerned about Potter's fate. Perhaps it was because of Lily's eyes - which were so often far too blank and distant. Perhaps it was because now, he could hear the soft tones of Lily's voice in the boy's words. Perhaps it was because he saw too much of himself in the boy. Perhaps it was because he wished someone had done the same for him. Perhaps -
He blinked, eyes travelling to the puzzled looking boy – who, god damn it, still looked far too much like James Potter – sitting across from him.
"You haven't taken a bite in over three minutes," the boy said cautiously, as though expecting to be vehemently rebuked for speaking. Not an unreasonable assumption given their past interactions.
"I was merely...distracted."
Harry Potter nodded mutely, and the dinner table once again descended into silence.
It was 11:59 am on July 1st, 1994, and Severus was idly making his way out of his laboratory, feeling ready for his customary midday soup and sandwich. When he emerged from the basement, he found Potter working at the kitchen table, as usual, but this time, it wasn't his Ancient Runes homework splayed across the stained oak surface.
Marginally curious, he peered over the boy's shoulder, and was immensely surprised with what he saw.
Arrays. And not simple arrays either – complex graphs of arithmantic functions, geometrical analysis, and intricate patterns of runes. The boy was spell-crafting.
"Crafting your first spell?" he drawled.
The boy started and whipped his head around, staring at him in shock for a moment, before relaxing.
His eyebrows rose. Now that was surprising. He found himself...modestly intrigued. "Oh? And what was the first one?"
"Magnes Imbuo," the boy said cautiously.
His eyebrows rose even higher. "A magnetization spell?"
The boy nodded.
Very well, then - now he was definitely fascinated. Spells utilizing magnetization and electricity were rare, mostly because much effort needed to be exerted in crafting and executing them – few felt the results were worth it. There were several theories as to why this was the case, but the most common explanation in contemporary literature was that spell-casting actually emitted an energy field that itself had electromagnetic properties, again enforcing the view that spells manipulating this energy field were too delicate to be useful. "And what application would such a spell have that a...sticking charm, for instance, couldn't achieve?"
The boy's green eyes sparkled. "An object doesn't need to be in contact with the magnetized object to get stuck to it. I could cast it on a tree, for instance, and everything metal within a certain radius would be attracted to the tree. The spell can last for up to five minutes."
The boy nodded avidly. "It can yield...interesting results," he said with some mischief in his voice – a tone all too familiar. He stifled the distaste that rose up inside of him.
"You have tested it, then?"
So Potter had managed to create, fine-tune, and test his own spell. Even given the boy's track record, that was...impressive.
"And this one?"
"This one is more difficult – it's a static charm."
"As in...static electricity?" he clarified.
"Yes, exactly, sir. I have to figure out a way to cast it on two things at once, though...I haven't had much luck. The physics equations don't work well with my theoretical understanding of applied arithmancy."
"Have you considered using a rebounding subarray?" he asked reflexively, his mind involuntarily rifling through the techniques he would experiment with for crafting such a spell.
The boy blinked. "I...um...am not sure what that is."
He paused, and then, coming to a swift and possibly regrettable decision, raised an eyebrow. "Well, we can't have that, can we?" he said, pulling up a chair.
Potter stared at him in shock. He really did never tire of that.
"I'm afraid lunch will have to wait, Potter. This takes precedence. And close your mouth – you look like an imbecile."
They had begun a new routine.
Every morning, he and Potter would have their silent breakfast as usual. Following that, however, they would both retreat to his laboratory where Potter would act as his personal assistant.
Two days after they had begun to actually acknowledge each other's presence properly, Potter had asked him about his research during lunch. Deciding on a whim to indulge the boy, he had begun to explain the variant of the blood-replenishing potion he had been concocting (designed for flushing out magical infections), and upon watching Potter's avid attention as he went on about the details, had the brilliant idea to have the boy perform some of the mundane, irritating tasks that were hindering his daily progress. Stripping black swallowtail wings. Crushing elderberries. Grinding Paragula scales. That sort of thing.
The boy readily agreed, and soon, they had decided on spending their mornings working in his potions laboratory. They still spoke to each other only sparsely, but Potter seemed to enjoy himself well enough, and voraciously consumed any explanation he gave of what they were doing and why they were doing it. He got the distinct impression that the boy, while still not all that enthralled by the theory of medical potion-making, was merely relishing the attention and implicit approval being directed his way. It occurred to him more than once that Potter might simply be craving a job or a purpose – a reason to be there...and Severus found himself oddly willing to oblige. After all, he got free labour out of it. That was it, really. He certainly didn't feel any relief in the visible elevating Potter's mood. Not at all.
Lunches were no longer spent in silence. While constructing sandwiches and in between bites, they would converse in curt, somewhat stilted sentences, mostly on the subject of spell-crafting. After that fateful and, in hindsight, somewhat regrettable decision to strike up a conversation with Potter on the subject of his spell-crafting endeavours, the boy seemed to have arrived at the conclusion that he was, at least somewhat, amenable to teaching him; at the very least, he had decided that pestering him for information was worth risking his, at best, impatience, and, at worst, wrath. Potter's tone of voice never ceased to be cautious and polite, but he was decidedly more verbal, now that the proverbial ice was broken; he would not go so far as to say the boy was talkative, but he would regularly make abrupt inquiries about arrays and runes and spell-crafting techniques, along with the occasional idle question concerning his own experiences with the intricate art. More than once he found himself in a foul mood after an unsuccessful morning in the laboratory, and as a result ignored Potter's quiet questions, which the boy didn't seem to mind at all; however, he found that he was, shockingly, prone to indulging the boy. As much as he despised his job, he was an educator by trade – he supposed that, over the years, his job description might have rubbed off on him, if only slightly.
Their conversations remained short and curtly efficient, however, and they still finished their respective meals quickly, after which he would clear the table with a wave of his wand, leaving Potter with enough space to splay his notes all over the stained oak table, while he retreated to his laboratory. He would hear the door open and close around 3 pm every day, when Potter left for his daily walk - he'd soon gotten annoyed by the boy's monotonous requests to leave - and he would return around 6 pm to eat dinner, which was usually still spent in silence.
It was no longer awkward, though, he found. Both he and Potter were visibly relieved when it had settled in that neither of them were required to say anything.
All in all, it was a...pleasant schedule, which suited them both quite well. Indeed, he found himself not minding the company at all, and on occasion, he found himself thinking that he might have actually grown to appreciate Potter's presence, which he'd never admit to anyone.
It was strange, the sensation of not...well, utterly loathing Potter. If he were entirely honest with himself, he doubted that he had every truly loathed Potter. He had hated the idea of him, the concept of Harry Potter, the product of James Potter and Lily Evans, even existing, but the boy himself...well, he would probably never like the boy – he'd probably never like anyone – but he was in all honesty more tolerable than the majority of the remainder of the human race; certainly more tolerable than most of his dunderheaded classmates. A part of him knew this was because he had finally witnessed just how much of Lily Evans lived on in her son...but to fully admit this...was not something he was willing to do. So the boy was tolerable, and that was all.
However, the boy was also his responsibility, which he was certainly not going to fail, because failing wasn't something Severus Snape did. Not anymore. And that was why, perhaps, he still found himself somewhat concerned about the boy, despite the fact that he no longer had the presence equivalent to that of a common house spider – it had occurred to him more than a few times now that for all he knew, he might one day wake up and find Potter hanging by the neck from one of the rafters. He doubted that he'd know if Potter were in any real turmoil or danger, seeing as the boy was so eternally pleased and satisfied - in appearance at least. There were times when he found the boy distracted, looking troubled, but usually, he was just...flat. For the longest time, he had no idea what Potter was thinking, and this not knowing was not something his mind could simply overlook. And for once in his life, he had no idea how to approach the problem. Fortunately (or possibly unfortunately), the problem eventually approached him.
"I like it here," Potter said suddenly at dinner on July 7th.
He looked up from his mashed potatoes at that, unable to completely hide his surprise.
The boy nodded slowly. "You have a lovely home, Professor Snape."
He couldn't help it – he scoffed a bit at that...despite the fact that the statement made his stomach squirm. He didn't know why.
"No, really, I have...really enjoyed my time here," the boy said frankly, "Thank you."
He stared at Potter for a long moment. This might be an ideal time to alleviate some of his concerns, he couldn't help but muse – Potter was obviously in a talkative mood.
"I am...relieved to hear that," he reluctantly admitted, causing the boy visible surprise. He paused, not quite knowing how to go about the task of of gauging the boy's well-being, while being shaken by the lack of confidence he felt in achieving this task. He sighed. Perhaps, with Potter, direct was best. "I am compelled to ask, Potter...have you been...well?" He was painfully aware of how stilted and awkward the question sounded.
He sighed, this time in annoyance. "It has been an...eventful few months for you."
Understanding dawned on the boy, and he nodded quickly. "I don't have to return to the Dursleys, sir. I'm very pleased," he said matter-of-factly.
"Indeed," he returned blandly, "But that is not quite what I meant."
The boy only blinked at him, looking quite befuddled.
He rolled his eyes. Apparently he needed to be even more direct; might as well take the plunge. "Potter, you've gone from stubbornly hiding your abuse at the hands of your relatives from your teachers and classmates to having it splayed across the front page of the Daily Prophet. I highly doubt 'very pleased' fully describes your emotional state."
The boy gaped for a moment, before pulling himself together. "I dealt with that," he began delicately.
Of course the boy was going to make this difficult. Perhaps he would need to take this even further. "You manoeuvred yourself out of a precarious publicity fiasco, Potter, but do you honestly believe me foolish enough to be convinced that that was the end of it for you?" He narrowed his eyes at the boy, who had stiffened. "Everyone knows the secret you've gone to great lengths to keep for years. Even someone as inept as you wouldn't remain unaffected. 'Very pleased'," he scoffed.
"That's not really any of your concern, sir," Potter said quietly, a little petulantly.
A reaction. That was a step forward. "Ah, then, whose concern do you believe it to be, Potter?"
"My own," the boy said, evidently lacking the self-control to keep a sharp edge out of his voice.
He scoffed at him again – clearly the boy reacted at least marginally to having his personal competence and strength of character questioned. "You're thirteen years old, Potter, you're not yet qualified to have your own concerns."
The boy's knuckles had gone white as he gripped his fork in his right hand. "Sir," the now quite irate child said tightly, "I'm fine."
"Do not lie to me," he hissed, starting to become frustrated. He couldn't help himself – his responsibilities demanded that he ensure Potter's well being – but that didn't mean he had the patience to put up with the child's petulant misdirections. "Your attempts to disguise your obvious weaknesses are foolish, and do nothing more than indicate that you are, in fact, an incompetent, ungrateful child."
For a moment, the indignant boy's face grew closed off, nearly fading to a blank slate...before a fire was lit in his eyes and his lips twitched. "What do you want me to say, sir?" the boy said quietly, unable to disguise the venom in his voice; indeed, the words just seemed to slip out like hot oil. "Everyone...they're so focused on the cupboard, being locked away, going without food, Dudley's bullying, when really, that's not it at all...but you understand, don't you, sir?"
"Understand what, Potter?" he bit out impatiently, feeling quite displeased by the boy's tone, the ire in his voice suitably disguising the unease that he suddenly felt trickling down his spine. This was the first time he'd successfully gotten a rise out of Potter – and he could not help but wonder if the consequences might end up being...less than desirable.
Seemingly encouraged by his belligerent reaction in a conflict-seeking fashion he would have never previously attributed to the boy, he continued darkly, "This is your father's house, isn't it, sir? In the middle of a muggle neighbourhood – I've explored the whole thing, no wizards around here – he was a muggle, right? Snape, it's a muggle name. You lived here, with him, but you weren't a normal family, were you? I've been to normal families' houses. They're warm, lived in. There's a television or a radio, and the walls are plastered with pictures. But there were never any pictures here – the paint is old, but untouched; nothing's ever been hung up. I said I like it here, and that's because it's easy – it's empty, there's nothing; it's easy to live in for me, because I like the nothing."
"Potter," he said warningly, feeling his limbs growing stiff, but Potter just kept talking, unimpeded by his ire.
"You hated me sir, hated me, and then you discover what happened at the Dursleys', and suddenly you care. Suddenly you offer me help, a home. It occurred to me, it occurred to me that it's pity, but it's not, is it? You don't have pity to spare for anyone. No – it's empathy, empathy because the same thing happened to you. Because your father hated magic and he took it out on you."
"Potter, that is enough."
The ungrateful brat was clearly trying to push his buttons, but he would not succeed. He would not. Despite the finality of his warning, though, the boy kept on talking, words tumbling out at an incredible rate.
"I found broken glass, you know, from liquor bottles, they were in my room, his old room, the master bedroom – the bedroom you couldn't bear to move into after he was gone. He was a drinker, right? Angry, right? Don't think I didn't notice, the little things, the small damages you didn't bother to repair, because they were so common – you didn't even notice them. He hurt you, didn't he? And that's why you care, because you know what it's like to be hurt, you understand -"
"SILENCE!" he bellowed as he slammed his hand down on the table, unable to restrain himself, but Potter didn't listen.
"- that it's not the pain, or even the fear that really hurts you. It's not what they do to you – it's what you put yourself though. It's knowing that you're alone. That if things get worse...there's no one to go to. You're on your own." The boy's words had slowed and his tone had fallen to a low, hoarse, compelling sound that commanded silence. "It's the knowing. The wondering if it's worth it, the knowledge that it might have been better had you never been born; that it might be better that you were weaker than you already were, that it might be better if you just let them end you. That poisonous hope that it would be better on the other side. That none of it's worth it. And that feeling, it never leaves, does it? Even after all these years, it stays with you. And that's how you know I'm not fine. Because you know that it doesn't go away. Because you know it will never be fine. You know things will never get better."
The insolent, ungrateful brat – and he here he thought Potter was being tolerable, decent. Clearly, the boy wanted him angry, and he had succeeded; he was furious, absolutely furious; his mind was nearly blank with rage. But then – he saw it: Lily's eyes, no longer ablaze with a vicious fire. No, they were glassy and distant and pained and defeated and just so unlike her.
The anger drained away, and he was left...understanding.
Yes, he understood – he understood far too well. He remembered – his vile, drunken father and his sickly, useless mother. Every night his father had too much to drink, he wondered if that would be the night he cracked; if that would be the night everything went to hell. He'd lie in his bed, planning – what would he do if he heard his mother screaming? What would he do if his father started banging on his door, a broken bottle in hand? Nothing, nowhere. The cuts, the bruises the fear – it was nothing compared to the despair, the loneliness. The feeling – he'd forgotten it; he had forced it to the farthest, darkest reaches of his mind. But now a mere child managed to bring it back.
Damn it. Damn it all. He hated Potter. He hated children. He hated people and the memories of them. Damn it all.
"Get out of my sight," he whispered harshly, and the boy did just that, fork clattering to the ground as he ran.
He knocked three times on Potter's bedroom door.
"Potter?" he called, carefully controlling his voice.
He heard shuffling from inside, and a moment later, the door cracked open to reveal the boy, still dressed in the clothes he'd been in the night before, eyes red, and looking like he hadn't slept much, if at all.
Neither had he, admittedly.
The boy stared at him wordlessly, eyes dull.
He hesitated, before saying gruffly, "Those black swallowtail wings aren't stripping themselves."
The boy's eyes widened gradually, until they were unnaturally stretched open, and it would have been comical, did they not look so bloodshot and weary.
He stared at the boy for a long moment, watching as Potter's – Lily's – eyes started to come back to life, vivid and green. Something deep inside him twisted, and he nearly coughed out a sob, seeing the dead look in Lily's eyes being washed away. It didn't belong there. The pain, the bitterness – not in Lily's eyes.
"It does get better," he said quietly.
And thus it begins. Now...reveal to me your hopes and dreams and deepest desires, and I will feed off your sentiments and transform myself into a creature of great power and bring the world to its knees.
Or, you know, just let me know what you thought about the chapter. Either one.