For the fifth – or possibly fiftieth – time in the past two days, Harry screamed at himself for what he was doing. Here he was, standing in front of Snape's door, his fist raised to knock. All he had to do was let his knuckles fall and it would be over with. No. It would just begin. But still, he knew he needed to knock.
I need to do no such thing, he argued. But he did. No matter which way Harry turned the matter over in his mind, Professor Snape, hater of all things Gryffindor and Harry especially, was his only chance to get through this year somewhat intact.
In reality, this was not merely the fiftieth time he had considered this action, nor had he been thinking about it for just the last two days, but since the beginning of his third year, when he had overheard a Slytherin telling her Ravenclaw friend that Professor Snape would always listen, and more importantly help, if the situation at the home of a student had become untenable. He remembered listening to the Ravenclaw crying about the things his parents were saying about him and how much tamer they seemed than the Dursleys. He remembered how horrified the Slytherin had been by the behaviour. Harry remembered how he had frozen in his seat in the library and had not moved until it was nearly curfew, earning himself a scolding from the Fat Lady. The most confusing thing for Harry was that it was somehow believable that grumpy, unreasonable Snape protected students who came to him; after all, he had always stopped Harry from being killed, in the end…
By all measures of reasonableness, Harry recognised his life at the Dursleys as abusive. He had known since his first day of primary school, when no other child stumbled over their own name, only having been – forcibly – informed of it the week before; or blushed when asked to describe their bedroom. The teacher had thought he was joking and told him it was in bad taste. Since then, Harry's greatest skill had been weaving a charmed life out of his own measly lot. The one other time he had tried to tell the truth… well, it had not gone well.
That was why he had hesitated a year ago, and why he hesitated now. He knew he needed to knock, even for a chance of sanctuary, although a large part of him was still convinced that Snape would laugh in his face and tell him to get over it. He had thought his dilemma was solved when Sirius had come along. Quite apart from now having a Godfather to look up to and write to, he had thought that he had the threat of said Godfather to hang over the Dursleys. He had forgotten that Uncle Vernon was very well aware that he was too ashamed to tell anyone – especially someone he admired – what went on at Privet Drive. Silence was the first lesson he had been taught.
It didn't matter anymore. He couldn't afford to have shame. He couldn't afford to go back. And it wasn't as if he admired Professor Snape. Harry hated that it was his most hated professor he had to turn to, but Professor McGonagall had ignored him in the past… was ignoring him now… and Dumbledore never listened when he tried to tell about his home life. He didn't know any of the other teachers very well and they were all turning their noses up at him since the Goblet; apart from Moody, admittedly, but he was a lunatic. Snape, much though he disliked the man…
Actually, Harry wasn't sure what he felt about Snape. Certainly, the man had done little to win Harry's love, but he had never let that stand in the way of helping Harry. In first year, it had been Snape to stop Quirrell throwing him off his broom, and had watched out at the next Quidditch match, even though he must have seen right through their eleven year old suspicions and mutterings. And just last year, he had stepped in front of a werewolf to protect him, Ron and Hermione. Harry's breathe caught at the memory. Yes, Sirius had distracted the werewolf (it hadn't been Lupin at that point), rendering it unnecessary, but Snape hadn't known that. He had been willing to be maimed, or even killed by a creature he must have been terrified of, after that incident between him and Sirius. But he had still stood in front of them. Harry had never had an adult protect him like that before, and in the middle of everything he had not been able to process it. Never been able to process it. Snape always helped him… between being the slimy git of the dungeons and humiliating Harry every chance he got.
Harry huffed a sigh. He had been over this argument a thousand times or more, but whichever way he looked at it, he was out of options. Once again he pulled back his fist to knock, ignoring how it was shaking, trying to keep his breathing steady.
Harry's hand dropped to his side. He thought he might have even been a little bit relieved.
Malfoy sneered. "This is Slytherin territory and I know you don't have a detention with Professor Snape. We don't want you here. Although, from what I've heard the Gryffindorks don't want you either." Draco and his entourage snickered. Harry felt his neck heat up, but he kept his mouth shut. He did not need any more trouble.
"What, no shouting? Know I'm right?" Malfoy came forward, until he was practically nose to nose with Harry, or rather nose to chin. Malfoy stood up straighter to accentuate the difference. Harry just continued to glare straight ahead. "You know they all hate you, right. They all only wanted to be your friend for your fame. Do you really think any of them liked you beyond your scar? From what I've heard they're all glad to see the back of you."
"Such a shame I have better things to do than listen in on the Slytherins," Harry jibed, ignoring the stabbing pain that had developed in his chest at Malfoy's words. "Otherwise I'd tell you exactly what they think of you. Although I can guess." Harry shoved past Malfoy, set to leave the dungeons. He should have known this would be a waste of time.
He didn't want them to see how much Malfoy's words hurt him, or how much he detested the Potter Stinks badges blaring at him from the chests of the entire student body. Ever since his name had come out of that stupid Goblet, he had been ostracised by even his own House. That was why he was down here in the first place, rather than talking to the people – up until two weeks ago – he had trusted with his life and beyond. That's what he told himself, anyway.
This year would have been hard enough with his friends and without this stupid tournament, but as things stood, Harry knew he was on the precipice of a nervous breakdown. Everything had finally pushed him to the brink. That was why he was here. Malfoy just wasn't entitled to see it.
Harry was brought up short when he walked straight into Crabbe and Goyle. Of course, Harry thought. Malfoy never went anywhere without his goons.
"Let me passed," Harry ordered, his voice low but commanding… he hoped. Crabbe smirked and Goyle cracked his knuckles, but neither moved.
"Scared, Potter?" Malfoy's said in a smug tone.
Harry gulped. In truth, he was. He couldn't fight them. Not only was it three on one, in enemy territory, but he also needed Snape's good will and that would not be got by hexing his favourite students. Again, Harry cursed the fact that it was Snape he had to turn to. As it was, he just stood his ground, staring into the musty folds of Goyle's chest. He resisted the urge to wrap an arm around his stomach.
"You asked for it Potter."
Harry braced himself for the hex he knew would be coming his way. He had felt Malfoy remove his wand and aim it, but he had been backed into a corner, both literally and metaphorically. Oh well, Harry reasoned. Even if Malfoy did some damage, the worst that could happen would be that you wouldn't have to tell Snape. Harry cringed at the thought, asking forgiveness even as the flippancy left his consciousness
"No filthy little mudblood to defend you now. Pet-"
Never had Harry been so grateful to hear his Potion Master's voice. And did he just berate Malfoy?
"What is going on here? Potter in the dungeons. My my, did I forget an assigned detention, when I have so few real pleasures in my life?" He was back to a purr now. That couldn't be a good sign. Harry could feel Snape's gaze boring into his back, but he kept his eyes straight ahead. He was too close to the edge. Malfoy had pushed him to close. They couldn't see it…
"Professor, Potter was threatening-"
"Silence," Snape intoned. A swish of robes indicated that he was moving.
"Miss Fawley-" Malfoy squeaked. Snape continued. "You were a witness?"
"Yes, sir," a voice from behind Crabbe sounded. "I was just about to intervene. Potter was about to knock on your door when these three approached him. Potter was trying to leave when Malfoy pulled his wand."
"Really?" Snape pause, seemingly uninterested. "Mr Potter, where is your wand?"
Harry still did not dare look up. He just reached into his inner robe pocket and took out his wand. He could not disguise the way his hand was shaking. He could almost feel Crabbe snicker as he saw it too. The bigger boy had still not moved from his wall like position in front of Harry. Harry hated feeling trapped.
Snape gave a loud sniff. "Very well," he paused, as if considering. "Miss Fawley, please escort Mr Potter back to where he belongs. Mr Malfoy, Mr Crabbe, Mr Goyle. In my office, please. We need to discuss your language. Mr Potter, if you had anything important to say, please address it to Miss Fawley, I'm sure any problems the boy hero might be having are well within her capabilities."
"Now, Mr Malfoy."
With another sweep of robes, Harry was suddenly left alone, Crabbe having followed his Head of House with little more protest than a grunt… and a quick shove of Harry's shoulder. With them gone Harry finally dared to look up. In front of him, hovering on the stairs was a seventh year Harry vaguely recognised as this year's Head Girl. He hadn't realised it was a Slytherin. She took a step forwards.
"Hi. Are you okay? I think I saw everything, but do you need to go to Madam Pomfrey or anything?" she sounded almost as if she cared. Who knew Slytherin's could experience compassion. Or at least fake it.
Harry shook his head. He knew he would have to go to the Hospital Wing at some point, but he wasn't ready yet and it wasn't as if Malfoy had actually managed anything.
"My name's Lyra," she said, shaking out her long, straight walnut hair, which had got caught in the collar of her robes. Her deep brown eyes seemed warm, but Harry couldn't believe them. Nobody had given him such a friendly look since his name had come out of the Goblet. Not even Professor McGonagall, and she had seemed to believe him. The Slytherin must want something. "Lyra Fawley." She almost looked as if she was about to offer him a hand, but then thought the better of it.
"Harry Potter," Harry muttered, making an effort to look her in the eyes. To be fair to her, she just quirked a corner of her mouth at the unnecessary introduction.
"Nice to meet you. Shall we get going? We can talk on the way back to the Fat Lady."
"You know where the door is?" Harry asked, bewildered, even as he lurched forward to follow her.
"Head Boy and Girl are told where all the Common Rooms are, otherwise we'd be a bit useless for directions and the like. Plus I had a couple of friends in Gryffindor, but they graduated last year. I used to walk back with them from Astronomy."
"Oh," was all Harry could think of to say. He didn't know any Gryffindors would be friends with a Slytherin, however nice on the surface.
As they mounted the stairs to the second floor, after a good five minutes of silence, he remembered his circumstances again.
"You don't have to walk back with me, you know."
"It's fine. Professor Snape will ask, so I need to make sure. Plus, you haven't told me why you were going to see him, anyway."
"It was nothing. Homework question. I'll just get going," Harry blustered, hoping that she didn't realise he was heading in the wrong direction. He didn't think she would. She must have just overheard someone talking about the Fat Lady. Gryffindors were never friends with Slytherins. Just as his breathing began to even out as he went further down the corridor, he felt a hand clamp down on his shoulder, causing him to jump and yelp.
"I'm surprised you knew about Snape's Sunday evening open door policy, but I'm sure I can help. I'm taking my NEWT in potions, so fourth year should be manageable," she smiled. "Let's take a look."
Harry's heart sank. "I left it in the Common Room."
"Well, you can show me when we get back. If it would make you more comfortable I can even wait in the corridor," she winked.
"Come on then. First things first is getting back to the Tower. Why were you going this way? If you still don't know the quickest way to your own Common Room you really must be hopeless. And here I was thinking it was that Longbottom boy that was in need of a compass."
There was nothing Harry could do as he was steered expertly through the castle to exactly where he did not want to go, his new best friend chattering away. This was the most conversation he had had in two weeks and not one word of it was filtering through the white noise clouding his brain.
"Well. Go on in and pick up your homework," a tap on his shoulder brought him back to reality. A reality where he was standing in front of a frowning Fat Lady, with Lyra looking at him with a mixture of expectation and knowing scepticism.
Far from being saved by that distraction, Harry whipped round to be faced with a pink faced Hermione, who was returning from the Library judging by the pile of books in her arms. "Harry! Are you moving back in? I- look I don't think that's a good idea. I know it's not fair and they're being horrible, but things have been easier since-" Hermione pulled up short when she finally noticed the Head Girl standing in the shadows by Harry. She must have picked it up from Snape, Harry thought.
Lyra smiled at Hermione, but for the first time it didn't reach her eyes. "Harry was just asking my help with a homework question, but it seems to be sorted now. I'll just be leaving." And with that she turned around and went away. Harry tried not to let the disappointment rip at his heart too much. Yet another person ignoring what was right in front of them.
When Lyra was out of sight Hermione cleared her throat and Harry was forced to look at the pinched expression on her face.
"Look Harry…" Hermione began. "They wouldn't be happy if I gave you the password. I know this is just awful, but if you go to Professor McGonagall it would all be sorted out. And you did bring it on yourself. Oh, that doesn't matter. This isn't right and I don't agree with it, but I can't be in the middle, you see." She refused to look him in the eye and made a gesture for him to move aside.
Harry complied, letting her gain access to the entrance. As she came level, he saw the knitting poking out of her bag. "How are Elf rights going?" he asked, unable to ignore the irony.
Neither could Hermione, she squared her shoulders, whispered the password so Harry couldn't hear and slipped through the hole without a second look, shutting it quickly behind her, as if to stop him sneaking in.
Harry stood in the corridor for a second, fending off the wave of hurt that assaulted him. That had been the most civil conversation he had had with either of his friends since this had all started. There was no point in it. He had always known it was too good to last. He should just be grateful he had had a good three years with Ron and Hermione's support. There was no point being upset. It had always just been a matter of time before they realised how worthless he was, just like Uncle Vernon had said.
Shoving his fists into his eyes to stave off the just forming tears, Harry turned and moved away from the Fat Lady's pitying sighs. He was fine. He would sort it out himself, just like always. He moved in a daze down two flights of stairs and into the east corridor, allowing his feet to carry him to the abandoned classroom he had found two weeks ago, when the twins had helped him smuggle his things out of the dormitories, after he had walked in on a couple of fifth years rifling through his belongings, nearly destroying his photo album in the process.
He fell through the door and went to check that his belongings were still safely stowed in the broom cupboard, which was doubling as his bedroom – there was part of him that couldn't help but associate it with the safe space of his cupboard; Uncle Vernon could never fit properly in there with him. He laid his invisibility cloak and photo album down on top of his small pile of folded clothes, checking to see that neither had been damaged in the course of the day. He knew it was probably safer for them to remain here, but after seeing the only remaining links to his parents being tossed across the room, he couldn't bear to leave them and had taken to hiding them in the seemingly never ending expanses of his uniform pockets, never once thinking on the fact that none of his peers seemed to have the same commodity.
While he was so preoccupied in his checks, Harry never heard the door reopen, and so did not turn round to see the sudden, horrified understanding settle in the Head Girl's eyes. Lyra stood stock still in the doorway, not wanting to spook Harry as he inspected his meagre possessions. From that angle, she could just make out a pile of rags in the shape of some sort of nest-cum-bed, with a blanket folded neatly on top, and an ordered pile of books off to the side. The classroom itself held no evidence of its occupant, despite the fact that she had no doubt he had been there for some days, based on her brief observations of the Gryffindor's treatment of their champion. Her blood boiled at the thought of this young boy – he really did look impossibly young, hunched over a dog eared album – being ostracised so completely by those who were supposed to be supporting him.
But, as much as she wanted to go and scream at Professor McGonagall for allowing such activity in her House, the rational part of her brain told Lyra that there must be more to it than just a simple rejection by his Housemates; why else would he have gone to Professor Snape, over and above a more Gryffindor-inclined – or Harry-inclined – staff member.
Her first job was to stop standing there like a ninny and actually get the boy to talk.
She cleared her throat.
Harry started at the sudden sound. He jumped up and slammed the door shut on his hidey-hole, praying that whoever had walked in on him hadn't seen anything. He had just got comfortable, and really didn't want to move. Spinning round, he was caught off guard to see the Head Girl – Lyra? – was standing there, watching him with a steady gaze. He looked away, uncomfortable.
"Hi," he said, lamely.
"Hi," she said, her voice as immovable as her gaze.
Harry squared his shoulders. It wouldn't do to show weakness to a Slytherin, even if she had seemed nice. "I was just looking for somewhere to do my homework. Here looked quiet."
She nodded. "Yes. And a good enough distance from the dorm to not be disturbed by troublemakers."
"I-" he hesitated. "No one's been bothering me, if that's what you're thinking. I just… wanted some peace. You know, with the tournament and everything." He hoped she didn't notice the sickly swallow that accompanied that statement.
Lyra paused. "I just meant the Weasley twins. I can't imagine it's easy to study with them around," she said with a smile.
Harry smiled back, weakly.
"So, since we're here," Lyra stepped forward, but stopped when Harry stepped back into the wall. "I can help you with your potions homework. It must be bad if you went to Professor Snape for help." She tried a mischievous, conspiratorial look, but it fell flat. Harry just continued to squirm.
"I don't have it with me," Harry lied. He just wanted her to leave. This so wasn't on his terms anymore. He had lost all control of the situation… although he knew he was kidding himself if he believed he had any control to begin with.
Lyra's face fell. She sighed. "Really, I'm sure I just saw your schoolbooks next to that bed you made."
Harry paled. He had no idea how he was still standing with how badly he was shaking. The nausea he had managed to shake off since dinner was now making its presence known tenfold.
Lyra stepped forward again, and this time there was nowhere for Harry to go. She was so close to him now… taking advantage of his shocked paralysis she reached round him and pulled open the cupboard door. He didn't think he even breathed as she surveyed the pathetic little nest he had made for himself, taking in everything from the rags he hoped she wouldn't identify as clothes, to his piles of detailed notes.
When she moved to step into the space, though, he finally snapped out of it. "NO!" he shouted, lurching to one side to block the entrance. She nodded, her expression unreadable.
"Okay. I'm sorry, Harry, that was rude of me," Lyra slowly stepped back and found a chair to perch on, well out of arms reach of Harry, who looked taut as a bow string. "Harry, why did you go to see Professor Snape?"
"I told you. I had a question about-"
"I know it wasn't homework," Lyra snapped. Harry gulped. She sighed and actively seemed to calm herself. "Everyone knows how you and Professor Snape feel about each other, so it must have been something important. The fact that you don't feel you can go to your own Head of House is terrible and the fact that your Housemates have thrown you out is nothing short of disgusting," she pulled up short as Harry averted his gaze. She didn't want to make him cry, but something had to be done. "You shouldn't have to deal with everything on your own. Everybody needs help sometimes and someone needs to deal with this. All I want to do is help, I promise."
She paused, as Harry peeked out from under his scruffy mop of hair, looking pathetically hopeful. With that encouragement, she continued, "All I want to do is get someone who can help. Professor Flitwick, or Sprout, or… maybe not Hagrid, but-"
Harry couldn't help himself, he snickered.
"Why did you want to see Professor Snape, Harry?"
He couldn't meet her gaze. He wanted to tell, but…
"You can't let a little ferret like Malfoy stop you. Please, Harry. If you need help with your dorm… If you don't-"
The Malfoy comment drew a small smile from Harry. Maybe if she wasn't one of the sycophants, she might actually be… something approaching trustworthy? "I heard some kids talking. Last year. They said he would listen. About home. That he would help…" Harry trailed off, unable to articulate further. Even the effort of that confession had him sliding to the floor, until his knees were drawn up to his eyes. Merlin, how had he thought he would be able to talk to Snape about this?
Lyra was thrown for a loop. Of course, she knew about Professor Snape's penchant for assisting children with less than perfect backgrounds. Silas, her year mate had gone to him in their second year, because his stepfather was being a bastard. Snape had kept Silas completely shielded as he spoke to his mother about what was going on, the eventual divorce and helped mother and son reconnect, all while making sure no one – not even in their own house – found out about it. It was a commonly known secret among facets of Hogwart's students that Snape was not as complete a git as he acted in class.
But for Harry Potter…
Taking a deep breath she looked down at the huddled child in front of her. She didn't really know much about him, beyond the fact that he was Harry Potter. Most people thought he was a bit of a disappointment. Some said a liar. How could be claim he stopped You-Know-Who, when he was so… ordinary? Nothing special. He was a good seeker, but apart from that… Most of the Slytherins in his year were always laughing about the fact that he would probably fail all his classes if it weren't for that Granger girl. There were always stories floating about, like that business with the Chamber of Secrets, but mainly that was just an excuse to bully the Boy Who Lived. Generally he was regarded as a painfully average boy who had little right to claim to be the Hero of the Wizarding World.
She only ever saw him in the company of Granger and the youngest Weasley boy. Occasionally Longbottom, she supposed, and he was on the Quidditch team, but generally he kept to himself. She couldn't claim to have really paid any attention to him, but since the Goblet, she doubted he had exchanged a pleasant word with anyone, really. Even his friends had abandoned him. Merlin, two friends in three years. He was just a quiet boy, who wanted to have a safe time at school. And now, if he needed to talk to Professor Snape…
"Harry," she almost whispered, afraid to spook him. "Harry, are you having problems at home?"
He scoffed and raised his head a fraction, although continued to keep his eyes screwed to his knees. "You could say that."
"Professor Snape can help, if you need him to, but so can your own Head of House. Professor McGonagall is-"
"Not interested," Harry said, bitterness colouring his tone. "She doesn't even care that…" he trailed off, his head finally turning around, as if to look through the now closed door.
"I'm sure that's not the case," Lyra said, hoping it wasn't. Harry didn't respond. "I can get Professor Snape, Harry. But, you're going to have to talk to him. You know what he's like, even I'll admit that, and he's not going to be happy if you just say you heard someone talking," still he didn't respond, just keeping his face flush against the cupboard door. "He can only help if you talk to him. I'm going to trust you, Harry. Do you want me to call him?"
He had no choice but to answer this time. It was crunch time. He recognised that. He closed his eyes as they prickled again. He was sick of not being in control of his emotions, but it was finally getting too much for him. If he made it through this year without a complete breakdown, he would be impressed. He huffed out a sigh and finally looking into the sincere eyes of Lyra.
"I don't have a choice anymore. I can't go back there. I can't-" he cut himself off again. She probably didn't notice the way he stroked his stomach ever so slightly, feeling the slight hardening there.
Lyra nodded. It was enough, she hoped, that Professor Snape wouldn't be angry. After a moment's consideration she decided, "I'm going to call Professor Snape here, that way we can avoid another run in with Malfoy. There's an advantage to being Head Girl. You see this badge?" Harry nodded, of course he saw it. "If I press my wand to it and say the name of a Professor, they come to it, like a homing beacon. Or, I can just say come and the nearest person comes. And you get a hell of a detention if you abuse it, I've heard." Harry winced, thinking about what would happen to the poor sod who messed with that system.
Lyra pointed her want tip to her chest. "I can call someone else. Are you sure you want Professor Snape?"
Harry took a deep breath. Was he sure? Of course not. He wasn't sure about anything anymore. He thought he could be sure about Ron and Hermione, but that wasn't the case. He thought he could be sure that magic could solve anything, but the Goblet proved that was bollocks. The only thing he was sure of, however illogical it was, was that he felt Snape was the right person to reach out to. However shitty it was, Snape's attitude had never changed the way the other Professor's had: when they'd seen he wasn't as talented as they thought he would be – they thought he hadn't seen the disappointment on their faces; or when he'd been caught out of bed in first year; or when everyone thought he was Slytherin's heir; or when the dementors kept making him faint. Snape had been a complete git throughout. And had helped him throughout, despite all of that and whatever had caused the enmity towards Harry's father.
Lyra checked that her wand tip was on the Hogwarts insignia and said in a clear voice, "Professor Snape."
Harry half expected the overgrown bat to materialise in the room immediately.
"I'll just go and wait outside for him," Lyra said. "Will you be okay in here on your own for a bit?" Harry nodded. He didn't blame her for being uncomfortable. He knew that would only get worse when the whole story came out.
Lyra went outside to forewarn the snarky professor that tact might be required in this instance, leaving Harry alone with his thoughts. Finally, his bum began to get cold, sitting on the stone cold floor, so he heaved himself up onto one of the chairs and resisted the urge to lay his head on the desk. It was probably the most dignified position he could hope to meet Snape in.
Harry sighed. He hated stasis. Not knowing what was going to happen next. Usually, he could make a pretty accurate reading of a situation and behave accordingly to try and slip just below notice. Try not to be a threat to anyone. That didn't always work, with the wizarding world's expectations of the bloody 'Boy Who Lived', but usually he managed just fine coasting along in the middle. That was going to be blown out of the water now. No more hiding. Everything was going to come out. He swallowed down the bile in his throat yet again. He would have to give in to it eventually, he knew, but he would not show any more weakness than he could help.
Just as he was beginning to wonder whether it would be too presumptuous to gather up his belongings – who knew, maybe Snape would decide living in the cupboard would keep him in check, like his relatives – the door swung open, to reveal an ominously impassive Snape and a nervous looking Lyra.
Harry gulped. Maybe he should have gone for Sprout instead.
"Well, Mr Potter," Snape drawled. "You wished to speak with me."
Harry nodded, but at Snape's raised eyebrow he found his voice. "Yes sir," he croaked and coughed, trying to clear his suddenly tight throat.
Snape stepped fully into the classroom and turned a chair round so he was facing Harry, although kept two rows between them, for which Harry was grateful. Unable to think of how to proceed, Harry stared at the table.
They stayed in that position for what felt like an hour, although must have been at most five minutes.
"Mr Potter, need I remind you that it is past curfew," Snape said, somewhat more threateningly than necessary, Harry thought.
"No, sir," Harry coughed again. "I know. I-" he was cut off by that tightness again.
Snape sneered, although with less force than usual.
"Nippy," he called and before Harry could come to the conclusion that Snape had lost his mind, a small, put together House Elf appeared.
"Yes Master Snape," she said politely. "What might Nippy be getting for yous?
"We would be grateful for some tea," Snape said, not taking his eyes off Harry. "And some biscuits as well. I do not recall encountering Mr Potter at dinner."
Harry flinched. He didn't like the idea of being watched and it almost seemed as if Snape was accusing him of something.
Nippy whipped round to see Harry and smiled at him. Harry sort of recognised her from the sea that always greeted him in the kitchens.
"Yes Master Snape, but Harry Potter was having dinner in the kitchen. He be having vegetable soup and fruit salad."
Snape's eyebrows went up again. "Really, Nippy?"
"Oh yes, Master Snape," Nippy nattered, blissfully unaware of the hole she was digging for Harry. "Harry Potter be coming to the kitchens at least once a day for the last three weeks. We be keeping him healthy, for he be looking very peaky."
"Yes," Snape said, not taking his eyes off Harry. "I am pleased someone has been taking care of his wellbeing."
Nippy beamed, before popping out to get their order. She returned approximately ten seconds later with a laden tea set and popped out again with a cheerful bow.
Snape said nothing as he poured the tea. Harry couldn't take it anymore.
"The twins showed me where the entrance was. I didn't think it was against the rules. Sir," he added, to be on the safe side.
"No, it's not against the rules to visit the kitchens, although discouraged. I would have thought with all your wanderings you would have found it years ago," Snape turned round to hand a cup to Lyra, who was loitering in the corner.
"Never came up before," Harry muttered, taking a sip of the soothing herbal tea. He minutely relaxed as the soft heat spread through his back-flipping stomach.
"As I said, I am pleased you have been eating. Your portions in the Great Hall have been rather paucitous. I have spoken to Professor McGonagall about it."
Snape's eyebrows had to be working overtime. "We have both noticed a certain drop off in your appetite recently."
"Yeah, it's a bit difficult to eat with everyone glaring at you," Harry stated, glaring a hole in the table.
Snape looked over his nose at Harry as he took a drag of tea. "I am to assume that Miss Fawley's observations are accurate and you are currently living in a disused broom cupboard."
Harry jerked up to look at him directly. He hadn't thought that was still in question. It was certainly not what this meeting was about, so he nodded dumbly.
"Then might not Professor McGonagall be the better party to inform?"
"That's not the problem I need to- And anyway, she doesn't care. She won't even look at me in class." Harry looked away again, because at that moment he really wanted to shave of Snape's eyebrows, just to stop them going up and down like that, all judgemental.
"Indeed. Well, we shall come to that later, although I doubt very much that you are correct in your conclusions. Now, while I do not particularly wish to press you, would you be so kind as to tell me exactly why you have dragged me halfway across the castle, after curfew, to sit in a draughty classroom, on a Sunday, to watch you try to light a desk on fire with your eyes."
By Snape's standards, he was being positively restrained, but Harry knew he had reached the capacity of the Potion Master's good will.
"I am waiting, Mr Potter."
Harry tried, he really did. He kept opening his mouth, but the words kept getting stuck in his permanently dry throat. He wondered if Nippy had accidentally made the tea out of sawdust, or something.
Lyra stepped forward, unable to watch Harry flounder any longer, as Snape's eyes grew darker and darker. "He said he can't go back home. He sounded… scared. He said he's had problems with his family."
"Relatives," Harry corrected, quietly. He hated thinking of Privet Drive as his home and relatives were different from family. As disastrous as this year was turning out, Hogwarts was still more home to him that anywhere with the Dursleys and between times he had been given a taste of family with the Weasleys. The Dursleys were not his family.
"Indeed," Snape said, his face impassive again. "Would you care to elaborate on that statement, Mr Potter?"
Harry looked up, trying to control his breathing. Lyra was behind Snape, nodding encouragingly. That small show of support gave him enough courage to start.
Harry lowered his shoulders. "My relatives hate me, sir. They always have." He let out a long huff. That was the first time he had admitted that out loud. He had said it in so many words to Ron and Hermione, but never… it was strange to just say it.
Snape didn't even twitch. "Indeed," he drawled again. "While I'm sorry that your family-" Harry flinched. "-does not treat you with the same reverence as your fan club is wont, I fail to see how this requires my intervention."
Harry coloured. It was the same as always. Nobody took him seriously. The Dursleys were good upstanding citizens who put up with their scruffy nephew. What could Harry have to complain about? Why did he believe Snape would help, when no one else did?
"Professor Snape-" Lyra started, disapproval colouring her tone.
"Why have you decided to approach someone now?" Snape asked, cutting her off and holding Harry in the iron grip of his gaze. "If this – whatever this is – has been going on for so long, why now?"
That was easy. "I have told people before. They never believed me. There were never any marks and the Dursleys have a nice house and Aunt Petunia's on lots of committees…"
Snape pinched the bridge of his nose. "Thank you, Mr Potter, but you have not answered me question. I am now going to give you two choices and if you do not take one of them, I will leave. I have potions brewing for the Hospital Wing and do not have time for cryptic half-truths. You may either tell me what their treatment of you is that makes you think you are unsafe to return, or you may tell me why you are now coming forward, if their treatment of you has been wanting for as long as you claim."
Harry knew he was bright red. In embarrassment or anger, he didn't know. What did Snape want from him? A full rundown on the specifics of thirteen years of hatred when he spent most of his time trying to forget everything he could about it? He was trying, couldn't Snape see that? Once again, he was just being treated like a petty child who wasn't being allowed ice cream. Like that time Dudley had called Child Protective Services, because Aunt Petunia wouldn't let him have a second remote control truck. Harry remembered the tone the policeman had used to Dudley over that incident. It was probably the first time the fat lout had been properly told off in his life. After the policeman had left, Aunt Petunia had showered a tearstained Dudley with praise for being so brave and Uncle Vernon had taken them out for dinner to make up for it. Harry had listen to all this from his cupboard, under threat of a what for if he made a noise. He remembered, at seven, praying that the policeman would question the need for three locks and a vent on a boot cupboard, but the man never noticed.
As these thoughts ran through his head, Harry could feel the anger in him deflating, leaving behind nothing but hollow emptiness. Without the anger, he could almost see the determination in Snape's eyes. As much as he could have been nicer about it, Snape was right, without some sort of information, there was no reason for Snape to help. 'I don't get on with my relatives,' was not a good enough reason to be removed from their care and he needed to be. As much as he sort of wanted to say nothing, just to watch Snape's strategy of goading him into talking fail, Harry knew that if he went back he would be killed and, worse than that…
And it wasn't as if someone wouldn't notice eventually.
Harry knew he needed help. So what to say.
"I know you hate me sir, but you have to believe me. You have to!" Harry blurted out.
Snape's jaw tightened and a strange emotion flitted across his face. After a moment, the man let out a breath, "I can hardly claim to have any cause to hate a student, no matter how irritating. Now would you please get to the point."
Snape had been watching emotions play across Harry's face for a good two minutes when defeated resolve settled on the teenagers pallid face. In the end, two words summed up the situation and its seriousness.