A cacophony of sharp, scornful words erupted from the top of the staircase, and Severus Snape silently climbed the steps, eager to assign punishments to the misbehaving students. As he grew closer, he began to make out the words as a mixture of different spells. He recognized some stinging hexes, some jinxes, and a few curses, as well as a mixture of darker spells that should never be performed by students. He also recognized the offenders.
Severus could hear the malice in the young Malfoy's voice as he sent another curse flying toward his victim, and he immediately identified the other voices as Vincent Crabbe and Gregory Goyle.
The three were always together, and almost always participating in distasteful activities. They were bullies, plain and simple. As the Slytherin head of house, Severus was aware that a majority of his students had a natural propensity for performing dark magic, and many of them yearned to use their powers on other less influential children, but Malfoy's little posse was one of the worst. He could usually expect the trio to be up to no good, and it was his job to make sure that they weren't caught; it wasn't a simple feat.
It was his responsibility to cover up whatever crime they'd committed and make sure they were not punished. He wasn't even allowed to assign them detentions for most offences. It was only in the most serious of situations, in which their actions could not be ignored, that he was allowed to properly punish the students in his house without the threat of backlash from their influential families.
Draco sent another cutting curse flying, and Severus wondered who his victim was this time. The unidentified student must have done something severe to evoke such a reaction. It was rare for the group to attack without some form of provocation.
That's why he was shocked that he didn't hear any spells being sent back by the unknown student. Are they attacking someone who is defenseless?
Severus was even more perplexed when he failed to hear any sounds of pain. The spells that his students were sending, though not life threatening, were undoubtedly painful, but he didn't hear the slightest whimper of response.
Abruptly, the stairwell grew silent. The Slytherins stopped slinging spells, and the Potion's master wondered if their attack was over. He hoped that he wouldn't find an unconscious child on the floor. But then, he heard Malfoy speaking.
"Potter, I'm going to give you one more chance."
Potter! Severus was surprised to hear who was being bombarded with curses, but he understood why no sounds escaped from the boy's mouth. The young Gryffindor was like an empty shell these days. He rarely talked, unless addressed by a staff member. It made sense that he wouldn't give Draco the satisfaction of hearing him in pain.
"You didn't respond when I addressed you. You refused to duel with me. If you don't respond now, you will regret it," Draco told Potter.
So, the Gryffindor hadn't done a single thing to provoke Mr. Malfoy besides ignoring him. Severus thought that was harsh, even for Draco. And now, it sounded as if Draco was going to try and seriously injure the boy. The professor knew that it was time to make his presence known before the situation got out of hand. He turned the corner and made himself visible, just as the spell tumbled from Draco's thin lips.
With a loud boom, Potter was thrown off of his feet, soaring backward. Severus threw up his wand and placed a cushioning charm on the stone wall, just before the boy's head slammed against it. In a flash, he yelled out the floating charm, which sent Potter drifting gently back toward the ground where he landed softly on his feet in front of Severus.
The three Slytherin's stood frozen, watching the spectacle with incredulity. They didn't appear at all remorseful, and Severus could not control his anger.
"WHAT IS YOUR EXPLANATION FOR THIS!" He boomed at the three wide eyed children in green ties.
Crabbe and Goyle cowered a bit at his display of aggression, but the pompous Malfoy heir stood, shoulders straight and head held high, with a cocky expression.
"Potter started it." Draco declared. "He came out of nowhere and started shooting curses at us!"
"Then why do you three appear uninjured, while Mr. Potter looks like he was mauled by a wild hippogriff?" Severus inquired.
"We dodged them. Potter just wasn't fast enough to do the same," Draco claimed, and his two cohorts nodded.
Severus knew full well that Harry hadn't even raised his wand at the trio, but he knew it was his duty to defend them. There could be no question of where his loyalties lied.
"I see," he said. "And what do you have to say for yourself, Potter."
The Gryffindor refused to speak.
"Is what they say true?" Severus continued.
The boy shrugged.
"Well then. Potter, you will be serving detention with me, and that'll be 50 points from Gryffindor!"
Draco snickered loudly at Potter's punishment, and Severus face darkened.
As for you three," He said, eyeing the Slytherins sharply. "Dueling in the halls is unacceptable. Act with discretion in the future, and I better never have to intervene to keep you from killing a student again. That'll be detention for a month with Mr. Filch!"
The Slytherin's looked taken aback by his sharp tone. Draco gaped at him, looking like he was dumbfounded at the idea of consequences for his actions.
"But, Professor, it was only Potter!" Draco argued. "I'm sure my father would be very displeased to hear that I was given a detention."
"Well, Mr. Malfoy, I will gladly explain to your father why you received punishment. It's because you were lazy, had no tact, and displayed no common sense!" Severus roared, letting his anger soar. "You were caught attacking a student, and if there is one thing I am to teach as your head of house, it's discretion and proper public etiquette!"
"But, Professor! It was Potter's fault! We don't deserve detention!"
"Mr. Potter has already been punished, and you have more than earned your detentions." Severus explained derisively. "You're lucky I don't go straight to the headmaster and get you suspended! Now, I better not hear another word out of you or I'll make it two months. Get out of my sight!"
The trio appeared to be fuming, but they nodded tersely and turned to leave. Potter moved to do the same, but Severus threw out his arm to stop him.
"Why didn't you attempt to defend yourself?" He whispered. "I've seen you duel before. You could have easily dodged those spells."
The boy shrugged again, staring dazedly at the ground.
Severus placed his hands on the boy's shoulders and shook him slightly. "Have you no sense? Do you realize you could have been killed?"
Potter refused to meet his eyes, and Severus felt a sinking feeling settle into the pit of his stomach.
"Are you suicidal?" He asked earnestly.
This time, the child looked up at him. His clouded, emerald eyes stared deep within the depths of Severus's black ones.
"You can't kill something that's already dead."
The voice that the boy used was chilling and sincere, and Severus felt dismayed by his declaration.
"Come with me." Severus demanded, grabbing the boy by the forearm and leading him down the staircase.
"Why?" The child asked, stumbling a bit.
"For your…" Severus paused, trying to find the appropriate word. "Detention."
Potter didn't even argue with him. He followed the man the rest of the way down the steps and into his office. Severus pulled him over to his desk, pulling several potions from a drawer and holding them out to the boy.
"Take these," he told him, and Potter obliged.
"Now, take off your robe," he instructed.
The boy carefully slipped his tattered, black robe over his head and dropped it to the floor. Underneath, he wore a loose, white tank and a pair of jeans. Even with those garments on, Severus was disgusted by the injuries he'd acquired.
The boy's thin arms were covered with fresh, purple bruises and cuts of various sizes. Blood was smeared across his shirt and most of his skin, and a few particularly deep gashes continued to ooze the crimson liquid. Severus cleaned and bandaged the boy's wounds without a word. From the dazed look on his face, Severus guessed that Potter wasn't even fully aware of what was happening.
After repairing the child's robe, the Potion's master slid the garment onto his thin torso, maneuvering the sleeves around his arms until he was properly dressed. Then he gently placed the boy into an arm chair near his bookshelf and crouched in front of him.
"Potter. Do you know what is happening? Are you coherent?" He asked without spite. Severus was genuinely concerned that the boy was in some kind of stupor. He wondered if he'd suffered a blow to the head as well.
Potter nodded slowly, but his face was emotionless.
"Can you tell me what happened tonight?" Severus asked. He hoped that Potter would open up to him so that he could attempt to provide him with some help. The boy had been stuck in a depressive state for long enough, and he was determined to fix it.
It was obvious by Potter's actions that afternoon that he was desperate. He deliberately succumbed to danger and refused to protect himself, even when he knew he could be fatally injured. What was stopping him from attempting to harm himself?
He needed help, and no one seemed to be taking him seriously. Potter had Pomfrey and McGonagill believing that he was getting better. Just yesterday, Pomfrey had told him that the boy was making amazing progress. It was infuriating! The boy wore a mask around the people who mattered, and he knew exactly how to manipulate them to get his way. Severus hated to admit it, but his demeanor was downright Slytherin, and that devious nature, which resulted in secrets and lies, could ultimately lead to his death.
"No," Potter replied. He curled his legs underneath himself and settled further into the chair.
"Because it doesn't matter. Nothing matters." The boy's arms crossed across his chest defiantly, and Severus was pleased to see his slight display of irritation. Any emotion was better than no emotion. Potter's blank, cold face was chilling enough to haunt his dreams.
"It does matter. It matters to me. If I didn't care, I wouldn't've asked." Severus told him seriously.
"You just want to tell Dumbledore and Madame Pomfrey, so they can send me away." He spat.
"They're not going to send you away, you foolish child. And I'm not going to tell them anything. It's clear to me that their judgement is not sound as they choose to believe your lies. Be truthful, and anything that you say within these walls will never leave this room."
"Even if I believed you, which I don't, it still doesn't matter."
Severus was beginning to get fed up with the child's responses. He was doing his best to help the boy, and the brat wasn't even attempting to be cooperative. He decided to try and use Potter's logic against him.
"If you truly believe that nothing matters, and you know that I already see through your lies, then you should be able to provide an explanation." Severus prodded.
The child paused for a moment, as if trying to find a fault in what the Potion's master had suggested.
"Fine." Potter said finally, appearing annoyed. "Malfoy tried provoking me and I ignored him. He got angry and decided that I deserved to be punished. He hit me with some spells, and then you showed up." Potter peered up at Severus. "Happy now?"
"Not quite, Mr. Potter." Severus began. "Why didn't you fight back?"
"Because I'm not supposed to. I guess all the detentions and lost points that I got from you for fighting in the halls must've worked." The boy said this in a condescending tone that would have normally made the potion's master furious, but instead, he found himself slightly amused. The child was being cheeky, but honest. That was a step in the right direction.
"Well, why didn't you attempt to dodge? Surely your renowned quidditch skills could have been used to get out of the way," Severus shot back at him.
"I didn't see the point," he responded with a touch of sadness in his voice. "The pain didn't really bother me, and I didn't think it was worth the effort." The boy's desolate expression showed that he earnestly believed that defending himself served no purpose. Severus grew angry by the brat's lack of judgement.
"I see. You didn't even think it was worth the effort when you were nearly killed?" He spat, raising his voice. Severus recalled the image of his limp body propelling toward the wall. He imagined the child lying lifeless on the floor, surrounded by a pool of blood flowing from a fatal head wound. He was disgusted by the brat's utter disregard for his own safety.
"I didn't have time to move."
"Are you lying to convince me or yourself?" Severus questioned gravely, raising an eyebrow.
Harry didn't answer the question. He turned from the professor and faced the wall with a somber expression.
Severus was slightly shocked to learn that the Golden boy, who he'd always known to be pompous and conceited, actually had non-existent self-confidence and very little regard for his own life.
"That's what I thought," Severus replied coolly.
"So, can I get started with my detention? Aren't I supposed to be washing cauldrons or something?" The boy questioned, attempting to change the subject.
"No, Potter. This isn't a real detention." Severus told him. He'd only assigned the detention to keep up appearances and to force Potter to talk to him. He had no intention of actually punishing the child for being attacked in the hall.
"So, I can leave?" Potter asked, seeming confused.
"No," the professor stated with frustration. Severus knew that he was not taking care of the situation correctly. He needed to find a way to make the boy realize that he was mistaken about his worth.
They sat at a standstill for several minutes, Harry perched tensely in the chair and Severus crouched in front of him, looking exasperated. Severus's position was beginning to hurt his knees when Harry broke the silence.
"Why are you doing this?" He asked.
"What do you mean?" Severus didn't understand the question. He rose from his squatting position and pulled a chair over from behind his desk to sit in.
"You saved me, and you're talking to me, acting like you give a shit. I know you hate me, so what are you getting out of this?"
Potter spoke with contempt, and Severus was taken aback when he actually felt stung by the boy's words. He knew that he wasn't nice to the child. It wasn't his job to be nice, but it was apparent that he had given the boy the impression that he genuinely despised him.
"I don't hate you," Severus admitted.
"Could've fooled me," Potter grumbled and rolled his eyes. "I guess the constant insults and cruelty was because you liked me."
Severus chuckled. "You exaggerate, Potter. I have not treated you much different than any other Gryffindor." He disliked all of his Gryffindors equally. Well, except for Longbottom, who was appallingly bad at potions, despite all his effort.
"Really? I don't remember you focusing on any of the other kids and digging into them like you did with me."
The Potion's master thought about the boy's statement and realized that he had a point. Over the last three years, he had done his best to antagonize Potter. He even took pleasure out of humiliating the boy. He realized that to gain his trust, he would have to apologize.
"I know that I treated you unfairly," he forced himself to say. "I believe that I initially misjudged you, but I didn't hate you then, and I don't hate you now, Potter."
"I can tell you do by the way that you say my name: Potter," he grumbled with disgust. "You can't even say it without scowling!"
"The name Potter has never been a pleasant one," Severus explained. He sighed softly. He didn't want to disclose the details of his personal life, but it was the only way he knew to make the child trust him. "I think my hatred of your name stems from your father."
"You knew my father?" The boy asked, a slight spark of excitement returning to his eyes.
"Yes. I went to school with your father." Severus said, his tone grim.
Severus took a moment to reflect on his school days, trying to keep from glowering at the unpleasant memories. The image of James Potter's face was enough to make his fists shake with anger. He let out a deep breath to release some of his frustration.
"And you didn't like him," the boy guessed, watching the Potion's master's reaction.
"That's an understatement. I would say that my feelings for him were probably reminiscent of your feelings for Mr. Malfoy." Severus told the child, grimacing at the memories.
"Why? What did he do?" The boy asked, looking concerned.
"He was a bully… James Potter made me miserable. I hated him, not you."
"Oh…" The boy said seeming sad. "So that's why you hated, I mean, didn't like me then?"
"Precisely. Upon our first meeting, I assumed you were much like your father. You walked into my classroom looking like his clone."
Potter seemed to be thinking over Severus's explanation for a moment. He nodded his head slowly and then offered a look of comprehension to the professor.
"I guess I understand. I bet if I was an adult and I saw a miniature Malfoy, I wouldn't like him much either."
"I can't help but remember your father when I say your name," Severus admitted.
"You do know I have a first name, right?" The boy said, smirking. "It's Harry."
Severus laughed softly. The boy was beginning to remind him of Lily. Her quick wit and snarky comments were some of his favorite things about her. She always had something to say that would make him laugh.
"Yes, Potter. I know, but it isn't proper for professors to address their students by their first names."
"Why not? It's better than you sounding like you want to strangle me whenever you talk to me."
"I suppose you have a point. I'll do my best to call you by your name outside of class." Severus assured him.
"Thanks, Professor," Harry said. "Can I ask you a question?"
"Who is Sirius Black?" Harry asked.
Severus was confused. How could the boy not know about Black? The entire wizarding world had been buzzing about the criminal's escape from Azkaban for months. The students had been worrying about him since the start of term. The ministry had placed dementors around the school to help protect everyone. Dumbledore had even explained the situation at the welcoming feast. It was common knowledge that Black was after Harry. It made no sense that Harry wasn't aware.
"You really don't know?" Severus asked him, making sure that he wasn't kidding.
"No. Malfoy mentioned him to me earlier. Should I know him?"
"Well, Pot- Harry, Sirius Black was one of the Dark Lord's followers who was responsible for your parents' deaths." The Potion's master explained gently. "He escaped from Azkaban a few months ago. That's why the dementors surround the grounds now."
"Oh… and he wants to kill me?" Harry asked.
"Yes. But the Headmaster and the Minister of Magic have taken special precautions to make sure he can't harm you. You're safe here." Severus assured him. He hoped that the boy wouldn't seek out the mass-murderer.
Harry appeared to be taking in the information and contemplating it. Severus wished he knew what the boy was thinking.
"Harry, why don't you want to live anymore?" Severus asked him bluntly. He hoped that the more casual turn that their conversation had taken would make the child comfortable enough to be honest.
The boy grew very still at his words and his face seemed to shift before the Potion master's eyes. The blank mask was back.
"I have no idea what you're talking about, Professor."
"Very well," He said and sighed. "I will be assigning you more of these detentions soon, but that's enough time for today, you're free to go."
As the lifeless child slumped his way to the door, Severus wondered if he'd made enough progress. Once again, he saw the disturbing image of a small corpse lying in a puddle of blood.
He hoped that he'd done enough.
Thanks for reading! Please leave me a review, and let me know what you think!