Harry came to slowly, his eyes gritty with sleep, and not entirely sure what had woken him. He struggled up from his supine position, hands tangling in an unfamiliar afghan, hunter green and worn with age.

He felt the burning heat of a blush prickling at his neck. Snape must have covered him up after he'd fallen asleep on the sofa.

A dry crackle from the other side of the room drew his attention, and he found his still-hazy gaze drawn to Snape, who had knelt down and appeared to be tending the fire by jabbing his wand at it.

Snape's head immediately swung toward him—eerily, Harry would have said, as if the man had sensed him. "Good. You're up. Supper's on the table."

Harry dropped his gaze, his suddenly-sweaty palms tangling in the afghan as he started to think up excuses for not being able to eat with the man. Their conversation, and argument, and his punishment from earlier all flooded back into his mind, curdling acidly in his gut. Sure, Snape had reconciled with him—held him, his brain supplied—but that didn't mean the man wasn't still good and ticked at Harry for behaving like a complete basket case. For deliberately defying him in order to get a reaction.

"We've been through this, Potter."

That comment, laced with exasperation, caused Harry to recoil back a bit.

"No hiding your head like a blushing witch. You were an idiot. You know you were an idiot. You have lines. Matter closed." And then Snape was up, striding over to him, tossing the afghan aside and hauling Harry to his feet by the back of his collar.

Well, gently hauling. Helping him to his feet, actually Harry realized, and then that guiding hand was at the back of his neck, pushing him toward the kitchen, where even his still-churning stomach was starting to take interest in the scent of roast wafting into the parlor.

And that was enough, somehow—Snape at his back, the meal he'd cooked before them—to get Harry to remember his courage. "I like that blanket," he managed to force out. Nowhere near normal—he could tell. His speech was still pressured, his mouth too dry.

But Snape was courteous enough to pretend not to notice. "I thought you might. Your grandmother made it for me."

That announcement caused Harry to stumble for a moment. "My… my grandmother?"

Harry could somehow feel Snape's faint smile—not a smirk, an actual smile—behind him. "I knew more than just your mother. I spent a good deal of time at her house. The Evans were good to me."

Harry's throat tightened with the unexpected surge of emotion. Snape had tucked him in under his grandmother's blanket. Every stitch, every fiber of the afghan was hers—her handiwork, her time, her love.

"I'll tell you about them sometime, if you like."

Harry nodded weakly. "I would. A lot, I think."

"You're welcome to keep that blanket in your room, if you like."

Suddenly it felt as though there was a hard, Snitch-shaped ball lodged in his throat. That offer meant more to him than he thought Snape would ever know. And at the same time, after what he'd put the man through today, he felt he hardly deserved it. "I don't know if I should—"

"Let me rephrase. Harry, you will keep your grandmother's blanket in your room." Snape squeezed his neck before releasing him and settling at the now-laden kitchen table.

Harry dared a glance at him, and saw that knowing, arched brow that said Snape had heard every nuance in Harry's voice. "Thanks."

Snape uncovered the roast and began carving it with the long knife and two-tined fork he'd laid out. He did not even acknowledge Harry's response.

Harry settled into the chair beside Snape, still fighting through the current of anxiety that screamed at him to retreat, that he was still in trouble, that Snape was still mad at him.

"Still sulking about your flying privileges?" Snape inquired, but there was almost a teasing lilt to the words.

"No, sir," Harry hastened to assure him, and winced at his slip of the tongue. "Severus. Sorry. I just—sometimes, I—"

"Breathe, Harry." Snape served him two hearty slices of the roast, along with a few potatoes and carrots. He barely sounded perturbed. "It's done and behind us. Yes?"

"Yes," Harry agreed, and chewed his lip a moment before adding in a rush, "but I really am sorry. I didn't think, and I told you that I wouldn't scare you like that again, but I did, and I didn't mean to—"

"Stop talking and breathe, before I silence you." There was no bite to those words, not really.

Harry squirmed uncomfortably anyway. And he did as he was told, drawing in deep, slow breaths—the kind that made his head feel light. Gradually, his pulse seemed to slow.

"Good. Keep breathing."

Harry did, while Snape poured them glasses of conjured water and grabbed the rolls from the oven. And he continued to do so while the Potions Master cut and buttered his for him, with two large pads of butter—just the way Harry liked it.

At last Harry felt a little calmer, a little more like this was any other night (recently, at least). Like they were just going to share a pleasant meal.

"I don't know why I'm so…." Harry, at a loss for the right word, flicked his fingers in an attempt to approximate his emotional state.

Snape had the gall to snort at him. "I can think of several reasons. The primary being that you have yet to be handed appropriate consequences for your actions. Eyes up here, Harry."

Harry, who'd tucked his chin instinctively to hide his sudden shame, forced himself to obey, uncomfortable though it was.

Snape's gaze was filled with… well, not irritation. And it was not flat, as it sometimes was. No, it was… not cold, not even cool. "What I mean to say is you have been given severe punishments wildly out of proportion with the actual misdeed by your caregivers, and no consequences by other adults—"

"You gave me plenty of consequences," Harry whipped out before he could stop himself, and immediately covered his mouth.

A frown twitched at the corners of Snape's mouth. "For petty reasons and minor infractions, yes. But you have never truly been punished for risking your life—which, I believe, is more worthy of consequences than, say, talking back to your professor." Snape settled back into his chair, unfurled his cloth napkin, and settled it over his lap. "Now you have, and you are unsure where you stand."

Harry digested that for a moment, worrying his lip in his teeth as he tried to process what Snape was suggesting. "I… I know you don't hate me again, though."

"You are certain?"

Snape's calm, matter-of-fact question somehow managed to provoke doubt in him. Doubt he dispelled with the memory of being enfolded tightly in the man's arms—but doubt that still existed nonetheless. "No," he confessed in a mumble.

Snape hummed in acknowledgment. "Natural, I should think, that you hold such doubt. You should speak to your Mind Healer about it tomorrow."

Harry fought the urge to groan. True, the session had not been as bad as he'd thought. He'd even go so far as to say that It had been useful. But that didn't mean he really wanted to go back, and so soon.

"A necessary evil," Snape murmured, seemingly reading the emotion right out of Harry. "In the meantime, I will reassure you as many times as I must that you do not need to be perfect. That I am, in fact, well aware of your many imperfections and care for you anyway." Snape drew a deep breath. "Too, I will remind you that you are more than willing to forgive much worse crimes against yourself, but do not believe you are worthy of even a fragment of that same grace."

Harry flushed slightly. "Okay, I get it. And I know it, mentally, but I still feel…."

"Ah yes, feeling." This Snape pronounced with such sudden disdain that it startled a strangled laugh out of Harry. "Would that it were rational. Alas, we simply must do the best we can." Snape hesitated a moment, then reached out and laid a hand on Harry's forearm. "You have a lot to unlearn, as far as expectations go."

Harry's throat was suddenly painfully tight. "Yeah," he managed to rasp, and Snape's hand tightened on his arm.

They passed a pleasant meal together after that.

Snape forbade him to do any lines in the evening, insisting they would keep until the next day. And though Harry was eager to get back to dueling, he didn't argue. He knew better.

XXXXX

The healer was still giving him that soft half-smile that Harry was fairly certain she practiced in the mirror for her clients.

"Harry?" Snape prompted him gruffly.

"Um, no, there's nothing I can really think of that I want to talk about…."

Harry could feel Snape's disapproving glare searing into the side of his skull. And he ignored it.

"Really?" Snape inquired in that silky, soft tone of his, the one that had a lump forming in Harry's throat. "Let me make a few topic suggestions, then—"

"Erm, I'm mad at my headmaster. Dumbledore. Professor Dumbledore. He hasn't told me anything this summer." Harry swallowed past the lump, and continued to ignore the look Snape was giving him.

"That is certainly something we can explore," Healer Angela agreed, nodding her head. "But I was hoping that we could use the first half of this session to further explore the relationship you are developing with Professor Snape. Professor, you had something to contribute to that?" And her gentle gaze shifted.

From the corner of his eye, Harry could see the way Snape sat up straighter, the way his hands folded tightly into a bloodless ball in his lap. And Harry started chewing his lip nervously, his heart fluttering as he wondered what the man would bring up.

"The fool boy feels he need to risk his neck in order to provoke me, so that I will be furious and relate to him in a manner he can comprehend."

Harry's stomach clenched even as he felt a fierce blush warm his cheeks.

"Professor Snape," the healer admonished him softly. "You recall the ground rules we set at the beginning of this session? We use 'I' statements—"

"Yes, yes," Snape growled impatiently, and readjusted part of his robes with a sharp tug. "I feel that the boy—"

"Professor," Healer Angela prompted again. "We're falling back into bad patterns."

Snape, clearly discomfited by the unflappable woman, seemed to need a moment to regather his thoughts.

He drew a deep breath that still sounded rather irritated to Harry. "I feel that Harry behaves recklessly to provoke me, in order to reestablish a dynamic that he understands. And while I can sympathize with the impulse, I cannot tolerate dangerous, foolhardy behavior."

"I said I was sorry," Harry mumbled to his knees, reeling from the sucker-punch of guilt that Snape's words had delivered. Before, Snape had seemed… well, initially he'd been furious. But then they'd moved past that, and Harry had done all his stupid lines about not risking his life with broom stunts, and things had been okay again.

But maybe Snape had just been saving up all his ire for this session, where he could vent it to the Mind Healer and have Angela lecture Harry as well.

"Yes," Snape agreed through gritted teeth, "but—"

"And I meant it," Harry added. He wrapped his arms tightly over his midsection. "I really didn't want to… to upset you. It was wrong of me. I…." God, he hated this. He wished Snape hadn't been so unbending about these damned sessions. "I'm not used to people worrying about me."

"I realize this," his professor snapped. "But that does not mean your behavior can continue."

It was worse than if Snape had reached out and struck him. He would have preferred being slapped, he thought, to this. "No," he agreed contritely, "and it won't, I promise—"

"It will," Snape cut in imperiously, "until we get to the root of the problem—"

"Professor, Harry."

Harry gratefully returned his attention to the healer, who was looking at them both with lips slightly pursed.

"I believe we are miscommunicating again."

Harry decided he hated that phrase, too—"we", as if she was doing anything more than watching them bicker.

"Oh, we are, are we?" Snape inquired mockingly. Clearly he was as enamored of the phrase as Harry.

"Harry, can you summarize Professor Snape's concerns?"

Harry swallowed again, wishing his tight throat would loosen a bit. He dropped his gaze again and spoke to his knees, shame weighing heavy on him. "He thinks I'm going to act like an idiot again, because I can't think things through and I act impulsively. And I do… so it doesn't matter what I say, he's not going to believe that I won't do something like that again."

"By 'that', you mean deliberately performing reckless broom stunts?" the healer clarified.

Harry winced. "Yeah. Or anything else dangerous. I won't do it again, I mean it. I just…." He exhaled heavily and started picking at a loose thread on his jeans. "I just wanted him angry. I didn't think about why he would be angry… or… or that he would be concerned, too."

" 'Concerned' is a mild choice of word," the healer pointed out. "You believe Professor Snape was merely concerned?"

"No," Harry answered softly. "He was… probably pretty panicked. And I didn't mean to do that, just… irritate him."

Snape loosed a restrained snort.

"I know you wish to say something, Professor, and thank you for letting Harry finish. You'd like to explain your concerns to Harry?"

"I get them! Please, I really do, and I don't want to hear it again—"

"You get nothing, Potter—"

The healer cleared her throat.

And Snape flushed and broke off mid-sentence. And then he started again. "Harry." Softer, milder—contrite, even. And he waited until Harry turned to him to continue. "I… my main concern that you are most comfortable when I am irritated with you. The irritation itself is… a secondary concern. Less than that, even. You… you're a teenager with a special penchant for trouble. You will inevitably do something to warrant irritation and punishment in the near future. As I have already said."

"No—no, I won't. I'm going to be better."

Snape's temper seemed to resurge then. "You don't need to be better, you daft boy! Merlin, it is as though you are intentionally missing the point of this entire conversation!"

"Professor," the healer cautioned again, a stern note entering her tone.

Snape pinched the bridge of his nose. "I need to step out," he announced, and stood fluidly, his dark robes settling around him like shadows.

"I'm sorry," Harry mumbled, though he knew as soon as the words left his lips that he'd only made things worse.

"Why don't you rejoin us in thirty minutes, Professor? We can move the joint segment to the end of the session."

Snape nodded stiffly, not looking at Harry.

Harry opened his mouth to apologize again, but Snape had already left. And in the man's absence, he found himself torn between frustration and shame.

"You seem upset," the Mind Healer observed brilliantly.

Harry opened his mouth to shoot off a sharp retort, but paused as his ears picked up a faint rattling sound. What the bloody hell was that? The clattering was growing louder, too—

"Harry, will you take a deep breath for me?"

Harry's attention whipped back to Angela. He frowned, but did as she asked, and felt his chest rise deeply and then fall. The rattling quietened.

The frame, he realized, mortified. The stupid cheery paintings she had on the walls. He'd been making them shake with his magic.

No wonder Snape thought he couldn't control himself.

"Thank you." Angela's words were so genuine, so warm, that Harry couldn't help but relax a little.

"I know he doesn't believe me," Harry began tentatively, "but I do know that what I did was stupid and reckless and… well… I really won't do it again."

The Mind healer didn't respond to that promise like he was hoping. Really, he'd hoped she might agree and offer to explain to Snape that he could be rational and reliable. Instead, she asked, "How did you feel when Professor Snape told you about his past mistakes, and how they have affected you directly?"

"Angry," Harry responded automatically, His roving fingers found a stray thread to pick at on his sleeve. "Basically… if he hadn't run off and told Voldemort…." He glanced up in time to catch her light wince. "You know. I'd still have my parents."

"And what does that mean to you, having your parents?"

The paintings started to clatter again, like shutters banging in the gales of a coming storm. "What do you fucking think it means? It means that I'd have a family that loves me, that I might've had a normal childhood, that—" Harry caught himself abruptly, realizing where he was going and how quickly. He forced himself to take another breath and count to ten.

The rattling grew faint.

"Sorry. I… it's kind of a sore topic. Um…." Nervousness spiked through him as he realized he'd cursed at her, and badly. "Please don't tell Professor Snape."

"There's no need to apologize, Harry." Still so gentle and kind, that voice. "You can swear here. You can say whatever you like. None of it will go beyond the two of us. Do you remember the agreements you signed? Do you remember the explanation of how the Hippocratic Wards work?"

Harry felt his cheeks burn even hotter at her question. "No," he admitted shyly.

"I'm bound by the magic of St. Mungo's. I can't bring up anything sensitive or specific with the Professor; I'm limited to generalities, except, say, in emergency circumstances."

"Emergency?" Harry found himself questioning softly.

"If, say, you were planning to hurt yourself or someone else."

"Oh." Harry continued to twist the thread of his sleeve as he let that sink in. "That's… good."

"But back to the topic at hand. You feel that Professor Snape's actions have deprived you of a loving home—a chance to grow up with people who care about you."

Harry sighed again. "No… I mean, on some level, yeah, it feels that way, but I know it's not true. Voldemort might've killed them anyway. Hell, he probably would have after Wormtail betrayed them."

Angela looked puzzled for all of half a second before her expression smoothed again.

"That, and well… he didn't mean to. That's to say, he made a mistake, and he knows it, and I don't want to keep being angry with him."

"That's very big of you—putting your anger aside for the sake of your growing relationship." Angela set her quill down for a moment, and seemed to gather her thoughts. "Do you have any theories as to why you chose to deliberately act in a way that upset the professor?"

Harry was damned sick of this topic. "Because I was really, really dumb and didn't think things through. And it won't . Happen. Again."

A painting—a sailboat gliding over the ocean, helmed by a wizard in flowing robes—thudded to the floor.

Angela did not even seem to notice. Instead, she met his furious gaze placidly, as if they were just taking tea. "I think," she began slowly, her words just a soft breath, so careful not to disturb anything, "that you did think things through. I think you used a familiar framework to make a decision—to do what was best for yourself, by your understanding of things."

"No, I was stupid. I see it now. I thought making the professor mad would… I don't know, reset him, kind of. But it was thoughtless, and now he's angry at m, even though I said I was sorry and we pretty much moved past it. I mean, I thought we'd moved past it…."

"Harry," the healer began again, "walk me through your thought process. Let's untangle this a bit."

He didn't want to at all, but he figured refusing to work with the Mind Healer, and later having to tell Snape he'd refused when the man asked, would not help anything. So he drew in what had to be his hundredth bracing breath of the day, and launched into it with as little preamble as he could. "It was after he'd told me all that awful stuff about how he'd worked for Voldemort and heard a part of a prophecy, and basically started the chain of events that got my parents killed. And I'd been thinking about things, and decided that I could forgive him and all, and still wanted to stay with him, but he was so… mopey. And not himself. And I hated it."

"What about it did you hate, Harry?"

Harry threw his head back in frustration. "I don't know. He was… nice. Too nice. No, that's not right. He does nice things all the time for me. Just… he was really… soft, and deferential. That's it. Like… I could've done anything—screamed at him, cursed at him, thrown a tantrum—anything, and he would have just sat there and taken it. And that's not him. He's just… he's a good guardian because he's really strict. Good or bad, he just lays down what's going to happen, and that's it. But then… after he told me, he was all… wrong."

Angela resumed her note-taking. She nodded to him as her eyes tracked over the page. "He was vulnerable."

Harry swallowed hard. "Yeah, but… he's been vulnerable before, when he talked about his childhood. That didn't bother me. It was the softness."

"You felt he was too… solicitous," Angela summarized.

"Yeah," Harry mumbled, his stomach clenching.

"Have you ever felt similarly uneasy with your relatives, Harry?"

Harry opened his mouth to say no, but something stopped him. A memory, then another, and another—fragments that together formed an unmistakable pattern of rejection and hurt.

"Are you willing to show me?" the healer inquired, and gestured to the ever-present Pensieve.

Harry closed his eyes for a moment to gather himself. And then he nodded, because he wanted to fix things with Snape. He never wanted to upset Snape on purpose again, not unless he had a much better reason than his own twisted, hopelessly messed-up psyche.

Angela drew out the memory just as she had the time before, the silver strands dancing and twisting like living things before she plunged them into the basin.

She smiled kindly at him and gestured. "Shall we?"

Harry was far too apprehensive to smile back. He managed a nod, and together they plunged ahead.

XXXXXXXX

The Dursley home, like the classroom, emerged slowly, the color and the finer details trickling in like ink spilling over parchment—walls and vague shapes growing and refining into the details of the scene.

He was staring down his aunt in the living room, two women with teacups seated behind her on the sofa. Petunia wore her best entertaining dress, a horrid pink frock with lighter pink frills, and a tight choker of pearls. Her lips, garishly red, were fixed in an unnatural bright smile.

"Harry, love," she crooned at the scrawny, black-mopped, scrawny boy who was fleeing the room, feather duster in hand.

"Neighbors?" Angela inquired evenly as she strolled into the living room, her eyes on the prim ladies who were watching the younger Harry with calculating gleams in their eyes.

"Neighbors," Harry confirmed, his eyes on his younger self.

Young Harry unfroze slowly, like a startled animal preparing to creep away from a predator.

"It was so good of you to help me with the housework!" Petunia cooed. "Such a darling boy. Come in here now."

Young Harry shuffled forward, his shoulders up to his ears, now clutching at the feather duster like it was a baseball bat.

When he was close enough, Petunia laid her hands on his shoulders and turned him into the shrewd gazes of the women on the couch.

"When was this, Harry?" the Mind Healer inquired gently.

"When I was seven or so," Harry mumbled. "Dudley and Uncle Vernon were out for something, and Aunt Petunia had the neighbors over for tea."

"Say hello to Mrs. Barker and Mrs. Natt, Harry," Petunia instructed the young boy kindly.

"Hullo, Mrs. Barker, hullo Mrs. Natt."

The woman on the right, who clearly dyed her hair, and who had a nose like a pug, sniffed disdainfully. "He doesn't speak very clearly, does he? Thomas, my nephew, he's a bit younger, I believe, and his elocution is quite impressive. I told my sister-in-law, that one will make a fine politician."

"Well," Petunia huffed, "Harry is a bright boy. And that with the sort of father he had! Oh, and so polite, too."

"My nephew," the second neighbor, Natt—pinch-faced, bug-eyed—began, "has been invited to play for the Queen in London. Can you imagine? A violin prodigy, at eight! He was on the news the other night, did you see?"

Petunia pursed her lips. "Well," she sniffed, "some of our nephews are very lucky, never having lost their parents at a tragically young age. Harry really is such a brave boy."

Harry watched his younger self's body relax at those words, watched the boy's head tilt up toward Petunia hopefully, his eyes shining at the possibility that some monumental shift had occurred.

"Really?" the boy croaked hoarsely.

Petunia ignored him in favor of addressing her now-simpering neighbors. "Taking him in was, of course, the least we could do."

"Oh, Petunia, you never mentioned," Mrs. Barker crooned. "Poor thing must have been a mess."

"Oh, well, I don't like to play the martyr," Petunia sighed, "but it has been trying, raising an emotionally damaged child."

"Oh, you poor thing," Mrs. Natt exclaimed. "Two boys—one an orphan! No wonder you always look so exhausted!"

Young Harry recoiled as his aunt's talons dug into his too-thin shoulders.

"My, Katherine, you must be raising two orphans, then," Mrs. Barker commented offhandedly, and proceeded to sip her tea innocently.

Petunia whirled toward Mrs. Natt like a shark scenting blood. "Oh, my mother used a cream for those bags, Kat. It works wonders for women of a certain age."

"Aunt Petunia?" young Harry ventured quietly.

The woman's saccharine smile returned. "Yes, dearest?"

"Should I return to my chores now?"

That startled an unnaturally high titter out of Petunia. "Oh, Harry. He's playing house again! Yes, Harry, love, go play. I'll call you when dinner's ready."

Young Harry brightened further at those words and scampered off.

"Shall we find you later, Harry?" Healer Angela asked very gently.

Harry was already trailing after his younger self, wishing he could pull the child aside, wishing he could warn him. "No need," he murmured in response. "I can tell you what happened. I though she meant it about not doing chores. She didn't. She found me later and… well. She yelled a lot. About me not being good for anything, and embarrassing her in front of her friends, and then having the nerve to laze about…."

"How did she punish you, Harry?"

Harry finally pried his gaze away from the dark-haired boy skipiing his way out the back door. "She slapped me. Not hard or anything, it didn't even mark. And… my cupboard."

"Your cupboard?"

Harry flushed. "My room," he clarified. "She locked me in my room. No meals."

The memory started to ripple, then the scene blurring like the disturbed surface of a reflecting pool, and Harry found himself sucked back into his physical body like a pea though a drinking straw.

Harry staggered back from the Pensieve, feeling at once too light and too heavy. He found Angela at his side, and with another blush hidden by a tucked chin, he found himself guided back to his place on the couch.

"I notice," the Mind Healer began, "that you opted to omit the confrontation with your aunt. Why is that?"

Harry found himself unable to respond at first because he didn't rightly know. It hadn't, after all, been any worse than Snape dressing him down, or hissing threats about Veritaserum to him.

He tried to imagine it, that moment when Petunia had found him playing outside. The outrage that had contorted her face, the way she had snatched him up and shrieked at him for being a layabout and a disappointment.

The way his joy had shattered like glass, the way the shards of it had pierced him and stung so much….

Oh.

"Harry?" Angela prompted him gently.

"Because…." Harry wet his lips, willing the quivering within him to still. "Because that was when I realized… when I knew… that you can't trust when adults are good to you. Because it means nothing." Harry drew a ragged breath. "Because it hurts more when you realize it means nothing and they still don't like you."

He could see the pattern so clearly now, like an astronomical map where someone had connected all the nebulous points of a constellation. Primary teachers who'd smiled at him, whom he'd carefully avoided. The nice ladies at church when they'd attended for the holidays, the ones he'd been so certain had it out for him. Even Mrs. Applewhite, whom he'd helped because she was elderly. He'd never put any stock in her offers of tea, or her gentle inquires about life with the Dursleys. Even now it was so hard to believe she cared about him, even with her letter tucked carefully away with his other prized possessions.

"Do you believe, Harry, that you might find Professor Snape's stern demeanor comforting because you have no reason to distrust it?"

Harry did not reply—but he felt the answer was apparent.

"Would it be all right if I asked him to rejoin us?"

Harry managed a stiff nod, even as his heart began to stutter in his chest.

Angela swept over to the door, and a few low, murmured words later, Snape was stalking into the room, mouth pursed as tightly as if he'd been sucking on a lemon.

Harry sat up rigidly straight and automatically moved to the opposite end of the couch to make room for the professor.

Snape cast him a slightly disparaging look. "I am not going to hex you," he ground out.

"Harry has just reviewed a difficult memory, as well as made a disconcerting revelation," the Mind Healer announced levelly, though harry could hear the admonishment lurking beneath the surface of neutrality.

Snape actually winced and then, closing his eyes, drew in two very deep breaths.

Harry found his own lungs paralyzed until Snape reopened his eyes. There was still irritation glimmering in those black depths, but Harry had the strangest feeling that it wasn't directed at him.

"I… apologize for earlier," Snape announced, though Harry wasn't sure who Snape was addressing—Harry, Angela, or the pair of them. "I am…." Snape paused, drew in another deep breath. And then, instead of continuing, he sat with a flourish of his dark robes.

Harry took his own little breath and forced himself to shift back toward Snape, even though his heart was still pounding hard. Harry could have imagined it, but he though Snape's shoulders relaxed just a fraction.

The Mind healer surveyed them both for a moment. Then she asked very carefully, "Do we believe we are ready to resume our earlier discussion?"

"Yeah," Harry agreed timidly.

Snape just nodded stiffly.

Angela offered them a polite smile by way of approval. "Excellent. Harry, before I restore your memory, is it something you would like to share with Professor Snape?"

Harry was shaking his head before she could finish her question. He stole a nervous glance at Snape, whose masked expression gave away nothing. "I… it's nothing, really. It wouldn't mean anything to you. It's not that I don't want you to see, it's just that it would pretty much be a waste of your time—"

"Harry." Snape laid a hand on Harry's forearm. "You do not need to explain yourself to me."

There was something about the steadiness of Snape's words and the deliberate contact that unknotted Harry's stomach. "Thanks," he stammered, and felt himself sink back a bit more into the sofa.

Snape rolled his eyes and muttered something under his breath as he straightened up. Something about researching a geas, Harry thought.

Harry almost smiled to himself as Angela restored his memory.

When Harry had settled back on the sofa, and Angela into her chair, the Mind Healer inquired very gently, "Perhaps we could resume our discussion of yesterday's incident?"

Nervousness surged through Harry again. He didn't want to argue anymore, and he didn't want to explain how twisted his brain was to Snape.

"Professor Snape, perhaps you could resume explaining your concerns to Harry?"

Harry flinched a little, though he did his best to mask his reaction.

Snape seemed to exhale heavily. "Yes. I… I regret our history together, and I recognize that…." Snape seemed to be fishing for words. And that alone made Harry sit up and take note. " know that you are accustomed to my scorn. That… that perhaps it is more comfortable for you. But I will not continue to treat you with contempt, and I certainly will not have you provoking me into contempt. So. We must find an answer."

"I won't," Harry swore, "never again. I was just—stupid. And kind of scared."

Harry startled a bit when Snape turned and laid a hand on his forearm. "I do not require that promise. You… you are reacting in ways that align with your experiences so far. And that is fine—heart attacks and all. I… I do not blame you."

Suddenly Harry couldn't swallow. "But you were so mad—"

"At the circumstances. At the Muggles. At the instincts you have developed. And to be clear, your punishment stands—it is intended, after all, to correct those abysmal instincts. But that is worlds away from… from seeing your idiocy as merely a personal failing. Do you understand?"

Harry wasn't sure he did. But he nodded anyway.

Snape exhaled heavily. "Good."

A moment lapsed, ad then Angela prompted very gently, "Harry, is there anything you wish to share with Professor Snape about what we have discussed?"

A large part of Harry was screaming no, Snape didn't want to be invited to a pity party, did he?

But one glance at Snape's scorching gaze told a different story. There was keen interest there, and pinpoint focus.

So Harry found himself rambling. "I…I just… I haven't had great experiences with adults being nice or… or about me. Petunia acted that way once in front of the neighbors, but then she turned right around and was awful.

"And Professors especially," Harry continued quickly. His revelations were bubbling up in him as if he were a pot on the stove—and now they were spilling down his sides and there was nothing he could do. "I mean… look at Lockhart. That ponce just wanted to use me to sell more of his books. And Moody… Moody was Crouch. He wasn't helping me because he cared about me or liked me—he wanted me dead, and he almost got his wish, too! And Lupin… Lupin seemed to like me well enough, I guess, but then he just… disappeared."

"Your godfather loves you very much." Harry couldn't fathom what it cost the man to say that so evenly, and with a straight face.

Harry loosed a strangled laugh. "My godfather's half-insane."

Snape's lips quirked just a fragment. "True, but that is a separate issue." Snape paused, and then he uttered, solemn as a vow, "I care about you. And I am going nowhere, I promise."

"You hated me less than a month ago," Harry whispered, casting his eyes away.

"I did not know you a month ago. Should we get that tattooed on your arm?"

Harry had no answer to that.

Snape exhaled. "I will just have to endeavor to keep proving myself, I suppose."

"Trauma is not undone with a few kind words and assurances," Angela offered.

Harry caught a twitch of contempt on Snape's face before it was smoothed away. "Obviously not. I will simply continue to support Mr. Potter while he grapples with a paradigm shift."

"That is the best we can do for anyone." Angela shifted her attention to Harry. "Harry, how do you think you can work to maintain your relationship when you are experiencing doubt or fear?"

It was on the tip of Harry's tongue to shoot back, isn't it your job to figure that out? But he decided Snape wouldn't appreciate the attitude, and the man seemed prickly enough for the moment.

So instead he considered the question. What would he do if he started to wig out again? Definitely not climb back on his broom, or do anything else to upset Snape.

"Tell him?" he ventured tentatively, and stole a glance toward Snape.

"I would very much appreciate that."

Harry felt his cheeks burning at those words. "I'll try," he murmured.

Snape's hand on his arm tightened. "That's all I ask."

The very start of hot tears pricked in Harry's eyes, but he bit them back fiercely. Even though they weren't really bad tears. He didn't understand them at all, in fact.

"That's the hour, gentlemen. Will I be seeing you next week?"

Harry glanced questioningly at Snape, who dipped his head in affirmation. "Tuesday afternoon."

"Very good."

Harry still didn't like it—coming in, knowing he would be flayed wide open again. But here were worse things, he supposed.

XXXXXXXX

They did not go directly home after the appointment. Instead, Snape threw down the Floo powder and muttered their destination, and it wasn't until the hearth was spitting him out, soot-covered, onto the ancient drawing room rug that he realized Snape had sent him to Grimmauld Place.

"Fine impression of a chimney sweep, Potter," Snape drawled from behind him.

Harry hastened to his feet, making a feeble attempt at brushing himself off. Snape, he saw, was immaculate—of course.

A wave of Snape's wand set him to rights, though.

"What are we doing here?'

"Visiting those insufferable twits you call your friends," Snape replied. "Perhaps the werewolf, if he is in. Measuring your godfather's insanity. Nothing terribly important."

Harry couldn't help but snort. "You're not going to be doing any of that."

"No. I, thankfully, will be too busy brewing. I'll need three to four hours. You will seek me out if you have need of me."

"Wait, wait—do I have to talk to Rem—er, Lupin?"

Snape caught Harry with his black gaze. "I am admonished to refrain from influencing you unduly in such matters, so as not to deprive you of agency."

Harry took a moment to process that. "So, uh, Angela told you to, uh, let me make my own decisions? Is that what you were talking about when you hung back today?"

"Yes," Snape replied, evidently to both questions.

Harry grimaced. "Still, you… think I should talk to him?"

"Yes."

Harry bit his lower lip, considering it. Talking to Sirius had been a good idea. But Sirius had been writing him since third year. Sirius wanted Harry to be a part of his life.

Lupin, on the other hand….

Lupin is a werewolf used to hatred and disgust from everyone, a voice whispered to him. A voice that sounded suspiciously like a pale imitation of Snape's.

Damn it.

"I have it on good authority that your friends were aiding Mrs. Weasley with some of the upstairs rooms. I assume the dog and the wolf are moping somewhere. Do let me know if any of them become too tedious for you." Snape studied him for a moment longer before turning neatly and whirling off.

Harry stared after him for a moment too long, losing his battle against acknowledging that he was actually becoming fond of Snape's snark. Maybe even found it… funny?

He shook his head to clear it. He could ponder that later. Maybe.

And he headed up the stairs, not yet decided on where he would go.

His feet seemed to have a mind of their own, though, and they carried him up past the first floor, and the second, all the way up to Sirius' room. He knocked.

"Just a second—Beaky, no—great bloody beast."

"You're going to lose a finger, Padfoot, and I promise you I'll have no sympathy," said a familiar voice.

Harry's stomach twisted hard. Maybe this was a bad idea. Maybe Snape was off his nut.

"Oh, he's just playing. All right, down—down—"

And at last the door opened, revealing a harried-looking Sirius, bits of straw poking out of his damp, messy curls. His grin widened as soon as his gaze dropped enough. He pulled Harry into a tight hug. "Harry! Dracula dragged himself out of his coffin for the day, then? Well, come in, say hello to Buckbeak and Moony."

Buckbeak, who looked as though he'd been settled down in a bed of straw near Sirius' four-poster, immediately reared to his feet, his avian eyes full of wariness.

Harry fought a small grin and dipped into the lowest bow he could manage, keeping his head tilted up just enough to keep the hippogriff in his periphery.

Buckbeak continued to eye him suspiciously for a moment before at last bending a knee and dipping down. And then, seemingly satisfied, he collapsed back into the hay and curled up like a contented cat.

And that just left Lupin.

His former professor hung back awkwardly in the corner of the room, a sheepish smile plastered on his lips. "Hello," he offered with a clumsy little wave.

Harry didn't know what to say, or how to start this conversation. "Um, hi."

Lupin shifted uncomfortably. "Well, I'll leave you to visit Sirius, then. It was good to see you, Harry—"

"Wait," Harry said. "I—I actually… maybe we should talk."

Lupin's eyes widened, but then the false cheer returned, like a cheap Halloween mask. "Of course, Harry. Was there something in particular?'

Sirius snorted. "You're supposed to be the smart one, Moony." He lifted his arms above his head, stretching, and loosed a loud and obvious yawn. "Well, I'm going down for a snack, bit of a walk. Be back in a tick." He ruffled Harry's hair on his way out. "Keep them in line, Beaky," he called back before the door closed behind him.

Lupin still did not relax. If anything, he just straightened further. And he just waited.

Harry heaved a sigh. This was going to be impossible. He hated his position standing by the door, hated how awkward this was. So he shifted over toward the bed, dropped to the floor, and scooted up to Buckbeak, where he could run gentle fingers over the hippogriff's crest and just think for a moment.

"I… Harry, I do understand why you are angry with me," Lupin offered quietly.

Harry just snorted. Well, if Lupin hadn't understood it, he would have billed the whole venture as a lost cause.

"I nearly killed you third year."

This caused Harry to jerk his head up in alarm. "What do you mean?"

Lupin gave a bitter little half-smile. "You sound as though you are gob-smacked. I neglected my Wolfsbane, Harry."

Harry's gut twisted uncomfortably. He didn't want apologies for this. "Remus, that's not your fault—it's not on you, that you are what you are—"

"No," Lupin agreed easily, "but the fact that I am blameless for my affliction does not absolve me of my responsibility to manage it. I endangered every one of you that night—yourself, Ronald, Hermione, Sirius… and Severus." His voice went hoarse as he named off Snape, but then he seemed to recover. "That, and… I behaved recklessly all year. I knew that Sirius and Peter both were Animagi, and yet…." He scoffed softly to himself.

"You… you thought the best of Sirius."

"No." Lupin moved over to Sirius' bed and lowered himself down onto it slowly, as though he had bad joints. ""No, if I thought the best of him, I would have gone to the authorities to plead his case. I would have written to him to ask for his version of events. I would have visited him in Azkaban, even. I might've known sooner that Peter had betrayed James and Lily, that he was still out there, that cowardly little sh—er, rat."

Harry continued to gaze at Buckbeak, and his fingers as they grazed over sleek feathers. "You never even wrote me."

"I believed I had caused you enough grief. That you were better off without me adding to your burdens."

"I wasn't." Harry shut his eyes tightly for a moment, trying to stem the hurt, but it bled out of him like pus seeping from an infected wound. "Sirius was on the lam and eating rats and he still managed to keep in touch! And he didn't let guilt get in the way of trying to support me! I faced down a bloody dragon, Remus! I thought I was going to die so many times, and then I saw Cedric die, and Voldemort came back…. And I felt alone. And scared, and miserable. And my relatives were awful. But then you swoop in, and in spite of everything—in spite of the fact that you abandoned me—you somehow get off trying to psychoanalyze me and scold me all at once, like the only time you care is when I might be disgracing my parents' legacy!"

"That's—no, Harry. I just… it seemed so unlike you to act out, and I thought the grief must be terrible—"

"Well, it is, but all that other stuff was terrible, too! I… and then you let Snape be the one to pick me up…."

"I thought you said you were getting along with Severus?"

Harry heaved a sigh. "Now, yeah, I am. Before… at first… he was awful. And I was so miserable. No one was telling me anything. I hadn't heard from you in ages."

Harry heard Lupin swallow hard, and then his tentative words. "I didn't mean to hurt you, Harry."

Harry found his fingers digging deep into Buckbeak's feathers. The hippogriff made a vague disapproving squawk and turned one beady eye toward Harry.

"Funny thing I keep hearing, how nobody meant to do this or that. Nobody means to, and yet they do anyway. And all their well-meaning doesn't stop all this shite from getting dumped right on me."

"You're right." Lupin eased off the bed until he was kneeling down beside Harry, close enough that Harry could make out even the faintest of the latticework of scars covering the man's face. "Harry, I've acted shamefully, and offering up pale excuses… well. That's even more shameful."

Harry let his gaze dart up to Lupin's, and he found he couldn't look away from the raw emotion there. Guilt, and concern. Maybe fear.

"I am sorry, Harry. I should have written—to apologize, if nothing else. I should have been there for you. I should have met you in Diagon Alley when you first went…."

You should have taken me in from the first.

But Harry knew that was not fair. He could see it in the way Lupin was wearing thin around the edges, like his secondhand suits. The lines of his face that seemed to have multiplied since Harry had last seen him, the touches of grey that had turned to streaks in the man's slightly-unkempt hair. The exhaustion in Lupin's eyes.

Too much had taken from him—by Voldemort, by his curse, by a half-insane friend who needed him more than Lupin could stand to be needed.

"I am sorry."

Harry found he felt exhausted, too. Too exhausted to still be angry. "I forgive you," he said simply.

Lupin didn't beam like Sirius, or nod curtly like Snape. His lips twitched up, just a bit, and his shoulders unhunched, as if relieved of a great weight. And he slumped fully to the floor beside Harry, like they were mates, and he leaned his back against Sirius' mattress.

"If you would let me," Lupin began, "I… I would like to write you now. Properly, as I should have all those years ago."

Harry smiled bitterly to himself. "Good thing you didn't, actually. The Dursleys would've burned it for sure."

Lupin looked for a moment as though he wanted to ask a follow-up question to that, but then wisely shut his mouth instead. "Well. I get the impression that, for whatever other faults he may possess, Severus will not burn your letters out of sheer spite."

The comment was so true, and so unintentionally poignant, that Harry couldn't help himself. He dissolved into paroxysms of laughter.

A/N:

Hello all,

Again, I feel the need to apologize to you lovely people for the long delay. Please accept my deep gratitude for all of your continued support, the time you take to write such beautiful affirming comments, and above all your continued patience as I navigate the real life.

I am doing well, and thank you to all who inquired. Still tackling health issues, still busy with work, and preparing to return to school in the upcoming year—so very busy, but well and thriving for the most part. I'd like to disclose that I, unfortunately, have many varied hobbies that take up a lot of time (and I'm very blessed with family and friends that I visit with regularly). I'm… kind of a DND nerd, and am in two campaigns while running/writing a third. And DND is a time suck, let me tell you. But please let me reiterate, as I always do, that I WILL finish my fics. I know from personal experience the pain of investing in a fic, only to find it orphaned/abandoned. It may take me ten years, but we will get there, this I swear (do I need to make an Unbreakable Vow?).

Some of you have asked about original fiction (bless you for bolstering my already overinflated ego!). I do have things in the works. I am as of yet unpublished, but I have a novel/series plotted out and ready for drafting, it will be chock-full of angst and feelings and psychological analysis, and I will happily post updates via future author notes if it ever approaches anything like publication. My current goal is to more or less wrap up Crime and Punishment and Snape's Promise (yes, I haven't forgotten about that one either!) before shifting my time and energy to my novel (and at that point working on my other unfinished fics as a break/reset for the original fiction).

Also, just a quick shout-out to the folks who continually rush to my defense when harsher comments get posted on my fics. Some of y'all know me too well (looking at you, Wolfwind3). So many of you are so kind as to write out long, gushing comments expressing how much you love this thing I do just for funsies, and the number of those comments far outweighs any of the remotely critical comments I get. And yet, guess what I fixate on. Guess what gets stuck in my head. That single reviewer who didn't quietly bow out, as most of us do, when we find a fic universe or writing style doesn't suit us. So thank you, all of you, who take the time to help me put it in perspective. I hope you find the same grace and clarity of perspective when you face your own critics, because you all are stellar people and continue to blow me away with your encouragement.

Much love to all of you, I hope you enjoyed this last chapter, and I hope to get the next one out before another… oh dear Merlin, 4 months? Yes, before another 5 months elapses. I hope you all are still surviving the pandemic, finding ways to stay sane and connected, and generally being as well as you possibly can be.

(Whew, that was a lot of words.)

Cheers!

~Mel

P.S. Requests for one-shots from Snape's perspective? No promises, but I'll try to post a few here and there!